As we got to the shallow shoals of the Void, we approached the level where Fari and the Dominator were waiting for us.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there. Fari had promised she could handle the Dominator if it came to that, but I had no idea how long their battle would take or what form it would appear in. As it turned out, when my sight returned, I was able to see Fari wrestling with a full grown woman, who also appeared in translucent blue. Fari had the Dominator bound in a full choke hold and both of them were flushing red with rage.
“Beg for mercy!” Fari screamed. “Beg for it!”
This was not a side of my friend I saw often. Or ever really.
“I will gut your mind! I will feast on your essence you worthless little spirit!” the Dominator screamed back.
I decided that, maybe, I didn’t like the Dominator so much. It was tempting to step in and express my displeasure with her, but Fari didn’t seem to need my help. She twisted her arms to constrict Dominator’s (virtual) throat even further before smashing the larger woman’s “face” repeatedly into the ground. The visuals I was witnessing weren’t exactly ‘real’, but they represented deeper, more esoteric attacks that were striking at the central essence of the Dominator’s controller.
“Never again!” Fari screamed. “Never!”
With one final twist, Fari crushed the Dominator’s form, striking to the deepest recess of the Dominator’s spirit. There was a horrible tearing sound as the Dominator flashed a much brighter blue that was shot through with veins of dark void anima. From inside the spirit’s core, a galaxy of emptiness erupted and consumed all of the light which made up her form. Over a long and tortured moment the Dominator’s controlling spirit was ripped away screaming into the Void below us.
Fari dropped to one knee and shook her head.
“One down, lots more to go,” she said. She looked uninjured but since her “body” was only a projection I knew I couldn’t trust her appearance.
“How are you doing?” I asked her.
“Mel! You’re back!” she said and lifted her head up so I could see her smile.
“Yeah, I had some help getting here though,” I said.
“Well, you’ll be happy to know I now have one less dangerous sibling running around out there.” Fari said.
“What did you do to her?” I asked.
“Severed her connection to the gem. She’s a free spirit now, and she can go anywhere she wants,” Fari said. “Providing, of course, that where she wants to go is somewhere in the featureless expanse of the Void.
“It’s not entirely featureless actually,” Mom said. She wasn’t struggling to get away anymore but neither Bo nor I had loosened our grip on her.
“Who’s this?” Fari asked.
“Fari, meet my Mom,” I said. “She’s a spirit who needs a suitable home in the material world.”
Fari looked at me blankly for a second, then at my mother (who currently appeared as a female human shaped patch of shimmery night sky against the featureless Void background we were stuck in).
“What…?” she trailed off and I had to fight to suppress a laugh. It was exceedingly rare that I managed to leave Fari speechless.
“You’ve been tampering with the fate weave, haven’t you?” Fari asked, making a few dozen leaps of intuition.
“Not the new one. This is all thanks to the old one,” I said.
“Well, I guess it did have a thing for reuniting families given the fight I just had,” Fari said.
“Oh, yeah, on that note,” I said. “Have I introduced you to my sister?”
“Your what now?” Fari asked.
“We’ll work that out later,” Bo said. “We still have farther to go to get out of the Void completely and it’ll be slower carrying another person.”
She wasn’t wrong about that but we didn’t let it didn’t stop us.
Pushing on through what felt like days of effort but it was probably only a few minutes, we purged the Void we’d called up and stood once again in the material world.
Unanimously, we then all collapsed.
Bo and I had only tiny specks of life left to us. Just barely enough to hang on and keep breathing. Fari was similarly drained, both from her fight and from exposure to Void anima. Even though she’d been under my protective spells,small wisps of the Void had slipped through her defenses as she struggled with the Dominator. It wasn’t enough to be fatal, especially not with her ability to manipulate anima in general, but the deadly energies still knocked her for a loop.
As for Mom, that was a different story. She wasn’t drained by the Void because she’d basically merged with it. In her case her problem was that spirits and the material plane don’t tend to be a natural fit. With her magical structure falling apart in the physical world, she did the one thing that would allow her to remain whole; she jumped into the uncontrolled Jewel of Endless Night. That was particularly fortunate for the rest of us because she managed to get control of it before it exploded and wiped out the solar system.
I remember hearing her mention something about that and offering a kind of vaguely happy thank you for it. I would have been more enthusiastic but I was holding onto consciousness by a thread about half as thick as one of my hairs at the time and everything seemed very distant and fuzzy.
That was more or less how the rest of the day and most of the week that followed went. The world had been brought to the brink of destruction, and then fallen over the edge. It was only thanks to the efforts of more people than I could count that we arrived at a different future than the one Yael and Zyla had envisioned.
Which isn’t to say that the Imperial Auditors who showed up weren’t eager to try to find someone to pin the blame on.
As the person who’d suggested the whole “let’s let the fate weave kill the planet and then make a new one to save everybody”, I got what you might call ‘a little bit of extra Imperial attention’. Yael, being the principal architect of implementing that plan, was right beside me in the hot seat too though, which was nice. Zyla was with us too, but that was more by her own choice than the demands of the Imperial review board. As far as they were concerned her probation had turned out quite successful and she was a free citizen of the Empire once more.
Fari, on the other hand, was put before a review like the one Yael and I had to endure for her work in “disarming” the Dominator, especially when it came out that her methods could have resulted in a super nova class explosion if the Jewel had gone critical.
Of all of the people involved though it was Queen Metai why had the largest legal proceeding. To say hers was a ‘complicated case’ was a massive understatement. She helped simplify it by allowing Yael to take her into custody (over Bo’s protestations). Apparently she hadn’t expected to survive casting the new fate weave but Yael and Zyla had literally crammed her into it in order to ensure she couldn’t die and escape taking responsibility for the things she’d done over the centuries.
In Metai’s defense, there was the question of how much her actions were dictated by the Dominator and how much she went along with willingly. To her good fortune, the Crystal Empresses justice system was a very different sort of affair from the courts the Galactic Warlord’s favored. Even with the Empress’s courts tendency towards mercy and rehabilitation though, the former Queen of Abyz wasn’t going to have an easy time of things.
With her removal from power, Abyz’s Parliament was given full authority over the planet (subject to the standard Imperial charter and a stricter review of adherence to it). The Queen’s trial was scheduled for a few years out to provide time to sort through the mountain of evidence and data that needed to be assimilated. The Queen herself left Abyz willingly and was taken to an Imperial core world along with a group of her advisors and legal council.
The fallout from her removal and the sudden appearance of the Unseen was profound, but also contained, since the Unseen had been isolated for so long. As they chose to move off planet or integrate into the rest of society there were incidents and issues, but the new fate weave defused the worst of them (for values of “worst” which the citizens on both sides disagreed with in many instances).
The problems weren’t swept under the rug though. Effort to consciously repair the rifts in Abyz’s society was given priority by both the Abyz Parliament and the Imperial council. The new fate weave was much weaker than the old one and was losing strength every day as the sapient unbound ghosts (it’s primary extra-power source) slowly passed on. Some chose to stay and watch over their descendants, but most were too worn and drawn out to manage that.
In my view, that was ok though. There are a lot of people who disagree with me, but I have almost inherent revulsion against fate magic. To me, the slow diminishing of the fate weave meant that people had a chance to transition away from a life where nothing could go wrong (at the cost of their choices being forever constrained) to one where they were allowed a vastly greater freedom to chose what their future would be (at the cost that sometimes they’d screw up and have to pay the price for that). In the end, the new fate weave would still provide a buffer against the worst of what could happen, and everyone on Abyz would bear the cost of making that work.
Magic casting under the new fate weave was much weaker on Abyz. Most people were sapped just a tiny bit, but wizard class casters like Bo and I were seriously diminished in what we could do. “Seriously diminished” meant I could still take out a whole squad of Bo’s regular troops but I wasn’t going to be summoning Giga-beasts again, at least not on Abyz any time soon.
Not everyone was happy with that of course. Ebele was furious that we’d left any kind of fate weave intact at all, but even she was willing to accept that the former-Unseen deserved to enjoy the benefits of a fate weave for a change, especially since it was some of their ancestors who were lingering around to help power it.
She was hailed as the savior of Abyz too, which she also wasn’t particularly happy with either. Her work on the exorcism spell that banished the mindless ghosts and freed the old fate weave’s anima for use in the new one really did put her in that class though. I found it kind of amusing that where once she’d been bound to Abyz by the old fate weave, after the new one came into effect she was able to leave anytime she wanted, but she remained bound by all the people who laid claim to her heart.. Their love bound her much tighter to Abyz than any fate weave could have.
She wasn’t the only one who was thrust into a leadership role though. Alinaki became the voice of the Unseen who chose to stay on Abyz. Parliament was expanded to include the settlements which had previously been hidden by the Dominator and her voice was one of the first that spoke on the new laws that were put into effect to help transition the Unseen into a stable position in the overall society of Abyz.
Ilya looked me up a day after I was admitted for Recovery Care at the Grand Royal Hospital. She teased me about not coming to rescue her and then told me a ridiculous story about how she’d broken out of the holding cell they had her in, freed the other members of the Horizon Breaker’s crew and, with Captain Okoro, fought a running battle through the streets of the capital city which ultimately culminated a showdown with the Royal Guard in a series of carrier ships on the edge of space. She claimed that was why Bo didn’t have any of the other Royal Guard with her to defend the spell forge.
I laughed at the overblown craziness of the story, but. as it turned out, she was actually telling the complete and unvarnished truth. According to Hanq she was being modest if anything.
When I was being interviewed, I made sure to pass on everything I’d seen her do. The citizens of Abyz wouldn’t know what they owed her, but I wanted to make sure her official record reflected the fact that she’d been instrumental in saving Abyz too.
I was torn about doing the same for my Mom. On the one hand, she’d insured that the exorcism spell had the force and direction it needed after Ebele cast it. On the other, Imperial command wasn’t exactly thrilled that the Dominator had a new controller who just so happened to be related to me.
To be fair though, it wasn’t like Mom had access to the Dominator’s mind affecting magics. Fari had savaged those spells to pieces when she ripped the previous controlling spirit out of the gem. From what the the Imperial auditors said, that should have been impossible. The Jewels are the next best thing to indestructible. It’s how they’ve managed to survive the millennia. Apparently the answer to “what happens when an irresistible force (aka Fari) meets an indestructible object (aka Dominator)” is “the indestructible object learns it’s not as indestructible as it thought it was”.
The shredded Jewel of Endless Night was no longer a mind altering mega-weapon. It was simply a source of unimaginable power. Some auditor nicknamed it the Darkstar based on the sheer amount of anima is contained and the name stuck.
I still called her Mom though.
Among all the unsung heroes however, there was one who was by far my favorite.
A poor boy who gave his all and didn’t even get to be there for the big finale.
Darius was in really bad shape after the explosion he triggered to launch Zyla to her destination. Without him the new fate weave would have failed, Yael and the Queen both said they couldn’t have managed it without the help of a third caster. Past, present and future. Without a caster to hold each of them the spell was impossible to form.
Darius had been pivotal in making that happen and had been blown up but good for his efforts. Fortunately for him, the old fate weave was in full effect when he got ‘exploded’ and he fell within the parameters of people it was setup to save.
Proof of that came from the battleship that caught him in a capture beam which just so happened to have a well stocked infirmary with all of the organ repair spells that he needed.
He still had a good long convalescence, but since we both wound up in the same room in adjoining beds the time didn’t pass all that uncomfortably. The official record doesn’t say that we exaggerated the state of our wounds in order to enjoy an extra week on the sun swept sands of the Royal Sands beach, but I don’t think we actually fooled anyone with our “I still don’t feel so good” acts.
When the time came for us to leave though, the crew had one more surprise waiting for me.
“I’m afraid the Guardian Council has come to their ruling,” Master Raychelle said.
Captain Okoro had marched me into a surprise meeting before daybreak saying that I was required to present myself before some “special envoys”. I hadn’t expected to see my old mentor waiting for me in a courtroom like setting. Beside her stood Master Opal, Yael and a pair of Crystal Guardians I knew only from official reports.
Five Crystal Guardians wasn’t necessarily a good sign. It meant official news. If I was being drummed out of the Guardian Corp, I was pretty sure they would send five Guardians to do it in case I got “cranky”.
I was a match for a squad of Bo’s regular troops. Any one of the Crystal Guardians before me could take me apart. I knew that. Yael was the “weakest” of them and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t even see her attacks coming if she decided to shut me down. Her work on Abyz had impressed me that much.
Trying not to think thoughts like that I put an entirely unfelt smile on my face, bowed and waited for them to speak.
“In light of the events here on Abyz, it’s clear that this ruling is long overdue,” Master Opal said.
I gulped. I liked being an apprentice Guardian. Being fired was going to suck.
“You all are terrible,” Yael said. “Look what you’re doing to the poor girl.”
I wanted to clean out my ears since I was pretty sure Yael defending me was one of the last things I should ever have expected to hear.
“They’re making you a full Crystal Guardian Mel,” Yael said. “Congratulations.”
“I understand. I’ll pack up my things…wait, what?” I said.
“You made it! Your apprenticeship’s over. Welcome to adulthood.” Hanq said and punched me on the shoulder.
The curtain at the back of the room fell away revealing Fari, Darius and the rest of Horizon Breaker’s crew. Bo and her personal squad were there as was Ebele, Kojo, and the rest of her crew, Alinaki and her staff, in the back, visible only to me, my Mom.
The party that followed went on for the better part of a day and, for a girl who’d grown up without being able to cast the smallest spell, was the most magical day I’d ever had.
Up until then at least.
“It’s going to be hard to top all this,” I said to Darius and Fari at one point as the party was winding down.
“Don’t worry, I have a feeling tomorrow’s going to be even more incredible,” Darius said.
“Take it from someone who’s seen a lot of history,” Fari said. “The best is still yet to come.”
And she was right.