B015.∅.2 The Indignity of Indecision

For a time, there was nary a sound but for an odd vibration in the air, which was a sound and yet not a sound, emanating from the door, or perhaps from the grasping, ever-moving hands.

The tall man’s hair and robe stirred in a wind which the boy could not feel, as he stood there, a vast shadow of a man outlined by the fey light behind. He did not speak, but waited, and something about his silence made the boy think of a bow and arrow, the string pulled back, taut and ready to fire.

Inkblot was the first one to break the silence, as he gave off a slightly distorted cawing sound, beating his wings to take off from the boy’s shoulder and circle the cavern, evading the razor-sharp spikes with mechanical precision.

Surprisingly, his power did not start feeding him ideas for refining the machine, nor even for its programming, nor ideas for how to tie him into greater systems. If anything, his power was focused oddly inwards, and he frankly didn’t even know how he knew that. It just felt… off.

It didn’t help him deal with the dilemma he was faced with, anyhow.

Should I stay, or should I go? he thought to himself. He couldn’t even pretend to himself that he wasn’t tempted to stay. The chance to have his memories back…

There was the question, of course, whether he could trust Emyr any more than whatever force had been messing with him for… for the last two, three years? Had it been three years already?

He could remember meeting Timothy in middle school, three years ago. Presumably, that had actually happened, lest Timothy and Aimihime were also being manipulated. He was quite certain they weren’t, but then again, where did he, of all people, get off being certain about anything?

Had he ever had a life of his own, to begin with?

Emyr’s always been straight with me… as far as I know. But what reason would he have to lie? He’s holding all the cards, yet he’s been telling me things which run counter to what I presume are his interests – mainly, to escape this self-made prison of his.

But was that his goal, really? He seemed remarkably unconcerned by his being trapped here, doubly so for someone of his legendary ego and temper. Then again, the man he’d met twice now was not much like the figure from the history books. Unsurprising, perhaps, after now four decades of being stuck here. Perhaps the history books had been inaccurate to begin with, or perhaps he’d mellowed out.

More likely that the truth was somewhere in the middle.

Another truth was that he was waffling.

Did he want to risk staying here, under Emyr’s questionably sane, questionably moral wing? Did he want to risk going back, into what was certain to be a chaotic situation even when discounting the fact that he’d be at the mercy of whatever entity had its fingers – literally, it seemed – in his mind.

Never mind the temptation of the knowledge they were offering. It was perhaps the one thing anyone could have offered the boy, as barter, that he’d actually care about – the chance to learn more, of the world, of powers. To focus entirely on his research, on innovation, unburdened by people, resources, other distractions. That selfish part of his that just wanted to be a gadgeteer and nothing else was all but giddy at the prospect, even if it meant cutting ties with his friends – or as good as.

The prospect of getting away from the chaos and the strife, that alone was tempting enough. There was a part of him that was weary, so damn weary. He’d died, already, had he not gone through enough strife? And just after losing…

After losing…


Who had he lost again?

Panic gripped the boy, as a pain like a white-hot knife being driven into his brain shot through him, his already messy train of thought coming undone entirely.

Before he knew it, he’d collapsed, and found himself on all fours before the tall man’s feet, gasping for air as he regained some amount of composure.

“I… I can’t remember her…” the boy thought, his eyes so wide they seemed ready to fall out, twitching every which way, yet only saw dark, greyish rock below. “I think I loved her… and she died… but I don’t remember… it’s all sliding away.”

Tears fell to the rock beneath the boy, as memories of a white room with machines inside – a hospital room? – passed before his mind’s eye. Sitting on a chair by the bed, or working on one of the machines, yet always talking to a whited-out, fuzzy void atop the bed.

Who had that person been? A girlfriend? Just a friend? Was it even a girl? A boy?

They had died and he couldn’t remember the first thing about them – only that he’d loved them, yet not even how he had loved them.

“How can I possibly choose?” he asked through the tears. “I don’t even remember someone I loved. I don’t remember their voice, their face, their sex, I don’t even remember how exactly I felt about them. I barely remember my friends, my s-sister… I have a sister, but I’m not even sure whether it’s a younger or older sister… or do I have both? I seem to remember more than one girl, and a boy, too, but… I don’t even remember my own name!” His voice was nearly a wail by the end, as he slowly curled his hands into fists, nails dragging painfully over the rough, hard rock floor.

The tall man finally moved, lowering himself to one knee, before he grabbed the boy by a shoulder, giving it a tender, if somewhat awkward squeeze.

The boy looked up at him, his face looking its age far more so than usual, streaked with tears and sporting an unusually uncertain gaze, a far cry from his usual demeanor.

“How can I choose what is right for me to do, when I don’t know me?”

The tall man growled softly under his breath.

“How can I even consider staying, when my friends might need me? How can I go, when I don’t even remember their names – I’d just thought of one of them, not a minute ago, and now… nothing! I still remember some things, but how can I rely on that? How do I know that, by the time I reach the other side, I’ll remember them at all? Or that I won’t remember them as en-”

The boy’s tirade was cut off when the tall man put his left hand over his mouth – not merely a few fingers, but the whole hand, palm over the boy’s mouth. His hand was large enough as to easily cover it all, and his grip so firm, he doubted he could have pried it off if he could even muster the will to do so.

“Let me tell you a story, oh lost one,” the tall man said, his voice seeming like a physical thing that wrapped around the boy. “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I broke. In breaking, I, the one, became two, which were one. Two thus reached for All, and I was granted a grace beyond mortal ken.”

As the man spoke, his eyes seemed to draw the boy in, reflecting his words, showing him the tale in images. He saw a younger man, in bearing if not in appearance, with much shorter hair and in plain clothes, on his knees. He held his head in his hands and screamed, with tears running down his cheeks.

The words the tall man spoke reverberated inside the boy, strange though they seemed to him now, there was a part of him which seemed to recognize them, like they were something true, that he used to know, and which had not been entirely taken from him.

“Mine grace was one above the limits of most – a tale so great it warped sooth, imposing itself upon reality in my presence. T’was a tale so great reality could hardly bear it, causing me to slip away more than once-”

A tale warping reality… that sounds like a…

The pools of darkness that were the tall man’s eyes started to glimmer, as if reflecting the starry sky the boy had scene before, the pupils seeming to widen, portals into an infinity of stars. He pulled his hand away from the boy’s face, placing it upon his shoulder instead – the boy remained quiet, nevertheless.

“- yet such was a blessing as much as it was a curse, as I travelled from one world to another, exploring both the Cosmos and myself, my mind and my own power. I moved from world to world, as one would travel from land to land, a barefoot traveler unmoored from their home by both chance and circumstance. In so doing, I learned many a sooth, though I admit that at the time, and in part even still, I did not truly grasp all that had been revealed to me.”

“F-five years…” the boy whispered, spellbound. “You disappeared for five years, after you gained your powers.”

A smile spread on the tall man’s face. “It still feels like so much more than but five measly years. I was gone, exploring. Exploring the worlds, but also exploring myself, guided by my power, as much as it had unmoored me. Though I was not as mighty as I am now, then, not nearly.”

“You were… weaker?”

“Limited, perhaps. I was far more limited, ignorant of the true nature of my power. Less than even an actor in a play, I was but a character, ignorant of the truth of their existence, following a script I did not know exist-”

“You- you are a contriver!?” the boy’s voice almost cracked into a squeak, as the pieces clicked into place.

The tall man’s eyelid twitched, though his grin remained on his face. “I dislike being interrupted, boy, save by one,” he said, and though there was no anger in his voice, it was clearly a rebuke.

“B-beg your pardon?” the boy replied, feeling unbalanced in a different way now.

“Granted,” the tall man replied with a nod of his head. “Moving on, yes, by your terminology, as lacking as it may be, I would have been termed a contriver. My connection to the Source imposed a different… paradigm upon reality in my presence. A mighty power, but a limiting one, too. At first, I lost myself fully to this new paradigm, to this story being woven around me by Forces far beyond mere mortal comprehension.”

“Mayhaps I was special to begin with. Mayhaps it was sheer chance, or even a will other than mine – whatever it was, I seemed to have a knack for spotting the inconsistencies in my power, or perhaps my power was flawed in its ability to make me adhere to the script – I cannot say, but either way, I found myself… doubting. Something didn’t make sense, as I traversed the multiverse, from one seemingly impossible world to another, and I kept that in mind until… well. It would take too long to recount the full sequence of events that lead to it, but eventually, I had a breakthrough, akin perhaps to a second Origin, or Manifestation? I threw off the shackles of the script, realizing I was not merely a character in a tale, nor even an actor upon a stage, but that I could change, nay set, the very plot!” he announced in grand fashion, a manic gleam in his eyes and a grin splitting his face from ear to ear, making a flourish with his hands.

It took a few moments for the boy to fully process what he was saying – then it clicked with what he’d picked up from studying his friend’s power, and…

“You are a contriver who can change the rules of your power at will… that’s what you do when you say what is to happen, you are… you are telling your power what to do! Literally!”

He dropped into a squat, his woes and the door forgotten for the moment, as he held his head in his hands, thoughts racing. “You said earlier that all thinking beings distort reality around themselves to some degree… metahumans do so more than normal people… do contrivers do so more than other metahumans… no, that is obvious. You… you are incursions!” The boy looked up at the tall man with wide eyes, and found him smiling in a way he did not know how to name. “You are… imposing your own reality over the, the, the… the base reality, like when someone would slip into another world due to the walls thinning, except the other way around, bringing something here from there, and… why, how does that lead to gadgeteer and contriver powers conflicting so?”

“The breakdown happens on your end, not ours. For us, there is no conflict, no breakdown,” the tall man responded. “Artisans like you are open to the flow of inspiration from the astral realm, but that inspiration is interpreted through the information you, your gift, take in regarding your surroundings. When you interact, while in the process of conceiving of or constructing a wonder, with the aberrant reality created through the presence of a magus, you get… let’s call it, faulty information. You end up creating something not meant for the reality you are in, which, at best, means it won’t work at all, and at worst, well… entertaining things can happen.”

“This makes so much sense,” the boy whispered, more to himself than to the tall man. He held onto his pounding head, the new information seeming to be rattling some heavily locked-down doors in the deeper recesses of his ravaged mind. “So then, your power is to literally reshape reality to your liking, but… that would conflict with every other…”

He looked up at the tall man, eyes as wide as can be. The tall man smiled at the sight. “Go on, boy,” he said. “You’re a smart one, I can tell.”

“That’s why you went to Mars… why you created your empire there. There were no other… realities to oppose you, so you were able to reshape the planet to your liking,” he spoke in awe at the scope of it all. “You couldn’t have achieved what you did on Earth, you had to do it on Mars, then invade from there… that’s why you didn’t just speak yourself into being the lord of all the Earth, there were too many other incursions that would interfere with yours, you had to… do it the old-fashioned way, like any contriver, sending out your creations…”

“Not like any magus,” the tall man countered with good cheer, his arms crossed, hands disappearing in wide sleeves. “I dare say it’s no exaggeration nor arrogance to state that I operate on a very, very different level than any others.”

“Well, you went to the meta-level… you are a meta-contriver. Literally,” the boy agreed.

“That I am, that I am! Yes, a good term, if not as fanciful as I prefer them to be.”

“Just how did you ever lose?” the boy voiced the question so many people back on Earth still had no answer to.

All the cheer disappeared from the man’s face and demeanor, only to be replaced, not by anger or indignation, but something grave and grand. “You wish to know the answer? Very well boy – listen to this, and listen to it well. There were two factors which led to my complete and near-total defeat; one which lay with me, and one which lay with my foes.”

The man’s voice grew deeper, heavier, echoing throughout the caves, as he seemed to grow taller still, the roof of the cave disappearing into the darkness of total night, filled with naught but stars. “I was beset by heroes of a kind rarely seen even in this modern heroic age. Men and women of sublime knowledge, skill and conviction. By cunning and by wisdom they deduced the one great flaw of my exalted power, a flaw so deep it could not be eliminated by any means. Yet that was not the end of their excellence, for I knew of this flaw, and thought myself sufficiently fortified against its exploitation. But one means there was to truly make use of it against me, and never would I have thought their conviction so great as to so utterly destroy themselves, to obtain the merest chance of defeating me.”

He stopped, drawing in a deep breath after having spoken without. When he exhaled again, it was as if the space around them expanded, pushing the cave walls further apart, the crystal spikes lengthening of their own accord to keep the intruder from beyond the door contained.

“That was one. The other, the other was one more personal, and far, far more damning, for it assured my eventual downfall,” he continued, then, his face cloaked in shadows, grey eyes glimmering like stars. “For you see, I was yet incomplete then. I had broken many a seal, I had reached beyond the limits set upon me by the Source, and in so transgressing, I had learned to speak the words of power; so I thought myself mighty, and I was – but to speak magic words is not enough.” He raised his right hand’s finger, holding it before his lips. “In ancient myth there is the figure of Marduk, god of glorious Babylon,” he launched into a seeming non-sequitur. “Of him, little has survived the ravages of time, but these were his two most essential attributes, considered so important they were preserved in the memory of mankind: that the god-king of Babel had eyes all around his head, and spoke magic words. Such is the pattern, the ideal, for every man – to have eyes around their head, and to speak words of power. Do you understand, boy?”

“To… pay attention to your surroundings, to be attentive and to…” the boy tried to interprete the images the tall man was painting with his words. “To know what to do to make things happen?”

“Yes! Exactly! To be mighty, but to be wise, too! I failed at that – I was not wise, I fear,” the tall man admitted with a sigh, turning his head aside to dramatically touch his forehead with his fingers. “I failed to consider the depth of my foes’ conviction, the sheer lengths they would go to, to defeat me. Not just of the ‘Regicides’, but… others, as well. And ultimately, I failed to consider that, mayhaps, I had gone about achieving my goals in the wrong way to begin with.” He turned his head to look down at the boy once more, his expression gone sad, as he seemed to shrink back to more human dimensions. “I failed to become Marduk, and paid for that failure by being consigned to this purgatory of mine own making.”

The boy sat back on the ground, feeling dizzy trying to keep up with the tall man. “That’s, interesting, but what does that have to do with… me?”

Moving far faster than he had yet, the tall man was suddenly squatting down and stooped over as well, his hands on his own knees, as he looked the boy in the eyes from up close, seeming to skip the transition from standing to squatting. He was so low now that his ridiculously long hair was on the ground between them, wild and messy as can be.

“I am telling you many things, my boy, and it is up to you to separate wheat from chaff,” the tall man replied. “But what is most important now is this: I was never satisfied with what I had, what I was. I sought ever greater heights, to improve myself, my standing within the world, yes, the world itself,” he continued in a grave voice. “Such is the call of man, to which you, too, are subject. If you wish to follow that call, if you wish to grow beyond the boy and become the man, then ask yourself not what is safe, or what will make you happy – ask yourself, what will make you better?”

He fell quiet, then, yet kept looking the boy in the eyes, as he let his words sink in.

The boy felt himself in tumult, as he sat there, clasping his hands together between his crossed legs. Thinking on what the tall man said, he felt something within him respond to his words, as if there was something within them that rang just plain true. Though at the same time, he also felt, though he could not articulate it, that there was something missing, that the tall man might not be entirely right – but was he right enough to make a choice based on his advice?

As if the tall man could tell that he was still gripped by indecision, he spoke again: “Do you need to move ahead, regardless of your apprehensions? Throw yourself into the crucible, face your fears and foes and seek to vanquish them now? Or do you need to retreat for now? To stop, to take stock and reasses? To take the time to heal and prepare, to simply pull back and rest?”

The boy considered those words, and found himself chuckling as his addled brain made an unexpected connection.

“A smile!” the tall man exclaimed, grinning again. “Please boy, do tell me what managed to suddenly break through this cloak of misery you’ve been enveloped in?”

The chuckle petered out, while the boy sat, his legs pulled up to let his arms rest on his knees. “What you just said, my options, it reminded me of something I read – a theory, or perhaps a pattern, in how people manifest as gadgeteers or contrivers,” he started to explain, feeling somehow a great deal lighter, having something he could say. “Both seem to mainly manifest from long-term issues. Facing similar or the same problem, over and over again, and then reaching the point of either a breakdown, or more rarely, a breakthrough. The saying goes, those who face that moment and push onwards, they become gadgeteers, while those who can’t and retreat, become contrivers,” he continued, feeling oddly emboldened to apparently hold the tall man’s attention.

Though that was spoiled when his expression turned a little sour. “Hrm, that does fit,” the tall man agreed. “And yes, I see the connection. To push onwards, or to – how did you say it – retreat. Supposedly, given the shape of your gift, you once chose to press onwards…. and yet…” He clasped his hands together, as if in prayer, and his expression changed to one of controlled neutrality, still and somber as if graven from stone. “Is that what you will do now, boy? Are you going to face your challenge head-on, hazarding your life, your mind, perhaps your very soul, against threats unknown?”

The boy lowered his head, thinking of what he could remember. Impressions, mostly a fragmentary tapestry of feelings and disjointed images. It wasn’t much, not much at all. Far less than any human should have, when making any choices at all, much less ones this impactful.

He thought of the faint impressions he still had, of his friends. Timothy and… Ami? Aimihime. He’d… he’d neglected them, badly. There was regret tied to them. Not the bitter, black regret he felt thinking of that lost person he thought he might have loved. Not the shameful regret connected to the olive-skinned girl, or sympathetic regret for the red-haired girl. Not the strange regret thinking of the black-haired girl with the blue eyes evoked. But a regret nonetheless.

There was fear, too. Fear for them, little though he remembered them. They were in danger, he knew that in his very bones.

Fear and regret did not seem like good enough reasons to go back. To hazard himself, as the tall man put it.

Deeper than regret, as deep as the fear, was love. He loved… his friends. And… others. Siblings, he thought. Or a sibling? And another, a flash of red hair and green eyes…

There was love there, pushing him to go back. To seek out those he loved, not simply because he was worried for their safety and health, but also to seek the comfort of their presence.

Above all, though…

“I… I think I need to go back,” the boy said, finally, his voice as unstet as his conviction. “That is, the right thing to do, I believe.”

“Why is it the right thing to do?” the tall man asked, without doubt nor support in his voice or bearing.

The boy frowned, trying to put it into words, insofar as he had the words for it. “Because… you don’t solve your problems by running from them. I think… I think I wanted to be a hero. There are people who still need me, so… I need to go forward and face whatever is beyond that door.”

“A noble sentiment,” he replied, still holding his hands together palm to palm. “I would contest that that is always the best, or even a reasonable way to deal with one’s issues.”

“What is the alternative? Nothing is resolved by ignoring it,” the boy replied, trying not to sound disdainful, as he was talking to someone whom, by implication, had turned away from the world at least once. He was not certain that he succeeded.

The tall man did not seem to mind – or have, in fact, any kind of visible reaction whatsoever. “It is not always wrong, to take a step back,” he said, his voice soft, even as he towered above the boy, raising his eyes to the cave ceiling above. “To escape imprisonment is not shameful. To rest after one’s labors are done is not being slothful. Consideration is not indecision, nor subject to its indignity.” He reached down for the boy, long-fingered hands cupping his cheeks, framing his face as he pulled him up onto his feet “When you are tired, it is only good that you rest. When you’re hurt, it is only good that you seek succor. There is no shame in conceding defeat when you are beaten, either. Nor is there even defeat in taking a step back when one needs to. There is grace in it.” He tilted his head to the side, looking the boy in the eyes again, if only briefly, as the boy lowered his eyes. “There is no grace in killing yourself because you know not to quit,” the tall man insisted Not in grinding yourself down to shreds by throwing yourself at a challenge you are not yet ready to resolve. It is only… ”

He cut off, taking his hands away from the boy’s face as a smile spread on his face.

“It is funny… that actually… helped, Sir,” the boy said, no longer looking up at the tall man, as they were nearly of a height. “Not how you meant it perhaps, but… I just realized something important about myself. Something I can be sure of.”

The tall man slid his hands into his sleeves, looking at the boy with wary curiosity. “Which would be…?”

“That is who I am, Sir. Throwing myself at a problem, over and over… it might not always work. But I am no good at stopping. Never have been.”

“Perhaps you need to change.”

“Perhaps. But not today.” The boy looked at the door, raising a hand to point at it. “I know not what lies beyond, except this – I am being challenged, and I must face that challenge, or else I will not be me. I am sure of that now,” he explained, smiling beatifically.

The tall man seemed to tense up for a moment, before he relaxed his shoulders again, releasing a sigh with a touch of fondness. “Impossible child,” he said, a light smile on his face, closing his eyes for a few moments.”

“Very well!” he spoke loudly then, eyes opening wide as he looked at the boy. “If you wish to go, I shall not stop you!”

“Thank you, Sir. I shall be going then,” the boy said, turning towards the door, before his nerve could abandon him. “Please give your wife my well-wishes.”

“Hold on a moment, boy!” the tall man said, putting a hand on his shoulder. When the boy looked back at him, he grinned. “We are not quite finished yet. After all, you are going forth into adventure, and this is my court.”

“… I do not follow, Sir.”

“In olden times, when a hero would set out on their journey, they would be garbed and armed for what lay ahead of them! Yet, sadly, I can give you neither arms nor armor. The only things you can take out of this place, are those which you brought with you,” the tall man explained, or at least began to, snapping his fingers.

The boy felt a light burden, and when he looked down, he saw that he was wearing the remnants of his costume and armor again. They had been fused together once more, where they had been shattered, but there were still gaps in the armor, where it had been pierced, as well as in his white cloak.

“However, there is something else I can give you along on your way – something intangible, yet worth so much more than any item!”

The boy looked up at him again with open interest, for more than one reason. “What is that, Sir?”

“The greatest boon I can grant, these days – Knowledge, my boy!” He clapped his hands together, excitedly. “Thus I shall grant you the boons three – three pieces of knowledge, to take along on your journey. The first, I already gave you earlier, as I explained to you the mechanics of this realm. As for the second… come!”

He grabbed his own robe, and pulled it towards the boy – before he could react, he was enveloped in the darkness of the heavy cloth.


The boy found himself standing on a field of grass, beneath the starry sky of the In-Between Realm.

He swayed, disoriented, but the man put an arm around his shoulders, now standing next to him, and but a head taller.

“Look, boy. What do you see up there?” He pointed up into the sky.

Following his finger, the boy looked at the black hole – the source, as the tall man called it – above, only for his eyes to immediately turn away, his gaze to slide off of it, as if his body could not bear for him to look at such complete nothingness directly. Instead his gaze fell upon the many, many stars around it, and the connective ’tissue’ between, whatever it was.

“I can not look at the… the source, not directly, so all I can see are these stars, and the stuff between them.”

“The ‘stuff’ between them are the connections they have with each other,” the man replied, off-handedly. “A tapestry woven of individual lines, nothing more.”

The boy blinked, and what he saw… shifted. Not that what he was seeing changed in itself – rather, with the tall man’s words, the way he was looking at it changed, and he could see them… see the lines, the connections between the stars. They were like beams of light, or perhaps arcs of lightning, or perhaps arteries of light-blood, sometimes solid, unchanging, most often however they were intermittent, pulses of light travelling between the stars at frequencies so fast they seemed nearly solid. Unlike the stars they connected, they were, nearly all, red as blood turned to light, glowing brilliantly, yet still overshadowed by the stars, and thus seeming dull on their own.

“What I want you to focus on is what lies right beneath the Source!” the tall man continued on, as if he hadn’t just completely changed the boy’s view of the sky above.

“Beneath it? Where is beneath? And how can I look at it – my eyes can not even get close to the rim of the… this source,” the boy protested, though it was not frustrated, so much as it was explanatory. At this point, he was simply assuming that the tall man knew more than him, and was about to make a point.

“Don’t look straight at it, boy,” he said, pulling on the boy’s shoulder, and turning him around, his hand going to the back of the boy’s head, pushing it forward and down a bit, so as to put the black hole sun exactly to the back of his head – or it should have, for when the boy tried to look at the man out of the corner of his eyes, the black hole was still there.

“Look to the corner of your eyes. Don’t focus on them, just look – no matter which way you turn in this realm, so long as you are beneath the open sky and have your eyes open, the Source is ever within the edge of your view.”

He explained and the boy knew it to be true – whichever way he turned his eyes, the Source was there, at the edge of them. But not when he closed them.

The tall man let go of his head, allowing him to stand up straight again. “Now look beneath the Source, by the corner of your eyes. Don’t think about it, just do it. Let instinct guide you!”

The boy did as he was told – and blinked, his eyes widening, as he caught sight of something that made no sense to be there!

“What, what is that!?” he all but shouted, his hands twitching, fingers curling into claws, as if ready to grab onto something, anything.

“That, my boy, is the second boon I grant you. Knowledge of that place where you must go, some day,” the tall man replied, gravely, as if that explained anything.

The boy marveled at the sight before him – there, ‘beneath’ the Source, looking at it without looking at it, he saw something… it was a place, and not a place. A building, or a series of buildings, or impressions, all overlapping. A ring of standing stones atop a hill. A temple atop a broken wall that was yet whole. A church atop a mountain. A hill shaped like a snake, overgrown with grass. A pyramid of glass, amidst a wide desert. A submerged row of stones. A buried theatre of menhirs.

All of those, and more, and less, were all there, all at once, all conveying the same sense of something distant, holy.

“That, is Golgotha Actual,” the tall man spoke again.

The boy almost laughed as he heard the name. “Golgotha? That seems a bit…” He cut himself off, not sure what to describe it as.

The tall man shrugged to that. “It was named by a devout Christian and a not-so-devout Jew, I wouldn’t be so surprised that they chose religious terms for something like that.”

“Did they name it because it appears to be holy, or does it appear to be holy because they named it so?” the boy asked back immediately.

The tall man blinked, then turned his head to the boy, grinning, though the boy was too focused on the distant sight to notice. “You are a sharp one. It took me years before I even asked that question.”

“I would not be thinking this far ahead if you had not taken me this far to begin with, Sir,” the boy replied humbly. “So what is the answer?”

That, I do not know!” the tall man shot back, cheerfully. “I have not been able to go there, nor divine anything more about its nature, other than that it is a constant in this realm, and this pervasive sense ever since I first saw it that, some day, I must go there. That that is a goal worth striving for.”

The boy nodded, somehow not feeling disappointed – rather, somehow, not knowing the particulars made him feel more excited about chasing that place himself!

“I understand, Sir,” he said, while focusing as much as he could on the distant place. If he focused too much on his peripheral vision, his gaze just slid off of it again, but if he focused too little, it became too blurry to see… it was a balancing act, a difficult one, yet when he hit that sweet spot…

“Are those… snakes?” he asked, in wonder, as he saw something move amidst ‘Golgotha Actual’. Two… snakes? They were too big to be called mere snakes. One was white, as if made of light, the other so black it made shadows seem grey, they were wound around each other like a double helix, their titanic forms draped across several different of the ‘images’ he saw in that place, as if they existed in multiple, overlapping locations at once… and they were, truly, titanic beyond measure, so vast they reminded him of something he’d seen not so long ago, at the bottom of the sea…

“Do not focus on them for too long, my boy, lest you draw undue attention,” the tall man said, cautiously. “They do not like being observed too closely, those two, and we dare not rouse their ire, even here, at this place of my power.”

The boy averted his focus, immediately.

He doesn’t sound afraid, but… to even be wary of something, that is odd for him.

“I think you have seen enough here. Let this knowledge be my second boon to you, my boy,” the tall man spoke then, as he raised his robe again, and swallowed the boy into it once more.


They were in the cave again, before the door, and the many groping hands.

“It is almost time for you to leave, my boy,” the tall man spoke, letting go of the boy. “Though I believe the woman would like to wish you well in person,” he added, looking over his shoulder.

When the boy followed his sight, he saw Angelica standing just a few steps behind them, holding the elbow of her right arm with her left hand, looking at him with a soft, almost sad smile.

“Miss, uh, Mrs Blackhill,” the boy mumbled awkwardly, causing her smile to become warmer, and less sad.

“Leaving so soon, are you? No, don’t even apologize,” she spoke, then cut him off as he opened his mouth to do just that. “Of course you have to go. What else would you do, stay here with us ancient fiddly-duddies?”

She stepped closer, until she was within arms reach of the boy, radiating a warmth that felt alien to the boy, yet all too pleasant.

“I am sure it would be quite to my liking, madam,” he replied, and he meant it. “But I you are right, I must go. There are… many things, waiting for me, I think.”

Suddenly, he found himself enveloped in a tight hug, the woman balancing on her toes to make up for the disparity in height between them, not that it helped all that much.

“Take care of yourself, alright?” Angelica said, softly. “Don’t be in any hurry to return here, or anywhere near here, any time soon.”

The boy put his arms around her, squeezing her back awkwardly, careful not to hurt her with the hard edges of his armor. “I will try my best, madam.”

She chuckled, and it sounded wet, though he saw no tears when she pulled back and smiled up at him, her hands still on his shoulders.

“Go with God, my boy,” she spoke softly. “Though I hope, sincerely, that it will be a long, long time ere we meet again, if ever, I do also hope that if we do, the next time, you will be able to tell me your name.”

The boy nodded obediently. “I will do so, madam. I promise you that.” He hesitated, feeling unsure of how to respond properly. “Um, thank you. For the food, and the drink, and… for your kindness.”

She let go of his armored shoulders, as a few tears finally escaped her eyes. “Oh Gosh, you don’t have to thank me for that,” she said, chuckling and wiping the droplets away. “Now look at me… it’s been so long since I spoke to anyone other than my clod of a husband, I’m in tears now!”

The boy rubbed the back of his head, looking down. “Sorry. I mean… um. I guess I get it? I don’t know what to say…” He looked at the tall man for help, but he just watched with an expression of fond bemusement.

Angelica clasped her hands together. “Go with God, my dear boy,” she said again. “Worry not for us, though do spare us the odd thought or so. But above all, take care of yourself, and find your path to happiness.”

The boy nodded, mutely. He’d barely spent any time with her, and yet… so odd, that she made him feel like he wanted to stay already, all on her own.

“Goodbye, Mrs Blackhill,” he said, before turning towards the door again.

The tall man stepped up behind him, putting his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “One more boon remains,” he whispered into the boy’s ear.

“You have already given me so much, Mister Blackhill,” the boy replied and he meant it.

“All good things come in threes,” the man said to that, then chuckled. “So listen to this, and listen close. Know these words, know them down to your bones,” he spoke, and his voice took on a quality that made the boy shiver from head to toe, as he stood there, the groping hands of light just inches away from reaching him, contained within the circle of spikes.

“Know these words to your bones, through time, space, life and death. Know them for their truth,” the tall man spoke with reverberating voice, seeming to shake the whole cave around them, his breath hot on the boy’s ear. “Know these words, as you seek to grow eyes around your head. Know them, as you seek the magic words to speak!”

His hands squeezed down on the boy’s shoulders, hard enough he felt it even through the armor, as the whole world seemed to hold its breath along with him, waiting to hear the words.

“One is None, Two is All.”

“Eh?” The boy blinked, as the words vibrated through him, seeming to make his very bones rattle.

But when he turned his head to look at the man, to ask for explanation, the tall man gave him a light, yet firm shove, and the boy stumbled past the containment of the hands.

Immediately, the many, many hands grabbed hold of him, all over. His arms, his legs, his shoulders, his sides, his head. His ears, his nose, his cheeks, everything, wherever they could grab, they held onto, as they pulled him towards the gate.

He didn’t fight them, at least not to resist their pull, even as they grabbed onto him harder, their fingers sinking through his armor and clothes and into his flesh, but he did manage to turn his head enough – even if it felt like they were going to tear his cheek open, two fingers slipping into the space between cheek and teeth – to look back at the tall man and his woman, whom stood there, his arm around her, holding her to his side, while she gave him a small wave.

The hands pulled him towards the door, and he was being pulled, but he was also falling. He was looking back at the two of them, but he was also looking up, the two perspectives overlapping as he tumbled through the gateway, moving faster and faster, faster than light, than thought, than anything he had ever conceived of.

Yet still he could see them, and hear them clearly. He saw Inkblot, flying past them, chasing him across eternity.

The tall man gestured grandly towards the boy, as if casting him out with a wave of his hand. “Go forth now, my boy! Go forth, and become Marduk!

B015.∅.1 The In-Between Place

A boy’s eyes opened, to the sight of a strange ceiling made of some kind of wood and inlaid with metallic flower patterns.


“Oh, you’re awake!”

He sat up and looked around, feeling almost in a daze.

He was lying in what appeared to be a gazebo made of wood and metal, surrounded by a lush field of bright blue flowers of a kind he’d never seen before, with long, thin leaves that rustled in the wind, creating wave-like patterns dancing across said field; beyond the field, he could see a forest made of luminescent trees unlike anything ever seen on Earth, and beyond that was the sky… a sky that was absolutely stuffed with stars. Stars upon stars, in more colors than he’d ever seen – colors that made his mind twist itself in knots trying to parse them, until his eyes moved on to more familiar territory.

Above it all towered a vast black hole in the sky, in lieu of a sun. Large beyond measure, taking up a full half of the sky visible from the gazebo, it was of a black color unlike anything he’d ever seen, so black his eyes slid off of it, unable to focus on the vast nothingness, yet it illuminated this place by its vast, incandescent corona, which outdid even the stars surrounding it with its multitude of impossible, ever-shifting colors.

A whole sky, most of which his eyes could barely focus on, and so they moved down again and came to rest on the other person standing within the gazebo.

She was a woman in her late twenties, though she may also have been a well-kept thirty-year-old. She was short, he doubted she cracked one-fifty, if that much, and wore a dress he’d have associated with the war period, blue with white dots, reaching halfway down her calves, while keeping the arms and shoulders bare, tying around her neck to stay up. Her strawberry-blonde hair was lengthy, reaching down to her knees, and while made straight by its own weight for most of its length, curled naturally at the bottom; it suited her pale skin and dark grey-blue eyes. A ring made of five delicate gold bands weaving around five tiny sparkling jewels in five different colors graced the ring finger on her left hand.

“How do you feel? I’m sorry if this all feels quite baffling, but I promise, you’re safe here,” she said, her gaze as soft and friendly as her words.

The boy looked down himself – he was still dressed in his jet-black, form-fitting impact suit, with its gleaming, golden connector strips and ports, but it was completely undamaged, pristine – and then up at her again.

“I am dead,” he stated, flatly.

The older – it was hard to judge her age, but she was in her late twenties, at least – woman’s eyes grew sad. “You were,” she replied, with a touch of… anger… in her voice. “You gave me quite the shock, you know? I was tending to my flowers when suddenly your body just crashed into the flower bed!” she elaborated, clenching her fists in a more obvious display of anger.

“I am… sorry, about the flowers?” he said in turn, not sure how to process that. He’d been dead and now he wasn’t? Or was this an afterlife?

“I’m not angry about the flowers, young man!” she shot back, eyes flashing with almost maternal wrath. “I’m furious that a child would be harmed so! You’re not supposed to get yourself hurt like that, you hear me!?”

He couldn’t help it, he cringed back, as some instinctual part of his psyche was stirred up and flinched away from the display. “I… shall endeavor not to die again?” he tried again.

The strange woman huffed in turn. “Do so! Now, you didn’t answer my question – how do you feel?”

“I feel… well enough, I suppose. Considering I was apparently dead and now am not…” He looked at her, feeling both tired and confused, even though his body told him everything was as fine as could be.

“That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement,” she replied with a sigh, as she stepped forward and put a hand on his head.

The urge to dodge or deflect it didn’t even come up, somehow, and the boy just froze up as he felt the oddly alien-seeming gesture, warm fingers running through his hair, while she reached for a very English tea service on a small side table next to the bed he’d been lying on.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked in that oddly warm tone of voice, pouring a cup full of black tea. He shrugged, then reconsidered and nodded in response.

“And perhaps you could tell me your name while we’re at it?” she added another question. “Also, how many spoons of honey would you like?” came yet another, as her hand held a delicate silver spoon over the honey pot.

“Two spoons, I think? I have never had honey with tea before… as far as I can remember,” he replied, with a qualifier he felt was necessary in order to stay honest.

Why he cared to be honest, he wasn’t sure of. Something about this woman was odd, outside his experience, and he couldn’t even name the issue.

“Aw, that’s a shame – honey’s the best thing you can add to tea, I assure you,” she replied, taking her hand away from scratching his scalp to pick up the cup and saucer both, and hand them to him.

He took it with a murmured ‘thank you’ and raised the cup to his lips – something told him it wouldn’t be too hot, and he was quickly proven right, as the tea was at just the perfect temperature to enjoy.

The woman stood back and watched, smiling, like there was something to enjoy about the sight of him drinking her tea… was that normal?

Something was off… like there was something missing. He couldn’t say what, but it was… discombobulating to say the least.

Then he realized she might still be waiting for his answer. “My name, my name is…” he began to speak, but then stopped.

Her expression grew concerned again. “Do you remember your name?”

“I do, It is just that…” he frowned. He knew his name. It was a long one, but it was his… was it? “I am not at all certain that it is my name anymore,” he finally admitted, lowering his head as if in defeat.

A truth he’d tried to ignore, for a while now.

Before he even knew what was happening, the teacup and saucer had been taken from his hands and he was enveloped in a warm, soft embrace.

“You poor boy,” she whispered, as she stroked his hair. “I don’t know what happened to you, but it must have been absolutely horrid.”

He froze up. There was no other way to describe it, his entire body locked up.

She was warm and soft and kind. She wasn’t exceptionally beautiful, either, so she didn’t set off that particular trigger of his. Everything about this scene, about what she was doing seemed deeply, fundamentally right.

It felt completely alien to him, and he couldn’t say why, but it was driving him crazy, his heart was racing and he was breathing hard and all he could think of was that this was all right and all wrong all the same.

“What is going on here?” he said, trying to regain his bearings. “Please, I just… I need to know. How am I alive? Where am I? Why am I here? Who are you?” He asked, begged for any kind of clarity, and for the chance to breathe again.

She let go of him, finally, stepping back, and the panic that’d been rising up and choking him diminished, though it did not disappear.

He looked down himself and realized his hands were clenched hard on the mattress he lay, digging deeply into the sheets. It took a considerable amount of willpower to make them unclench.

“I’m sorry if you’re distressed. I’m sure this must all be quite taxing for you,” the stranger spoke, softly, drawing his attention to her again. “Let’s start with something simple. My name is Angelica.” She smiled again. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. As to your other questions… if you think you’re up to walking a bit, we can go to my husband and he can explain everything to you.”

“Why can you not explain everything? Anything?” he asked with a frown.

To his surprise, she just rolled her eyes with an expression of fond annoyance.

“Because my dear husband is a complete drama queen, and if I took away his chance at expositing to someone new, he’ll sulk like an overgrown baby for weeks,” she explained. “So, once you’re finished with your tea and your scones, we can go meet him and I assure you, he’ll be jubilant to talk to you.”

The boy’s eyes flickered to the bedside table – there were, indeed, scones on the tray the teapot stood on, and they did look extremely appetizing.

Noticing that he did feel quite hungry, he finally sat up properly, putting his feet down on the floor, and dug into the food without much further ado.

The tea was sweet and the scones savory, and it went together perfectly. As soon as he bit into the first scone, his stomach growled and he felt even more hungry, causing him to dig in with more enthusiasm than he thought he could muster.

He was halfway through his second scone when a slightly electronic caw drew his attention to the gazebo’s railing above the pillow his head had been resting on.

A jet-black raven sat atop the railing, its form seemingly true to life, yet quite obviously artificial to the boy’s eye. The false animal tilted its head, looking at him with beady black eyes, letting loose yet another caw, then beat its dark wings and took off.

“You…” he spoke, as if in a dream, watching the raven fly a circle around his head, before it landed upon his left shoulder. It was heavier than one would expect of a bird of it s size, but not by much. “I made you, did I not?” he asked the avian machine, lifting a hand towards its beaked head. It moved, following programming meant to make it blend in and appear lifelike, and rubbed its head against his fingers.

Its feathers were soft, and surprisingly warm.

“I can barely believe you followed me all the way to this place, little one,” he whispered to it, and though he knew it to be far from alive, and following behavioral coding he’d written himself, he still felt himself warmed, emboldened, by its affectionate response to his touch.

“He arrived here moments after you did, dear,” Angelica explained with a fond smile. “And he’s refused to stray from your side for even a moment.”

The boy looked at the artificial raven, not sure what to say to that. He had programmed it to act in such a manner, and yet… for it to have come all this way, somehow, in pursuit of its programming?

Perhaps it was due to how vulnerable, how off-center he felt, but he found himself… touched.

“So, what’s his name? Or is he a she?” the woman interrupted his thoughts on the subject, leaning closer to run a single finger over the silky feathers on its head.

“A name? I… I never gave any of them a name, just… numerical designations. This one is RSC-42. The last one I built.”

“Eh? There are so many of them?” she said, surprised and, apparently, stunned by it. “That must have taken so much work! I couldn’t even tell he was artificial, until my husband told me!”

He lowered his head, taking another bite off his scone, instead of answering immediately. “There were, but most of them have been destroyed. This is the last one.”

“Hmm… then he should have a name, I think. Yes, I think he’s earned one, hasn’t he?” she suggested, playfully.

The boy tilted his head to the side, considering it. “I suppose so… would you like to name him for me?” I hardly feel like an authority on names, right now.

Her face brightened, breaking into a wide smile that showed gleaming white teeth. “Ohhh! I can? Thank you!” She looked at the ravenbot again, humming excitedly as she leaned in close, studying it. “Hm. Hmmm. Hmm…” She squinted, then stood up straight and pointed at it. “I know! We’ll name him Inkblot!”

The boy turned the name over in his head a few times, smiling in spite of being unable to really share in her enthusiasm. Then he looked at the raven, which just looked back at him without any comprehension.

“RSC-42, register new primary designation: Inkblot. Over,” he ordered the machine. The raven froze for an almost imperceptible moment, then it cawed loudly and beat its wings, before settling down again.

“I guess he likes it!” Angelica announced with a happy laugh, as if the little display was something truly special.

The boy could just shrug, and turn to his scone and tea again, while Angelica kept cooing over the artificial raven perched on his shoulder – who, of course, soaked it all up, as he was programmed to do.

It was all strangely soothing, even if it was spoiled by how out of place he felt.

Finally, he finished both his tea and his scones, and felt a great deal more relaxed for it, though even the good food couldn’t banish that persistent feeling of wrongness pressing in upon him here.

“I am finished, madam,” he stated as he stood up, only to find himself towering over the woman. “I believe I am ready to speak to your husband now.”

Angelica gave him a beatific smile. “Oh, no one’s ever really ready to talk to him, dear boy,” she said, reaching up to put a hand on his free shoulder and squeeze it reassuringly. “But he’s really not as bad as he may seem, so don’t worry.”


With those ominous words, Angelica turned around, and walked out of the gazebo, onto a winding path made out of polished rocks sunk into the earth, cutting a meandering way through the field of blue flowers.

The boy followed after her, walking with his ever watchful raven on his shoulder and barely a sound upon the rocks, thanks to the soft soles of his bodysuit’s feet. While she walked ahead of him, he wondered at this whole situation, even at the basic scenery laid out before him. It was all unreal – it was bright as day, yet the sky was dark and filled with stars. A black hole served as a sun taking over half the visible sky – and though the light it gave off was made of more colors than the boy could count, the actual illumination it provided was no different than that of the sun on Earth – yet it did not blot out the stars around it. At the same time, before his feet, blue flowers created a facsimile of water, as the wind blew over them, creating a sound not unlike music.

The most off-putting thing, however, beyond all the weird flora around him, was how wrong he himself felt to be here – like he just didn’t belong in this serene world.

He kept musing, fruitlessly, upon that fact as they walked along the path, then passed into the forest, which was made up of strangely smooth trees which, instead of leaves, sported slender tendrils made of something more akin to translucent flesh than plant matter, like a jellyfish’s tendrils. They rustled and whispered in the wind, too, as electricity seemed to run through them, to the tune of the sounds around, creating quite the light show, as Angelica and the boy passed underneath them.

In the end though, they merely passed through a small corner of the forest, taking them less than two minutes before they reached the end of it – and not one animal in sight, though he did hear things moving amidst the purplish and pink undergrowth.

“We’re almost there,” Angelica spoke up, stopping just as they stepped out of the trees.

The boy blinked and looked out – the forest floor transitioned into another field of blue lilies here, but the ground was sloped up towards his right, leading up to a small peak that looked out over whatever lay beyond… a peak atop which sat a stone platform, upon which in turn stood a tall, lonely figure, their back to the boy and Angelica, hands clasped behind their back. Dressed in regal, dark robes, their, his jet-black hair flew in the wind, wildly, far longer than men normally wore it.

Though the boy could only see his back, though his memories were fragmented to say the least, he had no trouble remembering this one, and a great many things snapped into clarity, even as a million more questions were raised.

“Go,” Angelica said, softly. “I’ll go get some condiments and drinks, then join you.”

His head snapped about, looking down at the diminutive woman. “I thought… you would accompany me,” he said, feeling disappointed, and even more surprised that he felt so.

She put a hand on his back, smiling up at him. “Drama queen, remember? Really, you don’t have to worry. I promise you, you’re safe here, and if he so much as implies otherwise, I’ll beat him up for you, ok?”

The boy blinked his eyes at the surreal suggestion. Just who was this woman? “Very… well,” he spoke, finally, having no idea what else to say.

Thus, he turned back towards the stone platform and the tall figure atop it, and started walking towards it. Fortunately, the path forked right in front of him, with one fork leading straight up the slope of the hill, even including a few stone steps in particularly steep parts.

Step by step, he advanced on the path up the hill, doing his best to ignore the foreboding sensation that was trying to overwhelm him, growing more intense with every step that brought him closer to the man atop the hill.

Like he is surrounded by his own atmosphere.

The man did not seem to move, standing still as a statue, save for his hair and robe fluttering in the wind, even when the boy reached the steps leading up to the stone platform, and went up to join him.

What the…

The platform was bigger than he would have expected – rather than a square, it extended outward from what he’d thought was a hill, except it wasn’t; it was a cliff, and the platform extended out over the sharp edge, where it seemed like nothing so much as if someone had taken a cleaver to the ground and cut everything beyond this point off, leaving this hill to look out over empty space.

Only it wasn’t space, really. It was vast, yes. It was filled with stars, yes. But those stars were not normal, no more than the stars in the sky above had been. Some were vast, some were small. Some had strange shapes to them, gnarled and twisted, shiny and smooth, and innumerable others. And the colors. More colors than existed in the normal world, colors the boy had no name for, many of which he couldn’t even look at without his eyes sliding off involuntarily.

And between it all… between all the stars, was not space. He couldn’t articulate how he knew, but his instincts told him that he was far, far away from any notion of proper space. The stars seemed to be all part of a single whole, instead, the gaps between them filled by something… other, something his eyes couldn’t focus on no matter how much he tried.

Whatever it was, it felt the same to his eyes as trying to stare up into that seeming black hole above, a fact of which he assured himself again by briefly looking up, before looking down again in the same direction in which the man next to him seemed to be staring.

That’s not what I’m here for, the boy thought, and averted his eyes, of his own choice this time, turning his head to look up at the man.

He took a deep breath, drawing some comfort from the light weight of his corvid companion upon his shoulder, and spoke up. “Emyr Blackhill.”

The tall man turned to look down at him with those maddeningly dark eyes. “Boy,” he spoke, in that deep, reverberating voice, a voice that would be booming, if he was not consciously restraining it. “I will not pretend to have foreseen this, but I can in all honesty say that I am not exactly surprised to see you here.”

“Why?” the boy asked, and it came out far more desperate than he would have wanted it to. “Why am I here? Why with you? How am I alive – did you bring me back? What… what is going on?”

Emyr stroked his smooth chin, looking down at the boy. “You want answers. I have some of them, though I suspect not all that you seek.”

“Will you give them to me?” the boy asked, very nearly begged.

“Yes,” the godly man replied, nodding to the boy. “Though there are some questions which I cannot currently, in good conscience, answer you, and some to which I genuinely don’t know the answers, I shall answer as many other questions as I am able.”

The boy’s face twisted. “Again and again, it comes back to this… Questions you cannot answer – and questions you will not answer? Will you at least tell me why you won’t answer questions you could?” In spite of his best efforts, his voice rose in anger towards the end.

“Because I don’t believe you are ready for the answers, boy,” the tall man answered, seemingly without any emotion.

“Why!? Why am I not ready? Who are you to decide that!?” the boy shouted now, feeling his heartbeat rise up again – but this time it was genuine anger, not the blind panic he’d felt earlier, when Angelica had hugged him. “Just tell me, please, what I want to know!”

The tall man tilted his head to the side, like some curious bird, seemingly unaffected by the boy’s outburst. “So be it – answer me but one question, and I shall hold back nothing. Any answer that is within my knowledge to give, you shall have.”

He blinked, only now realizing that he’d started to cry. “What is it? I’ll answer it, if it’ll only finally give me some answers!”

The tall man leaned forward a little, his hands clasped behind his back, and opened his mouth to say…

“What is your Name?”

The boy’s mouth opened, and then closed again. “That is all? I tell you my name and you will not keep anything from me?”

“My word on it,” the tall man replied, leaning down further (he really was a freakishly tall man). “So, again I ask.”

“What. Is. Your. Name?”

The boy licked his lips, stunned that it would be so easy. So he opened his mouth and replied…


His mouth closed again, and he blinked. Why didn’t I say anything?, he thought to himself, and tried again, as the tall man kept looking down on him with those calm, yet not cold eyes of his.


He couldn’t do it. He had so many answers he’d given in the past, but not a one of them felt right.

My name? Why… why can’t I tell what my own name is?

The world began to wobble around him, distorting, as his breathing quickened.

“M-my name… my name is…”

What is my name? It’s not that… not that one either… how do I know what my name is when I don’t know who I am?

Suddenly, just as the world began to drop away around him, he found himself caught by two long-fingered hands, one on his shoulder and one on his chest, above his heart, steadying him.

“It’s alright, boy,” Emyr said, his voice all the softer for its restrained, booming quality. “You can’t force it. Let it go. Breathe.”

He pushed, gently, on the boy’s chest, as if to physically calm his breathing – and somehow, it worked.


Slowly, breath by breath, he stopped hyperventilating.


Finally, he calmed down, and the world stopped spinning. The strong hands guided him to sit on a chair which hadn’t been there before, before a table just big enough for two – or maybe three – with a single other chair on the opposite side, its back to the drop-off behind, and the black hole sun beyond.

“I do not mean to mock you, boy,” the tall man spoke, gently, pulling his surprisingly warm hand away from the boy’s chest, while the other remained on his back, steadying him. “Nor to taunt you with knowledge, or in any other way. I am merely, genuinely, convinced that there is knowledge I possess, which you want, yet which would be harmful to you, as you are now. After all, you cannot even tell me your own name.”

“Can you not… can you not fix them? My memories? Free me from whatever is… is doing this to me?” the boy begged, as wretched as he felt for doing so, as he wiped tears away with his bare hands.

“I could, yes,” the tall man said with a nod, sliding his hand from the boy’s back to his shoulder. “But I shall not, not yet at least.”

The boy’s hopes dropped quicker than they’d risen. “Why not!?” he shouted at the man, only held back from jumping up into his face by the hand on his shoulder, opposite from his raven.

Inkblot cawed and beat his wings, as if in support of his outrage, as the boy stared at the Martian pseudo-deity’s face with wet, angry eyes.

He expected to see some manner of arrogance or sadistic amusement in the tall man’s expression, but instead there was only… calm. Empathy?

“I will explain. I promise you, I will explain, and then you can choose whether you want me to restore your memories or not. But you’ll have to listen first,” he spoke, softly, ignoring Inkblot’s agitated

The boy’s shoulder’s sagged, and he lowered his head. “Why… why can I not just have my memories? Everyone… everyone else gets to have that,” he whispered, as a childish, long-buried part of him wailed against the unfairness of the world, even as the bigger, more cynical part of him shouted it down for having unrealistic expectations.

The tall man raised a hand, gently wiping the boy’s tears away. “Take heart, boy. You are alive, and where there is life, there is hope – and as the mere fact that we are talking to each other here can well attest, even death is not always the end of hope.” He patted the boy’s back, once, twice, thrice, and then pulled his hand back.

For a moment, there was only quiet, but for the tall man’s near-silent footsteps upon the hard stone floor, and then the sound of him sitting upon the tall-backed, nearly throne-like chair opposing the boy’s much more modest one across the table.

An indeterminate amount of time passed, before the boy wiped at his eyes and cheeks with his wrists, then sat up in a more straight-backed fashion, facing the crownless king…

No, not crownless. The man had positioned himself so that the black hole sun’s corona surrounded his chair, like a vast, ever-changing halo – or a crown, more epic than anything made of mere metal and gems could ever hope to be.

The boy took a deep breath, trying to order the blasted wasteland of his thoughts and memories.

“Perhaps, that is a good place to start,” he finally said, his voice as steady as he could make it. “How am I still alive?”

Emyr looked at him over steepled fingers, his eyes so dark they seemed like black pits, not unlike the black hole sun behind him. “You are not ‘still’ alive – rather, you are alive ‘again’. When you came here, your body was dead, riddled with holes from whatever conflict you were involved in.”

The boy gulped, a hand rising to touch his forehead, where he… where he’d been shot through…

“I… I did not know you could raise the dead.”

“It is not something to be done casually, nor something I could do easily, upon Earth or Mars. But here… here, in this limina locum, there are many things possible, which would not be, normally. What is impossible in there, is merely difficult out here, and what is difficult to others, is easily done to me,” he explained with a sweeping hand gesture when he spoke of the ‘limina locum’, indicating their surroundings.

“I… I suppose that touches upon my next question. Where are we, and why am I here?” the boy probed further.

“Those are two simple questions, with complex answers, and they touch upon some matters which I feel you are not yet ready to know – but I shall try to answer them anyway,” Emyr said, returning to the steeple-handed position. “Recall – when last we met, there was something I gave you, which you took with you from that little world we convened within.”

The boy looked at him, confused – then it hit him, and he reached for the pockets in his impact suit with fumbling, clumsy fingers.

From one of them he pulled out something he’d pretty much forgotten he’d had, until he’d just been reminded – a simple star, about the size of a dollar coin and seemingly made of pure gold.

“The gold star,” he said, eyes wide.

“Precisely,” Emyr said, with a satisfied smile. “So, let us speak of stars, shall we?”


They were interrupted by the sound of hard shoes on even harder stone, and before long, Angelica’s smiling face rose up from beneath the platform, carrying an old-fashioned, gold-embossed tray loaded with drinks and snacks.

“Ah, the woman arrives,” Emyr said, his voice warmer than the boy had yet heard it, and rose up from his seat.

“She arrives indeed,” Angelica replied, passing the tray to him, and rose up onto the tips of her toes, as he leaned down, bending at the waist – she looked even tinier than before, next to this giant of a man – and kissed his cheek, before they parted again, their motions so smooth as if they were doing a long-practiced dance.

Emyr walked counter-clockwise around the table, stopping halfway between his seat and the boy’s, and put the tray on the table, as Angelica stood on the opposite side, and with deft hands distributed saucers and tea cups that were even more exquisite in quality and material than the tray they had arrived upon. Emyr moved the cozy-covered pot of tea onto the table, followed by a plate of scones and another sporting genuine chocolate chip cookies.

Then, with a flick of his fingers, he made the tray disappear, and walked around the table once more, pulling a third chair out of nowhere, just as Angelica was moving as if to sit down on empty air, and crash down on the floor.

Smoothly, he slid the richly decorated, throne-like chair in place, one even more ostentatious than his own – and the boy somehow knew that it was his own design, not Angelica’s – as it was decorated with gold-wrought flowers sporting ruby-like petals.

The whole thing had gone off like a perfectly practiced show, every motion timed to appear as if they were merely one mind moving in two bodies, yet at the same time, it felt wholly natural for them, as Emyr returned to his chair, while Angelica lifted the tea pot. The cozy on it appeared to be the only thing on the table, other than the scones and the cookies, which did not come out of some flawless fantasy, looking rather handmade and fuzzy, in the colors of the Union Jack.

“I hope you like black tea,” Angelica said. “I’m afraid I forgot to ask, earlier.”

“I cannot say that I have any particular kind of preference, madam,” the boy replied, rather absorbed in looking at the ring on her finger… and then flicking over to Emyr’s hands, where for the first time, he noticed a matching band.


She filled his cup with steaming hot tea, then did the same for her husband, followed by herself. After which she spooned two dollops of honey into his cup, two into Emyr’s, and but one into her own.

The boy picked up his own tea spoon – made of genuine silver, of course – and stirred his tea with it.

“You are his wife,” he stated, lamely, eyes moving from her to him and round and round and round…

She chuckled, picking up her teacup. “Of course I am. Who else could tolerate being married to this oafish troll of a man?” she replied, her voice overflowing with fondness.

“Indeed, I am a blessed man, to be favored by the woman above all other men,” the tall man said, looking as proud as the devil himself, before sipping his tea. “Of course, it does come with certain perks, if one is mine only beloved…” He gave her a playful sideways look, over his tea cup.

Angelica rolled her eyes. “Now, I do hope he wasn’t too overbearingly dramatic, my dear…”

“Oy…” the man in question protested, without any heat in his voice.

“He was not… I am afraid that, if anything, I was the dramatic one, madam,” the boy said, thinking of his tearful breakdown earlier.

“I’m sure you have excellent reason to be distraught, deary,” she replied with a warm smile, reaching out to gently brush his hair behind his ears, on both sides.

“Yes, well, in point of fact, I was just about to help him unbecome distraught when you arrived, woman,” Emyr interjected petulantly.

“Were you now? Then, please, don’t let me interrupt,” she said, throwing him a look the boy could not begin to parse.

Emyr snorted softly, then focused on the boy again.

“Now, you wish to know about this place, and how you found your way here,” he began as he put his cup down on its saucer. “I have already named this place Limina Locum – the Threshold Place, or simply the In-Between Place. To explain, though, where it is, and why you are here, I must explain to you the basics of multiversal mechanics, so… hm…”

He looked down at the table, and the boy found himself clutching his tea cup, forcing his body not to tremble as he stood to finally get some answers.

“Ah, I know. Let’s illustrate it like this…” Emyr whispered, though even his whispers were loud by normal measures, his deep voice carrying easily. His long, almost spider-like fingers grabbed the lacy, white tablecloth.

“Don’t you dare make a mess now, Emyr Blackhill!” Angelica warned him with a suspicious glare, just as he began to pull it up.

“Fear not! I am far beyond such mundane worries!” he replied with a smug grin, “Let this serve as a proper model, to explain transversal mechanics!”, and pulled upthrough the dishes on the table.

The boy blinked, as the tablecloth seemed to simply slide through everything, even the liquids, without a single stain upon it – it did not even stir the tea.

On his shoulder, Inkblot cawed realistically, as if in surprise, and beat his wings before settling down again.

Emyr pulled the whole thing up like it was a rigid sheet, and then let go, leaving it hanging in the air above the table.

“Let us imagine that this is the universe,” he said, raising his voice as he gestured with both hands at the cloth. “All of material reality, as a two-dimensional plain… and let us say that this is… yet another universe!” He grabbed the rim of the cloth and pulled it up by a handspan – yet left it behind as well, making two cloths that hung in the air, without touching each other.

The boy looked at it, frowning a little. “So the many world theorists are right, then?”

“Technically, I suppose,” Emyr replied with a shrug. “It is not as simplistic as there not being a wavefunction collapse, though… but let that not be our focus for now!” He gestures at his model again. “Now, there exist many realities, side by side – as far as I can tell, their number is infinite, or nearly enough so as not to matter to the likes of even me.” As he spoke, he pulled the cloth down again, creating a third ‘universe’ beneath the one they’d started with.

“Each world is separate from each other, for the most part. They each exist as their own closed whole – except for those occasions in which there is a certain crossover – which is a result of the way world’s vibrate.” He flicked the rims of the ‘worlds’ and set them to vibrating in place. “Each world vibrates at its own individual ‘frequency’, much like, say, each radio station has its own unique frequency.”

“So, going with that simile,” the boy interjected, “If one could, let us say, create a device by which to attune to a different frequency…”

“He or she could thus travel from one world to another,” Emyr finished, looking pleased. “That is essentially how transversal portals work – they tune anything which passes through them from the origin world’s frequency to the destination world’s frequency. Though do keep in mind that this is a very simplified way to look at it,” he cautioned with a raised finger.

The boy nodded, dutifully, finding himself utterly spellbound by the tall man’s speech.

“Of course, while I am portraying the worlds as spatially separate, it is best to think of them as overlapping.” The three tablecloths moved together, and did just so, overlapping, even as they changed colors – one remained white, another became blue and yet another green, their colors flickering through each other as they vibrated at different frequencies. “Though it is best for this demonstration if we keep them apart.” They moved apart again, atop each other, but retained their colors.

“So…” the boy spoke up, as the gears turned in his brain. “You called this the ‘In-Between Place’, meaning it exists somehow between two worlds?”

“Between all worlds, dear boy. Between all worlds, and the Source,” Emyr said, almost shouted, grinning roguishly. “We are in what you can picture as the membrane separating all material worlds from the Source of all Power. A place which exists between all realities, and outside all of them.”

“Hrm… that is interesting, but… it does not explain why you are here… or how I got here.”

“Just tell him already, love,” Angelica spoke softly, looking at the tall man with a gently reproaching look. “You’re getting long-winded again.”

“These are important matters, woman!” Emyr countered, aghast. “If I just tell him the answer to his questions without giving him a basic understanding of reality’s underpinnings, it will only confuse him further, not quench his curiosity!”

The boy looked at her and nodded. “Yes, this is actually really interesting. I want to hear more.”

Angelica looked him in the eyes, searchingly, for a moment, before she nodded. “So be it. But if he takes too long, say so, alright? You don’t have to be quiet and listen just to be polite.”

He nodded, then focused on the tall man again.

“Now, if we can continue without further distractions,” the tall man said, squinting at his wife, whom seemed entirely unperturbed. “Worlds each exist on a different frequency, their spacetime simultaneously overlapping and yet separate. To understand how you came to arrive here, of all places, you must know that this spacetime can be distorted. Mass distorts spacetime – and so does power, in all its forms. The more power, the more densely packed, the more it distorts the spacetime around it.”

He flicked his hand and a small rubber ball, of a blue color, appeared, which he promptly tossed onto the middle plane, at such an angle that it began to roll around the circular plane, once, twice… and it kept going, clearly not caring about such things as friction.

The boy blinked, as the cloths above and below seemed to also be affected by the ball – not only did it deform the middle plane, as it rolled around, but the planes above and below where pulled towards it as well, bulges travelling along beneath and above it.

“The effect of the Unawakened is negligible, of course, but even the least of Awakened are going to have an impact on their local reality, simply by being there – and more so by actively using their gifts.“ Emyr reached out and, plucking the ball from the cloth, yet the distortion remained in place, on all three cloths. “Even when the cause is removed, the distortion remains for a time.“ The distortions began to fade, the cloths smoothing out – the ones above and below more quickly than the one the ball had actually been moving upon, and there, the tail end of its trail ‘healed’ faster than where it had last been present. “Given enough time, distortions will disappear, as the walls between realities re-establish themselves… yet… hm… let’s simplify this,” he interrupted himself, flicking his fingers at the uppermost tablecloth, which promptly disappeared, “where was… ah, yes; conversely, if not enough time passes…“

The ball was tossed onto the now upper cloth, rolling in a steady circle to draw its trail of ‘distortions’ behind it, though it didn’t move fast enough to touch its own tail, before it smoothed out again.

Then, however, Emyr produced another, green ball, and tossed it onto the cloth. This one did not circle around – rather, it moved back and forth, from the rim to the center and at a rhythm that saw it never hit the blue one.

As such, it intersected the trail of the blue ball with is own.

At the point of intersection, a depression began to form, deepening each time one of the balls passed over it. Beneath, the cloth was bulging upwards towards it.

The boy watched with nigh-single-minded focus, processing the implications of the tall man’s words and the tableau he’d created.

Round and round, back and forth, the balls went, dipping into the ever-deepening depression beneath them. At the same time, the cloth beneath rose up, and up, until the tips of the two distortions touched, overlapped… and then kept going, moving through each other.

Even so, the two balls kept going as they had before, seemingly ignoring the other “reality”, sliding through it to continue on their path.

Furrowing his eyebrows, the boy felt a memory stir, one blessedly unconnected to his woes and thus easier to focus upon.

“A while ago, I read a report from a fellow gadgeteer,” he said, slowly, weighing each word he used as he processed what he was learning. “A friend of his had an odd experience… he had been on the road, driving a car from the West Coast to Chicago. Only a few hours into the drive, he found himself driving through a strange woodland scenery, though one which still contained the road he had been driving upon – yet he should have been in the middle of a desert area. After only a brief time there, he found himself driving down the road towards Chicago, mere hours having passed since his departure from Esperanza City… that would be where Los Angeles used to be,” he added, as the thought came that the two of them probably didn’t know about the new city.

Angelica merely looked curious, while the tall man smirked. “That friend of your fellow, did he happen to be Awakened?”

The boy nodded, and the tall man responded in kind, as he produced another ball, this time a yellow one.

“Observe,” he said, simply, and tossed it onto the cloth.

The yellow ball rolled towards the depression the green and blue had made, as if to cut straight through the cross they formed, trailing its own distortion after itself.

“When reality becomes sufficiently distorted, especially when further awakened people and their powers become involved, then, at times, things like these here happen…”

The yellow ball dipped down into the depression, as had the other two balls, but then it didn’t – instead, it rolled onto the second cloth, where it had overlapped with the first one, creating a “floor” within the depression that was higher up than the actual cloth – and which made for a much shorter route from one edge of the distortion to another.

It reached the edge of the ‘distortion’ and slipped back onto the upper cloth, continuing on its path.

“A wormhole,” the boy said, his eyes widening at the implications. “He slipped through a wormhole.”

“Essentially, so. He was… fortunate,” Emyr replied with a solemn nod.

“Fortunate how?”

The tall man looked at him with dark eyes, snapping his fingers to point at the tableau once more – where the yellow ball was rolling back the way it’d come. Once more, it slipped into the distortion. Once more, it slipped onto the second, lower cloth.

This time, however, it did not return to the original one when it reached the edge of the distortion. Instead, it slipped through the cloth it had started upon, and continued on to roll on the plane of the second, lower cloth, while the other two balls remained on the upper one.

“One’s return is not guaranteed,” the self-proclaimed Godking said in a severe voice. “Perhaps this man was merely possessed of good fortune… perhaps he had enough connections to Awakened of our world, that kept him anchored… but many have not had them. Though I can not prove it, I suspect that quite a lot of Awakened Ones whom, throughout the decades, have gone missing, did so because they slipped into another world… and found no way back.”

Angelica lowered her head, sipping her tea, as her face grew solemn, and the boy found himself leaning back upon his chair, putting his hands on the table in front of him, one over the other.

His eyes fixated on the lone ball in the lower cloth, lost to another world…

“Is that what happened to me? I somehow… slipped through the cracks?” he asked in a quiet voice which was barely even a whisper, growing thick.

“In a manner of speaking… yes.” Emyr tapped a finger on the table, steadily, like a metronome. “I am merely theorizing, of course, as I wasn’t present, but I suspect that however you died, it happened in a place of great… transversal instability? A great many powers being used, concurrently, most likely against each other, possibly in a location that’s prestressed?”

“I was within the area of Desolation-in-Light’s power… someone who is probably in the same category as you, Sir,” the boy agreed. “Hundreds of metahumans were fighting her for a prolonged time, and it all happened in New Lennston…”

“New Lennston, which was built upon the ruins of Lennston, which is where Point Zero took place, where all powers began,” Emyr completed the sentence, and thought. “One of the most unstable areas on the planet, to begin with. It is no accident that the area produces more awakened ones per capita than any other place in the world. Add in the influence of multiple powers, including this Desolation-in-Light and, well, I would bet a lot that Lady Light was involved, probably the Dark as well…”

The boy nodded.

“Yesss… distortions abounded. The fabric of reality, stretched thin…” The cloths stretched, growing thin in one particular spot. “Distorted,” They did that, as well, twisting up where they were stretched thin, “And then comes a youth with a particularly…”

He stopped, searching for the right word.

“Intense, perhaps?” Angelica suggested, from behind her cup of tea.

“Yes! Intense, perfect! Thank you!” he replied, exuberantly, grinning at her before he turned to face the boy again. “Intense, yes. An intense power, in such circumstances… you may have slipped through no matter what – but then you went and got yourself killed… which, honestly, you shouldn’t do.” He tapped the table with a finger, giving the boy a stern look. “Dying’s not a good idea. I speak from experience there.”

“I… shall endeavor not to die again?” the boy repeated his earlier words, confusion obvious in his words.

“Good boy!” Emyr shouted. “So, you died! And death, it is not so much a state of being as it is a process – a process which releases certain energies, sets certain mechanisms into motion. A process which, I might add, can be reversed, so long as it is not yet completed, which is why you yet live again;” he explained in a more somber tone. “Death is inherently a transition, but also a separation. As your physical body dies, that which we call the mind fades away, as it is pulled-“

He stopped when the boy raised his hand, questioning.

“Are you talking about souls?”

The tall man folded his hands on the table, his countenance becoming more somber. “That is a question even I know not the answer to with any certainty. What I do know is this – there is a Source, an Origin for all Powers. All humans alive since Point Zero have been connected to it, as if by an umbilical cord extending from our brains all the way to… there.”

He raised a long-fingered hand and pointed behind himself, as his mouth spread into a wide, wolfish grin that looked all the more imposing for the bright gleam of his teeth in contrast to the shadows which suddenly fell over his face.

The boy followed his gesture, and stared straight at the blackness-that-was-not-black, the vast, eye-straining gap in perception which dominated this alien sky.

“That is… the source?”

“That it is. The Source of it all. Every human being is connected to it, leads back to it. I know not whether we are born from it, but we are destined to go to it, when our time is over. Like a line cast out, the strand which connects us to the Source reels us in when we die, as if our body was an anchor keeping our mind and, yes, perhaps we can call it that, our soul, tied to reality, an anchor which we lose along with our physical form.”

“Everyone who dies thus merges with the Source – and much like an object which has crossed the Event Horizon of a Black Hole, once one has crossed a certain point in his process, they are gone forever, beyond any hope of resuscitation or revival; however, the process is not an instant one, nor uniform. For some, ‘dying’ may take but hours, or days. For others, months, or years.”

“Or decades?”

Angelica chuckled at that, as her husband picked up his own cup and drank some tea.

“No. Not decades. The longest time span between one’s physical death and one crossing the point of no return, that I know of, took a little less than a single decade.”

The boy looked around their strange location, then at the couple in front of him. “What is this, then? Should not the both of you be long… gone?”

That wolfish grin returned again, nearly splitting the tall man’s face from ear to ear. “Ah, we should be – both the woman and I should long since have faded away. Yet I knew of this… celestial mechanism, and so chose to prepare for it.”

Angelica leaned forward. “An insurance, if you will,” she said, calmly. “In case his numerous plans for his own – and my – immortality or revival fell through.” She leaned in closer towards the boy, raising a hand to seemingly shield her mouth from Emyr’s sight, as she stage-whispered to the boy, “Which, of course, they did.”

“Well, excuse me for being unprepared to deal with weaponized anti-reality and a hermaphroditic pseudo-god of death out for my blood!”, Emyr grumbled, all regality disappearing as he sulked. “Honestly, it’s a testament to my sheer brilliance that I managed to take down all but that one down, or that I’m still here with even a chance of returning left to me.”

“Which one was the… hermaphroditic pseudo-god of death?” the boy asked, confused. He dimly remembered a fragment…

There were eight, actually. The count starts at Zero, not one.

“Do you mean the zeroth member of the Seven Regicides, which you mentioned during our last meeting?”

“Yes. Nasty fellow, that one,” Emyr leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table, and resting his chin on his intertwined. “Not that I want to undersell the efforts of the other seven – they fought marvelously, and even figured out a means by which to immunize themselves to being directly affected by my power, but it was thanks to that other creature that they were able to break through all of my defenses and… best me,” he elaborated, twisting his face up as the last two words seemed to all but physically hurt him to say. “So in the end, it took another god, to overcome m-“

“You are no god, Emyr Blackhill,” Angelica spoke teasingly, leaning over towards him.

“I actually created life! I populated a planet! Woman, what else need I do to be a god?” he shouted, throwing his arms up in his most theatric reaction yet.

“Don’t be dead.”

He deflated, slumping back against his high-backed chair. “Jesus died, too.”

“He planned to, though. And he came back. In three days,” she continued with a very amused smile on her face.

“Why do you keep taking the piss out of me, love?” he whined, looking down at his knees, rather than at her or the boy.

She cooed, reaching out to stroke his hair. “I do it because I love you, of course. Also, watch your language, there’s a child present.”

The nigh-omnipotent conqueror of all man-kind pouted like a child, yet did not rebuke her caress or her words. If anything, he leaned a little into it.

The boy watched, once more experiencing that sensation of alienation. Looking on a scene he’d seen before, but which didn’t seem quite real or true to him. Something he lacked a reference for, perhaps.

It was kind of sweet, though, and it didn’t seem staged.

“A word of advice, boy,” Emyr said, while shamelessly enjoying his wife’s caress. “When you choose your wife-to-be, make sure it’s someone smart and bold enough to always know when and how to deflate your ego. Life is better that way.”

“It is true,” Angelica agreed with an exasperated look thrown Emyr’s way, before focusing on the boy again. “Look at how inflated my dear husband’s ego got, when I was gone. The ‘Godking of Mars’,” she mocked, rolling her eyes and dropping her voice when intoning the title. “Could’ve used someone to keep you grounded, my dear, sweet, narcissistic husband.”

Emyr was about to respond to that, when the boy interceded again, trying to keep the conversation focused.

“Excuse me, but could we perhaps get back to the point of how I am here, what this ‘In-Between Place’ is and, seeing how you brought it up, how you are here, madam?” he asked with a gesture towards Angelica. “You passed away decades ago. In fact, it is popularly believed that your passing was his Origin,” he continued, when they didn’t interrupt, pointing with both hands at the tall man. “You did not seem to be alive during his reign as ‘Godking’, which as far as we know began five years after your passing, so how are you now? Are you even alive? He apparently is not, but I am, supposedly, yet I have not observed any difference between his and my state of being! The exact number and nature of the people involved in your defeat is incredibly interesting, but also, as far as I can tell, entirely irrelevant to this.”

The two of them looked at him with odd expressions, matched in spite of their very different features. As if they were not used to being pushed.

“Of course… I apologize,” Angelica replied, blushing a little. “It’s been a while since we’ve had to consider anyone but each other, I hope you understand.”

Emyr didn’t look nearly as bashful as his wife – if at all – but he seemed more amused than offended by the interruption.

The boy took a deep breath, then released it, calming himself. “I suppose I understand.”

That earned him a grateful smile from Angelica.

“Very well, very well,” the tall man spoke, sitting back as some of his regal countenance returned to him. “As she just noted, I prepared for the eventuality of death, and the possibility of there not being a quick revival. But how to assure that neither I, nor my beloved, would be lost to each other?” He gestured at their surroundings. “Thus, I constructed this… afterlife, of sorts. At least, that was my intention. A place in-between life and final death, catch and preserve our selves, until such a time as we can return to full life,” he explained, a rather prideful smirk on his face, not that it wasn’t warranted. Then he sobered up, though. “Of course, it was meant to allow for an easy return. Simply open the right door and step back into life, for both myself and any others whom I gave entry to it. And it would have worked,” he snarled, looking aside with a frustrated expression. “It would have, were it not for that spear. It limits my power, prevents it from reaching back into reality proper. Here, I remain as powerful as ever. But my power reaches no further than this liminal land, which will become important later.”

He paused, taking a breath and calming himself. “Thus, I wrote this land, as a contingency. Thus, when I was slain, I came here, rather than fade away. As for the woman, I had already resurrected her years earlier. When I first unlocked this greater form of my power, the first act I undertook, was to call her back to life,” he explained further, reaching out to put a long-fingered hand onto his wife’s, sliding his fingers into the gaps between hers, so the could both curl them up and squeeze each other. “It was a success, if not quite in the way I had hoped.”

At the boy’s questioning look at that statement, Emyr actually averted his eyes, and it was Angelica that replied for him, reaching out with her free hand to squeeze his shoulder. “With Emyr, everything’s in the wording… the way he worded it, back then, he gave me back my life… a life which had ended after a scant twenty years,” she explained, softly, as Emyr lowered his head.

It took only a moment for the boy to take that idea to its logical conclusion. “He brought you back, but you were set to die again after twenty years… at which point he was no longer around to resurrect you again. Instead you came… here.”

“Got it in one,” she praised him with a bright smile.

His eyes drifted from that discombobulating smile to the soothingly familiar demigod whose hand she was stroking now. “The spear prevents you from… not from giving her life, obviously, as you were able raise me as well… but she is stuck here, because you can not send her out of this space.” He frowned. “Which means I am trapped in this space, as well. Never mind that I still do not know why I ended up here in the first place.”

He tapped the bare wooden tabletop with a finger, next to the golden star still lying there.

“Dear, perhaps it’s time for a little brevity?” Angelica said to her husband.

“Hrm. I suppose so,” Emyr grumbled. “Soul of Wit it is, then. Alright. I mentioned earlier that worlds overlap, but they each vibrate at a different frequency.” The boy leaned closer, almost hungrily so. “Everything that is part of a world vibrates on the same general frequency. There can be slight variations, but they are ultimately negligible – imagine, if you are tuning your radio to a station, you don’t necessarily need to hit their frequency exactly – just by getting close enough, you’ll still receive that station, though it may be distorted. To apply that to the matter at hand, when your personal frequency does not quite match that of any one world, you are liable to default automatically to the one you are closest to; imagine the worlds as depressions in the fabric of reality, with the interstice between worlds being the tall, impossibly thin rims; unless your frequency is balanced perfectly between two worlds, you will slide down into one of them. Over time, as you remain in the same world, your frequency becomes more and more alike that of the world, even if you started with another. It will never be perfectly the same, there is always a range within which we vibrate; that range is greater for living beings, than for inanimate objects and greater still for those like us whom are innately connected more deeply to our extra-versal power source than others, which is another reason for why the Awakened, or metahumans if you prefer the more plebeian term, are prone to slip through the gaps.”

He snapped his fingers at the floating table clothes and still-rolling spheres, and they dropped down, again through the objects onto the table, the cloths becoming one again, and the balls landing on top, remaining unnaturally still rather than roll around.

Meanwhile, the tall man barely took a breath, before continuing in his explanation. “Now, we come to you. You died, and moreover, you were in a particularly unstable region of reality. Possibly, someone tried to move your corpse from one reality to another, or perhaps into a pocket dimension – do you think that was likely?”

“You made a Bag of Holding? That is an impressively useful item to have.”

“Yup! Awesome, isn’t it? And it’s even better than the game version, because it’s compartmentalized. I can store different things in different sections and recall them at will! I even have a stasis section, to preserve stuff in!”

“So it’s more of a Handy Haversack than a Bag of Holding, ain’t it?”

“Hrm… I suppose so. But it looks like a bag and Bag of Holding sounds more respectable than Handy Haversack.”

“Sure thing, Heck.”

“Don’t call me Heck!”

“Alright, Heck. Anyway, B-Six, can’t you make a sci-fi Box of Holding? It’d be sooo useful, and way less of a copyright infringamadinger!”

“It’s called copyright infringement, you philistine…”

“I tried to build something like that, but found myself unable to, sadly. It would be incredibly useful – fortunately, Vasiliki’s should be more than sufficient for our groups’ needs.”

“That’s sweet of you to say! Look, she’s even blushing!”

The boy shook his head at the surprisingly vivid memory. He could even remember the smell in the air of that moment, a mixture of the bag’s fresh leather, Vasiliki’s perfume – she’d come really close when showing off her contrivance, forgetting her usual poise and reserve in almost childlike excitement – and freshly soldered circuits.

It hurt too much to focus on that, so he moved on.

“It is… possible, that a friend tried to store my body in a pocket reality,” he replied, nodding slowly.

“Which would mean that, for the briefest moment, even if you were merely moved into a pocket reality – a bud on the reality you’re within, rather than a separate one altogether – you had to, briefly, cross an interstice, a moment, a space, where your body’s frequency was being adjusted, like a knob on the radio being turned, moving reception across bands of frequency. Normally not a problematic matter, but when done in an area like New Lennston, right after or during massive distortions caused by a major battle of dozens, even hundreds of awakened ones, while the subject is also an unusually powerful one – thus already far more prone to a wide frequency range… a confluence of many factors coming together, to make things go wrong, in all the right ways.”

He put his elbows on the table, leaning forward, his hands extended towards the boy. “Instead of your body moving properly into the pocket reality, while your power and your cognition were pulled and assimilated into the Source, reality had become so thin and unstable around you that they dragged your body with them into this transitory space.”

“How could my… soul… drag my body here, physically?”

“Normally? Not at all. But when all other laws of reality fall away, in a space thinned out and broken down, the last law that remains is the law of connection. That which is connected, draws together. Imagine it as your body… hm…” He stroked his chin again, thoughtfully, seeking words.

Angelica jumped in again. “Imagine your body growing so light that it’d float on the air. So untethered it could be pulled just by tossing a silk thread on it, pulling on the thread, and have the friction between your body and the thread provide enough of a hold – not because your body itself was changed, but because all other forces working on it had either been disrupted or outright fallen away.”

The boy nodded. “That makes sense, going by the premises as presented.”

Emyr pouted at his wife, who just sat back with a satisfied smile and bit into the last soft cookie, ignoring her husband’s annoyance with practiced, even joyful ease.

Emyr grumbled something under his breath, before clearing his throat. “Moving on. As she said, your body was unmoored to such a profound degree that any connection, no matter how slight, could pull it around. Any resonance whatsoever,” he explained, leaning more heavily on his elbows, his head moving closer to the boy. “If you were one of the people for whom I created this artificial afterlife for, then it wouldn’t matter how you died, barring a few extreme causes – you’d always come here, with or without your body. But, if one is in such an unstable state, then the slightest resonance can change one’s course entirely; such as the resonance between my power and an item I created wholesale with it,” he concluded, gesturing at the golden trinket.

The boy picked the star up, turning it over in his hand, contemplating the little thing with something akin to awe. “That is it? That is all it took?”

“When reality itself breaks down, then, by definition, the normal strictures of probability and possibility no longer apply.”

They all fell quiet, as the boy processed these revelations, his mind a quiet storm of thoughts, not all of which related to the situation at hand.

Then Inkblot pecked at his fingers, snatching the star up and holding it in his beak.

The boy gave his pseudo-corvid companion a long look. “So then Inkblot managed to find his way here, what, because of his resonance with me? My power? Since I made him myself?”

“Unless you also gave him the capability for transversal travel, yes, that would be the most likely explanation,” Emyr agreed.

“That answers how and why I am here,” the boy continued, after a short break spent just looking at the mechanical bird. “Now, I would like to know why I should even consider not to restore my memories? Especially since I am apparently trapped here anyway.”

“Straight to the point,” Emyr sighed. “Very well. Come,” he rose to his feet. “This is something that will be more easily understood when shown.”

“Do finish your tea at least, dear,” Angelica cut in, looking at the boy with a slight smile.

The boy stood up, then stopped, looking down. Why are there so many crumbs on my plate? he thought, in surprise. He hadn’t even realized he’d eaten any cookies or scones… but he still had their taste in his mouth (it was delicious). No… Angelica kept giving me some, while Emyr was talking. He’d failed to consciously process it, having been so enthralled by the man’s words. But he had eaten them.

Things keep slipping.

With a blush, he picked up the seemingly fragile teacup and drank the still-warm black tea.

The honey really does suit it well.

“Thank you, madam,” he said, politely, if still weirded out by it all. “It was… it tasted really well.”

“I’m glad. Now you two go have your talk,” she replied, standing up and starting to gather the used dishes.

“You are not coming along?” He couldn’t tell why he felt the need to confirm it. Having her around felt weird.

She gave him one of those strange smiles of hers. “I think it’s good for boys to have some time to themselves. I’ll be in my observatory, but if you do need me – even if it’s just to remind my dear husband to be a little more succinct – simply speak my name three times in succession and I’ll be with you in the blink of an eye.”

He opened his mouth to question that, then he remembered who’d made this place and its rules, so he just nodded to her.

Without another word, he followed after Emyr down the steps from the outlook platform.

For the first time that the boy could remember since hitting his growth spurt – not that that meant much – he had to walk faster than usual just to keep up with another person’s casual stride. Emyr Blackhill really was freakishly tall, taller than any man or woman he could recall meeting (again, that hitch in his thoughts, like a mental snort at the ridiculousness of him relying on his memories) that hadn’t been altered by their powers.

Then again, perhaps he had? Perhaps it was deliberate, he’d used his power to enlarge himself, not to superhuman height, but so as to stand above most normal persons. It would fit him.

It didn’t feel right, though.

“Observatory?” he repeated the word, to focus on something else instead, as he followed the tall man and felt like a little boy running after his giant of a father.

“The woman has always been rather scientifically minded, in stark contrast to myself,” Emyr responded, half-turning his head to look at the boy with a surprisingly fond, gentle smile. “She always dreamed of studying the natural sciences, before her first life was cut short. In her second life, she did do just that. Physics, in point of fact. To her, this fragmentary place is less a prison and more a little heaven, where she can probe the very fabric of reality and study its inner workings. To that purpose, I created an observatory for her use, among other things, and she has well-refined it in the years since.”

The boy looked behind himself, up the hill they were descending from, at the slight, unassuming figure at the top. He wouldn’t have pegged her for a scientist, though perhaps the fifties’ housewife aesthetic was to blame for that more than anything else, never mind how off-balance he felt around her.

“After all these decades, she could likely teach you a fair few things,” the tall man added, with mirth in his voice. “Your own power notwithstanding.”

That actually seems like something I’d really enjoy… if only this woman wasn’t so strange. “Why do you keep calling her ‘the woman’?” he asked, instead of vocalizing those thoughts.

Emyr chuckled. “You don’t read many of the classics, do you?” he asked with another look over his shoulder, as they hit the pathway that the boy and Angelica had first approached the hill by, turning right to follow it away from the gazebo the boy had woken up in. “It’s a literary reference, ‘in his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex’, though it is not a romantic thing, nor even a thing of love, in that story,” he explained with another wide, toothy grin. “Besides. She is quite literally the only female in this world.”

The boy mulled that over. “Does she have a name like that for you?”

“Oh, she has given me many. Clod, troll, oaf… I could go on, but I think you get the gist of it.”

“Yes, I do. Why does it feel like I am always at risk of suffocating around you?”

“You are sensing the distortion I am causing in reality,” Emyr explained, his tone shifting to a more serious one. “Your brain merely interprets it as a kind of pressure. It could as well have been felt as heat, as a charge in the air, you name it. Powerful awakened ones, particularly older ones, distort reality more strongly, and most our kind can sense that, can sense our mere presence.”

He mulled that over, as well. “I observed the same sensation when I was in Lady Light’s presence, though not in the Dark’s. Lady Light’s was even more intense than yours, even though she is weaker than you are, so it can not simply be due to strength. One would also expect the Dark to be her equal in such matters, as well.”

“It is not solely due to raw power – it also depends on location, circumstance. The form in which a person’s power expresses itself, how intensively it is being used… I presume you interacted during a crisis in which she was using her power more heavily?” He stopped in his speech, looking at the boy for confirmation.

“Barely an interaction, even,” the boy confirmed with a nod.

“Meanwhile you and I have only ever interacted in – to me – more relaxing circumstances.” He stroked his chin, thoughtfully. “Furthermore, I would bet my entire collection of Shakespears’ works that the lady is capable of far more than she publicly pretends to be, much like her counterpart. Speaking of said counterpart, the very nature of the Dark’s power is to spread himself thin. Fissioning off pieces, fragments, shards of his power, his very self. Doing so dilutes his presence.”

The boy didn’t reply immediately, considering that, too, while their steps took them towards a stone-wrought gate-arch, beyond which he could see a rather quaint-seeming country house in a style he dimly connected to England, in his mind, though he couldn’t quite say why.

The arch itself was an elaborate thing, technically being five arches standing corner to corner in the rough shape of a pentagon.

No one said anything, until they reached the arch, where the tall man knocked on the stone with the knuckles of two fingers, in passing.

It was as if he’d turned the knob on an old-fashioned television, causing the image beyond the arch to distort, the space within the pentagon seeming to fuzz, then come into focus again.

The boy and the tall man walked into the new space – or was that through? – and continued into what appeared to be a vast cave system illuminated by crystals growing out of the rocks above, casting everything in a soft, neutral light. The ground was surprisingly smooth, as if many people had often walked this path and worn it out; between that, and the soft shoes built into the boy’s suit, he made nary a sound walking upon it; yet Emyr’s footsteps were much sharper, and echoed through the caves, seeming somehow louder, heavier, more real than they should be.

“When I was but a child still living in the old country,” Emyr spoke in a surprisingly soft voice, “I once disregarded my mother’s warnings, as well as my father’s advice to heed said warnings, and went into the woods to explore them. There I came across a cave, which, being but a foolhardy tot, I chose to explore.”

He looked up at the vast ceiling of stalactites and the crystals which grew between them, like distant dots of lights, tiny stars, in the darkness above. “The awe, the fear, the wonder I experienced that day has stayed with me ever since.”

The boy followed his gaze, looking up at the starry ceiling, and found something within him respond to the sight. A memory, buried, denied to him, yet so close to his heart he could still feel its echoes.

He’d looked up at the stars once, he was sure, and felt something much alike what the tall man spoke of.

“Though I have at times lost my way… lost sight of what was most important… I never forgot the wonder of my early days, and it has ever guided me back unto the path.”

Knowing not what to reply to that statement, feeling only a great sadness upon him, the boy stayed quiet, and so did the tall man, for a time.

Then, they came upon a crossing of many cavernous tunnels, branching off from the way they came. All seemed similar to each other, but for one, which split off to the right, and was illuminated by a radiance of a fel red color coming from within. That was the direction the tall man led them towards.

“Why are we walking?” the boy asked, after a few steps. When the tall man turned his head to look at him, he continued, “Why that arch? Why not simply speak us to our destination?”

“Why not? Why not simply speak tea into existence, at perfect temperature? Why bake the pastries we enjoy, rather than speak them into being?” the man elaborated. “Why indeed? This is a lesson only learned too late, after I died – what we achieve does not matter alone, but how we achieve it,” he said, his voice much softer than its usual booming quality. “You’d do well to remember that, boy. The journey matters as much, if not more so than the destination. Now hush – sooth is upon us.”

The radiance illuminating the cavernous tunnel grew brighter, as its source came into sight – after but a hundred paces, the tunnel opened up into a larger cavern, one which looked far less terrestrial than the earlier parts; the stone was the same, but crystals jutted out from every wall, spikes made of a translucent material like glass, each dozens of meters long, all homing in towards the center of the cave, with only a single gap created by the tunnel’s opening into the cavern providing a pathway in.

Within said center, they all terminated in hair-fine tips, all equidistant from the very center, forming a perfect sphere around…

The boy had to blink, looking twice, then thrice, before he was able to properly parse the sight. A golden rectangle made of pure red, blood-like light floated a place above the floor, at the very center of the half-sphere formed by the spikes.

From said rectangle – the boy immediately thought of it as a door, as he tried to make sense of it – from said door reached forth hands… many hands. Dozens, hundreds of hands, each one glowing as if made of translucent glass filled with all the colors of the rainbow – all but red.

Fingers curled around the edges of the door, as if clinging to it, while many more reached forth, akin to tentacles, reaching for the spikes around them, yet seemed to reach an invisible barrier instead, unable to fully make contact.

The limbs writhed and groped, seemingly mindless, as if seeking…

They’re seeking methe boy thought, and though he knew not how he knew, he knew it to be true.

“What is… all this?” he asked in a low voice, almost whispering, as if trying not to be heard by those strange limbs.

“This is the crux, the choice you must make,” the tall man replied, as he stepped forth, then half-turned towards the boy, standing with his side to him, so the boy could see both him and the door. “I moved it to this place, to contain the will of your tormentor; but this door is in fact the same passageway through which you entered our little demesne. It opened up in the sky above, at the boundary of this realm, and you tumbled through.”

He cleared his throat, looking the boy straight in the eyes. “As has already been established, my power is limited by the boundaries of this realm. I can not send you back to Earth. I simply can not, no matter how much I would like to. However, if you were to step through this door, you would be able to retrace the path you took to come here, and return to the world of the living.”

The boy blinked, looking away from the man and to the door, feeling… hope? But also a nameless dread, bloom within him. “W-what… what is the catch?”

“It is not by my power, that the door is still open. The pathway should have closed as soon as you passed through, yet it is being held open from the other side,” he explained, gravely. “Held open, in fact, the very same power which denies you your true memories, your true self!”

Before the boy could even react to that, the tall man suddenly stood in front of him, his long-fingered hands on his shoulders, as he leaned down to look him in the eye. “That is why I said you must choose, whether you wish for me to restore your memories! It is by the power that has so defiled your mind that this pathway is being maintained!” He leaned closer, his eyes boring into the boy’s. “The will of they whom so wish to keep you in their thrall is the breadcrumb trail that can lead you back home! It is within my power to break their hold over your mind, to set you free, but doing so would wipe away your route home – you would be stranded here, as I and the woman are. Do you understand, boy? Do you understand the choice you must make?” he spoke, more intense than he’d been throughout their entire acquaintance so far.

The boy just nodded, unsure as to whether he’d be able to form coherent words, as overwhelmed as he felt now.

“Know though, that to choose to step through this gate is perhaps not your sole way of escape,” the tall man added, cautiously, which immediately threw the boy’s thoughts into disarray, just as they were starting to sort themselves out again. “You could have me sever the strand of connection… free your memories. You would be stranded here, true, but you would have every resource you needed to exert your power, and both mine and the woman’s knowledge to expand your own; given what I have seen of the true nature of your power, I am certain that, in time, you could devise your own means of escaping this limited place, and returning to the material realm on your own terms.”

He paused, for a moment, then chuckled. “Naturally, Angelica and I may well use those means to travel back as well, and circumvent the spear’s bindings. So I confess some preference to you choosing that option.”

“Why would you not just restore my memories then?” the boy asked, his voice trembling, even taking a step back from the tall man. “Why even give me the choice?”

“What worth is there to a path, if it is not one chosen freely?” the tall man replied, his voice colder. “I am not so desperate, nor are my woman and I so miserable here, that we would force such a choice upon you. Upon a child, even less.”

He sighed, closing his eyes. “There is only one thing I will force upon you, my boy. Choose to return, or choose to stay – but choose, you must. The one thing I cannot bear is the indignity of indecision.”

The tall man opened his eyes once more, standing with his back to the door, between it and the boy; its fel light outlining his vast form, turning him into something quite grand and terrible to behold.

“So if you have any more questions, boy, ask them now. And if not, choose!”

B13.11 Call of the Sleeper

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Basil looked warily at the goblet in front of him. It’s probably not a good idea to refuse his hospitality; if he wanted to hurt us, he wouldn’t need to play games like this, anyway, he thought to himself, and picked the goblet up with his right hand, keeping the left one free in case he needed to throw up a force-field quickly.

“Water,” he said to the goblet without hesitation, and it filled up instantly. A twitch of his eyes caused the lower half of his helmet to fold back onto his cheeks, freeing his mouth, and he took a sip.

Just water.

That broke the spell for the others, and everyone else picked their goblets up as well, some ordering instantly – various kinds of sodas for most of them, grape juice for Osore; and Tyche…

“Triple chocolate milkshake with ground almonds and cream.”

When the cream-and-almonds topped shake appeared in her goblet, a real smile appeared on her face for the first time since she’d run into this Immanuel.

A sigh drew his attention away from her. Emyr was looking… chargrined.

“You just ruined my joke,” he said, his voice flat, but a slight smile on his face. When everyone looked at him in confusion, he explained, “Usually when I do this, everyone just gets something boring and then I’ll ask for something like…” He looked pensively at his goblet and said, “Strawberry and cream shake with chocolate and caramel syrup,” causing said drink to appear in it, “And everyone would just stare like they’d seen the Devil.” He drank from his goblet.

Tyche had already finished hers while he’d been talking. “I know, right? You give people a cup that can give’em any drink and they pick soda, or water,” she said, glaring at Basil. He gave her as deadpan a look as he could in return, with most of his face covered up.

“Banana and cherry smoothy mix.” Her goblet filled up again.

Meanwhile, the freaking Godking of Mars was laughing quietly, like this was all just a friendly gathering. “Ah well, no matter.” He drank from his goblet. “Let’s focus on more important things.” He looked at Basil. “First of all, we ought to introduce ourselves properly.”

He put his right hand over his heard, tilting his head forward. “Emyr Blackhill, God-King of Mars and Once and Future King of Earth,” he introduced himself smoothly, without a hint of irony or boast. Then he looked at Tartsche to his right.

“T-tartsche,” the armor-clad youth replied, his voice betraying a great deal of nervousness. “Leader – though likely not too much longer, after this stunt – of the New Lennston United Heroes Junior Division.”

“Spellgun, member of the same,” his boyfriend continued as Emyr’s gaze passed onto him.

“B-Bakeneko. The same,” came a squeak from the next one in line. She seemed to literally wilt under his gaze, her power reacting to her mood.


“Gloom Glimmer, also a member of the junior division,” Gloom Glimmer introduced herself, her voice clear as a bell and betraying no hint of being nervous or even slightly intimidated. Her eyes were nearly glowing underneath her hood, though blue rather than red now.

“Polymnia, also a junior hero,” the songstress continued, her electronic voice reflecting none of the nervousness that her face and body showed.

“Tyche! Hero and member of Team B- ouch” Tyche began, but was cut off when Hecate reached out to knock her over the back of the head with her staff, reaching behind Basil to do so.

“Brennus, of the same team,” he said curtly, seeing no point in trying to hold his name back.

“Hecate, also said team which most certainly does not use that atrocious acronym,” Hecate grumbled.

Emyr watched the whole exchange with open amusement. “A pleasure to meet you all, young heroes,” he said, raising his goblet in a casual gesture. “It’s always a joy to see young people willing to fight for a good cause.” He drank from his goblet, before he continued, “Now, on to the second point.” He looked straight at Basil. “You are wrong. I am Emyr Blackhill, not merely a fascimile.”

“You believe so? Even though you are incapable of leaving this… pocket reality?” He watched the long-haired man closely, feeling rather curious in spite of the seriousness of the situation, and the time pressure he himself was under. This was the man who’d once conquered the world, after all.

Instead of replying directly, Emyr turned to look at Legend, who was holding her head lowered in a demure posture that was very obviously not willingly chosen. “It’s pretty easy to determine with a single question. Sophia, can you summon anyone who’s not a metahuman?”

She replied instantly, without hesitation, yet without looking up, either. “No, I can not, your majesty. Only metahumans have sufficient impact upon the Historia to be summoned by my rituals.”

He turned around, smiling as he spread his arms in a ‘there-you-go’ gesture. “Can you tell why I claim to be the real one?” He looked around at everyone at the table, aiming the question at each and every one.

What does he mean? Basil asked himself. Why is he even trying to make an argument based on a Contriver’s delusions… of course, he may simply be delusional himself, believing that he truly is the true Emyr even though he is not.

Still, real or not, he was far more powerful than all of them put together, yet willing to talk instead of outright killing them, even after their attempt to do just the same to him. So best to play along for now.

“You’re implying that there’s something about metahumans in particular that would make them viable targets for resurrection, when baselines are not,” Spellgun spoke up, suddenly, leaning onto his elbows, which rested on the table, while Tartsche looked at him in alarm… though, they’d already clasped hands, putting him within the aegis of Tartsche’s power…

Emyr circumvented Tartsche’s power, Basil realised all of a sudden, his eyes snapping from Emyr to the two young lovers. Both Spellgun and Tyche were still underneath its protection when he stopped time, yet they were moved. He focused on Tartsche – his face was hidden by his knightly helmet, after all – and found himself thoroughly unsurprised to see that he was clenching Spellgun’s hand tightly, like a lifeline; the only sign, but a telling one, of just how freaked out he had to be right now.

Another thing to worry about, Basil thought, clenching his hands into fists. So much to worry about, so many things to keep in mind…

“Suffice it to say that, based upon my understanding of the nature of metahumanity, it is strong evidence towards the fact that I am the true Emyr Blackhill,” came the reply after Emyr drank from his, milkshake. “Once I am truly and completely revived, I am confident I shall remember all that happened during this little sojourn. Of course, I may just be delu-“

“Enough,” Basil cut him off with a sharp voice, in spite of his earlier decision to play along.

Everyone turned their heads to stare at him like he was a man possessed, but he ignored them to focus on Emyr.

“I do not have time for this,” he said, leaning towards their ‘host’ as he just barely kept his voice calm. “There are people out there who are dying, people whose one and only chance to survive rely on completing this mission and I need to get going because the clock. Is. Ticking. So tell us what you want and then let us go, or just let us go, but do not dither; I do not have the time to waste having a tea party here with you.”

Hecate made a strangled sound when he started speaking and was trying to wave him off, but he ignored her.

Mate, you just lipped off to the Godking of Mars, the Man in the Moon whispered inside his head. I ain’t sure whether to congratulate you on the density of your balls or hand you the Darwin aw-

Shut it.

Emyr put his goblet down, touching his fingers together in front of his face, his expression pensive. “It has been some time since anyone has dared speak to me like that,” he said, finally, while Basil shook with barely restrained rage. “Not counting the little princess across the table from myself,” he nodded to Gloom Glimmer, who stiffened up. “Yes, child, I know who your parents are. No, I didn’t use my power to find out – but you do look entirely too much like your mother and your power feels entirely too much like your father’s for you to be anyone else; I’d recognise either any time, for they are both people who I have studied extensively.”

“Whom, Sir,” Hecate cut in, almost in a squeal. “The term is ‘whom’, not ‘who’.”

He looked at her, smiling as she clapped her hands over her mouth in shock at herself, but just nodded. “You are right – I apologise for the mistake, it shall not happen a-“

There was a sharp sound of metal crumpling, screaming, make everyone look at Basil again.

He’d just crushed his goblet in one gloved fist, without even noticing it. “This is enough,” he stood up, nearly throwing the chair he’d been sitting on over. “I, we, do not have time for this, so get to the point,” he told him, once more, his teeth grinding together at the end.

Emyr still looked pensive, not offended, which really only made Basil even angrier. He clearly didn’t care about any of this!

“I really do need to take over the world again,” he replied with a soft voice, finally, loosely clasping his hands together. “Seems like things are even worse than the last time.”

How would you know, Sir?” Polymnia said, sounding perfectly calm and composed; “Your power ends at the door, doesn’t it?

Emyr shrugged. “This one,” he spoke calmly, gesturing towards the fuming Basil, “is quite sincere in what he says. Which means that there are people out there dying and the only chance they have to survive is… a group of children? Fighting people like Sophia, here, who’d not hesitate to slay you?” He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Any world in which children must go to war is a horrible one indeed.”

He looked around at each of them in turn, and they all looked away, unable to meet his gaze, save for Basil, who simply glared at him and Gloom Glimmer, who showed no reaction at all.

“I see none of you can dispute the state of the world,” he followed softly.

“Is that really the reason why you want to take over the world?” Gloom Glimmer spoke up, suddenly, her eyes barely visibly underneath her hood.

“Is it not enough?” he answered with a question.

“Not for you,” she shot back. “Not according to my power. Is it because it’d make for a great story? Is that it, does the author want to impose an epic tale on the real world?” she pressed the point, while also throwing a look at Basil.

Please, calm down – we’re not going to get away from him if we piss him off, she spoke into his mind, without missing a beat physically.

Basil clenched his fists so hard his gauntlets creaked and strained, but he sat down again. Not that he was going to just go along with this farce, but she was right, just complaining at Emyr was not going to achieve anything of use.

“That would be interesting, wouldn’t it?” Emyr asked right back again, looking as amused as before. “However, while I won’t deny the fact that I enjoy turning my quest into a story for the ages, even at the cost of efficiency in some aspects, it’s merely a… bonus. As for taking over the world, that is merely a means to an end; and I am not so delusional as to believe I could cure all the world’s ills and bring eternal peace and prosperity to humanity – if nothing else, humans will always find another reason to fight amongst themselves, no matter the circumstances.” He shrugged. “Though I do believe I could reduce the number of casualties on the way to my goal.”

“What is that goal?” Hecate threw in, the words bursting forth as if she couldn’t stand the tension anymore.

Even Tyche, currently drinking her sixth drink, seemed to be on the edge of her seat. The only one who seemed to be entirely unaffected by it all was, as usual, Osore.

“My true goal is…,” was all Emyr began to say, leaning slightly forward, his face grave and shadowed by his wild mass of hair. “Secret.”

“Oh come on!” Tyche complained loudly, nearly spilling her eighth drink.

“Hey, I kept it a secret for so long, why should I tell now?” He laughed, clearly amused by the annoyed expressions he could see, at least from those whose faces weren’t hidden by masks or cowls – though their body language certainly helped express their own opinion towards his attitude. “Really now, children, I may enjoy crossing off the classic tropes, but I’m not going to reveal my great master plan in a big villaneous monologue. I’m laidback, not stupid.” He picked up his goblet and drank again. “Now, as to what I want with you lot, specifically… to be honest, I simply want to amuse myself.” He looked straight at Basil again. “I know that may seem callous to you, especially now that you’ve told me something of what’s at stake – and you’re right. Which is why I’ll instead ask you what exactly you’re after, young Brennus. What is your quest?”

Basil frowned at the question. Much as he really didn’t want to antagonise him – he wasn’t an idiot, previous behaviour be damned – he also didn’t exactly cherish the idea of telling this story just to amuse a capricious wannabe-deity.

Still, it seemed like the fastest way to get out of this would be to play along… to a point.

“If I tell you, will you let us go?” he decided to ask.

“That very much depends on the story you tell me,” Emyr replied smoothly, as if he’d expected the question. “Tell your tale, and tell it true, and I shall choose the next scene to come.”

Basil’s hands clenched into fists again, at the arrogance, the-

His right hand clenched around something hard.

He looked down and saw his goblet, whole, in his hand. He looked up at Emyr again, who just smiled.

Neither word nor gesture, he thought. Is there no limit at all to his power? Can he bend reality by will alone? Did he create the goblet so it’d repair itself? Did he give himself an ability that allows him to fix it at will? Did he… He cut that train of thought off right there – there were too many possibilities, and he had no means by which to determine which one was the most likely. No, there is. There are. He’s said so himself, and it shows. He was killed, as well – that wouldn’t have worked out if he didn’t have limits that could be exploited.

You’re in no position to exploit anything, mate, the Man in the Moon whispered.

But I can gather information for when I – or another – will be.

Taking a deep breath, he said, “First, I have a question to ask, about our fight earlier.” He looked him straight in the eyes again, even though his mask prevented direct eye contact. It was still strange, looking into those pools of black. A sense of vertigo he’d never felt before. Like looking through two windows into the Abyss.

“More of a little spat, really,” Emyr qualified. “Ask, and ye shall be answered.” He made a permissive hand gesture to accompany the statement, without a hint of humor in any of it.

“You threw me off of you like I weighed nothing, and you were able to tear Gloom Glimmer’s gag off just as easily. Yet no command – or dictate, I suppose – could have allowed you to do that, so how did you do it?”

Emyr’s smile broadened. “Body language.” He winked at him, then broke out into laughter when he saw the shocked expressions on the exposed faces. “Ah, yes, people tend to react like that to finding out about that little aspect of my power. Anyway, I believe that answers your question – your turn, now.”

Basil took a deep breath. “It is a long story.”

“I love long stories.”

He rolled his eyes. “Alright. A member of the organisation she belongs to,” he gestured towards Legend, “unleashed a bio-weapon on Hawaii, years ago. It killed most of the victims and left the others crippled, dying slowly. Their time is running out, I discovered the location of this base but the authorities are still deliberating how to proceed – and whether to trust my information, so I decided to come after the woman responsible – Dusu – myself, because I need her to give me the cure for her poison. Legend here intercepted us as we were taking the train towards their base’s section in which we believe Dusu to be.”

“A lengthy tale indeed,” Emyr mused. “So every one of you came here to find this cure?” He turned his vertigo-inducing gaze at the others, up and down the table. They all nodded, some more self-assured than the others.

Seemingly pleased, he turned his eye upon Brennus again, stroking his chin with one of his spidery hands, contemplating… something. “Why do you want this cure, young Brennus?” he asked, finally.

Basil tilted his head, confused. “Why… I need it in order to cure her victims.”

“That is what you need it for, but why do you, Brennus, want it?” the Godking asked with a curious smile, resting his cheek on his left hand. “What drives you to attack the base of such a dangerous organisation, taking these brave friends of yours into such danger – and don’t deny that you did, I recognise a leader when I see one – and challenge even me?”

“I need to cure those who have been harmed by Dusu,” he replied simply, trying to find the sense in this line of questioning. “If you must know, one of them…” He looked at the junior heroes, briefly, then decided he’d trusted them this far anyway. “One of them’s my girlfriend. This is the only way I have left to save her, short of carrying her into the Protectorate – and even if I could, she’d never survive such a trip.”

He could feel the eyes of Tartsche, Spellgun and Polymnia on him, but ignored them as he focused on Emyr. “Is this enough already? Every second counts.”

Emyr tapped his chin with one of his long, thin fingers. “I suppose it is, and thank you for satisfying my curiosity.” He sat up straight. “I think I understand you a little better now. I am curious though, what would you do if I were to say I intend to keep you here for a longer time?”

Basil shrugged. “I would kill you or, failing that, disable you in some way and break out of this place,” he replied flatly. I don’t know how, yet, but I will figure it out.

Everyone at the table, as well as Legend, just stared at him. Then they looked at Emyr, who’d gone still, looking at him in surprise.

“That’s hardly very heroic of you,” he said.

“I am not much of a hero,” Basil spat him, annoyed. “Or that good a person. But I am enough of both that I am going to do the right thing to save these people, and if that means going through you, then so be it.”

“I’m giving you points for gumption, at least,” Emyr replied flatly, untouched by the venom in the boy’s voice. “Not for brains, though. You’re talking about killing a-“

“A god, I know,” he snarled. “Or at least, that is what you claim – but you, you are no god.”

Emyr tilted his head the other way, looking dumbfounded. “Have you seen Mars lately? I assure you, I am very much a god-“

“You really aren’t, Sir,” Hecate spoke up, her voice low, but firm, looking straight at Emyr’s eyes when he turned his gaze to her, shivering when she felt their effect upon herself. “You were killed. Everyone knows the story. The Seven Regicides took you down, and they were certainly no gods themselves.”

“Seven Regicides, huh?” Emyr smiled in amusement. “So that’s how the world remembers them, is that it? Do they tell their tale still?”

“They do,” Hecate answered him, clearly straining to keep up the eye contact. “Everyone knows their names. Jack Flag. Gungnir. The Prospector. Jekyll and Hyde. The Unseen.  Chatterbox. The Illionaut.There’s books, movies, comics… we don’t know how they did it, but we know they did.”

“There were eight, actually,” he remarked. “The count starts at Zero, not one. But that’s beside the point,” he continued, as if that was nothing, ignoring the gasps of everyone around the table.

Everyone save three. Gloom Glimmer remained still, and both Polymnia and Basil watched her, having noticed her flinch earlier.

What was that about?

On the other side of the table, Emyr continued to speak.

“I’ve got to say, though, it’s rather annoying how people keep misunderstanding my title,” he said, actually showing some annoyance for once. “I never claimed to be a god of humans. I created my children, the Martians – I reforged the world they live on. To them, I am, undoubtedly, and by any definition, God. I am also their absolute, unchallenged monarch – thus, King. Thereby, I am the God-King of Mars.” He huffed, brushing a few strands of hair out of his face. “It’s not a boast, it’s a simple fact.”

Basil sighed. “Are you deliberately wasting my time now?” he asked, growing weary even as his voice rose to near-screaming. “None of this, none of this, is necessary. I need to get going, I need to find Dusu, so get to the fucking point!

“Alright, alright,” Emyr made a calming gesture with both arms. “Calm yourself, young one. I do sympathise with your plight – if anything, I applaud it. A knight in shining,” he looked at Basil’s jet-black armour, “well, not-so-shining armour, out to cure countless innocents including his lady; I love that kind of story!” he finished with an excited smile.

Basil leaned forward in his chair, “This isn’t for your amusement!”

“It may not be meant to, but it amuses me anyway,” the Godking said softly. “And I say that without any derision. I am not making light of your quest, Brennus, I am merely trying to point out that, perhaps, you should sit down, relax, recover some of your strength and realise that I am your ally, here.”

That made Basil sit back and stare. “What?”, he said, only to realise that about half the other teens at the table had said the same, at the same time.

Emyr chuckled. “Please, children. I may have tried – and succeeded, let’s not forget that – to take over the world, but I’m no monster, and I’ve always considered myself to have certain standards. Even if this Dusu hadn’t apparently used a bio-weapon on civilians, I would still support you, if only because the idea of a tale like this appeals to me too much not to,” he explained, before drinking from his ice-cream-filled goblet. “Are you going to accept my help?” he asked, finally, looking straight at Basil once more.

“I… of course. If you want to help, I… could not say no; we need any help we can get,” he replied, feeling thoroughly unbalanced.

Then, a new hope bloomed inside of him. It was far-fetched, a mere chance, but… “Could you, just, wish them whole?” he asked, leaning forward, unable to keep his voice calm. “Can you do, something with your power, that’d just fix them?”

Emyr smiled sadly at him. “Ah, how I wish I could,” he said, crushing that particular hope. “Once upon a time, it would’ve been less than child’s play to me – but now, with my power limited to this little pocket? I’m afraid not – I could not even create a Panacea and let you take it along to use on them yourself.” He sighed. “I’m sorry, I truly am, but in this, I am less able than you are to make a difference.”

Then he smiled. “However, I can offer two other things. One, I can rejuvenate the lot of you – which, as you may have noticed, I already did before time continued,” he gestured at them, and Basil took a second look – he was right, all the damage to his armor and costume, as well as those the others had accumulated, was gone; and he felt as fresh as he would after a good, long night’s full of sleep (something which he’d missed these last few days). “And second, we can extract some information from Legend here – that alone should be worth the delay, right?” He gestured at the enslaved contriver. “Ask her whatever you wish to know and she will answer to the best of her knowledge, in all honesty and with no attempts at deception or manipulation.”

Legend shuddered under the weight of the dictate – and it was one, even though there was no real indicator as to which parts of his speech were backed by his power and which weren’t – but nodded obediently, without a moment’s hesitation.

Basil looked around the table at the others – everyone looked to be shocked, scared or hopeful, to varying degrees, sometimes all three at once.

This is too weird for words, the Man in the Moon spoke up. Then again, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, mate.

For once, I agree with you. He turned towards Emyr, again, to ask the first question that came to mind, but he was pre-empted by Polymnia using her vocoder.

“What kind of resistance are we likely to run into, from now on until finding Dusu?” she asked the woman in the maid outfit.

She flinched. “The team you’ve fought before is likely to have recovered by now and be setting up an ambush outside the portal to this realm. There’s also two more combat-able teams on the Installation. Furthermore, Dusu has her own security, and her lab is in the same complex as that of the new Ascendant – I have no idea whether the latter could have some nasty surprises in store for you, if you show at her doorstep.”

Gloom Glimmer leaned in, putting both arms onto the table. “Wait, the Ascendant? So they did name a new one – what’s this one’s deal?” she asked, her voice hard. “Is he going after children again!?”

Legend shook her head. “No. I’m not aware of their exact project – while she only slightly outranks me, I have little to do with the Gadgeteering complex – but I know that it’s seriously impressed the top executives and that they declared it Top Secret even for the division heads like myself. I am, however, aware that it does not, apparently, require the purchase of test subjects, as the previous Ascendant’s work did.”

Several of the heroes around the table, particularly the girls, looked rather green at the callous admission of slave-trading being done here, but Basil decided not to press that particular point here.

“So we can not know what to expect once we get past the team we already defeated before,” Basil concluded. “What can you tell us about Dusu’s own security?”

“Her laboratory is heavily fortified and hermetically sealed, due to containing so many bio-threats. Attacking her carelessly would be supremely dangerous. I am not aware of any specific security other than the guards who protect her complex as a whole.”

“Is there some shortcut that can take us straight to Dusu?” Tyche asked inbetween emptying her thirteenth goblet and refilling it. “Would be nice to skip straight past all the fightin’,” she concluded rather uncharacteristically.

“None that I’m aware of.”

Tyche sighed in disappointment.

“Where do these monsters come from that attacked Esperanza City, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Australia?” Tartsche asked, suddenly, his voice still trembling a little, though noticably more controlled than earlier – he’d even relaxed his grip on Spellgun’s hand a bit. “And why did you have them attack in the first place?”

Legend looked away, seemingly ashamed – but Basil couldn’t tell whether she was honestly ashamed for what had been done, was ashamed of something else related to it or was simply being forced to be so due to Emyr’s unkown edicts – and replied, “They attacked because we couldn’t control them after their creation, so the top executives decided to cut them lose and see whether they couldn’t cause some more origins,” she explained as if talking about the weather. “As for their nature, I am not entirely sure but I know they are connected to the Sleeper.”

“What is the Sleeper?” Tartsche immediately pressed on.

The sorcerous woman looked up at him, a strange, off-putting light in her eyes. “The Sleeper is the future, our key to expanding our power and bringing as many into the light as we can – a colossal being sleeping in the depths of the Mariana Trench which we believe to be connected directly to the source of metahuman powers, currently in some form of hibernation,” she explained with almost religious fervour. “The beasts that attacked those places were somehow induced to spawn from it, but I don’t exactly know how – I do know that Dusu was and is the head of that particular program, so you should ask her for anything more regarding the subject matter.”

Emyr watched the exchange, tapping his fingers together, his face gone completely serious. “What a disgusting collection of wretches,” he spoke softly, his voice shimmering with an anger that made everyone else within the pocket reality shudder and lean away from him. “What is this group called?” he asked his slave.

“We are sometimes called the Companions of the Future, but our original and preferred name is ‘die Gefährten’, which means…”

Emyr cut her off with a wave of his hand. “I am well aware of what it means. Well, now I know whom to purge once I take over again. Continue.”

Basil leaned forward, putting his goblet aside to clasp his hands in front of his face, his mask snapping shut once more.


They continued to extract as much information as they could from Legend. The woman was completely cooperative, though clearly not willingly so, repeatedly making faces and shuddering, yet unable to truly strain against the commands imposed upon her by Emyr.

Finally, after nearly ten minutes, Basil decided to end it. “I think that is enough,” he announced loudly, leaning back. “We should get going now.” He looked at Emyr, silently asking for permission – though it galled him a great deal having to defer to him so.

To his (mild by now) surprise and gratitude, Emyr nodded, making a sweeping gesture. “It is time, yes. Go, find the cure.” He smiled softly, a little sadly. “I do wish I could offer greater support, but I’m afraid all I have left is to give you all my blessing.”

The others looked at each other, then at him, but no one knew what to say to that, really.

“Thank you,” was all Tartsche could bring himself to say – he still appeared to be rather put off by having his power circumvented somehow, and he’d very tellingly not asked how Emyr had achieved said feat.

“You’re welcome. Now off, off with you all!” Emyr raised a hand and snapped his fingers, and the door behind him opened smoothly, without a sound, revealing the shimmering portal they’d seen earlier behind Legend’s force-field.

They all got up, rather quickly, and moved towards the door, but Tyche stopped briefly next to Emyr’s chair.

“Y’know, for a crazy evil overlord, you’re really ok,” she said, offering him her hand. “And thanks for the drinks. Wish I could keep the magic cup, really,” she continued with a grin.

Emyr smiled at her, only having to bend his neck slightly to look up at her face, even while sitting. “It was my pleasure, Tyche. My pleasure, and my horror – I’ve never seen a normal-sized girl drink twenty-two drinks in such a short time. And each one an original, at that.” He took her hand, shaking it. “I do hope we can meet again under more pleasant circumstances, young hero.”

She blushed a little at his smile, and nodded. “Sure. See ya, your royal godliness.”

They all passed by Legend, who remained quiet, her head lowered and her hands clasped together, but Hecate and Polymnia both stopped next to her.

They exchanged a look, the two of them, then turned around, with Hecate speaking up.

“What’s going to happen to Legend?” she asked worriedly.

Emyr leaned around on his throne-like chair, looking at her with an inscrutable, but gentle expression. “Worried for your enemy, are you? Well, you needn’t be – I don’t intend to kill her, merely teach her a lesson before I eject her unto the real world once more.”

They looked at each other, again, as the others pooled around the gate, waiting for the two girls to join them and exit this reality. While neither seemed to be too happy with his reply, they clearly decided – sensibly, in Basil’s opinion – that it was likely to be the best they’d get.

“Alright. One more thing, Sir,” Hecate pressed on. “May we, um, take those?” She gestured at the items on the table, the ones Legend had used to summon her shades. “They should be returned to their proper places.”

Emyr nodded and gestured at the items, then at Hecate. They all rose up and flew over to her, making her briefly squeal in surprise before she caught them all and, with a respectful bow to him, stuffed them carefully into her bag of holding.

“Is there anything else?” he asked kindly.

She shook her head. “No, that will be all. Thank you, Sir,” she bowed again, then turned to leave.

Basil watched all that, feeling oddly disconnected from it all, but didn’t comment.

It didn’t help that he still didn’t trust Emyr, and so he let the others exit this reality first, just in case.

He was just about to step out of it himself when Emyr spoke up again.

“Brennus,” he said and when Basil turned to look at him, he’d rotated his throne around to face him and the door. “One last thing before you leave.”

“What is it now?” Basil asked wearily.

“Remember these words,” Emyr said, before he cleared his throat and sat up more straight, then spoke in a much firmer, deeper voice than before: “To pursue what is necessary is the province of beasts – a true man must pursue naught but what he desires.'”

Basil tilted his head to the side. “I… do not understand.”

Emyr smiled at him like a kindly old grandfather might. “I know you don’t, just as I know that you will, some day. Be well, Sir Knight, and may you save those you wish to save.”

Clearly dismissed, Basil nodded at the strange man and turned around, leaving.


Legend watched quietly as Emyr leaned back in his seat while it rotated – with no visible or audible cause – back to face the table, the door closing behind him. She couldn’t do anything but be quiet and await new orders… and dread whatever ‘lesson’ he had planned for her.

“How likely do you think they are to succeed, Sophia?” he asked pensively.

She didn’t have to think about it to know the answer. “There’s no way this story is going to have a happy end,” she replied sadly – and she did feel sad. She wasn’t heartless, and she did feel sympathy for Dusu’s victims and those trying to save them; nevermind that she honestly wished that monstrous woman would get what she deserved (Sophia was a villain, and she was even willing to kill teenaged combatants, but… Dusu was just evil). “Whether or not they reach Dusu, she-“

She was interrupted, suddenly, when someone walked past her from behind, making her jump and squeal in surprise as she saw someone wearing a dark blue, hooded robe move down the table.

Where, where did he… no one but him and me should be here! she thought, staring in shock.

Emyr remained quiet, looking almost as surprised as she felt as he watched the stranger sit down at the opposite end of the table, where the unnerving girl with the changing power had been sitting just a minute earlier.

Sophia was immediately assaulted by an unnerving sense of vertigo as she looked at the stranger’s face underneath his hood – or rather, the lack of a face, as he was wearing a mostly flat, featureless mirror-helmet within which she could see the distorted reflections of both herself, Emyr and the table. Yet, even though she could not see the figure’s eyes, she still felt like she was seeing into Emyr’s own black orbs, seeing into the abyss beyond them.

The stranger sat down without a care in the world, putting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands underneath his chin, resting it atop his interlaced fingers.

“Well well,” Emyr said, tapping the armrest of his chair. “Who do we have here? I don’t believe we’ve met before. What is your name, stranger?”

“Some call me Journeyman,” the man spoke, making Sophia shudder at the sound of countless voices – most but not all male – speaking in unison. In spite of that, though, the man did not project any kind of hostility or threat. “Some have called me Aion.”

“Mm, interesting choice of names,” the Godking of Mars replied. “I assume you know who I am, Aion?”

“Emyr Blackhill, the Godking of Mars,” Journeyman said. “I came here to kill this incarnation of yours.” Sophia choked on her own spit.

“Well, that is rather refreshingly forward,” Emyr chuckled with clear amusement in his voice. “While I’d be really curious to see how you’d achieve that, I’m afraid it’s quite superfluous – I am going to terminate myself soon, since I can’t break out of here in any case. You’re wasting your time and strength, if you can even do it against my will.”

“Not so,” Journeyman countered. “I know you too well – you’d find a way to break out of here, and I can’t have that.” He leaned a little more forward, as his mask stopped reflecting the scene in front of him and showed nothing but Emyr’s own face, reflecting back at him.

The Godking frowned at him, his mouth twisting. “You seem quite certain… precognition?”

“Of a sort,” Journeyman replied.

“It is not impossible that I could devise a means by which to escape this confinement, that is true, though I haven’t as of now,” Emyr said pensively. “Yet that would be truly a major feat, even for one such as I. You still believe you could slay me, now?”

Please, oh please, say yes!, Sophia silently begged the stranger.

To her dismay, he shook his head, only for his words to then make her hopes flare again. “I don’t think. I know.” He lowered his hands onto the table, leaning onto his elbows. “In this place, at this time, I am more than you are.”

Emyr chuckled. “I’d like to put that to the test, if you don’t mind.”

Journeyman grabbed the table by the edge and threw it aside like it weighed nothing, causing it – and the bowl atop it, and the goblets – to shatter against the walls, as he strode forward towards the Godking on his throne, his long, powerful strides moving him faster than Sophia could run.

Emyr stood up, ponderously, and pulled back an arm, forming a fist.

Journeyman wound up for his own strike.

Sophia stared in horrified fascination, unable to do anything but observe.

Their fists met.

Their world broke.

Previous | Next


B13.10 Call of the Sleeper

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Can’t kill him. Can’t capture him. Can’t control or subvert him. Can’t harm him, Basil thought, his body exploding into motion, running forward towards Emyr’s back, as the tall man moved to pass through the door and subjugate two worlds again – and Basil did not doubt that he’d be able to, not when the world was already in such utter disarray. I have to stop him.

So how do you propose to do that, genius? the Man in the Moon asked him. We’re talking about a guy who, when he calls himself a ‘God-King’, is making a perfectly reasonable statement about his capabilities.

Moving as fast as his legs would carry him, trying to stay as quiet as remotely possible, Basil leaped onto the dais. If his power works anything like what it seems like, like what we know of his original life, then I won’t be able to achieve anything he has outright forbidden, but I can still neutralise him in any manner which doesn’t outright violate any of his dictates.

Mate, listen to yourself, you’re talking about taking on a god. He can literally wish you dead! Just stand down, play nice and don’t fucking antagonise him! the Man in the Moon shouted within his mind, yet Basil advanced.

What kind of man would I be, if I gave up the first time a big challenge appeared? He was almost upon him, less than four steps away from the man thought to be the most powerful being to ever walk the Earth.

Big challenge? The Protector was a big challenge! Crocell was a big challenge! This is an impossible challenge!

The black marble-like floor in front of the doorway warped, flowing upwards into a rippling curtain of the same material, blocking the Godking’s advance.

Gloom Glimmer! Basil thought, though he didn’t bother to look. Instead, before Emyr could even react to the sudden appearance of a barrier, he leapt at his back, impacting him with quite a lot of force as he wrapped his arm around his head, pressing his right arm’s bracer against his mouth to prevent him from speaking.

Emyr gasped in surprise, staggering forward to nearly slam into the now-solid wall, yet at the last moment, his movement was averted by no apparent means, causing him to stumble and fall to the side, with Basil on top of him, holding on for dear life – the Man in the Moon wasn’t wrong, it was not unlikely that all Emyr had to do was to simply shout ‘Die!’ to kill everyone in this place who wasn’t himself, under Tartsche’s power or, most likely, Gloom Glimmer.

Still, without his speech, he was just a normal man, so as long as Basil could hold him in a proper lock, he-

Emyr easily overpowered his left-handed grip on his arms and reached over his back to Basil, a single long-fingered hand grabbing him by the back of his neck.

Before he knew what was happening, he was thrown away as if he weighed nothing, tumbling end over end until he slammed into the bare floor, over a dozen metre away.

“Did you really think I-” Emyr began to speak, but was interrupted when a piece of the floor below shot up to cover his mouth – though not his nose – and cling tightly, cutting off his speech. He looked down at it, then looked aside towards Gloom Glimmer, who was standing firmly on the ground, an arm extended towards him with its hand clenched into a tight fist, her eyes glowing red beneath her hood.

I won’t let you speak one more word,” she spoke, her voice reverberating with power.

He expelled a breath through his nose, like a huge sigh, looking infinitely annoyed as he reached calmly for the gag made of marble-like stone clinging to his lower face. At the same time, he flicked a hand out at her, making an odd claw-like gesture.

Nothing happened, causing him to look at his hand in surprise.

Meanwhile, Legend was staring at the fight, her formerly haughty face utterly despondent and wild-eyed, gone a nearly purplish red as if she was struggling with herself, trying to say something – That’s right, he forbade her from talking – and pointing desperately, just out of sight from Emyr, towards something.

Basil followed her gestures and found himself looking at the table with the one burning basin left on it.

Of course! She summoned him by putting his book into the flames – perhaps destroying the basin will banish him again!

Spellgun and Hecate seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time, and all three of them raised their weapons – Basil and Spellgun their rifles, Hecate her staff – and, just as Emyr’s fingers dug into his gag without any apparent resistance, fired a single shot each.

He reached out with a hand again, making a different gesture – thumb and index forming a circle, pinky sticking out and the others curled in – but again, nothing happened.

The basin exploded, as did most of the table, blown apart by the combined force of their attacks (though mostly by the explosive bullet Spellgun had clearly used).

A ring of blue fire shot out from the smoking wreck, washing over everyone, making Emyr flinch in what may have been discomfort.

His eyes grew wide as he looked down at himself, sawing his body begin to fade as the Protector had, earlier, when Hecate had dispelled Legend’s work, if slower than that.

Was that enough? Basil thought, hopeful, watching the Godking become more and more transparent.

Then he ripped off the gag Gloom Glimmer had put on him, though it rippled and melted again, flying back at his mouth even as he shouted at the top of his lungs-



Immanuel tilted his head to the side, his eyes fixed on a particular point of the floor of his meditation chamber, looking straight at the entrance to Legend’s realm, his expression briefly slipping from its usual calm serenity for a moment before he reigned it in again.

“What happened?” Heaven’s Dancer asked, as she sat on the same dais he was sitting upon, though her own posture was far more lady-like than his – knees together and to one side, her feet on the other – as was her choice of clothing, a proper white business suit with a silver shirt and golden jewelry. Unlike him, she also insisted on footwear even in such a meditation chamber, high-heeled white pumps in this case. Even her hairstyle, a tight, intricate braid woven into her gold-blonde hair, contrasted his careless style, if it could even be called a style.

“Blackhill just… stopped time, I think,” he said, stroking his smooth chin with one hand. “Whatever he did after, I can no longer see into Legend’s realm, if it’s even hers, still.”

The gorgeous young woman frowned, her serious expression quite out of place on a face as young as hers. “Is he deliberately blocking you out? How would he even know about you in the first place; even if he compelled Legend into telling him all she knows, she knows next to nothing about your actual power.”

He closed his eyes, smiling his usual, serene smile. His compatriot did raise a good point. “No, I don’t think that he’s blocking me, specifically, more likely that he chose to fortify Legend’s realm in general and just happened to shut me out as well. With power like his, it’s not inconceivable that he might shut me down by sheer accident, after all.”

She actually growled in response, the vicious snarl completely out of place on her face. “I told you Legend was too irresponsible! You must have known that she had that book in her possession, why didn’t you take it away? What if he breaks out of her realm? Even if he’s weaker now than before, as you claim he would be, I still don’t see how we’d stand a chance to contain him!” Her voice rose towards the end, becoming more shrill and angry than usual.

When he simply waved her concerns off, she nearly exploded, though he didn’t give her time to do so, simply continuing to speak: “Relax. Even if he breaks out, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for us. His goals – as far as I understand them – and ours are not mutually exclusive. At best, we might actually be able to recruit him – he’s not entirely beyond my power’s reach, after all – and at worst, we might have a new leader – not a bad thing, no? He’s rather fearless himself, after all.” He smiled easily at her. “All that is assuming he can get out, though.”

She held his gaze for a while, blue eyes to brown, before she averted her eyes to roll them, sighing in exasperation. “You’re impossible.”

“You mean I’m impossibly amazing,” he replied with a boyish grin.

“Impossibly childish is more like it,” she countered, giving him such a pure ‘mom’ look he actually broke out into laughter.

She watched him as he shook, the corner of her mouth ticking up briefly before she got it under control again. He noticed it, of course.

He finally, he got himself back under control, wiping a few tears from the corners of his eyes. “Ahh, I needed that. Thanks, grams.”

She frowned again. “I am not your grandmother, young man, even if I may be twice your age.”

“Not quite ‘twice’,” he replied, raising a finger. “But yes, you are very old.”

The glare she was giving him now should, by all rights, have reduced him to a blast shadow on the nearest window. He felt an intense gratitude for the fact that her current form did not have any such power.

“I’m glad you are so amused by all this,” she said, her voice dripping dishonesty. “But I’m still rather put off about all this. We have her daughter within our reach, we should be capturing her, not letting her run around willy-nilly!”

And it was back to that subject. “You know as well as I do that we can’t contain her,” he gave her the same answer as every time she’d brought up the young Whitaker. “Even if we could, it would put us at the top of both Goldschmidt’s and Whitaker’s hit lists, something which we’ve avoided for nearly a century now by not doing things like these – or at least, not doing them in a way so easily leading back to us.” He gave her a beady-eyed stare. “You’re just sore you can’t take her for yourself, aren’t you?”

She gave him a furious look. “I could have, if you hadn’t insisted that-“

He cut her off with a stern look. “Take Whitaker’s daughter? Really? Remember what happened all those decades ago, when you tried to take Whitaker herself?”

As soon as he reminded her, she averted her eyes, lifting a hand to press against the left side of her lower ribcage in an unconscious gesture, shuddering and going pale.

“I thought so,” he continued, more coldly. “As powerful as Irene may be, she’s simply not worth the risk. Nevermind that she may be able to resist your power anyway.”

He waited until she nodded, more subdued now as she recalled the humiliation (and pain) of her first and only encounter with the elder Whitaker. Satisfied at having made his point, he turned to look at the entrance to Legend’s realm again, deciding to simply wait and see what was going to happen.

He’d already called in reinforcements the moment Legend summoned Emyr, anyway, just in case.


Basil was sitting on a very comfortable, cushioned chair made of what looked like old, hand-carved dark wood. The others were seated in similar chairs, all arranged around a table just long enough to seat each of them, minus Legend whom he couldn’t see.

Emyr sat the head of the table in a throne-like chair made of the same dark hardwood, richly engraved with strange, yet beautiful winding patterns and flowers which certainly did not exist on Earth. He somehow managed to sit in both a regal and almost slouchingly relaxed manner, radiating a sense of being both utterly in control and utterly at ease as he looked around with a slight smile on his face, his black eyes looking almost warm as he regarded the teenagers sitting at his table.

On the long side of the table to Emyr’s right sat Hecate, Tyche, Basil and Polymnia. Opposite of him at the other end of the table and seated on a chair that was taller than the others, yet still smaller than Emyr’s, sat Gloom Glimmer. To his left-hand side sat Tartsche, then Spellgun, Bakeneko and Osore at the end, opposite of Polymnia.

The basin that kept Emyr alive stood at the centre of the table, casting a flickering, five-coloured light as his book floated gently within it, untouched by the flames. The doll and rosary which Legend had used to try and summon the Chevaliers with lay on the table in front of Emyr, and he was holding the Protector’s token, idly flipping it around in one hand. It looked like a leather wallet to Basil, an old, much-used one, though clearly well taken care of. A stack of papers, bound with some kind of cord to form a crude book, lay on the table right in front of him. He could read its title, upside down, written in neat, flowing handwriting – Hasty Dictates XXI. Nothing else about it stood out.

Everyone stared at Emyr with various degrees of consternation or horror on their faces. What they were thinking, he couldn’t guess at, so he focused on Emyr instead. First, he briefly considered trying to attack the basin again, but as soon as he thought about it, he had a sudden, intense feeling of unease, as if his every instinct was screaming at him that that could not be done.

That’s different from before, he thought. I can still consider those actions, but now I get a warning that they won’t work?

He changed something, the Man in the Moon said quietly. Maybe that book…

“You can write commands down,” Basil spoke up, breaking the silence and causing no small amount of gasps by his startled friends, though he paid them no mind, focusing on Emyr instead.

Emyr continued to regard the wallet for a few more moments, before he looked at him and smiled lazily. “That’s correct.” He tapped the thin book – no thicker than one of Basil’s fingers, really. “I’m sorry about the effect my earlier commands had on some of you.” He looked at everyone but Basil and Gloom Glimmer, in turn.

It took a moment before Basil remembered that everyone but Gloom Glimmer and himself had frozen up – perhaps it had not just been fear?

“I’m sure you know, stories told by mouth are fickle things, easily misunderstood, twisted and forgotten,” he smiled a mirthless smile. “But write one down and you can fix it for the ages.”

Does that mean his spoken commands have a time limit? Then why did he bother to specify ‘today’ earlier? Basil thought to himself, even as he kept going through more and more scenarios in his head, trying to find one that could work. Any way he could think of to directly attack Emyr was out. As was any attempt to reach the portal – now likely behind the heavy wooden door which stood behind Emyr’s seat, as well as any manipulation of the basin…

It was rapidly starting to look like Emyr had considered any possible quick solution to this situation which didn’t favour him.

More information might help.

“So if you write a command down, it becomes permanent?” he asked, suddenly glad that he’d set his helmet sensors to constantly record everything going on – provided he got out of this, the records of this encounter would be a thing for the ages.

Emyr focused on him, leaning forward just slightly as he kept flipping the wallet around in his fingers. “So long as the writing persists, yes. Before you think to try something untoward, I have already written that this,” he tapped the collection of dictates, “cannot be harmed or even manipulated by any of you.”

Bakeneko – now back to her cat-girl form – raised a hand, as if she was in school.

“Feel free to speak your mind,” he told her, looking amused.

“W-what was… what happened, earlier? When you said that stuff, I… I couldn’t…” she looked down, slumping her shoulders under the weight of his gaze – even when looking at someone kindly, his gaze was so intense even Basil could feel it, when he wasn’t even the one looked at. “It was like, like my brain just… froze up.”

“Ah, I do apologise for that,” he said softly. “That is one of the downsides of me relying purely on verbal commands. They affect everyone who hears them differently. For example, when I decreed that I would neither be hurt nor captured, some of you became unable to take any aggressive action against me, your minds locked up by what you couldn’t do rather than focusing on finding loopholes. Or, to make it more simple, my commands, when phrased too broadly, tend to affect everyone in different ways.” His shoulders shook as he laughed briefly, the sound low and completely at odds with the situation – as if he was sitting with friends at home, telling a story. “As to why some are affected one way, and others another, why some,” he looked at Bakeneko, Tartsche, Spellgun, Tyche, Hecate and Polymnia, “were struck with inaction, while others,” he looked at Basil and Gloom Glimmer, “where able to seek – and even find – loopholes, that I know no hard rule for. It appears to simply rely on the personality of the person in question.” He flipped the wallet in his hand, and Basil finally got a glimpse at the other side – it wasn’t a wallet, it was an EMT badge, belong to one Jason Devon.

“I, I see,” she said, looking away with an expression on her face that Basil couldn’t quite interpret – though the fact that her face was largely inhuman right now certainly didn’t help.

“Is that how the Martians’ ‘magic’ worked?” Basil couldn’t help but ask – he seemed amenable to talking, for whatever reason (though he could think of a few why he might).

Emyr redirected his unnervingly intense gaze onto him, but Basil remained calm, refusing to shrink back from it.

Not that there was anything like an overt threat there, or even an implied one. In fact, Emyr just smiled nicely. “Well, knowing what you know now, how do you think it worked?”

Basil frowned, briefly considering what he’d seen and heard so far. “It seems pretty simple, now, even if mind-boggingly powerful. You just wrote down how magic works, didn’t you?”

That earned him another smile. “A gold star for you, young man!” he said, snapping his fingers, and a golden star – an actual, solid gold by the looks of it, five-pointed star – appeared on the table in front of Basil. “That’s precisely how it works. I spent a whole month writing the entire Book of Magick. Then I had my priests create copies of it and spread them around.” He sighed, his gaze growing distant, lost in his memories. “That was a fun month. I’m really quite proud of the system I came up with. Very well-defined, like a science. Anyone could use it, too, not just Martians, though I did write in a few limitations to the effect that none of it could be used against me, personally.”

“Why not just restrict it to your Martians, or only to people who worship you?” Hecate blurted out a question of her own, leaning forward as they moved onto a subject close to her heart. “Seems like a safety precaution worth taking.”

Basil took the gold star and put it into his pocket.

Emyr directed his gaze, and smile – He really smiles a lot, doesn’t he? – at her, making her shrink back in spite of the complete lack of anything threatening about his bearing. “That’s a very good idea, my dear, but I did intend to integrate humanity into my empire, and having them all be unable to use magic would’ve reduced them to mere second-class citizens, especially once it turned out that my Martians were quite capable of manifesting powers of their own, as well. As for the worship, I-“

“Wait, they could what!?” Hecate jumped out of her chair, very nearly throwing it over. “The Martians… they could… I mean, we thought it was all just…”

“They could manifest, of course. It is not limited to humans,” Emyr replied, making a dismissive gesture with his free hand. “No, don’t ask,” he continued, pointing at Basil. “I will not reveal to you the origin of powers, nor any other of its secrets. You needn’t bother to even ask, for I will not answer,” he explained, his voice cold and hard again. “And be thankful for that, my boy. Some knowledge is naught but a burden to all those who know, and not to be shared lightly.”

“You can not expect me to ignore the fact that you apparently know the answer to the single greatest question of the last hundred years!” Basil shot back, leaning forward as he clenched his hands around the tips of his chair’s armrests.

Mate, what’d we say about pissing off megalomaniacal godlings?

Shut your mouth.

“I don’t expect you to ignore it, and I certainly don’t simply expect you to drop it,” Emyr replied, relaxing again as he lowered his hand down to the table. “I order you to drop it.”

And just like that, Basil knew he would no longer be able to bring the subject up. “Alright,” he grunted between clenched teeth, barely holding back the desire to charge him across the table and try to hurt him for so casually controlling him. He opened his mouth to continue, make a scathing reply in spite of his better judgement, when Spellgun jumped in after Tartsche poked his side with his elbow.

“You did the same thing for their technology, didn’t you Sir?” he asked respectfully, his Southern accent thickening as he got more nervous with each word. “Ah mean, the ships, the portals, the weapons, none of it seemed like, you know, normal science” He looked aside, unable to stand Emyr’s intense gaze.

“The Book of Emyrian Science was my second written work on Mars, yes,” he affirmed.

“But none of it works anymore, does it not?” Basil threw in, drawing that unnerving gaze back onto himself. “Their machines, their spells, it all stopped working when you died. And it’s still not working, even now that you’re back.”

“How do you know it doesn’t? Do you have some means to observe the outside world from in here?” Emyr asked curiously, not seeming perturbed at all.

Basil shook his head. “I do not, but I noticed you making a strange hand gesture several times earlier. Both times, you clearly expected something to happen, and both times, it did not. Which tells me that you could use your own magic, and that you need your writings yourself in order to cast your spells, if you can not just speak it all out loud or do not want to, and it does not work now, even though you are back and clearly expected it to work.”

“Very perceptive,” Emyr replied, tapping his left cheek. “You are right, loathe as I am to admit it – either my former writings have stopped working entirely, or else they don’t reach into this pocket dimension. Though it’s more likely the former than the latter, as they have reached into such places in the past.”

“Or maybe you are just not really Emyr Blackhill,” Basil pressed on, drawing several hissing breaths from the others, as he kept up the eye contact with Emyr. “Because you are still here, wasting your time talking with us, when you were just trying to get out. So I am inclined to think, you tried to, and you stopped time, so you had the, time, to try as much as you wanted to, and you could not. You are stuck here, even though you took over from Legend.”

Emyr leaned to the side, resting his cheek on the fist of his left hand, his right one still playing with the badge.

Since he didn’t reply, Basil pressed on. “So, I guess my real question is, why are we still here? You certainly didn’t set this all up just to have a nice chat among friends. What do you intend to do with us?”

The Godking of Mars looked at him, smiling. Then his smile spread, and he began to chuckle, his shoulders shaking as the chuckle moved on to a pleasant laugh, and the laugh into full-throated laughter, as the heroes in the room stared alternatively at him and at Basil, at the latter as if they couldn’t believe he was talking like that.

After more than a minute, he finally calmed down, spots of red having appeared on his high, razor-sharp cheek bones.

With a smirk, he wiped a tear from his eye. “Ah, that was good. Haven’t had a good and proper laugh in a while.” He flung the tear away from his finger. “You are, of course, right. I don’t want just a nice chat among friends here.”

He raised his hands, making everyone but Basil and Gloom Glimmer – who had stayed completely quiet so far – tense up and lean away… and clapped them, twice.

From off to one side, Legend appeared, wearing an utterly ridiculous dress – oddly reminiscent of a maid’s dress, though in red, gold and black, with actual gold filigree worked into the cloth, tight around her body yet still modest, even tasteful… if one thought a gaudy fantasy-version of a maid’s dress could be tasteful – and an utterly furious, humiliated, terrified expression on her face, as she carried a tray with a variety of goblets, walking around the table – starting with Hecate and moving around counter-clockwise back to Emyr – as she put a unique goblet in front of everyone.

Each goblet seemed to be customised to fit the general appearance of the person it stood in front of, made of materials and covered in jewels that matched their respective colour schemes. Basil’s own was made of what he guessed to be Obsidian, with numerous tiny diamonds worked in, forming his sigil in a colour-inverted version.

They were also, one and all, completely empty.

All of them looked at the goblets, then at Emyr, who picked his own up as Legend took up position behind his chair and to the side of his left, moving smoothly, not like a puppet at all, and yet there was no doubt to be had that she wasn’t in control of herself anymore – her facial expression alone said it all.

Emyr’s own goblet was made of gold – of course – and had five large jewels that encircled it – an Emerald, a Diamond, a Sapphire, a Ruby and an Onyx stone – with no further decorations. Though it was larger than any of the others, it seemed to merely be so it fit into his long-fingered hand, not for the sake of, well, having the biggest goblet around. It, too, was empty.

“Chateau Margaux, 1787,” he said simply, and the goblet filled up with a sparkling red liquid. He took a long, slow drink, savouring the taste as he put the goblet – it instantly refilled – down on the table again, leaning back with his eyes closed for a few moments. “Ah, always a good one.” He opened his eyes, surveying everyone around the table. “Please, order your drinks. You can have anything you can reasonably describe. And afterwards… afterwards, we talk.”

Previous | Next


13.9 Call of the Sleeper

Previous | Next

Basil fired a shot, aiming squarely for the man’s head.

The Protector – or whoever was pretending to be him – made no move to dodge, nor show any reaction at all, really, when the blast hit him on the side of his forehead, glancing off with sparks and a sharp sound. It didn’t even stir his hair.

The man tilted his head, squinting at the shooter. “Now now, young man, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – how about an introduction first?” he asked, his disposition still very genial, in stark contrast to the situation at hand. He flourished his cape and bowed with perfect grace. “Jason Davon, also known as the Protector; I wish we could have met under less ominous circumstances, young ones.”

They just stared at the legend from the West Coast, not sure how to respond. Basil even lowered his rifle, though partly because he didn’t think it stood a chance of actually harming the man anyway.

In the end, it was Tartsche who gathered his wits about him first, taking a few steps forward (putting himself between the Protector and the rest of the group).

“It’s, it’s an honour to meet you, Sir,” he said, his voice cracking slightly at the beginning. “I’m… I mean, my name is Tartsche, and I’m a member of the United Junior Heroes.”

The Protector nodded, still smiling that maddeningly calming smile, even as Basil and the others re-ordered themselves behind Tartsche.

Spellgun and Tyche moved up to flank the untouchable hero. The former dropped to one knee in a shooter’s position, leaning against Tartsche’s leg, while Tyche simply reached out and touched Tartsche’s shoulder, as if to support him. Both of them promptly vanished from Basil’s sensors, much like Tartsche had moments earlier, as he dropped and immediately re-activated his power.

“It’s nice to meet a fellow hero,” the tall man spoke, watching them curiously, with no hint of anxiety or worry. “What brings you here?”

Bakeneko slid up to Osore, who was already starting to bulk up, if slowly, attaching herself to his back with her arms wrapped around his neck, her body from the neck down shifting into a mass of furry tentacles tipped by stingers, though the whole process took several seconds to complete.

“We’re hunting a super-villain,” Tartsche replied. “We were just about to take a train to a station near where we believe her to be, when we were drawn into… this.” He gestured around at the empty space around them, and at the mystic drawings above.

Gloom Glimmer floated forward, taking up position to the right of Tartsche, her cloak billowing in an unseen, unfelt breeze, while Polymnia joined Basil on the other side and further behind. Hecate stayed behind, quietly whispering something as she dug into a leather pouch on her belt.

The Protector tilted his head the other way, studying them all, one after the other, as if he had all the time in the world. “A commendable effort – quite a shame you had to end up in this situation, of all.” He sighed, looking around at the empty area, then raised his voice: “You know, it’s quite rude not to greet your guests!”

Once more the woman’s voice boomed from every direction at the same time, so loud Basil had trouble making out the individual words.


He had no such trouble making out the individual exclamation points, though.

The Protector frowned, growning softly as he closed his eyes. Then he took a deep breath, opening them again, looking at them all with eyes as gray and hard as steel. “Brace yourselves, young ones!”

“Wait, what’s g-” Tartsche began to protest, but he was cut off when the Protector charged straight at him, reaching for his throat.

His hand came into contact with it, only to fail to get a grip, or so much as budge the teenager by a hair.

Everyone else immediately opened up; Spellgun and Tyche all but put their weapons’ respective muzzles to his chest and pulled their triggers, Osore fired a twisting, uneasy-to-look-at fear blast from his fist, Gloom Glimmer threw out what appeared to be ropes of light, only they were buzzing like actual buzzsaws and Polymnia opened up with the speakers on her wrists, projecting beams of sounds so intense they visibly distorted the air.

None of it did a thing, other than Spellgun’s bullet, which covered his chest in rapidly spreading, purplish ice, and maybe Polymnia’s sound attack, which made the man look annoyed. Everything else either slid off of him or was deflected without any visible effect upon him, even Gloom Glimmer’s contribution. Hecate, meanwhile, slid down onto her knees, her head held low as if in surrender – or contemplation.

Basil, who’d refrained from firing on him – he’d already seen that even a headshot was less than an inconvenience on the man – instead threw himself at Polymnia, tackling her out of the way the Protector’s heat vision shot through where her chest had been just moments before.

“I very much dislike sonic attacks, young lady,” the man spoke reprovingly as he flexed his chest and arm muscles, blowing off the ice Spellgun’s bullet had coated him with. “Please refrain from annoying me so.”

Gloom Glimmer rose up behind him, her fists raised above her head and clasped together, bringing them down on his head with all her strength, creating an impact so powerful it blew everyone else but the three under the protection of Tartsche’s power and Hecate, who was kneeling in the blast shadow of the three, away.

Basil briefly lost sight of what was going on as he and Polymnia tumbled across the smooth floor, until they ended up a tangled mess of stiff, armored limbs.

His head ringing, he clumsily disentangled himself from her before she accidently broke his bones when she tried the same – they really were tangled up quite badly.

Fortunately, Polymnia was better off than he was, and clear-headed enough to free herself without issue, getting up on her feet faster than he did.

Getting up on his knees, he shot out his grappling hooks, attaching them to the floor in front of him just in time to brace himself against the gale-like winds; raising an arm, he wrapped it around Polymnia’s waist as she dropped down as well, helping her hold out against the pressure.

Together they watched as Gloom Glimmer rained blows on the Protector, who seemed to have been smashed down onto the ground, spreading spider-web-like cracks several metre in every direction except beneath Tartsche, Tyche and Spellgun – the ground beneath them was as spotless as before.

The Protector himself was on his back, looking up at the furious teen raining down earth-shattering blows upon him, seeming none the worse for wear – if anything, he looked pensive.

Finally seeming to have had enough of the torrent of blows, he rose up, forcing Gloom Glimmer to fly up as well, her machine-gun-like storm of blows stopping finally, ending the gales of air that the shockwaves had created.

Not a scratch on him, Basil thought in awe. He’d heard how tough the Protector had been – until DiL, no one had ever managed to cause him serious harm – yet it was one thing to read about it (or see in the countless tv specials and movies it was shown or mentioned) and actually see it in action.

“You know…” the man began to speak, rising up slowly towards Gloom Glimmer, “I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen you before – and I never forget a face. Yet I just can’t seem to place you…”

“You knew my older sister,” Gloom Glimmer replied while bringing her hands together in front of her, creating a red spark that quickly grew to the size of a peach hovering between her palms. “She killed you.”

She threw her arms out, launching the sphere at at him.

The Protector made no move to dodge or defend, simply allowing it to hit his chest.

There was a sharp crack and the sound of air rushing in, stirring his cloak, but nothing else happened.

“FOOLS!! DID YOU THINK A MERE TELEPORATION TRICK WOULD BE ENOUGH TO BRING DOWN THE PROTECTOR HIMSELF!?! I DO NOT CHOOSE MY MINIONS LIGHTLY!!!!”, the woman’s voice boomed, making Basil wish he had a pair of Polymnia’s ear protectors at hand. It was actually rattling him through his helmet.

Four exclamation marks on that last one. That can’t be a good sign. He looked around, switching through various scan modes, trying to pick up any useful information.

All he got was a headache from the scrambled images his sensors gave him as they tried to make sense of the discombobulated energies that seemed to flow through this pocked reality without pattern nor purpose.

The Protector, meanwhile, looked around in annoyance, before turning to Gloom Glimmer again, as another attack simply splashed off of his chest, as did several shots from Spellgun, each of whom delivered a different effect.

“So rude,” he said with a sigh, shaking his head before he turned to look at Gloom Glimmer again. “I’m sorry, but did you just say you are that baby’s sister?” he asked with a politely curious expression on his face.

Osore tackled him, having grown to nearly twice his size and several times his original weight, but bounced off to no effect. Bakeneko tried to strangle him with her tentacles, her stingers going for his eyes.

The Protector ignored them entirely, other than gently brushing the stingers aside after they failed to penetrate his eyes.

“Yeah. I’m Gloom Glimmer – Lady Light’s and the Dark’s second daughter,” the hooded heroine spoke softly, her arms hanging down her sides. She wasn’t trying another attack, for whatever reason, nor could Basil detect any kind of invisible energy emanations from her – not that that said much, as he doubted he had enough sensors to pick up everything she could do. The only thing he could pick up, other than that annoying background radiation, was the soft glow that encompassed them all, red for him and his comrades, blue for the Protector.

The latter looked at her, stunned. “That child was theirs, huh? Did they manage to save her?” he asked, his voice turning hopeful as a sniper round from Tyche’s rifle flattened itself against his cheek, before it slid off.

Gloom Glimmer’s head jerked back, nearly causing her hood to fall off and reveal her face – what little Basil could see of it seemed… shocked.

“She destroyed your city. She killed you! And what you worry about is whether she was saved?” she asked, incredulous.

He tilted his head to the side again, floating up so he was at eye level with her. “Of course. What man wouldn’t want to see a child safe?” he asked, softly. “She was but a babe when she appeared; am I right in assuming that she’d just been born when her powers… manifested?”

“Actually, it happened even before, before she was born,” she replied, lowering her head as her hands clenched into fists. “She manifested in the womb and…” She bit her lower lip, the only part of her still visible, falling quiet.

“Ah, I’m very sorry,” he replied gently. “Though I’m glad that Lady Light survived it.” He smiled reassuringly. “To answer your question, I hold no ill will towards her, no more than I would hold towards a newborn that soiled itself.” He clasped his hands behind his back as several bullets and a blast of raw fear splashed over and off the back of his head and his back. “One must only be accused of that which they choose to do, not that which they have no control over in the first place.”

Something he said seemed to strike home, because Gloom Glimmer made a soft sound, hiding deeper into her cloak, drawing it around herself like it could protect her.

Basil stopped his last attempts to shoot at him – at this point, he was just wasting ammunition. The others seemed to come to the same conclusion, as the barrage of attacks that the Protector had ignored so far ceased.

Bakeneko helped Osore get up again, using her arms to straighten the arm he’d broken when he tried a flying punch at the old hero’s back.

“What has become of her?” the invincible man asked.

“She’s been destroying towns, cities and whole countries, ever since,” she answered truthfully. “Appearing and vanishing with no rhyme or reason. No one’s managed to stop her in twenty-six years.”

“That’s horrible,” he said simply, as he looked over his shoulder at the trio standing below. His eyes glowed red, firing off a burst of heat vision that failed to harm them, thanks to Tartsche’s power; not that he seemed to have put any effort into it – an attack more like an afterthought.

Not that it would take more than an after thought for him to kill us, if he actually tried, Basil thought to himself as he went through his options.

His rifle was useless. His gauntlet might be able to protect him from a few hits, but that was all it was good for. Its offensive setting required melee range, and he was not so foolish as to get within close range of that man.

Which left… he looked down at his strangest invention yet, attached to his thigh via a simple magnetic charge.

The silvery-black ovoid, covered in circuit-like patterns much like his gauntlet, looked as innocious as anything he’d ever made.

No, not yet. There’s no guarantee that it’d do anything against him, and I can’t afford to lose it.

He looked at Polymnia, hoping that she might have an idea, but all he saw on her face was worry and fear. No help there.

The others seemed to be similarly dumbfounded as to what to do, except for Hecate, who was hunched over now, her hands cupped on the ground in front of her, as she kept chanting in Greek, or perhaps Ancient Greek – they both sounded the same to Basil, melodious yet non-sensical other than the odd word here or there that seemed to be the origin for an English one.

Since she seemed busy – and fortunately, the Protector had been ignoring her entirely so far – he focused on the dialogue between the two strongest persons in the room.

“-r power,” the Protector said, still addressing Gloom Glimmer. “It feels strange. Familiar, yet off.”

She turned her head away. “It’s the same as hers… just weaker.”

“Are you certain?” he asked, looking surprised. “It feels nothing like hers… almost the inverse, I’d say. Or perhaps the opposite?” He stroked his chin, looking closer at her. “Are you absolutely certain it’s the same?”



The Protector sighed again. “I’m sorry about this,” he spoke, looking at Gloom Glimmer – though Basil was pretty sure he was adressing all of them. “But I can’t refuse her commands, much as I’d love to.”

His eyes flared red, sending forth twin beams of bright red light straight through Gloom Glimmer’s chest – to no avail, as she simply dissolved into a black mist that surged forward, enveloping his head, rushing into his mouth, his nose, his ears.

Within moments, she had entered completely into his body.

“Nice idea,” he said, chuckling in amusement, seemingly unbothered by the experience. “But I’m every bit as tough on the inside as I am on the outside, little miss.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes, even my brain. Please, you’ll just end up hurting yourself like this.”

Even as he spoke, he turned around, looking at Basil and Polymnia.

“Gadgeteers, huh? Don’t you have some trick up your sleeve that could make this interesting?” he asked Polymnia and him, as he flew closer.

Even standing (well, floating) straight, he moved forward almost too fast for Basil to react, reaching for them with one hand each.

If he touches us, we’re dead, Basil thought as his mind raced to find a way to escape him.

Fortunately, Polymnia was able to move fast enough to do so for him, grabbing him by the waist and leaping away with a massive effort of strength, even for her.

She leapt at the Protector, though.

“What are y-” he began, but cut himself off when he realised they were sailing over the Protector, who flew on for a moment before he turned around, tracking their arc.

Before he could nail them with his heat vision – if that was what he intended – a bullet hit him from Spellgun, straight in the face.

It had little effect, other than to coat his face in ice again. He simply sneezed, shattering the ice and expelling Gloom Glimmer in one move with such force, her mist-form slammed into Basil and Polymnia, bowling them over as they landed and she solidified again.

Ow, Basil groaned as they ended up with both girls lying on top of him. Polymnia in particular was very heavy. There was the sound of shouting and shooting, followed by the grinding sound of bursting ice, but he couldn’t see it because someone’s butt was on his face.

He growned, pushing the two girls off of him as he got up on his feet.

The Protector was trying to get at the immobile trio, again, to no avail, as they fired at him with their various rifles. Only Spellgun’s contrived shots seemed to even register, even if only as annoyances rather than actual threats.

Fortunately, for all of his power, even the Protector seemed incapable of penetrating Tartsche’s defense, be it with his eye beams or his fists, causing an almost comical, brief scene where he seemed to flail as if drunk, his hands sliding off of their heads, throats and weapons, his heat vision failing to so much as heat up anything it touched.

“Hm, interesting,” he said, as he floated back gracefully. “Reminds me of when I fought that baby, she was similarly protected… actually, did anyone bother to give her a name?”

“Desolation-in-Light, Sir,” Tartsche replied respectfully. “We call her Desolation-in-Light, or DiL for short.”

The tall man frowned at that. “That’s a horrible name. What kind of imbecile came up with it?”

Basil couldn’t be sure, given Tartsche’s knightly helmet, but he would’ve bet on him blushing a bit.

“Uh, I actually don’t know who started it. I just… uh, I grew up with it, Sir,” the invulnerable boy responded, sounding as calm as ever.

“Well, it fits as well as any,” Spellgun drawled while he reloaded his rifle. “It’s tacky, yeah, but ‘Desolation-in-Light’ kinda fits l-“

“Bree!” Gloom Glimmer screamed, her voice nearly cracking as she rose up on her feet, her arms thrown wide open, cloak billowing around her. “Her name is BREE!!!”

She threw her arms out forward and unleashed a new power, a beam so bright it blinded Basil even through his visor, creating a sound so loud it deafened him, as if the air itself cracked.

The beam lanced forth, slamming into the Protector – not Spellgun, as even Basil thought it would, for a moment – and then it was too bright to see.

When his vision cleared again, there was a furrow in the otherwise perfect floor, whatever material it was made of disintegrated by her beam even though it hadn’t come close to touching the ground.

There was no sign of the Protector.

Gloom Glimmer didn’t seem to care, as she whirled to glare at Spellgun, her eyes glowing red. “And if I hear any of you use that idiotic appelation ever again, I’ll force-feed you your own colon!” she screamed, her voice distoring towards the end, resembling her father’s much more than her own.

“Duly noted…” Spellgun said in a barely audible whisper.

The others just stared at her, even Basil.

What the…

Then there was a rush of wind, and something crashed into ground just a few metre away, throwing up dust as the ground cracked more, making Basil and Polymnia stumble.

When the dust settled, they saw the Protector rise to stand straight once more, his face twisted in discomfort.

There was a hole in his chest, right above his lung, perhaps even penetrating deep enough to damage it, the edges not burned, but smooth, bleeding heavily.

Even as they watched, it was visibly healing.

What the…

“Fun fact,” the Protector spoke, his voice as strong as ever, so likely no lung damage… if that would even inconveniene him. “I never knew before I fought… Bree’s her name, right?… before I fought Bree, but I actually regenerate!” He looked down at his own wound, watching it heal. “Ugh, this looks disgusting, yet kind of amazing.” He reached for the wound, poking it curiously. “Ow,” he flinched, pulling his hand back. “Pain, right. It’s been a while since I felt that.” He shook his hand, causing the blood on his finger to simply fly off, unable to stick even to the cloth of his costume. “I’m not surprised you managed to hurt me, though,” he said to Gloom Glimmer with his customary genial smile. “Only ones who ever managed that before were your parents, and your sister.”

Gloom Glimmer just stared at him, her mouth hanging open, though whether it was at him having survived her attack or his flippant attitude, Basil couldn’t tell.

What he could tell was that her beam had been far wider than the wound they could see; yet the rate at which his body…

Basil squinted, looking closer.

Not just his body – even his costume was repairing itself!

Either way, at the rate it healed, it shouldn’t have had time to fix a bigger wound just yet. Meaning that, most likely, only the most concentrated part of the beam had actually done any damage at all.

Sighing, he walked over to Gloom Glimmer, as an unnatural calm descendet upon him. He’s just toying with us, he thought. He hasn’t even used his compelling voice, yet. And he should be much faster than he’s shown himself to be, yet. So either he’s been revived in a weaker state, or else…

He’s holding back, the Man in the Moon spoke up. This guy’s a hero, right? Like, he’s the hero. The guy the fanfic writers always pair up with Lady Light. He wouldn’t want to really hurt any of us. For crying out loud, he doesn’t even hate the bitch who killed him!

Basil came to a stop next to Gloom Glimmer, throwing a glance at Hecate, who seemed still busy casting her spell, shielded from the effects of the fight by the blast shadow of the immovable trio. She was bent over her staff, holding onto it with her left hand, while her right one was held above its head, fingers moving as she seemed to be incanting a spell.

He tapped Gloom Glimmer’s shoulder, then tapped his temple when she looked at him. Her eyes widened briefly, before she got his meaning, and then he felt a slight pressure on his mind. He also looked at Tyche, making a few subtle hand signals, out of sight from the Protector and, hopefully, his master, as he couldn’t reach her communicator through Tartsche’s power. She nodded, leaning over to Tartsche to whisper something.

The three of them reappared in his sensors readings.

The contriver, she commanded him to fight us, Basil thought, focusing the thought to be transmitted the way he’d learned from Amy.

Yeah, which is why we’re so screwed, Spellgun replied through their mental link. Owww… I’m already getting a headache! He flinched, scrunching his face up.

Sorry, it’s hard to separate my feelings from my power, Gloom Glimmer replied mechanically, with no real guilt in her mental voice.

Fair enough, I guess… Spellgun admitted.

We are not as screwed as it may seem, Basil spoke up.

What do you mean, B-Six? Tyche asked.

Barely a second had passed since the conversation began.

I mean that he has been holding back this whole time, he explained. He has not even tried to attack Hecate, our most vulnerable member, and he has mostly focused on attacking either the ones under Tartsche’s power – first with an attack that would not have hurt any of you even if it had connected – or Gloom Glimmer, who can take anything he can dish out.

How would he know that? Tartsche asked, his mental voice even calmer than his real one. He clearly didn’t know what her power’s like beforehand.

People often forget his expanded senses, Gloom Glimmer answered before Basil could. He could probably tell I had defensive powers up.

But why would he be holding back like that? That bitch gave him an order, and he doesn’t seem able to refuse it! Tyche asked, sounding the least calm of the ones who’d spoken yet, her mental voice far shakier and brittle than she’d seemed even earlier during their reunion.

She only ordered him to ‘fight’ us. Not win against us. Not defeat us. Not kill us. Just to fight, Basil explained his earlier epiphany. He wants to lose, which is why he has not bothered to dodge a single attack so far, nor made a serious effort to harm any of us. As long as we keep fighting and his mistress doesn’t notice that he’s play-acting, we’ll be able to use that, right, Hecate?

Keep him off my back for another minute and I might have something that’ll work, she replied. Now hush, I’ve got to concentrate!

You heard the lady. Let’s keep up the show before  his mistress realises he’s just messing around! Tartsche spoke firmly. Gloomy, can you put up a proper terrain? Both Polymnia and especially Brennus need more than just flat ground to fight at their best. Spellgun, save up your best shots, just use the ones that can distract him. Tyche and I can’t contribute much here, I’m afraid, but we’ll try to give him credible reasons to be ‘distracted’ whenever possible. Let’s get Hecate her minute!

Everyone agreed in the affirmative, as Basil chambered a new round in his rifle. No more than five seconds in total had passed, since he had drawn Gloom Glimmer’s notice.

The Protector either hadn’t noticed that they’d been unusually quiet for that time, or, more likely, had deliberately ignored it.

Hell, if he can see electricity and into your brains, he can probably tell that you guys were connected via some mental power, the Man in the Moon spoke up. It’s pretty grating how many powers this guy has.

Basil didn’t bother to reply, not that he had the time, as Gloom Glimmer stomped her foot on the ground, sending forth multiple ripples that spread everywhere around them, except where Hecate was working on her spell.

“Oh, what’s this?” the Protector asked curiously, squinting as he looked closer at the effect. “I’ve got the oddest feeling that I’ve seen this before…”

Gloom Glimmer brought her foot down in another stomp, and the ripples disappeared instantly.

Everywhere they’d touched, the ground bucked, and burst into motion.

Pillars rose, sometimes in clumps, sometimes alone, all around them, as the flat floor was turned into a maze of vertical pillars, followed by several horizontal ones that shot out once the main ones had formed, interconnecting them.

Finally! Basil thought, exulting as he triggered his grappling hook system, launching himself up in the air. Now I can fight!

Behind him, Polymnia leaped up, grabbing hold of a horizontal pillar with both hands to vault herself up even further.

“You kids do know that hiding from me isn’t going to work for long, right?” the Protector asked merrily as he flew up and around a pillar, appearing right in front of Basil.

He fired off his second hook to the side, diverting his flight at the same moment to avoid smashing into him.

My rifle’s useless, but if he’s actually not trying to fight, I can probably risk going in close to use the discharge function.

The Protector pursued him easily, cornering without any heed for inertia, his arms crossed in front of his chest as if to say he didn’t even need them to fight. Which he didn’t, not really.

Basil landed with his feet against the side of a particularly tall pillar and detached his hook.

Before he could fall, he kicked himself off, going straight for his pursuing opponent.

The tall man’s eyes widened as Basil flipped around in the air, slamming into his midsection with both feet – not that it so much as budged him.

“You can’t possibly have ex-” he began to say, opening his arms, but Basil didn’t give him a chance to finish.

He put his flat palm against his chest, right over his heart – the wound Gloom Glimmer had dealt him was already gone, fixed together with his costume, so he didn’t waste time aiming for it.

Holding onto his left wrist with his right hand, as he felt gravity reassert itself and start to pull on him, Basil triggered his gauntlet’s entire store of energy.

Instead of the blast he’d expected, that’d throw him back and maybe rattle his invulnerable foe, there was no effect whatsoever on Basil himself – instead, the Protector disappeared from his sight, faster than the eye could follow, as several pillars behind him were broken, collapsing into rubble.

What? he thought, stunned, beginning to fall.

“WHAT!?! WHAT WAS THAT!?!?!?!?!” the crazed voice shouted at the top of its lungs (Basil assumed), managing to sound both offended and shocked at the same time.

Basil wasted no breath even trying to answer her, in no small part because he didn’t know himself.

Firing his grappling hooks, he absentmindedly swung himself onto the nearest pillar, looking out trying to find the Protector and maybe figure out what’d just happened.

In the distance, he saw a silver-and-white figure rise from the rubble – zooming in showed the Protector, unharmed, though with a stunned expression on his face.

Yeah, you and me both, Basil couldn’t help but think.

The Protector looked at him, his eyes flaring a bright red he’d have seen even without his visor’s zooming function.

My cue to dodge!

He jumped off the pillar, barely a moment before its tip was disintegrated by twin heat beams, turning the pillar into a molten-tipped candle as he swung into the forest of rocky pillars again, rapidly casting his hooks out and reeling them back in, all but flying between them.

The Protector came after him easily, apparently unhindered by the camouflage the pillars should have provided Basil.

I don’t even know all of the senses this guy could be bringing to the mat, Basil thought, chargrinned, trying to stay ahead of his pursuer, to draw the chase out and buy Hecate the time she needed to complete whatever she was working on.

“That felt weird,” he said as he caught up, forcing Basil to cast one hook out backwards the way he’d come, to swing around the back of the man, trying to stay out of his front arc. “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an effect quite like that before… what’d you do?”

“I discharged several tons’ worth of kinetic force into your chest in one shot,” Basil said, leading the man on a merry chase, waiting for his gauntlet to recharge, tracking its capacitors’ progress in drawing electricity from his batteries and charging the kinetic projector. I need to find a way to recharge soon. “I did not expect it to do… that.”

“Hmm,” the legendary hero stroked his chin, absent-mindedly cutting through Basil’s currently in-use hook-line with a flash of heat vision, causing him to tumble down before he used the other to catch himself and swing around a pillar. “So instead of dispersing or absorbing it, my own force-field translated that into movement… curious.”

“Absorbed,” Basil mumbled, while he caught sight of Polymnia, lurking behind a nearby pillar, the fingers of her left hand driven into the stone to dangle from. She looked back at him and made a quick series of hand signals with her right hand.

Gloom Glimmer dropped the telepathy, he realised, I should’ve noticed.

He nodded back at her, having understood the signs, and she smiled back.

Swinging around the pillar, he came face to face with the Protector again, just as the man was reaching out to grab him by the throat.

Disconnecting his remaining hook, he dropped, bending backwards to dodge his reaching hand, and cast it out again, pulling himself towards Polymnia’s pillar, hoping that whatever she was planning could buy them some more time.

Not that he’s exactly making it hard.

He passed her pillar, the Protector hot on his heels, and Polymnia struck as soon as the undead hero flew by her ambush.

Throwing herself around the pillar by the strength of one arm alone, she landed on the caped hero’s back, pressing both of her gauntlets to his ears.

<I’m really really sorry about this Sir I swear I’m actually a big fan!> she said, before she let loose with her sonics.

Even though Basil was already a dozen metre or so away from them, even though his helmet was shielded, he nearly tumbled down to the ground as the noise shook him to the bone.

Landing on the side of a pillar, held up by his grappling hook, he watched Polymnia ride the Protector down as the man lost control of his flight, tumbling downwards. The utter, mind-rending noise she was projecting was so powerful as to visibly distort the air around them as they fell, and it seemed to affect her, as well, in spite of all the protection built into her equipment, though she doggedly held onto her quarry, continuing to blast her cacophony into his ears at contact range.

That is, she did until he reached over his head and grabbed her by the forearms, his fingers crushing her gauntlets as they squeezed, making her cry out as he pulled her off of him and threw her with bone-crushing force into the ground below.

Polymnia impacted the ground with a cry of pain, cracking the stone as she was half-buried in it.

Both Basil and the Protector looked down at her for a moment, shocked at the sudden turn of events – yet neither had the chance to so much as make a sound before a sound like a sonic boom, only far more shrill, sounded, and the Protector was knocked out of the air.

“YOU-” Gloom Glimmer screamed, tackling him as he tumbled down, knocking him back the way she’d come, her body sheathed in a shroud of black sparks.

“-DON’T-” She punched him with a fist sheathed in green light, the energy of which exploded in another shrill boom, shattering all the pillars within ten metre of them as he was thrown out of sight, Gloom Glimmer in pursuit.

“-GET-” Her scream reached them, nevertheless, along with another boom in the distance that destroyed another cluster of pillars.

“-TO-” The Protector flew by Basil with such force he only managed to stay on his own pillar due to his grappling hook.

“-HURT-” Gloom Glimmer rushed by, a black-and-white streak of raw fury. Basil took the chance to leap down to Polymnia, using his grappling hook to break his fall at the last moment and land right next to her.

“-MY-” There was another shrill boom, further away.

“-FRIEND!!!” came a last cry, and an explosion like no other.

Green light washed over Basil and Polymnia, a wave of it flying by above to cut through what pillars still stood, though fortunately there weren’t any left near enough that they were in danger of being crushed.

Basil knelt down, checking Polymnia over. Her gauntlets were ruined, crushed, though surprisingly not far enough to break the her bones underneath (she’d likely have some impressive bruises nonetheless), but she herself seemed largely unharmed.

He helped her, carefully, to sit up out of the shallow grave the impact had made for her, making her groan as he steadied her with one arm behind her back.

“Where does it hurt, and how badly?” he asked calmly.

She looked up at him, blinking in a daze. Her lips moved, but no sound came out.

Her brain’s scrambled, he thought, as he tapped her hand with his free one. Somewhere in the distance, the fight continued.

Polymnia blinked once more, then flushed in embarrassment, and the fingers of her left hand began to move, slowly at first then faster.

<My forearms feel like they’re one big bruise and my back is no better off, but otherwise, I’m alright,> her vocaliser spoke, projected through a small speaker on the collar of her armour. She smiled reassuringly. <It pays to be a brick.>

“I would still like to check your arms and back at the earliest opportunity,” he said as he helped her up onto her feet, straining a bit to lift the bulk of her – she wasn’t wearing power armour right now, but it was still far more bulky and heavy than his body armour was, and she was no lightweight herself, though he knew not to comment on that.

<I really hope Hecate knows what she’s doing,> Polymnia said once she was more or less steady, though still trembling and hunched a bit due to the pain. <Gloomy won’t be able to keep this up much longer, not against someone that powerful.>

He frowned, and pulled an extension cord out of his belt, attaching it to her own belt’s port.

<Do you mean to say that she is going to run out of whatever powers her abilities?> he asked, concerned. He’d seen Gloom Glimmer run out once before, after all, during the Hastur fight.

<Precisely,> Polymnia replied. <No one’s ever been able to accurately measure her actual limit or how fast she drains it, but using this many big powers in such quick succession? We need to finish this, and soon.>

He looked toward the direction of the fight, tapping a reply with his fingers. <Yes, I believe we have distracted him long enough at this point. Let us go check up on the others.>

She gave him a nod and he wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close before he cast out his grappling hook, vaulting them both – with some strain on the motor – back towards their friends.


“HAH! SOON THE ACCURSED DEMON CHILD SHALL BE BESTED AND YOU ALL SHALL BECOME PRISONERS OF THE COMPANIONS ONCE MORE!!!!!!” the raving contriver’s voice boomed from nowhere and everywhere as they reached the immobile trio, Hecate and the pair of Osore and Bakeneko again.

Osore had shrunk down again, which meant that Bakeneko’s tendrils were mostly lying on the floor as he stood there, as calm and still as a statue.

“Brennus, Polymnia, you’re alright!” Bakeneko cried as she scrambled off of her boyfriend’s shoulders, taking a few unstable steps on her tentacles as they began to fuse together, then reached them in her catgirl form. Then she stopped, looking Polymnia up and down with a closer eye. “Are you alright!?” She stared at Polymnia’s crushed gauntlets, looking worried. The others, save for Osore and Hecate, did the same.

<I’m fine, thanks for asking,> Polymnia replied. <Just a few bruises and a few grand in damages.>

Tartsche turned his power off, joining them along with Spellgun, but Basil ignored them, going over to Hecate along with Tyche.

The Greek sorceress was still on her knees, though she was no longer working on her staff, which lay on the ground next to her. Instead, she was holding a wooden goblet covered in hand-carved Greek lettering. A warm red flame, threaded through with flickers of silver, was burning within, the goblet remaining clasped in both hands.

“I’m ready,” Hecate announced in a soft voice, looking up at them, her face illuminated from below by the flickering flame, casting it into dancing shadows. “Stand aside, please.”

Basil and Tyche nodded, stepping aside as Hecate rose to her feet, her boots’ heels clicking on the floor as she put her weight on them.


Hecate raised the goblet up, as if presenting it to an unseen goddess above. “I don’t think – I know.”

“WELL, DO YOUR WORST!!!!!!!” the voice boomed in mocking tones.

The sorceress lowered the cup as she took a deep breath, then turned it over, spilling the flames into a circle around her.

They didn’t fade, nor burn the ground, just remained there in place, forming a perfect ring.

Finally, Hecate lifted the cup to her lips and whispered a single word.


The flames gushed forth in a sudden wave of red and silver, an ever-expanding ring that washed over Basil and the others without so much as singing their clothes, a gentle warmth that briefly caressed them before continuing, though it did make his sensors briefly go crazy.

Nothing happened in most places they passed, except when they touched something towards the direction that the Protector had first come from.

A veil shimmered, then was burned away like a moth in the flame.

Beyond it, a woman appeared, standing behind a half-circular wooden table with five engraved stone bowls standing atop it in regular spacing, blood-red flames burning in each of them. Something was floating within the flames of the central bowl in front of her, unburned by the flames. Further behind her, a door-shaped sheet of light floated in mid-air.

The woman behind did not look much older than Amy, to Basil, and she was dressed in an outfit somewhere between a dress and a robe, exposing a decent amount of skin without being obscene, all in red with golden details, wearing no mask but a golden circlet atop her raven hair. She radiated a soft purple aura, in contrast to the red of Basil and his friends, and the blue around the Protector.

Her brown eyes widened in shock as she stared at them.

Basil fired three shots, as soon as he could make her out, aiming for each shoulder and the object within the central bowl.

The shots all deflected off an invisible force-field, sending forth ripples across it that revealed it to be a hemisphere enclosing the woman and her ritual table.

Of course she still has shields up, he thought, annoyed.

His attack seemed to knock the woman out of her shock. She sputtered something, her voice breaking before she could form words – now at a normal volume – before she threw her head back and screamed: “To ME, my Protector!”

There was a boom in the distance and then the Protector landed between them in a flawless three-point landing, shattering the ground.

He looked… slightly worse for wear; whatever Gloom Glimmer had done had actually caused him some harm, small tears in his costume and a few scratches on his otherwise flawless face; but even that was already disappearing, repaired by his power.

Looking over his shoulder, he frowned at the sight of his mistress; then his body went rigid as he saw whatever was in the flames of the central bowl.

“How did you get that?” he asked, and his voice was cold for the first time, filled with barely restrained anger.

The woman did not seem cowed at all. “It is of no importance to you, my Protector! Now kindly defeat these children so we may put them back into their cells. And kill the witch who dared defy me, the mighty Legend!

The man stiffened, again, as did the others at the far more specific wording of this command; the only one who advanced was Hecate, apparently uncaring of the danger, walking slowly towards them while holding her staff in her left hand.

I really hope this works, Basil thought in worry, as he watched his best friend approach one of the most powerful metahumans they had ever met.

The Protector, in turn, began to walk towards her at a normal pace, moving stiffly, but with determination on his face.

Gloom Glimmer came flying in, trailing black sparks as she aimed straight for the Protector.

His lips moved, mouthing the words ‘Good Luck’ at them.

Hecate lifted her staff and stomped the ground once with the butt, causing a shadowy scythe-blade to emerge from its crystal tip, casting green reflections all around it.

Grabbing a hold of her scythe with both hands, she brought it down on the Protector in a diagonal slash, from his left shoulder to his right hip, the blade passing through him without any visible effect.

The invincible hero staggered, falling to one knee. Gloom Glimmer aborted her charge at the sight, staring at the scene in surprise – much like everyone else.

“Ah,” the Protector gasped, as the central bowl behind him burst into a flash of green flames, the object that’d been floating in it being thrown out before the flames faded. “Thank you kindly,” he said softly, his form beginning to fall apart at the edges, dissolving inwards. “Might I ask for your name, young one?”

“I’m Hecate,” the young witch replied. “May you rest peacefully in Elysium, Jason Davon.”

He smiled at her. “Nah… I think I’d rather try for reincarnation a few times… and then… maybe… the Isles… of the… Blest…” His lower body and arms fell apart, his skeleton beginning to shine through his transluscent flesh, now also starting to fade.

“I’m sure you’ll prove worthy,” she told him, her voice soft as they all watched him collapse and fade away into nothing.

For a few moments, silence reigned.

“What… what the fuck did you do!? How could you do that!?!” Legend screamed, breaking the reverie.

Hecate raised her head, her posture becoming much more straight. “You’re not the only necromancer here,” she spoke with undisguised contempt in her voice. “I may never stoop so low as to drag the dead up from their just rest, but putting them back to rest… now that I can do very well.” Basil couldn’t see it, but he thought she was smirking. “And breaking a spell is always easier than casting it, is it not?”

Legend snarled, undisguised hatred in her eyes. “You will PAY for this insolence, for violating my very realm!”

She reached for a pouch of hers, drawing forth two small objects – a hand-stitched, ragged doll, made out of rags in the shape of a little girl and a rosary made of silver and pearl beads and a wooden cross, and threw them into the flames of the bowls to the left and right of the central one.

“Rise, my Champions!” she shouted throwing her arms up towards the sky as the flames shot up into twin pillars of flame.

Several spheres of glowing power impacted the force-field around her, originating from Gloom Glimmer’s cloak, but to no avail – whatever contrivance was protecting her held true.

Two figures began to fade into existence, and everyone present instantly recognised them.

One was a person in full-body platemail on which a sword and a blue fleur-de-lys were engraved, wielding a heavy shield that sported the same symbol and a longsword with the fleur-de-lys engraved onto the pommel.

The other was a man taller even than the Protector had been, wearing faded military camo pants and heavy, worn-out boots and a white tabbard with the fleur-de-lys on his breast, his head that of a Hawk, as were the large wings emerging from his back.

The first and third Chevalier, Basil thought in surprise and no small amount of horror. She can raise the dead just like that!?

Everyone braced themselves, ready for combat, but it was Gloom Glimmer who acted first, reaching out for the third Chevalier with one hand to make a grasping motion and pull her hand back, as if to drag him.

Just as the man fully manifested, opening his sharp, hawk-like eyes, he disappeared and re-appeared right within striking range of Hecate, who wasted no time swinging her scythe.

Another bowl lost its fire, the summoned spirit fading into nothing.

Legend screamed in rage, as Gloom Glimmer and Hecate repeated the same process with the first Chevalier, banishing the woman before she could even become aware of what was happening – if those were even really the dead returned, and not just fascimiles created by Legend’s power.

The enraged contriver snarled at them, as she pulled another object from her pouch and threw it into one of the two remaining bowls’ flames, another pillar of fire shooting up briefly – but whatever shade she tried to summon, Hecate and Gloom Glimmer managed to strike it down before it had even fully formed.

“Nononononononooo!” Legend screamed, pounding her fists on the table. “How dare you? Howdareyouhowdareyouhowdareyou!?!?! I’ll kill you, kill you killyoukillyou!!!!!!!”

Seven exclamation marks on that one, Basil thought, walking forward to stand by Hecate’s side.

“Looks like you’re done for,” he drawled, surprised to find that his voice was full of contempt as well – contempt he actually felt himself.

Something about this woman just plain pissed him off, and it wasn’t the grandstanding or the fact that she was a villain affiliated with the very people who’d crippled Prisca.

Well, not just that.

No one should so dishonour the memory of fallen heroes, to call up these mockeries and make them her slaves.

“Surrender now, let us go and we’ll just knock you out and tie you up,” Basil commander her coldly, as the others closed ranks around to the left and right of him and Hecate, with Gloom Glimmer floating above, her cloak billowing out. “You’ve lost.”

“Nono, NO!” she screamed, slamming both fists onto the heavy wooden table. “You… you can’t beat me!” She calmed herself, slightly, using both hands to brush a few errand strands of hair out of her face.

Taking deep breaths, she stood up straight, looking down at them from the dais her ritual table stood upon. “I am Legend, Mistress of the Fallen Ones, the most powerful Contriver on this Holy Ground.” She gestured at the doorway behind her. “This is the only way out of my Realm, and only I, its Mistress, can open it and allow foreign ones like you, to leave.” Her hand made a wide sweep towards them. “None but I can pass my Fortress spell.” She gestured at her sole remaining bowl. “I still have one more Basin of Resurrection left to use, to summon a servitor who’ll obey my every command.”

She reached into her pouch and pulled out… an old paperback book.

What could that be? Basil thought, zooming in to read the title, and promptly choked as he recognized it.

“Hecate, Gloom Glimmer, you have to stop her!!!” he screamed as he raised his rifle to unload all his ammunition at the book, hoping that, maybe, one would get through.

“Now despair, as I summon my most powerful servitor!” Legend shouted, pulling the last basin directly in front of herself and dropping the limited first-edition copy of Five Sun’s Dawn into its flames. “Come forth, oh mightiest one! I, Legend, command thee to appear before me and serve me!” she shouted, throwing her head back and raising her fists up into the sky, as if to call down divine wrath.

Several shots from Basil’s, Tyche’s, Tartsche’s and Spellgun’s weapons bounced off the shielding spell to no effect whatsoever, other than to cause a few ripples that disappeared almost as soon as they appeared.

A pillar shot up.

A shade began to form, tall and gaunt.

Hecate raised her scythe for a powerful two-handed blow.

Gloom Glimmer cried out, making a grasping motion.

The shade disappeared just as it solidified, reappearing before Hecate.

The scythe fell to cut through the shade.

“Stop,” the shade whispered, turning its head towards the young heroine.

She stopped mid-swing, her scythe inches away from cutting into him.

The shade solidified into a person, standing tall as he looked down on them.

A gaunt man, easily a whole head taller than Basil himself, with a thin, not unattractive face; high cheekbones sharp enough to slice bread were accentuated by a slightly beaked nose and a sharp chin. His eyes were as black as the night, even more so than his raven hair that reached in an unkempt, almost barbaric mass down to his waist; the iridae so dark it was all but impossible to make out where they ended and where the pupils began. He was garbed in a tight, dark red robe with golden trimming and vine-like patterns of the same golden material at the rims of the wide sleeves, the foot of the robe and his high, closed collar. It fit snugly around his slender, yet not too thin torso, showing little muscle and pretty much no fat. From the ends of the sleeves, long, almost spidery fingers poked out, slender and dexterous looking, the kinds of fingers one expected to see on the hands of a pianist.

A pale blue glow emanated from his body.

He bore no crown, nor did he need one – his aura of power, of command, was so mighty as to be nearly physical, tying them all in place; whether it was an actual power, or the sheer weight of his reputation, Basil could not say, as the man whom had once made a credible claim to the title of ‘Godking’ looked at them with a slightly curious, surprised look.

“I will not be slain today,” he said calmly, with an absolute conviction that broke no argument. “I will not be captured today. I will not be controlled today. I will not be subverted today. I will not be harmed.”

Dude, you are so fucking fucked to all fucking hell, the Man in the Moon threw in unhelpfully.

“This is no scenario I envisioned for my resurrection,” Emyr Blackhill spoke, keeping his voice soft, and yet it was deep, reverberating with an odd harmony that made them all shiver down to their bones.

Raising a hand, he looked at the slender limb, the wide sleeve falling back to reveal a bare forearm. He turned it around, looking at it from several angles. “Why do I glow blue?” he asked no one in particular, fortunately, frowning softly.

Then he looked up at the teenagers in front of him, looking left to right. “You glow… red? You’re not the ones who brought me here, are you? Am I right?” He directed that question at Hecate, who still stood in front of him, having taken a step back in fear.

“You are,” she replied instantly, her voice almost but not quite cracking, quivering with fear.

“Relax, child,” he told her softly, and the tension immediately drained out of her stance. “Now tell me what’s g-“

“Emyr Blackhill!” Legend shouted at him, her voice loud and clear. “I am the one who summoned you, oh mighty one! Thus, I am your-“

“I really do not enjoy being interrupted,” he cut her off as he turned around with a reproachful look. “Do not speak again without my leave,” he ordered her, and her mouth clamped shut as her eyes grew wide in horror.

He looked at her, his back to the teens behind, uncaring of any threat they might pose. “Hm, you glow purple, not red nor blue. Probably has to do with you being the former mistress of this realm. Answer my question.”

“Yes, that is why I am surrounded by a purple corona. It designates me as the true Mistress of this realm, not a former one,” she replied, before her mouth closed shut again, her voice full of equal parts of contempt and terror.

Emyr snorted softly. “How conceited of you.”

He walked towards her, until he came up to the shield that surrounded her dais, reaching out with one hand to touch it. Ripples spread from where his palm pressed against it.

Legend’s lips twitched into a hopeful smirk, as he was held back.

“Hm. This little spell is nothing before me,” he said calmly as he pressed his hand forth. The shield popped like a soap bubble, and Legend turned as pale as a corpse.

Emyr stepped onto the dais, his legs long enough to clear its height in one, albeit very wide, step. Upon it, he towered over the average-sized Legend, even more so due to his wild mane of hair.

“This table shall move out of my way,” he spoke, and the ritual table with the basins atop slid out of the way and to the edge of the dais, almost but not quite falling off.

Then he walked onto the doorway, and reached out with one hand, trying to push it through.

His hand could not pass through.

“This is the exit out of this realm, am I correct, Legend?” he asked, sounding unperturbed by being denied exit.

“Yes,” she replied.

“You will address me as your Majesty,” he rebuffed her.

Her fists clenched in impotent rage as she stepped aside, turning so her side was towards Basil and the others, looking at the man who would so command her. “As you wish, your Majesty,” she said, though she clearly didn’t want to.

“Let this doorway be open to me then,” he commanded, and tried to step through again.

Basil’s heart nearly stopped, and he was sure he wasn’t the only one who held his breath – only to let it out explosively along with everyone else but Emyr himself, as he failed to exit once more.

He tilted his head to the side. “Something which can stymie my power? Now this is impressive.” He turned around to look at Legend again, stepping closer to her. “No wonder you were able to summon me. Now how can I leave this realm?”

“You can’t, your Majesty,” she replied, her trembling voice putting the lie to her attempts to look self-assured as she stared up at the looming figure of Emyr. “Only I can use the doorway, and those who bear a red corona, provided they have my leave, for I am still the Mistress of this Realm. And even if I wanted to, there is no way a servitor could exit this realm, your Majesty.” Some of her earlier sneer returned to her voice as she spoke.

Emyr stroked his chin, still paying no attention whatsoever to the teens beyond her. Not that any one of them had the nerve to try and attack him right now.

“Hm, I see,” he said, a slight contempt and a great boredom evident in his voice. “A wise precaution, though it is thoroughly insufficient of course.”

Everyone just stared at him, the teens not daring to speak, and Legend unable to.

Emyr raised a hand, scratching the back of his head briefly as he rolled his shoulders, loosening them up as if he had no care in the world.

Then he looked down at Legend in slight contempt, making an imperious, sweeping gesture with his right hand, as if to encompass the entire mystic realm.

“Insufficient,” his voice boomed, speaking with a commanding tone that shook the very ground, “for I shall be the Master of this realm now!”

His corona turned a light, barely perceptible purple, as Legend’s own turned… blue.

She stared down at her hands, taking a step back, and fell over onto her butt, her face slack with shock.

Emyr shrugged and looked at the teenagers. “Excuse me, but I do have a planet to reclaim, and another to conquer… again. I shall take my leave now, and take care of you all later, once I have re-established my regency,” he spoke to them before he turned around and walked towards the door. “It shouldn’t take too long, all things considered.”

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