Category Archives: Compass of Eternity

Tags for posts that are part of the novel “The Compass of Eternity”

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 33

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.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 32

The last place you want to find a family member is right on the edge of death. It’s a little more complicated when said family member was intent on killing you a few moments earlier, but despite that it was still an uncomfortable experience.

“Mom? Oh don’t even tell me…” I said.

There were two possibilities I could see. Either “Echo” wasn’t really my mother, she just appeared in that form to everyone she spoke to, or, more even disturbing, she was my mother. And Bo’s mother.

I’d lost my family when I was four. All I could remember of the incident was my mother coming for me while we were onboard a ship. She was very worried, which scared the hell out of me, and then she put me in a warp capable escape pod and jettisoned me from the ship we were on through the warp gate we were approaching. That was the last time I saw her.

I’ve talked to her a few times since then. Almost always when I do something profoundly stupid with Void anima. Like, say, burying myself and Bo so deeply in the Void that neither of us had the power to return to the material world.

“Wait, you can hear her too?” Bo said. “But I thought you could only speak with people you were connected too?”

She was addressing Echo, but the thought occurred to me that this deep in, her point was probably true for everyone. I’d assumed our connection was because we were focused on defeating each other (it’s amazing the kind of connection a little life and death struggle can forge between people). From what I knew, our battle by itself would be enough to form a strong, if very temporary, bond between us. Shared parentage can do the same, though I had to wonder if in this case it would be as powerful.

Bo was older than me, from what I could tell, but I couldn’t remember us being raised together. For that matter, I couldn’t remember much about my father or any of the rest of my family. It had been just my mother and I, moving around from place to place as far as I knew.

“Yeah, I can hear her just fine,” I said. “Bo, what do you remember about your family?”

“They died when I was young,” she said.

“How sure of you are that?” I asked.

“Very,” she said. “They made me look at what was left of them.”

“I remember you saying that, but could you actually identify them from the remains?” I asked. “Think back now that you’re free of external meddling.”

“That was a long time ago,” she said.

“I know, but this is important,” I said. “I wish we could get back to Fari, she’s got the finesse to help you relive that moment in perfect detail I bet.”

“I don’t want to relive that moment,” Bo said. “That was the worst experience of my life. I had nightmares for years afterwards.”

“Maybe you didn’t need to,” I said. “Maybe what you saw wasn’t what you were told you were seeing.”

“There’s no way what you’re suggesting can be true,” she said. I felt her pull away from me, but I held on.

“I don’t know, is it, Mom?” I asked.

“One thing about my kids, they’re bright sparks every one of them,” my Mom said. “Bo,  whatever I tell you, you’ll always be suspicious of. You still don’t believe I’m your mother even, though it is nice to hear you call me Mom at last. So don’t look to me. Look at Mel. I never got to raise you as sisters but you’ll find echoes of me in her, the same as they are in you.”

“This is ridiculous!” Bo said.

“Is it?” Mom asked. “You know the fate weave was compromised. You know it was working to bring about an end to the current state of things. You’ve got to be able to imagine that someone who was paying attention to that might be able to take advantage of it.”

“Hold on, you were messing with the fate weave on Abyz?” I asked.

“More stuck in it,” Mom said. “We came here to visit your sister on that last trip we took together. I didn’t know what the fate weave was really like, but let’s just say you come by your ability to see ghosts from my side of the family.”

“You figured out what was really going on?” I asked.

“Which was something of a problem for the Dominator when I tried to take her out,” Mom said. “That was hubris, plain and simple. It’s also probably the worst mistake I made in my life.”

“What happened?” Bo asked.

“I tried to drain her power away and feed it freely into the fate weave to free the Unseen,” she said.

“And then you discovered that the Dominator had control of the Queen and through the Queen, control of the fate weave,” I said.

“I knew that part going into it actually. What I’d failed to account for was the fact that the fate weave can’t hold all of the Dominator’s power,” Mom said.

“That’s impossible! The weave holds enough anima to literally reduce Abyz to ash. As in a spreading cloud of particles where there was once a planet,” Bo said.

“Yeah, but the Dominator’s a Jewel of Endless Night. Killing planets is trivial for them,” I said.

“How do you know that?” Bo asked.

“You know Fari, the blue girl that was with me?” I asked. “She used to control one of the Jewels.”

“Used to control a Jewel? What happened to her?” Bo asked.

“She didn’t want to kill innocent people anymore, so I helped her out,” I said.


“We killed the ten thousand bodies of the Karr Khan through the archmage class shielding that protected them, all at once, across the entire of the galaxy,” I said.

“Ten thousand bodies?” Bo asked.

“Yeah, he’d turned himself in a cosmic level horror, so Fari, I, and some other folks took the power of the Ravager and ended him,” I said.

“How did you survive casting a spell that powerful?” Bo asked.

“Well, I had a lot of help, I was too stupid and uneducated to know I shouldn’t try it and Fari has near godlike energy management skills,” I said. “So basically, I was very very lucky.”

“Or more precisely, she made a lot of luck for herself,” Mom said, “The same as you do Bo.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“Really? Cause if this was Mom’s plan then I can totally see where I get my schemes from,” I said.

“It wasn’t all me,” Mom said. “After I, well ‘died’ isn’t precisely accurate, but it’s close. After I became as I am now, I saw some opportunities to nudge the fate weave along. It had its hook in one of my daughters already and whatever it took I wasn’t going to let that stand.”

“So you sent another of your daughters in to straighten the situation out?” I said.

“I gave a little tug and hoped,” Mom said.

“Well it looks like that tug means we’ll get to join you here along with all of the rest of Abyz,” Bo said.

“Why would you say that?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know about Mel, but I’ve gone too far,” Bo said. “I took in too much Void anima trying to beat her. I can’t hold it off for much longer and I can’t get free of it either.”

“I’m right there with you,” I said. “I knew I had to keep the Dominator away from Yael and her crew or everyone was going to die and stay dead. I was kind of hoping you’d be reasonable a little sooner, but my life for a few billion people seemed like a good trade to make however things worked out between us.”

“Neither of you are lost yet,” Mom said. “Not if you can trust each other.”

“Forget us,” Bo said. “What about Abyz? Did Mel’s insane plan work?”

“The spell to exorcise the ghosts of the Unseen seems to have gone off successfully. I was a little rough, but I did what I could,” Mom said.

“Did what you could?” I asked.

“She’s a Spirit of the Void,” Bo said. “There are arch-mage class casters who don’t have her capabilities with Void anima.”

“In very limited areas and applications,” Mom said. “It’s one of the few perks that comes from my current state.”

“You said you weren’t exactly dead?” I asked. “Does that mean you could come back?”

I didn’t let hope flare inside me at all. That would have been too painful to bear even with the numbing ocean of emptiness I was drifting in.

“I’m sorry, what I did is a one way trip,” she said. “I wouldn’t even do it differently if I could, since it bought me both of your lives.”

“That’s a heavy thing to lay on someone,” I said, bitterness and disappointment biting at me despite my resolve not to hope for anything.

“Maybe we didn’t want to live without you,” Bo said.

“There were limited options at the time,” Mom said. “And your lives were more important than mine. Wait till you have children. You’ll understand then.”

“Oh I understand already,” Bo said.

“Yeah, we just threw those lives away for others didn’t we?” I said.

“Like Mother, like daughters?” Bo asked.

“It’s disturbing how you think like me despite us meeting for the first time like two days ago,” I said.

“Hey, you said your friend Fari was the spirit of one of the Jewel’s of Endless Night right?” Bo asked. “What is she doing now?”

“Having an up close and personal ‘conversation’ with the Dominator I believe,” I said. “I figured neither of them would be able to follow us down this far into the Void, but at the level they’re on they should still be able to interact with each other.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? What if the Dominator manages to take over your friend?” Bo asked.

I laughed at that. It felt good to chuckle and sounded very alien to the depths of the Void we were floating in.

“Let’s just say I have faith Fari can handle her,” I said. “She had some very specific ideas on how she could cast the controlling spirit out of the Jewel. It’s not quite as good as rendering it powerless but without a controller, it will be effectively inert.”

“Can she do that?” Bo asked.

“She’s the first and only controller of a Jewel who has been freed from the constraints that were enchanted into the gem. She’s had a lot of time to study what was done to her and has spent the last few years devising spells to deal with her ‘siblings’,” I said. “She doesn’t have the power that they do, but if they’re both locked in the Void then power’s not really an issue. It all comes down to skill and determination here.”

It was Bo’s turn to laugh at that, but hers was the evil, scary kind of laugh I gave when a truly wicked idea occurred to me.

“That should mean it’s safe to return to the material world then right?” she asked.

“I think so,” I said. “Certainly safer than staying here any longer.”

“Our mother pointed out that we could escape if we trusted each other,” Bo said. “Are you willing to work together?”

“There are people who will be very unhappy with me if I don’t come back to them, so I’m willing to try almost anything at this point,” I said. “You’re thinking we can lift each other up, step by step until we’re out of the Void?”

“Exactly,” Bo said. “Except I have one other idea too; you said the Jewels act as natural homes for powerful spirits correct?”

I heard my mother gasp at the same moment as I figured out what Bo was driving at. I felt the urge to join in her evil laugh rise inside me. Oh, my sister was going to be fun to play with, I decided.

“Yes, yes they do,” I said.

“And spirits don’t weigh hardly anything do they?” Bo asked.

“Certainly not Spirits of the Void,” I said. “Why I bet we could carry each other and a spirit like that back with us easily.”

“No!” Mom said. “You can’t risk that!”

“Get her!” Bo said.

And I did.

It wasn’t actually as easy as we made it out to be, especially with Mom struggling to break free from our iron grips but steadily and surely, my sister and I rose back to the land of the living.


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 31

Even down in the depths of the void, racing away from the light of the material world, it was impossible to miss the radiance of the fate weave fracturing.


Bo’s voice was just a whisper, but it carried with it a lifetime of loss and denial.

And after denial, comes anger.

Bo’s attack was savage but ill planned. She threw a gout of Void anima at me, sharpening it into a spike with her rage and frustration. It’s edge was cold and solid, but when it touched the Void that surrounded me all it did was give me strength.

In a battle like the the one that we were fighting there was no room for dramatic death blows. No blocks or parries. No chance to dodge the doom that awaited us. When two Void casters really went at it, the winner wasn’t the one who survived, but the one who managed to make sure their opponent perished.

In that sense most such duels resulted in both combatants winning. By any sane measure though we’d already both lost by winding up in a situation where we had to fight a duel like this one in the first place.

I had the slim comfort that if I died, I would at least be paving the way for my friends to save the world, but with the shattering of the fate weave, I couldn’t tell if that was necessarily going to work out all that well.

“I have to kill you,” Bo said. “I didn’t want to, but there’s no other choice now.”

“You can’t,” I said. “That’s the trick of this kind of duel.”

“I have far more power than you do,” she said. “I can survive going much deeper into the Void.”

“Look around you,” I said. “There is no deeper, there’s only letting more of it inside.”

“That’s not how it works,” Bo said. “You’re following me down, but you can’t drop as far as I can.”

“I can, and I am,” I said. “Your power doesn’t mean anything in the Void. All you have here is yourself and the only thing that matter is how much of that you’re willing to give up.”

“I will give everything to stop you from killing my world,” she said.

“And I’ll give everything to save it,” I said. “We didn’t have to be enemies you know and there’s still time for us to be something else.”

“I have a duty to carry out,” Bo said.

“I do too,” I said. “And part of that duty is to you. Like it or not, you’re a member of the Crystal Empire too, which means you’re as much under my protection as anyone else is.”

Bo drank in more of the Void, growing dimmer in my vision as her essential life energy was carried away.

“Your protection is meaningless if you allow an entire world to perish,” she said. “Let me fix this!”

Her words were wrapped in an echoless hollow of Void anima. They tried to tear into me, the magics seeking to pierce me so deeply that I would strike back at them or flee, either of which being a fatal move. Instead, I accepted the emptiness as my own.

Regular anima springs from the same places in nearly everyone but each person colors it uniquely with their own aura and personality. Void anima, on the other hand, originates from experiences that are unique to each caster but it is, in some senses, all the same. It carries no mark of its creator because it is a manifestation of emptiness and dissolution. I didn’t have to convert the anima that Bo hurled at me because it already was the same as the anima I carried, just as the magics I wove were part of her domain as well.

“You can’t fix it,” I said. “You’ve got to accept that. There are things that are beyond your control, and burdens that you need to let others carry.”

“No one else can do this!” she shouted, drinking in more Void and trying even harder to freeze me with it. “I’m the only one.”

“You’re not,” I said. “You think you’re alone, you think the world depends on you, that no one else can handle things, but its not true and it never has been!”

“You don’t know me! And you don’t know this world! Let me go! Now!”

“Bo, I’m not the one holding you here,” I said. “And I do know you. You came at me alone the first time we met. It’s the same move I would have made, because Void casters are dangerous and I wouldn’t want to risk anyone under my command, even if they were Void casters too.”

“I knew I could handle you,” she said.

“No. You didn’t,” I said. “You approached me cautiously, and you made sure to take my measure and not back me into a corner before you had a sense of how hard I was willing to fight. If you knew what I was capable of, you would have struck with overwhelming force before I was even aware of you.”

“I should have,” she said.

The attack that came with her words was weak and wobbly.

“Now who’s lying?” I asked. “I respect you Bo. You really are trying your best, but your best isn’t what’s needed here. What’s needed is everyone’s best.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Look at the fate weave, what do you see?” I asked.

“It’s falling apart, the stress you put on it was too much,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “You think one person could do enough damage to destroy an effect drawn from countless people and maintained for almost a thousand years? Or better question, you think I’m powerful enough to do that? Without a cosmic artifact at my disposal? And yet I’m not strong enough to beat you cleanly in a fight? Does that actually sound reasonable?”

“You’re not going to trick me,” she said. “You can’t bewitch me with words.”

“You’re right,” I said. “And you know how to make sure of that.”

I demonstrated by drinking in more Void anima myself and letting it swirl around my mind. I lost the telepathic link to Fari. I lost all of my meager stash of Mental anima and even spells like my Void Sight that had hints of mind magic to them faded away. I was truly blind and felt even more alone without Fari’s mental presence to keep me company.

“There’s not much father that we can go,” Bo said.

“I know, but we had to get at least this deep into the Void,” I said.

“Why? Why was it so important for you to be right?” Bo asked.

“Because the thing you’re carrying is so very wrong,” I said.

“The Jewel?” Bo asked.

“This deep in, you should finally be free of her,” I said.

“I…I feel different,” Bo said. “The Void is corrupting my thoughts.”

“That’s not corruption,” I said. “That’s the doubt you’ve been feeling. The Dominator kept it suppressed.”

“Why would she do that?” Bo asked.

“Because she’s efficient,” I said. “You were a much more useful tool if she didn’t have to override your will. All she had to do was keep you in line.”

“The Dominator is just a tool though,” Bo said. “She’s part of the fate weave and the reason it’s stood so long.”

“She was never supposed to be,” I said. “I spoke with Queen Metai. She laid everything out. About how the fate weave was originally setup. About how the Dominator’s Jewel was found. What her predecessor intended and what actually occurred when the Jewel was given access to the Spell Forge.”

“How could you have spoken with the Queen?” Bo asked.

“She came to see us,” I said. “After she gave the Dominator to you. She knew the Giga-beasts would keep the two of you busy. She had to make sure the Dominator wouldn’t interfere this time.”

“Interfere with what?

“Well, she thought she had an opportunity to undo the fate weave before it killed everyone,” I said. “She was going to have Yael, the other Crystal Guardian that you caught, and I kill her. Her plan was to channel all of the energy of the fate weave into her ghost and then bear it down into the planet’s core where it could return as natural anima after the heat of the planet broke it down to its component motes.”

“That would never work!” Bo said.

“She was desperate, and it was the only path she could see that involved her not directly killing everyone on the planet.”

“But the planet couldn’t take that much additional energy being added to it. Every volcano in the world would erupt! Abyz wouldn’t be habitable for another thousand years!”

“True, but there would be time to get the people on it off before the long winter starved them out.”

“No, there would be riots and mass chaos. Billions would die in the process.” Bo said.

“I pointed that out to her,” I said. “And I pointed out that there was a better way to handle it.”

“What mad scheme of yours would she possibly believe?” Bo asked.

“Everyone is convinced that the world’s going to end. There’s too much power built up and the fate weave has grown too fragile to handle it right?” I asked.

“Yes, thanks to what you did,” Bo said.

“In part, but my actions only broke a few threads. If the weave was in good shape I would never even have landed on the planet’s surface,” I said. “According to the Queen it’s been falling apart for centuries now.”

“If she couldn’t fix it what made you think you knew how?”

“Because the Dominator never got a hold of my thoughts,” I said. “It’s made you all miss the most obvious thing that was wrong. The fate weave was designed to protect everyone on the planet right? That’s what makes Abyz the paradise that it is.”

“Yes, and?” Bo asked.

“Is it protecting everyone on the planet?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What about the Unseen?” I asked. “They’re natives of Abyz too aren’t they?”

“No, they’re aliens,” Bo said.

“Why? All of the Unseen who are alive today were born and raised here. Their bodies are formed from the materials of Abyz and their breath mingles with the same air that yours does,” I said. “When did your family arrive on Abyz? I mean you’ve got the same galactic skin tone I do, so if anything you’re more of an alien than they are.”

“But they are an essential part of the fate weave!” Bo said.

“No!” I said. “They’re not! Sacrificing others for your own good is an aberration and always will be. The fate weave as it is now is corrupted and that corruption is forcing it to tear itself apart.”

“You’re saying the fate weave wants to destroy itself?” Bo asked.

“I don’t think it ‘wants’ anything, but it’s not hard to see that it’s been twisted to act against it’s own orders,” I said.

“How does that possibly help us? And why tell me this now?” Bo asked.

“Because you’re free of the Dominator’s control now. We’re deep enough in the Void that even she can’t reach here,” I said. “As for how it can help us, like I said, it’s not something either of us can fix. We’re not Aetherial casters. But the Queen is. And Yael is too. And Zyla.”

“They were already here!” Bo said. “You snuck the Queen and the Crystal Guardian in before I got here with the Dominator and then waited for the third caster, the woman that I fought.”

“To be completely honest, I had no idea Zyla would make it here,” I said. “That was either the work of the fate weave, Yael or a straight up coincidence. I asked the Queen and Yael to try fixing the fate weave since they have control over the strongest control nodes for it. I had no idea Zyla would show up to help them, but in hindsight it feels more correct that there be three casters working on it, for the past, the present and the future.”

“Even with three casters of the Queen’s level, I don’t think they can fix the fate weave,” Bo said.

“Not the existing one, but what if they made a brand new one, just as the previous one fell?” I asked.

“Is that possible?” Bo asked.

“I have no idea, but the Queen and Yael were willing to try,” I said.

“What about all anima that will be released?” Bo asked.

“Ok, you’re not going to like this part of the plan,” I said.

“What did you have them do?” she asked.

“Well, the existing fate weave is going to kill everyone and burn the world when it inverts right?” I asked.

“Yes…” Bo said, caution and uncertainty warring in her voice.

“What if the new fate weave’s first job was to bring everyone, including the Unseen, back to life and restore the world?” I asked. “That would consume a lot of the free anima wouldn’t it?”

Bo was silent for a long moment.

“For what it’s worth, neither the Queen or Yael could answer that question for sure either, but it sounded at least vaguely right to them,” I said.

“You’re insane,” Bo said.

“You’re not the first to accuse me of that,” I said.

“What can we do then?” she asked.

“At this point? Nothing at all,” I said. “Our role was to bury the Dominator so deeply in the Void that she wouldn’t have any contact with the new fate weave. Whatever else we’ve done, I think we’ve managed that. I can barely feel any of my life left at all now and I’m really not sure I can get back from here on my own anymore.”

“Me either,” Bo said. “At least we won’t leave any angry ghosts behind. Wait! The ghosts! How will they get the anima away from the Ghosts of the Unseen? If the weave breaks and releases it, the bound dead will be freed, and incredibly amped up on power. They’ll scour the planet clean all on their own.”

“Don’t worry about that,” my Mother said. “I’ve got it covered.”

It was nice to hear her voice again, and honestly one of the big reasons I’d been willing to engage in a Void duel again. Even if I lost it, I’d at least be closer to her when I did. Of course, what I hadn’t counted on was that I might not be the only one to feel that way.

“Mom?” Bo said. “What are you doing here?”


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 30

It’s easy to think of history as pivoting on singular moments. The one decisive battle or the one great discovery that changes everything. From what I’ve seen though, those great moments are more often a cloud of other moments all compressed together.

Abyz died and that changed everything, but in the final reckoning was that the moment that really mattered?

At the time I didn’t have the bandwidth to process questions like that. Life was moving too fast, just like it almost always does.

Zyla’s fight to get into the command center of the Principal Spell Forge escaped my notice too, but nearly everyone else in the facility was aware of it acutely.

Military personnel are selected and trained in a variety of manners. Consistent for all of them however is a focus on Physical anima aptitude and being able to work as a group. Those two factors added together give you a strong, disciplined fighting force where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Zyla was one person against such a force of the Queen’s Royal Guards. Her arrival in the Upper Control Chamber was therefore something of a miracle in its own right. As miracles went it was an explicable one though. The Queen’s forces stationed at the Spell Forge had seen little in the way of actual combat. They’d lived their entire lives on a planet that had been at peace for centuries.

The Royal Space Navy had some experience fighting on the border reaches of the system, but the local troops were largely for paranoia’s sake on the Queen’s part. They were well trained, but none of training had anticipated that they’d be fighting a single foe of Zyla’s caliber. Zyla, on the other hand, had spent most of her life fighting massed armies of foes and knew exactly how to maximize her advantages in that sort of situation.

Despite that, the effort of getting to the Upper Control Chamber cost Zyla tremendously in terms of wounds sustained and power expended, but through sheer, unwavering determination and a willingness to strike harder, faster and at more cost to herself she literally carved a path through the mountain and arrived in the Upper Chamber to find the last person in the world she wanted to see waiting for her.

“Excellent,” Bo said. “The missing Aetherial master. I knew we wouldn’t be able to conclude this until we had you in custody.”

“You can’t be here,” Zyla said. “You’re supposed to be repairing the fate weave.”

“Yes,” Bo said. “And once the last distraction has been addressed we will head to the center of the Spell Forge and take care of that. Or did you expect that we would start the repair ritual while there was still a chance that you could interrupt it?”

“You can’t repair it,” Zyla said.

“With the power we’re carrying now? I believe you are very wrong in that assessment,” Bo said.

“No, you can’t repair it because the fate weave is flawed. It’s going to tear itself apart catastrophically,” Zyla said.

“We’re familiar with the model that predicts that,” Bo said. “But the fact of the matter is that the fate weave has stood for centuries in its current form and with the right stewardship it will stand for centuries more!”

Zyla’s face took on a strange expression. It was looked like despair and defiance were twisted together around a soul deep cord of fear.

“Everyone is going to die,” she said. “There is too much breaking loose.”

“Not when we get done,” Bo said. “Once we’ve fixed the weave, we’ll see to all the rebels and all the outside interference from the Empire. Abyz is will stand forever in harmony when we’re finished here.”

Bo raised her hand as she spoke and the Dominator flared from the ring on her finger. The light that filled the room touched on Zyla’s shields and began to burn them in a white fire bright as a magnesium flare. Zyla’s eyes widened in shock as fear sought to overcome her determination. For as strong and talented and experienced as Zyla was, Bo simply held too much raw power for her to oppose. The fight between them wasn’t going to be a battle. Zyla was defeated or dead the instant Bo decided to truly exert herself and both women knew it.

“As you say, there is much damage to repair, and little time to get started,” Bo said and swiped her left hand in a backhanded slap. A dozen yards away where Zyla stood, the wave of force from Bo’s gesture burst Zyla’s shields like they were made of spun glass.

Zyla was flung back by the blow and skidded to a stop by dragging her anima blade through the floor. With no prayer of resisting a serious attack from Bo, the Aetherial wizard rose to her feet and took up a classic duelist’s stance, pointing her anima blade directly at her foe.

“I can’t let you do this,” Zyla said.

“You don’t really a choice,” Bo said and gathered a blinding light from within the depths of the Dominator.

The blast was nothing complicated. Just simple heat energy, easy to harness and easy to cast. It had to be like that because it’s volume was so overwhemlingly vast there was no other way Bo could handle it.

To her credit, Zyla didn’t even flinch from it. Her hands flew fast and free, weaving an Aetherial spell against all hope and against the impossible pressure of the fate weave itself.

And her prayer was answered.

The deadly torrent of power Bo pulled from the Dominator crashed into a shield of devouring emptiness that filled with sparks of brilliance like the depths of space.

“It’s just possible that you’re wrong about that one,” I said, stepping out from underneath the cloak of invisibility that I’d cast over myself.

Drinking in the power of Bo’s blast felt good. Really good. Dangerously so in fact. I’d over-channeled anima before and it was like a drug. The feeling of euphoria that came with the rush of new strength was second to none from everything I’d experienced and read about. Knowing that, I tried to rein in the feeling of smug superiority that came along with the anima high, but it was still damn hard not to smile at Bo’s shocked reaction to my arrival.

“How are you here?” she demanded and for the first time I heard anger in her voice that threatened to exploded into uncontrolled rage.

“Wrong question,” I said. “The right question is ‘who is here with me’. I think you’ll have some interest in that too Zyla. In fact I’m pretty sure if you’re here it means they’re really going to need you in the Spell Forge, so why don’t you get a move on down there.”

“Neither of you are going anywhere,” Bo said.

“You don’t think the other Royal Guards are going to stop us do you?” I asked. “Cause they’re all wrapped up in a sleep spell and the only way you’re breaking them out of that is to take me down.”

“That can most certainly be arranged,” she said.

“Maybe,” I said. “Speaking of which, do you still have Fari’s gem Zyla?”

“She certainly does,” Fari said. “Pass me over to Mel, would you. I think we need to have a discussion with Agent Riverstone and her new friend.”

Zyla threw Fari’s gem to me and Bo tried to intercept it with another blast. That mistake was a sign of how power drunk she’d gotten, despite the Dominator handling the vast majority of the anima she’d stolen from the Giga-beasts. I blocked the blast with another Void shield and absorbed it’s power too. The result left me feeling high as a kite and stronger than a hurricane.

“Need a hand with all that anima?” Fari asked on our restored telepathic link as I snagged her jewel from mid-air.

Zyla disappeared in a burst of hyper-speed that I could probably only equal using a fair portion of the power I’d stolen from Bo’s blast. I was glad to see her go since it put her out of harm’s way, and if my guess was correct then Yael and Queen Metai were desperately going to need her help with the spell they were casting.

“Yes, please!” I said telepathically. “Much more of this and I’m going to turn into a blissed out anima vampire and drain her dry.”

“It might come to that anyways,” Fari said.

“Yeah, but I at least want to feel bad about it,” I said.

“Give up now,” Bo said. “You can sense what I’m carrying can’t you?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Hello Dominator, or do you remember your real name?”

“She doesn’t answer anyone except me,” Bo said.

“You mean you don’t answer to anyone except her,” I said.

“My will is my own and always has been,” Bo said.

“So if your Queen commanded you to stand down, you would then?” I asked.

“She would never give that order,” Bo said.

I held out a communication disk and flicked it on to show a two foot tall recorded hologram of Queen Metai.

“Agent Riverstone, I order you to give custody of the Jewel of Endless Night to Guardian Watersward. Confirmation code for this order is as follows,” the recording of Queen Metai then listed a series of words and numbers, which should have compelled Bo’s obedience.

As I’d expected though, the message fell on deaf ears.

“It’s a false recording,” Bo said.

“The code is valid,” I said. “Queen Metai recorded this less than fifteen minutes ago.”

“Why would she record a message like that? Why wouldn’t she deliver the order in person?” Bo asked.

“Two reasons,” I said. “First, it wasn’t safe for her to do so.The Dominator isn’t a forgiving master and knows far better than to let me get my hands on her. If Queen Metai was here, the Dominator would put her under the same spell that you’re under.”

“I am under no spell,” Bo said.

“I wish that were true,” I said, sadness welling up inside me when I thought of just how false Bo’s statement was. “But you’ve been under its spell far longer than you know.”

I wasn’t guessing at that. It was one of the less pleasant things the Queen had told me about Bo.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bo said. “And you’re risking the demise of this planet by wasting my time.”

“Believe it or not, I don’t want to fight you,” I said.

“Now who’s lying?” Bo asked. “I can see the hunger in your eyes. This is the whole reason you came to Abyz. To claim a cosmic level power you have no right to!”

“I’ll admit that the energy you’ve got is pretty intoxicating, but I don’t need or want cosmic power,” I said. “I’ve held that and its more trouble than its worth. All I want is an Abyz that has a future longer than the next hour or so, and ideally one where no one is bound in suffering against their will for the sake of another.”

“If you meant that, you would stand aside,” Bo said. “You know I cannot let you take this power or stop me from saving my world.”

“We have very different definitions of what saving the world means,” I said. “And I’m sorry that I can’t accept yours. If I’m wrong, your ghost is going to haunt the hell out of mine I guess.”

“It’s not going to come to that,” Bo said. “I won’t let it.”

“I know,” I said. “Neither will I. One last time though, are you sure you want it to come to this? Whatever happens, nothing is going to be the same afterwards.”

“It’ll be better,” Bo said and raised a churning tornado of Void anima around herself.

“Let’s hope,” I said and plunged into the Void myself.

I’d fought like this with Void casters before. It was the deepest, deadliest form of combat that I knew of. Both casters raced as far as they could into the Void, risking their own total destruction in order to pierce the defense of their foe. In nearly all cases, the outcome was the same; both casters were consumed by the darkness they spawned. I’d won a fight like this before, but my opponent had been insane. Bo wasn’t, and that was maybe my only hope of surviving.

As we dove ever deeper into darkness though, the stakes we were playing for changed. Our own lives became of little concern as we felt the fate weave finally shatter and the inversion of power begin to warp the world-wide protective field into the end of all life on the planet.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 29

What sucks about promising people miracles is that sometimes they’ll look to you to actually deliver one. That was the position that Darius was in, but fortunately for Abyz it wasn’t the first time he’d been called on to provide that kind of service.

“Ebele, we’re going to need you to contact your people,” Darius said. “All of them. And everyone they can contact too. Best case scenario is they’re going to need to save the world after we stop Agent Riverstone.”

“If that’s the best case scenario, it doesn’t sound like we’re in terrible good shape,” Ebele said. “What’s the worst case scenario?”

“That they won’t even get the chance to do that,” Darius said.

“My people will help in this too,” Alinaki said.

“Good, because there’s a mission only you can do,” Fari said. “We need you to contact the rest of the Unseen, the ones in the other hidden cities.”

“What would you have us do?” Alinaki asked.

“You have the most direct connection to the fate bound ghosts,” Fari said. “Most of them are just fading copies, but if they’re as old as we believe then some will have developed sapience of their own.”

“Those will be the ones that will be the hardest of exorcise,” Darius said.

“And why should we exorcise them?” Alinaki said.

“Because once they are unbound, they’re going to assault the living,” Fari said.

“Perhaps the living deserve to be assaulted,” Alinaki said. “We have lived as their slaves for centuries.”

“The unbound ghosts won’t discriminate between their kin and the others,” Fari said. “For them the distinction is between the living and the dead, and you don’t want to see what a planet of the dead looks like or can do before they fade away.”

“How can we locate the other Unseen?” Alinaki asked.

“We know where your cities are,” Ebele said. “We thought they were necropoli though.”

“They are,” Darius said. “This whole world is in fact.”

“”What part can we play in this?” Alinaki asked.

“If we get to the stage where we can try to exorcise the ghosts, we’ll need you to act as the speakers for the ritual,” Darius said. “You’ll be the ones to convey the spell’s message to leave to the unbound ghosts.”

“But there won’t be time to assemble the Unseen from every city,” Alinaki said.

“That’s why I’m going to add you to our telepathic link,” Fari said.

“I cannot speak for all of my people,” Alinaki said.

“You won’t have to,” Fari said. “I’m going to add them all to the link.”

“Can you do that?” Alinaki asked.

“It will be a bit of a challenge,” Fari said.

Darius exchanged a glance with her. That many people over that distance was going to be more than a challenge. Even for a caster as good as Fari, the drain for a spell like that would be unbearable and could shatter her psyche forever.

“That leaves us with the problem of stopping Agent Riverstone,” Ebele said. “She has the full might of the Queen’s army behind her as well as enough raw power to look like a living star. How exactly do we fight that?”

“I don’t think we can,” Darius said. “But I don’t think we have to either.”

“You said we couldn’t let her repair the fate weave though?” Ebele asked.

“Right,” Darius said. “And that’s where we can beat her.”

“She has a tremendous amount of power, but there’s only one thing she can do with it,” Fari said. “And that one thing is going to require a lot of very careful and precise spell casting.”

“We don’t have to attack her directly,” Darius said. “That would be insane. All we need to do is make sure that the spell to repair the fate weave fails.”

“And there’s a lot of indirect actions we can take that can accomplish that,” Fari said.

“They can’t be too indirect,” Zyla said. “The fate weave will be able to block anything that’s too far removed from the repair spell.”

“We’ll have to send a team to the place where Agent Riverstone is going to perform the mending ceremony,” Darius said.

“That team is going to encounter heavy resistance,” Zyla said.

“I expected as much,” Darius said. “Can I ask for your assistance with it anyways?”

“You wouldn’t be able to keep me away,” Zyla said.

“I’m going too of course,” Fari said.

“We’re going to need you for command coordination,” Darius said.

“Not until we start the exorcism ritual,” Fari said. “Before we get there though, I’ve got a job to do keeping you all safe.”

“Will any of us come back from this?” Ebele asked. “Can you see any future where we even live much less succeed?”

“No,” Zyla said. “My precognition is mostly blind and the futures that I see are all ones where Abyz is burned to ash.”

“Do you see any where we try to take down the fate weave?” Darius asked.

“Yes, several,” Zyla said. “They all end the same.”

“Perfect!” Darius said.

“How is that perfect?” Ebele asked.

“If there are no visible futures where we win then even the Queen won’t be able to see or predict how we’re going to manage it,” Darius said.

“That sounds like insanity,” Alinaki said.

“Not when you consider the limitations of Aetherial casting,” Fari said.

“My blindness,” Zyla said. “All of the futures that I can’t see. Our hope, if we have any, lies in them.”

“How do we know that the Queen is as blind as she is?” Alinaki asked.

“Because I know where some of that blindness is coming from,” Darius said.

“Void anima, and void anima casters in particular,” Zyla said. “Their future is unknowable. They stand out as great, aggravating dark spots on any clear visions an Aetherial caster might see. Or even worse, sometimes they don’t appear at all.”

“Between Mel, Ebele and Agent Riverstone, we have several powerful spell slingers casting long shadows over what’s going to occur.” Darius said.

“And the only way we get to find out is to see it through,” Fari said.

“I should go with you then,” Ebele said.

“As much as we could use your help, you’ll need to start crafting the exorcism spell as soon as we go,” Fari said. “It will have to be cast as a ritual so that other casters can help support the energy requirements and channel the magics to the proper locations, but it’s going to be all on you to get the seed for the spell setup correctly.”

“I’ve never cast a ritual of this scope before,” Ebele said. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Very few people have, and very few people can,” Fari said. “On this planet I think there’s only three people currently with any experience at it, and as the only one of them who’s on our side, all I can offer is that you need to remember the basics. Don’t make it complicated. Don’t try to optimize it. For a spell this big it needs to be simple, clean and clear.”

“I’ll add ‘and ready soon’ onto that,” Darius said.

“Yeah, you’ll only have a few moments after the fate weave breaks before it inverts and kills everyone. If you can exorcise the ghosts before that happens, that’ll take a lot of the weaves energy away too and the inversion won’t necessarily be fatal,” Fari said. “Or at least that’s the hope.”

Ebele looked at that and dropped her head with a sigh.

“I don’t know why I believe you,” she said. “But go. I’ll be ready.”

Darius nodded at her and turned to Kojo.

“We need to go to the absolute least important of the hidden cities,” Darius said. “The one you’re not even sure should really be counted as a hidden city because it’s just so marginal.”

“The Blue Cauldron?” Kojo asked.

“No,” Darius said. “The one that’s even below that.”

“Oh, Meadowville? That’s not even really a place though?” he said.

“Ding! That’s exactly where we need to be!” Fari said. “I caught a glimpse of the Forget-Me spell the moment he said the name. Wow is it potent!”

“Potent? But why, the place is just an empty field now,” Kojo said. “We marked it since it gives you a little vague buzz, but it’s one of the places we were able to search thoroughly. There’s nothing there but grass and dirt.”

“There! Got it!” Fari said as she snipped her fingers together. Kojo’s expression changed in the instant that followed Fari’s hastily cast dispelling.

“Meadowville!” he said. “It’s not grass and dirt at all!”

“What’s there?” Darius asked.

“A dark crystal mountain hidden under the most elaborate illusions and Forget-Me spells a Jewel of Endless Night could cast,” Fari said.

“There are things there too,” Kojo said. “Monsters.”

“Real and purely mental,” Fari said. “This is going to be a very fun trip.”

“How close can you get us to the mountain?” Darius asked.

“About five miles away,” Kojo said. “There’s a teleportation ward around the entire place.”

“Not to mention a battalion of the Queen’s finest aircraft,” Fari said.

“Think we can steal one again?” Darius asked.

“No time,” Fari said.

“Then let’s go to this the hard way,” Darius said and put his hand out.

Zyla placed hers on top of his, as did Fari and Kojo and a second later the teleportation effect engulfed them.

Kojo’s mastery of teleportation was sufficient to cut through several of the lesser wards that ringed Meadowville farther out. He was even able to evade most of the alarm spells that were setup to detect unwanted arrivals. Most but not all.

“The air armada knows that we’re here and has begun acquiring a target lock on us,” Fari said.

“Looks like its the really hard way then,” Darius said. “Thanks for the ride but it’s time for you to get out of here Kojo.”

Without waiting to see if the older man listened to his order, Darius turned and scooped Zyla up in his arms before blasting off.

Speed is a defense all by itself. It’s difficult for ship scale weaponry to target a man-sized target and even more so when the man-sized target is moving multiple times the speed of sound. The Queen’s personnel were well trained though, because while the fate weave could keep Abyz safe, it couldn’t reach out to the other worlds in the system and keep all of the Queen’s holdings secure. The Royal Forces weren’t used to dealing casters of Darius’ caliber but they didn’t have to be. There were a lot more of them than there were of him and they worked well together.

The first shot to impact Darius’ shields came from the one of the forward scout ships. Its crew was used to dealing with fast moving targets that showed up unexpectedly. Darius’ luck held out only to the point where the weapons they shot him with were energy based rather than physical projectile launchers. That let him absorb some of blast and redirect it into his flight speed. The unabsorbed portion of the shot pounded his shields and sent sympathetic vibrations shattering through his body.

Dodging and weaving allow him to evade a number of other similar blasts but a handful still found their mark and stripped his shield away to nothing.

“You’ve got to make it from here,” he said and pitched Zyla forward.

With the last of his strength he cast another shield around her and detonated a massive explosion to propel her across the remaining half mile to the top of the looming crystal mountain that was in front of them.

The ships continued to fire upon the spherical shield that encased Zyla but to no avail. There was enough strength left in it by the time it crashed into the mountain that it was able to dissipate the impact of the landing and allow Zyla to begin battling the forces guarding the entrance immediately.

As for Darius, he fell from the sky covered in flames. He’d delivered the package that he was meant to carry, he’d done the job that he had to do. A smile crossed his broken face as consciousness dwindled away. If he had to go, this wasn’t the worst scenario he could imagine. He’d helped save a planet, he was sure of that, and if he left a ghost behind it wasn’t going to be a vast and vengeful one.

Then he felt the fate weave grab him.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 28

In the wake of the giga-beasts absorption, the world was covered in the grey quiet of the blowing winds for a long moment. In the sky over Darius and the other’s heads, Agent Riverstone glowed brighter than the sun as she strove to process the power she’d stolen.

“That shouldn’t be possible should it?” Darius asked. “No one could take in that much magic without exploding.”

“I don’t know,” Fari said. “Mel channeled an unreal amount of power when she was fending off the planetary weapons on Hellsreach.”

“And it almost killed her,” Darius said.

“It doesn’t look like Agent Riverstone is doing so well there herself,” Zyla said.

The light from the “second sun” was wobbling and thrashing violently as it tried to escape from the force that was pulling it inwards.

“Why would she do it at all though?” Darius asked. “The banishment spell had trapped the giga-beasts. She could have just sent them away.”

The thrashing cords of light grew still and ordered, lining up into rows and columns in a broad sheet as they were drawn towards the figure at their center.

“It’s the damage to the fate weave!” Fari said. “She’s trying to fix it!”

“There’s no way she can control that much magic though,” Zyla said. “And if the fate weave tries to support her, it’ll instantly invert when she loses control.”

“Riverstone’s not the one in control of the power,” Fari said. “She has the Dominator. The Jewel is controlling the magic for her. The question we need to answer is what are they going to do with it.”

“They can’t repair the damage to the fate weave from there,” Zyla said. “The giga-beasts tore a ragged hole in it and the threads that remain are too frail to work with.”

“Where could they go to replace or recreate what was destroyed then?” Fari asked.

“I’m not sure,” Zyla said. “There would have to be a central heart for the weave. A mystical forge that it was originally cast from. If that still exists, that would be the prime spot to effect a repair from, but it’s impossible for me to sense with all the Aetherial noise the fate weave throws off.”

“Would it not also be hidden, as we were hidden?” Alinaki, the spokeswoman for the Unseen, asked.

“Absolutely,” Zyla said. “Even moreso than a heart like Demon’s Isolation, it would be imperative that no one have access to the spell forge. An enemy working there could wreck terrible havoc on the world.”

In the sky above, the glowing sun faded back to the luminance of a bright star and then shot away followed by the other, dimmer stars that made up Agent Riverstone’s team.

“Want to bet she’s heading right for it?” Darius asked.

“We can’t track her,” Fari said. “They have teleporters waiting for as soon as they’re outside the interdiction zone.”

“Didn’t the giga-beasts destroy the teleport interdiction effect too?” Zyla asked.

“Yes, they did,” Kojo said, arriving a swirl of exotic lights. “Or at least most of it. Ebele wants to speak with you.”

“How many can you handle?” Darius asked, nodding towards the Unseen.

“We have a warp circle coming online,” Kojo said. “But we will need to be quick. The Queen’s forces are distracted for the moment, but that’s not going to last.

“Where are you proposing to take us?” Alinaki asked.

“To a secure area the Queen and her forces cannot access or discover,” Fari said.

“That sounds much like another prison,” Alinaki said. “Tell me, will we be free to leave should we wish?”

“Within the limits of being able to travel without attracting royal attention, yes, we will not hold you,” Kojo said.

“And how can we trust your word?” Alinaki asked.

“They helped us, and are in part responsible for you being free of the fate weave now,” Zyla said.

“Let me confer with my people then,” Alinaki said and walked over to where the other Unseen had gathered.

“Ebele wants you all moved out immediately,” Kojo said. “There are additional Royal Forces inbound already.”

“Why aren’t they teleporting in?” Zyla asked.

“There are lingering traces of the interdiction spell,” Kojo said. “Difficult to work through but not impossible. Their casters aren’t trained for that like I am though.”

“How long will it take their conventional forces to get here?” Darius asked.

“Minutes at most,” Kojo said. “And they’ll have us scanned already.”

“No,” Fari said. “Not with the shield I have in place.”

“I don’t think your shield is strong enough,” Kojo said. “We were able to find you without difficulty.”

“That’s because I wanted you to,” Fari said.

“How did you know we would be looking?” Kojo asked.

“One of many contingency plans,” Fari said.

Alinaki rejoined them and the other Unseen were with her.

“We do not know you, but we know the Queen,” she said. “If you can hide us from her, we will travel with you.”

“Good,” Kojo said. “Everyone join hands or hold on.”

The teleportation effect was slow and unpleasant, mystical eddies and whirlpools of power sought to tear them to pieces but in the end the entire group of people arrived in the enormous cavern that served as hidden base for Ebele’s rebels.

The moment the teleport effect completed, caster began scurrying around the base, closing off the wards and reinforcing the spells that would distract anyone from looking for them.

“What did you people do?” Ebele asked when she found Darius, Fari and Zyla.

“We freed the people from the city that had no one living in it and that no one could remember,” Fari said.

“You did what?”

“The forgotten city that you told us about? The one the Queen was keeping hidden?” Fari said. “It was more important than you realized. These people were living beneath it and were under an even stronger version of the spell that made you forget the city if you weren’t shielded.”

“What were those enormous monsters?” Ebele asked.

“Creature native to transwarp space,” Darius said. “They require a tremendous amount of anima to exist on this plane but that’s not really a problem here.”

“They destroyed the fate weave around Demons Isolation,” Fari said.

“That’s not possible,” Ebele said.

“It is for creatures of that scale,” Zyla said.

“How were they summoned in the first place? The fate weave should never have allowed that to occur!” Ebele said.

“It did not resist the summoning spell at all,” Alinaki said. “Before we were freed from its grasp, I felt the fate weave moving around the one who called the beasts, but it did not hinder or distract her.”

“Mel summoned them,” Fari said. “And then she was captured.”

“What happened to the beasts?” Ebele asked. “We lost our surveillance spells after the Royal Forces showed up.”

“They were absorbed,” Darius said. “So we have an minion of the Queen who now has an incalculable amount of power at her disposal.”

“Can she find us?” Ebele asked.

“No, she has more power but raw power was never enough to allow the Queen to locate you,” Fari said. “The fate weave won’t allow that.”

“I don’t understand? The weave is the Queen’s tool. It doesn’t offer us any protection at all,” Ebele said.

“I think Fari’s right,” Zyla said. “With what’s happened in the last few hours, I’m becoming convinced that the fate weave has developed more layers and depth than we can see.”

“Enough to give an agent of the Queen incalculable power,” Ebele said.

“And to constrain that agent so that there’s only one thing she can do with all that magic,” Fari said.

“I knew letting you go was a mistake,” Ebele said.

“But you’re going to let us go again,” Darius said. “And this time you’re going to come with us.”

“I will not risk my people on your insanity,” Ebele said.

“It’s too late to worry about that,” Darius said. “No one on this planet is going to survive the next couple of hours unless we make a miracle happen.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Ebele said.

“No, it’s the truth,” Zyla said. “The fate weave has always been unstable. You know this. You know how much energy is bound up in it too. Imagine what happens when that energy splits apart and there’s no spell to channel it towards beneficial ends?”

“That can’t happen though.”

“It’s happening already,” Zyla said. “The giga-beasts were only the tipping point. Slowly but surely the fate weave has been ripping itself apart for centuries. It grew weak enough a short while ago for Yael and I to catch wind of what was going on. I think that was a cry for help.  Ever since then the tears have been growing larger.”

“How can you know that?” Ebele asked.

“I couldn’t before. The weave is too vast for me to get a clear vision of,” Zyla said. “But standing in the forgotten city, and meeting the people who lived there let me finally see its ragged edge.”

“You’re asking me to believe that in less than a day, in less than a few hours even, you’ve managed to undo a magical structure that has stood for centuries?” Ebele said. “I don’t buy it.”

“Then you should listen to my words,” Alinaki said. “My people have lived through those centuries, forgotten and Unseen, bound by the cords of fate, our lives leeched out to keep you and yours safe and happy. For the first time in since we came to this world, we are free.”

“So you say, but how can I know that you’re not in league with the Queen?” Ebele asked. “The last push she needs to bring down those who still oppose her?”

“We have had everything taken from us,” Alinaki said. “If you will not take my words, then I have nothing more to give you.”

“Wait! No, you do!” Fari said. “The ghosts! Look for the ghosts! They’re the Unseen dead who haven’t been able to move on because they were bound by the weave. They’ll recognize their living descendants and be drawn to them!”

“That’s not…” Ebele trailed off, her sentence forgotten as her eyes widened. “They’re all around you! They’re protecting you?”

“See I told you!” Fari said.

“Yes, but they don’t look happy.” Ebele said and backed away from Alinaki.

“You have given us refuge,” Alinaki said. “They will not harm you.”

“What about the ones who are spread out around the rest of the planet?” Darius asked.

“As their chains break away, they will not be so merciful,” Alinaki said.

“Their chains?” Ebele asked and focused on the area around Alinaki again. ‘The chains are gone!”

“Consumed by the giga-beasts” Fari said.

“You’ve been telling the truth,” Ebele said, her eyes still wide and her breathing shallow. “The world really is going end.”

“Unless we can pull off a miracle,” Darius said. “Or maybe two.”

“Two?” Ebele asked. “What do you think we need to do?”

“First we need to stop Agent Riverstone from repairing the fate weave,” Fari said.

“Then we need to cast a planet-wide exorcism and lay the ghosts of the Unseen to rest,” Darius said.

“The exorcism makes sense, even if it’s impossible, but why would we want to stop the fate weave from being repaired?” Ebele asked.

“Because repairing it to the state that it was in will only lead to the the weave falling apart in days rather the hours,” Fari said. “We need the fate weave gone if the Abyz is to survive.”

“I approve of that, my people approve of that and my ancestors do as well,” Alinaki said.

“My ancestors died because they approved of following that sort of idea,” Ebele said. “I’ve missed them so much, but maybe I understand them now, maybe some things are worth dying for.”

“No,” Darius said. “We’re not going out there to die. It might happen, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to live, and for the whole planet to live with us. Fight for that.”

“You think like one of the Unseen,” Alinaki said. “We do not give up and we do not give in. We endure and we carry forward. There was no prophecy that spoke of this day, but for centuries we have awaited it and if we must work miracles to see tomorrow, then we shall make them happen!”

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 27

“So, we lost her,” Zyla said. She and Darius stood outside the ruins of what had been Demon’s Isolation, surveying the land that lay below them.

“Hopefully not completely lost,” Darius said and watched as the mountain-sized giga-beasts he’d last seen two years ago devastated the empty countryside.

Behind him stood dozens of the Unseen, visible and quite memorable in the wake of the giga-beasts arrival. The giant monsters, in additional to laying waste to the countryside they trampled over, also shattered the complex spells that bond the fate weave to Demon’s Isolation and kept the people there hidden. In the process the giga-beasts had feasted on the unbelievably rich veins of power that were concentrated in the city and grown even larger than they’d been when Mel summoned them.

“I still have a link to her, but I’m going to lose it soon,” Fari said.

“How can you tell?” Darius asked.

“My clairvoyance spell has a number of holes in it,” Fari said. “And since they’ve teleported her to a one of the High Royal prison facilities, I’m guessing that those holes are anti-magic cells.”

“What has happened,” a tall, pale woman asked. “What are those monsters?”

“Those are alien entities from transwarp space,” Fari said. “They’re animavores, and unless I miss my guess, they’ve freed you, at least partially, from your connection to the fate weave.”

“But how?” the woman asked. “We fled with you, we haven’t come anywhere near them.”

“Their aura radius, the area the can influence magical energy in,  is much larger than they are,” Fari said. “We fought them in warp space a couple of years ago and even a thousand miles of distance wasn’t enough to keep us out of their range.”

“Are we still in danger then? Should we continue fleeing?” the woman asked.

“Yes, we’re still in danger, and no, fleeing further won’t help at this point,” Darius said.

“We had you come with us out of your underground city once we felt the anima levels drop,” Fari said. “We knew the spells the Queen cast wouldn’t hold you there anymore and with creatures that large stomping around on the surface, the under-city is probably experiencing all sorts of cave-ins and other disasters.”

“Our homes are gone?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” Zyla said. “And this whole planet is going to follow them unless we do something.”

“How’s the fate weave holding up?” Darius asked.

“Locally it’s all but destroyed,” she said. “But that’s a minor victory at best. The rest of the weave has more than enough power to scour this world clean.”

“Does it look like the rest of it is going to hold together?” Fari asked.

“No,” Zyla said. “It’s definitely going to come apart. It was unstable before, now it’s just a matter of time until it explodes.”

“How much time does she have?” Darius asked.

“She? You mean Watersward?” Zyla asked.

“Yes, how much time does she have to fix this?”

“She been captured and is being held prisoner in the Queen’s own prison facility, in an anti-magic cell. What help can we possibly expect from her? And what could she possibly do even if she was free to fight with us?” Zyla asked.

“I don’t know,” Darius said. “I look at this situation and I see impossible problems stacked on top of impossible problems.”

“Then we need to look for an escape or we need to make what peace we can with our fates,” Zyla said. “Unless you would prefer to leave behind some truly monstrous ghosts?”

“No, you don’t understand,” Darius said. “Impossible problems is what I see when I look at what’s going on, but that’s not what she sees. To Mel, these aren’t problems. They’re puzzles.”

“How does that help us?” Zyla asked.

“That’s the wrong question,” Darius said. “We don’t need help. This planet does, and Mel’s not going to lose sight of that.”

“You have a lot of faith in her,” Zyla said. “Enough to get us all killed.”

“Maybe,” Darius said. “But that’s not what I’m most afraid of, and I don’t think it’s what you’re most afraid of either.”

“You’re not afraid of dying?” Zyla asked.

“Oh, I’m terrified of dying,” Darius said. “These last two years have been a roller coaster from exhilaration to mind-numbing dread and back again. I can count at least seven times when I’ve been within two inches and two-tenths of a second of dying and none of them have made it any easier to face the prospect. On some level though, I can accept that. The work that we do is amazing stuff and the people that I, personally, have had a chance to save have been well worth risking death for.”

“But there’s something that scares you more than that?” Zyla asked.

“Yeah, and you know what it is, because it’s the scariest thing for you too,” Darius said.

“That they’ll die,” Zyla said.

“Right. I want to live, don’t get me wrong, but imagining that life without my friend, my partner, and the woman I love? That horrifies me,” Darius said. “And I think you feel the same way.”

Zyla stared out at the great beasts for a moment and then nodded.

“That’s why we’re not going to ask how we can survive this,” Darius said. “We’re going to ask, how we can make sure they survive it.”

“And, for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Mel and Guardian Clearborn are going to be doing the same in return for us,” Fari said.

“I don’t know about that,” Zyla said. “They have the weight of the whole planet on their shoulders. Before they can think of us, there are billions who they need to consider.”

“Don’t sell them short,” Fari said. “I’ve known Mel longer than either of you and what Darius says is right. She thinks in amazing ways.”

“I wish I could believe that, but I thought she didn’t have any particular gifts with Mental anima?” Zyla said.

“She doesn’t,” Fari said. “But I think that’s because she’s unbalanced into Void anima. Or maybe it’s because she had to think her way out of problems for so long as a kid. Whatever the cause is though, her mind is brilliant.”

“So is yours though isn’t it?” Zyla asked. “I mean you’re nearly a spirit of pure Mental energy. How can you not be smart enough to see everything she does?”

“Intelligence can’t be measured on a single scale,” Fari said. “What you see as intellect in me is a combination of the capabilities I was born with and developed while I was alive, the multi-tasking and energy management that the spells which bind me to the Jewel provide and the skills I’ve developed in bits and pieces over the millenia on the rare occasions when I was fully awake.”

“That has to add up to the most formidable mental arsenal around though doesn’t it?” Zyla asked.

“Yes, for some purposes,” Fari said. “And don’t get me wrong, I take pride in usually being the smartest girl in the room. Being smart though, means acknowledging that there are different styles of thought, different ways of seeing and interpreting the world and that while I am very good at the approach that’s natural to me, there are other approaches which can yield amazing results too.”

“So you’re saying only Watersward can figure out how to save us?” Zyla asked.

“No,” Fari said.

“That’s not how it works,” Darius said. “Don’t think of her saving us. Think of all of us saving each other.”

“That sounds naive and childish,” Zyla said. “Like we can just believe in goodness and things will work out for the best.”

“Belief doesn’t enter into it,” Fari said. “At least not the kind of belief you’re talking about. Darius isn’t asking you to turn off your brain. He’s saying turn it up. Think. What can we do that will create opportunities for someone on our side to win?”

“I don’t know! I can’t see anything about the future anymore!” Zyla said.

“All have become Unseen then?” the pale Unseen woman asked.

“Yes! Or no, maybe there’s simply no future to see!” Zyla said.

“Or maybe we’re finally in a position to win!” Fari said.

“You’re right!” Darius said. “This is good. This is very good!”

“How can the world ending be very good?” Zyla asked.

Before Darius or Fari could answer, a bright streak of light shot across the sky and the roaring of the giga-beasts quieted.

“Who is that?” Zyla asked, straining her eyes to make out any details of the figure who was miles away.

“It’s the Queen!” Fari said.

“How can you tell?” Zyla asked.

“Because she’s carrying the Dominator!” Fari said and began weaving a shield spell around Zyla, Darius and all of the Unseen who’d followed them.

“I don’t think that’s the Queen,” Darius said, peering through a passive vision enhancing spell. “Unless she’s shape changed herself to look like Agent Riverstone.”

“Wait, really? Let me see that,” Fari asked and touched Darius’ arm. Since her glowing blue form was just a projection, she could only benefit from the vision enhancing spell by looking through Darius’ eyes.

“Why would she come here?” Zyla asked. “And can the Dominator take care of those monsters?”

“She’s a Jewel of Endless Night and she’s fully charged,” Fari said. “She can take care of almost anything.”

“Are you sure the Dominator is there?” Darius asked as additional glowing figures streaked into the sky over Demon’s Isolation.

“Absolutely positive,” Fari said, her eyes focused on a single point in the sky above.

“Can she sense you?” Zyla asked.

“I doubt it,” Fari said. “We expended almost the entire energy of my Jewel on your father. In terms of raw anima I barely have more now than I did when I was alive. If she senses my power at all, even if she notices the familiar binding enchantments, I won’t look anything like another Jewel to her.”

“What are they waiting for?” Darius asked.

“She’s probably casting probing spells,” Fari said. “The Dominator has a lot of information gathering magics at her disposal. With creatures that large and dangerous, I think she’ll want to have a very good sense of what they are before she acts against them.”

“The Dominator or Agent Riverstone?” Zyla asked.

“Either, or both,” Fari said. “There’s also the possibility that there is no Agent Riverstone anymore. Depending on what the Queen did, the Dominator may have overridden Agent Riverstone’s psyche entirely.”

“Would that be good or bad?” Darius asked.

“Hard to say. We might be able to reason with Agent Riverstone, where the Jewel will grant no mercy at all. On the other hand, a lot of Dominator’s powers are probably locked down if there’s not a sapient host controlling it.”

“It looks like she’s gotten the information she needed,” Darius said.

A purple and grey snow began to drift down onto the giga-beasts and where each flake landed a small patch of shadow took hold. The giant monsters stood stock still as the Void snow accumulated on them, in stark defiance with their earlier behavior.

“The Dominator is keeping them passive,” Fari said. “I can see the spell from here.”

“Can you disrupt it?” Zyla asked.

“Maybe,” Fari said. “Probably only for a short while though.”

“Does the weird snow look familiar to you?” Darius asked.

“Now that you mention in it, yes it does,” Fari said. “That looks a lot like the banishment spell that Mel worked out after the fiasco on Titanus.”

“What do you think the odds are that Agent Riverstone developed the same spell on her own?” Darius asked.

“I don’t know enough about Void casting to be sure but, under the circumstances, I’m going to rate that as very unlikely,” Fari said.

“So the Queen’s agent is going to solve the giga-beast problem for us?” Zyla asked.

Darius and Fari were silent for a moment as the Void snow finished swallowing up the giga-beasts.

Raw torrents of corrascating magic ripped the air apart a moment later.

Huge streams of lightning, wide as rivers, towers of flame and beams of pure light shot from the engulfed giga-beasts and all struck the tiny glowing figure of Agent Riverstone.

It was impossible to watch what happened but several minutes later when the flood of power dwindled away and there was a second sun in the sky, it was clear what had occurred.

Agent Riverstone hadn’t banished the giga-beasts.

She’d consumed them.


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 26

Danger feels cold to me. It’s the sensation of fear made manifest, except where fear steals inwards from the tips of my fingers and toes, my danger sense spreads outwards from my heart like a block of ice trying to shield the centerpoint of my body.

The sensation I experienced when the Queen of Abyz casually strolled into Yael’s prison suite was a hyper-focused melding of conscious fear and an unconscious awareness of being in mortal peril. Strangely though, the chill that consumed me didn’t have a magical component. As far as my danger sense was concerned I wasn’t any closer to death or serious injury than I was at any other time on Abyz.

“I am alone and unarmed,” Queen Metai said as she closed the door to the cell and took a seat on a cushioned chair between Yael and I.

My mind was racing over dozens of possibilities, none of which held a clear answer to why the Queen was here, much less any coherent response to what she said. Yael was ahead of me there. From her expression, it looked like she had expected this turn of events.

“I don’t believe it’s entirely correct to say that you’re unarmed when you wield a Jewel of Endless Night,” my fellow Guardian said.

“You are correct,” Queen Metai said. “That’s why I’ve entrusted her to one of my subordinates.”

“You’re serious about this then?” Yael asked.

“You cannot fathom the depth of my sincerity young one,” the Queen said.

“I’m sorry, but you want us to kill you? When did this world go completely insane?” I asked.

“Long ago, and you cannot imagine the burden it is to carry that insanity,” the Queen said.

“Yael? A little help here? What is going on?” I asked.

“Remember how I said I can’t see a future where Abyz doesn’t burn?” Yael said. “Neither can she.”

I looked at the Queen and struggled to fit that into what I knew of her so far. The image that I’d formed of the dread and cruel ruler of Abyz was jarringly at odds with the woman who sat no more than five feet away from me.

In the plain light of Yael’s suite, Queen Metai looked older than her body’s years. Older and far more tired. If Fari was right, that was entirely her own fault. Jumping from one body to the next to extend her own life carried the inherent cost that all the sorrows and pain she suffered over the centuries was carried forward with her.

It was so easy to see her as a villain. The suffering that she slaved the Unseen to was beyond reckoning and the violation of people’s minds and will that she performed on a regular basis with the Dominator was enough to warrant a death sentence anywhere in the Empire.  Ebele’s story of how her mother and little sister perished was almost certainly one of thousands or millions of such crimes that could be laid at the Queen’s door.

Part of me didn’t want to see or accept that the person responsible for those atrocities could also be someone willing to lay down their life for her planet.

“So how is having us kill her going to help?” I asked. “Is she just trying to avoid the rush in dying?”

“I don’t think so,” Yael said. “I think you’re here for me aren’t you?”

“Yes, and no.” the Queen said. “I have seen you, and your workings. You are clever and skillful, perhaps the most gifted Aether worker beside myself who has ever walked on Abyz. I fought your manipulations of the fate weave, but you played the deeper game and won. And in the process you will lose so very much.”

“I think I can almost follow what you’re saying,” I said. “You should probably try to be about twice as cryptic so it’ll all sound like meaningless babble.”

“Tell her what you’ve done,” the Queen said to Yael.

“I told you I took one of the fate weave’s minds right?” Yael said. “Well, part of mastering it has involved putting myself into a position where I’m effectively an administrator of the entire spell network.”

“She has control over the weave that is second only to my own,” Queen Metai said. “I believe?”

There was honest uncertainty in Queen Metai’s expression and I thought of Yael’s description of Aetherial casting. Physical spells and Void spells are beautiful. You cast them and they do something you can see and feel immediately. I punch harder or turn invisible or drain the energy out of an attacking spell. Aetherial spells, from my point of view, are a nightmare where you cast it and hope that it does something vaguely like what you want and that no other Aetherial caster has a better spell waiting to swallow up or pervert the intent of yours.

“Yes,” Yael said. “I couldn’t usurp prime control without allowing you to become aware of what I was doing and where I was.”

“She seems to have managed that just fine,” I said.

“And I have to confess I’m curious how you found us?” Yael said to the Queen.

“I know the weave very well,” the Queen said. “I knew if you survived and had influence over one of the control nodes, you would use it to shield yourself. If you were any kind of threat you would have it block out not only direct avenues of attack but also any that held the intent to do you harm. To find the both of you all I needed to do was proceed along a path where I held no intention to do your harm, either directly or indirectly.”

“You just said she’s going to lose a whole lot with how this shakes out,” I said.

“Her loss isn’t one the fate weave will regard as harm,” the Queen said.

“She wants me to take over as her successor,” Yael said. “At this point if she dies, I’d become the new Queen of Abyz. Effectively.”

I felt slow and dim, but I caught the tail of that idea and ran with it.

“Meaning no one else would have the same level of control over the fate weave, so your word would effectively be law?” I asked.

“Not quite law,” Yael said. “Without the Queen’s mental powers, or the Dominator, I wouldn’t be able to make the populace follow me. I would just be the central point that the fate weave rests on. Everything it does would go through me and be an extension of my power.”

“If it is done correctly the Dominator will be yours as well,” the Queen said. “It’s power is tied into the fate weave too intimately to extract it at this point.”

“That’s how you were able to make the Unseen disappear wasn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes,” the Queen said. “And so many other secrets as well.”

Yael gasped and sat back in her chair.

“You melded them together!” Yael said. “That’s where the original corruption in the weave comes from!”

“I wasn’t the one who did that, it was an earlier Queen Metai, but that doesn’t really matter at this point,” she said.

“Original corruption?” I asked.

“The fate weave is not as it was designed to be,” Queen Metai said. “It was distorted centuries ago, all with the best of intentions, and all leading to the cataclysm that faces us now.”

“The fate weave shouldn’t be anywhere near as strong as it is,” Yael said. “A planet-wide spell of that magnitude is possible but the natural ley lines on most worlds won’t support anything more than the lightest of spells over that broad an area and with that wide ranging of a mandate.

“That’s how the weave was originally, from what the records tell us,” the Queen said. “Abyz was gifted with abundant Aetherial anima lines. It was a rare jewel of a world, but even with that the fate weave was only able to reduce the severity of accidents and violence slightly. Protecting an entire planet from all harm was impossible.”

“Until one of your predecessors got their hands on a Jewel with near limitless magic?” I asked.

“Exactly,” the Queen said. “They sought to supplement the weave and turn Abyz into a true paradise, and it worked!”

“But it also went terribly wrong didn’t it?” Yael asked.

“From our current point of view, yes,” the Queen said. “The union with the Dominator gave access to a vast store of anima, but even that was not truly endless and the Dominator was designed to protect her reserves, so when she felt the drain put on her, she pulled her power back.”

“And that almost caused a weave inversion to occur,” Yael said.

“There were several partial inversions, but my predecessor found a solution that prevented a planet-wide catastrophe.”

“Which is where the Unseen come into the picture?” I guessed.

“Yes,” the Queen said. “They were refugees we had agreed to take in, but they were not well liked by the rest of the populace, and were largely confined to their own cities and areas. It was a simple matter for the Dominator to recast them as invaders who came to pillage our resources and who were stopped by the fate weave’s protection.”

“Planetary hypnosis is easier when the populace doesn’t think about the subjects at all though isn’t it?” I asked, again guessing, this time as to why the Queen had implemented the forgetfulness spell to hide them.

“Much easier,” the Queen said. “And the Unseen became the perfect resource. Living, self-reproducing batteries of power that could be forced to serve the weave eternally.”

“How could you see an entire people as nothing more than fuel to burn up however you want?” I asked.

“At first, I imagine, the Queen Metai of that time found it very simple,” the Queen said. “The suffering of the aliens brought her people a greater benefit than any other people in the galaxy enjoyed. And the alternative was death for them all. As a ruler, that is a very simple choice to make.”

“You’ve come to believe differently though or you wouldn’t be here,” Yael said.

“She believed differently, the first Queen of the Broken Web,” Queen Metai said. “The Dominator let her extend her life through passing her awareness into new host bodies. Those of her children. It didn’t take many generations of this for the first Queen to grow weary and horrified of the burden she carried. She tried to pass it all on to her daughter, tried to escape her fate by allowing herself to die. Much of Abyz died with her.”

“There was an inversion?” Yael asked.

“Yes, a vast one,” the Queen said. “The weave is flawed and unstable. It has been since the Dominator was melded to it. Without an experienced will guiding it’s prime node, it tries to reject the Dominator and will almost immediately invert into a planetary death spell.”

“Why didn’t that happen after the first Queen died?” I asked.

“Her daughter, who was too young to handle the weave, who had never been properly trained, bargained with the Dominator and traded away all of her own anima for the knowledge the Jewel had copied from her mother. She seized control of the weave and took up the Dominator along with the sceptre of rulership and has carried them all through the centuries ever since.”

“Where’s the Dominator now?” I asked.

“As I said, I have passed her to a subordinate,” Queen Metia said. “She would not allow this transfer if she were here, so I’ve sent her on a hunt for you.”

“I still don’t see why you want to pass all this on to Yael?” I said. “If you’re tired of living you could just take your mother’s path and pass it to a daughter, except, you know, train her first.”

“During any transition there will be an inversion and death on a wide-scale,” the Queen said. “Unless the new Queen has access to a vast reservoir of power.”

“You’ve misjudged me then,” Yael said. “By my measure, we’re roughly equivalent in terms of inborn power. If you couldn’t prevent an inversion, there’s no chance I’ll be able to.”

I puzzled over that for a second before something Yael had said lit up my mind like a strobe light.

“She’s not assuming you have the power,” I said, my voice barely rising above a whisper.

“No, I’m not.” the Queen said, a smile of victory gracing her face.

“You said she was going to rebel against the Crystal Empress,” I said. “That she’d spread agents out among the stars from the people who vacationed here that she fate bound.”

“They’re not sleeper agents,” Yael said, reaching the same conclusion I had.

“You’re linking Abyz’s fate weave to the Crystal Empire as a whole,” I said. “When it inverts, the Crystal Empress will have to step in and pay the price for it.”

“I cannot defeat her in life,” the Queen said. “But I believe in death I can claim at least some measure of victory.”

“We’ll let Abyz burn before we see you endanger the Empire,” Yael said.

“No you won’t,” the Queen said. “I can’t see Abyz surviving, but I know from twenty years of observation that your Empress won’t allow that to occur, even if it’s the end of her.”

“It won’t be,” I said. “And we’re not going to let Abyz burn either. I said we were going to save this planet, and I still mean it.”

I rubbed my hands together and gave the Queen a look that said “I’ve got a plan”. If she knew me, she would know that was a sign to start trying to escape to a minimum safe distance by any means necessary.

“Now, about killing you?” I said, and smiled.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 25

There’s nothing quite like feeling shackles slip away. It’s the warm rush of freedom as blood flows unimpeded to your extremities. It’s the spark of hope of that you might escape the fate your captors had in store for you. It’s the joy of finally getting your hands on the one responsible for your troubles so that you can beat some answers out her!

“Given that I’m freeing you, why do I get the sense you’re going to try to take my head off any moment?” Yael asked.

“The temptation is there, but I’m holding it back for the time being,” I said.

“I’m the one letting you out of this prison,” Yael said. “Why the hostility?”

“Well, for one, this isn’t hostility. Hostility involves dislocated limbs and an exciting exploration where I locate where your pain pressure points are,” I said. “And two, I’d be more grateful for you letting me out of this prison if I wasn’t reasonably sure you’re the reason I’m here in the first place.”

Yael opened her mouth with an expression that suggested she was going to deny what I’d said. I held up my hand to shush her before she tried to tell any lies that I was likely to smack her for.

“Listen, I’m alive, I’m in more-or-less one piece and the people I care most about are in the same state. So I’m not saying I’m mad at the work you’ve done here,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll be very impressed at the Imperial review when they go over how brilliant your crafting was, but I still think I owe you a good punch to the jaw for what you put us all through.”

“How do you know I put you through anything?” Yael asked.

“I repeat, I’m alive and in one piece,” I said. “And that’s due to a number of fortunate occurrences. Specifically ones which the fate weave should have been working overtime to make blow up in my face. Somebody has been working counterspells though, and I know of  precisely two people on this planet who have both the inclination and capacity to do that.”

“How’s Zyla?” Yael asked, and almost succeeded in keeping the note of bone deep worry out of her voice.

“She misses you,” I said. “And at this point is probably going just a little crazy.”

Yael tensed and visibly fought to keep her expression neutral.

“Out of curiosity,” I asked, “Why didn’t you stick together?”

“There wasn’t time,” Yael said. “Just like there’s no time now. If you want to help me, and Abyz, we need to get out of here.”

“Leave the room where all my magic is suppressed?” I said. “Yeah, I think I can agree to that.”

Stepping out of the small cell was like emerging from a pond I didn’t know I was drowning under. As soon as I was clear of the suppression glyphs I felt strength and power flood back into me. It wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to fight off an army of the Queen’s guard but it beat being weak and chained up.

“So where are we going?” I asked.

“My cell,” Yael said.

“Wait, what? How are you still locked up here?” I asked.

“Let’s just say I’ve been very lucky,” she said.

“You’re going to explain that right?” I asked.

She nodded and led us down corridors that just so happened to have no guards patrolling them until we reach another cell door. This one opened onto a rather different room than the one I’d been shackled in though. Where my room was the size of a small walk-in closet, Yael had somehow managed to score the penthouse suite of cell rooms.

Her door opened onto a large open area that was tastefully appointed with various forms of cushioned furniture. A small fireplace blazed on the outer wall and on one side of the room I saw a low wall marking off a kitchen and dining area. One of the two doors on the other side of the room was open and beyond it lay a spacious bedroom.

“This is an old facility,” Yael said. “It dates back to before Abyz’s unification. This is one of the apartments for noble prisoners who were being held as hostages.”

“And is that what you are?” I asked. “A hostage the Crystal Empress will need to redeem?”

“No, it was a clerical error that placed me in this room rather than one of the anti-magic cells like you were in,” she said.

“That’s a rather incredible clerical error,” I said. “Especially for Abyz, and especially with a prisoner like you.”

“Well, it helps that they don’t quite realize that I’m a prisoner here,” she said.

“Ok, since that makes less than no sense, how about you start at the beginning and use small words so I’ll understand?” I said.

“I think you’ve figured out most of it already,” she said. “And since when have you ever needed small words to understand something?”

“Humor me,” I said. It was hard following esoteric discussions about anima casting that I wasn’t familiar with but that wasn’t why I wanted Yael to keep her explanation simple. If there was anything that fate spells loved to mess with it was complicated communications, and despite the fact that she was living in luxury I didn’t think Yael was completely free from the effects of the fate weave.

“If you’ve seen Zyla then maybe she shared with you the visions she had concerning Abyz?” Yael asked.

“She did,” I said. “Is it safe to talk about that here though?”

“The security devices have been stuck on a repeating loop for the last two weeks in this room. No one’s monitoring us at all now,” she said.

“That convenient,” I said. “And yeah, Zyla had visions that the planet was going to be destroyed right?”

“That’s what brought us here originally, but what we found was a lot more complex,” she said.

“The fate weave is backed by the Dominator,” I said, guessing at the source of the complexity.

It was delightful, and terrifying, to see how much of a surprise the news came as to Yael.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” she said. “The Queen has one of the Jewels of Endless Night?”

“Yep, I watched her use it,” I said.

“Well, that explains a whole bunch of things then,” Yael said.

“There was some other complication you had in mind though it sounds like?” I asked.

“Just a little rebellion is all,” she said.

“The people want to overthrow Queen Metai?” I asked, failing to fit that piece into my mental puzzle.

“No, the Queen’s going to rebel against the Crystal Empire,” she said.

“That’s really stupid of her,” I said. “Isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily,” Yael said. “Abyz does a lot of tourist trade. I thought she was merely fate binding the people who visited here, but if what you say is true and her Mental anima prowess comes from a Jewel of Endless Night, then she could have sleeper agents spread all across the galaxy.”

“That can’t possibly be enough to help her win a war with the Empire though,” I said.

“It doesn’t have to be,” Yael said. “The Queen doesn’t want to conquer the Empire. Not yet anyways. She wants to secede.”

“Why…” I started to ask and interrupted myself. “Oh, of course, she’s violating the Sapients’ Rights Accord with how she’s abusing the Unseen so she knows once we find out about that we’d remove her from office. She’s preemptively fighting to keep her position.”

“That’s a repeating pattern for her,” Yael said. “And, unfortunately, there’s some real concern for the people of Abyz behind her actions too.”

“Real concern?” I asked.

“She’s tied into the fate weave at a fundamental level,” Yael said. “If we remove her from power, the whole thing will invert and kill everyone on Abyz.”

“But you have a plan to stop that right?” I asked.

“Yes, but it’s kind of a work in progress,” she said.

“Meaning what, exactly?” I asked.

“Meaning, I don’t know if its possible to prevent the inversion,” she said.

“Then is this a case where we leave the Queen in power?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure the Empress would prefer that to several billion dead people.”

“I’m sure she would, but that’s not what I meant,” Yael said. “Zyla and I were investigating the weave when we got separated. I stayed behind not because I wanted to get caught, but because I already was.”

“The fate weave got you?” I asked.

“And I got it,” she said. “I sank probing spells deeply enough into it that I discovered one of the directing nodes.”

“What’s a directing node?” I asked.

“At Demon’s Isolation, you found one of the power sources for the fate weave,” she said. “Basically one its hearts. What I found was essentially one of it’s minds.”

“The fate weave is sapient?” I asked.

“Not quite,” she said. “It has extremely sophisticated data processing worked into it and an in-built drive to preserve the lives of everyone on Abyz, but it doesn’t have a will or awareness of its own.”

“So when you captured it’s mind, you were able to redirect it?” I asked.

“One of its minds, and yes,” she said. “We’re protected by it now and even Queen Metai can’t work against that since she’d have to dismantle the fate weave itself to get at us.”

“Does she know you took control of a directing node?” I asked.

“Not yet,” Yael said. “If she finds out though, that’s one of the prime accelerators for the apocalypse.”

“One of?” I asked.

“There’s a lot of options for hastening the end of Abyz, but what I was saying earlier was that there’s no path I can see that avoids armageddon,” Yael said. “One way or the other, Abyz is going to burn.”

“That sounds very dramatic, but you’re not fooling me,” I said. “I’ve paid attention to your career for the last few years too you know. You and Zyla are a fate wrecking machine. You can’t expect me to believe something like a little planetary class spell and a Jewel of Endless Night are enough to beat you.”

Yael smiled at that but it was a weary, uncertain smile.

“I envy you sometimes,” she said. “All of you casters who aren’t Aetherial specialists.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because there’s a secret to Aetherial casting,” she said. “And it’s a simple one; sometimes we don’t know.”

“You don’t know what?”

“Anything,” she said. “How are our spells are going to turn out, what future we’ll actually meet, how we’re going to make it all work. Half the time, I’m not sure my wins are due to anything more than pure non-magical luck, especially when I’m up against another Aetherial caster.”

“From where I stand it looks like you make your own luck by the boatload,” I said.

“Most of that’s Zyla,” Yael said. “I make luck for her and she makes it for me.”

“Why don’t you stick with her then?” I asked.

“The first thing I saw in the fate weave was that she needed to stay free if we were going to have any hope of working this out,” she said.

“I figured that, but I was speaking longer term than that,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Yael asked.

“Seriously? Are you really that dim?” I asked. “You, and her, together, bonded. You know like people do.”

Yael closed her eyes and bowed her head.

“It’s not that simple,” she said. “I’m responsible for her parole. I can’t ask that of anyone who’s under my authority.”

I sighed.

“I get that, and it’s excellent that you’re concerned about it, but have you ever talked with her? Asked her what she’d like to do?” I asked.

“I can’t bring that up!” she said. “I can’t make any offers that would compel her in any way. It wouldn’t be right.”

“I’m not talking about making an offer to her, at least not yet, I’m saying just talk to her. Ask her what she wants. It’s not that hard,” I said.

“I can’t deal with any of that now,” Yael said. “There’s a planet that’s going to die very soon. I’ve got to focus on that.”

“I appreciate our situation, but I want you to think of two things for me,” I said. “First, Zyla passed up her parole hearing last year, claiming her record wasn’t clean enough and you two had a serious crisis to avert. Maybe that was true, but look into your heart and see if you really believe it. Was she concerned about the hearing, or was she afraid to gain her freedom and lose you in the process? Second, If this planet does burn, and we die, casters like us are have a decent chance of leaving ghosts behind if we left something unresolved. Do you think you or Zyla would rest peacefully with things as they are now?”

“I don’t think anyone would rest peacefully here,” she said.

“Then let’s figure out what it’s going to take to save the world,” I said.

The door to Yael’s apartment swung shut. I hadn’t noticed that anyone had joined us, or that the door had even been open. That was a bad sign. Then I saw who was there and my blood froze solid in my veins.

“I believe I know the answer to that,” Queen Metai said. “You’re going to have to kill me.”


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 24

There are times when a gamble pays off but you almost wish it hadn’t. That was what waking up felt like. On the one hand there was the joyful knowledge that I’d guessed correctly about Bo keeping me alive until the disaster I’d induced was under control. On the other hand, I was thoroughly and certainly captured.

I woke to find myself in a familiar sort of room. Anti-magic glyphs glowed malevolently from the walls of my tiny cell. The bed was comfortable, which was a surprise, but the heavy iron shackles that bound my arms and legs spoke quite clearly as to what the nature of my stay would be like.

“What are those things?” Bo asked. The door to my cell was a few feet past the foot of the bed I was on. She was leaning against it and watching as I sat up and took in my quarters.

“Gigabeasts,” I said. “They eat anima and it’s a really bad idea to hit them with heavy munitions.”

“Yes, we know,” she said, in a tone that told me they’d discovered both of those facts the hard way.

“Probably should not have knocked me out,” I said.

“True,” she said. “I should have killed you before you finished the spell.”

“Maybe,” I said. “In your defense though that wasn’t something you could have expected anyone would try for, especially not in the middle of a fight. How many of your troops did you lose?”

“None,” she said.

“Good,” I said. “I figured you’d have them all in tunnels with you.”

“How do we stop these Gigabeasts?” she asked.

“The answer to that question is the only reason that I’m still drawing breath is it?” I asked.

“Technically you haven’t received a trial yet either,” Bo said.

“You’d put a Crystal Guardian on trial?” I asked. “With the kind of things you have to hide?”

“You’ll face a military tribunal,” Bo said. “No media, no witnesses.”

“You could save a lot of time and hassle and kill me now,” I said. “We both know the outcome would be the same.”

“That’s not true,” Bo said. “If you cooperate, we won’t have to extract the information from you by force.”

“I can curl up into my own Void anima,” I said. “You can harm my body all the want, but I won’t feel a thing.”

“The Queen doesn’t need to torture you,” Bo said. “The royal blood of Abyz runs in her veins. Even your Void shields won’t help you against her.”

“You’re not going to let your Queen get within a hundred miles of me,” I said. “Not after what I did in Demon’s Isolation. Not when she’s so close to completing her grand scheme.”

“What are you babbling about?” Bo asked. “The Queen has no grand scheme. It’s you Imperials who are seeking to destroy this world.”

“Are you sure about that?” I asked.

“A hundred cosmic-class hyper-predators is a convincing piece of evidence,” she said.

“A hundred?” I asked. “I guess I did botch the spell. It was only supposed to summon three of them.”

“There were nine to start with,” Bo said.

“And then you hit them with a city-buster blast?” I asked.

“They were devouring one of the hearts of the fate weave!” she said.

“Yeah, that was the general idea,” I said. “The Queen made Demon’s Isolation so remote and hidden that it seemed like the perfect space to deploy those things. At least assuming that the Unseen made it out safely.”

“Do you know what damage to the fate weave on that scale could have done?” she asked.

“Shut down the whole thing?” I said.

“No. A spell with the size and depth of the fate weave doesn’t shutdown,” she said. “It shatters. And then all that magical energy goes somewhere.”

“Sounds like a feast for the Gigabeasts,” I said.

“A feast set on the table of a dead planet,” Bo said. “If the fate weave shatters it will pass through an anti-phase period as it tears itself apart.”

“Anti-phase meaning its function inverts?” I asked.

“Yes, the magics that are designed to protect life will instead bend probabilities to ensure that everyone it touches dies.”

“With the power that’s been built up by the fate weave, I take it your projections show that there’s enough anima to kill everyone on the planet a few hundred times over right?” I asked.

“That’s what the conservative estimates say.”

“And yet you’re all still here,” I said.

“Not if we can’t stop the Gigabeasts,” she said.

“How far are they from the nearest population center?” I asked.

“Twelve hours out at their current travel speed,” she said.

“I presume most are regrowing from the attack you hit them with?” I asked.

“Yes, but that seems to be happening at a steady rate,” she said.

“It’s not.” I said. “You can expect them to vary the rate of their regeneration and their travel speed upwards as they get closer to their goal. I would expect them to reach their destination in no more than four hours.”

“So four hours until we have countless civilian deaths, on a planet where accidental and violent deaths have been unknown for generations,” Bo said. “This is what we have to thank the Crystal Empire for?”

“Don’t get self-righteous with me,” I said. “You know the fate weave is still in effect. The farther the Gigabeasts move away from Demon’s Isolation, the more the fate weave will limit them. Even if we let them get to a population center, it would take hours for them to gnaw the fate weave till it was weak enough for them to do any real damage.”

“Is that your plan then?” Bo asked. “To hold us hostage until the fate weave is about to break.”

“No,” I said. “I’ll give you spell to banish them. I didn’t summon those things because I want to destroy the world.”

“And yet you claimed they were here to end it,” she said.

“That’s because they are,” I said.

“I don’t see the difference,” she said.

“Abyz as it is now has to end,” I said. “You can’t keep going like you are because if you do, Abyz will be destroyed. That’s what brought the first Crystal Guardian here. Concern for the future of this world and the people on it.”

“That’s a lie,” Bo said. “Abyz is the safest place in the galaxy. It’s the Empire that’s dangerous. You’re the ones who bring death and oppression wherever you go.”

“Death and oppression?” I asked. “Where did you get that kind of skewed view of us from?”

“From history,” Bo said. “From the recordings that show the conquest of the galaxy and how your Crystal Empress crushed everyone who tried to stand against her.”

“That’s an interesting reading of the events,” I said. “Tell me though, how exactly is the Empress oppressing you?”

“We live by her suffrage,” Bo said. “At any moment she can chose to purge our planet if she feels we’ve violated the Edicts she imposed on us.”

“You live by your Queen’s suffrage as well, and I’m going to guess that her edicts are a lot more capricious than The Common Galactic Accord of Rights is.”

“The Queen is our rightful ruler,” Bo said. “Not an alien overlord who violated our sovereign domain and annexed us unwillingly into a collective that we have barely any voice in.”

“Do you hear yourself?” I asked. “Nearly every word you said there was wrong. Alien overlord? The Empress barely holds an executive power at all. The Galactic Senate and its sub-houses vote on everything the Empire does.”

“And what voice do we have in the Senate?” Bo asked. “A negligible one.”

“Yeah, in the greater Senate where all of the worlds meet. But there’s a million worlds that meet there. No one has a singular voice that can dominate it,” I said. “That’s what the local sub-Senates are for, and there you have just as much a voice as any of your neighbors.”

“But we never asked to be part of this Empire, it was forced on us,” Bo said.

“You’re part of the galaxy, like it or not,” I said. “And, yes, I know some systems and some areas of the galaxy are not part of the Crystal Empire. I was raised on one of them. From what I’ve seen though, that didn’t stop life from sucking. In fact Belstarius was arguably a lot worse than most of the Imperial worlds I’ve visited, even before it’s capital got wiped off the face of the planet by a warlord fleet.”

“Belstarius?” Bo asked. “The border world near the Chiang cluster?”

“Yep,” I said. “Home sweet home until it caught a bad case of Ghost-Bomb-itis.”

Bo got an odd look on her face but said, “Go on.”

“What I’m saying is that the Empire that you see, this horrible conquering beast, is more of a myth than a reality. Look at what the actual Crystal Empire asks of you today, not what you imagine it has done to you.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

“I was never a good history student, but even I know colonialism has some serious problems that arise with it,” I said. “And the Empress’s faction knew that too. So look at the things the Crystal Empire did when it swept into power. Did it demand tribute or taxes from its member worlds? No, it provides resources to them because the Imperial Core systems have boundless enchantments to call on.”

“We don’t need charity or pity,” Bo said.

“And you don’t get any. Abyz is far too wealthy on its own to qualify for sustenance grants from the Empire. Instead the Empire has left you largely alone, only requesting that you appoint a representative to the Galactic Senates that you are a part of.” I said.

“And demanding that we obey the Empire’s rules,” Bo said.

“Yes, Empress demands that a short list of rights for sapients be observed across the galaxy,” I said. “If a world is unwilling to treat all sapients as people, only then we’re empowered to step in and correct that problem with exceptional measures.”

“By destroying the world?” she asked.

“No, not even in the most extreme of cases,” I said. “Which is why I’ll tell you the spell to banish the Gigabeasts with. They’re not a bargaining chip. Or a threat. They’re a tool. If the time comes to end the fate weave, they may be able to help absorb and diffuse the anti-phase wave when it breaks.”

“So are you saying that you gave us a hundred unstoppable monsters as a gift?” Bo asked.

“I’m saying that they’re an insurance policy. They offer an option in case things go wrong in one particular fashion,” I said.

“An option that requires that we keep you alive,” Bo said.

“That’s not the best reason for you to keep me breathing but we can add it to the tally,” I said.

“I suppose you’ll need to be removed from this room to demonstrate the spell?” Bo asked.

“I wouldn’t mind if you took the shackles off, but no, I can give you the basics of the spell well enough from here,” I said.

“Enough then, tell me how to get rid of these things,” she said.

So I broke it down for her. With a squad of Void casters under her command, I knew Bo wouldn’t have much trouble leading the Gigabeasts back to the warp space rift that I’d opened. Sealing it would be more challenging but still well within the capability of the forces she commanded.

“If you’re lying about any of this, I will end you,” Bo said.

“What I’m interested in is what you’re going to do when you discover that I’m telling the truth,” I said.

“Turn you over to the military tribunal so that you can be judged for the crimes you committed,” she said.

“I can’t ask for more than that I guess,” I said.

If I was right, the only tribunal I was going to face would be an Imperial one when I was called to stand and explain my actions on Abyz. If Bo was willing to go with the fiction that an Abyz tribunal would get a crack at me that was fine. It just meant I had slightly more time to work with before she started hunting me again.

She opened the door and took one last questioning look at me before she locked me into the cell.

I waited a few minutes to make sure she had time to start briefing her troops about the banishing spell, before I started working on my shackles. I was far from a master escape artist but since this wasn’t the first anti-magic cell I’d been trapped in, I’d practiced a few different escape techniques that didn’t rely on anima casting.

I was working on dislocating my thumb (it’s less fun than it sounds) when the door opened up again.

A shock of fear flew through me. Bo should have gone off to deal with the Gigabeasts. There wasn’t any good reason for her to come back and check on me.

Which was why it wasn’t her who stepped through the door.

“You’ll have an easier time with these,” Yael said and tossed me the keys to the shackles.