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.”