Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Hollow Half – Chapter 34

Oblivion was supposed to be a place of solitude. It also wasn’t supposed to hurt. These and other misconceptions were dispelled when I woke to find myself floating in a great empty void.

“That looked incredibly painfully.” Pen said. I opened my eyes to find him floating a few feet away, a concerned look on his face. The remains of the orb he’d been trapped in, the one I’d wrested away from the Oblivion Knight, floated in pieces behind him.

I laughed.

“It wasn’t even in the top three worst things I’ve felt tonight.” I joked. On consideration though, it was the truth. Between clutching the Shadow Court’s Heart and the various other abuses I’d suffered or inflicted on myself, giving myself over to Oblivion had been almost seductively easy. That made it even more surprising how deeply I ached. I couldn’t tell if I was in my real body or my Dreamlit one or neither. Either way I was a mess.

I tried to raise my hand to see if I was burnt and shriveled. I didn’t feel burned but it felt like my hand weighed a million tons. Paralysis drifted through my mind as a possible explanation but it wasn’t that,  I was just tired beyond the scope of words to convey. Vanity and morbid curiosity pushed me onwards and I was pleased to see when I finally dragged my hand up into view that my skin looked fine. It was only what was inside that was damaged.

From our relative positions it felt like I was laying down and Pen was hovering over and to the side of me. With no reference points to judge by though I could have as easily been standing up. It didn’t really matter but my brain wanted an “up” to orient itself by.

“I can’t believe you had to rescue me twice!” Pen groaned.

“Had a promise to keep.” I replied sleepily.

“But I didn’t want you to have to wind up here!” he said, his voice pained.

“Don’t worry, it wasn’t a promise to you.” I said, fighting off the lethargy that was weighing me down.

“What? You weren’t just rescuing me? You promised someone you’d come here? Who did you make a insane promise like that to?” he asked.

“The Oblivion Knight.” I said.

“Who…wait…him? You named him?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time.” I smiled. It was cute seeing him clueless and flustered.

“I don’t understand. How could you do that? He’s a Remnant!” Pen objected.

“Well, see, I could tell you, but it’s pretty dangerous knowledge to have. Maybe you could play twenty questions for it?” I said with a completely straight face.

Pen’s jaw dropped and I couldn’t control myself. I burst out in a fit of giggles that left me gasping in pain and out of breath.

“It’s really not that funny.” Pen deadpanned.

“Yes it is. Oh, ouch.”, I winced as my sides ached again, ”The look on your face? So, worth it!”

“I’m glad you’re able to enjoy this.” Pen said, his smile dropping into an undercurrent of sadness.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him. I felt better for laughing, but still achy and spent.

“Nothing a little imagination can’t fix.” he said with forced cheer..

“What do you mean?” I asked, more curious than worried still.

“Well, we can’t stay here like this. You’re holding yourself together for now, creating your own bubble of reality, but if you stay like that for too long you’ll go crazy. Or I guess “crazier” given that you chose to come here in the first place.  Don’t worry though. I can show you how to make your own bubble universe. You can make it as awesome as you want. It’s what I did inside the pendant that you caught.” he said.

“I notice you didn’t stay in that pendant. Sounds like it’d be a lonely place? A whole world of nothing but me? No thanks, I’m not that narcissistic!”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be. It’s the only way Remnants like us can survive. Otherwise we turn into things like your Oblivion Knight. Or worse.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I didn’t come here to become the new Oblivion Queen. I’m looking for something.”

“Huh? What could you possibly be looking for? There’s nothing here. Literally Nothing. The fundamental, primal, definitional, ‘Nothing’.” Pen objected, throwing his hands out to gesture at the great big emptiness that surrounded us..

“You sure? What’s that then?” I asked. I ‘rose’ to my feet by shifting my position relative to his. In the distance the flicker of a fire appeared. I felt a light breeze on my face from the direction of the dancing light. Breathing in, I smelled the scent of wood smoke and the aroma of meat roasting over the flames.

“You’re imagining it?” Pen asked, sensing what I was doing but lacking the information to grasp why.

“Yes, and no.” I said. I saw the appeal of being enigmatic, in producing more confused flustering in Pen, but I knew he didn’t deserve that. If he was a remnant like the Oblivion Knight, he’d been through something horrible too.

“I’m imagining the path to something that I know is out here. Like you said, I’m still real, so other things can be too right?” I explained as I started walking towards the fire. The road beneath my feet sloped gently downhill and was lit by delicate paper lanterns. Pen floated along beside me.

“That’s true but what could be out here that you’d throw away everything to find?” he asked.

“I didn’t throw away everything for this. This is just a bonus. I came out here to bring the Oblivion Knight’s power back where it belonged. How much of the fight did you see?” I asked.

“None of it. Your Oblivion Knight caught me in a bubble of closed time. I don’t know how many times I looped over and over but I’m guessing it was a lot. How long has it been since you saw me?”

“Less than a day.”

“Oh good. For me, I was in bubble for about 5 minutes. I’m guessing the loop was probably twice that, so he could interrogate me for a bit and then I’d loopback and forget whatever happened. I don’t even want to think what he might have been able to find out that way.”

“How to kill a planet.” I said.

“No! No no no!”, Pen’s eyes were wide in terror, “What happened?”

“Everything’s fine. It worked out ok in the end. We stopped him. I’ll tell you the story later.” I said as we reached the outer edge of the campfire’s glow.

The campfire was in a small grove just inside a thicket of woods that extended off into the night of the void. Beside the campfire the grove held a large comfortable looking tent and a man sleeping on a hammock between two trees. The man was tall and broadly built. He wasn’t gorgeous, his nose had the mashed in look of having been broken several times and there were scars that spoke to even less pleasant fighting in his past. His smile though was wonderful. It reach all the way to his eyes which were crinkled in happiness even in his sleep.

Beneath the hammock lay a suit of armor in a design I was very familiar with.

“Who’s that?” Pen asked.

“That’s the Oblivion Knight. Or, to be accurate, that’s the part of himself that he lost. The part that Way loved so much.”

“How could he possibly still be here? This isn’t a junkyard people toss things in. It’s the Unreal, or oblivion as you say. Forget disintegration, even the concept of him should have evaporated into nothingness.”

“You didn’t. And neither did I.” I said.

“What do you mean?” Pen asked.

“When the Oblivion Knight captured you, I tried to fight him, or distract him at least. That didn’t work out so well. He hit me with the Unreal fire just as I was trying to world walk and I wound up in the Shadow Court’s realm. I didn’t get what that meant for a while though.”

“Which was?”

“That I could survive the black fire. Once the Oblivion Knight recognized who I was he stopped trying to attack me with it, even his minions avoided that, probably to keep me from clueing in on the fact that I could manipulate it too.”

“So how did you figure out that you could?”

“I got mad. Really mad. After the Shadow Court took my parents, I sort of lost it and lashed out as hard as I could. That was after I’d escaped the black fire, after I’d touched oblivion myself, so when I looked for the worst, most destructive force I could smash the Court with, that’s what came to hand.”

“That’s…I’m sorry.” Pen said, gazing down as the ground as a worried frown creased his lips.

“It’s not your fault.” I assured him.

“Doesn’t matter, you still wound up here.”

“It was my choices that put me here, with you, and with him.” I said, gesturing to the still sleeping human half of the Oblivion Knight.

“Yeah, but those choices have cost you everything.” Pen said.

“Not everything. I still have my memories, all of my memories. Jin’s, Jenny’s, Molly’s, even Glory’s. More importantly, I still have my friends and loved ones. Even if they don’t remember me, they can dream about me.”

“I don’t know how that’s going to help us. Dreaming something doesn’t make it real.”

“I’ll show you in a bit.” I said as I stepped into the clearing.

The man in the hammock was a light sleeper. He stirred and opened his eyes as I step into the little grove.

“Begone shade. I know you for the phantom of my own mind that you are.” the man said wearily. His smile was gone.

I blinked. Of course he would think I was a hallucination. There was “nothing” out here. Even the campfire, tent and trees were a product of his imagination, a nascent bubble universe like the one Pen had spoken of.

“Sorry, I’m not an aspect of you. My name’s Jin and I’m here to bring you home.” I told him.

“I am alone here and evermore shall be. If you are not a vision conjured by my own spirit, then you are a phantom of some sort more deadly sort. I say again, Begone!”, the man turned in the hammock so that he was sitting and looking straight at me. I could see traces of fear in his eyes. The worst torture here was allowing yourself to hope, knowing that no hope was possible.

“No.” I said. He was eloquent. Almost certainly gifted in rhetoric and debate. He could build a fortress of logic around himself that would leave him deaf to any counter-arguments I could make. I wasn’t going to win him over with words alone.

“No? You cannot refuse me, I am still master of myself.” he bellowed and rose from the hammock. He was a big guy. A lot bigger than me. I wasn’t too worried though. Size wasn’t a principal concern in a realm where nothing was physically real.

“Actually, you’re not.” I told him. It didn’t help my case in the short term, but he needed to understand that he was missing a vital piece of himself.

“Though night stands all around me, though my way is lost, though I am forgotten by heaven and hell both, I shall not yield or doubt my conviction!” he reached for a staff that lay propped against one of the trees the hammock was slung from.

“You did and you have.” I said, gesturing to his campsite. “This isn’t a resting spot, it’s your tomb. You cast yourself onto the void, daring the impossible for one reason, one person and when you failed to find her you broke apart. Just like Pen did. Just like I did.”

“No.” he said, but I could see the cracks of doubt forming in his facade. He spoke a good game, but he no longer had the same monomania that had launched him into the void originally. The Oblivion Knight embodied those pieces of him.

“Yes. We’re broken in different ways, but we’re still alike. I let the Unreal in and became an impossibility. Pen transformed and you? You split. Each part still a functioning whole but also so terribly out of balance.”

“No. That’s not possible.” he protested.

“Of course. Nothing here is possible. You know I’m telling you the truth though. Phantasm or vision or just a girl, what I am doesn’t matter. You’re still connected to your other half. To the part of you that can’t give up, that can’t stop. He dimly remembers you, you must be able to remember him. The fire that you once had, turned black by despair?”

“NO! You are madness! You are lies! I cannot be as you say! I am no monster! Thrice I say, and thrice I command thee ‘Jin’, by my name, by my power, by my very soul I command thee depart and trouble me no more!”, he was shaking and clutching the staff with both hands. He’d invoked my name. He had my attention. What he didn’t have was the power to compel me.

I laid my hands on his and smiled gently at him.

“You don’t have to believe in me. Just believe in her.” I said.

“She…she is gone, lost more terribly than even I and forgotten by all.” Tears rolled down his cheeks freely.

“What’s lost can be found, and she’s never forgotten you.” I said and gestured upwards.

In the endless and absolute black of the sky above us there shone a single diamond of yellow light.

“Jin, what is that?” Pen asked.

“I can’t make it back home on my own. I gave that up in order to return the Oblivion Knight’s power to its source. I had to embrace the black fire and let it consume me so I don’t have anything left in me to make myself real anymore.”

“So even being able to do the impossible, you can’t make it back?” Pen looked dejected.

“No. But I can meet someone halfway.”

“What? How does that help?”

“I can manipulate the Unreal. Give shape to the nothingness and find paths through the void. If I could find our friend here, what makes you think I can’t find the person who can bring us home?” I said.

“Who could hold such power?” the human half of the Oblivion Knight asked.

“Her.” I said as the yellow star grew brighter. An instant later the glow flashed downward and landed with an explosion of light brighter than the birth of a new star.

As the light faded to a bearable level, Way rose slowly from the position she’d landed in. The men beside me, large and small, were speechless, so I stepped forward.

“You came! You found us!” I was so ridiculously happy to see her that I nearly knocked her over with my hug.

“Always.” she replied with a warm smile.

Behind me, I heard a piercing wail split the night. The man, Way’s father, had collapsed to his knees and was weeping hysterically. For the first time I saw fear in Way’s eyes too.

“You cannot be real. You cannot be her. She is lost. You are…” Way’s father floundered. She couldn’t be real because that would mean he’d failed her, abandoned her completely. He’d taken the hardest road he could imagine, made the toughest choices that were laid before him and in the end fallen into a despair believing with absolute certainty that it had all been for nothing.

“She is more than you knew. Far more.” I said. Reaching out, I touched Way’s hand and drew her over to her father’s side. She sank down wordlessly beside him, afraid to touch him as though he were as fragile as a soap bubble. I crouched down on my knees beside them both.

“You didn’t see the greatness that was in her before, don’t make that same mistake again. See her now. Believe in her as she’s believed in you.” I said. I could have made it a regal command. He wasn’t one of my subjects, but royalty carries some authority even outside its own domain. Instead I said it plainly. Just as Jin. As the me that I most really and truly was.

I left them and retreated with Pen to the edge of the firelight to give them a space of their own to share.

The Oblivion Knight had almost destroyed my world. He’d hurt my family, terrorized my friends and essentially destroyed all there was of me. His loss, his pain, excused none of those actions. Forgiveness isn’t dependent on excuses though. It’s not something we have a right to, or can argue ourselves into deserving. If we wish to be worthy of it, we can strive to make amends for what we’ve done, but even so we can’t buy forgiveness. It is a gift that must be freely given.

Sometimes that can be hard. Sometimes it can be impossible. It’s not even always right to give it. The secret of forgiveness though is that sometimes it’s a more powerful gift for the giver than it is for the forgiven.

Looking at Way and her father, I knew that I understood him a little better and, in that understanding, forgiveness was easy to find.

“You look like you’ve let a great weight drop from your shoulders.” a woman’s voice said from behind me.

I turned to look into the darkness of the void and saw a woman who could have been an older version of Way standing there. The cast of her chin was slightly broader though and her nose bridge slightly higher. Not an older Way. Her mother.

I stared. In all my dealings with Way and the Oblivion Knight, this was the one person I hadn’t thought of at all.

“Hello.”, I said, “I’m Jin.”

“I am glad to meet you Jin. I am Terra.”, Way’s mother said.

“You’re not alive are you?” I said, intuition beating meta-awareness to the punch on that score.

“Not for a very long time.” Terra agreed.

“How are you here?” I asked.

“The dead have fewer restrictions than the living do.” she explained.

“But the spirits of the dead are as real as anything else aren’t they? I’ve been to Hade’s realm. I’ve seen them fight on Earth too.”

“I’m not the spirit of the woman I once was. Spirits can be bound, even destroyed. Think of me as the essence the spirit springs from, both more real than the spirit and not real at all.”

“You’re a paradox?” I asked.

“From the right viewpoint.” she agreed.

“Why are you here now then?”

“This is the first moment, real or imagined, when my family is together since I died. I wished to see them again before I passed beyond. Though I see now I won’t be leaving alone.” When she said ‘leaving’ it was clear to me that she meant someplace beyond even the Unreal void we were standing in.

I felt my stomach sink. I didn’t want to think of Way leaving, even though I knew that she was no more a part of the world than the Oblivion Knight was. It was just a touch insane. I’d known Way less than a day. We were literally from different worlds. There shouldn’t have been anything to bind us together.

Except that when we dream spoke we saw each other as we truly were. We’d each been too new to communicating that way to know how to hold back. By all odds we should have recoiled from that and hated each other, but instead we’d somehow clicked.

I didn’t know if we would always be friends. I didn’t know if we even had any interests in common. What I did know was that no one would ever see me like she did, and that I would never find anyone else like her.

“Do you have to go?” I asked.

“It’s not as terrible as you imagine.” Terra said.

“But you’ll be gone.” I grumbled.

“But not lost or forgotten.” she assured me.

I smiled and wiped a tear away from my eye. It wasn’t much, but it was all I’d asked for myself when I’d chosen to come out here. My sorrow was a selfish thing, the tears well up from the pit of what I wanted. When I thought of Way, I could pretty easily imagine that she might like to be with her parents, wherever they wound up.

“Come, let us join them. There is one more journey we need to make before we depart.” Terra said.

Together we walked back into the circle of the campfire’s light.

Time was an abstract notion in the Unreal. I could see that, in the few moments I’d spoken to Terra, Way and her father had spent many hours together. The campfire was burning low while father and daughter worked quietly together bundling up the tent.  Meta-awareness said they’d cried for a while but that had faded and when we joined them the dim light of the fading fire illuminated comfortable smiles on both of their faces.

“So all it took to get you to help with chores was the end of the world? I wish I had known sooner.” Terra said.

“We knew you were coming.” Way’s father said, his smile deepening at the sight of his wife.

Way hesitated with her corner of the tent, torn for a moment, before she dropped the pretense of being ok and appeared in a flash at her mother’s side, clutching her tightly. I hesitated at the edge of the circle and turned to look out onto the void again, giving them as much time together as they wished to make for themselves.

“I didn’t know I could still learn things like that.” Pen said by my side.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s there’s something beyond all of this. Beyond everything we can know or imagine.”

“Yeah, but what really matters isn’t what’s out here.” I said.

“Maybe. I guess it all depends on which perspective you look at it from.”, he replied.

“We’re ready.” Way said, putting her hand on my shoulder. I looked her in the eyes and she met my gaze with a brave smile.

“Ok, let’s get things wrapped up then.” I said.

She led us to the dim remains of the campfire. Wordlessly, we gathered around it in a circle and all joined hands. I felt power flow from Way’s hand into mine and out to Pen. From him it traveled to Way’s father and then her mother and finally back to Way.

With each pass, the energy grew and locked us more tightly together. We became our own summoning circle into which Way poured her strength, her courage and all the reality the name I had given her held.

I had no name to give, but I added what little I did have. My memories and the love that bound me still to those who cared for me.

The power flowing through us built to an unimaginable pitch as Way pushed against the walls of reality. Even together, even with all of our power and skill and knowledge and wisdom, returning was simply impossible. Until Way made it happen.

We didn’t burst through the walls of reality and explode back into the world. We didn’t need to. With Way’s strength and my guidance we brought ourselves back to the instant Way and I had left the real world. Before it had a chance to fill the void that we left.

The endless Abyss gave way to the over crowded stadium and the remains of the final battle against the Shadow Court.

“You ploy fails you! You have stolen my power, but I draw on a source without end or limit. Even if I cannot destroy you, I shall draw on the rift you yourself tore in this world and it shall burn!” the Oblivion Knight, the dangerous, monstrous one said.

It took me a split second to remember where we had been. To him, only a moment had passed but I had a whole block of memories from my time in the Unreal that I needed to get out of the way.

“What rift?” I said, waving my hand at the sky. The real world and the Dreamlit world were all too happy to expel the rift I’d made and seal the breech to the Unreal at my beckoning.

“No! It doesn’t matter, I will find a way! I cannot be stopped!” the Oblivion Knight railed.

“I’ve already found her, and it far past time that we stopped.” Way’s father said as he stepped forward.

When the two met, both popped gently into a cloud that reformed into a single figure. The madness of the Oblivion Knight was gone, his inhuman form replaced by the body of a human knight clad in battle damaged armor. In his eyes that I saw the echoes of the Oblivion Knight’s rage and sorrow.

“I thank you, once again Jin. For restoring my husband and for rescuing my dear daughter.” Terra said.

“I only played a small part in those.” I protested, thinking of how hard everyone else had fought and how often it had been Way who had saved me.

“You were the first one to believe in me. Even when I couldn’t. You gave me back myself.” Way said.

My breath caught in my throat and my heart froze when I saw her. She looked like Heather. A ghost. She’d given up her new life, given it to me to replace the one I’d lost when I’d carried the Oblivion Knight’s power back to the Unreal.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want this. I thought together we could make it back ok.” I said, tearing up again at the thought of Way losing a life she’d barely gotten to live.

“We did. You’re here with your family and friends.”, she said. Her lips were forced into a smile that her eyes didn’t share..

“You should be here too though.” I said. I couldn’t even hold her hand.

“I wanted to be. More than anything, I wanted to be.” she said, fighting to keep the tears from her ghostly eyes.

“It is time for us to leave my daughter.”, Terra said.

“I know, can I say goodbye to the others?” Way asked.

“No.” her mother replied.


“Because you must say goodbye to us.”, her father said, “Jin drew both you and I into the world. I hold a spark of reality, a bit of her life as well. I will not give you the name she gave me, but the rest is yours. Live the life that you should have had my daughter and know that we shall always love you.”

 He placed a hand on her and I felt history shift.

Way had always been alive, just like she was still.

“Father? Mother?” she said, staring at her solid, living hands in disbelief and wonder.

“Our time is past my daughter, but yours is only beginning. I can make you no promises about it save this one: you will never lose us. Whatever path your life takes you down, we will be there with you and we will meet again, many times and in many guises.” Terra said.

And with that the Oblivion Knight and his wife faded away, together.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 33

The Oblivion Queen was able to anchor herself and resist transport via portal. Her Shadow Courtiers were rallying against the army of vengeful ghosts we’d brought from Hades’ realm. The strongest form I’d ever constructed for myself had fallen before one attack from the Queen. All I needed was one more setback and everything would be undone.

From the discorporated remains of my dragon form, I drew together scraps of power and imagined another body into existence. This one was simple. Just me. Just Jin.

“You are beaten, but you need not suffer.” the Oblivion Queen said, “We do this to end suffering after all. Take the black flame. Call it to yourself. Burn from within and see the light.”

I hung in the air before her, silent for a moment as I finished rebuilding and fortifying myself.

“I’ve got a better idea.”, I said, “Let’s both go see the light.”

The Oblivion Queen was fast. Inhumanely fast. The fastest, most powerful member of the Shadow Court. When the Oblivion Knight had reconstructed her after annihilating her previous incarnation though, he’d had to stick close to the original template. She had to be the Queen in enough detail that she could command all of the Courtiers. He’d made her faster, stronger, more durable and more powerful, but she was still limited by the template of who she originally was.

Unfortunately for her, I wasn’t. As my Dreamlit self, I was whatever I could imagine myself to be and I imagined myself to be faster than her. Much faster.

I hit her with enough force to shatter both of our bodies. A sonic boom echoed in my wake. That should have left us both a crippled mess. In my case, I imagined myself whole and was restored in an instant. In the Queen’s case, her shattered body knit itself together with the same preternatural speed the Courtier in Minnie’s labyrinth had shown.

She tried to grab me and I let her get a hold on my arm. She thought I’d want to escape her counter attack. Instead I locked myself onto her.

“Gotcha.” I said and blasted off for orbit.

My flight is normally very gentle, but I wasn’t bothering with gentle this time. The shockwave from the two of us going hypersonic shattered the ground where we’d been standing and even knocked the ghosts and spirits down.

An animal snarl escape the Queen’s lips as she hit me with the same wave of force that had destroyed my dragon body. I was ready for it this time though and let it wash through me, imagining myself whole again in its wake.

“Care to repent your entire existence?”, I taunted her.

She answered me with another body shattering blast that failed to shake me off.

As though from an impossibly great distance, I heard a voice dream speak to me.

“Quite clever Jin. But tell me, what is the point of this? Why delay the inevitable? Why prolong their suffering?” the Oblivion Knight asked me in dream speech. Along with the words, he sent the images of my parents, still slaves to the Shadow Court. They were locked in their dreams with the Courtiers who possessed them.

“You’ve touched my power. Used it. You know the truth. This world is flawed. There are things in it that should never exist. Suffering that should never be allowed. I am the answer.” the Oblivion Knight said. He sounded closer, no longer impossibly distant but not yet nearby.

“You never found an answer.”, I told him, “You just abandoned the world.”

“I transcended it. I refused to cling to false hope and lies.” he shot back.

“The only lies that matter are the ones you’re telling yourself.” I told him. “The world’s not worthless because it has flaws, and the answer to suffering is not to pretend that it never happened.”

“You are blind. I offer more than pretense. You can feel it. I can change what was and what will be.”

“Not if I stop you.”

“Who are you to hold the world in suffering?”

“Who are you to chose my world for me?”

“I have seen the beauty beyond the end of the world. I know the heaven that can be built in its place. How can you oppose that?”, the Knight bellowed at me.

“Because I can see the heaven that’s with us right now.” I bellowed back.

“There is no heaven in this world. There are only different hells.”

“Before this over, I’ll show you what heaven looks like.” I promised the Oblivion Knight.

“And I shall save you from hell.”

“No. If you destroy me you won’t be saving me from hell. You’ll be saving hell from me.”

“Either way, I will destroy you before the sun rises.” the Oblivion Knight promised. He sounded very near.

The Oblivion Queen and I had cleared the atmosphere while the Oblivion Knight spoke. When his voice faded away, she animated again.

“You can’t even defeat me. How can you hope to survive him?”, she said, blasting me apart again. I reformed instantly, keeping my grip on her.

“I’ve already beaten you.” I told her. I noticed I was dream speaking since there wasn’t any air to carry normal sound. I’d adapted to the vacuum of space without noticing it either.

“We’re in position now! Fire when ready!” I dream spoke to Agent Haffrun.

The Oblivion Queen’s struggles to escape ceased immediately as long range dimensional bindings from the Persephone clamped over her. That was my queue to leave. I portaled away in the blink of an eye, leaving the Oblivion Queen to her fate.

I exited the portal over two miles away from the Oblivion Queen and watched the dark sky be torn asunder by the brightest light I had ever seen. A river of light a mile wide stretched from the Persephone off into eternity. There’s no sound in space, no medium to carry any shockwave from the Ultralight beam, but I still felt something rumble and tear, like I was riding out an earthquake in the spacetime continuum.

The beam continued for a good thirty seconds, lighting up the heavens and visible from every spot on the Earth that was turned to face it. As the beam dwindled away, the Persephone dream spoke to me.

“Long range bindings secure. Scans indicate target destroyed.” the ship said.

“Excellent! I’m going to head back to Brassport and take command of the Shadow Courtiers then!” I dream spoke to Agent Haffrun.

“By all means, please try that.” the voice that dream spoke back to me was a mix of the Oblivion Queen’s and Agent Haffrun’s.

I portaled to the Persephone’s bridge immediately to confirm what I was hearing.

In the captain’s chair, Agent Haffrun sat surrounded by black flames. That was the setback I’d been waiting for.

“You’ve possessed her.” I said. It wasn’t a guess.

“Yes. She destroyed me, now I shall destroy her.” the Oblivion Queen said.

“The Oblivion Knight recreated you.” I said. That also wasn’t a guess.

“The same as you recreate yourself. As I said, you cannot defeat me. I, however, can defeat you.” The Oblivion Queen waved Agent Haffrun’s hand over the Captain’s controls. Specifically the ones that covered targeting the Ultralight Cannon. I didn’t need to see what coordinates she put in. I’d insulted her and she was still enough of a Shadow Courtier that she couldn’t let that go unpunished.

With the Ultralight Cannon at her disposal, the Oblivion Queen no longer needed the Shadow Court’s ritual to summon the primal spirit of life. She could begin destroying the planet until Gaia had no choice but to rise and take action. Then the Oblivion Knight would swoop in for the kill.

It was a great plan. I was glad we’d set it up for them.

“You think this world is worth saving because you value your loved ones over the suffering of the rest of the world. I’m going to make it easy for you to see our side of things.” the Oblivion Queen said as she pushed a button.

“Ultralight Cannon firing initiated. Target designation: Brassport and surrounding areas. Target: locked and acquired. Firing now.” the Persephone intoned.

The view port windows were flooded with light as the main display flicked on to show a river of light hurtling down towards my home.

My breath caught in my throat. She wasn’t supposed to have fired that quickly. We had hoped her ego would get in the way, that it would keep her chatting long enough that we could stop the cannon before it went off.

We’d been wrong, but not stupid. There was a backup plan. And backup plans on top of that, but only the first one was needed. Way was there for us.

The beam of brilliant white light met a shield of dazzling gold that covered the city and absorbed the blast. She was too distant to see and concentrating too hard to speak but Way still managed to send me the impression of a little smirk as she held off the city killing attack.

“What is that!” screamed the Oblivion Queen. Disbelief turning to horror in her eyes.

“That’s my friend.” I told her and added “You didn’t really think you could beat me did you?”

“I’ll kill you now! He can burn you later!” the Queen screamed even louder.

“I don’t think so. Do you have her name yet?” I directed the last question to Agent Haffrun.

The alien woman shivered and the black fire around her sputtered and died out. A moment later, the Oblivion Queen’s shadow peeled away from Agent Haffrun and materialized in her usual form. Her eyes were blinking and she looked like someone had boxed her ears in.

“My apologies.”, the real Agent Haffrun said, “I’m a bit out of practice at throwing off possessions. I’ll have to bone up for my certification from the Parliament this year it looks like. Oh and her name was ‘Maxina’. Also her favorite fruit was pomegranate and she actually did enjoy long walks on the beach at night.”

“Maxina? Thank you. That’s rather useful to know.” I said, a smile creeping across my face.

“Can we see what’s happening on the ground?” I asked.

“Adjusting monitor”, the ship replied.

On the main screen we saw various scenes playing out. Minnie and Patches, both injured, were climbing out of the hole they’d fought in. Minnie was carrying an unconscious but intact Red Shadow over her shoulder.

Jessica was rejoining Nell and Invertrix as the two got back to their feet. In her hands Invertrix held a sphere of purple flames, the condensed version of the Courtiers that had possessed her.

Heartbeat was tending to Adella’s clearly fractured arm in the streets beyond the stadium, while a naked Professor Platinum was strapped to a nearby telephone pole.

I looked the Oblivion Queen, Maxina, directly in the eyes.

“Do you think I can defeat you now, Maxina.” I asked. She’d been trying to look elsewhere, to find a way out, but the mention of her name dragged her eyes back to mine. I had her full and undivided attention.

“It doesn’t matter that you know that name. It has no hold over me anymore.”

“Tell me another lie.” I said to her.

“I will destroy you!”

“Good, good one. I suppose I should ask: ‘You and what army?’, right?”

“This army!” Maxina, the Oblivion Queen, sneered.

The Persephone’s command deck was an exceptionally large area. Despite it’s current crew of one, it was clear that it was intended to hold several hundred personnel when fully staffed. With a wave of her hand the Oblivion Queen nearly filled the command deck with her Oblivion Courtiers.

I had her name, so meta-awareness was more than happy to show me how she’d walked even further into our plan.

“For future reference, not that you have a future really, that was a mistake.” I told her. I knew that, karmically, I’d probably pay for being that smug later on but honestly, I’d had a really bad night and I just wasn’t feeling particularly nice.

“You think you can defeat all of us?” Maxina asked incredulously.

“No, no.”, I admitted timing my words with meta-aware precision, “But they can!”

Lightning struck down from the ceiling of the command deck and blasted a hole in the Oblivion Courtier’s ranks. As the spots cleared from my eyes, I saw over a dozen Olympian Champions rise to their feet. James, in his full Aegis garb was at their forefront. His armor was adorned with some new pieces, spikes and plates that hummed with power and suggested he was ready for a rather unfriendly sort of fight.

“It’s good to see you.” James said.

“You too big bro!” I replied.

“Zeus sends his regards. And this.” James said, holding out a curved band covered in green leaves.

I took the band from him and felt an undeniable power thrumming off of it.

“It’s the Sacred Laurels. He said you’d know what to do with them.” James explained.

“This is impossible! How are you here?” Maxina growled.

“You pulled your Courtiers to your side. They were the only thing blocking the Lightning Road, the only thing cutting Olympus off from sending reinforcements to us.”, I said, “You should feel honored. Do you have any idea how rare it is that the gods would send their Chosen out together like this?”

“Hasn’t happened in three thousand years Athena said, but starting today this is how we’ll work. You blindsided the pantheon. That’s not going to happen again.” James said.

“The Shadow Court and the Oblivion Court? You’re both done.” I said. With a wave of my hand I transformed from my plain clothes to my Queen’s regalia. Reaching up to my head I took off the crown of burning briars and crushed it to ash. In it’s place I settled the laurel wreath on my head.

My eyes flew open and my heart stopped for a second as power and life coursed through me. My wounds and aches vanished. I was more than restored. I’d never felt as alive as I did in that moment. It felt like there was a light in me that radiated out as brightly as the sun, breaking through the darkness and illuminating the whole world somehow.

The clothes that I wore flapped around me like they were in a hurricane gale and the black in them ran off leaving soft whites and pinks behind. The Queen’s scepter that I held changed as well and where the gem of the Shadow Court’s heart had once been mounted the new scepter held the light of a brilliant star.

“Play dress up all you want. I will still destroy you. Courtiers: Annihilate them!” Maxina screamed.

Each champion of the gods was protected in different ways. James had the most comprehensive protection thanks to Athena’s gifts but the others weren’t particularly fragile either. Several hundred Courtiers was still a daunting prospect, but I could see that they’d come well prepared and exceptionally geared for this fight. Like the Parliament of Time, the Olympian gods didn’t take chances. They’d sent their Chosen in with enough artifacts to make them an overwhelming force. The Oblivion Courtiers honestly didn’t have a chance. That left me free to worry about Maxina.

“Let’s take this to the creatures that really need to see what’s going on. You first Maxina!” I said. With one hand I gestured a portal open behind the Oblivion Queen. With the other I raised my scepter and fired a bolt of energy that hurled her backwards and across the portals edge. She tried to resist, to stay anchored to the Persephone but I had her name so I didn’t have to let that happen.

We exited the portal high above the stadium. I wanted to make an entrance. That gave Maxina a chance to fight back. This time I didn’t have to weather her blows and restore myself. I had more than enough power to turn each attack aside as we fell.

Maxina saw that we were closing rapidly on the ground and tried to fly away so I tackled her in mid-air. Even all powered up, I was still pretty light, but force is mass times acceleration and if there was one thing I had plenty of it was acceleration.

We hit the ground at roughly the speed of sound. The produced both a very loud boom and a fairly deep crater. Before the Oblivion Queen could demonstrate her ridiculous toughness, I restored myself and began firing blast after blast into the crater.

“Minions of the Shadow Court!” I yelled, dream shaping my voice so that it boomed out over the stadium. “Witness your Queen!”

I reached down into the crater and dragged the limp, insensate body of the Oblivion Queen up with me. The power bolts had mostly been for show. She was bound into unconsciousness by my dream shaping and the use of her name. All the unreal restoration ability in the world wasn’t going to help her with that.

“She’s fallen! The Queen has been defeated!”, one of the Shadow Courtiers screamed as a stunned silence settled over the battlefield.

“Your Queen stands before you. Any Courtiers who wish to contest my coronation need only remain standing that I may have words with them.” I proclaimed.

I watched and waited as understanding swept through the ranks of Shadow Courtiers. As one they dropped to one knee before me.

I caught sight of my Mom and James’ Dad in the front ranks of the possessed Shadow Court hosts. I almost choked seeing them bloodied and bruised, but from the way they were kneeling I could see they were still in one piece. It was way past time to end this nightmare for them though.

“Cease this battle and quit your human hosts.” I commanded the Shadow Courtiers. Shaped by imagination, my words, my royal decree, hit the possessing spirits like a rain of anvils, leaving their hosts stunned and blinking in new found freedom.

“It’s a little too early to call the battle won is it not?” the Oblivion Knight asked as he rose out of the crater Maxina and I had made.

“You lost this before you even began it.” I said, spinning to face him. I knew this moment was coming and I was prepared for what came next, but I still felt terrified.

“And you lost it the moment you took those Laurels. So much life in you now.” the Oblivion Knight said.

“You’ll never get at Gaia.”

“I no longer need to. All that your ‘Gaia’ spirit represented was a path. She touched enough of the life on this planet to serve as a conduit. Through her, I could reach every other living thing. Humans, even in what you would call great numbers, just aren’t tied together strongly enough for that. But you’re very strong now aren’t you? Very connected. You’re not Gaia, but you’re so flush with life and victory. Hope and cheer. Time for that to end. You’ll serve my purpose every bit as well as she would have.” he said.

I wouldn’t have been fast or powerful enough to block the torrent of black fire that he unleashed on me without the Laurels. With them I was able to throw a wide wall in place to hold the flames away from everyone in the stadium who would have been in their path.

“You can fight for those people, but even now you’re apart from them.” the Oblivion Knight taunted me. I wanted to answer back but keeping up the wall against the flames took every scrap of concentration I had. I had to keep imagining them whole over and over again as the black fire ate away at the very idea of defense.

“They will never accept you.” he continued. “In time they will hate and fear you. They will destroy you if they can and turn from you if they cannot. Even if you hide yourself from them, they will sense what you are. They will cast you out and renounce you.”

I heard the echo of truth in his words. I heard the pleading terror of my heart from just a few hours ago. It was the sacrifice I had accepted for there to be a world for the people that I loved to live in, but it still hurt to confront it again.

I felt a soft hand settle on my arm.

“What are you telling my daughter?”, my mother said, loud enough to fill the stadium, “I don’t know who or what you are, but I know who she is. She doesn’t ever need to hide anything from us. She’s my daughter, no matter what she can do, no matter what choices she makes. And I will always love her.”

I blinked and looked over at her. A flood of tears poured out of my eyes. I couldn’t help it and I didn’t want to.

Meta-awareness, showed me the rift that I’d seen in my mother. On each side of it there was a series of holes and through those holes ran ribbons of devotion and love to draw both sides of the rift together again. My meta-awareness expanded and showed me a broader picture of her. Showed me all of the hundreds and thousands of rifts that lay in her, and in me.

Loving people wasn’t easy. We hurt each other and we scare each other, sometimes through no fault of our own. Those hurts and fears don’t destroy us though. We can overcome them, we can stitch ourselves back together because, in the end, its worth it. It’s worth not giving up. On ourselves or on each other.

I blinked again. In a tiny bit, I understood Way a little better. She already knew what I’d just seen. That’s why she hadn’t given up on her father even after she died, even after he destroyed himself utterly.

It wasn’t possible to restore someone lost to oblivion, but we were impossible girls. I’d had an idea of how I could beat the Oblivion Knight, but with that last bit of understanding, I finally knew how I could win.

“Thank you!” I said. With a gesture I slammed the wall down in place feeding it a huge portion of energy. It gave me a moment of peace but it meant that I wouldn’t be able to reform the wall continuously. That didn’t matter. I didn’t need to anymore.

“Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I could have saved you so much grief.”

“Well if you bring home stray monsters again, we’ll talk about how long you’re grounded for.”, she said.

“I love you!” I said, hugging her tightly.

“I love you too, but why does it sound like you’re saying goodbye?” she asked, hugging me back.

“I’m not. I promise, like I promised James. I’ll come back, but I have to go now.”

Mom looked at me, pride and sorrow, fear and hope brimming in her eyes.

“It’s ok. As long as you come back, it’s ok.” she said and let me go.

I held onto her for a moment longer. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want to leave any of them. No matter how much I knew I had to, no matter how much I tried to have faith that things would work out ok, there was a part of me that refused to let go.

I breathed out a slow, steady breath. I didn’t want to let go, but I would. I could see a way out of this and I’d take it, after everything I’d been through I knew I could. It would be scary and painful and hard but I wouldn’t be alone and I wouldn’t be forgotten. I didn’t know that, meta-awareness couldn’t confirm anything about the future for me, but I believed and that was enough.

“I don’t need this anymore. Can you give it back to James when you see him?” I asked, handing the Sacred Laurels to my mother. I saw her eyes go wide with shock as she felt the raw force of life they carried. She’d keep them safe and, worst come to worst, they’d protect her. It was all the insurance I had to work with.

I turned to my pink wall of force leaving my Mom holding the artifact of divine power. The force wall was crumbling under the Oblivion Knight’s fiery assault. It would hold up long enough though. It had done its job. Reaching out to it, I conjured a portal on one side of and stepped through to the other.

Black fire washed over me and I turned it aside harmlessly.

“This was another part of your lie wasn’t it?”, I asked the Oblivion Knight. Manipulating the black fire was easy.

“This isn’t real. It’s an unmaking fire, it can change real things to be unreal, but I can choose what’s real for me. I learned to do that without really understanding it when you burned me the first time and it didn’t stick. You failed to kill me and I wound up in the Shadow Court’s realm in just the right place to oppose you. It’s why none of the Oblivion Courtiers attacked me with black fire. It’s why you didn’t attack me with it until you had no other choice. You’re actually powerless against me aren’t you?”

“I can rend your entire world apart. I can leave you floating in an empty void bereft of loved ones or home.” the Oblivion Knight countered.

Understanding lit in my eyes like a star.

“And I can restore it. That’s why you kept trying to get me to go to your side. Even if you unmake the whole world, it’ll still be out there in bits and pieces and I can pull it back together. So long as I or anyone like me stands against you, you can’t win.”

“How many do you think there are that would stand against me?” the Oblivion Knight asked.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m here and that’s enough. The important question though, is how many would stand for you.”

“I am alone. In Oblivion there is only solitude.”

“You’re wrong. Do you remember that I said I would show you what heaven looks like. You’ll see it soon. She’s coming now. The daughter that you’ve forgotten. Look at her when arrives. She was never lost to you. Through death and destruction she stayed with you. Before she gets here there’s something I need to do though.”


“I also promised I would take your power and free Pen. It’s time I made good on those.” I said.

I could say I strode forward fearlessly, but, really, I was terrified. What I planned to do I couldn’t survive. Surviving wasn’t the point though. Even victory wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about winning. The Oblivion Knight was already beaten. This was about making something right, and about letting go and about saying goodbye.

It was terrifying but I had faith in Way and I chose to gamble on that. I prayed I wasn’t asking too much though since what I was counting on her for was impossible.

The Oblivion Knight flinched back as I approached and waved his hand in front of himself to ward me off. It was the hand that held the black fire ball that he’d been carrying. Wrapping my hands around the ball I drew in the black flames and knew that I’d found Pen’s prison.

My power let me turn the black fires away but in embracing the fire there was no way to avoid burning. With a yank, I wrenched Pen’s prison out of the Oblivion Knight’s hand and tore away his power with it.

Black fire poured into me and consumed me. I burned away, both my Dreamlit self and my physical body in far off Olympus. That was the price I paid for taking the his power, for fully embracing Oblivion.

I vanished from the world, and from all of time and space, but I wasn’t quite done yet.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 32

Most winter nights the Brassport stadium was a fairly quite place. The only outdoor sport people would brave the cold for was football and that was played on the high school’s more up-to-date and better lit field. Most evenings the stadium was a dark and quiet oval on the east side of town. You might find a groundskeeper still at work maintaining it through the frosty months or underage kids partying it up with packs of beer obtained through dubious methods but crowds in the dark of winter were an alien concept.

So were bonfires of purple flame.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that half the town was assembled in the stadium. The stadium couldn’t hold half the city’s population and there hadn’t been enough time to assemble that many people even with the powers of the heroes the Shadow Court had subverted. What it did hold was a crowd that was well beyond its rated capacity. A mass of humans crammed together to the point where they could just barely still breathe.

The people trapped there were panicked and terrified but held in the thrall of the Shadow Court which in turn had been bent to the will of the Oblivion Queen. If the control held over them faltered, the crowd would trample each other in their mindless need to escape. Scattered through the packed assemble, the Courtiers had positioned children at key intervals. The little tykes were placed to insure that any attempt at a mass exodus would allow for no rational thought as desperate parents did anything they could to save their young from the inevitable crush of bodies.

Outside of the stadium, the Court had arranged men and women into a summoning circle. Hands clutched legs and bodies writhed as people lay on the ground forming inner and outer rings of the circle. Within the rings of bodies, men and women were puppeted by Shadow Court magics. They bent and swayed into the twisting shapes of the Shadow Court’s runic alphabet. As they moved, changing from rune shape to rune shape, each spoke the syllable their bodies formed, chanting words of power, gathering together the forces that could call the primal spirit of life on Earth to manifest.

Within the stadium, the Court had cleared away the playing field for the central dance of their ritual work. An innermost circle was marked by a single ring of humans who were directly possessed by the Shadow Court. They danced around and through the bonfires that were lit, trailing purple fire in their wake.

The sparks the dancer’s left behind lingered as wailing after images from the depths of a nightmare. Fire in the shape of a woman collapsed to her knees holding a bundle to her chest. A great gout of flame followed one of the dancers out of a bonfire and spun itself into the form of a bearded man soundlessly railing against the heavens. Next a toddler, grasping with empty arms for a mother who wasn’t there. On and on it went, each flame figure lasting no more than a handful of moments before dying away to sparks or being swept into the next fiery image.

In the center of the circles lay, not another fire, but a pool of black ice. So much Earthly life was tied to water that it made the perfect channel for summoning Gaia. The fires were melting the edges of the ice. Once they had pool fully cleared, the channel to Gaia would open and they could command her to come forth.

Gaia was an old spirit. One of the oldest Earth spirits. She would know what the Shadow Court was doing, and possibly even why they were doing it. She would know that she was being summoned to her doom, but all things have their constraints and listening to the proper summons was one even the primal spirits couldn’t ignored.

Overlooking the grand spectacle, The Oblivion Queen sat on a dais of ashes surrounded by her guard. Though they weren’t present, her Oblivion Courtiers were no more than a royal command away. She didn’t need them for this rite though, and in fact couldn’t participate in it herself.

Only things that were real could call to Gaia. Only the living held her within themselves. That was why the captured citizens of Brassport were still breathing. It was their lives that would be used to slay the world.

Summoning circles are tricky affairs. Their shapes are deceptively simple, but the magics that underlay them can vary from simple brute force wards to multi-dimensional constructs that are alive and sentient. The Shadow Court’s circle was woven by magic wielders who’d practiced their craft for thousands of years. Its redundancies had redundancies in terms of collecting power, preserving the components of the circle itself and warding those within it from attack.  There was, in reality, no way short of divine force to penetrate the circle or stop what was going on inside it.

The Oblivion Queen noticed immediately as the Dreamlit world merged with the real world around the stadium. The circle wasn’t “in reality” anymore. She wasn’t one to be surprised easily though. She was millenia old and her powers and knowledged were amplified by the Oblivion Knights. It took her less than a second to determine what was happening and formulate a plan of attack.

Sometimes even a second is too long however. The circle shattered under a dimensional assault the Shadow Court had never imagined and couldn’t understand how to deal with. As their control on the human hostages began to fade, transfer portals started lancing down from the heavens snatching people out of the crowd.

“Slay them all!” the Queen commanded. Better that the humans die than escape. There were always more humans and her Shadow Court minions would need all the power they could get for the coming battle.

“No. Sleep!” a young girl’s voice boomed out over the stadium as a larger portal formed beside central pool.

With a slash of her hand, Heartbeat stepped from the portal and the eastern quarter of the Shadow Court dancers fell to the ground unconscious.

Behind Heartbeat, a small army exited the portal before it closed.

“Att..”, the Oblivion Queen tried to scream. Way cut her off with a blinding bolt of yellow. As fast as Way was though, Constellation was able to interpose himself between the Queen and the attack. A microsecond later, he and Way were both gone, the only sign of their continued presence on the battlefield a series of titanic explosions that rocked the sky.

That took the Queen’s most powerful guardian out of the picture. Constellation was a “Galatics-class” superhero. He’d chosen to remain Earthbound after losing his son in the invasion where he gained his powers. It was an odd choice in a way since he’d had to learn phenomenal amounts of control in order to use his powers in a terrestrial environment.

Under the dominion of the Shadow Court, that control was no longer desired. That meant Way was faced with fighting someone whose body had become an unrestrained  dimensional anomaly. His exterior normally appeared human in shape, but his skin was an obsidian star scape. That wasn’t simply a special effect either. The accident that had given Constellation his powers had transformed him into a sapient pocket dimension.

As universes went he was fairly tiny, no bigger than a few solar systems squeezed down into the form of a man. On an Earthly scale that was almost unimaginable though. Just one of the seven stars that he contained was a million times larger than the Earth. Any one punch or blast that he threw could draw on the mass and power of all seven stars.

He would have been a terrifying threat to fight, but we had Way, so that was one battle I didn’t feel any concern over.

The Red Shadow and Invertix were the next to react to the attack on the Queen. They flashed forward, drawing on the powers of the Shadow Courtiers that possessed them.

The Red Shadow was, by his own description, a time traveling vampire. He wasn’t vulnerable to holy symbols, water, garlic, sunlight or..pretty much anything. Also he didn’t need (or even like) to drink blood. Chronal scans indicated he was a native to the present time as well. So, time traveling vampire? No one really knew why he claimed to be that. What they did know was that he was scary enough that they weren’t interested in arguing the point with him.

Unlike Constellation, the Red Shadow didn’t possess obvious cosmic power. Instead he was a walking horror movie. You know how the killer in a slasher film is always able to get ahead of the fleeing heroine and strike from the last spot you’d expect? And how no matter what you hit the killer with, he always comes back for more? That was the Red Shadow.

Normally he was one of the good guys. Criminals he caught weren’t, generally, very coherent but they were alive. Gibbering in terror for days afterwards but alive. Aliens? It depended on who was invading. He’d sometimes bring them in for interrogation. Other times he’d simply be assigned to one of the capital ships. Alone. Hell of a thing for morale when those ships started transmitting what was happening to them.

Invertrix was almost the Red Shadow’s opposite number. Where he was all about terrifying the hell out of people from the darkness, she was a beacon of hope. Her powers gave her mastery over physical and magical energies. She could convert one form of energy to another and redirect them at will. In many ways that wasn’t her most important ability though.

She’s developed her powers as a little girl and had gone public almost right away. Where other heroes spent time on disaster relief, crime fighting, or creating the infrastructure of the future, Invertrix had spent her time and a considerable fortune on building social structures.

The energy of human endeavors was just another form of energy to her, one that could be used to create self sustaining and self replicating systems. Given the damage the Earth had sustained in the various invasions over the last several decades, it was likely that society had maintained a hold on its advanced state in large part thanks to the work of people like Invertrix. Our resources, physical, mental, and social were stretched farther than at any time in history. There were a lot of missteps we could have made that would have left us collapsing back into the stone age. Instead we were still growing.

As a lynchpin of that growth, Invertrix had come under attack by both the aliens and humans who didn’t want to see the world as a prosperous, independent place. The attacks had started before she was a teenager. Twenty years later, she was still standing and most of her attackers weren’t. She didn’t seek safety. She provided it.

Until the Shadow Court got her.

Which wasn’t to say of course that holding any of the heroes was an easy feat. The Shadow Court had piled multiple Courtier spirits onto each of them to hold the heroes in thrall. That left the heroes unable to regain control on their own but their struggles still diminished the Shadow Court’s effectiveness in a fight.

The Courtiers were aware of that so when they attacked Minnie and Jessica which is why they lead off with their Courtly powers and not the heroes abilities. Their own abilities were deadly enough and they were also a more reliable than powers the heroes could struggle with them for control over.

With the blinding speed and ferocity that was their hallmark, the Shadow Court blurred into motion, hurtling towards the girls like cannon shells. As a minotaur and a demon girl, Minnie and Jessica could take a few hits from a normal Shadow Courtier. These weren’t normal Courtiers but, fortunately, they also weren’t particularly observant ones.

To be fair though, observing an translucent force field is difficult and the ones projected by the Persephone were particularly challenging to spot. There was no more than a slight shimmer at the edge until the two superheroes impacted on them causing the fields to flare with blue light across their surface.

Both heroes stumbled back, disoriented but largely undamaged from the tremendous impact. The Red Shadow lashed out with a fist and shattered the force field. He tried to blur forward again only to be tripped by another force field that shattered around his legs.

The message was clear. Super speed was out. We couldn’t keep them pinned in with force fields but they couldn’t fight at full speed either.

While that was sinking in, Minnie and Jessica leapt forward to engage the heroes. Behind them, Patches and Nell followed as support. One-on-one fights were off the menu given the weight classes that the heroes punched in, and against the Shadow Court there really wasn’t such a thing as a “fair fight”.

Minnie met the Red Shadow with a pile driver punch that missed him by inches and blasted a cavernous hole into the field. The Red Shadow  attempted to put some distance between them but was thwarted in that endeavor by Patches shooting him in the left knee. Minnie was on him before he regained his balance and dragged him into the dark hole in the ground that led to the stadium’s under complex.

As engagements went, this was probably a first for the Red Shadow. Most people ran from the indestructible horror villain. You don’t often see the crazy axe slasher clinging desperately to the side of a hole for a moment before giant minotaur hands wrap around his head and pull him out of sight leaving only a trailing scream behind.

Unsheathing his pirate’s cutlass, Patches nodded to Nell and dove into the hole following the two. Minnie wasn’t going to fight the Red Shadow. She was there to provide the scenery. The Red Shadow’s power of appearing wherever was most terrifying against her power with labyrinths. She would wait for him, as minotaurs do, at the center of her labyrinth. The one that you could only find if you knew her.

The Red Shadow’s power might be able to overcome that limit. That’s where Patches came in. While the Red Shadow and Minnie matched powers, Patches would play Cat and Mouse. They didn’t have to kill the Red Shadow, which was good since that seemed impossible given his powers. Disabling him for a time would be sufficient. The Oblivion Knight’s forces were too high powered and aggressive for the battle to go on very long. One way or another, the fight would be over soon.

Jessica, meanwhile, met Invertrix directly, bathing the possessed heroine in white hot fire. With a graceful move of her hands the heroine parted the flames and converted them into a dazzling array of firework bursts.

Invertix took flight and Jessica matched her. The demon girl threw a fireball at Invertix and at the last instant snapped her fingers causing it to explode in a blinding burst of light. That bought Jessica enough time to close with Invertrix and grapple the heroine to the ground. With her powers, Invertrix could easily have prevented that, but the Shadow Courtier was having just a little bit of trouble there. Invertrix was fighting back hard against her captors.

The Courtiers’ problems intensified when Invertrix crashed to the Earth and they felt soft hands settle on the heroine’s face.

Nell had joined the fray. The Courtiers were able to blast Jessica into the stadium walls but not before Nell’s power slipped inside Invertrix. The Courtiers tried to move, to blast Nell away as well but they quickly found they couldn’t spare the attention. Invertrix’s will was growing, becoming stronger as Nell fed her power.

The maneuver was an effective counter to the Shadow Court’s control but it left Nell was a sitting duck while the Invertrix and the Courtier struggled. The last guardian, Professor Platinum, moved to take advantage of that. It would have taken no more than a single shot to disable or kill Nell but the laser pulse from the Professor’s wrist gauntlets went awry as Heartbeat joined the fray, blood bending his arm into missing the shot.

Their battle wasn’t a pretty one. Professor Platinum was a genius inventor who’d had many years of development time and a lot of resources. His battle armor contained a bewildering array of devices, almost all of which had direct applications to combat. As the sole protector of Brassport for many years he’d faced more than his fair share of weird threats. He wasn’t as visible to the public these days, but that just meant he had more lab time to work on esoteric ideas.

Heartbeat’s primary advantage in most fights was her versatility. Blood manipulation was an incredibly potent ability and she could use it in many different ways. Professor Platinum and the other guardians were still standing after she put the first wave of Shadow Courtiers to sleep because for as versatile as she was, he was more so.

If not for his armor, Heartbeat could have simply knocked him out the way she’d knocked out the others. One of the first things he’d done after meeting her though was build a “Bio-Deharmonizer” field into his armor, aka a shield specifically against her powers. He didn’t have any animosity against her at the time, it was simply something he did with every super powered being he met. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

That level of preparation had saved his life countless times. It also meant that of the subverted heroes, he was the most dangerous. Where all of the rest were constantly fighting the Shadow Courtiers who controlled them and could limit the effectiveness of their powers, Professor Platinum’s powers were all external and available with the push of a button or the flex of a muscle. Even the gadgets in his armor that were thought controlled responded to the Shadow Courtiers commands with as much power and precision as ever.

Only Professor Platinum’s inherent genius was out of reach of the Courtiers. That gave Heartbeat something of a chance since it meant the Courtiers wouldn’t be reconfiguring the gadgets on the fly. We needed her to have more than a chance though.

Adella’s bolt of purple fire impacted Professor Platinum’s armor with enough force to toss him clean out of the stadium. There had been dozens of perfectly useful Shadow Court bonfires setup in the stadium that she was able to draw from. Adella might not have been able to command the Courtiers, but she was quite capable of reading how to manipulate the Shadow Court’s magics from the Queen who slept within her. With the Courtiers asleep there hadn’t been anyone to stop her from siphoning off the power they’d collected and putting it to her own ends.

Together Heartbeat and Adella took flight, pursuing Professor Platinum out of the stadium so that their battle wouldn’t endanger any of the people still remaining there.

That left only the Queen and the rest of her Shadow Courtiers. Heartbeat had knocked out a few hundred of them but there were three times as many still remaining, many still among the crowds and outside the stadium.

A portal formed at the Queen’s feet, but it was far too slow to capture her. She was calling out directions to her minions even as she shifted from her ceremonial robes to her own war gear. In her hands black fires gathered like two miniature suns. Nell and Jessica were the only two still on the battlefield. They would be the first to feel her wrath, and after them the others would fall only seconds later. Whether they would be added to the bonfires or simply erased with Unreal fire was a matter of the Queen’s whim.

For just that moment though the Queen was open and exposed. That was my queue.

I hadn’t portaled in with the others. I’d left the Persephone before they had, opening my own portal to find the one friend I’d made in the Shadow Court’s realm who was still unaccounted for.

I’d found Heather, the ghost girl I’d met, in the throne room of Hades, Lord of the Dead. With less than ten minutes to pull together our plans, I’d been beyond delighted to see that on the arm of Hade’s throne sat a snowy owl. Athena’s messenger!

In the Oblivion Queen, I had a foe with thousands of years of experience. Fortunately I had allies with similar resumes.

At Athena’s request, Hades had called Heather to his side to learn what had transpired. The owl on his chair had also carried the request that he be ready for my arrival. The goddess of battle and wisdom had been able to plan for my plans and outplan the Oblivion Queen who was trying to outplan me. Of course when you have divine power to play with covering all your bases is just a little bit easier than it is for mere mortals or spirit entities like the Oblivion Queen.

The end result of Athena’s plans was that when I portaled into Hades’ throne room after following Heather’s trail, I didn’t need to make introductions or explain anything. Hades and his wife greeted me and then shooed me out with Heather saying they would send what aid they could. In the Queen of the Underworld’s eyes, I saw a mischievous sparkle and had to wonder if the name of the ship that had saved us was purely coincidental.

Whatever role the goddess had played though, a dismissal from the rulers of the Underworld wasn’t something we had either the time or a reason to back talk, so Heather and I made our way out with thanks to both of the sovereigns for whatever aid they could provide. Mindful of not looking back (because that would be an idiotic mistake to make for anyone who’d ever read Greek myths), Heather and I rose back to the surface of the living world and waited until meta-awareness told me it was time to strike.

When we joined the battle, I didn’t arrive as Jin and Heather and I didn’t arrive alone.

The Oblivion Queen called black fire to her hands and was ready to annihilate Nell when I rose from the earth of the stadium.

I seeped upwards, venting through cracks in the earth as an obscuring black cloud lit through with tendils of orange-red flame. The cloud expanded and coalesced, forming a body that soared above the stadium. The shadow of my wings blotted out the stars. In the light of the flames that boiled under the smoke that still surrounded me, the Oblivion Queen saw five heads gazing down upon her. She saw talons and a tail that could rend mountains asunder. She saw teeth like spears and scales that no blade could penetrate and no fire could burn.

With her attention of me, she almost missed the other arrivals. From the cracks I had poured out of ,more gases poured forth and resolved into the ectoplasmic spirits of the dead that Hades had sent as an army to counter the legion of Shadow Courtiers that remained.

At their head was Heather. In her hand she held a sword that I knew I had seen on Hades hip when we in the throne room. She held it aloft and the spirits of the dead rallied to her. There was only one way she’d gotten the sword and the authority that went with it. For the first time in many years, Hades had chosen a new champion.

Meta-awareness filled in one additional detail for me too; the soldiers of the army Hades had provided her with all had one thing in common. Each of them had been killed by a Courtier. Over ten thousand years, the Court had grown considerably in size, but the number of their victims had grown far faster. These were the men and women who’d fallen before them because of the limitations of flesh and blood. Limitations their ghosts no longer had.

With wild vengeance beating where they once had hearts, the spirits of the dead surged forth from the depths of the earth are tore through the Shadow Courtiers. As ethereal beings, the ghosts weren’t interested in the bodies the Courtiers were possessing. They wanted the evil spirits within the bodies and like a pack of wild dogs, they got them.

With five pairs of eyes I watched as Heather’s ghost army “exorcised” the people possessed by the Shadow Court. Courtier spirits screamed and fought as they were ripped out of their hosts and torn to pieces by the vengeful dead.

With the Queen distracted by the loss of her primary forces, I struck. Diving from the sky I met her reactive blast of force with red hot dragon fire. She tried to stand her ground but, power aside, I had her beat on sheer mass. With my talons I tore through the ash dias she was on and grabbed her as she started to fall.

Dragon strength meant that I could squeeze titanium like it was soft butter. I flexed as hard as I could though and couldn’t break the Oblivion Queen. Fortunately that wasn’t the plan.

From a thousand miles up, the Persephone opened a portal behind the Queen. She could dodge them with ease, but if I rammed her through one her speed wouldn’t matter. On the far side of the portal the Ultralight Cannon was primed and ready to fire. Even on it’s lowest setting it would vaporize all of Brassport and we couldn’t risk the Queen being able to withstand that, hence the need to get her far away from anywhere on Earth before we blasted her.

Triumphantly, I slammed the screaming Oblivion Queen into the portal.

And watched it shatter.

It didn’t work on her. She didn’t go anywhere. The portal simply fractured around her.

Instead of screams of rage, I heard a low, mocking laughter coming from the Oblivion Queen.

“Did you really think you could beat us?” the Queen asked, no longer writhing in my grasp but perfectly relaxed.

Beyond her I saw the brawl between the ghosts and the Shadow Courtiers turning. Even ripped to bits, the Courtiers could still reform, repossess their hosts and continuing fighting.

“Taste defeat.” she said. A pulse of power exploded out of her, freeing her from my grip.

“Know despair.” with a flick of her fingers the bonfires rekindled, tearing tongues of purple fire from the crowd of humans in the stadium.

“Abandon hope.” a single gesture and wave of pure kinetic force hit me like a billion needles. The vast body that I’d dreamed up, and all the strength it held, was blown out like a candle.

In the stands, portals began opening en masse, snatching away the children from the press of the crowds but it wasn’t going to be fast enough.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 31

There are over seven billion people on the Earth, no two of whom are completely the same. Despite that there are things which we all share. Our commonalities are what bring us together the most easily. They’re the basic glue that allows us to understand one another. They’re also one of our greatest weaknesses.

Biologically, species which lack diversity run a huge evolutionary risk. A single disease can kill them off because no member is different enough to be immune to it. Spiritually, the same was true in a way.

There are “primal spirits” that are infused into the deepest parts of Earth’s spiritual plane. They represent the core elements that define the Earth. They’re not unchanging and they’re not immortal. Primal spirits can die and new ones can be born as the concepts that define the Earth’s reality shift and change.

“They’re trying to summon Gaia.” I blurted out as the idea crashed over my mind like a tidal wave.

“The primal spirit of life? Even at its height the Shadow Court could never have controlled her. If they summon her here, she will not be well disposed towards them.” Adella said.

“Wait, so they’re trying to summon Mother Nature and she’s going to beat their face in? Cool! Problem solved then right?” Jessica asked.

“No. The Oblivion Knight controls the court remember? If he’s having them summon her, then he doesn’t care about controlling her.” I said.

“The Knight is an Annihilator type Remnant. He’ll have only one goal in mind.” Agent Haffrun agreed.

“He’s going to unmake her.” I said.

“Unmake?” Jessica asked.

“Erase the spirit of life from all of history. The past, the present and the future. There will never have been life on Earth. No people. No animals. No bacteria.” I said.

“It’s why the Parliament of Time would send a World Breaker fleet if they determine that the Earth has been corrupted. Imagine something like that spreading across multiple worlds, getting stronger with each one it destroyed.” Agent Haffrun explained.

We all fell silent. I think even Agent Haffrun was a little overwhelmed by what lay before us. She’d understood the threat a class nine Remnant represented based on a theoretical understanding of how they worked. Being faced with one that was threatening the world she’d been given responsibility for was a very different experience from the theoretical.

“The fleet won’t be needed.” Patches said, breaking the silence.

“Right. If worst comes to worst, I know how to prevent the Oblivion Knight from unmaking Gaia.” I said.

“How?” Adella asked.

“I’ll kill her myself.” I explained.

Again, silence.

“That would kill every living thing on the planet.” Adella observed.

“Yes, but only in the present. Our history would remain unchanged.” I said.

“What good would that do? We’d all be dead right?” Minnie asked.

“It would buy time for Agent Haffrun’s people to arrive and eliminate the Oblivion Knight. Then all they’d need to do is unmake one specific thing and Gaia’s death can be undone. It’ll be like the Oblivion Knight never existed and Gaia was never killed. Seven billion people, all the animals, bugs, everything, all back the way it was. The Shadow Court would even be vastly diminished since any that were changed to Oblivion Courtiers would be purged as well.” I said.

While the others took that in, I looked over to Way. She knew who the one person who’d have to be unmade was. The one who killed Gaia. Me.

She didn’t say anything but I saw something harden in her eyes. Meta-awareness showed me her future in that scenario. She was impossibly faster than me. She wouldn’t let me kill Gaia. She’d lash out with the force of a dying star. She’d make herself the one that would have to be unmade.

I closed my eyes. I couldn’t let her do that. I wasn’t faster than her, but thanks to meta-awareness I would know when that moment was coming. The future wouldn’t play out according to her plans. Before she could take my place, I’d have the Persephone warp her back to Saturn’s orbit. She was fast, but not that fast. By the time she got back I wouldn’t even be a memory.

“Time manipulation? Even as a last resort, it’s a terrible option.” Agent Haffrun said.

“Do we have a better one?” I asked. I felt cold. I was remembering the feeling of the black flames as they ate away at me.

“Yes. All we have to do is win. We beat the Oblivion Knight ourselves.” Patches said.

I shook my head. “You don’t know how powerful he is.”

“He’s less powerful than you. And less powerful than her.” he indicated Way.

“That’s so not true. Last time I fought him I barely managed to escape and that was only with Way’s help.”

“You have her help now. And you have his name.” Patches said.

“More than that. She crafted his name.” Adella added.

“Hey, yeah, you’re a Faerie Queen too right? You should be able to do all kinds of things with his name.” Jessica asked.

“It’s not safe to attract the attention of things that are as powerful as he is.” I kept my eyes down as I remembered what I did to the Shadow Courtiers who were foolish enough to speak my name.

“For that offense we remain unchastened.” Patches observed.

I blinked. That was true. I’d been using the Oblivion Knight’s name without thinking about it. Even from a world away he should have been able to hear me and act against me. Even if he needed me for something, he wouldn’t have any reason to hold back on attacking me that I could think of. I’d be much more pliable as a resurrected black fire ghost like the Oblivion Courtiers.

“Ok, you’re right. We should be going into this with a plan to win not just survive as best as we can.” I said.

“There are other complications you should be aware of.” Aget Haffrun stated. With a gesture she activated a series of holographic displays depicting the stadium where the citizens of Brassport were being gathered.

“The Knight is not showing up on any scans. We can’t pinpoint his location. Typical behavior for an Annihilator Remnant would be to lash out with its power destroying everything it came across. Annihilator Remnants that are above class seven sometimes rise beyond that and manage to channel their need to destroy toward specific targets. This lets them work with others, especially corrupted minions.” she said.

“Which is what we’re seeing here?” I guessed.

“Being named will have altered him as well.” Adella noted.

“I don’t get that. I mean I understand how names can be powerful magically, but what’s the big deal about giving him a name? I mean couldn’t someone have just called him Fred or something?” Jessica asked.

“For entities without a fixed physical embodiment, spirits and Remnants for example, the definition of what they are derives largely from information which accumulates around their nimbus callosum. I did a dissertation on that as part of my acceptance to the Parliament’s diplomatic corp. It’s a fascinating subject…” Agent Haffrun began. Then she noticed her audience’s expressions of bewilderment, “But perhaps one for another time. The succinct version is: only certain names will resonate with a spirit and, in theory, few names, if any, will resonate with a Remnant. There’s very little there for the name to resonate with.”

“So how did Jin name our boogeyman then?” Jessica asked.

“I surmise that she glimpsed one of the stray fragments of the man he once was and capitalized on that. Jin did the Oblivion Knight converse with you at any point?” Agent Haffrun asked.

“Yeah, in the Shadow Court’s realm. He offered to let me join him and he tried to justify what he was doing. He’s not stupid though, so why would he do that if it was the one thing that could trap him?”

“He’s not trapped by the name you gave him, just changed. With the name he lost some of the purity he’d held, the connection to conceptual annihilation that he draws his power from, but in exchange he gained a foothold in reality. That was the key he needed to be able to access the physical world directly. His earlier attack was confined to the Dreamlit world. That destruction happened to translate into the real world as well but cross barrier effects are unpredictable and impermanent. The physical police station is damaged, but it can be rebuilt and its history was unaffected. Even the Dreamlit version of the building will be restored once the real police station is rebuilt.”

“So I made him more powerful?”

“And gave us a path to victory. He risks losing everything if he faces us. He’s no longer part of the concept of annihilation, he’s a distinct entity. That means we can isolate him and consign “the Oblivion Knight” back to the Unreal.” Agent Haffrun said.

“He will hide behind his minions. The corrupted Queen and the Courtier’s she controls. Until they’re dealt with he will have no reason to manifest anywhere in the Dreamlit or real worlds.” Adella said.

“Can we call in the Galactics for them at least?” Jessica asked.

“With how hard those Oblivion guys fight, the Galactics wouldn’t be able to hold back much. And what would the Galactics do for our parents? They’re still possessed right?” Minnie asked.

“We have another option I think.”, I said.

“Do tell.” Patches said.

“The Oblivion Queen controls all of the Courtiers but they only follow her because of the central law of the Court.”

“All that matters is power.” Adella said, quoting one of the Court’s central mantras. Her distaste was plain in her voice.

“Right. There’s no loyalty or love for the Oblivion Queen. They won’t necessarily follow anyone who’s more powerful than her, but if someone with the proper position in the Court can take her down they’ll have to follow the new Queen. Thanks to the former Queen, the title I have would qualify me for that.”

“Ok, how about power though? Do you have enough to beat her?” Minnie asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve had my abilities less than a day, but I can kinda see what they’re capable of and it’s pretty scary.” I said.

“Unfortunately there aren’t any good tests to determine what a dream walker’s limits are. And we don’t know what all of the Oblivion Queen’s are either.”, Agent Haffrun said, “We need more of a plan than simply sending you in there to fight the Queen. Persephone, report on current battle readiness.”

“Synthesizing Ultralight Cannon in progress at sixty two percent.” the ship replied.

Meta-awareness filled me in what that meant. The ship was converting itself to a war footing. The Ultralight Cannon it was constructing was a faster-than-light particle beam weapon. It was the sort of weapon a World Breaker ship packed. Alone the cannon couldn’t instantly disintegrate the Earth could but given time it could get the job done.

The Persephone was kept in a non-militarized state despite the risks that presented to Agent Haffrun because the Parliament of Time refused to allow the sort of carnage that could occur if anyone from my world got their hands on a weapon like that. Assuming we survived the coming battle, Agent Haffrun would be stuck with the equivalent of filling out forms for weeks for her decision to unleash that sort of force.

“Ok, we’ll be able to provide backup. You won’t need to beat the Queen directly. Force her through a portal and the Persephone and I can destroy her in one shot.” Agent Haffrun said.

“There’s going to be a problem with that. She’s got guards.” Heartbeat said. She’d been watching the display of the stadium where the Courtiers had gathered.

Professor Platinum, Invertix, the Red Shadow, and Constellation. The four most powerful heroes who’d been on the task force to destroy the Shadow Court. From this far away I couldn’t tell how many Shadow Courtiers it took to hold each of them in thrall. Whatever the number was though the Courtiers had that many and more to spare for the task.

“Jin doesn’t have to worry about them.”, Nell said, “They’re our problem to deal with.”

“Think we can take them?”, Minnie asked.

“Only one way to find out right Jin?”, Jessica said, cracking her knuckles.

“Heartbeat. You’ve wanted to advance to full hero status for a while. I apologize but I’m going to have to grant that request. I believe you’re ready, but these are terrible circumstance to verify that belief and this is an unfair burden to lay on you in any event. The same goes for the rest of you. This is more than anyone should ever ask of you, but things being as they are I’m compelled to ask anyways.” Agent Haffrun said.

“It’s our world.” Nell said.

“And our families.” Minnie added.

“Honestly, you couldn’t keep us out of this if you tried.” Patches said.

“And we won’t lose.” Way said simply. She didn’t have a family or a world to protect, but in a sense she was fighting for something she loved too; the memory of her father as he’d been rather than the Remnant monster that remained.

“Alright then team. Let’s plan out how we’re going to do this. Here’s what the Persephone can do for us…” Heartbeat began. She was a natural at taking the lead because she really was “full hero” material. That was handy. It gave me time to think.

The Oblivion Queen had millennia of experience to draw on. We had at most fifteen minutes to put together a plan to stop her and use the Courtiers against the Oblivion Knight. We needed something that they’d never see coming.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 30

In a few of my classes in school, they’ve had us organize into teams for group projects. The teacher would take a motley mix of students, throw us together and expect us to figure out some way to achieve a goal that no one of us could manage on our own in the time allotted.

I didn’t feel like any of those classes prepared me for the conference on the Persephone however. That may have been because none of the groups I’d been in were quite as strange as the one I was faced with. That Agent Haffrun possessed both a ship with transhuman technology and the full backing of one of the largest metahuman organizations on the planet was also just a trifle intimidating.

“I believe we have quite a bit to discuss.” she began after waiting for us to take out seats. She’d lead us to a large meeting room on a deck above the Persephone’s transport deck. The ship was gorgeous on the inside, all smooth pearl white surfaces that nearly sparkled with cleanliness. Here and there bits of polished wood gave color and accent to the decor.

“We don’t have time for talking! There’s some seriously powerful monsters rampaging in the city. We need to call in the Galactics.” Jessica growled.

The Galactics were one of the world’s premiere superhero teams. They were all extremely powerful and tended to work on Earth’s behalf off planet. For serious crises though they could be contacted by any of several different organizations. Full scale nuclear war was generally considered the level of threat they were appropriate to bother for.

“The Galactics?”, Heartbeat exclaimed, “That’s crazy.”

“It is. They can’t fix this.” I agreed. I met Agent Haffrun’s eyes. She was focused on me. It was kind of unnerving. Meta-awareness wasn’t telling me what she was looking for.

“She’s correct.” Agent Haffrun said.

The room went silent for a moment as people absorbed that.

“So, we’re dead? Fine. Send me back then.” Minnie said, her voice rippling with suppressed rage.

“Works for me.” Jessica agreed.

“No. Wait. Listen to them. They have an idea.” Nell said, looking at Agent Haffrun and me.

I looked to Agent Haffrun to offer some plan. To be the adult in the room. She simply looked back, waiting for me to speak.

“The Galactics can’t beat the Oblivion Knight for a lot of reasons. The big one is that he can move in and out of reality at will. It’s what Way and I can do. He can’t get away from us like he can with the Galactics.”

“Yeah but can you beat him?” Jessica asked.

“Can you get our families back?” Minnie added.

“I don’t know. You saw how strong he was in the Shadow Court’s realm.” I replied.

“We did?” Jessica asked.

“Yeah – you know how the fires you set turned black? That was him. It’s why your memories were all jumbled when you got back.”

“I thought that was just a Fairie thing?” Jessica said.

“You’ve all been afflicted by temporal splitting. Several times for some of you.” Agent Haffrun observed.

“Temporal splitting?” Minnie asked.

“Do we care? Nell’s parents are in danger. Yours too. Does any of this matter?” Jessica clenched her hands into fists which then promptly caught fire..

“More than you imagine, but you’re also correct that we don’t have much time.” Agent Haffrun said.

“Let’s make things simple then.”, I said, “I didn’t tell you everything about what happened with the Shadow Court last time we talked. It all seemed too crazy. Since then everything has gotten about a million times crazier. I’ve seen the Oblivion Knight destroy an entire plane of existence and now he’s taken over part of the Shadow Court and turned them into his minions.”

“That’s what those things were?” Minnie asked.

“Yeah, but it’s worse than that. He got their Queen too. She can command all of the Courtiers – Shadow or Oblivion.”

“That’s insane. What is he? This Oblivion Knight guy?” Minnie asked.

“An annihilator type Remnant. Class nine at least.” Agent Haffrun offered.

“What security level is that cleared for?” Heartbeat asked, as confused by the reference as the rest of us were.

“None. That’s not an FBMA categorization.”, Agent Haffrun responded.

“Then whose is it?”, Heartbeat asked, growing even more confused.

“The organization she really works for.” I said. Part of me knew I should have kept that secret but I didn’t have the time or energy to juggle lies anymore.

Agent Haffrun tipped her head to one side regarding me. Mild surprise was all that registered on her features.

“One of the organizations. As Jin said, I will make this simple. I am both a Senior Agent of the Federal Bureau of Metahuman Affairs as well as the Dimensional Adjudicator for Terra 2615. In short, I am not a native of your world, or even your reality.”

“We’ve been kidnapped by aliens.”, Nell said with a nervous laugh. She was joking, or at least trying to, but it went over like a lead balloon.

“You were in a destroyed ship, partially phased into reality and plummeting into the atmosphere. Let’s call it ‘rescued’ for the time being shall we?” Agent Haffrun suggested.

“Why? I mean, why did you rescue us?” I asked.

“Apart from wanting to save a group of people who were in trouble, which I assure you was sufficient motivation? Because I need deputies. A class nine Annihilator Remnant is beyond the Persephone’s capabilities to contain or disperse.” Haffrun explained.

“What about the other heroes?” Nell asked.

“The Shadow Court got all of the ones who were called in to fight them. Well, all except Aegis, but they have him trapped in Olympus. That’s what the army of Courtiers we ran into on the Lightning Road were doing. I don’t know if they can oppose the Olympians directly but they can short circuit the lightning road and prevent rapid transit between the worlds.” I explained.

“The Olympians aren’t the only ones who could oppose the Remnant. There are others who will as well, but several of them will cause catastrophic damage to the material plane if they are roused to manifest their powers there.” Agent Haffrun said.

“So, if we don’t help you, the Earth will become a battleground between this Oblivion Knight and the Viking gods or something?” Minnie asked.

“No. If it came to that there would be too great a chance the Remnant would survive partially or corrupt one of the powers that fought against it. It’s already corrupted one metaphysical power, your Shadow Court, I can’t allow it to progress any further.”

“What would you do?” I asked.

“My mandate is to guide and protect this world so that someday you will be advanced enough to join the Parliament of Time. I am aware of this world’s history with alien invaders, so I don’t expect you to extend much trust to what I am about to say. Regardless of that, the Parliament of Time is a largely benevolent organization. We’ve transcended many of the technological and social limitations that your world struggles against it. The Parliament’s goal, and more importantly my goal, is to ensure that you, as a species, have the time and freedom that you need grow. With our capabilities we don’t need anything from you except for your companionship.”

“What would you do?” I repeated.

“If the Remnant was to corrupt another power, or prove to be unstoppable, I would have to declare the Earth a ‘corrupted world’.” Haffrun answered.

“And what does the Parliament do to corrupted worlds?” Heartbeat asked.

“The Parliament would deliberate and determine if the report was correct. Once it was verified, they would dispatch a World Breaker fleet.”

“The fleet would fight the Oblivion Knight?” Heartbeat asked.

“No.” I replied, meta-awareness showed me a crystal clear vision of that possible future.

It wouldn’t be a fight. A World Breaker fleet was even more powerful than its name implied. There wouldn’t be a battle because the Parliament would send in an overwhelming force. They wouldn’t negotiate. They wouldn’t offer terms of surrender. They wouldn’t even provide any warnings. Their strike would disintegrate the Earth before the Oblivion Knight could escape.

Overall, from the point of view of the rest of the multiverse, that would be a worthwhile trade off. If the Oblivion Knight could amass sufficient power he would unmake the entire universe. In the grand scheme of things, the Earth wasn’t even a particularly significant planet in the solar system, much less important on a universal scale.

“If the fleet comes, they’ll destroy the Oblivion Knight and the Earth. No fight. No chance to escape. Just gone.” I said, feeling sick.

“Once a world like the Earth is corrupted it can serve as a stepping stone to universal corruption and then a pandimensional  fracture. If it came to that I would have to weigh the balance of the lives across countless other Earths against this one planet. A million trillion sapients against seven billion.”

“Can we stop him?” I asked, speaking mostly to myself.

Way took my right hand and whispered back, “Yes”.

I looked over to her and smiled. She’d broken free of him. He wasn’t omnipotent.

I squeezed her hand back. Neither one of us were what we had been a day ago. We had a lot to figure out still and we were just beginning. It wasn’t time to give up hope at all.

“So how do we fight him?” Jessica asked. I looked over and caught a rare smile from her. She wasn’t giving up either.

“Together.” said Adella, speaking up for the first time in the conversation. Beside her, Patches nodded his agreement and remained silent.

“We’re going to need more than teamwork.”, Nell said timidly, “We need to know what they’re doing, and what they’re trying to accomplish.”

“We can figure that out. If you’ll help, I think we have a chance. This isn’t my world, but I do not want to give it up.” Agent Haffrun said.

“Me either.” I agreed.

“Same here.” Minnie said.

The chorus of agreements that followed wasn’t surprising, but it was heartening.

“He won’t succeed. I’ll stop him.”, Way said quietly. It was a promise to herself as much as it was to us.

With everyone committed we began comparing notes. I explained what I knew about the Oblivion Knight and his goals, sharing as much of my story as seemed relevant. Agent Haffrun confirmed that what I’d seen about the Oblivion Knight was standard for a Remnant.

Apparently Remnants are pieces of the Unreal that contain a very tiny spark of something that was once real to give them drive and purpose. They’re, in a sense, living nightmares that are capable of turning reality into a nightmare.

With the information we brought about the Oblivion Queen several other pieces fell into place. Agent Haffrun reported that the task force heroes had begun rounding people up during the night.

She and Heartbeat hadn’t been in direct contact with the other heroes at all. They’d transported to the Persephone to look for me once Heartbeat told Haffrun what I could do.

Oh, and dream walking? Agent Haffrun’s people had it down to a science. The Persephone traveled not only through space but across the barrier to the Dreamlit world as well. That was how we’d transited to Saturn so quickly.

Once reports had come in of the task force’s heroes abducting people, Agent Haffrun had turned the Persephone’s sensors on the city and seen what was happening. The heroes and the possessed citizens were gathering the rest of the residents of Brassport into the Fields Memorial stadium.

As we talked, she showed us a real time view of what was going on in the stadium on the conference room’s main display.

There were purple bonfires blazing across the but the heart of the bonfires were hollow, filled with only black fire. The two fires fought against one another but were ultimately held in check by an invisible greater force, the Oblivion Knight’s will.

“Why are they gathering them all together?” Nell asked.

“They’re setting up a summoning circle. A big one.” Jessica answered. She pointed out to us how the various people were being arranged to form the glyphs and sigils that were needed to bind energy into a magic circle.

“They’re trying to summon a spirit. One of the primal ones. This can’t be the Court’s doing though. They would have no hope of controlling a spirit like that.” Adella said.

“That’s what we need to understand. The primal spirits, by their very nature are antithetical to the Unreal. The Oblivion Knight can’t corrupt them either.” Agent Haffrun said.

I wracked my brain for some answer to that question. All that came to mind though was Pen.

I hadn’t forgotten about him, or about my promise to rescue him from the Oblivion Knight but I had put about part of our conversation out of my mind. He’d been terrified of me developing my dream powers because of the potential they held. I could kill the world.

A dead world would be much simpler for the Oblivion Knight to unmake. Humanity was a pretty dangerous opponent all by itself, but our belief also supported many of the beings of power like the Olympians. Athena wouldn’t cease to exist without us, but her access to the world would be limited.

“He’s trying to kill the whole world at once.” I said. Which left only the question of how.

The mind does terrible things sometimes. In this case mine did the most terrible thing of all. It answered my question. I almost didn’t need meta-awareness to confirm it. The idea was so simple.

I knew how to kill everyone who was alive and I saw how that might be the only way to save us all.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 29

Freefall is not a particularly pleasant experience when you’re not ready for it. The explosion of the levitation spheres had gutted the Star Runner’s hold and shattered her keel. Power failed simultaneously throughout the ship as overloaded reserve batteries exploded as well.

There was a reason that the most armored part of a Sky Galleon was the levitation sphere chamber. It was the one point where a hit would produce catastrophic results on any sky ship from Molly’s world. In theory the extra shielding and armor should have prevented any direct fire from reaching the levitation sphere. In practice the shielding and armor had never been meant to hold off the kind of firepower a hundred or more Oblivion Courtiers could bring to bear.

With the loss of flight capacity, the remains of the ship and the crew that survived the explosions dropped through the surface of the Lightning Road. Several of us could have taken flight on our own, but even Way wasn’t up for tangling with that many Oblivion Courtiers.

We couldn’t get to Olympus anymore. There were too many Courtiers ahead of us and I could see that they’d shattered the path ahead with their black fire. Instead, we clung to the fragmented hull as a shield against the storm of electricity that swallowed us as we made contact with the Lightning Road.

I’d cast aside my giant spider form as we started to fall. Glory of the Hidden Corners was a lot stronger than Jin but Jin flew a whole lot better than the spider lady. Also, for as awesome as Glory was, it was kind of creepy thinking like a spider.

Despite the protection the bits of hull we clung to offered, the Lightning Road would still have fried us when we hit it if not for Nell. Clinging to the far end of a piece of rope that Jessica had tossed to her, Nell flew like a kit above the plummeting ship and absorbed the Lightning Road’s energies before we hit them. She formed an teardrop shaped umbrella with her power where the lightning that rolled off it’s invisible surface funneled down to feed into her. She was glowing like a star with the accumulated energy by the time we broke through the edge of the Lightning Road.

Plummeting into the physical world below we found we had another problem though. Air.

On the plus side, it was amazing getting to see the Earth the way only an astronaut could. Pictures didn’t do it justice at all. On the minus side exposure to vacuum sucks.

Without waiting, or even thinking much, I cast a wide field out, merging the Dreamlit world and the physical one so that I could conjure up an atmosphere and some heat before we boiled or froze.

That earned me another punctured torso courtesy of one of the Oblivion Courtiers that had ridden the wreckage down with us. Even as reanimated black fire shadows, they really liked to go for heart shots when they weren’t toying with their prey it seemed. My dream self wasn’t mortal but she was close enough to the “real” Jin that being skewered still hurt like hell.

“Big mistake”, a large and growly voice behind the Oblivion Courtier said. Two enormous minotaur hands then grasped the Courtier and crushed him like a grape. Minnie probably couldn’t have caught him if he was free to dodge as he normally would but I was just enough of an anchor to prevent that. Under Minnie’s fierce grip, the Courtier burst into a shower of dark sparks that were swiftly left behind as we continue to plummet downwards

Rather than reenact the artistic death scene from the last time Minnie and I had tangled with a Courtier, I passed my hand over my chest and imagined myself whole again. I considered imagining myself immune to pain as well but that was something I definitely didn’t want to risk transferring to my real body.

“Are you ok?” Way dream spoke to me.

“Yeah, how about you?” I asked back.

“I’m beneath the ship. There are three of them down here. They’re trying to blast you all from below the decks.”

“I think we have four left up here. Can you handle those?”

“There are two left now.” there was the sense of a gleefully smug smile that came along with the words. The Courtiers were an extension of her father’s will, so this was a form of teenage rebellion that was long overdue.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” I sent back, sharing my own smile as well.

“One left.”

“You’re only beating the topside team two-to-one, Patches just pegged one to the mast for Jess to BBQ.”

“There’s something you should see down here. It looks like another ship.”

“Be right there.” I dream spoke.

“Can you keep Jess and Nell safe?” I asked Minnie.

“No.” she said pointing upwards. Far above us I saw dozens more Oblivion Courtiers exiting the Lightning Road and giving pursuit.

“Buy me as much time as you can then, but stay alive.” I said before launching myself into the air and swooping around to the underside of Star Runner’s remains.

The damage to the ship was horrible, not simply because of the impossibility of repair but because of what it meant for the crew members who’d been working below decks when the levitation spheres went up. Molly could name each of them, remember each of their faces, so I focused on being Jin. A pirates life wasn’t a safe one, but the dead would still be grieved in the proper time.

A moaning cry from inside the hull brought me up short. Some of the below decks crew had survived! I zipped inside the ship and saw that survival was perhaps an optimistic assessment. The crew who’d been hit by the black fire bolts were missing whatever body part had been touched. Most of them had avoided that fate but few had escaped the levitation sphere explosion unscathed. They needed medical attention immediately.

I flew out of the hold and saw the Earth again. It was closer but still much too far away for medical care to arrive in time. We were going to lose fifty or more men and women well before we landed. I prayed that the ship Way had seen was something insane like a medical frigate that NASA had developed in secret and launched just for situations like that. It didn’t seem likely but the alternative was for me to reimagine them whole and I wasn’t sure how well that would work. Worst case I’d overwrite their personalities with copies of my own, effectively killing their minds to save their bodies.

I found Way by the blast of golden light that incinerated the last of the Oblivion Courtiers she was pursuing. The blast was roughly as wide as a football field, probably to ensure the dodgy little Courtier couldn’t avoid it.

“Where’s the other ship?” I asked her.

“There. Just above the auroras.” she said pointing at a dot far below us.

I repeated the trick I’d used with the Star Runner’s firing squad and imagined a viewing circle into existence in front of me. With the added magnification I was able to make out the dot in greater detail. It was a large hexagonal ring around a smaller cone in the center. The tip of the cone was pointing down towards the Earth with the ring rotating around it clockwise.

With the help of superhuman inventors, humanity had developed a number of functional spaceships. Many were driven by the powers of the various superhumans who used them. None, that I knew of, looked like the one I saw below us. As I looked over the writing on the side of the ship, meta-awareness confirmed it. The text belonged to no human culture and none of the friendly alien species that I knew of.

“This is the VoidBreacher ‘Persephone’ to all personnel on incoming dimensionally displaced craft, sensors indicate your ship has suffered catastrophic failure. Please standby for evacuation via containment portal.” The voice that spoke in my mind was clearly dream speaking to me but I got no emotional content with the words. Even the sound of the words had a perfectly crisp quality to them that seemed at odds with their originating from any natural source.

Before I had the chance to question what a ‘containment portal’ was I fell through one. At the speed we were falling towards the Earth, I expected slam into something when I arrived but instead I simply passed through a shimmering rainbow disk that appeared in front me and arrived in an amber tube suspended and motionless.

“Jin?” a familiar voice said.

I looked over to see one of the girls from my science class sitting at a control console beside Agent Lynn Haffrun. I couldn’t move so answering verbally was out but I could still dream speak.

“Becky? What are you doing…” I started to dream speak to her when a whole bunch of things became clear thanks to intuition and meta-awareness teaming up.

Agent Haffrun was an alien, I knew that from before. She was here to judge Earth and yet she’d also been pretty nice to me. Why? Because she already had a sense of who I was.

She’d been working with the pre-cogs of the FBMA. Pre-cogs don’t see the future in exact detail but they could probably see that someone from my school would wind up gaining powers. Agent Haffrun had also needed a place to send one of her newest charges. So she’d sent the heroine Heartbeat to school with the usual kids. With me.

Becky looked nothing like Heartbeat, but then Heartbeat could shapeshift so why should her secret identity look anything like her heroic one?

In a sense Becky had been spying on me for Haffrun. I probably should have been upset by that but given what I could sense was coming next I found myself feeling fairly grateful.

“Oh!” Becky’s eyes flew open in shock. I could see her frantically trying to think up a cover story.

“It’s ok, Jin’s figured things out already I believe.” Agent Haffrun said.

“Disengaging containment field. Commencing emergency care procedures on designated subjects.” the robotic voice that had spoken before the first portal appeared said. The amber tube I was in faded away, gently depositing me on the deck of the ship. To my left and right I saw Way, Minnie and the others who’d escaped injury being similarly released.

“Thank you Persephone. Please keep me appraised of their condition.” Agent Haffrun said.

“You’re patching up our injured?” I asked, already knowing the answer but wanting the others to hear it.

“Yes. Any that were alive we will be able to save, though some may need a while in the regrowth tanks.”

“Thank you.” I said.

“Jin, my god, it is you. How did you wind up in space?” Becky asked. She’d shapeshifted to look like Heartbeat once more but I still heard her voice as Becky’s.

“It’s a long story. Are we safe here? There are some seriously powerful bad guys after us.” I said, looking at Agent Haffrun.

“I’ve adjusted our position. I believe we’re outside their effective range.” she confirmed.

“Where did you take us?” I asked.

“Take a look.” she said and gestured to the central view screen. A planet hung outside the simulated window but it wasn’t the Earth. My breath stuck in my throat. I hadn’t expected to ever see the Earth from an astronaut’s point of view but it had been at least a vague possibility as technology progressed. Seeing Saturn’s Rings up close and personal was a whole different story.

The Persephone was a faster than light ship. The more powerful supergroups had FTL ships but none of them could transit from Earth to Saturn as quickly as the Persephone had. Some part of me was terrified at being so ridiculously far from humanity’s cradle. The rest of me knew that we were safe though.

The Oblivion Knight was unimaginably powerful but at his core he had once been human and that limited the scope he worked on. He hated the world that had failed him, but he didn’t see the universe beyond it. We hadn’t made it to Olympus but we’d found a refuge. Neither the Knight nor the Courtiers nor the Oblivion Queen had a reach that extended this far.

“Can someone tell us what’s going on here?” Minnie asked.

“Your world is ending.” Agent Haffrun replied. She was looking right at me, a gentle smile on her lips while the judgment of humanity’s future lurked behind her eyes.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 28

I’ve read that fire is one of the most painful ways to die. Every nerve screams and keeps screaming as you burn. As I wrapped my arms around Way and pulled her close I expected to be hit with an agony on par with grasping the Shadow Court’s empowered Heart gem. Instead I felt only her.

The black fires around her pulled back away from me and quietly sputtered out. Way wouldn’t let them touch me. I felt it when she shattered the compulsion the Oblivion Knight had laid on her. He’d never truly possessed the power to dictate what she did. At least not when she chose to believe in the “Way” she wanted to be. Believing in the Way that she saw herself as was the hardest thing in the world though.

Wordlessly she threw her arms around me and collapsed into quiet sobs.

The Star Runner began drifting forward but we stood still, alone at the far front of ship.

“It’ll be ok.” I told her.

“I don’t know what I am.” she said over my shoulder.

“Me either.” I said.

“I don’t know where to go.”

I broke the embrace and put my hands on her shoulders. All the confusion, all the conflict in her, it was all so painfully familiar.

“Maybe we can find out together?” I dream spoke to her, sharing my feelings with her as much as my words.


“Yeah, I thought since we’ve changed a lot in the last day, that we’re both kind of just starting out. So, if you’d want to, you could stay with here and we could figure things out as we go.”

“I’d like that.” Way dream spoke back to me. A small, hopeful smile grew on her lips and touched the corners of her eyes.

“Is it safe up here now?” Minnie asked from the top of the stairs that lead up to the Star Runner’s forecastle.

I turned to face her.

“Yeah. We’re ok.” I said.

“Good, cause it looks like the ship’s not. The Captain just ran downstairs and it didn’t sound like he was happy.”

“What did he say?”

“I’m pretty sure it was one long string of swears, but he might have been making some of them up.”

“That could mean anything from his breakfast is late to the ship’s about to explode. Let’s go see.”

“With the day we’ve been having I’ll tell the others to prep for an exploding ship.” Minnie said.

Way and I dropped down into the hold to find the Captain laughing great big belly laughs.

“Um, sir, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing much lass. Just a slight case of unstable levitation spheres.”

That wasn’t good news. The levitation spheres were the heart of the Star Runner’s engines. Instability tended to be followed by the kind of pyrotechnics that you could only enjoy if the ship in question was an enemy vessel.

“How unstable?” I asked.

“Well we can’t engage the primary or secondary shields.”

“If we can beat the Oblivion Courtiers to Olympus we may not need them.” I suggested.

“And we can’t disengage the forward impellers.” he added. Which meant that we couldn’t stop or even slow down.

“That could cause some problems.” I admitted.

“Oh but you haven’t heard the best part, tell her MacReady.” Rumbeard said.

“The cannons, they’re overloading and if we shut them down they’ll explode.” the Chief Electromancer said with a pained look on his face.

“So we’re flying towards a divine dominion, firing all guns and accelerating to an uncontrollable ramming speed?” I asked.

“And the best part? We’re flying our conquest flags and there’s too much lightning on the topsail  to take them down!” Rumbeard’s smile was both insane and slightly infectious.

“I can help.” Way offered.

“And who would you be lass? And where do you keep finding new crewmates Molly?” Rumbeard asked.

“She found us Captain. She’s the one who stopped the ship.”

Rumbeard cast a disbelieving eye at her.

“She’s stronger than she looks. A lot stronger.” I told him.

“That’ll take care of our problem with crashing but I expect we’ll get a poor welcome with our guns blazing away as they are.”

“Leave those to me!” I told him.

“No offense Molly, but the cannons are a mite delicate at the moment. Any fooling with them might set one off and if one goes they’re all going to blow.” MacReady explained.

“That’s why I’m going to have you fix them.” I said.

“Can’t be done. Not without draining all of them in a good ship dock.” he said.

“Hold that thought.” I told him and turned to Way, “Might as well get the ship under control, if you need a hand just call for me ok?”

“Be careful.” she said, holding my arm for emphasis.

“I will.” I promised before she turned and flew back above decks. A moment later I felt the ship slowing gradually to a steady speed.

“Ok Chief, take my hand. I’ll show you the workshop I have in mind for the Electrocannons.” I told him.

MacReady glanced to Captain Rumbeard, who nodded in agreement.

The Lightning Road was a “real” plane, but it wasn’t physical in the sense the world I came from was. That made it easier to step across the Dreamlit barrier with MacReady. I could have merged the two realms but with the levitation spheres being unstable I wasn’t entirely sure what affects that might have. If we blew up a cannon in the Dreamlit world the ship could get by without it. If we blew up the levitation spheres our ship would be less a sky galleon and more a big wooden block plummeting out of the celestial realms to land the gods wouldn’t even know where.

MacReady noticed the change immediately.

“What in the Tempest’s Belly have you done there Molly?” he asked.

“Brought you to my ‘workshop’. You know the Electrocannons better than anyone else on the ship. You can picture the spells that make them work in your head right?”

“Sure enough, but how does that help here.”

I lead him over to Dreamlit reflection of one of the cannons.

“Try imagining how this one should look, inside and out, materials and spell-paths.” I told him.

He frowned at me but then gave it a try. The change in the Dreamlit reflection of the cannon was immediate. Even I could tell that it was in much better shape. I brought us and the refurbished cannon back to the real world of the Lightning Road. It took effort but after a minute or so when we’d pushed back through the barrier, the Star Runner had a fully repaired cannon.

“Why do I remember that the cannon we just fixed never failed?” MacReady asked, confused by the bifurcation of history.

“It’s part of the magic. If we do this right, none of the cannons will have ever failed.” I told him.

“Always said having a witch on board was good luck!”, MacReady nodded and gave me his hand again.

I pulled us over to the Dreamlit world again.

“Let’s take care of all the rest this time. Instead of imagining them in perfect working order though, try imagining them as broken down with the easiest thing to repair that seems plausible after a levitation sphere failure like we’ve got.”

“Why do that?” MacReady asked.

“If we try to fix everything I don’t know how history will have to adjust to accomodate that. Small changes, especially plausible ones reduce the risk that we step back to find that the Star Runner’s exploded and we’re surrounded by perfectly working cannons as we fall to our dooms.”

“Broken cannons it is then!” he agreed.

It was a little harder bringing changes for all of the cannons back over to the real world, but not by much. The effort left me winded but pleased. The ship was in much better shape, though with only one working cannon to defend it.

It was almost simultaneous with noticing that things were in better shape that I also noticed that our speed was rapidly increasing.

“What’s happening? Are you ok?” I dream spoke to Way.

“The Oblivion Courtiers have found us. They’re trying to get ahead of us.” Way dream spoke back.

“I’ll be right there.”

“Get the cannons fixed up – trouble’s calling already.” I told MacReady.

Knowing how fast the Shadow Courtiers were, I didn’t expect I had any time to lose with the Oblivion Court so I flew up onto the Star Runner’s deck.

“They’re coming.” Adella warned as I appeared above decks.

“We need to stop them.” I replied

“Nell, you’re with me. Minnie, stay and guard Patches and Jin.” Jessica said. She morphed back to her abyssal form as she turned and headed to the stern of the ship.

Her plan made sense, except for one bit. I didn’t need a guard.

“If any of the Courtier’s land…” I started to say but Patches cut me off.

“They shall be dealt with my Queen.”

“They’re fast, faster than the Shadow Court was maybe.” I warned him.

“Between us that will not be a concern.” he replied, hefting a cutlass and a flame blaster.

“I need to get the shields back on line.” I said.

“Go. We’ll keep the crew safe.” Minnie said.

“Thanks.” I said. I believed her, even knowing the odds they faced, I believed her.

I headed back to MacReady and cast a dream thought to Way.

“Can you pull the ship any faster?” I asked.

“Not without damaging it.” she dream spoke back. The prospect of fighting the Oblivion Courtiers didn’t bother her. Even before she’d shattered her father’s geas, she hadn’t liked them.

“If you can buy us any time that might help a lot.” I told her, sharing as well the idea I had of repairing the shields to hold off the Courtiers.

“It’s dangerous but you should make the shields stronger than this reality allows. The Courtiers won’t be held back by the normal defenses.” Way advised me.

I thought back to our first encounter and the role the Star Runner had played. It’s shields had been useful not sufficient and she’d been holding back as much as she could.

“Thanks, I’ll do what I can.” I told her.

I found MacReady directing his minions on the repairs of the Electrocannons.

“We need to get the shields back on line.” I said as I flew up to stop beside him.

“Tell me something I don’t know you witchy lass.”

“Can your team get the cannons up and running?”

“That worthless bunch of slackers? Aye, they’ll have the guns up and singing pretty in a couple minutes or there’ll be the lash for the lot of them!” MacReady bellowed. I’d never heard of him actually lashing one of his team, but he loved to say that he would.

“Good let’s get to work on the shields then.”

“I got it handled lass.” he said. It was deeply weird watching him pull himself across the barrier to the Dreamlit world. I sensed it as much with meta-awareness as anything else.

“What? But how?” I sputtered as I stepped over to join him.

“Once you showed me the trick of it, it all just sort of made sense.” he shrugged.

I could make other dreamwalkers. That was probably a bad thing but in the grand scale of bad things I had to deal with it ranked right around noticing I had an overdue library book.

“Be careful with it. Like I said, it’s hard to predict exactly what will turn out to be real. Oh, and you need to make the shields strong. Try about a hundred times their actual capacity. The things after us are that powerful at least. I’ll head back up to buy you some more time to manage that. ”

“I’ll be glad to have it.” MacReady said, looking undismayed.

Captain Rumbeard on the other hand looked downright grumpy when I found him on the decks. He and a dozen crew members were gathered around Jessica and Nell in an impromptu firing team. With the cannons offline still the crew was making due with acid firing dragon rifles.

Between Jessica, Nell and the rifles, half mile long tongues of fire, lightning and acid leapt out at the Oblivion Courtiers that were gaining on the ship. Despite the impressive reach of the attacks though, the Courtiers were able to avoid taking any hits. They were simply too fast to be tagged that way.

I considered trying to haul them over to the Dreamlit world. I’d have a lot more options for dealing with them there, but even if I left the ship that plan wouldn’t work out too well. The Shadow Courtiers had been real. They couldn’t dream walk. The Oblivion Courtiers definitely could by virtue of the fact that they were in one of the real worlds at all. Even if I could manage to drag them across the Dreamlit world’s barrier they’d simply step back over again, possibly damaging the barrier in the process.

I couldn’t use dream walking directly against them, but it occurred to me that I could still cheat a little bit.

“This will help you target them better I said.” as I touched Jessica, Nell and each gunner and twisted a little bit of the Dreamlit world into view in front of them. In the small Dreamlit window in front of them I placed targeting reticles that showed where their shots would land and the Courtiers likely positions when the shot reached them.

The next round of blasts proved startlingly more accurate but even with that the Oblivion Courtiers managed to avoid them.  What we needed was a way to stick them in place, or at least slow them down some. For some reason the myth of Arachne came to mind followed by a really horrible idea. Meta-awareness showed me it would work though and I was in the mood for being horrible to the Courtiers.

“Buy me ten seconds!” I asked Jessica and Nell before stepping around the Dreamlit barrier again.

My horrible idea was a simple one. I wasn’t actually Jin at the moment. I was my Dreamlit self. In theory that meant I could be whoever, or even whatever I wanted to be. Closing my eyes I put together the image of a real monster. Eight limbs to deal with several Courtiers at once, a hundred eyes to track them no matter where they went, reflexes and speed that they couldn’t beat and webs, lots and lots of web shooters.

Real spiders produce their silk from their abdomen. That was exactly the kind of gross I wasn’t interested in recreating, so I gave each of my monster’s limbs web spinners and added two more on each side her mouth. I gave her a carapace that was light but sturdy. Heavy armor would have warded off blows better, but avoiding the black oblivion fire was far better than trying to resist it. Lastly I gave her a cute pink bow on top of her head. Because I wanted the Oblivion Courtiers to be beaten by a scary spider monster with a cute pink bow. It just seemed right somehow.

With the image of her firmly in my mind, I became my spider monster. Glory of the Hidden Corners. Her history began to unfold as I dreamed her into partial reality. She’d eaten a radioactive mosquito that was full of human blood and had gained the proportionate intelligence and size of a human. Apparently she could also fly, thanks to the mosquito, even though I hadn’t planned on her having wings too. That was a little weird, but then I was a giant radioactive spider monster so, relatively speaking, not all that surprising.

As I settled into her form my thoughts took on a very alien cast. Hunter-thoughts. I was still smart but much more focused. Also less squeamish.

I stepped back into the real world. The nearest crewman screamed. He wasn’t prey. My prey was those aggravating black fire bugs that had closed most of the distance to the ship.

“Shoot after I do.” I told Jin’s friends and Molly’s crewmates. I raised my four front limbs and blasted out six streams of webbing at the two nearest Courtiers.

The webbing splattered on them and started to burn but not so quickly that their flight wasn’t impeded. Fire and lightning caught them and blasted both of their bodies into fading sparks. They would reform. Not in time to stop us. It still bothered me though. Prey should stay dead when you kill it.

I webbed three more but two managed to slip past.

“Way! They’re getting on board!” I dream spoke.

“We’ll have to fight them.” she answered.

“Right. Oh and I’ve changed, don’t squish me ok?”

I felt her smile back at me in her dream speech.

“I will always know you.” she assured me.

We didn’t have time for further chatting. Of the two dozen Courtiers that pursued us over half had caught up already.

I looked at Captain Rumbeard and the crew. Any misgivings they had were gone. A spider monster wasn’t a big deal to them if it was on their side. Molly had the best crew. Jessica and Nell didn’t care either. Jin had awesome friends.

We fought. I webbed. They shot. A half dozen Courtiers went down.

On the deck Adella, Patches and Minnie fought. Patches and Minnie weren’t as fast as the Courtier. Adella was. She trapped them. Patches and Minnie finished them.

They weren’t fast enough. Jessica, Nell and I weren’t fast enough. The Courtiers began to swarm the decks. Then the ship slowed down. Then Way showed up.

She still had to hold back. The Oblivion Courtiers didn’t. That didn’t save them. Way wasn’t using the black fire. She couldn’t anymore. She didn’t need it though.

Golden light speared through the Courtiers, blasting two of them apart instantly. It was enough to turn the tide. One by one we started driving the Courtiers off the ship. Until the levitation spheres exploded.

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t MacReady’s fault. It was the hundred Oblivion Courtiers that were ahead of us. The one’s that had been sent to chase James down after I escaped from my room. I couldn’t sense them, but I could sense Way. I could sense her recognition of them and puzzle out what it meant.

We were cut off from Olympus and we were falling fast. The Star Runner was dead.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 27

There’s a saying that goes “friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies”. From the looks on their faces, I was pretty sure what I was asking my companions to do went just a little beyond “moving bodies” on the friendship scale.

“You want us to sail where lass?” Captain Rumbeard asked.

“The Lightning Road, it’s the fastest path to Olympus.” I answered.

“You cannot be serious.” Jessica said, staring at the quarter mile wide stream of blindingly bright lightning that was coursing ahead of us from cloud to cloud.

“Fraid so.”

“There’s some slight chance we’ll survive the journey one presumes?” Patches asked.

“Anything’s possible.” I said with a cruel little smile. I didn’t have to be channeling the Faerie Queen to enjoy teasing them a little.

I probably wouldn’t have teased Nell or Adella the same way, but they were absorbed by the spectacle in their own unique ways. Adella was watching the continuous flow of lightning that I’d led us to with knowing interest. She’d slept for a millenia while the Courtier spirit had inhabited her body and used her memories. With the roles reversed, she was able to avail herself of of the former Queen’s considerable mass of experience and knowledge. In short, she knew just what she was looking at and power it led to.

Nell, on the other hand, was wide eyed with wonder. The Shadow Court had picked her for her natural gift with technology. That gift was rooted in a fundamental affinity to electricity. The Lightning Road was more a part of her than it was of me, and I was the one who summoned it here.

Captain Rumbeard knew me, or knew Molly, too well to miss that I was teasing and quickly called the crew to head for into the current.

“You’ll want to hang on for this next bit.” I told the others.

Patches helped Adella and Jessica tie down. He offered the same to Nell but she waved him away with a shake of her head.

“My Queen do you require any assistance?” he asked me.

“No. I think I’ll be ok.” I said, excitement slowly building in me. Meta-awareness told me what was going to happen but as we got close to the lightning the feeling of wild energy was too infectious to ignore. I felt a smile creep  across my face as I stepped away from the mast I was supporting myself against.

Bracing my knees, I put my hands out like a surfer for balance. Nell meanwhile had moved to the prow of the ship and had cast her arms out wide. Unlike in Titanic though she didn’t need anyone supporting her as she leaned forward.

We touched the edge of the Lightning Road and the world vanished, left behind us in a blur of light. The Lightning Road roared around us as it pulled us forward. It looked like we were in a vast tunnel whose edges were a solid stream of yellow bright electricity. Throughout the tunnel lightning of brilliant blues and silvers and yellows flashed beside us and around us. The air was so full of the tang of power I thought I was going to explode just from breathing.

Even with meta-awareness warning me, I’d ever so slightly underestimated how powerful the acceleration would be when we hit the road though. Patches, Adella, Jessica and the crew were all flattened into whatever nearby supports were handy. The scary part of that was that the Star Runner’s inertial compensators were still functioning, which meant what they were feeling was only the tiniest fraction of a percent of what our actual acceleration was.

Since I wasn’t tied down, I’d thought I could use my flight ability to compensate for the acceleration. That might even have worked if it hadn’t caught me by surprise. In place of cooly surfing on the Star Runner’s deck I was barely able to grab onto the rigging as I went flying backwards.

Nell on the other hand had no difficulty maintaining her position at all. What she had trouble with was maintaining her human shape. She was floating just above the prow, lightning stream over her and parting before her. It touched her and she touched it and it wasn’t entirely clear where each left off.

“How far do we have to go?” Minnie asked, forcing the question out through gritted teeth.

“All the way. The Lightning Road begins in Olympus.” I shouted back.

I had just begun picturing what my reunion with James would be like when I saw a streak of black fire shoot past the side of the Star Runner. I knew quicker than thought who it was. Only one person was fast enough to overtake a ship that was riding the lightning.

“Hold on!” I shouted, somewhat pointlessly. Everyone was already braced as best they could be. That didn’t save them from being pitched around as the Star Runner ground to an impossible halt on the Lightning Road. Looking forward, I saw Way, as I expected.

She was in front of the ship’s prow, one hand holding back the Star Runner’s progress while she stared across its deck with vacant eyes.

Nell floated an arms length in front of Way and for a moment neither registered the others presence. I flashed forward to interpose myself between the two but I was less than halfway there before the attack came. Surprisingly it was Nell who lashed out first. The lightning she’d gathered up while riding on the prow exploded from her in shockwave larger than the front of boat.

Way was knocked back, but the Star Runner’s progress had already been halted. It was like Way had grounded us on a shoal of black fire in the stream of lightning. I saw the same black fire gather around Way as she shook off the effect of the shockwave.

“Get back!” I told Nell.

“No! I can fight!” she said.

“I know, but not this. Not her. She’s mine.” I told her not wanting either of them to get hurt.

Way apparently had other ideas though. A lance of black fire speared out towards the Star Runner, devouring the lightning road as it flew forward.

It hurt to use it, but without any better alternative, I called out the Shadow Court’s Heart and the purple flames of sorrow to meet the black flames of the Unreal.

The two powers met, clashed and held even for a moment. The illusion of the Shadow Court’s power had to draw its reality from somewhere however and the only source at hand (or at least the only source I was willing to use) was myself.

Pouring out a shield of the Shadow Court’s purple flames meant opening the gates of sorrow within me. It wasn’t just one specific memory that the flames drew on either. It tore at all of them at once. Losing my Dad years ago, losing my Mom tonight and everything in between. The worst part was that for all that pain, I knew I didn’t have nearly enough within me to sustain the purple flames for long.

The former Queen had been right. I made a terrible Shadow Queen. I could have turned to Nell, to Jessica or to Minnie. With the Heart’s power I could have ripped their sorrow from them and left them with fresh wounds where memories and time had healed the old hurts to dull scars. That would have given me plenty of power to fight Way. I just couldn’t though. I couldn’t hurt them like that.

The immediate pain alone was inconceivable to inflict on them, but worse than that was the picture meta-awareness painted. The new wounds wouldn’t heal, the emotions would fester, rot and finally die, leaving them numb and uncaring.

I knew I ran the same risk myself and all I had to trust in was the added perspective that my meta-awareness gave me. That and the fact that it was my choice. Unlike the Shadow Court’s usual source for power, I wasn’t a victim. This wasn’t beyond my control.

Unfortunately that wasn’t enough. For all my good intentions, I still had limits and Way didn’t. She redoubled the force of the black flames and my shield buckled and shattered inwards.

The pressure of the shield shattering hurled me back into the deck. Minnie started to rise before I could but I motioned her to stay back. I’d summoned the Shadow Queen’s robes and accessories instinctively when I called the Heart gem, so the Star Runner’s deck had two black clad girls on it as I got to my feet. Way had landed gently at the front of the ship and stood no more than ten feet away from me, her black scythe held ready in her hands.

“Run.” she said, looking blankly past me.

I could still sense her with meta-awareness. She was still real, despite the black fire that played over her scythe and ran up her arms.

In the flickering purple light the sputtered from the Heart gem, I saw the pain in her. She was fighting the Knight’s compulsion. Fighting her love for him and being torn by the rift between who she was, a girl who wanted most of all to cherish and protect the innocent, and who the Oblivion Knight wanted her to be, a destroyer who lived to punish the world that had failed him.

“I can’t.” I told her. It was as true as it had been when we faced each other in my ruined sanctum. Even if we could escape the Lightning Road, the other Oblivion Courtiers would catch us by following her trail.

“You have to.”, she whispered, her voice catching on the words. The black fire on her arms and scythe flared and began to wind around the rest of her body. I knew if it touched me I would vanish the same as the Courtiers I destroyed.

The Shadow Queen’s voice in me spoke. It whispered that the only way to save my Mom and all of the others who’d been taken was to use the pain I saw in Way. Tear it out of her with the Heart gem and turn it against her. She’d overcome my power but she couldn’t overcome her own.

Meta-awareness showed me how it would work. From Way’s sacrifice I would have a near endless supply of power. I wouldn’t have to be terrible to anyone else. The Oblivion Knight wouldn’t be able to stand against that power backed by the power of Olympus when I reunited with James.

I’d be able to sweep the Oblivion Queen aside, and take command off all the Courtiers. I could drown them in the sea or imprison them for all time. The world would be safe from an evil that had plagued it since the dawn of humanity. Between James and I, we be able to push the Oblivion Knight out and seal the rift that had let him into the real world.

All it would take was the sacrifice of one girl.

“No.” I whispered. I let go of Queen’s scepter. The Heart gem tumbled away from me and shattered on the deck. I let the Queen’s robes melt away to my normal clothes. And I stepped forward.

“Stay away!” Way cried out.

I couldn’t though. I couldn’t turn away from her. She was burning with the black flames. They weren’t consuming her body but I could see they were destroying her spirit. I remembering vividly how that felt. Though the flames caused her no pain, she was in agony. She never wanted to be a destroyer. She never wanted to hurt anyone.

I took another step and I saw past the flames, saw past her unfocused stare. She had been real before I’d named her. She’d loved her father so much that even after he’d plunged into utter self destruction there’d been something left to pull himself back with.

In his rage and pain he’d lost sight of who he was and who she was. He didn’t know and couldn’t care anymore that the daughter he’d lost had never left him.

She couldn’t leave him, anymore than I could leave my mother.

Looking into her eyes was like looking into a mirror. I saw the same rift in her that I’d torn in myself. I’d denied it, hiding the pain under the idea of hiding myself behind a mask, but that just made the lie easier to swallow. It ate away at me the same as Way’s duty ate away at who she really was.

The same love was there too and the same unreasoning fear of love’s loss.

I took one more step and saw the black fire completely cover Way. Her beautiful eyes were covered over by the swirl of hungry galaxies. Any closer and I would burn.

We couldn’t stay as we were. I couldn’t see how I could change though. Giving up myself seemed so much easier than giving up my Mom’s love. It had seen me through so much. She’d been the rock I’d clung to and she still was.

I looked at Way though and saw the parallels between us. I saw her devotion to her father. I imagined her giving herself up. Imagined her becoming the soulless destroyer, the tool that he desired her to be.

It was wrong. Not just because of what she would be, but because of what she would lose.

She was a girl who loved so strongly that she’d been able to turn back the end of her world. She couldn’t see how amazing that was, couldn’t see that it was her and not her power that was precious beyond measure.

I wasn’t like her. I couldn’t love as deeply as she could. I was just me, but in seeing her I saw how maybe that was worth more than I thought. Way couldn’t see how worthy the girl that she wanted to be was, maybe I was missing the same thing.

I thought of James. He’d seen me covered in black fire like Way was, hurting like Way was, and he’d known what to do.

I stepped forward into the flames around Way knowing they would burn me and wrapped my arms around her pulling her into a tight and caring hug.

The Hollow Half – Chapter 26

The life of a Sky Pirate is one of bold adventure and derring do. Plunder factors in there too, we’re not saints after all. That said, we do look out for our own.

While Adella had been crafting her new life I’d put out a call for my crewmates. Dream speaking across great distances was tricky, but the city didn’t exactly qualify as a “great distance” in this case and Molly knew the Captain pretty well.

The Star Runner looked worse for the wear, but the crew had done an excellent job restoring it after the damage Way had inflicted on it. The decks were patched with pilfered lumber, the sails patched with what looked to be stolen designer jeans and somehow they’d even managed to purloin a set of replacement levitation spheres.

I almost asked about that last one, but something told me I was better off not knowing.

The rope ladder landed beside me at the same time as I felt a furry hand on my shoulder.

“Allow me.” Patches said and hoisted himself onto the ladder.

“You don’t have to do this.” I told him and turned to face Adella, including her in that sentiment.

“You just got your lives back. You don’t have to risk them like this.” I added, looking from one to the other of them.

“Exactly!” Patches’ eyes sparkled and a grin spread across his face. Before I could argue any further for their safety, Patches was up the ladder with the speed and grace granted by his feline nature.

I turned to Adella and found her hoisting herself up the ladder as well.

“[A thousand years and many misdeeds, repayment begins tonight]” Adella said in Spanish. I didn’t speak Spanish, except, apparently, in the Dreamlit world.

I shook my head to clear away that surprise and gave Molly the reigns. Sky pirating was her domain. The catboy and the penitent had a head start but no land crawler could out climb a true air rider. It was a matter of Molly’s professional pride that got me to the sky galleon before Adella. Admittedly swinging off the ladder and free climbing up the netting that overhung the ship’s side wasn’t the safest of paths but it wasn’t like Molly hadn’t done it dozens of time before either.

“M’lady.” Patches said as Adella reached the top, offering her his hand in support as she climbed over the railing. As I hopped over the edge of ship to the side of the ladder, he assayed a small bow and added, “My Queen.”

Captain Rumbeard chortled when he heard that.

“[Stole a crown did you lass?]”, he asked.

“[And the crown jewel.]” I told him.

“[We ’d best be off then. Nothing makes a royal crankier than losing their favorite hat.]” Captain Rumbeard laughed.

“[Except maybe the losing the part the hat sits on.]” I replied.

“[And just how big a kettle of fish have you kicked over little witch?]” Rumbeard asked warily.

“[Just a tiny one, no bigger than Atlas’ bathtub.]” On Earth we would call that a kettle of fish the size of the Atlantic Ocean. It seemed like an apt metaphor and Captain Rumbeard certainly understood what I meant.

“[Stars remember us. Molly dear, you know we only have so much sail we can put up. How far, exactly, will we need to fly to be free of this disaster?]”

“[How far will the Fimbulwinter reach?]” I asked him, referring to the storm that would cover the world in ice at the end of days.

“[The Fimbulwinter’s just a myth.]” Rumbeard replied.

“[True enough but what’s coming is just as bad and all too real.]”, I told him.

“[That ’s impossible.]”

“[Patches , tell the good Captain what you’ve seen please?]” As I made the request it occurred to me that Patches probably had no idea what we’d been saying since we were speaking in a tongue that had no relation to any language on Earth.

“[I was a prisoner until Queen freed me. In her wake the prison burned but there are no ashes left.]” Patches said in fluent Low Cloudling.

“[And why is that.]” Rumbeard asked.

“[The enemy that follows the Queen burned the world we were imprisoned in. It’s no more, not even a memory.]”

“[How …]” Rumbeard started to ask.

“[Our enemy’s power is the same as that.]”, I said, pointing upwards to the rift into the Unreal that I’d torn in the sky when I struck down the fleeing Shadow Courtiers. “[Try to sight in on it. See if Gunny the Farseer can perceive what that is. For all her clairvoyance, she won’t be able to and that’s the smallest part of the power that’s after us.]”

Rumbeard observed the rift silently for a moment, a variety of expressions playing across his face.

“[Well , that explains my last fortune reading then.]” he finally said with a sigh.

“[What happened?]” I asked.

“[The cards exploded.]”

I looked at him surprise. Fortune telling, even in the Star Runner’s world was far from perfectly accurate but a reaction like that was pretty unambiguous.

“[I didn’t call you here to die Captain. We’ll get the Star Runner out of this.]” I promised him.

“[You ’re forgetting who we are girl.]”, he said with a twinkle in his eye, his good humor returning before my eyes, “[This crew’s the dirtiest, rottenest bunch of scalawags ever to sail the Sea of Stars. We don’t run from fights, we finished them!]”

“[And what sort of scalawags do you count as allies?]” Patches asked.

“[Allies ? Anyone who’ll swing a cutlass or run out a gun can be a friend of this ship.]” Rumbeard said, clapping Patches on the back, before leaving to put the crew in a pre-battle alert state.

“I was thinking of our absent friends.” Patches said, turning to face me.

“I was thinking of them too. Minnie was already attacked tonight. A Courtier possessed her father.” I said.

“The Court will move to collect their former vassals and whatever precious ones they can find nearby.”, Adella said in perfect English.

“Why?” I asked.

“They’re desperate for power. In their current state the Court is prey for the rest of the Nightmare Fey.” she replied.

“Not just the other Nightmare Fey.” I said and told them about the Oblivion Knight and the Court he was constructing.

“The Shadow Queen’s call is not easily resisted, even when only a little of her remains” Patches observed when I finished describing the legion of black fire courtiers the Oblivion Knight had at his disposal and the Oblivion Queen who stood at his side.

“All the more reason we need to get to them.” I said. “

“[Rescues cost extra!]”, Rumbeard called back. “[What’s the heading?]”

With my meta-awareness I didn’t even need to look around to get my bearings.

“[A deuce of leagues six degrees forward off the port spar.]” I rattled off, meta-awareness and Molly’s knowledge of the ship blending together seemlessly.

With a buzzing whir, the lift engines spun to life and drove the Star Runner into a broad turn. It wasn’t as fast as I could travel on my own, but the advantage of the ship’s shields and guns wasn’t something I wanted to cast off lightly. I called out course corrections as we flew but as we drew closer it was all too easy to see which house was Minnies. It was the one with the flashing police lights in front it.

“[I ’ll be back in a minute, if I’m not…]”, I started to tell Captain Rumbeard.

“[Then we’ll want another minute. No running.]” he interrupted.

“[Thanks.]” I said and dove off the side of the Star Runner.

The wind whistling past me felt amazing, but my heart was in my throat with worry over what might have happened to Minnie. I landed on the ground outside the circle of lights from the police cars I could see in the real world. With an effort of will, I pushed my way through the barrier again, changing to Jin’s form as I did so.

Walking my dream self around in the real world wasn’t pleasant. I felt like either it or I was going to tear apart if I moved wrong, but I didn’t have time to thread my way through Minnie’s labyrinth in the Dreamlit world again.

I approached the front of her house and paused, wondering if I’d have any trouble with the two police cars that were there. Fortunately neither cop was outside and I caught sight of Minnie pacing back and forth in her room on the second floor.

Flying in the real world felt a little different than flying in the Dreamlit world. I had more sense of my own mass which left me feeling clumsier. Since I only needed to get to Minnie’s window though it wasn’t much of a problem.

“Minnie!”, I said, tapping lightly on her window. I didn’t want to alert the rest of the house since there were a whole lot of questions the police were sure to have and no where near enough time for me to answer them.

Minnie heard the tapping and jumped back, eyes wide for a second.

“It’s me! Jin! What happened? I thought we took care of the Shadow Courtier who was here?”

Minnie opened the window quietly and waved me in.

“My mother, and sister. They took them.”, she said.

My stomach fell.

“Oh no. There was more than the one?”

“There must have been.”

“I should have stayed!”

“No. They were gone already. As soon as you left I called out to my mother for help and she wasn’t there. My father woke up on his own and called the cops. I told him I’d seen a Shadow Courtier so they took it seriously.”

“Can you come with me?” I asked.


“A rescue. We’ve got to get back the people who’ve been taken.”

“What you mean?”

“They took my Mom and Dad too.”

“What? Why?”

“They lost a lot when they abandoned their realm.”

“How can we fight them? Even as a monster…”

“You’re not a monster!” I interrupted her.

“Fine, even in my bigger, badder body they’re too tough for me.”

I debated for all of second on what I said next before deciding two things; I trusted her and she needed to know.

“James is Aegis.” I said.

“Aegis? As in the superhero Aegis?”


“Ok, that’s insane, but, wait, how did they take your parents if Aegis was guarding them?”

“He was one of the heroes that assaulted their realm. They came back hiding in his shadow. He didn’t know, but he does now.”

“So he’s going to rescue them?”

“He’s gathering allies now. I’ve got a ship that can take us to him. I don’t know if you’re safe here. Patches said the Shadow Court was still calling to him.”

“They are. I can fight it off though. It’s like having a nagging toddler babbling in your ear.”

“You might be ok then. If they could have taken you by force, they would have when they took your Mom.” I went towards the window.

“Where are you going?” Minnie asked.

“To the others. The Court’s probably after them too.”

“I’m coming with you then.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Yes I do. They have my Mother! They’re not getting my friends too!” Minnie huffed and for a moment her “not-quite-five-foot-tall” frame had more force than her minotaur form.

“What about your Dad?” I asked.

“He’ll be safer if I’m not here.”

I wanted to argue with her, but that was probably true. Taking him with us, while possible, was certainly not going to improve his prospects for staying safe.

“Take my hand then.” I told her, offering my left hand to her, palm up.

As I levitated us both out of the window, she turned to me.

“Wait, you can fly too? What can’t you do?”

“I don’t know.” I told her and pulled both of back across the Dreamlit barrier. It was harder pulling her over with me than it had been to push my Dreamlit self into the real world, but I managed it. As I did a side “benefit” occurred to me. Her father wouldn’t have to worry about her. As far as the real world was concerned, she didn’t exist anymore. I couldn’t guess how history would shift around to accommodate her return but I hoped that if we made it back soon enough no one would notice.

“Welcome aboard.” Patches said with a bow to Minnie as we landed on the Star Runner.

“[Captain, we need to be a league to the starboard, three degrees port off the prow, in best time.]” I called up to Rumbeard, giving him the location of Nell’s house.

The Star Runner got us there is record time, which left me little time to explain things to Minnie. Even so, we were too late.

“Wait here for a second.” I told my friends. It took barely that to figure out something was wrong though. Nell’s house was empty. Looking in the Dreamlit world I noticed that her room was still heavily warded. Where my room was a castle and Minnie’s was a labyrinth, Nell’s was an impenetrable black cube of technology.

“She’s still free.” I told the others when I got back to the Star Runner.

“How do you know?” Minnie asked.

“Her room’s still her own. There’s no Shadow Court power in it. If they caught her they wouldn’t leave a her with a bolt hole that would keep them out. They must have caught her out of the room and she managed to escape some other way.”

“And her parents?” Patches asked.

“Not there.” I said.

“Taken?” Adella guessed.


I gave Rumbeard the directions for Jessica’s. She was the furthest away but I didn’t think that would save her from the Court’s predations. There were too many of them, they moved too fast and they’d had too much time. As we sailed through the night sky, the image of another empty house, another missing friend, filled my mind. With it came anger and visions of the black fire. I pushed them away knowing that the more I indulged in that kind of imagining the more likely it was that I’d give in to temptation and lash out with it in a time of crisis.

What we found when we arrived at Jessica’s house wasn’t in anyway an empty building, but it definitely qualified as a “time of crisis”.

In the Dreamlit world, Jessica’s house was surrounded with a soft glow that shimmered in every color. It looked heavenly. The fires that rages around it on the other hand had a decidedly “abyssal” appearance. Shapes and faces writhed up out of the flames struggling to grasp the Shadow Court spirits that buzzed around the house like bodiless wraiths.

At the center of the flames, just outside the front door, a winged creature of smoke and nightmare stood. It’s back was to the house and from its mouth a torrent of white hot flames poured forth.

“Stay here!” I told the others.

Patches and Adella nodded. Minnie had other ideas.

“Like hell!”, she said as she jumped over the edge of the ship. We were at least two hundred feet in the air. Minnie couldn’t fly. That wasn’t a problem for her, but the sidewalk she landed on protested by shattering into a thousand pieces under the weight of her minotaur form.

I winged my way down to join her before the fight was joined. On the way, meta-awareness tipped me off to who the fire demon was and what she was fighting. The Shadow Court had found Jessica, except Jessica’s “fight or flight” response ran more towards “fight or incinerate”.

“We’ve got to help her!”, I told Minnie as I landed beside her, indicating the fire demon. Neither of us had ever seen Jessica let loose before. She’d held back in the Shadow Court realm to keep from frying us given the tight quarters we’d been fighting in. I knew she was still holding back for fear of what would happen her neighborhood and that was giving the Courtiers enough room to avoid her attacks. Fortunately I had the answer for that.

“She’s doing fine. It’s Nell that needs us!” Minnie said, looking for a path through the flames. Behind Jessica’s demon form but outside the safety of the house, Nell stood surrounded by a dome of electricity. It made a decent second line of defense against the Courtier spirits but it wouldn’t keep them out if the Courtiers attacked en masse. I couldn’t tell why she wasn’t taking advantage of the shield around the house until I saw her direct a stream of electricity to Jessica. Rather than damage Jessica, the electricity seemed to heal the wounds she’d sustained.

I merged the local Dreamlit world and the real one and considered conjuring a path through the flames to the house for us. That raised the immediate problem that it would also open a path for the Courtier spirits. They could fly over the towering walls of fire but when they did so the flames would lash out in long whips that forced them back.

“I think I can get through but its going to attract some attention.” I told Minnie.

“Go for it.” she replied, smacking her fist into her open palm.

With a wave of my hand I imagined a path under the ground into existence. Without prompting, Minnie moved to stand guard over it. As she did the path began to warp and twist. Minnie wasn’t a Dreamwalker but creating labyrinths was a natural ability for her. If she wanted to protect something it would be very hard for anyone else to get to it.

I raced down the short path underneath the flames as it quickly became a much longer one. In their spirit form, the Courtier’s were still blindingly fast, but limited as well. Crossing thresholds was difficult for them, especially ones that were actively guarded by someone who was aware of them. Their ability to slip into someone’s shadow was similarly constrained since in this merged realm, their spirit forms were plainly visible.

I exited the pathway five feet from Jessica’s left side. She whirled on me as I appeared and for a moment I expected to be bathed in a gout of white hot flame. Instead Jessica smiled a huge “demony” smile.

“You’re here too? How many did you bring with you?”, she asked.

“I’ve got Patches and Minnie.” I said.

“Yeah, whatever. How many Courtiers?”

“None. I got away from them.” Technically that was true. That I’d managed it by annihilating them wasn’t something I felt comfortable sharing with the power-drunk maniac just then.

“Fine. Go help Nell then. I can’t keep all these things off her.”

“We have to leave.” I told Jessica.

“Not until these things burn.” her tone left no room for discussion so I turned and went to Nell.

“Your shield’s defensive right?” I asked her.

“Yes.” she answered, opening a space in it for me to join her inside.

I waved my hand to say no to that.

“Can you move it?” I asked.

“Yes, why?”

“I need you to shield Jessica and I.”

“But she won’t be able to fight then.” Nell warned me.

“I’ve got that covered.” I assured her.

Nell nodded and walked over to me slowly, maintaining the lightning dome as she moved. Together we advanced so that the dome engulfed Jessica too.

“Get away from me! You’re spoiling my shots!”, Jessica complained.

“Just give me second. And watch the sky, you’re gonna like this.” I told her.

I didn’t wait for her response.

“[I need a full bombardment with the Thunder Cannons, my position, Captain!]”, I dream spoke to Captain Rumbeard.

“What? I don’t see anything?” Jessica said, peering up through the bars of Nell’s protective shield.

It was a dark night and, from directly underneath, the Star Runner wasn’t easy to spot. The green witchlight that adorned it’s rigging came into view the moment Jessica spoke though as the ship pitched into a sideways turns. Then the sky exploded with light.

The Star Runner’s Thunder Cannons are meant to disable enemy ships. Potentially several enemy ships all at once. Their effect on the Shadow Courtiers was similar to the effect of a stick of dynamite on a barrel of fish. The crew knew their business and placed the shots more or less everywhere except right on us. Nell’s shield then blocked out most of the indirect damage and noise that splashed over onto us. Even with all that though the three of us were thrown onto our butts on the lawn.

Before the Shadow Court could reform and mount a counter offensive, I grabbed Jessica’s hand (like grabbing a glowing coal) and Nell’s hand (like grabbing a live wire) and pulled them with me to the Dreamlit side of the barrier as I separated the two worlds. Minnie was there as well since I’d already pulled her over.

Back in the real world we left behind a flaming yard and several puzzled Courtiers. History adjusted in our wake and left them with the belief that their prey had resisted and been burned to ash by the fires.

“What in the mother-loving-hell was that?”, Jessica asked, still blinking her eyes to clear away the after images of the lightning. She’d returned to the teenage girl I remembered from the Shadow Court’s realm.

“Thunder Cannons. Want to see them?”, I asked, knowing that rather than pretty clothes or jewelry, Jessica found loud, explosive things irresistable. The Star Runner had descended low enough to drop the boarding ladder down to us. Jessica didn’t need anymore urging than that.

“They took my family.” Nell said soberly as she began climbing too. I floated up near them as Minnie joined us and began climbing behind Nell.

“Mine too. And Minnie’s Mom. Jess, how about you?” I asked.

“Dad’s away on business, so I’m fine.” she said.

“Who next shall join our ensemble?” Patches asked as we clambered onto the Star Runner’s decks.

“Next we go for the big guns.” I said and cast out with meta-awareness, searching for the path to take us where I wanted to go.

“The Army?” Jessica guessed.

“Or perhaps a call to Unity City for a battalion of heroes?” Patches suggested.

“Nope. We’re going to see my brother and his patron.”

“And who would that be?” Patches asked.

“Athena, goddess of Wisdom and Battle.”

If the Oblivion Knight wanted to bring in allies then two could play that game.