by Max Barry

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Providence: The new novel by Max Barry, creator of NationStates



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Visit to the Necrotechnomancer's Union, Volume 7.

"The contents of the the chest are powerful indeed, Master Ata", Rongoteus replied. "I just hope they'll reach us before it is too late..."

By the time Ata, Anolianth, Rongoteus, Raynil, the younger mages and the Forge Knights reached the Great Hall, the Archmagister reported that Master Divayth's group was already under attack by the second wave of creatures. The Archmagister also told that Master Concelhaut and Wizard Ilandar had encountered and killed a number of flying scouts that had apparently been looking for alternate ways out of the Dormitory. "YOU HAVE TWO MINUTES AT BEST BEFORE THE SECOND WAVE IS UPON YOU. PREPARE YOURSELVES."

"We have to stop this wave, at least", Master Raynil said to Ata. "The Great Hall is a major intersection of important corridors and hallways. If the monsters take it, they'll have free access to much of the monastery. The entity that has taken over the Dormitory seems to be summoning these creatures in waves. If we can repel this one, we'll have an opportunity to finally assault the Dormitory itself and hopefully confront the source of the attacks before it can summon the third wave. The Great Hall is an easily defensible location. If we use the remaining time to prepare, we should prevail easily."

The apprentices and oathmen were now equipped with enchanted items taken from the armory. They all had a body armor of some sort, and most were armed with one or more weapons, from staves to arcanely-powered rifles to alchemical bombs. They also had potions to restore their mana, and the oathmen wore amulets that increased the potency of their spells. Two large arcane batteries were waiting at the back of the Hall, ready to replenish the liches' mana reserves. The five remaining Forge Knights positioned themselves in the front line, ready to take the brunt of the assault that would be coming from the fifteen-meter arched entrance of a large corridor that led into the Dormitory. Master Raynil ordered some of the stronger mages to take positions on both sides of the entrance, in an angle where they could cast destructive spells with minimal risk of friendly fire. Master Anolianth floated directly above the Forge Knights, apparently charging some particularly powerful spell, and many of its familiar-cubes had morphed into what looked like floating cannons with glowing, ethereal runes swirling around their barrels.

Master Rongoteus gave some last-minute instructions to the younger mages before approaching Ata and Raynil. "We've created quite the efficient kill zone at the entrance, but some of the younger mages are already exhausted from the first battle. They've never had to fight for their lives before, and while most of them are prepared to defend Towen with their lives, I fear that some may lose their courage if the second wave includes more powerful and frightening creatures than those in the first wave. As such, I intend to ensure that as few creatures as possible are given even a chance to enter the Great Hall. When the second wave attacks, I will once again take the fight directly to the enemy. Master Ata, I'd greatly appreciate it if you could send that Gore Golem to assist me in this task... And of course, your own assistance would also be most welcome. I've already witnessed your close combat abilities, and they are nothing to scoff at."

"Be careful", Master Raynil said. It was performing complex conjuration ritual, and something was about to emerge from a trio of glowing spacetime rifts that had appeared before the cyberlich. "The second wave will almost certainly be far more dangerous than the first one. I was saving my strength during the last battle, and while I intend to do everything I must to stop this next attack, we must also consider the possibility that this won't be the last wave we have to face today. Do not overexert yourselves, even if you think we're about to win." Raynil finished the conjuration spell, and three golden humanoids with red multi-faceted diamond eyes stepped out of the now-stabilized portals. The summoned creatures were arcane warriors of some sort, armed with bladed staves and one-handed swords carved full of runes. "These are Spirits of Inspiration from a perception-based 'Idea World' I once discovered during my dimensional travels", Raynil explained. "I gave them physical bodies and permanance in exchange for their services." The cyberlich gave a nod to the creatures. "In a few moments, we'll be attacked by monsters. I want you to protect the younger mages in this Hall. Do not let the monsters reach them."

"I hope you're all prepared!" Master Anolianth said out loud. "Here they come!" It's metallic voice sounded almost excited.

The second wave was indeed approaching from the other end of the huge corridor. It was significantly larger than the first wave. Most of the horde once again consisted of the small blobbish creatures with huge mouths, but this time there were two types of bigger monsters among them - several dozen in total. The first type resembled a hybrid between a centaur and a rhinoceros: a four-armed, roughly humanoid torso that emerged from a massive quadrupedal body, all covered in natural armor that had the appearance and texture of gray rock. The head was small and underdeveloped, with tiny black eyes and a toothless beak-like mouth. Each of the four arms ended in a large and heavy bony knob, ideal for crushing things. The second type was something straight out of a nightmare: a three meter tall human/spider-thing with pale flesh, walking on all fours. Each of its limbs ended in a "hand" with six clawed digits, and its impossibly wide mouth was dripping green bile or venom. It had no eyes, but the top of its head was covered by a disturbingly human-like tuft of hair.

There were also four floaters, slowly moving through the air above the rest of the horde, seemingly directing it. They looked like some kind of twisted and abstract angels: all prismatic, crystalline surfaces and glowing tendrils that looked only partially corporeal, encased in a shell of hard light. They had small round heads whose only feature were large, glowing eyes. They had ethereal wings made of pure magical energy, and while they had no visible legs, they had tiny, seemingly vestigial forelimbs hanging limply at their sides. Their arcane signature was remarkable.

Master Raynil summoned its arcane shield and several of its combat-oriented familiar-cubes began to glow.

Master Rongoteus extended its combat tentacles and stepped forward, ready to shift itself in the middle of the horde.

Master Anolianth switched on some kind of internal radio and started to play extremely loud heavy metal music.


Animancy Lab - Holding Pens
"Battlemaster Dulruni, the Archmagister wants you to join Masters Ata, Raynil, Rongoteus and Anolianth in defending the Great Hall", Wizard Kossil said. "However, Greater Necromancer Lin should come with me to the Holding Pens. There, you can attempt to contact the Initiates through their familiars. We are almost certain that one of them is behind these attacks. They're most likely frightened and not in control of their own actions; if you can establish contact with the culprit, we may be able to calm them down and prevent them from summoning more monsters. At the very least, we may be able to learn more about their... condition."

Kossil led Lin out of Animancy Lab N-46 and into the nearest Network Chamber, which took them near the Holding Pens several floors above the lab. However, as soon as they stepped out of the chamber, Kossil stopped. It tilted its head and simply listened for a couple of seconds. "Something is wrong", it said quietly. "Can you feel it too, Greater Necromancer?" And indeed, the air here was heavy with feelings of animalistic dread and panic. They were coming from the Holding Pens ahead. "Let's hurry", Kossil said and proceeded to open the doors to the Pens.

The Holding Pens were housed in a large underground chamber which had enough room for dozens of cages, pools and enclosures of various types and sizes. Normally, the animals waiting to be turned into familiars were calm and well taken care of by both apprentices and magical constructs, and they had more than enough room to move around in their enclosures. There were plants everywhere, and a small artificial "sun" hung from the ceiling, illuminating the chamber with almost natural light. Usually, the Holding Pens were one of the calmest and most pleasant areas of Towen, resembling a high-class zoo.

Now, things were very different. Most of the animals were going insane in their cages, howling and screaming as if in terrible pain. Some were physically harming themselves, clawing at their own eyes or trying to bite off their own legs. The mayhem seemed to worsen near three large pools at the back of the chamber, reserved for aquatic animals. As Lin knew based on her previous visit, two of the three pools were empty; the third housed Myrdem's Arrowhead Dolphin. Now something was trashing violently in the pool, splashing water all over the surrounding cages. At the same time, incredibly - almost debilitatingly - strong psychic waves of hate, anger, rage and despair were emanating from the pool and washing over the chamber like waves of pure insanity. Wizard Kossil reeled from the sheer force of the emanations. "That's... not... normal..." it said in a pained voice, but kept walking with Lin towards the pools. Three of its familiar-cubes had assumed combat stance, ready to defend their master.

When Lin and Kossil reached the edge of the pool, the trashing stopped. Something raised its head from the water. At first glance, it looked like the Arrowhead Dolphin, but then Lin noticed that its eyes were completely black, and black liquid was gushing out of its mouth. It was not blood.

The thing that looked like a dolphin fixed Lin with a gaze so full of hatred that it threatened to burn through her mind.

Black Box Party
Oathman Ireyon flew beside Enu, using magic to levitate herself. "Nice work with the barriers, there", she said when they exited the Network chamber that had taken them to the sixth above-ground floor. "Without you and Master Ata, we would have almost certainly lost at least some of the apprentices. Thank you."

The identification spell worked as expected and granted them access to Rongoteus' laboratory, which was normally warded against any potential intruders. The large black chest the Master had mentioned was instantly visible among heaps and piles of smaller chests, trunks and other equipment Rongoteus had not bothered to clean up after its experiments. There was no obvious way to open the chest, but Enu could instantly tell that it was heavily enchanted. And heavy in the physical sense, too. It had to weigh a couple of tons, at least. Together, Enu and Ireyon were able to haul it out of the laboratory, but as soon as they were back outside, Ireyon tensed and dropped the chest. Someone was approaching from a dark side corridor ahead.

First came two small, flying, fleshy orbs that resembled aerial jellyfish. They didn't look particularly dangerous, but the man who followed them did. He was large and burly and dressed in nothing but a sleeveless burlap robe. He was completely bald, heavily scarred and his massive arms and legs were obviously augmented with both artificial muscles and subdermal armor.

"You...!" Ireyon hissed.

"Yes, me, you foolish little lickspittle of the gods", High Zealot Thaos said with a deranged grin. His speech was slightly slurred, as if he had recently suffered a stroke. "I was prepared to meet my end like a proper Hater, knowing that my death would be avenged sooner or later. But lo! A miracle! My godlike future-self has released me from your filthy prison, and now I am free to end your pitiful existence with my own hands!"

Psychic energy began to swirl around the Hater priest's fists as he stepped forward and took a fighting stance.

"I shall join you in the Hordes, Master Rongoteus." Ata stated, he was still in squid form. "This time there will be no prerogative that the enemy must be kept alive to hold me back. Hopefully I won't make a fool out of myself again." most of his familiars had morphed into half-moon shaped blades, runes followed the curve of the leading edge of each - decay enchantments.

Ata listend to Master Raynil carefully, though he too was preparing a spell. "I have no intention of overextending, my experiences with the Great Rift prohibit it." He cast his conjuration spell, two forms shimmered into existence on either side of the hall guarded by Anolianth and his Forge Knights. Both forms consisted of a skinny midnight blue octohedron suspended within a translucent icosahedron that was faintly tinted blue. They hovered 2.56 meters from the floor, the inner octahedron rotated clockwise about it's central axis at 1.5 revolutions per second while the outer icosahedron rotated counter clockwise at 1 revolution per second. The air surrounding them felt charged, and their signatures indicated that they were very potent energy based entities, probably attacked with either electricity or plasma. "I don't mean to try and show you up Master Raynil, but I thought it best to shore up our defenses. They're a pair of energy based creatures that I fashioned forms for, they are rather fond of using their abilities. If there's an electrical conduit nearby, I advise that one of the Oathmen should expose it. They should be able to fry anything that get's close to or past Master Anolianth's defensive line."

When Master Anolianth alerted him to the horde, Ata took his place by Master Rongoteus. He had morphed again, this time into a ball that looked like it was composed of knives and razor blades. His familiars maintained their blade shapes and were orbited him in a somewhat offensive fashion. The Jicvil rolled around excitedly behind their master, apparently sharing Anolianth's sentiment. The Gore Golem had to temporarily part the wall of Forge Knights to get into position behind the two bushels of blades. "Leave the small ones for the summons, the larger one's are our concern. I'll try probing the orbs to see how we can deal with their shielding, be prepared for them to try and negate magical effects, that's probably why they are here. Oh, and make sure there's some bodies left so my golem can repair itself." he warned.

When Rongoteus phased out to the horde, Ata followed. His arrival at the horde was accompanied by a concussive blast, though it was not aimed at the horde. Ata had used it to propel himself, and was now bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling like a racketball from hell. His familiars lashed out at the creatures, inflicting deep cuts, he seemed to be primarily targeting the Rhinos. Injuries inflicted would quickly see rapid decay as some advanced form of necrosis took root and quickly spread. It was clear that Ata was trying to destroy the armor of the rhinos so that either he or Rongoteus could kill them more easily. When it came to the spider, he targeted joints and limbs, trying to mobilize it. Ata also had to make sure that he made himself an incredibly hard target to hit, and would use his skills with phasing himself and teleportation to avoid attacks by the horde. So all the horde and the others saw was a sea urchin from hell flashing in and out of existence, attempting to cripple the heavy units of the horde. He also shot a few probing attacks at th lead orb creature to gain a better understanding of it and how to kill it.

The Summons charged in behind their master, the Jicvil went for the small ones and did everything they could to avoid the others, The Gore Golem had other ideas. Organic bulldozer mode was activated, the thing barreled towards the horde, trampling any creature unfortunate enough to be in it's way. It set it's sights on the lead rhino, throwing a powerful punch it's direction before trying to grapple it and beat it to the ground. It had the idea to try and break thee arms of the creature as well, generally to inflict the most trauma possible. Teeth and spikes all over its body took an active role in protecting it from the small ones, stabbing at the ones that tried to climb the golem. In fact, the golem was shooting teeth out of various locations on its body to try and kill the small ones. The Jicvil appeared to be working with the golem, trying to protect it from the small ones while using it to hide from the larger ones.

Holding Pens
Dulruni Immediately set off, glad to finally be able to escape that lab and go fight. Though he soon found himself rerouted by the Genus Loci, Enu and Oathman Ireyon had ran into a particularly angry complication.

Lin went with Kossil without a word. When they reached the Holding Pens, Lin's familiars were instantly active, shielding her from the damaging effects of the distress. "Yes I do, Wizard." she advanced into the pens, paying careful attention to how the animals were effected, her familiars shielding her from the brunt of the assault on her senses. When approaching the aquatic holding cell, she halted and put a hand to her head, it was very painful for her. One look at the dolphin and she had a pretty good idea of what was happening. "We may be too late, the Entity has already gotten to them. If I'm right, then whatever it is is trying to establish a presence here. I'm afraid making contact with the Dolphin might not be possible at the moment. Do you know where Madyra's Fox is? If so, can you get it for me?" she asked over the noise, her voice was pained. She sent an observation familiar to scan the pool for residue, corpses, magical effects, anything really. She knelt beside the pool, but out of reach of the insane dolphin. "I fear I may be too late to save you." she lamented. "How could we have been so short sighted?" She tried to force through the pain to feel the dolphin thing's mind, undoubtedly a mistake, but there wasn't time for caution. She wouldn't make full contact, this was just a scan, it would hopefully reveal who really influenced the creature. If she knew a bit more, perhaps she could force it out. The dolphin was undoubtedly the source of all the suffering here, she had to beat it.

Black Box Party
"It is no problem. We are your guests, and for as long as that remains, we will treat your home as we would ours." Enu remarked. "For now we must take our turn to assist the Masters." He continued down the halls.

The Liches laboratory certainly was interesting, but it was nothing he hadn't seen before and he wasn't here to gawk at Master Rongoteus's Collection. The chest was located and brought out, nothing else was important at the moment. Then came the Zealot.

Enu didn't like this situation, here two Oathmen - or at least he thought his position was equivalent to that of an Oathman - were cornered by a powerful psychic, an angry vindictive psychic for that matter. If they didn't have the chest, they'd have so many more combative options, but they couldn't let this madman get it. Enu alerted the Archmagister. "Situation outside of Master Rongoteus's Laboratory, High Zealot Thaos is loose and about to start a fight, requesting support. The Prison is compromised." He sent an image of the orbs so that they could be cross referenced with the ones that had already been encountered. The young lich drew his sword, but did not take up an offensive stance, he took a defensive one. The blade of his sword was now visible, runes were etched into it on every avalible surface. A larger bank of runes on the center of the flat of the blade on both sides appeared to be changing, in fact, they appeared to be eldian script, not runes. One section translated to "About time" another translated to "Let's put this [expletive] in the hospital". Enu used a bit of magic to form two spikes of hardline right in the path of the jellyfish and immediately after their formation accelerated them into the scouts to skewer them. Enu spoke to Ireyon. "He's definitely suffering from a brain bleed of some form, expect his combat mods to start governing his actions at some point. So far he seems to be more of a bullish fighter, I suggest you optimize your tactics for speed and agility." He then spoke to Thaos. "You're being used, Priest. The entity that freed you only did so because it thought you were predictable and anticipated that you'd take this course of action. You are no more free than you were in your cell, the entire monastery has been phased out of normal reality, we're all alone and cut off due to the entity that has invaded Towen. As far as we can tell, it is very powerful - god-like in nature - and it will kill us all, including you once your usefulness to it has expired." He knew it wouldn't work, Haters of his caliber were never the reasonable type, but it was worth the shot regardless.

For the blobbish creatures, the battle was pure and very one-sided slaughter. They were killed by the hundreds in the first minute alone, with Anolianth and Ata's familiars and Rongoteus' combat tentacles slicing, burning and punching through them with ease. In moments, the floor of the corridor was covered in blood and gore. Through sheer numbers, some of them got past the first line of defenders, only to be slaughtered by Anolianth's Forge Knights, Raynil's Spirits of Inspiration and Ata's energy-based summons.

But then, the aggressive, mindless balls of flesh and teeth had never been anything but a distraction - something to keep the defenders busy while the larger, more dangerous creatures did the actual damage. The centaur-rhinos attacked aggressively and with surprising speed. Their natural bone clubs had enough raw strength to pulverize the stone floor of the corridor with a single blow, and they also had the ability to shed the outer layer of their armor when the decay enchantment inflicted by Ata's familiars had spread too far. Underneath was another layer of armor, and underneath that, a third one, before their flesh was finally exposed. They were exceptionally hard to damage, and they didn't seem to feel any pain. The lead Centaur, larger and bulkier than the others, was locked into a pummeling match with the Gore Golem, using its powerful forelimbs to send pieces of the fleshy nightmare flying. Even as the Gore Golem managed to grab one of the Centaur's lower arms and bend it until it snapped with a sickening crunch, the Centaur's upper arms came down on the golem's head and bashed it in with the force of a dozen hydraulic pile drivers. The smaller Centaurs stormed past the wrestling pair, trying to reach the Great Hall. One of them was reduced to ashes by a burning beam of arcane energy from Master Anolianth, while another lost its both forelegs to Master Raynil's spacetime rifts and fell on floor rather unceremoniously, only to have its head sliced off by Master Ata when he landed on it in his blade ball form. Two Centaurs ceased their onslaught and turned their attention to Ata, trying to hit him mid-air by swinging their arm-clubs at him whenever he came within range.

Meanwhile, the Spiders were crawling all over the floor, the walls and the ceiling. Their jerky, unnatural movements (along with their nightmarish appearance) made it hard to appreciate the speed and precision at which they moved and dodged attacks aimed at them. They also seemed to be immune to the decay enchantment employed by Ata and his familiars - worse, instead of decaying, the enchantment seemed to actually heal their wounds, even allowing them to regrow severed limbs. They were not immune to normal damage and pure combat spells, however. Their primary attack method was a venom spit - or rather, a stinking, steaming torrent of extremely corrosive vomit that reacted with magic and enchantments by making them go haywire or causing them to fail outright. They were primarily targeting the familiars. Master Rongoteus let out an inhuman mechanical grunt, indicative of both spiritual and physical pain, when one of its familiar-cubes - currently morphed into a glowing whip of pure energy - was hit by the vomit and actually shattered into tiny inert pieces, completely devoid of any animating energies. The cyberlich Master retaliated by bisecting the offending Spider with a single strike of one of its combat tentacles, but the damage was already done; Rongoteus had just lost a tiny part of its very soul.

When Ata cast his probing attacks against the Angels, his spells were predictably absorbed by the arcane barrier protecting the creatures. The barrier was very strong - roughly comparable in strength to the one Master Raynil had conjured around itself. The Angels didn't seem to be doing much of anyting for the first minutes of the battle, but then, when Ata narrowly dodged a powerful blow by one of the Rhinos and was about to land on its underdeveloped head with all his blades and spikes, the nearest Angel raised its vestigial hand and---


---everyone in the corridor and the Great Hall was overcome by an unnaturally strong feeling of déjà vu. Instead of dodging the blow, Ata took a direct hit and was sent flying towards the wall. Another Angel, apparently predicting exactly where the Eldian lich would land, raised its hands lazily and conjured a portal of pure entropy in his path.

Holding Pens
"Of course. Just a moment", Wizard Kossil said and went to retrieve the fox while Lin approached the dolphin's pool.

As soon as Lin made contact with the creature, her sixth sense was assaulted by an incredibly powerful and invasive telepathic presence. She could hold it at bay for now, but it was clear that this was just a fraction of the being's full power, transmitted through a peripheral interface.

THE GIRL IS ASLEEP, DREAMING BLACK DREAMS. I LIVE THROUGH HER NOW. I AM THE ONLY ONE THERE IS, the presence transmitted. It didn't use words, exactly - it was more like a partial transfer of mind-states; it was hard to tell which thoughts were Lin's own and which belonged to the thing that was talking through the dolphin.

Lin's observation familiar was able to get only very superficial results from the pool's contents. Most of it wasn't water. Not anymore.

Black Box Party
Despite their harmless appearance, the jellyfish turned out to have potent magical powers after all. They phased out of the way when Enu's hard light spikes were about to skewer them and reappeared half a meter from their initial position. They had extended their fleshy tentacles, and magical energies were visibly coursing through them.

"Your pitiful attempts to deceive me will not work, mageling!" Thaos babbled. The priest was slowly approaching the two mages, fists raised. "I can feel my own presence all over this place - amplified, upgraded, magnified a trillion-fold... It's me you're fighting against! Me and my godlike future-self! Don't you see? My survival is already certain, for my future-self is reaching through time to assist me. Hahaha! You poor things are facing a posthuman god so powerful that time is just a door for it. For me! Just lay down and surrender. I'll show mercy by making it quick."

"I see what you mean", Ireyon said telepathically to Enu. "Be careful. I haven't faced Thaos before, but I know he is quite powerful. It took two Wizards to subdue him... Of course, back then he had his armor and weapons."


With a growl of primal rage, Thaos lunged at the two mages. He was very fast and had surrounded himself with psionic energy that was hot enough to ionize the air around him.

The Golem
The gore golems head - rather predictably - exploded when hit by the rhinos blow, as did some of its upper torso. It was not dispatched, however, it still held onto the crystal that powered it. The Jykvil seemed to think the damage was catastrophic and started throwing bodies into the golem so that it could regenerate. The golem, now having severely weakened structural integrity, switched tactics.Trying to make full use of the opening it had been granted, it began to gel, sticking to the rhino. muscles were anchored in with large bone shards and the blob of a golem attempted to secure itself to the rhino in such a manner that would cause significant damage to the rhino itself if it continued to bludgeon the golem. Teeth were arranged facing into the armor of the rhino, and began undulating to scrape off the armor to aid in the golem's regeneration, abusing the ablative nature of the armor for its own benefit. It really didn't matter what the armor was made out of, the golem was desperate for material of any sort.

The Lich
Ata's body may behave like a gel at times, but it wasn't. It still consisted of solid particles that could be damaged, especially when it had already assumed a form. When the club hit him, his entire body compressed like a rubber ball hit by a baseball bat. The lich felt the internal supports that had been erected to maintain the form and style of combat splinter and the outer layer crushed as he was flung away, closing in on the portal of instant doom. He just barely managed to phase out in time, losing an inconsequential amount of somatic mass to the portal.

The lich floated in one of the pockets in reality that he made use of. It's existence was that of a fractal sphere that he occupied the center of, where his broken form floated. The blow had left a visible crater in his side, with bit of liquid mass rimming it. His entire body had deformed during the blow, despite having rebounded, some of the deformation was still there. The blade shaped familiars remain unaffected, their should bond proved stronger than the force applied to Ata's body. The lich began to rearrange its body rather rapidly and violently, the damaged "Cells" making the process somewhat difficult. His body rapidly became more geometric. When it was over a beast made of polygons remained, the familiars having been absorbed into the form. Triangles were the shapes of choice for the six legged creature, each leg had four joints and ended in a sharp point. The legs attached to a small rounded disk of a body. A somewhat elongated neck sprouted from the body and held a skinny octahedron about a meter long that was the head - Ann edge of which was oriented away from the neck, producing a sharp ridge that light grey dots peered from either side of. In fact, whenever possible, the edges of the various shapes that made up the body faced outwards.

While morphing his body, Ata developed a plan to strike back against thee angels, though it would require the cooperation of all the masters. Yet another change in strategy to keep the hive-mind from being able to fight them effectively. Though it would likely make the hive-mind consider what weapons its troops are outfitted with more carefully.

Ata returned in his sentient geometry nightmare form, he hadn't been gone for more than a few seconds. He relayed the details of his plan to the other masters, limited it to relevant information for the sake of speed. He was close to Rongoteus, a necessary measure and risk. For the removal of the blobs around him, he would either attack with the likes by impaling or using them as clubs. Shimmering tendrils would also shoot out from thee central body to impale unlucky creatures. Finally, the front half of his head could split apart and form a four jawed mouth lined with serrated teeth. It maintained the ability to phase, but seemed to do so more carefully than before, instead he would use speed when necessary to dodge attacks.

The bloodbath continued for the precious few moments it took to get all the details of the plan sent to the other masters. The execution had to follow a short timetable flawlessly or there was chance that the intended targets could react to it in a meaningful way. As soon as the last bit of data was received, the plan was put into motion. Master Ata acted first, antagonizing the spider to get them to target him. With countless projectiles inbound to either Ata's or Rongoteus's location, Master Raynil and Rongoteus acted next. Rongoteus by casting an obstruction spell to cloud the senses of the angels and delay their reaction times, Raynil by manipulating space time in a local fashion to create incredibly short lived gravity wells in the locations of the Angels - further slowing the angels reaction times. Next came Master Ata again, who opened up numerous short-lived portals that redirected the vomit from the spiders right at the angels. Ata was skeptical that there was enough spit to do win all of the angels, the last angel had receive a bit less vomit than the rest, it its destruction was doubtful. Finally Master Anolianth fired on the angels - as did the forge knights that could - , in an effort to destroy them.

The whole thing lasted no more than a few seconds, the vast majority of which was the initial period of antagonizing the spiders. "Hopefully that put an end to their time shenanigans." Ata remarked directly after the attack, preparing another spell and surveying the results of their work.

Holding Pens
Lin made an effort to use the mental techniques that had been first developed by master.... she couldn't seem to grasp the name, she was a powerful, something, of something. Lin focused on the person she was trying to recollect, jumbled in with the creature's thoughts, pull together a rock of sanity in the sea of madness. Eventually it came to her: Master Ayajira, known as the Mistress of the Mental Arts by some, the Unions best telepath. She was one of the more minor liches in the Dark Ages, and was known to quarrel with Master Sereno. She who had destroyed the mind of one of Lin's apprentices.

Feelings of betrayal, disappointment, shame, anger, hate, and uncertainty whirled around in the sea, flowing away as Lin attempted to stave off the domineering influence of the thing and find out more. Her familiars were not at ease, the more complex ones would activate specially designed enchantments to cut the connection if things got too bad.

Black Box Party
Enu new instantly that there was no winning this, only stalling. He formed a small hard light wall in front of the priest, predicting that Those would just barge right through it as it did not appear to be much of an obstacle at all. If the High Zealot were to hit it, he would find that it was meant to be passed through, though very painfully, as the wall would form into glass like shards to cut skin and damage sensitive mechanisms and organs. Enu was doubtful that it would do anything to the Zealot, but he needed to buy time and distract him. At the time of either impact with the wall or maneuvering around it, the chest would appear to crawl away on its own volition, scuttling down the hall away from the High Zealot on formerly concealed legs. Enu tried to dodge the jellyfish, his mind already too preoccupied with the other spells to lay down more at the moment. Maintaining the illusion was paramount for now, his weapon against the Jellyfish was his sword. The metallic entity emanated a sort of vampiric hunger from it. When Enu slashed at the jellyfish, it sent a ghost of the leading edge forward at incredible speed that would sap some of the life force of the scouts. With regards to Thaos, Enu's methodology was to avoid him as much as possible, trying to dance around the zealot's attacks while sticking as close as he reasonably could to the chest.

Two of the four Angels were hit by the full force of the anti-magical torrent of vomit. Their bodies were almost entirely immaterial, held together by magical energy and little else. As such, the reaction with the vomit was predictably destructive: the Angels' arcane shields were unable to protect them from an instant, almost anti-climatic death. Their bodies simply melted away, leaving behind nothing but steaming puddles of vomit mixed with some organic dust. The third Angel tried to phase away from the deadly liquid suddenly directed against it, but was only partially successful. Its shield was breached and the right half of its body was soaked in vomit, causing horrible, deadly injuries. With the last vestiges of its strength, the mortally injured Angel tried to ram Master Rongoteus while releasing its remaining magical energy all at once, but before it could reach the cyberlich, it was hit by Master Anolianth's powerful beam attack and vaporized.

The fourth Angel, however, was hit by just a few drops of vomit. It lost its shield but was otherwise unharmed. Realizing that its companions were dead, the Angel teleported itself further down the corridor to regain its strength. It was still be a threat that would have to be dealt with, but at least Ata's plan had temporarily put all enemy casters out of combat.

Despite the geat losses the attacking creatures had suffered, they just kept coming, and their sheer numbers made it hard to destroy them all. Worse, some of the younger mages were running out of mana. Some of them had collapsed in exhaustion, while others drank their mana potions and kept fighting despite the obvious strain it put on them, both spiritually and physically. Two Centaurs and one Spider had made it to the Great Hall, along with a number of the blobbish creatures. They attacked the Apprentices and Oathmen first, trying to kill the younger mages in order to diminish the defenders' firepower before going after the more powerful Masters. One of the Apprentices was crushed by a Centaur's bone club, while an Oathman was soaked in Spider-vomit and died in horrible agony as her own innate magical power turned against her, burning her from the inside until nothing but bone and ash remained.

Master Raynil reacted by freezing the Spider with a stasis field and sending six of its familiar-cubes - morphed into deadly Living Metal darts - to attack the Centaurs. One of Anolianth's Forge Knights had run out of ammunition. Leaving the defensive formation, it joined Raynil's Spirits of Inspiration to fight the attackers in close combat. The trio of golden humanoids fought with inhuman grace and speed, occasionally disappearing from their current location and reappearing in a place where they could inflict maximum damage. The Forge Knight was slower and more cumbersome than the Spirits of Inspiration, but it hit with great force, strong enough to shatter all three layers of a Centaur's armor with a single blow.

The lead Centaur tried to shake off the Gore Golem by rolling on the floor and bashing its three remaining arm-clubs against the corridor's walls until the bone cracked, but it was useless; the creature damaged itself more than the Gore Golem did, and in the process it also opened up its softer, more vulnerable insides for the Golem to feast on. The Centaur's movements began to slow down, and eventually it collapsed on the floor, mortally wounded and unable to fight any longer. The remaining Angel noticed the Centaur's imminent death and telepathically commanded the nearest Spiders to soak both it and the Gore Golem wrapped around it in vomit in an attempt to get rid of Ata's grisly creation.

"Keep fighting", Master Rongoteus transmitted telepathically to every mage present. "Their numbers are great but not infinite. I can see the end of the second wave." And indeed, the horde was beginning to thin out; the Blobs were less numerous now, and there were only a dozen or so Centaurs and a few Spiders making their way towards the battle further in the corridor. The battle against the second wave was not yet over, but victory seemed to be within reach.

Holding Pens

The entity seemed to notice Lin's mental contact for the first time. It - or at least some small part of it - turned its full attention on her. Being under its telepathic scrutiny was almost overwhelming. It felt like ten thousand psionic probes trying to breach her mind all at once. I KNOW YOU, SMALL THING. YOU WERE GOOD TO US, TAUGHT US THINGS. YOU PATHETIC FOOL. YOU KNOW SO LITTLE OF MAGIC. BUT YOU MEANT WELL. YOU ARE NOT EVIL AND YOU DO NOT FIGHT US. TELL THE OTHERS TO STOP. THEY MUST STOP OR THEY WILL ALL DIE.

Behind her, Wizard Kossil returned carrying Madyra's fox. The animal was almost catatonic, it's limbs stiff and its eyes blank and unseeing. Only small shivers going through its small body indicated it was still alive. "I can sense a telepathic connection between the fox and... something", Kossil said. "I don't know what. It could be the boy, or it could be something else." Sensing the entity that had made contact with Lin, Kossil froze and asked quietly, "Are you... alright?"

Black Box Party
The nearest jellyfish was hit by the ghostly blade and injured badly. Bleeding yellow liquid, it began to lose altitude and tried to retreat from battle. Oathman Ireyon summoned a glowing qarterstaff from thin air and attacked the weakened creature with strikes imbued with arcane fire. The jellyfish tried to block the strikes, but in its weakened state its barriers were unable to stop the quarterstaff. In seconds, Ireyon had bludgeoned the creature to death. The second jellyfish phased out of reality and reappered behind her. The mage spun around and barely managed to dodge a series of magic missiles the jellyfish conjured from the tips of its tentacles.

Meanwhile, High Zealot Thaos predictably barged through Enu's hard light barrier, using the psionic energy he had gathered around himself to break through the wall almost without effort. What happened next revealed that despite his aggressive and brutish fighting style, the Hater priest was neither stupid nor suicidally overconfident. When the hard light shards of the shattered wall were about to strike him, he released all of the psionic energy as a destructive wave to burn away and dissipate the shards before they could harm him. For a fraction of a second he seemed unsure which target to pursue. Then he made up his mind and went after the chest. But when it scuttled away from his reach, he turned to Enu, face distorted with rage and fury. "Clever trick, Eldian, but it will not save you or your companion!" he growled and began to approach Enu. He focused a psychic attack against the Death Knight, trying to make him doubt himself and make a single fatal mistake at a crucial moment. Then, he lunged at him, moving so fast that he almost seemed to be teleporting through the distance separating them. Just before contact, he aimed a left uppercut imbued with psionic energy at Enu's chin.

The effects of the plan registered on Ata's senses as he continued to mulch the opposition. It pleased him somewhat that it had worked as well as it had, the odds were now leveled in their favor. However, he could still recognize that the last Angel was desperate. Without the support of its companions, it wouldn't be able to do as much, but it would certainly try. Especially considering its commanding entity would have no use for it out of these circumstances, if it even had enough individuality to recognize concepts like self preservation. Ata knew entities like the Summoner, they were very domineering and powerful. If he was estimating this one correctly, it was extremely selfish and arrogant, its survival was paramount, it would try everything. If it didn't have the capacity for empathy, perhaps that could explain the situation, but the desperation didn't line up. It either was intentionally malevolent or very concerned with its survival as he had estimated already. But then why wasn't it confronting them already? It had to either be immobile, too large to freely move through the fortress, or it was the ultimate glass cannon. It was entirely likely that the Summoner had possessed Initiate Inggala, which would curse it with a very vulnerable form. The alternative was that it was protecting Inggala personally, summons are always tied to their summoners, and having such a weakness would warrant the highest level of protection possible if its survival was the top priority. "We need updates from Master Wuro, the nature of the connection between the Summoner and Initiate Inggala could make the difference in this fight. It is also entirely likely that our main objective will be Initiate Inggala's destruction." Ata alerted the other masters. Ata opened up a message to the larger audience of despoticanian minds, he kept it directed to keep the last angel from snooping at the risk that someone might be left out. He trusted the other masters enough to shield those that were not informed, however. "Prepare yourselves, sonic attack incoming." Ata pulled mana from the batteries in preparation and made sure Rongoteus was out of his way. His main target were the spiders lining the walls, but collateral was inevitable. Spider-Ata opened his gaping maw and emitted a highly directional screech that immediately took the form of a shockwave directed away from the defensive line. It was still loud for those behind Ata, but it was drastically less powerful.

The Gore golem, as expected, was destroyed. It's burning form let off quite a putrid smell, and the Jikvil were careful to A) Avoid the vomit B) Stay away from the corpse-sludge. They switched up their roles, using whatever limited psychic abilities that they possessed in attempt to scramble the senses or motor control of the spiders designated as key by either the masters, or the Jikvil themselves. Their interference was more inconvenient and obnoxious than downright debilitating, but that could make the difference in this setting. The Jikvil didn't seem to have normal auditory components, they seem rather unaffected by Ata's attack, maybe it was just part of their otherworldly composition?

Holding Pens
The familiars apparently didn't like what was going on - if they had any individuality at all - they were swarming around their master in a frenzied swarm. Powerful charms, enchantments, spells, and barriers were being triggered simultaneously. It was undoubtedly painful for Lin, Kossil could sense that fairly easily. "N..n.N.No" was the only response it received, pained and barely audible. She was fighting vigorously to evict the creature from her mind. These were not weak charms in use either, they were developed for use against Master Ayajira powerful psychic abilities, still she was having trouble.

If she got free, hopefully with Kossil's help, she would collapse to the floor. "Destroy the pool, everything in it." she croaked. Though weakened, she seemed to regain her composure and stand, her familiars were adamant about keeping her mentally isolated. Mechanical components were probably holding her up at this time. "Direct contact is not possible, too risky. As I just found out." Sh said, more strength behind her voice. "The fox may be more useful, I imagine you have a lab for this sort of mental contact? We'll need good equipment for this."

Black Box Party
Enu's augments kicked in as did his familiars in order to suppress the more irrational side of the lich that was exposed to such things s psychic attacks His singular goal was survival. Enu made to dodge the attack by the priest, but he was a bit too slow, the energy imbued fist missed, but it came close enough to burn the side of Enu's face. The lich quickly fell back with inhuman agility, using small hard light platforms to aid in his escape. A few black darts were flung back at the priest.

Dulruni was sprinting towards Master Rongoteus's Lab, he had already cast all sorts of preparation spells. His armored form was covered by another layer of armor made out of hard light and strong magic absorption spells were also easy to make out, others were more subtle. His rifle was missing, but that hardly mattered, bound weapons could be dismissed. The battlemaster made one more message for the Archmagister. "Premission to destroy the anger filled ego bucket?" He inquired, clearly referring to Thaos.

The first sign of activity was the fleeing jellyfish, which Dulruni quickly dispatched with a fiery blast. The next was the scene itself, where Enu found himself under attack and possibly grappled by the priest. Dulruni stopped momentarily to slip on a nasty looking pair of brass knuckles - they certainly weren't made out of brass, looked more like some tungsten alloy - Before charging towards the priest with augmented speed. On his way to the priest, Dulruni's hands became cloaked in an intense inferno of blue flame. He knew the Priest would see him coming, that was the point. Whether or not Thaos saw Dulruni, he would certainly hear him as a call rang out through the halls. "DIE, HATER SCUM!" Dulruni had aimed a downward facing strike at the priest.

"The loss of Initiate Inggala would be an unfortunate but perfectly acceptable outcome," Master Raynil replied. "The safety of Towen - and the rest of the world - must come first. We cannot take any risks; unless we can find an immediate and easy way to save the Initiate once we reach the Dormitory, we must be prepared to kill her by any means necessary."

"The loss of an Initiate with insufficient mental strength to control her powers would be nothing new", Master Anolianth transmitted dismissively. "High Magic is a dangerous power to wield. Few minds can safely handle it, as proven - once again - by this very incident. Initiate Inggala has endangered both herself and her fellow mages. We cannot forgive such utter and complete failure."

The Spirits of Inspiration were slaughtering the creatures frozen by Raynil's spacetime manipulation, while the - now very exhausted - mortal mages were driving the Blobs towards Ata's icosahedron-shaped summons, allowing them to be electrocuted to death. "Don't be so quick to judge her", Master Raynil said as it opened a portal to swallow the head of another Centaur that was about to enter the Great Hall. "Initiate Inggala was victim of a rather unique series of unfortunate events. Few mortals could have resisted such a sustained mental attack by a reality-breaking anomaly. We'll try to save her, of course, but only if we can do so without risking Towen any further."

Ata's sonic attack had turned most of the remaining Blobs and the nearest Spiders into bloody pulp and badly disoriented the remaining monsters. Master Anolianth and its cannon-shaped familiars were systematically picking off the survivors one by one. After the creatures in the Great hall had been disposed of, Master Raynil and the remaining Forge Knights began moving into the corridor, slowly pushing against the tide of hostile summons which was now clearly dying down. After the loss of one of its familiars, Master Rongoteus showed greater restraint in engaging the monsters in melee combat. Instead, it used its familiars to dispatch injured and dying monsters, absorbing some of their life energy with each kill and occasionally releasing the stored and altered energy as a deadly vapor of pure death that seemed to rapidly desiccate the creatures it hit. "I call this spell 'Horrid Wilting'", the cyberlich transmitted. "Not that useful against undead, constructs and most elemental creatures, but it's really effective against anything with water in its body. It's been way too long since the last time I had a chance to use it."

Eventually, the presence controlling the creatures seemed to acknowledge that the second wave was finished. The remaining Angel - which had now recovered enough to regain its shield - the last three Centaurs and two Spiders turned tail and retreated, leaving behind a corridor filled with blood, gore and badly mutilated and/or charred corpses of countless slain monsters. The remains of the Gore Golem and the lead Centaur were slowly melting in a puddle of putrescent vomit, releasing copious amounts of horrid-smelling fumes that made some of the mortal mages gag and retch. The cyberliches were obviously unaffected by the smell. Master Rongoteus immediately began collecting samples of the anti-magical vomit, storing them into small hermetic flasks it seemed to summon from thin air. Master Raynil quickly counted their losses and then called a telepathic session between itself, the other Masters and the two Oathmen it deemed strong enough to keep fighting. "The second wave is defeated. We can't know how much time we have before the third. The way to the Dormitory is open for now; we must immediately replenish our mana reserves from the mana batteries and then resume our attack."

"One of my Forge Knights is badly damaged AND out of ammunition", Master Anolianth said. "It doesn't contain the soul of anyone whose name I can remember, so we might just as well bring it along as cannon fodder, but don't expect it to contribute much to actual fighting. The other four Forge Knights are undamaged, but they all have expended more than half of their ammunition."

"It will just have to do", Raynil replied. "I'm receiving communications from Master Concelhaut's group. They have not yet defeated the horde they encountered and have actually been forced into a fighting retreat. We must neutralize the primary summoner as soon as possible."

"You may be right", Master Rongoteus said. "As much as I'd like to wait for Oathman Ireyon and Death Knight Enu to deliver my chest to us, we don't have time to wait for them. The summoning entity is likely already gathering strength in order to summon another horde, and I fear its mana reserves exceed our own. This may be our only chance."

"How about you, Master Ata? Are you and your summons ready to continue the fight?"

Holding Pens
Without saying a word, Wizard Kossil placed the catatonic fox on the floor, pointed its staff at the pool and shot a bright, searing beam of magical energy into it. The liquid in the pool began to boil within seconds, and the next moment it exploded violently. Kossil's familiar-cubes rushed forward and formed an arcane shield around the explosion, preventing it from harming its surroundings and further increasing its destructive power. When the shield was dispelled, nothing remained of the pool but a large black crater filled with rapidly cooling molten stone. The waves of insanity that had been emanating from the pool had likewise disappeared, and some of the maddened animals in the chamber were starting to calm down. For many it was too late, though: they had mutilated themselves and nearby animals in their earlier frenzied state, causing horrible injuries and many deaths.

Next, Kossil turned to Lin and lent some of its power to her in order to help her recovery. "Yes, there is a fully-equipped animancy laboratory nearby. I'll take you there." It picked up the Fox again and led Lin out of the chamber. At the end of a short corridor was a door that opened into a large animancy laboratory. Kossil placed the fox on an operating table at the center of the room. "Do what you must", it said.

Black box Party - Enu
Thaos blocked the darts with his right arm, apparently not feeling any pain. Before whatever magic contained in the darts could spread, the psionic energy coursing through the priest's veins burned them away. It hardly mattered, though - the flesh in Thaos' arm was starting to blacken and crack; in his fighting frenzy, he was going all out on Enu and was clearly channeling more power than his body could safely handle without his armor. Completely oblivious to his rapidly expanding burn injuries, Thaos punched his fist against the floor with enough force to shatter the enchanted stone. Next, he picked up a fist-sized boulder and crushed it between his palms with alarming ease. Holding the shards in his right hand, he swung back his arm like a pitcher and let the shards fly towards Enu. They made a firecracker-like sound as they breached the sound barrier.

Before Thaos could do anything else, he was forced on the defensive by Oathman Ireyon who attacked him with her enchanted quarterstaff. He blocked the first two strikes, dodged the third and grabbed Ireyon's arm. He spun around and threw Ireyon against a nearby wall. The Oathman grunted in pain and fell on the floor. Thaos went after her, batted aside her familiar cubes and raised his fist to finish her off.

Black Box Party - Dulruni
Ominously, there was no response from the Archmagister. But there was something else - some kind of smothering presence that was slowly spreading across the entire genius loci. Dulruni had no time to worry about it now, though, for the battle against Thaos was already on.

Dulruni's arrival distracted Thaos just long enough for Ireyon to recover and dodge a punch that would have crushed her skull. She used levitation magic to get back up and to put distance between herself and the Hater priest. "Just kill him!" she transmitted telepathically to Dulruni. "We can't leave him alive. He's too dangerous." Growling with almost animalistic anger, Thaos rushed to meet this new threat. He didn't even try to dodge Dulruni's punch - no, he countered it with one of his own. Their fists - both surrounded by arcane energy - met, and for a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity, they were in the heart of the storm. Everything was unnaturally calm as the opposing energies fought for dominance in some infinitely small plane of existence where even a Planck Time was like the lifetime of an entire universe.

Then, there was a sickening noise of splintering bone and a massive release of energy strong enough to throw everyone in the corridor several meters back. Thaos was the first back on his feet, looking stunned at his right arm which ended just below the elbow in a stump of burned flesh and reinforced bone. His shock lasted for less than half a second. Then, his eyes glazed over as his implants took over his actions and switched to full combat autism. His mouth was forming words, but they sounded like a broken record, "My future-self, godlike and sovereign! Lend me your strength, for the hated gods threaten me with their machinations! Though I am but weak and mortal, a flawed and pathetic creature of limitations, I know that in my future lies the ultimate power. Let me use that power now to ensure my continued existence and your eventual ascension!" It was a Hater prayer, meant for times when their situation seemed hopeless.

Ireyon had summoned her quarterstaff and was looking for an opening that would allow her to attack Thaos. Backing away from his enemies, the priest released a massive psionic blast that would disorient everyone in the corridor, though it was aimed primarily at Dulruni.

Corridor to the Great Hall

"Initiate Inggalla may be too far gone to even consider saving." Ata spoke, finishing off the last of the monsters near him. He did not shift form quite yet, staying the the quadrupedal form he had assumed. "We must move quickly, we will likely not see that chest again unless Master Dulruni can secure it, Enu and Ireyon have been gone too long to not have met heavy resistance." He dispelled the quite tired looking Jikvil, and then replenished his own mana reserves before preparing another summoning spell.

The eldian lich preformed another summoning spell and three figures stepped into the world in a swirl of ash like particles. They were humanoids clad inn dark plate armor, black particles wafted out from the seems. Hues of charcoal and dried blood adorned the armor of each, two wielded two handed swords, one wielded a nasty looking bow. The swordsmen stood before the archer, the most dangerous one and their leader. "I do not mean to outdo you, Master Raynil. But we needed the reinforcements with the loss of the mortal mages to combat fatigue. The closest approximation for these spirits that I can come up with is Spirits of Strife, they hail from a partly corporeal realm that consists of nothing but an ever shifting battlefield. Makes me think that Master Dulruni is in the wrong plane of existence. Anyway, these ones are Endurance, Perseverance, and Tenacity." each bowed their head at the mention of their name, making it clear that Perseverance was the archer.

Ata now took the form of a cloak wearing humanoid not unlike his normal form, and started off down the corridor with his death squad in pursuit, their mission, to purge any and all extra-dimensional threats. "We have no time to waste." he reminded the others, while floating down the hall.

The Animancy Lab

Lin sat down at the side of the table, almost immediately slipping into meditation, he hands went up onto the table as she levitated by the table. Her first action was to calm and sooth the distraught animal. It wasn't too easy, relatively speaking, considering the animal had been through the equivalent of psychosis alongside constant mental torture. She worked on healing the creatures mind only slightly, she didn't want to alert the Summoner to her tampering again, but she needed the information she'd extract to at least be partly coherent. "I trust you'll pull me out of meditation if I come under assault again?" Her soft, somewhat weak telepathic voice said. "My familiars took somewhat of a beating last time, I doubt they will be as successful a second time." She could now begin to extract information about the situation through the link Madyra had with his familiar.

Outside of Master Rongoteus's Lab

Enu threw up a hard light shield in a vain attempt to defend himself against the zealot's improvised shotgun. Some shards may have been stopped, it was hard to tell, others were just slowed. He took the brunt of the shotgun blast to his center of mass. If he had not already been undead, the blow would surely have been crippling, if not outright fatal. The young lich tried to scurry away from Thaos in some sort of attempt to recover and would've been eternally screwed had Dulruni not shown up.

"You don't have to ask twice, Lass." Dulruni retorted. Thaos's oddly suicidal move perplexed the Battlemaster, and the resulting blast barely did anything to him compared to the damage Thaos sustained. The hard light gauntlet was gone, and Dulruni's actual gauntlet was severely dented and misshapen. For a few moments, one could see a silvery liquid underneath. With his other hand, Dulruni summoned one of his bound pistols, an enchanted .338 revolver and fired it had Thaos's head. A bright blast of plasma traveling as fast as a normal bullet was on it's way, Dulruni doubted the priest would have time to do anything that wouldn't liquify his squishy organs. He dismissed the pistol and jumped to his feet, his body had returned the damaged gauntlet to working condition by this time. He was hit by the disorientation spell, it scambled his senses a bit, but he had faced these kind of spells in the past and had developed certain countermeasures against them. He readied a spell and braced himself for the incoming attack.

"I'm afraid you may be right, Master Ata", Raynil said. "Nevertheless, it is our duty to at least try to save her. Make no mistake, however; the safety of Towen - and the rest of the world - must always come first. If no easy opportunities present themselves, then we must be content with killing or banishing her."

Raynil's Spirits of Inspiration seemed to recognize Endurance, Perseverance and Tenacity, or at least they approached the other summoned trio and gave them a small bow of acknowledgement. "You summoners and your thrice damned pride", Master Anolianth grumbled. "Always competing over who can conjure the most powerful or impressive monster to do your bidding... A true mage would build its minions itself and use only the resources available in this world..."

The mages who were in any shape to continue the attack and enter the Dormitory were disappointingly few in number. The group consisted of Anolianth, Raynil, Rongoteus, Ata and two advanced Oathmen - Jeranla and Calidris - and, of course, Ata and Raynil's summons and Anolianth's Forge Knights. Leaving the gore-encrusted grand corridor behind, they advanced into the wing of Towen that housed the personal quarters of Initiates and Apprentices. The corridors, staircases and alcoves were empty here, but with every step the group took, an oppressive, smothering presence - which had been barely noticeable in the Great Hall - became stronger. It felt like something that didn't belong in this world - didn't fit in it - being actively harmful to it through its very being. It bled colors from the environment, muffled all senses and dimmed all light sources until even the liches felt their vastly superhuman senses uncomfortably diminished. Perhaps it reminded them of being mortal?

"Something ahead", Master Raynil said and stopped. The Spirits of Inspiration immediately arranged themselves into a defensive formation around their summoner.

In the middle of the dark corridor, about ten or twelve meters ahead, stood a little girl dressed in a tattered white dress. She had long and stringy black hair that covered her face. The skin of her hands and bare feet was deathly pale. Based on her size, she looked about eight or nine years old.

Animancy Lab
"I will. You have my promise", Wizard Kossil replied.

It wasn't easy, but Lin was able to locate a lingering link between the Fox and Madyra. This fact alone told her one crucial bit of information: Madyra was still alive. The spiritual connection between the animal and the lad was apparently stronger than it had first appeared... or perhaps they had sought comfort from each other after the attack against the monastery had begun.

Madyra wasn't in physical pain, but he was afraid... deathly afraid. He was alone in darkness and couldn't move much. Something had wrapped itself around him - something large and warm and alive. It was in his head and in his soul, trying to communicate with him... It wasn't hostile, not exactly, but it was too loud... so loud it threatened to break his mind. It talked in Myrdem's voice, claimed to still be his friend... It reminded him of their adventures together, but he couldn't remember most of them. Some of its claims were just plain absurd and surreal. The thing said they had walked under the Broken Sky of AvLee, gathering Sizzling Cloud-Sons. It said they had attended the Grand Ball of the Fat Baron Who-Always-Whistles-Except-On-Sundays and stolen his Protonymic. Madyra couldn't see anyone else but he could feel them - Apprentices who had been trapped like he was, and the thing that had taken over the Dormitory was in their heads too, broadcasting its particular branch of insanity into their minds nonstop, trying to break them... or... befriend... them?

Black Box Party
And with that, the battle was over. Thaos' combat implants reacted with inhuman speed and precision, making him raise his undamaged left hand to shield against the bullet, but it simply burned through his palm and hit him squarely between the eyes. The back of his skull was blown away and blood, shards of bone and chunks of fried brain tissue splattered the wall behind him. He fell on his back with a loud thud, convulsed once and went limp. His corpse was literally smoking. A pungent smell that resembled burnt meat filled the corridor. There were wires and tiny machines among the remains of Thaos' brain, some with small blinking lights. They kept flashing for a good half a minute before slowly fading away like the last stars burning out during the heat death of the universe.

"Thank you, Master Dulruni", Ireyon said. "I don't think we could have defeated him without your help."

Before Dulruni could reply, they were contacted by the Archmagister. Its telepathic voice was unusually weak and unstable.


Ata had a great many things he wanted to say to Master Anolianth, including pointing out that it complained about an excess of pride while preaching about its pride as a creator. But he didn't need to stir up additional strife or feed into Anolianth's prejudice. In his opinion, a mage made fiull use of every tool at their disposal when necessary, but that was now irrelevant and detrimental to the effort. "Then perhaps you should come and visit my laboratory back in Veradax, I think you'll find it to your liking. I apologize that I did not make my sub large enough for an army minions." A little sarcasm slipped into the comment, didn't seem to leave any room for argument though.

The oppressive blanket that fell over everything as they advanced did nothing to boost Ata's confidence in the matter, though the Spirits of Strife did not seem to notice, perhaps they were used to fighting in less than ideal situations? The two electric crystals continued floating on their merry way, they didn't seem to have much of an opinion about anything other than how charged the atmosphere around them was, so this was to be expected. The other liches could almost feel Ata growing more on edge, he had uncomfortable memories about similar phenomenon to relive.

When the girl appeared, in front of them, Ata immediately threw up a defensive shield around him. He was instantaneously on guard for psychic assaults. The Crystals floated out in front of the group and seemed to take up defensive postures. Endurance and Tenacity took up positions in front of Ata, taking up defensive postures like the Spirits of Inspiration. Perseverance nocked an arrow and stood at the ready behind Ata and its other two squamates, this particular arrow felt like it was blow up anything within a couple meters of where it impacted. Ata was trying to discern what this thing was, so that they would know how to get past it quickly as it was undoubtedly a distraction so the real summoner could prepare another, more devastating wave. "I have an eerie feeling that this is a younger representation of Initiate Inggala." he told the others. Everyone around could see glowing sparks or particles spring into existence around Ata's finger tips, though they were few and were snuffed out fairly quickly.

Animancy Lab
Lin began to catalogue the information while trying to covertly dig up more information. She tasked one of her familiars to attempt to set up a communication line between herself and Master Ata, that way she could alert the main group to her findings.

Currently it seemed to be a bit interesting Initiate Inggala appeared to have been totally consumed by this summoner entity. Or rather, fused with it. But the overpowering nature of the soul of the latter seemed to have severely displaced Ingalla's identity, so the being was having an identity crisis of sorts and struggling with different motives. The different motives part seemed to manifest in Initiate Matrassyl's continued existence, despite his lack of skill he still represented a non-zero threat to a being that was otherwise totally consumed by the urge to survive and/or do as much damage as possible. But it was looking increasingly less likely that the hybrid creature was acting out of malice.

Perhaps the nonsensical memories where a result of the identity crisis? Or perhaps they were a byproduct of the nature of the being itself? The craziest idea Lin could come up with was that it represented some form of reincarnation, though it didn't make quite enough sense for that. She hoped her. familiar could successfully establish a connection.

Black Box Party
"From the looks of things, you didn't have to beat him, just outlast him till he killed himself in his brain damaged state. Given what skill he apparently had, that wasn't too likely. I'll have to talk about Master Ata about not killing his prey, had this maniac been dead, we'd be much better off now." The Battlemaster remarked.

Enu stood, though he looked somewhat pained by the motion. The young lich dropped the illusion spell at last, and the true location of the chest was revealed to all without need for any counter spells. "At least we kept the chest safe, maybe we can help defeat this anomaly after all."

"We just might, but we have to make good time. If you can't keep up, I'll have Ireyon drag you dead arse to the front." Dulruni said as he cast a restorative spell on Enu before picking the chest up with some effort, what was in it was certainly heavy. Using some heavy duty cargo straps the apparently had hidden in his armor somewhere, he secured the chest onto his back. "Bound item magic never ceases to amaze me." Enu remarked. "I am the best in the Union, I would be expected to have the basics and not just the weapons." Dulruni responded calmly. The Battlemaster then summoned in a massive chunk of mystic metal that he called a shield, marred from countless battles with well worn arm straps. He paired this with a lance of equal wear. "Of course you always have to have your most trusted tools on hand" It looked like he needed the lance and shield as a form of counterbalance so he could stand upright without the chest pulling him over, with his body, all his weapons and armor, his bulk likely far surpassed the chest and would allow him to move somewhat normally. The hulking mass of metal turned to Ireyon and gave her whatever assistance she needed to recover. "You know these halls better than either of us. We need the fastest way to the Initiate's dormitory that doesn't use the network portals, and we need it now!" Enu and Dulrunni had heard the Archmagister, it had worried them both all was lost if the anomaly took over the Towen Genus Locii. If that happened, it could summon in troops wherever it wanted, isolate resistance pockets and eventually destroy them through shear numbers, and potentially manifest the Genus Locii against them.

"It's almost certainly her, or at least a representation of how she saw herself at that age", Master Raynil replied. "She lost her family in a car accident when she was eight and grew up in an orphanage in Despoticania Prime. Her childhood was lonesome and marked by chronic depression. In her late teens, around the time her Gift began to manifest, she adopted a more confident and cheerful personality, but her psych reports indicated that it may have been to mask her deeper feelings."

Rongoteus had extended its hands and appeared to be scanning the girl. "Most curious. It seems I can't read that... 'girl'... at all", it said eventually. "I am easily the best animancer in Towen, but my life energy sense tells me that there's nothing before us in the corridor. Nothing at all. Even a projected image should have a weak but noticeable aura. Yet my eyes tell me otherwise, and that thing definitely has the mass one could expect from a girl of that size."

"That doesn't surprise me at all. We're deep in the invader's territory now. It's likely interfering with our senses. Be on your guard", Master Anolianth said. Several of its familiar-cubes had morphed into arcane cannons that floated around the giant horned skull, tracking the girl-thing as Anolianth moved to a better firing position. The Forge Knights followed their master closely. The damaged Forge Knight walked ahead of the others, ready to sacrifice itself in order to buy a few precious seconds for its siblings in case they were attacked.

The girl surprised everyone by speaking.

"Sidereal translations spell out chaotic events in your future", she said. "Turn back to avoid the tidal pull."

"What do you mean? Who are you?" Master Raynil asked calmly. It was using its normal voice now instead of the telepathic communication it preferred while conversing with its fellow mages. "Help us understand your motives. Are you Initiate Myrdem Inggala, or some aspect of her? We don't have to fight; we want to help you."

"Dark plants are growing in this garden", the girl said, giving absolutely no indication that she had even heard Raynil's words. "It is time for your kind to seek safer pastures."

"Enough of this cryptic talk", Master Anolianth said and casually fired a bright destructive beam at the girl. She was hit in the chest and disappeared in a flash of light.

"That was unnecessary, Master Anolianth", Raynil said, feeling of disapproval transmitting with the telepathic voice.

"No, it wasn't. She was clearly a distraction, something to slow us down. We must keep moving and try to reach the summoner as quickly as possible, before the next wave."

"...Point taken", Raynil admitted and followed Anolianth as it headed down the corridor. They rounded a corner and the girl was once again standing before them. She looked slightly older now, perhaps ten or eleven years old.

"Your moon is eclipsed", she said. "There are no more shadows, only a corona that illuminates your inevitable fate."

Animancy Lab
It took several painfully tense seconds, but eventually Lin was able to form a weak connection to Master Ata. Immediately she could tell that Ata was slipping away from her range: he was entering the Dormitory Wing, and the deeper he and the other mages advanced, the weaker the connection got. She'd have less than a minute to send her findings to him. It was, of course, more than enough for two extensively modified cyberliches who could transmit entire libraries' worth of information during that time span, but she knew this was likely the last chance she'd have to communicate with him.

Black Box Party
Ireyon nodded - somewhat uncertainly - and led Dulruni and Enu to a stairwell at the end of short passage. What followed was a long and convoluted journey through the labyrinthine levels of Towen. The monastery was absolutely huge, filling most of the mountain it was carved from. Under normal circumstances, its size wasn't readily apparent to those dwelling within; the Network portals made transitions between areas almost instantaneous. But now that Ireyon, Enu and Dulruni were forced to take the long route, it took them a good while before they reached the vicinity of the Great Hall. Twice they were attacked: first by a swarm of jellyfish (which they were able to defeat without too much trouble) and then by a swollen, lumbering thing that resembled a mass of cancerous growths on legs. Ireyon used her magic to collapse part of the ceiling between them and the creature and hurried them onward before the monster could find a way around (or smash its way through) the impromptu blockade.

Before they could reach the Great Hall, they ran into a battered group of Towen Mages. They were taken to the leader of the group, Master Concelhaut. Concelhaut was a full cyberlich, a two-and-a-half-meter tall humanoid in exquisite red and golden robes. Its face was a featureless mirror deep within its voluminous hood, and it had two additional heads, connected to the main body by two Living Metal tentacles. When it spoke - whether telepathically or audibly - the secondary heads did all the talking.

"The way to the Great Hall is blocked", Concelhaut said when it learned of their destination. "We defended against a particularly aggressive group of summoned monsters that came from a side entrance to the Dormitory Wing. We were, I am sorry to admit, unable to defeat them all. I am the only Master of this group, and while the lesser mages under my command fought bravely, the enemy was simply too strong. We had to retreat, but we were able to lure most of the monsters to a smaller corridor which is much easier to defend. While some of the monsters left the main group to attack other parts of Towen, most have remained in the smaller corridor and keep making occasional attacks against us. Unfortunately for you, that corridor is the only easy route from here to the Great Hall. However---" as it spoke, Concelhaut led them to a side entrance to the Dormitory Wing, "---if you want to rendezvous with Master Ata and the others, you can use the now empty side entrance. Unless something gets in your - or their - way, you should meet up with them just before the Initiates' quarters."

Ireyon glanced at Dulruni. "What do you think, Master Dulruni?" she asked. "Master Rongoteus asked us to deliver this chest to him, and this may be our only chance to carry out his orders... But it seems that we can't directly follow Rongoteus and the others. We can take this side entrance now, but there's no telling if we can reach Rongoteus in time. You are the most experienced battle strategist here... Should we try our luck or stay here and help Master Concelhaut's group defeat the rest of the monsters?"

"We'll see about that." Ata said with a deathly calm. He snapped his fingers and the distraction was neatly bisected down the saggital plane by a spacial rift of some form. "We should expect four to five more of these before we reach the actual Ingalla, if the change holds steady at two years per instance." he told the others. Ata seemed calm, but there was a suppressed feeling of unease, he never liked having all his senses suppress, it had only happened once before.

Lin's communication attempt was breaking through, Ata allowed the others to listen in. "Yes, I can hear you, Master Wuro, what information do you have on the summoner?" He inquired. Lin's response came quickly. "Ingalla is definitely the source, her dolphin was spreading a corrupting influence around the animal pens, before Wizard Kossil destroyed it. The summoner and Ingalla have been fused, with Ingalla's own personality and will being overpowered by that of the summoner for the most part. Though some of Ingalla still persists, I found out through Initiate Matrassyl's Fox that the summoner is reaching out to the other initiates in some sort of gesture resembling friendship, though the strength of the signals may cause permanent psychological damage if we don't get a handle on the situation. From what I've gathered, the entity is having somewhat of an identity crisis, it was attempting to remind Initiate Madrysil of past events, none of which made any sense or bore any resemblance to what the two might have actually experienced, unless you have a whistling baron. Prepare yourself for psychic attacks, all current evidence indicates that that will be the most likely avenue of offense, though the summoner does not seem to be skilled in the area and relies mostly on brute force. I suspect the only thing it's truly skilled at is summoning, using raw soul strength to compensate for the lack of skill in every other regard." Ata paused for a moment before replying. "Good work, Master Wuro, this will prove most helpful. Now get up here, we're going to need backup at this rate. Also, bring some of the Kharnabar Reality Anchors with you. I have a plan, incase we get bogged down again." Lin's response was short. "I'll see if Kossil knows where they are, and if they're on our way to the dormitory. We'll be going to back up Master Councelhaut's group before advancing to your position, Dulruni is on his way, he should arrive shortly with the chest if all goes well." the communication line was cut. "Let's see what this twisted thing has in store for us." he remarked, pressing forwards.

Animancy Lab
Lin dropped out of her meditative state, leaving the Initiate's mind before the summoner noticed her again. The communication familiar retracted itself. "Let's get moving, we have some errands to run for the others." She told Kossil as she returned the fox to it's cage and placed it by one of the lab benches. She then jammed a crystal into the surface of one of the tables, which promptly rearranged itself into a sled that could fit through doors and climb stairs. With arcanely smooth skids it should be rather easy to move. "We need to grab some Kharnabar Reality Anchors on our way to support Master Councelhaut's group near the Great Hall. Then we'll move to group up with the main group. If all goes well, we won't be needed in the fight against the summoner. If sh!t hits the fan, we'll be there to lend a hand and lock the place down." One of her familiars went out and attached itself to the sled's push bar, and started moving it out the door.

"You go with the sled, and get those anchors, I have an idea to make this go faster. We'll meet up outside the Animal pens. Contact me if anything goes wrong." She gripped her staff and ran out the door, heading back to the animal pens. She would look for larger animals, ones around wolf or dog sized - preferably dead - and reanimated them. With a wave of her hand she ripped the doors off and fashioned them into a thin cable with points for harnesses. The harnesses were made of steel and wrapped with the hide from some of the other dead animals.

She would be exited the room with her new pack of undead critters, waiting for Kossil to return. She was half worried that something happened, half amused at what Kossil would think of her little minion plan. In the meantime her familiars would fasten the harnesses onto the undead animals. There wasn't that many of them, but these were undead, she could augment their strength.

Black Box Party
Durlruni growled rather loudly "Too many unknowns for my taste." he began, formulating something resembling a plan. "This box needs to get to Master Rongoteus as soon as possible, the longer it's away from the main group, the more likely it could fall into enemy hands. Master Councelhaut, you'll need to hold the line here, I'll send up some reinforcements to help you finish off the monsters, then you will be able to proceed to the main group. I have a nasty feeling that they're gonna need backup." He paused, attempting to contact Master Wuro, it took him a few seconds, but he established contact and gave her some instructions on how to proceed. The Battlemaster then banished his spear and tossed two grenades to Councelhaut with his now free hand. They were cylindrical and fit nicely in one's hands with the stereotypical pin system rigged up for one hand use or magical activation. They had various runes adorning their otherwise smooth metal surface. Aside from the runes the only difference was color, one was black, one was blue. "Blue one summons in some minions, black one makes the enemy's minions disappear. Don't trigger that one anywhere near you or your people, it's instant recycling in a can." He then turned to Ireyon and Enu, the latter of which was looking marginally better. "Take this." he said, summoning in a light machine-gun and tossing it to Ireyon. It was also adorned with tons of runes, this one's bullets had a decay effect and the rate of fire and magazine size had been modded to the extreme. There was also a meter of some form on the side, recording the buildup of something. It wasn't too much heavier that a standard version would have been though. He tossed what looked like an older model Veradacian battle rifle to Enu, who caught it easily. Same sort of functional decorations, though this one was a beam weapon, either short burst or continual. A rectangular crystal had taken the place of the magazine as well.

"We stop for no one." The Battlemaster instructed, as a drum fed automatic shotgun appeared in his hand, a particularly scary looking bayonet extending past the barrel. "If it get's in the way, blast it." The lich turned and took off down the side entrance, shield in front of him. He trusted Enu and Ireyon to be behind him though. "Be careful with that one, it's one of his favorites." Enu jokingly told Ireyon as they followed the weaponized car accident.