Chapter 42 – The Final Challenge

It was a simply massive room. A massive room, circular, and lit up by flaming torches instead of the innate light that had until now suffused their surroundings.

Their challenge, as well, was massive. Upon a raised, circular platform, lay a great beast of the most fantastical sort Ares had witnessed in this world until now. Head like a lion, body like an alligator, and with one leg of each from an enlarged version of a horse, a goat, a lizard, and a frog. Its spine was covered in spikes from the top of the lion head, all the way to the swaying tail ending in a snake’s head.

Old Ones,” Cedwin mumurred, “It’s a chimera…”

The chimera was lying dormant now, lion eyes closed, but the snaking tail was raised high in the air, and the snake was observing them with an evil glare.

“Ready to engage,” Seila commanded, spurring them forward, “Construct, you take its attention; Cedwin, fight from a distance, and Saber you look for openings to do as much damage as you can. We will provide support from the rear. Go!”

Ares jumped up upon the raised platform. The moment he touched the ground again, the chimera was on its feet and charging him. Not keen to take it head on, he moved slightly to the side, arming his blaster and taking a few shots to grab its attention.

It worked, somewhat.

The chimera altered its trajectory slightly, but it did nothing to slow its pace. Ramming into him with its shoulder first, Ares was sent flying through the air, taking heavy damage. Ignoring his console messages, Ares got onto his feet again and ran to intercept before it reached its new target: his mistress.

He had promised to protect her after all.

Launching himself at full power, he flew forward. Activating [Edge] on his hand, he collided with the beast’s head in mid-air. There was no sensation of flesh cut. Instead, it was like hitting a solid wall with a knife. While he did no perceptible damage, he did grab the attention of the beast; only, it was the wrong part of the beast.

Twisting its body, the chimera’s snake-tail came into range, and it lashed out spewing acid all over him. Poison might not do much damage to his inorganic systems, but this was a corroding agent. It circumvented his kinetic barrier and hit him straight in the face. Pain split his skull apart as most of his face contorted in pain, along with parts of his upper body and arms. The ordinary clothing he had been wearing were immediately turned to shreds, leaving him half-naked.

“Useless!” His mistress screamed, firing off minor fireballs that did no damage at all. The lion head was coming down on them fast. Ares fought off the pain and used his blaster to fire off his most powerful shot directly at the beast’s side. The powerful charge hit the alligator-like skin and slid off, like water on a metallic surface. It continued its flight, nearly hitting Saber, who was trying to intercept as well. The cat-man had to throw himself to the side, and his path to shield the others got blocked off.

“Get back, Lady Seila,” Izzy yelled, and threw something on the ground, just as the lion head bore down upon them. A pulsating barrier erupted around them, and the beast was forcefully rebuffed.

Meanwhile, Ares had withdrawn his blaster, seeing how useless it was, and instead went for the beast’s legs. Breathing half a sigh of relief after seeing Izzy’s save –he liked the little gnome after all– he approached the forward horse leg, cutting at it with his hand.

The chimera reared and swept its forward legs to the side. Ares threw himself aside, time slowing to a crawl as he overclocked and watched the steel-like hoof slice along his chest. Silvery liquid erupted from the hit, and Ares lost his balance, then fell backwards beneath the body of the beast. A stampede followed, where all he could do was roll around to avoid one leg after the other.

Finding his chance, he activated [Pulse] on the ground beneath, initiating a minor quake. The chimera stumbled, allowing him to roll away from the danger, just as Saber attacked from above, leaping onto the beast and slicing at where its tail and body connected.

Though the idea was good, the snake was not as affected by the trembling ground as the other parts, and it struck out towards the cat, acid filled teeth dripping with their bounty. Saber was only saved when an arrow struck the snake dead in the eye, sending it reeling to the side.

This allowed the unbelievable fast Saber to strike the opponent, scoring the first real blow of the contest to the chimera. Cedwin cheered, holding up his bow, rather than aiming another.

“Don’t celebrate yet!” Seila yelled, as the Chimera regained its foothold, roared with anger, and charged at the offending Saber. This time, Ares did not hesitate, but stepped in and received the full charge. He grabbed the beast by its snout, one of his hands missing the mark and ending up in the creature’s maw. It bit down, but this time, his shield could do its job. Lighting up like a christmas decoration, his shield hummed as it dispersed the force of the chimera’s jaw strength, allowing his hand to resist being shredded into pieces.

“Finally,” Saila called, “Keep it up, Construct, don’t let go of it.”

He felt the impact through the beast, as the others pelted it with attacks. Cedwin fired off arrow after arrow, targeting the soft tissue around the joints, Seila kept throwing the small balls of fire, despite how little damage they did, and Saber continued to harass the tail, attempting to cut it off.

Meanwhile, Izzy was kneeling on the floor building something, watched over by Alai, who had retrieved some strangely colored flasks from her bags.

The damage did little but annoy the chimera, who finally had enough of attempting to chew through Ares’ hand, and instead picked him up and flung him away with a violent shake of the head.

“I said keep it up, dammit!”

Anger surged within him, and he felt like exploding. This little, insignificant creature demanded he protect it, and honor it, and obey it. What right did it have to chain him – him!?

Synchronization reaching critical levels

User integration allows for legacy implementation

The chimera swung around, catching Saber with its frog leg and throwing him across the room. Cedwin tried to catch the beast’s attention by running off the side and showering it with arrows, but the chimera just ignored them, turning to the support group.

And was hit straight in the face with a shower of lightbeams.

Izzy had finished her preparations, and now sat in a seat beside an old-school gatling gun, leaning backwards as she controlled the angle of the gun and firing continuously. While the beams did little damage, the sheer number of the forced the beast backwards, protecting its head with the horse hove.

Ares got onto his feet, golden eyes glazed over with fury. Although he resented the petty creature who thought itself his master, he felt even more demeaned by this minor ‘pet’ who dared to touch him with its filthy protrusions. Raising his right arm, his hand peeled back to reveal the blaster, humming as he charged it anew.

Unit level too low to accommodate full legacy

Compressing…

Solar lens has been compressed to a single feature

The console messages were like air to him, insignificant. It did not matter what was changing, only that this thing got what it deserved. As the blaster hummed, a golden light began to infuse it, increasing its charging rate. The chimera roared, ignored the pelleting lightbeams and charged the supporters once again. Seila screamed, eyes spinning and firing off just as many sparks as the number of fireballs she threw. Alai threw some her flasks, hitting the ground before them, which exploded in a small sea of fire. The chimera jumped backwards and tried to circumvent the area, but Alai kept throwing flasks, surrounding them with fire.

Legacy: Solar lens – minor

This legacy can concentrate and intensify all energy, multiplying damage output by 10 times.

Roaring, Ares felt something within him burst. The lifelink alone was not enough to sustain the power he was concentrating in his hand. He found the crack within him, the one leading to the vast emptiness replete with energy, the one Seila had first found and exploited in the garden.

This time he wielded the power. This time he was the one in control.

“No, Master, wait! That isn’t safe–”

He heard none of Orca’s objections; only the power existed. He infused all of it into the ammunition he had left, spending everything on this one shot. He heard screams. He was screaming, the blaster was screaming, someone else was screaming.

Then he fired.

The world became red. A massive ball of plasma cut through the air, electrifying it and sending sparks flying through the air. The chimera had less than a second to realize the danger, even less to evade it. Hit in the neck, there was no ‘splashing’ away this time. The massive creature was lifted off its many mismatching legs and thrown into the nearby wall. It screamed.

Aside from the beastly wails, silence consumed the room. Then Ares screamed… again. This time it was pain; pain shooting up his arm like fireworks, exploding in his mind already taxed with figuring out what he had just done.

After that came the pain from his chest. The crack within was no longer a crack, but a rift. Whatever was behind the rift, it wanted tribute. It drew energy from him like a drain empties a basin. Only when he felt as dry as a twig did the pull relent, and the rift became a crack once more.

He heard someone else’s scream mixed in with his… again.

Pushing away the pain, ignoring it, he fumbled to gain his feet. When had he fallen? No matter. The pain was all that filled his mind, making his eyesight blurry and wobbly. He could handle pain, though, he had lived most of his life in excruciating pain. This was nothing.

Gaining his feet, he looked at his handiwork. At the other end of the chamber, the chimera lay on its side, lion head facing away. Saber was just gaining his feet, staggering before Cedwin grabbed him by the arm and held him up. Of the three supporters, only two were standing. Alai was kneeling on the floor over someone… not someone: Seila.

He felt the emptiness within their connection. No emotion of any kind. Was she dead?

Stumbling, he managed to approach, but Alai waved him away, saying, “I think you’ve done quite enough, you. No, she’s not dead, you dolt, she’s just… Well, I don’t know what, by the Old Ones, you did to her.”

‘Me?’ He was not sure he had heard correctly – his eyes were still projecting an unsteady world.

“Yes, you, Master. You took control of the lifelink and sucked up everything. I don’t know if she can survive this.. I mean, pure elves are exceptional at replenishing lifeforce –just below Elvans, of course– but you really did a number on her. And you even added mana into the mix, really, what were you thinking?”

‘I drew mana?’ His memory was blurry as well. He only remembered feeling angry… really, really angry. ‘How could that affect her?’

“You’re connected by a lifelink, remember? The feedback from mana usage traveled down the link and affected her just as much as it did you. You’ve gotta be careful, Master, mana is not a joking matter. It is raw energy from a place between worlds; highly volatile, unstable once drawn out of its natural place, and very, very powerful.”

He had no energy to argue, and could only watch as Alai’s blue fingers lit up as they touched Seila’s head, neck and breast.

“Is she going to be alright?” Cedwin asked, as he and Saber approached, Saber’s arm slung over his shoulders.

“She will be fine, she only needs–”

A rumble interrupted her words, and caught all of their attention. The massive chimera rolled around and put one leg onto the ground. Staggering, it began to lift itself up, eyes fixed on the ones who had wounded it. For, it was wounded. The shoulder of its right foreleg was completely blown off, but even with three legs, the creature was imposing and –most importantly– very dangerous.

“That is enough,” said Kindon, stepping forward for the first time, “Ares, grab Lady Seila and carry her, Saber and Cedwin can you walk? Good. Alai, you lead them. You only have to get out of the main chamber and touch the walls of the antechamber. The dungeon will ask if you wish to leave. Agree and a portal will open. Go, now!”

“But what about–” Alai tried.

“I will buy you time, get going!”

They all followed the order; even Ares had no internal objections. He picked up Seila, who was as light as he remembered, and carried her while Alai led the way out the chamber, followed by Cedwin, who was still holding up Saber. Izzy ran last, occasionally looking over her shoulder, where Kindon was engaging the three-legged chimera alone.

They heard the beast’s roar as they exited the door, felt the tremble of its stomping as Alai put a hand on the wall and agreed that they wanted to leave. They felt the hot air of The beast’s breath as it put its head into the doorway, following Kindon’s retreat.

“Have you gotten it open?!” Yelled the captain, fending off a probing attack of the beast’s frog leg. Without its other front leg, the best had to awkwardly lie itself on the ground in order to reach through the doorway inhibiting its progress.

“Almost!” Alai shouted back, now banging on the wall, as if that would make the process go faster. A dark spot split the eternal whiteness, and a dark portal warped itself into being before them. Alai fell, more than ran, through the portal, followed by Saber and Cedwin. Ares looked back one time, seeing the captain kicking away another swipe while shouting them to, “go, go, go!”

He jumped through, landing safely on packed ground while his senses momentarily blacked out. Once his perceptions were back up and running, he found himself on the ground before the white conch, pretty much in the same spot they had entered it from. Izzy bumped into him from behind, and he walked forward.

They were immediately greeted by a choir of cheering, as nearly every patron of the pavilions had taken to their feet and stood with glasses and mugs raised.

“Long live the newborn, those raised anew!” Some yelled, answered by others, “Long live the departed, those left behind!”

“Alive!” They roared.

“Alive!” They laughed.

“Alive!” They cried.