A note from InadvisablyCompelled


The sight of a massive black fortress gliding toward him, all inhuman angles and larger than life, sent a chill down Wright’s spine. He knew that it was friendly, and that he had nothing to fear from it, but it was a city-killer. At least the Fortress wasn’t actually coming to one of his cities, which would have caused his citizens all kinds of panic no matter how much their emperor soothed them.

Instead, it was coming to a quarantined area maintained by military perimeter and a large number of thaumocannons he’d forged personally. Iniri had made it a point to send him gravity affinity metals, and he’d made of them terrible weapons that could crush beasts no matter what they were made of, or ground anything that flew. They weren’t all-powerful, but they were more than good enough for the purpose of preventing the spread of the blight.

The buildings that had once surrounded the entrance to the Underneath had half-crumbled, the magic that kept them intact subverted by the presence of too much depletion. The actual stone and wood and metal wasn’t much affected, but where Skills had joined things or enchantments reinforced them, the magic had failed. It was a ghost town now, empty of anything but the occasional floods of blightbeasts and ruins blasted by skills and magic weapons.

“He’s not going to [Starlance] it, is he?” Wright asked, glancing over at Shayma.

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” she replied, surveying the no-man’s-land. “In Orrelin, Blue just purged the depletion, then closed off the lowways with a series of metal barriers.” Her ears flicked. “It won’t stop them from boring a new tunnel if there are any earth beasts there, but it does make it more difficult.”

“Not to be rude, but if it’s only a stopgap, it may only make things worse. At least here, we know where the beasts are.” With the resources of an entire empire, maintaining the cordon around the Underneath access was an irritant, but no more than that.

“That does make sense,” Shayma admitted. She cocked her head, either considering or listening to Blue, then nodded. “He’ll purge the depletion and reinforce the walls down there, then set up a kill box for you, instead of blocking it off. They seem too stupid or blindly aggressive to realize when a trap is a trap.”

“Excellent.” Wright eyed the blighted acreage. A dull thump announced the discharge of a gravity cannon, and a carpet of scuttling white insects was suddenly crushed against the stone. Nothing had managed to get anywhere near the perimeter for months, thanks to constant guard rotations and the products of his artifice. There had been a few incidents, but so far nobody had been fully depleted, and anyone who’d gotten severely hit had only themselves to blame. Despite that, he’d retired them with full honors, since there was no coming back from that kind of blow.

The immense fortress came to a halt over the ruined embassy town and started downward. Wright knew it was big, and it looked big in the sky, but as it came down toward the ground the sheer scale of it really became apparent. It was an entire mountain, and Blue didn’t need a [Starlance] to flatten a city with it. Even his most powerful siege equipment would probably have difficulty doing much to it just due to sheer size.

The ground shuddered as it touched down, grinding the remnants of the buildings to dust. He idly began planning something that could actually stand up to the crushing force of the Fortress falling on it, just in case it was ever needed. While he didn’t have access to the [Firmament] Blue could use, he had his own resources and thought it would be a good challenge.

A blinding flash of light announced Blue’s eradication of any remaining blightbeasts, beams of stellar light razing the ground near the Fortress, followed by a billowing roil of shadow. Together, the two scoured the land completely clean and level, down to bare dirt and stone. He could feel the potency of the mana as it drew closer to the perimeter and stopped, very precisely, at the barricade before dying down.

That would have been good enough for him, but a carpet of blue-green grass burst forth from the ground, turning the bare dirt into an open meadow. Broken streets repaired themselves, and the muddy slog of the dammed-up stream reverted to its prior state. The mana involved in that was even heavier than the destructive shadows, but also somehow fainter and more delicate.

“Blue doesn’t like to leave a mess behind,” Shayma said in response to his lifted eyebrow. “He says the surface is safe now, but it’ll take some time to purge everything down there. In the meantime, would you like to see the interior?”

“I would, indeed.” Wright rubbed his hands together. Now that Blue was back, surely there’d be more new things to see, new ideas and, if he was very lucky, new materials.

If only they would let him see what went into a [Starlance].

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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