It’s rare to see someone summon an anima blade without an anima device. The drain of manifesting anima in a tangible form is immense but its the focus that’s required which usually makes it impossible for people to achieve.
“You will take my child away over my dead body.” Eirda said. Her voice was barely a whisper but it didn’t need to be any louder. The tent was dead silent. We were all riveted in place by the red glow of the weapon she’d conjured from sheer will. It was pointed at Illya, but in the close confines of the tent there wasn’t enough room for anyone to escape her wrath if Eirda lost control.
As the Crystal Guardian present it was my responsibility to resolve situations like this. As the person who’d brought Illya into the tent, it was my fault that it had occurred in the first place. There were at least a dozen things I could have said to defuse or resolve the potentially lethal problem before me but for a critical moment I couldn’t do anything but stare at Eirda’s anima blade.
My own defenses rallied within my hands and chest, moving according to subconscious designs and I felt my skin begin to burn again. This wasn’t right. I wasn’t done healing. Eirda wasn’t supposed to have access to a weapon like that.
I wasn’t going to let myself die. I knew that. What scared me, I think, was what I was going to do to ensure that I lived. My Void anima could eat Eirda’s anima blade. It was pure energy, no threat at all. I tried to convince myself that was true, except I felt the phantom flames spreading over me. Old wounds, long since healed flared with pain. The spots where I’d been stabbed with an anima blade before.
I bit down and gritted my teeth to hold in a scream. I knew I couldn’t freak out but apart from that my mind had gone blank.
“Kallak needs that energy,” Darius said, putting a hand on Eirda’s leg as he slumped away from the boy and sagged into unconsciousness.
That simple gesture broke Eirda’s focus. She looked back at her son and the human who’d been struggling to keep him alive and the blade in her hand shattered into a million particles of light.
“Get him over onto that bed,” Chief Jallo said, indicating where Cadrus should take Darius.
“You, sit down before the backlash hits you.” TJallo said to Eirda. Eirda was already sagging and all but tumbled the floor before her family caught her.
“And you, explain what you mean. What’s wrong with Kallak.” Jallo addressed this remark to Illya, while simultaneously recasting the regeneration spell that Darius had been laboring to hold together.
Part of me wanted to run to Darius’ side and make sure he was ok. Hours of spells casting can be dangerous and Physical anima wasn’t his forte. On the other hand, it seemed wise to stay in-between Illya and the Garjarack family, especially in case I needed to “escort” her out of the tent quickly.
There was also the problem that I could feel waves of delayed stress washing over me. My anima was wild and out of control and just barely staying inside me. I was irrationally concerned that if I took a step in any direction I might explode or burn to ash. I knew that was crazy but remaining where I was struck me as the best course of action all the same.
“When you had him tested for his anima potential, it showed he had a broad spectrum talent, didn’t it?” Illya asked. “He was above average in all areas, but seemed scattered and couldn’t pick up casting of any one anima type easily.”
Eirda roused herself from the stupor her hastily cast anima blade had knocked her into.
“How do you know that?”
“He’s able to focus better when his sister is with him though,” Illya continued. “He can cast whatever sort of spells she’s adept. Not as good as she can but better than anything else he tries.”
“Yes, but I don’t understand…” Eirda said.
“I think I do.” Chief Jallo said. “You think he’s a geomancer. Where have you seen one before?”
“My brother,” Illya said.
“How did he die?” Chief Jallo asked. It hadn’t been a difficult guess to make give the tone of Illya’s answer.
“The Gar,” Illya said. “Toxic cloud spell. It infected the land. We couldn’t separate him fast enough.”
“We’re going to need a room on the Imperial Station,” Chief Jallo said, finally turning to address me.
“Right, I’ll see how soon we can get an orbital shuttle down here,” I said, and sent out a mental ping to the Imperial station’s command and control room. Being within a fully functional spellweb had a lot things going for it, not the least of which was the ease of communication that came from having someone else pre-casting all of the telepathy spells you might need to use.
“You’re not taking my son,” Eirda said, though the weariness in her voice made it clear she wouldn’t be opposing that idea with another anima blade.
“A shuttle with room for all of you,” I said.
That was enough reassurance for Eirda it seemed. Her eyes sagged closed and her arms went limp as casting fatigue dragged her into sleep’s embrace.
“I’m not clear on what the diagnosis is and why we need to relocate to the Imperial station,” Cadrus said.
“Your son may have a rare gift, one which standard testing will often miss,” Chief Jallo said. “Medic Illya believes that he is a geomancer. This means that his anima is connected to the planet’s. There are many benefits to this but, apparently, there can also be drawbacks.”
“His anima is part of the magic that flows through Hellsreach,” Illya said. “If that energy is disrupted on a planetary scale though, his will follow it.”
“So the earthquake is responsible for his condition?” Cadrus asked.
“It’s possible,” Chief Jallo said. “The planet’s anima paths can be disrupted by large scale seismic activity. I didn’t know that it could affect a caster as strongly as this, but that would explain Kallak’s symptoms.”
“It fits with what I’m seeing too,” I said and explained what my Void anima sight showed me.
“And if we take him away from Hellsreach, that will save his life?” Cadrus asked.
“If Illya’s theory is correct, then I believe it will,” Chief Jallo said.
“Will he be able to return?” Cadrus asked.
“It’s too soon to say,” Jallo said. “Let’s focus on getting him stable again and then work from there.”
“I can agree to that,” Cadrus said. “How soon can we leave?”
“Imperial station C&C is saying the soonest they can get a full orbital shuttle here is two hours. They’ve got a couple of personal crafts that can get here sooner but they won’t fit your whole family,” I said, relaying the information that the Imperial flight controller was giving me.
“Can Kallak last two hours?” Cadrus asked.
“I can’t be certain. I haven’t treated someone with these symptoms before,” Jallo said.
“Wait, maybe he doesn’t have to wait that long!” I said. “Imperial Control, can you link me to Mister Gan Everbright?”
“Affirmative Guardian Watersward, we have him registered on the web,” the flighter controller said. “Initiating connection now.”
I waited a moment as the controller set up the spell links for me and got Gan on the link as well. Normally this sort of thing would be outside a flight controller’s responsibilities, but one of the perks of being a Crystal Guardian is that all Imperial personnel are expected to support you to the extent that their duties will allow. It’s the kind of blisteringly unfair privilege that I’d dreamed of having as a kid. Ordering people around sounds like a ton of fun, but it’s less enjoyable when you see the impact it has on their workload and overall morale, so I try to use it only for simple tasks that can be resolved quickly.
“Guardian Watersward, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Gan said.
“You have an orbital shuttle at the aid station don’t you?” I asked.
“Do you have need of it?” he asked.
“Yes, how soon can you have it prepped for lift-off?” I asked.
“Ten minutes. Two if it’s an emergency,” he said.
“Make it two,” I said. “We have a patient in need of medical evac here.”
Kallak had lasted for hours but Gan had said he’d followed an Aetherial casting that brought him here. If he was looking for events that would convince the populace to leave Hellsreach then a rescue where time was of the essence seemed to be a likely scenario.
“There’s a charge for expedited service.” He said it as a joke, intending to diffuse the gravity of the situation, but at the same time I knew he fully intended to get paid for his part in saving Kallak.
“The Empire will cover your costs.” I said, committing to as little as I thought I could get away with.
“Our ship will be ready by the time you get the patient here.” Gan said.
Cadrus carried Kallak to Gan’s transport ship.
Eirda came along under her own power, but only with support from a few of her children.
“Are you going to send one of your staff up with us?” I asked Chief Jallo.
“No, we’re not due for another batch of wounded for half a day,” she said. “I want to watch this case myself. Once Kallak has stabilized I’ll trade off with one of the other healers.”
“Do you ever sleep?” I asked her.
“Certainly,” she said. “Once a week, like clockwork.”
Her skin was lighter than mine, but pretty similar to Darius, which put her on the dark end of the spectrum for Hellsreach and about standard for Galactic society. It also meant she was just dark enough that I couldn’t tell if the circles under her eyes were natural or the result of epic sleep deprivation. Her delivery was also so dry I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.
“What about me?” Illya asked. “Should I go back to the prison ship?”
“Guardian Watersward has final say on that,” Chief Jallo says. “But is she sends my one available expert on geomancers to the brig when I have a geomancer to treat, I’m going to declare her unfit for duty and take you with me anyways.”
“Guardian Watersward will take that under advisement Chief Jallo,” I said and fought back a smile.
“I don’t believe I should go with you,” Illya said. Her spine was straight as an arrow and her jaw was set tight.
“Do you have a physical or anima-related condition that prevents you from venturing into space?” Jallo asked.
“No.” Illya said.
“Then you’re coming with me,” Jallo said. “I won’t ask you to stay with the Garjarack, but I will request that you assist me. We have a patient. We’re going to treat him. It’s as simple as that.”
It wasn’t of course. For Illya it couldn’t be, and none of us were under any illusions to the contrary, but sometimes what’s real is less important than what you choose to believe could become real.
“I’m coming too, if you don’t mind Chief,” Darius said.
“You should rest, you’ve already over-exerted yourself,” Jallo said.
“I’m not as bad off as I pretended to be,” he said.
“And you’re in worse shape than you realize,” she said. “We’re going to need you when the next batch of wounded come in. Get some sleep until then.”
Jallo looked over at me.
“Or whatever,” she added.
The warm sensation on my face had nothing to do with anima casting for a change. Unfortunately, I had to toss some cold water on that idea.
“I need to stay with Medic Illya,” I said. I’d had to arrest her to put her in the prison ship. Until that was resolved she either needed to be in custody or accompanied by a designated law enforcer. Chief Jallo was many things but a galactic cop was not one of them, which meant I was the only one available who could officially look after Illya outside of a secure holding area.
“What if you’re needed down here?” he asked.
“Raychelle and Opal have the Guardian angle covered,” I said. “In terms of the overall recovery, I think I can do more good by getting a read on Everbright. If he and his company are on the level, they might be the best solution we have to the problems here.”
“I’d definitely like to be along for that,” Darius said.
“I’ll give you the full run down when I get back,” I said. “You can be my ‘independent analyst’.”
“I’ve probably got several conflicts of interest in that case,” he said. “Just promise you’ll stay safe. Fari won’t be able to help you up there either.”
“I know,” I said. “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything stupid.”
As I said the words I felt a loop of Aetherial anima coil around me and my danger sense flared. There was a current of fate that wanted to put me in a situation where I’d have to try one of my less brilliant plans to survive. I grabbed the bit of magic before it could slide away and called up my Void anima.
The darkness in me swept out and devoured the magic that was trying to bind my destiny. I wanted to unleash it fully to stab whoever the caster of the Aetherial spell was but I saw wisps of smoke starting to drift up from my burning hands. Dropping the anima like a hot poker, I was staggered to see that there weren’t any blisters on my hands.
Had I just imagined the smoke? Was the burning just psychosomatic? The thought that I might be going crazy was a troubling one, but it felt wrong somehow. Too easy. I had issues. Deep ones, but the burning sensation didn’t move me the way they did.
I gave Darius a kiss goodbye that lasted a little longer than was necessary and fell far short of long enough. I was going to come back to him, and he would be there waiting for me. Whoever was casting Aetherial spells could have prevented me from seeing him again (whatever their real goals were) and whatever their excuse was they were going pay for that.