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Book 7, Chapter 84 - Clearing the Underground

 Greenland Soldiers stood in tight formation, firing their weapons into anything that got too close. Monsters were blown to pieces before they could do any damage. Pained cries echoed through the underground. Corpses were piled high and rivers of blood soaked the stone.

It was a cruel, unmitigated massacre. Luckily there was no one living here, otherwise the soldiers would have shot them down without a second thought. They showed no mercy to these supernatural and violent beasts.

But no matter how many they killed, more of these monsters kept coming. If this kept up they would be overrun.

Despite several upgrades, eboncrys weapons were relatively limited in rate of fire and how much ammo they held. This was especially true for heavier artillery, so after every volley there was a down period where they had to cool down and be reloaded. Plenty of time for the monsters to rally and push in closer.

Greenland's Awakened stepped up and activated their defenses. The elemental attacks flung at them from the beasts hit the shields and fizzled away.

The Awakened supported the troops by deflecting long-range attacks and responding with some of their own. Arrows of mental energy streaked through the darkness, and although they didn't have the range of eboncrys rifles they were deadly at mid-range.

Whoosh! Ironspike raised his hand and sent a Mornarrow shot flying. It struck a metallic looking bird square in the chest, piercing its iron-like scales and blasted it into pieces. The mangled corpse hit the ground with a heavy thud.

He called out in triumph. "Leader Cloudhawk's gift is a hell of a thing!"

Cloudhawk's inventions were incredible, without a doubt. The simple rings were easy to mass produce and worked off the same principle as Elysian exorcist bows. A single shot was like an armor-piercing cannon round, but with the psionic amplification Ironspike's shot could rip through alloy armor half a meter thick.

He fired off a few more shots, wildly attacking whatever he saw. The monsters were coming in so thick he didn't need to worry about missing.

He was elated. He'd trained for two years for this moment! Before he joined the Institute he was just another twisted face, huddling in the shadows with his parents. Now he killed monsters worse than any they'd ever seen in the wastelands. Fate had brought him down a path he never would have imagined.

This was what Greenland Alliance promised! It had changed his life, so Ironspike vowed to defend his people and his leader with everything he could muster.

"Fuckin' things! Die! Die, die, die!"

Ironspike and the other students never let up and the wall of corpses continued to climb. But just because these ordinary beasts were helpless, that didn't mean there were more dangerous fiends lurking in the dark.

The space between the two groups was shrinking every second. A group of giant pangolin-like monsters had pushed to the front and were acting as shields. Their armored hides glimmered with a close-fitting shield of energy. Shots from the eboncrys rifles hardly left a mark.

Ironspike flung an energy arrow at it. There was a sharp crack as some of the scales were chipped.

The scales of these monsters were similar to the dragons of Woodland Vale. They devoured a portion of the energy flung at them, effectively castrating Awakened attacks.

Gabriel's long fingers danced as he manipulated his Shadethread. One of the pangolins was wrapped up, the weave carving wounds in its hide. Blood began to pour - a thick, corrosive substance that weakened Gabriel's relic. One by one they snapped until the creature burst free.

This took the artist by surprise. "Well these things are obnoxious."

"Useless. Watch and learn!" Barb brandished her long sword.

As the drunk's unnamed disciple she had spent years training her martial skills. She'd had some success in learning his abilities and top of her moderate mental talent. She was no less capable than Gabriel, and where he failed perhaps direct power would prevail.

But while Barb was fast, someone else was faster.

Azura shot off like a bullet. While in the air she fired off a volley of energy arrows, each one striking with the impact of a missile. They came in quick succession and caused the pangolin's glimmering shield to dim.

She drew her twin shortswords and spun around like a top. Before it could react the beast was caught in the whirling dervish and had its head cut neatly off its shoulders.

She was quick, and strong!

Azura had also learned a little from the old drunk. Her innate mental talents were also impressive. With the addition of the psionic necklace and her relic swords, the armor of these creatures was nothing.

She hit the ground, carving a small crater. But half a second after landing she was back in the air.

Her body continued to spin. Like a boomerang she whipped through the enemy horde. Bleeding corpses of giant armored beasts lined her wake, whose gouts of blood burned other creatures who were too close. Like a stiff breeze Azura spun back to behind the soldiers and sheathed her weapons.

Pigblossom and Ironspike gaped at her. Son of a bitch! Her classmates had no idea this was how strong she was. If this was her now, where would she be in a few years? There was no doubt she would be a powerhouse.

"Nice work, Boss Azura!"

"I'm not strong, you're just weak." She glared at the others and pulled no punches. "If you can't even kill these things how are you supposed to fight gods?"

Her harsh words wounded them and the students glanced at once another. We train so hard already, they thought. Better than normal people by far! You're already super talented, you don't need to push so much.

Her talent wasn't what made her frightening. She had the talent of a hundred people her age, but she also had the drive of a hundred people. It was a stellar combination, and the others could only stand by and eat her dust.

Natessa watched the fight unfold. Her and her elite squad did not act. Although it didn't show on her face, she was stunned. This group was far from Cloudhawk's best soldiers, but they were doing impressive work.

By now the sounds of battle had drawn out most of the beasts. Among them were a handful of especially strong monsters. The time was right. Natessa looked at Azura. "Adjust your formation. Prepare to push on!"

Barb and the others were at a loss. Their enemies only seemed to be increasing and there were deadly monsters among them. They should be prioritizing defense, otherwise people would die. Shifting to the offensive didn't make any sense!

Aaaaooorrrgghh!!

Exactly as they feared, a thunderous roar erupted from the creatures as monsters nine meters tall lumbered forth. The lesser beasts scrambled out of their way, themselves afraid of what these behemoths would do.

Everyone who saw them coming gasped in alarm.

They were dog-like in appearance, but with important differences. Most striking was the giant pair of wings on their back and their nine heads. From the maw of each was belched streams of fire, so hot they could melt alloy.

As soon as they appeared they spat plumes of fire into the human ranks.

Pigblossom cried out. "Wha-, fire-breathing dogs? That's one nasty looking thing. IF that fire catches me I'll turn into bacon."

"Not bacon," Ironspike corrected. "charred pork rinds. Maybe not even that."

Their banter was less funny with the knowledge that it was not an exaggeration. These nine-headed titans had lived down here for thousands of years and, like Awakened, had their own mental energy. Their were intelligent and capable of deadly tactics.

Worse still, the fucking things could fly. Any time they wished they could lift up and attack from above, exploiting breaks in their defenses. Dealing with them would be especially tricky.

A number of them launched into a full attack. Suddenly the air was filled with the sharp notes of a flute. The ethereal tones were not carried by air, but rather were waves of mental energy that hummed directly into everyone's mind. As everyone was looking around for the source, they witnessed a strange phenomenon.

All the creatures around them had stopped. They didn't move a muscle, almost like they were asleep. Soon after a green figure swooped down from above - the crystalline form of the Dragon King appeared in the air overhead. Upon its back stood a woman draped in green with a flute to her lips. Looming beside her was a mass of living vines in the shape of a behemoth.

The Shepherd God had arrived.

One of the god's powers was in controlling the wills of lesser creatures. Those beasts that relied on instinct over intelligence succumbed to her whims, thus most of the monsters below her were frozen solid.

Cloudhawk was smart to send her here. The soldiers he'd sent were not incapable of clearing the underground, but there would be considerable losses if they tried it alone. Now things were different, for the Shepherd God's help was invaluable in this environment.

The Dragon King circled several times while she played her tune. The sea of creatures swayed and moved under her spell. Controlling the fire-breathing canines was not so easy, but after a short time longer even they submitted to her control.

Autumn's voice rang out. "I can't hold a group this large for long. Finish them, time is short."

"We have to clear out their nest," Natessa ordered.

She was right. If they could find the source they could eliminate the creatures entirely. If not the waves would just keep coming until they were overwhelmed.

"Attack! Cut them down!"

Under the Shepherd God's call the monsters turned and led the way. Any beast they encountered was torn apart as they marched toward the heart of their lair.

"Amazing," Azura muttered as she watched the god work. She wanted that power, the power to change the tide of battle and to protect the people she cared about. The power to fight by Cloudhawk's side.

Azura had become strong, but it was never enough. Ever since Cloudhawk found her she had been desperate to pay back his kindness. He'd saved her life! She had to get strong, then maybe one day she would save his. Her jaw set as Azura made the promise to herself.In war the slightest distraction could be fatal. Thus, as Azura made her pledge to grow strong, she paid no mind to the shadow closing in from behind. Only when the sword burst forth from her chest did she notice them.

H-how..? Eyes wide, Azura felt the pain bloom through her, stealing her breath. In jerky movements she turned her head to see Pigblossom grinning at her. Only there was something horrible about it - twisted and unnatural.

That wasn't Pigblossom.

"A gift from the Hand of Gehenna."

Those were the last words she heard.

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