Caleb kept pace with his team on the ground – Chelsea, Lorelei, Gwen, and Will – as he raced along the rooftops. He leapt over a chimney, cresting the hill on the next rooftop, and finally saw the Radiance’s camp.
In between explosive blasts from Greyson Manor’s assault, Caleb saw that the pillar of golden light was emanating from the base of a grand circular stage, about fifty yards in diameter, and more than half that in height. It was tiered, with five levels, and stairs on four sides. Up top, on the highest tier, sat an elaborate golden throne, and on it the Radiant King, his face shining so brightly that no details could be seen.
On the next tier below stood four figures dressed in white uniforms with golden buttons and ornamentation. They were the other Royal Guardsmen: Platina, Athena, Titan, and Nyx. Ignis was nowhere to be seen.
The rest of the stage’s levels were empty, as the Enforcers were racing around on the ground level to engage their sudden attackers. Several Enforcers lay unmoving on the ground, no doubt victims of the Manor’s assault. Yet that same barrage of explosive force couldn’t reach the stage. The pillar of light rising up from it also served as a shield, and the Manor’s assault wasn’t even making a dent.
Callum and Deirdre dropped three more Enforcers, stepping fully into the open space. They went right, while Hestia brought her team up and to the left.
It was Caleb and his team who were to charge straight ahead.
If we can, we need to get onto that stage. Disperse the Royal Guards, and hopefully…
Get the Radiant King all by himself.
Callum raised a gloved hand, and a streak of blue light shot skyward.
Greyson Manor’s barrage came to an end.
Time to go.
“We’re front and center!” Chelsea called out, leading the way with Lorelei. “Gwen, Will, you’re support! Caleb, stay airborne and don’t get close to anyone!”
Caleb started up a staircase of Mobility discs, rising higher and higher, getting a perfect view of the battle unfolding below.
Seven Enforcers down already.
And there’s Neith.
Heralded by the rise of her giant spider Summon, Neith came marching forward. She looked the worse for wear, with soot stains on her face.
She must have been on the edge of some of the blasts from the Manor.
Just as Caleb was thinking of how to fight her back, Oscar arrived. Finished with firing the Manor’s cannons, he was able to join the battle. His massive tortoise Summon rose up to meet the spider, and the two Summons clashed while Oscar’s smaller sea turtle Summons flew through the air towards Neith.
He’ll take care of her easily.
We’re not supposed to worry about Enforcers. Leave them to the other teams, to hopefully deal with quickly.
Let’s clear the stage.
Unfortunately for all of them, the four Royal Guardsmen atop the stage were foes they’d never faced. They knew of them, both from Midnight’s notebook and Shias’ team’s report of fighting Platina and Athena – but knowing was only the beginning.
And you can’t know the full extent of a foe from just one battle.
Chelsea and Lorelei assailed the pillar of light with fire and ice, but their attacks were instantly repelled.
“I have an idea!” Caleb called out, springing forward off of a disc, on a crash-course with the pillar of light.
But rather than slamming against it, he passed through it.
Just like I thought.
Caleb grinned, bouncing himself back out and down towards his team. “We can go through, but our magic can’t,” he said. “Guess we gotta get up close and personal.”
“Let’s go,” Chelsea said. She raced ahead, stepping onto the staircase and passing through the golden pillar.
Caleb, who’d done so dozens of feet above the King and his Guardsmen, had been able to get out harmlessly.
Chelsea’s rise up the steps was taken as a more direct threat to the King, it seemed, for she was met with a long, thin metal blade lancing towards her. Caleb formed a springboard Mobility disc in its path, bouncing it back the way it came – towards Platina.
Shias had a lot to say about her, and Mister Midnight’s notebook did, too.
She uses a metal… weapon. Some call it a sword, but it isn’t – because her specialty is Manipulation Magic, specifically tuned to that Enchanted type of metal. Midnight said “she’s only limited by her imagination.”
“And that’s a huge limitation for her. She’s remarkably unimaginative, focusing entirely on offense, using a specific type of fast, straightforward attack style. She could do so much more, be the most versatile fighter of the Radiance, but she sticks to a limited bag of tricks.
“But don’t discount her for that. She’s still deadly, because she’s honed those tricks to near perfection. But if you pay attention to her, you’ll find her patterns and style easily enough. Stay alive long enough, and you’ll discover how to defeat her with ease.”
Platina’s attention was wrenched from Chelsea to the skyward Caleb as her metal weapon retracted back to her. She said something to her comrades and then stepped away from them, keeping her focus on Caleb.
Oh. She wants me, now.
Well, Mister Midnight’s notebook did say she was temperamental.
Silvery steel flashed upward, and Caleb leapt away as Platina’s weapon shattered the Mobility disc he’d been standing on. When the metal curved and followed him, Caleb bounced it back with a springboard disc. Flipping, Caleb watched as he brought numerous chains out from the floor of the stage to attack Platina. She quickly brought her weapon back to her, slicing them to pieces with a long-handled, broad-bladed axe.
That’s right. Just stay totally focused on me.
If I can manage to take you one-on-one, that’s a huge weight off my team’s shoulders.
Lorelei stepped up and swung her hand forward in an arc.
Millions of tiny shards of ice shot up the stairs, intercepting the three Royal Guards who had started descending to engage the attackers.
And intercepting the ice was Athena. She raised her shield, it flashed with light, and Lorelei’s icy barrage dissolved into nothing.
She’s the biggest obstacle, with how powerful her Guardian Magic is. Chelsea’s fire will never get past her.
But that doesn’t mean the other two are to be trifled with, either.
To Athena’s left was a mountain of a man. He wasn’t inhumanly muscular, like the hulking Bronn, but his height was imposing, and his tightly muscled frame left no doubt about his strength. His expression was dark and fierce, his eyes shining with focused energy. When he stretched out his hand, a circular portal appeared in the air, and from it came a massive, long-handled hammer. As long as the man was tall, with a squarish head the size of his bulging chest, the hammer would have been incredibly difficult for a Hunter with high proficiency in Enhancement Magic to wield with two hands.
The man held it in one hand like it was no heavier than a broomstick.
Titan. He’s an Armorer – fighters who use Conjuring Magic to conceal and summon at will a variety of magically Enchanted weapons.
And he couples that with incredible Enhancement Magic.
As long as he’s with Athena, there’s no beating him.
And to Athena’s right was the shortest and thinnest of the Royal Guards, Nyx. The woman could barely be called that, as she’d barely been a teenager when the Radiant King had turned her into an Eternal. She had the body of a petite middle-school girl, and yet was over a thousand years old. She wore a lazy smile on her face, her long raven curls framing soft, pale features. In her right hand she bore a staff dark as the blackest night, twice as tall as she was and topped in a ring around a silver star.
She’s the most complicated to fight of the Royal Guard, from what we know about her – and that isn’t much. Even Mister Midnight’s notebook had little to say about her. She’s largely a mystery, using some kind of “dark Summon” that can strike from many different places at once.
Our best chance is to incapacitate her quickly. And they probably know that, if she and Athena are staying close together.
What do I do?
Twin, spiraling gouts of emerald flame blasted forward. They were aimed for Titan and Nyx, but without even stepping in the path of the fire, Athena raised her shield. Light flashed, and the flames burst upward and outward, dissipating.
She can guard even from a distance. We have to keep her attention away from her allies, too.
Lorelei’s first instinct in the face of this confined battlefield – they had to fight inside the golden barrier around the stage in order for their magic to reach their targets – and overwhelming force was her trump card: Cold Snap.
But I can’t risk it. I can only use it once, and somehow I don’t think it’ll clean this battle up the way I’d hoped. After all…
She looked up, past the Royal Guards, towards the elaborate golden throne high above.
We still have no idea what the Radiant King is capable of. All anyone says – Mister Midnight, Gwen, Hestia and her team – is that the King is “impossibly powerful.”
I can’t waste all my strength on one attack that won’t finish this. I need to know our enemies better.
And I need to fight smarter.
The battle at the Library still flashed in Lorelei’s mind quite often. Faced with the horde of shadow-Hollows, she’d thought her Cold Snap would freeze them all entirely, defend them perfectly, and end the battle in one shot.
Valgwyn was able to break free from that ice. More Hollows were able to burrow through it.
It’s not as powerful as I thought it was. Which means if I use it again, I need to use it far more tactically.
For now, though…
Lorelei brought forth dozens of sapphire spires of ice, jutting forward to impale their approaching foes.
Athena’s shield flashed. Titan swung his hammer.
The ice tore apart, scattering as dust in the wind.
Beneath her sudden, violent attack, Lorelei had also worked a subtler Ice Magic. The floor on several steps was coated with a thin layer of ice, hard to see…
Which made it easier to slip on.
“I’m on Athena,” Lorelei said quickly, pouncing on her opportunity. She focused all of her efforts on the Guardian, using sudden shifting walls, spikes, and blocks of ice to push, pull, and slide Athena away from her allies. When Athena regained her ground and started repelling Lorelei’s attacks, she chased after her, weaving subtler Ice Magic beneath her more obvious attacks. Athena’s feet were stuck to the floor, coated with ice, and then her sleeve was caught, frozen to the wall.
She’s not an attacker. If I’m quick and clever, I can lock her down with attacks she can’t guard against.
If I can manage to defeat her one-on-one, that makes things much easier for Chelsea and the others.
Chelsea seized on the golden opportunity Lorelei had just given her.
“We’ll take these three together!” she called out, firing thin bursts of fire at both Titan and Nyx.
Titan’s hammer swung, bursting the attacks that came his way into green, smoky mist.
Vanished into darkness.
It’s her Summon!
Chelsea didn’t know what to expect, except that Nyx’s mysterious Summon was dark and powerful. And when pitch-black claws materialized out of the dark cloud that surrounded Nyx to slice apart the fiery attacks that threatened her, Chelsea knew she was in for a challenging fight.
“Will, help with Titan,” Gwen said, her voice taut with barely constrained emotion. “I’ll focus on Nyx. Chelsea, you’re point on this.”
Chelsea nodded. She stepped back as her teammates stepped forward, and aided their advance with more precise shots of flame. Exploding darts burst forward, targeting the places around Titan and Nyx – floors, walls – rather than the Guardsmen themselves. On contact, the darts exploded in clouds of flame, roiling forward to engulf the target without endangering Chelsea’s teammates.
Nyx’s Summon tore the flames apart like they were solid, physical constructs, and then lunged forward. A gaping maw filled with razor-sharp fangs appeared, lunging for Gwen. But her silver needle-sword flashed, and she leapt aside as claws scraped forward to make up for the retreating, injured jaw.
Titan stepped through the flames, uniform scorched and falling away in places but his skin appearing just as smooth and unharmed as before. He swung his hammer, but words appeared in the air: KINETIC.
As if he couldn’t control his strength, Titan’s swing turned back in on him, spinning him around in a circle, causing him to step back up several steps to avoid falling over.
Using Energy Magic to turn kinetic energy back on the one using it. Nice move, Will!
And that’s what we need against these guys. We need to fight smart, because there’s no way we’re overpowering them. Caleb’s staying airborne, doing his best to lock down Platina – he has a huge advantage against her, given their fighting styles and Magic. Lorelei’s locking down Athena with the super-smart way she always does things, pulling out new tricks every time I turn around.
Something tells me Titan and Nyx are the strongest of these four. And I’m worried Ignis will come back any moment now, done recovering from his injuries and ready for round two.
We need to finish this fight before that happens.
Chelsea continued moving to the left as Gwen and Will fought in front of her. She’d put more pressure onto Nyx than Titan, as Will used clever word choices and applications of Energy Magic to keep Titan at bay.
Nyx was too much of a mystery, and she was clearly overwhelming Gwen with her amorphous, ever-shifting Summon. Claws raked, tentacles snapped, teeth gnashed, and less clear shapes simply attacked – spikes, cylinders, spheres, cubes all railed against Gwen, who stepped back one step, and then another, down towards the golden perimeter. Her sword flashed, silver thread flew, and her auburn hair whipped around wildly as she ducked, spun, leapt to the back and the side, constantly on the move to keep from being torn apart.
Chelsea got into a good firing position and let loose, firing arcing globules of fire up and over to strike at the Summon’s top, while fuming blasts flew directly forward, and plumes of flame rose up from where tiny fiery darts struck the floor. A barrage of emerald fire assailed the dark, shapeshifting Summon. It recoiled, slightly, but even in its retreat it attacked. Claws slashed forward, and a rolling cavalcade of spiky protrusions nearly ground Gwen into dust as she dove aside at the last minute, rolling to her feet.
If nothing else, we can hold out until the others can reach us. I bet Oscar’s big tortoise Summon with all that Guardian Magic could keep Nyx in check easily.
Though, it’s strange…
Chelsea didn’t spare a glance upward as she kept up her flaming assault, occasionally dodging as attacks came her way. But she didn’t forget about the one who loomed above this battlefield.
Their King isn’t doing anything to fight with them.
Is that normal? Is he testing us, or them, or both?
What’s he waiting for?
Caleb grinned as he finally managed to wrap chains up and around Platina’s weapon arm. He’d snared it twice, but her weapon had broken that arm free.
Not this time. Caleb had learned from the past two failures, and his chains worked to wrench Platina’s fingers apart so that she dropped her metal weapon. When her other hand reached for it, Caleb snared that one, too. Platina lunged forward, but her feet wouldn’t move, stuck as they were to an adhesive Mobility disc.
Platina looked up at Caleb, fiery anger in her eyes.
But Caleb didn’t waste any time speaking to her or meeting that gaze. He bounced away from her, staying dozens of feet above the battle, watching the rest of his team to see where he could most effectively aid them.
Lorelei nearly had Athena frozen in place. So it seemed Nyx and Titan were the most dangerous targets at the moment. Will was fending off Titan, but he still occasionally gave ground. If they kept up a one-on-one battle, Will would eventually retreat outside of the golden pillar.
Meanwhile, Chelsea and Gwen were just barely holding off the…
What the heck is that?
Caleb knew that Nyx and her Summon were a mystery, but seeing it in motion, especially from a bird’s eye view, was something frightening and awe-inspiring. The pitch-black mass never took on a singular shape, and seemed to completely encase its Summoner within its roiling bulk. Spikes lunged forward, cubes smashed down, and occasionally animal features like fangs and claws attacked, but…
We can’t ever really tell where it’ll attack from, or how. And Chelsea and Gwen’s attacks seem to barely have an effect on it.
Caleb sent a flurry of weighted attack chains at the Summon, but all were swiftly shattered by scything blades that appeared and then vanished when their work was done. Caleb turned his attention to Titan, forming an adhesive disc at his feet and launching chains at him from all sides. That seemed to have more of an effect, as Will kept the powerful Armorer off-balance with his manipulation of kinetic energy, but the man’s strength was enough to break free of any bonds Caleb placed him in.
And I can’t be as effective as I’d like if I want to keep Platina contained. My focus is spread thin.
So I just do my best to support. Every little bit counts, as long as I don’t get in the way of my team.
Lorelei’s steady push towards victory also freed her up to give Chelsea, Gwen, and Will some icy support. Slowly, the battle on the stairs began to shift the other way, with the combatants climbing rather than descending.
Just keep up the pressure, and we can win. And as soon as Mom and Dad, Grandpa, Hestia’s team all join us, we’ll –
Caleb’s train of thought was interrupted by a sudden explosion outside the golden pillar. He stopped on a floating Mobility disc, looking outside.
What he saw made his heart sink.
The bottom section of Greyson Manor – the Vault – had been blown open from the inside. Standing beneath it on the street, black cane in hand, was Void. At his side was Ignis, scarlet fire swirling around him.