Billy wasn’t ready. He focused on his thoughts and shut out the still, time-stopped world around him. He ignored the pristine, glassy lake. He relaxed his limbs and concentrated. He expected Vanilla’s next word to magically reveal some secret knowledge hidden inside him.
“Ballisea,” she said. A violent shiver ran down Billy’s spine. His slack arms flailed and knocked over the telescope beside him. All warmth left his body completely, then returned slowly; as if she frightened his soul out of his body for a moment. Billy’s eyes shot open and he wrapped his arms around himself. He looked up at Vanilla standing next to him.
“What just happened?? Who is she?” he asked her.
“One question at a time. Think about what you need to know next.” Billy searched his mind for the same gnawing sensation the word “Void” gave him that morning. He realized he knew who Ballisea was, then noticed a sound in the back of his mind. Every thought of Ballisea came with a clacking, clattering sound. He imagined the sound belonging to laughing skulls.
“Why does she make me think of skeletons?” Billy phrased the question as broad as he could. Vanilla smiled and opened a black portal next to her.
“That’s a great question.” Vanilla walked into the portal and Billy followed. Billy stepped out of the portal to an Earth unlike any he’d ever seen. The sky was dark red and the ground was dry and barren as far as Billy could see. Then he spotted a single skeleton standing still; it stared up at the red sky. “This is one of Ballisea’s conquered Earths,” Vanilla said. Her words attracted the skeleton’s attention. It lowered its head to look at Vanilla then began to walk toward her.
“Can you stop it?” Vanilla asked Billy.
“No prob-” Billy said as he stopped time. He cut off his own statement when he realized the skeleton was still shambling in their direction. “No,” he sighed. He wasn’t surprised when the skeleton froze mid-step. Of course Vanilla could stop it.
“That is what Ballisea turns Zeros into when she takes over.”
“It’s a Zero?” Billy asked. “Why couldn’t I stop it?” Vanilla shook her head.
“It’s animated, and protected, by Ballisea’s magic.” Billy nodded as he listened. He felt like his question about skeletons had been answered but he also realized he’d been going about it the wrong way. He was asking the wrong questions.
“Hey, Vanilla? What do YOU know about her?” Vanilla smiled broadly and wrapped her arm around his shoulder.
“There you go!” she said and gave him a gentle squeeze. “I was afraid you were going to ask me one by one all the way,” she giggled. Billy saw a faint sparkle in her eyes that he had not seen in a long time. “I’ll give you a broad view then answer any questions left after that, okay?”
“I haven’t met anyone that can explain it but Ballisea was formed, born you could say, in the Void. She grew into a powerful, evil witch but then she fell in love with a Zero. She changed her ways and settled down, lowering her guard in her new life,” Vanilla said.
“One day a cocky Diablito wizard caught her alone, by surprise. He put her to sleep and left a child in her. She took her revenge the moment she woke up but the damage was done. She wanted the baby gone and found a spell that would purge her flesh while binding her soul to her bones.” Vanilla nodded at the un-moving skeleton. “That’s where she learned that trick.”
“She destroyed her flesh. Even though she was an undead skeleton her husband still loved her. They stayed together until Ballisea was able to kill another Unique and get her flesh back. And when she did…” Vanilla paused for effect. “…she was still pregnant.”
“Whoa…” Billy was amazed. He’d seen a lot of unbelievable things by now, but that was something else entirely. The more Vanilla said the more sympathetic Billy felt for Ballisea.
“Plan B involved a sword, but that didn’t work out either. Her child, a Unique obviously, defended itself against the attack. Ballisea’s husband was the only casualty. I’m sure you can imagine she didn’t take it well.”
“I’ll bet,” Billy nodded.
“On any given day she’s conquering hundreds of Earths,” Vanilla said. “Most Uniques think she’s just evil and wants to…,” she made air quotes. “…’conquer the multiverse.’ The real reason she slaughter Zeros is because she’s trying to find her husband again.”
“He was a Zero, how hard can it be?” Billy asked. Vanilla shook her head.
“She’s not looking for his Zero. She thinks she can cycle through every soul to get to her husband again.”