[Whoa—WHOAAA!!] Peter caught a brief glimpse of the back of his neck as he flew from his body and tumbled back through a mandala-lined whirl. His thought-form squinched its eyes shut, fighting off wave after wave of brutal nausea…
And then he was surrounded by fluttering wind.
He opened his eyes. The Bay Area was rushing by. His sight was hazing at the edges, blurring into a film of colorless tines. The 101 sped past in a blast of asphalt and yellow lane markers, then ANOS came surging into view at several hundred miles per hour. Peter’s thought-form halted in the air, hovering twenty feet above the ground, a dozen yards back from the boxy research facility. Dissona’s fog-form loomed high above the building, eclipsing the sky with enormous blotches of solid black. Circuitry had networked across the slithering pieces of carapace and slimy organs that dotted her body, but it was flickering fitfully, shorting out a node at a time. The Timekeeper was teleporting, throwing quick combinations from the ends of his staff—left-right left-right high-low-high-low—disappearing and reappearing in rapid blinks. It looked like Dissona was being attacked by an army of fiery men.
Peter cupped his hands around his mouth. [HOW CAN I HELP?]
The Timekeeper turned around and stared at Peter, his eyes widening in shock and fury. [I told you to GET OUT OF HERE!] A tentacle shot toward him and tried to wrap him in its murky embrace. He swung his staff in a series of side-to-side circles, cutting the tendril into wriggling fragments. Four more tendrils swooped in, encircling his wrists and ankles in tight black circlets. As they stretched his limbs out, forcing his body into a supernatural crucifix, his glimmering staff fell from his fingers, fraying apart into a drift of sparks.
[NO!] Peter willed himself forward, instantiating a pair of wedge-shaped blades that extended a foot from his knuckles. Nine tentacles arrowed toward him, but he sliced and shredded them with his psychic weaponry, flying backward at the same time. They pursued the teen with dogged persistence, unspooling and replicating faster than he could cut them.
[RUN, Peter!] the Timekeeper screamed. [You don’t stand a—]
[It’s okay!] Peter yelled back. [I’m anchored! The three of us cast a—]
[You mean this little trinket?] One of Dissona’s tendrils dove toward his head, forming into a wicked barb before it plunged into his skull.
[AAAAA!!!] Bright pain flashed through Peter’s head—it was like someone was holding a sizzling iron against the inside of his skull. His thought-form spun into a roll, plummeting through the sky at breakneck speed. In between a dizzying whirl of twists and flips, he saw the tendril peeling off to the left, a glowing Tri-Force hanging from its barb.
[Guys!] He reached wildly out for Kora and Eun. [I’m in serious trouble here!]
The Timekeeper—now enveloped him in pitch-black fog—roared in fury.
The shroud around him began to shake and quiver. Glowing cracks appeared across it, burning with an eye-searing light that made Dissona’s constructs—chitin, organs, mouths, and pincers—melt and wither into ashy shadows of their former selves. Spears of brilliance began erupting from the cracks, shooting outward and thickening into wide, glaring streaks. Each spear of blinding incandescence was made from music. Peter didn’t know how he knew, he just did. Terrible, glorious song was pouring from the Timekeeper, splitting Dissona’s suffocating mass into a scattered collection of brightly lit clouds. The Timekeeper’s circuitry began to rally, networking across her once again and covering her in long chains of diode-rich tech.
Peter’s heart leapt in his chest—the bitch was shrinking.
[FUCK YEAH!] He punched the air without consciously intending it.
The Timekeeper and Dissona screamed at the top of their minds, filling the psychic aether with a dissonant clash of melody and assonance. He was projecting something that sounded like Elvish poetry mixed with an electronic harpsichord, while she was projecting something that could only be described as Orcish rap mixed with a vicious, sullen chant that sounded like a stereotypical Russian gangster. Psychic winds howled across the parking lot, buffeting Peter’s thought-form with an exhausting gale of emotional extremes. He was switched from being suicidal to joyous to furious to content, all in the space of less than a second. He wanted to help his friend and contain Dissona, but he was frozen in place by a torrential hurricane of unchecked feeling.
Gotta help him, he thought. Gotta—
And then the shell around the Timekeeper broke apart. A torrential rain of dazzling white light swept Peter away.