v.) you could hear the water / at the edge of all things.

Kohana may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but if there’s one thing she is, it’s gutsy. She didn’t bat an eye at the monsters staring her down from outside the force fields around the capital, and the soldiers standing watch around the city didn’t faze her either. With the way she walks the halls of our headquarters, you’d think she owns the place. Shoulders squared, head held high, she carries herself like there’s nothing here she hasn’t seen before. Like nothing ever happened. I can’t tell if she’s just that cocky, or if she’s putting up a front. She’s universes away from her home planet that may or may not still exist. That’s a lot for a kid to take in, not to mention the whole military general stuff on top of that. The latter’s probably why she’s got her chest puffed out, she’s tryingand failingto fit shoes too big for her. She doesn’t know what kind of general my planet wants. I’m not going to lie though, I’ll be the first to admit I prefer her like this. Listening to her cry all ‘I lost my home’ that or ‘I know nothing about where I am’ this would be the alternative, All Creator forbid. If Kohana has to lie to herself and act like she’s okay with what’s happened, then so be it. As long as I don’t have to sit through any more of her tears, I’m good with it.

She walks into the Commander’s office before me, barging in. I already know there’s about to be a problem with the two of them. The Commander really doesn’t like strong-willed people like myself, that’s why I make myself small around him. The people he keeps close? His personal assistants? They don’t really help him out, they just stand there, pat his ass, and compete over who’s the best yes-man.

Everyone’s more or less scared of the Commander, but not in the way a monster sends a little kid cowering under a blanket. He’s in charge of everything here, fearing him just kind of makes sense. Would I run in the other direction if I catch the slightest bit of him? No. Will I think twice about what I say around him? Don’t have to tell me twice to hold my tongue. My family owns the most successful corporation on Spectra and the Commander still lords over it with an iron fist, that’s how powerful he is. There is nothing he can’t do, nothing his hands don’t touch; the guy’s middle name is ambition. Don’t think that’s impressive? Just wait until you hear the long list of things that he’s done. As much as I hate the guy, I can’t lie and say he’s not impressive. For all he’s given us, the only thing he wants in return is respect, obedience. Anyone who can’t give him that gets promptly dealt with, that’s why I don’t trust him and Kohana being in the same room together.

Kohana’s an asshole. She’s disrespectful, that’s just what assholes do. Sure she’s a Summoner, the most important one, too, but who knows how far that’ll get her. In a world where the Commander can have someone dead without saying a word, I don’t think he’d have too much patience for an extraterrestrial child.

Y’know I could have warned Kohana about the Commander, but that probably would have done more harm than good. I read Hiroyuki’s reports, the girl would square up to a rock if it challenged her. If she wants to fight the wealthiest, most powerful man in the universe then that’s her call. I won’t stop her. I’m not Kohana’s life coach which is exactly why I’d make a horrible Advisor. Hiroyuki is probably her impulse controlI refuse.    

This is the first time I’ve been in the Commander’s office. It’s not really an office as much as it is a throne room. Not really surprising considering headquarters is just a giant castle. He’s sitting in a chair raised by steps under a canopy with his head resting against his hand, looking at us as we enter. I don’t know why his upper lip is so stiff like he doesn’t know why we’re here, he’s the one who told me to bring Kohana as soon as she woke up. She’s been unconscious for weeks, and when she finally did wake up she almost took a swing at her personal doctor. She was ready to fight, must’ve thought she was still back on Earth fighting the umbrakinetic. Would have paid money to have seen her hit the umbrakinetic with a left, but I digress. I’m not exactly sure why Kohana decided to conk out after she teleported herself and the others back to D’ivoire’s ship. With the way Hiroyuki was explaining it, though, it had something to do with Kohana putting barriers around it so the umbrakinetic couldn’t destroy it as we were entering the atmosphere. I was wondering why Kohana was glowing extra bright as we were taking off, but that doesn’t matter now. We’re here, we’re awake, and we’re waiting for whatever it is he has to say. Hopefully this doesn’t take long, I’ve got a spa date.

“Commander.” I do what’s customary and get down on one knee, pressing my hand against my chest and bowing my head. Noticing Kohana hasn’t moved yet, I scowl and tug at her hair, forcing her to do the same. She’s clumsy, almost falling before getting down on both her knees, glaring at me. I shouldn’t have to tell her to greet the Commander, but Kohana’s determined to not acknowledge his presence. She keeps her eyes on me until I jab her in the ribs.

“So you’re the guy who’s in charge?” Her tone is flippant at worst, unimpressed at best. Stupid brat’ll get us killed, nobody talks to him like that. Luckily he doesn’t take offense to what she’s said, or at least I can’t tell. His face is always deadpan. There’s also the whole eye-patch thing which is weird, considering he’s the one who created a way for us to fully regenerate lost limbs 100%. All these people walking around with regrown arms and legs thanks to him, but he’d rather sit around not having an eye in his socket. “Thought you’d be taller,” Kohana adds, punctuating her sentence with a snort of laughter. That was kind of funny, I’ll admit. He is on the short side, a solid 5’5”. He’s not that much taller than Kohana, even I’m taller than him. Makes taking him seriously difficult sometimes.   

“Morishige.” He ignores Kohana’s comment and addresses me instead.

Hearing my last name out of nowhere kind of startles me a bit. Since I’m not really a member of the SOF, the Commander rarely acknowledges me. He keeps me in the background, lets me do my own thing. Sure, I paid for my position and all, but the Commander isn’t stupid. He knows I can’t fight, and would never give me legitimate work. We interact with each other as little as possible as a result, so seeing him talk to me directly is a bit of a shock.

“This my Summoner, correct?” What kind of dumb question is that? Weird green eyes, purple hair, she matches the description. It’s not my fault Kohana was unconscious for fifty years after we left the Earth. Is this what Hiroyuki has to put up with? Being asked questions that are probably answered in the first sentence of his reports? If he was not off doing Advisor things, it’d be him standing in this room with Kohana instead of me. No idea why the Commander thought I’d be the best person for his this, another real member of the SOF would have been better.

“I’m not your anything.” Here we go, Kohana throwing up her fists for no reason. “My name’s Outtaike Kohana, I’m my own person.” A live wire through and through. The Commander hadn’t even spoken out of turn.

“I am aware of who you are. The Summoner who had to have my men save her. I wasted time and resources on you, girl.” He talks down to her, refers to her like she’s nothing special. I wasn’t expecting him to come down on her like that, he verbally crushed her. Here I was thinking the Commander was some stick in the mud. A witty reply like that? This guy can hang with the best of them.

Kohana’s trembling in anger. She looks at me like she expects me to do something. “Blaire, he can’t talk to me like that, right?”

“He can say whatever he wants. He’s your” I pause, trading a glance with the Commander, “our superior.” I don’t want to say anything that really makes him fly off the handle, but I’ve never been one to be careful with words. I suppose that’s what makes Hiroyuki good at this whole Advisor shtick. He has the art of ass-kissing mastered. This whole groveling thing? Walking on thin ice around the Commander, doing his dirty work for him? Not for me. I’ll never complain about Hiroyuki again if I make it out of this meeting in one piece. 

Kohana rises up and shakes her head, pouting like a little kid. “That’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t supposed to be fair.” I come quick with a reply. “Suck it up and grow a pair.”

My last comment makes Kohana flinch. I can tell she took offense to it. “I suffered on Earth. We suffered while he did nothing. You mean to tell me he gets to talk to me like that after all I’ve been through? After all I’ve done?” She can’t honestly expect me to have a full blown conversation about the Commander in front of him.

“’We?’ What, you speak French now?” I didn’t suffer. The umbrakinetic was so afraid of me she didn’t even try to hurt me. So what, I was almost cut in half by some string, big whoop. She was attacking the others with it, and I didn’t die anyway. “Speak for yourself. People die. In a war that sort of thing is bound to happen.”

“What do you mean war?” She aches a brow, trading glances between me and the Commander. Great, so on top of Hiroyuki not telling her about the SOF, he also didn’t tell her about the war we’re in? Fantastic. Why is he the chosen Advisor again?

“The umbrakinetic is a cosmic weapon.” The Commander rises from his throne and walks towards us, scepter in hand. “It was created by the planet Alræra, a world of profound faith several universes from our own.” Oh great, here comes the Alræra story again. How many times do I have to sit through this? This is elementary, we learn about the Alræra conflict when we’re children. They could have gotten some random person off the street to explain this to her, why do I have to sit through this? “Alræra is known for its god creation through manipulating what they call ‘esoteric force,’ an energy that pervades all things, allegedly. The umbrakinetic is but one of many gods they harbor, it being the strongest.” He pauses, tapping his scepter on the ground to snap Kohana out of it. I guess it’s a lot to take in. “It is not called the umbrakinetic on Alræra. Formally, it is the multiversal manifestation of loss of life and that associated. Alræreans simply call it ‘Death.’ ”

Of course no one on Spectra actually believes the umbrakinetic is a god, or that there are many gods. There is only one god, the All Creator. If the All Creator was around, She’d beat the breaks off the umbrakinetic, but since She’s not we have to settle for the Summoners to deal with them. The Summoners come directly from the All Creator, though, so it’s kind of like the All Creator’s there in spirit giving the umbrakinetic what for.

“Hiroyuki…” Kohana blinks several times, shakes her head, and then continues. “Hiroyuki told me there are other umbrakinetics. Are they gods, too?”

“While one who manipulates the Shadow element is called an umbrakinetic, the umbrakinetic is the creator of the element. Were it not for Alræra’s weapon, Shadow magic would not exist.” I know they’re our enemies but I have to admit, Alrærans are pretty strong for creating the umbrakinetic. No matter how many times we try, we just can’t get rid of it.

“Eons ago, we sought to harvest the brightest star in Alræra’s universe. Alræra declared war on us, and created the umbrakinetic in response. It launched a blast that skewed through several universes to reach us, destroying half of our planet on impact. Spectra did heal from that wound, but it took millions of years for it to do so.”

We read about the umbrakinetic’s attack in textbooks, but the Commander lived it. Spectra’s population was effectively cut in half, and the umbrakinetic’s attack also shortened Celestial Beings’ lifespans. It’s hard to imagine we used to live for ten-billion yearsnow we get a generous thirty-thousand, if that. The Commander got his lifespan cut, too, but somewhere along the line he found a way to become immortal. It’s no secret, he shared his immortality with the public way before I was born. And I mean way before; my grandma knew, her grandma knew, her grandma’s grandma knew… We just accept defying mortality as another thing the Commander knows how to do. Besides, I wouldn’t want to live forever, I’m sure many on our planet don’t. I can’t imagine being in the Commander’s shoes, living this long in an endless war.

“The Summoner Project was created in response to the umbrakinetic. I trust you know what Summoners are. Every few thousand years a Summoner of Time is chosen to lead seven others in the pursuit of the umbrakinetic. Your task is simple. Find the umbrakinetic and destroy it.” Kohana’s going to need all the luck with that she can get. The Summoner Project is almost as old as the Commander is, yet none of the people before her were successful.  

“But what if the umbrakinetic is… is my mother?” I thought she was going to ask what happened to the other Summoners, was ready to roast her for it. Obviously they’re dead, but talk about mommy issues. Couldn’t imagine mine being some Shadow-creating clusterfuck. “She’s not eons-old.”

“The umbrakinetic is a being of profound power. It is not farfetched for it to have possessed your mother.”

“Possessed? So there’s still a way to save her?”

“If possession is the case, you will have to strike her down along with the umbrakinetic. The two cannot be separated.”

“Oh…” Here come the waterworks.

“I believe it is important you understand your enemy. Listen closely.” The Commander is having none of her tears. He continues on, callous. “The umbrakinetic did not exercise it during your encounter, but in being the multiversal manifestation of death, it can kill anything should it wish it dead.” If I would have known that, I wouldn’t have stuck around Kohana even for a second when the umbrakinetic showed up. I wouldn’t even have went to Earth to save her. I want to say I’m glad there’s light years between me and the umbrakinetic, but can I even say that? Who knows where the umbrakinetic is, what’s stopping it from showing up right now and blowing up Spectra again? This must have been some sort of SOF secret or something. Bottom line is we’re not safe. I’m not safe. I had no idea the umbrakinetic was capable of that. Unless the Commander has created some way where the umbrakinetic can’t get to us, our entire planet is a sitting target.

“Summoners are special in that they are immune to the umbrakinetic’s death evocation. This immunity is thanks to the magic in our planet’s core that you are imbued with. It comes from the All Creator.” Sounds to me like the All Creator is the only one who can beat this thing. “Regardless of the concentrationyour chronokinesis or Tchaikovsky’s inclinkesisSummoners cannot be killed in an instant. As to why the umbrakinetic has not killed the rest of us yet, there are things I have yet to learn myself about it.” That’s just what I was thinking. If I was the umbrakinetic I would just get it over with. There must be some reason why it hasn’t deleted Spectra out of existence.

Kohana’s trembling now. She curls her hands into loosely-wound fists and lowers her head. The floor darkens where her tears fall. “I’m tired of fighting. I’m not Spectra’s anything. Never wanted to be. I’m not a general, I’m not a soldier, I… I just want to go home. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“By all means, go.” I gulp at the Commander’s matter-of-fact response. “I will have lost nothing.” The Commander doesn’t cut corners or mince words. He knows where it hurts, he knows exactly how to make you feel small.

“You have failed your planet, your people. You could not stop Shadows from invading the Earth, a planet inferior in all ways to my own. To have someone as weak as you lead my people… I would rather not have a general at all.” If I was Kohana I’d be hurt by that last line. The Summoner of Time is the heart of the Summoner Project. Without her the umbrakinetic would be free to do whatever it wants to the multiverse. That other girl… Isleen was her name? She’s strong and all, but she’s no Summoner of Time, she’s not Kohana. There are things only the Summoner of Time can do, and here the Commander is saying he’s better off without her. His opinion of her is that low. “The Earth remains a part of the multiverse due to a member of the SOF. Without Phy’s efforts, there would be no ‘home’ for you to return to. You left one of my best stranded on an infested planet with no functioning ship to see them back. Yet another testament to your incompetence.”

“Tasi’s alive?” Kohana’s face lights up. “That’s…that’s…” Horrible, obviously. How Tasi isn’t dead is beyond me. “We have to go back for her.”

“Wh?” I’m too busy scowling at Kohana to finish my sentence. “Are you mad? It must be hard thinking with one brain cell, but really? Go back where, Kohana? To Earth? Where Shadows are currently ripping everyone to shreds, or did you forget we barely made it off that planet alive? Or how about the fact that you’ve been unconscious for several weeks after the fact? Or even better, the umbrakinetic is on your planet doing who knows what to Tasi. That is the absolute worst idea, and what SOF member is going to waste their time going to a dying planet?”

I strike a nerve in Kohana. She looks away from the Commander and snarls at me, trying to size me up. “Stop saying the Earth is dying, it isn’t!”

The day I’m intimidated by a loud-mouthed half-pint is the day I die. “What do you want me to say? That it’s alive and thriving? You said it yourself, the Earth has seen better days before we even got there. Listen, I’m no Hiroyuki. I’m not going to tiptoe around your feelings or let you continue to say nonsensical things. If I have to play Advisor for the day, you’re going to get it raw. You need to come to terms with the fact that the Earth is gone. The sooner you can put it behind you, the sooner you can focus on what lies ahead. It gets worse from here. You haven’t seen anything yet.” It’s bad enough that Kohana’s idealistic, but she’s also hardheaded. If it’s not her anger making her think she can take on the multiverse, it’s her sentimentality telling her she has to instead. She’s too emotional, period. I’m not a soldier, and even I see that.

The Commander doesn’t let Kohana respond. He’s probably as sick of this meeting as I am. “You can track the umbrakinetic’s movements through a technique called the pendulum. The pendulum draws you to planets that have been influenced by it.” I can’t help but narrow my eyes at him. I don’t know anything about the pendulum, so he better not make me teach her how to use it. We’ll both be standing around looking stupid waiting for something to happen, I can promise him that. “For reasons unknown to us, the umbrakinetic infects planets. That being said, it does not usually attack planets with Shadows. War is a component of death; the umbrakinetic has the ability to manipulate all forms of combat. It influences people or events on other planets, creating items of great power or sticking delusional ideas into one’s head. The planets umbrakinetic-induced wars take place on are destroyed if those wars are not stopped. Worse yet is that an infected planet can spread that infection to nearby planets, causing a domino effect of world-destroying conflicts. You must ensure the multiverse does not suffer these planets.”

“I understand.” I’m surprised Kohana doesn’t try to fight with him on that. Not that she isn’t sad of course, there’s regret heavy in her tone. “I can’t let other planets be infected.”

“Good. Another member of the SOF will show you how to use pendulum. After you learn the technique, it is recommended you go to the planet it takes you to at once. With that, you two may go.”  

He doesn’t have to tell me twice. Apparently he doesn’t have to tell Kohana that, either, who is all too eager to get out of here. I follow behind her, but then realize the reason why she cut me off is because she’s sobbing. I almost feel bad for the girl, but then I remember I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for her. I agreed to go with D’ivoire because I wanted to see what all the hype was about her, not because I wanted to save Hiroyuki. I did, I went and I almost died, I went and learned that no matter what I do I can be destroyed whenever by a being I can do nothing against. So you know what? She can cry all she wants. I won’t comfort her. She needs to be the general she was pretending to be before this meeting and, like I said, suck it up.

iv.) it takes so long for you to realize / ten thousand years won’t save your life.

“It’s all too obvious to me what’s happening and, if you’re so smart, it’ll be all too obvious to you, too. Obviously that isn’t the case.” When Hiroyuki told me members of the SOF were coming to ‘save us,’ he didn’t tell me they’d be as annoying as this woman. Her name is Blaire, and she’s been talking to me like this ever since we met a few hours ago. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to argue with her. I don’t want to argue with anyone.

Since the attack on my school, I have been fighting Shadows day in, day out. It hasn’t been easy. It’s almost as if the Shadows have been evolving. Each one is stronger than the last, more intelligent. The heroes in my mother’s stories could get away with using the same approach over and over again to save their planets. I can’t.

At first the Shadows were gullible, I could use the same tactic I used to defeat the one before it. Now it’s like they’re a hive mind; if I’ve fought one, I’ve fought them all. I have spent every subsequent battle with a Shadow on my toes. I have nearly died on several occasions and have nothing to show for it. Hiroyuki and I still haven’t found the umbrakinetic, we’ve been searching for a little over two months. He said the closest we’ve ever been to the umbrakinetic was when we were with Jinnouchi-sensei in my school. I miss her, and I feel bad that a part of me wants her to come back just so I can ask her where the umbrakinetic is. My life has become centered on Shadows and the umbrakinetic. There is nothing I do that doesn’t have something to do with them.

If I do not dedicate every second of my life towards ridding the world of Shadows, what happened to my school will happen to another. It already has happened. Sometimes I arrive to a scene a moment too late and the Shadows have already finished a massacre, ready for a fight. Other times I don’t see Shadows at all but am greeted with piles of bodies stacked as high as skyscrapers. I’ve learned that Shadows like to attack highly populated places, although that’s a no-brainer. They want to kill as many people as possible, of course they’d target malls and concerts and festivals.

When and if I arrive before things go south, I do manage to save some people. ‘Some’ is not enough though. I go home haunted by the fact that I couldn’t save everyone. That while I may have saved a mother, her daughter was ruthlessly beaten to death by Shadows. I have to be better. Saving people some of the time is unacceptable. I know what is required of me as the Summoner of Time, I know what I must be. This isn’t like my mother’s stories, nor is it like the shōjo manga that I read. I don’t have 4 friends to help me who also have Summoner powers. I don’t have a helpful mascot. There isn’t anyone around to be my witty love-interest that saves me when I am in distress. I can’t do this by myself. I’m not sure how long I can keep convincing myself I can.

“Uh huh.” A snippy response is all I can give Blaire. She’s been talking to me like I’m 5-years-old this entire time, it’s infuriating. One would think she would be more polite, considering shealong with two other members of the SOF that came with herare guests in my home, but I guess not. The only thing worse than having an alien in my home is having an alien in my home who insults me, and I will not be insulted. Not now.

“My, my, my,” Blaire says, shaking her head with each condescending ‘my’ that leaves her lips. “Hiroyuki described you as quite the talkative girl.” It’s kind of difficult to be ‘talkative’ when I’ve watched hundreds of people die. The Earth does not need me to be talkative, it needs me to fight.

I feel guilty doing anything else. Why eat when there are people out there who need me? Why have sleep when people are out there dying? Here I am in my living room, biding my time waiting for Hiroyuki to come back from his important meeting with yet another member of the SOF when I could be saving people. If I am going to leave people at the mercy of Shadows, I would rather it not be because I’m having a conversation with Blaire of all people. “I must say, you are not living up to my expectations.” I don’t exist to live up to her expectations. She is awfully entitled to me after knowing me for less than a few hours. “If you do not live up to my expectations”she emphasizes the word she stresses by placing a hand against her chest“How will you ever hope to meet the expectations of everyone back on Spectra?”

If she says ‘my’ one more time I am going to have a conniption. And furthermore, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, most of all the people of Spectra. I never agreed to go there, either. Seeing as how the Earth and Spectra are universes apart, I’d say their opinion of me will never matter. “You’ve got big shoes to fill, girl. Being the Summoner of Time is a big deal.”

“Gee, I never would have guessed.” And Blaire thinks Hiroyuki hasn’t told me what being the Summoner of Time entails because…?

“Aww. How adorable, you’re annoyed with me.” She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose with her index finger, the corner of her mouth pulling up into a smirk. I dread her next words. I’m sick to death of her talking down to me, I’ve done nothing to her. “You may be about as smart as a bag of rocks, but you’re pretty cute. I can’t imagine you defeated those Shadows by fighting them. I’m convinced you put that pout of yours to good use and distracted them long enough for Hiroyuki to defeat them.”

Hearing someone praise Hiroyuki for all my hard work is disheartening. Hiroyuki has yet to lift a finger towards a Shadow, he does nothing. We decided to hunt Shadows after the incident with Jinnouchi-sensei, and he still sat on the sidelines watching me take beating after beating. Thinking about it now, I retract my statement. Hiroyuki did do something but it was as horrible as one can imagine. I did not take it very well when he described what he was doing, I even lashed out at him for it.

He… erased the memories of those who were still alive that attended my school. He said an Advisor is trained to do so, that if he didn’t the Earth would collapse upon itself due to the disturbance of cosmic balance. There’s a big, fancy term for it‘the Chernyavskaya Effect.’ If a world is presented with technology or magic it is not supposed to have, especially if it artificially furthers its evolution, the planet works towards ‘self-detonation.’ That there are so many ways the Earth can be destroyed is frustrating when I am supposed to be the person to stop that from happening.

There weren’t many survivors to begin with, but now those survivors don’t remember how big the school used to be, or if they had family that perished. The latter is the most horrifying; I asked someone who would walk to school every day with their sibling if they knew where they were, hopeful that they survived also, but they looked at me like I was silly for asking, convinced that they were an only child. The erasure did not stop there either. Their parents, too, did not remember the child who died, and gave me crazy looks for insinuating they had another son. I did not want to believe that Hiroyuki erased the knowledge and memories of people who died from existence. I was frantic, I asked everyone who I knew had a connection to those who died in the days following if they remembered them. I wasn’t particularly close with anyone at school, but I wasn’t an outcast either. Everyone knew who I was, just not their dead best friends or teachers.

Hiroyuki became a teacher. His reason for doing so was because he wanted to be near me in the event of another Shadow attack. He told me to come to school after the tragedy. Of course I was confused; more than half my school had died that day andnormalcy permittingthe school would have been closed indefinitely. In that moment I understood his memory-wiping magic affected all of Japan, perhaps the whole world. It was just like what happened when I fought my first Shadow. Society carried on like normal. No one remembers seeing Shadows either.

He had taken Jinnouchi-sensei’s place, wearing a suit and tie to boot. No one questioned why he was there. The remaining teachers treated him as if he had been teaching alongside them for years. The students loved him. I was annoyed. I still am annoyed. Having to see Hiroyuki everyday is a constant reminder of my double life. I am not allowed to be Kohana Outtaike, I must be the Summoner of Time even when I’m learning. The most nerve-wracking thing about Hiroyuki teaching at my school, though, is seeing him interact with my mother.

I’m grateful she survived, don’t get me wrong. She had her memories erased too, though. Because of that I could not ask her if she was present during the attack, but I digress. She has no idea Hiroyuki is my Advisor, or that during lunchtime I go off with him to defeat Shadows. They talk often, enjoying each other’s company; my mother cooks for Hiroyuki and he graciously eats her food even though it does nothing for him.

The sound of kitchenware falling against the floor pulls me out of my thoughts. I instinctively look in the direction of the kitchen but then remember a member of the SOF is in there. It’s odd that aliens are so intrigued by simple earthen things like pots and pans. I would go and see if they’re alright, but Blaire is watching me like a hawk and won’t let me leave. She’s still waiting for me to respond to her. I give her what she wants; I should be able to use the commotion that other womanTasi, if I remember her name correctlyis creating in my kitchen to peel myself from her.

“What is the SOF? What is so important about it?” I ask, tilting my head. Hiroyuki briefly explained what the SOF is to me but I know Blaire is going to have another explanation entirely. She seems like the sort of person who loves talking about herself.

“All this time and Hiroyuki hasn’t told you what the SOF is?” She rolls her eyes, pushing some of her hair behind an ear. She has a very low opinion of him. “No wonder you’re like this, Hiroyuki is a horrible Advisor. I don’t know what the Commander was thinking when he chose him.” Huffing, she puts her hands on her hips. Her expression is one of triumph after that, pleased that I would go to her for knowledge.

“It must have slipped his mind.” I lie in an attempt to snap her out of the narcissistic daze she’s gone into. She is so full of herself that she forgot we are having a conversation, leaving me waiting as she basks in being right about Hiroyuki. When she is finally ready to talk she thrums her fingers against her cheek as if she is already bored with the topic.

“‘SOF’ is short for ‘Special Operations Force.’ It’s where all the rejects go that didn’t make the cut towards becoming your Advisor.” That would make Blaire a reject then, wouldn’t it? She doesn’t think before she opens her mouth. “You can’t just become an Advisor, you have to go through what’s called the Academy Program, no exceptions. Unless you’re me, of course.” Her eyes flutter close as she puts her hand on her chest, her gesture full of arrogance. “You wouldn’t know it, but my father is the wealthiest man on Spectra, sans the Commander. Money talks, I bought my position.”

She is proud to admit that. Her money means so much to her that she is unwitting to the fact that she just admitted she lacks the skillset other members of the SOF have. “I can’t imagine what the Program is like, but Vasche says it was brutal,” comes her offhanded addendum, motioning towards the redhead with a tilt of her head. Vasche’s the other member of the SOF who’s here aside from Blaire and Tasi. He is the quietest of the three; he immediately began browsing my mother’s books after he introduced himself. He hasn’t said anything since. “The Academy accepts thousands of applicants and only one lucky sod becomes the Advisor, the best of the bunch. On our planet, the Advisor is known as ‘Spectra’s Strongest’it’ a load of crock. I can name 7 people off the top of my head that could take Hiroyuki in a fight.”

“Could you beat Hiroyuki in a fight?” I certainly wouldn’t choose Blaire in a bet, that’s for sure. I would rather go with the man who has had the appropriate training rather than someone who believes cash is king.

She snorts before responding. “Of course not. I’m not a fighter, dear.”

I stare at her for a while before responding. I can’t tell if she’s being serious or not. “You do realize we are under attack, right?” Why would she come to Earth if she can’t fight? I hope she doesn’t think I’m going to save her if any Shadows try to eat her. I’d sooner leave Blaire for dead.

“You think you know so much, but you know so little. No one with half a brain would devote their lives to fighting like everyone on Spectra does. I’m different, smarter, if I need to defend myself, I get someone to fight on my behalf. There are billions of soldiers on Spectra. Why dirty my hands when I can dirty someone else’s? Out of those billions of soldiers, the SOF are the top 20 or so of the Academy class. They might not have been good enough to become the Advisor, but they’re pretty damn close. Anyone in the SOF is dangerous. Everyone on Spectra knows that.”

“And you paid for a spot in the SOF so you could be revered and feared.”

“Right on the nose. You’re smarter than I give you credit for, but not by much.” At least I was able to get her to stop insulting me for a while, even if short-lived. My attempt wasn’t totally fruitless; I thought Hiroyuki was exaggerating when he said Spectra was home to billions of soldiers, but Blaire’s account confirms it. What am I supposed to do with billions of soldiers? Where would I put them, where would I lead them? Would I be expected to meet them all individually? If so, that would be awful. As much as I love talking to and meeting new people, that’s a lot, even for me

“On Spectra, they call you a prodigy.” She’s preening her nails now, as if she’s dismissive of the claim. “For your magic, of course. Nothing you do is remarkable outside of it, and even then I’m skeptical.” Yes, Blaire, I understand you don’t like me, no need to constantly rub it in. “The magic of a Summoner of Time does not start developing until they are 16-years-old, and even then they need an Advisor to help them manifest it. Spectra’s been watching you, girl; it is said your magic has been active since you were a child.” There are other Summoners of Time? So I’m not alone? Phew, that’s a relief. But wait, that wouldn’t make sense. I assume whoever is the Summoner of Time has to be Spectra’s general by default, and so far Spectra only has one, me being that one. I got my hopes up again for nothing. “I expected our prodigy not to be a gigantic airhead.”

Airhead huh? That’s new. I can’t wait until she eats her words. Blaire has only known me for two seconds, what does she know about my intelligence? And with the way she’s flinging insults around, she better be among the smartest Spectra has to offer. “It can’t be this difficult putting two and two together. Your school got blown up? Hello? Are you still trying to convince me you don’t know who this umbrakinetic is?”

“That’s enough!” I shout. The umbrakinetic is a touchy subject. I don’t want to talk to Blaire, and I definitely don’t want to talk about that. I wish Hiroyuki would come back already, I don’t like that he left me in the company of these people. “You weren’t even there, what do you know about the umbrakinetic?”

“That they obviously have to be a survivor of the incident, duh. Listen, dear, you can sit around in denial all you want, it still won’t change what is painfully obvious. Your teacher died, big whoop, the Shadows are still appearing even after her death. You know what that means? Your teacher wasn’t the umbrakinetic. Someone is.”

I never said I thought Jinnouchi-sensei was the umbrakinetic. It’s been weeks and I’m still reeling from seeing Jinnouchi like that. I still don’t believe she iswas a Shadow. “I’ve been here less than a day and I know who the umbrakinetic is.”

“Blaire, please.” I don’t have the strength to say much. “It’s still fresh in my mind.”

“That’s even better.” Why am I surprised Blaire does not have any remorse? “It being fresh in your mind means you’re better equipped to talk about it. How long has it been? A few days?”

“Some months.”

“Some months…?” Blaire repeats incredulously. She sputters a bit before continuing her train of thought. “Are you kidding me? Get a hold of yourself girl, why don’t you just kill the umbrakinetic and get it over with! I don’t see the point in letting her do whatever she wants for this long, unless you want your planet to bite this dust.” She is one second away from accusing someone dear to me of being the umbrakinetic and I won’t be able to handle it. I can’t lose anyone else. If I lose her, I’ll lose myself. She is all that I have left. “This is unacceptable. You’re the Summoner of Time, a living legend, whatever other drivel they’re referring to you nowadays by.” I’m pretty sure by being Spectra’s general I hold authority over her, and here she is lecturing me like I’m beneath her. I have half a mind to remind her of the power behind my title. “You’re better than this. Stop letting sentimentality hold you back. If you don’t want to murder the umbrakinetic in a fight, that’s finekill her in her sleep, then!”

I march towards her. I want to wipe that disgusting smirk off her face. I want to make her regret ever talking down to me. She’s taller than I am, but that doesn’t stop me from establishing eye-contact. With a disparaging smile I hiss “I am not killing my mother” under my breath. This is what Blaire wants. She is convinced my mother is the umbrakinetic.

Because I did not immediately bring up the possibility, Blaire assumed I was letting my love of her hold me back. Blaire thought I hadn’t noticed how convenient it was that out of all the teachers who were there after school, my mother was the only one who survived. She thought I hadn’t stayed up for hours thinking about the possibility that my mother might be the umbrakinetic, she thought I did not notice how my mother would be in the areas where the Shadows would attack. Yes, there is a strong possibility my mother could be the umbrakinetic, but I could say the same for anyone else. Blaire could be the umbrakinetic for all I know; Shadows can shapeshift, who says the umbrakinetic can’t?

“Whoever the umbrakinetic is, I’m not killing them anyhow!” And there is nothing Blaire can say that will change my mind. “I’m not killing anyone!” I frown, looking down at the floor. “If I kill the umbrakinetic, how does that make me different from them? What if they mean something to the Shadows? What if they love the umbrakinetic as much as I loved Jinnouchi-sensei? Then, then!”

“Blaire, cool it.” Finally, a voice of reason. “When Hiroyuki and D’ivoire return, they are not going to appreciate that you’ve been heckling the Summoner.” Vasche’s a nice guy. I respect him. He’s the only one I respect in this house.

“And?” Blaire takes a step away from me and looks at him, adjusting her glasses with a push of her index finger. “I’d talk to her the same way with or without Twiddle Dee D’ivoire and Twiddle Dumbass Hiroyuki being here. What are you trying to insinuate Vasche? I’m just a little ticked off that Hiroyuki in particular seems to have been babying this girl. She’s supposed to be our general, and here she is crumbling after being asked what? Two questions?”

“If only it were two,” I mutter, glaring at her. “It’s been more like ninety-seven. I wasn’t aware you didn’t know how to count. I expected better from Spectra’s ‘elite,’ I guess.”

“A cheeky little brat, isn’t she? Now if only she had that much nerve in killing the umbrakinetic.”

“She is our general, as you admit. You are in no position to question her.” Vasche makes sure to stress the importance of my rank, much to Blaire’s chagrin. She backs up a little before muttering ‘fine,’ passive-aggressively throwing her arms up in the air. As surprised as I am by Blaire’s compliance, I sit down and wipe a few stray tears away from my eyes.

“Pardon her, General Outtaike.” I hate being called that. I don’t want to be called that. I want to correct him, to tell him he can just call me Kohana, but I’m afraid if I say anything I’ll just start crying, so I don’t. “We were not sent here to question your authority, or to make you do something you otherwise would not. Hiroyuki and D’ivoire felt it wise to send us here as they converse so that we can protect you. This world is not long for this universe, that you already know. The appearance of even a single Shadow is a death sentence for whatever planet harbors it. You have done much to prevent the inevitable, but there is only so much you can do.”

I nod and curl my hands into fists. Just thinking about Shadows makes me mad. “There are too many of them. Every time they show up they multiply in number. They’re getting stronger. Faster. It’s difficult to keep up with them. I’m not alone, though. There’s Isleen, but…” I pause, curling my fingers against my cheek. “She’s difficult. She doesn’t stick around, and that’s if she decides to show up at all. When she does decide to help me the Shadows are easy to deal with then. She’s amazing at this Summoner stuff. I barely have to lift a finger when she helps. Most of the time I just stand around while she takes care of business.”

“Ah, yes. Isleen, the Summoner of Change Hiroyuki informed us of in his report. Where is she now? Do you know?”

“Not a clue. I have no idea how to get her to show up, either. She just does.”

“There’s just one thing I forgot to tell you about…” A man says as he walks into my home alongside Hiroyuki. He’s dark-skinned with a head full of thick, wavy hair; he is as beautiful as Hiroyuki is. As a matter of fact, all the Celestial Beings I’ve met are impossibly gorgeous, Blaire included, loathe as I am to admit it. This man must be the other member of the SOF that has yet to introduce himself.

He lets out a nervous chuckle and scratches the back of his head, whereas Hiroyuki, emanating sophistication as usual, meets Blaire’s pointed glare.

“Blaire,” Hiroyuki begins, bowing to her. “It is a pleasure to see you again.” He is awfully formal with someone who could care less about manners. She doesn’t seem impressed either, her expression a cross between haughty superiority and condemnation. She looks like she’ll chew him out any second. “D’ivoire did not tell me you were accompanying him beforehand; I apologize if I appeared to be shocked at your presence. ”

“Cut the crap Hiroyuki, I’m not stupid. I see you’re in fine fettle despite the fact that D’ivoire was telling everyone you might die if he didn’t get help.”

And I’m starting to wish I left you back on Spectra,” D’ivoire says, rubbing his temple and placing his free hand on top of his hip. “Look, Hiroyuki and I have determined this planet is going to blow straight to hell in a second. It’s best to leave now before we all become space toast.”

What?” I say incredulously, narrowing my eyes at him. “That’s impossible, not on my watch.”

“It’s true,” Tasi chimes in, bouncing towards us from the kitchen. “The Earth can’t handle the presence of Shadows. Eventually it’ll go out with big kaboom! We have to escape before the Shadows take us, too.” Tasi’s rhyming is terrifying. I’m still not used to it.

“You guys can’t be serious. You really think I’m going to let that happen? I am not giving up on the Earth.”

“What do you mean you aren’t giving up? You heard Tasias if you have any power over what’s going to happen. Listen girl, none of us have the time nor want to have to soldier on through your idealism.” Does Blaire ever shut up?

“If the Earth goes, I go too. And since I’m the Summoner of Time, doesn’t that mean you guys have to stay here, too?” The room falls silent, and for once I feel a little bit good about myself. “I don’t want to keep you all here, but think about if this was Spectra and I was your planet’s only hope. Do you think I’d be a nice person if I just left you guys to fend for yourselves against an enemy you’re powerless against?”

Before I can finish everyone looks towards the left. I instinctively launch myself into the air and perform a backflip. Everyone else performs their own gymnastics as we narrowly miss being cut in half by what looks to be an impossibly-sharp string slicing horizontally into my house. Everything collapses; I sprint to the door to avoid the pandemonium of my house falling in on itself.

There is a woman who looks like my mother standing against the ruins of my neighborhood. While she has her same dark skin and green eyes, her hair is not the curly sort my mother sports. It is much longer, covering her left eye as it falls over her shoulder and cascades down her legs in big, voluminous loose curls. Outside of the length of her hair, the black halo that floats behind her head is the second thing that catches my attentionit is as sharp as it is massive.

She runs a taloned finger against the curve of her halo and, in doing so, causes me to notice her eight arms, each black in colour, one of them spinning a web from between its index and middle fingers, another tapping its knuckles against her cheek, another propping a hand against her hip, et cœtera, et cœtera. The leotard she is wearing is tight on her body like catsuit; I can’t tell where the sleeves of her leotard end and where her arms begin, what with them being the same colour. My mother values mobility and she adores pastels. She would not be caught dead in this outfit, especially the thigh-length high-heeled boots this woman is wearing. I know her better than anyone; even if she were the umbrakinetic, she would not look like this. Her expression is even more unlike her. There is nothing there. No reaction to my neighbors killed in their homes. No remorse.

I look over my shoulder and see Blaire on the ground, staring up at me like she’s insulted that I jumped in front of her to protect her. No matter how annoying Blaire is, I just can’t abandon her. I’d never be able to live with myself if Blaire was killed because I decided to hold a petty grudge. She said it herself, she can’t fight. She’s useless. This woman would kill her with little effort if I weren’t here.

Against my better judgement, I turn my back towards our foe and offer a hand to Blaire. “Are you alright?”

“Am I alright?!” Blaire spits the words I’ve said out of her mouth like shards of broken glass, seething before scrambling to her feet. “Don’t save her you idiots, you should be saving me!” I turn back around and notice D’ivoire on my left and Hiroyuki on my right, both of them two steps in front of me, staring the woman down. I thought I did something to offend Blaire again, and I’m almost disappointed that’s not the case. I’d rather Blaire chew me out than heckle someone else. Hiroyuki and D’ivoire are just doing their jobs as members of the SOF.

I call the Star Stealer into my hand and begin to conjure my magic. I have to remember what Hiroyuki told me. No hesitation. I’m fast; I should be able to defeat her where she stands.

“My web is sharper than any blade.” She speaks with the voice of my mother. Like Jinnouchi-sensei’s voice when we discovered she was a Shadow, however, hers is distorted, meshed with that of another. What she says is equally as horrifying. My house was perfectly cut in half in one fell swoop. The other houses in my neighborhood were, too. She expects me to believe she did that with a silk string? “It slices through opponents of any formimmortal, invulnerable, incorporeal. It reaches every plane of existence. Metaphysical concepts such as time and space also prove no match for my web. Shield yourself and your comrades with your magic if you must, Summoner; my web destroys and negates conceptual defenses.”

Tasi is the first to fight on my behalf. She sprints past all of us, holding a celestial-themed Venetian carnival mask. Once Tasi is within close range of the woman, the handle of the mask elongates and the curve of the crescent sharpens considerably, her mask turning into a large war axe.

The pressure that accompanies Tasi’s swing is powerful enough to split the Earth beneath the woman and send a shockwave pulverizing the remains of houses behind her. Two of the woman’s arms catch the blade before it can fall atop of her. Another pair of arms wrap their hands around Tasi’s neck, while the final pair rest at the woman’s hips, thrumming their fingers impatiently against them.

The woman snatches Tasi’s axe out of her hands and sends it flying behind her. She lifts Tasi high into the air as if she weighs nothing, and then slams her into the ground with enough force to send her several feet under. I blink and suddenly Vasche is next to the woman with a knife just as exquisitely-designed as Tasi’s mask-axe. He presses the knife against the woman’s neck, spins another knife around with his freehand, and plunges the newly-conjured knife into her collarbone. I close my eyes and look away. When I don’t hear the woman scream, I open my eyes only to see the woman unharmed, staring at Vasche.

“You aren’t a Shadow…” he says as he strains to drive his knife through her. He hadn’t managed to break skin. She has managed to survive two attacks from members of the SOF. “What are you?”

“That you believe your Celestial Weapons can hurt me is almost amusing.” Hearing her speak fills me with dread. “Almost.”

Vasche’s knife seeps into her skin, like her body is eating it; her flesh ripples like calm water disturbed by a stone before consuming the knife completely, the site where the knife entered turning pitch black before her skin twists away from her chest and crawls up Vasche’s arm. He tries to pull himself away but cannot. The tar-like substance has already covered the right side of his body, holding him in place. “The arrogance of you Celestials sickens me.”

Protrusions resembling prickly pear spines jut from the black part of Vasche’s body. He crashes to the ground, screaming in agony, his arm still attached to her. She looks down at him, her expression as dead as a corpse in a grave. Tasi still hasn’t come out of the hole she put her in, and D’ivoire, Hiroyuki, and Blaire have suddenly disappeared. I take a deep breath and try to look for them, only to realize we are surrounded by hundreds of Shadows. She has to be the umbrakinetic, I’ve never seen so many Shadows in one place and they’re circling me. I can’t fight this many by myself, I wish those three would come back.

“You cannot kill me.” As if being impaled by dozens of swords, Vasche is pierced by the spines on the affected side of his body. The right side of his body starts to dissolve thereafter, the rest of him falling over in a pile of bisected organs leaking all over the pavement. I cover my mouth with my hands and take several step back, scared out of my wits. The sound his body made when it hit the ground was sickening. It sounded pulpy, wet and sloppy.

“You cannot kill death.” I’m crying now. I’m not sure if this woman is saying nonsense just to scare me, or if she’s serious. I’m thoroughly scared as is, she just killed one of my friends! This death shtick is overkill, there is no need to pretend to be an abstraction to throw me into a panic. I’m already panicking. I failed Vasche, he’s dead because he tried to protect me. I sat and watched this woman kill him in some cruel and unusual way. It’s my fault. I can’t explain this to the others. He’s not even whole. There’s no corpse, just pieces of him. Half his face is gone, how will his family recognize him? He was nothing but nice to me and I watched him suffer. What kind of general am I, biding my time on the sidelines watching my soldiers die?

I can’t breathe because of how hard I am crying. I can’t see through my tears but I can hear the woman walking towards me. “What are you waiting for?” I demand, my voice shaking. “It was easy for you to do what you did to Vasche” I can’t say she killed him, saying that out loud would make me cry even more, “…why don’t you get it over with and kill me, too?” I don’t want to die, and it probably isn’t a good idea to goad her, but I’d do anything not to feel like this. Dying seems like the better option.

“I intend to. You cannot fathom how long I have waited to get rid of you, this useless planet, and all who live on it.” Useless? The Earth is far from useless. She has no idea what these people have been through. From seeing Shadows roam the streets to having their memories erased, the people of Earth are resilient, they’ve been through so much. I have been through so much. I didn’t want to be a Summoner, I didn’t ask her to try and destroy this planet over and over again.

Several Shadows come crashing down at my feet from the crowd, dissolving into fine, black mist thereafter. Hiroyuki emerges from the horde, adjusting one of his gloves as the ones around him move aside so that he can pass. “Mrs. Outtaike.”

I scowl. “I’m not that old, there’s no need to

“It is a pleasure, as always. If you would be so inclined to explain yourself to your daughter.”

My heart skips a beat. This can’t be happening. “That is not my mother.”

“D’Accardi,” the woman says, her tone unfeeling. “I had hoped the Shadows tore you apart.”

“Stronger than normal Shadows these ones may be, like Jinnouchi, they were no match for me. Many surrendered; I made short work of those who did not.”

“How odd. You should not be able to exercise control over them.” Her middle pair of arms fold over her chest as she closes her eyes. “It seems I underestimated your strength. I will not do so again.”

The Shadows listen to her without being given any physical or verbal cues, melting into one other to create a massive one. I look up at it, tightening my grip around the Star Stealer as a mouth rips itself across its half-formed head, the Shadow letting out an ear-splitting roar once it becomes whole. In taking one step forward, it sends a quake rippling through the Earth. I maintain my balance, and Hiroyukiwho is the center of its attentionleads it away from myself and the woman. The Shadow steps over me, eager to smash Hiroyuki underfoot, and then stomps into the sea of smaller Shadows surrounding us.

I have to catch my breath, but she doesn’t give me a chance to do that. She’s walking towards again, her eyes boring into me as I hyperventilate over almost being crushed to death. I let go of the Star Stealer so I can press my hands against my chest, my weapon vanishing into bright flashes of light before it can hit the ground.

My heart is beating so fast, I’ve never seen a Shadow that big. I don’t think Hiroyuki can take it, it’s fifty-hundred thousand times bigger than him. I want to turn around so I can see whether or not Hiroyuki is winning the fight against it, but I’m too afraid to lift my head, much less turn my back to her again. The last time I did that Vasche and Tasi died, and if Hiroyuki died I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d be all alone. I wouldn’t have an Advisor. As annoying as he can be sometimes, without his counsel I’d be lost.

I shake my head and look up, only to find her standing in front of me, her hands cradling my cheeks. I’m frozen in place; I’m sure if I make one move she will end me.

“You’re hurt. Did something happen while I was away?” My eyes well with tears. There is my mother’s soothing voice again, ringing clear with concern for me against the static corruption lacing her tone. “You should learn to be more careful. What if something awful happens to you?” she asks, pulling me into a hug with all eight of her arms. A part of me feels awkward, another part of me wants to cling to this sudden outpour of love. My mother would always fuss over me like this. If I came home and had the smallest cut on me, she reacted as if I’d broken my leg. This is my mother. No one else would react so strongly to me being barely scathed like she currently is. I don’t know what to do. I’m in shock.

She pulls away and her entire demeanor changes. She exchanges her concerned expression to one lacking sympathy, her mouth flattening into a straight line, her eyes deadened. “I am the umbrakinetic you seek. I am your adversary.” I dedicated the past few months of my life towards finding the umbrakinetic, only for them to be my mother this entire time. I feel so stupid. So many people died because I refused to believe she could be this evil.

No human is capable of this level of cruelty, I thought. I reassured myself that whoever the umbrakinetic was, they couldn’t be someone from Earth. Now countless amounts of people are dead because of her. She’s the reason Jinnouchi-sensei isn’t here anymore. People can’t remember their childrenit’s all her fault. Everything is her fault, and it’s my fault for thinking she was innocent. I have to apologize to the people of Earth but I don’t know how or where to start. They were counting on me, everything was resting on my shoulders and I blew it. I was selfish, I didn’t want to lose my mother and people paid for that in blood. I’ll never be able to atone for this. No one will forgive me for picking her over them.

“You are correct, I am not your mother, for I do not have a daughter.” My mother would tell me she loved me every day, all the time. This is a completely different person talking to me. She’s disowning me. My father hates me and I never knew my grandparents; without her I have nothing. She can’t do this to me, I need her. Who will take care of me if not her? I have nowhere to go, no one to turn to. I may as well stop existing. “You are weak. Useless. You do not do as you are told. You are gullible, believing my affection to be genuine. I do not ‘love you.’ You are an annoying wretch, a thorn in the flesh. Dying to my hand is only the minimum that I deserve; to have suffered your existence for 16-years… It is unconscionable.”

I want to throw myself to her feet and ask her how I can make things better. I don’t want to lose her, she was the best mother ever. “I raised a failure. See the remains of our fair city, and know you are the cause of its ruin.” My face is doused in tears, my mouth covered in snot. She runs a clawed finger down my cheek before lifting up my chin, forcing me to look up at her. “I have known you were a Summoner from the start.”

That makes me angry. If she knew I was a Summoner, why didn’t she tell me, why didn’t she warn me? Why did she watch me make a fool out of myself, why did she watch my life turn miserable? I don’t want to live anymore, not if I have to keep being a Summoner and doing this, losing people that I love. “Many an effort was spent preventing you from coming into your power. I forbade you from playing in my garden, lest you discover you could talk to plant life. I gave you a strict curfew, preventing you from meeting aliens who would thrust the title of the Summoner of Time upon you. All this you sabotaged with your resistance to authority, your inane curiosity. You did this to yourself.”

“Why didn’t you just kill me if you hate me so much then?! Why wait now, you could have killed me any time you wanted!” I’m bitter that she didn’t. It’s like she wanted me to suffer instead. “I don’t understand.”

My mother brushes my bangs out of my face with great care before placing an index finger against my forehead, light sparking beneath it. I close my eyes, tears streaming down my face. If I must die, I’m happy she is the one to do it. Maybe the remaining members of the SOF will manage to kill her, and then we can rest together.

“Hands off.” Startled by the sound of D’ivoire’s voice, my eyes jolt open. He places a gloved hand on one of my mother’s arms, his eyes glowing. His touch is explosive, her arm expanding with a flash of light before violently being ripped apart, the blast engulfing her remaining arms on her left side. I’m shocked to find I am whole, and do not hesitate to put space in between us. My hands are shaking, but that doesn’t stop me from putting up a shield in case he decides to blow up her other arms as well.

My mother gives a sharp glance at D’ivoire from the corner of her eyes, vaguely annoyed with him. I thought she would regenerate her arms, but it seems as if she can’t. She’s looking down at her residual limb, expectant, eager to show us the regeneration of her lost appendages. Instead of that happening, the same light that tore through my mother’s arm spills out of D’ivoire’s nose, ears and eye sockets. I turn around, crouch down, close my eyes, and cover my ears. The explosion is so loud it is impossible to hear anything else, the strength of it sending wind roaring past both sides of my shield, knocking out my buns. My hair whips tumultuously in the current, and once it dies down I stand up and deactivate my shield, looking at D’ivoire’s body re-piece itself together after he blew himself up.

Hiroyuki is standing where his body reforms. Unfortunately my mother is looking at them with a vacant expression, not a scratch on her. “Wasn’t expecting her to be so resilient,” D’ivoire murmurs, reacting with a slight involuntary grimace. “Think we should grab Vasche’s remains?”

“Need I remind you that dying on another planet is an offense as severe as treason? The Commander would punish us for making him look at Vasche’s corpse. I am certain he would have us killed.”

D’ivoire takes a few wobbly steps back with his hand pressed against his stomach. “Well…” He turns his attention towards my mother, waving at her. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m gonna have to cut our conversation short. Au revoir and all that.” She doesn’t intend to let him go quietly. Dozens of Shadows materialize around us, but Hiroyuki takes the initiative and begins to fend them off. He is not fighting them per se, merely goading them into fighting him and dodging their attacks thereafter.

I did not see where D’ivoire went, but do know he got away. I open my mouth to ask Hiroyuki what we should do next, but my words devolve into a hiss at my mother grabbing fistfuls of my hair, yanking me towards her.

“Let go of me!” I shout, attempting to pry her hands out of my hair. My hands seep through them; they are not corporeal. Like the Shadows she is ever-shifting, whole one moment and having no material existence the next.

Suddenly the pressure on my head lessens considerably, and with that comes my mother’s arms falling towards the ground. I look up to get a better look at my savoir, it being none other than Isleen dressed in the military attire Hiroyuki made her. She crooks her fingers and flicks black bits of my mother’s limbs off her claws, looking at me with those eyes of molten red I’ve missed so much. “Get up,” is her curt command, one that I acquiesce to without fail. Hiroyuki, too, is at my side again, the Shadows no more, my mother regenerating the limbs that Isleen cut off.

Hiroyuki places his index and middle fingers against his ear, receiving a transmission from his communicator. “D’ivoire is back on his ship with Blaire. Kohana, I need you to concentrate. Think about his ship, think about us escaping, and teleport us to it. We can fight your mother, but we will not win.”

“But what about” What about the people of Earth? I can’t leave them alone to deal with my mother, I won’t. I’m the Summoner of Time, I have a moral obligation to be here. If there is no hope for this planet, I’d rather be destroyed with it. I won’t be a coward and run, I am the only one who can save this planet. Hiroyuki is asking me to forget about my classmates, my teachers, the people I saved at the grocery store, my mother who is still inside of this woman somewhere, I know it. I can’t abandon them, if I leave them behind I’ll be haunted.

Kohana.” Hiroyuki stresses my name with urgency as the sky twists and contorts. I clench my fists and do what he says, forced to choose between the salvation of an entire planet or the safety my friends.

iii.) turning into tiny particles / floating through empty space.

“Do not stop, Kohana.” Lest she be witting to the myriad of corpses littering the streets behind her. “Do not look back.” She would be struck still as a statue at such a sickening scene. In her shock, the Shadow above would not hesitate to slay her. “Press forward.” For her foe will spare her no quarter. In stalking her from above, it promises her first mistake will be her last one.

She makes denying death look effortless, evading one instant-killing attack after the next with frightening focus. She is running the streets of Kyoto with the Star Stealer brandished not out of obligation as Spectra’s general, but out of a fervent desire to be a hero. I will be blunt, I care little about exploiting Kohana’s naïveté and will use her love of heroism to my advantage.

The Shadow eclipsing the sun is less lenient than the one before it, avoiding toying with Kohana altogether. For all her agility, a laser manages to graze her cheek and immediately decapitates the pedestrian behind her. Their head explodes and she catches another one underfoot, crushing it as she continues to dodge the Shadow’s barrage of beams from above. Those who do not fall from the Shadow’s missed attempts to kill her die from the instant-death effect of its attacks, being killed by the lasers an out-and-out mercy in comparison. Kohana’s instincts are animal; like we Celestial Beings, Summoners have an inherent aptitude for battle. Training is an unnecessary, but welcome, addition to a Summoner’s already-heightened prowess. She is too concerned with stopping the Shadow to notice the massacre happening around her, becoming more of the cosmic weapon she dreaded by the second. Kohana is indifferent, too concerned with annihilating her target to care, brutal in her pursuit of it, destroying moving vehicles as she hops atop them to attain higher ground, thereby making highly-populated buildings the Shadow’s next target.

She runs up a 7-storey building with blistering speed, the windows that find themselves unfortunate enough to be level with her stilettos shattering under the pressure of her gravity-defying advance. She throws her blade up the length of it in the same manner one would throw a javelin, deciding she does not need it. When she reaches the top of the building, she looks down and her mouth twists into a grimace. Knowing the building will soon crumble, she steadies herself for its inevitable collapse and launches off it by way of a backflip, thereon calling upon her magic while she makes her descent. Her eyes glow furiously as the building is caught mid-fall by way of her spatiokinesis, surrounded by the same green light that spills from her irises.

True to her self-sacrificing nature, she has placed the lives of the civilians over her own, sparing them from being crushed to death by the building at the cost of recovering from her fall. To my surprise Kohana rotates her body with catlike agility and ensures she lands hand-first, her touchdown smooth as it is gentle. Utilizing her momentum, she pushes herself off the ground and leaps back into an upright position, snapping her arm out to the side in order to catch the previously-discarded Star Stealer which, after spinning around multiple times, falls perfectly into the palm of her hand as soon as she opens it, the people of her planet staring wide-eyed at her performance.

“Doing a ton of work down there Yuki.” I place the tips of my index and middle fingers against my ear to adjust the reception of my communicator. D’ivoire has picked an odd time to contact me. “Earth’s getting shredded.”

“That would be the Shadows and the Summoner’s doing,” I correct, looking at a group of Shadows coordinate an attack against Kohana. She sees them but is unsure how to approach them, making a loosely-wound fist with her left hand and taking a tentative step back. Fighting the instinct to run, she takes a deep breath and steels herself for what is to come.

“Hold on, hold on. What do you mean Shadows? Shadows, with an ‘s’? Shit.” It finally dawns on him that Kohana and I’s situation on Earth is dire.“You didn’t tell me things were that bad, only that you were stranded. I’m so stupid, I should have known you of all people wouldn’t contact me if it weren’t serious.” He was the one who told me ‘even Spectra’s Strongest needs help,’ his words verbatim.

“Did you think me indestructible, D’ivoire?” I tease. I glance at Kohana who is now surrounded by Shadows, fighting tooth and nail in order to avoid being overwhelmed by them.

“Knock it off, will you? Now I have to see who’s available and scrap up a last minute team. None of the people I have on hand are good enough for that sort of competition. Rayne is going to kill me.”

My dear sister would never hurt him. “To be fair, I also did not know there was an umbrakinetic here. Do not blame yourself, D’ivoire. Rayne will understand as well.”

“Not sure how understanding she’ll be seeing you brought back to Spectra in a casket.”

“There is no need to catastrophize. I am well; you should know the Summoner fought a Shadow by herself mere hours ago.” I do not hear anything from D’ivoire for quite some time. It’s worrisome.

“A’ight, listen. Tell me, what the hell kind of wet-behind-the-ears Summoner doesn’t die fighting a Shadow? Jeez.”

“The stubborn kind,” I say in full confidence. D’ivoire sucks his teeth.

“Oh, okay then. Can’t wait to meet this miracle kid and learn their secrets. I’d like to be able to beat things that should annihilate me by being hard-headed too.” Before I can respond he ends the transmission, most likely annoyed by Kohana’s resilience. Whatever the case is, I can now focus.

“Are you alright, Kohana?” The Shadows have her on her back. One of them is salivating over her, long, jagged teeth coming into formation. Her face tenses as the Shadow slams its hands on either side of her head, teetering as it leans in closer.

“Does it look like I’m okay to you?” she says, full of derision. “A little help would be nice. Appreciated, even.”

“Call upon the Star Stealer.”

“And what is the Star Stealer going to do against” She pauses, counting the number of her enemies down on her fingers. “16 Shadows!

“As I have said, the Star Stealer is attuned to your magic. Your proficiency, as a result, is heightened. The Star Stealer will guide your hand.”

Kohana takes my advice and conjures her weapon but, instead of using it, throws it at a horde of Shadows a few feet away from her. Before I can say anything, some of them burst around her. The one responsible is a wolf that shifts mid-assault, exchanging her fur for knee-length hair barrel curled loosely at the ends. Though ethereal, there are several unnerving things about her, such as her eyes being the colour of bright, vivid blood. In them I see countless massacres and, most notably, the corpses of all those lacking the sense not to challenge her. She manages to portray herself as nothing more than a pretty, empty-headed girl and a cruel, wicked demon whose evil knows no bounds all at once. It is not the execution itself that is jarring, but the fact that she succeeds in combining two conflicting things as seamlessly as she does. It is my belief that this is the effect she wished to attain through her shift, to come off as both doll-like and destructive in equal measure.

There remains one wolfish thing about her in this form: the way she moves with extreme and ferocious energy, ripping Shadows to ribbons with claws she has kept long and sharp with reckless abandon.

This is the first time I have seen self-preservation from Shadows, scared out of their wits into sense by the she-wolf’s presence. From her wafts something biblically cataclysmic, something that smites those against her in an instant. She, the water into blood. She, the mixture of wild animals. She, the death of the first born, the final and most painful blow. With her on our side, we have an unbeatable advantage. The Shadows want nothing to do with her, and will abandon their pursuit of Kohana if she is near her.

Kohana rises to her feet in awe, too fascinated to look away and too terrified to run.  As the girl walks past the Star Stealer, she wraps her hand around its hilt and pulls it out the ground, wind surging through its blade as it reacts to her magic. I am impressed she understands how the Star Stealer functions without being told. In a deft motion, the girl presses the Star Stealer’s blade stark against Kohana’s back, to which she raises her hands up in surrender and yelps. The girl smirks, unveiling her teeth to Kohana who gulps upon catching a glimpse of them.

The girl’s smirk widens as she brings the Star Stealer up to Kohana’s throat and turns the steel in a way that forces Kohana to instinctively lift her chin up. “You are leader?” She speaks with a thick Russian accent, omitting the article between ‘are’ and ‘leader.’ Kohana looks at the girl as best as she can and nods her head, resulting in the removal of the Star Stealer’s blade from her neck. She lets her body fall in a sigh of relief, doubling over and catching her breath after forgetting how to breathe. She will get no sympathy from this girl, it seems that compassion is not something she is capable of.

Kohana coughs before rising up on her feet, reaching out towards her. “W-wait!” she stutters, tripping over herself as she attempts to follow the other. There is a blush that dusts her cheeks. “You haven’t even told me your na—!”

“Do not.” A cold but powerful command, one that causes Kohana to quickly retract her hand and take a hurried step back.

“Yes ma’am!” Kohana says as she snaps into attention. This girl is truly a force to be reckoned with, managing to frighten Kohana into submission. That is something neither I nor the Shadows could accomplish.

“I believe she means she does not have a name,” I say, clarifying the girl’s comment. I thought the aforementioned clear, considering the girl is a shapeshifting animal. The girl turns around again and Kohana gets behind me, peering at her from around my shoulder.

“She’s scary.”

“Hopefully you think her less so in the future. She is a Summoner, same as you. There will be ample opportunity for you to become acquainted with her. Do not give up, she may yet open up.”

Kohana perks up, clinging to the sleeve of my coat. The girl’s ‘scariness’ bothers her little compared to the possibility of never growing close to her, although that raises a few questions on its own. Kohana craves the girl’s companionship, that much is certain. With the way she blushes at her there may be something deeper here, a crush. To be afraid and infatuated all at once, Kohana is struggling to make sense of her conflicting emotions. Her passion betrays her, her emotions so extreme they are written across her face in big, bold letters. She could not hide her infatuation even if she wanted. It permeates her expression, her voice, her body language; every part of her professes her love for this girl, and it is only by the mercy of her being a wolf that the object of her affection takes no notice. I did not think I would bear witness to ‘love at first sight.’ I vow to keep Kohana’s feelings a secret.

“We will refer to her as her military titlethe Summoner of Changeuntil we are in a more favourable environment to discuss such frivolities.”

Our wolf companion stops and turns towards us, her eyes still retaining that bleeding quality about them. “Very well.”

“I am not calling her the Summoner of Change,” comes Kohana’s adamant response, stomping her foot and peering up at me while wearing a pout. “It’s a mouthful! That’s six whole syllables.”

“So is the Summoner of Time,” I reply, tilting my head. Only Kohana would throw a temper tantrum over something as inconsequential as this.

“That’s not the point.” Kohana illustrates hers by folding her arms in a petulant manner, huffing as she does so. “She’s a person, she needs a name.”

“Forgive my bluntness, Kohana, but there are more pressing matters to attend to.” Such as preventing her world from being destroyed. Surely she can see the cracks stretching across impressive lengths of the Earth.

“The tall one is right.” The girl’s rationality is sorely needed in our ensemble. It is my hope that she makes a habit out of ending Kohana’s tantrums. “Come.” She punctuates her command with a sharp turn on her heel. Kohana speeds up behind her.

After a while of silence, Kohana pokes her index fingers together, mustering the courage to look at her. “Um…” The girl does not turn around, ergo, Kohana is forced to talk to her back. “…Miss?” she continues, her expression brightening. “I-I was wondering… How did you… y’know… find me?”

“You reek.”

Kohana nervously laughs and scratches the back of her head. There are tears pricking in her eyes and her lips are wibbling.

“She means she was able to find you because of the magic you exude. Unique to the Summoner of Time is their passive emission of magic. Unlike other Summoners, you are constantly producing magic as per the unique way you were created. Said magic is largely ambient, that is to say it is not normally a specific type that you send forth. In the case of it being a particular kinesis, generally it will be newly-created time and space that you exude.”

“She tracked me on smell alone? How does one smell magic?”

“Yours is particularly potent.”

Kohana purses her lips together, desperate to change the subject. “Let me guess… the Summoner of Change can manipulate change.”

“That is not entirely wrong, nor entirely correct. As the Summoner of Change, she is what you would call an inclinkinetic.” My pause is purposely done to savour the look of confusion on Kohana’s face at that last word. As Spectra’s general, she will be expected to have memorized known kineses by name and function. “…Or a shapeshifter. Surely you were curious about the girl’s wolf form.”

Kohana narrows her eyes at me, knits her brows, and purses her lips. “What wolf form? I didn’t see a wolf.” Feeling self-conscious, she draws her hands into tightly-wound fists and frowns, compensating for her inattentiveness with anger. “Maybe if a certain someone didn’t leave me at the mercy of a thousand Shadows…!”

To that I cannot help but chuckle. “If exaggeration were a talent you would win the show, Kohana.”

“Exaggeration?” The word falls out of Kohana’s mouth like a shard of broken glass. “I’m telling the truth!” she insists, folding her arms with undo aggression. “I didn’t see anything!” That is surprising, considering she had been gawking at the girl like a love-struck puppy. “Finish what you were saying about the Summoner stuff, I’m not arguing with you on this.”

“What you see now is not truly how the girl looks.”

“Are you saying she’s an actual wolf?” Kohana stops and blinks. “Can animals become Summoners?”

“Yes.” It is an answer to both of her questions. “That is likely the case. There is a distinct possibility, however, that she may not be a wolf. We can speculate the actuality of her existence, but we will never know what she truly is until she tells us.”

“So the opposite of a werewolf, then!” comes Kohana’s triumphant conclusion. “A wolf cursed with humanity… sounds sad. I should paint her, you think that will cheer her up?”

“You would paint her before me?” I tease. “Am I not pretty enough to catch your artistic eye? I have known you longer, it is only appropriate that I be painted first.”

“I’ve known her longest,” she huffs, closing her eyes and folding her arms in an indignant manner. “There is an alien named Isleen Tchaikovsky in my mother’s stories,” she begins,  She’s one of my favourite characters, but my mother doesn’t talk about her often. I understand why. She’s Prince Ukyo and Princess Saki’s knight, so Isleen’s too busy with military stuff to go on adventures with them. And she’s not just any knight, no, she’s the knight commander! She’s so skilled everyone calls her ‘the Chevalier,’ that’s her official title. She reminds me a lot of Isleen. They’re both cool and pretty. They have the same red eyes and silver hair; they could be the same person. Same person, same name. Isleen Tchaikovsky, but sometimes Isleen Chevalier.”

Isleen is a rather soft name for an animal, but I am given no time to vocalize my thoughts. The sky’s colour returns as the Shadow abandons the sun. Kohana, Isleen and I raise our guards, expecting a battle. In lieu of the aforementioned, the Shadow fashions itself into a lightning bolt, striking down a school immediately thereafter. The impact shakes the earth, covering the school in a thick black residue. Kohana’s horror is written all over her face, she need not say anything for Isleen and I to understand the severity of this situation. She opens her mouth to speak, but instead of giving words she lets out a shriek of terror. Balling up her fists to stop her arms from shaking, she takes a deep breath and then shakes her head, invoking her super speed; we lose Kohana in an instant.

Fortunately she has not gone far. We find her in the school a few paces away from the entrance, paralyzed by the grisly scene awaiting us. The walls are drenched in blood, the floor littered with pieces of her peers and instructors. I cannot recall the last time I have seen such savage, indiscriminate killing. What immediately comes to mind after seeing such violence is the millennia I spent in the Academy Program. I was made a spectator to exams wherein I watched hundreds of aspiring Advisors kill each other until one studentunrecognizable by way of a combination of wounds and being dressed in the remains of their opponentswas left standing. Exams that happened weekly, exams that the Academy eagerly awaited as a collective. It was difficult in the beginning, getting close to people only to lose them the next day.

Just as I had done when I was much younger, I begin to count the number of corpses present. Try as I might, there are far too many of them in this area; I am certain the Shadows brought most, if not all those still present to this specific location to kill them. Several of the Shadows are now eating what is left of her late friends and acquaintances in order to throw her into more emotional turmoil. I look to my left and see a boy no older than my charges attempting to crawl away from a Shadow. His lower body is missing. Using the last of his strength, he drags himself across the ground, leaving chunks of himself behind in the small distance he covers. Like an over-excited child, a Shadow bounces over to him and morphs its arm into a spear, driving it through his chest with a skin-crawling squelch. The boy writhes on impact, encouraging the Shadow to drive its arm further into his body before he stops moving altogether.

Another Shadow has crucified a child and is now picking their organs out of their body and popping them into its mouth like candy. As this Shadow happily chews on the child’s heart, other Shadows amuse themselves by wearing the faces of the children they have killed to amuse those around it. The Shadow in the sky’s recent attack could not have caused this. I believe these Shadows infested Kohana’s school after she left to meet with me. It is likely the Shadow that eclipsed the sun fled here to lure us.

It is not up to me to decide what we should do next. That decision is Kohana’s to make and the she-wolf knows this as well. I turn to Kohana, whose eyes are unfocused without any luster, so wide and unblinking that they simulate a pair of glasses. She is staring into the distance, her vacant gaze characteristic of a war-weary, traumatized soldier emotionally detached from the horrors around them. She runs her fingers through the hair cradling her cheeks to provide herself some form of comfort, only to drag her fingers through her scalp and do away with the neatness of her buns.

Isleen has grown impatient. Irritated, even, at Kohana’s reaction. She takes a single pointed step past Kohana and, although subdued, raises her lips to snarl at her.

“Leave her.” She proposes a solution to Kohana’s shock with cold logic. This girl is not one to mince words; she speaks like the edge of a dagger, short and sharp with calculating precision, a stark juxtaposition to Kohana’s words full of raw emotion.

“She will die.” I fold my arms over my chest, expecting a change in her decision; in lieu of the aforementioned, she presses on with bone-chilling indifference. “The school is infested with Shadows. They are attracted to her with intense and immediate interest. You will be ignored, and she will be devoured.”

The girl gives an arrogant snort of laughter. “A paltry meal,” is her only response before disappearing amidst the corpses and Shadows. The fact that she insinuated Kohana would not be a fulfilling meal makes me pause. She entertained the thought of eating her.

I turn my attention towards Kohana whose legs have given out from under her. There is a part of me that wishes that I could understand the devastation that plagues her.

I kneel next to Kohana and brush her bangs out of her eyes. She will hate herself for leaving school, for ‘leaving these people to fend for themselves.’ She will hold herself accountable for not being here to save them.

I remove the glove on my right hand. My ecliptic coordinates, in all their gold splendor, begin to glow. Ecliptic coordinates are Celestial-made tattoos that resemble constellations. Though pretty, their purpose is not an aesthetic one. On Spectra, it is thought that stars are a division of heaven. We eat the assembly of the blessed and adorn ourselves in it. Using a cosmic-coloured ink made from the magic that pervades our planet, we don the heavens in geometric patterns, paradise written all over our skin. Ecliptic coordinates, like our eyes, glow when we cast magic, and are especially vibrant when conjuring the additional kineses they bestow us.

I employ the magic Kohana has wanted so strongly for me to use. My coordinates cover the length of my arm, my hands, and my fingertips, moving counterclockwise against my skin before leaving my body and smattering themselves against Kohana’s skin. Her face in particular is freckled in my coordinates; it is the area they have decided is the most effective place to employ their magic.

This is not the devastating magic she assumed me capable of. My coordinates emit a gentle healing aura that enfolds her and brings her back to her senses, her eyes opening slowly as if she has been roused from sleep. When she realizes where she is and what is happening, she buries her face into my jabot before letting out a wail and immediately bawling.

“Why did you wake me!?” she screams into my chest. Curling her hand into a fist, she strikes my shoulder over and over again. “Why did you bring me back!” With each word she becomes more incoherent. “Why, why, why!”

“If we do not act, more people will die.” It is a sobering realization for Kohana, one that causes her to go silent. “You must,” I add, helping her to her feet. “You will. You can mourn after you have carried out your obligations. You must move forward for the Earth’s sake as well as your own. Now brandish your blade.” She opens her right hand and the Star Stealer materializes in it. “The other Summoner,” I begin, correcting my statement, “Isleen went ahead of us. I doubt she will be successful in locating the umbrakinetic, but it would be wise to follow her.”

“What do they even want.” Her voice has lost its colour. She does not sound like the Kohana I know.

“Umbrakinetics are incredibly strong magic users and are well aware of such. They are trying to test you, or perhaps lure you to them in order to unveil themselves. This school would not strike their fancy elsewise; they know there is something here that is important to you, perhaps

My mother!

Kohana holds the Star Stealer with both of her hands and sprints forward into a sea of Shadows, deftly sliding between a few of them before they realize she means to evade them in lieu of facing them in battle. Scorned, they begin to lash out at her, unleashing a barrage of swipes from long, needle-sharp claws and spiked punches. Kohana jumps over one Shadow’s head and flips in mid-air, landing on the shoulders of another before steadying herself and hopping off of it, thereon slamming the Shadow into the wall next to her and through what I assume to be a vacant classroom, her grip loosening around the Star Stealer. I watch as her sword slides against the floor. Greeting us is the Summoner of Change who calmly retrieves the Star Stealer and points it towards a Shadow different from the rest sporting blue hair and purple irises.

“Jinnouchi-sensei…?!” The urgency with which Kohana says that name brings me to pause. Even more troubling is the fact that Kohana seems to be referring to the Shadow.

It says Kohana’s name quizzically in response, its tone deep, distorted. Kohana’s heart sinks as she runs towards her teacher, stopping so abruptly in front of her that she nearly falls over. Like the heroes she idolizes, Kohana tries to be a pillar of strength. Fire-eyed, she throws her body in front of the Shadow, using herself as a shield against Isleen’s attack. I did not think Isleen capable of such merciful hesitation. She strikes me as the sort that would utilize any opportunity to defeat her opponent, even if that means striking down a comrade in order to do so.

Kohana is not intimidated by the tip of the Star Stealer mere centimeters away from her back. I am confused by her decision to shield this Shadow. They are the enemy; though not the umbrakinetic we seek, it is clear they are responsible for the Shadows flooding the school and killing everyone here.

Kohana is shaking despite acting decisively. She cannot keep her hands steady around the Shadow’s shoulders. It acknowledges her reassuring gesture by bringing its hands up to her neck and, thereon, wrapping them tightly around it. Kohana strains against the Shadow’s hold, placing her hands atop its own. “You have to…” She struggles to find the air to finish her sentence, “fight it! This isn’t you!”

“Please, Kohana.” Its tone is akin to a tender caress against the cheek. Kohana falls victim to its ruse. She is at ease, her body relaxing despite the Shadow tightening its grip.

Kohana holds the person the Shadow has been masquerading as in high regard; she trusts this Jinnouchi completely, and believes she would not do anything to deliberately harm her. I will be blunt: Jinnouchi does not exist. She never has. She never will.

Kohana’s aim is plain. With an act of self-sacrificing submission she hopes to reawaken Jinnouchi’s humanity, but she cannot rouse what is not there. Whatever the reason, this Shadow donned a human skin. It went against its violent nature to live amongst them. It fit the mold of a teacher of all things, and did the aforementioned so well that Kohana does not recognize her life is in danger even while she is gasping for air. I imagine Jinnouchi was friendly and congenial with her students, Kohana most of all. Drawn to the latter by way Kohana being a Summoner, Jinnouchi must have found it difficult to curb her urges to kill her. It is possible Jinnouchiin an attempt to quell themlavished Kohana in affection in much the same manner parents dote on their only child.

I almost pity it for teaching itself to love. It was without result, and now Kohana will suffer twofold for its error.

“I’ve killed so many already. I can’t hold myself back much longer.”

“I won’t! I can’t! You can do this Jinnouchi-sensei!” It pains me to see Kohana give her all for someonesomething that was never real. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Kohana struggles to keep her smile on her face. “I’m here,” she reassures the Shadow in a pained whisper, her eyes welling with more tears. “I won’t let you die.”

“Kohana.” I am stern, my expression that of stark disapproval. “Jinnouchi never existed. It is and has always been a Shadow. Do not fall for its ruse. Get away from it, now.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” There is no getting through to her. She is sick with emotion. “Stop talking!” Her voice is hoarse, her eyes bloodshot. “Stop!” she begs, she pleads, “I won’t let you hurt her! Leave us alone! I won’t let you, I can’t let you!”

Isleen tightens her grip around the Star Stealer andin one deft, heartless motiondrives the blade through Kohana and into the Shadow. The sound of Kohana choking on her unsung words is the only thing that can be heard before a powerful wind surges through the steel of the Star Stealer, the current ruining the room.

Kohana falls limp on the sword and the vicious shredding of Jinnouchi follows thereafter. Impaling Kohana with her own sword is not cruel enough for the she-wolf. Once enough of Jinnouchi has been flung throughout the room, she rips the sword out of Kohana’s back and retracts her arm, flicking Kohana’s blood across the floor. Isleen carelessly drops the Star Stealer and turns sharply on her heel, not sparing me so much as a glance as she makes her exit. I will not chase after her, nor am I keen on leaving Kohana to lay in a pool of her own blood.

“Will you be sending me off now?” Forlorn of all hope, the Shadowin all its scattered piecesasks if I will slay it, its voice resounding from every direction.

“Unfortunately, yes.” The ecliptic coordinates on my arm leave my skin and transfer to Kohana’s body, illuminating her with a wealth of constellations. Already the bruises on her face begin to fade. “You were created to protect her.” It is not a question. There is no other explanation for this Shadow’s strong attachment to Kohana. “I assume she fell out of favour with the umbrakinetic, then.”

“You know who they are.” Though tender in tone, there is a keen edge to its words. “There is no need for manipulation, Celestial, for I will not tell you anything you don’t already know.” I scoop Kohana off the ground as the Shadow continues to lecture me. That it thinks it has any say in my duties as an Advisor is absurd. “I don’t understand you. You condemn me for hiding the truth from Kohana and prolonging the inevitable, but are you not doing the same?” I owe this Shadow no explanation for my actions. Unlike itself, I am not pretending to be one of her parental figures. I do not dignify it with an answer. “Take care of her.” The Shadow passes along the orders it was given to me as it begins to dissipate into nothing. Its voice grates on my nerves, I should have rid myself of it sooner. I do not know how it is Kohana came to adore this person.

“Believe what you will.” For a moment it almost sounds human. “I loved that girl.” I will not fall for its deception. A Shadow knows nothing about love. “I did all I could to save her.” I am angry on Kohana’s behalf; would that she is conscious to hear how absurd her precious Jinnouchi sounds. “I did more for her than you ever will, hate me for that if you must.”

ii.) shored against the ruins / drowning in ten different directions.

My mother loves aliens. It’s because of her that I even know what they are. That’s why when Hiroyuki told me he was an alien, I wasn’t surprised. Neither was I surprised by the Shadowfreaky things like that come with the territory of the extraterrestrial. Every night my mother tells me bedtime stories about aliens who cast magic, so me casting magic is no big deal, I’ve always known magic is real. The only confusing thing about all this is that Hiroyuki doesn’t look like an alien, he looks more like an angel. He has the type of beauty that would make strangers do anything for him. I would’ve done anything for him, had I not pulled myself together when we met in the same spot I fought that Shadow in. He overwhelmed me. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak; he called my name several times in an attempt to snap me back to reality, but no matter how many times he said it I could not recognize it. It sounded foreign, it sounded like it didn’t belong to me. That someone is so pretty that I forget who I am, even for a moment, is terrifying, but not as terrifying as me having to tell my mother an alien wants me to work with them. Where do I even begin?

I can’t tell her I was almost killed by a Shadow, that sounds silly. I also snuck out of my room after she tucked me in. I would be in massive amounts of trouble if she knew I climbed out of my window to talk to trees. A specific tree. One moment I was in bed, and the next moment I was sprinting down the street in my pyjamas to lay comfortably in the tree’s branches. We were having a wonderful conversation until Hiroyuki interrupted us. Or was it the Shadow that cut our conversation short…? Either way, neither I nor the tree invited them. They ruined everything. The tree said it was going to tell me something important it saw moments before I came to speak with it. I fell out of its branches just as it was going to part with that information, and that’s when I realized Hiroyuki was standing over me being annoying.

Speaking of my tree friend, Hiroyuki said it was still recovering, and that it would take a few days before it was up to talking again after my battle with the Shadow. Frankly he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I wouldn’t take his advice even if my life depended on it. He may be some all-knowing alien, but I’m the Earth expert here. He can’t out-expert me. Unlike some people, this is where I come from, this is where I was born. It’s obvious he can’t talk to trees like I do, and I have been talking to them for a while. Trees love talking, they always have a lot to say. I’ve had trees talk to me right after natural disasters; their endurance is inspiring. Survival runs in trees’ blood, they are the strongest people I know. I look up to them. They have been through so many storms that the idea of my friend being incapacitated by a Shadow is ridiculous.

My mother is a teacher at my school. She’s still there, but she won’t be there for long, which is why I told Hiroyuki we need to be quick about our conversation. He assured me he’d be brief, insisted he would only needed ‘a minute or two’ to say what he had to say. Surprise! Hiroyuki’s a big fat liar, and has said not one word since we’ve been here. I thought he understood how dire our situation is, but he has been wasting time gawking at the décor of my home instead. I had to drag him upstairs and into my room, that’s how distracted he was. How distracted he still is.

“This isn’t an art exhibition,” I say, raising a brow and tilting my head towards the oil paintings I’ve done that have seized his attention. Generally I paint places I’ve been or people I’ve seen in passing, although I have a tendency to paint those who are close to me. My mother is a frequent muse; many of the pieces that adorn the walls of my room are of her.

“You are quite the artist,” Hiroyuki says. It’s like he did not hear what I just said.

“And you don’t listen very well.”

“I am not ignoring you, Kohana.” It’s suspicious that he thinks I think he’s ignoring me. How would he know I think he’s ignoring me if he wasn’t ignoring me? I certainly did not tell him I felt ignored by him, so he wouldn’t know I think he’s ignoring me unless he was actually ignoring me. He sounds guilty; I don’t have any sympathy for someone who disregards me intentionally. “I merely think your art is interesting.” Just interesting? So it’s not pretty? It’s not the best he’s ever seen? I see. Hiroyuki continues to insult me. “I assume your work is considered prodigious on this planet?” I imagine Hiroyuki has not seen other 15-year-olds drawing like Kei Mieno, so I’d say yes. “On my planet, art of this leveland at your ageis commonplace.” Disregard my last comment, I didn’t know Hiroyuki was going to take a bulldozer through my self-esteem. “Like you, I can also capture the likeness of a photograph in art. What makes you different from myself and other Spectrians, however, is that you do not need a photo to draw from. You possess an

“Eidetic memory.” I finish his sentence for him, speaking in dull monotone.

Hiroyuki is supposed to be the wise we-must-stay-on-topic one, yet here he is with his head in the clouds. I have to do everything around here. I snap my arms down next to my sides and pout as hard as I can; not only is he too captivated by my artwork to focus, but he hasn’t taken a single sip of the juice box I gave him. He’s letting a perfectly good juice box get hot! It’s horrific! “You were so serious this morning. Now you’re acting like a puppy locked in a bacon factory. It’s strange seeing an alien from another universe staring at everyday things, like stairs.” I’m starting to think Hiroyuki is one big hallucination. Maybe today didn’t happen. Maybe I still haven’t woken up. I have half a mind to go back to sleep in hopes that this nightmare will end.

Of course Hiroyuki chuckles at my comment. He thinks it’s funny. He takes a seat on the edge of my bed, sits the things he brought down next to him, and rests his cheek against the knuckles of his left hand. I can’t stand him. He’s mocking me. He thinks I’m ‘adorable.’ He thinks I’m ‘cute.’ He takes my shortness as some kind of ‘pretty weakness.’ One day I’ll be really tall, maybe even taller than him. He’ll be sorry then. They’ll all be sorry.

“I was expecting tea.” I don’t care what he was expecting. He’s going to drink his juice box and he’s going to like it. “Do not think me an ungrateful guest, your hospitality is appreciated.” That was unexpected. “Thank you, Kohana.” I almost thank him back for being so nice to me about it. To draw attention away from my blushing, I hold my juice box from its base and make a swishing motion as if it were a wine glass.

“This isn’t juice,” I insist, a smile curling my lips as I begin to play with the straw. “You cannot imagine what I went through to attain this drink. And it’s not just any drink. Oh no, this an alcoholic beverage favoured by the kami. I suppose only a master sommelier like myself would recognize it. I can identify it through colour and texture alone, by its smell.” I take the straw out of the box and put the hole right up to my nose, taking another whiff of it. “Does it not make your eyes sting, does it not make your eyebrows burn? One sip of this would kill you. It’s like drinking an atomic bomb. Just because you’re an alien doesn’t mean this drink will spare you, either. To survive it, you must be of divine origin.” Pleased with myself, I slip my straw back in and take a long sip, staring directly at him.

“And you are? Is that why you still live after taking quite a few sips of this ‘drink’ you speak of?”

“I hadn’t thought that far,” I admit with a shrug and a grin, putting my juice box on my desk. “Why haven’t you touched your juice, though? It’s from my own personal stash.” Unless he can’t drink juice. That would confirm my suspicions about him being a vampire, he certainly looks like one. Vampires only drink blood; maybe he wanted to lure me to some secluded area so he could break my neck and drain my body instead of showing me his ship all along.

“If I may speak plain, stars are Celestial Beings’ only source of sustenance. I could drink the juice you have graciously given me, but it would not nourish me. I also would not be able to taste it.”

“You eat stars?” I repeat, awe-struck. Gasping, I twirl in place and then sit on the ground when I’m finished, throwing my arms high above my head in an attempt to gesture towards the universe. “You mean those self-luminous celestial bodies held together by their own gravity, in which the energy generated by nuclear reactions in their interiors are balanced by the outflow of energy to their surfaces, and the inward-directed gravitational forces balanced by their outward-directed gas and radiation pressures?” I may have went a little overboard. I may have forgotten to breathe, too, but who wouldn’t when one of their favourite things are being discussed?

“Yes. We break stars into fragments. A fragment can sustain us for approximately seven-thousand years, making it unnecessary for us to eat daily like humans do. Technically speaking, Celestial Beings are stars. Our biology is identical to that which we eat. We are endlessly-exploding spheres of gas mostly consisting of hydrogen and helium. In addition, we can be incredibly luminous when certain requirements are met, and can be incinerating to the touch should we will it. Celestial Beings are immune to UV radiation, resistant to fire, and the effects of stellar energy does not affect us.” He’s a star person… That must be why he is so pretty. “We can survive and adapt to the vacuum of space unaided, are unaffected by gravity, and do not require air to function.”

“Space is like your second home, huh? How do you guys get stars? Do you just walk up to one and eat it?”

“It is a complicated process. We prefer eating suns. Think of them as the crème de la crème of stars.” I look at the sun and then look at Hiroyuki, trading glances between the two several times before stopping to look at him in disbelief. Hiroyuki? Eating a sun? But why? How? “They are luxuries. Despite being somewhat difficult to obtain, suns are always in high-demand because the well-heeled gorge themselves upon them. Initially suns were something anyone could eat, served for special occasions such as graduations or ceremonies. That changed when it was discovered eating suns in mass quantities does not bring about any adverse effects as was thought prior, and so suns quickly replaced standard stars in that regard. Those who can afford to eat suns now eat the entirety of them in one sitting. They are not satisfied with consuming a sun fragment every several thousand years, and demand the same portion the day after. Those who cannot afford to eat suns eat lesser stars in the same fashion.”

I nervously start playing with the hair framing my cheek. “I see… Celestial Beings are the definition of gluttony.”

“Precisely. My people do not eat to live, but live to eat.”

I can’t help but think about what would happen if Hiroyuki ate the Earth’s sun. My blood runs cold. I curl my hands into loosely-wound fists against my thighs, trying not to panic. “You wouldn’t eat our sun, would you?” I whisper, trembling at the thought of his answer.

“No.” I exhale after a minute of holding my breath. “The Earth’s sun is safe, you have my word.” Good.

“I have another question. Assuming Celestial Beings define suns as stars that planets receive heat and light fromthus being necessary to its orbiting planets’ longevityhow is it that you guys are able to keep up with that level of supply and demand without…”

“We rapidly accelerate the lifespan of suns for us to process them into fragments, as with any star; we force them into supernova, including those that are not massive enough to enter said transient astronomical event. Through this process, a sun will see approximately thirteen billion years of its life pass in the span of thirty seconds before destroying its galaxy entirely; every so often, a sun’s supernova is only strong enough to destroy its solar system, however. The resulting annihilation of planets, moons, and other celestial bodies is so severe that there is no evidence they ever existed after the explosion; planets that survive are thrust back into deep space, never to be seen or heard of again.”

“That’s awful!” What Hiroyuki and his people are doing is unforgivably evil. If I was taller, I would grab Hiroyuki by his jabot and shake some sense into him. “You can’t just do that, what about all the people you kill?!”

“We do what is necessary for our survival.” How can he be so calm about this? Why is he not remorseful, why is he not swallowed by guilt? I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. This level of cruelty isn’t meant to be understood. There is no sense in it.

“You just said your people don’t need to eat as much as they do not even a moment ago. You have to do something!”

His expression is unsmiling; he has become a stark contrast to the calm man I was talking to just a moment ago. “You are too idyllic. You ask me to change something that has gone on for eons, knowing I am but one man.”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses.” I stand my ground and turn my nose up at him. “I would.” Some scary alien from another universe he is, I have more spine than he does. What good is all his wisdom and strength if he’s going to sit on the sidelines twiddling his thumbs as people lose their homes? Their worlds? If I had a third of his power, I could save everyone. I would save everyone. Ukyo and Saki, two aliens from my mother’s stories, always say power should be used to protect others whenever possible. Hiroyuki does not know how fortunate he is, he’s wasting it. “You won’t because you’re scared.” His planet sounds like an empire. It could be that he’s afraid of being punished for speaking out. I have no sympathy for him if that is the case. His life is not worth the trillions of lives they take in pursuit of their ‘delicacies’.

“And if you died?” I want to tell him to stop being snide. I’m not like him. I’m not a coward.

“I’d die,” I answer with no hesitation. Surely he can see the determination in my eyes; I mean business. And I would let myself be reborn, just to die again for them. I’d die as many times as necessary to see them safe. It would be an honour to die for the right thing; my mother says that is the lesson Ukyo and Saki are trying to teach me through their adventures.

Anyway, we desperately need a change of conversation. I’m exhausted. Talking about my hypothetical death is in no way pleasant, and Hiroyuki’s silence isn’t helping either. “What’s a Summoner?”

“A Summoner is a cosmic weapon. One of Spectra’s cosmic weapons.”

“One thing at a time, please.”

“Please?” he repeats, closing his eyes and smiling. He tilts his head back before speaking. “I did not think you capable of polite requests.”

“I’m polite when it suits me.” I bet he hadn’t expected me to be honest, either. “Start explaining things already. I didn’t sneak you into my house for you to make fun of me.”

“Spectra is my home planet, and is where Celestial Beings come from. I will not insult your intelligence with a lie. You have the right of it, we are universal conquerors. Through our technological and magical advances, we’ve made universes hollow for eons. You are but one of the means in which we do that.”

“…Making hollow…” I squint at him. “You mean you destroy everything inside of them? Universes? As in plural?” I’m horrified. Every time Hiroyuki opens his mouth about Celestial Beings, they just get worse and worse. I’m trying to see the good in them. They can’t be as bad as Hiroyuki says they are. Maybe Celestial Beings save as many worlds as they destroy. “Don’t be silly. There is only one universe. This universe,” I stress, gesturing to our surroundings.

The truth is I’m a firm believer in the multiverse theory. I made it sound like I did not support it because it’s easier to swallow Celestial Beings’ cruelty by accepting the existence of only one universe. I can’t fathom the amount of people who have lost their lives for food. It feels like my heart might burst. If everyone in a universe is slaughtered, who mourns their loss?

I feel betrayed by Hiroyuki. He is not the gentle man I thought he was. I knew there was something ruthless about him, but I let his smiles and laughter at my jokes cloud my better judgement. I’m an idiot. I deserve this. Only someone as gullible as me would allow themselves to be lured in by the promise of a ship that might not even exist. At this point I’m certain he is using me to try and destroy my universe just like his people did to all those other ones. “And I assure you,” I add, my voice cracking from the shock of being told I’m a tool to hurt innocent people, “there is no way I could destroy an entire universe.” I’m going to throw up.

Those destroyed universes are crushing my shoulders. If only I would have known sooner, I could have saved those people. I could have used the power Celestial Beings gave me to undo their tyranny. I could have

“I am not a universe-nuking weapon! I’m a normal girl whose normal life you ruined by invading my normal planet!” Everything is blurry, but I can see Hiroyuki’s indifferent stare so clearly. He didn’t care when I was crying during my fight with that Shadow, so why would he care now? I cover my face with my hands and bend over, tears rushing through the cracks of my fingers. I could cry for the rest of my life and it still wouldn’t be enough to mourn the lives of all those taken by him and his people.

I feel like I could cry for an eternity. I feel like I am not allowed to stop crying. I know too much, it would be horrible if I stopped. I owe it to those people to grieve for them. No one else will.

My next words are so vicious they come ripping out of my mouth. “Everything is your fault! All of it! The Shadow, the tree, whatever terrible thing that will inevitably happen to me because of your coming! You have ruined my life that fast! I wish we never met, I wish that Shadow killed me. If only I knew how to use my chronokinesis to turn back time. I should be able to, right? Right? The first thing I’d do is ensure you never set foot on Earth. I’d keep you as far away from here as possible. I’ll be a protector to my people, I’ll use my power for good!”

“If it makes you feel any better, we have not destroyed a universe in quite some time. Not since we got tangled in matters with Alræra.”

“Explain.”

“Alræra is another planet similar to Spectra. They are what you would call our rivals.”

Our rivals? What do you mean our rivals? I have nothing to do with your planet.”

“Again you misunderstand me. You are one of Spectra’s cosmic weapons. That makes you a weapon of Spectra. I will be blunt; you are Spectra’s property. You are well within your rights not to accept that, I understand. However, that does not change what you are, and what you were made for. You will do what you were intended to.” I blink once. It is slow, dramatic, and punctuated by the placement of my hands atop my hips. I love being a tool of mass destruction and not a person with feelings. I brought this on myself, this is exactly what I get for trusting an alien.

“I am no one’s property!” My heart racing. My head hurts“I am not a thing to be owned!” I disappointed my father because I wasn’t what he wanted, and now I’m disappointing Hiroyuki because I’m not the universe-nuking weapon Celestial Beings thought they created. I hate my father. I hate Hiroyuki. I hate that I can’t make them happy unless I’m exactly who they want me to be.

“Calm yourself, Kohana.”

“You are not my father.” That was a little too personal. “Be calm? How can you tell me to be calm…?” I’m tearing up again. I’m trying to hold them in. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job at it.

I sit on the ground, curl up into a ball, and cry into my kneecaps. I want this day to end.

“Summoners are…” Fantastic, now he’s trying to explain what they are. Again. I’ve heard enough. Please, no more. I can’t take it. “capable of destroying planets, yes, like any of our cosmic weapons. But that is not all they are. You are special. What makes you a Summoner comes directly from the source of omnipotence itself. You possess a connection to the All Creator no one else in the multiverse can boast. You were made to thwart the impossible, the eldritch, the beyond comprehension, the divine and the unimaginable. Pray tell me, where do you hear that you are an instrument of evil in our mantra?”

I wipe my eyes and pick myself up off the floor. That gives me a little hope. “You will not be alone. There are 7 others Summoners with specializations different from your own scattered throughout the cosmos. We must find them. You are the Summoner of Time and Space, General to the Summoners of Spectra. You have the entirety of Spectra’s military force at your disposal, of which holds within it billions of soldiers. Your purpose as a Summoner is to protect those who cannot protect themselves with the power you hold. You are no monster, Kohana. You are a hero.”

“A hero…” I absentmindedly murmur, brushing the tips of my fingers against my lips. A hero, like Ukyo and Saki… Like all the other aliens in my mother’s stories. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.

“Yes, and I am your Advisor. Outside of a handful of individuals, your authority is absolute. You could change our world with a single command. You could change it in an instant.”

I laugh. It isn’t a mournful laugh, or even a patronizing one. It’s soft. I am trying not to cry againlaughing was the best alternative I could think of. “I don’t think I’ll be a good Summoner of Time. I know nothing about the military. I can’t fight. Spectra should have picked a better candidate. I’m afraid I will only disappoint you all.”

“It is not a matter of Spectra ‘choosing’ a general. You were always meant to lead us.”

“Somehow that does not fill me with confidence.”

“We could not be in better hands.” He smiles and stands. I start grumbling to myself. “At the risk of confusing you further, the foes you fight as the Summoner of Time will often possess your same level of power, or something akin to it. Your strength is necessary.” I can barely stand. What strength could I possibly have? “My duty as your Advisor is simple. I am the hand that guides you. I give you counsel, and record your adventures.” It just hit me that I can’t be a general without a war. I’m going to die, aren’t I? “I am also required to protect you

“As your general,” I begin, interrupting his explanation; I try my best to make my voice deeper, to make myself bigger, “the… ahem… Summoner of Time and Space and Spectra’s whateveryoujustsaid… You are hereby sentenced to whatever terrible thing you Spectrians do to the people you torture for not protecting me.”

but there is a difference between not being able to protect yourself and refusing to fight because you are lazy. It is up to me to decide whether or not my intervention is necessary. Furthermore,” he adds, a tiny smirk tugging at his lips, “We do not take prisoners. They are an inconvenience and waste of resources. We kill those who surrender to us.” He is being scary on purpose. I puff my cheeks out and stomp on the ground in an attempt to tell him to stop.

Hiroyuki holds out his hands as if waiting for something to appear in them; within seconds after his gesture, a high-tech samurai sword materializes out of thin air. I curl my hand against my chest and take a step back, marveling at the size of the weapon, wondering how Hiroyuki does not crumble underneath the weight of it. After giving the sword several looks over, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is as long as Hiroyuki is tall andlike himwould lord over me if positioned vertically. It is a white-bladed ōdachi with black and silver accents. Outside of its size, the most curious thing about it is that the steel of the blade is in two distinct parts, one being significantly shorter than the other, about 1/6th of the longer part’s length. “For you,” he says with a small nod. For me? He shouldn’t have. This is awfully generous of him, I don’t know what to say. “It’s called the Star Stealer.”

Wait, what does he mean for me? What am I supposed to do with a sword that looks like it weighs twice as much as I do? Where would I put it, how could I put it anywhere, I’d sooner break my arms trying to carry it. Hiroyuki is trying to kill me by forcing me to do something impossible again.

“It is a Celestial Weapon prototype that functions as both a staff and a sword.” I would have preferred a magic wand as opposed to this, but he doesn’t care about what I want. “I did not think you would need it, but I brought it along as a precaution.” Oh gee, how nice of him. That sounds like a thinly-veiled insult. “Go on, get a feel of it,” he says with a smile, encouraging me to take it out of his hands. I smile back as a reflex, though mine is much more awkward in execution. “Don’t let my rambling stop you, you have my permission.” I humour him with an attempt, curling my fingers tightly around its hilt. The sword feels like it weighs nothing. “I’m impressed.” I blink, my cheeks tinting red with embarrassment; I was expecting him to talk about the Star Stealer’s construction, not give me praise I did nothing to warrant. “The Star Stealer weighs 3 tonnes.” As soon as I hear ‘3 tonnes’ it feels as if the sword has regained all its weight. My arms drop down, and the Star Stealer along with it.

I start tearing up again. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’ve had my fair share of surprises today. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t expecting to pick up something that shares the same weight as an African elephant.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Hiroyuki insists, wearing a warm smile. He sure does love joking at my expense. “I would not have given it to you if I did not think you could handle it.”

“I can’t handle it!” I snap back. “I’ve never picked up something this heavy before!”

“You just did.” Hmm. He has a point. “With ease, no less.”

“Touché. But still.”

“It should not surprise you that you possess super strength. You can cut sheets of metal by applying pressure with your fingernail.” He demonstrates this by poking me in the arm. I glare at him. “We have yet to perform the appropriate tests to see where your strength stands, but I can say with certainty you are able to lift objects hundreds of times your size over your head. You can move mountains, crush diamonds in your grasp, and force runaway trains to come to screeching stops by allowing them to crash against your hand. You could clap and create a small earthquake. You do not have to wield it. It is finely attuned to your spatio and chronokinesis for optimal handling; ideally, you want to stow the Star Stealer away in another dimension, calling upon the blade when you need it.”

“Got it.” I lied. I’m going to forget Hiroyuki said any of this in an hour.

“Because you cannot manipulate dimensions at the moment, you will simply have to carry the Star Stealer with you wherever you go.”

Before I can protest, Hiroyuki begins to unfold the clothes he brought. “This is your general uniform.” My hands start to shake as I reach for it. A part of me wants to believe I misheard him. I don’t deserve this outfit or his kindness. I had been so nasty to him a moment ago, and now he is giving me a gift. “I made it while waiting to meet you again. It stays true to your fashion sense, while retaining the look of a Spectrian. I hope it is to your liking, Kohana.” I already have the outfit on, boots and all, looking at myself from head to toe. It fits like a glove.

“You left to change, correct?”

“Yes?” I blink profusely, trying to figure out what that has to do with anything.

“As the Summoner of Time, moving at extraordinary speeds is as natural to you as breathing. You exercised that when you changed; I did not see you leave, nor did I see you return.”

“Oh… Do you think I always do that? What if someone sees me, I need to learn how to better control it!” I pull at his sleeve, bouncing up and down. “You have to teach me, Hiroyuki!”

“Now is not the time.” But I’m the Summoner of Time. That has to count for something, right? “There is still much to discuss; unfortunately this Shadow demands your attention, so we must forgo conversation for now.”

“Shadow?” I croak, my eyes wide with fear. This is ridiculously unfair, it hasn’t even been a day since my last battle. “But I got rid of that Shadow didn’t I?” Unless it unstuck itself, in which case… “Hiroyuki, what happened to the Shadow we left behind?”

“I disposed of it, rest assured.”

“If you ‘disposed of it,’ how is the Shadow is back? Besides, I don’t see a Shadow.” He doesn’t answer me. He does, however, point to my window, which reveals a scene of cataclysmic proportions. It is 4 in the afternoon, but it’s dark outside. I recognize the tendrils dancing along the edge of what looks to be the now totally-eclipsed sun, but I know better. With my lips parted, I grab the Star Stealer and open my window with the intention of jumping out of it. “We’ve got 7 minutes to get rid of that thing,” I murmur, sticking one leg outside. “If we want to pass this off as a solar eclipse, that is.”

“It pleases me that you remember we must use discretion when addressing supernatural events. You will want to be prompt with this one, however; this Shadow will swallow your world if allowed to do as it pleases for too long.”

I flinch at the severity of this situation, scratching the back of my head and giving an anxious laugh, tapping my nails against the glass. “Don’t you think it’s a little too early for me to be saving the world?”

“Not at all. Saving worlds is your new profession.” I had a feeling he would say that. This is an awful lot of responsibility for one girl. I’m not cut out for this. “You will have saved so many worlds that doing so will no longer seem surprising. Nor will it feel like ‘hard work.’ The novelty saving planets will lose its intensity quickly; eventually it will become second nature to you, and will be all you care to do.” I look up at the sky; the Shadow covering the sun morphs into a face littered with several Cheshire smiles. I can hear its discordant, vomit-inducing cackling; it’s mocking me from above, which makes me ball my hands into fists and bite my lip. I’m going to send that thing back where it came from. It will regret coming here. “I wish you luck, General. You are the Earth’s only hope. You are its last line of defense. Its life is in your hands; protect it.”

i.) is this darkness in you, too? / have you passed through this night?

I am shipwrecked, but by no fault of my own. That being said, I do not believe this planet is the culprit. This is the work of someone on this planet that does not want me here. As any astute Advisor would do, I scoured the archives for anything Earth-related before embarking on this mission. This planet has an apparent lack of magic and monsters; moreover, the Earth’s technology is prehistoric and its people are barely able to explore their solar system, the latter of which suggests Earthen-built ships are deeply inferior to Spectra’s war vessels. It should be understood, then, that there is nothing on this planet that could have possibly denied me entrance, least of all something capable of ruining my ship to this extent. While it is true that some planets are sentient and do not take kindly to invasion, the Earth is not a planet able to perceive and feel emotionsit would not have barred me entrance.

The Aphelion is precious to me, we have sailed the stars together for millennia. Initially  she was a project for one of my engineering courses, thereon evolving into a lifelong companion. I cloak what is left of the her, making her perceptible to Celestial eyes only. Shipwrecked or not, it is my duty to ensure I do not influence a third world planet’s understanding of extraterrestrials. To do so would be catastrophic; I must focus, I must remember why I am here, I must put less precedence on my ship. I came to Earth on a retrieval mission.

The person I seek is certainly powerful enough to have snatched the Aphelion and I out of the sky, but without being taught how to wield their power properly, they could not be responsible. Someone well-versed in magic sensed my coming, and made it their mission to make my arrival as unpleasant as possible. I tap my index and forefingers against the side of my head, activating my communicator. I need to inform someone that I am stranded on this planet until I can fix my ship; rescue is the best course of action. My communicatorin a flash of lightprojects my comrade’s image on a large, floating screen in front of me. It seems D’ivoire was expecting my call, wearing a smug expression with his legs up against his desk.

“Well, well, well,” he begins, thrumming his fingers and leaning his head against his freehand. “What do we have here? A shipwrecked Spectrian in dire need of assistance..?” I must admit, I was taken aback by his sudden appearance despite being the one who called him. His eyes are a warm shade of brown, his lips full, and he has always been a sharp-dresser. He is as popular as he is handsome, I am not surprised he continues to leave me breathless despite having grown up together.

“I… appreciate your humour,” is my response, albeit clumsily given. “Was it the debris that tipped you off?”

“You already know. I’ve never seen her so beat up. You okay down there? I know you love that thing more than you love your own life.” He pauses, smiling faintly. “Sorry, didn’t realize I called her a ‘thing,’ caught it too late.” I was too busy marveling at his beauty to notice as well. “Send my apologies to the lady, would you? Think you can fix her, or do I have to come down there and save you?”

“It’s peaceful here. Quiet. A trip to Earth is the vacation you never knew you needed.”

“Alright, well…” He throws his arms behind his head and swivels around in his chair, stopping only when he has finished his drawl. “It’ll probably be a couple of Earth days before I can get to you. Boss man’s gonna want a report of your situation before I leave, so keep your communication channels open. I’ll watch your movements in case you need some backup ASAP andin that casemaybe the Summoner there can get us to you pronto. You never know, she is a prodigy and all. Her magic affinity might have something to do with miracles.”

“The Summoner may end up saving us both. I didn’t crash the Aphelion, mind you.”

“Find that hard to believe, thing’s busted.”

“When your ship meets the same fate and we are both stranded here, we can discuss the legitimacy of my claim then.”

“Sounds good, hopefully you’ll have yours fixed by the time I get there.”

I have no doubt that he will save me, and repair the Aphelion himself if he has to. This is a man who is driven and goal-oriented contrary to the casualness he carries himself with that values success in his missions, in which he is more invested than anything else.

I made the acquaintance of D’ivoire when we were waiting to be interviewed by the Academy for admission. We were young, a little over five-thousand-years-old, with one dream at the forefront: to become the next Advisor, chosen out of thousands of Celestial Beings by the Commander. Before D’ivoire marched through those doors and told the officers why he wanted to become Spectra’s Strongest, he told me, a stranger at the time, his reason. He was shaking with excitement, eyes smiling, face lit with glee. I did not think him a competitor. I could not understand why someone would subject themselves to ten thousand years of training just to ‘see what is out there.’ It was absurd, I thought, he could pick up any Spectrian book and read about distant planets and the universes that house them. I began thinking of alternative options for him in that instant. I could not, in good conscious, watch someone throw their life away for something that frivolous. He could easily replicate the experience of going to another world, of being on another world in the simulations he had access to even as a child. Even further, he could have asked the previous Advisor about what it was like to journey the cosmos. While Advisors are forbidden to part with what Spectra considers classified information, regaling a child with colourful accounts of warfare would not have been breaking the law.

My thoughts are interrupted by a heavy sound, like that of someone collapsing. My guess is proven half correct when I look down and find a girl of fourteen summers laying on her back, dazed from what looks to be a sudden impact. Because of the aforementioned, I feel confident in my assumption that she fell out of the tree in front of us. There is further evidence to support my claimthe tree’s blossoms are still falling, its limbs are still trembling from being climbed ( and presumably being knocked into during her decent ), and her buns are disheveled, riddled with pedals. I smile, chuckling at the absurdity of this situation. To think the Earth has greeted me with a girl falling out of a tree, it is nothing short of amusing. I did not think anyone would be out at this hour; it is much too late for a girl her age to be roaming about all by her lonesome.

Frankly, it is not in my character to abandon those in need. Like D’ivoire, I have a strong sense of mission; the difference between our commitments is that mine is in service of helping others in lieu of completing a given objective, and I will always work assiduously to that end regardless of the orders I am given. My kindness has served me well as an assassin, and I have never believed it to be a weakness. A good assassin does not discard their humility, I am able to key into the unspoken emotions of others because of it. While that makes me effective at resolving others’ problems, I need not explain how that can be used as coercion. Not every mission needs to be complete by way of an assassination. I know many ways of getting others to still their tongues, of making silence their most fortuitous option. A true assassin knows there are fates worse than death. An even better assassin knows there are deaths that do not require dying to experience.

“You make the concrete look comfortable,” I tease. I am long overdue for rest and relaxation myself. “Just how long of a nap will you take?”

Her response is a physical one. She takes on a childish expression, lips aquiver, brows coming down hard atop her eyes as she shuts them tight and mumbles. “Is it naptime already…?”

“Not quite. It is four in the morning, an odd time for a little girl to be roaming the streets.”

“Four in the” Now she realizes I am here. She is frantic; the first thing I notice about her is that her eyes are like my own, a clear sign of Celestial origins. They are radioluminescent, glowing fiercely against the darkness. Jolting up into a seated position and supporting her weight on the back of her hands, she crawls away from me a bit. Now she dawns an expression of horror, pointing at me once she has decided she has put a reasonable amount of distance between us. This girl is awfully dramatic, retracting her hand and clutching her chest soon thereafter as if I’ve committed some horrible crime against her that has left her shaken. That she is a Celestial Being there can be no doubt. The cause of her eyes’ frighteningly-bright glow is due to her magic reacting to my own. She is certainly the Summoner I have been sent here for. “You saw nothing!” she yells, waving her hands around indignantly, “you don’t know that I’m here”that’s redundant“and you’re definitely not going to tell my mother I was here!”

“Lively no matter the hour. Is it reasonable to assume you are a morning bird?” Perhaps ‘bird’ is not the best animal to compare her to, what with her falling gracelessly out of that poor tree.

“Yes…?” She is trying to figure out if what I said was a trick question. It was not, I was merely speaking in jest. “I mean no!” comes her vehement addendum. She decides to lay flat on the ground again, closing her eyes and sighing wistfully as she does so. It is a long time before she gives another reply; I wonder what she hopes to accomplish with her long-standing silence. I will not leave, especially when I have reason to believe she is the Summoner I seek.

Eventually she understands that she will not be rid of me that easily and folds her arms behind her head. “Are you sure you’re not plotting against me…?”

“Merely curious. Speaking of curiosity… How is it that you managed to climb this worse for wear tree?” I do not remember the tree being this sickly a few moments ago.

She opens one eye to give me an incredulous look. “I don’t follow.”

“This tree is ill-suited for climbing.”

“Can’t be, climbed it.”

“You have the ability to thwart the impossible, the eldritch, the beyond comprehension, the divine and the unimaginable.” That is my planet’s military mantra, something she will not soon forget as one of its Summoners. “Scaling a dying tree should be nothing to you.”

Again she relaxes herself, sprawling out in the same manner a lazy cat would. She is being defiant on purpose. Her long pauses, her flippant body language, and her refusal to look at me are all actions meant to rile me into retreating. She will find that I am of a phlegmatic temperament and, unlike her, am not quick to anger.

“I didn’t hear a word of what you said. …Except that last part.” Meaning she did not understand the mantra I spoke, but does not want to admit that. “Normally I would chalk you up to being some stranger out of your mind, but.” But? “It’s four in the morning. You’re dressed like a Victorian vampire.” If she has issues our uniform, she will have to take it up with the Commander. I, however, take offense to that. I personalized my own. “You look like one, too. …And your eyes are glowing.” And hers are not? The intensity of her eyes were what drew me to her in the first place. “It’s obvious you aren’t from here. Even your accent is strange. Either you fess up about who and what you are, or…” She sounds like she is going to threaten me, but is as threatening as a marshmallow. “Or…

I sense a foreboding presence. There is familiarity in this dread, and I am not so emotional as to be unable to separate my true feelings from those imposed upon me by magic. This is a Shadow’s doing, a creature more dangerous than words can express that, until now, must have been skulking around in the darkness.

Shadows are incredibly violent, vengeful creatures who are only interested in either massacres or full scale planetary annihilation. Even the cosmos’ most seasoned fighters would not survive a confrontation with a Shadow. This girl is as inexperienced as they come, and the Shadow attacks her as soon as it manifests, giving her no opportunity to defend herself. It does not even allow her to notice it.

Knocked back on her hands and seized with terror, the girl avoids being skewered to death by a small margin, digging her fingers so deep into the ground that the Earth is cracking where she sunk her nails. The Shadow answers the girl’s horrified pause with an eyeless stare, its gaze so penetrating that it chokes a frenzied cry out of her. She instinctively begins to crawl away from this dark, amorphous, colossal mass lording over her in all its insanity-inducing horror, its body riddled with hideous faces losing cohesion and unraveling into masses of coiled, writhing tentacles. The appendages whip around and leave a sticky residue on whatever they touch before manifesting into faces again, giving her their original, revolting looks. I continue to watch without getting involved; the Shadow knows it cannot disturb my composure and, as a result, has ignored me from the start.

The girl no doubt takes offense to this. I expect her to complain shortly after the Shadow’s… performance, assuming she has not gone mad because of it.

“You must stand.” My words are blunt, ringing clear against the distorted screeching that blares from the Shadow’s body. If she is the Summoner I seek, she has heard me in spite of its cacophony of cackles, snickers and screams. Her level of hearing is unbelievable by most extraterrestrials’ standards, especially by human ones. Sounds that are undetectable by humans such as dog whistles, ultrasonic finger friction, and infrasonic elephant calls are things she can hear with clarity.

“Your planet will not protect you.” Her cat-slit pupils are now the size of saucers, her body tense. She is unable to look away from the writhing, oily abyss despite her best efforts to tear herself away from it. “Be strong.” The Shadow rips the tendril meant to skewer her out of the earth. The retraction of its arm snaps her back to reality at a great cost.

A wave of death lays claim to everything in a half mile radius. Flowers wither away into nothing, and birds drop down to the Earth in a soiree of corpses. Even the tree she climbed is not spared.

“It is preparing another attack.” The Shadow is gauging her mettle. I would be a liar if I said I were not using this opportunity to do so also.

Homes have been destroyed. Families, gone. I wonder how hard the realization that people have died will hit her, but I digress. she looks at me with a pained expression, tears swelling in the corner of her eyes as she makes angry demands of the Shadow. That she still feels compelled to tell me what to do while tears run down her face is entertaining, if nothing else. She is certainly aggressive, so easily offended and ready to bicker even when her life is being threatened. I am counting on that belligerency, how she is prepared to stand and fight the smallest thing that makes her angry.

There is courage in that oversensitivity, her willingness to settle scores with complete strangers who are noticeably stronger, faster, and smarter than her. I want to tell her that there is no difference between myself and this Shadow. If she can challenge me, she can challenge it, and if she is the Summoner I seek, I firmly believe she will emerge victorious. “Come now, girl”it is a sigh meant to calm her nerves“this is a matter of life and death.” Her tears do not move me. They do, however, excite her assailant. “You have to save yourself.”

Hers is an expression of disdain after my comment, the fear that once consumed her replaced with vehemence. There is something murderous in that condescending curl of her lip. Something that would swallow the world whole if only she would allow it. She looks at me as if I deserve to be ridiculed, so foolish, so far beneath her that it is only natural she holds me in contempt. Her condemnation rationalizes itself: Anyone would mock you if they were in my position. Spite is the only reason why she is making any attempt to fight this Shadow. She wants to see me humiliated, forced to retract what would then be an erroneous assumption: I’ll make you eat those words, I refuse to be beaten by something as silly as a Shadow.  

“You really think I believe you can’t help me?” she begins, taking her knife-like stare away from me and pointing it at her assailant. One of her buns came undone. I would have never guessed her hair is as long as it is. It spills against her shoulder, down her arm, and forms a pool of purple in a lustrously-neat pile, another trait of being Celestial. “When this thing isn’t even looking in your direction?” It is as I thought, she is throwing a temper tantrum because I am not being given the same attention by our friend. Her behaviour is silly and immature, but I can expect nothing less from a child.

She will find that her new position will demand she grow up faster than what she will think is possible. Either she will come into the wisdom required, or she will be forced to deal with the consequences should she be without it. She will be afforded no chance to complain. Why, she will not even be allowed time to mourn following her incompetence.

The Shadow is no longer entranced by the Celestial glitter of her hair. It raises its arm and, thereon, morphs said arm into a massive, ornate axe, the size of the blade head accounting for at least 40% of its mass. I am more attentive now than ever. If she is the Summoner I seek, she will be unharmed by the Shadow’s next action. It slams its arm down on top of her with the intent to cleave her in half.

She squeaks on impulse, closing her eyes and throwing her arms up over her head in an instinctive attempt to block the attack. Any other person would die on impact. I am uncertain if I could take the brunt of an attack that impressive. Fortunately for this girl, she possesses an immunity to almost all forms of harm and ailments, including extreme force and high temperatures. An axe poses no threat when she can withstand the collapse of universes. She will achieve feats of immeasurable magnitude; so incredible, this girl, that her arms lessen a blow that would have otherwise seen the Earth shattered. The ground does collapse beneath her, however, and she begins to sink in the resulting chasm, unwitting to the ensuing chaos. Buildings falling, sidewalks turned to shrapnel, vehicles exploding via shockwaves from the attack, et cœtera, et cœtera.

In the chaos I still see her, arms intact without a scratch. The Shadow is thrilled by the girl’s resilienceagain it raises its axe. This time the girl is prepared, keeping her arms where they are because she knows they will protect her from the incoming assault. The Shadow remains one step ahead of her, its other arm transforming into an axe of the same caliber to deliver a crushing blow twofold. It is not satisfied with attacking her once and, in lieu of the aforementioned, strikes her over and over with all the force of a meteor crashing into the Earth.

It has grown sick of her impenetrable defense. With slimy, dark-coated fingers, it grabs the girl by her shirt and lifts her high into the air so that they are eye-level. In a decisive move, she tries to wrap her hands around its wrist but they seep through it, her fingers surrounded by a miasmatic mist that cackles jarringly at her helplessness. Angered by the Shadow’s sudden incorporeality and not the fact that it is mocking her, she begins to kick and scream in protest while the Shadow licks its several-hundred, newly-manifested lips, preparing to eat her.

“This is your fight.” My response to her is better late than never. Using the knowledge that she is reactive to my advantage, it is my hope that my words will cause her to be attentive again. I cannot imagine being so easily provoked, it is a glaring weakness I will have to make her aware of as soon as possible.

She looks at me slowly, fuming as one might expect, making tightly-wound fists before I can finish my statement, to which I hastily end so she can focus: The first of many,” I continue, curling my knuckles against the corner of my mouth so that I can hide my smile. I still end up chuckling despite my effort to stifle my amusement, unfortunately; how could I not laugh when she is cartoonishly angry, as though smoke will come billowing out of her ears any moment? Her expressions and body language are so exaggerated that words would fail to describe the intensity of them; she is physically expressive to an extreme degree, I would go as far as to call her histrionic. “It would be rude of me to interrupt.”

“…Our fight!” It is an outcry of strong disapproval; I cannot tell if her face is red from crying, or from screaming. “Don’t think you get to worm your way out of this! I’m dyingshe emphasizes that last word in both a sudden change of tone ( one of great sorrow ) and the drooping of her shoulders“and you’re just standing there!” She would have a very successful career in acting; this girl is easily the most dramatic person I’ve met so far in my extraterrestrial travels.

“When you are older, you will thank me for not getting involved. You will understand, then. I do not fault you for being unable to now.”

Oh, so you’re one of those people that think I’m too young to know what’s good for me.” I was told she was a prodigy. I had imagined her thoughtful, quiet girl with sound judgment and common sense. This girl wants for all those things, although her inexperience is the most deafening. For all the power my people have discussed her having, she knows how to wield none of it. “I’ll have you know,” she begins, closing her eyes in a self-satisfied manner; she waves her index finger around in tandem to each word being said, a reprimandingand emphasizinggesture too casual considering the circumstances, “that I know that you know that I know you don’t know that I think someone who can save me saving me is a better option than… anything else you think I’d prefer if I were older.”

A slow blink is my only response. After coming to the conclusion that she simply likes to hear herself talk.

The Shadow flips the girl upside down, her other bun unraveling in the sudden motion. Its attack was cleanly executed, a lone tendril catching her by the ankle as to stop her inevitable decent. The girl waves her arms out in front of her in a knee-jerk reaction; it is likely she is reaching for the Earth she cannot see, because the Shadow has made itself wider mid-morph.

“Don’t let it eat you.” It is all mouths now, thousands of them, snapping, slobbering, slowly lowering the girl into the shrieking voids of its body. “As confident as I am in your defenses, being eaten by a Shadow will kill you.”

This girl never ceases to impress me, spurred on by my words and curling herself into a seated position towards her knees, performing an inverted sit up. From there she latches onto the tendril she is hanging from and attempts to slither out of its grasp by climbing it ( another nod to her felinity, no doubt ). The Shadow is only amused by her actions, lowering her further into its depths and cackling mad with fervor as she triesin vainto free herself from it. I look on, unbothered by the fact that this could potentially be her last moment. Nothing can save her from being consumed by a Shadow, as it is a fate worse than death. Her ‘accidental defenses’ will not save her from an incomprehensible end.

That this girl is special there can be no doubt, though the question still remains: in what way is she different from a standard Summoner? What is it that makes her prodigious? “Perhaps your talent lies in weathering the worse as opposed to offense.” I am running out of time. She has sunk deep into the Shadow, enshrouded by tar-thick tendrils shifting into sticky, teetering hands.

“You’re wrong.” I am taken aback by the sound of her voice. She should not be audible when the top of her head is the only thing that is visible. “I can fight.” Nevertheless, I challenge her until the bitter end, speaking her own childish language.

“Prove it.”

She disappears in festering darkness. The Shadow has snuffed out her brilliance, and ended her life just as I thought. Unfortunate as these events are, I must press on. I want to turn on my heel, to leave the girl and the Shadow behind and return to the Aphelion to continue working on her repairs, but the formerwho showed no signs of discomfort heretoforeviolently implodes, cleaved in several directions by an outpour of iridescent light eye-meltingly bright bursting from its center.

I can see through the rubble; there she stands amidst the scattered pieces of the Shadow, covered in gelatinous bits of it sucking at her skin like ticks. Scowling, she brings her hand up to her forehead to flick away the gunk that plagued it. Her lower lid twitches, the constriction of her already-thin pupils followed by a subtle quirk of her nose expressing her disgust; I can only imagine how much this period of… unusual tranquility from her perturbs the Shadow who is, I imagine, struggling to recover from an attack it does not understand. I am pleased, smiling a bit wider this time, praising her for her improvement.

“You’re learning. That is good; your refusal to die is important.” The Shadowin a fit of extreme emotion uncharacteristic of itlets out a loud, piercing cry as it tries to put itself back together. It cannot maintain cohesion, ergo, it keeps falling apart and is largely distraught because of it.

“Finish it. You must attack it while it is weak. You will come to find that all your foes will be predisposed to fighting dirty when against you because of who and what you are.” It lashes out at the girl, half-cohesive, half-coherent, shooting pieces of itself like bullets at her, a barrage of oily pitch seeking to tear through her with hurricane force. “You must use every opportunity to kill them first. You have untold power at your disposal.”

One of her elementary skills as a Summoner is bullet perception, her mind and body able to process information at such absurd speeds that time slows down, enabling the girl to perceive what would normally be moving too fast for even someone of my stature to see.  As a result she quickly positions herself away from the path of the Shadow’s attacks, dodging them accordingly.

Once the Shadow exhausts itself, she stops where she last set foot and moves her left arm slightly behind her back, wearing a determined expression as she readies herself for another attack, moving with the fluidity of champions. “I’m not going to pretend to know what you mean,” is her response, her tone indicative of steely resolve. She does not break eye contact with the Shadow, anddespite her short statureis sizing it up, seeking to intimidate it into surrender. “But if that means I can beat this thing then that’s good enough for me. How do I do that, exactly?”

“I will not explain your abilities to you while your life is still in danger. There must be some manner of magic within that body of yours.”

“Oh? With magic?” She blinks profusely, her heroic stance relaxing. “Why didn’t you say so before?” It is only after several seconds that she realizes the difficulty in what I said and her reaction is no less exaggerated, turning sharply on her heel to glare at me with a deep frown proceeding a pout. “Wait… What do you mean with magic?” She shakes her right hand and opens it as if dropping something, emphasizing that there is nothing there with her dramatic gesture. “Hello? What magic! I don’t have any magic, and as you’ve acknowledged, there’s this thing conveniently ignoring you and trying to kill me! Can’t you do something? I’m sure you have enough magic,” she stresses, dual flexing her index and middle fingers to draw quotation marks in the air, “for the both of us.”

I raise a brow at her. “Is the prospect of being capable of casting magic yourself so impossible when you are being pursued by a Shadow that may or may not be your own razing everything in its path?”

“Yes.”

The Shadow makes a final, desperate attempt to defeat the girl while her guard is down, lunging at her with all that is left of itself in a sudden, brutal attack.

The Summoner I thought I would meet is now standing in front of me, fearless and determined to win. She closes her eyes and deeply exhales, searching for the magic that was latent inside her up until this moment. The girl allows the Shadow to get close to her and, once it has, throws her arms out, her magic ready to be unleashed in planet-destroying fervor after being pent up for so long.

When she opens her eyes again they are dazzling, the green glow of her irises bathing the surrounding area in their hyper vibrant colour. Massive chunks of the earth begin to float, and waves of sky-cracking pressure undulates from where she stands. Initially I believed this planet would swallow the Shadow by way of the girl conjuring what I could only assume to be an actual earthquake, but when she shouts “Freeze!”her voice booming, commandingthe very fabrics of reality bend to her decree. She has stilled the Shadow in place by way of temporal freezing, an application of time manipulation. What is interesting to me, however, is that time was not the only thing she manipulated while trying to manipulate it. Along with the seismic activity and the sky roaring as if it would rain lightning, the temperature around the Shadow dropped and a thick blanket of ice surrounds it. Suffice to say, none of those things are the abilities of a chronokinetic. This is a vital piece of information apropos to unlocking her the true potential.

The girl walks up to the Shadow and examines it. “Woah…” She straightens her posture and places a hand on her hip, her mouth forming an ‘o’ as she crouches down to get a better look at her frozen foe. “I did this?” she asks, pointing at herself and looking back at me, smiling slowly. With each passing second her smile gets wider; she is adorably proud of herself.

Her smile is contagious. I smile back. She is looking for recognition and I am all too happy to give it. “Yes, you did that. You stopped time, which has confirmed my suspicions. You are the Summoner of Time and Space and we”I say, gesturing to our surroundings“have a lot of work to do.”

“We? Hard pass. I’m going home.”

“You misunderstand me, I did not mean we were going to clean up the area together.”

She stops walking and looks at me from over her shoulder, turning around slowly. I had not even realized she started to leave. Not only is she fast, she is quiet as well. She has the footsteps of an assassinshe reminds me of myself. With the proper training… “I’m listening.”

“We are partners, you and I, and there is much to discuss. Although I am curious as to why you don’t seem shocked about any of this.” I am not sure if it is apathy or if she is just exhausted at this point. She cycles through emotions so quickly, I can barely understand her.

“If I may be honest with you, I already know how this goes. I have been told stories like this for ages and, let me guess, you’re some kind of alien?” She is feigning disinterest, preening her nails and frowning as she does so, but unbeknownst to her I have read that the people of Earth have a great interest in extraterrestrials. I see no reason to deny her the information she seeks. She is a Summoner after all, Celestial. The girl is as much of an extraterrestrial as I am.

“I hail from another universe, yes. From you I can keep no secrets.”

Ha! I knew it! All those stories were true, I!” She trails off, her impassioned enthusiasm fading into silence. “Ahem…” With her gaze glued to the ground, she holds her hands behind her back and takes a step back, uncharacteristically sheepish. She cannot bear to look at me, I almost want to ask her what is wrong. “Well… where do we go from here?”

“I need to tend to this mess as to not alert the people of this planet of your skirmish.” Part of an Advisor’s job is damage control. It is very important that I erase all evidence of there being a fight here, or it could have grave, cosmic-scale consequences. “Other than that, I have to continue repairs on my ship.” Her face lights up when I mention the Aphelion; perhaps we have something in common after all. I use this opportunity to my advantage, I must know the name of my charge. “My name is Hiroyuki D’Accardi.” If the girl had manners she would give me hers, but she does not. “Feel free to call me whatever you like. And yours?”

She bites her lower lip, weighing her options. “If…” The girl is still dazed by the mention of my ship, held rapt by excitement. “If I tell you my name, will you show me your ship?”

“Perhaps. Weren’t you going home?”

“Yes, but…”

“It may be in your best interests to do so, your parents might be looking for you.”

The mention of her parents snaps her out of her pouty mood“It’s Outtaike Kohana,” she says, turning on her heel again and running in the opposite direction. “I’ll be back tomorrow after school, looking for you in this exact spot! Don’t forget!” I’m sure I won’t. Who could ever forget her?