Meeting my mother at the bottom of a transformation pit on Abyz wasn’t quite how I’d guessed I’d be reunited with her, but then I suppose that there’s some debate about whether Echo really was “my mother” or not.
She’d described herself as a piece of my mother, which made me think of her as a ghost at first. Except she wasn’t like any other ghost I’d ever encountered, and I have a knack for running into them even when I’m not searching for spirits.
Also, if she’d been a ghost, the Void storms that I met her in would have torn her apart.
So she was something else, and to whatever extent I could trust a spirit of the void, I believed her when she said she was my Mom.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, astounded to run into her.
“That should be the question I ask you,” she said. “The deeps of the void are not meant for the living, and you’re still too young and untrained to poke around here with any amount of safety.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m kind of dying right now in fact.”
“You don’t want to do that,” she said. “Not like this.”
“Believe me, I agree with you,” I said. “This isn’t me committing suicide, or meddling with powers beyond my control.”
“How did you wind up here then?” she asked.
“I’m kind of fighting a planet,” I said.
“Again?” she asked.
“It’s not a trend that I want to continue,” I said. “But, yes, again. There’s a planet-wide Aetherial field that’s sunk its hooks into me and this seemed like the only option I had for getting them out in time.”
“Planet-wide aetherial field?” Echo asked. “Are you on Abyz?”
“How did you guess?” I asked. “Have you been there?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice holding an odd tone in it that I couldn’t quite place. Wistful? Melancholic? She didn’t offer anything else to help me determine what she was feeling.
“I’m kind of trying to overthrow the Queen there and liberate a billion or so people who are living under her tyranny.” I said. “This whole dying this is holding that up though.”
“As the voice of experience here, I have to say that I don’t recommend dying,” Echo said.
“Any thoughts on how I can avoid it?” I asked.
“You’re trying to use you Void anima to purge away the effects of the fate weave or some other spell on Abyz?” she asked.
“Another spell, but it’s connected to the fate weave,” I said. “In fact it’s the spell that feeds the fate weave.”
“Feeds the fate weave?” Echo asked. “I thought Abyz was naturally overflowing with Aetherial anima? It has a long history of being a powerful source of Aetherial magic even before the fate weave was first cast there.”
“Apparently however much Aetherial anima Abyz naturally had wasn’t enough, because there’s another spell that’s setup to drain the life out of a group of people called “the Unseen”.
“How does all the magic get stored?” Echo asked. “It’s not usually practical to extract magic like that since it evaporates so quickly.”
“The spell stores it in bound ghosts,” I said. “Almost certainly the ghosts of the dead Unseen.”
“Mel, my beloved, how did you get yourself tangled up in this?” she asked.
“We came here to rescue another Crystal Guardian and her partner,” I said. “That didn’t go super well though.”
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “If you were working against the Queen, you would have had pools of Aetherial magic working against you every step you took.”
“It’s more like ocean’s than pools now,” I said. “But yeah, we ran into a few bad coincidences already. One of them cost us our team’s medic and another cost us the rest of the crew of our ship.”
“I see, so that’s why bailing out isn’t an option,” she said.
“Not even if I wanted it to be,” I said. “I spoke with some people here who tried it. The woman I spoke with lost her mother and baby sister to the Queen’s forces when they tried to escape. For us, escaping would be an almost instant win, so I figured that the Queen would have all of her magical forces arrayed to prevent that.”
“So rather than run away, you ran towards her?” my Mom asked.
“Not a great idea right?” I said.
“Actually it seems like a brilliant one to me. The Queen’s not expecting you to be gathering information like that I take it?” she asked.
“She wasn’t expecting it, but she had contingency plans in place for when it happened.” I said.
“Those ‘contingency plans’ are bearing down on you right this moment, aren’t they?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said. “Cause trying this to figure out how to deal with the Queen’s power is exactly the time when I want to deal with her minions too.”
“But you have a plan for how to do that,” she said. “You’ve already thought of a tactic to turn that strength into a liability.”
“How do you know that?” I asked. It was true, but I hadn’t shared my thought with even Darius or Fari since they would absolutely try to talk me out of what i had in mind.
“Because you’re my very smart daughter,” she said. “You’ve always had clever plans in place.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “I wind up winging it nine out of ten times and the tenth time I’m working from a plan so bad that that it takes Fari and Darius both to pull me out of it alive.”
“You’re selling yourself short,” Echo said. “And not letting me cheer you on like a mother is supposed to be able too.”
“I have to confess, I’m still not clear on how you’re able to cheer me on at all here,” I said. “What are you doing on Abyz?”
“I’m not on Abyz,” Echo said. “I’m in the Void, or a part of it, or…it’s complicated to explain. The important part though is that the distances that you think of as separating places and times are, in some senses, empty illusions.”
“So there’s no distance between the places that we’ve met?” I asked.
“Like I said, it’s complicated.” she said. “I would offer to teach you more about it but that would take weeks or months and we don’t have that much time left. The important thing is, I’m never far away from you, but when you go this deep into the Void you risk losing yourself entirely.”
“Better to lose myself than to let Abyz turn me into one of the Queen’s mindless minions,” I said.
“No,” Mom said. “Not it’s not. You can always break the Aetherial chains of the fate weave later, but you can’t recover from making a mistake with this.”
“It’s not just Aetherial chains,” I said. “The Queen has one of the Jewel’s of Endless Night. The Dominator. So when I said ‘mindless’, I meant that literally.”
“A Jewel of Endless Night and Abyz’s fate weave?” she said. “You really don’t fool around when you stir up trouble do you?”
“I didn’t stir it up this time,” I said. “That was Yael and Zyla. I just came here to clean up their mess and haul them out of danger.”
“You might want to consider how fate works,” Echo said.
“I’m not subjugated by fate spells though,” I said.
“Maybe not external ones,” she said. “But there’s always some Aetherial anima in each of us, which means we have some ability to shape our own fates. At least within certain limitations.”
“It sounds like you think I was fate weaving myself into this mess,” I said.
“I’m saying to look at yourself and decide if that’s possible,” she said.
“But I hate fate weavings,” I said.
“Maybe, but how would feel if your Guardian friend or her partner ran into trouble and died before you could help them? Wouldn’t you want to have been called in while you could still make a difference? That’s exactly what fate weavings are designed to accomplish.”
“But I don’t have much Aetherial anima,” I said.
“How much do you think it would take to make sure a message arrives on time, or to get potential allies to notice you. Those things can happen without magic, but with Aetherial anima they happen faster and more reliably.
“Hmm, you might have a point,” I said. “I wonder if the whole crew of the Horizon Breaker isn’t the same though? That might explain how we wind up with so many assignments all the time.
“That’s possible,” she said. “We can learn to do weave our fates unconsciously from watching people around us, so if one of you does it, others are likely to join in.”
“Even assuming I am getting myself into this kind of trouble though,” I said. “I think the important question at the moment is how do I get myself out of the mess I’m in. I can’t leave the bits of the fate weave’s heart spell inside me but I don’t have enough time to pull them all out.”
“What if you didn’t need to pull them out, what if you could simply erase them all?” she asked.
“To do that I’d have to sweep Void anima completely through me, which would be a much bigger hit to my energies than even my current burn rate.” I said.
“Do you know the pattern of the spell that you’re trying to extract?” she asked.
“Yeah, I let this connection to the fate weave form because I needed to study the nature of that spell.”
“Then it should be a simple matter to purge your entire system at once,” she said.
“That sounds simple in the sense that I’d simply be dead,” I said.
“Not if you focus you Void anima on absorbing the spell that you want to remove,” she said. “The trick is that you need to do it all once and very quickly. With your Void anima focused it will tear into the spell that you’re trying to purge quickly. It was also tear into your other energies but the drain rate should be slow enough that you can withstand it until the foreign spells are purged.
“And if I can’t withstand the drain rate?” I asked.
“Then you’ll probably pass out and wake up back at square one,” she said. “It’s hard for a Void caster to kill themselves with Void anima, not impossible, just difficult.”
“I get the sense that I should try this sooner rather than later,” I said.
“As soon as possible,” she said.
“I’ll be able to leave here then,” I said.
“Which is fairly vital to your long term health,” she said.
“But it means I won’t see you anymore,” I said.
“Remember the part where I’m always near you?” she said. “It’ll be ok.”
“I know that, but I don’t really know it,” I said. “I don’t think I ever really will.”
I felt warm arms wrap around me.
“Just think of me if you need too,” she said. “Remember me like this, and it should be easier for you to feel how close I am without putting yourself in this much danger.”
“Ok,” I said. “Can you stay with me while I try the Full Purge spell though? If I mess it up, I’d at least like some company in the afterlife.”
“You’re not going to mess it up, but I will stay with you while you try it,” she said.
Taking a deep mental breath, I conjured the image of the multi-layered tendrils of the heart of the fate weave spell. Once I had as solid a mental image as I could get of it, I gathered up my Void magics, focused them and, without giving myself time to hesitate, poured them quickly over every part of myself. All the little nooks and crannies.
My Mom had been right about that being the best method to remove unwanted spells that were dug in deep. She hadn’t warned me though just how unpleasant a cure it would be. It felt like many large people with clubs beat every square inch of my body simultaneously.
As the last of the foreign spell was burned from my system, I started to release the Void cocoon and rise back to the regular world.
“Oh Mel!”, my Mom said as she faded away with the Void, “Say hi to your sister when you see her! And tell her that I love you both!”
My senses returned to the world with it’s cacophony of light and sound but my mind was reeling from what my mother had said.
That left me particularly unable to process what I was seeing for a second or two. The Unseen had lifted me back up to the surface. The webbing that bound me was gone and all around the chamber there was fighting going in.
I first looked for Darius and Zyla to see if they’d decided to take on the Unseen while I was lost to the Void. I didn’t see them at first, but I did noticed the the people the Unseen were fighting were wearing the Royal Insignia of Abyz. They were the Queen’s special forces.
I turned my head at just the right time to see Bo enter the room.
Just like I expected, she had caught up to us and as a result things were going to get very interesting.