All the Dust that Falls

Chapter 340: No Take Backs
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Chapter 340: No Take Backs

As the magma-coated skeleton emerged, the trio didn't simply watch on in awe. They sprang into action and went after the archdemons without hesitation. Bee couldn't help but be grateful. They trusted her implicitly to deal with the new threat, even as they took on enemies much higher level than themselves.

Dashing toward the Phylactery, a quick scan of her surroundings revealed that it wasn't all as it seemed. She quickly confirmed that it was, in fact, what she was looking for. But the magma golem was not some sort of construct or summon. It was the Lich itself.

Bee checked its level to confirm. Sure enough, it was level 90 like the other souped-up Lieutenants. Evidently, whatever had been pursuing the Nighty Knights was either a fake or had abandoned the fight to defend itself. Or perhaps it had intentionally left the Phylactery out in the open for her to find and lure into a position where she was away from her support?

The thoughts cut off as the skeleton finished climbing up onto the platform. Its massive hand lashed out at her, splattering thick drops of glowing magma across the rock. She was forced to duck and roll to avoid them, interrupting her advance. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the archdemons let out a squeal of pain as it proved a little too slow to do the same.

Regaining her feet, Bee lunged for the Phylactery. She twirled her broom, aiming to smash it and end the fight quickly. Unfortunately, the Lich's other hand descended and wrapped around the Phylactery, caging it in glowing bones.

The bones transferred red heat to the handle of the broom as she stabbed into them, attempting to force her way through. Her free hand sent out a blast of sand in a Scouring Strike, which melted and formed glass around the digits. But as the hand tightened around the pedestal and lifted it into the air, the newly formed glass cracked and fell to the ground.

Bee grimaced and blasted out with her Holy Aura in another attempt to end things. With a monumental effort, she focused it into a two-foot diameter beam and struck at its face. The hand holding the Phylactery clenched down tighter.

The skeleton's massive jaw opened and began spewing magma toward her in a thick stream. Bee danced around the assault and the splattering droplets that accompanied it in a blur, leaping upward to strike again. She stabbed again with her broom, this time finding a narrow gap in the fingers. The sharp tip met resistance and then skittered across the smooth surface of the crystal.

She growled in frustration. That hit had left a slight crack in the glass ball, the damage clearly visible in the glow of the magma around it. But even as she attempted to bring the broom around to deliver a second blow, that first crack sealed up. Evidently, the thing was harder to break than she'd feared. Even worse, it could fix itself, just like the Lieutenants.

She'd have to not only destroy it to dispel the Lich but likely consume it as well. She had no idea how viable that was, but it was worth a try.

Reaching down deep into her mouth, she produced one of her preparations for this fight. She had a bunch of options that her alchemy experience had provided her, but most of them she'd already used. All the buff potions she had assembled had been distributed to the Nighty Knights and herself, and the majority of her stores now were elemental concoctions. These mixtures gave off heat or light or fire or explosions when thrown. They were useful, to be sure, but none seemed like exactly what she needed here. It was time for one of her more esoteric weapons.

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The bottle of arctic wind she spat into her palm sailed through the air, flying at the hand that held the factory pedestal. For all the dangerous amounts of offense and defense the Lich possessed, it was fairly slow. Not slow for a person, but slow for a level 90 being.

The implosion of cold air sucked the heat from the area. She felt the nearly overwhelming heat of the caldera subside as the howling gale was loosed from its container.

As the glass shattered on the fist protecting its Phylactery. The magma crackled as it hardened to rock, flakes of stone falling away to reveal bone beneath. The Lich roared, its now-entombed fingers crackled as they curled into a fist, breaking through the coating of rock.

Pulling out several more flasks of arctic wind, Bee kept it up. She only had a half dozen, but she used them all as she dove, rolling and avoiding the cooling drops of lava scattered around the platform as she hit each major section of the Lich and froze up its joints for seconds at a time. It wasn't enough to stop it entirely. But it was enough for her to get close and slash at its hand.

The god-forged metal of her broom bit deep into the mysterious bone but lodged three-quarters of the way through. Bee let go of her weapon, wrapped her arms around the massive limb, and twisted with all of her might. She gritted her teeth as her skin sizzled. The cold hadn't managed to eliminate all of the heat. But with a sharp twist, she heard a satisfying snap as the bone connecting the hand to the rest of the monstrosity broke free.

Hopping backward, she looked at her prize. She'd done it. She was in possession of the Phylactery. It was still sealed in bone, but the way that the Lich lunged toward her in panic sent a smile of satisfaction crawling across her face. She lifted the bony hand the size of her torso over her head and smashed it into the ground several times before it started to break.

As she grabbed the crystal ball from the center, a blow sent her tumbling backward and rolling. She just managed to get her free arm up to protect her head, but she could feel the bones in her forearm already had multiple fractures. Worse, the heat intensified as she rolled closer to the magma. But there was nothing to catch her, nothing to arrest her momentum.

A tugging sensation on her scalp pulled her up short, leaving her looking down at the pool of lava below. Another yank sent stabs of pain into the roots of her hair as she landed backward on the ground, but she didn't care. It was better than falling into the pool. Without hesitation, she turned and smashed the crystal onto the ground beside her; a crack ran through it and widened more as she bashed continuously until the perfect sphere was two jagged hemispheres.

Bringing one up to her mouth. She closed her eyes in focus and breathed in. When she looked up, she saw Bradley standing over her, one arm bloodied and the other holding several broken strands of her hair. He fended off an archfiend with his flaming sword. Bee reached over and touched his leg, sending her healing abilities into him even as she processed the wellspring of power flowing through her.


I poked and prodded at this stream of energy coming from the world into the demon's soul. As we exchanged heavy blow after heavy blow, I'd gotten a better handle on his techniques. And I wasn't blasted into a mountain by missing a block again. But my attention wasn't entirely on the fight.

No, this flow of energy was unique. It was different. It wasn't nearly enough to provide the power I'd seen, but something else. There was something else coming through besides just power. It was as if it was defining the structure of the power it had. Something that gave this demon its very form. And suddenly it clicked.

I could decode the signals traveling through the stream into a type of machine code. After a brief bit of cryptography work, I managed to read it as a message log and matched it up to what was happening. I could read the logs of what was happening to the Demon Lord. Damage dealt, experience received, even skill uses. It was all very strange. It was as though I had tapped into its very system.

As the diagnostics chimed again, I suddenly knew what I had to do. I reached for the stream of system notifications pouring into the demon Lord, and I ripped it away.

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