Please note that there was a mini-interlude focusing on Vanessa and Tristan (with a bit of a surprise at the end) posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you might want to use the Previous Chapter button above.
So, taking stock. I was in the middle of the Seosten slave camp. Something like a hundred troops were scouring the whole place looking for me, including flying overhead. The few Seosten themselves who were there would clearly stop at nothing to have me either killed or captured after I had shown that I could do to them what they did to everyone else. And I had no way of getting out of the camp without revealing myself to the dozens and dozens of beings that would dogpile me the instant I appeared, before I could actually do anything useful like escape.
But on the bright side, at least I was pretty much acing that whole ‘distract all of the Seosten troops so they let the slaves escape instead of chasing them’ thing. With any luck at all, they would all be long gone by the time this situation resolved itself. I just had to make sure that ‘resolving itself’ part didn’t end up involving me either dead or a Seosten slave. Somehow.
Some of the guards were walking around with strange-looking flashlight devices that gave off a pale red beam. They were shining them everywhere as they scoured the camp, and I could see more of the same crimson lights coming off the hoverbikes gliding slowly by overhead.
Any idea what those red light things are? I asked my partner after watching them for a moment. Because I’m kind of getting the sneaky suspicion that they detect stealth powers somehow.
I–um, I’m not sure, the response came slowly. Mama didn’t mention them exactly. But she did talk about stuff that could make invisible things not invisible. Maybe that’s what they are?
Maybe, I agreed. Either way, they don’t seem to be affecting us right now. The lights already hit us a few times and none of them reacted or anything. So we’re safe as long as we don’t move.
The other girl’s response was a pointed, But they’ll call for Radueriel as soon as they fix that thing, and he’ll probably have a way to find you. Plus, you can’t just stay here forever, anyway.
You, I noticed. She kept saying ‘you’ instead of ‘we’ or ‘us’. Tabbris was still so accustomed to keeping herself out of the situation and being a completely unseen presence that she kept instinctively not counting herself in things like that. Which was… yeah, we were gonna have to talk about that. We were going to have to talk about a lot of things, whenever there was time.
You’re right, I replied, we can’t just stay here forever. But we’ll have to time and plan it right. We don’t get a do-over. Once we pop out of here, they’ll be right on us. We won’t even be able to hide in another bit of wood, because they’ll see it happen that time and we’ll be sitting ducks.
Wait, the response came a second later, I think you can do something else besides sit here.
She told me what her idea was, and I felt myself smile a little bit (despite the fact that I didn’t really seem to have a physical body at that particular moment). Yeah, you know what? I’m pretty sure that the Seosten are gonna get really sick of me using their own tactics against them.
Good. The response from Tabbris was unusually firm, even a little vindictive. They deserve it.
Again, we were going to have to talk about a lot of things. But for the time being, I watched as the troops continued to search for us, waiting for the right moment. I needed one of them to come closer at a time that others weren’t actively looking in the same direction. Which was tricky, especially with the ones that were flying overhead. The timing for it had to be just right.
So we waited, and waited. Nearby, there were several guards working on fixing the machine that I had shot up so that they could call for help. But from the sound of things, it was gonna take them awhile. Which the nearest Seosten wasn’t happy about. Even without Tabbris translating, I could tell from his tone that he was chewing them out pretty thoroughly. If I hadn’t known any better, I might have said that he actually sounded nervous. Funny how that worked.
Still, no one seemed to be in any hurry to come close enough to the fence post that we were occupying. This was taking entirely too long. Even if they couldn’t get the intergalactic telephone working again, I had no doubt that one of the Seosten would know a spell they could use. Once they got over the initial search and effort to fix the machine, they’d go for the magic solution. So for every minute that passed, we kept getting inexorably closer to Radueriel showing up.
Finally, however, we got a little bit of a break. Unfortunately, it was two guards that approached and stopped near the fence that I was occupying, rather than one. Still, I braced myself and watch both of them with bated breath, ready for the first possible opening.
There! The guard who was nearest to the fence was looking at the building where the communications equipment was being restored, while his partner had his head turned around the other way to stare up at one of the nearby guard towers. They were still right next to each other, but they weren’t actually looking at each other. And there were no hover bikes overhead. That was going to have to be good enough. In that moment, I really wished that I had Shiori’s power that told her when she was being observed. Actually, I just really wished that she was here. I missed her. I missed both of them, Shiori and Avalon.
No, had to focus. Without waiting another second, I started to extend myself out of the fence. As I emerged, I quickly grabbed the nearest guard by the wrist while using the possession power, and felt Tabbris helping at the same time.
I was in, seeing through the guards eyes even as his gaze finished snapping down to where my hand had been on his wrist. I felt him in the back of my mind, struggling against my control. But it was even less than the Seosten’s resistance, barely a spray of water from a hose against a brick wall.
Beside us, his companion was turning away from his study of the tower while asking something. Tabbris immediately translated in near-real-time.
“Did you see something?” the other guard asked. From his voice, he sounded a bit nervous. I wasn’t sure how much of that was fear of me, and how much was fear of what his masters would do if they didn’t find me. To be honest, it was probably weighted about ninety to ninety-five percent in the latter direction. I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t want to be in his position.
Trusting Tabbris to translate my words way she had before, I started to respond. I told the man that there was nothing there, and then asked him if he thought ‘they’ were really still in the camp.
In response, the other guard grunted something about how bad it would be for all of them if I had escaped. Lifting his red flashlight device, he gave it a slow pan around the area. Despite myself, I braced a little bit as it passed over me. But nothing happened. Which, I supposed made sense. As much as the Seosten depended on being able to possess their troops, I really doubted they would hand out a bunch of ways to identify them.
Uh huh, Tabbris agreed. Mama said that the Seosten have been unified and working together for so long that most of them can’t even conceive of the idea that they might actually have to defend against their own abilities. She hesitated a bit then, before adding, That’s what the regular Seosten think anyway. Mama said that she thought that the ones who did show any kind of, you know, resistance to the way things were got taken away somewhere so they wouldn’t ‘infect’ anyone else.
There was a lot that I wanted to say to that, but we had to focus. So I looked down at the flashlight thing in my hands and accessed the guards memories briefly to see how to activate it. Turning it on, I swept the beam around before pausing as it hit a corner of the nearest tower down near the base. “Hey,” I spoke while nudging the guard next to me. Again, my partner translated my voice. “Did you see that?”
The man’s head snapped that way, and he stared intently for a moment before shaking his head. His hand was already reaching for something on his belt as he replied, “Better call it in anyway.”
Quickly, I made my host shake his head while hissing, “Are you crazy?” When he stopped to look at me, I continued. “What if there’s nothing there? Do you want to be the one who calls them over with the mood they’re in? You think they’ll just laugh it off if they think we distracted them for nothing?” With that, I started to walk that way, gesturing with the pistol that the man had been carrying in his other hand. “Come on, watch my back. We’ll check it out, then call it in.”
Walking that way, I led the other guard over to the tower. No one was paying attention to us, since they were all so intently focused on searching for… well, me. The tension in the air was obvious, and I was pretty sure that it wasn’t because these guys were afraid of what I might do.
Leading my guy over to the base of the tower, I stepped under it and into the shadows. There was a bush there, and I took a knee while making a big show of peering under the bush. The whole time, the other guard kept asking increasingly nervous questions about whether anything was there. He also mentioned more than once how close we were to the edge of the camp.
“Wait,” I muttered, then leaned in to pantomime grabbing something. Keeping my hand closed into a fist, I turned while staying on one knee to hold the hand up toward the other guy. “Think they dropped this?” Then I opened the guy’s hand only a little bit, deliberately keeping a couple fingers in the way so that he couldn’t see that my hand was actually empty.
With an annoyed grunt, the other guard reached out to push my fingers away, telling me to let him see. As my host’s open and empty palm was revealed, I made him smile (though it was hidden behind the mask). “Oops. Guess it escaped.” Then I abruptly grabbed his wrist while telling Tabbris, Now!
Two things happened simultaneously then. First, the Seosten girl knocked out our current host after wiping out his memory of the past few minutes. At the same time, I shot upward out of the body, my actual hand replacing his on the other guard’s wrist. Then I was inside of him, looking down at the first body as it collapsed right back into the bush that I had positioned him near. Since he was already kneeling, it barely made a sound.
And just like that, I was in one guard’s body while the other had been knocked out and hidden away. Sure, it wouldn’t be long before the body was found (I had the sneaky suspicion that this whole thing had started because someone had found the last body I left in some bushes). But it didn’t need to. The cat was out of the bag now. We just had to get out of here. And honestly, them finding an unconscious body with no idea how it got there might work in my favor.
Right, under the tower so I was hidden from its sight, and no one was looking directly at me. Time to just slip away into the forest and disappear. Unfortunately, turning to step that way, I heard a steady humming. At first, I thought it was just a bit of ringing in my ears. But Tabbris quickly told me to stop.
I think it’s a forcefield, she whispered. They probably put it up to make sure you couldn’t get out.
Slowly, I turned back to look at the camp. Raising my gaze up a bit, I replied, Those hoverbikes are going in and out of it. So the field must not extend all the way up. Maybe I could drop this guy and staff-boost myself over it.
But we don’t know exactly how high it is, the other girl pointed out. And all those guys will be right on you the second you do that. Those um, those hoverbikes’ll run you down really quick.
She had a point. I might be able to boost myself over the forcefield, but even if I did, we’d have a dozen different hoverbikes right on our tails within a couple of seconds. It just wasn’t feasible.
Instead, I kept looking around the camp. Everything still looked the same. There were guards searching everywhere, hoverbikes overhead, Seosten barking orders as they strode back and forth, some technicians trying to fix the communications computers…
I’ve got another plan, I announced with a slow smile. But it might be a little crazy.
A little? Tabbris’s voice came back. I can, um, you know… read your mind, remember? It’s not a little crazy, it’s a lot crazy. Like, um, the Mount Vesuvius of crazy.
Hey, I replied, remember when we did that report on that in eighth grade and made that working replica with all the little Roman houses? Dad stayed up all night with us like three days in a row to get it done in time.
There was a brief hesitation, and I felt the Seosten girl’s conflicting emotions at my words. Your… your dad really wanted you to do well on that project. He loves you a lot.
He loves his family, Tabbris, I reminded her. And as soon as he knows you exist, you’ll be his family too. You already are. You’re my sister. So you’re family. Got it? We’re in this together.
Again, I felt a rush of tumultuous emotions from the girl before she answered with a soft, Got it. So, um… If she had been physically present, I was pretty sure she would’ve been crying right then. Or at least sniffling. Time for the Vesuvius idea?
Time for the Vesuvius idea, I confirmed. Without wasting another second, I made our current host start walking back the way that we had come before.
We reached the middle of the camp, where two of the Seosten were standing. One was the guy from earlier, the one Tabbris had tricked into not checking out the tower when we had been sneaking our way in. To put it mildly, he seemed to be in a bad mood. Not that his companion was any happier. They were both shouting orders, demands that I be found or the entire camp would pay for it. As the single guard that we were possessing approached, both of their attention turned to us, and one of them asked if we’d found anything.
Wow, I started, you were right, they are not good at defending against their own tactics, are they?
Nuh uh, came the answer. Like Mama said, most of them can’t even consider the idea that they might have someone use their own powers against them.
Well, they were going to learn the error of that kind of assumption pretty damn quick, if I had anything to say about it. With that in mind, I made our host start nodding to the men as they blurted their demands. Raising the hand with the red flashlight, I used it to point back the other way. For just a second, the two Seosten glanced that way, instinctively looking the way I was pointing.
And then I used the guard’s gun to shoot the nearest one five times right in the middle of his chest. It turned out that this thing was a laser gun, firing out tiny orange balls of light that tore into and through him before he even knew anything was wrong.
He fell, collapsing to the ground with a look of shock. At the same time, a rush of pleasure flooded into me and I saw my aura flare up around our host. It wasn’t anything like when I had killed Charmeine. But still, I only kept moving because I had been bracing myself for it. Even then, I still staggered a bit.
His partner, the Seosten we’d seen earlier, was already snatching some kind of weapon from his belt. But it was too late. Tabbris sent us out of our current host, and I threw myself that way while he was still trying to get the thing up.
My staff was in one hand, but I didn’t swing it. Instead, after hitting the button to make it start charging up, I actually released the staff while throwing myself bodily into the Seosten.
Again, just like before, it worked. I was possessing him. This guy was even stronger than the last one. I felt his rage, even heard him making threats. Given enough time and focus, he might’ve been able to wrest control away from me for short bursts. But we weren’t going to give him that kind of time. Nor would we let the other remaining Seosten (whose locations I could sense through that connection they had) get to us.
Instead, I made his hand snap out to catch my abandoned staff before it could finish falling. Then I looked around quickly.
Yeah, we had an audience. Shooting the first Seosten had attracted everyone’s attention. There were more guns pointed at me than I could count. Yet they didn’t fire. They didn’t dare fire. Their entire society was built around constantly serving the Seosten. Entire generations stretching back as far as they could remember had been serving the Seosten. The very thought of actually shooting one of them was probably close to impossible for them to even consider, after how much had been put into making them practically worship their masters.
So they hesitated, and I took advantage of that. Using the man’s fingers, I hit the button on my staff. The charge that had been building up released itself in a burst that sent us flying straight up, right at the nearest hoverbike. Its rider, who had been aiming down at me, was already jerking back. But it was too late. Just as we collided with him, Tabbris activated not my possession, but the Seosten’s.
And then we were there on the bike, possessing the man who had been riding it. Or to be more specific, Tabbris was possessing me, I was possessing the Seosten, and the Seosten was possessing the rider. How many more levels of this could we find a way to add?
Maybe I’d find out someday. For the moment, I simply let Tabbris take over, because she was better and faster at the next part. She instantly scanned the memory of our most recent host (the biggest pig in the Jekern pile, so to speak), checking for the controls. Then she grabbed the hoverbike’s handlebars, hit something with the man’s foot, and we were suddenly gone. The bike took off so fast it made those Formula One racecars look like they were standing still. She punched the gas (or whatever this thing used), and the bike shot straight out into the forest, engines screaming.
The other hoverbikes would be right on our tail. But we had the advantage, since we’d caught them by surprise. And since we were on the same kind of vehicle instead of on foot, they didn’t have that advantage. For the moment, we were out of sight.
In my head, the Seosten we were possessing growled a deep, You will burn for this. You cannot comprehend the force that will be brought down on you. We are the Seosten. Our rule is unchallenged and our vengeance unimaginable.
Yeah? I replied simply, Well as a great smuggler once said, I can imagine quite a lot. And for the record, things are changing. You might wanna buckle up. As Tabbris moved the man’s hand to snap something off the controls, I added, No, seriously, buckle up.
And with that, I threw myself backwards out of both the driver of the hoverbike and the Seosten himself. The speed that we were going at when I jumped off would’ve made me pretty much splatter into a fine paste, but I had timed it so that my body went straight for the nearest tree. A second later, I merged with it, even as the sound of the hoverbike disappeared off in the distance. Barely a handful of seconds later, a dozen more bikes went tearing off after it, having no idea that they were passing us by.
That thing you broke, I asked once the crowd of pursuers was gone, you sure it’ll stop him from turning that thing around any time soon?
Uh huh! Tabbris chirped. D-definitely! I promise, I made sure. And um, it’s bit. The last part came very quietly, like she was embarrassed to say anything.
Bit? I echoed, confused.
Han Solo, she quickly put in. He said he could imagine quite a bit, not quite a lot. I’m sorry, I just–it was… umm, I… really like Han Solo. He’s… he’s my favorite.
Aww, I replied, Now I know what movies we’re gonna watch with Dad as soon as we get back.
The bikes were gone by that point, so it was time to leave. Sending myself to the bottom of the tree that I had thrown us into, I stepped out of it while announcing out loud, “And I think I’ll call that whole possessing someone who possesses someone else the Choo Maneuver.”
“Good name.” The words came from my left, and I jerked that way to find a figure standing there. One of the remaining Seosten. He was too far back for me to grab, and from the expression on his face as he held his gun leveled straight in my direction, I was pretty sure that if I moved, he’d just shoot me and be done with it.
It took me a second to recognize that he had spoken in English, without Tabbris’s translation. And he’d understood my words. His smile was thin. “You have given us quite the scare. I would kill you now, but the rest must see you die. They must see it for themselves and know that your threat is ended as soon as it began. You are–”
And then his head basically exploded. It burst like a melon, as a familiar spiked metal ball appeared where it had been. A second later, an equally familiar pink aura flared up, and I heard a loud gasp of pleasure.
“Really?” Sands demanded once she had recovered. “You thought I’d just abandon you on your say-so? Do you have any idea what Avalon would do to me if I did that? Sorry, Chambers, but she’s scarier than you are.
“Now let’s get the fuck out of here.”