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, but since then evolved 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. 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.

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. 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 her being Celestial. They are radioluminescent, glowing fiercely against the darkness. That she is of my kind there can be no doubt, the cause of her eyes’ frighteningly-bright glow due to the magic in her body reacting to my own. She is certainly the Summoner I have been sent here for.

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. “You saw nothing!” she yells, waving her hands around indignantly, “you don’t know that I’m here, 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. I wonder what she hopes to accomplish with suddenly deciding to stay silent. 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. “See, 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.  

“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. She looks at me with a pained expression, tears swelling in the corner of her eyes as she makes angry demands of the Shadow. 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 it 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 turning into 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. 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 her 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!” This girl is easily the most dramatic person I’ve met 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 a 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. I come 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 herit 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?

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

  1. So some things—taking into consideration the helpful feedback I’ve gotten I’ve made some changes, the biggest ones being that I’ve completely gotten rid of the chapter that proceeded this one after coming to the decision that it wasn’t necessary and ill-fitting for a first chapter, shaved off several thousand words of this chapter ( from almost 13,000 words to 6,000 and will be doing so for the next two chapters ) and instead have made this one the first. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this causes.

  2. I want to sort of begin this maybe-not-so-eloquently-put comment that the impact of characters is what I look at the most every time I pick up a novel. If the characters themselves are not vibrant enough, not compelling enough, or do not inspire my own imagination in the ways of which I imagine them as I read, then I find myself getting lost in the narrative.

    I am introduced to Hiroyuki in this chapter, who even in the first sentence exposes me to the way his mind works– an analytical man who thinks through his current plight in logical steps, who is undisturbed by other happenings around him and who goes beyond just being a normal engineer, but a man who loves his ship and is genuinely upset by what the crash has done to it. I think what makes me like Hiroyuki so much isn’t so much how much he loves his work and has all this passion, but moreso how he doesn’t become pale or flurried by the apparent destruction around him when Kohana faces the Shadow, which immediately tells me that this man is powerful by nature and by ability, who, in contrast to Kohana who is far more emotive, has a lot of experience under his belt that only future reading could tell me. I begin to wonder what Hiroyuki has been exposed to in the past during the little treats I’m given of his experiences, and I can already feel that this event is merely a taster, a ripple on the surface, of what is to come to Kohana in the future. This teasing is what compels me to read, and I envy every writer that can do this so subtlety, which you have successfully pulled off.

    Kohana’s general naivete in this chapter is so endearing and alongside Hiroyuki, who is far more reserved and poised, just frames her entire being and she becomes a focal point who is easy to follow. Her gestures are excellently portrayed and written, playing on her dramatism and jubilance, and in a way her energy seems to carry me through each word and sentence because she is just that vibrant. Seeing Kohana through Hiroyuki’s eyes is what makes this all the more humorous. Here is a man, shaped by his work and unperturbed by the moodiness of a teenager, watching Kohana as she literally steps into a new life and who takes it all in so childishly, and yet even with all her stubbornness and inexperience, he is convinced that she will be able to pull through and prove to him that she is worth it– something she almost failed to do, but how lucky he is to be right.

    Their personalities bounce off each other so well, and this to and fro between these two extremes is what animates this chapter, and even when when the Shadow appeared and the area around them began to get destroyed, with Hiroyuki not even moving in to help her, it was still about them. The camera was still on them. Because what is happening now is nothing compared to what is to come and the reader is immediately introduced to this notion. There are far bigger things in store for Kohana and Hiroyuki has a lot to teach her. How powerful will she become? What are her enemies going to be like if this is but a test?

    I’m just excited to see where their partnership takes them, and beyond those things I’ve conveyed above, I really like the warm nostalgic feeling Kohana gives me of a magical girl ready to take on the universe. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to her because she is so adorable …

    I’m looking forward to finding out more!

  3. The chapter opens up with Hiroyuki lamenting his ship – and uses his upset in order to reflect on how Spectra, as an institution, and a planet, would have taken advantage of and used his passion for engineering until there was nothing left of him. It helps give the reader an idea of what Spectra is like before Kohana ever has to personally speak to any Spectrian. It’s only a small taste though, and as someone who knows more about Spectra than a first-time reader would, it’s an appropriate glimpse into their structure. It definitely helps drive home the point that Spectra is militarised in every fashion, without betraying just how fucked up they are. It keeps up with the otherwise innocent tone of the rest of the chapter too despite how messed up the Shadow is when it shows up.

    Hiroyuki is an extremely fun perspective to read from! He’s so unperturbed by anything save for the destruction of his ship – I feel so bad that it got wrecked, he worked so hard on it?? – but that glimpse into his backstory intermixed with how it affects his current situation is definitely what made me really like him. Even as he’s reminiscing he’s focused on his mission but he still retains a personable and welcoming voice. His narration is very smooth and intelligent and you get the impression that he is extremely respectable. His reactions to everything are also extremely amusing, and it makes it super fun to read — and I really laughed with Kohana’s introduction because it was so silly.

    Kohana is so unbelievably cute and her moodiness is really funny and it’s such a ride reading it because you’re right there in Hiroyuki’s shoes as he’s witnessing all of this. How they play off of each other is super entertaining and I really, really enjoyed it because Hiroyuki is so personable. HIROYUKI IN GENERAL is really likeable and how amused he becomes when Kohana is in peril and she just stubbornly refuses to back down from the Shadow and instead chooses to get upset at him was so funny I was losing my mind.

    IT WAS SO JARRING AND OUT OF PLACE, the way she was acting in spite of it all, and the fact that Hiroyuki literally just stands there and calmly gives her advice and goads her from the sidelines as she’s being tossed around and eaten by an amorphous blob had me trying to keep from laughing out loud. I felt so bad because honestly it’s serious and you shouldn’t laugh but her attitude was so funny and Hiroyuki’s just standing there with his hands folded all neat and polite in front of him like “die then”. HIROYUKI’S IS SO GOOD .. he’s like, really brutal, even though he’s so polite.

    I think my favourite thing is that it really does remind me of like, 90s shounen anime where everyone’s friend is up on stage getting the shit beat out of them and they’re losing their minds while the old master is like “I know they’ll make it soon” and the whole episode is just the person getting beat up only for them to eventually have enough and KO their opponent in one blow. (It really reminded me of Yuu Yuu Hakusho Dark Tournament .. like I was reading it and I was getting those vibes and that’s great because that evokes so many feelings in me lskfl).

    BUT IN GENERAL I JUST REALLY APPRECIATE how the whole chapter comes together as well. The sequence of events is literally one unexpected thing (Hiroyuki’s ship crashing) proceeded by another (Kohana falling out of the tree) and another (the Shadow showing up) and even more (Hiroyuki not lifting a finger to help and instead being content to just make commentary and chat with her) AND JUST. EVERYTHING in the chapter is unexpected from every single event to character. And normally I would be concerned that putting so much into a single chapter would result in it coming out as forced, but this does the exact opposite. There’s enough backstory and new information to keep everything interesting while expanding on some of the information we’ve already gleaned from the first chapter.

    I also got a super magical girl vibe as well that was really nostalgic .. especially since I know where the whole series is headed, it’s going to become a sort of reference and feel that’s going to sour along with the rest of the character’s lives and I feel as if it’s a really artful touch that counts on people being nostalgic. That’s not to say that it doesn’t stand on it’s own – only that it definitely has a classic flavour and I’m excited to see how that gradually changes and becomes more and more sad the more the series goes on.

    I HAVE SOME MORE THAT I COULD SAY TOO but in general I just really appreciated it a lot and it felt “innocent” even though there’s the contrast of entire neighborhoods being destroyed and Kohana clawing the ground so hard she makes like. chasms and just doesn’t notice it.

    Like there are a lot of references to her power and starting off with something that’s so powerful and Kohana — a child — destroying it without even really knowing what she’s doing is like. Really setting the bar I feel for how dangerous everything is and how much it’s going to devolve in terms of power and how strong all of the newest enemies are going to be. I’m like really excited for it and I just feel like this was a good solid foundation !

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