“Back in Murgent,” Mike said, “As we were making our preparations to leave; Sparo pulled me aside for a private chat.”
“About what?” Callie asked.
“This…” Mike said, gesturing their surroundings in the Frellam pit, “Not this specific situation, of course; but of the possibility of our running into such a situation.”
“What did he say?” asked Edward.
“I hesitate to bring this up,” Sparo had said, “But considering the road you have chosen to take, or has chosen you, as the case may be; you might need to know this.”
“What?” Mike had asked.
“Remember when I said that your Ma’jai powers would come in slow; that it would be a long while before you’d have to worry about all that?”
“What I didn’t mention, was that there is a way, a known way, to jump-start that process; to force some of your powers into play much sooner, and develop quicker, than they would have otherwise. But this practice has its dangers; which is why it has always been discouraged, and why I hesitate to tell you about it at all. But I would be remiss to a fellow Ma’jai, if I didn’t.”
“Why would I want to do that anyway?”
“The time may come when you are the only thing that stands between your sister and your friends, and certain death.”
“I see your point,” Mike had said, “Let’s hear it, then.”
“I want you to think back, during our battle in the basement, when I sent you flying up and out of the hotel. You were worn out and exhausted when I sent you up; yet when you came back down, you were re-energized. Do you remember how you accomplished that?”
“Yes.” Mike said, “There was this greenish life-light inside everything that I was somehow able to summon to me. It gave me the strength to go back and continue the battle.”
“We call that life-light, the ‘Voss Vedu’un’.” Sparo said, “It is the Divine Sea of Magic which every Ma’jai, great or small, can see and access. A free and abundant energy we use for strength and healing. It can also be used to jump-start a Ma’jai’s higher powers.”
“How?” Mike had asked.
“Well, what did he say?” Callie asked.
“We don’t need to go into that,” Mike said, “Just know that I know, and can do it.”
“You just don’t want to worry me about the dangers, do you?”
“True, but its main danger is no worse than what you have faced, and will face again, when I ask you to do what I’m gonna ask you to do.”
“I’m afraid you lost me there, hoss.” Callie said.
“Even after I’ve jump-started my powers,” Mike said, “I’m still going to need your help. How much Conjuura ‘juice’ do you still have?”
“A tad.” Callie replied.
“We’re gonna need a lot more than that.” Mike said, “Can you do the creepy-eyes thing in the dark?”
“The Malignium? I don’t know.” Callie replied, “Even if I could, I’d rather not. You don’t know how close I came to losing myself completely with that stuff. If I start up again, I don’t know what will happen.”
Mike took her by the shoulders: “I can’t save us without you, Cal. You’re just going to have to be strong.”
“Besides,” Jon said, “You’ll have US this time.”
“To keep you from going bonkers again.” Edward added.
Callie sighed deeply. “Okay, but who do I…?”
“Tullam and Bell.” Mike said.
The two Bufaaru looked up. They had been quietly listening to the conversation, but not understanding most of it.
“Yes?” Bell asked.
“How badly do you want to get outta here?” Mike asked.
“That’s a ridiculous question,” Tullam retorted, “We would do anything to get the hell out of here!”
“Good, cause we’re gonna ask something of you; something you might find it off-putting, or repellant.” Mike said, “But it will be necessary.”
“We’ll do whatever you ask,” Bell said, “If it helps our escape.”
Mike turned back to Callie. “Explain to them what you’re gonna try to do, and why. They both have nine years of war, grief, and loss with which to fuel you up. They may even thank you for the emotional release afterward. As for me, I’m gonna need some quiet time.”
Mike sat down on the ground, got comfortable, and closed his eyes.
In seconds, his spirit rose beyond the confines of the pit, and ascended to the heights. The ease with which he was now able to effect this was heartening. Below him, he saw the Frellam encampment, laid out like a map.
He headed towards the deepness of the woods, and summoned the Voss Vedu’un to him.
From the trees, ground, and living things, the greenish glowing energy rushed into him; like moisture to a sponge. He filled himself to bursting, but did not stop there.
The key to the procedure was saturation, Sparo had informed him; that was also the chief of its dangers.
Many were those who had tried a jump-start, stayed too long, and were unable to break away. Their spirits became lost in the Voss Vedu’un, and their bodies soon died without them.
Mike filled himself still more, till his spectral vision was a green blur. The euphoria was almost beyond bearing.
That was another danger. For some, the euphoria was addictive. They would return to the procedure again and again, for that buzz.
Constant saturation for its own sake, Sparo had told him, Will dull a Ma’jai’s senses. It will stunt and blunt his powers to the point that the Ma’jai is no longer a Ma’jai. He will lose all of his powers bit by bit, until even the ability to summon the Voss Vedu’un is taken from him. Then, that Ma’jai will go mad.
Mike kept the faces of his sister and friends before him, against the dangers of ensnarement. When at last he reached the crunch point of irresistible pull, he tore himself away, and returned to his body.
He opened his eyes.
“Mike’s back.” Edward said.
Both he and Jon were looking at him strangely.
“What are you two---?” Mike said, “Wait! You can see me?!”
“It’s your eyes, Mike,” said Edward, in a creeped-out voice, “They’re glowing!”
“Your eyes started glowing green behind your lids, Mike.” Jon said, “When you opened them, they looked bizarro!”
Mike blinked, and shook his head.
His vision was still tinged green, but he could feel the change in himself; the power. It extended itself within him like long-dormant wings, flapping open for the first time…aching to be used.
The procedure had succeeded.
“Callie’s finished.” Mike said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes,” said Edward, “She’s finished with both of them. You were out of town for awhile.”
Didn’t feel long to me at all, Mike thought. He looked over and saw Tullam and Bell, looking numb and out of sorts; slumped in each other’s arms. Callie turned around, and Mike could see the euphoria of empowerment in her smile. He could relate.
“I couldn’t trance ‘em in the dark.” Callie said, “But it turns out you don’t need the trance if your ‘victims’ are willing; and helpful, to boot. I had them clear their minds and focus on me, and was able to create a mind-link that way. It was difficult and clumsy, but it got the job done. What about you? Was the---?”
“Yes, it was.” Mike said, “Now I think it’s time to go.”
He held his hands out before him, and closed his fists tight. Into each, he willed a concentration of power.
Something began to grow in those fists; began to push back. As his fingers were forced back, they could all see two deep blue glowing spheres, sparkling from within. They grew to about the size of tennis balls.
“I’m gonna blow open the door.” Mike said, “What I need from you Cal, is to levitate me out of this hole. Then yourself, then the others.”
“Will do.” Callie said.
“And what do you intend to do, when the Frellam notice us flying out of here?” Jon asked, “Fight them all?”
“All I need to do is scare the hell outta them.” Mike said.
“I hope you’re---“
“I am.” Mike said, “Now, everybody, get down.”
The spheres flew up from Mike’s hands, and burst on contact with the door, creating an upward explosion that shredded the door to splinters; and sent the splinters several feet in the air. The sound was deafening.
“CALLIE, NOW!” Mike shouted.
Callie sent Mike flying upwards with a little too much force than necessary. He cleared the hole, an additional three feet, flipped over in mid-air, and landed on his back outside the hole’s perimeter.
“OWWW!” Mike yowled.
“Sorry!” said Callie, as she zipped out of the hole, “Still new at this!”
Mike got up fast. “Start getting them out, Cal!” he said.
Roars rang out, as Frellam started running towards them, fangs bared.
The nearest of them leapt several feet into the air, in their direction. Mike raised a hand in a warding motion, and a large fireball erupted from it, hitting the Frellam square in the chest. It lit him up like dry brush, and sent him flailing backwards in a smoking arc of descent.
Mike looked at his hand with bewilderment, as tiny tongues of flame danced on his fingertips, like pilot lights; the skin of his hand unaffected by any heat.
“Well that’s even better!” he exclaimed.
The fireball had come quicker to his hand than the blue sphere; easier too, as he had had to focus to create the sphere.
Mike threw several successive fireballs at the nearest Frellam heading their way. These were smaller, and golf ball sized; just as incendiary, but with less kick.
Now every Frellam in the encampment knew what was happening, and growls and roars filled the air.
“Everyone’s out!” Callie shouted, from somewhere behind Mike.
“Watch my back Cal!”
No sooner had he said it, than Callie saw a young Frellam throw a spear at Mike’s back. Callie caught it with her power mid-flight, and sent it back at the Frellam, running him through.
The Ridlaks then waded into the battle, but were buffeted with flaming Frellam hurled at them by Callie.
Mike took his time with his next fireball, and produced an explosive wallop that sent both Ridlaks falling over and rolling on the ground.
The Ridlaks got up, but backed away. Unaccustomed to being knocked on their asses; they switched over to a “wait and see” attitude.
This seemed to deflate the situation.
The Frellam had them surrounded, but kept a fearful distance; there were no more outright attacks.
“What now?” Callie whispered.
“They don’t want to attack, but they’re not quite ready to let us go just yet.” Mike said, “I’m gonna hafta push ‘em a little more.”
Most of the Frellam with toasted hair and flesh burns were males. Yet despite their charred appearance, they still looked formidable, and capable of ripping arms off.
“Don’t get cocky, Mike.” Jon said, “We’re still in a shigload of danger.”
The first Frellam Mike had sent flying back aflame, worked his way to the head of the crowd. He had been put out quickly, but the singed hair on his chest, arms, and midsection, was beyond recall.
The other Frellam held him back. “Ru kel fa gar kruma, Sin!” they said to him, “Prok ralla!”
Kruma’s their word for sorcerer, Mike thought, Now how the hell do I know that?!
Mike realized for the first time that their minds were open to him; had been, perhaps, since he opened his eyes from the jump-start. He had simply been oblivious to it. Even Callie, Jon, Edward, and the Bufaaru’s minds were open to him. It was like being surrounded by bins without lids; at a mental glance, he could see what was on the top of their heads.
And if he should delve? Was that possible?
He tried, and found that it was.
He dipped into the mind of the rash Frellam being held back by his friends, and found the ease of doing so almost sickening; like a sharp knife sinking into a gut.
Sinsak was his name; the Frellam whose mind he was invading, and he was the leader of this tribe of Frellam. The tribe had lost a turf war with another Frellam tribe, and had come down south from the Skidderex Mountains, following the curving arm of the Vawx Trail all the way here. They found the two Ridlak brothers along the way, doing the same (themselves the last members of a family that had died out in the cold waste of Sartholter in the north), and took them in.
They were ferocious peoples, the Frellam and the Ridlaks; but ingrained within them both was a deep fear of magic, and those who wielded it. That fear was all that was holding them back from pressing their numerical advantage.
Better yet, Mike saw hidden in Sinsak, a terrible childhood fear that had traumatized him then, and haunted his nightmares still. A demonic figure called Skrudsraac.
Created by the ravings of an insane brother who had died young (perhaps murdered by his parents in the night), and his own dark imaginings; Skrudsraac was Sinsak’s personal boogieman from childhood. His fear of madness, personified.
Mike now had his weapon.
“SINSAK!” he shouted.
The Frellam stopped arguing among themselves, and looked over at Mike; their faces struck with fear.
“How do you know my name?” Sinsak asked, in his guttural language. He was now free of the arms that had been holding him back, but showed little desire to attack anymore.
Mike chose the necessary words and inflections of their language from Sinsak’s own head.
“Are you not Sinsak, of the Nukker Kleetch?” Mike asked, “Are you not the Kabazgah of this Kleetch?”
“Yes.” Sinsak answered, “And who are you, besides food?”
The threat was empty; Sinsak was creeped out.
Knowing the face of his fear, Mike bent Sinsak’s mind into seeing what he wanted it to see. To his horror, Sinsak saw Mike’s face melt away like hot cheese, and the mad gaze of his childhood terror gape back at him.
“I am Skrudsraac!” Mike intoned, making sure his voice sounded to Sinsak’s ears like a demonic growl, “He who sent your brother Kitchik into madness! I have come back for YOU!”
“You are NOT Skrudsraac!!” Sinsak shouted, but his voice quailed.
Mike was ready for this. “You would test me then? Fine, have a taste of madness!”
Mike flooded Sinsak’s poor head with a rush of all the nightmare images he could muster, taken from Sinsak’s own dreams, even the ones he had forgotten.
“KEENAA!!” Sinsak screamed, covering his eyes with his hands, and falling to his knees.
The other Frellam looked shocked at his reaction. Their fear of Mike increased exponentially.
At last, Mike stopped.
“Try to harm us,” he whispered, his voice a low gravel to Sinsak’s ears alone, “And Kitchik’s fate is yours.”
“Let them go!” Sinsak yelled, eyes still shielded, “LET THEM GO!!”
The Frellam pulled back, and an opening appeared.
Mike, Callie, Jon, Edward, Tullam, and Bell walked through the main body of Frellam, all of whom shrank back as they passed.
Once they cleared the encampment and entered the woods again, they began to run.