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xTony

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About xTony

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    25
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    doctor who, misfits, psych is clearly awesome, saved by the bell, science nerds, southland, star trek, stealing cars-ryan atwood, veronica mars, what the deuce♥, wicked, wizards, zefron

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  1. xTony

    Chapter One

    Did we just become best friends? The Untamed is just so excellent beyond words. It took me on a rollercoaster of emotions! I'm actually on like episode 3 of the anime right now. I held off on watching for the longest because The Untamed was so iconic to me. It's good so far! Hitchhiker's Guide has that kind of meta moments that I love. This story will definitely have similar tones at times. Thank you for reading and reviewing!
  2. Scrolls of Icaria will never be finished.... that really just upsets my spirit.

    Angry New York GIF

  3. xTony

    Chapter One

    It's going to be a RIDE I'm glad you understand my love for their novels. I can't say enough good things about them. Scum Villain is one of the best thing's I have ever read. Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is top tier reading too! My Next Life as a Villainess! Iconic anime. Taste!
  4. xTony

    Chapter One

    I drew a red X through another paragraph. It was one of several other markings covering the once pristine manuscript. I turned the page, and thankfully it was the last. Hallelujah! My eyes read the final few paragraphs with incredible speed. The thought of finishing this convoluted novel invigorated my spirit. “What the actual fuck!” I spat the curse with so much venom that it was a miracle my coworkers weren’t barging into my office. I closed the book with force and glared at the four hundred and eight seven page book. I wanted to burn it with fire. I was only a junior editor, so I was saddled with a lot of new writers. The latest garbage fire on my desk was Red Riding Hoodie, an urban fantasy that was the bastard of Twilight, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, and every harem anime I’ve ever seen. Management was breathing down the department’s necks about finding a series that could be the next big thing. They wanted another Hunger Games or Harry Potter. So anything low fantasy was picked up and the editors were paying for it. I scowled at the summary on the book’s back cover: Hal Schuyler is a receptionist and aspiring actor, who has just been dumped by his agent andboyfriend. In the same week. 25, single, and struggling to pay bills, it all comes to a head when Alaric, who is, in his opinion a dick, flies in and saves his life. Literally, flies. It turns out Hal is a sidhe, immortal and most supreme of the fey. Yeah, news to him too. Hal is apparently the long lost heir to the recently throne less Seelie Court of the Faerie. With just the Prada on his back and Alaric’s help, Hal has a throne to claim. Until then, he has to dodge assassination attempts from both faerie courts, his demonic fairy godmother, and his aunt Ophelia, Queen of the Unseelie Court, who would rather see his blood spilled than exchange Xmas cards. Even reading the summary left me wanting to rinse my eyes with bleach. Amateur writing, cliché tropes, plot holes, and an unlikable main character. Calling this drivel a novel was being far too kind. This trash wasn’t even approaching the worst fanfiction. All the characters were one dimensional and existed to basically monologue how awesome the main character was. Speaking of the main character, Hal, was a grade A asshole. A chosen one who was a complete dick. The sacrilege! Where was the noble and courageous hero that propelled the story forward and left you eagerly anticipating his heroic trails to victory? How in the hell was anyone supposed to root for a protagonist that belittled his protector? And that wasn’t even the worst thing. When it came to light that Alaric was also half vampire, the son of an Elder, Hal banished him to the Deep Dark—a pitch black realm that drove those with fragile minds to insanity. It was no surprise that Alaric ended up ruthlessly murdering Hal in the very end. He stole his inheritance and even conquered his kingdom. Yes, that’s right. The chosen one had his heart ripped out, literally, and eaten by the very person who was sworn to protect him. I could feel my temples pound with the beginnings of a migraine. I wish I had someone sworn to protect me from reading this garbage. Even the author’s name, Henry Goodfellow, made me want to fight. There was nothing good about him. He was nothing of the sort! I was going to write him a scathing email when my blood pressure went down. That was thirteen hours I wasn’t ever getting back. Tears almost fell as relief swept over me when I realized I wouldn’t ever have to read another villain monologue. I took a vicious bite of the granola bar clenched in my hand. I had been gripping it so tightly that it was almost mush. I shoveled the remains into my mouth before it could fall through my fingers. That was a mistake. The granola went down all wrong, and my eyes widened as I clutched my throat. It felt like a giant fist was shoved down my windpipe. I started to choke for dear life. I jumped to my feet then fell over just as quickly as my lungs burned. The coughing was draining my strength. I can’t believe the last piece of literature I got to read in the entire world was Red Riding Hoodie. Not Shakespeare or Dostoevsky. “Fuck you, Henry Goodfellow!” Blackness overtook my vision. Okay, so there might have been some good parts in the novel. The worldbuilding was impressive and a real page turner. A parallel world of magic and kingdoms and creatures from fairytales—it was the stuff of fantasy nerds everywhere. Even though all the women were drop dead gorgeous and all seemed drawn to Alaric. And who didn’t love a good mystery? There were plenty. It was infuriating that none of them paid off. All that foreshadowing gone to waste. This fire was going follow me into the afterlife. [Flame Imperishable detected. Re: Life System activated.] “Oh God, I can’t believe Siri followed me in death.” The voice came from nowhere and everywhere. Only the letters hovering in the air glowing with strange blue light gave me something to focus on within the black void of wherever I was. I couldn’t even see my body. “What the hell is going on?” [Greetings. Welcome to the Re: Life System. This system is designed to allow users to transform a garbage piece of nightmare fuel into a superior magnum opus. We strive to ensure an unforgettable experience. Remember this is your second life. Make it count.] Light seeped in like the first rays of morning sunlight. “Hal..Hal… Are you alright?” I blinked and then winced as the world was a blur of color. My head tilted, and I could barely make out the scenery of passing buildings through a car window. Who the hell was speeding through downtown like a getaway driver? “Hal,” repeated the voice. “Please be okay. Talk to me!” The deep baritone belonged to the driver; he was a man who was probably in his late twenties or early thirties. He had brown skin and dark hair that fell to his shoulders. He resembled someone of maybe Pacific Islander descent. He was a handsome man, and right now, he was staring right at me even as he was speeding down a city block. I looked down and saw that I was wearing a pair of jeans and a long sleeve Henley. I studied the man again. He looked like a surfer on his way to business school in his gray dinner jacket and chinos. Hazel eyes lit up when we held eye contact, shoulders going loose with relief. “You’re awake.” I settled with a non-committal sound of “Mmm.” It was the best I could do right now. I felt like I just got off a rollercoaster. Lights were too bright; sound was painful, and my body felt like I had fallen asleep on a pile of rocks. One thing about me is I was the epitome of a millennial. I had grown up reading and watching dystopian films, devouring anime and pretty much expecting the world to end at any moment. Years of isekai media had prepared me for what I’d do if ever accidentally traveled to another world. Panicking got you nowhere. That may as well be rule number one. There was no way I would cause a scene demanding for the prank to be over. Those scenes were always exhausting. I instead adopted a half awake expression and groggily asked, “Where am I?” The man grimaced. “Sorry, it was so sudden. I’m Alaric and well, I just saved your life. You’re welcome.” Someone was cocky. Something about that jogged loose a thread of memory that was a part of my jumbled up thoughts. “Saved my life?” “Damn,” Alaric muttered, shaking his head. “That assassin knocked you on the head pretty good. I just got there in time. I know this is crazy, but it’s going to be okay. You have a destiny, Hal. I’m going to protect you until you fulfill it.” The ra-ra speech was cheesy, but it finally unlocked my memory with a faint click. [Syncing 100% complete. Re: Life role – Hal “Halcyon” Schuyler, crown prince to the Seelie Court of Faerie, heir to the Summer throne. Starting B-points: 100] It took everything in me not to scream bloody murder. My hand inched toward the door handle. I had to physically stop myself from jumping out of the moving vehicle. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Okay, this is sick. Something had hijacked my soul and stuck it into Robin Goodfellow’s novel Red Riding Hoodie. I was grinding my teeth so hard it was a miracle Alaric didn’t hear it. This is bullshit! I call shenanigans. How do I exit this nightmare? [You have accessed the Re: Life System mental command function. The game has several features that are unlocked as the story progresses. One of these is points. If points fall to below 0 then the user is automatically returned to their origin.] Wait a minute. My origin was the office where I choked to death. So returning would send me back to my dead body. Okay well that wasn’t happening. Nope. Screw that. Simple enough. How many transmigration novels had I read over the years? Dozens. The same could be said about isekai anime. At least I was thrown into a story that I just finished. The plot was still fresh in my mind. The only obstacle was I had been made into Hal Schuyler, Chosen One, and murder victim. And my murderer was sitting across from me. Sure Hal ruthlessly bulled Alaric, which was an asshole move since he was his protector, and Hal basically sent him to hell, but did he deserve to have his heart ripped from his chest. Yes! Screamed a little voice in the back of my head. He was a villain disguised as a hero. He was jealous, petty, hard headed and idealistic. And I was now him. I wanted to cry. Time to suck it up. I was almost the lead in my high school production of Grease. I could do this. All I had to do was channel my inner saint: Avoid any and all plot holes. Charm the Seelie Court and win the throne. Don’t piss off Alaric. Stay alive. Not getting on Alaric’s bad side was my main priority. I was going to become that man’s best friend. I would be the Ben to his Jerry, John to his Sherlock, and whatever other famous male duo I could relate to. [Warning. B point deduction imminent if the proposed plan is carried out. User is still locked in Tutorial Mode. Any attempt to unlock OOC setting will result in loss of points.] I worked in literature. Of course, I knew that OOC stood for out of character. It was the action of a fictional character that exhibited behavior that was not in line with established actions or personality, basically an inconsistent mannerism that didn’t fit the original work. So if I’m nice to Alaric I’ll lose B points… and zero points basically means I’m dead. [Correct.] Fuck you, System! My eye twitched. Was the car slowing down, or was it my imagination? No, Alaric was turning into the lot of a park. There were only a few kids and parents in the playground area and a few pedestrians around the lawn. Alaric turned to me once he parked. “This must seem very strange. We weren’t supposed to meet like this, but what’s most important is you get to safety.” He flicked his eyes toward the nearby forest. “I promise I’ll explain everything later. Right now, we need to get lost. It’s only a matter of time before the assassin picks up our trail.” I nodded with a confused expression, still trying to maintain my appearance of shock. I must be doing pretty good because Alaric’s eyes softened, and he clapped my shoulder once. Internally however, I was doing cartwheels. I was about to be whisked away to a magical world! Alaric saw I was shaking and said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll protect you.” I looked down so he wouldn’t see the way my lips were holding back a smile. I was shaking with glee. I silently followed him out of the car and into the woods. He seemed to know where he was going. That werewolf nose of his was better than GPS. The running shoes I had on weren’t the best for hiking, but were leagues better than the loafers I was wearing before I kicked the bucket. I grimaced. That was a morbid thought. “Follow my exact footsteps,” he said carefully. “This is important.” The ways to Eternos, the parallel world of fairytale and myth, were hidden and could only be found by those who knew the way. I had to bite my tongue to not outright cackle. I felt like Harry Potter. I was on him like white on rice. I was not going to fuck this up. I knew Alaric wasn’t kidding. Certain trees and markers acted as gateways allowing deeper entry into the forest that was inaccessible by any other route. It was half a mile before the trees broke. Alaric wasn’t one for small talk, and the brisk hike had been made in record time. We entered a large clearing that was dominated by a pond in its center. If I didn’t know what to expect, I would be alarmed by the smile Alaric aimed at the still waters. He reminded me of a golden retriever. I could sort of see why version one Hal had thought Alaric had meant to bury his body here. “I know you’re still in shock, but there’s no time to explain carefully,” Alaric began, eyeing me warily. “First thing you need to be aware of is that magic is real. And this pond is a portal to a whole new world. Your real home.” In the original story, Alaric had saved Hal from an assassin sent from his Aunt Ophelia, Queen of the Unseelie Court. That rescue was their introduction. And their relationship didn’t get any better with Hal being a royal bitch all through the drive. Alaric had to tie Hal up and physically carry him through the woods. Growing up in the foster system had put an enormous chip on Hal’s shoulder. He didn’t forget insults. Ever. Alaric never saw the betrayal coming. I must have spent too long salivating at the pond, because magic, hello—Alaric was staring at me strangely. “No comment on the bombshell about magic?” “What, no way,” I said flatly. “Magic is real.” He raised an eyebrow. “You doubt me?” “You want me to dive in first?” I asked, taking a step forward. Alaric cocked his head. “You’re taking this oddly well. I expected you to bolt or call me insane.” I shrugged and adopted a doubtful expression. “I imagine I’ll just get a bit wet and that will satisfy you enough before I beg off you’re little adventure. I’m supposed to meet a friend for drinks this evening, so.” His expression cleared of the faint suspicion that had been clouding his face. Damn, I was good at this. I must be a natural actor. At least original recipe Hal and I had that incoming. This was going to be a cake walk. I was going to rock this second life like a sold out concert. “Do you trust me?” Alaric asked. He reached out toward me. “Take my hand and you’ll learn the truth you’ve been missing your whole life.” In another time, that hand had reached into Hal’s chest and ripped his heart out. I eyed it for a long time. But that wasn’t me. I was Hal now and I was going to make better choices. Alaric would never feel the knife of betrayal from me. I would make sure of it. My life was on the line, after all. I grasped his hand. “On three?” He gripped my hand tightly and nodded. “One.” [OOC Violation: “Hal” would not trust Alaric or hold his hand.] Wait. What? “Two.” [This double penalty has resulted in twice the number of B-point deductions: -80 points. 20 points remaining. Reminder at 0 points the user is returned to his origin.] Wait! I demand a do over. This wasn’t fair. [You were warned. OOC actions are frozen until the Tutorial Mode is cleared.] Fuck you, System! “Three.” We suddenly were airborne and jumping into the clear blue water. Then everything turned blinding white.
  5. xTony

    Red Riding Hoodie

    After one man dies in the real world, he wakes up to find he has transmigrated into Red Riding Hoodie, the worst novel he ever had the misfortune of reading. As he awakens, he's greeted by the Re: Life System, who tells him his "account" is now bound to the character Hal Schuyler, the original hero of the novel (who is petty and a huge asshole). He realizes he has to change the story to avoid being killed by the main character's sometimes friend, Alaric. But the System has other ideas, not allowing him to act too out-of-character to avoid derailing the plot.
  6. xTony

    Exodus

    Thank you for sticking with it and reading it! Well now that you mention. I have writer's block on my book so that mean's I'll probably whip up a fun story to distract myself. That's very sweet. Thank you for reading
  7. I can’t believe The Chosen series is over 400k words like was it that serious?

  8. xTony

    Exodus

    This was a nightmare. I wondered how Ryan and Killian were doing, but I couldn't grasp the strength to search them out through the destruction. My brother, with his broken wrists, met my eyes. Two princes of Atlantis, wrecked, on the ground and beaten. What a sight we made. This must be what the angels felt during the Last Great War. Victory was a longshot dream against an enemy that shrugged off attacks like a mild breeze. I was exhausted and tapped out. I suppose that was his plan all along. I hated it when they were smart, but he had been planning this moment before we were even born. Eons of preparation, of circles within circles, and now the final act was playing out. A thunderous boom resonated in the air. A red streak shot forth from the sky like a bolt of lightning onto Entropy. Entropy and the bolt of light struck the ground like a hammer. I fell over off balance as the earth splintered and cracked where the destroyer landed. I slowly recovered and managed to shakily stand with a grunt of pain. A shattered riverbank greeted me. The area around the Thames was nothing more than a cratered trench with the water diverted into like a lake. The remnants of the bridges and buildings of the surrounding cityscape were little more than ruins. Omega stood at the edge of the crater, wearing a pristine white cape that fluttered in the breeze. His armor was similarly colored and adorned with scarlet red piping at the edge of his collar, boots and cuffs. Omega looked back at me, his eyes glowing like twin stars. "Hey." It seemed like a dream. If so, I didn't want to wake up. "Adam?" "I saw planets emerge and collapse, empires wither into dust," he said softly, turning to watch as Entropy floated up out of the crater, water dripping down his body with an assessing expression on his face. "I walked out of time, to the very end of existence, and stared back. I understand now." Distracted by the sheer mind-blowing revelation, I asked faintly, "Understand what?" "Everything." Entropy's eyes widened and for the first time, uncertainty crossed his face. "You've reached the Omega Point." Space behind Entropy bent outward, and I barely caught sight of space far behind Omega bending inward. There was a sudden vague pressure of air molecules snapping with shocking force, and reality warped in a flash of white light. Fields of purple grass replaced the city of London, and looming above was an enormous red sun turning the sky shades of crimson. Entropy and Omega faced off in the same positions on the alien world. Solaris, Halo and the Executioner were beside me now, and we immediately closed in together. Halo studied the surroundings with a bewildered expression. "We're on Ambrosia? But that's in the Borson Galaxy." "The energy it would take to teleport us all is astronomical," the Executioner muttered. Omega smiled, not taking his eyes off Entropy. "I can even see you're curious." He began. "I'll keep it as simple as possible. I perfectly calculated the mass of the space in front of me and behind me, and then performed a really advanced math equation to set the mass behind me much higher, and set the mass of the space in front of me into outright negative terms." "Negative... mass?" Halo tried to wrap his head around the idea. "The mass difference allows a continuous movement to ride a wave of collapsing space at two or three times the speed of light at the lower end, and hundreds of billions at the higher." Omega continued. "What's really ridiculous about this is that there's no real energy expenditure involved-" He laughed a little. "Algorithmic imaging is little more than a compilation of mathematical equations so advanced they have a tangible effect on reality itself. Of course, there's a slight problem with that." Omega brought his thumb and index finger close together, but not quite touching. "Namely, rewriting reality with math has hellish effects on causality, so I have to actually pump power into physical canceling laws to convince the conversation of energy to look the other way. The entire process from start to finish only took a minuscule fraction of a second." Entropy didn't look impressed. He crossed his arms and shook his head. "With your new knowledge, then you see exactly how futile this is." Omega's shining eyes narrowed. "The extrasensory ability I possess tells me more than you know. I can count the number of blades of grass on an island on the far side of this planet. And looking at you with that same powers tells me your skin is made up several layers, getting exponentially denser as you get deeper. Harder than aluminum alloy, but flexible and has some type of nullification component in the cells. You were designed, someone created you." "Shut up," Entropy said, hands tightening into fists. Omega continued. "It would take fifty trillion atmospheres of pressure to overblow your null ability in your skin and damage you." He shook his head. "No wonder you can shrug off attacks." Entropy apparently had enough. He rocketed toward Omega with an ominous growl. His hulking body visibly warped. It wasn't a trick of an eye. A swirling point of dark black light pulled him backward, dragging him and all of the space behind him, toward the single point. "A directed singularity," the Executioner whispered, entranced. I did a double take. "Like a black hole?" Entropy did some type of flip in the air that sent him barreling into the ground. He dug his hands into the earth, holding on as the singularity seemingly amplified. A savage wind blew through the field, and yet we seemed to be protected. Omega watched Entropy with a speculative gleam in his eyes. The singularity faded from existence, and Entropy quickly jumped to his feet. A semi-visible hexagonal gridlock shield covered our position, then Omega stared at us and said calmly, "Prepare for antimatter explosion backlash." There was a split second before a titanic beam of energy was unleashed, and then everything exploded. I've been through many explosions before. This was something even more violent. It left a bloodshot afterimage on my retinas. The ground wouldn't stop shaking. It felt like the planet was about to crack open to its core. Fire and thick clouds of gray dust were everywhere. I hardly recognized the devastating plain the fields had become. The first thing I noticed the mountains in the far distance were outright vaporized, turned to subatomic dust, by the apocalyptic deluge of energy that thankfully was held at bay by the incredibly efficient defense Omega managed to form around us before the blast. "What the fu-" Solaris trailed off, staring. We all did. Impossible as it was Entropy had survived the cataclysmic attack that was even now breaking the planet apart around us. The outer layer of his skin was simply gone. Muscle tissue was exposed, oozing a tarlike ichor resembling blood, and the bones of his arms glowed red hot, from where they crossed in a defensive position in front of his face. Behind him the ground was a vast canyon that was so deep I couldn't see the bottom, continuing on miles into the horizon, the destructive shockwave was still spreading across the planet. Entropy lowered his arms. Most of his face was a gore of melted skin and one his eyes had boiled within its socket, leaking thick mucus down his mess of a cheek. I shared a stunned look with Halo and something like hope was clear in his eyes. "This doesn't matter," Entropy spoke, his voice was hoarse but full of promise. "The rupture in time will rip reality apart. Your universe is doomed." "Then let's end this." Omega brought up his hand, fingers clenched. "Be destroyed by the very universes you've killed. Behold the Grid! The fabric of pure energy that separates all universes." It wasn't a beam or ray of anything of the likes. The very fabric of space was torn apart inside of Entropy. Tight lines of blinding white light appeared crisscrossing Entropy's entire body like a net, thin fiery blades of silent destruction. I turned away as the light intensified, brighter than the sun by several orders of magnitude. When I opened my eyes, our surroundings had changed again. We were back in London and Entropy's neatly bisected body was falling to the ground. And in the air, the rupture in time was now a large hole in the sky the size of a city bus. It was unnatural and my senses screamed danger and to run as fast as I could. "I don't suppose anyone has a plan for that?" I asked weakly. Halo frowned heavily. "It's going to spread across all of time, cracking the past and the could've been future, and when that happens, we won't have ever existed." "Unless I seal the breach," Omega said. "Remind me to stupidly kiss you when we're not all about to never have existed," I said and then narrowed my eyes suspiciously. "This isn't going to involve some heroic sacrifice, is it?" "Nothing so drastic." He smiled at me, that sweet smile that I loved, and it was positively radiating with his shining eyes piercing me with their otherworldly brightness. Omega gestured at the broken pieces of Halo's staff that lay where they fell, which seemed like a lifetime ago, and they shot up into the air to obediently hover before him. "The gears of quantum physics has been broken. Time is an unforgiving force and hates to be meddled with," Omega said, tracing symbols into the air. It was an equation, I realized. Only one so complicated that I couldn't begin to make sense of it. The numbers and symbols hung in the air, blazing white fire. "It can be appeased with sufficient actions." The glowing algorithm suddenly merged with the broken pieces of Halo's staff. Flowing into a new shape like it was being reforged, and I suppose it was. It became a six-foot-tall spear, pale as milk glass topped by three gleaming prongs of adamant. "Vigilance, I name thee. The spear of tomorrow and the Swaying Way to Peace," Omega proclaimed, grabbing the new weapon with both hands and thrusting it toward the crack in time and space, that was our doom. "The Omega Point was not mine to reach in this lifetime. I took the promised future, and now I give it back because Time is owed." A terrific wave of power surged upwards, leaving us untouched and the portal trembled. And then, high above Centennial, a fantastical image of time itself being healed was witnessed: fate was rewoven, gears turned once more. The temporal imbalance was repaired by the promised power of humanity's future. The rupture sealed as the seems of the hole in the fabric of cosmos fused together, wholly anew. The dark clouds above were torn asunder by the backlash, spiraling off in all directions, bathing the city in dazzling sunlight. We stared. The power tapered off, and Omega fell to his knees, utterly spent. We rushed to his side, and several city blocks lay in wrecks all around us. "Adam!" He smiled into our faces, slightly dazed, but it was genuine. "I feel all floaty inside," he muttered, then tugged a piece of my hair above my ear. "Gorgeous." His eyes were normal again. I couldn't help but laugh. It felt like the first real one in years. "Someone needs a nap." The Executioner clapped him on the shoulder, beaming. "He deserves it." "Anyone want pizza?" Solaris asked, perking up. He looked positively giddy. "I'm buying." My eyes lit up. "Not going to lie I could eat an entire buffet right now." Halo's eyes were wet, and he sent me a trembling smile. I reached over and squeezed his hand. This meant a lot to him, maybe more than all of us. The being that had slaughtered many of his friends and loved ones was dead. The universe was going to survive, and it was due in part to the sacrifices of all the ones who came before us. I wrapped one arm around my brother, and the other went around my boyfriend. Solaris and the Executioner were on Omega's other side, supporting him. I grinned and said, "Let's go home." We settled on pizza, in Italy. Then we all ended up crashing together at Nathaniel's place. None of us wanted to go home. Not yet. Our houses were still empty because of the evacuation, and people were still either in shelters or had entirely left town. Some of those people, like my family, were in the Dreamlands for sanctuary until we brought them home. I slept like a baby, falling into easy dreams filled with laughter and sunshine. All my worries and burdens had been laid to rest. It was like I could finally breathe again. I woke up before anyone else. The others were arranged in various positions around the living room, sleeping where they fell after our impromptu celebration. I untucked myself from Adam's side, lifting his arm and getting up from the lounge we laid on. He frowned in his sleep just a little. I kissed away those lines until they went smooth and his body pliant. I stood up and tiptoed toward the large bay windows, grinning at Kevin sprawled on the floor below the couch where Killian and Ryan cuddled. A glance at the grandfather clock confirmed it was late afternoon. We had been sleeping for a little over twelve hours. I looked out the window upon the green lawn and the clear sky. Minutes later, a pair of arms wrapped around me from behind, and a familiar weight pressed against my back. Lips touched my ear and Adam's warm voice whispered, "I got lonely." "I figured you were going to sleep all day, rock star," I replied, unable to resist my lips from tugging into a beaming smile. I was so freaking happy. It was ridiculous. "I thought we agreed you were going to take it easy." Adam hummed under his breath. "Are you trying to get rid of me?" "You've figured out my dastardly plan," I murmured. He placed a tiny kiss against the pulse point of my throat. "Oh yeah, do I get a prize?" "You guys do realize we're here and can obviously hear you?" I glanced around Adam to see Kevin, sitting in an armchair and wrapped in a blanket, with a highly amused expression. "What point are you trying to make?" Killian yawned, lifting his head from Ryan's shoulder. "He means to get a room, perverts." Adam made a show of looking around. "Is that not what this is?" Ryan sat up on the couch and maneuvered Killian, so his boyfriend's head now lay in his lap. "I assume that means you're better. No lingering effects from the Omega Point?" "Aside from this?" Adam tugged a lock of snow white hair above his right temple. Killian shrugged. "You're gay. Everyone will just think you dyed it." "Tactful," Kevin muttered. I rolled my eyes. "I think it makes you look dashing." "Just like Rogue from X-Men," Ryan pointed out. "I knew you were a fan," I said triumphantly. Adam snorted, then squeezed my waist before letting go. He leaned back against the windowsill and said, "It's just hair. I don't feel anything but a loss." His eyes, no longer those twin stars of fire and ice, looked distant and melancholy slipping into his voice. "I saw entire worlds born and die all in the same moment, every war ever fought, every calamity, every high and low. I stood at the edge of the universe and wept. The whole of reality was in the palm of my hands." He frowned, staring down at his fingers. "Now it's all gone. All that knowledge and incredible beauty. And I would give it up all over again in a heartbeat." Kevin rubbed his lip, gaze thoughtful. "So that's humanity's future." "A billion little moments, in millions of years, and the stars will shake." I glanced at Adam. "So, you saw the future?" "No," he said. "Time isn't linear. The present is still happening and so the future is still changing, constantly in motion, nothing is set in stone except the past." "Fascinating," Ryan said. He carded his fingers through Killian's hair, drawing a smile of contempt from him. Killian turned into Ryan's hand and mused aloud, "It's crazy to think about, but I think we're done." "As much as I hate to agree with Killian," I grunted and grinned at his exaggerated glower. "He has a point. We pretty much punched every hole in our big bad villain card." Kevin shook his head with a little, wondrous smile. "Peace. I wonder what's that like?" "Sounds like a dream," Ryan sighed. I tugged at Adam's wrist a little. "Looks like you might get to enjoy your senior year without worries." "Oh yay," Adam deadpanned. "Finals, essays and prom." Killian sat up and pointed at him. "Don't knock prom. I have it all planned out, and we're taking pics beforehand for social media. I already have a camera and makeup team booked." We all stared at him. "What?" He asked, cocking his head. "If just one of those posts goes viral we're probably getting booked on a talk show. We're gay teenagers going to prom. Folks will eat that up. Who knows what type of sponsorships we can swing from that social media currency." Kevin snorted and Adam shook his head, chuckling. "Okay, now that makes sense." I met Ryan's exasperated stare and admitted, "I almost thought near death made your man sentimental." Ryan raised an eyebrow. "Don't let him fool you. He has a heart drawn around the date on his calendar." Killian rounded on him. "You know I can sue for defamation, right?" "Anyway," Kevin interrupted, smiling at Killian sweetly when the glare was turned onto him. "What are we going to do about the fallout with the Power Rangers?" I grimaced. "The masses probably still think Cobalt's countdown is in effect. Maybe we should do an iOS press release and upload it to IG like all the celebrities do?" This time they all stared at me. Adam cleared his throat. "I vote we don't say anything. Once they see that nothing has happened past the deadline, they will move on and call off the terror alerts." "That's not a bad call," Ryan agreed. Killian shrugged. "It's not like they've needed our assurance before. The authorities will just make up some bogus excuse like they always do, and everything will go back to normal." He had a point. There had been numerous occasions where humanity faced extinction only with being saved by us at the last minute. Even in the face of such catastrophes, they still managed to explain the trauma of it away with some rational explanation. It was mind-boggling the way the human mind tended to cope with such insurmountable odds. It was decided to call a break for now. We spent way too long worrying about the fate of the world. Now we all just wanted to take time for ourselves. I immediately grabbed Adam's hand and made our way outside. It was the middle of autumn, but the weather hadn't turned yet. This was southern California, after all. The lake nestled on the west side of the house was a quiet place, and where I often came to think. We strolled along the path holding hands and basking at the quiet moment. "I thought I lost you earlier," I said quietly. I just barely managed to keep my voice from shaking. "The shock didn't even hit me, because I thought I was joining you next. You saved all of us." The pad of Adam's thumb traced the back of my hand. "Everything in my life in hindsight feels like it was leading up to that." I looked out over the lake waters. "We were each gifted a particular skill set. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the First Gods knew from the very beginning we would fight Entropy." Adam shook his head and then said wryly, "And now, after all that, the most life-changing thing I have to look forward to is seeing what college I get into." "The savior of the universe and future theater major. This is the gay agenda," I proclaimed, poking him in the side. He grabbed my fingers, and I didn't even see him move. The next thing I knew he was tickling me under my arms. I screamed like a final girl in a slasher film. Adam was some kind of tickling ninja. He only released me when I licked the side of his face like that one Pokemon with the fat tongue. Adam wiped out his face, trying to look stern, but his grin gave him away. "Real mature, baby girl." "I'm just trying to match your energy." I batted my eyelashes at him. We couldn't help but burst into laughter. Adam's face sobered, and he looked at me with such fondness that it made my laughter die off. He reached out and laid his fingers on my left cheek, gentle and featherlight. He looked at me like I was the only person in the world. "I'm really going to miss you next year." It felt like someone reached inside my chest and squeezed my heart with a humongous hand. "You have a boyfriend I can teleport in you confide at supersonic speeds. California to New York, piece of cake." "Still," he replied, biting his lower lip. "The next four years without you by my side every day, I won't ever get used to." I tapped him on the nose, smiling at him warm and sure. "Four years of being a part compared to the rest of our lives together is nothing. We've already bonded soul to soul, practically married by Atlantis customs." Adam grinned rather ruefully, scratching the back of his neck. He was giving the full force of his puppy eyes, all with floppy hair hanging into his face adorably, and I wanted to just kiss him and not stop until we were both dizzy. "Then I suppose it's up to me to study hard for our future." "I like the sound of that," I said softly, barely able to speak through the bursting feeling building between my lungs. Imagining the future with Adam and my friends, growing up and living full lives was a secret dream of mine. It was the future denied to Emrys, and I wanted it fulfilled more than anything. After everything and how far we have come, it felt like a reward. We deserved peace. I gave in to the urge, tipping forward and then we were kissing. His lips were smooth and warm against mine. There was a hot rush in my chest, spreading out into my limbs, rolling down my fingertips where they're wrapped around Adam's arms like they were the only thing tethering me to the earth. I felt hot all over, breathless. I moved back when Adam tried to deepen the kiss, meeting his eyes. I wanted more and was ready to have it all right here and now. Adam's face was flushed, his hair was sticking up in all directions and his eyes were dark with arousal. A slow smile was aimed at me as if he knew exactly where my thoughts were taking me. Then he pulled me back in, softly, slowly, taking his time to open my mouth, sliding his tongue over every inch of my lips. Adam suddenly froze, clenching the fabric of my shirt into his fingers. "Something's wrong," he said faintly. Before I could question it, a loud electronic siren broke us apart. We were panting from the heat of it all and the surprise of interruption. Adam looked adorably bewildered to not be kissing anymore, pulling out his phone from his pocket at the same time as me. There was an emergency alert notification displayed. We traded looks as something like dread began to sink into my veins, dousing any arousal like winter ice. Before I could review the notification, Kevin appeared in a flash of silver light and momentary sound of fluttering wings. He sighed, rubbing a hand over his too pale face. He looked upset and more than that, defeated. I immediately felt so goddam tired and knew, without a doubt, something terrible had happened. "What's going on?" Kevin shook his head and just said, "You have to see." He made a gesture and that divine power rolled over us and spirited us into the Command room in the outpost below the mansion. The first thing I noticed was the screen above the central console. It didn't make sense at first. It was showing a view of large white structures that slowly gained familiarity the more I stared until it made sense. My knees shook and I gripped onto the console. It was the Eiffel Tower that I recognized first. The famous landmark was covered in a thick layer of ice. Only glimpses of wrought-iron gray and the general shape were visible underneath the cover. "How?" I asked shakily. I felt my bones turn to lead and I looked beside me at Ryan and Killian. They held hands and their expressions were an echo of my own feelings. Mounting horror and fear warred until I felt my entire body begin to combust with it. Ryan reached over and pressed a button the console. The screen split into three, revealing the iconic Berlin skyline, along with London, and both of the cities were frozen like Paris. He sighed heavily, wearily, like the sun was never coming out again. "It's faster this time and spreading rapidly across Europe," Ryan said softly. "It's jumped into the Atlantic ocean and will reach North and South America within the day. We're talking around twenty-four hours or less until the Earth is fully frozen." Kevin growled low in his throat. "This is Entropy's doing. I just know it. It's just like him to have the last laugh." "It's possible." Adam clenched his fists and stared thoughtfully at the ground. "His outermost skin was denser than neutronium, and only grew more hyperdense toward his inner layers. At his core, he was so heavy that he should've fallen through the planet. I calced his durability at 10^55 joules." Ryan's dismay made him stumble. "That's the GBE of the entire Milky Way Galaxy. The gravitation alone should have-" "Dumb it down," I said patiently. The idea I was getting was looking horrible. Adam was still staring at the ground, thinking. "Entropy's mass was spread across multiple dimensions at once, whatever his core was made of allowed his body to warp physics; the core was essentially a doorway to project the mass." Adam spread his hands out, miming a globular object. "We're talking about a spiral galaxy worth of matter to reach the very center of his body. It's why I used the Grid. It severed him in every dimension. That's the backstory. Now my theory is Entropy could've taken a piece of the ice before Halo destroyed it." Killian frowned. "But wouldn't it just have frozen him?" "Not with how hyperdense he was," Adam shook his head. "If he shunted some of that ice into another dimension, then it would mature without any prying eyes. It was probably a plan B if he had to leave Earth to finish destroying the remaining Prime Points." I closed my eyes as the realization hit me. "And with Entropy dead, the ice was free to leave whatever dimension the asshole locked it in." Kevin nodded grimly. "And now we're all left with his last fuck you." Killian looked at Kevin with hope blazing in his eyes. "But you can stop it again, right? You did it before." Kevin was quiet for a long time. Then, finally, he shook his head. "That particular skill used Earth's karma to obliterate the ice. I can't do it again. The planet's fate is sealed." My shoulders slumped. "So this is the end, then?" I asked, low and exhausted. I swallowed. It felt like someone had taken cold water and filled my entire body with it. Sorrow was a feeling of unmanageable despair. I couldn't handle looking at my friends right now, seeing their faces etched with grief, and yet, on the other hand, I needed to show a brave front. If not for me then for them, because it's what I did. "Maybe it's not the end," Adam said. I reached out and took his hand, squeezing it. It was a lifeline that I so desperately needed right now. "What do you mean?" Adam and Kevin locked eyes, and my boyfriend spoke one word, "Avalon." "How do you even know about that project?" Kevin looked at him with wide, startled eyes. Then he grimaced and shook his head. "It doesn't matter. The Lords in Shadow burned all Atlantean assets in this solar system during the Fall." Adam tapped his head, a spark of something like building confidence in his tone. "It was a classified project, but at the Omega Point, all of the past was mine to see. And when I returned to Earth, I sensed an installation on the Moon." "But how?" Disbelief was thick in Kevin's voice. "The entire thing was taken out of the phase with reality, rotated ninety-one degrees from our point of relative index. A trick taken from the faeries. It's how the fae survived the Lords in Shadow, and so did Avalon. They never detected the spatial shift." I tugged Adam's hand and gave him a pointed look. "Clue us in. It sounds like there's a way to stop this, after all?" Kevin shook his head. "Nothing can stop it." Ryan frowned. "Then what's on the Moon that can help?" They traded glances again, and it was Adam that said, "Sanctuary." "Avalon was a project planned by our father, a sister city to Atlantis. It was going to be a marvel that eclipsed our capital city. He intended it as a principality ruled by you and me until I came of age to take the Imperial Throne on Atlantis. Construction was stopped when the war started to get worse." Killian lifted his head and stared. "Complete or not, are you saying there's an Atlantean city on the moon? Even after all this time." "That's exactly what they're saying," I answered him, then looked at Adam and my brother, searching, questioning. "You're talking about an exodus. You want us to leave Earth." It was a sobering thought. One that was only explored in science fiction in dystopian themes of humanity reaching for the stars after Earth was left with dwindling resources. The shock of my announcement made Killian gasp and look to Ryan, who was already no doubt following Adam and Kevin's line of thought. "Logistically we couldn't take everyone," he said aloud, glancing at Killian sadly. "No city has the kind of infrastructure to support the billions on Earth." I didn't want to start thinking in those type of terms yet. "Can we go to Avalon first and check out how this place has held up after 15,000 years. There's no use planning anything yet." "We can't just pop up," Kevin said. "Avalon is armed to the teeth. We're talking particle cannons, anti-proton weapons, isomagnetic disintegrators. Its defenses can take out an Orion-class battlecruiser with ease and lay waste to an entire armada." "So we need a key or something?" Killian speculated. The answer came to me because I had known it all along. "Remember what King Oriens said when he gave you the Imperial Scepter, Kevin?" "When all hope is lost," Kevin quoted. He put his hands together like he was praying. "Its light will guide you through the darkest of times." From between his palms shined a light and from it appeared the elaborate silver and jeweled rod that was the chief emblem of our royal house. It was ancient, easily the oldest thing on this side of the world and forged in the first age of our long-gone empire. Kevin grinned a little shakily at me and shrugged. "Let's hope the old emergency passcodes are still active." "Or we're all dead," Killian muttered. It was a dark thought, but he was right. I glanced at the map of the world on the screen. With every passing second, we were losing more land mass to the ice. Whatever we found on the Moon had to be better than being eternally frozen. Kevin ran a finger down the center of the scepter. "Upsilon-Upsilon-Theta-Break-Seven." "Activation codes recognized, Prince Gaius Cor." The disembodied voice spoke. "Open the way to Avalon." "Subspace search for external Avalon network link. Successfully opened data port. Connection with Avalon command core established. Awaiting final unlock authorization." "Omicron-Gamma-Tau-Nine." Kevin took a deep, calming breath. "Light in Darkness. We show the way." "Access granted to Avalon. Prepare for translocation." We crowded close, as Kevin said, "Execute." Rainbow colored light filled my vision and my feet lift off the ground. The world was torn away, and I barely held back a scream. It was insane, terrible, speed beyond speed, all of space was spread out before me and stars in my sight and all gone in an instant. We catapulted through the vastness of space, nowhere and everywhere, entire planets spinning off into the audient void. The Moon appeared with its lifeless gray surface rushing up to us, or we rushed up to it. We descended upon it like meteors. There was a flare from the scepter that I realized for the first time had been flying ahead of us as if piloting. And from the surface of the Moon was a similar flash and the whole of space rippled. I ended up stumbling on a shiny platform, momentarily surprised at finding a solid footing once more. I gulped down a desperate breath. I vaguely registered the others having similar moments to orient themselves. Here, here for 15,000 year old transporter technology. I calmed myself to look up to witness a vast smoky sky glittering with far too many stars. Earth. The faded crescent hung above the horizon, its predominately blue features a stark contrast against the cloudy sky. There was atmosphere here, replicator tech, a little kernel of knowledge told me. I dragged my eyes away from the heavens and beheld a skyline, the likes of which took my breath away. The crystal skyscrapers caressing the sky were like none I had ever seen before. Atlantis had been a city of metal with its tritium towers and sharp ultra-modern angles. Avalon stretched out underneath the stars, crystal monoliths climbing a kilometer into the sky. Starlight refracted throughout their opaline structures. Numerous winding sky bridges connecting buildings, stretched across crystal blue lakes and many green parks, interspersed among the city. "It's incredible," I murmured, staring entranced at an aurora borealis effect that haloed a rocky mountain range in the distance. We stood upon the roof of one of the crystal monoliths. Below our feet was a circle filled with delicately carved stars, symbols and Atlantean letters in glittering gold circled the border bidding welcome to travelers. So we arrived on some of receiving observatory, I wondered. It was a nice touch and afforded a view of what looked like most of the sprawling city. If Atlantis structures leaned more toward science fiction, then Avalon's architecture was its counterpart in fantasy. Ryan kept shaking his head as if he couldn't believe his eyes. "I thought this city was incomplete." "It's supposed to be," Kevin said, confused. He and Adam were just as shocked as us. "Father halted construction and pulled back all personnel to our holdings when the outer territories were besieged." "That would be because of me." We spun around and faced a handsome man with brown skin and thick wavy dark hair. He wore an official looking uniform. It was a pants and tunic combination in beige, with lavender belt and cuffs and a high collar that was the style before the Fall. I narrowed my eyes. "Who are you?" "I'm Patroclus." He bowed. "I've taken the liberty of downloading the data archive of the Atlantis command AI in terran outpost, designated Sigma Tor. I know of the reincarnation event, and have an understanding of the current situation, Your Grace." Kevin was visibly startled at the name. "That's not possible. Patroclus oversaw the Atlantis Science Academy. You should be long dead." "If I were flesh and blood, Your Grace," Patroclus said, dark eyes amused. "I was activated during the Fall. Your father's backup plan, if all other lights went out. My prime directive as custodian of Avalon is to perform maintenance and improvements of the city in anticipation of Atlanteans arrival while attempting to find a solution to enemy threats. I'm the consciousness of Patroclus and of an artificial intelligence." Adam stepped forward. "You're a VI," he said, nodding his head, "A virtual intelligence has spent the last 15,000 years not only finishing construction but improving on it. This is beyond what I imagined." "If you would please step on the Farpoint relay," Patroclus said, gesturing to a red metallic platform nearby. I raised an eyebrow. "Where are we going?" He pointed in the distance toward a massive crystal dome sitting prominently at the city's core. It glittered like a diamond and there was dancing blue-white light reflecting from its surface that was positively mesmerizing. Four towers were arranged around it at cardinal points. "Nova Reach sits at the center of One Senate Square and is the seat of governance of Avalon," Patroclus said. "And for what you plan to do it is also a place of power." Kevin eyed him speculatively. "Of course, you saw the footage in the Command outpost. You know what we're planning." He nodded solemnly and gestured at the platform again. "And I know we're under pressing time constraints." Right now, I was not in the mood to second guess every motive. At the end of the day, the VI was right. We were short on time. So we allowed Patroclus to input the destination on the control pillar and we were whisked away in a stream of light. The teleportation field cleared and we were in alcove nestled at the and of a brightly lit hallway with walls that reminded me of the interior of the Imperium Tower in Atlantis. "Is this Nova Reach?" Ryan asked, observing the corridor. The corridor went off in both directions, and ahead of us was a closed door with a hand size control panel. I studied the tiled walls, curiously then shrugged. "I don't know. I expected something grander." A faint streamer of light flickered into existence through the open space taking the shape of Patroclus. "We are approximately half a kilometer below Nova Reach in the auxiliary command section." His dark eyes regarded us with a measure of mirth at our visible surprise. "The main control room is meant to be operated with a full staff of at least thirteen. The secondary systems here can be staffed by minimal personnel." "After you," Kevin said, gesturing. Patroclus stepped forward and the door hissed momentarily, as space beyond was depressurized, sliding open with an accompanying breeze. "You, of course, are granted full access to Avalon's systems," Patroclus said conversationally, continuing on into another the hall that had opened up while guiding us with quick steps. "The infrastructure was completed using a combination of drones, molecular construction arrays, and a majority of the buildings were grown." "Grow buildings..." Adam picked through his general overview. "The... crystal structures?" The VI simply nodded, not having bothered to stop his forward progress or even turn around, which I appreciated. We were on the clock here. The longer we took, the more people were being trapped in a frozen prison. Ryan, of course, jumped right into the specifics. "And how have you been powering Avalon? If we proceed, energy consumption will increase." "Avalon was intended to be the next step in Atlantean civilization. Our engineering team created a pocket dimension around a protostar near the galactic rim." Avalon stopped to face us when we came to another door. "We opened a micro wormhole into that dimension directly into the heart of the star, and using an artificial quantum foam, as a safety measure, solar energy is collected." Kevin frowned. "I vividly remember the project being abandoned. I thought you were using Helos Reactors because the simulations kept failing." "I completed the project two thousand years after the Fall." Patroclus smiled wanly at the ground even as the door of ahead of him opened. "I had a lot of free time." By the expressions on Ryan and Adam's faces, I'm guessing this was a big deal. "How much power are we talking here?" "An output of one hundred solar units," Patroclus explained. Seeing my expression, he clarified, "Which would be two terawatts using human terminology." Adam stared at me and said, "The total power usage of humans worldwide is sixteen terawatts for an entire year." I blanched. "So plenty of power for a new population." "Quite," Patroclus confirmed as he stepped up to another door. This time there was a flicker of data transfer in his eyes, letters and numbers racing across his irises. When he blinked quickly, the stream ended and the door opened, and we stepped into a new set of corridors; these vastly different from the last. Our new environment was a more curved, organic corridor glowing with metallic blue. The surface of the walls seemed to radiate their own light. Like the previous corridors, however, there was little in the way of real activity. "How many people can we move here?" Kevin asked. "Avalon was always meant for a large population," Patroclus said, continuing deeper into the new hall that began to curve to the right. "We can accommodate a little over ten million people." "Ten million?" I stared, but my question was lost in the immediate fire round of questions the others assaulted the VI with. We barely noticed our journey had taken us to a single room with an array of darkened panels and a large podium with a flat surface central to the interior. Kevin shook his head in wonder, still looking gobsmacked by the sheer number reported, strode past Killian and Ryan confronting the Vi. He continued on until he faced the podium directly, placing his hand upon its flat surface and causing the opaque panels on its side to light up a deep blue for a moment before brightening to light the room. "Royal override, Gaius Cor, Prince of Atlantis. Visual assist mode," he ordered, and the panels blinked to life, each projecting holographic displays into the open air. We watched the holograms flicker with graphics and Atlantean script until Gaius spoke again. "Citywide status." The flowing Atlantean script vanished across all nine panels and was replaced by various pictographs. Wordlessly we split up as our attention was each caught by a separate hologram. I spotted Ryan admiring the visage of a multi-colored framework spacecraft conjured before him. He reached into the frame of the ship, at it to magnify the internal structure. It reminded me of the tech in those MCU movies with Tony Stark. "Is that the Valorescent?" I asked, peering around him for a better view; though the ship was now large enough to take up almost half the air airspace around us. "King Oriens' flagship." Ryan nodded, continuing his manipulation of the wireframe hologram, spinning it around on its axis to view it from a better angle. Block Atlantean script flowed from the points he touched, technical data that I surprisingly understood. "It looks like it was dry docked for upgrades... The armament was replaced by high energy particle cannons, and the reactors were upgraded to YMIR modules, whatever that is." "It's a generator that allows macromolecules with a special structure to tap into virtual particles for energy." I looked at Patroclus for a long minute. "You've been busy." The hologram shrugged. "I needed a hobby." "A hobby that managed to somehow build infrastructure to comfortably support ten million people." Adam was intently studying a holo-schematic of the city, swiping through it to view different sectors at speed I couldn't keep up with. "His numbers are good." Killian nodded. "We obviously will never have a power problem. The matter converters can synthesize food, and there's more than enough shelter that people can live comfortably." He looked over at me, and there was determination there in his eyes. "I say we go ahead." "We will be protected too. The defenses are impregnable," Ryan offered. He closed his eyes, then nodded once. "I'm in." An intense look of concentration inhabited Kevin's face. He was staring at a rotating holo, contemplating the string of script rolling beneath the view of what looked like several galaxies conjured into the open air before him. The spiral shape of our own Milky Way galaxy was familiar, and I was sure that the one hovering near his shoulder was the Andromeda galaxy. "Kevin?" I approached him from behind and softly touched a hand to his shoulder. "What is this?" "Hope," he replied, continuing to study the script that I realized was numbers. Some type of algorithm, maybe. Patroclus hovered at Kevin's other side, observing the rotating galaxies with a sharp eye. "Interesting." "Servants of life angels once were," Kevin muttered. "There are arts to draw on those ancient oaths when the stars come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity." I studied the set of his features carefully. "A weakness?" He nodded. "Every being on earth is born with a spark, an imperishable flame that even ice can't extinguish." Kevin looked at us, one by one. "It may be frozen, but the energy of that flame will never go out. "In time, we can use our power and the cycle of the stars to awaken that light, all at once." I finally understood. "A harmonic convergence." I shook my head. A celestial event that was a product of certain planets and stars aligning just right. It was rare and once had given birth to entire divine pantheons. "The last time was even before Atlantis." "Most energy...celestial, spiritual, divine..." Adam thought aloud, assessing the logic in the theory. "They'll all be in harmony on that day. The ice will be susceptible." The script stopped flickering, settling on a final sequence. It was a long string of numbers that was a day, according to Atlantean reckoning. The others crowded close and we observed the number, each knowing what it meant. It would take years. Centuries. "Good thing Atlanteans live long lives," I said into the quiet, then faced my friends. "We owe it to everyone who is trapped. Even if we have to wait a thousand years." Adam squeezed my shoulder. "Until the end of time itself." "We made a promise," Ryan said. Killian nodded. "In our last life, this one or the next. We'll be there." Kevin smiled fondly, bumping his shoulder against mine. "Together. Always." "Okay, then." My heart was pounding in my chest and I smiled with fierce determination. "Let's save the day one more time." We moved to the consoles and with Patroclus' help began bringing secondary systems online and powering up an entire city for occupation. We ran the diagnostics and inventory to account for the population drawing on resources that had never before been consumed en masse. We didn't have all day, but I didn't want to begin until I knew we weren't condemning people to the lunar version of the Titanic. I trusted Patroclus, but the VI had been alone here for 15,000 years. I was not about to risk innocent lives in case his memory was fragmented. After running through the data with a fine tooth comb, there was nothing left to do but proceed. I squared my shoulders and nodded to Patroclus. He closed his eyes, and the constellations depicted on the floor began to span, the central podium retracted into the floor in a series of mechanical noises. Four metal rings arose 10 paces away from each other in a loose circle. They fit into position within the foundation with a solid click. It was complete. Then we moved into position and each Chosen stepped into their assigned ring. I went to the center of the formation. I met Adam's eyes, smiling softly and there was so much I wanted to say. I was sad for the future we wished and hoped and planned for wasn't meant to be. Adam met my eyes, and the reassurance in his gaze chased away those thoughts, sending me unwavering support that I held close. I closed my eyes and said goodbye to Chad Summers. My clothes shifted, replaced by a formal midnight blue suit, with silver lacing and a white belt and cape that flowed over my shoulders. I could feel the circlet settle around my brow. Prince Emrys was returned. I didn't open my eyes, but I knew the others carried out similar transformations. What we were about to do we needed to tap our Atlantean selves. I reached for the bright spark inside that I associated with magic and it surged through me, waiting. I opened up my celestial bindings and link to magic, feeling the energy crackling through my veins like electricity. All around me, I felt other energies besides my magic. The others tapped into their bindings and the primal forces of the universe roiled through the room. The rings set into the floor began to vibrate as they came online, channeling power to the towers circling the dome of Nova Reach above us. I hoped they didn't blow up from how much energy we were channeling through their crystalline structures. I slowly gathered all that frightening power that crackled through the air. Working with overwhelming amounts of energy was what I was gifted at, and I weaved it together, until its sum was greater than its parts, transforming it, remaking it. I knitted it together into a spell of such magnitude that it transcended into something unspeakably beautiful, something cosmic. The towers above resonated as one, opening a breach in the lunar spatial pocket and allowing the power to enter the planular domain of real space. Two billion people were frozen in ice. Two billion. The number was rising. After all, there was no haven. Sanctuary wasn't to be found on Earth. The planet's fate was sealed and its people were sentenced to imprisonment through no fault of their own. It was a divine act that couldn't be undone for countless years yet, but it was not to be everyone's fate. There was no way I could save the remaining population. For some, there was hope. Like called to like. Those with Atlantean blood heard the voice in the darkness first. My voice called out to them. Harkening to those descendants who were the survivors of Atlantis' fall all those years ago. My voice was full of hope, compassion and light. "Don't despair," I whispered in their minds, bolstered by Adam's telepathy. "It will be many years before Earth is freed, but there is a home for you on Avalon. I will never leave my people behind. And if you think of your loved ones they will be safe, too, I will protect you all." Countless numbers of people looked up and rejoiced because they knew of their origins, as fables and tales passed through families, and those who knew nothing of their legacy looked toward the sky in wonder. The power of soul, Ryan's power, found the connections of families and friends that tied spirits together and I embraced them, as many people as possible, letting Killian's light judge and severe the links to those who had darkness in their hearts or impure thoughts. The cosmic spell swept the whole of the world faster than the speed of light, racing against the spread of ice as it swept through Europe and part of Asia, gaining a foothold on the east coast of both North and South America. For every billion people the ice took, I gathered millions. As if sensing opposition, the speed of the ice increased exponentially. It spread through the whole of Brazil in seconds. Faster and faster, it expanded. The cosmic force strained against my willpower, making the Earth tremble with its might, and I did not yield. The Pacific Ocean froze. Australia froze. It continued on until the majority of the world was encompassed. Those I gathered moved through space and time ferried by Kevin's power, even as the Earth left behind rapidly locked in frozen slumber. Then I let go of all that cosmic power. I opened my eyes and for a long, dizzying moment I was entirely disoriented. Then Adam slid his hand into mine and his smile was like an anchor, grounding me. The other hand cupped my cheek and tilted my face to press a kiss against my temple. "We did it," Adam beamed, practically glowing with happiness. "I can feel them." Patroclus must have activated the arrays because holoimages swirled up around us. Dozens of screens showed different sections of the city, but they were all of similar sights. People were cheering, laughing in relief, hugging their neighbors in a shared combination of joy and liberation that united them. To face the light after coming close to the dark was an exuberant feeling. Killian clutched tightly to Ryan and looked at us with a shaky, but happy smile. "Over ten million souls. No turning back now." "We saved them all," Kevin said. There was a noticeable cadence in his voice that was nobler. "Now we have to guide them." Ryan grinned tiredly but looked immensely pleased. "And a king to lead us." I beamed at my brother and nodded. "Later, I suppose we need to have a coronation. It's a long time coming." I looked at the holoscreens, feeling a thrill shoot through me at all the visible joy. "But crowns can wait. I imagine it's going to be pretty crazy for a while." And that was better than the alternative. I would take chaos over cold silence any day. It was going to take a lot of work, but I was willing and ready to do whatever it takes to make sure everyone was settled. I made a promise. All of our training, every triumph, and even our losses had prepared us for this. Our childhood days died when the Earth froze. So many people depended on us now, but I knew that as long as we stood together, we would get through this. The sun may have set on Earth for now, but it had risen on Avalon and one day, many centuries from now, we would bring the dawn to Earth again. With the universe saved from its ancient enemy, well, we had nothing but time. There were no other people I would rather spend it with. [End.]
  9. "What do you think you're doing?" Halo demanded. "The Freeze is taboo. If you do this the universe itself will retaliate!" The Executioner studied the Voice of They Above All, warily. "What is he talking about?" "My brothers and I are here to oversee the freezing of the Earth," Celeste said, and she sounded honestly regretful. "An eternity in ice is this planet's future. It's the only way to keep Entropy imprisoned." I felt blindsided. This was a betrayal I never predicted. "What? You would just consign us into oblivion without giving us a chance to fight back!" "You can't do this," Omega pleaded. Halo glared. "He's right. You all literally can't do this. Heaven agreed to the Pact, along with the Greater Old Ones, Archon Consciousness, and the Primordials. The freezing violates the Pact, and it's stitched into creation, Celeste. Doing this will wipe you from existence." Celeste frowned. "Perhaps you are too used to this life. You have become weak in your mortal form." She gestured to the city. "If Entropy is freed it won't be just this planet that falls, he will wipe out all of creation. The mortal planes, Heaven and Hell, the Dreamlands, all of it." I shook my head. "It's true, we can't compare billions here to all sentient life in creation." I pointed at her. "But freezing Earth will only postpone the confrontation. The Dread Barriers are broken. Entropy will escape. Give us a chance!" "We fought Entropy with fear and ignorance, never before had we faced an enemy with powers to rival our own," Halo argued. "It's already proven we can't lock him up forever. At least now we will fight with experienced warriors and power we're young enough to use recklessly to win." From behind me, Solaris leaned into my shoulder and whispered, "Dude! He just really shaded us." "Enough," Celeste said, cutting her hand through the air. "Time is too few for last words. I'm sorry." I understood that this was an act of desperation and hopelessness, but it wasn't the way. As long as we still drew breath, there was a chance. It may be small, but we're still in his fight, and we were going to give it our all or die trying. It was a fair assumption that Celeste and her little ragtag harp crew here were the only ones behind Earth's imprisonment; otherwise the entire angelic might of the Silver City would be gathered here. They must be a renegade group then if what Halo said about this being outlawed was accurate. I liked Celeste but if this was how she wanted to play it then so be it. I was going to show her what a Chosen really was. I looked at my friends with a grim frown. "Chosen, fire on my mark." We lifted our hands toward the angels in the sky and that twisting blob of death, now the size of a bus, growing under their power. "Mark!" I shouted. Three things happened at once. In half a second over two dozen pulses with a half-megaton of celestial energy speared the twilight, dispensing beams of white-hot death. The rolling mass of silver dropped from the sky like an asteroid. There was a sickening crack as the limbs of the angels twisted at unnatural angels, their faces frozen in silent screams of horror, like abnormal wax statues. Their entire forms bleached of color. It was like they were photo negative of themselves, then they were simply gone. Dust to dust. It happened between one blink, and the next, and our attacks continued on their paths; only without a target, disappearing into the twilight. There wasn't time to deal with whatever the hell that was. The universe had apparently handled that problem. Now we were left to deal with what had been a silvery twisting mass, that upon contact with the Thames had flash frozen the entire river. The ice looked four inches thick, and it was spreading. Fast. Solaris stepped forward, his hands alive with fire. "I got this," he said, sending bolts of plasma arcing into the ice covering both banks of the river. The incinerating attacks met the ice and fizzled out into nothing. "That's not possible," Omega whispered, clutching a heavy hand on my shoulder. Then I saw it, Omega projected an image into our minds. The had already made its way into some of the buildings, spread quickly by the river. I could see a policeman in a parking lot exit his vehicle, unaware the ice had begun to cover the ground. The instant his boot hit... he froze. Ice jumped onto him like iron onto a magnet. More and more images started to come, and Omega quickly broke the telepathic connection. "Okay," Solaris said faintly. Fear was at the edges of his eyes. "Let's get a game plan going." The ice was crawling at a meter a second now, forcing us to retreat further downrange. Halo stared at the growing frost spreading along the ground. "I'm the game plan," he said, holding his staff aloft. "I'm the Champion of Balance. I rule over karma and judgment. I can leverage that power to annihilate the ice, but..." He looked back at us with a grimace. "I won't have much strength to fight Entropy with." I swore under my breath and turned to the Executioner, who was scanning the anomaly. We were almost a mile out from the ice, and that distance was narrowing. "Ryan, can we destroy the ice ourselves?" "I don't think it's possible." The Executioner looked spooked by the readings he was picking up on his phone. "It's organic and has an adaptive ability that I've never seen before. Our power is useless against it." His eyes widened as he found the data to back up our last Hail Mary. "Halo commands divine energy, which is what it's made from. But he needs to one-shot this. If even one crystal survives it will adapt to his power and make it useless to counter, then it will spread again." "Got it." Halo squared his shoulders, then tilted his chin up. He looked like Prince Gaius. I put my trust in him and also prayed to whoever was listening to help. I shared a long look with my brother. “You got this.” Halo held his staff aloft and said in a clear voice that made the hair on my arms stand up, "Divine Reckoning!" Light was not supposed to be so loud, but everyone on Earth heard it. The bright, white wave washed out from Halo like a flood, splashing into everyone it touched as traveled the globe faster than light. The Earth itself trembled and cracked at the seams as Halo's mighty singular act of holy purification sought to undo fate. The light touched the ice that had begun overtaking whole city blocks, freezing even the living in an eternal prison. Where the light shined, the ice was shattered into nothingness—vaporizing in a cleansing pulse that flowed along the horizon. The harshest of winters must end eventually. Even the darkest of nights had to give away to day. It was a new dawn. Halo staggered when the light vanished as quickly as it washed over us. I was immediately at his side, holding him up with an arm over his shoulders. "Hey there, easy does it," I murmured. He looked winded. His eyes were half-lidded, but he nodded and said weakly, "I tipped the scales of fate to destroy the ice." "Save your strength," I consoled him, then chanced a worried look Omega. Solaris shook his head. "We have to change plans if you're not the big gun. There's no way you can get the drop on Entropy like this." I felt a prickling in my shoulders. I looked around the deserted streets we stood in and eyed the dark corners of the buildings. It felt eerie being out in the open like this. We needed to bunker down and come up with a new play because it was suddenly looking like we were running in circles. "It's one thing after another. The clones destroying the fae realm, Centennial, then the angels greater good murder plan." I said, listing off every skirmish with growing dread. Something was off. "All which we won," Solaris pointed out. "Halo's tapped out, isn't he?" Omega said tiredly. He looked at me and I could he was following the thread of logic. "We didn't really win. Entropy is still coming. And the angels lost their lives for an unsuccessful mission." "Or a trap," The Executioner said. Nobody moved. The bigger picture was coming together. We were a small piece on a board. A myriad of emotions warred across Halo's face. "I'm weakened, and now we're out of time." It took a moment to register the mounting fear in his eyes. He was drowning in it. "We hope to save the world, but we'll have to save ourselves first." I couldn't even lay into him for that kind of defeatist talk, because that was when the calamity began. A tall being in tattered black clothing appeared at the bank of the Thames. His skin was blood red and looked like every picture of fire and brimstone, and was the devil made flesh, with a pair great, thick dark horns protruding from his brow and ending in sharp points. Yellow eyes with dark reptile-like pupils beheld us, and I was shaking. The terror was so absolute, so all-encompassing, that it was almost like calm, not suspicion, but the absolute certainty that we were all about to die. Entropy spoke. "I have been where you are. To lose after coming so far, yet still striving to fight. It can be humbling. After spinning in circles for so long, hoping to break the wheel, you have come at last to witness your greatest failure. The death of the universe... Me." His voice was a deep baritone, measured, and there was a weight to it as if he was a titan talking to down to us from his cloud-strewn citadel. I let out a slow breath and looked upon our doom. The end was here. The Executioner gave me an apologetic glance, then he moved. The sound was explosive. His footsteps shook the ground because that was what the high-speed technique was called Thunderstep. I couldn't even trace his movements until he was inside Entropy's guard, battering that massive, muscular torso bared by his open robe. Entropy stepped backward, avoiding the right cross to his chin, and grabbed the leg coming in for a screaming roundhouse that would've taken the head off a lesser being. The seven-foot tall being poured into the opening and hammered the Executioner's gut with two hard punches. Ryan gave a choking cry, coughing up blood, and struggled weakly in the monster's iron grip. "Ryan!" Solaris screamed. The sky blazed with our gathered might and Entropy, gripping Ryan by his throat, stared at the energy roiling at our fingertips, and said, "Don't." "Let him go!" I ordered. Solaris was next to me, shaking with worry and so much fury. "You imagine your king of demons in my form. A primal fear originating from your universe's brush with destruction eons ago," Entropy said. "The trauma of it is rooted in humanity's racial memory. Now tell me, am I all you feared?" "Drop him," Solaris said coldly. "Ah, the lover," Entropy said. "You want to fight me so desperately. I will indulge you. Do your worst." Entropy dropped his shoulder and slammed the Executioner into the ground with a sickening, boneless smack. The Champion of Soul still had some fight in him because he surged upward, but Entropy's fist slammed into his face with a chilling crack. I had witnessed the Executioner rip boulders apart with his bare hands. Entropy's punch might as well be as dense as dwarf star matter with the way Ryan's head snapped back. He fell motionless to the ground. Solaris' body burst into twinkling motes of light, then appeared again tumbling through the air behind Entropy's back. Swirling streams of white-yellow plasma gathered around him as he fell from altitude with purpose. I muttered a word and the Executioner slid across the ground to our position. Omega immediately laid hands upon him to heal his injuries. A solid beam carved a trough through the earth as Entropy sidestepped the opening attack, only to be caught dead on with a bolt of white destruction. It detonated against his massive chest, and he stepped backward as Solaris followed the volley with a combination punch battering into his face. I clenched my fists and dirt constructs, mirroring my hands, burst from the ground to grab Entropy's ankles. He shook off the golems like toys, then evaded Solaris' next strike that detonated into a small crater at his heels. Entropy finally brought up his hand and slapped Solaris into the ground with a smooth, unhurried backhand motion. The gesture was almost casual. I lashed out with a rain of pure annihilation. Entropy took the barrage of killing beams head-on. They fell against him like raindrops and turned the ground into smoldering ashes. Solaris hopped up, attempting to thrust a combination kick into the thing, only to watch Entropy sidestep the blow strike, then dart in passed his guard. The tips of Entropy's fingers stabbed into Solaris' stomach in one smooth motion, until his entire fist was buried inside. "No!" I shouted. Halo grabbed my hand tightly and held me in place. "Wait. Look." Solaris stood, whole and unmarred, covered in white-hot liquid fire like a humanoid sun. He jumped away when Entropy stepped toward him, retreating away to a safe distance. The fire washed away and the line in his shoulders visibly relaxed when he saw Omega kneeling over his boyfriend. The Executioner's breathing was shallow, but even, and blood coated his entire lower face. The femur bone in his left leg protruded from the skin, pearly white amongst exposed tendons. It was really fucking bad, but it was better than being dead. Solaris returned his stare to Entropy and his expression was wary now, but no less resolute. "You're beginning to see how hopeless this is. Even in my prison, I steered destiny toward this moment." Entropy looked up into the overcast sky, closing his eyes, somewhat content. He looked back at us with dark, penetrating eyes. Halo tapped my wrist and I saw his fingers tighten around his staff. I just needed to buy us some time. We weren't wholly screwed yet. Stalling until Halo regained his strength was a tall order, but we were out of options. "What is this all for?" I shook my head. "I don't understand why the universe deserves to die." Entropy stared at me with an unwavering gaze, then said, "This universe has a group of beings called They Above All. In another universe exists a similar group and eons ago a calculation was made that a neighboring universe existing in the multiverse would collide with theirs, destroying both." "That kind of prediction can't be precise," Halo argued. "To pinpoint an external annihilation event so far in a universe's existence isn't possible. The multiverse is vast. You don't even know if our universe is the one theorized in the collision, do you?" "And that is why all other universes within this multiverse must be wiped out." There was a stubborn frown on Halo's face now. "What about the Grid? The barrier that separates the universes." "It will somehow be overcome." Entropy sounded so sure of his conviction. "We don't know how, but it was predicted." I couldn't keep the incredibility out of my voice. "I'm sorry, you're attempting to kill us all just on the off chance that one day our universe just might, maybe, collide with yours?" "All potential threats must be eliminated," Entropy said in that solemn tone that sounded like pure dread. "Tell me," I demanded, anger leaking into my voice. "How many universes have you killed?" Entropy didn't answer. I shook my head. "You owe us this." "Owe?" Entropy asked. "I owe you knowing but death. However, the answer is seventeen. Yours will be the eighteenth." He sighed, and there was a long moment before he finally said, "I take no joy in this. I even admire your predecessors for trapping me. They only prolonged the inevitable." Talking was good. Talking was better than killing. I soldiered on. "You have to see this is insane. You're going to be fighting this battle forever in countless universes." "Your First Gods created you to protect your universe. Mine empowered me to destroy others," Entropy said simply. Halo laughed suddenly. It lacked mirth. "We never asked, and you never said. You just appeared and started wiping out entire star systems." Entropy appraised him. "I hold no grudge for the part you played." There was a faint note of respect in his voice. "I remember you. You were a fearsome sight. You faced me down as I cut through your squadron at the singing waterfalls of Theta Norvos." "And I remember wondering if you bleed." A look of righteous fury burned in Halo's eyes. "You're welcome to summon your flaming sword once more," Entropy invited him. The skin pulled tight on his face when he smiled, displaying the sharp edges of his bones. "You can try and find out." We weren't ready yet. Omega was still tending to the Executioner and he looked better now, but nowhere near combat ready. Well, everyone knows I had a smart mouth on me. "You know he doesn't have access to his angelic power." I held him Entropy under a steady gaze. "You've been watching and masterminding behind the scenes this entire time, after all." Entropy tipped his head. "The Dread Barriers were troublesome, but no prison is foolproof. My reach could be felt throughout history." "There has to be a better way. We can find a way to save your universe." "Save your breath, brother," Halo said quietly. "He has his marching orders. He's had eons to come up with a better solution, and like it or not, it's our universe's death that he's come up with." "You see now," Entropy said evenly. "I know you think I'm ruthless, but I am saving lives." I narrowed my eyes. "At the cost of trillions!" "It is better this way." "You're insane," I muttered. "Life isn't fair." Entropy flexed his hands, causing the thick veins to jump out along his deep red skin. "You who have lost a parent early, in both lives, know this better than most." It felt like getting hit by a car. I froze. Not from fear this time. "What did you say?" I asked softly. "Casualties of my manipulations." He looked at me without remorse. "You should be grateful. That loss shaped and made you into the leader you are." There was a ringing in my ears. It was like a bomb had gone off. I felt off-balance like I had gotten knocked around and stood back upright. Memories of my mother from my last life flashed in my mind. Soft memories of a woman with a gentle smile and warm eyes raced behind my eyes. Queen Lilandra. Tears pricked my eyes as I thought of my dad, the one in this life with his strong hands and easy laughter. His hugs I missed most of all. I hadn't realized I took a step forward until Halo's hand gripping my wrist stopped me. "Chad," he said warningly, eyes pleading. "Don't." My heart was pounding and cracking slowly like glass. The grief and loss felt fresh, hitting me all over again. I looked at him and said, my voice breaking, "He killed my dad." That was all the warning Entropy had before I struck. A typhoon was birthed into existence in a crescendo of incredible green light. Waves of magical power poured forth as I dispersed blazing meteors that descended from on high, burning the aether apart with their presence. There was a deafening explosion as Entropy punched through the falling meteors like snowflakes. Lightning fell against his red skin as he stood the brunt of hurricane-force winds that blasted across his position. The ground shook as crystalline lava bathed him in a fiery spray. It was one natural disaster after another back by the terrifying power that I called forth, splintering the ground and burning the air itself. Nothing seemed to stick on him. He merely battered aside deadly blue rays, stomped out geysers of sentient black flame, and sidestepped blades of vacuum energy from zero space. I wasn't alone. Supercharged plasma rained down upon him in a shower. Solaris did something with his hands that collected the plasma that fell around Entropy's feet into a boiling pit of incineration. Entropy stood in the middle of the field of devastation like I was a warm summer's day, while the world around him burned. Entropy looked at me through the storm and smiled. It pissed me off. "Fuck you!" I shouted, then began the spell I crafted in Atlantis. The air around us wavered subtly as the Chosen shielded the area. They must have a clue what I was about to do. England was the perfect place to cast this spell. I cupped my hands and raised them skyward. "A resting crown, a sleeping king, seven towers, spinning wheels, flying on fluttering wings of jade, carve a shooting star into the sky." The legend of King Arthur with his city of Camelot and band of faithful knights was legendary. It was told in many forms and people grew up believing in the tale, especially here where remnants of that halcyon kingdom remained. There was power in that. I harnessed that faith, calling it forth with magic, and binding it with my will. Above us appeared a glowing, golden greatsword as tall as Big Ben that rose in the distance. It made the air vibrate in anticipation. It was majestic, it was glory, it was Excalibur. I glared at the murderer of my parents, in this life and the last. "Go to hell." I brought my hands down as if the sword hilt was in my hands. "Arthur's Decree!" Excalibur came down, shaking the air with its passing, and Entropy didn't move. The force of the strike was enough to reduce him to fine mist. The destroyer of universes caught the massive, otherworldly blade by the edge, creating a trench as the momentum behind the blow sent him skidding backward. "Just die already!" Somebody wailed, fearful and high. Killian. I didn't have anything left to pour into the attack. Entropy stopped the blade cold and with a grunt heaved it back along its trajectory. It broke the shield like a rock thrown through a window. The greatsword was launched into the sky reminiscent of a rocket where it shattered into countless golden flakes. They fell down upon the city in a dreamlike wash of color. I closed my eyes as the flakes touched my skin and disappeared like tears in rain. It felt a lot like failure. "What did you gain?" Entropy's deep voice echoed in the still of the air. "For what it is worth. You have my respect, Prince." Then all I knew was intense pain. Somehow Entropy had closed the distance between us between one blink and the next. I didn't even see the blows hammering into my rib cage, but could feel the bones bend and crack sickeningly. I couldn't breathe. The pain was so sudden that I didn't even notice I was being lifted off my feet. Entropy held me above his head with both of his arms like a trophy. I could feel his large hands grip onto my body, and I struggled weakly, sensing something terrible was about to happen. I was brought down abruptly with my back slamming into his massive knee. A board of wood would break from such action, and my back was no different. There was an unbearable pressure upon my spine. Fire exploded through my nerves before I was tossed carelessly to the ground, where I bounced once and then rolled to a stop. There was an explosion that made my ears ring. I blinked back tears to see a crater in front of me where Entropy once stood. It was like someone had taken a giant scoop and torn out a section of the earth. Then Omega was there and gently cradling my face with his hand. I groaned sort of deliriously, tasting blood in my mouth. My legs were numb. "Shit shit shit," Omega muttered, touching his hands to my body. "It's going to be okay. I promise." I looked into Omega's distressed face and tried not to panic. "I..." I started coughing on blood. "I can't feel my legs." My vision was going gray at the edges so I had to focus hard to see Halo and Entropy facing each other across ten paces of rubble. I tried to put the sequence of events together, but my thoughts were foggy. Adam must have torn out the ground with his power, launching Entropy away to give us some breathing room. Halo then diverted his attention in a followup action. "Heaven's Trumpet was created because of you," Halo said quietly. "I suppose I always knew one day it would come to this." Entropy took a long at the desolate battlefield, and then Halo, dark eyes gleaming. "Then let there be a reckoning." "I'll drag you outside of time itself before I let you hurt my brother again." "Sentiment," Entropy shook his head. "I would pull you with me if only to watch the look on your face when I find a way back and slaughter him. "Then, we go together. It'll be a millennia before you escape." Halo faced him without fear, lifted his staff, and whispered, "Pillars of dawn and dusk, shine forth the path of nowhere. Hear my plea and carry it throughout history." Entropy started to smile. "Gates of Eternity!" From the lowest valley to the tallest mountain peak, there came a rumbling noise, like the sound of a series of tumblers unlocking. Between them appeared the shape of a pair truly massive double doors reaching eight stories high. Upon the gray doors sitting in the heavy framework were etched strange symbols of glyphs and pictographs, similar to constellations. Slowly, they began to open, emitting a dismal dark purple light. "You have my thanks," Entropy said. Halo frowned. "What?" Entropy launched himself at Halo. It was like a lion leaping upon a gazelle. It happened in a flash he had both of Halo's wrists in the grip of his own large hand. Halo struggled wildly; he bent at the waist and kicked Entropy in the stomach then braced his legs against his chest to push free, grunting with the effort. Entropy barely seemed to notice. Then he squeezed the hand that gripped Halo's wrists, and they bent and broke, bones breaking the skin, and his staff fell from now limp hands. I tried to move to help him, but Omega held me down, moving his hands from my ribs to my back now. Entropy leaned in very close and said, voice carrying, "Congratulations, you just helped me destroy this universe." Blinding yellow beams from Solaris splattered against Entropy's back, and the monster ignored them. Halo didn't cry out from the pain. He pulled his wrists to his chest and stared up with squinting eyes. "No, that's..." "There are only three ways to destroy the universe." He chuckled deeply. "One is to destroy all the Prime Points." He bent down and picked up Halo's staff. "But that takes years, and I'm already running behind schedule. Next, you can try and wait for Armageddon." He looked at the doorway that was halfway open now. "You more than anyone knows how that can be averted." The gate was opened now, and beyond it, outside the ordered universe, we looked upon the ethereal lit void beyond space and time. There, swirling dark clouds brimmed with endless lightning, amongst sheer dark cliffs that fell into forever, where entropic eddies of glowing ooze writhed. I could feel my toes now. I grabbed Adam's cape and tugged it roughly, yanking him down until we were face-to-face and growled, "Stop him. Now." "But the easiest way you will find." Entropy beheld the gate in satisfaction and said without taking his eyes from it. "Is to rupture time." Then with both hands, he twisted and snapped Halo's staff in two. All Hell broke loose. There was an ear-piercing noise the likes of which I have never heard before. It was unnatural and madness, a single note that could only really be described as disharmony. The light emitted from within the gate turned green and black. The doors vibrated in its heavy framework then was sucked into the green and black light shining within, disappearing into that gaping maw, along with the framework. Free of its structure the jagged scar in the air hung there on the otherwise blue horizon. "Entropy!" Omega soared toward the being, bringing the glowing blade of his sword to bear. Midflight, he gripped it in two hands and brought it down for a lethal strike upon the thing's horned skull, but Entropy spun on a heel and snatched the blade with one hand catching Omega around the throat with the other. He held Omega with a dark look. "Pitful." Without another word, Entropy tossed him through the tear in time. I stopped breathing. Everything felt like it was happening too fast. It didn't seem real. My mind had become a broken copy of itself. Nothing made sense; the knowledge kept falling apart when I tried making sense of it. Something unspeakable had happened, but it hurt to try and make sense of it. Somehow the world as I knew it was no longer there. I wanted to give into the hungering darkness at the edges of my vision and never wake up. The board was clear, and all that was left was its king. Checkmate. We lost.
  10. The procession that left the city of Atlantis was considerably smaller than the one that had entered it. Upon these quiet streets walked the Chosen, with Nathan and King Oriens at our side. It had been nine days since our arrival, and there were few on the streets to see us leave under cover of night. Those we passed left us alone to depart in peace. I felt rested and more at ease than I had in a long time. Being in Atlantis had soothed all the burdens and stress life had dealt with made me undeniably happy. Being with my family and friends had completely put my soul at ease. King Oriens lead us into Peace Pavilion. We made our way near the pond that was just off the paved walkway of the sprawling public plaza. “Have you all said your goodbyes?” the King asked, looking at my friends, and they all smiled, their expressions saying it all. I wasn’t the only one who was feeling reinvigorated. “We’re going to do this,” I promised, and a glance showed the Chosen shared my determination. “Our chosen duty is to protect humanity, and we won’t lose.” The smile King Oriens wore was warm and proud. “May all our faith be your strength.” He held out a hand to Halo and touched his fingertips to my brother’s temple. “The mantle of the king is yours now. The Imperial Scepter is your birthright. When all hope is lost, its light will guide you through the darkest of times.” I took another look at the city of - my home. Halo wrapped his fingers around my wrist and squeezed once before dropping it. King Oriens lifted his hand in farewell as Halo held his staff aloft. From the holy talisman spilled a silver light that washed over us. When the wonderful radiance faded, so did the sight of Atlantis, and in its place was the steel and concrete of down Centennial. “Home sweet home,” Solaris muttered. The Executioner stared at the buildings with narrowed eyes. “Something’s not right.” Omega followed his gaze. “It’s quiet.” It was true. The silence was eerie. There were no signs of people, and the voidwalkers hideous forms were nowhere in sight. I didn’t like this. It was broad daylight here on Earth, and there should be signs of life instead of this haunting emptiness. When we left Centennial there had been destruction everywhere we looked, and now there was no sign of any of it. It was like it had never happened. “Time check?” I asked. The Executioner answered even as he was running scans on his phone. “It’s only been twelve hours on Earth since we left.” “There’s only three of them. How much damage could they possibly achieve in that time?” asked Solaris. Halo gave him a flat look. “I once watched your past incarnations tear through a class 5 extradimensional incursion in under two hours. You scorched the earth so bad nothing has grown there since.” He smiled a little at Solaris’s stupor. “Humans call it the Sahara Desert. Atlanteans knew it as the the Antari Jungle.” Well, you learn something new every day. “We don’t have time for this. We need to get off the street.” There was a reason no one was in sight, and I didn’t want to find out. “I don’t like being out in broad daylight like this.” Omega pointed to a nearby pharmacy on the corner. “There.” The store was empty when we broke inside. We spread out to make sure there weren’t any surprises lurking for us. When we regrouped, the Executioner made a noise of surprise. At the same time, he stared at the information displayed on the phone screen. We crowded around him, and he held the phone up for us to all see the screen. “We really have to upgrade these things will holo tech,” Omega muttered. The Executioner’s eyes lit up, and he quickly said, “It wouldn’t even take much. I’m thinking we replace the core processor with a polyhedra crystal for faster than light data storage and patch the circuits with patterns of hologrammic -” I snapped my fingers in front of his face. “Focus!” The Executioner blushed and scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. “Sorry about that.” He smiled a little when Solaris bumped her shoulders together. “So I found something. There’s a message being broadcast on all networks across the world.” Solaris exhaled noisily. “I have a feeling this is going to suck.” I hated to admit it, but I agreed. The screen went black for a moment and then lit up with the view of a lavish living room. It looked like something from the inside of a royal palace. Seated upon the extravagant furniture in various positions were our clones. Axel and Reese were staring stoically like guardians with cobalt sitting back in an armchair like it was thrown. He was the tiniest smirk on his face. My face. “Greetings people of earth,” said Cobalt with a friendly tone, but there was something likely in his eyes. “My name is Cobalt, and these are my companions Reese and Axel. As of right now, we are new rulers of Earth. I know. Shocker! This regime change can go either peacefully or it can go ugly. When this message stops broadcasting on all frequencies and networks, the world’s governments will have 48 hours to surrender to our authority. Honestly, I expect a bit of chaos and for there to be a fight.” He smiled then and spread his arms invitingly. “And I welcome you to try to stop us. They will write songs to your annihilation, and we would lay waste to everything you seek to protect. Tick-tock.” The video stopped. I opened and closed my mouth, shocked. “That psychotic motherfucker.” Halo shook his head and murmured, “this is worse than I thought.” “No wonder no one is outside. They’re using Centennial as a foothold before they wage war and conquer the rest of the planet.” Omega rubbed his chin in thought, brow furrowed. “Strategically they’ll go after the bigger nations first, the US, UK and EU, the Chinese and Australian governments and then once they’ve fallen the smaller countries will submit after they’ve had morale broken.” Halo nodded. “If you thought of it then that means Axel has had the same plan.” I crack my knuckles and looked my friends in the eyes and said, “We don’t have a lot of time. Let’s do what we came here to do.” “The one upside about having clones is their biological life signs are identical to ours.” The Executioner smiled victoriously at a map displayed on the screen. On it was three dots in red. “Bingo. I have their location.” Omega clapped him on the back. “Way to go. Of course, they’re too cocky to mask their presence.” “That entire video proved they’ve never heard of subtle,” I tacked on. Halo studied the map. “They’re only about a quarter of a mile north of here.” I squared my shoulders and ordered, “It’s go time. Move out, Chosen.” We stuck to the shadows to transverse the distance to the marks registered on the map. I was not even a little surprised that the location led to the entertainment district of downtown. We landed on the roof of a building across from the hotel Montesquieu. It was a fifty-two story, pale bricked structure. It was one of the city’s oldest and prestigious hotels, currently housing our targets. Omega studied the hotel with narrowed eyes. “I can sense over two dozen minds in the building.” “The guest that didn’t get out and the staff, most likely,” The Executioner said. Solaris frowned. “Now, which floor are the bastards on?” We exchanged gazes and said at once, “the penthouse.” Solaris smacked his fist into his palm and said viciously, “I say we blow the motherfucker up.” “Civilian casualties,” Halo said in between fake coughs, grinning sweetly at Solaris’s glower. The Executioner hmmed under his breath. “We could theoretically do a controlled explosion to just the top floor. It would incinerate anybody in the penthouse suites.” That had the potential to come back and bite us in the ass. I was a scholar of Hollywood blockbusters, after all. I shook my head. “I don’t like it. The chances for something to go wrong is too high.” “It’ll be just our luck they’ll detect the thermal energy and redirect the detonation to the lower floors.” Omega pointed out, drawing a few winces from our faces. “So, are we waiting until the cover of night then go in?” Halo asked. I shook my head. “No, we hit him hard and fast.” “That’s what I’m talking about!” Solaris smirked. “They won’t even see us coming.” I looked at them and made sure there was a determination to see this plan carried out. “We are in agreement?” “Yes, Prince.” A grim smile tugged my lips. “On my mark.” We moved as one. Those looking up, if there were people on the street, would only see five black flashes darting through the air. We burst through the windows of the top floor of hotel Montesquieu. My feet touched down on the carpet, and I rolled to bled momentum, then I jumped to my feet and a crouch. I didn’t get a moment to survey the room before cobalt shouted a warning to his friends. Red fire suddenly poured from his mouth in an immolating blast. Omega stepped forward, fists clenched, and the flames met a telekinetic barrier. I flicked my fingers, and fire turned into butterflies that flew back toward our enemies in a swarm that masked us from sight. Axel clapped his hands and with a mighty boom of thunder, a wave of pure force lashed out. Furniture, wall decor, along with anything not nailed down, including the swarm of butterflies, were thrown away as if a mighty windstorm blew through the room. Cobalt cupped his hands next to his cheek and screamed, “Dark Judgement!” The entire room began crackling as black lightning jumped across every surface, then began vaporizing everything in the place. The elemental attack slammed home into Omega’s shield dumping its energy against the barrier until there was a terrifying explosion of noise. The force behind the attack threw us back out the windows we crashed through. My stomach lurched as I was sent tumbling through the air, racing increasingly toward the ground. Training instinctively kicked even as I gathered wind beneath my heels, slowing my fall until I touched the ground in a light landing on the balls of my feet. Omega landed a moment after me with his cape billowing out from flight. Solaris appeared in a flare of golden light, a muted radiance next to the shining white wings pinned to Halo’s back flapping powerfully behind them. He touched down next to me, wings disappearing even as the Executioner stuck a three-point superhero landing that cracked the asphalt beneath his feet. He glared at the top of the building with a fierce scowl. “That was unpleasant.” Without warning, scorching dark red light bathed the world and buildings shook violently as air pressure painfully increased. Without a word we split up in different directions to seek cover. It was lucky we did so because a shimmery force roared around us, knocking me back behind an overturned city bus as the ground around us was bathed in ethereal fire. Hellfire was heavy stuff that nobody sane would touch. It smelled like sulfur and brimstone and was turbocharged fire drawn straight from the pits of damnation. Reece walked through reddish flame and was the mirror image of the Champion of Soul, except he was wearing that white Forever21 motorcycle jacket. He looked like an asshole. “You have some balls tackling us head on,” Reece said. The flamestorm intensified around him, his face twisted with an ugly smirk. “I’m almost impressed.” The Executioner appeared from behind a building’s corner, where he took safety. There was a look of disgust on his as he faced his double. “To wield the mantle of soul is the ability to govern sacred energy, it’s the power of the human spirit to reach unattainable heights.” Reece scoffed. “It’s also the force to reach new lows.” The fire around him swirled and became thicker, a miniature tornado spinning slowly around him, with his gray eyes the only visible part of flesh. “I knocked on Hell’s door and the devil answered.” The Executioner shook his head. “You spawned before I discovered, or like rediscovered, this revelation.” He held his hands up, allowing silvery light to gather around them, bright, reflective like liquid mercury. I held my breath. “I’m the Champion of Soul, soldier of life and death. You went beyond the underworld for power, and now you will face judgment by the fires of life.” There was a flash of light. There was a sound like the howling of wolves backed by the roaring of a pride of lions. A shaft of blinding silver-white light sprang from the cracked street below the fire cyclone surrounding Reece. It shone like the first twinkling of stars in the night sky, thundering louder than a waterfall, and its power made my arm hair stand on end. Then from the light erupted a massive silvery simulacrum of Ryan’s fist. The Executioner stretched his hand out, and the enormous hand mimicked the movement, gripping the doppelganger in its floating grip and extinguished the hurricane of hellfire. Reece struggled, and the hand squeezed him tight. At the sight of that enormous hand shining like molten starlight, a memory hit me, and I murmured, “Soulfire.” It was antithesis of hellfire, and its power was from the user’s own being, everything that made them whole. It was an ability that bordered the Power Creation. This was a power that touched the realm of demigods. It was one of Aurek’s advanced abilities that he was close to perfecting before the fall of Atlantis. Seeing it now threatened to loose a cascade of memories that I fought off. A flare at the corner of my eye caught my attention to see Solaris was running down the road at full sprint. I had a feeling what was about to transpire, hastily throwing up a shield as Solaris’ leap took him over a dozen feet off the ground. His body lit up like the first rays of dawn and he turned into a lance of yellowish light wreathed with corkscrewing helixes of gold-white plasma. The living solar flare smashed into Reece like a comet, dispersing the hand and sending them several blocks away. The Executioner raced after them with his glowing fists like a man on a mission. I jumped up to give chase when annoying laughter echoed through the air. From the sky descended Cobalt, walking on air like a staircase, with Axel floating beside him with his arms crossed and expression pissed off. I squared my shoulders and faced him head on. A piercing whistle made me spin around on my heel in time to see Omega with his sword in hand, a blinding white seven-foot blade. A sedan was flying toward us like a comet, and when it met the blade of light, there was a shriek of protesting metal, a flash of sparks, and then a crashed. His mighty weapon had sheared the car in half neatly as if it had been paper instead of steel. The severed ends glowed white hot. “Oathkeeper, this sword was named,” Omega said, staring coldly at our doppelgangers. “It was forged to honor my promise to always protect my prince and country.” Cobalt rolled his eyes. “Oh, God. Here we go.” He looked bored. “Are you about to do one of your for love and justice speeches? Wrap it up, Sailor Moon.” Axel snorted. “Okay, that one was funny.” I made a face. “Was it really, though?” I gave him a look of pity. “You’re on payroll, aren’t you? He paid you to laugh at that.” “Laugh at this,” Axel growled. The clone made a gesture with his hand and a visible pulse of pure force blasted through the air. I raised my arms calling forth a barrier when Halo appeared before me, his body rippled out beneath a veil of illusion. He thumped his staff against the ground, then there was a whoosh of air and Axel’s attack fell apart into nothing. I hadn’t sensed the concealment. Halo had been invisible to even my potent senses. The kind of precision that took needed fine control that often escaped me. “You’re outnumbered. Surrender, I won’t ask again.” They stared at my brother warily. “Earth-born Angel,” Cobalt murmured. I frowned in confusion before remembering the clones spawned before Heaven’s Trumpet, Kevin’s reveal as Gaius, and resurrection as the fifth Chosen. The chameleon wards woven into our armor, of course, they didn’t recognize Halo as Kevin. To them, he was a powerful new foe that they didn’t have the measure of. I held back a smile. This was good. The power of surprise was on our side, for once. Axel cocked his head. “Ready for another round of banishment?” “I promise you that won’t work again,” Halo said. “Countermeasures are in place.” Cobalt narrowed his eyes. “And if you try that neat little escape teleportation again, I will hunt you down and gut you.” I giggled. Everybody looked at me. I blinked, confused. “Wait. Are you not doing a bit?” “Drop him,” Cobalt ordered Axel, without taking his eyes off me. Omega held Oathkeeper in a two-handed grip and put himself between the clones and Kevin and myself, his expression dark. I gave my head a quick nod. If it came down to it Adam could hold his own against his double. A fight between psychics was not only physical but a mental one as well. Adam wasn’t at Admerion’s level, but neither was his clone; after spending days training with the strongest psychics living in Atlantis I was confident Adam had the edge in this fight. “Go,” I said in a quiet voice. There was a streak of color and Omega was gone. Psi-blade rang on psi-blade, and I saw Axel only barely managed to raise his blade to parry Omega’s devastating blow. Where the blades of light met, the air hummed and a roiling power shook the earth. A shining aura ignited around their dueling forms, tangible waves of raw psionic energy that resonated violently, covering their bodies in a swirling globe. The power carried them into the air as their battle transcended into the Astral Plane, where their psychic spirits mirrored the physical actions in the material world. Their song was crackling power and a clash of swords. At the same moment, Cobalt fumbled his arms forward and terrible, smothering darkness came slamming down upon me. It was not surprising that he would attack during a moment when my full attention wasn’t upon him, but I have been expecting that. I expected nothing less of him. I lifted my hand and poured forth my will, conjuring crystal blue spheres to form around my brother and me with a snap. Sparks rain down upon us and a cascade as the of the energies warred. This was a battle of power as much as a battles of will. The insidious darkness flowed upon us and over us like a river. My eyes widened as little by little my shield began to grow smaller. Now only a foot of distance separated my skin from the barrier’s walls. Kevin’s voice rang out like a silver trumpet, calling, “Begone shadows of the Undying Realm! Flee before hallowed light!” Halo held his staff of lost and from its top or a blinding white fire that shattered the darkness around us it as if it had been a dry and dusty eggshell. Cobalt was coming along in the darkness wake, fireballs in hand, but as the shadows fled, he hissed and halted, skidding along the asphalt to bleed his momentum. He cocked his head, appraising Halo cautiously. “Neat trick.” “Enough, doppelgänger!” Halo thundered, and his voice rang from the autumn sky. “Enough!” The sheer volume and force in his voice staggered me. I found myself standing closer to him so that I wouldn’t be swept away in his power. “Why should I surrender? I have just as much of a right to my destiny as any of you.” “Clone, are not you are a Summers?” Halo’s voice dropped to something almost like a plea. “You have a family that will take you in.” “Halo,” I growled, low, between clenched teeth. “What are you doing?” “Forgiving him,” he answered me, just as quietly. “Cobalt Summers,” He said, his tone gentle, directed back toward the frozen clone. “Look at yourself. Look at your fury. Look at your pain. Look where they have led you. There is no way you will walk away from this alive.” From where he was rooted in place, Cobalt looked up at Halo and I saw something never seen on his face before. Weariness. Strain. Uncertainty. “You’re a protector, Cobalt,” Halo said quietly. “This journey into the darkness of greed and ambition. You have destroyed and threatened the very people you were put on this planet to protect.” Cobalt did not move. I gathered a pulsing orb of condensed antihydrogen in the palm of my hand. If he took one step I would annihilate him. Halo lowered his staff, the wrathful fire of the holy talisman becoming something less fierce, less hot. “It’s not too late. Everything that is happened can be cannot be undone. But you can atone. Redemption is here if you want and if you work for it. I understand that being what you are caused you some confusion and anger. Still, I know who you are.” “Is that what you believe this is?” Cobalt said in a flat tone, slow and measured. “My chance at redemption? “It’s not about a belief,” Halo said. “I know what awaits you in the afterlife if you continue on this path. I want to save you and the others like you.” Cobalt narrowed his eyes. “So you’re the angel here sent to Earth, to what? Forgive us.” “Offer Revelation,” Halo said. “For a chance at a better path. For a chance to be who you were meant to be.” Heather’s voice stayed steady, quiet, and sincere. “I know you too well to ever give up on you. Please. Let me help you.” Cobalt shuddered and dropped his eyes. I held my breath, and for a long moment, I thought Halo was going to pull it off. Then Cobalt shook his head and let out a low and quiet laugh. He squared his shoulders again, and as he did, his body seemed to grow taller. At first, I thought it was a trick of the eye, but he was definitely inches taller, his hair lengthened to gently curl around his ears; it was incredible that he was burning magic to advance his power level. I didn’t even know it was possible. The fact that his organs weren’t bursting was a testament to his abnormal genetics. “Touched by an Angel,” Cobalt said, contempt in his tone. He looked older now, closer to Emrys’ age than mine. “You think we’ve lost our way. We do this because we're better than them. The strong will always rule over the week. There’s nothing unnatural about that. It’s the way the world works.” “You think this makes you strong, conquering humans? You don’t have to do this,” Halo said, his tone almost pleading. Cobalt laughed, and it was an ugly, grating sound. “I don’t think it makes us strong. I know it does.” Halo shook his head. “Proving your strength against weaker opponents is meaningless.” He held my double with a steady gaze. “So be it then. I meant it when I said you were a Summers. But it’s Autumn. And you and your friends will fall like leaves.” Cobalt snapped his fingers. The world turned into hell. There was no warning as the ground exploded beneath our feet, spewing geysers of lava. A tidal wave of molten rock washed out in the streets of the city. Skyscrapers burned and shattered as the unfathomable heat of the lava transferred into their structures and melted clean through, destroying anything in its path. I was already airborne, my shield shimmering as flecks of lava fell against it. Halo twisted in air and floated high above my position, chanting something under his breath, while sweeping his staff left and right. The waves of liquid death stopped its ascent, supercooling into hardened rock, inert. A black lightning bolt pierced the sky fifty meters beyond where the lava flow stopped, coalescing into the figure of Cobalt. He was now wearing bulky golden armor with a flowing blue cape with a winged crown that looked like something from Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t fair to call him my double anymore since he had unnaturally advanced his age by overloading his cells. He now looked like a man in his twenties. Shoulder length blond hair drifted in the breeze as he floated above the field of battle, surveying the ruined city with dark blue eyes and a cocky smile. “Look what you made me do,” Cobalt smirked, shaking his head as if the destruction saddened him. “This would’ve made a killer little vacation spot. Oh well, we’ll have to put the slave camps somewhere after all.” I rolled my eyes. “You look like a dick.” I was stalling. The banter gave me time to pull my thoughts together. Okay, so shit was definitely about to hit the fan. I hadn’t planned for that anime power up. Not even Goku would’ve seen that coming. As far as plans went, my old one was out the window. I don’t know how much stronger he was now. I still had Halo, so I wasn’t totally outgunned. My only shot here was to wear him down and figure out what exactly he was capable of. “Okay, I’m going to have to agree,” Halo said. He descended closer to Cobalt’s position. “What cosplayer’s wardrobe did you crawl out of?” The quip drew Cobalt’s attention from me. A massive arrow ripped away from my hand as I mimed firing a bow, releasing the store of negatively charged protons and tearing through the sixty meter space in under a second. Cobalt’s eyes widened as the crackling blue attack was upon him within the space of a breath. He barely had enough time to draw upon his well of power to deflect its potential around and away from his person. “You little shit,” Cobalt sneered, looking upon Halo and I with something dark pooling into his eyes, even as my proton arrow struck the financial towers behind him. Centennial’s tallest skyscrapers were gone in the blink of an eye, replaced by an angry, incandescent ball of fire clawing its way into the sky some fifty kilometers out. I had visited the buildings on a class trip in elementary school. The thought was random and drove home how close to my heart the current stakes were. Fuck me. My eyes widened. I didn’t account for the aftereffects of that blast. A gale force swept through downtown as a wave front of compressed air, flattening weaker structures outright and blowing out windows. Halo struck in the momentary distraction caused by the explosion of glass. A narrow silver beam suddenly leaped from his staff, carving into Cobalt like tissue paper, and ripping him to shreds. His body exploded into a cacophony of doves that flocked into the cloudy sky as the illusion destabilized. I was watching the doves’ flight trajectory and only just barely sensed the two massive arms swiped at the air where I once hovered. I sailed back out of reach as the gigantic arms, sprouting up out of the magma covered ground, reoriented and came at me once again even as I readied my attack. I swept my arms hard to the left, and a rippling crescent burst outward. The shadowy pulse cut through the arms like a guillotine. That was too easy. Something burning hot slammed into my head, sending stars exploding behind my eyelids. Disorientated, I fell through the air and my body screamed in pain when I landed on a rooftop below. I cracked open my eyes to see Cobalt fighting Halo in the air, where I once occupied. I touched the side of my head, feeling the singed hair there with a wince. It was a miracle whatever attack didn’t blow through the damage absorption capacitors. Halo made a move with his hand that I recognized. “Halo, nullify the-” I didn’t finish the warning before my brother’s entire body froze in high altitude as gravity turned against him. Silver fire burned around Halo’s fist and then gathered around his staff, eyes boring into his captor’s and promising pain. “Sit boy!” Cobalt spat. Halo fell like a meteorite. His body shattered apart into motes of light right before cratering into the earth with enough force to kill an average human on impact. All my senses screamed danger. I swept my hand up as an impossibly gigantic shark, like something from a fairytale, lunged at me from a whirlpool conjured at my heels. Its monstrous jaws was incinerated by the pure magical beam released from my palm. I jumped back as it flopped heavily over the edge of the roof. I didn’t take my eyes off Cobalt. “So, you’re still trying to drag this out, huh?” The ground began shaking violently, then a great crack split the earth, spilling silver light through the cracks as massive chunks of stone jutted up six feet high. Amongst the rocks revealed Halo, standing on one of the upright spires as the tremors came to an end. His clothes didn’t have a speck of dirt on them. He held in hand his staff, glaring at up at my double. Where there had once been even ground, there was now a craggy mess of rocks. The landscape had turned into a hard to navigate terrain. I looked around the bumpy, jagged ground with a keen eye. I could work with this. Two bolts of hyperdense water fell on Halo’s position. He jumped down into the pit of rocks as the bolts detonated on impact to freeze the spire completely. Cobalt was relentless. his laughter echoed in the pit as Halo darted between the stones launching attacks with lightning speed. Halo ducked under lances of energy, blocked jets of fire with a translucent shield, and evaded chains of solidified black ice. The clone moved so quickly that Halo couldn’t retaliate without missing him by a mile. It was textbook guerilla warfare. I wasn’t a spectator. Magic workings that needed a delicate touch weren’t my thing. I much preferred the brute force approach, but I had been practicing in Atlantis and relearning Emrys’ skills. I weaved telluric energy and channeled natural electromagnetic forces within the ground. The currents of the air simultaneously then gave a mental heave. The magnetic field I was manipulating generated an antigravity effect that lifted sheets of rocks, buildings, cars, and whatever else not nailed down into the air. Then it was payback time. It was Cobalt’s turn to come under bombardment as I sent every piece of floating debris hurling at his position. He might as well be in the middle of a meteor shower as tons of stone and metal rocketed at him. Silvery orbs shining like twin stars were thrown from Halo’s position and into the pit in a storm of devastation. Cobalt weaved around the orbs until they detonated against the chunk of a building, deflecting the other objects and outright vaporizing anything coming too close. Halo lifted his staff and pale lightning converged, evaporating the shield Cobalt summoned and barely singed his hair in the release. The clone lifted his hand when the attack refocused and redoubled. The supernatural lightning struck a gleaming metallic dagger and was redirected harmlessly into the ground. Cobalt kissed the blade before hurling it upward at his attacker. Midflight it became a hundred needle thin, purple bolts. They ablated off the energy barrier I called up to protect my brother, like bullets; however, the shield wasn’t a complete sphere and it couldn’t stand against the vaporous cloud forming under Halo’s feet. His eyes widened as ice crawled up his ankles and he muttered a curse. He jumped away from the cloud before it could freeze him solid. Powerful he may be, but Cobalt wasn’t omniscient. And small mercies, because he didn’t see the power boiling within my grasp like molten starlight. With a gesture, it burned through the air at roughly the speed of light. Cobalt muttered a word and brought his hands together in a clap and the ghostly image of a massive white direwolf appeared. Its mouth opened and swallowed the attack without fanfare and then from its opened jaws roared a torrent of blue flame. I curled my fingers commanding super compressed hard water to meet the elemental fire. The attacks collided with a hiss creating a cloud of superheated steam that covered the battlefield in a thick cloud of mist, rendering everything in a haze. I blew out a long breath and the wind kicked up in a strong gale to rapidly clear the smoke. A flash of dark blue eyes was all I saw before a hand wrapped around my throat at a sprint. The momentum carried me back and over the edge of the building. Even in freefall, his grip didn’t let up. It felt like he was crushing my windpipe. I couldn’t breathe and my scream was a choking cry when my back slammed into a rock spire with all the speed from the fall behind it. I hit so hard, white spots flared in my vision as my back felt like it was crushed on impact. Cobalt’s fingers dug in and he lifted me up until my toes scraped the ground. “If I’m going to kill you, I want it to be with my own bare hands,” Cobalt murmured, leaning in so close our lips were scant centimeters apart. “This isn’t a movie. I’m going to rule this planet and you’re going to be six feet under.” A blinding white light flashed between us and holy power burst forth like a beam that passed right through Cobalt’s right bicep like warm butter. He stumbled back with a cry to clutch at the bloody wound even as I stumbled a safe distance away to recover. “You okay?” Halo said, appearing my side. “Never better.” I rubbed at my throat. It felt like sandpaper when I tried to swallow. Anything more than a raised voice was going to hurt like a bitch. Even then, it was going to be hard to vocalize spells, if words were all I needed—it wasn’t. As long as there was a will, there was a way, and these days I didn’t need to vocalize my attacks so much. Cobalt was upon us just as I jabbed two fingers into the dirt. The already scarred earth split into a wide trench as I flooded the minor fractures in the soil with a spike of magical energy, rupturing their bonds with violent force. My double weaved in between the plums of fire belching from the crag, transmogrifying the stone spires and debris rushing at him at high speeds into terrifying orbs of deep crimson. The heat seeking napalm numbered a dozen and simultaneously accelerated toward our position. In one smooth wave of Halo’s staff, the napalm was intercepted by a gigantic slab of rock that grew from the ground like a tree. The resulting explosion sent anything not rooted into the earth flying backwawrd as the area was bathed in an intense wave front of compressed air. We were forced to improvise countermeasures before we found ourselves outright flattened. We were people of mass destruction, and it was never more apparent as our attacks had the same fallout as nukes. The smoke didn’t clear before Cobalt was on the move raining lethal fire into the smoky pit of death. Dark eyes gleamed almost gleefully as lances of cold blue sliced through the arid smoke. The lances carved up the ground as he dragged the beams wide, focus clear in his eyes. He thankfully couldn’t see us and I abused his lack of visibility to weave my magic. The black smoke gave a sudden pulsation and its billowy form smoothed into a roughly human shape giant of a creature that was over thirty meters tall with jade eyes filled with life and hatred and darkness. It took up just about all the space in the clearing that was a little over sixty meters in circumference. Jade light crackled around my fingers and Cobalt grinned at the sight. “I remember when we thought of this technique.” He sighed wistfully, “Memories.” “And you’ll remember when I kick your ass with it,” I said in a rasp, throat killing me with each spoken word. “That’s it,” Cobalt murmured. “Make me beg for it.” The smoke given form was an avatar, and when I swung my first,the giant’s arm followed my movements. Cobalt leaped over the appendage and it slammed into the ground with a quake we felt in the soles of our feet. The resulting crater was nothing to sneeze at. If Cobalt was worried, she didn’t show it. The giant went into attack mode as it copied my moves with devastating effect, and it was visibly noted that its strength was far proportionally greater than that of my own due to its size. It dealt out colossal amounts of damage to the landscape as the clone evaded the blows, but all that was needed was one good strike. One mistake would turn him into paste, which I was counting on. “Are you trying to miss me on purpose?” Cobalt asked with a laugh, as he neatly jumped away from the foot that demolished the spot she just stood in. I gritted my teeth. “Stay still and you’ll get my answer.” I kicked out with my foot for emphasis and the avatar responded in kind. The giant’s left leg flashed out and Cobalt evaded the kick with ease doing a neat little cartwheel out of the attack zone, simply showing off at this point. His cockiness was something Halo exploited mercilessly. Thunder crackled loudly enough to shake the air and a white lightning bolt suddenly pierced the sky. The arrogant bastard saw it coming a mile away and the purifying lightning was poured into the empty earth where he was previously stood. The initial dodge left his body turned at an angle where he didn’t see the second leg of the double round house kick sweep in until it was too late. Cobalt had less than two seconds from seeing his death accelerate forward to hastily improvise a defense. The azure shield flared blindingly bright, taking a brunt of the attack. Still, it didn’t stop the remainder of the force from lashing into him and sending him careening back into the side of a turned over armored truck, hard. The collision hit with enough power to send an echoing crunching boom through the air. “He’s anticipating our attacks,” Halo said, watching the spot where Cobalt landed. I nodded. “He knows our training.” My brother’s lips thinned. “Then, let’s bring the rain.” Divine and mystical power were unleashed upon the streets, burning the air apart where Cobalt impacted, and the laws of order were unmade by arcane and heavenly might. The elements were turned into weapons of mass destruction. The wind became crescent blades of devastating energy, the Earth was a writhing abomination launching crystalline ice shards that flash froze anything on contact, and whole sections of buildings simply ceased as a white firestorm immolated anything it touched. We took stock of the destroyed landscape that looked like the battle zone it had turned into. Off in the distance, I could hear the sounds of the melee going on between the other Chosen and Reece. I didn’t like going out like this in the middle of the city. It would be entirely too easy to turn this entire area into a crater. There was no way of knowing the number of civilians within the blast zone. Their deaths would be on our hands. I couldn’t live with that. Growling came from the forest and the avatar reflected my defensive stance as blond-red hair was seen first amidst the dust and rubble woods. Cobalt emerged with enough cuts and scraps to ensure he was a bleeding mess. His blue eyes narrowed into two glowing slits. “You’ve managed to piss me off,” Cobalt said, blood trickled down his mouth. “Game time.” At his side was that dagger from earlier. His hand wrapped around its dark handle, and there was something dangerous about it now. It was terrible and old, something more awful than I could name, and it was ruin made into a blade. That knife couldn’t be what I thought it was. There was no— The air above the avatar wavered as Cobalt came out from under a veil four meters above the giant’s right shoulder. Halo and I moved to counter, but the clone already held the knife in its downward stroke. Realistically, I knew there was no way that a dagger could ever do any damage, however negligible to my avatar. Yet if my hunch was correct, this knife was an artifact of significant power. Cobalt was proving my theory correct as he fell into the giant with the force of altitude, piercing the knife through the avatar’s right shoulder, down through its chest, straight through the torso and clearing the body at its left hip. Cobalt impacted the ground lightly on the balls of his feet in a slight crouch with the knife held out before him. Blue electricity danced within the gash bisecting the giant almost clean in two. It stumbled forward a bit independently of its mistress’ movement. It then fell straight back, hitting the ground with enough force to carve a deep trench in its wake as it skidded backward over a dozen meters. Cobalt let out a feral snarl and launched a ruby red bolt at the downed giant. It struck him at the speed of light and the release of magical energy lit the sky, vaporizing the fallen giant outright in a wash of red light. “The Child Emperor’s bodkin,” I murmured, naming the deceptively small knife for what it truly was. I then surveyed the remains of my avatar with a dispassionate stare. “Recognize the power in my hands,” Cobalt said, his voice calm as he stared into my eyes. “You’ve been dicking around on Earth, when there are countless stashes of old loot all around this galaxy.” Halo growled. He looked disgusted as he too recognized the blade. “Cursed treasure is no bounty.” That knife was making me reassess my strategy. I hadn’t counted on Cobalt holding an artifact so powerful on his person. It wasn’t so much what the knife was. Like Caliburn or Gungnir of legends, the knife was connected to something powerful. I frowned. Well, it was either go big or get our ass handed to us. “I didn’t want to have to do this,” I sighed. It was an ace in the hole I had been saving for when my back was against the wall, but the knife changed things. “Halo could wipe the floor with you, but the collateral damage would be too much, and honestly, he’s conserving his strength. We have bigger fish to fry than your sociopath ass.” The descent of Entropy was coming. I lost a significant source of power when my pendant turned out to be the Key of Time and Space. It joined with the other Keys and unlocked Heaven’s Trumpet. What we eventually learned was the artifact wasn’t lost. It was a part of Halo’s staff. Its power was one with his. It took practice and coaching from Oriens’ but we discovered I could still tap into that power with Halo’s guidance. It was apart of something greater, thus the strain of maintaining it was worse, and I couldn’t wield it for long. Halo said a greater prayer under his breath and his staff began to hum with power. I gritted my teeth as energy pulsed just underneath my skin. My hair blew upward in a fierce gust of air, with visible currents of wind blowing around my legs until it covered my body in a controlled cyclone. Pale blue and silver currents of energy crackled around my body as the wind built up so much power that it turned me into a living turbine. I lifted my hand flat revealing the harnessed currents of temporal energy. The sudden influx of power needed an outlet, or it would cook me inside out. The only reason why I hadn’t instantly fainted from the stress was Halo was holding back the floor of raw power. The whirling temporal blade flew from my hand. For a moment, it seemed like maybe it harmlessly dissipated but then the sound of buildings shattering echoed far into the distance for miles like an omen. I stared coldly at my opponent across the ruined street. “You wanted a piece of me, didn’t you? Well, here I come.” The battlefield turned into ground zero. There was a roar of wind and a terrible earthquake that rocked the streets as cold temporal fire gathered before me in a lance, rushing toward the clone, and carving a trench coated in ice and frost as it sped forth. Streams of darkness and light screamed from Cobalt’s knife to meet the onrushing flame. The power of entropic destruction and chronomancy consumed each other in a crack like thunder and a maddening sense of incomprehensible wrongness. It left reddish cracks spider-webbing out across the air from the contact. The warring energies actually fractured space. It was the kind of damage I had hoping to avoid. An iridescent turquoise ball freed itself from the knife’s blade in the Cobal’s grip with violent force, its very launch potential blasting a trench across the crag ridden earth. Wind gathered beneath my heels and I leapt clear over the ball of annihilation. Cobalt met me in altitude, twisting his body to deliver a punch to my face and kick in the ribs with brick-breaking force behind them. The combo knocked the air from my lungs and drove me into the ground. Cobalt used the kickoff to backflip through the air and land on his feet. “Last words?” Cobalt asked sweetly. I mustered a smile, and that was Cobalt’s only warning before I stormed forth. Temporal blades of severing wind sliced in, putting the clone on full defense as they crisscrossed the air as intersecting ropes of lethal chrono energy. “Get out of my way,” I growled, glaring at the abomination wearing my face. The lines of temporal wind moved independently and suddenly became ropes of violet flame fueled by the fires of time itself. Lea was an acrobat of aerial maneuvers as the flaming web threatened to tear her to pieces and decay her remains in one blow. It began to ran as a dark cloud blanketed the sun. Getting a second of breathing room, Cobalt sneered. “You’re a magical prodigy, but you won’t ever be a chrono mage.” The raindrops changed tone, almost like crystal shrieking, and water hardened into sharp icicles with dagger sharp points. I already had a bulk of my power extended to chronomancy when the projectiles poured in. An improvised shield formed over my head as I ducked for cover under a slab of rock. I gestured to Halo to stay back as he I felt him gathering power. I needed him in reserve. He was protected under a barrier of silver light, lips moving in constant prayer as he threaded his power into me. “Hiding, really?” Cobalt quite cheerfully, given the situation. He pointed the knife at my hiding place and the rain concentrated on the spot. Innumerable icicles slammed against the improvised defense and ice solidified into a thick dome at an alarming rate, trapping me inside. The rain stopped. It was over as soon as it began leaving the half sphere with its sharply jutting spikes and me as its prisoner. Cobalt inspected the ice cage with an expression of supreme satisfaction. “I just outdid myself.” He touched a finger to the glass-like surface. Something made him stop and he cocked hist head, listening. Cobalt’s eyes widened and he leapt back. At the peak of his jump the crystal exploded nailing him straight on with a wave front of high pressure, and sending him careening wildly away like a ragdoll. I stood in the snowfall of falling ice flakes, taking in deep lungful of air, my body still shaking from the chill of the cage. Cobalt got back to his feet and sprang at me with the knife. The weapon with its deceptively small blade begged for my blood. I could feel its malicious intent as I dodged the clone’s strikes. I didn’t even want to think about what the blade would do if it landed a solid cut. I had my suspicions but there was no way in Hell I was testing them out. A meter long blade of super dense ice streaked in on my blind side. The temporal energy sped up my perception by a factor of ten and I knocked it off course from piercing me clean through the torso, but its molecularly sharp edge raked her right side above my hip like a buzz saw. “Bitch,” I growled, fighting the urge to drop to my knees and curl up. The knife whipped in to carve my face up and I fell backward to avoid the swipe. I snarled and gestured with my hand shifting the airflow around Cobalt into nearly invisible coils of razor wire, shooting outward in an explosion while catching the clone like an eviscerating net. The slant at which the wall of high pressured air slammed into him was just under the knees, catching Cobalt flat footed and knocking him off balance so he rode the coils into the ground at their highest strength. The serrated trap cut into the soil violently as the brunt of the attack impacted, forcing Cobalt into the earth with heart stopping force. “You assholes have no idea what you started,” I said coldly. “The Chosen Wars seal would’ve been fine if you all fucked off to the Andromeda Galaxy and left us in peace.” It started as a low chuckle, turned into a rolling laugh, and then blossomed into a full blown cackle that was stereotypical of a villain in every dark fairytale. My eyes widened as Cobalt’s knife swiped through the jagged grid of temporal energy keeping him trapped. “You low budget Harry Potter have the nerve to lecture me,” Cobalt hissed, eyes glowing like liquid fire. If the comment was any indication of his mood, then the next sequence of events confirmed it. Cobalt lurched forward, closing the distance at high speed while charging a blue ball of super dense ice. He launched the attack at me forcing my evasion left, where Cobalt’s fist met my face making me see stars for an instant. The clone flowed into a combination, tagging my torso with a blur of strikes that brought the wizard to me knees. Cobalt lifted his long leg up high into the air and dropped it down into a bone-crushing axe kick that broke my shoulder and slammed me to the ground on my face. Pain was all I knew and concentrating was gone. The whispers of energy drained from my limp fingers. Cobalt bent and lifted my head up by the hair. My eyes were unfocused as I swam lost in a world of pain. “You got some lucky hits in. I’ll give you that. I’ll have to copy some of those techniques you picked up.” The doppelganger released my hair and I fell to the ground. Cobalt shook his head at my broken body; then, his eyes narrowed at the sudden silence. The other battles that been going on simultaneously were now quiet. If Cobalt was watching, he would have seen the energy jumping between my shaking fingers. A spiral of cold air snapped into place and lifted me up in the currents until I was standing and exploding in a violent gale that consumed me. Cobalt spun around, and his shock was apparent at the sight. “Your mistake was lack of teamwork,” I said, looking up at him with steel in my eyes, while the high velocity winds whipped around me and decimated anything within a sixty meter circumference. Steel and stone rapidly aged with rust and decay as the temporal energy went wild. “We are Chosen. We’re stronger together.” Axel’s body fell from the sky and exploded into the ground in a splatter of green slime. Omega hovered in the air, victorious, and his hand extended out. Cobalt found he couldn’t move within the Champion of Miracles telekinetic grip. His eyes narrowed with concentration as somehow he took a step forward, but halted in pain when whips of energized light lashed out to wrap around his legs. Solaris harshly jerked the ends of the whips, and Cobalt fell to his knees. A noise that sounded like a shotgun echoed in the air and suddenly the Executioner was airborne above our heads. He threw his black iron ax at the peak of his jump. It cut through the sky like a frisbee. Cobalt narrowed his eyes and spat a word, but Halo was suddenly there at his back to slam his hands upon my clone’s temples. I could feel his spell break apart as divine power shattered his working. The ax struck home in his torso that sliced clean through armor, skin and organs. He gave a choking scream and tipped over, coughing up mouthfuls of dark almost black blood. The Chosen assembled and stood over the clone. I traded a look with the Executioner, silently asking a question. His nod told me his clone was long dead. So this was it. We did it. The taste of victory was bittersweet, knowing what was coming. “I..still…won,” Cobalt said in between wet coughs. His teeth were stained red with blood. “…You’ll never… you’ll never find it.” He wasn’t grandstanding. Suddenly I knew it. It all came to me in a sick flash. Mutually assured destruction. “You rigged it to go off,” I muttered. “Some type of timer or automatic failsafe.” Things were looking fucked. “Die Hard protocol,” Halo stared at the rubble, thinking fast. “Reece and Axel probably built it, so it’s engineered with Atlantean tech. I’m thinking an enhanced nuke.” Solaris’ head spun to stare at him. “Did you just say nuke? How do you even know that?” I looked him in the eyes. “It’s what I would do.” The Executioner swore under his breath then said, “But the question is where, isn’t it? It could be hidden anywhere, in any city.” “Mmmm,” Halo rubbed his chin, assessing the theory. “Probably somewhere with a high population for max casualties.” “I agree,” I said, then winced. It felt like a stone was sinking in my stomach. “It’s what I would do if I was suddenly an evil dick.” Nobody moved. It was apparent that we weren’t out of the woods yet. “Are you saying a nuclear bomb is about to explode?” Omega asked. He looked paler than he should have. The laugh Cobalt let out was weak, but somehow managed to sound mirthful. “…You killed the only two people… who knew… were it was.” Something tugged at me, calling my senses to a foreign sensation best described as a tap on the shoulder. I reached out to it, and the air above our heads flickered as an image took shape. It wavered in form until, like a bad connection, and I gasped in recognition. The dark tanned skin and light eyes belonged to Desmond Villani. My mother’s coworker beheld us with a grim smile. “I’m glad to see all of you again. One last time,” he said. Killian looked like he was a moment away from ripping apart the projection. “Who are you? We’re kind of on a time crunch here, pal.” “Sorry, does this help?” Desmond said. His face changed subtlety, with his cheekbones going higher, the ridge of his nose lengthening, the line of his jaw turned sharper and his eyes deepened into green. It took only a second and we recoiled as we were now looking at Nathaniel’s face. The image of our advisor stared down at us. The Executioner put the pieces together before the rest of us. “You’re Nathaniel’s clone!” Omega’s eyes widened. “The cloning gel hit him, too. I just thought it was inactive.” “Your clones programming took advantage of your dual identities and overwrote all your moral inhibitions. The programming failed when it came to me. I made peace with my identity long ago. My mission in life is to serve and guide you.” I was touched. Even in the face of such odds, our surrogate father was still trying to protect us. “That’s why you got close to my mom and worked with her? To watch over me?” He nodded. “And it was the best source of information about the Chosen I could find.” I could now see the strain in his eyes and he looked sad. “I’ve kept tabs on the clones and they never knew I existed. Right now the bomb is currently in my possession, and I’m going to get rid of it before it goes off. Call it my last duty as your guardian from the shadows.” My heart lurched. “Where are you?” I demanded. “We can help!” “I’m sorry, but this is goodbye.” The projection winked out and we didn’t get a moment to ponder the escalating situation when that was an explosion in the sky. It was so high in the atmosphere that it only registered as a flickering of angry red and white light. I covered my mouth with mine, shocked. He must’ve flown the bomb up into the upper stratosphere, the quickest and safest place to avoid any fallout. “Mother… Fucker…” Cobalt gasped. Then he died. I stared at Cobalt’s body. My body was numb with shock. “We won.” The beginnings of a faint smile formed on Solaris’ face. “Fuck me. We actually pulled it off.” It felt like years to get to this point, for this victory. The triumph felt hollow because of what this meant and waited for us. But here now I want to celebrate this victory more than anything. I threw my arms around Omega’s neck and kissed him with everything that I was. His arms wrapped tight around me, pulling me impossibly closer. It felt a lot like bliss. I wish that I could stay like this forever. From the corner of my eye see the Executioner and Solaris caught up in their own joyful moment. Halo suddenly hissed and said, “Guys!” I tensed and regretfully left Omega’s embrace. My brother’s voice was panicked. There were few things on Earth that scare him. “What’s wrong?” His pupils were blown wide with fear. “You don’t sense that?” he asked, and his voice came out too fast, words tripping over themselves. “To the east.” Closing my eyes, I turned my entire being toward the east. I didn’t even have to concentrate. It was there blazing across the whole of creation like a giant neon sign. It was ramping up like a reactor. The power felt familiar, clean and pure in the way to remind me of antiseptic soap or bleach. There was something purifying about it. It was divine. “That can’t be right,” I said, trading a startled look with Halo. The Executioner was reading, tapping at the phone in his face with a deep frown. “It’s exponentially increasing in strength, and whatever this power is, it has a similar frequency to Halo’s energy pattern.” He read another result and looked up, reporting, “It’s coming from London, near the Thames River.” I nodded at my brother. “Halo, beam us over.” They could come by Solaris’s bubble or I could’ve transported us, but both options would’ve been slower, and I had the feeling we were running out of time. Halo’s silver light washed over us and our surroundings changed in the blink of an eye as he moved us smoothly through time and space. We found it deserted, small favors. All major cities still must be under curfews with Cobalt and the Power Rangers declaration of war still playing on the airwaves. It was night here and we didn’t have to search the streets for the terrifying power. Hovering above the Thames in robes of pale cream were a dozen angels. Their wings were fully expanded and together looked like every tale of avenging angels in folklore. They hovered there in the sky with a globular mass of what looked like liquid mercury writhing in the center of their loose formation. “Raise your hands if this is what you expected to see,” Solaris said. The great flapping of wings above our heads startled us into defensive stances. Celeste was resplendent in a gown of silver mail, and her gossamer butterfly wings were shining in the dark of night. The sadness on her face didn’t detract from her otherworldly beauty. She looked at us and then looked away from the glare on Kevin’s face. The Champion of Balance apparently knew what was going on and he didn’t like it. At all.
  11. I once read that you can never remember the beginning of a dream. I vaguely recognized this place from a distant memory that I couldn’t quite grasp. It was a flat, empty floor in some brightly lit space that nonetheless didn’t echo its emptiness as if there were no walls from which sound could reflect. It was blindingly white along with the ceiling, too, was bathed in an aerial ocean of illumination. I finally looked at the man across from me. He was sitting crossed-legged upon the floor like me. Of course, he managed to look dignified in such a position. I looked into his blue eyes, so like mine because they were. He was me. Or rather a different version of myself. Not like my clone. Call him my subconscious, my id, the voice of my inner self, I don’t care. He was the spirit of my past incarnation. Prince Emrys was in a form fitting suit made of a soft blue-gray material that hugged his body and readily displayed all his muscles. Metal bracers covered his forearms, and black war paint drawn in twin angular triangles covered his cheeks. He looked ready for battle. I hoped it wasn’t with me. I fixed him with a smirk. “What happened to the circlet?” He didn’t return my smirk. He was me. But with better manners. “Humor is an inadequate coping mechanism. The time has come to make your stand.” “It’s worked out well so far,” I shot back. He gestured to the chessboard sitting between us. The black pieces faced me. Emrys tapped a finger to a pawn. “You have finally opened your eyes. The final circle is almost complete.” My mouth fell open. “You knew about Entropy. All this time and you didn’t say anything?” “It was clear to you, but you couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” I gave him a tight lipped smile. “I will slap you right in the mouth.” “I have been trying,” he said, traces of annoyance in his tone. “This isn’t the first time we’ve talked like this in dreams. It’s the block on your memories. Time and time again you have forgotten my warnings when you awake. The block is weakening and soon will be gone.” I blinked. “So, I’m going to remember this?” He nodded. “You’re in the time of revelation. You’ll remember this, your dreams, our past life, Atlantis. Everything.” As scary and exciting as that fact was, it wasn’t news. Being in Atlantis triggered something. It was almost like something was shook loose. Too bad I had bigger things going on then sorting through the new...old memories. “You might have turned aside from your godhood, but destiny waits for no one. Entropy is almost free and then...” “Then what?” “Then comes the War for Life.” Chills went down my spine. “You’re talking about Alpha Armageddon.” “Everything will die. The universe will cease to be. The pits of hell will go cold. Heaven will be unmade. It will be as if all life never came to be. Mortal, demon, fae, angel, first god. Everything and everyone will go screaming into the abyss.” “How do you know all of this? I’ve looked through the Videum Crystallus, and there’s no record of Entropy in its data drive. The closest thing I found was a corrupted video file King Oriens encrypted in the mainframe.” The Prince frowned heavily. “It was in those last days that Gaius began having nightmares. Precognition was rare but not uncommon to our family. We assumed his dreams were prophetic. Now knowing of his nature as Heaven’s Trumpet, I believe they were memories. Our research didn’t reveal much, but it was the night of the Fall when Gaius made a breakthrough. I was supposed to meet him...” I remembered finding the incomplete log entry entered by Gaius. “Since it’s inevitable, do you think we can take him?” “If all of the Chosen were at the height of your powers, with Halo bringing to bear his heavenly authority, and if you utilized the World of Elegance in concert...” he contemplated. It was a long moment before he said, “Maybe.” I gaped. “First off, we’re still not at full strength from our former lives. Second, I don’t have the World of Elegance. The pendant was lost when the Three Keys were used to activate Heaven’s Trumpet.” Emrys moved his knight on the board. “The Chosen have a way of accomplishing the impossible.” “You believe we can do this?” “I’ll always believe in our friends.” We shared a quiet moment in the white room. I looked down at the board and frowned. I was losing. Huh. “Entropy is still only a second worry. Our first priority is the clones. The Power Rangers are the immediate threat.” “A silly name for a formidable threat,” Emrys chastised me with a frown. I rolled my eyes. “I was the one that got stabbed in the gut. I know how formidable they are, thanks. It’s just a name, chuckles.” “You defeated one in the faerie realm. Three remain. Four against three are favorable odds, but I fear it may not be enough.” “What kind of math are you doing? It sounds like we win. They lose.” “For ordinary enemies. These foes have all of your strengths and know all your weaknesses. Weaknesses they will exploit mercilessly.” It was a fair point. As much I hated to admit it, the psychos had gotten the jump on us way too many times. If we were going to win, then we had to hit them fast and hard. I grinned with more confidence than I felt. “We got this. Let them bring it.” Emrys chuckled. “You have become the leader they needed you to be. I’m proud.” “Be proud after,” I said, my grin turning wolfish. “When we win.” A spark appeared in Emrys’ eyes as he mirrored my grin, learning forward to declare, “Give them Hell.” And then he was gone along with everything else. I opened my eyes and saw the moon in the clear night sky. I was lying down with datapads and crystal drives stacked on either side of me. It was quiet on the pier except for the waves of water lapping against the city’s edges. I stared around the deserted port, absently wiping grass off my hands. I must have fallen asleep researching. I didn’t even remember drifting off. I was a mess and needed to get my shit together. I got off the ground and wobbled for a minute, then began picking up the clutter I made. Kevin walked up just as I stacked the pads in my hands and stood looking at me, his expression worried. “You are such a nightmare,” he said. “I had to use the biological sensors to track you down. No one has seen you since this afternoon.” He narrowed his eyes. “Have you been here all day?” “No,” I lied. “Maybe.” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “You’re team leader, but no one is going to blame you for not finding some critical weakness of Entropy. Hell, man. We’re all in this mess. Let us help you.” I wiped my hand down my face. “I just... Without my pendant I don’t have an ace up on my sleeve. The Giga Annihilation Programs have always been my Hail Mary.” “Those spells have also had you knocking at death’s door.” “As my memories come back, I feel like I’ll have better control. It’s kind of hazy, but I’m actually remembering how I made the Programs!” He grinned at my excitement. “But,” he said, holding up a finger. “You said it’s hazy. So you don’t totally remember. Even then, if you could tap into the Programs you’d need an artifact of power on a scale as the World of Elegance to initiate it.” “Listen up, Hermione Granger. Merlin is talking. I’m not thinking about using the Giga Annihilation Programs. That’s a no go. But...If I can create a spell with as much destructive power, then we can turn Entropy into paste.” Kevin frowned. He rubbed at his arms as the wind picked up. “You have no idea.” It was my turn to frown. “What are you talking about?” “I was there, Chad,” he said, his voice barely audible. “Heaven’s Trumpet wasn’t just a weapon. I was an angel. I fought against Entropy with the rest of the Host. You can’t even imagine...” There was a far off look in his eyes. A sadness that I’ve never seen. “He decimated Heaven’s army with a smile.” I dropped the pads down on a bench. I grabbed Kevin’s wrist and pulled him down to sit on the seat next to me. I was glad we were alone now because I didn’t want anyone to see the open expression on his face. It made me want to hug him and never let go, and promise to protect him forever and ever. “I’m sorry,” I said, pulling him in close. I buried my nose into his hair. “Sometimes, I forget you have all these experiences. You never talk about it.” Kevin pulled back a little. The tips of his fingers touched my left cheek. “You are so young.” It was said with a note of wonder. “This life hasn’t been kind but that innocence, that imperishable spark of hope - you still have it. You all do. I won’t extinguish it. I would sooner set fire to my soul then see it go out.” I barely noticed his voice was more Gauis now, his tone regal, and syllables accented, a soft lilt that enunciated his vowels. I punched his shoulder. “That’s noble of you and all, but I’m your brother. Talk to me.” I shook my head. “I see stubbornness runs in the family, asshole.” “Well, you know us. Always doing the stupid thing.” “I mean. I know you’re the older brother, but we’re there for each other. Lean on me if you need to. I’m not going to fall.” A triumphant grin split his face. “And the same goes for you. You need help, ask for it. None of this solo cowboy shit. You’re not Batman.” My mouth fell open. “You pretty bastard. You just played me.” His honey eyes were twinkling like a Hogwarts headmaster. “That, dear brother, is why I’m the eldest.” I rolled my eyes. “Also, you were born first. So there’s that.” “You really should have some respect. I’m kind of like an angel.” “Yeah, you’re Heaven’s sweetheart. Got it.” Kevin nudged me. “Feel better?” “I’m still worried,” I admitted. “You just said that Entropy tore through all of Heaven and decimated the Host. What hope do we really have exactly?” I pulled at my hair a little. “This guy sounds unreal.” “Entropy means lack of order; gradual decline into disorder,” Kevin said, tapping at the skin of my wrist with his finger. “At least that’s what it means on Earth. To the people on the other side of the galaxy, it means ‘Mighty Destroyer.’ For Heaven, it means ‘Calamity.’ Different definitions, but the meaning is the same. Doom. We took it from him. It’s what that word’s come to mean.” My mouth had gone dry. “We need to work on your pep talks. You’re not Oprah. Let’s be real. You are barely Doctor Phil right now.” He flicked my knuckle hard. “I wasn’t finished, dick breath. You have to realize we designed Entropy’s cage to not just trap him but keep him weakened. When the last Dread Barrier falls we won’t be dealing with a supernatural being at the peak of his strength.” I gasped. “He’ll still be weak.” Kevin nodded, staring hard into my eyes and trying to make sure I understood. “Even then, it will be hard.” Hope flared for the first time in a while, and I felt warm all over. It pulled my lips into a triumphant smile. “But we have a shot? There’s a chance we can beat this guy.” It was a moment before my brother mirrored my smile. “I believe we can win. I might not have been Chosen in our last lives, but I know exactly how strong we are.” He looked into my eyes and said, “Look at what I remember. See what I saw.” I met his gaze head on and couldn’t look away. I was pulled into the light brown eyes of my brother, beyond my own face reflecting in the irises and into the depths of the soul I had never quite fully comprehended before. And then I felt power. Sheer, mind-blowing power. It was holy. It was eternal. No, Kevin’s voice echoed around me. It’s too much. You’ll burn. He whispered into my mind. I turned away from that power that glowed like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. It was ice and fire and love and vengeance and ancient and forever. It was terrifying and awful and so very beautiful. It was Kevin’s soul. A gentle force steered me into a cloud-strewn coliseum in a sea of memory. The haze cleared as the sights came into focus, and I was in a well lit laboratory. “Ceremonial knightsuit?” King Oriens arched an eyebrow, eyeing the holoimage of the suit projected into the open air. He considered the chain mail and tunic combination with a frown. “It seems a little ostentatious?” “A little?” asked a teenage version of Prince Gauis, circling the projection with a critical eye. “It’s only temporary,” Nat’ahn reminded them from a nearby seat. He was reading figures scrolling down the slim crystal pad in his hands. “The chameleon wards will change the suit to fit the environment, and right now a little flash is just what the public needs.” Gaius cocked his head. “I don’t follow.” “To date, the crown has been involved in twenty nine acquisitions of territory, landed marines on sixty two planets, and destroyed four demon-claimed planets via thermonuclear induction.” King Oriens cleared his throat. “I was bringing those planets into the empire. The Lords in Shadow still have a stronghold in the Beta Quadrant, and half the Delta Quadrant remains under their control...” “And the other half fears you and is just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Nat’ahn continued. “Too long galaxies have been kept in fear. They don’t know anything else, even with the freedom you’ve delivered them. It’s why we need this. Need them.” “The Chosen are meant to be champions of the realm,” Gaius pointed out, looking at him with reproach. “They aren’t some public relations coup.” “Be that as it may, this will quiet all the politicos in the freed sectors,” said Nat’ahn. The king laughed. “Thorns in my side. All of them.” Gauis snorted. It was no secret his father despised the louder factions of the Separatist party. Every time Oriens brought some war torn sector out of the dark ages, they’d interpret it as his imperialistic drive to conquer the galaxy. Of course, Atlantis and its people were voiceless peons in this dictatorial endeavor. It was an unfounded argument. “Trust me, your Grace,” said Nat’ah, tapping at his pad to read through the specs. “The suits will do the job.” “That and more.” Ethos, one of the weapons facilities lead techs, stepped forward, having witnessed the entire exchange. He was indistinguishable from the hologram of the city’s AI he developed in his own image. “We’ve managed to upgrade the reactive circuits by seventy five percent and doubled the damage absorption capacity of the shield spells woven into nanofibers.” “…while increasing the offensive throughput to the armor by nearly fifty percent,” Nat’ahn read off his screen with an impressed tone. “Once bound to a celestial force, a Chosen will be able to tear through a Behemoth class cruiser in their stage five state with ease.” Gaius’ eyes widened. “Really?” “That certainly is impressive,” muttered Oriens, sending Ethos an appreciative smile. He eyed the heavy armor disguised as a knightsuit. Ethos bounced on the balls of his feet with a giddy grin. “We’re also very close to solving the glitch linking sub-spatial pockets in the celestial bindings.” Oriens nodded, pleased. “Excellent.” He waved his hand; the projection sank into the floor and winked out. His face lost all cheer and the vibe in the room immediately reflected his mood. “Where are we on Project Wonderland?” Nat’ahn ran a hand through his hair absently. “We’ve followed the signs and narrowed it down to the three. Clow Reed, Dylan Piper, and Emrys Cor.” The room was silent. “Prince Emrys was the only candidate to successfully complete the Pillars of Dawn,” continued Ethos. He watched the king’s reaction closely. “His capacity of magic is immeasurable.” Gaius shook his head. “He’s ten years old.” “And he’s already more powerful than some of the recently graduated mages,” Nat’ahn explained. “He’s it. The first Chosen.” Oriens nodded, his face deep in thought. “So it appears.” He let out a sigh that was a touch wistful. “Emrys is going to be powerful. It’s in his blood. He will be the Chosen’s leader, and his spirit will become their strength. Together they will lead the War for Life.” “The War for Life?” Gaius asked, staring at his father, curiously. “Circles within circles, my son,” the king replied. He turned back to his advisors. “Start binding the ley-lines immediately and begin preliminary power-up test. Follow the signs to find the rest of the champions. We’ll need to bring the other celestial powers online as soon as possible.” I felt a powerful aura radiate from King Oriens even in the memory. It was strength and conviction and had a deepness to it. I felt the memory fade, the light and strength of my brother’s soul withdrawing. The cord snapped between us. I pulled my gaze away, breathing hard but smiling. I was smiling so hard. “Dad believes in me. He believes in us.” I grabbed Kevin’s hand and he ruffled my hair. “We were Chosen for a reason. This is it.” I looked up at the moon, feeling my muscles pull loose and the mounting stress fall away. My whole body felt lighter suddenly. *** The following days were calmer. It was far easier to relax without feeling like we were on death row. I enjoyed being here. It was like coming home. It felt more like home than anything in the waking world. I know the others agreed. Nathaniel personally spent a lot of time with the Centennial refugees trying to get them to feel comfortable in the strange environment. Some were restless, anxious to hear news from loved ones left behind. Most were content to lay down their burdens. The fact that time moved slower helped a lot with their worries. Ryan was getting reacquainted with his family. They were Atlantean nobility, and everyone in House Eldana missed him terribly. If he wasn’t attending to his lordly duties in Eden Circle, he was with the military scientists experimenting in the testing facilities. Killian was either at his side or touring the academies and visiting the students there. They loved having the Champion of Light attend their schools. Seminars were packed every lecture. Adam and I spent a lot of time together. I took comfort in being together with him in the blissful city. So much was coming back to me with every passing day. Walking with Adam through the gardens was often accompanied by déjà vu. “This place still feels so unreal,” My mother said, as we walked along a walkway with the warm sun beaming down on us. Morgan followed on mom’s left side. “It’s like being in some far off magical future.” I laughed a little. “History called this place a city of magic. Modern humans would say we’re an advanced scientific society. Magic and science. Different terms. In reality here they are one and the same.” “What we need to be talking about is what’s in the water that makes the boy’s here so hot,” Morgan chimed in. She fanned herself after a young man smiled at her in passing. Mom pulled her along when Morgan stopped to watch his backside walking away out of sight. “Reel it in.” She pouted. “Mom that could’ve been your future son-in-law.” “Jesus, Morgan, lay off the Teen Mom episodes,” I said. “How about you focus on getting your grades up,” said Mom, looking like she was one second away from blowing a blood vessel. “Future son in law, my ass.” “Okay!” I chimed in and raised my hand for a high five. Mom stared at my hand with a flat glare. “I didn’t ask for the cosign, Chad.” She pushed her finger into my chest. “You’ve still got a long lecture coming your way when this is all over.” I winced. “Still holding on to that, huh?” “What? That my son is a superhero and has been lying about it the entire time.” “So is that a yeah or nah?” Morgan cackled. “You are so grounded.” I held up my hands and stated the obvious, “Let me make sure there’s still a home to come back to and then worry about groundings later. “Today is a celebration. It’s the Founding.” “The Founding?” Mom asked. I nodded, smiling a little. The memories were startling clear. “Today’s the anniversary of Atlantis’ inauguration. Think Columbus and Independence Day combined if that makes sense.” “It doesn’t,” replied Morgan. I smiled sweetly at her. “Maybe you should stop skipping classes then.” She mirrored my smile. “You would know all about that, huh?” “I was saving the world.” Morgan rolled her eyes. “Excuses.” “And moving right along,” Mom cut in, striding across the plaza with confidence like she had been here before. “Let’s steer the conversation right back on topic, please. Where are we going?” “Oh, right,” I said, leading her to a Farpoint at the plaza’s edge. “We’re headed to Polaris Garden.” “What’s that?” Mom asked. The Farpoint activated, and we were whisked away across space and time. In the blink of an eye, a park stretched out around us bordered by towering trees with deep green leaves, and beyond them, the city’s towers climbed into the sky. It was reminiscent of Central Park with its lake in the distance and walkways and benches scattered throughout. The structures were made from a quartz like crystal that gleamed under the setting sun. Flowers of every color bloomed in artistically cut bushes in the green garden. “This place is packed,” said Mom, as we stepped into the growing crowd of people. It was like being in Times Square on New Year's Eve. I grabbed her hand so I wouldn’t lose her in this crowd. The park was filling up like crazy. People were standing shoulder to shoulder, and there was a feeling of excitement in the air. I wrapped my fingers around my mother’s wrist and began squeezing through wherever I saw enough room to move forward. It wasn’t even a minute before eyes flickered to the circlet around my head and the crowd parted. “Must be nice,” Morgan muttered, as I swept us through the cleared space. Heads dipped in respect as I passed, and the whispers and murmuring were intense. This must be what celebrities felt like. At least there were no flashing lights or grabby hands. So hey, plus. “There we go,” I said as the front lines became visible. I nodded at familiar faces in greeting. I had been reintroduced to the nobles in court in an informal ceremony earlier this week. It was sort of like an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen only I didn’t get a car in the end. Kevin loved it. He spent the entire time reconnecting like it was a high school reunion (“I’m networking. Take notes, baby bro,” he said, pinching my cheek and easily dodging my slap). By the end of the event I ended up in a corner buzzed on wine and leaning on Adam like a goddamn geriatric. I needed to get my shit together. I was a prince. I waved to Ryan standing with a group of tall men and women that were of lean build, all with light brown hair and gray eyes. Their clothes were all in shades of blues, purple and deep greens--House Eldana colors. Ryan beamed at me, looking immensely happy amongst his family. He stood next to his father both in matching summer tunics without sleeves and with a deep swooping collar. They were one of the great houses of Atlantis, and their family was lords of Eden Circe, ,the district responsible for the city’s military. “About time,” said Kevin, striding up to us. He was wearing his circlet too, and his ceremonial coat was a duplicate of mine. It was mainly midnight blue with gold trim, the colors of House Cor, cut in a military high-collared style. Morgan did a cute, passable curtsy in her glittery dress. Kevin tapped her on the nose. “Looking good, baby girl,” he said, letting her swat him on the shoulder. I rolled my eyes. She liked him more than me, I swear. You would think she was his baby sister… But in a way, I guess she kind of was. This whole reincarnation thing was doing things to all of our family trees. “It’s starting,” Kevin said, turning to the setting sun. The last rays of twilight struck the base of a twenty foot pillar that loomed before the gathered crowd. The pillar looked like it was made of diamond but reflected the light all wrong and shined silver in sunset like liquid mercury. The masses grew silent, watching the entrancing glow. There was a flash of light at the tower’s base, and King Oriens appeared in all his majesty. The King of Atlantis was resplendent in his full ceremonial garb with pristine dark blue robes with gold cuffs. His cape was honey gold and looked spun from molten stars. He took in the crowd with such somberness that it left me holding my breath, and I found myself leaning forward in anticipation. His staff was two pronged, and a glittering blue gem hovered between the sharp tips. With little effort, he banged it on the ground and it sounded like two icebergs colliding. All went still. Then his voice rumbled through the air amplified by sheer will. “Today I stand before you with so much joy and love in my heart I fear words could do them little justice. As I look around at all your faces, I remember that moment over 16,000 years when we arrived on this great planet. Potential- I remember thinking. There was so much I saw for the future of Earth, and all that walked upon it. I have yet to be disappointed,” Oriens’ smile swept us all up in its warmth. “We have been through so much and even still in these land of dreams we have endured and kept our mission, kept guiding the earthlings to hope in their wonderful dreams, and staying on course to the Omega Point.” “Omega Point?” Mom whispered. “Later,” I replied softly. “There were dark days in that bygone age. Terrible and dark, and yet even then, there were glimmers of light. Some of those lights are gone, but now the brightest ones stand once more among us. It’s not just the Founding but a homecoming as well. A twofold celebration that will be marked in history as the day our people reunited. As we look toward the future that’s so very bright, let us remember the past. Our beginning. And there is no one better to lead us in remembering than the Champion of Light, Apollo, Second Priest of the Sol System and Chief of the Legion of the Seven Stars.” A person broke away from a group of hooded figures in pristine white cloaks. I recognized the robes as belonging to members of the clergy, the Legion of the Seven Stars. The knightly order dedicated to preserving our holy heritage. It was a moment before the hood was pulled back and Killian’s face was revealed. Oriens clapped and the crowd followed in an explosion of noise that made his face flush. “You don’t know how happy I am to be standing here,” Killian began once he took my father’s place. His voice carried clear across the air just like Oriens. “I never thought I would see any of this again. Every day I thank the stars that this is possible.” Kevin’s hand wrapped around my wrist and squeezed. I smiled at him and looked at my father standing next to Killian with wet eyes. He looked at Kevin and me with so much fondness and love that I knew these years had been long and so very hard for him. “We all know our origin, and I want to tell it again. Let’s all remember our history. In the darkness of the Void there was only Aon, the Creator, and he existed before time majorum. There was nothing else and it was lonely. Then one by one, seven stars shined in this audient abyss and awoke. They were the First Gods, the Divine Ancients, that were made first by Aon, and they were the offspring of his thoughts. Aon made others after them, but they knew his will best because they were borne of his mind. And it came to pass that Aon spoke to them of a Great Vision and for a long while they didn’t understand, for each only comprehended that part of Aon’s mind from which they came. Slowly their understanding deepened as Aon gave to them the sight of stars born in fire and cold vacuums, great planets spinning through time, and life spreading throughout the cosmos. It was beautiful as they saw the roads of fate played out terrible and awful in its enormity.” Killian’s voice gradually changed until it was the familiar cadence of Apollo’s deep baritone weaving the tale. “The vision moved them to tears and Aon arose, and the First Gods perceived that he smiled, and he lifted up his hands and gathered their tears. These tears were precious and the Great Vision was woven into their depths in a sleeping creative force. Then Aon spoke, and he said: ‘Behold your desires come of my will. This decisive power, this Power Creation, is the wonder that is the beginning of everything.’ Aon breathed onto the tears and said, ‘Be.’” I loved this part. “He fused the tears with energy and life, with magic, and there was an explosion that poured into the Void. The wheel of time began to spin, darkness to light, the cosmos sang its first song, and the great realms unfurled dazzling in their glory, and the universe took its first shuddering breaths. Time moved onward, and the First Gods gathered to watch both enamored and fascinated by the awakening life forms. To protect and guide the cosmos, some of the spirits descended into the young universe. These were the Angels, and they were of the same order as the First Gods but of less degree. They became the chosen guardians of the universe and kept peace. For a time, it was good.” Killian’s voice grew quieter, somber. “There were days—many dark days where hope ran dry. The Last Great War unmade galaxies, snuffed out stars, and the people cried out for help. The First Gods or the They Above All mortals called them because they were the holy ones, watched them struggle through the storm of ruin, and heard their prayers. It was Oriens, who was first of Aon’s children and dearest of all, that pledged his aid.” Mom looked at me, and I nodded at the question on her face. Yep. They were one and the same. Dad was older than dirt. “Aon decreed to Oriens and the spirits that joined him that their divinity be contained and godhood forsaken. It was a condition of love for the universe wasn’t made to withstand their might, and their very presence would undo reality. Oriens was appointed, in the new dawn, first of all Kings, and he descended from the Celestial Realm with his people and built a bountiful and benevolent empire that stretched across the stars. And its capital was Atlantis. He brought order from chaos and the darkness could not stand.” Killian smiled widely, and it made him look so young. I hadn’t seen him this happy in a long time. It was a welcome change from just a few weeks ago. I sneaked a glance at Ryan to see him just as happy with a big dopey smile on his face watching Killian like he was the only thing that mattered in the world. I felt lighthearted witnessing it. All that pride and love that he felt was apparent in his smile and it was beautiful. Kevin saw me watching and jabbed his elbow in my ribs and waggled his eyebrows. He looked like an idiot. “Heir to the throne, everyone,” I deadpanned. “You betcha.” He winked badly. Like really bad. One eye twitched, and the other closed in an exaggerated movement that made me snort. I refused to acknowledge him on principle. I tuned back into Killian. “...thus it will come to pass, our people will pave the golden way at the Omega Point. We will stand at the edges of the Celestial Realm and rise so much further. We will be limitless.” He stepped to the side and Adam dropped down from the sky and landed softly with a flutter of his cape. He lifted his chin and beheld the crowd with the smile I loved. “Lord Admerion is a beacon of things to come. His bloodline will lead us on the golden path and into the future.” My heart was beat wildly as Adam clasped his hands together and bowed his head as if in prayer. Adam hummed a deep note that resonated like a hundred voices at once. It was terribly eerie and beautiful. I was spellbound. I wasn’t the only one. The crowd was deathly silent. The haunting note was awful and sweet, it was hope, and I started to cry. It was the faintest echo of love, which moves the sun and stars, and it was the mad, inconceivable cacophony that some called the music of the spheres. I had never heard anything like it was before. It gripped us all held us like a tight embrace. Light fell from the sky and struck the Prayer Tower behind Adam and it pulsed once, twice, and then lit up like the dawn. The warmth of the light swept us up, and there, for just a moment, I glimpsed mighty Aon himself, the Creator of All Things, sitting upon a golden throne listening to the glorious music sung by the Divine Ancients that echoed through all of creation in an eternal melody. It was only a moment, but it was a moment of infinite width. It was fading. Adam’s humming was a piece of this great music, a drop of eternity, and it could not last. Something lifted when Adam’s humming ended, some great weight fell away, and I let out a sigh feeling lighter. Free. I smiled. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone wore big smiles. Adam lifted his head, and his eyes were burning amber, twin stars set upon his face. “Amen,” he breathed. King Oriens started to clap. There wasn’t the barest hesitation before the park filled with applause. There was cheering and celebrating that shook the ground. Some teenagers lifted their hands letting loose fireworks into the sky. An older group of magicians saw they had the right idea and conjured massive animated dragons of flame and light to join the show. “This is crazy!” Mom laughed as a random guy kissed her on the cheek and danced arm and arm with another woman. Morgan eyed a trio of boys stripping off their tops. What kind of Guys Gone Wild mess was going on? They span the tops above their heads like helicopters. There was an explosion of feathers as cloth smoothly transformed into a host of phoenixes. It wasn’t a true summons, but it was a hell of a nice pass. The sleek birds flew above our heads, dancing on feathers of flame, and I couldn’t shake the ridiculous grin from my house looking around at the celebrations. It was a full on party. “May I have this dance?” one of the shirtless boys asked Morgan, bowing low. His skin was russet brown, and he had the lightest brown eyes I’d ever seen. Hell, even I would’ve said yes. Morgan’s eyes were wide and she nodded, taking his offered hand getting swept up amidst the other revelers. She gleefully waved back at us, letting him spin her around. Flute and pipe music started up, kicking off the festivities in earnest. Some of the dancers levitated off the ground to enthusiastically dance midair with wild moves that had some people ducking out of the way of stray feet. “Sons,” Oriens said, striding forward elegantly through the crowd. He swept himself in a bow before my mother. “Will you honor me with a dance, milady?” I don’t know what kind of relationship they had forged here lately, but I was surprised Mom didn’t blush a little. After all, it wasn’t every day a king asked you to dance with them. She looked ridiculously amused by the request. A wide smile split Mom’s face, and she laughed with a little shake of her head. “Charming will get your everywhere, O.” Dad winked at us before whisking my mom away in an echo of twin laughter. I let that marinate in my mind for a hot minute. Kevin seemed to be in a similar state of disbelief. We stood there in a sea of partiers focused on the king and my mother pulling out moves like they were in Save the Last Dance. Arms wrapped around my waist from behind, and I didn’t tense when Adam pulled me back into his chest. “Your parents look friendly.” That broke the spell of silence. Kevin blinked. “Did she call him...O?” I didn’t take my eyes off them. “When did I wake up on the set of the Parent Trap?” “I think they look cute.” Kevin and I slowly turned to look at Adam. I stepped away from him and crossed my arms. My eyes narrowed. “Did you Lindsey Lohan them on the slide?” “Lindsay...what? No.” Adam sighed. Kevin glowered at him. “You’re on diaper duty for the new baby.” “Don’t you think you two are jumping the gun?” I considered that. “Wise words, sir. Wise words.” Honestly, I would love it if my parents did forge some type of bond from this whole getaway, be it friendship or more, and mostly if it was more. I wasn’t knocking the idea of a new sibling. It would be kind of wonderful. We moved to the outskirts of the crowd receiving claps on the back (“Wonderful to see you again, my lords”) and enthusiastic handshakes (“So glad to have you back. This is truly a blessing”). There were was food and drinks here at the edges of the park. I helped myself to one of the glasses of hot spiced wine that lined the serving tables. Another table was filled with freshly baked bread, oatcakes, ocean salad, sweet biscuits, sherbet, strawberries and sweetgrass, cheese stuff peppers, purple olives with flatbread, cheese and chickpea paste, and it went on and on many other Atlantean fares that smelled delicious. “I still can’t believe this is happening,” Kevin said, raising his voice over the noise. He looked around with a little fond smile. I shared the feeling. “It’s a miracle.” “Close enough,” Adam said, lacing his fingers through my right hand. “I didn’t realize I’ve always missed this until we came.” Ryan and Killian burst from the crowd wearing wide, silly grins. Ryan’s hair was wet with sweat hanging on his face like he just escaped from a mosh pit. Killian had lost his robe somewhere, leaving him in a pair of tight tan breeches. His naked upper body was decorated in neon paint. I stared at Ryan’s name, crisscrossing across his bare chest. Killian tripped, spilling a bit of the liquid in the glass he was holding. I could smell the strongwine from here. Ryan snorted and steadied him with an easy grip. “Easy, Killer.” “There you are!” said Killian, waving at us like a lunatic. I charmed the area with a privacy spell. Immediately, the party grew quieter so we could hear each other better without shouting. I gape at Killian’s swaying and half naked body. “Aren’t you a priest?” Killian smiled wolfishly, baring teeth. “It’s not kind of church, Glinda.” My eye twitched. “Did you just call me a witch?” “Better than a b-” Ryan slapped his hand over Killian’s mouth, shrugging at me. “Blame it on the alcohol.” Adam lifted a tall silver flute of persimmon wine, humming the Jamie Foxx song under his breath, and doing a shoulder jig. He downed the glass. I gave him a look and he wisely pretended he didn’t see it. “If we beat our clones and manage to survive Entropy…” I winced at the last reminder. “We have to make this a reality.” Adam stared at me with a tilt of his head. “What do you mean, darling?” “I’m gagging,” Kevin muttered at the affectionate term. I pointed my finger at him. “You can shut your mouth with the homophobia. I don’t need this hate speech. I’m a good person.” “Oh, cool it, brokeback,” Kevin replied. “I’m practically the president of GLAAD.” I side eyed him. “That’s a reach.” Adam looked between us. “So, about that comment from a second ago?” “Oh right,” I brightened. “I’ve been thinking about it. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to bring this back. We’re going to restore the empire.” The gasp that left my friends was expected; however, Kevin didn’t react. His facial features didn’t outwardly change. He just nodded his head and turned back to gaze out at the crowd dancing around us. When he did speak, it was with a smile. “You’ve been thinking about what Dad told us at the presentation assembly the first day, right?” “He said you’ll be king and I’ll the light to show you the way.” Killian made a face. “I thought it was metaphorical like on some Arthur and Merlin shit.” “I can’t get the idea out of my head,” I continued, not bothering to reply to that mess. I looked at Kevin. “You have to admit that you’ve been thinking about it, too.” Kevin nodded. “We used to be a guiding force on Earth. The empire was a beacon of hope. With everything that’s going on I think we could all use a little more of that.” “Ain’t that the truth,” Adam agreed. Ryan wrapped his arm around Killian, supporting him a bit more. “Do you really think we could do it? Rebuild Atlantis.” I considered the question and said slowly, “I think it was a hint. I haven’t confronted him about it yet, but I think my dad was trying to tell us something of the empire remains.” When I said it, I knew it to be true because there had always been a little part of me that knew this. I remembered that bar in LA all those months ago filled with people who could do magic. Magic that came from Atlantean ancestry. The stories and conspiracies that were still circulating about the destruction and renewal of the world by the Elder Spawn and Heaven’s Trumpet. Centennial was in ruins, and the rest of the planet poised to become next. It was only a matter of time before the world would demand answers. They needed a reason to believe the darkness wouldn’t smother them. “One, this is totally killing my buzz. Two, how could anything of the city survive?” Killian frowned and took a sip of his drink. “I remember, Chad. They threw everything they had at Atlantis.” Ryan nodded. “He’s right. Even if something had survived the self destruct would’ve activated and vaporized whatever was left. Our technology could never be allowed to fall into enemy hands.” “The Zero Protocol,” said Kevin, naming the security measure. “The empire was started from nothing,” I reminded them. “It can be rebuilt the same way.” I crossed my arms taking a moment to admire the holoscreens projected in the air. Each screen was the size of a billboard and showed footage of celebrations taking place in other sectors of the city. In the south pier of the Eden Circle district, it was raining faerielight, and in the north sector of Evenfall children flew on conjured wings of moonlight, they charmed water to dance in Summercrown to the northeast, and Sunset’s End was filled exhilarated laughter as they celebrated through smoke and half truths. Fantasies came to life in the form of enchanted gardens that bloomed singing white roses and fantastical beings of legend, like nymphs and sprites and satyrs. Kevin picked up a bottle of pear brandy off the serving table. “You guys want to have our own little party?” “Is he talking about a gang bang?” Killian tried and failed to whisper to Ryan. Killian gave him the finger. “I’m not that kind of girl.” “Should we talk about the fact you referred to yourself as a girl or,” I trailed off at his nonplussed expression. Adam snorted. “I’m all for a change of scenery.” Ryan snagged a bottle of sweet cider and shook it a little. “I think this will help to kick things off, too, boys.” Things were beginning to lighten up around here. I laughed and hitched a thumb toward the thick of the woods behind me. “I know just the place we can take this.” We grabbed a few more bottles off the tables and ducked off into the shadows of the trees. I remembered playing in these woods as a kid. It hadn’t changed one bit. I knew the paths like they were second nature. The others stuck close as I took us deep into the forest. My footsteps were surefooted as I ducked branches and stepped over roots without thought. Emrys had been here so many times. It was all coming back to me now. The trees parted, giving way to a circular clearing with blooming lilies. A small lake filled with silvery water glowed in the moonlight. I kicked off my boots and wiggled my toes on the grass. “Looks like we have the place all to ourselves,” I said, finding my grin mirrored on their faces. Kevin popped the cork on the brandy. “Let’s party!” “I’ll drink to that,” Killian cheered, taking a long pull of the wine bottle in his hand. Killian handed the bottle to Ryan and leaned in to press a kiss to his boyfriend’s lips. In a flash, he kicked off his boots running to the lake in a sprint. He let out a “Geronimo!” before diving in with a splash. “Such a show off,” I muttered. Adam stripped off his top revealing his impressive torso. “Can’t say he doesn’t have the right idea.” I dropped the extra bottles on the ground and Ryan and Kevin followed suit as we took off our tops. Kevin laughed and his abs flexed with the movement. He slung his arm around me, pulling me in to rub his knuckles into my scalp. “Let’s tear it up, baby brother.” I swatted at his hand, fighting back a smile. “You’re not older than me in this life, asshole.” Ryan and Adam high fived each other and joined Killian in the lake. I pulled away from Kevin and flexed my fingers. I whispered a word and with a bit of will, multicolored orbs of light floated in the air. They swirled above in a swarm of color and light and with a nifty bit of sonar spellwork I amplified the music from the park into the clearing. It was like our own little VIP section—a neat little bit of magic, I’d say. I couldn’t fight the grin on my face even if I wanted to. “Don’t forget about me!” I ran across the clearing and leaped into the lake. Adam immediately swam into my arms as Kevin jumped on us with a war cry. Killian joined my brother to dunk us under in some kind of ninja sneak attack. I barely saw Ryan sweep his arm out, using his super strength to send a huge, unbelievable wave to knock us over. Oh hell no. It was on. It turned into a full blown water fight. I couldn’t remember the last time we ever had so much fun. My stomach hurt from laughing. I had to admit this was the best day. Tomorrow was for the war to come. But today wasn’t that day.
  12. I almsot forgot about that name 🤣 Realllllly complicated
  13. xTony

    Homecoming

    If the sight of Atlantis hadn’t stolen my breath, then Kevin’s statement would have. I took a step forward and then stopped. Kevin smiled at my indecision, and I crossed the distance between us and threw my arms around him. I tuned out the murmurs of the crowd who continued staring about in abject wonder. “I missed you,” I said in something like a sob. He hugged back with matching intensity and laughed with nervous relief. “I always seem to leave you. Don’t I?” “Just keep coming back,” I said, pulling away to look at his face, “And we’ll call it even stevens.” Alarm spread through the crowd of refugees, and our heads all turned to look up at the blue sky. Even in daylight, the shower of shooting stars was bright against the backdrop of day. The falling stars got brighter…and closer. “Meteorites?” I asked under my breath, more to myself than anything. Kevin shook his head. “No.” “I’ve seen this before,” said Ryan, tugging lightly on the front of his duster with a knowing expression. “Dreamcatchers.” One by one, the stars touched down on the ocean coastline, lighting up the beach in an otherworldly display. The lights dimmed slowly, revealing the tall armored beings cloaked by starshine and wonder. Most had white wings, but some had wings as black as ravens, and others dual colored. They looked like wrathful angels as they faced us with fire and anger warring in their eyes. The dreamcatchers assembled, and they were mightily displeased. “How dare you trespass in these lands of dreams,” said a dreamcatcher with ivory wings and a deep scowl. There was anger in his voice. His hand extended, and a lance of jade lightning crackled into existence. “Turn back now or die.” The crowd behind us surged with panic. Almost immediately, they quieted when Halo stopped forward. As he moved, his uniform changed, trousers and a silk-like tunic the color of spun gold formed to his figure in an unusual but flattering cut. Upon his brow appeared a crown of adamant that glittered like molten starlight. Prince Gaius was revealed, and he stood with a sense of dignity and importance. I barely registered him, grabbing my wrist and tugging me forward as well. My soul recognized its brother, instantly triggering my transformation. My uniform shifted into a similar formal suit only in blue and silver hues. A circlet pressed against my brow, and together, we stood side by side to stare down the guardian angels. The dreamcatcher leader stared with wide eyes, and his slackened jaw would’ve been comical if the situation wasn’t so dire. A similar shock spread through the rest of the angelic ranks. “The Princes,” he breathed out before trailing off in stunned silence. At once, the angels fell to their knees and bowed. My brother glanced at me, and I sent him a barely there nod. It was his right to begin diplomatic parley before me. And really, judging by their reaction, the dreamcatchers looked ready to roll over for us. For the first time in over fifteen thousand years, Prince Gauis took his place as Crown Prince, and he became the leader of the people. He stepped forward and said, “We have come to see the king.” The dreamcatcher inclined his head respectfully. “By your leave.” He faced the ranks of guardian angels behind him and nodded firmly. Together as one they lifted their hands to the sky. Across the blue sea, light bloomed into existence in a dazzling rainbow that connected the beach to the sparkling city on the waves. “Come,” said the dreamcatcher leader once the bridge formed. “The rainbow road will last as long as we hold it.” “Chad?” I turned to the faint voice as Kevin with the Chosen began the task of herding the refugees across the bridge. Morgan touched her fingers to the glimmering bracelet of mithril around my wrist. I rested my hands on the shoulders of my mother and sister. Their stunned quiet was expected. For Mom, I hadn’t gotten around to explaining the whole prince factor, and Morgan was still in the dark over the whole thing. I opened my mouth and closed it finally, I just shook my head. “I’ll explain everything later,” I said instead of the long confession they deserved. “I promise. There are things to settle first.” The information was surely overloading her because Mom didn’t argue. Morgan was dying to interrogate me. I could see it in her eyes. For once, she kept quiet at Mom’s even stare. We followed the dreamcatchers over the bridge. Kevin and I led the way as protocol from millennia ago intuitively took hold. The Chosen walked directly behind, accompanied by Morgan and my mother. Then, the six hundred disheveled men, women, and children, who felt like they’d been swept away in a dream. And in a way, they had. Atlantis was still as majestic as it remained in my memories. It rested on the horizon in all its glory, easily as big as Manhattan. Yet, the city skyline was as alien as it was beautiful. Ocean waves lapped at the pylons that jutted out from the city’s outer perimeter. There were six in total, and they formed a geometrical snowflake pattern that connected to a central mass, which included the Imperium Tower. These vast pylons were at least 6 miles in width and doubled that in length. Each cradled a metropolitan distract within its metallic supports containing inner-city streets, pedestrian traffic, parks, and tall tritium spires. The skyscrapers caressing the sky were like nothing on Earth. Their kilometer range height was more impressive and breathtaking the closer we got. Sunlight glinted off long, spindly crystalline sky bridges connecting building to building like walkways. Frequent gawkers were cajoled along as they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the crystal-metallic monoliths that soared above as the bridge’s pathway led into Atlantis proper. The rainbow bridge finally ended its arc and brought us into an environment I recognized as quickly as home. The grass and trees made it seem like any park I’d ever been to, but the adults and kids dressed in robe like garments were undeniably different. Atlanteans, every one of them, and they were all frozen, staring at the odd procession descending from the rainbow bridge. I bit my lip as Atlanteans everywhere stopped abruptly in their business as we became the new focus of attention. Conversations went silent, and even children quieted as the quarter hushed. Pedestrian traffic came to a stop as people one by one went to their knees, silent until our bedraggled company passed. “I’ve never heard Peace Pavilion so quiet,” whispered Kevin as we walked down the silent street. The name alone of this ward shook loose countless memories. And I nodded even as flashes, memories, of walking these very streets for the fairs and artisan performances danced behind my eyes. A little girl with wide eyes and dark hair met my eyes hesitantly, and she smiled shyly. Whatever lingering tiredness felt, I shook off as I returned the smile with a blinding one. Two red dots appeared on her cheeks, and she waved exuberantly, eliciting a chuckle from my brother. Kevin’s eyes twinkled with humor. “The Perfect Prince returns.” I would’ve rolled my eyes if we weren’t on display. Like his own title as the People’s Prince was any less lofty. A slime pale, white colored arch marked the end of the path. The Executioner let out a delighted laugh. “A Farpoint. God, I just now remembered these.” A dreamcatcher touched a sequence of keys on a pad that was fit into a pedestal stationed near the Farpoint. Immediately a crystal inlaid at the arch’s peak lit up with azure light. Science fiction had their Stargates, teleporters, and beaming devices -Atlanteans utilized Farpoints to get around. The Farpoints linked together in a network allowing transport between two points instantaneously. Theoretically, they could allow for interplanetary travel, but stellar drift was a lot harder to compensate for than fiction makes out. The furthest a network’s range extended was a planet’s moon. That’s only because of gravity wells and the barycenters between the two planetary bodies. No wonder I was obsessed with science fiction. It reminded me of Atlantis. Of home. I was honestly kind of freaked out by how much I was remembering. I’m used to regaining memories by now. Still, the rate at which I was recollecting the past just by being in Atlantis was overwhelming. With each step, my shoulders straightened, and I felt more and more like the prince I used to be. Walking through the Farpoint was like walking through a sunbeam. There was a warming sensation against the skin, a bright light. Then another step took you into an entirely different location. The company filed out into a plaza that was off from the main artery of foot traffic. The area didn't seem to have a proper street. It was just a series of walkways branching out from the main avenue that intercepted at several points with many green parks interspersed at the skyscraper’s foundations. Ahead of us, a looming tower climbed into the clear sky larger and taller than any of the surrounding skyscrapers. Light glanced off its edges, refracting the beams into an impossible kaleidoscope of prismatic color as the tritium metal of the building gleamed like a flawless diamond in the morning light. “It’s beautiful,” Adam whispered from behind me. His whisper was barely audible, but I heard it in the silence that descended over the square. The constant bustle of Republic Square was at a standstill. The reaction of the plaza’s occupants was much the same as the park’s populace. People saw us and fell to their knees after a reverent murmur of recognition. “We sent a messenger ahead,” said the dreamcatcher, who acted as the leader of the dream host so far, “The king is expecting you.” A pair of sentries stood before the doors marking the entrance to the Imperium Tower. They wore cream double-breasted tunics that looked official, and they saluted and went into a deep bow as Gaius and I led the company through the doors. We proceeded into the atrium of the tower. And everyone this time took a moment to pause, taking in the vast space. A fountain stood in the atrium’s center, throwing crystalline water into the air. Columns went around the hall marking corridors leading off to different locations. Typically the atrium would be filled with people, but it was empty. I already knew where everyone was. Kevin gave me a look, but I was already thinking it. I led the company down the center corridor through a pair of doors that slid open with a low chime yielding to a breathtaking piece of nature. A waterfall fell from the far wall, into a pool around which grew a plethora of plants, from grass to firelilies to golden trees, forming a park of indistinguishable beauty and splendor. Golden light poured from the crystals in the ceiling, and it felt as real as the sun as it warmed the skin. A number of benches were spaced in the park and terminals stood nearby that could access information or replicate nourishment. The entire park was easily the size of two football fields. There was probably even enough room left over for a Little League baseball field. Birdsong trilled in the park, and a phoenix zipped between tree branches. Kevin faced the bedraggled company and drew himself up. And when he spoke, it was as Prince Gauis addressing the company. “I know you’re exhausted and confused. I promise you’ll be safe here. We call this Tranquility Park. For now, please rest here and lay down your burdens.” I touched the dreamcatcher leader on the shoulder. “Will you look after them, please? Some of them are hurt, but most are just tired and hungry.” “We will do anything you ask of us, Your Highness.” “Thank you,” I smiled at him, touched at his steadfast dedication. “What’s your name?” He uttered a string of flowing words in a lyrical language that reminded me of poetry. I was rusty on my Theban, so the chances of me pronouncing any of that were zero point zero, zero, never. “Do you have anything I can call you? Something shorter,” I asked, not unkindly. His head cocked as he visibly pondered, dark hair fell across his face at the movement. Then he said slowly like he wasn’t sure the name sounded right on his lips. “Orophir.” I thanked him, and he looked like he took the task to heart. A steely determination shone in his eyes as he and his angels moved through the crowd. And now that I was looking for it, the company looked healthier already, as if a weight had been lifted, and they actually looked at us with gratitude. “I think once they recover, they’ll be all over us,” said Solaris. I raised my eyebrow. “You sound hopeful.” “I’ll take it where I can get it,” he retorted. He avoided the elbow Ryan aimed at his ribs. “Of course, I meant that jokingly, babe.” The doors slid open and a woman strode into the park. She was tall, with black hair, pale, youthful skin, green eyes, and cherry red lips. Her outfit was a beige dress in a soft fabric that begged to be touched. “Melia!” A wide grin spread across her face, and she let out a delighted laugh. I beamed at the sight of her. While Nat’ahn taught strategy and combat tactics, Melia was the woman who taught us politics and etiquette. The Diplomatic Marshall was in charge of arranging ceremonies for the royal household. “I had such hopes.” she started to say, but Nathaniel cut her off by wrapping her in a hug and sweeping her off her feet. Melia sighed and said tenderly. “Missed you, dear brother.” We let them have their moment. Nathaniel needed this reunion. He didn’t have much family in the waking world. Seeing someone you thought lost, I looked at Kevin. I knew how he felt. That happiness was priceless. She accepted our enthusiastic greetings when Nathaniel pulled away to wipe his eyes discreetly. Melia’s eyes were wet, and she was practically glowing with joy. “You’re so young,” Melia whispered, studying us for a full minute. Composing herself, she said with appropriate decorum. “The king is expecting you in the throne room.” We walked through the doors again, and I signaled at Morgan and Mom to join us, as they lingered behind, unsure. This was a time for reunion, and for family, new and old, and for counting our blessings. Nathaniel walked with Melia as she led us to the Throne Room carrying on a rapid conversation in Atlantean. I shared a smile with Adam. I’ve never seen Nathaniel happier. We came to the throne room entrance doors that were wide open and waiting. I wanted to look in, but a bout of anxiety overcame me. Frantically I mentally went over the proper forms. Melia folded her hands together, facing us with a gentle smile and knowing eyes. “Be at ease,” she said. “This is an occasion of great joy.” A musical chorus hummed clearly through the air that sounded like flutes but lighter and impossibly more airy. The music was the cue, and a herald’s clear voice announced our entrance. Mom shot me a questioning look as Melia gestured for her and Morgan to enter the hall. I nodded reassuringly. “It’s okay, Mom. Go.” I glanced at the others as my family followed Melia through the doors. They looked intimidating and impressive in their uniforms, ready to face down a legion of demons or a hall full of Atlantean nobles. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know to start with. Hell no one else did either. It was all so overwhelming that we were still trying to take it all in. We shared anxious smiles, then Kevin reached over and tapped my wrist twice. That grin of his managed to settle some of my nerves. “Crown Prince Gaius and the Prince Emrys and his court,” the herald’s clear voice announced over the softly playing music. Here we go. “Nat'ahn, Justice Chancellor to the Crown, Advisor to the Chosen and Viscount of the Western Sea.” Nathaniel adjusted the Windsor knot of his tie and fixed his cufflinks. He looked completely unruffled as he marched confidently through the open doors. “Lord Apollo, Champion of Light, Count of the Khanite of Mars, Chief of the Legion of Seven Stars and Second Priest of Sol.” Killian’s shoulders straightened almost unconsciously as each title was sounded off, and he strode through the doors without falter. Those titles sparked a memory, and then another, and another. I shook my head as momentary dizziness swept over me. Things were clicking into place, sliding together like puzzle pieces in my head. I took a breath to clear my mind. “Lord Aurek, Champion of Soul, Baron of Eden Circle, Heir to the House of Eldana and Knight of the United Order of Agamemnon.” Ryan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he let it out, there was absolute confidence in his eyes that wasn’t uncommon when he approached a battlefield. His chin tilted, and with a flash of remembered insight, I just knew that Aurek had been born high nobility. He slipped into form like putting on a coat as he walked with a noble bearing. “Lord Admerion, Champion of Miracles, Arch-Duke of the Scarlet Shogunate, Saint of Holy Bell, Herald of the Omega Torch and First Defender of the Chosen Prince.” Adam’s hand brushed against mine, fingers briefly entwining, squeezing gently. Wonderment and knowledge shone in his eyes before it was gone, replaced by a calm grace, and he was striding forward to take his place with the others. The titles illuminated half fogged memories and events that longed to be revealed. They meant something a long time ago, and still meant something, and would forever define us. Then and now. The music rose in fervor, and my musing halted as a choir of melodious voices blended to weave something so complex, so beautiful, that it temporarily shorted my breath. “It’s time,” said Kevin without a hint of nerves. I envied his cool. Having all his memories was advantageous. “The Prince Emrys, Champion of Magic, Prince of Atlantis, Lord of the House of Cor, Count of the Iridescent Vale, Minister of the Council of Metaphysics and Supreme Commander of the Royal Forces of the Empire. His Royal Highness, Prince Gaius, Crown Prince of Atlantis, Heir to the Supreme Throne, Lord of the House of Cor, Duke of Winter Valley, Viceroy of the Free Moons of Jupiter and Guardian of the Imperial Scepter.” The throne room was a long hall with marble floors and a beautiful arched ceiling that glowed like polished mithril. It bathed the entire room in a glamorous light giving it an ethereal quality. Slender columns ran parallel down the room’s center to a raised dais that supported a throne of unearthly gray metal with blue accents. There had to be over eight hundred people in the room. Everyone in the immediate area had crammed into the room to witness our homecoming. All eyes were on us as we swept through the hall in perfect step. King Oriens sat on the throne, clad in full formal garb. He regarded us with the same intense focus we had for him. We passed the various lords and ladies of the Atlantean Court that formed the beginning ranks before the dais. The Chosen proudly stood at attention to the left of the platform, ready to act as shield and sword for the crown if need be. Kevin and I stood at the first step of the dais. Then our arms moved in unison, performing a series of sweeping gestures ending with one palm above the other. Keeping them centered before our abdomen, we went into a low bow. King Oriens rose to his feet. “Greetings, my sons.” His cape billowed behind him as he descended the steps. “Princes of Atlantis, heirs to the Atlantean Empire.” “We greet you, father.” I started unsteadily, and Kevin deliberately slowed his cadence so I could match his words without stumbling. “King of Atlantis, ruler of the Atlantean Empire.” Once fealty was acknowledged the forms were done. King Oriens’s face lost its calm and a smile broke out as he crossed the last distance separating us. He threw his arms around us in a fierce hug and the room thundered with applause. “My boys, I’ve missed you so much.” His voice was gruff with emotion. He pressed his nose into my hair, breathed deep and murmured. “Welcome home.” The applause faded when our embrace ended. Pulling us close, Oriens began studying us in earnest. He touched his fingertips against the edge of my eyebrow. “You’ve refused your birthright.” He moved his fingers to my heart. “The strings of godhood have severed. Oh Emrys, are you sure?” “I haven’t regretted it yet,” I answered honestly. He looked me in the eyes, and his smile turned proud. Warmth flooded my chest at his approval. Oriens held up his open palm. Light gathered there, and from that light an elaborate silver and jewel rod shimmered into being. “Here lies the Imperial Scepter. This is the most treasured object of House Cor. It’s the chief emblem of royal authority of the Empire.” He held it reverently and presented it to a stunned Kevin. “You’re no longer its guardian, son. You are its bearer.” “Father,” Kevin bit his lip, uncertain. King Oriens smiled gently but continued nonetheless. “Atlantis lives on in the land of dreams, but the Waking World still has vestiges of our mighty empire that awaits its king.” He presented the rod to Kevin. “You will become that king. And your brother will be the light that shows you the way.” Our eyes widened in shock. King Oriens stepped back and announced. “A fortnight of celebrations we will have to celebrate this glorious occasion.” He smiled warmly at the Chosen. “Welcome home, sons of Atlantis.” Once more the entire hall erupted with applause. And across the city in homes, streets and parks, citizens watching the precedence on the holonet, too, cheered. I looked around the hall, took in the smiling faces and sheer joy, and beamed. It was exhilarating and felt a lot like flying. - “This is awesome,” said Killian, peering down at the small table against one wall covered with an assorted buffet of foods. After the reception in the throne room, Melia led us to King Oriens’s parlor. Several comfortable sets of furniture were spaced around the warm room. “I could go for a drink,” Morgan muttered, staring at the wet bar. Mom sat next to her on the couch, looking unsure but not wholly overwhelmed like my sister. “Over my dead body.” We explained to them the basics, in Mom’s case filling in the blanks, and for Morgan, it was like turning her whole world upside down. Not only was I some superhero, but I was a prince. She kept looking around like she expected to be knifed or something. It was kind of funny. Melia and Nathaniel lounged nearby, catching up. The Chosen took the opportunity to relax finally. These couches were unbelievably comfortable, and we couldn’t stop smiling at one another. You would think it was Christmas morning in here. “Can you believe this is all here?” asked Killian. He was beaming. Ryan matched his smile, and they were too cute at how they completely lit up around each other. He nodded. “I knew it existed, but to actually see it all. The city, the King, it’s all like being back in time.” “But we’re in a dream,” Morgan interjected tentatively. “None of this exists, right? It’s like...” She frowned, thinking deeply. “It’s like VR or something.” “I promise this is all quite real,” Melia said with amusement coloring her otherwise lulling tone. “It takes certain willpower and strength for a dreamer to enter these lands naturally. The Dreamlands are formed of dreams from every creature across our system of space. The Outer Powers like King Oriens govern it, and the Dreamcatchers police it from Nightmares.” “So, you were all dead and this is like heaven?” Mom asked, her inquisitive nature to the fore. Melia shook her head. “Despite our prolonged lifespans, the reaper of death has dominion in the Dreamlands just as he does in the waking world. We are long lived or, in some cases, immortal, as long as we avoid disease or injury.” She smiled gently. “My third daughter was born in the Dreamlands. That makes her as real as her two sisters borne in the waking world, you, or the Sun that sets on the western sky.” “Well said, Melia,” Oriens said. We all looked up as King Oriens entered through the door. He had taken off his ceremonial cape and discarded the white crown. It was easier to see the resemblance between us. His jaw was strong and defined, cheekbones set a little higher than mine, but our eyes contained the same brilliance, and his hair was the same spun gold. “You don’t know how good it is to see all you again together like this,” said Oriens. He and Kevin shared the same smile I noted. “All of Atlantis is celebrating.” “What about the rest of the empire?” I asked, finally getting to ask the question that had been burning in my mind for hours. “The off-world colonies, the kingdoms, and other principalities.” “The Outer Powers, while we do govern these lands, our power only extends as far as this solar system.” He looked unhappy as he explained. “The empire is intact from here to Pluto. Beyond this system of space, if something lingers of our kingdom, it’s beyond my dominion. They’ll have their own Outer Powers.” I frowned. “I wondered about the remains of the empire in the waking world. If some planets survived the genocide, hopefully, they would have initiated the quarantine protocols.” He tilted his head with interest, sharp eyes assessing me. “Being in Atlantis is triggering your recall isn’t it, Leto? We theorized that a reincarnation event would have such a side effect.” “Leto?” I said blankly. Kevin smirked, trying and failing to hide his snickering. “All hope.” “That’s enough, Elu,” Oriens said sternly, but his amusement was apparent in his twinkling eyes. “Leto is your private name, just as Elu is your brother’s. He is the ‘bright star’ of the evening sky, and you are all your mother hoped you would be.” I saw the curiosity in Mom’s eyes and sent her a pointed look. She read the intent there. Thank goodness. There was one thing we never did in Atlantis, and that was talking about the Queen. She was the Lords in Shadow’s most tremendous blow dealt to our family. When King Oriens made war against their sovereignty, they captured mother and didn’t just kill her, but obliterated her soul and scattered the pieces throughout time and space. It was a tragedy still whispered about in certain sectors of the empire years after. The Unnamed Queen people called her, or the Queen That Never Was, depending on if they were being rude or not. I scowled at my friends who shared conspiring grins, still snorting at the name. I retorted before I could stop myself. “Laugh it up, Orion, Pallas, Gilead,” I snapped, pointing at Killian, Ryan, and Adam. My mouth closed with a snap. I didn’t even know I remembered that until I was saying it. “Those are our birthnames.” Ryan’s expression turned thoughtful. “You were bestowed royal names when your celestial bindings were activated,” Nathaniel said to confirm the unspoken thoughts. Adam frowned, muttering with clear distaste. “Gilead?” Kevin smirked at Adam and then turned to father. “We brought about 600 or so civilians with us. Centennial’s a wreck, father. They aren’t safe there. Can you look after them until we take care of the danger?” “I’ve already begun to see to their needs.” He said easily, sensing our unease. His smile dropped and expression turned serious. “I’ve been apprised of the situation on Earth. We have much to talk about, but that will wait. Tomorrow we will hold council. I won’t darken today’s joy with talk of gloom.” Killian sat up straight, alarmed. “But, Your Highness, the longer we put it off the greater the destruction. People are dying back home.” Oriens only raised one eyebrow in the face of Killian’s firm resolve. “I haven’t ever been in the business of dealing death, Chosen Solaris. The passage of time has not changed that.” He barely smiled at Killian’s remorseful face. “Time flows at a different rate in the Dreamlands. Hours on Earth represents a week or more here. A traveler can spend months in the Dreamlands during a single night's sleep on Earth.” “Weird,” Morgan muttered under her breath. King Oriens glanced at her thoughtfully. “And who might you be?” Blue eyes studied her soft, heart shaped face. “A sister, then.” A smile manifested at his conclusion. Morgan ducked her head with blushing cheeks, shyly letting her hair curtain in front of her face. It was kind of adorable really. “My baby sister,” I said to father, grinning. “Morgan.” Oriens turned to Mom. Her shoulders straightened, finding his gaze on her. “And that makes you his mother.” Mom blushed as she visibly flustered. Oriens looked like every bit of a king that he was. I think she was a bit intimidated. She stood up to courtesy, imitating the court nobles she’d seen earlier, and it was somewhat clumsily done as she’d never attempted the movement before. Oriens crossed the room, quickly grabbing her shoulders in mid movement. “No, my lady,” he said firmly, gently tilting her face to look into his eyes. “You’re the mother of my youngest child. You bow to no one.” Mom opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again, eyes wide with shock. She composed herself quickly enough and nodded. “Thank you, your Highness.” “Call me Oriens, my lady.” A sunny smile broke across her face. “Only if you call me Samantha.” Mom and Father in the same room. Face to face, smiling. It was a surreal moment that my brain had trouble processing. And when the feeling passed, I was left with contentment. I smiled and finally let out the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. - I wanted to spend time talking with father, but he put his foot down and sent me off to bed. And when the King of Atlantis tells you to do something you didn’t argue. Not like I had much energy to carry on a real conversation. I was falling asleep on my feet. We pretty much all were. We’d been through a lot today. Admittedly I was pretty much useless at that point. I barely remembered being led to the floor containing the apartments for the royal family. Adam did the leading and I followed, allowing him to tug me along with my hand held in his steady grip. The room itself didn’t so much as get a glance from me. I only had eyes for the bed. “Go to sleep, Chad,” Adam whispered against my ear, curling up behind me on the bed. My eyes were closed before my head touched the pillow. “Love you,” I murmured, sleepily, stretching out against his body. “Love you too,” Adam sighed into my neck, wrapping his around me. The last of his strength seemed to leave him as he lazily petted my hair. I clung to him letting the warmth and security he radiated follow me into dreams. In the dream time seemed to move at insane speeds as images, fast and fleeting, raced through my slumber. I dreamed of the past. A childhood with Gaius spent racing through the halls of the Imperium Tower, learning magic under the tutelage of master wizards, diplomatic missions with King Oriens to foreign star systems, and fighting at the sides of my Chosen, who made up my court. When I woke, it was to an empty bed. Starlight shone through the open doors of the terrace. I kicked off the blankets with a long stretch. Even with the psychedelic dreams, that was probably the best sleep I had in days. I absently rubbed at my bare stomach, only vaguely surprised that I was only in trunks. I didn’t even remember taking off my clothes. That was crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired. There was some clothing set over a desk. The top was some combination of a sweater and a tunic made of super comfortable fabric in beige with a turnover collar. The trousers were loose and in dark beige that I tucked into a pair of long brown boots sat on the desktop. A beautiful circlet rested beside the outfit. It was made of woven silver set with seven diamonds and a red jewel rested in the center. “Hey, sleepyhead,” greeted Adam as I walked into the suite’s den. The Chosen lounged around in deep-cushioned sectionals in an arc around a low table, talking amiably. Adam sat on a couch with his legs kicked up on a low table. Surprisingly, Morgan was curled into his side with her head resting on his shoulder. “I thought you were dead,” Kevin joked. I sat down on the couch beside him. “Looks who’s talking,” I retorted, punching him in the shoulder. “That’s for making me worry, jackass.” “Wow, oww,” he said, exaggerating a pained wince. He smirked when I rolled my eyes. “Grudge much? I already said sorry. We’re in Atlantis. Take a load off.” Morgan snickered and I turned to her. “Where’s Mom?” “She’s with your dad,” she said without a trace of doubt or uncertainty. Well, she adapted to that bombshell fast. “She, Nathaniel and the King were getting along like they were bffs. I think they were going to braid each others hair.” I snorted. Nat’ahn had been my father’s closest friend that wasn’t startling. It was surprising that Mom was getting along so well with them. In fact, it was downright eerie. “How much have these guys been telling you?” I said only half jokingly. Ryan smiled. “Nothing bad, promise.” “Don’t lie to him, darling,” Killian interjected over his boyfriend’s shoulder. “We’re spilling all your dirt.” Rolling his eyes, Ryan leaned back. His back smacked into Killian’s chest hard. He smiled serenely when Killian went into a coughing fit. “Be nice, Killer.” Killian wrapped his arms around Ryan’s waist, pulling him tighter into the sitting position between his legs. Ryan settled like a perfect fit, and Killian pressed his face to Ryan’s, didn’t quite kiss him, just nuzzled against the slope of his neck, content. “Whatever my baby wants.” Kevin raised his eyebrows, surprised and amused at their open affection. “Since when do you guys do PDA’s? Thought I was looking at the loverboys for a second.” Adam stopped making eyes at me, jerking up and blinking, utterly bemused. “Is he talking about us?” “Jealous,” I muttered. Kevin petted me like a child. “Of course, right.” “Well.” Ryan flushed with embarrassment, his hand sliding across Killian’s forearm. “We weren’t together when you left. We broke up.” Kevin watched them, amused. “And now you’re back together.” “Definitely.” Killian squeezed Ryan between his legs, making him laugh. The blond hummed happily, Ryan’s hair tickling his skin as he ran the tip of his nose against his ear. Kevin looked away from the clinging boys. “Nice to see some good changes after being gone so long.” “Were you really in Heaven?” Morgan asked in a rush, blue eyes filled with stark wonder. Kevin ducked his head as something like sadness flashed in his eyes before everyone could see. I saw it though and it worried me. He was holding something back, and no matter how much pulling I did he wouldn’t spill, not till tomorrow. “Not Heaven, same zip code, but a different address,” Kevin began, ignoring my judgmental stare. Tomorrow some hard questions would be asked. “The Silver City is the stronghold of the angels. Heaven’s only for mortal souls.” Morgan shook her head, cuddling more into Adam’s side. “Crazy. This is just too unreal. My brother’s a prince, his best friend is really his reincarnated brother, and his boyfriend and friends are wannabe sailor scouts.” “Ouch,” Killian mumbled, causing Ryan to arch an eyebrow. “That was a burn on us.” Ryan nodded. “Second degree burn, too. Kinda stung a little bit.” “For real,” Adam returned blandly, but let the comment pass. “Such girls sometimes,” Morgan shook her head, still straddling the line between belief and disbelief. She perked up, suddenly excited. “Can you guys do magic like Voldemort?” “He Who Must Not Be Named,” Adam corrected sternly. Morgan held him with a lidded glare. “Chad’s idiocy is contagious, isn’t it?” “If only.” The comment was joking and teased a smile from Morgan. It was ridiculous, but my heart squeezed tight at the words, warmth spreading through every bit of me. “Love you. You know that, don’t you? That I love you?” A prominent, silly statement, but it’s out there, and for some reason, Adam needed to know this. That he knew how much I cared for him. I held my breath, feeling a little seasick. Affection lit Adam’s eyes as a slow smile spread across his face. It was fond and soft with dimples in his cheeks. It made me feel warm all over, cared for. This smile was the one I fell in love with. “Yes, Chad, I know.” he said, thickly, “Love you, too.” It burned all the way to the soles of my feet, the look on Adam’s face as if he was telling me that I was his and only his. And of course, I was. Whenever we got some time alone, I was going to enforce that claim. Heat blazed in my eyes, and I licked my lips. Adam squirmed anxiously under the look. “Do they think they’re alone?” Morgan asked, scooting away from Adam with a confused frown. Kevin tapped idly at a crystalline datapad, bored. “You get used to it.” “So about that magic,” Morgan drawled out, intent on erasing the last minute from her mind. “Can you transform this table into a cat or something?” “That’s transmogrification,” I explained. “And I’m the only one in the room who can do it. Metaphysics is my area.” “Metaphysics?” she asked. I shrugged. “Magic.” “So you’re like a wizard or something?” “Wizards are the most common magic practitioners, and they’re origins are found here. Through training, force of will, and concentration wizards can accomplish feats of power. They’re directing of magic is amplified and focused through tools like staffs, wands and other foci.” I rubbed my collarbone absently, remembering the comforting weight of the lost pendant. “I’m the only Chosen directly bound to the energy that’s known as magic. I don’t need a wand. I’m the strongest magic user this planet has ever seen. Saying I’m a wizard is like comparing a pistol to a nuclear bomb.” More information unloaded rapidly in my mind, and I winced at the flood of unbidden knowledge. Power cannot come from nowhere. It must be borrowed. The Chosens power came from our celestial bindings, mystical links tethered to autonomous cosmic forces. I was bound to the timeless force termed magic. It was the catalyst enabling the physical birth of the universe alongside the Power Creation that infused the cosmos with energy and life-” “Chad!” Kevin’s voice freed me from the ocean of information I was mentally drowning in. Rubbing my head, I grimaced at him. “Overload.” Look at me, Adam’s voice entered my mind and my shoulders sagged as I met his eyes. Clear your thoughts, he said telepathically, brows furrowed with effort. I got a brief impression of a wall and a heavy door, and then all was silent in my head. My thoughts felt lighter when he withdrew from my mind. He rubbed small circles into my back. “You okay?” I nodded. “What’d you do?” “Psychic barriers,” he answered, peering intently into my eyes. “It’s not permanent, but it’ll stop you from getting lost in your mind again.” Ryan wore a contemplative expression. “I think I know what’s happening.” “Please share with the class,” I said. “It’s just a theory.” he began slowly, “But your memory recall has always been the weakest. We even remembered more than you when we were first tapped. I think being in Atlantis has removed whatever blocks were hindering your recall.” I grimaced. “It’s like once I think of something I recover a memory, and that will trigger something else, and tangents of information just explodes in my brain. It’s not fun.” “If you had training in the mental disciplines, it would be easier, but Emrys knew only basic meditation techniques,” Ryan replied, clasping his hands together and leaning forward. “You’ll just have to concentrate on clearing your mind from focusing too hard on one subject. Otherwise, it’ll trigger another overload.” “Are you, like forgetting?” Morgan trailed off, chewing nervously on her lower lip. “These memories. Will you still be my brother?” I rushed across the room right as she looked down to stare at the top of her hands. Adam vacated his spot and I swooped in, pulling her tight against my chest. “I’ll always be your brother,” I promised, squeezing her shoulders. “Just because I remember Emrys loved to ice skate and fly starships doesn’t mean I’m not still Chad. I still like the color blue, caffeine, secret stuff and shiny things.” “So do raccoons,” Killian muttered, winking at the glare I shot him. I touched her chin gently, tilting her face to meet eyes. I smiled at her softly, almost fond, and I pressed a kiss between her brows. A sweet smile formed on her face. “The things I’m remembering make me more of your brother. I’m becoming the person I should’ve always been.” Ryan pulled out a beeping datapad. He tapped at the crystalline screen, terminating the noise. Killian and Ryan moved to stand and I stared at them curiously. “We’re going to see our families,” said Killian, with barely contained excitement. “There wasn’t time earlier with the ceremony and meeting with the King and the staff later.” Leaning into the arm wrapped around his waist, Ryan asked, “You guys want to come?” I shook my head. “Later. This should be a private time for family.” “I agree,” said Kevin, standing up too. He extended a hand to help Morgan to her feet. “Come on, Mo’. I’ll show you around Eden’s Circle while the guys have qt with their family.” The others weren’t gone a whole minute before I was climbing on Adam’s couch and into his lap. I straddled him feeling kind of small, though physically, I wasn’t that much smaller. Adam’s hand slid up my back and pulled me in closer, his eyes locked on mine. “Do you remember when we first christened this couch?” Adam leaned in and brushed his nose against mine. I shook my head, leaning into his hands spread across my back. “It’s not really the same couch, is it. I mean. This was constructed in the Dreamlands.” “Guess we have work to do then.” Adam moaned, pressing his face into my neck. His mouth latched onto mine, and my lips buzzed pleasantly where they touched, and I wanted more. I licked my way inside Adam’s mouth, moaning when one hand slipped under my shirt, making me shiver as he stroked his fingers over my spine. The friction and heat grew impossibly more intense. He pulled me closer and we both groaned, simultaneously panting and moaning, suddenly unable to take much more as we ripped at our shirts. I dipped my head down licking at his neck, biting and sucking hard enough to leave a mark, and Adam groaned tipping his head back with his hips pushing up against me. “You taste so good.” I mouthed at his neck. And he mewed low in his throat, bucking against me, rubbing his erection against my ass. I ground down against him and Adam let out a gasp. My whole body felt hot and his groans made me more desperate. I wanted his skin against mine. Adam worked his hips up against me again, sliding his hand down between us to my crotch. He licked his lips, feeling how hard I was for him, eyes glazed with need. “Do you have any idea how hot you looked earlier – I wanted to rip off those fancy clothes piece by piece right in the middle of the throne room.” He whispered it huskily, and dear God, that turned me the hell on. “Sometimes I have these dreams. Want to know my favorite one? You’re sitting on the throne. And the entire room is empty but us.” If I wasn’t turned on the way he was talking would do it alone. I was so hard and Adam didn’t take his eyes off me as he talked, palm rubbing hard over my dick. "You look me right in the eyes and say, 'Get on your knees.' And I do it without question, shaking, and I want it, baby, so fucking much. There’s this look in your eyes, anticipation, but you hide it by looking sort of mean and you spread your legs, and you say, ‘Omega suck me off, or you will be punished.' I’m so nervous and my face is red, but I’m aching to do it and ready to swallow every drop. I mouth at your dick through pants and you’re so hard for me, and I kind of fumble pulling it out, because I want it so bad. Your hands tighten in my hair as you guide me down on your dick that’s throbbing, and it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen." "Oh shit." I can't take it anymore. I tugged my pants down, pulling out my cock, Adam’s hand instantly closed around it. Pleasant sparks exploded under my skin and I threw my head back, writhing and cursing as Adam stroked me with long sweeps. “Don’t stop,” I whined out, my cheeks burning. “Keep talking. Please. I want.” Adam nodded jerkily as I bucked wildly on his lap. His pupils were fat and he moaned when I deliberately settled down on his erection, teasing it between my legs. "Fuck, yeah, Chad, oh, I – I start off slow, licking you from base to tip, you just melt under me, making the hottest noises. You um, oh shit, you grip my hair, and then I can’t move as you start to just fuck my mouth, because you can’t take the teasing anymore, and you love the way my mouth feels. I don’t even fight it, because I’m rock hard and my skin feels like its on fire, and I can’t believe I make you feel this good, this out of control. I take you down my throat and I gag at first, but then deep throating you becomes like second nature, like I could do it all day - your hips start swiveling out of control and you’re holding the sides of my head, moaning and grunting and God, its so fucking hot, and your dick starts getting harder and then pulses, and I swear I’m ready for it, my face is wet and I want it on my tongue so bad —-” I slammed my mouth on his kissing him hungrily, all tongue and with little finesse, practically writing my name on his tongue with mine. I dropped my pants, scissoring myself open with nothing but spit as he scrambled to take out his cock. Adam worked both our cocks together, skin against skin, and the friction was almost too much, amazingly I didn’t just cum from that, while I fucked myself open, moaning. “Adam, please,” I said panting. Adam pressed his hand against my breastbone. “Are you sure you’re ready?” Gently he nipped my earlobe, breath hot against my skin. “You drive me crazy - I’m gonna make it so good for you, baby, s’promise.” Adam’s body was flushed and his eyes were hooded, dark with lust. He held my hips to brace himself and lined himself up with my body. He pushed into me slowly and the thickness of him made me wince, and it hurt a little in moments. Adam petted at my hair easing me through the pressure that seemed to fill me completely. Whispered reassurances fell from Adam’s mouth as he talked me through the pain, stroking my face, telling me to relax and how well I was doing. “You feel so good.” Adam’s voice was husky and his eyelids were so heavy they were almost closed. “Love you so much, baby.” “Adam,” I said his name like something holy, as I finally grew accustomed to the searing heat pressing into me. Adam looked at me questioningly and I nodded. His face and neck shined with sweat and my heart clenched when Adam kissed me so softly. Then he started to rock his hips, drawing a low and deep moan from my chest. Adam mirrored the noise, pulling out and thrusting with a slow, languid pace. All the rush and fervor was expelled during our kisses and now the union of being together was too much, almost euphoric, hips rocking in perfect sync. My tunic was unbuttoned, hanging half off my body, skin gleaming with sweat and Adam clutched tightly at my slick shoulders, moaning. We kissed like we were running out of time, and I was afraid to shift angles rather than break the kiss. Adam read my mind because he shifted his hips as best he could, hitting that spot inside of me that made my vision white out, and sending me into spasms as boiling pleasure exploded through my nerves. Adam’s hand wrapped around my cock, pulling at it and timing it with our thrusts, and adding a new height of sensation. It was too much. I fell forward and pressed our foreheads together, kissing at his eyelids, nose, cheeks as Adam thrust into me once more, hard and sudden, and I was coming into his palm with a non-scream that’s a combination of fuck and Adam’s name. I looked into Adam’s eyes and nodded, rocking against him, silently giving permission. Adam’s hands curled tight around my waist, and his eyes slammed closed. Groaning his body went tense as he released deep inside of me. I could hardly breathe. Fuck that. The only thing I registered was the pounding of my own heart loud in my chest. Adam put his hand on my chest feeling my heartbeat. A moment later warm lips replaced his palm as he kissed the skin above my heart. My fingers slid into his damp hair and I pressed a kiss there. “Love you,” I whispered hoarsely. I didn’t see it, but I could feel Adam smile against my skin. He gently blew against my skin, whispering the words back in Atlantean followed by whispered promises of the future and our intertwined fates, about holding tight and glimpsing forever. He sealed the promises with a soft kiss there making my skin tingle. I collapsed on top of Adam and nuzzled into his chest, deliriously content. Adam sighed happily against my skin, pulling me closer. We fell asleep soon after that, all tangled up with our foreheads pressed together, hands pressed against each other’s hearts. - “You look like a child lost in the mall.” I gave Killian my best glare, but it was more halfhearted than anything. I never was a morning person and Oriens had chosen to call the council meeting at the rising of the sun. I managed to banish the last traces of sleepiness from my thoughts as King Oriens entered the council chamber, bringing the guards at the door to attention. “I have called this council meeting to bring clarity on the past,” said Oriens. “And to discuss the future.” He looked around the table where Killian, Ryan, Kevin, Nathaniel, Adam, and myself sat in various states of tiredness. “My attaché to the dreamcatchers should arrive at any moment, and we will begin.” The doors opened again, and I wasn’t the only person who gasped. It had been a year since we’d last seen the dream angel. Cerulean was clad in full crystalline battle armor, and his wings were still pristine white and beautiful. His dark hair was tied back and even though his expression was professionally blank, there was a little smile there when he saw us. “Cerulean,” said Ryan smiling, bright and happy. He dipped his head, smiling at us each in turn. “Hello again. It’s good to see you well.” Killian frowned, hard. Ryan saw his frowning profile and rolled his eyes fondly, and took Killian’s hand gently squeezing his fingers. Killian’s frown turned into a little bashful smile. “Cerulean acts as my envoy to the Dreamcatchers. He’s also tasked with specifically guarding over your dreams,” Oriens elaborated, seeing the unspoken question in Kevin’s eyes. “He’s prevented many enemies from doing you harm in your dreams.” “I guess we owe you one,” said Kevin, smiling brilliantly. Cerulean dropped his eyes with a crooked, bashful smile. He looked nervous. “I was just doing my duty, my prince,” he answered, ducking his head. He took his seat at the octagonal shaped table. Then Oriens steepled his fingers together, his eyes troubled. “Cerulean keeps me informed of the Waking World’s affairs. Your clones are a formidable enemy.” He sighed wearily. “Regrettably, they aren’t your greatest foe.” Ice ran through my veins as dread sank heavily in my gut, and an inkling of thought grew. “Descent of entropy,” I whispered. Killian, Ryan, Adam and Nathaniel all looked extremely confused with mounting alarm spread across their expressions. Kevin’s face said differently. He looked – fearful. “The past is going to repeat itself.” Oriens frowned deeply, eyes shadowed. “There are many circles within circles.” I pinned him with a startled stare. “I’ve heard that before, dad. What does that even mean?” I rubbed the wrinkles between my brows, unsure of what to make of the situation at this point. “This is all connected somehow. Kevin being in Heaven and Celeste being all shifty, the clones, us, all of it – goes back to something, but what...” Oriens’ unease manifested by the slump of his shoulders. “You’re right.” He nodded at Cerulean, who was utterly still, body tense. “Cerulean, can you start at the beginning, please. You were there on the frontlines.” “Our universe, like a great many things, thrives on balance. Good and evil, light and dark, death and life. Without balance the universe falls apart.” Killian stared at Cerulean, nonplussed. “I highly doubt the universe will end if, let’s say, good destroys all the evil in the world, or Mary Kay invents a true anti-aging cream.” Cerulean fixed him with an even stare. “Even though the walls of the universe are thick, they aren’t impervious. It has an expiration date. Death is as old as the cosmos. One day he’ll reap this universe, too.” His eyes went flat as he struggled in his memories. “Angels were created by the They Above All. The First Gods made us to look after the universe on a cosmic scale.” “Chosen before the Chosen,” I muttered, remembering the transcript. I shared a thoughtful look with Kevin. Cerulean nodded. “Angels were the first Chosen. We were charged with making sure the universe stayed on its natural course so it could live a full and ancient life. Our main job was keeping certain power vortexes separate and kindling stars. There was order and it was good.” His whimsical smile dimmed. “Then came the Last Great War.” Silence hung in the chamber for a long hanging moment after Cerulean concluded his statement. We’d all heard about the Last Great War. It was a dark time that even history books didn’t record. There wasn’t a portion of the universe the war didn’t touch. It burned galaxies, killed stars, and turned planets to rocks and dust. After the war and during the interim of chaos is when the Lords in Shadow gained their foothold. “You fought in the Last Great War,” said Nathaniel, eyebrows rising to his hairline. “An enemy entered our universe more terrible than anything we had encountered previously. He swept across the galaxies leaving devastation in his wake, obliterating star systems, and leaving a horde of travesty. We should’ve engaged him immediately, but never had we had encountered an enemy with powers to rival our own.” Cerulean shook his head, scowling. “Entropy wasn’t the first evil, but until this day there’s never been a being that’s come close to the devastation he singlehandedly wrought.” Was Entropy a person? So that meant- Adam made a startled noise, simultaneously connecting the dots. “Descent of Entropy? The bedtime song my mom used to sing to me. That’s what it’s talking about? Some cosmic evil guy.” Cerulean stared at him with wide eyed surprise. “The song you speak of is... has been lost to the currents of time – only the angels know it. How you know the tune, let only the words...” “I don’t know how she knew it,” said Adam defensively, turning away from Cerulean’s piercing stare. “It’s just a nursery rhyme.” Oriens shook his head. “It’s a warning. A cautionary tale.” Cerulean nodded. “When Entropy began destroying those power vertexes I mentioned, the Prime Points, endangering the universe – is when we acted.” Ryan held the angel with a questioning stare. “Prime Points?” “They’re energy vortexes that keep the universe in equilibrium, like natural stabilizers. Too many in one place and the laws of physics go away. Planets are turned to whitestars, people mutate into eldritch degradations, and water becomes clay.” His lips thinned into a line. “Destroy too many and Alpha Armageddon happens.” Killian risked a glance at Kevin. “You mean Beta Armageddon?” “Beta Armageddon means death and rebirth. The universe will be reborn and life will continue anew in some fashion. Alpha Armageddon is the ultimate end. Everything from the tiniest insect to the oldest god will die. Hell, heaven, the Dreamlands - all of reality will be brought to an end in this universe. Forever.” Adam was the first to break the dead silence to follow. “How many Prime Points are there?” “There were dozens of them. Now they’re only seven.” This came from Oriens. “The central one is called the World of Elegance.” He looked at me and I knew what he was going to say, feeling it in my stomach. “You would know it as the Key of Time and Space.” “Chad’s pendent?” said Ryan, gaping, which was pretty much the reaction of everyone else. Killian looked thoughtful. “I knew that thing was freakishly powerful.” “It’s the central Prime Point. It acts as a nexus for the other points to draw power from and feed power back into a feedback loop,” Oriens explained. “It’s why it was chosen as a seal to Heaven’s Trumpet because of its power channeling capability.” “I don’t. I mean, I’m not surprised,” I said finally. “When I channeled power from it, I always felt connected to something bigger, you know?” “The World of Elegance is weaker nowadays without the other points feeding power into it,” said Cerulean. “The seven points were saved by the blood of hundreds of angels. In the end, Entropy was stopped. He took out two-thirds of the angelic host with him.” Adam frowned. “How did you manage to kill him?” “We didn’t.” Oh. Well, shit. And now we’ve come to the crux of the problem. “What did you do?” I asked grimly. “We couldn’t kill him, so we imprisoned him by creating a vortex to suck in the asteroids and planets around him, creating a spherical cage.” Cerulean illustrated by miming with his hands. “Then we locked it with seals, the seven hundred Dread Barriers. Over time, Entropy’s cage evolved; oceans formed, mountains rose, plants grew and life-forms began to sprout upon it. Soon those life-forms evolved into humans and the cage in which the Entropy resided became Earth.” “What!” The shout surprisingly came from Ryan. He wasn’t the only one affected. We all were shocked. I almost fell out of my chair at the revelation. I gaped at Oriens. “You stationed the capital of your empire on a prison planet?” I asked incredulously. “Every prisoner needs a warden.” Adam leaned forward, frowning. “All this talk about Entropy returning, how is that possible?” “As of today, only one Dread Barrier remains.” Killian slammed his hand on the table, startling everyone. His face was pinched tight with anger. “Why now and all of a sudden? This doesn’t make any sense and what’s this about circles and things connecting. I’m so freaking lost.” “The Barriers have fallen steadily over the centuries like my brothers predicted they would. There remain only one and its losing power and will soon fall.” This was just too much. I let out a deep breath, smoothing my shaking hands against wrinkles in my pants. I held Cerulean with a lidded glare. “What happened to the other six hundred and ninety-nine barriers?” Cerulean shared a glance with Oriens. It was father who spoke up when the angel couldn’t. He turned to us and there was deep sorrow in his eyes. He traced a shape in the air forming a circle of blazing green light. Then another, and another, and another, each one entirely drawn one within the other. “Circles within circles. No matter how you draw it, a circle has an ending and a beginning. And you always end up at its beginning to complete it. The Fall of Atlantis. Do you remember that night?” I gripped Adam’s hand hard under the table. “Of course. The Lords in Shadow attacked and we lost.” My hollow reply made Kevin take my other hand. Oriens looked like he wanted nothing more than to wrap me in his arms, but he continued nonetheless. “They shouldn’t have even detected the city. Even more, if they had found our location the shield could withstand anything that threw at the city.” Ryan tilted his head, agreeing. “But the shields weren’t up when the Lords attacked. It was undergoing diagnostics because one of the emitters blew.” “Are you trying to say Entropy had something to do with it?” Killian said. It was a testament to how much the situation was throwing him because he didn’t mask his sarcastic disbelief. “Entropy has powers we couldn’t contain,” Cerulean said. “And with Atlantis’ fall, so did the first Dread Barrier. We suspect he was behind the Order of the Dying Star’s plans, whispering in the Black Pope’s ear, secrets and lies.” Nathaniel’s brow furrowed with concentration. “We thought that was the Elder Spawn pulling their strings.” “The true puppet master was Entropy,” Oriens answered grimly. “For with the Elder Spawn’s resurrection fell another Dread Barrier.” I gripped the table’s edge so hard my knuckles were turning white. “That’s how they kept finding us. I figured they had some super scrying spell, but damn it.” I took a breath and narrowed my eyes at my father and the angel. “What the hell is the last Barrier, and how can we stop it from completely collapsing?” Oriens shook his head. “It’s too late,” he said sadly. “The Seven hundredth Dread Barrier began to crumble when Chosen fought against Chosen, bringing true the Chosen Wars prophecy predicted centuries ago.” Well, wasn’t that just dandy. Someone makes a prophecy about us and as per the damn par, we didn’t know about it. I couldn’t reign in my temper anymore. “No one told us about that prophecy!” I said, glaring at my father. King Oriens didn’t waver in the face of my anger. He blinked and calmly replied, “Would that have changed the outcome of your decisions? Would you let them continue to destroy and make a mockery of your very selves.” Seeing my hesitation, he smiled gently, “Prophecies always come to pass. Knowing of them makes it self-fulfilling. You were better off in ignorance. “Another Barrier was lost to the destruction of the midrealm of the Equinox Faerie. They might not know it, but Entropy’s influencing your clones. Just as he’s used other events to chip away at the locks of his prison.” He drew another circle in the air. “No matter the path it always circles back to him. We’re unsure of how much history he’s controlled, but as his bonds broke the greater his control became.” It was starting to sound like this was our fault. Three of the Dread Barriers collapsed because we didn’t stop our enemies. I should’ve been stronger, better. If anyone was to blame, it was me. I was the leader and I let them down. “I can see the guilt hanging heavy around you,” said Cerulean gently. “Other barriers were tied to events that didn’t just factor you Chosen. Most were lost to the centuries between your death and rebirth. One fell to the Oblivion War between the Deathsmiths and the Legion of Seven Stars. Another to the death of Greater Lumina.” His stare shifted into something like understanding. “We’ve only recently become aware of Entropy’s manipulation of one my brother’s into betrayal. That betrayal led to the first civil war of heaven and ended with the Morningstar Proclamation.” Nathaniel gasped. “You don’t mean...” Sadly, Cerulean closed his eyes and nodded. “The twentieth Dread Barrier fell alongside Lucifer.” “Heaven is now close to civil war again since that time,” said Kevin, speaking up for the first time since the council began. “It’s why I stayed so long. The Silver City is divided. They know the Dread Barriers are collapsing and they’re scared. Few angels believe in us and think we have a shot against Entropy. Most want to drop a black hole in the sun and let the vertex suck in the Solar System, including the Earth. They hope the new cage will hold this time.” Something like anger shone in Oriens eyes as he sat stiffly in his chair. “Genocide I cannot abide. Such action is folly. If he can get out once, he can free himself again.” “We’re practically an endangered species now,” said Cerulean, sorrow heavy in his voice and movements. “They fear if Entropy is free, he will finish the job and wipe us all out this time.” “That’s not an excuse,” said Killian sharply. Ryan laid his hand on his shoulder, calming him. “It’s not his fault, Killer. He’s just explaining.” Kevin nodded, offering Cerulean a comforting smile. “You’re one of the few who disagree on sacrificing mankind. No matter how I tried, they wouldn’t see reason. They’re deadest on the greater good.” “So Heaven’s out to get us, our clones are trying to rule the world, and some ancient badass is caged at the center of the Earth and almost free.” I smiled brightly. It wavered and fell flat. “Those aren’t good odds.” “We’re so fucked,” muttered Killian. “Oh,” I tried to argue, but the only thing that came out was a small, humorless chuckle. “Oh, damn.” The pieces fell into place, the curtain was pulled back, and it looked like the joke was on us. Entropy was coming, and he was going to drag all of us to hell, screaming. When he was done, there wouldn’t even be a Hell. Well shit.
  14. Solaris was in no shape to transport us, so I created a portal that greedily sapped at my diminished reserves. The city wasn’t what we left. Centennial was a disaster zone. Clouds blanketed the sky and hid away the sun leaving the city in a dim shadow of gloom. Voidwalkers had come to Centennial, leaving death and destruction in their wake. There wasn’t a single person in the streets. Empty vehicles, abandoned and silent, filled the lonely roads. Shattered store windows were abundant up and down the downtown streets. And the bodies. Withered corpses lay amongst the silent streets, empty husks of human flesh. A putrid smell clung to the air, and it was taking everything I had not to gag. “God,” Adam kneeled to examine a decayed corpse. It used to be a little girl. Her ribbons were still in her now thin, unnatural gray hair. He looked up at eyes brimming with tears. “What did this?” Ryan laid his hand on Adam’s shoulder to comfort him. His face was troubled, and his eyes were just as wet and stricken. I looked away and to the overcast sky, blinking quickly to hold back my tears. “Voidwalkers,” I replied tonelessly. “They’re from the Outland dimensions. Atlanteans called them walking chaos. Their touch is ruin.” Killian frowned. “Outland dimensions… That sounds familiar.” “Think of our dimension like a grain of sand in a sandbox. The sandbox represents our universe, and each grain represents a different dimension.” I splayed my hands out. “Grains of sand closest to ours are what science calls parallel dimensions. They’re most like our reality. The further away you travel from our dimension, the bigger the differences between realities.” “The Outland dimensions are the outer dimensions at the edge of reality,” said Ryan, eyes distant as he recollected on past memories. I nodded. “The voidwalkers are from a dimension of maddening chaos. It’s a formless plane made of prismatic mass and ectomatter. Physical laws of order that bound our dimension mean shit there. They are the lords of their world, and they walk it like gods.” I shook my head at the ruins surrounding us. “I don’t know how but Cobalt’s set them loose here.” “Where are they then?” asked Killian. He cracked his knuckles. Ryan shot him a look. “You’re in no shape to be fighting anyone.” “I’m a big boy. I’ll be okay.” Killian looked away at Ryan’s glower. “Really, Ryan. I’m not.” He tapped his fist against his mouth three times. “I’m not dying, alright. Don’t do this. Don’t be all caring and then not be mine.” Ryan looked dazed for a moment like he wasn’t sure what was happening, and then he nodded, smiling. It was like flipping a switch as he came to some inner decision. He was suddenly calm, expression utterly beatific. Ryan’s smile was tentative, shy. “Okay.” For a second, Killian’s brow furrowed, not comprehending. “Okay? Okay, what?” “If I can only care about you if I’m yours...” Ryan trailed off, tone light as red rapidly spread across his cheeks. “Then, okay. I’m yours.” Killian was so stunned he couldn’t even blink. It didn’t even look like he was breathing. He took a step forward and then stopped. Killian’s face was like an open book. Naked longing shone through clear as day. “Do you mean it?” he asked intensely, staring, looking at him like nothing else in the world mattered. “With you,” Ryan said gently. “I always mean it.” Killian let out a shaky exhale. Pain pinched at his eyes and made his mouth tremble. This was Killian open and honest, completely vulnerable, and all on the line. When he spoke, his voice came out soft and threadbare thin. “I should have never ended it. I’m an idiot.” “I’ve told you that many times.” Ryan moved closer to Killian, who stood frozen. “I don’t blame Lacey for going after you,” said Killian, honest regret making his voice thick. “I’m an asshole for taking so long. I -- did I make you wait a long time?” Ryan placed his hands around Killian’s waist. “I’m here, so it wasn’t that long.” He reached up to cup the side of Killian’s face, his thumb stroking firm across his cheekbones. “I love you.” Killian let out a bark of startled laughter. He shook his head, unable to fight the smile on his face. “Boy, I’m so far gone over you I can’t even see straight. I don’t know how to not be anything but in love with you.” “Charmer, charmer,” Ryan said, barely audible, his voice little more than a whisper as he leaned forward. He finally kissed him, slow and waiting until Killian responded, breaking free from his frozen stupor. Killian pulled away, looking faintly astounded. Ryan smiled at him low and sweet, thumb sweeping gently just under Killian’s eyelid. Killian’s expression turned adoring, and there was no denying the bone-melting desire coming off him in waves. Their foreheads leaned together as the world faded away to just them. “Bout time,” I grumbled, but the beaming smile on my face was ecstatic. Adam wrapped his arm around my waist and leaned into me. “This is so not the time for this, but I’m way too happy for them right now.” I grinned. “Let’s give them another minute.” Ryan pressed his face into Killian’s shoulder. “I missed you. So much.” “I missed you too. I never meant to make you feel like you weren’t good enough.” The tips of his fingers touched Ryan’s temples. “I miss your glasses. You didn’t have to change. To me. Shit, now I’m starting to sound like a big goddamn girl.” Ryan squeezed Killian’s hips. “No. That’s our problem. We don’t -- say what you mean to say. Please.” Killian rolled his eyes at himself, the tips of his ears turning red. “To me...you’re everything.” Ryan’s face softened, and his arms tightened around Killian, lifting him a little. His hand curled around the nape of Killian’s neck as he babbled a string of flowing words in Atlantean. It was too low, only for Killian’s ears, but I caught some of it. The words missing him every day, never wanting to let go, and loving him forever made my own heart do summersaults. I turned away from the sight, suddenly feeling like I was intruding on something so very private. I wiped at my eyes, and Adam beamed down at me with pure joy. “They’re going to be okay,” he said with an air of surety. I tightened my hand around his hands. “I think so too. They’ll need each other.” Goosebumps rose on my forearms. “Things are going to get worse before they get better. I can feel it.” Adam let out a startled noise and moved away from me. He pulled out his phone with a sheepish look at my raised eyebrow. The screen lit up as the communication link came online. Nathaniel’s frowning face filled the screen. “Finally,” he snapped, sounding completely and utterly wrecked. And he looked it. “Voidwalkers have-” I moved closer to let Nathaniel see me on the vidlink. “We know about the voidwalkers,” I cut him off. “We got back as quickly as we could.” Adam noticed Nathaniel’s state of frenzy too. “What’s wrong?” “Those bloody creatures were here,” Nathaniel said in an uncharacteristic, aggravated tone. Even his perfectly coifed hair was in disarray from where he had been pulling at it. “I think I need a drink.” “Are you okay?” I said in a rush. Nathaniel sighed. “I’m fine. They managed to breach the perimeter, but I beat them off with the defense systems.” His lips twisted into a scowl. “Bastards snuck up on me. Sensors didn’t even see them coming. I’m trying to reconfigure the arrays to detect for their extraplanar resonance.” “It’s not safe there,” Ryan said suddenly. I didn’t even see him join us. “The Outpost could be compromised. Cobalt’s already been there once. He could get in again. This attack only means they aren’t satisfied to leave things be.” Adam’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. “The voidwalkers are probably heading back to the city then.” “Our families?” “They’re fine,” Nathaniel assured us. “No alerts have appeared on the monitoring program.” I let out a whoosh of breath. He was right, of course. Our families unknowingly carried tiny nanobots within their bloodstream. These sophisticated devices regularly monitored their vitals for any signs of distress in health, physical or mental. It had been Ryan’s idea to inject our relatives secretly. It used to be standard practice for Atlanteans. “Right now, cell towers are down, and a public broadcast is going out by old school radio wave.” Nathaniel looked away to read another monitor. “All civilians are holed up at government shelters. They’ve got the national guard and the army patrolling.” Like that’s going to stop voidwalkers. But at least they had a plan. It was more than we had at the moment. The shelters themselves were built after the Elder Spawn decimated the world and turned Centennial into ground zero. Evacuating the town had been Hell, and most died on the bridges leading out. Construction of the shelters began right after so people would have a place to bunker down until whatever newest hellstorm blew over. At Adam’s urging, Nathaniel activated the feature that traced whoever was injected with nanobots exact location. Killian muttered something about his parents being in Milan. Ryan’s dad was at the hospital. Adam’s aunt and uncle were at a shelter across town. Nathaniel paused for a moment, surprised. “Your family is pretty close, Chad.” I knew they were safe, but it was suddenly vital that I needed to see it for myself. Nathaniel must have seen the distress on my face because he rattled off the directions to the shelter he traced them to. “Listen, I’ll meet you boys there. I’m going to lock down the vault and grab anything we might need.” His frown was grim. “They’ll head back into the city soon. But we’ve got some time, and we’ll be ready for them.” The walk to the shelter was short and quiet. The streets were eerily silent and deserted. Soon enough, however, we reached the shelter. The east 1A shelter was a converted community recreation center. The National Guard lined the top of the surrounding buildings armed with rifles. Soldiers in army greens took up the perimeter, and orders barked out as we came upon the shelter. “You boys okay?” asked an army Captain with a thick southern drawl. He holstered his sidearm as he stared at us grimly. “Go on and get inside. We don’t know if those nasties will be back. Make sure you register so they can try and locate your families on the master list.” We were ushered through a steel door and into the fortified building. A guard walked us through check-in and to what was once the gymnasium. I was momentarily startled at the amount of sound coming from inside. There were more people packed in the gym than I expected. Families clustered around cots in units radiating with tired and wary movements. Doctors were scattered throughout the gathered populace, and their coats were the cleanest clothes in the whole place. The sound of kids and crying babies mixed in a drone of noise. Some people were sick, some healthy, some injured –- and the ones covered in blood -– they were the worst off. The Red Cross moved among the weary and dirty people gathering volunteers where they could. “I was hoping for the best, expecting the worst,” said Adam taking in the scene quietly, like we all were. “This is bad –- but not as bad as it could be.” It could have been mass hysteria. Instead, the survivors were surviving. They banded together and didn’t roll over and let the extradimensional threat outright kill them. If the Power Rangers thought they were going to rule the Earth, then they had to get through humanity to do it. We didn’t go more than fifteen feet when a woman’s voice called out, “Chad!” I spun to see my mother break from a group of adults I recognized from her company’s picnics. Morgan was a step behind her as they ran the distance between us. My heart leaped, and I met them halfway, overwhelming happiness and relief thrummed my body as we hugged. “Ah, Mom, stop crying,” I said through my sniffles. She just clutched me harder, weeping loudly into my shoulder. Morgan was in a similar state, and my heart clenched. I hadn’t seen my sister cry in years. “Good to see you too, brat,” I said gruffly as something squeezed my throat tight. Morgan shook her head and wiped at her tears with a trembling smile. “Idiot.” There was joy in her voice, but it was frail, too, and the sound hurt me to hear. I tenderly wiped at the tears on her cheeks. She hid her face in my shoulder as fresh tears appeared. The world blurred, and I scrubbed at my wet eyes. “I thought the worst...” Mom trailed off, leaning back and looking me over. She shook her head and smiled happily. “Not a scratch on you. Where have you been? How did you even get here?” A lie was on the tip of my tongue faster than the truth. A wave of self- loathing rose in me. But it wasn’t just my secret to tell. “It was crazy,” said Adam stepping to my side, smiling reassuringly at my mother. “We were at the mall, and then it was chaos.” Ryan and Killian came up beside him. They had been quietly watching the reunion, and once the crying was over, they finally decided it was appropriate to approach. “We kept away from main areas and moved around as quickly as we could when it was safe,” said Ryan, elaborating on Adam’s lie. “My dad made me watch a program about disaster drills on NBC once. We were lucky, I guess.” Mom gave him a confirming nod. “You were. It all came out of nowhere. So fast. God, it was all so fast. It was like the world just went to Hell.” Lines formed between her eyebrows when she frowned. “But we’re all okay. That’s the main thing that everyone is alright.” Morgan stepped closer to Adam and touched his wrist. “Thank you,” she said softly. “You looked after my brother.” My eyes misted up again. The damn brat. The pain she was, but she was my pain, my baby sister. Adam’s eyebrows rose in surprise, and warm tenderness made his face go soft as he smiled a tiny smile. Adam’s fingers curled around her smaller palm. He spoke with quiet surety. “I won’t ever let anything hurt him.” He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Or you.” Mom placed her hand on Killian’s shoulder. “You boys come on and sit. They’re handing out MRE’s. It’s not the best, but it’s something to eat.” Our reunion was like a promise of spring. That the winter was over, and the sun was coming out. In this little tiny corner of the world, there was joy, and it was glorious. We dragged two benches by the cots my mother was issued. True to her word, the MRE’s weren’t the best. I made a face at what was supposed to be beef stew. Adam chuckled at my expression. “Reminds me of the starship rations,” Adam whispered against my ear. I poked at the packaged food, morose. “This is worse.” “With cell towers down and the internet pretty much dead in the city, the only way to contact anyone is with sat phones.” Mom nodded to her coworkers clustered around a long black phone. “Radio broadcast coming in or outside the city is being distorted somehow.” Ryan looked over at the phone thoughtfully. “Most satellite phones operate in the L-Band, a portion of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Adam nodded along, picking up his train of thought. “You can configure those phones to change operating frequency to compensate for RF interference in certain parts of the spectrum.” Dead silence punctuated the end of his observation. Realizing what happened, Ryan and Adam turned away from each other. They met the incredulous stares of my mother and sister. They exchanged shocked gazes. Morgan blinked. “Was that English?” “Those honor courses are stepping up the curriculum.” Mom stared at them blankly. “Good old Centennial High,” I said in a rush to fill the silence. “Go, Cougars!” All heads swiveled around to me. I inwardly groaned. My dignity? Collapsing on itself like a dying star. My eye twitched as I grinned falsely. Mom side-eyed me and slowly turned around like I might start eating play dough the minute she took her eyes off me. “Have you checked the list for your parents and loved ones?” Mom directed the question to my friends. “Dad’s at the hospital,” Ryan replied. “He was at work when it all went down.” Killian shrugged. “It’s fashion week. Mom dragged Dad to Europe for the week.” I didn’t miss the way that Ryan gave Killian’s hand a comforting squeeze. Killian didn’t have the closest relationship with his parents. Even calling it a relationship was stretching it. “West 3C shelter,” said Adam with a real smile. “Their status was confirmed as uninjured.” Morgan saw a friend and gave a sudden squeal of delight before darting off to embrace a pretty girl with flawless dark skin. I waved at Krystal as she enthusiastically beamed over at us. Mom walked over to them as Krystal’s parents came up behind the girls. “I just want to crash,” Killian said once my mother was out of earshot. “I’m exhausted.” Ryan fought off a yawn as he tore into his MRE. “Your life force won’t completely be recharged for a while.” “That was master healer level aura manipulation,” Adam said to Ryan, earning him a bashful shrug. Adam reminisced on his own healer training and speculated on Ryan’s adept level and instinctual abilities. Ryan prepared the MRE without looking like he had been doing it all his life. The champion of soul hands seemed to move on their own he was so engrossed in what Adam was saying. Barely glancing at his can of juice, he slid it over to Killian, nodding and adding into the conversation with Adam without pausing. Killian looked dazed for second at the action “Orange Pineapple?” He read off the label with raised eyebrows. “This is my favorite.” Ryan shrugged nonchalantly. “I know.” Adam and Ryan went back to their conversation. Ryan was once more absorbed into the topic, but every so often, his gaze would dart to Killian to watch him out of the corner of his eyes. Killian had a little quirk on his lips. It was not a smile. Killian wasn’t one to show the world his true feelings. Yet even though it wasn’t a smile, it was almost one, and near bursting to get through. Every once in awhile, when I looked over, Killian’s control would slip. He beamed down at his juice like it was the best thing that ever happened to him before he composed himself again, and only the quirk remained. When Ryan did really look at Killian, it was quick and fleeting, only for a second, then he ducked his head. If I weren’t watching for it, I probably would have missed the way Ryan’s chest puffed up or the barest hint of blush that colored his cheeks. Their arms gravitated until their forearms lay flush against each other. Hands quickly followed, and their fingers slid together, till they’re hand in hand, like they would never let go. And they stayed just like that. Despite the conditions around us, their eyes were bright and happy, and they looked content. “I can’t hold it in anymore,” I pointed at their hands, beaming. “You two are so adorable right now. I can’t even. Are you like together again?” They didn’t even pause before both nodded and simultaneously said, “Yes.” Adam threw his arm out and punched the air. “Awesome.” Ryan laughed, squinting at us appraisingly. “You two been waiting on this?” “Perverts,” Killian added, but he was smiling as if he’d never stop. I smirked. “I’m not buying what you’re selling, asshole. But I really am glad you guys made up.” “Ditto,” Adam said. “Since when do you say ditto?” I asked, prompting him to whistle innocently. I narrowed my eyes, suspicious. “I knew it. Ghost is totally your favorite movie.” Killian was visibly confused. “I thought Die Hard was your favorite movie?” I snorted, turning my smirk away from Adam’s glare. “That’s what he tells people. Doesn’t even own it, but he has Ghost on his computer and a backup copy on DVD.” Ryan shook his head, pretending to be disappointed, but he was grinning. “The power of Swayze.” We all laughed, and it was this bright and happy moment that I would cherish in the days to come. In the back of my mind, I knew things would get very dark soon. A throat cleared, and we looked up. Nathaniel was dressed in a pressed, pearl gray three-button Dior suit, hair dark with product, and perfectly slicked back. He trained clear green eyes on us. “Thank God,” I let out a loud exhale. “Earlier, you looked like you’d been in a knife fight. I thought it was the end of the world. Like some Ragnarok shit.” Killian rolled his eyes. “And there we go. Chad sounds like a dumbass. The Earth is completely back on its axis. Everything is normal.” Nathaniel rubbed his left eye. “Earlier I was...” He paused to search for the right word. “Distressed.” The advisor took a seat on the empty cot and laid a briefcase on his lap. It was Burberry. Figures. I forgot Nathaniel was old money until I got a visual reminder. His manners were all prep school charm and everything he owned was designer. He belonged to the 1% of the American population that owned a Black Card. Nathaniel had style. I wished I looked as sharp as he did when I was older. I shook my head, tuning back into the conversation. Nathaniel patted the bag carefully after casting a searching look around him. “I packed some weapons and a few interface tablets so we can connect to the mainframe.” He adjusted his Windsor and made a face. “I would prefer being at the outpost but that’s obviously out. I should start drawing up plans for a safe house.” I grinned at his afterthought. I loved when he went all James Bond. “I approve,” Killian heartily agreed. Adam nodded. “Ditto.” The three of us shot him a look. He ducked his head, grinning. “Do you still need help reconfiguring the sensors to detect voidwalkers?” asked Ryan. Nathaniel fiddled with his sleeves and his cufflinks. “I managed to have some leeway, but your help would make this whole thing go a lot faster.” Ryan took the briefcase from Nathaniel. He pulled out a slim black tablet that looked like an iPad, if an iPad was upgraded and on its 29th or 30th version. I wiped my hand against my lips to smother my smile. “At least if someone gets suspicious, you can pass it off as some Apple gadget.” Killian looked at me wistfully. “If only you came with an off button.” “I’ll put up a struggle before you could press it. It would be epic.” Nathaniel grumbled crossly. “Really? Even in a crisis.” I smiled all teeth. “Multitasking, yo.” Killian examined his nails. “Keeps him in line.” Adam spit up his apple juice a bit, making a complete mess. I wiped away a speckle from my cheek and looked straight at him. He just grinned, juice dribbling down his chin. I may or may not be still attracted to him. “Oh, God,” Ryan laughed, quieted. “Sorry, Nathaniel. We’re just kinda tired.” “Ah, hyperactivity decline,” Nathaniel said, patting Killian on the shoulder. Killian yawned tiredly in response. “I didn’t ask, but what happened to you after you went into that forest? Your signals went dead on the grid.” I perked up. “We found the faerie realm. Well, one of them.” Nathaniel looked at us, astounded. “Did you really?” “And you’re not going to believe this,” Adam said excitedly. “Ian and Isabella were there. Faeries can resurrect or something in their homeland.” My tone was somber. “Too bad their homeland is worse off than Centennial. Between the Power Rangers and us, we decimated that place.” I licked my lips. “If they come back from the other faerie realms, I don’t think they’ll have much to come back to.” “Hey,” Killian protested. “You make it sound like it was all for nothing. We killed my clone. So, plus.” Nathaniel congratulated us with quiet enthusiasm. I looked over at the tablet as Ryan’s hands moved smoothly over the touch display. My shoulder gave a twinge, protesting the sudden movement as my healing factor continued making it whole. “That just leaves three clones left,” said Nathaniel. He pinched his nose and closed his eyes briefly. “Ryan, Chad, and Adam. I imagine your clones will be even more ruthless now that one of their own has been killed.” I stared around at the weary state of people. “Four against three now, though,” I said viciously. “I still don’t like those odds,” Adam prompted. “Downer,” Killian mumbled. I lifted my head. “We’re Chosen. The odds are never in our favor. But we do the impossible anyway.” A shadow loomed over us, and Mom stepped back into the group. She was staring hard at the pocket notebook she always carried, seemingly immersed in her notes. When she finally looked up, it was with surprise as she found Nathaniel sitting on the cot. “Uh, hello,” she cocked her head. “Do I know you?” Nathaniel stood, smiling charmingly. “Nathaniel Ruiz.” “He’s Killian’s uncle!” I blurted out. Killian smiled, bright and false, and with fake cheer. “I didn’t even know he was here. It’s like a miracle.” If he said the last part kind of dry, no one commented on it. Mom extended her hand, and Nathaniel bent over, placing a delicate kiss against her knuckles. “A pleasure,” he said smoothly. Mom took her hand back. “Call me, Samantha. Your accent is so lovely. What part of England are you from?” “My family has its roots in Spain. I spent most of my life in Wales, though. Practically grew up in boarding school there.” Nathaniel offered her a seat on the cot. She sat next to him smoothly, crossing her ankles and fixing her eggshell-colored dress. She had on a pair of nude flats and her blonde hair was pulled back in a chignon. I thought she looked lovely. Judging by Nathaniel’s interested stare, he thought so too. I frowned hard, and he rolled his eyes at my dark glare. Mom spotted the tablet on Ryan’s lap and the matching one that Nathaniel held. “Trying to keep distracted? I get it.” She held up a mini pocket book and pen. “Trying to keep distracted? I get it. I’m attempted to do some work myself.” “Where do you work?” asked Nathaniel, casually moving the tablet away from her roving gaze. Killian took it without prompt and slipped it back into the briefcase. “I’m a reporter,” She clicked her pen a few times in an absent-minded gesture. “I’m going around trying to take a few statements. Like it or not, this is news. Care to make one?” Nathaniel plastered on his broadest smile. “I wouldn’t mind at all. What about?” Mom leaned forward, pen poised, and ready. “Where do you suppose our resident superheroes are? It’s not like them to be MIA during an event like this. Do you think they’re alright?” His smile wilted. “I’m sure they have good reasons for not responding to the threat,” he said carefully, not sparing us a single glance. Mom had a total focus face as she jotted down his short statement. I knew the paper had her exclusively working on Chosen related articles lately, but to see it up close and in person was...awkward. I shied away from the anxious stares directed at me. I was dealing with my own alarm, didn’t need the others to add to my already building panic. “Chad said you’re up for Pulitzer?” said Ryan trying to direct attention away from the subject. “Yeah, Mom wrote this awesome article about the Chosen.” I froze. Mom stared at me, questions burning in her eyes. “The what? Chosen?” Shitshitshitshit. Humans knew only the vaguest bits about the Chosen... they didn’t even know we were called the Chosen. I stilled, and my expression was closed off, crystal smooth and blank as a check. But my heart hammered loudly in my throat. “I’ve heard you say that before...The Chosen?” My mother rolled the word around her tongue. No one knew what to say, and the silence was not making it better. She was expecting me to elaborate, but my tongue was stuck in my throat. Mom stared at me, questioningly. I was the world’s worst liar. I wasn’t good at it, and I hated it. I hated lying to people I loved more than anything. Tears gathered in my eyes, and stubbornly refused to go away. I felt pathetic, small. I finally looked around at the others. Their stares weren’t judging or accusing as I expected. Calm acceptance was what soothed the surging panic that gripped me. I knew what I had to do. “I’ve said it before because the Heroic Quartet are called the Chosen.” “Oh?” Mom’s tone dripped with skepticism. “How do you know that?” I took a deep breath. “Because, I’m one of them... We are the Chosen.” Mom giggled and got up, her lips quirked in a tiny smile. “Honestly, I don’t know where you get your humor from sometimes.” “I’m serious.” Mom nodded absently and began sorting through her notes. “I believe you, kiddo. I swear on your Grandma Abbey’s grave.” “Grandma Abbey is still alive.” “Until she admits that she stole my famous Lemon Pie recipe, that woman is dead to me.” “More like infamous,” I muttered. She gathered her notebook and stood up. “Look, I’m going to try to wrestle the sat phone away really quick, so I can fact check a source. We’ll continue this later.” “Mom,” I demanded, grabbing her hand as she tried to leave. “I’m telling you the truth.” “I really don’t have time for this, honey.” Magic swirled around internally in response to my jumbled emotions. I couldn’t see them, but judging by the shock on her face, I’m guessing my eyes were glowing. Leaking power always caused my eyes to glow blue. This time wasn’t an exception. Silence followed as I reined in my power. I gently tugged on her hand till she hit the edge of the cot and plopped back down. I gave the others a quiet look. “Guys, can you give us a minute, please?” They reluctantly left after seeing my pleading stare. Their support was appreciated, but I needed to do this one on my own. It’s been a long time coming. There was silence. It hung in the air between us as this oppressive thing. It stretched on for ten seconds, thirty, a full minute. “I don’t understand,” is what she opened with. Her tone was vacant, and she looked at me like it was the first time really seeing me. I had to look away. I focused on the gymnasium floorboards. I couldn’t look her in the eyes yet. “I was going to tell you one day. I just couldn’t lie anymore, I guess.” I smiled shakily. “You know I suck at it.” “This isn’t...” she mumbled weakly. “How?” I took a shaky breath, and I knew I was pale. I felt like shit. “We’re called the Chosen. The less anyone knows about us is best.” “You were the first one,” Mom realized faintly. She stared at me for a long moment. The pieces were coming together. I could read it on her face. All the little moments were adding up in her head. I bit my lip and said hesitantly, “Mom?” “It all makes sense. The late nights, the bruises or cuts you can never explain.” The blood drained from her face, and I winced as each accusation felt like a bullet. “You noticed that, huh?” Her eyes narrowed at my attempt at coyness. “Do you know how much danger –- I can’t believe I never noticed. You’ve been playing superhero all this time. What if you had died? Did you think about that, how that would make your family feel?” My mouth formed a scowl before I could stop it. “That’s all I think about! It’s why I do this.” “You don’t have to,” she countered. A humorless laugh escaped from my throat. “I wish that were true. If I don’t fight, I’ll be dead anyway. You don’t realize how many disasters we’ve averted... If I didn’t fight, there would be nothing to fight for. We’d all be dead.” Mom took my hand. “Have you tried not being Chosen?” My mouth dropped. “It’s kind of something I was born with.” She pursed her lips nonplussed. “Get someone else to do it,” she said dismissively. Anger started to rise in me. I opened my mouth and then stopped. How many times had I asked myself that same thing? When I spoke, it was quiet and with dedication. “I asked that at first. All the time.” I smiled fleetingly. “Then I got used to it. I make a difference. The fighting…I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I like saving people. No one else can do what we do. It’s destiny.” “Destiny?” Mom repeated, thick tears rolling down her cheeks. “Destiny makes you go out and risk your life? Would Destiny make my baby lie to me? God, if you had died, we never would’ve known!” She choked on emotion, gripping my hand so tightly that her knuckles turned white. “Destiny took your father, and now it wants you. Please. Don’t do this anymore. I can’t lose you too.” “I’m sorry.” I could feel my face crumble as my lower lip trembled. I held her hands just as tightly. “I can’t, Mom. This is who I am.” She shook her head, stubbornly. “No! You’re just Chad. My little boy who colors outside the lines. When you’re sick, you like 7-up and not ginger ale. You wear too much blue, and you have a ridiculous fear of cats.” Tears fell thickly as she twisted her fingers in the sleeves of my shirt. “My baby boy.” I turned but heard her sigh. “You’re not going to stop, are you?” Meeting her gaze steadily, I shook my head. “I’m not. I’m still your Chad. But I’m also Warlock. I’m the leader of the Chosen. I can’t change that for anything.” “So much like your dad,” she whispered sadly. I could visibly see the fight leave her. Her shoulders sagged as the tension receded, leaving only a tired sadness that lingered at the edges of her eyes and around her mouth. “Are you disappointed in me? Mom looked at me quickly. “I’m feeling a lot of things right now. But I have never been disappointed in you. Not now, not ever.” I felt a warm glow in my stomach. I couldn’t help sitting a little straighter because of the fierce pride she had in me while even being furious with me. Her hand came up, and she cupped my cheek fondly. “You’ve grown up so much these last few years.” A tear rolled down the side of her face. “Please don’t—-” I rested my hand over hers, covering my cheek. “I won’t die. I promise.” A gentle smile settled on my face. “I’ll make you so proud of me.” “Always proud.” That got a real smile from her. She hugged me and then leaned back to wipe her eyes with the napkins from the MRE’s. Mom composed herself, and a curiosity I was used to appeared in her expression. “Your friends. They’re all superheroes, Chosen?” I nodded. “I was first. Ryan was next, then Killian and Adam were last. There’s Kevin too but—-” “Kevin is like you?” she interrupted more than shocked. “I don’t understand. You said you were born this way?” I half smiled. “It’s kind of a long story.” “We’ve got time.” I started to talk but stilled as a tremor raced through the floor. The building shook suddenly, but it wasn’t an earthquake. Gunfire echoed through the air, and everyone screamed as the shaking intensified and more gunfire joined the explosion of noise. It was chaos under the gymnasium roof as fear spread like a virus. “Mom!” Morgan raced to our mother and threw her arms around her. I breathed a little easier when the guys parted through the fear filled crowd. Nathaniel stood near my mother and I knew he would do his absolute best to make sure no harm befall my family. “We’re out of time,” said Ryan. Adam suddenly looked up. “Guys!” There was another great rumble, and terrible crunching, like metal grinding together, and the ceiling support beams broke. With a thunderous crunch, the ceiling was heaved away before our eyes, like some gigantic invisible hand had torn it off, and it was flung through the air. The open ceiling left us exposed to a horrendous sight. Voidwalkers, hundreds of them, filled the sky in a swarm of darkly glowing creatures of malevolent energy and rippling bodies of intangible flesh. They filled out the sky like some twisted host of demons from the deepest pit of Hell. They reeked of terrible otherness that skewed at the senses as reality protested the foreign entities screaming wrongwrongwrong. The crowded people flinched and cowered before the alien entities. I was more worried about the trio hovering in the sky looking down on us like the gods they so wanted to be. Cobalt had no trouble picking me out of a crowd. He glared down at me with lightning dancing within his irises. “Sloppy portal casting, as always. You weren’t hard to find.” His voice was laced with magic and it mercilessly pounded against our skulls. Children went to their knees even as there was a myriad of hurt cries. “You stupid, stupid boys. You just don’t know how to mind your own business.” Axel clicked his fingers and a middle aged woman clutched at her head with an agonized scream. Blood poured from her nose and she clawed at her head. Her glasses clattered to the ground even as she fell to her knees. “Stop it!” I yelled over the alarmed shouts that erupted. Reece smirked viciously. “Finally, he speaks.” If they wanted to drag us out of the closet, we weren’t going to do it kicking and screaming. The four of us traded significant glances, and a decision was made. Together we stepped forward. Even as we took our last step, the uniform of the Chosen formed around us, flowing out and replacing our clothes. The Chosen were unveiled, strong, standing shoulder to shoulder, and united. Morgan let out a surprised noise. Mom stared at us with wonder. Knowing and seeing were different things. “You should know this won’t end well for you,” I promised, staring up at the army of death. “Like you don’t know, but you’re not the first, or the last enemy to underestimate us. Leave now, or we’ll drop you.” The crowd who had been quiet with awe, let out a resounding cheer. Faced with death, the hope that we represented was like a miracle. I could almost feel their resolve strengthen and bolster as a wave of hope swept through the crowd. “Is that a royal decree?” Cobalt let out a mocking laugh, silencing the crowd and sending them to their knees with his amplified voice. “Try and make us, Your Highness.” I was bluffing. And they knew it too. Considering the odds, we were more than fucked. We could probably survive, but the death toll would be catastrophic. The people we were protecting wouldn’t survive this firefight. An all-out fight would nuke this whole block. “Chad?” It was said with a whisper, but Cobalt heard my mother like she was shouting. His eyes landed on her, and they gleamed with wickedness that made my heart sink. “And mommy’s here too!” he yelled happily. “Awesome.” Three things happened at once. Cobalt conjured a lethal globe of obsidian energy. I raised my arms, and ruby light gathered in my waiting palms. White light fell through the open ceiling like a comet. Before our eyes and amazement of everyone, great white wings unfurled within the dazzling light, transforming, reshaping, and turning into something else. There was a sudden bright flare and standing within the light was now a person. Angelic white wings flashed across my vision before they were gone. The light receded, revealing Halo. “Kevin,” I could only whisper, frozen to the spot like everyone else, as the champion of balance stood tall. Halo stared up at the waiting enemy and said only, “There will be a reckoning.” He flicked his hand and a ripple, like the heat across the desert air, wavered. Then a tall ornate staff appeared in his waiting hand. Halo raised the staff, and a terrific wave of silver power surged not upwards, like I was expecting, but around us. The light didn’t touch those above they remained unharmed; however, the six hundred or so people, every one of them with us included, vanished. Our entire world became an all-encompassing light. As the light began to reach unbearable levels, there was a gentle wind and a soothing warmth as it began to fade. I opened my eyes, and my heart almost burst. We stood at the edge of a forest of otherworldly trees with glowing bark and leaves of glinting silver. That was behind us. The sight in front of the crowd of curious and amazed onlookers was what held my attention. A sandy beach marked the barrier of a gentle sea where the city of Atlantis rested upon the calm waters. Lustrous silver towers of tritium metal and majestic spires rose high into the blue sky. Above them, like a sentential, soared the Imperium Tower. “Atlantis?” Adam said faintly. I shook my head, staring at the city with disbelief, but feeling like I’d come home. His mind was always thinking faster than most; it was Ryan who concluded first. “We’re in the Dreamlands.” Halo took in our reactions waiting for it to sink in. He leaned against his staff and smiled, it was small but warm, and he looked glad to see us. “Everyone will be safe here.” He stared right at me with a half smile. “Sorry, I couldn’t come back sooner.” His smile fell then. “Pay attention, brother, because things are about to get complicated.”
  15. Oh wow. I didn't think people would read this. This story has been finished for over a year on Nifty. I just remembered I never uploaded the rest of the chapters here.
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