There was once a time called the Golden Age. It is said that there was only one time that ever more magnificent before or since. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Travel among planets and stars was common then. Early on, however, the Seas of Space were rife with treacherous bands of Fearlings, Nightmare Men, and Dream Pirates. The Lunanoffs had pledged to rid all evil from the Golden Age, and together with other Constellations, they built a prison out of lead in the farthermost regions of space. There, they entombed the criminals of the cosmos in eternal darkness until they became little more than shadows.

Kozmotis had been the Golden Age's greatest hero. He had led the Golden Armies in capturing the fearlings and their ilk. And when all the evil had been rooted out, he valiantly volunteered to guard the prison's single entrance.

For years Kozmotis listened to the constant whispered chatter through the of the prisoners pleading through the door. "One breath of air. Please," they hissed. "One small breeze."

And one day Kozmotis slid open a hatch. Just to let in some air.

A great sigh of relief went up from the prisoners. "Oh, that is just wonderful. Thank you," the whispers hissed in his ears. "You have no idea how rank it's gotten in here lately. Especially with Steve's gas problem…"

"It's a nervous condition!"

Kozmotis blinked. "…Well, you're welcome then," he said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck.

With the hatch open, though, more of the whispers and noises were allowed to escape with even more frequency. Kozmotis woke in the night to the sibilant whispers of the prisoners draping over his mind like cobwebs and cotton.

"Pitchiner… General Pitchiner… Come… Come to us…" they commanded.

And Kozmotis, still half in a dream, stumbled out of bed and drifted towards the door.

"Yes… Good… Closer…" they hissed, until the General was mere feet from the door. "Could we get a couple of decks of cards or something please?"

"Ooh! And a chess set, if you have one!"

"You are such a nerd, Orson."

"Well, excuuuuse me for having an interest in more intellectual pursuits than gin rummy!"

Kozmotis finally blinked into a sort of half-wakefullness and rubbed his eyes. "Ugh… Um… yeah, I'll see what I can scrounge up. But can you keep it down at night? Non shadow folks still need to sleep you know," he said, the last part of his sentence swallowed by a yawn.

"Oh, yeah, sure, can do!"

"Sorry."

"We were just really bored is all!"

"I remember sleep! Good times…"

Kozmotis mumbled something that was indecipherable in his sleepy state and stumbled back to his quarters. He fished out a couple dog-eared packs of cards, some dominos, a chess board, and happened across a set of jacks that Seraphina had considerately sent along with her last missive. He smiled and put them back away.

"Here you go," he dumped the games through the hatch. "I've got some jacks too, but you've gotta prove that you're trustworthy first because my daughter sent these to me and I want them back."

There was some hushed murmuring from the prison. Then, "You have a daughter?"

"What's her name?"

"How old is she?"

"I bet she's adorable!"

"She's the prettiest little girl in all the universe," Kozmotis replied, eyes misting over. "My little Seraphina… I miss her so much."

"Ah, that's rough, man."

"Sorry to hear that."

"This ain't no place for a kid. Sucks."

"Yeah, well, someone has to do this job," Kozmotis sighed. "I'm going back to bed now. Keep it down, you hear?"

"Yessir!"


At some point the prisoners managed to rope Kozmotis into participating in their card games. He smoked them at it.

"Full house. Read 'em and weep, boys," he said with a grin. "I don't get how you can have such terrible poker faces when you don't even really have faces."

The shadowy creatures grumbled. "Best six out of eleven?"


Kozmotis awoke one night to the sight of a Nightmare Man looming over his bed. He shrieked and scrambled for his scythe.

"Whoa, whoa, hey there!" the creature hissed, holding up its appendages. "I'm here as a spokesperson. Spokesthing. Whatever."

"How did you-?" Kozmotis snapped, clutching his weapon.

"Ah, um… Well, we kind of figured out we could squeeze through the hatch like a month after you opened it up."

"But- I-You-"

"Well, you were just a really nice guy and everything. We figured you would get in trouble if they found out you let us all escape. So we just kinda played along. Plus, Orson didn't want to leave until he finally figured out how to beat you at chess."

Kozmotis stared at the thing incredulously. "And you've decided to tell me about this now because…?"

"You got another letter yesterday, right? Some of us overheard you sniffling, um, in a manly and stoic way, of course, and we just didn't think it was right for us to keep you here, away from your daughter. So," -it clapped its hands, or whatever matter that might be a hand analog for the thing,- "here's the deal. Us folks will agree to abide by the laws of the Golden Age, and you and us will all go back together."

"You're joking. The Lunanoffs, everyone else, they'll never believe it. I don't believe it."

"Yeah… Did I mention that the guys are already getting the ship ready to head back?"

"WHAT?!" Kozmotis stormed past the Nightmare Man to see his ship swarming with Fearlings, buffing the brass and checking the solar sails. "Oh for the love of-! You all get back in that prison RIGHT NOW!"

"Come on, Koz! Live a little!" a group of creatures cackled and grabbed the general by the arms, dragging him on board. "This'll be great!"

"No! You listen to me right now, you-"

The Fearlings paid him no mind, picking up a lilting, unearthly sea shanty. And despite Kozmotis' protests, the ship sailed.


After the initial panic had subsided and Kozmotis had begrudgingly spoken on behalf of the nightmarish creatures, a treaty of sorts was struck up, and peace returned to the universe.

The Fearlings and Nightmare Men turned out to be remarkably adept workers and blended into society nearly seamlessly, happily taking over the dirtiest and most disgusting jobs, or as they referred to them, the best careers. Pests like rats became unheard of.

Kozmotis returned joyfully to his daughter.

And the Age of Black and Gold proved to be even more magnificent than the Golden Age.