StarCrossed Chapter 17


By Cain

Mystician Empire. Uvidas. Uvidas.

Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 26. Time: 12: 10 P.M.

Ildon awoke, and smelled charred flesh.

He opened his eyes, confused. He couldn't remember where he was or what he had been doing. Panic began to rise in him, until his military mind took over and coldly reminded him to take stock of himself.

He was lying in rubble, perhaps the remains of some sort of building. There were explosions going on overhead, providing the main source of light against a surprisingly dark sky. He was breathing normally. Having cleared his head a bit, he didn't notice any immediate signs of concussion.

He did, however, have a corpse lying on top of him.

Revolted, he attempted to push the charred body off of himself, and nearly passed out from the sudden pain in his left shoulder. He instantly recognized what was probably a serious sprain or dislocation. Still, the pain wasn't enough to distract him for long from the task of extricating himself from under this burnt body.

Using his right arm, Ildon managed to shove the corpse to the side, allowing him to sit up. This immediately brought more pain in his left shoulder, but he quickly grabbed his left arm and pinned it to his body in an attempt to lessen the pressure on the shoulder. Having accomplished this task, he looked up at the explosions above and attempted to figure out what was going on.

Beams of light, streams of fire, and streaks of lightning jumped through the air in every direction. At first there seemed to be nobody actually casting these spells; they seemed to jump from midair. Soon, though, the brief flashes that these spells gave off allowed him to see that there were indeed casters: dark humanoid creatures, nearly invisible against the dark sky above. Dozens of them.

Another figure, this one much easier to make out, flew among the black creatures, throwing spells of its own. Ildon soon recognized him as the blue-haired man that he and Silence had been chasing-

Ildon's heart skipped a beat. Silence.

Nearly forgetting his shoulder, Ildon scrambled to his knees and shuffled over to the charred corpse which he had just recently pushed aside. He searched for signs that this blackened thing had once been his first officer and longtime friend, but could find nothing. It had been charred beyond recognition.

He remembered, though. In the last moments before the lights had flashed down from above, Silence had tackled Ildon and held him to the rooftop. Silence had shielded Ildon from the blast with his own body. And, Ildon realized, even when the roof had collapsed and they had fallen into the rubble below, Silence, or what was left of him, had stayed with his captain, had probably shielded him from falling debris.

Captain Ildon knelt over his lost friend and mourned another soul lost to duty. He mourned, while gods fought on above him.

Time: 12:14 P.M.

They weren't quite farilii, the Magus knew. Farilii varied very little between Lavoids, and they were always blue. These black creatures, whatever they were, had been the result of special effort on the part of this Lavoid. They had the power and healing factor of farilii, but with a black, featureless body that blurred their location and made them all but invisible against the blackened sky.

But they died all the same.

One such creature was no doubt surprised as it had its head removed from its shoulders by a scythe sweep from behind. The Magus flew on, ignoring the falling corpse; even they couldn't recover from a clean beheading.

There were countless creatures in the city, a veritable army. In this area alone he had killed well over a dozen, and they kept coming. In fact, for every creature he killed, two arrived to take its place, like reinforcements. They probably have a hive mentality of some sort, he thought. That meant, of course, that they would ultimately overwhelm him unless he could manage to escape this endless battle and find the source. Killing the Lavoid would probably not result in the instant death of these creatures, but most of the Lavoids' genetically engineered killing machines lost the will to live without their Lavoid masters. It was the ones that sought revenge that were the most troublesome.

He abruptly banked to the left, narrowly avoiding a bolt of lightning which he had thankfully sensed coming. These creatures, like most Lavoid-related beings, channeled Chaos energy, a force of magic quite different from the types most humans and Mystics used, often called the Winds. As far as the Magus could tell, Chaos relied on some external power source, though even he had yet to fathom what this source was. In fact, it was not long ago that he had been unable to channel Chaos at all, and that simple bolt would likely have injured or even killed him had that not changed. Only with the help of the Dreamstone Heart, which he now constantly wore as a pendant beneath his jerkin, had he begun to understand this type of magic. He suspected that, without the traces of Lavoid energy running through his veins, even the Heart would not have been able to help him.

His sharp night vision abruptly caught something far below, on the ground. He cut off the flow of some of his magic, and his flight suddenly ceased, allowing him to free-fall. A few well-practiced movements allowed him to dodge the attacks of nearby creatures as he fell without having to use any magic. A moment before he hit the ground, he allowed the magic to flow full-force, stopping in mid-air as if caught by an invisible net. He let go again, and landed easily on his feet. In one smooth movement, he bent, picked up the now-tattered cape he had left at the feet of the Agent, and fastened it over his shoulders. That's better, he thought.

His senses alerted him again, and again a sphere of red light came into being around him just before the skies rained energy. This deadly precipitation decimated everything within a twenty-foot radius, including the remnants of the last nearby building. The entire area was enveloped in a fine dust.

And then the rain came again, as a second creature cast the same spell. Everything in the area was leveled.

The creatures probably felt as close to surprise as they were currently able when they saw the dust clear to reveal the Magus, unharmed, standing on a small circle of unharmed pavement. The last vestiges of the Chaos Shield (so named because it defended him from most Chaos energy; it was also cast with Chaos, though he was currently trying to figure out how to cast the same spell with the Winds) evaporated into the air around him, giving him a temporary red aura. He shook his head. "Ray Blossom?" he asked, contemptuous. "Please."

With no further taunts, he thrust his arms out to each side and coldly said "Blood Ray." Crimson rays of energy sprayed from each hand as if they could not be contained. Rather than destroying more of the area to the sides of the Magus, however, these rays made sharp turns upward, aiming directly at the two creatures.

These two were not stupid. They could see that the rays were all coming toward them at an upward angle, meaning that they had one escape route: approaching the caster himself. Without hesitation, they plunged downward directly toward the Magus.

The rays were faster than anticipated, however, and seemed to be directed by the caster. They turned to follow the creatures' trajectories. One of the two lagged behind, and the rays pierced it again and again until there was nothing left of it. The remaining one knew that there was no turning back and flew downward at full speed, no doubt hoping to take the Magus with it. Occasional rays reached it and pierced it, but nowhere it couldn't regenerate. At one point, it lost a leg, but that didn't slow it down. The creature was nearly upon the Magus, with death snapping at its heels.

It probably never knew how it abruptly lost its head, except that it heard some sort of high-pitched whine, almost musical. Without magic to force it downward so quickly, air resistance immediately slowed the now-headless body, which was torn to shreds by the crimson rays. Then the rays themselves turned sharply, before they could hit the Magus himself, and flew upward in a random pattern, hopefully to catch some unsuspecting creatures flying above.

The Magus waited a moment, then raised one hand. A high-pitched, singing sound slowly grew louder as a small object approached from the air. It slapped against the Magus' glove, its singing ceased. He examined the object.

It was a weapon of his own design, based loosely upon chakrams. Rather than a solid, ring-shaped blade, however, this device sported two curved scythe-like blades, each attached to either end of a sinusoidal handle. He hadn't thought of anything to call it yet, but he was sure he'd come up with something good.

His satisfaction at having pulled off the Blood Ray/beheading trick (it worked every time) was short-lived, however, as he saw more reinforcements heading his way. This force seemed to be larger than most of the others; his Blood Ray had attracted too much attention.

"Meredith," he growled as he pressed a switch on his earring, "find me that Lavoid."

Time: 12:20 P.M.

"Will do, Janus," Meredith replied, certain he could hear her through the two-way communicator she had built into his earring.

What she didn't tell him was that she had been trying to do just that since they had arrived on the planet, and she was having no luck whatsoever. It was not unusual for sensors to fail to pick up readings of Chaos; Janus had told her that the Lavoids he was hunting were mutants, and that they somehow gave off no emanations that could be detected easily or at all, even with computers they had built using bits and pieces of LEA blueprints.

However, the Dreamstone Heart had provided a solution to that. The Heart was capable of sensing even the mutant Lavoids, on a macro-scale at least. Janus had simply to come within two-hundred miles of a planet to know whether it contained a Lavoid, though the Heart didn't reveal its exact location or power level. Meredith had also tried to rig up a system in her computer to duplicate and perhaps enhance that ability, but its first test-run was resulting in nothing but error messages.

Usually, the people themselves would lead them to a Lavoid, given enough time, but things had gone to hell too quickly this time. It usually took days or even weeks to find a Lavoid; she might have hours, at most, before the city was decimated. And even Janus couldn't escape the city alive if the power generators failed, along with the force-fields which held back the ocean.

And there was her answer, of course. A force-field like that would require more power than any nuclear plant she had ever seen. True, some experimental plants had been created that blended magic, atomic energy, and TEARS for an incredibly powerful energy source, but they had all been created further toward the center of the Empire. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, the Empire wouldn't have bothered.

So, all she had to do was trace the power lines leading from the force-field generators. If she could trace them, she-

The ship suddenly lurched. Her heart-rate doubled in an instant. The ship was under attack.

"J-janus," she stuttered, "I think I'm in t-trouble."

"Use the guns," he calmly replied over the com. "That's why we had them installed."

Another lurch. "But I c-c-can't."

"Meredith, you've got to get over this fear of hurting things. It's you or them."

"B-but I-I-I..." her stutter broke down until it no longer resembled speech and she was nearly sobbing. "I... I-"

"I'll be right there," Janus interrupted tersely, and said nothing more.

Meredith's breathing began to slow a bit. "Thank you," she said quietly into the com, though she didn't expect or receive a reply.

The ship lurched again, but she tried to ignore it as she got back to work. Janus was coming to help. Fighting was his job, after all, and finding that Lavoid was hers. She wasn't going to let him down.

Time: 12: 38 P.M.

Newton was awestruck.

He was by far the weakest link in the group, he now knew. He had hardly needed to bloody his Lacryma, because his three comrades were doing all the work.

Rana fought like a woman possessed, screaming with fury at the farilii-like creatures she killed. Her voice had already gone raw, but she didn't seem to notice. Her sword was unstoppable, cleaving foe and spell alike, making her all but invincible. Newton tried to watch her back, but he generally ended up staying out of her way. She saw nothing now but her enemies.

Newton had known that Schala and the Vagabond were powerful, but he had not realized the true extent of their abilities. The Vagabond didn't fight like Rana, in a wild rage; instead, he fought with a controlled fury, keeping his movements fast, tight, and effective. He moved too quickly for Newton to follow at times, and wielded his twin claws with such power that each swipe maimed or killed a creature.

Schala, on the other hand, showed no rage, no fury, no emotion. She fought calmly and gracefully, as if performing a dance. She obviously used magically augmented strength, as she wielded a sword taller than herself one-handed. But there was no brute force in her fighting style; she spun, dodged, and swung her weapon as if the battle had been scripted ahead of time. She used no more and no less force than was absolutely necessary. Whereas the Vagabond seemed to be a killing machine, Schala was a mistress of the art of swordplay.

Newton wondered what he could have to add to this group. He had not the anger of Rana, the skill of Schala, nor the raw physical prowess of the Vagabond. All he could do was watch Rana's back and try not to get himself killed.

Time: 12:54 P.M.

Rakin saw fear in the man's eyes.

The white-robed man was one of the civilians sneaking through the streets under Rakin's and Zade's protection. He had tripped and fallen behind, and Rakin had stopped to help him to his feet. The man had gladly grabbed his hand, until he looked up and saw the one helping him up...

For a brief moment, Rakin saw the fear in the man's eyes. It wasn't fear of the situation, or of the creatures flying overhead that could spot them at any moment. It was fear of the man standing above him. Of Rakin.

The man let go of Rakin's hand as if burnt, and ran on to catch up with the others.

Rakin stared after him, the look of fear still etched in his vision. He had saved some of these people from the destruction of the café, had picked up others on the street, including that man. He had killed black creatures with his bare hands to protect the humans... And this man feared him.

"They... they don't understand you." Rakin looked up to see Zade standing next to him. The civilians were standing nearby, but not close enough to hear her quiet speech. "People fear what they don't understand."

Rakin shook his head slightly. "But I... I'm just trying to help them. I'm strong and all, but... I'm just another human, like them."

"Are you?"

Before Rakin could respond, the civilians suddenly reacted to something out of his eyesight. Some waved, while others cowered. None were stupid enough to make any noise. Rakin pushed through the group to see what had excited them.

Five people were standing in the street before them, in plain sight. They all wore the same white, flowing clothes that seemed to be popular on Uvidas. But there was something... odd about them. It wasn't that they were threatening. In fact, they seemed familiar.

They approached Rakin, as a group. He slipped into a fighting stance, ready to defend himself and the civilians behind him, but as soon as he did so the strangers stopped. Once Rakin realized that they seemed to mean him no harm, he relaxed. Instantly, they again approached him, until they stood about ten feet away, allowing him to get a good look at them.

They were somewhat unsettling. It wasn't that they appeared threatening or frightened or urgent... it was that they seemed to be none of these. They all had the same peaceful expression, as if they were out on a stroll and had merely come across somebody they recognized. One of them, an average-looking brown-haired man, stepped forward.

"Are you the Second Swordsman?" he asked simply.

Rakin blinked, surprised. The Swordsman had been the leader of the Holy Swords, an army created by Spekkio... for Rakin. The first Swordsman had been executed, years ago. Since then, the Holy Swords had been lying in wait, expecting a new leader, a new Swordsman. The Second Swordsman.

Rakin felt the hand of Spekkio tugging at the strings of his future, and chafed at it.

"My name is Rakin Guardia," he replied in response to the question. "But if you're Holy Swords... then I think I'm the one you've been waiting for."

A second man, this one tall and blond, smiled placidly. "We are glad to have finally found you, Second. Do you wish to wield us?"

Rakin was confused for only a moment. If he was the Swordsman, and they were the Swords... The man was referring to himself as a weapon, and asking for a target. Rakin suppressed a shiver.

"Yes," Rakin replied hesitantly, "I have need of you. Tell me, how many of you are there on this world?"

"We five are the only ones here," replied an attractive blonde woman. A second woman, so alike to the first that they could be twins, continued, "The Swords have spread themselves throughout the Empire, hoping to find the Second. We had heard rumors of his presence, but we did not expect to be the first to serve."

Rakin frowned. He had five soldiers, then. Only five soldiers. Well, if he had them, he ought at least to use them. He tried to ignore the unpleasant feeling brought about by that thought.

"Fine, then. First, lead me to a place where these people behind me will be safe. After that, well... we'll see."

"Wield us as you will, Second," the five replied in unison, and Rakin had to fight a feeling of sickness.

Time: 1:33 P.M.

"Do you see anything, Quicksilver?"

Crystal glanced around the corner of a the building, searching the street for the black creatures. She didn't immediately see any, but these things were hard to see. To be safe, she activated her cybernetic eye's heat vision. With it in operation, she spotted two creatures, walking along the road. They weren't causing random destruction, like most that she had seen; these two were apparently hunting for those who were in hiding.

"There are two," she whispered back to Vonraid. "I believe they're searching for survivors. I don't think we can hide from them."

"Your plan?" asked the Dashor Sal.

"I'll fight them. You take Rastaban back to the ship. If I'm not there when you reach it, leave without me."

Vonraid nodded, and extended his hand. Crystal grabbed it, and was surprised to be pulled into a tight hug. Vonraid drew back and stared at her with his multi-faceted eyes. His antennae expressed concern that he did not allow his words to share. "May you live well and die with honor."

"May you always be sheltered from the storm," Crystal replied. She turned, then, and walked into the street.

She stood in the middle of the road, in plain sight. With her heat vision, she could see the two creatures halt briefly, then immediately rush toward her. She glanced back over her shoulder to see Vonraid running away, dragging Rastaban behind him. She silently wished them well.

She turned back to face her enemies, and returned her vision to normal human wavelength. She knew where they were, now, could sense them. The infrared would only have gotten in her way. They were still approaching her on foot. She smiled. They should have taken to the air.

Her grin feral, Crystal ran to meet the creatures.

Surprised at her aggressiveness, only one of the creatures had the presence of mind to cast a spell. A lightning bolt struck from above, but Crys was running far too quickly for the spell's aim to be anywhere near correct. They had no time to do anything else before Crys ran between them, clotheslining each of them with outstretched arms.

She skidded to a halt as the creatures were thrown to the pavement, stunned. She didn't wait for them to get up, however. One of the creatures had actually flipped over backward from the concussion and landed face-down, so that its legs were within easy reach. She immediately bent over and grabbed it by one leg. With little effort, she picked it up and spun around, swinging the creature in a wide arc. The second creature had time only to rise up to one knee before its partner slammed into it with crushing force.

Crys watched the two creatures slowly climb to their feet, obviously injured. But even as she watched, crooked limbs straightened. Crystal kicked herself, mentally. They were regenerating at an amazing speed, so much so that even leaving them alone for a few seconds had cost her.

This time, the two were smart enough not to come charging at her. Rather, they both slipped into the same stance, like mirror images, with their hands forming bowls aimed at Crys. Red energy began to gather in the creatures' palms.

Well, Crystal thought, it's time to give this hand a test-drive.

Twin beams of red light screamed toward Crystal, crossing the short distance in less than a second. Crys turned her body so that one of the beams flew right by her, so close that she felt as if her breasts had been singed through her t-shirt. The other beam hit her head on...

...and vanished as soon as it touched her adamantine hand. All that remained of the attack was the smell of ozone in the air. The three of them stood and stared at each other for a moment, the creatures surprised that their attacks had been so ineffective at such close range, and Crys pleasantly surprised that her hand had done what it was supposed to do.

The building directly behind Crystal abruptly exploded in a shower of glass and concrete, no doubt a result of the beam she had dodged. Crys ducked and shielded herself with her arms, and the creatures took the opportunity to take to the air.

Once airborne, they immediately split up, each flying along the street in opposite directions. At some predetermined distance from Crys, they both stopped and turned to face her. Like reflections of each other, they both lifted both arms to the side. Their hands began to shine with yellow light.

Crystal wasn't familiar with this spell, of course, as she didn't know much about magic. But, either through battle experience or through the intuition she had learned to trust, she somehow could tell what they were planning. Each would fire two blasts, one from each hand, probably with a slight stagger to allow for the direction in which she'd dodge. If she was hit by any of the four blasts, she'd at least be stunned, possibly injured. One hit, and she'd be easy pickings. The question was, how many blasts could she dodge or block?

Guess I'll find out, she thought.

Surprisingly, she didn't have to. There was a blur as something flew by one of the creatures too quickly for Crys to figure out what it was, and a moment later the creature had fallen to the ground, in two pieces. Crys turned to see the other lose its head to a precision blast of energy from below.

Surprised at the assistance, Crys waited for the warriors to show themselves. They arrived within a few seconds, one descending from the sky, the other stepping into sight from behind the rubble of a building.

They were twins, Crys noticed as they approached from both sides. Female, blonde, and attractive, they were dressed in the flowing white clothes Crys had often seen on the passersby in this city.

"Who are you?" Crystal asked, forgoing niceties. She could afford to thank them after she knew what they were about.

One moved so that they both stood side by side before her. They were slightly shorter than Crys, and lacked her noble appearance, but they each had the sort of sensual beauty that tended to make other women gossip enviously. They both smiled and bowed.

"We are Holy Swords," one of them said in a light, ethereal-sounding voice. "I am Epsil, and this is my sister, Upsil."

"Real creative. What are Holy Swords?"

"We are warriors of the army of the Swordsman," one of them (Upsil?) replied. "But it is strange. We thought we had met the Second Swordsman several minutes ago, but you shine as he does. Can there be two Swordsmen?"

"I... shine?" Crys began to suspect that these women were not completely sane. Their calm facial expressions and even, if eerie, tones of voice didn't seem to fit in this hellish battlefield.

"Perhaps we should take her to the other," one of the twins said to the other.

"Yes. One of them must be the Second. This matter should be settled."

"I'm not going anywhere with you two," Crystal interrupted. "I have a job to do. I've got to get to the starport."

"The starport has been destroyed," one of the twins replied. "It was the first major installation destroyed. The only ships going into or out of the city are at the evacuation center, two miles from here. This is also where the other shining one should be."

Crys scowled. She would have a better chance of finding Rastaban at the evac center than she would wandering the streets. "Fine. I'll come with you. But I don't want any part of this mysticism you're babbling on about."

"Very well. I shall go retrieve the man hiding a block away, and we shall go to the evacuation center."

"Oh, Drissom?" Crys snorted. "Don't bother. He'll follow me anyway. He has been for some time. Let him keep thinking I don't know he's there. Now lead the way."

The twins bowed, turned away from her, and began to walk down the broken street.

Time: 1:39 P.M.

Drissom tried to ignore his pounding heart as the three women walked by, oblivious to his presence. He stared after them with a snarl, stared at the girl. He briefly raised his crossbow as if to fire at her back, but let the weapon drop back down to his side. If he missed, that girl would kill him, he knew. And even if he didn't miss, he'd have trouble defending himself from these two newcomers afterward.

He looked up at the dark sky, mentally cursing the girl. She had led him here, to this deathtrap. If what those two women had said was true, his ship had already been destroyed. His only hope for survival now was to follow them to the evacuation center and hope he could catch a ship offworld without being seen by her or Rastaban.

He left the shadows, trying to follow them without being too conspicuous himself. Drissom had several lifetimes worth of practice at hiding, and he was putting all of his skills to use.

Still, he couldn't help muttering under his breath, a habit he had picked up over the time since he had begun followed this girl. Quietly, he told her what he was going to do to her when he finally got his hands on her. Drissom could be a gentle lover when he wanted to be... but this girl had made him angry, and she was going to pay him back for all the inconvenience she'd caused him. He just had to be patient.

"Good things come to those who wait," he whispered to himself as he stalked his prey.

Time: 1:44 P.M.

A group of about twenty civilians, many of whom wore white, flowing garments, walked and climbed along the ruined pavement. Rakin led them carefully, his senses extended to detect any incoming threat. If anything came at them, it was up to Rakin to make certain these people reached the evacuation center alive.

Rakin didn't slow as Harold appeared out of thin air next to him. "Report," Rakin ordered, his eyes still searching the sky.

"We have found twelve more civilians, Second," replied Harold in his strange, otherworldly voice. "They have all been taken to the evacuation center."

"And the troops?"

"Varien's leg was injured, but he has already healed it and begun to search again. John is running low on energy, but he and I have yet to allow a ship to be shot down. However, I fear that once the creatures find the evacuation center, they will attack until we are overwhelmed. Agent Zade is doing her part as well, organizing the civilians into an effective militia. We could use more energy weapons, but..."

"What about Upsil and Epsil?"

The man frowned. "Their mental report was strange, Second. They claim to have found another who shines like you. I told them that that can not be, but they insisted."

"Give them some credit, Harold," replied Rakin. "They're Holy Swords, just as you are. Besides, I know of at least one other with my power. Did the twins tell you this other was a woman?"

"Yes, Second."

"Thought so. Tell me when she's at the evac center, and make sure she stays there until I arrive."

"But, Second, if her power is like yours, how can we hold her where she does not wish to be? We are but Swords, not Swordsmen."

"I'll try not to take too long, Harold. But if she is who I think she is, we might be able to save the city after all." Rakin took a moment to look over at Harold. "You should get back to John. I've got these people covered."

Harold bowed, and vanished mid-step, as if he had never been there.

Rakin shook his head, still unused to having warriors at his call. He had to give Spekkio credit. These warriors were powerful, doing things with their energy that Rakin had never considered. They were also obedient, following his orders without hesitation from the moment they found him. Rakin couldn't help wondering what Spekkio had promised them to ensure such obedience. Spekkio wouldn't have promised them anything immoral. Would he?

Rakin pushed aside that thought for the moment, as worrying about it would only distract him from protecting the civilians who followed behind him, scared and confused, but strangely quiet. They had seen him dispatch four of the black creatures at one time, and many of them were more afraid of him than of the malevolent things roaming the city.

Rakin couldn't blame them, now that he thought about it. After meeting some of the Holy Swords, he was beginning to see how unsettling he himself could be to regular people. The calm assurance with which the Holy Swords carried themselves at all times gave the impression that they were slightly inhuman, immune to the emotions that plagued lesser folk. It wasn't that they were cold. They, like Rakin, simply had a feel for the flow of time and life. Knowing as much as he did about the past, the future, and the people around him, it was difficult for Rakin to feel very concerned about or involved in the present. As a result, Rakin found himself distant from the very people he was trying to protect.

Could I give up every connection to humanity, if it meant saving people? he wondered. Immediately, he shook his head. Of course I couldn't! If I lost what makes me human, I'd be no better than the Lavoids I'm trying to fight.

He looked over his shoulder, at the frightened people who were following him to what they could only hope was safety. None of them would even meet his gaze. Rakin faced forward again, his heart heavy at the thought of what he might have already lost. He found himself wondering how much he'd have to sacrifice to save the people around him.

Spekkio had said he could become a god, but he didn't want that. He only wanted enough power to save everyone. How would he know where to draw the line? How could he save what mattered without losing it himself? Maybe it wasn't possible.

Rakin scowled. Maybe it was impossible, but he'd be damned if he'd accept that without a fight. He was Rakin Guardia. And that meant something.

Time: 2:10 P.M.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" exclaimed the red-haired child. "If you know where the Lavoid is, why do we not go destroy it now?"

"It's not that simple, Valiod," the Magus replied.

They were standing side by side on the roof of the evacuation center, watching the sky. So far, only a few of the black creatures had attacked the center directly. Thanks to the efforts of the Holy Swords, the creatures were constantly being drawn away from the center. If too many of them died near the center itself, reinforcements would come... and then there would be no hiding the large human presence here. So the Magus did what he could to subtly redirect the creatures away from the center whenever they came too close.

"Meredith," he said as he pressed his earring, "are you back yet?" He received no answer, and mentally cursed. No doubt their ship was still at the End of Time (or Greyspace, as the people of the Empire called it), ferrying refugees to the nearest Greystation. All of the ships that had survived the destruction of the starport were now involved in various stages of that same operation. Most of these ships were small, which was both a blessing and a curse; while they were much more likely to escape the notice of the farilii-like beings, they also had a smaller carrying capacity. The Magus was painfully aware that this Second Swordsman was rescuing too many people off of the streets; there was no way that all of the refugees currently packed into the evacuation center would make it off-world.

"Why is it not simple?" Valiod demanded.

"That Lavoid is currently the power source that holds up the force-fields around the city," the Magus explained with as much patience as he could manage. "If we destroy it, the fields fail and the city floods."

"What does that matter to you? I've seen you fly. Surely you could protect yourself and any who fought with you from the flood."

"First, I'm not sure I could outrun a mile-high wall of water rushing toward me. Second, even though this evac center has an air supply in the case of a flood, the people inside would probably suffocate by the time we found ships capable of going underwater. Third... I'm not sure we can handle the Lavoid by ourselves."

"So you propose to wait for this 'Swordsman,' then? Do you expect him to have a plan?" Valiod obviously considered this unlikely.

"It's possible. But even if he doesn't, he's in control of these Holy Swords. And from what I've seen of them, I wouldn't mind having them watch my back while we go after the Lavoid."

"That would leave your precious refugees unprotected, you realize."

"Once we begin the attack on the Lavoid, this place won't be in danger anymore. All of the Lavoid's forces will come after us."

"Very comforting, I'm sure." Valiod scowled off in the direction of the power plant near the center of the city, the most probable location of the Lavoid according to Meredith's calculations. "Tell me, when did you start caring so much about these humans, anyway? They're of no use to us."

"Just looking out for my partner," the Magus replied evenly. "She pilots the ship, and if I let these people die, she'll never work for me again."

"Your partner? A human woman?"

"I don't see why you're complaining anyway, Valiod. Since you're the Vagabond, you should be happy that you're going to be getting so many new recruits for your Orphanage."

"I would sacrifice any number of Orphans for one Lavoid, Janus," Valiod replied. "The Lavoid is my priority."

"I thought like that, once," said the Magus.

"And what happened to you?"

"I grew up."

Valiod, no doubt angered at what he perceived as a joke at his appearance, turned and walked to the stairs leading below, into the center. The Magus absently wondered if Valiod would ever understand the truth of that statement, but he couldn't make himself care that much. Instead, he continued to stare at the sky, watching for danger. And for Meredith.

Time: 2:17 P.M.

The inside of the evacuation center was surprisingly empty considering that it housed nearly all of the city's surviving population. It had been designed to hold more than two thousand people; it currently held little more than a hundred, according to best estimates. It was difficult to tell, because the main power had been shut off at some point, leaving them all to make do with the sparsely placed emergency lights, and a few portable lamps that had been found in storage below. The refugees gathered in groups wherever there was light, at the same time emphasizing just how much dark and empty space there was in between them.

Crystal sat with Rastaban and Vonraid, sharing the light of a lamp with them. The other refugees had seen clearly enough that the woman and the Dashor Sal were fighters of some sort, and obviously foreigners, and so none of the white-clothed men or women approached the three figures too closely. This was just as well, as none of them were in the mood for company.

Rastaban's ship had been destroyed long before he and Vonraid were able to reach the starport, along with all of the cargo. Now they could do nothing but wait for one of the ships to land again, and try to push their way through the throngs to be the first on the ship. Everyone here knew that the longer they stayed here, the greater the chance that the creatures would find them. The warriors wandering around calling themselves Holy Swords were hardly comforting, as the other three were just as disturbing as the twins that had led Crystal to this place. Vonraid had told Crys that there were other warriors here, but they were largely absent, and Crys had not even seen them.

A slight flick of Vonraid's antennae gave Crystal warning enough that she was not surprised when a hand tapped her shoulder from behind. She looked up to see one of the twins standing over her. "Come," she said. "The Second has arrived, and he gathers the warriors."

Crystal glanced at Vonraid, wanting to see his reaction. Subtly, he pointed at her, then gestured toward the blond woman. I'll stay here and look after Rastaban, he was telling her. You investigate our situation.

Crys rose to her feet and followed the woman to a side door, into a room that had once been used for storage. Now a makeshift table had been constructed out of emergency supply boxes, and a map was tacked to the wall. An overhead light buzzed contentedly, strangely functional despite the lack of electricity elsewhere in the center. This room had been converted to a war room.

Crystal noticed these things only peripherally, however. Her attention was truly riveted by the smell.

She knew these people, she thought, as she looked around the room. The blue-haired man, the red-haired child, a woman that looked like Crys herself, and even the green-haired woman seemed vaguely familiar. Their smells assailed her, reminded her of memories just below the surface, things she almost knew. These were her comrades, she knew, and they seemed as surprised to see her as she was to see them.

She would not have noticed the door opening behind her had it not been accompanied by a new smell, one familiar to her. It smelled of everything and of nothing ever found in this universe. Short of breath, she turned and found herself looking into a pair of green eyes.

"It's good to see you again," he said.

For a moment, she forgot the familiar strangers, forgot the past that always hid itself from her, forgot the strange dreams and the portraits that had drawn themselves... and in the moment she forgot them, they returned of their own accord, coherent and complete. Chris had finally found herself.

But more importantly, she thought as she threw her arms around Rakin and held him with all the strength she had, she had found home.

"What has been found is appreciated more than what has been had all along." -Dashor Sal Proverb

Chapter 18
Cain's Fanfiction