Time is rarely my friend. As part of the Horizon Breaker’s crew, my life consisted of hopping from one crisis to another and the consistent thing about crises is they don’t tend to leave you with much time. Despite that, I was forced to be the voice of restraint in the planning session Ebele put together with Zyla and I.
“I think you’re right,” Zyla said. “With what little I can make out through the fate weave, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to reach any more reinforcements until we deal with the Queen or she deals with us.”
“She’s got a lot more resources to deal with us than we have for dealing with her,” I said.
“Which is why we need to act now,” Zyla said. “She doesn’t know who you are yet, or what you’re capable of. Once she knows what she’s up against she’ll have the whole planet set against us.”
“She captured Captain Okoro and our medic Illya,” I said. “I’m pretty sure she already knows everything they do about Fari, Darius and I.”
“But that was recent, if she isn’t prepared for you…” Zyla started to say but I cut her off.
“If she’s not then Agent Riverstone will be,” I said. “I’ve fought her twice already. She doesn’t know everything I can do, but she knows the level I can play at.”
“You don’t understand what’s at stake,” Zyla said. “I am being perfectly serious and perfectly precise when I say that this planet, and everyone on it, will die if we don’t stop the Queen.”
“I thought you couldn’t cast any future viewing spells because of the fate weave?” Ebele said.
“I can’t now that I’m here,” Zyla said. “The weave here is so thick I’m blind and crippled, but I know what we saw when we set off for on this mission.”
“Can you fill me in, or have things changed too much?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Zyla said and sagged back into her chair. “With future casting, it’s very easy to fool yourself into seeing what you want to see and with how disastrously wrong everything went, I think that’s what happened.”
“Tell me what you thought you were getting into then,” I said. “It’s somewhere we can start. And, Ebele, see if you can pick out any elements that may have been planted as traps.”
“Why me?” Ebele asked. “I’m not particularly good at Aetherial casting.”
“You’re familiar with Abyz and you’ve spent time behind a Void shield so you may be aware of things that the Queen is blocking from the rest of us, especially from Zyla,” I said.
“You know I usually hate being around you,” Zyla said. “But under the circumstances I have to say it’s kind of a relief to have a break from the constant surge of Aetherial anima around us.”
“Check me on something though, we’re not fully cut off from all of Abyz’s Aetherial anima here right?” I asked. “Even within the Void shield that’s protecting this place, we’re still subject to the fate weave.”
“No,” said Ebele. “We cloak this place in the strongest shields we can.”
“Actually, I’m afraid Mel is right,” Zyla said. “The deep threads of the fate weave are still in effect here.”
“That’s not possible,” Ebele said. “We’ve tested the shield. The Queen definitely can’t work any magic past it.”
“That’s true too,” Zyla said. “But the fate weave is more than the Queen’s magic. She’s just one of the prime nodes in its skein. Every piece of the planet is bound by it.”
“So the rocks around us are radiating Aetherial magic?” I asked.
“And this desk and the people in here and their clothes, everything,” Zyla said. “That’s why the planet is going to die. It’s all connected, much too tightly.”
“That can’t be possible!” Ebele said.
“Have you had any formal training in Void casting?” I asked.
“Only from my mother,” Ebele said.
“That’s not uncommon, it’s a rare skill, and a lot of people go through life never even aware that they possess it,” I said. “I can show you a fairly simple trick with it though that’ll prove what Zyla’s saying.”
“Ok,” Ebele said.
“You know how to see through your Void magics right?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s one of the first things I learned,” she said.
“You’re lucky,” I said. “I had to figure it out the hard way.”
I thought back to the terrifying day when I’d first learned I had magic like everyone else, but that my magic was rare and deadly and going to get me into a lot of trouble. Good things had come from that revelation, not the least of which being Darius and Fari, but I don’t know that I would wish that experience on anyone else. Fortunately I’d had quite a few good teachers since then so bringing Ebele up to speed didn’t have to be quite so traumatic.
“Start by calling up your Void sight then,” I said and did the same myself.
“Ok,” Ebele said.
“You focused on the Physical anima in the room right?” I asked.
“Yes, was I not supposed to?” Ebele asked.
“It’s ok,” I said. “It’s a natural reaction here, there’s so much Aetherial anima around that you need to cut that out to see anything. Physical anima is easy to see, so it makes a simple choice when you need to filter the Aetherial anima from your vision.”
“Ok, I’ve relaxed back to see all the forms of magic,” Ebele said. “If I strip away Physical, Energetic and Mental I don’t see anything though.”
I did the same and found myself just as blind as she was.
“Try to focus on the Aetherial magic around us,” I said.
“I can’t, there isn’t any,” she said.
“For now, let your imagination fill it in,” I said. “You want to retain your awareness of the anima you’re looking for and let your sensitivity sharpen on its own.”
“How long is this going to take?” she asked.
“Not long at all,” I said as I glimpsed the first ghostly after images of an Aetherial thread.
I waited a moment to give Ebele a chance to notice the threads on her own. A few seconds passed and I was starting to wonder if I needed to work on a simpler exercise with her when she jumped out her chair.
“What the hell was that?” she asked.
“Faint flash? Looked kind of like a living creature?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, staring at a spot on the floor.
“Aetherial echo,” Zyla said. “It’s the magic of a future that might have been.”
“Why did it look so inhuman?” Ebele asked.
“It’s unformed,” Zyla said. “Probably an action that any of the three of us could have taken, but none chose to. So it’s a crumbling reflection of each of us.”
“That’s horrible,” Ebele said.
“More spooky than horrible,” I said. “The horrible things should be becoming clear about now if you keep looking.”
“Pale filaments? Is that the fate weave?” Ebele asked.
“Part of it,” I said. “I think. It’s buried very deep.”
“That sounds right,” Zyla said. “That’s how it manages to function so well. By tying in to the roots of the people and things here, it can affect vast changes by pushing on the smallest areas possible.”
“So does this mean the Queen has been directing our actions all along?” Ebele asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Zyla, this isn’t under the Queen’s control right?”
“Correct. To the extent of the Void shield, the Aetherial anima here doesn’t have any external influences on it except for the three of us.”
“Wait, Ebele and I are influencing the fate weave too?” I asked.
“I don’t think it’s a conscious thing,” Zyla said. “You’re kind of like a wrecking ball though. Your Void anima wants to snap and devour any Aetherial anima that tries to constrain you.”
“And that’s why you don’t like being around me, right?” I asked. I’d known that I was a black hole as far as Yael and Zyla’s future sight. I hadn’t known that I was unconsciously shredding their spells. I mean, usually I was all too happy to do that consciously since I wasn’t fond of people messing with my future like that.
“Yeah, that.” she said, but I caught the moment’s pause in her response that said there was a little more in play than she was willing to get into at the moment.
“Does that help us?” Ebele asked.
“Yes, and no,” Zyla said. “The Queen probably can’t use the fate weave directly against you, but she can certainly use it on the people and things around you.”
“Like what happened to my mother,” Ebele said.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Zyla said.
“It’s a limit, but we can work around it,” I said.
“Then let’s get to it,” Zyla said. “Guardian Clearborn and I came here because of a series of visions I discovered. So it’s my fault that we’re in this mess.”
“That’s extremely debatable, but what did you see in your visions?” I asked.
“They started pleasant enough,” Zyla said. “I saw Abyz as it appears now I guess, bright, beautiful, a paradise. I joked with Guardian Clearborn that we should schedule a vacation there.”
It didn’t escape my notice that she was referring to her partner as ‘Guardian Clearborn’ rather than ‘Yael’. With the family she’d grown up in, I couldn’t tell if she was simply too used to reporting her experiences in a stark and purely professional fashion or if she was still struggling with intimacy issues concerning the person she was closest too.
I made a note to talk to her about that later. One of the benefits of having brilliant and empathic friends was that they’d forced me to confront a lot of self-sabotaging strategies I’d picked up over the years. I wasn’t anywhere near as close to Zyla as Darius and Fari were to me, but it still seemed good to offer her a few things to think about.
“The visions reoccurred on their own and grew more compelling each time,” Zyla said. “My guess now is that it was part of a trap, a honeypot to lure in the people who might pose a danger to the fate weave.”
“Does that sound right Ebele?” I asked. “Do you know if any other Aetherial masters have been lured to Abyz for the Queen to capture or dispose of?”
“I don’t know of any, but with the Queen’s mental powers that doesn’t mean anything,” Ebele said.
“Guardian Clearborn assisted me in a focused fate viewing,” Zyla said. “That’s when we saw the cataclysm.”
“Did you both see it?” I asked.
“Yes,” Zyla said. “It grew clearer and stronger the longer we put off the decision to investigate it.”
“What form did the cataclysm take?” I asked.
“We saw the planet scorched by storms of raw magic,” Zyla said. “The last bastion on it was a citadel covered in Void anima.”
“So you couldn’t see into it?” I said.
“We didn’t need to,” Zyla said. “At the top of the citadel we could see the Queen of Abyz stirring the storms and absorbing the ghosts of a trillion of lost lives.”
“A trillion ghosts?” I asked. “That’s impossible…”
I wanted to protest that no one could possibly absorb that much power. Even the power of one life contains an unholy amount of energy and can do serious damage to the Void caster who steals it. I’d channeled a lot more than that on a few occasions and had needed months to recover from the experience. A trillion ghosts though would burn me up like the core of a sun.
Unless of course I had a place to store the energy and a control mechanism that was used to dealing with that level of power.
Like a Jewel of Endless Night.
The Ravager, Fari’s Jewel of Endless Night, had held an entire star’s worth of magic. I didn’t know what powered the Dominator but it was unlikely to be much less powerful than that.
“We have a serious problem then,” I said. “With that much power, the Queen might be able to challenge the Empress.”
“She could try,” Zyla said. “But that wouldn’t matter. The vision only showed what would happen to Abyz. Once the Queen was done drawing in the power, there would be nothing here.”
“No life?” I asked.
“No planet,” Zyla said. “Everything will be consumed. All the magic, all the life, all the energy and matter. Everything.”
“But that’s not all that you saw,” I said. “There had to be another future or you wouldn’t have come.”
“That’s the trap I fell into,” Zyla said. “I thought there was a bright future, one where Abyz was reborn as something new, a truly beautiful world, but that’s not to be. The future I saw has already been lost.”
It wasn’t hard to guess what had changed. Yael was gone and Zyla couldn’t picture a bright future without her.
“Maybe, but there’s something you not considering,” I said.
“What’s that?” Zyla asked.
“How large of a shadow does the Queen cast over the future?” I asked.
“It’s enormous,” Zyla said. “She blots out the Abyz’s destiny from every angle I could see, except the one that lead us here.”
“And what does my future look like?” I asked her.
“I have no idea,” she said. “You’re a cipher, just like you always are.”
“And Ebele?” I asked.
“The same,” she said.
“And Fari?” I asked.
“The same?” she said and I saw her starting to follow my train of thought.
“And Darius?” I asked.
“The same!” she said.
“And Kojo, and the rest? All the same I bet,” I said. “The Queen may have a destiny that blots out the future of Abyz, but she’s as blind to future’s that we can make as you are.”
“And if each person you interact is obscured by your power…” Zyla said.
“Then even if we can’t beat her individually, I think together we can craft a future that she’ll never see coming,” I said.
“Where do we begin though?” Zyla asked.
“With the people you came here to rescue,” I said. “I need to have a talk with some very old ghosts.”