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A note from Selkie

3rd place Art Contest winner! Rfae!

Sky kept us flying right over the battle lines, over the walls, and with slowly dawning horror I realized what “the deeper in we get the better” meant.

We were going to land right inside the horde. All the plans we had on hiding and shielding and holding ground suddenly made a lot more sense.

Like.

It was one thing to plan to be in the middle of the fighting. It was another to see us flying high over the endless horde, and realize the closest human would be thousands of Formorians away.

Destruction opened his eyes, and slowly – slower than a normal human, forget his massive System enhancements – got up. Without saying a word, he slowly put his arms out, and Night put on his backpack.

Destruction could move, and fight somewhat, while channeling his huge spell. Nothing impressive, but it wasn’t like a level 160 combat Classer could get the drop on him in single combat while he was channeling. He wasn’t going to pull an Artemis and rip through hordes, but he wasn’t defenseless.

However, defending himself had a price, namely, mana. Mana that could be used to fuel his spell instead. The more Destruction needed to defend himself, the longer this would take. He also went slower and slower the more he channeled, and at a point, moving would destroy the spell entirely. That’s how it was explained to me.

“Higher. Sky, HIGHER.” Night yelled.

Sky’s eyes went as wide as mine, as we sharply tilted upwards. Night never yelled.

Then we were over the endless army, flying fast. The moons were up, half-full, waxing larger, staring at our adventure, crimson light flooding the plains, watching the army.

Watching us struggling against the ceaseless black tide.

I jumped up and down experimentally, making sure my pack was fastened well to me, mentally checking that I could “tap” into the spare Arcanite. Triple checking that my [Feather Fall] gem was well-charged.

I was not looking forward to this next part. I knew why it was better for it to be during the evening – Night – but I’d kill for some sunlight right now for [Talaria]. At least it was dusk, so I wasn’t totally blind.

I really regret giving up [Eyes of the Milky Way] right now. If only I had known, I’d have given up [Vastness of the Stars] instead.

I disabled all System notifications. I didn’t need the distraction, no matter what it was. I might miss a skill, but it was better than a bad distraction at the wrong moment.

“Go!” Night yelled, and that was it.

We were off.

Brawling was the first to run off the back, giving a side-five to Sky as he jumped off.

Nature’s plants suddenly started growing, some of them forming a thorny armor over his gear, the rest “nestling” inside the thick vines that were now covering him. He also ran off the back of the skyship.

Then it was my turn, and with a yell, I ran off the back, hitting Sky’s hand right before I jumped off.

Sky was a powerful Gravity mage, among other things. Usually, I’d seen him use his skills to make us lighter. Now, he was using another skill. Not make us heavier – apparently, that did nothing – but to make us fall faster.

We were jumping off in order of tankiness, and that had me Concerned with a capital C that I was third in line. Magic was arguably tankier, but he needed to blow a gem every time he had to defend himself. Sealing was jumping with Destruction, to protect him, while Night was personally escorting Priest Demos.

And then I was off the end with a scream, jumping from way too high up without a parachute, dropping fast, wind whipping around me. I briefly considered doing a skydiving pose, where I was spread-eagle, before remembering that defeated the point of trying to go faster.

I twisted in mid-air, and made the snap call to go down head-first. I wanted to be able to see what was happening.

What was happening, was that the horde had noticed us. Rather – the shooters had, and I twisted my head as [Bullet Time] activated, dodging a nasty-looking spike that whizzed past my cheek, drawing a thin line of blood that was instantly healed.

That seemed to almost be a ranging shot of sorts, and as I dove down, faster and faster, more and more shots headed my way.

Dozens of spikes, fired up from the ground at me.

I twisted and turned, dodging some of them, but the speeds I was working with didn’t lend themselves to dodging a ton. [Bullet Time] was a literal life saver. Whenever a shot came too close, whenever a spike threatened to pierce my head, it would activate, spiking my perception of time. I then had a multitude of choices. Try to incinerate it with a beam of Radiance, twist out of the way, shield it with [Veil], deflect it with my physical shield, or take the hit.

A high-stakes, high-speed version of the “tank it or shield it” training I’d gotten with the Rangers so many years ago.

I tended to combine “twist out of the way” and “tank the shot”, letting poorly-angled shots deflect off my armor. Anything that looked like it’d land solidly on my body I used [Veil] for. I didn’t want to foul up my vision. Lastly, anything heading for my face got aggressively destroyed with Radiance. Last thing I needed was a spike through the head. I didn’t think I could recover from that.

I also had my physical shield, which I held tight against the front of my body, shielding half of me from attacks. I could “fall” on it, but with the angle it was at while I was falling, it helped deflect shots. I had no doubt that the spikes fired by the Formorians could go through the Inscription-enhanced shield, at which point the time I had to see and react to the attack would be dramatically lowered.

Plus, I wouldn’t really have a working shield at the end of it.

I wasn’t perfect. I was dropping faster than any human could fall naturally, and Shooters were firing incredibly powerful shots, strong enough to shoot down fliers much higher up than I was. Speed turning into height and all that. I couldn’t get them all. a grunt, I wrenched a spike that had sunk into my shoulder out, shooting out five more beams, incinerating five more shots, as [Veil] flickered around me, catching another six shots.

It got easier once [Bullet Time] stopped turning on and off, and just permanently stayed on.

I cursed as what I could only call a “puff ball” exploded around me, and started coughing violently as dust, spores, particles, whatever, entered my lungs instead of air.

Which of course led to a lot more spikes making it through my “pin-point” defenses, slamming into my gut, piercing my calf- and staying there.

Then another puff ball exploded on me, and as I cleared my way through a chain of clouds, eating a dozen more spike shots, suddenly the ground was close – real close.

Way too close.

I didn’t have enough swears and curses in my vocabulary for what was going on as I tried to activate [Feather Fall] in time, while flipping myself mid-air to not land head-first.

Well.

At least I was close enough to the ground that the anti-air Formorians had stopped shooting at me.

I summoned a [Veil] under my feet, almost immediately breaking through it, but bleeding a good amount of speed as I did.

I was still going far too fast as I landed, fortunately not on the ground, instead going through some poor Formorian Soldier. Chitin cracked as I exploded through the soldier, rapidly turning it into some puddle of goo and gore.

Most of it on me.

In me.

And oh so awkwardly, having gone feet-first when wearing a leather skirt. I needed a bath. Stat.

I landed hard on one knee, surrounded by Formorians, spitting Formorian guts from my mouth. I’d managed to slow myself enough between [Feather Fall], [Veil], and using a Formorian as a landing pad, that I didn’t turn myself into paste when I hit.

Did turn a Formorian into paste though.

The Formorians immediately noticed my landing – honestly, it’d be kinda hard to not notice – and I was beset on all sides, unable to fly up and away.

I threw a [Nova] behind me, killing another Formorian with a thrust of my spear, killing another two with beams of Radiance. Had to go kinda wide on them, burning a hole through their “head” didn’t drop them the same way it dropped a human.

I had a lot of experience killing Formorians.

And yet.

There were way too many of them, crowding around me, pushing in at me.

I would’ve died in a minute or two, if another Formorian hadn’t exploded next to me in a shower of gore.

“Ha! Dawn! You’re crazier than I am!” Brawling roared, as he started to kill Formorians in a circle around him with rapid thrusts of his spear – and giving me a bit of breathing room.

He took a brief moment of respite to grab the spikes that had gone into him, and just yank them out. I eyed him jealously. While they’d gone fairly deep into me, they’d barely scratched him, his high vitality letting him almost literally shrug them off.

His hand blurred as he moved it forward, touching my nose – one of the only exposed parts of me. His slowly bleeding wounds snapped closed in front of my eyes, a nasty bruise on his face just vanished.

My new [Persistent Casting] of [Phases of the Moon] working well.

Barely speaking, we went back-to-back, and I drew my short sword. Brawling covered most of the circle we were in, while I covered his back, securing his blind spot.

I have no idea how long we were fighting, back-to-back against the endless horde, when Nature dropped in on us. Given how short the time between each of us jumping off was, it had to be under a minute. Time did weird things in combat like this.

He simply shrugged, and the spikes caught in his thorny vines wrapping around him simply fell off. He made a motion like a farmer throwing seeds, the tiny seedlings he’d been growing flying into the ground around us.

Verdant trees, more thorny vines, entangling bushes, tripping roots and more – all manner of deadly plants, centered by a huge plant with a bulbous red center, and sharp “teeth” with a maw large enough to eat me in a single bite.

Obviously carnivorous, it lashed forward, grabbing a Formorian in its jaws, and with two sharp bites, ate it whole.

I gave it a wide berth. I wasn’t going to risk the barely-controlled plant deciding to try a little Elaine snack.

The plants started to crowd the area, making it harder for the Formorians to reach us.

I looked up, only to see Night and Sealing dropping fast, angled to land near us. Destruction was near Sealing, and they had a shimmering barrier of light, of Brilliance, around them, a pair of wings made out of hard light helping Sealing fly towards us. Shots just bounced right off, although the extra glowing light had attracted more attacks towards him.

Night just had what I now recognized as blood violently flowing around him, intercepting all spikes and just… vanishing… them. Priest Demos was held in his arms, as he dropped towards us, feet-first.

Sealing and Night landed with basically no problems, which had me more than a bit jealous.

Night dropped Demos into the circle of what I was calling the Grove, and Destruction made his way over as well. Night, Brawling, and Nature without a word, executed the next part of the plan, which was basically – they ran around the perimeter of the grove, killing as many Formorians as possible as quickly as possible. Night and Brawling had the majority of the perimeter, while Nature handled only a small slice of the circle, along with maintaining the entirety of the defenses.

Sealing was working on his magic, glowing lines of white radiating from his position, as Priest Demos was encased in blinding light. Demos was encased in Brilliance, having his backpack of supplies inside with him. I had no idea what his combat capabilities were, but from what I’d gathered, “non-existent” summarized them. Destruction had more of low walls made of Brilliance, that completely covered him when he was sitting, but low enough that he could easily pop over and lob a few shots over if he felt like it.

With that, Demos and Destruction were relatively safe and secure.

Push came to shove, the barriers wouldn’t stop the Formorians breaking them down and killing Demos and Destruction. They’d last as long as Sealing’s mana did, which wouldn’t be super long under a sustained assault. No, they were good for preventing stray shots from accidentally killing one of them when nobody was paying attention.

I had no idea where Magic was or what he was doing. He was supposed to be here! He was supposed to be the emergency backup! If something was going wrong on Brawling, Night, or Nature’s side, he was supposed to jump in and cover them.

Like. It was entirely possible that he was lurking here, hidden, invisible, and would only jump out of his invisibility when he was needed. It was totally what Magic would do. It was still winding me up, not being able to see or hear him.

My job was, in theory, straight-up healing. I was supposed to be obvious, and keep my head on a swivel, checking if anyone was taking too many hits and needed a dose of healing, and to stay obvious if, say, Brawling wanted to duck inside the grove and get healed.

A lack of Magic made that problematic.

“I’m now backup!” I yelled, firing a [Nova] in the space Night just left. Screw it. I was going to operate like Magic wasn’t here, and oh boy was I going to give him an earful once I found him again.

By the time it landed, Night would be gone, and a new Formorian would be there – hopefully blasted to pieces by [Nova]. It wasn’t much, but I didn’t have a ton of mana right now. Sure, I had a bunch of Arcanite lying around that I could grab, but that was for emergencies.

This was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

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A note from Selkie

Skydiving without a parachute into hostile territory. Never fun, but super cinematic. 


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