The problem wasn’t that the world was falling apart around me. It wasn’t that Everbright’s cold disinterest in the welfare of the people on Titanus made me want to slap him all the way back to Hellsreach. It wasn’t even that Darius, Fari and Hanq, were in danger because I was too weak to end things before they got to this point. The real problem was that I had no one around that I could hit.
I like problems that I can punch in the face. I’ve spent a long time learning how to punch things really hard. It’s also a natural response to frustration, anger, fear and whole bunch of other negative emotions.
The Sisters who raised me weren’t terribly keen on the idea, but I always found that letting those feelings out left me better off than holding them in. That wasn’t something I did naturally at first though. It took a lot of work with Master Hanq before I could let loose while training or sparring. The funny thing was, until I learned to do that, I had terrible problems with self-control.
Of course, once I learned it was okay to get angry and hit things (and people), Master Hanq had the long headache of teaching me not to hit everything and everyone. He mostly succeeded with that, but it’s probably accurate to say I’m still something of a “work in progress” on that front.
One thing he did teach me in that vein though was to channel my restless need to hit things into some kind of action.
“The giga-beasts are too big to punch,” I said. “But we’re going to need to stop them somehow. Captain Hanq is busy closing the portal with Black team and the rest of his crew is landing the colony module and will need to provide protection for it. We have the three of us to add to whatever resources and personnel you have there Colonel Beva. What plans did you have for dealing with Major Vunthor before this?”
“With the state we’re in?” Colonel Beva said. “We’re in a purely defensive posture at present. Vunthor’s people gutted our weapon stockpile before they left.”
“That may not make much difference,” Darius said. “The colony ships were carrying fairly light armaments. They were really only suitable for subsistence hunting in case of a disaster.”
“So the good news is that Vunthor’s not packing a lot of fire power,” I said.
“Unless you count the giga-beasts,” Fari said.
“Which the full armaments of a colony ship would do precisely nothing to,” Darius said.
“If we can’t fight then running is the next option. Titanus is a big place and we can block Vunthor’s scrying,” I said. Or more specifically, Fari could block Vunthor’s scrying, so he wouldn’t be able to find us without sending out scouts to physically search the whole planet.
“We have too many wounded here,” Colonel Beva said. “It would take us weeks to relocate everyone. Without help from the other colony ship, we’re going to have to surrender to any demands they make.”
“What do you have that Vunthor would want?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Beva said. “He took the weapons he wanted. There’s enough indigenous wildlife and human-compatible vegetation that they’ll be be fine for supplies. We don’t have anything that he would care about.”
“Yes you do,” Fari said. “You have hostages.”
“Hostages?” Beva asked.
I winced. Fari was right.
“Yeah, for when the Imperials get here,” I said. “If they have all of your people to act as shields it will make it very difficult to uproot them.”
“It could buy them time to get reinforcements,” Darius said.
“From where? We’re out in the end of nowhere here,” Beva said.
“From your people,” Darius said.
“Anyone who had sympathies for Vunthor’s side left with them already,” Beva said.
“Not if they were too injured to be moved,” Darius said. “And then there’s the possibility of brainwashing.”
“Mental anima can’t take long term control of someone, and even short term it’s not easy,” I said, quoting what I’d learned from Master Raychelle.
“They wouldn’t do it with anima,” Darius said. “They’d just break the spirits of all the prisoners and see which of them they could build back up again.”
“We really can’t let this happen then,” I said, picturing all too easily how successful Vunthor would be with that approach.
“My first priority is the safety of the colonists,” Colonel Beva said. “I won’t ask anyone to throw their lives away against those things.”
“We wouldn’t expect you to,” Darius said. “But we will need to come up with something to do about them.”
I thought for a moment about the crisis that was in front of us.
The giga-beasts were huge and unstoppable, but they were also a game changer for everyone on Titanus. Vunthor’s original plans couldn’t have taken their presence into account so even if Higgs had made contact with them and they’d managed to settle into a happy little hate-fest together, Vunthor was still in the position of adjusting his plans to take advantage of the huge windfall that had been dropped in his lap. That meant we had a narrow window where his preparations would be in flux while his people sorted out the new plans.
“If we’re going to strike, it needs to be very soon,” I said. “By twenty hours from now, Vunthor will be ready to use the giga-beasts for something. He might even pull things together sooner in fact.”
“How is he going to command things that large?” Beva asked.
“He’s not the one who’s commanding them,” I said. “Not primarily. It’s the Void ghost of the guy who blew up the Council colony ship that’s luring them in.”
‘Void ghost’ was technically an incorrect description of what Higgs had become but the distinctions didn’t matter to Beva.
“Can we target that ghost?” she asked.
“We’ve tried that. Twice, ” I said. “It’s extremely resilient.”
“I’d still rather fight one ghost than three of those things,” Beva said.
“Unless you have Void anima casters in your forces you won’t be able to touch him,” I said. “And if you do, they should stay well away from him.”
“What other options do we have?” Darius asked. “There’s still time for us to put something together too.”
We were all silent for a minute, pondering the options before us. There weren’t a whole lot of good ones but there were plenty of stupid and futile things we could try.
“If we can’t stop Higgs and we can’t stop the giga-beasts then there’s only one person we can target,” I said at last.
“Vunthor is surrounded by his most loyal forces, in an inaccessible mountain range that’s riddled with tunnels,” Fari said. “Getting to him is not going to be trivial.”
“Getting to him now will be challenging,” I said. “Getting to him once the giga-beasts are in play is going to be a whole lot worse.”
“What if he choses to bunker down? We may not even be able to find him, much less engage him in combat,” Darius said.
“That’s a possibility. There’s no one on the surface of Titanus that he hates enough to risk his neck for a shot at,” I said.
“And the only force that’s even vaguely a threat to him is on the colony ship, which is safely out of his reach,” Darius said.
A chill went through me when he said that. The jolt of fear had nothing to do with my danger sense though. I looked at the giga-beasts far below us searching for the details that I hoped wouldn’t be there only to be disappointed and terrified by what I saw.
“Oh no,” I said as the ideas tumbled together in my head. “We’re focusing too low. Colonel Beva, your people aren’t in direct danger.”
“That would be good news, but what makes you think that?” she asked.
“If Vunthor gets his hands on the giga-beasts, you’re not going to be the first target he turns them on,” I said. “The sole focus of his hatred has been the Garjarack and, if Higgs bonds with his psyche, that rage is going to be amplified.”
“How can he strike against the Garjarack?” Beva asked.
“The giga-beasts pursued us across warp space,” I said. “They’re walking now because they’re adapting to this environment still but they’re still adapting.”
“Oh, that’s bad,” Fari said as she looked through a conjured scrying pool, “Mel’s right. They’re integrating into this dimension. At the rate they’re recovering from the transport they’ll have flight capability back well before they reach Vunthor.”
“Will they be able to reach the colony ship?” Darius asked.
“They’ll be able to reach anywhere,” Fari said.
“Even back to Hellsreach?” Darius asked.
“Easily,” Fari said. “They could get there in a few days if they traveled through their own dimension and knew where they were going,”
“Or were lead by someone who was after revenge on half the people still there,” I said. “Fari, can you get Everbright back on the line? Even if he’s not going to help, this concerns the Garjarack colony ship. They need to know what we’re going to do and the danger they’re in if we fail.”
“Wait,” Colonel Beva said. “If they’re after the colony ship, why can’t we use that to lure them away from here?”
“Use the Garjarack as bait?” I asked.
“They’re already being targeted,” Colonel Beva said. “Let’s take advantage of that and get some value out of it. I’m not saying don’t warn them, I’m just saying that’s our best hope for getting Vunthor off Titanus without anyone dying.”
It was a tempting strategy at first glance, but like most temptations held some hidden costs that were a lot less palatable.
“The giga-beasts caught up to us the moment Higgs decided they needed too,” I said. “By nature they don’t move as fast as one of our ships but they can be goaded into moving a lot quicker when they need to. If we try to have the Garjarack serve as bait, the giga-beasts will catch and destroy them easily.”
“I can’t get through to Everbright,” Fari said. “The colony ship command module is on secure lockdown.”
“Are they under attack?” Colonel Beva asked.
“Not that I can detect,” Fari said. “The security protocol seems to be the one invoked for high level conferences.”
“They wouldn’t need a high level conference for planning a multi-month orbital stay,” I said. “The colony ships were prepared for that possibility from the get go.”
“Try this link,” Darius suggested and offered a bound circle of physical anima to Fari.
“Cadrus?” Fari asked, recognizing who the magic connected to. “You kept a link to the Garjarack family?”
“Not kept, but I spent so long healing Kallak I can recreate their family signature,” Darius said.
“Bring him into the call,” I said. “We need to make sure the Garjarack have a heads up about what might come after them.”
Fari had Cadrus linked into our telepathic conference less than a minute later.
I’d gotten so used to her efficiency and power that it only barely registered what an incredible feat she’d performed.
Most mental casters didn’t have anywhere near the range she did, and even wizard class Mentalists used devices to augment their abilities for complex spells. Fari meanwhile was multi-casting telepathy spells across planetary scale distances and providing an uncrackable layer of security on top of each spell thread to ensure Vunthor couldn’t listen in to what we saying (or even be aware that we were talking) all without any external help whatsoever.
Any time I wanted to complain about the hand that life dealt me and how miserable it was to be stuck dealing with problems like Vunthor, I had to stop and consider how incredibly lucky I was with the friends life had sent my way. Looking at Fari and Master Hanq and all the other people in my life, it was easy to see that things did kind of balance out in my favor.
“Guardian Watersward, you wished to speak with me?” Cadrus asked over the telepathic link.
“Yes, and I’m sorry it’s not under better circumstances,” I said. “Fari can you project the giga-beast image to him as well?”
“Already displaying it,” she said.
“These are creatures from outside of warp space. They followed us here and will soon be under the command of a rogue human military commander,” I said. “They’re currently adapting to the physics of our dimension, but they will shortly regain their flight capabilities. We expect you will come under attack after that occurs.”
“Is this what destroyed the human colony ship?” Cadrus asked. He was calm, but his mental voice had a distant quality to it. Rationally, he knew I wouldn’t call and make wild claims like this unless they were true, but that didn’t stop part of him from wishing he could disbelieve what I was saying nonetheless.
“No, that was sabotage,” I said. “The rogue military commander crashed his own people’s ship so that his forces could get dug in here on Titanus first.”
“Can the other humans stop him then?” Cadrus asked.
“He is beyond our sphere of influence,” Colonel Beva said, trying to conceal how bad off her forces were from the people who had been ‘the enemy’ for her entire life up until three months ago.
“I see,” Cadrus said and still calm but confused asked, “What did you want us to do then?”
“Speak to the Verulia Industries crew,” I said. “They’re aware of the situation on the ground but don’t know that the giga-beasts are adapting back to their flight capable forms. I need you to convince Gan Everbright to order an immediate evacuation of the colony ship to any system that will provide refuge and is within warp portal range.”
“What will you be doing?” he asked.
“We’re going to try to stop Major Vunthor before he gets his hands on a tool that will let him destroy this world and Hellsreach as well.”