Tam coasted into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, piloting a ship of alien design, and knowing that the battle she fought was balanced on the edge of knife blade. Then she felt Charlene’s banishment and everything fell apart.
There are people without whom the world isn’t the same. In Charlene’s case that was literally true.
“Wha-what just happened?” Oooluu, the nearest Burrower asked. For a sapient, dimension walking centipede, he had a very human stutter in his voice.
Tam watched as the Overseer fleet which had transported a fair portion of the assembled forces under the High One’s banner lashed out with new fusillades from their ship mounted weapons. The Burrower’s initial strike which had been so successful was quickly losing its momentum. They’d taken out the Overseer’s central command ship (a stroke of luck, but one Tam had manufactured through good old fashioned spell casting rather than leaving fairly to chance). The Burrowers had even disabled several other ships in the ensuing chaos but with the arrival of the Overseers Captain who was pursuing them, the Burrower’s luck had run dry.
That wasn’t what had Tam worried though.
“The Earth’s principal defender is lost,” she said. “The god leading this assault has banished her.”
“What does that mean?” Oooluu asked, tendrils flailing in every direction as he looked around as though hoping to spy some answer to his question.
“It means we’re on our own,” Tam said.
“Can’t you call this defender back? Unbanish her?” Oooluu asked.
“No,” Tam said. “Once the High One gained enough power to cast someone like Charlene out of this world, he stepped up to a level that no one can overcome. Even if I could reach out far enough to resummon our guardian, it would be trivial for the High One to block me. Or cast me out with her.”
“We cannot lose this fight,” Oooluu said. “We cannot go back to the Overseers tortures.”
“You won’t have to,” Tam said.
“Good. It’s b-better that we die here than go back to that,” Oooluu said, his legs quivering in unison as the thought passed through him.
“We’re not going to let that happen either,” Tam said. “You’re citizens of the Earth now. This is your home and no one is going to take it from you.”
“The Overseers will not respect that,” Oooluu said. “They will hunt us, capture us. They will lurk in every shadow and unseen corner if you do not have mastery over this world.”
“We’re not giving up our world,” Tam said, bringing the shining alien sphere around on a wide arcing path to block the fire from the Overseer fleet. In her wake hundred of Burrowers who’d tunneled through the disabled Overseer’s ships streamed back onboard Tam’s vessel.
“Is there any hope left for it?” Oooluu asked.
Distances in space are vast. Even in the relative nearness of low Earth orbit ten thousand ships could be spaced a thousand kilometers away from each other without running out of available space. By all rights, battles in space should be distant, silent, and lonely.
The Overseer fleet didn’t have ten thousand ships in it.
It had ten thousand times that number.
They glittered in the skies around the earth like a wreath of silver diamonds, or a net of crystal that was constricting to choke the life from the planet.
Tam had given her magic to Jen to help with evacuating the last of the Burrowers from the Overseers world. The trip back to Earth had taken them through many different realms though. Realms where the laws of physics and metaphysics were sharply different from the Earths. One in particular where infinite power surged along with the cosmic winds.
Even with a power source like that to draw on, there were still limits to how much Tam was able to carry with her, but those were far, far beyond anything she’d experience living on Earth.
Charged up and burning with the might of a burning sun, Tam could stretch forth her hand and sweep enemies from the sky with a flick of her wrist, she could walk in the void outside the ship unaided, and she could withstand the mightiest attacks the Overseers could throw at her.
For a time.
In the end, despite surpassing every limit she’d previously been shackled by, she was still only one person. One mortal person, and the enemy arrayed against her was a legion beyond counting. Each ship she destroyed showed two more behind it. Each troop transport she banished back to their home realm was overtaken by a dozen others who made it past her.
Tam could win any fight she was in, but the scale of the battle was beyond her and it was part of a war that she couldn’t do more than play her part in.
“The High One doesn’t want us to have hope,” she said. “So I’m going to cling to that if for no other reason than to spite him.”
“You would make a good Burrower, friend-Tam,” Oooluu said. “We are all in agreement.”
“Good. Then it’s time we get to where we can do the most good,” Tam said. “We can’t stop them from up here, so let’s join the fighting down on the surface.”
“That will give them free reign to attack us from the sky though won’t it?” Ooolu asked.
“It will. Let’s see if they’re stupid enough to try that,” Tam said and sent the Burrower’s Ark that she was piloting streaking down towards the atmosphere.
A wall of Overseer ships formed in front of her as their commander saw what she was doing. They likely didn’t have any idea why she was fleeing to the surface, and were instead following the strategy of “if she wants it, don’t let her have it”.
Tam called forth one hundred and eight lances of lightning and sent them arcing down at the ships in front of her. Shields deflected some, but those rebounded to other ships instead, doubling the damage to some in exchange for sparing in others.
From a destroyed battle cruiser, Tam saw sparks of pearlescent light rising directly upwards before vanishing into a realm she couldn’t see.
“Ok, that’s probably not good,” she said, adjusting her course to regain some of the altitude she’d lost. The volume of fire from the remaining ships which formed the wall was too intense for her to try to press through casually and the rising sparks gave her an uneasy feeling.
“There are more ships approaching,” Oooluu said.
Outside, Tam saw a sizable portion of the Overseer’s fleet had turned to address her single little ship. From the bays of the Overseer transports smaller craft emerged, nimble fighters that she knew she couldn’t outrun for long.
“I guess wrecking their command carrier got their attention,” Tam said, sending the Ark into a wild pattern to avoid the long range attacks from her pursuers.
“We can dig past them,” Oooluu offered. “They can’t block us both here and across the other realms of your world.”
“That’s true, but we have to stay here for now,” Tam said. “On the Earth’s material plane I mean. It’s part of Charlene’s plan.”
“Charlene was the defender who fell was she not?” Oooluu asked.
“Yeah, but I think she knew that was going to happen,” Tam said. A volley of missiles streaked towards them and were turned to soap bubbles with a wave of Tam’s hand. The effort drained her, but her nerves still felt like they were holding a hurricane of power inside her.
“If she knew she would fall, why did she choose this course?” Oooluu asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if she remained to protect us?”
“I don’t know, maybe it had to be like this,” Tam said. “For all that she could do, Charlene always encouraged us to be the ones to sort things out. Usually however we wanted. I think part of what she was doing was training us for today.”
“Why did she want you to remain here?” Oooluu asked. “Wouldn’t it be better to use my people for what we can do?”
“Definitely not,” Tam said. “The Overseers used you for what they needed. That’s the last thing we want to do. With us, you’re going to be free.”
“What use is freedom without safety?” Oooluu asked. “We cannot be free in death.”
“Pitting freedom against safety is a false choice,” Tam said. “Let someone take one of them from you in the name of the other and you’re always lose both.”
Oooluu was silent for a long moment, considering Tam’s words.
Tam felt a spell wrap around the Ark, trying to transform its superstructure to dust. She fought it off, dispelling part of it and reflecting the rest back at it’s casters so that they were plagued with a swarm of mystic insects that bit and scratched at them, trying to tear their flesh from their bones.
More spells pursued the Ark as faster-than-light projectiles slammed into its hull. Dissipating the kinetic shocks required inhuman levels of effort, and with each one, Tam felt herself slipping farther and farther from the core of humanity she carried within her.
Even if her vast reserves from interstellar travel were exhausted, the Earth had plenty of magic to draw on. It would be so easy to give in to that, to allow all trappings of humanity to fall away and become a being of unfettered power. She wouldn’t be a god, but she would walk in the same halls they did.
And be just a lonely as they were.
“Nope, no giving up hope now,” she said. “No matter how scary this is, we can do this.”
Another salvo of spells burst against the Ark and Tam gritted her teeth. The Overseer’s and their supporters were starting to dial in on the Ark’s weak points. And Tams.
“We agree,” Oooluu said. “No giving up. We will fight with you, and you will win.”
“For what it’s worth, we already are, in a sense,” Tam said.
“This is winning?” Oooluu asked as a blast rocked the Ark.
“Charlene wanted us to stay on the material plane and keep the Overseers and the others with them focused on us so that they wouldn’t spread out to the other Earthly realms. We’re supposed to be holding off the reinforcements they could be sending to the Pure Ones who are able to travel between the realms too easily for us to stop. Letting the forces get spread out like that works in our favor more than theirs.”
“We are not holding all of their attention though,” Oooluu said.
“Yeah, they brought more ships than I was expecting. This is far more than they would have needed for the invasion to succeed normally, and it leaves them super defenseless back at home.”
“They would not leave their home unsecured unless they were forced to,” Oooluu said.
“Well, we know someone who could probably do that,” Tam said. “The High One is great for ignoring what other people want or need and making them do things like he wants.”
“What can we do about the extra forces they’ve brought?” Oooluu asked.
“Well Plan A was to engage them in space and keep them off balance as best as we could. Plan B was to bring the fight down to the ground to allow our allies there to help out. Neither of those seems to be an option any more, and unfortunately I left Jen behind on your world, so I don’t have access to our best tactician.”
“Did you really think we weren’t going to catch up with you?” Jen asked, appearing in hologram form as a new ship exited from transliminal space.
“Wow did you pick a good time to get here!” Tam said. “How did you escape though?”
“You left me with all the old and weak Burrowers,” Jen said. “Or in other words all the ones with the most experience and who knew how to avoid fighting the best.”
“Wait, is that a battleship you’re flying?” Tam asked as the readings for Jen’s ship came in.”
“Yeah, we’d have two of them but we kind of crashed the first. Into their capital. They weren’t happy, but they didn’t have a battleship to make their complaints with, so I’m not too worried.”
“There are many battleships here though,” Oooluu said.
“Yeah, but I think they’re going to have other problems than us to worry about,” Jen said.
With a wave of her hand she called forth a shared hologram which displayed a view from just outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
It showed a thousand normal humans, dressed like astronauts, surrounded shards of floating crystal, and riding winged unicorns as they plunged into battle with the Overseers fleet.
“I think we’ll be able to keep their attention here just fine,” Jen said.