The time for waiting was done. There was a fire burning in my veins and I saw the thread that lead back to its source. With a wave of my hand, I dropped the Void anima barrier that obscured us and unfurled wings of fire. In the dim illumination of a too-early morning, the light I cast outshone the oncoming dawn. From the ashes of the destroyed building, I rose leaving a trail of flames behind me and sonic boom to herald my coming.
“This isn’t a good idea.” Fari said. I heard the concern in her voice and dismissed it.
“We have to act now.” I told her. “Before the summoner can call up any more reinforcements.”
It took tremendous power to call forth a fire elemental the likes of the one I’d consumed. By all rights, the summoner should have been exhausted by the effort, but I was fighting against people who had decades to plan. I couldn’t bank on them running out of resources. I’d gained an advantage, one they couldn’t have planned for, and I needed to capitalize on that as fast as possible.
The fire elemental’s sense of where its previous summoner was led me to the center of Zawalla City. At the speed I was traveling, I covered the miles in seconds, ascending high into the sky in the process.
“That’s the Common Council building!” Fari said as we caught sight of our destination. A thrill of expectation ran down my spine as I spun over and dove towards the gleaming building below me.
“Looks like they’re in session.” I said, noticing the lights and activity around the structure.
The Council’s headquarters was a large circular building, a dozen stories tall with two rectangular wings stretching to the east and west. Despite being owned by the least powerful of the three governmental forces on Hellsreach, the Council building managed to look imposing. The polished white stone with its gold inlays that the building was built from was part of that. The rest of Zwalla was no worse than my home town but my home town wasn’t exactly a shining beacon of galactic prosperity. The Council Building, by contrast, could have stood proud on one of the Empire’s core worlds. The gleaming white and gold said that someone had not only invested a lot of money in Hellsreach’s native government, but continued that investment by paying for the upkeep of the facility.
The Council’s wealth wasn’t the only thing imposing about their headquarters though. The platoons of armored soldiers around it were not for show or ceremony. They were all carrying fully functional weapons and they had plenty of practice in using them.
Even with the power I was infused with, the idea of assaulting the central HQ of the Common Council seemed foolish. They were expecting trouble, maybe because they were always expecting trouble due to the strife on the planet or maybe because the last day had seen catastrophe after catastrophe piling up. Either way, I would receive the wrong sort of “warm welcome” if I tried to crash through their defenses.
The smart move was to land and talk with them calmly. Given the chance, people will on rare occasions chose to be reasonable. It would have been so nice if that was an option for me.
“If the summoner’s in there, he’s either on the Council or close to someone who is.” Fari warned me.
“I know. That’s why I’ve got to make this quick.” I said. Assaulting the Council was such a bad idea that I felt sure Red Robes hadn’t accounted for it.
The summoner was on the top floor of the Council building, ten stories up, inside the rotunda that crowned the building. From my vantage in the clouds, I dropped towards him, folding the flame wings around me as a shield. That saved me from the volley of blast bolts the platoon of defenders shot at me. The first few volleys were inaccurate but the soldiers fired in sustained bursts that tracked me as I spiraled down.
The bolts found their mark at the same time as I crashed through the defensive field that surrounded the governmental compound. The barrier should have been unbreachable but I had more than the fire elemental’s strength to draw on. When I reached out for it, Fari gave me some of the stolen power I’d taken from the bone stealers. That plus the fire elemental’s might plus my own Void anima punched a hole straight through a shield that could have held off a score of Ghost Duster bombs.
That kind of power is fatiguing to use and my supply of it was only “huge” not “infinite”. I started to notice the limits of it as my flame wings absorbed more of the blaster bolts. I wasn’t in danger of running out of energy immediately but I couldn’t withstand that kind of damage forever either.
It didn’t help that the Hellsreach forces were good shots and braver than I would have been in their position. They had a job to do and they put their all into doing it, which made surviving their attacks more taxing that it would have been against a greener recruits. I admired their determination and dedication to their job, it was just inconvenient that their job happened to involve killing me at the moment.
I flared my wings out to arrest my fall before the ground did the work of killing me for them and covered myself in Void armor.
“I need to convince them to stop shooting me.” I told Fari.
“Don’t kill any of them.” she said, more out of concern for me than for the soldiers, I think.
I agreed with her, or at least most of me did. I was able to absorb the majority of the blaster bolts’ energy, but enough was leaking through my armor and the protection offered by the wings that it was getting unpleasant. I’ve never run naked through a hive of angry bees but it was easy to imagine what that would feel like after standing up to the fire the Hellsreach defenders were laying down on me. Most of me didn’t want to kill the defenders for that but there was a part of me that was in the mood for vengeance.
Plus some of them were almost certainly working with Red Robes.
So they deserved to burn.
Tongues of fire flared in my hands, eager to turn everyone who was hurting me into ash.
I shut down that line of thinking as fast as it cropped up and clenched the tongues of fire away for good measure. The fire elemental wasn’t dead. I hadn’t even beaten it. Not fully. In absorbing its power, I’d absorbed its essence as well. It wanted things to burn, and I wanted to burn Red Robes for the things he’d done. As long as we were in agreement, the fire elemental didn’t feel the need to fight with me. Holding it back from burning the troops felt unnatural though. Our goals diverged on that subject and the elemental was willing to fight me over it.
That was fine though. I was willing to fight back.
We landed on the roof of the Head Quarters, beside one of the heavy bolt caster guns, melting it to slag in the process. The ground troops lost their line of fire as we touched down which made things somewhat easier. The other heavy bolt casters continued firing on me though and those stung like hell.
I’m terrible at manipulating Energetic anima, but when you’ve got as much available as I had thanks to the elemental, throwing steel melting fireballs is easy. Too easy. I tried to hold back on the force I put into each fireball but the elemental slammed through my resistance.
In three seconds, the three nearest heavy bolt caster batteries were in flames. Their crews were alive from what I could tell, but some of them were going to need medical attention. Thanks to their fellows they were going to receive it. I was happy about that, but less happy that there were enough of the defenders left that they could manage the medical care needed for the wounded and still keep shooting at me.
“We need to get out of here.” I said to Fari. “The summoner is about forty feet below us, over there.”
I pointed to a spot underneath the center of the rotunda.
“That’s the central meeting room. The Council members were called in for a special session before dawn this morning.” Fari said. She’d accessed the Council’s spell web and was pulling information from it as fast as she could for me.
“They’re all in there?” I asked.
“Yes. As well as reporters and special witnesses.” she said. “I’m trying to put together a list of who that is and how they’re connected but their spellweb is well guarded.”
“Keep working on it. I can guarantee we can get the summoner but if they have allegiances the other Council members don’t know about we might not be able to catch their whole group.” I said.
“You’re assuming the whole Council isn’t in on this.” Fari said.
“I am, and I know that’s dangerous, but if they were all in on it, I don’t think Red Robes would be working so hard to get rid of us and hide any information that could lead back to him.” I said.
“You’ll need to hurry, they’re starting to evacuate the Council members.” Fari said.
I needed an entrance into the Council chamber, but all of the existing ones were guarded which meant I’d have to burn my way through a squad of soldiers to use them. That left one good option that I could see; make my own entrance.
I summoned up a fireball that was too bright to look at and hurled it at the center of rotunda’s dome. Before I had the chance to follow it through and descend on the people below in all of my dark and fiery glory, I found myself dodging the thrusts and slashes of an anima blade.
The soldier who attacked me hadn’t wasted any time with orders to surrender or offers of mercy. Her first strike had been kill and she’d followed it up instantly with slashes meant to disable me.
As bad as fighting her was though, my situation got even worse with the arrival of the rest of her squad. None of them were young and none were old. They were in that perfect range where they’d had time to accumulate plenty of experience without age slowing them down or dulling their reflexes.
On any other day, or under any other circumstances, they would have shredded me to ribbons. The Council couldn’t have asked for better defenders.
Unless they asked for me as I was in that moment.
Fari handed me more power before I even asked for it. With Physical and Mental anima surging through me like lightning, I watched time slow to a crawl. The soldiers were still moving but there was an exaggerated slowness to their actions. It was as though this were a normal sparring match that we were running at half speed.
Even with that, I got sliced up fighting them. Anima blades are murderously hard to parry bare handed and there were six of them on one of me. I twisted and dodged, weaving around their blows and disarming them as fast as I could, but they pressed their attacks so strongly and coordinated so well that there was no escape from some of the blows.
In the end I settled for tripping the soldier who had first attacked me and using her fall to cover my escape as I took flight and dove into the hole I’d made in the rotunda.
Beneath me, I saw at least fifty people. Some were guards who started to bring their bolt casters to bear on me as I dropped into the chamber and looked around for the summoner.
The geometry of the room wasn’t what I would have preferred for a fight. If the defenders opened fire within the room people were going to get hurt, me among that number.
I didn’t trust my control with using fireballs to disarm them, so I hung in the air, suspended on wings of flame, the dark anima of the Void swirling around me. I hoped that might intimidate them but I knew it was a gamble. At the very least though, if they were aiming up they would only be shooting the ceiling when I dodged out of the way.
I scanned the crowd of people, letting the fire elemental’s essence lead me to the person who had summoned him. The Council members were shrinking back from me, slowly since I was still amped up on the power Fari had give me, and the difference between guilt and fear were difficult to make out. I didn’t need the summoner to admit his guilt though. The fire elemental would know him no matter how he might try to hide.
I caught sight of him standing behind one of the older council members and his aura flared into brilliance. The fire elemental recognized the one that we needed to burn.
It took everything I had to hold the elemental back at that point. I needed the summoner to talk before he fried. The elemental didn’t care about that. His only desire was to be let loose. There was fuel to burn here and lives to take.
My wings flared out greedily and licked the white stone of the rotunda’s dome blackening it to pitch. The guards that were protecting the summoner wouldn’t be able to stand in my way. I could sweep them aside and turn the Council to ash to make sure I got all of the conspirators.
I shook my head at those thoughts, forcing the elemental back under my control. No one was going to burn until I said so. Certainly not the guards who were only doing their duty.
I looked over their ranks and saw that some of the witnesses who had been called in for the sessions were gathering up their weapons and joining the uniformed guards in defending the Council members.
The whole population was psychotic. From the heavy set elderly woman in the robes of an academic to the newsman who was putting down his pen and holo-tablet to draw his personal bolt caster. They were all nuts.
Even Darius, who was standing with two of the Council members and was looking up at me with the same look of utter shock and amazement that I felt on seeing him.