Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Journey of Life – Ch 4 – Debris and Wreckage (Part 2)

By the time the bolt caster exploded, Arvana knew her day was going to be miserable, but the signs were there as soon as she woke up. Marsh’s frantic call that they had a line on the black market weapons they needed and the confirmation that Zazog’s crew would be at the Hooded Beacon for lunch was not how she wanted to be greet a new day. Or any day really.

Marsh and Keel had been planning a counterstrike on the Beacon family for weeks. She knew from the first time they told her about it that there wasn’t any chance she could convince them to take a saner approach to the problem (like leaving for a different planet), so she’d settled for pointing out the obvious holes in their plans. The idiots thought they could overcharge some enchanted knives and take Zazog’s crew in a straight up melee fight. When neither of them could score a clean hit on her in a sparring match, they dropped that idea and moved to the plan of getting some real weapons.

The bolt casters seemed like the perfect foil for Marsh’s hot headed zeal. He didn’t have any contacts in the black market and Arvana reasoned that few people would be willing to sell a nut like him the kind of military grade hardware they needed to pull off the assault.

As it turned out though, while Marsh was a little too passionate to close a deal on the weapons, Keel (or rather Keel’s money) was able to convince the right people that a transaction could be made that wouldn’t get traced back to the seller.

They tested the weapons out in an old basement and nearly killed themselves in the process, but with the confirmation that the bolt casters worked as advertised, they had everything they needed to move forward.

Arvana’s part of the job was simple, in theory. She was there to maintain a secure communication web for them and cover their getaway with an illusion. As a primarily Mental anima caster, Arvana’s illusions were purely mind-affecting, but the Beacon family didn’t have any kind of non-intelligent surveillance on their restaurant since that kind of thing always came back as evidence that could be used against you in court sooner or later.

Marsh and Keel thought they were protecting her by keeping her “out of the actual fighting”, but that was mostly because they’d never tried to cast an obscuring spell that covered three people at once and have it hold up during an armed conflict. She’d practiced a few times before they went through the door to the Hooded Beacon and the results had been sufficiently dismal that she’d insisted they wear masks as well. Magic was incredible in what it could do, but simple physical props made it a lot easier and were much more dependable.

Marsh had enchanted the three would-be vigilantes with a haste spell that made the world seem to slow to a crawl before they burst into the restaurant. That had given Arvana the sense that things were happening in a simple, controlled manner. They’d stroll in, blast Zazog and his crew, she’d cloak them and they’d stroll right back out. For them it would take about a minute, and for everyone else inside the restaurant they’d be in and out in under two seconds. In the aftermath the Beacon family would get an anonymous message that anything they extorted from the neighborhood was going to come back to them in medical and repair bills. The Beacons would leave off the extortion racket and people’s lives would get better.

Or at least that’s what Marsh and Keel thought. Arvana knew the plan was doomed, and people were going to get hurt. People got hurt all the time though. She figured the best she could do was to make sure it wasn’t the people she cared about who were on the receiving end of that pain. At least not this time.

The assault went smooth and according to plan right up until the moment when Keel’s nerve broke.

At their accelerated speed, Arvana had time to hear the bolt caster that he was carrying go off and turn to look in his direction before the inevitable disaster occurred.

Later, as they were running away, Arvana had the presence of mind to ask herself if that moment, the one ‘misfire’ on Keel’s part doomed them or saved them.

They were supposed to pick out Zazog’s group and take them down. That was predicated on finding Zazog’s group before the restaurant descended into chaos. The moment Keel pulled the trigger that option vanished.

Marsh tried to argue for killing everyone in the restaurant, but fortunately their black market weapons chose that moment breakdown. It was the kind of amazing coincidence that was too ridiculous for Arvana to even assign a conspiracy too. If the weapon’s dealer had wanted them dead there were plenty of easier, safer methods of accomplishing that than to let them walk into a den of criminals with partially functioning murder devices.

With the loss of their weapon, Keel and Marsh were willing to flee, at last, and Arvana felt a surge of energy as the world slowed down even further. She started to spin the invisibility spell as they ran for the door and was two twists of the anima weaving away from completing it when one of her companions dropped their bolt caster and it exploded.

The force should have killed them. It reduced the door, the window and even the brick steps leading up to the restaurant to microscopic particles. None of the three of them were proficient enough with shielding magic to withstand that sort of destructive force but, before Arvana was even aware of the blast, she found herself tumbling into the road outside the Hooded Beacon. Something, or someone had protected them with a very short lived shield. Arvana thought she saw the remnants of it fade away but couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just an after image of the blast.

As the three of them got to their feet, the haste spell diminished but still held as did Arvana’s invisibility spell, though only be the barest of threads.

Neither Marsh nor Keel thought to question their good fortune. Between the excitement of the attempted assault on the restaurant, the terror of their weapons failing and the mind rattling force of the explosion, the two boys were running on little more than pure animal instinct. The same was true for Arvana, with the major difference being that as a Mentalist, one of her animal instincts was to cast a spell to dampen her emotions and enhance her senses. She wasn’t a calm, cool killer by nature, but she could fake that mindset for a while with the right spells.

As they fled, invisible to the people who were rushing towards the excitement at the restaurant, Arvana fitted the bits and pieces of the failed raid into place. The picture they revealed wasn’t a pleasant one.

Someone wanted them out of the restaurant and didn’t want any of the patrons injured. Their weapons shouldn’t have failed. Not all three of them at once. The speed they were fleeing at was wrong too. Marsh wasn’t a good enough caster to pull off that strong of a haste spell. In his panic it didn’t look like he was maintaining it all in fact.

And then there was the invisibility spell. Arvana thought back. She’d been in the midst of casting it when the explosion went off. There was a brief blip of time, a few hundred microseconds of real time, when she was totally stunned by the explosion. There were spellcasters who were good enough to cast through that kind of distraction. She was not one of them.

Marsh and Keel peeled around the corner of an Puffed Pastry shop and dashed for the entrance to the crypts that ran beneath the city. The crypts were the perfect sort of labyrinth to lose pursuers in. Arvana wanted to smack her two companions for heading to them however since using the crypts was a dead giveaway that they were locals. She was prevented from following through on that course of action by a sickening thought.

Someone else had finished the invisibility spell for her.

A cold, nauseous feeling lodged in her stomach and stuck with Arvana all through their flight to the far end of the crypts. If she hadn’t cast the invisibility spell, if someone else had sewn it shut and maintained it for the few moments before Arvana reached out for it again, that meant someone else was in control of it. Whoever finished the spell was on the inside of it, and able to see them as clearly as Arvana could see Marsh and Keel.

Zazog was a beast. Huge, tough and even stronger than he looked. They’d selected him as their target because putting him in the recovery ward seemed like an attainable goal. He was a very big fish, and Marsh believed his fall would send just the right sort of message to the Beacon family.

They were on the stairs leading up to the rooms they shared on the top floor of a run down theater when Arvana managed to put things properly into context. Zazog was huge and tough and strong compared to the local competition, but that didn’t mean he was the worst thing they had to worry about. If he was really powerful, he wouldn’t be on a minor world like Haldron’s Edge.

“What happened there?” Marsh asked. “What kind of junk did they sell you?”

“The casters were good!” Keel said. “We checked them out!”

“He’s right,” Arvana said. “They were fine.”

“They blew up! How is that fine?” Marsh asked.

Keel looked crushed by the question. He’d sunk a lot into obtaining the weapons, but their loss was inconsequential compared to the pain losing them had inflicted on Marsh.

“The caster didn’t blow up,” Arvana said. “It was destroyed.”

“By who?” Marsh asked.

“Someone in the restaurant,” Arvana said. “We shouldn’t have been able to make it out there.”

“You invisibility spell…” Keel began to say.

“It wasn’t mine,” Arvana said. “Just like the speed spell wasn’t yours right Marsh?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Did you remember to maintain the spell after the caster blew up?” Arvana asked.

“Yeah, of course,” Marsh said.

“When did you let it drop then?” Arvana asked.


A small, mean part of Arvana was happy to see that her sick feeling was communicable. The gears in Marsh’s head turned slower than in hers but he wasn’t stupid. Nor was Keel.

“I didn’t,” Marsh said. “I didn’t maintain it. That was somebody else’s spell.”

“On us the whole way back here?” Keel said. “That’s impossible. No one’s that good.”

“No one local,” Arvana said.

“What, you think we stumbled on a Warlord or something?” Keel said.

“I have no idea what we stumbled on,” Arvana said, her words meant for more than Marsh and Keel’s ears.

“What’s going to happen next?” Marsh asked.

“I think they let us get away because they didn’t want a fight there,” Arvana said. “And I think they covered for us because they didn’t want any of the rest of the Beacon goons involved.”

“That’s good right?” Keel asked.

“No,” Arvana said. “That’s very bad.”

“It means they want to hunt us themselves,” Marsh said.

“How long do we have?” Keel asked.

“Before someone that good catches us?” Arvana said. “They’re probably already here.”

“What can we do?” Marsh asked.

“Make them an offer,” Arvana said.

“I’ve got some money left still,” Keel said.

“Not that kind of offer,” Arvana said. “They’re not going to need money. Not with that kind of skill.”

“What do you think they want?” Marsh asked.

“We’re not going to know until they tell us,” Arvana said. “And then we’re going to have a decision to make, probably on how we want to die.”

With what Arvana knew, she was pretty sure the gesture was a hopeless one, but she started gathering the magic needed for the worst spell she knew, and she prepared herself to cast it wrong.

A Mind Shatter spell, when properly cast, is a pure attack of magic and will, designed to fry another person’s brain and wipe away their ability to ever think again. It’s an ugly attack and one that Arvana had no business knowing how to cast, but she’d learned most of her magic from people who dealt in ugly spells so it came with the territory.

If Arvana followed the correct forms of the spell, the magic would be shaped into a lance and sent out to spear through her target’s defenses. She knew the attack wouldn’t be enough to stop whoever was pursuing them, their defenses had to be stronger than hers by a lot to manage what the casting she’d seen. That’s why she twisted the anima into the wrong shapes. Not a lance but a wave, not restricted to her target but rather ravaging everything around her. She wouldn’t survive the attack and neither would Marsh or Keel, but if she cast it that meant death was the preferable option compared to whatever their pursuer had in store for them.

“And what if what they want is you?” the woman sitting in the chair in the center of the room asked.

Arvana froze.

The woman had been there the whole time, had been with them the whole time, but a subtle block in Arvana’s memory had prevented her from noticing it. Arvana knew her mental wards were solid, but against this woman they might as well not have been there at all.

She looked around at Marsh and Keel. Nether were moving. Both of them stood like they were suspended in time, but there was no haste spell in effect. They were stuck in a web of a much more complicated casting than that.

“What do you want?” Arvana asked.

“I’m trying to decide,” the woman said.

The Journey of Life – Ch 3 – Debris and Wreckage (Part 1)

Opal Kinsguard, Crystal Guardian and Protector of the Empire, had less than a quarter of a second to live. She reflected on the tolerable expanse of time that afford her as she sized up the room she was in.

The most immediate problem was the hyper-charged blast bolt that was hurtling through the air towards her. She sighed inwardly at its presence, more annoyed than anything else. She wasn’t traveling on official business and problems such as assassination attempts were simply rude when they intruded on her vacation time.

She had a variety of options for dealing with the potentially fatal attack but many of them were inappropriate for a casual dining establishment such as she found herself in. This was a problem she’d encountered on earlier vacations and had been determined to avoid repeating if at all possible.

In theory her choice of vacation destinations should have all but guaranteed a peaceful few weeks away from her duty. The tavern she was dining in, the Hooded Beacon, was an unremarkable establishment, on the unremarkable world of Haldron’s Edge. Opal had selected Haldron’s Edge as part of her agenda because it was almost too plain to notice. It held a standard amount of the typical resources a planet offers. It’s population was developed enough so that there were no large open areas to attract new settlers but not so overbuilt that it became a hub of trade merely by virtue of the local population density.

There were sights to see, and beaches and mountains and tropical forests to visit. With a wide and diverse population there were many different forms of entertainment and cultural events. In short, plenty to appeal to the locals but little to attract a galactic traveler.

Even the crime on Haldron’s Edge was ordinary. The three people who had entered the Hooded Beacon wearing face masks appeared to be nothing more than ordinary hold up artists. In the long quarter second as the blast bolt inched closer to the back of Opal’s head she examined the room for any clues that she had missed which could explain why a trio of armed people would decide to rob a restaurant of all places.

Mental anima, Opal’s forte, had her perception and thought processes accelerated beyond anything even vaguely possible for a human. The world didn’t appear to be standing stock still but it was doing a close impersonation of that state. With that added time to process her environment and dozens of passive spells feeding her information, Opal put together the situation that was occurring around her. She noticed the placement of patrons. How several were more armed than she was and how the walls had the telltale signs of repairs from heavy spell casting damage. She noticed the relative lack of clear firing lines in the restaurant and how a particular set of the patrons had arranged themselves with their backs to the most solid of the walls while those around them formed a protective circle.

A crime den. As she surveyed the room she saw that she’d quite innocently stumbled on the headquarters of one of the local underground families.

She sighed. She would be having words with her subconscious soon about the sorts of actions it was allowed to take without informing her. It was one of the problems with having a highly developed mind and the ability to multi-task at a transhuman level. Everything her conscious mind learned to do, her subconscious was capable of as well. Or in other words, she was very good at outthinking herself unless she was careful to avoid doing so.

In this case, she’d consciously known that a few weeks of enforced quiet and relaxation was something she needed to recharge her batteries and work out the snarls that had developed in her thoughts. Her subconscious however apparently viewed the last week as ‘too quite’ and had taken steps to rectify that problem.

Reviewing her memory, Opal was able to pick out the tiny scraps of information that had lead her to the Hooded Beacon at just the right time to be involved in the day’s dramatic events. Some part of her had known this lunch would be an exciting one even before she sat down and ordered the meat sampler platter and its variety of convenient carving utensils.

Despite her subconscious wish for excitement, Opal was determined to preserve as much of her vacation as possible. To that goal she reviewed several possible plans.

The simplest was to let the blast bolt hit her but diminish its force to a non-lethal level. She could feign an injury and play no further role in the proceedings. Technically a crime like this was outside her jurisdiction since it was a purely local matter with no galactic impact. In practice though her mandate to “protect the Empire and its citizens” also covered the defense of lives that were immediately imperiled.

The next simplest approach would be to apprehend the culprits but that presented the first of many complications. If she disarmed the trio, it was unlikely the other patrons would graciously allow the attackers to be turned over to the local police force. They had reputations to maintain. Opal could already seen the more responsive of the patrons beginning to draw their weapons to return fire.

She would need to shut them down as well or there’d be blood spilled and her vacation time was not worth that.

The problem with taking that approach was that she’d need to deal with far more than the people in the restaurant. There would be the extended family who would be looking to reclaim the their reputation. And then the other families who would see weakness or a vacuum that needed to be filled.

In the end the “keep hitting people until the problem goes away” approach would lead to her spending a long time hitting people, including, inevitably, offworlders who were drawn to the conflict like moths to the flame as they tried to figure out what on Haldron’s Edge was so important that a Crystal Guardian was spending time shutting down the minor criminals who lived there.

That left her with only more subtle methods of resolving the conflict, if she wanted to have any chance of maintaining her free time.

With a flick of her fingers, she pulled a strand of Physical anima into a gently curving shield. The lethal blast bolt would miss her by less than an inch and put a new pockmark in the wall beside her.

With her breath, she sang another cluster of anima threads out.

About three quarters of the micro-spells targeted the goons who were going for their weapons. While she could have put them to sleep to render them harmless, she didn’t want to tip her hand that far. Instead she merely stunned them for a second and a half. Not long enough that they’d even notice after the fact, but long enough for her to resolve the situation with a minimum of bloodshed.

The other spells she cast sought out the three attackers. Marsh, Keel and Arvana. They were natives, members of a counter-extortion group that was trying to kick the Beacon family out of the local area. They had the backing of many in the community but there were very few who would risk openly supporting them for fear of reprisal. Marsh was the leader of the group by virtue of having lost a brother to the Beacons and being the most passionate about the cause. Keel was the next most devoted due to a life long love of Marsh and Arvana was involved mostly because she was fond of the other two in a sisterly fashion. She was also their best caster of the mind magics they needed to escape and she didn’t want to see either of them get hurt if she could prevent it.

Opal’s spells gave her that information while the blast bolt was still a good five feet behind her head and just beginning to swerve off course to miss her.

She cast a speed enhancing enchantment and targeted its effects on the three vigilantes. She needed them able to react significantly faster than they were normally capable of if they were going to have time to understand the situation she was putting them in.

For her last spell Opal reached out with spikes of Energetic anima and flatlined the bolt casters they were carrying. The weapons didn’t explode. Opal was determined to see the encounter end without bloodshed on either side.

In the vigilantes’ hands the bolt casters sparked and lost their distinctive hum as the magics that powered them shutdown, leaving the weapons as little more than menacing looking paperweights.

Opal sensed a telepathic web binding the three together and tossed a thread of anima at them to infiltrate their conversation. A surprising amount of resistance met her attempt to eavesdrop but with a few of her more esoteric casting tricks, Opal was able to circumvent the privacy screen on their channel and insert herself into it silently.

“Keel, what the hell are you doing!” Arvana’s telepathic scream was loud enough that Opal had to double check it wasn’t actually audible.

“I saw one of them move! They were going to start shooting back!” Keel said. The guilt he projected suggested that he wasn’t terribly certain he’d actually seen someone move, but he was nowhere near ready to admit that.

“We were supposed to identify Zazog’s party,” Arvana said. “If we take them out none of the rest will give us trouble. If we don’t, they’re going to murder us before we get out of here!”

Opal found Zazog’s group. They were at the table next to her. Fast reacting and highly resistant to hostile spells, they were shaking off the effect of the stun ten times as fast as the rest of the goons.

So Opal hit them a hundred times harder.

“I can only hold this Quickness spell for so long,” Marsh said. He was gritting his teeth and pouring all of his physical anima into the enhancement. With another decade of practice he could have approached Opal’s efficiency with the spell, but it would take him twice that or more to develop the reserve of magic that she possessed to power it.

Fortunately for him, the effect of her spell stacked with his and so what he thought was the result of his best effort was in truth far beyond his actual capacity.

“Do we drop them all then?” Keel asked.

“No!” Arvana said.

“Yes!” Marsh said.

“We’re not going to kill everyone in here,” Arvana said. “Zazog’s our target because taking him down will have the most impact and with his protections they’ll be able to piece him back together.”

“If we don’t take them all out now, he’s going to take us down and leave us in so many pieces that no one will ever put two of our molecules back together,” Marsh said.

Keel raised his weapon to spray the room and finally noticed the dead state it was in.

“We’re in trouble guys,” he said. “This piece of junk disenchanted itself.”

Arvana and Marsh checked their weapons and discovered the same problem.

“We’re dead,” Arvana said.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Marsh said.

Marsh and Keel looked for exits aside from the main doors they’d come through, but Arvana cast around the room looking for something else. Her gaze settled on the back of Opal’s head and Opal felt a ping of recognition from the young caster. Arvana knew that the woman across the restaurant was actively casting some kind of spell but she didn’t have the training to piece out what it was quickly enough.

Marsh grabbed Arvana and dragged the girl out the front door, as he and Keel ran. It was a terrible exit from their point of view. Not only had the assault failed but the goons would be after them like lightning and the long open road outside wasn’t going to afford them much in terms of cover or places to hide.

From Opal’s point of view though their panicked flight was perfect. One small spell induced a spasm in Keel’s hand and he dropped his bolt caster right at the restaurant’s entrance. A few of the goons managed to notice the bolt caster drop, more of them saw the trio fleeing and pretty much everyone in a hundred yard radius saw or heard the explosion that blasted the doors and everything nearby to a fine mist of particles.

Opal sighed and relaxed her awareness to let time resume its normal rate of progression. The immediate crisis was past but she was going to have so much work to do still.

The Journey of Life – Ch 2 – Overlapping Designs

Awards ceremonies come in many forms, from small private occasions to lavish public spectacles. For Zyla though, they always came with an undercurrent of anxiety.

“Zy, are you ok?” Yael asked.

“Yes,” Zyla said, staring at the door beyond which her future awaited her.

“Good, cause there’s nothing to worry about,” Yael said. “After today you’ll be a free woman.”

“Yes,” Zyla said, still staring at the door.

“You know I remember your trial,” Yael said. “You were much more relaxed then. I think I even got you to crack a smile.”

“Yes,” Zyla said and glanced over at Yael. A small and obviously forced smile gracing her face briefly before Zyla returned her gaze to the door.

“When I was a kid, we had awards ceremonies all the time,” Yael said. “It got a little boring after a while to be honest.”

“You grew up on Safsalla didn’t you?” Zyla asked. “I thought that was one of the barren worlds.”

“It was,” Yael said. “Still is in fact.”

“The Empire hasn’t provided aid for you?” Zyla asked.

“Safsalla is barren of macroscopic life, except for the colony warrens where we lived,” Yael said. “On a microbiological level though its a wonderland. There are reagents and anima filtrants there that are found nowhere else in the galaxy.”

“That sounds like a treasure trove of wealth but you said your family was a poor one I thought?” Zyla asked.

“They were,” Zyla said. “The colony warrens, basically the cities, had a long history of isolation from each other and the galaxy at large. We lived like spacers for the most part, reclaiming and recycling everything because we couldn’t draw much sustenance from the planet around us.”

“And then the Empire conquered you and everything was better?” Zyla asked.

“Come on, we’ve worked together for how long now?” Yael asked. “You know the Empire doesn’t work like that.”

“I guess they don’t,” Zyla said.

“They showed up, judged we weren’t a threat to anyone and offered us membership in the Empire,” Yael said. “Some of the warrens took it, most passed. I was born in the one of the ones that passed on membership for a while, so we didn’t have much.”

“So what were the awards ceremonies for?” Zyla asked.

“At the time I thought they were for great achievements but looking back I think they were just little rituals to help divide up the time and keep people from going crazy,” Yael said.

“Did it work?” Zyla asked.

“I don’t know. I think in place of a generalized lunacy, we developed a more focused variety,” Yael said. “Most people were mostly reasonable about the awards, but some got far too obsessed with them.”

“What were the survival ratios like?” Zyla asked.

“I don’t know of anyone killing over a contest,” Yael said.

“You weren’t that crazy then,” Zyla said.

“What about you?” Yael asked. She voiced the question lightly, the subject of Zyla’s youth being a painful one in general.

“We had awards ceremonies too,” Zyla said. “Frequent ones.”

“How did you do in them?” Yael asked.

“I’m still here,” Zyla said. “So therefor I won an award at all of them.”

“How harsh was the Khan on his children?” Yael asked.

“He didn’t lay a hand on us,” Zyla said. “Most of the time. He let us compete for our place in his Circles, and encouraged us to use whatever tactics and methods were available to secure our positions.”

“So those who didn’t measure up?” Yael asked.

“They stayed in the lower circles,” Zyla said. “Or we destroyed them.”

“I should have guessed that,” Yael said.

“Yes,” Zyla said and closed her eyes for a moment.

“This isn’t like that,” Yael said and laid a hand on Zyla’s shoulder. “There’s no competition here. This is a celebration and recognition of the work you’ve done since your case was first adjudicated.”

“The work we’ve done,” Zyla said.

“I’ve gotten my accolades,” Yael said. “Today is about recognizing you. But I can understand how that could feel uncomfortable with your history.”

“Yes,” Zyla said.

“It’s already a small ceremony,” Yael said. “We can make it a brief one too if you like?”

“That’s not…” Zyla started to say. “That’s not  necessary.”

“We could skip it altogether and hop the next freighter to the rim?” Yael said, trying to put a real smile on Zyla’s face.

“I wish we could,” Zyla said.

There was a silence that stretched on a hair longer than was comfortable. Yael broke the awkward moment by first standing up and then turning to kneel in front of where Zyla was sitting.

“What’s stopping us?” Yael asked.

“What?” Zyla twitched back away from Yael.

“Why can’t we just grab a ship and head out?” Yael asked. “The paperwork’s already been put through. You’ve been a free woman since yesterday. This ceremony is just a formality. Why don’t we blow it off?”

“We can’t do that,” Zyla said.

“Zy, I haven’t seen you this upset since we first met,” Yael said. “We can totally do this.”

“I don’t mind the ceremony,” Zyla said. “Or I do, but I know it’s not like the ones my father hosted.”

“What’s wrong then?” Yael asked. “Please, tell me. I want to help.”

“It’s…” Zyla struggled to find the right words before settling on, “It’s premature.”

“Premature?” Yael said. “Are you nuts? This is long overdue!”

“No it’s not,” Zyla said.

“Zy, you’ve proven yourself so many times so far. You’ve satisfied every condition of your parole a hundred times over. The Empire has every reason to trust you now!”

“I didn’t do any of those things for the Empire,” Zyla said. “And I don’t think you’re right. I haven’t balanced the scales.”

Yael sighed and settled back to sit on the floor. She drew her knees up to her chest and regarded Zyla over them.

“Tell me about it,” Yael said. “Tell me what is weighing down the other side of the scale.”

“It’s not one thing,” Zyla said.

“I’ve never pried into your past,” Yael said. “Do you know why that is?”

“Afraid of what you’d find there?” Zyla said.

“Yeah,” Yael said. “I was. I was afraid I’d find something that would really hurt you.”

“My past can’t hurt me,” Zyla said.

“Really? Cause it looks like it’s killing you at the moment,” Yael said.

“I’m fine,” Zyla said.

“No, you’re not fine,” Yael said. “I’m not fine either. My magic is all screwed up and I can barely see anything two seconds ahead.”

“I’m messing things up,” Zyla said.

“It’s not your fault,” Yael said. “I can’t see anything because…”

Yael stopped herself and took a breath.

“Can you see anything?” she asked. “What does the future look like to you?”

“I don’t know,” Zyla said.

“What do you want it to look like?” Yael asked.

“I don’t know,” Zyla said.

Yael dropped her head onto her raised knees.

“We’re a great pair of fate wizards aren’t we?” she said after a long moment.

“I didn’t think it would be this hard,” Zyla said.

“Really?” Yael asked.

“I’ve been blind to this for a while. I couldn’t see how today was going to go at all,” Zyla said. “I still can’t.”

“My Master taught me a technique for dealing with blocks like this,” Yael said, relaxing as she spoke.

“Why do Guardians refer to their Elders as Masters,” Zyla asked. “That’s always seemed wrong to me.”

“The word has meant a lot of different things over the years,” Yael asked. “We take it from its early use in describing a ‘Master and their Apprentice’. It’s not required, and some Guardian mentors dislike the formality of it, but with Opal it always felt right.”

“You respect her a lot don’t you?” Zyla asked.

“I do,” Yael said. “She’s a very wise lady. She was the one who suggested I work with you for example.”

“So what was her technique for seeing through blocks like this?” Zyla asked.

“We start with meditation,” Yael said and scooted backwards on her butt to make room for Zyla on the floor.

The two women folded their legs into a half lotus position and sat upright facing each other.

“Simple breathing exercises to start with,” Yael said, and together they inhaled for a long ten count and exhaled for a slightly quicker five count. They repeated the measured breaths again and again, silently seeking the stillness in the center of their being.

“There are a lot of things that can block our foresight,” Yael said.

“Like a certain Void anima caster who hasn’t left the planet yet,” Zyla said.

“Yes,” Yael said. “Mel is a pain in the butt.”

“But a useful one sometimes,” Zyla said, a rare smile breaking across her lips like a wave.

“External influences are only one of the things that can cloud our vision though,” Yael said. “More often we’re blinded by what’s inside us.”

“I know,” Zyla said. “We were taught from as early as I can remember to kill our emotions.”

Yael winced.

“The Khan wasn’t alone in sponsoring that approach,” she said. “A lot of people see how chaotic the mind can be and they seek to lock it up, to carve away the pieces they can’t control. They try to remove emotions from their equations or they go the other direction and embrace utter madness.”

“Only a rare few can manage that sort of purity,” Zyla said. “I came close for a while but I’m much weaker now.”

“You are far from weak,” Yael said. “Denying who you are? Or giving up all control of yourself? Those are illusions of strength. You can walk those paths and gain power but you lose part of yourself in the process and are limited by that loss.”

“The children of the First Circle were far more powerful than I was,” Zyla said.

“Yes, because they’d trained more and been more fortunate,” Yael said. “But they weren’t more powerful than you can be. They were at the peak of what they could ever hope to be. You have so much more potential than that.”

“Right now, I can’t see anything,” Zyla said. “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I don’t even know what’s going to happen ten seconds from now.”

“I know,” Yael said. “That’s what this technique will help with.”

“So what do we do?” Zyla asked.

“We be honest,” Yael said. “With ourselves above all else. I can’t see my future because this moment is too important for me. It feels like I’m blind, but when I look, when I really try to see what’s to come, I see too many futures, all overlaying each other and its too much. Too many that I want too strongly and too many that I can’t live with and too many where I can’t tell the difference.”

“I was taught to look only for the future that fulfilled the objective you were given,” Zyla said.

“What objective have you given yourself then?” Yael asked.

“I don’t know,” Zyla said.

“Is that the problem?” Yael asked. “Do you not know what future you want or is there some other conflict holding you back? You don’t have to tell me, but you’ve got to tell yourself.”

Zyla was still and silent for a long time. After a minute of holding her breath she finally spoke.

“I know what I want, and I know that I don’t deserve it,” she said.

“I’m prepared to argue with you pretty thoroughly on how much you deserve to get what you want,” Yael said. “But my thoughts aren’t what’s important here. All I can ask is that you consider how you’re measuring what you do and don’t deserve.”

“I’ve done some good,” Zyla said. “But almost all of it has been with you. And before then, on my own, I was very different.”

“We met as enemies,” Yael said. “So I think I know a little about what you were like then. I know how you clung to your honor like a lifeline. How you hated being what the Khan had forced you to be.”

“He didn’t have to force us,” Zyla said. “It was how we were born.”

“You weren’t born cruel, that was taught to you, from before you could even cast a spell or speak the word for it,” Yael said.

“That doesn’t change what I did,” Zyla said. “That doesn’t make me right, or even ok, or worthy of special consideration. I’m not a good person. I’m just good when I’m around you.”

“I destroyed my home warren.” Yael said.

“What?” Zyla asked.

“I destroyed my home.” Yael said. “When I was little. I figured out how to cast Aetherial spells and I hid my abilities from everyone. Made sure the tests didn’t show any aptitude for casting because I was afraid the Empire would come and take me away. And then one day I got mad, really mad, and I cursed the warren.”

“What happened?” Zyla asked.

“The Empire came and took me away,” Yael said. “They figured out what I did pretty easily. You’ve seen what an Imperial Auditor can do. I was too dangerous to leave on Safsalla, so they paired me up with Master Opal.”

“So you were on parole too?” Zyla asked.

“For a few years,” Yael said. “Longer than you in fact. Master Opal helped me work a lot of thing out though.”

“What about the people from your home city?” Zyla asked.

“I made amends where I could,” Yael said. “The Empire evacuated everyone to an orbital station though so I’m not exactly the most popular person there anymore. Someday I’m hoping to go back and undo the curse, but I’m not quite strong enough yet, and there’s not much left of the warren to make it a worthwhile endeavor.”

“You saved an entire planet,” Zyla said. “How can you not be strong enough?”

“I’m only that good with you,” Yael said. “See I can’t break the curse because a part of me is still mad at the warren. Until I really forgive them I won’t have the strength to undo what I did.”

“So are you saying I should forgive my father?” Zyla asked.

“No, I’m saying you should forgive yourself, who you are now matters as much as who you were then and who you chose to be matters more than either of those,” Yael said. “And I should take my own advice.”

“To be forgiving?” Zyla asked.

“No, to be honest,” Yael said. She breathed in, held the breath and then raised her head and opened her eyes to look directly at Zyla. “I know why I can’t see the future at the moment, I know what’s got my heart so flustered, and I hope I’m guessing correctly at what you want the future to be. I know all that, but I don’t want to cause you any pain or put any pressure on you. All I can ask is whether you want me to share that with you.”

“Yes,” Zyla said, her voice clipping on even so small a word.

“I can’t see the future because of my feelings for you,” Yael said. “You’re too important to me, and this conversation, this moment, could go too many different ways. I could lose you forever here, and I would give almost anything to avoid that.”

Zyla looked down, hiding her eyes from Yael and forcing her breathing to a pace that was close to even.

“They said I would be free after the ceremony and that I could go wherever I wanted,” Zyla said. “But since the day we met, I haven’t wanted to be anywhere except by your side.”

“So the future you want has me in it then?” Yael asked and reached her hands forward.

“Forever,” Zyla said, taking Yael’s hands into her own. “If you’ll have me.”

“For as long as you’ll have me,” Yael said.

Little motes of light, anima that had been bound and trapped inside them began to float around the room as the future opened up before them at last.

“I thought we couldn’t be together,” Zyla said. “That your oath as a Crystal Guardian forbid it.

“Not at all,” Yael said. “We’re supposed to lead the most balanced lives that we can, and you help keep me sane better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

“I thought I was going to go crazy being with you, but then the thought of losing you felt even more insane,” Zyla said.

“How do you feel now?” Yael asked.

“Like I’ve woken up into a dream,” Zyla said. “I didn’t even want to hope that we’d get to stay together. I thought you’d be sent off on another mission and I’d be left to find my way in the galaxy all alone.”

“I never want you to feel alone,” Yael said. “Even if we’re apart, I want you to know that the best part of me will always be with you.”

“Can I kiss you now?” Zyla asked.

“I’ve been waiting three years for you to ask that question!” Yael said and slid her arms around her partner, her companion, her best friend and her truest love.


The Journey of Life – Ch 1 – Full Contact First Impressions

As cantinas went, the nameless little dive on the third ring of Belarion Orbital Habitat held a singular charm. It was blissfully quiet. So many other cantinas felt the need to blare whatever passed for jaunty music in the local system. The nameless dive didn’t have that problem, largely because its enchanted music synthesizer had been blasted into ten thousand tiny pieces.

Even that wasn’t a guarantee of tranquility though. When music was missing, cantinas tended to have noisy patrons who filled the silence in with whatever idiocy came to their minds. The nameless cantina didn’t have that problem either however since its patrons were all mercifully unconscious.

Darius pulled up a chair to the table where Captain Okoro was sitting and plopped the last unbroken bottle of green spirits down beside a pair of small, mostly intact, glasses.

“They packed more of a punch than I expected,” Darius said, surveying the dozens of prone forms that were draped over the furniture or sprawled across the floor.

“It’s always the ones you don’t expect who put up the biggest fights,” Hanq said.

“Think Mel will be mad she missed this brawl?” Darius asked.

“Only if we tell her about it,” Hanq said with a smile.

“So how many guys would you say were here?” Darius asked. “Two hundred? Three hundred?”

“Oh clearly this was an entire militia hide out. Fully armed. Probably a thousand in enchanted power armor,” Hanq said.

“She’s going to murder us,” Darius said, unable to keep from giggling at the prospect of teasing his beloved brawler.

“I don’t know how you keep up with her,” Hanq said.

“What do you mean?” Darius said. “You’re the one who trained her. You’ve been keeping up with her since she was little right?”

“That girl? Nine hells no, she’s always set her own pace,” Hanq said. “Best I’ve done is managed to nudge her away from the really stupid mistakes I made when I was her age.”

“How did you two ever meet?” Darius asked. “I could never believe that she just stumbled onto a former Warlord who was also a master martial artist just when she needed training.”

“I know. You’d think there was some kind of spell at work there, but believe me, I checked and there wasn’t,” Hanq said. “How I remember it is that our meeting was all Mel’s idea.”

“What do you mean?” Darius asked.

“Well, you have to understand where I was at the time,” Hanq said. “I’d just gotten my crew together and conquered my first system when the Crystal Empress broke onto the scene. Like a lot of the Warlords in those days, I was young, strong as hell and smart enough to see the value of allies, especially ones you could sacrifice if the need arose.”

“That doesn’t seem like a solid long term strategy,” Darius said.

“Oh it wasn’t,” Hanq said. “The average reign for a Warlord was a decade at the outside. The smartest ones would pass their power onto a younger caster and retire somewhere with a shipload of money and enchanted objects.”

“Is that how you got the job?”

“No, I grabbed my system in a bloodless coup. The previous ruler was a cagey beast but he hadn’t kept up on the latest in security techniques. So I took the station that he had warded with spells a dozen levels deep and removed their ‘friend or foe’ recognition routines. Cut off his whole command infrastructure in one move.”

“I’m surprised it was bloodless.” Darius said.

“The old guy was smart enough to have the non-lethal defenses trigger first. Saved his life and left me with a clean conscience,” Hanq said. “Actually keeping the system wasn’t quite so bloodless though. Once word got out about the change in power a bunch of my neighbors decided to see if they could annex the system out from under me.”

“I’ve seen you work,” Darius said. “How many of their systems did you take?”

“Three,” Hanq said. “I didn’t even really want them but I had to collect a price for the trouble they caused.”

“Any of them live through it?” Darius asked.

“All of them actually, I needed allies after all and who better than a trio of Warlord I knew I could run rings around.”

“So what happened when the Empress showed up?” Darius asked.

“We had a huge battle. I almost had her at my mercy until all of my allies turned traitor,” Hanq said, hiding his expression with the glass of green liquer.

“Really?” Darius asked.

“No,” Hanq said. “Not even in my wildest day dreams. What really happened is one of her Crystal Guardians showed up. Not even one of the Prime ones.”

“They talked you into standing down peacefully?” Darius asked.

“Yes. She talked to us with her fists. I recall that her right cross made a very clear and concise case for why I should get out of the Warlord line of work and find something less dangerous like ‘stellar demolition’.”

“She beat you?”

“She beat all of us,” Hanq said. “All at the same time.”

“That’s when you took up martial arts seriously?” Darius asked.

“Oh no,” Hanq said. “I’d been serious about martial combat of all kinds for years. Since I could walk if fact. It’s why I was able to beat people into following me.”

“And the others didn’t betray you?”

“Not intentionally,” Hanq said. “We could have been better coordinated, but none of us were turncoats. We gave it our all, and hers was just better than that.”

“So what did you do afterwards?”

“After I got out of the Imperial medical facility?” Hanq said. “Well the first thing I did was refuse the commission they offered. My body was healed but my pride still in little pieces.”

“They let you go like that?” Darius asked.

“It was less a matter of ‘let me go’ and more a ‘failed to prevent my escape’,” Hanq said. “Since I was on the run I knew I had to disappear. Or at least that’s what I told myself at the time. Looking back, I wonder if I wasn’t running away from the guy I thought I was more than anything else.”

“Being a Warlord meant a lot to you?” Darius asked.

“At the time it was everything I was,” Hanq said. “You don’t get to a position like that without a certain mindset. I believed I was the strongest guy out there. And the smartest. And most fit to rule. Being a Warlord was about more than power. It was security. With me in charge I knew I could make sure nothing bad happened to the people that mattered.”

Hanq took a breath and looked down into the glass and the questionable green goo that sloshed inside it

“Then I wasn’t in charge,” he said. “And nothing bad happened. Things were even better in fact. And I wasn’t the strongest or the smartest or the most fit to rule.”

“That sounds brutal,” Darius said.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Hanq said. “Well, one of the best.”

“That brings us back to Mel I’m guessing?” Darius said.

“Eventually,” Hanq said. “There were days I was convinced she was the worst disaster ever to land in my life though.”

“Why?” Darius asked.

“Because she never gave up,” Hanq said. “She was relentless. I didn’t want to train her, not at first anyways. I gave her all kind of crazy things to do and she just kept doing them.”

“Yeah, I can’t say I find that hard to believe,” Darius said.

“So there I am, broken down, as low as I’d ever been, convinced that I had nothing left to fight for and there’s this little fuzzy haired stick of a girl who just won’t leave me alone!”

Darius chuckled.

“Gods, I’m picturing a little Mel now being on your case 24 hours a day,” he said. “It’s horrifying.”

“You have no idea,” Hanq said. “The worst part was that she was terrible at martial arts. At least to start. But every day, she was there.”

“How long did it take her to get good?” Darius asked.

“I don’t even know!” Hanq said. “Like I said, she was always there and it was so gradual that I don’t think I noticed for a while how good she’d become. I think it was about seven or eight years ago that I noticed I was using anima while I was sparring with her though. That was probably my first wake up call.”

“Wait, you were spell casting at her back when she couldn’t cast spells?” Darius asked.

“It’s not as bad as it sounds, but yes, I’d started casting cantrip buffs to edge up my speed or recover from some of the hits she was tagging me with. Nothing obvious or overwhelming, but it was still a pretty terrible thing to do.”

“It sounds like it really pushed her training into overdrive though,” Darius said.

“I suppose it did, but she never noticed it either,” Hanq said. “To her I was just staying tantalizing far ahead of her, but always beyond a level she could reach. What she didn’t see was that I was cheating more and more every day to maintain that lead.”

“Why did you keep training her if it was that hard?” Darius asked.

“You know, after a while I asked myself that too,” Hanq said. “The real answer took me a long time to work out though. At first I thought I had a responsibility to her. The streets on Belstarius weren’t friendly to kids and Mel’s disposition made them particularly hostile to her.”

“I’m having a hard time picturing how she survived as long as she did without magic to fall back on,” Darius said.

“Some of that was me, some of it was the Sisters of Water’s Mercy,” Hanq said. “For an order of holy women, they could sure raise unholy hell when they needed too. Mostly though I think it was just that damn determination of hers. She dragged herself to my place more times than I can count all busted up and broken from some fight or another.”

“A trend that continues to today,” Darius said and took another gulp from his glass.

“At least she’s learned to hang out with medics and a support staff,” Hanq said.

“Sounds like she always had a support staff, even if she didn’t know it,” Darius said.

“I guess she did,” Hanq said. “Even from that first day, even when I was trying as hard as I could to drive her away, I still couldn’t let anything really bad happen to that girl. Busted more than few heads for her that I’m hoping she never found out about.”

“Why?” Darius asked.

“She had a bit of a temper when she was younger,” Hanq said. “I was trying to teach her to control that by showing her a good example.”

“And?” Darius asked.

“Well, let’s just say sometimes I set a better example than others,” Hanq said. “I mean I was an ex-Warlord. There are certain threats I can laugh off and others? Well, sometimes its best that nobody is able to find those particular bodies.”

“You sound as protective as my Dads were,” Darius said.

“I guess I was,’ Hanq said. “For a long time I’ve thought of Mel as the daughter I’d never have.”

“For what it’s worth, I think she still regards you as the closest thing she has to a father,” Darius said.

“I’m happier for that than you can possibly understand,” Hanq said. “But thinking about it, even that’s not why I never pushed her away, not even during her incredibly bratty years.”

“It’s hard to imagine Mel as a brat,” Darius said.

“Oh do I have stories for you then,” Hanq said.

“I’m kind of terrified our daughter will turn out the same,” Darius said.

“Oh, you’re planning to have a family now?” Hanq asked.

“Well, not right now, but someday, maybe,” Darius said. “If she wants to.”

“The probably the kind of thing you should talk about with actual words,” Hanq said. “And for the record, I am in favor of grandchildren.”

“Her mother said the same thing,” Darius said. “But you were saying you didn’t stick with her because she was like a daughter to you?”

“Yeah, when I look back now what I see is that I was just being selfish. It’s as simple as that,” Hanq said.

“How so?” Darius asked.

“I was lower than low when I met Mel,” Hanq said. “And she wouldn’t let me stay there. She wouldn’t let me be the ‘washed up ex-Warlord’ that I thought I was. She made be her teacher. She made be this incredible martial master. And you know what? It worked. I didn’t want to but every day I got up and trained with her. She got better, I got better and I found something.”

“A new person you could be?” Darius asked.

“Yeah, or maybe it was the person I always was,” Hanq said. “Without that Crystal Guardians I would have continued on being a Warlord and odds are I’d be dead by now. Without Mel though, I’d have wasted away to nothing. My body might still be walking around but fifteen years of the guy I was back then would have left that body without a heart or a soul.”

Hanq looked at the glass and could only see his own, honest smile reflected back at him.

“Mel’s saved a lot of people, but the first person she saved was me.”


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 33

As we got to the shallow shoals of the Void, we approached the level where Fari and the Dominator were waiting for us.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there. Fari had promised she could handle the Dominator if it came to that, but I had no idea how long their battle would take or what form it would appear in. As it turned out, when my sight returned, I was able to see Fari wrestling with a full grown woman, who also appeared in translucent blue. Fari had the Dominator bound in a full choke hold and both of them were flushing red with rage.

“Beg for mercy!” Fari screamed. “Beg for it!”

This was not a side of my friend I saw often. Or ever really.

“I will gut your mind! I will feast on your essence you worthless little spirit!” the Dominator screamed back.

I decided that, maybe, I didn’t like the Dominator so much. It was tempting to step in and express my displeasure with her, but Fari didn’t seem to need my help. She twisted her arms to constrict Dominator’s (virtual) throat even further before smashing the larger woman’s “face” repeatedly into the ground. The visuals I was witnessing weren’t exactly ‘real’, but they represented deeper, more esoteric attacks that were striking at the central essence of the Dominator’s controller.

“Never again!” Fari screamed. “Never!”

With one final twist, Fari crushed the Dominator’s form, striking to the deepest recess of the Dominator’s spirit. There was a horrible tearing sound as the Dominator flashed a much brighter blue that was shot through with veins of dark void anima. From inside the spirit’s core, a galaxy of emptiness erupted and consumed all of the light which made up her form. Over a long and tortured moment the Dominator’s controlling spirit was ripped away screaming into the Void below us.

Fari dropped to one knee and shook her head.

“One down, lots more to go,” she said. She looked uninjured but since her “body” was only a projection I knew I couldn’t trust her appearance.

“How are you doing?” I asked her.

“Mel! You’re back!” she said and lifted her head up so I could see her smile.

“Yeah, I had some help getting here though,” I said.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know I now have one less dangerous sibling running around out there.” Fari said.

“What did you do to her?” I asked.

“Severed her connection to the gem. She’s a free spirit now, and she can go anywhere she wants,” Fari said. “Providing, of course, that where she wants to go is somewhere in the featureless expanse of the Void.

“It’s not entirely featureless actually,” Mom said. She wasn’t struggling to get away anymore but neither Bo nor I had loosened our grip on her.

“Who’s this?” Fari asked.

“Fari, meet my Mom,” I said. “She’s a spirit who needs a suitable home in the material world.”

Fari looked at me blankly for a second, then at my mother (who currently appeared as a female human shaped patch of shimmery night sky against the featureless Void background we were stuck in).

“What…?” she trailed off and I had to fight to suppress a laugh. It was exceedingly rare that I managed to leave Fari speechless.

“You’ve been tampering with the fate weave, haven’t you?” Fari asked, making a few dozen leaps of intuition.

“Not the new one. This is all thanks to the old one,” I said.

“Well, I guess it did have a thing for reuniting families given the fight I just had,” Fari said.

“Oh, yeah, on that note,” I said. “Have I introduced you to my sister?”

“Your what now?” Fari asked.

“We’ll work that out later,” Bo said. “We still have farther to go to get out of the Void completely and it’ll be slower carrying another person.”

She wasn’t wrong about that but we didn’t let it didn’t stop us.

Pushing on through what felt like days of effort but it was probably only a few minutes, we purged the Void we’d called up and stood once again in the material world.

Unanimously, we then all collapsed.

Bo and I had only tiny specks of life left to us. Just barely enough to hang on and keep breathing. Fari was similarly drained, both from her fight and from exposure to Void anima. Even though she’d been under my protective spells,small wisps of the Void had slipped through her defenses as she struggled with the Dominator. It wasn’t enough to be fatal, especially not with her ability to manipulate anima in general, but the deadly energies still knocked her for a loop.

As for Mom, that was a different story. She wasn’t drained by the Void because she’d basically merged with it. In her case her problem was that spirits and the material plane don’t tend to be a natural fit. With her magical structure falling apart in the physical world, she did the one thing that would allow her to remain whole; she jumped into the uncontrolled Jewel of Endless Night. That was particularly fortunate for the rest of us because she managed to get control of it before it exploded and wiped out the solar system.

I remember hearing her mention something about that and offering a kind of vaguely happy thank you for it. I would have been more enthusiastic but I was holding onto consciousness by a thread about half as thick as one of my hairs at the time and everything seemed very distant and fuzzy.

That was more or less how the rest of the day and most of the week that followed went. The world had been brought to the brink of destruction, and then fallen over the edge. It was only thanks to the efforts of more people than I could count that we arrived at a different future than the one Yael and Zyla had envisioned.

Which isn’t to say that the Imperial Auditors who showed up weren’t eager to try to find someone to pin the blame on.

As the person who’d suggested the whole “let’s let the fate weave kill the planet and then make a new one to save everybody”, I got what you might call ‘a little bit of extra Imperial attention’. Yael, being the principal architect of implementing that plan, was right beside me in the hot seat too though, which was nice. Zyla was with us too, but that was more by her own choice than the demands of the Imperial review board. As far as they were concerned her probation had turned out quite successful and she was a free citizen of the Empire once more.

Fari, on the other hand, was put before a review like the one Yael and I had to endure for her work in “disarming” the Dominator, especially when it came out that her methods could have resulted in a super nova class explosion if the Jewel had gone critical.

Of all of the people involved though it was Queen Metai why had the largest legal proceeding. To say hers was a ‘complicated case’ was a massive understatement. She helped simplify it by allowing Yael to take her into custody (over Bo’s protestations). Apparently she hadn’t expected to survive casting the new fate weave but Yael and Zyla had literally crammed her into it in order to ensure she couldn’t die and escape taking responsibility for the things she’d done over the centuries.

In Metai’s defense, there was the question of how much her actions were dictated by the Dominator and how much she went along with willingly. To her good fortune, the Crystal Empresses justice system was a very different sort of affair from the courts the Galactic Warlord’s favored. Even with the Empress’s courts tendency towards mercy and rehabilitation though, the former Queen of Abyz wasn’t going to have an easy time of things.

With her removal from power, Abyz’s Parliament was given full authority over the planet (subject to the standard Imperial charter and a stricter review of adherence to it). The Queen’s trial was scheduled for a few years out to provide time to sort through the mountain of evidence and data that needed to be assimilated. The Queen herself left Abyz willingly and was taken to an Imperial core world along with a group of her advisors and legal council.

The fallout from her removal and the sudden appearance of the Unseen was profound, but also contained, since the Unseen had been isolated for so long. As they chose to move off planet or integrate into the rest of society there were incidents and issues, but the new fate weave defused the worst of them (for values of “worst” which the citizens on both sides disagreed with in many instances).

The problems weren’t swept under the rug though. Effort to consciously repair the rifts in Abyz’s society was given priority by both the Abyz Parliament and the Imperial council. The new fate weave was much weaker than the old one and was losing strength every day as the sapient unbound ghosts (it’s primary extra-power source) slowly passed on. Some chose to stay and watch over their descendants, but most were too worn and drawn out to manage that.

In my view, that was ok though. There are a lot of people who disagree with me, but I have almost inherent revulsion against fate magic. To me, the slow diminishing of the fate weave meant that people had a chance to transition away from a life where nothing could go wrong (at the cost of their choices being forever constrained) to one where they were allowed a vastly greater freedom to chose what their future would be (at the cost that sometimes they’d screw up and have to pay the price for that). In the end, the new fate weave would still provide a buffer against the worst of what could happen, and everyone on Abyz would bear the cost of making that work.

Magic casting under the new fate weave was much weaker on Abyz. Most people were sapped just a tiny bit, but wizard class casters like Bo and I were seriously diminished in what we could do. “Seriously diminished” meant I could still take out a whole squad of Bo’s regular troops but I wasn’t going to be summoning Giga-beasts again, at least not on Abyz any time soon.

Not everyone was happy with that of course. Ebele was furious that we’d left any kind of fate weave intact at all, but even she was willing to accept that the former-Unseen deserved to enjoy the benefits of a fate weave for a change, especially since it was some of their ancestors who were lingering around to help power it.

She was hailed as the savior of Abyz too, which she also wasn’t particularly happy with either. Her work on the exorcism spell that banished the mindless ghosts and freed the old fate weave’s anima for use in the new one really did put her in that class though. I found it kind of amusing that where once she’d been bound to Abyz by the old fate weave, after the new one came into effect she was able to leave anytime she wanted, but she remained bound by all the people who laid claim to her heart.. Their love bound her much tighter to Abyz than any fate weave could have.

She wasn’t the only one who was thrust into a leadership role though. Alinaki became the voice of the Unseen who chose to stay on Abyz. Parliament was expanded to include the settlements which had previously been hidden by the Dominator and her voice was one of the first that spoke on the new laws that were put into effect to help transition the Unseen into a stable position in the overall society of Abyz.

Ilya looked me up a day after I was admitted for Recovery Care at the Grand Royal Hospital. She teased me about not coming to rescue her and then told me a ridiculous story about how she’d broken out of the holding cell they had her in, freed the other members of the Horizon Breaker’s crew and, with Captain Okoro, fought a running battle through the streets of the capital city which ultimately culminated a showdown with the Royal Guard in a series of carrier ships on the edge of space. She claimed that was why Bo didn’t have any of the other Royal Guard with her to defend the spell forge.

I laughed at the overblown craziness of the story, but. as it turned out, she was actually telling the complete and unvarnished truth. According to Hanq she was being modest if anything.

When I was being interviewed, I made sure to pass on everything I’d seen her do. The citizens of Abyz wouldn’t know what they owed her, but I wanted to make sure her official record reflected the fact that she’d been instrumental in saving Abyz too.

I was torn about doing the same for my Mom. On the one hand, she’d insured that the exorcism spell had the force and direction it needed after Ebele cast it. On the other, Imperial command wasn’t exactly thrilled that the Dominator had a new controller who just so happened to be related to me.

To be fair though, it wasn’t like Mom had access to the Dominator’s mind affecting magics. Fari had savaged those spells to pieces when she ripped the previous controlling spirit out of the gem. From what the the Imperial auditors said, that should have been impossible. The Jewels are the next best thing to indestructible. It’s how they’ve managed to survive the millennia. Apparently the answer to “what happens when an irresistible force (aka Fari) meets an indestructible object (aka Dominator)” is “the indestructible object learns it’s not as  indestructible as it thought it was”.

The shredded Jewel of Endless Night was no longer a mind altering mega-weapon. It was simply a source of unimaginable power. Some auditor nicknamed it the Darkstar based on the sheer amount of anima is contained and the name stuck.

I still called her Mom though.

Among all the unsung heroes however, there was one who was by far my favorite.

A poor boy who gave his all and didn’t even get to be there for the big finale.

Darius was in really bad shape after the explosion he triggered to launch Zyla to her destination. Without him the new fate weave would have failed, Yael and the Queen both said they couldn’t have managed it without the help of a third caster. Past, present and future. Without a caster to hold each of them the spell was impossible to form.

Darius had been pivotal in making that happen and had been blown up but good for his efforts. Fortunately for him, the old fate weave was in full effect when he got ‘exploded’ and he fell within the parameters of people it was setup to save.

Proof of that came from the battleship that caught him in a capture beam which just so happened to have a well stocked infirmary with all of the organ repair spells that he needed.

He still had a good long convalescence, but since we both wound up in the same room in adjoining beds the time didn’t pass all that uncomfortably. The official record doesn’t say that we exaggerated the state of our wounds in order to enjoy an extra week on the sun swept sands of the Royal Sands beach, but I don’t think we actually fooled anyone with our “I still don’t feel so good” acts.

When the time came for us to leave though, the crew had one more surprise waiting for me.

“I’m afraid the Guardian Council has come to their ruling,” Master Raychelle said.

Captain Okoro had marched me into a surprise meeting before daybreak saying that I was required to present myself before some “special envoys”. I hadn’t expected to see my old mentor waiting for me in a courtroom like setting. Beside her stood Master Opal, Yael and a pair of Crystal Guardians I knew only from official reports.

Five Crystal Guardians wasn’t necessarily a good sign. It meant official news. If I was being drummed out of the Guardian Corp, I was pretty sure they would send five Guardians to do it in case I got “cranky”.

I was a match for a squad of Bo’s regular troops. Any one of the Crystal Guardians before me could take me apart. I knew that. Yael was the “weakest” of them and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t even see her attacks coming if she decided to shut me down. Her work on Abyz had impressed me that much.

Trying not to think thoughts like that I put an entirely unfelt smile on my face, bowed and waited for them to speak.

“In light of the events here on Abyz, it’s clear that this ruling is long overdue,” Master Opal said.

I gulped. I liked being an apprentice Guardian. Being fired was going to suck.

“You all are terrible,” Yael said. “Look what you’re doing to the poor girl.”

I wanted to clean out my ears since I was pretty sure Yael defending me was one of the last things I should ever have expected to hear.

“They’re making you a full Crystal Guardian Mel,” Yael said. “Congratulations.”

“I understand. I’ll pack up my things…wait, what?” I said.

“You made it! Your apprenticeship’s over. Welcome to adulthood.” Hanq said and punched me on the shoulder.

The curtain at the back of the room fell away revealing Fari, Darius and the rest of Horizon Breaker’s crew. Bo and her personal squad were there as was Ebele, Kojo, and the rest of her crew, Alinaki and her staff, in the back, visible only to me, my Mom.

The party that followed went on for the better part of a day and, for a girl who’d grown up without being able to cast the smallest spell, was the most magical day I’d ever had.

Up until then at least.

“It’s going to be hard to top all this,” I said to Darius and Fari at one point as the party was winding down.

“Don’t worry, I have a feeling tomorrow’s going to be even more incredible,” Darius said.

“Take it from someone who’s seen a lot of history,” Fari said. “The best is still yet to come.”

And she was right.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 32

The last place you want to find a family member is right on the edge of death. It’s a little more complicated when said family member was intent on killing you a few moments earlier, but despite that it was still an uncomfortable experience.

“Mom? Oh don’t even tell me…” I said.

There were two possibilities I could see. Either “Echo” wasn’t really my mother, she just appeared in that form to everyone she spoke to, or, more even disturbing, she was my mother. And Bo’s mother.

I’d lost my family when I was four. All I could remember of the incident was my mother coming for me while we were onboard a ship. She was very worried, which scared the hell out of me, and then she put me in a warp capable escape pod and jettisoned me from the ship we were on through the warp gate we were approaching. That was the last time I saw her.

I’ve talked to her a few times since then. Almost always when I do something profoundly stupid with Void anima. Like, say, burying myself and Bo so deeply in the Void that neither of us had the power to return to the material world.

“Wait, you can hear her too?” Bo said. “But I thought you could only speak with people you were connected too?”

She was addressing Echo, but the thought occurred to me that this deep in, her point was probably true for everyone. I’d assumed our connection was because we were focused on defeating each other (it’s amazing the kind of connection a little life and death struggle can forge between people). From what I knew, our battle by itself would be enough to form a strong, if very temporary, bond between us. Shared parentage can do the same, though I had to wonder if in this case it would be as powerful.

Bo was older than me, from what I could tell, but I couldn’t remember us being raised together. For that matter, I couldn’t remember much about my father or any of the rest of my family. It had been just my mother and I, moving around from place to place as far as I knew.

“Yeah, I can hear her just fine,” I said. “Bo, what do you remember about your family?”

“They died when I was young,” she said.

“How sure of you are that?” I asked.

“Very,” she said. “They made me look at what was left of them.”

“I remember you saying that, but could you actually identify them from the remains?” I asked. “Think back now that you’re free of external meddling.”

“That was a long time ago,” she said.

“I know, but this is important,” I said. “I wish we could get back to Fari, she’s got the finesse to help you relive that moment in perfect detail I bet.”

“I don’t want to relive that moment,” Bo said. “That was the worst experience of my life. I had nightmares for years afterwards.”

“Maybe you didn’t need to,” I said. “Maybe what you saw wasn’t what you were told you were seeing.”

“There’s no way what you’re suggesting can be true,” she said. I felt her pull away from me, but I held on.

“I don’t know, is it, Mom?” I asked.

“One thing about my kids, they’re bright sparks every one of them,” my Mom said. “Bo,  whatever I tell you, you’ll always be suspicious of. You still don’t believe I’m your mother even, though it is nice to hear you call me Mom at last. So don’t look to me. Look at Mel. I never got to raise you as sisters but you’ll find echoes of me in her, the same as they are in you.”

“This is ridiculous!” Bo said.

“Is it?” Mom asked. “You know the fate weave was compromised. You know it was working to bring about an end to the current state of things. You’ve got to be able to imagine that someone who was paying attention to that might be able to take advantage of it.”

“Hold on, you were messing with the fate weave on Abyz?” I asked.

“More stuck in it,” Mom said. “We came here to visit your sister on that last trip we took together. I didn’t know what the fate weave was really like, but let’s just say you come by your ability to see ghosts from my side of the family.”

“You figured out what was really going on?” I asked.

“Which was something of a problem for the Dominator when I tried to take her out,” Mom said. “That was hubris, plain and simple. It’s also probably the worst mistake I made in my life.”

“What happened?” Bo asked.

“I tried to drain her power away and feed it freely into the fate weave to free the Unseen,” she said.

“And then you discovered that the Dominator had control of the Queen and through the Queen, control of the fate weave,” I said.

“I knew that part going into it actually. What I’d failed to account for was the fact that the fate weave can’t hold all of the Dominator’s power,” Mom said.

“That’s impossible! The weave holds enough anima to literally reduce Abyz to ash. As in a spreading cloud of particles where there was once a planet,” Bo said.

“Yeah, but the Dominator’s a Jewel of Endless Night. Killing planets is trivial for them,” I said.

“How do you know that?” Bo asked.

“You know Fari, the blue girl that was with me?” I asked. “She used to control one of the Jewels.”

“Used to control a Jewel? What happened to her?” Bo asked.

“She didn’t want to kill innocent people anymore, so I helped her out,” I said.


“We killed the ten thousand bodies of the Karr Khan through the archmage class shielding that protected them, all at once, across the entire of the galaxy,” I said.

“Ten thousand bodies?” Bo asked.

“Yeah, he’d turned himself in a cosmic level horror, so Fari, I, and some other folks took the power of the Ravager and ended him,” I said.

“How did you survive casting a spell that powerful?” Bo asked.

“Well, I had a lot of help, I was too stupid and uneducated to know I shouldn’t try it and Fari has near godlike energy management skills,” I said. “So basically, I was very very lucky.”

“Or more precisely, she made a lot of luck for herself,” Mom said, “The same as you do Bo.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“Really? Cause if this was Mom’s plan then I can totally see where I get my schemes from,” I said.

“It wasn’t all me,” Mom said. “After I, well ‘died’ isn’t precisely accurate, but it’s close. After I became as I am now, I saw some opportunities to nudge the fate weave along. It had its hook in one of my daughters already and whatever it took I wasn’t going to let that stand.”

“So you sent another of your daughters in to straighten the situation out?” I said.

“I gave a little tug and hoped,” Mom said.

“Well it looks like that tug means we’ll get to join you here along with all of the rest of Abyz,” Bo said.

“Why would you say that?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know about Mel, but I’ve gone too far,” Bo said. “I took in too much Void anima trying to beat her. I can’t hold it off for much longer and I can’t get free of it either.”

“I’m right there with you,” I said. “I knew I had to keep the Dominator away from Yael and her crew or everyone was going to die and stay dead. I was kind of hoping you’d be reasonable a little sooner, but my life for a few billion people seemed like a good trade to make however things worked out between us.”

“Neither of you are lost yet,” Mom said. “Not if you can trust each other.”

“Forget us,” Bo said. “What about Abyz? Did Mel’s insane plan work?”

“The spell to exorcise the ghosts of the Unseen seems to have gone off successfully. I was a little rough, but I did what I could,” Mom said.

“Did what you could?” I asked.

“She’s a Spirit of the Void,” Bo said. “There are arch-mage class casters who don’t have her capabilities with Void anima.”

“In very limited areas and applications,” Mom said. “It’s one of the few perks that comes from my current state.”

“You said you weren’t exactly dead?” I asked. “Does that mean you could come back?”

I didn’t let hope flare inside me at all. That would have been too painful to bear even with the numbing ocean of emptiness I was drifting in.

“I’m sorry, what I did is a one way trip,” she said. “I wouldn’t even do it differently if I could, since it bought me both of your lives.”

“That’s a heavy thing to lay on someone,” I said, bitterness and disappointment biting at me despite my resolve not to hope for anything.

“Maybe we didn’t want to live without you,” Bo said.

“There were limited options at the time,” Mom said. “And your lives were more important than mine. Wait till you have children. You’ll understand then.”

“Oh I understand already,” Bo said.

“Yeah, we just threw those lives away for others didn’t we?” I said.

“Like Mother, like daughters?” Bo asked.

“It’s disturbing how you think like me despite us meeting for the first time like two days ago,” I said.

“Hey, you said your friend Fari was the spirit of one of the Jewel’s of Endless Night right?” Bo asked. “What is she doing now?”

“Having an up close and personal ‘conversation’ with the Dominator I believe,” I said. “I figured neither of them would be able to follow us down this far into the Void, but at the level they’re on they should still be able to interact with each other.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? What if the Dominator manages to take over your friend?” Bo asked.

I laughed at that. It felt good to chuckle and sounded very alien to the depths of the Void we were floating in.

“Let’s just say I have faith Fari can handle her,” I said. “She had some very specific ideas on how she could cast the controlling spirit out of the Jewel. It’s not quite as good as rendering it powerless but without a controller, it will be effectively inert.”

“Can she do that?” Bo asked.

“She’s the first and only controller of a Jewel who has been freed from the constraints that were enchanted into the gem. She’s had a lot of time to study what was done to her and has spent the last few years devising spells to deal with her ‘siblings’,” I said. “She doesn’t have the power that they do, but if they’re both locked in the Void then power’s not really an issue. It all comes down to skill and determination here.”

It was Bo’s turn to laugh at that, but hers was the evil, scary kind of laugh I gave when a truly wicked idea occurred to me.

“That should mean it’s safe to return to the material world then right?” she asked.

“I think so,” I said. “Certainly safer than staying here any longer.”

“Our mother pointed out that we could escape if we trusted each other,” Bo said. “Are you willing to work together?”

“There are people who will be very unhappy with me if I don’t come back to them, so I’m willing to try almost anything at this point,” I said. “You’re thinking we can lift each other up, step by step until we’re out of the Void?”

“Exactly,” Bo said. “Except I have one other idea too; you said the Jewels act as natural homes for powerful spirits correct?”

I heard my mother gasp at the same moment as I figured out what Bo was driving at. I felt the urge to join in her evil laugh rise inside me. Oh, my sister was going to be fun to play with, I decided.

“Yes, yes they do,” I said.

“And spirits don’t weigh hardly anything do they?” Bo asked.

“Certainly not Spirits of the Void,” I said. “Why I bet we could carry each other and a spirit like that back with us easily.”

“No!” Mom said. “You can’t risk that!”

“Get her!” Bo said.

And I did.

It wasn’t actually as easy as we made it out to be, especially with Mom struggling to break free from our iron grips but steadily and surely, my sister and I rose back to the land of the living.


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 31

Even down in the depths of the void, racing away from the light of the material world, it was impossible to miss the radiance of the fate weave fracturing.


Bo’s voice was just a whisper, but it carried with it a lifetime of loss and denial.

And after denial, comes anger.

Bo’s attack was savage but ill planned. She threw a gout of Void anima at me, sharpening it into a spike with her rage and frustration. It’s edge was cold and solid, but when it touched the Void that surrounded me all it did was give me strength.

In a battle like the the one that we were fighting there was no room for dramatic death blows. No blocks or parries. No chance to dodge the doom that awaited us. When two Void casters really went at it, the winner wasn’t the one who survived, but the one who managed to make sure their opponent perished.

In that sense most such duels resulted in both combatants winning. By any sane measure though we’d already both lost by winding up in a situation where we had to fight a duel like this one in the first place.

I had the slim comfort that if I died, I would at least be paving the way for my friends to save the world, but with the shattering of the fate weave, I couldn’t tell if that was necessarily going to work out all that well.

“I have to kill you,” Bo said. “I didn’t want to, but there’s no other choice now.”

“You can’t,” I said. “That’s the trick of this kind of duel.”

“I have far more power than you do,” she said. “I can survive going much deeper into the Void.”

“Look around you,” I said. “There is no deeper, there’s only letting more of it inside.”

“That’s not how it works,” Bo said. “You’re following me down, but you can’t drop as far as I can.”

“I can, and I am,” I said. “Your power doesn’t mean anything in the Void. All you have here is yourself and the only thing that matter is how much of that you’re willing to give up.”

“I will give everything to stop you from killing my world,” she said.

“And I’ll give everything to save it,” I said. “We didn’t have to be enemies you know and there’s still time for us to be something else.”

“I have a duty to carry out,” Bo said.

“I do too,” I said. “And part of that duty is to you. Like it or not, you’re a member of the Crystal Empire too, which means you’re as much under my protection as anyone else is.”

Bo drank in more of the Void, growing dimmer in my vision as her essential life energy was carried away.

“Your protection is meaningless if you allow an entire world to perish,” she said. “Let me fix this!”

Her words were wrapped in an echoless hollow of Void anima. They tried to tear into me, the magics seeking to pierce me so deeply that I would strike back at them or flee, either of which being a fatal move. Instead, I accepted the emptiness as my own.

Regular anima springs from the same places in nearly everyone but each person colors it uniquely with their own aura and personality. Void anima, on the other hand, originates from experiences that are unique to each caster but it is, in some senses, all the same. It carries no mark of its creator because it is a manifestation of emptiness and dissolution. I didn’t have to convert the anima that Bo hurled at me because it already was the same as the anima I carried, just as the magics I wove were part of her domain as well.

“You can’t fix it,” I said. “You’ve got to accept that. There are things that are beyond your control, and burdens that you need to let others carry.”

“No one else can do this!” she shouted, drinking in more Void and trying even harder to freeze me with it. “I’m the only one.”

“You’re not,” I said. “You think you’re alone, you think the world depends on you, that no one else can handle things, but its not true and it never has been!”

“You don’t know me! And you don’t know this world! Let me go! Now!”

“Bo, I’m not the one holding you here,” I said. “And I do know you. You came at me alone the first time we met. It’s the same move I would have made, because Void casters are dangerous and I wouldn’t want to risk anyone under my command, even if they were Void casters too.”

“I knew I could handle you,” she said.

“No. You didn’t,” I said. “You approached me cautiously, and you made sure to take my measure and not back me into a corner before you had a sense of how hard I was willing to fight. If you knew what I was capable of, you would have struck with overwhelming force before I was even aware of you.”

“I should have,” she said.

The attack that came with her words was weak and wobbly.

“Now who’s lying?” I asked. “I respect you Bo. You really are trying your best, but your best isn’t what’s needed here. What’s needed is everyone’s best.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Look at the fate weave, what do you see?” I asked.

“It’s falling apart, the stress you put on it was too much,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “You think one person could do enough damage to destroy an effect drawn from countless people and maintained for almost a thousand years? Or better question, you think I’m powerful enough to do that? Without a cosmic artifact at my disposal? And yet I’m not strong enough to beat you cleanly in a fight? Does that actually sound reasonable?”

“You’re not going to trick me,” she said. “You can’t bewitch me with words.”

“You’re right,” I said. “And you know how to make sure of that.”

I demonstrated by drinking in more Void anima myself and letting it swirl around my mind. I lost the telepathic link to Fari. I lost all of my meager stash of Mental anima and even spells like my Void Sight that had hints of mind magic to them faded away. I was truly blind and felt even more alone without Fari’s mental presence to keep me company.

“There’s not much father that we can go,” Bo said.

“I know, but we had to get at least this deep into the Void,” I said.

“Why? Why was it so important for you to be right?” Bo asked.

“Because the thing you’re carrying is so very wrong,” I said.

“The Jewel?” Bo asked.

“This deep in, you should finally be free of her,” I said.

“I…I feel different,” Bo said. “The Void is corrupting my thoughts.”

“That’s not corruption,” I said. “That’s the doubt you’ve been feeling. The Dominator kept it suppressed.”

“Why would she do that?” Bo asked.

“Because she’s efficient,” I said. “You were a much more useful tool if she didn’t have to override your will. All she had to do was keep you in line.”

“The Dominator is just a tool though,” Bo said. “She’s part of the fate weave and the reason it’s stood so long.”

“She was never supposed to be,” I said. “I spoke with Queen Metai. She laid everything out. About how the fate weave was originally setup. About how the Dominator’s Jewel was found. What her predecessor intended and what actually occurred when the Jewel was given access to the Spell Forge.”

“How could you have spoken with the Queen?” Bo asked.

“She came to see us,” I said. “After she gave the Dominator to you. She knew the Giga-beasts would keep the two of you busy. She had to make sure the Dominator wouldn’t interfere this time.”

“Interfere with what?

“Well, she thought she had an opportunity to undo the fate weave before it killed everyone,” I said. “She was going to have Yael, the other Crystal Guardian that you caught, and I kill her. Her plan was to channel all of the energy of the fate weave into her ghost and then bear it down into the planet’s core where it could return as natural anima after the heat of the planet broke it down to its component motes.”

“That would never work!” Bo said.

“She was desperate, and it was the only path she could see that involved her not directly killing everyone on the planet.”

“But the planet couldn’t take that much additional energy being added to it. Every volcano in the world would erupt! Abyz wouldn’t be habitable for another thousand years!”

“True, but there would be time to get the people on it off before the long winter starved them out.”

“No, there would be riots and mass chaos. Billions would die in the process.” Bo said.

“I pointed that out to her,” I said. “And I pointed out that there was a better way to handle it.”

“What mad scheme of yours would she possibly believe?” Bo asked.

“Everyone is convinced that the world’s going to end. There’s too much power built up and the fate weave has grown too fragile to handle it right?” I asked.

“Yes, thanks to what you did,” Bo said.

“In part, but my actions only broke a few threads. If the weave was in good shape I would never even have landed on the planet’s surface,” I said. “According to the Queen it’s been falling apart for centuries now.”

“If she couldn’t fix it what made you think you knew how?”

“Because the Dominator never got a hold of my thoughts,” I said. “It’s made you all miss the most obvious thing that was wrong. The fate weave was designed to protect everyone on the planet right? That’s what makes Abyz the paradise that it is.”

“Yes, and?” Bo asked.

“Is it protecting everyone on the planet?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What about the Unseen?” I asked. “They’re natives of Abyz too aren’t they?”

“No, they’re aliens,” Bo said.

“Why? All of the Unseen who are alive today were born and raised here. Their bodies are formed from the materials of Abyz and their breath mingles with the same air that yours does,” I said. “When did your family arrive on Abyz? I mean you’ve got the same galactic skin tone I do, so if anything you’re more of an alien than they are.”

“But they are an essential part of the fate weave!” Bo said.

“No!” I said. “They’re not! Sacrificing others for your own good is an aberration and always will be. The fate weave as it is now is corrupted and that corruption is forcing it to tear itself apart.”

“You’re saying the fate weave wants to destroy itself?” Bo asked.

“I don’t think it ‘wants’ anything, but it’s not hard to see that it’s been twisted to act against it’s own orders,” I said.

“How does that possibly help us? And why tell me this now?” Bo asked.

“Because you’re free of the Dominator’s control now. We’re deep enough in the Void that even she can’t reach here,” I said. “As for how it can help us, like I said, it’s not something either of us can fix. We’re not Aetherial casters. But the Queen is. And Yael is too. And Zyla.”

“They were already here!” Bo said. “You snuck the Queen and the Crystal Guardian in before I got here with the Dominator and then waited for the third caster, the woman that I fought.”

“To be completely honest, I had no idea Zyla would make it here,” I said. “That was either the work of the fate weave, Yael or a straight up coincidence. I asked the Queen and Yael to try fixing the fate weave since they have control over the strongest control nodes for it. I had no idea Zyla would show up to help them, but in hindsight it feels more correct that there be three casters working on it, for the past, the present and the future.”

“Even with three casters of the Queen’s level, I don’t think they can fix the fate weave,” Bo said.

“Not the existing one, but what if they made a brand new one, just as the previous one fell?” I asked.

“Is that possible?” Bo asked.

“I have no idea, but the Queen and Yael were willing to try,” I said.

“What about all anima that will be released?” Bo asked.

“Ok, you’re not going to like this part of the plan,” I said.

“What did you have them do?” she asked.

“Well, the existing fate weave is going to kill everyone and burn the world when it inverts right?” I asked.

“Yes…” Bo said, caution and uncertainty warring in her voice.

“What if the new fate weave’s first job was to bring everyone, including the Unseen, back to life and restore the world?” I asked. “That would consume a lot of the free anima wouldn’t it?”

Bo was silent for a long moment.

“For what it’s worth, neither the Queen or Yael could answer that question for sure either, but it sounded at least vaguely right to them,” I said.

“You’re insane,” Bo said.

“You’re not the first to accuse me of that,” I said.

“What can we do then?” she asked.

“At this point? Nothing at all,” I said. “Our role was to bury the Dominator so deeply in the Void that she wouldn’t have any contact with the new fate weave. Whatever else we’ve done, I think we’ve managed that. I can barely feel any of my life left at all now and I’m really not sure I can get back from here on my own anymore.”

“Me either,” Bo said. “At least we won’t leave any angry ghosts behind. Wait! The ghosts! How will they get the anima away from the Ghosts of the Unseen? If the weave breaks and releases it, the bound dead will be freed, and incredibly amped up on power. They’ll scour the planet clean all on their own.”

“Don’t worry about that,” my Mother said. “I’ve got it covered.”

It was nice to hear her voice again, and honestly one of the big reasons I’d been willing to engage in a Void duel again. Even if I lost it, I’d at least be closer to her when I did. Of course, what I hadn’t counted on was that I might not be the only one to feel that way.

“Mom?” Bo said. “What are you doing here?”


The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 30

It’s easy to think of history as pivoting on singular moments. The one decisive battle or the one great discovery that changes everything. From what I’ve seen though, those great moments are more often a cloud of other moments all compressed together.

Abyz died and that changed everything, but in the final reckoning was that the moment that really mattered?

At the time I didn’t have the bandwidth to process questions like that. Life was moving too fast, just like it almost always does.

Zyla’s fight to get into the command center of the Principal Spell Forge escaped my notice too, but nearly everyone else in the facility was aware of it acutely.

Military personnel are selected and trained in a variety of manners. Consistent for all of them however is a focus on Physical anima aptitude and being able to work as a group. Those two factors added together give you a strong, disciplined fighting force where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Zyla was one person against such a force of the Queen’s Royal Guards. Her arrival in the Upper Control Chamber was therefore something of a miracle in its own right. As miracles went it was an explicable one though. The Queen’s forces stationed at the Spell Forge had seen little in the way of actual combat. They’d lived their entire lives on a planet that had been at peace for centuries.

The Royal Space Navy had some experience fighting on the border reaches of the system, but the local troops were largely for paranoia’s sake on the Queen’s part. They were well trained, but none of training had anticipated that they’d be fighting a single foe of Zyla’s caliber. Zyla, on the other hand, had spent most of her life fighting massed armies of foes and knew exactly how to maximize her advantages in that sort of situation.

Despite that, the effort of getting to the Upper Control Chamber cost Zyla tremendously in terms of wounds sustained and power expended, but through sheer, unwavering determination and a willingness to strike harder, faster and at more cost to herself she literally carved a path through the mountain and arrived in the Upper Chamber to find the last person in the world she wanted to see waiting for her.

“Excellent,” Bo said. “The missing Aetherial master. I knew we wouldn’t be able to conclude this until we had you in custody.”

“You can’t be here,” Zyla said. “You’re supposed to be repairing the fate weave.”

“Yes,” Bo said. “And once the last distraction has been addressed we will head to the center of the Spell Forge and take care of that. Or did you expect that we would start the repair ritual while there was still a chance that you could interrupt it?”

“You can’t repair it,” Zyla said.

“With the power we’re carrying now? I believe you are very wrong in that assessment,” Bo said.

“No, you can’t repair it because the fate weave is flawed. It’s going to tear itself apart catastrophically,” Zyla said.

“We’re familiar with the model that predicts that,” Bo said. “But the fact of the matter is that the fate weave has stood for centuries in its current form and with the right stewardship it will stand for centuries more!”

Zyla’s face took on a strange expression. It was looked like despair and defiance were twisted together around a soul deep cord of fear.

“Everyone is going to die,” she said. “There is too much breaking loose.”

“Not when we get done,” Bo said. “Once we’ve fixed the weave, we’ll see to all the rebels and all the outside interference from the Empire. Abyz is will stand forever in harmony when we’re finished here.”

Bo raised her hand as she spoke and the Dominator flared from the ring on her finger. The light that filled the room touched on Zyla’s shields and began to burn them in a white fire bright as a magnesium flare. Zyla’s eyes widened in shock as fear sought to overcome her determination. For as strong and talented and experienced as Zyla was, Bo simply held too much raw power for her to oppose. The fight between them wasn’t going to be a battle. Zyla was defeated or dead the instant Bo decided to truly exert herself and both women knew it.

“As you say, there is much damage to repair, and little time to get started,” Bo said and swiped her left hand in a backhanded slap. A dozen yards away where Zyla stood, the wave of force from Bo’s gesture burst Zyla’s shields like they were made of spun glass.

Zyla was flung back by the blow and skidded to a stop by dragging her anima blade through the floor. With no prayer of resisting a serious attack from Bo, the Aetherial wizard rose to her feet and took up a classic duelist’s stance, pointing her anima blade directly at her foe.

“I can’t let you do this,” Zyla said.

“You don’t really a choice,” Bo said and gathered a blinding light from within the depths of the Dominator.

The blast was nothing complicated. Just simple heat energy, easy to harness and easy to cast. It had to be like that because it’s volume was so overwhemlingly vast there was no other way Bo could handle it.

To her credit, Zyla didn’t even flinch from it. Her hands flew fast and free, weaving an Aetherial spell against all hope and against the impossible pressure of the fate weave itself.

And her prayer was answered.

The deadly torrent of power Bo pulled from the Dominator crashed into a shield of devouring emptiness that filled with sparks of brilliance like the depths of space.

“It’s just possible that you’re wrong about that one,” I said, stepping out from underneath the cloak of invisibility that I’d cast over myself.

Drinking in the power of Bo’s blast felt good. Really good. Dangerously so in fact. I’d over-channeled anima before and it was like a drug. The feeling of euphoria that came with the rush of new strength was second to none from everything I’d experienced and read about. Knowing that, I tried to rein in the feeling of smug superiority that came along with the anima high, but it was still damn hard not to smile at Bo’s shocked reaction to my arrival.

“How are you here?” she demanded and for the first time I heard anger in her voice that threatened to exploded into uncontrolled rage.

“Wrong question,” I said. “The right question is ‘who is here with me’. I think you’ll have some interest in that too Zyla. In fact I’m pretty sure if you’re here it means they’re really going to need you in the Spell Forge, so why don’t you get a move on down there.”

“Neither of you are going anywhere,” Bo said.

“You don’t think the other Royal Guards are going to stop us do you?” I asked. “Cause they’re all wrapped up in a sleep spell and the only way you’re breaking them out of that is to take me down.”

“That can most certainly be arranged,” she said.

“Maybe,” I said. “Speaking of which, do you still have Fari’s gem Zyla?”

“She certainly does,” Fari said. “Pass me over to Mel, would you. I think we need to have a discussion with Agent Riverstone and her new friend.”

Zyla threw Fari’s gem to me and Bo tried to intercept it with another blast. That mistake was a sign of how power drunk she’d gotten, despite the Dominator handling the vast majority of the anima she’d stolen from the Giga-beasts. I blocked the blast with another Void shield and absorbed it’s power too. The result left me feeling high as a kite and stronger than a hurricane.

“Need a hand with all that anima?” Fari asked on our restored telepathic link as I snagged her jewel from mid-air.

Zyla disappeared in a burst of hyper-speed that I could probably only equal using a fair portion of the power I’d stolen from Bo’s blast. I was glad to see her go since it put her out of harm’s way, and if my guess was correct then Yael and Queen Metai were desperately going to need her help with the spell they were casting.

“Yes, please!” I said telepathically. “Much more of this and I’m going to turn into a blissed out anima vampire and drain her dry.”

“It might come to that anyways,” Fari said.

“Yeah, but I at least want to feel bad about it,” I said.

“Give up now,” Bo said. “You can sense what I’m carrying can’t you?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Hello Dominator, or do you remember your real name?”

“She doesn’t answer anyone except me,” Bo said.

“You mean you don’t answer to anyone except her,” I said.

“My will is my own and always has been,” Bo said.

“So if your Queen commanded you to stand down, you would then?” I asked.

“She would never give that order,” Bo said.

I held out a communication disk and flicked it on to show a two foot tall recorded hologram of Queen Metai.

“Agent Riverstone, I order you to give custody of the Jewel of Endless Night to Guardian Watersward. Confirmation code for this order is as follows,” the recording of Queen Metai then listed a series of words and numbers, which should have compelled Bo’s obedience.

As I’d expected though, the message fell on deaf ears.

“It’s a false recording,” Bo said.

“The code is valid,” I said. “Queen Metai recorded this less than fifteen minutes ago.”

“Why would she record a message like that? Why wouldn’t she deliver the order in person?” Bo asked.

“Two reasons,” I said. “First, it wasn’t safe for her to do so.The Dominator isn’t a forgiving master and knows far better than to let me get my hands on her. If Queen Metai was here, the Dominator would put her under the same spell that you’re under.”

“I am under no spell,” Bo said.

“I wish that were true,” I said, sadness welling up inside me when I thought of just how false Bo’s statement was. “But you’ve been under its spell far longer than you know.”

I wasn’t guessing at that. It was one of the less pleasant things the Queen had told me about Bo.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bo said. “And you’re risking the demise of this planet by wasting my time.”

“Believe it or not, I don’t want to fight you,” I said.

“Now who’s lying?” Bo asked. “I can see the hunger in your eyes. This is the whole reason you came to Abyz. To claim a cosmic level power you have no right to!”

“I’ll admit that the energy you’ve got is pretty intoxicating, but I don’t need or want cosmic power,” I said. “I’ve held that and its more trouble than its worth. All I want is an Abyz that has a future longer than the next hour or so, and ideally one where no one is bound in suffering against their will for the sake of another.”

“If you meant that, you would stand aside,” Bo said. “You know I cannot let you take this power or stop me from saving my world.”

“We have very different definitions of what saving the world means,” I said. “And I’m sorry that I can’t accept yours. If I’m wrong, your ghost is going to haunt the hell out of mine I guess.”

“It’s not going to come to that,” Bo said. “I won’t let it.”

“I know,” I said. “Neither will I. One last time though, are you sure you want it to come to this? Whatever happens, nothing is going to be the same afterwards.”

“It’ll be better,” Bo said and raised a churning tornado of Void anima around herself.

“Let’s hope,” I said and plunged into the Void myself.

I’d fought like this with Void casters before. It was the deepest, deadliest form of combat that I knew of. Both casters raced as far as they could into the Void, risking their own total destruction in order to pierce the defense of their foe. In nearly all cases, the outcome was the same; both casters were consumed by the darkness they spawned. I’d won a fight like this before, but my opponent had been insane. Bo wasn’t, and that was maybe my only hope of surviving.

As we dove ever deeper into darkness though, the stakes we were playing for changed. Our own lives became of little concern as we felt the fate weave finally shatter and the inversion of power begin to warp the world-wide protective field into the end of all life on the planet.

The Compass of Eternity – Chapter 29

What sucks about promising people miracles is that sometimes they’ll look to you to actually deliver one. That was the position that Darius was in, but fortunately for Abyz it wasn’t the first time he’d been called on to provide that kind of service.

“Ebele, we’re going to need you to contact your people,” Darius said. “All of them. And everyone they can contact too. Best case scenario is they’re going to need to save the world after we stop Agent Riverstone.”

“If that’s the best case scenario, it doesn’t sound like we’re in terrible good shape,” Ebele said. “What’s the worst case scenario?”

“That they won’t even get the chance to do that,” Darius said.

“My people will help in this too,” Alinaki said.

“Good, because there’s a mission only you can do,” Fari said. “We need you to contact the rest of the Unseen, the ones in the other hidden cities.”

“What would you have us do?” Alinaki asked.

“You have the most direct connection to the fate bound ghosts,” Fari said. “Most of them are just fading copies, but if they’re as old as we believe then some will have developed sapience of their own.”

“Those will be the ones that will be the hardest of exorcise,” Darius said.

“And why should we exorcise them?” Alinaki said.

“Because once they are unbound, they’re going to assault the living,” Fari said.

“Perhaps the living deserve to be assaulted,” Alinaki said. “We have lived as their slaves for centuries.”

“The unbound ghosts won’t discriminate between their kin and the others,” Fari said. “For them the distinction is between the living and the dead, and you don’t want to see what a planet of the dead looks like or can do before they fade away.”

“How can we locate the other Unseen?” Alinaki asked.

“We know where your cities are,” Ebele said. “We thought they were necropoli though.”

“They are,” Darius said. “This whole world is in fact.”

“”What part can we play in this?” Alinaki asked.

“If we get to the stage where we can try to exorcise the ghosts, we’ll need you to act as the speakers for the ritual,” Darius said. “You’ll be the ones to convey the spell’s message to leave to the unbound ghosts.”

“But there won’t be time to assemble the Unseen from every city,” Alinaki said.

“That’s why I’m going to add you to our telepathic link,” Fari said.

“I cannot speak for all of my people,” Alinaki said.

“You won’t have to,” Fari said. “I’m going to add them all to the link.”

“Can you do that?” Alinaki asked.

“It will be a bit of a challenge,” Fari said.

Darius exchanged a glance with her. That many people over that distance was going to be more than a challenge. Even for a caster as good as Fari, the drain for a spell like that would be unbearable and could shatter her psyche forever.

“That leaves us with the problem of stopping Agent Riverstone,” Ebele said. “She has the full might of the Queen’s army behind her as well as enough raw power to look like a living star. How exactly do we fight that?”

“I don’t think we can,” Darius said. “But I don’t think we have to either.”

“You said we couldn’t let her repair the fate weave though?” Ebele asked.

“Right,” Darius said. “And that’s where we can beat her.”

“She has a tremendous amount of power, but there’s only one thing she can do with it,” Fari said. “And that one thing is going to require a lot of very careful and precise spell casting.”

“We don’t have to attack her directly,” Darius said. “That would be insane. All we need to do is make sure that the spell to repair the fate weave fails.”

“And there’s a lot of indirect actions we can take that can accomplish that,” Fari said.

“They can’t be too indirect,” Zyla said. “The fate weave will be able to block anything that’s too far removed from the repair spell.”

“We’ll have to send a team to the place where Agent Riverstone is going to perform the mending ceremony,” Darius said.

“That team is going to encounter heavy resistance,” Zyla said.

“I expected as much,” Darius said. “Can I ask for your assistance with it anyways?”

“You wouldn’t be able to keep me away,” Zyla said.

“I’m going too of course,” Fari said.

“We’re going to need you for command coordination,” Darius said.

“Not until we start the exorcism ritual,” Fari said. “Before we get there though, I’ve got a job to do keeping you all safe.”

“Will any of us come back from this?” Ebele asked. “Can you see any future where we even live much less succeed?”

“No,” Zyla said. “My precognition is mostly blind and the futures that I see are all ones where Abyz is burned to ash.”

“Do you see any where we try to take down the fate weave?” Darius asked.

“Yes, several,” Zyla said. “They all end the same.”

“Perfect!” Darius said.

“How is that perfect?” Ebele asked.

“If there are no visible futures where we win then even the Queen won’t be able to see or predict how we’re going to manage it,” Darius said.

“That sounds like insanity,” Alinaki said.

“Not when you consider the limitations of Aetherial casting,” Fari said.

“My blindness,” Zyla said. “All of the futures that I can’t see. Our hope, if we have any, lies in them.”

“How do we know that the Queen is as blind as she is?” Alinaki asked.

“Because I know where some of that blindness is coming from,” Darius said.

“Void anima, and void anima casters in particular,” Zyla said. “Their future is unknowable. They stand out as great, aggravating dark spots on any clear visions an Aetherial caster might see. Or even worse, sometimes they don’t appear at all.”

“Between Mel, Ebele and Agent Riverstone, we have several powerful spell slingers casting long shadows over what’s going to occur.” Darius said.

“And the only way we get to find out is to see it through,” Fari said.

“I should go with you then,” Ebele said.

“As much as we could use your help, you’ll need to start crafting the exorcism spell as soon as we go,” Fari said. “It will have to be cast as a ritual so that other casters can help support the energy requirements and channel the magics to the proper locations, but it’s going to be all on you to get the seed for the spell setup correctly.”

“I’ve never cast a ritual of this scope before,” Ebele said. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Very few people have, and very few people can,” Fari said. “On this planet I think there’s only three people currently with any experience at it, and as the only one of them who’s on our side, all I can offer is that you need to remember the basics. Don’t make it complicated. Don’t try to optimize it. For a spell this big it needs to be simple, clean and clear.”

“I’ll add ‘and ready soon’ onto that,” Darius said.

“Yeah, you’ll only have a few moments after the fate weave breaks before it inverts and kills everyone. If you can exorcise the ghosts before that happens, that’ll take a lot of the weaves energy away too and the inversion won’t necessarily be fatal,” Fari said. “Or at least that’s the hope.”

Ebele looked at that and dropped her head with a sigh.

“I don’t know why I believe you,” she said. “But go. I’ll be ready.”

Darius nodded at her and turned to Kojo.

“We need to go to the absolute least important of the hidden cities,” Darius said. “The one you’re not even sure should really be counted as a hidden city because it’s just so marginal.”

“The Blue Cauldron?” Kojo asked.

“No,” Darius said. “The one that’s even below that.”

“Oh, Meadowville? That’s not even really a place though?” he said.

“Ding! That’s exactly where we need to be!” Fari said. “I caught a glimpse of the Forget-Me spell the moment he said the name. Wow is it potent!”

“Potent? But why, the place is just an empty field now,” Kojo said. “We marked it since it gives you a little vague buzz, but it’s one of the places we were able to search thoroughly. There’s nothing there but grass and dirt.”

“There! Got it!” Fari said as she snipped her fingers together. Kojo’s expression changed in the instant that followed Fari’s hastily cast dispelling.

“Meadowville!” he said. “It’s not grass and dirt at all!”

“What’s there?” Darius asked.

“A dark crystal mountain hidden under the most elaborate illusions and Forget-Me spells a Jewel of Endless Night could cast,” Fari said.

“There are things there too,” Kojo said. “Monsters.”

“Real and purely mental,” Fari said. “This is going to be a very fun trip.”

“How close can you get us to the mountain?” Darius asked.

“About five miles away,” Kojo said. “There’s a teleportation ward around the entire place.”

“Not to mention a battalion of the Queen’s finest aircraft,” Fari said.

“Think we can steal one again?” Darius asked.

“No time,” Fari said.

“Then let’s go to this the hard way,” Darius said and put his hand out.

Zyla placed hers on top of his, as did Fari and Kojo and a second later the teleportation effect engulfed them.

Kojo’s mastery of teleportation was sufficient to cut through several of the lesser wards that ringed Meadowville farther out. He was even able to evade most of the alarm spells that were setup to detect unwanted arrivals. Most but not all.

“The air armada knows that we’re here and has begun acquiring a target lock on us,” Fari said.

“Looks like its the really hard way then,” Darius said. “Thanks for the ride but it’s time for you to get out of here Kojo.”

Without waiting to see if the older man listened to his order, Darius turned and scooped Zyla up in his arms before blasting off.

Speed is a defense all by itself. It’s difficult for ship scale weaponry to target a man-sized target and even more so when the man-sized target is moving multiple times the speed of sound. The Queen’s personnel were well trained though, because while the fate weave could keep Abyz safe, it couldn’t reach out to the other worlds in the system and keep all of the Queen’s holdings secure. The Royal Forces weren’t used to dealing casters of Darius’ caliber but they didn’t have to be. There were a lot more of them than there were of him and they worked well together.

The first shot to impact Darius’ shields came from the one of the forward scout ships. Its crew was used to dealing with fast moving targets that showed up unexpectedly. Darius’ luck held out only to the point where the weapons they shot him with were energy based rather than physical projectile launchers. That let him absorb some of blast and redirect it into his flight speed. The unabsorbed portion of the shot pounded his shields and sent sympathetic vibrations shattering through his body.

Dodging and weaving allow him to evade a number of other similar blasts but a handful still found their mark and stripped his shield away to nothing.

“You’ve got to make it from here,” he said and pitched Zyla forward.

With the last of his strength he cast another shield around her and detonated a massive explosion to propel her across the remaining half mile to the top of the looming crystal mountain that was in front of them.

The ships continued to fire upon the spherical shield that encased Zyla but to no avail. There was enough strength left in it by the time it crashed into the mountain that it was able to dissipate the impact of the landing and allow Zyla to begin battling the forces guarding the entrance immediately.

As for Darius, he fell from the sky covered in flames. He’d delivered the package that he was meant to carry, he’d done the job that he had to do. A smile crossed his broken face as consciousness dwindled away. If he had to go, this wasn’t the worst scenario he could imagine. He’d helped save a planet, he was sure of that, and if he left a ghost behind it wasn’t going to be a vast and vengeful one.

Then he felt the fate weave grab him.