StarCrossed Chapter 18
Mystician Empire. Uvidas. Uvidas.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 26. Time: 2:22 P.M.
Now alone in the war room, Rakin and Christina held each other close.
Chris couldn't seem to make herself let go of Rakin. His smell, the feel of his arms around her... She had finally found what had been missing for two years, and now she didn't ever want to risk losing it again.
"Don't worry," Rakin said quietly. "I'm not going anywhere."
Chris raised her head to look up into his eyes, his... beautiful green eyes. "I missed you," she told him, her voice trembling. "I missed you so much."
Rakin raised a hand, placed it on her cheek. His hands were callused, a bit sweaty. Was he nervous? Regardless, the contact seemed to warm her face, like a roaring fire. The heat spread down from her face, throughout the rest of her body.
"You're blushing," he remarked, smiling.
She gave him a punch on the shoulder with her human hand. "And you're not. You look so calm, one would think you were expecting me."
"I was. My partner and I came to arrest you, though she didn't think I knew that."
"Arrest me? What are you, MysPol?"
"MIA." His expression became a bit stern. "And what are you doing stealing adamantine, anyway? Don't you know it's punishable by death?"
Chris release him and backed up a step, folding her arms beneath her breasts. "I was relieving some corrupt officials of their ill-gotten gains, and trying to use the proceeds to protect civilians. What are you doing in the MIA, working for the Empire? Don't you know how oppressive the Empire is?"
Rakin chuckled. "Obviously, we're going to have to keep an eye on each other."
Chris' tense posture loosened, and she smiled. "Now there's an idea I can agree with. You obviously can't get along without me."
"That reminds me," Rakin said, reaching into a pocket. "You told me to bring this back to you." He pulled a chain from his pocket and held it by each end, the locket dangling from the mid-point. He stepped closer and put his arms around Chris' neck, attempting to fasten the chain.
Chris reached up and grabbed his wrists, gently pulling them away from her neck. "It was you I wanted back, not the locket. Do me a favor, and keep both within arm's reach."
Rakin nodded, and solemnly placed the locket around his own neck, letting it hang down in plain sight between the lapels of his jacket.
Chris leaned forward into another embrace. After a moment, she muttered, "I guess we'd better let the others in now."
"Just a second," Rakin replied, and released her. He stepped back and stared at her with an appraising expression on his face. "You're as beautiful as ever, but there's one thing missing." And with that, he reached out and pressed his finger-tips to her forehead.
Chris closed her eyes as warmth flowed from Rakin's fingertips, through her body. This wasn't the same warmth she had felt a moment earlier. Then it had been desire. This time, it was... life. Healing.
The warmth intensified near the point of contact. Chris' scalp began to tingle with the same pins-and-needles feeling she felt when her foot fell asleep. Just before it became actually unpleasant, though, it faded and ceased.
Chris opened her eyes, absently brushed her hair off of one shoulder. "What was..." Cutting herself off, she reached back up and felt her hair, smoother than it had ever been and running down below her shoulders. She held it before her eyes, watching it run through her fingers. "You... re-grew my hair."
"I hope you don't mind," Rakin replied sheepishly.
Of course she didn't mind; she'd been impatiently awaiting its re-growth ever since she'd first cut it. But Chris still put on her best haughty expression. "Well, Mr. Guardia, though it is my hair, this just happens to be the length I want it. But how did you do it? How have you ever done stuff like this?"
"It's the power I was given, Chris. Spekkio, the one who gave it to me... he finally explained it. It's the power of life energy, of life itself. And there's really no limit to what can be done with it."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "I see. Well, now it's your turn. Since you grew out my hair the way you wanted, I'll tell you how long to grow yours."
"No need to tell me, Chris. You can grow it out for me. That day, when you almost died... I awoke the power within you. If you want, you can do anything I can do."
Chris looked at her human hand, trying to see or feel some vestige of the power that Rakin had shown. But unlike him, she was only human. "I don't think so, Rakin. I can't do stuff like that."
Rakin shook his head. "Remember," he insisted quietly.
And she looked back on the past two years, and saw through different eyes. Her unusual speed and strength, her ability to recognize and even track people by smell, the blueprints that had come to her in her sleep... These were all manifestations of something bigger than she was, something more than human. Something inside of her.
For a moment, she was frightened. For a moment, she wanted this strange power out of her, thinking that only someone like Rakin could really handle it, that it was too big for someone like her.
And then another part of her took over, the part of her that had brought fear into the hearts of Trell City's thugs and vandals. She was no weakling that could be beaten before she even started. She was Christina Zeal. She was Crystal McKenna. She was stronger than that. And if she had this power, then she was going to be the mistress of it, not vice versa.
She grinned. "Let's give it a shot."
Mimicking Rakin, she reached up and placed the heel of her palm against his forehead. She closed her eyes, and concentrated. No power reached out from inside of her. So, she went looking for it. Her mind offered only blankness, so she went deeper inside herself, determined to hunt this power down. But no matter how deep into her mind she went, she found nothing.
"Let me help," Rakin said quietly.
In the back of her mind, in the depth of her essence, she saw a faint light. There, she knew, was the power. Rakin had found it when she could not herself. She followed his light, found him waiting there. With him to light the way, she could see her own power, glowing faintly. She seized it.
Life flowed through her, raw and powerful energy. She didn't know what to do with it, found it overpowering. There was a torrent of energy flowing through her, more than she could have imagined. The power made her feel more alive than ever before, greater than she had ever been. She felt like a goddess.
But when she tried to direct the power, she found that she couldn't. It was too raw, too huge for her. She was drowning in the power. She was losing herself in the flood. Soon, she would be washed away, leaving only the power itself to occupy her body. Chris fought the flood, but found herself slowly being pulled beneath its waves.
Then she felt Rakin's presence, offering his assistance to her. His spirit was steady, in control... he had passed this hurdle already, and was willing to help her through it. She latched onto his spirit.
God, they both thought. Or maybe one of them thought it, and the other felt it.
For one fleeting eternity, they were one.
There was no telling where Chris ended and Rakin began, no need to think of the two as separate. Even their bodies seemed to be one, with each having perfect awareness of the other. No emotion, no pleasure, no lingering pain belonged to only one of them. Chris could feel an ancient scar as if it were on her own cheek, and Rakin could feel a Dashor Sal tattoo in his own back.
But this sensation was nothing compared to their shared emotions. Rakin wasn't merely looking into Chris' heart; it was his heart as well. They both shared the same mind, the same soul. And this fused spirit overflowed with one emotion more than any other.
With tremendous effort, one of them broke it off. It took a moment for Chris to realize that it had been her, for her to even realize that she was herself.
She opened her eyes to find herself kissing Rakin, deeply and passionately. She closed her eyes to savor it for a moment, then broke that off as well.
"You're lucky," she said somewhat breathlessly, leaning her head against his throat. "Most guys would have had to buy a girl dinner and a movie for that, stud."
Rakin, his eyes dazed, slowly shook his head. It did little to dispel the desire in his eyes. "If you hadn't stopped us, I would never have let go."
"And we would have stayed here until the city was destroyed, or until someone came in and interrupted us." She leaned away from him, gently breaking their embrace. "And though I could think of worse ways to die, we've got people counting on us, right?
Rakin nodded. "Right. I'd better tell the others to come on in." He raised his gaze to the ceiling for a moment, then glanced back down at Chris. "You need a minute?" When Chris shook her head, Rakin looked back up at the ceiling.
Magus? We're ready for all of you. Sorry for the delay, Chris heard Rakin say. It took her a moment to realize that his mouth had not moved.
I'll tell the others. The voice had been calm, nonjudgmental, and clearly the Magus'... even though he wasn't in the room. Chris realized that she had just been party to a telepathic conversation. She caught a smile from Rakin; he'd caught her listening in. Chris did her best to look innocent.
The door opened, and the others filed in. Some that walked in were unfamiliar to her, but she somehow knew them anyway: Rana, Newton, Zade. Chris recognized the others, of course: Valiod, the Magus, Schala... She felt a slight pang of jealousy at seeing her sister. But this was immediately followed by a feeling of smugness; she had won, and she thought that perhaps her sister sensed that.
There was something... strange, though. As these people walked in, they gave her and Rakin strange looks. Chris found herself becoming uncomfortable. Had she or Rakin made noise during their brief, but intense experience? Or had it been less brief than she thought?
Discomfort led to irritation. What right did they have to give her and Rakin strange looks? They hadn't done anything... at least, nothing actually physical. And even if they had, it was nobody's business but their own.
She had no reason to blush. But she couldn't stop.
Valiod was the last to enter. However, while the others had given them strange glances, Valiod took a long look at Rakin. Finally, he said, "I must have underestimated the girl. I've never met a woman that could do that to a man before."
Confused, Chris glanced over at Rakin... and saw what she had missed when they were alone. In the intensity of their recent connection, Chris had forgotten that her original intention had been to make his hair grow. Chris thought that she must have had more trouble recovering from her time with him than she had realized, because she hadn't noticed that his hair now extended to the back of his knees. Most of the others had probably not even noticed her hair compared to Rakin's.
Rakin stared down at the child, his expression flat. "Sit down, Valiod."
For a moment, Valiod glared up at Rakin, his unnatural eyes wide with anger. Rather than engaging in a staring contest, though, Rakin walked to the table, pulled out a chair, and seated himself. He gestured for everyone to sit, and they did so. Faced with being left to stand and glare at Rakin's back, Valiod moved to a seat and sat as well.
Relieved that in-fighting had been averted, Chris was one of the last to get to a seat. When she placed her hand on the back of the chair next to Rakin's, she was surprised to find someone else's hand there first. Schala's hand.
Chris made eye contact with Schala for the first time since she had seen her sister here. They stared at each other for a moment, and Chris was struck for the first time by how similar their eyes were. She felt for a moment as if she were looking in a mirror.
Schala's gaze shifted very briefly to Rakin, then back to Chris. And, for the first time, Chris saw emotion in her sister's eyes. Schala had lost this battle, and they both knew it. Schala's normally cold eyes showed brief sadness. These were the eyes that she never showed, the eyes that had seen in Rakin what Chris saw.
Schala's eyes froze over, then, hiding all emotion behind ice. But she moved to another seat, allowing Chris to sit by Rakin. Chris sat, determined to say something to her sister... later.
"All right," Rakin began as soon as Chris was seated, "For those of you who don't know, I'm Rakin Guardia. I'm the Second Swordsman, leader of the Holy Swords. For the sake of saving time, I'll make the introductions." He pointed at the grey-skinned Mystic woman. "This is Zade, an Agent of the MIA." An expansive gesture included everyone else at the table. "These are Chris, Schala, Valiod and the Magus, other warriors from Elosia. Those two over there are Newton and Rana."
"How doth thou know mine name?" Rana asked, suspicious.
"That's not important right now," Rakin replied, dismissing the question. "What's important is that we all come to a consensus on what must be done in order to save the city. Magus?"
The Magus rose from his seat and went to the map tacked on to the wall. "According to my source, the most likely location of the Lavoid is here, in the center of the city." A small circle was drawn over the location he indicated.
"It can't be the exact center," the Mystic, Zade, pointed out. "That circle includes parts of three different buildings. Are one of those the building we're looking for?"
The Magus shook his head. "Those are just normal apartment buildings. From what we've been able to tell, the network of power lines leading to the force-field generators is entirely underground."
"Is there a crater?" asked Valiod.
Rakin shook his head. "Not according to my scouts. That means that the Lavoid hasn't blasted through the crust... yet."
"The moment that happens," the Magus continued, "the power grid will be broken, and the force-fields will fail. The city will flood, and anyone still left here will die."
"Wait a moment," Chris interrupted. "So we can't let the Lavoid break through the crust, I understand that. But if we kill him, won't the grid fail anyway?"
The Magus nodded. "Indeed. It would appear that the only option we have is to hold him where he is... alive."
"This is ridiculous," snarled Valiod. "You expect us to simply hold a Lavoid where he is? Even assuming we were powerful enough to bind the Lavoid in place without destroying the power grid on our own, there's still the matter of an entire fucking army to deal with."
"Maybe not an entire army," said Newton, as if to himself. When he realized that everyone was listening to him, he continued, "Well, uh... I think our best choice would be a decoy. We could send someone out, maybe one of us that can fly, and lead the Lavoidspawn on a wild goose chase away from the Lavoid itself. Then we send the others in to take on the Lavoid. At that point, they'd probably have to split into two teams: one to keep the Lavoid in place, the other to hold off the Lavoidspawn when they return to help their master."
There was silence for a moment as everyone stared at Newton. Only Chris and Rakin heard the Magus' rare approval: The boy has a good head for tactics.
Embarrassed by the stares, Newton blushed, and began to stammer out an apology, but he was interrupted by Rakin. "How would you propose we lure the Lavoidspawn away from the Lavoid?"
Newton looked around, saw all eyes on himself. Chris thought he was beginning to look a bit green. "Well, I'd..." He paused, and looked over at the Magus. "Sir, are you a Planeswalker?"
Newton nodded. "That's a shame. If we had a Planeswalker here, we could have had him channel enough Chaos... that's the energy that Lavoids use, of course... He could have channeled enough Chaos energy to lure out the Lavoidspawn."
"I can channel Chaos," the Magus replied. "And I have one spell in particular that would certainly draw the Lavoidspawn. But I'd be very vulnerable in the meantime, unable even to fly on my own power."
"You'd need a ship, then," Newton said, almost to himself. "Not to mention a pilot. Do you have either?"
"I do. However, it is not a fast or a powerful ship, and the pilot has had little combat experience. I would prefer not to risk using her."
"I see. Unfortunately, our ship was destroyed along with the starport. Had it still been intact, we could have removed its inhibitor and used its Chaos drive as bait. But it's not, and we'd still need a ship for this plan to work."
"I have a Blackbird," Zade announced. "As soon as Rakin and I arrived here at the evac center, I remote-piloted it here."
"Your ship has remote-pilot capabilities?" Newton asked, impressed.
"It's an MIA craft, after all. But I know what you're thinking, and I'm afraid that the remote-pilot isn't precise enough for what we want. The pilot will need to be in the cockpit."
"Blackbirds are generally small and maneuverable enough to pull this off. Can you pilot it?"
"I've had extensive pilot training, and a great deal of general experience with this craft in particular. Unless you happen to have an ace pilot among you, I'm probably your best bet."
"Agreed," stated Rakin. "I'd volunteer myself, but I believe I'd be more useful on the ground. Now, Magus, even once you've lured away most of the Lavoidspawn, how do you propose the rest of us get to the Lavoid? As you said, there's no crater through which we can easily drop and find it."
"My source believes she has found several entrances to the underground tunnel system, scattered in a roughly circular pattern around the city." He pointed at several locations on the map, a small X appearing wherever he pointed. "These are the three closest to us. As you can see, one of them is a shorter distance from the Lavoid than the other two. The exact contents of these tunnels are classified, but we believe that all roads probably lead to the Lavoid."
"And if they don't?" asked Chris. "If we chose the wrong one, we could end up in a dead end with Lavoidspawn up our asses."
"The lady hath a point," agreed Rana. "P'raps 'tis necessary to divide our forces further?"
"No," said Schala. "As it stands, the ground team would consist of only six warriors. If the team were any smaller, it would not matter whether we reached a dead end or not; we would not reach the Lavoid alive. I'm not certain that we can do so even with all six."
Rakin shook his head. "You miscount, Schala. We have ten warriors. Along with the five of us at this table, I also have five Holy Swords at my disposal."
Chris counted again. "Uh, Rakin, there are six people at this table going on the ground team: you, me, Rana, Valiod, Schala and Newton."
"Newton's not going." Rakin stared at Newton as he continued, "Newton has little magic and no super-human abilities. Out on the battlefield, he would be a liability. He would be much more useful here."
"Here?" Newton asked, surprised and upset. "What good could I possibly do here? I can fight with you guys!"
"Rakin's right," the Magus interjected. "You've a good head for planning and tactics. It would be better for you to stay here and act as a communications hub for the three teams. Also, you could help organize the evacuation of the civilians here. The faster the evacuation occurs, the less time the Lavoid has to be held in place, and the smaller the chance something will go wrong."
Newton considered this for a moment, then finally relented. "Okay. I'll stay. But I don't think I'm as good with tactics as you seem to think. I still haven't figured out how the ground team is going to escape the flooding after the Lavoid is killed or escapes."
There was silence for a moment.
Rakin stood. "Let's go."
Time: 2:42 P.M.
Acid roared in despair as he looked upon what was left of the starport: craters in the ground, rubble, gouged landing pads. His one hope of escape from this deathtrap of a city had been destroyed. Another world was being destroyed along with it, no doubt thanks to that blue-haired monster, and there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't even escape, now.
Acid fell to both knees, not even noticing the roughness of the broken pavement. Maybe, he thought, maybe this had been his fate all along. Maybe he had died back on Gelidus; it had just taken a few years for it to happen.
He decided that it was an apt metaphor. Since that day, the day when he'd seen his world reduced to a lifeless, ash-covered sphere, Acid had devoted every waking moment to finding him. Joining the MIA had really only been a means to an end, a way to receive the training he would need to take down the monster and simultaneously increase his chances of finding his prey.
People had been amazed at the speed with which he rose through the ranks. He was a First Class Agent, assigned to some of the most dangerous jobs in the Empire. Over and over he threw himself into battle, hardening himself, turning his body into a weapon. He could kill any human in twenty seconds... but he had not even been able to touch his prey, when he finally found the monster.
And even if he found the monster again, he knew, it would be pointless. He couldn't win.
"I hate you!" he screamed at the black sky, uncaring about whether the creatures flying above might hear him. He jumped to his feet and screamed at the top of his lungs, "I fucking hate you, you god-damned son of a bitch! I'm gonna kill you one day, mother fucker!"
"No, you won't. Not like this."
Acid spun around to see a red-haired man, standing a few feet away. His expression was calm, his stance confident. He had a sword at his hip, but he didn't draw it, even though Acid's palm, glowing with the T-Blade's energy, was aimed at his chest.
"Who the fuck are you?" Acid demanded.
"You may call me Connor," replied the spiky-haired man.
"Okay, Connor. Second question: What are you doing here?"
"Waiting," Connor said easily as he rose from his sitting position and brushed some dust from his blue robe. "And watching. I saw your attempt to capture the Magus earlier today."
"The Magus? Is that what he's called? How do you know of him?"
"He's a friend of my family."
"Do you realize how close you are to death right now?" asked Acid quietly, venom in his voice.
"I could kill you even now, Acid," Connor replied without anger or threat. It was a simple statement of fact. "But I'd rather not."
"And why's that?"
"Because you have something: drive. The ability to persevere despite all the odds. That's a rare trait. If you could only focus it in the right direction, you would be invaluable."
"And what direction would that be?"
"You're thinking small, Acid. You've been after the man that inadvertently awoke the Lavoid on your world. But wouldn't you rather kill the Lavoid? Kill all of the creatures like it?"
"What do I care about other Lavoids? This is about revenge, not heroism."
"Fair enough. I'm sorry to have bothered you. Good luck hunting down the Magus again." And, his head bowed apologetically, he turned to leave.
"Wait." Acid hesitated. "What were you saying earlier? About how I couldn't beat the Magus 'like this'?"
Connor looked over his shoulder. "You've pushed your human body to its limits. You're as strong and as fast and as skilled as a human can be. But that's not enough. As long as you are bound by these limits, you will always be too weak to defeat the Magus."
"I... have no magical ability. I can't go beyond the limits of the human body."
"And if I told you I could change that? That I could give you the power to defeat anyone, even the Magus?"
Acid scowled. He didn't trust this man, but... the offer was too tempting. "What would be in it for you?"
Connor turned around to face Acid. "I require someone with drive. Someone willing to do whatever has to be done to achieve my goals. Someone willing to follow orders to the letter without hesitation."
"And in return you'd give me power?"
Acid stared at the red-haired man. Connor's green eyes stared back, and for a moment Acid felt as if he were looking into a mirror. This man, more than any other, truly understood Acid. Connor, too, had drive.
"Acid... ou re..." Acid was surprised to hear his earpiece give out something besides static. He listened closely as it continued, "This is the Infin... Repeat, this... finity. We are airborne. State... ation. Repeat... location, Agent Acid."
Acid considered. The Infinity was in one piece, apparently, and searching for him. If he called out to them, they would pick him up, and he could return to his life. He nearly laughed at the thought.
"I want this power of yours," he told Connor. "I'll give you my soul, if need be."
The red-haired man smiled. "Keep it. I'll just take everything else."
Time: 2:45 P.M.
"I'll catch up," Rakin said.
Rana nodded, and walked on, leading Varien, Harold, and John down the broken pavement. As expected, the three Holy Swords followed her without question or concern, seemingly content to serve Rakin in any capacity. Chris could tell that this bothered Rakin to no end. What had he promised them in return for such servitude?
"What did you want to talk to me about?" Rakin asked Chris, his voice low with concern. "You'd better hurry, or your team will leave you behind."
"I just wanted to give you this," Chris replied, reaching into her satchel. She quickly found what she'd been looking for and pulled it out. It was a dull metal cylinder, flat on one end and shaped something like a cup on the other. It had been shaped so as to fit comfortably in a human hand.
"What is it?" Rakin asked as she handed it to him.
"I don't know," Chris said truthfully. "I just saw the blueprints in my dreams. I couldn't figure out how to make it work. But... I think it was for you."
Rakin nodded and held the device at arm's length. He stared at it, his brow furrowed in concentration. Nothing happened. He glanced over to Chris. "What am I supposed to do with it?"
Chris shrugged. "Like I said, I never figured out how it was supposed to be powered."
"No power?" Rakin grinned. "I can take care of that." He held it up again, and his eyes flashed, wisps of energy that were the only visible sign that he was wielding the Power. Chris could not see it, but she could feel Rakin extend his energy through his arms, into the device.
White light blazed forth from the open end of the device. It leapt and flared, moving like flame. The light was blinding, the force of the energy overpowering... but it was accompanied by an unnatural silence. Not only was the flame itself silent, but all noise in the area seemed to quiet, obliterating all ambient sound. The sound of rubble crumbling in the distance echoed loudly in the terrible silence.
Rakin kept his gaze focused on the blaze, and it slowly began to shrink. The white flame seemed to fight Rakin's control, flaring upward now and then. But slowly, surely, it began to shrink into a definite, more solid shape.
Rakin smiled as the blaze coalesced into the shape of a katana blade, the white energy flaring occasionally to give it the appearance of a blade wreathed in searing white fire. He stepped into a basic stance, giving the blade a few practice swings. At first, the weapon was too light, throwing his swings wide. However, after a few swings the sword actually became heavier, perfect for the amount of force he was using.
"This is perfect," Rakin exclaimed, his voice echoing in the unnatural silence. His eyes reverted to their normal green, and the blade disintegrated, allowing the sounds of the world to return. "Thank you."
"You can pay me back later," Chris told him. And, just to make clear what she had in mind, she reached up and brought his head down for a kiss. Just as his arms began to reach around her waist, she broke off the kiss. "Not now, lover boy. We've got to go."
Rakin shook his head. "Right." He looked around, dazed. "Which way did my team go again?"
Chris gently pushed him in the right direction. "That way." As Rakin regained his senses, and began to jog off, Chris whispered, "Come back to me."
She waited until he was out of sight, then ran after her own team.
Time: 2:58 P.M.
"The ground teams are en route," Newton announced over the two-way com. "Time for the decoy."
"Understood," replied the Magus tersely. Once the transmission was over, he turned to Zade. "Lift off," he commanded.
Zade didn't object to the order, or the tone. Compared to her father, the Magus was actually pleasant company. Besides, it had been a while since she'd spent much time in the company of an attractive Mystic, and she wasn't too picky about his manners. With a nod, she lifted the ship from the concealment of a half-collapsed building.
They were already in place, on the side of the city opposite the evac center. Now all that was left was to activate the decoy... and try not to get killed in the process. "Ready whenever you are," Zade informed him.
The Magus nodded. "Remember, I won't be able to cast other spells. If you need me to stop and back you up, tell me. Otherwise, leave me alone. We need to give the ground teams as much time as possible. Now, then..." He closed his eyes, his fair blue eyebrows creased in concentration. "Chaos Beacon," he said quietly.
Zade looked around, expecting to see a flash of energy, hear unnatural sounds... but nothing happened. Whatever he was doing was invisible to her.
Acting on instinct, she allowed the ship to drop a few feet, allowing a lance of red energy to pass mere feet overhead. She checked the ship's sensors, and saw no sign of the enemy. But she could almost see them... could feel them. The army was coming. And she would be fighting them blind.
"Hell, yeah," she growled.
"You never get any! If I were a man, I'd jump on you like... like... well, I'd jump on you." -Candalyn Corana, to Crystal McKenna