Despite the wind tearing by outside the transport and the clouds that blew past us faster than the wind could carry them, I didn’t feel like I was getting any farther away from my problems.
“Are they following us?” Taisen asked.
“No ships on the sensors yet, but they’ll be there soon enough.” Master Hanq answered.
“They’ll expect us to bail out of the ship after setting it on autopilot.” Opal said.
“Expecting it and being able to guess where we wind up when we do are two different things.” Master Hanq said.
“We might have another option.” I said. “I could try to cloak us.”
“Weren’t you just saying you can’t control the Void anima?” Yael asked.
“Yeah. If I’m going to be swallowed up by it though, I might as well do something useful with it before then.” I said. It sounded good, but I was hoping that Opal would tell me it was a terrible idea and that I could just relax.
“If you think you can, you should try.” Opal said. I felt my stomach drop.
“You should all get away from me. Just in case.” I said. I moved towards the back of the transport where the unloading door was. “If anything goes wrong, just flush me out the back ok?”
“I will stay with you.” Opal said. “We can talk once you have the cloak in place.”
“I don’t know if it will be safe.” I said.
“You’ll come to no harm.” she said. That wasn’t what I’d meant and I was pretty sure she knew it.
Master Hanq was already at the opposite end of the troop transport since he was flying the thing. Taisen and Yael looked at each other uncertainly for moment before Taisen spoke up.
“It’ll be easier to tend to your wounds up front.” he said to Yael and helped her stand again so they could move forward. I watched them shut the door and wondered how long it would take me to tear through that if I got taken over again.
“You might want to at least sit on the far end of the ship.” I suggested to Opal. It wouldn’t give her much of a running start but she probably didn’t need one either.
“That won’t be necessary. Come and sit here.” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“You’re going to try using anima outside yourself for what I would guess is the first time. That can be exhausting. If you’re sitting you won’t have as far to fall if you pass out.” she explained.
“Sounds reasonable.” I agreed with a shrug and went to sit where she’d directed me to.
“You’ve never had any formal training in working with anima have you?” Opal asked.
“Nope, just what Taisen showed me how to do.” I said.
“And what was that?”
“He told me about separating the Void anima that’s in me from my own animas.” I said and then explained how I’d been injured and what I could remember of Taisen’s attempts to treat me.
“Can you show me how you separate them?” Opal asked.
“I guess.” I said and held up my hands with their palms facing each other. Into my left hand I gathered the Void and I felt a chill manifest around me. The shadowy wisps of smoke I’d seen earlier began to spiral around my palm. At the same time, I moved the bright light of my Physical anima into my right hand.
Active and passive, empty and full. My right hand rose as my left hand descended and I saw motes of light from my right hand fall down into a swirling vortex between my hands. The wisps of smoke were swept up two, dark and light trailing one another in a circle encompassed by my outstretched hands.
Without thinking about it, I brought my hands together and felt the power that I held before me flow back into my arms.
“Fifth tier. Very impressive.” Opal said.
“Fifth tier?” I asked.
“The anima manipulation which you just performed would pass the fifth tier difficulty test for a Guardian. It usually takes the better part of a decade of training to achieve that.” Opal said.
“But Taisen said it was a simple rest spell?”
“You went well beyond the rest spell he spoke of.”
“But I’ve never had any training. I couldn’t do anything with anima before today.”
“I think I’ll need to speak to our pilot about that.” Opal said.
“He never taught me about anima, he just taught me how to fight.” I thought back on the various lessons Master Hanq had given me. They’d all been practical. I’d learned to walk right, to take a fall, to hit and dodge and block. I’d never learned anything about magic from him though.
“Perhaps. For now we should focus on cloaking the ship.” Opal said.
“Any suggestions?” I asked her.
“Emptiness is one of the defining traits of Void anima. Hiding us is one of the most natural things it can do. Let it extend outwards from you and shape it however feels the most natural to you.” she said.
“What about it taking me over? What if I can’t stop it?” I asked.
“It won’t. Your Void anima isn’t something that’s alien to you. It’s a part of who you are.” Opal assured me.
I held my breath for a moment and thought about that.
“Can you use Void anima?” I asked her. I was getting nervous about how long it was taking to cloak the ship. Rushing into it seemed like a terrible idea though.
“No. My talents lie in manipulating Mental and Physical anima.” she said.
“How do you know this Void stuff is a part of me then. It doesn’t feel like it’s ‘me’.” I said.
“I know only what I’ve learned by speaking to other Void casters.” she said.
“How many have you known?”
“Known well? Only one.” Opal said.
“Were they one of the Karr Khan’s ‘Scions’?” I asked.
“No, she came by her abilities in a different way.”
“So maybe the Void anima we use is different too then.” I said.
“You are no more one of the Karr Khan’s offspring than my friend is. Whether you are different from her is something you will need to discover for yourself.” Opal said.
“I don’t want to kill you all in the process though.” I said.
“Rest your heart on that. I’m here and I won’t let you lose control or hurt any of us.”
I paused again, trying to decide if I believed her. She seemed calm. She seemed like she knew what she was doing. She’d just beaten a small army of elite soldiers and didn’t look any the worse for the wear. Against that I stacked how I’d felt after I’d absorbed the soldier’s animas when I was out of control. Maybe she could take me, maybe not.
The deciding factor was Master Hanq. If I went crazy, I knew he wouldn’t leave me like that. He’d find a way to stop me.
“Ok. I’ll try.” I told her and closed my eyes.
The Void anima was waiting for me when I turned my mind to it. I felt an urgency running through me. It wanted to be out. That made it harder to let it go. When I’d turned myself invisible I’d felt like I had the Void under my control. At least enough to stomp it back down if it tried to break loose. Letting it out to cover the ship though meant letting it drift farther away than I’d be able to call it back.
I tried to force myself to do it, but that didn’t work at all. The harder I tried the more I froze up.
“We need another plan. This isn’t working.” I said breathing hard and feeling more than a little bit desperate.
“It is. You’re almost there. You have the power, but you’re not letting it go.” Opal said. “Think of the techniques you’ve learned. Let the anima move through you and out of you the way the force of a blow does.”
I opened my eyes at that and stared at her.
“I need to stand up.” I told her. It was a simple idea but like Taisen’s rest spell, it felt like the key to so much more.
“That’s fine. I’ll catch you if you fall.”
I got to my feet and reached out for the Void again. I moved my arms and the Void moved with them. I slowly began to step through one of the first forms that Master Hanq had taught me and felt a bone deep understanding clicking into place.
Master Hanq had taught me that when you throw a punch the last thing you wanted to do was to tense up your muscles. Idiot punks would flex like that to make themselves look tough. All that tightening your muscles did to a real punch though was to slow it down and rob it of force. That’s exactly what I’d been doing with the “spell” I was trying to cast too. I’d been clamping down to keep control of the Void anima and holding it so tightly that I couldn’t let any of it do it’s job.
Through the slow and fluid motions of the martial form that all changed. I couldn’t directly control the Void anima that I let go of but I could shape it indirectly through the movements I was making. It felt exhilarating but I was careful to keep a lid on that. Rage wasn’t the only way I could lose myself to the pull of the Void anima. Getting addicted to its power seemed all too easy too.
As area invisibility spells went, my casting was probably one of the poorer examples out there. It hid us from the world well enough, but it kept hiding the world from us too. I spent almost an hour weaving and reweaving the spell to allow Master Hanq to see where we were going. I’d fix up the spell to give him a view port to look through and then the smoke would drift around and blot out his vision forcing me to fix it up again. I was starting to feel light headed and a little sick to my stomach by the time Master Hanq landed the ship.
“We’re secure, you can let the invisibility shield go.” Master Hanq said after a minute.
“Let it go slowly, you’re going to feel a little…” Opal started to say as I stopped mid-step in my form. In my defense I was really tired. That didn’t save me from pitching head first towards the deck of the ship the moment I stopped casting the spell though. I would have taken a nasty knock to my head but, true to her word, Opal caught me before I’d fallen more than a few inches.
“A little spent.” she finished saying.
“Yeah. I just need a moment to catch my breath though. I’ll be ok.” I said, my thinking was muddled and my vision more than a little bleery.
“You’ll need more rest than that. Think of it like you’ve been using a muscle you’ve never worked out with before.” Opal said.
“Don’t worry, you’ll feel worse tomorrow.” Yael added.
“If I’m alive tomorrow.” I muttered and then asked with a bit more volume, “Where are we anyways?”
“My secret hideout.” Master Hanq said.
“What? You never said anything about having a secret hideout!” I complained.
“Wouldn’t have been a secret then would it.” Master Hanq said, going for one of the most obvious jokes ever.
We disembarked from the transport ship and I took advantage of help that Opal offered. I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over again, but I could definitely tell what she meant about having worked out a muscle that I hadn’t used before.
Master Hanq had landed the transport inside an amazing cave area. I guess the correct term would have been a “grotto” since the mouth of the cave opened onto the ocean and parts of the spacious interior were flooded.
Around mouth of the grotto, I saw a series of glyphs that were carved into the rock. There was no glow or obvious sign of power to them but when I tried to move towards them I felt something nudging me back. Since it was less of a physical force and more of a compulsion I assumed it was some kind of Mental anima effect.
Inside the grotto there were stacks of crates. Expensive looking crates of polished steel. There were also benches and tables set up too. Workstations with Aetherial lathes and crystal cutting tools and wind forging anvils and all sorts of other magical gadgets.
“What is all of this?” Taisen asked before I had a chance to.
“Leftovers from an old life.” Master Hanq said.
“What’s in the crates?” Yael asked.
“Weapons.” Master Hanq replied.
“There’s enough to outfit a small army here. What would you have these?” Opal asked.
“Because I used to have a large army and this was all I had left after the Crystal Empress was done with me.” my mentor said with a big, dangerous smile on his face.