The Line Mage casts only a single spell – the Plasma Filament. A linear distortion in spacetime extends from the caster's nexus to a point of their choosing. Its core temperature exceeds seven thousand Kelvins. Its heat intensity is zero. Its diameter is bound by Jacob's Tridimensional Magicule Limit and can never exceed one hundred thousandth of an inch. The Filament's length and duration can be improved by training. Jacob himself was said to have been able to conjure a two-hundred-feet Filament for up to a half-second. A minimum cast of six-feet for one millisecond is required to obtain the Associate Dungeoneer Certification (ADC).
The Filament is simultaneously materialized along its trajectory. It penetrates all known physical and magical barriers. It cannot be deflected, attenuated, delayed, deprived, or transmogrified. Once cast, the Filament is fixed at its end point. Wide-area suppression is achieved by rapid-casting. Jacob was said to have been able to cast up to fifty-seven times within one second. The ADC has no requirement for rapid-casting.
In the Dungeon, the Line Mage is utilized for: the destruction of hard-points; resource collection; precision CQC; and, in the case of exceptional individuals, annihilation of high-priority organic targets. They are considered essential combatants from the Third Strata onward.
The carapace of the Petrified Carrier was ten inches thick and coated with oil. Inside its gargantuan carcass was one megaton of high-grade ore with up to 2% U3O8. Once highly prized, uranium has become obsolete since the migration of the Home City to the Second Strata; refineries built by the ancient elves were left behind on the First. The Useless Mages – whose magics are attenuated by the Dungeon – were still trying to achieve enrichment with their imitation centrifuge. They were poorly funded.
Still, the Home City needed its energy, and replacement sources were inadequate. Jacob's Engineers have restarted the refineries, despite the Encroachment being less than a hundred miles from its fences. They were still asking for ore, and they were willing to pay.
The easiest place to find uranium was on the Third Strata. The Petrified Carrier regenerates every fourteen months from the Living Wall. It is classified as a Class-Three Entity, to be eliminated – in theory – only by those with a Professional Dungeoneer Certification (PDC). The proliferation of subcontracting has allowed those with ADCs to participate at a bleed rate of approximately thirty percent, half of which were Line Mages.
Sam was a statistic. Her ADCs were purchased on Frome Street with a bag of Class-Two Heirlooms. On a good day, her Plasma Filament was eight-feet at one millisecond; on her off days, which was almost every day, she could manage seven inches.
She had died, earlier, during the claims rush, as the subcontractors fought each other for a spot on the Carrier. A Twinblade had crushed her lungs with a single blow. She had managed to cut a hole in their chest, the same way she would have carved through the Carrier. Her Filament had been thirteen inches. Even as she had fought for her life, her ability did not improve. It had been an off day.
Two hundred and thirteen ADCs had died for the Carrier: blown up by the seeker spores; crushed by its steers; slain by fellow ADCs. The supervisor, a PDC Twinblade named Jaswant, had them piled up beneath a white sycamore. Looters were welcome, but only after prayers were observed. A plaque had been planted before the knotted roots: CADAVERS RESERVED.
The wains came, hundreds upon thousands. The tracklayers followed, and the diggers, the movers, the demolitionists. The carapace may be impenetrable from the outside, but it was susceptible to fracture. First detonation occurred three hours after the intercept; a new record for Jaswant. The Home Council rewards efficiency above all. Being the first earned awards and handshakes; being the fastest earned lucrative contracts from the Council itself.
It would take up to six weeks for the Carrier to be mined. A patrol team of Dungeoneers would remain to secure the site against threats on the Third Strata. The rest would move on. The Living Wall was scheduled to regenerate the Monument in thirty-six hours. Already the ADCs have taken up position along the Eluvial Spear, awaiting its arrival.
Jaswant remained at the Carrier. The night was fast approaching yet the client was nowhere to be seen. Floodlights were switched on, illuminating the gaping holes on the side of the carapace, where hundreds of tons of ore had already been removed. Luminescent peonies flocked to the white sycamore, drawn by the scent of blood, intimidated by the passive resonance of the Twinblade.
The first ore train rolled to a stop three hundred feet from the stockpile. Its boilers had been forged with Carrier carapace. Its headlights were a pair of luminescent crows, petrified yet brighter than ever. Three hundred empty orebins stretched into the gloom. A single cabin was attached directly behind the engine. It was dark purple and edgeless, like a sliced egg. Its walls roiled, revealing an elf with petrified wings.
Wordlessly, Jaswant led him to the corpse pile. The elf bent down and inhaled. The peonies took flight all at once, shrieking. He withdrew a flimsy piece of cloth. Jaswant took it, greedily. Two illegible lines were scribbled on grease-covered linen, followed by a flowing signature that burned red in the retina. A letter of recommendation from Jacob himself.
Jaswant fled into the night, no longer concerned with mundane work. The elf clicked his fingers, and the train cabin sprouted eight spindly legs. It sprang atop the pile of corpses. Its body roiled. When it moved away, the bodies were gone.