Author Archives: dreamfarer

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 4

Charlene didn’t often sit alone. Her days and nights were filled with some many projects and tasks and issues to work on that the closest she normally came to solitude was the rare one-on-one meeting with someone who needed a few private words of counsel.

Considering the boardrooms, and mansions, and yachts which her more public work transpired in, the sight of her sitting alone in the greasy, messy kitchen of a small dinner would have surprised many of those who know of her. Even among her staff, the waitresses apron she wore would have seemed out of character to some.

For those who knew her though, the one’s she’d allowed a glimpse into the person she really was, seeing her helping out a waitress who needed a day to turn her life around was the definition of her character.

Even a day before the end of the world. Even with the High One’s forces, and the Preservers, and the Pure Ones, and the Overseers, and all the rest who had pledged themselves against the Earth gathering their forces, even with all of that, helping a single life bloom was how Charlene chose to spend her last few hours.

“Need a hand cleaning up in here?” Jim asked as he knocked the dirt from his shoes before coming inside.

“I wouldn’t object to that,” Charlene said, not trying to hide her weariness.

“I’ve got the resupply for tomorrow in the truck outside,” Jimmy B said. “I’ll help you get things straightened up in here first though before we bring in any more clutter.”

“That will save us a few headaches,” Charlene agreed, and rose to her feet to help Jim as he began washing the remaining dirty plates and silverware.

“We’ve got this,” JB said, gesturing for her to stay seated. “You had a long day on your feet there. Take a break for a bit.”

“I have plenty of stamina for this sort of thing,” Charlene said.

“Yes, we know,” James said, the last of the four to step inside. “You could wait tables for a thousand years if you wanted and never get an order wrong, all we’re saying is that, for this at least, you don’t have to.”

Charlene raised an eyebrow at James’ presence with the group. Leaving his sanctum wasn’t easy for him, and there hadn’t been any dire need for him to venture out at this point.

“Is everything going well with our other preparations then?” she asked.

“Oh, of course not,” JB said. “Crises all over the place. No one has enough time, and none of our allies feels they’re even close to ready..”

Charlene’s smile was caught somewhere between nostalgia and wistfulness.

“So pretty much exactly what you’d told us it would be,” Jim said. For a big guy who was more used to dealing with grease around an engine than in a wash basin, he was nonetheless making good progress on the pile of dirty dishes left over at the closing time rush.

“They will be ready though,” James said. The arrangement of goods on the shelves bothered him but he waited for Charlene’s nod before getting to work reorganizing them. She knew that by the time he was done, the most used items would all be in easy reach and that the placement of the rest would allow for easy and intuitive access.

When they’d first met he would have created a very different layout, one focused around his own unique connections and uses for the materials and equipment. In the years he’d worked with her, he’d come to see the value in empathy and developed a real talent at understanding other perspectives. Those skills had bolstered his magic and his understanding of the arcane world in general, but that hadn’t been his end goal. He’d simply been inspired by the examples he saw around him.

“How about our own teams?” Charlene asked. “Their assignments were looking like they would be difficult to complete on time. Are they still looking like they’ll make it?”

“Unfortunately no,” James said. “Each team has encountered a set of unique challenges, and will need to take exceptional steps to resolve them. I asked each if they felt as though they could manage that and return before the High One’s forces struck, but I am doubtful of their responses.”

“Let me guess,” JB said. “They all came back with something like ‘we’ll get it done and be there, no matter what it takes’?”

“In an amusing twist, those were Tam and Sarah’s exact words, while Anna’s were ‘we might need extra time, tell the High One to wait for us’. She seemed to think that was a viable option?”

“It might be,” Charlene said.

The others turned to look at her, each trying to determine if she was serious, or the even less likely possibility that she was trying to tell a joke.

“It all depends on how he’s asked,” she said. Somehow the mystery her answer suggested was more comforting than any other response could have been.

“Who will be the one to ask him though?” JB asked.

Their eyes were still turned to her, since they all had their suspicions of why their leader was so seemingly unconcerned over the coming apocalypse.

Jim believed that Charlene was going to handle the matter personally, and that was enough for him. True, she’d never made any overt display of power or capability in front of him. Tam and James routinely wielded more mystical might than Charlene had ever called up in even the most dire of circumstances. Despite that, Jim had faith in her, and believed that when the need arose, she was have the situation well in hand, no matter it took to accomplish that.

James’ guess was similar, though he knew the scale of force which opposed them, and so he had a better idea how much Charlene would need to let her human facade slip away in order to defend the Earth against the High One’s forces. He expected her to take the lead, but kept his mind turning on all the myriad things the rest of the club and its allies could do to lighten the burden on her.

Jimmy B didn’t consider the matter in terms of power. Power wasn’t his thing. For him the campaign against the Earth was a series of events. He looked to Charlene as their guiding light in how to arrange those events so they’d play out in the Earth’s favor, but the idea of her doing all the work herself seemed ludicrous. Why gather allies, and why have the club at all, if not to call on them when there was an occasion like this where everyone was needed and everyone could help.

It was the haunted look in JB’s eyes which worried Charlene the most though. Of all of her associates, JB was the one who looked as though they knew that the time to say goodbye was fast approaching.

In a sense, all of them were correct in their guesses but Charlene hadn’t shared her own vision of what was to come with anyone them, and didn’t see any reason to change that.

There were changes that would come, and losses too. No future was wholly certain though, and there was no need to borrow troubles from a tomorrow which might never come to pass.

“Well, whatever happens tomorrow, at least this place is setup to handle the morning rush,” Jim said, as he placed the last of the dishes on the drying rack.

The kitchen wasn’t miraculously clean and shiny. Rooms that are used build up dings and scuffs that only a full restoration can really get out. Short of that however, the small room looked great. Jim had the dishes stacked neatly in the drying rack where they could be pulled or put away as needed. James had all of the supplies in order. Jimmy B and JB were stocking the shelves with new supplies. Everything was ready for a day which might never come.

“A toast if you’re all willing?” JB asked, passing out five glasses from the drying rack and filling them with a bottle of wine he’d brought along in an ornately decorated box.

“To Charlene,” James said.

“Our leader, and our example,” Jim added.

“She always throws the best parties!” Jimmy B finished.

Charlene nodded in appreciation of the compliments and tested the wine. Unsurprisingly, given that JB had provided it, the wine was excellent. Charlene smiled in approval, but the smile faded into a soft frown at the thought of the wine being one more thing that could be lost in the apocalypse.

“To our friends in the field who aren’t able to join us here tonight,” Charlene said.

“To Val and Connie, who were both stronger than I’ll ever be even before they got their hands on any magic,” Jim said.

“To Tam and Sarah, who came to me asking to be taught, but who taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined,” James said.

“To Anna and Jen, who could lead us into hell and make the devil himself chauffeur us out,” Jimmy B said.

“And to all the others who have stood with us,” JB said. “They traveling by many strange roads to meet the path we walk on but we wouldn’t have made it this far without them.”

“That’s the most important thing to remember,” Charlene said. “This world has been in peril many times before. There have been countless tyrants and calamities that have threatened to destroy it. What has seen the world through has always been those who are able to cherish those who are different from themselves finding the strength and understanding to stand together.”

“What we cannot face alone, we must face together?” JB said.

“Yes, but even when there is no one beside you, if you hold to your bonds with each other, you will never be alone,” Charlene.

She didn’t meant to sound gloomy, and didn’t intend to attempt to convey the grand secret of the universe in a short, pithy package. She cared about all of them though, both those who were present and those who were fighting on distant shores.

James saw hints of the conflagration that was massed against them, but even with all his study, he was only able to grasp the tiniest fraction of what it meant when many worlds united to destroy a single other one. For the coming storm to destroy the world as the tapestry of fate depicted, it would need to crash onto the Earth with power beyond that of all of the gods in every corner of the world and all the realms which were connected to it.

Every Shadow-Earth, every Lost Continent, every Hidden Parallel Earth and Crosstime Reflection, they would all burn, along with all of the defenders who would fight for them. Mortal minds couldn’t property envision the scale that destruction would take place on. They lacked any real frame of reference to provide the needed context.

Even with an immortal perspective the destruction was unfathomable. Not unprecedented though. Charlene couldn’t understand what would drive someone to the place the High One strode towards, but she could believe all too easily that a heart of such malice  existed. She’d seen it happen before. She’d failed to stop it before.

With only a few small hours left in the Earth’s penultimate day, Charlene looked within and asked herself if she truly believed that the people she’d gathered, her Second Chance Club could create the miracle which was needed. The miracle that could have saved the first world that was given to her stewardship. Within twenty fours, she would have her answer.

“Or maybe we could start a bit sooner than that,” the High One said, his voice booming from everywhere around them at once.

Dashing outside, everyone saw the sky shatter into pieces as the apocalypse began.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 3

Three days remained until the end of the world and Anna wished there was less time left. If there’d been only two days she could have avoided a trip offworld but as it was there was just enough time to make the expedition and just enough potential benefit to it for her to opt out of it in good conscience.

“We’re cutting it a little close with this one aren’t we?” Connie asked, staring at the bookshelves around them which rose over a mile into domed sky above them.

“And stretching ourselves a bit thin,” Anna said. “Have we gotten an update from Tam and Jen yet?”

“They’re still working on getting the last Burrower communities to safety,” Connie said. “As soon as we started the migration, the Overseers began to clamp down on the Burrower population harder than ever.”

“We knew that would happen,” Anna said. “Were they able to convince Castorvell to take any of the refugees?”

“Castorvell’s willing to create permanent housing for all of them, but in the short term they can only handle about five percent of the Burrower population. Too much of Castorvell is inherently toxic to the Burrowers, fortunately though there’s a dead island where the native plant life can’t grow. Initial tests show the Burrowers can live there once a few of their native plants are brought in to help provide some necessary compounds in the air. The bad news is that getting that setup will take about a month for everything to be in place.”

“And in the meanwhile the majority of the Burrowers must remain with us on Earth.” Anna was calculating their options as she and Connie strode past a wall of books in languages even the translation spells she wore couldn’t decipher. The Burrowers were independently capable of traveling between different dimensional layers of whatever world they were on, so there wouldn’t be problems with finding space for them on Earth. The difficulty lay in exposing the Burrowers who were willing and able to flee from the Overseers to the peril that lay three days in Earth’s future.

Moving refugees to a planet that was doomed to extinction was madness in most people’s view and only the even greater, and more imminent, peril of the Overseers drive to exterminate the Burrowers as a species was enough to motive the centipede-like people to make the risky trip to another world. For many of the Burrowers a calamity three days in the future meant three more days of life than they could expect to have on the Overseers world.

“Yeah, the Burrowers need to stay with us, and even getting them that far is a lot of work. It sounds like Tam and Jen have it mostly under control but are going to be cutting it close in terms of getting back on time,” Connie said.

“That’s worrisome. We need everyone back for the High One’s attack,” Anna said. “Do they have any options for speeding up the process?”

“The Burrowers world clock runs a bit faster than ours, so that’s speeding it up a lot already. Tam and Jen are spending about a week with the Burrowers for every day that passes for us but even with that the evacuation is a massive undertaking and having to fight off the Overseers isn’t helping.”

“How bad are the assaults they’re facing?” Anna asked.

“Well, the good news is, they’re holding out pretty well. They even managed to liberate a few enclaves of Burrowers that everyone had more or less given up on. The bad news is the success they’re having has been noticed. Both the Overseers and their nearest neighbors the Harmonic Hegemony have pledged their support to the High One’s Grand Purge, because they see us as a real threat now.”

Anna turned to look at Connie, cocking her head slightly to the side without slowing her pace.

“Really?” A small smile of pleasant surprise spreads across her face. “Kudos to them then, we hadn’t expected their mission to have as much impact as that.”

“Speaking of impact, have you heard about Val and Sarah’s mission results?” Connie asked.

“I haven’t had a chance to check in on them since Charlene and I got back from the negotiations with the Dreadworld Parliament.”

“They found us an extra four billion refugees on Greenglim. They said they’d be back to Earth on time but I’m not sure how realistic that is. I gather they bought some time with the natural disasters that were going to wipeout life on Greenglim but it doesn’t sound like it was going to be enough time even if they worked non-stop. Not without a miracle anyways.”

“Miracles do happen,” Anna said. “All the more so when people make them happen.”

“Let’s hope they can manage that miracle then and manage to keep a few in their back pockets for when things go wrong with our plan.”

“We already have the miracles we need,” Anna said.

“Hopefully. How did things go with the Dreadworlders? What were they like?” Connie asked.

“Surprisingly cheerful,” Anna said.

“That was the sunless world wasn’t it? The one with the shadow predators and hungry ghosts?”

“Yes, that’s the one. I’m going to suggest that we take a group vacation there when we get a chance.”

“Really? With the hungry ghosts?”

“They are quite charming for the most part,” Anna said. “They eat the spiritual remains of burnt food offerings as their primary interaction with the living. Beyond that they roam about witnessing history and working on creative endeavors until they feel the call to progress to another life.”

“That sounds pretty restful. Will they help us?” Connie asked.

“They were delighted with the idea,” Anna said. “I’d hoped we’d secure them as another world which would be willing to grant asylum to the refugees who needed it. They went far beyond that though, pledging support to every request Charlene made. They were even the ones who suggested we meet with the Infinite Librarians.”

“Speaking of our hosts, shouldn’t we have met them by now?” Connie asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Anna said. “The Tessered Library allows new visitors in only to the Open Stacks. The Dreadworlders said this is a small area within the overall library for people without credentials.”

Anna pointed to the immeasurably vast space around them which was filled as far as the eye could see with books on every subject the mind could imagine.

“Which part of this is the Open Stacks?” Connie asked.

“All of it, supposedly,” Anna said. “According to the Dreadworlders, this is meant to allow prospective patrons to peruse the offerings and get a sense of the kind of material the broader library has. Since the Open Stacks are unregulated we won’t see any of the Librarians until we reach one of the Information desks.”

“How far is that?” Connie asked.

“At the pace we’re setting? It shouldn’t take more than another twelve hours or so.”

“And how long from there to reach the people we need to talk to?” Connie asked.

“That could take a bit longer. The Infinite Stacks apparently live up to their name.”

“Wait, forget about the others, are we going to make it back to Earth in time?”

“That will be our miracle,” Anna said. “Or at least one of them.”

“Can we afford to spend a miracle like that?” Connie asked. “There’s always last minute stuff that comes up.”

“Charlene said she’ll be handling that personally,” Anna said.

“Who does she have to call on though?” Connie asked.

The book shelves around them changed as they advanced. Shelves of dusty old tomes, were replaced by racks of scrolls, and then by stone tablets. Glancing at the tablets, Anna was amused to see that in place of pictograms, the stone blocks showed a collection of graven icons which match the popular apps on her smartphone. The small port on the side of the tablets was also pretty clearly a USB connection port.

“Excuse me,” a young blonde woman said, stepping out from the stacks carrying an armful of stone blocks which had to outweigh her by a factor of at least three to one.

“Do you need a hand with those?” Anna asked, slowing her pace so as not to collide with the woman.

“Thank you, could you grab the two on the top, they keep trying to jump away.”

Anna and Connie each grabbed one of the blocks and had to struggle to carry the massive objects to a nearby table where the woman deposited the other five she was carrying.

“Should these be growling like this?” Connie asked, backing away from the book she’d been carrying.

Anna’s book was making similar unhappy noises. She fixed a glare on it and it settled down, but didn’t seem completely content.

“They’re just unhappy because they’re Secret Tomes and they don’t want their secrets getting out,” the woman said. “I found them fairly though and without any assistance, so they’re going to have to tell me where the next global disaster is going to occur.”

“The next global disaster?” Connie asked.

“Yeah. These are secrets because they chronicle future history. Knowing what’s in them can destroy them if the person who reads them isn’t careful.”

“How does that work?” Connie asked, the curiosity which drew her into long forgotten ancient ruins dragging the question out of her despite the hurry she and Anna were in.

“Each of these records a disaster which is in the near term future,” the woman said. “If the disaster is averted though, then the future is changed and the history these tomes record never happens, and so they change from being future histories to simple works of fiction. Assuming they’re not erased entirely.”

“That’s quite a number of imminent disasters for this world,” Anna said, looking at the size of the stack of tomes.

“Oh, they’re not all for this world,” the woman said. “They cover all of the worlds the Tessered Library is cosmological close to at the moment.”

“We must be in there,” Connie said.

“Why do you wish to read about these worlds?” Anna asked, the rush to get to the Infinite Librarians seemingly forgotten. In its place, Anna had settled on trying to puzzle out what it was about the stranger that had snagged her attention.

There was a sense in talking to the blonde woman that she addressing someone similar to Charlene. It was unlikely. From everything Anna’s mystically enhanced senses could tell her, the woman was an exceptional but still mundane human. She might possess an unusual knowledge set based on her interests and access to the Tessered Library but she wasn’t any sort of cosmic entity. At least not as far as Anna could see, and her spells were potent enough to pierce the illusions of a god in their own dominion.

“I’m doing some work as a retro-archaeologist,” the woman said. “It’s sort of a weird field, but in this case it means I’m trying to collect information about these worlds and preserve it so that future people will be able to understand what their world looked like before everything in it changed and all connection with their history was lost.”

“What if the disaster doesn’t leave anyone behind to look into their ancestors’ history?” Connie asked.

“Then it’s for the strangers who will eventually discover the ruins,” the woman said. “There’s too many places where all of the stories of those who once lived there have been lost to oblivion. Even if the only record is stored in a place like this, where it could be close to impossible to find, that the record exists makes a difference.”

“With what’s in those books, couldn’t the disasters be avoided though?” Anna asked.

“In some cases, certainly,” the woman said. “In others, the calamities are beyond any one person or group of people to prevent.”

“Do you ever feel tempted to intervene with what you know?” Anna asked.

“If I didn’t, the Secret Tomes wouldn’t be afraid of me,” the woman said. “I would try to reassure them but I was lucky enough to have someone win a second chance for me when I most needed it, and I know there’s a lot of  people out there who deserve a second chance of their own too.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 2

It was five days until the end of the world and Val was trying to punch a volcano into submission.

“This isn’t working as well as I’d planned,” she admitted as a lava flow escaped over the left side of the fire break she’d put up.

“Keep going,” Sarah said. “You’re buying us time, even if the barrier fails, we need those seconds.”

Val looked at the grumbling mountain about her. It was more than a pile of hot rocks. It had a slow and implaccable will and it did not like her.

“Sorry there big guy, but you picked the wrong day to wake up cranky,” she said as she slammed a fist into a boulder twice as high and wide as she was tall.

Physics both on Greenglim and Earth agreed that the proper response to such an action would be for the bounder to be moved minutely in one direction while Val either shattered her hand or was hurled backwards a much longer distance in the opposite direction. The Rune of Undeniable Gravity on Val’s left hand had other ideas though.

It wasn’t just that she hit the boulder with enough force to launch it into orbit. On its own even that wouldn’t have achieved the desired effect. Since the force was concentrated in an area the size of Val’s hand, it would have simply punch a fist sized hole into the rock, possibly splitting the boulder into shards.

Instead, thanks to the Rune’s ability to tell physics to go sit in a corner and keep its opinions to itself, the boulder was flung as an intact structure into the side of the volcano with enough force to collapse the top of the mountain into the caldera to form a temporary and imperfect plug. Physics complained about that too, but quietly, so as not to draw too much attention to itself.

“That should buy us a minute or so,” she said, tapping the communication pin in her earlobe.

“Good,” Sarah said. “I think I can keep our two new friends from coming to blows for at least that long.”

“Two new friends?” Val asked. The mission they were on was supposed to be for the last minute rescue of a group of spindly aliens who looked like walking stick figures. Nothing in the mission briefing had suggested that they’d have more than a few thousand refugees to worry about.

“Yeah, turns out the situation’s a little more complicated than it appeared,” Sarah said. “The Vielii aren’t the only sapients on this world. In fact, they’re not even the only ones in close proximity to here.”

“How many more are we looking at?” Val asked, trying to do the logistical planning for the added rescues in her head.

“In the area being threatened by Mount Disaster here? Something like thirty three thousand,” Sarah said. “World-wide though? Around four billion from what the leader of the Growing Ones says.”

Val had no idea who “The Growing Ones” were but even that basic of a question was secondary in importance to the most pressing problem they presented.

“Four billion? But James said there was only a small population left here. One trip. That was all we were supposed to need.”

Even if they spent the rest of their time ferrying people off of the Vielli homeworld there was no chance they’d complete an evacuation of four billion people in five days. Val knew what the math looked like, and knew what short cuts they could take to speed things up. None of them, not even the suicidally dangerous ones, were anywhere close to transferring a billion people to a new world in a week, much less four times that amount.

“Let’s just say that for as fantastic as a caster as James is, there’s a reason we usually leave the mission detail work to Tam,” Sarah said.

“How did he miss four billion people though?”

“He was looking for life as he knew it,” Sarah said. “To be fair, I didn’t think of this either, but the part of the spell where we exclude the life signs of things like shrubs and trees? Turns out that’s not always the right thing to do.”

The volcano belched and heaved. A long sigh of toxic gases emanated from a series of fissures in the mountain’s top. The forces building within it were not going to be contained by anything as trivial as a collapsed mountaintop for long.

“So you’ve got talking trees to deal with?” Val asked, trying to make sense of what Sarah was saying.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much how my day is going,” Sarah said.

Another rumble saw a jet of pressurized lava squirt into the air from the top of a volcano and the fall back to the ground as a shower of glittering crystals. It was pretty, but also, probably a pretty bad sign Val decided.

“I’ve got diamonds or something like that raining down here,” she said. “It’s not as great as it sounds though. They’re sharp and they hit hard about hard enough to pierce stone.”

“What I’m getting from our new friends is that Mt. Disaster is different from the other mountains in the area. They’re saying it’s alive and it can feel what’s been done to it.”

“Wait, is this thing actually named ‘Mt. Disaster’ or is that just your name for it?” Val asked.

“It’s what the translation spell is coming up with,” Sarah said. “I could tweak it to use the original word but given that the Vielii and the Growing Ones have reached the ‘screaming about old wrongs’ stage of the negotiations, I think I may give that a pass.”

“Give me a sec then and I’ll head over to provide some backup,” Val said.

“Hold that thought,” Sarah said. “It sounds like we’ll you need you where you are if the volcano makes another move. I’ll put my audio pickup on omnidirectional so you can hear where things are going with our friends.”

There was a squeak as Sarah adjusted the spell on her earring.

“The disasters won’t be satisfied until your people are dead,” a voice that sounded like a great gale blowing through an empty canyon said. The name “Greygast” popped into Val’s mind courtesy of the translation spell.

“We’re not the ones who did this,” said a speaker whose voice vibrated like a guitar string. The translation spell named this one “Qui-vell”.

“Always you say this, always you claim no responsibility, no need to put right what you made wrong,” Greygast said.

“Because we didn’t do this,” Qui-vell said. “The poisons that kill the world, the ones that are waking up the disasters, we didn’t unleash them. They’ve always been there.”

“Not always,” Greygast said. “You’re people placed them here. For millennia the poisons have built, unseen, but now there is nowhere for them to hide. Now they poison everything.”

“None of us are like you,” Qui-vell said. “We don’t live thousands of years. We couldn’t have done what you’re claiming.”

“Not you who are here, but you who came before,” Greygast said. “You parents, and theirs, and theirs before them.”

“Not even them,” Qui-vell said. “My parents fought to clean up the toxins. We have too.”

“It was not enough,” Greygast said.

“We know that!” Qui-vell screamed.

The mountain punctuated the scream with a howl of its own as more superheated gases escaped through the rapidly shifting plug Val had formed.

“I don’t think my stopgap is going to hold much longer,” she said. “I think we need to try Plan D.”

That they were only on their fourth contingency plan so far was a promising sign in Val’s book. Normally their missions either went roughly as they were supposed to go or they went so far off the rails that all existing plans were tossed to the wind and everything came down to improvisation.

“Are you sure you’re ready for that?” Sarah asked. “Greenglim’s not home. I don’t know how long your enchantments are going to hold.”

“They’ll hold long enough,” Val said. “Can you get the squabbling under control though? Even best case this isn’t going to last more than a few minutes.”

“I’ll have to,” Sarah said.

“We’ll probably lose contact once I get started,” Val said. “Bail out the moment things look untenable ok?”

“No,” Sarah said. “Not ok. I’m not leaving you to drown in lava or be blown to bits by a pyroclastic explosion.”

“I appreciate that, but we need to get word back to home about the three point nine billion or so people James missed on his original overview of this place so the others can dream up a solution for the ones who are outside the blast range of Mt Disaster here.”

“You know if I come home without you, Aranea will eat me right?” Sarah said. “And  that’s not metaphorical.”

“She knows how dangerous my work is,” Val said. “It’s why she helps out once in a while.”

“So why isn’t she here now?” Sarah asked. “This would be a lot easier with some divine might backing us up.”

“She’s a goddess in our world, her powers outside that are more limited,” Val said. “And at the moment she’s away on god business. And it doesn’t matter, because I’ll be fine. Just go and talk your peoples there into burying the hatchet for now, and then get them out of here.”

“Sure, they’ve only got a few thousand years of baggage to work through. How hard could that be?”

“You know Anna could have them on the Rainbow Bridge already right?” Val teased.

Sarah grumbled.

“Yeah, like anyone can measure up to her.”

“Do your best, you’ll be fine,” Val said.

Sarah grumbled more.

“I’m the small group handler. She’s the one who’s supposed to sway the masses. Yeah, fine, I’ll manage them. Just don’t get fried.”

“Will keep it frosty,” Val said, as she invoked the Winter’s Heart glyph drawn in the center of her chest.

An icey blue rime spread from the point where Val touched the glyph, growing thicker and heavier as she bounded up the crumbling slope of Mt Disaster. By the time she reached the summit, she was encased in a clear crystal shell of ice which leeched heat from everything within a quarter mile of her.

“When did my life get like this?” she wondered as she plunged through the stone cap and into the center of the roiling volcano.

The heat of the volcano couldn’t reach her, in part because the ice had grown too thick but also because she fell through the lava her frosty armor froze it back to solid, and even chilly, stone.

“Iceling! Why do break the ancient compact?” Mt Disaster asked her.

“You can speak?” Val blurted out before regaining her composure. “Of course you can. Ok, first thing, I’m not an iceling, and we don’t have any compacts. Not yet anyways. Second thing, do you have to explode? It’s kind of putting a lot of people in danger.”

“The heat must rise,” Mt Disaster said. “The world drowns in poison, the air is choked, the seas are dying. For life to return, the heat must rise.”

“And by heat, you mean lava?” Val asked.

“Yes. The fire within must cleanse the world without, or only death absolute shall remain.”

“What happened here?” Val asked.

“There was war. There was greed. They lasted too long. Now the world is dying, despite the efforts who have inherited it.”

“Will their deaths change anything though?”

“Death always changes the world.”

“For the better?”

“Rarely for the better.”

“Then can you hold off for a bit?” Val asked. “We want to get them to safety. To another world, until this one can heal.”

“This world will not heal while they live,” Mt Disaster said. “Not even for those with the longest lives among them. If they are to find a new home, then it will be the only home they will ever know.”

“Better that than dying here,” Val said, wondering how she’d wound up as a diplomat when even Sarah, who was exceptional at handling people, was feeling out of her depth.

“Is it?” Mt Disaster asked. “If they journey to a new world, they will leave behind the lives they have, but they may bring with them the poisons which destroyed this world.”

“That’s not what any of them want,” Val said. “Starting over is never easy, and maybe they will make mistakes in their new homes. They’re people, and that means they’re not perfect, but they deserve the chance to try for something better. That’s the promise my world is meant to offer. A second chance to make a better life for anyone who need one.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 1

Tam felt the universe swirling in the palm of her hand. Stars brighter than galaxies filled her eyes and all around her a cosmic wind played the primal anthem of creation. As commutes to work went it rated about a 7 out of 10 in her book.

“We’re going to arrive in time, right?” Jen asked, gazing out through the iridescent skin of the bubble of real space that surrounded them.

“Should be just-in-time from what I can tell,” Tam said. “This is tricky to calibrate though with our worlds having different time streams.”

“Are there any changes you make at this point?”

“Nope. We’re basically baggage until we land. If I poke the spell now it’ll unravel faster than I can recast it and we’ll wind up in a whole bunch of places. As in one atom over there, another one a light year or two away and the rest dispersed a little bit farther off than that.”

“I wish Charlene had given us more to go on for this one,” Jen said, looking at the picture that represented half of their intel on the mission at hand.

“Yeah, she usually is a little more forthcoming than a homing crystal, a picture, and ‘rescue him’,” Tam said. “Think it’s a sign of her being under a lot of stress too?”

Around their bubble, a trail of glowing smoke curled and then whipped past. It was only as it faded away that Tam finished processing what she’d seen. Each mote of light in the gas had been a galaxy, with a countless number of them strung together in fuzzy line whose reach was longer the boundaries of the knowable universe.

“I don’t know,” Jen said. “I can’t imagine her not being under a tremendous amount of pressure, but the few times I’ve seen her she’s looked, almost relaxed?”

“I kind of got that sense too,” Tam said. “Which should be worrisome but somehow isn’t? I don’t know if I can explain it.”

“I’ve sat in a lot of meetings with her and Anna recently, so I get what your saying. If she was anyone else, I’d chalk up the calm she’s been showing as really effective repression, like she was trying exceptionally hard to be the rock for the rest of us to lean on.”

“But it’s not that is it? I mean that was my first thought too, but the energy she’s fired up with, it seems too genuine doesn’t it?”

“As near as I can tell? Yeah, it does,” Jen said. “I don’t think she’s putting on a brave front for us, or is deluding herself or us about the crisis that’s coming. She knows it’s the end of the world, and she’s ready for it.”

“Well, almost ready I guess,” Tam said. “I don’t recall this mission being on the roadmap.”

“We had some contingencies in place for things like this,” Jen said. “It’s probably why I got nominated as your backup – it was my idea to be ready to deal with last minute requests for asylum.”

“I’m glad you thought of it,” Tam said. “I’d hate to be scrambling to get this done any later. It feels like we’re cutting it pretty close as it is with only a week left in the future vision.”

“We weren’t sure if we’d see any new refugees given how close the end is,” Jen said. “I know the people from the High One’s world have gone into hiding there for the time being. Same with Duinella’s people who are still being hunted by the Preservers.”

“I can’t really blame them,” Tam said, tracing her finger along the skin of their travel bubble. Despite its appearance, there was nothing fragile about a sphere capable of traveling through the sort of space that made galaxies into points of light. While it hadn’t been her spell that created it – she’d borrowed the effect from Charlene – Tam felt a measure of pride about that. She could think of something else that wasn’t as fragile as it appeared. Hopefully.

“From what Anna’s said, the opinion on our world as a viable refuge or ally seems to be split along the lines we’d expected,” Jen said. “A few of the worlds we’ve contacted, like Telidees and Castorvell are firm in their support of us, but most of the rest have only been willing to enter into ‘negotiations of intent’ rather than forming specific alliances.”

“I can’t blame them either,” Tam said. “I’m amazed you’ve been able to talk as many into taking our side as you have.”

“Oh that hasn’t been me so much,” Jen said. “Anna’s done most of the heavy lifting there.”

“In a move that will surprise noone, she’s said the same thing about you,” Tam said.

“She’s being kind,” Jen said. “My role has been selecting viable candidates to approach, she’s the one who’s handled interfacing with the leaders we’ve been able to contact. Well, her and JB.”

“We’re lucky to have both of them,” Tam said. “JB’s basically a genius when it come to connecting with anyone, from dump truck drivers to heads of state, I have literally never seen them at a loss for how to handle themselves.”

“Have they always been like that?” Jen asked. “I mean I kind of can’t imagine them as a toddler. The only picture that comes to mind is basically a short version of the JB.”

“From what their Mom said, that’s more or less exactly right,” Tam said. “I mean, I think they have gotten more adept with age, but little JB apparently had poise for days, and basically glided through school with their classmates and teachers dancing to whatever tune they played. Makes me kind of jealous to be honest. Happy for them too, but, seriously, I could have used even a drop of that when I was a kid.”

“I’d be happy if we could bottle a drop of it now,” Jen said with a laugh. “I don’t have any problem with backing you up on this, but we’re going to be alone on this world, and I’m guessing that kicking butts until we fix things isn’t going to be an option, even if I can come up with a fantastic plan for how to do it well.”

“You have a lot more to offer than that,” Tam said, resting a hand on Jen’s shoulder.

“I spent a whole lot of time learning to kick butts though,” Jen said. “It’s kind of my comfort zone at this point.”

“Right, because you looked totally lost after a four hour tactical session with Anna and Jimmy B. Oh no, wait, that was all of the rest of us.”

“Well four hours wasn’t really enough. The situation with the Mirror Walkers was a complex one.”

“Yeah, but you were smiling at the four hour mark. Val was literally asleep and Sara was astral projecting herself onto a beach in the south of France.”

“Planning tactics is just kicking butt with your brain. Still sort of the same comfort zone,” Jen said, shaking her head as she watched a sun flare into a supernova and collapse into a black hole within the space of a single breath.

“There was no fighting on the Mirror Walker mission,” Tam said. “I don’t recall that we even had any plans for fighting there. We spent all our time working out how to get our reflections aligned so that the reflections would show the proper side of us and represent our desires without flipping them around.”

“Yeah, but that was like combat,” Jen said. “I mean we couldn’t punch the mirrors but it was still a puzzle.”

“Ok so you’re a kick butt problem solver. That’s a pretty broad comfort zone,” Tam said.

“Maybe. It still would have been nice to have JB here though.”

“I agree. But they’re needed for the negotiation with the Parliament of Worlds. Unless we can convince those guys to stay neutral in all this, it’s not going to matter what kind of allies we have standing with us against the High One and his fellow tyrants.”

“I haven’t heard much about that. It’s been Anna’s domain mostly. She’s had me working on ground level stuff more,” Jen said.

“From what Charlene’s said they’re a group that’s been setup to prevent conflicts from arising between worlds. Sort of a cosmic supreme court where problems that arise between two worlds can be taken to be resolved.”

Jen furrowed her brow in thought for a moment.

“That we’re acknowledging their existence means that the Parliament has the power to back up the authority it claims to have. So they could save us, but we’re having Anna and JB argue for their neutrality instead?”

“Yeah. Charlene was specific about that.”

Jen thought for a moment longer.

“She’d probably only do that if they were inclined to be biased against us in the first place. But why would they…oh, of course. We upset the balance between the worlds when we opened our borders.”

“It’s more than that. I gather Charlene more or less declared war on people like the High One.” Tam said.

In front of the bubble an image formed of a creature that looked like a centipede but at the end of each of its legs there was an unblinking eye.

“We’ve almost got him,” a man’s voice said as the centipede-like creature wriggled towards the bubble and vanished in a puff of smoke.

The stream of distant galaxies was gone, replaced by swirling stars and dazzling moons that winked and blinked out of existence as the bubble sped closer to its destination.

“How long till we get there?” Jen asked.

“I can’t say for certain, this spell’s way beyond me, I think we’re close though.”

“Interesting that Charlene set us on this course so firmly. She must have some hidden aces that she doesn’t want the Parliament interfering with.”

“I wonder if this is one of them?” Tam asked. A world had appeared before them, bright and green and blue. The land masses were wrong for it to be Earth but even from the great distance they were from it the two could see it contained life.

“Don’t let the Burrower dig on its own,” another man’s voice said as a second image of the centipede appeared. It was gnashing at the ground with a maw of bloody teeth. With each bite sparks flew from the contact points, each accompanied by a terrible tearing sound.

“I got a spike in it,” the first man said. “It’s not going anywhere at this point.”

The image of the Burrower floated along with the bubble as it passed the orbit of the world’s outermost moon, slowing more and more with each passing second.

The Burrower, either hearing their voices, or in frustration at its lack of progress in digging at the floor, turned and flared upwards, its volume expanding by a factor of four as it’s eyes shot beams of different colors in all directions.

“Looks like we’re not going to coming in to a particularly calm situation,” Jen said.

“So we’ll be in your comfort zone?” Tam asked with a smile.

“Probably. Which under the circumstances isn’t great,” Jen said.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to resolve this one quickly,” Tam said. “From what I can see our magic is compatible with the ley lines here.”

“I’m not concerned about winning this battle,” Jen said. “I’m more worried about what it’s going to do to our war overall.”

“I’m not sure we’ll be able to rescue all that many of the people here who need asylum,” Tam said. “We can see about spreading the message and having them hold up somewhere safe for a week until we can come get them though.”

“That’s more or less the problem,” Jen said. “Think about what’s going to happen when we show up, strange visitors from another planet, fighting for Truth, Justice, and Our Own Way and bring news to the people here that there’s a safe haven for them, outside the control of those who are oppressing them.”

“The people who are in charge here aren’t going to be any happier than the High One or the Preservers, or any of the others. Given the time pressure they might even join up with the High One’s cause. Yeah, I can see how that’s going to be a problem, but do we have a choice?”

“We could wait and sneak our target to safety once noone is watching. I don’t like it though. Part of all of these missions was to do more than save a few people. They’re supposed to show people that there is hope out there. It’s what we’re supposed to stand for.”

“Looks like we’ve got some good news then,” Tam said as a new image flickered to life. “I don’t think stealth is going to be an option we have time for.”

The Burrower was shrunken and collapsed. He bled from multiple wounds and at least a quarter of his eyes were gone.

“There, I told you he wasn’t going to get away,” a man with an absurdly oversized rifle said.

“I bet he regrets telling all those others about how they should revolt,” the second man said. “Spent so long convincing them that they were special. That he could save them. And now look at him.”

The Burrower’s body heaved with painful breaths as the bubble punched into the planet’s atmosphere.

The first man leveled his rifle and aimed at the Burrowers midsection, where its two largest eyes were.

“You’re nothing maggot. Nobody cares about you, nobody’s here to save you, and nobody ever will be!”

The bubble shattered on impact with the ground and from the flames and smoke, Jen and Tam rose to their feet, glittering in the light of the magics each carried.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Jen said and rolled her shoulders as Tam began to chant in ancient Latin.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 8 – Act 4

The Divine Temple that was the Denny’s off Exit 13 did not grow more divine with addition of another god to the ranks of those present. The High One knew his presence alone made the site supremely holy. Under normal circumstances the only reason another god would be allowed into a temple of his would be as a sacrifice to be absorbed into his greatness. In this case however he was willing to make a temporary exception.

“You started early,” Aranea said, beckoning one of the waitresses over with a wave of her hand.

“Who is this?” Supreme Marshal Penk asked. The Pure One looked ready to climb over Ambassador Brams and smash through the window to escape from being within arm’s reach of Aranea.

The High One grinned. Penk could probably see the spider goddesses true aspect. Her avatar wore the guise of a dark skinned human but Aranea’s divine portfolio was only held in abeyance by the crushing mundanity of the world where they’d chosen host their negotiations. The reality of who and what she was remained clearly visible to any with the eyes to see it, and any who was capable of that would also be aware of just how easily the spider goddess could slip free from the shackles which she was choosing to allow to bind her power.

“This is our secret weapon,” the High One said.

“She’s a goddess of Earth,” Brams said. He was less phased by the new arrival than Penk was, but he had the advantage that he was less likely to be first one eaten if the negotiations went poorly.

“Very observant,” the High One said. Also, foolish. By showing off what he knew, Brams clearly hoped to retain a position of authority. All he managed to accomplish though was to provide the same proof Penk had that even on a mundane world, they were still equipped and willing to push the boundaries of what was possible.

“How will an Earth goddess help us?” Penk said. He didn’t try to hide his distaste, which the High One suspected was more of a calculated ploy than an honest reaction. The Pure One was fishing for concessions. He was clumsy about it because Aranea’s appearance was unexpected and struck at fears the Pure Ones had long insulated themselves from. The High One saw an awareness of that flicker across Penk’s eyes but correcting for missteps was difficult under the best of circumstances and Aranea didn’t appear to have any interest in improving relations with him.

Just as the High One had planned.

He felt delighted that Brams caught on to that fact. It was so nice to see his work being appreciated. It wasn’t proper worship of course, but even the small victories could be sweet ones.

“She’s here to direct our actions,” Bram said, leaping to the correct conclusion because he wasn’t as much of a thundering idiot as Penk was.

“Our actions will not be dictated by our enemies,” Penk said. He knew better than that, but his words were being heard back in his homeworld as he spoke them, so he needed to spend as much time looking good for his people as he did working towards a solution to their problems.

“She’s not an enemy,” the High One said. “Our new friend here knows how the Earth will die. Through her we can see the fate that is laid out for those who defile our realm.”

“If the Earth is fated to be destroyed then why should we do anything?” Penk asked. He wasn’t happy being left out of the loop and Aranea’s presence was doing wonderful things to his nerves.

“Because we can gain even more security by being the agents of its passing,” Brams said.

“Exactly,” the High One said, pausing for a moment to worry about how quick Brams had shown himself to be. It suggested the Preservers would be ready for the inevitable moment when the High One turned on them. Or they would think that they were ready. No one was ever truly ready to face the wrath of a god.

“Involving ourselves will mean a risk of contamination,” Penk said. “Describe the payoff the will compensate for that risk.”

“There is no risk,” the High One lied. “All of the threads which lead to the future show the corpse of the Earth at their end and none of those ends are all that distant.”

“If that’s true, then we can afford to take a more aggressive footing,” Brams agreed. “With a guarantee of victory, the Preservers will be willing to invest a force capable of matching a third of the overall requirement for victory.”

“You’re willing to jump ahead to that on the strength of one Earthling’s word?” Penk asked. “How do we know she’d not lying? What is her stake in all this?”

Aranea looked over to the High One and smirked.

She’d predicted Penk’s exact words prior to the meeting even starting.

“She can see the strands of fate and has the wisdom to seek refuge with the one power who can grant it,” the High One said, adding “me,” despite the declaration being obvious and unnecessary.

“And you would grant this traitor asylum on your world?” Penk asked.

“We have come to an arrangement,” the High One said.

“Understand that arrangement cannot include my world,” Penk said. “She would be even more toxic than the Potestate’s agents were.”

“I’m not going to ask any other power to shelter her,” the High One said. “I found her. I was the one who unlocked the secret weakness in Earth’s preparations and who discovered how to use it against them.”

“Does this mean we will need less force than we were discussing?” Brams asked. From how he glanced at Penk, the question was less about obtaining the tactical information he requested and more about planting an idea in Penk’s mind.

One which the Supreme Mashal predictably accepted without question.

“If you know that much already, what do you even need us for?” Penk asked.

“This weakness requires a greater expenditure of resources than your plans called for,” the High One said.

“Then is it really a weakness?” Penk asked, eager to appear witty and score points with those watching on his homeworld.

“If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have called us here,” Brams said. “I gather the information you gained about Earth’s future also showed you a number of possibilities which would not work? And those likely included the paths the Supreme Marshal and I were discussing?”

The High One hadn’t thought to check the viability of any else’s plans for the simple reason that those plans were inferior. They hadn’t come from him after all.

Also, they weren’t the path which was fated to lead to the Earth’s demise, so no matter how good they might appear to be, they were doomed to failure for one reason or another.

“That’s correct,” the High One said. “My plan is what we are going to go with because it is the one that’ll work. You are both going to contribute fifty percent of the required forces to make it happen, and for your efforts you will be rewarded with a three to one return on your investment.”

Or rather, they would be rewarded with searing pain and death, followed by a trip through the depths of the High One’s Hell Engine so that their spirits could be repurposed to act as worshippers native to his world. Since that fact lacked the proper motivating power though, the High One stuck with the “three to one” lie.

“And what will your reward be if we are to contribute everything needed to destroy our common enemy?” Penk asked.

“You’re not going to be contributing everything we need,” the High One said. “All that power’s going to need someone who can control it and direct it properly. That’s what I’m going to provide.”

“So we’ll turn over enough power to destroy a world to you, you’ll destroy the Earth, and then where will we be?” Brams asked.

“The destruction of the Earth will be severe enough that not only will no one escape from it, no matter which shadow plane they hide on, it will also push that world completely out of alignment with our own. When we’re done the Earth will be a burnt cinder falling into the Abyss beyond all worlds.”

Brams and Penk smiled at the image.

“But wouldn’t it serve as a better example to others who might try to repeat the Potestate’s mistake if it remained in the Celestial Constellation?” Penk asked.

Even with his limited imagination he could see the dead world for the prize that it so clearly was.

“It might be possible to contain and direct the Rain of Vengeance that will destroy the Earth,” the High One said. “The vision of the Earth’s demise ends with the planet’s death. What happens beyond that isn’t a matter for the Fates who will die with the Earth.”

“What of the Potestates?” Brams asked. “She is not bound to the Earth’s fate is she?”

“She’ll probably choose to die with her world,” the High One said. “Even if she should flee though, with her dominion fallen and all of her allies dead, she will be reduced to less than nothing.”

“Perhaps,” Brams said. “But those with nothing left to lose can still prove to be quite dangerous.”

“Her importance is exaggerated and her claims are unverifiable,” the High One said. “More importantly though, we are far from her only enemies. Once she is brought low, we would be hard pressed to fight through the horde who will be out for her blood.”

It was questionable how true any of that was. The High One had no direct understanding of the Potestates powers or capabilities. All he knew was that she was inferior to him. Because everyone was inferior to him, in general, but most especially people like her who should have known to stay in their place and been content because they were already getting more than they deserved.

“And what about her agents?” Brams asked. “They’re fated to lose but do we know what sort of price they’ll exact on their destroyers? Do we even know if they will fall with the Earth?”

“We know they can world travel,” Penk said. “When the end comes they will either flee or launch an assault, however desperate in an effort to avert the inevitable.”

“Given their successes so far, that seems like something which could have dire consequences for all of us,” Brams said.

“They will remain on Earth when you final assault arrives,” Aranea said. “They have assembled a coalition of worlds who are willing to stand with them. From the Physicians Guild of Telidees to the Champions of Castorvell and dozens of others.”

Penk blinked at the litany of supporters who might be rallied against them. Brams merely went quiet, his gaze turning inwards.

“And this final attack will succeed in spite of the support the Earthers have assembled to protect themselves?” Brams asked after a long moment.

“It will,” the High One said. “I have seen it.”

“Seeing the future is unreliable though,” Penk said.

“For a mortal, yes, it is,” the High One said. “It is why the Potestates agents will remain on Earth. They will cling to the hope that they can save their home because they cannot see that all hope is already lost.”

“But how will we get through their allies?” Penk asked.

“Their allies will not be present on their final day,” Aranea said.

“Thanks to our friend, we know who they have sought out,” the High One said. “Before we march into battle, all of their support will have vanished into the empty night sky and the Earth will stand alone before our judgment.”

Brams looked over to Aranea, one last question in his eyes.

“And you would let your home burn? You would sacrifice for your divinity to escape Oblivion?”

“I have pledged to throw the Potestates agents into the Abyss and I am defined by my words,” Aranea said, her face momentarily flickering to show her true, remorseless visage. “So have I sworn and so by my hand will they be cast down.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 8 – Act 3

The High One had people to handle problems for him. It was literally the only reason they existed. The blasphemers who stood against him claimed that he needed his servitors and sycophants because when it came to managing great gatherings he wasn’t capable of throwing anything more complex than a tantrum.

They weren’t exactly wrong.

For all his vast mastery of manipulating divine power, the High One’s skill set for dealing with people he couldn’t simply smite on a whim was glaringly underdeveloped.

“The Ambassador will not be able to conduct negotiations in any sphere where your divine portfolio is in force,” the increasingly aggravating Pure One liason said. The sniveling creature knew that he stood in the presence of a majesty that out stripped any power his home world could marshal. The High One had impressed that on the worm through subtle means the critical point that he could end the entire Pure One delegation with a word, but the liaison still spoke as though he was relaying opinions which mattered in even the slightest degree.

The High One pondered the value of a less subtle demonstration. He’d thought that incinerating a hosts of angels because their glow didn’t have a white enough radiance had struck a decent balance between subtle clue and blatant statement of his position on suffering those who annoyed him, but the liaison hadn’t paid the event the slightest bit of notice.

He would probably notice if the High One began slowly incinerating him from the toes on up, but the High One held back.

You can’t reduce your allies to ash before they’ve served the purpose you’ve planned out for them. Also, the Pure Ones were just distant enough, and just alien enough, that he couldn’t be completely certain he could smite them efficiently on their homeworld. At least not without a closer base of operations under his dominion.

Like, for example, the Earth.

Thanks to a few tricks he knew, the corpse of the Earth would be extremely useful as a bridge to spread his control to the worlds it had grown closer to. To win that prize however, he first needed to arrange for the proper role in the Earth’s slaughter, and that meant working with others.

The High One was not a fan of working with others.

Or at least not working with others as though they were his equals. He was more than happy to pass any and all actual labor off onto subordinates. That’s what other people were for. Even the ones he didn’t directly create. Regardless of where they came from, all people were meant to serve him.

“Does the ambassador have any favored locations to propose?” the High One asked. “If not, I know a number of great ones. They don’t have to be on my world. Plenty of good places out there. My world has the best places of course, everyone else I’ve spoken to agrees on that, but we can meet wherever he wants to meet. Just a shame not meet at one of the best places we could.”

Talking with the liaison wasn’t fun. The High One felt like he was slipping backwards, regressing towards the mortal man he’d once been from all the dealing with mortals he’d been forced to do.

As a god, he was quick and clever. Masterful and divine. Or he was supposed to be. Since he lost his angels though all he felt was a nagging anxiety and an inexplicable fatigue. He still had angels to do his work of course, but despite the absolute lack of evidence to support it, he was gripped by the belief that they were no longer his angels.

Whether that was true or not though, negotiations at this level weren’t something he could afford to delegate to minions. Everything had to go just perfectly.

“A neutral meeting spot is preferred,” the liaison said. “We can provide a list of suitable locations for your people to review.”

Disdain. There was actual disdain in the liaison’s voice.

Because of course there was.

The Pure Ones were irrationally convinced of being superior due to having eliminated all traces of the unworthy from their blood, their society, and their world.

It was an amusing theory in light of the fact that they had the same problem with aberrant individuals that the High One did. The High One couldn’t imagine how they squared the idea of their own superiority in the face of his obviously greater power. Only self-delusion of the highest caliber seemed sufficient to cover the gap between the perfection they believed they’d attained and the readily apparent flaws which still plagued them.

The High One allowed a chuckle to tug at his lips. He had to tolerate their idiocy for the time being, but no one who was that far gone could possibly manage to survive the wrath of a truly superior being once their common enemy had fallen.

“There’s no need for that,” he said. “Let me see your list.”

The liaison sniffed and handed the god before him a plain and purely mundane folder. The High One knew exactly the sorts of places they would have selected, so he didn’t bother perusing the list. The first one his eye fell upon was as good as any other.

“This will do,” he said, burning the folder to ash except for a tiny slip which held the name of the sanctified meeting site.

***

As grand temples went (because any place which the High One visited was by definition a grand temple to his divine majesty), the Denny’s off Exit 13 lacked certain expected characteristics. The aire was colored with the aroma of pancake syrup rather than incense. The horde of abjectly worshipful acolytes was limited to two waitresses, neither of whom looked interested in being the slightest bit deferential much less worshipful. Worst of all though, there was some form of sticky substance under the booth which the High One couldn’t place and had no desire to investigate.

“This location is beneath all of us,” said Ambassador Brams, the elected representative of the Preservers, a third faction who the High One had invited to join the proceedings.

“That is why it is suitable,” said Supreme Marshall Penk, the Pure One’s representative.

Brams and Penk both felt the other was an unwelcome addition to the negotiations which more than suited the High One. It delighted him. Their hate for one another was a balm to his weary soul. That they hated him even more was even more delicious.

Setting the Pure Ones against the Preservers was going to a bloody, terrible mess. Just from the initial animosity the two displayed, the High One saw new vistas unfolding. He’d been planning to capture control of the Earth’s corpse, but convincing his two ‘allies’ to destroy each other over it first raised the chance that he would wind up with three worlds under his control to an almost certainty.

“Yes, I very much agree,” Brams said. He wasn’t agreeing to the suitability of the location. The conversation had moved on to other topics while the High One had let his thoughts drift through visions of carnage and mayhem.

It was one of the difficulties inherent to using an avatar. So long as the High One was manifest in the avatar, he was constrained by its limits. With the avatar stuck in a world where his divine portfolio was restricted (for now), he didn’t enjoy his usual omniscience. Admitting to that however was something that was never going to happen.

“I want to hear about your losses,” he said. Whatever they’d been talking about, it wouldn’t have included admissions of their own weakness. It wasn’t the time for it, and the question was sure to ruffle feathers.

Which was fine. They were going to give him what he wanted no matter what they thought or felt. It was what people did.

“The Potestate’s agents have introduced a vector for contagion into our world,” Penk said. Because it was how the Pure Ones thought of everything. The High One would have cheered for actions of the agents from Earth, except that they’d failed to fully execute on the effort. Just like lesser beings always did.

“I was under the impression that you were the ones working on a contagion?” Brams said, revealing that the Preserver’s spies had made inroads into the Pure One’s domain.

Oh yes, turning the two of them on one another was going to be wickedly simple. The High One wondered if the Pure Ones would lead off their attack on the Preservers with a collection of people re-engineered as biological bombs, as they’d planned to do against the Earth, or if they’d try for a novel approach to catch their “allies” by surprise.

“That which spreads purity can never be considered a contagion,” Penk said.

The High One smiled. They were definitely going to bio-bomb the Preservers. And his world. He looked forward to that. He could put that sort of tool to any number of ironic and horrific uses.

“So they did more than steal some weaponized people from you?” the High One asked.

“If the raid had only destroyed a facility and stolen the aberrations from it, we wouldn’t be here,” Penk said. “The cleansing we’d planned was defensive in nature. There are other defensive options we could have chosen, from cutting off the pathways between the two worlds, to other more costly forms of conversion.”

“Instead this is the more preferable option?” Brams asked.

“It is not enough to convert the Potestate’s world, or to seal it away,” Penk said. “It must razed. We have closed the pathways on our end, but they remain open on the Earth. Even as we speak, the ideas they have left behind corrupt and destroy those most susceptible to such alien influences, and the possibility of escape to the Potestate’s dominion acts a fuel to fire their fevered imaginations.”

“Yes, that is the problem we have,” Brams said. “They protect those who have violated our Sacred Writs, which in turn inspired more blasphemy. Killing them will not be enough. We must kill the idea of them.”

The High One shook his head. They thought they understood blasphemy? Or corruption? Blasphemy was any failure to revere him. Corruption was anything that suggested his current whims were not the deepest of universal truths. Whatever deluded beliefs they’d cobbled together for themselves had been crafted by imperfect beings and were therefore as imperfect as they were.

“I will need to receive authorization to commit any more forces than that in the short term,” Penk said.

They’d been speaking for a while again, while the High One enjoyed more thoughts of his own superiority. It sounded like they’d made some sort of plans, and had reached a few tentative agreements.

“That’s not what we’re going to do,” the High One said. He had no idea what they’d been discussing because it was entirely irrelevant. The destruction of the Earth was going to follow his plans, and they were going to do what he said, because he could already see the future that lay before them.

“We will take no greater risks than this,” Penk said, sitting back with a dark scowl on his face. “Committing more of our forces would leave us vulnerable to the things that lie beyond the edges of the worlds.”

“I am in agreement,” Brams said. “If we overreach ourselves, there’s too much that could be lost.”

Meaning, they are both aware of what I am likely to do to them. But being aware of it, doesn’t mean they believe it is inevitable. They can scry the barest outlines of the Earth’s fate, and their own, where I can see it all clearly.

“We’re not going to follow you’re plan, because I’ve got a better one,” the High One said. “One that can’t fail us.”

“Any plan can fail,” Brams said.

“What would make you think that your vision is infallible?” Penk asks, as though he wasn’t speaking a deity.

“Because he has an inside source he can turn to for information,” says the spider goddess who drags up a seat to sit at the head of the table.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 8 – Act 2

The angels were gone. All of them. Something had swept them away, but try as he might, the High One couldn’t recall how that had happened. Or when. Something was off in his world, and, worse, within himself. A piece of time was missing. Or perhaps had never been?

Recreating the angels wasn’t a problem. They weren’t anything more than messengers after all. For all their terribly majesty, they were nothing more than constructs he’d put together and breathed life into. They existed only so that there’d be someone around to handle all of the trivial issues and headaches like famines and flood and smiting people whose words, or deeds, or thoughts drifted too close to the heretical. He could have done all of that himself, but what was the point of supreme power if you had to do all the work yourself?

When the angels came back though, there was something wrong about them. They still basked in his radiance. They still spent their days singing praises to his greatness. They still had no will of their own, just like the good little servants they were.

Except, he wasn’t sure of that last point.

The angels never said anything out of line. They didn’t rebel. They didn’t even hesitate in responding to his commands. It wasn’t anything as definable as that. There was just something that always seemed to nag at him out of the corner of his vision when they were around.

The High One frowned as a suspicion picked at his mind. It felt like his angels were watching him. Which of course they were. He was the center of their universe. He was why they existed and everything they loved and cherished.

But that wasn’t how it felt like they were looking at him.

If he had to put a word to it, it felt like they were waiting. Not for an order of what they would be required to do next, and not to see what their god might desire of them. No, it felt like there was a joke they all knew. A barely suppressed laugh they all shared and they were waiting to see how long the joke could go on before he realized he was the butt of it.

It was a paranoid suspicion. Unworthy of an all-knowing, all-powerful god. That didn’t stop it from bothering the High One. He knew it couldn’t be true. He knew that he was the sole creator of his angels. He knew every molecule and fiber of their being, and he knew there was no disloyalty in them anywhere. But he still felt a chill everytime one of them walked passed him, or even time one of them was outside of his all-seeing field of vision.

The High One tried taking them apart. Predictably it didn’t help. His angels submitted to him because that was how they were designed. They went to their destruction with love and joy on their faces. He was sure of it. He watched them and he was sure of it more than anything else.

If only that suspicion wasn’t picking away at the back of his mind. If only he didn’t have the sense that there was some memory that even his omniscience couldn’t turn recall. Some memory that made him question if the reality he saw, the reality he controlled, wasn’t flawed somehow. It was a preposterous idea, but it pulsed in his thoughts and corroded his happiness no matter how he tried to dismiss it.

With no other recourse, he looked across his world and throughout the depths of time for an answer to his unease, pushing down into ever more trivial layers of detail until he divine patience reached its limit.

Exhausted, he tried smiting some of the unbelievers that had risen to oppose him. That had always relieved his worries in the past. It should have helped in the present. It didn’t.

No matter how he destroyed them, he felt the echo of laughter waiting to pounce on him in the silence that followed.

It was a child’s laughter, and it was familiar, despite the fact that he’d never heard it before. In fact he never heard it at all. Reviewing every child who had ever lived in his world, the High One found that the laughter he imagined belonged to none of them. No child had ever mocked him as the one he kept thinking he was hearing did.

The laughter never came closer than that though. There was never any laughter in his presence. Only awe, and fear, and, occasionally, screaming.

It wasn’t until he allowed himself to sleep that he understood what had happened, and was able to fully hear the laughter that echoed off the celestial dome of his world.

“You broke my world,” the High One said.

No one responded. Not because no one was there. The High One knew he was surrounded on all sides. Beset by enemies of magnificent and terrible prowess. Enemies who didn’t believe he was worth acknowledging.

A thousand of his people died with each enraged huff of his sleeping breath as he drew in power subconsciously. His world had once held eight billion people. It’s population was a bit over five billion, with some scattered number of them disloyal and empowered heretics that he’d gotten around to destroying yet. He still had plenty of lives to consume, plenty of followers who would sacrifice everything for him, who he could rip all their tomorrows from for a more convenient today. It was hard not to kill at least a few of them whenever we felt troubled, or annoyed.

Tossing and turning in a simple, gossamer thin dream though, he found he had no need for stolen power. More importantly, he understood what had happened. He remembered the child who had begun to destroy his world. He remembered the nightmare queen who had stopped the child. He remembered exactly how helpless he had been in their presence.

He could sacrifice every follower he had and still not be sure that he could overcome the nightmare queen. Worse, without his followers, without the other people on his world, there would be nothing to hold the child back. The queen had only convinced the World Ender to stay their hand because of what it would do to the High One’s followers.

If none of his followers remained, or if even too few remained, there would be no mercy and no reprieve from the child’s wrath.

The High One woke and couldn’t control the shaking that gripped his limbs. He was supreme. He was the greatest. Everyone knew that. Everyone except for him in the brief moment following waking.

The moment passed quickly enough though. In the light of day, in his light, he felt foolish. It was just a dream. It wasn’t real. He was what was real. He was everything. Or at least everything that mattered.

But it was still intolerable. The laughter in the dream wasn’t real, but even the thought that it could be was intolerable. He had to be the greatest. He had to be supreme. Unquestioned. Unchallenged.

He wasn’t though.

In his own world, he was supreme. No one did or could challenge him there. Even the heretics existed only because he needed the diversion.

The problem was the other worlds. He’d struck out against the one that sought to take from him. That ones sought to shelter those who were anathema to his reign. He’d tried to destroy that shelter and he’d failed.

For the moment.

The apostates. The ones who questioned his right to rule. Who challenged his divinity. They hadn’t escaped him yet. Not truly. No one could escape damnation. Not after they spoke the forbidden words. Not after they gave him names which held no respect, ot obedience, or devotion. The ones who fled his world were heresies made flesh and the aliens of Earth believed they could shelter from them High One’s wrath against the damned.

An angel was watching him.

The angel burned. It would never laugh at him. It wouldn’t even hint of laughing at him.

Did it matter if the World Ender came? No. No it did not. It had been a foolish dream, but it showed the extent the High One would go to to put things right. To establish his proper dominion.

If he couldn’t have the world as he wished it then he would burn it down himself. Better an empty world of ash than one where those who were willing to worship him could rule themselves. A world like that would be empty and meaningless by definition. By existing he gave the mindless masses purpose. Their lives could be measured by how well they served the High One. The ones sacrificed to see his whims fulfilled were blessed in their death with the knowledge that their god saw them as worthy and derived value from their existence. There wasn’t anything else that could matter to them more.

For all his simmering rage however, the High One was no fool. From the dream he took the lesson which his interaction with the Earth should have taught him. There were other powers out there, beyond the borders of his dominion. Powers which in their own milieus and with time to prepare could exceed his own. For a brief period at least.

The High One had not gained his supremacy by accident. He had ascended to his throne through cunning and guile as much as by treachery and charisma. Being able to read his opponents and understand where they were vulnerable was the first skill he’d developed as a fledgling divinity. Everything else flowed from his flawless mastery of it.

Against the agent of the Earth he didn’t have the same base of knowledge or insight as he’d possessed against the gods of his world whose power he’d usurped, but it didn’t matter. They weren’t his equals. It was only their connections with support from other worlds which allowed them to overcome his earlier gambits, and those hadn’t been truly serious attempts.

Two billion dead souls might have disagreed with the High One on that final point, but even if they’d still been alive, it wasn’t like he would have heard them speaking. As it was, the echoes of the departed had less than no reason to correct the errors which crept into his thinking.

Content in the notion that his effort to collect information on the Earth’s capabilities had paid off exactly as he desired, the High One paused to consider how best to utilize what he’d learned.

The Earth was building a coalition of worlds. The agents he’d met and others were moving to various worlds both near and far, making contacts and drumming up support to save their planet from the extinction event which lay in its immediate future.

They were going to fail at that. The High One could read the future of their world as easily as he could his own. He knew it was going to perish in a rain of divine fire. It’s fate was sealed, and so revenge was barely a consideration. The question which played through his mind instead therefore was how he could insure that the death of the Earth was put to the maximum possible advantage for himself.

He could scour the planet by himself. He still had billions of lives to spend, and the power he’d originally spent, while no longer pledged to him, could be converted back to his cause with crafty words.

Doing all the work by himself would leave him in a poor position though. He would need to expend considerable resources to ensure his victory and that would leave him weakened in the face of similar threats from other worlds.

No, the High One decided, he would not risk being devoured. Not when he could use those who were in the best position to assault his world as the vanguard of an assembly targeted at the Earth. Better by far to make the destruction of a the Earth a joint venture among a select group of worlds and position himself as the foremost to pick through the ruined world’s corpse.

Then he could turn his attention to conquering the allies who had fought with him.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 8 – Act 1

Two billion people were dead. Another six hundred million were in revolt, half of whom wanted to seize the High One’s power for themselves and half who wanted to destroy the foundations of that power so that no one like the High One could ever rise again.

They were all fools.

The billions who died were dead because the High One had spent their otherwise worthless lives on something at least vaguely useful. That they’d only had their lives to give was their own failing. If they were important, he would care about them and since he didn’t, they weren’t. It was a perk to being the center of the universe. What mattered to him was all that mattered.

The ones in revolt were fools because they didn’t see that. The greedy types, who’d gotten power when his strike against the Earth was sent back as a gift to his subjects, they thought they deserved to be his equal. But they never would be. There could be only one who was the best, and that was him. If anyone else could be better then they’d already be sitting in his chair. He’d put them all down when he had the time and inclination to get around to it. Until then it was at least mildly amusing to squash the vultures as they came up with schemes to take the power they hungered for more than breath.

Some banded together, like the “Pantheon of Vengeance” who’d come at him with a horde of ten thousand followers whipped into righteous indignation at the loss of their loved ones. They’d surrounded the mountain atop which his throne had been carved. Together they’d carried enough stolen power to crush the mountain into dust. The High One had hiccuped and blasted them out of existence, ripping their power from them as he cast the shattered remains of their bodies into the ever churning abyss below his world’s surface.

Others had challenged him solo. Whether they strode into his throne room in broad daylight or skulked into his bedroom in the dead of night, the results were the same. None of them understood the depths of power that arose from concentrating his world’s power into fewer and fewer people for thousands of years until finally it all was held in the palm of one hand.

The greedy offered various excuses for the attacks, from rage at what the High One had done, to sneering dismissals of his failures. Some few even tried sympathy, claiming that his defeat was a sign that he was too tired, and too old, to carry the mantle of supremacy any longer.

The High One enjoyed wiping out the last sort the most. Their empathy, whether it was sincere or feigned was galling. No one could tell him what to do. He was in charge. It was a violation of the natural order, his order, for someone else to try to take control.

No one was allowed to take what was his.

Then there were the fools who didn’t want to take what belonged to the High One. They wanted to destroy it all.

“My lord, the temple in Garlamondia has fallen,” one of the High One’s angels said.

The High One sighed. His throne room was covered in ash from the last wannabe replacement-Supreme-Deity who had risen to challenge him. He could clean it up with a word, but he didn’t feel like making the effort to speak. Instead he turned a weary glare on the angel.

“Your mortal followers in the area are uninjured, and the Justicars of Heresy have been dispatched to determine who was responsible for the…umm…disappearance of the temple.”

That raised the High One’s eyebrow.

Usually assaults on his holdings in the mortal world were a daily occurrence. Mass slaughters were gradually getting the problem under control but people were slow to learn once they’d been inspired by an opposing divine force. As far as the High One could remember though, all of the assaults had been typical mortal-ish in scope.

Even those who had a claim to godhood thanks to their stolen powers, still tended to think like the mortals they had been. Rather than wishing a building out of existence, they’d rain down fire on it hot enough to burn stone and vaporize steel. Or they would split the ground open and have it swallow the building whole. Anything to “diminish the High One’s hold over their favorite city or park or vegetable garden or whatever”. Dramatic and amusing feats to be sure, but also fairly trivial to rectify.

Disappearing a temple entirely was another matter though. No matter what his ant-like rivals tried to do, the High One’s angels should have been more than capable of finding the lost building and restoring it to its rightful place. It wasn’t as though any of them could actually disrupt the High One’s power after all.

“Tell me about this disappearance,” the High One said, raising himself on his throne, life returning to his sunken features.

“We do not know for sure when it happened,” the angel said. “Sometime over the night it vanished, and when the faithful were called to morning services none of them seemed to remember that such a devotion was required of them.”

The angel looked pleased at the High One’s attentions. The whole room seemed delighted in fact, as though they had believed that he was exhausted from the meaningless challenge that had resulted in the ash which still covered everything in the room save for the High One himself.

The High One decided he didn’t like that. With a snap of his fingers the angel who bore the news of the temple’s disappearance was consumed in fire. The angels power and spirit sank down to the great forges to be cast into a new, more obedient form as another angel stepped forward to continue the report.

“Our priority is locating the Holy Font and the spark of your will it carried,” the angel said.

Another snap and another angel’s spirit was descending to the great forges. The High One didn’t need anyone to tell him that the assault had cost him a fragment of his power. It was an insignificant fragment but still an affront he clearly could not tolerate.

“Shall we collect the faithful assigned to that temple?” another angel asked, stepping forward to fill the stop his two predecessors had abruptly vacated.

The High One paused to consider. A typical temple had a few thousand faithful associated with it. He routinely “collected” more than that for routine needs. Three thousands or so deaths to isolate a uniquely skilled troublemaker wasn’t an unreasonable trade all things considered. Even in the face of the unprecedented death toll his recent actions had brought about, his base was still solid. It would take a few years to recover to where it had been, but breeding new followers was really the only thing most of his current followers were good for anyways, so it wasn’t a meaningful problem.

He nodded to the angel, intrigued by the idea of a disappearing temple but not enough so to bother getting off his throne.

Or at least he wasn’t until the angel he’d given the slaughter order to burst aflame and crumbled into a pile of ash.

“You are not collecting anyone, ever again.”

The voice belonged to a child.

A child who was floating a few feet off the ground of the High One’s throne room.

Floating in an area where no one except the High One could access their power.

“Well this is new,” the High One said. He should have been afraid. If he knew what he was facing he would have moved passed fear knowing that it could never be strong enough to save him.

As with so many things that weren’t related to himself though, the High One had no idea who the person in front of him was, and so he felt only the thrill of a new conquest and the impending sense of smug superiority which accompanied every meaningful victory he’d ever enjoyed.

“I am new,” the child said, sounding only barely on the wakeful side of lucidity. “I am ancient. I woke today. I have walked through all the ages.”

“Well isn’t that wonderful for you,” the High One said. “Come now though. Let’s hear your demands. Your type always has demands.”

“This is your end,” the child said. Despite addressing the High One, and the High One being the most important entity in the room, and in the mountain, and on the planet, the child wasn’t looking at him. Their head was turned away, as though they were speaking to a memory as much as anyone who was physically present. “You took so much. You’re not going to take anymore.”

“Oh. Of course,” the High One said. “Disappointing though. I was hoping for something original.”

A mountain landed on the High One’s mountain.

“You are a feisty one,” the High One said, ignoring the crushing tremor that ran through his throne. It wasn’t like any attack the child could make could damage his home. “Good imagination too. Most of you who make it this far can’t picture fighting me on that scale.”

“This isn’t a fight,” the child said, swiveling their head to to gaze directly at the High One. “This is an execution.”

The dreamy lack of lucidity had vanished from their voice, replaced by a frosty anger which left the High One yawning. He’d been hoping for something new, but no, it was going to be the same old spiel. “Blah, blah, you’re evil. Blah, blah, justice for all. How did you survive that. Oh please stop killing me.”

It was just so predictable and tiresome.

The world cracked as the High One’s legs were sheared off from his body.

For a moment there wasn’t any pain. The change was too great to register even for someone as omniscient as the High One. What had happened was more than a physical injury. So much more in fact that he couldn’t quite understand it.

His legs were gone. Torn off below the knees.

But it was worse than that.

His power was gone too. Not all of it. Just the chunk that had been reflected in the existence of his shins and feet.

But there was something even more wrong than that.

He’d been assaulted, he’d been shattered, but deep in the pit of his godly stomach he could feel a wrongness that went far beyond his ruined legs.

The air in his throne room was shattering too.

Air wasn’t supposed to shatter.

Nor was the fundamental layer of spacetime it existed within.

That didn’t stop the cracks from forming. They spread from the child’s outstretched hand, fracturing towards the High One. No power he could marshal, no lives that he could spend would stop them. Before the High One even tried, he knew that. From his divine throne he could see that nothing could stop the destruction of all reality.

Not until the Queen in Black appeared.

“You don’t need to go quite that far,” the Queen said, her voice a waking nightmare which somehow quieted the fractures and coaxed the child to relax and lower their hand.

“He is a monster,” the child said. “Nothing else can stop him.”

“He is,” the Queen said. “Don’t look at today though. Listen to tomorrow. Listen for the ones who will destroy him.”

The child blinked, cocked their head to the side, and then began to giggle.

“Oh. Oh! I like it!” the child said.

“Let’s put this back like it was then,” the Queen said.

“I don’t like it how it was,” the child said.

“I know, but some things need to change on their own,” the Queen said.

The High One felt like he should interject. These two were powerful and it was his role to claim dominion over all types of power. It was intolerable that they have more power than he did, and so, slowly, the agony and fear within him began to sublimate into the familiar rage at being denied what he was due.

“He’s going to hurt people though,” the child said.

“If you do this, those people will vanish too,” the Queen said.

“That sucks. Can’t I do anything?” the child asked.

“Come with me and I’ll show you all the things you can do,” the Queen said and offered the child her hand.

The child reached out and the moment their hands touched everything changed.

The High One’s legs had never been lost. The world wasn’t fracturing. The two had never really been in his throne room. He remained supreme.

But where had all of his angels gone?

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 7 – Act 4

In the arena, the fight had shifted, in the viewing booth where Anna sat the battle had only just begun though.

“Your concerns about the High One and our other enemies are quite reasonable,” she said, taking another sip of the light, sparkling beverage that accompanied the lastest course in their meal.

“And yet you elected to come here anyways,” Careema said. “For reasons I will wager that have nothing to do with providing an entertaining fight against one of our most talented warriors?”

“The event tonight proved to be fortuitously timed,” Anna said. “But our reasons for coming here are simply what we claimed them to be. I plan to enlist Castorvell’s aid and cooperation in ending the threat posed to my world.”

“I don’t see how we can afford to offer that aid,” Careema said. “The problems of other world aren’t ones we can shoulder lightly, and certainly not when there’s so much risk connected to them. The other delegates will speak with their own voices, but I believe there will consensus that our own peoples must come first.”

“That will be useful,” Anna said, picking up a skewer that held slices of various fruits. “Convincing a group of people who have all reached a reasonable conclusion to see things in a new light is significantly easier than dealing with the those who cling to their positions due to unthinking hate or bigotry.”

“And what new light would you have us see things in?” Careema asked.

“Keep an eye on the entertainment,” Anna said as Val deployed her first stratagem.

***

Val had been blasted into the lava, but it was Jen who rose in her place. Kinslayer wasn’t displeased by the change though. Val had warned her that she had a few unusual gambits to try out and this one looked to be an exciting turn around that was sure to keep the crowd invested in the fight.

“Hi, I’m Jen. Nice to meet you,” the new comer said. “Mind if I hit you really hard?”

“Oh, bring it on!” Kinslayer said, deploying a pair of shields from the gauntlets she was wearing.

Jen brought it on and then some. With her hands of steel, she picked up globs of lava that splattered off Kinslayer’s shields with the force of cannonballs. Jen’s spinning tornado kick hit significantly harder than that.

Kinslayer didn’t rest though. The instant she stopped tumbling backwards she was on her feet again, surging back to batter Jen with blows that cracked the sound barrier with each swing.

Jen dodged one swing after another, her movements as fluid as an ocean wave and just a little bit faster than Kinslayer’s fists, until they weren’t quite fast enough.

Kinslayer caught her with an unexpected kick that lifted Jen thirty feet into the air. The crowd gasped as the fight went aerial with Kinslayer leaping after the stunned and ascending form of the woman she’d been fighting.

Jen was just starting to recover as Kinslayer’s huge form flew up beside her, matching the speed at the top of Jen’s arc.

“This is gonna look great!” Kinslayer said, winding up for a haymaker to send Jen plummeting back down to the fiery stage like a comet.

“You’re not wrong,” Jen said and grinned.

Kinslayer unleashed her blow only to have it pass through the cloud Jen left behind as she teleported away.

It wasn’t an instant later when Kinslayer heard an echoing bamf of a teleportation portal opening above her but as she twisted around she saw that it wasn’t Jen who’d teleported in but a new woman.

“Hi,” Nike said and then slammed Kinslayer with a fist that carried the weight of a freight train behind it.

Kinslayer crashed into the lava, shattering the ground and dropping to the lightning level below it. As she rose to her feet, electrified chunks of bright orange stone dripped down all around her.

Nike wasn’t far behind but Kinslayer was ready for the assault. With a yell, she met her new foe, meeting her in mid-air again. Rather than meeting an attack with an attack though, Kinslayer showed her crafty side.

The net that she shot from her wrist band did more than grapple Nike. It wrapped her up like a mummy, leaving her to plummet into the raging storm at the center of lightning level.

When Kinslayer landed back on the ruined lip of the ring which was all that was left of the lava stage, she expected the cheering of the crowd that greeted her. She also expected the bamf which announced another teleportation effect.

“Nice shot with the net,” Val said. “You had to know it wasn’t going to be that easy though right?”

“I would have cried if it was,” Kinslayer said, rolling her shoulders.

Val smiled and dropped into a ready stance, the mystic writing on her arms and shoulders blazing with renewed energy.

***

In the viewing box, Careema’s smile matched Kinslayers.

“That was unusual to see in a Grand Arena match,” she said. “I’m not sure that it helps your case though, even all three of your champions aren’t going to be enough to stand against our Kinslayer.”

“That’s clear already?” Anna said. “Good. It was an important point we needed to drive home.”

Careema narrowed her eyes in mild confusion.

“I must confess, I’m not certain how showing us that you are weak aids your case that we should help you?” she said. “We’ve been able to evaluate the strength of your enemies on our own, so I can’t imagine you’re trying to fool us into thinking a difficult war for you will be an easy battle for us.”

“Not in the slightest,” Anna said. “Perhaps you would like to place a wager on the outcome of this battle though?”

“Is that really fair?” Tam asked.

“She didn’t say which side our new friend would be betting on,” JB said.

“You expect your champions will still win?” Careema asked, watching as Kinslayer punched Val through a concrete wall and then caught Jen in a crushing bearhug as Val tapped out and Jen teleported in to replace her.

“It certainly doesn’t look like they will does it?” Anna asked. “So overmatched, despite their advantages.”

“Yes. They appear to be fighting against an overwhelming force,” Careema said, suspicion creeping around underneath every word.

“It’s more than just an appearance,” Anna said. “Your champion has unplummed depths of strength to draw on. She’s not even fighting at close to her full strength yet.”

Careema turned away from the spectacle of the battle to regard Anna with the same suspicious, searching look she’d been evaluating the fight with.

“How would you know that?” she asked. “I’ve watched Kinslayer fight a number of times, and this is easily the most impressive output I’ve ever witnessed from her. Far weaker opponents have gotten her on the ropes before, though never quite as well or as often as your champions have.”

“I’m going to guess she was playing to the crowds there,” Tam said. “Not faking it, but self-handicapping to keep the fight interesting. It’s Showmanship 101.”

“But you’re suggesting she has power to spare even beyond this?”

As if to punctuate Careema’s words, Kinslayer missed Nike with a punch and demolished half of the remaining area of the lava stage.

“Yeah,” Tam said. “Quite a bit I believe. Though she’s probably not used to tapping into it so her control may be a little wobbly if she tries to draw on it.”

“How would know that?” Careema asked.

“Tam is something of a wizard when it comes to data,” JB said. “And magic too I suppose.”

“Even if we can’t match our foes, I like to know as much about them as possible,” Tam said. “You asked what was going to happen when we ran out tricks to defeat our enemies with, but that was the wrong question.”

“What was the correct one?” Careema asked.

“What is going to happen when they run out of secrets,” Anna said.

“So you’re going to beat our champion because you’ve learned her secrets?” Careema asked.

“Not alone we’re not,” Tam said and gestured back to the Arena.

***

Val wiped a smear of blood from lips. Kinslayer’s last punch had been a little wild but it packed as much force as her last three put together.

“Probably about time to step things up, right?” she asked.

“Yeah, if you’ve got any surprises left, now’s the time to use them,” Kinslayer said.

“It has been an honor and delight fighting you,” Val said.

“Same. I can’t remember the last time I had this good a match,” Kinslayer said. “After we’re done you’ve got to bring your friends around for the Champions meal.”

“We’ll be sure to save you a seat at the table,” Val said with a teasing smile as two teleportation portals opened side her.

It wasn’t Jen or Nike who stepped out of them though.

In place of the humans Kinslayer and the crowds had expected, a giantess and a refugee from the Pure Ones realm emerged.

“Kinslayer, please meet Duinella and Pynni,” Val said. “Duinella, Pynni, meet the strongest fighter I have ever met.”

“Nice to meet you,” the giantess and the Pure One said in unexpected unison. They turned to each other and nodded before the three of them crashed in Kinslayer like a wave of fists and feet.

Val parried an attack, opening Kinslayer up to a devastating blow from Duinella’s massive fist. Kinslayer’s armor glowed with power from absorbing the hit and released the glow instantly back at the giantess.

Before the return strike could land though, Pynni was there, guiding the force away with here glyphs that decorated her hands.

Kinslayer blocked Duinella’s hit the old fashioned way, absorbing the blow with her arm shields but that let Val duck underneath the left shield’s guard and sneak in a punch that sent Kinslayer flying off her feet.

As if on queue, there was a commotion from the side of the arena that distracted the trio of fighters while Kinslayer struggled to rise.

“Hey! If you get help, so does she!” a fighter who looked like a praying mantis said.

And with that, the rest of the fighters in the Grand Arena came pouring onto the stage.

***

The victory dinner was the grandest the Grand Arena had ever seen. To unfamiliar eyes, differentiating it from a full riot was only possible by noticing that the various groups weren’t actually destroying anything that the melee hadn’t already trashed as it spilled out off the central stage. Also food and drinks were still being served which was typical for most riots.

“You have to come back next year!” Kinslayer said. Her armor showed what looked like century of battle damage, but her wound had long since been patched up. The Castorvell fight medics were every bit as good as their reputation made them out to be.

“Putting on another show like that is going to be hard,” Val said, raising a bottle of a green beverage to offer Kinslayer a refill.

“Particularly if our world gets wiped out,” Nike said.

“You had five fighters who beat every single one of ours,” Careema said. “I’m not thinking that’s actually a concern for you anymore is it?”

“Yeah, I may have to move to Earth after this just to train,” Kinslayer said.

“It worked for me,” Duinella said. “Their doors are open, and some of them are so damn friendly.”

“Not all of them,” Pynni put in, “but yeah, my people have run into some really good folks too.”

“You’re not from Earth?” Careema asked.

“Nah,” Kinslayer said. “They’re offworlders. I could tell that right away when my counters started getting scrambled up.”

“Your counters?” Careema asked.

“Counterspells,” Tam said. “I noticed the fighters use a lot of counter-magics to mitigate the worst of what their opponents can do to them. Val, Nike, and Jen had to carry Earth style enchantments, but Duinella and Pynni were suited to ones from their home realms which work under a very different set of laws than ours do.”

“Do they now?” Careema asked, slowing glancing over at Anna.

“I see you’ve worked out the lesson we were trying to convey,” Anna said. “Do you think the other diplomats will have caught it?”

“You don’t need us to battle the High One do you?” Careema said. “You’re not asking us to send you an army, you’re showing us how to make our own forces even stronger.”

“We need allies because so many people need a second chance,” Anna said. “We would take them all in, but our world is too far for some of them to reach, and the more safe harbors there are the better it is for those who need a new start and for those who are willing to offer one.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 7 – Act 3

Val stepped into the arena and prepared to die. The crowd loved it. As her image appeared above the stage, projected as a fifty foot tall giant, cheers erupted and only intensified when her “time to mortality” odds finished calculating.

“Any last minute questions?” Kinslayer asked from behind the entrance door.

“Nah, we got this,” Val said, waving to the crowds and dancing along to the high energy musical number they’d picked for her “theme song”.

It was more than a little strange to be approaching a ‘battle to the death’ with neither fear nor animosity towards her opponent. If she’d been pressed, Val would have said that Kinslayer didn’t even feel like an opponent. From interviewing the other fighters, and from their discussion before the match, Val thought it would be more accurate to call Kinslayer her partner in the fight. Or maybe co-conspirator.

Not that the actual fighting part would be fake. Neither one of them knew who would emerge victorious in the end, but with the various safety systems in place and the frankly ludicrous levels of healing available, the narrative of the fight being a grim and deadly affair couldn’t have been farther from truth if they were actors staging the fight under the most carefully controlled conditions. Even pain and shock wouldn’t be an issue. Not with the various enchantments Val was carrying (and which Kinslayer had promised she had analogous methods of achieving).

Despite the trappings of gore and blades that littered the outskirts of the stage, Val felt like she was walking into the the best viewed pillow fight of all time.

Then Kinslayer made her entrance.

The crowd that had been pumped up by Val’s appearance, exploded when their local favorite appeared. From the poppy electric tune the Arena had selected for Val, the music changed to a heavy, grinding wail as the lighting shifting to dark blues and neon purples. A banshee wail rose from Kinslayer’s biggest fans and soon threatened to drown out both the music and the cheers.

Val held back a smile as Kinslayer climbed onto the stage but slashing through the ropes with a battleaxe nearly as big as she was. The battleaxe was only one of the many weapons Kinslayer was carrying where Val had entered the ring unarmed. It was part of making sure the fight was a fair one, but the crowd lost its mind when Kinslayer twisted the axe from the stage and began howling louder than they could. She wasn’t holding back at all.

Val finally smiled. The crowd had no idea what they were in for.

***

For all that the Grand Arena hosted spectacular blood sports, the natives of Castorvell were a surprisingly gentle people. Anna found herself weighing how much of a problem that was likely to be as she swirled the drink in her goblet.

“It’s not that we are unconcerned about your plight,” Careema said, slicing a paper thin wafer of meat from her steak. “The documentation you provided of the worlds which are aligning against your Earth have more than convinced us that your need is dire. Already however I have heard the opposition marshalling it’s counter arguments to the requests your are expected to make.”

“We tried to anticipate some of those and provide the data to prevent the ones that didn’t have any real substance from becoming an issue,” JB said. The salad on their plate was proving to be a delightful puzzle, with the flavor varying wildly based on the exact combination of components JB managed to skewer for each bite.

“That certainly helped,” Careema said. “At least to an extent. In knocking down the easy counter arguments, I’m afraid you’ve left behind only the difficult ones, and given those who don’t wish to provide you with any aid the time to refine their positions.”

“I imagine that they would have prepared their arguments around the more troubling aspects of our mission regardless of any warning we gave them,” Anna said.

“Our hope was to get those issues out in the open earlier rather than later when things might be a bit too stressful to think through them carefully,” Tam said. She’d joined them once Val left the locker room to head for the arena. Arriving in time for the third course of the evening had meant missing a few rounds of unusual cuisine but the later dishes had more than measured up to the earlier ones.

“I think you will find that, as on your world, diplomatic debates here are not always carried by the force of reasonable discussion,” Careema said.

“Self interest will always play a role,” Anna agreed. “The question is how many of those who will be meeting with us will be motivated by an interest in supporting the faction they represent and how many will define the ‘self’ in self-interest in a more personal manner?”

Careema was silent for a moment, evaluating Anna, before speaking.

“It varies,” she said. “All of the ambassadors will at least pay lip service to shepherding the good of Castorvell. A sizable number, though far from the majority, could be induced to support your position for the right sort of remuneration I believe.”

Anna chewed on the bite of mixed salad that she took, enjoying the citrus flavor and soft crunch of the combined components before responding.

“Those are the people we’re least interested in speaking with,” she said. “If it wouldn’t compromise your position, I believe our best path would be to speak with those who are opposed to a connection with us based on their principals.”

“That will not be a small audience I’m afraid,” Careema said.

“All the better,” Anna said. “If there’s a consensus on our world being too dangerous to engage with, then we can address that directly and perhaps convert a large number of them at once.”

“And if they have a bunch of individual concerns, we can hopefully show them how we adapt to different problems so that they can feel comfortable we can handle theirs,” Tam said.

“I’m not sure how adaptable you will be able to be in this case,” Careema said. “The principle issue my people have is that this is to some extent a problem you’ve brought on yourselves. The argument which seems to have the most weight is that you chose to upset the metaphysical balance between worlds, and in doing so kicked a nest of venom hawks. The peril you’re in now is a very obvious consequence of your actions, and one that is highly likely to spread to anyone else who becomes embroiled in your troubles.”

“They’re not wrong,” Anna said. “But their view is incomplete.”

“If there is more to see than this High One who opposes you, many will be even more resilient in their refusal to become embroiled in the conflict,” Careema said. “I thank you for sharing the details you have of your battles with him, but to be honest, they terrified many of us with what sort of damage our world might incur.”

“We did manage to stop his rampage,” Tam said. “Even his worst hit only wound up causing him problems.”

“But you didn’t stop him, did you?” Careema asked. “He still sits on his world, his followers convinced that he can do no wrong, and from each defeat or setback he is capable of learning.”

“That is one of the reasons why we have come here,” Anna said. “It’s not just him either. It’s the Pure Ones, and a half dozen other tyrants, each with the power to end all life on our world.”

“But we’ve stood against all of them,” Tam said. “And together we can do more than that.”

“You’ve stood against them for now,” Careema said. “How many times can you find tricks to survive though? And what will the cost of those tricks be? Or do you think the High One and his ilk will stop? Do you think there’s a limit to his hate? Or that he will see the light if you simply hold out long enough?”

“No,” Anna said, shaking her head. “The High One will never run out of hate for us.”

***

Kinslayer didn’t waste any time on spectacle. The moment the fight was joined she went for a killing blow.

Battleaxes the size of car doors, as a rule, aren’t meant to move at speeds that rival high velocity bullet fire. That didn’t stop Kinslayer from hurling he first weapon at a velocity that put sniper bullets to shame.

Had the axe hit Val it would have split her in two evenly and painlessly. She wouldn’t even have finished the downstroke of a blink in the time it took the axe to complete its flight.

Instead, because it was an evenly matched battle, Val snatched the weapon out of the air and swung it in a wide arc to release it right back at Kinslayer. On her arms blue runes blazed to life, setting her aglow bright enough that even the people stuck in the cheap seats could make her out just fine.

The rapid exchange was too fast for most of the crowd to follow, but everyone understood what the two sonic booms, one from Kinslayer’s throw and the other from Val’s return meant. It was exactly what they’d hoped to see, even if they could only really see it on the smaller instant-replay projections that were broadcast near their seats.

Kinslayer drew a pain of daggers that burst into flames and squared off against Val but Val responded with a massive hand clap that released a wind with enough force to douse the flames and blow Kinslayer back to the edge of the ring where a pit of acid awaited to claim her.

There was no physical mechanism which would have allowed an attack like that to work. Two human sized hands couldn’t capture enough air to move that volume of air. The sorcery that Tam had tied into Val’s breath however cared not in the slightest about trivial matters like “physical laws”. Castorvell was far more forgiving of breaches in the “immutable constants of the universe” than Earth was and Tam had taken full advantage of that.

“Beautiful move!” Kinslayer said as she slammed into Val with her shoulder.

Both women went for headbutts at the same time and the resulting crash shook some of the people in the front row out of their seats.

“You move wonderfully!” Val said, breathless in appreciation rather than from a lack of stamina. “I expected more force but less speed, but you move like your light as the wind!”

They parted by the barest fraction of an inch and both went for a wicked punch to chest. Their fists met and produced a flash of light from the compressed air that blew them back a handful of body lengths away from each other.

“Wow! You matched me!” Kinslayer said. “I was afraid your body weight would limit how much force you exert.”

“Yeah, Tam cooked a few tricks into the strength spells,” Val said. “It’s some of her best work really. Normally I can’t go all out like this without a lot more wind up.”

Kinslayer drew a pair of spiked clubs and slammed them into the ring’s floor causing a vast shower of stone shards to fly in a fan towards Val. Before the shards could reach her though, Kinslayer was there, leaping over the wave to bring both clubs down on Val’s crossed arms.

If it was possible to win a “ring out” victory by knocking your opponent out through the bottom of the ring, Kinslayer could have claimed victory then. She didn’t so much knock Val through the floor though as blast a crater into the arena which punched through the ring and into the carefully setup “lava stage” that had been rigged up beneath the main ring.

As the lava stage rose so that the crowd could view it, they heard a titanic booming within an ever flowing geyser of bright orange molten rock.

With a whirl of earth-shattering clubs, Kinslayer spun geyser away from inside the center of it to reveal that she’d hammered Val down to her knees.

A close up view from the projection showed that both fighters had sustained considerable “battle damage” but the joyfully grins on their faces were impossible to miss too.

“Oh this is the best!” Kinslayer said. “I can’t believe we get to fight on the lava stage! No one’s usually able to hold up long enough to carry the fight here.”

“I can see why,” Val said with a laugh. “That was a hell of an attack sequence.”

“I know you’ve got some more tricks in your bag though,” Kinslayer said.

With a mighty wind-up she slammed one of the clubs down and destroyed all of the “safe” portions of the lava stage in one hit. When the smoke cleared though, it wasn’t Val who rose and pushed the club away.

With arms of gleaming steel, Jen stood from spot where Val had been and unleashed a kick that knocked Kinslayer back fifty feet and submerged her completely in the bubbling lava.

“Yeah, we’ve got a few tricks left,” Jen said.