Fighting the Seed of Darkness when I’d been in its mental realm had been easy. Absorbing it had been even easier. Living with it as it tore apart the anima within me though? That was just a bit harder.
“Mel!” I heard Taisen call out to me but it felt like he was a mile away. I knew I was falling, or that I’d already fallen onto the ground. I couldn’t tell which was true, only that I felt like all of the strength had been drained from me and my outsides had gone numb. My insides were a whole other story though.
“Why is this never easy!” Taisen grumbled. He might have screamed it, but all I could hear was a whisper.
I wanted to tell him that I’d be ok. I wanted to tell myself that, but the truth was I hadn’t been ready for how bad the Seed’s effects would be. The brand that bound it to me was only on my hand but the Seed had diffused itself everywhere through my body. Wherever I tried to shift my anima, the Seed was there ready to devour it.
I felt stupid. I’d seen the effect it had on Yael. She was vastly better trained in controlling her anima and the Seed had left her as nothing more than a comatose mass of pain. I didn’t know the kind of tricks that she did, and unless I figured them out, I didn’t think I was going to last a hundredth as long as she had.
“Healer Taisen? What’s happened? What are you doing?” I heard a groggy Yael ask.
The pain was still there, and growing worse, but I felt a small reservoir of physical strength pooling up in me.
“Restoring your power. You’ve been through an ordeal. Rest.” Taisen answered.
I felt more strength running down my arms and legs. It was a tiny trickle compared to what the Seed was consuming but it was enough that I was able to force open one of my eyes.
Taisen was on his knees, with one hand on me and the other on Yael. He was pouring energy into both of us, healing Yael of the damage she’d taken and keeping me conscious. Around us, the barrier I’d erected still stood, shielding us from outside attacks.
“I’m going to get you back on your feet, and then we’ll carry Mel out of here.” Taisen said.
“Oh, you will never escape me now.” the Seed said, his words echoing in my mind.
I closed my eyes, and let my focus sink down into my center. It was a meditation technique I’d learned from Master Hanq. I hadn’t guessed at the time that it had anything to do with manipulating mental Anima but, like with a lot of other things Master Hanq taught me, there were more uses for it than I’d originally imagined.
“I beat you once already.” I told the Seed.
We were inside my mind this time, so I got to decide what it looked like. Or at least I thought I did. I’d envisioned meeting the Seed in the gray cityscape that was all that was left of my home. I wanted to use it as a talisman to embody why I was in this fight. I wanted to use that empty, hollow rage that I’d felt against any part of the Karr Khan that I could.
Around me the gray, empty buildings sprang up in the light of what should have been a beautiful day. With them came people though. Not one or two or a dozen, but rather hundreds. I didn’t understand what I was seeing until their faces started catching on my memories. I recognized them not from having seen them in life but from the memories that poured into me when I opened the shelter.
“Who you think you have beaten little girl?” the Seed asked. I’d expected him to appear before me like he had when we’d met in his mind realm. The figure that loomed over my city though was taller than any of the buildings and appeared nothing at all like a human being.
The only remnants of humanity in the Seed’s form were grotesquely distorted. A head that was both bulbous and crushed in with so many eyes that a spider would be jealous. From the central mass that could only barely be described as a body, ten thousand arms extruded outwards in all directions except down. Only two of the arms extended downwards and both were plunged into the heart of my city.
I saw my anima flowing up the veins of one of the arms, while down the other arm a thick sludge of brown and green and puss yellow flowed. The Seed wasn’t just taking from me, it was also spewing in bits of the Karr Khan’s mind to be able to control the monster that I would become.
“How the hell are you so big here?” I asked. I could feel my control of the city, of my mind, slipping away from me.
“You’ve made such a tragic error my dear. I’m sure it felt wonderful to think that you had thwarted my tool. You no doubt rejoiced at ‘saving’ the Crystal Guardian. Unfortunately for you, you managed to catch my attention in the process.” The voice that spoke sounded like the Seed, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t who I was speaking to anymore.
“So you’re the Eternal Khan then?” I asked.
“Yes. I have always been the Eternal Khan. All the parts of me are one, as you shall soon be as well.” he said.
Saying the ghosts “reacted” to the Khan’s words would have been an understatement. The awareness of who was speaking spread through the denizens of my mental city like a wave. Their pale, translucent forms shifted into red, vaguely human shaped, columns of fire. With a scream that was deafening despite being purely psychic in nature, they rose toward the Khan’s inhuman form and began to burn him with their hate and sorrow.
In response the Khan simply laughed.
“Are these the defenders you hoped to save yourself with?” he sounded like a little boy who’d found a toy labeled “break me please”.
I watched, alternately hopefully and terrified. I hadn’t known about the ghosts at all. I thought they’d left me, but if so my memories of them were strong enough to call them back, or more likely they’d waited within me, silent thanks to the fact that I’d done little except work against the Karr Khan’s forces since I’d encountered them.
Their rage was a fearsome thing to behold. Even from hundreds of yards below them I could feel the psychic heat of the force they were bringing to bear on the Karr Khan’s mind. I remembered the power that I’d gained when I’d absorbed the two soldiers animas and the force Akell had demonstrated getting to the Ravager. Taken together, even ordinary people could be immensely powerful. From those experiences, it seemed like they should have been easily able to destroy the Khan. His laughter filled me with dread though, and as the last of the ghosts reached the main body, my dread was confirmed.
By the dozens, the raging flames winked out and the insubstantial bodies of the ghosts fell from the Khan’s giant form. Most didn’t make it to the streets below before fading away into nothingness. The few that did, hit the ground, beaten and bereft of the force they’d retained beyond their deaths.
“So much energy. This is delightful beyond reason.” the Karr Khan said.
I felt the torrent of life that was rushing out of me expand into a river as the Khan greedily drank more of my anima in huge gulps.
It’s easy to pretend to be brave. It’s easy to mouth off to people when you’ve got nothing else that you can do to them and nothing more to lose. Maybe it’s even easy for some people to accept death when its undeniably coming for them. It wasn’t for me though.
I could feel Taisen pouring more of his energy into me, but it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough. He was one man and the Karr Khan was a multitude.
“Do you want to know what I will do with you once your will is eradicated?” the Khan asked. “Since you were so keen to save the Crystal Guardian, I’m going to make you my tool for destroying them.”
More of the toxic sludge that was flowing down one of his arms spewed over my city and I felt my thoughts bogging down.
“You won’t be very strong at first. At least not by comparison to what you will become once I’ve honed you properly.” the Khan continued. “So I will send you against weak targets. Their trainees. Their families. Those they have sworn to protect who cannot protect themselves.”
“Why?” The question croaked out before I could stop myself.
“Because the Crystal Empress must be stopped. She is the only one who holds power that can rival my own but she is lost in naivety. The order she is imposing on the galaxy is unnatural. It can last only so long as she holds the million worlds of her dominion together personally. When she falls, she will leave behind a galaxy which has nurtured the weak and the foolish and the wars that will rage then will return everyone to the Silent Aeons.”
“And you’re better?” I still had some of my anger, but even that was fading quickly as everything drained out of me.
“I shall never fall. I am Eternal. Under my hand, the million worlds will breed the strongest of minds, the most powerful of wills. My dominion shall grow ever greater as I shall as well. Where the Crystal Empress would hobbled the galaxy catering to the weakest and most useless, under my rule there shall be true prosperity.” the Khan said.
“She’s already kicked…”, I could feel the words fading away in me but I fought to pull them together anyways, “She’s already kicked your butt once.”
“Treachery was her only weapon in that battle, and I have taken it away from her, and thanks to you, I will have even more power when next we meet in battle.”
Standing in the shadow of the Karr Khan’s enormous bulk, I knew he was right. I’d made a tragic error. He was more powerful than I could have ever imagined. I’d been a fool to think I could match him.
Bitter tears, rolled down my face both in the mental realm and in the physical world. I’d never had anima before, I’d never been anyone special, but somehow I was going to die from having all of my anima drained out and thanks to me the one bright spot in the last millennia of galactic history was going to die. It wasn’t fair or true, but it felt that way.
“Why can’t I go back to the way I was, when I didn’t have any anima at all.” I complained. It seemed ridiculous to be nostalgic for the far off time of “yesterday”, when I had no strength, but it beat the situation I was in. As my death approached me, I longed to be the girl I’d been. Not strong with anima, but at least strong in her own way.
“Wait. Why can’t I go back?” I asked myself. Adrenaline is a purely physical agent, with no dependency on anima, and that thought dumped about ten thousand gallons of it into my bloodstream.
Since the first time I’d separated my animas in Taisen’s office, I’d been thinking of “my Physical anima” and “the Void anima that I carried”. I’d been distancing myself from the terrifying dark anima inside me, especially after I killed people with it.
It wasn’t “the Void anima I carried inside me” though.
It was my anima.
All of it. My Physical anima, my Mental anima, my Aetherial anima, my Energetic anima and, most of all, my Void anima. I was scared of it because I was scared of not being able to control myself. That fear was perfectly reasonable, but rejecting a part of myself was not.
I’d lived for seventeen years with my Void anima so tightly woven into the rest of my being that none of the dozens of tests I’d been subjected to had ever been able to discern the presence of any other anima. If Master Hanq had known that I’d had any anima to work with it had been as an article of faith, not from anything he could have observed.
The Karr Khan was huge and powerful. Much more powerful than I was, but this was my mind, my body and my spirit. I had the home field advantage here and he knew it. That’s why he’d appeared so overwhelmingly powerful. He needed to make sure that the last thing I would think to do was to try to fight back.
With a laugh of my own, I embraced the terror that I’d felt since I first saw my Void anima.
“What do you find so hysterical?” the Karr Khan asked in an annoyed voice and my spirit soared.
“This.” I told him and drew my Void anima inwards. I didn’t hold anything apart from it. No reserve of Physical anima, no sheltered thoughts of Mental anima. It wasn’t going to “take me over” because there was no “it”. “It” was me. “It” hadn’t killed those soldiers. I had. “It” hadn’t defended us. I had.
Just like my mother had taught me.
I had the briefest of images of her. We’d been on a ship. It had hummed like this one did. There’d been an attack and she’d hidden me. She’d wanted me to be safe, even though she couldn’t be.
There were other memories there, waiting for some other time. That one image was all I needed though.
I was not going to go down without a fight.
In my mental realm the sky darkened and the Karr Khan’s arms that reached out the the heavens, reached out to his other selves, were severed. One by one the lights in the city began to fade away as my darkness reached out to protect me.
“You can’t escape so easily. This piece of me is still a part of all that I am.” the Khan said.
“I’m not trying to escape.” my voice came from the darkness all around the Khan’s body. “And you’re the one who’s not getting away from me.”