Hales sat with one leg under her and the other hanging over the big mossy boulder she was resting on. Yillo was some meters ahead, finding a shady spot to warm his muscles through a series of light exercises. They had time to spare as they awaited the rest of their squad and Cull Marcarios.
Garghent wanted to reform the old Specter squadrons so they could easily be deployed to target different zones and for ease of deployment. Garghent loved its organization and hierarchy of military. The Generals would be outlining the broad operations and zones of control to conquer and giving those directions to the Stratagems. The Stratagems remained in forward bases, operating as mission control to oversee how a regime or sector was performing and maintaining communications with the Generals and other Stratagems as well as the Culls. The Culls functioned as the battlefield commanders, overseeing either a group of squads run by a Captain or a platoon of soldiers. Each Captain operated with a small cell of elite soldiers.
Hales was one such captain and Yillo was a part of her squad. Marcarios would arrive with the other captains of his group and all the special forces soldiers that accompanied them. Hales and Yillo had already been near the designated meet up spot as they were training together in their down time between assignments and their own personal agendas. Hales never asked what Yillo did with his Specter resources but she would frequent Edeno at the prison to practice their synchronized powers. Yillo never inquired about her either. That was the unspoken rule between the two of them. Both were solitary individuals and found comfort in the quiet companionship of the other, a friendship that had first been established years ago on the mountain at the Camp of Awakening after a fight had broken out between Yillo and some of the other classmates.
It seemed Yillo was recalling that time as well as he randomly spoke up. “I never had the chance to get my revenge on Garriot. Now he’s with the enemy.” There was a repressed, though no less savage glee in the way he spoke.
Hales had witnessed Yillo’s evolution from fiery anger to frigid wrath, the latter being the more true ire, as Yillo explained it.
It was unlikely they would see Garriot in this coming battle, but just blowing off steam would suffice for now.
Hales was ready to let out some of her own pent up energy. She hadn’t slept much in a few weeks, staying up late into the night discussing astronomy and physics with various professors and working out problems on her own. The less she slept, the more she needed to do something exhilarating to stay awake, so she could get exhausted enough to sleep. This barely worked as her mind remained ever alert and debating in her own head.
The lines between her own inner dialogue and the voices constantly harassing her were beginning to blur.
Hales imagined herself crushing droves of undead. She worried Deo would prove inadequate at war and Garghent would simply sweep through Ophir and put an end to his reign. Despite being forced by Veron to side with Garghent at all costs, she held onto the desire for Garghent to fail. She just couldn’t imagine a world where Garghent loses to Ophir, not with Hales fighting for them.
Hales decided to hold nothing back in this invasion. She needed to decimate Deo’s forces as a wake up call to him, to be certain he has a proper grasp on events that were soon to transpire.
“When did the shy girl who couldn’t fathom inflicting pain on another person become the arrogant warmonger eager for violence?” A voice spoke to her, inside her mind.
When she got strong. That is the law of nature. Hand a squirrel a fang dipped in the deadliest toxin and no longer will that squirrel jump at the sight of a snake or a bird. This voice was separate from the other one. They did not have different voices or even tones, but they felt different and Hales could hardly express to herself why she thought this. It was as if the voices came from two different parts of her. One from deep inside her psyche and the other was like a force existing with her body.
Whether they were the cause of Sage work like with Veron’s Jinx or possibly Rone’s Aspect from the Siege of Garghent, the result of multiple blunt force head traumas as her doctor suggested or her already overactive mind and a lifetime of sleeplessness and intrusive thoughts, she could not say.
“Could be a combination of all of them.” Suggested one of the voices.
“Everything is always a combination of all the possibilities.” Hales snapped out loud.
Yillo shot her a quizzical look but minded his own business after Hales forced a reassuring smile.
She kept her words internal but continued to rant. “Anytime there is a spread of options causing a problem, everyone always goes through the options only to conclude that each option is valid and plays a role in the issue. I hate that! Just don’t say anything if it’s every possible option. What is the point in saying, oh it could be this, oh it could be that, oh maybe it’s a bit of both. You realize how asinine that is right? Just pick a problem and figure it out. If not, everything is always everything and that leads to an epistemological paradox where everything is connected to everything at all times and you could theoretically trace back each single atom as it transformed from one molecule to the next over the course of billions of years which turns every event in existence into a ‘how do we know this isn’t really the cause of that’ question.”
So what you’re saying is that fifty-two million years ago there was an amoeba that got sick and because of that you are going insane?
“I’m saying, if I hear that quasi-logic thrown at me ever again I am going to show you crazy. At some point events need to take responsibility for themselves, instead of blaming the infinite series of circumstances that led to it.”
“Well technically that’s how it works, ya know? Cause and effect. These are basic principles of the universe, just like the physicist was explaining.”
In Hales’ defense, the physicist also agreed that eventually the cause and effect argument breaks down in certain fields of mathematics and philosophically in the origins of the universe so it really should be kept as a theoretic argument because it ultimately leads to the question of determinism versus randomness.
“Thank you!” Hales exclaimed in relief, in her head.
Don’t get your hopes up. You should know, I was the bacteria that got the amoeba sick. Look what fate brought us back together! A parasite and a host, forever in a cosmic dance, transcending time and the very entropy of the universe. I will find you across ten thousand lifetimes in a thousand organisms.
“I’m just here for the ride, to be honest.”
“I hate you both.”
You hate yourself.
At some point the contingent of soldiers led by Cull Marcarios arrived and they exchanged greetings and went through the battle plan for the day. Hales gave the correct and appropriate responses as she was expected in the social norm. But she was already blacking out from her imagination.
A bleakness settled on her waking consciousness as she went through the motions. She shook hands with Saccha, the survivalist and weapon jack who had somehow managed to live for years as a soldier despite being an active drunkard. The other faces and names of her squad passed by. She recalled the terrainer and the tactician but her mind took precedence and she focused on her vivid daydreaming.
When it was time to move out, Hales did not even think about climbing down from her boulder, she merely created a planet, grew its mass and then let it gently pull her to the ground. She expended no physical effort and perfectly proportioned the gravitational force of the planet to allow for such a smooth and impressive, as benign a feat as it was, locomotion.
She was in the trance, or some corrupted version of it. Like how one could drive for hours on the road, barely cognizant, yet hyper aware of the surroundings, the other vehicles, the rush of nature and road signs, the radio or music playing and attend to everything without fault and still being zoned out the entire time.
Warriors described this often in the heat of combat. The battle fury where the god of war possesses you and every move from an opponent becomes telegraphed and slow and your own movements are surgical and fast.
Simultaneously being unconscious and grounded, the ideal state of enlightenment, only in Hales’ case it was garnered from a place of mental chaos rather than peace of mind.
Hales could hardly remember the strategy for the day’s fighting that Marcarios just outlined.
“Ah well, it can’t be more complicated than fighting off waves and waves of undead, right?” she asked herself.
The squads were trekking through the fields of Garghent, coming up on the rear camps. In the far distance could be heard the constant droning of gunfire and plumes of dust kicked up by explosives and marching legions.
The anticipation thrilled Hales in a way perhaps indicative of her degrading morals. Was there anything better than a good fight?
Hales found no evidence for the contrary.
They traversed the trenches and gathered around the frontline. There would be dozens of such teams, led by a Cull, all with at least a single Specter but in many cases there would be several.
Certain Specters would stay back in Garghent, like Corvan and Juy whose Chorus and Moonblink Aspects were less effective against the unresponsive and mindless thrall as well as most of the Sages.
Master Klyle was also stationed back in Garghent for the time being. Apparently Creeper had gone rogue and there was concern he would try something.
The goal for this battle was to push as far into Ophir’s territory as possible, putting a dent in Deo’s endless horde. The winning conditions for the war mainly revolved around slaying Deo. Deo would be forced into personally leading his undead into battle or else suffer catastrophic casualties day after day.
Hales blanked out when the order to begin the assault was given and it wasn’t until the fierce lightning crackles of Maracrios’ Levin Aspect jolted her into motion.
She scanned the field, looking for a spot without her own troops.
Over there looks promising. Pointed out a voice and somehow Hales knew exactly where it meant.
She needed her own space and this was already established with her own team. They were to follow her lead and provide cover and support.
“Solar.” Her eyes became spiral galaxies, rotating ever so slowly in that inexorable manner of the cosmos. She drew out a star first. Increasing its mass over her finger a hundredfold from its marble sized genesis. She was forced to raise her hand above her head or else be swallowed by the star.
This star was blue and enamouring. Like a glowing diamond of sheer energy. She gently nudged the huge blue sun forwards, not tethering its gravity to anything, simply letting it glide several meters off the ground.
Hales drew out six more stars, significantly smaller than the blue behemoth. She rotated them to a blinding speed and tethered them to the blue sun. She released them when she couldn’t control their speed anymore, launching them in a blur at various directions and angles.
The smaller stars each siphoned plasma from the blue sun and tore it to pieces as the superior speed and rotation had a greater effect on the stability of the blue star. They pulled it apart and dragged the plasma in like a blanket of fire over the undead charging dumbly into her Star Shower. She melted through whole lines of corpses, clearing a way for the moment.
Those undead were replaced by new ones but she had gained ground on them, leaving the trenches behind.
As she prepared an asteroid, she witnessed Yillo in his Phlogiston Body, a form which projected some of his colorful rage heat outward as a defense, rather than the 0 to a 100 in which his Aspect normally operated. This allowed a safety net, effective against many weaker attacks, so it was more of a 10 and 90 distribution of his Aspect. This was the way Hales imagined it.
Yillo jumped into a group of undead and obliterated them one by one with severe punches. The undead of course kept trying to pile and overwhelm him which would only make Yillo angrier until he unleashed a punch that exploded through many at a time. After he cleared one group he practically growled looking for another.
Hales took her spinning asteroid, lowered her own center of gravity, staggering her stance and widening it. She leaned on her back foot, putting pressure on her foot while stretching her asteroid bearing hand as far back as possible.
Hales was in a perfect thrower’s stance and when she finished a cycle of breathing, she pushed off the ground, and the planet pushed back, springing her forward as she whipped her hand straight and up. The spinning of the asteroid tossed her short hair to and fro with wind. She shouted with the effort of the throw and watched as the asteroid flew high into the sky, like a meteor taking off from the planet, and just like a meteor, the planet claimed it and pulled down.
Hales had tethered its gravity some two hundred meters in the distance where a group of undead were marching from. The meteor, though not quite reaching the clouds, was rotating so fast on its descent that it burned the air around it, the intense friction grating against the air molecules and combusting into flames.
The meteor crashed down on the undead with a loud boom and a haze of rock, smoke and bone heaved up.
That gap would take a minute for the undead to fill back up and Hales was ready to throw more meteors. Some undead slipped through, getting close to Hales. She hardly needed to think before smashing their skulls with equal sized planets. As she sent another meteor into the air, Hales prepared a line of stars, each tethered to the star preceding it. Moving the first star would cause a ripple effect moving each star in succession like a whip. This star whip was some forty meters long and Hales moved her hand slowly, guiding the stars so that they wouldn’t fling out of formation. Like a brush, Hales eased the stars to melt through corpses, dragging the sun whip along the landscape.
Xander was deep behind enemy lines, weaving through undead while wielding a single edged blade. He decapitated and dismembered them while in his odd fighting style of using his Bad Karma. Xander, through rigorous balance and movement training, learned how to fight with the flow of mistakes forced on him through his Bad Karma. He did this to maximize his Good Karma by always remaining in Bad Karma. Hales needed to make a mental note of his location so as not to accidentally drop a meteor on him.
Hales estimated they had gained a hundred meters within the first half hour, another two hundred meters in the next hour. Garghent set up its camps and moved the battalions when the fighting progressed ahead. Garghent wanted to edge their way through Ophir’s border.
Hales assumed elsewhere in the battle that it was going about the same. They’d definitely dispatched thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Nothing compared to the hundred million that Deo controlled, but war is a game of individuals. Kill as many individuals as possible and the enemy has less troops. There was no secret to war, just the brutal work of killing.
Hales projected tiny asteroids to shoot as fast as bullets by creating a funnel of two opposite rotating planets with a small gap in between to allow for the asteroids to be slinged through the funnel.
After a couple more hours of advancing, Hales noticed the sun going down. They’d keep pushing into the night or else lose all the ground while they slept. Garghent’s laborers needed time to build barricades and establish defenses. They wanted to push several kilometers this first day, grabbing a large portion of land from Ophir’s border.
They wouldn’t meet any of Ophir’s trenches today, as Deo had dug them closer to the actual city in a series of columns.
Hales threw out Solar Discs, meteors, star showers and sun whips. She unclipped her miniature dyson spheres and set them up with stars. They floated beside her, tethered to herself and fired beams of lasers on a timed count. When the fuel ran out and the stars died, the dyson spheres fell but Hales always snatched them before they hit the ground and set them with new stars. As prototypes, they worked decently. She was always impressed by the technology to actually accomplish it in the planet’s gravity, but in terms of fire power they were small and ran out swiftly. Still, Hales could grab one and direct its beam straight into the face of something and melt it away. So it wasn’t all bad.
Hales’ team kept up with her and Yillo forging ahead and cleaning up the leftovers they missed. On a couple of occasions Saccha blasted, with a shotgun, corpses that crawled with missing legs that had nearly grabbed at her ankles. She was never in any real danger, her reaction was fast enough to instantly destroy it with a precise star or planet but it did save her time and effort she could direct at killing the undead scores at a time.
When at last night fell, Hales, who was still untired and felt herself grow increasingly wakeful despite the day spent using her Aspect, set up a series of suns to orbit above her head, acting as a giant celestial night light.
Hales continued in her tossing, throwing and spinning of space objects in her martial discipline with the star candles overhead casting ghoulish shadows on the grey land full of the undead.
Night time was Hales’ element. It always had been, even before her Solar Aspect. Night was when the stars shone.
Hales pulled out a gas giant with a stormy and tumultuous composition and a series of concentric rings spinning around it and some twenty moons orbiting.
She threw the gas giant that rotated with its moons and rings, slicing and smashing undead in a path before eventually losing momentum among a group of groaning corpses. The gas giant was large and Hales had actually tethered it to one of her solar candelabras, pulling the star from its orbit above her head and causing it to collide into the gas giant, triggering a blast that lit up the night.
This explosion was one of many that Hales made, disturbing the night and casting a destructive spell of beautiful and impossible sights, surreal images of stars and planets and asteroids gliding in the darkness as if she were some astro-mystic architect, commanding the very forces of the universe to play on her warsong tempo.
Deo is going to see this for sure.
“He will. And every night he looks at the moon and the starry sky he will think of me and fear my approach.”
It was impossible for Hales to direct her hatred and anger at anyone beside Veron’s enemies. So Hales would unleash everything in her galaxy to achieve this, the war against Deo.