In a few of my classes in school, they’ve had us organize into teams for group projects. The teacher would take a motley mix of students, throw us together and expect us to figure out some way to achieve a goal that no one of us could manage on our own in the time allotted.
I didn’t feel like any of those classes prepared me for the conference on the Persephone however. That may have been because none of the groups I’d been in were quite as strange as the one I was faced with. That Agent Haffrun possessed both a ship with transhuman technology and the full backing of one of the largest metahuman organizations on the planet was also just a trifle intimidating.
“I believe we have quite a bit to discuss.” she began after waiting for us to take out seats. She’d lead us to a large meeting room on a deck above the Persephone’s transport deck. The ship was gorgeous on the inside, all smooth pearl white surfaces that nearly sparkled with cleanliness. Here and there bits of polished wood gave color and accent to the decor.
“We don’t have time for talking! There’s some seriously powerful monsters rampaging in the city. We need to call in the Galactics.” Jessica growled.
The Galactics were one of the world’s premiere superhero teams. They were all extremely powerful and tended to work on Earth’s behalf off planet. For serious crises though they could be contacted by any of several different organizations. Full scale nuclear war was generally considered the level of threat they were appropriate to bother for.
“The Galactics?”, Heartbeat exclaimed, “That’s crazy.”
“It is. They can’t fix this.” I agreed. I met Agent Haffrun’s eyes. She was focused on me. It was kind of unnerving. Meta-awareness wasn’t telling me what she was looking for.
“She’s correct.” Agent Haffrun said.
The room went silent for a moment as people absorbed that.
“So, we’re dead? Fine. Send me back then.” Minnie said, her voice rippling with suppressed rage.
“Works for me.” Jessica agreed.
“No. Wait. Listen to them. They have an idea.” Nell said, looking at Agent Haffrun and me.
I looked to Agent Haffrun to offer some plan. To be the adult in the room. She simply looked back, waiting for me to speak.
“The Galactics can’t beat the Oblivion Knight for a lot of reasons. The big one is that he can move in and out of reality at will. It’s what Way and I can do. He can’t get away from us like he can with the Galactics.”
“Yeah but can you beat him?” Jessica asked.
“Can you get our families back?” Minnie added.
“I don’t know. You saw how strong he was in the Shadow Court’s realm.” I replied.
“We did?” Jessica asked.
“Yeah – you know how the fires you set turned black? That was him. It’s why your memories were all jumbled when you got back.”
“I thought that was just a Fairie thing?” Jessica said.
“You’ve all been afflicted by temporal splitting. Several times for some of you.” Agent Haffrun observed.
“Temporal splitting?” Minnie asked.
“Do we care? Nell’s parents are in danger. Yours too. Does any of this matter?” Jessica clenched her hands into fists which then promptly caught fire..
“More than you imagine, but you’re also correct that we don’t have much time.” Agent Haffrun said.
“Let’s make things simple then.”, I said, “I didn’t tell you everything about what happened with the Shadow Court last time we talked. It all seemed too crazy. Since then everything has gotten about a million times crazier. I’ve seen the Oblivion Knight destroy an entire plane of existence and now he’s taken over part of the Shadow Court and turned them into his minions.”
“That’s what those things were?” Minnie asked.
“Yeah, but it’s worse than that. He got their Queen too. She can command all of the Courtiers – Shadow or Oblivion.”
“That’s insane. What is he? This Oblivion Knight guy?” Minnie asked.
“An annihilator type Remnant. Class nine at least.” Agent Haffrun offered.
“What security level is that cleared for?” Heartbeat asked, as confused by the reference as the rest of us were.
“None. That’s not an FBMA categorization.”, Agent Haffrun responded.
“Then whose is it?”, Heartbeat asked, growing even more confused.
“The organization she really works for.” I said. Part of me knew I should have kept that secret but I didn’t have the time or energy to juggle lies anymore.
Agent Haffrun tipped her head to one side regarding me. Mild surprise was all that registered on her features.
“One of the organizations. As Jin said, I will make this simple. I am both a Senior Agent of the Federal Bureau of Metahuman Affairs as well as the Dimensional Adjudicator for Terra 2615. In short, I am not a native of your world, or even your reality.”
“We’ve been kidnapped by aliens.”, Nell said with a nervous laugh. She was joking, or at least trying to, but it went over like a lead balloon.
“You were in a destroyed ship, partially phased into reality and plummeting into the atmosphere. Let’s call it ‘rescued’ for the time being shall we?” Agent Haffrun suggested.
“Why? I mean, why did you rescue us?” I asked.
“Apart from wanting to save a group of people who were in trouble, which I assure you was sufficient motivation? Because I need deputies. A class nine Annihilator Remnant is beyond the Persephone’s capabilities to contain or disperse.” Haffrun explained.
“What about the other heroes?” Nell asked.
“The Shadow Court got all of the ones who were called in to fight them. Well, all except Aegis, but they have him trapped in Olympus. That’s what the army of Courtiers we ran into on the Lightning Road were doing. I don’t know if they can oppose the Olympians directly but they can short circuit the lightning road and prevent rapid transit between the worlds.” I explained.
“The Olympians aren’t the only ones who could oppose the Remnant. There are others who will as well, but several of them will cause catastrophic damage to the material plane if they are roused to manifest their powers there.” Agent Haffrun said.
“So, if we don’t help you, the Earth will become a battleground between this Oblivion Knight and the Viking gods or something?” Minnie asked.
“No. If it came to that there would be too great a chance the Remnant would survive partially or corrupt one of the powers that fought against it. It’s already corrupted one metaphysical power, your Shadow Court, I can’t allow it to progress any further.”
“What would you do?” I asked.
“My mandate is to guide and protect this world so that someday you will be advanced enough to join the Parliament of Time. I am aware of this world’s history with alien invaders, so I don’t expect you to extend much trust to what I am about to say. Regardless of that, the Parliament of Time is a largely benevolent organization. We’ve transcended many of the technological and social limitations that your world struggles against it. The Parliament’s goal, and more importantly my goal, is to ensure that you, as a species, have the time and freedom that you need grow. With our capabilities we don’t need anything from you except for your companionship.”
“What would you do?” I repeated.
“If the Remnant was to corrupt another power, or prove to be unstoppable, I would have to declare the Earth a ‘corrupted world’.” Haffrun answered.
“And what does the Parliament do to corrupted worlds?” Heartbeat asked.
“The Parliament would deliberate and determine if the report was correct. Once it was verified, they would dispatch a World Breaker fleet.”
“The fleet would fight the Oblivion Knight?” Heartbeat asked.
“No.” I replied, meta-awareness showed me a crystal clear vision of that possible future.
It wouldn’t be a fight. A World Breaker fleet was even more powerful than its name implied. There wouldn’t be a battle because the Parliament would send in an overwhelming force. They wouldn’t negotiate. They wouldn’t offer terms of surrender. They wouldn’t even provide any warnings. Their strike would disintegrate the Earth before the Oblivion Knight could escape.
Overall, from the point of view of the rest of the multiverse, that would be a worthwhile trade off. If the Oblivion Knight could amass sufficient power he would unmake the entire universe. In the grand scheme of things, the Earth wasn’t even a particularly significant planet in the solar system, much less important on a universal scale.
“If the fleet comes, they’ll destroy the Oblivion Knight and the Earth. No fight. No chance to escape. Just gone.” I said, feeling sick.
“Once a world like the Earth is corrupted it can serve as a stepping stone to universal corruption and then a pandimensional fracture. If it came to that I would have to weigh the balance of the lives across countless other Earths against this one planet. A million trillion sapients against seven billion.”
“Can we stop him?” I asked, speaking mostly to myself.
Way took my right hand and whispered back, “Yes”.
I looked over to her and smiled. She’d broken free of him. He wasn’t omnipotent.
I squeezed her hand back. Neither one of us were what we had been a day ago. We had a lot to figure out still and we were just beginning. It wasn’t time to give up hope at all.
“So how do we fight him?” Jessica asked. I looked over and caught a rare smile from her. She wasn’t giving up either.
“Together.” said Adella, speaking up for the first time in the conversation. Beside her, Patches nodded his agreement and remained silent.
“We’re going to need more than teamwork.”, Nell said timidly, “We need to know what they’re doing, and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
“We can figure that out. If you’ll help, I think we have a chance. This isn’t my world, but I do not want to give it up.” Agent Haffrun said.
“Me either.” I agreed.
“Same here.” Minnie said.
The chorus of agreements that followed wasn’t surprising, but it was heartening.
“He won’t succeed. I’ll stop him.”, Way said quietly. It was a promise to herself as much as it was to us.
With everyone committed we began comparing notes. I explained what I knew about the Oblivion Knight and his goals, sharing as much of my story as seemed relevant. Agent Haffrun confirmed that what I’d seen about the Oblivion Knight was standard for a Remnant.
Apparently Remnants are pieces of the Unreal that contain a very tiny spark of something that was once real to give them drive and purpose. They’re, in a sense, living nightmares that are capable of turning reality into a nightmare.
With the information we brought about the Oblivion Queen several other pieces fell into place. Agent Haffrun reported that the task force heroes had begun rounding people up during the night.
She and Heartbeat hadn’t been in direct contact with the other heroes at all. They’d transported to the Persephone to look for me once Heartbeat told Haffrun what I could do.
Oh, and dream walking? Agent Haffrun’s people had it down to a science. The Persephone traveled not only through space but across the barrier to the Dreamlit world as well. That was how we’d transited to Saturn so quickly.
Once reports had come in of the task force’s heroes abducting people, Agent Haffrun had turned the Persephone’s sensors on the city and seen what was happening. The heroes and the possessed citizens were gathering the rest of the residents of Brassport into the Fields Memorial stadium.
As we talked, she showed us a real time view of what was going on in the stadium on the conference room’s main display.
There were purple bonfires blazing across the but the heart of the bonfires were hollow, filled with only black fire. The two fires fought against one another but were ultimately held in check by an invisible greater force, the Oblivion Knight’s will.
“Why are they gathering them all together?” Nell asked.
“They’re setting up a summoning circle. A big one.” Jessica answered. She pointed out to us how the various people were being arranged to form the glyphs and sigils that were needed to bind energy into a magic circle.
“They’re trying to summon a spirit. One of the primal ones. This can’t be the Court’s doing though. They would have no hope of controlling a spirit like that.” Adella said.
“That’s what we need to understand. The primal spirits, by their very nature are antithetical to the Unreal. The Oblivion Knight can’t corrupt them either.” Agent Haffrun said.
I wracked my brain for some answer to that question. All that came to mind though was Pen.
I hadn’t forgotten about him, or about my promise to rescue him from the Oblivion Knight but I had put about part of our conversation out of my mind. He’d been terrified of me developing my dream powers because of the potential they held. I could kill the world.
A dead world would be much simpler for the Oblivion Knight to unmake. Humanity was a pretty dangerous opponent all by itself, but our belief also supported many of the beings of power like the Olympians. Athena wouldn’t cease to exist without us, but her access to the world would be limited.
“He’s trying to kill the whole world at once.” I said. Which left only the question of how.
The mind does terrible things sometimes. In this case mine did the most terrible thing of all. It answered my question. I almost didn’t need meta-awareness to confirm it. The idea was so simple.
I knew how to kill everyone who was alive and I saw how that might be the only way to save us all.