Chapter 26:

Power Less

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

Kasumi swaggered in like she was some lone wanderer-type. Couzinet had said she was a hero. A world apart from her old life—but she'd been the hero before, just with a mouse and keyboard in the way. Time to live the dream.

Edule was not as she'd left it. In fact, she wasn't sure how to get into town. Between her and the north gate stood a maze of new ruin—old apartments groaned beneath shattered storefronts, crumbling warehouses flaked siding onto coffee house patio chairs. All were dumped just outside town. Old, no longer needed, in the way of the new Edule Kasumi had suggested, so they were cast aside. Eventually they'd be scavenged and broken down, but for now, out of the way sufficed.

Occasionally, Kasumi thought she saw eyes gazing at her out of the rubble. Some of them turned out to be nergalite emergency lights, casting a deep orange glow through splintered boards. Others vanished when she turned.

A broad canyon wound through the building-fragments. It brought Kasumi closer to the wall, and would have taken her to the gate. Around a wide corner, Kasumi found a tight line blocking her way. The soldiers wore deceptively light armor, mottled brown and gray, broad brimmed hats, with a small mask covering the mouth and nose.

They parted to make way for Paul Etier. He jogged up, sweating but not panting. Lydia Wode faded in beside him.

Kasumi turned and found another line had formed behind her.

"And cocky too," Kasumi said to herself. "I've seen larger gatecamps."

For a tense moment, everyone held their positions between the cadavers of buildings, lit by sporadic nergalite and the red glow of a sun just under the horizon. The hue skewed crimson.

In this light, Paul Etier's barrier came up like a ghost of corroded copper, and its shadow echoed over each soldier.

Ah, that's your game. She yelled, "One against thirty not good enough for you?"

Lydia shimmered over, stopping about five feet in front of Kasumi. "Pelgram, is it? I am Lydia Wode, I have several roles and titles, but the only one relevant at the moment is this: member of the Jagai's Quorum."

Kasumi put a hand on her hip. "What's the point of dropping a title if I have no idea whether it's supposed to be impressive or not."

"The point, dear hero, is that you are here illegally. Summoning of a hero from another world requires the express approval of the Jagai and the Summit Court. But I understand coming here wasn't your choice or doing, and you don't know our history, so I'm here to offer you a deal."

Lydia circled in close and threw a friendly arm around Kasumi's shoulder.

"What sort of life do you want? A quiet little atelier where you paint portraits? Or maybe a penthouse in the greatest city our world has ever seen?"

Not very subtle, making your offer after surrounding me with infantry.

"If you think I'm a hero, why do you want me to settle down? Surely you'd want me to level up so I could beat the seasonal event bosses."

The game jargon bounced off the priestess. "If you mean demon lords and the like, we already have a few leveled heroes retained to deal with such threats."

"Then what's wrong with having one more?"

"There's a whole history class to unpack there." But Lydia kept it brief: the gods of this world conceived the first people, therefore, they cherished today's people as grandchildren. But summoned heroes? They were other, not bonded to the gods or the land. Deep in the mists of time, yada yada heroes tried to take over and the gods stopped them.

While the priestess spoke, a pair of pale, spider web-thin thread of blue reached out to Kasumi and Lydia from the rubble. In the dim light, neither of them noticed.

"It wasn't pretty," Lydia said, wrapping up. "To win, the gods made terrible beasts, not seen in the land since. We wouldn't want to anger the gods, would we?"

Strange game design, Kasumi thought, for a game to ask you to stop playing. She filed away 'gods' under 'developers,' and decided they had made the NPCs too real, too human, and gotten protective of their little AIs.

There was a whole world, a gorgeous world, full of brand new enemies, just waiting for Kasumi to come and kill them. Exp to gain. Loot to find. Who in their gamer-mind would stop now?

Kasumi gave Lydia a summer breeze of a smile. "Thanks, but I'll take care of whatever they throw at me."

Not the best answer for making friends, judging by Lydia's frown.

"Very well. Thy will be done." The priestess turned and walked toward Paul and the troops. Halfway, she halted and dropped a hand into her robe.

In the tilting remains of an apartment, Mylo stopped holding his breath in. Gyre switched from generating to pulling hard. His reservoir drained in an instant, and then the debt was passed. The mana transfer threads crackled red.

To Kasumi, it looked like Lydia pulled a dagger out and slashed at the air for no reason. Then she noticed. "Hey! No fair! Why is my mana bar empty when I didn't cast anything?"

Mylo had planned to keep the priestess in the red and Kasumi in the blue, let the hero fight her way out without a someone teleporting behind with dagger raised. But how to keep up two opposite lines when both were synced to one gyre? He couldn't. Mylo dropped the transfer to Kasumi—he'd seen the priestess teleport at the healer's, but he had no idea if Kasumi was aware of that particular danger.

"Oh," Kasumi said, "it's back now."

For a second, the tableau held. Then everyone moved at once. Kasumi rushed the line of soldiers behind her, firing off a barrage of flame. Lydia pulled back, looking around. Just like that, Mylo's hiding spot became a liability—they'd left his narrow window. Now he saw only the light of spells glinting on the broken glass in the shopping arcade across the way.

To make matters worse, Lydia's mana started refilling. Maybe she had a strobilus among her troops? Whatever source it was, Mylo couldn't keep up.

Mylo edged forward and peered out. The battlefield was a mess. Lydia for the moment was still looking for whoever had interfered while Kasumi did strafing runs in front of the enemy line. If she was probing for a weak link, she was wasting her time on Paul's shield—all the copies of which shared one substantial hitpoint pool. Judging by the grin on her face, shouting at Kasumi to follow him through the rubble wasn't going to cut it. She was having too much fun.

Time to improvise and draw attention.

Mylo drew the sword and shouted, "I ain't from Michigan so I've never done this before!"

It worked. Kasumi turned around.

"H— yeah!"

Then she looked closer and sucked in an angry breath. "Why do you get the fire sword!"

Kasumi ran his way while behind them, the priestess and the old detective realized who had just interrupted—a brief argument ensued. The infantry waited for their signal.

"How did you get it? Are there two? Tell me?"

"Oh, this?" Mylo gave the flaming sword a nonchalant glance. "It's a quest reward."

She was a bundle of energy. "What quest?"

"Escape this ambush and meet me where this all started."

Mylo had never felt this much adrenaline before. A shame Lydia picked that moment to put her hand to her lips and give a shrill whistle. Four of the infantrymen from each line stepped conjured chains and sent them wrapping around Mylo and Kasumi.

Squished together, they toppled over onto the tundra grass, Kasumi over Mylo.

"Um, Mylo. I promise I'm not mad, but could you have chosen a moment that wouldn't get us captured to be all cool in?"

"You're on top, so be ready to move."

Kasumi shot a doubting look between him and the chains. "How?"

Lydia strode toward them. No anger, just cold, hard disappointment in those eyes.

"Lady Wode, a moment if you please!"

"I do not please. Your little assistant has flown his colors."

It was the toll of midnight—or would have been, had Kasumi's Edule-renewal plan not demolished the town's clocktower. The glow of the red sky on the northern horizon bathed the scene, with some help from the emergency lights.

The priestess looked at Kasumi first. "You could have had whatever life you wanted. Not many people get that choice."

"And you. Etier told me you were clever."

Mylo twisted his hands around the chain. It felt like cold metal, but the pulse of mana within belied its true nature. A spell. Mylo would have exhaled to drain his reservoir, but speaking would work just fine.

With a rueful smile, Mylo admitted, "Not really."

Gyre back to generating, Mylo threw the surge down the chains. The conjurers toppled. Chain dissipated like mist.

Up with an avenging fist and jet of flame sprang Kasumi. Lydia phased out in the nick of time.

"Aw! D—! I wanted to get her."

The priestess reappeared behind the nervous line. This wasn't how suppression missions were supposed to go. But they still had the numbers advantage, and better positioning. Getting close enough to touch one of the trooper's shields would be suicide. Mylo didn't see how they were going to go from here—

"Mylo, besides the sword, did you also get some spells while I wasn't looking?"

"Yes, one's a barrier."


"Only points one way. The other's just for utility." Mylo put up the barrier. It was a flat, milky white, stretched hexagon that hovered in front of him. It barely covered him, and with all the flesh and bone that the condensed mana had to get through.

Lydia whispered orders. The front line advanced while the rear line fell back, leaving Mylo and Kasumi at the corner. They'd cut the pair off from the bolthole Mylo came in by, and now that they weren't in position to hit their own, the infantry began their barrage.

Kasumi conjured up a flaming wall. Most of the incoming spells and projectiles ablated in the heat. Those which made it across knocked out Mylo's barrier in one hit.

"Ideas?" Mylo asked.

"Can you put that shield over your head?"

"What, what good wou...."

Mylo followed her gaze up. He'd only considered the enemies and their powers. But Kasumi, she eyed the leaning tower of shitty apartments.

"Mylo, mana."

"Right." He sent the blue thread her way.

The infantry were rearranging to loose a volley of spells, but they never got the chance. Kasumi peppered the unwanted buildings with flame wisps, aligning her shots in cutting lines. Rooms groaned and peeled away. Mylo's second home rained down in pieces, booming and shaking and throwing dust when they kissed the tundra. Smoke and dust engulfed everything.

Hacking coughs broke the quiet.

Kasumi grabbed Mylo's hand. "Run!"

They scrabbled more than ran over the rubble. Not sure where they were going, but away from the infantry, hopefully.

When they cleared the cloud, the town gate was in front of them, and Paul to their left. Mylo let go and gave her a push.

"Go, I got this."

Kasumi hesitated a moment then ran. Mylo eclipsed her in the detective's black hole gaze.

Paul and Mylo stared each other down. "Out of my way."

Folding his arms, Mylo said, "No."

A stiletto flashed in Paul's gloved hand. "Move!"

Paul stopped mid-snarl.

"So this is the real you," Mylo whispered. "The kind old fellow is just a persona you can wear in public."

"No, I—wait, Mylo, please!"

But Mylo was already running. He vanished through the gate and into the paved twilight streets.

Ataga Corliss
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