Chapter 29:

The Clock Strikes Zero // Act I

Tetraprisma: Chromatic

The oversized wooden doors to Milliheim’s office creaked as Aubrey and I pushed them open. Tired as he was, Milliheim looked up and rubbed his eyes.

“It’s almost seven, you know,” he said with a yawn. “What is it now?”

“Headmaster, sir. We think the time travelers are gonna cause the terrorist attack,” Aubrey replied. “And we got proof ta back that up.”

Aka nodded. “I saw some things I wasn’t supposed to see. And I’m still worried about that thing Sydney said a while back, sir.”

“Calm down, calm down. Not all at once,” Milliheim groaned. He slicked back his silvery hair. “Shiera.”

“When Aubrey and I visited the Mirror Hall yesterday morning, we found–”

Aka elbowed me. “Isn’t the Mirror Hall restricted?”

“Uh… with the Queen’s permission,” I lied, “we found weird black markings on some of the mirrors. Aubrey said they smelled like alcohol, so we’re guessing they were dry-erase.”

Milliheim shrugged. “Why should I be concerned about dry-erase?” he asked. “It’s 6:00. We’ve only got an hour.”

“Let me finish. The markings made lines headed in specific directions all around the hall. This might be conjecture, but we think it’s an attack plan, or at least something like that.”


“And then there’s the thing I saw,” Aka piped up. “I was over at Arenamega last night practicing, right? And mister what’s-his-face with the dragon mask walks in.”

Aubrey stared at him. “…Dragonmask.”

“Yeah, I should’ve gotten that one. But anyways, I’m mad at him ‘cause he tried to stop me from getting in here last time. So I go up to him and challenge him to a duel. I say 7:00 today, he agrees, so that’s up. But I start fighting with him there to see what he’s got, y’know?

“So we’re throwing blows at each other and slicing and whatnot, and I get a good grip on his mask and yank it off for good. Bam! Not human! I didn’t get a picture or anything, but he had white skin and orange eyes, and he had this wide mouth like a snake or something. I don’t know about you, but I think that thing saving our school is a little crazy.”

“So, in conclusion,” Aubrey said, “never let Aka talk fer that long.”

“I’m glad you’ve brought all of this to my attention,” Milliheim replied. “If they do end up betraying us, I’m afraid it’s too late to stop them.”

“What?” Aubrey asked. “Why?”

Milliheim took a chess piece— a pawn— and pushed it forward on his desk. “Sydney’s already gone off with Angelmask on recon. If the attack is their plan, it’s not out of the question to say it’s already begun.”

“Well, we’re gonna try our best ta defend the school as it is, right, Shiera?” Aubrey said. Her ears flattened a little.

I nodded. “Yeah. We’ll guard the Mirror Hall. If the travelers try to get to the backup shields, we won’t hesitate.”

Milliheim put the pawn up to his chin. “Hm…”


“Oh, just an odd coincidence. Foxmask told me to station the two of you in Mirror Hall. It seems you’re willing enough to go, then?”

Aubrey crossed her arms and let out a low hiss. “Well now I kinda got the feelin’ they’re waitin’ fer us.”

“We’ll still go. If they’re setting us up, then…” I trailed off. “I don’t know. We’ll survive.”

“You should talk to Commander DeAndrick. He’s been in contact with Foxmask and Tigermask about the attack, and if he knows anything else of your worries, I’m sure he’ll tell you.”

“What if he’s already out fighting?” Aka asked.

“Unless the attack has already begun, he shouldn’t be.”

“Thanks, sir.”

We turned to leave the room, but before we left, I turned around. “How do you feel about the whole time travel thing?”

“…I don’t much like it, but if they really are of Atlean origin, they likely have good intentions. That’s all I think of that.”

I nodded and left with the others. We were off to ask Aaron, but we didn’t have much time until we had to be stationed. Less than an hour— if we even got anything out of Aaron, it wouldn’t help us now.

The school’s shields were set in a radius around a specific point— the generator in the Mirror Hall— which extended a dozen or so meters beyond the walls. Outside the shields were more stone walls, which were more or less worthless against an army of spirits. Aaron had been instructed to head the offensive charge against said spirits, so we headed off to the outer walls.

A burning question on my mind, though, was why the spirits would attack us. As far as I was concerned, I’d dealt with that after getting Kori back. Sakira no longer had the intention to harm humans or to take back Atlas, right? So why would the time travelers scapegoat the spirits?

I put my questions aside when we arrived at the soon-to-be battlefield. Aaron was high-up in a lookout tower, alongside a traveler wearing the mask of a tiger. I didn’t know how to get his attention, so–


Aubrey was much better at getting people’s attention than I was.

Aaron quickly exited his conversation and slid down the ladder. He landed with a short hop off of the final rung. “What?”

“Heya. We were talkin’ ta Milliheim about the time travelers. We wanted ta know if ya noticed anything off.”

“Why? Did you notice something?”

“We think we saw attack plans in the Mirror Hall, and Aka says Dragonmask isn’t human,” I recapped. “And the sickle. Shit, I forgot to tell Milliheim about the sickle.”

Aaron glanced back up to the lookout tower. “Attack plans…? 

“They were drawn in dry-erase along the mirrors.”

“Hm. Well, sorry I can’t help you. I haven’t really noticed anything. Hopefully they’re on our side.” He began his climb back up. “It’s too late if they aren’t.”

As he said it, the intercoms clicked on. It was a panic-inducing sound at first, but after a few days, it something we’d become used to. A couple taps on the mic told us it was a traveler speaking.

“Attention, all students. The time is about 6:30 PM. If you’ve been assigned a position, please take that position now. If not, please remain in the bunker. Thank you.”



From the lookout tower, Tigermask and Aaron could see quite a distance. The shields obscured their vision a bit, but not significantly. They could still see the horde of spirits headed for Atlas. No, not just towards Atlas— towards the school itself.

“They’re closing in.” Tigermask said. “Should we start sending troops out now, commander?”

“Not yet. Spirits are prone to overestimating their invulnerability. If we lure them in, up against our shields, they’ll seldom have the chance to attack us while we obliterate them. We’ve got some of the best casters in Dianoct, I’ll have you know, even counting those bastards out in Alphorica. We–”

Tigermask shushed him. “Shiera was right about you being a mansplaining jackass. You think I’d be assigned this job if I didn’t know all that?”

“How do you know Shiera?” Aaron questioned.

“We’re friends.”

“In the future?”


“Good to know. If I ever meet you without your mask on in the future, I’ll pummel you into dust.”

“You’ll definitely keep that promise.”

Aaron looked back out to the horde. “Why do you think they’re attacking us?”


“Sakira called the war off, didn’t he? Shiera had something to do with that. So why are they still coming at us?”

“That’s why we sent out a recon team. We aren’t sure ourselves.”

He racked his brain. “They say spirits don’t really think like we do. Is it possible that, given a convenient opening, they would attack humans on sight regardless of what their commanders order?”

“But who would create that opening?”

“That’s what I’m concerned about.” This could be a ruse. The travelers may be sneaking behind our backs to take down our shields. Dammit, Shiera, why’d you put that idea in my head? The more I think about it, the more coherent it sounds.

“If it all goes how we hope it does,” Tigermask said, “we shouldn’t have to worry about it.”

The spirits were approaching quickly— it may be a good idea to prepare a defensive strategy to keep them from using disruptors, he thought.

He put two fingers up to his earpiece. “Can we get a read on how far away they are?”

A feminine voice came through the speaker. “They are just under a kilometer away. There is another sector approaching from the north, two kilometers out. Keep an eye out, commander.”

Aaron recognized her Slavic accent. “Thanks, Nikita.” He then tapped the earpiece and connected it to the intercom.

“Wait, wait. What are you about to announce?” Tigermask interrupted him.

“‘Make guard on the towers, and line the shields with melee casters. Station medics behind the melee casters, and ranged casters behind them.’ Is that a plan?”

“It’s eerily familiar, but yes, it’s a plan.”

“Familiar to what?”

“We don’t have time. Just call it out.”

And so he did. But the role of a commander extends beyond making calls from a tower. He leaped off the tower in one swift motion, unlatching his rifle from his back. He focused his conscience into the barrel of the gun, letting magenta drip from its end.

When he landed on the ground, some twenty meters below, his legs fully cushioned his fall, stretching abnormally upon impact. The magenta surrounding him fizzled out as he ran up to the shield, signaling his Sector forward.

The spirits were only a couple hundred meters out now. How was Sakira able to mobilize his army so fast? Especially after withdrawing from the war… Aaron thought, loading his rifle with ammunition.

When they hit the cyan shields, the army began to fire. Magic of all types flashed and shimmered just beyond the shield’s protection. Aaron loved this spectacle, reminiscent of fireworks, back during the skirmishes— not so much now. He aimed and fired several rounds, coating the bullets in yellow to penetrate the spirits’ phantasmic flesh.

Any time a disruptor was used, the army was quick to deactivate it, leaving no openings. The horde of spirits was looking thinner and thinner— some were retreating for the time being. Aaron, remembering Nikita’s warning of another horde, began to sprint around the campus to the north side. Sure enough, there were more. Maybe that’s where they’d retreated to.

“To the north!” With one quick shout, he rallied the troops towards the new attackers, to similar results. The maelstrom was even more violent— spirits flew left and right, trying to escape their untimely second demise. They called this a terrorist attack. This is barely even a battle!

Never had Aaron fought such a one-sided battle. His instincts to charge into the battlefield did him no good.

That was, until he caught a glimpse of the southern shields.

Several spirits had already made their way in using disruptors. There were students firing at them, but not nearly enough to keep them at bay. Caught up in his instincts, Aaron turned on a dime and abandoned the rest of his sector to rush to their aid.

He cocked his rifle and fired a round towards the incoming spirits as he ran, but no ammunition came out. I can deal with that. By the time he arrived on the southern campus, the spirits had begun to flood in. There were enough to take on, but it would be a hard fight.

“DeAndrick!” Marissa called. She was settled near the school’s walls, clutching her shin. They’ve lost their medic. That’s why. “Hold them off so I can heal myself!”

“Roger that!” He rushed forward, empty rifle blazing with yellow fire. Even without real ammo, magic could hurt the spirits just as badly. He focused on the barrel and let out another round of yellow bullets.

The spirits scattered like light through a prism, most withdrawing from the battle to recover from their wounds. Aaron continued blasting, pushing as much energy he could into letting off shot after shot. He was starting to get tired.

Eventually, the crowd thinned out to only a few. Aaron recognized the banner pattern on the armored spirit in front of him— she was a commander, like him. She held a rifle like his. He had a tattoo, she had a nyura. They really were quite similar.

Aaron held his gun at her, aiming towards her face. “Tell them to back off. Our medic’s out of commission.”

“Let’s settle this between the two of us, then. Call your forces off, too.” Her voice is oddly familiar. Is this the same spirit who possessed Copper?

He looked back to the sector behind him. They seemed oddly disjointed, with no one person leading as a unit general. “Who’s the general here?”

“She isn’t here. Neither is her backup. It’s only the three of us,” a young man called. “We’ll call it off for you.”

“Thank you. Which Sector is this?”

“53, sir.” Sumisu is stationed in the Mirror Hall, that’s why. But where the fuck is Cryojen? No wonder they nearly died!

Aaron turned back to the spirit commander. “Tell me your name so I can write it on your gravestone.”

“Destiny Kitakawa. I’d proudly die for Sakira, but I don’t plan on it. And you?”

“Aaron DeAndrick.” The two were circling now, as in a duel. The spirits in Destiny’s sector had all withdrawn from the fight, leaving the area somewhat clear.

“You know, Aaron, I’ve been curious. How do you conduct duels between humans? You’re so fleshy and hittable. Do you use mock weapons? Protection magic?”

“We duel sumo-style. The goal is to knock the opponent out of a ring. It helps train us to keep spirits like you out of our territory.”

“And ours trains us to kill senseless humans like you on sight. But that may just be a cultural difference.”

“Then we’ll duel your way. First one to die loses.”

“Ready your weapon, then.” And so Aaron did.

He began to run at Destiny, holding his rifle to his side. They each took a few shots at a time, running in circles around each other. Aaron shot a clean line at Destiny— she summoned a black shield in front of herself. Destiny fired a good shot on Aaron— he rolled out of the way and fired back.

Suddenly, Aaron quit circling, choosing to push straight forward instead. He dropped the gun; he didn’t need it to cast. Pushing forward with his hand, he did only what was natural to him: suffering. Worse than he’d done to Shiera— a headache so splitting it could render even the most resilient warrior useless.

But Destiny still dodged his blow. Even having coated his hand in yellow magic, he had still not grazed her. She flew past him and aimed her gun at his legs.

Aaron saw it coming. He couldn’t stop it, not without cyan magic, but he could retaliate. He clutched his rifle and sunk all his energy into casting a barrage of missiles— homing missiles, which would track his speedy opponent down in an instant. He’d learned that trick from Aka.

BRRRATATA! He then felt the shockwave in his legs as he crumpled to the ground. She’d hit him several times, ranging from his upper thighs to his ankles. He wasn’t sure his muscles would ever work again.

Even through the agony, he was able to turn and watch as Destiny was pummeled with magical explosions, tossed in the air like a rag doll. It was unsettling seeing a spirit fall.

She hit the ground with a thud, her armor clanking as if it were detached. She was certainly losing some bodily fluid— whether spirits had blood or not, it didn’t matter.

Aaron fell over, his legs completely unable to keep him stable. He was losing blood fast. His magic fizzled at his fingertips, his focus waning.

He let out a cough. More blood…? He tried to look down at his torso, but he only fell to his back. From there, he could see more bullet holes he hadn’t before— several shots fired directly into his ribcage. He figured they had hit his lungs.

Aaron was used to pain. His power could channel it into others and into himself, which he often used to test his endurance. This was so far beyond his endurance that he couldn’t feel the pain at all. It was all a dull shock. He could hear the echo of Marissa’s screams, the afterimage of her inability to stand.

Aaron looked to the sky— he had no other choice. A black miasma swam in his vision, but he could still see the cyan shields clear as day. Maybe I should have learned to cast cyan. First, Shiera made a fool of me, and now I’m dying worthlessly at fifteen.

As if confirming his fears, the shield began to crack from the center down. It made for a wonderful sight when it shattered into uncountable shards. Then the time travelers really were against us. I wish I’d caught on sooner. I wish I could have helped.

I wish I could survive.

…but wishes don’t come true.

…do they?

Cutting through his dulled senses like a razor, he felt a cold hand press against his chest, digging through his armor to reach his skin. He tried to comprehend what was happening, but his conscience was fading in and out.

Blinking open just the slightest bit, he witnessed a spectacle of glimmering green magic. Another medic— about his age, perhaps a bit older— was channeling a magical aura into his body. He felt all the suffering he hadn’t before, but it was no longer intolerable as it had been. Soon even that pain disappeared.

He took a deep breath, his energy almost fully restored. Who was this medic? What impossible power had he just channeled? Aaron could not understand. Surely a prodigy of this level would have been quickly recognized.

He sat up, stunned. The medic patted him on the shoulder and ran… to Destiny’s fallen body. He began to channel that same light into her wounds.

“Stop! What are you doing?!” he called. “She’ll kill you!”

He only continued. Aaron got up, pissed, and tried to pull the boy off. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?!”

“If you fought as equals, shouldn’t you live as equals?”

Aaron backed up. “But she’s a spirit! She’s the one who possessed Copper!”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t abused your powers too!”

“That’s… that’s not the same! She tried to kill an entire sector out in Reapra! What I’ve done is nothing compared to that!”

The medic’s blonde hair ruffled in the breeze coming through the broken shield. “…I don’t know what to tell you.”

“I know what to tell me. Tell me your name, kid. Milliheim won’t be happy to hear about this.”

“Mercy doesn’t discriminate, commander. I’m sorry.” The moment the light faded from his hands, he booked it, running to the north faster than Aaron could bring himself to follow.

He was left standing on his own. Behind him, he heard again the clanking of armor. He pivoted on his heels and readied himself.

Destiny floated a bit backward, her rifle clattering on the ground. His instincts saw this as an opportunity to strike, but Aaron held himself. “Take your mercy and get the fuck out of here, got it?!”

Wordless, she flew away, a lavender afterimage shimmering where she once stood her ground. She’d left her rifle sitting on the blue-green grass— Aaron bent down and picked it up. It was lighter and sleeker than his, and it felt much better on his hands.

The surreality of the experience had begun to wear off. Aaron looked up and saw the suspended shards of cyan, the spirits flying past and into the walls of the school. He clenched the grip of Destiny’s rifle.

“Aaron! Are you alright?” Marissa shouted. She was barely able to stand up— Aaron could still see the bullet hole in her leg.

“I’m fine. You aren’t. Grab the rest of the sector and get to the bunker.”

“But what about–”

“Go! Now!”

Marissa limped to the rest of the group and began to retreat. He watched them make their way to the shelter’s entrance, and once he was sure they were safe, he let out a sigh of relief.

Adrenaline was still pumping through his body. He had too long a life ahead of him to risk it now, even as others were being lost. Others often considered him selfish— maybe they were right. He always prided himself on being able to sacrifice himself in an instant, but now having experienced it, he wasn’t sure.

Another bullet whizzed by his neck. Though Destiny’s troops had retreated, clearly the others hadn’t. He faltered, pivoted, and began to run.

It was against everything he’d ever been taught. Commanders don’t run away. Commanders fight until their very last breath. But Aaron couldn’t see himself as a commander anymore. If being a commander meant dying alone in a pointless war, he refused to accept it.

A bullet hit his armor and sent him running even faster. He could pick out the sounds of his allies— his friends— screaming out in pain. He covered his ears and scanned the horizon for any large pieces of debris.

He found a chunk blown out of a hallway leaning against an unsteady wall. Without so much as giving his adversaries a glance, he slipped in and crouched down. He put his hand to his heart and used his newfound focus to turn himself invisible.

He couldn’t see anymore, only hear. He had to listen to students cry out for help, to spirits calling for reinforcements, to the destruction of the only home he’d known for years. When he felt like the coast of clear, he removed his hand and curled into himself, shaking.

The rumble in the distance was frightening. The shattering of the cathedral, the destruction of the arenas… how he wished he’d been the one in that bunker. He crawled slowly into a more open space to at least fulfill his watch duty.

Fiery yellow explosions impacted the school in all its parts. Chunks of burning wood and stone flew all over, phasing through the spirits as they drew closer. His home, his pride, everything he’d worked for, destroyed…

And all Aaron could do was watch.

Slashed Ink.
Steward McOy