I came to the overlook and staggered to a halt, looking over the plains. Green and verdant, the grasses flowed and rippled in the wind. It was beautiful, so beautiful. A fitting sacrifice for mankind to fulfill its destiny.
I pulled my hand from my side, where I’d been stabbed. A knight in shining armor, saving the world. Well, his armor wasn’t so shiny now, but he’d done his damage before he died. I couldn’t blame him, though. If I succeeded, the air would be too foul to breathe within a few years. The world would die.
At least the wound meant I didn’t have to cut myself for the magic. Only the blood of a mage could open the floodgates of our magic. I lifted my hand from the wound and smeared blood on the shaft. Sparks of light flickered along the length of one of the most ancient and magical artifacts known to the world, forming an angular web of light along its length.
“User identified via Kossov familial account. Access granted. Awaiting your command, Malcolm Kossov.”
I reached up, hand trembling, and arched my fingers, just so, twisted my hand. I was trembling too much, though. The magic flowed untrue, and showed me a list of sendings from other mages. I waved a hand, dismissing the spell, and tried again.
This time I got it right. The right magic, called the right way, from the right place. A spellbook not seen in millennia formed before me. Mere family blood wasn’t enough to open a spellbook. It needed the blood of an individual, in this case an individual long dead. With another gesture, an array of spells flashed into being, each of their symbols a translucent coin hanging in the air.
My total absorption steadied my hand. My fingers danced. The magical barriers around this book could never shut magic out completely – else the spells it protected could never be triggered to work. I sent thousands of questing spells with a gesture, testing every possible path through the barrier. Those that were open were also defended, but the defenses were millennia old. We had learned some things about magic in the meantime.
I accessed a certain pathway with a spell far larger than it was prepared to allow. The barrier protected itself, sealing that pathway, but the damage was done. It would array my magic to isolate it, but the array had limits. The size of my spell exceeded that limit and wrote itself into parts of the defenses around the array.
I sent the magic of my blood from the spear to the barrier, and it opened. I could have used a squirrel’s blood to open it, at this point.
“User recognized via Jonathon Savien personal account. Access granted. Awaiting your command, Dr. Jonathon Savien.”
Now came the hard part . . . I had to ask questions of magic. Magic could do much, but you had to know the right questions. The terminals written of in legend could reap much information quickly, with an access more direct than anybody knew today. Without such artifacts available, the process was more cumbersome.
“Query ship status.”
“Query subject not recognized.”
“Query ark status.”
“Query subject not–”
“Query ark ship status.”
“List query subjects containing ‘ship.’ ”
“Friendship monument. Oceangoing ships. Shipping routes, overland. Shipping routes, river. Shipping routes . . . ”
I checked on my wounds; the rescue of humanity would take a while, and I was still bleeding. I gestured a few more times, and when my healing spells arrayed themselves before me, I flicked a finger through one of those icons.
The pain was intense and immediate. I smelled the scent of burning flesh as my blood caught fire, cauterizing the flesh. I always tried not to scream when I had to use this. I always failed.
I lay on my back for a few minutes, exhausted by pain. I enjoyed the cool ground and the sunlight and the breeze. My spells hung over me, always pivoting to remain before me. The new spellbook, recognizing me as its owner, also hung over me.
“Lordship of MacLeod. Lordship of Quincy. Colony ships. List of properties in receiversh–”
If I interrupted, I might have to begin the listing over again. Magic didn’t pick up where it left off – it started at the beginning. There were rumors the Sanjay family had a working terminal . . . when this was over I would have to bribe, cajole, or steal it away from them.
“Query Colony ship status.”
“Colony ships have been on standby for six thousand seven hundred and two years and forty-seven days. Capacity for occupancy, twelve thousand. Readiness for launch: Full readiness.”
I sat up, and looked over the plains. If I did this, it would be the last time I saw this view. It would be the last time anybody saw this view.
“Modify rights. User Malcolm Kossov. Full access. Inclusive.”
I watched as my own spellbook bloomed. There were so many spells in here! Could this Savien have been an Administrator? After a moment, I shook my head at the ridiculous thought. There were no such thing as gods in this world. If there had ever been an administrator, the air would not be fouling, year after year. There were no spells left that could save us, now.
Just the legend of these colony ships. Silly myths of a deadly black ocean and other lands with different air. But at the rate our air was fouling, it wouldn’t matter. Humans could die as a whole in ten years, or we could die in two or three through my folly. Or the magic could be right.
I sat up and watched the wind whip the plains as I opened the list of spells I’ve been given access to They bloomed outward like wings, all of them gray except for one. It was labeled ‘Rise’. I flicked a finger open, and the button shone. Lines sprang up to linked spells, then others, and then others. It was a spell sequencing more complex than any I’d seen before. The volcano in the distance boomed, and the earth shook me to the ground. I watched the plains burst into flames, and when the grass burned away, I saw the reason behind it, lava welling up from the cracked earth as the massive arks rose up from beneath the earth. Already I could smell the fumes released by breaking the earth open like this.
Yes, the world would die, and me along with it. I would be a mass-murderer, the perpetrator of a worldwide genocide. Having saved a few thousand, some of the saved would hail me as a leader. Others would revile me as a murderer. They would need unity to move forward, and I wouldn’t be able to provide it.
Now that I had called them from the earth, someone else would have to lead the men and women crossing the black sea. I would have to take my chances here, among the people I doomed.