If I had to pick someone to take on the world with, Yael would not have been my first choice. She wouldn’t have been my second, my tenth or my hundredth choice either. As it was though, she was my only choice.
“You should leave.” Yael said without preamble. It was nice to see that we were in agreement on working together.
“You can’t even stand yet.” I pointed out. She was still sitting on the ground at the base of the rock she’d crashed into. Between the slow pulses of power that radiated off of her and how careful and controlled her breathing was I could tell that she was working a spell that was near the limits of her ability.
“It’s more efficient to heal myself this way. I’ll be fine. Go look for Master Kinsguard and Taisen.”, she said.
“No.” I replied.
I knew how annoying it could be to have someone distracting you while you were doing delicate work. She was the one who’d opened her mouth and started this though, so I didn’t have much sympathy for her.
“Don’t argue with me. I don’t need your help.” she growled.
“Good. I don’t particularly feel like giving it to you. I also don’t have any idea where anyone else is and I’m not going to run off on a wild hunt for them.” I said.
“Then what do you want to do?” Yael asked. The irritation in her voice could not have been doing anything good for her spell casting.
“Akell needs to be stopped. Zyla needs to be stopped. The Karr Khan needs to be stopped. I don’t think what I ‘want’ to do really matters.” I said.
“Good. Then leave. You’re going to be a distraction if you stay.” Yael said, as she released her spell and climbed to her feet.
“Answer me this first; can you take on all of them, and win, guaranteed?” I asked.
“I can buy time for Master Kinsguard.” Yael replied. Her face was all hard lines and tension.
“You just said you lost your link to her.” I reminded her.
“That doesn’t mean anything.” She restrained herself from screaming the words at me but not by much. Despite the volume and the harshness she put into the words though there wasn’t a lot of conviction behind them.
“Yes it does. It means you’re gambling that help will come.” I said.
That got under her skin deep enough that she drew her anima blade on me.
“Yes. Yes I’m gambling. The odds are long. I could die or worse. That’s what it means to be a Guardian. That’s what we do.” Yael’s scowl made me step back as much as the anima blade in her hand did. I felt myself shrinking in the face of her anger and grabbed hold of the fear that was snaking up my spine.
“So are you arrogant or just stupid then?” I asked, stepping in closer to the tip of the blade she held out.
“What do you mean?” Her scowl deepened into a snarl. If I wanted to get stabbed, it looked like it would be pretty easy to arrange. One more insult, maybe two at the most.
“You’re facing impossible odds and you’re not fully trained either. It’s not good enough for you to go out there and die like a good little Guardian, you’ve got to go out there to win this.” I said.
“That’s what I’m trying to do.” Yael replied, lowering her anima blade to her side.
“No. You’re not. If you were trying to win you’d be figuring out how to take advantage of everything you had available to you. Ever since you woke up, you’ve been gearing yourself up for a big, hopeless battle.” I said.
“And you think you know what I should do?” she asked.
“No. I just know that trying to send me away to protect me like a good Guardian isn’t going to increase the chances of you winning this. Yes, I’m new to what I can do, but I can still do things you can’t, and I’m not an idiot. I made a mistake on the transport. I’m not going to make that same mistake again.” I said.
“Great, so you’ll make other ones instead.”
“Yeah. So what? So will you. So would Master Hanq or Taisen or your teacher. Nobody’s perfect.” I said.
“If I have to protect you, I’m not going to be able to fight as effectively as I could alone.” Yael insisted.
“Then don’t protect me. If I get killed, it’s on me, not you. If I get captured, I’ll free myself or die trying.” I said and forced myself to breathe to release the tension that had clamped my hands into fists. “Listen, I don’t want to work with you either, but you’re the one who knows where the Jewel is and where Akell is going to be. He’s got enough of a head start on us already and we don’t have time to argue about this.”
“It’s not that simple.” Yael said, closing her eyes and shaking her bowed head.
“Yes it is. You need all the help you can get, and I’m all that’s available for now.” I said.
With a sigh, the apprentice Ruby Guardian looked up at me. She was still frowning.
“You should really run.” she said again, but then added before I could speak, “But if you’re not going to then you’re right. We should move out.”
“Are you finished healing up?” I asked.
“Close enough to it. I can fix the rest as we move.” Yael said.
“Where do we go?” I asked.
“The Warlord said there was a cave entrance on the northern side of this mountain. If we get close, I can follow the trail of the tracking spell that Master Kinsguard put on Akell.” Yael said. I bristled at her calling Master Hanq a warlord, but didn’t call her on it.
“Can you run?” I asked.
“Yes. Try to keep up.” she replied and took off at a superhuman sprinting speed.
I reached out for my Physical anima and let it flow through me. Catching up to Yael was almost effortless. It wasn’t a fair race though. She was holding back to reserve strength for healing while I was free to run as fast as I wanted to. Being able to overtake her wasn’t that useful of course since she was the one who knew where we were going. At least in theory. I started to doubt that when I noticed that we were running a long zig zag pattern up and down the side of the mountain. I’d become convinced that we were looking in the wrong spot when she skidded to a stop and froze in place.
“What is it?” I asked, stopping beside her.
“I found the trail.” she whispered. She had her eyes open but her gaze was turned inwards.
“And something else?” I guessed.
“Zyla’s here, waiting for us.” she whispered in reply. I knew it was foolish but I started looking around for either of the Karr Khan’s Scions.
“How close is she?” I asked, reducing my voice to a whisper as well.
“It’s hard to tell. She’s well hidden. Not moving either. The cave is a little more than a half mile directly ahead of us though.” Yael said.
“So she’s focused on us rather than Akell?” I asked.
“Definitely. She might have subordinates going after him, but she’s set up a web around this place to trap us.” Yael said.
“What kind of web?” I asked.
“Physical and anima. She has personnel stationed in a ring around her position, probably with several that I can’t sense, and she’s rigged lines of Aetherial anima that radiate out from the cave entrance we need to reach.” Yael said.
“Aetherial anima? Why? What’s she doing with it?” I asked.
“Looking to lure us into a trap.” Yael said. “If we touch one of the threads, it will ‘stick to us’. That will let Zyla pull us to where she is.”
“Can we go around it?”
“Not that I can see. The cave mouth is completely sealed by the treads and they remain solid a fair distance away from the cave.” Yael said.
“Ok then, what would you do in a situation like this?” I asked.
“Take out the thread caster.” Yael replied.
“Which would be her, so she gets the fight she wants anyways.” I said.
“She’s had time to prepare. That let’s her set the opening moves of the game.”
“We need to turn it around on her then. Put her into a position that limits her somehow.” I said.
“That’s why we take the direct route. It’s a trap, but going into it with our eyes open gives her the least chance of binding us further with destiny spells.” Yael said.
“We’re not bound yet are we?” I asked.
“A little, her magic is strong and it’s taking advantage of the existing conditions. We have to follow Akell if we want to stop the Jewel from being unleashed, so our path is naturally constrained to lead to him, even if we find alternate means of getting there.”
I thought about that for a moment and then remembered what Zyla’s big “First Circle” brother Weri had done to me.
“If she has a spell hanging out there, can you use it as a link to her?” I asked.
“Yes, but she’ll be able to block most of the spells I could cast down it.” Yael said.
“What about one that summons her to us? That would still be fulfilling the principal effect of the original spell, but it would let us fight her somewhere that she’s not setup to ambush us.” I said.
Yael paused to consider that idea.
“It would work, but she won’t come alone. It’s not a teleport, or a mental compulsion. Destiny spells control and guide random events and the choices that people have available. She’d come to wherever we summoned her but she’d be aware of what was happening and be expecting trouble.” Yael said.
“Just like we are now.”
“Except that she’ll have a small army at her back.”
“Can we escape the army?” I asked
“Not if there’s two destiny spells pulling us together.”
“Can we beat the army?”
“Hard to say. Zyla knows what we can do. She’s not dumb enough to bring a force that doesn’t have a chance against us. But she may be counting on the advantage of the trap she has setup.” Yael said.
“And what’s the chance that this is all an illusion?” I asked.
“Definitely not. It’s too solid and too rooted to be an illusion. She’s staking her plan on this.”
“Why is she so focused on us? Shouldn’t finding the Jewel be more important?” I asked.
“To the Karr Khan? Probably, but they don’t know for sure that it’s in this mountain. All they know is that a failed Third Circle is going in and setting off all the traps for them. If they take us out they can get the Jewel whenever is convenient.” Yael said.
“And Zyla has the perfect spell for finding us.” I added.
“Not perfect, but good enough.” Yael said.
“Wait. Zyla has the spell that’s good enough to find us?” I said.
“Yes. She’s a very good Aetherial caster.”
“What about the troops that are with her? Are they that good?” I asked.
“Very unlikely. Aetherial casters don’t tend to be front line troops unless they’re commanders like Zyla.” Yael said.
“So even if she leaves some troops behind when she comes to find us, they won’t necessarily be able to notice one of us sneaking by them?” I asked.
“No. They probably won’t. I see where you’re going with this though and I don’t like it.” Yael said.
“I don’t either, but I think it’s our best shot. If you call Zyla out, we know she’ll come. She has to right? She’ll bring her troops with her, but if I’m not here you can fight as defensively as you need to.” I said.
“Meanwhile you’ll cloak yourself and try to sneak in after Akell?” she asked.
“I know it’s dangerous. He’s seen me in action too, but he’s probably not expecting me to show up.” I said.
“What if Zyla has other traps laid. Or Akell hasn’t set off all of the traps that lead to the Jewel?” Yael asked.
“Then at least I’ll clear part of the way for you.” I said.
Yael about that thought for a moment and then turned to me.
“This plan sucks. It’s probably going to get us both killed, but I’m not coming up with anything better. I’m going to say this one more time: you should run away. You don’t have to die here.” she offered.
“Neither do you. So let’s focus on staying alive. We’re not going to stop them as corpses.” I said.
Yael looked at me and blew out a slow breath.
“Agreed. Now give me a few minutes, I have an idea that I want to work on too.” she said with the gleam of a wicked insight burning in her eyes.