The new emperor didn’t let up. He came at Lara with everything he had. His Light of the Gods was currently charging over his form, changing the symbols that infected his skin. As Lara had already mentioned, the easiest way to ascertain who the current ruler of the Scarax Galaxy was was by looking at their skin. Their Light infected them in different ways, creating much deeper channels and more diverse decorations. She had never seen somebody ascend to the throne in front of her. It was a wild sight. As the energy raced over his form, she could smell it pushing into his skin, burning through all resistance as it took up root in his heart and spine like termites in an already fragile old building.
He screamed, no spittle flying out, just sparks of yellow-black force. Lara was dragged back as he shoved forward, brought his light sword down, and smashed it against her.
Now Lara had Light of her own. She deliberately wouldn’t explain it. Do that – shove her mind into the task of understanding the way it interacted with her – and it might do two things. It could distract her when she needed it least, but it could also set her mind to imagining just what it would feel like to be infected by even more Light – and importantly, more power.
She knew that to truly commune with the Light, you had to give it another way. A greater purpose, a higher point to reach for above the baseless pursuits of greed and force.
And what higher point could there be than holding this exact position? The main mouth to the cave wasn’t that far off. If Lara gave up now, the emperor would sweep toward the cavern, blast through the remaining defenses within, and get to the crystals.
Lara wouldn’t let that happen.
She shoved forward, thanking her lucky stars that she’d taken basic swordsmanship class in her third year at the Academy. But just as she lifted her sword to deliver another powerful, crackling blow, everything paused. This wasn’t bullet time – wasn’t her fear-filled mind slowing down to give her another chance. Everything around her stretched.
Lara never usually allowed her mind to become distracted. But sometimes minds do as they will. The emperor didn’t take the opportunity to race in and stab her through the chest. She watched as his eyes pulsed wide. Even the Light within her seemed to pause. Lara was keeping a connection as best she could via her broken armor to the settlement. All comms chatter stopped.
Everything paused. Even nature did. A few birds were chaotically flying through the battle raging through the settlement, likely trying to get to safety somewhere on this embattled world. One or two of them just fell from the sky. They didn’t die. They tumbled down onto their backs as if they’d fallen asleep mid-flight.
Finally, Lara understood.
As the silence spread, she detected something. She didn’t feel it in this world, if that made any sense. As an unknown energy picked up all around her, it pulsed first within her mind then spread.
She had a single second to recognize it was over – that they’d failed and the King was here to inhabit the universe – then that sense simply disappeared.
That massive hive mind didn’t snag her psyche and hold it forever.
… Had the King been defeated already? Lara knew the answer. She might only have a nominal connection to her crystals now, and one she could hardly indulge in during this distracting fight, but they rose to tell her this was only the beginning.
Joseph and Sally must’ve done as they’d promised. They must’ve lured the King into phase space.
So the battle for everything? It hadn’t even begun. She had fought – through sweat, blood, and tears – with two rulers of the Scarax Galaxy. But that was just the warm-up.