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Eve unstrapped her club from her back, stepping in front of her squishy companions in case anything should come screaming down the hallway for them. She doubted any sentry constructs of the kind she’d seen so far could fit through the passage, but if Eve had learned anything in her time as an adventurer, it was to be ready for all sorts of wacky bullshit, which seemed a good way to describe three giant constructs somehow fitting through a human-sized hallway.

That didn’t happen, of course, but, by Ayla, Eve was ready for it.

Preston cast a look to Wes. “You good?”

Wes twisted his head around to gaze back down the way they’d come. “I think so. I’ll let you know if we get out of range.”

“Should we grab him?” Eve asked.

Wes shook his head. “Let’s see what’s actually out there first. Could be still in Art’s range, or could be something you can handle on your own.”

“Alright,” Eve said, taking her next steps down the hallway. “Let’s see what defensive measures one-eight-seven-three, four, and five do.”

As the party crept carefully forward, Preston muttered, “Do you think those numbers imply the existence of defensive measures one through eighteen-hundred-seventy-one?”

“Eighteen hundred seems like a lot of defensive measures,” Eve snorted. “But this is the capital. I wouldn’t put it past them.”

“Or they could’ve started counting at a thousand,” Wes said. “Or the numbers are a code for something. Maybe we’re in the eighteenth section of the palace. Or the eighteenth floor. Or the hundred-and-eighty-seventh room.”

Eve made a farting noise with her tongue. “That’s no fun. I want eighteen hundred defensive measures. At least some of them have gotta be worth exp.”

“And all of them would want to kill you,” Preston added.

“Not true,” Eve argued. “You could consider a locked door a defensive measure, and that one back there didn’t try to kill me.”

“Maybe it did try, but was just really bad at it,” Wes said. “With how hard you kicked it, it’s possible a shard of wood could’ve flown back and gone through your throat. It just… didn’t.”

“That seems like a bit of a stretch,” Preston said.

“Besides,” Eve added, “a shard of wood through the neck wouldn’t kill me.” To make her point, she dissociated her neck and waved her hand back and forth through the resulting cloud of Mana. “I’d just lose a bunch of Mana.”

“Also, a locked door totally isn’t a defensive measure,” Wes said. “Especially a flimsy wooden door like that. I could’ve kicked it down. That was a privacy measure.”

Eve shook her head. “It doesn’t have to be effective against tier 4s to be a defensive measure. Sometimes all it takes is slowing down an intruder long enough for the guards to notice. The sound of kicking down the door works almost like an alarm, and while it doesn’t stop us, a locked door would probably be enough to keep some random citizen off the street from wandering in where he doesn’t belong.”

“But a random citizen wandering in isn’t a threat,” Wes argued. “If a door is locked to stop them, it’s not a defensive measure, it’s a convenience measure. Or, you know, a privacy measure.”

“Guys, guys,” Preston interrupted. “I think we’re getting distracted from the matter at hand.”

Eve and Wes paused.

“The door wasn’t enchanted,” the healer explained. “It couldn’t have been one of the defensive measures the enchantments tracked, otherwise Eve would’ve gotten a notification when she kicked it in.”

“But what about the front gate?” Eve asked. “I got notifications for that.”

“You said the notifications called it ‘gate,’ not ‘defensive measure whatever,’” Preston countered.

“My money’s still on some kind of encoding system,” Wes said. “The numbers have gotta designate which defensive measures they’re referencing.”

Up ahead, the sound of metal against stone screeched through the hallway.

“Oh, right,” Eve said. “The sentries.”

The hall opened up into a spacious sitting room, equipped with the iron frames of what had once been upholstered chairs and a rather well-preserved single-family dining table. From the three doors lining the round wall, Eve reckoned they’d found the royal suites.

As if to confirm her theory, all three doors burst open at once to admit defensive measures 1873, 1874, and 1875. Eve Appraised them.

Level ?? Prismed Burendian Bodyguard Construct

“That’s a mouthful,” Eve muttered.

Behind her, Wes scowled. “Art’s out of range,” he said. “Can you handle them without me?”

Eve closed the less-than-useful Appraise messages to actually look at the threats before her. True to their purpose as bodyguards, they stood no taller than an above-average human—which was to say, about as tall as Wes.

They walked on four spider-like legs, each constructed of three foot-long segments of metal and operated by what seemed to be a string of pure Mana running along them. A narrow body sprouted from the wide base, built of layers of independently rotating octagonal pieces. Many of said segments supported long and thin arms, which gave the things a fuzzy appearance when hanging limply, or threatened to pierce throats and hearts when brandished.

Eve could handle a few dozen pointy ends. What worried her were the cloudy white crystals that sat atop the octagonal bodies. She had no idea what they did, but reason told her she was staring at the prisms Appraise had warned her about.

“I didn’t know the Burendians made constructs out of metal,” she murmured. “The others were all stone.”

“Makes sense when they can’t rely on throwing a few tons of weight around,” Preston said. “Can you take ‘em?”

“I think so,” she answered, bringing her club into swinging position. “Be ready to run if those crystals do anything too scary, though.”

Wes nodded.

Preston, in lieu of a verbal response, cupped his hands around his mouth, tilted his head up, and let out a roar more befitting a great cat than a lithe and stylishly dressed healer.

You have heard the Packmaster’s Call!

+15% Strength!

+15% Dexterity!

+15% Intelligence!

“Alright.” Eve cracked a sideways grin. “Let’s do this.”

She Charged left, dumping a thousand Mana into Mana Rush and pulling in energy from the enchantments along the floor to replace it just as fast as it drained away.

[Alert!] Mana leak detected!

The constructs responded immediately.

The one directly in front of Eve raised all its arms directly at her, thirty long spikes ready to catch her Charge on their stiletto points. The constructs to her right and behind her stood stalk still. If Eve had stopped to look, she’d have noticed their crystals each taking on a colored glow.

She intuited the projectiles coming, but couldn’t have guessed they’d fly at two different speeds.

Moments before colliding with the waiting spikes, Eve Jetted to the side, narrowly dodging both the melee strike of her target and a bolt of electricity arcing from one of the constructs behind her.

She failed to dodge the ice bolt.

Frigid agony blossomed in the small of her back as the spell struck true, piercing her armor and the clothes beneath. White Mana spilled from the wound, causing her pool to slowly drain as the pain rolled up her spine in waves.

Eve kept moving. She didn’t have four thousand Willpower to get distracted by a bit of pain.

The first swing of her club struck a wall of metal arms, knocking them clean off the construct’s body as it passed but failing to connect with the prism at its top. Eve allowed the momentum of her Jet to carry her past the thing, spending a moment’s focus to reconstitute the chunk of her torso the ice had torn apart.

As she shuffled to a halt, Eve cast her eyes around the room to spot the two distant constructs charging up their next attacks. The prisms atop them shined with different hues, both panoplies of color, yet icy blue was curiously absent from one and electric yellow from the other.

“Oh, I get it!” Wes called from his vantage back in the hallway. “They’re prisms because they break apart pure Mana into component elements.”

“I picked up on that!” Eve shouted as she leapt away from a shard of stone and a black beam she didn’t even want to guess the element behind. Whatever it was, it smelled like old fish. She darted for the nearest construct, hesitant as she was to turn her back to the others. “Can you guys do something about it?”

Eve didn’t wait for a response before Jetting up and over her target, keeping her body horizontal to fit between its crystal and the ceiling. The pointed arms failed to reach her from below, and her club struck the thing square on.

One advantage of fighting constructs built around a single crystal, was how easy it was to figure out exactly what needed to be destroyed in order to win. The downside was how crystals tended to shatter when met with overwhelming force.

In this case, the overwhelming force was named Eve.

She spat out a curse through gritted teeth as a dozen crystal shards shot into her exposed hands. Her armor stopped any other stray bits of shrapnel, but the havoc wreaked upon her hands made for distraction aplenty. The pain stopped when she dissociated the damaged extremities into clouds of Mana, but in the process her club fell straight through to the floor.

You have defeated Level 109 Prismed Burendian Bodyguard Construct: +12.7m exp!

[Error!] Defensive Measure 1874 Offline.

The dual kill notifications were little comfort in the face of two constructs firing pot shots at her while she frantically worked to reform her hands and snatch up her club from where it’d fallen. The low growl echoing through the air and the notification accompanying it, however, were another matter.

Packmaster’s Call makes you immune to Assert Dominance!

Eve cracked a grin as the two remaining constructs halted mid-cast. She called to Preston, “Say, did you ever get around to trying that out on Wes?”

“Fuck off!” came the reply.

Eve cackled at her own joke as she Charged for the nearest bodyguard, slamming her club right through it before it could free itself from Preston’s challenge. This time she managed not to tear her hands to shreds in the process. Eve counted that as a win.

The smile slipped from her face as she turned to the final construct to find it free from Preston’s crowd control, but it wasn’t the dozens of lethal spines threatening to impale her, nor the imminent next projectile she’d have to dodge, that so disturbed her.

It was the color of the Mana it had selected for its next attack.

The prism glowed red.

“Run!”

Eve Jetted for the hallway.

Preston turned to flee.

Wes stepped forward.

The construct threw its fire bolt.

Eve collided with Preston, two of his ribs snapping with a horrific crack as she grabbed him at high speed. Behind them, the spell washed harmlessly against the stone wall.

But it was too late.

The entire sitting room behind them exploded into a maelstrom of inferno, the wooden table, the iron chair frames, the stone walls and floor, all of it burned.

As she Charged out with every bit of speed she could manage, Eve screamed for help both audibly and mentally.

“Art!”

I’m coming!

Eve made it most of the way back to hallway’s entrance before she met up with Art. She didn’t waste time. If the blaze grew bigger than Art’s telepathy could reach, there’d be no… Eve shook her head. She didn’t have time for such thoughts.

Eve unceremoniously dropped Preston on the ground and scooped Art up. Without even stopping to breathe, she Jetted back down the hall.

Time seemed to slow as adrenaline coursed through her. Her breathing sped. Her heart pounded faster than her feet against the glowing stone floor. Heat and pressure washed over her face as she raced the edge of the blaze just as the blaze raced to consume her.

Found him!

Eve skidded to a halt at Art’s message, watching in tense anticipation as the inferno drew nearer. “Can you get through?”

Yeah, I just need… Art sent. Gimme a sec.

The wall of flame pushed further down the hall toward them. “We don’t have a sec.”

Aaaaaand, got him!

The flame winked out.

Eve let out a breath, hugging Art close for a moment before putting him down. “Thanks, that was close.”

What happened? Art asked. He should’ve known not to cast while I’m out of range.

“Surprise fire,” Eve explained. “The constructs we were fighting…” she trailed off as her eyes stared down the hall to see Wes standing alone where the fire had once raged, surrounded by blackened stone and melted slag. To Art alone, she muttered, “What’re we gonna do once we get you back to your da?”

He’ll be able to help! Art chimed. He can do anything!

“I’m sure he can, kid,” Eve murmured, absentmindedly patting him on the back of his feathered head as she gazed without focus at Wes and the burnt room. “I’m sure he can.”

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Nixia

Bio: Teller of Tales, Singer of Songs
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LimitNacho ago

Thanks for the chapter!

They're getting to the point where Wes's issue is becoming actually dangerous, huh.

josukeh ago

It's nice seeing Wes be dangerous, especially since his abilities are under lock an key right now. Shows how Eve's not the only one growing stronger.

Alreadyded ago

Construct has destroyed itself in it's confusion.

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