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Linduin Kayle was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a genius. He was unquestionably intelligent, but it was the sort of intelligence which is primarily associated with getting very high marks on exams and then developing a sort of sorrowful despair that nothing else is ever quite so easy or straightforward. He had an excellent memory, a significantly larger-than-average mental workspace, and was occasionally capable of the sort of nonlinear thinking which gives rise to comments such as "oh, that's clever". But he did not often perform the sort of instantaneous analysis which impresses people, nor was he reliably able to discern uncommon insights. His most expert cognitive talent, like many intelligent people, was the ability to analyze exactly how far he fell short of his own concept of intellect. And so, when he found himself being handed a copy of Antediluvian Arcanerium, he thanked the librarian, took the book to a table, and found himself paralyzed by indecision.

Logically, he knew that Cheis's postulate -- that it was dangerous to learn the wrong information too early (or at all, in some cases) -- was highly likely to be correct; it matched both his personal experiences and his gut feelings, and every time he tested the theory he gained more evidence in its favor. But he was also working on a theory of his own: that any instructor of dangerous arts with a healthy sense of self-preservation would hold back elements of their teachings to retain the advantage in the master-pupil relationship. So now, he was caught between two problems; he could either read the entire book in hopes of additional knowledge at the risk of possibly poisoning his own mind, or look up only the spell Cheis had mentioned at the cost of missing an opportunity to get out from under her shadow. He fretted over the tome for several minutes while Nyoque's thrall slipped into a booth several yards behind him. The thrall, once an older man named Malcolm but now a loose assemblage of processes and compulsions which vaguely approximated an older man named Malcolm, was currently bound only to observe and report but went unnoticed anyhow.

Eventually, Linduin managed to fumble his way through the logic of choosing a temporary setback over the risk of permanent consequences and opened the book to the desired page. The description of Stosser's Keening was verbose, overly complex, and festooned with flowery terminology almost entirely unrelated to the actual concepts at work, but unmistakably functional; one runic circle, two hand gestures depicted in sketched diagrams, and a ten-word chant. Linduin took exactly two steps; he copied them down on a page of his own note paper, sealed it and pocketed it, and then very carefully cast the spell on his own mind. This was a bit challenging, because the spell's steps called for the knife to be sharpened to be placed in the center of the runic circle; without knowledge that Cheis had already accomplished it, he would have thought it impossible. But armed with that knowledge, it took him only a few minutes to realize the solution, holding the runic structure in his mind while placing his own head in the circle (and hoping he wouldn't accidentally sharpen his teeth or eyeballs). As he began the chant, a sequence of events was set in motion.

The thrall, reporting via a far-reaching mental entanglement to its master, had no idea what Linduin was doing; and the rakshasi itself, while cunning and well-informed, was not gifted with the innate arcane mastery of other demons such as a vanoille or an asura. Lacking information about the precise nature of Linduin's actions, it nonetheless sensed that letting him proceed unmolested would complicate its plans, and decided to take action. With a thought, it mobilized another two thralls and sent them towards the library; with another, it sent the thrall that had once been Malcolm towards Linduin's unsuspecting back. The thrall lurched forward, picking up a chair and raising it high for a clubbing strike.

The librarian, who had been keeping an eye on Linduin out of a deep suspicion regarding teenagers checking out highly advanced tomes of magical theory (a depressingly common problem in the university districts of Ciel-Upon-The-Sea), let out a shout and fumbled for a bell to summon the city guard. Linduin, noticing the commotion, was forced to make a quick decision; he could either stop his incantation and turn to deal with whatever was causing the uproar, or try to finish it rapidly at tremendous hazard. There were a number of factors which could have influenced his choice in either direction, but the deciding element, as usual, was the fact that Linduin was seventeen years old. A thrill ran up his spine as he realized he was going to risk it all, and he rattled off the final words of the incantation before he could think better of it. He was just beginning to wonder whether it had been a colossally stupid decision when the spell took hold.

***

The logistical contortions required to maneuver Temurin's forces to the one place on the igg's path with the desired environmental and tactical considerations were epic; if supply chain managers had fanfiction, much would have been written about them after the fact. But due to yet another series of heroic efforts on Galar Kayle's part, everything was in place; and when the Black Oak's forces crested the final hill before reaching Craflexe Pass, it found meaningful resistance assayed against it for the first time in the campaign.

The thousand soldiers and fifteen hundred militia were deployed expertly across the pass's landings and pathways; small knots of fighters capable of blocking large numbers of the oakspawn until hard-pressed, then falling back to be replaced by fresher troops as needed. When the igg tried to respond with its long-range or tunneling troops, it found those advantages countered with equal shrewdness, as support units deployed ablative shields and explosive drills. And at every clash, it found its forces confounded by unfailing and stout-hearted troops, given nigh-infinite stamina and boundless bravery by Galar's Molten Heart bindings.

It calculated, with some difficulty, that it could still make it through the pass, albeit with heavy losses; it contemplated trying an alternate route, but discarded the possibility almost immediately upon realizing that such a redirection might jeopardize the already-tenuous signal it was following. Having made its decision, it committed its reserve forces; and as soon as it did so, a message was sent to a specific tent at the rear of the pass.

When Galar Kayle entered the battle, the parameters of it changed dramatically. Drawing upon the hopes and emotions of the soldiers linked to his command through Ivorious's bindings, he leveled a ruinous blast of holy power directly at the bulk of the igg's forces and annihilated the leading three ranks with the first salvo. The igg, although not actually capable of feeling fear due to its particular cognitive and hormonal apparatuses, nonetheless reacted with maximum severity and launched an immediate attack on Galar's position. The battle which followed was swift and brutal, but the outcome was never in doubt; and slowly but surely, a wedge, with Galar at its head, began to strike towards the Oak itself for the first time in the war's history.

Behind the igg's forces, a strange figure crested the hilltop it had recently surmounted; it looked a bit like a bony ostrich from a distance, but had an observer gotten close enough to discern the true details -- a robed figure in a hat being borne piggy-back by a glowing woman -- they would have found it no less confusing. Velinaer had attempted to pursue his escaping signal tower on foot, but while his new body was capable of many amazing feats, running was not among them. In desperation, he'd made use of the one remaining undead creature under his command, regardless of how silly it looked, and they'd made good time, keeping pace with it tirelessly all the way from Pols Sedis. They'd been unable to close the distance, but that seemed like it was over now; armies are good at keeping large things in one place, after all.

Velinaer had no idea what was actually going on; the oakspawn were total unknowns, the giant army of humans using crappy hand-to-hand weapons was perplexing and worrying, and whatever had gone horribly wrong with Cool Staff Guy's Dead Wife Or Girlfriend was both uncomfortable and unpredictable. He really hoped she wasn't about to explode or something, but there wasn't much he could do about it now if she was. There was only one part of this entire situation he understood, and it was this: he wanted his signal tower back.

***

It is natural but wrong to imagine time slowing down for Linduin as the spell took effect; that was not the case at all. Rather, it was more that he sped up, but not in a linear fashion; the constituent parts of his psyche became rather disjointed in many ways, and he found himself only intermittently aware of what actions he was taking and what reasons he had for doing them. The first flash of sensation was a sudden cognizance that someone behind him was about to attack him; at the time, it was mysterious, but he would later realize he had caught a reflection from a lamp in front of him. His hands, dropping the book, rose quickly to his throat and did something deft with his collar, and then he slid bonelessly out of his seat and under the table as the chair crashed down where his head had been moments ago. Nyoque's thrall, unprepared for such a turn of events, paused to gape stupidly and await instructions.

Linduin, not bothering to turn around, tucked his legs underneath him and sprang forward into a roll, coming up from under the table already in motion and heading towards the library's door. The librarian, now ringing his bell and calling stridently for the guards, missed his departure completely. Nyoque, however, did not, and directed its thralls to pursue. When Linduin trotted out the door to the library, both of the other thralls were waiting for him, and attacked without hesitation.

Casting the sleep spell Cheis had given him as his only means of protection had many disadvantages; it was not instantaneous (he had to speak the trigger word), it did little to arrest momentum (an unconscious body moving at you with high velocity is still quite dangerous), and it required two hands: one to touch the collar's rune, and the other to point at the desired target. But Linduin had unfolded the collar's rune and quite neatly twisted it back underneath the collar itself, such that it was constantly touching the skin of his neck; tremendously hazardous since he could no longer electively break the circuit, but useful in that it left both hands free to point at his two attackers simultaneously as he shouted "Somneon!". The spell rushed forward, disrupting the electrochemistry of their brains, and both thralls collapsed to the cobblestones at his feet with grand mal seizures as Linduin coolly observed the spell's effects rendering dozens of lines of dense output into the buffer of his thought lexer. A wave of fatigue washed over him -- not as much as telekinesis had cost, but still debilitating -- as he turned to confront the third thrall emerging from the library. It was much too close for another casting of the sleep spell, and moving rapidly; there was no way he could dodge in time.

The phrase "speed of thought" is often thrown around in a rather cavalier fashion; in reality, even the quickest thinker can rarely react faster than within a few hundred milliseconds to unexpected stimuli. But for an accelerated abstraction, even the bandwidth limits of light and chemical reactions pose few restrictions on its maximum speed. Linduin's gaze absorbed the wealth of data in the sleep spell's poorly-secured stack dump, analyzed it in less than a hundredth of a second, and extrapolated its underlying structure, principles, and motive concepts within the time it took the thrall to take a single step. Unfortunately, the other parts of his mind were not remotely capable of doing anything with this knowledge; even if he'd come up with the perfect spell in the space of a fraction of an instant, casting it was still completely out of the question. He'd need to move his hands to form the desired gestures, speak the necessary words for the trigger sequence, and craft any required runes by one method or another, and there was simply no time for such things. Linduin's reified prefrontal cortex swiftly enumerated these concerns, discarded them, and selected the only available option. He couldn't let the attacker touch him, obviously; for all he knew it might have poison on its skin, or electrocute him, or spread some kind of magical contagion, or any number of other undesirable outcomes. So he leveraged the one thing that didn't require physical action: his collar. He dumped the thought lexer's output into itself, redefined the variable for 'wearer' to '!wearer' and executed the function marked WeaselPop().

The specified function, originally intended as an empty threat which Cheis had hoped never to have to actually use, triggered. Instead of turning the inside of Linduin's skull into a cloud of superheated steam, as had been its original purpose, it instead triggered a pulse of exothermic energy outwards modulated to a regular expression which matched any bipedal head-possessing humanoid not exactly equal to Linduin. The cube-square law being what it was, the pulse of energy rapidly diminished in strength as it traveled further away from its origin, dissipating into background heat after only a dozen feet. The thrall, however, was only roughly one-third that distance from Linduin, and thus the energy dose it received was sufficient to cause its head to explode like a detonated watermelon. The shock of abruptly being covered in goop, brains, and skull fragments was enough to break even Linduin's superhuman concentration, and the circuit sustaining his elevated ratiocination collapsed like soggy cardboard. He didn't wet himself, but it was close.

The aftermath of accelerated cognition was jarring and dizzying; he spent nearly half a minute staring into space, various parts of his brain catching up to current events while other parts coped with suddenly being significantly less mathematically complex than they had been moments ago. The result, when it came, was messy but not surprising; he vomited, staggered around for a few moments, then ran pell-mell for safety before the guards could show up and ask uncomfortable questions. Behind him, unnoticed and forgotten, the sealed notes which had fallen out of his pocket slowly dissolved in a puddle.

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AMBLE

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