Extending yourself too far, for too long, is dangerous. I’d learned that a hundred times over in the martial lessons that Master Hanq had taught me. Practicing all the time sounds great, but the body has limits and when you exceed them, the damage you can cause will set you back a lot farther than taking time off to rest would. Despite knowing that however, I still climbed into the transport and got to work on cloaking us in a veil of invisibility.
“How did you find the location of the Jewel so fast?” Taisen asked.
“Akell showed us.” Opal said.
“That’s right, you have a tracking spell on him don’t you?” Taisen asked.
“Several. Fewer now than when we parted company, but he was intended to find the ones that he did.” Opal said.
“So how did he know where the Jewel was? I’ve been here for two years and I never caught a whiff that there was an ancient artifact was on this planet.” Taisen said. I detected a note of hurt professional pride in that declaration.
“You’re not a Void anima caster.” Yael said.
“And Akell is?” I asked, wondering how much more dangerous that would make him.
“No. He can’t use Void anima at all. That’s why he’s relegated to the Third Circle. The Void anima users in the Khan’s clan are automatically given membership in the First Circle.” Opal said.
“He does have a friend in the First Circle though.” Master Hanq said.
“His mother.” Opal confirmed. “From what I saw of her in his memories, she’s very adept. She’s also one of the casters on the warship who’s trying to locate the exact coordinates of the Jewel.”
“So the Khan’s troops know where it is?” Taisen asked. I would have asked the same thing but I was starting to follow the casting of the invisibility spell better.
I was a novice. I knew that. I felt clumsy and horrible and useless at casting. I’d felt that way before though. A lot of times. Each time Master Hanq introduced me to a more complicated martial form, it felt weird and difficult. For a while at least. In time though, I figured each of them out and there was a gradual shift to where doing the form felt like the most natural thing in the world.
I could feel the same thing starting to happen with the invisibility spell. I knew I was being inefficient in my casting. My motions were smooth and fluid but they didn’t match up well with the way the Void anima was flowing off of me. It was like I was painting the ship with an invisible ink that ran from me in fits and spurts. When the “anima paint” wasn’t flowing on its own, I had to force it out, which was what wore me down. With some simple alterations in the movements though I was able to allow the anima to flow more smoothly.
I had to smile at that, in part because it was working and in part because none of my teachers would ever have believed that I was doing what I was.
I glanced over at Opal as I continued casting and saw that she was watching me. Possibly still concerned at what I might do if I let the Void run away from me. I felt an odd mix of emotions at that. Relief that I didn’t have to worry about losing control. Sorrow that I couldn’t be trusted. Hope that maybe I’d get a chance to learn how to do this the right way from her.
I glanced away before she could read that in my eyes. I felt like a little kid for even thinking it. Having Master Hanq as a teacher was luckier than someone like me deserved in the first place. The chance that an actual Guardian of the Crystal Empress would have time for me was pure fantasy material. Besides, she already had a protege.
“We don’t think the Khan’s forces know exactly where the Jewel is.” Yael said. “If they did they would be landed their search parties to retrieve it.”
“Then what coordinates did his mother give Akell?” Taisen asked.
“The nearest dark spot.” Yael said.
“One of the obscuring spells on the Jewel creates shadow images of it. They look like the Jewel and even have a link to the real thing. They are one of the last lines of defense to prevent the Jewels from being found.” Opal explained.
“What they told me was, because the shadows are linked to the real Jewel, it’s much harder to pierce that spell than any of the rest.” Master Hanq added.
“And if you try to pick up one of the illusionary jewels?” Taisen asked.
“Various horrible things happen, including, for one of the shadows, that the real Jewel is teleported away.” Opal said.
“Why wouldn’t they all do that?” Taisen asked.
“The teleport is a desperate option. It leaves the real Jewel revealed.” Opal said.
“Which means anyone with one of the other Jewels can find it easily.” Taisen said, filling in the blanks.
“Especially if they happen to hold the Traveller already and can warp directly to it.” Opal said.
“So which is Akell heading towards? One of the illusions or the real gem?” Taisen asked.
“The real one, we think.” Yael said.
“I’ve surveyed this planet a few times. I wasn’t looking for the Jewels but I did find a bunch of anomalous areas. Visited some of them to see what was there but I didn’t find anything. The thing is I thought I’d visited all of them but it turns out there was one that I missed. I knew about it, but I couldn’t recall it until Ms. Kinsguard was kind enough to break a compulsion that I didn’t notice I was under.” Master Hanq said.
“What kind of compulsion?” I asked, spitting the words out in between movements to maintain the invisibility spell.
“A forgetting charm, and a powerful one at that.” Opal said. “There aren’t many kinds of compulsions that can be made to last for a long term and even fewer that work on someone with Mr. Okoro’s level of training.”
It was a little strange seeing Opal and Master Hanq getting along so civilly. She was a Guardian and he was a Warlord. That should have been an explosive combination but all I was seeing was an easy, respectful understanding passing between the two of them. Fighting through an army of elite soldiers together had apparently quieted any doubts that they had about each other. At least for the duration of the current crisis. After that I guessed we’d find out if the Crystal Empress actually had given my mentor amnesty for past crimes.
I hoped that was the case. I hadn’t known him all my life, but he’d been there for a most of it and it was hard to imagine him as someone terrible. If the Crystal Empress did want to put him on trial, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to let that stand.
“Akell is heading to that dark spot then I take it?” Taisen asked.
“He stayed in the city for a while, probably searching for transportation, but yes, he’s heading directly there now.” Opal said.
“Damn destiny spells.” Taisen complained.
“Wouldn’t work on the Jewels. It was pure dumb luck that he was closest to the right one.” Master Hanq said.
“Can we catch him?” Taisen asked.
“That depends on how adept he is at navigating past the illusions and traps which the Jewel is shielded by.” Opal said.
“Worst case then is that he gets the Jewel before we show up.” Taisen said.
“No, the worst case is that he uses the Jewel before we show up.” Opal said.
“I thought he would want to return it to the Karr Khan to win back his place.” Taisen said.
“That’s why he’s seeking it. Once he holds the Jewel’s power though anything may happen.” Opal said.
“Assuming he gets to it that is. He’s not as smart as his sister Xyla. Or as powerful. The traps should be more than enough to disable him or keep him away from the Jewel itself.” Yael said.
“They should be, but I had hoped we would retain an advantage in terms of getting to the Jewel first. If it had been anywhere on the planet outside the range of ground transportation we could have easily tracked and overtaken Akell before he got close to the Jewel.” Opal said.
“I’m beginning to suspect that destiny magics are involved.” Master Hanq said.
“If the Jewel’s could be found with an Aetherial spell, they’d have been located ages ago.” Opal said.
“That’s true for spells that we or the Khan’s forces can cast, but what about one cast by the Jewel itself?” Master Hanq asked.
“That’s not possible, the Jewel’s require a wielder to work their magic. If they didn’t everyone on this planet would be dead already.” Opal said.
“That only tells us that they require a wielder to exercise some of their powers.” Master Hanq pointed out.
“Does it matter? Akell’s ahead of us. Either the traps will stop him or we will.” Yael said.
“Very practical. I like it. Remind me to make you a job offer when this over.” Master Hanq.
He was teasing her. Yael figured that out by the time her hand was halfway to her anima blade. She froze in the middle of the action and glared at him. Tempting as it was for her, she wasn’t going to kill a Warlord just for taunting her. Nor was she going to kill our pilot while he was flying the transport we were in.
“Zyla will be there.” she said instead, letting her anger at Master Hanq seethe out through her former opponent’s name.
“You can sense her?” Taisen asked.
“No, we’re still too far away and the invisibility spell is blocking my view out.” Yael said. “She’ll know we’re looking for Akell though. The plan’s not a deeply subtle one. She can’t track us, so she’ll follow our quarry instead.”
“If we take the time to fight her again, Akell will definitely get his hands on the Jewel.” Master Hanq said.
“She probably won’t give us a choice.” Yael replied.
“I could sneak us in.” I suggested between a pair of kicks.
“We can’t count on that. She knows you’re with us. She’ll have methods in place to detect you. If she didn’t she wouldn’t even bother showing up.” Yael said.
“Or she’ll have contacted someone who can deal with you before you show up to become a problem in the first place.” a man said from behind me.
I whirled around, hanging onto the invisibility spell by the skin of my teeth.
The guy behind me was taller than I was but not by much. He was built like a statue, all perfectly sculpted muscles and long flowing hair. He looked like the kind of rich pretty boy who I imagined spent his time in trendy clubs and racing fast hovers. The aura of power that crackled around him suggested he was far from being one of the “idle” rich though.
“It’s a projection.” Opal called out.
“Not “it”. He. Weri of the First Scion Circle to be specific. And, yes, I’m afraid I can’t be there to deal with you in person.” the man said. “But that’s quite ok. You see you stole something of ours. That transport that you’re so carelessly flying about in? I can’t affect you from here perhaps, but that ship is bound to the Karr Khan’s clan and we do not accept betrayal in any form.”
I felt the transport start to shake.
“He’s triggered the self-destruct!” Master Hanq shouted from the cockpit.
“Block it!” Opal shouted back and leapt into the co-pilot’s seat.
“I am. It’s why we’re not sky debris already.” Master Hanq said through gritted teeth.
“I’m taking us down.” Opal said.
Without speaking Yael drew her anima blade and began slashing the projection repeatedly.
“That’s only costing me the barest erg of power you realize.” Weri said.
“I thought…” I said, struggling to keep the invisibility spell going despite the apparent lack of protection that it offered. “I thought you wanted to take me in alive?”
“Oh you will be captured alive. Or if you lack the power to survive a little spot of trouble like this, you’ll be declared an unfit halfbreed and my sister will be absolved of the charge of bringing you in. She won’t be happy with that, but sometimes we must save people from the peculiar notions they hold dear.” Weri said.
“I’ll kill you before that happens.” I said and dropped the invisibility spell. If Yael was taking away a little bit of his power by slashing the image he was projecting then I had an idea.
As it turned out though it was a terrible idea.
I called the Void anima into my left hand and plunged it into him. I’d meant to consume the anima that he was projecting and hopefully burn him out in the process. Or, to be honest, I hoped to kill him, I just didn’t think I’d get that lucky. I didn’t get anywhere close to that lucky in fact.
“You truly are untrained aren’t you?” Weri said, as a malicious grin settled onto his face.
I felt the void that I was reaching out with touch on something else that was cold and empty. Weri’s Void anima. Before I could react or pull back I felt a link form between us, and I knew something terrible was going to happen.
“Thank you new sister. This is much more efficient than what I had planned.” Weri said and with those words I felt a wave of force travel down the link between us and explode outwards from me.