Hoc Est Bellum – 34-01

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“Okay, seriously, now that we have time, you’ve gotta tell me what the deal with Arthur is.”

About three days into our little trip toward what was probably going to be the closest thing to hell that I could possibly imagine, I was standing in the small kitchen area, watching Athena bake a cake. No, seriously, she had an apron and everything. It was incredibly surreal. I’d asked her about the point of the apron and she had said that demonstrating proper safety and etiquette measures was important as a teacher, even if she personally didn’t really need them.

I saw the slight smile cross the woman’s face as she remained quiet for a few seconds, sliding a pan into the oven before straightening up to look back at me curiously. “The ‘deal’ with Arthur?”

“You know what I mean.” Folding my arms across my stomach, I pressed, “Where is he? You said you trained him to help break the Bystander Effect, but he was ambushed and his power was broken. That’s what you said. You didn’t say he was killed, you didn’t say he was dead. You said his power was broken ‘for the time being’. What does that mean? And where is he now?”

I had tried to bring this up before, but it was always the wrong time, or we would get interrupted. Now, we were on the ship and I couldn’t think of a better time to get some actual answers.

For a moment, Athena regarded me in contemplative silence, like she was deciding exactly how much she should tell me. Then the woman gave a faint nod. “I have told you of Chayyiel.”

“The Olympian who was a kid when the experiments happened,” I remembered from the discussion that had happened on the station. “She was Hestia on Earth. The one who still looks like a kid even though it was like a million years ago because it froze your aging processes.”

“Precisely,” Athena confirmed. “As I said before, Chayyiel was the daughter of the program’s director. There is much more to that, but that can come later. For the moment, all you really need to know for this story is that she has a highly developed sense of honor and fair play.”

Blinking, I shook my head. “She’s still on the Seosten’s side and she has a sense of honor?”

“She also has a highly developed sense of loyalty,” the woman informed me. “Chayyiel does not always, or even often, agree with a lot of the measures that are taken. But she believes in the Seosten society in the long run. She believes that any changes must be made from within, and that the Seosten are still the preferable winners over the Fomorians. When she encounters open abuse or anything she deems too dishonorable, she puts a stop to it. Those under her direct employ are some of the most well-treated subjects within the Seosten Empire. But she cannot change everything overnight, and despite her power and the respect she commands, particularly since becoming a member of the Seraphim, there is only so much she can do.”

“A member of the Seraphim,” I echoed, “which is part of the ruling caste, your senate or whatever.”

Athena’s head dipped once in confirmation then. “Just so. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. You wished to know what happened to Arthur. Chayyiel is a large part of that.”

“Her… power, she could have all his skill and see any weaknesses he had,” I murmured quietly.

“Which,” Athena pointed out, “were not many. But they fought several times, always to an essential stand-still. Neither could entirely best the other, and Chayyiel’s sense of honor meant that she refused to have others brought in to assist her. Arthur was one of her strongest challengers, and if she was going to win, she wanted to do so herself. That, and I also believe that she was considering…” She trailed off then, biting her lip in brief silence.

“She was considering what?” I asked, even more curious now.

“She was considering,” a voice that definitely wasn’t Athena’s spoke up from the nearby doorway, “making him her new primary host.”

Spinning a bit at that, since I hadn’t sensed anyone coming (not even my item sense had gone off, despite the fact that the intruder was definitely close enough to have triggered it), I found myself staring at a man standing there who looked like Westley from The Princess Bride.

Aside from that apt comparison, the guy wasn’t familiar at all. Which, considering we were on a spaceship in mid-transit, was clearly a problem. But the much bigger problem? He was holding Tabbris in both arms.

Earlier, my little partner had shown me how she had used the power to move items around my body to affect individual objects within something else that was touching me, like a bag. Or, in this case, the container for my staff. Now, a thought instantly transferred it into my hand at the sight of the intruder holding Tabbris, and I started to blurt a threat.

“Stop.” Athena’s hand found my shoulder, bringing me up short. That was all she said at first, that single word while she held me back from the man. When I glanced that way in confusion, she was staring at him. Her gaze was utterly unreadable, as she remained silent.

“Thanks.” The man gave a roguish smile, winking at us while he set Tabbris on the floor. “Wouldn’t wanna have to fend off your protege, Auriel. She seems fierce.”

“It’s Athena, Lucifer,” she informed him in a flat voice. “I don’t go by Auriel anymore.”

Well, that was something. My head snapped around, whipping back and forth between the two as I sputtered a bit in total incomprehension, even as Tabbris darted over to me. She caught my hand, holding tight even as I returned the squeeze before pulling the girl up against myself protectively.

“Funny,” the man replied, “I don’t go by Lucifer anymore either. The name’s lost something of its appeal.”

More silence then, and more stillness. That stretched on for another handful of seconds before Athena abruptly moved. Her hand left my shoulder, and she was past me before I knew what was happening. In a blur of motion, the Seosten woman was suddenly right in front of the intruder.

And then she embraced him. Her arms went around the man, and the two were hugging incredibly tightly. It wasn’t a romantic hug, as far as I could tell. They weren’t lost lovers or anything. It was the embrace of long, long-lost friends, of family. I could see some kind of tension fade out of both of their postures as they all-but collapsed into one another. Each held the other up, their own strength entirely devoted to keeping each other on their feet. And each clearly trusted the other enough not to let them fall in the process.

It was one of the first times I had ever seen her get emotional, or seem… well, for lack of a better word, human. Seeing this guy, it clearly deeply affected her.

“I am sorry.” That was the first thing that Athena said, the first words that finally came from her mouth after a long few moments like that. “Lucifer, I am so very sorry about what happened to you, about what they have done.”

“They’ve done just as much to you,” the man… Apollo… reminded her. “You’ve lost plenty, Athena. And I told you, it’s not Lucifer.”

Leaning back a bit, the Seosten woman regarded him without letting go. “Apologies. I… refused to stop using that name, because I did not want to allow them to destroy it entirely. Lucifer is not what they have turned your name into. You are my… you are my friend. You have been my friend for so very long, and they… Puriel and his…” Her face twisted in anger, and she shook her head. “You are not that.”

“I dunno,” the man replied with a shrug, “they got a few things right. I do like apples and snakes.”

“Umm.” I couldn’t stop myself from speaking up then. “Hi? What–how did you…”

“Sorry.” The voice came just as several people came within range of my item-sense. Apollo and Athena stepped in opposite directions, allowing Haiden, Vanessa, and Tristan, to come in. Haiden was the one talking. “He insisted on surprising you. Something about wanting to see your faces.”

“Her face, mostly,” Apollo corrected, jerking a thumb toward Athena. “It’s been awhile, I really wanted to see what she’d do.”

“That,” Athena replied flatly, “is why he does most things. To see how people react.”

Vanessa spoke up then, as she and Tristan moved beside Tabbris and me. “Uncle Apollo came to help get Mom out of Kushiel’s lab. He came to help us save her.”

Bewildered, I asked, “But how did you get here? You were back on Earth, right? How did you get all the way out here? Not that I should really be surprised by this point, honestly. But still.”

“Eh,” the man replied, “it wasn’t too hard. I have a connection to every member of my organization. It wasn’t enough to project myself through the magical shield that they’ve been using to block Earth. But between that and the spell I put on the twins here so that I could get to them if they were in trouble, it did the trick. Let’s just say I needed all three of them to be in the same general area to make it work.”

Jolting beside me, Vanessa suddenly put in, “That’s right, you said that you had a connection to someone out here, one of the… the other students?”

“Oh my God,” I blurted, “Torchbearers.”

The others all blinked at me, while Apollo himself gave me a broad smile. “The reports were right,” he remarked, “she is a bright one. Wish she was one of mine.”

“Jazz’s people, the Torchbearers,” I repeated, my gaze meeting his. “You’re the one that created them, aren’t you? I mean, Lucifer, lightbringer, Torchbearer.”

Apollo gave a brief bow. “You see? Very bright. Yes, they were a group that I created and had a bit of a hand in through their history. As I said, I have a connection to all of them. It was enough to let me know exactly where she was, but not enough to teleport to her. Not until the twins were out here too.”

Tristan nudged me. “See, now we’ve got two full Seosten on our side. This is gonna be a great rescue.”

I felt like telling him not to jinx it, but pointing that out probably would have made it worse. So, I just shook my head while focusing on Apollo himself. “Where’s Jazz? Does she know you’re here? Does she know anything about you?”

“Nope,” he replied. “Not yet. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a little chat with her myself. There’s a few things that she and I need to talk about.”

I wanted to ask more about that, but that felt like prying. So I quashed my curiosity for the moment.

Athena was the one who spoke next. Her voice was almost as calm as ever, but I did detect a bit of emotion in it. Which gave a slight hint of just how much emotion she was actually feeling. “I’m glad you’re here. You should be here. It’s time to get Sariel away from them.”

There was no joviality in Apollo‘s voice as he replied, “Oh, it is long past time to get her away from them. They’ll pay for everything they did to my sister.

“They wanna cast me as the devil? I’ll show them just how hot my hell burns.”

*******

It was about four days later, and a week since we had set off from the Aelaestiam base. A week of travel to get to Kushiel’s secret lab. During that time, Vanessa and Tristan had spent most of it with their dad, while the rest of us made sure we were as ready as possible (physically and mentally) for what was about to happen. Not that the twins were spared any of Athena’s training in that time. She made sure to put all of us through our paces too. As did Apollo. They both worked us to the bone to make sure we were as ready as we could possibly be.

Also, there were the stories. Apollo had so many stories. And he loved to tell them. Some involved him directly, while a lot actually didn’t. They were just stories he’d picked up over the millennia. He’d been making a point of telling us a few of the funny ones, clearly trying to take our minds off what was about to happen. One of those more recent stories was about some guy named Lars, who had become a Natural Heretic bonded with something called an Eki, which were protective guardian figures who gained power from the sun and had a lot to do with fire and heat powers.

This Lars guy had no idea what was going on in the world. No one ever explained the whole Bystander/Alter/Heretic thing to him, so he had to figure out as much as he could on his own, including the fact that everyone he knew would always forget anything supernatural that he did. But he still wanted to help, so the guy did what came natural. He dressed up as a superhero and went out to fight bad guys. Yeah, that sometimes happened with Natural Heretics, apparently. As far as the Bystanders were concerned, they were just those kooky people who dress up in costumes, call themselves superheroes, and go around stopping petty crime. They never remembered the crazy things he accomplished. But he kept right doing them, even if no one remembered and everyone thought he was silly, at best. Which was pretty admirable, really. So-Lars was a real hero.

Yeah. Lars’ the solar-powered superhero’s name was So-Lars. Whenever I managed to tell Shiori about that, she might end up with a new favorite superhero, all other qualifications be damned.

The point was, everyone liked listening to Apollo’s stories. Well, everyone except Dries, that was. Yeah, with Apollo and Athena, we had two adult Seosten on the ship with us the whole time. Which meant that Dries wasn’t all that happy. He understood, but he wasn’t very happy. I had talked to him a bit, and he told me that he appreciated and accepted that they (and Tabbris) weren’t the same as the Seosten who had imprisoned and tortured him. But knowing something and feeling it were two different things. Their presence made him uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than he normally was around people. It sucked, but I understood where he was coming from. So, the man spent most of his time locked up in his room, avoiding everyone as much as he could.

Now, the rest of us were on the bridge. In this case, ‘the rest of us’ meant Larissa, Haiden, Athena, Apollo, Sands, Roxa, Jazz, Gordon, Vanessa, Tristan, Jokai, Tabbris, and me. And our cyberforms, of course. The metal animals were off to the side, seemingly deep in conversation.

“One last jump. Is everyone ready?”

Larissa was the one who had spoken, looking our way as she stood beside the pilot’s seat. “Once Jokai pulls that lever, it’ll only take a few seconds to get there.”

Athena nodded. “Once this ship arrives, we can activate the beacon, and the rest of the Aelaestiam fleet will jump in. We have our own disruption ships that will block any portals into or out of the facility, so they won’t be able to take the prisoners and run. But they will know that we’re there, and they will have their own fleet to act in defense. Not to mention the ships that will come very quickly as soon as they receive the alert. Ships which drastically outnumber ours.”

“Which means we have to be fast,” Haiden put in. “Athena’s fleet can do some damage and stop them from getting away for awhile. But we’ll be on the clock the entire time. We jump in, get their attention on us, and follow the plan. You all know it backwards and forwards by now. If all goes the way it’s supposed to, we should end up down in the facility.”

“Which,” Apollo put in, “is a bit like having step one of your master plan involve finding a way to break into hell to kick the devil in the shin.”

Turning promptly at that, I put my foot out to tap against his leg before giving a shrug. “Eh. Not as thrilling as you might think.”

“Well, you’re a cheeky one, ain’t ya?” the man retorted, grinning back at me the whole time.

Larissa took over then. “From there, we free all the prisoners that we can, while the fleet does its job. Then we get back here with the prisoners, and jump away again. Hopefully before Seosten reinforcements show up. But we have to be quick. In and out as fast as possible.”

From the pilot’s seat, Jokai made a noise of approval. “We have… the teeth now.”

By teeth, he meant weapons. While the Sunstrider had been completely defenseless before, aside from its heavy armor and shields, Athena’s people had taken care of that little problem. Some of those ‘special supplies’ that she and the others had been working on were the parts for weapons. Weapons for the ship itself. And during the week we’d been on our way, some of her people had been hard at work installing them on the ship itself, and wiring the controls up into the bridge.

Which meant that the ship could finally fight back. Or, as Jokai had put it… we had teeth now. And the ship’s already heavy armor and shields combined with having actual weapons meant that it was pretty damn tough for what had amounted to a mining ship so recently. It still wasn’t quite as battle-ready as an actual combat ship, since, among other things, it didn’t have near the crew that one of those had. Whatever damage it took would be a lot harder to deal with than it would have been with a full crew complement, and it just couldn’t pack the kind of punch that those ships could. But still, we had weapons, and Jokai was pretty happy about that.

“Yes,” Larissa agreed with a little smile, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “We most certainly have teeth. And Kushiel is going to find out just how hard we can bite.”

Athena nodded. “She will. But she will learn it from Apollo and myself.” Pointedly, she added, “The rest of you will focus on retrieving Sariel and the other prisoners, as many as possible. Leave Kushiel to us.”

“Scary angel lady and scary angel uncle versus scary angel lady?” Tristan’s head bobbed up and down. “Sounds like a good match to me.”

“Everyone got it?” Larissa asked. “No one has any questions?”

Gordon spoke up then, his voice even. “Let you guys do your thing until you open the way down to the station. Once we’re there, free the prisoners, get back to the ship. Avoid Kushiel. Understood.” He gave what I swore was almost a smile. “And when everything goes wrong… improvise.”

“Exactly.” Haiden gave him a thumbs up. “And most importantly, stick together. Everyone stick together. No one goes off on their own. Got that? Right. Let’s do it.”

He nodded to Jokai, who reached out to the nearby lever, his hand grasping it briefly before yanking the thing down. The stars jumped around us, as the ship launched forward.

As promised, that last trip only took a few seconds before we were suddenly there.  The view on the screen at the front of the bridge resolved into the image of an orange gas giant with one rocky moon about a third the size of Earth floating nearby, and a second, ice-covered moon a short distance away from it. From what we had been told, the two moons revolved around one another while also revolving around the planet itself. The gas giant, designated Novem-Tres-Tres-Zeta-Kappa-Duo (the planet had never been important enough to be given more than a alphanumeric designation) had been surveyed and deemed unworthy of being mined. And that had been the end of it. The universe was big enough that one gas giant wasn’t worth paying much attention to.

That, apparently, had been the point. We weren’t sure exactly when Kushiel had set up her lab there. But I had a feeling that she had been behind it being written off in the first place. She had probably started getting her secret torture prison/lab and defenses installed almost immediately.

And she had apparently done a very thorough job, at least on the defenses part. Because the ship came under immediate fire the very second that we arrived. Barely an instant had passed as the view resolved in front of us before a handful of enormous, bright green lasers shot straight at us from what looked like seemingly empty space. The ship rocked under the first couple shots before Jokai snapped us to the side, letting the remaining few pass under the ship.

“Ghost turrets,” Athena announced flatly. “Invisible and intangible automated weapons platforms that become solid just long enough to fire once, then return to their intangible state while teleporting somewhere else within their line of sight to fire again. They are only vulnerable within the split second while they are firing.” To Jokai, she added, “They will attempt to surround the ship to catch it within an inescapable crossfire, as they do not have to worry about hitting one another. Their systems will coordinate their teleportation to never end up in each other’s line of fire.”  

“Etiam,” Jokai muttered, hands dancing over the controls. The Sunstrider spun into a quick barrel roll as two more shots came. One missed, while the other glanced off the shields.

More shots came in rapidly, starting to fill the screen from all sides. Just as Athena had said, the ghost turrets were starting to encircle us, firing repeatedly. But through it all, as the ship rocked, Jokai didn’t move again. He had stopped actively dodging the incoming fire. His eyes watched the screen, mouth moving soundlessly as he seemed to mutter to himself. The ship shook twice, then three times. The shields were holding so far, but it wouldn’t take much longer before they would completely fail. And yet, Jokai still remained motionless save for his eyes and mouth.  

“Jokai,” Haiden started quietly, his voice breaking the silence (aside from the sound of the ship shuddering under being shot by those turrets repeatedly). “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, dude,” Tristan put in, “are we gonna shoot back, or wh–”

“Sileo!” Jokai’s retort was sharp, sharper than I had heard him before. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the screen, which was showing various incoming shots from all sides. “Sileo,” he repeated then, quieter and more thoughtful. His hands stayed where they were, motionless as he watched through two more full barrages, still without any attempt to move or avoid them.

Then it happened. Just as I honestly started to get a little worried at that point, Jokai abruptly snapped into action. His hands jumped back to the controls, and the ship suddenly spun out of the way as more lasers went past. Even as he avoided those shots, Jokai’s hand caught hold of the targeting control for one of the new turrets that Athena’s people had installed near the front of the ship. He gave it a quick adjustment before hitting the trigger to send a pair of our own blue lasers out into what looked like the middle of empty space. Without wasting another second, he adjusted his aim three more times, shooting more of those lasers from a couple other turrets in rapid succession, all seemingly aimed at absolutely nothing.

Then there was a sudden, incredibly bright explosion. Followed by a second one, and a third, and then a fourth that all came one right after the other. Each of Jokai’s supposedly blind shots had struck one of the invisible turrets in the instant that it became tangible right before firing.  

“What–how–wha?” Sands blurted out what we were probably all thinking in that moment.

Apollo was the one who spoke up, smiling a little. “It’s the pattern,” he explained. “A lot of Eulson people have an innate understanding of seemingly random patterns. It’s reflexive. He watched the platforms for a few seconds to understand their size, speed, and other factors in relation to their target, us, and then worked out the next part of their movement pattern to know where they’d go.”  

Unable to hold back her grin, Jazz quickly put in then, “That’s how he escaped from the prison camp in the first place. And why they made him a pilot before. Because he’s really good at recognizing patterns and using them.” I could hear the (understandable) pride in her voice.

Smiling a little, Larissa nodded. “Very good, Jokai. But we’ve still got problems.” She raised her hand to point to the screen, where lights had appeared on both the rocky and ice-covered moons. Lights that quickly resolved into small ships, fighter-sized, launching toward us. At the same time, several much, much larger ships, of the capital variety, emerged from behind the gas giant. Jokai may have destroyed the initial defenses, but the Seosten fleet had woken up.

“Those are not automated,” Athena announced, before adding, “Fortunately, neither are ours.”

With that, the Seosten woman pressed something in her hand. A second later, a new ship appeared on screen, directly to our left. Or port, I supposed. It was joined by two more, then another two our right, one below us, and so on. The Aelaestiam fleet had arrived, summoned by the beacon that Athena had just activated.

“Hoc est bellum,” Apollo murmured as the lasers and missiles began to fly from both sides, the space in front of us lighting up like the Fourth of July.

“This is war.”

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27 comments

  1. Start of the new arc! Thanks for going with me on that little sort-of interlude arc last week, guys. I hope you all enjoyed it, and I also hope that you’re looking forward to this new arc now that we’re finally ONTO THE ACTUAL MISSION! 😀

    Thanks again for reading. Tags for this chapter are: A Bunch Of You Are Probably Flailing Right Now Because Apollo’s Arrival Interrupted Flick Just When She Was Asking About Arthur., Apollo, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Gordon Kuhn, Haiden Moon, Jazz Rhodes, Jokai, Larissa Mason, Nimue/Athena, Of Course The Character Devoted To Creating Stories Would Be The One To Make A Direct Arc Title Drop., Sands, Well‚ Obviously So-Lars Is Going To Be The Hero Who Saves Everyone In The Climax Of The Story.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Nah, he’s not Herbie’s sidekick, they each have their own thing, they just team up every once in a while, World’s Finest style. 8)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. >“Thanks.” The man gave a roguish smile, winking at us while he set Tabbris on the floor. “Wouldn’t wanna have to fend off your protege, Auriel. She seems fierce.”
    “It’s Athena, Lucifer,” she informed him in a flat voice. “I don’t go by Auriel anymore.”

    Ooooh, right. Flick’s not met Apollo before, and he and Athena didn’t part on the best of terms IIRC…This will be awkward. Also, Flick’s big sis instincts coming out strong here. That said, she neglected something in her situational awareness, namely Tabbris’ facial expressions (ie is she afraid/terrified?) and movements (is she struggling?), in her haste.

    >“They wanna cast me as the devil? I’ll show them just how hot my hell burns.”

    Love this line, it was *weight* to it given the context.

    Also, Jokai definitely had a moment of badassery with the way he destroyed those defense turrets.

    “This is War”, indeed. A full-on fleet action.
    Great update!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I rather enjoy your reaction posts despite them not really telling me anything new. I think it’s because most of us react similarly to most things and your reaction posts bring that out and make reading the serial more social. Kind of like how twitch chat makes streams more social even when it moves too fast for anything but emotes, simple phrases, and single words.

      Like

  3. Well I for one can’t wait for the inevitable entrance of So-Lars. He sounds like fun.

    I also can’t wait for our heroes to learn that they’re not only dealing with Kushiel. They’re going to have to do a lot of improvising.

    Also, Storyteller was right about Chayyiel wanting to possess Arthur. Still looking forward to meeting her, and still suspect it will happen soon.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Nice chapter, I am looking forward to all the action ahead! 😀
    And I am really looking forward to Shiori’s reaction to “So-Lars”. This name is… special. 😀

    Also…
    “Hoc est bellum,” Apollo murmured […]
    Roll credits! *ding*

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So, was So-Lars’ sub-title “Man of the Atom”? 🙂
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_(comics)

    Apollo should be glad he didn’t choose something more tender than “shin”…. 🙂

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Apollo told Tabby to wear her best “poker face” (which, given Tabby, probably *sucks* as poker faces go, but eh) for that scene, just to get the best reaction out of Flick. What? Satan’s a troll, does this surprise anyone?

    …so, is there an in-universe curse trying to keep Flick from getting the full story about Arthur, or is it just some non-random omnipotent shade of the color blue that’s just enjoying trolling the audience?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So, was So-Lars’ sub-title “Man of the Atom”? 🙂
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_(comics)

      They clearly stole his name. 😉

      Apollo should be glad he didn’t choose something more tender than “shin”…. 🙂

      TBF, Flick’s not stupid or crazy enough to have tried it.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Apollo told Tabby to wear her best “poker face” (which, given Tabby, probably *sucks* as poker faces go, but eh) for that scene, just to get the best reaction out of Flick. What? Satan’s a troll, does this surprise anyone?

      Wouldn’t be surprising.

      …so, is there an in-universe curse trying to keep Flick from getting the full story about Arthur, or is it just some non-random omnipotent shade of the color blue that’s just enjoying trolling the audience?

      The answer is clearly yes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ““See, now we’ve got two full Seosten on our side. This is gonna be a great rescue.”

    I felt like telling him not to jinx it”
    +
    “And when everything goes wrong… improvise.”

    after the first part, I was definively going to comment: By now, Flick should have learned that all missions plans end with something like: and then, you plan for when everything goes to hell…
    then I read the 2nd part and I’m like: well, Gordon got it…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. .>“Okay, seriously, now that we have time, you’ve gotta tell me what the deal with Arthur is.”

    At this rate I expect Flick to find out about Arthur when Nimue meets back up with Guinevere.

    >I was standing in the small kitchen area, watching Athena bake a cake. No, seriously, she had an apron and everything. It was incredibly surreal. I’d asked her about the point of the apron and she had said that demonstrating proper safety and etiquette measures was important as a teacher, even if she personally didn’t really need them.

    The Olympus really was Star Trek wasn’t it? Because I am easily imagining a whole long episode between planets of Athena trying to get “safety measures” only for it to turn out to be her baking.

    >For a moment, Athena regarded me in contemplative silence, like she was deciding exactly how much she should tell me. Then the woman gave a faint nod. “I have told you of Chayyiel.”
    “The Olympian who was a kid when the experiments happened,” I remembered from the discussion that had happened on the station. “She was Hestia on Earth. The one who still looks like a kid even though it was like a million years ago because it froze your aging processes.”
    “Precisely,” Athena confirmed. “As I said before, Chayyiel was the daughter of the program’s director. There is much more to that, but that can come later.

    Something that strikes me with Chayyiel is just how sensitive a topic that her father was using her is. I really would not be surprised if the director could be found in a shallow grave. Several thousand years later and Athena is still very cautious with the subject. It’s really easy to think that an Olympian could have killed the director with the others either suspecting or knowing who killer was and not doing anything about it. Or Chayyiel snapping because as it turns out turning the abused nine year old into a super soldier can backfire, and one of or several of the adult Olympians covering it up (possibly creating the first situation) to protect her.

    Just how Athena never lets the idea that Chayyiel being an Olympian was normal set, and how her words do not create the implication that Chayyiel was a volunteer… The closest approximation I have is when someone knows that something tragic happened in a building but due to protecting someone’s privacy can’t tell you what. Athena is very opposed to letting the idea of Chayyiel being an Olympian be seen as normal, but at the same time she isn’t that willing to go into the story. I really do think Chayyiel has a slight difficulty in still being seen as the kid of the Olympus sometimes because that is exactly the type of behavior I would expect to develop around a child super soldier with those who know how they became a super soldier. The unwillingness to let it be seen as normal coupled with not sharing the tale because it isn’t their story to tell.

    Though I expect that from how Athena is talking around it that a lot of Chayyiel’s personality is derived from either those events or the fallout of those events.

    >Blinking, I shook my head. “She’s still on the Seosten’s side and she has a sense of honor?”
    “She also has a highly developed sense of loyalty,” the woman informed me. “Chayyiel does not always, or even often, agree with a lot of the measures that are taken. But she believes in the Seosten society in the long run. She believes that any changes must be made from within, and that the Seosten are still the preferable winners over the Fomorians. When she encounters open abuse or anything she deems too dishonorable, she puts a stop to it. Those under her direct employ are some of the most well-treated subjects within the Seosten Empire. But she cannot change everything overnight, and despite her power and the respect she commands, particularly since becoming a member of the Seraphim, there is only so much she can do.”

    Yeah I can definitely see the connection between the child used in a mad science experiment having a problem with open abuse.

    And Flick, you’d be surprised. It seems a lot of the Seosten go for long periods without anyone watching them. It definitely appears that they are somewhat forced to develop their own code of conduct because there isn’t any other moral compass to subscribe to.

    >“Which,” Athena pointed out, “were not many. But they fought several times, always to an essential stand-still. Neither could entirely best the other, and Chayyiel’s sense of honor meant that she refused to have others brought in to assist her. Arthur was one of her strongest challengers, and if she was going to win, she wanted to do so herself. That, and I also believe that she was considering…” She trailed off then, biting her lip in brief silence.
    “She was considering what?” I asked, even more curious now.
    “She was considering,” a voice that definitely wasn’t Athena’s spoke up from the nearby doorway, “making him her new primary host.”

    Now this is very interesting. Apollo was not around I do believe for the Arthur shenanigans. It was a face off between the Seosten and Camelot, so if he was around I do think that Apollo would have been joining Camelot. So either he got around the Seosten information suppression around events or Chayyiel is that predictable in her methods.

    On one hand I can definitely see Chayyiel be static on the other I can see Apollo putting his intel skills to use.

    >Spinning a bit at that, since I hadn’t sensed anyone coming (not even my item sense had gone off, despite the fact that the intruder was definitely close enough to have triggered it),

    This and the fact that Apollo was able to surprise Athena (when she is probably one of the first on the list to contact if anyone suspects that they were boarded) says a lot. The Seosten may cheat by having the infrastructure being pre-hole filled for themselves with the Heretics but there is a reason for why they were able to riddle the infrastructure with holes. The actual stealth/spies specialists are that good at what they do.

    >Aside from that apt comparison, the guy wasn’t familiar at all. Which, considering we were on a spaceship in mid-transit, was clearly a problem. But the much bigger problem? He was holding Tabbris in both arms.

    Tabbris had spent years of her life protecting Flick. The turnabout with Flick being so protective of her little sister is quite nice. Not needed in this case, but quite nice.

    >“It’s Athena, Lucifer,” she informed him in a flat voice. “I don’t go by Auriel anymore.”
    Well, that was something. My head snapped around, whipping back and forth between the two as I sputtered a bit in total incomprehension, even as Tabbris darted over to me. She caught my hand, holding tight even as I returned the squeeze before pulling the girl up against myself protectively.
    “Funny,” the man replied, “I don’t go by Lucifer anymore either. The name’s lost something of its appeal.”

    Compliments to Cerulean, you really hit the sheer expanse of time well here. These two have not spoken in over a thousand years, and both are waiting for the other to say or do something. And the sheer gulf of time in that both have changed their names in the same way, for what is looking to be similar reasons, but not knowing it…

    A lot changes in two millennia.

    >More silence then, and more stillness. That stretched on for another handful of seconds before Athena abruptly moved. Her hand left my shoulder, and she was past me before I knew what was happening. In a blur of motion, the Seosten woman was suddenly right in front of the intruder.
    And then she embraced him. Her arms went around the man, and the two were hugging incredibly tightly. It wasn’t a romantic hug, as far as I could tell. They weren’t lost lovers or anything. It was the embrace of long, long-lost friends, of family. I could see some kind of tension fade out of both of their postures as they all-but collapsed into one another. Each held the other up, their own strength entirely devoted to keeping each other on their feet. And each clearly trusted the other enough not to let them fall in the process.

    And I’m reminded of the reunion between Vanessa and Tristan. Just that those two didn’t have regrets between them to deal with first.

    Athena hit the boost. That is what stands out to me here, this is the first time we’ve seen the adult Seosten get a reunion and Athena hit the boost.

    >And each clearly trusted the other enough not to let them fall in the process.

    This line is the one that resonates for me. Especially given the changed order with Jophiel and Elisabet being 33E. Because that trust no longer exists between the members of the Olympus that stayed loyal. There was Charmeine being thrown at Jophiel for getting permission so that Manakel would not share the blame if she failed. Jophiel tearing apart Manakel because he tried to go around her back before, and the sheer toxicity around Kushiel.

    >“I am sorry.” That was the first thing that Athena said, the first words that finally came from her mouth after a long few moments like that. “Lucifer, I am so very sorry about what happened to you, about what they have done.”
    “They’ve done just as much to you,” the man… Apollo… reminded her. “You’ve lost plenty, Athena. And I told you, it’s not Lucifer.”
    Leaning back a bit, the Seosten woman regarded him without letting go. “Apologies. I… refused to stop using that name, because I did not want to allow them to destroy it entirely. Lucifer is not what they have turned your name into. You are my… you are my friend. You have been my friend for so very long, and they… Puriel and his…” Her face twisted in anger, and she shook her head. “You are not that.”

    Alright, one thing this really makes me wonder is if reputation has a larger meaning in Seosten culture than elsewhere. If families aren’t really existent to carry down heritage/lineage then one’s reputation would be what survives you. Trashing someone’s name would be a big deal in that scenario.

    And it’s somewhat of a big deal that there’s another Olympian there for both of them. With Seosten being so long lived and the fact that both have been wanderers with secrets for portions of their time – there isn’t that many people that can look to before they went rogue and actually know what the cost of that action is.

    A) Because the Seosten practice information suppression so the knowledge is lost over generations

    B) It isn’t like either of them are personalities to actually complain about what they’ve lost aloud. So someone that was there knows the cost because they can see it without being told.

    C) This really goes back to the family pont but it fits – if you know someone long enough you can call them out when they’re [fill in the blank]. Athena and Apollo have grown into the role of Rebel leader and clan founder respectively. Both roles have a ton of authority and responsibility. Between the two of them, I rather doubt either would care all that much of forcing the other to stay in the hospital bed if they needed to. They’ve known each other long enough that they’re not seeing all the events and reputation that they’ve gained over the centuries but the Seosten who: [insert heartwarming/idiotic/funny stunt here].

    Finally, since a point was made of Athena not letting go of the hug here, when did she let go of the hug?

    >“I dunno,” the man replied with a shrug, “they got a few things right. I do like apples and snakes.”

    Apollo is going to like Bobbi-bobbi won’t he? And something this reminds me of is the last of the Larissa and Sariel interludes did have Sariel already knowing that Apollo preferred “Apollo” over Lucifer as well as less of a reaction to the name Lucifer being tarnished. Something appears to have been going down in the final days of the Olympians before the group started fracturing if preferred names were becoming secrets.

    >“Sorry.” The voice came just as several people came within range of my item-sense. Apollo and Athena stepped in opposite directions, allowing Haiden, Vanessa, and Tristan, to come in. Haiden was the one talking. “He insisted on surprising you. Something about wanting to see your faces.”
    “Her face, mostly,” Apollo corrected, jerking a thumb toward Athena. “It’s been awhile, I really wanted to see what she’d do.”
    “That,” Athena replied flatly, “is why he does most things. To see how people react.”

    At the same time – the more things change, the more they stay the same. And annoying family members being annoying – that never changes. Family.

    >“Oh my God,” I blurted, “Torchbearers.”
    The others all blinked at me, while Apollo himself gave me a broad smile. “The reports were right,” he remarked, “she is a bright one. Wish she was one of mine.”
    “Jazz’s people, the Torchbearers,” I repeated, my gaze meeting his. “You’re the one that created them, aren’t you? I mean, Lucifer, lightbringer, Torchbearer.”

    Including Athena? Huh, another notch for Sariel being very good at what she does. I guess Larissa never got around to mentioning that tidbit.

    >Tristan nudged me. “See, now we’ve got two full Seosten on our side. This is gonna be a great rescue.”

    I’d say you just jinxed everyone Tristan – except your mother *is* there. And she has some of the most consistently terrible luck in the story besides Joselyn of all people, except I think Joselyn is more justified what with the Seosten, Fossor and Hard Liner Heretics opposing her.

    >
    Athena was the one who spoke next. Her voice was almost as calm as ever, but I did detect a bit of emotion in it. Which gave a slight hint of just how much emotion she was actually feeling. “I’m glad you’re here. You should be here. It’s time to get Sariel away from them.”
    There was no joviality in Apollo‘s voice as he replied, “Oh, it is long past time to get her away from them. They’ll pay for everything they did to my sister.

    I always love a good sibling break out/rescue. Even if Athena is probably closer to either a somewhat distant sibling or a cousin. The general affirmation of Athena saying that Apollo’s place is with the rescue – he is Sariel’s brother. And for all the disagreements, arguments and sheer time between them it’s time to rescue one of the family.

    If this was the heartwarming reunion I do expect Sariel’s reunion to be the one that really hurts. Just from how while this was basically Athena apologizing to Apollo she was accepting each Apollo’s forgiveness. Sariel is the one that attempted suicide. And doesn’t accept Apollo as a brother out of guilt.

    And again, the above. To Athena and Apollo, they remember the brother/sister dynamic of before. I really don’t think they’ll be seeing Sariel’s self disownment coming. Trauma from Kushiel yes. The trauma from staying – not to the extent that it happened.

    >The point was, everyone liked listening to Apollo’s stories. Well, everyone except Dries, that was. Yeah, with Apollo and Athena, we had two adult Seosten on the ship with us the whole time. Which meant that Dries wasn’t all that happy. He understood, but he wasn’t very happy. I had talked to him a bit, and he told me that he appreciated and accepted that they (and Tabbris) weren’t the same as the Seosten who had imprisoned and tortured him. But knowing something and feeling it were two different things. Their presence made him uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than he normally was around people. It sucked, but I understood where he was coming from. So, the man spent most of his time locked up in his room, avoiding everyone as much as he could.

    And the question again becomes how much Sariel knew about him. On one hand Sariel very frequently is shown to leave out information so Tabbris not knowing anything about him doesn’t mean much. On the other it definitely appears that Sariel was being managed so this might have been one of the things that she didn’t know about. Or she knew partially about.

    Look with her luck I would not put it past it to not have one of the rescue party having a major grudge against her.

    >Athena nodded. “She will. But she will learn it from Apollo and myself.” Pointedly, she added, “The rest of you will focus on retrieving Sariel and the other prisoners, as many as possible. Leave Kushiel to us.”
    “Scary angel lady and scary angel uncle versus scary angel lady?” Tristan’s head bobbed up and down. “Sounds like a good match to me.”

    *Looks at the 2 vs 4 + hosts developing*

    I do wonder just how far down the list of swears the two will get before its time to evac.

    >“This is war.”

    The Seosten Empire gave Casus Belli a long time ago – it’s just that the war drums have now arrived.

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  8. So that you know, some of the next/previous chapter buttons are broken on the last couple of posts, managed to confuse myself a bit before getting to this one.

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    1. Sorry, yeah, they’re not so much broken as I decided to change what was Interlude D (Jophiel and Elisabet) into Interlude E and put Interlude E (Avalon/Scout) as Interlude D because I liked the ending of the Jophiel interlude best to end the entire group of interludes and lead into the new arc. I should have made an announcement about that.

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      1. The obvious answer is that those aren’t actually lasers. They’re just sic-fi weapons that Flick is calling lasers because she’s been influenced by movies.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re totally not wrong. It’s just not what this particular story is going for, and ‘seeing lasers in space’ has been a thing throughout a huge amount of science fiction. So yeah, totally understand your point, but ehhh, we’re going with the coolness factor here. If it helps, imagine there’s some kind of magic involved as well.

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