Shayma was close, but she wasn’t there yet. Dealing with the cores was desperate enough, but it wasn’t the only front I had to defend. The great big hole we’d made down through the heart of the dungeon had thousands, maybe millions of creatures boiling out from the depths. They weren’t all headed downward and inward to defend the core, and more was the pity. If they had, I wouldn’t have had to defend against absolutely enormous flying fish-things or a swarm of smaller bats, rats, cats, and other such types with various means of locomotion through the air. Some used wings, some simply swam as if through water, and I spotted several using what amounted to jet propulsion. I’d been zapping the earlier stuff easily enough, but the lattice framework I’d hastily put together to cap the rift had a limit.
It wasn’t an issue of mana, because I could handle that pretty easily. At least for now, though I was pretty sure the containment was decaying. Under whatever authority that dungeons had over mana, I trumped the depletion dungeon, so even though its density was higher than mine, and it had a lot more venting out the giant rift than even I dealt with, I could cleanse it.
Actual creatures, though, weren’t so easily dispatched. I had switched from [Hungering Dark] to [Corona], and it certainly took care of the chaff but there were still blightbeasts that could resist it. Not totally, but long enough to slip through the thin film capping the rift, or do damage to the relatively fragile latticework supporting the Fields. I didn’t have the attention to spare for going after things that escaped, or the time and mana to spare either if my lattice got broken.
Despite my misgiving, I had to use [Event Horizon].
Before, the mana welling up from the dungeon had been filtered through [Corona] and a mix of stellar, wind, and storm had billowed into the sky above. That had resulted in a luminous rain that I would have found very interesting under other circumstances, but with [Event Horizon] that all went away. My testing had not been extensive and I seemed to have underestimated its effects when writ large.
[Hungering Dark] was a particularly terrifying, predatory sort of darkness, but [Event Horizon] was even more terrifying by virtue of indifference. The blackness was somehow deeper, more of an absence than the almost living nature of [Hungering Dark], and it held nothing at all. No promise of death or danger, just an uncaring flat emptiness.
The sky bulged down as [Event Horizon] swallowed it, the shimmering clouds and glowing rain vanishing into the black in a matter of moments, while below the blightbeasts ran into the Field and were silenced. There were no screams, no cries or calls. No scrabble of claws and teeth on stone, or crackle of elemental energies. Everything just ceased to exist.
I couldn’t even properly sense the latticework that was supporting the projection of the Field, which was the first time I’d actually felt a piece of me go numb. Wind whistled as air and mana fell into the [Event Horizon] from both sides, even light visibly warping around it. The universe itself seemed to bend under the weight of a thousand-kilometer wide singularity, even the oceans starting to climb the sides of the cliffs to join the eager self-annihilation.
It was honestly so astounding that I lost concentration for a moment and the Great Dungeon hit me with another attack. I had no more sacrificial cores left. One of the cores that I hadn’t yet moved, still anchoring the containment wall, blew out, erasing a good chunk of it and noticeably weakening the containment effect. Even if I couldn’t sense it directly, it seemed like the strain from the wall slackened, shifting in the direction of the gap.
“Shayma!” I called urgently. She was the only one in a position to actually stop the attacks, since I had yet to get anywhere, only able to defend while trying to make a path for my fox-girl. Part of me suspected that wasn’t coincidence, that Shayma had taken over those functions by being a literal part of me and being better at it, but it still made me feel a little helpless. “We’re running out of time!”
“Working on it!” She replied, almost completely obscured from me by having delved so deeply into the core’s magic. She seemed to have stopped, stymied by something for a few minutes, while Ansae held back the dungeon and I lost cores to the blows that landed.
Ansae had gone from taking care of the few invaders that could squeeze into the core room to blocking great surges of magic. The stone underpinnings had vanished, leaving only the plate the cores rested on and great, metallic cables anchoring them to the rest of the dungeon. After the interior of the core room and the wall itself went away, the surrounding caverns seemed to peel back, layer by layer.
There was now a sphere a few hundred kilometers in diameter around us, cutting through all kinds of cavern layers and exposing us to uncountable numbers of blightbeasts. It seemed to be an exception to the rule that every dungeon but me moved slowly. Since it all just vanished, it made me think what it was doing was simply absorbing it back into itself rather than doing anything complicated. Or maybe it was just some weird Field effect, because it was very obvious that Great Dungeons operated on a different paradigm entirely.
No matter how it was done, the dungeon had removed anything we could use for cover or defense. Not that we needed it as such, but it did mean that Ansae had more work to do. She’d already vaporized uncounted tons of falling debris, as removing underpinnings of the caverns still left water and trees and any blightbeast that couldn’t actually fly. It seemed really damn reckless to me, since any of that could have damaged the very cores the defensive measures were trying to protect.
Then again, this was a core that had already been damaged. Since Ansae hadn’t mentioned any of the other Great Dungeons up and vanishing over however many thousands of years, I had to assume that the gods had hastily patched whatever loophole let a big chunk of stone fall on a very important and complicated Artifact. Leaving the depletion seemed a bit more of a problem, but if it was supposed to be inactive it shouldn’t have been a huge issue.
Knowing that the mage-kings had woken it up clarified a lot of the timeline, though I supposed it didn’t matter now. No matter how old a remnant of the past it was, we had to take care of it. Or at least try. I shuddered to think about what might happen if Ansae had to destroy all the cores. I might be able to take over the dead bulk, or I might not, but it was also entirely possible that air Affinity would completely go away. Destroying one of the fundamental underpinnings of the world was not something to casually do.
Ansae blinked from above us to below even as I watched, a massive streaming river of spellwork flooding out from her. A thousand ribbons of silver-tinged solar fire spewed forth, seeking out the nearest flying blightbeast and turning it to ash before moving onward. It seemed like a more wild variant of the hegemonizing swarm spell, destroying everything in its wake rather than targeting only a few things. She was using more stellar magic than anything else, but considering that stellar ignored depletion it made sense. Plus, dragons liked fire.
Inside the core, I was at what I’d consider a losing stalemate if it weren’t for Shayma. Every hit it got in on me was pretty dramatic, while for some reason I never exploded its cores in return. Instead, my attacks seemed to just nullify a part of its power, sapping its ability to attack and defend. Which was how Shayma had gotten in, but didn’t actually help defeat it. Nor did it stop the mounting pressure on Ansae’s enormous wall of will, which even I could feel. It had been half an hour already, a long and slow slog that had brought the larger moon up to be almost eclipsed by Ansae’s, and I’d lost five real cores, almost completely nullifying the containment circle.
“Blue, do you trust me?” The question was abrupt, but when Shayma asked, there could be only one answer.
“This may be a little weird,” Shayma said. It was.