The rear engine coil was dangerous. Sparks of energy had a tendency to fly out when the Horizon Breaker performed any taxing maneuvers. Getting caught in the anima streams had sent more than one of the ship’s techs to the infirmary, and as a result Kai’s mom had declared it and the rest of the engine room off limits to Kai and Galen from the day they took their first steps.
Which made it the perfect place to hide.
“No fair if you’re hiding up high where I can’t see you,” Galen said over their private telepathic link.
“I’m not!” Kai said. “But you’re still never going to find me.”
In a sense she was cheating, given that she was using an out-of-bounds area for her hiding place, but the last time she and Galen played according to those rules Galen had been too young to form actual words.
“No moving around either,” Galen said, the undertone of his thoughts betraying that he was at a loss for where Kai might be.
The twins spoke to each other almost exclusively through telepathy. Neither remembered when they’d started doing so, though the Aunt Fari was pretty certain it hadn’t been in the womb. That was something of a relief to Kai. Her brother was already considered enough of a prodigy, she didn’t need for him to be any farther ahead of her than he already was.
Of course, most of his skills came from the special lessons he had with Aunt Fari. Kai knew that if she had classes like that, she’d be a wizard with Mental anima too. Her mistake had been speaking too early.
Like most kids Kai had begun experimenting with language from the moment her brain pieced out that the sounds the friendly giants were making might mean something. She didn’t remember any of them, but Mom and Dad had told her the story of how happy they were the first time she’d put together a sound that could be called a word.
Apparently they’d bet on whether she’d say “Ma” or “Da” first and she’d stumped them both and gone with something that sounded like “Faawi” (and so her Aunt claimed victory.) After that she’d been an immensely chatty baby. Galen teased her that he’d been so silent because she never let him get a word in edgewise.
His silence didn’t escape attention though. First there’d been discussions. Then regular doctor visits. Then special doctor visits. Kai overhead the grownups talking about Galen and asking if he might be developmentally impaired. They were afraid he might never start speaking, and Kai laughed at them.
For as talkative as she was externally, Kai could never match how much Galen rambled on over their private connection. The grownups questioned her about it and that’s when she learned that the link between her and Galen wasn’t something everyone had and that it was exceptional even as far as Mental anima spells went.
Aunt Fari said that their telepathy was so efficient that it bordered on a natural, rather than supernatural ability. The scans she did only managed to discover the link when Fari knew exactly what to search for and Galen and Kai were actively chatting on it.
That was a great day, because Kai finally felt like she was part of something special. Between her parents, her aunt, Uncle Captain Hanq and all the other people they knew, it seemed like everyone was amazing in some manner. Everyone except Kai. Because she was still little.
The tests that Aunt Fari and Aunt Opal put Galen and Kai through weren’t always fun, but Kai loved them. At least up until the point where it became clear that the special telepathy spell was one that Galen alone was responsible for.
He was the gifted one. He was the prodigy, the one who got special classes with Aunt Fari to help him learn to use the natural talent at Mental anima that he’d been born with.
Kai, meanwhile, got to do the regular workouts that they’d been doing since they were little.
It wasn’t bad, training with Mom or Uncle Captain Hanq or even Dad sometimes, but Galen got to do that too. He wasn’t as good as she was of course, he spent too much time doing brain exercises, but he was good enough for his age and that was all that Mom asked of them.
Which was almost the worst part.
Kai knew she should be able to cast spells already, but her mother didn’t seem to care whether she could or not. From what Uncle Captain Hanq said, it sometimes took into adulthood before some people developed actual proficiency at spell casting. He tried to assure her that the Energetic anima cantrips she was able to shape were a sign of early skill, like her Dad had shown, but the little puffs of fire and lightning she’d managed to conjure seemed utterly worthless compared to things she saw the crew being able to do.
Little bits of Energetic anima casting were never going to let her fly, or tackle a Dragon Comet on her own. All she could do was little stuff like bending away the sparks the came off the engines while the Horizon Breaker was in flight.
That plus Mom, Dad and Aunt Fari being absent from the ship while they were off on a mission meant that it was the perfect time to use the engine room for Hide and Seek. Uncle Captain Hanq wouldn’t agree but he was much less likely to catch them than Aunt Fari, who seemed omniscient when she was on the ship, or Mom or Dad who could somehow see right through even her best stories.
“I’m not gonna give up!” Galen said. “I know you’re someplace dumb.”
“Maybe I’m in the galley,” Kai said. “Sneaking all the candy while I’m here.”
“You wouldn’t tell me that if you were really there,” Galen said. “And if you’re sneaking the candy, I want some too.”
“Why would I give candy to someone who calls my hiding place dumb?” Kai asked.
“You gotta when share I find you,” Galen said. “That’s how this works.”
“If you find me,” Kai said. “I might get safe first.”
In this particular game of Hide and Seek, the safe spot for the Hider was back inside their cabin. The children made it more challenging by locking the door and letting the Seeker carry the key. That would slow Kai down, but she knew if she could lead Galen far enough astray she could manage to get inside in the time he spent looking in the wrong place.
Kai’s plan was simple, solid and quite workable. It wasn’t her fault that it backfired on her almost completely.
One moment she was taunting her brother and the next the engine room was engulfed in flames.
“Kai! What was that!” Galen screamed.
“Something’s wrong,” Kai said. The world spun upside down and Kai noticed that she was pressed face first against the floor but that it felt like the ceiling was “down” instead. With white knuckled fingers, she clutched onto the grating of the floor but despite the disruption of her sense of gravity she didn’t even begin to plummet towards the ceiling.
“I’ll get people there!” Galen said. “Don’t move!”
“There’s fire,” Kai said. “I think I have to move.”
“No wait, the fire fighting spells, they’re supposed to put it out!” Galen said.
“Maybe, yeah, ok, but these flames are like frozen,” Kai said.
All around her, purple, green and magenta tongues of fire as tall as she was stood around Kai. None of the moved but all of them gave off a terrible heat.
“I’ll go get Hanq!” Galen said.
Kai had no idea what the Captain could do about these weird flames, but having him on the case was infinitely preferable to trying to handle it alone.
“I’ll try to stay here then,” she said.
The moment she spoke the words though she began revising her opinion on the matter. That’s because that was the same moment she saw a cowled man materialized out of the flames.
“The Dark Bomb worked,” the man said. “It looks like we caught a break too. The child was in the engine room when it went off. Their ship is crippled for a short while.”
Kai slid silently back behind one of the Warp Crystals. She knew those things were tough. No tiny bomb was going to break one of them, so she hoped it would protect her from the man who was surveying the engine room.
“All personnel in room are inert,” the cowled man said. “Shall I proceed with termination?”
He waited for a response Kai couldn’t hear.
“They’ll be conscious again in minutes if I just leave them here,” the man said.
Another pause and Kai watched the man’s shoulder’s slump.
“Understood, the child is the priority. Will verify termination and then exit through the flame portal. Abandon me here on schedule if I’m not done in two minutes.”
“There’s a guy here,” Kai said to Galen. “I think he’s looking for one of us.”
“Is he bad?” Galen asked.
“Of course he’s bad!” Kai said. “He just blew up the engine room!”
“Kai, stay hidden and stay away from that person,” Uncle Hanq said after Galen added him to their link. “Gold Team will there in a minute.”
That sounded like a really long time to Kai. The Horizon Breaker was big, but Gold Team had teleporters. She couldn’t think of why they couldn’t be with her right away. Then she saw the glittering film that covered the walls, floor and ceiling of the engine room. Kai didn’t believe she was much of a spell caster, but she’d been well educated in the various types of spells she might encounter, including teleportation interdiction fields.
Her breath jammed up in her throat when she understood what the glitter meant. Gold team wasn’t going to be able to get to her, not super fast like they should, and that didn’t happen by accident.
“This guy thinks he can find me in two minutes,” Kai said.
“How good is your hiding spot?” Galen asked.
“It’s dumb,” Kai said.
“Listen to me,” Hanq said. “Hide as best you can. If he does find you though, stall for time. Tell him you’re a Tylaxrian and that you’re the chief engineer. Tylaxrian’s are as short as human children.”
“Do they look like kids?” Kai asked.
“They do if you say they do,” Hanq said.
Kai didn’t have the opportunity to try subterfuge though. The attacker zeroed in on her like the warp crystal and machinery between them wasn’t there at all.
“Target discovered,” the man said. “She survived the Dark Bomb somehow.”
“Wait, I’m…” Kai began but the man wasn’t listening to her.
“Returning target to the Void,” the man said. “Eternal Slumber Bless Thee.”
Kai recognized the last four words as kind of sentence that could serve as the verbal completion element for an elaborate spell ritual. She hadn’t learned much about big spells like that except that they were dangerous and very fragile.
The man’s entire body was transformed into a cloud of gray and purple smoke.
Or one form of it at least.
Kai tried to scream and back away. Void anima was something her mother had been very specific about. It was ultra-dangerous and she was to avoid any Void casters at all costs.
Unfortunately, despite the speed Kai’s fear gave her legs, the Void anima man was faster. He leaned forward and caught her head in a talon of pure life stealing death.
And everything in the world faded to a singular, silent darkness for Kai.
“No!” she screamed.
“Kai!” Galen said. “What happened!”
“He got me!” Kai said. “Everything is all dark now. Am I…”
She couldn’t process the words, couldn’t even think of it being true.
“No, you’re not lost granddaughter,” a woman said from the darkness.
“Kai, who’s there with you? What’s happening?” Galen asked.
“Someone has made a terrible mistake,” the woman said. “And I am profoundly grateful for it.”
“Who are you?” Kai asked.
“I am Kai,” the woman said. “The Kai who you were named for, your grandmother.”
“What are you doing here?” Kai asked.
“That’s a long story,” the elder Kai said. “For now, let’s just say I’ve been watching over you two from here in the shadows in case anyone was foolish enough to try something like this.”
“Something like what?” Kai asked.
“To kill you with a Void anima attack,” Grandma Kai said. “I thought someone should make sure you had some defenses against that since they’re hard to come by. I see I didn’t need to be worried though.”
“What do you mean?” Kai asked.
“I didn’t have to save you granddaughter, you managed that all on your own,” Grandma Kai said. “I’m just here for the moral support and encouragement.”
“I saved myself?” Kai asked. “You mean I can cast Void anima?”
“Apparently so,” Grandma Kai said. “You’ll need a lot of practice with it, and it’s usually hard to find a tutor but as it turns out I think I can speak for at least three who would be happy to work with you, myself included.”
Kai reached out into the darkness and felt a chill wash over her. She could sense the empty hunger of the anima around her but as she moved, it flowed away, pushed off by her will and imagination.
“Oh wow,” she said and stood up. With a blink, the world returned, and through Void anima covered eyes she saw it in a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors. All of the anima, all of the life around her.
Including the man who tried to attack her.
“If you’ll pardon me for a moment?” Grandma Kai said.
Kai watched as a dark form shot through with stars wrapped itself around the man before her. She had to back away a moment later as the Void anima surrounding the man grew solid and deeper. The anima spun and the pair sank down into deep into the empty darkness without even the hint of a scream escaping from the man.
A minute later, Gold team burst into the engine room but by that time Kai had clear away most of the frozen flames.
“Where’s our intruder?” Hanq asked.
“He’s been dealt with,” the elder Kai said, appearing beside her granddaughter.
“And the people he was working with?” Hanq asked.
“Outside my purview,” Grandma Kai said. “But he won’t be coming back at least and I doubt they have many who can pull off what he could.”
“Will you stay anyways Grandma?” Kai asked.
“Of course dear,” the elder Kai said. “You Aunt Bo is making plans to come here now. Since your Mom is busy, we’ll show you a few things about how to use your new gift.”
Despite the fear and shock she was suffering, Kai heard those words and it was like the stars burned brighter just for her.
She was getting special classes too!