The author originally published this chapter here:, without a title. It has since been posted to the usual place on, under the title "Underground Chaos".

When the first wall crumbled, Ami hurried to view its location. She arrived just in time to see bricks and mortar spray into the corridor, propelled by a dwarven shield ramming its way through the weakened masonry.

A short, broad-shouldered warrior forced his way through the gap, pebbles pinging off his armour as he brushed aside the last stones in his way. He exited the dusty opening, narrowed eyes visible through the slit in his full helmet, and looked around. “Way’s clear,” he called out after a moment and pointed his pickaxe down the corridor. “Smash anything that looks important and mind the trapdoors!”

More stout figures poured out of the hole, jogging after the miner as he took off down the corridor.

”I am not here to attack your country. Leave my dungeon and I won’t harm you!” Ami projected mentally at the dozen or so invaders. At the same time, she felt three other walls give way elsewhere in the dungeon, prompting her to deal with this situation quickly. 

The dwarfs didn’t stop or even hesitate. Their faces were hidden underneath their helmets, but Ami did not spot any change in their body language either. One of them was wearing one of the warding chains she had encountered before as a belt, so chances were they hadn’t heard her at all. 

The dungeon heart informed Ami of yet another breach on the other side of the mountain. Feeling rushed, she transported her Keeper hand behind the quickly-advancing group and launched the animated mass of water forward. 

One of the dwarfs swept his pickaxe through a violet light crystal in passing, turning his torso to the left has he did, and spotted the movement. “Behind us!”

The giant hand smashed into the hindmost dwarf, slamming her into the soldier before her and sending both of them tumble. By now, the others were turning their heads and stopping, or at least trying to. They had been moving fairly quickly, and all the momentum stored in their heavy armour didn’t just disappear.

“Stop! Stop! Trapdoor ahead!” the dwarf in front shouted as he was pushed forward, his metal soles screeching as they skidded over the floor.


Ami winced inwardly as armour rang and the dwarfs in the middle were caught between her shove and the slowing front of the group. Still, she kept shoving, pushing the invaders over like falling dominoes and forcing them forward. 

One of them threw himself to the ground and anchored his pick in the stone. With a grunt, he managed to maintain his hold even when the dwarf behind him stumbled over him. The next one didn’t manage to keep his balance and landed hard on the prone dwarf’s shoulder. There was an ugly snapping noise, and he let go of the weapon’s haft, “My arm!"

Ami felt bad for him as she kept pushing the pile of warriors forward, but the many alerts coming from the perimeter of her dungeon meant she couldn’t afford the time to be gentle. With a final shove, she forced the soldiers into the trap they had been intending to avoid. 

The foremost dwarf waved his arms and jumped ahead with desperate strength, but not far enough. The floor underneath him clicked and dropped away. With a loud splash, he landed in the muddy water below. More splashes and cries of protest followed in rapid succession.

The water wasn’t deep enough for Ami to worry about her enemies drowning, but it would certainly keep them from fighting back effectively. Her closest troops should arrive within a minute to fish them out. One group of invaders more or less disabled, without too many injuries. That left only - her eyes widened - about two dozen others, with more popping up all the time. Her stomach plummeted. If all of the enemy parties were about as small as this one, she could be dealing with hundreds of incursions shortly. “Darn it!” 

She clenched her teeth, as she opened her eyes and surveyed the screens in her command centre. No choice but to rely on her troops and limit herself to intervening where it made the most strategic sense. Still, knowing that people would get injured and possibly die because she was busy elsewhere... Ami wrapped her arms around herself and pushed those thoughts aside. Both her troops and the misguided dwarfs couldn’t afford her to be anything but fully concentrated and efficient right now. 

“Faster!” Minkoth urged, his voice echoing through the freshly-hewed tunnel. On his palm, the end of a very short chain glowed red as another link burned to ash. “Dig faster, Urist! He’s almost through the wards!”

“Doing the best I can!” the miner in front growled, breathing heavily as he swung his pickaxe through the air. 

The tool slowed with a jerk, making a grinding noise as it burrowed into an invisible obstacle. Faintly-glowing cracks spread outward through the space around the enchanted weapon, accompanied by the noise of crumbling rock. 

“Coward! Stop casting spells at us when we can’t fight back you evil fucker!” the first dwarf shouted, shaking his fist at the chuckling warlock towering behind the barrier of invisible rock.

“B-be polite, that has to be the Emp- Keeper herself,” a third dwarf whispered from behind him, a worried frown marring the face behind the open visor. “Anyone else wouldn’t have the power to burn through the protections that quickly!” 

The warlock chuckled and stood straighter, the hem of his too-long robes hovering a finger’s width above the ground. “Pathetic dirt-digging midgets, you are sadly mistaken. I am merely - in as far as such a word can apply to me - Torian, chief warlock of her Imperial Majesty! Who, in her inscrutable wisdom, has decreed that I need to inform you that she bears you no ill will and is going to let you retreat should you chose to leave now.”

A dwarf near the front of the squad looked back over her shoulder. “Means she isn’t ready to face us yet!” she interpreted cheerfully for the others, and Minkoth felt his mood lift a little. Even if his group should be defeated, others would keep his home safe. 

Torian’s bored expression turned into a smirk. “Unconvinced by her generous offer? That suits me well. I would not get to play with live targets if you had fled before my might.”

“The guy in a dress sure likes to hear himself talk,” Urist muttered as he brought down his pick again, shattering more of the invisible rock between them and their attacker.

“At least he isn’t casting while he’s running his mouth off” another dwarf said, shrugging his shoulders. 

“Torian? I think I’ve heard that name before,” someone else pondered.

“Ah, my fame precedes me!” the warlock said with a grin. “Let me add to it. BEHOLD! The instrument of your doom!” He raised his staff over his head, holding it horizontal so that the dwarfs could see its full length. The ivory-coloured implement consisted of a main shaft studded with winding protrusions. “This is the combination of my genius and secrets stolen from the dark gods themselves, carved from the tooth of the eldest dragon!”

Urist gasped and froze and gaped at the magical weapon with dismay that mirrored Minkoth’s own. “You defiled such precious material with your shoddy craftsmanship?” 

Torian narrowed his eyes at him. “Shoddy, is it now? Well, perhaps you-”

The loud twang of a crossbow being fired interrupted him. Not unlike the dwarven picks, the bolt burrowed straight through the intervening rock as it headed for the warlock. 

Torian flinched and went cross-eyed as the pointy blur shot straight at his face, leaving a thin trail filled with sublimating rock powder in its wake. There was a bright flash from the gems set into the projectile as it encountered the invisible dungeon wall and kept going. A smacking impact later, Torian squealed and toppled over backwards.

Minkoth high-fived the dwarf who got up from behind a boulder, crossbow in hand and a grin on her face. “Good one, Olon! Didn’t think we’d have to use one of the special bolts this early!”

”Oh, you’ll wish you hadn’t done that,” Torian growled as he sat up, blood trickling down his forehead from a long scratch. The bolt studded with burnt-out gems lay in front of him, bent. 

“He’s that thick-headed?” Urist boggled. 

“Wards of his own,” Minkoth muttered, noting the purple smoke originating from somewhere underneath the evil wizard’s robe and escaping from the collar. 

“Enough talking! Words are clearly wasted on you hairy garbage,” Torian said. Black sparks gathered around his staff as he levitated himself back into a standing position. 

The warlock started mumbling, his weapon pointed at the dwarfs, and Minkoth could only watch in horror as the last link of the warding chain exploded into powder. This was not supposed to happen! His liege had ordered him to get into the dungeon, and now he was being foiled by a single lousy warlock? The bitter shame and dishonour of failing to heed his baron’s command made his arm sluggish as he raised it to signal a retreat. “Back! Fall baph-”  He tasted hair that tried to get into his mouth, muffling his words. His skin was prickling everywhere and he could feel the braids of his beard writhe like snakes. What had that black-hearted bastard of a warlock cursed him with?

Ahead of him, the strap of Urist’s helmet creaked and snapped. The helmet shot off the other dwarf’s head like a cork popping from a bottle, riding on the swelling mass of hair that had been trapped underneath it. Within moments, beard and mane reached the ground, getting tangled in each other as they grew. The miner stepped on it and promptly fell over.

“With how proud you dwarfs are of your beards, you should be thanking me for this!” Torian taunted. “And her Imperial Majesty too, since it was she who gave me this idea!” 

Minkoth own helmet departed, spilling strands of hair over his face and robbing him of his sight. He raised his hand got it about half-way to its destination before it stopped, the joints of his armour clogged with bushels of - oh Forge God no, the spell wasn’t limited to just his head!

As he and his warriors struggling against the suffocating masses of fur, he could hear the warlocks high-pitched, mocking laughter. 

The floor shook with each step the dragon took towards the group of dwarven invaders, his fiery breath splashing off their hastily-raised shield wall. Panting orcs were taking cover behind the slowly-advancing behemoth, flinching every time a crossbow bolt pinged off his metal-painted scales. 

Ami couldn’t help admire the bravery of the four dwarfs still blocking the passage. Sweating from the heat and with their shield arms shaking, they braved the flames to buy time for their companions to retreat. A cold lump formed in her stomach as she noted a dwarf kneeling over a still figure, shake his head and move on. 

Carrying their wounded on their shoulders, the dwarfs fled back into the relative safety of the hole they had come from. Their tunnels were too small for the dragon to follow them, and neither orcs nor trolls wanted to fight in a space where they’d have to crouch. 

Goblins had no such problems, but Ami no longer sent them in there. 

Unbidden, her mind strayed to a tunnel where green-skinned bodies lay in pools of their own blood among crossbow bolts and severed limbs. Their sightless eyes looked up at the low ceiling, staring at her accusingly. If only she had acted faster and prioritised differently when she noticed them coming under attack, she might have been able to do something. 

Instead, she had chosen to finish redeploying one of the dragons to a more advantageous location, trusting the six goblin warriors to hold their own against the advancing forced for just a few moments longer. Strategically, it had been the right decision. The sudden arrival of the armoured, fire-breathing monster had stopped the advance of two dwarf squads cold, saving a group of her more valuable underlings.

Ami clenched her fists. She hated having to rank her employees in terms of how expendable they were. Unfortunately, with many different fights going on concurrently, she didn’t have any choice in the matter. The dungeon heart granted her many powerful abilities, but being able to pay attention to more than one place at the time was not among them.

Thus, since she was already intervening here, she had to make sure this particular group of invaders wasn’t going to regroup and come back. Aiming sufficiently far ahead of their wards, she cast two spells. 

The foremost dwarf bit back a curse as pillars of glittering ice rose in his path. Not faltering in his stride, he flipped his pickaxe around and swung at the obstacle with the pick-shaped side. He cursed in surprise when the ice reached out with a slender arm and caught his weapon in a vice-like grip. The wooden haft splintered around the ice golem’s fist as she closed it completely, snipping off the head of the pickaxe. 

Ami still couldn’t completely exclude the possibility that the animated statues might be sapient or had the potential to become so. However, in the current situation, not using them meant she would have to risk soldiers who were undoubtedly people instead. More pragmatically, the golems were shorter than her other troops and less hindered by their size in the dwarven tunnels. Too bad that each of them tied up a portion of her magical power for as long as they lived. 

“Your Majesty, enemy charging at surface coordinates B ten!” the shout of a warlock called her back to her physical location. “Big group, no troops close enough to intercept in time!”

Blinking, Ami changed her perspective to the indicated grid square. That slope looked rather impassable to her? 

Maybe a hundred or so squat invaders darted out of the wet undergrowth, their long, braided beards swaying. Nimble like mountain goats, the lightly-armoured figures hurried across the uneven terrain, hopping over boulders and balancing along narrow ledges. 

The black-bearded dwarf at the front stopped to fasten a rope and dangle it down a wall he had just scaled. Ami noticed that he, like a few others, was wearing one of those annoying ward chains around his waist. If she really wanted to, she could break through the protections without straining herself - at the cost of wasting time since the chains failed only one link at a time. It was much quicker to simply work around this obstacle. With a hurried salvo of Shabon Spray Freezing spells targeted at the wet rock ahead of the dwarfs, she coated their route in a layer of ice. 

The effects were immediate. Hands slipped as they reached for the rocks ahead, feet stepped on slippery footing, and dwarfs tumbled back down into their companions. The smooth advance slowed to a crawl as the frozen area forced the dwarfs to deploy climbing aids in order to move on. 

It would be enough to delay the attack until some troops could reach the threatened area. Ami hurriedly started searching for some soldiers that weren’t already fighting or hurrying toward a fight. Were dark elves agile enough to fight in that kind of terrain? Wait, she could make use of the giant vermin that tended to wander in through the portal. She reached into the dark corners of her dungeon and plucked several chitinous, many-legged creatures from their lairs. After dropped the squirming, wriggling bugs near the surface, she shooed them out of the holes the dwarfs were trying to reach. A few more prods of her Keeper hand, and she had them moving in the right direction. Showing complete disregard for trivial things such as vertical cliff faces, the giant insects crawled downwards toward the invaders. 

Ami knew the creepy things were a pushover in a fair fight, but even the most enthusiastic mountain climber would think twice about putting his hands where a dog-sized cockroach might eat them. They should keep the situation more or less under control until she could free up stronger defenders. Such as the golems she had previously created. Were they done yet?

One of the statues had grabbed two different dwarfs and hung suspended between them as they tried to pull away in opposite directions. Surrounded by their allies, she twisted and turned to alleviate the impacts of the blows they were raining down on her. Her shell was covered in gashes and cracks from the axe strikes, but only a few hit solidly enough to pierce the ice. By now, the armour she had started out with littered the ground in small frozen pieces, and she was noticeably smaller that before. 

The other statue, slick from the water that trickled from her cracks, glided out of the bear hug from a dwarf trying to restrain her. She hit her head on the ceiling and botched her landing, frozen limbs slipping in the puddle of water on the ground. Both she and her her attacker fell over and continued struggling on the ground.

Ami evaluated the situation in a split-second. Had the golems gotten rid of the wards? There was a broken chain gleaming on the ground some distance away, next to a doubled-over dwarf holding his midriff. Another soldier, busy kicking the prone golem repeatedly with his iron-heeled boots, held a second ward with only three or so non-mangled links. Close enough.

Zap. Zap. Zap. Ami used Keeper lightning as fast as she could, but it only worked on her fourth try. The tunnel lit up with blinding light, and a blue-white bolt of electricity hit the water that had leaked from her golems. 

The dwarfs standing in the puddle screamed and convulsed. Ami had kept the power down to about that of a taser, but she still swallowed when she saw the twitching bodies. Unaffected by the current, one golem ran off to call the troops outside the tunnel, while the other started disarming the fallen enemies. 

Confident that these particular dwarfs would soon sit out the battle within her prisons, Ami concentrated on the notifications from her dungeon heart to learn where she was needed most urgently. 

A mixed group of three orcs, three trolls, and ten goblins waited in lose formation around a reaperbot, their gaze following the sounds of excavation moving around on the other side of the dungeon wall. 

“Where the hell are those imp morons?” Lorn, the largest of the trolls, asked while tapping the tip of his club against the ground impatiently. “They better get here soon or the midgets will dig straight past us!”

Kner shrugged his shoulders, not all that disappointed about the prospect of missing an opportunity to risk life and limb in battle. 

“Don't worry. They are totally lost. They moved past us twice since we got here,” another troll said. “Think the Empress did something to them?”

“Nah, too drunk to dig in a straight line!” Lorn quipped, to the approving laughter of his companions. “Still, the stupid imps should hurry up. It's been too long since I got to fight something for real,” he said, baring his teeth. 

“Bleh. Having to take them alive takes all the fun out of it,” a smaller troll in leather armour complained, glowering with evident disgust at the throwing nets and blunt weapons the group was armed with. 

“Half dead still counts as alive,” the third orc pointed out, grinning. “Also, try not to crack up too much when we give them the Empress' warning.”

“No promises, boss,” the troll who had been quiet until now commented, smirking and crossing his arms.


“Bah, as if they'd ever believe we'd let them go anyway!”

“Yeah, I have no idea what the Empress is thinking,” Lorn grumbled, shaking his head. 

“Big surprise.”

“Who ever does?”

The goblins just snorted.

“I mean more so than usual,” Lorn amended. “I mean, usually when she does stuff, you can still kind of see it's going somewhere, even if you have no idea where. But, uh, letting those ugly dwarfs leave if they flee? What's the point?”

“Empress really want them go away?” one of the goblins guessed.

“Quiet, idiot,” the leather-clad troll muttered, prompting the small green creature to hide from his glare behind the reaperbot. 

“The live capture part makes sense, annoying as it is,” the boss orc mused. “She'll need more warriors to take on their kingdom, and turning their own against them just makes the victory sweeter.”

“Sure, but that's not what I was asking. Why let some get away?” Lorn insisted. 

“They carry home horrible disease?” the goblin tried again.

The others fell quiet for a moment.

“The goblin said something that actually made a bit of sense,” the troll in leather admitted after a while, scratching his head. “Huh. I sure hope we won't catch it, too.”

“No. I refuse to believe her plan is so simple that someone like him can figure it out,” Lorn said, pointing his thumb at the green creature. “Kner, you are good at this thinking thing, what do you figure? Kner? Hey, Kner?” the other orc elbowed him to catch his attention. “What are you spacing out about there?” 

“Just trying to figure out what the dwarfs are doing.” He didn't believe for an instant that they didn't know where they were going. Several passes in the same area by necessity meant that a larger volume of rock had been excavated. A staging area for a larger assault? A place to assemble one of their drills? None of the possibilities he was coming up with made him want to be at the forefront of the battle. 

“Look, they are finally trying to break through!” Lorn shouted excitedly, pointing with his club at a spot down the corridor where dust trickled from the ceiling. 

“We'll hit them as soon as they get through. The big bucket here,” the boss rapped his knuckles against the reaperbot, “leads the charge and knocks them over. We clobber and truss up the rest.”

There were general sounds of agreement with the plan, and Kner didn't object. Any plan where he had a reason to arrive late to the front line was a good one in his book. 

He heard a sizzling noise, followed by a muffled yelp, and the lights wavered and dimmed.

“What was that?”

“Must have dug through one of the magic thingies in the walls,” the troll in light armour guffawed. 

“Just how fucking drunk are they? That's no way to make a breach!” Lorn complained when the dwarfs didn't create an opening, but instead started lengthening the weakened section towards the left and right wall. 

“What are they doing, Kner?” the boss asked with a sideways glance.

The shape of the damage gave Kner the mental image of the corridor as a log and the dwarfs as an axe that chopped it in half. “Making a vertical cut through the tunnel,” he speculated as hammering blows continued dislodging tiles from both floor and ceiling. “Maybe they think that will turn off the traps.”

“Will it?”

“ Yeah, some that – oh crap!“ It suddenly occurred to him that he didn't know how long the dwarfs had been at work here before his squad had arrived. His feet started moving before he had completed the thought. “Run!”

“What the- ? Get back here you damn coward!” the boss shouted after him as he sprinted away from the prospective breach.

The stone underneath Kner's feet vibrated, producing a long, grinding groan that came from all around. He stumbled as the floor bucked. Sometimes being right sucked. The dwarfs really had undermined the corridor, and now it was coming loose at the cut they made. 

A crumbling, breaking noise behind him accompanied the moment when the floor dropped out under him for real. For an instant, he felt weightless – not that he appreciated the feeling. He should probably brace for impact and protect- 

Ow. Something snapped in his foot, sending lances of pain up his right leg, and the noise of the corridor crash-landing was deafening. Stunned, he needed a moment to regain his senses. He was face-down on the uneven ground, one foot probably broken, with what looked like one of his teeth in the dust not far away. His other leg felt numb from the knee down, which couldn't be good. 

Small debris shifted underneath him as he slowly turned his head towards the ceiling. Riddled with cracks, missing tiles and crystals, the corridor nevertheless remained in one piece. He needed to move before the dungeon's fortification magic faded away entirely and he got turned into a bloody pancake by collapsing masonry.

Given his injuries, he'd need help. Crap. With painful effort, he sat up to face the chorus of whimpers and moans coming from further down the fallen corridor. 

His companions, too stupid to follow him when he had started running, were still more or less in the same place he had left them. Well, they were now a few paces deeper down and scattered all over the floor. Or smeared over the floor, in the case of the goblins that had cushioned the reaperbot's fall. 

The ones that hadn't been flattened seemed to be in better shape than him, though. One advantage to being light and small. Not that they'd be winning any prizes at running or jumping soon. Or at fighting, which was kind of bad since a bunch of ropes were now dangling down from the broken edge of the corridor. 

He looked over at the reaperbot. With its legs damaged, the thing was flailing around uselessly, a danger only to its nearby allies. Not helping. 

A short figure, surprisingly mobile despite the intricate suit of full plate armour it was wearing, slid down the central rope. The dwarf took a few steps forward and stopped in front of the closest goblin, who began crawling backwards. “Survivors,” she noted, her voice carrying through the underground as two squat warriors in simpler armour landed behind her. 

The blade of her weapon whistled through the air in a bright arc, blood fountained, and a severed green head dropped to the ground. 

“Get to work,” she ordered, her voice even. Following her lead, the soldiers drew their weapons and strode toward the injured monsters.

“You fucking bitch!” Lorn yelled as the dwarfs approached. “Scared of a real fight? Come here if you dare!” Leaning against the wall, he managed to use his club as a crutch and raised himself to his feet. 

The leader looked at one of her men and tilted her head in the large troll's direction. 

“What, send an underling to do your job? I thought you surfacers were supposed to have honour! Get your smelly arse over here you -” his eyes widened when the soldier in question pulled out a crossbow from behind his back and got closer, staying just out of the troll's reach. 

Lorn tried to duck but was too slow, and the bolt made a sickening squelching sound as it entered his skull through his eye. He collapsed, limbs twitching in his death throes. 

Kner shuddered. Right now, he was really glad he had run and was the furthest away from the invaders. 

“Your Majesty, I require a recharge for my staff,” Torian said as he approached Ami from the side, weaving through the messengers and assistants that surrounded her. “I’m happy to report that I have neutralised yet another group of invaders.” 

Wordlessly, Ami reached out and put her hand on the proffered weapon. Still concentrating on the map before her, she let power flow into the staff until she could feel resistance from its internal reservoir. 

“Thank you, your Majesty.”

Fighting was going on around several of the breaches, but there were no serious enemy breakthroughs yet. Imp under attack - already too late to save. A water basin broken open, washing away her own troops. Ami quickly patched the leak with a freezing spell. Jail break alert? 

She took a closer look at that one. Oh, just one of the prisons that Jadeite had turned into regular corridors, complete with traps, and then reverted to their true form once the dwarfs were inside. Another group of invaders was trying to get them out. She foiled the escape attempt by transporting the captives to a prison deeper within her dungeon. Now -

Massive damage to her dungeon, some deaths, followed by more deaths. Alarmed, she rushed to the site. She found a fallen, crumbling section of corridor and was just in time to see a dwarf swing his pickaxe at an injured troll, who saved his head by sacrificing an arm to block the blade. 

She reacted almost on pure reflex, bringing out her Keeper hand and batting away the offender. When the dwarf went flying and the hand dispersed into a spray of droplets, she realised she had perhaps overdone it. Hoping that she hadn't accidentally killed someone, she turned her attention to the crossbow-wielding enemy who was hanging back. No wards. A quick energy drain later and he collapsed to his knees. Now to tend to the wounded. 

Wait, there was a blood-covered orc barely managing to lift his upper body off the ground with one arm. His other hand was holding a dagger and stabbing frantically at a prone dwarf. Ami felt her heart skip a beat before she realised that the victim's armour was holding, at least against the dagger. The rock embedded in her side could only have been thrown by the half-disabled reaperbot. 

She lightly slapped the orc's dagger away and whisked the two heavily injured dwarfs away to abbot Durval, eliciting an enraged roar from her underling. Next, the crippled orc and his detached arm went to Monteraine, and then she transported the remaining wounded to Snyder. 

Having rescued the survivors of that incident, Ami compared her mental image of the dungeon with the map of incursions before her. With the collapsed corridor as the final piece of the puzzle, the hit-and-run skirmishing tactics of her opponents were suddenly making sense. 

“Complete eradication,” she muttered under her breath.

“Your Majesty?” Torian asked. His expression brightened. “Do you wish me to wipe out-”

“It’s what the dwarfs are trying to do,” Ami elaborated. “They aren’t heading straight for the dungeon heart, they want to destroy the dungeon piece by piece!”

“Is that even possible?” the warlock asked incredulously. 

“It's an approach I had dismissed as impractical,” Ami admitted. “In economic terms, it doesn't make sense to maintain an army of imps large enough to pull it off successfully.” 

“But dwarfs don't require mana and dig just as well,” Torian pondered, raising a finger to his chin. “Staying on the outside of the dungeon whenever possible would be far safer than any intrusion.” He stayed quiet for a moment. “But that would all be futile in the end unless they could claim territory?”

Ami grimaced and blocked a passage with ice before she answered “They are reaffirming their ownership of these lands. Symbols stamped into the walls.” She figured they were emblems of local lords, as each of the three main thrusts was using a different one. In any case, they conveyed enough authority that her own reclaiming efforts slowed down to a crawl. 

“Stamps, really? I see.” Torian voice seemed to convey a degree of contempt. “If you wish to concentrate on the challenging problems instead, I will be more than happy to deal with this issue for you, your Majesty.” 

“Please do,” Ami blurted out immediately, relieved that someone apparently had a solution. Her own would have involved exposing imps to enemy fire as they desperately tried to deface the offending emblems. In light of the dwarfs' strategy, she needed to check on the south-eastern part of the mountain as soon as possible. So far, it had been mostly quiet aside from imps being attacked. What were the dwarfs up to that they had avoided drawing her attention? She had to-

”Mercury, some help up here?” she suddenly heard Cathy's telepathic message. ”Largest wave of enemies yet coming straight for my position!”

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Chapter 176: The Enemy Approaches Chapter 178: Surface Battle, Part 1

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