Titanus was going to die. It was the only conclusion I could come to as I watched the behemoths that had pursued us across the light years. They crashed over the surface of the planet shattering the landscape and crushing everything in their path.
“I could have stopped this,” I said. “If I could have just beaten Higgs a month ago, I could have stopped this.”
“I could have stopped it if I still had my full power,” Fari said. “That’s not worth thinking about.”
“Right,” Darius said. “What we need is a plan for what we do next.”
“The giga-beasts look like they’re oriented on something else now,” Fari said.
“They’re not chasing the colony ship anymore,” Darius said.
“They never were,” I said. “They were following Higgs, and he’s running away now.”
“Wait, so you did beat him then?” Darius said.
“No. I just diminished him a bit,” I said. “I can’t destroy him. I don’t know how.”
“Is he running away from you or running towards something else?” Fari asked.
I hadn’t thought to consider that but reaching into the connection I still had with him showed me the answer.
“He’s homing in on something else. Another anchor,” I said and felt a new wave of sickness pass through me. A new anchor meant a new source of power. I’d beaten Higgs in part because he’d only had me to draw on for strength and I’d starved him for weeks. If he found a new source to draw hate from our next battle could go very differently.
“You’re shivering,” Darius said. “Are you ok?”
“No, not really,” I admitted. “Fari’s what’s in the direction that the giga-beasts are heading?”
“Nothing in a direct path,” she said.
“Will they pass close to anything?” I asked.
“They’ll be within about five hundred miles of the primary human settlement within twenty hours,” she said.
“What about the Garjarack city?” I asked.
“They’d need to alter their course,” she said. “If they proceeded there at their current speed and change to a straight line course they’d reach that area in about three weeks.
“Can you detect any signals from the human or Garjarack colony ships?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m getting a distress beacon from the human ship. The Garjarack ship is still in orbit.”
“Can you patch us into the distress channel?” Darius asked.
A moment later we all heard the enchanted voice of the ship’s communication system repeating the standard Galactic Distress message over and over.
Darius waved his fingertips and cast a spell that tapped into the beacon spell and quieted it. A few seconds later a new voice appeared on the channel.
“Hellsreach Rescue Vessel, this is Titanus 4-1, please confirm your identity,” Colonel Beva said. We’d never met but I’d read her file in reviewing the people being shipped to Titanus and had heard her speak on a few holo-recordings.
“Titan 4-1, this is Hellsreach Council Liason Darius Pyras. I have the Imperial Colonization Overseer and a Crystal Guardian here. We’ll send an identity imprint now,” Darius said.
“Technically, I could fake these,” Fari said on a private channel.
“Yeah, but nobody else here could manage it so you’d be giving yourself away even if you did,” I said. I saw her smile in response to that. Being awesome at mental spells was a justifiable point of pride for her. Darius being clever was stealing her thunder a bit, but under the circumstances I don’t think either of them was really bothered by it.
We each cast our magical seals of office into the communication stream and received the answering seal from Colonel Beva to confirm her identity.
“I don’t know how you folks got here so quickly but I am damn glad to hear from you,” Colonel Beva said.
“What’s your situation Colonel?” I asked, though I was willing to wager a year’s salary that I could guess.
“We’ve had a revolt,” she said. “One of the majors suborned a contingent of the colonists and forced our ship to make a crash landing on the planet.”
“Who was the leader of the mutineers?” Fari asked.
“Major Exan Vunthor,” Colonel Beva said.
I couldn’t help myself. For as terrible as the day had been, for as disgusted as I was by the fight with Higgs, I still had to crack a smile.
“I knew it!”
I limited that outburst to our private channel but my savage glee still earned me a couple of wary looks from Darius and Fari.
“Admit it,” I said, again on the private channel, “You thought I was getting a little obsessive about him.”
“Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean you’re not also crazy,” Darius said.
I looked at Fari for support but she nodded in agreement with Darius.
“Ok, that’s a fair point,” I said. “Still, I was right.”
“What’s the status of the colonists?” Fari asked on the emergency channel.
“The Verulia ship didn’t weather the landing well,” Beva said. “We suffered a 20% fatality rate on landing and 60% of the remaining colonists and Verulia staff are severely injured.”
“What’s the status of Vunthor and the other mutineers?” I asked.
“They’ve escaped from the ship and we’ve lost scrying contact with them,” Colonel Beva said. “We know the living module they were in was one of the few that wasn’t damaged in the crash, and from our inventory assessments, they made off with the majority of our weapons stockpile.”
“Have you received any contact from the Garjarack colony ship?” Darius asked.
“Yes,” Beva said. “They tried to send a relief shuttle to us yesterday, after the crash. The mutineer’s shot it down.”
“I’ve got the Garjarack colony ship on a separate channel, shall I join them in?” Fari asked.
“Yes please,” I said.
“This is Titanus Colony Ship 2-A,” Gan Everbright said.
“Mr. Everbright? I thought you were back on Hellsreach?” I said. Specifically, I knew he was supposed to be on Hellsreach. The manifest for the Garjarack ship hadn’t included any humans. Even the Verulia Industries crew for the ship was composed of Rigelluns and other local non-human races.
“After the incident in our engine room, I wanted to personally insure that the Garjarack colonists enjoyed a safe flight,” he said.
About a thousand insults and quips came to mind in relation to the “safety” that the colonists had experienced so far, but I held them back. We had more important things to do than waste time on Verulia’s failures.
“What is the status with 2-A?” I asked him.
“We are standing by as per Imperial order,” he said.
“Verulia was supposed to have security forces in place on Titanus already,” I said. “What is the status of those troops?”
“That phase of the implementation has been delayed. They are expected to arrive within two weeks though,” he said.
“That conflicts with the information Imperial Oversight received at Hellsreach,” Fari said.
“Communication delays are inevitable when dealing with new settlements like this,” Everbright said. “The security forces will be in place before the final Imperial inspection is scheduled to occur though.”
“No, they won’t.” I said. “You’re not sending enough of them.”
“Tell me that you have some good news for us,” Colonel Beva said. “Do you have an army of Imperial Marines on their way here?”
“I’m afraid not Colonel,” I said. “And I’m afraid I don’t have good news for you either.”
“What do you mean?” Everbright asked.
“We rescued a group of Council colonists who survived the explosion of the third colony ship,” I said. “But we were pursued here by trans-warp entities.”
“What kind of trans-warp entities?” Everbright asked. His voice was quiet and fluttering which suggested he had a clue about the kind of monsters that lived outside of warp space.
“Transmitting live images of them now,” Fari said.
Both Colonel Beva and Gan were mute as they watched what we were seeing live. There was a mountain in the giga-beasts path. For a minute. The giga-beasts didn’t divert their course. They just went straight through it.
“What are those?” Gan asked.
“Classification unknown,” Fari said. “But they were powerful enough to destroy an Imperial combat cruiser without resistance.”
“Where are you now?” Colonel Beva asked.
“1,400 miles south-south-west of your position,” Fari said. “The creatures seem to be heading towards a spot five hundred miles west of you, if they stay on their current course.”
After seeing them demolish a mountain, it didn’t seem like there was much that would get them to change paths and since they’d already killed me once (technically) I wasn’t eager to volunteer as “bait” again.
“Everbright, do you have any information on what they could be heading towards,” I asked.
There was a pause, as though he was checking the records on Titanus.
“No,” he said. “There’s nothing in that area that they should be interested in.”
Something about his delivery set my teeth on edge. I don’t have any magical talents for detecting lies but sometimes all you need is to listen and pay attention to notice them.
“You’re right,” Fari said on our private channel. “He’s holding something back.”
“Definitely,” Darius agreed.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “We think they’re homing in on something that has a Void anima resonance to it.”
“Definitely sure,” Everbright said with conviction. “No significant Void anima zones have been charted on Titanus.”
I’d asked the wrong question. Everbright’s certainty said I’d missed whatever he was afraid I’d ask, but with the information we possessed I wasn’t coming up with any guesses for what he was hiding from us.
“It could be Major Vunthor,” Colonel Beva said. “We know he’s moved his forces outside of our scrying range and we haven’t been scrying that far out.”
“Was Vunthor a Void caster?” Darius asked.
“His records don’t indicate any capacity for that,” Fari said.
“But Void anima casting is very easy to hide,” I said and felt a weary sickness settle over me as the pieces fell into place.
Higgs had found a new anchor. Something, or more specifically, someone who hated like he did. Someone who he could connect with and draw from. Someone he already had a connection to in fact.
I tried to confirm my suspicion by reaching into the link that existed between Higgs and I found it dwindling away to nothing. He’d given up on me. He’d abandoned the power he possessed that was tied up with my own. The only reason he would do that was if he had a new source.
It had to be Vunthor. He’d lost so much. That didn’t guarantee a capacity for manipulating Void anima but it was a trait frequently shared by Void casters. It also explained how he’d gotten on board the colony ship despite our security working day and night to prevent that.
“That could be very bad,” Gan said.
“What aren’t you telling us Gan?” I asked. It wasn’t politic to imply that the spokesman for Verulia Industries was lying to official Imperial representatives, but I was out of patience with playing games.
“If those creatures are under this Major Vunthor’s control, he will be extremely hard to dislodge from that location,” Gan said. “The survey maps show that area is the deep within a mountain range and there appear to be extensive caves and natural underground formations there.”
“So about that army of Imperial Marines?” Colonel Beva asked.
“We’re on our own,” I said. “The warp lanes between Hellsreach and Titanus are a mess from the explosion and the giga-beast’s passage. We took a shortcut to get here that no one on Hellsreach will be able to replicate and even if they could, they’ll still be a month or more behind us, unless they’re already in transit.”
“We’ll have to make plans to evacuate the planet,” Colonel Beva said. “We can transfer my people to the remaining colony ship and await an Imperial Task Force there.”
“I’m afraid I can’t authorize that Colonel,” Gan said. “In the event of hostile action between the two factions, Verulia Industries is required to maintain a quarantine between the two groups.”
“We’re not the ones who attacked the Gar ship!” Beva said.
“That doesn’t change anything, “ Gan said. “The situation on the ground is too volatile. We can’t be sure you don’t have more mutineers among your numbers. I’ve already lost two of the colony ships. I am not going to endanger the remaining one.”
“You’re not going to have any colonists here if you’d help us Everbright,” Colonel Beva said.
“The Imperials will get here eventually and clean this mess up,” Gan said. “Whether or not you’re here, Titanus will still be able to host new citizens. If I were you, I’d work out how to survive until then.”
“You had better hope we don’t Everbright,” Colonel Beva said.
“No need to make this personal Colonel,” Gan said. “This is just how the numbers fall. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the logistics for a long term occupation of this colony ship to plan. Everbright out.”
There was a pop of silence as he exited the spell link. Our one contact off planet was closed to us.
We really were all alone here.