The problem with escaping from a death trap is that it means someone was trying to kill you and they still have a reason to keep trying. That was the first thought that went through my head as I struggled to get up off the ground and find out how the others were doing. The second thought that went through my head was ‘I probably needed those muscles.’ That was in reference to deep stab wounds I’d taken to the right shoulder and left leg.
I’d been hurt before, even stabbed repeatedly. That didn’t make it any easier to get by with the wounds the bone stealer had inflicted on me though. As it turned out, the blood loss made me light headed enough that the pain was only unbearable. Under the circumstances that was actually a good thing. If I was any worse off I wouldn’t have been able to stay conscious and I was pretty sure that passing out would be a death sentence.
“Fari, Darius, you still with me?” I called out.
The explosion that had dropped us back on the surface had been due the teleportation portal overloading when I smashed it. The magics in the crystals were enchanted to transport people back up to the surface. They’d been controlled by various limiting spells to prevent unauthorized people from leaving the facility, but smashing the crystals directly had been enough to release the transport spell from the restraints placed on it.
Of course it could just as easily have transported us to a million separate places, or smushed us into one very tiny one. We’d been lucky there. I wasn’t sure the same was true for anyone else in the Deep Run Containment Facility though. The amount of power stored in a teleportation crystal was tremendous. The facility was huge, well shielded and built out of solid stone. It was also buried in magma and reliant on protective spells to survive. Even assuming the blast from the exploding gate didn’t kill the people left there, it could easily have disrupted the prison’s defenses and allowed the molten rock to begin burning its way in.
“Mel! Are you ok?” I heard a grinding, inhuman voice ask. Turning my head, I saw a bone stealer twice the size of the one’s we’d fought in the prison. It was looming over me with its claws and pincers paused as though they were waiting for me to try to escape.
“Fari, that’s you in there right?” I asked. If it wasn’t I was dead. I could barely move much less fight and even at my best it would have been hard to take out something that big.
“Yeah. I can’t let these things go or they’ll spread out and look for new victims.” she said.
I breathed a big sigh of relief, then I noticed the Memory Eye floating over us.
Memory Eyes are remote sensing spells. They allowed mental anima casters to view areas hundreds of miles away. From what little I knew of them I gathered that they took a significant amount of power to sustain. That meant it wasn’t a permanent observer spell. Someone had cast it recently. Probably when the teleport disk blew up.
I looked around to see what the Eye was taking in. It had a good view of the surroundings from it’s position about fifty feet above us. Despite being on the ground, I could see most of what it could, thanks to the damage the portal had caused when it exploded. The ruins of the entrance facility lay all around us. There had been two small buildings and a guard post when we’d landed. Add to that the transport ship that Lt. Mara’s team had brought us in and you had four things that had been reduced to tiny bits of scrap by the explosion.
The iron door in the mountain that appeared to be the entrance was dented and crumpled too. Behind it I saw a lattice of glowing spell lines. It had been part of the teleportation mechanism but without the transport disk it wasn’t going to moving anyone in or out of prison any time soon.
I didn’t look too closely at the wreckage that was left of the buildings. I’d seen a few people in there when we’d first landed. I didn’t know if they were still around when the explosion went off. Given the rubble the buildings had been reduced to, I had to guess that finding the answer to that could be unpleasant.
“I can’t believe we’re still alive.” Darius said, limping over to stand near me. He shook his head to clear away the fuzziness of the nearly fatal teleportation effect.
The Eye tracked to him, and then back to Fari and I.
“That might not last.” I told him.
“We’re out of the prison now, and it sounds like Fari has control of that monster. I can call in some support for us.” he said. The Eye floated down closer to him.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” I said.
“We’ve just lost one of the most secure facilities the Hellsreach Common Council has. Whether it’s a good idea or not, I have to call this in.” he said.
The Eye turned from a semi-translucent white to a deep red as Darius tapped on his comm device. I didn’t need to know exactly what it was doing to know that it couldn’t be anything good.
“No connection. We’re still being jammed.” he said. “Maybe we need to get farther from the blast site? Can you check on the Lieutenant while I see if they’re ok I can get a link back to base?”
“Bit of a problem with that.” I said and pointed at my leg where the blood had soaked through the fabric of my pants.
“You’re hurt? Why didn’t you say something!” he said.
“I’ll be ok. I’ve stopped the bleeding with an internal anima spell. I’ll just need time to mend the wounds themselves.” I said.
“I’ll check out the squad then.” he said.
“Maybe we can help each other out.” I said to Fari as Darius went over and began inspecting his fallen comrades.
“How?” she asked.
“Can you get rid of that Memory Eye?” I asked her, glancing upwards to where it hung in the sky.
“Yes, or I can also reverse it if you like? Give us a glimpse of whoever’s spying on us.” she told me telepathically while at the same time saying “No.” outloud.
“That would be amazing.” I replied on the telepathic link.
I felt Fari’s mind touch mine directly. It was what I imagined standing on the shore of a vast sea would feel like. From that light contact, my vision and hearing were pulled out of me and along on a riptide of magic until a scene resolved itself in front of me.
Following the other end of the Memory Eye lead us to a luxurious study. The dark woods of the floor and walls shone with a deep luster in the subdued candle light that illuminated the small room. Bookshelves lined every wall and were packed with tomes and scrolls of all kinds. It was the center of the room that drew my attention though.
The casting circle in the center of the room gleamed with reflected light. In its center sat a man in long red robe, wearing a helmet of solid bone that covered his head. He couldn’t see out of the mask without some form of magic, but I took it as a given that he had that to spare.
I saw him jerk into alertness as Fari’s spell revealed his room to us. He made a few simple gestures – counterspells unless my guess was off – but they didn’t produce any effect. Seeing that, he settled back into the casting circle and began weaving a separate spell.
“Interesting. I haven’t had to face a mental caster of your caliber in some time.” Red Robes said.
“You don’t know what you’re facing.” I said, counting on Fari to project my words without opening a link that he could use against me.
“A Crystal Guardian and her apprentice. And you, I believe, are the apprentice.” Red Robes said. “Tell me, has your master abandoned you already?”
“No. She’s on her way to you now.” I said, hoping to rattle him a bit with that news.
“Is she now?” he asked.
“Don’t lie to him.” Fari said on a private channel to me. “He noticed it. He’s got a truth seeing spell going.”
“I rather believe she’s not. In fact, I think she didn’t make it out of the prison at all.” he said. “Bravo. It was low odds that she’d be taken out by anything as simple as that, but I think you might have managed it.”
“Would you like to congratulate me in person?” I asked.
“I doubt that would go well for either of us.” he said.
“Perhaps I’ll go talk to your competition then.” I said.
I saw him flinch at that, ever so slightly. I’d guessed right that he was moving surreptitiously because there was a faction that was opposing his. I wasn’t sure if that would necessarily help me but it was good info to have.
“I wish you luck finding any. There is no one standing against me.” he said.
“Its funny you think that given that I’m here.” I said, and gestured to his room.
“No one of consequence.” he said with a frown. I was starting to aggravate him. It wasn’t much yet, but aggravating arrogant jerks like Red Robes was a skill I’d spent time working on.
“You’re not really that stupid are you?” I asked. “Do you really think there aren’t going to be consequences to assaulting two Crystal Guardians when they were flying here on a mission of peace.”
“Of course there were going to be consequences. The Empress was going to lose two of her Crystal Guardians and the Imperium was going to learn not to interfere in matters that don’t concern it.” he said.
“A couple of things wrong with that. First the Empress hasn’t lost any of her Crystal Guardians and second, the Empire isn’t really in a ‘non-interference’ phase at the moment.” I said.
“There’s no need to posture. Even you believe your master is dead. Just as you know that your own fate is already sealed as well. As for the Empire, if they do not learn their lesson from your loss then the lesson will need to be repeated with the next Guardian who shows up.”
“You really think you can do this? Take on the Empire and win? All by yourself?” I asked.
“I’ve already won. You’re just too naive to understand that yet.” he said.
“But you’re still talking to me. Still stuck in that circle, afraid of what I might do to you if you leave it’s protection.” I said.
“Am I?” he asked and rose to his feet. With a confident smirk on his face he stepped out of the circle and closed the distance between us. Fari’s projection of me couldn’t move back without passing through the walls of the room and those looks like they had all sorts of spell defenses layered on them.
My mind raced to figure out what his actions could mean but it was my heart that gave me the clue I needed. I felt cold radiate out from the center of my chest. I was in danger. Immediate, serious danger.
“You weren’t hiding in there. You were playing for time.” I said.
He smirk widened.
“Cut the link.” I told Fari on our private channel.
My senses reeled, recoiling back to my body where the icy sensation had spread out to my arms and legs.
“They’ve been poisoned. Some kind of sleep venom.” Darius said, coming up to me with a medical pack. It took me a second to work out that he was talking about his squad. They all lay on the ground, but Darius had arranged them near each other and us and positioned them so they would be comfortable.
That saved their lives.
“We’re under attack.” I said and cast a circle of my own.
Where Red Robes’ circle had been specially prepared and enchanted to make his casting easier, mine was a desperate creation taken from half remembered lessons of my childhood. Master Raychelle had been planning to work with me on that but there were other skills that I’d needed to pick up first before I moved to an advanced technique like raising a protective barrier of Void anima.
I wasn’t the best at raising protective shields but I had a track record of being good enough. Despite that, when the city killing bomb fell on us, I screamed.