StarCrossed Chapter 12
Mystician Empire. Asellan Solar-System. Mysticia. Facinaturu.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 7. Time: 11:20 A.M., Galactic Standard Time
Zade leaned back in her chair, staring at the screen before her. Displayed on-screen was a record of all the information on record about the planet Ventosus. Finding the information had been more difficult than she'd imagined, but it had paid off in her opinion.
A lone planet, part of a binary solar system, it was a dangerous world filled with hazardous wildlife and gale force winds. It had no intelligent life... except for one man found alone in the wilderness. He had been taken aboard the exploration ship and questioned about his presence...
There was no video available in the records, but the written records of the interrogation allayed all doubt; the man found alone on Ventosus had been Ransom. The man's statements were like Ransom's own fingerprints; his answers were all nonsensical, yet stated with such confidence that it was hard to disbelieve him. He was obviously mad, but he seemed to be a benevolent madman.
And then one last line: "Subject vanished." He had escaped an entire ship full of military personnel. Obviously, whatever he was, this man was not human.
Zade turned, her well-oiled chair swiveling noiselessly. In the corner of the room, sleeping soundly, was Square, Ransom's "pet." It was red, scaly, and vaguely lizard-like, with cat-like eyes and entirely too many teeth. But despite its seemingly dangerous nature, it was friendly to her. Just like Ransom himself.
Her eyes narrowed. As friendly as he was to her, he was still a potential threat. Her duty was clear. She typed up a report and sent it to MIA HQ.
After it was sent, she turned and saw Square staring at her. His cat-like eyes seemed accusatory. "It's my duty," she said to it. It continued to stare.
Time: 4:50 P.M.
Rakin sat alone in a small café somewhere in Facinaturu, staring at something in his hands. It was old and battered, now, though he had tried to clean it.
It was a locket.
With practiced ease, he pressed the catch, and it flipped open, revealing ancient circuitry. A hologram immediately appeared, floating a few inches above the open locket. It was a faded image of a woman with large glasses. Lucca, his memory told him. His memory told him other things...
"Yes," said the small child in the white robe. "You're coming along quite nicely."
Rakin listened to the child, his eyes empty of expression. His hair, like the child's, was drawn back in a ponytail. They both stood in a burnt crater.
"Soon," continued the child, "I shall have released all of your power. Then we shall destroy those meddling fools."
Rakin said nothing, but in his mind he laughed. The child was doing exactly what he wanted.
No, before that...
Three men stood surrounded by an army of creatures designed for slaughter. All that stood between them was a box of force, laced with electricity, maintained by the three men inside.
One was a younger Rakin, his blond hair swept back from his face. The second was a much older man, his red spiked hair showing traces of grey, his expression grim and empty. The third, a pale man with blue hair, snarled at the creatures as they snarled at him.
A single black claw broke through the ground at the men's feet, and began to swipe randomly.
"You didn't think to shield the ground!" the blue-haired man shouted as a second claw popped up, and a third, a fourth, a fifth...
Closer, but not quite. Just a little further back...
She handed him the locket, her expression serious. "If you die, I'm never going to forgive you."
Rakin nodded. "I'll keep that in mind."
Rakin opened his eyes and looked at the locket in his hands. The hologram was gone now; the locket couldn't operate for more than a few seconds without shorting out these days. But it was the locket, not the image, that he treasured. She had given it to him, so very long ago...
"Stare any harder at that locket, kid, and it'll melt."
Rakin looked up from the locket, surprised. A tall man was standing by his table, smiling. The first thing that Rakin noticed about him was his clothing; he wore a sleeveless red jacket fastened with brass buttons from chin to waist, where it flared out down to his knees. Billowing white pants were visible below the jacket until they were stuffed into brown leather boots just above the ankles. The man's forearms were wrapped in strips of cloth tied off at the wrist.
"You don't mind if I sit down, do you, kid?" asked the man. Without waiting for Rakin to answer, he pulled a chair back from the table and sat down.
As the stranger put his feet on the table, Rakin examined him more closely. There was something strange about him, besides his choice of clothing. He looked to be in his middle years, judging by his short hair: black with streaks of gray running from each temple. Also, his face was tan, as if he'd spent many years in unforgiving sunlight. And yet, despite his skin tone and apparent age, Rakin could see no wrinkles or marks of any kind on his face.
A small pair of glasses rested on his nose, and the glare from them was such that Rakin could not see the man's eyes.
"I know you," Rakin said suddenly, without knowing why. He was certain that he'd never seen the man before.
"Of course you do," replied the stranger as he lifted his hand in the air. "Coffee," he said to the waiter that came by in response to the gesture. "Black."
The waiter gone, the stranger seemed content to sit there, still smiling. Despite the glare from the man's glasses, Rakin was certain that the stranger was watching him. In the back of his mind, Rakin couldn't help but notice that there was no light source behind him that could cause such a glare.
When the waiter returned with the order, the stranger took the coffee and took a sip. "Coffee," the stranger muttered contentedly, "Humans have come up with some good inventions, but coffee's got to be near the top of the list."
Rakin shrugged. "I don't really care for it, actually."
The stranger's smile became a scowl. "There must be something wrong with you, kid."
"Nobody's called me 'kid' for a while," Rakin replied. "I called the last one an old man."
The stranger laughed. "I wouldn't take that as an insult. I'm pretty old."
Rakin tired of the conversation. "Who are you?"
"I could tell you my name," the man replied, "but I think it would be more effective to show you."
He leaned forward and removed his glasses. "Look into my eyes, Rakin."
Rakin looked, and fell into a sea of blue.
Two men sat facing each other, one dark-haired, one blond. Between them was a board, checkered black and white. There were game pieces on the board, in two rows. The dark-haired man, whose pieces were all white, moved one.
"Nice move," commented the blond man appreciatively. "But I hear you're not doing as well in the Game."
The dark-haired man smiled, unfazed. "Nathaniel, surely you know better than to trust Vargouille's opinion. The man would think he was winning if he drew first blood." He waved his hand dismissively. "The floor will crumble under his feet soon enough."
Nathaniel moved a piece of his own, accompanied by a murmur of approval from his opponent. "I suspected as much. What is it you call yourself? Game Master?"
"Master of Games," the dark-haired man replied, annoyed. He picked up a piece... and put it back in place. "That would have cost me. And as for the title, you know as well as I that it'll be earned soon enough." He moved a piece. "If you and I ever break our tie, that is."
Nathaniel smiled, and moved a piece of his own. The move was followed by a full minute of dead silence.
"Why did you do that?" whispered the dark-haired man, staring at the piece. "You've almost guaranteed my victory." He looked up at Nathaniel. "Why?"
"Because I'm tired of games," Nathaniel replied, his expression grim. "I'm tired of this... this... existence." He paused. "You know this feeling."
The dark-haired man nodded slightly. Every Eternal knew this feeling, to one degree or another. Some stifled the boredom by dreaming, some by testing their martial skills... Some participated in the Endless Game. He himself felt this boredom keenly than most. The best Game players were the ones who needed to accomplish something. Like himself. Like Nathaniel.
"I've done some research," Nathaniel continued, "questioned the Librarian. And I think I found something."
"A way out."
The dark-haired man stared. A way out? A chance to leave the Nexus? To experience the real world?
"When the time comes," Nathaniel said, "will you help me? Will you lend me your skills?" One corner of his mouth rose. "Or would you rather keep the title of Master of Games?"
The dark-haired man rose from his seat and left, leaving Nathaniel alone with the board.
"Checkmate," the blond man said to himself.
"Nathaniel!" he shouted as he pushed open the huge double-doors. "Nathaniel!"
The blond man looked up from the table he had been studying, a table covered with maps. "Yes? Has something gone wrong?"
"Yes!" the dark-haired man replied, his voice wild. "The Nexus, it's... losing stability! Fusca is afraid that if things continue the way they are, the Nexus will rupture."
Nathaniel shrugged. "She's right."
The dark-haired man was struck speechless for a moment. "But... But you said..."
"I said that I would get us out of the Nexus," Nathaniel replied. "And it must rupture for that to occur. You knew when we started that you'd never be able to come back."
"You didn't tell me that we'd have to destroy everything to escape it!" the man raged. "I'm already responsible for the deaths of men and women on both sides of this conflict. With my own hands, I've..." He shuddered. "This is too much, Nathaniel. I won't be party to this any longer. Stop it now, or-"
"Or what?" Nathaniel's tone was dangerous, but he calmed himself. "Besides, I can't stop it. By this point, the energies we've released are too powerful. Even if I call a cease-fire, the Nexus will still rupture." He walked around the table and stood before the dark-haired man. "The question you must ask yourself now is whose side you will be on when we all end up outside."
"You're mad," the other replied, shaking his head. "And I was mad to have trusted you. I should have remained the Master of Games." He turned to leave.
"You're the Master of War, now," Nathaniel called after him as he walked away. "And I couldn't have done it without you."
The dark-haired man lay alone on the earth of a world with no name.
For all his power, he could not heal himself of the wound which was slowly draining his life away.
Something stirred in the bushes a few feet away. He did not bother looking to see what it was. He was dying anyway; he hardly cared if a predator of some sort tried to end it quickly.
But it was no predator that approached him; it was a bulbous blue creature. He laughed again just seeing it as it waddled closer, its arms and legs sticking out of the creature's main mass, which seemed to be head and body all in one. And then it touched him.
Life flowed into the man, so quickly it shocked him. He sat up, whole. He looked at the creature. It looked back at him.
"You have saved me," he said to it, knowing it would understand. "How can I repay you?"
The creature pointed down, and the man understood. There was a power there, underground, a power greater than anything on this planet... except for the man himself. But he shook his head. "I cannot kill this thing. I have made an oath never to kill again."
The creature seemed to understand. It turned away.
"But," said the man, halting the creature, "I do owe you my life. I will not kill the beast, but I can still help you."
The creature turned back to him. "Nu," it said.
"And I did help," said the stranger as he leaned back, his blue eyes watching the past. "I gave your father the power he needed to defeat Lavos."
"But it's not over," said Rakin. "Lavos is dead, but my world's still in danger. That's why you're here, isn't it, Spekkio? Still trying to repay that debt?"
The man smiled. "If I'd had any idea how difficult it would be, I would have just died instead."
Rakin chuckled. He doubted that. "Somehow I don't think you came here just to tell me about your past."
Spekkio frowned. "You should take my history as a lesson, Rakin. You're too trusting. You trust the wrong person, and you go down. Sometimes, you take everything else down with you."
"Should I trust you?" Rakin asked, eyebrow raised.
Spekkio hesitated. "You can trust me," he said finally, "But don't ever depend on me."
Rakin smiled slightly. Somehow he thought Spekkio would be there if he was needed.
"Anyway," Spekkio continued, "you're right. I wanted to talk to you about several things. First, what do you have planned?"
"Yeah, you know. How do you intend to find the Lavoids?"
Rakin shrugged. "I'll find my friends."
"And we'll find the Lavoids."
Spekkio stared. "As simple as that, huh?"
"As simple as that."
"Lucky for you I plan ahead," Spekkio growled, shaking his head. "While you've been lounging around Ventosus, I've been building you an army."
Rakin's gaze focused sharply. "What?"
"You ever heard of the Swordsman's Rebellion?"
Rakin felt a cold chill. "About thirty years ago, a cult called the Holy Swords were part of a rebellion on the planet Pyrite. The rebellion was put down, and their leader, the Swordsman, was executed."
"A brave man," Spekkio said, raising his cup of coffee in salute. "He knew what he was getting into the whole time, though. I never lied to him."
"Wait a second," Rakin said. "You started the Holy Swords?"
The Eternal nodded. "I did. I knew those Lavoids wouldn't go down easy, so I made sure you'd have plenty of manpower."
Rakin's hands clenched into fists, though he didn't notice. "You started a planet-wide rebellion for that? How many people died because of your 'planning ahead'?"
Spekkio put his cup down forcefully on the table, spilling a bit of it. "Not nearly as many as will die if we don't kill these Lavoids. They're not your average Lavoids; ordinary equipment doesn't sense them. There's only one person I know of capable of finding them, and you're not him. So I did what I could; made sure you'd have plenty of people at your command to help you find and kill them."
Rakin sighed. "They're just Human. How can they help? They're just more people that I have to worry about."
"Just Human?" Spekkio shook his head. "If they were just Human, would 500 of them have been able to start a planet-wide rebellion? I said I built you an army, boy, and I meant it."
"What did you do to them, Spekkio?"
"I didn't do anything to them," Spekkio snapped. "I trained the Swordsman, and he trained the others."
"Trained them how, Spekkio?"
"Lifestream and Chi."
Rakin blinked. "What?"
Spekkio shook his head. "I keep forgetting how little you know about these things. Okay, first off, have you ever heard of the Lifestream? No? Well, imagine... a blade of grass. It's eaten by a rabbit. This rabbit is in turn eaten by a human. This human then dies, and his body rots, allowing new grass to grow. This eternal cycle is called the Lifestream."
"How does this create an army?"
"People can be trained to siphon off of the Lifestream energy of a planet. The amount of power used by one person, though, is usually so tiny that the planet doesn't notice."
"And the other one?"
"Chi? Same principle, except that the user doesn't siphon energy from the planet. The user uses the energy of his own life force in order to perform feats much like magic. It's more dangerous for the user than Lifestream, of course, but it can also be used in space, where there is no flow of Lifestream energy."
Rakin was intrigued. "Why did you teach them these? Surely magic would have been easier."
Spekkio shook his head. "Magic has side effects, too, but I taught them Lifestream and Chi so that they would be your army."
"I don't understand."
Spekkio chuckled. "Rakin, those who use life energy can usually sense eachother's presence, power level, and sometimes even emotion. To anyone who uses life energy, you shine like a beacon."
"I don't understand."
"Rakin, haven't you figured out where you get your power from?"
Rakin shook his head. It had been a part of him for so long, he no longer even thought about it. Seeing the future, reading minds... his powers were so much a part of him that he could hardly remember being without them.
Spekkio sighed. "Alright. How do I explain this?" He leaned back in his chair, considering. "There are many sources of power. Some, like Lavoids, use Chaos, harnessing extradimensional energy into specific forms and releasing it into our reality. Others, like me and your father, use Order, molding the fabric of the Multiverse to their will. Some, like the Holy Swords, use life energy, either their own or others'.
"All of these powers have a source. Chaos resides outside of our Multiverse, and spellcasters pull it inward. The center of power for Order is the Nexus, the 'center' of the Multiverse. Each is an endless source.
"But Lifestream and Chi are very limited in supply. A planet only has so much to give, and then it's dead. Chi is even more limited. But there is something greater, a source that gives the Lifestream the energy it needs to flow. In the space between dimensions, this source exists. Some call it the Spirit Plane, some simply 'between.' Whatever you call it, it connects to our plane through every living creature."
Rakin frowned, considering. "I don't understand. You seem to be saying that you connected me to this source, but you also said everyone's connected to it. Why can't other people do what I can?"
"They can," Spekkio replied. "Humans have a history of being able to do strange things. Prophets, psychics, and so forth. Any living creature can do these things, but their connection to the source isn't strong enough. They all have some sort of internal barrier, except one race: the Nu.
"For whatever reason, the Nu don't have this barrier. They have a closer connection to this source than any creature I've ever seen. It was while I was spending time with them that I came to understand the Lifesource, as I like to call it. I managed to weaken my own barrier a bit. I have just enough contact to see a bit of the flow of time, and to perform a few tricks."
"A few tricks?"
Spekkio smiled and moved his hand to pick up the cup of coffee. Unexpectedly, his hand passed through the cup as if it were an illusion... or as if he were. He reached again and this time successfully picked up the cup. "I call that little trick 'Unhand.' You try it."
Rakin nodded and stared at the table before him. He raised his hand and lowered it to the table. It stopped. He pushed harder, but his hand stubbornly stayed solid. He looked up at Spekkio. The Eternal chuckled. "Don't sweat it, kid. It just takes practice. You can do anything with practice."
Rakin frowned. "Anything? How powerful am I? Spekkio, how much did you weaken my barrier?"
Spekkio shrugged. "I didn't weaken it at all. I destroyed it."
"Destroyed it?" Rakin was worried. "Well... what does that mean? How much access to it do I have?"
Rakin shook his head. "I don't understand. What are my limits?"
Spekkio leaned forward. "You don't have any. For all intents and purposes, you are Lifesource incarnate."
Rakin began to glance back and forth, as if hunted. "But... That can't be right. I must have some limits. I'm not a god, Spekkio."
"Not yet. You only have as much power as you believe you have. You're only limited by your imagination. As time passes, you'll become more and more powerful as you realize that you're as powerful as you want to be."
Rakin's eyes were haunted. "What have you done, Spekkio?"
Spekkio leaned back, massaging his forehead. "Listen, Rakin. I told you I can see a little of the timestream. I knew before I met you that I'd need to give someone the Power if Elosia was to survive Valiod. Nothing else would have been good enough. And I tried to find the best person for that responsibility. I chose you, Rakin, because there was nobody else, and because you were Crono's son."
"Nobody's the right choice for power like you're talking about, Spekkio." Rakin had his head in his hands. "Power like that would tempt anyone."
Spekkio frowned. "What's wrong with you? You're no different than you were when I chose you, except a little older, a little wiser. Why are you so worried?"
Rakin sighed. "I'm not angry with you, Spekkio. You made the best choice you could. I'm angry with myself." He closed his eyes. "I gave her the power."
Spekkio's eyebrows shot up in shock. "Her? The girl? Why?"
"She was dying," Rakin replied quietly. "I didn't know I could heal her, but I knew she could heal herself if she had it. Now she's out somewhere in the universe or Multiverse, or whatever it's called, with more power than any one creature should have."
Spekkio took a long, slow sip of coffee. "Well, what's done is done. I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you; no doubt she's already experiencing side-effects, but she can't be that powerful. Like I said, she can only have as much power as she can imagine, and it would take her centuries to figure that out on her own."
"I guess we can only hope she hasn't had that long," Rakin said quietly.
"Anyway," Spekkio continued, trying to break the pall that had fallen over the conversation, "I just wanted to let you know that I'm around, and doing what I can. You have an army behind you, and limitless power at your disposal. How you use it is up to you." Rakin didn't react. Spekkio sighed. "Yeah. Well, I guess I'll be going. I've got other projects to work on. I'm going to see if I can't find one of Valiod's spawn. If I find one, I'll let you know."
He rose from his seat. Immediately Rakin rose as well and extended his hand. Surprised, Spekkio grasped it. "Spekkio, you've done a great deal for me and for my home world. I thank you."
Spekkio smiled as he withdrew his hand. "Don't thank me yet. It's not over." He dropped a few credits on the table for the coffee and looked at Rakin. "Listen well, Rakin. I've watched you, now and then. You're too trusting. Don't trust anyone... especially your partner."
Rakin nodded. Satisfied, Spekkio turned to leave. Rakin's voice stopped him. "Nathaniel was at fault, Spekkio. Not you."
Spekkio did not turn. "I know," he replied quietly, and walked off.
Spekkio did not turn as a man appeared behind him, mere seconds after he had left Rakin's sight, turning into an alley. "Interesting," said the man. "I had no idea Rakin was that powerful."
"Go away, Connor," replied Spekkio tersely. "You have no part in this."
The red-haired man's expression darkened. "We're working toward the same goal, Eternal. One would think you'd be a little more sociable."
"I trusted you once," Spekkio said. "I won't make that mistake again."
"I saw what you showed Rakin," said Connor. "Surely you don't put me in the same league as Nathaniel?"
Spekkio sighed. "Perhaps not. I don't think you're a psychopath. You're merely misguided."
Connor chuckled. "If Rakin is as powerful as you say, I may not need to go through with my plan."
"He is that powerful."
"But what if he's not... if he fails? Will you stand with me, Spekkio? Or against me?"
Spekkio smiled. "We both know I can't defeat you."
"That's not an answer, Spekkio."
"Good bye, Connor." Spekkio continued walking.
The red-haired man stood alone in the alley for a moment. "I will not forget this, Spekkio Deguerre."
A moment later, he vanished.
Zade examined her latest message. "Wait," it said. "And watch."
There were no further orders.
"Shit," she muttered.
"Of course there's such a thing as infinite power. Just because the idea frightens us is no reason to pretend it doesn't exist."