I felt The Wise One's Presence surge, or his borrowed Presence, and the handle of the Light sword in his leg was crushed. It sputtered and turned off, then the one through his back was crushed.
“Hey, you're crushing my stolen property.” I said and used Presence to pull the two Light swords out of his chest and jammed them into his legs.
The Wise One gurgled in pain and dropped to both knees and his two extra arms tried to grab the hilts. I pulled the Light swords out again and stabbed his arms with them. He gurgled again and I chuckled.
“Are you having a hard time talking with a Light sword in your brain?” I asked and moved the tip from side to side. His arms twitched and I pushed a little too hard and the end of the Light sword popped out through one of his segmented eyes. “Oops.” I said and pulled it back. “I went a bit too far with that thrust.”
“Hunter! Stop it!” Kara said. “You're just going to make him angry!”
“He has no idea what real anger is!” I said and used Presence as I pulled the two Light swords out of his arms and shoved them into his eyes and down into his shoulders, which pinned his head in place. “My wife sends her regards, asshole.” I said and pulled out the Light sword I had shoved into the back of his head and shoved a focusing crystal with a circuit board into the hole. I quickly used Presence Heal on him, to his surprise, then I jumped away.
The Wise One reached up and pulled the Light swords out of his eyes and turned to look at me... then the focusing crystal exploded. It was only a low quality one, so it only expanded to ten feet. Since he was over eleven feet tall, all that was left of him was his feet.
“That was easier than I thought it was going to... ah, dammit.” I said, because I could still feel The Wise One's Presence. The planet's Presence poured into his and I saw him start to rebuild himself. What I had thought was him using Presence Heal, was actually some kind of restoration ability.
“Hunter, I told you that he was immortal.” Kara said.
“What are you still doing here?” I asked, since I couldn't think of any way to stop The Wise One from putting himself back together. “Better yet, why didn't you leave with Lashina after you delivered my message?”
Kara pointed to The Wise One's coalescing torso. “We weren't allowed to send out messages to warn anyone, let alone allowed to leave.” She said and glared at me. “Why are you just standing there and letting him regenerate?”
“He's not regenerating. I destroyed his body and not his Presence. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of... oh, I am a stupid son of a bitch!” I said and tossed two more modified focusing crystals at the spot The Wise One stood and they reduced the torso to just a piece of floating spine. “I'll be right back!”
Kara jumped at me and grabbed onto my cloak as I shot up into the sky like a rocket. “HUNTEEEEER!” She screamed and used Presence to make sure she couldn't let go. I stopped at Monna and the hatch opened for us. I tossed Kara inside with Lashina, bound her with Presence and put her to sleep, then I took Monna's controls and flew her out of the planet's atmosphere as quickly as possible.
“Hela! Single special missile on each target!” I said on my wrist communicator. “Noma, fire!”
Ten missiles streaked past the cargo shuttle and the turbulence made Monna moan in pleasure as we passed through it. I put Monna into Hela's shuttle bay, picked up Lashina and Kara and took them into the ship, dropped them off in a spare room, then put Hela into autonomous mode.
“I'm ready.” Noma said and took my hand. I kissed her and we ran back to the shuttle instantly and launched, then we made a hot orbital insertion. Monna really enjoyed that, because we were going right down to the planet's surface this time at full speed. We stopped just before we hit the ground and she landed for only a second. I put her into autonomous mode, then Noma and I jumped out of the shuttle and it took off again.
We saw that the surrounding landscape was nearly completely obliterated. Ten large and empty craters were spread out around us, and The Wise One was in the center one. He was a torso, a giant fly head, and had four limbs almost completely regrown. In moments he would have his lower body and legs back.
“I'll be the buffer!” I said and we ran over instantly.
The Wise One sensed something was wrong and tried to stop the reconstitution process before it was finished. Just as he managed to cut it off and left himself as only half of a body, I touched the spot between his large segmented eyes with my palm and Noma kissed me. With direct skin contact, I used Hailey's dissolution ability on his extremities to distract him, then Noma used her ability through me. I became a conduit through which she started to suck in The Wise One's Presence.
“No! Noooooooo!” The Wise One exclaimed as both his body and his Presence was eaten away. “My Goddess! Please! Help your loyal servant!”
I laughed into Noma's mouth and she laughed into mine. We both knew that The Wise One might be one of her most powerful followers; but, he was only one follower. She had hundreds of billions of followers. What was one lost voice among the masses of others that was constantly calling to her?
The Wise One tried to manipulate Noma into trying to take the planetary Presence instead of his and she laughed again. She knew the difference between the two and his trickery wasn't going to work. I added a touch of my own Presence to her meal and she sucked it in even faster. As she did, I dissolved more and more of The Wise One.
“No... you cannot... I won't... go...” The Wise One said and tried to use the link between his Presence and the planet to stop Noma from consuming him. He might have had more Presence than I did; but, Noma didn't gain anything like pleasure from consuming it and there was no danger of her being knocked out from it. She took it and that was it. It meant nothing to her, except that she was doing it for me, and The Wise One's feeble attempt to escape her meant less than nothing.
I had been tempted to crush his body to distract him and realized if I did that, he would be back to being only Presence... and that would only make it harder to get rid of him. So, I left his physical body mostly intact, which meant his Presence had to stay in it, and helped Noma work her magic as she ate him... and she ate him all up.
The massive planetary Presence he had gathered together dissipated and sunk back into the planet, now that he wasn't around to hold it. I dissolved the rest of his body up to the neck and left the head, then covered it in a thin layer of see-through Presence. I made it solid and stuffed the head into a bag of holding. I had kind of a weird and twisted idea and I hoped that it would work.
Noma and I climbed aboard Monna when she landed and I flew us into the East Forest Glade and landed in my favorite spot beside the large rock in front of the stream. I stepped out of the shuttle and walked towards the forest.
“I'm destroying this planet.” I said and enhanced my voice with Presence so that it would carry all the way through the glade. “I know you don't concern yourselves with the affairs of aliens, so I am making a one time offer. I will move you to another planet to start over.”
One dryad, then another, then a dozen of them flowed out of the forest to look at me. They were all different shapes and sizes, from ten foot tall women to tiny children, and they all had tendrils into the forest and also into the ground.
“You killed one of us.” One of them said.
“She held one of my people hostage on the orders of this thing.” I said and took the head out. “I had to kill her to make a point.”
“Yes, that you know how to kill us.” One of them said as I put the head away.
“No, that anyone that crosses me is going to die.” I said. “If I had thought for one second, or picked it up from her mind that she tried to say no or denied his request, I would have spared her.”
The one who spoke sighed. “She was foolish and left when barely above the growth of a sapling.” She said and put a hand on the head of the little girl in front of her. “You shouldn't blame her for...”
“I didn't say I blamed her, just that she did wrong and I killed her.” I said and looked at their faces. “I know there are a lot more of you in there. Are you the only ones willing to leave?”
“We can only offer you newly birthed saplings, because we can't leave.” She said as several of them floated around the dozen dryads. “We are bound to this forest and this planet. If we try to lift our roots from the soil... well, you saw what happened to our wayward daughter.”
“That's because she kept trying to escape.” I said and they looked at me with surprise on their faces. “There was plenty of dirt and living forest and things inside the inner sanctum for her to live on for months. All she had to do was stay still inside the barrier. She didn't.”
The planet gave a slight shudder and the dryads all looked down at the ground.
“Yes, you're running out of time.” I said. “My fight with The Wise One ended a bit before I had intended.” I looked at the shuttle and blew Noma a kiss. She waved to me and I looked back at the dryads. “So, I give you a choice. The only choice that's going to matter to you.” I said. “You can stay here and die with the planet or you can take a chance and come with me.”
“I think...” She started to say as the ground shook slightly again. “...it would be in our best interest...” A dozen more dryads, then another two dozen, then another four dozen came into the clearing. “...to take your offer.”
“You have to promise to leave us alone when we get to where we're going!” The little girl in front said.
“I've left you alone for all the years I've been coming here.” I said and knelt to hold a hand out to her to shake. “I promise to keep doing so.”
The little girl took my hand and shook it.
“Everyone, gather around.” The 'mother' dryad said loudly.
“That's not necessary.” I said and let the little girl's hand go, then put both of my hands on the ground.
“What are you doing?” She asked, curious.
“I've gotten surprisingly good at digging with Presence.” I said.
Ten Presence Hands, each one a hundred feet across, appeared around us. The dryads stared at the glowing blue hands, then they gasped as all ten hands moved out to five hundred feet in an instant and shot down into the ground. They carved out a thousand foot wide circle around us, which was mostly forest, and I took out a device that was surprisingly similar to the black barrier one.
“This is the best part, even though I didn't imagine I'd be taking soil bound dryads along with this thing.” I said and put the device down, then pushed the button. A Presence Shield appeared around us and held everything in place, so I absorbed the ten Presence Hands I had made and stood. “All right, Noma. Take us up.”
“I can't believe this worked!” Noma said happily and Monna lifted off, dropped the end of a tow cable down to me that I hooked to the device, then she flew straight up and out through the shield until the cable was taut. “Hold on!”
The dryads held onto each other, the trees, and a few sat down on the ground. They were all completely stunned when the whole section of forest and earth floated up into the air as if it weighed nothing.
“How... how did you do this?” The 'mother' dryad asked.
“It was simple, really. Once I knew how one thing worked, it was easily adaptable to work with other things.” I said. “The components are surprisingly common and it's just the configurations and programming that's a pain in the ass to figure out.”
A few of the children laughed at me.
“Are you laughing at my pain or my butt?” I asked and turned around and slapped myself. “OW!”
They all burst out laughing, even the teenagers.
I smiled at them and then realized where we were. “Hey, would you look at that.” I said and they all turned to look at me. “No, don't look at me. Look up.” I said and they all did, even the adults.
We passed through the upper atmosphere and they all saw the stars without the benefit of a thick atmosphere to protect them. Some felt instant terror at being away from a planet, some felt awe for the same reason, and the rest accepted it for what it was. Transport and a chance to live.
Once we had joined Hela back up in high orbit, Noma landed Monna beside me and the dryads.
“You got out of there just in time.” Hela said over my wrist communicator.
“Do you want to wake Kara and Lashina up for this?” Noma asked me.
“It's not worth the hassle.” I said and put my arm around her shoulders as she took out a datapad. “We can show her the footage later.”
Noma nodded and checked the progress of the barrier digging machine. “Hela's right. It's just about to reach the core of the planet.”
“Oh, this should be good.” I said and looked at both the datapad and out through the Presence Shield at the planet below us.
“What will happen?” One of the teenagers asked.
“I kind of went a little crazy when the weapon worked so well the first time.” I said. “I needed to make an example of The Order's home world, so I... ah...”
“It's happening!” Noma said and looked at the planet with her own eyes.
“Everything has Presence in it.” I said as the planet in front of us shuddered. “The black barrier absorbes energy and converts it into power to strengthen the barrier. If you maintain the same size, you need to constantly adjust the power to material ratio, because the barrier can't handle too much or it'll short circuit and implode.”
“I understand.” The 'mother' dryad said. “But, that would mean...”
“It would take weeks for a barrier to try and absorb enough to damage a planet.” I said. “However... what if you had... say, twelve barriers that worked in a series and each fed on the residual overage energy of the previous one?” I asked. “What if instead of strengthening all of the barriers, you only let them expand instead?”
All of the dryads stopped breathing as they saw six black spheres expand past the crust of the planet and consume the entire side of the planet that they could see.
“Ah, now that's a thing of beauty.” I said and the black spheres disappeared. “Noma, did any survive?”
“The last three on the other side.” Noma said. “Ooo! Look at the data they're sending us about their operation!”
I chuckled. “Pop them when you get it all.”
“Already done.” Noma said with a smile and sent the command.
“We are in... space...” One of the dryads said with a shudder. “...and no planet is around for us to live on.” She said, her voice sad. “What do we do now?”
“We leave of course.” I said with a smile.
It didn't take me long to fly Monna around and gathered the wrecked ship components that I needed to repair one of the troop transports that had been in orbit. Our shots with the black barrier weapons were so precise now that we could target individual systems onboard enemy ships. The troop transport lost its primary and secondary reactors in only seconds. With no power to do anything, everyone died.
This had been The Order's home planet and it was heavily defended with ships and mobile platforms. None of them had stood a chance against us. Missiles and black barrier devices had been unloaded almost as one and we blanketed the system to wipe them all out in a single volley.
Taking one of the other wrecked ships and replacing the missing reactors on the troop transport was almost child's play in comparison to all of the upgrades and things that I had done to my warships. I opened the large shuttle bay doors and pulled out all of the shuttles, gutted the inside of the ship's main cargo area, then easily slid in the huge Presence Shield with the land mass and the dryads inside.
With that done, Noma docked Hela to the main hatch of the troop transport and came over with us. She carried both Kara and Lashina with her and I checked them both. They were fine and were still unconscious, so I used a bit more Presence to keep them that way. If there was one thing that I didn't want, was either of them waking up, becoming irate, and wrecking everything.
With everyone aboard and safely secured, I used the intergalactic system map and set our destination for the closest inhabitable system that had anything close to a lush green forest environment.
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