“Well, this is going well.” Blastwave muttered, sending a wave of heat out of her hands that melted the guns that a squad of Sayleen soldiers was pointing in her direction. “Chad, how's our flank looking?”
“Bad.” Chad shook his head, and clenched his fists together. Wave felt her hair caught in the backwash as a rush of air slammed down a hallway, sending soldiers toppling over each other. “But I've got it covered.” The air around him shimmered with heat, strong enough that the paint on the walls was melting and running to pool around their feet. Blastwave silently thanked her powers for giving her the ability to stand as close to him as she could without feeling it, as she sent off a second burst of energy. “I think the endless waves of soldiers are starting to die down.” He added. “Lucky and Jack must have succeeded.”
“Maybe.” Wave frowned, looking over her shoulder. Down the hall, Nightshade and Timebender were racing back and forth, slamming into enemies as they tried to push towards the portal room. “But why aren't they back yet?”
Not far away, laser fire filled the corridor, as a dozen soldiers opened fire at once. Handyman, covering behind a door, tossed one of his few remaining grenades, and the laser fire sputtered to a halt as it was swallowed by a brilliant red explosion of energy. “You're wasting my time, Kyall!” He said, pulling out another grenade as he scanned the room he was in. It had been someone's office, before Malefico was closed down, and Jhim took additional cover behind a desk, rubbing at the carpet thoughtfully with his foot. “By now, the portal's been disabled. You might as well give up.”
“We can always re-enable it.” Kyall sneered, waving his men forwards. He drew his own pistol, and strode towards the office. “That's something you never seemed to understand about the Varrn. We aren't quitters, Carath.”
“No, you certainly aren't that.” Jhim muttered, shifting the focus on his laser as he tossed his second grenade. Kyall backpedalled as the hallway exploded into red fury again. Raising his voice, Handyman yelled, “Why don't you come in here and face me alone, Housemaster? Afraid your artificers aren't up to the job of fighting me?”
“Are you challenging me to a Trial of Honor, Artificer Jhim?” Kyall raised a hand, watching the door, as his soldiers filled the hallway behind him. “My champion against you, with the fate of our invasion resting in the balance?”
“I am.” Jhim called back.
“That's rather a shame.” Kyall rolled his eyes. “The Trials are over and done with, boy. In case you had someone forgotten, they were one of the root causes of our fury with your Adari dynasty.” His hand snapped down, and the soldiers began to hustle forwards, creating a shield between Kyall and the office, readying their weapons. “The days when champions determine the fate of our world is over. War is the new tradition of Sayleen.”
The soldiers charged forwards into the room, firing wildly. In that moment, the floor behind Kyall erupted, and Jhim swung up out of it, one hand holding his laser pistol and the other holding his grapple-gun. The wire stretched down, through the hole in the floor and across the roof of the level below, to where it was anchored in the desk. He grinned viciously, placing the gun at the back of Kyall's neck. “In that case, your highness, consider yourself a prisoner of war.” He said.
Kyall froze. The soldiers ahead of him were spinning around, raising their guns, and Jhim shook his head. “I wouldn't.” He suggested. “Stand down. This invasion is over.”
“Sir?” One soldier asked uncertainly.
Kyall's eyes blazed with rage. “Stand down… for the moment.” He spat out. “This isn't over, Jhim.”
“No, I'm afraid that you're right. But it's over for you and your men.” Jhim answered. He let his grapple-gun fall, triggering his comm. “Blastwave, this is Handyman. I have the enemy commander, and he's with a squad of troops. Get over here and take charge.”
“On the way.” Blastwave answered. “We have things under control here, I think. No more soldiers coming through, and the reinforcements that the Varrn sent to the gate were stopped.”
Jhim smiled, looking at his captive. “There you go, Kyall. Let's go and say hi to Lucky.”
In the portal room, Lucky looked at the knives of magic that his enemy was pointing at him, and shook his head. “It's not going to work, Max. You're running out of steam.”
Malleus hesitated, and frowned at Lucky. “What the hell are you talking about?” He said, hand raised to deliver a killing blow.
“Your magic. It's wearing thin.” Lucky smiled, pointing at the smoke coiled over Malleus's head. “I'd guess that it's interacting badly with the room's psicrystals, but it could just be that the psychic interference from all of the ports that have been coming through here is wearing you down.”
“That… that doesn't even make sense.” Malleus snarled. “No more talking, Lucky.” His hand snapped down, and the knives flew through the air towards Lucky. Lucky backflipped away, tossing a grenade at the ground in front of him. The resulting explosion tore through the smoke, and the knives dissolved into a noxious-smelling cloud that drove Malleus backwards.
“What… this is impossible!” He yelled, waving a hand. Purple light pushed the smoke aside, clearing a path between himself and Lucky, and he strode forwards. “What have you done?!”
“Nothing.” Lucky laughed. “Well, not exactly nothing. I thought that you knew – when magic and technology clash, the new displaces the old. It's a fundamental narrative law.”
“It is not!” Malleus growled, bringing his hands together. Purple light, answering his unspoken command, pulsed inwards from the corridor, scything towards Lucky, who easily ducked under a command board and came up the other side.
“It is since yesterday, when Doctor Ecchs altered things so that he could fight Weltgeist more effectively.” Lucky answered innocently, dancing towards the door.
Malleus stopped dead, staring at Lucky. “He what?” He said, stunned.
Lucky nodded. “Yeah. We knew, because it's my powers. Didn't you?”
Malleus clenched his teeth. “Narrative law is not absolute. I can still destroy you!”
“Probably. But there are three more laws you should know, first.” Lucky said. “First, revenge never pays. Secondly, when people are talking, they aren't dying. And finally, the longer you let someone speak, the more likely they are to let you explode.”
Malleus's eyes widened. “Wha…!” He started. Lucky raised a hand, waving, and opened it to reveal a set of grenade pins.
“I made that last one up.” He admitted, as every non-critical inch of the control room exploded at once. Malleus roared in rage, light gathering to keep him aloft, but a stray piece of masonry caught him on the head, and he crashed to the ground. Smoke and ash filled the room, and Lucky coughed, peering down through the murk.
“Lucky! Is everything alright!” Timebender raced down the corridor, looking worried.
“All good.” Lucky coughed, turning to face her, his uniform soot-stained and torn. “Just had a little run-in with Malleus Kaine. Turns out, enough narrative can beat magic.”
Timebender shook her head. “You look like hell. Why didn't you get to safety.”
“Ecchs' narrative rewards gloating before your enemy is defeated.” Lucky answered.
“Of course it does.” Timebender sighed.
“Is Jack okay? He dived into the mirrors, but…”
“He's good. He's back with Blastwave and Chad – they're rounding up the Sayleen, and holding off Ecchs' troops. Nightshade and Handyman are on the way upstairs – I said I'd grab you and meet them.”
“Great.” Lucky nodded, smile fading. “Let's go get Doctor Ecchs.”