Son of the Stars + Sample

Son of the Stars, my cosmic fantasy of 146,000 words, is about a fallen star who must overcome his addictions to regain his powers and stop his grandmother from consuming the universe.

Check out my pinterest boards with ideas and my first chapter below!

Chapter Sample

By sacrifice of the inner,

By acceptance of the outer,

By the surrender of me,

Unheeding Hunger and Apathy,

I become more than myself,

I find the balance between,

And I become the Beyond.

-Amrai, First-zenarai

Chapter 1: Nova

No amount of starfire could thaw the frozen terror clutching Jakum’s heart.

His grandmother had ignored every Nova Day tradition. Instead of speaking last words to her family and friends, she stayed silent. Instead of releasing her lifefire in a luminous supernova, her flame remained extinguished. She floated a distance away, cross-legged, her silver hair serving as a tangled frame to her wrinkled face. Her eyes were closed in an expression of intense focus. Silent as a singularity.

Jakum’s family hovered in the wide expanse, waiting. Out of respect for the dying, none had ignited, appearing only in their simple robes. Behind them stood their home: a massive, glowing structure built of elegant angles and sinuous strokes. Their home and guiding beacon, and currently one of the few sources of light. Beyond it, darkness held dominion.

A jittering anxiety to speak pulled on his conscience. His grandmother’s words clawed at his memory like a pulsar ripping through a gauzy nebula. “The thoughtsphere had a few… unorthodox methods. If I’m right, I’ll be immortal. My Nova Day will be a metamorphosis instead of a funeral.”

He swept the words aside. They had been the ramblings of an old woman, desperate to stay alive. Was that a sin? She had been reading the forbidden records. He had seen the wild desperation in her eyes.

Jakum shook it away. Who was he to judge? He wasn’t even a hundred years old and his grandmother was a second-generation stellant. Her father had been Amoch the Great. Would a prophet and the first of his race have let his own daughter go astray?

Besides, if he told his parents now what Verok had said, they would know he had also been in the forbidden histories, satisfying his own morbid curiosity. Why cause a fuss about what was a dying stellant’s false hope?

Any moment now, she should ignite, manifesting her lifefire’s inner turmoil as a brilliant burst of stardust. His worries consumed, leaving only memories.

The pulsing slowed. Two primal forces strained: one pushing out, one pulling in. Gravitational energy twisted, distorting space, time, and light. The gravitational waves from Verok became a forced rhythm on a reluctant drum. 

The whistle of a supernova began; like he had heard from regular stars. Maybe nothing odd would happen. Maybe she would nova, and the burden of his worries would be lifted. The whistle was cut off by a rapid implosion. Gravity abruptly tugged at him.

The last of Verok’s light winked out.

Gone was the glow of a stellant. The radiant nebula played backdrop to the lightless silhouette of his grandmother.

Everything’s going to be fine, Jakum told himself. Maybe this is part of the process? The lie felt thin.

Jakum’s mother approached the dark form. His father placed a hand on her shoulder. But she gently removed it, raising her own in a calming gesture.

Jakum’s heart plunged deeper into his chest.

“What happened?” A young feminine voice. Rogwis. His younger sister. Barely old enough to speak.

“I don’t know,” Jakum said.

Their mother and grandmother exchanged quiet words. One voice soft, the other bitter.

“I’m scared,” Rogwis said, her voice trembling.

Jakum pulled her into a side hug. “It’ll be okay,” he said, speaking more to himself than to her.

“FINE!” a sharp voice shouted. A burst of motion. Mother was no more.

It had happened so fast, it took Jakum a few moments to process it. His mother was gone, her light extinguished without even a shout of protest. He didn’t know what to do, what to say. He froze in the realization. Froze in the understanding of what his silence had brought.

Then came the screams. The crushing black. His grandmother consuming all in sight to a symphony of terror and rage. All falling, all dying.

All but Jakum becoming food for the insatiable void.

Six and a half years later…

The yellow glare of oil lamps cast a quivering light on the ancient murals. It made little sense. How did an eight-thousand-year-old temple bear an engraving of a stellant?

The rough etching displayed a star with lightbeams spreading from its radius. The center bore a shape so hard to make out, he wondered if he imagined it. A person. Head, body, with arms outstretched. Like a stellant.

In the six years since he’d been found in the gutter, this was the first time he had seen anything this old hint at the existence of a stellant. In all the travels he’d had with his wife and squad, this was one of the few signs his life before had been more than a dream.

It had been seven years since his last ignition. Seven years since he’d had his powers. Turbulence pounded in his head. Flashes of his past rushed by. Darkness consuming his family. Sitting in filth, hands grasping at fire root. Begging for drugs or the companionship of a woman. The emptiness in his chest where his fire once was. The tethers of the mortal worlds dragging him down to an endless woe.

His training came to his rescue. Slow your breathing. Surrender your will to the Beyond. Words he had memorized, but still didn’t understand. 

The zenarai spoke of the Beyond so often the word nearly lost all meaning. Of course, how could a word encompass the infinite realm, the source and destination of all souls? Words were not truth, only signposts leading to it. Following the Beyond’s will would, supposedly, increase his harmony with the cosmos and give peace to his heart.

The tempest in Jakum’s mind refused to calm.

He thought of a different surrender. Past escapades. Impulses which dragged him along like a corpse. Drugs and drink and lust never filled him, but they did blind him to what he had lost.

“Jak.”

His wife, Guri, entered the long chamber. She wore the garb of a paladin zenarai, same as Jakum. A gray shirt beneath a blue tunic, bracers, and boots. Her long black hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and her dark olive skin shone with an orange hue from the lamplight.

Passionate heat started in his neck, dropped through his shoulders and chest, and settled into his gut as an aching need.

Guri flexed her hands into tight fists.

“What’s wrong?” He faced her.

“There’s nothing here. Nothing to suggest why he came.”

“What did you expect to find?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, some clue.”

“I’m sure your father had a reason,” Jakum said. “What does Mastress Gidorem have to say?”

Mastress Gidorem led their squad of paladins. A great warrior and leader, she was also the first zenarai Jakum had met in that alley after he’d tried to end his life.

Guri scoffed. “Haran did all the talking. He said I should give up.”

Jakum took her hand in his. “Haran’s free to do whatever he wants, and so are you. Don’t give up.”

Fragile hope quivered in her eyes. “Maybe he’s right, I’ve been searching so long.”

Jakum smiled encouragingly. “We’ll find him.” The stone mural pulled Jakum’s gaze away from her. “I… I found something.”

She turned to the mural, cocking her head slightly and squinting. She released his hand and approached the carving. “Is that…?”

“Yes,” Jakum said, hesitant. “I think it’s a stellant.”

“That makes no sense.”

“I know!” He laughed at the absurdity. “Maybe this holds some other clue, something that will get me my powers back!”

She frowned. “Jak, I don’t want you to get disappointed.”

“No, this has to be something!”

“Then, what’s next?” Guri said, raising an eyebrow. “What are you going to do?”

Jakum tightened his fists. He knew where this went. “You mean, am I going to run off again?”

Guri’s expression fell.

Guilt lanced through him. Jakum had misunderstood. Again. He exhaled a long sigh. “I don’t know.” He looked back at the carvings. “I need to analyze this. There has to be more.”

Guri remained silent, and Jakum cursed himself once again for his clumsy stumbling through their conversation. He waited, unsure whether he should keep talking, apologize, or just wait for her to respond.

“What do you think you will find that the sages haven’t already?” Guri said.

Jakum shrugged. “I’m a stellant. Maybe I’ll see something they can’t.”

“Are you really going on about that again?” a sharp male voice echoed.

Jakum stifled a groan. Haran stepped into the room.

Paladin Haran Oshin had brown eyes and black hair like his sister, Guri. His skin was a deeper shade. Through years of honing his physical form Haran had transformed himself into a “product of fine craftsmanship”. He was five years older than his sister, Guri. He was often the first to charge and give orders. Many zenarai viewed Haran as the archetype of what a paladin zenarai should be, destined for leadership. He was also one of the worlds’ most powerful yoncrafters. 

Haran inspected the mural on the wall. “Mastress Gidorem needs to speak to you.” He gave Jakum a nod, then left.

“We’ll be there in a minute,” Jakum shouted down the hall. Haran would be annoyed at the delay. He turned to Guri, grabbed both of her hands, and held her gaze. “Look, I know I’ve said this before, and I hope my sobriety proves this, but I will never abandon you again. I love you. Nothing can change that.”

The furrow in her brow softened. “That’s not what I’m worried about.”

He wanted to ask, but she’d gotten into moods like this before. Prodding was as likely to start a fight as they were to resolve anything. He pressed down his annoyance and didn’t speak until a few moments had passed.

“Let’s see what Mastress Gidorem needs.” He stood straight, lifted his chin, and spoke with a flare of drama, “I pray mayhaps Haran’s attitude is possessed of strong inclinations of humility. May his words bear the markings of finest esteem.”

They walked. Guri raised an amused eyebrow. “Please, don’t. Haran has fed me a lifetime’s worth of bad poetry.”

“But an understanding of poetry makes you a better yoncrafter.” Jakum waved his finger in rebuke, quoting Haran.

Guri rolled her eyes. “I’m just as good at yoncrafting as he is, and I’ve never written a poem in my life.”

Haran was better. But that wasn’t something she would want to hear now. “Yet Gidorem continues to hand him more authority and keeps your position the same.”

Guri glared.

He raised a hand in surrender. “Hey! I’m saying it makes no sense.”

“Mastress Gidorem has her reasons.”

“You just don’t know any.”

Her response was a playful slug to his arm.

The sages zenarai were hard at work in the ruins large central chamber. They made notes, sketched, took photographs, and scanned microfilm.

The sages weren’t alone. A few yondians from the nearby cities in Rineval had come to assist. It had taken Jakum some time to understand the difference between a yondian and a zenarai, and even more to understand the three types of zenarai.

The sages zenarai focused on yoncraft to teach and feed the poor and uneducated. The advocates zenarai used yoncraft to sharpen their minds and better argue in the nations’ courts of law. The paladins zenarai were sent when violence was required to protect the people.

The zenarai devoted their lives to service. Most lived on Zenar with their families. They dedicated their lives to learning yoncraft and using it to support the yondians (believers in the Beyond who lived in communities all across the worlds). Any yondian, if they proved worthy, could become a zenarai and learn yoncraft.

Yoncrafting was the power to gather energy from the Beyond through meditation, invest that energy into glyphs which defined the effect they would have on the natural world. With all the powers he had lost, Jakum could still yoncraft. Unlike the dusters, Jakum bore no tattoo or scars to bestow the ability, it was something his father had given him long ago. Without it, he would’ve been little more than an insect.

Jakum’s squad were the only paladins in the room. Haran stood with Mastress Gidorem, as Dosodai and Kijai waited off to the side. Dosodai noticed Jakum and gave him a low nod. Dosodai’s skin was pitch black, and his eyes shone with a faint orange light. He had the lean physique of a swift fighter.

In the center of the room stood a small pedestal of weathered stone. On it lay a metal object, its surface rough with age and covered in etched glyphs. Jakum recognized a few. Forcecalling. Spacebending. Resonance.

Jakum had used forcecalling and resonance many times but had only read about spacebending. It was one of the powers taken away two millennia ago. This artifact was old. Jakum didn’t know exactly which powers he had access to, but whenever he tried any of the “lost glyphs,” he failed just like the rest of the zenarai.

Mastress Gidorem was deep in conversation with the head sage, motioning to the artifact. Her skin was a nearly white violet. Her short hair a faint blue. Despite being the oldest in their squad by thirty years, she tossed fighters twice her weight and half her age without yoncraft.

Jakum failed to remember the head sage’s name. His attire, though not a uniform like the paladins, was still reserved. The sleeves on his tunic were tight, to keep them from dragging through papers or dipping in ink, and the long cloak he wore bore many pockets, each filled with writing instruments, research tools, and often a book or two. Though not a requirement for sages, his hair was shorn clean.

Gidorem excused herself from the sage and approached Jakum. “What do you think?”

Jakum was no scholar. Why ask him? “Um, about what?”

Gidorem motioned again to the artifact, her eyebrows raised in question.

“I… I don’t know. It’s got a lost glyph on it.”

Gidorem nodded. “And, on further analysis, it hints at much more than that.”

The temple quivered with a low rumbling. Jakum’s gaze whipped around, searching for the source of the disturbance.

Mastress Gidorem and Haran gave each other a knowing look, then nodded. Without speaking, Haran ran for the entrance.

Gidorem turned to the sages. “Be ready to leave. The pyrwoden have come.” Gidorem turned to the paladins. “Let’s go.”

Excitement spiked. They were about to have a fight. “Who’s ready to smash some pyrwoden?” Jakum said to the other paladins.

One of the sages gave Jakum an incredulous look. “How can you be so calm? These are pyrwoden, once-men, wielders of corrupted yoncraft.”

Paladin Kijai stepped forward from Dosodai’s side. He was the tallest member of the group. His short beard outlined his scarred jaw from ear to ear, one of which was missing. He’d refused offers to heal it, letting the scars serve as reminders of the great war. “Once you crack the shell,” Kijai said with a grin, “they’re mush on the inside. Just like the rest of us.”

Jakum flinched and scowled at this worlds’ garish orange star. Despite six years living among dusters, he had not gotten used to the brightness of these stars. He yearned for his own light.

The dark stone ruins were worn and smothered in vines. A few hundred meters in front of the temple’s entrance, a small pyrwoden transport hovered in the air. It was almost entirely obsidian-black, and its shape reminded Jakum of an insect. An elongated, but almost bulbous, central body, armored in jagged carapace, with a fanlike tail. Various rune-engines jutted from the main body, with larger ones on the bottom and back. Each had a specific purpose. Some were used to store yonergy, and others were for exerting (or inverting) kinetic force. Others still had more offensive capabilities.

A handful of pyrwoden jumped down from the skyship’s bottom hatch. Jakum tried to discern their castes but found it impossible at this distance. They shouldn’t be here, Jakum thought. He made sure his shoulder lamp was ready to cast the canvas of light to execute the glyphs of yoncraft. Its battery was fully charged. He itched for the pyrwoden to attack.

A sudden unease skittered up his spine. He returned his gaze to the ancient temple. A warm wind blew, and the structure’s crumbling roof bore neither sign nor sound of someone sneaking about. Nothing to explain the chill, now gone.

A metallic clunking brought his attention back to the pyrwoden. The once-men strolled confidently up the gradual slope to the temple’s entrance. They wore black and blue-gray heavy armor composed of hundreds of interlocking plates etched with runetech augmentations.

Of all the duster cultures Jakum had encountered, the pyrwoden were the most alien. They were a religion, culture, order of yoncrafters, and type of technology all in one. They had descended from a group of outcast ainites, but had returned with a conquering vengeance to establish what may have been the strongest, and most brutal, empire in all the worlds of Svorul.

During their exile, they lost the ability to yoncraft, but somehow gained the ability to runecraft. Both abilities drew on yonergy and used the same glyphs, but unlike yoncraft, which was magic performed by an individual, runecraft was magic performed by an object. After several hundred years of experimentation, combining ever smaller components of rune-etched pieces, they eventually developed a complex technology fueled by the powers of the Beyond. All other duster technology worked via forms of electrical and mechanical engineering. And despite their technology’s marvelous capabilities, their conquest’s brutality soured interest in pyrwoden runetech. Many ainans and zenarai had died by pyrwoden hands.

Once the pyrwoden were close enough, Jakum noted their castes. Three temperons, two magnirons, and a single meteorian. The temperons and the magnirons had similar builds, two meters tall and moderately armored. The meteorian, however, was two-and-a-half meters tall, its limbs thick and covered in muscle and heavy armor. Jakum’s fists tightened painfully. He’d seen the sort of deaths these things caused.

Pyrwoden soldiers wore full-face helmets, with runes of sight where there should have been eyes. He liked being able to meet his enemy’s gaze.

The last pyrwoden, stepping up behind the rest to the same elevation, was a vanguard. The faceless warrior was leaner, faster, and taller than the rest. It was covered head to toe in a brutal, yet elegant, armor which echoed the pyrwoden skyship. Jakum had only ever seen one vanguard before. In a photograph. Dead. Surrounded by half a dozen crushed paladins zenarai.

The zenarai shifted into combat-ready stances, each with a hand ready to activate their shoulder-lanterns. A vanguard made the outcome of this fight far less certain.

“I don’t know if you’re aware,” Mastress Gidorem said calmly, “But you’re disobeying the peace accords by being here.”

The pyrwoden came to a stop half a dozen meters away. They fidgeted, hands grasping weapons, itching for a fight.

“I didn’t sign any accords.” His voice was low and scratched as he cocked his head dismissively.

“Your Master Pyrwoden did.” Gidorem’s blue nostrils flared, and her star-pointed irises sharpened her scowl.

The vanguard turned to the other pyrwoden. They shifted, but nobody stepped. Jakum expected them to have attacked by now. The vanguard shifted its gaze to the zenarai, its head moving up and down in a scan of appraisal.

“What are you doing here?” Gidorem snapped.

“I think that would fall outside your stewardship, Mastress Gidorem.”

Jakum flinched, his heart quickening into a violent rhythm. Pressure tightened the center of his chest. He knew that voice…

A man, not a pyrwoden, in a black mask stepped forward. He wore a fine silk suit in the ainan style: Long black jacket, a sharp vest of deep gray. He bore a yoncrafter’s lamp on his shoulder and made no effort to hide it. Jakum inspected the mask, recognizing the eyes. He clawed through his memory for some clue to transform the connection from vague to concrete.

The masked man held the artifact from inside the ancient temple, stuffing it into a satchel. Jakum’s eyes widened. He had been looking at it only five minutes ago.

“How did you get that?” Jakum said.

The man ignored Jakum as the vanguard spoke. “What do you want us to do with these zenarai?”

“That depends on if they want to let us go.” The masked man turned to Gidorem. “Yes, we’ve broken the accords by crossing the border, but surely you’d rather let us return with no incident. We have no intentions of staying.”

“Well, you won’t be.” Gidorem jutted her chin at the man’s satchel. “And you’ll be returning that artifact to me.”

The man shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “You need not concern yourself.”

“Give it to me, and, if you have hurt none of my sages, I will let you return to pyrwoden lands in peace.”

“Peace? I thought paladins were only concerned with killing.” He shook his head wistfully. “Pardon my error of judgment.”

“Hand. It. Over.” The blue of Gidorem’s cheeks took on a violet hue.

The masked man sighed. “You zenarai never make things easy.”

He met Jakum’s eyes. The masked man narrowed his gaze until his eyes widened in surprise. “Kill them.”

The pyrwoden charged.

Instinct moved Jakum. He flicked his lamp on and eyed a temperon headed for him. Jakum formed two mudras, coreforging to target the atoms’ cores of the temperon’s bracer, and movement to direct the cores down and to the right.

The temperon swung at Jakum with its freezing tonfa. The glyphs, formed by the shadows of Jakum’s fingers, flashed with white light as Jakum invested them with yonergy. An invisible force twisted the temperon’s arm with a loud crack. It stumbled, and Jakum grabbed its shoulders and threw it to the ground as he jumped past. He smiled. He loved watching a pyrwoden go down.

Movement to the right.

The meteorian bellowed as it charged, raising a gauntleted arm as wide as shields.

Jakum targeted the gauntlet as the meteorian swung. With another flash of yonergy, Jakum pulled the strike to the left. The fist struck the earth with a booming thud.

The meteorian growled, but Jakum was already jumping up its arm, leaping and twisting as he performed more yoncraft. The glyphs flashed brightly and the molecular bonds in Jakum’s hand strengthened.

And his iron hard knuckles smashed through the faceplate.

Without yoncraft, Jakum’s arm would have broken at such an impact. Instead, the meteorian’s mask crunched, sending metal shards scattering through the air.

Jakum finished his leap and jumped to the side as the meteorian hit the earth. He turned back and checked his foe. Pyrwoden were hideous under their helms. Gray skin, without a single strand of hair on their heads or their faces. Blood seeped from a few fresh cuts. It stayed on one knee, swaying. Grey eyes unfocused.

There were shouts and echoes of impact. He quickly found the man in the mask, and locked eyes. They were vibrant shades of sea green and pine. Jakum’s gut twirled. He’d seen this man just after the last time he flew, when he’d crashed into that planet. After he’d watched his family die.

Whatever Jakum’s grandmother had taken, this man had taken the rest.

Jakum’s breathing stopped. His heart rattled in his chest. His eyes welled up with remembered pain and frustration. His hands tightened into fists, the nails digging into his palms. This man had broken him. And now, after years of desperate searching, he was standing right here.

“You!” Jakum shouted through gritted teeth, pointing at the man. The man’s eyes went relaxed, and without a word or a flinch, he turned to walk away.

An angry scream pierced Jakum’s ears. Nearby, Kijai and the vanguard were locked in frantic combat. The bright image of a burning glyph barely faded from sight. The tiny runes on the vanguard’s gauntlet glowed. A near-invisible tether rippled the air, lashed around Kijai’s arm. and yanked him to the ground. Kijai hit hard, tumbling through the dirt. The vanguard closed the distance, its heavy feet shooting off puffs of dust on impact with the earth.

Jakum forced his gaze back to the man in the mask. If he looked away again, the masked man might disappear for good.

Without glancing behind him, the masked man motioned two pyrwoden to intercept Jakum.

Jakum planted his feet and threw himself forward. He executed a burning white glyph with his forward hand and after a step executed the second. The two pyrwoden swung at him. He ducked low. His crafting took the pyrwoden’s downward swings transformed them into rotational momentum, turning their own movement against them.

One pyrwoden, a temperon, flipped forward to sprawl on the earth. The heavier magniron didn’t flip, but his twisting mace smashed into his own gut.

Jakum kept moving, sliding on his knees, eyes chained to the masked man.

Jakum was only a step away by the time the masked man looked back. Jakum’s hands formed a yoncrafting to summon electrons from the dirt to strike this man down.

With a scowl, the man formed mudras of his own. Lightning fast.

Jakum’s summoned electrons leaped from the dirt, shooting off scattering rays of violet light. They missed their intended target. The man wasn’t there. Electrons arced back down into the dirt, the energy zipping frantically as the dirt’s atoms tried to balance themselves.

The man appeared to Jakum’s right. The air rippled around him.

The man shook his head. “Little zenarai, you should not think you can fight the likes of me.”

Jakum growled. He rushed forward. A flash of light and a new crafting caused the air around his fists to pulse with electrons, a buzzing river orbiting his arm. Hairs stood on end with static.

He closed the distance.

Jakum jabbed. The masked man diverted the strike and punched Jakum in the gut. Jakum grunted and bent over, but recovered quickly, whipping up in a tight uppercut. An arcing arm caught Jakum’s strike and diverted it again. The man in the mask had no reaction to the electrical current around Jakum’s fists.

A foot to the chest knocked Jakum back half a meter. He rushed the man again.

In a quick motion, the man removed his mask. His identity confirmed. The green eyes. The calm face. Mouth tightened into a thin, serious line with just a hint of a smirk. This was him. The man who had cursed him. The man who had ensnared him in the human vices which still dragged Jakum into the abyss.

Jakum stopped, brow knitting tightly.

“I see that you’ve become a little zenarai now,” the man said, his relaxed breathing giving no indication that he had just been fighting. “I hear you’re having a hard time flying?”

Jakum screamed, striking again. But the man was too fast. He diverted every strike aside, bringing his knee to Jakum’s gut while he was wide open. Organs collided. Jakum sucked in a breath and stumbled backward.

“You should have stayed in the slums.” The man’s hands formed mudras; White sparks burned into glyphs Jakum didn’t have time to recognize.

The man touched Jakum’s forehead.

Jeun stands against the darkness. Verum launches lifefire in a swirling torrent. Screams. Fleeing. The children. His cousins. Aunt Kuna. A twisting force tears them apart and pulls them in. Jeun’s shouts of rage.

Silence.

The present filled Jakum’s sight. He was falling. The no longer masked man rushed him with a look of determination, a crackling red blade projecting from his fist.

Disoriented, Jakum willed his starfire to form glyphs. The air remained empty. Jakum landed on his back, hitting hard earth. The crimson blade came down.

Darkness.

Haran weaved around the vanguard’s strikes, his hands darting like the branched paths of lightning. He kept his breath steady and measured.

Haran’s clothes tugged at him as the vanguard tried to throw him with a telekinetic rune-device. With a twist of Haran’s fingers and a flash of light, he redirected the telekinetic energy into a narrow sliver, spinning the force around and into the vanguard’s side. It cut like a knife through wet paper, the satisfying crackle signaling he had shattered the vanguard’s ability to throw any more invisible force.

Haran smiled. The pyrwoden hadn’t updated the vanguard’s internal layouts.

The vanguard twitched. Its shoulders tightened; fingers flexed so tight the armor creaked. Two and a half meters of rune-powered pyrwoden charged.

Haran formed more mudras. The inevitable punch came down, a hundred kilograms of titanic force behind it. Haran threw the strike askew with his forearm, grabbing the pyrwoden’s wrist with his other hand. His final glyph finished burning and Haran’s smile widened. The electrons in the vanguard’s suit jumped, running through its body and armor in a long circuit. With a spasmodic twitching the vanguard stumbled to the ground, arms jerking in short, involuntary movements.

It was difficult to target yoncraft at a person’s body without their consent. Targeting runetech implants, however, only required as much consent as targeting clothing or weapons. None at all.

With his body still strengthened, Haran stomped. Metal squealed and bone crunched wetly. Grey blood seeped from the wounds as the vanguard finally stopped moving.

Heat rose through Haran’s shoulders and neck. Killing a pyrwoden felt a little too good.

With his enemy taken care of, Haran surveyed the scene. Pyrwoden fled, Mastress Gidorem favored her bleeding leg, Kijai lay on the ground, and Dosodai leaned over him.

Haran prayed the paladin was only unconscious.

Grunts of battle and physical impacts sounded to his right. A bit off from the rest, Jakum and the man in the mask exchanged blows.

Haran ran toward the fight. Where is Guri? he thought.

Jakum stumbled. The man removed his mask and spoke a few words Haran missed, forming some complex mudras at the same time. One burned with the sub-glyph for Foundation.

Haran leaped over a rock. He must’ve been mistaken, no yoncrafter had accessed Foundation since before Amrai’s purge.

Jakum fell, his head bouncing hard. With another crafting, a red plasma blade extended from the masked man’s forearm.

Haran almost tripped over a bush and cursed, glaring at the man who readied a last strike.

Haran growled, leaping. He targeted the molecules of air around him and yoncrafted new kinetic energy into them. His hands swung wide with the desired direction. A gust of wind rushed from Haran, flipping the stranger away from Jakum. The plasma blade dissipated and the man hit the ground hard but rolled into a standing position. In a flash, the man performed several more mudras. Haran was less than a meter away. With a flash of yonfire the man finished his crafting, performing an expert tumble onto the dirt.

And disappeared.

Haran came to a dirt-scraping stop, landing right where the man had vanished. Haran cocked his head. He bent down, touching the dirt. No sign of either a hatch or a tunnel. He groaned in frustration.

He turned to Jakum. Jakum’s eyes were closed, but he was still breathing. Haran delicately checked the back of Jakum’s head. It was moist, and Haran’s hand came back with a bit of blood. Haran grimaced, he wished Jakum’s eyes were open so he could check for a concussion.

Jakum’s forehead beaded with sweat. His breathing was uneven, almost a whimper. Haran wondered what sort of dark visions passed through Jakum’s unconscious mind.

Haran sighed, shaking his head. Regardless of his beliefs toward Jakum’s claims of being a stellant, Jakum had obviously suffered great abuse before he came to the zenarai. Those memories must hang over the man’s every conscious and unconscious thought.

The ground rumbled and Haran’s focus darted. The pyrwoden skyship lifted off as the few surviving pyrwoden scrambled up the ramp. A tiny dark form boarded the ship last. The man in the mask?

He couldn’t catch the skyship, so Haran dropped to one knee, lifted Jakum’s limp form, and carried him to the others.

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