StarCrossed Chapter 16
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 23. Time: 10:24 A.M.
Crystal McKenna sat on her bed, alone with the sound of her breathing, echoing throughout the cabin.
Sweat rolled down her nose, dripping from the tip. Even over the sound of her harsh breathing, her unnaturally keen ears could hear the droplet hit the floor of her cabin. She wearily raised her left arm to wipe her forehead. With an effort, she began to calm herself, slowing her breathing.
Her arm, her right arm, gleamed in the light of the overhead light. She flexed it experimentally, feeling satisfaction as the fingers moved jerkily. With practice, she knew that the movements would become smoother until it would seem almost like her own hand. She touched her bed with the metal hand, and felt nothing. The arm was attached to her nerves rather poorly; it would take severe damage to the hand for her to ever feel anything from it. Maybe, over the course of years, she could figure out how to make an arm capable of feeling as well as her natural arm, but until then, this one would do nicely.
She could have made it more natural-looking, she knew. During the arm's creation, she had drawn blueprint after blueprint, trying to decide how to construct it. Though she knew how to make a hand that could be mistaken for her own if hidden beneath a glove (and suspected that she had once built one), she decided to go for a sturdier model. It resembled a large, heavy gauntlet, except in that it extended to her elbow. It sported a thick armguard which ran along the back of the arm, up to the wrist. The hand was a bulky affair, with thick, powerful fingers, and short claws protruding from the knuckles along the backs of the fingers. It was an arm designed for battle.
And it had hurt like hell.
The pain had racked her entire body in convulsions, and soaked her in sweat. Every part of her was sore, and her elbow hurt most of all. She had forgotten about the pain involved in a cybernetic arm. It couldn't hurt forever, could it? She couldn't remember.
She looked down at the night stand next to her bed, and the small metal sphere that waited patiently for her. It had a fine network of wires protruding from one end... wires that would attach themselves directly to her optic nerves. She stared at it nervously, aware of the emptiness in her right socket.
Sighing, she stood. "Why not go all the way?" she asked herself. She took off her already sweat-stained clothes, afraid of tearing them in her convulsive state, and sat back on the bed. She picked up the silvery sphere gently, and carefully oriented it correctly.
She remembered suddenly to turn off the light, so as to reduce the overall discomfort. Then, taking a deep breath, she inserted the eye.
The world exploded, and Crystal remembered this pain from when she was Christina. And wished she hadn't.
Greyspace. Nedergrant Greystation.
Time: 3: 28 P.M.
Here in the Greystation, there was no such thing as night or day. The standard of time used throughout the Empire broke down away from planets, becoming merely a reference, and no longer a dictator that ruled the hours of waking and sleeping. That it was early afternoon meant nothing. Fully one third of the station's inhabitants were asleep at this very moment.
One such inhabitant sat up from his bed abruptly, his breath heavy. "Lights!" he commanded, and the ceiling lamp above him lit.
He was a feminine-looking man, with dark hair and thin lips. His eyes were wide with fear. Shakily, he crawled from beneath the covers. He walked, unconscious of his nakedness, and poured himself a glass of water. A long pull at the cool liquid calmed him a bit.
"How do humans do it?" he asked aloud. "How can they live with this... this fear their entire lives?"
His name, or at least the one by which he referred to himself, was Thanatos. Once, he had been Death itself. Now, he was but an ordinary human. And it was horrible. The more time he spent as a human, the more difficult it was to stay calm and objective. As a Reaper, he had needed no emotions, had done his duty more effectively without them. Immortal, he had no fear of death, no impatience or anger at the passage of time, and no love for anything, since it was ultimately his duty to destroy.
Now, though... He had just awoken from a dream in which he was falling. The ground had been slowly but inexorably coming up to meet him. And then, just as he had made contact with the earth, just as he had been crushed, he awoke.
And it had scared the hell out of him.
These were nightmares, he was told. In fact, he had been led to believe that this particular nightmare was mild compared to some that could be experienced. What horrors mortals had to contend with on a daily basis. He couldn't wait until he had his old, invincible form back.
As his breathing slowed, the cabin became silent. He closed his eyes, feeling his heart begin to slow. He was okay. He was not going to die. He had seen his future self. He could not die before then.
The hairs on the back of his neck bristled. Thanatos' heart skipped a beat.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, turning to face the dark figure that suddenly stood in his cabin. Involuntarily, he took a step backward. "You can't be here to take me."
The figure, outlined only by a dark cloak, replied in a cold, dead voice. "You have been seeking us out, yet when one of us finally comes to meet you, you recoil. Do you fear me?"
"No," Thanatos replied instantly, though he knew that the other could spot the obvious signs of his fear. "Being human has... unnerved me. It is good that you have agreed to see me, brother. None of the other Reapers have."
"You have no right to refer to me as 'brother'," the cloaked figure replied.
Thanatos blinked, startled. "I am only temporarily in this condition. Soon, I shall be a Reaper again."
The hood of the cloak turned slightly, the shaking of a hidden head. "You never had the right to call me 'brother,' " it replied. "You were a disgrace long before you lost your Reaper status."
Thanatos' thin eyebrows drew together. "I have never failed in my duties. None have ever escaped my grasp, except for Rakin Guardia. And once he has helped me become a Reaper again, I shall take him as well."
"You never failed to hunt down your prey, no. But what about all of the other mortals lost in the course of your hunts?"
"I don't see what they have to do with anything. I used their bodies to fuel my hunts. Without feeding on other mortals, I would have been too weak to effectively chase my prey, and my hunts would take decades."
Abruptly, the cloaked figure stood before Thanatos. There had been no movement, no transition as far as Thanatos' merely human eyes could see. A single arm, wrapped in black cloth, reached out and gripped the man's throat. Effortlessly, the arm lifted Thanatos into the air.
"I could feed on you now," the Reaper stated in its dead voice, like an echo in a tomb. "I could absorb your body, leaving nothing but a husk. And you would be gone forever."
Thanatos gripped the black-clad arm, and pulled at the hand, but it had no effect. His kicks, aimed at the cloak, were similarly pointless. "I... can't die..." he managed to say. "You... can't kill me... I'm... supposed... to live..."
The dark hood drew closer. "I don't care," it said. "Prepare yourself."
"No!" shouted Thanatos hoarsely, as the cold gloved hand tightened on his throat. "I don't want to die! I don't want to die! Please!"
The hood drew even closer, allowing Thanatos to see the emptiness that he had known would be there. "There is more to being a Reaper than killing," the Reaper whispered, as darkness began to overtake Thanatos' vision. "We are enforcers, not murderers."
Thanatos thought he could hear someone pounding on the door to his cabin, but could not call out. He could no longer think straight. All that remained was fear.
Once he was unconscious, the Reaper gently set him down and vanished into the shadows.
Time: 4:22 P.M.
Thanatos found himself staring at white, antiseptic-looking ceiling. In his line of work, he had seen many hospitals, and he quickly recognized this room as one, or something similar. Perhaps an emergency clinic of some sort, he thought.
An attempt to rise into a sitting position immediately brought immediate dizziness. He allowed himself to fall back before he passed out.
"Awake, I see," said a voice, off to one side. Thanatos turned his head to see a man enter the room. He wore a white hooded robe, open in the front to expose dark, roomy clothing underneath. Locks of his long dark hair occasionally escaped his hood and hung down the side of his face. "I was a bit concerned," the man said in a friendly tone.
"You brought me here?" presumed Thanatos.
"Indeed, sir," replied the stranger as he sat in a chair by the bed. "My friend and I heard shouting from your cabin. I thought someone might be in trouble, so I broke down the door, and there you were, unconscious. What happened?"
"Thank you," replied Thanatos, ignoring the question. It surprised him that he meant it. He trembled slightly from the remembered fear of the experience. "Is there any way that I can repay you?"
The man looked honestly surprised. "There's no need for that."
"Don't be so hasty, Nox," said another voice. The owner was a second man, shorter than the first, and clad in a black trenchcoat. His hair was cut short, and his dark eyes were sharp. A belt fastened around the trenchcoat held a sheath. "We could use some spare cash."
The white-robed man shook his head. "Come on, Jet. The guy just woke up. Let's not take his money."
"You are warriors?" Thanatos asked, his eyes on the sword hanging from Jet's belt.
Nox smiled. "That's right. Nox Chant and Jet Garvey, fighters for hire. We do the jobs that are too dangerous for everyone else."
"I have need of warriors," Thanatos replied.
Nox nodded. "I'm not surprised. I saw those bruises on your neck. Need some bodyguards?"
Thanatos shook his head. "No. I need warriors to train me. I must become stronger."
Nox raised an eyebrow. Before he could respond, Jet spoke up. "No way. We don't have time to train a wannabe fighter. Do what we did: learn on your own."
"I will pay you whatever you desire."
"Sorry," said Nox, "but Jet's right. We've got other things to do. You couldn't possibly pay us what our time's worth."
"Name a price." Thanatos was not concerned, no matter what price they named. Money was easy to come by when one didn't shy away from killing. A few well-planned robberies, followed by the quiet execution of his partners, had made him a multimillionaire. And, since he had no need of, nor desire for material possessions, caring only about finding Rakin Guardia, the authorities could not easily track him by his expenditures.
"One hundred-thousand credits," Jet said. "Per month."
"Plus expenses," Thanatos countered easily.
Jet and Nox looked at eachother. Nox shrugged. "Well... I guess we've got ourselves a student."
Jet shook his head. "I should have asked for more money."
Day: 24. Time: 7:02 P.M.
"What's our ETA?" asked Ransom.
Reetah, the Blackbird's computer, replied "Nine hours, fifteen minutes, given current speed, probable traffic conditions around Uvidas, average time for docking-"
"Enough," interrupted Zade. The pseudo-seductive voice of the computer no longer really bothered her. However, the computer would have gone on to list all possible variables involved in the calculation had she not stopped it. She had attempted to stop that practice, but it was apparently hard-wired into the computer's program. She kept intending to read the owner's manual to see if anything could be done, but never got around to it.
Zade glanced over at Ransom. He was staring at the mists of Greyspace, his expression calm. He was not nervous about this mission. Zade couldn't say the same. She wasn't afraid of Rastaban; he was a powerful Mystic, but he had never gone through the training that Zade and Ransom had. She was more concerned about the other half of her mission.
"Zade," said Ransom abruptly, interrupting her train of thought, "Why did you join the MIA?"
Normally, Zade would have brushed off the question, or told him to shut up. This time, though, she allowed herself to relax just a little. She sighed. "My father was in the MIA. I joined up to prove that I was as good as he was. Better."
Zade glanced over to see Ransom's reaction, and found exactly what she expected: sympathy. No judgment, no disapproval. Just understanding. Somehow, she didn't find that as infuriating as she once would have.
"I can understand what it's like living under the shadow of your father," Ransom said quietly. "Mine was a great man, very famous on our planet. He did a lot of good things in his life."
"Known all throughout Ventosus, eh?" Zade ventured.
Ransom chuckled. "You remembered. I'm impressed. But no, before Ventosus, I was born on a world called Elosia. I did a little checking around, and apparently it's somewhere in the Dominion."
"You're from the Dominion?"
"I suppose. To be honest, I didn't find that out until I left."
"How did you not know your planet was in the Dominion?"
Ransom smiled. "I could tell you, but you'd have trouble believing me."
Zade glanced over at Ransom. She could see that he was willing to tell her if she wanted to know. He was not afraid. He was never afraid.
But now, when Zade finally had a chance to learn about her partner, she found that she was afraid. She didn't want to know.
"Why did you join the MIA?" she asked instead.
"I'm hunting," Ransom replied, unperturbed at the change of subject. "Hunting for my friends, and hunting for monsters."
"Have you ever heard of Lavoids?"
Zade snorted. "Come on. Those things are myths, just like the fucking Greyspace Demon."
"I know some people who would disagree with you on both counts," replied Ransom.
When he didn't say anything else, Zade shook her head. "Fine, let's say I believe they exist. Are you going to kill something that can feed on an entire planet single-handed?"
"If I have to."
Zade looked at Ransom again, and found him looking back at her. Her breath caught as she looked into his green eyes. She suddenly found it difficult to doubt him.
"Why do you hunt them, then? Did one destroy Elosia?"
"No. My father stopped that from happening."
"Well, if it's not revenge you want, then why hunt them?"
"Because it's the right thing to do," Ransom replied. "If I have the power to save people from the Lavoids, then it would be wrong of me not to use that power."
"You realize," she said, looking away, "that anyone powerful enough to kill a Lavoid would be a threat to the Empire. He would have to be captured if possible, and killed if necessary."
"I know, Zade," Ransom said, his voice understanding. "I know."
"You're a madman. You know that, right? You're a god damned fucking madman." Zade shook her head, eyes closed. "Nobody's that noble. Nobody could leave his home to save people he'll never know from creatures that any sane person would fear. Heroes don't really exist. Shit like that only happens in fairy tales."
"Maybe you're right," Ransom replied quietly. "Maybe I am mad. But I can't change who I am."
Zade let out a hollow laugh. "This conversation is pointless, anyway. Lavoids don't exist, and you're just a gifted Human with a strong imagination. If I thought differently, it would be my duty to arrest you for the sake of the Empire."
"Yes," Ransom replied. "It would."
She stared out through the Blackbird's side window, stared out into the mists of Greyspace as the computer flew the ship. She told herself she felt nothing.
Mystician Empire. Uvidas. Uvidas.
Day: 26. Time: 10:05 A.M.
Crystal was the second to leave the ship, after Vonraid. She glanced around warily. Not that she expected any trouble, really. But she was a bodyguard, and she had to be on alert. At first glance, the city looked non-threatening. She took its appearance as an excuse to do some extra investigation.
She closed her left eye and winked her right in a set pattern. Suddenly the city was replaced by a wash of color, ranging from orange people to dark blue buildings. She winked again, just so, switching from infrared vision to ultraviolet, outlining all objects in a violet aura. Another set of winks, and she could see the flow of magic through the city.
She winked again, and found herself staring at a flow of lights running along the streets of an utterly black city. As far as she could tell, living creatures showed up as forms made of light. Nothing else appeared at all. Walls made no difference, she had found; she could see right through them. She had not intentionally included this feature in the construction of the eye. It was the same sort of technology she had used to build the object currently hidden in her satchel.
She winked in one last series, and the silvery orb in her socket reset to its basic function: viewing wavelengths visible to any human eye. She smiled slightly. Her eye was functioning perfectly.
The thought made her glance down at her satchel, made her think about the object inside. She still didn't know what it was, or how it would function. She didn't understand its construction any more than she had understood the mechanism that allowed her cybernetic eye to see living things. But the eye functioned, and she had to believe that the thing in her satchel would, too. If only she could figure out how.
She looked out upon the city of Uvidas. She couldn't help but feel... something. There was a smell in the air.
Time: 10:24 A.M.
"Are you ready, Ransom?"
Rakin nodded lightly, trying not to attract any more interest than necessary. He had shed his MIA uniform in favor of a more low-key outfit: a white shirt, tan pants, and a light gray coat which hung down to his knees. Personally, he preferred it to his uniform.
Zade, on the other hand, was more irritable than usual. She had worn her uniform for so long that she seemed to have forgotten what normal clothes felt like. Rakin's assurances that her simple jacket over jeans and a t-shirt actually suited her did little to cheer her up.
They were waiting in a coffee shop. It was where the drop was supposed to take place, an hour and a half from now. Rakin had enjoyed an omelette, and was considering ordering a muffin. Zade had had five cups of coffee.
Rakin watched Zade absently flex her right arm, the arm which was sheathed in her weapon of choice: the T-Blade. She had tried to get Rakin to pick one up from the Agency, but had finally given up. Rakin simply didn't care for T-Blades. He had not brought a sword either, knowing that it would attract attention. And guns just weren't his style. So, contrary to Zade's most strenuous objections, he had come unarmed.
Now that he was here, however, Rakin was... concerned. He sensed something in the air. Something was going to happen today. Something... big. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw a dark cloud through the huge window that faced the street. Odd; that hadn't been there a few minutes ago.
Time: 10:45 A.M.
"Every time," said the Vagabond as he looked at the wall of water surrounding the city. "Every time humans find a Lavoid, they try to use it to defy the laws of nature. It's the best way to spot a Lavoid infestation."
The four Orphans (including the Vagabond) were walking through the streets of Uvidas, their cloaks drawn closely around them. People on the streets gave them the occasional strange look, but for the most part the Uvidans seemed to be calm people, not easily ruffled by strangers.
"On Greenwaters, there was a city built on the side of a cliff face," Newton remarked to Rana. "Not just a town, mind you. A city. Even had a palace, designed to look like it was sitting on the ground."
Rana shook her head, confused. "But what of Tempestas? No such great works were built there."
"Of course there were," Schala replied disdainfully. "Your settlement was built to withstand corrosive precipitation. No non-native of that planet should have survived there. Only by feeding off of the energy of the Lavoid could your settlement have prospered. Given several decades, your simple settlement could have become a sprawling palatial paradise."
"Until it all came crumbling around your ears," the Vagabond said. "And by then, your people would have been so brainwashed that you would be able to do little more than accept your deaths, lamenting your forsakenness. Be thankful you were saved from that fate."
Rana did not say that her people had been saved from that fate largely because they were all killed by the Pyrrh or Farilii. But she had to forcibly remove her hand from the handle of her blade.
"Save your anger," Schala said quietly, walking beside Rana. "You shall need it for what is to come this day." She pointed upward, toward the center of the city. "The sky darkens."
Time: 11:13 A.M.
"Do you have visual?" Acid demanded over his two-way communicator.
"Negative," replied a MysPol officer. "We are currently fanning out."
"Shit," Acid growled. His T-Blade began to glow, as if reacting to his anger. "Where did he go?" Acid had chased the man until he'd ended up lost among a warren of side streets and alleys. The blue-haired man had simply vanished.
The sound of engines overhead caused him to look up. A MysPol Rat-Catcher flew overhead. As per Ildon's directions, three Rat-Catchers were searching the rooftops, making certain that the suspect didn't simply fly out of danger.
Acid stood still. A foot-long blade extended from beneath the armguard of his T-Blade along the back of his hand. His eyes slid to the left. To the right. He had heard something.
"I know you."
In a blur of motion, Acid spun and his arm shot forward. His energy-wreathed blade stopped a scant inch from the pale throat of a tall, blue-haired Mystic. The Mystic's red-irised eyes remained steady.
"I've seen you before," the caped Mystic continued, as if Acid's weapon wasn't at his neck. "Where?"
"I'm surprised you remember me," Acid spat. "In the chaotic masses, how could you remember one teenage boy?"
The Mystic frowned. "That accent. I only know of one planet where everyone sounds as if they regularly drink scalding water."
"Gelidus," Acid spat. "I'm glad you remember. I'll never forget. Six years ago, monster. Six years since you destroyed my world."
"I remember you now," the Mystic replied. "The boy that wouldn't evacuate."
"My father was still in the palace. I couldn't leave him. Not only did you destroy our home, you wouldn't even let me go back for him."
"Your father was already dead. Everyone in the Palace was."
"I don't believe you."
The Mystic shook his head. "Everyone in the palace was dead by the time the evacuation was announced."
"How do you know that?"
"I killed them all."
Acid leapt forward, driving the blade forward with all of his strength. But as hard as he pushed, as much energy as the T-Blade poured out, the blade could not move an inch closer to the Mystic's neck.
The Mystic didn't move. His expression didn't change. "I'd found out that Gelidus had a Lavoid. I also found evidence that a Mammon machine was nearly complete, which could have resulted in catastrophe. I rushed to the planet, and went to the palace. But I was too late. The denizens had been brainwashed, and tried to stop me from reaching the Machine. I fought my way through them, until there were none left."
Snarling, Acid pulled his blade back and took a frenzied swipe at the Mystic's chest. Again, the Mystic did not move, and again the blade stopped just before making contact. Acid pulled back and attacked again and again. His blade was deflected every time. Finally, frustrated, he reached for the Mystic's collar. No magic impeded the progress of his attack; the Mystic's leather-gloved hand came up faster than Acid believed possible, and grabbed the Agent's wrist.
"As I said," the Mystic continued, "I was late. Too late. The Lavoid had awakened. And he was far more powerful than I had expected. There was only one thing to do: try to get as many people out of harm's way as possible."
"So what you're saying," said Acid with strange calmness, "is that this 'Lavoid' woke up and destroyed my world because you couldn't stop him. Would he have awakened if you hadn't destroyed this 'Mammon machine'?"
The Mystic released Acid's hand. "I don't know."
"That's all I needed to hear you say." Acid held his communicator, which had been active throughout the conversation, closer to his mouth. "All agents move in."
MysPol officers stepped from their hiding places, Peacemakers trained on the blue-haired Mystic. Ildon and Silence appeared from mid-air, as if they had been standing there all along. And they had. Acid smiled grimly, having predicted his prey's move.
The Mystic's red-irised eyes did not leave Acid. "You're very clever," he said quietly, calmly. "But I've been in the business of revenge for a long time. Trust me when I say that it's not worth it. Revenge isn't enough to rebuild a life."
Acid's smile was cold. "You're right. But once you're dead, I'll be able to move on. It'll all end with your life."
The Mystic shook his head. "You're wrong. But I don't have time to argue with you." He reached beneath his cape.
"Fire!" shouted Acid, jumping back from the Mystic. The blade of his T-Blade retracted under the armguard, and he aimed his palm at the object of his hatred. He was the first to fire, a blast of orange energy screaming forth from his palm.
A moment later, every MysPol officer opened fire on the Mystic. Bolts of light streaked toward the criminal from all sides. He had time only to draw his cape around himself before he was lost in a blaze of light. Large holes were burnt through the cape, and the huddled form of the Mystic fell to the ground.
Acid raised his fist to signal a halt to the attack. The sound of blaster fire dwindled and he found himself looking down at a still form, bundled in the cape. A wisp of burnt blue hair escaped from the bundle. Acid growled at the still form.
"You think you can trick me?" he demanded. Enraged, he extended the blade of the T-Blade and took a swipe at the form. The blade cut cleanly through, meeting no resistance. The two halves of the cape fluttered away, leaving no trace of the owner.
Acid pressed his communicator. "Ildon, do you have him!? Do you know where he's gone?"
"We're on his trail, Agent," replied Ildon over the com. "He's on the rooftops. Be patient."
"I want his head," Acid growled. Belatedly, he remembered to add "Captain."
He looked up at the sky and screamed his rage at the growing thundercloud.
Time: 11:24 A.M.
The Magus ducked just in time to avoid a bolt of lightning, allowing it to soar harmlessly over his shoulder. He turned to face his pursuers.
The two Mystics, a green-haired officer and his blond subordinate, landed lightly on the rooftop. They both drew swords as they approached the Magus.
The Magus growled to himself. He'd hoped that, by escaping to the rooftops, he might have been able to avoid a confrontation and conserve energy. But it looked as if he would have to fight after all. He reached behind his back, but thought better of it. He decided to try patience one more time.
"Listen," he said, as calmly as he could manage, "Just leave me alone, and you might live to see tomorrow."
"Interesting," said the green-haired Mystic. "I saw you teleport, but I didn't feel you use any magic. How is that possible?" Before the Magus could reply, the Mystic continued. "Blue hair is a rare trait, even among Mystics. But you're no true Mystic, I can tell. I've heard tales of blue-haired Humans. Of creatures that can use a strange magic unlike the Ether. Of Planeswalkers."
The Magus considered. "If I said I was a Planeswalker, would you go away?"
The green-haired Mystic raised a hand to signal, and the blond Mystic leapt forward, sword in one hand, ball of fire in the other. The Magus pulled a rod out from behind his back, allowing it to extend in an instant into a fully-formed scythe. He brought it up just in time to catch an overhead swipe from the Mystic's blade. In that same instant, he turned, dodging the Mystic's fireball and allowing him to stumble past.
Before the Magus could bring his scythe to bear on his opponent, he received one of those gut feelings that had saved his life so often in the past. He leapt in the air, allowing the green-haired Mystic's blade to swipe harmlessly beneath his boots. The Magus used a small burst of magic to propel himself briefly through the air, allowing him to dodge a second blast of lightning.
He landed lightly, facing the two Mystics. The green-haired one gave him an appraising look. "You don't seem like a destroyer of planets to me. Why don't you fight back?"
"You're not the ones I'm after." The Magus' expression hardened. "But make no mistake. If you don't leave me alone, I will kill you."
"Who are you after, then?"
The Magus turned and began to walk away. "I suggest you leave the planet now, before the evacuation starts. Things may get... dangerous, soon."
"I'm afraid we can't let you leave," replied the green-haired Mystic. The Magus didn't slow. "Halt, or we will shoot."
The first shot cleared the Magus' shoulder, finally bringing him to a halt. He turned his head to glare at them over his shoulder. The green-haired Mystic still had a blaster trained on him. The Magus' eyes narrowed.
"I'm leaving. Try that again, and you're a dead man."
For a long moment, they stared at each other. The green-haired Mystic's finger tightened on the blaster's firing stud.
At just that moment, the Magus received another flash of intuition. "Chaos Shield!" he shouted.
A red sphere of light flashed into existence around him just as a thousand beams of dark energy rained from the sky above, engulfing him and the two Mystics.
Time: 11:27 A.M.
"What was that?" asked Rakin.
Zade looked up from her coffee. "I didn't hear anything."
Rakin stood, leaving his half-eaten muffin on its plate. "Something's not right." He looked out of the window, toward the center of the city. The dark cloud he had seen earlier had become billowing darkness. Even as he watched, the edges of the darkness pushed ever outward.
Zade rose and moved to join him at the window. "I've never seen a storm gather that quickly. I don't remember any abnormal weather conditions being mentioned on this planet."
Rakin shook his head. "This world's infested. We need to move out. Now."
"What about our mission?" she demanded quietly.
"Not important any more."
"You're an Agent," Zade replied, angrily. "You have a duty to carry out your-"
Rakin grabbed Zade by the collar of her jacket and pulled her face-to-face with him. "Zade, there is a Lavoid here. If we don't act quickly, people will die. We need to evacuate the city as quickly as possible." He looked around at the people in the café, hoping that they had listened. All eyes were on him and Zade. When he looked at them, though, everyone immediately averted their eyes.
Rakin returned his attention to Zade to find her trying to break his grip on her jacket. For some reason she, too, avoided eye contact with him. She pointed out of the window. "That's a fucking storm cloud, Ransom. Just a cloud. There are no god damned Lavoids!"
Rakin released Zade and stared through the window. He looked up just in time to see the cloud blot out the sun, leaving the city bathed in darkness. A piercing whine caught Rakin's attention.
Acting on instinct, he raised both arms, his hands fisted. There were cries of surprise as everyone else in the café rose into the air, including Zade. Rakin thrust one arm forward, and the large window blew outward in a shower of glass. He thrust the other forward, and all of the floating people were sent hurtling through the open window, rolling roughly into the street. Many of them would have scrapes and bruises, but they would survive.
By the time Rakin leapt out of the window, the whine had become a scream. A large half-sphere of energy crashed into the small café with a roar, obliterating it and destroying the foundation of a building behind it. The building tumbled slowly to the ground, accompanied by the screams of passersby on the street.
A single creature, pitch-black but man-shaped, landed in the ruins of the café and surveyed its work. It never saw Rakin Guardia leap out of the dust of the fallen building. A kick from behind shattered its neck, and it fell limply to the ground. The unnatural twist of its neck allowed it to look up at Rakin.
For a moment, Rakin stared down at the black face, devoid of any features save the large, insect-like violet eyes. Even its gender could not be determined. He was sickened to see the head begin to turn around, to hear the neck begin to repair itself.
Before the creature could regenerate its neck fully, Rakin knelt and drove his fist into the creature's face with all the power he could muster. Only afterward, as he removed his hand from what remained of its skull, did he notice a faint yellow glow around his own body. It quickly faded.
He turned to see Zade standing before him, her T-blade trained on his head. Behind her stood the survivors of the café, confused and afraid. Rakin lamented that he had not been able to protect the people of the now-collapsed building, but even he had limits, right?
Not according to Spekkio, he couldn't help thinking.
Rakin stared at Zade, her weapon still trained on him. "Well," he said quietly, "are you going to arrest me, or shoot me right here?"
The energy blast screamed past Rakin, and he turned to see a black creature fall to the ground, its head sporting a smoking hole. He turned back to Zade.
"I can arrest you later," she said briskly. "We've got people to evacuate. Now what the fuck were those things?"
"I've killed thousands of Farilii in my time. They're abominations, and
I destroy them every chance I get. But maybe the reason why I hate them so
much is that they're not so different from me..."