234 - The Fate of Two Worlds

For his plan to work, Adam needs some answers. So he asks the right people the right question.

To Fuko and Mina, he asks, “do you know anything about the psychic wards around Atlantis? Is that kind of magic normal for your people?”

They don’t. It’s not.

To Aria, he asks, “Leo was fighting off ninja. Can he fight again, if we have an opponent for him?”

He can. Aria doesn’t like it, but she understands the need.

To Ji-a Lee, he asks, “how did the Emperor learn about you in the first place, to make you a confidante?”

She doesn’t know. She only worked in the Surface Science Center once processed, and stayed there for the duration of her time in Atlantis.

The team is going to split up into groups.

Jason will go back to the Quill compound. His job is to convince the military not to attack the regulation nodes, convince them the reunited Menagerie can take care of this, and do his best to keep the situation from escalating via legal channels.

Alycia is going to head off the strike team via direct action. She insists on doing this alone, with only one Leviathan as transportation. “Let them fear the Daughter of Chin again,” is all she says about her motives and plans.

Charlotte is going to break the barriers around Atlantis. This is not a small thing to ask, and Adam and Charlotte both understand that. But she smiles, and nods. “I’ll do my best.”

Leo and Aria will attack the secondary target. They’re not sure where he is, but that’ll be taken care of soon. Harry and Summer will be keeping the entire Atlantean military from interfering. No small thing, but at this point the team is out of options.

Adam will be going after the primary target.

Everything depends on this. The team knows what’s in store if they fail. Decades of cold war, isolationism, and military tension. The lives of every human being still trapped underwater. The fate of two worlds.

Adam wants to cry as his teammates clap him on the shoulder, or smile and nod in reassurance, as they depart for their assignments. They trust him.

It’s time for him to trust himself.

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Charlotte descends into the underworld, following the streams and currents of energy that surround Atlantis.

Adam has entrusted the remainder of Orion Schema to her. Now she pits the Concordance’s great structure against the wards that surround an entire civilization.

Irresistible force and immovable object collide, with Charlotte Palmer at the center of it. The essence of the Atlantean ward is to forget, and to fight it she inscribes the concealed truths of the ward upon the psychic fabric of the Schema. She watches as Orion Schema’s tattered remnants take up the ghostly form of Atlantises long past, of invasions and subjugations and reformations.

There’s not enough of the Schema to totally defeat the ward, but there’s enough to bore a tunnel to the center. That’s all Charlotte needs.

Surrounded by her own personal wards and shields, she dives into the gap. Power assaults her from every side. But she passes through, and surfaces from the endless ocean of the underworld into a physical cavern.

A circle of men and women are gathered here, intent on a ritual. Around them, hundreds of human beings are caged, and their prisons are marked with arcane sigils.

At a glance, Charlotte understands what’s happening here. This is the keystone of Atlantis’ psychic defense, but one erected by human beings and powered by human souls.

The ritualists cease their work and turn, almost as one. Charlotte can see their faces. She notes the resemblance.

“The Hidden Family of the Vyortovian Throne. Why?” she asks.

“The despair enacted by the Atlanteans on the surface will break through the last of the Concordance’s barriers,” one Family member says, iron-gray hair and blue eyes denoting age and suggesting seniority. “The accumulated despair they’ve heaped upon the earth will break free and wash over the world. Those affected will lose the will to live. This will give us all the souls we’ve ever wanted. We will rule as gods forevermore, in a world beyond life and death.”

“And what if I stop you?” Charlotte asks sweetly.

“To have such power would transform you into the god we desire to be,” the Leader of the Family responds, lips curled into a sneer.

“If I find another way?”

“We will force your hand.” The Leader gives cry. “Aēšma-daēva! Obey your oath!”

Charlotte watches as a creature, tall as the cavern, take shape. A demonic prince, riding a dragon, a powerful and cruel spear clasped in one clawed hand.

“Destroy the Magus!” the Leader commands. “Do not waver from this command under any circumstances!”

I obey, the demon prince’s voice booms out. It urges its draconic mount toward Charlotte, and she instinctively shields herself as flames emanate from the dragon’s mouth to engulf her.

The rest of the ritualists resume their work, closing up the gap that she’s created. If they succeed, she may be unable to leave.

She thinks quickly, about what she knows of such summoned creatures. The tomes of lore provided by Resister were deeply knowledgeable and rich with details. What there could aid her?

Such demons know all things, and wish to answer questions. Lucius calls them “the nuclear weapons of the supernatural world” - knowledge about them is easily spread, difficult to contain, even more difficult to restrain. They obey orders, cleverly but not creatively, in service to their summoners.

Will it work?

She tries it.

“Aēšma-daēva! It will weaken me to know the answer to a question. Will you kill the Magus and only the Magus?”

She is absolutely truthful in what she says. That is key.

The creature does indeed answer, as its spear - longer than a tractor-trailer rig on the highway - thrusts with horrid speed at her position. Yes.

“It will weaken me further to know your vulnerabilities!”

I have none. My prowess in battle is peerless.

The gap in the spiritual ward is closing fast.

“Palamedes!” she calls out. “Son of Nauplius and Clymene! I seek vengeance!”

Palamedes responds to her call almost immediately, hovering in the air nearby. His eyebrow goes up at the magnitude of the opponent. “I’m not fighting that for you,” he says sardonically.

As more dragon’s breath comes in, Charlotte takes to the air. She dodges the spear’s swing again, an act uncomfortably like dodging an oncoming car at full speed.

This will have to be done deftly.

She pulls a coin from her pocket and flips it. The coin tumbles in the air, the light of the cavern and the red fury of the flame reflecting off its cool metal surface. As it comes down, she focuses her power on the Agate Staff–

Charlotte Heads commands Palamedes, “Grant him the garment you wove for me!”

Charlotte Tails commands Palamedes, “Grant him the garment you wove for me!”

In a moment, in two parallel worlds created by the flip of a coin, the office of the Magus is stripped from her. The veteran god, with her permission, unweaves the many spiritual strands. In turn, they begin wrapping themselves around Aēšma-daēva.

“You won’t be getting this back,” two versions of Palamedes tell two versions of Charlotte.

The coin falls into her hand. She clutches it, knowing that she can never see which way it fell.

The magic of the Agate Staff does what she wished. It isolates the demon from the merging of worlds. The cavern is whole again, occupying a singular and unified timeline, with one exception. There are two versions of Aēšma-daēva. Both wear the office of the Magus, adorned upon their souls.

Both recognize the other as their enemy, the Magus. Both begin to attack the other. Both are evenly matched. Neither will give up, though it takes an eternity. And it will.

As the battle rages within the cavern, the Leader of the Family begins to panic. “You - what have you done?” he demands of Charlotte.

“I’m giving up the family business. Godhood isn’t for me.”

“No matter. We ourselves still have enough power to restrain you, now that you’ve surrendered your only shield.”

Charlotte gasps, realizing that her defenses are truly gone.

Smirking, the Leader gestures. Other ritualists begin to chant. Spiritual chains rise from the ground, engulfing Charlotte, and dragging her into a cage ready-made to hold her.

“Hahahahaha!” The Leader laughs maniacally, and picks up the fallen Agate Staff. “Soon it will happen, my fellows, my followers, my family! Soon all our dreams will become reality! Soon our wishes will be made fact!”

The ritualists cheer, and resume their rites, each confident in their heart that if they continue the work, all will become just as they dream. It will be just like waking up from their dream into a grand new world where they rule.

It will be all just like their dream.

Just like their dream.

Just like…

“I’m giving up the family business. Godhood isn’t for me.”

“No matter. We ourselves still have enough power to restrain you, now that you’ve surrendered your only shield.”

“Not my only. I have a crown in shield,” answers Charlotte obliquely.

When Devon Crowninshield attempted to force ascension upon her, parasitic ghosts descended on her, and she’d woven them into the fabric of the Magus’ regalia. Now they float freely in the chamber.

“Palamedes! Grant these benighted souls revenge against the Hidden Family!” she calls.

“With pleasure,” the god snarls.

The ghosts sup upon the greatest source of energy here - the ritual of forgetting and deception that shields Atlantis. And they descend upon the hapless ritualists, attaching themselves like parasites, engulfing each one in a cocoon of dreams.

Charlotte takes stock of what has happened. “They’re dreaming of their victory,” she concludes. “Like the Lotus-eaters in the Odyssey.”

“Just so.”

“Then my invocation of you is over, Palamedes. Thank you.”

“The revenge you enacted was sweet, my dear. Let us hope our next meeting is so mutually fruitful.”

The god vanishes, and Charlotte begins to attend to the vital duty of freeing the human captives and breaking up the ritual circle. It will take time, and must be rushed as the two massive demons engage in their titanic - and highly destructive - struggle. And she is no longer the Magus, but now only Ghost Girl.

But Charlotte Palmer is always Charlotte Palmer, whatever power she may possess. Rescuing the living and the dead alike is what she is on this Earth to do. And by God, she will do it.


Jason Quill is in videoconference with the leaders of Task Force Ahab, the international military team assembled to deal with the Atlantean threat. And unsurprisingly, Nautilus is on the call as well.

“Our operation is already underway, Mr. Quill. I’m not sure what you hope to accomplish.”

Jason grips the edge of the conference room table and leans into the camera. “I’m here to convince you not to send a second one, should your first one fail for any reason. I’m here to convince you that there’s another way.”

“After you spent all the time and energy to make us aware of this threat?”

Jason nods. “I realize that. But–”

“The Atlanteans have already devastated several of our cities. They aren’t butchering civilians, but they’re driving our carrying capacity to the brink to keep them safe. We’ve already begun wholesale evacuations.”

Jason nods. “Yes, I know that, but I–”

“Mr. Quill, if you propose anything other than a suitable military response, you’re going to find that a very hard sell. Our people need to be kept safe.”

He realizes it’s as Ji-a Lee said. “What you’re proposing is the annihilation of the Atlantean people, General! The regulation nodes you’re targeting will cause the city to implode.”

“It’s them or us.”

Jason is rocked to his heels. He falls backward into the conference chair.

“Gentlemen, I heard a master supervillain utter those words not a few hours ago, about this very plan. Is that where we’re at here?”

Another of the military men speak up. “It’s Hiroshima again. If their leadership doesn’t capitulate, we’ll be forced to take steps.”

Jason scowls at the screen. “And the hundred thousand people still down there?”

“Weren’t you rescuing them?” sneers the newcomer.

“Their high command got wind of our plan, and had countermeasures ready,” admits Jason.

“Then they’re as good as dead anyway. We can’t get the Atlanteans to the negotiating table.”

This is the opening Jason has been waiting for. He stands again. “What if we could?”

“Then if this operation fails, you’ll have your chance.”

Jason clutches at his head in frustration. “If this operation fails? You mean if your attempted genocide fails, I’ll get a chance to negotiate in good faith with the Atlanteans? If you try to murder them all and blow it, whoopsie guys, let’s talk about peace? Do you understand how unhinged you sound, General?”

“What choice do we have?”

Jason pounds the table. “You think you have no choice because you’ve been infiltrated for decades, hamstrung in your understanding of these people, by their design. But listen very carefully. I’m half the age of the people in this call. A third. Whatever. But I’ve been a soldier too, in my father’s private little war against whatever evils offended him. I’ve undergone what you gentlemen have, the stress and the terror and the waiting and the awful food, compressed into much less time. And I’ve survived with my sanity and moral compass intact because I did not let the desperation of ‘what choice do we have’ push me into actions I couldn’t undo, only regret. And I could only do that because I was ready to listen to people telling me it was time to do the right thing.”

He stands taller, glaring at the cameras. “You always have a choice. Right now I’m asking you to make the right choice. I understand we’ve suffered brutal attacks and we’re all itching for payback. But we’re all murderers here, gentlemen. We’ve watched life end, watched the light fade from the eyes, heard the breathing stop, imagined the spark of life departing on that last exhalation. I never wanted it.”

“So who here wants this? If there is another way, who here wants to end life at this scale as their enduring legacy? I want to hear the man with the courage to admit it speak up.”

He looks from face to face, defiant, doing his best not to cry from the hurt he’s had to dredge up from his blackened soul.

“There’s no countermanding the order,” one leader finally admits. “We don’t have a way to contact the mission.”

Jason smiles grimly. “I guarantee you they won’t make it anyway.”

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Adam can feel the wards around Atlantis falling away. Charlotte succeeded.

“Okay, gang. It’s time,” he announces to his passengers. With a flick of one hand, a portal snaps into existence.

Leo, Aria, and Mina Onnanoko are first. Together, they have the strongest connections to the secondary target: Senior Commander Saito. Accordingly, the portal emerges into a large presentation or conference area, where Saito is in the middle of giving a speech to a crowd of Atlantean Blood. Everyone falls silent as they see who emerged.

Harry and Summer streak through the portal behind them, and spread out immediately.

“Good luck, you guys,” Adam says, hopping back through the portal. He sees Aria nod at him in acknowledgement. Leo doesn’t look at anyone but Saito.

Next up is Ji-a Lee. She and Adam emerge in the Surface Science Center. Doctor Zap, with whom Ji-a shares a powerful emotional link, was easy to find. But he’s only the next link in the chain, if Adam is correct.

Ji-a quickly explains the situation. “Z’pa, this young man is part of the group fighting on the surface for peace. He’s as much an ally of the Reformists as anyone. He believes that you know the Emperor - or that the Emperor knows you.”

Adam can sense the shock emanating from the squid scientist. He speaks up. “Somehow, the Emperor learned about Ji-a Lee. If she’s only been here, with you, it makes sense he’d be somewhere around here, doesn’t it. Maybe one of your employees. Or a frequent visitor. Just… think about the kinds of people who come here, who heard you talk about her, but who you don’t know too much about.”

Doctor Zap muses, and as he does, Adam samples the outgoing emotional connections. One of them will match Ji-a’s connection - one of them must. And finally, he feels it.

“That one. Who were you thinking of just now?”

Doctor Zap operates his squid-to-speech translation device. “An investor, a dilettante. Someone who took an interest in our work, because they wanted to understand the surface better.”

Another portal opens.

As they step through, Ji-a speaks up. “What did you mean, ‘do it how Leo always did it?’”

Adam smiles. “Leo fought off Old Jason, and the Dread Queen. People it wasn’t possible to beat. But he beat them.”

“How did he do that?”

Adam’s smile widens. “Empathy.”


Alycia drives the Leviathan mercilessly against the resistance of the sea water. She and the enigmatic living machine descend into darkness.

Rossum has been good enough to provide the location of the most accessible regulation nodes. Or at least, none of the people assembled were able to detect any deception from him. She knows where she’s supposed to go. She prays she gets there on time.

After hours of stressful scanning, she picks up the signal she was expecting. It’s Nautilus’ submarine.

He’s not aboard. He’s on land, talking to Jason and the members of Task Force Ahab.

Alycia curses his name bitterly. The coward was willing to participate in the genocide of Atlantean and human alike, but not willing to push the button himself. Instead, he lent his tech to a strike team of True Believers. Alycia knows the type. Military men, filled by their nations with grand dreams and puffed up with patriotism, willing to set aside their conscience and concerns in the name of “doing the job”.

Until recently, Alycia had been a True Believer herself.

If she succeeds, nobody will know. If she must make sacrifices, she’ll be remembered as the assassin who struck against the surface military in its moment of triumph. And if she fails, millions will die.

They gave Paul Tibbets the Distinguished Service Cross for bombing Hiroshima.

There’s no medals given when you fight for peace at any price. But the people who’ll fight that fight don’t care about decorations either, do they?

Alycia pushes the Leviathan harder.

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The portal bubbles outward, filling the underwater space with a pocket of air. Adam and Ji-a Lee step forward. Before the portal closes, Adam finds the squid in the cart - Doctor Zap - darting through.

“Know that I could kill you where you stand,” comes a mysterious voice, seemingly coming from everywhere. “I permit your unwanted intrusion to learn about your motives.”

In a curious, surprised tone, Ji-a speaks up. “Your majesty?”

“Ji-a. Will you introduce me?”

The woman nods. “This is Adam Amari. Also called Concord. He is a young superhero of the surface world. From one of the cities Atlantis is attacking.”

The two human beings hear other sounds. Adam can make out “Zpa’kadishtuor”, and recognize it as a name. The True Atlanteans at least know each other.

“And now to your purpose,” the Emperor prompts.

“Sir, we need you to stop attacking us,” Adam says, uncertain as to the formalities and protocols of asking for a war to end.

“If we do not? You will attack us in turn? Your submarines are already coming for the sacred stone that keeps Atlantis safe. They will fail.”

“One of my team is already trying to stop that from happening,” Adam says.

If the Emperor is surprised to hear this, he says nothing about it. Adam waits, and feels the silence is his to fill.

“We don’t really want to fight you, but we will if we must.”

“Do you know the term ‘Hobbesian trap’?” the Emperor asks.

Adam looks to Doctor Zap and then to Ji-a, and turns back. “I don’t, sir.”

“It is your name for a belief among my people that was old when I was young. When two groups meet, and both fear each other, their reactions will be governed by that fear. Those reactions will provoke more fear. It is a trap because it removes intelligent reasoning as a guiding determinant in how each group will interact with the other, and replaces it with reaction to an emotion.”

This makes a tragic kind of sense to Adam. “Yes, sir. But surely there’s a way out of the trap. Have your people found it?”

The Emperor makes a series of noises. Doctor Zap translates. “Camouflage.”

“And when camouflage fails, a pre-emptive strike,” Ji-a says. “Make the other group more afraid, enough that they won’t contemplate a strike of their own. Humans would begin posturing, or diplomacy, at this point. Sublimate the fear into social dominance display. But Atlantis must attack, and mean it.”

The Emperor continues. “And you have launched your own counter-strike. You wish to destroy the Stone Builders’ works with your nuclear weapons. This will force us into greater acts of intimidation. You could overcome our strategic advantages with your technology, but we have targeted the infrastructure which would make such advances possible. We are already in the trap.”

Adam sighs. He hopes his plan will work. But it requires an Emperor who is willing to listen–

The Emperor’s voice cuts through his moment of doubt. “But you have a way out. Or else you would not be here, presenting your parlay the way you are.”

“We have something for you,” Adam says. “Information, and a way to see through the fear.”


Ji-a is the one to speak up, in the hope that her history with the Emperor will lend her credibility. “Your majesty, Senior Commander Saito plans a coup. The Blood working with him are resentful of their mortal lifespans and low place in the social order.”

“I suspected as much,” the Emperor says. “I have survived coups before.”

“The Blood have not had modern tools,” Doctor Zap says, in English for the benefit of those with him. “Your Majesty. This time could be different.”

Adam feels the thread of hope in the inky cloud of fear and detachment the Emperor has woven around himself. The creature here in this chamber has survived millennia through paranoia and planning.

He draws a long breath. He steadies himself, letting his emotions fall naturally into their places, accepting his own fear.

He draws a Möbius strip in the air, out of sparkling energy.

“What is this?” the Emperor inquires.

“It is called a trial by empathy,” Adam says. “Right now, one of us is fighting Saito. Both of them are putting their lives on the line. You will be able to feel the emotions they put into it.”

“How will I do that?” the Emperor inquires.

Adam draws on the power within him. It didn’t start as a gift - it was an obligation. He’d been drafted into the Concordance. He’d resented that, the infliction of extra duties, above just being the smart one, being a son and brother, being a model student, everything the mundane world wanted of him. He was too young for it all, and now–

And now, he makes a choice to use it. His way.

He wraps Tau into a bundle of energy and invests the Emperor of Atlantis with a Shard of the Concordance.


The Emperor of Atlantis collects his thoughts. Something new has been added, and he examines it.

“You have given me a weapon I can use against you,” he says to young Adam Amari.

“Yes sir.”

“And you have left yourself defenseless in the process.”

“That’s correct, sir.”

Experimentally, he engulfs the human boy in a bubble, and begins to cut off his air. He can feel the fear of perceived betrayal, the shame of imagined failure to achieve his mission, the terror of imminent suffocation and death. But no counterattack is forthcoming.


He releases the bubble. The boy drops to his knees, panting and gasping. Ji-a Lee rushes to his side, her own concern evident.

Could this be mental deception? It’s possible. Anything is possible, but not equally so. He performs his usual exercises of memory, calculation, and investigation, and finds himself satisfied with the results. If there is mental influence at play, it is either so subtle as to escape notice, or so overwhelming as to defy escape. It’s therefore logical to proceed as though the boy’s gift is genuine.

“Zpa’kadishtuor,” he says in Atlantean. “Envision me as I was when we first met.”

The good doctor does so, and the Emperor finds himself able to perceive a self-image within his fellow True Atlantean’s memory. Exceedingly interesting.

What of this trial by empathy, then?

He finds his perceptions able to follow a psychic current. Ah - there is Saito. He is fighting another human boy.

Three other individuals, one superhumanly fast human and two artificial beings, are fighting off the massed Atlantean Blood in the audience chamber. Soldiers are bringing the “anti-robot railgun” countermeasures into play, but the fast one is disarming them. Others are using conventional weapons, which the “robots” are blocking or destroying.

The glowing strip conjured by the boy Adam is collecting the emotions radiated by Saito and his opponent. The Emperor examines them, conscious of the purely physical aspects of the fight. Saito’s training as an Atlantean ninja has not lost its edge. But this boy - Leo - has something else, some innate gift, that has honed his fighting potency to perfection. It is an even match.

Why, then?

What does Saito feel? The Emperor can feel rage, injustice, frustration, fear, disgust. There is thwarted ambition. There is regret over lost potential. What potential? Ah - Saito wanted to use this boy in his scheme, and was unable to.

What of the boy? Pain, fury, a primal passion. Terror, locked away behind walls of forgetfulness. Saito has physically injured him, as a method of coercion, but it was ineffective.

Both combatants are trading blows. Tissue is traumatized. Cuts are opened as bladed weapons find their mark. The Emperor can feel every frenzied breath, as two pairs of lungs struggle to take in enough air to power their bodies at peak output.

What is it for? The Emperor can feel the waves emanating from Saito. His co-conspirators. The Blood as a whole. His dreams for a new Atlantis, one that will rule the surface and the seas alike.

And the boy, Leo? He can feel past encounters with hostile forces. He can feel a looming father figure, one connected with Saito as well. He feels the boy’s affection for Ji-a Lee, and her love for Atlantis in return. He is fighting so that others can experience that same love.

These waves spread outward. In a room, another boy, shouting at screens, defying military men. Deep in the ocean, all alone, a girl, sobbing to herself, praying to any god that will listen that she need not kill some of her own kind in defending Atlantis. She, too, battles for a chance to end the trap of fear, and she feels it most personally of all.

What of the surface?

The Emperor feels the cold and harsh experience of the people of Halcyon City, and elsewhere. They are not cowering, or running. They are angry. They are sad. But they remain defiant.

He returns to Ji-a Lee. He feels for her past interactions with him. He feels her fear, her self-control, her attempt to forge a bond in spite of her anger at being held in Atlantis, and her sorrow at losing her family.

Her question returns to him. If the people of Atlantis were to die for him, or were he to die for Atlantis, which would be better?

The Emperor can feel the resentment of the Blood who ally themselves with Saito. He can sense the specific technical details of their plan - life in robot bodies, or renewed bio-engineering efforts to extend the lifespans of their organic bodies. Their hopes have never been so close to fruition.

This coup will be different.

This resentment will not fade. The sacrifices of the Blood soldiers on the surface will not be forgotten. And for what? The humans are not reacting the way they ought. Escalation is inevitable.

This “Shard” understands several Virtues. Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Honor, Justice, and Sacrifice.

There is another. Humility.

He recognizes it radiating from this boy, Adam Amari. His soul tells the Emperor what Adam feels. I am not more important than my goal. Out of Compassion for the Atlanteans, I’ll take a chance. From Valor I draw strength to make this journey. Honesty compels me to speak truthfully, not to lie or deceive. For Honor I’ll be true to my word. For Justice, I’ll try to achieve peace. Through Sacrifice, I’ll surrender my power in the hope of achieving it.

In the audience chamber, the boy Leo has been knocked to the ground. He wipes blood from his mouth, and rises to continue the fight. He will not give up on hope, even if his body gives way first. The Emperor sees that now.

“Ji-a Lee,” the Emperor says. “I have an answer to your question.”

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Alycia is half-submerged in water when she regains consciousness. Fortunately, she’s wearing a Stingray-type submersible suit. The pressure might get her, but drowning won’t.

She takes stock of her surroundings and memories. She’s in a disabled Leviathan. There had been a battle. Nautilus’ submarine, already damaged while fighting Atlantean forces, had been torn open by the Leviathan’s tentacles. The creature/machine had tried to sacrifice itself to stop the nukes so she wouldn’t be hurt. She’d tearfully overridden its action, unwilling to lose anyone or anything else, and swam out to disable them herself.

She’d run out of air. She’s not dead, so they must have been disarmed. She must have been dragged back here.

She has to find tools. She has to repair this broken monster, before it cracks open and she dies. Either she needs motive power, or she needs to release the locking system that keeps the habitat attached.

Leo Snow stands defiantly over the unconscious body of Senior Commander Saito. He’s covered in blood, only most of it his own. He’s still got a knife stuck in his arm. He doesn’t care. The arm goes up, the hand forms a fist, and he silently demonstrates his victory over his opponent.

Harry Gale, Aria, and Summer, have beaten up more or less everybody else. They lean against walls, or sit slumped on the ground, waiting for the next wave of attackers to show up. But they take heart at Leo’s gesture, and smile at each other. Was it worth it? Did Adam’s plan succeed? They don’t know. Right now, they’re at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by enemies. But it’s nice to just stop and savor a victory, just for a moment, before the fighting resumes.

Jason is haggard. He’s threatened the Hague, and been threatened with it in turn. He’s invoked treaties, charter agreements, informal precedent. He’s appealed to emotion, reason, personal history. He’s seen selfishness, heard rationalization, and thrown it back in the faces of the men in uniform.

Now the call is done, and he’s on his fourth cup of coffee. His hands are shaking from having stared down the combined forces of half the free world. His cheeks are damp from the emotional sacrifices he had to make, to build rapport with these men.

They will not be sending any more nukes.

Charlotte puts on a pair of spectacles. With the Agate Staff gone, these are the last links she has to the Booklins, who served as the personal library of the Magus.

Behind her are the captives of the Hidden Family, recently freed and still frightened. Before her is a maze of caverns, all lit electrically. The ritualists got in here, so they must be able to get out. But which way?

“Help me make a map,” she tells a Booklin cartographer through her spectacles, and the creature eagerly assents. Though she lacks the power of the Magus now, Charlotte has shown the extradimensional creatures the most kindness and attention they’ve ever received, and they are eager to reciprocate.

Now, she needs their help to evacuate this labyrinth before two warring daemons bring it all down.


“The Empire itself is the trap of Hobbes,” the Emperor announces.

“We have created a cocoon for ourselves where we need not face our fear. But there are two types of fear. Fear of the predator, and fear of the shadow. Only one of them is real. Here, we made ourselves a world where we need not distinguish between them. In our cocoon, our fear bred and multiplied and mutated. We saw the shadow and imagined the predator.”

“Your world has both. I have seen the might of your armed forces as they try to destroy us, and sacrifice their own citizens in the process. I have seen the hope for a future in your allies’ struggle to save their enemy. The surface is dangerous to us. But we have made it more dangerous, through our actions.”

“The purpose of the Emperor is to guide the Empire through difficult times. My wisdom is meant to keep us safe. If that is so, it is proper that I set an example. I can indulge the fear of my people, and shield them from all threats, real and imagined. Or, I can take the risk of diplomacy, to transform those threats into opportunities. To hide from everything - or to not need to hide at all - is the latter not better?”

“We initiated the offensive. I will therefore order a surrender to the surface world. I will take responsibility as Emperor. But before that, I must discharge one other responsibility.”

“People like Saito will have made this war their purpose. They will feel disaffected, betrayed, bereft. They must be given something new to occupy their energies and fulfill their passions. We will find that together. If they wish to find a new home, forge a new identity, they do so with my blessing. If they remain the enemy of the surface world, understand that I will not stop them. And they may enact their coup regardless.”

“I have seen the outcome of your trial, Adam Amari. Atlantis has two paths before it. Saito’s, the way of fear. Leo’s, the way of hope. I choose hope, though it cost my life in the process.”


Without his powers, Adam can’t portal everyone around. He could just take Tau back, but perhaps the Shard will be able to serve the Emperor in achieving peace in an empire built on fear? He’s willing to leave things alone for now. Not forever - he promised the Concordance to investigate the missing Shards on Earth. He’ll take Tau back for that, he has to. But in all honesty, it’s an interesting feeling not to be saddled with cosmic responsibility for the moment.

The Surface Science Center’s Wi-Fi connection allows him to make a phone call to the surface. Doctor Zap’s personal, lovingly cared for QPhone is in working shape. Jason Quill is shocked to get the call, and even more surprised to hear what’s transpired.

The rescue signal from Alycia’s Leviathan was picked up - it’s bobbing on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. A boat is already on the way to retrieve her.

How about Charlotte? Jason hasn’t heard back, but Adam isn’t ready to worry just yet.

Leo is lying on a bed in the Surface Science Center, being mended by Atlantean biotechs and doctors. Saito is in the next bed over, being kept sedated on the Emperor’s personal order.

The Emperor convenes a meeting of his senior advisors and ministers. Some of them are arrested immediately, as his Shard-provided discernment allows him to ferret out those who supported the coup. To their shock, all of them are promised a reprieve - but there is business to settle first.

To the rest, whose loyalty he can clearly perceive, the Emperor explains the situation. And he lays down three rules. First, the ministers as a whole will continue to give orders in the name of the Emperor, to maintain order and calm. Second, the war will end. Third, it is absolutely vital that Atlanteans get to know the surface people, and vice versa. This will take time, and must be done with the utmost delicacy. But it must be done.

There will be an announcement. It will be true in broad terms, deceptive in the details. The goal of the war - force a capitulation from the surface world - has been achieved. The surface’s greatest weapon, the nuclear bomb, has failed in its goals. Human superheroes have come to sue for peace. All of these things are technically true.

It will be Jason Quill’s responsibility to bring the terms of surrender to the surface world, and to arrange a meeting with its leaders.

Time passes.

Charlotte has been located, in Vyortovia of all places. The Hidden Family’s ritual caverns were situated under the island nation. The people with her are being sheltered there, until their homes can be ascertained and their safe return arranged for.

Once informed of the situation, the Dread Queen volunteers to act as mediator. She is the ruler of the island at the center of the sea held sacred by the Atlanteans. As such, she holds a certain status among the more conservative Atlanteans, and the Emperor wishes to exploit every advantage he can in making the diplomatic effort a success.

Alycia is immensely but privately relieved to learn that every member of the nuclear strike team survived. Some were taken captive by Atlanteans. Others were able to escape to the surface, and were picked up by the same ship that retrieved her. There’s a grudging standoff once each side recognizes the other, but orders from on high are to stand down, and the strike team’s discipline keeps them from starting anything.

The surface world is going to want revenge. Solving this problem is beyond any of the Menagerie to figure out. They can only pray that peace is as important to humanity as it was to the Emperor.

The extended team reconvenes at the Conversation Pit in Halcyon City.

Jason has gone all out on a catered buffet. Fajitas, chips and salsa, chicken salad - anything people can ladle onto a paper plate and shovel into their mouth is here.

Leo and Aria arrive slightly late. Leo in particular is covered in newly acquired tattoos. Each one starts at a spot where he was tormented during his captivity, and develops outward. With clothing on, it’s most visible around his left eye and on both arms, but glimpses suggest he’s covered with them. The patterns are geometric, abstract, meant to draw the eye rather than express a message.

Aria has sent everyone a text, explaining the situation - he’s still not talking, he’s undergoing therapy, he can very easily be set off by any appearance of hostility. The rest of the Menagerie smiles, and greets the pair, and do their best to give him the space he needs without seeming to abandon him.

The others are exhausted beyond measure in their own ways, and show it.

“I quit,” announces Alex.

Harry hands them a plate of chips, and they dig in with gusto. “You can’t quit after accepting hospitality,” he jokes.

“Fine, fine.”

Summer brings round a platter of steaming coffee mugs, and collects used ones for washing.

“Can you spice this up with something a little harder?” Jason asks, jokingly.

“How about some ice?” grins Summer.

Her next stop is Alycia, who’s sitting by herself.

“Did you hear about the accident at the army base?” Summer asks.

Alycia startles and looks up. “What happened?”

Summer does her best to hold a straight face. “A tank ran over a box of popcorn and killed two kernels.”

It takes a moment, but Alycia snorts. She wipes her eyes, just for a moment, and Summer knows it wasn’t the joke that brought a tear. But she accepts the coffee, which is good enough.

“To be honest, I could have hosted this as a tea party,” quips Charlotte, out of the blue. “But I didn’t want the other letters of the alphabet to feel left out.”

The others snort, or groan, or roll their eyes and smile.

The camaraderie helps to take away some of the strain. The rest will take time, but being together, sharing coffee and humor, is a good feeling after everything the team has been through.

The Mirror Alycia has long since been transferred out of Jason’s head and into the Quill household computer system, and put under the most stringent of lockdown protocols.

In the distance, she can hear the party. She can’t enter that room as a hologram, or even monitor it remotely.

She can hear the conversation turn serious. Questions come up about the disposition of key figures in the recent business. The fate of the Emperor of Atlantis. Of Rossum, freed from AEGIS containment and probably due to be returned there.

I helped Jason escape, after everything. I betrayed Pyrrhus, despite being his creature. What will become of me?

They do not talk about her. But she takes heart in what she hears.

The Emperor surrendered to the world as a whole. It makes things difficult for any one country, like the United States, to dominate the determination of his fate. Adam took Tau back, and the Emperor privately voiced his gratitude at the insight it provided him. “It is a peculiar and valuable kind of power that encourages peace, rather than domination,” he tells Adam. “Treasure it.”

The terms of surrender include a media blackout about the specifics, only that “the empire of Atlantis will cease hostilities and aid the surface world in reconstruction”. Alycia privately voices complaints about the deceptiveness, and has especially harsh words for Jason, who helped formulate the peace agreement, but in the end concedes that it’s the most expedient way to preserve peace in both the Empire and on the surface.

A hundred thousand people are escorted back to the surface by the Leviathans. The Quill Foundation, and dozens of other non-profits, contribute logistics and finances to place them back in their homes, or to provide new homes. In some cases, whole families have lived for generations under the waves, and the 21st century itself is a shocking new reality for them.

The instigators of the coup, along with the people loyal to their cause, are sentenced to exile. They are free to start new lives elsewhere, and may pursue immortality however they wish. The council of Atlantis, speaking for the Emperor, offers the assistance of its bioscience to the exiles, and a warning. The peace between Atlantis and the surface world does not extend to the exiles. If they begin a war and the surface retaliates, Atlantis will not intervene. The militaries of the surface world, knowing they can’t prosecute an offensive with their current underwater technology, don’t press the issue. But everyone knows where the next decade’s budgets are going.

Nautilus resigns from the HHL. “I just wanted to be a hero,” he says, sadly. But he gives his blessings when Trace tells him he’s planning on dating Fuko.

The Menagerie’s role in the peace process is almost a footnote. Nobody on the team has any problem with that.

Aria receives a message from Senior Commander Saito, relayed to Leo. She asks if he wants to hear it, and he nods. “I have not forgotten,” is all it says. Whether acknowledgement or threat, neither of them know.

Rossum sits in his cell, and looks through the bars at his visitor, Ji-a Lee.

“I’ve been chosen as special envoy to Atlantis,” she says. “My working knowledge of the empire has made me a ‘hot commodity’, as they say.”

“Congratulations,” Karl says with a smile. There’s no sarcasm or disdain in his tone, just resignation.

“Have you ever thought about returning to what we did?” Ji-a asks. “Developing more underwater technology?”

Karl snorts. “I suspect that people will find their way here, and ask me to arm their militaries against this new underwater menace. I don’t think you mean that kind of tech.”

He sees Ji-a’s eyes pinch in sadness, and quickly amends what he said. “I’m not going to do that. I doubt my jailors would let me anyway.”

“Then what will you do?” she asks.

“Sit here and regret my fate, I suppose,” he says with a shrug. “Ah, but you disapprove of my nihilism. I’ll just point out that my incarceration is designed to permit me no other course of action.”

Ji-a sighs. “I can’t say whether you should be let out. But I’ve decided that I’m going to get to know you as you are now, Karl. I want to know whether I should trust you again.”

The inventor smirks. “It’s been a year for second chances, hasn’t it.”

“I think once Leo recovers, he will be here again. And I will get to know him as well, when my new work permits.”

“He’ll be happy about that.”

“So will you,” she says with a smile.

“That’s true. For all my failings as a father, I still love my son. I think that has to count for something.”

“I think it does. And it’s what gives me hope for you.”

Life isn’t back to normal, and may never be. The reconstruction of Halcyon and other cities has only just started. The world has learned of a new enemy, just as that enemy surrendered.

Reports of villain activity, new and old, continue to come in. Rescue efforts are constantly needed. The ASIST app is nearly overloaded with job offers.

The team isn’t sure what’s going to happen next. They don’t know what new challenges will emerge. They don’t know if they’ll be ready for it.

But they have each other. And that’s enough.

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That’s the end of Phase 2, except for the obligatory post-credit scenes! I’ll be posting an epilogue that will wrap some things up, and maybe set up some new things. But this is where Phase 2 stops.

Any unfinished business people want to hear about?

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And what a wild year-and-a-half of storytelling it was, told over 34-ish parts. I know when I shared out the Princess Peri stories, it come out to around 75 pages for those 6 parts (Worlds of Swords, Princess in Training, Balance, the Perils of Peri, the Rainbow Connection, and the Kiss of the Spider Woman) so I can’t imagine what the total page count for Phase Two even could be. And I enjoyed every moment of it.

If I can allowed a tangent, I have story of my own I want to share. When working on my Sentinels project, I now recognize I burnt out earlier this year, overwhelmed with the gulf between everything I wanted to accomplish and where I was at the time. Added onto that was my new frustration with how much extra work I now had to do in order to modify and ready my existing artwork for digital and having to go back and make new artwork for projects I considered done. It seemed like a Sisyphean task.

And while I let the project languish, I kept looking forward to reading each new Phase Two story. And as I did, I saw callbacks to events of the games and nuance to events that I had forgotten. And over time, those two things–reading new stories and rereading old game recaps and stories written by you and Dave and myself–helped rekindle that spark of why I had started the project in the first place: not to see its end (though that will be an enjoyable moment as well) but to memorialize these characters and this game I loved so much.

So thank you for helping stir that dying fire. You probably didn’t know you were doing it, but you were all the same.

Exciting to hear.

The missing Concordance Shards is an obvious one for me, but I suspect that is going to be Concord’s Phase 3 journey from everything I’ve heard so far.

Leo as a berserk tattooed warrior (gross simplification I know) is going to take a bit of getting used to, so maybe a quick look at how he’s recovering (as Aria said, he’s getting therapy) might help that transition a bit. Probably going to be a long process and an integral part of his character going forward, but seeing a glint of light at the end of the tunnel would be nice.

Perhaps a quick follow up with Jordan/Princess Peri. Anty may be locked away, but if I know Jordan she’s still going to talk to them about anything and everything. And also to just be a friend, because Anty’s probably lonely and can’t talk to anyone.

Also, hopefully Alex is working on getting John out of cold. The boy finally makes some friends and winds up trapped in an underground cave, likely pinned under tons of rubble? Can’t catch a break.

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I hadn’t had the impression that they knew about those, unless Rossum somehow got that information out to them. I just read 232-233.

It’s been mentioned before, but I’ll mention it again (since Charlotte would never say it): Palamedes is kind of a dick.

Great scene with Jason (and his chance to give us a “Let he among you who is without sin, cast the first stone” variant).

Interesting variation on Charlotte’s action.

Hmmmm. Starting to look for other parallels …


Yes. I love that A. would be pissed off, suddenly, at the deception (and blame Jason). Nice.

Suddenly riffing on the Earth-Minbari War …

So, wow, not counting the (I see you out there) epilogue, a big finish to a big set of tales. I’m impressed by what you’ve done both with brand-new stuff and integrating it with very logical and powerful extensions of the old stuff. Very enjoyable, even if it’s taken me several months to circle back to it (and that time lag had nothing to do with the quality of what I’d already read, believe me).


Now to get back to reading Phase 3 …

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As I’ve been doing my own contemporary writing in this universe – perforce much trimmed down in scope – seeing the things Bill has done here (as well as going back to writings back then from both Bill and me) has also been inspirational (when not daunting). Your artwork and storytelling with it, Mike, has been another layer of fun and inspiration added to the whole set of tasty cakes that are the tales of the Menagerie.


Nautilus told them. He’s a veteran hero and has studied Atlantis for 20 years. He just never could bring himself to commit genocide. Letting the Navy do it, though…

Edit: I misunderstood what you were saying, sorry. But yeah, a complicated and unfortunate career as a hero came to an end, and his legacy will be - if nothing else - remembered.

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