Monday, March 21, 2022

Angel of Blades Part 1

 We have now come to the last of the three webserials I've prepared for March. As a quick recap, I am looking to gather feedback on which story concept you enjoy the most so I can develop the idea into a full-fledged series.

In the first story, ROAD TO CHEQUN, we have a tale of cultivators in powered armor defending humanity from endless hordes of Lovecraftian horrors in a world gripped in the deeps of an endless winter. The second story, A QUIET NIGHT IN WAI YUEN, focuses on a pair of private policemen dealing with a crime spree in the heart of a quiet neighbourhood. This is the last: ANGEL OF BLADES.

Unlike the previous stories, ANGEL OF BLADES follows a character who is not the main character of the story universe. While she is an important character, she is only secondary to the series. At least, at first. As for why, well, you'll have to read the story to find out.

Strap in: it's a LitRPG adventure like you've never seen before.

Shallow Focus Photo Of Crocodile On Body Of Water

Point Woman

“Luisa, take them out. Use your blade.”

Luisa sucked down a breath, scarcely believing her ears. Her? Marco wanted her to clear the way?

Thigh-deep in stinking swamp water, she peered around the trunk of the mangrove tree, exposing only her right eye. Through a thicket of trees, past dense shrubbery, she just about made out her targets.

From a distance, the two creatures almost looked human, but Goddess knew that the Great Evils that had overrun the world delighted in twisting Her works to serve their ends. They had two arms, two legs, a curved spine reminiscent of a hunchback. There all resemblance to humanity ended. Their skin shone wetly, tails curled from between their legs, their hands carried pole weapons, and their heads were like those of eels.

And behind them was the Well.

Luisa had been weaned on stories of the Wells alongside her mother’s milk. In the Time Before, the Goddess Mara had freely bestowed great gifts upon Her children. Among them was the knowledge to drill deep into the earth and build immense structures to extract its limitless bounty.

The Ancients called them Wells. It was said that in ages past, the Wells were as numerous as the stars in the sky. No man wanted for anything, for whatever he desired, the Wells would manufacture it in great abundance, as cheaply as dirt.

Then came the Fall, the Fires, the Forging. In those periods of great tumult, so much was lost, including the knowledge to rebuild the Wells. Even now, a hundred generations after the Fall, what was left of mankind still remained mostly ignorant of the arcane arts of the Ancients.

But Mara was a merciful Goddess. Two weeks ago, She had granted a vision to a Scout. The Scout had discovered this Well, heretofore unclaimed by any of the factions that roamed the wilds.

Thus, in the name of the Church of Mara, the House of Ember dispatched an expedition to secure it.

The expedition numbered thirty fighters, many of them veterans of hard-fought campaigns. Their Levels were all in the double digits, 30s or 40s or more. Marco, her mentor, was a Level 44 Ranger, having long ago left the basic Class of Scout behind. Luisa was a mere Level 8, scarcely a year into her apprenticeship period. She shouldn’t have been here at all, save for one detail.

Mara had Chosen her to be a Psi.

Such gifts were rare, no more than one in a hundred, perhaps even one in a thousand. Better yet, her base Class was Scout. She was perfect for infiltration and reconnaissance, and indeed as point woman she had led the expedition through the swamps with scarcely a trace. She was ideal for sentry removal.

But there were two monsters, and she was only Level 8.

“Go on,” Marco whispered. “Use your Powers. We’ll back you up.”

Right. Her Powers. Her edge in combat, her ace in the hole, the one thing that allowed her to face demons many times her strength and number, and triumph.

Luisa nodded.

Shut her eyes.

And brought her mind to the Seal above and between her eyes.

Another gift of Mara, dispensed through Her Church, it was the mark of the Psi. The size of a fingernail, it was a patchwork of fine, silvery thread. The microstructure bored through the bone of her skull to connect with her brain, and the Mindlink implanted on her crown. Through that Seal, she could manifest Mara’s wonders.

A menu floated in the darkness behind her eyelids. A list of the powers available to her, and their cost. A green bar indicated her available energy points. Beneath it, a red bar showed her stock of Red Dust.

The list was short, her energy bar shorter.

Scan: 10 EP 0 RD

Stealth: 20 EP 100 RD

Telekinesis: 25 EP 250 RD / 100 N

Force Screen: 30 EP 500 RD / second

Heal: 20 EP 300 RD / second

A reasonable list, for a Level 8 Psi Scout. But she had a mere 100 Energy Points at her command—the same amount she had since she Ascended—and 1000 units of Red Dust. The other Psi in the expedition, a Psi Knight, was a Level 33 with twice the number of Powers, thrice her EP and five times the amount of Red Dust—and he wasn’t even a Psi specialist!

No matter. She would get the job done. She would not disappoint Marco. With a burst of focused intent, she activated Stealth.

A shock wave passed through her. Lightning crackled from the pit of her stomach, rising to flood her brain. Liquid fire burned her from the inside out. She breathed deep, willing herself to be an empty vessel, letting the sensation flow through her to leave nothing behind.

From the depths of her body, Red Dust surfaced.

Passing through marrow, through flesh, through her skin, the Red Dust crawled its way out into the open. She felt like a horde of impossibly minuscule archaea was burrowing through her, their unseen feet scratching and catching, opening passages and closing them behind them. Once more, she breathed through the sensations, focusing only on Stealth.

Her sun-darkened skin deepened into the color of blood. Red Dust covered her exposed flesh, then crawled over her clothing, her gear, her weapons, her hair. Undaunted by the still, deep waters of the swamp, the Red Dust continued its inexorable march. Red painted her from head to toe, leaving nothing untouched.

And she disappeared.

Tapping into its stored energy, the Red Dust transformed its very being. Incoming light bent smoothly around the coat of Dust, leaving behind only a faint blur where the woman once was.

The Red Dust was Mara’s first and greatest gift. It was a miracle substance, capable of becoming what the mind willed it to be. The Ancients, in their hubris, had used it to burn the world down.

But Mara was a wise and compassionate goddess. Even after the Fall, She did not deny it to the remnants of Mankind. No, She merely took greater care in Choosing who could tap into the Dust directly, and regulated them through the Seal and the Link.

Now humanity used the Dust against the demons that roamed the world.

Breathing slowly through her nose, eliminating even the sound of her breath, Luisa waded through the waters. Every step left a visible wake. Stealth didn’t extend to that. All she could do was to stay low, move slow, and avoid splashing as far as she could.

In her mental map, the expedition faded out. One by one, the comforting green dots disappeared as they passed the edge of her awareness. It was said that high-Level Ascenders could track flawlessly everyone and everything within an impossibly vast three-dimensional volume. All she could manage was out to five meters at most.

But in those five meters, she was omniscient. She knew instantly the microgeography of the swamp bottom, the treacherous pits and deceptively soft sands, without needing to look. She tracked the curious insects flitting about her, sensing motion but not a body. She detected the tiny fluctuations in the depth and velocity of the water, and adjusted her movements.

And, when she reached the shore, she sensed the enemy.

All at once, she was intimately aware of them. She felt the slimy, slippery texture of their bodies. She knew the brute power that resided in their muscles. She understood their heights, weights, gaits, range. She perceived their ranges of perception as three-dimensional cones that imposed a subtle pressure on everything within their volume.

She sensed also the terrain that lay between them and her.

Labyrinths of entangled mangrove roots covered the forest floor. Fungi flourished in the empty spaces. Here and there, tiny shrubs sought the sun in patches between the crowns of the great trees.

She crouched beside a tree trunk and checked herself. The water had washed away some of the Red Dust, leaving everything below her thighs visible. She consulted her menu again. A new option had appeared.

Restore Stealth: 15 EP, 40 RD

Not as costly as she’d feared. She selected that option. Then came another burst of power, another crack of lightning, softer and muted this time. A smaller army of invisible insects covered everything below thigh level. In the blink of an eye, she was once again unseen.

But not necessarily unheard. A higher-level Stealth coat would suppress sound, but she hadn’t reached such proficiency yet.

She’d have to do this the hard way.

Creeping along the edges of the shore, she veered away from the monsters, moving to their right flank. They were right-handed, their pole arms pointed to the left, and so they would need a little extra time to respond to a threat from the right. One of the little things Marco had taught her.

She moved slowly but deftly from tree to tree, picking her way through the undergrowth. Though under Stealth, she still obeyed the principles of cover and concealment. She was not entirely invisible; if she moved too quickly they could pick up on motion, and it was easier to spot a Stealthed silhouette in the open than against cover.

Sweat gathered under the Stealth coat. Heat built up under her skin. Her tongue dried out. Another disadvantage of Stealth: the Red Dust did not let the skin breathe. Stay in Stealth for too long and an unwary Ascended risked heat stroke.

At last, she had flanked the enemy. She was in their blind spot, and they hadn’t even noticed her. Reaching the tree line, she scrutinized her targets in greater detail.

Dark, rippling muscles shone in the morning sun. Fins ran down their limbs, more fins defined their flexible vertebrae, their tails ended in fins. Their jaws were huge and chiseled, their eyes black and bulging. Their hands and feet had three digits each, terminating in killer claws. Their weapons were crudely made, a spearhead of sharpened bone secured to a wooden shaft with tough leather cords. Both creatures wore loincloths as well, and at their hips each guard wore a bone knife with wrapped leather handles.

She returned to her menu and selected Scan.

Information flooded her brain. In that brief instant of illumination, the Goddess shared a slice of Her omniscience with Luisa, telling her everything she needed to know about the monsters.

Anguilline Warrior

Level: 8

Strength: 10

Dexterity: 12

Endurance: 6

Willpower: 8

Both creatures were the same Level. Their stats were similar to humans, save for their unusually high dexterity, no doubt due to their physiology.

If she were of a higher Level, she would have lined them up, then loosed an offensive Power. Quick, clean, and most of all, safe. But all the Powers she’d unlocked were utility Powers. She’d have to do this the old-fashioned way.

Stepping out of the tree line, she reached for her left hip. A solid, heavy handle filled her right palm. With a soft exhale, she drew her blade.

It was a machete. It was a sword. It was both. Eighteen inches of steel wedded to a hand-carved grip, it was the signature cutting implement of the House of Ember. The thick single-edged leaf-shaped blade could cleave through brush and branches as easily as flesh and bone. The reinforced tip allowed for thrusts without compromising strength. The grip was crafted for the hand, her hand, accelerating her strikes.

Until now, she had used it only for bushcraft. This was the first time her steel would taste blood.

Slowly, patiently, she stalked the targets. She kept her eyes locked on the space behind them, keeping them in her peripheral vision. Like men, monsters could sense the weight of a gaze. She didn’t care to alert them before she was upon them.

Her blade was visible. Tucked away in its sheath, the Red Dust hadn’t covered it when she’d fired the Power. Now exposed, the black steel drank in the sunlight. Covering it up now would simply be a waste of energy and Red Dust. She’d finish this soon.

As she drew close, their stench hit her. Rotting meat, pungent slime, unwashed bodies. Her stomach twisted. Ignoring the odor, she took another step—


A twig broke under her boot.

The guards reacted instantly. Growling at each other, they spun on their heels, turning towards the sound.

Towards the steel.

She lunged.

Arms windmilling, she stretched her chest and back to the limit, gaining a final extra inch. As the blade rose and fell, the closest creature opened its jaws, ready to shout a warning.

The sword sundered its skull, splitting it from crown to chin. Blood and bone and brains spurted from the grievous wound. As the sword passed into thin air, the creature flopped bonelessly to the ground. Cycling her sword, Luisa rushed in, then threw a backhand cut at the other Anguilline’s throat.

The monster snapped its spear to the right, covering the open line—and exposing its left. Abruptly she changed directions, circling the blade over her head, then smoothly threw a forehand slash.

The blade carved into its neck, through the collarbone, and split its heart. It backed up, already dead but still on its feet, its eyes fixated on the edge of the blade, its jaws opening. She burst in on the right and thrust upwards, driving the point through the soft tissue behind its skull and into its brain.

And cut out.

The monster dropped.

Stepping back, she scanned the scene. The monsters lay threshing on the ground, spilling their lifeblood in great lakes. She kicked their spears away from limp hands, then wiped her sword off against the inside of her sleeve.

“Well done,” Marco said.

Turning around, she saw the rest of the expedition pass through the trees in a loose wedge. None of them were Stealthed. They had no need for that. At the head of the formation was Marco, his custom-crafted sword in hand.

Drop Stealth, she thought.

The coat of Dust abruptly turned gray. Now depleted of their energy, the Gray Dust was completely inert, useless to the user. The Gray Dust peeled off in large patches. The air caressed her sweaty skin, hot and humid, but welcome nonetheless.

As Marco and Luisa guarded the scene, the rest of the expedition fanned out to sweep the swamps. While Marco stood watch, Luisa claimed her kills.

Extending her left hand, she willed the Red Dust in the monsters’ blood to come to her. Skeins of Red Dust lifted off from the corpses, twisting around to form a thick stream, and pierced the center of her palm.

Heat and electricity surged down her arm. The Dust pulsed through her bloodstream, gathering in her core, then spread throughout her body. Calling up her Red Dust gauge, she watched it fill up.

Aided by the wicked, the sinful and the betrayers, the Great Evils snatched the Red Dust from the custody of mankind and gave birth to countless monsters, overrunning the world. It was the duty of all who lived in the light of the Goddess to reclaim the Red Dust, and use it to restore the world.

The last of the Red Dust passed into her. The gauge stopped out at 900 out of 1000. Not ideal, but it would do.

“You could have done better,” Marco said.

He’d noticed. He always did. Nothing could escape his sight.

Luisa nodded.

“Do you understand the mistakes you’ve made?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“What are they?”

“I stepped on a twig.”

“How did that happen?”

“I was fixated on the threat. I’d lost track of the environment.”

Marco shook his head. “No, you hadn’t.”

He was right. Again. Her mental map had resumed its unerring keenness. Once again, she sensed the shape of the world around her, her brain conjuring sensory impressions beyond the reach of her body.

“A Scout’s mental map is keener than others’. You didn’t lose track of the environment. You tuned it out. That’s what hyper-fixation gets you. Stay soft and loose. That you’ll track everything.”


“What’s your second mistake?”

She blinked. “Second?”

He pointed at the second corpse.

“You needed two strikes to kill that one.”

“Why was that a mistake?”

“You should have needed only one.”

“It was still up, after I swung the first blow.”

“Because you didn’t strike true. Because you missed the spine and the brain, and because your cut was a linear shearing motion, not a wave. You cut it, you did not cut it down. Always cut down.”

Marco was a stickler for perfection. When they returned, she had no doubt that he would order her to undergo additional sword training.

“Understood,” she said.

Nodding, he cocked his head at the Well.

“Come on. Now is the time for the real work.”

The Well before her eyes failed to live up to the Wells of myths. She had expected ancient structures of unfathomable and elaborate designs, sprawling complexes of fantastic matter from the previous ages, strange machinery plowing through the gulf of aeons.

Instead she found a cylinder.

A perfectly round, totally smooth cylinder, cast from ageless white matter. Three times the height of a man, it was featureless, spotless, unknown and unknowable, as large as two barns placed side by side. It reminded her of a huge water tank, or perhaps a grain silo, all the more mysterious for its mundanity.

“It doesn’t look like much,” she said.

“The Wells of the Ancients extend deep underground. You see only the surface structure,” he replied.

“How deep does it go?”

“As deep as it will go.”

The monsters guarded the only door into the building, a curved slab of metal contoured to the wall of the Well. She found neither doorknob nor handle, nor any other means of gaining entry.

All the same, the expedition gathered at the entrance. Marco barked orders, organizing them by squads. The Knights manned the frontline, with their heavy armor and heavier weapons. Behind them were the Gunners, armed with cannons and sidearms powered by Red Dust. Securing their flanks were the Rangers, positioned to rapidly encircle and destroy the foe, and to guard against such a maneuver.

Luisa was a mere Scout. She had no place to stand alongside those of more advanced Classes. She would just get in their way.

So of course Marco placed her at the right flank of the frontline.

“Stay close to me,” he said. “We’ll get through this.”

She gulped.

Covered in pseudo-chitin from head to toe, the Knights were nigh-invulnerable. The Gunners could lay waste to anything that moved in front of their barrels. The Rangers had Moonlight armor, light as silk yet stronger than steel, allowing them to swiftly dart in and out of danger.

And her?

Long-sleeved shirt. Pants that reached down to her ankles. Sturdy leather boots. Belt and backpack. Soft cap. That was all. Just enough to protect her from the elements. She didn’t have a helmet, never mind armor. She didn’t even have a gun.

On the other hand, she was a Scout and a Psi. She wasn’t supposed to engage the enemy head-on.

“Relax,” Marco said. “We haven’t even reached the Guardian yet.”

The Great Evils set Guardians to protect the Old World strategic facilities that they had occupied. To claim this Well, the expedition had to defeat the Guardian. Ancient wisdom held that the Guardian was usually located at the bottom of the Well, positioned to fend off an invasion.

Her heart pounded in her chest. Her tongue dried out. She couldn’t trust herself to speak. So she simply nodded.

Marco smiled. Then turned to face the door.

“Prebattle! POWERS!”

Clouds of Red Dust spewed from the Ascenders, blanketing them in red. Huge shields appeared at the left forearms of the Knights, further augmenting their already-formidable armor. Gripping their lances in both hands, they adjusted their formation, overlapping their shields to protect their comrades on their left. Their limbs pulsed with crimson light, signifying enhanced strength and stamina.

The Gunners’ eyes and arms glowed. Everything they saw within range, they would hit. They fixed bayonets on the forends of their sleek weapons, ready for close quarters battle.

The Rangers reinforced their armor with clouds of Red Dust. They checked the charges on their firearms. They waited.

Every Ascendant could make use of the Red Dust. But they were limited only to temporarily augmenting their bodies, or creating constructs from Red Dust.

She was a Psi. She could touch the world directly.

But not now. She had to conserve her EP and RD.

“Top! OFF!”

The senior Ascendants broke out their stores of Red Dust and topped off their pools. She didn’t. She hadn’t harvested enough Red Dust to refill her own pool, never mind build a reserve. What Red Dust she had gathered had gone straight to replenishing the Red Dust she had expended to gather it in the first place.

It was a vicious cycle, and she saw no way out.

“Forward! MARCH!”

In a single, disciplined block, they marched.

They were an unstoppable juggernaut, a mass of men and metal in motion, rolling over everything in their path. Wherever they went, all trembled before them. Though she was the weakest among them, the only woman among them, she felt the raw power and grim purpose in every step, and couldn’t help but be swept along with the momentum of the advance.

The door slid open.

She blinked.

It had opened by itself. She had heard that some structures of the Ancients had automatic doors, but she had never seen anything like it until now.

“Steady!” Marco called.

The troops maintained their steady pace. She kept her hand on her sword, her Power menu open, ready to react to an immediate threat. The Knights’ heavy boots slammed against the hard floor in an unrelenting rhythm, sending deafening booms through the structure. Any monster in the room beyond would know that its doom had come.

But she saw… nothing.

It was dark. Too dark. Sunlight streamed in through the doorway and collected in a rectangle of illumination. Beyond that, she saw only shifting shadows and swirling dust. She tried to extend her senses, but the organized tumult of the stamping boots shook her body and brain, leaving her mental map confused and chaotic.

And the door shut behind them.

“Rangers! FLARES!”

Burning balls of red flame ejected into the air in all directions. In that harsh red light, she saw…


Nothing but smooth, flat, floor and smooth, curved walls.

No, not quite nothing. At the other side, a darkened nook held a pair of wide double doors.

“Head for the doors!” the leader of the Knights called.

They continued their hellish march, every footfall announcing their presence to the world while hiding that of those around and behind them. They trained their shields and lances at the doorway, ready to respond to an incoming threat, freeing the Rangers to observe everywhere else around them.

A heavy, unsettling weight fell on Luisa’s shoulders. Something was watching them. Watching her. Something enormous. Something that could not, should not, be.

She looked up.

Long, sinuous shapes coiled and uncoiled in the shadows, brushing up against the edges of the light. It was enormous, spanning the length of the unseen ceiling, wrapping round and round like ropes. A steady clack-clack-clack carried from above, punctuating every movement.

A pair of enormous eyes glowed red.

“CONTACT! CONTACT HIGH! It’s on the ceiling!” she shouted.

Everyone looked open.

A colossal roar filled the vast space. The walls trembled, the ground quaked, metal shrieked. Humongous jaws hinged open, and in that massive maw gathered a ball of burning red.

“SCATTER!” Marco screamed.

The formation dispersed in every direction. Spinning on her heel, Luisa picked a direction at random and ran.

A crimson beam lanced from above, smashing into the floor behind her. Red light threw fearsome shadows in front of her. Heat licked at her back. Metal shrieked, men screamed. As she ran she realized the light was slicing towards her.

She threw herself to the left.

The killing light slashed past her on the right.

And winked out.

Superheated air scorched her skin. The choking odor of burnt flesh and hair filled her nose. Gagging, she  turned around to face the threat.

Another roar heralded its appearance. Rapid clacks resounded above her, going round and round in a spiral, growing faster and louder. She had a sense of some vast bulk unraveling itself, revealing itself, readying for war. Clinging to the walls, it descended into the lit arena.

She hadn’t sensed it outside the Well. Of course she hadn’t. The mental map only covered what her senses could pick up. Something hidden inside such a structure with such thick walls was invisible to her until it entered her range. Now that she was aware of it, she sensed the sheer size of the thing, larger than any living thing she had seen before, larger than she had words for.

Slithering back and forth, its moist skin shone wetly in the light of the blazing flares. Legs as massive as trees scrabbled for purchase. Claws as long as spears clacked loudly against metal. Blocking off the doorway with its immense neck and head, it turned to face her.

Humongous jaws opened wide, exposing rows of razor teeth, and a second set of inner jaws, large enough to swallow a horse whole. A snake-like tongue flicked back and forth, tasting the air. A score of tendrils on either side of the body grasped blindly at the world around it.

Its eyes were rubies the size of fists. It gazed at her, into her, through her. Its spirit swamped her own, trying to drown her with sheer force of will. Gritting her teeth, Luisa activated Scan.

Aberration Sabaia, the Anguilline Wyrm

Level: EX

Strength: 489

Dexterity: 512

Endurance: 826

Willpower: 919

“Goddess save us,” she whispered.

An Aberration was a monster among monsters, almost equal to the Great Evils that had ruined the world. Powerful beyond human comprehension, with stats outside the reach of mortals, an Aberration was a living calamity, a destroyer without equals. To stand even a sliver of hope for survival, humanity had to send an army of veteran Ascenders.

She was only Level 8.

“INTRUDERS!” it boomed.

It had the voice of a hurricane, the word slamming into her brain, threatening to blow over her. The sound reverberated crazily in the suddenly too-small space, assaulting her in every direction.


There was no way she could fight this monster. She had to run. Hide. Pray it would not pursue her. Glancing to the side, she hunted for the exit.

The door had shut.

“CHARGE!” Marco ordered.

The heavy cannons spoke as one. A half-dozen fiery projectiles rushed towards the monster’s head. Lifting a humongous paw, it barked a word.

Every missile disintegrated.

“CHAAAAAAAAAARGE!” the Knights screamed.

The Knights swarmed in from every direction. With every step, they discharged scarlet bolts through their lances, peppering Sabaia’s head and torso. It didn’t even blink. It simply swerved one way, then the other, taking the shots on its skin, protecting its eyes. Undaunted, the Knights continued to close in, swiftly forming up into armored blocks.

From the shadows, the Rangers struck. Sidearms drawn, they fired up the shaft of the silo, seeking out the rest of its body and its paws. Firebombs pelted the Aberration’s hide, igniting into tongues of flame. Scarlet shells streaked towards its head—and disintegrated.

Luisa had only one choice: fight.

It was the rational thing to do. The only thing to do. Marco had drilled her for this very possibility. Should she ever be trapped in close quarters with an Aberration, she had to fight tooth and claw with every fiber of her being, and in so doing honor the Goddess and Her Gifts.

But it was one to drill for such horror, and another to execute smartly.

She wanted to move. Every nerve in her demanded her to move. But she could not. Her legs were petrified, her eyes locked, her hands frozen. All sound faded out, leaving only the rapid hammering of her heart. Heat fled her veins, and the chill of the grave flooded her body.

Sabaia struck.

Flashing to the left, it swiped with an enormous paw. A block of armored Knights tried to take the blow on their shield wall. Their shields exploded into gray dust, one after the other, and they went flying. It lunged again with blinding speed, charging at another group of Knights. A pair of Gunners fired their heavy cannons. The shells struck true, exploding against its neck, blowing out clouds of smoke. With an outraged scream, it veered towards the Gunners and opened its great jaw.

Blinding red light seared from its open mouth. Men screamed. A machine exploded. And even as it destroyed the gunners, it swatted its other paw, a smooth, casual movement, knocking down the Knights as though they were bowling pins.

How could she fight that? She was only Level 8! Sabaia had defeated the others as easily as breathing! How could she fight? How could she—

“LUISA!” Marco screamed. “GET IN THE FIGHT!”

She screamed.

In that primal yell, her muscles unlocked, her tendons thawed, her nerves ignited. All thought fled her mind. Drawing her sword, she charged.

Sabaia turned to her.

She visualized an arrow of pure force. Long and sharp, it would punch through everything it touched, ripping and tearing the softness beneath. As it took shape, energy drained from her brain, while her body kindled in unseen flames.

She loosed.

The force arrow, a basic application of weaponized telekinesis, took flight. Air split before it, filling the silo with the sound of a thundercrack.

Sabaia’s left eye cracked.

Screeching in pain and outraged, Sabaia opened her mouth, gathering a ball of Red Dust. Luisa sensed it now, at the very edges of her perception, a sensation of growing pressure and power, a globe about to reach critical mass—

She dodged left.

The beam blasted past her on the right.

She smiled.

And tripped.

Her foot had caught on a hot lump of hard matter. But the floor was smooth, and there’d been no one there. As soon as she framed the thought, pain shot through her leg.

And she fell.

Instinctively she crossed her arms over her chest, orienting the blade outwards into empty space, and tucked her chin into her neck. She hit another furrow of hard matter on her shoulder. Rolling forward, she extended her left hand, ready to kill her momentum, reaching out into—


There was nothing but empty space beneath her.

And then her boots freed themselves from whatever it was that had tripped her, and her body lifted off from the other edge of the opening, and her weight carried her into nothingness.




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