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When the bats showed up, my first thought was, “Oh, of course there are bats.” We had never done a giant, multi-legged kaiju in my games, but if we had, I would have included mooks like that, because you have to have mooks. Because Mome Rath was so tall, and probably wouldn’t be taken down by someone cutting off all his legs (though you never know), he needed other active defenses. Besides that, mooks were always great if you wanted to tie the players up with something that they knew was meaningless, so that they had to make a choice between taking care of the mooks or striking at the heart of the real enemy.

(The bats probably weren’t mooks in the proper sense of the word. More likely, Mome Rath had some kind of ecology to him, and he would be covered with creatures that lived their own lives within that ecology, either symbiotic with Mome Rath and serving some vital function, or part of the food chain. Mome Rath probably wasn’t sending bats at me, the bats just lived on him, and had come with when he was summoned from wherever.)

I was past the third of his knees, to a place where the bark was gone completely, replaced with a bumpy, matte gray surface. There were numerous red welts the size of dinner plates. I touched one, briefly, and it felt firm and taut, like a zit that was ready to pop. I was pretty sure that something was going to happen if one of them burst, but it hadn’t happened yet. When I made a periodic stop to throw more daggers, I did my best to avoid the red welts. It was during one of those relative lulls that the bats showed up.

I say ‘bats’, but that probably doesn’t do them justice. Each was the size of a house cat, with long, whipping tails and sharp fangs. I was probably five hundred feet up the leg, with another hundred feet left to go, and I wasn’t really in a position to be fighting, not when I couldn’t effectively move, not when I had to keep one hand gripped on the blades that were plunged into Mome Rath. Maybe if it had just been one, I would have been able to deal with it, but there were thirty. I hadn’t seen where they’d come from, but I prayed that there weren’t more.

I was an untested still mage. I had the levels in it, but no practical experience, and while the game took care of a lot (a whole lot), it was sort of like having to consciously think about the controls when playing a new game. In comparison to what everyone else got, I wasn’t about to start complaining, but there was a little bit of lag at the beginning, and this really didn’t seem to be the time for the inaugural run. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a choice.

I leaned backward as they flew in, brandishing the probability blade in their general direction. When it was out in the open like this, it was a gray blur in the air, vaguely cone-shaped. As soon as the first of the bats came within range, the probability blade picked a form, that of a wickedly sharp kopesh, which sliced through the bat-thing at the perfect angle, cleaving halfway through his skull until I flicked the sword to the side to get the corpse loose.

Mome Bat defeated!

I killed more of them as they came, trying to hold off on the next part for as long as possible, but once the first handful were dead, they were too densely packed for me to be able to kill them all. That was when I began burning one of my three internal unicorn bones.

I was killed pretty quickly. Holding onto the side of the leg on dagger handholds, my probability blade to the side, and my mind focused on the burn, it was too much at once, and one of the bats slipped past my blade as one of his brothers was dying to it. He bit me with an unhinged jaw, driving his upper fangs down into my skull and his lower fangs up through my mouth, piercing my palate, and then crunched down, breaking bone with what had to have been magically enhanced strength.

The second time around, I was more prepared, and the burn of the bones had faded in my consciousness to one of a handful of things I was juggling. With my focus properly split, I used still magic to stop his bite, causing the point of his fangs to make contact with my skin and no more. I stabbed at him with the probability blade, and was rewarded with a gush of hot blood across my face as he died.

Skill increased: Still Magic lvl 21!

Mome Bat defeated!

After that, they swarmed me, grappling me with tiny claws that weren’t much more serious than a cat’s, biting me with teeth and jaws that would have put a shark to shame. Where my Gardner’s Plate covered me, it offered some protection, but I felt a piercing pain in my thigh, and as I wildly swung my probability blade around, I looked down to briefly see that one of the bats had managed to get his teeth through the magical steel. The surge of blood was enough for me to know that he’d hit the femoral artery, and as I directed my attention to the flow of blood, another two of the bats managed to work their teeth through my armor as well.

I reset again. The unicorn’s magic wasn’t going to last forever, and I was constrained by that, but I was getting repeated messages about skill increases and bats defeated, and still magic was getting noticeably easier to apply, both because I was settling into it and because it was increasing in power.

Unfortunately, I still hadn’t found the winning path.

The more of them died, the easier it was, but I was gripping onto the side of a leg fifty stories up, barely able to dodge and parry, restricted in how I could twist and turn. One of the bats clamped his mouth down on my arm, and I headbutted him back, but the probability blade was the only weapon that seemed to be doing enough damage to kill them. Mostly, there were just too many. I extruded the vines from my Gardner’s Plate, wrapping them around the bats, and squeezing them tight, or having them hold me so that I could use both hands to slash away. I used the incorporeality ring to let the bats fly through me, but that was of limited use. I got down to the last five when one of them came at me from behind, using its fangs like a lance rather than to bite me. I felt teeth enter my skull, and used still magic to stop them from going further, but my brain wasn’t working quite right.

I reset without really meaning to, which probably had something to do with how the unicorn magic worked. I hadn’t died, I didn’t think, but something vital in my brain had definitely been hit. I went through the fight again, now marginally more familiar with where the bats were going, more in the groove of using all my abilities and entads at once, striking out with blood magic, bone magic, vines, blades, and a single shot of gem magic that I knew I was going to regret, even if it killed ten of the things at once.

I was vaguely surprised when I shook another bat off my blade and looked around for the next target, only to find that there were none. Below me, dead bats were still falling down, tumbling through the winds, bouncing off the leg that I’d climbed so far up. The battle had been short, and I hoped that there wouldn’t be another like it, but I wasn’t confident that Mome Rath didn’t have more where that came from. I healed the wounds I’d been given, including one place where a bat had punctured my upper arm, and the scratches on my face, then looked down at the destruction below for one dizzying moment before continuing my climb.

I was waiting for more bats, and trying to look out for them from my awkward position on the side of the leg. I was increasingly certain that there would be more of them, because given Mome Rath’s incredible size, there almost had to be. Too much of my attention was focused on more potential bats though, and not on the red welts. I didn’t notice them swelling until it was almost too late.

I had a split second to make a decision between burning another unicorn bone and trying to hunker down. Instead, I felt the slight tug of LUK 1 and let it carry me away. I kicked off from the leg, pushing myself backward and out into the open air, then began to fall. The welts began to explode soon after, spraying some kind of red mist through the air, just far enough away from me that none of it so much as touched me.

I fell, picking up speed, until the last little bit, when my tattoo began to burn away and slow my descent down to practically nothing. I landed, nearly feather-light, and grimaced at the lost progress.

“Back on the ground,” I said. “Died a few times up there, until it got too hot to handle.”

I looked over Mome Rath as I waited for Amaryllis’ reply. He was towering over me, and striding away. The climb hadn’t taken me that long, all things considered, since throwing the daggers had been the most time consuming part. My muscles weren’t even aching, thanks to repeated applications of PHY. There was absolutely nothing to show for it though. Mome Rath had visible injuries, missing legs that were very slowly regrowing, and a belly wound that was still dripping, but it had been Bethel that had done all that.

What am I even doing here?

My best, the answer finally came. Trying to kill this fucking thing so that it won’t keep destroying this city.

[We have four hundred wounded, with more on the way,] Amaryllis finally replied. [Give me a rough location and I can send Bethel to come get you. Then we’ll leave and let someone else deal with this.]

“No,” I said, tightening my grip on my weapons. “This is my partial design. I don’t know its weakness, but I know that any true method of finishing it would have some way that it could be defeated by, at minimum, a group of five mixed-class adventurers.”

[If you want to be dropped on top, Bethel might be able to do that,] said Amaryllis. [Unknown defenses though.]

“Likely significant,” I said. “Nothing can ever be easy. I still think small groups are the way to go, unless Bethel can deliver a very fast deathblow.”

[No,] said Amaryllis. [I’ve seen her map of the thing's internals. It has bones and flesh, but the organs are nothing she can make sense of, and there’s no brain to plunge through, no hearts or obvious points where it could actually be killed.]

“Yeah,” I said. “Okay. I think maybe I can set things up for the killing blow.”

[How?] asked Amaryllis.

“I’m a multimage,” I replied. I gave one last look around me, then began running toward Mome Rath, using the Sanguine Surge to gather speed. I was nervous about what I was about to do, given how potentially dumb it was, and given that if it didn’t work, I might quickly end up dead.

[Juniper, how?] asked Amaryllis.

As I got myself beneath Mome Rath, I gave her a brief description of what I had planned, and she swore, then agreed to divert from their rescue efforts.

Before I could change my mind, I activated the Ring of Upward Bliss and teleported myself a mile up into the air.

I was up in the low clouds that were swirling around Li’o, the ones that had either brought or were a part of Mome Rath. I began falling at once, and used still magic to slow my descent to something more reasonable. I had a single copy of Prince’s Invulnerability which I could have used to slam into Mome Rath at speed, but without a proper target I was worried that all I would give it was a flesh wound, and Prince’s Invulnerability represented a significant expense, even given how large our war chest was.

When I saw Mome Rath from above, I knew that there were going to be problems. He had hair like fingers, covering his back, but sticking out from the finger-hair were large brown lumps that seemed to be moving all on their own, independent of the slow, swaying walk that Mome Rath was doing, more of the implied ecology of the gargantuan creature. I tried my best to angle for one of them, but this was only my second experience with anything like skydiving, and instead, I awkwardly landed in the finger-hair. The strands of finger-hair, consisting of thousands of knuckles each, were thick enough that I could stand on them without sinking in, which was good, because I didn’t know how deep they went.

I began hacking away at the finger-hair, slicing the probability blade through knuckle bone with abandon while trying to keep my eyes open for whatever countermeasures were roaming the top of Mome Rath. So far, I had seen nothing. I kept hacking away, trying to get down to the flesh below, which was my ultimate goal. I was blade-bound to the probability blade, and it cut quickly, but something was tickling at the back of my mind. There should be defenses on his back, big ones like the claws had been against Bethel, and small ones, like the bats and welts had been against me, death traps and mooks and things like that.

I was struck in the side of the temple so hard that the world momentarily went black. When I regained my senses, I had lost three quarters of my HP, and was bleeding from a heavy wound. My head felt lopsided and misshapen, like a potato, and I woozily spun around trying to figure out what had hit me. There was still nothing. I hadn’t seen anything when I fell, either.

“Shit,” I muttered. If I had less experience with these sorts of things, I might have chalked it up to something flying through the air, but I knew better. An attack from nowhere was a good indication of an invisible enemy, or in this case, a more thematically appropriate antimemetic one.

[Status?] asked Amaryllis.

I began swinging my sword through the air, Needler sheathed, probability blade held as an oversize, two-handed, monkey-gripped weapon, which extended its field by a good margin. “Enemies,” I said. “On Mome’s back.”

I watched the probability blade become material for a moment, its gray blur suddenly replaced by a steel cutting edge. It only lasted a moment though, before it was back to normal. Had I felt a pull from the weapon as it cut through something? I wasn’t sure. There was no blood on the blade either. I kept swinging though, going for the spot where the probability blade had struck before, and was rewarded with another change as it became a solid sword.

Mome Rat defeated!

It appeared in front of me like it had been there all along, a thing of claws and jet-black fur, the size of a man, with a thick, hairless tail swirling and twitching behind it. It was on par with the bats then, as far as what it took to kill it.

I was hit again, before I could revel in the victory. The hit struck the armor on my back, tearing some of it away, though I could tell the magic still held. There was a second rat, because of course there was, and as soon as I got to my feet, stumbling among the broken and bloody finger-hair, I began burning one of my precious unicorn bones.

I died not long after, from a hit that I couldn’t see coming, a rat that I could only assume was there. The unicorn’s power brought me back, as it had many times before.

I cut through the rats, one by one, looping through a handful of times so that I could find them, or so that I could dodge them. Each time I was hit, their location was revealed, even if I was killed, and the probability blade’s ability to take the perfect cutting angle made up for when my attacks were a little bit off. I got notifications from the game about skills hitting their caps, and tried my best to stay in the moment, burning through bones to keep myself alive, bones to keep my speed up, and bones to loop through a small window of time.

Eventually the unicorn bone lost integrity, and I allowed the loop to close, with another six of the rats dead in the space of a handful of seconds. I had no idea whether there were more or not, and I kept my sword in front of me, swinging it around like a lunatic, trying to nick one so that I could find it.

(The game notifications had been coming thick and fast, but they were a distraction, not worth the eyeballs they were printed on except to tell me when I’d killed a thing.)

[Coming down,] said Amaryllis.

I watched as Bethel flew overhead, her form about as small as it could be. Amaryllis appeared outside it and began dropping, slowing herself as she went, which answered the question about whether my companions would be able to use still magic through symbiosis. Raven and Pallida were next, with Valencia following quickly after, and then Bethel swung away, darting off through the sky at great speed.

“These rats are antimemetic,” I called to them as I burned END to heal myself. “You can’t perceive them, except indirectly, and not that much.” My sword, which I was still swinging, momentarily turned material, and I bounded forward, slicing through the air where it appeared to have hit. I was extraordinarily thankful that the effect was weak, and that I was still able to make inferences.

“We need to dig, now,” said Amaryllis. “Last wish was used. Bethel is to the winds.”

“Explosive stare,” said Raven. “If it gets desperate, it might use it on its own flesh.”

“Where’s Solace?” I asked. “Grak?”

“Solace is busy with triage,” said Amaryllis. “Grak is working on a ward weapon.”

“Fine,” I said. “Start digging. We need to get close enough to a bone.”

“I’ll be on killing the invisible rats,” said Pallida, randomly poking her trident through the air.

“Not invisible,” said Raven. “Unseeable. There’s a difference.”

“I can see them,” said Valencia. Her face was hidden by her red armor. “Must be magic, not information. They’re staying back.”

“Sure,” said Pallida, still poking her trident around, then swinging it in wide circles. “Just tell me where to poke.”

Clearing away the finger-hair was easy enough, if gruesome work. The ‘strands’ were just like fingers in almost every way, filled with bones and ligaments, with blood flowing through them. It wasn’t long before I was knee-deep in blood, in a pit that was four feet deep. I stabbed down with my probability blade and hit something hard as stone, and an experimental poke at it (the iron smell of very human blood making me very slightly nauseous as I stooped down) showed that I hadn’t made much more than a scratch.

“Raven,” I said. “Orb.”

The three seafoam green orbs appeared around her head, and with a thought, she set one of them straight down, through the pooled blood and into Mome Rath. I stood well back until she signaled that I was clear.

Mome Rath didn’t have a soul, not that I had been able to access, but he did have skin, blood, and per Bethel’s report, bones. I handed my probability blade to Amaryllis, then formed the Claret Spear, hesitating for only a moment before driving it straight down into Mome Rath.

I could feel my blood mingle with Mome Rath’s, and began applying the Bloodline effect immediately, reducing his PHY and my own at the same time. Five factor modifiers improved the bonus I could apply when our blood types were similar, and improved the malus when blood types were different. Mome Rath’s blood was barely blood, or maybe only blood because of the Six-Eyed virtue allowing me some leeway with definitions, but the upshot was that Mome Rath lurched beneath us.

“It’s working,” I said, though I was sure they didn’t need me to say it. “Guard me.”

I pushed my blood down deeper, trying to keep it directed, trying not to let it diffuse. I could feel myself getting lightheaded, and wished that I’d had the time to give myself a transfusion from the bags of my blood that were sitting back in Bethel. I could feel Mome Rath’s blood too, in with my own, distinct from it, pushing against me, and yet somehow I was still unable to feel his soul, if he even had one. Eventually the tendril of blood I had within him found what I had been searching for: his bones.

They were something like ribs, massive things that helped to hold his incredibly large structure together, even though he was an impossible creature of unbelievable proportions. I pushed my blood down rope-thick capillaries until I had latched firmly to the bone, then began to burn it for PHY as hard as I could.

Achievement Unlocked: Stronk

Achievement Unlocked: Sanic the Hegehog

Achievement Unlocked: Unbreakable

Burning someone’s bones didn’t directly hurt them. Maybe in another few months, Mome Rath would start feeling a bit ill, or if he was healing back, it would heal in wrong, but a burnt through bone was entirely survivable, if it was just one. The real point wasn’t that though, it was what I got from it, which was an absolutely enormous amount of PHY. I could feel myself become stronger, tougher, faster, and my perception of time became so warped that I was actually able to see the counterattack coming.

Mome Rath’s head rose up, his many eyes and mouths swinging around on a sinuous, snakelike neck, the only thing moving in a world that was, to my eyes, standing still. Raven must have seen my eyes widen, because she turned too: her entad allowed her to be boosted by the enormous power that I was burning from Mome Rath’s bone. I pushed the extra PHY I’d boosted off the bone down the bloodline, attacking Mome Rath with its own power, then pushed still magic after, trying to stop him. He slowed, but not enough.

I activated Prince’s Invulnerability as quickly as I could, which shot golden spears of light at Pallida, Amaryllis, and Raven. I had tried to include Valencia too, but she wasn’t what the spell considered a person, and the magic didn’t even make an abortive attempt. I began burning my last unicorn bone at once, dividing my focus again.

Mome Rath’s eyes lit up, all of them, all at once, and the world exploded around us.

Prince’s Invulnerability made us and our equipment inviolable, just like the Li’o Temple was, immune to any damage whatsoever for the entirety of its six seconds. It was expensive, military-grade stuff, the kind of spell that a tattoo mage usually kept in his back pocket and never used because it was too hard to replace. There were entads that offered varying levels of protection to their bearers, but almost all of them had limits, limits which didn’t apply to Prince’s Invulnerability. It could even stop void, though the mechanism was unclear.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop movement. I was blown from Mome Rath’s back, my body twisted by the blast just to the point of being mildly uncomfortable and no more. I was twirling so quickly that my brain would probably have been smeared around the inside of my skull, had Prince’s Invulnerability not protected against that. I couldn’t see anything but blinding white until I was well clear of Mome Rath, and even then, everything was whipping around so fast that I couldn’t make sense of it until I’d applied still magic to stop my rapid rotation.

Mome Rath had blown a hole in his own back, leaving a crater whose ejecta was still flying through the air, myself included. Maybe the damage was worse because I’d been feeding his own END back to him as a malus, reducing his ability to take the hit, but it was a terrible, ugly wound that had left him reeling and wobbling on dozens of unsteady legs. Enormous bones were fully exposed and blood was dripping down by the barrel, sloshing out of him. He had some kind of healing power, I knew that much, but I honestly wasn’t sure that he would be able to come back from what he’d done.

I let myself be pulled back by the unicorn magic, back to that frozen moment when I temporarily had the stats of a demigod. I moved to Valencia and grabbed her by the arm, but I had no idea how I was going to save her. The explosion hit again, and I was wrenched away, but I had been gripping her tightly, tightly enough that I managed to hold onto her arm, but it was just her arm, the only part of her that Prince’s Invulnerability seemed to consider part of my equipment. The rest of her had been vaporized, the overwhelming power of the explosion obliterating the Red Armor of Arramor and Valencia along with it.

I reset again and ran at her, this time trying to use the Ring of Upward Bliss, but trying to tap it three times as I darted toward her at speed simply wasn’t doable, not with how comparatively slow the ring was to respond, not even with how insanely high my SPD was, and she was vaporized before I finished.

I tried using the Ring of Partial Incorporeality on her, but it wouldn’t extend that far beyond me, and when I was blown free of Mome Rath and got my bearings, I saw that I was holding just her upper half, the rest of her vaporized from the waist down.

I was running out of options.

I went into my soul and began making sacrifices. I had no idea whether they would hold through the small loop or not, but my memories did, and I hoped that was a good sign.

I dumped all 30 points of Library Magic, 21 points in Improvised Weapons, 21 points in Dual Wield, and another 9 from Debate. All 81 got funneled into Still Magic. When I opened my eyes I was spinning, and I didn’t bother to stop myself, I just reset, hoping that the changes to my soul would carry through, because if they didn’t, then it was very likely that Valencia was done for. The unicorn bone was degrading, and I didn’t know how many attempts I would get.

I rushed over to her, putting my full speed into it, and wrapped my arms around her, holding her tight and desperately stilling both of us with all my might. The explosion wasn’t blinding this time: I could feel the light and heat hitting us, stilled before they could do anything. I was low on blood, having lost the Claret Spear, and feeling faint, but as the force of the explosion died down around us, I felt a wave of relief. Valencia was still in my arms, still whole.

“Are you okay?” I asked, as soon as I’d let up on the stilling. I had worried that I would accidentally stop her heart, or the electrical activity in her brain, but she hadn’t gone limp. I kept us stilled in midair, just above the crater of flesh, as Mome Rath swayed beneath us.

“Yes,” she replied. “What happened?”

“Explosion,” I said. “Unicorn powers. You died a few times.” I paused, looking beneath us for a moment, then allowing us to drop. “You need to leave.” I looked up for a moment. “Amaryllis?”

There was no response.

I was standing with Valencia in the crater of flesh and bone, looking around me. Mome Rath’s head was nowhere to be seen, not beyond the crater wall. I had no idea how often he could use that explosive vision, but given that he hadn’t used it against Bethel the first time they fought, and wasn’t using it against the populace, I was hopeful that I had a minute.

I climbed over the torn flesh, which was already knitting itself, until I could get to a place where I was touching two of the bones at once.

“Steel yourself,” I said to Valencia.

I was feeling woozy, but I made another Claret Spear and jammed it down, not having to go terribly far to mingle my blood with Mome Rath’s. Then I reached out with both hands and began to pull on the bones, hard, draining them of PHY, funneling all of that power into the bloodline, using Mome Rath’s own monstrous strength against him. I was surely sending him into the negatives, which, per Reimer, should have meant that he would be trivial to kill, or possibly dead as a result.

I was about to ask Valencia to start stabbing at Mome Rath, given that he should have been pitifully weak, but before I could, I saw Bethel rising into the air, close by us, the shockwave of her passage through Mome Rath felt only afterward.

Mome Rath, the Forgotten, defeated!

Achievement Unlocked: More like Wuss Lord, amiright?

Level Up!

Quest Complete: Mome Rath, the Forgotten - Mome Rath has fallen, his corpse evermore a record of his existence. (This quest cannot be repeated if another Mome Rath is summoned from beyond space and time.)

Level Up!

I felt nothing from the level ups.

Mome Rath lurched beneath us and began to fall in slow motion, his bulk surely destroying buildings and killing people below him. I grabbed onto Valencia and stilled our motion, which wasn’t necessary for long, as Bethel scooped us up shortly afterward.

Ten seconds after the ropes had grabbed us, we were inside of Bethel, in her command room. Grak was there, but Solace was missing.

“Amaryllis?” I asked. “It’s dead. I’m going radio silence, talk to me if you have a location. Hopefully you made it out okay. Bethel can come grab you.”

There was no immediate response from her. Prince’s Invulnerability or no, the explosion had blasted us all apart from each other, and six seconds wasn’t enough to fall to the ground even without any upward force from the explosion. Amaryllis had the immobility plate, which meant that she was the best able to survive something like that. Whatever she was dealing with, I hoped that she was fine.

“Scan for Pallida and Raven,” I said. “I’m hoping that they survived.”

“They might not have?” asked Valencia, looking at me with wide eyes. She’d taken her helmet off, revealing a sweaty face, with hair stuck to it.

“I don’t know,” I said. “The physics isn’t strongly in their favor. Raven has her cloak, which might help her break her fall, but Pallida … I don’t know.”

I looked around the room, until my eyes fell on Grak, who was sitting down and looking off into the distance. I went over to him. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Where’s Solace?”

“She’s tending to the wounded,” said Grak. He swallowed. “I failed you.”

“You did?” I asked.

“I was preparing a warded weapon,” he said. “I wasn’t fast enough.”

“It worked out,” I said. I paused briefly. “You can do that? A ward anchored to some object? I mean, I knew that it was possible in theory, but I hadn’t realized that your warding had gotten good enough.”

“It’s not,” said Grak. “Clearly.”

I sat down beside him and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s fine,” I said. “Our work is far from done, and your expertise has been invaluable. I also got three level ups today, so if you weren’t able to do it ten minutes ago, that might have changed.”

“Three?” asked Bethel. “Impressive.”

“One for Harold, two for Mome Rath,” I said. “Probably because they were both threats far beyond my level.” I shrugged, though I was still wired from the feeling of victory. “It worked out. Should make things easier in the future. Actually, wait.”

I closed my eyes for three seconds and then went looking at my virtues. I had been busy, but as soon as I had defeated Mome Rath, I should have gone looking for them. I had overloaded Still Magic in order to save Valencia, which would let me know what the remaining virtues were, as well as confirm that Reimer was right about what lay ahead.

Instinctive Halting: So long as you’re not stilling beyond your capacity, still magic will be applied automatically to any and all effects when it would be beneficial to you. For more information on intent and volition, see LUK rules. This effect applies only when you are conscious.

That one Reimer had known, and normal still mages got something like it, which allowed them to stop incoming bullets even if they didn’t know what direction they were coming from (for example). In their games, still mages were mostly tanks, though they didn’t have any way of taking aggro.

Partial Stilling: Removes the penalty for attempting to still a single part of an object. Doubles the damage dealt to objects by stopping or slowing only half of them.

And that was what I would mostly consider a whiff, especially since it seemed to be the virtue for level 60. It had a handful of immediately obvious combat applications, so long as my target was moving, but still magic already excelled at close-quarters combat, and the additional bonus seemed minimal. If this was what the Aerb version of Juniper had come up with, well … Reimer seemed to have a dim view of how the game was balanced, and I was in at least partial agreement.

Still Soul: You can still any changes to your soul, including natural ones. When contesting an entad, roll against its i-level with a multiplier for reasonableness. When contesting a skill use, follow normal contest rules. For other cases, consult your Dungeon Master.

This was the one that I had highly expected to be the capstone. It was a known ability of a few best-in-their-generation still mages, and allowed not only an effective halt to aging, but immunity from all but the most powerful of soul mages. It was really, really good, but it was apparently available at level 80, not level 100.

Meta Stilling: You can still any game effect with a duration.

And there it was, the capstone of still magic. There were very few game effects with durations, at least so far as the revealed text went, and I would have to touch base with Reimer to see whether there was anything he’d failed to mention, but there were at least three that I was currently under: the Skilled Trade, Overcapped, and Double Overcapped afflictions were gradually reducing my bonus to Still Magic.

Or rather, they would have been, except that Instinctive Halting apparently worked with Meta Stilling, and was already holding Still Magic steady. So far as I could tell, I would have Still Magic maxed out for as long as I stayed conscious, which meant that the sacrifice I’d done to save Valencia would keep paying dividends for the rest of the day, or maybe longer, if I could get a copy of Kenner’s Eye.

“I’m getting a message,” said Bethel, frowning slightly.

“Amaryllis?” I asked again. I still hadn’t heard anything over Parson’s Voice, and I was trying not to get myself worked up over it. Bethel was looking, and there was very little that I could do. She had the means to survive. Raven did too. Pallida … we would cross that bridge when we came to it. I had been a bit put out by Heshnel fleeing, but now I was grateful that he’d been spared the danger.

“No,” said Bethel. “There’s an entad that I was forced to synthesize with, the sending slate. It was a paired entad, for communication. The other half was supposedly broken, but now it appears that’s not the case.”

“Oh,” I said. “Who has the other end? What’s the message?”

“Figaro Finch,” said Bethel. “He wants to talk.”

“Alright,” I said. “Can you, uh, project the messages or something?”

“He wants to talk in person,” said Bethel. “One moment, he just gave me an address.”

“He’s here?” I asked. “In Li’o?”

“Five hundred feet away,” said Bethel. “Now, zero.”

“The hells?” I asked.

Ten seconds later, Figaro Finch was standing in the command room with us, presumably snatched up by a rope and deposited there by Bethel. He seemed unperturbed by the sudden change in scenery. He came with friends, or at least people who Bethel had snatched up, all of them wearing Imperial-standard shimmerplate. Four of them were gimmals, a one-armed race with no mouth, eyes, ears, or nose (they sensed, ate, and manipulated gravity). The other was a woman with two small horns and light purple-red skin. I was shocked to realize that I knew her; it was Malus Lartin, my erstwhile ethics professor.

“What in the holy fuck are you doing here?” I asked.

“It’s business, not pleasure,” said Figaro Finch. I’d forgotten how short gnomes were. He was the only one of them in a suit rather than armor, which seemed like a terrible idea to me. “Now that the big guy has been taken down, we need to talk next steps. Harold is still here, in this city, and this time, he’s not running. We need your help.”

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Alexander Wales

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