The worst moment in a fight is the instant that you know you’re going to get get your head handed to you. The worst sort of fights are the ones where that moment comes right as fight begins.
It wasn’t hard to see that Bo was going to win. She was armed, I wasn’t. I can fight armed people without using a weapon myself, but that’s because I’m totally willing to cheat. Spells are an unreasonably powerful weapon and my training means that even without magic I’m never lacking in options for disabling, injuring or killing people.
Bo’s training was as good as mine though and she had the same spells I did, at least as far it mattered in a fight like the one we were about to have.
With our skills and capabilities being equal, the long, razor sharp, hunk of steel in her hands was more than enough to be the deciding factor in our battle.
So I didn’t fight her.
Not like she thought I would anyways.
She expected me to go for a weapon myself (which would have been the smart move) or flee from her (which would have been the smarter move), so, when I sparked a flash of anima through my nerves to give myself a jolt of hyperspeed, she matched me.
Before I could launch an attack of my own, Bo’s sword speared out in a straight, blinding lunge.
There was a table behind me. There were chairs I could have retreated over or used as a weapon.
When Bo stabbed at me I slipped an inch to the side, letting the sword run along the fabric of my armored formal gown. That would have cost me the use of my left leg if I was paranoid about wearing combat clothing at all times.
Before either of us had time to process that was happening though I stepped into her lunge and pressed myself body-to-body against her.
Being in that close limited my attack options, but foreheads can make a terrible mess of noses if you’re tall enough. I was, but Bo was good enough to see it coming. With her free hand she blocked my head strike.
Neither of us could risk a burst of strength to overpower the other, but I was able to drain the enchantments out of my gown to act as an extra reserve of strength to draw on. That was more or less my plan in getting them in the first place, but I was careful not to destroy the enchantments in the process. I can cast great shields, but there are plenty of situations where being passively damage resistant is handy. Also, I don’t have many nice gowns, so it seemed a shame to let this one get wrecked if I didn’t need too.
“You are assaulting an agent of the Queen,” Bo said as we struggled against each other. “By my appointed royal authority, I order you to stand down, and remove your shields.”
“No,” I said. “Not while there’s a wizard-class mind spell blanketing this area.”
We continued to struggle for a long pair of seconds, seeking either a safe escape or opening to attack.
“The Pacifism Spell is sealing the breach in the fate weave,” Bo said. “Stand down and submit to its effects.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m not allowed to do that.”
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Someone who knows that area mind control spells are explicitly forbidden by Imperial charter except in cases of imminent danger to sapient life.” I said.
Technically, I was legally obligated to resist mental control spells even in those situations. Crystal Guardians are chosen for a number of reasons, but common to all of us is skill in one or more magical disciplines that’s an order of magnitude or more better than standard casters. I barely qualified with my mastery of Physical anima casting, since I had strength but not experience or versatility yet. My Void casting skills though were what really put me in the same league as the other Guardians, and that was mostly due to how rare they were.
In short, I was dangerous, and would only grow more so as I gained experience. Losing control of that power could be a disaster for a lot more people than just me, and there were plenty of people inside and outside the Empire who would be happy to see the “right” kind of planetary disasters take place. That’s why the Crystal Empress had a policy on people of my skill level and higher ]falling under outside control; she frowned on it. Over two decades ago, she also frowned on the Galactic Warlords who were painting the stars red with blood and you can see how that worked out for them in their near total eradication from the galaxy.
In my case, my Void casting abilities complicated the issue too. If I allowed a mind control spell to affect me, I would be held responsible for anything that I was forced to do while under its control. The same wasn’t true for someone like Darius who might resist the spell but be overwhelmed by it. That wasn’t his choice, and he was a victim in that scenario. I had the option to simply shut the spell effect off for myself though and that made it my responsibility to remain in control of what I was doing.
“Don’t think the fate weave will protect you,” Bo said. “I’m empowered to inflict whatever injuries are necessary to force you to comply. Even lethal ones.”
“That sounds familiar,” I said, thinking of my own legal privileges.
Bo dropped her sword and tried to sweep me into a throw. I let her toss me, but twisted to land on my feet, hoping to put her on the ground. She countered by spinning as well and we both landed with our arms still locked together.
Which meant our struggle become a foot battle.
I’m ok with kicks, maybe even a little better than I am with punches, but fighting against Bo was like fighting against a six legged woman. My poor legs took a brutal pounding but I managed to protect the all important knee and ankle joints.
Bo didn’t make it out of the exchange uninjured either. Close quarters fighting isn’t the kind of thing you do without getting all kinds of bruises that are hard to explain where they came from later.
“Where did you learn to fight like this?” I asked after I managed to wrap my left leg behind her right one and restrict our movements even further.
“I had a good teacher,” she said. “Where are you from?”
“No idea,” I said. “Orphaned too young to know.”
“That’s sounds familiar,” she said.
“Call off the Pacifism Spell and we can work this out,” I said.
“Not my call,” she said. “That’s the Queen’s decision.”
“Then your Queen is violating Imperial law,” I said.
“The Queen protects the people of Abyz,” she said. “She’s not for someone like you to pass judgment on.”
“You might be surprised about that.” I said.
As a Crystal Guardian I didn’t outrank a Queen, but there were a few narrow circumstances where I was allowed to pass judgment on one. There were also a much broader range of circumstances where I could sic an Imperial Auditor on one, but I was rarely in a mood to be that cruel. I could beat people to a pulp, but an Imperial Auditor could retroactively ruin their whole life if the situation warranted it.
“You’re allies are being arrested now,” Bo said. “If not for yourself, then stand down for their sakes.”
“You’re threatening my friends?” I asked.
“I am empowered to do whatever it takes to control this situation,” she repeated.
I looked around us to find Darius or Fari and saw instead the effect the mind control spell had on the attendees. They were standing up and staring vacantly ahead. Each of them had a dopey, pleased smile on their faces which suggested the Pacifism Spell was implanting happy memories in their mind.
That was terrifying given what I knew of Mental anima casting. Altering even one person’s memories was extremely difficult. Mass memory alteration required more power than any one caster should be able to possess. Even Fari, whose limits were a lot broader than a regular caster, didn’t have that level of mental magic to draw on.
“If you hurt them, I will burn you Queen to the ground.” That would be a highly questionable abuse of power. There was even a good chance that doing something like that would get me kicked out of the Crystal Guardians and into an ultra-secure prison. If Queen Metai seriously hurt the people close to me though, I wouldn’t hesitate for even an instant in making good on that threat.
“You won’t be hurt, if you comply,” Bo said. “We have no need to hurt you.”
She managed to pivot her weight enough to throw me again and this time I wasn’t able to get my feet under me before I landed. My head hit the granite floor and only a purely internal bit of anima casting let me retain consciousness.
Laying on the ground gave me leverage I hadn’t had a moment earlier and I used it to reverse the grip I had on Bo’s arms and drive the farther apart. Foreheads can make a mess of noses and, unfortunately, in that position she had a better shot at my face than I had at hers.
My vision went black for a split second and came back to stars. I was able to twist out of the path of her second headbutt though she still smacked the side of my head pretty good.
The impact stunned her a little too, which let me shift my weight and displace her center of gravity. She was better at strikes, but grappling was my speciality. Before she knew what was happening, I’d spun around her and put her right arm into a submission hold. She could struggle all she wanted to from there but her options were extremely limited, where mine included “break arm”, “break arm in multiple places”, “cause arm agonizing pain” and several even less pleasant choices.
“That’s enough,” I said. “Don’t make me wreck you, it takes forever to fix the kind of damage I can do from here.”
She stopped struggling, but I saw a smirk of victory spread across her face. I followed the line of her gaze to see her junior agent standing about a body length away from us with Fari and Darius by her side.
They were both looking up with dopey, happy smiles on their faces.
“Do what you want to me,” Bo said. “You’ve lost.”
I sagged. She was right. Even if I took Darius and Fari out of the equation, Bo’s junior agent could join the fight and simply kick me into unconsciousness while Bo kept me grappled.
“You are making a mistake,” I said and grudgingly released my hold on her.
She rotated her arm to soothe out the strain I put on it and we both got back to our feet. The sword she carried into the battle lay between us, but I let her pick it up without trying anything. Fari wasn’t in danger from physical damage to the doppelganger’s body but it wasn’t worth the risk to Darius.
“Drop your shields,” Bo said, raising the blade to point at me again. Her meaning was clear. If I didn’t drop the willingly she’d injure me so badly that I’d lose consciousness and they’d drop on their own.
I readied myself for what I was pretty certain was going to be an impossible fight. Bo was within arms reach of her partner, which meant I could possibly hit the two of them at once, but in reality I knew that when I tried, the other agent would block my strike and Bo would would put me down hard and fast.
I cleared my mind anyways and imagined the move working out right.
I had one shot to make it happen. I had to be perfect.
I gathered all of my energy for one insane burst and then…
Watched as Darius lit the two agents up like a thunderbolt.
Void anima is awesome at devouring magic. Darius has worked with me for over two years though, which means he’s learned all kinds of tricks for dealing with Void casters. Like using his immense skill with Energetic anima to summon natural electricity and letting it conduct in a purely non-magical fashion along the length of a sword blade.
“We need to leave right now,” Fari said, stepping in close enough to me that Darius was able to grab us both.
“On it,” he said and instant later we were blasting out of Grand Hall through the shattered windows like a rocket.