“So, we lost her,” Zyla said. She and Darius stood outside the ruins of what had been Demon’s Isolation, surveying the land that lay below them.
“Hopefully not completely lost,” Darius said and watched as the mountain-sized giga-beasts he’d last seen two years ago devastated the empty countryside.
Behind him stood dozens of the Unseen, visible and quite memorable in the wake of the giga-beasts arrival. The giant monsters, in additional to laying waste to the countryside they trampled over, also shattered the complex spells that bond the fate weave to Demon’s Isolation and kept the people there hidden. In the process the giga-beasts had feasted on the unbelievably rich veins of power that were concentrated in the city and grown even larger than they’d been when Mel summoned them.
“I still have a link to her, but I’m going to lose it soon,” Fari said.
“How can you tell?” Darius asked.
“My clairvoyance spell has a number of holes in it,” Fari said. “And since they’ve teleported her to a one of the High Royal prison facilities, I’m guessing that those holes are anti-magic cells.”
“What has happened,” a tall, pale woman asked. “What are those monsters?”
“Those are alien entities from transwarp space,” Fari said. “They’re animavores, and unless I miss my guess, they’ve freed you, at least partially, from your connection to the fate weave.”
“But how?” the woman asked. “We fled with you, we haven’t come anywhere near them.”
“Their aura radius, the area the can influence magical energy in, is much larger than they are,” Fari said. “We fought them in warp space a couple of years ago and even a thousand miles of distance wasn’t enough to keep us out of their range.”
“Are we still in danger then? Should we continue fleeing?” the woman asked.
“Yes, we’re still in danger, and no, fleeing further won’t help at this point,” Darius said.
“We had you come with us out of your underground city once we felt the anima levels drop,” Fari said. “We knew the spells the Queen cast wouldn’t hold you there anymore and with creatures that large stomping around on the surface, the under-city is probably experiencing all sorts of cave-ins and other disasters.”
“Our homes are gone?” the woman asked.
“Yes,” Zyla said. “And this whole planet is going to follow them unless we do something.”
“How’s the fate weave holding up?” Darius asked.
“Locally it’s all but destroyed,” she said. “But that’s a minor victory at best. The rest of the weave has more than enough power to scour this world clean.”
“Does it look like the rest of it is going to hold together?” Fari asked.
“No,” Zyla said. “It’s definitely going to come apart. It was unstable before, now it’s just a matter of time until it explodes.”
“How much time does she have?” Darius asked.
“She? You mean Watersward?” Zyla asked.
“Yes, how much time does she have to fix this?”
“She been captured and is being held prisoner in the Queen’s own prison facility, in an anti-magic cell. What help can we possibly expect from her? And what could she possibly do even if she was free to fight with us?” Zyla asked.
“I don’t know,” Darius said. “I look at this situation and I see impossible problems stacked on top of impossible problems.”
“Then we need to look for an escape or we need to make what peace we can with our fates,” Zyla said. “Unless you would prefer to leave behind some truly monstrous ghosts?”
“No, you don’t understand,” Darius said. “Impossible problems is what I see when I look at what’s going on, but that’s not what she sees. To Mel, these aren’t problems. They’re puzzles.”
“How does that help us?” Zyla asked.
“That’s the wrong question,” Darius said. “We don’t need help. This planet does, and Mel’s not going to lose sight of that.”
“You have a lot of faith in her,” Zyla said. “Enough to get us all killed.”
“Maybe,” Darius said. “But that’s not what I’m most afraid of, and I don’t think it’s what you’re most afraid of either.”
“You’re not afraid of dying?” Zyla asked.
“Oh, I’m terrified of dying,” Darius said. “These last two years have been a roller coaster from exhilaration to mind-numbing dread and back again. I can count at least seven times when I’ve been within two inches and two-tenths of a second of dying and none of them have made it any easier to face the prospect. On some level though, I can accept that. The work that we do is amazing stuff and the people that I, personally, have had a chance to save have been well worth risking death for.”
“But there’s something that scares you more than that?” Zyla asked.
“Yeah, and you know what it is, because it’s the scariest thing for you too,” Darius said.
“That they’ll die,” Zyla said.
“Right. I want to live, don’t get me wrong, but imagining that life without my friend, my partner, and the woman I love? That horrifies me,” Darius said. “And I think you feel the same way.”
Zyla stared out at the great beasts for a moment and then nodded.
“That’s why we’re not going to ask how we can survive this,” Darius said. “We’re going to ask, how we can make sure they survive it.”
“And, for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Mel and Guardian Clearborn are going to be doing the same in return for us,” Fari said.
“I don’t know about that,” Zyla said. “They have the weight of the whole planet on their shoulders. Before they can think of us, there are billions who they need to consider.”
“Don’t sell them short,” Fari said. “I’ve known Mel longer than either of you and what Darius says is right. She thinks in amazing ways.”
“I wish I could believe that, but I thought she didn’t have any particular gifts with Mental anima?” Zyla said.
“She doesn’t,” Fari said. “But I think that’s because she’s unbalanced into Void anima. Or maybe it’s because she had to think her way out of problems for so long as a kid. Whatever the cause is though, her mind is brilliant.”
“So is yours though isn’t it?” Zyla asked. “I mean you’re nearly a spirit of pure Mental energy. How can you not be smart enough to see everything she does?”
“Intelligence can’t be measured on a single scale,” Fari said. “What you see as intellect in me is a combination of the capabilities I was born with and developed while I was alive, the multi-tasking and energy management that the spells which bind me to the Jewel provide and the skills I’ve developed in bits and pieces over the millenia on the rare occasions when I was fully awake.”
“That has to add up to the most formidable mental arsenal around though doesn’t it?” Zyla asked.
“Yes, for some purposes,” Fari said. “And don’t get me wrong, I take pride in usually being the smartest girl in the room. Being smart though, means acknowledging that there are different styles of thought, different ways of seeing and interpreting the world and that while I am very good at the approach that’s natural to me, there are other approaches which can yield amazing results too.”
“So you’re saying only Watersward can figure out how to save us?” Zyla asked.
“No,” Fari said.
“That’s not how it works,” Darius said. “Don’t think of her saving us. Think of all of us saving each other.”
“That sounds naive and childish,” Zyla said. “Like we can just believe in goodness and things will work out for the best.”
“Belief doesn’t enter into it,” Fari said. “At least not the kind of belief you’re talking about. Darius isn’t asking you to turn off your brain. He’s saying turn it up. Think. What can we do that will create opportunities for someone on our side to win?”
“I don’t know! I can’t see anything about the future anymore!” Zyla said.
“All have become Unseen then?” the pale Unseen woman asked.
“Yes! Or no, maybe there’s simply no future to see!” Zyla said.
“Or maybe we’re finally in a position to win!” Fari said.
“You’re right!” Darius said. “This is good. This is very good!”
“How can the world ending be very good?” Zyla asked.
Before Darius or Fari could answer, a bright streak of light shot across the sky and the roaring of the giga-beasts quieted.
“Who is that?” Zyla asked, straining her eyes to make out any details of the figure who was miles away.
“It’s the Queen!” Fari said.
“How can you tell?” Zyla asked.
“Because she’s carrying the Dominator!” Fari said and began weaving a shield spell around Zyla, Darius and all of the Unseen who’d followed them.
“I don’t think that’s the Queen,” Darius said, peering through a passive vision enhancing spell. “Unless she’s shape changed herself to look like Agent Riverstone.”
“Wait, really? Let me see that,” Fari asked and touched Darius’ arm. Since her glowing blue form was just a projection, she could only benefit from the vision enhancing spell by looking through Darius’ eyes.
“Why would she come here?” Zyla asked. “And can the Dominator take care of those monsters?”
“She’s a Jewel of Endless Night and she’s fully charged,” Fari said. “She can take care of almost anything.”
“Are you sure the Dominator is there?” Darius asked as additional glowing figures streaked into the sky over Demon’s Isolation.
“Absolutely positive,” Fari said, her eyes focused on a single point in the sky above.
“Can she sense you?” Zyla asked.
“I doubt it,” Fari said. “We expended almost the entire energy of my Jewel on your father. In terms of raw anima I barely have more now than I did when I was alive. If she senses my power at all, even if she notices the familiar binding enchantments, I won’t look anything like another Jewel to her.”
“What are they waiting for?” Darius asked.
“She’s probably casting probing spells,” Fari said. “The Dominator has a lot of information gathering magics at her disposal. With creatures that large and dangerous, I think she’ll want to have a very good sense of what they are before she acts against them.”
“The Dominator or Agent Riverstone?” Zyla asked.
“Either, or both,” Fari said. “There’s also the possibility that there is no Agent Riverstone anymore. Depending on what the Queen did, the Dominator may have overridden Agent Riverstone’s psyche entirely.”
“Would that be good or bad?” Darius asked.
“Hard to say. We might be able to reason with Agent Riverstone, where the Jewel will grant no mercy at all. On the other hand, a lot of Dominator’s powers are probably locked down if there’s not a sapient host controlling it.”
“It looks like she’s gotten the information she needed,” Darius said.
A purple and grey snow began to drift down onto the giga-beasts and where each flake landed a small patch of shadow took hold. The giant monsters stood stock still as the Void snow accumulated on them, in stark defiance with their earlier behavior.
“The Dominator is keeping them passive,” Fari said. “I can see the spell from here.”
“Can you disrupt it?” Zyla asked.
“Maybe,” Fari said. “Probably only for a short while though.”
“Does the weird snow look familiar to you?” Darius asked.
“Now that you mention in it, yes it does,” Fari said. “That looks a lot like the banishment spell that Mel worked out after the fiasco on Titanus.”
“What do you think the odds are that Agent Riverstone developed the same spell on her own?” Darius asked.
“I don’t know enough about Void casting to be sure but, under the circumstances, I’m going to rate that as very unlikely,” Fari said.
“So the Queen’s agent is going to solve the giga-beast problem for us?” Zyla asked.
Darius and Fari were silent for a moment as the Void snow finished swallowing up the giga-beasts.
Raw torrents of corrascating magic ripped the air apart a moment later.
Huge streams of lightning, wide as rivers, towers of flame and beams of pure light shot from the engulfed giga-beasts and all struck the tiny glowing figure of Agent Riverstone.
It was impossible to watch what happened but several minutes later when the flood of power dwindled away and there was a second sun in the sky, it was clear what had occurred.
Agent Riverstone hadn’t banished the giga-beasts.
She’d consumed them.