Normally when the evil murderer that you’re chasing plunges into a lake of lava in the heart of an active volcano you get to call the job done and move on. That’s what tons of holo-dramas had taught me growing up. If only things were that simple.
Breeg rocketed into what should have been his fiery doom of his own free will. It wasn’t that we allowed him to, or had a clever plan to follow him back to his lair. He was just too fast for us.
To be fair to Darius, it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t fly as fast as the Councilman. Breeg had a lot more experience with Energy casting, and he wasn’t burdened with carrying another body like Darius was. By the time Breeg plunged into the lava we were miles behind him and relying on Fari’s telemagic tracking spells to determine where he was.
“That’s can’t be right, can it?” I asked when Breeg’s changed his flight to power dive into the caldera.
“I think it is. I still have a trace on him. He’s proceeding underneath the mountain.” Fari said.
“Maybe there’s a secret tunnel there?” Darius suggested.
“That’d make sense. Is Breeg good enough that he could fly through lava without one?” I asked.
“It would be incredibly dangerous.” Darius said.
“Could you manage it?” I asked.
“Maybe?” he said. “Probably.”
I didn’t blame him for being concerned. He’d seen what my plans were like and how I came up with them.
“He’s stopped moving.” Fari said.
“Either he’s dead or he’s where he was trying to get to.” Darius said.
“Care to place a wager on that?” I asked.
“Sure. I’ll wager we need to follow him either way and find out what happened.” Darius said.
“That’s not exactly a gamble.” I said.
“Do I look dumb enough to bet against you?” Darius asked.
It’s not my fault I kissed him on the earlobe.
“You say the nicest things sometimes.” I said.
Seriously. We were going to plunge into lava in less than five minutes. If that doesn’t serve as evidence of temporary insanity then I demand a new jury.
“He’s moving again and I’m losing the signal on him.” Fari said on our shared channel.
The nice thing about temporary insanity is that its temporary. And no one has to bring it up again or remember it after the fact.
“Can you get a view of the area he arrived in?” I asked.
“Already trying and…no. The whole area is warded. I was lucky to keep a link to the tracking spell for as long as I did.” Fari said.
“What about a spell web? Can you detect one there? If this is Breeg’s base, he might have a communication link setup back to Zawalla.” Darius suggested.
“I don’t see one. It could be shadowed, especially if they have any Void anima casters on their team, but I don’t think they’d risk it.” Fari said.
“Why?” I asked.
“The elementals around the volcano are aggressive. They would disrupt any active spells they found and seek out the spellcaster.” Fari said.
“What if they do have a Void caster?” I asked.
“I don’t know if that would help. Elementals don’t perceive things the way material beings do, so invisibility spells aren’t reliable on them.” Fari said.
“That’s going to be a problem for us sneaking around then isn’t it?” I asked.
“Not if we do it fast enough.” Darius said. We’d reached the airspace over the volcano. I could tell by the immense cloud of asphyxiating smoke that we were flying through. Darius and I had anima shields to protect us so it wasn’t a problem in the short term and if we were alive for the long term to become a problem I decided I’d count that as a victory.
“You’re going to fly through the lava aren’t you?” I asked.
“If you have a better plan, I am all for it.” he said.
“Does the Council have any Mountain Buster bombs that we could commandeer?” I asked.
“Nope. No one on Hellsreach has those. If they did, they’d have already used them on each other.” Darius said.
“Then, no, I don’t have a better plan.” I said. “What can I do to help?”
“Drop the invisibility cloak. Then shield us as heavily as you can. I’ll need to use the heat in the lava to add to my own power and blast us a path in that way. There’ll probably be debris and poisonous gases and all sorts of fun things lwe won’t want to get too close to.” Darius said.
“I can keep the debris off us, but that’s going to make a lot of noise isn’t it? They’ll know we’re coming a while before we get there.” I said.
“Yeah. We’ll have to assume that they’ll have a welcoming committee waiting for us. Think you’ll be able to buy us some time to figure out how to deal with them?” Darius asked.
“Depends what they have waiting for us and how long it takes to get in.” I said.
“I’ll try to make it as fast as I can but I can’t promise I’ll have much left when we get into their base.” Darius said.
“We could go ahead with that plan.” Fari said. “Or we could fly through the illusion covered tunnel in the center of the caldera.”
“The what now?” Darius asked.
I wanted to smack myself in the forehead but my arms were otherwise engaged.
“Breeg was exhausted. He wasn’t going to flee to a base that took massive effort to get into.” I said.
“That makes sense, but do we really want to follow him through an illusion covered tunnel?” Darius asked. “I’ll guarantee its trapped.”
“I think I can deal with traps better than carving through lava.” I said. “Let’s go.”
“Follow the route I’m displaying. The tunnel’s wide enough that we shouldn’t have a problem with it. Apart from the traps.” Fari said. “I’ve disarmed the first couple but with the gaps in their coverage there have to be ones that aren’t accessible by remote spell casting.”
She was right about that. Fortunately I was also right that I could handle them. All of them except for the last one.
We smashed through reinforced bulkheads, blasted past automated bolt casters and shattered various defensive screens using the energy I’d taken from the bone stealers. Darius took shielding duty and Fari helped me by revealing the traps that she wasn’t able to disarm remotely. It took a lot of anima but I had more than enough to spare.
Then we hit the suppression room.
Which we had a plan for.
“I’m locked down.” I said out loud to Darius as I felt my anima reserves being sealed away by the glyphs of that lined the walls of the room.
“Same here. My Council badge isn’t accepted by this system.” he said. He was breathing heavily from the exertion of getting us into Breeg’s base. I was breathing heavily because we wanted to lure in any guards that Breeg had waiting for us.
True to our expectations, a squad of ten soldiers charged into the room. They were carrying stun sticks, which surprised me, and they weren’t affected by the anima suppression field, which didn’t surprise me at all.
“You’re all under arrest.” I told soldiers as they surrounded us.
It was a ridiculous thing to say under the circumstance, but it had the desired effect. They paused. For one critical second they stopped and looked to their leader, unsure of whether they should start on the beating they intended to inflict on us or let someone else spring the trap we had in store for them.
That was all the time that Fari needed.
“I have control of the glyphs. Inverting suppression field now.” she said.
I felt my anima return in full force as I watched the guards’ weapons sputter and power down.
Fari had detected the anima suppression room on our way in. She’d needed the internal view of it to complete the takeover of its control spells but, once she had that, she was the one who determined who the room shut down and who the room allowed to keep access to their spells.
To describe what followed as a ‘fight’ would be an insult to armed and unarmed combat throughout the ages. They had no functional weapons, no enhanced physical or mental attributes, no spell casting capabilities and no way to escape.
We didn’t kill them. With the odds stacked so far in our favor, we didn’t need to. I even opted for relatively painless strikes to render them unconscious with. None of them would be huge fans of my work, they were going to wake up with splitting headaches and dizziness, but they were all going to wake up. That way they could stand trial for any crimes they were guilty of.
Darius wasn’t quite as gentle as I was. That came from a lack of training more than anything else though. Where I took the time to carefully disable the soldiers I got my hands on, Darius just hammered his way through them with the non-lethal weaponry he carried as part of his military kit. It wasn’t pretty to watch. No finesse and little control, but it got the job done.
“We need to find Breeg.” he said.
“I still can’t get a lock on him. There’s some kind of field effect in place down here and it’s getting stronger.” Fari said.
“Any idea how big this base is?” I asked.
“No, and that’s bothering me.” Fari said. “I’m tapped into their spell systems. I should be able to see this whole area, but it’s like this room and then next room over are the only ones that are registering in the system. I know there’s more than that, but even the base’s internal sensors can’t detect them.”
“Is it a Void anima effect?” I asked.
“It might be. It’s exceptionally well cast if so though. The data I’m getting about the interior of this place matches the data for the rest of the planet’s interior. Whoever set this cloak up didn’t just hide it, they managed to make this base look like mundane rock.” she said.
“If we can’t get a map of this place, and we can’t track Breeg directly, we’re going to have to split up.” Darius said. “We need to cover as much ground as possible as fast as we can.”
I didn’t like the idea, but I nodded in agreement anyways. We were in mortal peril already. We’d be weaker if we split up, but we were already underpowered compared to the sort of opposition Breeg could throw against us.
“Can you cloak yourself?” I asked.
“Not as good as you can, but I can get by.” Darius said. He cast his stealth spell and faded into a shimmer of that was as translucent as water. It was a complex form of energy manipulation but with the power Darius had shown in getting us here, I wasn’t surprised he could manage a spell like that.
“Don’t be leaving so soon.” Makkis said, a projection of him appearing in the room. That was wrong, but it took me a moment work out why.
“Fari, do you have control of the suppression field anymore?” I asked.
The only answer was silence.
I couldn’t feel the suppression field crushing me down, so it hadn’t been reinstated. Something else had happened. I looked at the walls and noticed that none of the glyphs were glowing. The suppression field had been taken offline.
“You are, as you have probably guessed, too late. Hellsreach weaponization is online, and you will be the first one we test it on.” Makkis said.
Cold stabbed through my chest in time to warn me of the attack. I threw up a Void shield on instinct but that proved to be the wrong thing to do. My shield met the incoming attack and joined with it. Void anima against Void anima.
I’d had a lot of practice with shield spells. It was probably the spell I was most adept at casting. Even with that, I wasn’t close to being the league of the person who designed that attack that hit us.
Spikes of Void anima shot out from the shield and stabbed through me. I saw Darius and the unconscious soldiers hit with the spikes too. Anima drained out of me like air from a bursting balloon.
I dropped to one knee and then down to my hands, struggling to keep myself awake and aware. My shield was doing more harm than good. That was the first thing that I saw, so I grabbed onto it and compressed the Void anima in me down to a tiny sphere in my hands.
That wasn’t enough to stop the attack though. Whatever Makkis had trained on us, it was powerful beyond my ability to measure. The anima I’d take from the bone stealers? The fire elemental’s essence? My own reserves of strength? None of them lasted. They were all stripped away from me.
My arms gave out, my elbows buckling in weakness and I felt my body tumble sideways. I wasn’t conscious by the time my head hit the floor. As I fell away into darkness, I thought I heard a voice calling for me, but my mind way too far gone to know who it belonged too.
It didn’t matter. I’d lost and there was no one around who could rescue me.