The blast kicked me farther away from the battle, into the rising mountains beyond the mine entrances. It also kicked me higher, which prevented me from drilling a hole in those same hills.
It also separated me from Trisiagga, who had been sent in a different direction, but Fan Li was resolutely tracking her through the [Blood Sigil]. Sirth was organizing additional Wind spirits at Fan Li’s direction, to go check on Ged. The sage did not trust that the asura’s words were completely false.
Below, I felt the presences I had felt previously. They had been in rapid retreat from the mine entrances before the blast, so I had assumed they were locals fleeing the outpouring of demons, but now I wasn’t as sure. They seemed organized, even military in their movement.
My mind was still sorting through the details by the time I had reversed my trajectory. That blast had come out of nowhere, and it had been devastating, almost on the scale of Mount Saint Helens devastation. The entire side of the mountain ridge where the mine entrances formerly stood had become a single, city-sized landslide, that was still sending up a visibility-obliterating cloud of dust. At first, I was even imagining that it was, in fact, a volcano, having erupted with the most perfect situation-reversing timing possible.
My fairy sense, when I pushed it down into the dust below, found no torrent of Fire mana from a pyroclastic flow, or any other sign of vulcanism. Something else had created this blast.
The devastation had erased the demonic army. I had no doubt that, beneath the opaque cloud and the still-settling rubble, the strongest demons were still alive, if they had come out of the mines at all. More likely, they were trapped inside the mines with the remaining demonic army, sealed in by the landslide. Typically, the initial waves are not the strongest demons. Normally cowards by nature, most demon commanders will send out herds of cannon fodder for the first assault while they themselves hang behind and watch their minions discover the locations of the most powerful enemies.
My [Blood Tracker] bat no longer showed the demons marching forward, of course. The exits were completely blocked, and the mines were currently echoing with loud cries of confusion as they struggled to understand what had just happened.
Concluding that those retreating mortal auras had to have something to do with this strange turn of events, I descended upon a large group of them that was already gathered at the ridge crest. I had Durandal gripped in one hand and my fan in the other, and my wings had a glowing light from the [Purification] that I was still maintaining, so I imagine I looked more than a little threatening.
The sight I beheld before me was one I never expected to see. A line of dwarven warriors, fully kitted out in armor, shields and axes, stood in vanguard protecting a group of dwarven females in mage robes.
A line of dwarven crossbowmen had me in their sights, but as I approached, one of the women yelled something, followed by an gray-bearded man with fancier armor barking an order. The crossbows lowered as the elderly man raised empty hands in a gesture of peace.
“Finnur Askson greets the fair knight!” he declared in a voice that sounded a lot stouter than he looked. “My troops and I have no quarrel with you.”
“I am Tiana of the High Forest,” I replied with a raised voice, since I was still several paces away. “If my allies below have you to thank for this landslide, then I offer my gratitude.”
The eyes of the dwarves facing me looked a bit awestruck, I realized, but the general (or whatever his rank was) maintained his dignified stance, crossing his arms.
“We will not fight beyond this, other than to keep any surviving demons from approaching our lands. The Mountain King sends her thanks for your warning.”
When we departed the dwarven highway, I had left a message for the local chieftain, warning about the demon army in the mines and strongly advising them to seal their entrances. After all, other than trade and wanderlust, dwarves have no particular need to come to the surface at all.
Apparently, the local monarch had chosen to take a more proactive approach to defense.
Fan Li was urging me to get done and hurry to Ged. I decided to wrap it up without any further ceremony.
“Pass my gratitude and the gratitude of my king on to Her Majesty, then. This action has doubtless saved many of his troops’ lives. I bid you Good Day.”
As I turned and flew in Ged’s direction, I became conscious of why Fan Li was worried. Trisiagga had again spoken in Regari, and it wasn’t a conversation with her lord. The translation gave the full story.
“Attack! No further delay! Attack the prince now!”
I poured on the speed, not willing to waste any more time on Trisiagga. Killing her would be good, but Ged’s safety was my top priority. She wasn’t flying in his direction, and I had no idea who she was giving orders to, so my only choice was to reach the target first.
But Trisiagga had other ideas, and she had me in her sights as I sprinted across the landscape. A flurry of spear-like demonic mana missiles came flying at me as she intercepted my path, since I had completely forgotten to cloak in my haste.
A thick [Blood Mist] poured out, enveloping me before I could even think to do so. It shocked me with the sheer volume it filled. Durandal must have sensed it as an attack, because [Fortress of Eurybia] blossomed into existence around me.
“Burn you and whatever trick you pulled, doing that to My Lord’s army!” she screamed as she charged at me.
I don’t think she was thinking strategically anymore. She was just a missile of rage, with me as its target. I was still filled with [Purification], my mind long gone numb to the flames my body was feeling from it. I pointed Durandal at her and let it pour through him, becoming a gout of Holy fire aimed at her like a flamethrower.
A demonic shield blossomed into existence, taking the majority of the blast, but it crumbled toward the end of the eruption, and the last of the flames scorched her.
A hideous shriek ripped from her lungs, and her fairy knight disguise crumbled. At last, she appeared as she ought to, her halo of blonde hair cascading over tan skin decorated with various tattoos. Her fairy knight armor had been real, so it did not change, but several jewelry items now appeared, armbands and anklets with demonic auras, along with a waist chain with a large pendant.
“You were lucky before, but not this time!” she crowed as she recovered. “My Lord didn’t expect so much from you last time, so he didn’t give me the tools I needed to deal with you!”
“Ah, is that so? I’ve picked up a few new tricks, too,” I answered with a disinterested tone as I pointed Durandal again, this time with a two-handed grip.
“[Holy Smite]!” I intoned.
The great Magic Circle of Earth formed with Durandal as its axis, and a great fist of Earth blossomed. Trisiagga guessed what sort of attack was coming and dodged, but Fan Li adjusted its trajectory with Will after the fist launched.
It caught her mid-air and blasted her backward.
But she was already recovering control of her flight, protected from Gaia’s mighty fist by some device, even as she arced through the air. I decided to switch to Eurybia’s attack, pouring Wind into Durandal in order to amplify it as much as he could manage.
“[Holy Rend]!” I yelled as I slashed the air with the same two-handed grip as a wide-eyed Trisiagga turned to face me.
A massive [Wind Scythe] ripped outward at her. Again she dodged, and again, Fan Li maneuvered it for me. Even as she raised her spear and cast a new demonic shield, it veered and then veered again, coming at her from the side.
Her shield crumbled again, and now she fled. I followed, pouring on as much speed as I could as I chased her, turning the blade sideways, holding it by the blade and the grip. It was time for Oranos’s attack.
Images came to me from Sirth’s Wind spirits, of what was going on around Ged. The remains of the aerial wave had suddenly turned and converged upon his command group, and in particular, they were now confronting a core group of flying demons. At its center, to my horror, a high-level demon riding a zilant was bearing down on him. I couldn’t be sure, using the Wind spirit senses instead of my fairy sense, but from the strength of its aura, it was either a fiend or another asura.
It had been hiding within the ‘ineffectual’ aerial attack this entire time, waiting for a moment when Ged’s forces were spread too far and the fairy knights were preoccupied. Why it had held back until now, I couldn’t imagine, but perhaps Trisiagga, oppressed by explosions, landslides and other surprises, had missed her opportunity earlier to give the order.
But this moment was good enough. Everyone was too far away. Only Ged’s security detail stood ready to face it.
For an awful moment, seeing that incoming zilant-riding higher demon, I had the firm conviction, I’m too late. Ged’s about to die.
Trisiagga couldn’t get in my way now. I turned to make the fastest aerial sprint of my life in that direction, determined to either protect Ged or avenge him. But before I even began, the images from the Wind spirits told an even more unexpected story.
Mirna, the mysterious non-human who had been staying near Ged’s side since my warnings last night, stripped off her hooded cloak, and, to my astonishment, her uniform melted away like a fairy dropping her raiment.
However, rather than bare skin, the vanishing clothes revealed a coat of scales. Her chest and hair also disappeared, while massive leathery wings sprouted from her back.
Older fairies have other forms they take, like dolphins or horses or birds. Elders are the same. But no fairy ever took the form I was seeing.
She didn’t merely grow wings. Her body expanded, becoming thick and muscular as she leapt into the air. Her arms grew into velociraptor forelimbs and her legs grew massive, muscular thighs and dragon-like talons to complement the draconian tail now trailing her.
Reptilian Mirna and the zilant collided, and her fore-talons snared it by the throat, claws digging into the flesh as she abruptly flew upward, yanking the beast along with her. The demon riding it fell off, or perhaps it actually bailed out on purpose. It was already clear that his mount was about to die.
She tossed the corpse of the massive flying snake aside and dove after the falling demon. He was using magic to arrange a safe landing, but his safety was by no means assured with the leathery predator already descending upon him.
Three thoughts flashed through my awestruck mind.
Mirna is a dragonkin.
Dragonkin supposedly went extinct during the Elder-Demon war.
It doesn’t matter. She’s protecting Ged, so it’s fine.
Deciding I only needed needed to understand that much for the time being, I turned my attention back to Trisiagga. Seeing me focus once more upon her, the demoness turned and fled again.
“[Holy Strike!]” I called out. The formation of Aether formed, the blade becoming the back end of a magic arbalest, the bolt forming along in front of me. The weapon fired and disappeared as the bolt flew, a [Magic Arrow] the size of a knight’s lance, streaking through the air at the terrified demon.
Trisiagga wasn’t maneuvering, so Fan Li didn’t need to steer. Instead, she used Will to add to its speed. The Aether weapon nailed the demoness as I poured on speed in pursuit.