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-3/Black Claw

Magician's Blood-Kisho

July 19th, 3094 GSC—10:18 Standard Time—20:16 Local Time

Madinus—Candella System—Moza Sector

Thames Base—Archive Hall

The archive hall opened up in front of them after a door unsealed and opened with a hiss, and Elicia felt a wave of hot air sweep out over her as red lighting flooded out.

"Here we are," Kaines said, gesturing to his bodyguards. They flanked either side of the door, staying behind as Kaines led Elicia into the room. "This is where we keep our databases."

She could tell even if he didn't say so. The room was tiered in three stages, probably ten meters high, with hundreds of database computers lining the walls. They looked like nothing more than boxes with vents and a few small lights, but it could have stored hundreds of years worth of records. Elicia turned to him in amazement.

"How much do you keep?"

"We have records dating back to our founding," he said, more than a small touch of pride in his voice, "2254 GSC. Logs of every day—minus one or two percent lost to data corruption, power issues, or maybe just not recording anything that day."

Her mind reeled. Almost a thousand years! She'd never heard of anything like that outside of the Eden Church itself. "Isn't that degree of recordkeeping..."

"Sure, it's looked down upon by a lot of magicians. But I think it's important to learn from the past."

Looked down upon? It was practically heresy. The past was an imperfect imitation that led to the ideal world of today, was the idea upheld by the Church. If the powers of the Church saw that room...

Rather than disgusted as she imagined the Priests would feel, though, Elicia felt a thrill of adrenaline at it. She was starting to like Kaines. She must have started smiling, because he noticed it and started smiling back.

"You don't disagree, do you, Sister?" he said. "I've heard that you talk a lot about the future, too."

She shrugged, trying to look casual. "Word travels, huh?"

"It's a small galaxy."

No doubt, she thought, her heart pumping, this record was exactly what the Wraith had been leading her to. There must have been some secret hidden there, in a massive, taboo bastion of the past.

"This might be what I'm looking for in the first place," Elicia said, choosing to speak frankly. "I suspect I could find pertinent information on the Wraith in this archive."

"We've never experienced an attack from a White Wraith," he said. "Black Wraiths some fifty-odd times, but never a White Wraith."

"Except for last month, if my suspicions are correct," she mumbled, more to herself than to him.

Kaines led Elicia to the center of the room, where a control panel stood before a raised holographic projector in the floor, probably three or four meters across. Was this kind of archive really just maintained for detail's sake?

The panel was standard interface. Elicia spread her hands out over it, switching the display on. The panel glowed white, and then a projection rose up, a full node graph with time graphs below. Elicia looked at Kaines in amazement.

"You have different reports from different bases, all around Madinus," she said. "And reports from different branches within Thame, even."

He just shrugged, trying to play it off, but he wore a satisfied smile. "It's important to learn from the past," he said.

She spun the graph and zoomed in, scrolling down onto Thame Base. The other nodes on the graph faded away, the Thame node expanding into a new graph of branches, different display windows opening around the display with further information. She scrolled the date back thirty-two days, June 17th. A little red blip appeared on one of the nodes for an alert. She spun the graph to open it.

Holographic log, of course. She opened it, and the display faded away. The room's lights dimmed, and a figure appeared on the display, obviously whoever had recorded the holograph. He was a tall man, broad shoulders, wide face and slim eyes. Nearly bald. His voice was rough when he spoke.

"June seventeenth, thirty ninety-four GSC. Twenty-oh-nine local time. This is John Barse reporting from flight wing three. We suffered an attack from Space today. Four frigates and a cruiser harassed a satellite until we sent out scout drones, dispatched. Sent up the Dove and the Flaxen Priestess, two cruisers, and four frigates. We lost one frigate, but took down all of theirs. The cruiser retreated."

Elicia felt her heart hammering in her chest, more tense than she'd expected. If she was right, that cruiser must have had the Wraith on board. And the one frigate Thame lost must, then, have had Lyric's father on-board.

"Three good men lost," the recording continued, his words somber but his tone the exact same drone. "Deremus Bint, Alphonse Dulet, and Jeremiah White. Emperor bless their souls. May they find peace with His Grace."

Alphonse Dulet. She'd found him.

"All other faculties of operation as normal. Minor damage sustained to the Dove. Full repairs will take approximately two days. This concludes the day's report."

Elicia closed the hologram and moved up a level, searching for a list of workers. She found one, scrolled the log back to before June 17th, and the list of course lengthened by three members. He was filed under A, close to the top of the list.

Private Alphonse Dulet. Age thirty-four. Born on Madinus, long military family. Married to Carina Dulet. One child. It didn't say anything about the child, but Elicia knew well enough. She'd met him.

It didn't say in his record he was a magician. She opened Carina's file and found the same thing, non-magician. She smiled ruefully. Whichever one of them had the blood, they'd lived their whole lives without knowing. Who knows how many generations it had gone back without them ever finding out?

"Did you ever know these two?" she asked, turning to glance at Kaines. She brought both of them up on the hologram, and then frowned at what came up in front of her.

"I've seen him," Kaines said. "But he wasn't under my jurisdiction and I'd never spoken to him. That's flight wing three. That'd be under Chief Roeback's command. If you'd like, I could summon him."

Elicia bit her lip, not taking her eyes off the two figures on the holograph display. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble," she said quietly. "I would appreciate it."

"I'll be just a minute," he said, stepping back towards the door. "Don't blow anything up, all right, Captain? I appreciate it."

She raised her hand in a halfhearted wave, and he vanished out of the room. She turned back to the two figures standing side-by-side on the projector, their simulated gaze staring off into nothingness.

Lyric's parents looked nothing—absolutely nothing—like he did.

Of course, that would mean he'd been adopted. But that was too significant to overlook. Who were his birth parents? What had happened to them? Was their death also the doing of this Wraith?

Furthermore, was that also a lead she was supposed to track back, or was it just a simple fact of Lyric's life before the Wraith used him to send her a message?

There was no way of knowing. And it frustrated her.

There was one thing she knew, though: that cruiser must have had the Wraith on-board. A cruiser that attacked Madinus June 17th and retreated... was it a temporary arrangement, or was that the Wraith's personal vessel?

She returned to the control panel, flicking through a few options. Sure enough, she found it before long: camera feeds from satellites.

They'd been harassing one of Thame's satellites, the recording had said. It must have caught a glimpse of the vessel. She checked back to the date—one camera disappeared after the 17th. That must have been the one. She opened it, and the room lights shut off completely to allow better viewing, all pitch-black save the little blips of the database lights around the perimeter of the room.

A view of Space opened in front of her—empty, except a little sliver on the edge of the screen she recognized as Madinus. Nothing, nothing, nothing. She checked a time slider, and fast-forwarded. High-speed nothing. The subtle sways of the satellite only sped up—and then a blur of chaos, colors and flashes of light and then the feed went black. She rewound, slowly, carefully, and set it to run again.

Back to the emptiness, and then a violent rattle shook the display. The view started to spin, sweeping out over Madinus, and then across to the other side, and then they appeared. A cruiser, and four frigates. The cruiser that held the Wraith.

She frowned. It seemed like a perfectly ordinary cruiser. It was silver, shaped like a V, seemed to have a great deal of firepower on-board. It looked like something she would see in the Moza fleet stationed permanently around the planet. Unless she got a better clue about it, it would be impossible to track it down on looks alone.

The view kept spinning, and Elicia bit back a curse as the ships vanished from view. Madinus came into view again as it spun full-loop, and then looking at the ships again, almost off-camera to the side. At that rate, she was sure to miss everything.

One of the stars flickered.

Her heart leaped. It was a minuscule detail, almost impossible to catch, but one distant and faint star flickered for just a split second as the view swung by. It was only her magic sense that alerted her to it. She rewound, played it again slower.

The star was there. Then, all of a sudden, gone. And back.

She rewound again, zoomed in as far as she could go, changed the filter and focus, and it came just barely into view. She paused, the one frozen frame that displayed it dominating the room.

A ship.

It was a cruiser, about the same size as her ship, but utterly black. Completely impossible to catch by visual, unless—unless, of course, the one looking were a skillful magician actively searching for something there.

It was hard to see anything about it, sheer black against the backdrop of space, but it did just barely glimmer under light from Madinus's local star. It was a design absolutely unlike anything she'd ever seen, four hooked segments that looked like a claw.

Her heart pounded in her chest. Her hands gripped the edges of the control panel so hard the edges dug into her fingers and started to sting.

The escaped cruiser was a diversion. That black claw—that was the Wraith.

"I've got you," she said, her voice a harsh whisper as she leaned over the controls. "You're mine."

It would be different that time. It wouldn't play out like it did with Heron. At that point she knew—she was dealing with a White Wraith, leading her to something, something, flying that ship that was alien to everything she'd ever known.

She would find it. And she would destroy it.

When the Church put me out, I should have died. By all means, that should have been the end—but it wasn't.

I lived in hell. And I, still just a child, killed, and I killed.

And because I killed, I lived.