Even down in the depths of the void, racing away from the light of the material world, it was impossible to miss the radiance of the fate weave fracturing.
Bo’s voice was just a whisper, but it carried with it a lifetime of loss and denial.
And after denial, comes anger.
Bo’s attack was savage but ill planned. She threw a gout of Void anima at me, sharpening it into a spike with her rage and frustration. It’s edge was cold and solid, but when it touched the Void that surrounded me all it did was give me strength.
In a battle like the the one that we were fighting there was no room for dramatic death blows. No blocks or parries. No chance to dodge the doom that awaited us. When two Void casters really went at it, the winner wasn’t the one who survived, but the one who managed to make sure their opponent perished.
In that sense most such duels resulted in both combatants winning. By any sane measure though we’d already both lost by winding up in a situation where we had to fight a duel like this one in the first place.
I had the slim comfort that if I died, I would at least be paving the way for my friends to save the world, but with the shattering of the fate weave, I couldn’t tell if that was necessarily going to work out all that well.
“I have to kill you,” Bo said. “I didn’t want to, but there’s no other choice now.”
“You can’t,” I said. “That’s the trick of this kind of duel.”
“I have far more power than you do,” she said. “I can survive going much deeper into the Void.”
“Look around you,” I said. “There is no deeper, there’s only letting more of it inside.”
“That’s not how it works,” Bo said. “You’re following me down, but you can’t drop as far as I can.”
“I can, and I am,” I said. “Your power doesn’t mean anything in the Void. All you have here is yourself and the only thing that matter is how much of that you’re willing to give up.”
“I will give everything to stop you from killing my world,” she said.
“And I’ll give everything to save it,” I said. “We didn’t have to be enemies you know and there’s still time for us to be something else.”
“I have a duty to carry out,” Bo said.
“I do too,” I said. “And part of that duty is to you. Like it or not, you’re a member of the Crystal Empire too, which means you’re as much under my protection as anyone else is.”
Bo drank in more of the Void, growing dimmer in my vision as her essential life energy was carried away.
“Your protection is meaningless if you allow an entire world to perish,” she said. “Let me fix this!”
Her words were wrapped in an echoless hollow of Void anima. They tried to tear into me, the magics seeking to pierce me so deeply that I would strike back at them or flee, either of which being a fatal move. Instead, I accepted the emptiness as my own.
Regular anima springs from the same places in nearly everyone but each person colors it uniquely with their own aura and personality. Void anima, on the other hand, originates from experiences that are unique to each caster but it is, in some senses, all the same. It carries no mark of its creator because it is a manifestation of emptiness and dissolution. I didn’t have to convert the anima that Bo hurled at me because it already was the same as the anima I carried, just as the magics I wove were part of her domain as well.
“You can’t fix it,” I said. “You’ve got to accept that. There are things that are beyond your control, and burdens that you need to let others carry.”
“No one else can do this!” she shouted, drinking in more Void and trying even harder to freeze me with it. “I’m the only one.”
“You’re not,” I said. “You think you’re alone, you think the world depends on you, that no one else can handle things, but its not true and it never has been!”
“You don’t know me! And you don’t know this world! Let me go! Now!”
“Bo, I’m not the one holding you here,” I said. “And I do know you. You came at me alone the first time we met. It’s the same move I would have made, because Void casters are dangerous and I wouldn’t want to risk anyone under my command, even if they were Void casters too.”
“I knew I could handle you,” she said.
“No. You didn’t,” I said. “You approached me cautiously, and you made sure to take my measure and not back me into a corner before you had a sense of how hard I was willing to fight. If you knew what I was capable of, you would have struck with overwhelming force before I was even aware of you.”
“I should have,” she said.
The attack that came with her words was weak and wobbly.
“Now who’s lying?” I asked. “I respect you Bo. You really are trying your best, but your best isn’t what’s needed here. What’s needed is everyone’s best.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Look at the fate weave, what do you see?” I asked.
“It’s falling apart, the stress you put on it was too much,” she said.
“Really?” I asked. “You think one person could do enough damage to destroy an effect drawn from countless people and maintained for almost a thousand years? Or better question, you think I’m powerful enough to do that? Without a cosmic artifact at my disposal? And yet I’m not strong enough to beat you cleanly in a fight? Does that actually sound reasonable?”
“You’re not going to trick me,” she said. “You can’t bewitch me with words.”
“You’re right,” I said. “And you know how to make sure of that.”
I demonstrated by drinking in more Void anima myself and letting it swirl around my mind. I lost the telepathic link to Fari. I lost all of my meager stash of Mental anima and even spells like my Void Sight that had hints of mind magic to them faded away. I was truly blind and felt even more alone without Fari’s mental presence to keep me company.
“There’s not much father that we can go,” Bo said.
“I know, but we had to get at least this deep into the Void,” I said.
“Why? Why was it so important for you to be right?” Bo asked.
“Because the thing you’re carrying is so very wrong,” I said.
“The Jewel?” Bo asked.
“This deep in, you should finally be free of her,” I said.
“I…I feel different,” Bo said. “The Void is corrupting my thoughts.”
“That’s not corruption,” I said. “That’s the doubt you’ve been feeling. The Dominator kept it suppressed.”
“Why would she do that?” Bo asked.
“Because she’s efficient,” I said. “You were a much more useful tool if she didn’t have to override your will. All she had to do was keep you in line.”
“The Dominator is just a tool though,” Bo said. “She’s part of the fate weave and the reason it’s stood so long.”
“She was never supposed to be,” I said. “I spoke with Queen Metai. She laid everything out. About how the fate weave was originally setup. About how the Dominator’s Jewel was found. What her predecessor intended and what actually occurred when the Jewel was given access to the Spell Forge.”
“How could you have spoken with the Queen?” Bo asked.
“She came to see us,” I said. “After she gave the Dominator to you. She knew the Giga-beasts would keep the two of you busy. She had to make sure the Dominator wouldn’t interfere this time.”
“Interfere with what?
“Well, she thought she had an opportunity to undo the fate weave before it killed everyone,” I said. “She was going to have Yael, the other Crystal Guardian that you caught, and I kill her. Her plan was to channel all of the energy of the fate weave into her ghost and then bear it down into the planet’s core where it could return as natural anima after the heat of the planet broke it down to its component motes.”
“That would never work!” Bo said.
“She was desperate, and it was the only path she could see that involved her not directly killing everyone on the planet.”
“But the planet couldn’t take that much additional energy being added to it. Every volcano in the world would erupt! Abyz wouldn’t be habitable for another thousand years!”
“True, but there would be time to get the people on it off before the long winter starved them out.”
“No, there would be riots and mass chaos. Billions would die in the process.” Bo said.
“I pointed that out to her,” I said. “And I pointed out that there was a better way to handle it.”
“What mad scheme of yours would she possibly believe?” Bo asked.
“Everyone is convinced that the world’s going to end. There’s too much power built up and the fate weave has grown too fragile to handle it right?” I asked.
“Yes, thanks to what you did,” Bo said.
“In part, but my actions only broke a few threads. If the weave was in good shape I would never even have landed on the planet’s surface,” I said. “According to the Queen it’s been falling apart for centuries now.”
“If she couldn’t fix it what made you think you knew how?”
“Because the Dominator never got a hold of my thoughts,” I said. “It’s made you all miss the most obvious thing that was wrong. The fate weave was designed to protect everyone on the planet right? That’s what makes Abyz the paradise that it is.”
“Yes, and?” Bo asked.
“Is it protecting everyone on the planet?”
“Yes, of course.”
“What about the Unseen?” I asked. “They’re natives of Abyz too aren’t they?”
“No, they’re aliens,” Bo said.
“Why? All of the Unseen who are alive today were born and raised here. Their bodies are formed from the materials of Abyz and their breath mingles with the same air that yours does,” I said. “When did your family arrive on Abyz? I mean you’ve got the same galactic skin tone I do, so if anything you’re more of an alien than they are.”
“But they are an essential part of the fate weave!” Bo said.
“No!” I said. “They’re not! Sacrificing others for your own good is an aberration and always will be. The fate weave as it is now is corrupted and that corruption is forcing it to tear itself apart.”
“You’re saying the fate weave wants to destroy itself?” Bo asked.
“I don’t think it ‘wants’ anything, but it’s not hard to see that it’s been twisted to act against it’s own orders,” I said.
“How does that possibly help us? And why tell me this now?” Bo asked.
“Because you’re free of the Dominator’s control now. We’re deep enough in the Void that even she can’t reach here,” I said. “As for how it can help us, like I said, it’s not something either of us can fix. We’re not Aetherial casters. But the Queen is. And Yael is too. And Zyla.”
“They were already here!” Bo said. “You snuck the Queen and the Crystal Guardian in before I got here with the Dominator and then waited for the third caster, the woman that I fought.”
“To be completely honest, I had no idea Zyla would make it here,” I said. “That was either the work of the fate weave, Yael or a straight up coincidence. I asked the Queen and Yael to try fixing the fate weave since they have control over the strongest control nodes for it. I had no idea Zyla would show up to help them, but in hindsight it feels more correct that there be three casters working on it, for the past, the present and the future.”
“Even with three casters of the Queen’s level, I don’t think they can fix the fate weave,” Bo said.
“Not the existing one, but what if they made a brand new one, just as the previous one fell?” I asked.
“Is that possible?” Bo asked.
“I have no idea, but the Queen and Yael were willing to try,” I said.
“What about all anima that will be released?” Bo asked.
“Ok, you’re not going to like this part of the plan,” I said.
“What did you have them do?” she asked.
“Well, the existing fate weave is going to kill everyone and burn the world when it inverts right?” I asked.
“Yes…” Bo said, caution and uncertainty warring in her voice.
“What if the new fate weave’s first job was to bring everyone, including the Unseen, back to life and restore the world?” I asked. “That would consume a lot of the free anima wouldn’t it?”
Bo was silent for a long moment.
“For what it’s worth, neither the Queen or Yael could answer that question for sure either, but it sounded at least vaguely right to them,” I said.
“You’re insane,” Bo said.
“You’re not the first to accuse me of that,” I said.
“What can we do then?” she asked.
“At this point? Nothing at all,” I said. “Our role was to bury the Dominator so deeply in the Void that she wouldn’t have any contact with the new fate weave. Whatever else we’ve done, I think we’ve managed that. I can barely feel any of my life left at all now and I’m really not sure I can get back from here on my own anymore.”
“Me either,” Bo said. “At least we won’t leave any angry ghosts behind. Wait! The ghosts! How will they get the anima away from the Ghosts of the Unseen? If the weave breaks and releases it, the bound dead will be freed, and incredibly amped up on power. They’ll scour the planet clean all on their own.”
“Don’t worry about that,” my Mother said. “I’ve got it covered.”
It was nice to hear her voice again, and honestly one of the big reasons I’d been willing to engage in a Void duel again. Even if I lost it, I’d at least be closer to her when I did. Of course, what I hadn’t counted on was that I might not be the only one to feel that way.
“Mom?” Bo said. “What are you doing here?”