Please note, there was a mini-interlude focusing on Pace posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you might want to use the Previous Chapter button above.
“So you guys… invented a whole new spell on the fly?” Jazz asked a short while later, as we all stood in one of the side rooms, waiting to learn this so-called ‘dibs spell’. We would have done this bit in the main cargo hold, but honestly… we all felt like it was a good idea to let the Alters (those who had survived) have some more time to themselves without us intruding. They would learn the spell too, of course. Haiden and Larissa had promised to teach it to them once they had the hang of Gabriel Prosser’s simpler ‘Seosten ejection spell’. But for now, it felt best to give them privacy, after everything that had happened. They were deep in mourning.
All of them, that was, except for Karees. The old tree-man was up here with us, though he was standing out of the way. He was here to learn the spell, so that he could teach it to his people on their own time. As sad as he was, he wanted to help the others learn to protect themselves from Seosten possession even more. So he stood there, silently observing.
“Not exactly,” Haiden replied, his voice a little distracted. I knew why, of course. Vanessa still hadn’t been back in contact, and he was worried. And, well, he also needed to pass along the news about Isaac. Apparently Vanessa had told him that it might be awhile before she could manage to project herself to him again after that first time. But he was obviously still anxious.
After giving her long-time partner a brief look, Larissa explained for us. “We didn’t invent a spell. We modified and combined a couple of existing ones, and threw on a few bells and whistles.”
Haiden finally nodded, turning his attention back to us then. “We told you about Sariel.”
“She’s come up before,” Gordon confirmed simply. “She’s your… wife?”
“Miss uh, Mason said that… that this Sariel woman made the dibs effect work the first time, when she explained what it was,” Jazz put in, her voice catching a little bit as she spoke.
“That’s the one,” Haiden replied with a short nod. He was trying to sound light and casual, but there was a hitch in his voice that told me just how much he missed his wife. “But there’s something else that you should probably know before we go any further. You see, Sariel… she-”
“She’s a Seosten,” Jazz finished for him, blinking as everyone else did a double-take. “What? Was that really supposed to be a surprise? We figured it out like, two seconds after you guys first mentioned her. I mean, come on, Sariel? It’s not like these guys have a super-varied naming structure to begin with. Ends with -el. She’s either Seosten or Kryptonian, and we’re not nearly lucky enough for it to be that second one. So, she’s one of the angels. Only, like, a good guy, errr, girl. Point is, she wasn’t loyal to these slave-driving dickshits anymore.”
While the rest of us stared, the black girl went on. “Which, you know, was probably because you guys had some epic first encounter that made her change sides. Then you fell in love and ran off together, had a couple kids and everything was hunky dory until her Seosten bosses showed up again. Bad things happened and they used one of those banishment orbs to take her, you, and one of your kids out here into Seosten space while the other one was left back on Earth.”
It took Haiden a few seconds to find his voice after Jazz had finished saying all of that, as he stared incredulously at the girl along with the rest of us (aside from Gordon, who just nodded along with his teammate). Finally, the man coughed before asking, “Uh, how exactly did you…”
“Seriously?” Jazz gave a little shrug. “You’re out here in Seosten space, so you were obviously banished here. We already knew that this Sariel was your wife from context, and they called you Mr. Moon before. Haiden Moon. I mean, it’s not a super-rare name, but there’s already Vanessa and Tristan Moon back at Crossroads, so that’s sort of a no-brainer. Plus, Vanessa supposedly had no family at all until Tristan just randomly showed up at the school partway through the year. The story was that their family was attacked by some Strangers, who set up a portal and it took the three besides Vanessa away and scattered them across the universe.
“The point is,” she finished with another shrug, “it’s not exactly a huge leap. He’s Haiden Moon, Vanessa and Tristan are Moons, they were missing their family, there’s clearly something super-special about them, and the name Sariel isn’t hard to jump to being a Seosten.”
My mouth opened and shut a couple times before I finally shrugged. “Yeah, okay, good point.”
Haiden nodded. “I suppose it goes without saying that this is another one of those things that-”
“–we can’t talk about to anyone else once we get back,” Gordon finished for him. “We know.”
“Trust us,” Jazz confirmed, “we’ll keep your secrets, we promise. Especially after… after everything that’s happened.” She stiffened a little bit at the memory, face cringing before she clearly pushed herself to continue. “We’re not gonna expose your family, Mr. Moon. We swear.”
“Like that matters,” Sands blurted before quickly correcting herself. “I mean, sorry, it does matter that we can trust you. It does. I just meant that with Isaac out there… he’s probably run all the way back to his Seosten masters by now.”
“Actually…” Haiden smiled a little. “According to Dries, it’s not that simple.” As we all looked to him, he continued. “Turns out, he was a little bit more paranoid than we were. He set up a bunch of spells to damage the ship if it was ever stolen or used against us. The kid managed to disable some of them, but not all. From what Dries managed to trigger, the Liberty Bell won’t make it all the way into civilized space. Our little friend is gonna have to find a rim world to set down on, and call for help. And since there’s not exactly a full portal network set up on most of these places, odds are that they’ll have to fly out to meet him the long way. Which gives us a chance.”
“Then it’s a chance we should take advantage of,” I put in. “We get to Isaac. But first, we learn this spell, and keep the Seosten out of our heads.” Except the ones we happen to like, I added inwardly, smiling.
Larissa returned my smile a bit knowingly, winking once before continuing. “Right. Well, the point is, Sariel created the effect and we’re not even sure exactly how she did it. But it works.”
“Yup,” Haiden agreed. “No idea what she did, but Sariel somehow threw up a big ‘no vacancy’ sign on Larissa here, which is what stops any Seosten from possessing her. It’s convenient.”
The woman continued then, explaining, “The spells we combined and altered essentially copy the existing effect while throwing on a few extra bits that are essentially just smoke and mirrors so that if anyone uses an identify spell or something like that to try and figure out how we do it, they end up getting a bunch of extra spell parts that don’t actually do anything. That way, it should make it harder for them to actually identify how the protective part of the spell is done.”
I snorted at that despite myself. “So what you’re saying is, only a little part of the spell is actually necessary. The rest is all bells and whistles to make it look more complicated than it is.”
She nodded. “Exactly. So, let’s get started, shall we? It’s not that hard to learn how to copy the effect, but it’s still easy to mess up if you don’t do it right. So we’ll take it slow and make sure everyone understands. First up, take the object you’re going to use to trigger the spell…”
“You’re… you’re really, really, really sure that you’re okay with this, guys?” I asked a little while after we had finished practicing the spell for the day. There was only so much of that we could do. At the moment, I was with Roxa, Sands, Gordon, and Jazz in one of the other rooms.
Jazz coughed at that. “You mean, are we okay with you possessing us so you can tell us what powers we ended up getting from all the killing we’ve been doing on this trip? Yeah. Might as well use every advantage we’ve got, right? If you can just scan through and tell us what we’ve got instead of going through a bunch of trial and error, that’d be great.”
It wouldn’t really be me doing it, of course. Tabbris was the one who actually knew how to scan through a person that we possessed to find out what powers they had. But, well, Jazz and Gordon didn’t need to know that right now.
My helpful little partner had already informed me of everything I had received during our trip so far. From the two soldiers that I had killed on Radueriel’s station, I’d gotten a very minor strength boost and slightly less minor boost to my balance. From the Pantler back on the other planet, I’d gotten the power to see through certain kinds of camouflage and other stealth abilities. That was how I’d spotted Jokai before. Meanwhile, I’d also killed four of the slave camp guards. From them, I’d gained a slight boost to my regeneration, that power to embed sound in an object, a resistance to being hurt by electricity, and what amounted to a slightly larger pool of energy that I used for magic, so I didn’t tire out quite as quickly. Then there was the boost to my dexterity from the young Seosten that I had killed, while of the three humanoid guards on the ship, I’d gained a boost to my pain resistance (thank God), the ability to detect poisons by smell, and I could also go without breathing for up to ten minutes if need be.
So it was useful knowledge. And now the others wanted me to share that with them, ever since Sands had brought up the idea that it was possible. So, biting my lip, I looked over to Gordon, who had been quiet throughout this little discussion. “What about you?”
“No,” he replied quickly before hesitating. “I mean… “ Pausing, the boy exhaled. “I know how that sounds. But… I just don’t… I’m not ready for that. Not yet.” For a moment, it looked like he wanted to say something else, but stopped himself. “Just… not now.”
I didn’t blame him, honestly, even if a part of me was reflexively suspicious because of what happened with Isaac. Having someone in your head, reading your every thought and able to control you, it was pretty… huge.
I’m just lucky I ended up with you, I directed inwardly to my own secret sister. Sister. Talk about a weird, extended family. Between me considering Tabbris a sister, her own connection to Vanessa and Tristan through their shared mother, Larissa being a sort-of second mother to her and thus Sands and Scout–Tabbris had a lot of people who thought of her as family.
And that family thing included Haiden, I was pretty sure. Tabbris had actually come out of me the night before, so that she could talk with her mother’s husband. I wasn’t sure what the two of them had actually said, because I gave them privacy. But from the look on Tabbris’s face when she had returned to me, it had been a good conversation.
Shaking off those wandering thoughts, I nodded. “Okay, don’t worry. Just keep the dibs spell active then. And…” I turned back to the others. “I guess if the rest of you are into it, I’ll see what we can find out.”
“Yeah,” Sands confirmed, extending a hand to me. “Let’s do it.”
Standing on the bridge of the ship the next day, I stared out at a field of asteroids that surrounded us. Straight ahead, one of the larger ones (even bigger than the ship itself) had some kind of hole cut in the side of it, covered by heavy metal doors and a visible forcefield.
As promised, I had let Jazz, Sands, and Roxa know what powers they’d ended up with. For Jazz, that was a decent strength and minor durability boost, and the ability to create these small, solid orbs that she could use to manipulate gravity within a fifteen foot radius. Each ball would last for ten minutes unless dismissed early, and she could have three of them active at any given time.
Meanwhile, Sands had gained a slight boost to her agility, a resistance to being hurt by fire, the ability to instinctively understand how to use any handheld weapon as soon as she touched it, a big boost to her strength like the one that I had gotten from killing Valentine the werewolf, as well as a boost to her reflexes, a slight increase to her energy pool for spells, and that powerful boosting ability that she had gained from killing the Seosten who had cornered me. Oh, and she could actually turn into this two-dimensional shadow-form that was cool, but she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of.
Finally, Roxa’s kills had gained her increased strength (that was a pretty common power, as it turned out), an almost imperceptible boost to her regeneration, the ability to turn into an elastic/rubber-like form that could stretch out to twice her normal size, armored scales that she could cover her body with for even more protection, underwater breathing, ultraviolet vision, and the power to create and mentally manipulate up to several gallons-worth of this dark, oil-like liquid, which she could cause to solidify with a thought. Not to mention, she had also gained the power to touch any figure and create a stone copy of that person that would do whatever she said. The stone duplicate couldn’t use any of the original’s powers of anything, but they were pretty strong in their own right.
The point was, being able to just tell them what their powers happened to be was really useful. We’d been able to practice a little bit with them instead of waiting for the powers to just come out on their own through stress or trial and error, or whatever else made our minds suddenly realize we could use them. Sometimes it seemed completely random whether we’d somehow know what our new powers were, or have to figure them out randomly.
“So what is this place, exactly?” I asked curiously, shaking that thought off as I nodded to the view of the asteroid station on the screen. “And how did you guys find it?”
Haiden, standing beside me, explained, “We’re pretty sure it was some kind of mining facility first. Then pirates took it over. We cleared them out a couple years ago, and we’ve been storing stuff here whenever we need to since then. Haven’t had any problems yet. It’s isolated, private, and we’ve fixed up the defenses enough that it should discourage anyone that gets close enough to check it out, at least long enough for us to get the alert and come back here.”
Larissa looked over toward Karees, who stood at the back of the room, staring at the image on the screen. “Between what’s already on the station and what you’re taking from this ship, there’s enough supplies for all your people to hold out for at least a couple months if you’re smart about rationing. We’ll be back here long before then. And if we’re not, there’s a couple emergency portals to get down to the nearest habitable planet. It won’t be as safe as this is, but it’s something. And we’ll work out a more permanent solution as soon as possible, I promise.”
The ancient Relukun audibly swallowed. I saw his eyes dampen as he spoke simply. “It… it is freedom,” he announced carefully, taking a moment to choose each word. “It is everything.”
Smiling, Haiden put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed a little while nodding to Karees. “Right. Let’s get on down to the cargo bay and have your people set up the portals to get over there so they can look around their brand new home, then.”
So, we did. It wasn’t hard for the Alters who were capable of it to set up the portals, since they could actually see where they were going this time. They had a couple of them established within about ten minutes to make the hop over to the asteroid station, and the rest of the group had collected all the supplies that they were going to take over with them.
The… bodies and pieces of the bodies were gone. All of them except for Professor Katarin had been given burials at space by the rest of their people, each receiving their own small funeral.
As for Katarin, we were keeping what was left of his body in storage, because we… well, we were hoping that there would be a way to bring him with us. He deserved to be buried on Earth, with and by the people who cared about him and whose lives he had touched. They deserved to have the chance to say goodbye. It was the least we could do. It was literally all we could do.
Jazz, who was standing near Jokai, looked to him. “You’ll be safe here. Well, at least as safe as you can be. You and your people, Isaac won’t be able to hurt you again. Not anymore.”
But instead of agreeing, Jokai shook his head at that. “I go,” the chameleon-Alter announced with a determined look. He pointed back to the door that led up to the bridge, before forming his hands into the same bird-like motion he had made the other day. “Fly.”
“Oh, but… Jokai,” Larissa started with a quick headshake. “We’re going somewhere dangerous. We–” She paused before switching into Latin, telling him that we were going after Isaac.
“Vērō!” Jokai agreed emphatically before switching back to his slow, uncertain English. I was pretty sure that he wanted the rest of us to understand. And he wanted to practice, even if it was hard. “I-” He pointed to himself, then made a few other accompanying gestures to make his words clearer. “-go and… flying to help… to take all to I-zack. To fight I-zack. I… not fight. I not strong. Not good. But fly good. Fly… take to I-zack. Taking to others… all fight. They fight. I fly. I take. Take to I-zack, stay fly so all fight. I fly. They fight. I help. Not strong. Not fight. Fly. Help.”
“You’re wrong.” That was Jazz. “You’re wrong about not being strong. You weren’t trained to fight. You were trained to be a slave. But you escaped. You got away, and instead of staying out of it, instead of staying safe, you want to play taxi for us, for all these guys, just to go after Isaac for what he did. He could kill you and–” She looked away, biting her lip before finishing with a soft, “You are strong, Jokai. You’re strong in a way that Isaac will never, ever understand.”
I saw Larissa smile just a little then, before the woman cleared her throat, “Jokai, if you’re sure about coming along, we’d love to have your help. You’ve definitely earned the right to be here.”
He seemed to get the basic idea of what she was saying, but Larissa translated that for him anyway, just to make sure. Once she did, he gave a firm nod. “I fly,” he repeated. “I help.”
“In that case,” Jazz hurriedly put in, “I think he deserves to wear actual clothes instead of that loin cloth.”
Larissa nodded in agreement, along with the rest of us. “Of course,” the woman answered. “There’s some utility jumpsuits in one of these rooms around here. We’ll find something that fits. And whatever doesn’t can go over with the rest of them so they can divvy them up.”
“Well,” Haiden started then. “Now that that’s decided, let’s help the rest of these guys get settled into their new place for the time being. And then it’ll be time for us to go psycho-hunting.”
“You’re really gonna have to be more specific than that,” I pointed out dryly. “Because with the year I’ve had, saying we’re looking for a psycho only narrows it down to like, a dozen people.”
The man snorted. “Believe it or not, I know what you mean. Heretics have a way of racking up enemies, somehow. Couldn’t be all the holier than thou genocide, or anything.” He glanced sidelong at me then. “Though you do seem to be going above and beyond, in a lot of ways.”
“I like to overachieve,” I replied. “Can’t be lazy when it comes to collecting mortal enemies.”
Shaking his head, Haiden offered, “Don’t worry, we’re about to wipe one of those off your list. Isaac’s biggest advantage was that we didn’t know he was a threat. Now that we do… he’s thrown that away. So when we find him, we’ll take him down, and we’ll make him talk.”
The sentiment was shared by everyone else, and we made our way back to the bridge once Karees and the others had transferred over to the station. I really wanted to stay with them longer, help them get settled in and just… spend time with the people and get to know them. But there wasn’t time. We had no idea how long it would take Isaac to get a hold of someone and negotiate to tell them what he knew. Or if they would just possess him and take it.
Either way, we didn’t have time to sit around with Karees and his people, no matter how much I desperately wanted to. Hell, what I really wanted to do was go home and see my dad, and Avalon, and Shiori, and Wyatt, and Koren, and… well, everyone. But I couldn’t do that either.
Seriously, fuck Isaac and fuck the Seosten Empire. Also, fuck the Fomorians while I was at it. Not because they were responsible for any of this specifically, but generally speaking it felt like a good idea to add them into a list like that just on principle.
Once Jokai had taken his place at the pilot’s seat on the bridge, I asked, “How long is it going to take to get to where Isaac had to land the Bell?”
“Thirty-two hours,” Larissa replied without needing to look at anything. “But the planet he made it to isn’t on any trading network, and it’s about a week from the nearest Seosten base that we know of. So we might still make it there before anyone he could get a message to.”
Sands’ head shook at that as she looked to her mother. “Somehow,” she replied, “I don’t think we’re actually that lucky.”
I had a feeling that she was going to be proven right. Still, as the ship set out on course, I couldn’t help but cross my fingers and offer a silent wish that it would end up being that easy.
“So we’ve got about a day and a half,” Haiden announced then. Turning away from the front viewscreen to look at us, the man continued, “Sounds like enough time to get some training in.”
Part of me felt a sharp pang at that. Training. It’s what Katarin would have wanted us to do, what he would have made us do. Still, I forced that feeling down and nodded. “Sure, let’s train.”
Roxa folded her arms. “Might as well, though to tell you guys the truth…
“The only train I’m really interested in right now is the one I want to run over Isaac with.”