“You must remember to use all of your powers. Practice with every instrument that you possess, so that when you fight, your battles are a symphony.”
It was several days later, and I was standing in the backyard behind the house that Tabbris and I had been assigned, listening to Athena’s advice. Tabbris herself was sitting on a wooden swing hung from a tree nearby as she watched us.
Athena continued, “I have spoken to your partner.” She gestured that way. “And she has shown me some of her memories. You do quite well for the short amount of time you’ve been training, quite well indeed. But you do have a tendency to forget about the powers that you have access to. You focus on one or two in a battle, to the exclusion of others that could help you just as much, if not more. You must learn to use them all.”
After a brief hesitation, I nodded. “I know, it’s just kind of hard to remember everything I have access to in the middle of a fight. I have to focus.”
“Of course.” The woman’s head bowed in agreement. “It must become second nature, your powers must flow one into another and fit together seamlessly. For that, you require practice. Lots of practice.” Her smile quirked up a little bit. “After all, you can’t expect all of your Seosten opponents to be as arrogant and easily manipulated as Charmeine.”
Blinking at that, I blurted, “Okay, do you know what happened to her? You looked at me funny before when I brought her up, and you knew that I could possess you, but I’m not sure how much you… you know, how much you actually know.”
The woman’s eyebrow arched up slightly. “I was aware that you killed her, yes. The specific circumstances were… not explained. But knowing the former Nemesis as I do, I can make several educated guesses.”
Swallowing hard, I looked away for a second. “She possessed my teammate… my friend. She forced him to do awful things. And when we finally fought her, she was just…”
“Toying with you,” Athena finished quietly. “Allowing the fight to drag on far longer than it needed to. Charmeine would say that she was proving a point, breaking your spirit so that you would be more likely to fall in line.”
“Yeah, well she fucked up,” I muttered. “She dismissed Columbus, the boy she had been possessing. She dismissed him and he… hit her at just the right time. It left her open and I…”
“You took advantage.” Athena reached out, putting her finger under my chin to tilt it up. “Good,” she announced flatly. “Never hesitate to take any advantage you can get, Lady Felicity. Your enemies are far beyond you in straight capability. For you to succeed, or even survive, you will need to seize any and every possible edge. That includes cheating, if need be. All that matters is winning.”
Biting my lip, I met the woman’s gaze. “I’ll remember that, when I’m trying to deal with the rest of the Seosten on my list.”
That made her blink, head tilting curiously as she watched me for a moment. “You have a list of Seosten enemies?”
Despite myself, I flushed a little bit. “Yeah, well, they keep fucking with me and the people I care about. I–” Blinking up then, I quickly blurted, “I don’t suppose you have any idea who Manakel might be possessing at Crossroads?”
Her head shook, deflating that brief hope. “I am afraid I don’t have much contact with Earth at the moment. And what contacts I do have out here are either unaware of his host’s identity, or unwilling to share it. I have… made certain outreaches, anticipating that question. But thus far, they have not paid off.”
“If something does come back?” I asked then.
Athena gave a short nod. “I will inform you as soon as I know. You have my word.” She paused then before looking to me seriously. “When you killed Charmeine, you put a target on yourself, one that is even larger than what you already had. There are many Seosten crewmembers of the Olympus who will seek to end your life. You must be ready for them.”
She stepped back then while continuing. “And to be ready, you must train. So, let us begin with this sand manipulation power. Would you mind?”
Obligingly, I withdrew my staff from its place on my hip and triggered the button to let the sand come through the portal that was connected to the canister on my belt. As the sand poured out, I let it fly up and hover in a cloud between us.
Reaching out, Athena let her hand run through the sand for a second before looking to me. “Any fight in which your opponent has exposed eyes, or other ocular orifices, and you were not besieging them with this sand to blind them, you are wasting this power. If their mouths are exposed, choke them with it.”
“I try to do that,” I confirmed. “But a lot of the guys out here are wearing armor.”
“That special sense of yours,” the woman replied, “the one that allows you to identify and understand the position of objects that are close to you. Use that to identify where any chinks or openings in the armor happen to be. Let your sand flow to those openings and fill areas such as the knees and elbows, any joints. Send the sand into those areas to make it harder and slower for them to move. Making their arms and legs bend or extend even a second slower or less can mean the difference between winning and losing.
“Send it into their shoes or boots, so that they have to step on sand. Rub it over their skin to give them burns. Force it under their fingernails. Find any opening to any sensitive tissue and exploit it. This power is very strong, if you use it properly. Particularly if you use it in conjunction with that item sense power so that you know where those openings are.”
As I nodded quickly to that advice, she continued. “This new power that you have picked up, the one that allows you to transport any object from one part of your body to any other part of your body. You don’t seem to have done very much with that.”
I nodded a little sheepishly at that. “Yeah, I guess I haven’t really given myself much of a chance to practice with that one. Though it does make getting dressed a breeze. So I guess you could say that I’m incorporating it into my lion transformation.”
She gave me a little smile, chuckling. “Yes, of course. But it can be used in other ways as well. You can move your staff from one hand to the next without a second’s pause. But more than that, you can transfer items from your pockets or belt. Items that you have prepared with spells, or other abilities. Your new ability to embed sound into an object, for example. Imagine being in a fight, with a rock embedded with a very distracting sound in your pocket. In the midst of this fight, you transfer the stone from your pocket to your foot and kick it away while activating it. The sound distracts your opponent, drawing their attention that way for the brief instant you need to deal the finishing blow.”
Absorbing that advice, I nodded slowly with a smile. “That’s a pretty good idea,” I admitted. “Plus, there’s those flashbang rocks that I learned how to make. Those could work too.”
From where she was swinging, Tabbris piped up. “What about the Kevlar spell? You know, the one that makes projectiles lose their momentum just before they hit you. They only work against a few hits before the spell wears off, but what if you enchanted a bunch of little things like handkerchiefs with the spell and put them in your pocket. Then, just before something was about to hit you, you move one of the handkerchiefs to the spot where it’s about to hit.”
I nodded quickly to that. “See, that’s another great idea. I mean, it might be a little hard for me to focus on that, and on fighting at the same time. This is a lot to keep track of.”
“That,” Athena interjected, “is why this partnership is so important.” She looked to the younger girl, gesturing for her to come over. “If you wish this to be a true partnership, it must function as one. Everything that Lady Tabbris said just now could be done by her, while Lady Felicity here focuses on the actual fight. Even small things, such as monitoring the item sense power to keep track of where everything is, and similar abilities can be maintained and monitored by Lady Tabbris.”
From the look on the little Seosten’s face, Athena might as well have suggested that she murder me in my sleep. Her eyes widened, and she gave a mortified squeak before blurting, “You mean use her powers without asking permission first? You mean just do it? But, but, but…”
I interrupted,“Hey, we’re partners. I trust you. You can totally use those kind of powers to keep us both safe. That would be kind of cool actually, you run the powers like that, and I focus on actually fighting. If we practiced enough, get good at communicating when we need to, and you get good at just taking over certain abilities at the right time, we could be pretty damn dangerous together.”
“That,” Athena announced with a smile, “is precisely what I have been trying to teach you.”
Just under a week later, a voice abruptly announced, “Are you sure you’re a Reaper-Bonded?”
Blinking at the question coming from behind me, I turned away from the door of the classroom where I had just dropped Tabbris off for another few hours of learning from Mr. Reinswield.
The boy standing behind me was just a couple inches taller than I was. But other than the height difference between them, he basically looked like a male version of Bandy, the adorable little red and white fox-bunny girl.
“Uh, yeah. I mean,” I amended quickly, “not a natural one or anything, but the Seosten-created pseudo-version, sure.”
“Sorry.” The bunny boy’s ears dropped just a little bit and he looked kind of sheepish as he admitted, “That was probably pretty rude. I was just thinking, you don’t set off the internal alarm that those Reaper-Bonded do. And Reapers themselves, you know. Oh, and uh, I’m Grisson. I was just dropping off Bandy and I, uh, saw you.”
“Hi, Grisson.” I smiled. “I’m Flick. And yeah, I am definitely a Reaper-Bonded. But I also kind of have a power that makes it so that I don’t set off those alerts, unless you see me actually use another power.”
“Pssst.” From down the hall, a green-skinned face poked around the corner. The boy it belong to stage whispered, “Did you ask her about it yet?”
Wearing a long-suffering expression, Grisson slowly put his hand up to the end of his snout and heaved a long, heavy sigh before half-turning his head to look back that way. His voice was a loud hiss. “Funnily enough, I think she can hear you. Because she’s standing right here, you tetrikade.”
Resisting the urge to snicker (mostly anyway), I calmly replied, “Hey, he didn’t know. Maybe one of the powers I inherited was the ability to go completely deaf at inopportune times.”
Grisson smiled at that, letting me see his row of sharp canines. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works,” he informed me before hesitating. Looking back over the shoulder, he gestured to me. “Do, uh, you wanna come see something? I mean, if you don’t have anything else you have to do right now, or anything.” Shifting nervously on his feet, the boy gave an awkward shrug. “You don’t have to. Not that we could tell you what you had to do or anything. I mean, you know…”
Finally rescuing the boy from his floundering, I nodded. “Sure, Athena is busy right now, so she can’t beat me up again until this afternoon. I’ve got some time to kill. I was going to explore a little more, but I guess I could see what you guys are up to.” Pausing then, I asked, “But don’t you have class right now?”
The answer came from the green boy down the hall, who called out with his head still poking around the corner. “Our classes aren’t until after lunch! We’re totally free until then!”
Rolling his eyes, Grisson nodded nonetheless. “He’s right, we have classes starting in the afternoon.”
“Well,” I replied, “in that case, lead the way. And maybe you can introduce me to your friend.”
Or rather, as it turned out, friends. As we turned the corner, I found three more figures standing there waiting. One was the green-skinned boy who had been sticking his head around the corner. The other two were a boy and a girl who looked like they were twins, or at least very closely related. Each had steel skin, like a metal statue, and their arms were long enough to reach the floor despite them being just over six feet tall. Despite their height, I could tell they were young, probably younger than me. Or at least their bodies hadn’t fully matured. I didn’t know how long their species maturation rate was. For all I knew, they were two-hundred years old and would take another one hundred before they were fully grown. Alien species were weird sometimes. But, then again, they probably thought the exact same thing about us.
“We are fifteen,” the girl piped up quickly, clearly trying to be helpful. “By earth years, that is.”
Blinking at that, I asked, “Wait, did you actually just read my mind?”
Looking a little abashed, the metal girl quickly shook her head. “No, no. It’s not exactly mind reading. It’s more that when people have questions around us, we kind of feel the same questions. If there’s a lot of people, or the question is really generic, we can’t tell where it’s coming from. But with this one, well, it was pretty obvious. I–I’m sorry if that was prying. We can’t really turn it off.”
The boy beside her nodded. “When we get older, it’s more than just questions, and they get clearer. We feel what people, you know, what they want. We feel when they’re cold, when they’re hungry, when they want the door to be opened. Stuff like that.”
The green boy cut in then. “You know how lots of rich and powerful people want servants that can anticipate their needs without being told? That’s what an Ullmis can do.”
With a nod, the metal boy (an Ullmis, I supposed) added, “I’m Aerlicht. This is my sister, Ferrdreis.”
“And I’m Layuerk,” the green boy put in. “But most people just call me Lurk.”
“Well,” I replied, “good to meet you guys. Like I said before, I’m Flick. Grisson said that you had something to show me?”
After exchanging brief glances, the four nodded and turn to head down the hall. I followed, letting them lead me out of the school area and through a brief maze of corridors until we reached a door that was set out of the way. It looked sort of like where I would expect to find a janitor’s utility closet or something.
“Behold,” Grisson announced while putting his hand near the pad next to the doorway, “our treasure.”
With that, the boy hit the button to open the door, and gestured for me to go in. I did, stepping through into what turned out to be a large room with tables everywhere. Scattered across all these tables were a dozen different televisions. Earth televisions. They were the really old, big boxy kind that they had before the flat panel versions. And with them were a bunch of different video game systems. I saw an original Nintendo, Super and N64 versions, a Sega Genesis, even an Atari. None of them looked any newer than the early 90s at the latest.
Standing behind me, Ferrdreis explained, “Some of it is scavenged from what the Seosten throw away whenever they pull in humans from earth, or when a colony gets absorbed, and some of it is from what refugees had with them.“
Her brother nodded, “We trade for it, or work for it, or just go digging through the garbage. Some of the stuff inside the machines is different than it was, but it still works.”
They showed me a cabinet at the back of the room where they had dozens and dozens of game cartridges all stacked up. Actually, there were probably a few hundred of them. A lot were duplicates, or too damaged to actually work. The damaged ones were piled up near the bottom, which they said they used for parts, or to try to fix later. But even going by the ones they actually had, there were a ton of games.
Running my hands slowly over the collection of game cartridges, I asked, “Why do you guys have all of these?”
“To play?” Lurk offered with a shrug. “We play the games, and we watch the movies.” He pointed then to another cabinet on the other side of the room, where I could see hundreds of VCR tapes of all different kinds.
“We like Earth things,” Grisson put in. “That’s kind of what this is, the Earth club. We really wanna go there someday.”
Pushing up the switch on one of the game systems, Aerlicht picked up a black controller and offered it to me. “We were hoping you could show us how to get through some of these.”
“Play video games?” I echoed a bit blankly. Looking around then, I shrugged. “All of this stuff is kind of from before my time. But sure, why not? I need a break anyway.
“Let’s play some games.”