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The ward was set into the floor - a strange reverse-spiral pattern carved into the advanced metal composite the aliens used. It actually seemed like an opposite mirror of the vast spiral glyph that was forming the foundation of the temple complex. But there was a fascinating quirk to this particular arrangement.

Essentially, this process pulled magic from the air, tore it apart, and channeled it harmlessly along the spiral to the exterior of the holding cell. Then it would discharge and drift through the air until it was reassembled by whoever was attuned to the bound Outsider. Perhaps, though, if a spell was cast directly into the spiral pattern some part of it might remain intact when it discharged on the exterior?

But then the question is rendered academic when with a hiss the containment unit unseals and Unlucky is yanked by the collar out of the way of the crushing blow of the outsider. The door slams shut again a moment later - the very same entity that sealed you in has pulled you out.

"I apologise!" it said in a bright, androgynous voice. It's thought to use a translation spell. "Child of the Crimson Goddess, I ward not the boundary between realms, and your name is not in my keeping." It holds a hand out, flat, palm up, a serene and meditative gesture.

And then, ritual gesture finished, it huffed and put its hands on its hips. "Which means I'm right back at square one! Hmmm... I'd prefer it if you didn't steal anything while you're here. It'll trigger a security response and that'll set me back weeks. But I do not have sanction to stop you, so... I'd consider it a favour!"
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As he was yanked out, Unlucky's apparently random flailing hooked the scanner and slid it out of the room before the door slammed, skittering it a few feet away.

[73 on D100 plus estimated stat passes Hard maneouver check in RM]

It wasn't as though he couldn't grab the data via his helmet uplink, but he preferred to keep it to hand.

His translation spell kicked back in outside the null-lagic field, since with metaphorical oxygen back the proverbial "combustion engine" of the spell could restart. He dismissed his illusions before they turned back on too; no point keeping it up now. But...

Hmm. Perhaps some level if disembling would still be possible. "Child of Crimson Goddess" could mean anything, either a cultureal thing or, possibly, a reference to his blood. Of course, the child part might be because he was doing his usual act and even though he towered above other kobolds, he was still barely goblin-sized...

"No steal!" He said firmly, slipping naturally into his 'non-too-bright put-upon-minion' voice. And that at least was the truth. Steaing would involving TOUCHING and the whole KPS-Division vibe this place was giving made that an ABSOLUTE no-no, with his luck. (That sort of thing was best left to Yeller (and even he only pretending to be hilariously reckless most of the time) or better yet, an Animated undead.)

"No touch, neither! Was looking! Only looking! Have to look, always looking and searching! Good at looking!" He looked down towards his feet, scuffling the toe of his boot on the floor.and softly and almost defensively, "Good at looking..."

[01 (D100 RM open-ended low range) followed by (negative D100) 10 = -9 plus skill (probably still an absurdly high result absolutely, given his estimated level and specialisation, but not a particularly convincing performance relatively.]

Unlucky's attention was only 75% on the creature, as it did not seem an immediate hostile threat, with the rest of it scanning (with nis two Mark One Eyeballs) the area for any other creatures heading in. (His coldbeam pistol was still grasped by the barrel in his hand, and he let it drop to his side.) He half-attempted a sniffle, but realised, a fair bit of his acting was somewhat muted by the fact he was wearing a full helmet... And at this point, the trade off in having his HUD and comms internally was more important.

He cocked his head to one side, looking up to the alien, asking innocently. "What was that? All I see is big angry plant, but why it attack Unlucky?"

(He was not at all concerned about giving his name out, especially as a free truth might glean him some intelligence...)
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No support seemed to be incoming. There were plenty of others within shouting distance but so far this disturbance had very carefully taken place outside of everyone's sight and hearing.

"Unlucky?" The alien tilted its head to the side. Then it snapped its fingers brightly. "Ah! Irony. Very amusing!" it clapped its gloves flutteringly together, sincerity weirdly ambiguous. "Well, if you're all about looking and searching, Unlucky, perhaps you might draw my attention to the Archmagos of the Order of Goltir? You see, all of this," it gestured vaguely, "is in place to keep me from killing him. I've been active for two weeks now and you would not believe the headache."

Up until now everything's been bright and bubbly. But when the creature said "It's making me contemplate extreme measures," there was an edge that would send a chill up the spine of even a lich. It's not a threat, per se, but oh goodness if it doesn't seem like a good idea to treat it as a very convincing one.

"Well, back to it then!" the creature said, all sunshine and light and waving. "Good luck!"
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Unlucky widened his eyes (for all the effect it had behind his visor) and asked with innocent incredulity: "this all for YOU?" he flapped his arm, as if to emcompass the entire facility. "All this, the floaty space-balls, it all for you? You must be great wizard! To make arch mangos give all stuff to stay on you good side." (Unlucky had spent far too many centuries around Yeller not to take a swing at the obvious low-ball. He resisted the urge to ask what the... fellow? had done to offend fruit, but only because the other would probably not get it.)

He trotted after the alien, with the aura of a lost puppy that had found a new master. After all, anything he could get out of this was useful, before things got messy. It implied, at least, that if this alien was the one in charge, it was maybe looking for the mentioned one. Though, the facility was preventing it locating the "archmagos?" It could of course be some sort of inter-deparmental spat or other politicing. At the very least, it seemed that there was at least some sort of factionalism at play, and anything Unlucky could wean out of the alien wuld be useful to know.

He spent a handful of seconds mentally casting up a minor telekinetic spell to drag the scanner back to him, and, once again under the pretense of stumbling, swiftly grabbed and stowed it. He kept a sharp eye on the alien, attempting to gauge if it was buying this or merely humouring him. Either way, it was worth holding the act for as long as he could.
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The alien flicked a glance around when Unlucky cast his spell. Its hand made a gesture inside its robe - but it relaxed when it identified that the only target was the scanner. It was hard to track its eyes underneath the robe - there was actually a black mesh veil over the face - but it didn't seem like it was fooled by anything.

In fact, considering it, there was never a point of vulnerability with it. It was always just far enough away to make a melee attack risky, and even when it seemed to be looking away it had an uncanny sense for hand motions. It shifted decisively any time Unlucky so much as pointed at it, and any time the hand with the coldbeam pistol so much as twitched the alien took a swift and unpredictable step in response. In addition, it always made sure at least one of its own hands was out of line of sight at all times. For all its feigned casualness it was taking no chances whatsoever.

"Great wizard?" it murmured. "That's what you associate with political power?" Its concealed hand made a gesture and you can sense the warding spell shimmer into place. "Oh, that's so cute! So, how many are you? How big is your fleet? Have you solved the Riddle of Life yet?"

The alien was taking no steps to either summon the attention of the others, but it also seemed to be taking no steps to conceal itself from them either. It was evidently completely confident in its disguise.
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Well, they apparently weren't a mageocracy, then (though at the moment "theocracy" would have seemed like a much better bet anyway). As it happened, of course, Unlucky literally did associate political power with great wizards for obvious reasons (himself, for example), so perhaps some measure of truth to the answers...

Unlucky pretended to consider, and then count on his fingers as he continued to traipse after the creature before replying "Yes, twenty-six, seven miles, yes," - the latter three of which were strictly not untruths, if somewhat open to deliberate mis-interpretation of the question - "but why, you not solve that one yet?"

Unlucky glanced around. He waited until the glance of one of the other aliens passed him and deliberately made a nervous wave, simply to see the reaction was.
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There is a complete double take from the passing alien. And then there's more. You are drawing attention rapidly - something which does not seem to bother the assassin.

"Oh, clever answer!" said the assassin, performing that enthusiastic high-speed clap again. "Context games, interrogational reversal. Your society hasn't finished growing, then! Well, perhaps we can help with that - and I can skip a few steps in my own task. As children of the Crimson God you have yet to be," it says a strange word that doesn't translate at all. The closest the spell gets is 'devoured'. "So you can do things we can't. My name is Boldness, and I represent the Saoshyant, who has marked the Furnace Knight for death -"

Onlookers within earshot flinch, and then bolt. Suddenly the space around the two of you is abruptly empty and the facility more distantly seems to be falling into a panic.

"- and were you to murder him on our behalf his gratitude would be known across the Endless Azure Skies!"

In the distance an alarm klaxon begins to sound. Lines of heavily armed and armoured soldiers are forming up at distant checkpoints. Boldness, for its part, couldn't seem less bothered by all of this.
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"Uh, oh..." Stab muttered outside. "Looks like Lord Unlucky got them riled up..."

Feltain grunted, shifting his grip on his rifle.

* * * * * * *

Well. There weren't wrong about the factionalism, then. Unlucky made a snap decision. Fighting was almost certainly going to end up happening at this point and, well, honestly, Boldness seemed to a being cut from the same job as he was, really. If nothing else, this could prove to be interesting.

With a shrug, Unlucky abandoned his pretense, straighening out into a more professional stance and demeanour. With a casual flick of his wrist, he flipped the coldbeam pistol right side up into his right hand, but held down to his side. A slight change of position that he was now sure the other would pick up on placed the natural line of the draw, so to speak, away from Boldness and towards the nearest checkpoint.

"So. You proposal. Might be workable. Obviously need ask couple of questions before agreeing. This Furnace Knight... What he do to make Saoshyant mark him? Commit atrocity? Break rules? Religious sacriledge, political inconvience or something more interesting? Exactly what sort of form Saoshyant's gratitude take? Purely diplomatic or informational or material?"

With a couple of flicks of his eyes, he started lining up potential targets in his HUD. It wasn't the first time he'd conducted diplomatic negotiations during a firefight, and it would not be the last...
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Boldness laughed, bright and clear and beautiful. "Oh!" it - she? said. "So many questions! You'll leave the Crimson in no time at all at this rate. How to put it? The Furnace Knight's crime is," again the translation spell stumbles over an intensely complicated concept being boiled down into a single word. The best it manages is 'redemption'. "So, yes. All of those reasons. It's hard to explain."

The defense is centered around a set of bulbous light mechs. These are unarmed, slow-moving all terrain quadrupeds, quite unlike the gravity technology seen elsewhere. To a scan, they seem to be little more than mobile reactors, heavily armoured and given basic locomotion. Each mobile reactor is tended to by a squad of nine soldiers, each carrying a strange nozzled weapon like a flamethrower or a chemical spray, attached directly to the reactor by a thick cable/hose. If those guns need a reactor the size of a car to fire then they will inflict serious damage despite ostensibly being infantry weapons.

The aliens carrying them are a different branch from the ones seen before. These ones still wear yellow fabric, but rather than concealing their appearance behind baffling robes these ones seem intent on showing their bodies off. The diversity is wild; unrestrained biological and cybernetic modification allowing each individual to follow its own ideal of beauty. Aliens from a hundred species following a thousand individual aesthetics make this military formation look like what you might get if you built an army of interstellar bounty hunters.

"And isn't that interesting," Boldness mused, paying no heed whatsoever to all this. They weren't firing and she wasn't acting like they were about to. "You're an assassin who thinks like a politician, talks like a merchant, and asks questions like a philosopher. You also seem to have the authority to negotiate. I'd almost have guessed you were part of a mercenary warband, but you seem to think that we might pay you with diplomatic relations..." she snapped out of it. "Gratitude! I'm not sure, I get paid in amnesia. You, though? A wish is traditional, isn't it?"
Hidden 24 days ago 24 days ago Post by Aotrs Commander
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Unlucky considered for half a second, given context of the conversation, not assuming the obvious...

"Granting desire or giving one?"

He paused, because he couldn't not ask the question.

"Also, if you get paid in amnesia, how you sure you remember if you got paid?"

He eyes the approaching aliens - enemy? - for a second.

"One second, protocol requires to ask question...

"HEY!" he bellowed in the direction of the aliens. "We making deal!" He waved flapped his hand between the pair of them. "Any you want to make better offer?"

While waiting for a response, he looked back at Boldness and continued conversationally. "Sorry, nothing personal, you seem like nice... Lady? (By our standards anyway.) Frankly, me on board with 'redemption' as good enough reason, personally. But got to ask - boss gonna be listening; and only fair to give others chance to be reasonable. We all very big on being reasonable - when it suits us purposes, of course."

While talking, his hands moved and - with a little practised effort to do it without the words, given it was a level 50 spell - he cast up Combat Mastery. One of the highest level spells in the packaged "list" Combat Law, it allowed him to autonomously cast any of the lower level ones while it lasted (the better part of ten minutes at his caster level for that spell). It would let him shunt up some of the better defensive spells over the next few moments without having to cast each one individually (and to replentish them if they got taken down); it also gave him the option of using some of the offensive ones too, Cold Beam I and II being obvious options given those walkers, both functionally replicating vehicular-level coldbeam weapon discharges. (Cold Beam II was not part of the generally taught portion of the list, but on the other hand, few casters got up as far as level 40 spells anyway...)

"Honestly, expecting response to be shooting, but at least honour satisfied," he added in an undertone. Considering the company, he clarified: "Should note that speaking metaphorically, us not really big on concept of 'honour,' it lead to stupid pride-thinking instead of getting job done right."

With a thought, he used Combat Mastery to bring up Shield XX, and a briefly-visible shield bubble popped into exsistance around him.

He mentally parsed up the distance between the aliens, assessing if they were going be in Fireball or Greater Fireball radius...
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"Union wage, eight weeks paid vacation a year and great healthcare!" yelled back a wag from the irregular formation.

Some defensive and buff spells go up in response, arcane in nature, but the spellwork is definitely below Aotrs standards. There is some magic capability here but it's deeply atrophied. These strike you as second line, garrison or security forces in terms of training and discipline. Those weapons are a lot to worry about in terms of the sheer damage they'll inflict if they hit - but that's a very operative if. If there are serious hitters in this formation they're holding back. Despite this they're well trained enough not to clump up and are holding a skirmish formation with good attention paid to minimum safe distances.

"Ha! Oh, clever question. Whichever you prefer. And I know I got paid because I'm still sane. I'm a, how you say," she said another word, 'Ikarani', that made the translation skip; it came out somewhere between supercomputer/genius/doomed. "Leave me running too long and I'll go mad. Hence," she said, fingers touching her forehead, "my appreciation if you would help me make this kill."

She froze when you mentioned your antipathy towards honour, and then took a ginger step backwards. "Child of the Crimson God indeed," she murmured, voice sounding both impressed and appalled. "I mean, I heard stories but..." she clapped her hands together, and then tossed her head back to send the hood falling from her face. The revealed creature was a slender owlgirl, eyes wide and brilliant gold.

In a loud, clear voice she announced:

"I am Boldness of the Ikarani Temple, and I dedicate this sacred hunt targeting Archmagos Birstol to the Azure Goddess.
A violet dawn breaks,
redemption remains denied,
and the curse shall make itself known,
to our glory.
Three are the existences I might end, or one hundred if I am denied."


She turned to face you, Unlucky, eyes glittering and grinning widely. "But you can kill as many as you want! Show me what you got!"
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"Milord?" Unlucky murmured in his helmet, knowing he would, at this point, have been listening.

"Permission for reconnaissence by force granted," Lord Death Despil's voice came back, and centuries of experience allowed Unlucky to pick up the faint hint of amusement. He caught a distant chuckle in the background that suggested Yeller was in the room (and this meant likely Deather and Bowblast too, at that point).

Unlucky mentally tapped up Holy Immunity True. While strictly most more benefit to the liches, who were suspectible ("suspectible," rather than "vulnerable") to holy attacks - that was attacks charged with divine energy specifically - he figured it might not hurt with the apparent presense of divine magic. While not a total immunity, it significantly reduced the chances of the attacks working, and mitigated the severity of anything that got through.

"Requirement for unions to exist indicates cultural failure on part of upper management!" He yelled, exploding forwards towards the nearest low cover. He grinned momentarily to himself as Yeller, at least appreciated the somewhat non sequitur battlecry.

Well, might as well break out one of the big guns and start with something flashy and personal... His free hand made quick motions, glowing with magical energies manipulating the mana into shape. Like most Aotrs-designed spells, the art and science of magic was advanced to the point the verbal component was almost vestigial and for a spell of compartively low level (at only level 35) compared to his caster level with it, entirely skippable, but, as he was so proud of this one...

"Vituperating Snot Cloud XXX!"

A vivid, sickly yellow-green bubbling dollop of what appeared to be gooey mucus exploded from his hand to fly over the largest concentration of enemies. It exploded a little above their heads. A fine gaseous and highly corrosive mist emanated instantly out from the central point, filling the area within a fifteen-metre radius (strictly speaking 14.48 meters, chosen exactly to screw with expecatations). At the same time, all the targeted aliens within the area of the spell were hit by a nauesatingly large splat of corrosive snot, which was not only highly potent, but Unlucky knew from the screams or previous victims, quite extraordinarily, even offensively, unpleasant. (Hense the first part of the name.)

The splashes were homing, too, utilising the same sort of magical targeting used by the likes of Chain Lightning (where he'd cribbed some of the underlying mechanics). He'd run out or targets in the radius before he'd hit his target limit anyway (the aliens weren't so densely packed as pre-industrial infantry after all), but every few seconds, the bubbling, roiling insubstantial mass of gunk at the centre-point would throw out more blasts at any targets in the radius. At his caster level, it would also be there for several minutes. (He'd left an exception to automatic targeting on this casting of himself and Boldness, though that of course wouldn't especially help against the underlying corrosive gas.) For good measure, the snot itself, though magically created, was not inherently magical itself (though it had only a short half-life as it also dissolved the air and ground) and thus was entirely effective on creatures that were immune or resistant to purely magical attacks.

__________________________

[In essense, in (3.5/PF1) D&D terms, it would map to something like, say, 8D6 Acid damage to anyone in the radius, plus umpteen D6 (probably Ref half) to 1 target/level per round for a round a level (but where a round is calculated on 10-second, not 6-second round) with SR: No. Spell level is a bit harder to parse in those terms (given Epic spells are hopeless), but, like, probably 16th? (RM would be something like "C" Acid crit every round and and a plus-something-quite-high Offensive Bonus Acid Ball attack on every target and also having the option of incrementing the amount of PP to increase the crit and damage multiplier...!) Epic-plus level wizards, man...! OP as frack.]
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This is the ideal of a mismatch. These soldiers may be heavily armed but they are not prepared to stand up to spellcasting like this. They manage one disciplined barrage, one ragged one - and then they break. Within moments the survivors are in flight. Boldness gives you a wild thumbs up and races after them, leaping up onto interior buildings and racing along through the upper gallery, using the chaos to get a better look at where the points of organization are. She has a strange weapon in her hand and is aiming it down amidst the anarchy below. Her target is sure to be flushed out at this rate...

But just as things are going your way, you feel a new spell take hold - and your hands are too full with battle casting to do anything about it...

[Friction: 2]

It is a terrifying feeling, being on the wrong end of a Prophecy spell.

The timeline burns bright and inverts as knowledge is ripped from present to past. Everything rearranges around it. Chaos becomes organized. Initiative reverses. Perfect stealth is rendered irrelevant; that spell told them exactly where you were going to be and when you were going to be there. It is eminently, wonderfully well constructed - even a glimpse of the business end of the spellwork tells you that this spell is one of the keys of the arsenal of the Endless Azure Skies.

And into the field, amidst the wreckage of the retreating warriors, comes a champion.

He is a serpent, as large as an ogre, with four mighty arms and scales a richer blue than the sky. Armour heavy with divine calligraphy rattles and clanks with the trophy skulls of a primordial time. A sword like a sharpened pool table rests over one shoulder and eyes that burn with the heat of sacred fury radiate outwards. His aura is powerful enough to cause your scanner to explode from the weight of it. With a glance he stills all panic in the room. With a glare he lets it be known that he has taken your measure. With contempt, he unbinds the spell powering the acidic cloud.

This warrior is to a paladin as Lord Death Despoil is to a wizard.

He hefts his blade and - one handed, points it across the room at you.

"I am the Furnace Knight, champion of the Endless Azure Skies," the words burn with the might of a divine curse. You can feel the weight of it smashing in against you - compelling you to step forwards, aim your pistol, engage this creature in futile single combat, all thoughts of retreat and cunning forgotten. You might resist still - your divine ward was well chosen - but it weakens quickly in the heat of the Knight's presence. "I stand uncursed in the light of the Azure Goddess. I have your scent now, Child of Crimson, and neither you nor your kind shall escape me."
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Unlucky made a snap decision and forced out a single word. A meaningless word and nonsense, but one in which the watching and listening High Command would understand.

The Aotrs did not fight super-powerful entities in fair fights. Never one-on-one. At the point this thing was putting out demi-god-level power, well beyond what Unlucky was capable of dealing with alone? And nevermind Unlucky himself, there was Alpha Team and even the Crippling Glare to consider.

He felt, rather than heard, the sound of the Lichemaster casting Gate True.

* * * * * * *

Both Stab and Feltain started as a voice snapped across the comms. "Alpha Team, Crippling Glare, we have Demigod-level threat on the field. Repeat, Demigod-level threat on the field. Alpha, GO!"

Stab's eyeglows expanded hugely. WHAT.

Stab was already scrambling to her feet, as Feltain lithely bounced up in a fluid motion, swearing quietly.

"Pretty sure that was Lord Scattershatter," he noted grimly as they sprinted towards the team. Shadowflight was already casting a Gate to get them right back to the Fallen Soul. "High Command must be active."

Stab made a wordless meep of unsettlement.

Belatedly, she realised that the Gate Unlucky had arrived by... That wasn't one that someone had popped through from Myst Base like she'd assumed, that must have been Gate True, Lord Death Despoil's highest level known spell, with a range functionally unlimited in at least as far as they'd ever measured. (Whether it was actually capable of inter-galactic distances was the subject of occasional debate.)

They sprinted towards the rest of the squad.

* * * * * * *

As Unlucky struggled to regain control, Yeller was first through the gate - manifested at humanid height but two abrest - which had opened barely five feet to Unlucky's right. Yeller arrived in his usual style, diving foward in an agile foward roll, his distinctive green falchion in one hand; in the left, with an expert flourish as he came to his feet, casually holding his personal coldbeam pistol. A half-step behind, Deather was next, also sword drawn, and he held his coldbeam rifle in one hand as is it was Unlucky's pistol, aimed with military precision at the furnace Knight the second he was in view. By happenstance being on Unlucky's side of the portal, Deather took a single long stride and smartly stepped up between Unlucky and the Furnace Knight.

Bowblast sprinted out next, bow in hand, but not drawn - instead he was taking his preferred role in post-industrial fights as spellcaster support, moving with swift grace to slide to a halt to Unlucky's left.

Only a pace behind, Shatterscatter followed; like Deather, he was wearing his Power Suit (as the pair of them found armour so trivial to wear, in was no more encumbering for them, be it plate or power armour, than clothes were for most mortals). Unlucky dimly heard him advising Alpha to go even as he came through the Gate. Foul Skream came with him, in his own heavy armour, shields already up. Both began to fan out.

And then, finally, Death Despoil exited the Gate. Wearing only his customary light body armour, his weapons sheathed. His helmet alone was not the modernised version, but his traditional one.

Not everyone, but enough.

And while Unlucky struggled against the presense, the liches were not so impaired, both due to the natural immunity coming with being Undead and their own experiences - they had faced off against actual dieties before in the past on rare occasions.

Lord Death Despoil tipped his head to one side momentarily, assessing the foe. Then he dropped his normally unassuming demeanour, asserting his own formidable aura. Aside from the sudden, sheer force of unsuppressed (and mundane) presence, a phenominally powerful supernatural fear (reinforced by the others following suit) swept the area. Only centuries of experience allowed Unlucky to weather the sudden panic - indeed the sensation was so familiar that he grabbed onto it like a drowning kobold, allowing him to steady himself ever so slightly.

The steadied aliens seemed to waver again, as the benefical effect of presence of the Furnace Knight fought with the lich's fear auras. (Indeed, without its effects, the most-weak willed among them might have actually died of fright.)

For a long moment, there was a pause.

Umnlucky took the moment to gather himself, forcing his mind into analyical mode, which helped shaped his thoughts more towards, though not reaching, normal. Unlucky knew that if the Furnace Knight attempted to speak, Deather, Shatterscatter and Foulskream would likely just shoot him (Deather likely in the mouth, because Unlucky knew how he thought; Yeller might like to banter, but Deather in particular took a perverse delight it cutting off monologues).

The Gate was still open; this, Unlucky knew - since he had called for it himself - was primarily an extraction, but also a test of the Furnace Knight's abilities. One thing was sure though - they'd at least uncovered a serious threat, and there was no way this level of power was going to be permitted action even at this distance from Aotrs borders. It has escalated rather more quickly than he had expected, but... Once again, Lord Death Despoil's forseeing (of both actual prescience and mundane forward-thinking) had ensured they could adapt.

Yeller, predicatably, was the first to break the suddenly silent tableau. Glancing between Deather's entirely normal sized falchion (the mirror in all but the electric blue colour of his own) and then the Furnace Knight's enormous sword, he nodded his helmet towards the Furnace Knight.

"You think he's compensating for something...?"
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[Some sort of doublepost, not sure how to delete]

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The Furnace Knight raised his blade, in prayer, in salute. "The fire burns still," he says simply, quietly.

Not much of a monologue but enough to get him shot in the mouth by Deather. The Furnace Knight smiles as the coldbeam clears, lips blue and microcuts visible around his mouth. For a moment it seems like he could not be happier.

*

The star Salib rumbles. At this moment it lets loose a colossal gout of violet plasma, a solar flare that changes light itself all across the system.

*

It's incomprehensible, the way the Furnace Knight moves.

There will be time enough to examine it later, to contemplate the gravitic singularities that his divine spellcasting generates. His technique creates concentrations of gravity so powerful they bend light and time both. Around them he wraps, stretching to a hundred times his length, seeming to fill the entire room as an endless oroboros, a snake whose jaws unhinge to eat the world.

The effect collapses and he is amidst the liches, in the centre of their formation.

The sword is everywhere. The blows are crashing down again and again as he pivots from stance to stance, offense to offense, crash and sweep and spell all coming together so fast and unstoppable it feels like being on the wrong end of a turn based RPG. His sword flawlessly passes between all four hands and any hand not swinging it is either casting or countering a spell. Micro-gravitic singularities erupt around him like flowers, dragging opponents into his blows or shoving their aim aside. The Law of Kings - the blade's name is carved upon it - blazes with divine fire, a rainbow of blue.

(Above there is the crack of thunder - Unlucky glances up to see Boldness in the railings high above, having aimed a strange wooden rifle down at something in the chaos below and fired a shot that wafts like ozone. She's turning her aim towards the Furnace Knight when, offhandedly, he hurls a metal sphere at her that hits her shoulder at such speed it shatters her arm and sends her falling to the ground below)

And then come his allies. These are not champions with the expertise of the Aotrs High Command, these are not a host of legendary paladins - these are berserkers. A host of the wolf-warriors, each wearing blindfolds glowing with runes of blue, stripped to the waist, charging furiously with fang and talon and monstrous strength. The shock of their charge is impossible to stop: they wear divine wards that defer all consequences they are to suffer until after the battle is done, at which point they will drop dead. They surge into the opening created by the Furnace Knight and, heedless for their own safety, seek to overwhelm the High Command.

And as the battle breaks out behind him, the Furnace Knight has a few precious moments alone with Lord Death Despoil. He smiles still through bloody lips. Painted eyes sparkle with a boyish kind of joy. It's infectious, maddeningly infectious, an enormously powerful psychic compulsion to leave aside spell and strategy and fight this impossible monster hand to hand with a sword.

Scales coil beneath him, tensing like a spring. He is ready if you do not.
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The psychic compulsion had no effect on the liches (least of all on Lord Death Despoil, who had been resistant to mind-control even BEFORE his death). They could feel it, but it held no power over them. (Unlucky, despite his centuries, was the second-youngest among them and unlike the youngest, but not a lich himself and thus not so bolstered.) The Furnace Knight desired a direct, one-on-one confrontation; so he would not be granted one; not until there was only one of them left standing. At its core, above and beyond the inherent resistance to mind-control, the Furnace Knight's compulsion itself had the problem that the very idea was an athema to everything the Aotrs stood for; an assault on their core virtue of co-operation. And on top of that, it went against the doctrine better part of three millienia of experience (for all of them except Bowblast): never allow the enemy to dictate the terms of engagement. This was already a suddenly-forced battle, they would not compound that error further by yielding to the enemy's strategum.

So without even so much as a twitch of instruction, Foul Skream and Shatterscatter smoothly attacked the Furnace Knight from the either side. With shields - further boosted by the full plethora of defensive spells from Combat Law themselves, concentrated on disruption and damage mitigation. Both took damage from the Knight's strikes, but not debilitating damage and instead focussed their own on making the Furnace Knight have to abort just enough of his own attacks that he couldn't follow-up to do that damage. They were taking more damage than they were inflcting, but that wasn't the point. Though both concentrated most on melee, as their enemy did, while Foul Skream holstered his pistol to more easily use his spells (and the occasional psionic blast), Shatterscatter retained hold of his coldbeam rifle. Ordinarily, such a weapon might not have affected the Furnace Knight, but the Aotrs's coldbeams were just as heavily enchanted as their melee weapons - though it had to be observed that their swordwork was still superior after so many more centuries of practise at it.

Bowblast - who, despite his relative youth was the second-strongest spellcaster after Death Despoil himself - started working through his own repatoire of spells on the Furnace Knight, starting with direct-damage spells, and then gravitating to dispelling and indirect attacks, including opening Gates directly under the Furnace Knight's feet or directly in front of him or even where his blade swung. Mixed in with the occasional trick arrow (because if you were going to carry around a bow in the modern era, you had better carry trick arrows). Tactics all designed to frustrate and deny the Knight what he wanted - a fair fight and a shot at Death Despoil. (Or rather, Bowblast, corrected, a fight in which the Knight could tell himself was honourable, by forcing his opponent to fight only on his terms - so not a fair fight at all. But that was duels for you, wasn't it?)

Yeller and Death aimed to deal with the berserkers - guns off the field. Over two millenia of sparring with the individuals that mastered the SCIENCE of frenzy stood them in good stead. The pair of them worked smoothly in a concerted team, keeping the berserkers fully occupied, avoiding the unstoppable charges and trying to ensure their own life-draining and cold auras contributed to the speed at which the berserker's lifeforce expired.

Death Despoil himself remained on the defensive, watching, measuring, and acting only with deliberation. Here, a vertically-aligned momentary Gate to drop Boldness at Lucky's feet mere seconds after she fell. There, a precisely targeted Disintigration Bolt to the blindfold of one of the berserkers in front of Deather - partly to see what happened. Here, a pin-point thaumic rupturing spell (a form of explosively destructive dispelling) targeting the runes of the one appraching Yeller's flank. There a Disintegration Beam to annhilate one berserker whose charge would have interrupted Shatterscatter's own disruptive attack on the Furnace Knight...

The Furnace Knight finally shoved Foul Skream back hard, skidding several feet as Foul Skream blocked a swing. This created enough on an opening that the demigod could make a full stroke at Death Despoil. But the Lichemaster's eeriy combat-precognition and incredible reaction speed was enough that he was already moving, and a Bladeturn True spell was enough - despite substantial resistance - to deflect the first blow. The follow-up was blocked by Deathblood, the Lichemaster's own blade, already in motion. For something less than a heartbeat, the Law of Kings was halted by the Lichemaster's surprising strength - but only for that instant, and only due to the Lichemaster's measured, precise application of strength and leverage and the angle of block. He knew better than to ever to risk fighting head-to-head with an equal or an superior, nor to risk his own blade against the much larger one, for all Deathblood's power. Then he was back out of immediate reach with a flash step that might not even have been teleportation - it was too fast to tell - and the Furnace Knight had to block two vehicular-level coldbeams from Foul Skream and Bowblast from opposite directions at the same time as Shatterscatter's attack at his rear.

Delay and measure; Lord Death Despoil's razor intellect was assessing the Furnace Knight's capabilties as they fought, and committing everything to his perfect recall with computer-like efficiency.

[DD: D100 roll of 30 (+75 RE bonus) = 105 on Tactician ability ('If an open-ended roll of 101+, adding RE bonus is made, the character can receive information directly from the GM pertaining to the tactical situation.') Used here less for that than as a good a measure as any of how much he's getting from this observation. (I thought it was a 50% chance and he failed, then I checked and went "oh snap, it's D100 + RE bonus, he DID make it...!")

[Unlucky RR vrs effect: 11 on D100. Still affected.]

Unlucky's head was still too muzzy, but he knew what he had to do and why they were delaying. He glanced at the fallen Boldness. "Guh... Think you might have over-estimate us, snake-lady. Might have mentioned it was demi-god. Plus-side, now know, can't let that thing be so close, so looks like you stll got ally..." He grabbed Boldness by the unshattered arm and started tugging and dragging her towards the Gate True. " You going to be very not-me, get to see Citidel..." He did not add that was going to be the case even if she was dead, since that was hardly a limitation to the Aotrs. Though, the part of his brain that was not involved in fighting for control detachedly wondered if these divine folk could snag souls on the way out, across interstellar distances.

Well, if they could, that was intelligence too, wasn't it?

* * * * * *

Stab and Feltain reached Alpha squad, just as Shadowflight opened the Gate.

At the precise moment a squad of aliens rounded the low ridge.

"Blasted scum of a lich!" She was surprised to hear it in tandem with Feltain.

As Stab dived for cover, she wondered if Lord Unlucky was contagious...
Hidden 20 days ago 20 days ago Post by Thanqol
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The keen tactical mind of Lord Death Despoil shows him that the problem of the Furnace Knight is less impossible than it seems. Perversely, that makes it even more dangerous than it looks.

If he was simply a creature of Big Numbers that would be a far more manageable problem. The Aotrs has dealt with warriors with more power than common sense before and it's simply a matter of locating an even larger hammer. But, despite the initial shock of the Furnace Knight's charge, that's not how he's actually fighting. Instead he is fighting in a profoundly intelligent and deliberate way - just in a way that uses an utterly different toolkit than the Aotrs have access to.

Consider the opening sequence when Foul Skream and Shatterscatter attack him in a perfect flanking maneuver. If it were anyone with thoughts slower than Death Despoil watching the Furnace Knight's counterattack would have seemed just a ludicrous disregard of basic combat reality, but it's not that. He placed himself there to get flanked deliberately - and as the perfectly co-ordinated assault comes in from two directions, the Furnace Knight grows stronger. In fact, the more people are directly engaged with him the more powerful he gets, a fact which he exploits ruthlessly to overwhelm the core of the high command in moments without taking more than superficial damage. When Bowblast begins casting spells at him from a distance the Furnace Knight's gravitational singularities explode in power, extending his reach to allow him to maintain full assaults on three enemies simultaneously with no loss of efficacy.

That is just enough to save Lord Death Despoil from making a critical mistake - waving off Foul Skream and Blowblast right at the moment they had prepared their perfect rear-shot Coldbeam attack following his teleport step. The Lichemaster had seen his own extinction flash before his eyeglows in that moment: the Furnace Knight had been relying on riding the power surge he'd get from being engaged by two additional foes to put his blade right into the Lichemaster's skull from across the entire room. As it was he missed by millimeters.

That had been a Smite too. It might have been the closest Lord Death Despoil had come to extinction in a long time.

There is another moment of stillness, the Furnace Knight shifting between serpentine stances, blade seemingly in every direction at once. When the Furnace Knight smiles, this time he does not look like a boy at all. He looks ancient. The bearer of terrible experience, a cold-blooded warrior who knows every trick in his arsenal and how to drive them to maximum effect. One who committed to the frontal assault as a deliberate tactical choice. One whose ruthlessness runs just as deep as Lord Death Despoil's. Slitted eyes stare unblinking.

He's waiting for something. And Lord Death Despoil is wise enough to guess what it is: He is waiting for the retreat.

If this warrior gains power when outnumbered, then it follows that he may obtain a similar surge when his enemies attempt to flee from him. The Aotrs might make a virtue of their disregard for honour but the Furnace Knight's enforcement of it is weaponized. It's a trap as ugly as anything the Aotrs might have planned: stay and fight against a wave of invincible warriors until you are ground down, or flee and face the Furnace Knight at his most powerful on the way out.

Bowblast's assessment was correct, but for one thing: The Furnace Knight was not deceiving himself in the least.

*

"Oh, this is actually really bad," Boldness said dreamily, body synthesizing opiates to dull the pain she must be in. "I wondered why he came here. It turns out it was to draw him out. He's found a worthy enemy and he'll be able to use that to command public support..."

She'll live, it looks like, though barely. The shock of that impact would have killed a lot of creatures, and the fall would have finished her off if Lord Death Despoil didn't catch her. As she staggers alongside you a collection of broken, burned out protective charms fall from hidden pockets like blood-drops. She leans heavily on Unlucky as the two of them get through to the portal.

Unlucky doesn't realize it, but he'd just walked straight through the Furnace Knight's death zone and got away clean. Turns out the heroic rescue of a stranger got you a pass from whatever power bound the Furnace Knight.

*

Stab immediately came under fire from a volley of the acid projectiles of the wolf warriors. The acid was expected. What was not expected was the disorientation. Arguably the disorientation was the primary effect.

The grenades fired by the wolf warriors were absolutely, ludicrously vicious extension of the flash-bang concept. They detonate multiple times and on multiple spectrums, physical and magical, overwhelming all sensory input. At the same time they created burning acidic clouds. The ideal of this weapon was clear: to break formations and deny cover, forcing targets to flee into the open.

Once in the open they were targeted by the unit's officer, in the middle of a defensive shieldwall formation. He had a long bolt-action rifle that fired high powered specialized ammunition - a combination of lightning bolt and disintegration effects. In military parlance, the acid shock bursts were a maneuver element that cleared the way for a powerful squad level fire asset.
Hidden 14 days ago Post by Aotrs Commander
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Fortunately, the liches were not particularly susceptible to disorientation (you couldn't really stun a lich, for example; yet one more advantage of lichdom); so while some of the effects succeeded, a lot of the others failed to get any purchase on the liches due to them just... Lacking a biology for it to work on.

Stab was most shaken by the attacks, sprawling.

At least one member of the sqaud was still clear-headed enough to fire a coldbeam support weapon in sustained mode, sweeping a line across between the sqaud an the aliens, throwing up a thick cloud of freezing mist - useless against any kind of sensor, but excellent for completely fouling visual targeting. It would disipate in seconds, but that was all it took for Alpha to scramble through the Gate to inside the Fallen Soul and Shadowflight to close it.

Feltain didn't even need to shout, since the Fallen Soul commander was already yelling "Go! Go!" and the pilot gunned the engines to run straight towards the Must Gate exit point.

Feltain immediately began assessing the acid damage - the worst hit lich was snarling and already stripping his armour off and kicking it to the back of the vehicle, but he'd taken a fair bit of not-easily-healable damage. There was a fading-but audible hiss from almost all of their armour.

"That... Was less fun than I expected." Stab managed.

* * * * * * *

Death Despoil nodded quietly to himself. His foresight had served well enough, at least for this gambit, not having directly attacked the Furnace Knight at all himself. He gestured and the other High Command broke off, leaping back. Even had the Furnace Knight been able to see and read their reactions, none of their surprise would have showed at being told as certainly as if spoken that he would handle this himself personally, and alone.

"I'm curious," the Lichemaster stated, eyeing the rapidly-approaching Furnace Knight steadily. "Your power is largely based around trying to force others to fight you, and you apparently set all this up to defeat an opponent in a duel to gain honour and prestige." Shatterscatter vanished into the portal, followed by Deather a moment later accelerated by a Haste spell. Bowblast ran to the Gate and spun, waiting just inside the threshold. Yeller, flickering in from a standard teleport, rolled smartly behind him and disappeared into the Gate tunnel.

"You ignored Unlucky when he dragged your would-be assassin away. A heroic action, perhaps? Which says your honour is clearly important to you. Perhaps the MOST important thing."

"So then, Furnace Knight, how much honour do you gain from defeating," - with a single deft motion, he tossed his pistol and Deathblood to Foul Skream, who deftly caught them and disappeared though the Gate - "an unarmed opponent, one clearly weaker than you, who will not fight back?"

The Lichemaster stood stock still, folding his arms, one eyeglow slightly raised in expectation to meet the Furnace Knight's gaze unflinchingly.
Hidden 14 days ago 14 days ago Post by Thanqol
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The moment the Furnace Knight was alone with Lord Death Despoil he plunged the blade of the Law of Kings into the stone and took his hand off it as though it were scalding hot. In its place he drew a smaller, far less magical, backup sword - but even this he held at a low angle.

"Not much," he admitted. "Even less because this was an ambush. It has been a long time since I fought the living dead and your mental resilience was a surprise. The Crimson Goddess tests me."

The Furnace Knight drew slightly closer; a position that indicated he wasn't counting on his room-crossing reality-warping lunges any more. He was wary, but his stance still deeply favoured offense over defense. He knew that unarmed did not mean defenseless, especially for a spellcaster.

"I will accept your surrender," he said, producing a set of metallic cuffs from his belt and sliding them across the floor.

An energy crackles in the air between your eyes.

You know that he is bluffing.

You can practically feel the odds shifting around you, the tilt of the skein of probability. If his power comes from affronts to honour this puts the Knight at a low ebb. You have committed no crime here, he has no evidence of wicked deeds with which to strike you down. You feel like you could almost fight him now, with your bare hands, spells and chilling aura. Be sure: that would not be an easy fight by any measure. Winning outright is likely out of reach. But the idea of injuring him badly enough to make an escape seems suddenly possible.

He will get his surge when you do... but if he is impaired he might not be able to make it a killing blow. The alternative, of course, is to accept captivity and await a rescue.

You can see the same calculation happening in his mind. His fingers held the sword like a western gunslinger, waiting for the moment to draw.
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