Peter caught a brief glimpse of the back of his neck as he flew out from his body and tumbled back through a mandala-lined whirl. His thought-form squinched its eyes shut, fighting off wave after wave of gut-churning nausea…
And then he was surrounded by fluttering wind.
He opened his eyes. His sight was hazing at the edges, blurring into a film of colorless tines. The 101 sped by in a blast of asphalt and lane markers, then ANOS’s central facility came surging into view.
Peter’s thought-form halted in the air, hovering twenty feet above the ground, a dozen yards back from the boxy research building. Dissona’s fog-form loomed hundreds of feet up, eclipsing the sky with enormous blotches of solid black. Circuitry had networked across 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.
Peter cupped his hands around his mouth. [HOW CAN I HELP?]
The Timekeeper turned around and stared, 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 it into a mess of fragments. Four more tendrils swooped in, encircling his wrists and ankles in tight black circlets. They stretched his limbs out, forcing his body into a supernatural crucifix, and 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 flew backward and sliced them to pieces. 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 him, 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 sides of his brain—and he lapsed into a wild tailspin. 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 end.
[Guys!] He reached out for Kora and Eun. [I’m in serious trouble here!]
The Timekeeper—now enveloped in pitch-black fog—roared furiously.
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 shroud, shooting outward and thickening into wide, glaring streaks.
Peter could somehow sense that the incandescent light was made out of music. Terrible, glorious song was pouring from the Timekeeper, splitting Dissona’s into a scattered collection of brightly lit clouds. The Timekeeper’s circuitry began to rally, and coating her once again with diode-rich tech.
Peter’s heart leapt in his chest. The bitch was shrinking.
[FUCK YEAH!] He punched the air with an astral fist.
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 emitting a sound that could only be described as Orcish rap.
Psychic winds howled across the parking lot, buffeting Peter’s thought-form with an exhausting storm of emotional extremes. Suicidal to joyous to furious to content, all in the space of a split-second. He wanted to help his friend and contain Dissona, but he was frozen in place by a torrent of feeling.
Gotta help him, he thought. Gotta—
And then the shell around the Timekeeper broke apart. Peter was swept away by a flood of light.