Gathering Force 33-02

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“So, what have you guys been doing while we’ve been apart?” I asked a bit conversationally a few seconds later as our little group started to make our way through the crowd to where the others were supposed to be.

I saw Roxa and Sands exchange glances briefly before the blond girl replied, “Let’s just say it’s been a hectic month.”

Sands nodded. “Like we said, we thought you were taken by Radueriel, so we’ve been fighting our way through anyone that could give us a hint about where his most secret lab was, where we thought he was keeping you. You should’ve seen Mom. She was… really mad. When she thought you and Tabbris were being experimented on, she basically went ballistic.”

By the end of that, she had lowered her voice, for all the good that did. I was positive that her mother had heard every word, even if she kept her focus elsewhere.

Roxa nodded, before glancing to the young Seosten girl beside me. “Speaking of which, so the plan is just to pretend that you guys just met during this month?”

“Not permanently,” I replied. “We just want to give them a chance to get to know for herself, without the weight of her having possessed me for so long. Once they know her, then we’ll tell them the truth. You know, if we can.”

“You mean if they can be trusted?” Sands asked carefully.

My head shook a little. “I know they can be trusted, after everything we’ve been through with them already. It’s just… this is a lot and them knowing it puts them in danger.” Belatedly, I corrected myself, “Okay, so they’re already in danger even if they don’t know about it. But them knowing about it puts her in even more danger. And, you know, they’re still getting used to this whole trusting Alters thing.”

Again, the other two girls exchange glances. The fact that they kept doing that told me a lot about how much they had been through in the past few weeks. Roxa started slowly, “Well, as far as Jazz goes, I’m pretty sure you don’t have to worry about her and the whole trusting Alters thing. She’s kind of… advanced as far as that goes.”

I blinked at that, head tilting as I glanced toward Tabbris. She offered me an equally confused shrug, and I looked back to the others. “What does that mean?”

Sands was clearly suppressing a little bit of a snicker. “Oh, you’ll see,” she replied mysteriously.

I wanted to push for more information on that, but Larissa spoke up first. “Once we get the others, we can all portal back to our ship. She looked over to Athena and Yup, her eyes narrowing just a little bit. “We’ll need to get a lot more information from you about exactly what’s going on before we agree to go anywhere with you.”

Athena herself lowered her head in acknowledgment of that. “Of course, Miss Larissa,” she replied easily. “Your suspicion after your charges’ long absences was expected. Given my people’s general reputation, this could quite easily be a trap.”

“And your acknowledgment of that doesn’t make it any less likely,” Larissa pointed out, though her voice was mild. “I do hope that you will be more open to full introductions once we are away from this world.”

“Indeed,” Athena promised with another nod. “Once we are aboard your ship, we will discuss everything.”

Before anyone else could say anything, Sands raised her hand to point off in the distance. “There they are,” she announced.

I looked that way. Sure enough, I immediately spotted Haiden and Gordon speaking with one of the merchants. A second later, Jazz and Jokai came into view.

The two of them were holding hands. And not in a buddy system sort of way either. It looked like…

“Yup,” Roxa confirmed, clearly reading my expression. “They’re a thing now. Not exactly sure how it happened, but like we said, she’s definitely all in on the trusting Alters thing.”

“Uh… yeah.” I coughed, unsure what to say. Wow, I had known that Jazz felt close to Jokai after all that had happened, but I hadn’t known exactly how close. I really had missed a lot while I was away.

By that point, Haiden had noticed us. His eyes widened a little bit as he glanced over our way, before saying something to Gordon. I saw even the dark skinned boy’s normally unflappable demeanor jump a bit as he looked our way, his mouth opening in what was clearly surprise. And if he was noticeably surprised, that really said a lot.

Both of our groups convened, Jazz abruptly blurting, “Flick! You’re— I mean you’re not—” she glanced briefly toward Roxa for verification.

“She’s not possessed,” the other girl confirmed.  

“And it’s really her,” Sands added. “Mom double-checked.”

Err, she had? I wasn’t sure how, or when exactly she had done that. But I was glad that I had passed whatever kind of inspection that had been.

I was pulled into an embrace by Haiden then. “Hey kid,” he announced while ruffling my hair. “You look good. A lot better than we thought you’d look anyway. Should’ve known you’d end up making friends.” That last part was added with an appraising glance toward Athena and Yup, as well as a brief glance toward Tabbris. But most of his attention centered on the older Seosten. I saw his eyes narrow briefly as he took in her appearance with an obviously appraising look.

Gordon, meanwhile, gave me a nod. His mouth twitched up in what was as close as he tended to get to a smile. “Glad to see that you’re okay.”

Raising my hands, I held them in front of my face as if warding off a crazy fan girl. “Whoa, whoa, don’t get so emotional, buddy. I’m not sure I can handle it.”

While the others were snickering a little bit at that, Jokai’s attention remained riveted on Athena. I didn’t think that he actually knew exactly who she was, but he did seem fully aware that she was a powerful Seosten. He looked scared, like he knew that she could kill him in an instant if she was of the mind to, but also like he wasn’t going to back down or run away despite that.  

“It’s okay,” I quickly reassured him as much as I could. “She’s a friend. I promise, she is not going to hurt you, or any of us.” Boy, I really hoped that he understood enough English at that point to follow my meaning. Especially since Tabbris was standing beside me, rather than possessing me. I really didn’t want to have to try to explain why I didn’t know as much Latin as I should at that point.

Apparently he did, because the chameleon-alter glanced to me, then back to Athena, before nodding as his attention returned to me one final time. The man spoke carefully and slowly. “You are safe. This is good.” He smiled. “Very good.”

Smiling back at him, I slyly replied, “Yeah, and speaking of good, it looks like you guys have been having a pretty good time yourselves.” With that,  I nodded toward his and Jazz’s clasped hands.

The two of them flushed noticeably at that, and Jazz murmured, “It’s kind of—”

“A long story?” I guessed. “Yeah, there seems to be a lot of that going around. Pretty cool though, you guys are cute. But what do you call yourselves? Jazzkai? Hidden Heretic? Jokazz?”

Coughing, Jazz very clearly changed the subject. “Who’re these guys?” She asked while gesturing to Athena, Yup, and Tabbris.

Before I could say anything, Larissa interrupted. “We’ll discuss all that back on the ship,” she announced. “Let’s head back to the extraction point and we can talk about all those things that we all really need to talk about.”

Jazz gave me a hug then, quickly and tightly. Her voice was soft. “I really am glad that you’re okay. We were all scared for you. You…” She swallowed audibly, meeting my gaze. “You saved me. You could have boosted yourself past me, or tried to boost both of us together.”

My head shook at that, and I returned her hug. “I didn’t know if boosting both of us would get us to the portal in time,” I replied easily.

The other girl started to say something else. She made it sound like there was something caught in her throat, before just shaking her head. Together we all walked the way that Larissa was guiding us. I saw Jazz and Gordon give Tabbris brief looks here and there. They clearly noticed how close the girl was to me, and were curious. But no one said anything as we made our way through the market.

Eventually, we reached what looked like an abandoned building. Larissa looked both ways, then held up her hand in front of the doorway and said something. There was a series of clicking sounds, and the door opened. We all filed inside of a small, dingy room with a single small metal ball sitting in the middle of it.

Yup, who had been incredibly quiet up to that point, took one look at the orb before announcing, “Portal spell. A really powerful one.”

Haiden gave the small, purple man a brief, curious look before nodding. “ A friend of ours set it up. It’ll take us back to the ship. Us and everyone in this room.” Reaching down, he picked up the orb and glanced around briefly. “So, if everyone’s ready?”

There were no objections, specially not for me. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ship. For one thing I really wanted to see Dries, who I was positive had been the one to set up that portal spell to begin with. If I couldn’t see Avalon anytime soon, the least I could do was see how her great-great-great whatever ancestor was doing.

And of course there was… My eyes widened as I realize that, with all the distractions that had been going on, there was one incredibly important thing that I needed to know about. Looking toward the others, I said a single word. “Isaac?”

Holding that orb in his hand, Haiden flinched. His head gave a slight shake along with the others. “Couldn’t get answers out of the kid,” he replied flatly. “Tell you why not once we get up there.”

Well, that was ominous. And more than a little confusing. But before I could say anything else, the man activated the orb, and the world spun around us.

Once everything had resolved back into its proper place, we were standing back in that familiar cargo bay of the ship. It was mostly empty once more sense all of Jokai’s people had moved off into that other base, and the ant-like Kenkeans… “Wait, are the Kenkeans okay?”

Jazz nodded. “Yeah, they’re all moved in with the other guys back at the asteroid base. We’ve taken them a couple loads of supplies in between, you know, looking for you.”

“Right.” I took a breath, then let it out. “So, dare I ask, what is the deal with Isaac?“

Sands’ response was as immediate as it was flat and monotone. “He’s a piece of shit psycho traitor who is worth less than the barnacles clinging to the broken remains of a rowboat on the bottom of the ocean? Actually, do barnacles poop? Because I’m pretty sure he’s worth less than that too.”

“More to the point,” her mother put in with a brief glance to her, “we can’t get answers out of him. Not even by possessing him.”

I blinked at that, surprised. “What do you mean you can’t get answers by possessing him? Possession is pretty much the trump card. It gets answers. Between Dries’ magic and someone possessing him, you should be able to get everything you need.”

“That’s the problem,” Sands replied, “No one can possess him. He can’t be possessed.”

That made my head snap around as I did an almost violent double take. “What do you mean, he can’t be possessed? It’s not like he knows how to ca— oh son of a bitch.”

”Yep,” Roxa confirmed my curse. “The asshole can block possession. Turns out, he still had a couple surprises left behind in this ship. Like cameras that he was using to watch when they were teaching us the dibs spell. So he knows how to cast that.”

“But that doesn’t last forever,” I pointed out while feeling my annoyance manifest in the form of a headache.

“No,” Haiden replied. “But it does last for a really long time. That was the point, that’s what we intended it to do. Remember, the whole point was to make it too hard for the Seosten to just wait out the effect. We wanted to be able to escape before they could just wait out the spell and then possess us anyway.”

Larissa nodded. “He also seems to have used the blood connection that he forged with the Kenkeans to supercharge its duration. Which, let me tell you, is incredibly dark, dark magic. He definitely didn’t learn that at Crossroads. But it means we have no idea how long it will last.”

My mouth opened and shut before I managed a dark, “There are no words for the kind of bullshit that this is.”

“Tell us about it,” Sands muttered. “We’ve been dealing with it for the past few weeks.”

“The real problem,” Haiden announced then, “is that we don’t want to go messing with the spell too much, because we’re still not exactly sure what Sariel did to set up in the first place. We’re afraid that if we worked too hard to take it off of him, it could have a rippling effect across everyone else. And if the spell gets taken down completely, well, we’re all kind of screwed.”

Roxa nodded. “Screwed seems to be where we live in general now. And before we say anything else in front of all these people, who are all these people?”

Smothering the urge to keep randomly cursing about Isaac, I stepped back and gestured. “Right, uh, first, this is Auriel. I guess you guys would know her better as Athena.”

Okay, yeah, I did get a little bit of a kick out of the collective double take they all gave at that. It made me giggle inwardly. Totally worth it. Well, everyone except Haiden. He just gave a slight nod, clearly either having known or heavily suspected her identity the entire time.

One corner of her mouth twitching up a little bit, Athena gave a slight nod. “It is a pleasure to meet those who have been giving my former colleagues so much trouble. They have been quite thoroughly vexed by you.”

“You… you’re…” Larissa looked flabbergasted. “Sariel mentioned you. She said that you were banished, imprisoned far away..”

Athena gave a low, humorless chuckle. “Yes,” she murmured. “My people do tend to try and pretend that they are firmly in control of the situation.”

Haiden spoke up then. “She thought you might find your way out at some point. Told me a lot about you. She wasn’t sure how much you would… want to talk to her, but she said that you could be trusted, if you ever showed up.”

“She can be. She’s the one who saved me back there,” I put in. “She was possessing that soldier who tripped and slowed them all down. She showed herself when I got left behind, and pretty much wiped the floor with that entire army. Then she took me to her base. They’ve got a bunch of people living there. There’s even a school.”

Haiden raised an eyebrow at that. “You weren’t kidding about it being a long story,” he muttered. “Sounds like quite a place though. Must be pretty well hidden to stay off the Seosten radar. No way they’d let a place like that stay up if they knew where it was.”

I coughed. “Well hidden? You have no idea. Anyway, this is Yup.” I gestured to the small, purple man. “His people are… let’s just say they’re really special. He’s the one that helped us find you guys, and brought us over to that planet you were on.”

The man himself gave a quick nod. He extended his small hand to Larissa. “It’s a right pleasure to meet you finally. I sort of feel like I know you’ll like my own family already, what with all the time I’ve been spending scouring the galaxy for you.”

Blinking, Larissa accepted the man’s hand, shaking it firmly. “Well, sorry we were so hard to find. Especially since we were apparently looking for you too.”

Sands coughed then, looking to me. “Seriously, you’re safe. That’s just… holy shit. But um, does that mean that… you know, our lord and savior—”

I grinned despite myself, digging in my pocket until I came out with the figure in question, holding him up proudly. “Herbie’s fine. See? He got a little scuffed through all that, but I got him cleaned up.”

Grinning back at me, the brunette girl gave me a thumbs up. “Oh, good. As long as he’s safe.”

Haiden was shaking his head. “Someday, I’ll understand the point of that rock.”

Huffing a little, I gave Herbie a little rub. “The point? The point is that he’s the hero of this whole story. Aren’t you, buddy?”

“And who’s your other new friend here?” That was Jazz. She was nodding toward Tabbris. “Hi, what’s your name?”

My little partner glanced to me slightly, her eyes briefly questioning before she looked back the other way with a soft, “H-hello, I’m Tabbris. W-when Flick showed up at the—”

“Stop,” I abruptly interrupted. My head gave a violent shake. Giving a brief, apologetic look toward Athena, I turned back to the others. “I can’t do this. I can’t lie to you guys, especially not right now, not about this. Not to you guys.” Pointedly, I looked to Jazz and Gordon. And to Jokai. “The others already know, and it was supposed to be safer for her to introduce her to you like this. But I can’t lie to you. I just– I can’t. Even if it was temporary, even if it was safer. I can’t just lie to you. After everything we’ve been through, everything you’ve already accepted, you deserve to know the truth.”

“Wait, what?” Jazz did a brief double take, looking totally lost. “What truth? What are you talking about?”

It was Gordon, of course, who seemed to immediately get it. The boy looked at me, then to Tabbris, then back again. His voice with certain. “She’s not a new friend, is she?”

My head shook once more. “No,” I replied while reaching out to pull Tabbris up in front of me. Wrapping both arms around her, I continued. “Like she said, her name is Tabbris, and even though I didn’t know about it until right before we got transported off Earth, she’s been with me for a long time. She’s my partner. She’s been possessing me in secret ever since I was a little girl, and protecting me from any other Seosten who might have tried to possess me. She’s awesome, and amazing, and she’s been working her butt off to keep me safe.

“She’s my little sister, and I am not going to lie to you guys about that.”

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22 comments

  1. Happy April Fools-Easter-whatever-you-celebrate-today-if-anything! Here is my April Fools gift to you guys… an actual, honest, real early chapter with no jokes or tricks. 😉 And if you like that, I definitely wouldn’t mind a quick click right here to vote for this story on Top Web Fiction!

    Today’s tags are: Between Flick’s Extra Training And Using Tabbris‚ & The Fighting That Sands And The Others Have Done‚ Avalon Might Have Some Decent Sparring Partners., Clearly Jazz’s Plan Is That The Painting Of Kaiser Wilhelm Can’t Stare At Them Making Out If The Guy She’s Making Out With Basically Turns Invisible, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Gordon Kuhn, Haiden Moon, Herbie, Jazz Rhodes, Jokai, Larissa Mason, Lord Yup, Nimue/Athena, Roxa Pittman, Sands, Tabbris

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Just a lack of actual space to use that I couldn’t figure out how make it fit in the space that I had. ‘Working With’ takes a lot more letters than ‘Using’ does. But yeah.

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    1. Clearly Jazz’s Plan Is That The Painting Of Kaiser Wilhelm Can’t Stare At Them Making Out If The Guy She’s Making Out With Basically Turns Invisible, Felicity Chambers

      XD

      But can Jokai hide from his mustache?

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  2. Well, that was adorable.

    I wonder if Gordon was tipped off by Flick not speaking Latin to Jokai. Also, how old is Jokai? I thought he was older than a closer inspection

    I still think that at some point someone is going to suspect Tabbris being inside Flock for so long affected her mind at least a little. I know I would if I didn’t have direct access to her thoughts.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We already know it did to some degree Remember back when Tabbris popped out to talk to Roxa and Flick realized she didn’t feel quite right without Tabbris in there with her?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I also don’t think that’s actually what was happening there. That moment struck me as Flick getting attached to Tabbris naturally without any mental shenanigans going on.

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    2. Also, how old is Jokai? I thought he was older than a closer inspection

      Older than a closer inspection? I… don’t follow the question, lol. But Jokai is essentially in his late teens, as far as maturity goes.

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  3. >A second later, Jazz and Jokai came into view.
    The two of them were holding hands. And not in a buddy system sort of way either. It looked like…

    …Huh. I wasn’t expecting that development. Time will tell if their relationship will last in some form.

    >“A long story?” I guessed. “Yeah, there seems to be a lot of that going around. Pretty cool though, you guys are cute. But what do you call yourselves? Jazzkai? Hidden Heretic? Jokazz?”

    Pffft. Clearly, Flick has her priorities in order.
    *Elsewhere*
    Shiori: “I feel like I missed a bout of punnery/wordplay. Darn.”

    >Coughing, Jazz very clearly change the subject. “Who’re these guys?” She asked while gesturing to Athena, Yup, and Tabbris.

    There’s a typo in the first sentence above. Should “change” be “changed”?

    >Larissa nodded. “He also seems to have used the blood connection that he forged with the Kenkeans to supercharge its duration. Which, let me tell you, is incredibly dark, dark magic. He definitely didn’t learn that at Crossroads. But it means we have no idea how long it will last.”

    …So, the psychopath keeps on pulling out new tricks. At this point, I’m half-suspecting he finds *some* way of breaking out. Better to kill him at this point, imo, since his primary use as a source of info is a bust.

    >Smothering the urge to keep randomly cursing about Isaac, I stepped back and gestured. “Right, uh, first, this is Auriel. I guess you guys would know her better as Athena.”
    Okay, yeah, I did get a little bit of a kick out of the collective double take they all gave at that. It made me giggle inwardly.

    Lol. “Hey guys, here’s another Olympian, and this one’s *not* a sadistic bitch. :)”

    >“Stop,” I abruptly interrupted. My head gave a violent shake. Giving a brief, apologetic look toward Athena, I turned back to the others. “I can’t do this. I can’t lie to you guys, especially not right now, not about this. Not to you guys.”

    Hm. Well, while I understand her desire to be upfront and forthright with her friends, it does mean the planning earlier on how to introduce Tabbris was somewhat wasted. Oh well.

    Overall though, nice update Cerulean.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Another great chapter. After the conversation at the top, it really would have felt wrong to lie about Tabbris, so I’m glad she told the truth. And the way she went about it was adorable (it feels weird not to be writing “sadorable” here, but there was nothing sad.) I’ve been waiting for Flick to publicly claim Tabbris here sister, and the delivery here was wonderful. For a second I was worried what Tabbris would thinkable the Flick changing their plan without consulting here, but I think the enthusiastic claiming by Flick might have made up for it.

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  5. Have no fear, Flick, the Tabbris Adorableness Effect will kick in and win everyone over in short order! 🙂

    Snarky!Sands is Best!Sands.

    I vote for “Jokazz.” It just rolls off the tongue, you know? 🙂

    …Kaiser Wilhelm? I think I missed a joke, here.

    HERRRRRRBBBBBIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! Herbie-Herbie-Herbie-Herbie-Herbie!
    (we need to get Herbie in the kitchen, just so someone can make “Can you SMELL… what the ROCK… is COOKING?” jokes. Avalon will probably facepalm herself unconscious….)

    Larissa going all Mama Bear over the thought of Tabbris being Raddy’s guinea pig… by the time this story is done, Tabby is going to have *so many* adoptive parents and siblings (plus the originals) that she’s going to need a semi truck every Christmas to cart away all her gifts. Which is only fair, as Tabby is Best!Seosten, as well as Best!Sister, and has a definite XMas/Birthday gift deficit to be made up.
    (Note, I’m sure Larissa was worried about Flick, too, but I suspect Flick is more like an “adopted niece” in Larissa’s head, whereas Tabby is more like “adopted daughter”)

    …random thought. Athena has been training Tabby to act as Flick’s “tailgunner,” so to speak. But… has she had them switch roles? I mean, have they done any training with Flick posessing Tabbris? Flick needs to practice her possession techniques, too, and it seems like the role-reversal would help both of them work on their pilot/tailgunner teamwork.
    Not to mention, the thought of them pulling a “You thought it was Tabbris, but it was I, Flick!” maneuver on some unsuspecting black-hat just tickles me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not only an adopted daughter but one that Larissa had in her head as her responsibility. Until they were able to get Sariel back on Earth Larissa would have been the only one Tabbris the toddler would have had and Larissa knew it.

      Larissa met Flick as an seventeen year old Heretic who was leading a slave escape which is vastly different from a two year old toddler who was smuggled out from Kushiel. First impressions matter, even putting aside that Tabbris while capable in her specialties is just a lot less capable of taking care of herself

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yep. Tabbris is going to wind up with:
      Five or six parents: Lincoln, Joselyn, Haiden, Sariel, Larissa and maybe Deveron.
      Three siblings minimum: Flick, Vanessa, Tristan.

      She’s basically the center node of impending Atherby/Moon/Mason/Chambers family blob. And the reason it’s a blob rather than Larissa and the Mason twins moving in with the Moons.

      Liam is off to the side in despair and isolation

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    3. They have not yet really practiced the ‘Flick possessing Tabbris’ thing, no. Mostly because simply getting Tabbris comfortable acting on her own/in her own body is a big step. But yes, that could be quite fun. 😉

      And as far as the Kaiser Wilhelm thing goes, this bit from 10-03 (which, I believe, was the very first mention of Jazz’s existence):

      The boy, another of my fellow Bystander-kin, gave Zeke a long look before replying. “Yeah, wasn’t it that Kaiser… uhh.. Kaiser Wilhelm dude? The guy that looks like Saul Tigh from Battlestar Galactica only with the epic sideburns and mustache. They’ve got a picture of him in the hall outside my room.”

      “Hey, yeah, that guy,” one of the other boys put in. “There’s a picture in the library too. Dude looks mad strict. Jazz made me cover it up cuz she thought the guy was staring at us while we were–” Cutting himself off, the boy glanced toward Professor Dare. “Uh, you know, while we were studying.”

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      1. Flick should get a duplication power, then we can have copy-Flick possessing Tabbris possessing Flick 😀

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      2. I wonder if a duplicate Flick could possess Flick. And, if she kills enough Seosten to get the boost, if a duplicate Flick possessing Flick could boost…herself.

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