A galaxy is made up of vast, dark spaces. Wide gulfs of nothing sprawl throughout all of existence, but those aren’t the bits we see. The light years of emptiness and separation in the cosmos yield to the brilliance of the stars and the lives that make up the worlds around us. Across eternity, the light of a single sun, or a single person, can reach out and touch places and hearts that seem impossibly far away.
Kai reflected on how far her reach extended as she drifted cradled in a sky ablaze with life. Surrounded by the unending vastness of eternity it was hard to picture that she could ever touch enough of it to matter.
“I didn’t think it would end like this,” she said. Around her, the wreckage of seven moons and a Class VI planet danced like a shower of swirling snowflakes. Superheated snowflakes made of molten rock, but it made for a lovely backdrop nonetheless.
“We’re not done yet,” Mel said to her daughter. Despite being surrounded by the emptiness of space without a ship in sight, they weren’t in any danger or distress.
“Seriously Mom?” Kai asked. “What is ever going to be hard than this?”
The two of them were floating in a shield bubble while below them a Elder Wyrm the size of the entire star system hung dead in space.
“Try having two kids at once,” Mel said. “It’s all been easy going from there.”
“Yeah, I’m seventeen now,” Kai said. “You’re going to have to give that one a rest someday.”
“Maybe just for today,” Mel said. “Happy Birthday dear.”
“It doesn’t seem real,” Kai said. “My whole life feels like it’s been leading up to this one thing, this one fight, and now it’s done. All the different death cult attacks, all the training, all the work with you, and Aunt Bo and Grandma, and we’re here. We actually survived it.”
“You had a little help,” Galen pointed out over their telepathic link.
“Seventeen Crystal Star Battle Ships worth of help,” Fari said. “In addition to us of course.”
“That’s kind of a once in a lifetime sort of thing too isn’t it?” Kai asked.
“Well…” Mel said and scratched the back of her head with a terrible grin on her face.
“That depends a lot on what we find in this one,” Galen said.
“And a lot on how the Empress’s negotiations go,” Darius said.
“Wait, what do you mean ‘how the Empress’s negotiations go?” Kai asked. The dead cosmic beast that floated thousands of miles below her and filled the sky from one end to the other did not seem like the sort of entity one could negotiate with.
“You called this Elder Wyrm into our space right?” Galen said. “You’ve got to know there’s more than one of them right?”
“No,” Kai said, “No, I don’t have to know that.”
She looked again at the beast that an army of the Crystal Empire’s most powerful forces had only barely managed to defeat. One Crystal Star Battle Ship had enough firepower to obliterate a planet. Seventeen of them were an inconceivable force to marshal against anything. Or at least anything smaller than a creature that literally spanned the length of a star system.
As Kai watched, the Galactic Devourer’s impossible physical form warped the orbits of the planets in the Bithrion System. Even the star they orbited around drifted into the endless body of the Elder Wyrm. If any of the planets had been capable of supporting life, the battle of Bithrion would have been the greatest tragedy of the Crystal Era. Of course if the battle had been lost it would have been the end of the Crystal Era, but Kai and Mel and a million other people had worked to ensure that neither was the case. They’d selected the day and the location with care and precision. They’d trained and put into place a thousand contingency plans.
Sooner or later, this Elder Wyrm, a galaxy eater, was going to surface into the Crystal Empire from the realms beyond warp space. Aetherial future sight predicted it. Scouts sent into warp space saw the portents of the impending arrival. Even basic physical readings of the the material realm showed that trouble was coming. The signs were all there and the all pointed to the same conclusion.
However the Imperials tried to maneuver things, the arrival of a the Galactic Devourer was an avalanche that couldn’t be turned fully aside. Once that was clear, their plans changed. Kai’s training accelerate and the venue changed to locations remote enough to allow her to experiment with the Void summoning magics that she was particularly talented at. If they couldn’t stop the Elder Wyrm’s arrival, they could at least dictate that it happened on their own terms.
Summoning the terror from beyond the stars was the hardest thing Kai had ever attempted. It was an impossible spell to cast, and everyone knew it. So no one asked her to do it alone. Millions of spell casters lent their power to the effort. Five of the former Jewels of Endless Night, each filled to over-capacity levels combined their power and placed it under Kai’s control. Most important though were the people who stood with her inside the summoning circle on the planet that had been more than a shower of pretty molten snowflakes prior to the Elder Wyrms arrival into the material realm.
From Mel, Kai drew her strength, from Galen she drew clarity and focus, from Fari; vision and balance, from Darius; energy and drive and from within she found a desire for life she hadn’t been aware of before.
Together with her family and all the other casters, Kai spoke, and through her, a vast chorus called out. With one voice, they laid a challenge before the Elder Wyrm and it rose up in full hubris to answer and consume them.
Hours later, its corpse lay cooling in an abandoned solar system. It had the chance to retreat. It could have fled, though doing so would have meant existing in a diminished state. Instead it battled on to the bitter end, certain at every stage that its victory was assured by its incalculable power and eternal nature.
Power and history failed it though, both succumbing to the knowledge the Imperials gained about the cosmic beast through investigations into the far distant galaxies which Elder Wyrms had ravaged in previous ages. Thanks to the work and sacrifice of countless people, the Empire had been ready for their foe and while the solar system scale battlefield was reduced to ruins, no civilizations were lost, and no people were displaced.
But that was from a battle with a single Elder Wyrm.
“How long have you known there was more than just the one of these things?” Kai asked.
“A few years now,” Darius said.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Kai asked.
“Because the other ones aren’t your problem to deal with,” Mel said. “You opened the gate. That was an impossible task to put in front of you. You didn’t need to be distracted by the rest of what’s going to come next.”
“And what is that?” Kai asked. “What is going to come next?”
“That depends on the Empress and on the Elder Wyrms,” Fari said. “You opened the gate that shielded us from them, but that was also the gate that protected them from her.”
“What is she doing?” Kai asked.
“Speaking to them,” Grandma Kai said.
“Just speaking?” Kai asked.
“Sometimes words can carry a lot of weight,” Fari said.
“In this case, think of it like someone speaking, where every word is a spell,” Grandma Kai said.
“Even that’s selling it short,” Zyla said, joining their telepathic link.
“We can see the after-shadows of their conversation,” Yael said. “The ‘words’ they’re speaking can shatter stars.”
“And they’re still being ‘pleasant’ with each other from what we can tell,” Zyla said.
“What happens if the discussion doesn’t go well?” Kai asked. “They could still attack us couldn’t they?”
“That’s the best outcome from some points of view,” Hanq said.
“Being attacked by an army of these things is a good outcome?” Kai asked.
“We know their weaknesses,” Hector said. “The Elder Wyrms should be very grateful that the Empress is here to keep us in check.”
“Birthrion just became the wealthiest system in the galaxy in terms of sheer material resources,” Osgood said. “We already have half of Titanus planning to fly out there and start excavation work!”
“So wait…we’re going to farm these monsters now?” Kai asked.
“Only if they’re foolish enough to attack us again,” Guardian Opal said.
“If the Empress’s discussions go as she hopes, they’ll agree to a more symbiotic relationship,” Guardian Raychelle said.
“The plan is that we would work together against any other similarly large scale entities that might want to devour either them or us,” Mel said.
“There’s other things the size of an Elder Wyrm?” Kai asked.
“Oh there’s much larger entities out there than Galaxy Devourers,” Grandma Kai said. “Once you get significantly beyond the scale of an Elder Wyrm though they don’t tend to be able to interact much with this dimension. We become too small for them to even perceive.”
“And if the Elder Wyrms don’t go for that offer?” Kai said.
“Then we have a lot of fighting ahead of us,” Bo said. “And the galaxy is going to become unimaginably wealthy.”
“I don’t know if I can process that,” Kai said. “Nothing’s going to be the same again, is it? Either we get an army of these things to fight with, or we’ve got an army of them to fight against.”
“Nothing ever stays the same,” Mel said. “That’s what our lives are. We change things and change with them. And with each other.”
“The trick is that to make the changes turn out for the better,” Darius said.
“By whatever definition of ‘better’ we can come up with and make stick,” Fari said.
“Of course a few missteps along the way are to be expected,” Hanq said.
“And sometimes it can take a lot longer to make a change than it really should,” Yael said.
“And some changes have permanent consequences to deal with,” Grandma Kai said.
“But that’s why we have each other,” Hector said.
“So can I suggest a change then?” Kai asked.
“It is your birthday,” Mel said.
“And mine too!” Galen said.
“Seems like we have two birthday wishes to grant then,” Darius said. “What were you going to ask for Kai?”
“Well…” she said.
“We raised two very good kids, didn’t we?” Mel asked as she sipped from her tiny-umbrella’d drink and lounged against Darius on the warm sands of Abyz’s most beautiful beach.
“I’d rate them as noticeably above average,” Darius said.
“Getting Bo to charter an entire town for the after-battle celebration for everyone who took part in the Bithrion Encounter was pretty clever,” Fari said. “But I have to wonder if this didn’t have a little bit of the leg work done up front.”
“You know how those two are,” Mel said.
“More to the point you taught Galen half the evil tricks he knows,” Darius said.
“Closer to 80%, but it’s true, those two are dangerous,” Fari said.
“As dangerous as we were?” Mel asked.
“What you mean ‘were’?” Darius asked.
“She’s trying to lure us into a false sense of security,” Fari said.
“Which means she has a plan,” Darius said.
“And that it’s a terrible one,” Fari said.
“I was just thinking…” Mel began.
“We should really stop her right there, shouldn’t we?” Darius asked.
“But you know we’re not going to,” Fari said. “I mean we never have before right?”
“This is true,” Darius said.
“Right, so I was just thinking, a dead worm the size of the one we left in Bithrion will probably attract an even bigger fish before too long right?” Mel said.
“And you want to find a way to catch that fish too don’t you?” Fari asked.
Darius settled for sighing in amusement.
“You know me so well,” Mel said.
Without another word, the three packed up their items, slipped out the party-city and, with no one the wiser, rocketed away in search of their next adventure.
And so we reach the conclusion of the Crystal Stars Saga! Thank you for following Mel’s adventures with me.
Over a year ago, at the start of “The Seas of Tomorrow”, I had the image of a tough street fighter, a galaxy of magic, a fledgling empire of peace and the notion that I wanted five books to tell the tales of the people within it. Five books was more writing in a single universe than I’d done before though, so I wasn’t sure how practical that would be.
As it turns out, these five books were a joy to write. There’s so many adventures to be had in the Crystal Empire that I could probably set another five books there and not run out of things to share with you.
For now though, we’re going to leave Mel and Darius and Fari to their own adventures, as we left Jin and Way before, and turn to a new world where new characters await us.
Please join me on Sunday for Chapter 1 of “The Mind’s Armor”, Book 1 of the Pact Knight Chronicles.