Confusion still reigned in the camp, as the guards tried to work out what had just happened and why all the prisoners had disappeared. That wouldn’t last much longer, but for the next few seconds, I could use it. Especially since we already knew that there was no one in the towers to point out where I was. Running down the end of the suddenly brightly lit path toward the nearest slave cabin, I darted behind it an instant before running footsteps announced the approach of troops. I had just barely gotten out of sight before a trio of guards ran past, weapons raised.
One of them abruptly pivoted to look back, apparently having caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. But I’d already thrown myself into the wood of the cabin, so he saw nothing. His eyes scanned the spot where I had been for a moment before he turned to go on.
They would be getting organized any second. The Seosten would all be up and around. And as soon as they were, the escaped prisoners and all my people would have an entire army after them. It wouldn’t take long. A couple minutes headstart at best wasn’t enough. I needed to buy them more time. And I was going to do it by using the Seosten’s own tactics against them.
To that end, I waited there for a few more seconds while other troops ran around trying to figure out what was going on. Inside the cabin whose wood I was occupying, two guards kicked the door in and rushed through. They kicked over several cots, upended small of personal belongings, and dumped a bookshelf over looking for anyone behind it. Finally satisfied, they started to leave. But one lagged behind the other, taking just one last look around. Perfect.
As the guard scanned the room, I was already sliding down through the wall of the cabin to the wooden floor before rapidly sending myself toward him. His eyes passed over me as I ‘swam’ right to where he was standing without the guard having the slightest idea that I was there.
I had no idea which one of us started it, but Tabbris and I were both humming the Jaws theme.
The man turned to the doorway, and the instant he did, I popped up out of the wooden floor. My hand grabbed his ankle, and I focused on what Tabbris had done every time she made me possess someone. An instant later, I was looking through the man’s eyes to the chaos outside. Feeling the weight of his rifle in his hands, I glanced down at the weapon before stepping out of the cabin. Around us, more guards were coming out of other cabins and starting to converge in a group in front of two other figures. Seosten. One of them was the one that we’d seen earlier.
We had to be really quick about this. Any minute now, the alert would reach Radueriel. I didn’t know if he actually had his cyborg shit installed in any of these troops since they weren’t the ones on his station. But either way, I was sure he could be here pretty much immediately. And once he was, all he had to do was bring one troop with him and the rest of his entire army could come with. If a hundred troops and five rookie Seosten were too much for us to take on, trying to deal with Radueriel and his people would be like using a squirt gun against an aircraft carrier.
On the other hand, if he didn’t find out right away… Tabbris, those Seosten are rookies. I really, really doubt that Radueriel would connect himself to them. A three thousand plus year old legend like that letting a handful of complete newbies on another planet know every move he made? Yeah, no way. And if they’re not connected that way, maybe we can actually– Before I could get any further, the relevant thoughts were already popping into my host’s mind as Tabbris helped pull them up without even being asked. And just like that, I knew exactly where to go.
Pivoting, I sprinted. Luckily, me running around didn’t look out of place since everyone was doing it. As long as I acted like I knew where I was going, nobody questioned it. With the shit that was going on, I was pretty sure that no one wanted to be the person who stopped someone who might be moving on orders from the Seosten. Or worse, might be possessed by them.
I left the slave quarters area, passing by a couple troops who were gesturing up at the towers while talking animatedly at each other. In the tower itself, another one of the soldiers was clearly examining one of the dead bodies that we had left. Yeah, things were definitely hitting the fan.
There was a small shed-like building just next to one of the troop barracks. Glancing both ways to make sure I wasn’t being followed or watched too closely by anyone, I quickly moved that way and shoved my way in through the door. Doing so, I found myself in a simple room with a bunch of floor to ceiling computers along three of the walls, a couple chairs where two people were sitting in front of what looked like control panels, while one figure stood behind them.
That figure turned even as I stepped into the room. Seosten. He was one of the other Seosten. As he caught sight of me, the man snapped something sharply in their language. He’d only gotten through a couple words before I heard Tabbris in my head, translating almost in real time.
“What are you doing?” he was demanding. “Is there any sign of the workers, or the missing humans?” The next bit came with a brief glance over his shoulder toward the console. “The communications array is about to connect to our lord. If you have good news, share it now.”
Well, that was exactly what I’d been waiting to find out. They hadn’t finished calling Radueriel yet. Their communications array was still coming online, which meant that there was time to stop that message from going out. Hey, Tabbris, I started, you thinking what I’m thinking?
Yup! Her voice chirped almost brightly in my head. Give ‘em a t-taste of their own medicine.
Right. I figured there was no sense in being subtle about this considering everything that was going on. Hoisting the gun in both hands, I blurted loudly and in English, “Think fast!” Then I threw the gun at the Seosten’s head, following up by throwing myself (or at least the host that I was currently riding in) at him as well while simultaneously telling Tabbris, Pop us out low!
Rookie or not, the Seosten was no slouch by any stretch of the imagination. His hand snatched the incoming rifle out of the air in mid-flight, flipped it around, and shot the guy I was controlling three times in the chest by the time I’d crossed just over half the distance between us.
Unfortunately for him, that meant that all of his attention was focused solely on the figure who had just rushed him. As he put the third shot into the man’s chest, Tabbris was already propelling us out of him. As requested, she sent us out low, down by his legs and in full dive-forward motion. The Seosten tried to react, but it was too late. I’d already reached his legs.
And just like that, I was staggering backward, holding the rifle while watching the body of the soldier who had just been my host fall to the floor. I felt a rush of emotions, most of them various levels of confusion and denial, coming from the man I had just possessed. No, coming from the Seosten I’d just possessed. Tabbris was right, we were giving him a taste of his own medicine.
Yaqum. That was his name. It floated up in his thoughts immediately, the second I thought about his identity. I felt him trying to get rid of me, trying to fight back and take control of himself. The fact that he could resist at all meant he was a lot stronger than the troops that I’d possessed up to that point.
But when it came down to it, he was still only roughly fifty years old. Meanwhile, Charmiene had been over three thousand. Even if I had only gotten a portion of her possession ability when I killed her, that still meant that this guy didn’t stand much of a chance. So I felt his resistance, but it wasn’t too hard to shut it out. He probably could’ve made the body twitch a little bit here or there, or taken control of a limb briefly if he tried hard enough. Overall, it just wasn’t enough.
I don’t think he’s very happy about this, I noted to Tabbris as I forced the Seosten, Yaqum, to turn around.
The two regular soldiers who had been frantically working the consoles had stopped. Both had stood, half-turning to see what the hell was going on behind them. When they saw the dead soldier that I had been possessing, and the Seosten standing there with his rifle, they froze in obvious paralyzing confusion. That lasted for about a second before they each simultaneously jerked back around to face their controls. If anything, their hands danced across it even faster.
I was pretty sure they didn’t know what had just happened or that I was possessing the Seosten. They were simply completely petrified of him and figured if he’d just executed one of their people like that, they might end up being next if they didn’t finish the job that he’d given them.
Before either of them could do anything else, however, I pointed the rifle at their consoles and started pulling the trigger. As the two jerked back and blurted out obviously confused questions, I kept shooting. Half a dozen more shots went into the consoles before I turned my focus to the rest of the computers all along the walls. Over and over again, I kept shooting every bit of technology that I could see, anything that could’ve been part of letting them call for help.
Through it all, the two grunt soldiers stood there completely frozen. They looked like they wanted to do something to stop me, but they were too afraid. Which, honestly, was kind of what the Seosten deserved for creating an environment where their soldiers were too terrified of what might happen to them if they raised a hand against one of the imperialistic assholes to actually do anything when one of them had clearly gone completely batshit crazy and was doing something patently dangerous and outrageous like destroying their communications system.
But hey, what did I know? Clearly this method of theirs was working out just fine and dandy.
Faster. I had to move faster. The one downside to all this was that the other Seosten obviously knew what was going on. Radueriel may not have been connected to them, but they would definitely be connected to each other. Which meant that they knew I was poss–wait a minute.
Tabbris, I thought at my partner quickly, if this guy is connected to the others, can we find out–
And just like that, I knew where the other Seosten were and what they were doing. Two were coming for the communications room where I was, while the other two were organizing the soldiers to track down the fleeing prisoners. They’d already worked out the direction the slaves had gone, and now some of them were just starting up several of what looked like hovercycles. It looked like the Seosten were organizing them into teams that included both Alters with some kind of tracking ability or power, those who could travel quickly, and those who could hit hard.
Yeah, even though these guards we were running into were mostly all dressed in the same featureless black armor, they were still all Alters, which meant they had their own powers. And the armor meant that it was impossible to know what they were until they actually did something.
Honestly, that bit I could really understand. If their biggest enemies were the Fomorians, who specialized in biology and all that horror freakshow stuff, then not letting them easily see what they were actually fighting could be at least some vague form of advantage. If, for example, they didn’t know that the armored, masked soldiers running at them were the wooden Relukun people, they were less likely to send creatures specifically meant to eat wood. It made sense.
So yeah, I understood the featureless armor thing. Plus it made them all into one organization, stripped away individuality in favor of the group, yadda yadda yadda. The point was, they were organizing to go after the slaves and my people. And two of the Seosten were coming for me.
Alright, I started then, guess it’s time to abandon our ride since those other guys will know exactly where he is all the time.
Um. Tabbris’s voice was hesitant. You’re not… um, I mean, I know that you wouldn’t just–
We’re not going to just kill him while we’re possessing him, I confirmed. That just felt… wrong. Yes, I’d killed helpless people before. But that was in combat, it was… different. Taking control of this guy and forcing him to commit suicide was a step too far. Just knock him out.
I felt the other girl’s slight relief as she did just that. The view went dark for a second as the man collapsed before I was back out on my own two feet. Behind me, there was a confused gasp from the two figures. As I turned, they both stared at me. Neither made a move for their weapons or to do anything other than just stand there. They had the helmets on, but I was pretty sure both were openly gaping. For a second, we all just stood there, staring at each other.
Flick! Tabbris’s voice prompted hurriedly. We’ve gotta go, there’s more coming, remember?
The words made me snap out of it, and I turned to run. The men were just standing there, not bothering to pursue or anything. As I flung myself out of the small cabin, they stayed in place, silently staring at the unconscious Seosten lying there on the ground.
They’ve never seen a Seosten be possessed before, Tabbris whispered to me. It’s, umm, it’s kinda supposed to be impossible. The ones they call Lies, they can do it, but they can’t get back out again unless the… the host dies. And they don’t exactly advertise that. That’s probably the first time those guys have… have ever seen a real Seosten get possessed and controlled.
She… she was probably right. Obviously right. I’d known all that, but the idea of how the other species seeing something like that happening hadn’t really sunk in until I’d seen it. Regardless, however, I couldn’t focus on that right now. We had to move on. The other two Seosten were on their way, and they wouldn’t be taken by surprise as easily as the first guy had been. And in the meantime, the remaining pair were about to lead that army out after everyone who had just escaped. We’d stopped them from calling for reinforcements (for now), but we weren’t safe yet.
With that in mind, as I leapt through the doorway and back into the brightly lit camp, my eyes immediately looked around. To my right was the way that the Seosten would be coming, from what I had seen in the other man’s mind. So I darted to the left, throwing myself into a roll that took me under the cabin itself even as the sound of running footsteps approached. From the sound, it was far more than two. The Seosten had brought reinforcements along with them.
Right, I had to get away from these guys, and do something that would stop the rest of the soldiers from pursuing the others. And I had to do it pretty much right now. But as I rolled my way out from under the shed on the other side, I was drawing a blank about how to do that second part. How the hell was I going to stop them from chasing the escaped slaves long enough for everyone to get away? They were already suited up and on their way. What could I possibly do that would make them come back this way and leave their former prisoners alone? What–
F-Flick! Tabbris’s voice cut into my thoughts, and I felt her take control of my body for a moment. It was just long enough to throw me up and backward, activating the wood-melding power to send us into a nearby wooden fence post a brief instant before a snarling figure with a massive axe of some kind came rushing around the corner. I’d been so distracted that I hadn’t noticed either the sound or the feeling from my item-sense power. But Tabbris had, and she’d taken over in that moment.
Immediately, I sensed a crushing wave of guilt from the girl. I’m sorry, she hurriedly blurted. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take over. I m-mean, I did, but I didn’t–I wasn’t going to–I’d never–
Tabbris, Tabbris, it’s okay! I interrupted once it was possible to get a word in edgewise. Trust me, I’d rather you take over my body than let us get caught like that. I was distracted. You did good.
Despite my words, I still felt waves of guilt coming from the other girl. She felt awful about controlling me. Hell, she felt awful every time she had, even when I’d specifically told her to an extent. That… that was definitely something we needed to talk about, when there was a chance.
But it didn’t look like that was going to be any time soon. Especially since Mr. Axe-man wasn’t the only guy in that alley between the buildings anymore. No, he had been joined by several others. One of them was one of the Seosten. Except it wasn’t one of the Seosten who had initially come to find me. No, this guy had been back with the others, organizing the slave pursuit.
Wait a minute… come to think of it, there were a lot of guys milling around here, taking orders about where to search. And above, there were those hovercycle things. The were flying around, riders carefully keeping an eye on everything happening below them.
All four Seosten were together by that point, barking orders at their subordinates. Orders about spreading out to find… me.
Oh. I… I guess finding someone who can possess one of them, someone who can use their own tricks against them… that’s kind of higher priority than some escaped slaves, huh?
Tabbris’s voice came back a second later. Uh huh. They’ve got trillions of slaves. Bu-but you personally hurt one of them. You sh-showed that they’re not invincible. They won’t stand for that. They… they won’t accept it. Slaves are just slaves, but you… y-you made it personal for them. And you possessed one of them. You possessed them. You controlled them. That’s what they do to other people. Doing it to them… it’s… it’s… no wonder they’re freaking out. If everyone finds out that you can do to them what they do to other people… it… it… could blow up their whole society.
Weakly, while the army of guards continued to tear apart every hiding spot, scouring every inch of the camp looking for me, I replied, At least they’re not looking for the others anymore? And um… I did say that I was going to piss someone off. Job done?
S-sure, okay, the other girl agreed, but how do we get out of here now?
That, I informed her, is a very good question.