Category Archives: Winds of Yesterday

Chapters of the “Winds of Yesterday” novel.

The Winds of Yesterday – Extra Bonus Story – The Dinner Date

There are times when we can stand alone and times when we must depend on our friends. Times when the challenges before us are too great to be overcome by any one person’s skill or power. It’s then that we have to rely on the bonds that we’ve forged, the friendships we’ve made and the good will that our many kind and charitable acts have earned us.

“No, Mel, I can’t read his mind for you!” Fari said.

“Not even a little bit?” I asked.

“No! I mean, I wouldn’t even if I could, but I’m telling you, I can’t do that. As in I’m not capable of it,” Fari said. “I don’t get why you would even want me too? Isn’t this supposed to be a special ‘alone time’ for you two tonight?”

“It’s just dinner,” I said.

“Then what are you nervous about?”

“I don’t know!” I tossed my robes on the ground and clenched my fists at nothing in particular.

I was still wearing my hospital robes despite having been discharged and relocated to a “recovery clinic” (which was nicer than any hospital I’d ever seen or been in). After a week of resting and daily healing sessions I was starting to feel like my old self. That would be the “old self” that couldn’t cast anima spells though. I could still sense the magic that I had in me. It felt cold and bright and tingly but I was under strict orders not to use any of it. I’d pushed myself too hard and too far and been hit with too strong an series of magical attacks to risk doing further damage to myself while I healed.

That should have meant that a quiet dinner for two was exactly the kind of thing that I needed. Somehow though my guts felt worse than they did when I’d had a spear of Void anima rammed through them.

“You’ve already kissed him. A couple times right? What’s one little date?” Fari asked.

“Those were spur of the moment things. I didn’t have time to think about them.” I said. I hadn’t meant it as an excuse, which was good because as excuses went it sounded pretty lame.

I plopped down and sat on the edge of the bed I’d been lying in for the earlier part of the day. Fari floated over in her ghostly blue form and settled on the foot of the bed watching me.

“Are you worried about him?” she asked.

“No,” I said right away. “I mean, I’m sure that’ll be fine. He’ll probably be here right on time and everything.”

“Are you worried about you then?”

“No. Maybe?” I said. “I don’t know. This just feels weird. And it shouldn’t. But…”

I dropped back to lay on the bed and felt the low level healing spell it was enchanted with kick in. The warmth of it was familiar after a week of R&R but it didn’t do anything to settle my stomach or my mind.

“There’s something different about this date. Something that’s bothering you,” Fari said. She hadn’t phrased it as a question, but I knew what the answer was anyways.

“It’s stupid,” I said.

“You’re afraid Makkis’ supporters will attack you while you’re eating?” Fari said.

“No, but now that you mention it…” I said and smiled at her.

“I’m not going to guess anymore if it’ll just give you more ideas to worry about.” Fari said. “But come on, what’s bothering you about going out with Darius tonight?”

“It’s stupid. It’s really stupid.” I said.

“Not if its bothering you like this!”

“It’s just…” I started to speak but shut myself down. It even sounded stupid in my head. I couldn’t imagine how much worse it would be to say it.

“Trust me.” Fari said and waited.

Her silence and patience was a gift to me. My silence would have been an insult so I took a breath and said, “It’s just kind of my first one.”

“Your first date?” she asked, tipping her head to the side to consider the information.

“Yeah. I mean, at least my first real one,” I said.

I expected her to explode with laughter, or agree that I was stupid or try to comfort me. She did none of that.

“I can see why you’re nervous.” she said.

“I can’t.” I said. “I’ve kissed him, I’ve saved his life and I can probably take him in a fight even without my anima. I’ve got nothing to be afraid of here!”

“You’re doing something new, and there’s a real chance you’ll get hurt. I don’t think you’re wrong to be afraid,” Fari said.

“He’s not going to hurt me,” I said. “I know that. I mean, he’s had the chance already. He could have shot me when we first met.”

“I don’t think you’re worried about him shooting you,” Fari said. “You’re worried he won’t show up right?”

“I…I know that’s dumb. He’ll be here. And he’ll probably find me in my hospital robes at this rate,” I said.

“He might like that you know. He did come to visit you pretty often this last week while you were recuperating.”

“He wasn’t there yesterday though when they let me out,” I said. It shouldn’t have hurt for that to be true. It was greedy and ridiculous, but that didn’t stop the twinge of pain that I felt.

“He was called before the negotiating committee,” Fari said.

“I know. I know!” I said. Darius had talked with me after the committee session was over to check on how I was settling in at the recovery clinic. It was more than a week after we’d disarmed Hellsreach but the real problems that plagued the planet still had a long way to go before they were resolved. I understood the need for Darius to help in that however he could. Hell, I’d have punched him if he’d tried to hang around with me while the rest of the planet descended into chaos. At the same time though I had to wonder if getting away from me was a difficult choice for him at all.

For the most part, I’d been the one who’d drawn him in. I’d talked about getting dinner together. I’d been the one to kiss him. He’d seemed happy enough with the idea of getting to know each other better, but maybe he was just going along with what I wanted to be nice?

I knew that was the wrong way to think. I knew I should just trust him. It was hard though. I knew I was being stupid but my emotions didn’t care about what I “knew”. They seemed to only remember what I’d experienced, and only the bad stuff for the most part. I remembered people telling me I was ugly, but I couldn’t remember anyone ever complimenting me. I knew they had, I just couldn’t remember them as clearly.

“You’re going to go,” Fari said. “And you’re going to enjoy yourself. Don’t think about how you’re going to make that happen. You don’t need to worry about it. I’ve seen you two together, you’ll be fine.”

“It’d be a lot easier to believe that if I could hear what he was thinking,” I said.

“I don’t think it would be.” Fari said. “Choosing to trust someone is a big part of showing them what they mean to you.”

“What if its wrong to trust them?” I asked.

“Then you can get really hurt,” Fari said. “So, choose carefully I guess? I’m not exactly able to throw stones if you don’t though.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I trusted the people who made me whatever I am now. I was supposed to be very smart, brilliant for my age, but that didn’t stop me from doing something very dumb.”

“So I should call the date off?” I said. It wasn’t what she was suggesting, but I wanted to see where her thoughts lead.

“I don’t know. You might get hurt, but I think the dumbest move is hiding from life.”

“That reminds me of Master Hanq,” I said. “He was big on the whole idea of ‘if you get into a fight you’re going to get hurt’. I guess the same is true with dates right?”

“Combat training might not be the best thing to apply to your love life,” Fari said. “Think of this as a whole different area of study. You’ll trip and stumble and wind up laying on a bed when you should be getting dressed, but you’ll find your way in time.”

“You seem to know a lot about this sort of thing,” I said as I got up and reclaimed my Guardian robes from the floor. “Was there a Jewel of Endless Night dating club that you folks had going on back in the day?”

“We weren’t exactly the ‘dating’ sort,” Fari said. “I’ve just watched people for a long time.”

“So what does your experience suggest then for my date? Should I call it off?” I asked.

“If I said ‘yes’, would you want to ask me more questions and make me justify my answer?” she asked in return.

“Yeah, definitely,” I said.

“And if I said ‘no’, would you accept that and finish getting dressed?” she asked.

“Probably,” I said.

“Then you have your answer don’t you?” she said. “For the record though, I think you should definitely get dressed.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“First, because you and Darius are adorable and could use some time together outside of a hospital room. Second because the experience will be good for you,” she said. “And third, because he’s here and on his way to your room now.”

I squeaked in shock, which is not a sound I normally make, and started throwing off the clothes I was wearing.

I know. Not exactly the brightest move.

I was halfway dressed when I heard a knock at the door to my room. I turned to look at Fari and found that the evil little blue ghost was cracking up in laughter.

“Hello! Umm, Mel?” I heard Darius say.

“One second!” I called back and hastily threw on the rest of my garments. One nice thing about Guardian robes, they’re easy to get into quickly. That was probably a design goal since they tend to carry a lot of battle enchantments. Whether intentional or accidental though, I was glad to be able to open the door before Darius wandered away.

“Sorry I’m early,” he said as I let him into the living room of the suite I had at the clinic. I’d slammed the bedroom door behind me so that he wouldn’t see the maelstrom of clothes I’d left in my wake.

“No, I’m glad you made it!” I said and winced inside. I still felt off balance, but seeing him was nice. Comforting in a way.

“I brought you these,” he said and handed me some plants. I’d never gotten flowers before and I wasn’t sure I could claim to have received any yet with how the plants he handed me looked. They were plain green stems with small thorns along them, and each of the dozen bits of vegetation ended in a brown lump that looked like a realistic depiction of a human heart.

“Thank you.” I said, trying to take the gift in the spirit that it looked like he was giving it.

“Those are Fauni Amurala,” he said. “They’re sensitive to anima and bloom in the most amazing colors. I thought you could use them for practice in your recovery.”

I felt a warm glow lift me up as I looked again at the ugly green and brown plants. I fed one just the barest hint of Physical anima and watched colors sparkle down its length and collect on the edges of the tightly curled heart bud at the end. Even the green and brown ones looked beautiful in light of that.

“Thank you!” I said again, this time with honest joy in my voice.

“I hoped you’d like them,” he said. “I kind of had to ask my father what variety to get and he can have some weird ideas sometimes.”

I laughed.

“So this isn’t your standard gift to all the girls you take to dinner then?” I asked.

“Uh, let’s just say that you’re on a very prestigious list and that it’s been awhile,” Darius said.

“How long is a while?” I asked, curious even though I’d been so unwilling to answer that question myself.

“Well, we were six, but we were very serious there for a while,” he said. “I’m talking two straws in the same fruit juice serious here, so, like I said, it’s a prestigious list.”

I laughed again.

“I’m honored to be included in it then,” I said.

“There was one other thing I wanted to check on before we left,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

And then he stepped in and kissed me.

When we came up for air a few minutes later, I saw him relax and smile as he watched me. His pupils were huge as I stared into his eyes.

“Yep. That confirms it. Going a few days without seeing you is way too long.”

I had to punch him. But not too hard. The last thing I wanted to discourage was things like that after all.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 31

The edge of a volcano is not a great place to pass out. Between the heat, the poisonous gases and the lake of molten rock, I had plenty of reasons to fight to stay conscious after Makkis’ projection winked out. Staying conscious, as it turned out though, was about all I was able to manage.

I wanted to walk back to the base. I wanted to make sure that Darius was ok and that Fari was as in control of things as she appeared to be. I wanted to do a lot of things but all I was able to manage was to hold onto the rock ledge I’d landed on and keep the spells going that were shielding me from the elements.

Based on the reaction of the rescue team that Fari assembled to pick me up, I must have looked absolutely terrifying when they saw me. Darius later told me that I was snarling and on fire with my eyes replaced with burning red embers. I don’t remember any of that, but it would explain why my rescuers waited until he arrived, to attempt to secure me on a stretcher and load me on a transport back to Zawalla.

A week later, I was still in resting in bed and still weaker than I could remember being in years. The healing had begun though. For me and for Hellsreach.

“The negotiators said they had a good session today.” Master Raychelle said. She’d come to visit me after the latest session of the Unified Planetary Talks concluded.

With Hellsreach disarmed and its weapon systems under Imperial control the off worlder forces were more than willing to partake in the peace discussions. The Common Council had a seat at the negotiating table as well, after having been officially recognized by the Crystal Empire as a planetary governing body.

“How are things going with re-adjusting the orbital path?” I asked.

“A little touch and go there.” Master Raychelle said with a smile. “Your friend almost flew us directly into the sun, but she managed to work out the navigational controls before we built up more than a microburst of momentum.”

“I hear the sun’s nice this time of year.” I said.

“I suppose it’s at least a dry heat there.” Master Raychelle agreed with a smile.

“Since she has the navigation under control, does that mean Fari’s going to be staying in charge of the system?” I asked.

Fari herself spoke up in my head, using the mental link she’d re-established once I was in good enough shape to form coherent thoughts.

“No way. I’m out of here as soon as they get some decent casters in to take over for me.” she said.

“I thought you said the systems felt like home?” I said.

“You were half delirious then. I said ‘I feel as big as a house in this thing’. A haunted house at that. It’s creepy being in here all alone.” she said.

“No worries.” Master Raychelle said to Fari. “Guardian Opal will be arriving tomorrow. She doesn’t have your level of experience with massive anima control systems, but she’ll have a hand picked team with her who should be able to manage the adjustments to the planet’s orbit that are still required.”

“Have they decided what they’re going to do with Makkis and Breeg?” I asked, changing the subject to one that had been weighing on my mind.

“The former Councilmen have been taken into Imperial custody. They’re going to face trial off world for their crimes here. We’ve promised the Common Council that they can also be tried here on Hellsreach as well and that Hellsreach trial will have first rights for acquisition of their assets.” Master Raychelle said.

“What about the people who worked with them?” I asked.

“That’s going to be a judicial headache for years to come I imagine.” Master Raychelle said. “High treason charges don’t come with a limitation on when they can be filed. We’ll have investigators here next week to start going through their records and turning over stones to find their accomplices but that’s not an easy task.”

“I told myself I was going to kill him.” I said. I’d debated telling Master Raychelle that. It didn’t seem like the type of thing she would approve of.

“And now?” she asked. “What are you telling yourself now?”

“I don’t know.” I said. “I’ve heard there are groups of his supporters who are calling for his release already. It seems like letting him live is dangerous.”

“It is.” Master Raychelle said. “Do you think we’d be safer if he was dead?”

“Safer from him? Definitely. Safe from people like him? I don’t know. Probably not. Anyone crazy enough to believe in him, is probably as dangerous as he is.” I said.

“So do we kill them all?” she asked.

I pictured it. It would be easy enough, once I had my strength back to creep into his cell and end Makkis’ life. I could even go to the homes of his most vocal supporters and kill them too. Then there would be their families to think about though. An aggrieved spouse, an enraged child. They could turn against me for killing their loved one, so I’d have to kill them as well. And on and on the killing would go.

“No.” I said with a sigh.

“You’re very cruel.” Master Raychelle said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Makkis, Breeg and the others schemed for twenty years to put these events into motion. They invested their lives into this one pursuit. Along the way they gathered more power and prestige than anyone else on the planet. You took that all away from them, and now you’re going to force them to live with what they’ve done and be called to account for their crimes. Their power is shattered and the world can see them for the small, pathetic, monsters they are.” Master Raychelle said. “Can you imagine how much easier it would be for them to be dead. Their lives from here on out will be a broken shadow of the ones they’d thought they would lead. It would be kinder to spare them that, but I don’t think they deserve that much kindness.”

“I could adjust their holding cells. Let them see what it was like on the edge of the volcano for you.” Fari offered.

I smiled in appreciation at the offer, but shook my head.

“No, I think Master Raychelle is right.” I said. “They’re beaten. Everything they had fell apart when you took control of the planetary systems. That’s going to gnaw on them forever. Anything else we do to them just reflects badly on us.”

“Speaking of that, I still need to get an official report from you on your actions after we parted.” Master Raychelle said.

“I thought that’s what we did yesterday?” I said.

“We only got up to the point where you spoke with Makkis in the prison cell.” Master Raychelle reminded me. “I know what you did afterwards, but given the events that followed I know you also had a plan in place that Makkis missed.”

“Darius would be the one to talk to for the specific details about that, but I can give you the general ideas we came up with.” I said.

“That should be enough for the initial report.” Master Raychelle said. “The evaluation committee will go into greater depth with you during your after-duty review.”

She’d warned me about the inevitable grilling session I would need to sit through. The “After-Duty Review” was standard practice after any operation where planetary laws were so much as infringed on. I thought my actions were justifiable, and I had reasonable hopes the evaluators would as well, but I had assaulted a number of individuals and destroyed a fair amount of private and public property. The actual list of charges went on quite a bit longer than that, but most were only there for technical reasons and would be upheld or absolved based on the merits of the more serious issues.

“Darius and I knew that Makkis would stop anything I tried to do. We also knew he wanted to use me to get to you.” I said.

“You didn’t know for certain that I was even alive though.” Master Raychelle said.

“I didn’t but I was willing to bet that you’d escaped Deep Run. More importantly though, it looked like Makkis believed you were alive, and that was the card we were able to play against him.” I said.

“You knew he would focus on you.” Master Raychelle said.

“Exactly. That meant that if I left an invisibility cloak on Darius, he’d be able to move freely as long as he didn’t go near the lower exit or the weapon system controls where Makkis expected to see me.” I said.

“So where did you send him?” Master Raychelle asked.

“The Spell Forge.” I said. “Makkis told me that he cast Fari into it, so I sent Darius to build a link from the Forge to the base’s security system.”

“How did you know I was still alive?” Fari asked.

“Sheer, unbridled hope.” I told her. “Plus I reasoned that you’d dealt with millions or billions of times more power than Hellsreach had access to when you were managing the Jewel of Endless Night.”

“My gem’s carefully constructed to be my home though. The Spell Forge is designed to rip magic apart.” Fari said.

“And that’s why Makkis didn’t see this coming.” I said. “He thought you were just a spell. I knew better.”

“I don’t know what I am though.” Fari said.

“You’re a uniquely talented girl.” Master Raychelle said. “Also one who we should probably get an official ID setup for. I know you can hide in that gem of yours but after this I suspect you’ll be due some recognition as well.”

“From there you pretty much know what happened.” I said, continuing my story. “Once Fari was able to escape the Spell Forge, she cut through the protections on the planetary control systems like an anima blade through soft tissue. That put us in control of both its weapon systems and the World Drive that was changing the planet’s orbital path.”

“I couldn’t have done it without both of you.” Fari said.

“And she’s modest too.” I said with a smile.

“No, seriously!” Fari said. “Master Raychelle had most of the weapon systems offline by the time I was freed. That made it a lot easier to capture the entire grid. If they hadn’t been shut off, Makkis could have used any of the terminals I didn’t take control of to kick me out of the system. And it was thanks to you Mel that I had the time to take over the one in the base we invaded. I flubbed the activation spells twice before I got a lock on the central control enchantment. If Makkis hadn’t been ranting at you, he would have noticed me in there and activated the purging spells manually.”

“Hey that reminds me!” I said. “Did I actually guess right about you and that General guy that you went off to rescue?”

“What about ‘that General guy’ did you guess?” Master Raychelle asked.

“I figured you must have found him and he filled you in on what Hellsreach actually was.” I said.

“Yes, eventually he got around to mentioning that.” Master Raychelle said.

“What did he say first?” I asked.

“I believe it was something like ‘I’ve been expecting you’. Then he threw a gamma ray bolt at me.” she said.

“A gamma ray bolt?” I asked.

“A very high order Energy anima attack. Extremely difficult to block or dodge.” she said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Fought him.” she said. “I have to confess, I was glad when the teleportation gate exploded. I was afraid he was going to get away from me too easily.”

“So how did you get out of there?” I asked.

“We blasted our way out.” she said.

“You worked together?” I asked.

“Oh no. He was quite intent on killing me.” she said. “To be fair though, he assumed I was an assassin sent by Makkis to finish him off since his services were no longer needed.”

“Wait. You fought your way to the surface? But Deep Run was buried miles underground I thought. It was floating in magma from what Darius said.” I said.

“I didn’t say it was an easy battle, did I?” she asked. “It wasn’t quite as bad as you imagine though. We only had to traverse a few miles of the molten interior before we encountered one of the maintenance sites dedicated to observing and manipulating the World Drive.”

“He stopped fighting when you got there?” I asked.

“No. He fought harder then but I had more room to maneuver.” she said.

“So when did he stop fighting?” I asked.

“When he woke up and he wasn’t dead.” she said. “Once he saw that I wasn’t intent on killing him, he was willing to answer my questions. That’s how I discovered what the Human and Garjarack forces had been fighting over for a century.”

“So everyone but us already knew what Hellsreach was?” I asked.

“They knew it contained lost weapons from before the current Galactic era. Weapons dangerous enough that neither the human nor Garjarack forces could allow the other side to possess them. I don’t think anyone besides General Vex, Makkis and his conspiracy, knew that the planet itself was a weapon though.” she said.

“So what happened to the General afterwards then?” I asked.

“He’s been paroled pending a new hearing on the charges against him.” Master Raychelle said.

“Wow. Who’s managing his parole?” I asked.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on him. In fact, it’s getting a bit late. I need to head out soon, we have dinner arrangements planned for tonight.” she said.

“Dinner arrangements? Are you guarding his parole or going on a date?” I asked.

“The mark of a true Crystal Guardian is the ability to multitask.” Master Raychelle said.

“But…but..” I stammered. I’d expected her to deny the ‘date’ part. She was too old for that. Wasn’t she?

“I can see what you’re thinking, and no, you never get too old ‘for that’.” she said.

I felt my face grow hot with embarrassment.

Which of course meant that Darius chose just that moment to wander into my room.

“Hello and good evening!” he said, giving a small bow to Master Raychelle and I. “I heard that you’re being released tomorrow?”

“Yes, she is.” Master Raychelle said and rose to leave. “I’ll be back in the morning with a fresh set of clothes for when you check out. Be sure to rest till then.”

That seemed like a terribly unfair demand, given that she was getting to go out and have fun, but I had to admit that rest was something I definitely still needed. I watched her go and scowled at the back of her head.

“I won’t stay long then.” Darius said. “I just wanted to tell you how things were going.”

“How are your Dads doing?” I asked.

“Very well! They’d like to meet you again, under less ‘exciting circumstances’.” he said. “I was thinking perhaps you would be interested in going to dinner with us all tomorrow?”

I beckoned him to come closer and then beckoned him to lean down. It was much easier to kiss him that way.

“Having dinner with your Dads would be great, but I’d kind of hoped we could have a dinner with just the two of us first.” I said.

“I…I would…really like that!” he stammered. I think I stunned him with the kiss, though I’m not sure what he was expecting when I had him lean down to be in range for one.

I saw his excitement drain away into a small frown though a moment later though.

“I didn’t think we had time. Aren’t you leaving tomorrow?” he said.

“Yeah, I guess I am. I don’t know what Master Raychelle has in mind once I’m released from here.” I said.

“Oh, that’s what I wanted to mention!” Master Raychelle said, stepping back into the room with the kind of timing that told me she’d been listening to everything we said. “Your healers are checking you out of the hospital tomorrow, but you’re going to be on restorative therapy for the next three months. They’re concerned that you’re showing signs of long term anima damage due to all the power you’ve channeled recently. I’ve transferred my assigned duties here for the next season, and you’re officially on sick leave.”

“For three months?” I asked.

“Minimum. We take the health of all the Crystal Guardians seriously. You won’t be casting any spells for the next two weeks too. So plan on spending a lot of time in non-strenuous activities.” Master Raychelle said.

I looked up Darius who had a foolishly delighted smile on his face.

“Oh, I don’t think that will be a problem.” I said.

Despite the aches and pains in my body, I felt light and happy, like I was sailing along on the winds without even needing wings.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 30

Escaping from prison was something I’d spent a lot of time thinking about. I hadn’t expected to be held captive by a megalomaniacal leader of a world government, but the idea that I’d wind up in prison someday had seemed inevitable at a few different points in my life.

My best bet for escape was to cover myself in invisibility and head down into the complex, away from the volcano shaft that I’d entered through. There had to be another exit since dropping material and personnel into a volcano risked attracting exactly the sort of attention that Makkis’ conspiracy had avoided like the plague. More importantly, the local weapons array had to be deeper in the facility and if I took that out, Master Raychelle would notice and would know where to find me.

It was the perfect plan, which was why I couldn’t go anywhere near it.

Makkis wasn’t an idiot. Idiot’s don’t keep conspiracies secret for twenty years or manage to take control of an entire planet. He wasn’t omniscient either, but it was a safe bet that he could workout what my best course of action was and take steps to put himself ahead of me there.

To an extent, he already had. Any course of action I took that didn’t involve bringing Master Raychelle into the fray would lead to me being overwhelmed either by his personal troops or by one of the many weapon systems he had under his control. He’d carefully set my options up so that I couldn’t win. My only choice was in how I wanted to lose.

That’s why I ran for the exit that would take me up through the volcano. Back out the way I’d come in. In theory, that was the worst possible way I could have gone.

I ran into the first set of guards on the other side of the door leading out from the prison cells. Makkis wanted me to escape and lead him to Master Raychelle, but he didn’t want to make that obvious. The guards were well armed, prepared for an escapee and outnumbered me four to one. Those were powerful factors in their favor. They also expected their bolt casters to work on me. That was a powerful factor against them.

Invisibility should have let me sneak past them but some clever soul had given them a sonic tracking spell that let them react to my arrival in the holding room immediately. If I’d had time I could have cloaked myself in silence as well, but my brain had nearly been fried three times in the last hour so I didn’t trust myself to handle complex spells. That was probably part of the reason Makkis had shocked me repeatedly. The less I could do, the more predictable I was.

I didn’t have time to play nice, so I hit the guards as fast as I could. I started off unarmed, which meant the first guard lost the use of a few of his joints for a while. A decent healer would be able to repair him in a day or two though. The other guards weren’t as lucky as he was. Assuming I survived the next 24 hours, I promised myself I’d look into long term treatment options for them. A Crystal Guardian should be able to pay for a month or two of convalescence, especially for wounds she inflicted.

The alarm klaxons sounded the moment the first guard dropped unconscious from the pain. I didn’t know my way around the base but that wasn’t a problem. The corridor out of the cell area went in only one direction. When it did eventually branch off it was easy to tell which way to go; one hallway went up, the other went down. Since I was trying to climb out the top of the volcano that made my choice rather obvious.

The run through the base was harrowing in a way that being in the Deep Run facility surrounded by over powered monsters hadn’t been. There I’d had people with me. This time I was alone and I was running away from the only support I had in the entire world.

I put on a burst of speed, trying to distance myself from that thought as much as from the cell I’d fought my way out of. Guards were scurrying down towards the depths of the complex as I ran past them, invisible as the wind. From the orders they shouted to each other, I heard that they were moving to protect the weapon system controls and the other exit from the base. Makkis had prepped them prior to my escape.

That was chilling. I’d been right about how smart he was. I hoped I was right about the rest of my guesses.

The one guess I felt fairly certain of was that Makkis was tracking me, which gave me hope. With the tools at his disposal that could control Void anima, he could see through my invisibility spell, but he hadn’t changed the orders to his troops. That meant, he didn’t want me to know that he could see me.

I was happy because it was evidence in favor of my theory. He had every reason to play dumb until Master Raychelle showed up, and every reason to make sure I didn’t actually escape. I was counting on both those motivations coloring his judgment.

I arrived back at the room where we’d entered the base and breathed a sigh of relief that I’d made it that far. Happily, the anima suppression field was offline. I’d expected that but it was still comforting to see. Our earlier attack had been devastating, and Makkis had much better options for defense of the base than a costly repair to a complicated system. If he’d brought the suppression field back online, it would have suggested that he had resources he didn’t know what to do with. That was likely to be true in another day or so if we didn’t stop him, but as it was he was stretched thin.

I’d lost the flight pack when they captured me. Funny how prisoners don’t get to keep useful gear like that. I could deal with the loss of the rest of my stuff but missing the flight pack was a problem because the exit from the room was via a tunnel that ran directly upwards through the magma in the volcano. Without the flight pack (or a spare fire elemental to generate wings for me) I couldn’t fly out the way I’d come in. So I did the next best thing.

I jumped.

Leaping up the exit tunnel was simple in theory, but in practice it proved to be a whole lot more difficult than flying into the base had been. We’d destroyed the physical barriers that protected the room on the way in and there was a repair crew working on crafting a seal to put in place over the exit.

Unlike the guards in the prison area, the workers who were repairing the base didn’t have sonic scanners, so my invisibility was enough to get me past them. The problem was that they’d brought some of the automatic defenses back online already and I didn’t have anyone to shut them down for me.

It was a rough trip upwards. Between the need to hurl myself ever higher and the damaging attacks I had to absorb with anime shields, I was forced to drop the invisibility spell. More klaxons sounded when I did that but I pressed onwards.

My final leap, at the mouth of the tunnel was the one I put the most magic into. It almost felt like flying, the way that I soared out of the lake of lava in the volcano’s caldera. I landed on the north side of volcano, on the lip of rock that overlooked the fiery pit below.

It was unbelievably hot there and the gases in the area would have been murder on my lungs if I hadn’t cast a spell to let me breath. Neither of those were the most pressing problem though. The big issue with standing on the edge of this particular active volcano was the horde of fire and earth elementals that came racing towards me.

Volcanos and other active, natural locations are often the home to potent elementals. The volcano that the base rested under was huge and highly active, which meant the elementals that inhabited it were also huge and highly active. In hindsight, it made Breeg’s summoning of the elemental that destroyed the apartment build make more sense. He had access to plenty of big elementals and given their number it seemed like summoning one here would be a piece of cake.

I was banking on that. As the elementals charged up at me, disturbed by the magic I’d worked in their vicinity, I started casting a summoning spell. I didn’t have much to go on. It was the first summoning spell I’d cast. Fortunately I didn’t need to give the elementals anything like a complex command.

“Go attack the base.” I told them.

It was a struggle with the first one. Fire elementals don’t like being bound.

“I want you to burn things. Things that you haven’t been able to burn before.” I told the elemental. It was happy with that but wanted to burn me first.

So I absorbed it’s energy and began binding the next in line.

Elementals are simple creatures. Some saw the benefit of attacking the base. Others mindlessly continued to rush at me.

Those that tried to hurl themselves on me met their ends on spears of Void anima. With each one that I absorbed I felt strength return and I cast the summoning net wider. Fire’s flared up around the volcano and began racing to the peak I stood on. It was like watching the volcano erupt in reverse.

The elementals that obeyed my command raced down over the lava became my army and my invitation. It didn’t take long for Makkis to see that I wasn’t following the script he’d had in mind for me.

“You should have run when you had the chance.” Makkis said, appearing as a projection about ten feet away from me.

“I am going to kill you.” I told him. Pretending that I was consumed by rage wasn’t hard. His truth seeing spell would see no lie in my words.

“Such a disappointment. I thought you were better than childish threats.” he said. “I thought you understood the power I command.”

“I have a volcano full of fire elementals that are heading into your base to roast you alive.” I told him.

“If they were a threat, would I be talking to you?” he asked. I could hear the fire elementals sizzling and exploding as they entered the base. Makkis had turned the Void anima field on them and was snuffing them out as fast as they arrived.

“You can’t focus your weapon over a wide range can you?” I said. “Not enough to hit me without hitting yourself too. That means I can keep throwing elementals at you and you can’t hit me with that field again. You have to keep it focused on defending yourself against them.”

“And how long can you hurl minions at me?” Makkis said. “Sooner or later they’re going to run out.”

“I’ll be a lot stronger by then!” I said, and absorbed another elemental.

“Do you really not understand the power you are opposing?” Makkis asked. “Even if you could hold the power of every elemental on this mountain, you would be nothing compared to me.”

“That sounds wonderful, I don’t like being compared to guys like you.” I said.

“How drole.” Makkis said. “Do you feel brave for doing your duty in the face of insurmountable odds? Or perhaps you feel clever for finding a way to attack me where I can’t instantly kill you in return? Perhaps I need to show you your mistake again.”

The explosions of the fire elementals in the base stopped as other forces moved in to deal with them. I knew that was a bad sign and winced as I felt Makkis’ Void anima field forming around me. I went still and gathered in more of the fire elementals for myself. When the attack hit it was just as draining as the last time, but I didn’t hold back from it. The anima I was taking from the fire elementals flowed out of me and into the Void anima spell that Makkis’ weapon systems had cast.

As fast as the anima poured out, I pulled more in, taking the power from the elementals that were converging on us.

“You can only save yourself for so long like that.” Makkis said. He was impatient, probably hoping that Master Raychelle would show up before he had to go through with killing me.

Unfortunately that wasn’t an option. If Master Raychelle was anywhere nearby she was letting me play this stage out on my own.

“Do you really think you can stop me?” I asked him.

“Yes. I really do.” he said and the intensity of the attack skyrocketed.

I dropped to my knees with a gasp and felt my personal anima starting to flow out along with the fire elemental magics I’d absorbed. Makkis was done playing around. He’d planned on using me to bring down Master Raychelle but I’d proven myself useless for that. In his mind I was either too stupid to figure out the right course of action or too caught up in my anger to act on it. That made me nothing more than a liability which in turn meant it was time for me to die.

I drew in more of the fire elementals, casting the summoning spell as far and powerful as I could. I was burning anima that could have protected me against the draining effect for a few seconds. I didn’t have a few seconds though. Even with the elementals pouring up the slopes like a tidal wave, I was withering visibly, the magic within me sputtering out and my life along with it.

“Don’t feel bad.” Makkis said. “You could never have beaten me.”

I drew in power from the mountain below me, forgoing the elementals and reaching directly to the anima of the volcano itself. I couldn’t reach even a tiny fraction of it but what I did grasp bought me another few precious breaths of life.

I had to hold out. I had to buy time. I screamed and dug in as far as I could go. I could feel my skin burning with the anima that I was conducting and put the pain aside to reach for more.

Then I felt the memory a cool wind blow across my face and I smiled.

“You’re right.” I told Makkis. “Of course, I wasn’t trying to beat you.”

On wobbly and uncertain legs, I got back to my feet and tried not to sway around too much. The void anima attack was gone, but it had left me in worse shape than I wanted to show him..

Though his image was only a projection, I was able to see a glorious mix of doubt and fear play across his face.

“What have you done?” he demanded.

“Distracted you.” I told him, feeling a fierce, angry joy radiate through me.

“From what?” he asked. He knew it was over, but he didn’t know why or how and that was driving him slowly insane.

“From me.” Fari said.

She rose out of the lake of lava below us as a two hundred foot tall projection of molten rock in the shape of her usual form. Beneath her, the base hummed with power, all of it under her control.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 29

Makkis thought I would lead him to Master Raychelle. It wasn’t a mistake, or a misreading of the situation. My absolute best chance was with her, and I had an idea for how to find her. All I   had to do was find one of the weapon arrays and take it offline. She was almost certainly working on the same thing and if she saw a weapon array go dead, she’d know where I was and, probably, try to join up with me. She’d kept silent so far because I was providing the perfect cover for her. Every time she didn’t come to support me, it looked that much more like she’d been killed in Deep Run.

That sounded like wishful thinking when the theory occurred to me, but the more I looked at the order of events the better it seemed to fit.

The explosion of the teleportation gate when we left Deep Run had devastated an area outside of the exterior gate, but Deep Run was a fortified facility. It would have withstood a similar blast much better. Master Raychelle in particular would have survived the blast well. I’d absorbed the anima from three of the bone stealers and I could have flattened the entire facility. She’d absorbed at least twice that many before Fari, Darius and I left. Also she was familiar with using that kind of power and could accomplish a lot more with a lot less than I could.

Makkis hadn’t know that though, so he had only general paranoia to suggest to him that she might have survived the blast.

If I was right, she’d done more than survive though. She’d been looking for someone when we parted. General Kep Vex. He was a prisoner in Deep Run. In retrospect, I had to guess that he’d known what Hellsreach actually was. That was probably why Makkis had kept him alive there. If the efforts to bring Hellsreach online came to a dead end, General Vex was another source of information they could lean on to find a new path forward. Vex wouldn’t have had much reason to help them, but I was willing to bet that a guy like Makkis could find ways to be persuasive.

Master Raychelle could be persuasive too, especially when the alternative to helping her was being eaten by bone stealers.

Of course it was possible that I was overrating her abilities. Master Raychelle and General Vex could have been killed in Deep Run in any number of ways. The problem with that theory was that if Master Raychelle was dead, I should be too.

Makkis had no reason to leave me alive. Even with all the power he had, it was the safer, smarter play to kill me and be done with it. The only reason to leave me alive was if I could be useful to him in some way. With Darius as a hostage to ensure my good behavior, there were all sorts of ways I could ‘useful’ to him, but Makkis was first and foremost concerned about his plan to take over Hellsreach and then fight against the Empire. Anything that distracted him from that would get him killed in a big hurry.

So how could I be useful to Makkis in taking over the world? His biggest problem was Master Raychelle and with me acting as bait he could lure her into trap. Would I do so intentionally? No. Even to save Darius? No, because we’d die seconds after Master Raychelle did. Could I be tricked into leading her into a trap? Probably.

That seemed like a safe bet because I had an idea for how to bring Master Raychelle to where I was, and I could do it without communicating in a way that Makkis could intercept. If I thought I’d actually escaped from him, it would be the first thing I would try. Makkis didn’t need to overhear where would meet though. All he needed to do was to monitor me. I could disappear and be untraceable, which should have left me confident that I could escape his monitoring, except I’d tasted the Void anima in the attack he’d hit me with. I could still taste it in fact, which told me that I couldn’t count on slipping away like I had before.

As long as he could sense me through my invisibility cloak, if Master Raychelle showed up where I was, he’d kill us both. Since he could kill me at any time, there wasn’t much of a downside to the plan from his perspective.

I crawled on the floor over to where Darius was still hanging against the wall. Makkis was watching us, and listening to us. I had to assume that was true, which meant I also needed to keep him convinced that I was broken and helpless.

I leaned back against the wall and buried my face in hands. I felt them shaking and had to admit that I was terrified. My theory sounded plausible, but when I took a moment to be honest with myself, I knew I could be wrong. I wanted to believe that we hadn’t lost yet. In fact I had to believe we hadn’t lost yet.

I wanted more than anything to call out to Fari, but I knew that was the last thing I should do. Makkis thought Master Raychelle had died in Deep Run but he was ready to believe otherwise when evidence presented itself. He was certain he’d killed Fari though, but he knew even less about her than he knew about Master Raychelle.

It was a slim hope, but I held onto it. A part of me believed in Fari and a part of me just needed something to hold onto.

With no one to talk to, I felt empty and off balance. I needed an ally. I couldn’t win this fight alone.

I listened to Darius’ breathing and noticed that it was different. From what I could see he was still unconscious.

Or he was pretending to be.

I dropped my hands to my side and slumped sideways so that my head rested against his leg. My forehead touched the bare skin of his thigh through a tiny hole that had been burned in the side of his pants during our frantic plunge into the volcano.

The moment we touched, the mind link spell he’d cast triggered. Skin-to-skin contact. No way for Makkis to intercept it.

“You should have let him zap me.” Darius said.

“If I was willing to do that, he would have killed you.” I said.

“Yeah. I know.” Darius said. He sounded as weary as I felt.

“You did a good job pretending. I don’t think he knew that you were awake. He probably doesn’t even know that you’re awake now.” I said.

“It’s a good thing he didn’t shock you one more time.” Darius said. “I know we needed information, but it wouldn’t have been worth it for that.”

“It wasn’t fun, but I think I was able to absorb a little of it.” I told him. “And he sucks at interrogation.”

“I know! You had him wrapped in a knot there.” Darius said. “I don’t know if it helps us though. I thought I could get the information out to my Dads but even if we could, they’re not going to be able to help us. I don’t think anyone on the planet can help us.”

“Assuming there’s anyone left on the planet aside from us right?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Darius asked.

“Makkis has a weapon that can project a Void anima field. He could sweep the planet with it and kill anyone he wants to. I’m guessing that he’s already started.” I said.

“I don’t think so.” Darius said. “He’ll notice if I try to send an active spell out, so I’ve been working passive clairvoyance only. I haven’t sensed any massive deaths, and I know my Dads are still alive.”

“Why wouldn’t he be getting rid of his enemies?” I wondered.

“Maybe he can’t?” Darius suggested.

I thought about that and my thoughts led me to one conclusion.

“Master Raychelle! I was right! She is shutting him down!” I said.

I explained my theory to Darius, about Master Raychelle taking advantage of the distraction I provided to disable Hellsreach’s weapon systems.

“That sounds like a long shot, but given what I’ve seen you do, I’m willing to believe it’s possible.” Darius sound. “In fact, maybe you are right. Makkis hates both of my Dads. I can’t imagine him not killing them in this kind of situation. He’d only hold off if he was afraid still.”

That sparked a thought in my mind.

“Wait. He’s afraid still. That makes sense. So why is he moving Hellsreach out of its orbital path?” I asked.

“He said he was going to drag Exxion II and IV along with him on a galaxy hopping conquest spree.” Darius said. “And he was lying to us.”

“Of course he was. His lips were moving.” I said. “He’s not planning to attack the other planets. Not with Hellsreach’s weapon systems offline. He’s afraid! He’s running away!”

“He’s heading to the jump gate. If he makes it there, he’ll be beyond the reach of either of the local navies.” Darius said.

“Can he take a whole planet through the jump gate?” I asked.

“I don’t know, it’s not my field of study. I would guess ‘probably’. Whoever created Hellsreach would have had the spell crafting power to do that. I think.” Darius said.

“If he can bring Hellsreach to an isolated system, he’ll have all the time he needs to get the planetary weapons systems back online.” I said.

“As soon as they’re active, he’ll scrub the planet clean of anyone who could oppose him.” Darius said.

“If it came to it, could the forces on Hellsreach now, all of them put together, destroy this base?” I asked.

“Yeah. It would be bloody but they could do it.” he said.

“Would they?” I asked.

“I…” he hesitated. “I don’t know. I don’t think they can work together. There’s too much hate there. On the other hand, once they figured out what this base controlled, none of them would be able to let the others have it. Destroying it might be the one thing they could agree on.”

“I’m half tempted to let them try.” I said.

“A lot of people will die. That field didn’t kill us because Makkis didn’t want it to kill us. There’s no defense against it. The armies here can pitch enough bodies at the place to get the people and materials inside to destroy it but they’re going to walk over a mountain of corpses to get there.” he said.

“What if we only told the offworlder forces?” I suggested.

I knew what I was offering Darius and I felt like a devil from the deepest pit for doing so. I didn’t have to test him like that. I just wanted to know.

He was silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke on the mental link his voice was soft but resolved.

“No. That wouldn’t be right either.” he said.

“Good.” I said. I hadn’t seen much of the offworlder armies since I arrived on Hellsreach, just the reflection of their actions in Darius’ eyes. I couldn’t see his eyes at that moment, but his words gave me another thread of hope to cling to.

“That doesn’t leave anyone to stop Makkis though, unless your Master can get to him.” Darius said.

“I don’t think she can in time.” I said. “If they jump the planet out of the system, they can start the killing. Makkis will turn one side against the other with targeted murders while he brings the other weapon systems back online.”

“Do you think he can fix them faster than your Master can destroy them?” Darius asked.

“He’s had twenty years to put together a corp of people to help with that. Even if there’s only a hundred of them, that’s still a hundred systems they can repair while Master Raychelle dismantles one of them. And if they find out where she is, she’ll be the first one they kill with the Void anima field.” I said.

“So there’s no one who can stop this?” Darius said. I heard the anger in his voice, and the despair that was eating away at the edges of his words.

“I didn’t say that.” I told him.

“Who’s left?” he asked.

“We are.” I said.

I told him my plan.

He shot holes in it.

He offered alternate suggestions.

I shot holes in those.

We came up with a new plan together.

And we both shot holes in that one.

What we finally settled on was less of a plan and more a set of goals and contingencies. Makkis was too smart and too entrenched for either of us to think we knew what he had in store for us. All we could do was play to his blind spots and hope he hadn’t figured me out completely yet.

“I don’t like this.” Darius said. “You shouldn’t have to be the one in danger.”

“We’re both going to be in danger, you probably more than me, cause at least I’ll see Makkis coming when he moves against me.” I said.

“I know, but I still don’t like it.” he said. “I get that its our best chance, but there’s so much we don’t know here. It could do so wrong, so fast and I just…I just don’t want to miss having dinner together.”

“Dinner?” I asked.

“When we were in Deep Run, you said we could have dinner together. Listen, forget that, I know its stupid and not the time for it.” Darius said.

I tried to figure out what he was talking about and it came back to me. I’d made a random joke about telling him my life story over dinner if we got out of the prison.

“You remember that?” I asked, surprised it had stuck with him given all the things we’d been through afterwards.

“Yeah.” he said and was silent for a moment before continuing “I know the odds against us are terrible here, and this is not the way to start anything. If we live though, I’d like to get to know you. If you want to, that is.”

I felt a quiet thrill and a relaxing warmth spread through me.

“I’d like that too.” I said and pressed my head against his thigh a little harder.

We were both quiet for a moment after that, day dreaming I think.

“So, don’t die then. Come back to me.” he said.

“You don’t die either, or I’ll haunt your ghost.” I said.

“Haunt my ghost? How would you do that?” he asked.

“Ask yourself if you think I would threaten to do that if I couldn’t and if you really want to know how I would.” I said.

“Right. No dying then.” he said. The lightness in his words was a balm to me, even though neither of us had any illusions that our path forward would be an easy one.

“Might as well get started.” I said and bathed the entire room in a cloak of void anima.

I stood up, knowing that Makkis would be on his way to investigate the room. He’d give me enough time to ‘escape’ since he needed me to lead him to Master Raychelle but he’d make the pursuit look good so that I didn’t figure out what he was up to.

That gave me the time to snap the chains that Darius was bound up by. My Physical anima had recovered enough for that as we’d talked.

He fell away from the wall and into my arms once the chains weren’t supporting him anymore.

“It’ll take a minute to get feeling back into limbs.” I told him, speaking from personal experience.

“I’ll be ok.” he said.

“You better be.” I told him and lowered him to the cell floor.

Then I kissed him.

That wasn’t part of the plan. Well, not the one we talked about anyways.

I wasn’t great at kissing but it wasn’t hard to figure out either. He jolted with surprise at first, since the Void anima had left him blind as usual, but once he figured out what was happening he kissed me back like he wasn’t going to let me go.

I broke off and pulled away from him, despite an overwhelming desire to do otherwise.

I wanted to say something cool, or something alluring, but I was shaking worse than I’d been after Makkis zapped me, if for entirely different reasons.

So instead of being clever, I took off and left Darius, alone in the cell. I brought the cloak of invisibility with me, but I left a little piece of myself behind.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 28

I’ve woken up disoriented before, but waking surprised to be alive was a new experience. It took me a minute or more to drag myself out of the bleary half sleep I was stuck in. From there it was easy to determine that I was still alive. I hurt too much to be dead and I was bound in shackles.

“I have the worst luck.” I grumbled and forced my eyes open.

The good news was that I wasn’t alone. The better news was that Darius was with me. The wretchedly horrible news was that he was strung up in shackles the same way I was.

Whatever had hit us had done more damage to him than to me. I could feel strength coming back into my limbs while he was knocked out completely. My magic was recovering as well but I had only a tiny fraction of it back and all of the extra power I’d been carrying was gone. I was surprised at first that I wasn’t in another anima suppression chamber, but those things are extremely expensive and, even without the chains holding me to the wall, I was in no condition to put up a fight.

I was pondering how bad our situation was when Makkis walked into our cell.

“Good. You’re awake. I don’t have to use this.” he said, gesturing with an electric stun stick in his hand.

Which he then zapped me with.

“I don’t have to but I will.” he said when I stopped convulsing.

“What do you want?” I asked. I wanted to sound dangerous and threatening but my breath was too uneven and raspy. I hadn’t been able to get a shield in place to protect myself from the electric charge. Looking up at Makkis from where I hung slumped against the wall, I knew I wasn’t going to get the chance to recover that much. The moment I became a danger to him, he would kill me.

In response to my question, he zapped me again.

“What do I want? Juvenile revenge for you breaking my nose.” he said after waiting for me to recover again. “I also require answers, though I don’t expect you are inclined to give me any at the moment.”

He stepped away from me and over to Darius. The shock stick crackled with a fresh charge and Makkis glanced over to me. His meaning was clear.

“No. Don’t hurt him. Ask your questions.” I said. I knew it was stupid. I was giving Makkis power and probably putting Darius in even greater danger. I couldn’t see a lot of better options that were open to me though.

“What is your relationship with your mentor?” Makkis asked.

“My relationship?” I asked, confused by the sudden jump in contexts.

“How important are you to her? What connection does she have to you? How long have you been her apprentice?” he said. I could see an anima glow around his eyes. A truth seeing spell. Lying to him would be suicidal. And pointless since I couldn’t figure out what answer he expected or what could trip up his game plan.

“Two months now.” I said, answering the easiest question first.

“Two months? Who were you apprenticed to before that?” he asked.

“No one.” I said. Part of me wanted to cheer, but that was easy to suppress given how much pain I was in.

Makkis was smart, probably brilliant, but he was also poor at interrogating people. With his mental prowess and political clout, he was used to telling the people around him what they should think truth was. Asking for their opinion on the subject was a foreign concept to him. He obviously thought that his magic would solve that issue. Magic would let him find what he needed in an instant, because his spells would tell him when I was lying. The poor jerk didn’t understand that a well chosen truth is far dangerous of a weapon than even the best lie.

Throwing a bunch of questions at me let me pick and choose where the conversation went. It was a bad interrogation technique, the kind only the junior Sisters of Water’s Mercy would use on us. The old ones, the Sister’s who knew how to deal with the lowlifes that were in their care, they knew to hit us with one question as a time and to hammer on it relentlessly from different angles until our inevitable lies tripped us up.

“Why was she wasting her time with you then?” he asked.

Another interrogation blunder. I could say almost anything in response to that question and it would be true to some degree. What was worse (from Makkis’ point of view) is that it told me that he was invested in the notion that I was important to Master Raychelle. That told me how I needed to answer that question.

“I killed the Karr Khan.” I said.

“Who?” he asked, adding confusion to his simmering anger.

I forget how big the galaxy is sometimes. The Karr Khan had been an enormous threat. His forces had killed almost everyone in the capital of Belstarius, my homeworld. It had taken the combined power of two Crystal Guardians, two of his Scions, myself, Fari, a Jewel of Endless Night and millions of ghosts to defeat the Khan. As far as the Exxion system was concerned though, he was an unimportant news blip from an inconsequential border world.

“One of the old Warlords. Immortal. More powerful than ten thousand casters.” I said.

Makkis blinked and shook his head. His truth spell told him I wasn’t lying but he still couldn’t believe his ears.

“And you killed him?” he said.

“Yes.” I said. I didn’t elaborate. Elaboration is for people trying to sell a lie. I was telling the truth, just not the whole truth. It had been my choice, my will, that guided the strike that killed the Karr Kahn. If his ghost came seeking revenge, I was top on the list. I wasn’t haunted by that decision because I would make it again in a heartbeat and I wasn’t haunted by him because I would eat his ghost if he ever came back to mess with me.

“So you are precious to the Empire then. But not as powerful as Hellsreach. Good.” Makkis said. I could see the wheels turning in his head. He could use me for whatever he had in mind. That would keep me alive for a short while at least. It would probably keep Darius alive too, since he could use Darius to control me.

“What do you mean I’m not as powerful as Hellsreach?” I asked. I braced for the next shock strike. It was bad form for the interrogator to let the prisoner interrogate them back, but Makkis had never been trained to handle prisoners, or recalcitrant children, the way the Sisters had.

“What do you think brought you down?” he asked but continued speaking before I could answer his question. “This isn’t a natural world we are on. It’s a weapon.”

“I don’t understand what you mean?” I said. It was true, but only in the barest of senses. I didn’t understand specifically how Hellsreach was a weapon, but the pieces were falling into place as I thought about them.

“This isn’t a planet. It’s a battle station.” Makkis said.

“So, the changes in the rotational speed and the orbital path…” I said. I coudn’t even phrase it as a question. The implications were unbelievable.

“Yes. The first system we gained control of was the astro-navigation.” Makkis said.

“Why move the planet though?” I asked. None of this seemed real. The idea of a planet sized battle station was…I stopped. It was exactly the kind of thing Fari’s Jewel of Endless Night had been designed to fight. When the ancient powers went to war, this was the sort of weapon they fought with.

“Exxion II and IV are on the far side of the sun from us and in alignment with each other at the present. It’s the perfect time to put them both within our weapon’s range at once.” Makkis said.

“You’re going to destroy them?” I guessed. It didn’t sound right but I couldn’t think of what else they had in mind.

“No. We’re going to steal them.” he said.

“Steal them?” I said.

“The planetary drives within Hellsreach are capable of moving more than just this world. We’re going to take our sister planets and then jump to a new system and take the worlds there as well. Over and over, trillions of hostages against the Empire’s intervention.” Makkis said.

“That’s why you weren’t afraid of declaring war on the Crystal Guardians.” I said.

“Yes. There’s no one who can oppose us.” he said. He gestured and the shackles snapped off my wrists and ankles.

I was weak enough that I collapsed to the ground in a heap before I could stop myself.

“See.” Makkis said. “You could rise. Assault me. Maybe even kill me. But you won’t.”

He turned his back on me and strolled idly around the small cell.

“You won’t because you know it’s futile.” he said. “You held the power of Breeg’s fire elemental. I hold the power of the planet itself. The weapons I control can tear the life from a world or from a single individual, no matter how well defended they are. If you don’t believe me, then try your luck.”

He stood facing away from me, arms outstretched. It was as good a shot at him as I could imagine getting.

I slumped down against the cold stone of the cell. He was right. I couldn’t fight someone with that much power. Not on the terms he was offering me at least.

“No physical attacks? You’re not trying a mental assault are you?” Makkis asked. “But, no, that wasn’t you who disturbed me before was it? That was your little friend.”

Fari. He knew about Fari!

“What did you do to her?” I asked, pushing myself back to a seating position. I felt the strength that had left me kindling back to life. Rage and adrenaline don’t directly fuel magic but they tend to accompany your spirit getting riled up.

“It. That wasn’t a girl, it was a spell, and a potent one at that.” Makkis said.

“What did you do to her.” It wasn’t a question. It was a demand.

“I’m not one to waste potential.” Makkis said. “I fed it to the spell furnace that powers the local weapons array. It was quite potent. We’re well ahead of schedule thanks to the infusion of anima you brought us.”

I was going to kill him.

Not arrest him. Not defeat him in battle.

I was going to murder him.

The only thing that held me back was that I knew he was ready for me. I’m not stupid. He thought I was beaten, and I was. I couldn’t fight a planet. But I could make sure he wouldn’t be on it. Whether that took an hour, a day, or a year, he would be distracted at some point and then I would end him.

“Perhaps you’d like a momento?” Makkis said. He tossed a jewel on a chain over his shoulder to where I was laying.

It was Fari’s jewel and it was empty. I felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks as I clutched the jewel in my hand.

“Not even an attack for that?” he asked. He was smirking as he turned back to face me. “Perhaps it didn’t really mean that much to you?”

He wasn’t testing me. He was so confident that I wasn’t a threat that he didn’t need to test where my breaking point was. He was trying to show me that I was already past it. That on some level I knew the situation was hopeless.

He’d taken Fari from me. He’d taken my power from me and taken away my connection to the Empire. He would have killed Darius too except that he needed a carrot to dangle in front of me. Something to ensure that I would act when he needed me too, when all I wanted to do was collapse and die.

I was quiet. I looked beaten. There weren’t many other ways I could look. My eyes were closed and I was defenseless.

My eyes had to be closed though. I couldn’t let him get a look inside me. I couldn’t let him see the wheels that were turning in my head.

He needed me. There was only one reason he would need me still and he’d all but screamed it out with his questions.

They’d brought the astro-navigation system online first and had only gotten the weapon systems online later, just as we busted into the base I guessed. If they’d been online earlier, Makkis wouldn’t have needed to send the troops of soldiers at us to delay us when we’d arrived. So what had prevented them from activating the weapons sooner?

Master Raychelle.

I’d left her trapped in the Deep Run prison, but she’d been searching for someone who knew the real story of Hellsreach. Someone who must have known that it was actually a war world.

If I knew my mentor, she’d prioritize stopping a planet killing super weapon from coming online over a manageable threat to me any day of the week.

The only thing that Makkis needed me for was to use as bait against her. She wouldn’t let a planet die for me, we weren’t that close, but she might leave herself open and that would be all Makkis would need.

“I’ll leave you free I think.” Makkis said. “I want to see you try to escape.”

I lay there, unmoving, but very certain that he was going to regret those words.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 27

Normally when the evil murderer that you’re chasing plunges into a lake of lava in the heart of an active volcano you get to call the job done and move on. That’s what tons of holo-dramas had taught me growing up. If only things were that simple.

Breeg rocketed into what should have been his fiery doom of his own free will. It wasn’t that we allowed him to, or had a clever plan to follow him back to his lair. He was just too fast for us.

To be fair to Darius, it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t fly as fast as the Councilman. Breeg had a lot more experience with Energy casting, and he wasn’t burdened with carrying another body like Darius was. By the time Breeg plunged into the lava we were miles behind him and relying on Fari’s telemagic tracking spells to determine where he was.

“That’s can’t be right, can it?” I asked when Breeg’s changed his flight to power dive into the caldera.

“I think it is. I still have a trace on him. He’s proceeding underneath the mountain.” Fari said.

“Maybe there’s a secret tunnel there?” Darius suggested.

“That’d make sense. Is Breeg good enough that he could fly through lava without one?” I asked.

“It would be incredibly dangerous.” Darius said.

“Could you manage it?” I asked.

“Maybe?” he said. “Probably.”

I didn’t blame him for being concerned. He’d seen what my plans were like and how I came up with them.

“He’s stopped moving.” Fari said.

“Either he’s dead or he’s where he was trying to get to.” Darius said.

“Care to place a wager on that?” I asked.

“Sure. I’ll wager we need to follow him either way and find out what happened.” Darius said.

“That’s not exactly a gamble.” I said.

“Do I look dumb enough to bet against you?” Darius asked.

It’s not my fault I kissed him on the earlobe.

“You say the nicest things sometimes.” I said.

Seriously. We were going to plunge into lava in less than five minutes. If that doesn’t serve as evidence of temporary insanity then I demand a new jury.

“He’s moving again and I’m losing the signal on him.” Fari said on our shared channel.

The nice thing about temporary insanity is that its temporary. And no one has to bring it up again or remember it after the fact.

“Can you get a view of the area he arrived in?” I asked.

“Already trying and…no. The whole area is warded. I was lucky to keep a link to the tracking spell for as long as I did.” Fari said.

“What about a spell web? Can you detect one there? If this is Breeg’s base, he might have a communication link setup back to Zawalla.” Darius suggested.

“I don’t see one. It could be shadowed, especially if they have any Void anima casters on their team, but I don’t think they’d risk it.” Fari said.

“Why?” I asked.

“The elementals around the volcano are aggressive. They would disrupt any active spells they found and seek out the spellcaster.” Fari said.

“What if they do have a Void caster?” I asked.

“I don’t know if that would help. Elementals don’t perceive things the way material beings do, so invisibility spells aren’t reliable on them.” Fari said.

“That’s going to be a problem for us sneaking around then isn’t it?” I asked.

“Not if we do it fast enough.” Darius said. We’d reached the airspace over the volcano. I could tell by the immense cloud of asphyxiating smoke that we were flying through. Darius and I had anima shields to protect us so it wasn’t a problem in the short term and if we were alive for the long term to become a problem I decided I’d count that as a victory.

“You’re going to fly through the lava aren’t you?” I asked.

“If you have a better plan, I am all for it.” he said.

“Does the Council have any Mountain Buster bombs that we could commandeer?” I asked.

“Nope. No one on Hellsreach has those. If they did, they’d have already used them on each other.” Darius said.

“Then, no, I don’t have a better plan.” I said. “What can I do to help?”

“Drop the invisibility cloak. Then shield us as heavily as you can. I’ll need to use the heat in the lava to add to my own power and blast us a path in that way. There’ll probably be debris and poisonous gases and all sorts of fun things lwe won’t want to get too close to.” Darius said.

“I can keep the debris off us, but that’s going to make a lot of noise isn’t it? They’ll know we’re coming a while before we get there.” I said.

“Yeah. We’ll have to assume that they’ll have a welcoming committee waiting for us. Think you’ll be able to buy us some time to figure out how to deal with them?” Darius asked.

“Depends what they have waiting for us and how long it takes to get in.” I said.

“I’ll try to make it as fast as I can but I can’t promise I’ll have much left when we get into their base.” Darius said.

“We could go ahead with that plan.” Fari said. “Or we could fly through the illusion covered tunnel in the center of the caldera.”

“The what now?” Darius asked.

I wanted to smack myself in the forehead but my arms were otherwise engaged.

“Breeg was exhausted. He wasn’t going to flee to a base that took massive effort to get into.” I said.

“That makes sense, but do we really want to follow him through an illusion covered tunnel?” Darius asked. “I’ll guarantee its trapped.”

“I think I can deal with traps better than carving through lava.” I said. “Let’s go.”

“Follow the route I’m displaying. The tunnel’s wide enough that we shouldn’t have a problem with it. Apart from the traps.” Fari said. “I’ve disarmed the first couple but with the gaps in their coverage there have to be ones that aren’t accessible by remote spell casting.”

She was right about that. Fortunately I was also right that I could handle them. All of them except for the last one.

We smashed through reinforced bulkheads, blasted past automated bolt casters and shattered various defensive screens using the energy I’d taken from the bone stealers. Darius took shielding duty and Fari helped me by revealing the traps that she wasn’t able to disarm remotely. It took a lot of anima but I had more than enough to spare.

Then we hit the suppression room.

Which we had a plan for.

“I’m locked down.” I said out loud to Darius as I felt my anima reserves being sealed away by the glyphs of that lined the walls of the room.

“Same here. My Council badge isn’t accepted by this system.” he said. He was breathing heavily from the exertion of getting us into Breeg’s base. I was breathing heavily because we wanted to lure in any guards that Breeg had waiting for us.

True to our expectations, a squad of ten soldiers  charged into the room. They were carrying stun sticks, which surprised me, and they weren’t affected by the anima suppression field, which didn’t surprise me at all.

“You’re all under arrest.” I told soldiers as they surrounded us.

It was a ridiculous thing to say under the circumstance, but it had the desired effect. They paused. For one critical second they stopped and looked to their leader, unsure of whether they should start on the beating they intended to inflict on us or let someone else spring the trap we had in store for them.

That was all the time that Fari needed.

“I have control of the glyphs. Inverting suppression field now.” she said.

I felt my anima return in full force as I watched the guards’ weapons sputter and power down.

Fari had detected the anima suppression room on our way in. She’d needed the internal view of it to complete the takeover of its control spells but, once she had that, she was the one who determined who the room shut down and who the room allowed to keep access to their spells.

To describe what followed as a ‘fight’ would be an insult to armed and unarmed combat throughout the ages. They had no functional weapons, no enhanced physical or mental attributes, no spell casting capabilities and no way to escape.

We didn’t kill them. With the odds stacked so far in our favor, we didn’t need to. I even opted for relatively painless strikes to render them unconscious with. None of them would be huge fans of my work, they were going to wake up with splitting headaches and dizziness, but they were all going to wake up. That way they could stand trial for any crimes they were guilty of.

Darius wasn’t quite as gentle as I was. That came from a lack of training more than anything else though. Where I took the time to carefully disable the soldiers I got my hands on, Darius just hammered his way through them with the non-lethal weaponry he carried as part of his military kit. It wasn’t pretty to watch. No finesse and little control, but it got the job done.

“We need to find Breeg.” he said.

“I still can’t get a lock on him. There’s some kind of field effect in place down here and it’s getting stronger.” Fari said.

“Any idea how big this base is?” I asked.

“No, and that’s bothering me.” Fari said. “I’m tapped into their spell systems. I should be able to see this whole area, but it’s like this room and then next room over are the only ones that are registering in the system. I know there’s more than that, but even the base’s internal sensors can’t detect them.”

“Is it a Void anima effect?” I asked.

“It might be. It’s exceptionally well cast if so though. The data I’m getting about the interior of this place matches the data for the rest of the planet’s interior. Whoever set this cloak up didn’t just hide it, they managed to make this base look like mundane rock.” she said.

“If we can’t get a map of this place, and we can’t track Breeg directly, we’re going to have to split up.” Darius said. “We need to cover as much ground as possible as fast as we can.”

I didn’t like the idea, but I nodded in agreement anyways. We were in mortal peril already. We’d be weaker if we split up, but we were already underpowered compared to the sort of opposition Breeg could throw against us.

“Can you cloak yourself?” I asked.

“Not as good as you can, but I can get by.” Darius said. He cast his stealth spell and faded into a shimmer of that was as translucent as water. It was a complex form of energy manipulation but with the power Darius had shown in getting us here, I wasn’t surprised he could manage a spell like that.

“Don’t be leaving so soon.” Makkis said, a projection of him appearing in the room. That was wrong, but it took me a moment work out why.

“Fari, do you have control of the suppression field anymore?” I asked.

The only answer was silence.

I couldn’t feel the suppression field crushing me down, so it hadn’t been reinstated. Something else had happened. I looked  at the walls and noticed that none of the glyphs were glowing. The suppression field had been taken offline.

“You are, as you have probably guessed, too late. Hellsreach weaponization is online, and you will be the first one we test it on.” Makkis said.

Cold stabbed through my chest in time to warn me of the attack. I threw up a Void shield on instinct but that proved to be the wrong thing to do. My shield met the incoming attack and joined with it. Void anima against Void anima.

I’d had a lot of practice with shield spells. It was probably the spell I was most adept at casting. Even with that, I wasn’t close to being the league of the person who designed that attack that hit us.

Spikes of Void anima shot out from the shield and stabbed through me. I saw Darius and the unconscious soldiers hit with the spikes too. Anima drained out of me like air from a bursting balloon.

I dropped to one knee and then down to my hands, struggling to keep myself awake and aware. My shield was doing more harm than good. That was the first thing that I saw, so I grabbed onto it and compressed the Void anima in me down to a tiny sphere in my hands.

That wasn’t enough to stop the attack though. Whatever Makkis had trained on us, it was powerful beyond my ability to measure. The anima I’d take from the bone stealers? The fire elemental’s essence? My own reserves of strength? None of them lasted. They were all stripped away from me.

My arms gave out, my elbows buckling in weakness and I felt my body tumble sideways. I wasn’t conscious by the time my head hit the floor. As I fell away into darkness, I thought I heard a voice calling for me, but my mind way too far gone to know who it belonged too.

It didn’t matter. I’d lost and there was no one around who could rescue me.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 26

It seemed wrong that a bright sunny day should herald the end of the world.

“What did you do.” I asked Councilman Breeg.

“Everything you imagine me guilty of.” he said with a sneer.

“The planet’s orbit is changing.” Darius said. “It’s what the emergency Council session was called for.”

“That’s not possible.” I said. Changing a planet’s orbit was far beyond the power of any caster. Magic is powerful, but planets are on an entirely different scale. Even the decades that  Makkis’ conspiracy had to work with wouldn’t have come close to letting them put together a spell of that caliber.

“I think he’s right.” Fari said. “I’m reading reports from around the planet and from the Imperial stations automated systems. The planet’s rotation has accelerated and it’s orbital path is changing. There’s seismic disturbances being called in from around the globe too.”

“People have fought for control of this world for so long.” Breeg said. “To bad for them, we got it first.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” I asked.

“The new rulers of this world.” Breeg said.

Darius took a step forward and caught himself. He scowled at Breeg and spoke in a slow and solid voice.

“The Council didn’t authorize this.”

“The Council has never ruled here.” Breeg said. “It is, was, and always has been a joke. A fiction to keep the malcontents on each side in place. All it was ever meant to do was to buy time and that time is now up!”

“So that’s it? Your plan’s complete and now you’re king of the world?” I said. It was hard to get a handle on the idea that Breeg’s group was literally in control of the planet. Killing hundreds of people was trivial compared to devastation they could cause with that kind of power.

“There is one thing I still need to do.” the Councilman said.

And then he breathed lightning at me.

I raised a Void anima shield instinctively. In part that was a response to my danger sense going off and in part it was because I‘d been expecting Breeg to turn on me since he started talking. I hadn’t forgotten that his casting skill was good enough to summon the fire elemental, or that he had every reason in the world to hate me.

As it turned out though, my shield wasn’t needed. The lightning arced away before it hit me. Like a brilliant blue-white river, it flowed to my left and into Darius’ outstretched hand where it gathered into a blinding ball.

No one wasted time with words from there.

The lightning strike hadn’t been a sparring jab or a move to stun me. It had packed enough power to reduce my bones to dust. Breeg was playing to kill.

Darius hurled the ball of gathered electricity back at my attacker. The Councilman dodged to the side and slung the deadly projectile around and then back at me again. I saw it coming and faded away, rolling under its path. That bought Darius time to regain control of it.

He split the ball into three buzzsaw-like disks and sent each one at Breeg along a different path.

Breeg didn’t dodge any of them. Instead he conjured a large buzzsaw of energy around himself and sucked the three disks into it.

I felt a stab of cold in my chest warning me of danger and managed to throw myself to the ground behind one of the support pillars before the next attack hit.  From the floor, I watched as Breeg’s disk blew outwards with the force of a bomb blast. The pillar I landed behind shattered into a shower of debris when the exploding buzzsaw hit it.

In the aftermath, I couldn’t see what happened to Darius but I did see Breeg step back and call lightning down through a gaping hole in the roof. Summoning the elemental had drained his reserves, I reasoned. Letting him power back up was the last thing I could afford to do, so I leapt forward.

And passed right over a Runic circle.

The buzzsaw had distracted me enough that I hadn’t noticed the enchantments it had left inscribed onto the floor in its wake. Each Runic circle that I crossed over exploded and pummeled me bloody. My Physical anima shield was good, but the Runes packed an insane amount of punch. They weren’t what made me scream though. What made me scream was that the explosions included a force effect that knocked me through the outside wall of the building.

I just had time to grab a window sill of the apartment building opposite the one I’d be blasted out of before Breeg resumed his attack.

“I have no idea how you found out that I was the one who destroyed the Palace Arms, and I don’t care.” Breeg said. “I’m going to kill you, trap your ghost and make you listen as everyone lauds me as a hero who destroyed an evil renegade.”

Breeg was flying on scintillating jets of blue light that blazed from the soles of his feet. That was a trick only someone who was exceptional skill with Energetic anima casting could pull off. My wing pack worked on the same principal but was imbued with a simpler spell. I could have tried to match Breeg’s flight with it, but I knew he’d had the edge in terms of maneuverability if we took the battle to the air.

Unfortunately for him, that only left the option of taking the Councilman down the hard way.

The buildings were close enough together that I was able to leap from one to the other and ascend towards Breeg while he was screaming at me. He didn’t let me get all that close before he resumed his attack though.

Rather than a lightning bolt that he had to aim, Breeg called down a column of electricity as wide as the alley. I could have pushed my Physical anima as far as it would go and it wouldn’t have helped. There was no where to dodge the torrent.

“Took you long enough.” I muttered, relieved that he was finally going all out on me.

One of the problems with being a Void anima caster is that I don’t have perfect control over it. This had led to problems with other people casting spells on me. I nearly killed the first guy who tried to cast a healing spell on me for example because my Void anima ripped a lot more magic out of him than he’d been expecting.

Master Raychell had taught me that most combat spell casters hold back on the anima that they put into each attack spell. That prevents them from burning out too quickly and it also prevents me from draining them dry if I absorb the spell with a Void anima shield.

Councilman Breeg was a masterful spell caster, but he’d never really learned to fight. The Lightning Waterfall spell is the perfect one to use when you have to be sure to hit your target. Breeg’s saw that and cast it in an instant, putting all the force and fury he possibly could into it. It made for a deadly killing stroke and could have finished the battle in an instant. His problem was that he didn’t try to understand the situation he was in. He just went with what he already knew and failed to pay attention to the fact that his opponent had already surprised him on multiple occasions.

It wasn’t a fatal mistake on his part, but that was only because I needed him alive to learn what Makkis’ plan was.

The Lightning Waterfall slammed into my Void shield and I devoured it. I felt the threads of anima running through the spell and ripped at them, tearing power out of Breeg in gouts that singed his flesh and made him scream.

To his credit, he was a better spell caster than I’d anticipated too. With ruthless efficiency, he severed the threads connected to the Lighting Waterfall, casting away the reservoir of power he’d used to cast the spell.

“Aww. Come on. Cast another one.” I taunted him. I’d flipped onto the top of the apartment building after the lightning spell dissipated.

“What are you!” Breeg asked, his eyes wide with shock and terror.

“Everything you fear and more.” I answered, paraphrasing he earlier quip at me.

He looked at me, anima dancing around his eyes as he tried a True Seeing spell to determine what he was faced with.  I could see confusing crashing over his features. At my core, I wasn’t anything special. I had an unusual talent, but apart from that I wasn’t his equal in skill or power. At least not until you added in the fire elemental essence and the bone stealer animas that I carried.

I knew it would take him a second to see those vast pools of anima that were at my fingertips and it was kind of amusing to see the realization creep across his face when he did.

Puzzlement. Focused attention. Concern. Fear. Terror. Each emotion painting over the last. It wasn’t until I smiled at him that he bolted though.

The blue flames at his feet sputtered for an instant and then blazed as bright as the sun overhead. In a second he was a figure receding into the clouds above.

I unfurled my flight pack wings and the fire elemental’s wings to give chase and saw one of the Council’s armed transports banking in towards the building.

“This is going to be a problem.” I said on the mental link Fari had setup.

“Can you cloak us again?” Darius asked.

“Yeah, but it’ll cut into my flight speed. I’ll never catch him that way.” I said.

“You won’t have to.” he said. “Hang on.”

A second later I was being hugged and then the ground dropped away and the roar of the wind drowned out everything.

I blinked and found myself face to face with Darius, who’d wrapped his arms around me underneath my own. Below us a column of blue fire that burned as bright as Breeg’s was pushing us upward. It took me a second to connect the two events.

“You can fly on your own!” I said.

“I told you Mental anima was my second best casting skill right?” he said with a smile.

Meaning his first skill was with Energetic anima. From the looks of it it he was in Breeg’s range in fact. Maybe better even.

I cloaked us as soon as my brain processed what was happening and then called out to Fari.

“Can you provide navigation for Darius?” I asked her.

“Yep. I have a lock on Breeg.” she said.

“Is he heading back to the Council building?” I asked, a suspicion growing in my mind.

“No. He’s heading out of town.” she said.

“What direction?” I asked.

Fari provided the answer with a topographic map of the area and a blinking indicator for Breeg’s position.

“He’s terrified. He’s trying to escape us anyway he can.” Darius said.

“Yeah, but look at the way that he’s changing course. He’s not just trying to get away from us. He’s trying to get to someplace. Somewhere that he feels safe.” I said.

“He doesn’t have any holdings or known addresses in the direction he’s traveling.” Fari said.

“What is in that direction then?” I asked.

“It’s wasteland out this way.” Darius said. “We don’t even patrol here. The land’s worthless and local creatures are too dangerous to bother.”

“Are any of them aerial?” I asked, thinking that Breeg might be trying to lure us into a trap.

“None of the significantly dangerous ones are.” Darius said.

I tried to think of what other possibilities there were but it was difficult to get my brain together. Between the chase and the fight and the lack of sleep and the fact that Darius and I were clasped together in an embarrassingly tight hug, thinking wasn’t high on the list of things that I felt naturally inclined to do.

That way lay madness though, and it was definitely the wrong time and the wrong situation to be noticing how nice his hair smelled.

“What about legends?” I asked, desperate to distract myself from my previous line of thought.

“Legends?” Darius asked. “Oh wait. Oh no. It had better not be that.”

“What?” I asked, knowing from his tone that whatever he’d thought of was almost certainly correct, despite how much he didn’t want it to be.

“There was a civilization here before the humans or the Garjarack colonized Hellsreach. Like tens of thousands of years before, maybe more.”

“What happened to them?” I asked.

“No one knows. Humans and Gar fought over this place for so long that most of the ancient ruins were annihilated. There wasn’t any serious work done on unearthing the past until twenty years ago.” he said.

“When the Empire put a lid on the warfare.” I said.

“Right. It didn’t stop the boiling, but it contained it enough that people were able to search the uninhabited areas of the world looking for ruins that had escaped the decades of violence we’d had.” he said.

“Let me guess, no one found anything up here, but there’s a tale from during the war about an awesome ruin that someone stumbled on.” I said.

“Yeah, it’s a common story on pre-inhabited worlds.” Darius said. “Here’s the part that makes it unique to our current situation; care to guess who owns the biggest exploration and mining company in this area?”

There was only one answer that made sense.

“Makkis and Breeg.” I said. “They found an intact old ruin and covered it up.”

“Better than that, I’m guessing they found something in the old ruin. Something that’s unimaginably powerful.” he said.

“And now they’ve figured out how to use it and are going to take over the world with it.” I said.

“How do we fight that?” Darius asked.

“We break it.” I said.

“What if its too big to break?” he asked.

“Nothing’s too big break. We’ll just need to hit it hard enough.” I said.

I was wrong about that. More wrong than I could imagine.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 25

The feeling of satisfaction I experienced when my uppercut connected with Makkis jaw was a bliss like I had never experienced before in my life. It was a textbook perfect punch. He was turned away from me, distracted by the arrival of the page, as I moved in and started shifting my weight. The page tried to warn him of my approach. The poor boy had read the alert, he “knew” that I was a dangerous criminal.

None of them had any idea how true that was about to become though.

Makkis turned back to face me as I stepped within arm’s reach of him. He had a smirk on his lips that he was fighting to suppress.

I helped him out with that.

Stepping forward with my right foot, I bent at the knees and coiled by left hand into a fist below me.

It was one action. One exhilarating release. My fist rose upwards with the force of a rocket lifting off and caught Makkis right under his chin. The word he was forming shattered as the force of the blow lifted him off his feet.

One advantage to being tall is that when uppercuts like that hit, you’ve still got a lot of extension left in your arm. I put so much force and weight into the punch that I didn’t stop my upwards momentum until I’d spun nearly 180 degrees and was reaching for the sky.

Not that I paused there.

Building on my momentum, I spun into a pivoting step and slammed an elbow strike into Councilman Breeg’s nose. I saw Breeg’s eyes rolling back into his head from the blow and grabbed him before his could fall away from me.

For some reason, probably because they were used to others doing the violent work for them and because neither was particularly talented at Aetherial anima casting, neither Makkis nor Breeg had seen this coming. They’d backed me into a corner, tried to kill me, tried to destroy me, and they hadn’t foreseen that I would strike back.

I was too much of a brute for them, I guess, and for my own good when it came to it.

In assaulting the Chairman of the Common Council, I’d declared a private war on Hellsreach. I couldn’t have played into Makkis plans better if I’d been working for him. There was no way the Common Council was going to trust me enough to believe my testimony in a hearing.

That didn’t matter though. Makkis had made a mistake.

I couldn’t win with the Common Council. Makkis had beaten me too thoroughly there. But that was the mistake. If there’d been a chance to work things out with them, I would have tried and in doing so, wasted all of the time I had remaining.

Instead, I was an outlaw. Of my own choosing. The difference that made was incomprehensible at first.

Moments before, I’d been paralyzed with terror at the thought of being cast out, of being unwanted, of being unworthy. With two counts of assault under my belt, I hoisted Breeg’s unconscious body onto my shoulder to add kidnapping to my list of crimes. Despite the extra weight, I felt unrestrained, like shackles I’d worn all my life had fallen away from me.

The room was blanketed by a stunned silence in the seconds following my attack on Makkis and Breeg. For a world with a century of warfare in its immediate history, it didn’t look like the council members were personally familiar with being exposed to violence.

I took advantage of the all-too-brief shock and broke into a run, carrying Breeg still slung over my shoulder. That took some Physical anima magic to make happen but it was worth it.

“Shoot her!” one of the guards called out.

“I’ll hit the Councilman!” another called back.

Hector, Darius’ father, brave and stupid man that he is, tried to get in my way. He might have disliked, or even hated Breeg and Makkis, but he believed in the Council. I could see the same seriousness in his eyes that Darius had when he talked about it. He couldn’t let something as fundamentally wrong as the kidnapping of a council member go unopposed.

Fortunately for all of us, Hector’s forte wasn’t Physical anima casting and he wasn’t close to being in my league in hand-to-hand combat. He tried a clumsy grab aimed at my arm and I tripped him. Often when I trip someone it’s with the intent of ramming their head through the concrete we’re standing on. Once you are in control of someone’s fall though you have options. In this case I chose to spin Hector into a graceful little pirouette that left him sitting on one of the  galleries benches.

“Stop her!” the first guard screamed. His voice was tinged with panic which told me he thought I was trying to kill myself and Breeg. In his defense, I was running full speed at the twenty foot tall picture windows that gave the Council a view of downtown Zawalla City.

“I’ll get her!” Darius shouted and moved to intercept me.

That was trouble. He was still wearing some of his scout combat gear. Even if he wasn’t as good with Physical anima as I was, he was going to have a big advantage if we came to blows.

“He’s gaining on you!” Fari said and gave me back some of the fire elemental’s power.

I hit the windows like a comet.

The corona of fire that surrounded me blasted the glass outwards with enough force that I didn’t get slashed to ribbons and I exited the building like a shooting star.

The sensation of falling was a reassuring one. I was trapped by gravity, but I was free otherwise! I’d escaped pursuit and I had access a person who was sure to have the information I needed. All I had to do was fly away.

“I would really appreciate it if you could catch me!” Darius said over our mental link. “And please, please make it look like we’re fighting tooth and nail.”

I flipped over in my fall, unsure what I would find, and saw the idiot leap out of the tower!

“Are you kidding me!” I screamed back at him.

“Your wings can carry three right?” he asked as he started to plummet.

I had no idea how much I could carry.

“The flight pack’s only rated for two.” Fari said.

“This is going to be fun then. Give me the elemental’s power back.” I said and flared out both the flight pack’s wings and the wings of fire the elemental’s essence provided me.

The elemental wasted no time trying to usurp control of me, but I slammed it’s essence into a tight little ball in my mind and drove a dagger of Void anima into it, pinning its urges in place.

“Catching” Darius turned out to look a lot like “colliding” with him for the simple reason that a mid-air collision was the best I was able to manage with Breeg’s unconscious body throwing off my aerial agility.

Darius clung onto me and shifted around like we were grappling in mid-air. Again, it was a realistic performance since for the first minute or so the weight of the three of us and the lift provided by the four wings I’d conjured was highly unstable. He eventually wound up hanging beneath me with both hands clutching my left ankle. I’m sure it looked impressive, but it wasn’t what I would describe as comfortable.

The one big advantage of having Darius and Breeg along for the wobbling flight though was that the ground forces couldn’t risk shooting at me. As we passed beyond the force field that surrounded the Council headquarters (through a hole carved with Void anima) I saw the flying transports lifting off to pursue us. That meant I had to lose them, which meant diving into the city.

Under ideal circumstances, a flight through a densely packed cityscape could be fun. Twisting and turning around buildings would be thrilling and a great test of my fine control with the flight pack. For the flight we actually had I would replace “fun” with “screaming terror”.

In the end though, we landed. Not safely. Not painlessly. But we landed.

We wound up in a dusty upper story warehouse. The windows were caked with enough grime to prevent anyone from seeing in and enough of them were broken already that the one we’d smashed through didn’t stand out. I was pretty sure we’d lost our pursuers because I’d taken so many turns and passed through and under so many obstructions that I had no idea where we were.

“Are you completely insane?” Darius asked. His eyes were wide and his hands had a tremble left in them but I could see he was intact which was all I’d been hoping for towards the end of the flight.

“Uh, you’re the lunatic who jumped out of perfectly good building without a flight pack on!” I said.

“I had a plan.” he said.

“So did I!” I said.

“We need to work out what we do next.” Fari said, appearing in between the two of us.

“I think we need to know what he’s doing here.” I said pointing at Darius.

“He came to help.” Fari said.

“Why would you do that?” I asked. I knew that I looked guilty to him. Power mad, murderous and guilty.

“Fari filled me in on what happened.” he said.

“And you believed her?” I asked. I’d lived through everything Fari could have told him about and even I had to wonder if I’d been hit with a Delusion spell when I stopped to think about it.

“Yeah.” he said. “I do.”

The quiet tone of the words was almost an admission of defeat.

“I know I came down on you pretty hard before about not understanding the situation here.” he said. “It’s complex. I guess even more than I knew.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t think I’m helping to make it much simpler.” I said. “And you weren’t wrong. I still don’t know what’s going on here.”

“Someone, Makkis probably, is trying to frame you.” Darius said.

“He’s done a good job. Look at me now – I’ve kidnapped an elected official of your government! On nothing more than an educated guess!” I said.

“Yeah, that’s going to be all kinds of fun to sort out later. My dads are going to have a meltdown when they find out what’s really happening.” he said.

“Your father Hector was very brave.” I told him.

“I know. Thanks for not hurting him.” Darius said. “That’s part of why I believe what Fari said.”

“He was trying to do the right thing.” I said.

“He’s not the only one.” Darius said, looking at me with a faint smile.

The room felt a bit warm. The fire elemental’s lingering essence I decided.

“Fari could you take the elemental away again?” I asked.

“Already did.” she said. Her smile was more of a teasing one.

“You said that Breeg was the one who summoned the fire elemental that destroyed the Palace Arms?” Darius asked.

“That’s the apartment building we were at.” Fari said.

“Yeah. We weren’t there when it burned, but we saw it go up in a post-cognition spell. One second it was fine, the next the elemental burst through everything in the building. I don’t think anyone made it out of there.” I said.

“The fire crews reported fighting the blaze to protect the surrounding buildings. No rescue attempts were made within the Palace Arms itself.” Fari said.

“So you know Breeg is responsible for their deaths.” Darius said. “But you can’t prove it in a hearing.”

“There’s more than that.” I said. “Fari confirmed that Makkis is the one who was spying on us when we escape from the containment facility. He played the same game there, trying to tie up Fari and my time so that the Ghost Duster bombs would get us.”

“That’s kind of a relief believe it or not.” Darius said.

“Why?” I asked.

“My dads’ political enemies are the enemies of the Empire.” Darius said. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about how the Empire would treat the Common Council if an official relationship could be forged. Makkis himself is in the minority position on relations with the other worlds and the Empire but he’s built up such a powerful voting block that he’s been able to squelch a lot of the proposals my dads have put forward. Maybe with this, they’ll be able to get some momentum for their ideas.”

“Maybe. Like you said though, it’s a complicated situation.” I said.

“That’s assuming there is a later.” Fari said.

“Which brings us to Breeg here.” I said. “He knows what Makkis and his cabal are planning. It’s gotta be happening soon or they wouldn’t have been stalling to buy a few additional hours.”

“It’s not happening soon.” Breeg said, reviving from unconsciousness at last. “Look at the sky! We’ve already won!”

I looked outside and saw a bright, sunny day. Nothing that suggested victory by one side or the other.

“You’re behind this?” Darius asked with a look of understanding and horror in his eyes.

It took me a moment to catch up. It was bright and sunny out when it shouldn’t have been.

“Fari, what time is it?” I asked.

“It’s ten minutes before dawn.” she said. I could see she’d pieced it out too.

It was ten minutes before dawn, but the sun was hanging in the center in the sky like it was noon.

When I’d guessed that Makkis’ scheme had planetary implications, I’d had no idea how right I was.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 24

I was an outlaw. A rogue agent. The Empire was going to hunt me down. Fari’s words washed over me and a sick wave of dread followed them.

For a moment I was seven years old again and being scolded by the Sisters of Water’s Mercy. I’d stolen a fruit tart from one of the street vendors. It was stupid. The thing tasted like cardboard. I knew it was going to taste like cardboard too but I was bored and one of the other girls dared me to do it so I did.

I’d thought I was too clever to be caught. I’d been training with Master Hanq for a little bit at that point so I was sure I had the moves and enough speed that no one would notice me. I thought with my mighty “fist anima” (I was a stupid kid, it sounded cool at the time) I was powerful enough to take what I wanted and be the Queen of the town.

I’d been wrong. Of course.

I’d been caught. Of course.

And the Sisters had chewed me out. Of course.

The worst part of it though was the way it broke the illusions I had. “Fist anima” wasn’t going to see me through. I wasn’t powerful. I was just a little girl.

I’d cried myself to sleep that night, not because of the Sisters’ insane punishments (I can’t even remember what they were) but because of how weak I felt. I gave up going to Master Hanq’s place too.

Standing in the Council chamber, all those feelings came back to me. I wasn’t a Crystal Guardian, one of the most fearsome warriors in the galaxy. I was Mel. Just Mel and I had no business telling people who were in charge of a planet what they should do.

The fire elemental essence I was carrying jumped into the gap of weakness in me. I could show them I was important. In fact, if I was going to be hunted down, I’d give them a damn good reason to come after me. Flames crackled along my skin and I felt my vision glaze over with waves of heat.

“Fari. Help. Get the elemental out of me!” I said on our telepathic link. I couldn’t keep myself together and fight off its influence.

I felt the flames rise in me, overtaking the last vestiges of rational thought I had. A cool wind whipped through me pulling them off my skin before I could burn. That stoked them higher and brighter but the more they were pulled away from me the more wisp-like they became, until they fluttered out entirely, absorbed into Fari’s gem.

In a way that helped. I sobered up in an instant with the elemental’s influence removed. The problem was, my sober eyes could see just how bad the situation I was in was.

I had a lot of anima, but the Council had an army to work with. I might be able to escape them, but I wasn’t going to be able to beat an entire planet’s worth of armed forces. What was worse though was that I’d dragged Fari down into the mess with me. If I was an outlaw, anything she did would fall under the “aiding and abetting” category of crimes.

“We have offered a solution to the dilemma you present us.” Makkis said. “Under the circumstances, this is more than you have any legal right to request, but in the interest of beginning proper relations with the Empire we are willing to move forward. Councilman Breeg is going nowhere until this matter is addressed. This should be more than sufficient for you, unless you are unwilling to deal with us in good faith?”

Makkis smiled at me as he finished the question. His expression had all the friendliness of a dagger to the heart.

I paused to find my answer and I saw his smile deepen. He had me. Every path I looked down was one where he emerged victorious.

The delay was going to strengthen the people on the council who opposed him, but he was in favor of it. A five year old could figure out what that meant. If he didn’t mind the delay it was because his plans were going to run to completion before the hearing began. All he needed to do was buy time.

If I opposed the delay, he could call off the whole trial on the basis that I wasn’t willing to deal with the Common Council as a legitimate governing body. I couldn’t say I respected their authority if I ignored it because I thought my goals were more important.

Of course, they were more important. Or at least I believed they might be. I didn’t have solid proof that Makkis, Breeg and their conspiracy had a plan in motion that would affect the planet though. That was all intuition and basic reasoning on my part.

He’d claimed that he’d ‘already won’, the first time I talked to him. That was a lie. If he was secure in his victory, he wouldn’t have destroyed one of his own bases and burned down a building full of people to keep me off his tail.  So he had to still be working on whatever scheme he was playing at.

I wracked my brain to find some clue about what it could be that I could share with the other council members. Once my outlaw status became known I wouldn’t be able to stop Makkis but, if I put Osgood and Hector on the right trail, they’d have every reason to bring him down for me.

It couldn’t be a personal scheme, I decided. The Empire was isolated from the situation on Hellsreach by the Joint Exxion Congress, the Human and Garjarak governing body that reported to the other two planets in the system. With them unwilling to recognize the Hellsreach Common Council or report on its existence, Makkis could have been planning to run any sort of racket imaginable and we wouldn’t have heard of it. Unless it affected the entire planet. Then, one way or the other, we’d find out what was going on and get involved.

Makkis had claimed that he was trying to send a message to the Empire to stay out of Hellsreach’s affairs. That was a lie too. There was no better way to have the Empire slam down on Hellsreach than killing one of the Crystal Guardians.

Even if I was a criminal and a Wanted rogue agent, the Empire, and maybe even the Empress, would react poorly to the loss of Master Raychelle.

So Makkis scheme had to have planetary, if not system-wide, ramifications. In fact it had to be something that would allow the Makkis to stand against not only his enemies on the Common Council but also the military might of Exxion 3, Exxion 4, and the Crystal Empire.

“If you’ll pledge to deal in good faith, and keep Councilman Breeg here, then I’ll accept the delay.” I said. My voice had lost its otherworldly quality. Several council members sighed in relief at the defusing of tensions. Even Osgood and Hector seemed pleased. Only Makkis looked like he understood what I was really saying.

We both knew he wasn’t dealing in good faith. I hadn’t accepted the delay, I had only admitted that I didn’t have a play to make yet.

What I wanted to do was run. They hadn’t heard the broadcast of my rogue status yet, but I knew it was a matter of minutes before someone brought the news in. Then Makkis’ victory would be complete. The hearing would never go off if Breeg’s accuser was revealed to be a galactic criminal.

I saw Makkis smiling at me still. He was ecstatic behind his hardened gaze. He knew he’d won.

He shouldn’t have known that though. Not with that much certainty. I’d surprised him too many times so far. He should have been worried still. If it was Master Raychelle in my position, he would have been terrified.

But it wasn’t Master Raychelle. It was me. A soon-to-be fugitive.

And he knew that! I could see it in his eyes!

Understanding blossomed from the depths of my subconscious and a brand new wave of fear rolled through the my guts.

I shouldn’t have been branded a criminal and I wasn’t a rogue agent. Master Raychelle was the one who’d left me. Everything I’d done since then had been to protect people or find the ones responsible for hurting them. More importantly, most of it had occurred when communications back to the Imperial station were jammed. They couldn’t brand me a criminal for my actions because they had no way of knowing about them!

That wasn’t just reassuring, it made sense with something Fari had told me earlier.

“You tried to establish a communication spell to the Imperial station while we were on our way here didn’t you?” I asked Fari telepathically.

“Yeah. I couldn’t get through.” she said.

“I remember. You thought it might have been destroyed. There was another possibility though wasn’t there?” I asked.

“Yeah. If all of the communication spell matrices were taken offline for repair.” Fari said.

“Can you connect to them now?” I asked.

“Yes.” she said and added “Oh no.”

“Let me guess.” I said. “They weren’t down for repair were they?”

“No. They were down for reprogramming.” she said.

“Makkis controls them now, doesn’t he?” I asked.

“Not directly. The one who hijacked them is named Unlew.” Fari said. “Of course the two of them share controlling interest in a few different businesses, off-world businesses in fact, so I think it’s safe to say Makkis’ conspiracy holds the Imperial station now.”

“Anyone left alive onboard it?” I asked.

“Yes. All members of the crew are captive in the landing bays, which are sealed.” she said.

“So anyone who wants to reclaim the station will need to spend extra time or risk killing the hostages.” I said.

“That’s a bad sign. Hostages won’t buy them much time if an Imperial battle cruiser shows up. They must be really close to whatever they’re trying to do.” Fari said.

“I know.” I said. “I can’t believe how stupid I am though.”

“You’re not stupid. Makkis shouldn’t have been able to take over the Imperial station. You couldn’t see that coming. None of us could have.” Fari said.

“I know. I don’t feel stupid about that. I just…” I choked back the words at first. It was hard to even think them, because they sounded so childish in my head. “I just can’t believe with all this that what I feel happy about is not being a criminal.”

“Mel! Why would you think…” Fari started to say and then caught herself. “Oh. I’m sorry! I didn’t even think about what I said to you. I knew the report was bogus. It had to be. I just wanted to warn you about it.”

Somehow the relief was almost harder to bear than the fear had been. I thought back to being a seven year old. Maybe crying it out like I had then would have done some good. In front of the Common Council was not the place to revert to pre-adolescent behavior though, however good it would have felt.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to as calm of a state as I could muster.

“It’s ok.” I told Fari. “I needed the heads up, and it kind of doesn’t matter that I’m not really a wanted criminal. Once the report reaches the Council, they’re going to treat me like an outlaw no matter what.”

“And with the Imperial station down, we don’t have any backup from the Empire that could arrive here in times anyways.” Fari said.

“Yeah. Not unless they were already here and the one person I know of who fits that description is still missing in action.” I said.

“I’m starting to get worried about that. Master Raychelle should have contacted you by now, shouldn’t she?” Fari asked.

“Yeah, probably. I can only think of a few reasons why she wouldn’t have and none of them are good.” I said.

The muttering among the council members stopped when Makkis cleared his throat.

“We must assemble the entire Council if possible. I know several members are absent because they were not able to travel to the emergency meeting on short notice. I propose we authorize suppressing the anti-teleportation wards and diverting city power to the transport pads in the Council Building to facilitate their arrival.” Makkis said.

“Council by-laws forbid leaving this building undefended while a quorum of council members are present.” Osgood said. He was fighting the political battle of getting the right council members into position to take down one of Makkis’ supporters. I wanted to yell at him that it wasn’t going to matter, but I knew that move would leave me too open to Makkis’ counter attack.

I didn’t have a plan, but every moment until the report of my “outlaw status” came in was time for me to come up with one.

The council members fell to bickering over points of order and related by-laws and precedents for exceptions. They were wasting time in exactly the manner that Makkis needed them to, but with their focus off me I was able to step back and think too.

That is until I heard a soft chime ring in my ear.

“It’s Darius.” Fari said. “He’s trying to reconnect to the telepathic link we had setup.”

“Can you keep it secure?” I asked.

Fari huffed in disbelief at the question.

“Ok, ok. Let him in then please.” I said.

“What are you doing here?” Darius asked, the moment the communication spells were joined together.

“Getting in trouble.” I told him. “What are you doing here?”

“Testifying about what happened at the base. About you specifically.” he said.

“What have you told them?” I asked.

“Nothing yet. They hadn’t called for the witnesses yet. The emergency meeting was just getting going when you burst in.” he said. “What happened?”

“A lot. An assassin tried to kill me at the base. Two of them in fact.” I said. “I tried to beat one of them back to their home but Breeg torched it. He killed everyone inside the building to keep me from finding anything that would lead to them.”

“How do you know it was him then?” Darius asked.

“Fari and I summoned the elemental that he used. It lead me here. Right to him in fact.” I said.

“That’s impossible.” Darius said.

“No. Not impossible. Just very difficult. And very dangerous. Sorry for the grand entrance there. I wasn’t entirely in my right mind with the elemental egging me on.” I said.

“And now?” Darius asked.

I saw a page enter the Council chamber room at a breathless run. He looked around. Caught sight of me and went white as a sheet. He paused on the doorway for a precious pair of seconds while I wished him away with all of my meager mental anima skills. I knew what was on the sheet of paper he was carrying.

My mind control skills being non-existent, I watched him cast his gaze down, pull up his courage and start marching towards Makkis.

I’d run out of time to come up with a plan.

“And now, I’m about to kidnap a Council member.” I told Darius.

The Winds of Yesterday – Chapter 23

Seeing Darius standing with the Council members made the idea of burning them all to ash somewhat less appealing. It bothered me that the idea didn’t seem horrific though.

“You may have been right.” I told Fari. “The elemental’s getting to me.”

“I can take it away.” she offered, concern suffusing her mental voice.

“Not yet. I need to see this through.” I said.

With a long, slow breath, I exhaled fire from my nostrils and floated down to the floor of the rotunda. As I did, I pushed the fire elemental’s essence away from my mind and pulled in the wings of flame that supported me.

I hated doing it and my hands shook with the effort it took.

Maybe I’m more vulnerable to lure of power than most people. I felt like a lower life form for so much of my life because I couldn’t manipulate anima or cast even the simplest spell. Maybe that explains why the fire elemental’s essence was so intoxicating to me. The truth was I didn’t want to just burn them. Not when reaping their anima would be so much more delicious.

I tried to tell myself that those thoughts were the fire elemental speaking but I suck at lying. I had power, plenty of power, but more was always better.

Fari could have pulled me back from that precipice, but she didn’t have to, not when I saw Darius watching me and waiting to see what was going to happen next.

It wasn’t love that pulled me back. He was cute and smart, but it was a little early to say I cared about him that much. Seeing him with the Council members moved me in a different way. It reminded me that they were people. Not obstacles, and maybe not even enemies, at least not most of them.

One of the Council members who was standing beside Darius was the first to summon up the courage to speak in the hush that had fallen over the room in the wake of my arrival.

“That was a dramatic entrance. Who are you and what business do you have here?” the man said. He was taller than me, with skin of the same deep tan shade as Darius’. When I looked between the two of them I saw that their skin tone wasn’t that only resemblance between the two. Hair, eyes, facial features. None were an exact match, but if the Councilman wasn’t Darius’ acknowledged father then a paternity test was in order.

“I am Mel Watersward, Crystal Guardian, Initiate Class, and I am here on official Imperial business.” I said. My voice sounded weird when I spoke. There was an echo in it and it filled the hall more than its volume should have allowed.

“The Imperial ambassador has never established official ties with this Council.” the Councilman said.

“I don’t really care about that at the moment.” I said. The political situation on Hellsreach was the next best thing to insane as far as I could tell. Untangling the mess I’d been dumped into and establishing a proper dialog between the Hellsreach Council, the Empire and the governments of the other two planets in the system would take months of negotiations. With the way Red Robes had been striking at me, I guessed that I had days or hours until his plan came into effect.

“Then we have nothing to say to you.” the Councilman said.

“You may not, but Councilman Breeg does.” I said. Fari had filled me in the Council members names and connections via a handy visual overlap spell.

“This Council stands together!” the Councilman said. From Fari’s overlay, I saw that his name was Hector.

Councilman Hector moved forward to place himself between the rest of the Council and I. Another councilor, Osgood, stepped up beside him. Fari’s overlay spilled out information about the two men as fast as she mined it from the Council’s spell web. They belonged to the same voting block, though not the one that held the majority in the Council. Both were primarily mental anima casters but neither had tested in the top tier for proficiency, which suggested neither could be Red Robes. Beyond that it was all personal information. They were married, to each other, Hector was Darius’ biological father, and between the three of them they were reasonably wealthy by Hellsreach standards.

The last bit surprised me. I couldn’t puzzle out why Darius would serve as a scout in the Hellsreach Council’s army if his family was that influential and if they had enough money to avoid it. On Belstarius, rich people hired poor people to be the ones to go out and get shot at. I had assumed that was the way it worked everywhere in the galaxy.

I also couldn’t puzzle out why Hector was defending Breeg. From the information Fari provided, it looked like the two hated each other. Breeg was in a party that had no overlap with Hector and Osgood’s. The best guess I could come up with was ‘political theater’, where Hector wasn’t defending Breeg so much as defending the sanctity of the Common Council. From the way the groups of Council members were isolated from each other I could believe keeping the government together required that sort of drama.

I looked to Darius briefly to see if I could read any clues from him before I stepped on any more landmines. It was tough to read his scowl, but he didn’t appear to be delighted to see me.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you harbor a murderer.” I said.

“That’s absurd!” Breeg said, stepping forward, though not so far as to be in front of Hector and Osgood. “You can’t burst in here and slander my name like that!”

“Indeed.” the Head Councilman said. “If you have accusations to levy, then they must be heard by an impeachment committee and then the judiciary. This Council will not negotiate in the face of violence or threats thereof.”

The Head Councilman, a guy named Makkis, put me in a difficult position. Master Raychelle had told me that we needed to respect the Exxion governments’ policies as much as possible until the final peace agreement was worked out. On the other hand, I was, nominally at least, part of a law enforcement division with jurisdiction that superseded the Common Council’s legal framework. The various member planets of the Empire were allowed to pass their own laws, apart from laws which infringed on the Empire’s declared “Rights of All Sapient Beings”. Murder was specifically one of the crimes which no member planet was allowed to sanction as legal.

That didn’t mean that the Crystal Guardians had the right to pursue murder cases wherever they cropped up though. There were only two instances where we were allowed to that I could remember. The first was when the decision of a planetary court was appealed to the Imperial ambassador. That didn’t apply here since the Imperial ambassador seemed to be out of commission or absent. The second case however did apply.

“As a member of a governmental body recognized by the people of Exxion 3, Councilman Breeg’s actions place him under direct Imperial jurisdiction.” I said, hoping that the brief lesson I’d had on Imperial law wasn’t leading me astray.

The idea, as I understood it, was that the Empire wouldn’t cast judgment on the citizens of a planet directly unless it was either requested to or in cases where the accused was in a position to put themselves above the law. As the sole Imperial representative on Hellsreach, (Master Raychelle was out of contact, so I was guessing she didn’t count), I had full judicial privileges to exercise. Or, in other words, I could act as judge, jury and executioner. Something told me I was probably missing the finer point of a few laws there but the reality of the situation was however things were resolved there was going to be a huge mess. The best I could do was try to preserve as many lives as possible.

Except Red Robes crew, the fire elemental essence whispered to me. Breeg and the rest of them could burn or be ripped apart just like they’d done to others.

“It seems as though we are at an impasse then.” Head Councilman Makkis said. “Unless you wish to press your claim and kill us all.”

I recoiled at hearing Makkis speak my private thoughts.

“He tested extremely high for mental anima aptitude, but he wasn’t reading your mind there.” Fari told me.

“I guess my entrance made it sort of obvious.” I replied back on the telepathic link.

Darius opened his mouth to say something, but Councilman Osgood managed to speak first.

“That’s not necessarily the case.” Councilman Osgood suggested, turning to face the Head Councilman. “There is precedent for calling emergency impeachment hearings in the face of serious charges.”

“This girl blasted her way into a closed session carrying no proof of her wild accusations. How serious are we to take her claims?” Head Councilman Makkis said.

“Murder is as serious a claim as anyone can make.” Councilman Hector said. “As for her evidence, that’s for the hearing panel to determine.”

“We are assembled for a matter of planetary importance. That must take priority.” Makkis said. His face reddened and his lips compressed into a thin line. The council members near him shuffled back a half step or more even though he hadn’t raised his voice or moved in any threatening way.

Fari provided a series of colored lines on the visual overlay spell she’d cast. The lines connected the members of the various parties and showed the parties affiliation with each other. Breeg and Makkis were in allied parties, both of which were in opposition to Hector and Osgood’s party. Beyond that, the web of voting history and public allegiances Fari turned up was so tangled I couldn’t guess what the council would do if they decided to vote on the matter.

“You seem to be confused Councilor Makkis.” I said. “I am not here to make a personal accusation. This is a planetary matter.”

“All the more reason we should engage with her on an official level.” Councilman Osgood said. The outer edge of his mouth were turned up in the smallest of smiles but his eyes shone with sheer delight. I didn’t mistake that for approval of me. Osgood had the look of someone playing a game and stumbling on a winning move. It wasn’t hard to imagine that, by invoking my Imperial authority, I’d changed the political landscape where Osgood and Makkis were fighting. The Empire hadn’t made official contact with the Hellsreach Common Council until I decided it was a bright idea. I had no idea what the ramifications of that would be, but I was sure all of the parties involved would fight to turn it to their own advantage.

“I see you’re point.” Makkis said, addressing Osgood and ignoring me. “It will need to be a proper hearing to hold official weight. The absent Council members must be alerted so that they can hear the testimony and have a say in the deliberation.”

“Of course.” Osgood agreed. His smile widened and Fari showed me why. The current assemblage of council members was made up of barely more than half of the Council. Many hadn’t been able to make the emergency session. Given the right window of time, Osgood and Hector could count on tipping the balance much closer to their favor.

I winced. Agreeing with Osgood would win me an ally, but I couldn’t do it. The political stakes were high, but the planetary stakes were higher.

“I’m sorry, but this cannot be delayed.” I said. “Councilman Breeg has murdered hundreds of people already. The group he is affiliated with has murdered ten times that number and destroyed part of one of your military bases, all within the last twenty four hours.”

“She’s insane.” Breeg said. I saw him siddle closer to Makkis as he did so though. I winced again. Breeg looking to Makkis for protection wasn’t proof that they were part of the same conspiracy, but the move had been so instinctive that it made me consider the possibility.

“Makkis is Red Robes.” Fari said.

“How can you tell?” I asked, surprised that my intuition was correct.

“His reaction to your reaction clued me in. I cast a high tier analysis spell to confirm it though. His body structure matches Red Robes exactly, and the anima signature on the defensive spells he’s wearing is the same.”

I thought about my next words carefully. Whatever I said, whatever I did, and however people reacted, I knew that things were about to get loud.

“The Imperial embassy is transmitting again.” Fari said.

I felt relief sweep over me. I’d played this to the precipice of disaster. With the embassy responding again, the experienced professionals could come in and sort things out.

“They’re broadcasting a Wanted notice system-wide. For you. You’ve been declared a rogue agent and an enemy of the Empire.” Fari said.