Sailing into the dark and welcoming sky, I knew we were safe from capture. Between Darius disabling the only two agents who could reasonably pursue us, and the cloak I cast to cover our retreat, there weren’t many options for Queen Metai’s forces prevent our escape. Despite that, I had to count the night as a total disaster.
“They’ve apprehended Illya already, haven’t they?” I asked, casting a glance back at the Grand Hall which was surrounded by a crowd of slack jawed but happy looking spectators.
“Yep, the whole carriage pool was locked down as soon as the first explosions went off,” Fari said.
“Do you still have a fix on her location?” I asked.
“For now,” she said. “If Agent Riverstone or any of the other Void casters they have on the Queen’s staff cloaks her though, the link will break.”
“Can they track the link back to us?” I asked.
“I have the link reporting to a secure node on the city’s spell web. They won’t be able to track it back any farther than that,” Fari said.
“That gives us another lead then,” I said. Specifically a lead that was incredibly unlikely to lead us to where Yael and Zyla were being held, and one that put one of my teammates in far more danger than they should be exposed too.
We discussed a number of scenarios before heading to the gala and “one of us gets captured by the local authorities” was one of them. We agreed on the strategy of allowing that to play out rather than enacting an immediate rescue, but I still found it hard to stomach. Illya was my responsibility. And my friend. If I couldn’t find a better plan than one that required sacrificing my friends then I needed to look for another line of work.
“We have a much bigger problem,” Fari said. “One of my ‘siblings’ is here. The Dominator.”
For as much as I thought of Fari as a regular girl, she had a few unique qualities, one of which being that where my psyche was housed in a body of flesh and blood, hers was housed in an ancient artifact. It was a unique ancient artifact but others of the same class had been forged over the vast millennia that people had sailed the stars. Together they were referred to as ‘The Jewels of Endless Night’.
When Fari’s jewel had been fully powered, it was capable of unleashing attacks that could scour an entire planet clean of life. The other Jewels of Endless Night had different functions but all of them were potent on the same scale.
Galactic society was largely spared from the ravages of their power because the Jewels bore several additional enchantments (layered on them over the years) which scattered them, hid them and defended them from would-be relic hunters. Despite that, they still turned up from time to time for one simple reason; the Jewels didn’t like to sit idle. The enchantments might bury them for centuries but the whole time the Jewels were working to return to hand of someone who would use them.
“The Dominator was the source of that psychic pressure we felt?” Darius asked.
“Yeah, I recognize her touch,” Fari said. “We worked together more than a few times.”
I tried to picture someone wielding the planet-killing Ravager that Fari had once been and the Dominator at the same time. With those alone, you could forge an empire that would span as many star systems as you cared to conquer.
“It gets worse then,” Darius said. “I saw Captain Okoro among the crowd. I don’t know what angle he was working there, but he was definitely hit by the Dominator’s memory erasure wave.”
I held a scream in. Hanq Okoro was more than my captain. He was mentor, and the closest thing I had to a father. Only long experience with how skillful he was kept me from asking Darius to turn around so that I could take the Queen apart with my bare hands. He would be ok. For the Queen’s sake, the fate weave had better guarantee that he would be ok.
“How did you two withstand it?” I asked, trying to take my mind off what was happening to Captain Hanq.
“I’d like to say it’s because I’m an awesome caster but the truth is I have built-in mental wards that exceed the design specs for any artifact ever created.” Fari said. “The people who originally created the Ravager were pretty keen that no one else ever be able to turn it against them.”
“Three cheers for keeping safety engineering in mind when designing a planet killing super weapon,” I said. “It’s nice to see that people have pretty much always been crazy like that.”
“It’s nice but I’d kind of like to go toe-to-toe with her too,” Fari said. “I mean she’s got millennia old hyper-sorcery backing her up, when else I am going to get a chance to flex my muscles against something like that?”
“I’m ok with ‘never’,” I said. “Never works just fine for me. How about you though?” I looked up at Darius who was still carrying us both as we quietly sped through the sky.
“Fari shielded me,” he said. “I mean, I’m good with mind magics but no way in hell am I going up against something that powerful if I don’t have to.”
“I already had a psychic link setup with him,” Fari said. “I just had to be in touch range to extend my wards to cover him.”
“Thank you both,” I said. “Without you, I’d be getting my teeth kicked in at this point.”
“How much do you think is compromised?” Darius asked.
“Depends on what the Dominator is capable of,” I said. “Can it do a deep read of Illya’s mind?”
“Easily,” Fari said. “But it may take them a little while to determine that she’s the one they need to target with it.”
“If it’s the Queen’s personal artifact, they may not use it for general police work like this either,” Darius said.
“Possibly. They seem to have a homegrown threat that’s focusing their attention away from us, maybe,” I said.
“What happened inside the Void bubble?” Fari asked.
“There were multiple combatants. Bo saved me from two of them, but the ring leader escaped, by teleportation I think,” I said.
“The scary agent saved you?” Darius asked.
“Broadly speaking,” I said. “You could say I charged in and created opportunities which she then exploited.”
“And then she tried to stab you?” Darius asked.
“Yeah, not fatally though,” I said. “She was trying to capture me, just like she was at that office building.”
“You could tell it was the same woman by fighting her?” Darius asked.
“That was part of it, but how she interacted with me spoke volumes too,” I said. “She knew what I was capable of and how capable I was. Otherwise she wouldn’t have let me charge head first into a Void anima field filled with enemies. Plus there’s the process of elimination. I mean how many combat trained, tourist, Void anima users was she likely to run across this week?”
“You are unique and wonderful,” Darius said and hugged me closer.
“Not unique enough,” I said. “This planet seems to have a surplus of Void casters on it.”
“It might be a natural reaction to the Dominator’s presence. If the fate weave isn’t a fan of the Jewel then it would reach out for the type of people who could stand against extreme mental magics,” Fari said.
“Given how powerful the Dominator is, I’m surprised the Queen used it in a situation like that,” I said.
“She had to know there was a chance you would escape,” Fari said.
“And since they caught you following Yael’s trail, they’d know you have an Imperial connection,” Darius said. “In fact if they’ve got Yael, they’ve got to assume that another Guardian will be coming after her and you fit that bill perfectly.”
“So the Queen wasn’t concerned about a Crystal Guardian discovering that she has a horrifically illegal artifact in her possession?” I said. “Anyone else thinking we should call in a Crystal Star now to flash burn the planet’s surface and save everyone a lot of trouble?”
“Is it going to surprise you that communications with the Horizon Breaker are down?” Fari asked.
“No,” I said, deflating at the news.
We’d made good our escape from the Gala, but we’d lost our crew and our passage off planet in the process. Despite the breathtaking altitude we were flying at, things were not looking up for my little team.
“Hmm, that’s interesting,” Fari said. “Someone just broke into our hotel room.”
“The police backtracked us that quickly?” I asked, wondering how they managed it and whether day could get any better.
“I don’t think so,” Fari said. “Our burglars teleported into the room. The police wouldn’t need to do that.”
I felt Darius shift course and send us streaking downwards towards the hotel.
“Burglars sound like our kind of people at the moment,” he said. “What do you say we have a chat with them?”
“It’s like you read my mind!” I said. “We’re not going to have a lot of time though, the Queen’s agents will figure out where we were staying and I’m not too keen to tussle with Bo again tonight.”
“That’s a little worrisome,” Darius said.
“Yeah, you don’t usually run from fights. How good is she?” Fari asked.
“Good enough that I’d be worried for my job if she applied to the Guardians,” I said. “That’s not why I don’t want to fight her again though.”
“You’re concerned she’ll slow us down long enough for the Queen to get serious with the Dominator?” Fari asked.
“Yeah. Or call in reinforcements,” I said. “I can handle fighting another Void caster, but a whole squad of them backed up by a cosmic super weapon is not my idea of a fun evening. Not when we’re looking for missing friends anyways.”
“So how do you want to handle our burglars then?” Darius asked.
I thought about that. If they were friendly then going in with a surprise attack would start our relationship off on the wrong footing. If they were hostile though doing anything but launching a surprise attack would give them time to teleport out and harass us at a later date when we didn’t have a specially warded room setup to fight them in.
“Non-lethal takedowns,” I said. “We can apologize later if we need to.”
“That’s three of us on how many of them?” Darius asked Fari.
“Two of you actually. This body I’m in went inert when Illya cut her link to it. I’m only detecting three of them in our suite though so you two shouldn’t have much trouble.”
“Dibs on any Void casters!” I said.
“Can you get us all in through the wall with a Shadow Step?” Darius asked.
“We’ll need to land on the balcony, but yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem,” I said.
“You can leave me behind for the fight,” Fari said. “I can manage the wards from outside.”
“I’m guessing you don’t have active defenses set in there right?”
“I was afraid they would arouse suspicion.” she said.
“They probably would have,” I said. “Can you give us an overlay of where our three targets are at though?”
“Yep, with structural highlights for the building too in case they run,” Fari said.
“Are any of them cloaked?” I asked.
“All three are visible currently. They’re searching our stuff too, not laying in ambush,” she said.
“That’s promising, but I still don’t think we can risk trusting them out of the gate,” I said.
“Agreed,” Darius said. “Let’s make this quick.”
And so we did.
With our approach shrouded by a veil of invisibility and our attack originating from outside the building, the three burglars didn’t have much warning before we struck. Darius managed to take down two of the three by means of a low grade shock spell that zapped them into unconsciousness. My target took a little longer to knock down and was going to wake up with a less-than-pleasant headache but like the other two was more or less undamaged.
That’s when we learned that there weren’t three targets in our apartment.
There were five.
As I gently laid my target, a tall, light-skinned man, onto one of our puffy reclining chairs I saw two women emerge from beneath the cloak of invisibility they’d worn the whole time they were in the room. I charged up my reflexes but pulled myself up short before I could launch an attack.
“Zyla?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”