Running into a fight with an enemy right beside you is, under most conditions, a pretty terrible idea. Under the current circumstances though, it was the best option I could think of for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that I was working from an information deficit and of all the people I could risk in order to learn the things I needed to know, I was by far the happiest with risking myself.
There was also the slight issue that I was potentially one of the few people who could survive the combat arena that was being spread throughout the Grand Hall. Void anima is nasty stuff, it’s essentially a toxic form of magic in that living tissue exposed to it tends to get dead in a hurry. It also consumes other forms of magic voraciously, including fate magic.
The fate weave on Abyz was unthinkably powerful but on a local scale it was possible to snap the bonds it laid on you, if you were sufficiently shielded in Void anima. That’s how managed to fight against the woman who attacked me on the roof of the office building without the fate weave say “No” to the violence we inflicted on each other. It was also how the people attacking the gala were able to assault the security and ruin the “Happily Ever After” field the Queen was (theoretically) projecting.
“Stay in sight of me,” the senior agent said. It was a reasonable request. Unless I missed my guess, she was the same woman that I’d fought with earlier, so she had every reason to be wary that I was associated with the attackers.
For my part, I wasn’t sure whether the attackers or the agent or both or neither were in the right and, regardless of that, which of them might be responsible for the disappearance of Yael and Zyla. Whatever was going on though, people were being injured and possibly killed and that wasn’t something I was going to sit on the sidelines and watch.
“Who are these people?” I asked as we plowed into a wall of Void anima.
For most other casters that would have been a problem. Both the agent and I were encased in our own Void shields though so neither of us so much as slowed.
“The woman you’re with is named Bo Riverstone,” Fari said, shooting me the information on our telepathic link before the Void anima swallowed me up. “She’s a member of the Queen’s personnel retinue. I’ll scour the spell webs to see what else I can find out about her.”
“Thanks!” I shot back before the wall of anima cut us off.
On the other side of the wall there was more darkness, which wasn’t surprising, but it wasn’t a field of pure Void anima either, which kind of was unexpected.
If the attackers wants to kill a lot of people, a wide area Void anima field would have been a great weapon to use. In fact on Abyz it might have been the only thing that could get the job done. Instead of that though they’d gone for a sheltering dome of Void anima to prevent anyone from reaching them and then had filled the dome with a simple darkness spell (and the smoke they’d initially deployed).
That suggested one of two possibilities. Either they weren’t here to kill people, or they weren’t strong enough casters to overcome the full power of the fate weave. The screams that brought Bo and I running into the fray suggested it was more likely to be the latter option, but I reminded myself that I needed to keep an open mind still.
Not that having an open mind saved me from the attack that came out of nowhere. Fortunately, keeping my ears open did. Thanks to that purely mundane form of situational awareness, I heard someone step up behind me an instant before they tried to bash my head in with a very hefty spiked club.
Void anima shields are awesome at protecting you from magical attacks. Purely physical damage is another matter entirely though. Normally, I have wizard-class Physical shields to deal with that sort of thing but the mix of Void anima that was being thrown around made those impractical. It was exactly the kind of extremely aggravating situation that I usually delighted in inflicting on others, and I saw why it produced the rage that it usually did.
I had one last advantage to call on though. Though I wouldn’t have believe it at the time, spending over a decade with no ability to cast magic had been a good thing in some ways. The primary benefit at the moment was that it forced me to learn to fight without without relying on magic. I’d spent years on the streets of my homeworld and had gotten pretty good at fighting without spells to sustain me. Over the last two years with Captain Hanq had ensured that even as I mastered my spell casting skills, my mundane martial talents hadn’t atrophied either.
Putting all that together, plus being alert for trouble, meant I managed to dodge the few inches necessary so that I got clipped by the blunt part of the spiked club instead of one of the sharp and fatal bits at its end. The blow was still hard enough to send my sprawling over a table though and left me seeing stars because heavy metal clubs are no joke to get hit by.
With the thick smoke, I could barely see the person who attacked me until he was swinging the next blow at me. I was slow from the effects of the first blow, so I rolled backwards off the table to buy myself distance and time to recover.
Bruiser McClub-To-The-Head, or whatever his name was, came right over the table at me though, determined not to allow me the two seconds I needed to get back on my feet and ruin his day. For his trouble, he took a chair to the front of the kneecaps, which Bo wielded like she’d special ordered it from a melee weapon supply catalogue.
He crashed onto the table, shattering it beneath his weight and rolled off into the smoke as I leapt back to my feet.
“Thank you,” I said.
“That one wasn’t a Void caster,” Bo said. “We need to find their leader.”
“The screams sounded like they came from police recruits,” I said and started running over the tables to get there.
In my Void sight, I saw the people at the tables suffused with sparks of light which matched the anima they carried. That I was still seeing colored sparks dancing in them told me the attendees were still alive. Corpses have residual anima in them, but it’s a very distinct look from what a living body possesses. From their body postures though, it looked like the people in the affected area had all been rendered unconscious. Probably by something in the smoke that I wasn’t breathing in.
A stab of danger hit me and I dove to the floor to escape the attack. As I rolled beneath a table, a microburst of staccato explosions rang out.
“They’re using bullet throwers?” I asked, anger mixing with genuine fear. I couldn’t see Bo’s expressions, we were just shadows to each other again, but given how sharply she looked over at me, she was more than a little surprised that I knew what those were.
Most modern military weapons use an anima-enchantment system that launches conjured bolts backed by enough force to punch through a typical caster’s shields in a single hit. Because the bolt casters are enchanted to provide most of the magic needed for the attack they are reliable and cheap to use once they’re created.
A weapon that hurls physical projectiles, by comparison, is more likely to break, or jam and suffers the glaring problem that it can run out of ammo. By any measure a bolt caster is a superior weapon to a bullet thrower. Any measure except one.
If you’re planning to hunt a Void caster, purely physical weapons are the perfect tool to shred their defenses with. Whoever was attacking the gala had brought weapons intended to kill me and people like me.
I wanted to be mad about that, but if I had to fight someone like Bo, I’d want to make sure I had the upper hand too. That didn’t make the prospect of being shot more palatable, just more understandable.
“I’ll distract them,” I said. “Find out if the new recruits are alive and if they need help.”
I didn’t wait for her to agree with my plan. We didn’t have the time, and her actions would be enlightening no matter what she chose to do.
I tried to emerge from underneath the table, only to have a pair of shots shatter stone chips off the floor in front of me. With the darkness spell and the smoke that seemed like a difficult trick to pull off until it occurred to me that whoever was responsible for the darkness spell would be able to see through it with Void sight the same as I could. Add a True Seeing spell to that and they’d be able to see through the smoke too.
All they would need from there would be enough Mental anima to form a mindlink like I regularly had Fari do and they’d be able to coordinate the entire force that they brought.
On the bright side if they were using spells that didn’t rely on Void anima, then I could too.
I sprinted out from under the table and another four shots rang out. Each of them hit me dead on, and each of them bounced off the Physical anima shield I had in place.
I let the shield drop the moment the last bullet hit to ensure its energies weren’t stolen from me. I’d had more than enough of being beaten to a pulp with my own power already and I had my danger sense to warn me when I needed to recast the shield.
Maneuvering while blind is less than fun, but it was yet another skill that Captain Hanq drilled into my head despite my whiny, teenage protests.
Sound and touch are you friends when you can’t see, and utilizing them efficiently makes all the difference when someone’s trying to kill you. The bullet thrower was loud enough that I couldn’t echo locate anything else in the room aside from it, but with brief caresses to guide me, I was able to tumble and slide across the remaining tables and skid onto the open terrain of the central parade aisle.
I burned a quick spike of Physical anima the instant I landed there and launched myself at the shooter’s position. I was fast enough that they only got off one shot, and that bounced off a hastily conjured Physical shield. It wasn’t until I closed to within about ten feet of them though that I was able to make out three figures, all covered in shadows, waiting for me with weapons drawn.
I got in one anima assisted strike before they were aware that I’d reached them and used it to hit the two figures who were in front of the gun wielder. They went flying in opposite direction, propelled more by the carefully chosen angle of my attack than any superhuman strength. That left me briefly alone with their leader.
She didn’t waste any time with banter or threats. She simply emptied the bullet thrower’s ammo bin into me. My shield held but keeping it up against the onslaught put me totally on the defensive.
Bo once again appeared to “rescue me”, though this time she did it with a razor sharp length of steel in her hand.
Unlike Mr. Club-to-the-Head, the gun wielder sensed Bo’s approach and vanished before she could land a killing blow.
The moment the gun wielder vanished, the Void dome that sealed us in popped like a soap bubble. I expected to feel Fari’s mental link re-establish itself, but someone very different began to press on my mind.
It felt ancient and alien and indescribably compelling.
I wrapped my mind in an extra layer of Void anima, cutting off all outside contact. I had no interest in being taken over, even temporarily, by an alien intelligence.
“I can’t let you leave here,” Bo said, our two shadowed forms standing no more than an sword’s length apart.
“What’s with the mental assault,” I said.
“Turn off your defenses and I will explain,” she said.
“That’s not going to happen,” I said. “Explain now, while my mind is still clear, or we’re going to talk this out the hard way.”
The stab of cold that signaled an attack was all the response I needed.
It was going to be the hard way.