Zyla lay on her bed and felt a strange and unfamiliar sensation fluttering in her chest. It was contentment, or as near to it as she could ever remember experiencing.
“You doing ok?” Yael asked, rolling over and stretching out a sleepy yawn.
“Mmm,” Zyla said, trying to hold onto the feeling.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Yael asked.
“Didn’t need to,” Zyla said. “Not after we spent all day relaxing at the pool.”
“That was surveillance work,” Yael said.
“We know the Chinuri delegation is safe until at least a week from now,” Zyla said. “We don’t have to guard them this closely.”
“True, but it was a nice day wasn’t it?” Yael asked.
“I want to say that it was too close to home,” Zyla said. “Being on a interstellar liner and being pampered and catered to every moment of the day? It’s very similar to how the elites were treated when I was a child. I want to say I’m not interested in that anymore, but I don’t know that I’d be telling the truth, which probably makes me a terrible person.”
“I think there’s kind of a critical difference or two there,” Yael said. “As a child you were surrounded by slaves. The crew on this ship are well paid and respected as the professionals they are.”
“I suppose that makes it easier to accept,” Zyla said, “But it still strikes me that we could be doing something a little more productive with our time than sipping expensive cocktails and telling sanitized stories of our exploits to the Chinuri.”
“Well,” Yael said, scooting closer to Zyla. “While we know the danger peak for the Chinuri is still a week away, they feel much safer having us nearby before then, and that’s buying the Empire a lot of good will. But since we don’t need to be around them every minute of the day, we could look for other…productive uses of our time?”
Zyla felt a soft kiss on her earlobe and a warm arm wrap around her waist.
Thanks, perhaps, to unconscious manipulations of fate by one or both of them, it wasn’t until late in the morning when they were enjoying a belated breakfast that the calm which surrounded the two women started to unravel.
“Guardian Clearborn?” one of the wait staff asked. “We have a special courier ship requesting docking privileges to meet with you. Shall we clear them for connection?”
Zyla turned her Aetherial senses towards the courier ship and found that it was blank, hidden from her vision in a manner that was disturbingly familiar.
“Yes, please invite them aboard,” Yael said. “And is there an open conference room we could meet them in?”
Zyla shot Yael and uncertain look but waited until they were alone again to speak.
“This is someone we know isn’t it?” she asked.
“That’s my guess,” Yael said. “But I’m as blind here as you are.”
“A trap?” Zyla asked.
“We’ll have to assume so,” Yael said. “Don’t want to get caught again like we did on Abyz.”
Those had been some of the worst days that Zyla could recall. Being alone, on a hostile planet was bad enough. Losing Yael and believing her bound under the dominion of an all-powerful queen had been even worse though.
Zyla didn’t always carry an anima blade anymore, but she made sure to pick one up before meeting with the newcomer. She was deadly without one, but sometimes the obviousness of a glowing blade held inches away from someone’s face sent a much clearer message than anything else could.
“I hope this isn’t an Imperial representative,” Yael said.
“You’d prefer someone more hostile?” Zyla asked.
“No, but if this is an official visit, then it will be for something critical enough to pull us off guard duty on the Chinuri,” Yael said.
“I see. Our delegation will react poorly if we try to abandon them at this stage,” Zyla said.
“I know,” Yael said. “If something sufficiently serious has come up, their reaction may be the least of our worries.”
“Have you caught any glimpses of something that big on the horizon?” Zyla asked.
“No,” Yael said. “But then I didn’t foresee this either.”
“For a moment there I wasn’t sure,” Zyla said. “Do you think anyone else understands how fragmented our view of the future is?”
“Given how often we’re able to get people to make mistakes or play it overly safe?” Yael asked. “I certainly hope not.”
A tall, dark skinned woman in military livery entered the room a moment after Yael and Zyla stopped talking. Zyla blinked and recognized first the uniform, then the woman wearing it.
“Thank you for taking time away from your current assignment to meet with me,” Agent Bo Riverstone of the Abyz Royal Guard said.
Agent Riverstone reached into the satchel she was carrying and Zyla had to struggle to keep her anima blade sheathed. The gesture of restraint proved to be a wise one as the Ayz Royal Guard produced a pair of folders and handed them over for Yael and Zyla to read.
During their ill fated trip to Abyz, Yael and Zyla had run afoul of Agent Riverstone and been stymied in their attempts to fight against her by the magics the planet possessed. On a space liner in the middle of nowhere, Zyla knew she could fight far more effectively, but she still wasn’t sure if she could win a battle if one were to erupt between her and Bo.
“You come with official Imperial orders,” Yael said, looking over the folder,”But you are still part of the Abyz military structure. How did this confluence occur?”
“We have, I believe, some common enemies,” Bo said. “I was tracking a cult that called themselves “The Over Masters”. You’ll find their files sorted into a section in the back labeled ‘Defunct Organizations’.”
Zyla skimmed to the end of the file and pulled up the pages on the Over Masters. It was only summary information but it still filled a dozen sheets with names and associations in very small print.
“It says that the Over Masters were the descendants of a Warlord who once ruled Abyz?” Yael asked.
“Yes, and now that our fate weave has diminished, they decided to attempt a retaking of their claim,” Bo said.
“It doesn’t look like that went well for them,” Zyla said. “Did any of them manage to escape? Or even survive?”
“We took several of them in alive,” Bo said. “But unfortunately quite a few escaped our net.”
“You said they were common enemies?” Yael asked. “How are they connected to us?”
“If you look at the final page of their entry you’ll see a listing for ‘Affiliated Organizations’,” Bo said. “See if the third name on the list sounds familiar.”
“The Red Running Stream?” Yael said.
“The Over Masters are connected with the assassin group that is targeting the Chinuri delegation?” Zyla asked. “How?”
“They share a resource pool,” Bo said. “We’ve seen identical combat artifacts turning up in the armories for both of the cults, and several others as well.”
“They don’t seem to share any ideological connections though?” Yael said.
“No, they don’t,” Bo said. “Which is why I’m here to see you.”
“We’ve been on defensive duty since we were assigned to this case,” Zyla said. “We haven’t been able to research the Red Running Stream at all, apart from interviewing the Chinuri on them.”
“That’s ok,” Bo said. “I have placed my personal team of agents at the disposal of the Empire while we investigate this threat to Abyz. They’re running down leads on the Red Running Stream and the other cults that we’ve discovered.”
“What do you need us for then?” Yael asked.
“We can track down all of the logical trails,” Bo said. “There is another piece of the puzzle that I need an expert opinion on. It’s a prophecy.”
“That sounds like something we can evaluate for you,” Zyla said.
“It’s about my sister,” Bo said.
“Or perhaps not,” Yael said.
“That’s almost exactly what she said you would say,” Bo said. “If it changes things, the prophecy actually involves her daughter-to-be.”
“Mel’s pregnant?” Yael asked.
“Interesting,” Zyla said. “I didn’t think they would be able to have a child.”
“I gather they didn’t either,” Bo said. “But stranger things have happened.”
“I’m not sure that it will matter much for our ability to help you understand the prophecy,” Yael said. “Mel’s daughter is probably obscured by her mother’s powers as far as we’ll be able to see.”
“What is the prophecy?” Zyla asked. “And why do you think it relates to the connected cult issue that you’ve found?”
“It’s intuition,” Bo said. “Nothing more, and I’m concerned that I’m seeing a connection because the events are important to me rather than because there’s any reason for them to be related.”
“That’s possible,” Yael said. “We usually see things from the very limited perspective of ourselves.”
“But if you felt strongly enough about this to seek us out, then it’s worth not dismissing your intuition too lightly either,” Zyla said.
“Thank you,” Bo said. “It feels like with the connection between the cults there must be some well hidden force at work. Their goals are still opaque to me, but the only reason to go to this sort of effort, on this sort of scale, is if you wish to cause a lot of havoc.”
“And the only thing worth directing that level of havoc at is the Empire,” Zyla said. “Which makes this our direct business if so.”
“Yes, but we can’t abandon the Chinuri yet,” Yael said. “Until we find the skein of whatever plan might exist we have to play for the wins that are available to us.”
“I think we have the time to do that,” Bo said. “The prophecy that Mel and Darius talked about spoke of the time when their daughter, or whoever it applies to, takes control of their own powers.”
“Children can start casting at a very young age,” Zyla said.
“But they don’t normally have full control of their magics until their teenage years,” Yael said.
“Since the girl in quest hasn’t even been born yet, I would guess that there is time for us to get ahead of this problem,” Bo said. “And that’s what I’m here to confirm.”
“It’s certainly something that we can look into,” Yael said. “Give us a moment to get ready and then read the full prophecy aloud to us. If we work together we may be able to track its path forward and see the event that it’s referring to.”
Zyla quieted her mind and opened her senses to the Aether. A moment later she felt Yael take her hand and then felt their vision join into one. Together they were far stronger than either of them was apart, but they needed to be exceedingly careful that they didn’t cast themselves so deep into ocean of time that they wound lost in the dreams of what might be.
As though from a great distance away, Zyla heard Bo begin to recite the lines of the prophecy. They were in a very old tongue but thanks to the Galactic Common translation spell everyone in the Empire used, even the ancient words were rendered meaningful. They spoke of a time perilously close, only a heartbeat away, but that was when the event was viewed on a scale far broader than a human life span. The scale of time had to be that wide open though to encompass the size of the threat that the event carried.
In her mind’s eye, Zyla saw all the lights in the galaxy blown out, one after another, until nothing remained, just a hole in the universal fabric with nothing around it save the nearest neighboring galaxies which were next on the menu.
Deep in the depths of time, Zyla felt her hands start to shake at the enormity of what lay in wait them, but the warm grip of the woman she loved helped her to hold on and make it back to the present.
Where the space liner was shaking as though caught in a maelstrom of incredible turbulence.
That was worrisome.
Space is many things, but filled with turbulent winds is not usually one of them.
Looking out the conference room’s wind, Zyla saw something massive blotting out the stars. It had surfaced into their reality, following she and Yael back for unknowable reasons and was diving down once again into the folds of time to await some unspeakable day when it could rise once more.
Though is was thousands of miles away, the shockwaves of its arrival and departure slammed into the star liner, shattering bulkheads and rending apart the frame. Caught in the creature’s wake, the ship disintegrated, leaving Zyla, Yael and Bo adrift in the empty reaches of interstellar space.