The vision of the colony ship’s destruction faded away after the last of the engineers died and the rear half of the ship was ripped to pieces by the unfettered explosion of the warp generator. The wreck of the ship had destabilized the local fabric of warp space so spell casting of any sort was dangerous and needed to be limited to essential uses only.
“Did you capture all that?” Master Hanq asked.
“Yes, processing the feed now,” Fari said. “I’ll have holo-crystals enchanted by the time you’re back at the ship so we can review the scene in detail.”
“Blue team, you are good for insertion,” Master Hanq said.
“We read you Captain,” the Blue team leader said over the shared telepathic link. “We are opening a secure portal to the inside of the bio-stasis area now.”
I felt a chill pass through me and shifted out of position. I wanted to call out for them to stop but the danger that I sensed was focused on me not them. The cold spiked up so fast that I didn’t even have time to call out a warning to the rest of Black team. With a slash of my hands I conjured a Void shield around myself and turned to face the lethal threat that I felt pressing on me.
The magic settled on me like plate armor with filigree of a smoke grey energy coursing over its surface. I fortified it with extra anima from my inner reserves and felt my blood start to heat up to a boil.
The attack that hit me was unlike anything I’d experienced before. It was a spear of pure Void anima. The will behind it was trying to both tear me apart and pour itself into me.
My armor blunted its main thrust but the spear point shattered into dozens of shards then pressed the attack even harder. It felt like seven pinpricks of Void anima had poked through my spell and begun siphoning my other magics away but I knew what was happening was much worse than that.
When Void animas meet, they join together in same sense that two holes join together when they bump into each other. Generally that means that two Void anima casters can’t do much to each other with direct Void attacks unless one is much more skilled than the other.
That the spear attack was hitting my other magics didn’t mean that it had punched through my defenses. It meant that the attacker had subverted control over a tiny bit of my own anima and was using it against me.
The boiling heat in my blood vanished into some dark corner of my being and was replaced by a chill that part danger sense and part mortal terror.
“Hate!” The word radiated through me so loudly that it took me a second to understand it was the being that was attacking me speaking.
“Not fond of you either,” I said out of gritted teeth as I blasted my Void anima outwards.
Black team was scattered around me, so I couldn’t really cut loose but I was able to push the spear of foreign anima away from myself far enough to get some breathing room.
“Mel! What’s wrong?” Master Hanq yelled.
“A Void anima entity is attacking her,” Fari said. “Calibrating ships weapon systems to detect and obliterate it.”
“Get out of here!” I yelled to Master Hanq and Black team. “I’ll keep it focused on me.”
“Black team, fall back to the ship,” Master Hanq said and rocketed over to float beside me.
I felt another attack a moment before it landed and managed to meet it with a fist wreathed in Void anima. That felt terrible, like I’d been speared through the hand, but I did manage to shatter the attack before it reached anything more important.
Master Hanq swept me behind him and used a technique I’d never seen him perform before. It looked at first like a jerky novice on his first day of martial practice but It was more of a short choppy dance than a martial form. Each quick, abbreviated movement created a partial shield of Physical anima and cast it off from him. As I watched it looked like dozens of half complete simulacrums were racing away in a broad arc in front of him.
Each partial shield traveled a different distance before imploding in a burst of golden light. That gave me a clue what he was doing. A Void anima entity can absorb other forms of magic and grow stronger. Unless of course that magic is set to self-destruct while its being consumed. By casting the shields off, Master Hanq was ensuring that the attacker wasn’t able to get close to us.
At least not by moving in a conventional method. I felt a stab of cold danger sense and whirled around to intercept an attack that was aimed at Master Hanq’s back. I didn’t have his technique or skill but I had power and very little to lose. The implosion of the partial shield that I threw out produced a subsequent explosion in warp space that blew both Master Hanq and me away from the center of the colony ship’s destruction.
We recovered at the same time and went back to back to shield each other from any further attacks when Fari spoke up again.
“Hold still,” she said as a shield splitting beam lanced out from Master Hanq’s courier ship.
I heard a psychic scream and felt the cold in my chest ease down to no more than a mild chill.
“Did you neutralize it?” Master Hanq asked.
“I didn’t have a full lock on it, but the scrying web indicates it was in the region of the beam,” Fari said.
“It feels like you took care of it,” I said. “I don’t know if its dead or just moving off, but I think we’re clear of any more attacks for the moment.”
“Let’s get back to the ship,” Master Hanq said. He was nervous, which freaked me out more than a little bit. In our time together, I’d seen relatively few sides of Master Hanq. He was the wise old martial master for most of my early years. Later on he’d been the adult I could actually talk to about problems without judging me. Eventually those had sort of merged together into a general image of what I would like my father to have been.
I’d seen him angry a few times, and seen him in a fighting mood even more than that. On a few rare occasions I’d even seen him sad or wistful. ‘Nervous’ though was a new emotion.
It didn’t take me long to figure out why. The chill in my chest deepened and broadened through my body. We weren’t in immediate danger but some big was coming towards us and it was going to arrive soon.
We’d been casting spells at fighting intensity. That tended to attract attention anywhere and there were things that were probably close by due to the colony ship’s destruction that we absolutely didn’t want to attract the attention of.
“We’ve got company coming,” I said. “I don’t know what, but it’s something big.”
“The scrying web has nothing yet,” Fari said.
Master Hanq uttered a string of curses that reminded me he’d once been a bloodthirsty warlord.
“Blue team, we need to leave five minutes ago, tell me you have good news for me,” he said.
“It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation Captain,” Darius said. “The bad news is the people here are largely in stasis fields. We can’t get them out without releasing the fields and that’s going to take ten minutes each to do safely.”
“The good news had better be phenomenal then,” Master Hanq said.
“Blue leader’s talking with the Garjarack caster who’s in charge of the team that shielded everyone. They’ve got the transit route to Titanus almost completely remapped,” Darius said.
That was good news. With the destruction of the colony ship, travel along the warp space lane to Titanus was incredibly difficult. Between the explosion shredding the local anima and the turbulence it produced, not to mention the debris which was bad to hit at transluminal velocities, any transit to Titanus would either have to proceed very slowly through the affected region of warp space, or plot a new course entirely. If the survivors had a course plotted that we could use we’d have a chance of escaping the area before anything showed up.
“How long do they need?” Master Hanq asked.
There was a pause before Darius answered.
“Thirty minutes,” he said. “We’ll get that down to ten for you, but that’s the best we can do.”
“If we’re still alive in ten minutes, that will be excellent,” Master Hanq said.
“I can sense what’s coming but I have no idea what it is,” I said. “I’m guessing you have experience with the giga-beasts that prowl warp space?”
“Yes, but its not going to help here,” Master Hanq said. “Creatures that size develop all kinds of unique traits. The only common element is that a lot of them like to eat anima, and any material objects that contain it.”
“Like us,” I said.
“And our ships,” he said.
“Can we beat them?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said.
“Not personally but with the ship I mean. It has top of the line Imperial enchantments right?” I asked.
“It’s enchanted for speed, defense and close targeting work,” Master Hanq said. “We’d need something like a Crystal Star to put a dent in one of the big monsters out here.”
“There’s a Jewel for that too,” Fari said, referring to the Jewels of Endless Night.
“The nearest Crystal Star is ten systems away so unless you have one of your siblings packed in your luggage, we’re going to need to run,” Master Hanq said.
“I’ll link our warp navigation system in with the colony ship,” Fari said. “Once they’re ready we can both jump out of here.”
“Initiate docking procedure with them,” Master Hanq said. “I want material contact between the two ships for when aether-space gets rough.”
“I’ve informed Red team,” Fari said. “They’re on it.”
Master Hanq and I flew back to his ship as the various teams engaged in a whirlwind of activity. The cold in my chest was growing more solid and pressing with every passing second though.
“I don’t think we’re going to make ten minutes before the giga-beast shows up,” I said.
“Then there’s only one thing to do,” Master Hanq said and flared his anima shield.
“We fight?” I asked.
“No. You get back to the ship,” he said.
I saw a look in his eyes and felt an entirely different kind of cold pierce my heart. I’d seen that kind of look once before and the memory hit like a hammer to the face. It was the last look I’d seen in my mother’s eyes.
He was going to lure the creatures away. Buy us time by making them follow him.
“No.” I felt a rush of so much anger that it didn’t sound like my voice when I spoke. “Stand down. By my authority as a Crystal Guardian, I officially order you return to your ship Captain.”
“You’re an initiate and that’s not going to happen,” he said and started to fly off.
I flooded Physical anima through my body and boosted my reflexes to the fastest I’d ever attempted. That was enough, just barely, to let me catch hold of Hanq’s foot before he zoomed too far away from me.
“You’re not going off to die,” I said.
“This is the only way you all live,” Hanq said. “And you can’t stop me Mel.”
“Yes I can.” I said.
Then I stabbed him with a Void anima dagger.
Master Hanq was a big guy, and he had a lot more anima than even his size suggested he should, but the reality was I’d drained things a lot bigger than him.
The only trick was stopping myself before I took so much of anima away that he was permanently damaged. I pulled the dagger out as I felt his anima dwindling and tossed him at the ship’s docking port.
“Fari, catch him,” I said.
“Mel, stop! This is stupid,” she said. “Let me lure them away with the ship. No one has to die here.”
“No one’s going to die,” I said. “I can lure the beast away and then come back to you under a Void cloak. Hanq can’t do that.”
“You can’t return if they eat you Mel!” she said.
“Trust me, I’m not going to let that happen,” I said. “I will come back to you.”
With that I channeled my anima into the flight pack and boosted as far away from the ship as I could.
I was about ten seconds out when I caught fire again. The difference this time was that the flames had a voice.
“No! You’re going to kill us!” the flames said.
I screamed at hearing a purely alien voice originate inside me and my flight faltered into a graceless tumble.
At the same time of course the intensity of the cold in my chest shot up to an agonizing level.
So I was burning on the outside and freezing to death on the inside and the giga-beast hadn’t even shown up yet!
“What are you?” I asked, frantically trying to smother the flames that enveloped me.
“I don’t know, but you’re going to kill us!” the flames said.
“I’m not going to kill us!” I said.
“I can sense what you do,” the flame said. “Why are you moving us towards that thing?”
“I have to protect the ship. We need it to escape this thing!” I said.
“I don’t understand,” the flame said. “I don’t see anything around us. I just feel something bad.”
That was the moment the giga-beast chose to rise from whatever aetherial dimension it called home and manifest in warp space.
The good news was that it wasn’t as big as the tallest mountain I’d ever seen.
The bad news was that it wasn’t alone.