Bearing an artifact of unimaginable cosmic power wasn’t quite the rush I’d expected it to be. That might have been due to the screaming agony I was in thanks to the three foot long spike of stage flooring that had been rammed through my shoulder. Or it was possibly due to the presence of the anima consuming shard of the Karr Khan’s soul that was shredding me from the inside. Strangely those weren’t the first things that came to mind though. The first thing that captured my attention was that I was falling. Towards the wall.
“Taisen! What’s happening?” Opal called out as she dived to catch me. Yael grabbed the unconscious bodies of both Akell and Zyla and we all landed against the wall of the yacht together.
“Apologies. Had to dodge a few gnats.” Taisen replied over the ship’s speakers. It wasn’t hard to figure out that he’d run to the ship’s control deck while I was fighting the Jewel. We needed someone to fly the yacht for us after all.
“Gnats?” Yael asked.
“Space fighters. The Khan’s fleet has launched a few. They don’t seem to be particularly happy with us.” Taisen said. The ship banked hard again and we all started falling towards the surface I would formerly have considered to be the amphitheater ceiling. With amphitheatres being open to the sky this presented something of a problem. Fortunately the sky that we saw above us was only an illusion. Unfortunately the hull plating that lay under the illusion wasn’t particularly soft or yielding to land on.
“Can you lose them? We’re getting tossed around like marbles here.” Yael called back. The yacht had gravity and inertia control spells on it, but Taisen had obviously had to reduce power to them to allow for the kind of maneuvering that he was doing.
“Lost plenty of them. Just a few left.” Taisen called. The ship spun wildly and plunged downwards. Opal caught us all in a flexible, springy web spell which at least reduced the impact trauma a bit.
“How many is ‘just a few’?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. The yacht’s targeting crystal can only handle a hundred separate targets.” Taisen said.
“Can you evade them?”
“Yes. Just don’t ask me for how long. This is harder than it looks.” Taisen said.
“Head us towards the planet then, as much as you can.” Opal said.
“That sounds like you have a plan. I like that. If you need to you can lie to me to tell me I’m right.” Taisen said.
“I have a plan.” Opal replied. The light chuckle in her voice didn’t tell me one way or the other whether her words were true, but I still had faith in her.
“If you remove the spear that’s in your shoulder, I can repair you.” Fari said.
I’d gotten used to hearing her voice. Seeing her standing beside me as a translucent blue form was a little weird though.
“You’re outside the Jewel?” I asked in my mind, as I pulled the plank out of my shoulder.
“No, we’re together now, so you can see me directly.” Fari replied.
“Don’t do that! It will only…” Yael started to say but trailed off as a flame of physical anima coursed over the wound and fixed the damage that had been done in an instant.
“You didn’t just take the Jewel off Akell, you took it for yourself.” Opal said. It wasn’t a question, it was a confirmation. I could see the muscles on her throat constrict but her voice remained soft.
“Took her.” I said.
“What do you mean ‘her’?” Yael asked.
“The Jewel is more than a weapon. There’s a person tied to it.” I said.
“The control mechanism.” Opal said. “A soul bound to the Jewel to shield the bearer from its power and to direct the functions of the Jewel as the bearer wishes.”
“Yeah, that sound right.” I said.
“I am only a tiny part of the Jewel.” Fari said.
“And that sounds wrong.” I told her. It was the ‘I’m only’ that I objected to.
“She’s speaking to you, isn’t she? The control mechanism.” Opal said.
“Yes. Her name is Fari.” I said.
A bone rattling shock passed through the ship and we change course so suddenly that Opal’s webbing snapped in dozens of places.
“Sorry. They’re getting closer.” Taisen called out.
“Oh, but we are already here.” the Karr Khan said.
Below us, on the stage, the remaining spotlight was projecting the image of the Khan standing within a circle of his devoted followers.
“Nice trick with the light, but we’re not afraid of illusions.” Yael said.
“You should be.” the Khan said. With a flick of his hand, a beam of light shot from the stage and pierced through Yael’s abdomen like a spear.
“He’s close enough to manipulate the anima in the room.” Opal said as she raised a barrier around us.
“Did I mention we have a few warships after us too?” Taisen called over the speakers.
“Yael! Are you ok?” I asked, looking at the young guardian’s wound. The beam had seared a hole straight through her. It wasn’t large, but it didn’t take a large hole to cause fatal complications.
“I’m alive. I’ll be fine. We’ve got to stop him.” Yael said through gritted teeth.
“There is no stopping me, little guardian. I am Eternal, and I have you in the palm of my hand already.” the Khan said.
The ship shuddered to a violent halt and I heard parts of it shattering and shearing off.
“Capture web. Trying to get us out of it.” Taisen said. The ship’s engines changed from their steady hum to a high pitched whine, but I didn’t feel any acceleration to indicate that we were breaking free.
“Struggle all you wish. There is no escape for any of you.” the Khan said.
“There’s always an escape.” Yael said with a dark look at me.
I didn’t understand what she meant at first, not until I saw that she was glancing at my hand. Where the Jewel of Endless Night rested.
“Fari, you have a limit of the range you can effect things at? Right?” I asked her.
“Anything on a single planet.” she said.
“How about in space?” I asked.
“The emptiness of space blocks my power. I can slay everyone within the ship I’m on but nothing beyond. Space warfare was the domain of the other Jewels.” she said. I could hear trepidation in her voice and I knew why it was there. I’d told her that no one should ask her to use her power again, and now that I had control of her, I was talking like I was going to use her against my enemies the same as all of her other masters had.
That wasn’t going to happen.
I saw what Yael was thinking though. If we couldn’t escape the Khan’s grasp in life, I could slay us all and we’d be spared the fates worse than death that the Khan had in store for us.
That wasn’t going to happen either.
In part I just didn’t want to die. The thought of dying after all I’d been through made me angry. In part I also knew that if we all died, that would leave Fari adrift in the galaxy somewhere just waiting to be claimed by another bearer who would probably use her to murder millions or billions of people. Like Opal had said, our lives didn’t balance against that very well. Mostly though, I wasn’t going to use the Ravager’s power that way because I had a promise to keep.
Also, I had an idea.
“Fari, I need you to choose something.” I told her.
“Choose? What choice can I make?” she asked.
“Do you want to stay like you are? Do you want to keep the power that you have?” I asked.
If she really was nothing more than a control mechanism, there would only be one way she could answer that question. Control mechanisms don’t fight against their own defenses though. They don’t reach out to people just to have contact with someone sympathetic before a new master claims them. And they don’t hold back and spare a friend when they are ordered to destroy all life onboard a ship.
“No.” Fari said in a whisper. “I never wanted it. Destroy me. Please.”
“You can see Aetherial anima can’t you?” I said, putting together a few ideas at once. Yael didn’t see a future for any of us past this meeting. If that included the Jewel of Endless Night, then Fari might have seen the same thing.
“You saw that I would be the one bearing you when we reached this spot. When you couldn’t see anymore future.” I said.
“I didn’t know how you would get here, but yes, I knew you would be the one to finally end me.” she said. There wasn’t any fear or hesitation in her voice, just a deep and earnest longing.
“Sorry Fari. That’s not quite what I have in mind.” I said as a wolfish smile spread across my face.
I pulsed Void anima to my skin and freed myself from the safety of Opal’s web. Without those restraints holding me in place, I fell through the shield around us and landed on stage where the image of the Karr Khan stood.
“This is really you, isn’t it?” I asked him.
“Yes.” the Khan said. “You have seen my power and I know the limits of the Jewel you carry. You know there can be no victory for you here. No meaningful resistance. Bend to my will and you will suffer far less in the end.”
“You really think that’s a good idea don’t you? You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing? Can’t see any flaws in it?” I asked him.
“Only the Eternal can be perfect.” the Khan said. “And so I am. Perfect now and more perfect the greater I become. Unlike the Empress and her Guardians, I see the universe as it is. I don’t hide behind pretty thoughts and hopeful dreams. One person cannot change the galaxy. It takes a multitude and so that is what I have become. But there is so much more that can be done. With that Jewel under my control I shall become more than a multitude. I shall become all! The galaxy will know the peace of true harmony as all within it become vessels for my will!”
“That’s brilliant.” I said, struggling to keep my smile constrained.
“Thank you.” the Khan said.
“You got just enough right that you bought into your own delusions completely.” I said.
“They’re going to be in docking range in about thirty seconds.” Taisen announced over the speakers.
“Are we in the atmosphere yet?” Opal asked.
“Sorry. Couldn’t make it that far.” Taisen replied.
“Did you think to lure me into a position where the Ravager could strike me down? Come now. My defenses are far stronger than yours, Guardian.” the Khan said.
“Would you like to bet on that?” I asked him.
The eternal, invincible warlord flinched, ever so slightly, at the question and that was all the confirmation I needed.
“What do you mean?” the Khan said.
“You know exactly what I mean. You’re already here after all. You said it yourself.” I told him.
I saw pure rage wash over the Khan’s face only to be swept away behind an iron mask.
“For your insolence I will see you suffer as few have before.” the Khan said.
“That’s nice. Except you’re forgetting the promise that I made.” I said.
“If we ever met, I promised I would kill you. And now we’ve met.” I said.
I released the Seed of Darkness completely from the bounds of my Void anima. It had free reign to tear into me and with the Khan’s primary body so close it was more powerful than ever before. It consumed my anima faster than I could have imagined, but I had the Jewel of Endless Night to draw on. The Seed could only consume me so fast, I didn’t have that limit when it came to the Jewel though.
“Goodbye Khan.” I said as the full power of the Jewel poured into me.
It wasn’t like drinking an ocean. It was like becoming an ocean. I wasn’t using the power of the Jewel the way Akell had, I was taking it and making it my own. Fari would never have to be part of a genocide again. She wouldn’t be one of the Jewels of Endless Night at all once I was done.
What I hadn’t anticipated was that I wouldn’t be Mel when I was done either. I’d thought that I could transfer the power of the Jewel to myself and become its new control mechanism. I didn’t have the centuries of spells bound up in me that Fari did though. As I took in the Jewel’s anima, my sense of self shrank. “Mel” became a single drop of water in the ocean of power that I contained.
“Having problems controlling the Jewel’s power?” the Khan cooed in my mind. “Of course you are. Because you are weak. I was waiting for this. I wanted you to see it. See the sort of power I will wield. All thanks to you.”
I couldn’t contain the power of the Jewel. It was the energy of a slain star. The original creators had bound the power of a sun into the heart of the Jewel. No matter how much I tried to hold of it there would always be more. I didn’t have to hold it though. If I let it build up and then released it all at once I would detonate like a bomb.
“I can destroy us both.” I said and began calling the power of the Jewel.
“You will disappear before you can!” the Khan laughed. “Your will is held together by your desire to live. Once you understand that your death is inevitable you will fall apart and I will claim what remains.
“Who is to say that her death is inevitable.” Opal asked, appearing in my mind as I felt her place her hand on my shoulder.
My mind had been drowning in the Jewel’s vastness. When Opal added her power to my own though I felt my mind expand and become bouyant. I was myself, and something much more as well. I looked at the heart of the star that I had taken from the Jewel. It was a world larger than me, but I could see its horizons thanks to Opal’s gift.
“No tricks of yours will sustain her.” the Khan said. “She is only one girl. She is too weak to wield the power she holds.”
“You’re wrong.” Yael said, laying her hand on my other shoulder. “She’s not alone, and she’s never been weak.”
Despite her wounds, Yael added her physical anima to mine and I felt solid and grounded in a way I never had. Though the our ship hung suspended in space, I was connected to something a lot greater the its decks. Around me, the whole world could turn and I would be the fulcrum.
“You play games, desperately trying to buy time for your hopeless plans to save you.” the Khan said. “You do not have the resolve, the clarity of vision, the will to go beyond your human limitations, and so you shall fall before me.”
“I have always hated you. Did you see that?” Akell asked as he placed his hand over Opal’s.
Fire swept through me. It was unforgiving and remorseless. For as terrible as it was though, there was also a brutal honesty to it and an unrelenting force. With Akell’s power added to ours, I felt the energy of Jewel begin to move.
“My foolish child. The Guardian stitched your mind back together I see. Such a waste. Your time is passed. I have no more need for treacherous, imperfect underlings. Look to the future. There is nothing that awaits you.” the Khan said.
“The future shows only darkness.” Zyla said, as she placed her hand on Yael’s. “For all of us.”
I felt Zyla add her strength to ours and with it, the vision she saw of the future. It was so near, just a moment away and it was black.
“You are wrong, and I was wrong to follow you father. Even if it is too late, I will stand against you now though. I see at last that I am not like you, no matter how much of your blood may run in my veins.” Zyla said.
I only barely heard her words. I was too caught up looking at the darkness that was our future. The ocean of the Jewel’s power stretched out before me and when I looked out beyond it all I saw was the unknown.
I looked down at my hands and found they were shaking. I looked at the people around me. Opal and Yael, Akell and Zyla. Friends, enemies, rivals, monsters and heroes. They were all behind me.
So what lay ahead of me?
I felt Fari take my hands.
“I didn’t see you dying.” she said.
It wasn’t death that was ahead of us.
It was tomorrow.
There were so many possibilities in this moment, and so many more to come that there was no way to see them.
I reached out with my Void anima. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. Not anymore.
“I get it now.” I said and wrap us all in my darkness.
Opal, Yael, Akell, Zyla, Fari and the Khan. All of the Khan.
The Seed of Darkness within me was a piece of him, connected to all the others. All the thousands of spare bodies that he had hollowed out. Each contained a piece of him, but all were still part of the greater whole.
“How do you think this is going to go? There are five of you standing against the thousands of me.” the Khan said.
“Count again.” I said.
The five of us were able to pull unbelieveable power from the ocean that was the Jewel, but the Khan was right, even with that we couldn’t have stood against him. We weren’t alone though.
Through our circle of five, the ghosts that I still carried roared forth.
Then the ghosts that Akell had absorbed followed them.
Then came the other ghosts whose blood was on the Khan’s hands. The dead of my city. The dead of those his multitude of hosts had slain. Against the Khan’s ten thousand strong army of alternate selves, we sent ten million angry souls wielding the raw power of the cosmos.
The power of the Jewel was vaster than any one person, but together we harnessed it and, carried on the voices of dead, it found the Khan.
Across the stars, he burned. All of him. No spec, no mote, no tiny shard was spared. Everything was reduced to ash. Ten thousand times, Death opened its doors and drew him in, not pausing until the entirety of the ‘Eternal’ Khan was accounted for.