The blast of cyclopean power which erupted outwards from the vanoille's awakening form was merely the barest fraction of its actual might, but it was more than enough to send Linduin flying back out of the alley like a leaf tossed by a breeze; Cheis, who had a number of scaling wards against kinetic disruption currently active, mostly just got her robes and hair further disheveled.  Nyoque, cackling with glee, slipped into the rear door of the clothing store as the vanoille manifested itself fully.  Cheis whimpered.  There were things she was prepared to deal with -- like the entire mage's council of Ciel-Upon-The-Sea -- and things which she was not; a vanoille was very firmly in the second list.

 Linduin, hurtling backwards at a truly worrying velocity, crashed into something hard but yielding; at first he thought he had plowed through a bystander, but then he looked up to see the astonished and incredulous face of his father, bespectacled and bearded as always, shining with white light and wearing some kind of goofy robe.  Linduin nodded curtly, levitated himself back onto his feet (at the cost of all memory of his favorite dessert) and brushed himself off.  "Thanks.  Fancy seeing you here."

 Galar was shocked almost beyond words.  "Linduin!!  My boy, you're alive!"

 Linduin scowled.  "Not for long if we don't take care of that thing.  I calculated where it's going, but if we let it get away, we'll never catch it again.  Hurry up."  He sprinted off down Curmeric street, a confused and disbelieving Galar in his wake, and muttered his thoughtspeeding enchantment a final time.  One way or another, this was going to be over in the next few minutes.

 Velinaer felt his sanity coming apart at the seams as the igg seemed to expand and become infinitely more solid, turning into a sort of watermark on reality in front of him; in seconds, the breach was going to become polygenic, and the universe would pretty much be done for.  He might simply have stood there, watching it happen, had a message not pinged into his consciousness from his forgotten listening terminal: CONTAINMENT FAILURE SCENARIO 999 -- ALL-CHANNEL MAYDAY.  The message, which he had seen hundreds of times in media but had never actually occurred before now, shocked him back to his senses, and he remembered that whether or not the Shul Empire existed, he was Velinaer Dax'taxu, Seventy-Ninth of his line, Keeper of the Charnel Repeaters for District 742-BVN4, and he had better prove himself worthy of his root password because nobody else was going to.  He squared his bony shoulders, pulled up his console, and executed the first instruction to set up a line-of-sight sanitization.

 The vanoille came fully awake, noticed the astral mass of Cheis's power, and began hungrily extending its myriacanthous metasensory appendages.  Cheis of Veraleigh immediately leveraged the full extent of her sorcery, terrified in a way that Ulbert Malbruggen had not and could never have approached; a vanoille was as native to the forms and structures of magical power as a fish was to water, and she was in a fight for her life.  The creature's black halo of anti-light encompassed them both as the battle began in earnest.

 "When I tell you to attack, you do it.  No hesitation, all right?" commanded Linduin imperiously at his father as the two of them wheeled around a food vendor's cart.  

 Galar blinked in confusion.  "Son, I don't understand.  What's going on?"

 "I don't have time to explain," Linduin snapped.  "This is your one chance to make up for being the world's shittiest dad, and you only get one shot.  Can you do it, or not?"

 Galar's brow furrowed as his ire with his son's disrespect warred with his newfound humility and tremendous joy at finding his beloved progeny alive.  "I can."  He gripped his spear meaningfully.

 Linduin nodded.  "Okay.  Here we go."  He muttered his combat precognition enchantment one more time, leapt nimbly over a railing, and slid under a passing carriage with less than an inch of clearance just in time to trip Nyoque, who was barreling out the front door of a laundry business wearing its favorite form, that of executor Eldigan Whigst.  "Now!" yelled Linduin as the rakshasi collapsed on top of him.  "Stab this motherfucker!"

 Cheis tried all of her most powerful tricks and maneuvers, but they availed her little; attacking the vanoille in the magical realm was depressingly similar to attempting to dry one's clothes with water.  It didn't even attempt to destroy or circumvent her protections; it simply peeled them back, like the skin of a banana, to get at the juicy essentia underneath.  Cheis struck back with all her might, expending her stored energy as raw power, but the vanoille simply devoured it and burrowed into her soul, hungry for more.  In moments, she was helpless, surgically excised from all her sources of power; her mind was flayed open like a butterflied filet as the demon buried its aculeate aspects in her consciousness in much the same way a pig buries its snout in a trough.  Her sight and thought processes began to dim as the vanoille commenced the nightmarish process of consuming her totality whole.  

 Galar, who had no idea what was going on and was loath to simply impale a stranger on his son's say-so (and also worried about hitting Linduin through the other man's body if his strike wasn't accurate), struck decisively but opted for a disabling wound rather than a killing blow.  His spear plunged with surgical precison into the back of Nyoque's right leg, severing large portions of its hamstring and reducing its mobility severely.  Normally, this would have been a fatal error; any blow with an enchanted blade, no matter how crippling, would fail to bypass its regeneration unless the blow destroyed its heart.  Even an impaling strike directly through the skull would barely inconvenience the rakshasi; its intellect was gathered in a sort of demonic ka where a human normally kept their left ventricle.  But Galar's spear, uniquely among all other currently-extant weapons on this particular thousand-square-mile portion of the planet, was empowered with the holy magics of the White Gift, which were as anathematic to Nyoque as water was to an open flame; its pietistic energies reacted with the rakshashi's demonic soulstuff explosively, leaving a smoking gash and wresting an anguished howl from Nyoque's maw as its control of its form slipped.  Its face melted into its true visage, its claws sprouted instinctively, and it lashed out at the closest prey -- Linduin, naturally -- in animalistic rage.

 Velinaer fought hard to maintain his concentration as winds sprung up around him, buffeting his little ship dangerously; he stumbled, misplaced a rune, and had his entire process disintegrate like wet tissue.  If he had had tear ducts, he would have been weeping; he felt terrified, frustrated, and very, very alone.  But his dedication to his duty was, in the end, more powerful than his fear, his loneliness, or his distress; in extremis, he decided not to bother with half-measures.  He executed a blind extropy drain and stepped out onto the surface of the water, which froze solid for a half-mile in every direction beneath his bony heel, and he simply designated the entire middle of Anjelia Bay as an exclusion zone and triggered the SCSE macro (Sanitize, Circumscribe, Sever, and Excise) that every console had hardcoded into its base runic structures.  In the astral spectrum, unobserved by everyone except him, a shimmering frame of light appeared around the target area, encompassing a titanic cube nearly ten miles on a side.  Powerful runes of sealing, carving strictures of forbiddance deep into the substrate of reality itself, took form in sharp, searing strokes.

 If Cheis's defeat or death had been the vanoille's objective, she would surely have died and been consumed.  But at the end of the day, it wasn't interested in her life or her soul; it simply desired her power, and burrowed straight through the center of her anima to get at her spiritual connection to the fantastically complex enchantment which served as her energy reserve.  With her last, fading flickers of identity, Cheis felt the vanoille draining her power into itself, and had a final, desperate idea.  Reaching up with excruciatingly arduous effort, she raised her hand to her right earlobe and removed her earring.

 The rakshasi's claw raked down Linduin's face, deflecting off the bony ridge of his brow and missing the moist circumference of his eyeball by the merest of microns.  Blood fountained out, but Linduin barely uttered a sound (his ability to feel pain as anything other than a perfunctory alert having been an early and deliberate casualty of his psychic auto-cannibalism) and instead focused on telekinetically pulling a nearby plank of wood into his grasp from a foot or two away.  With a deft spiral of movement, he used his own breastbone as a fulcrum to lever the rakshasi off him with a burst of force from an unexpected vector, popping it up like a piece of bread leaping out of a toaster directly in front of Galar's poised spearpoint.  It was a perfect opportunity, one that not even the most inept of spearmen could miss, and Galar did not.

 Cheis's earring, which had already been having something of an algorithmic fit due to a vanoille burrowing itself into the middle of most of its object definitions, reacted to this unplanned exception with great vehemence.  A titanic load of energy debt dumped through Cheis's systems, crashed through the bottom of her consciousness, and turned her energy store enchantment practically inside-out in a floating-point underflow of legendary proportions.  The vanoille, practically insensate with gustatorial pleasure, did not even notice as Cheis astrally left her dying body, executed a couple of deft security exploits on her own existential assembly, and remapped the vanoille's ravenous feeding appendages onto her recursively-emptying energy reserves.  Firmly outside the bounds of her own brain and body, she watched with no small amount of satisfaction as the vanoille consumed itself (and dumped the resulting overflow into her inverted energy store as a bonus).  She mentally added "defeated a vanoille" to her very long list of career achievements as the black contra-lambency surrounding her faded away, just in time for her to notice that her heart had stopped.

 Velinaer gritted his metaphorical teeth (his physical ones were pretty much always gritted, which was a highly instructive example of his stress levels these days) and executed the final command to complete the excision process, fully expecting to die as it completed.  The behemoth exclusion zone, the igg, the dimensional rupture it contained, and every atom of matter and scrap of energy inside flared into incandescence as Velinaer opened a raw, unfiltered channel between his energy reserves and the protocol's input buffer.  A superabundant burst of thermal energy exploded outwards, then abruptly reversed course in apparent defiance of all physics as the colossal cube was instantaneously deleted out of the hyperverse, leaving behind a towering true vacuum as some 8.045^30 atoms went rather mysteriously missing from all of creation.  With a slightly preposterous swhoop sound, the entire bay imploded, ripping millions of gallons of water and huge chunks of earth into the hole as massive winds tore in from every direction to fill the opening.

 The devastation around the city was extreme; perhaps one in three buildings survived at all, and less than one in a hundred were unscathed (though, obviously, the damage receded the further one was from the harbor).  The actual number of casualties was lower than one might expect (especially if one didn't count the population of Apecis, who had not so much perished as questionably existed in the first place at this point), but was still quite enormous, particularly due to the heavy concentration of jobs around the bay's environs.  Velinaer himself, who naturally survived almost completely unscathed, struggled to the top of a tremendous pile of debris and stared out at the wreckage and ruin stretching nearly to the horizon in every direction.  In his terminal, a small alert appeared, informing him that his power reserves had dipped to 3.19 ulasovs.


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