Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 12 – Act 1

Anna sat with an angel and she was not afraid. It wasn’t the angel she was used to chatting with, which might have inspired a degree of concern, but against the backdrop of a warm and lovely day, and while surrounded a veritable horde of friends and allies, Anna found that she was able to relax and unwind as she sipped the drink the angel had brought.

“For a world which experienced an extinction level event, things are rather busy today it seems,” Jacqueline, the Guardian Angel, said. She gestured to the various people racing hither and thither in the space outside Anna’s office.

“We’re creatures of habit,” Anna said. “Yesterday changed the world, quite literally, and we are all trying to catch up with what that means.”

“But you must have had somethings in place already,” Jacqueline said. “It was your plan after all wasn’t it?”

“The broad strokes followed the scheme we setup,” Jen said. “The exact details though played out in a million different ways.”

“Not to mention the new relationships we have with all of the worlds which watched the final conflict,” Zoe said, as she threaded her fingers through Anna’s hand. Their wedding rings gleamed together as Zoe rested her other hand over Anna’s as well. “It turns out that apocalypses can reset a lot of expectations and cast one’s values into a whole new light.”

“Most of our work now is about managing those new relationships and helping them grow,” Anna said, offering Zoe a contented smile. “The Earth has a new beginning to work from, and new friends and allies. We’re sure to make mistakes, but we have a lot of history to draw on to help us avoid repeating at least some of the worst ones.”

“Charlene will be so pleased to hear you are doing well,” Jacqueline said.

“She really can’t come back?” JB asked.

“No, but she did want me to give you this,” Jacqueline said, and handed Anna an ornate scroll, sealed with a perfect circle of a clear crystalline substance.

“She’d mentioned before she left that you might show up afterwards,” Anna said. “I gather there’s some question about judging the work she did?”

“That’s my official reason for visiting this world, yes,” Jacqueline said, taping a sip of her drink. “I’m supposed to decide if your world is still in need of isolation and oversight.”

“But there’s more on your mind than that?” Jen asked. With the magic that suffused the world, her clockwork arms were more mobile and responsive than ever but she had leaned into the aesthetic even further so that small puffs of steam escaped and tiny lights flashed as she reoriented her fingers to sip from the glass in front of her.

The wine was good – heavenly if one were feeling in the mood for wordplay – but it was the aura peace Jacqueline radiated which felt like the real gift she’d brought.

“I suppose I just had to see for myself the wonders Charlene was talking about,” Jacqueline said.

“There’s plenty of them to see now,” Zoe said. “Everything is so new and fresh that there’s a lot of material world and the realms beyond it that are effectively unexplored terrain.”

“That is a pleasant perk of the renewal you managed to bring about, but the wonder Charlene spoke of is the change in the people of this world.”

“That was what we counted on,” Jen said. “We knew early on what the fate of the Earth was supposed to be.”

“We could have changed it too,” Zoe said. “Which was something we knew the High One wouldn’t be able to accept since to him fate was just another word for how he wished things to be, and he was too used to everything proceeding just as he desired as long as he could see the underpinning of how power was arranged within a world.”

“With that in mind, we were left with selling him and his allies on the notion that someone was going to claim victory over us and the only question was whether they wanted it to be them or someone else,” Jen said. “Once we had them convinced of that, we were able to play around with where we wanted the attacks to come, trying to make the High One’s forces focus on the areas that offered the most potential to resist the divine wrath he was going to throw at us.”

“We still lost some people, but they went down fighting,” Zoe said.

“And some were able to come back,” Anna said.

“Yes, the ones who chose to,” Jacqueline said.

“Do you know where the others are?” JB asked. “The people who didn’t make it back with the rest of us?”

“Yes. I do,” Jacqueline said, with a conciliatory smile.

“By spreading the fighting out as much as possible, we made sure as many people saw the kind of things that would let them believe in miracles and believe in us,” Jen said. “That’s what let us turn things around in the end.”

“It’s quite impressive. A whole world full of miracles, and its still standing. It’s unprecedented,” Jacqueline said. “How did you teach so many people at once I wonder?”

“We didn’t,” Anna said. “All it took was one of us to make the right miracle happen and everything else followed from there.”

“And what miracle was that?” Jacqueline asked.

“When the divine fire burned us, we were, for a brief moment, one with the force of creation. We didn’t have to perform a miracle at that point. All we needed to do was remind one another that we were already miracles,” Anna said. “Every day, with every breath we take, we are so unlikely, so impossible to replicate, such a collection of wonders that there’s no other term that can describe us better.”

“The High One tried to drown us in destruction, but in destroying what was, all he accomplished was to make room for what may someday be,” Jen said.

“And since this is our world, we’re the ones who get to chose what that someday is going to look like,” Zoe said.

“You in this room?” Jacqueline asked.

“No,” Anna said. “Even if we could, none of us would want that.”

“It’s impractical too,” Zoe said. “The material world alone is far to vast for any one group to control.”

“Most importantly though, having a single group, or worse a single person, in charge of everything is exactly what we were fighting against,” Jen said. “We don’t need one great and important figure in charge. We need everyone to have a part in determining what kind of world this is. The only reason we survived was because people saw all of the different ways we could be and all the different kinds of people who were out there. Without the ability to connect with each other like that, we never could have come together to bring our world back.”

“With that many voices, you will find disharmony and strife though,” Jacqueline said. “How do plan to deal with that?”

“Disharmony and strife aren’t inherently bad,” Anna said. “If people have the tools to moderate their disagreements, and return to a basis of mutual respect, disagreements can lead to deeper understandings on both parts.”

“The mutual part of that is important,” Jen said. “After what we’ve been through, people are a bit more open and accepting than they were, but there will be a lot of challenges going forward.”

“And how will you deal with those who oppose this change entirely?” Jacqueline asked. “Not everyone can be happy that the old world has been washed away.”

“No, not everyone is,” Anna said. “There are plenty of people already who are trying to reorganize those around them into the social structures they are familiar with the most.”

“In the last twelve hours, we’ve got hundreds of reports of would be proto-tyrants popping up and trying to reassert their old authority, or claim new control over people,” Zoe said. “It’s what’s keeping the Club’s associates so busy.”

“You are going to depose them as well?” Jacqueline asked.

“For the moment we’re focusing on getting the people they’re trying to oppress the information and support they need,” Anna said.

“And if violence breaks out?” Jacqueline asked.

“We’ll look for whatever answers are available,” Anna said.

“That might include responding in kind to the violence,” Jen said. “People have the right to make whatever choices they want with their lives, but we’re not going to let one group prey upon another. Genocide is no one’s right.”

“It sounds like you have your answers thought out,” Jacqueline said.

“We don’t,” Anna said. “We have some guiding principles, but we can’t know the answer to all of the situations that we’re going to face.”

“What about the situations you’ve already faced?” Jacqueline asked. “What is to become of those you set as your foes in this struggle?”

“That’s a mixed story,” Anna said.

“The Pure One High Command and the Preserver Leadership who remained on their homeworld are both claiming victory with images of the Ashen Earth to back them up,” Jen said. “We’re leaving the doors open for any more refugees who want to flee from their grip but the flow will be slowed for a while until word gets out that we’re still here and still welcoming the.”

“The troops who we saved from the High One’s final culling of souls prior to his ultimate strike, have generally undergone crisis of conscience in varying degrees,” Zoe said. “Some have petitioned for asylum already, and others had returned home. The rest are taking advantage of our amnesty offer to remain here until they are sure which direction they want to go.”

“And the High One?” Jacqueline asked. “What have you done with the god who destroyed your world?”

“Sadly, we didn’t carve him up and pass him out to everyone,” Zoe said.

“That is a typical use for a defeated god,” Jacqueline said. “By consuming the flesh of the divine, a measure of their power can be attained.”

“This world has seen enough of the High One’s power,” Anna said. “No, we let those he wronged be his judge and jury.”

“The High One poured far more power into the Earth than we needed to recreate ourselves and the rest of the planet,” Jen said. “We have an incredible surplus of magic still, and it seems to be growing rather than shrinking so it wasn’t hard to share the extra with the souls of those he’d sacrificed.”

“Ah, so you allowed them to be his executioners,” Jacqueline said, a note of sad understanding in her voice.

“Not at all,” Anna said. “He’s not dead.”

“What happened to him?” Jacqueline asked. “Where is he?”

“Right here,” Anna said, pointing to a small snow globe on her desk.

“I don’t feel anything from him,” Jacqueline said with an awed look on her face. The angel scrutinized the globe with eyes which looked far past its physical form.

“He’s turned entirely inwards,” Anna said. “They took his need to dominate others, his endless hunger and desire to be supreme and wrapped it around him. Now when he looks at his cage, he sees it as someone trying to escape his control. When he pushes for his freedom, he feels like someone is denying him what he is due. At every moment he feels all of the oppression he would chose to inflict on others, every ounce his will bearing down on them, making them feel smaller and less worthy, and the more he struggles against it, the stronger his prison becomes.”

“But that means that there remains a path out for him does it not?” Jacqueline asked.

“Yeah,” Jen said. “All he needs to do to be free is to truly and completely give up the desire to rule over others. If he can find true humility, and a true willingness to let others be as they are, then the walls that hold him in won’t exist anymore.”

“And until then, he gets to enjoy a hell all of his own making,” Zoe said.

“So the question remains, how will you judge us?” Anna asked. “Charlene said you might become our new Guardian if you thought it was appropriate.”

“I do not,” Jacqueline said with a shake of her head. “You will have no Guardian because you no longer need a Guardian. Charlene was right. You have grown, and you have proven that you can stand on your own. You will stumble, and you will fall. There will be terrible dangers and tragedies to come, but so too will there be victories and new beginnings. You stand on the edge of a new era, one with far greater responsibilities than you have known, one which will demand far more of you than has ever been asked before, but I believe Charlene was right. It is time for you to take that step. You are ready and you are everything she hoped you would be.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 11 – Act 4

The High One sat on his throne above the world, saw his forces falling in defeat in battle after battle, and felt joy radiating through his heart.

“Tell me what you see,” the High One said, addressing the Spider Goddess who stood by his side.

“The Earth resists your invasion,” Aranea said. “You are fought on every front, and by more defenders than you could have foreseen or accounted for.”

“Yes. That is exactly what is happening,” the High One said, his joy undiminished. “And will they succeed?”

“No. They will not.”

The High One’s smile deepened. Even the Earthly goddess could see that he held all the cards.

Standing to the side, a stone statue that had once been an angel looked on him with mute lips and a disapproving gaze. There was no menace in it however. The Potestates could never return to the Earth. The High One had been precise in his banishment. She could neither see what he was doing, nor hear his final pronouncement of the Earth’s fate. There were no corridors left open for her to send help to her former protectorate.

On reflection, the High One wished circumstances could have setup otherwise, but the Potestates had been too big a variable to be allowed to remain free. She could have tarnished the work he planned.

It would have been so nice for her to see the devastation he was going to inflict on the Earth though. Of all the creatures crawling on that miserable rock, surely she was the one most deserving of that of suffering, and the one most capable of understanding how complete his victory was going to be.

It was ok though. He would content himself with knowing that all of the other worlds the Earthlings had reached out to were watching the struggle unfold and would see, with perfect clarity, what it meant to blaspheme against his holy self.

Below the High One’s throne atop Earth’s celestial sphere, the battles for its fate raged on. A thousand at a time, his allies forces continued to fall, and from each soldier who fought in the High One’s name a light arose to streak upwards and join the other which swirled around the High One’s throne.

***

Anna stood flanked by librarians, and two researchers, but her words echoed as though the greatest army the world had ever seen was arrayed at her back.

“Surrender,” she said, offering Supreme Marshal Penk and his forces a second chance at survival.

“Why would we possibly do that,” Penk asked. “You don’t have anywhere near the forces to contest with us.”

“We are not your enemy,” Anna said. “Surrender now, or the High One is going to harvest your souls to fuel his cleansing of the Earth.”

It was the third time she offered the Pure Ones a path out of their fate, and it would be the last time such an offer was extended.

“That’s ridiculous,” Penk said. “He needs us as much as we need him. Without our forces, his attack would be trivial for you to undo. You’ve faced his might before, and he knows it.”

“We have,” Tam said, stepping through a portal of smoke and fire with Jen to appear beside Connie on Anna’s right. “But it was far from trivial.”

“He wounded our planet with his first attack,” Connie said

“And his second one required turning to another world for help to survive,” Tam said.

“The Earth is cut off from the other worlds now,” Anna said. “You have us blockaded, so there’s no reprieve to be found there.”

“But do you know what it cost the High One the last time he attacked us?” Connie asked.

“His people died by the billions in a sacrifice to his ego,” Tam said. “He weakened his own power base immeasurably out of nothing more than spite for us, and to unleash another attack he’d need even more power than he used the last time.”

“So tell me, where do you think he intends to get that power? And, on a purely unrelated note, how much value do you believe he places on your lives?” Anna asked.

“That’s not possible!” Penk said. “He is not a god of our world. He doesn’t have any claim over us. We are Pure!”

“About that,” Waverly, one of the researchers said. “You can ask these fine, and semi-immortal, Librarians here for confirmation, but you do realize that you’re fighting in this conflict in the High One’s name, don’t you?”

The Infinite Librarians nodded as a group, offering confirmation of her words, leaving Penk gasping for words.

“Sir, another one of our cruisers has been destroyed,” one of the Pure One’s techs said.

“The moment we stop fighting, the moment the flow of souls begins to dwindle, he’s going to snatch the rest of you up. All of you,” Anna said.

“This is a lie,” Penk said, but the haunted look in his eyes told a different story.

“You see the soul shards rising from your fallen warriors,” Tam said. “None are rising from the ones we’ve lost though. You know why that is. You know who is gathering up your dead. Who’s corrupting them and turning them into a tool for his own ends.”

“Sir, communique from the High One’s command,” the Pure One tech said. “He wants to know why the fighting has slowed.”

Silence reigned on the bridge for a long moment in the wake of those words.

The High One wasn’t supposed to be monitoring the battle directly. At least not as far as Supreme Ambassador Penk knew.

“How will surrendering help?” his tone was defiant and disparaging, but he stood with no resolve in his spine. The truth had eaten it away and on some level he clearly knew the doom which await himself and the rest of his people.

“If you forswear the High One’s cause and ally yourself with us, you won’t be a part of his dominion any longer,” Tam said. “He won’t be able to lay a claim to your souls, like he can right now.”

“We can’t turn against him though,” Penk said. “He will destroy us.”

“Yes. He will,” Anna said.

A new portal appeared. The last to open before the end. Through it stepped Sarah, and Val, and Ambassador Brams.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Brams said. “Better that he destroys us at this point.”

“What do you mean?” Penk asked turning to face his temporary ally. The one he’d planned on betraying the moment the fighting was done. The one who was the closest thing he had to a friend anywhere in the reality he found himself trapped in.

“As long as you’re allied with the High One it’s not just your forces here who are fighting in his name, and who fall under his dominion,” Val said.

“All of our people, everyone we left behind, everyone who has supported us, the High One can claim all of them,” Brams said.

“And he will,” Anna said. “That was his plan all along.”

“But he can’t win without us,” Penk said. “He needs us.”

“No he doesn’t,” Val said.

“He already knows he’s going to win,” Tam said.

“And so do you,” Anna said.

“How…?” Penk attempted to maintain a stoic expression but as the blood drained from his face, a sea of despair replaced it.

“The fate of the Earth. You’ve seen it haven’t you?” Anna asked. “You know there’s no avoiding what’s to come.”

“Which means all the High One has to worry about is where his grand plan will place him when the appointed moment arrives,” Tam said.

“And that moment is getting very close,” Jen said. “Any second now he’s going to sense the change in the tempo of the fighting, and then he will act with all the inevitability of an asteroid impacting the Earth.”

“Why would you do this?” Penk asked.

“Our plan didn’t call for this moment. Not originally,” Anna said. “The most sensible path was to allow the High One to claim all of you. To destroy the cancerous civilizations you have built.”

“That was what looked sensible and safe, but we knew we could do better, that we could be better, than that,” Jen said.

“Anyone can be given a second chance, but you have to want to change,” Val said.

“You have to be open to admitting you were wrong, and be willing to start over,” Tam said.

“It’s up to you,” Anna said. “Take my hand if you want to follow a new path. We don’t offer any safety or security. It may not save you at all. But it is the right thing to do.”

“I…I don’t know if I can,” Penk said.

“I will,” the comm tech said, pushing her leader aside. “I have family back home.”

“I will too,” the navigation officer said. “I don’t care if we die. If this saves the man I love then that’s good enough for me.”

“We do as well,” Brams said. “Though it’s not like we had much choice. They have allies Penk.”

“Yes, the billions from Greenglim. We knew of them.”

“No. Far more than that,” Brams said. “Every refugee, every one they’ve given asylum to, more than we could have counted or imagined, they’re all standing with the Earthlings. We backed them into a corner and thought they’d give up, but they rose together. We were afraid of their guardian angel but we should have been fearful of the ones she was protecting us from.”

Penk laughed.

“All that against us, and yet still the High One is going to win,” he said. “Even if we unite with them, we know what will happen. We’re either fuel for the High One’s rage or victims of his malice. The Earth came together to stop us, but all their efforts are going to be in vain and take us with them.”

“We’re at the end,” Anna said. “It’s now or never. Take that one last leap. In the face of armageddon, in the face of a god’s wrath, do the one thing that seems impossible but is still within your grasp and have faith. Believe in us.”

***

The battle in the heavens and on the Earth below had turned. Across the mystic realms fires burned as pyres to mark the failure of the High One’s forces.

Above his throne though an ocean of souls as wide as the cosmos hung suspended. All the potential of every life that was lost swirled above the High One’s head as a storm fierce enough to tear asunder the fabric reality was built upon.

“Ah well, the time has come at last,” the High One said. “This has been fun but the Earthlings have had enough time to build up their hopes that they might turn the tide today. Fate must have its due though and so now they get to see the only thing left for them is despair.”

BURN

In the beginning there was darkness in the heavens and then came the word, and the word was the end of everything.

***

When the High One’s fire touched Supreme Marshal Penk he felt true purity at last. Pure, rarified, deified rage. The spark which landed on him did more than set his flesh on fire, it burned away at his essence.

Drowning in the agony of divine judgment, his eyes were opened for perhaps the first time in his life. The flames catapulted him to the end of the road the Pure Ones had spent their years racing down.

In an unendurable instant of pain, Penk saw everything the High One was. The absolute rejection of anyone lesser than himself and the absolute belief that everyone else was lesser.

And past all the pain, past the ego, and the rage, deep in the heart of High One’s inner truth, the cold serpent of ego forever devouring itself to appease an appetite which could never be satisfied with any amount of power, or worship, or dominion over others.

The High One had perfect purity because his hunger was the hunger of a void, an eternal emptiness where love, and self reflection, and compassion should have been.

He’d made himself into Penk’s vision of perfection, a truly Pure Soul, by removing everything which could have made him a person, everything which could have redeemed him.

Penk laughed as the world he was in ended in fire. Everything he’d done had been so blind and only when it was far too late, when his eye were dust and ash, only then could he finally see.

***

The High One felt the drain on his power as magics of the Earth fought against him, but he had plenty of power to spare and so the divine fires poured down refusing to be extinguished.

***

Anna burned as she’d always known she would. The fires from the heavens reduced the world to ash but flickered for an instant when they met the Winter inside her.

For all that she cherished her multicultural lifestyle, Anna was still as proud a daughter of the northern snows as she had been as a child. It had taken her a lifetime to discover the warmth inside her, but the frost? That had been there from the beginning. It was the armor the world couldn’t see, though sometimes others could hear it all too clearly in her voice.

Against that preternatural chill, the High One’s rage floundered for an instant. Anna was no deity, no cosmic power, but for a moment even the High One had to recognize how formidable she was.

Then all was ash and dust.

***

There was more resistance than the High One had expected, but that was ok. He was assured of victory. Any cost was worth it.

***

Tam’s mastery over the mystic arts was unparalleled on Earth. She’d pushed her talent father and harder than anyone else had ever dared go, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the High One’s final gambit.

Instead of fighting the fire, she threw her arms open to it, drawing it into herself freely in a move that surprised but didn’t concern the High One.

Across the world, another heart burned in time with Tam’s and together they turned to dust.

***

The gathered souls of the High One’s fallen troops were long since expended, their power somehow sinking down into hidden depths. That didn’t stop him though. He had personal power left. Enough to finish the world before him. Enough to be supreme. That was all that mattered.

***

Val didn’t have ice or magic to fight the High One’s fire with. She wasn’t magical, aside from carrying enchantments which were long since exhausted and far too weak to stand against the High One’s assault.

In her heart she carried the love of an absent goddess, not as a talisman against misfortune, but as a reminder of the incredible life she’d led.

There’d been hard knocks and beautiful blessings, moment’s Val would treasure forever and ones she couldn’t wait to forget.

Val’s journey into the fire was the hardest of them all though, because where Val herself felt nothing but the divine power burning through her, she left behind someone was all too aware of her passing.

***

And so it was finally done.

The High One could barely raise his head, or rise from his knees, but below him the Earth was nothing more than a dead ball of ash.

He was alone. And supreme.

He’d had to consume everyone around him to finish it. All of their lives and all of his power. It didn’t matter though. He was supreme and there was no one left to challenge him, to make him feel like he was lesser. Like he didn’t deserve the privileges he held.

“Oh, but you’re not entirely alone,” Aranea whispered in his nearly mortal ear.

Fear.

The High One no longer burned.

He froze.

He had made a mistake.

A terrible mistake.

He had drawn the souls and power from all those around him, except he’d forgotten that the spider goddess wasn’t his to consume. She was the last vestige of Earth, the last piece he had planned to destroy once his victory was complete so that no remnant of that world would remain.

“I am victorious,” the High One said, trying to trap the spider goddess in a web of fresh lies.

It wasn’t his best idea ever.

“I could kill you now,” Aranea said. “It was one of my plans. When we got to this moment, or maybe before, I thought I might eat you. A part of me still wants to, but I think this will be a better fate.”

She gestured to draw his attention to the wide vista before them where the Earth hung dark and dead against a field of stars.

“I think you’ve had enough time to build your hopes up that you’re going to be able to win today,” Aranea said. “Now let’s show you what hope really looks like.”

***

From the surface of the Earth a tiny spark began to rise.

As the globe spun another spark flickered to life.

Across the boiled ocean, another flared. And then another.

One by one, to a thousand by a thousand, to millions, and then billions at once, the Earth was bathed in a divine radiance the High One had no control over.

Clouds appeared.

Green flashed beneath the shower of lights as the forests and jungles of Earth were restored, rising like a phoenix from their ashes. From the blasted soil, vegetation of every variety, including one’s never before seen on the Earth surged to life.

White settled down on the polar caps where snow and ice refroze from steam hot water vapor against all the rules of entropy.

In the vast spaces between the continent, the blue oceans refilled churning with mystery and life and cleaner than they had been in centuries.

The most impossible thing in the High One’s eyes though were the cities.

Not even rubble had been left. He’d specifically pressed his fires to burn every inch of concrete and every ounce of steel. There was to be no mark of the Earthlings left for anyone to remember them by.

And yet underneath the soft white clouds, he saw cities, vast and beautiful sprawling across the world and teeming with life!

The material world wasn’t alone either. In each of the mystical realms the High One’s diminished vision could penetrate he saw the same transformations taking place. Where death and emptiness should have reigned, life and joy were exploding everywhere.

And more than the Earth bore witness to the changes. All the other worlds had been watching too! They all were seeing the same things the High One was!

The Earth’s renewal.

It’s rise from the ashes.

And his failure.

“What…what is happening?” the High One begged, unable to process what he was seeing.

“A Second Chance,” Aranea said. “It’s what they do. It’s what they’ve been teaching everyone give each other this whole time. Did you really not foresee this?”

“But how?” the High One wailed.

“A miracle,” Anna said, her rising spark reaching the High One’s command bridge as she stepped back into the body she knew so well.

“More like billions of miracles,” Tam said, as she resumed her human form as well.

“This is all thanks to you,” Val said. “You gathered a force to unite everyone we’d brought together and they you showed them what a miracle looked like.”

“Did you really think we wouldn’t take that wonder and make it our own?” Sarah asked.

“We’re human. It’s what we do,” Connie said.

“Only we’re trying to be better than just that,” Jen said. “In the past we might have kept those miracles for ourselves.”

“We would have turned them inwards and sought dominion with that power just like you did.” Anna said.

“Instead though, we decided we were going to share this chance at a new world,” Tam said.

“And not just with the people who fled to our world for aid,” Val said. “We gave the power that we just took from you to all the spirits of all the people you killed to get it.”

“And they would like a word with you,” Aranea said as the sky around the High One blazed with the light of billions of souls who had one last thing they wanted to take care of before moving on.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 11 – Act 3

Supreme Marshal Penk was pleased. The assaults across the Earth’s mystical realms were proceeding exactly according to plan. He had known they would of course. They were his plans, so of course they were superlative ones, but more than that he’d seen the skein of fate that was woven for the Earthlings. He knew how and where each of them would fall, and he knew the glory his victory would bring.

There had been costs for their victory of course. Penk’s plasma charred hand was the most grievous in Penk’s estimation but the loss of personnel would have to be played as the greater sacrifice when he addressed the people back home. Those who died would be given the recognition they’d had been denied in life as Penk spoke to their bravery, their determination, and most importantly, their Purity.

Spoke of those qualities in a generalized manner. Perhaps if one or two had no remaining family it would be worth elevating them as noteworthy martyrs to the cause, but the hero of the affair would and must be Penk himself.

His wound was a blessing in that sense. He would allow one photo of himself carrying his burned limb to circulate just as soon as the injury was fully repaired. People who see that he had give the war his all, but been restored by the power of his purity. They would hail him as a new…

“Jellyfish monster approaching from below,” one of his senior comm tech’s cut in, interrupting Penk’s train of thought.

Everywhere, the Pure Ones and their allies were pressing forward, overrunning or pushing out the Earth’s defenders. The invasion of the mystical sunken city was progressing in much the same manner, but for each step forward the Pure One’ pushed, no defenders arose to fight for the sunken city. It was annoying, if also predicted and accounted for.

“Report when the Electro-Netting had secured the creature,” Penk reported.

“Electro-Netting has been deployed sir,” the comm tech said. “The creature is still rising though.”

“That shouldn’t be possible,” Penk said. “We should be shocking that thing to the point where it can’t think straight.”

“The net does not seem to have landed on it,” the comm tech said. “I’m getting reports from the weapons team that the net is moving away from the creature.”

“It has homing drones to carry it to where it’s supposed to be! How did they miss with it?” Penk demanded, incensed that his meticulous instructions had not been followed exactly. Whoever was responsible for that lapse was going to return home as ash if Penk had anything to say about it.

“The drones have been disabled,” the comm tech said. “The net is being dragged away to allow the Jellyfish to continue it’s approach.

That wasn’t right. Penk knew what the chains of destiny were for the Earth. He’d even scryed the fates of the major actors in the battles and the Jellyfish hadn’t been slated to receive any aid.

Penk felt a surge of cold fear twist in his bowels. Did he have a backup plan, he wondered?

Of course he did. The Jellyfish was as large as a small town. The Electro-Net had been designed to incapacitate the creature but ultimately it had to burn, just like all other Earthly life. Had Penk been a trusting man, he could have relief on the High One’s divine wrath to cleanse the Earth and its realms, but Penk knew better than to trust such an impure being.

So he’d brought his own fire.

“Launch Annihilation torpedos, full salvo, hold back none of our reserves,” Penk commanded. “We’ll reconnect with Brams forces for a resupply after this ‘Atlantis’ falls. Our advance cannot falter. Destiny says we win this battle within the hour.”

“Sir? I’m getting a communique from Ambassador Brams forces,” the comm tech said.

“From his forces? Why isn’t he calling us directly?” It was inconceivable that the Preserver commander had been lost in battle. Fate dictated that they won, and none of the assault force’s commanders were foolish enough to take any risks which might leave them too crippled to enjoy their victory, must less carry the risk of actual death. The only explanation was that Brams was speaking through his underlings as a sign of disrespect.

That was fine. Penk was going to arrange for Brams to die anyway. If Brams gave Penk a better reason to proactively strike out at the Preservers then so much the better.

“Pure One Strategic, this is Preserver Central Ops, do you read us, over.”

“Preserver Ops? Where is your leader?” Penk asked, not bothering to hide the annoyanc in his voice.

“Pure One Strategic, we are experiencing unexpected resistance,” the unknown officer said, ignoring Penk’s questions. Penk was ready to demand Bram’s whereabouts until the next thing the officer said frozen him to the bone. “Our senior command is lost and our forward positions are being overrun.”

“What?” Penk couldn’t form a coherent thought longer than that.

“Senior command has lost contact. Ambassador Brams is not responding to queries. Be advised, we are looking at a tactical withdrawal at this time.”

“No! That’s impossible!” Penk shouted. “We don’t have time for that. The assault must conclude within the hour. We are on the cusp of victory. Do not withdraw!”

Penk’s thoughts were spinning. How could their attack have even been slowed, much less stopped or reversed?

“Pure One Strategic, be advised, withdrawal is non-optional. Enemy forces are too numerous and we do not have the equipment or manpower to withstand them.”

“That’s absurd! We know exactly how many humans there are in the physical realm, and we know what their capabilities are. All of this has been accounted for.”

Penk waited for a response but heart an explosion over the communication channel. When the Pure One officer spoke again he was less composed than he had been.

“Listen, we have no damn contingencies in place for these things, and it’s not just the humans. We’ve got things coming in here with four legs, and six, and eight. We’ve got people who look like you Pure Ones except wearing Earth uniforms. And we’ve got humans. All kinds of humans.”

“What are they doing?” Penk whispered as pieces of his perfect future began to flake away revealing the horrible mistake that lay beneath that illusory facade.

“They’re coming at us from all angles,” the Preserver officer said. “We weren’t ready for this. They’re not fighting like we planned.”

“Sir,” the Pure One comm tech said, capturing Penl’s attention away for a moment. “The jellyfish monster is approaching attack range.”

“What?” Penk felt his breath go short and hoarse. How had the monster gotten that close? Hadn’t he ordered Annihilation torpedoes be used against it? Why was it still a problem?

“The Jellyfish monster has risen to be close enough to reach one of our lead ships with its tentacles,” the comm tech said. “The cruiser Perfection is taking evasive action.”

“Have them fire on it!”

“They are firing sir. The creature is being defended.”

“By who?”

“It looks like there are humans there sir. There are roughly 13,000 of them. They were hiding underneath the Jellyfish as it rose.”

“What happened to the Annihilation torpedos? Fire the rest of them. Now!”

“Our full complement of Annihilation torpedos were fired on the first vollet as per your instructions,” the comm tech said.

“What happened to them?” Penk dreaded what the response would be. The Jellyfish was a known issue.

Or it was supposed to be

If it was suddenly revealed to immune to Annihilation torpedos then they’d been wrong in the evaluation of it, which meant they were wrong in their evaluation of the entire assault.

“The humans and their allies captured the torpedos sir. They moved in front of the Jellyfish and apprehended our attack before the missiles cleared a safe range from our ships for detonation.”

“Where are they now?” Penk asked, knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“We don’t know sir. We lost contact with, and control of the missiles the instant they were captured.”

“Pull back then. Tell Perfection to disengage. We’re not withdrawing. Let me make that clear. We are not withdrawing. We are moving to a better tactical position, but we will continue the battle. We must win this fight at any cost!”

“Sir, Perfection is not replying.”

“Tell them this is a direct order.”

“No sir, I don’t think they can reply. The Jellyfish had them.”

“Had them?” Penk asked, his brow knit in confusion.

“Telemetry is showing a cloud of debris at Perfection’s position. The Jellyfish was holding them but then they disappeared in a flash of Em radiation when the creature swung them.”

“EM radiation? What could do that?” Penk asked.

“Well, an Annihilation torpedo could sir,” the tech said. “Background scanning confirms that’s what the blast likely was.”

“Give me a visual on that,” Penk ordered.

A view screen shifted to show a live feed of the disintegrating ship. In the distance, there was another flash as the next nearest ship exploded as well.

“Manual override. Fleet order, detonate all remaining torpedos,” Penk said, unable to believe that no one had do that the instant the torpedos missed their assigned target.

On the view screen, he saw brilliant sparks of light race away from the destroyed ships, all in the same direction, but there were no more explosions.

“We tried that already sir.”

Penk snarled, but his day wasn’t through getting worse.

“Pure One Strategic, be advised, withdrawal has failed,” the Preserver officer said. “Our escape routes are cut off, and we are receiving reports that our forces around the material realm are being neutralized faster than they can report in.”

“How,” Penk said. “How is this all possible.”

“There’s too many of them,” the Preserver officer said. “The humans have too many reinforcements, tree people, and giants, and people who look like the humans but definitely aren’t. And they’re all fighting like madmen.”

“We knew about the Greenglim forces though!” Penk tried to keep from wailing. It was undignified but life wasn’t being fair. This was supposed to be his victory. “There’s billions of them but after the transit they were supposed to be too weak to fight.”

“Well, maybe the problem is that they’re not fighting alone!” the Preserver officer said. “I just shot a human who was wearing one of the trees like some kind of living armor. I don’t think I even killed either one of them. I can hear them burrowing through the ground! I don’t know where they’re going to come up! It could be anywhere! It could be…”

The channel went dead.

From the Sunken City, a new force sallied forth and Penk saw another of his group’s ships vanish in a flash of light followed by that same strange shower of sparks which all rushed away as though flying up to some unknown gathering point in the sky.

“What should we do sir?” The question perplexed Penk. He still had an overwhelming force at his disposal. The loss of Perfection and the other ships was less than 1% of the total he’d brought.

But it was supposed to be an easy win. He’d brought so many troops and so many weapons of war because he didn’t want to have to deal with the battle being a struggle.

Instead he was faced with a conflict that would have a real cost. One that by all rights he should still be able to win. Even with their allies the Earthlings were still outmatched.

Except they shouldn’t even have had a chance at all, and if they managed to make one for themselves, then what were the real odds that they’d being able to craft a victory as well.

Looking at his tactical display, Penk looked for an answer and saw that he had no idea what to do.

“You need to surrender,” Anna said as she stepped through a shimmering golden portal that had formed behind Penk. “You are being used and the High One is going to try to destroy us all. This is the only second chance you’re going to get.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 11 – Act 2

Val felt the moment when Charlene was banished. There was a soul deep flicker of weakness which passed through her. For the barest instant, the paralysis that had claimed the use of her legs after her car accident flooded back through her.

They’d said she would never walk again. Or that she would never walk as well as she had. They’d called her recovery miraculous, and up until the moment of Charlene’s passing, Val had never believed them.

She’d been grateful for the luck she had in her spine not being as damaged as the doctor’s believed. She’d been proud of the effort it took to regain her balance and strength back. She’d even been privately happier with the life her accident had led her to than the one she’d had laid out for herself.

But none of that had been a miracle.

Unless it had been. Charlene had visited Val while she was convalescing. She’d offered Val a position with the Second Chance Club and Val had grown stronger every day from there. Charlene had done the same with Anna after Anna began treatment for the cancer that had threatened to end her life early and with Tam after a sabotaged stage effect had nearly killed her.

None of them had Charlene to thank for their survival and prosperity. At least not directly. As the magic holding Val up faded though, and numbness flashed through her lower body, Val was hit with the thought that maybe Charlene had been supporting them more than they ever knew.

But Charlene was gone. Cast out from the world and barred from returning by a power greater than her own.

Val panted, out of breath, as the loss hit her. Her patron was gone. The Earth’s greatest defender couldn’t protect it anymore.

The Preserver troops didn’t wait. They’d been shocked by the power and ferocity of Val’s assault but they knew an opening when they saw one.

By the dozens they piled on top of her, driving Val down to her knees as they stabbed at her with enchanted knives and plasma swords. Their attacks couldn’t pierce the shimmering armor Val’s enchantments projected around her, but each one weakened her defendes a bit further.

***

Laying a good hundred feet away, Ambassador Brams of the Preserver High Command was having similar trouble regaining his breath. In his case it had less to do with grief and more because four of his lungs were shattered and one was poking into his lung in an unpleasant manner.

He was miffed at that. Humans hit harder than he imagined they could. They hit harder than any reasonable thing should be able to hit.  They hit hard enough to hurt him. Through the best armor the Preserver’s could manufacturer. Armor which was worth worth more than the entire platoon of troops he’d brought as his personal guard.

Not that his personal guard was faring any better than the armor had.

From his resting point, draped over the shattered remains of a concrete wall, Brams could see his guards struggling to punch through the shielding on the Earthling who’d attacked them.

Some dim and undesirable part of Brams told him that he should rise and help his troops with their struggle. In addition to wearing better armor than could be wasted on any of them, he was also carrying far more formidable weapons.

Getting up would involve moving however, and might lead to the Earthling striking him again. When he’d set off on his plan to betray the others on the Preserver High Command and use the Earth’s mystical realms as a base of power to take over his whole world, Brams had never intended to do the actual fighting himself. That was for the expendable people beneath him. He was superior. His bloodline was more worthy, and more covered in glory. They hadn’t earned their place like he had. Their ancestors hadn’t worked as hard as his had. He wasn’t supposed to have to do the menial stuff anymore like a common low blood.

On the other hand, there was rest of the High Command to think of. He started to rise, triggering his armors pain suppressors and rejuvenation systems. He’d pay for that later, but by then the Earth would be in ruins and he would have collected the energy of its passing into a secret space of his own from which he could force the others in the High Command to do his bidding.

Laying down wasn’t going to win him dominion, and it looked like the Earthling was starting to weaken at last, so getting in a few hits should be safe he felt.

Until it was clear that it wasn’t.

***

Val felt her protections failing. Each stab with an enchanted knife leeched away some of the shields power and even with hundreds of people channeling their energy into her, there was only so long they could divert the heat from the plasma swords that were trying to cut her in half.

She gathered up her strength for one final push to get free but things got hotter before she could.

A piece of a star landed on the battlefield. Specifically Earth’s closest star. In the overall scheme of things a million cubic meters of stellar mass wasn’t something the Sun was ever going to miss. The town where the battle was taking place very much noticed its arrival though, as did everyone present.

Val’s shields were just barely able to hold off the roaring nuclear fire that surrounded her as, freed from the Sun’s intense gravitational pressure, the stellar fire exploded, destroying the (thankfully evacuated) town and reducing the battlefield to a burned wasteland of rubble and dust.

The Preservers who were caught in the blast proved to be less capable of withstanding the force. Most were blown away from Val, who was the ground zero point for the explosion. Those who weren’t blown away were blown to dust and, from their dust, glowing orbs rose and shot up into the sky, reclaimed by an unknown but not unexpected force.

“Solar fire’s hot. Don’t play with this at home kids,” Sarah said, descending on wings of fire to land by Val’s side.

“I am glad I don’t need to breathe at the moment,” Val said, getting back to her feet.

“Yeah, friendly fire incidents when throwing around bits of stars are somewhat less than friendly,” Sarah said. “How are things going here?”

“Just peachy. We’ve got the High One’s forces pretty much everywhere. Most of the ones focused on the material world are with the Preserver faction. The rest are following the Pure One’s into the mystical realms where we have defenders who could block their final strike.”

“You know of our plans?” Brams said, rising again from the rubble. Veins of throbbing green light pulsed under skin which was growing more deeply purple with every passing moment.

“Who’s he and why is he still standing?” Sarah asked, conjuring a blade of blue flame into her right hand and a shield of transparent ice onto her left arm.

“That’s Ambassador Brams,” Val said. “We met him a while back. We tried to give him and the other Preservers a chance to avoid being part of this idiocy but they just couldn’t resist sucking up to Big Daddy High One.”

“Oh. Those losers. Right.”

“If you know our plans, then you know that your world is already lost,” Brams said. “You two may be powerful but a victory in this small battle is nothing in the scope of this war.”

“It’s not like we’re going to stop fighting,” Sarah said. “You have no idea how unreasonable we can be about that kind of thing.”

“It’s not like he’s wrong though,” Val said. “I figured it was worth taking him down so that the Preservers wouldn’t be overly coordinated, but he’s clearly got his own agenda here.”

“So we go and find the person who’s really in command of the Preservers and we mess up their day?” Sarah asked.

“I am in command,” Brams said. “And allow me to assure you that despite the power you possess, you will not be messing up anyone’s day again. Ever.”

Around them, the fallen Preservers rose to their feet, similar green veins of light pulsing under their skins as well.

“You don’t have it in you to unleash another spell like that,” Brams said. “Nor can your companion survive being inside another such blast. My sensors tell me all about your limits you see, and with the data you’ve provided they can easily plot a course to your demise.”

“You know, it didn’t have to come to this,” Val said, rolling her shoulders. “We didn’t have to be allies. We didn’t even have to be friends. We went to talk to you in good faith and the problem you had with us could easily have become an opportunity you welcomed.”

“We would never welcome something like you,” Brams said. “You are a stain, a corruption as Penk would say.”

“Shouldn’t it concern you that you’re allied with people like that?” Val said. “I get that you want to keep your culture as it is. That’s stupid and impossible since things like that always change, but hey, stupid is your right as a sapient being. But allying with the Pure Ones? Or the High One? You can’t possibly believe that’s going to work out well can you?”

“You left us no choice,” Brams said. “If you’d been willing to cut off all connections between our worlds and returned the criminals who fled to your world, we could have left you in peace.”

“Duinella and the others weren’t criminals,” Val said. “They just wanted to start a new life away from the crushing tyranny you inflicted on them.”

“They broke our laws in fleeing to your world, and their insurrection inspired others to do the same,” Brams said. “You would have destroyed our culture purely by existing, and so what choice did we have but for things to come to this.”

“Anything. You could have chosen literally anything but this,” Val said. “All this destruction? All this bloodshed? What’s still to come? That’s on you and the poor choices you’ve made.”

“We both know that isn’t true,” Brams said. “Your world was doomed even before we agreed to take part in the High One’s scheme. He showed us your fate, and the part we could play in it. If we’d chosen another path then you would simply be having this conversation with someone else.”

“Trust me when I say that you are going to regret that it’s not someone else standing here,” Val said.

“Personally? Perhaps,” Brams said. “Your powers have faded substantially since you first arrived but they are still worryingly high. Maybe even enough to overcome one of us. But as you can see, there are far more than only one of us left.”

The Preserver troops who’d been blasted a hundred yards or more away from Val and Sarah began to move in at Brams signal. Val tried to do a quick count of them but gave up when she ran out of fingers and hadn’t covered more than a 15 degree arc.

“He’s not wrong about that either,” Val said, turning to Sarah. “I’m not on empty yet, but I will be soon. How about you?”

“Similar. Channeling this much power is dangerous, but, you know, so’s being on a world that’s facing an apocalypse, so you do what you can.”

“I like that attitude. We should hang out more often,” Val said.

“We’ve got to have some vacation coming after this,” Sarah said. “We should all take a cruise someplace far away where no one’ll bother us for a while.”

“You seem to think you’re going to have a future longer than the next few minutes,” Brams said. “Are you planning to abandon this world? Don’t think that will save you. The High One plans to hunt down any Earthlings who have fled to other worlds and destroy them too.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” Val said. “It makes me feel even better about what’s about to happen. And no, we’re not going anywhere. This is our home, and my girlfriend likes the teaching job she’s got here.”

“You cannot defeat us. You have admitted as much,” Brams said.

“It’s true. We can’t beat you on our own,” Val said.

“But whoever said we were alone?” Sarah asked as seeds began to rain down from the sky carrying the billions of souls from Greenglim who’d made peace with each other just in time to join the fight for the Earth’s future.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 11 – Act 1

Tam coasted into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, piloting a ship of alien design, and knowing that the battle she fought was balanced on the edge of knife blade. Then she felt Charlene’s banishment and everything fell apart.

There are people without whom the world isn’t the same. In Charlene’s case that was literally true.

“Wha-what just happened?” Oooluu, the nearest Burrower asked. For a sapient, dimension walking centipede, he had a very human stutter in his voice.

Tam watched as the Overseer fleet which had transported a fair portion of the assembled forces under the High One’s banner lashed out with new fusillades from their ship mounted weapons. The Burrower’s initial strike which had been so successful was quickly losing its momentum. They’d taken out the Overseer’s central command ship (a stroke of luck, but one Tam had manufactured through good old fashioned spell casting rather than leaving fairly to chance). The Burrowers had even disabled several other ships in the ensuing chaos but with the arrival of the Overseers Captain who was pursuing them,  the Burrower’s luck had run dry.

That wasn’t what had Tam worried though.

“The Earth’s principal defender is lost,” she said. “The god leading this assault has banished her.”

“What does that mean?” Oooluu asked, tendrils flailing in every direction as he looked around as though hoping to spy some answer to his question.

“It means we’re on our own,” Tam said.

“Can’t you call this defender back? Unbanish her?” Oooluu asked.

“No,” Tam said. “Once the High One gained enough power to cast someone like Charlene out of this world, he stepped up to a level that no one can overcome. Even if I could reach out far enough to resummon our guardian, it would be trivial for the High One to block me. Or cast me out with her.”

“We cannot lose this fight,” Oooluu said. “We cannot go back to the Overseers tortures.”

“You won’t have to,” Tam said.

“Good. It’s b-better that we die here than go back to that,” Oooluu said, his legs quivering in unison as the thought passed through him.

“We’re not going to let that happen either,” Tam said. “You’re citizens of the Earth now. This is your home and no one is going to take it from you.”

“The Overseers will not respect that,” Oooluu said. “They will hunt us, capture us. They will lurk in every shadow and unseen corner if you do not have mastery over this world.”

“We’re not giving up our world,” Tam said, bringing the shining alien sphere around on a wide arcing path to block the fire from the Overseer fleet. In her wake hundred of Burrowers who’d tunneled through the disabled Overseer’s ships streamed back onboard Tam’s vessel.

“Is there any hope left for it?” Oooluu asked.

Distances in space are vast. Even in the relative nearness of low Earth orbit ten thousand ships could be spaced a thousand kilometers away from each other without running out of available space. By all rights, battles in space should be distant, silent, and lonely.

The Overseer fleet didn’t have ten thousand ships in it.

It had ten thousand times that number.

They glittered in the skies around the earth like a wreath of silver diamonds, or a net of crystal that was constricting to choke the life from the planet.

Tam had given her magic to Jen to help with evacuating the last of the Burrowers from the Overseers world. The trip back to Earth had taken them through many different realms though. Realms where the laws of physics and metaphysics were sharply different from the Earths. One in particular where infinite power surged along with the cosmic winds.

Even with a power source like that to draw on, there were still limits to how much Tam was able to carry with her, but those were far, far beyond anything she’d experience living on Earth.

Charged up and burning with the might of a burning sun, Tam could stretch forth her hand and sweep enemies from the sky with a flick of her wrist, she could walk in the void outside the ship unaided, and she could withstand the mightiest attacks the Overseers could throw at her.

For a time.

In the end, despite surpassing every limit she’d previously been shackled by, she was still only one person. One mortal person, and the enemy arrayed against her was a legion beyond counting. Each ship she destroyed showed two more behind it. Each troop transport she banished back to their home realm was overtaken by a dozen others who made it past her.

Tam could win any fight she was in, but the scale of the battle was beyond her and it was part of a war that she couldn’t do more than play her part in.

“The High One doesn’t want us to have hope,” she said. “So I’m going to cling to that if for no other reason than to spite him.”

“You would make a good Burrower, friend-Tam,” Oooluu said. “We are all in agreement.”

“Good. Then it’s time we get to where we can do the most good,” Tam said. “We can’t stop them from up here, so let’s join the fighting down on the surface.”

“That will give them free reign to attack us from the sky though won’t it?” Ooolu asked.

“It will. Let’s see if they’re stupid enough to try that,” Tam said and sent the Burrower’s Ark that she was piloting streaking down towards the atmosphere.

A wall of Overseer ships formed in front of her as their commander saw what she was doing. They likely didn’t have any idea why she was fleeing to the surface, and were instead following the strategy of “if she wants it, don’t let her have it”.

Tam called forth one hundred and eight lances of lightning and sent them arcing down at the ships in front of her. Shields deflected some, but those rebounded to other ships instead, doubling the damage to some in exchange for sparing in others.

From a destroyed battle cruiser, Tam saw sparks of pearlescent light rising directly upwards before vanishing into a realm she couldn’t see.

“Ok, that’s probably not good,” she said, adjusting her course to regain some of the altitude she’d lost. The volume of fire from the remaining ships which formed the wall was too intense for her to try to press through casually and the rising sparks gave her an uneasy feeling.

“There are more ships approaching,” Oooluu said.

Outside, Tam saw a sizable portion of the Overseer’s fleet had turned to address her single little ship. From the bays of the Overseer transports smaller craft emerged, nimble fighters that she knew she couldn’t outrun for long.

“I guess wrecking their command carrier got their attention,” Tam said, sending the Ark into a wild pattern to avoid the long range attacks from her pursuers.

“We can dig past them,” Oooluu offered. “They can’t block us both here and across the other realms of your world.”

“That’s true, but we have to stay here for now,” Tam said. “On the Earth’s material plane I mean. It’s part of Charlene’s plan.”

“Charlene was the defender who fell was she not?” Oooluu asked.

“Yeah, but I think she knew that was going to happen,” Tam said. A volley of missiles streaked towards them and were turned to soap bubbles with a wave of Tam’s hand. The effort drained her, but her nerves still felt like they were holding a hurricane of power inside her.

“If she knew she would fall, why did she choose this course?” Oooluu asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if she remained to protect us?”

“I don’t know, maybe it had to be like this,” Tam said. “For all that she could do, Charlene always encouraged us to be the ones to sort things out. Usually however we wanted. I think part of what she was doing was training us for today.”

“Why did she want you to remain here?” Oooluu asked. “Wouldn’t it be better to use my people for what we can do?”

“Definitely not,” Tam said. “The Overseers used you for what they needed. That’s the last thing we want to do. With us, you’re going to be free.”

“What use is freedom without safety?” Oooluu asked. “We cannot be free in death.”

“Pitting freedom against safety is a false choice,” Tam said. “Let someone take one of them from you in the name of the other and you’re always lose both.”

Oooluu was silent for a long moment, considering Tam’s words.

Tam felt a spell wrap around the Ark, trying to transform its superstructure to dust. She fought it off, dispelling part of it and reflecting the rest back at it’s casters so that they were plagued with a swarm of mystic insects that bit and scratched at them, trying to tear their flesh from their bones.

More spells pursued the Ark as faster-than-light projectiles slammed into its hull. Dissipating the kinetic shocks required inhuman levels of effort, and with each one, Tam felt herself slipping farther and farther from the core of humanity she carried within her.

Even if her vast reserves from interstellar travel were exhausted, the Earth had plenty of magic to draw on. It would be so easy to give in to that, to allow all trappings of humanity to fall away and become a being of unfettered power. She wouldn’t be a god, but she would walk in the same halls they did.

And be just a lonely as they were.

“Nope, no giving up hope now,” she said. “No matter how scary this is, we can do this.”

Another salvo of spells burst against the Ark and Tam gritted her teeth. The Overseer’s and their supporters were starting to dial in on the Ark’s weak points. And Tams.  

“We agree,” Oooluu said. “No giving up. We will fight with you, and you will win.”

“For what it’s worth, we already are, in a sense,” Tam said.

“This is winning?” Oooluu asked as a blast rocked the Ark.

“Charlene wanted us to stay on the material plane and keep the Overseers and the others with them focused on us so that they wouldn’t spread out to the other Earthly realms. We’re supposed to be holding off the reinforcements they could be sending to the Pure Ones who are able to travel between the realms too easily for us to stop. Letting the forces get spread out like that works in our favor more than theirs.”

“We are not holding all of their attention though,” Oooluu said.

“Yeah, they brought more ships than I was expecting. This is far more than they would have needed for the invasion to succeed normally, and it leaves them super defenseless back at home.”

“They would not leave their home unsecured unless they were forced to,” Oooluu said.

“Well, we know someone who could probably do that,” Tam said. “The High One is great for ignoring what other people want or need and making them do things like he wants.”

“What can we do about the extra forces they’ve brought?” Oooluu asked.

“Well Plan A was to engage them in space and keep them off balance as best as we could. Plan B was to bring the fight down to the ground to allow our allies there to help out. Neither of those seems to be an option any more, and unfortunately I left Jen behind on your world, so I don’t have access to our best tactician.”

“Did you really think we weren’t going to catch up with you?” Jen asked, appearing in hologram form as a new ship exited from transliminal space.

“Wow did you pick a good time to get here!” Tam said. “How did you escape though?”

“You left me with all the old and weak Burrowers,” Jen said. “Or in other words all the ones with the most experience and who knew how to avoid fighting the best.”

“Wait, is that a battleship you’re flying?” Tam asked as the readings for Jen’s ship came in.”

“Yeah, we’d have two of them but we kind of crashed the first. Into their capital. They weren’t happy, but they didn’t have a battleship to make their complaints with, so I’m not too worried.”

“There are many battleships here though,” Oooluu said.

“Yeah, but I think they’re going to have other problems than us to worry about,” Jen said.

With a wave of her hand she called forth a shared hologram which displayed a view from just outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

It showed a thousand normal humans, dressed like astronauts, surrounded shards of floating crystal, and riding winged unicorns as they plunged into battle with the Overseers fleet.

“I think we’ll be able to keep their attention here just fine,” Jen said.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 10 – Act 4

The world was ending. Fire and conflict raged in all corners of the globe and under the sea and across the realms which were all bound to the dreams and history of the Earth that had been.

That Earth wasn’t going to last. It couldn’t. It’s fate had been written the day Charlene had proclaimed that it would stand as a refuge for those who had nowhere to escape from calamity, be it a calamity wrought by nature or one which wore the face of person.

Or the face of a god.

“The High One’s forces are fully committed now it looks like,” JB said from behind the bank of monitors Tam had left assembled in their latest headquarters. Their fingers danced over the screens calling up different views and reports from hundreds of battle fields, coordinating on a ground level the global strategy that Anna and Jen had worked out before they’d left to secure other aid to stand with the Earth in the conflict.

Not that the Second Chance Club was leading the world. The Earth’s defenders were a disparate lot, with no one true leader. Each group had their own methods and their own tactics for dealing with the aggressors who bore the High One’s mark.

In Uganda, a group of university students bound a creature whose presence shredded space and time. With mathematical theorems that had taken them years of study to fully grasp, they wrapped the otherworldly in chains of logic and reason that calcified their enemy into fine crystal sculptures.

In Sao Paulo, a dancer troupe stepped up when a squad of soldiers made no progress on holding back a tide of teleporting assassins. Everywhere the assassin’s blinked, a dancer was twirling away from them, leaving behind a simple firework which impacted their bodies with an unreasonable amount of force.

On the waves along the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, a surfer dueled with sparkling a trio of water controlling wizards. Where the surfer, no magics could hold.

The Club Charlene had put together didn’t offer any command infrastructure for those efforts or the thousand of others that were underway. People did need a commander. All they needed was information and an opportunity to help.

While that alone wasn’t going to be enough to save the world, it was still an important part.

“The High One’s gathering power from the fallen, as we expected,” James said. He was sitting in the center of a vast and ornate circle hyper-dimensional geometry. For all that he appeared to be in the room with them, Charlene knew that he wasn’t really part of any one layer of Earth’s reality, sitting instead at a constantly shifting nexus point which moved through almost all of them.

“Doesn’t he have enough already?” Jimmy B asked.

“Not for his taste,” Charlene said. “Even with uncontested mastery over his world, he can never be happy or fulfilled. It’s what makes him a tragedy.”

“I can’t say I’m feeling too bad for him,” Jim said. “Seems like he could use a little of the tragedy he’s trying to inflict on us.”

“He might have been good one once,” Charlene said. She looked around the room, fondness and a twinge of regret passing over her eyes. “That’s true for everyone, but it’s still a shame when someone walks away from every second chance they’ve ever been given.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a chance if they didn’t have the option of refusing it though, would it?” JB asked.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Charlene said and sighed. “Despite all his refusals though, despite having every justification not to, I still have to give him one last chance.”

“Is that even remotely safe boss?” Jim asked.

“No,” Charlene said. “The outcome is entirely predictable. It’s not something I can avoid though. Not unless I want to betray the point I’ve been trying to prove all along.”

“You couldn’t change your mind?” Jim asked, worry creeping around the sides of his words.

“I could,” Charlene said. “I could and so it’s still a choice. Not one I make happily, or lightly, but I can see the necessity in it.”

“Can he hurt you?” Jimmy B asked. “I mean, he is a god right? Those guys are pretty tough aren’t they.”

“No mortal tool or weapon touch him. No mortal mage can separate him from his power,” James said. “Even here, apart from his own world, his power isn’t something that I or any of the casters I know of can fully withstand.”

“Not even Tam?” Jim asked.

“No,” James said. “She managed to contain his avatar and channel one of his strikes away but she had time to prepare and even so the effort cost her dearly. Against his full might, she would stand no more chance than an ant trying to put out a forest fire.”

“Are you going to be safe then?” Jimmy B asked, looking at Charlene with the same concern that was written all over Jim’s face.

“I’ll be fine,” Charlene said. “He can’t hurt me. And at this point, I’m not that important in how things will turn out.”

“You’re important to us,” Jimmy B said, his eyes glassy.

“To all of us,” JB said as Jim and James both nodded sharply in agreement.

“I appreciate that,” Charlene said with a warm smile. “You’ve all come so far though. You’re so much more ready for this than you know.”

“I hope so,” JB said. “You wanted to know when the High One’s power started manifesting directly right? Well it looks like he’s moving now. Our associates in Uganda are reporting that the crystal seals they’ve created are starting to crack. They can reinforce them but we know the High One has enough power to break through any barriers we can put in place.”

“Then it’s time to offer him a second chance at reconsidering this madness,” Charlene said as she unfurled a pair of wings that somehow reached beyond the room to enfold the entire world in a protective embrace.

***

The High One felt the Postestates rising. As her wings blocked his power from effecting the Earth, he felt portals opening around the globe.

“She’s calling in her allies,” he informed the meaningless people around him. They didn’t need to know that, but it was entertaining to tell them. His voice was meant for command and to enlighten those below him and it pleased him to use it so.

“That’s more worlds standing with them than we’d anticipated.” The irrelevant flunky’s voice betrayed his worry.

The High One considered vaporizing him. It was a blasphemy to even suggest that the Divine Plan the High One had designed for his minions might be flawed or unprepared. He held his wrath though. Tipping his hand early one what was going to happen to his minions would spoil all the fun of seeing them understand what was truly at stake with the invasion.

He was going to drown the Earth in their blood and then crush all of the worlds who failed to swear themselves to him, one after another.

Their tears were going to be so delicious that he couldn’t keep a ravenous smile from breaking across his face.

“I believe we are ready for this eventuality,” another worthless peon said. Was he someone important in the Preserver’s hierarchy? Maybe? Did the High One care? He couldn’t imagine a reason why he would.

“Should I order the counter-shield deployed now?” the irrelevant flunky said. A Pure One maybe? Also unimportant, unless the High One wanted to get creative with the despair he planned to bring to his allies.

“No,” the High One said. “Let her bring her people a moment of hope. Let them see their allies and saviors begin to stream through to save them.”

“How far do you plan to take that ruse?” the Preserver asked. “Our forces will not falter but if we ask too much of them the cleansing will be delayed and a few Earthlings may even escape.”

“That may be what they’re going for,” the Pure One said. “We’re not seeing any sign of troops moving onto the Earth through the portals.”

“That’s odd,” the Preserver said. “Our intelligence indicated they spent a considerable amount of time cultivating offworld alliances.”

“They’re waiting,” the High One said. “The other worlds are waiting to see what the situation looks like. They want to see what they’re really getting themselves into before they commit their forces and leave themselves open to my reprisal.”

“It is just as the Earthly Fate’s have decreed,” Aranea said.

She was as beneath the High One’s notice as the rest, but as a fellow (if far weaker) divinity, her name was at least worth remembering.

“No foreign powers will come to the aid of the Earth on this day,” the High One said. “We can make that part of the future come true by preventing them from arriving, but this is so much better.”

“If we do nothing, won’t they just change the prophecy?” the Preserver asked.

“They can’t,” the High One said. “Only a miracle can change what the Fates of a world have decreed.”

“Can’t their gods grant them that miracle?” the Pure One asked.

“Not while I am here,” the High One said. “It would take a miracle to save even one life on the Earth, and against my power all of the Earthly gods could not even grant that one miracle.”

“He is correct,” Aranea said. “You have bolstered his power to where it is inescapable. The other Earthly gods know what fate has decreed, and they know the futility of opposing so vast a force. None of them shall try granting even a single miracle, no matter what prayers are offered to them.”

“What about the Potestates though? She still stands in the Earth’s defense and…well…I can’t get a reading on how powerful she is,” the Pure One said.

“Yes, that is why she thinks she can stand against me,” the High One said. “In her arrogance she believes herself my equal. When the time comes, I shall show her how wrong she is.”

“Still no movement through the portals,” the Pure One said. “It looks like they really are waiting.”

“Of course. And so they will be left with the knowledge that no force barred their path other than their own weakness,” the High One said. “However they try to deny or justify it, they will each look on what happens here today and know that they chose not to intervene and that what happens with the Earth can happen to them as well.”

“You seem to think that’s going to be a problem,” Charlene said, stepping into the High One’s floating sanctum seemingly from nowhere.

“It won’t be for me,” the High One said, showing a complete lack of surprise at her arrival.

The rest of the attack forces senior leadership cringed back at Charlene’s arrival. She didn’t appear threatening, attired in a simple business suit and carrying a leatherbound notebook. That wasn’t how the people in the High One’s sanctum saw her though. It was what their eyes told them but the impression of a burning sword and a blazing halo and a form so vast that she could use the stars as stepping stones hung from her as a truth that could be concealed but not denied.

“You have more problems than you are capable of imagining,” Charlene said, jotting a last note into her book before closing it shut.

The High One sneered.

“You shouldn’t have come here, but you know that don’t you?” he said.

“I know you needed to have the chance to turn away from this,” Charlene said.

“He won’t,” Aranea said, offering Charlene the ghost of a smile. “He see his victory spelled out before him.”

“And how would he know that?” Charlene asked.

“I’ve read the loom which holds Earth’s fate,” the High One said. “You can posture all you want, but we both know nothing is going to change that.”

“Do we?” Charlene asked.

“We are all bound by the threads of fate,” Aranea said, nodding towards the High One.

“That’s ok though,” the High One said. “Try to oppose me. I want to enjoy this.”

“You won’t,” Charlene said, as she transferred her book to her right hand and raised her left as though to begin gesturing a glyph into existence in the air.

“Oh no. None of that,” the High One chided.

Charlene froze in her action, her fingers taking on a grey cast.

“I know you’ve had quite a while to prepare for me,” the High One said. “I have no doubt that you have delved deep into the lore of your world. You probably have countless clever traps and stratagems waiting to snare me with which I would never see coming.”

Charlene remained frozen in place as the grey spread down her arm and her hand finished its transformation to stone.

“So instead of allowing any of that nonsense to happen, we’re going to play this a bit differently,” the High One said. “This isn’t your world anymore. It’s mine. I own, and it plays by my rules, no yours.”

“Are you turning her to stone? Will that be enough to hold her?” the Preserver asked. It wouldn’t be enough to hold anyone else in the room, so the question was reasonable, but still warranted some divine smithing the High One felt.

“No,” he said. “I’m exorcising her.”

“What does that mean?” the Pure One asked.

“This is just an avatar,” the High One said. “The real Potestates is much more troublesome than that. Or she was.”

The stone body fell over and shattered to dust.

“She was the Earth’s strongest defender, and now she is banished back beyond the worlds, where her kind belong,” the High One said and turned to his loyal subjects as he ripped the life from the Pure One and the Preserver. “Now let’s destroy the world she failed to defend.”