The Oblivion Queen was able to anchor herself and resist transport via portal. Her Shadow Courtiers were rallying against the army of vengeful ghosts we’d brought from Hades’ realm. The strongest form I’d ever constructed for myself had fallen before one attack from the Queen. All I needed was one more setback and everything would be undone.
From the discorporated remains of my dragon form, I drew together scraps of power and imagined another body into existence. This one was simple. Just me. Just Jin.
“You are beaten, but you need not suffer.” the Oblivion Queen said, “We do this to end suffering after all. Take the black flame. Call it to yourself. Burn from within and see the light.”
I hung in the air before her, silent for a moment as I finished rebuilding and fortifying myself.
“I’ve got a better idea.”, I said, “Let’s both go see the light.”
The Oblivion Queen was fast. Inhumanely fast. The fastest, most powerful member of the Shadow Court. When the Oblivion Knight had reconstructed her after annihilating her previous incarnation though, he’d had to stick close to the original template. She had to be the Queen in enough detail that she could command all of the Courtiers. He’d made her faster, stronger, more durable and more powerful, but she was still limited by the template of who she originally was.
Unfortunately for her, I wasn’t. As my Dreamlit self, I was whatever I could imagine myself to be and I imagined myself to be faster than her. Much faster.
I hit her with enough force to shatter both of our bodies. A sonic boom echoed in my wake. That should have left us both a crippled mess. In my case, I imagined myself whole and was restored in an instant. In the Queen’s case, her shattered body knit itself together with the same preternatural speed the Courtier in Minnie’s labyrinth had shown.
She tried to grab me and I let her get a hold on my arm. She thought I’d want to escape her counter attack. Instead I locked myself onto her.
“Gotcha.” I said and blasted off for orbit.
My flight is normally very gentle, but I wasn’t bothering with gentle this time. The shockwave from the two of us going hypersonic shattered the ground where we’d been standing and even knocked the ghosts and spirits down.
An animal snarl escape the Queen’s lips as she hit me with the same wave of force that had destroyed my dragon body. I was ready for it this time though and let it wash through me, imagining myself whole again in its wake.
“Care to repent your entire existence?”, I taunted her.
She answered me with another body shattering blast that failed to shake me off.
As though from an impossibly great distance, I heard a voice dream speak to me.
“Quite clever Jin. But tell me, what is the point of this? Why delay the inevitable? Why prolong their suffering?” the Oblivion Knight asked me in dream speech. Along with the words, he sent the images of my parents, still slaves to the Shadow Court. They were locked in their dreams with the Courtiers who possessed them.
“You’ve touched my power. Used it. You know the truth. This world is flawed. There are things in it that should never exist. Suffering that should never be allowed. I am the answer.” the Oblivion Knight said. He sounded closer, no longer impossibly distant but not yet nearby.
“You never found an answer.”, I told him, “You just abandoned the world.”
“I transcended it. I refused to cling to false hope and lies.” he shot back.
“The only lies that matter are the ones you’re telling yourself.” I told him. “The world’s not worthless because it has flaws, and the answer to suffering is not to pretend that it never happened.”
“You are blind. I offer more than pretense. You can feel it. I can change what was and what will be.”
“Not if I stop you.”
“Who are you to hold the world in suffering?”
“Who are you to chose my world for me?”
“I have seen the beauty beyond the end of the world. I know the heaven that can be built in its place. How can you oppose that?”, the Knight bellowed at me.
“Because I can see the heaven that’s with us right now.” I bellowed back.
“There is no heaven in this world. There are only different hells.”
“Before this over, I’ll show you what heaven looks like.” I promised the Oblivion Knight.
“And I shall save you from hell.”
“No. If you destroy me you won’t be saving me from hell. You’ll be saving hell from me.”
“Either way, I will destroy you before the sun rises.” the Oblivion Knight promised. He sounded very near.
The Oblivion Queen and I had cleared the atmosphere while the Oblivion Knight spoke. When his voice faded away, she animated again.
“You can’t even defeat me. How can you hope to survive him?”, she said, blasting me apart again. I reformed instantly, keeping my grip on her.
“I’ve already beaten you.” I told her. I noticed I was dream speaking since there wasn’t any air to carry normal sound. I’d adapted to the vacuum of space without noticing it either.
“We’re in position now! Fire when ready!” I dream spoke to Agent Haffrun.
The Oblivion Queen’s struggles to escape ceased immediately as long range dimensional bindings from the Persephone clamped over her. That was my queue to leave. I portaled away in the blink of an eye, leaving the Oblivion Queen to her fate.
I exited the portal over two miles away from the Oblivion Queen and watched the dark sky be torn asunder by the brightest light I had ever seen. A river of light a mile wide stretched from the Persephone off into eternity. There’s no sound in space, no medium to carry any shockwave from the Ultralight beam, but I still felt something rumble and tear, like I was riding out an earthquake in the spacetime continuum.
The beam continued for a good thirty seconds, lighting up the heavens and visible from every spot on the Earth that was turned to face it. As the beam dwindled away, the Persephone dream spoke to me.
“Long range bindings secure. Scans indicate target destroyed.” the ship said.
“Excellent! I’m going to head back to Brassport and take command of the Shadow Courtiers then!” I dream spoke to Agent Haffrun.
“By all means, please try that.” the voice that dream spoke back to me was a mix of the Oblivion Queen’s and Agent Haffrun’s.
I portaled to the Persephone’s bridge immediately to confirm what I was hearing.
In the captain’s chair, Agent Haffrun sat surrounded by black flames. That was the setback I’d been waiting for.
“You’ve possessed her.” I said. It wasn’t a guess.
“Yes. She destroyed me, now I shall destroy her.” the Oblivion Queen said.
“The Oblivion Knight recreated you.” I said. That also wasn’t a guess.
“The same as you recreate yourself. As I said, you cannot defeat me. I, however, can defeat you.” The Oblivion Queen waved Agent Haffrun’s hand over the Captain’s controls. Specifically the ones that covered targeting the Ultralight Cannon. I didn’t need to see what coordinates she put in. I’d insulted her and she was still enough of a Shadow Courtier that she couldn’t let that go unpunished.
With the Ultralight Cannon at her disposal, the Oblivion Queen no longer needed the Shadow Court’s ritual to summon the primal spirit of life. She could begin destroying the planet until Gaia had no choice but to rise and take action. Then the Oblivion Knight would swoop in for the kill.
It was a great plan. I was glad we’d set it up for them.
“You think this world is worth saving because you value your loved ones over the suffering of the rest of the world. I’m going to make it easy for you to see our side of things.” the Oblivion Queen said as she pushed a button.
“Ultralight Cannon firing initiated. Target designation: Brassport and surrounding areas. Target: locked and acquired. Firing now.” the Persephone intoned.
The view port windows were flooded with light as the main display flicked on to show a river of light hurtling down towards my home.
My breath caught in my throat. She wasn’t supposed to have fired that quickly. We had hoped her ego would get in the way, that it would keep her chatting long enough that we could stop the cannon before it went off.
We’d been wrong, but not stupid. There was a backup plan. And backup plans on top of that, but only the first one was needed. Way was there for us.
The beam of brilliant white light met a shield of dazzling gold that covered the city and absorbed the blast. She was too distant to see and concentrating too hard to speak but Way still managed to send me the impression of a little smirk as she held off the city killing attack.
“What is that!” screamed the Oblivion Queen. Disbelief turning to horror in her eyes.
“That’s my friend.” I told her and added “You didn’t really think you could beat me did you?”
“I’ll kill you now! He can burn you later!” the Queen screamed even louder.
“I don’t think so. Do you have her name yet?” I directed the last question to Agent Haffrun.
The alien woman shivered and the black fire around her sputtered and died out. A moment later, the Oblivion Queen’s shadow peeled away from Agent Haffrun and materialized in her usual form. Her eyes were blinking and she looked like someone had boxed her ears in.
“My apologies.”, the real Agent Haffrun said, “I’m a bit out of practice at throwing off possessions. I’ll have to bone up for my certification from the Parliament this year it looks like. Oh and her name was ‘Maxina’. Also her favorite fruit was pomegranate and she actually did enjoy long walks on the beach at night.”
“Maxina? Thank you. That’s rather useful to know.” I said, a smile creeping across my face.
“Can we see what’s happening on the ground?” I asked.
“Adjusting monitor”, the ship replied.
On the main screen we saw various scenes playing out. Minnie and Patches, both injured, were climbing out of the hole they’d fought in. Minnie was carrying an unconscious but intact Red Shadow over her shoulder.
Jessica was rejoining Nell and Invertrix as the two got back to their feet. In her hands Invertrix held a sphere of purple flames, the condensed version of the Courtiers that had possessed her.
Heartbeat was tending to Adella’s clearly fractured arm in the streets beyond the stadium, while a naked Professor Platinum was strapped to a nearby telephone pole.
I looked the Oblivion Queen, Maxina, directly in the eyes.
“Do you think I can defeat you now, Maxina.” I asked. She’d been trying to look elsewhere, to find a way out, but the mention of her name dragged her eyes back to mine. I had her full and undivided attention.
“It doesn’t matter that you know that name. It has no hold over me anymore.”
“Tell me another lie.” I said to her.
“I will destroy you!”
“Good, good one. I suppose I should ask: ‘You and what army?’, right?”
“This army!” Maxina, the Oblivion Queen, sneered.
The Persephone’s command deck was an exceptionally large area. Despite it’s current crew of one, it was clear that it was intended to hold several hundred personnel when fully staffed. With a wave of her hand the Oblivion Queen nearly filled the command deck with her Oblivion Courtiers.
I had her name, so meta-awareness was more than happy to show me how she’d walked even further into our plan.
“For future reference, not that you have a future really, that was a mistake.” I told her. I knew that, karmically, I’d probably pay for being that smug later on but honestly, I’d had a really bad night and I just wasn’t feeling particularly nice.
“You think you can defeat all of us?” Maxina asked incredulously.
“No, no.”, I admitted timing my words with meta-aware precision, “But they can!”
Lightning struck down from the ceiling of the command deck and blasted a hole in the Oblivion Courtier’s ranks. As the spots cleared from my eyes, I saw over a dozen Olympian Champions rise to their feet. James, in his full Aegis garb was at their forefront. His armor was adorned with some new pieces, spikes and plates that hummed with power and suggested he was ready for a rather unfriendly sort of fight.
“It’s good to see you.” James said.
“You too big bro!” I replied.
“Zeus sends his regards. And this.” James said, holding out a curved band covered in green leaves.
I took the band from him and felt an undeniable power thrumming off of it.
“It’s the Sacred Laurels. He said you’d know what to do with them.” James explained.
“This is impossible! How are you here?” Maxina growled.
“You pulled your Courtiers to your side. They were the only thing blocking the Lightning Road, the only thing cutting Olympus off from sending reinforcements to us.”, I said, “You should feel honored. Do you have any idea how rare it is that the gods would send their Chosen out together like this?”
“Hasn’t happened in three thousand years Athena said, but starting today this is how we’ll work. You blindsided the pantheon. That’s not going to happen again.” James said.
“The Shadow Court and the Oblivion Court? You’re both done.” I said. With a wave of my hand I transformed from my plain clothes to my Queen’s regalia. Reaching up to my head I took off the crown of burning briars and crushed it to ash. In it’s place I settled the laurel wreath on my head.
My eyes flew open and my heart stopped for a second as power and life coursed through me. My wounds and aches vanished. I was more than restored. I’d never felt as alive as I did in that moment. It felt like there was a light in me that radiated out as brightly as the sun, breaking through the darkness and illuminating the whole world somehow.
The clothes that I wore flapped around me like they were in a hurricane gale and the black in them ran off leaving soft whites and pinks behind. The Queen’s scepter that I held changed as well and where the gem of the Shadow Court’s heart had once been mounted the new scepter held the light of a brilliant star.
“Play dress up all you want. I will still destroy you. Courtiers: Annihilate them!” Maxina screamed.
Each champion of the gods was protected in different ways. James had the most comprehensive protection thanks to Athena’s gifts but the others weren’t particularly fragile either. Several hundred Courtiers was still a daunting prospect, but I could see that they’d come well prepared and exceptionally geared for this fight. Like the Parliament of Time, the Olympian gods didn’t take chances. They’d sent their Chosen in with enough artifacts to make them an overwhelming force. The Oblivion Courtiers honestly didn’t have a chance. That left me free to worry about Maxina.
“Let’s take this to the creatures that really need to see what’s going on. You first Maxina!” I said. With one hand I gestured a portal open behind the Oblivion Queen. With the other I raised my scepter and fired a bolt of energy that hurled her backwards and across the portals edge. She tried to resist, to stay anchored to the Persephone but I had her name so I didn’t have to let that happen.
We exited the portal high above the stadium. I wanted to make an entrance. That gave Maxina a chance to fight back. This time I didn’t have to weather her blows and restore myself. I had more than enough power to turn each attack aside as we fell.
Maxina saw that we were closing rapidly on the ground and tried to fly away so I tackled her in mid-air. Even all powered up, I was still pretty light, but force is mass times acceleration and if there was one thing I had plenty of it was acceleration.
We hit the ground at roughly the speed of sound. The produced both a very loud boom and a fairly deep crater. Before the Oblivion Queen could demonstrate her ridiculous toughness, I restored myself and began firing blast after blast into the crater.
“Minions of the Shadow Court!” I yelled, dream shaping my voice so that it boomed out over the stadium. “Witness your Queen!”
I reached down into the crater and dragged the limp, insensate body of the Oblivion Queen up with me. The power bolts had mostly been for show. She was bound into unconsciousness by my dream shaping and the use of her name. All the unreal restoration ability in the world wasn’t going to help her with that.
“She’s fallen! The Queen has been defeated!”, one of the Shadow Courtiers screamed as a stunned silence settled over the battlefield.
“Your Queen stands before you. Any Courtiers who wish to contest my coronation need only remain standing that I may have words with them.” I proclaimed.
I watched and waited as understanding swept through the ranks of Shadow Courtiers. As one they dropped to one knee before me.
I caught sight of my Mom and James’ Dad in the front ranks of the possessed Shadow Court hosts. I almost choked seeing them bloodied and bruised, but from the way they were kneeling I could see they were still in one piece. It was way past time to end this nightmare for them though.
“Cease this battle and quit your human hosts.” I commanded the Shadow Courtiers. Shaped by imagination, my words, my royal decree, hit the possessing spirits like a rain of anvils, leaving their hosts stunned and blinking in new found freedom.
“It’s a little too early to call the battle won is it not?” the Oblivion Knight asked as he rose out of the crater Maxina and I had made.
“You lost this before you even began it.” I said, spinning to face him. I knew this moment was coming and I was prepared for what came next, but I still felt terrified.
“And you lost it the moment you took those Laurels. So much life in you now.” the Oblivion Knight said.
“You’ll never get at Gaia.”
“I no longer need to. All that your ‘Gaia’ spirit represented was a path. She touched enough of the life on this planet to serve as a conduit. Through her, I could reach every other living thing. Humans, even in what you would call great numbers, just aren’t tied together strongly enough for that. But you’re very strong now aren’t you? Very connected. You’re not Gaia, but you’re so flush with life and victory. Hope and cheer. Time for that to end. You’ll serve my purpose every bit as well as she would have.” he said.
I wouldn’t have been fast or powerful enough to block the torrent of black fire that he unleashed on me without the Laurels. With them I was able to throw a wide wall in place to hold the flames away from everyone in the stadium who would have been in their path.
“You can fight for those people, but even now you’re apart from them.” the Oblivion Knight taunted me. I wanted to answer back but keeping up the wall against the flames took every scrap of concentration I had. I had to keep imagining them whole over and over again as the black fire ate away at the very idea of defense.
“They will never accept you.” he continued. “In time they will hate and fear you. They will destroy you if they can and turn from you if they cannot. Even if you hide yourself from them, they will sense what you are. They will cast you out and renounce you.”
I heard the echo of truth in his words. I heard the pleading terror of my heart from just a few hours ago. It was the sacrifice I had accepted for there to be a world for the people that I loved to live in, but it still hurt to confront it again.
I felt a soft hand settle on my arm.
“What are you telling my daughter?”, my mother said, loud enough to fill the stadium, “I don’t know who or what you are, but I know who she is. She doesn’t ever need to hide anything from us. She’s my daughter, no matter what she can do, no matter what choices she makes. And I will always love her.”
I blinked and looked over at her. A flood of tears poured out of my eyes. I couldn’t help it and I didn’t want to.
Meta-awareness, showed me the rift that I’d seen in my mother. On each side of it there was a series of holes and through those holes ran ribbons of devotion and love to draw both sides of the rift together again. My meta-awareness expanded and showed me a broader picture of her. Showed me all of the hundreds and thousands of rifts that lay in her, and in me.
Loving people wasn’t easy. We hurt each other and we scare each other, sometimes through no fault of our own. Those hurts and fears don’t destroy us though. We can overcome them, we can stitch ourselves back together because, in the end, its worth it. It’s worth not giving up. On ourselves or on each other.
I blinked again. In a tiny bit, I understood Way a little better. She already knew what I’d just seen. That’s why she hadn’t given up on her father even after she died, even after he destroyed himself utterly.
It wasn’t possible to restore someone lost to oblivion, but we were impossible girls. I’d had an idea of how I could beat the Oblivion Knight, but with that last bit of understanding, I finally knew how I could win.
“Thank you!” I said. With a gesture I slammed the wall down in place feeding it a huge portion of energy. It gave me a moment of peace but it meant that I wouldn’t be able to reform the wall continuously. That didn’t matter. I didn’t need to anymore.
“Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I could have saved you so much grief.”
“Well if you bring home stray monsters again, we’ll talk about how long you’re grounded for.”, she said.
“I love you!” I said, hugging her tightly.
“I love you too, but why does it sound like you’re saying goodbye?” she asked, hugging me back.
“I’m not. I promise, like I promised James. I’ll come back, but I have to go now.”
Mom looked at me, pride and sorrow, fear and hope brimming in her eyes.
“It’s ok. As long as you come back, it’s ok.” she said and let me go.
I held onto her for a moment longer. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want to leave any of them. No matter how much I knew I had to, no matter how much I tried to have faith that things would work out ok, there was a part of me that refused to let go.
I breathed out a slow, steady breath. I didn’t want to let go, but I would. I could see a way out of this and I’d take it, after everything I’d been through I knew I could. It would be scary and painful and hard but I wouldn’t be alone and I wouldn’t be forgotten. I didn’t know that, meta-awareness couldn’t confirm anything about the future for me, but I believed and that was enough.
“I don’t need this anymore. Can you give it back to James when you see him?” I asked, handing the Sacred Laurels to my mother. I saw her eyes go wide with shock as she felt the raw force of life they carried. She’d keep them safe and, worst come to worst, they’d protect her. It was all the insurance I had to work with.
I turned to my pink wall of force leaving my Mom holding the artifact of divine power. The force wall was crumbling under the Oblivion Knight’s fiery assault. It would hold up long enough though. It had done its job. Reaching out to it, I conjured a portal on one side of and stepped through to the other.
Black fire washed over me and I turned it aside harmlessly.
“This was another part of your lie wasn’t it?”, I asked the Oblivion Knight. Manipulating the black fire was easy.
“This isn’t real. It’s an unmaking fire, it can change real things to be unreal, but I can choose what’s real for me. I learned to do that without really understanding it when you burned me the first time and it didn’t stick. You failed to kill me and I wound up in the Shadow Court’s realm in just the right place to oppose you. It’s why none of the Oblivion Courtiers attacked me with black fire. It’s why you didn’t attack me with it until you had no other choice. You’re actually powerless against me aren’t you?”
“I can rend your entire world apart. I can leave you floating in an empty void bereft of loved ones or home.” the Oblivion Knight countered.
Understanding lit in my eyes like a star.
“And I can restore it. That’s why you kept trying to get me to go to your side. Even if you unmake the whole world, it’ll still be out there in bits and pieces and I can pull it back together. So long as I or anyone like me stands against you, you can’t win.”
“How many do you think there are that would stand against me?” the Oblivion Knight asked.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m here and that’s enough. The important question though, is how many would stand for you.”
“I am alone. In Oblivion there is only solitude.”
“You’re wrong. Do you remember that I said I would show you what heaven looks like. You’ll see it soon. She’s coming now. The daughter that you’ve forgotten. Look at her when arrives. She was never lost to you. Through death and destruction she stayed with you. Before she gets here there’s something I need to do though.”
“I also promised I would take your power and free Pen. It’s time I made good on those.” I said.
I could say I strode forward fearlessly, but, really, I was terrified. What I planned to do I couldn’t survive. Surviving wasn’t the point though. Even victory wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about winning. The Oblivion Knight was already beaten. This was about making something right, and about letting go and about saying goodbye.
It was terrifying but I had faith in Way and I chose to gamble on that. I prayed I wasn’t asking too much though since what I was counting on her for was impossible.
The Oblivion Knight flinched back as I approached and waved his hand in front of himself to ward me off. It was the hand that held the black fire ball that he’d been carrying. Wrapping my hands around the ball I drew in the black flames and knew that I’d found Pen’s prison.
My power let me turn the black fires away but in embracing the fire there was no way to avoid burning. With a yank, I wrenched Pen’s prison out of the Oblivion Knight’s hand and tore away his power with it.
Black fire poured into me and consumed me. I burned away, both my Dreamlit self and my physical body in far off Olympus. That was the price I paid for taking the his power, for fully embracing Oblivion.
I vanished from the world, and from all of time and space, but I wasn’t quite done yet.