Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It might be,” Charlene said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To Charlene,” James said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surprisingly cheerful,” Anna said.

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

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

“Really? With the hungry ghosts?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How far is that?” Connie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The next global disaster?” Connie asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“We must be in there,” Connie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did he miss four billion people though?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was not enough,” Greygast said.

“We know that!” Qui-vell screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll have to,” Sarah said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah grumbled.

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

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

Sarah grumbled more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened here?” Val asked.

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

“Will their deaths change anything though?”

“Death always changes the world.”

“For the better?”

“Rarely for the better.”

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 9 – Act 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jen furrowed her brow in thought for a moment.

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

“Yeah. Charlene was specific about that.”

Jen thought for a moment longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 8 – Act 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just as the High One had planned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aranea looked over to the High One and smirked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One which the Supreme Mashal predictably accepted without question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brams and Penk smiled at the image.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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