APSIS: BOOK I
per·i·he·li·on n. - pl. per·i·he·li·a
1. The point nearest the sun in the orbit of a planet or other celestial body.
2. Periapsis in solar orbit; the point in the orbit of a planet or comet where it is nearest to the sun (ant: aphelion)
The Mindfire War: Mid-summer
3451 AF, 0 MW
Guard Aiden Krae'set rounded the corner at a run, relieved that he'd finally reached his destination. It had taken longer than he'd expected, and those who had sent him on this errand were already edgy. As he approached the pavilion, he reflected that perhaps they had good reason to be impatient. Too many things hung in the balance to be waiting on a messenger.
At the entrance to the tent, two soldiers stood at attention, but it was merely a formality. They made no move to keep Aiden from entering; the soldiers all obeyed one of the psychically gifted Krae'set as they would have obeyed one of the generals.
Nonetheless, Aiden paused before he ducked through the tent flaps. Concentrating, he attempted to broadcast a warning to the person who he had come to see. As a rule, Psions liked their privacy—most Krae'set did, but particularly the more powerful ones—and Psion Genen Krae'set was no exception. After years of friendship, Aiden knew Genen greatly appreciated advance notice before he was intruded upon. However, the Guard's warning thought was in vain. When he tried to reach his friend, he found himself blocked by mental shields that far overwhelmed his meagre telepathic talent, even though the Psion was most likely no more than a dozen feet away.
Ah, well, Aiden thought. He hadn't really expected to get through to his friend; Genen would just have to do without a warning. Creation knew the Psion would been given plenty of notification, if it had been possible—far stronger telepaths than Aiden had already attempted to get his attention this day, to no avail.
The Guard shook his head to clear his thoughts of such matters, and strode into the tent.
Back turned to the entrance of the tent, the tall Psion inside gave no sign he was aware of the imminent interruption, even after Aiden called his name loudly. Realizing Genen had absolutely no idea someone else was there, the stocky young Guard sighed and took a step forwards—only to walk face first into a wall that had somehow appeared from nowhere.
Stepping back with a wince, Aiden eyed the air in front of him with surprise—there was nothing there now. Tentatively, he reached out to prod the space before him, only to hit the barrier again and see the image of solid stone flash before his eyes. Oblivious to his dilemma, Genen stood just beyond the ward.
How in blazes is there a wall there? the Guard wondered, frowning in thought. Such walls were easily made, of course, but there should have been a psychic trace to indicate its presence. He knew exactly what it was. There wasn't actually any obstruction, but rather the shield was an insidious suggestion making him believe there was a stone wall right before him. Logically, he knew it was only an illusion, but that was how the wall worked: it confused his nerves to the point where his muscles refused to budge past, convinced they were being blocked by a physical object.
Yet such walls were notorious for radiating psychic energy—after all, that was how they worked. The lack of such revealing radiation was confusing. Concentrating, Aiden reached out with a Krae'set's telekinetic sense, probing the air—and found nothing, until he brushed something else entirely and his probe disappeared.
Ah. An inverse ward. Designed to pull in and consume outside psychic energy, inverse wards were difficult to set up—but it would be a simple task for a Psion with Genen's talent, and easy enough to hide a mental wall in them.
Shrugging, Aiden abandoned his lost psychic probe, and bent to pick up a stone from the uncovered ground that made up the tent's floor. He weighed it in his hand, and then in one smooth motion tossed it at the Psion.
The inanimate object sailed through the psychic ward unhindered, clipping its target hard on the shoulder. With a started yelp, Genen lost his balance, throwing his arms up in front of his face. Before Aiden had time to form a question, the air before the Psion twisted and shifted, then lit up as though Genen had summoned the sun down to rest upon the earth. A flow of psychic information radiated outward from the explosion as the inverse wards disappeared, allowing telekinetic descriptions of the surroundings to flow through to Aiden's mind and nearly overwhelm him.
Uncontained, the pulsating ball of light continued to expand outwards, and then suddenly the blinded Guard could sense new wards hastily thrown up by Genen to enclose the explosion. As the radiant energy hit the new barrier, a thunderous, ringing bell-tone filled the tent, the magnitude of the sound forcing Aiden to his knees. For half a second, he almost expected the tent to fall on him, too, but apparently the pavilion's supports were stronger than they had looked.
As the ringing faded away, shouts and yells began to filter through Aiden's abused ears. A few brave soldiers burst into the tent, swords drawn and wearing fearful expressions, which faded as they took in the scene. Huddled over on the ground was a grey-robed Guard, cursing vehemently—obviously no threat. Of more immediate importance was the black-robed Psion who was slowly lowering his arms away from his face. Robes hanging from a painfully thin frame swished softly as the latter turned back to look where the light had burned the air, staring at the now-empty space.
"Err, sir?" one of the soldiers asked, looking back and forth between the two Krae'set. Abruptly, Genen turned back to look at the nervous commoners, now wearing an easy smile.
"There is no cause for concern, Lieutenant," he explained reassuringly, with a glance in Aiden's direction. "Merely a, ah, failed experiment." Inclining his head at the soldiers, the Psion turned it into an oblique dismissal; the reassured soldiers hastily bowed their way out of the tent without further comment.
When the last had filed out, Genen turned back to stare at the empty air again, folding his hands into the sleeves of his robes. Still cursing, Aiden began to wipe his streaming eyes, trying vainly to blink away the bright after-images of the explosion.
"Aiden," the Psion said absently, not bother to turn to face him. "Do shut up."
"What in the blazes was that?" Aiden shot back, but he ended his string of curses.
"An experiment, as I said." Shrugging, Genen turned back. "And due to your interference, a failed one. Might I ask what the deuce possessed you to interrupt my concentration like that?" While his voice was calm and controlled, Aiden could see the anger sparking in his friend's black eyes. Hunched over as he was, it was hard to remember that he was a good half-decade older than Genen—even if the Psion was technically his superior.
The Guard glared back nonetheless, retorting, "As I recall, it was you who told me I ought to throw something at you if I couldn't get through your wards myself."
Genen sighed, grimacing, before finally giving a forced smile and snapping his fingers. "Yes, yes, of course. I should have changed the shields so that would not work…" Anger gave way to disappointment, which vanished after an instant. "At least…never mind. What was so urgent this time?"
"Adryhsen couldn't get through your shields to speak with you." Carefully, Aiden avoided his friend's eyes as he said this, standing and brushing himself off.
Uncomfortable silence filled the air after his statement, and Genen blinked in surprise.
"Adryhsen?" the Psion queried softly. "Impossible."
"Perhaps, but that is what he told me."
"Impossi—well, interesting." As the Psion spoke, his eyes went curiously distant, and Aiden knew Genen was involved in a telepathic conversation with the war leader of the Psions. Abruptly, the gaunt young man swore.
"We're pulling back again?" Incredulity filled Genen's voice.
"I am afraid so," Aiden said quietly. "They lost the western border earlier this morning. We're to retreat to Iscai's northern border."
Suddenly looking as if he was going to fall over, Genen rubbed his eyes tiredly, causing Aiden to take a closer, more concerned look at him. Messy black hair that hung to the Psion's shoulders was tangled and limp, and the man seemed to have gone even paler. Frowning slightly, Aiden wondered when his friend had last eaten. Enveloped as he was in the black robes of his caste, the formerly robust Psion was now wraith-like; the past few months he had slept little, too busy working feverishly to come up with some solution to this hopeless war.
At twenty-one, Genen was no military leader, although he'd certainly slain enough of the enemy to be considered such. Instead Genen's superiors viewed him as a god-sent saviour, while his closer friends such as Aiden looked on worriedly—they could see the effects those expectations were having on his health. True, the brilliant young Psion's ever-growing talents were far past prodigal. Unfortunately, Aiden was beginning to suspect that there was no solution Genen could provide; this fight was doomed to failure. The empire of Ashal outnumbered them so vastly that Aiden sometimes had to wonder why they noticed the Gulf Nations enough to invade—the Nations were to Ashal as a flea was to a wolf, and they were a flea that had been very careful to not anger the dangerous predator.
Realistically, Aiden knew the real reason behind the invasion was that Ashal wanted to gain access to the bountiful resources of the north—small they might be, but they possessed riches far beyond anything the south produced. When he cast his mind out, however, and sensed the death and suffering on the battlefields, it seemed far too weak a reason for such a war.
For years, the Krae'set had guided and aided the people of the North—dispensing medical supplies, negotiating between the various northern countries, and generally keeping the peace. It was a task they were well suited to. Empathy and telepathy made the process of manipulating stubborn officials easy, and no assassin stood a chance against someone who could read the thoughts of everyone around them. After millennia of caring for the commons, no Krae'set would ever abandon their people to the mercy of the invading empire; it was unthinkable. Individually, the Krae'set were formidable; as an organization glued together by telepathy, they were powerful beyond any sovereign kingdom in the North.
But everyone had long since begun to realize that whether they fought back or not, whether the Krae'set laid down their lives or not, the Gulf Nations were going to lose. No matter how many of the enemy they killed—and while Guards such as Aiden had already slain hundreds, the far more powerful Psions had butchered thousands—it didn't make a difference. Aiden often woke up in a sweat, dreaming of the faces of the men whose necks he had snapped with invisible force; that it was all for naught just made it that much worse.
Because for every enemy soldier that fell there were always five more to take the dead man's place, while the numbers of military Krae'set continued to dwindle. Psychics had always been rather rare, and while the organization itself was vast, the great majority of all Krae'set were Healers—gifted at telekinesis, yes, but only enough to be able to levitate a small stone or open a blocked artery. Although this helped keep the death toll down on their side, it was not enough. And besides, Psions were never meant to be soldiers—scholars, scientists, even spies, but warriors they were not. Yet it ultimately fell to the Guards and Psions to slay the enemy…an increasingly exhausting and difficult task. Common soldiers helped, of course, but with the odds being what they were, everyone knew it fell to the Krae'set to win the war for the North.
Thus, Genen only allowed himself to pause for a moment, before shrugging and muttering, "I need to get back to work on this."
"What is it?" Aiden asked, curious. While Genen had already churned out several inventions—between inventing an explosive powder that could be used by any commoner, simplifying the process of creating large-scale kinetic shielding, and figuring out how to trigger localized earthquakes, he'd already contributed more to the war than a legion of Guards—the Psion was always attempting to come up with more war-toys, more ways to kill and maim, all at the behest of superiors such as High Psion Adryhsen Krae'set. Sometimes, the Guard wondered how his friend did it, without being driven insane by the death and madness his work invariably produced.
His question was met with a shrug. "I am trying to figure out a way to bypass the transfer drain when drawing power from another source. If I could do that—we might just be able to win. But it is rather…finicky. The slightest lapse in concentration, and the entire thing explodes in my face."
Blinking, Aiden raised an eyebrow. The transfer drain was all that really stood between the Krae'set and unlimited power. While a Krae'set psychic could draw energy from an alternate source—geothermal and solar power were the most commonly used—doing so was far more taxing on the mind than if a psychic used their own energies. If the drain were eliminated, than any Krae'set would be nigh unstoppable.
Several thousand people like Genen… a small corner of Aiden's mind whispered to him. He crushed the voice ruthlessly, hoping his friend wouldn't catch the thought.
"Are you sure that is wise?" he asked instead, frowning.
"I have no idea," Genen shrugged, and Aiden could hear the bitterness in his reply.
It might win this war, but if a rogue psychic got his hands on such a technique…the havoc they could wreak… the thought was a chilling one, and the Guard was hard-put not to shudder at it.
Frustrated, Genen glared at him irritably. "I know, Aiden," he replied angrily, and Aiden knew that this time, his thoughts had been overheard by the telepathic Psion. Invariably, telepathy was not something Guards were very good at, and he sometimes regretted his lack of mental shielding when around his friend. In this case, though, Aiden still considered it a question worth asking.
"You think I did not consider that?" Genen spat the words bitterly. "But you know as well as I do that if I do nothing, we are not going to be around to worry about rogue psychics. This is war, and bad things happen in wars. If this can win freedom for the North, then it will be worth whatever troubles we face afterwards." Despite the angry, sarcastic words, there was a note of desperation in the younger man's voice. Aiden barely concealed a grimace of pity.
"I hope you are right," Aiden murmured after a long second. Giving a purely customary salute, he exited the pavilion, all too aware as he did so that Genen had already raised the wards again and returned to his work.