The War of the Gods Book Three Chapter 3

Joseph Lance

He… was alive. If you could call this alive. He hadn’t been snuffed out, even though he was certain he couldn’t survive the Regent’s mind. If you could call this surviving.

It was like he was always on the run, always darting from segments of his mind to another, hiding behind his memories only for the Regent to wrench them back and continue grasping for him once more.

But in between that frantic battle, Joseph became aware of what was going on in the outside world.

Sally was… something. He’d seen Layra’s memory.

It hadn’t shocked him as much as it should. Admiral Forest had already prepared him for the fact Sally’s body was still down on Faxon A.

But what exactly was she? Just a clone? Didn’t feel right. Plus, now the Regent was in Joseph’s head, he knew full well the bastard was hiding something. This was a manipulation designed to get Sally to crack. He had an hour – no, less time now – to do so.

Desperation the likes of which Joseph had never felt raged through his chest. The Regent had one hell of a frighteningly strong psyche, something Joseph thought he’d never be able to withstand. That just made the guy’s emotions all the more violent and impossible to ignore.

It was like he’d been waiting his entire existence for this opportunity. If he gave it up now, everything would fail.

Joseph was amazed Sally had managed to withstand the Regent’s attacks thus far.

He knew full well he would only increase them, doing whatever he frigging could to get Sally to reveal the ship.

That was until Sally just turned herself off like a robot.

She crumpled, and Joseph longed to catch her. For a fraction of a second, he almost got hold of his hands again, but then the force of the Regent rushed back in.

He didn’t grab Sally – just let her fall like a sack of bricks. She tumbled hard, her head striking perilously close to that permanent pool of blood. Her hair fell over her face, a few strands tumbling over the dead childhood version of herself.

The Regent paused, then shot down to his knees. He locked a hand on the back of Sally’s head. He sent this pulse into her brain. It was designed to wake her up with the equivalent of a thousand buckets of ice-cold water. Didn’t work though, did it?

Jerry crunched up to his legs. He swayed. “Regent—”

“Wake her up,” he roared. He tried to send another debilitating jolt into her mind. It didn’t work.

Sally remained unconscious.

Joseph actually tried to cheer in his head. That just alerted the Regent to his presence once more.

The Regent paused and half closed his eyes. Then he let this psychic snarl rip through Joseph’s mind. “I know you are there. It will only be a matter of time before I cram you out. You are nothing more than an afterimage. One that will fade with time.”

“Pick what I am. You either cram me out, or you wait for me to fade. I can tell you this, I’m not going anywhere,” Joseph was brave enough – or stupid enough – to snarl that.

Then the Regent went on the hunt again. Joseph had thought he’d felt the full gamut of psychic attacks. This was different. It was so much more personal.

There was almost nowhere to go. But at the last moment, when Joseph thought he would be torn apart, he found the smallest crack in his psyche to hide in. If Joseph hadn’t had such experience with Master Deus, he wouldn’t have been able to do it. But even though Deus and his vicious mind was only a fraction of what the Regent was capable of doing, at least it gave Joseph ideas of where to hide.

But even if he could survive, it wouldn’t save Sally.

“Find some way to wake her up,” the Regent snarled again, more desperation shaking through his voice.

It was a strange experience to hear it coming through Joseph’s throat. He was still connected to his body – or at least enough to know when it was being moved. The Regent’s control was much smoother than Master Deus’s. It was also far more complete. Though Deus had certainly had access to the full gamut of Joseph’s power, it felt as if, with the flick of some mental switch, the Regent would be able to force Joseph to create even more. Perhaps he’d be able to manipulate Joseph’s subspace system to turn in on itself, digest parts of his body, and use them as more fuel.

But right now, there was nothing to attack.

The Regent balled up another fist. A massive charge of subspace energy developed in it. It crackled over the knuckles, slicing down the back of Joseph’s hands and playing around his wrist. The Regent might be in control, but he didn’t have experience with creatures like Joseph, clearly. He burnt right through Joseph’s sleeve. It didn’t even smolder. It just stopped being a sleeve and started to be atomized wafting gas.

That only served to irritate the Regent even more, and he turned to the side. As his fingers pulsed wide, it was damn clear he was about to send an attack spiraling toward the wall.

Jerry, who’d been down on his knee, desperately trying to wake Sally up, jolted to the side. He opened his arm wide. It pushed him in front of the Regent’s attack.

A slice of power spiraled right past Jerry. It didn’t hit him directly, but it still spun him around. It also sickeningly tore off a chunk of his arm. Blood splattered out everywhere. Joseph was no stranger to seeing his power rip right through soft-fleshed aliens. Usually an attack was accompanied by a bloodcurdling scream that could wake the dead. Now? Nothing.

Jerry didn’t even look like he’d been hit. He did glance down at the arm, almost like a farmer disappointed at the fact some of their stock had been damaged in an accident. In other words, he’d received external, impersonal damage, but nothing to be concerned about.

The Regent loosened Joseph’s lips. “Why get in the way of my attack? There are no other handy hosts for you. You certainly cannot take the Queen’s body. Do not further damage that one. It is already unstable as it is.”

“You cannot afford to attack this cavern any further, my lord. It is already disintegrating.”

“In which case, wake her up,” the Regent roared.

Joseph had been hearing his own voice his entire life, but he didn’t recognize it now. The Regent didn’t manage to speak with his own tone. He just did things to Joseph’s body Joseph didn’t even realize were possible. It was a window… a horrifying window into what Joseph could’ve become. Most spacers had been captured by Kore sect masters. A couple of them had fled. Rather than find the Coalition like Joseph had, they’d just found their own swords. What Joseph was trying to say was they’d turned into the very space pirates they’d once been at the hands of their masters. Except they’d controlled themselves and every brutal action had been self-determined.

They’d become monsters, through and through.

Joseph wondered right now if he could have gone down that path. If Master Deus hadn’t been destroyed and the Coalition hadn’t found him, would he have wound up shrugging off Deus’s control only to turn into something far, far worse?

“You have 10 minutes,” the Regent snarled. He turned hard on his foot. He walked to the point where that ship continued to flicker in and out of existence. It was quite a sight. The actual visual data belied what was really happening. You had to have a nervous system capable of feeling energetic charges just like Joseph’s. That ship… it shouldn’t be here. And every time it flickered into existence, his body screamed that fact at him only for the shriek to become quiet as the ship slid out of this realm once more.

There was something about it that was counter to matter somehow. The antithesis of existence, even.

“I can still feel you in my head,” the Regent hissed at Joseph.

Joseph didn’t respond. He knew full well this was a test. The Regent wanted to see how much he could anger Joseph, what exactly it would take to drag him backward out of his mind and into the light.

Joseph retreated further into the cracks of his consciousness.

“Know this. There is nothing you can ultimately do. Even if I have not managed to destroy you yet, it will only be a matter of time.”

There were a thousand things Joseph could’ve said to that. Instead, he retreated even further back.

The Regent walked over to where the ship was, watched for several short seconds, then turned.

Joseph hadn’t really explored this section of the cave yet. Aside from the fact there was Sally’s six-year-old form, there wasn’t a lot going on. That was until the Regent walked over to what looked like a plain section of rock. He swiped his hand to the side. The rock responded to him as if he’d always been its master. There was the grating sound of stone on stone, and it sent shudders vibrating up through Joseph’s feet. He didn’t know if it upset the Regent, or if he just wanted to try Joseph’s form out, but Joseph started floating a few seconds later.

The rock wall continued to shift until it had moved all the way to the left.

It revealed a chamber. Within were devices. Hendari ones.

There were enough to take Joseph’s breath away. It wasn’t their glittering beauty. It wasn’t the fact that with just one look, you could tell they were light years beyond any technology the Coalition currently possessed. It was… he knew they were Hendari devices. This wasn’t an impression, wasn’t a wish. It sure as heck wasn’t a guess. This was the same automatic response you give when someone asks for your name. He knew this with undeniable clarity.

But here was the rub. How could he know anything about the Hendari?

“I can feel your mind again, boy,” the Regent hissed. “You recognize these things. How? I was told you were nothing more than… what is it? A spacer. My kind has other words for you.”

Joseph didn’t want to respond. At the same time, he could appreciate that if he at least distracted the Regent, he might slow him down. An hour. Joseph didn’t know what would happen in an hour if the Regent failed, but he could at least tell from the tension marching around his body that it wouldn’t be pleasant for the Regent.

So finally Joseph retreated a little out of the cracks in his mind to hiss, “And what do you call us?”

The Regent snarled with Joseph’s lips, the move snapping them hard, almost making it feel as if they were going to jerk off his face. “Toys,” he hissed.

Repulsion kicked through Joseph, rocking through his stomach as if he was about to lose it.

To throw up, he’d actually have to be in control of the rest of his body, though. Which he wasn’t. A fact the Regent proved as he slapped his chest with a loud, resounding thump. “We used to have toys just like you, too. You aren’t quite as fancy as the living suits we created. But you will do for now.”

Don’t respond, Joseph told himself. This was just emotional bait. To a psychic, all they had to do was test what you reacted to, find something, then get you to strangle yourself with it. He couldn’t help himself. A wave of revulsion struck him. “Living suits?”

“It is exactly as it sounds. Armor suits made of biological flesh for us to walk into, control, and walk out of when we grow tired of them or find a better model.”

The level of joy he used to speak about this… it revealed to Joseph there wasn’t a scrap of decency left in the Regent anywhere. You would’ve thought he could have already automatically concluded that. He had. But it was quite different being inside someone’s mind as they thought brutal thoughts.

It was inescapable. The hatred – the greed – the complete lack of respect for life. It filled the Regent up, not allowing room for anything else.

The Regent snarled again, his lips plucking hard over Joseph’s teeth.

Heck, there’d come a time – very soon – when Joseph stopped referring to it as his body. For it to be his body, he had to be in control. The fact it had been his body his entire life didn’t matter. It was somewhat like a house. It now had a new resident, so it belonged to the Regent.

“I don’t know what you just thought, but it was crippling,” the Regent snarled as he bounced his hand off his chest again. “I suggest you continue to think about it. Tear yourself down, spacer. It will be much easier for you in the end. You won’t have to see the horror of what I will do with your hands.”

That just brought memories flooding back in as if they’d been held back by a dam shot by a torpedo.

All Joseph could do was think of every single traumatic recollection from Deus’s ship. He could regress himself right now, going through them like a surgeon tearing through rotting flesh.

The Regent just laughed.

But he was wasting time. It was as if, in a click, he realized that. He sprang forward, his movements so quick, his feet no longer touched the ground.

Getting down on one knee, he started to rapidly sort through to the devices.

Joseph didn’t know who put them here, but they sure as heck hadn’t done a neat job. They weren’t stacked up. There weren’t shelves. There weren’t even holding units. This might have been some of the most useful and valuable technology in the universe, but it was just scattered on the ground. There was only one reason that would’ve occurred. Time. Whoever had placed these here hadn’t had the time to look after them carefully. They’d likely swept them behind the wall, locked it, and run.

It was yet more evidence of the fact the Regent, whoever he was, wasn’t ultimately in control.

He kept sorting through the devices feverishly. Joseph didn’t know what he was looking for, but he did know that when you searched for something important, it sure sucked when someone tried to distract you.

“Time’s ticking, Regent. I can feel it – your growing stress. You said you’re in control? What’s out there exactly? It’s coming for you, isn’t it?” Joseph hissed with a certain satisfaction. He wanted it to pulse through his chest, to remind his body that yes, it was his, and soon it would beat to his tune again.

The Regent simply hissed. The sound was vicious, all right. It was like he was pretending to be a snake. “Come out into the middle of your psyche and say that,” he snarled.

“I’ll stay where I am, thanks. But you can drag me out – if you can.” It was a hell of a risk to threaten the Regent like this. In his current mood, he was capable of anything. You know what he couldn’t do? Drag Joseph out into the light.

The Regent screamed aloud.

Jerry didn’t react. He was likely busy trying to wake Sally up. But from the lack of news, it was clear she wouldn’t be woken up easily.

Good. That would give Joseph a chance to….

Despite the fact he was on a roll here, he had to stop himself. That would give him a chance to what? Irritate the Regent into wasting time? Sure, that was a possibility. But you know what he couldn’t do? Take over the man’s mind. It was far too dense, too big, and far, far too powerful.

Despite the fact Joseph kept trying to distract him, the Regent finally found what he was after. It was clear the second he discovered it because his fingers trembled. This momentary disruption passed through his psychic field. It didn’t last – and it certainly wasn’t long enough for Joseph to make anything of it. And when the Regent came back, he roared into life greater than before and far stronger than he’d been previously.

Crunching forward, he snapped something close to his chest, holding it like a child would a Teddy bear.

“What the hell is that?” Joseph snapped.

It was innocuous. It was just a box. A simple white metal box. It was the one object in here that didn’t ostensibly look Hendari. Or rather – that didn’t give him the certainty of the other Hendari devices.

Joseph wasn’t even sure what it was.

“You wish to know what this is?” the Regent snarled. “It’s the future.”

“In a box? I think you’ll find the future is in time. It’s in a person’s actions,” Joseph replied with a hiss.

“I think you’ll find your understanding of the situation is limited, boy. Now, crawl back to the corners of your mind.”

“Make me.”

The Regent growled, but he sure as heck couldn’t force Joseph to do anything.

While that was a win – a small one – Joseph couldn’t stop the Regent from moving. He turned around swiftly, ignoring the other powerful Hendari devices as if they were just as insignificant as daisies in a field. He walked out into the main section of the room. Jerry was still down on one knee. He had some kind of scanner hooked up to Sally.

She was in exactly the same position where she’d fallen. Her eyes were closed, but thankfully her chest kept shifting up and down softly.

Joseph thought… okay, this was probably crazy, but he thought he could feel her consciousness as an undercurrent, too. It was there, but she wasn’t about to wake anytime soon.

“Progress?” the Regent snapped.

“She’s not coming around. I’m attempting to figure out what she’s done to her mind to block her off from us.”

“Wake her, or you die,” the Regent snarled.

The Observer shook. Make no mistake, this wasn’t some joke. He clearly knew the Regent would carry out that brutal command.

Crunching over Sally further, Jerry’s fingers became slick with sweat. It only highlighted the fact they were gray now. They were pudgy, too. His body was becoming inflamed as his circulatory system clearly broke down.

Joseph felt a blast of compassion. Of course he did. Beyond all of the horror, Jerry was still just a cadet. Yeah, he’d lost his mind, but presumably, just like Joseph, he’d joined the Academy for a reason. That reason had quickly been undermined by the pursuit of excellence, but it had existed in a purer form once.

The Regent didn’t stop to help the Observer. He walked over to where the flickering ship was. He set the box down.

Joseph paid as much attention to it as he could. He couldn’t use his own senses, so he had to pick up data from the Regent.

His heart beat harder, sweat slicked across his back, and a few charges of subspace particles raced down his shoulders. They were nerves. Whatever this box was, it was important – important enough to be his last chance.

But it was also clearly perilous.

Sure enough, as the Regent took several staggering steps back, he licked his teeth. It was a quick, darting move, his tongue shaking, his throat straining.

“What is it? What can it do? Can you control it? I’m sure you can’t. You think you’re powerful, Regent,” Joseph said, “but if I am nothing more than a living suit, why am I still in my own head?”

“You will be silent,” the Regent commanded. “And you will watch.”

“Watch what?”

“Your future’s end.” With that, the Regent got down on one knee and swiped his hand over the box.

Nothing happened at first. Then there was a click. It was eerie and far-off, almost as if someone had recorded it and played it back throughout the rest of the cave system. That didn’t exactly match what Joseph felt, though. It was even further away than that. It was like it was echoing through some far-off realm.

Joseph wanted to shiver. But his body wasn’t under his control. It still straightened. A blast of adrenaline shot through him.

The Regent took a step back and another.

The box started to open.

There was total silence now. Even Jerry had stopped his frenzied activities. If he didn’t wake Sally, he would die, but whatever was happening with that box was clearly far more important than his impending doom.

Light began to pick up from the growing crack in the lid. As it opened… it was almost as if it opened to another galaxy. Joseph had never felt something so big, never seen light so dramatic. Was it psychic energy? Hard to say. Was it some kind of physical weapon? Impossible to tell. It was as if his reasoning mind ground to a halt as the light spilled out everywhere, flooding the cavern far more successfully than water could.

The Regent spread his hands. He opened them wide, and he forced a smile over his lips. They trembled slightly, but his sense of victory soon overcame his fear. “Can you feel that?” he snapped at Joseph in his mind.

“What… the hell is that?”

“It’s my people’s response to the Hendari crystals.”

“… Your people? You’re not Hendari?” Joseph had already pretty much concluded as much. It was clear Sally had, too. But this was the first time the Regent had admitted anything.

“Correct. We preceded the Hendari, and we will live far longer than them. For we understand the balance.” His voice dropped down low. It vibrated with this certainty Joseph had never experienced before. You could talk about every single fact you knew – from planets rotating around stars to time moving on inexorably. You would never achieve the same level of unshakable belief he had now.

“What the hell is this balance?” Joseph spluttered.

“The last wall between the mind and matter.”

“Mind and matter? Just who exactly are you?”

“You wish to know the name of my people? We have no name. Why would we require one? We are pervasive, everywhere, a force just as basic as gravity. There is no point in naming something that is essential to reality – that has existed long before you were born and will continue to exist long after you die.”

Joseph laughed. “Sure, of course you have no name. You’re just being arrogant and obscuring the truth. If you’re that important, and you’re everywhere, then why has no one ever heard of you?”

“We were blocked off from your realm.”

“What?” If Joseph had been in control of his body, he would’ve shivered. “By whom?”

Joseph could feel the tension winding up around him. It started in his feet, climbed to his knees, shot into his hips, then marched up his vertebrae, one by one. It was such a complete example of tension, he could’ve recorded it and played it back to medical students.

It took the Regent a second later to hiss, “The Hendari.”

“You were their enemy? What?”

“This conversation is nothing more than a waste of time. Watch,” he hissed.

“This… it’s just light.”

“No. What you are seeing is the degradation of the barrier.”

“… Barrier?”

“I sense the hesitation in your tone. Let it explode into full-blown fear.” The Regent bounced a hand off Joseph’s stomach. The sound couldn’t be heard above the silence. Didn’t make sense, did it? Trust him, as that box spilled light out everywhere, silence started to spread. It was all-pervasive, as if no sound would ever be heard again. He wasn’t just talking in this cavern. If that light was allowed to spread, then the entire Milky Way would become as silent as a grave.

“What the hell is this?”

“I already told you. It is the degradation of the barrier. The removal of something that should never have been.”

“What? You… from the little I know of the Hendari, before they turned, they protected the galaxies of the universe, didn’t they? Why do I get the impression that your people were one of the enemies they held back?” Maybe this was a leap. Didn’t feel like one. Just as Joseph had certainty around detecting Hendari objects now – just as he knew things he shouldn’t – he knew this. The knowledge built as nothing more than a guess at first. Then it wrapped itself up in certainty almost like a tree growing out of some seed.

There was a significant pause. Then the Regent hissed. “You know nothing.”

“But I’m sure good at guessing, aren’t I? Who are your people? What exactly are they after?”

“We want what was originally ours.”

“What the hell is that?”

“You call them the Hendari crystals. They were ours,” the Regent hissed. There was so much vehemence in his tone, so much dominance, too. It was clear he believed this with his entire soul.

The latest intelligence from the Coalition had concluded that the Hendari hadn’t created the crystals. They’d found them – along with the Light of the Gods and the Night. Could they have really come from the Regent’s civilization, though?

It would’ve been easy to conclude that yes, they had, but something forced Joseph to hold back.

If the Regent was from a race so powerful they had created crystals that could pretty much do anything they wanted to the entire universe, he wouldn’t be doing this. He wouldn’t have an hour to win. He wouldn’t be struggling to wake Sally up. There’d be nothing that could stop him.

“Watch the light,” he hissed. “Watch the wall come down.”

“What exactly will happen when the wall comes down?” Joseph demanded.

“The realm of matter and mind will start to meld. Those with the strongest minds will be able to do as they will.”

Joseph shivered. Make no mistake, it was actually he who shivered. This was his body. He momentarily pierced through the Regent’s control. But he didn’t do anything significant with the move. It simply showcased his fear.

The Regent came barreling back into his mind as fast as a speeding cruiser. He almost grabbed hold of the remaining scrap of Joseph’s psyche and ripped it right out.

“No matter what you do, even if you momentarily shake my control, you will not be able to get rid of me. Especially not now. See that light? Boy? Do you know what it will do? It will enable strong psychics to gain telekinetic powers.”

“… What?”

“I saw your rudimentary telekinetic objects. As the barrier comes down, you won’t require such weapons. Or rather, I will not. I will be able to interact directly with matter as if it is nothing more than an extension of my own mind.”

“… That’s… impossible.”

The problem was it wasn’t impossible.

That light continued to spread. It’d already traveled through the entire cavern. It pushed through the walls and continued on through the settlement and the rest of the planet. Don’t ask Joseph how he knew that, but the certainty gripped his stomach.

He suddenly shoved a hand forward. The Regent was in complete control. His fingers spread. He didn’t bother to gather any charges of subspace particles. He just… grabbed hold of a chunk of stone several meters away. With nothing more than his undiluted will, he held it.

It ripped right out of the floor with a soul-shaking crunch.

Joseph couldn’t even begin to understand what was happening.

The chunk of rock lifted into the air and started to spin. Once to the left, then to the right. It spun so fast that rock dust erupted off it.

The Regent gave out a throaty chuckle.

“Amazing,” Jerry said from behind.

The Regent flicked his wrist to the side, then the rock shot toward Jerry.

He screamed and brought his hand up, but the rock stopped just a few centimeters from his face.

The Regent turned. “You have minutes now. Wake her up. We must take the ship and leave while we still can.”

All of this was terrifying. Make no mistake, Joseph was reeling on every level. But… his training told him to concentrate on one fact. Despite what the Regent had just revealed, he was still on the run from something. So there was still… hope.

The Regent continued to play with the chunk of stone. He lost most of it as it spun wildly, so what did he do? He somehow grabbed hold of the rock dust, then, in reverse, made it collect back around the rock. With little blasts of zipping, crackling power, he forced it to become whole again.

Even… even sophisticated matter calibrators would struggle to complete a task like that.

All the Regent used was his mind.

He chuckled again.

Then he turned.

He walked over to Sally.

It was clear that Jerry was using every trick he knew to try to wake her up.

Jerry shook now. There were even a few little splatters of blood sliding from his nostrils. He made no effort to wipe them off. “I don’t know what she’s done to herself, but I can’t wake her.”

“Very well. Let me try.” The Regent got down on his knee.

If Joseph had been in control of his heart, it would’ve pounded so hard, you would’ve been able to hear it back on Earth. He was in control of nothing, and that was the point. He couldn’t stop the Regent from reaching down and locking his hand around Sally’s head, couldn’t stop his fingers from sliding around her temples and grasping hold of the side of her face, and couldn’t stop his nails from digging in and drawing welts of blood.

Sally didn’t wake. She didn’t even move. She was like nothing more than a still image. Until the Regent began to interact directly with her body. Who knew where the Queen was underneath, but the fact of the matter remained that Sally had a human body. And human bodies had their limitations. Joseph was aware as the Regent grabbed hold of her circulatory system. With nothing more than a thought and directed will, it was like he became her heart. He could make it freeze, make the blood rush up in the wrong direction through her arteries. He could do anything he damn well pleased. The laws of physics no longer restrained him.

Sally’s chest froze, her back arching. She was still unconscious, but Joseph had no clue how long that would last.

“Sally,” he screamed in his mind. “Sally.”

“You have no chance against me. You cannot remain unconscious if someone else has control of your body,” the Regent hissed as he bent further over her body, his lips stiffening and slicing over his teeth.

“No. You bastard. Stop it.” Joseph tried to fight, but there was nothing he could do.

The Regent didn’t stop. Sally continued to buck wildly. Her chest was forced forward as if someone had filled her with electricity. Her head rolled from side to side. But her eyes remained closed.

The Regent felt like he was in control. And he was. Technically. He could do whatever he wanted to Sally’s body, but somehow… she didn’t wake.

It gave Joseph a single moment of hope.

But that would be when the Regent doubled back, swiped his hand to the side, and made Sally lift up into the air.

She looked like a doll. Her head lolled to the left, her fringe fanned out in front of her face, and her limbs hung loosely by her sides.

Jerry was down on his knees. His eyes were filled with awe. Joseph wondered if half of it was the actual Jerry and half was the Observer. It was pretty crazy to think that an Observer could be surprised and terrified by this. For so long, Joseph had assumed they were the true monsters in the universe. Now another had risen.

Sally’s head suddenly jerked back, and there was a nasty snapping sound. It felt like somebody reached in and kicked Joseph in the heart. “Sally,” he tried.

He’d been gathering awareness of her mind without realizing it. Joseph was no psychic, but he’d somehow connected to her consciousness. So he knew – unmistakably – she started to wake.

“No, Sally, please. Just hold on,” he tried.

It didn’t matter.

One of her eyes fluttered open. That was all it took.

The Regent snarled, swiped his hand to the side, then brought her in. She flew toward him, her body still mostly limp with only one eye open.

Her face stopped just a few centimeters in front of Joseph.

“I am in complete control now. There is nothing you will be able to—” the Regent began.

Sally’s eyes opened wide. She stared into his. Joseph just knew she was looking for him. He saw her moment of pure vulnerability, of pure openness as she searched for him.

If Joseph had been in a different frame of mind and he hadn’t been so desperate to communicate with her, he would’ve realized exactly what the searching quality to her gaze meant. She was looking for a lot more than Joseph’s help.

She desperately needed him to be alive because she needed him full stop.

“You will bring me my ship—”

“Good night,” Sally said. She clenched her teeth and closed her eyes.

She did it again. She managed to turn off as if she was nothing more than a robot.

The Regent spluttered in surprise. “What? How? Wake up,” he snarled. He jerked her to the side. She was like a doll that’d been given to a dog.

“Stop it, you monster. I said stop it,” Joseph screamed at him. The Regent didn’t stop it. He continued to shake Sally around and pushed his psyche into her body until finally she was forced to wake again. She only rose for a moment. She switched herself off.

The Regent roared. It was one hell of a loud, violent move. It couldn’t have just woken the dead. Joseph swore it could have woken everybody in the universe.

This morning, his greatest fear had been the Hendari and the King. Now it had expanded. He had no damn clue who the Regent was, nor what the hell he’d done to reality. He knew one thing. If he wasn’t stopped, people would die.

It would start with Sally.