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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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She left Port Liskell once Tik Fuy’s ships had started moving away in earnest, accepting the tentative thanks of the defenders. The putative mayor even sent a message inviting her to stay at his manse and talk with him, but she waved away the messengers. Port Liskell wasn’t her responsibility, and while she was glad that she’d been able to save everyone, she had more to do. There was no time for pleasantries and politics.

“I don’t really trust him,” Blue grumbled. “I’m afraid he’ll turn around and just deploy his troops again as soon as we’re gone.”

“He could, but I doubt it. I think he knew that we could take him.”

“I hope so.” Blue paused for a moment. “Kind of a shame. I would have loved to get whatever cores he had lying around.”

“If he’s right, you’ll have your chance,” Shayma said, continuing northward. “I don’t trust him at all, but he has no reason to lie about some of the mage-kings wanting to fight.”

“On the up side, it seems that going in at maximum shock and awe does wonders for making people listen.”

“I’m pretty sure most of them couldn’t move!” Shayma shook her head, a relatively ponderous thing in dragon form. “I don’t know if it’s [Unbroken Promise] or if you’re stronger or what, but wielding your Presence like that is definitely potent.”

“And less destructive than the Sungun or neutronium.”

“That too,” she agreed.

Port Hureot was further north along the coast, but some of the intermediate targets were between Liskel and Hureot so she flew low and surveyed the land as she went. While the score or so of troop ships that Tik Fuy had used were not out of place at Port Liskel, they’d overflow any of the medium size harbors in the coastal cities along the way.

While she was looking for ships, what she actually spotted first was a big flare of magic, ascending into the sky. It was something powerful enough that she’d associate it with at least a fourth-tier, if not a fifth, and it made her pump her wings and skip forward with her teleport to make sure she got there in time. As she drew closer to the city, Ainia if she remembered correctly, she could see that while there were no fires, there was plenty of destruction.

The wood of the harbor was floating in pieces on the tide, and straight lines of ruined houses and buildings emanated out from the point where the landing must have happened. Someone had used some powerful Skill and cut right through the city. There were other spots of similar destruction, circles of debris or fan shapes of crumbled walls, that spoke of a moving battle.

In many ways it was the opposite of Tik Fuy’s invasion. That one had been contained, and with the purpose to subdue and take Port Liskel intact. This mage-king seemed to be wrecking the city instead of conquering it, or at the very least using a show of force rather than a measured approach. It was an uncomfortable reminder of Vok Nal’s part of the invasion, an untouchable maniac destroying everything in his path.

She gathered up Blue’s Presence and [Greater Light] again, diving as a silver-armored dragon with the intent to repeat her performance from Port Liskel. Though she was expecting some attacks, as had happened before, she was not expecting a horrible lance of depletion-packed force to rip through the air, forcing her to teleport out of the way. Even with her armor, the way it tore at her Domain stung, and the lash of displaced air would have tumbled anyone else from the sky.

“That was a mage-king,” Blue growled. “Kill him.”

Though she rather agreed with Blue, she didn’t want to start a fight with the mage-king out of hand. It was still better to force a retreat than it was to start a fight in the middle of a crowded city with someone that powerful. Ainia had sustained enough damage.

Einteril is under protection from Blue,” she bellowed as she altered her trajectory toward where the lance had come from. “Leave, or be destroyed!” The only answer to that was another high-powered lance, so fast that she barely had time to blink out of the way. While she was completely confident that she could take the hit on her armor, or just conjure [Shield of Tarnil], those were abilities that she’d rather leave in reserve considering how potent those attacks had been.

The mage-king himself became visible in her Domain before she saw him with her eyes, a human, but oversized like Vok Nal. She still didn’t know if that was some sort of battle Skill or if some of them were just that large. He was surrounded by a number of heavily armored sort-of horses, made monstrous by the lashing tendrils protruding from their backs and the fangs they had for teeth.

So you have chosen Shayma didn’t even get to finish the sentence before the mage-king lashed out a third time, a vicious crisscross whip that shattered the building she had landed on, instantly killing the people cowering inside. White-hot rage blazed up her breast and she shot forward, claws extended.

When she hit the street, shattering the pavement, the mage-king was no longer there. Her Domain caught the traces of a teleport, but before she could locate him the not-horse guards attacked. Their shoulder-tentacles whipped forward, cutting into the air as they sent whipcracks of water and fire and spatial magic at her. She summoned [Shield of Tarnil] all around her to blunt the attacks, then teleported to the side and slashed at one of them.

Surprisingly, it was almost fast enough to dodge, her claws only catching the hindquarters and ripping off a leg. It screamed, invoking a Skill to blur away on three legs while the other three seemed to give her more room. Except that was only because the mage-king was hurling a barrage of razor-sharp ice from above, forcing her to blur through the Phantasmal Realm again. She was sure she would have been unharmed, but the skill was probably a fourth-tier one, to judge by its potency.

“Blue, what are these?” She didn’t want to take the time to conjure an identification sigil while she was fighting. The mage-king and his monsters didn’t give her a moment’s pause, the not-horses running at incredible speeds while whipping attacks at her while the mage-king floated in the air and hurled different elements at her, as if testing what would work best.

“Calibrunes, all fourth-tier,” Blue said as she smashed at one with her tail, mangling a tentacle before she launched herself up toward the mage-king. If they were just fourth-tier, the monsters could do little more than distract her. “Tek Lin,” Blue identified the mage-king, just before he flung out his hands and a huge circle of gravity mana crunched down over her.

It was so unexpected that she faltered for a moment, then growled as she saw some of the inhabitants in the range of the spell crushed against the floors of the buildings they were in. She reached out with her Domain, pushing back against the gravity spell and teleporting two people who were trapped under fallen debris, while taking a breath and spitting out blue starfire at Tek Lin.

Once again he teleported away, but the gravity well stayed until she raked the area with more dragonbreath, literally burning the mana construct away with concentrated stellar Affinity. She reached out with her senses to find him again, but had to shake off hungry coils of fire aimed at her by one of the Calibrunes. Once again she pulled on [Starlance], sweeping it over where the horse monsters were.

The fourth-tier Calibrunes scattered or pulled on their own defensive Skills. While she was pretty sure Iniri could have punched through the layered Skills, Shayma’s captured version of [Starlance] was more limited. Not that it was bad by any means, since it was still a fourth-tier Skill, but it wasn’t something she could overcharge like Iniri did.

She dove down toward them since she didn’t see Tek Lin anywhere, only to be battered by a howling wind that made her increase the density of her armor, temporarily becoming too heavy for even the knifelike spell to blow away. It cut through the buildings around her and she flung up [Shield of Tarnil] once again to deflect it upward. The Calibrunes took the opportunity to try and pierce her with their tentacle-launched spells, but one got too close and she hit it with a whipcrack of her tail, practically splitting it in two.

Then she teleported to the side as she caught the surge of mana from underneath her, dodging more kinetic lances that burst through the earth and sent shrapnel spattering everywhere, pinging off her armor and smashing through building fronts. The lances seemed to track her as she moved, forcing her to stick to the streets to keep it from simply crushing anyone in the intervening buildings.

“You have to stop defending them,” Blue said abruptly. “He can tie you down just by forcing you to maneuver around the civilians, or hitting you with area attacks you need to block, but that’s a losing proposition. You just need to kill him as quickly as possible. Don’t play his game.”

Shayma growled. She hated it, she hated giving the mage-kings even the slightest chance to cause any more harm, she hated letting anyone be hurt while she was there to save them, but he had a point that being on the defensive wasn’t getting her anywhere. It wasn’t like her most powerful attacks were indiscriminate like Tek Lin’s were, either, so her offensive abilities didn’t endanger anyone. She reversed course, following the kinetic lance Skill back to its source, and found that Tek Lin had somehow teleported himself underground.

She reverted to fox-kin form and smashed straight down with [Chimaeric Neutronium], plowing through the rock and focusing Blue’s presence on him. The response was an explosion of magma that simply flowed past her armor. If anything, it only made it easier to get to where Tek Lin had burrowed, but she caught him teleporting once again as she got close.

It was the first time she’d fought against someone who could also teleport, considering how rare spatial Affinity was, and it was profoundly irritating. She followed the trail, back up above the surface of the ground, and ignored the fourth-tiers trying to get through her armor as she pursued Tek Lin. Shayma slipped in and out of the Phantasmal Realm as Tek Lin peppered her with magic. Gravity, force, and wind were his preferences, none of which did much more than sting, but he was slippery.

When he paused for a moment, to take a breath or reorient, she made four illusions of herself launch themselves at him while she fired a [Starlance]. He flitted away at high speed as the illusions pursued him, while she took a moment to focus on his path. She teleported herself into his trajectory, already throwing an armor-covered fist, and managed to land a good punch right on his torso.

Unlike everything she’d hit with the [Chimaeric Neutronium] armor so far, Tek Lin didn’t explode into gore. There was a thunderous boom as she smashed him backward and through a bell tower, and with her heightened senses she heard him wheeze, but with anyone else her fist would have gone right through. Even with [Bane] working for her, mage-kings were tough.

“Damn,” Blue said. “Are you going to have to Sungun him?”

“Maybe,” she muttered, shifting to Chiuxatli form and darting after him. “How is he this tough?”

“Probably drawing from his core or cores, kind of like the link you have. You’re cheating, but so is he.”

“Right, and I can cheat more.” Between [Unbreakable Promise] and her link to Blue, she couldn’t imagine he had more mana than her, not to mention she had Blue’s Presence. Even if she couldn’t destroy Tek Lin in a single hit, she could wear him down. So far, he hadn’t been able to do much to threaten her, even if his magic was absolutely leveling Ainia.

She extended [Hungering Dark] around herself and snapped her wings, diving toward where Tek Lin had tumbled through into a bakery. The Field sizzled against a hastily-conjured shield of fire, and she exercised [Kinetic Redirection] to suddenly accelerate, talons extended to claw. His eyes widened a fraction of a second before she hit and he managed to shove himself out of the way with an explosive blast of air. Mostly.

She slammed through ten feet of building and thirty feet of ground but she managed to draw blood, raking furrows along his side. [Kinetic Sink] absorbed her momentum and she teleported after him, not sure why he wasn’t teleporting anymore, but glad for it since she could keep up with his speed. He was fast, blurringly so, but she was barely constrained by mortal form anymore so she could pursue him despite the myriad of movement Skills he had access to.

They went through a rapid and intricate pursuit across the city and mostly above it. Now that she was pressing him, Tek Lin didn’t have the time to hurl nearly as many spells or use as many Skills, which protected the inhabitants of Ainia better than she could have by defending. False versions of her harried the mage-king, constraining his movement and forcing him to waste attacks and defenses against her illusions.

The spells still stung, since they tore through her Domain with punishing force, but pulling on mana from Blue or [Unbreakable Promise] restored her almost immediately. Shayma took a grim satisfaction in being the unstoppable force, with Tek Lin being able to do no more than run and dodge. Ainia had been able to do absolutely nothing against him, but he could do absolutely nothing against her.

Tek Lin suddenly made a break for the ships at the harbor, his movements no longer as smooth and crisp as they had been before. Seeing her chance, Shayma teleported herself between him and harbor, pushing her Domain to spread it wide and snaring Tek Lin with illusory chains. They didn’t hold him long, but longer than they would have before and it was more than long enough for her to pounce.

“No!” Tek Lin said as she appeared in front of him, but that was as far as he got before she lashed out with armor-covered talons. What she wasn’t expecting was for her claws to cut right through him as if he were no more robust than some low-tier monster. Instead of wounding him, her attack turned Tek Lin into an explosion of gore as his body tumbled away in pieces.

“What?” She stared for a moment, not entirely certain what had happened.

“I bet he ran out of mana. Or his core did. Or something.”

“That must be why he was trying to run,” she agreed, flicking the remnants off her armor. “Now, the monsters.”

“There ought to be a core somewhere around here, maybe taking that will kill ‘em off.”

“You just want a new core,” she accused him, already winging her way to the boats.

“Yeah, that too!”

“Probably should have gone after the core first,” she muttered, using her Domain to sweep through the ships.

“Maybe so,” Blue agreed. “But you didn’t know where it was. You did know where the mage-king was.”

“True.” She flew along the boats, finding monsters but no core, not even on what seemed to be the flagship. “Where is it?” She landed on the deck of the flagship, wiping out a bunch of low-level Calibrunes with [Hungering Dark] as she looked around for something she might have missed.

“Umm, maybe in the city? Is there a tower somewhere that he might have taken over?”

“One that we didn’t smash?” Shayma surveyed the city, trying to figure out where Tek Lin might have stashed his core. Blue’s Presence suppressed everyone near her, stopping any new monster reinforcements from pouring into the city, but Ainia was far too large for her to extend that protection to everyone. Besides, she had no idea how they’d react now that Tek Lin was gone. There was a big difference between an invading army and a horde of monsters.

She flitted out to check some of the taller buildings that had survived. If Tek Lin had been leading her away from one of them during the fight, she hadn’t noticed. Presumably it was closer to the harbor, though for all she knew he’d put it underground. The Calibrunes seemed to be milling about, uncertain, but that probably wouldn’t last long.

When she found it, it was by accident. Shayma spotted a three-legged Calibrune lurking by a low, thick-walled building and recognized one of the surviving fourth-tier monsters. Darting down toward it, her Domain infiltrated the building and she caught a ward type she recognized. Apparently the core had been put underground.

The Calibrune tried to flee again when it spotted her, but since there were no distractions there was nothing to stop her from teleporting in close to stave in its skull with her fist. Compared to the mage-king, the injured fourth-tier monster wasn’t tough at all. Then she went inside, finding a heavily warded dome that her Domain had trouble penetrating. Fortunately, she could just eat away the magic with [Hungering Dark], the ward dissipating quickly enough. It seemed Tek Lin really had drained its mana, if the reinforcing magic was so weak.

She teleported into a small spherical room, which had only barely started being converted by the core. It was really pathetic compared to Blue’s speed, but that meant that its depletion aura had only just started to spread. The red crystal was shaped like the one in Vok Nal’s tower, rather than the oversized thrones of the war cores, and was smaller as well.

“I wonder if there are other cores,” Blue said as she approached.

“We’ll find out eventually,” she said, and put her armored hands on the surface of the core. Immediately a huge rush of mana poured into the red crystal. It seemed to shudder, once, then snapped to blue. With her enhanced body and the [Chimaeric Neutronium] armor, it was so unlike the first time she’d done it, barely even a strain despite the heat of competing mana.

“Oh, right, that gets me—” Blue said, but Shayma stopped listening because of the terrible screaming noise that went up all around above her. She shoved her Domain upward to see what was going on, and found that all the Calibrunes had suddenly flown into a rage. They weren’t attacking each other, but they were suddenly acting like a ravening horde rather than soldiers. They were like blightbeasts, set loose in the middle of a city.

“Blue! Get Iniri here to help, these people need protection!” She didn’t wait for Blue to respond, contacting Iniri herself. 「Iniri! We have a ton of monsters about to slaughter everyone in a city!」

「Coming.」 Iniri replied. A moment later Iniri appeared, followed by a couple of her Queensguard and Cheya. Then Blue pulled out of the stone, even the now blue and oversized core vanishing as he freed her from being bound to the ground.

She brought them all up to the surface with [Wake of the Phantasmal], and Iniri flew up into the air. Which startled Shayma; she’d almost forgotten that she could do that with the Torc. Iniri spread her hands and magic poured out from her as [Guardian Constellations] and [Shields of Tarnil] began to flicker outward, not only protecting individuals and buildings but starting some sort of grand runeset over Ainia.

Shayma left her to it and switched to dragon form, spiraling outward and using copious amounts of starfire combined with [Hungering Dark] to clear the streets. They were a little melted, but the second and third-tier Calbrunes that made up the bulk of the army fared no better. Without a commanding mage-king and whatever link the dungeon core provided, they were uncoordinated and aggressive.

There were still a lot of them, breaking through doors and windows and clashing with the remainder of the Classers deep in the city. With Tek Lin dead, there was nobody who could make them retreat, so the only choice was to kill thousands of monsters. In a city, where she couldn’t simply purge everything with the Sungun. Without Iniri, there was no way that Ainia would be left standing.

“The boats!” Blue said suddenly, and Shayma whirled around to see that the troops that had still been stationed in the ships were boiling out onto the harborfront.

“Sungun,” she demanded, and braced it with all four paws as she hovered for a moment in dragonform and aimed at the ship. “Warn Iniri and her people not to look,” she added, and waited for Blue’s confirmation before she pulled the trigger.

The impossibly bright lance of destruction reached out and touched the harbor, explosions thundering as the ships blew to blood-soaked splinters and crisped to cinders before falling into the curtain of steam rising from the water. A single pass was enough, turning the harbor front and every ship moored there, invader or not, into fire and steam and splinters.

She let Blue reclaim the Sungun and went back to dealing with the monsters. A sudden flare of fire and smoke attracted her attention, and she darted over to find one of the remaining fourth-tier monsters tearing through buildings with its flame whips. It seemed to have more mind left than the others, because it recognized her instantly, hurling its magics at her while she dove. Her armor absorbed them without complaint as she smashed the Calibrune into the ground, leaving a crater with the scattered remains of the monster in the bottom.

That meant there was one more, somewhere, assuming it hadn’t been killed during the fight with Tek Lin, but she knew Iniri was more than capable of dealing with it, should it attack her. She lifted back into the air, keeping an eye on the runes that Iniri was building in the air over the city. It wasn’t like anything Iniri was building would hurt her, but she didn’t want to accidentally break any of it. It was a genuine concern if she was spouting starfire everywhere.

“Oof, that’s a lot of mana,” Blue said, obviously referring to what Iniri was doing. Shayma had to agree it looked incredibly imposing, a runic array with [Guardian Constellations] winking throughout. It grew brighter without actually becoming blinding, before suddenly seeming to blow apart. Streamers of light shot down and flew into windows and doors, along buildings and streets, grounding on rooftops like lightning as a thousand stars spread out over the city. Everything suddenly glowed in silver-blue light but the monsters, forcing them back and away from the still-living citizens of Ainia.

「You should be able to do a lot without breaking the protections」 Iniri sent, sounding a trifle out of breath even if the link was entirely mental. 「[Starlance] should just bounce off, I think.]

「Oh, that sounds fun!」 Shayma dropped down and focused [Starlance] on the nearest monster, watching the beam punch through and ricochet off Iniri’s shielding, bouncing a dozen times before it was reflected into the air and dissipated. It wasn’t easy to aim beyond the first bounce, but if she couldn’t hit friendlies, that wasn’t a problem.

Shayma caught Iniri’s [Starlance] flickering here and there as she played her own version of the Skill back and forth, seeing a few unfortunates reel back from the sight of the lance of light heading straight for them, only to deflect off harmlessly. It was absolutely cheating, and she didn’t mind a bit, though she’d still have to eradicate a lot of the monsters manually.

Shayma flitted this way and that, using [Hungering Dark] to clean up after herself, considering that leaving the gore and remains of hundreds and thousands of monsters would destroy Ainia as surely as the invasion would have. Not that the city was exactly intact, but anything was better than turned into a mage-king farm. At the same time, she ignored the shouted questions from people about who she was and what she was doing, wrapping Blue’s Presence closer about her.

While she was saving the city, it probably didn’t look it. She’d brought in a foreign ruler who’d done some massive fourth-tier ritual magic that coated everything in Tarnil’s colors, and now she was running around without any apparent regard to the people who lived there. From that perspective, it was actually surprising that she didn’t have more people attacking her.

After a few minutes of cleaning up where she could, she noticed that some of the remaining Classers were mounting a proper defense against the monsters. Since they were temporarily immune to attacks, they’d started pushing back from the few pockets of resistance that had been left when Shayma had arrived. Iniri’s protection made decimating the front of the monster’s push into the city dead simple, and soon enough native Classers were pushing the Calibrunes back toward the harbor.

Shayma thought the city-wide protection would peter out at some point but it lasted, and lasted, and lasted. Over the next entire hour it stayed strong as she systematically hunted down the remaining Calibrunes alongside the city’s Classers. Finally, it seemed there were no more, and Shayma flitted down to where she’d left Iniri, finding a big [Shield of Tarnil] wall blocking off a crowd. An unhappy one.

“What’s going on here?” She demanded as she landed, changing to fox-kin form to glower at the gathered people. They balked, pulling back slightly from her as she crossed her arms, staring them down.

“But,” someone ventured at last. “But, she’s invading Ainia.”

“Oh, gods save us from fools and little children,” Shayma sighed. “All this light is protecting you from the invaders.” None of the people in the crowd looked like proper Classers, just the normal rabble-rousers who would arrive after the danger was actually passed. 「You can drop your spell, Iniri.」 Shayma sent her. 「And I guess I’ll send you back. Thank you for helping me, I know it’s not Tarnil but I didn’t want to just let them all die.」

「It was my pleasure,」 Iniri replied. 「I half expected this to happen. They weren’t a real threat.」

The silver-blue glow fizzled out as the stars above faded away, and Shayma teleported through the [Shield of Tarnil] barrier, planting her feet so Blue could open a portal. He could recall Iniri, but not the Queensguard or Cheya.

“Honestly, that was kind of fun,” Iniri said, coming over to give Shayma a hug. “I had designed the city protection runeset, but hadn’t had a chance to use it yet. I probably never would in Tarnil, not with Blue there, but it was great to see it in action.”

“It was impressive,” Shayma agreed, embracing Iniri before releasing her to head back to Tarnil.

“I know you’re basically indestructible now, but be careful around here,” Cheya said. “You’re going to find that nobody is going to thank you. They’re just going to see that everything is destroyed and you’re near enough to blame.”

“You really think so?” Shayma grimaced, and Cheya nodded.

“It’s not your fault, but when it comes to this sort of thing, people aren’t rational. Remember how many people hated Blue when he first appeared.”

“True.” Shayma sighed. “Well, I’m going to be heading to the next city right away anyway. I couldn’t stay to fix Ainia even if they wanted me to.”

“Good luck,” said Cheya. “I fear most of them will be like this.”

“I really hate the mage-kings.” Shayma’s mouth twisted. “But I admit getting them to withdraw is a lot cleaner. Let’s hope that the rest of them are less obstinate, for Einteril’s sake.”

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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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InadvisablyCompelled

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