I’d warned Darius that the trip back to the entry level was going to require some faith on his part. I don’t think he’d been fully prepared for what I had in mind though.
“I can’t see anything. I’m surrounded by body destroying monsters, everyone else is dead or capture and I can’t see anything.” he said telepathically. The edge of panic in his mental voice was both natural and reasonable, but I could hear him fighting to keep it under control anyways. He was brave, in the real sense of the word, where you got scared and went on anyways. The guys I’d known on Belstarius (with some exceptions) had thought being brave meant never being afraid at all. The ones that managed that weren’t brave though. They were suicidal.
“I know this is freaky, but its the safest way to get back to your squad.” I told him, also telepathically. He’d wondered why I’d had him set up a telepathic link between us when we were within whispering distance of each other. It didn’t seem like he was entirely pleased with the answer though. “I can see through this darkness just fine, and I don’t think the bone stealers will be able to see in.”
“What if you’re wrong? I’m not going to be able to fight at all like this.” he said.
“I’m not asking you to fight. You’re a part of the squad that I’m supposed to protect, the same as the others.” I told him. “But if it comes to a fight, I’ll drop the cloak. We won’t need stealth then.”
“This is crazy. I don’t even get how you’re doing this. Whatever that stuff is, it feels wrong.” he said.
“It’s Void anima.” I told him. “And it’s not wrong, its just unusual.”
“It doesn’t feel like any anima I’ve ever seen before though.” he complained.
“That’s its nature. It’s the unknowable, the empty. It’s the thing that you can’t see or touch or feel.” I said.
“How did you ever learn to cast that? It’s just so backwards from everything I’ve ever been taught.” he said.
“Someone dropped a bomb on me.” I told him.
“What kind of bomb?” he asked.
“A city killer. That’s the first time I can remember using my Void anima. It was reflexive, I shielded myself and someone I was with in a protective circle that devoured the bomb’s power before it could hurt us. Was kind of surprised I could do that, and I had no idea what Void anima was at the time. The truth is though, I think I learned to work with it long before that, back when I was a little kid.” I said.
The fragments of memory that I’d touched on months ago came back to me again. I was three or four years old and studying some really strange stuff from what I could recall. I could remember so little beyond that though. Drills. Shapes. Painting and learning symbols. I remembered who taught me them too. My mother. I had just the barest glimpses of her and every time I recalled those images wanted to scream.
For years I hadn’t thought about my parents. I’d buried the trauma of losing them under anger and then swallowed that anger to push the memories of them as far away as possible. I think I’d been ripped apart by the betrayal of their leaving me. When she wasn’t training me, Master Raychelle spent a lot of time talking about that. About how we don’t process things as they are, but rather as we see them. She was an orphan too, and the feelings she described having when she was a kid were like the echoes of my own heart from years gone by.
I’d survived something when I was little. There weren’t any records that suggested what, at least none that we’d been able to find so far. From the few memories I did retain though I knew it had been bad. Whatever it was, my mother had known what was happening and had gotten me away from it. Looking at it with the eyes of a young adult, I knew that she’d probably died saving me. That didn’t make it easier to take than being abandoned or betrayed though. If anything, it brought the anger back that I’d pushed down for most of my life.
Untangling that psychic knot wasn’t a short term project. It was one thing to know why I probably felt the way I did, why I’d connected so strongly to the Void anima I carried. It was another thing to get to the point where those particular wounds would heal.
When Master Raychelle and I had first started talking about it, I hadn’t even been sure I necessarily wanted to “heal”. I’d been afraid that the thing I’d just found that made me “special”, the one gift I seemed to have, would go away if I lost the pain that had given it to me.
She’d submerged an entire city into night in response to that. Darkness everywhere. All to show me the kind of thing I could do if I could get out of my own way.
“The pains we experience can teach us, they can motivate us and broaden our empathy, but they don’t need to define us. In overcoming our pains and in letting them go, we grow as well. As memories they can serve us, but we don’t need to cling to them as limits. Our true limitations change with time and they’re rarely what we believe them to be.” she had said.
I hoped she was right about that because I wasn’t certain that taking out the bone stealer that awaited us was going to be all that simple. In fact, I expected it to be a bit beyond me. Fortunately I wasn’t alone though.
“I’ll lead you up ok? Just give me your hand.” I told Darius.
He held out his left hand out blindly in front of himself. I took it in my right and was surprised at how warm and soft it was. My own hands were a bad measuring stick in that sense though. Working with Void anima always left me feeling chilled and years of martial workouts had left me with enough callouses that my hands felt like boiled leather most of the time.
“What about Fari? Where did she go?” Darius asked.
“I’m still here.” she answered on the mental link. I felt Darius stiffen in surprise at that. He hadn’t cast his telepathy spell to include her, but with her talents that wasn’t much of a problem if she wanted to speak to us.
“Right. Millennia of practice.” he said, regaining his composure.
In truth, I don’t think Fari actually had the equivalent of millennia of practice under her belt. She was millennia old certainly, but most of that time she’d been “asleep” while the Jewel of Endless Night that she’d been bound to had lain dormant. The times when she’d been “awake” had been brief, exciting and absolutely the sort of thing she never wished to see again.
There was no denying that she was good with manipulating mental anima, but I think she came by the talent naturally. It was probably why she’d been the one selected to as the controlling mechanism for the Jewel her consciousness had been embedded into. The transfer itself probably helped in some ways too. From what I’d seen, she was most adept at manipulating direct expressions of mental anima – essentially modifying or changing mental anima spells. Directing those spells at living minds was more difficult for her.
“I can’t access the facility’s systems while we’re cloaked, but I can point out the route back to the entranceway that had the fewest bone stealers.” Fari offered.
“Thanks. The last thing we want is to get lost in here. I have this sneaking suspicion that Master Raychelle is going to expect us to be ready to leave in a hurry once she’s done.” I said.
“What’s she doing?” Darius asked.
“Fari, you’d said there were thirty of the giant bone stealers when you first scanned the facility. How many were there just before I cloaked us?” I asked.
“Twenty six.” she said.
“Those were probably the ones that were in her path. I’m guessing she’ll have a plan to take care of the rest of the bone stealers all at once.” I said.
“If she’s capable of that, why do we need to rescue my squad ourselves?” Darius asked.
“Because we’re probably going to be a part of her plan. It’s long odds against her being able to save everyone who’s left in here. The more we can do, the more those odds will be tipped in our favor, which means the more people we’re likely to save.” I said.
“Right. That makes sense I guess. It’s just…” His mental voice trailed off as he shut that line of thinking down.
“It’s just that the Crystal Guardians look so invincible, what’s the point of having regular people pitch in?” I asked.
“Something like that.” he said with a note of guilty humor to the thought.
“It doesn’t matter how strong someone is if they’re not in the right place to use that strength.” I said. “I’ve had two teachers that I’ve respected in my life, Master Raychelle is one of them, and they both taught me variations of that. I think the reverse is true too though. What the Guardians excel at is finding people that are overlooked and putting them in positions where their strengths can be devastating. That’s basically what happened with me.”
“What did they have you do?” Darius asked.
“Kill an immortal and destroy his stellar empire.” I said. “To be fair, he really had it coming and I had a lot of help.”
“How, exactly, were you ever overlooked?” he asked.
“It’s easier than you’d guess.” I said.
“Yeah, I kinda can’t buy that.” he said. “Unless you were covered in darkness like this all the time, I’m guessing more than few somebodies noticed you.”
“Nope. Not a one. Like I said, it took a bomb going off to get me any attention.”
“He’s saying you’re pretty!” Fari sent to me on what I could sense was a private link.
It was my turn to be shocked. I didn’t think I looked bad or anything, but boys, or young men I guess, didn’t tend to flirt with me. Mostly they seemed either uninterested or somewhat terrified of me. I was tall, which didn’t help apparently, and I looked like a galactic mutt, so my skin and features hadn’t fit my homeworld’s default “beauty” standard. If I’d been soft and graceful, maybe I would have won points for “exotic” but I was honestly happier with dirt and sweat for makeup than anything else.
“We should get going.” I said. I’d practiced a lot of counter-attacks over the years. I’d even developed a decent repertoire of comebacks for the kind of jeers and put downs that street kids trash talked each other with. Flirting was weird though. I didn’t have any idea how to counter-attack that sort of a blow. Hence the evasion.
“This is path should take us back to the entrance without encountering any of the big bone stealers.” Fari said as she projected an image of the facility into my mind.
“How about the little ones? Will we run across any of those?” I asked.
“Yeah, at least one.” she said.
“Why is that perfect?” Darius asked.
“We need some bait.” I told him.
“Yeah, remember where the squad is?” I asked him.
“The main entranceway.” he said. “Oh right! That’s a suppression room!”
“Exactly. Unless you’ve got the override for it, or are a creature conjured from the abyss I guess, you can’t cast spells in there. That’s the other reason why the bone stealer was programmed to pick that spot I think. It’s about the worst possible location a Crystal Guardian could be forced to fight it.” I said.
“I’m liking this bait idea more and more.” Darius said.
“Thought you might.” I said and started leading us back up to the entrance level.