Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Horizon of Today – Chapter 3

I’d never experienced an earthquake before and when it hit I learned that it was something I never wanted to experience again. One moment, the world was still and quiet. A picture of the scene would have made it look like the Gar family and I were clustered together for no good reason. Icy claws in my chest were screaming that we were in peril though and some combination of my regular senses agreed with them. The Garjaracks could sense it too.

One long breath of anticipation passed and then the earth around us tore itself to pieces. The heaving land threw me off my feet and knocked down some of the Gar family too. The elderly Gars and half the kids landed hard, but the two adults and the rest of the rest of the young ones kept their feet.

I could see Physical anima shining on all of the ones who remained standing as they struggled to cast a shield spell that would cover us all. The shaking ground was joined by the roar of buildings around us tearing apart. Dust and debris started to rain down and I could see the Gar losing the weave of the shield spell. It was just too hard to concentrate with the earth throwing us around.

That’s why people long ago invented enchanting. I wasn’t free to cast spells until my anima was finished healing but that didn’t mean I couldn’t use them if they were embedded into a object. Since enchanting isn’t exactly cheap, I’d never had much experience with it growing up. Master Raychelle had worked on rectifying that over the last few months since it was one of the things I could work on while I was recovering.

In theory, enchanted objects are something that anyone can use. That’s the point of them after all. In practice though, the more you know about the enchantment on the item, and the more familiar you are with casting the spell yourself, the more flexibility and efficiency you can get out of it.

My lack of formal training meant that I was rubbish when it came to that sort of thing in general, but at least with shield spells I had some minor amount of talent to fall back on.

The quake had thrown me off my feet, and with the shaking continuing I didn’t see a point in trying to stand again. Instead I raised myself to my hands and knees and chanted the activation phrase for the shield belt that I wore.

By design, the belt was intended to cover only me. It wasn’t a strong shield but it was better than being without one at all. I considered the cost of expanding it cover the Gar family too and calculated that it would drop the strength of the shield to point where it was little stronger than a thick piece of glass. It sucked, but, after calling them all to me for safety, I had to do what I could to provide it.

The shield materialized around us as a lacework of geometric shapes and symbols. The sigils it formed in the air glowed with the dim red light of the Physical anima the belt had stored to cast the spell. It looked so fragile that I thought the dust around us would be enough to blow it away, but then it surged in brightness. The lines grew thicker and hummed with power as I watched in amazement. I hadn’t thought the belt had that much magic stored in it.

I was right on that count too. It wasn’t the belt that was making the shield so strong. It was the Garjarack family I was with.

They hadn’t been able to focus enough to cast the spell themselves, but augmenting an existing spell was a lot simpler. Even the one’s who hadn’t been casting, even the kids who’d been exhausted and fading before the earthquake hit, were pouring energy into the shield.

That’s when the firebirds showed up.

The buildings around us were collapsing inwards, certain to bury us even if the shield prevented them from crushing us to death instantly. Then the sky above us exploded in flame.

The firebirds plunged down from a conjuration point just barely higher than the tallest building. Their elemental screams cut through the din of the falling buildings and the heat of their enormous bodies washed through shield we’d erected. If they’d been trying to kill us, they could have roasted us where we stood, shield or no shield. That wasn’t why Fari had sent them though.

She’d conjured the firebirds to save us, and that’s what they did. Each of the dozen aerial fire elementals slammed into one of the collapsing buildings and knocked it away from us. Gravity and momentum argued that tons of stone and steel from the buildings should fall within the defensive circle that the firebirds established but the enchanted beings would have none of that. They streaked through the buildings, smashing the structures and speeding outwards forming a flower burst of destruction with the Garjarack family and me in the safety of the untouched center.

The major part of the quake subsided a moment later, but the ground still felt unstable as smaller aftershocks continued to rumble through it.

“Is everyone ok?” I asked, looking around at the family. Most of them were on the ground and some weren’t moving yet.

“Darius isn’t!” Fari said telepathically.

“What happened?” I asked, looking around to see which direction he was in. I hadn’t been familiar with Salmon Falls in the first place but the destruction and the smoke brought on by the earthquake and the firebird strike had turned it into an alien landscape. Fari compensated for that by projecting a blinking red and green rectangle overlaid onto my vision to show where he was.

“He was in a building when the quake hit,” she said. “He’s still alive, but he’s trapped and I think the collapse knocked him out.”

“What about the people he was after?” I asked, thinking of the danger they represented to him.

“I can’t tell,” she said. “My sense link to him broke when he passed out.”

I looked at the Gar family again and weighed them against Darius. He needed me. They had each other. Leaving them here, on their own though, felt wrong. They were deep in “enemy territory” and out of their depth.

And so was I. I was used to working without magic. I’d done that my whole life up until less than half a year ago. I’d learned to fight and worked to be as strong as I could to make up for my deficiency but I’d also kept a close eye on when to run. For all my hard won skill at hand-to-hand combat, there were plenty of people I knew I couldn’t tangle with. Plenty of fights that I wouldn’t walk away from if I didn’t run first. I’d survived as much by knowing my limits as by stubbornly going beyond them.

Learning about my magical talents had been a delight and a wonderland of new capabilities, but there were still things I couldn’t handle on my own, as the last two months on the injured list had proven.

Even if I’d been back to full casting status though, I couldn’t assume that digging Darius out of a collapsed building would be something I could handle solo. Sure I could make myself magically strong and fast, but my knowledge of architecture pretty much ended at “buildings have four walls and a roof”.

If I was going to get him out safely, I needed help.

“Are you all ok?” I asked again.

“No,” said the eldest Gar woman. “We are uninjured, but the children need attention. Their reserves are not deep yet, the casting took a lot out of them.”

“Can they walk?” I asked her.

“We can carry them,” the adult Gar female said. Her anger was still there and I think it was confusion more than anything else that kept it from erupting.

“Fari, is our transport still ok?” I asked aloud.

“Yes, I had it lift off as soon as you noticed the quake was incoming,” she said.

“Who is ‘Fari’?” the eldest Gar asked.

“I am!” Fari said, appearing before the Gar family in her translucent blue ghost form.

“What is this?” the adult Gar woman asked.

“She is one of my friends.” I replied with more ice in my tone than I intended. I could accept, intellectually, that the Gar woman had been through hard and trying times, but I couldn’t stop the emotional reaction of wanting to smack the hell out of her for not seeing Fari as a person.

“You won’t have to carry your children,” Fari said. “I’m bringing a transport in that will be able to fly you to an Aid Center.”

“How are you doing that?” the eldest Gar asked.

“I can multi-task,” Fari said. Given that she was an archmage level caster of Mind magic, that wasn’t particularly surprising, but I knew she found it more comfortable to focus on a single thread of consciousness at a time. She’d explained that fracturing her attention came at the cost of making each avatar slower and less capable which she preferred to avoid. Still, it was a handy trick when she needed it.

“I can’t wait for the transport to get here,” I said. “And I need your help.”

“And here’s where the demands begin,” the adult Gar woman said.

“My other friend, the one who went out to take down the people bombing you, he’s injured and buried under a collapsed building,” I said. “I don’t know what state he’s in or how long he has and I need help getting him out.”

“We have children who need us,” the adult Gar woman said.

“I’ll go with you,” the adult Gar man said.

“Me too,” one of the older Gar girls said.

“No Nenya, you’re going to stay here,” the adult Gar woman said.

“She’ll go,” the eldest Gar woman said. “The rest of us will tend to the children and get them loaded into the transport when it arrives.”

There are a variety of anima techniques that let someone kill with a look. I had to assume that the adult Gar woman didn’t know them given the tension that crackled in the air between her and the family’s matriarch.

Since I had neither the training to resolve disputes like that nor any time to spend, I settled for leaving while the opportunity was available.

“Thank you. He’s in this direction,” I said and turned towards the blinking overlay Fari had cast for me.

I set out at a quick jog and found the two Garjarack easily keeping up with me.

“You can travel faster if you wish,” the man said. He was glowing with a thin sheen of Physical anima. Garjarack are, on average, stronger than a human of similar weight and height, but their legs tend to be shorter which makes them slower over long runs. Anima spells cancel out those physical differences of course, but any magic spent on running fast is magic that’s not available for other uses.

“I want to get to him quickly, but we should conserve our energy,” I said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to get him out of there.”

It was dangerous for me to cast spells, but letting Darius be crushed to death wasn’t even vaguely an option. I was worried about how much anima my two Gar companions could have left. Between their overall poor physical state and the energy they’d given to support the shield, I couldn’t imagine either of them was exactly brimming with magical power.

“I am called Cadrus.” the Gar man said as we ran towards the site where Darius was trapped.

“Thank you for this Cadrus,” I said.

“You have helped us against our enemies,” Cadrus said. “We are stronger working together.”

Darius had told me about the Garjarack and the customs that were common in their local cultures. While pretty much everyone on Hellsreach spoke Galactic Common, many of the Garjarack also spoke an older language from Exxion II. Darius spoke it fluently as well, in part because he was a brainy sort of boy and in part because he had as many Gar friends as human ones. He’d tried to teach it to me, but two months wasn’t exactly enough to pick up fluency in it, especially since we’d had a lot of other things to work on.

The one part that stuck out to me was the number of different terms the language had for describing “friend” or “ally”. I could see it influencing Cadrus’ use of language in Galactic Common. I wasn’t even an “ally” yet, but I’d stepped one level closer to that from “unknown stranger”.  If we were speaking in Exxion II’s Common tongue, I would have been able to pick up a lot more about his assessment of me, like whether he still considered me dangerous and whether he was ready to see if I would prove myself an “ally”. As it was I had to settle for letting his actions speak louder than his words.

“Is your friend a Crystal Guardian like you?” Nenya, the Gar girl asked.

“No,” I said, “He’s a native of Hellsreach.”

“You’re working with the people here?” she asked.

“Yeah, I came here to help with the peace negotiations but it turned out that there was a lot more going on than the Empire was aware of,” I said.

“So you’re working with the humans then?” Nenya asked.

“The Empire’s trying to work with everyone. Humans and Gars, natives and off-worlders,” I said. “For me though, I’ve just been trying to recover for the last couple of months.”

“Recover?” Nenya asked.

“I got hurt pretty badly when the planet came online as a battle world. Channeled just a little too much anima, so I’ve been on injured reserve until I get my full powers back,” I said. “Darius has been helping me with that. And other things.”

The ‘other things’ were generally more fun than the therapy of course, but it wasn’t the time to indulge in fond memories. Instead I used those memories as fuel to push me faster to where he was waiting for me.

I was worried about him, but I knew that he was capable in his own ways. The collapsing building might have knocked him out but he had enough defensive spells that he’d be able to hold on for a while. At least long enough for me to reach him. I’d seen him fight through some incredible odds and come out ok, so I knew he wouldn’t leave me like that.

Of course that didn’t mean he couldn’t be taken.

We came to the site of the building collapse and I stopped in stunned silence. Fari’s overlay showed exactly where it should be. It showed exactly where Darius should be too.

But neither of them was there.

Looking down at the ground I saw only an empty hole as deep as the building’s foundations had run. There was no rubble it, and no Darius. He was gone.

The Horizon of Today – Chapter 2

I don’t always think clearly when I or someone near me is in mortal peril. Judging from the size of the bomb blasts that had been going off and my distance from the rift that was forming, I was pretty sure I could get far enough away for my emergency shield to soak the explosion safely.

The Garjarack family wasn’t that lucky though.

I glanced around to see if there was any shelter they could reach and saw that there were at least a dozen spots they could get behind that would protect them. Some of them. The fast ones. The adults.

If the children had been in good shape they might have escaped the bomb’s kill radius too, but one look at them showed how impossible that would be. The children could scuttle maybe a dozen feet away at most before the bomb obliterated them and the adults weren’t going to leave them behind.

I couldn’t let that happen. For the first time in two months, I called on the Physical anima that was resting in me and began weaving it into a protective spell. I felt fire burn along the edges of my arms as I swirled the spell into existence but a cool breeze cut me off.

“Mel! Wait! I’ve got this!” Fari said.

A brilliant light stabbed down from the heavens and pierced ground where the Garjarack family stood. There was a dull thump nearby and an explosion in the far distance. When I could see again a couple of seconds later, the lizardfolk family was still there, the rift that had opened near them was not and everyone was blinking in surprise.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Local area teleport denial spell. The defense grid has a lot of those in its arsenal,” Fari said.

“Does Darius have a bead on the hostiles yet?” I asked.

“I do. You can lock this whole place down if you want Fari. They’re not getting away from me now.” he said.

“I’ll cut off their escape if we need to, but I want to leave teleportation open as an option. The family Mel found may need immediate evac,” Fari said.

“The looters?” Darius asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “They’re not in good shape.”

I walked closer to them and released the partially formed shield spell so that the Physical anima I’d placed into it flowed back into me. I could still feel my skin tingling with the burn it had brought on.

“What was that?” one of the adults asked.

“The people who were bombing the town tried to transport a bomb here. One of my friends stopped them. They won’t be targeting us again,” I said.

“Did you kill them?” one of the elderly Gar asked. She seemed eager for an affirmative response to that question.

“We’re going to bring them in for questioning and trial,” I said.

“They poisoned our food!” the elderly Gar said. “They should die.”

“I’m more concerned with keeping you and your family alive at the moment,” I said.

“And what about the families in our city? Who is going to keep them alive?” one of the adults asked.

I scowled. It was a good question, and I didn’t have a good answer to it. The systems to care for the populace of Hellsreach during the current transition period had, clearly, fallen short. Or it had been sabotaged. That wasn’t my immediate problem though. At that moment the global problems of the world had to take a back seat to the issues facing the people right in front of me.

I wasn’t trained in working with people diplomatically, but I’d seen the Sisters at the orphanage deal with this kind of situation before, so I stole a move from them.

“How many hands do I have?” I asked the adult Gar and held my palms so that they were turned up and facing towards her.

“Two,” she said, annoyed.

“Right, which means there are more of you to help than I have hands to work with,” I said. “So you’re going to help me, and then, once your family is safe and fed, we’re going to look into what happening with your city.”

The Gar were tired, and angry. Worse, I was a human who was telling them what was going to happen. It didn’t matter that I was offering to help, or that I was speaking in a sane, rational and peaceful manner. The Gar woman before me was too scared and too hurt to do anything but fight. Fortunately, she wasn’t alone. The adult male Gar stepped up beside her and put his hand on her side. It was an odd gesture to see, but with the shape of their bones it wound up being the equivalent of resting a hand on a human’s shoulder.

“We appreciate your words Guardian Watersward,” the male Gar said. “May we take these supplies we have gathered?”

I saw the family eyeing the crates hungrily. Unless I missed my guess, they hadn’t eaten a decent meal in weeks, if not months. I looked down at the boxes and started to suggest that we  break one open immediately before one of the kids passed out. That’s when my heart sank.

“I wish you could,” I said. “But they’re not safe.”

“What do you mean” the elderly Gar woman said.

“The safety seals are broken. Those crates have this weeks transport stickers on them but they’ve already been open. I think they’ve been tampered with,” I said.

“What’s wrong with them?” the elderly Gar woman asked.

“They’re probably poisoned,” I said. “A slow acting one I would guess. Could anyone have known that you were going to come here?”

“No,” the elderly Gar woman said. The rest of the Gars nodded their heads in agreement with her.

“This town is well across the border,” I said. “How did you know to come here to find supplies?”

“The ship,” the adult Gar woman said. “The one we came in. It’s a human ship and its beacon was still active.”

“I’ve worked on maintaining the spell nets for our fighters,” the adult Gar male said. “That’s how I knew how to read the logs on human ship.”

“How did you get the ship?” I asked. I suspected I knew what the answer was, but I was hoping I was wrong. Sadly, I wasn’t.

“It crashed just outside our city.” the elderly Gar woman said. I could see the same ideas sparking to life behind her eyes that were raging in mine.

“And it was still flyable?” I asked.

“Yes,” the adult Gar man said.

“No crew though right?” I asked.

“No,” the elderly Gar woman said. “No, curse us, there wasn’t.”

She saw what I did but the rest of the family was still catching up.

“I don’t understand,” the adult Gar woman said. “Why does it matter how we got the ship.”

“Because it was a trap.” the elderly Gar woman said.

“The ship was bait. Someone was trying to lure you in and have you take these supply crates back to your city,” I said. “Think about all of the explosions. Someone was bombing this city, but they never landed one near you. Or blew up your ship. They wanted you to be afraid, to pick up the supplies and race out of here as quickly as you could. Or at least that was the plan until my friends started hunting them.”

“When we got home we were going to share these with all of our neighbors,” the elderly Gar woman said.

“Your culture is known to be a tightly knit one by comparison to the local human cultures,” I said. “I think someone knew that and was counting on you sharing these supplies.”

The Gar were quiet in response to my words, except for the adult Gar woman. She sobbed in rage, her hands clenching so tightly they shook.

“We’ll leave the crates behind and I’ll have an investigator come and confirm my guess,” I said.

“I’m getting the nearest Imperial overseer on the way now,” Fari told me telepathically. “I’ve also alerted the West Mountain Aid Center to be ready for you. It’s the closest site that’s under direct Imperial oversight.”

“Good thinking, and thank you,” I said to her telepathically before speaking aloud to the Gar again. “I have a ship. If you’ll come with me, I can take you to a real aid center. We can make sure you get safe food and good medicine.”

“Why should we trust you,” the adult Gar woman said. She spoke the words at barely more than a whisper but the screaming rage behind them was perfectly clear.

My first instinct was to yell back at her. I was trying to help them. Being mistrusted was aggravating and a waste of my time. Some part of me was smart enough to keep my mouth closed for a couple of seconds though so my brain could tell my emotions to shut up.

All it took to solidify that bit of self control was to look at the family before me. I’d spent two months resting in comfort and luxury. They’d spent that time starving and had probably spent their lives in the kind of war fueled misery I’d only read about. They had every right to be distrustful and the last thing they needed was for me to chew them out. So, again, I took a page from the Sisters of Water’s Mercy playbook.

The Sisters were harsh when they needed to be, but they didn’t usually meet anger with anger. I thought about using my title as a Crystal Guardian to buy their trust, but that was complicated by the twin facts that I wasn’t actually a full Crystal Guardian yet and, even if I was, they wouldn’t have had any reason to believe me just because I said was. Instead, I chose a different approach.

“You don’t have to,” I told the Gar woman. “I’d like to get your family to an aid center as soon as possible. If you would trust a Garjarack aid station more than an Imperial one, I can request clearance for a Garjarack transport to come here and pick you up.”

“Why are you helping us? You’re human.” one of the other Garjarack’s, the elderly male, asked. He was as distrustful of me as the adult woman but not as consumed by rage.

“I’m a Crystal Guardian,” I told him. “This is what we do.”

“You help people? Is that it?” he asked. “Why are you the first one we’ve seen in twenty years then?”

“Do I look twenty years old to you?” I asked him. The actual answer to his question was a complex one. In part the Crystal Guardians were stretched much thinner than galactic society imagined them to be and I wasn’t going to shatter that illusion if I didn’t have too. The other thing that had kept the Empire from intervening in the situation on Hellsreach was the presence of a Cabal of natives who were working to keep the planet to themselves. Since most of the Cabal was human, I didn’t think explaining that to this family would do much to calm their anger.

“I have no idea. All of you look the same to me.” the elder Gar man said.

I almost laughed. As insults went, it was probably oldest and most widely used racist comment in the galaxy. It was rude as hell, but as put down’s went it lacked a certain amount of sting coming from someone of a completely different species than me.

“We’ll go with you,” the eldest Gar woman said.

“Gram?” the adult Gar man said. “Are you sure?”

She looked at me like she was inspecting a hunk of meat to see if it had turned rotten. Some part of my brain chose that moment to notice that, even when they became elderly, Garjarack’s still had certain mechanical muscular advantages on humans due to the length of their bones and the angles their muscles were set to work at. The old woman probably couldn’t break me in half, but I wasn’t sure it would be all that fun if she tried.

“Yes.” That was all that the elderly Garjarack woman said, just “Yes”, and the entire family nodded and fell into step with her. Even the adult Gar woman who was still silently fuming.

“Lead the way to your ship,” the elderly Gar woman said.

I turned back towards the direction I’d come when I felt claws of ice reach through me.

We were in danger.

I looked around for another rift. Nothing.

“Fari, what’s happening here?” I asked telepathically.

“I don’t know. You’re sensing danger right? I don’t see or hear anything…wait,” she said. “There’s a tremor building below you. It’s a strong one. Mel, you need to get everyone away from those buildings.”

I looked around and saw how little that was going to help. The town wasn’t that built up, but if the structures around us collapsed, we’d be crushed by the falling debris whether we were in them or not.

“I can’t get them out of the shadows all these buildings,” I said to Fari.

“Trust me!” she said.

So I did.

In the last seconds before the monster earthquake hit, I gathered the Gar family around me in a tight circle and then watched as the town was destroyed.

The Horizon of Today – Chapter 1

Reconstruction can be a long, tiring process. In the wake of a massive earthquake everything gets disrupted. Water, food, and other essentials become scarce commodities even in areas where they’d been abundant. For the towns and cities that were caught in the middle of the war and stretched to the breaking point before planet-wide calamity hit Hellsreach, the situation was even more dire.

Two months after a cabal of Hellsreach natives managed to unlock the planet’s hidden “battle world systems”, the the people of Hellsreach were still reeling from the damage they’d caused.

In a way, I was too.

I was lucky. Unlike a lot of others, I had access to some very talented cleric-healers and I’d been given the time I needed to recover from the injuries I’d sustained in the fight to regain control of the world before it destroyed its neighbors. Despite the time and attention though, the healing process was slow. I’d injured myself with magic, and damaged my anima reserves by channeling more energy than should have been humanly possible. Since the alternative had been to wither and die under the assault of a weapon meant to scour worlds clean of life, I’d say I made out pretty well. That didn’t change the fact though that the only way I was going to recover fully was to let nature have the time it needed.

Among the activities that my healers had approved for me were things like quiet dinners for two, walks in the Honey Rose gardens and light sparring sessions provided I wore sufficient protective equipment. They hadn’t been happy with the sparring sessions, but I’d started pressing for them as soon as I was released from the hospital. After two months of restricted practice time, I was slower and flabbier than I’d been in years.

That made “how I found myself in an active war zone” an interesting question.

“Never let it be said that you don’t take me on the best dates,” I told Darius as we crouched behind a partially exploded wall in the ruins of a beach town named Salmon Falls.

“I swear, this was supposed to be a safe area!” he said. The two months we’d been together let me evaluate his expressions better than I’d been able to when we met. He was scared and that was making him angry. From way he was balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to leap out and engage the forces that were assaulting the town, I knew he wasn’t afraid for himself. He was afraid for me.

I could drop him nine out of ten times in our sparring matches, but only so long as anima casting was off the table. Once magic came into the picture, I couldn’t compete. It wasn’t that I was incapable of casting spells. Not anymore. I just couldn’t afford to risk a miscast until I fully recovered.

In theory, that meant I shouldn’t be anywhere near “out in the field”, but in practice our resources were stretched too thin for me to stay on my butt for another month.

Before joining the Crystal Guardians, I’d viewed them like most of the galaxy did; they were a corp of unstoppable troubleshooters that the Empress unleashed on any worlds that tried to backslide into barbarism. The first time I’d seen one in action, she’d been so dangerous that a squad of elite combat soldiers led by a master class anima caster hadn’t been enough to take her down.

I wasn’t like that. I’d never had the years of training in spell casting that most of everyone else in the galaxy got. My talents had kept my own powers hidden from me for years and I was still working on understanding them. Even as a “late bloomer” though, the Crystal Guardians had been willing to bring me on board. I wasn’t unstoppable, but I was another pair of hands to help carry the load of a galaxy that the Crystal Empire had a lot less under control than it appeared.

“I’m not complaining,” I told Darius and flashed him a smile which did nothing to calm his nerves. He knew me well enough to know what I was thinking and to know that it was probably a bad idea.

“I will personally cast a binding spell on you if you try to go out there,” he said.

“You know I can break anything you can cast, right?” I said. I was teasing him, which under the circumstances wasn’t the nicest thing I could have done. The trip had been his idea, a chance for me to get out and start helping with the reconstruction. It had been a lovely gesture. I’d been climbing the walls for weeks for an opportunity to do something, anything to help.

Master Raychelle, my Guardian mentor, had insisted at first that I follow the healer’s orders and rest, but had started to budge on that point as my condition improved and the situation on Hellsreach worsened. She’d cleared me for Relief and Recovery work when Darius proposed visiting some of the towns outside the main combat zones where the disaster mitigation plans were progressing slowly.

“She’ll be good,” Fari said, appearing beside us in her usual translucent blue form. “Won’t you Mel?”

“No promises,” I said. “It looked like there were still people in this town. We can’t let whoever’s conjuring artillery down onto us blow them to bits.”

“Garjarack scavengers,” Darius said. “I saw them after the first bomb went off. This was supposed to be a human settlement. Any lizard folk here are looters.”

“How would Gars get this far into territory held by Exxion 4?” I asked.

“The same way humans get into territory held by Exxion 2,” he said. “Attack fighters gutted and fitted for cargo space. Until the ceasefire they’d get blown out of the sky if they crossed deep into enemy territory.”

The distinctive sound of space being rent asunder sent both Darius and I diving to the ground. The bomb materialized through the warp breech inside a house three doors down from us. When it went off, I felt the shockwave more than heard it.

“We’re going to have to go out there,” I said. “Even assuming they haven’t blown up our transport yet, we’d never get out of here if they’re free to blow us up when we try to take off.”

“They’re going to blow you up if you go out there without any anima shields,” Darius said.

“I’ve got an anima shield.” I said and pointed to the enchanted belt that I was wearing.

“You’ve got a reserve anima shield,” Darius said. “Those are only supposed to be used for emergency environmental protection.”

“Then I’m good to go,” I said. “My environment wants to kill me and I’d say this is pretty clearly an emergency.”

“I can do this by myself,” Darius said. “Trust me.”

It was a pure and heartfelt plea. This has been his idea and he’d been charged with protecting me. We’d turned down an armed escort because all able the bodies were needed elsewhere. This was supposed to be a safe and easy mission and it had turned out to be anything but that. I could see the guilt in his eyes, lurking behind the fear of my being injured.

“Ok.” I said, and sat back against the wall.

I saw his eyes widen in surprise and then narrow to inspect me more closely. I remained sitting and smiled at him. He inspected me for another couple seconds and then turned to look for a path out of the house we were hiding in.

“I’ll be right back.” he said and dashed out of the building in a crouch.

I watched him go and counted to five.

“You’re not going to stay here are you?” Fari asked me.

“And let him take all the risk?” I said.

“He’s not on restricted spell casting,” Fari said.

“That doesn’t make him invincible,” I said. “Anyways, I’ve got something he doesn’t.”

“What’s that?” Fari asked.

“You!” I said. “You still have a link into the surface defense weapon systems right?”

“I do. Why?” Fari asked, sounding very wary. She’s spent too long as the controlling spirit of a planet killing super weapon to be thrilled with having control over another planet killing super weapon.

“Set up a sense link with me,” I said. “I can’t cast spells but I can act as a spotter for you. And to be clear, I’m not asking you to shoot anyone. With the defense systems you were telling me about, we should be able to disarm and disable anyone I can see without killing them.”

“I can do that.” Fari said, relief plain in her voice.

“Probably worth doing the same with Darius,” I said.

“Way ahead of you,” she said as I got up and headed for the bombed out section of wall opposite the path Darius had taken.

My primary magical gift is the ability to manipulate Void anima. With it I can drain the energy from spells, shield myself from attacks and turn invisible. Sneaking through the ruins of Salmon Falls would have been a lot easier if I was free to do any of those things. To be fair though, I wasn’t completely devoid of magic. From the first time I’d cast a spell, I’d had a sixth sense that warned of me danger. Even when I intentionally suppressed my magics, I left that alone. I figured I wasn’t likely to finish healing if someone managed to blast my head off.

With the smoke that the bombs had kicked up, I didn’t have the need for invisibility either, but that came with some drawbacks of its own.

“I’m not getting much from the sense link spell,” Fari warned me.

“I know. I’ll try to get to a clearer area.” I said and headed towards the shore, where I’d seen the people who remained in the town.

The next bomb materialized a quarter mile from me. I felt it coming in time to take shelter, even though I was safely out of the blast range.

“How’s Darius doing?” I asked Fari.

“He’s ok. I’ll link you two together,” she said.

“You’re on the move too, aren’t you?” he asked after the mental link formed between us.

“I’m not going after the artillery lobbers,” I said. “They’re all yours.”

“You’re trying to find the looters?” he asked.

“It can’t be coincidence that they’re here at the same time someone is blowing up the town,” I said.

“I’ll give you that. I don’t think they’ll know anything about the artillery lobbers though,” Darius said.

“Doesn’t hurt to ask,” I said.

“It will if they kill you,” he replied.

“I’ll have to ask them nicely then,” I said.

“Let Fari ask them. From a distance,” he said.

“They won’t know what to make of Fari,” I said. “I want to see how they respond to being caught by a Crystal Guardian.”

I heard another explosion, smaller than the last few. That was worrying. It could have been that the artillery lobbers were running out of bombs, but I didn’t have that kind of luck. What was more likely was that they were drawing a bead on their target and felt safer using small devices that could fit through tinier, and faster to form, rifts.

That next small explosion followed a few seconds after the first one, confirming my theory.

“They’re getting closer,” Darius said. “Idiots.”

I understood what he meant. They were rushing their attacks to take him out quicker, but that told us that he was in a spot they could observe and that it was one which was close enough to their position to make them panic.

“Be careful.” I said. Idiots tend to make dumb mistakes, but those mistakes can sometimes be as deadly as the plans of the most clever people out there.

“That’s my line.” he said. “Seriously, no getting shot.”

“No promises.” I told him. I had every intention of remaining whole and unperforated but sometimes the best intentions can go awry.

The smoke began to clear as I got towards the beach. That let me see the state of the town better. From our approach by air, we’d seen that Salmon Falls was in much worse shape than it should have been. According to the official reports there were a thousand people living here and collecting emergency supplies from the Imperial rationing center. Walking the shattered streets I had to wonder if even a dozen humans remained in the burned out structures that surrounded me.

The buildings troubled me. They looked like they’d seen some repair work done to them, but it was all superficial. A house that I passed had newly restored walls but the inside was gutted by fire and filled with debris. I found a supply depot that was in the same state and started to question what I was seeing.

“Fari, Darius, there’s something wrong here,” I said. “This supply depot is empty but the looters haven’t been here. No one has. The insides are an empty pit.”

“I saw a building like that in the north here,” Darius said.

Another explosion punctuated our conversation.

“They’re losing track of you.” Fari said to Darius.

“I’m moving building to building,” he said. “Can you plot out where they are from the sight lines they’ve had on me?”

“Maybe,” Fari said and then amended her statement. “Yes. there’s two groups of them. I’ll show you an overlay of the area they’re in.”

“Do you have enough info to take them out with the defense systems?” Darius asked.

“Not with any of the non-lethal ones,” she said. “You’ll need to actually see them for me to bring those online. As you get closer I can reduce the size of the areas they’re in and target them better.”

“Let me see that too.” I asked.

“You said you were going to stay out of this,” Darius said.

“I will,” I said, even though part of me yearned to get to our attackers before him and keep him safe.

Fari’s overlay appeared as a series of glowing lines and circles superimposed over my normal vision. I saw the area the artillery lobbers were in outlined in red and Darius outlined in blue. He was creeping towards them to catch them unaware. That gave him the best chance of finishing the battle with the first group before the second group could pinpoint his location. It also meant I needed to avoid being blown up for a few minutes more at least.

“Fari, which buildings in town would be most likely to have supplies stored in them and be visible from the artillery lobber’s positions?” I asked.

“There’s three warehouses and a medical center that fit those criteria,” she said.

“How far away is the medical center?” I asked.

“You’re heading towards it now. Take a left at the next cross street and then a right at the road beyond the fountain,” she said.

“Any signs of people there?” I asked.

“I can’t make out what’s up there,” she said. “I’m pulling the information on the streets from the Exxion 2 provisioning camp records and correlating it with what you’re seeing.”

“Have I mentioned that you’re amazing?” I asked.

“Not yet today,” she replied.

I didn’t have invisibility to rely on, but I wasn’t that bad at sneaking without it. A life spent avoiding guys who were bigger, meaner and magically enhanced meant I’d learned how to stay out of sight early on.

I was determined to make the looters first sight of me a shocking surprise that came less than a second before Fari apprehended them. As it turned out though, I was the one who wound up shocked.

I found the looters at the medical center, right where I’d guessed they would be. What I hadn’t guessed was that they would be a family. Three old lizard folks, a pair of adults and more than a handful of young children, each with the same distinctive pattern and coloration to their scales.

None of them were armed, and none of them looked like they posed any threat whatsoever. They were tired, barely able to stand on their feet. Their clothes were damaged enough to count as rags and they moved with the jittery panic of people terrified of their situation.

“What are you doing here?” I called out as I stepped away from my hiding spot around a corner.

My words hit the Garjarack family like a stun button. They each jolted in place, some of them dropping the boxes they were carrying out of the medical center.

“Who are you?” the eldest female said, stepping forward towards me.

We were fifty feet apart, but I put up my hands as a show of non-hostility. It didn’t mean much, but the gesture seemed to communicate my intent as much as the words I spoke.

“I’m Guardian Mel Watersward of the Crystal Empire,” I said. “I’m here to help.”

I saw the eldest Garjarack’s shoulders slump and guessed that she was feeling relief. On a human it might have read as despair, but I’d talked with enough of the lizard folks while recuperating to have a sense that their body language differed from my own species in some key ways.

“Are you a healer?” one of the adult Gars asked. He pointed to two of the Gar children and I saw that neither of them looked well. They were shaking with the kind of palsy that came from desperate undernutrition. I’d seen cases of it at the hospital the first week that I’d been there.

The war between the humans and the Gar had gone on so long that both sides had developed a class of “on planet” servitors who’d been treated as slave labor for the war effort. The shortages brought on by the planet-wide earthquakes had been enough to tip the most poorly treated on both sides over the edge into painful, unpleasant deaths. At least in the cases where the Imperial relief forces hadn’t gotten to them in time.

By two months after the crisis though we were supposed to have systems and supply lines in place to distribute food to those in need.

“I’m not, but I can take you to one,” I said. There were plenty of clinics setup to help people like this. Or at least there were supposed to be. I had a few terrible suspicions beginning to take root on that front.

Those suspicions were pushed to the back of my mind by a more urgent awareness though.

One moment, I could tell that we were safe and the next my danger sense stabbed through me like an icy spear. I looked around and out of the corner of my eye saw a rift beginning to form in the middle of where the Gar family was standing.

I wasn’t supposed to cast spells. I couldn’t risk a miscasting. If I didn’t shield them though, the bomb that came through the rift was going to was going to reduce them to a gory stew right in front of my eyes!

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.