Faced with further confirmation of the end of the world, Jen drew upon one of the most ancient bits of wisdom that had ever been taught to her.
“Ok, let’s focus on one crisis at a time,” she said, filling away the news that the High One could no longer be resisted with Earthly beings under the heading of ‘urgent matter, but not something I can handle at the moment.’
“Our injured are being cared for,” Sareesh said. Jen thought of him as being small despite the fact that he was roughly the size of a blue whale. Compared to the others of his family though he did seem to weigh in as one of the more diminutive, being only three quarters as long as his eldest sibling. “The cooling we feel without their warmth though is already beginning to chill my tail. I would guess we have six thrums before it becomes a crisis though.”
Jen thought back to her first meeting with the Core Serpents. There too the issue had been someone trying to steal the warmth from the Earth’s core, or, more specifically the mythic reflection of the Earth’s Core which the Core Serpents called home. Winning the Core Serpents trust then had been a long process, with the ritual of introduction lasting over a week on its own.
In the Serpents view, that had been an extremely rushed affair, with the haste brought on by fact that their realm was only two “thrums” away from freezing. That had translated to something like six months, which suggested the current cooling was a few years away from being deadly to the Core Serpents.
As they were not completely foolish creatures, the Core Serpents took being a few years away from extinction as a fairly serious matter though.
“Six thrums should be fine for what we have in mind,” Sarah said. “It’ll take a little while to convince the authorities who are responsible for dealing with spent nuclear materials to agree to transport them here.”
“Yeah, but once people realize dumping all that stuff here is an option they’re going to breaking down the door to get in on it,” Connie said.
“We’ll need to have JB coordinate that carefully, or delegate it to someone trustworthy,” Jen said. “We’re going to need concessions from people in high places before our other crisis is resolved and having an unlimited storage facility for radioactive materials is a valuable card to have in our portfolio.”
“This ‘other crisis’,” Sareesh asked, “is it similarly imminent?”
“Unfortunately the one who was responsible for this attack is going to be moving against us again much sooner than six thrums from now,” Jen said. “As you said though, that’s not something Earthly entities can help with, so please, focus on your people.”
“I would,” Sareesh said, wariness creeping into his voice, “but is there a point? We barely survived one attack like this. If another is to arrive, is not more drastic action required?”
Jen felt the weight of his stare settle on her, as though his senses could burrow through the red crystal armor she wore and lay bare the secrets of her heart that she was too kind to burden him with.
“Or will even drastic action not be enough?” he asked, guessing at the worst answer he could imagine. “Is there no option to flee to hotter realms? Or can we not perhaps embrace the ice, freeze solid, and await the coming of the next ages fires?”
An odd, but fiercely protective pride boiled through Jen’s veins.
The Core Serpents were long lived on a scale unimaginable to humans. Sareesh had been born before humans discovered agriculture. He’d lived through the centuries that saw every event in human history play out, and yet for all that, he was still barely an adult in his people’s eyes.
It had been a blessing when the first calamity threatened them. Sareesh had the youthful vigor to respond to crisis and act as the best liason Jen could have hoped for. It didn’t change the fact however that his long years were lived so slowly that he was still able to feel fear in the same measure as a human child would, and that for a near immortal such as he, the prospect of death arriving in what would be less than a blink of his eye was soul rending.
Jen refused to let a soul as kind as Sareesh’s be rent.
“Drastic action on your part would be misplaced,” she said. “You don’t need to pay any price for this. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I believe our realms are much the same in that guilt or innocence rarely plays a role in either in who must pay for the misdeeds of the wicked.”
“That’s true when there aren’t people who can make the guilty pay their own damn bills,” Connie said.
“Which is kind of what our job is,” Sarah said.
Jen smiled. She hadn’t known Sarah or Connie long enough to say that she knew everything about them. Probably she’d never know anyone long enough to say that. People grew new mysteries all the time, even from themselves sometimes. Despite that she knew enough about her two teammates to know that they were exactly the people she could trust to back her up when it came to playing a game where the stakes had been raised higher than she could even see.
“But you are Earthly powers too,” Sareesh said. “You’ll no more be able to resist our attackers might than anyone else. Will you?”
Jen was please to hear the uncertainty in Sareesh’s final words. He knew they couldn’t beat the High One, but he was on the edge of being willing to believe it anyways.
“The good news is that our enemy doesn’t think we can,” Jen said. “In fact, thanks to our friend Tam’s work, he’s completely convinced of that.”
The lava around them rumbled and surged upwards, carrying the whole gathering a quarter mile closer to the surface Jen and her friends had descended from.
“Before we can worry about the next High One bomb though, we’ve got to take care of this,” Sarah said.
“What is happening?” Sareesh asked. “Why has the flow changed? Where is it moving too?”
“Into our realm,” Jen said. Her red crystal armor didn’t let her actually see through the lava, but the projection is presented her with was more than capable of treating the surging, burning rock as clear water and showing the pathway back to the surface they were being pushed through.
“How is that possible?” Sareesh asked Jen, as he looked back to his siblings to see if they were caught in the current too. They hadn’t been far off, the whole family huddling together for warmth, but even the small gap they’d left had been enough to safeguard them from the wholly unnatural effect that had gripped Sareesh and Jen.
“In our realm, if we blasted a hole straight down to the magma layer of the Earth, it would form a volcano,” Connie said. “The pressure of the magma is under would send it jetting upwards, possibly with enough force to create a mountain.”
“That didn’t happen this time because the of the High One’s blast wasn’t contained to our realm,” Sarah said. “The explosion punched a new, stable portal between our realms. Unfortunately, as the portal settles down, it’s merging our two realms together at the point of contact.”
“The physical laws of our two realms are in pretty even agreement about how pressure works,” Jen said. “Your realm has a lot of it, ours has very little, by comparison, so your realms substance will flow to ours which neither of us wants.”
“The good news is, this isn’t the worst portal calamity we worked out a plan for,” Sarah said.
“You have a plan to stop this?” Sareesh asked.
“Yeah, it’s just not a good one,” Connie said.
“But it will save my realm and yours?” Sareesh asked.
“If it works out right,” Connie said.
“Then I believe it is a very good plan,” Sareesh said.
“Don’t worry,” Jen said, angling through the current to float to Connie’s side. “We’ll make it work. You were right that it’s the only option we have for fixing all of the problems here together.”
“I hope so,” Connie said, glancing up to where the portal between the realms was rapidly approaching.
“Is there a role I can play?” Sareesh asked.
“We didn’t plan on endangering any of your people,” Connie said.
That had been one of Jen’s first restrictions on the problem space. Sacrificing either humans or Core Serpents wasn’t an option. Under the circumstances any soul lost as part of the High One’s machinations might fall under his dominion which was the definition of unacceptable.
“We didn’t plan for protecting them either,” Sarah said as she began to work the spell they’d discussed.
“Oh yeah.” Connie said. “That’s going to be a problem isn’t it?”
“What will you need to protect me from?” Sareesh asked/
“To fix the portal, we need to flip it,” Connie said.
“It’s not a flat plane like most portals,” Sarah said. “The High One’s blast stretched it out into a tube. If we can reverse the direction of the tube in our realm them we’ll exit it deep within the magma layer of our realm, rather than far too close to the surface like we’re about too.”
“That sounds like an environment I would be much more comfortable with,” Sareesh said.
“You will be,” Jen said. “The problem lies in how we’re going to flip the portal.”
As she spoke, Sarah’s spell began to take form. A pulsing lacework of light grew increasingly complex strands between the three sets of crystal armor the women wore.
“Overwhelming force created the portal, and it’s going to take overwhelming force to move it,” Connie said, running her right hand along her left gauntlet to bring the three runes etched into the crystal glove to life. At her sides, Jen and Sarah did the same.
“The good news, as it turns it, is that the High One’s bomb trick relies on giving our realm a whole lot more magic than it normally has, so overwhelming force isn’t a problem,” Sarah said.
“For us,” Jen said.
“Yeah,” Connie said. “Our armors can withstand the forces they generate. Other people around us though?”
“We need to get Sareesh out of the blast area,” Jen said. “Sarah, can you manage a teleport in addition to the portal spell?”
“Not even on a good day with a lot of prep,” Sarah said. “Not with the kind of energy we’re talking about working with here.”
“Don’t hold back,” Sareesh said. “Save my people. Save your realm. I am an insignificant price to pay compared to those.”
The lacework around Jen faded and went dark.
“No,” she said. “No one is insignificant.”
“Yeah…” Sarah said slowly as an idea slithered into the word. “Connie, you’re a good rider, right?”
“State champ in the Youth division,” Connie said.
“Good. Get on Sareesh’s back,” Sarah said.
“What are you planning?” Jen asked.
“A good rider can forge a bond with their mount,” Sarah said. “It’s tenuous as hell, but all I need is a little bit to include Sareesh in the portal spell.”
“How will including him help?” Connie asked as she swam towards Sareesh.
“If it works, you’ll see,” Sarah said. “If it doesn’t, well, none of us will have to worry about what it looks like then.”
“The portals coming up,” Jen said. She didn’t need to look at Sarah to know if the plan could work. All she needed was faith, and Sarah had earned plenty of that already. “Do it.”
Connie reached Sareesh’s back just in time for the lacework to flare back to life. Each of the women activates the runes on their other gauntlet and then the main rune engraved over their hearts.
The explosion that followed shook the world.
Literally, seismographs on the opposite end of the planet recorded the deep shock that accompanied the portal’s inversion, and the experts who’d been called in to help understand the original blast got reams of new data to work with.
Deep in the center of the Earth, tired, and slightly disoriented, but otherwise unharmed four crystal armored figures floated and took in their good fortune to still be in the realm of the living.