Chapter 1

There was a vacuum cleaner in her head. Pulling up ghosts of the past like the roots of a particularly ancient tree. What were trees, anyway? And vacuum cleaners? And who was she? No, she knew the answer to that one. She was Courtney. Courtney Whitlock. What a Courtney Whitlock is, exactly, was still to be determined.

This Courtney Whitlock opened her eyes and jumped a little, the light startling her. As her eyes adjusted, she began to get a glimpse of the world around her. Startlingly boring shale walls encompassed her on all sides. The floor was cold and smooth, only a shade darker than the walls. Courtney didn't have the strength to lift her head up, yet, but if she did, she would probably find an equally boring ceiling.

She brought her hands slowly up to her face and rubbed her eyes, trying to get them to adjust faster. The light was growing more bearable every second, but she didn't care for just sitting and waiting. She wanted to skip to the "Hey, what's going on?" part. So she did.

"Hey, what's going on?" Her voice sounded strange even to herself, bouncing off the ugly gray walls and coming right back at her.

Nobody answered, which Courtney figured meant that no one was around to answer. She brought her hands back down the floor and pushed gently, raising herself up and turning around slowly. She was met with another grey wall. Which didn't even make sense. The room wasn't all that big. A less discombobulated Courtney could have walked from one wall to the opposite in only a few seconds. Given the proportions of the room, Courtney was sure that she could see every inch of it from her position in the center. And yet, she could see no door.

"What do you do when you wake up in a room with no memories of how you got there, or anything really, and with no doors or windows?" Courtney asked herself quietly.

There was no answer to that question. At least not one she could think of at the moment. She looked up quickly, thinking that perhaps she had fallen into this situation. But the ceiling was just as boring as she thought it would be. A dull, orange-ish light in the center, making a fuzzy sort of noise that if she had to put up with for too long, might drive her to insanity. And that was it. There was nothing else in the whole entire room besides her and the light.

Suddenly, an intense feeling of claustrophobia came over her. There really was no way out. She fell back to the floor with a heavy breath and curled up into a ball, trying to take up the least amount of space she could. It felt like the room was getting smaller, the walls creeping inch by inch toward her until she would have to stand up again just to keep on existing. The light bared down on her, it's orangey glow now seeming sinister, almost like a creepy smile. Courtney could have sworn that the buzzing noise got louder in that instant. Was she spiraling? She was spiraling.

"Calm down, calm down." Courtney said in a quiet voice. "The walls aren't pressing in. If you got in here, then you definitely should be able to get out."

Courtney almost started laughing. Was she going crazy? Only crazy people talked to themselves. Maybe she was already crazy and just didn't know it. And how could she know when the only thing she really remembered was her name?

"Alright." Courtney decided that talking to herself wasn't as bad as she was making it out to be. "Instead of trying to figure out the things I don't know, let's try and think about the things I do."

It was worth a shot, after all. She was the only thing in here, so her brain and all the secrets it was hiding from her would be the best way to go. The best way to get out.

Courtney looked down at herself, trying to piece together some information based on the clothes she was wearing. As far as she could tell, she had on a boring grey pair of pants that seemed to match her shirt exactly in color and texture. Which seemed to match the walls exactly as well. Her shoes were the only thing in here, besides the light of course, that seemed to not be a shade of grey. They were black. Which, to be honest, wasn't much better in the color department, but was a change, so that was good.

She lifted her hands quickly to examine them as well. Her fair skin was wrinkled, mostly on the front side, and she had a few scrapes that felt weird when she touched them. Her fingernails looked like they had once been a different color than they were now. While they seemed to be the same color as the rest of her skin, it almost looked like they had once been lime green. There were little pieces of lime green stuff that could be scratched off, she found, if she tried hard enough.

"Courtney Whitlock." She decided to state, as if saying her own name would send all of her memories rushing back to her like old friends.

They didn't.

She sighed, and picked herself back up off the floor again. It was either sit there and die of some weird mixture of boredom and anxiety, or this. She walked over to one of the walls and knocked on it. It made a dull thump. A boring thump, just like the rest of this boring old place. She sighed in frustration, and started to walk along the wall, knocking every once in a while.

Should I be more worried than I am?

Courtney didn't think that she had any good reason to be freaking out right now. Sure, she was in a room that she couldn't get out of, but at least she wasn't hungry or thirsty. She could last here for a while. And maybe that while is just the amount of time she needed to get out.

"Attention please." A scratchy voice that was almost too nice sounded out.

Courtney spun and looked for the source of the voice but nobody was there.

"Due to a small issue we've been having with the elevators in the Northwest Building, the second and third floors will be closing for the day. Things should be repaired tomorrow."

Even though the voice itself was already scratchy and old, it sounded like it was also being played through a horrible speaker. It sounded to Courtney like it was coming from the adjacent wall, so she ran over to it and began to bang.

Click. The wall in front of Courtney slid out of its place and into another section of the wall, leaving her standing before a small hallway that led nowhere in particular. She rushed down to the end of the hallway, finding a menacing looking metal door. There were no "should I be worried"s as she flung the door open and took a step forward.

"Um, hello?" Walking down yet another hallway to Courtney's left was a small girl.

She had long, vibrant hair that started orange at the roots, but ended in a neon pink shade. It was tied up in a ponytail that almost reached her hips. Her olive skin was splotched with freckles, and her eyes were a deep shade of blue. Oh, and she was also floating. Hovering off the ground like gravity wasn't a thing she needed to pay attention to.

"Who are you?" Courtney decided to ask first, because it felt like the most important.

"My name is Junie." The girl flashed her a blinding smile. "What's yours?"


"What an interesting name!" Junie hovered over next to Courtney, taking her hand and squinting at it. "Where do you come from?"

"I…" Where did she come from? "I have no idea."

"How strange!" Junie laughed, dropping Courtney's hand.

"It- it is." Courtney agreed. "Do you know where we are? I don't really know what's happening right now."

"You don't?" Junie sounded confused. "I didn't think they had taken to wiping peoples' brains before throwing them in here. They certainly never did that to me."

"Throwing us where?" Courtney yelled, startling both herself and Junie.

"The Beyond of Junipaux." Junie stated, as if what she just said made any sense at all.

"Listen." Courtney was done with playing games. "I don't know what's going on, why my memories decided to run away, who you are and why in the world you're floating, or what a Beyond of Junipaux is, but I'm really hoping that you can explain all that to me. Step by step. Slowly."

"This is kind of fun." Junie's eyes sparked. "I've never had to explain common knowledge to anyone before."

Courtney chose not to take offense and instead said nothing, waiting for her answers.

"Alright, let's start from the beginning. Oh wait, but there's so many beginnings and I just don't know which one you want to hear. Do you want to start at the beginning of the world?"

Courtney nodded, not knowing any other options and thus not having anything else to choose from.

"Ok! Beginning of the world…" Junie paused. "Did you say you didn't know why I was floating? Do people not float in your territory? Sorry! I'm getting distracted. The beginning of the world. Right. So, before I tell you about the beginning of the world, I have to tell you about these people called celestials.

"Celestials are basically these really powerful beings that live among the stars. Some of them can see the future, and so they're able to stop bad things from happening before they happen. Because they can do that, they've kind of decided that their sole purpose is to watch over every single planet in the universe that is inhabited by an intelligent life form and keep it from being destroyed. No self destruction, no attacks from other planets, nothing. The high king, Leo (still undecided), appoints small groups of celestials to every corner of the planet to watch and make sure nothing bad happens. Is this making sense?"

Courtney nodded again. She didn't see how these celestials could have anything to do with why she was here right now, talking to this strange girl. But maybe they just weren't to that part in the story yet.

"Ok, so like thousands and thousands of years ago, something bad happened. There is only one species of creature in the universe that is more powerful than the celestials. These creatures are referred to as Arcanum, and there are only eight of them in the universe."

"What do they look like?" Courtney asked.

"Well, I've never seen one in person, but I've heard that they look like enormous, translucent dragons, with star covered wings and crystalline eyes. And when I saw enormous, I mean enormous. I know someone who was friends with a celestial, and they told me that Arcanum can be as large as lesser moons!"

Courtney wasn't exactly sure how big lesser moons were, or what they even were for that matter, but she figured that taking the biggest thing she could think of and multiplying that by two would probably do the trick.

"Anyways, one of these Arcanum, called Auranelios, was passing through this area in the universe, and let's just say it wasn't being very considerate of the things in its way. The celestials watched helplessly as this big Arcanum, who they could really do nothing about, destroyed not just one, but six planets they were assigned to watch over. And that's not even the worst part!"

Junie paused to catch her breath, leaving Courtney wondering what she could possibly say next.

"One of those planets was actually a home planet of the celestials. Sort of like a base of operations. Many celestials lived there, or went there when they weren't busy watching over other planets."

"What did they do about it?" Courtney wanted to know.

"They didn't know what they could do. Univion and his council spent weeks trying to come up with a solution, a way to bring the planets back. One of the more obvious suggestions was just to have a celestial blessed with the gift of time control try and bring the planets back from a time when they had been whole, but there were a few big flaws in that plan.

"Like what?" Courtney didn't see how time travel couldn't work. Especially if it was such an easy possibility, like Junie was making it out to be.

"Well, first off, time is strange. The prophetic celestials determined that if an attempt were made to tamper with the planet's timelines, it would reset every being that had been born on those planets as well. Some newer born beings would cease to exist, and the older ones would lose all of the knowledge they had learned in that time. It wouldn't just be the planets being reset; it would be everyone's brains as well."

"So obviously time control wasn't the way to go. That left them with no other options. Except one. It was honestly a last effort sort of suggestion, a plan z. But it was something. Univion and a crew of highly skilled telekinetic celestials came, and began to rip apart the planets that had been destroyed. The pieces that were beyond repair were cleaned up and sent away into other parts of space, so that they wouldn't bump into anything else. The salvageable pieces of the planets were brought together, in sort of a ring formation.

"Nobody knows to this day who did it, but some extremely powerful celestial in Univion's crew was able to take those pieces and stitch them back together into a new planet: Astheron. The one we're on right now!"

Astheron. The name sent tingles running up Courtney's spine. She had the feeling that she had heard that name before, and she probably had. It was apparently her planet after all.

"Is that everything?" She asked, still mulling over the word 'Astheron' in her head.

"Nope!" Junie began again. "Once Astheron was ready for things to live on it, with a stable center of gravity and temperature, Univion began to gather the beings that had survived the destruction of their old homes. He placed them in groups all across the planet, each in their own respective pieces of the old worlds. Now, they're called territories, and there are a few more than just six, due to the splitting up of power and such.

"While the living things were readjusting to their new positions in their old worlds, something really bad happened. All living things across Astheron started dying. It had only been a couple of weeks, and things were already going wrong. Univion had no idea what was going on, so yet again, he consulted the prophetic celestials."

"Hold." Courtney stopped her. "You keep saying stuff about these celestials and I don't really know what you're talking about. Prophetic celestials, time control, telekinetics?"

Junie laughed.

"Sorry about that. I should've explained sooner. Every celestial is born with a single ability. This ability is rooted in magic, and is also inexhaustible, which is why celestials are known to be the most powerful beings in the universe, besides Arcanum of course. As well as being inexhaustible, the ability requires no practice, working perfectly every time it's used. Unlike us."

Junie pointed at her hovering feet.

"This actually leads us right back into the story. The prophetic celestials told Univion that the reason living things were dying is because they had no natural life source, keeping Astheron alive. The planet had no core. So Univion got to fixing that. He tried lava at first, but installing a lava core is apparently quite hard, so he moved on from that idea pretty quick. What he eventually settled with was probably the best fix he ever came up with in his rule: a magic core."

"A magic core?" Courtney repeated, just wanting to make sure she was keeping up.

"Yup. A magic core. I know it sounds strange, because magic isn't really a physical thing that you can turn into a core, but with a little effort on his part and a lot of effort on others' parts, it was done. Astheron now had an inner core of magic."

"Univion sounds like he is an amazing person."

"One, not a person, technically, and two he definitely wasn't. Do you know how he was able to actually set up a magic core? Well, let me tell you, he couldn't just pull something out of nothing. So where do you think he got the magic from?"

Courtney shrugged.

"From other celestials, that's where. The ones he didn't kill after draining them of their innate magical abilities had their memories wiped and were sent to live down on other planets to live out the rest of their days. So essentially, to create the magic core, he had to kill and steal magic from his own people."

"That sounds awful." Courtney agreed. "Why did people tolerate him?"

"They didn't, really. I mean, nobody that isn't a celestial really has any say in their business, and the celestials that weren't murdered were so grateful that they pledged undying allegiance to him. He twisted his acts and made it seem as if he had to do this awful thing for the good of Astheron, when it was really just on behalf of his laziness. He could have put in some effort and tried with any other cores at all, but since he knew that magic would be as good a core as any, he went for the murderous route."

"So where is he today? Still ruling?" Courtney asked, even though she was aware that Junie was only using past tense when referring to Univion.

"He's dead." Junie said without pause. "A few years back, justice finally caught up to him. I'm not gonna go into details, but I will say that him, and his entire high council were killed, apart from a few that were exiled or ran away. But yes, he's dead."

"That's good." Courtney tried to smile but found that there was nothing she could think of to smile about. A death is a death, even if it's the death of a mass murderer. "Finish the rest of your story."

"Ok. So, when Univion set up the magic core of Astheron, things started surviving again. Everything was pretty much back to normal. But something strange happened. It was discovered that since the planet needed a magic core to survive, so did anything that was born on Astheron. Anyone who is born on Astheron or in its orbit will develop a magic core within the first 15 years of their lives. And sometimes, just staying for periods of time longer than a few months will result in a magic core manifesting."

"So I have a magic core?"

"I can say without a doubt that you do."

"Why? I might just be a visitor to Astheron." Courtney certainly didn't feel magical.

"No, you definitely have a magic core. Didn't I mention where we were?"

"Something about… the Backwards of Junipaux?"

"It's the Beyond of Junipaux." Junie corrected, waiting for Courtney to somehow know what that meant.

She didn't, of course. Junie sighed.

"Courtney Whitlock, you are currently being held at the Beyond of Junipaux. A prison for crimes of the magical variety."