I had one alternative. Grandpa Worrow had warned me: Only drop the limit locks on your void nodes in extremis. The nodes will supply the power you need to keep your wards up, but may well kill you at the same time. I dropped the limit locks on my void nodes.
My wards went back to full strength. So did my combat spells. My castings soared to their limit, the void node in each wrist burning hot as fire. I hit the creature with a half-dozen ward-eating spells. Ward-eaters demand vast amounts of the One Presence to set, but once set they keep on biting into your opponent’s wards, using the opponent’s wards for power. I’d never set more than one at a time before, and that with Grandpa Worrow looking over my shoulder. I’d just set six. For a moment I felt as though every bone in my skeleton was burning. Then my spells bit, turning the creature’s wards into incandescent flame.
The creature’s wards stayed up. Ward-eaters get in each other’s way so you can’t hit a target with more than one-of-a-kind. Fortunately I’d memorized another half-dozen of them, though these I cast one at a time. Okay, I misremembered two of them; they didn’t do anything. Tiny lights, crawling like incandescent worms, crossed across my field of vision. I shook my head to clear my thoughts. My own castings had weakened my defensive spells enough that I could feel heat leaking through them. I gave them a moment to recharge.
For an instant the creature stopped attacking me. It looked as though it was trying to dispel my ward-eaters with conventional cancellation spells. That doesn’t work.
The creature jumped at me. I jumped to the side. I thought I’d dodged enough, but apparently it had absurdly long arms. Its punch took me in the chest. Hard. I went tumbling across the circle. The creature outweighed me by a lot. It wasn’t weak, either. I rolled, landed on my feet, and brought gnothdiar to guard position.The creature dived at me, arms out-stretched, trying for a tackle. I faked a move to the left, but jumped right, taking my gnothdiar with both hands.
I dodged its swing, my gnothdiar in the same move coming straight overhead. I swung down, two-handed, gnothdiar connecting with the creature’s back as we passed. Tutor had warned me that young adults shouldn’t rely on speed or brute strength. Sometimes you don’t have a choice in combat. I hit hard enough to lift me from my feet.
The gnothdiar’s other function is to be very sharp. The creature’s wards collapsed as I cut through them. My gnothdiar sliced through metallic armour. A blinding glare filled the space around me. Suddenly my gnothdiar felt no resistance. I’d sliced the creature in two, releasing a flood of stored arcane energy.
Almost, almost, but my wards did not quite collapse. They were forced hard against skin and clothing. Patches of my clothing were reduced to ash. I smelled burning chicken feathers. My hair, at the fringes, was on fire. Spread on the ground all around me were shattered bits of steel and crystal, puddles of molten copper, and fluctuating glows that marked escaping magic.