My awareness contracted to a pinprick. "You would kill a part of yourself to spite me?"
Ishida's head shook, drawing a bead of blood from the stone of her neck. Lips moved but no sound to her speech. Two words, both short.
Uchiumi's blackened eyes looked to me. Again I heard Kronos.
NO TRICKS. KILL THEM.
Kronos is threatening Ishida. I don't know if she can permeability die, but.... I don't think Kronos is bluffing.
What does it want?
Me to kill the inquisitors.
NO TRICKS! NO STALLING!
Ishida looked to me. A seething fury in her eyes. I knew her well enough to know that this was the nightmare she'd always dreaded, not being in control, depending on someone else to bail her out. to be helpless.
That the thing holding her captive wore the face of her literal soulmate? That was an insult on top of injury. "You forget something." Her head slammed back, shattering Uchiumi's nose, causing the golem to drop the knife. "I'm the better fighter between us Ami."
Ami? Why did I know that name?
Shouts from upstairs. Bonehead had barely cleared the stairwell when he loosed an arrow. Inquisitor Maykr was a half-step behind. Holy magics cast on the arrow, allowing it to pierce the golem's stone skin, splitting its head.
A flicker of recognition coupled with deduction. Like me, she had a life before here and was spun out here. Yet this wasn't the same. Ami and Ishida were differing people within the same incarnation. Not like Bonehead having the memories and personality of my old life. Ami... Ami. I knew that name. Could picture her. Short-cropped blue hair. Mousey build. Probably in the top hundred smartest on the planet. Utterly corrupt, seeing normal people as either assets to spend or liabilities to remove.
"Time to stop waffling about!" Bonehead's voice brought me back to the here and now. knocked another arrow. Loosing it into the darkness of the stairwell as Ishida knelt by the now inanimate golem that was Uchiumi. "You can try splitting me open some other time Ishida." My Guard Captain spared her a look. For all he knew he had shot her lover and literal soul-mate, someone I had known had found her across several lifetimes. "We've got more immediate problems."
Stone eyes were wide as she looked from the scythe that Kronos had given her to wield, and the sword that was her partner's Those same eyes looked at the ruined stone body that had once been Uchiumi, or at least a fair approximation. The scythe fell as she sunk to her knees, hand reaching for the ruined face of her other half. That hand motioned as if closing now ruined eyes before reaching down to the blade at Uchiumi's hip and taking it as her own. Her voice disbelieving as she tried gathering her wits about her. "She tried to kill me."
The Inquisitor watched. A hand raised, only to lower it on seeing Bonehead standing between Ishida and other stone creatures emerging. The jeweled blade also looked proper. As right on her as the coat and armor looked on Bonehead.
"Ami, Why?" She looked to what had, until that moment, been her allies and friends.
These were all people I knew. People that shared the same life as Ishida and I. My mind tried processing this in the confusion. Were these creatures memorials to lost friends, or trapped souls? They were human. All female. All statuesque in their grace. All faces I knew were carved from the same stone Ishida and Uchiumi had been.
Two were missing. Ishida, and...
"Wait wouldn't that be like ... you're trying to kill yourself?" Bonehead put a voice to my confusion. An arrow readied.
"No," Ishida's voice soft. "I was wrong earlier. I'm not Kronos's past life. I'm... something else. Someone else." Her voice held confusion as she looked to her once-allies, backing towards Bonehead, sword raised in a defensive posture. Then she fell, legs refusing to work, body slumping as if a marionette with her strings cut.
"You wish to stand against me." One of the stone puppets spoke. Soon followed by another. "But without me, you cannot stand at all." Whichever one spoke, their eyes went a solid dead black. Soon it turned into each speaking syllables at a time, lending this aura that the lot were a diorama display, a monument rather than a mob. "I hold Eternity in my hand and offer it freely, yet you spurn my gifts. However I am not cruel, if you do not wish to be at my side, You shall be in my way. Goodbye Ishida."
Ishida looked from the chorus of voices that somehow personified Kronos at the moment
ACCEPT TRANSFER Y/N?
By everything holy in this world YES.
ERROR: INSUFFICIANT MANA.
A notification. Mana reserves dropping. Bonehead looked to Ishida. "I won't lose you. Not again." His sword out. two of the constructs rushed forward. There was a strange familiarity to this. He would attack, only to pull away. Feint, then dive. He was always in motion. Yet he was overwhelmed. He wouldn't be able to take them all on. Not seven of these things.
The chests? Axe 'em. There is no treasure if I fall.
Ditto the spawners. The specialty rooms. The whole west chapel, western, and eastern crypts. Carve all of that away. None of it held any value if tomorrow never came if she fell.
TRANSFER REQUEST Y/N
Ishida rose, her legs shaking. I couldn't sustain her long, but she was up, sword raising to hack away at a series of brown and blackened plant-like vines that threatened to wrap around her.
More came from the stairwell below. these were shadowed phantoms. Mist and dream swirled, billowing up. Engulfing the entire floor.
Maykr's staff flared, causing a bubble of clarity in the dark.
"This shall not continue!" Nyx's voice was as ice splintering. Her staff struck the mist, pulling it away from the others. Dragging these beings, unwillingly, into the staff's gem. Her hood tilted to show she looked at Ishida before looking at the scythe she had cast aside. I could feel Laginn and Charlotte somewhere in her robes. She had the best chance of getting them past this bottleneck, and they had the best chance at getting to Kronos's core.
Maykr frowned, looking at Ishida. His staff glowing bright as he swung to her. then stopped a hair's breadth from her and went dark. He blinked, as did she. Inwardly I laughed. The Geas cuts both ways. Ishida was free to walk my halls. She was under my protection.
Bonehead clarified. "She is under my protection, and in case you haven't noticed, we have bigger problems." As if to emphasize the point he got knocked flat to the floor just before one of the golems attempted to stomp his head in.
"Indeed." The Inquisitor noted dryly as his stance changed and his staff raised, blocking a whip of light and magic from another of the golem.
Imps digging to open second and third fronts now.
Local delver parties have shown up to assist. Keep them contained on your side.
Ishida, sword in hand, joined Bonehead, driving her fist into the now-flaming golem, covering him as Bonehead got to his feet. There was no valiant glory-filled charge. Only two warriors fighting back to back to hold off an assault coming from all sides. The Inquisitor's staff pulsed. I could feel mana welling up. Normally what would be a massive winfall barely keeping pace as the rest of the Bone Guard joined their captain against Kronos.
My awareness shot through the floor to join Nyx as she pulled something from her robes and threw it. I grinned as I spotted Laginn sail over the crush of monsters and embedded defenses in this first room. Go, buddy! Go! Find the core.
I could hear Kronos now, a tangible physical thing rather than a mere projection. "Stubborn as always. You ruined what was supposed to be perfection. Why must you always stand in my way?"
Magic welled up. Nyx flew high. Her hands spread wide, staff now glowing as it flew before her, raining ice onto the defenders even as she was struck with a violently whirling contraption of gears and blades. Her robes shredded and then fell. Briefly, her enemies paused before being attacked by disembodied hands. Her eyes glowed on either side of her staff's gem as it flew, spearing a large stone beast, and causing it to explode.
As Laginn and Charlotte sprinted I could feel it. A low thrumming in the stones of this place as Laginn skittered under then behind, then-
There was the sound of picks breaking through the stone. Goblinoid screams echoed as separate fronts opened up. Where was her core? I needed to end this.
More power. I could feel it building. Where was it coming from? Find that, I would find her.
"Not this time." Kronos's voice hissed. "You have no body. Your allies are pinned. your mana draining dry."
I could do nothing more. there were no more rooms I could safely cannibalize without possibly losing my creatures. I was hemorrhaging Mana maintaining Ishida. How the hell had this dungeon done it? How had she made all these creatures this strong without an inflow from delvers?
"Well," Kronos's voice shifted, almost taking a lecturing tone. "If you stop to consider that this was all one large dungeon and what that means for the sake of scrying, delving, and divination suddenly many options open up."
A town-sized dungeon. All under a single banner. Even when split, the locations still share a metaphysical connection.
My vision blurred. Bonehead fell to a pair of golem. His respawn ticked, but the bar filled far too slowly. I knew the two who those constructs were based on. I had hopes they could grow up together. Have family. A life. Yet here they were, enslaved in effigy to a mad woman. The part of me that could remember this wept.
The Bone guard swarmed in response to their captain falling. They flanked Ishida as she cut both golem down. yet more monsters came, mostly those screaming shadow-things. My bone-guard gave themselves bit by bit to buy her moments of relative safety.
"Every victory. It doesn't matter by whom. Every instance where mana was created. I was able to siphon off a tiny bit." Surely she wasn't falling for the villain monologue trope. Why was she telling me this? She can't think I'll be too dead to use it.
"That's the best part." Kronos giggled. "I don't want you dead. In fact." Another pulse and another wave of dizziness. "I want you to think. If I can draw mana through the whole of Damala's old holdings-"
That's why Herbie and Good Neighbor could afford what they had when I could only manage so very little. She can reach all of it. All of Us, and that was a ranging shot, to see how far she could reach without being noticed.
She managed to worm her way in, and I hadn't noticed.
"That reach includes your core." A sickening sweetness to her voice. My awareness drifted, trying to climb to my own territories. All to the sound of Kronos's sickening laughter.
She can reach the whole thing! She can reach our cores! We have to end this!
Bonehead had, by this point, respawned and was running to join the others. Why was he running?
Negative. We're being stonewalled.
Why couldn't I focus? What was going on?
Ishida was there fighting. It felt important to help her. The kids I'd gotten involved with were in over their heads. Even this holier-than-thou muckamuck with the bright flashy show was faltering. Down to me and her. I nocked an arrow, firing into the stone look-alikes. Worst part? They probably cooked better than the real thing. I giggled, remembering the time they'd somehow made monsters out of a botched batch of muffins.
Man those pain pills had to be doing a number on me if I was drifting that badly. My sword was wrapped by a bright magic-infused whip, but it was something I'd expected; pulling hard, keeping the line taught as Ishida's own blade severed the weapon, rendering the stone-impostor useless as my scabbard raised to block a thrown ring from another.
"Y'keep telling me I'm in over my head." My breathing was labored. I'd prided myself on keeping in shape, especially after I'd fancied myself able to keep up with these people.
"Starting to regret your life choices boy?" there was a playfulness there in her banter even though we were both still hip-deep in trouble.
I ducked, driving my blade into the impostor's heavy hitter. "You act like I wouldn't regret leaving you guys out to dry even if it costs me drownding."
For a moment my eyes swam. I was outside of myself. except I was a skeleton, and Ishida was made of stone. We were being drug somewhere, but the details were hard to focus on.
Then I blinked. I was sore as hell, but damage was minamum. My van hadn't gotten trashed this time. I barked a laugh. "You and Uchiumi still want me to do catering later?" Were these two idiots going to finally make it official? They were practically already hitched. I knew it. Ami knew it. Everyone knew it. So why the tapdancing?
A hand wrapped around my waist. Ishida's voice in my ear. "Why can't we just head over to my place and-"
My vision swam. Again blurred vision of stone-ishida and Skeleton me in some kind of stone building.
Ami's voice. Kronos? No. Ami's voice. Exasperated. "Even in your dreams, you don't take her. Just how pathetic are you?"
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