The moment my feet touched the ground, I was pivoting, exploding forward in a sprint.
“Into the house! Move move move!” I yelled, not checking what the elves were doing behind me. Kinda hard, with the rolling clouds of dust that got kicked up, stone getting pulverized into concealment.
Only a weak concealment. Currents and eddies marked where we were running to and moving, but it marked everyone, no person being more obvious than the next.
We needed to be out of sight of whatever Classer was dropping large metal pillars on us. I could just imagine the build now. Something to fly, something to see, the ability to conjure up lots of Metal, and a dozen abilities to accelerate the rod. Easy airstrikes, practically bordering on orbital strikes. I had no way of stopping one of those attacks, and I doubted I could survive my head being pulverized.
Heck, even if my head wasn’t a weak spot, the metal pillars would pulverize me. The mangled remains of my body would be in an infinitesimal fraction of space between a rock and a hard place, and there’d be no place to regenerate to.
I’d die. No question about it.
There were two bright points.
The first was the attack had to be expensive. Either conjuring up that much metal, or carrying around that sort of weight wasn’t easy. From how uniform the pillar looked, I’d bet conjured.
Conjured material cost scaled roughly with weight. It took me roughly 45,000 mana to regenerate my entire body. I’d believe the summoned pillars were at least ten times as heavy as I was, which implied 450,000 plus mana just to conjure the metal, let alone aim and unleash it.
And metal was heavy. I was probably dramatically off in my estimate.
Either way - we weren’t at risk of a hail of these coming down on us. However, I wasn’t going to bet that it was a one and done attack.
The second was whoever was attacking needed to see us. It was a precision strike. Dodging was the answer, and since the attack was too fast to dodge?
Pre-emptive dodging, AKA zig-zagging and hiding was the order of the day.
There were too many unknowns to come up with a strong plan. All I had left were my fundamentals. Movement was life. Don’t be seen, hide and strike first. Elevation gave a tactical advantage.
The houses were more like apartments. Closely packed against each other, multi-storied buildings that had the vaguely run-down look of a well-loved structure without a lot of money to love it with. The radically different decorations on each of the windows pointed towards an apartment complex, and they were squeezed together like sausages on the side of the road.
I didn’t aim for a door or anything.
Nor did I slow down as the wall rushed at me.
Radiance exploded out of me, aiming for the wooden window slats, or more specifically, their hinges. I leapt forward as I got near, [Scintillating Ascent] giving me a small assist as I exploded head-first through the window, somersaulting into the apartment.
I quickly took stock of the room, without [Bullet Time] giving me an assist. Three ogres sitting around a table, looking vaguely in shock at me.
Portals of entry. Door in front, window behind.
Weapons. Knives on the table, their physical bodies, potential skill use.
No. Potential skills were always in play in Remus, where I’d trained. Skills were significantly restricted here. Made clearing buildings here much easier than at Ranger Academy, although this was for real.
I made a flash plan.
As I tumbled through the air, I blasted them all with bright Radiance beams, aiming to blind, not kill. Disorient them. All flash, no bang.
I rolled to the floor, and changed my momentum from a roll to a slide. My knees screamed at me as I glided under the table. The ogres, either in shocked reflex, or in a deliberate attempt, kicked at me.
It wasn’t trivial to dodge their kicks, not in the high-speed cramped confines under the table, but it was manageable. Also, kicks were clearly indicating that they were hostile, so I slapped the shocked ogre’s legs.
As I exited from the table, I flexed my legs, moving back up to my feet. I didn’t look back, blazing through the door, bouncing off the wall, then continuing on down the hallway.
It didn’t matter where I was going, so much that I was moving fast, and moving somewhat unpredictably.
Sure, whoever was dropping anvils on us might have absolutely perfect knowledge of the layout of every building in this city, seen what window I went through, and guess that I’d follow the hallway. If all those events occurred, yeah, I’d be screwed.
Or she could just make a lucky guess.
There was a door at the end of the hallway, and as I pounded towards it, I heard the snapping and breaking of wood. Like an elf with extra-large horns had just plowed through a wall.
Honestly. The elves were high level and powerful, but their lack of experience and training in urban settings, and fighting against other intelligent creatures was showing. They were physically faster and better coordinated than I was, but I was ahead of them because I assessed the situation and made decisions quicker than they were.
I was proactive. The elves were reactive. A difference in training, experience, and mentality.
I flash-burned some helpful arrows into the wooden panels of the apartment’s hallway, letting them know which direction I’d gone.
I didn’t stop to open the door. I just burned through the doorknob and hinges, then leaned my shoulder forward, praying that it’d be enough. That there wouldn’t be some weird quirk, or someone standing on the other side of the door.
Actually - I knew there was nobody standing on the other side of the door. My Radiance would’ve gone right through them, and [Oath] would’ve been peeved.
Yay for impromptu scouting!
The door blew out under my tender ministrations as I rammed it. It only half-fell out into the main hall, the narrow passageway foiling my plans.
I spotted a rickety staircase, and started to run for it. I glanced down, checking on the egg. Yup, still there, still intact.
Four steps towards the stairs, and I heard the distinct sound of a wooden board, formerly a door, getting snapped in half by irate elves.
“There!” Awarthril shouted, and by the cursing and double-thuds that followed, I guessed that Aegion and Serondes were being unceremoniously yanked along by her [Rubbery Rope].
“Up the stairs!” I pointed, kinda pointlessly. There was something to be said for clear communication though.
A nice thing about all this running around without fighting - my mana was regenerating at a crazy rate. Roughly 180 points of mana a second.
Part of me whispered that whatever Classer was dropping anvils on us had a higher regeneration rate.
Without a moment’s hesitation I threw myself to the ground, wrapping myself up in [Mantle].
A second moment.
No [Bullet Time].
Awarthril jumped over me like a gazelle, all grace, elegance, speed, and large pointy horns. A [Rubbery Rope] snapped out to connect to me, and it didn’t even take me a second to realize what was about to happen.
My cry of despair was cut off as I was yoinked, limbs flailing, into the mess of Serondes and Aegion also getting tumble-dried in Awarthril’s wake.
“Up over up and up!” I shouted, bracing myself.
It was like holding onto a rope. A rope being pulled along by an enthusiastic, if somewhat unwitting bear. Awarthril bounded up the stairs, without a single care or concern about the three of us getting yanked along.
She also had a standard-length [Rubbery Rope] that we were all attached to.
The end result?
As Awarthril turned the corner on the staircase, I went splat on the wall. In my panic, I threw a [Mantle] over the egg. Aegion rammed into me, the pointy edges of his shield, hard armor and all. The air exploded out of my lungs, which gave me nothing to do as Serondes acted as a hammer to Aegion’s nail.
Then all of our ropes went taut as Awarthril kept running, and we were unceremoniously tugged along.
I did get to see the Elaine-shaped impression in the wall behind me.
Kiyaya was behind us, and I swear she gave us a pitying look.
“Through! Through!” I yelled, but Awarthril kept going up.
This wasn’t working.
“Stoooooooooooop!” I ordered in my best ‘command voice’.
Awarthril stopped. Serondes was loudly sick.
“Are you ok Elaine? Is everything alright? It’s a bit dangerous out there right now…”
I gave her a flat look. My best “no shit.” look.
“Awarthril. I’ve got more experience than all of you combined in this. Follow my directions.” I didn’t give her, or the other elves, time to argue. We didn’t have time. We’d stayed too still for too long already. We hadn’t moved far enough. I pointed at a wall, one that I’d been half-tracking and knew led to another apartment building.
“Through that wall. Now.”
Awarthril half-frowned, but Serondes was on point. He gave a few sharp whistles, and with a stiff breeze blowing my hair around, a number of deep cuts appeared on the wall.
I wasn’t going to wait for Awarthril to work through everything. I moved.
This wall was more cooperative than the door was, and the elves followed behind me.
We ended up in another apartment hall. Dingy brown wood, placed years ago and barely maintained. Wouldn’t want to live here.
There was a great roar and a cacophony of sounds that was hard to properly parse.
All I knew was the Classer dropping pillars from the heavens guessed, and guessed wrong.
The elves paused, glancing back. I didn’t.
A number of doors opened. The ogres and humans - really, the shimagu - poked their heads outside. Saw a number of heavily armed warriors stampeding through.
Closed their doors.
There was a deep, primal instinct that screamed to take cover when disasters were occurring, and no matter how irrational it was, home was the safest place. True for humans. Apparently true for shimagu.
We kept running, fleeing through the interconnected buildings.
One ogre was trying to escape as we stumbled upon him. I tripped him with [Mantle], then sprang over his falling form. He was obviously running away, and I just let him be.
“Awarthril! Invisibility!” I shouted when I spotted a window. There was no glass here, just slates letting air in or not.
I faded out of existence, feeling a strong breeze as someone - Awarthril I assumed - blasted past me. With no visible hand, the windows opened, and without hesitation, I threw myself out the window.
Couldn’t fly, it’d break the illusion.
I mentally cursed every god and goddess on Pallos as I saw what awaited me on the street.
The roiling dust hadn’t settled. My perception of time was skewed, the superhuman abilities the System gave me messed with my perception of how long, exactly, it took me to do things. Dust, when it wasn’t being controlled by a Classer, followed normal rules of the world.
I couldn’t see how high up I was.
Wish I could see Kiyaya jumping out the window though. Sight would’ve been priceless.
The dust cloud rushed up at me. Shame I couldn’t see the ground. The act of throwing myself off of a tall building was giving me a random sense of nostalgia. I had a half-flashback to when Artemis was training me, one of my earliest practical Ranger lessons. My solution at the time had been to jump off the wall, and I’d thought when I’d gotten the ability to fly this would no longer happen.
Welp. So much for that.
The big difference this time though? [Mantle] flashed at exactly the right moment, stopping me -
I miscalculated how fast I was going, and crashed right through it.
The move arrested my speed such that I barely noticed my mana flicker as I landed, bending at the knees and rolling to absorb the impact. I did notice the mana loss from breaking straight through my shield though.
Then I was off, trusting elven hearing to make out my footsteps, elvish eyes to see the swirling dust, and work out where I was going next.
Thinking about it, going invisible might’ve not been the most effective idea. Ah well, hopefully we looked just like anyone else moving through the dust from above.
Goddesses know I had to dodge enough ogres running through the dust in a blind panic.
In no time at all, the steep walls of another building showed up, and I made my own entrance, the elves following shortly after.
I briefly toyed with the idea of Awarthril sending illusionary attackers at the Classer to keep them busy, but ditched it. She’d need to be relatively close to the illusion, unless she had some trick up her sleeve that she’d never shown yet, and that’d give our position away.
Three times we changed buildings.
Eight times enormous steel obelisks came crashing down. Some crashed off into the distance. Most were alarmingly close.
I was both the slowest, and the fastest person. Pure stats? I was the slowpoke, and stopping the elves from reaching their full potential.
But I didn’t dither. I didn't wonder what to do next. Oh sure, if we spent five minutes on each decision we’d make better ones. Making a mediocre decision right now was better than a perfect one minutes from now, especially when five seconds was too long.
After the first time Awarthril ran me over while invisible, she dropped the cloak while we were inside.
All this running around was great for my mana though, and I’d restored more than half my mana pool.
“Stop!” Aegion shouted. I skidded to a halt, looking back at Aegion. Aegion’s eyes were steely, and he’d unslung his bow.
He’d given advanced warning earlier, and I didn’t see Cordamo. He nocked and drew an arrow, aiming at the ceiling.
“We’re going to have to run after this.” His eyes were faraway, the words absent-minded.
“Awarthril, [Rubbery Rope]. How far can you stretch it?” I asked, already getting clear of Aegion.
She glanced at me, divining my intention immediately.
“Is he close enough for me?” Serondes asked.
Still staring at the ceiling, Aegion gave a tiny, curt shake of his head.
Awarthril connected the rope, and we ran down the hallway, down to another window as Aegion fully drew his bow. Winds gusted around him and Lightning crackled as he made minute changes to his stance.
With the barest relaxing of muscles, he released the arrow, causing an explosion of Lightning and a solid Gale wall of air to barrel down the hall, causing all manner of minor destruction. The arrow itself went through the ceiling, blowing out a large hole.
In one fluid motion, Aegion grabbed another arrow and sent it chasing the first one. Four more arrows were rapidly launched before he paused.
“Go!” I didn’t wait to see what happened next, instead electing to take my chances with the window and the ground.
I threw myself into daylight, briefly enjoying the kiss of the warm sun on my cheeks.
Then [Bullet Time] kicked in for the first time this whole fight. I snapped my wings open and shot forward, while placing a shield behind me.
The building was there one moment and entirely gone the next, turned into a whirling maelstrom of wooden splinters, with some bone shards and viscera mixed in for flavoring.
[Mantle] managed to stop the first wave of splinters, but a particularly sturdy beam broke it, braining me, before spinning off like the world’s largest throwing stick.
I felt my head crack, and hot fear flashed through me. I’d fractured my skull in a dozen places. I’d never taken such a bad blow to the head, my brain getting rattled around like dice in an unlucky gambler’s cup.
My healing instantly restored the broken bones of course.
I was still unsure on exactly how my healing worked on traumatic brain injuries. Needed to look out for a concussion. Needed to look out for…
The rest of my worries were rendered moot as the rest of the exploding building caught up with me, turning me into the first human-oak hybrid porcupine.
Then the wave was over, although there was a new dust cloud, choking me and causing every breath to come up short. I was spending more time hacking and coughing than picking splinters out of my arms and legs.
A brief flash of Radiance, combined with the innate properties of [Dance with the Heavens] got most of the problems in my back.
I grabbed one yellowish object stuck in my arm, and wrenched it out.
Ewww. Someone’s tooth.
“Serondes! Awarthril! Aegion! Where are you!” I cried out, fighting my way through the thick haze of obliterated hopes and dreams.
A human staggered out of the cloud, bleeding heavily. I deftly darted in, tagged him for a full heal with a mediocre image, then continued on, fading into the darkness before he could slow me down with his thanks or his story.
I plowed through a half-dozen other people, healing as I went, continuing to call out for the elves before running face-first into Kiyaya.
“Kiyaya! Where’s everyone else?” I asked.
“We’re here!” Serondes called out, as Kiyaya moved her massive bulk over.
They were annoyingly fine.
“How?!” I demanded.
Serondes gave me his best shit-eating grin.
“Well, some of us stuck together, and Awarthril and I overlapped our protections.”
He glanced significantly at my blood-stained body. My healing was great, but it didn’t have an auto-clean feature.
I gave him a finger back.
“I got him.” Aegion interrupted. “Now what?”
“Where’s the Spatial Box?” I asked, to awkward silence.
“I left it back at the square.” Awarthril eventually admitted.
“Whyyyyyyy.” Serondes complained.
“Oh come on.” Aegion grumbled.
“Right. Find our way back to the square, grab the box, and get out of the city. Any objections?”
I didn’t wait for them. I shot up into the air, trying to find where the now-former market was located.
Pillars of smoke came off of numerous fires that had started throughout the city. One was violently out of control, ferociously burning and consuming. People moved like currents, towards the fires, away from them, visible as eddies in the dust. Gleaming metal pillars stood tall and defiant, the recently deceased Classer having not given a care for where he was blasting.
Pterodactyls were circling, screeching. Dinosaurs, controlled by shimagu.
More ethical than taking over another sapient being.
I turned towards a flash of white in the corner of my eye, seeing Cordamo strike past one of the pterodactyls. The wings fell off the bird, and I didn’t watch the shrieking spiral of the rest of the body plummet down to Pallos.
A glimpse of red, and I turned again.
A figure was flying through the air. Elvenoid. Bright red, bat-like wings.
Crimson skin, with finely-printed words twisting and snarling carved into every inch, a nauseating shade of yellow against the crimson flesh.
Powerfully muscular body. Ash left in its wake, slowly trailing down towards the city, some embers still burning.
I’d previously wondered about demons, but there’d been a second possibility I’d never considered, one that was rubbing itself in my face. Rubbing so hard that there was no denying what I was seeing, that it wasn’t a demon.
One was powering towards me.