The feeling of satisfaction I experienced when my uppercut connected with Makkis jaw was a bliss like I had never experienced before in my life. It was a textbook perfect punch. He was turned away from me, distracted by the arrival of the page, as I moved in and started shifting my weight. The page tried to warn him of my approach. The poor boy had read the alert, he “knew” that I was a dangerous criminal.
None of them had any idea how true that was about to become though.
Makkis turned back to face me as I stepped within arm’s reach of him. He had a smirk on his lips that he was fighting to suppress.
I helped him out with that.
Stepping forward with my right foot, I bent at the knees and coiled by left hand into a fist below me.
It was one action. One exhilarating release. My fist rose upwards with the force of a rocket lifting off and caught Makkis right under his chin. The word he was forming shattered as the force of the blow lifted him off his feet.
One advantage to being tall is that when uppercuts like that hit, you’ve still got a lot of extension left in your arm. I put so much force and weight into the punch that I didn’t stop my upwards momentum until I’d spun nearly 180 degrees and was reaching for the sky.
Not that I paused there.
Building on my momentum, I spun into a pivoting step and slammed an elbow strike into Councilman Breeg’s nose. I saw Breeg’s eyes rolling back into his head from the blow and grabbed him before his could fall away from me.
For some reason, probably because they were used to others doing the violent work for them and because neither was particularly talented at Aetherial anima casting, neither Makkis nor Breeg had seen this coming. They’d backed me into a corner, tried to kill me, tried to destroy me, and they hadn’t foreseen that I would strike back.
I was too much of a brute for them, I guess, and for my own good when it came to it.
In assaulting the Chairman of the Common Council, I’d declared a private war on Hellsreach. I couldn’t have played into Makkis plans better if I’d been working for him. There was no way the Common Council was going to trust me enough to believe my testimony in a hearing.
That didn’t matter though. Makkis had made a mistake.
I couldn’t win with the Common Council. Makkis had beaten me too thoroughly there. But that was the mistake. If there’d been a chance to work things out with them, I would have tried and in doing so, wasted all of the time I had remaining.
Instead, I was an outlaw. Of my own choosing. The difference that made was incomprehensible at first.
Moments before, I’d been paralyzed with terror at the thought of being cast out, of being unwanted, of being unworthy. With two counts of assault under my belt, I hoisted Breeg’s unconscious body onto my shoulder to add kidnapping to my list of crimes. Despite the extra weight, I felt unrestrained, like shackles I’d worn all my life had fallen away from me.
The room was blanketed by a stunned silence in the seconds following my attack on Makkis and Breeg. For a world with a century of warfare in its immediate history, it didn’t look like the council members were personally familiar with being exposed to violence.
I took advantage of the all-too-brief shock and broke into a run, carrying Breeg still slung over my shoulder. That took some Physical anima magic to make happen but it was worth it.
“Shoot her!” one of the guards called out.
“I’ll hit the Councilman!” another called back.
Hector, Darius’ father, brave and stupid man that he is, tried to get in my way. He might have disliked, or even hated Breeg and Makkis, but he believed in the Council. I could see the same seriousness in his eyes that Darius had when he talked about it. He couldn’t let something as fundamentally wrong as the kidnapping of a council member go unopposed.
Fortunately for all of us, Hector’s forte wasn’t Physical anima casting and he wasn’t close to being in my league in hand-to-hand combat. He tried a clumsy grab aimed at my arm and I tripped him. Often when I trip someone it’s with the intent of ramming their head through the concrete we’re standing on. Once you are in control of someone’s fall though you have options. In this case I chose to spin Hector into a graceful little pirouette that left him sitting on one of the galleries benches.
“Stop her!” the first guard screamed. His voice was tinged with panic which told me he thought I was trying to kill myself and Breeg. In his defense, I was running full speed at the twenty foot tall picture windows that gave the Council a view of downtown Zawalla City.
“I’ll get her!” Darius shouted and moved to intercept me.
That was trouble. He was still wearing some of his scout combat gear. Even if he wasn’t as good with Physical anima as I was, he was going to have a big advantage if we came to blows.
“He’s gaining on you!” Fari said and gave me back some of the fire elemental’s power.
I hit the windows like a comet.
The corona of fire that surrounded me blasted the glass outwards with enough force that I didn’t get slashed to ribbons and I exited the building like a shooting star.
The sensation of falling was a reassuring one. I was trapped by gravity, but I was free otherwise! I’d escaped pursuit and I had access a person who was sure to have the information I needed. All I had to do was fly away.
“I would really appreciate it if you could catch me!” Darius said over our mental link. “And please, please make it look like we’re fighting tooth and nail.”
I flipped over in my fall, unsure what I would find, and saw the idiot leap out of the tower!
“Are you kidding me!” I screamed back at him.
“Your wings can carry three right?” he asked as he started to plummet.
I had no idea how much I could carry.
“The flight pack’s only rated for two.” Fari said.
“This is going to be fun then. Give me the elemental’s power back.” I said and flared out both the flight pack’s wings and the wings of fire the elemental’s essence provided me.
The elemental wasted no time trying to usurp control of me, but I slammed it’s essence into a tight little ball in my mind and drove a dagger of Void anima into it, pinning its urges in place.
“Catching” Darius turned out to look a lot like “colliding” with him for the simple reason that a mid-air collision was the best I was able to manage with Breeg’s unconscious body throwing off my aerial agility.
Darius clung onto me and shifted around like we were grappling in mid-air. Again, it was a realistic performance since for the first minute or so the weight of the three of us and the lift provided by the four wings I’d conjured was highly unstable. He eventually wound up hanging beneath me with both hands clutching my left ankle. I’m sure it looked impressive, but it wasn’t what I would describe as comfortable.
The one big advantage of having Darius and Breeg along for the wobbling flight though was that the ground forces couldn’t risk shooting at me. As we passed beyond the force field that surrounded the Council headquarters (through a hole carved with Void anima) I saw the flying transports lifting off to pursue us. That meant I had to lose them, which meant diving into the city.
Under ideal circumstances, a flight through a densely packed cityscape could be fun. Twisting and turning around buildings would be thrilling and a great test of my fine control with the flight pack. For the flight we actually had I would replace “fun” with “screaming terror”.
In the end though, we landed. Not safely. Not painlessly. But we landed.
We wound up in a dusty upper story warehouse. The windows were caked with enough grime to prevent anyone from seeing in and enough of them were broken already that the one we’d smashed through didn’t stand out. I was pretty sure we’d lost our pursuers because I’d taken so many turns and passed through and under so many obstructions that I had no idea where we were.
“Are you completely insane?” Darius asked. His eyes were wide and his hands had a tremble left in them but I could see he was intact which was all I’d been hoping for towards the end of the flight.
“Uh, you’re the lunatic who jumped out of perfectly good building without a flight pack on!” I said.
“I had a plan.” he said.
“So did I!” I said.
“We need to work out what we do next.” Fari said, appearing in between the two of us.
“I think we need to know what he’s doing here.” I said pointing at Darius.
“He came to help.” Fari said.
“Why would you do that?” I asked. I knew that I looked guilty to him. Power mad, murderous and guilty.
“Fari filled me in on what happened.” he said.
“And you believed her?” I asked. I’d lived through everything Fari could have told him about and even I had to wonder if I’d been hit with a Delusion spell when I stopped to think about it.
“Yeah.” he said. “I do.”
The quiet tone of the words was almost an admission of defeat.
“I know I came down on you pretty hard before about not understanding the situation here.” he said. “It’s complex. I guess even more than I knew.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think I’m helping to make it much simpler.” I said. “And you weren’t wrong. I still don’t know what’s going on here.”
“Someone, Makkis probably, is trying to frame you.” Darius said.
“He’s done a good job. Look at me now – I’ve kidnapped an elected official of your government! On nothing more than an educated guess!” I said.
“Yeah, that’s going to be all kinds of fun to sort out later. My dads are going to have a meltdown when they find out what’s really happening.” he said.
“Your father Hector was very brave.” I told him.
“I know. Thanks for not hurting him.” Darius said. “That’s part of why I believe what Fari said.”
“He was trying to do the right thing.” I said.
“He’s not the only one.” Darius said, looking at me with a faint smile.
The room felt a bit warm. The fire elemental’s lingering essence I decided.
“Fari could you take the elemental away again?” I asked.
“Already did.” she said. Her smile was more of a teasing one.
“You said that Breeg was the one who summoned the fire elemental that destroyed the Palace Arms?” Darius asked.
“That’s the apartment building we were at.” Fari said.
“Yeah. We weren’t there when it burned, but we saw it go up in a post-cognition spell. One second it was fine, the next the elemental burst through everything in the building. I don’t think anyone made it out of there.” I said.
“The fire crews reported fighting the blaze to protect the surrounding buildings. No rescue attempts were made within the Palace Arms itself.” Fari said.
“So you know Breeg is responsible for their deaths.” Darius said. “But you can’t prove it in a hearing.”
“There’s more than that.” I said. “Fari confirmed that Makkis is the one who was spying on us when we escape from the containment facility. He played the same game there, trying to tie up Fari and my time so that the Ghost Duster bombs would get us.”
“That’s kind of a relief believe it or not.” Darius said.
“Why?” I asked.
“My dads’ political enemies are the enemies of the Empire.” Darius said. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about how the Empire would treat the Common Council if an official relationship could be forged. Makkis himself is in the minority position on relations with the other worlds and the Empire but he’s built up such a powerful voting block that he’s been able to squelch a lot of the proposals my dads have put forward. Maybe with this, they’ll be able to get some momentum for their ideas.”
“Maybe. Like you said though, it’s a complicated situation.” I said.
“That’s assuming there is a later.” Fari said.
“Which brings us to Breeg here.” I said. “He knows what Makkis and his cabal are planning. It’s gotta be happening soon or they wouldn’t have been stalling to buy a few additional hours.”
“It’s not happening soon.” Breeg said, reviving from unconsciousness at last. “Look at the sky! We’ve already won!”
I looked outside and saw a bright, sunny day. Nothing that suggested victory by one side or the other.
“You’re behind this?” Darius asked with a look of understanding and horror in his eyes.
It took me a moment to catch up. It was bright and sunny out when it shouldn’t have been.
“Fari, what time is it?” I asked.
“It’s ten minutes before dawn.” she said. I could see she’d pieced it out too.
It was ten minutes before dawn, but the sun was hanging in the center in the sky like it was noon.
When I’d guessed that Makkis’ scheme had planetary implications, I’d had no idea how right I was.