Defeating a nigh-immortal foe should have made things easier, or at least safer, but of course that wasn’t the sort of life I’d been given. Channeling the power of the Jewel of Endless Night left me feeling like I’d been burned to ash myself. Without the Jewel’s anima to support me I fell to my knees on the stage and then dropped to my hands for support.
Beside me I saw Yael collapse and remembered the gut wound she’d taken from the Khan. Zyla caught her before she could hit the deck and gently lowered the apprentice Guardian to floor. With practiced ease, Zyla ripped Yael’s shirt open and laid her hands on the wound beneath. The healing spell was sloppier than Taisen’s were. I could feel the anima spilling out from under Zyla’s hands as she forced it to reinforce Yael’s battered body. The slight boost I got from that spillover was gratefully received and left me confident that Yael would survive her injuries. At least long enough for something else to kill us.
On my other side, Opal helped ease Akell down as well. The boy commander was unconscious too, though I was pretty sure he hadn’t taken any damage beyond what I’d inflicted on him and the Jewel had healed that almost as fast as I’d caused it. A glance at Opal told me that she’d had a hand in returning Akell to an unconscious state. Despite the fact that he’d helped us, that was probably for the best. It hadn’t been out of love for us that he’d aided us in destroying the Khan after all.
I drew in a few breaths to center myself and glanced up to see the translucent blue form of Fari crouched down, inspecting me.
“What did you do?” she asked, searching my face for something I couldn’t guess at.
“Destroyed the Khan.” I replied.
“It’s gone though. All the power. How did you get rid of it?” she asked.
“Sent it all at him. We let the ghosts carry it away.” I said. I still felt burned inside and out but as long as I didn’t have to move I could feel a trickle of strength returning to me.
“It’s gone?” she asked, there was a quaver in her voice that made me look up again. Her expression was flickering between dozens of emotions.
“Yeah. I couldn’t hold on to that much anima. None of us could. I’m sorry. It was the only way to beat him.” I said.
Fari’s reply was to leap on me and wrap her arms around my shoulders and neck. I was going to break out of the hold until I heard her sobbing. They were great, big, wracking sobs of unrestrained emotion.
“Thank you. Thank you.” she said, over and over.
I sat back so that my knees and feet were still on the ground and pulled Fari into a consoling hug. She was aeons old, but in that moment she didn’t seem all that different from any of the little kids at the orphanage.
Our moment was cut short by the ship bucking and pitching again.
“Healer Taisen, what’s happening?” Opal called out.
“The good news is that we’re free of the catch web they trapped us with. The bad news is that they’re shooting at us again.” Taisen said.
“Can you outrun them?” Opal asked.
“He cannot.” Weri, the First Circle Scion of the Karr Khan, said, cutting into the ship’s communicators. “All Karr forces, open fire at the fleeing yacht. Capture orders are officially rescinded. Blow them out of the sky.”
“This is bad.” Zyla said. “If the Khan came here in person then he brought hundreds of ships with him. This yacht cannot withstand that level of opposition.”
“Don’t worry about offering to surrender, we are not accepting anything except your complete destruction.” Weri said.
“That’s good to hear Karr commander.” a familiar voice said.
“Who is this?” Weri said.
“This is Captain Hanq Okoro, in command of the war frigate Steelheart.” Master Hanq said over the ship-to-ship communications link.
“The what now?” I asked.
“Took him long enough.” Opal grumbled.
There was a pause on the ship-to-ship line before Weri spoke again.
“Warlord Okoro. We have records of your career. You’re supposed to be dead.”
“You should just assume I’m a ghost then.” Master Hanq said.
“And why would we do that? We have you on our scans. That ship at least is real, if terribly antiquated.” Weri said.
“Because ghosts don’t offer surrender terms either.” Master Hanq said.
“You want to destroy the Crystal Guardians too?” Weri said.
“Not at all. I want to destroy you, and if you harm them I won’t be required to offer you the option to stand down.”
On some level, I knew that Master Hanq didn’t actually want them to destroy us, but the eagerness in his voice was scary to hear regardless.
“That’s a wonderful bit of bravado there Warlord Okoro but one ship is not going to stand against our fleet.” Weri said.
“I know. If you’ve looked at my records, you should really consider what that means.” Master Hanq said.
“I’ve got a ship transferring through the warp portal.” Taisen called out.
“Ah, good my friends made it to the party.” Master Hanq said.
“This is absurd. Karr forces, destroy all three enemy vessels.” Weri said. “No broken down fleet of retired warlord pretenders is worth our time.”
“You’re wrong about several things Karr commander.” Master Hanq said.
“And what would those be?” Weri asked.
“First, there are more than three of us here.” Master Hanq said.
“Detecting multiple launches from the planet’s surface, are those your friends Master Okoro?” Taisen asked.
“Some of them.” he agree. “Second, if you scan these ships you’ll see they’re not antiquated, they’re artifacts.”
I heard Zyla’s breath catch at that.
“What does that mean?” I asked her.
“It means they’re not antiquated, they’re ancient, and ships only get to be ancient if they’re powerful. Extremely powerful.” Zyla said.
“And third, I’ve made some new friends since my Warlord days.” Master Hanq said.
“Ship emerging from the warp portal.” Taisen said. “Wait a minute though. These scans can’t be right. It’s not a ship. It’s a moon.”
“Technically, we call them Crystal Stars.” Opal said.
There wasn’t much of a fight after that. The Karr forces were caught between the anvil of Master Hanq’s revived warlord ships and the hammer of one of the Crystal Empresses Battle Moons. The forces were so mismatched the outcome of the conflict wasn’t in doubt in anyone’s mind. The Karr tried to stage a fighting retreat, but it quickly became a panicked route which turned into an abject surrender.
Despite the bloody tone he took at the beginning of his conversation with Weri, Master Hanq was more than willing to manage the unconditional surrender of the Karr fleet that had assaulted Belstarius.
As it turned out, the rest of their fleet, or at least the part which had been left behind to guard the other end of the warp portal hadn’t been so reasonable and had been reduced to space dust by the Crystal Star.
Taisen was able to keep our yacht together through the battle, and Zyla and Opal were able to make sure Yael pulled through as well. Once I was sure that was being handled I opted for the sanest course of action I could imagine; I passed out into a deep, dark sleep.
“You did well.” my mother said in my dreams.
I knew she was only a dream, but it still felt wonderful to see her. I hadn’t dreamed of her in I-didn’t-know-how-many years. I hadn’t even thought of her in fact. I’d shut everything away so that I wouldn’t have to remember losing her.
When I woke up my eyes were wet and Master Hanq was sitting beside me.
“Nice to see you back in the living world.” he said.
“Nice to see you too.” I told him. I dried my eyes on my sleeve and found that I was laying in a freakishly soft bed with sheets that smelled like they had been laundered in heaven. “Cut it a bit close though didn’t you?”
“Closer than I would have liked. Didn’t know I was going to need to call in the cavalry though.” he said.
“We’re on the Crystal Star now aren’t we?” I asked. The elegance of the decor was a dead giveaway that we weren’t on a Warlord ship or Master Hanq’s house on Belstarius.
“That we are.” he agreed.
“How did you get them here?” I asked.
“I still had a communications gem they left with me after we discussed my retirement. The Guardian I spoke with then left it as a standing offer to enlist with them. With Opal’s name and passcodes, I was able to get them to mobilize in time.” he said.
“You enlisted too though, didn’t you?” I asked.
“It helped convince them of the gravity of the situation.” he said.
“Thank you.” I said.
“You’re welcome, but, to be honest, it wasn’t just for you kiddo. Now that my prize pupil is all grown up, I think I’m free to get back in the game. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines too long.” Master Hanq said shaking his head.
“What happened wasn’t your fault.” I said.
“I know that, but I know I can do a lot more than I have been to make sure things like that don’t happen again.” he said. “And anyways it’s a chance to see some old friends again.”
“So you’re going to ship out with them?” I asked.
“Once I’ve taken care of things here.” he said.
“That’s going to be kind of weird.” I said.
“Have you given any thought to what you’re going to do next?” he asked.
“Not really. I figured I’d be fertilizer or worse by this point.” I said.
“You could join up too.” he suggested.
“I’m kind of damaged goods aren’t I?” I said. I reached out for my anima and found that it had recovered. A tiny bit. That was still more than I’d ever had before, so I wasn’t too unhappy but after channeling the might of a star I couldn’t help but feel kind of small and insignificant.
“We all are.” Yael said as she limped into my room. Zyla was with her, but Yael was leaning on a crutch for support.
“Thank you. Both of you.” I said. It was an understatement to say I owed them my life.
“We owe you our thanks.” Opal said, entering the room behind them.
“Would that thanks extend to taking her in?” Master Hanq asked.
“If she wanted to join our ranks, I believe Miss Watersward would make an exceptional Guardian.” Opal said. “That’s not something she needs to make up her mind about now though.”
“Thank you.” I said. My heart felt funny at the thought. Good things like that weren’t supposed to happen to me, at least not as far I’d experienced.
“Where’s Healer Taisen by the way?” I asked, since he was the only one of our little crew who was absent.
“Already off on another assignment.” Yael said. “There are still forces loyal to the Karr Khan out there. Shutting down their attempts to organization now will save us a lot of trouble later.”
“And Akell?” I asked.
“My brother is in a mental care ward. The mind healers believe he may recover some day, but its too early to say for sure.” Zyla said.
“He helped us too though, didn’t he?” I asked.
“Parts of him did. His hatred for my father. His talent with Energetic anima.” Zyla said.
“And his pride, and his hopes for what could have been.” Opal said. “It was hasty work putting him back together temporarily but there was more than hatred which drove your brother.”
“At the end maybe. Not in his life from what I saw.” Zyla said.
“Even with mind anima, we never see everything that makes up another person. There are always hidden sides to them. Darknesses that even they themselves are unaware of.” Opal said.
There’d been a lot of darkness in my life, both recently and long term, but some of it was starting to fall away.
“We should let her rest.” Opal said.
“Yeah, I could use some food.” Master Hanq said as he rose from the chair beside my bed. Like the gallant gentleman that I’d never seen him be, he offered his arm to Opal who took it with a smile.
“You’re wrong about a lot of things, but you were right when it counted.” Zyla said before making her exit. I wasn’t sure exactly what she was referring to but I chose to take that as a compliment anyways. Yael followed her out, but not before casting me a smile and a small salute. It was good that I was laying down already. The two of them being nice to me might have knocked me over otherwise.
Once they were gone, Fari appeared, sitting at the foot of my bed.
“Hi.” she said, shyly.
I looked down at my hand. The Jewel of Endless Night wasn’t there.
“Hello there. Where’s your jewel?” I asked. She pointed to my chest and I reached under the soft white shirt someone had dressed me in and found a clear gem that sparkled with blue and silver light on a chain around my neck.
“Is this the Jewel of Endless Night?” I asked her.
“Not any more.” Fari said happily.
“But you’re still tied to it?” I asked.
“Yes. And to you. You’re still my master.” Fari said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I have to serve whoever has claimed the Jewel.” she said.
“Ok. Do me a favor would you? Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” I said. She did as I asked but looked confused. I smiled and took the chain off from around my neck.
With slow care, I cupped Fari’s hands in mine. They felt warm and more solid than her translucent body appeared to be.
“This is yours.” I told her and pulled my hands away, leaving the clear gem and the chain in hers.
Her expression when she opened her eyes was priceless. Pure, unadulterated astonishment.
“You should never belong to anyone else but yourself.” I told her.
I’d made the mistake of sitting up to hand Fari the gem. That meant when she tackle hugged me I got slammed back into the bed. She didn’t hold me down for long though. After squeezing me so tight that I thought my ribs were going to turn to dust, she rocketed around the room like a firework and then shot out into the hall giggling like the over excited little girl that she was.
I watched her leave and smiled.
My Void anima was resting within me. I couldn’t see my future. No one could. It was dark and unknown, at least until I got there. But I could get there. I had to. Like it or not, the current of time pulled me onwards and made my life change and sometimes those changes weren’t such a bad thing.