Taking on a planetary scale magical effect was, unfortunately, something I’d already had cause to try. It hadn’t turned out well then, apart from the fact that I’d managed to survive. My survival had been a near thing though. The struggle to overcome being hit by a super weapon, left me in a state that required months of rest and careful tending by skilled medics to recover from.
I can learn from my mistakes, but I had to wonder as the Unseen lowered me into a chamber of pulsing crystal whether I was also capable of deluding myself that this time would be different because I really needed it to be.
The chamber they brought us to was deep underneath the empty city of Demon’s Isolation. The walls were covered entirely in enchanted crystals and even without my Void sight, I could see the anima that was concentrated by the millions of tiny lens the crystals were formed into.
We were at one of the hearts of the fate weave. From this spot, anima was dispersed across the planet to bend events and turn Abyz into the paradise that billions of people mistook it for.
Darius and Zyla were as bound up in webbing as I was but because I volunteered, I was the first to be deposited into the transformation pit.
I tried not to squirm as I felt the first tendrils of alien Void anima reaching out to merge with me. Brushing up against active Void anima should have been deadly. The very nature of the Void is to absorb the things it encounters, including magic and life essence. The tendrils of magic that wormed a path around my fingers and arms and torso should have reduced me to a shriveled husk almost instantly.
As a Void caster, that wasn’t likely to happen because we instinctively shape any Void anima we come in contact with and hold it away from the core energies that sustain our lives. Every Void caster I’ve ever met is a master of that particular feat. The one who aren’t able to master that ability don’t tend to survive longer than a few minutes from when their Void anima first awakens.
The Void anima in the transformation pit wasn’t acting like in a normal fashion though. I could still shape it and hold it away from myself (which helped suppress the panic reaction I was experiencing) but I didn’t need too in order to survive.
Just the opposite in fact. With Bo and the Queen’s other agents closing in on us, I needed to understand what the real story of what the fate weave was and the only option I had for working that out was to experience it from the inside.
Or perhaps the underside.
Paradise is a lovely concept, but a paradise built on the suffering of others is just another name for “Hell” in my view. The people who lived in the catacombs under Demon’s Isolation called themselves the “Unseen”. In part that was due to the Queen’s spell, but that spell held its force largely because no one wanted to see them.
The regular denizens of Abyz and the tourist had little to no reason to acknowledge the presence of the Unseen. Even without the Queen’s spell, I knew there would be millions of people who would come up with rationalizations for why the Unseen should continue to be withered and killed to provide the “regular people” with their unnaturally comfortable and safe lives.
The privileged would cling to their power and position, the sheltered would refuse to face the reality of the world they lived in and the apathetic would be all too happy to forget about the distant suffering of others even with a magical compulsion to do so.
Or at least, that was how it would be at first. The great mistake tyrants make is to presume that people will always live down to the lowest expectations that can be set for them. That may happen a lot more than anyone would really want, but the one dependable aspect of sapient beings is that they’re capable of change. It wouldn’t be a quick or easy battle for a citizen of Abyz to convince the populace that the Unseen deserved to be treated like people, but that wouldn’t stop people from trying and eventually succeeding.
I didn’t have “eventually” to wait for though. I needed to change things on Abyz as fast as I could, ideally before any more of the Unseen perished. That was a daunting challenge but where a citizen of Abyz would have had to gather social and economic power to change the rules that governed the world, I had a slightly more direct option open to me.
Bottom up change, where people grow and chose a better course offers the strongest roots and the most meaningful level of change. In the short term though, top down change can reshape the world a lot faster. Queen Metai was the top of the local power pyramid but unfortunately for her I had access to a much higher power in the form of the Crystal Empress. With the Crystal Empress’ authority, I could change the course of Abyz with only a few words. Using that authority required that I understand the foundation of the Queen’s power though. Alone and disconnected from my support network, the authority that I carried from the Crystal Empress would only matter retroactively. If Queen Metai managed to disappear me like she did Yael, the things I said and the changes I tried to make would disappear too.
In short, to have the authority to beat her, I needed to have the power to beat her too. To be fair though, ‘beating’ her in this context simply meant overcoming her ability to silence me. Taking her on in a fair fight wasn’t even vaguely something I was interested in trying. She was too powerful, had too many deadly servants and had the (magically influenced) support of too much of Abyz’s population.
I reached the bottom of the pit after what felt like an hour of being lowered into position. I braced myself and shook off the speed with which I’d been ensorcelling my mind. Being fast was usually a winning game plan in any crisis situation but on this occasion all it did was make the process take (subjectively) longer.
Taking into account the effect of the speed spell, I reasoned that the descent could only have taken a minute or two. Despite the twisting tunnels we were taken down, I knew Bo was going to find us, and I was quite sure it wasn’t going to take her an hour to do it.
The tendrils of anima felt like they were in as much of a hurry as I was. Their attempts to insinuate themselves into the fibers of my being intensified tenfold at the bottom of the pit and with the connection they were forming my awareness expanded.
The magics that I’d parsed as Void magic were actually composed of a layered series of effects. The Void anima was the most potent, but it was also the most constrained. Woven into the tendrils were each of the common forms of anima; Physical, Mental, Energetic and Aetherial.
With the tendrils dug into me, I felt the my magics link to the magics of Abyz. It was far too much anima for me to manipulate but the reverse wasn’t true. From my mind and body, the spell of forgetfulness radiated outwards. My magics began draining away and I felt the Void anima of the tendrils pulling more in from the environment around me.
The spell that gripped me was using my being as a conversion matrix. The Void anima that was rammed into me didn’t drain me dry, instead it turned me into a suction device for the natural and magical energies of the world around me. The energy got pulled in, my body, mind and so on converted it to anima and then the spell drained that away too.
Thanks to the suction effect,I was regaining anima far faster than I usually generated it on my own, but I was losing it far more quickly too. Worse, not only was the absorbed anima being leeched away, but my core life energies were trickling away with it. It wasn’t a fast enough bleed that I was in immediate danger, but losing two minutes of life for every minute that I lived did not seem like a trade I wanted to make over the long term.
With my magical senses sharpened as clearly as I could make them, I watched the anima that had been stolen from me funnel out through the web of fate that bound everything on the planet. Just like I’d predicted the excess power went right into one of the ghosts far away in the world.
There were deeper effects occurring as well though. The other major component of the spell that was assaulting me was it’s Aetherial magic component. While the Void aspect of the spell was turning me into a walking, talking power station, the Aetherial aspect was reaching in and rewriting my future wholesale.
Or at least it was trying to.
That was were I drew the line. My brief experience with the spell that powered the fate weave had confirmed my suspicions about it resting on the lives of the Unseen. Every averted accident, every fantastic reprieve cost them a span of their living days.
Mindful of what Fari had asked, I looked to see if there was any safety cutoff in the spell and didn’t find anything to suggest that it would stop pulling life from someone before it killed them. If anything the opposite was true as the spell forced the people in its thrall to bear many young, who would inherit their parents connection to the fate weave’s heart spell.
That compulsion, plus all of the others the spell was trying to lay on me were too much. My future was my own and my choices were my own.
Void anima is tricky to deal with in general, but there’s one trick that’s especially dangerous, even for very experience Void casters. Naturally of course, this was the option I had to turn to.
With the tendrils of the fate weave’s heart piercing through me in a thousand places, I called up my own reserves of Void anima, the one thing the spell couldn’t drain from me.
I wrapped myself in a cocoon of my power and shut out the world.
All of the world.
If anyone could have seen me in the pit, they would have witnessed a sheen of pure darkness well outwards from my skin and wrap me in thick, form concealing shroud that eventually spread into a whirling dome of light devouring anima.
Inside the Void anima cocoon, I forced my magics deep within myself. The cocoon had shattered the link to the tendrils, but there were still pieces of them buried inside me. If I didn’t get them out, those pieces would reconnect to the world around me the moment I stepped out of the cocoon.
Rooting them out wasn’t particularly easy because they were sunk into all of the parts of my core that I didn’t want Void anima touching, so I had to be very careful. I also had to be very quick, since I couldn’t use the Void cocoon and protect myself from it at the same time.
My danger sense made the task more difficult too, since it was convinced that I was in extreme mortal peril. It wasn’t actually wrong of course. I was dying, just in a manner that I was hopeful I could recover from. If I was wrong, then on the plus side, I would leave an interesting and deadly corpse in the heart of the fate weave. In all likelihood the Void cocoon would expand slowly but surely until it eventually devoured the city of Demon’s Isolation. That wouldn’t help my loved ones, but it would mess up the Queen’s plans significantly at least.
I wasn’t terribly inclined to let that be my final mark on the galaxy, but the faster I raced to free myself from the spell, the more it looked like I wasn’t going to make it in time.
“I’m sure you have a good reason for being here,” my mother said, distracting me completely. “And while it is nice to see you again, I’m afraid you shouldn’t stay too long.”