The war moves and flows in the cavern around me, men and women, mindless beasts and intelligent peoples, all move back and forth in a deadly dance. Every second more fall down, never to rise again. This seemingly endless performance is a natural thing, simply a more energetic expression of the same competition that nature herself has dictated as needed.
Nature truly can get fucked.
Unfortunately for us, I’m not strong enough to refute the will of nature, so I too compete in this violent game called life.
Yet, even in a war there are moments of peace.
Beetle and Roach lovingly tend to their eggs, worriedly looking out over the city that we’re burning. The home that we’re stealing from them. They’ll still have a place here when we’re done, but I’m not sure they’re fully convinced of it yet.
Giant carefully tends to the slowly waking gremlins, pulling their weapons away and shepherding them into his house. Their respect for him enough, to pull them out of the fight. They still glare back at Red and her warriors, but the replies come in the form of waves and smiles from the amused soldiers and their demonic leader.
Alongside the happy moments, there is a more bitter peace that falls over the streets where the dead lie in piles.
My attention slides past the few fights, as I look upon the corpses littering the streets. The wounded are pulled away and treated in groups within Lakesh’s formations, and the dead are taken away, to be brought back home and given proper rights as per their own cultures and wills.
There are too many dead, and too many wounded that will soon join them.
My people are dying.
A quiet ringing fills my ears as I truly embrace ‘Eyes of an Empire’, my attention spreads until I’m seeing and hearing everything that I’ve wrought. The pains that I’ve inspired, the dead that I’ve killed. Reality seems a world away, as I see and feel everything that I’ve done.
The gremlins and their own suffering, Beetle and Roach, fearfully watching the bomb on their floor as they tend to their nest, Giant, worriedly caring for the few young gremlins under his care, as their brethren die outside.
Our enemies aren’t monsters.
The flames of rage that have brought me here sputter on the verge of death. The deep, dark currents of fear underlying it crash to the surface as the dead are piled higher.
They aren’t monsters, but I still have to fight.
I still have to win.
To eliminate the threat that Loekan poses.
To gain the strength and defences of this city, so that I can protect my people.
To give my people the luxuries and peace that they deserve for giving me their faith and trust.
Watching through every eye, I gaze into the city, looking for the final villain, for the devil in this cavern. The one deserving of my rage.
I’ll strip away his soul and destroy it entirely, not an atoms worth of matter and not a mote of energy remaining. Gone. Destroyed. Annihilated.
I hunt for Loekan, for the devil that can distract me, to keep the madness and my fear at bay. To give the violent voice in my head, my voice, meaning and purpose. To fire up the flames of my rage, to hide the terror roaring in my heart.
Eshya runs through the tight streets, chasing after Vii’s footsteps, making good pace and cutting through the few gremlins and beasts willing to stand in her way. Each step comes faster than the last as she builds momentum.
As she tears her way through the city, Vii, Shen, and the others make their way to one of the walls. Many of the released beasts have escaped into the forest and have stirred up another battle outside.
Shen slithers up the wall, pulling Vii and the others up with her. Stopping atop the structure, they look back through the city. Vii’s gaze turns towards Eshya’s fast approaching figure, though she can only see it through my own eyes. She worryingly turns back towards the flaming debris where they left the enemy mage.
The shrivelled remains of the plant that had summoned the waterspout, burns bright as the mage pushes against it’s hold. He rips at the wooden debris, trying to escape his burial.
How the hell is he still alive? Is he part cockroach?
Thankfully his escape is a slow one, and if all goes well, he’ll burn to death before he has any chance to cause us any more trouble.
Shy, the scout with the cute ears, slyly walks through the underground passages. Ever since she lit the enchanted forest ablaze with the white parasitic fire, she’s not seen any sign of Loekan.
The gremlins that walk about are more panicked than ever before, but none seem to be going anywhere special. Not by my reckoning at the very least. Maybe Shy has some clue that she’s chasing after that I can’t see yet, she’s travelled further out of the city than I’ve been expecting.
I haven’t seen any of the stone walls through her eyes for a while now, only the roots and the tunnels. A few doors are blocked with magically knotted roots, but she squeezes through gaps unnaturally easily.
I have no clue what Loekan would be doing this far out, it’s not as if this is anywhere near our base, or the Lord’s colony either, which was my first concern when watching her. A number of other teams and groups have been following her lead, spreading out through the networks of tunnels filling the mangrove forest.
I always knew that the gremlins had a vast network of tunnels, but this is still more than I was expecting. If Loekan’s not in the city… what was the point in this entire fight?
No, we still needed to do this. I’m not exactly being subtle right now, hanging from the ceiling and glowing bright with mana, if we didn’t go after Loekan’s armies and elite warriors then they’d be hunting me down in full force. That or they’d be after my scouts.
No, this was necessary.
Lakesh shifts his formations around on the ground, retreating from some buildings and condensing the forward lines. A team of some of the most powerful warriors gathers in the centre of the formation as Lakesh gives them new orders.
Red moves away from where she caught Giant, and slowly makes her way back towards Lakesh’s army, and the mass of gremlins surrounding it.
"Nothing better than an easy fight." She says, knives held in loose grip in her hands as she walks towards the line of grey-skinned gremlins.
The brief lull in the battle is sure to be broken soon, and none of this is ending unless someone finds Loekan.
In the Lord’s colony the enemy’s assault has continued without reprieve, but Nel isn’t there to see the soldiers slowly forced to retreat. The magic pushing them back, while the endless waves of flesh keep them from advancing.
"Are you all okay?" Nel asks, kneeling by the side of a couple of hairy beings, they look a little like apes, but with large heads and wide-open eyes. A shorter sibling to the sasquatch, but with much better grooming habits.
"We’re fine." The man says, nodding to her. "Life in the colonies was never going to be easy."
"Life in the colonies?" Nel asks. "So, you came from a proper city down here?"
"We did." He confirms with a nod and a smile, brushing his sons head. "We moved out here to have this little tyke."
"That, and there’s no competition out here." His wife says with a smirk. "Back in the city, you couldn’t get a plot of land without knowing the right people. Out here, we have to fend off the beasts, and the savages like these gremlins, but at least we have a chance to make something for ourselves and our family."
The rest of the people gathered seem to be holding themselves with the same simple pride and confidence. Many have weapons held close at hand, just in case, but I’m not sure they really know how to fight.
"Why did she do this to us?" Aalia asks, leaning on Guy’s side as the pair of humans stare out at the diverse creatures surrounding them. "This is all because of her. She started a war with the natives here, and now we’re all suffering because of it."
"What do you think you know about this situation?" Nel asks, standing over the pair, blinking down at them. "I’d appreciate it if you didn’t so casually spread lies about Kyra."
"Of course you’re going to defend her."
"She is my lover; my family. So yes, I’ll defend her against your mindless slights."
"You’re her lover? That elf too, right? Kyra just wants to play at being a dictator, so of course she’s putting together a harem, too. Picking fights to steal land from the natives, and building an army to take over the fucking world. She’s crazy, and she’s picked a fight that we had nothing to do with, causing all this mess."
"I think that’s going a little far." Guy says, awkwardly shuffling beside Aalia while looking away. "She saved us from the prison we were in, didn’t she?"
The ungrateful little shit snorts, but doesn’t have anything to say about that.
Nel freezes in place and stares down at the pair.
"You really are a strange one." She says, glaring down at Aalia. "I won’t justify our relationship, that’s none of your business."
"That’s… fine. Sorry." Aalia says, letting out a long sigh. "The rest of it is still true. Everyone here is just taking what they want. What right do we have to this land?"
"What right do they have to it?" Nel asks back.
"It was theirs before we got here."
"Because they took it from others."
"That doesn’t give us the right to take it from them." Aalia says. "So, what next? Someone bigger and stronger takes it from us?"
"Yes." Nel nods. "Which is why we have to be strong enough to resist them when they come."
"Is that the world you really want to live in?" Aalia asks, staring down at the ground beneath her feet.
"It is the world we do live in. I don’t recall being given a choice when my mother brought me into this world." Nel replies. "If you don’t want to be trod upon, then you must be strong enough to resist those who would harm you."
"That doesn’t justify taking things from others." Aalia spits, glaring up at Nel. "You don’t just get to take what you want. You can’t just claim this entire place as yours."
"I’m still trying to understand your point." Nel says with a long sigh. "You eat, do you not?"
"You eat. You can justify taking the life of animals and plants, so that you can feast on their flesh, but taking the land they live upon is too much?" Nel asks, shaking her head in confusion. From the sound of her voice, I think she’s lost her aggravation which has turned completely to curiosity.
"That’s different." Aalia says, "We don’t eat intelligent people, everyone who’s as smart as us deserves certain rights. The right to their lives, their homes, and their own culture."
"We do, though." Nel says, tilting her head again. "We do eat intelligent beings, and even the less intelligent beasts have the potential to achieve greater intelligence than the average example of your own species."
"What?" Aalia’s face pales, and she looks as if she’s about to throw up.
"The Unified States pretends that those slaughtered are only wild beasts, but might I remind you that that was your own fate if you’d been left in your collars." Nel says. "It was… difficult to come to terms with when I found out as well, but I’d thought we’d already made as much clear with you and the others."
"But… that’s… I’ll be a vegetarian then."
"You would discriminate against plant-based life forms?" Nel asks, and I know she has a frown. "Look around yourself, plants which properly develop their mana form can easily grow to an intelligence more than rivalling your own."
Aalia pales further.
"I don’t think that I’ve properly addressed your concerns, but understand that Kyra is trying to give us all a home. To protect us from those who would hurt us, and to give us a chance at a good life, protected from violence and danger.
"I think I’d like to speak with you again at some point. Perhaps Adler would be interested as well. You have an unusual perspective on morals." Nel turns to leave.
"The gremlins deserve to own this city because they’ve lived here longer?" Nel taps her fingers out in a rhythm as she walks away. "The longer one claims ownership of something, the more immoral it is to take it from them? If she’d been in her collar for long enough, would she have considered it immoral for us to rescue her? Likely not.
"I don’t think I get it." Nel says shaking her head and moving on.
Anna, the last human here, chases after the healer as he works, listening closely to what he says as he treats one of the injured soldiers. She doesn’t have access to any magic yet, but she’s putting pressure on open wounds, carrying around potions, and talking with the people forced to wait.
Out in the wider room I see the familiar figure of the ancient training machine that we brought down here. Barry is currently training a young bipedal reptilian as he tries to learn how to punch.
"Use all of your body, short-scale, and flow your mana properly." Barry says. "Your tail might be ugly, but you can at least make use of it, press it into the ground for stability when you punch. Concentrating your mana into your claws will be much more effective than hitting with a flat fist."
A few others have joined in, but none of them have any secret talents for battle that they’re awakening to in the last moment before the fight floods into this room. If nothing changes, they’re soon going to have to fight for their home.
Turning away from the crowd, Nel walks across to a quiet corner where she withdraws a small enchanted device. Something familiar. It’s the egg-shaped device that she brought out when we where having dinner with Adler.
"Nothing will go wrong." Nel whispers. "They’ll survive."
My heart twists as the whispers echo throughout my own mind. The thought of seeing any of them dying inspires waves of dizziness, as I refuse the possibility. I won’t allow it.
The annihilation magic stirs more powerful in my heart as the thoughts cling to the inside of my skull.
I’ll do whatever it takes to defend them. To make a home for my people, and to keep them safe. If the gremlins can learn and grow to the point that they respect the laws, then they too can be a part of what I build, but no matter what I will protect my people and my lovers.
"Kyra. Are you serious in your concerns about losing yourself?" Nel asks, her hands clenched tight around the device, whatever it is.
"I’m worried." I reply, "I’m sorry. I should be better than this. I just. If they die… If you die…"
"It’s alright. I’ll protect you." Nel says, relaxing a little as she takes a breath. "I’ll protect you from yourself. If something happens to Eshya or Vii, or if you feel close to losing control of yourself. Message me. I have something that might save you."
"Thank you." I reply, as she replaces the device into her pocket, shuffling it around out of sight.
Ahead of her, I see the lord rushing about while trying to help the soldiers. He’s not armoured or armed, but I’m sure he can still put up a decent fight the same.
I return my focus to the violence stirring across the cavern, and the battle about to start raging between Loekan and the gremlin forces, when Alder starts shouting.
"A spell, over there!" She shouts, pointing at the forest. "It’s Loekan, it has to be!"
I can’t see a thing. The act of holding my spell together, makes it impossible to keep any magic stirring through my mind to keep my mana senses active.
The forest where she’s pointing seems no different from any other parts of it, if anything it seems a little more still.
"What’s it doing?"
"It’s flowing through the mangroves back towards the city."
I watch, but no matter how much I stare into the forest, I can’t see Loekan. If I can’t see him, I can’t kill him. My spell would be a shot in the dark. This isn’t enough.
"What the hell is he doing?" I ask, glaring down at the spot where he’s hiding. Shy and a few other scouts are in the tunnels near the area, but I can’t see anything useful through their eyes.
Then, the forest moves.
The trees that I’d thought burned by the white flames rise again, in greater number than I thought possible. They spear up through the ground into my warriors, and into the gremlins, spreading the white flames, but doing something more, too.
The dead writhe about, as something crawls in under their skin. As Lakesh, shouts orders, and the soldiers panic and start to hack at the burning trees, pulling their friends back to the ground, I see it.
The vines, growing out from the trees, spreading under the skin, around the muscle and bone. The first burning corpse of a soldier that I’ve failed, stands awkwardly on legs that don’t quite move right, and he launches himself at his brethren.
All around the city, the burning trees impale anything nearby, on their branches, spreading the flames as they create an army of the undead. Puppet corpses, strung with vines, and rushing out to spread their twin afflictions to any nearby.
The white flames, and the vine ridden corpses, spread throughout the city as I watch.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Skills & Stats
Current mana density: 52,798 units
Mana sense: 0/100%
-Tag and Film
-Mana surge movement
-Annihilation flame burst
-Eyes of an Empire
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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