Approaching Opal and Akell felt like walking towards a bomb with the intent of giving it a big, solid hug. I was relieved beyond words that Opal was alive, but Akell’s prone body filled me dread. He was asleep and in terrible shape but that made him no less dangerous somehow. I wondered if I was going nuts to be thinking that but the arctic chill in my chest confirmed that I was walking towards danger rather than away from it.
“Master.” Yael said with a nod of greeting. The smile that graced her face was the warmest I’d ever seen on her. Opal’s smile hadn’t faded from when she saw us enter the room, but it was clear that she was still shouldering a heavy burden.
“Master Kinsguard, we have news. The Khan is on his way here.” Taisen said as he placed Zyla’s unconscious body on the stage.
“I see. We’ll need to leave then. I’m not quite up to fighting him at the moment.” Opal said without rising.
“He’s coming for me.” I told her.
“No. He wants all of us. I can’t see the threads of any of our fates beyond his arrival.” Yael said.
“I’m the one he can track though.” I reminded her.
“What’s happened?” Opal asked. She continued brushing her fingers through Akell’s hair as she spoke and I saw tiny blue sparks drift from her fingers.
Yael, Taisen and I took turns bringing Opal up to speed on what we knew. Starting from the decision to continue pursuing Akell, to Yael’s meeting with Zyla, and then to me finding the Jewel of Endless Night much too late to do any good.
Opal listened to my recounting of what Akell had told me about absorbing the ghostly anima from the shelters without any surprise in her eyes.
“You knew he’d done that already. Are you reading his mind?” I asked.
“There’s not much left to read.” Opal said, her smile fading into a small frown.
“You had to break his mind to stop him?” Yael asked.
“I would have, but I didn’t need to. The strain of absorbing all the stolen anima broke him for me. It’s amazing that he held on as long as he did.” Opal explained.
“You said he was sleeping though?” I asked.
“He is. It is all I can do for him.” Opal said.
“Why do anything for him?” I asked.
“He was my tool. His actions were his own, but they led him down a path I set him on.” Opal said.
“You didn’t plan for him to kill everyone here.” Yael said.
“No. I planned for him to fail to retrieve the Jewel. The deaths here were not my design, but they do serve my ends.” Opal said.
“So you’re keeping him asleep to try to make up for the evil that occurred for our benefit?” Taisen asked.
“No. She’s keeping him asleep because the Jewel will destroy us if she doesn’t.” Yael said. Her eyes were covered by rippling fields of anima as she inspected the fallen boy.
I looked at Akell and, even without anima spells to enhance my vision, I could see there was something wrong. The Ravager was still embedded in his hand and it pulsed with barely restrained power. Yael wasn’t looking at Akell anymore though. She was looking at Opal and she looked anguished.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means that I will need to be the one to take the Jewel of Endless Night to its final resting place.” Opal said. Beside me Yael stood rigid as a pane glass. I couldn’t read her well, but I knew a restrained fighting posture when I saw one.
“That’s right. You were here to destroy the Ravager weren’t you? Where’s it’s final resting place?” I asked. From what they’d told me before, even dropping the Jewels into a star wasn’t sufficient to destroy them.
“The heart of the galaxy.” Opal said. This time is was Taisen’s turn to be shocked.
“I see.”, was all that he said though.
“I don’t. What’s special about the heart of the galaxy?” I asked.
“At the center of our galaxy lies a hole in the fabric of space, time and magic. Nothing that enters it can ever escape.” Opal said.
“So it’s a suicide mission? What was the original plan?” I asked. From Yael’s turmoil, I could tell that “Plan A” had not been to sacrifice either of them.
“If we had reached the Jewel before it awoke, we could have placed it into a drone ship and sent it into the heart that way.” Opal said.
“And we can’t do that now because?” I asked.
“If he is not held in sleep, Akell will awaken and will be able to send the Jewel to safety.” Opal said.
“Why don’t we take it off him?” I asked.
“It can’t be removed from him while he lives.” Opal said.
“Kill him?” I suggested. It was cold of me, but choosing between Akell and Opal was far too easy of a call to make.
“When the host dies, the binding spells are free to hide the Jewel once more. It would be teleported to a random location in the galaxy and a whole new set of defenses would be erected for it from Akell’s animas.” Opal said.
“Ok, that still sounds better than sending you on a suicide mission.” I said.
“My life is a poor balance against the lives that will be lost the next time the Jewel is used.” Opal said.
I pictured the people in my hometown, all of them, weighed against Opal’s life. Then I pictured one of the well developed worlds and the billions of people it supported. That was a lot to put against anyone’s life. My mind went in a thousand directions looking for alternatives and stumbled on a bunch of burrs.
“That makes sense, but it’s crazy, and really dumb planning too.” I said.
“What do you mean?” Opal asked.
“Not your plan, the Khan’s. Why would he have his people looking for the Jewel if it was the first one who found it who wound up with its power permanently? He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s about sharing.” I said.
“Perhaps he was going to take over whoever claimed the Jewel?” Taisen suggested.
“That would be difficult. The Jewel’s wielder would be challenging to implant a Seed of Darkness in.” Opal said. She was smiling again, but in a very different way than she had been before.
“He’s egotistical enough to try.” Yael said.
“He is, but he’s also pretty risk averse.” I said.
“How can you tell that?” Taisen asked.
“He’s a many bodied space horror now right? But he didn’t come here himself. He could have looked for the Jewel personally but he stayed back even though he’s ‘Eternal’.” I said.
“He’s coming here now.” Yael pointed out.
“Yeah. Now that the Ravager’s been found and Akell’s had his butt kicked.” I said.
“That may not be why. Yael, you said the Khan’s fate was tied up with Miss Watersward’s?” Opal said. I could see ideas sparking to life behind her eyes. Ideas that offered new hope.
“Yes. All of our fates are tied together for as far ahead as I can see.” Yael confirmed.
“And how long is that?” I asked.
She looked away rather than answering, which told me all I needed to know.
“Right. So we don’t have much time to work with then. If his plan wasn’t to use a Seed of Darkness to take over the Ravager’s new host, what was he thinking of doing?” I asked.
“The Ravager’s power draws on all forms of anima. You were able to contact it with your Void anima, and you said that the Seed thought it would be able to corrupt the Jewel from the inside, correct?” Opal asked.
“That’s right. He said she was designed to be controlled.”
“It was a unique opportunity for him. The Ravager’s mental anima is usually protected by a sheath of Void magic. In making mental contact with you, the Ravager’s mind was exposed.” Opal said.
“So in talking to me, she opened her defenses and the Khan was able to piggyback on that connection to strike at her?” I asked.
“Exactly. That’s what I believe his plan was all along. Taking over the Ravager’s host with a Seed of Darkness would have been very dangerous for him, because that involves extending himself outwards. The Seeds are designed for attacking the host and converting them to the Khan’s will. If the Ravager reached out to him though, and brushed on his defenses, the conduit that formed would allow him to attack her while remaining shielded from her counterattacks.” Opal explained.
“So basically, he could let a minion claim the Ravager because he’d be able to take control of her anyways. His Void anima would let him contact her safely and the rest is just clever caster tricks. Which means there is a way to remove her from Akell!” I said.
“With the Khan’s talents, I believe there is.” Opal said.
Another phenomenally bad idea began to form in my mind. It wasn’t as bad as letting Opal make a suicide run to the heart of the galaxy though, so I knelt down beside her.
“I think it’s time for you to leave.” I said. Black wisps of smoke began to swirl in a circle around me.
“What are you doing?” Yael asked. There was concern in her voice. I think for me. To her credit though, she also started backing away.
“The Khan could use his Void anima to separate Akell from the Ravager. I think I can do the same.” I said.
“Why?” Opal asked.
“Because whatever else happens, the Khan can not get his hands on her.” I said. The wisps whirled faster at my command and from my feet I started to extend the lines of power to form a new protective circle.
“Why are you raising another barrier?” Taisen asked.
“In case I’m wrong.” I told him.
“You don’t have to fight this alone.” Opal said, still sitting in the center of the swiftly forming circle.
It meant a lot that she made the offer, but I could see how much the last fight had taken out of her. She’d done the impossible by surviving it at all and didn’t look like she had a second round of impossible left in her.
“I know. I want to though. I can do this.” I said.
The Sapphire Guardian looked at me for a long moment and then nodded. When she rose to her feet, her movements betrayed the pain she was in.
“You are not a bad caster.” Yael called from the far side of the circle that I had raised.
“What?” I asked surprised by the charitable outburst.
“You have more skill than you know.” she said. “And more than I could see. I think you’re right. You can do this.”
She held my gaze for a moment and then placed her hands in front of her chest and bowed to me as a salute. Somehow, that helped too.
I nodded back to her, accepting her words and the salute and then turned to Akell.
“Don’t do this.” the Ravager said. Akell was resting at the center of the intricate web of Void anima lines that I had cast and so the Ravager was connected to me again. Throughout my body and in the corners of my mind, I felt the Seed stirring, searching for someway free of the darkness I’d cast it into. I felt like I had enough Void anima to avoid that and maintain the shield that hemmed the Ravager and I in. Probably.
“I have to.” I told her.
“There are defensive spells woven into me. If you touch me while my master still lives, they’ll trigger and fight you.” the Ravager said.
“That’ll make this harder but I still have to try.” I told her.
I laid my left hand on Akell’s right and felt a connection form to the Jewel of Endless Night that had fused to his flesh. At my touch the Jewel came to life and his body began to move. In his eyes there were only spell fires burning.
The boy was gone. I was fighting the Jewel itself.