Hoc Est Bellum 34-04

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I don’t think she’s very happy with the plan.

Tabbris’s observation in the back of my head over the ongoing ranting from the Seosten woman made me smile just a little bit. I knew that my, or rather, our current host couldn’t hear her unless the other girl would have wanted her to. Yeah, I replied, I’m kind of getting that impression too.

“They’re coming.” The announcement came from Larissa, who was standing near the door that we had come through. She turned to me then, asking, “Are you ready for this? You know what to do.”

Giving the body I was inhabiting a once-over, I checked the wound in her side. For a moment, I wondered why I hadn’t really felt any of her pain, before realizing that Tabbris had probably turned that off the second we jumped inside the woman. It wasn’t exactly shallow, but also clearly wasn’t life threatening. We’d be okay for the time being. If nothing else, it would make the next part look realistic.  

So, I gave Larissa a quick nod, adding a thumbs up. “Yup, all set.”

“Be careful, kid,” Apollo advised. “We’ll be right here, but… just be careful. Watch yourself.”

I knew what he was really saying. He was telling Tabbris and me to watch over each other, without acknowledging her existence in any way that would let anyone else know. So I gave him a thumbs up, while Tabbris used the other hand to give him another one. Two thumbs up. It was one of our signals that we’d worked out.

That was all we had time for. Larissa gave another look our way, before holding out a hand. I felt a bit of pressure against the Seosten woman’s body as Larissa lifted us up with some kind of telekinesis. A second later, we were suddenly sent flying through the air, out the open doorway, and down the corridor. I caught a brief glimpse of a lot of armed figures as we sailed a solid twenty feet before crashing to the ground, rolling end over end until we came to a dazed stop. Larissa really hadn’t held much, if anything back on that one.

“Lailah!” a voice shouted from nearby, and I blinked that way in time to see an achingly gorgeous guy with curled brown hair and the most adorable dimp- focus, Flick. The obvious Seosten man was standing there with a rifle in one hand, surrounded by more soldiers. A lot of soldiers. There were a few Seosten mixed in there, but most of them were other races. All of them were heavily armed, and they did not look happy.

Ishtien, Tabbris instantly supplied. She was quicker at looking through our host’s memories than I would have been, so there was no real delay between when I saw the man and when the name filled my head.

“Ishtien,” I made the woman’s mouth say while quickly pushing her up to her feet. “We’re under attack. They’re trying to crash the ship into the facility. We have to stop them.” It was tempting to shout or act panicked to sell it, but I had to remember that the woman I was possessing was a professional. She was a soldier who had been trusted to be the last line of defense within the reactor room, and someone like that wouldn’t just panic. So I kept her voice terse and clearly right on the edge of screaming, but still in control. It helped that being surrounded by all these guns put me pretty much in the same mindset that I was trying to portray.

“We noticed.” Ishtien’s voice was dry, right on the edge of humor as he gave us a brief look. “Who’s in there? How did they get access to the system? You were…” He paused then, and I could tell that the man was right on the edge of suspicion. I had to head that off at the pass. Luckily, I knew exactly what kind of answer to give him to do just that.

My mouth opened to say, ‘Apollo’, but instead, the word that came out was, “Lucifer!”

Sorry! Tabbris’s voice quickly put in. She would have said Lucifer, not Apollo.

She was right, of course. The real Lailah would’ve referred to him by his Seosten name, not the one he had taken on Earth. Quickly reminding her not to apologize for helping, I repeated aloud, “Lucifer. They have Lucifer. His power, he… he used it to make me–” Wincing with a show of what I hoped looked like shame, I made the woman’s hands touch the wound in her side.

Ishtien had filled in the blank by that point. Which was what I was going for. His mouth twisted a little. “He and Auriel together?”

I made Lailah nod. “She cut off our–” Tabbris quickly supplied the right word for the mind-meld. “–breven to stop me from warning you.” Reaching up, I grabbed his arm. “They mean to crash the ship into the facility and use it to destroy the security tower. We must stop them, now!”

Grimacing, the Seosten man barked an order at the soldiers surrounding him. “You heard her! Get in the room. Kill them all, go now! Get them away from the controls!”

They hopped to, rushing for the doors. As Ishtien turned his own attention that way, he put his back to me. As soon as he did that, my (or rather, Lailah’s) eyes narrowed, and I made her reach for the knife attached to her belt while focusing on the back of his neck.

Wait! The Seosten woman, who had been ranting angrily in the back of my mind, suddenly blurted. Her anger had vanished, turning into abrupt desperation, with palpable fear. Wait, please! Please, Ishtien is my friend. We grew up together. He is the only person I have left from my childhood. I–I won’t fight you. I won’t fight you. I will even allow you to kill me or imprison me. I will do anything you wish.  But please, please do not… do not kill him. There is a stun feature on the handle of the blade that will knock him out. I am begging you, human. Please do not kill my friend.

I could feel her terror, her certainty that I wouldn’t listen to her right alongside her total and complete desperation. If we had been face to face, I knew that I would have been able to see the tears in her eyes. She had been trying to seize control ever since I had possessed her. But with the knife already pulled and my focus on Ishtien’s neck, she had given up, choosing to play the last card she had left: begging. For a half second, I wondered how many of her hosts had begged her to stop whatever she was doing. And whether or not she had ever listened to them.

Lifting the woman’s hand, I flipped the button on the side of the knife, triggering the stun-prod on the hilt before smacking it into the back of the Seosten man’s neck. A jolt of purple electricity crackled across his skin, before the man collapsed to the ground with a cry that was abruptly cut off as he fell into a completely unconscious heap.

Ignoring the rush of gratitude from my host, I focused on the group of soldiers ahead of me. They hadn’t noticed their leader collapse to the floor quite yet. Mostly because they were all a bit busy, running headlong into Apollo and Larissa in their desperate attempt to get through the doorway and into that room so they could stop the ship from crashing. I could see glimpses of Larissa’s forcefield keeping them out, as well as bursts of flame from some unknown source.

It’s been a real blast, I informed Lailah, but this is where I get off. As she started to respond, I ignored her, stepping out of the body while metaphorically hitting the button that would leave her unconscious. As her body fell, I produced my staff before taking one more look at the backs of the assembled soldiers. There was a mix of younger Seosten and other Alters, of them so intent on getting into the room ahead of them that they had yet to actually notice me.

Time to change that. Gripping my staff, I took a running start, heading straight for the rear of the group. A tall (nine feet in height) musclebound figure with rock-like skin was there, taking aim with a rifle that looked like a miniature ship-mounted cannon. Larissa’s forcefield was good, but I wasn’t sure it was good enough to stand up to something like that for very long. So, he was definitely my first target.

“Hey, asshole!” I shouted over the sound of the battle. At my voice, the big guy abruptly spun back, surprise written over his gruff-looking face at the sight of both me and the two unconscious Seosten as his mouth opened to bellow a quick warning.

In that instant, I brought my staff up, triggering the charge it had been building up. At the same time, I thrust that end of the staff backward, straight into the tiny portal that I had just opened. The other end of that portal appeared directly behind the big guy’s head, and his cry of warning turned to one of pain as the blast from the newly-emerged staff struck him right there.

The force of the blow knocked the big guy’s head forward and down, even as it also launched me forward and up. I shut off the portal then, letting the full force of it propel me that way. Before the guy could recover from the blow to the back of his head, the bladed end of my staff was driven into his throat. Blood sprayed everywhere, even as my feet collided with his chest. An instant later, I kicked back away from his steadily collapsing body while yanking my staff out.

As I flipped backward, away from the falling figure, I felt the rush of pleasure from his death. But it was muted a bit, like I wasn’t really feeling the full effect of it, just enough to know it was there.

Did you do that? I quickly asked my partner while landing in a crouch with my staff in one hand.

Um. Y-yes? The response came a bit hesitantly. I didn’t know if it would work or not, but I thought it would help if you weren’t so distracted. So I um, I tried.

Grinning, I gave a slight inward nod. Keep it up, partner.

That was all I had time to say. Because as distracted as they might have been before, the rest of the small army that had assembled to attack the reactor room definitely knew I was there now. Half of them had come up short, spinning back to see the big guy collapse to the floor. I saw realization cross some of their faces, as they looked from the fallen Seosten, then to me and back again. They knew. They understood that they had been tricked. Their leaders were down, and now they were caught in the middle of the corridor between me and the other two, who had stopped playing so defensively now that the trap had been sprung. Larissa had been using little more than the forcefield to make them stay focused on her. But now that they knew I was behind them, she and Apollo were actually fighting back.

Larissa had wanted to be the one who did this part, the one who dealt with whoever the leader of the group that was sent down to deal with us was, because she wanted to be the one who was behind the Seosten while I stayed safe next to Apollo. But thanks to both Charmiene’s death and Tabbris’s expertise in using it, my possession-ability was stronger than hers. Which meant that Tabbris and I had been far more likely to able to keep control of whatever Seosten we ended up finding in that reactor room. So us doing it had just made sense. Which meant that me being the the one who ended up on the opposite side of whatever group showed up to stop us was pretty inevitable.

But it also meant that we were by ourselves, cut off from the other three and with a small army between us. At least… for the moment. There was a plan to change that much too, eventually.

A shout went up among the group, a warning cry. Then they broke apart. Some came for me, trying to deal with the threat that I presented to their rear, while the rest pushed on for the reactor, running headlong into the solid brick wall that was Larissa and Apollo.

As for me? Well, if these guys wanted to fight me so badly, I would absolutely oblige them.

Three of the soldiers stopped, their weapons coming up to take aim at me. One of the things that had been drilled into me over and over again throughout the month that I had spent at the Aelaestiam base was the ability to recognize what kind of weapons were being used at first glance. Athena had made me go through test after test, identifying the weapon and its capability with and without Tabbris’s help. And thanks to that, I immediately knew that two of the soldiers were using energy weapons, while the other held a slugthrower.

I had actually asked Athena once why the Seosten used a mixture of lasers and bullet weapons instead of focusing on the former, which would seem to be the more advanced and useful type. In response, she had explained that it was easier to put spells for various effects on bullets than it was to put them on lasers. Also, the Fomorian proclivity for making themselves and their creations immune to everything under the sun meant that it was a good idea to have a wide variety of options. It was the same reason that Heretics were so useful, really: variety and surprise was the key to beating the Fomorians. Having things that they hadn’t anticipated, and Heretics were really hard to anticipate.

As the soldiers took aim and fired, I kept right on going. I was ready for the lasers, absorbing their energy with a thought. Meanwhile, the bullet came right at my chest. Fortunately for me, Tabbris was on the job. One of the many little bits of cloth that the two of us had painstakingly spent hours enchanting instantly appeared right on my shirt. The so-called kevlar spell caught the metal slug’s momentum and slowed it down to almost nothing before it bounced off my chest as I kept running forward.

Two more steps, and I reached the nearest enemies, a guy with some kind of long metal pike and another with what amounted to a lightsaber.

That guy with the pike had reach on me, so I went for him first, baiting him into stabbing the thing right at me before quickly pivoting out of the way.

The strike came so close to hitting me as it passed that I could literally feel the blade and handle skim right through my shirt. Rather than doing the sensible thing and moving further away from it however, I let myself sink back just a little so that the handle actually did touch me just a bit. At the same time I curled my fingers a little.

Once more, my partner was right on top of things. We had gotten good enough through all of our training by that point that she interpreted my desires without me having to outright ask her. The instant my back felt that weapon, it was transported out of the enemy’s hands and into my own.

In that moment, Larissa’s telepathic voice in my head warned, Security field, get to a host! 

Right, the security field that would disintegrate anyone who wasn’t either cleared or possessing someone who was. Grimacing, I threw myself backward, colliding straight with one of the other soldiers as my item-sense let me know exactly where he was. As I crashed into the man, I literally crashed into him, possessing the guy even as we both went tumbling backward. 

Just before possessing my new (hopefully very brief) host, I had released both my own weapon, and the other guard’s pike. Before they could finish falling, I snapped both of his hands out to catch hold of them.  Holding each, I turned, hurling the pike across the hallway and into the chest of one of the guys who was trying to shoot me with a slugthrower. Again, I felt that muted sense of pleasure as Tabbris made sure that it wouldn’t overwhelm me.

On top of all that, the other girl had been constantly intercepting anything that was thrown at me. She used my item sense to keep track of where the nearest guns were pointed, and intercepted either bullets with more of those kevlar cloths, or lasers by switching on my energy-absorption. It was like having a copilot riding right alongside in my head to keep track of all that extra stuff that would have been too distracting for me to deal with. I was almost glad that my current state (possessing someone meant that my body wasn’t exactly physical, so she couldn’t do anything more with the enchanted cloths) would give her a little bit of a break, brief as it would be.

A second later, we passed through the field. I caught a glimpse of Larissa and Apollo in unwilling hosts of their own as a red light seemed to scan over all of us. It only took a moment, and seemed utterly inconsequential. But I knew that if any of the others had been here, or if we had been caught without a host, it would have been… bad. Very bad.

Dismissing my current host once the danger was past, I jumped right back out of him, letting the man fall unconscious behind me. By that point, the guy with the laser sword was there, bringing that glowing weapon straight for my neck. I brought my staff up to intercept it, and saw a brief grin cross the green-skinned man’s face.

Back at the base, we had established that my energy absorption power wouldn’t work very well on something like that laser sword. It could make the blade flicker somewhat, but then would be overloaded quickly and I would be just as damaged or even dead as any normal person a second later. I could only absorb so much at one time, and a blade tended to stay in one place long enough to overwhelm me. So, anything worse than a glancing blow, even with my energy absorption up, would be really bad news.

And this guy clearly knew that. He knew that his laser weapon would cut straight through my regular staff like butter, then keep right on going through me the exact same way.

Except it didn’t. Because I had a little trick up my sleeve. As the lightsaber neared my weapon, I focused on the energy that I had just absorbed a few seconds earlier from those lasers, along with what Tabbris had made us absorb. For a moment, a glowing green outline surrounded my staff, just as the lightsaber connected with it. The laser sword bounced off, and I caught a glimpse of that knowing grin turning into a look of shock and confusion just before I spun the staff around. With that glowing energy surrounding it, the shaft sliced right through the man’s own neck, severing his head from his body.

Yeah, that was one of my new tricks. Not only could I hold the energy that I absorbed for a bit longer than before, but with help from Apollo over this past week, I had also figured out how to surround myself (or my weapon, in this case) with that same energy. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it was pretty damn useful. Case in point.

Unfortunately, as the beheaded guy fell, another figure appeared right where he had been. I barely had a flash of realization that he had actually been possessed before the Seosten’s fist collided with my face, knocking me back a step as a flash of pain exploded in my temple and nose.

The guy looked like he was barely older than me, maybe by a few years. I knew that wasn’t true, considering the way they aged. But still, he looked young. His long, black hair was fashioned into a tight ponytail, and he had these very pale green eyes that almost seemed white at first glance. The pupils were barely dark enough to stand out from the regular white of his eyes. If this had been a TV show, I would have taken that as a sign that the guy was blind. But he clearly wasn’t, considering the way he was focused on me, meeting my gaze. That, and I was pretty sure that blindness was something that the Seosten could and would probably fix.

He tried to follow up his first attack by snatching a dagger from his belt and driving it into my gut, but I had recovered from my surprise by that point, and managed to snap my staff up just in time to knock the blade aside with a grunt. This was followed instantly by bringing the other end of the staff up to block the subsequent punch from his other hand. But that was a feint, and his foot suddenly collided with my stomach in a blow that would have put me on the ground if I hadn’t had an increased strength and pain tolerance. As it was, I stumbled and he took quick advantage by lashing out with that knife once more. That time, I barely managed to turn aside from the more dangerous swipe, taking a cut across my shoulder and another around my bicep in rapid succession.

He was fast. Goddamn, he was so fucking fast. Even with my own slightly enhanced speed and more enhanced reflexes, I could barely try to keep up with him. The guy was clearly boosting. And he had the skill to back up that boost. It was crystal clear in that moment that surprise over my staff blocking his laser sword was the only reason I had been able to kill his host so quickly.

And speaking of that particular weapon, the man kicked his foot out and popped the handle up into his waiting hand before igniting it once more. Now he had a laser sword in one hand and a knife in the other. Fan-freaking-tastic.

Plus, not only could I not just count on my energy absorption to deal with the weapon, I also couldn’t throw up a portal to block it when he swung the thing at me. Not when it came at me lengthwise. Because while I had gotten much faster at creating the portals under pressure, we had also discovered a drawback to my small portals. While they would cut anything in half if it went through them and then the portal was shut off, the thing had to actually fit through the portal to begin with. Basically, it couldn’t be wider than the portal. It could be longer and just put the part of it that fit through, but if the object was wider than the portal, the entire thing simply passed through it as if there was nothing there. I didn’t know if it was a safety feature or what, but I couldn’t just cut something large by putting a small portal in front of it as it passed through. It would act like there was no portal at all.

So no way to instantly win just by putting a portal in front of the swinging blade. Which was going to be a bit of a pain considering how fast this guy was. Plus, there was the fact that if I focused too much on the energy blade itself, he’d sneak in a vicious stab with the regular knife. All in all, this was going to be somewhat tricky.

He danced in quickly then, the dagger in his left hand lashing out with a quick snap of his wrist, like the lunge of a snake toward my left side. I took a quick stutter step backwards, pivoting back and away on my right foot to avoid the longer reach of his energy blade as it cut through the air where my shoulder had just been. I could hear and feel the heat from the blade as it passed close to me.

With my right side to the man and his laser sword almost directly across my chest, he instantly began to snap his sword that way to cut me in half.

But (thankfully) I was faster than that. Ducking and pivoting simultaneously, I let his energy blade pass just over my back before popping up to lash out with a kick. He was kicking at me at the same time, and our legs collided in midair. I felt a flash of pain in my shin, but ignored it as much as I had ignored the cuts I’d already suffered, as well as that punch to the face. There would be time to assess injuries later. Hopefully.

The Seosten’s sword was swinging down from up high in on overhead blow. So I stepped in quickly, my staff snapping up and out to hit not the weapon itself, but the inside of his elbow in order to throw off his aim. My ultimate goal was to try to make him actually drop the sword, but I really wasn’t counting on that much. I would just settle for not being cut in half. Which was probably a pretty firm goal of almost everyone out there without something like a worm’s ability to survive that kind of thing, come to think of it.

As I stood in close to the man, my free hand suddenly snapped down seemingly of its own volition, catching hold of the man’s wrist with the knife that he’d been trying to shove into my stomach just then. Tabbris was still on top of things.

My thoughts focused on possessing the man to end this, but before I could gather myself for it, pain exploded in the front of my face once again. That time, rather than punching, the man had headbutted me, making me stagger backward and release him. Worse, I caught a brief glimpse of that glowing energy as he brought the sword spinning downward to put it through my back as I stumbled onto one knee.

A quick burst from my staff sent me into a sideways roll, right as the blade cut through the floor where I had just been. The Seosten man tried to follow up by coming after me before I could rise, but the roll had put me right where I wanted to be: next to one of the fallen soldiers. My foot kicked out, catching hold of the butt of the dead man’s laser rifle. A quick thought took it from my foot to my hands, and I fired a trio of shots at the incoming Seosten. He ducked and pivoted out of the way, moving too quick for the shots to hit him, just as I had expected.

But it bought me time and distance for what I needed to do. Which, in this case, was to point the weapon at myself and pull the trigger several times as quickly as I could. As the lasers struck me, I absorbed their energy, channeling it into my weapon while popping back to my feet. The staff began to glow once more, and I lunged at the man just in time to intercept his swinging blade with it. Now, I had a few seconds where I could actually block his weapon with mine. The fight was slightly less unfair. Slightly.

What followed was a rapid series of blocks and counters that even I couldn’t completely follow correctly. We were both attacking and countering so fast that a normal person wouldn’t have been able to follow it. Our weapons spun and collided, bouncing off each other as we both pressed for an advantage that simply wasn’t there. Spin, parry, stab, block, duck, everything was moving in fast forward. And neither of us were giving any ground at all. This guy was really good.

On the plus side, my enhanced stamina meant that I wasn’t even the least bit winded by all of this. I was pretty sure that, if it came down to it, I could beat the guy just by outlasting him. He would get tired before I did, and he would make a mistake before I did. I just had to hold on until he did.

As we broke away from each other that time, the man kept his energy blade in front of him while staring at me. He was panting a little bit, but there was also something else to his expression: a smile. He looked happy about our exchange, happy that he hadn’t already killed me.

“You,” the Seosten started, “would make a most worthy vessel to put against the Fomorians. Abandon this foolishness, and come to fight the true threat. We could do amazing work together. There is no need for us to be enemies.”

I coughed, keeping my weapon up just in case. “Yeah,” I retorted, “sorry but I don’t really see the people who enslave entire races as the good guys. I’m pretty sure you’re both complete dicks.”

“You have a simplistic view of the situation,” the guy snapped back at me. “But with any luck, you will—”

He stopped suddenly glancing down at something on his wrist before looking back up again. His voice was flat. “This will be continued,” he promised me. “I truly hope that you survive.”

Before I could ask what that was supposed to mean, the guy disappeared right in front of my eyes. Actually, they were all disappearing. All around me, the soldiers, conscious or unconscious, or even dead, were disappearing. I was left there in the corridor with just Apollo and Larissa.

“It worked?” I blurted, looking around while catching my breath.

Larissa nodded. “We stalled them long enough. The ship’s computer detected the imminent collision and destruction, so it initiated their lifepod system.”

The lifepod system. Basically, if the computer of the ship knew that it was about to be destroyed, it would take every registered being on it and teleport them to the nearest safe location. At this point, the ship was empty except for us.

“How soon until we, you know, collide?” I asked. “And I thought they’d be more alarms than this.”

“I disabled them.” That was Athena, stepping out of the other room. “And collision is imminent.” She looked toward Apollo with a gesture. “It’s time.”

The man nodded at that, pulling something from his pocket. It looked like a small metal stick with runes inscribed along it. “All right,” he replied, “everyone get in close.”

We did, getting close to him as he triggered the spell he had put on the stick. A second later, we were standing somewhere else. Well, we hadn’t really gone anywhere, technically. The place we were, which looked just like a simple white room, was just a pocket dimension located within the stick that Apollo had been holding. The stick which was still back in that ship, while it was colliding with the facility on the moon and the energy from that reactor was exploding into a wave that would destroy the protective spell that had been over it to prevent anyone from teleporting down there. We were here so that we didn’t have to sit through all that, which would have been a bit…well, dangerous, to say the least.

“Sorry,” I started then, while taking the chance to collect myself and breathe for a moment. “Sorry I wasn’t more help back there. You guys had to deal with most of them.”

The three of them looked at each other, and then Larissa’s hand was on my shoulder. “You both did extremely well,” she assured us. “You kept up remarkably.”

Apollo nodded at that while giving me a charming smile. “Trust me, kid, you fighting a full Seosten soldier to what amounted to a standstill, that’s nothing to sneeze at.” He paused then, before winking at me. “Even if he was blind.”

My mouth fell open at that, and I blurted, “He was? I mean, I thought he might be, but I dismissed it because he was fighting so well. And he seemed to look right at me. Plus, you know, I figured if there was any kind of blindness, you guys could fix it. I mean, not you guys, the Seosten.”

“In most cases,” Athena informed me, “they could. What your opponent back there possesses is a very rare genetic mutation, which allows them to see, as we do, only through the eyes of a host. It was borne of experimentation when our scientists were working on ways to prevent so many lost pregnancies.”

“So he was born blind,” I noted. “But still, couldn’t they just fix that?”

It was Apollo who answered. “They may be blind as far as you or I are concerned. But their condition allows them to see energy. They see heat, they see magical energy, electricity, things like that. They see a lot of things beyond normal sight. Hell, they can even see sound waves and concussive force in the air. So while it could be fixed, some of them choose to keep it that way, and learn to use their version of sight.”

Staring that way for a moment, I flailed. “No wonder that fight was such a pain in the ass,” I blurted out loud, my voice a high squeak, “that guy was fucking Daredevil! I deserve points for fighting fucking Daredevil!”

“And yet,” Athena pointed out then, “You didn’t simply survive your encounter, you actually performed quite admirably against him.”

“You did,” Larissa confirmed. “I was keeping an eye on you, just in case I needed to step in. But you held your own. Very impressive.”

Smiling despite myself at that while a slight blush crossed my face, I tapped the side of my head with one finger. “Couldn’t do it without my partner.”

As I felt Tabbris’s embarrassment and delight, Athena gestured. “That’s long enough, it’s time to go back before they manage to recover.”

Apollo obliged. With a wave of his hand, he disabled the spell. An instant later, we were back in the same corridor we had been in before. But things had changed. The place looked half destroyed. There were dark scorch marks everywhere, along with large, jagged holes in the walls and floor that left exposed wires and pipes that all crackled occasionally with random spurts of power. Electricity sparked in the air from some of those exposed wires, and I saw several fires. There was different colored smoke everywhere, and part of the corridor was bent in the wrong direction. All in all, this place looked pretty badly damaged. And I was sure that the rest of the ship was in just as bad of shape. After all, the thing had just collided with a moon before the reactor exploded. The ship was ruined. And I had to think that it had probably done a pretty bad number on the ground itself.

I was glad that the ship’s crew had been teleported off before the impact. I didn’t want to be even partly responsible for that many horrible deaths like that, even if they were our enemies.

“Call down the others,” Athena instructed. “It’s time for the next step.”

Right, now that the protective spell was down, the rest of our little group could join us. With a nod, I touch the communication plan that I had been provided with. “Okay guys,” I announced, “we’re ready for you down here.”

Well, the others clearly hadn’t been asleep while they waited for us. Almost the exact moment that I had finished saying that, a glowing portal appeared right across from us. A second later, Haiden emerged with his weapon rest. He was joined quickly by Vanessa, Tristan, Jazz, Gordon, and Sands. They all came ready for a fight, relaxing marginally only when they saw that there were no immediate threats.

“Mom!” Showing just how worried she had been while she was stuck back on the other ship, Sands ran directly to her mother, embracing the woman tightly.

With a smile, Larissa returned the embrace, before nodding to everyone else. “All right,” she started quietly. “Looks like we’re all here.”

Roxa, with Gidget ready and alert at her side, spoke up. “I don’t know what that looked like from your guys’ end, but it was pretty fucking crazy from ours. They had a bunch of ships going and trying to stop this one. They must’ve blown half the ship off trying to knock it off course or destroy it. But nothing worked. They couldn’t blow it up in time.” A dark, feral smile appeared then. “Probably what they get for making the thing so tough to begin with.”

Tristan’s head bobbed up and down quickly as he stood there with Bobbi-Bobbi and her cannon form attached to his arm. “Yeah,” he agreed, “then it hit that tower just outside the main lab and just…” Throwing his hands (One of them covered by that enormous cannon) up and out, he made an explosion noise. “It was pretty damn cool.”

“It will also have attracted a lot of attention,” Athena pointed out. “We need to move quickly now, before Kushiel’s forces—”

“I truly don’t think-“ a new, yet familiar voice spoke up then, “—that it is Kushiel whom you should be worried about.”

Radueriel. The Seosten inventor was there at the broken entrance of the corridor. All around him were uniformed and armed soldiers. Each stood at attention in the way that made it clear that he was using his connection to them. They were all under his control. And all of them were pointing their weapons at us.

Before any of us could move, there was the sound of ripping, tearing metal. We spun back the other way, just as part of the wall behind us was being ripped off. There stood another collection of soldiers, including the giant troll that had just ripped the wall open. We were surrounded.

Then it got worse. That huge troll shapeshifted right in front of our eyes. Shrinking somewhat (but not too much) the thing took the form of a still very large, handsome man. The guy looked like a bodybuilder’s wet dream. He was a huge slab of beef, with muscles growing on muscles. He was what Conan the barbarian wished he could be. Hell, the guy looked like he could dribble Conan. He pretty much defined beefcake.

“Abaddon,” Athena spat the name while glaring that way.

Shit, right. Abaddon. Or, as we knew him on Earth, Ares. She’d told me about him. His ability allowed him to essentially take the shape and form of any previous host he’d had. He could even take on their powers that way. Anytime a form he was using was killed, he lost access to it permanently, or at least until he possessed them again. But it meant that you had to kill every single form that he had access to before killing the man himself would take. Hell, even if you killed him in his normal Seosten form, he’d just lose access to it for a time and have to take another shape until it regenerated.

Basically, Ares was a giant pain in the ass, and the fact that you had to kill him so many times before it actually ‘took’ was why he’d built up a reputation for recklessness. But, reckless as he was, the man was still incredibly dangerous. There was a reason he was known as a war god.

And now, we were caught between him and Radueriel, along with an army on both sides.

“As I said,” Radueriel smoothly announced while the soldiers around him all readied their weapons, the hum of their growing energy audible, “it is not Kushiel with whom you should be concerned right now. You should find yourselves quite busy with us.”

Apollo replied with a little shrug, “I don’t know. Two Olympians versus two Olympians and their assorted friends? Seems like this shouldn’t take too long at all.”

A chuckle came from Ares then. The big guy lifted his chin. “Who said we only brought two?”

With those words, a half dozen of the soldiers around us straightened up and a glowing figure appeared beside each of them. More Seosten.

“They may not have been bridge crew,” Radueriel noted, “but they were very much members of the Olympus. And they were also close friends of our dearly departed Charmiene. Which means that they are very much interested in having a discussion…” His hand rose then to point directly at me.

“With her.”

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38 comments

  1. Super dooper double-sized chapter! 😀 Thanks for reading, guys. Sorry for the lack of a bonus chapter or interlude on Wednesday, but I hope this helps make up for that. I just couldn’t figure out where to split or cut this chapter, so I put it all out together as one. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

    Thanks again, and over the weekend, I will be contacting everyone who won this month’s free interlude drawing. So look forward to that, as well as the next chapter!

    Tags were: Abbadon/Ares, Apollo, Every Time I Think That Tabbris’s Usefulness Has Been Fully Explored‚ She Does Something Like Mute The Distracting Killgasm., Felicity Chambers, Flick, Ishtien, Lailah, Larissa Mason, Nimue/Athena, Pahaliah, Radueriel, Tabbris, Truly‚ The Revelation That Charmiene Actually Had Friends Is The Biggest Shock-Cliffhanger In This Entire Story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well I guess having that many friends explains how someone as arrogant Charmeine got to be as old as she was. But if they’re all on a similar combat level as her, then that means bad things for the upcoming fight. Were any of these guys known as gods?

    I presume that Pahaliah was the semi-blind guy, right? Guess that’s one more name to add to the list of Seosten that will show up later on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also, I really liked that guy’s “we could do amazing work together” pitch. I don’t know how genuine it is, but it seems to underline a different school of thought for host treatment in the Empire than what we’ve seen from most loyal Seosten.

      It’s still bad, not trying to say it’s not, but I’m genuinely curious to see how that guy treats hosts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I bet that attitude is a lot more common the closer you get to the war front. There’s probably even an element of “hey, I’m giving up my prejudice against non-Seosten to focus on the Fomorians, can’t you meet me halfway and give up your freedom?” in that kind of mindset.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think there’s a whole spectrum of open host treatment among all Seosten, ranging from relative partnership to complete and dehumanzing control. Seeing this guy apparently offer the former was a nice surprise.

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      3. If this was a geniune offer, I’m wondering what Pahaliah would think about how Tabbris and Flick are currently working together. Would he just give them a thumbs-up and extend that offer about fighting the Fomorians side by side to both of them or would he try to “steal Tabbris’ ride”? Guess that depends on his attitude towards hosts… Does he see them as slaves and “talking possessions”/”intelligent animals” who can and should be used as tools and weapons or is he willing to see this as a team effort that goes both ways?

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      4. Well, his apparent attempts to reason with Flick seemed at least a little condescending, but Ceruelan also called it a genuine offer to work together in his reply to me… my guess is that Pahaliah regards non-Seosten as lesser, but more than animals or objects.

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      1. I genuinely want to know how he’d react to Flick offering to possess him in a partnership against the Formorians. I mean that’s better, right?

        Then you can have him possess a person, and go full Matryoshka on the Fomorians.

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      2. I am now curious as to what would happen if they made a Matryoshka chain of Seostan/Heretic/Seostan/Heretic that ended in the entire assembly being possessed by Ares.

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      3. That is a very good question. As far as his power goes, he would likely subsequently be able to turn into any of the people along the line of possession.

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  3. Cool, more trickery. I’m glad you didn’t just go straight to combat.

    Possessing someone is the one time it’s actually safe to do a favor for your enemy. Flick could tell immediately that Lailah was being sincere. And for the record, I’m totally in support of Flick’s decision there. That’s exactly the attitude we want the Seosten to have, so supporting it is good.

    I kept waiting for Tabbris to boost Flick against Pahaliah. But Tabbris was busy, and anyway it’s probably better to save that for later.

    It sure is a good thing the lifepod system didn’t teleport out Apollo in the body he was possessing or Larissa’s unconscious host body.

    It’s also a good thing nobody else closed to melee with Flick while she was fighting the blind guy. I’m going to assume they were moving fast enough that nobody else felt safe approaching in melee. And, of course, Tabbris blocked or absorbed any ranged attacks.

    The fight scene was awesome, and just what I’ve been waiting for after all the (excellent) chapters of downtime.

    I like how Flick and Tabbris have clearly improved into huge badasses, but at the same time, there’s obvious room for growth: the earlier boosting thing, Flick or Tabbris learning to multitask enough to use sand even in this wild of a battle, possessing faster, and just plain old combat skill improvements are all on the table as improvements after more training.

    Yay, Athena did the sensible thing and taught them about all the threats they were most likely to face.

    The exposition on Abaddon felt smoother to me than last chapter’s exposition on Apollo. I’m guessing because it was shorter and surrounded by exciting stuff instead of more exposition of stuff I already knew.

    Yeah, this is bad. I never really considered that they might end up in a straight fight against Radueriel, Abaddon, and soldiers, let alone with extra Olympians on the enemy side. From a purely military standpoint, I could see a fight to the death between the sides going either way, but not without casualties even on the winning side. Which is BAD, and tells me that one of three things is going to happen:
    1) I’m pleasantly surprised as the heroes turn out even more badass than I expected and win without casualties.
    2) One of the heroes pulls out some prepared trick that gets them out of this somehow. (Totally within Apollo and Athena’s standard set of moves)
    3) Something surprising happens to give the good guys an advantage. (Aelaestiam reinforcements, Aelaestiam orbital bombardment, Jophielisabet help out, etc.)
    For story reasons, I can’t really see any of the present heroes dying here, but I’m still on the edge of my seat waiting to see how they’ll get out of this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. She should’ve killed the leader guy, then kill the girl she’d been possessing. That might’ve given her the edge to kill the blind guy and all of those powers would’ve prepared her for the next encounter but noooo let’s leave them alive to kill and torture future humans -_-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And then she starts killing slaves with no remorse. Shows you she’s a hypocrite. Anything looking human enough gets a pass, anything else gets slaughtered.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not really. Human looking or not, Flick has no problem killing anyone or anything in the middle of a fight, but she’s repeatedly been shown to hesitate and avoid killing people after the fight is over, or before it begins.

        This is best shown when she tried to talk down Truman Hyde, who didn’t look human at all at the time AND was minutes away from murdering hundreds of human teenagers. Once they actually started fighting she didn’t hesitate to finish him, but before that she genuinely tried to reason with the man.

        If you come at Flick with intent to kill and have a decent shot at it, she’ll kill you back regardless of your circumstances. But if the fight ends and you’re still alive, she won’t finish you off. She’s been pretty consistent about this. The only time she’s ever killed anyone in cold blood was when she and Roxa killed unsuspecting guards in arc 29, and she was clearly uncomfortable doing it.

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      2. Killing in battle, killing from ambush, and executing a helpless person are not equivalent.

        Flick has no problem with the first, a severe distaste for the second, and is absolutely unwilling to do the third if the target doesn’t REALLY have it coming.

        The only time Flick’s gone way out of her way to confirm a kill, to the point it could be seen as execution was against a human looking opponent: chasing Charmeine out the window.

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      3. This also really bugged me.

        Sure I get the arguments that she only kills in a fight but that is exactly what this was.

        She does not kill that one Seosten in an ambush due to a plea from the one she is possessing. Then she instantly turns around and kills a (comparatively) innocent soldier in ambush with no remourse.

        This is just compounded for me by how much of the first part of the chapter was taken up by her working to connect with and save another random soldier.

        And no one even comments on it. I was holding out for some comment from Apollo to the effect of leaving those Seosten alive was stupid.

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      4. Just to point out one thing here (and this is addressed to everyone in this conversation thread), they’re trying to change the Seosten society, not murder every Seosten in it. Apollo isn’t going to say that not killing a Seosten that she didn’t have to was stupid, particularly when there’s a chance that that Seosten might change in the future because of that kindness.

        Yes, Flick killed in combat. If she hadn’t killed, she and people she cared about would have been killed themselves. And if either of the Seosten (the one she was possessing or the one she knocked out) had been an active threat at that point, she would have killed them too.

        But they weren’t. Lailah told Flick how to knock out Ishtien (and with possession, Flick/Tabbris would have known if she was lying) without killing him, begging for his life. Flick is not the kind of person who could just ignore that. It was, at that second, a noncombat situation and she had a perfectly valid alternative. That is something she did not have with the others.

        Basically, there is pretty much no way that the Flick we know could hear someone literally begging for someone’s life like that, with a **valid alternative** to killing, and still kill them in cold blood.

        Honestly, Flick working to connect with Ylek (the guy she possessed in the last chapter) and listening when Lailah begged her not to kill her friend is perfectly consistent. Both are her bonding (in a manner of speaking) with her host.

        And as far as gaining things goes, sure, she could have gained a power boost from killing both of those Seosten. But there’s also the potential to gain something much more important in the long run: Allies.

        I mean, sure, there’s no way to say that Lailah would change sides just from that. But at the very least, it could make her think. It could make her question just a little bit. It might do nothing, or it might do a lot.

        My point is, Flick not killing an unaware opponent when given a valid alternative and being begged not to by a genuinely terrified and helpless other person is completely consistent with her character. As is her killing ruthlessly in actual combat. And as far as the benefits to having killed them go, think of it as… killing would have been an immediate short term benefit while sparing them has the potential for greater benefit later on.

        On the other hand, it also has the potential for bad things, as both of those Seosten could go on to do a lot of harm that Flick could have ended this day. There’s (at least for her) no way to know the future like that.

        What it comes down to is that killing for immediate power despite being begged not to isn’t the Flick thing to do, it’s much closer to the Isaac thing to do. Which isn’t to say you don’t have perfectly valid arguments, because you do. And there are other characters who would have made that exact call. But they’re not Flick.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. First, Flick has killed human-looking and non-human-looking opponents pretty much interchangeably as long as they’re in combat. Second, as Hendy pointed out, she has previously gone out of her way to try and avoid killing even someone like Truman Hyde.

        The point isn’t that ‘she spared one person because they looked human and killed someone else because they didn’t’, it’s that she killed some in the heat of combat because to not do so would mean that she or people she cared about would die, and she *didn’t* kill another because she was given a valid alternative.

        And while I totally understand and appreciate that you can only judge as far as the story has been written, I would say… don’t claim that she has no remorse until this whole thing is actually over. She’s kind of busy/focused right now.

        Basically, I don’t believe that anything she’s done is ‘hypocritical’. She spared someone she could because there was an alternative that put him out of the fight without endangering their mission. She killed others because she needed to in order to protect herself/her friends and to further their mission to save Sariel. That is all fully consistent. And again, she has, to my knowledge, *never* actually acted as ‘anything human-looking gets a pass, anything else gets slaughtered’.

        Hell, her **last host** was described as looking like Mike from Monsters Inc, only furry. And she treated him perfectly respectfully, even bonding with him a bit. I’m pretty sure that conflicts with the claim that she only cares about human-looking people.

        She has made friends with plenty of non-human-looking people, has spared/helped/bonded with some who look human and others who really don’t. And she has murdered both those who do look human and those who don’t. It has always depended on the exact situation, *not* whether someone looks human or not.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Typos:

    “A lost of soldiers.”

    “and a glowing figure appeared beside them. More Seosten.”
    – couldn’t tell if only one new figure showed up or a host of them?

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    1. More Typos:
      “We were both attacking and countering so fast for a normal person wouldn’t of been able to follow it.”
      Seems more like a re-writing error. Either “too fast for a normal person” or “so fast a normal person wouldn’t have been able”. Both together are a bit awkward. =)

      Like

  6. Why would Flick keep the two leader Seosten alive, not get their powers, allow them to come back at her, and then immediately go in and kill soldiers who may or may not be slaves? That part made no sense. Thanks for the chapter, as always.

    Like

    1. Because that’s her character. She almost never kills people that aren’t actively fighting her, and the only time she did (ambushing guards in arc 29) she felt extremely uncomfortable doing it. If she’s in the middle of the fight, when someone is actively trying to kill her, then yeah, she won’t hesitate to kill them back. But once that fight is over and they’re unconscious? She’s never killed anyone in that state.

      If you think that’s stupid, fine. But it’s entirely consistent with her behavior throughout the story. She tried to talk down Truman Hyde when he was about to murder a school, she tried to reason with “Pace” in Winter Wonderland. Flick doesn’t like to kill people, to the point of feeling guilty about killing Valentine the werewolf and Doxer. If she’s not in the heat of battle, doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary, or not up against an individual she HATES, she tries to avoid killing.

      It would make less sense and be out of character for her to start doing it without comment.

      Like

  7. >Lifting the woman’s hand, I flipped the button on the side of the knife, triggering the stun-prod on the hilt before smacking it into the back of the Seosten man’s neck. A jolt of purple electricity crackled across his skin, before the man collapsed to the ground with a cry that was abruptly cut off as he fell into a completely unconscious heap.
    Ignoring the rush of gratitude from my host,

    Hm. I wonder if Lailah will re-examine her beliefs/biases should she survive this. An (in her mind) Abomination demonstrated mercy when it was asked for, after all.

    >As I flipped backward, away from the falling figure, I felt the rush of pleasure from his death. But it was muted a bit, like I wasn’t really feeling the full effect of it, just enough to know it was there.
    Did you do that? I quickly asked my partner while landing in a crouch with my staff in one hand.
    Um. Y-yes? The response came a bit hesitantly. I didn’t know if it would work or not, but I thought it would help if you weren’t so distracted. So I um, I tried.

    Well, that’s a big help for when a Heretic has to make multiple kills in an active combat situation.

    >“You,” the Seosten started, “would make a most worthy vessel to put against the Fomorians. Abandon this foolishness, and come to fight the true threat. We could do amazing work together. There is no need for us to be enemies.”

    This guy needs to work on his “Come over to the Dark Side” speech- I rate it a 3/10 as is. That being said, though, he is certainly no slouch in battle, given that he was pressing Flick quite heavily even after her extensive training with Athena. The combination of Tabrris’ Overwatch and her Stamina power were the only things keeping her from being incap’d or killed in that engagement.

    >“Even if he was blind.”

    …Wat.
    *reads further* Not just Daredevil, Flick, but I’m also getting shades of the Miruluka race from Star Wars with his composite “sight” abilities.

    >With those words, a half dozen of the soldiers around us straightened up and a glowing figure appeared beside each of them. More Seosten.
    “They may not have been bridge crew,” Radueriel noted, “but they were very much members of the Olympus. And they were also close friends of our dearly departed Charmiene. Which means that they are very much interested in having a discussion…” His hand rose then to point directly at me.
    “With her.”


    Well, *fuck*. Six other Olympians, even if a little lower of the proverbial totem pole. If they counted Charmiene as a close friend (in which case they are monstrous just like her), there will be no talking them down; they’ll need to die.

    That’s an unauspicious cliffhanger to be sure, Cerulean, and I’m wondering just how Flick’s going to get out of this one…

    Like

    1. Assuming for the moment that Athena and Abbadon cancel each other out, and Apollo and Radueriel cancel each other out.

      That’s six lower end Olympus crew members vs Teams Stranded. We know they’re not playing on Athena’s level since Radeuriel brought Ares to handle her. I figure that Haiden, Larissa and Dries should be able to handle most of them and then it turns a quality vs numbers and teamwork fight.

      Athena’s scattershot precog should let her toss the occasional bit of help to her allies while avoiding routes where Abaddon does the same to help his side or tries to force her to tank hits for them.

      The Olympus redshirts also don’t know that Gordon has a deathtouch level ice touch and aura which will probably account for one of them if he pulls it out.

      Like

  8. hmmm remind me again how does her portal work?
    she must see both “sides”?
    because with a little help (maybe a vision power or spell), I have a sick way, scratch that, just tought of a second one, 2 sick ways to use that:
    1) open the portal just in front of the target face and the other side in the void of the space and watch the true meeing of vacuum…
    2) same for the first part and open the other side in, let’s say the corona of a star… BAM, plasma canon in the face…

    Like

  9. My own question about the fight is “why didn’t Flick try to possess the blind Seosten?”

    It might have something to do with me being a coward, but if I had the possession power, I would ALWAYS possess an enemy. It’s one less enemy for me to fight, and an extra life in case the enemy manages to get a killing blow.

    The fact that she could then use the Seosten to possess yet another enemy matrioshka-style is just icing on the cake.

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    1. She did. It was mentioned that Tabbris made her grab his wrist, but before she could possess him, he got her with a headbut.

      Like

    2. As Prince Pondincherry said, they did attempt it, but he anticipated what she was trying and headbutted her first to knock her away from him/daze her before she could do it.

      Like

  10. The canonical (Hebrew) name of the destroyer in the Bible is Abaddon, with one b and two ds. Is the different spelling here intentional or just the result of not having that as part of your meaningless trivia?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol, more the latter and me constantly forgetting if it’s supposed to have one b and two d’s or the other way around. I’ll fix it up next chance I get, thanks!

      Like

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