The Journey of Life – Ch 8 – Divisions (Part 3)

Ghosts are formed, in most cases, from trauma. For the Nophilans who crashed their warp space flyer into a star, the trauma has been mercifully brief. A moment of panic as the readings showed a deviation from their projected course and then a rending flash as the shadow of gravity the star projected into warp space ripped the subatomic particles of the ship apart. Even the best stasis fields on the Nophilan ship hadn’t been able to resist destruction on so fundamental a scale.

To their credit though, those stasis fields did partially survive the plunge through the star. They were little more than scattered shreds of anima when they exited the far side of the star, but they retained the signature of their original caster as they hurtled aimlessly through warp space for millennia. It was to these scraps of anima that the ghosts of the Nophilans clung and waited for some connection to regular space to emerge.

A connection like their sleeping warrior-victims being reawakened.

The  prime mercy granted to ghosts is that they fade over time. That’s true when they’re not bound up in the remnants of a magical spell designed to preserve and hold things together forever if need be. That the Nophilan ghosts were trapped and in torment did nothing to make the one before her seem less threatening to Jili though.

All Jili saw when she caught site of the manifested Nophilan ghost was death. It reached out to her with arms that were impossibly long and made of deadly Void anima. The ghosts was a by-product of a living being. It wasn’t alive  and so it didn’t “need” anything. But it still had cravings and, with the Void anima it hung onto, it had the capacity to satisfy those cravings.

It could draw in the anima of living beings to add to its own. It could become more complete at the cost of the life energy of the people it consumed. It could devour any sort of energy thrown at it and grow stronger and more terrible.

Except against Jili, it couldn’t.

The ghost reached out to drain her dry and she pushed its arms away, bending them without ever making contact with the deadly anima they contained.

Jili was barely conscious of what she was doing. In her mind all that mattered was survival. For herself, for the boy the ghost had been about to eat, and for the rest of the people on the habitation module.

It helped that she was already in motion. The ghost was an inhuman nightmare come to life. It was bigger than she was, it was, in a very real sense, death incarnate and yet she charged it anyways, slipping around it’s grasp because she willed its arms to miss her.

On instinct, she slid underneath a horde of tentacles the ghost exhaled from its mouth. The closer she came, the more it transformed, gaining limbs and mouths and all sorts of unreal appendages. She’d captured the monster’s complete attention and it was doing everything it could to capture her in return.

That was bad for Jili but it left the boy free from the ghost’s attacks which proved to be critical to both of their survivals. Jili sped towards the boy like an arrow in flight, drawing on her talents with Mental anima casting to predict the ghost’s moves and slip around them. Her spells worked up until she was five feet away from the boy and the ghost ripped part of the floor out from in front of her.

Jili tumbled and went down as her foot caught the edge of the ruined floor. Her reflexes were enhanced enough that she was able to turn the tumble in a roll but smashing into the corridor wall killed the momentum that she had. She managed to come up into a kneeling posture right beside the boy, but the impact rattled her enough that only the shield the boy cast diverted the scythe hooked claw the ghost tried to impale her with.

With a scream of frustrated hunger, the ghost rained down what felt like a million arms on her but none of the smoke-like limbs connected. All were held at bay by a circle of equally dark force that emanated from Jili’s hand.

Try though it might, the ghost couldn’t get through the Void shield Jili cast.

So it blew up the hallway around them.

Neither Jili, nor Aralas, the young boy, were familiar with the modern space shielding spells. In five thousand years people had tinkered with the comfort and functionality and energy cost of environmental shielding spells. Even with the advances though such spells were usually enchanted into a space traveler’s gear as the anima costs were quite high.

Without access to those spells, Jili and Aralas had only the older style options to work with and those hurt.

Both of them responded to the sudden expulsion into airless void the same way; shields on themselves and then shields on each other. Neither could maintain the shield long, but in disaster situations buying time was occasionally all that you could manage and (on very fortunate occasions) all you needed to do.

The cloud of debris that had once been walls and deck plating told Jili that they needed more than time though. The Nophilan ghost was an ancient remnant of a powerful spell caster. Despite that power, it fought like the simple creature of hunger and rage that it was, which meant it wasn’t going to let them drift until someone rescued them.

“It faded back into warp space, but it’s still targetting us!” Aralas said.

“How do you know?” Jili asked.

“I’m an Aether caster,” Aralas said.

“Can you tell when it’s going to attack next,” Jili asked. The strain of the shield spell was already becoming overwhelming.

“No,” Aralas said. “Wait, yes, now!”

The Nophilan ghost’s passage out of warp space was as unnatural as every other aspect of it. Space split and a weird, non-illuminating light gleamed around the edges of the ghost as it poured into regular space and tried to surround them.

The added pressure of the ghost’s attack popped both sets of shields like the fragile bubbles they were. Empty space didn’t transmit the monster’s scream of triumph but the surge of Mental anima it released did.

Desperate and flailing for life, Jili cast out for anything she could find.

The ghost dove onto the two of them, maddened and ravenous for the feast.

It was never able to regret that decision.

Jili ate it too quickly.

It was the most unnatural act she’d ever performed and yet it was so simple and ingrained as well.

She was in dire need of power. The ghost was nothing but power held together by the imprint of a long forgotten will.

Jili hadn’t been a Void caster before the thousands of years drifting in space, but she was undeniably one afterwards and some things just come naturally to people who work with that sort of magic.

With the anima stolen from the ghost, Jili rewove the shield spell and drew the air and heat they needed to survive back in close to Aralas and herself.

“It’s gone?” the boy asked.

“I think it is,” Jili said, blinking in surprise at her own deed.

“What did you do?” Aralas asked.

“I don’t know exactly,” Jili said. “But I don’t think it’s coming back.”

“I don’t think we are either,” Aralas said and pointed to the habitation ship that was rapidly drifting away from them.

“The explosion!” Jili said. “It knocked us away from the ship!”

“That’s not the worst of it,” Aralas said and pointed in the other direction.

The direction where the planet was.

“I’m terrible with Energetic anima and I can’t teleport at all,” Aralas said. “Can you do anything?”

“Maybe,” Jili said. “I can’t fly us anywhere, or teleport, but I think I have enough anima to reinforce the shield so we can survive the landing.”

“But the whole planet is poisonous to us!” Aralas said.

“That’s if we try to eat something,” Jili said. “Space is deadly a lot quicker than that.”

“So we’re just going to crash land?” Aralas said.

“Yeah, I think so,” Jili said. “We’ve been putting it off for five thousand years right? Might as well see what kind of fun we can have with it.”

Something inside her was oddly excited by the idea. Not the crash landing part of it. That she expected to be bumpy, hot, and unfun. After walking around for a week feeling as hollow as a ghost though, Jili felt something stirring inside her at last. Crashing on the planet was a problem, but it was a problem that it felt right for her to be solving.

“If we don’t make it, I just wanted to say thank you,” Aralas said. “I think I’d rather die like this than be eaten by a ghost.”

“You’re not going to die,” Jili said.

“You sound as sure of that as the guy who strapped me into the stasis pod was when he said that we’d get here without a hitch,” Aralas said.

“Yeah, except there’s one big difference between us,” Jili said.

“What?” Aralas asked.

“I don’t suck at math,” she said.

Aralas smiled and then clung to her as their shield bubble hit thick enough atmosphere that turbulence started to toss them around.

Jili’s claim was only partially meant as a joke. She wasn’t a warp space navigator, no one from her time could have passed one of the Crystal Empire’s navigator tests, but she was able to calculate a re-entry vector that offered them the best chance of landing safely.

Guiding the shield bubble onto that re-entry vector was noticeably more difficult than plotting its course and Jili spent all of the stolen anima from the ghost and a fair chunk of her own to make it happen. As a credit to her efforts, both she and Aralas survived the landing, though neither was technically able to “walk away from it” for several hours.

When they did eventually regain consciousness, they discovered that in fleeing from a ghost, they’d managed to land in a necropolis. Empty streets and empty buildings with no signs of destruction other than the ravages of time.

“Where is everyone?” Aralas asked.

“No one’s here, or someone would have bothered us before we woke up,” Jili said.

“How long were were out?” Aralas asked.

“An hour or so, I think,” Jili said.

“Do you think the Navy guys will come looking for us?” Aralas asked.

“I don’t know,” Jili said. “I hope so, cause we’re going to starve if they don’t, but I don’t even know if they think we’re still alive,”

“I guess we probably shouldn’t be, should we?” Aralas asked.

“Fought a Void powered ghost, survived an explosion into space and then an unpowered crashing landing?” Jili said. “Come on we didn’t win a trip to a brand new colony world just to get killed by something minor like that.”

“Well if you start feeling peckish, just know that I’m very tasteless,” Aralas said. “Skin and bones and gristle, not much nutritional value at all either.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll only go for the meaty bits. Heart, organs, that sort of thing,” Jili said.

The grim humor brought a disgruntled grin onto Aralas’s face.

“It’s going to be dark soon though and that’s more of a priority for us,” Jili said. “I’ve got less than embers left of anima after that drop and just because there’s no one out in the day doesn’t mean this place is safe at night.

“Think the predators here will find us tasty?” Aralas asked. “I mean we should be as poisonous to them as they are to us right?”

“I don’t think it necessarily works like that,” Jili said. “And there’s the problem that even if they don’t want to eat us, they may still not be happy that we’re in their territory.”

“Maybe we can find shelter in one of these buildings?” Aralas said.

“Shelter or one of their lairs,” Jili said. “But that is our best bet.

Picking one that looked like it had weathered the silent years better than the ones around it, Jili peered inside to confirm that it was empty.

It looked habitable enough to spend a night in right up until the moment when the sun finished setting.

That’s when all of the ghosts came out.

In the ship Jili had been faced with one ghost and had barely survived the encounter. Gazing around the building as night fell she saw that this time they were surrounded by hundreds of ghosts.

Fortunately for her and Aralas though, these ghosts were rather different.

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