Fighting was like dancing.
So Uncle had taught Kari—or was it someone else? Her memories blurred when she called upon Oversoul, ancient souvenirs meshing with recent ones in a patchwork mind. Often she remembered a normal childhood, watching Kabuki theater with Uncle; sometimes, she remembered growing up in a palace below the waves, in a court of fish and coral.
Like dancing, fighting was all about timing. Sometimes you danced alone, focusing on yourself, on landing on your feet. Sometimes, you danced with partners. So you had to adjust to them, redirect their strength, make their momentum yours.
At no point should you stumble, or let the other seize the initiative; you had to be like water, strong yet ungraspable, retreating and returning like the tide. Hit and run.
She had taken that philosophy to heart. Choosing spells that would increase her speed and strength. She would fight like a shadow, killing before the enemy could retaliate, set the pace, exhaust them, and finish them off.
“Accel Eldritch Blast!”
Raising his hand, the werewolf fired a focused blast of White Flux at the group, straight at the center. Moving with agility and grace she had never seen in her before, Maggie leaped out of the way, landing on a bench. Kari’s Doom Sense warned her ahead of time, a subtle, needling feeling at the back of her neck, so she dodged easily. Sol had already moved to attack a maddened Gearsman, his sword raised.
Mur, though, Kresnik’s attack had hit head-on, propelling him backward through the church’s pedestal and against a wall. The aftershock caused the entire building to shake, while colored sparkles came out of Mur’s body; the blast must had interfered with his own spell protections.
In one attack, the werewolf had broken their formation, dividing them. Had his Gearsmen not been acting dangerously unstable, he could have easily isolated them.
That was why Kresnik was such a challenge. The greatest since Uncle’s death. The werewolf didn’t take over momentum; he disrupted it. He interrupted the flow of a battle, forcing the dancers to start over.
Thankfully, his glitching machines had chosen to focus on Sol alone, leaving the werewolf to fend for himself. One of them couldn’t even properly function, trying and failing to stand on its feet in the background.
Kari dashed at the werewolf to fight him in hand to hand, while Maggie shot red bullets at him. While they failed to damage the thin white barrier over Kresnik’s fur, the werewolf often flinched at the strength behind them.
“Accel Eldritch Blast.” The werewolf fired another blast at Kari to keep her at bay, which she dodged. “Redirect.”
At the werewolf’s word, the blast suddenly veered in a corner, aiming at Maggie. The girl avoided the attack, the blast hitting the ground where she used to stand and casting shattered stone in every direction. Maggie took a full volley of them, but her body seemed to ignore the impacts, a red aura briefly flaring around her.
“A Stockmight spell,” Kresnik noted with a frown upon recognizing Maggie’s magic, before dodging Kari’s claws with a sidestep and raising his left hand to try to grab her. “Focus Spell Syphon.”
His hand was wreathed in a white halo, and although she avoided it, his power consuming her own aura. He didn’t even need to touch her. Mere proximity was enough.
Spell Syphon. She had seen that spell in the Compendium; it could steal Flux from targets, denying spells their fuel. Kresnik couldn’t counter her Oversoul with his counterspell, so he thought to drain her magic dry instead.
She sensed some of her memories vanish with her aura, holes growing where people’s faces should have been. It bothered her, but not as much as the first time she practiced Oversoul. After the first memories blurs, she had grown used to it.
Even the movements she used to dodge around Kresnik’s blows were borrowed from a past life; skills inherited from past warriors. In some cases, she couldn’t be sure what had been an original memory, and what wasn’t. The emotions associated with old scenes were drained dry, leaving only colorless, dulled souvenirs.
It had affected her state of mind as well. She used to be livelier, more vibrant a year ago. While she had never been an extrovert, she wasn’t as closed off as she was now. Oversoul muted her emotions; if she couldn’t remember why an activity gave her pleasure, it became easier to live without it.
Some days, she worried what would happen once she collected all of her past lives; wondering if she would forget herself, instead of achieving completion.
Don’t be distracted, Kari told herself. She couldn’t doubt herself in the middle of a fight. That was why she had purchased Needless. Food, drink, sleep? Useless. Boys? Distracting.
Victory and survival were all that mattered; that was what Uncle would have wanted. That alone, she would never forget.
As it became more difficult to avoid blows without losing her aura, Kari retreated further inside the church.
Kresnik pursued her inside, before subtly positioning himself in the middle. The perfect place to hit everyone with his area of effect spells. “Rain Count—”
He couldn’t be allowed to set the battle’s pace again.
With Timesense active, Kari’s sense of timing had increased beyond her natural ability, and Peak granted her the strength to put it to use. She leaped above her foe before he could finish his sentence, swirling on herself to build momentum, and kicked him in the jaw.
At the same time, Maggie fired two red bullets at Kresnik’s ankles. The combination of both blows caused the werewolf to lose his balance, crashing on his own face and interrupting his spell.
Natural synergy. With both women using spells to enhance their sense of timing, they cooperated without even needing to communicate. That is the power of a sorcerer guild, Kari thought. Powers meshing together into a force multiplier.
“How is it done? Must I speak the word? Quasar?” Bright red light swirled around Solomon-san’s sword, extending its range while he blocked the maddened Gearsmens beams with his shield. He bifurcated one of the machines in a single swing, quickly moving to fight off a second.
Not that he needed to. The machine, already acting in a confusing manner, visibly short-circuited, fell helpless to the ground, inactive. Sol, after worrying about a trap, moved to finish it off.
Kresnik’s frown told Kari he had no more idea what happened than them.
“REINFORCE!” Mur snarled in the background, smashing the last incapacitated Gearsman into scrap with his hammer, causing a weak quake. His body had started to grow thick, black metal plates over his stony skin; his Lock, probably.
“You’re all sorcerers,” Booz said, dumbfounded while hiding in a corner. “Even squishie Maggie.”
“How?” Kresnik asked himself the same question while rising back to his feet, although he didn’t rejoice at it. “Powells couldn’t cast spells a week ago! Neither could Nicholae nor the imp!”
Instead of answering, Kari attempted to claw at his eyes the same way she did with his boss. Her blow bounced off the werewolf’s impenetrable barrier, while she predicted a deadly retaliation with Doom Sense, narrowingly avoiding a punch that would have bashed her skull in.
Furious, Kresnik retaliated with another area of effect spell. “Rain Arcane Blade.”
A white glow bathed the area, flying blades of White Flux manifesting from the church’s ceiling. Like Damocles’ sword, they fell on the group at high velocity, cutting through benches and stone alike. Once again, Kari’s Doom Sense flared up in alarm.
While she and Maggie used their agility to dodge, Solomon raised his shield to protect himself. Kresnik, whose own blades ignored him, exploited the opportunity to cheapshot the knight, tackling him against a wall. “Accel Eldritch Blast!” Before the knight could recover, a magical burst shattered bricks and collapsing the wall on him. Sunlight spread to most of the church.
Even Booz, who thought himself safe, had to dodge one of the swords by jumping sideways, the blade cutting through the ground.
He hit to kill this time, Kari realized, the thought bothering her. So far, Kresnik had fought to incapacitate. Doom Sense almost never activated in his presence, unlike with Smokefang.
Did he think that the situation had grown bad enough to warrant lethal force?
Mur alone weathered the assault, his metal plates deflecting the projectiles and parts of the collapsing ceiling. Tossing away the wooden benches between him and the rest of the church, Mur charged at Kresnik with a roar, swinging his hammer. By now most of his forearms and shoulders were covered by a metal layer.
Mur’s swing missed, as Kresnik dodged with a backflip. The wolf had learned from their last encounter, keeping his distance. The gargoyle kept swinging while roaring, his hammer hitting walls or the ground without touching the werewolf.
“Pierce Arcane Blade,” the werewolf spoke, a white blade appearing in his right hand. His blade met the tip of Mur’s hammer, and after encountering resistance, cut it off like butter.
“Mur’s stuff!” Letting out an angry snarl, Mur tossed his destroyed weapon away and punched the werewolf in the face, making him flinch.
Much to Kari’s surprise, Kresnik’s invincible barrier cracked at the contact; it didn’t shatter, but cracks were visible.
“Accel Counterspell!” Kresnik unleashed a white flash at Mur from his left hand, but the metal plating didn’t recede. In fact, reeling from the surprise, he received a second punch for his trouble, deepening the cracks further. “A Lock?”
“Adamant!” Mur revealed with glee. “The longer Mur fights, the more indestructible he becomes!”
Kresnik responded by attempting to cut Mur’s arm off with his blade, only for a bullet from Maggie to deflect his hand. When the werewolf attempted to sidestep another punch, the sniper hit him in the leg, putting him off balance.
His barrier could stop most spells, but Locks were more effective against it. Kari prepared to jump again into the melee when a Doom Sense warning stopped her.
“Rain Eldritch Blast!” Instead of a focused blast, Kresnik unleashed a potent wave of energy around himself, an extending dome of white Flux. The expanding wave pushed back everything within ten feet of the wolf, propelling stones, wooden debris, and dust in all directions.
Mur, the only one within range, had his stony skin peel off on the areas unprotected by his metal plates. The attack dug small holes in his body, through which black smoke went out. Yet the fearless gargoyle pursued his assault and stood his ground, raising his hand to smash Kresnik again.
Kresnik caught the blow with his left palm, Focus Spell Syphon still active. With a jerk of his hand, he pulled the beast toward him. The ice in the wolf’s eyes set all kinds of alarm in Kari’s heart. “You are too dangerous to let live.”
Kari suddenly realized the attack hadn’t been meant to push Mur back, but reveal chinks in his defense.
Quick as a snake, Kresnik moved to shove his energy sword through Mur’s unprotected chest area. Kari dashed forward to interrupt him, but Maggie-san was faster, shooting the werewolf’s arm in an attempt to deflect the blow.
The werewolf powered through, his blade cutting through Mur’s torso and emerging on the other side.
Before Kari could reach the two, Kresnik cleaved the gargoyle in half, throwing the upper half away with his left hand. The legs and tail stumbled as if animated by one last spark of life, before collapsing.
Kari’s heart surged with fury, as a vivid memory flared to life. The sight of a Concordian soldier cutting down her uncle with his own katana, condemning him to a fate worse than death itself.
A primal desire to kill overtook her, as she directed all her attention towards putting Kresnik down, looking for the perfect timing, the perfect moment of deat—
New Hack created!
Components: Timesense + Doom Sense
Activation: Passive, App Switch.
You subconsciously sense the death of others; this allows you to intuitively divine weak points and how to inflict lethal wounds.
She lunged at Kresnik with all her might, waiting for her new sense to activate.
She couldn’t kill Kresnik. Couldn’t break his barrier. Nothing she had could inflict lethal damage. Her claws bounced off, even when she targeted the cracks. Unlike her fellow warriors, her own Lock couldn’t break past his spell.
“Murderer!” Sol-san shouted, tossing aside the stones Kresnik had tried to bury him beneath. He raised his sword to kill Kresnik the same way he did with his comrade, the werewolf parried with his own blade. Both engaged in a fast-paced, pitched sword fight.
“Murderer?” Kresnik’s self-righteous fury rivaled Sol’s own. “You defied the law, allied with a foul beast, and made him a sorcerer through some witchery! You are not trained! You are immature, lording your power as if it were a right instead of a duty! You will escalate, foment war, and threaten the peace!”
That was more words than Kari had ever heard the werewolf speak. “You conquered us,” was her cold reply. The fact her Killer Sense didn’t activate while watching the sword fight only aggravated her anger. In no possible future could she harm him herself.
“So we could protect you!” Kresnik defended himself. “You have no idea what horrors lurk in the depth of space. The monsters, the fiends, the darkness, corrupted life—”
Maggie’s fired a red bullet at his jaw, and Kari’s Killer Sense fired up even as it bounced off. The Japanese warrior’s eyes widened upon recognizing the opportunity.
Leaving Sol to distract the lone werewolf, Kari joined Maggie as she reloaded. “You can kill him,” she told her ally.
“Doesn’t look like it,” Maggie replied, aiming her gun at the werewolf’s head. “I’m gonna charge the next bullet with everything I have plus Stockmight. After all the blows it took, it should hit him harder.”
“I will guide you,” Kari said. “Trust me.”
The shooter grumbled but listened. “Left,” Kari said, her Killer Sense sending her strong signals down her neck as Maggie aimed where she wanted. “A bit higher, higher…”
While the aura around Maggie’s gun glowed crimson red, Kresnik pushed back Sol, forcing him to parry with his shield. As Killer Sense faded out, Kari moved to grab stones on the ground, launching them at Kresnik’s face like arrows.
The small stones bounced off or shattered on impact, the dust clouding Kresnik’s vision. It didn’t hurt the Concordian officer, even as she kept firing faster and faster.
But it distracted him, enough to allow Sol-san to regain his footing. “Deus Vult!” He shouted, swinging his sword to cut the wolf down. As he raised his Arcane Blade to parry the strike, Kresnik left a tiny space below his neck exposed.
“Now!” Kari shouted when her feeling was the strongest; Maggie shot before she finished her word.
This time, the bullet caused a recoil so strong, it almost made Maggie fall to her back. It gored through Kresnik’s barrier like a crimson spear, blasting it out of existence; it pierced his fur and drew blood.
The werewolf let out a surprised gargle, the bullet still lodged in his neck. After seeing a weaker bullet melt a Gearsman’s chest, Kari admired his physical resilience.
But that was over. The shock and wound disrupted his Arcane Blade, allowing Sol to toss Kresnik to his back with a push of his shield.
“Argh…” Kresnik struggled to align words, holding his bleeding throat. Yet, in spite of impending death, his eyes betrayed no fear, even as Sol moved in for the kill. “Criminals… Geist…”
A white glow surrounded the werewolf, and Sol quickly raised his blade to finish him off.
He only hit a white, formless mist, and then the ground. A White Flux cloud in the shape of Kresnik fled from the church through the cracks in the wall. The knight, realizing the werewolf made a gateway, attempted to cut the cloud off, with Kari joining with her claws.
Too late. Kresnik dispersed to the winds.
The church, ruined beyond repair, fell into silence. Gearsmen parts laid next to broken benches, no windows had been left unbroken, and most of the ceiling had collapsed. Sol sighed deeply, his only home devastated.
“Mur-san…” Kari said, more saddened at her fallen ally.
That was why she shut herself in. If she didn’t care about her comrades, she wouldn’t feel pain when they died.
Uncle’s fate taught her that.
“He died valiantly,” Solomon spoke, with surprising dignity. “May the Father bless his soul.”
“What are you squishies talking about?” Booz interrupted the moment, dusting off his clothes. “He’s not dead. Too stubborn for that.”
The hobgoblin pointed at a shadow in a corner, next to the broken torso. A small toddler-sized shape crawled out of the gargoyle’s remains.
The creature was a red, stony humanoid wearing a fearsome crown of horns; or so it would be, were they not ridiculously tiny. Its jet black bat-wings, spiky tail, and sharp claws made him look fiendish, though.
Kari immediately recognized its yellow, reptilian eyes.
As she connected the dots, the sorceress glanced at the gargoyle’s remains. The dead flesh wasn’t flesh, but stone and mud strati. A hollow body built layers by layers. Like a snake’s—
“Mur’s skin…” the creature whined with a familiar voice. “Mur’s expensive stoneskin… Mur will have to eat stones for years to regrow it!”
“Is that your true form, Mur-san?” Kari asked. Now that she thought of it, the creature had a strong resemblance with the dismembered gargoyle, just much, much smaller.
“… Nooooo…” Mur lied like a child caught stealing a cookie. If his voice hadn’t betrayed his identity, his behavior would have.
A lot of comments about him suddenly made a lot more sense.
“An imp?” Sol’s voice dripped with disgust and nausea. He had lost whatever sorrow and camaraderie he had shown Mur a few minutes prior. “You are a fiend. An actual fiend.”
Kari didn’t know enough about gargoyles to make a judgment.
“Pfft…” Maggie put a hand on her mouth, then failed to restrain herself. She burst out laughing. “Oh my, that’s hilarious! And the giant hammer? Compensating for something?”
“Fuck off, Yankee!” Mur replied, giving the girl a dirty gesture.
“But seriously, where the hell did the wolf go?” Maggie asked, after recovering her breath, “I feel blue balled and I’m not even a boy.”
“That’s his Lock, White Geist,” Booz grumbled. “He can turn his body to White Flux at will. A trump card when everything else fails.”
“At least I killed him good,” Maggie said. “Right? Right?”
No. Kari’s Killer Sense should have told her. Or she thought so; she would need to check its limits over time. “He will live,” she said.
“Live in fear of the Mur!” Mur boasted, raising his tiny hands in a victory pose.
No, not a victory, Kari thought. The werewolf had seen all of them casting spells, and so had the Gearsmen. Concordia knew all of them were sorcerers and deemed them unwilling to reform.
For better or worse, they were now on the Empire’s radar.
A/N: thanks to my beloved patrons, Drekin, Bald Guy Dennis, Karolus, Dax, Sam, Floodtalon and Daniel Zogbi. You can check their various entries in the Player Database.
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