It’s easy to think of history as pivoting on singular moments. The one decisive battle or the one great discovery that changes everything. From what I’ve seen though, those great moments are more often a cloud of other moments all compressed together.
Abyz died and that changed everything, but in the final reckoning was that the moment that really mattered?
At the time I didn’t have the bandwidth to process questions like that. Life was moving too fast, just like it almost always does.
Zyla’s fight to get into the command center of the Principal Spell Forge escaped my notice too, but nearly everyone else in the facility was aware of it acutely.
Military personnel are selected and trained in a variety of manners. Consistent for all of them however is a focus on Physical anima aptitude and being able to work as a group. Those two factors added together give you a strong, disciplined fighting force where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Zyla was one person against such a force of the Queen’s Royal Guards. Her arrival in the Upper Control Chamber was therefore something of a miracle in its own right. As miracles went it was an explicable one though. The Queen’s forces stationed at the Spell Forge had seen little in the way of actual combat. They’d lived their entire lives on a planet that had been at peace for centuries.
The Royal Space Navy had some experience fighting on the border reaches of the system, but the local troops were largely for paranoia’s sake on the Queen’s part. They were well trained, but none of training had anticipated that they’d be fighting a single foe of Zyla’s caliber. Zyla, on the other hand, had spent most of her life fighting massed armies of foes and knew exactly how to maximize her advantages in that sort of situation.
Despite that, the effort of getting to the Upper Control Chamber cost Zyla tremendously in terms of wounds sustained and power expended, but through sheer, unwavering determination and a willingness to strike harder, faster and at more cost to herself she literally carved a path through the mountain and arrived in the Upper Chamber to find the last person in the world she wanted to see waiting for her.
“Excellent,” Bo said. “The missing Aetherial master. I knew we wouldn’t be able to conclude this until we had you in custody.”
“You can’t be here,” Zyla said. “You’re supposed to be repairing the fate weave.”
“Yes,” Bo said. “And once the last distraction has been addressed we will head to the center of the Spell Forge and take care of that. Or did you expect that we would start the repair ritual while there was still a chance that you could interrupt it?”
“You can’t repair it,” Zyla said.
“With the power we’re carrying now? I believe you are very wrong in that assessment,” Bo said.
“No, you can’t repair it because the fate weave is flawed. It’s going to tear itself apart catastrophically,” Zyla said.
“We’re familiar with the model that predicts that,” Bo said. “But the fact of the matter is that the fate weave has stood for centuries in its current form and with the right stewardship it will stand for centuries more!”
Zyla’s face took on a strange expression. It was looked like despair and defiance were twisted together around a soul deep cord of fear.
“Everyone is going to die,” she said. “There is too much breaking loose.”
“Not when we get done,” Bo said. “Once we’ve fixed the weave, we’ll see to all the rebels and all the outside interference from the Empire. Abyz is will stand forever in harmony when we’re finished here.”
Bo raised her hand as she spoke and the Dominator flared from the ring on her finger. The light that filled the room touched on Zyla’s shields and began to burn them in a white fire bright as a magnesium flare. Zyla’s eyes widened in shock as fear sought to overcome her determination. For as strong and talented and experienced as Zyla was, Bo simply held too much raw power for her to oppose. The fight between them wasn’t going to be a battle. Zyla was defeated or dead the instant Bo decided to truly exert herself and both women knew it.
“As you say, there is much damage to repair, and little time to get started,” Bo said and swiped her left hand in a backhanded slap. A dozen yards away where Zyla stood, the wave of force from Bo’s gesture burst Zyla’s shields like they were made of spun glass.
Zyla was flung back by the blow and skidded to a stop by dragging her anima blade through the floor. With no prayer of resisting a serious attack from Bo, the Aetherial wizard rose to her feet and took up a classic duelist’s stance, pointing her anima blade directly at her foe.
“I can’t let you do this,” Zyla said.
“You don’t really a choice,” Bo said and gathered a blinding light from within the depths of the Dominator.
The blast was nothing complicated. Just simple heat energy, easy to harness and easy to cast. It had to be like that because it’s volume was so overwhemlingly vast there was no other way Bo could handle it.
To her credit, Zyla didn’t even flinch from it. Her hands flew fast and free, weaving an Aetherial spell against all hope and against the impossible pressure of the fate weave itself.
And her prayer was answered.
The deadly torrent of power Bo pulled from the Dominator crashed into a shield of devouring emptiness that filled with sparks of brilliance like the depths of space.
“It’s just possible that you’re wrong about that one,” I said, stepping out from underneath the cloak of invisibility that I’d cast over myself.
Drinking in the power of Bo’s blast felt good. Really good. Dangerously so in fact. I’d over-channeled anima before and it was like a drug. The feeling of euphoria that came with the rush of new strength was second to none from everything I’d experienced and read about. Knowing that, I tried to rein in the feeling of smug superiority that came along with the anima high, but it was still damn hard not to smile at Bo’s shocked reaction to my arrival.
“How are you here?” she demanded and for the first time I heard anger in her voice that threatened to exploded into uncontrolled rage.
“Wrong question,” I said. “The right question is ‘who is here with me’. I think you’ll have some interest in that too Zyla. In fact I’m pretty sure if you’re here it means they’re really going to need you in the Spell Forge, so why don’t you get a move on down there.”
“Neither of you are going anywhere,” Bo said.
“You don’t think the other Royal Guards are going to stop us do you?” I asked. “Cause they’re all wrapped up in a sleep spell and the only way you’re breaking them out of that is to take me down.”
“That can most certainly be arranged,” she said.
“Maybe,” I said. “Speaking of which, do you still have Fari’s gem Zyla?”
“She certainly does,” Fari said. “Pass me over to Mel, would you. I think we need to have a discussion with Agent Riverstone and her new friend.”
Zyla threw Fari’s gem to me and Bo tried to intercept it with another blast. That mistake was a sign of how power drunk she’d gotten, despite the Dominator handling the vast majority of the anima she’d stolen from the Giga-beasts. I blocked the blast with another Void shield and absorbed it’s power too. The result left me feeling high as a kite and stronger than a hurricane.
“Need a hand with all that anima?” Fari asked on our restored telepathic link as I snagged her jewel from mid-air.
Zyla disappeared in a burst of hyper-speed that I could probably only equal using a fair portion of the power I’d stolen from Bo’s blast. I was glad to see her go since it put her out of harm’s way, and if my guess was correct then Yael and Queen Metai were desperately going to need her help with the spell they were casting.
“Yes, please!” I said telepathically. “Much more of this and I’m going to turn into a blissed out anima vampire and drain her dry.”
“It might come to that anyways,” Fari said.
“Yeah, but I at least want to feel bad about it,” I said.
“Give up now,” Bo said. “You can sense what I’m carrying can’t you?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Hello Dominator, or do you remember your real name?”
“She doesn’t answer anyone except me,” Bo said.
“You mean you don’t answer to anyone except her,” I said.
“My will is my own and always has been,” Bo said.
“So if your Queen commanded you to stand down, you would then?” I asked.
“She would never give that order,” Bo said.
I held out a communication disk and flicked it on to show a two foot tall recorded hologram of Queen Metai.
“Agent Riverstone, I order you to give custody of the Jewel of Endless Night to Guardian Watersward. Confirmation code for this order is as follows,” the recording of Queen Metai then listed a series of words and numbers, which should have compelled Bo’s obedience.
As I’d expected though, the message fell on deaf ears.
“It’s a false recording,” Bo said.
“The code is valid,” I said. “Queen Metai recorded this less than fifteen minutes ago.”
“Why would she record a message like that? Why wouldn’t she deliver the order in person?” Bo asked.
“Two reasons,” I said. “First, it wasn’t safe for her to do so.The Dominator isn’t a forgiving master and knows far better than to let me get my hands on her. If Queen Metai was here, the Dominator would put her under the same spell that you’re under.”
“I am under no spell,” Bo said.
“I wish that were true,” I said, sadness welling up inside me when I thought of just how false Bo’s statement was. “But you’ve been under its spell far longer than you know.”
I wasn’t guessing at that. It was one of the less pleasant things the Queen had told me about Bo.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bo said. “And you’re risking the demise of this planet by wasting my time.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t want to fight you,” I said.
“Now who’s lying?” Bo asked. “I can see the hunger in your eyes. This is the whole reason you came to Abyz. To claim a cosmic level power you have no right to!”
“I’ll admit that the energy you’ve got is pretty intoxicating, but I don’t need or want cosmic power,” I said. “I’ve held that and its more trouble than its worth. All I want is an Abyz that has a future longer than the next hour or so, and ideally one where no one is bound in suffering against their will for the sake of another.”
“If you meant that, you would stand aside,” Bo said. “You know I cannot let you take this power or stop me from saving my world.”
“We have very different definitions of what saving the world means,” I said. “And I’m sorry that I can’t accept yours. If I’m wrong, your ghost is going to haunt the hell out of mine I guess.”
“It’s not going to come to that,” Bo said. “I won’t let it.”
“I know,” I said. “Neither will I. One last time though, are you sure you want it to come to this? Whatever happens, nothing is going to be the same afterwards.”
“It’ll be better,” Bo said and raised a churning tornado of Void anima around herself.
“Let’s hope,” I said and plunged into the Void myself.
I’d fought like this with Void casters before. It was the deepest, deadliest form of combat that I knew of. Both casters raced as far as they could into the Void, risking their own total destruction in order to pierce the defense of their foe. In nearly all cases, the outcome was the same; both casters were consumed by the darkness they spawned. I’d won a fight like this before, but my opponent had been insane. Bo wasn’t, and that was maybe my only hope of surviving.
As we dove ever deeper into darkness though, the stakes we were playing for changed. Our own lives became of little concern as we felt the fate weave finally shatter and the inversion of power begin to warp the world-wide protective field into the end of all life on the planet.