Watching a pack of giga-beasts phase into warp space in front of me was one of the most amazing sights in my life. I was super charged with the anima that I’d stolen from Master Hanq, stronger than I’d been at any time in the last two months and I less than a grain of sand compared to them.
The closest creature I could equate them to was a gorilla, except that their arms were too long for that and their heads too narrow and knife-like. From their backs billions of strands of fiber floated and writhed liked hungry limbs searching for food.
“I have completely screwed up,” I said aloud in the confines of my environment suit where no one could hear me.
“We’re going to die! You’ve killed us!” the voice of the flame within me screamed.
Looking at the six mountain sized monsters in front of me, I was reasonably certain the flames were correct.
But I didn’t need to let them know that.
“I’ve got them just where I want them,” I assured the flames and took all of my Physical anima and all of the strength I’d stolen from Master Hanq and slammed it into the flight pack.
My wings flared with the influx of power and burned like a star. I directed them to carry me forward and felt myself accelerate so hard that I almost blacked out despite the added resiliency the anima was providing.
I had one advantage in that I didn’t need to do any maneuvering. My flight wasn’t anything subtle or complicated. I was bait. All I needed to do was fly very fast and shed enough power to attract the giga-beasts attention. I didn’t need skill for this, I just needed raw energy and determination.
Nerves of steel would have helped too, but I was fresh out of those and terrified out of my mind.
It’s one thing to meet a superior foe with bravado and arrogance knowing that you’re going to get a beating for it. In most of those cases you’re going to get a beating anyways, but there’s always the chance that you can rattle them or make them hesitate enough that you can scrape out a partial win.
That absolutely wasn’t the case with the giga-beasts. Maybe in story told in a bar or something, but up close and in person it was impossible to deny that compared to them I was too small to even matter. I was pouring out more anima than I normally possessed on my best day and it wasn’t enough to tickle them. I was a glow worm to them and nothing more.
Part of me want to cheer when I saw the herd turn and begin to follow me. The other 99% was busy screaming at what an amazingly terrible plan I’d come up with.
“They’re following us!” the flames said. I felt my skin searing under the flames power. It was cooking me from the inside so the enviro-suit couldn’t do anything to protect me.
“I can’t get away from them if you fry me!” I said.
“I can’t help it!” the flames said.
“What are you!” I said.
“I don’t know!” the flames said. “I don’t understand any of this! I don’t know what’s happening or where I am or what is going on! I just know that we’re going to die. Those things are too big!”
I raged in aggravation and felt the fire begin to blister my skin.
The giga-beasts began to follow me faster. They looked intrigued by the burning trail I was leaving behind in warp space.
“Fari!” I called out telepathically. “Can you still hear me?”
“Yes!” she said. “You’re about thousand miles from us, but I’ve still got a lock on you.”
“Can you scan me?” I asked. “I’ve got some kind of passenger inside me.”
“From warp space?” she asked. She tried to control it but I heard horror drenching her voice. Giga-beasts weren’t the only threat in warp space. Stories of “Passenger” entities and the catastrophes they caused were common too.
“No,” I said. “This one’s been there since Hellsreach.”
“I’m sorry Mel, the aether is too jumbled and you’re too far away,” she said. “I’ve got a lock on your position but none of the other scrying spells are getting through.”
“That’s ok,” I said. “We’ll deal with it when I’m back on the ship.”
It was a lie, of sorts. Void anima or no, I didn’t really believe I was going to make it back to the ship, but I didn’t want to worry Fari. She deserved better than that.
“We’re two minutes away from Blue Team having the new flight path worked out,” she said. “You need to start heading back.”
“Are the giga-beasts far enough away that they won’t be able to catch the ships if I do?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But we can hold them off.”
That was funny enough (or I was crazy enough) that I laughed at it.
“You really, really can’t.” I said. Behind me half of the sky was blotted out by sheer mass of the giga-beasts.
“I’m not leaving you to die here Mel,” Fari said.
“I won’t die,” I said. “Send a message back to Hellsreach. I’ll cloak and avoid these things until they move off. They can get another ship here in half a day or so and pick me up.”
“We don’t know if a Void anima cloak will throw them off your trail,” Fari said. “And it’s too dangerous to spend half a day here outside of a ship!”
She was completely right. My odds of lasting for twelve hours alone and unprotected in warp space were close enough to zero that it wasn’t worth doing the calculation.
“We have to take that risk,” I told her. “You’ve got to save the colonists and yourself.”
“I am not going to leave you,” she said.
“You have to!” I told her.
“No,” she said. “No, I don’t. Standby.”
The tone in her voice filled me with joyous terror. Joy because I knew she’d had an idea. Terror because I knew the kind of ideas I had when I sounded like that.
“New time estimate Mel,” she said a minute later. “We need you to continue on your course for another five minutes. And stay ahead of the giga-beasts by at least a hundred miles.”
“They’re gaining awfully fast,” I said, trying to work out what she had in mind.
“Fly faster then,” she said. “Whatever it takes.”
I tried to push more energy into the flight pack but I was burning through the stolen anima faster than I could naturally replenish it and it was starting to run low.
“Fly faster,” I grumbled and wished I could turn the burning pain I felt into fuel somehow.
Which of course I could.
“What are you doing?” the flame voice screamed.
“Sorry, but you’re killing me and I need extra strength,” I said.
“No! Please! Don’t make me die!” the flames begged. “I’m not killing you! I’m not doing anything! I just don’t want to die!”
Behind me the giga-beasts picked up the pace and started closing the gap between us.
I clenched my hands into claws. This was impossible. Whatever Fari was doing was going to involve taking a ridiculous risk. If I didn’t open the gap she needed, I had the strong suspicion that we’d all die horribly.
But I couldn’t drain the flame creature either.
I could hear it in their voice. It was innocent. And terrified. And helpless.
I pushed my Void anima away from the corners inside myself that I felt the flames inhabiting and sighed.
I didn’t want to die either.
“Thank you.” the flames said in a small voice.
“You’re welcome,” I said and pulled my Void anima around myself in a great dome. I felt the fear that had gripped my heart ease away. I was still flying as fast I could but I wasn’t running anymore. I knew I was doomed, despite the last stubborn urge to draw it out as long as possible, and that brought with it a fatalistic calm.
I was working on accepting my swiftly arriving end when I heard the chanting.
“Hate. Hate. Hate.”
Just that one word. Over and over. In a voice that I’d heard already.
I looked into the Void, not with my eyes but with the sense within me that could feel the dark anima moving around, and I “saw” the creature that had attacked Master Hanq and I.
No. Not the creature. The man.
He hung in the center of the engine room’s destruction, far too distant for me to see with my natural eyes. We’d fought though and we were connected by that. I could feel the force of his chanting reaching across the miles that separated us, reaching out beyond the stars and calling forth the things that were chasing me.
Our fighting had been the match that sparked the giga-beasts interests, but it was the man’s chanting that had compelled them cross the literally unthinkable gulfs between their native realms and ours looking for sustenance.
I couldn’t fathom what would motivate someone to do that, until the horrible, obvious truth of who he was occurred to me.
He wasn’t trapped near the site of the engine room because that was were the aetheric turbulence was the strongest. He was trapped there because it was where he’d died.
I thought back to the vision we’d seen of the colony ship’s destruction. The man who’d destroyed the engines had leapt into them and summoned spikes of Void anima to shattered the multiple false safe measures that kept the titanic energies of the warp generators under control.
What I was facing wasn’t a random Void monster, it was the remnants of someone who hated so thoroughly and completely that they’d been willing to destroy themselves in order to kill a group of people who’d had no part in the war between the Humans and the Garjarack on Hellsreach.
I couldn’t reason with that, and worse, I had no idea how to fight it. I couldn’t punch something made of pure Void anima, and I couldn’t drain it either. If I was incredibly skilled I might be able to bind it, but from our first encounter it was pretty clear that he was more practiced than I was.
Not that any of that was going to be a problem.
The giga-beasts weren’t looming over me any more than they had been, but that was only because they’d already filled half the sky. They had gotten closer though. A lot closer.
I considered for the last time the idea of simply draining the flames into the flight pack. It might give me a chance. I could buy my life at the cost of a terrified, confused little monster.
I could, but I never would.
“Hey, what’s this?” the flames asked.
“What?” I asked thinking that spending my last minutes answering the questions of a monster that was possessing me would at least take my mind off my impending, grisly demise.
“This thing you’ve been putting all that anima into?” the flames asked. Before I could answer I felt the burning move away from my skin and shift towards my back. “Did you just need energy for this thing?”
I blacked out for a second. The flight pack wasn’t rated for as much anima as the flames had channeled into it, and I wasn’t rated for the level of acceleration that my body endured as a result.
“Is that too much?” the flames asked.
“No!” I said. “Keep it up! Give it more!”
“Like this?” the flames said.
This time I blacked out for twenty seconds according to the enviro-suits display before it was able to compensate for the massive forces I was being subjected too.
I dropped the Void shield that was shrouding us and saw the giga-beasts reorient to begin tracking on me again. The invisibility spell had hidden me from them, but they were so enormous that they’d stayed more or less on my path just by virtue of the sheer volume of space they took up.
“Mel! I have your position fixed again. We’re coming to get you!” Fari said.
“You’re doing what?” I asked her, terrified that everything I’d gone through was going to be for nothing.
“Continue your current course and speed,” she said.
“Fari, no! Are you insane? You can’t come for me! The giga-beasts will annihilate you!” I said.
“We’re not going to be anywhere near them,” she said. “Now brace yourself, and maybe throw up a protection field or twenty. This might be a little bumpy.”
I wracked my brain for how Master Hanq’s ship with the colony ship module attached to it was possibly going to make it past the giga-beasts. I couldn’t come up with any way for that to occurred until I saw a rainbow tear the space around me to shreds.
Through the rent in the fabric of warp space, Master Hanq’s ship screamed out, sparks and fire and weird energies of every color splashing away from as though it was crash landing through a fireworks factory.
“You jumped through the giga-beast’s home dimension?” I asked, dumbfounded.
Warp space was difficult to travel through. You had to be at least partially crazy to handle the calculations involved. The esoteric dimensions weren’t crazy to travel through, they were impossible. At least in any practical sense. No one could manage that kind of information processing.
No one except for Fari apparently. My mind reeled at the thought of what she’d risked for me.
I felt like I could have been caught breathless by that forever, except there were some urgent problems that remained which dragged my attention back the situation before me. The ship was traveling faster than I was, which was good in the sense that they were able to catch up to me, but bad in the sense that getting hit by Master Hanq’s ship was going to leave me just as dead as getting eaten by the giga-beasts.
Also, it appeared to be on fire, missing some key pieces and a ghost.
Of all of those, it turned out that I was very lucky that it was ghost ship, and that a second later I was a ghost too.