What sucks about promising people miracles is that sometimes they’ll look to you to actually deliver one. That was the position that Darius was in, but fortunately for Abyz it wasn’t the first time he’d been called on to provide that kind of service.
“Ebele, we’re going to need you to contact your people,” Darius said. “All of them. And everyone they can contact too. Best case scenario is they’re going to need to save the world after we stop Agent Riverstone.”
“If that’s the best case scenario, it doesn’t sound like we’re in terrible good shape,” Ebele said. “What’s the worst case scenario?”
“That they won’t even get the chance to do that,” Darius said.
“My people will help in this too,” Alinaki said.
“Good, because there’s a mission only you can do,” Fari said. “We need you to contact the rest of the Unseen, the ones in the other hidden cities.”
“What would you have us do?” Alinaki asked.
“You have the most direct connection to the fate bound ghosts,” Fari said. “Most of them are just fading copies, but if they’re as old as we believe then some will have developed sapience of their own.”
“Those will be the ones that will be the hardest of exorcise,” Darius said.
“And why should we exorcise them?” Alinaki said.
“Because once they are unbound, they’re going to assault the living,” Fari said.
“Perhaps the living deserve to be assaulted,” Alinaki said. “We have lived as their slaves for centuries.”
“The unbound ghosts won’t discriminate between their kin and the others,” Fari said. “For them the distinction is between the living and the dead, and you don’t want to see what a planet of the dead looks like or can do before they fade away.”
“How can we locate the other Unseen?” Alinaki asked.
“We know where your cities are,” Ebele said. “We thought they were necropoli though.”
“They are,” Darius said. “This whole world is in fact.”
“”What part can we play in this?” Alinaki asked.
“If we get to the stage where we can try to exorcise the ghosts, we’ll need you to act as the speakers for the ritual,” Darius said. “You’ll be the ones to convey the spell’s message to leave to the unbound ghosts.”
“But there won’t be time to assemble the Unseen from every city,” Alinaki said.
“That’s why I’m going to add you to our telepathic link,” Fari said.
“I cannot speak for all of my people,” Alinaki said.
“You won’t have to,” Fari said. “I’m going to add them all to the link.”
“Can you do that?” Alinaki asked.
“It will be a bit of a challenge,” Fari said.
Darius exchanged a glance with her. That many people over that distance was going to be more than a challenge. Even for a caster as good as Fari, the drain for a spell like that would be unbearable and could shatter her psyche forever.
“That leaves us with the problem of stopping Agent Riverstone,” Ebele said. “She has the full might of the Queen’s army behind her as well as enough raw power to look like a living star. How exactly do we fight that?”
“I don’t think we can,” Darius said. “But I don’t think we have to either.”
“You said we couldn’t let her repair the fate weave though?” Ebele asked.
“Right,” Darius said. “And that’s where we can beat her.”
“She has a tremendous amount of power, but there’s only one thing she can do with it,” Fari said. “And that one thing is going to require a lot of very careful and precise spell casting.”
“We don’t have to attack her directly,” Darius said. “That would be insane. All we need to do is make sure that the spell to repair the fate weave fails.”
“And there’s a lot of indirect actions we can take that can accomplish that,” Fari said.
“They can’t be too indirect,” Zyla said. “The fate weave will be able to block anything that’s too far removed from the repair spell.”
“We’ll have to send a team to the place where Agent Riverstone is going to perform the mending ceremony,” Darius said.
“That team is going to encounter heavy resistance,” Zyla said.
“I expected as much,” Darius said. “Can I ask for your assistance with it anyways?”
“You wouldn’t be able to keep me away,” Zyla said.
“I’m going too of course,” Fari said.
“We’re going to need you for command coordination,” Darius said.
“Not until we start the exorcism ritual,” Fari said. “Before we get there though, I’ve got a job to do keeping you all safe.”
“Will any of us come back from this?” Ebele asked. “Can you see any future where we even live much less succeed?”
“No,” Zyla said. “My precognition is mostly blind and the futures that I see are all ones where Abyz is burned to ash.”
“Do you see any where we try to take down the fate weave?” Darius asked.
“Yes, several,” Zyla said. “They all end the same.”
“Perfect!” Darius said.
“How is that perfect?” Ebele asked.
“If there are no visible futures where we win then even the Queen won’t be able to see or predict how we’re going to manage it,” Darius said.
“That sounds like insanity,” Alinaki said.
“Not when you consider the limitations of Aetherial casting,” Fari said.
“My blindness,” Zyla said. “All of the futures that I can’t see. Our hope, if we have any, lies in them.”
“How do we know that the Queen is as blind as she is?” Alinaki asked.
“Because I know where some of that blindness is coming from,” Darius said.
“Void anima, and void anima casters in particular,” Zyla said. “Their future is unknowable. They stand out as great, aggravating dark spots on any clear visions an Aetherial caster might see. Or even worse, sometimes they don’t appear at all.”
“Between Mel, Ebele and Agent Riverstone, we have several powerful spell slingers casting long shadows over what’s going to occur.” Darius said.
“And the only way we get to find out is to see it through,” Fari said.
“I should go with you then,” Ebele said.
“As much as we could use your help, you’ll need to start crafting the exorcism spell as soon as we go,” Fari said. “It will have to be cast as a ritual so that other casters can help support the energy requirements and channel the magics to the proper locations, but it’s going to be all on you to get the seed for the spell setup correctly.”
“I’ve never cast a ritual of this scope before,” Ebele said. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Very few people have, and very few people can,” Fari said. “On this planet I think there’s only three people currently with any experience at it, and as the only one of them who’s on our side, all I can offer is that you need to remember the basics. Don’t make it complicated. Don’t try to optimize it. For a spell this big it needs to be simple, clean and clear.”
“I’ll add ‘and ready soon’ onto that,” Darius said.
“Yeah, you’ll only have a few moments after the fate weave breaks before it inverts and kills everyone. If you can exorcise the ghosts before that happens, that’ll take a lot of the weaves energy away too and the inversion won’t necessarily be fatal,” Fari said. “Or at least that’s the hope.”
Ebele looked at that and dropped her head with a sigh.
“I don’t know why I believe you,” she said. “But go. I’ll be ready.”
Darius nodded at her and turned to Kojo.
“We need to go to the absolute least important of the hidden cities,” Darius said. “The one you’re not even sure should really be counted as a hidden city because it’s just so marginal.”
“The Blue Cauldron?” Kojo asked.
“No,” Darius said. “The one that’s even below that.”
“Oh, Meadowville? That’s not even really a place though?” he said.
“Ding! That’s exactly where we need to be!” Fari said. “I caught a glimpse of the Forget-Me spell the moment he said the name. Wow is it potent!”
“Potent? But why, the place is just an empty field now,” Kojo said. “We marked it since it gives you a little vague buzz, but it’s one of the places we were able to search thoroughly. There’s nothing there but grass and dirt.”
“There! Got it!” Fari said as she snipped her fingers together. Kojo’s expression changed in the instant that followed Fari’s hastily cast dispelling.
“Meadowville!” he said. “It’s not grass and dirt at all!”
“What’s there?” Darius asked.
“A dark crystal mountain hidden under the most elaborate illusions and Forget-Me spells a Jewel of Endless Night could cast,” Fari said.
“There are things there too,” Kojo said. “Monsters.”
“Real and purely mental,” Fari said. “This is going to be a very fun trip.”
“How close can you get us to the mountain?” Darius asked.
“About five miles away,” Kojo said. “There’s a teleportation ward around the entire place.”
“Not to mention a battalion of the Queen’s finest aircraft,” Fari said.
“Think we can steal one again?” Darius asked.
“No time,” Fari said.
“Then let’s go to this the hard way,” Darius said and put his hand out.
Zyla placed hers on top of his, as did Fari and Kojo and a second later the teleportation effect engulfed them.
Kojo’s mastery of teleportation was sufficient to cut through several of the lesser wards that ringed Meadowville farther out. He was even able to evade most of the alarm spells that were setup to detect unwanted arrivals. Most but not all.
“The air armada knows that we’re here and has begun acquiring a target lock on us,” Fari said.
“Looks like its the really hard way then,” Darius said. “Thanks for the ride but it’s time for you to get out of here Kojo.”
Without waiting to see if the older man listened to his order, Darius turned and scooped Zyla up in his arms before blasting off.
Speed is a defense all by itself. It’s difficult for ship scale weaponry to target a man-sized target and even more so when the man-sized target is moving multiple times the speed of sound. The Queen’s personnel were well trained though, because while the fate weave could keep Abyz safe, it couldn’t reach out to the other worlds in the system and keep all of the Queen’s holdings secure. The Royal Forces weren’t used to dealing casters of Darius’ caliber but they didn’t have to be. There were a lot more of them than there were of him and they worked well together.
The first shot to impact Darius’ shields came from the one of the forward scout ships. Its crew was used to dealing with fast moving targets that showed up unexpectedly. Darius’ luck held out only to the point where the weapons they shot him with were energy based rather than physical projectile launchers. That let him absorb some of blast and redirect it into his flight speed. The unabsorbed portion of the shot pounded his shields and sent sympathetic vibrations shattering through his body.
Dodging and weaving allow him to evade a number of other similar blasts but a handful still found their mark and stripped his shield away to nothing.
“You’ve got to make it from here,” he said and pitched Zyla forward.
With the last of his strength he cast another shield around her and detonated a massive explosion to propel her across the remaining half mile to the top of the looming crystal mountain that was in front of them.
The ships continued to fire upon the spherical shield that encased Zyla but to no avail. There was enough strength left in it by the time it crashed into the mountain that it was able to dissipate the impact of the landing and allow Zyla to begin battling the forces guarding the entrance immediately.
As for Darius, he fell from the sky covered in flames. He’d delivered the package that he was meant to carry, he’d done the job that he had to do. A smile crossed his broken face as consciousness dwindled away. If he had to go, this wasn’t the worst scenario he could imagine. He’d helped save a planet, he was sure of that, and if he left a ghost behind it wasn’t going to be a vast and vengeful one.
Then he felt the fate weave grab him.