The symbol of the Sentinels blazed in the air above us, just barely clearing the buildings. It wasn’t particularly large, but it was bright. Easy to see for a moderate distance.
Awarthril was fancy with it. Twisting it, turning it, making it so that no matter what angle the symbol was seen from, a watcher would get a good view.
At which point, I’d hope the shimagu were vaguely normal - the city and marketplace implied, yes, they were - and people would gossip. Spread the word. After all, the shimagu might not know what it was.
The hosts would. Some of them, at least. Those from Remus. They were the ones I was trying to reach.
“Did you see that eagle?!”
Anyone from Remus would be able to guess what that was.
I’d never been amazing at leadership class.
I took the class. I learned. I tried to apply the lessons. I’d been given practical experience managing a squad in fights and survival situations.
I was solid with those parts. Give me a team of Rangers and a problem, and I knew how to use one to make the other disappear. Generally, the problem disappeared, but it was entirely possible for the Ranger team to be the ones vanishing.
Inspiring people? Big speeches? Large-scale organization?
The only part I’d managed to successfully learn was “delegate the hell out of it.” My greatest leadership accomplishment, bar none, was getting Kallisto to join me on my Sentinel missions, to handle large portions of diplomacy and wrangling.
I had nobody to delegate to here. If I considered things to be just me and the elves, I was fine. They were moderately competent, and we were a small, solid team.
Add in the angry mob that I couldn’t even speak the same language as?
With an emphasis on the angry mob part of it? Vicious, uncontrollable beasts in the first place?
“Follow me” was the start, middle, end, and epilogue of ideas I had. It wasn’t even my best idea, which was “get far away from the angry mob that might decide to turn on you for some unknown reason.”
There were a number of other factors that I should be considering if I wanted to call myself the “leader” of this group. Logistics sprang to mind first, because it was easy for me. Morale? Goals? Building consensus?
I’d rather the shimagu just kill me now.
I put all those out of my mind, figuring that it’d be a future Elaine problem. She’d hate me and curse my name out.
I felt a grin crack my face. She wouldn’t be able to reach me.
I ditched every problem except “How do I stay alive for the next hour” out of my mind.
Still had my gems, although the skills left were mediocre. They revolved around capturing a single target, or making a large announcement. I was in “kill, don’t capture” mode, and Kiyaya was a bigger sub-woofer than I could manage.
I had about half my mana left.
I had my skills and training.
I had a few little trinkets. I mentally adjusted the Deception Ring to show me as a level 128. I wanted people to think I was weak, and take a swing at me. It’d make my job that much easier. It wouldn’t flag me as the city-ending apocalyptic threat, and powerful first strikes were more likely to be aimed at one of the elves. I had no issue with that.
It’d have to be enough.
I left the market, not looking back as the warning bells continued to toll. I could feel the mob behind me, like a pulsing beacon of anger. I could see the elves out of the corner of my eye.
We turned onto a mainstreet, only to find a solid mass of guards and soldiers on the other end. They’d broken out wooden circular shields and long, wicked spears that looked like they wanted to pull and tear instead of stab and… well, more stab.
The street had been cleared of people, but I spent no time looking or focusing on that. On thinking what everyone else would do. While the elves hesitated, my training took over, I knew what to do. I simply ran.
[Running] had been one of my earliest skills, and I still loved the movement. The wind through my hair, the breeze kissing my face. It’d evolved over time, to [Rapidash], then [Talaria], and now [Scintillating Ascent].
The soldiers yelled something, and a whole mass of bows came up. Half seemed to be “going high”, aiming for the unruly mob behind me, while the rest were “going straight”.
An unreasonable number were aimed at me, and I moved.
I couldn’t dodge arrows. Even when unskilled, there was significant strength in the ogre’s arms, and I’d eat my boots if the bows and arrows were made out of mundane or poor materials. I just wasn’t fast enough, in spite of what [Bullet Time] implied I could do.
Almost nobody was.
No, the key to “dodging arrows” was to dodge the archer. I planted a foot, pushing myself one way, watching the bows track me. I landed, and with my other foot, pushed the other way.
Training the ogres how I dodged.
Aegion’s arrow roared past me, a stiff tailwind boosting my speed, the arrow, and everyone else.
They couldn’t hold the arrows long, and wouldn’t. Not when me getting too close would spell certain death for the shimagu. I leapt into the air, letting the wind caress and take me as my wings unfurled, shooting me into the sky.
I timed it well. I’d gone up right as the archers loosed.
My focus lasered in, the entire world becoming just me, and the arrows trying to pincushion me.
[Bullet Time], and a wealth of experience, let me pick out exactly which arrows would hit me, and which ones would miss. It let me see which arrows were flying significantly faster than they had any right to, which ones were bending in the air, a sure-fire mark of powerful skills supporting their travel. The most dangerous arrows in the lot. With pinpoint precision, I burned the feathers of a half-dozen arrows heading towards my head and chest, Radiance rapidly flickering in and out of existence. A second set of Radiance beams sniped a few of the more dangerous arrows that I could spot. I threw up a small [Mantle] around my critical areas as I curled up a bit, reducing the area that could get hit.
Wrapping my arms around the egg, giving it a second, fleshy layer of protection.
It was like going through a hailstorm of sharp metal and long wood, arrows whizzing past me like a swarm of angry bees. I was nicked dozens of times by near-misses, arrows that I’d properly judged wouldn’t land on me.
My legs ate five arrows, but that was nothing.
Then the storm was over, the volley passed. I flew in at top speed as the archers reloaded and started firing as quickly as they could, any massed fire discipline going out the window. Panic setting in as death approached on bright and colorful wings.
An enormous crest of Lava washed under me, slamming into the soldiers. The lucky ones just got searing specks of Lava on them, lighting their clothes on fire. The unlucky ones died.
The extra-unlucky ones lived, screaming as they were coated in burning Lava, their bodies cooking under them.
I mentally cursed Serondes out. My job was going to be that much harder.
It was one hell of a distraction though. Some of the soldiers broke and ran - I was judging them harshly, that was nothing compared to what regular Remus legionnaires went through, let alone Rangers - while more were busy not dying. The amount of incoming fire dramatically decreased.
There were only three more arrows, which I burned, deflected, and ignored my hip getting punctured, then I judged I was close enough.
The day was bright and sunny, and nearly all of them were in range, and nearly all of them were out of the shadows. They were unquestionably hostile.
My quickstep through the sky ended with a [Dance With the Heavens]. Celestial power blasted out of me, washing over the combined ogre-human soldiers. I quickly flickered my eyes through my notifications, noting dozens and dozens of shimagu kill notifications.
At the same time, Serondes’s Lava crest utterly ruined my short-term plans. Between the marathon session I’d just ran, and the sheer number of badly hurt people, with the non-human penalty, distance, and severity, I’d almost zeroed myself out on mana.
By “Almost zero” I was talking about 20,000 points or so, out of my 421,000 points total. Enough for most serious injuries, barring decapitation.
Hell, I could probably manage decapitation as well, as long as I focused on just the important parts.
I shelved the thought, and the implications off to the side.
Most of the soldiers froze, regaining control of the bodies for the first time in years. Or decades.They were a raw pile of dried tinder, and it only took one spark. None of the hosts knew that the rest of them had been freed. One human drew his knife, stabbing the ogre in front of him in the back.
Absolute pandemonium broke out, the ogre turning his club on a different soldier, who fought back. Guards whirled with their clubs on soldiers, who wildly swung their polearms around. Archers staggered, and those with nocked arrows loosed them point-blank into the people standing next to them. Some ran away, and one enterprising individual found a torch, and started to work on getting [Arsonist] as his next class evolution.
I wanted to facepalm. I’d just purged nearly all of the soldiers of shimagu, but they didn’t know that. To them, they were now free, trapped in a sea of slavers. Slavers who “seemed to know” what had happened, and were busying trying to kill them, so they were lashing back out and-
It was a damn mess.
[Cosmic Presence] started to work overtime. Vicious cuts clotted up and closed, cut muscles were quickly replaced by scar tissue. Serondes’s Lava was still searing the poor people it’d engulfed. I’d healed them entirely when I flashed my skill, but that didn’t magically cool off the Lava. They were just re-burning, their bodies going through the “heal burns” cycle at an incredible pace. Blisters formed and popped, boiling under the heat, only to immediately reform.
It was gross. Even by my hardened-by-wading-through-gore standards.
The elves ran up.
“Awarthril. Start pulling critically injured people out.” I ordered, absent-mindedly yanking barbed arrows out of my body. Annoying things. I wasn’t going to jump into the fray - [Oath] didn’t demand it, and I wasn’t going to be a complete dumbass, but I did need to stick around and heal the people I could. I needed this fight to be over now so I could get a move on. Before the shimagu managed a larger response than a few guard squads.
Awarthril snapped out a sticky tar-like whip into the crowd, grabbing an ogre that had fallen and was being trampled and stabbed in the confusion, then yoinked him out.
Causing a half-dozen injuries in the process. I refrained from sighing.
“Serondes. Please tell them that they’re all free, and to stop fighting. Then can you remove your Lava? It’s fucking with my healing.”
He started speaking, Kiyaya amplifying him without me saying a thing.
As he was speaking, the first mob, the original mob, caught up with us. They were angry. The nuances of who’d been freed, who wasn’t a shimagu and who was controlled were entirely lost on them. It was an angry mob. Reason and logic no longer applied.They just saw the guards and soldiers, still in their uniforms and weapons, the clear symbols of oppression and the shimagu reign clear. The very same people that had just volleyed arrows into them. Them fighting each other wasn’t a hint to not fight, no. To the mob, it was like the matador’s bright red flag, shortcutting straight to the fight or flight response.
Any member of the mob inclined to pick “flight” had already left.
With a primal roar, disregarding weapons and injuries, levels, bodies, and numbers, they crashed into the former guards, wielding their makeshift weapons. They picked up half-snapped arrows and shoved them in eyes, wrestled shields off of people only to bash a third person’s head in.
“Aegion! Once I heal someone, shove them somewhere else!”
“Trying to keep an eye on everything else around us!” He barked back.
Shit, he was right. That would explain where Cordamo was. At least I didn’t need to detoxify everyone on top of the rest of this mess.
“Serondes then. Forget trying to disperse this normally.”
I got grumbling from him, but as Awarthril pulled the next person out, he did what I asked.
My mana was getting dangerously low. I made a judgement call.
I could perfectly heal ten people, or barely stabilize and fix everyone. I went with the second one. It was imperfect, but when had the world ever been good or fair? By stabilizing people, [Cosmic Presence] would get a chance to act, reducing the totally amount of mana I’d need to fix everyone back up. More lives saved, in a shorter time frame.
“Hiding us.” Awarthril tersely bit out, and vanished. Copies of us shimmered into existence between us and the mob, and she kept fishing people out.
I felt her [Rubbery Rope] reattach itself to me. Her illusions were clever. As she pulled people towards us, she made it look like they were heading towards our fake copies, then flickered invisibility over them as they reached “us”, and kept pulling.
My mana was continuing to drop, even though I was only touching up the worse injuries. I had to operate off of memory, since the patients were being delivered to me invisibly. Had to try and remember what glimpses I’d seen with [Pristine Memories]. Awarthril was grabbing people faster than Serondes could convince them to leave.
They seemed to have some prejudice against invisible disembodied voices. I wonder why. We were also getting a bit of a crowd, invisible people bumping into each other, tripping over each other.
This was a mess.
“MOVE!” Aegion roared as loudly as he could.
Even before he was done speaking I was on the move, jumping back to avoid whatever it was that spooked Aegion. My head snapped forward and my whole body started to spin as Awarthril demonstrated her superior physical prowess, pulling us all.
At least, I assumed that’s what was going on. The invisibility wasn’t helping.
I didn’t even hear it coming. One moment I was looking at the brawl, the writhing mess of flesh and blood, anger and hatred, intent on tearing each other apart. The next, a massive pillar crashed through where Awarthril’s illusions of us were, stone and dirt exploding in a powerful wave over us.
Only once the pillar landed, and the rocks got thrown out in all directions at high speeds, did [Bullet Time] kick in again.
The rocks were significantly scarier than the arrows had been, in spite of the directed versus undirected nature of them. The rocks had significantly more force behind them, and there were more of them. I couldn’t carefully snipe rocks out of the air, and my mana was on the low end.
The metal pillar was wider than I was, and was red-hot. Little sparks played along it, although I was more focused on the shrapnel spray heading our way.
I snapped [Mantle] into place, knowing it wasn’t going to be nearly enough. Knowing that I didn’t have enough mana to heal through the rocks that were about to turn me into swiss cheese. I spared a quick thought to everyone who’d been on the other side of the pillar, who’d been much closer to the ground zero of the attack. I kind of wanted to go back and help them out, but I wouldn’t deny that I thought Awarthril physically pulling me out was good for my health. I breathed a sigh of relief as Serondes summoned a half-dome of Lava to shield us.
I could hear the rocks impact on the shield, sounding like a giant with a pair of stone drumsticks performing a solo.
“Bwooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuarplh!” Awarthril… well, not said. Those definitely weren’t words coming out of her mouth. “What was that!?”
“That was it doesn’t matter we need to keep running!” I was already moving, Ranger training kicking in. Movement was life. Stillness was death.
I’d been trained how to instantly assess, react, and move. The elves had better skills, more levels, and higher stats.
I had better training.
“The Lava shield told them exactly where we are!”