Be it from the hill’s sides, the temple’s walls or the front stairs, the last few hundreds of mannequins were all still advancing. This time, though, they had fire support.
Spellcasters had appeared at the city almost at the same time as Annabeth went flying. They weren't very much, but the barrier was falling apart after the ifrit went through it and most of the defenders were at exhaustion levels. Bombardment in this situation was likely one of the worst possible options.
“Focus the mages downhill before they can hit the temple! The barrier won't last long like this.” Karim shouted to the defenders hurrying to fight off the new threat from the city’s rooftops. She was unsure of when they got there or how, but all that mattered was that they were there. "If you can move, then hold the dolls. Everyone with some range has to hit their casters now!"
She was running around the courtyard, shouting at each door and checking to see if there was any breakthrough. Most places had tired maidens and priests who tried to fight back as they could, but none had fallen yet. And that was a very big 'yet'.
"Why do they keep getting stronger for no reason?! It's as if they're escalating as we do even though they started the thing!"
“You shouldn’t think this hard about what you can’t answer, Karim. It’ll only overwhelm your pretty little head for no reason...” The kitsune resting in the middle of the courtyard said with her eyes locked on the sky. “We likely can only do our best and hope all goes well right now.”
“Hope is good and all, but we need more firepower, and fast.” Karim answered while turning to the leader of the shrine maidens. “I can bet the barrier will fall in five, at most, and ammo is getting low too... We need something that can attack strong and fair.”
“Give me another moment, okay? I wasn’t expecting Anna to be this hungry, so I need a little more... These puny spells won’t take my girls down this fast anyway, so that's fine.”
“If you say so...” She sighed to the crouched kitsune still on the courtyard and then ran to the stairs to talk with the inquisitor fighting there. “Colette!”
“I’m busy holding this fucking stairway!”
"I know! How long can you do it?"
"Not long. Not long at all!" The brawler answered as she retreated a little after a barrage of stone bullets hit where she was before. “Bring Anna back somehow! I don't care how, but get her to use that stupid gun.”
“I would love to do that! She gave me the thing and then vanished to the skies, dammit?!”
How Annabeth stopped to throw her rifle at Karim made it seem like she was expecting what happened after, but it was still a shocking scene. And it didn't help that she was the best-ranged attacker they had.
Considering how well-timed everything was, it was likely that Annabeth expected this to happen, somehow, and had a plan... But expecting her plans to be good was a little above Karim’s pay grade.
“I’m not the one who thinks here..." Colette kept punching dolls as she shouted, either breaking them to pieces or sending them flying away. The volleys of spells and gunfire were slowing her pace, though. In fact, she was even having to retreat from time to time. “Just do something fast!”
“Damn... Hold a few more seconds then!” The little mage shouted with a mix of being bothered and worried about the situation, and then threw the big gun she was holding to the kitsune on the floor. “Hold it for me and don’t let me fall if I faint.”
“I’ll try my best.” Minako answered with a half-backed salute as she hugged the rifle, but there was no time to worry about it. Right now, she had to somehow turn the fight, even if only for a while.
Deciding what she would do wasn’t that hard, though. It wasn’t as if she had many options that would solve the situation either way.
Karim lacked the defensive capabilities to enter the fight at the stairs and also lacked the range to support it from behind. Her only viable role in this situation was of a supporter, and even then, she was still recovering. Resting a little more would be for the best, but it was unnecessary.
Ignoring the risk, Karim cleaned her mind and got ready to sing. It would be close to overexerting herself with something very costly, but the effects were worth it. Singing an anthem wasn't what she used to help Annabeth in a pinch for no reason.
And the worse that could happen was having to faint for some weeks. Much better than whatever would happen if they were overrun for sure.
“Let’s hope twenty meters are enough…”
And with a deep breath, the holy mage started to sing in a solemn voice.
The kitsunes holding the barrier, the ones helping fight the dolls off, the barely conscious priests, the members of the temple locked inside the infirmary, the tsukumogamis, and the inquisitor at the stairs, all stopped for a moment when the first verses came.
A calming and empowering energy filled the air together with the lyrics in old language that few, if any, could attempt to comprehend. And every single person in the limited area could feel the effects right away.
It didn't strengthen anyone nor it was healing the wounded, but the effects were arguably better. It wasn't Karim's trump card for nothing.
A singing prayer that could support a whole battlefield. A call for divine help at the cost of the caster's own spirit. A song that would both replenish the energy of friendlies and weaken the soul of enemies.
A song that would both help allies and weaken enemies. A call from the reincarnation god for power to vanquish those who were corrupt while helping the knights of justice. A song weaved from a battle hymn and an exorcism prayer and then turned into something that would fit the anthem-spell format. An unnamed masterpiece created due to much more work than almost any would find worth it.
On allies, it was pretty much the opposite effect of what had affected them during the fight with the statues. An effect that mirrored Annabeth's evil eye. Not as strong or a heavy hitter as then, but still a mirror of that same effect.
But on foes, it was almost as if that weird skill Karim's partner had was strengthened. The spells from the city were weaker and the dolls were slower now. Another very good example of the cop's wondrous ability of weaving composite prayers. It was a perfect support song.
It was a very powerful and useful tool, but it had three big weaknesses.
First, it was very taxing on the caster’s own energy since the number of targets was only controlled by the area of effect. Second, moving while singing would tire her even more, so the best would be to have a safe haven to stay in while using it. And third, it had to be heard to work, which meant that losing her voice would also end the effect.
She wouldn't try this if she couldn't manage, though. Karim's sight was blurring, but the kitsunes were managing to repair the barrier faster than it was damaged. Her legs were unsteady, but the number of strikes was going down. Her consciousness was barely there, but even the fainted priests were moving up.
The petite singer was sure she would faint in a few seconds and unsure of what would happen after, but that was fine. But right as she was going to, a very soft feeling held her in place and forced her to stop.
“I’ll be honest here, I wasn’t expecting much from you,” Minako said as she waited for the small cop to steady herself. “You rarely appear on my readings and the most I ever saw you do was try to keep Anna sane, but this much was very impressive. I would never manage to recover myself this much in time…”
“What are… you say…”
Karim’s vision was still blurry and she could barely move around, but she was sure the expression on Minako’s face was abnormal.
The words coming from the fox weren’t weird and she was genuinely smiling. Still, her smile wasn’t fitting the ‘collected princess’ aura she usually gave. It was both regal and powerful as usual, but this one felt more unrestrained and dangerous...
“What I’m saying?” The smiling princess asked as she calmly set Karim on the ground. “I’m saying this!"
With a shout, Minako pointed downstairs while still holding the small cop, and as she did so, five whisps of fire went forward. And soon after, a whole building in the city went into flames, with the casters above it still there.“I’m saying that it’s my time to have some fun.”
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