Big Game VI – Chapter Thirty One: Paths
Intro 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 Epilogue
The Will of Eldanesh hovered, a silent blade suspended above the conflagration raging on the glowering engine of destruction that humans called the Omega Station. In the void, great vessels pummeled each other with weapons of untold destructive power, appearing as only tiny blinks of light. Though the viewport, the Station resembled nothing so much as a pearl, suspended in the inky black darkness of space.
Kaylessa observed its presence, simultaneously obscured and accentuated by the faint glimmer of the holofields that shrouded her Void Stalker in complex illusions. The shimmering veil of those fields heightened the natural eeriness of the Station. Works of devastating grace were rare in the galaxy, and almost unheard of from humans. The garish slabs they took to sail across the stars, bristling with weapons, had always spoken of the race’s nature to Kaylessa. Something of this magnitude, however; the sheer menace it projected. It was almost...
A chime sounded, and Kaylessa was suddenly aware of a presence at the doorway to her quarters. She turned to see a slender form clad in robes holding a staff. From a tall helm of wraithbone, enormous jade eyes peered, seeming to analyze everything through a deeply alien perspective.
“Farseer Laiendra,” Kaylessa said with a careful neutrality. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Captain Ailnstar,” the Farseer said, her sibilant voice completely without emotion. “May I enter?”
What could she possibly want? At the best of times, the Farseer made Kaylessa’s skin crawl. Now, she would be damned near intolerable. Still, Kaylessa forced a smile, putting on the manners of her station. “By all means. I’m honored that you would join me.”
With deliberate steps, the Farseer crossed the length of the room and stood before the massive oval window that looked out over the battles below. More glittering beams stabbed out from the darkness. Kaylessa watched reflections of them in the Farseer’s helm as she stood impassively, observing the far-off carnage.
“There is much death below,” the Farseer said. “I can feel them. Eldar. Human. Even the Hive-creatures. Like strings cut in the ether. Whispers of pain, and of fear. There is a beauty in it, I suppose.”
“The warriors of my cohort are down there, Farseer,” Kaylessa said, failing to keep the irritation out of her voice. “I do not find their deaths beautiful. They are my kin.”
For a long time, neither of the Eldar said a word, letting the stark visions outside play out silently. A momentary, brilliant burst of light bloomed as a faraway ship’s core went critical, killing the vessel and taking thousands of lives with it. From this distance, it was impossible to tell which side it had been on.
Finally, Laiendra spoke. “My presence unsettles you.”
“No, Farseer, I assu...”
“I understand, Captain,” the Farseer said, returning her attention to the viewport. “I once walked the path of the Mariner. I remember the feelings of... otherness that one of my nature radiated. How strange, now, to inhabit this body that evokes the same feeling of unease.”
“Yes, well,” Kaylessa coughed, searching for an appropriate platitude, “You hold all of our fates. A grave responsibility.”
“In a sense,” the Farseer said. “All of us carry our responsibilities. You, for instance. You and your Corsairs had no responsibility to return to Alaitoc, or to take part in this battle. Your responsibility is to those under your command, yet you took on the duties of protecting your Craftworld. That was... unexpected, given the manner your egress.”
Kaylessa found the last of her patience wearing away. She had been banished from Alaitoc. This Farseer needled her greatest wound, a dishonor that would stain her forever. An unbidden memory flashed behind her eyes; watching the Craftworld shrink in the distance as she and her crew sailed away, her heart sinking with the knowledge that she would never be able to call it home again.
Returning from exile to ferry her kinsmen to their doom, here in this lonely chasm of space, was the hardest thing Kaylessa had ever done. Now the Farseer spoke of it so lightly? Was this some poor attempt at a joke?
Kaylessa closed her eyes, and took in a long breath, reminding herself that Laiendra likely had no idea of the offense she was committing. She had sacrificed her soul to scry the many possible futures, and her mind no longer perceived the slights and double meanings of conversation.
“It was my duty. The Craftworld needs us now. The... our people need us now.” Kaylessa said, turning to her guest. “How may I be of assistance to you, Farseer?”
“Thank you, Captain, but I require no assistance. I simply did not wish to witness this moment alone.”
Kaylessa cocked her head quizzically. “This moment?”
Without warning, a cloverleaf of light began to emanate from the Station below. Kaylessa mistook it for some sort of detonation until the four circles extended into a blunt tail, and beyond the planet's atmosphere. The world engines buried deep in the Omega Station’s core began to pulse, and slowly, its shape diminished in the viewport.
Kaylessa’s mouth hung open. “Isha’s tears, it’s moving…”
“Indeed,” the Farseer said.
“So... the plan is in motion, then?”
“It could... the... yes. It would seem,” the Farseer said, her head bowed. “I apologize, Captain. There are new futures, new threads unfurling. It is... there...”
Laiendra began to slump and, without thinking, Kaylessa caught her shoulder, steadying them both. Beneath the Farseer’s robes, something crunched slightly, like glass, but she made no sound of pain.
The Farseer stood. “Thank you,” she said quietly, leaning heavily on her staff. “We have traded an end for a beginning. The known, for a thousand unknowns. I have seen it all burn; Alaitoc, Ulthwé, the Undercity, all of it. So many futures, and few of them without catastrophe.”
“So, the plan does not work? The Station is in the hands of the Great Enemy?” Kaylessa said, alarm creeping into her voice.
“The plan is not the end,” Laiendra said. “It is just one more point on a long, winding path. I am... afraid, I think. Yes. Fear. I so rarely feel it anymore.”
Kaylessa nodded, though she did not fully understand. “We will face that future then, Laiendra, with a sword and with our knowledge. As we always have.”
The Farseer straightened and bowed her head. “Thank you, Captain. That is why I came here tonight. To be with someone brave.”
Kaylessa smiled warmly, and this time, it was genuine. “I am glad to have stood here with you, Laiendra.”
The Farseer made the barest of nods. “A comforting illusion is still a comfort,” she said and then swept out of the cabin, leaving Kaylessa to the silence of the void.