The Journey of Life – Ch 3 – Debris and Wreckage (Part 1)

Opal Kinsguard, Crystal Guardian and Protector of the Empire, had less than a quarter of a second to live. She reflected on the tolerable expanse of time that afford her as she sized up the room she was in.

The most immediate problem was the hyper-charged blast bolt that was hurtling through the air towards her. She sighed inwardly at its presence, more annoyed than anything else. She wasn’t traveling on official business and problems such as assassination attempts were simply rude when they intruded on her vacation time.

She had a variety of options for dealing with the potentially fatal attack but many of them were inappropriate for a casual dining establishment such as she found herself in. This was a problem she’d encountered on earlier vacations and had been determined to avoid repeating if at all possible.

In theory her choice of vacation destinations should have all but guaranteed a peaceful few weeks away from her duty. The tavern she was dining in, the Hooded Beacon, was an unremarkable establishment, on the unremarkable world of Haldron’s Edge. Opal had selected Haldron’s Edge as part of her agenda because it was almost too plain to notice. It held a standard amount of the typical resources a planet offers. It’s population was developed enough so that there were no large open areas to attract new settlers but not so overbuilt that it became a hub of trade merely by virtue of the local population density.

There were sights to see, and beaches and mountains and tropical forests to visit. With a wide and diverse population there were many different forms of entertainment and cultural events. In short, plenty to appeal to the locals but little to attract a galactic traveler.

Even the crime on Haldron’s Edge was ordinary. The three people who had entered the Hooded Beacon wearing face masks appeared to be nothing more than ordinary hold up artists. In the long quarter second as the blast bolt inched closer to the back of Opal’s head she examined the room for any clues that she had missed which could explain why a trio of armed people would decide to rob a restaurant of all places.

Mental anima, Opal’s forte, had her perception and thought processes accelerated beyond anything even vaguely possible for a human. The world didn’t appear to be standing stock still but it was doing a close impersonation of that state. With that added time to process her environment and dozens of passive spells feeding her information, Opal put together the situation that was occurring around her. She noticed the placement of patrons. How several were more armed than she was and how the walls had the telltale signs of repairs from heavy spell casting damage. She noticed the relative lack of clear firing lines in the restaurant and how a particular set of the patrons had arranged themselves with their backs to the most solid of the walls while those around them formed a protective circle.

A crime den. As she surveyed the room she saw that she’d quite innocently stumbled on the headquarters of one of the local underground families.

She sighed. She would be having words with her subconscious soon about the sorts of actions it was allowed to take without informing her. It was one of the problems with having a highly developed mind and the ability to multi-task at a transhuman level. Everything her conscious mind learned to do, her subconscious was capable of as well. Or in other words, she was very good at outthinking herself unless she was careful to avoid doing so.

In this case, she’d consciously known that a few weeks of enforced quiet and relaxation was something she needed to recharge her batteries and work out the snarls that had developed in her thoughts. Her subconscious however apparently viewed the last week as ‘too quite’ and had taken steps to rectify that problem.

Reviewing her memory, Opal was able to pick out the tiny scraps of information that had lead her to the Hooded Beacon at just the right time to be involved in the day’s dramatic events. Some part of her had known this lunch would be an exciting one even before she sat down and ordered the meat sampler platter and its variety of convenient carving utensils.

Despite her subconscious wish for excitement, Opal was determined to preserve as much of her vacation as possible. To that goal she reviewed several possible plans.

The simplest was to let the blast bolt hit her but diminish its force to a non-lethal level. She could feign an injury and play no further role in the proceedings. Technically a crime like this was outside her jurisdiction since it was a purely local matter with no galactic impact. In practice though her mandate to “protect the Empire and its citizens” also covered the defense of lives that were immediately imperiled.

The next simplest approach would be to apprehend the culprits but that presented the first of many complications. If she disarmed the trio, it was unlikely the other patrons would graciously allow the attackers to be turned over to the local police force. They had reputations to maintain. Opal could already seen the more responsive of the patrons beginning to draw their weapons to return fire.

She would need to shut them down as well or there’d be blood spilled and her vacation time was not worth that.

The problem with taking that approach was that she’d need to deal with far more than the people in the restaurant. There would be the extended family who would be looking to reclaim the their reputation. And then the other families who would see weakness or a vacuum that needed to be filled.

In the end the “keep hitting people until the problem goes away” approach would lead to her spending a long time hitting people, including, inevitably, offworlders who were drawn to the conflict like moths to the flame as they tried to figure out what on Haldron’s Edge was so important that a Crystal Guardian was spending time shutting down the minor criminals who lived there.

That left her with only more subtle methods of resolving the conflict, if she wanted to have any chance of maintaining her free time.

With a flick of her fingers, she pulled a strand of Physical anima into a gently curving shield. The lethal blast bolt would miss her by less than an inch and put a new pockmark in the wall beside her.

With her breath, she sang another cluster of anima threads out.

About three quarters of the micro-spells targeted the goons who were going for their weapons. While she could have put them to sleep to render them harmless, she didn’t want to tip her hand that far. Instead she merely stunned them for a second and a half. Not long enough that they’d even notice after the fact, but long enough for her to resolve the situation with a minimum of bloodshed.

The other spells she cast sought out the three attackers. Marsh, Keel and Arvana. They were natives, members of a counter-extortion group that was trying to kick the Beacon family out of the local area. They had the backing of many in the community but there were very few who would risk openly supporting them for fear of reprisal. Marsh was the leader of the group by virtue of having lost a brother to the Beacons and being the most passionate about the cause. Keel was the next most devoted due to a life long love of Marsh and Arvana was involved mostly because she was fond of the other two in a sisterly fashion. She was also their best caster of the mind magics they needed to escape and she didn’t want to see either of them get hurt if she could prevent it.

Opal’s spells gave her that information while the blast bolt was still a good five feet behind her head and just beginning to swerve off course to miss her.

She cast a speed enhancing enchantment and targeted its effects on the three vigilantes. She needed them able to react significantly faster than they were normally capable of if they were going to have time to understand the situation she was putting them in.

For her last spell Opal reached out with spikes of Energetic anima and flatlined the bolt casters they were carrying. The weapons didn’t explode. Opal was determined to see the encounter end without bloodshed on either side.

In the vigilantes’ hands the bolt casters sparked and lost their distinctive hum as the magics that powered them shutdown, leaving the weapons as little more than menacing looking paperweights.

Opal sensed a telepathic web binding the three together and tossed a thread of anima at them to infiltrate their conversation. A surprising amount of resistance met her attempt to eavesdrop but with a few of her more esoteric casting tricks, Opal was able to circumvent the privacy screen on their channel and insert herself into it silently.

“Keel, what the hell are you doing!” Arvana’s telepathic scream was loud enough that Opal had to double check it wasn’t actually audible.

“I saw one of them move! They were going to start shooting back!” Keel said. The guilt he projected suggested that he wasn’t terribly certain he’d actually seen someone move, but he was nowhere near ready to admit that.

“We were supposed to identify Zazog’s party,” Arvana said. “If we take them out none of the rest will give us trouble. If we don’t, they’re going to murder us before we get out of here!”

Opal found Zazog’s group. They were at the table next to her. Fast reacting and highly resistant to hostile spells, they were shaking off the effect of the stun ten times as fast as the rest of the goons.

So Opal hit them a hundred times harder.

“I can only hold this Quickness spell for so long,” Marsh said. He was gritting his teeth and pouring all of his physical anima into the enhancement. With another decade of practice he could have approached Opal’s efficiency with the spell, but it would take him twice that or more to develop the reserve of magic that she possessed to power it.

Fortunately for him, the effect of her spell stacked with his and so what he thought was the result of his best effort was in truth far beyond his actual capacity.

“Do we drop them all then?” Keel asked.

“No!” Arvana said.

“Yes!” Marsh said.

“We’re not going to kill everyone in here,” Arvana said. “Zazog’s our target because taking him down will have the most impact and with his protections they’ll be able to piece him back together.”

“If we don’t take them all out now, he’s going to take us down and leave us in so many pieces that no one will ever put two of our molecules back together,” Marsh said.

Keel raised his weapon to spray the room and finally noticed the dead state it was in.

“We’re in trouble guys,” he said. “This piece of junk disenchanted itself.”

Arvana and Marsh checked their weapons and discovered the same problem.

“We’re dead,” Arvana said.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Marsh said.

Marsh and Keel looked for exits aside from the main doors they’d come through, but Arvana cast around the room looking for something else. Her gaze settled on the back of Opal’s head and Opal felt a ping of recognition from the young caster. Arvana knew that the woman across the restaurant was actively casting some kind of spell but she didn’t have the training to piece out what it was quickly enough.

Marsh grabbed Arvana and dragged the girl out the front door, as he and Keel ran. It was a terrible exit from their point of view. Not only had the assault failed but the goons would be after them like lightning and the long open road outside wasn’t going to afford them much in terms of cover or places to hide.

From Opal’s point of view though their panicked flight was perfect. One small spell induced a spasm in Keel’s hand and he dropped his bolt caster right at the restaurant’s entrance. A few of the goons managed to notice the bolt caster drop, more of them saw the trio fleeing and pretty much everyone in a hundred yard radius saw or heard the explosion that blasted the doors and everything nearby to a fine mist of particles.

Opal sighed and relaxed her awareness to let time resume its normal rate of progression. The immediate crisis was past but she was going to have so much work to do still.

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