-Louella Barclay-

Breaching through the treeline, Astrid, Esarathon, and I were greeted by the Harbingers of the Black Skies’ Sweets Renaissance ritual site: surrounding the floating dungeon core were roughly two and a half dozens cultists. On one side, the cultists were fighting a steady stream of monsters with the aid of a spellman casting boons on them, and on the other side, a small group of delvers fighting another spellman. No raid monster in sight yet like that system assistant promised, but we didn’t have much time to wait, it would probably be a minute or two before we were dragged into the fight regardless.

“What’s the plan, Esarathon?” I asked as I coursed lightning mana through my system. “Do we wait for the harpy or engage now?”

“As much as I would love to wait for a raid monster to show up, I don’t think we’ll have that luxury,” replied Esarathon before conjuring up his bow and twin balls of warped light. “I suggest I take out the fodder while Astrid hounds down the boon-casting spellman. Louella, you think you can handle the meathead long enough for the delvers to get away?”

“Easily, but wouldn’t it be better for me to take the fodder instead? They are essentially lined up for a shower of Chain Lightnings.”

“You aren’t the only one who can hit a lot of targets at once.” I suppressed a small sigh and decided to go with his plan: it was obvious he wanted to fight in conjunction with his girlfriend and I didn’t feel like being the one to get in the way of that.

As the two entered the fray, I went to intercepting the hulking robed cultist as he tried to punch a sword-wielding delver: a quick bolt of crackling electricity stopped him in his tracks just long enough for the delver to get away. From underneath the cultist spellman’s tattered robes, I saw glimpses of a mech frame made with some biological components and covered in tubes flowing with various glowing liquids. Great, a mech frame user, I mused as I did my best to piece together what class specialties was used in making the mech frame: Vici Cast and Druggist Tech were both givens as its base, but everything augmenting it was still a mystery to me. 

“You all should get back and use any healing potions,” I told the sword-wielding delver and his trio of companions. The four of them nodded vigorously before pulling back to give each other first aid. I don’t know if they got cocky cause they were all in the tier 3-to-4 range, but that’s obviously not going to cut it fighting against the particular spellman. 

“Hehehehe, looks like I have myself some new prey,” crackled the cultist spellman as he turned toward me and cracked his mech frame-covered knuckles. Esarathon was right, this guy is obviously a meathead, I mused as I started to circulate mana through my mandalas, readying my Synthesis: Bending Chain Lightning greater spell specialty: there was no hold back with plain Chain Lightnings just because I wanted to avoid the mana burns and shocked nerves.

Not bothering to reply to his quip, I pointed a finger at him and fired a thick ray of lightning mana, thoroughly controlling it to lower the rate of decay into elemental lightning and then mundane electricity. Before the spellman could realize what hit him, the Bending Chain Lightning blast had coursed in and out of him and was now arcing around for another strike, shocking my mandalas a tiny bit in the process.

The spellman grunted and spasmed a bit as the blast reached the apex of its arc and started to return; with a pumping of his legs, he surged to the left only to still get struck squarely in the shoulder. Crackling electricity cascaded across his mech frame, destroying more of the cultist’s robe as the blast exited his shoulder and started another arc. Three more cycles and the spell was fully spent, each time hitting further and further away from his vitals but not failing to strike him.

“I know you’re using a mech frame, but that is no excuse to neglect the use of a spell shield,” I chastised the cultist as I worked through the feeling of tingling mildly shocked nerves that undercasted the feeling of pleasure from casting such a strong spell.

“My Mage Bane is stronger than any flimsy spell shield,” replied the spellman with a split grin before spitting out some blood: elemental lightning and electricity rolled off him into the ground as the glowing fluids in his mech frame’s tubes turned a tinge more pale yellow. Flexing his right arm, a few segments of his mech frame slid off and formed a bony sledgehammer in his grip. “Hehehe, I wonder if it is the same for you.”

A blur of motion and he was suddenly bearing down at me, swinging the sledgehammer in a wide horizontal arc: there was no time to try and dodge it, the best I could do was throw up a spell shield and try not to get crushed. Tucking my left arm in, I abjured up an electrified spell shield while blasting him with split-second overcharged bolt of elemental lightning with my other arm. Next thing I knew I was tumbling in pain from both a partially crushed arm and my mandalas protesting and warping from doing too much all at once. 

Catching myself on my feet, I forced my mandalas to keep up the work and start to draw in yellow mana to circulate through my wound. Feeling my arm knit itself back together, I got a good look at how fried the meathead spellman was: electricity wouldn’t stop crackling around him, his sledgehammer was now a charred stump, and oddly enough the fluids in his mech frame’s tubes were even more pale yellow.

“You know for someone who probably made their mech frame to tank hits, you’re already looking pretty battered,” I pointed out before firing off a twin casting of Bending Chain Lightning, starting to feel my Chain Lightning mandala start to lag every so slightly behind my Synthesis: Bending Chain Lightning mandala. The two rays of lightning mana arched around the spellman like a fancy magical light show, but even with two seperate arcs chasing him down, I still couldn’t manage to hit his vitals. You’d think he would at least slow down a bit more, I’ve definitely pumped enough voltage into him to start causing complete muscle failure in a normal person a few times over.

Still crackling with electricity, the cultist closed the distance again as parts of the mech frame hanging around his left arm unfolded into a second sledgehammer. Seeing that he was aiming for another killing blow, I focused on creating another crackling spell shield before circulating white mana through me and using its sudden boost in mobility to jump backward. 

With a loud shattering explosion, the sledgehammer broke through my spell shield and barely missed my abdomen. Why couldn’t Esarathon let me fight the fodder cultist instead? This spellman was really checking all the boxes of things I hated to deal with: endurance-type portfolio, fully physical attacks, obvious masochist. 

“Am I looking battered now?” asked the meathead spellman as he spat out some more blood while his mech frame slowly but visibly repaired itself, the charred stump in his right hand becoming sledgehammer-shaped again. Add experienced in regeneration to the boxes. “Now princess, why don’t you stay still long enough for me to turn you into a nice paste?”

“I’d rather not,” I replied, making some more distance as I casted another Bending Chain Lightning spell. It didn’t matter that the spellman’s mech frame could repair itself, I could see the wear and tear I was building up on him, but I could also feel my Chain Lightning mandala begin to show signs of being taxed. It wasn’t until I was two dozen casts into the fight that feeling about the cultist suddenly changed, he was shrugging off the lightning mana and elemental lightning like it was nothing. With a mad laugh, he gloated,

“Hahaha! Finally! Your fate has been sealed, your precious mana is now coursing through me and my Mage Bane! Those pretty little lightning bolts of yours are worthless now!” So he used Circulation Tech in that mech frame? That does explain the fluids changing colour and why he feels so different now.

“You know for someone smart enough to use something like Circulation Tech in a mech frame to create a defensive attuning technique, you are incredibly stupid.”

“What do you mean, bitch.”

“I’m a spellman also. I’m not some one-trick pony that leans on one powerful spell like a crutch.” Taking the momentary lull in the battle, I pulled out six Hiveframe-Castellan lev-rifles out of my personal subdimension, each pair made with my Compression Lev-Rifles lesser spell specialty and augmented by another mandala: Stormcaller’s Sigil lesser spell specialty, Storm of the Lightning Demi-Elementals feature, and Selstylie: Transmutation Chapter school. “Although I don’t think you can say the same.”

“You bitch!” roared the spellman as he lunged at me, both sledgehammers ready to be brought down. Before either of us could react, the cultist was thrown off course by a hail of elemental ice. 

“I’m sorry… That I’m late…” commented a beautiful armless four-winged harpy wrapped in pale colourful wisps of mist. The cultist spellman growled and redirected his attention to the newly arrived raid monster; he barked something I couldn’t hear and caused a cannonade-like protrusion to come out of one of his shoulders, but before he could fire anything the harpy rapidly created and fired a mist-wrought arrow with speed that could only be attested to elemental agility.

“It’s no problem, now if you’ll excuse me,” I replied as I channelled mana into the pair of floating rifles augment with Stormcaller’s Sigil and fired off a twin volley with their ignition phrase. “Storm Vortex!” Two bullets of hyper compressed air infused with glyphworks soared toward the meathead and exploded into twin swirling vortexes of rapid decompression and lightning. 

The spellman stumbled and stared at the two of us, his rationality obviously starting to override his masochistic tendencies: me taking out my lev-rifles may have turned the tides back to my favor, but the arrival of this Full Course Sugar-Harpy had sealed his defeat in absolute certainty.

“What beautiful magic… I wish I could use such colorful Five Powers,” chimed the harpy before flapping her wings and suddenly causing the cultist to be tossed into the air by a twister of elemental air: his defensive countermeasures now useless under the varied assault of magics.

“Why thank you. I shall not let you down and show you the full extent of my lev-rifles’ beauty as we take care of this cretin,” I replied, focusing all my lev-rifles on the spellman. Needless to say the fight became a one-sided slaughter that quickly spilled over dispatching the fodder cultists and boon-casting spellman that Esarathon and Astrid were currently engaged with. Although I may have overdone it a slight bit as by the time everyone was dispatched, all six lev-rifles were in need of maintenance.  

“Raid monsters… they really are something,” muttered Esarathon, the twin balls of warped light from his Binary Orbit Sigil winking out of existence as the three of us watched the harpy secure the corrupted looking dungeon core that the Harbingers of the Black Skies had secured to the center of the ritual site.

“She is really pretty…” absent mindedly noted Astrid as she awkwardly scratched her arms with blood-splattered claws.

“She is something to behold. Although is it okay for us to just let her take the dungeon core?” I followed up, watching the raid monster wrap thicker and thicker wisps of mist around the octahedron.

“It’s fine, I mean she did help trivialize the fight. Plus dungeon cores aren’t the easiest things to sell,” explained Esarathon before he finally stopped Astrid from scratching herself and accidentally further smearing herself with blood.

“Couldn’t we just sell it on the secret market? Or somewhere in the hidden or upper universe groups?”

“Sure, but then we have to try to explain why we defeated a bunch of cultists, took a dungeon core as loot, and then suddenly don’t have it anymore. Honestly, it would take a lot of paperwork and too many trips to the guild’s consulting firms for me to consider it worth it.”

“One of the many woes of being a public spellman?”

“Pros and cons, especially here. The public universe groups and all its Earths can be a hassle at times. No offense, Astrid.”

“None taken,” idly replied the russian blue werewolf as the harpy strolled up to us, the dungeon core now fully enveloped in mist and floating behind her. With a mildly confused and concerned smile, the raid monster asked us,

“Are you… sure it is fine for me to… take this back to Robert?”

“It’s fine, miss Full Course Sugar-Harpy,” commented Esarathon with a professional smile.

“Please don’t be so… formal. Call me… Harper.”

“Ooh, a named raid monster. Well don’t worry about, Harper. We don’t particularly need a dungeon core, especially a corrupted one like that.”

“Thank you… is there anything I can do to return the favor?...”

“Could you get the system assistant to lend us some monsters? For carrying all the harbingers back to the guild for processing.”

“Done… some gingerbread commuters should… help you out. Anything else?”

“No, that should be good.” The harpy nodded and with that took off, flying back to the faux-World Bridge that connected this Interconnection to Historie Pastoria Sweets. “Now as I was saying Louella. It’s all about learning what you can and don’t do, and then finding out what loopholes you can use and what rules you can bend.”

“That’s good to know,” I replied, kind of surprised to see the mischievous side of Esarathon appearing at a time like this. Sighing a tiny bit, I allowed myself to relax and give my mandalas the rest they needed to recover from being taxed so much. Perhaps I could make use of this downtime to trying out some fruit picking.

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