The moment Vunthor began to gather his power I knew he was trying to kill me. Void anima attacks are limited compared to other magics. You’re options are “extremely limited tap” which can drain your opponent’s strength or “utterly lethal siphon” which will leave them a shriveled, lifeless husk.
That sounds great when you’re fighting someone you want to kill but the truth was any form of magic can be lethal. Other varieties have the advantage of being more flexible and offering options beyond just “kill” or “inconvenience”. Where Void anima possesses an edge is in how difficult it is to defend against.
Unless of course your opponent is also a Void caster.
The first day I’d learned how to cast spells, I tried to attack another Void caster, one of the Karr Khan’s henchmen, and learned the hard way that not only are Void attacks worthless in that situation, they also open a link between the two casters.
On that occasion, my opponent had utilized the link to blow up the airship I was traveling in and I’d plummeted onto the nice comfy rocks below.
I really don’t have good luck with air travel.
But, occasionally, I do learn from past mistakes.
Vunthor threw a hammer blow of Void anima at me and I met it with a shield as thin as silk. I didn’t have to put must force behind the shield. Void met void and I felt the distance separating us vanish into the emptiness.
“Hit me with your strongest lightning bolt,” I told Darius.
He paused, which in retrospect I can’t entirely blame him for, and I felt Vunthor frantically withdrawing from the link.
“Hurry!” I said.
“Do it!” Fari agreed. We were still mind linked so my plan was clear to her.
Darius clasped my hand and I felt an electric tingle that had nothing to do with the touch of his skin on mine.
Before Vunthor could abandon the all power he’d put into the attack and close the path between us completely, Darius’ lightning bolt leapt across the distance, blazing through the thread of darkness to slam into Vunthor’s hate blackened heart.
I won’t lie. It felt good.
“What just happened?” Darius asked.
“Vunthor made a mistake,” I said.
“Did the bolt get him?” Fari asked.
“Yeah, but I’m betting it didn’t kill him,” I said. “Might have flatlined his heart for a few seconds, but he’s in prime form and he’s got medics nearby.”
“Do you know where he is?” Darius asked.
“Yes,” I said. “He’s right where Colonel Beva thought he would be.”
“He’s cut you off though right?” Fari asked.
“He did,” I said. “He’ll be a little weaker for a while, but with Higgs’ power to draw on he’s still going to be formidable.”
“Think he’ll wait for us to come get him?” Darius asked.
I considered what Vunthor’s mental state had been like. For years he’d been driven by weaponize hate, but he held his sanity together well enough to build an organization of elite troops that were fiercely loyal to his vision. Higgs had been willing to sacrifice his life for a chance to advance Vunthor’s plan for example and I knew he wasn’t the only one Vunthor had that kind of influence over.
I thought of the medic Illya and how she’d jumped at the chance to rejoin her compatriots in the aftermath of my fight in the Gar colony ship’s engine room. I thought I’d been able to reach her, to show her that Vunthor wasn’t what he claimed to be, but she’d still gone back to him the first chance she had. If his madness could exert that much force on others then I couldn’t imagine that he was free from its influence either, especially not with Higgs’ worst impulses layered on top of his own..
“No,” I said. “He’s not going to wait. He’s going to prepare. He knows we’re coming for him and he wants that fight. He and Higgs hate me too much to run away.”
“What about you?” Fari asked, laying a ghostly hand on my arm.
“Can I run away? Or do I hate them that much too?” I asked.
“Either. Both,” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I see what you’re saying, I can’t afford to be consumed like they are, but they’ve caused so much pain and suffering it’s hard to think of letting them go.”
“I don’t think letting them go is a option,” Darius said. “We just need to know that you’re not going to do anything crazy like throw yourself at the giga-beasts.”
“I’ll try not to,” I said. “Now, let’s go fly after them since they’re headed right towards Vunthor.”
Darius winced and then rolled his eyes at my feeble smile. To be fair, being with me did involve dealing with a significant chunk of craziness, and that was true even before I learned a rare and deadly spell casting art.
Thanks to our anima shells, Darius was able to ascend to nearly orbital altitudes which kept us somewhat out of the giga-beasts’ path. From past experience I knew they’d be able to reach out and swat us like flies if they cared to, but we were far removed, covered by a powerful cloaking spell and there were enough other things to smash that they didn’t notice us streaking past them.
We flew together like that for a couple of hours, covering far more ground than the landbound giga-beasts could, before another call came in.
“I’m getting a conference call request from Everbright,” Fari said.
“What does he want?” I asked.
“Not sure, but he’s got Colonel Beva on the call already,” she said.
“It’s a either good sign that he’s talking to her,” I said. “Or a really bad one.”
“Want to lay a bet how that’s going to go?” Darius asked.
I ignored him and signaled Fari to link us in to the call.
“Mr Everbright,” I said. “I didn’t expect to hear back from you, you seemed to be incommunicado after our last conversation.”
“I was meeting with my staff,” Gan said. “They had a few radical suggestions that we had to iron out.”
“Are you going to help us or not Everbright?” Colonel Beva asked.
“I believe we have found the solution to the problems that are afflicting Titanus,” Gan said.
“We left three very large problems a few hundred miles behind us and we’re heading towards a fourth very difficult problem now,” I said. “If you have any options for dealing with them, I’d love to hear them.”
“Ghost Bombs,” he said.
That got my attention in a big way.
“You brought city killing bombs onto the colony ship?”
I’d survived attacks by Ghost Bombs on two occasions. As a result, I’d seen what they could do first hand. Anything not protected by an potent enough anima shield was reduced to lifeless dust in the blink of an eye. They were one of the most effective weapons against unprotected targets that the galactic military forces used.
I hated them.
They weren’t meant for warfare. Military targets were always protected by strong anima shields. Rich enclaves were too. Ghost Bombs only made ghosts out of people too weak to defend themselves in the first place. People like most of the ones in the city I grew up in.
“No,” Gan said. “But we were able to weave together two of them since we last spoke.”
“The only anima source you have which contains sufficient magical force is the colony ships warp portal generators,” Fari said.
“The colony ship has seven portal generators,” Everbright said. “It can still function with the loss of two.”
“That’s going to make escaping the giga-beasts more difficult,” I said.
“We’re not going to escape them,” Everbright said. “We’re going to end them.”
“You think two Ghost Bombs will be enough to do that?” Darius asked.
“We’ve calculated the yield on the bombs,” Everbright said. “One will be sufficient to disintegrate the structure of all three beasts.”
“What are you going to do with the second bomb then?” I asked, all too certain that I knew the answer already.
“We’re going to end the threat posed by the rogue human forces.” Everbright said.
“That’s not going to work,” I said. “I can guarantee you that Major Vunthor will be fully shielded against the Ghost Bombs affects.”
“These bombs carry a special payload,” Everbright said. “Because we’re using warp portal generators as the base component, they’ll first shred into billions of wormholes and then detonate throughout the cave system. If even one particle materializes within a hostile target’s shield, they’ll be subjected to the full force of Ghost Bomb’s detonation.”
“What’s your backup plan for when the bombs don’t work as you expect?” I asked.
“We’ve calculated the parameters of this mission out precisely,” Everbright said. “There will be no failure to deal with.”
“You’ve never served in a combat command role before have you Everbright?” Colonel Beva asked.
“This isn’t a combat scenario, Colonel.” Everbright said. “This is pest control.”
“Mr. Everbright, with all due respect, you’re an idiot,” Colonel Beva said. “You’re initiating a hostile action against an adversary of unknown capabilities utilizing munitions of untested worth. I will not support this initiative.”
“The Crystal Empire doesn’t support this initiative either,” Fari said, in her role as Imperial Overseer. “Not until we can draw up plans to deal with the fallout of the likely failure cases.”
“My apologies,” Everbright said. “This call was not to discuss the implementation of the plan but to verify that none of your forces were within the blast range. The devices are already en route to their targets.”
“You’re not allowed to take unilateral action like that,” Fari said.
“If a threat to the welfare of the global population arises, we are given additional latitude in our actions and are not bound by Imperial oversight.” Everbright said. “I’ll transmit the target coordinates to you. Make sure your personnel are not within the blast radius. Everbright out.”
And again he cut the channel.
“This is going to be bad,” I said. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t have any Aetherial anima spells predicting the future for me, but I still knew I was right.
“We don’t have any people in the mountains,” Colonel Beva said.
“And the giga-beasts have moved far enough from the colony ship that our people won’t be in danger,” Fari said.
“He didn’t offer to provide aid to Colonel Beva’s forces,” Darius said. “Everbright’s planning to eliminate Vunthor and his followers. The threat of violence by the rogue faction was all that was holding back aid for the colonists on the surface. So why didn’t he offer to help the wounded here?”
“Bomb’s can go off course, officially or unofficially,” Colonel Beva said. “I’ll have everyone who can still cast lend a hand with the anima barrier.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said. “I don’t think he plans to bomb you, but there are too many unknowns here to predict what’s going to happen.”
“I have telemetry on the bombs,” Fari said. “They’re almost at the target points.”
“Can you get us a holo feed from both sites?” I asked.
With a wave of her hand, Fari conjured a pair of scrying circles and we got to watch the fireworks begin.
The Ghost Bomb aimed at the giga-beasts was the first to detonate. It tumbled down from the stratosphere towards the giant monsters and was a second away from exploding when the beast nearest to it lashed out with a tongue-like cord of scillia and gulped the bomb down.
The planet killing weapon detonated inside the creature and blasted the giga-beast into pieces.
That would have been good news except for one small problem. Each of the pieces was still alive and continuing to grow.
In place of the giga-beast that swallowed the Ghost Bomb there were now ten thousand smaller deca-beasts. What was worse was the wings they all bore. The giga-beasts couldn’t fly yet, but the deca-beasts were more than capable of that.
In the other scrying pool, I saw the remaining Ghost Bomb tumble downwards and be blinked away by the bands of a teleport spell.
Vunthor had another teleporter on his team. The only reason he hadn’t engaged us yet was because he wanted us to come to him, which was exactly what we were going to have to do.