There was dead silence at Night’s pronouncement. He would say more, in time.
I looked around. Magic. Destruction. Sealing. Sky. Night. Nature. Brawling. Demos. Myself.
The peak of humanity, speeding along in a little boat, high in the sky, off to contain the breach.
“From the courier’s report, both official and what he saw, this is it.” Night said. “The Formorians have brought everything to this battle, which is how they breached the walls in the first place.”
“Wait – they got through all the walls?”
“Yes.” Night nearly hissed at him.
“How the fuck did they do that?” Brawling asked.
I was wondering that myself. Humanity was able to hold the line with soldiers on the ground, the wooden palisades behind them the first line of defense. A maze of smaller, wooden walls was behind that, where we were occasionally pushed back, but had extra defenses.
Then there were three gigantic walls, layered, high and thick, made out of stone. The only times they ever went down is when humans did something monumentally stupid, and broke them. Or when the army decided to “leap frog” a set of walls forward, claiming more ground against the Formorians.
“For the most part, we mostly just see what I shall call ‘Formorian Soldiers’ or simply ‘Soldiers’” Night said, getting into teacher mode. I was used to his lectures, having been on the receiving end for almost two years.
“There are a number of other types. I believe we do not see these types normally, because they are much more expensive for the Formorians to produce, and they are used for defensive purposes.” Night said. “Only when we push deep, when we begin to threaten their nests, do they appear.”
“Nature, please let me know if you’ve encountered a type I have not.” Night said. “It has been quite a few years since I last attempted a dive, and new Formorians may have been created since then, or some rare breed may now exist.”
“There are Shooters, Spitters, and what I shall call Royal Guards. Shooters are beetle-like, with a large number of sharpened, poisoned spikes on their back. They specialize in shooting down fliers, and are the primary reason we do not simply drop poison on top of the Formorian nests. Spitters, as the name suggest, spit streams of acid out of their mouth. They resemble large worms. They are used inside their nest, to ambush and attack invaders from all directions.”
Night’s muscles rippled as he suppressed a shudder.
“The last type I have directly seen and engaged in combat are the Royal Guards. They are ten meters tall, a bulbous body with massive mandibles and thick armor. None of my attacks could penetrate their armor and cause harm to them. By the same token, they do not handle small, nimble targets well. That was inside their lair, however, with dozens of other Formorians assisting, and outside, without additional distractions, well. They may be more manageable.”
He paused a heartbeat. Wait, did he even have one…?
“I do not know why the Formorians saw fit to have such large guards. What they are supposed to defend against, I do not know. Nature. Are you aware of any other types?”
“Maybe. I had bursts of acid come out of the ground now and then. It sounds like the Spitters. Maybe. Doesn’t sound like their method of operation.”
“Should we expect attacks from below?” Sealing asked.
Night hesitated a moment.
“Possibly. Generally, the Earth mages present on the frontlines collapse any tunneling attempt. However, I believe they will be otherwise occupied.”
That was one way of putting it.
“Hang on, hang on, how did they breach the walls!?” Sky asked.
“Reports say it was a number of Royal Guards. The exact details are unknown to me at this time, however, with their size and bulk, I can believe this to be the truth.”
“That matter is irrelevant. It has happened. The Formorians bringing their defensive units forward suggest that the Formorian Queens themselves have emerged, and are coming. This may be our single best chance to slay them.” Night said.
“Assuming there are no other Queens in reserve.” I pointed out. Night tilted his head in agreement.
“Assuming there are no other Queens that have stayed behind, correct.” Night said. “However, even if there are some in reserve – slaying this many, when they are out of their domain, when they have left their lair, should be enough to tilt the odds in our favor to the point where we may take the offensive.”
I looked around at us.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked.
“I am hoping to discuss this with all of you at this time. I believe the objective is to slay the Queens. The breach, and the containment of Formorians who have made it through the wall, is of secondary concern. Any objections?” Night asked.
There were heads shaking around the open air sailboat, except for Priest Demos, who was frowning.
“I object.” He said.
“Noted. Reason?” Night asked.
I blinked. Night was treating Demos as, well, not an equal, but the same as the rest of the Sentinels.
“Isn’t your job to protect humanity? Shouldn’t we be mending the wall, stopping the spread, and then handling the Queens?” He asked.
“I regret to inform you that Bulwark is away on a mission.” Night said. “The location isn’t conducive towards picking him up. We shall have to make do without for the time being, and what I propose to slay the Queens will likely destroy the walls anyways.” Night said.
Ooooh shit. The walls. The massive, thick stone walls were going to be collateral damage!?
“With no further objections. The plan is simple. Destruction, begin channeling what you believe to be your best spell for the situation. Demos, pray for a miracle. The rest of us are to defend them while they prepare their skills. Once they have done that, we attempt to clean up.”
Well, when Night put it like that, who was I to object? Just, you know, casually wait for Destruction to channel one of his stupid long channeled skills, pray for a literal miracle to bail us out.
“Why don’t we just kill the Queens directly?” Brawling asked, some frustration in his voice.
“I do not believe we are strong enough.” Night said. “I could not slay a Royal Guard, and while the Queens are unlikely to be combat-focused, I do believe they should be a higher level than the Royal Guards. Tougher. If we find, for whatever reason, that we are capable of slaying Royal Guards, we shall re-evaluate.”
“Sky. Once you have dropped us off, I expect you to retrieve Bulwark. He is currently in Buthrotum.”
“Do we know how long Hunting’s going to be?” Magic asked.
“I believe he shall be a day or two behind us. However, the larger issue at hand is him getting to us.”
“Wait, we’re not going to be behind the army lines?” Magic asked.
We all sorta gave him a Look. Seriously dude? Us, behind the army?
“No.” Night gave him a curt response. “We will not. Destruction’s magic rapidly loses potency the further from him it needs to be, and by having Destruction cast on top of himself, we reduce the amount of time needed to hold.”
A memory of a small tornado ripping through a rebel camp flashed before my eyes.
“On TOP of us!?” I practically shrieked.
Night gave me a flat look.
Welp, suicide missions. The price I pay for the good life.
Then again, half our missions were suicide missions. I generally tended to show up after, but, well – I’d be lying if I said stuff tended to be safe.
Destruction closed his eyes, and I recognized the meditative pose. He was gathering mana, gathering power together. He had a skill – [Channel] or something – that let him cast a skill over time, instead of instantly. Took longer, but he could pour a lot more power into the skill in the end, unleashing destruction on an apocalyptic scale.
“Initially landing will be the most dangerous portion of this.” Night said. “Gods willing, we shall arrive at nighttime. Now. Does anyone else have long preparations to make? Dawn?”
Ooof. I knew exactly what he was asking.
“I could class up now.” I said, thinking about it. “Or… I could change my [Persistent Casting] on [Phases of the Moon] to turn myself into a ‘healing touch stone’ so to speak. Touch me, get instantly healed.”
“That would work even when you’re sleeping.” Magic said approvingly.
I continued to think out loud.
“I just barely got to 256, it’s not like I’m sitting on a bunch of levels. It’s my last class up. It should improve my skills. It’s not like I need to mass heal, just heal a few people. Any levels I get while doing this provide stats which I can then use. This isn’t the optimal class up. There’s no use being optimal if I’m dead. At the same time, my skill set will be entirely new, I won’t have any time to practice with them. I don’t know how long it’ll take. Thoughts?”
I didn’t mention that I probably had access to a Blue class. Although, they probably wouldn’t insist I take it, with it probably being a non-healing class.
“Don’t class up.”
Right then. That seemed to make it clear. I wasn’t going to class up.
“Hey all, I know we’re about to start planning and all, and Dawn’s going to be working on her thing while Destruction channels and Demos prays and all, but – I need half the boat.” Nature said.
Most of us shuffled over, giving him plenty of room. It was getting real cozy over here, but I wasn’t going to ask why. We were all a strange bunch in the first place.
“Whyyyy?” Magic asked, petulantly.
Night slowly turned his head and affixed Magic with a Look.
“Ok, ok, fine…” he said, shuffling over.
“Nah, it’s a good question.” Nature said. “I’m going to prep a bunch of seeds to start growing, and I can get them started now. They’ll explode with growth once we land. Much easier on me.”
Magic also muttered about some prep work he wanted to do, and Night and Sealing started going through the packs, seeing what we had.
My eyes went wide as I watched Sky walk forward, grab one of the large, now spent, Arcanite crystals in the middle of the boat, and just heave it overboard.
“Um.” I couldn’t help myself, leaning over the edge to try and watch it fall into the darkness.
“This is do or die. What was I going to do, keep it the whole time? For what? We can always buy more one day.”
I swallowed a nervous lump. He had a point. Time for me to do my part.
I wrapped myself in [Veil], tying it off. With great reluctance, I undid my previous [Persistent Casting] of [Phases of the Moon], the great safety net which had kept me alive dozens of times falling away.
I immediately started working on it again, this time making it so anyone touching me would be healed. Kinda dangerous in some ways – I might try to heal a Formorian touching me.
I might not. My current healing kit was pretty human-focused.
My full review of healing, injuries, and medicine went quite a bit faster this time than last. Constantly teaching helped, and this not being the first time I did it made it easier. Before long, I was dropping [Veil], looking back around.
The Pegasus was even more cramped. We were all still crammed in one half, with Nature taking up the other half. A thin layer of dirt covered the floor, with a bunch of tiny seedlings popping up, sun shining brightly on them.
Sealing handed me some wrapped food – field rations, blah – and a water skin, which I greedily downed.
“How long?” I asked him.
“Two days.” He replied.
Welp. That was better than the three days the last time I did this.
“Do not forget to allocate any free stats any of you may have.” Night casually said from deep inside a thick covering, and I felt like the comment was directed at me. Given the scale of where we were going, given that this was going to be a marathon fight against not particularly bright enemies, given my role was to be a healer – Mana Regeneration it was, all 407 free points I’d been sitting on.
I was also handed a heavy pack.
“Arcanite and field rations.” Sealing told me. “We split everything up equally. If we’re separated, you should have everything you need.”
“Thanks!” I said, meaning it.
He patted my arm. I noticed my mana dropping a hair, then recovering.
“Thank you. Without a healer…” He trailed off, not finishing the sentence.
Yeah. Without a healer, we wouldn’t last three days against the Formorians, let alone three weeks. Or however long Destruction needed.
“Any timeline on that miracle?” I asked him, seeing Demos awkwardly kinda-kneeling in prayer. We were all real cozy with each other, and there wasn’t the room for full proper kneeling-in-prayer-ness.
“These things take time, and are fickle.” Night grumped from underneath his layers. “The gods – or god, in this case – may choose to answer now. He may never choose to answer, and bringing Priest Demos turns into an exercise in futility. Still. I do not believe this god will choose not to respond to our prayer, not in our dire hour of need. Enough on that. We have determined our initial plans, which while we shall need to heavily modify as the course of battle demands, is a starting point.”
Also known as “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. Usually, we were trained to be the one interrupting the plan though. Unpleasant for the shoe to be on the other foot.
Night, Sealing, and Nature all detailed the plan to me, and I was able to provide some additional input, a few minor modifications, which were discussed, and added or rejected as needed. In the end, we had a round dozen plans, covering a number of likely contingencies.
I didn’t like plans E or F. Those plans assumed I was dead.
All too soon, the sun was setting, as we approached the walls from up high.
I looked down. How could I not?
I couldn’t see details, just masses of bodies, and the walls. The three gleaming walls had a single, huge gap punched right through them, in a single line. The black tide was pouring through, with the occasional brown spot slowly moving through and around – what I had to assume were the Royal Guards, visible from such a distance.
Not all was lost in the space between the exterior and middle wall though. While there was a massive breach going through all three of them, between the middle wall and the wall against the Formorian side had been the soldier’s encampment. It was clear they had rallied, and on either side of the breach, were holding the line, stopping them from flooding inside.
It was a terrible position, but it was better than the “camp follower” side, which had no such soldiers to hold the position.
There were no Formorians flooding in that portion of the wall.
There was no point.
Just a few straggling Formorians, dragging bodies away to be recycled.
Well. Not really recycled when they started off human.
And then the breach itself! A puncture wound, direct into the heart of human territory. A black stain, a plague, a blight spreading throughout.
Or it would be, if it wasn’t being contained by a thin red line, soldiers desperately rallying to hold the line here and now, one last thin veneer preventing utter devastation.
Even as I watched, I saw a Royal Guard all the way on the Formorian side of the wall start to run, the brown blob starting to pick up incredible amounts of speed and momentum, run through the breaches in the wall, and simply run straight through the last defensive line, crushing hundreds of Formorians and dozens of soldiers.
A squad was dispatched, and a number of still brown bodies suggested the army had figured out some method to deal with the Royal Guards, but the damage was done. Formorians flooded through the gap, and the thin red line became impossibly thinner as soldiers were shuffled around to accommodate the new, larger battlefield they now had to contend with.
There were a few little spots of humanity on the walls, but only on the wall closest to humanity’s side.
And then, there were the Queens.
It was obvious what they were.
One hundred meters tall, vaguely crab-shaped, wider than they were tall, the Queens were wreathed in Mist, only the outline visible, distant on the horizon. We could only just barely see them, and that’s because we were flying so high up. Tentacles that could only be called “small” in relation to the main body were visible, wriggling through the Mist, constantly dipping down to the ground, then going back up.
What did it matter?
We were totally fucked.