“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 she—along with two other members of the SOF that came with her—are 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 and—normalcy permitting—the 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 woman—Tasi, if I remember her name correctly—is 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 is—was 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…?” 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 fine—kill 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 Tasi—as 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 attention—it 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 form—immortal, 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 Hiroyuki—who is the center of its attention—leads 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 children—it’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.