Monthly Archives: March 2015

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.


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 23

There’s a moment right before you step into a fight where you have a choice. Do I give in to the torrent of violence that’s pulling me forward? Do I hold back? Fight defensively? Try to escape? So many bad choices can be made in moments like that. Watching Bo move confidently through the melee towards me, I discovered something though. The moment of decision that I was expecting? It was long past.

I still had choices to make, but the range of my options was limited by one central fact; I wasn’t going to flee. Whatever happened, whatever the cost was, I’d already gone all-in on fixing things on Abyz. Rescuing Yael and Zyla was still a priority, as was rescuing Illya, Hanq and the rest of the Horizon Breaker’s crew but even if I could manage all that, I couldn’t just sail away into space and leave things unfinished here.

I couldn’t leave Ebele to fight on alone. I couldn’t leave Queen Metai to grow further in power to where she could destabilize her whole sector of space. I couldn’t leave the Unseen to be crushed in the metaphysical talons of the fate weave. Most of all though? My mother had been here. That was why I couldn’t leave.

For as important as she was to me, for as much as I would have been willing to hang in the deeps of the Void forever to be with her, I couldn’t remember that much about her. The feel of her arms lifting me up. The sound of her voice comforting me to sleep at night with story after story. A few half glimpsed memories of her smile.

I knew who my mother was in the emotions that lived on in me, but I had no idea who she’d been as a woman beyond some simple facts. She was a Void anima caster. She died protecting me from an attack somewhere near Belstarius. She split with my father before I was born. She was beautiful in the way that only a loving mother can look to her child.

There was so much about her that I didn’t know though.

Including, apparently, that I wasn’t her only daughter.

If something on Abyz could help me find a clue to who my mother had been and who my sister was, then Queen Metai had a problem, because I was going to take the planet apart until I found what I was looking for.

From the look in Bo’s eyes as she shoved a pair of Unseen away to get to me, I had the feeling that the Queen’s champion was going to object to my plan to take her little paradise apart.

“You should have stayed underground Guardian,” Bo said. “This isn’t going to go well for you.”

She led with a hyper-speed jab that hurled her across two dozen feet of the cavern. At that distance, the blow was mostly just a feint, despite the fact that it would have turned me to pulp it if landed. Her follow up came in the form of a series of twisting strikes all focused on my midsection.

I countered the strikes and tried to bind her arms into a lock but had to settle for hitting her with a snap kick to the chest that knocked her back a handful of paces.

“You know that was never going to happen,” I said. “Just like you know this isn’t going to go well for either of us.”

It was my turn to attack, but I held back and instead began weaving threads of Void anima into one of the more hideously complicated spells that I, in theory, knew how to cast.

Casting high order spells is difficult under the best of circumstances and usually considered suicidal to attempt in combat. Part of the reason for that is that most high order spells require a lot of magical energy and can be easily disrupted. That turns them into bombs with a detonation point of “inside the caster”.

I had an advantage there, in that the spell I was casting was a pure Void anima spell, so only another Void caster could directly interfere with it. Also, it required only a tiny amount of energy, so even if it was disrupted it wouldn’t pose much danger to me. In fact I was going to be in enormously more danger if I successfully cast the spell than if I screwed it up.

Bo saw what I was doing and crooked her head to one side, trying to figure out what I was working on. Her confusion only lasted an instant though before she shrugged and threw herself back into the fight. Beating me into unconsciousness was a viable answer no matter what effect I was attempting to invoke.

I saw her spark another moment of hyper-speed and answered her in kind. Her punch caught me in the ribs and mine caught her right on the side of the head. There was a microsecond where an expression of utter surprise registered on her face before we finished knocking each other back with a thunderclap of force.

I smiled, despite the nauseating level of pain. As stupid gambits go, opting for offense when your opponent is convinced you have every reason to fight defensively wasn’t a brilliant one but it was effective at buying a few seconds of reprieve to complete the really difficult parts of a spell.

Bo picked herself up off the floor and I saw blood running from a split lip and what looked an awful lot like a broken nose. I looked prettier, but was hurt a lot worse. Another body blow like the one I’d taken would mean fun things like “collapsed lungs” and “perforated kidneys”.

“Do you need a hand?” Fari asked.

“Nope, this is all going according to plan,” I told her.

“Oh no,” she said. “Darius! Get over there! She’s working on one of her plans!”

A ten foot wide lightning bolt erupted through the crowd, turning a swath of both the Royal forces and the Unseen who were fighting into crackling statues.

“Hold on for ten seconds,” Darius said as the Royal forces threw off the damage and stun effect thanks to their armor and training.

“This isn’t that sort of plan,” I said. “This is a ‘start running now’ kind of plan.”

“Please tell me you’re kidding,” Darius said.

“What are you casting?” Fari asked.

“I’m inviting some friends to come play with us.” I said.

“What kind of friends?” Zyla asked. “We’re cut off from reinforcements.”

“Let’s just say they’re on the large side,” I said. “One might almost call them titanic.”

I knew no one could be listening in on one of Fari’s telepathic conference lines, but I didn’t want Zyla to say the name of them even by accident.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Darius said, straight, unalloyed fear in his voice.

“She’s not,” Fari said. She didn’t sound afraid. Just stunned and worried, the former of which being a rare state for her.

“Yeah, I’m not,” I said. “As soon as I finish casting, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have the Royal’s complete and undivided attention. That’ll be your cue. Get the Unseen out of here, and let them know that I can split them from the fate weave.”

“Why?” asked Zyla.

“So they’ll have a reason to help rescue me!” I said.

“I mean why will they believe that you can?” she said.

“I broke myself loose” I said. “I’ll make sure to prove that to them.”

“I hate this plan,” Darius said. “So you had better pull it off or I am going to be really unhappy.”

“Get moving,” I said. “I promise I’ll come back to you.”

“You better,” Fari said. “You don’t want to see what we’ll do if you don’t.”

I finished tying the worst of the knots in the weave of the Void spell and rammed a thread of it deep into the fabric of local spacetime. There was all sorts of math to described what I was doing, and hundreds of special equations to ensure that the spell was cast properly. A wise and careful caster worked all those out and rechecked the results several times in advance of picking up the first thread of anima.

Fools like me, relied on a good theoretical understanding of what we were doing, the natural feedback that occurred during spellcasting and gobs and gobs of luck. In theory technical skill, experience and artistry contributed to whether high order spells were effective, but in practice planning and luck seemed to be the two biggest factors that influenced the final results.

Bo wiped the blood off her mouth and adjusted her neck with a jerk that suggested she was resetting a few misaligned vertebrae.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Does the Empire have to corrupt everything it touches?”

“Wow, I don’t even know where to begin pointing out how wrong you are,” I said. “How about we start with the people here? How can you not see that what you’re doing to them is wrong?”

“You have no idea what these things are,” she said. “You don’t know the history of this world. These creatures deserve everything that’s been done to them.”

“Really?” I asked. “And you’re sure of that?”

“I’m sure that you don’t know what you’re doing,” she said.

“And I’m sure that if their crimes were as monstrous as you think, the Queen wouldn’t need to go to the lengths she has to keep them hidden,” I said.

“The state of the creatures here is necessary and allowing the ignorant and self-righteous to disrupt that endangers the lives the Queen is sworn to cherish and protect,” Bo said.

“Necessary? For who? For the Queen?” I said. “I know you’re feeding the fate weave off these people and others like them around the world.”

“Then you know what the cost of disrupting this site could be,” she said. “Each of the creatures that you destroy is another citizen’s life that is endangered.”

“What makes the life of a citizen more valuable than the life of one of these people?” I asked, my fists clenching hard enough that the Void spell wobbled.

Bo started to answer that but I interrupted her.

“No, you know what, forget it!” I said. “I’m sure that you’ve got some story that portrays them as the worst plague to ever hit the galaxy and I’m sure that, like every other time I’ve found a group of people with power oppressing a portion of their population, the stories you cling to for why it’s ok to treat them like animals aren’t worth the breath you waste spouting those lies.”

“These aren’t people,” Bo said. “They’re monsters.”

“No! They’re not!” I shouted. “I’ve spent ten minutes with them, and I can see that.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Bo said. “All you’re seeing are your pre-conceptions! We have lived with these beasts for centuries! We know what they are!”

“Centuries?” I asked. “When was the last time you talked to one of them?”

“I don’t need to talk to filth like that,” Bo said. “Not with the blood they owe me!”

“What could they possibly owe you when you take their lives every minute of the day?” I asked.

“I had a family once,” Bo said.

“And they fate weave didn’t save them?” I asked. I saw where she was leading me, but I couldn’t understand how anyone would get there on Abyz.

“They left it’s protection,” she said. “They were idiots like you.”

I was silent for a moment, letting the pieces fall into place.

“They came down here,” I said. “Outside the protection of the fate weave. They were trying to re-establish contact with the Unseen.”

Bo nodded without saying a word.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because they felt sympathy for the beasts, because they let an offworlder convince them that our world needed to change and that an apocalypse was worth risking,” she said.

“Were you with them? Did you see what happened?” I asked. It was a ghoulish and horrible question, but given that the Queen controlled the Dominator, potentially a critical one.

“I saw what was left,” she said. “Afterwards. The pieces that remained. Things an eight year old should never have to see.”

I was willing to bet her memory was a true one, at least as far as she’d experienced it. For someone as powerful as the Queen though reframing the narrative of what a horrific scene means is trivial. Bo was smart enough to know that too, but it’s difficult to see clearly when everyone around you is only interested in seeing history through the same lens.

I breathed out and took in Bo’s posture and expression. I wasn’t going to talk her out of her beliefs. They were too deeply rooted. They might even be true, but part of me rebelled at the notion. I didn’t have a lot of reason to trust the Unseen, but Bo was powerful and it was awfully convenient that the Queen had such a potent motivating force to use to hold her loyalty.

“There are lots of things eight year olds shouldn’t see,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean your family was wrong.”

“And you think you know what’s right?” she said.

“I think I know what I have to do,” I said.

“As do I,” she said.

I saw regret in her eyes, and the hard edged cold that said she’d chosen to finish this fight permanently. This time when she attacked at hyper-speed, I did defend myself.

Anima boosted attacks hit wizard class shields that exploded outward. The shields gave her power but bought me time to unleash the spell I’d been holding.

A hush fell over the melee as the sound of the spacetime tearing open drowned out everything else and then vanished. After a second, the unnatural quiet was broken by the thudding of something impossibly heavy on the surface far above us.

“What have you done?” Bo asked.

“Called for the end of this world,” I said.

“No!” she said. “Not while I still stand.”

I didn’t even see the blow she hit me with.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 22

Meeting my mother at the bottom of a transformation pit on Abyz wasn’t quite how I’d guessed I’d be reunited with her, but then I suppose that there’s some debate about whether Echo really was “my mother” or not.

She’d described herself as a piece of my mother, which made me think of her as a ghost at first. Except she wasn’t like any other ghost I’d ever encountered, and I have a knack for running into them even when I’m not searching for spirits.

Also, if she’d been a ghost, the Void storms that I met her in would have torn her apart.

So she was something else, and to whatever extent I could trust a spirit of the void, I believed her when she said she was my Mom.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, astounded to run into her.

“That should be the question I ask you,” she said. “The deeps of the void are not meant for the living, and you’re still too young and untrained to poke around here with any amount of safety.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m kind of dying right now in fact.”

“You don’t want to do that,” she said. “Not like this.”

“Believe me, I agree with you,” I said. “This isn’t me committing suicide, or meddling with powers beyond my control.”

“How did you wind up here then?” she asked.

“I’m kind of fighting a planet,” I said.

“Again?” she asked.

“It’s not a trend that I want to continue,” I said. “But, yes, again. There’s a planet-wide Aetherial field that’s sunk its hooks into me and this seemed like the only option I had for getting them out in time.”

“Planet-wide aetherial field?” Echo asked. “Are you on Abyz?”

“How did you guess?” I asked. “Have you been there?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice holding an odd tone in it that I couldn’t quite place. Wistful? Melancholic? She didn’t offer anything else to help me determine what she was feeling.

“I’m kind of trying to overthrow the Queen there and liberate a billion or so people who are living under her tyranny.” I said. “This whole dying this is holding that up though.”

“As the voice of experience here, I have to say that I don’t recommend dying,” Echo said.

“Any thoughts on how I can avoid it?” I asked.

“You’re trying to use you Void anima to purge away the effects of the fate weave or some other spell on Abyz?” she asked.

“Another spell, but it’s connected to the fate weave,” I said. “In fact it’s the spell that feeds the fate weave.”

“Feeds the fate weave?” Echo asked. “I thought Abyz was naturally overflowing with Aetherial anima? It has a long history of being a powerful source of Aetherial magic even before the fate weave was first cast there.”

“Apparently however much Aetherial anima Abyz naturally had wasn’t enough, because there’s another spell that’s setup to drain the life out of a group of people called “the Unseen”.

“How does all the magic get stored?” Echo asked. “It’s not usually practical to extract magic like that since it evaporates so quickly.”

“The spell stores it in bound ghosts,” I said. “Almost certainly the ghosts of the dead Unseen.”

“Mel, my beloved, how did you get yourself tangled up in this?” she asked.

“We came here to rescue another Crystal Guardian and her partner,” I said. “That didn’t go super well though.”

“I’m not surprised,” she said. “If you were working against the Queen, you would have had pools of Aetherial magic working against you every step you took.”

“It’s more like ocean’s than pools now,” I said. “But yeah, we ran into a few bad coincidences already. One of them cost us our team’s medic and another cost us the rest of the crew of our ship.”

“I see, so that’s why bailing out isn’t an option,” she said.

“Not even if I wanted it to be,” I said. “I spoke with some people here who tried it. The woman I spoke with lost her mother and baby sister to the Queen’s forces when they tried to escape. For us, escaping would be an almost instant win, so I figured that the Queen would have all of her magical forces arrayed to prevent that.”

“So rather than run away, you ran towards her?” my Mom asked.

“Not a great idea right?” I said.

“Actually it seems like a brilliant one to me. The Queen’s not expecting you to be gathering information like that I take it?” she asked.

“She wasn’t expecting it, but she had contingency plans in place for when it happened.” I said.

“Those ‘contingency plans’ are bearing down on you right this moment, aren’t they?” she asked.

“Yep,” I said. “Cause trying this to figure out how to deal with the Queen’s power is exactly the time when I want to deal with her minions too.”

“But you have a plan for how to do that,” she said. “You’ve already thought of a tactic to turn that strength into a liability.”

“How do you know that?” I asked. It was true, but I hadn’t shared my thought with even Darius or Fari since they would absolutely try to talk me out of what i had in mind.

“Because you’re my very smart daughter,” she said. “You’ve always had clever plans in place.”

“That’s not true,” I said. “I wind up winging it nine out of ten times and the tenth time I’m working from a plan so bad that that it takes Fari and Darius both to pull me out of it alive.”

“You’re selling yourself short,” Echo said. “And not letting me cheer you on like a mother is supposed to be able too.”

“I have to confess, I’m still not clear on how you’re able to cheer me on at all here,” I said. “What are you doing on Abyz?”

“I’m not on Abyz,” Echo said. “I’m in the Void, or a part of it, or…it’s complicated to explain. The important part though is that the distances that you think of as separating places and times are, in some senses, empty illusions.”

“So there’s no distance between the places that we’ve met?” I asked.

“Like I said, it’s complicated.” she said. “I would offer to teach you more about it but that would take weeks or months and we don’t have that much time left. The important thing is, I’m never far away from you, but when you go this deep into the Void you risk losing yourself entirely.”

“Better to lose myself than to let Abyz turn me into one of the Queen’s mindless minions,” I said.

“No,” Mom said. “Not it’s not. You can always break the Aetherial chains of the fate weave later, but you can’t recover from making a mistake with this.”

“It’s not just Aetherial chains,” I said. “The Queen has one of the Jewel’s of Endless Night. The Dominator. So when I said ‘mindless’, I meant that literally.”

Echo laughed.

“A Jewel of Endless Night and Abyz’s fate weave?” she said. “You really don’t fool around when you stir up trouble do you?”

“I didn’t stir it up this time,” I said. “That was Yael and Zyla. I just came here to clean up their mess and haul them out of danger.”

“You might want to consider how fate works,” Echo said.

“I’m not subjugated by fate spells though,” I said.

“Maybe not external ones,” she said. “But there’s always some Aetherial anima in each of us, which means we have some ability to shape our own fates. At least within certain limitations.”

“It sounds like you think I was fate weaving myself into this mess,” I said.

“I’m saying to look at yourself and decide if that’s possible,” she said.

“But I hate fate weavings,” I said.

“Maybe, but how would feel if your Guardian friend or her partner ran into trouble and died before you could help them? Wouldn’t you want to have been called in while you could still make a difference? That’s exactly what fate weavings are designed to accomplish.”

“But I don’t have much Aetherial anima,” I said.

“How much do you think it would take to make sure a message arrives on time, or to get potential allies to notice you. Those things can happen without magic, but with Aetherial anima they happen faster and more reliably.

“Hmm, you might have a point,” I said. “I wonder if the whole crew of the Horizon Breaker isn’t the same though? That might explain how we wind up with so many assignments all the time.

“That’s possible,” she said. “We can learn to do weave our fates unconsciously from watching people around us, so if one of you does it, others are likely to join in.”

“Even assuming I am getting myself into this kind of trouble though,” I said. “I think the important question at the moment is how do I get myself out of the mess I’m in. I can’t leave the bits of the fate weave’s heart spell inside me but I don’t have enough time to pull them all out.”

“What if you didn’t need to pull them out, what if you could simply erase them all?” she asked.

“To do that I’d have to sweep Void anima completely through me, which would be a much bigger hit to my energies than even my current burn rate.” I said.

“Do you know the pattern of the spell that you’re trying to extract?” she asked.

“Yeah, I let this connection to the fate weave form because I needed to study the nature of that spell.”

“Then it should be a simple matter to purge your entire system at once,” she said.

“That sounds simple in the sense that I’d simply be dead,” I said.

“Not if you focus you Void anima on absorbing the spell that you want to remove,” she said. “The trick is that you need to do it all once and very quickly. With your Void anima focused it will tear into the spell that you’re trying to purge quickly. It was also tear into your other energies but the drain rate should be slow enough that you can withstand it until the foreign spells are purged.

“And if I can’t withstand the drain rate?” I asked.

“Then you’ll probably pass out and wake up back at square one,” she said. “It’s hard for a Void caster to kill themselves with Void anima, not impossible, just difficult.”

“I get the sense that I should try this sooner rather than later,” I said.

“As soon as possible,” she said.

“I’ll be able to leave here then,” I said.

“Which is fairly vital to your long term health,” she said.

“But it means I won’t see you anymore,” I said.

“Remember the part where I’m always near you?” she said. “It’ll be ok.”

“I know that, but I don’t really know it,” I said. “I don’t think I ever really will.”

I felt warm arms wrap around me.

“Just think of me if you need too,” she said. “Remember me like this, and it should be easier for you to feel how close I am without putting yourself in this much danger.”

“Ok,” I said. “Can you stay with me while I try the Full Purge spell though? If I mess it up, I’d at least like some company in the afterlife.”

“You’re not going to mess it up, but I will stay with you while you try it,” she said.

Taking a deep mental breath, I conjured the image of the multi-layered tendrils of the heart of the fate weave spell. Once I had as solid a mental image as I could get of it, I gathered up my Void magics, focused them and, without giving myself time to hesitate, poured them quickly over every part of myself. All the little nooks and crannies.

My Mom had been right about that being the best method to remove unwanted spells that were dug in deep. She hadn’t warned me though just how unpleasant a cure it would be. It felt like many large people with clubs beat every square inch of my body simultaneously.

As the last of the foreign spell was burned from my system, I started to release the Void cocoon and rise back to the regular world.

“Oh Mel!”, my Mom said as she faded away with the Void, “Say hi to your sister when you see her! And tell her that I love you both!”

My senses returned to the world with it’s cacophony of light and sound but my mind was reeling from what my mother had said.

That left me particularly unable to process what I was seeing for a second or two. The Unseen had lifted me back up to the surface. The webbing that bound me was gone and all around the chamber there was fighting going in.

I first looked for Darius and Zyla to see if they’d decided to take on the Unseen while I was lost to the Void. I didn’t see them at first, but I did noticed the the people the Unseen were fighting were wearing the Royal Insignia of Abyz. They were the Queen’s special forces.

I turned my head at just the right time to see Bo enter the room.

Just like I expected, she had caught up to us and as a result things were going to get very interesting.


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 21

Taking on a planetary scale magical effect was, unfortunately, something I’d already had cause to try. It hadn’t turned out well then, apart from the fact that I’d managed to survive. My survival had been a near thing though. The struggle to overcome being hit by a super weapon, left me in a state that required months of rest and careful tending by skilled medics to recover from.

I can learn from my mistakes, but I had to wonder as the Unseen lowered me into a chamber of pulsing crystal whether I was also capable of deluding myself that this time would be different because I really needed it to be.

The chamber they brought us to was deep underneath the empty city of Demon’s Isolation. The walls were covered entirely in enchanted crystals and even without my Void sight, I could see the anima that was concentrated by the millions of tiny lens the crystals were formed into.

We were at one of the hearts of the fate weave. From this spot, anima was dispersed across the planet to bend events and turn Abyz into the paradise that billions of people mistook it for.

Darius and Zyla were as bound up in webbing as I was but because I volunteered, I was the first to be deposited into the transformation pit.

I tried not to squirm as I felt the first tendrils of alien Void anima reaching out to merge with me. Brushing up against active Void anima should have been deadly. The very nature of the Void is to absorb the things it encounters, including magic and life essence. The tendrils of magic that wormed a path around my fingers and arms and torso should have reduced me to a shriveled husk almost instantly.

As a Void caster, that wasn’t likely to happen because we instinctively shape any Void anima we come in contact with and hold it away from the core energies that sustain our lives. Every Void caster I’ve ever met is a master of that particular feat. The one who aren’t able to master that ability don’t tend to survive longer than a few minutes from when their Void anima first awakens.

The Void anima in the transformation pit wasn’t acting like in a normal fashion though. I could still shape it and hold it away from myself (which helped suppress the panic reaction I was experiencing) but I didn’t need too in order to survive.

Just the opposite in fact. With Bo and the Queen’s other agents closing in on us, I needed to understand what the real story of what the fate weave was and the only option I had for working that out was to experience it from the inside.

Or perhaps the underside.

Paradise is a lovely concept, but a paradise built on the suffering of others is just another name for “Hell” in my view. The people who lived in the catacombs under Demon’s Isolation called themselves the “Unseen”. In part that was due to the Queen’s spell, but that spell held its force largely because no one wanted to see them.

The regular denizens of Abyz and the tourist had little to no reason to acknowledge the presence of the Unseen. Even without the Queen’s spell, I knew there would be millions of people who would come up with rationalizations for why the Unseen should continue to be withered and killed to provide the “regular people” with their unnaturally comfortable and safe lives.

The privileged would cling to their power and position, the sheltered would refuse to face the reality of the world they lived in and the apathetic would be all too happy to forget about the distant suffering of others even with a magical compulsion to do so.

Or at least, that was how it would be at first. The great mistake tyrants make is to presume that people will always live down to the lowest expectations that can be set for them. That may happen a lot more than anyone would really want, but the one dependable aspect of sapient beings is that they’re capable of change. It wouldn’t be a quick or easy battle for a citizen of Abyz to convince the populace that the Unseen deserved to be treated like people, but that wouldn’t stop people from trying and eventually succeeding.

I didn’t have “eventually” to wait for though. I needed to change things on Abyz as fast as I could, ideally before any more of the Unseen perished. That was a daunting challenge but where a citizen of Abyz would have had to gather social and economic power to change the rules that governed the world, I had a slightly more direct option open to me.

Bottom up change, where people grow and chose a better course offers the strongest roots and the most meaningful level of change. In the short term though, top down change can reshape the world a lot faster. Queen Metai was the top of the local power pyramid but unfortunately for her I had access to a much higher power in the form of the Crystal Empress.  With the Crystal Empress’ authority, I could change the course of Abyz with only a few words. Using that authority required that I understand the foundation of the Queen’s power though. Alone and disconnected from my support network, the authority that I carried from the Crystal Empress would only matter retroactively. If Queen Metai managed to disappear me like she did Yael, the things I said and the changes I tried to make would disappear too.

In short, to have the authority to beat her, I needed to have the power to beat her too. To be fair though, ‘beating’ her in this context simply meant overcoming her ability to silence me. Taking her on in a fair fight wasn’t even vaguely something I was interested in trying. She was too powerful, had too many deadly servants and had the (magically influenced) support of too much of Abyz’s population.

I reached the bottom of the pit after what felt like an hour of being lowered into position. I braced myself and shook off the speed with which I’d been ensorcelling my mind. Being fast was usually a winning game plan in any crisis situation but on this occasion all it did was make the process take (subjectively) longer.

Taking into account the effect of the speed spell, I reasoned that the descent could only have taken a minute or two. Despite the twisting tunnels we were taken down, I knew Bo was going to find us, and I was quite sure it wasn’t going to take her an hour to do it.

The tendrils of anima felt like they were in as much of a hurry as I was. Their attempts to insinuate themselves into the fibers of my being intensified tenfold at the bottom of the pit and with the connection they were forming my awareness expanded.

The magics that I’d parsed as Void magic were actually composed of a layered series of effects. The Void anima was the most potent, but it was also the most constrained. Woven into the tendrils were each of the common forms of anima; Physical, Mental, Energetic and Aetherial.

With the tendrils dug into me, I felt the my magics link to the magics of Abyz. It was far too much anima for me to manipulate but the reverse wasn’t true. From my mind and body, the spell of forgetfulness radiated outwards. My magics began draining away and I felt the Void anima of the tendrils pulling more in from the environment around me.

The spell that gripped me was using my being as a conversion matrix. The Void anima that was rammed into me didn’t drain me dry, instead it turned me into a suction device for the natural and magical energies of the world around me. The energy got pulled in, my body, mind and so on converted it to anima and then the spell drained that away too.

Thanks to the suction effect,I was regaining anima far faster than I usually generated it on my own, but I was losing it far more quickly too. Worse, not only was the absorbed anima being leeched away, but my core life energies were trickling away with it. It wasn’t a fast enough bleed that I was in immediate danger, but losing two minutes of life for every minute that I lived did not seem like a trade I wanted to make over the long term.

With my magical senses sharpened as clearly as I could make them, I watched the anima that had been stolen from me funnel out through the web of fate that bound everything on the planet. Just like I’d predicted the excess power went right into one of the ghosts far away in the world.

There were deeper effects occurring as well though. The other major component of the spell that was assaulting me was it’s Aetherial magic component. While the Void aspect of the spell was turning me into a walking, talking power station, the Aetherial aspect was reaching in and rewriting my future wholesale.

Or at least it was trying to.

That was were I drew the line. My brief experience with the spell that powered the fate weave had confirmed my suspicions about it resting on the lives of the Unseen. Every averted accident, every fantastic reprieve cost them a span of their living days.

Mindful of what Fari had asked, I looked to see if there was any safety cutoff in the spell and didn’t find anything to suggest that it would stop pulling life from someone before it killed them. If anything the opposite was true as the spell forced the people in its thrall to bear many young, who would inherit their parents connection to the fate weave’s heart spell.

That compulsion, plus all of the others the spell was trying to lay on me were too much. My future was my own and my choices were my own.

Void anima is tricky to deal with in general, but there’s one trick that’s especially dangerous, even for very experience Void casters. Naturally of course, this was the option I had to turn to.

With the tendrils of the fate weave’s heart piercing through me in a thousand places, I called up my own reserves of Void anima, the one thing the spell couldn’t drain from me.

I wrapped myself in a cocoon of my power and shut out the world.

All of the world.

If anyone could have seen me in the pit, they would have witnessed a sheen of pure darkness well outwards from my skin and wrap me in thick, form concealing shroud that eventually spread into a whirling dome of light devouring anima.

Inside the Void anima cocoon, I forced my magics deep within myself. The cocoon had shattered the link to the tendrils, but there were still pieces of them buried inside me. If I didn’t get them out, those pieces would reconnect to the world around me the moment I stepped out of the cocoon.

Rooting them out wasn’t particularly easy because they were sunk into all of the parts of my core that I didn’t want Void anima touching, so I had to be very careful. I also had to be very quick, since I couldn’t use the Void cocoon and protect myself from it at the same time.

My danger sense made the task more difficult too, since it was convinced that I was in extreme mortal peril. It wasn’t actually wrong of course. I was dying, just in a manner that I was hopeful I could recover from. If I was wrong, then on the plus side, I would leave an interesting and deadly corpse in the heart of the fate weave. In all likelihood the Void cocoon would expand slowly but surely until it eventually devoured the city of Demon’s Isolation. That wouldn’t help my loved ones, but it would mess up the Queen’s plans significantly at least.

I wasn’t terribly inclined to let that be my final mark on the galaxy, but the faster I raced to free myself from the spell, the more it looked like I wasn’t going to make it in time.

“I’m sure you have a good reason for being here,” my mother said, distracting me completely. “And while it is nice to see you again, I’m afraid you shouldn’t stay too long.”


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 20

I felt strangely comfortable leaping into a lightless pit that was sure to filled with people who wanted to kill me. Part of that was because I was reasonably sure I would survive (my danger sense put the leap as only a moderately dangerous choice), but I think the larger reason was that the I knew Bo and her forces weren’t any more eager to venture below Demon’s Isolation than my team was.

I was certain she would follow us, but the crates that were scattered about the lip of the hole suggested that dealing with whoever was down there was not something that the Queen’s forces found to be pleasant. Granted, airdrops were also an expedient method of delivering supplies but the kind of security the Queen had installed around the pit, and the extreme oddity of the fate weave in this region suggested that she had some serious concerns about the people who lived here.

“I’m going to uncloak us,” I said. “The Queen knows where we are, and I don’t want to set the locals off by barging into the stronghold invisibly.”

“I thought barging into strongholds invisibly was Black team’s only mode of operation?” Darius’ smile was a teasing one, but there was a measure of truth to what he said. With the missions that Captain Hanq assigned us, Black team’s speciality was more on the covert than the overt side of things. I wasn’t completely without the ability to be diplomatic though.

We landed at the bottom of the pit with the gentleness of a feather thanks to Darius’ levitation spell. Around us, I saw a twisting maze of crudely excavated tunnels lead away from the cavern area that we landed in.

The tunnels were shrouded in shadows that weren’t pushed back by the light that Darius provided for us. A quick glimpse with Void sight showed me why. The shadows weren’t the absence of light, they were the manifested presence of a multitude of ghosts who stood together in so thick a crowd that even my magical vision couldn’t see through them.

That was perfect for making the tunnels seem impossible to follow. If we had no way to see within them, we would wander around lost until Bo and the Queen’s forces found us.

That wasn’t a problem though, because we weren’t alone in the cavern.

They inhabitants of the cavern struck the instant it was clear that no one was immediately behind us.

I had expected a deadly response from them, but instead they launched all sorts of restraining devices at us. Zyla slashed the net they cast over us with her anima sword while Darius reduced wide sections of it ash with a wave of his hand.

I cast a physical (not Void anima, I still didn’t want to hurt anyone) shield around us to ward off attacks by bolas and enchanted ropes.

The nature of the attack puzzled me. Royal agents like Bo could deal with the non-lethal assaults as easily as we did. For the underground dwellers to have a chance, they would need to strike from multiple positions of ambush and utilize attacks that would take their foes out of the fight instantly.

Could they be that bad at self defense? I wondered. It was possible but it didn’t feel right. From their chatter, the people attacking us were acting as a coordinated whole. That requires a level of training and insight that should preclude employing blatantly useless tactics.

The other possibility was that there was some benefit they could gain from taking us alive that would offset the risk they were undertaking.

“Stop defending,” I said. “Let them capture us.”

“I can’t see what’s going to happen if we do that,” Zyla said.

“Perfect!” I said and allowed a weighted grappling net to wrap around me like a full body bandage.

Darius, as delightfully brilliant as the day I met him, followed suit and I could see in his expression that he’d figured out the game I was playing.

Zyla had less instinctive faith in me, and had lost a lot of faith in herself, but once Darius and I were down, she decided to follow our lead rather than carve a bloody swath through the under-dwellers’ ranks.

“The Queen’s forces are behind us,” I said as a burly woman with long, dark, braided hair and eyes that resembled solid chunks of sapphire picked me up like a bag of feathers.

She didn’t speak but there was a pause in her step that told me she’d heard and understood me.

“Fari, can you connect us with their leader?” I asked.

“Yep, just found him,” she said.

I felt the mental link spell extended outwards and heard the added weight of silence as the under-dwellers’ leader joined the conversation.

“We’re here as friends,” I said on the link.

Silence greeted me for several seconds but just before I could speak again I heard the leader spoke back telepathically.

“The Unseen have no friends,” Jukan, the leader of the cavern people said.

“We’re here to understand what has happened to you and to set things right from here out,” I said.

Jukan laughed in my mind.

“There is no right on Abyz,” Jukan said. “You will understand this once you are one of us.”

The Unseen who held us moved with a clear purpose as they carried us through the winding tunnels.

“How will you make us one of you?” I asked, and wondered if Jukan meant “one of us” as in “having proved our loyalty to their cause” or “one of us” as in some kind of physical or mental transformation.

“You will be joined to the weave,” Jukan said.

“The fate weave?” I asked. “Everyone here is joined to the fate weave, or at least affected by it.”

“You are bound and influenced by the fate weave,” Jukan said. “But you are not joined to it.”

“What does joining the fate weave require?” I asked, though given that they were eager to induct us into that state, I was pretty sure it didn’t require much and wasn’t necessarily in our best interests. I was also forming an unpleasant idea of what the under-dweller’s relation to the fate weave was. An unpleasant idea that I was fairly certain was correct.

“Nothing on your end,” Jukan said. “And everything.”

“So this is something that will be done to us instead of by us and it will take our lives and power away?” I asked.

“Yes, you will support the fate weave with every breath you draw and in giving your life, you will save one of us from dying instead,” Jukan said.

The people carrying us took turn after turn which resulted in me being completely lost. The one thing I could tell was that we were headed ever deeper below ground.

“And if we resist?” I asked.

“Everyone resists, but no one resists forever,” Jukan said. “If you come as friends then you should see the good that you can do for us. Or is your friendship a cheap bronze coin that you’re trying to trade for gold?”

“Our friendship is worth more than you can calculate under the present circumstances,” I said. “Despite that, you should also be aware that we are going to destroy your world.”

“You are mad,” Jukan said, his tone one of simple appraisal without any negative judgment to it. “That’s very convenient, you might save multiple lives if the fate weave is willing to be mad with you.”

“I have a guess what you’re going to do to us,” I said. “I ask only one thing of you to start with, begin with me and give me a few minutes to show you something before you bind my friends to the fate weave.”

“There are agents of the Queen following you through the old city. They will be here soon and we will need as much buffer from their actions as we can get,” Jukan said.

“I know this sounds like madness, but take a chance on me and I promise that you won’t need the kind of buffer that you’re speaking about,” I said.

“It is madness,” Jukan said. “But it is perhaps madness that you can make real?”

“Do we have a deal then?” I asked.

“If you know what you are promising, if you can do what you say, then yes, you will destroy our world,” Jukan said.

“Will you let me do that?” I asked.

“For my father, and my sister who have gone down into chains and shadows? And for myself and my children and all those who live now and I am sworn to protect?” Jukan said. “I can do nothing but agree with you. We will not hold back though, your madness will need to be stronger than any we have ever encountered.”

“I don’t believe that will be needed,” I said. “This is a different day than the ones you’ve lived up until now.”

“Perhaps. Things do feel different. I cannot see the strands of fate that tie you,” Jukan said, “I have never had that gift, but there is a hum that I have not heard in the air before. Is that you?”

“No,” I said. “The hum you hear is the Queen reaching deep into her power to control us. Even if you could see Aetherial anima you would never see me, not with what I am.”

“She’s telling you the truth,” Zyla said. “I can see every thread of fate before me, and Watersward is a giant cypher, a blank in my vision and the vision of every other fate caster.”

“If she is only one blank, then she is easy to track, easy to disarm, easy to destroy,” Jukan said.

“She’s not alone,” Zyla said. “I’m losing sight of your fates as well. Everyone and everything that interacts with Watersward gets caught in her penumbra and hidden just like she is. That includes all of you now.”

“The Queen will not forgive this,” Jukan said.

“It’s time for the Queen to start asking for forgiveness instead of withholding it,” I said.

That brought only silence from Jukan, probably because he took it as proof that I really was mad.

“I didn’t follow anything except the very end there,” Zyla said on our mental link, but directly to me only.

“I have a theory on what really powers the fate weave,” I said. “And it looks like this place and process might prove me right.”

“What are they going to do to you?” Zyla asked.

“If I’m right, they’re going to try to splice in threads of the Void anima spell that surrounds us so that it can permanently leech off the energy I possess as I gather more in that I’m not using up.” I said.

“What’s the point of giving that energy to the fate weave?” Zyla asked.

“It’s less about giving and more about taking,” I said. “Meaning the fate weave has energy requirements, and those fluctuate over time. A minor accident can be avoid by draining off enough life energy to pay for the spell effect.”

“That doesn’t work for preventing fatal injuries though,” Zyla said. “You’d spent your life to save your life and wind up dead anyways.”

“You’re assuming that the person who pays the price is the same as the one who receives the benefit,” I said. “The fate weave can easily protect against deadly attacks, it just costs someone else their life instead.”

“Is it possible that it doesn’t go that far?” Fari asked. “I mean a spell as large and complex as the fate weave would need to have a lot of safeguards built in. It might let people be brought close to death but then ensure that the person doesn’t actually die.”

“The problem with that is all of the ghosts that are here,” I said. “People are dying and being harvested and then slaved to the fate weave.”

“What would they be using the ghosts for though?” Zyla asked.

“Energy storage,” Fari said. “That’s what you’re thinking right Mel?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Ghosts are made up of anima, but it runs out unless they take more power from somewhere else.”

“Or someone else,” Fari said.

“I doubt the ghosts even directly taking the energy, it’s probably be fed to them by an automated process to keep them strong.” I said.

“So how is letting yourself get caught up in that going to help anyone?” Zyla asked.

“Because it’s the best way I can figure out to show them that they can free,” I said.