Makkis thought I would lead him to Master Raychelle. It wasn’t a mistake, or a misreading of the situation. My absolute best chance was with her, and I had an idea for how to find her. All I had to do was find one of the weapon arrays and take it offline. She was almost certainly working on the same thing and if she saw a weapon array go dead, she’d know where I was and, probably, try to join up with me. She’d kept silent so far because I was providing the perfect cover for her. Every time she didn’t come to support me, it looked that much more like she’d been killed in Deep Run.
That sounded like wishful thinking when the theory occurred to me, but the more I looked at the order of events the better it seemed to fit.
The explosion of the teleportation gate when we left Deep Run had devastated an area outside of the exterior gate, but Deep Run was a fortified facility. It would have withstood a similar blast much better. Master Raychelle in particular would have survived the blast well. I’d absorbed the anima from three of the bone stealers and I could have flattened the entire facility. She’d absorbed at least twice that many before Fari, Darius and I left. Also she was familiar with using that kind of power and could accomplish a lot more with a lot less than I could.
Makkis hadn’t know that though, so he had only general paranoia to suggest to him that she might have survived the blast.
If I was right, she’d done more than survive though. She’d been looking for someone when we parted. General Kep Vex. He was a prisoner in Deep Run. In retrospect, I had to guess that he’d known what Hellsreach actually was. That was probably why Makkis had kept him alive there. If the efforts to bring Hellsreach online came to a dead end, General Vex was another source of information they could lean on to find a new path forward. Vex wouldn’t have had much reason to help them, but I was willing to bet that a guy like Makkis could find ways to be persuasive.
Master Raychelle could be persuasive too, especially when the alternative to helping her was being eaten by bone stealers.
Of course it was possible that I was overrating her abilities. Master Raychelle and General Vex could have been killed in Deep Run in any number of ways. The problem with that theory was that if Master Raychelle was dead, I should be too.
Makkis had no reason to leave me alive. Even with all the power he had, it was the safer, smarter play to kill me and be done with it. The only reason to leave me alive was if I could be useful to him in some way. With Darius as a hostage to ensure my good behavior, there were all sorts of ways I could ‘useful’ to him, but Makkis was first and foremost concerned about his plan to take over Hellsreach and then fight against the Empire. Anything that distracted him from that would get him killed in a big hurry.
So how could I be useful to Makkis in taking over the world? His biggest problem was Master Raychelle and with me acting as bait he could lure her into trap. Would I do so intentionally? No. Even to save Darius? No, because we’d die seconds after Master Raychelle did. Could I be tricked into leading her into a trap? Probably.
That seemed like a safe bet because I had an idea for how to bring Master Raychelle to where I was, and I could do it without communicating in a way that Makkis could intercept. If I thought I’d actually escaped from him, it would be the first thing I would try. Makkis didn’t need to overhear where would meet though. All he needed to do was to monitor me. I could disappear and be untraceable, which should have left me confident that I could escape his monitoring, except I’d tasted the Void anima in the attack he’d hit me with. I could still taste it in fact, which told me that I couldn’t count on slipping away like I had before.
As long as he could sense me through my invisibility cloak, if Master Raychelle showed up where I was, he’d kill us both. Since he could kill me at any time, there wasn’t much of a downside to the plan from his perspective.
I crawled on the floor over to where Darius was still hanging against the wall. Makkis was watching us, and listening to us. I had to assume that was true, which meant I also needed to keep him convinced that I was broken and helpless.
I leaned back against the wall and buried my face in hands. I felt them shaking and had to admit that I was terrified. My theory sounded plausible, but when I took a moment to be honest with myself, I knew I could be wrong. I wanted to believe that we hadn’t lost yet. In fact I had to believe we hadn’t lost yet.
I wanted more than anything to call out to Fari, but I knew that was the last thing I should do. Makkis thought Master Raychelle had died in Deep Run but he was ready to believe otherwise when evidence presented itself. He was certain he’d killed Fari though, but he knew even less about her than he knew about Master Raychelle.
It was a slim hope, but I held onto it. A part of me believed in Fari and a part of me just needed something to hold onto.
With no one to talk to, I felt empty and off balance. I needed an ally. I couldn’t win this fight alone.
I listened to Darius’ breathing and noticed that it was different. From what I could see he was still unconscious.
Or he was pretending to be.
I dropped my hands to my side and slumped sideways so that my head rested against his leg. My forehead touched the bare skin of his thigh through a tiny hole that had been burned in the side of his pants during our frantic plunge into the volcano.
The moment we touched, the mind link spell he’d cast triggered. Skin-to-skin contact. No way for Makkis to intercept it.
“You should have let him zap me.” Darius said.
“If I was willing to do that, he would have killed you.” I said.
“Yeah. I know.” Darius said. He sounded as weary as I felt.
“You did a good job pretending. I don’t think he knew that you were awake. He probably doesn’t even know that you’re awake now.” I said.
“It’s a good thing he didn’t shock you one more time.” Darius said. “I know we needed information, but it wouldn’t have been worth it for that.”
“It wasn’t fun, but I think I was able to absorb a little of it.” I told him. “And he sucks at interrogation.”
“I know! You had him wrapped in a knot there.” Darius said. “I don’t know if it helps us though. I thought I could get the information out to my Dads but even if we could, they’re not going to be able to help us. I don’t think anyone on the planet can help us.”
“Assuming there’s anyone left on the planet aside from us right?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Darius asked.
“Makkis has a weapon that can project a Void anima field. He could sweep the planet with it and kill anyone he wants to. I’m guessing that he’s already started.” I said.
“I don’t think so.” Darius said. “He’ll notice if I try to send an active spell out, so I’ve been working passive clairvoyance only. I haven’t sensed any massive deaths, and I know my Dads are still alive.”
“Why wouldn’t he be getting rid of his enemies?” I wondered.
“Maybe he can’t?” Darius suggested.
I thought about that and my thoughts led me to one conclusion.
“Master Raychelle! I was right! She is shutting him down!” I said.
I explained my theory to Darius, about Master Raychelle taking advantage of the distraction I provided to disable Hellsreach’s weapon systems.
“That sounds like a long shot, but given what I’ve seen you do, I’m willing to believe it’s possible.” Darius sound. “In fact, maybe you are right. Makkis hates both of my Dads. I can’t imagine him not killing them in this kind of situation. He’d only hold off if he was afraid still.”
That sparked a thought in my mind.
“Wait. He’s afraid still. That makes sense. So why is he moving Hellsreach out of its orbital path?” I asked.
“He said he was going to drag Exxion II and IV along with him on a galaxy hopping conquest spree.” Darius said. “And he was lying to us.”
“Of course he was. His lips were moving.” I said. “He’s not planning to attack the other planets. Not with Hellsreach’s weapon systems offline. He’s afraid! He’s running away!”
“He’s heading to the jump gate. If he makes it there, he’ll be beyond the reach of either of the local navies.” Darius said.
“Can he take a whole planet through the jump gate?” I asked.
“I don’t know, it’s not my field of study. I would guess ‘probably’. Whoever created Hellsreach would have had the spell crafting power to do that. I think.” Darius said.
“If he can bring Hellsreach to an isolated system, he’ll have all the time he needs to get the planetary weapons systems back online.” I said.
“As soon as they’re active, he’ll scrub the planet clean of anyone who could oppose him.” Darius said.
“If it came to it, could the forces on Hellsreach now, all of them put together, destroy this base?” I asked.
“Yeah. It would be bloody but they could do it.” he said.
“Would they?” I asked.
“I…” he hesitated. “I don’t know. I don’t think they can work together. There’s too much hate there. On the other hand, once they figured out what this base controlled, none of them would be able to let the others have it. Destroying it might be the one thing they could agree on.”
“I’m half tempted to let them try.” I said.
“A lot of people will die. That field didn’t kill us because Makkis didn’t want it to kill us. There’s no defense against it. The armies here can pitch enough bodies at the place to get the people and materials inside to destroy it but they’re going to walk over a mountain of corpses to get there.” he said.
“What if we only told the offworlder forces?” I suggested.
I knew what I was offering Darius and I felt like a devil from the deepest pit for doing so. I didn’t have to test him like that. I just wanted to know.
He was silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke on the mental link his voice was soft but resolved.
“No. That wouldn’t be right either.” he said.
“Good.” I said. I hadn’t seen much of the offworlder armies since I arrived on Hellsreach, just the reflection of their actions in Darius’ eyes. I couldn’t see his eyes at that moment, but his words gave me another thread of hope to cling to.
“That doesn’t leave anyone to stop Makkis though, unless your Master can get to him.” Darius said.
“I don’t think she can in time.” I said. “If they jump the planet out of the system, they can start the killing. Makkis will turn one side against the other with targeted murders while he brings the other weapon systems back online.”
“Do you think he can fix them faster than your Master can destroy them?” Darius asked.
“He’s had twenty years to put together a corp of people to help with that. Even if there’s only a hundred of them, that’s still a hundred systems they can repair while Master Raychelle dismantles one of them. And if they find out where she is, she’ll be the first one they kill with the Void anima field.” I said.
“So there’s no one who can stop this?” Darius said. I heard the anger in his voice, and the despair that was eating away at the edges of his words.
“I didn’t say that.” I told him.
“Who’s left?” he asked.
“We are.” I said.
I told him my plan.
He shot holes in it.
He offered alternate suggestions.
I shot holes in those.
We came up with a new plan together.
And we both shot holes in that one.
What we finally settled on was less of a plan and more a set of goals and contingencies. Makkis was too smart and too entrenched for either of us to think we knew what he had in store for us. All we could do was play to his blind spots and hope he hadn’t figured me out completely yet.
“I don’t like this.” Darius said. “You shouldn’t have to be the one in danger.”
“We’re both going to be in danger, you probably more than me, cause at least I’ll see Makkis coming when he moves against me.” I said.
“I know, but I still don’t like it.” he said. “I get that its our best chance, but there’s so much we don’t know here. It could do so wrong, so fast and I just…I just don’t want to miss having dinner together.”
“Dinner?” I asked.
“When we were in Deep Run, you said we could have dinner together. Listen, forget that, I know its stupid and not the time for it.” Darius said.
I tried to figure out what he was talking about and it came back to me. I’d made a random joke about telling him my life story over dinner if we got out of the prison.
“You remember that?” I asked, surprised it had stuck with him given all the things we’d been through afterwards.
“Yeah.” he said and was silent for a moment before continuing “I know the odds against us are terrible here, and this is not the way to start anything. If we live though, I’d like to get to know you. If you want to, that is.”
I felt a quiet thrill and a relaxing warmth spread through me.
“I’d like that too.” I said and pressed my head against his thigh a little harder.
We were both quiet for a moment after that, day dreaming I think.
“So, don’t die then. Come back to me.” he said.
“You don’t die either, or I’ll haunt your ghost.” I said.
“Haunt my ghost? How would you do that?” he asked.
“Ask yourself if you think I would threaten to do that if I couldn’t and if you really want to know how I would.” I said.
“Right. No dying then.” he said. The lightness in his words was a balm to me, even though neither of us had any illusions that our path forward would be an easy one.
“Might as well get started.” I said and bathed the entire room in a cloak of void anima.
I stood up, knowing that Makkis would be on his way to investigate the room. He’d give me enough time to ‘escape’ since he needed me to lead him to Master Raychelle but he’d make the pursuit look good so that I didn’t figure out what he was up to.
That gave me the time to snap the chains that Darius was bound up by. My Physical anima had recovered enough for that as we’d talked.
He fell away from the wall and into my arms once the chains weren’t supporting him anymore.
“It’ll take a minute to get feeling back into limbs.” I told him, speaking from personal experience.
“I’ll be ok.” he said.
“You better be.” I told him and lowered him to the cell floor.
Then I kissed him.
That wasn’t part of the plan. Well, not the one we talked about anyways.
I wasn’t great at kissing but it wasn’t hard to figure out either. He jolted with surprise at first, since the Void anima had left him blind as usual, but once he figured out what was happening he kissed me back like he wasn’t going to let me go.
I broke off and pulled away from him, despite an overwhelming desire to do otherwise.
I wanted to say something cool, or something alluring, but I was shaking worse than I’d been after Makkis zapped me, if for entirely different reasons.
So instead of being clever, I took off and left Darius, alone in the cell. I brought the cloak of invisibility with me, but I left a little piece of myself behind.