Opal sat and watched Arvana’s reactions with an unnerving sort of calm. It was a calculated display, meant to suggest that the Crystal Guardian was in complete control of the situation. Each moment they spoke though was like a game of chess played onboard a ship during tsunami seas. The moves were important, but there was the matter of the entire board being wiped clean if the players let their attention wander for a moment.
Looking at Arvana, Opal saw a well of potential that ran deeper than the girl could possibly fathom. It was potential balanced on the edge of a blade though. Arvana didn’t trust Opal, and had good reason to be wary.
They were sitting in Arvana’s home, her sanctum, the one place in the universe she should have felt the most safe. It wasn’t the best place for a confrontation, or a calm reasoned discussion, but Opal hadn’t been left with much choice. Arvana was a good enough caster that Opal honestly wasn’t sure she could track the girl if Arvana escaped from her sight. There was still a good chance Arvana could get away in fact. Opal could think of half a dozen combinations of spells that would let Arvana exit the loft undetectably, leaving the girl free to wreck whatever foolish havoc came to her mind. That was why it was important Opal convince her not to try in the first place.
Around Arvana the magics of a Mind Shatter spell grew to a point where they illuminated her with a halo that was visible even in the daylight that was streaming through the large open windows of the loft. The girl was sufficiently impressed with Opal’s prowess. The key was to transform that impression to something that trust could be built on.
“You have very good defenses,” Opal said. “And a talent with invisibility spells.”
“That wasn’t my invisibility spell,” Arvana said, forcing the words out through the concentration required to hold the Mind Shatter spell.
“Most of it was,” Opal said. “I only provided the final twists and held it for a moment while you recovered.”
“Why?” Arvana asked.
“Because you lost your masks in the blast and if the Beacon family knew who you were people would suffer,” Opal said.
“No, why did you care,” Arvana asked. “Why are you here now?”
“I thought I was here on vacation,” Opal said. “But that possibility is looking ever more remote.”
“You’re a galactic,” Arvana said. The word held the fear and wonder that only someone who had never been to space could muster.
“Yes,” Opal said.
“And you work for the Beacons?” Arvana asked. The hurt in her voice was a cry against the abject unfairness of life. She’d lived the knowledge that odds were slanted against them, but to discover that they had never had any hope of succeeding at all was cruel enough to drive her to the self-annihilation that she was gathering power for.
“No, I answer to a very different authority,” Opal said and silently wove magics of her own. Arvana looked determined to go out in a final blaze of glory and was closer to doing so than she appeared to realize. Opal couldn’t allow that to happen, but dreaded what the cost to the young caster would be if she had to stop her the hard way.
“A galactic syndicate is moving in now?” Arvana asked, caught between horror and disbelief at the idea.
Opal smiled. The girl believed in Opal’s show of power, perhaps too much. Easing it back a notch seemed to be called for Opal decided.
“Do you know what the principal weakness of an invisibility spell is?” Opal asked.
“Anyone covered by it can still see each other,” Arvana said. “That’s how you tracked us, isn’t it?”
“Not quite,” Opal said. “I tracked you through the haste spell of your friends that I augmented. You cast the invisibility spell to obscure sight but not to block magic so I was able to follow you thanks to the link the active spell gave me.”
“What are you going to do to us now?” Arvana asked.
“That depends a great deal on you,” Opal said. “You want me to leave you alone don’t you?”
“But you’re not going to do that,” Arvana said.
“I don’t think it would be wise,” Opal said. “I’m not a fate reader, but I can see you are tied up in all sorts of trouble at the moment and if I leave you alone you’re only going to make it worse.”
“If you’re not with Beacon, what do you care what we do to them?” Arvana asked. “Why not just go back to space and leave us alone. There’s got to be more interesting people out there for you to play with.”
Arvana pleaded with reason, but it was the sort of reason that would appeal to a monster. ‘We’re too tasteless to eat, go eat someone else’. That put Opal in a delicate position. Arvana hadn’t reasoned herself into the belief that Opal was a monster. She’d reasoned out how powerful Opal was, but it was a deeper, more fundamental rift of pain that said anyone with power was a monster. Opal couldn’t offer reasonable arguments against her own power. They would be nothing more than transparent lies giving what Arvana had seen her do. She could try to offer reasonable arguments that she wasn’t a monster, could proclaim that she was a Crystal Guardian and held to an exacting ethical and moral standard, but no simple reasoning like that would convince Arvana. Fear can find a counter-argument to anything.
“Do you think you’re too unimportant for my attentions?” Opal asked, trying to shift the conversation into an area where she could attack Arvana’s fears indirectly.
“Yes! Come on, this isn’t a galactic thing! It’s local and small and pointless,” Arvana said.
“Do you know how many people there are in the galaxy?” Opal asked.
“Billions,” Arvana said.
“That doesn’t even cover your local sector,” Opal said. “The galaxy seethes with life. We sapients have expanded through it and filled corners and ecosystems across the stars. For every point of light you see when you gaze at the sky, billions of people are gazing back. With that as a reference point do you think I can claim to be any more important than you?”
“Yes,” Arvana said. “That’s where you live. Out there. You’re strong enough to deal with all that. We’re just regular people here.”
“You underestimate what regular people are capable of then,” Opal said. “Tell me though, why did you go along with the plan to attack the Beacons? You could see where it was going to lead. The vengeance they would take on the community until a scapegoat was found.”
“The attack was going to happen with or without me,” Arvana said. “I had to go along with it because I had the best chance of keeping my friends safe.”
“You succeeded in that,” Opal said. “The stasis I have them in is quite pleasant from all accounts.”
“But you’re not going to let them go either are you?” Arvana asked.
“Not yet,” Opal said. “But once our conversation is complete, I’ll release them unharmed and unhindered.”
“We both know that’s not going to happen,” Arvana said.
“Do we?” Opal asked. Inside, she stifled a groan. Arvana was wearing her fear like a shield. It was a terrible tactic. A master manipulator could use fear as easily as carelessness. Opal could do that too but she was working with the disadvantage that she wanted Arvana in one healthy and whole piece when their conversation was over, so she switched gears and didn’t try to dodge the question further. “What do you think is going to occur?”
Arvana was quiet, but the tremble in her jaw spoke of how terrible she thought their fates would be.
“Is that why you’re building up that Mind Shatter spell?” Opal asked with no reproach in her voice. “Do you know the radius you’re going to affect if you let it go as you have it configured now?”
Opal saw Arvana’s control starting to slip on the spell and added a few support threads to the Mind Shatter. If Arvana chose to cast the spell, Opal’s magics would be added to the devastation is caused, but for the time being the extra anima was helping Arvana keep the unruly spell under control.
“Your two friends here have been with you your whole life haven’t they?” Opal asked. “And above all else, you’re going to make sure they don’t suffer?”
“That’s right,” Arvana said, her jaw tense as her spell built to a critical intensity. Opal saw her tie it off. It was ready to cast whenever Arvana wished to let it go. The girl held it as though she could choose that moment at a whim, apparently unaware of the uncontrollable meltdown that was starting to occur in the heart of the malformed magic.
“And whatever I say, you really won’t trust, will you?” Opal asked. “You know how skilled I am, so even if I leave, I could come back to finish the game at any time. Right now, you think you’re going to have to live with that fear for the rest of your life.”
“That’s why you’re doing this isn’t it?” Arvana asked. “I don’t have any choice here and that amuses you!”
“I must say, you are quite intelligent,” Opal said. “The important question though is are you smart enough to know how stupid you are?”
The Mind Shatter spell wobbled as Arvana flinched in surprise.
“What do you mean?” the young caster asked.
“Intelligent people often know many things and can see how various situations will play out,” Opal said. “Very smart people however know that there are even more things which they don’t know and that there are resolutions they can’t foresee.”
“What other choice do I have here then?” Arvana asked, clutching her hands into fists.
“You want to protect your friends and you don’t want to have to live wondering if someone is coming to get you?” Opal asked. “Then come with me. If you’re by my side, you’ll always know what I’m doing.”
“Come with you?” Arvana asked. “Where?”
“Out there.” Opal said, gesture towards the heavens.
“I can’t,” Arvana said. “The Beacons are hurting people here. They’ll kill Marsh and Keel when they find them.”
“The Beacons aren’t going to be a problem anymore,” Opal said.
The Mind Shatter spell trembled and tried to burst but Opal’s reinforcements caught it and held the spell steady.
“You’re lying,” Arvana said.
“I do that sometimes, but at the moment I don’t need to,” Opal said. “Check the spell web. Look for reports on the explosion at the restaurant.”
“I can’t,” Arvana said. “I’m barely holding the Mind Shatter as it is.”
“Then let it go,” Opal said.
“We’ll die,” Arvana said.
“I won’t let that happen,” Opal said.
“Lying is a part of my job,” Opal said. “If you trust me though I can make this pledge; I will never lie to you. You may not always be happy with me, and I may not always be able to tell you everything that I know, but I will never lie to you.”
“Why me?” Arvana asked.
“Because I need a student and you need a teacher and somehow in the great vastness of the Million Worlds, we found each other,” Opal said. “Come with me, and leave this place behind.”
“I don’t know if I can do that,” Arvana said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“I don’t either,” Opal said. “And there’s only one way we’re going to find out. Take my hand, let the spell go and we’ll find out together.”
Arvana hesitated for a single instant longer before her hand began to move on its own. As tentative as a kitten, Arvana clasped Opal’s outstretched hand and let the Mind Shatter spell run free.
There was no explosion, no scream of deadly psychic force. Just quiet and the warmth of two hands clasped together.
The Hooded Lantern was shuddered following the blast which damaged its entryway. In the ensuing investigation a shocking amount of information was discovered on various illegal activities the proprietors were involved in. Several of the patrons were also arrested on outstanding warrants stretching back across decades, including galactic extraditions for over a dozen of them.
The local news reports didn’t waste much time on those stories though. The one which captured their attention instead was the massive Internal Affairs investigation into the local police forces who were supposed to be protecting the area dominated by the Beacon family. For months thereafter the courts were the scene to grand corruption cases and sensational indictments brought against a wide array of corrupt law enforcement officials as information against them surfaced at a record pace.
Unseen and unnoticed in all the commotion of the first few days of those scandals breaking was the departure of one of the planet’s residents.
“Do you really have to go?” Marsh asked as they stood at the space port’s docking area.
“Yeah, those robes look terrible on you,” Keel said.
“They’re apprentice robes,” Arvana said. “I think they’re supposed to look terrible so that you’ve got reason to graduate.”
“We’re going to miss you,” Keel said.
“Yeah, it won’t be the same without you here,” Marsh said.
“I’m sorry, were you under the impression that you got to stay here?” Opal asked, appearing at their sides.
“What?” Marsh asked looking dumbfounded.
Arvana smiled. Opal had already filled her in on the fate of her two friends.
“You’re guilty of assault on a Crystal Guardian,” Opal said to Keel. “And conspiracy to commit that assault.” She looked at Marsh with the latter statement.
“What does that mean?” Marsh asked.
“We’re going to put you someplace where you’ll be safe,” Arvana said.
“Technically, it will be an Imperial judge who will do that,” Opal said. “But yes, I will be recommending that you be reprimanded to the custody of a watchful overseer. Also, I happen to need some crew for cleaning out the bilges and other such tasks.”
Arvana grinned with malevolent delight.
“You made me run through the sewers,” she told her friends. “Hope you like mopping cause I see a whole lot of that in your future.”
And together they left for the wide open galaxy that awaited them.