Mystician Empire. Uvidas. Uvidas.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 26. Time: 3:04 P.M.
Drissom glanced around nervously, expecting a dark creature to come bearing down on him at any moment as he followed the girl and her allies. Why were they going closer to the Lavoid? They couldn't intend to take it on head-on, could they?
With a sinking feeling, he realized they could. God damned heroes.
He was struck with a dilemma. On the one hand, if the girl died, he'd be free to go back to his former duties, which mostly consisted of making a lot of money and generally keeping everyone's attention away from Adom. It was an easy gig, with good rewards. He could leave now and tell Adom that she had died here on Uvidas. Problem solved.
Except... what if she didn't die? It seemed unlikely that she would survive, but... hell, Drissom himself was alive when he had no right to be. And when he thought about it, compared to these people he was tracking... he wasn't all that extraordinary. He was just a petty crook whose skill at enchantment had struck Adom as useful. Were it not for that, he'd still be rotting away...
These people, though... these were the other sort of survivors. He was a rat, and was a big enough man to admit it; these people were rocks. He wouldn't be terribly surprised if they survived, somehow, and even managed to kill the Lavoid in the process. People like him ran from death; people like them conquered it.
And while he was thinking this, a solitary black creature swooped down behind him. He never saw the claw lashing out at his unprotected neck.
But he did hear a crack. It was the sound of a neck snapping. And much to his surprise, it wasn't his. He turned, and wasn't sure whether to be relieved or horrified.
The girl stood above the broken form of one of the creatures. Her electronic eye seemed to bore into him. "You know," she said, "I finally remember you."
She knocked the crossbow out of his hands before he had time to bring it to bear.
Time: 3:08 P.M.
"What in the hell is he doing here?" Valiod demanded as Chris re-joined the group.
"He's been following me for months," Chris replied, idly jerking the cord she had tied around Valiod's neck. His hands were bound similarly behind his back. "Once I remembered who he was, I decided I didn't want him running around free while I was occupied with Lavoids. Wouldn't be long until I found a crossbow bolt in my back."
"Whatever," Valiod replied. "Just kill him. We don't need him getting in our way."
"We should keep him," Schala countered calmly. "If nothing else, the scum will make a valuable human shield."
Drissom licked his lips. "Might I suggest letting me go so I can run far-"
Drissom's suggestion was cut off by a tug from Chris. "He's coming with us. If he's smart, he'll stay out of our way and do what we say. The only way he's getting out of here alive is with us."
Drissom sagged. "Then I'm probably not getting out of here alive."
"Cry me a river," Chris muttered, pulling him along.
The twin Holy Swords remained diplomatically silent.
Time: 3:14 P.M.
Rastaban stared contemplatively at the open box on his lap. If anyone were to ask him what was in the box, he'd tell them that he knew exactly what it was. Of course, he'd be lying.
It was a device of some sort. It was kind of clunky-looking, though, like a prototype of something. It was basically a chunk of Etherite, with pipes and studs and gizmos attached. He pulled it out of the package to get a better look, but gained no better understanding.
It was the package that he'd been told to bring to the café here on Uvidas earlier today. But now the café had been destroyed, and none of the survivors seemed very interested. A shame. It was the only piece of cargo he had left. And it wasn't even very pretty.
Idly, he tossed it and caught it a few times. At least it was something to do while he waited for his turn to board a ship. Of course, last time he checked, he still had a thirty-minute wait.
"I will give you anything I have for that."
Rastaban glanced up from where he was sitting to see a girl staring at the object in his hands. He glanced down at it. "This? You mean this priceless family heirloom? I'm afraid I'd hate to part with it," trying to add some emotional attachment to his voice. He didn't do a very good job, but the girl was hardly paying attention to his haggling attempts.
"What do you want for it? I'll give anything."
"Anything, eh?" Rastaban rubbed his chin. "What do you have worth giving?"
The girl hesitated. "Oh... ah, I... don't really have much, myself. The ship belongs to Janus. Um... ooh, I don't know what I have... I've got some money in the bank, but not much..."
Rastaban held up his hands to stop her. "You say you... that is, Janus has a ship?"
"I can't give you the ship. Sorry."
Rastaban nodded. "Understandable, I suppose. I suppose I may just have to settle for being a guest on your ship for... oh, a few days?"
The girl brightened. "Oh, that should... well, I'd have to check with Janus, of course, but..."
Rastaban sucked in some air through his teeth. "This offer's not going to last long, I'm afraid. A lot of these refugees would kill for a... one of these."
"Oh, okay." The girl was shifting from one foot to another. She was obviously in a hurry to get her hands on... whatever this thing was, and it was obviously important to her. He decided to stop playing games with her. "Very well, then. Food and transportation for an amount of time to be specified later?"
"Uh... sure. Deal."
Rastaban rose to his feet. He handed her the... thing with one hand and shook her free hand with his. "A pleasure doing business with you. Which ship did you say was yours?"
"Um... the Enhasa. But..."
"I'll see you on board. You are quite the haggler, by the by."
Before she could say anything else, Rastaban walked off. He soon found Vonraid and called the alien over. "I've just gotten a ride for both of us offworld. Come on, let's go."
Vonraid shook his head. "I've signed a temporary contract with the refugees. I am to act as bodyguard to all of them."
"What? Who drew up this contract? And how are you supposed to guard all of these people?"
Vonraid pointed to the Human who was busy trying to coordinate which ships were leaving when. "He proposed the contract to me. And I will guard them by ensuring that they escape this world."
Rastaban stared at Vonraid for a few moments, scowling. "How much are you getting paid?"
"I am not required to tell you, by the-"
"I know Dashor Sal law. Are you going to reimburse me for the time you're not working for me?"
"If you live long enough, that is."
"You know where I keep my credits. You may take what you are owed from there."
Rastaban scowled some more. Finally, he said, "Just remember that dying here would be a violation of your contract with me."
"I shall remember."
Rastaban made an annoyed clicking sound with his teeth, and stuck his hand out. Vonraid shook it. "Come back alive, you fool," Rastaban muttered, and walked away.
Time: 3:19 P.M.
"I never thought I'd be seeing that blade again," Rakin remarked as he and Rana jogged along through the rubble. They needed no map; Rakin could feel the way.
"Again, ye say? Thou'rt one of the few to recognize it, then. Art thou related to Connor?"
"Whom? Can't say I've ever met him."
"Thou look'st like him, methinks. Though he had red hair."
Rakin glanced at her, curious. "My father had red hair."
"Unless thine father be of thirty-odd years of age, I doubt 'tis the same man." She reflectively swung a short arc with her blade. "He spoke of a curse afflicting the blade."
Before Rakin could speak up, they had arrived. They found themselves looking out over the rubble at the mouth of a tunnel. Strange fumes seemed to rise from it, outlined against the darkened sky. And occasionally, black creatures flitted back and forth on unknown errands.
Rakin glanced over his shoulder at his companions. The three Holy Swords, Varien, Harold and John, looked as passive as ever, though Rakin could feel them gathering energy for the coming battle. Rana, meanwhile, looked... hungry. As if she needed something she could only find down in that tunnel. Rakin suddenly felt a deep sadness, though he didn't know whether it was his own, or if he was simply picking up on her hidden emotions.
He shook it off, and pressed the two-way com in his ear. "Newton, team one is about to enter. Status on your end?"
"We're fine, for the moment," Newton responded. "Some of the ship owners were worried about exceeding their ships' weight capacities, but with your friend distracting the Lavoid's creatures, flight speed isn't much of an issue any more."
"Are people panicking?"
"They were, but a bug man... I mean, Dashor Sai... He said he would knock unconscious the next person that put anyone else in danger."
Rakin frowned. "He threatened them?"
"Dashor Sal don't threaten. They promise."
Rakin shook his head. "Whatever, as long as they all get out in one piece. We're counting on you to hold things up on your end, Newton. Tell the others we're going in."
"Team one, out." Rakin turned the com back off, and glanced at his companions. They were ready.
Rakin hefted his new weapon, and allowed its blade to come to life again, enveloping them all in its aura of silence. He issued no orders. He gave no inspirational speeches. He simply ran toward the mouth of the tunnel. And they followed.
Time: 3:21 P.M.
"Can we by chance go faster?" the Magus asked calmly.
"And why," Zade responded in much the same tone, belying the sweat on her brow, "would you suggest that? I've managed to outrun those things for a while now. They're not very bright; I just need to keep up simple evasive maneuvers, shoot a few of them now and then, and we're fine."
"Answer my question."
"We... can go a little faster. But not much. Why?"
The ship rocked and tumbled, jerking Zade against her crash webbing. Only the automatic reaction that came from training kept her from allowing the ship to careen into the rubble below. She stabilized the ship after a moment, and scanned her field of view. She had seen nothing attack them.
"It's behind us again," the Magus told her.
"What? What was it? Another ship?"
"Don't be simple. What ship would be attacking us now... roll left!"
Zade instantly brought the Blackbird into a barrel roll to the left. The result was that they only felt a bit of turbulence as something rushed by at a speed which pushed the limits of Zade's vision. Even if it had been slower, though, she would have had trouble making it out; it was dark and blurry, and seemed to fade in and out of vision against the dark sky. Only when it briefly dipped below the line of artificial darkness in the sky could she even really see it.
"What the fuck is that?"
"A Lavoid spawn," replied the Magus. He watched as the thing's movement described an arc in the sky; it was turning around. "It's sensed my power and wants to feed off of me."
"Can we fight it?"
"The question isn't whether we can fight it," replied the Magus. "The question is how long it will be until the others notice us."
"Others?" Zade fired an energy blast at the thing as its trajectory began to close in on her. The shot went wide; the thing was too fast. It finished turning and was now coming straight at them.
The ship suddenly dropped as Zade took it below the spawn's path, allowing it to pass overhead. "I'm not sure we can even fight one, let alone six!"
The Magus compressed one of his earrings and spoke into the com. "Meredith, are you there?"
Time: 3:23 P.M.
Newton looked away from some squabbling merchants for a moment. "Yes, Ms. Tenser? Why haven't you left with your refugees yet?"
Meredith had the expression of one who wasn't used to being forceful, but was trying her hardest to be. "I'm... I'm needed. Janus, he said that... well, Mr. Newton, I have to go help him. He's in trouble."
Newton frowned at her. "What can you do? You're not a fighter pilot, are you?"
"No, but... but our ship has good weaponry. I didn't... you know, I... I can use it. I can use it."
Newton felt a sense of not really being part of the conversation. Meredith was trying to convince herself that she could help in the battle; his permission had been a foregone conclusion. Had Newton been the sort to become upset when his authority had been bypassed, or a man more dedicated to following orders to the letter, he might have tried to stop her. But he was not, and he could recognize when other people were no longer going to listen to logic.
"Go, then," he told her. "And good luck."
Meredith smiled nervously, hesitated a moment, and sprinted off.
Newton shook his head and gestured to a tall, dark figure walking by. The Dashor Sai altered his path and approached. For the moment, he was listening to Newton's orders. Vonraid himself had approached Newton and strongly suggested that he be hired as bodyguard to all of the refugees. Newton didn't understand why he had made this request, or why he had asked for a payment of one credit per day... but he had been glad enough for the help. Most people were willing to listen to reason when a Dashor Sai was helping to preach it.
"Bad news, Vonraid. We've just lost the Enhasa. Do we still have enough ships to get everyone offworld?"
"How was the ship lost?"
"The pilot's gone to provide back-up to some of our warriors."
"May they be sheltered from the storm."
"Uh... yeah. Anyway, do we have enough ships or not?"
He cocked his head slightly. "It is debatable that we ever had enough ships," the Dashor Sai continued with seeming good humor. "Do not be concerned. The Enhasa is a small ship. It could not carry many refugees. Regardless, I truly wish the Enhasa... and its inhabitants... good fortune."
Time: 3:29 P.M.
"So," said Zade as she tried to pull the Blackbird out of a downward spiral, "do you think your friend will be here any time soon?" The Magus didn't reply. Zade shook her head as she managed to avoid crashing into the remains of a nearby tower. "Okay, then. Can you at least tell me where it is, now?"
After a moment of concentration, he replied, "Behind us. And gaining."
Zade banked to the right. Not fast enough.
The creature clipped them as it passed, knocking out both of the rear engines at once. The Blackbird was knocked into a horizontal spin, and hit the ground a moment later. The crash webbing kept the pilot and passenger safe as the craft skidded along the broken pavement.
Finally, they came to a stop.
The side door flew off its hinges, and the Magus emerged, dragging Zade. He looked around to see... nothing. No creatures flew by, no spawn bore down on him. His concentration had been broken, and he'd stopped acting as a beacon. Now they didn't know where he was. And they'd no doubt return to the tunnels... to his allies.
Magus bent over to check the condition of the Mystic lying on the ground. Zade had taken a hit to the head in the crash. Nothing fatal, but enough to keep her out for a while. He shook his head. He'd never really mastered healing. Not much he could do for her right now. He checked his earring communicator to see if he could contact Newton, only to find that the bulk of the earring had been lost in the crash. He'd been lucky to have kept his earlobe.
He looked at the rubble around him, the black sky above. Without a ship, he couldn't do anything for his allies, either. He had effectively failed them.
The Magus was not accustomed to failure. And he intended to keep it that way.
In a moment, he had a plan. It wasn't a good plan. It wasn't even a likely plan. It was simply the only one he had at the moment. Magus placed a hand to his forehead, concentrated, and tried to mix oil and water.
He had tried before to use Chaos and regular magic at the same time. Each time, he had been rebuffed by a surprising amount of pain. Chaos and magic, it seemed, were not designed to coexist. Their very natures seemed incompatible, and each prior attempt had resulted in enough pain to force him to stop.
But now he needed to be a decoy again. In order to do that, he needed both the power of flight and the Chaos Beacon spell. And since he had no ship, he needed magic. These creatures seemed to fly using Chaos, but Magus had not yet figured out how it was done... and if he had figured out one thing about Chaos, it was that random experimentation was very dangerous. Spells that were channeled similarly could have wildly different effects.
As if what I'm trying is any safer, he thought to himself.
After a minute of concentration, Magus managed to lift himself off the ground by about a foot... but he still could not even feel Chaos. He increased his effort.
When his sight returned and his breath slowed, he decided to try a different tactic. He used magic to lift him high into the air. That was the easy part. Then, after taking a deep breath, he cut off the magic.
The effects were as expected: he fell.
As he fell, though, he reached toward Chaos and managed to grasp it. For a moment, he became a beacon of Chaos. He could almost feel the servants of the Lavoid turn their attention to him.
And then he let go of Chaos as quickly as possible and desperately tried to use magic, willing himself to fly once again. He stopped in mid-air, about ten feet from the ground.
Good, he thought to himself. Now I just have to do that a few more times. While fighting off a small army.
As he rose up into the air once again, flying away from the unconscious Zade, he thought, You'd better be holding up things on your end, Rakin.
Time: 3:35 P.M.
Rakin and his allies were in a tunnel, about twenty feet high. It was surprisingly well decorated, in his opinion. It was well-lit, and had various designs on the ceilings. There was a small road in the center of the tunnel, but it was lined on either side with grass. All in all, it seemed designed to make people passing through the tunnel more comfortable. Rakin had not ever seen the Lavoid on his world, but he wondered if any of the Zealians who siphoned its power ever went to see it in person. If they had, Rakin imagined that they might have built a path like this, to make the journey more pleasant.
The peaceful atmosphere was ruined by the blaring of sirens and a seemingly endless wave of enemies. And Rakin was tired of running.
When first they had entered the tunnel, Rakin, Rana and the three Holy Swords had attempted to stand their ground and fight. But after a few minutes, they had realized that the black creatures simply would not stop coming. Even with the Magus distracting the main mass of them, there was still an army here in the tunnels. And so, they had broken out of the massive brawl and broken into a dash.
Even as they ran, they were under attack. By pooling their power, the three Holy Swords were able to generate a shield that protected the five warriors from energy attacks from behind, but black creatures were continually running from the depths of the tunnel toward them in a desperate bid to protect their master and creator. Thankfully, the tunnel was a bit small for flight to be very effective, so the creatures couldn't move much faster than the five warriors. Rakin and Rana struck down those creatures that came too close, and the five of them kept moving.
Then, while Rakin and Rana were preoccupied with a particularly large mass of attacking creatures, a creature fired a blast of energy at Rana. She dodged, and the blast took off the head of one of the Holy Swords.
Rakin stopped dead in his tracks, the black creatures forgotten for a moment. Rana shouted that he should keep moving, but he could hear her only distantly. The man's body lay on the grass, unmoving, and Rakin tried to place his name. Had he been John? Or was it Varien? And what was even the name of the third one? Rakin was struck by the fact that he didn't even know these men... and one of them had died for him.
He felt somebody approach. It was one of the black creatures.
It died before it touched him. He didn't know how, but he knew it had died, and that he had caused it. He felt no remorse, no shock, no anger... but he did lose his patience.
In an instant, he had caught up to Rana and the two remaining Swords, who had not stopped running. He hadn't flown and he hadn't moved with super speed. Honestly, he didn't even know how he had gotten there. Rana seemed surprised to see him appear, but the two Holy Swords expressed no such emotion.
One of them, however, spoke up. "John died well." This, Rakin now remembered, was Harold. And he made his statement with such peace that Rakin nearly believed him.
"He still died," Rakin replied coldly as he moved to keep pace with the others. "From now on, stay behind me. I can take a hit better than any of you can."
" 'Tis foolish," Rana replied, breathing heavily. "We should work toge-"
"Behind me," Rakin stated, with no trace of request.
And so they ran forward, with Rakin in the lead. But it was different now; none of the black creatures actually managed to get close enough to attack the warriors. Creatures and spells alike were shunted aside just in front of Rakin, as if there were a wall just a few feet away from him.
When Rana asked him if he were responsible for this, he replied, "Probably."
A few more minutes brought them to a large set of double-doors, which threw themselves open as Rakin approached. At his gesture, the Holy Swords closed it and locked it behind them. There were sounds of pounding and energy blasts on the other side, but the door held. Not that Rakin was paying attention to that.
They were in a large room, well-decorated like the tunnel. It had another set of double door on the opposite wall. But something stood in the way.
It was large, and dark, though not as shadowy as the black creatures which overran the city. Large, in fact, did not accurately describe this creature. This room was possibly forty feet tall, and the beast before them had to hunch over to keep its head away from the ceiling. It was humanoid, but massively muscled. Its face consisted mostly of two large, yellow eyes. It had no mouth.
The beast seemed content to watch them... but Rakin could sense its hostility, its hatred. Since it hadn't immediately attacked them, Rakin assumed that there must be a password or display that he could give that would allow him to pass, but the creature's mind was too small for him to glean any information. Rakin allowed his blade to come to life.
"No," said Varien. "Please move on, Second."
"We can feel its power, Second," added Harold. "It can be killed, but the battle will be long. You should leave this to us. Fight the Lavoid."
Rakin was horrified. "I can't leave you here!"
Rana shook her head. "Think, Rakin. Thou needst not waste thy time on this fiend. The Swords and I shall suffice. Conserve thy strength for the Lavoid."
"No. I'm not going to let another of you die here today." He turned to the Holy Swords. "As your Swordsman, I have an order for you."
"Wield us as you will," they intoned.
"Do not come back after me." And he raised his fist in the air. The three other warriors abruptly vanished, leaving Rakin alone with the beast.
Rakin's blade once again came to life. Hey... Lifeblade. That's a good name for it, he thought, as he rushed toward the beast. He also thought, I hope Chris is being more sensible than I am.
Time: 3:44 P.M.
"Now!" shouted Chris as a gigantic fist slammed into the ground a few feet away from her. She back-flipped away, drawing the beast ever closer.
While Chris had the creature distracted, Valiod, Schala and the two Holy Swords ran for the double doors. The beast immediately seemed to realize that it had been tricked, but it was not fast enough to stop the four warriors from escaping. Seemingly enraged, the creature turned and attacked Chris with renewed energy.
As Chris leapt and rolled away from a punch that likely would have killed her, she smiled. This was her kind of fight. She wasn't sure that she could handle a Lavoid, but she'd spent all of her time on Terrenus VII taking down thugs with more muscle than brain. This fight might be a bit of a challenge, but it was still basically the same thing.
She leapt into the air, landed lightly on the creature's knee, and jumped up again. The creature found her only a few feet from its face, and before it could react, her foot lashed out and caught it with a kick that had far more power than one human body should have been able to hold. The beast's nose broke, and it took a step back.
Chris landed, and watched with fascination as the beast's nose straightened itself and the blood flow stopped right before her eyes. She grinned. "This should be fun."
In the corner, Drissom tried his best to seem invisible. He was only hiding from the beast; Drissom now knew that he had no chance of hiding from her.
Time: 3:45 P.M.
Rakin opened the double-doors, leaving what was left of the beast behind him. It had no doubt been surprised, Rakin thought, to find its punches passing through Rakin without injuring him. Unable to cause any physical damage, and apparently not in possession of any magical attacks, the beast had been unable to injure Rakin. He, however, had shown few qualms about injuring the beast.
Rakin silently thanked Spekkio for point out that intangibility trick. Somehow, he didn't think it would work the same against magical attacks, but it was still useful. What had Spekkio called it? "Unhand"?
He found himself in another, larger room. This one was sparsely decorated; it was far more utilitarian in nature. In the center of the room was a cluttered mass of machinery. It seemed to consist of wires and pipes and various meters which Rakin didn't understand. In its center...
He could best describe it as a ball of darkness. His eyes couldn't make out any details about it, except perhaps that it was about ten feet from bottom to top, and about fifteen from side to side. In his mind, though, he could see it more clearly. It was a shell, composed in large part of spikes. Compared to the emptied shell of Lavos which he had seen on his world, this shell was tiny.
Rakin approached the city's power source.
Rakin could feel the Lavoid's large mind turn toward him. And both of them were surprised to see that Rakin's mind was at least as great as the Lavoid's. It didn't bother to speak to him. It instantly recognized in him a threat, and attacked.
Rakin found himself engulfed in a world of darkness.
"Lavoids tend to view us as slaves at best and vermin at worst. Sure,
they can talk with us. But why talk with vermin? Sometimes Lavoids kill because
they sense a threat, but mostly they kill because they sense an annoyance."