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 trying—and failing—to 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 control—I 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 years—now 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 concentration—your chronokinesis or Tchaikovsky’s inclinkinesis—Summoners 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.