Worth the Candle, Ch 230: The Palace

Fel Seed’s palace wasn’t biological in nature, not built with bricks of bone and beams of muscle. In the session I’d run, that had been improvisation on the part of the players, a suggestion that I ran with because it was better than what I had thought up on my own. There was a red carpet laid out for us, and it very much appeared to be actual carpet rather than bits of tongue or something.

“I’m worried about how far down the FSP we are,” said Raven. “We’re into contingencies on contingencies. And we don’t actually have a good plan to beat Fel Seed, not if he’s as unbeatable as promised.”

“I can see the doorway,” said Bethel. “It’s down deep, and highly structured. Juniper, you’ll need to confirm with star magic once we’re there.”

“Is there a lock?” asked Pallida. “Because if there’s not, you can stick me in with the comatose chicks. I’m not even an actual member of this party.”

“Unclear if there’s a lock,” said Bethel. “But it does seem like what we’re here for.”

“The FSP says to go see Fel Seed,” I said, glancing at Amaryllis. “But I’m not sure that’s wise.”

“Every time we’ve tried to circumvent his will, he’s pulled out the big guns,” said Amaryllis. “There’s a good chance that if we try to go there without the final showdown, he’ll void bomb us, or something worse.”

“You’re engaging in religious thinking,” said Valencia. “I won’t say that it’s wrong, but you have this idea in your head of an all-powerful god who will do what he wants regardless of what you think, feel, or do, and that’s impacting how you think about Fel Seed.”

“Well, so long as I’m not wrong,” said Amaryllis.

We continued on. We were in Fel Seed’s domain, undoubtedly under his watchful eye, compelled to walk this path by the implication of overwhelming violence. There was a grim inevitability to it. We all knew there was a good chance we were walking to our deaths, or that someone would die. There was no grand plan for defeating Fel Seed, because the level he existed on, at least in my mind, was one where clever tricks and last minute solutions simply didn’t work. We had those tricks, we would try them, but I had no faith in them. There was nothing clearly and obviously good about anything we were walking in with.

I looked over at the locus. She barely fit within the hall. There was a faint disgust on her face, but it was hard to read her expressions in the best of circumstances. I wished that we’d gotten some armor for her or something, but I doubted that she’d have deigned to wear it. If Bethel couldn’t overpower Fel Seed, then the locus was our next best shot. Fel Seed cheated, or at least was expected to, and the locus had cheats of her own.

It took us some time to get to the throne room, in part because the palace was huge, in part because we weren’t rushing it.

When we opened the final set of doors, Fel Seed was sitting there on his enormous gilded throne, propping his head up with one hand. The other was idly pushing the pommel of a sword from side to side, with the point of it digging into the stone. The blade had a blue glow around it, and while I couldn’t quite see what was reflected in the mirror finish, I had a hunch that it wasn’t reality as I knew it. There was no one else with him, just the entity himself, waiting for us. Tall pillars, each as thick around as a car, went up to a high ceiling, but there was no place to hide tricks unless they were under the floor or inside the pillars themselves. It was a wide, open area, just the kind that you’d pick for a boss fight.

I’d never described Fel Seed, during the one session where he’d appeared. I’d been too angry, too full of emotion. The Fel Seed that sat in front of us was just as I’d imagined him though, tall and slightly red-hued, physical perfection, with all the monstrosity reserved for his creations. He had a crown of horns, and claws instead of nails, but for all that he was human enough, like a human might imagine himself. He was naked, making no effort whatsoever to cover himself.

He looked like me. I don’t know if that was quite what I had imagined, when I’d thought him up, but the resemblance was undeniable.

He got up from his throne and smiled at us, lifting his sword up and swinging it once through the air.

“Juniper, was it?” he asked.

“You don’t know me?” I asked back. We were pretty far away from each other, talking across the length of the expansive throne room, but I was certain that he could blink forward to be standing next to me in just a moment. Then we would fight, and I would lose.

“I know of you. It’s not everyday someone comes into my domain,” he replied. “I broke out the red carpet for you. I hope it was appreciated.” He had a wide grin, and his hand never left his sword, though it hadn’t gone into a position to threaten us.

“Where’d you get the sword?” I asked.

He held it up, gazing at himself in the false reflection. “You’re starting to bore me,” he said. He flipped the sword around with a practiced motion and pointed it at the locus. “You brought your own little god.”

I wanted to say something heroic, to call him on his shit or tell him that we were going to kill him, but I was afraid. All of the puns I’d prepared seemed to leave a bad taste in my mouth, not that I was supposed to start rattling off a list of puns. Maybe that was the point of the gauntlet of grotesqueries we’d gone through, to sap me of any will to make jokes.

“What will it take for us to pass through?” I asked.

“You can go,” said Fel Seed. “Leave the girls.”

“Women,” I said, gritting my teeth slightly.

“Take the deal,” said Amaryllis.

“Fuuuuuck that,” said little Pallida.

“He wouldn’t keep a deal,” I said.

“Am I not known for keeping deals?” asked Fel Seed. “Betrayal, now that’s Doris’ bag, isn’t it? I’ve heard that she’s taken a turn, thanks to you.” He clucked his tongue and looked at Amaryllis. “Word travels through the grapevine.” He looked back at me. “The second coming of Uther, they call you.”

I stayed silent. The battle was going to start, and I still didn’t know his weakness. He was talking more than I had expected, but Fel Seed was a little bit of a talker. Part of it was wanting to savor the kill, part of it was wanting to inflict pain and exercise power in a more diplomatic way.

“One of the great regrets in my life is that I just missed Uther,” said Fel Seed. He pointed the sword into the ground and rested both his hands on top of the pommel.

“You wanted to see how you stacked up next to him?” asked Amaryllis.

“Oh, no,” said Fel Seed. “He would have stood as little of a chance as you do, even with your little god.” He nodded in the direction of the locus. “I’d have loved to have killed him. There’s something about a strong man slowly dying that I love.”

Amaryllis gave me a look. “Take the deal, Juniper.”

“No,” I said. I hadn’t yet called my sword to my hand, but I could feel it itching.

“I’d listen to your wife, Juniper,” said Fel Seed. “I do honor my deals.”

“You don’t,” I said. “You trick people. You fake weakness so that they’ll attack, then turn on them.”

Fel Seed grinned at me. “You’re considering it. You’re thinking that perhaps it would be worth it. The things you say now are your way of allowing yourself to be convinced.”

“You have no incentive to offer a deal,” I said. “It’s all part of the game to you, a way to crush my spirit before you kill me. And if there is incentive, then you actually do think that I could kill you, in which case, I should try.”

“Such a low opinion of me,” said Fel Seed. “Was it seeing your wife raped that did it?”

“It wasn’t her,” I said.

“True,” he replied. “I suppose I’ll have to do it for real.”

Little Pallida stepped forward. “Are we going to kill this chucklefuck or what?”

“Take the deal,” said Amaryllis. “Go complete the mission. If it’s a question of whether you’ll sacrifice us for the greater good —”

“No,” I said. “There’s another play. I don’t think it will work, but it’s worth a try.”

“Okay,” said Amaryllis. I knew that there were plenty of grenades she was willing to jump on, and being repeatedly violated by Fel Seed, even incubating his monstrosities, was something she would do without question, if she thought that it would get us to the good ending. Of course, she was missing that any world where that happened wouldn’t be the good ending.

“There’s something you need to understand about the nature of the world,” I said. “We’re all here at the pleasure of a higher power. Here to —” I thought back on the thirty-two miles of gore we’d walked through. “Here to live, to have fun, to be entertainment of some kind. It’s all got to come to an end though. All that time that Uther has been alive, and the few months that I’ve been here, all of that is the point of this world. The deal is this: if you let us through, then I’ll make sure you have a life in the remade world.”

He stared at me for a moment.

The attack came at the speed of light. The only way I would have been able to block or dodge was if I had some kind of precognitive ability. Instead, the sword bounced off Grak’s ward, and Fel Seed flashed back to where he was.

“Just testing,” he said, smiling. “Fancy warding.”

I was confident that he could get through. Maybe he could change the entad signature of the vorpal blade, or maybe he could make something wardproof, or maybe he’d just use something that Grak couldn’t ward against. He had void weapons, lots of them, and my guess was that he had a gun or bomb hidden somewhere, just in case he needed it. If he could move with that speed, it almost didn’t matter.

“It looks like we’re going to have to fight,” said Amaryllis.

“Oh, it won’t be much of a fight,” replied Fel Seed.

He attacked again, slow and languid by the standards of the speed he’d used earlier, and I had just enough time to pull out a unicorn bone and start burning it.

I could feel the weight of the vorpal blade as it struck Grak’s ward, the sheer energy of it, and the ward fell to pieces, broken apart at its natural joints. The second attack followed the first, not from the sword, but from Fel Seed himself, firing off pieces of himself at us, wriggling bits of finger and flapping pieces of flesh. I sent out a sterilizing blast of fire, a combination of fire magic to kickstart oxidation and rune magic to raise the temperature, but while it killed the projectiles, it was fruitless. The air was undoubtedly full of spores, and we were all sealed as much as we possibly could be.

Raven opened up a specially prepared book, blasting him with every high-powered meme we had, and he didn’t so much as blink.

I attacked back, my sword in my hand with a thought. I had swapped the reflection sword for something with a bit more brute strength, one that was magically sharpened, capable of passing straight through almost any armor. It didn’t seem to work on Fel Seed though, as his biology was strange enough that whatever heuristics the sword was using didn’t count as armor. Instead, it just took a chip from the skin over his hardened muscles which regrew in an instant.

He killed Raven, gripping her force field helm and twisting it all the way around, not seeming to feel any resistance. Pallida was next, her wards shattered by the vorpal blade. She was grabbed around the torso by a long tentacle and dashed against one of the pillars, sheared in half by the force. In my mind’s eye I recalled seeing the same thing on my first day in Aerb, a girl hitting the side of a dumpster.

Bethel sprang forward, out of Valencia’s grip, turned to cloth, and wrapped herself around the vorpal blade. It took a moment to realize that I knew that entad, though I’d never seen it used before; it was the dress that Zinnia had used to wrap up Raven so they could make their escape. Wrapping completely around the sword would have allowed Bethel to use the power, but she went a step further, eating it entirely, then zipping away, having deprived Fel Seed of his weapon.

I wasn’t able to process it all in the moment. Everything was happening in fractions of seconds, Grak doing something with his wards, probably an annihilation attack, Valencia bounding away to a safe distance, Amaryllis moving to flank — we’d trained and practiced together, but there was no real way to prepare for Fel Seed, not even if we’d assumed he was limited in his abilities.

I dropped my own sword and Bethel zipped to my hand in the form of a sword, a moment of uncomfortability at holding her quickly washed away. Short of a nuclear weapon or antimatter runebomb, I was fairly sure that Bethel was the most powerful weapon of destruction on Aerb, and unlike Onion’s stupidly powerful sword, she wasn’t limited to one effect at a time.

When I sliced Bethel through the air, there was a crackle of ripped molecules and a gout of plasma, the combined effects of who-knew-what powers ripping the very air apart. I was faster, holding Bethel, stronger and more sure of myself, with what felt like a minor ability to see things before they happened. Time was slowed to a tenth its usual speed, and when the blade made contact, time seemed to stop. I gave over a part of myself, only a sliver.

Critical hit!

When I struck Fel Seed, he exploded outward, torn apart at the seams, pieces of limbs and fingers flying backward and clattering against the walls, bones slipping free of their surrounding muscles, all of his pieces wetly slapping around.

For a moment, just a moment, I thought maybe that had actually worked.

There was no message of defeat.

The doors behind us were slammed open, and Fel Seed was standing there, as though he hadn’t just been killed.

“Let’s try that again, shall we?” he grinned.

I let go of the timeline and looped backward just as he was ripping through Amaryllis.

I felt fatigued even with the timeline restarted, reduced by what the vorpal sword had taken from me. Of course blasting him apart hadn’t actually killed him, the being we’d seen was just an avatar. But if that hadn’t worked, hadn’t even bought us a reprieve, I had no idea what would.

The second attempt went like the first, with no sign that Fel Seed was doing anything differently, no awareness that time was looping. The vorpal blade struck against Grak’s ward, breaking it, and I didn’t bother trying to counter his biological attack when he made it. Instead I called to Bethel, shouting for her to avoid the sword, to pick us up instead. She did as she was instructed, zipping around the room, with Valencia gone in an instant, then Raven, who just avoided having her head twisted off, Amaryllis, Pallida, Grak, and finally, myself. The last thing I saw was the locus, which was just standing there, watching, as she had been the entire time, not lifting a finger to help us, but also not the focus of Fel Seed’s attention.

In an instant I was elsewhere, facing an enormous door, with the others around me. The order of pickup and dropoff had been ordained by the FSP, and Pallida was first out, looking at the door that blocked our path. It was large and ornate, the focal point of the room, with a bas relief on the side of it, too intricate and detailed for me to take it in, not when Fel Seed was surely coming for us, if he wasn’t already —

And then there he was, coming through a side door, and that was surely an affectation too, something he did because he felt like it, or because it helped to maintain some plausible deniability about the scope of his powers.

I popped a metal squirt gun out from my personal extra dimensional storage and sprayed him with fluoroantimonic acid. It was the deadliest acid I knew of, and it melted away at him almost at once, helped along by a liberal application of fire magic to speed up the reactions. It actually worked, to the extent that it killed that particular body, but another came through the door right afterward and picked up the vorpal blade, which was completely unharmed, from the floor.

“Bethel, grab the vorpal blade,” I shouted as I switched to a different squirt gun, this one with the chlorine trifluoride, the same chemical I’d used in the fight against Onion.

She went forward, grabbing it from him again, eating it again, both of them unaware that we’d done this before. This time though, Fel Seed held out a hand, and Bethel came to him, zipping to his hand and forming a blade there, the same one I’d used against him. The vorpal blade was his, tied to him more tightly than entad connections usually were. I made a mental note not to have her do that again.

“Pallida!” I screamed.

“High magic!” she screamed back. “It’s fucked!”

I glanced over and saw Grak there, trying to work his own magic to get us through the door, but I had no way to gauge whether or not he was anywhere close. If it needed star magic, then I was going to have to be the one to do it, and it might take hours, because star magic was glacially slow. Dilation would help, but —

My ability to hold the timeline was waning, and I made a judgment call, letting it loop back again.

Even if we got through the door, what good was that going to do us? Fel Seed could simply follow, unless he was prohibited by whatever force of the universe was responsible for exclusion zones (the Warden, presumably, if there really was a pantheon). It was our only hope though.

“Doorbreak,” I called out. “Back in a round.”

Bethel grabbed Grak and Pallida, scooping them up as Grak’s primary ward fell apart, then disappearing in a brief flash of light as she used one of her short-range movement options. Ten seconds wasn’t enough, but that was as far as I could stretch the time loop and still have time for a sentence of infodump, and even then, I wasn’t entirely sure that I could survive ten seconds toe-to-toe with Fel Seed.

I blasted him with vibration magic, a single pulse that used up almost all my breath, but it wasn’t strong enough to do anything but push him back and blast off most of his skin. I aimed a volley of gem magic at him, and it struck him squarely in the head, but I didn’t even know if that was where his brain was, if he had a brain. I had so much magic, but so little of it was at the power level I wanted it to be.

Raven stepped in to follow up on one of my attacks, slicing with her blade of stopped time, and to my surprise, she cleaved right through him, cutting him from his collar bone right down to his hip. Her seafoam green orbs sprang to life around her head, and as his body fell, she was already turning to the door, launching one of them squarely at him. He made no attempt at dodging, and when the orb burned a hole straight through the center of his chest, he collapsed to the floor, only for another of him to step into the room right afterward. He was smiling at us, not seeming to mind the ‘deaths’. He was playing with us, but that was fine, because it was buying us time for the doorbreak team to figure something out. The seconds seemed to be going by like minutes.

Raven’s second orb burned straight through another of his bodies, which again collapsed to the floor. When yet another body stepped through the door, she fired off the third and final orb, but this time he held up his hand, and though it shouldn’t have been remotely possible, he caught it. He smiled at us for a second, enjoying it, and then flicked it back at Raven. It traveled at triple the speed it had gone at him with, straight through Raven’s head, leaving a gaping hole where the center of her face had been.

It was down to me, Valencia, and Amaryllis. I didn’t know how many seconds we had left before the doorbreak team would be back, but I was already feeling the strain on the loop, and the bone didn’t have much power left in it. We had more of them, but we were making no progress, finding no weaknesses. All that was happening was that I was getting an ever-lengthening list of things that didn’t work and different ways he could and would blatantly cheat.

The locus still hadn’t done anything.

Amaryllis had heard my instruction to the doorbreak team, and she moved in Fel Seed’s way as soon as Raven dropped. She was sacrificing herself, at least in this one instance, so that I might be able to hear the answer. She was decked out in entads, and when Fel Seed attacked, she exploded into a cloud of flower petals, forming back up into herself behind him, then attacking with a sword that flashed with lightning when it struck him. Black smoke rose from his body, but it didn’t kill him, and he whipped around to face her, catching her in the head with a furious right hook that smashed against her personal ward and knocked her off-balance, even with her stilling it. His second attack followed right after, and this time the wards didn’t seem to matter to him, because he wrapped a thick flap of flesh around her midsection and started to squeeze. She should have been able to stop it, or just ignore it, she had all kinds of defenses, and no way did I accept that mere flesh was strong enough to defeat her, but Fel Seed didn’t play by the rules. He squeezed tight and her midsection gave way, causing her top half to topple down to the ground with a splatter of viscera.

Bethel returned to us, crashing up through the floor, and spat out a sentence so fast that I almost had trouble following. “Door locked, triple protection, high magic, password or key.”

I reset the loop for a final time, dropping the bone as soon as I did, then pulling another one from the same extradimensional space. This loop was later, after the vorpal sword had broken Grak’s major wards, but I was hoping that we weren’t past the point of no return. There were limits to how much the micro time loops actually helped us, and there was a cost, beyond just the bones, because I needed to spend a thread on it and hold onto the bone.

“Door, now,” I called to Bethel, and she took me, leaving the others behind.

A moment later I was standing in front of the door, looking at the relief on it. I spent a few precious seconds staring at it, trying to quickly make sense of the work of art, hoping it was a clue. It reminded me of the one we’d seen on the front of Kuum Doona, the representation of Uther’s life, but while the art style might have been similar, the subject matter was quite different. It showed stairs, a set of them leading upward, growing smaller as they did, with all manner of beasts at the bottom, and landings along the way. I recognized most of it, because I had spent a few weeks designing it all.

There shouldn’t have been a password, nor a key, none of that was part of my design. Really, it shouldn’t have connected to Aerb at all.

“Password,” I called out. “Open sesame.” I would have been upset if that had worked. “6aUaQ1gF,” I said. It would have been fucking stupid if my default password had worked, but seemed like something the Dungeon Master might have done. “Bethel, be a key.”

There was a moment of hesitation, but she zipped forward all the same, attacking the door, trying to find some hidden crevice she could wedge herself into. The Anyblade could be used as a key, and Bethel had both that ability and others, but there was no obvious keyhole, no place you could even put a key. It was likely that she’d done this in the other timeline, and given that the old loop had ended, she should have the memories, but as I watched her probe, it was clear she had no better idea what she was supposed to be doing than I did. They would have already tried void weapons to break through, and if they weren’t mentioning them, then they’d been found wanting.

I wracked my brain trying to think about what the key would be, what keys I had heard of, what passwords I had heard, things from earlier that there could be a callback to, some clever or extremely unclever way of solving the riddle. I thought about the teleportation key, which Amaryllis had, and resolved to get that in the next go around. I called out a few variations on the keyring that we’d used before. I thought briefly about the achievement, ‘A Key For Seven Locks’, but the phrase seemed meaningless in this context. Had this door been here in Uther’s time? How had he managed to open it? It felt like there was something I was missing, some hint or clue. Or maybe it was a joke, or a pun, or a fucking anagram, and I just wasn’t in the right mindset to latch onto it.

Fel Seed appeared at the doorway, holding the heads of my companions by their hair, their bodies missing. He himself was drenched in blood and smiling.

I ended the loop and returned to the moment of the ward being cut by the vorpal blade. I needed more time, more firepower, more than just seconds of frantically trying to figure something out.

“Bethel, dilation one,” I called. Time, at least, I could handle.

She zipped around, picking up everyone but me and the locus.

The time dilation effect inside Bethel wouldn’t work on me, not with the unicorn bone: I would be limited to the same subjective loop duration. For everyone else though, dilation would work, and they had memories of the first set of loops. For every second that I held out, I was giving them something like an hour of time to think things through, to go over their memories of the door, something that would help us. I had faith in them. I could go in too, outside the loop, and hope that I could think of something, especially something specific to me, but that was more costly. I needed to give them a chance. All I had to do was hold against Fel Seed.

“You’re doing something with time,” he said, swinging his sword up and resting it against his shoulder. It should have been cutting into him, but he showed no reaction.

“You’re not going to fight me?” I asked, holding my sword ready in front of me.

“I’ll fight you when it matters,” he replied. “Take all the time you need.”

No one had come out of Bethel, who was hovering nearby, the size of a pin. I held on as long as I could, but they didn’t come out, which had to have meant that they hadn’t found an answer, or even anything they thought had a shot of working. I’d get the answers when the loop set was finally finished and all those memories came crashing back together.

“Bethel, dilation two,” I called as the loop restarted.

“You’re doing something with time,” said Fel Seed once everyone was collected.

“What’s behind the door downstairs?” I asked. If he didn’t know we were trying to go there from the previous loop set, he would know from this one.

“If only I knew,” he sighed. He was speaking in a languid way, as though we weren’t constrained by the urgent passing of seconds.

“We need —” I began, but I could feel the tug of the loop, and let it end.

“Bethel, dilation three,” I shouted as the vorpal sword went through Grak’s ward.

“You’re doing something with time,” said Fel Seed, resting the vorpal sword against his shoulder once more.

“We don’t want to fight you,” I said. “We just want to get through the door.”

“It’s impossible,” he said. “I’ve tried.” He pointed his sword at my hand, which was holding the unicorn bone. “As soon as you’re done with that, I’m chopping your arm off.”

I didn’t acknowledge him. There wasn’t any point. I was hoping that the repeated loops were actually helping things, that some progress was being made, but as the seconds burned away, I was losing hope. If they had something, they would be trying it. Grak had gotten a good look at the door in the previous loop set, Pallida had touched it, there had to be something, but we were here, stalled out, and Fel Seed was going to kill us.

The loop reset, and I ended it again, as soon as I could, right as the vorpal blade was going through Grak’s ward. I was already pulling a third unicorn bone from extradimensional space when Fel Seed’s sword flicked forward, thrown, and sliced off my arm at the shoulder. I’d tried to still the attack, but that had done nothing, either because of the blade, or something Fel Seed had done, or just because it was a cheat.

“Amaryllis, sitrep!” I called.

“Doorbreak!” she called out to the team, and Bethel began the same series of pickups and dropoffs that she’d done before. I was thankful for the FSP, which we were far down, because at least some of this had been mapped out ahead of time.

Every fucking loop we’d had someone die, and my arm had been chopped off, along with my access to the relevant extradimensional space. If there was a plan, I didn’t know it.

The loops were safe, and we were now well outside of them.

Fel Seed reached out for Raven, likely hoping to twist her head off again. I moved in, using blood magic to stop the flow of blood from my left arm, and moved to hack at the muscular appendage he was reaching for her with, but I was too late.

That was when the locus, finally, stepped in.

I’d never thought of deer as being biting animals, but the locus brought her mouth down on Fel Seed’s appendage, then pulled with a power that I hadn’t thought she had. The appendage ripped apart, crumpling, and Raven cut away what remained on her.

The locus faced down Fel Seed for a moment, who was rapidly regrowing what he’d lost. He was sans sword, which he’d thrown to take my arm off, but I didn’t think that made him substantially less dangerous. The locus just didn’t look particularly threatening, even with her large size.

Her fur momentarily glowed, and then she opened her mouth to let out a gout of lightning as thick as my arm. When it hit Fel Seed, he instantly vaporized, in a way that I was pretty sure wouldn’t have happened with real lightning, but I wasn’t about to complain.

“Sitrep,” I said to Amaryllis as we all turned to face the door.

“There are things to try,” said Amaryllis. “Retreat is one of them.”

“Retreat?” I asked.

The locus stepped forward to meet Fel Seed, and they wrestled together for a moment, with him trying to grapple her. He managed to get on her back, away from her head, and her fur stood up on end. I was worried for her, but the fur shot out like long spikes, lancing straight through him in hundreds of places, and he fell to the ground as another body came in through the door. The locus had a long scratch on her flank, and as good as she’d done, I was sure she was going to be worn down over time.

“The door needs parts,” said Amaryllis, yelling over the sound of the fight. Raven had moved to join, fearless despite how many deaths she’d experienced. “It needs Pallida, Grak, star magic, but something else as well, a key we don’t have, a password we don’t know. I prepared a dictionary attack, but —”

Fel Seed had gotten tossed off the locus and towards us, and I ducked beneath him as he twisted around in the air with inhuman grace. I blasted him with vibration magic to get him away, then followed it up by bringing out some of the acid again, which had worked well enough the first time. From the sounds behind me though, he’d elected to stop playing around, and was no longer pretending that he was limited to one avatar at a time. They were streaming into the room, dogpiling the locus, and Raven was in among them, hacking away at them, but it was only a matter of time before she got killed again, this time for good.

Bethel returned to us and unceremoniously dumped out Grak and Pallida, both of whom were heavily bleeding. Something had happened to Pallida’s eye, and Grak wasn’t moving.

“Sitrep!” I called.

“Nothing!” Pallida screamed. “No fucking time!”

Bethel had joined the fight and was letting loose. Wherever she passed, Fel Seed’s bodies died, sliced apart with precision cuts, burnt out by lasers, electrocuted, or simply blasted. She moved over to the locus, freeing it, and saved Raven’s life.

I looked to Amaryllis, and saw her giving me a tense stare. Retreat was on her mind, but I didn’t know what that would accomplish. Even if we were allowed to leave, the door would still be there, and if it needed all of us and something else, if it needed time, then we just weren’t going to be able to do it. We had to kill Fel Seed, and we had no way of doing that. He had no weaknesses, he just hadn’t been built with them.

“Full retreat!” I yelled, feeling in the pit of my stomach the weight of those words. All this for nothing, nothing gained, barely anything learned.

Bethel zipped through, grabbing Valencia, Amaryllis, and Grak, storing them away, but as she moved to Raven, Fel Seed reached out and grabbed her out of the air, nevermind that she should have been too fast for him.

She struggled against him, deploying all the tools at her disposal, but he was finally showing how much of his weakness was a lie. The cuts barely penetrated his skin, which healed instantly anyhow. The burns she inflicted were gone in a moment, leaving nothing but smoke in the air. She tried to grow, and he squeezed tight around her, tight enough that I started to hear things break or pop, which should have been impossible, except that he was cheating, making his flesh stronger than inviolability.

Left with no other options, she disappeared entirely.

Fel Seed went after me, moving faster than before, no longer holding back enough that I stood any chance. I unleashed what I had, tried to shoot him with the acid, but he regenerated through it, as I’d always known he could.

From the corner of my eye I saw the locus disappear and then reappear, teleporting over to first Pallida, then Raven, blinking in and out of existence, taking them with her. Had the locus understood the call to retreat? I hoped so, because she was my only way out unless Bethel came back.

The locus appeared in front of me, and I reached out with my one remaining hand. She was battered and beaten, bleeding from all kinds of wounds, and two of her six eyes were a bloody mess.

Fel Seed grabbed my wrist and yanked me to the side, away from the locus. There were maybe a dozen of him running around, and lots more corpses lying on the ground. The locus suffered another attack, then disappeared, blinking back into existence next to me. I was being held by Fel Seed though, and he pulled me away, breaking my remaining arm in the process as he twisted me.

A second time the locus took a hit and moved to some dimensional elsewhere, then appeared next to me. I lunged forward as best I could, and we made contact — but nothing happened. I looked to the side, and saw that Fel Seed hadn’t just grabbed me, he had run some kind of biological wire into me at the point where he’d cut off my arm.

I screamed and flared up blood magic, driving up the heat and trying to burn him out, but that was a fool’s errand. The locus was trying to help, but taking more attacks.

“Go!” I shouted at her, barely able to get the word out. Bad enough that I was going to die, but I didn’t want her to die too.

The locus stared at me for one long, forlorn second, then disappeared.

I was all alone with Fel Seed. He had me held in place.

If there was some sort of miracle from on high, now seemed like the time.

Instead, one of his bodies picked up the vorpal blade, which had been lying on the floor, and casually walked over to me. I tried to say something, but that only got me some fingers in my mouth, and when I tried to bite down on them, I chipped a tooth.

Calmly and casually, Fel Seed drew back with the vorpal blade and cut my head clean off.


Post Game Statistics

Playtime (objective): 172 days, 13 hours, 22 seconds
Playtime (subjective): 262 days, 0 hours, 11 seconds
Highest Level Earned: 19
Quests Completed: 29
Companion Quests Completed: 4
Enemies Killed: 421
Companions Acquired: 7
Exclusions Created: 2
Forge Frenzies: 0
Planes Visited: 3
World Explored: 0.0007%
Distance traveled: 497,931 miles
Steps taken: 1,032,071
Trains Taken: 1
Calories Consumed: 602,600
Fast Travel Used: 0
Save Games Loaded: 0

Achievement Unlocked: Game Over Man, Game Over

Achievement Unlocked: Helldiver

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Worth the Candle, Ch 230: The Palace

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