Please note a couple of important things. First, there was a mini-interlude focusing on Tabbris posted a couple days ago. If you missed it, feel free to use the Previous Chapter button above. And second, there are two very important notes in my first comment at the bottom of the chapter, concerning the start of voting for the joke tag contest (with all nominees listed), and big updates to the Patreon to add actual rewards (including access to chapters a day early!) for you wonderful patrons!. Thank you all very much, and you can find all that information, again, in my first post in the comments.
“It seems that you somehow neglected to mention that your little emergency escape hatch was pointed directly at Earth,” Jophiel, back inside of Elisabet, noted in a voice that made her displeasure at that fact clear. Though whether the bulk of her annoyance was because she hadn’t been informed of it, or because of the information itself, was a little more ambiguous.
They sat, arranged around a table in the spacious and exquisitely decorated dining room deep within one of several castle-like mansions that Kushiel and Puriel owned on the Seosten homeworld of Elohim. The four of them, including Radueriel and his lover, Abaddon, had come here after abandoning the remains of the research lab to Athena’s forces (and in some cases, after being magically healed from their injuries). Not that Athena’s forces had been able to stay there for long before they in turn had been forced to flee when the Seosten reinforcement fleet had finally arrived.
“Hmm?” Making a show of thinking about what Jophiel had said, Kushiel pursed her lips slightly, wine glass held close while she gazed into the ruby liquid as if answers to her put-on uncertainty would be found deep within. “Earth… Ah, you mean the human name for Rysthael. Honestly, why bother to use the vulgar human term when the planet’s true name is so much more elegant and descriptive? Hidden. That is a much better name for that world. Don’t you agree, gentlemen?”
Radueriel spoke first, his tone casual. “Setting aside the fact that my husband has never been described as gentle by anyone who has had any proper experience with him, I do prefer our name for the planet, yes. Rysthael suits it.”
Grinning at his lover’s words, Abaddon put an arm around the other man and tugged him closer. “Yeah, well, I like Earth. It’s simple. Easy. And Urrr is a good sound. Urrr-thuh. Good, strong sounds.”
They’re changing the subject, Elisabet noted, her own annoyance at the revelation that had been brought up making the thought-words come through as a slight growl.
“You’re changing the subject,” Jophiel announced aloud, agreeing with the other woman. “Although that was a very well choreographed attempt, I will admit. But please, do tell me why you were set to flee to the planet that is my responsibility.”
“Partly your responsibility,” Kushiel stressed, in a voice that failed to sound quite as offhand or uncaring she clearly intended. “After all, your authority begins and ends with events involving the… what was the name for that school, again?”
“Crossroads,” Radueriel supplied, after taking a sip of his own wine. Of course the man would remember that. He had, after all, been responsible for the creation of the Heretical Edge itself, the partially-living construct which gave Heretics their Reaper-derived power.
Kushiel gave a slight nod then. “Ah, yes, Crossroads. Your authority begins and ends with events involving Crossroads, I believe. We mustn’t ignore poor Cahethal in the Garden of Ethan. She holds as much authority as you, after all. And then, of course, there is Metatron. I do believe that the old man might object somewhat to you claiming that the human planet is your responsibility.”
“Eden,” Jophiel corrected. “Garden of Eden. Eden’s Garden, actually. While you are trying not to ignore Cahethal, you should get that right. And the loss of your lab, subjects, and failure in the face of Lucifer and Auriel must have thoroughly shaken you,” the woman noted that part in a flat tone that she allowed only a hint of amusement to creep into. “You are not usually quite so transparently obvious in your attempt to distract from an uncomfortable subject.”
Kushiel’s glare was priceless, and worth it. “I did not see you actively participating in the effort to repel them,” she noted through tightly gritted teeth. “What, precisely, was your contribution?”
Resisting the morbidly tempting instinct to tell the woman exactly what she had been doing, Jophiel instead gave a little shrug. “I was not willing to risk my identity being exposed by contributing to your attempt at a trap. Perhaps if I had been told ahead of time, I could have prepared myself. And I did retrieve you from the… situation before any permanent damage was done.”
The other woman’s scowl only darkened. “You certainly waited long enough. If you had given Lucifer and Auriel any longer…”
“My apologies, of course,” Jophiel replied in that syrupy-sweet tone that implied no such thing. “I assumed that you would be annoyed if I interrupted your confrontation with the two traitors so soon. Given your status, I was quite certain that you had the situation well in hand.”
Radueriel interrupted before the harshly glaring woman could snap back with whatever she had been about to say. “Now now, I believe the human phrase is no use crying over spilled juice and all that. Let us assess the current situation and determine where we now stand.”
“Most of the prisoners are gone,” Abaddon grunted while reaching out to pick up a thick roll full of meat from the table. Taking a heavy bite from it, the man continued without bothering to swallow. “Including Sariel. She’s out.”
Radueriel gave a faint nod at that. “Indeed,” he confirmed. “What was the last count, something like ninety percent of your subjects were just stolen? And are now completely missing, according to the scouts who were sent to check on the other end of that transport. They’re gone, possibly gallivanting around somewhere on Earth. Perhaps together, or perhaps not. They may well have scattered by this point. More than that, the transport itself is gone, with no sign of its location. And multiple members of the… ahem, Crossroads Committee, none of whom are under our direct control, have taken several of our dead soldiers. They have the bodies, and their equipment. They know more than they should, and have the potential to learn entirely too much.”
“I will handle that,” Jophiel informed the man as well as the other two. “Accidents will happen. Reports will be adjusted. We will allow them to gather some information, but only that which points them in a useful direction.”
Taking another bite of his meat roll, Abaddon demanded, “Why the hell was the transport pointed at some empty spot in the desert instead of some secure place like a prison or something?”
Kushiel bristled slightly at that, clearly annoyed. “The final destination was a secure facility that was prepared ahead of time. The trouble was that the transport had not finished aiming at that facility before it was prematurely activated. The targeting was only off by a very small number of degrees, but that itself was enough to make them end up thousands of miles away from the intended destination. Even then, the force that was able to transport out to meet them would have been enough to contain the situation and hold the children there as long as necessary for reinforcements to arrive, if…”
“If Sariel had not woken up,” Jophiel finished for her, mostly resisting the urge to smirk at the woman’s failure, particularly given her own contribution to that. “It seems that despite her extensive imprisonment, her intervention was too much for your security force to handle.”
Kushiel’s glare returned to her. “She should not have been able to wake up at all,” she snapped. “The only way that Sariel could’ve been released from that pod is if those children somehow had the security code. That is what I do not understand. How did they extract the code? And, for that matter, why would Eulfe have started the transport to begin with? We have seen the security recordings taken from before the transport set off. There was no reason for him to do so. None. He had the situation perfectly in hand, and would have known better.”
The answer, in both cases, was sitting right across from her. Not only had Jophiel and Elisabet provided the children with the code to open Sariel’s pod, but it had also been a simple matter to convince Kushiel’s powerful telekinetic underling that activating the transport right at that moment was the right move to make.
Oh, to be able to see the look on her face if you actually told her the truth, Elisabet lamented with a soft, inward sigh. It would almost be worth the trouble that it would cause.
Almost, Jophiel agreed before giving the woman in question a little shrug. “Lucifer has ways of obtaining far more information than he should have. It was clearly his doing.” Her eyes narrowed then. “My question is… why, precisely was your transport aimed toward Earth in the first place? What were you planning on doing with your test subjects there?”
“First of all,” Kushiel began, “What better place would there have been to keep Sariel away from those attempting to liberate her than the one planet that we knew they could not get to? The banishment was removed from her in preparation for the trip, but it should still be affecting her mate. Not to mention the fact that it would be the last place they would naturally look, and would be beyond or shielded from any tracking spells they might have attempted.”
“And secondly,” the woman continued with a tiny smirk, “the question is what am I planning on doing. Which, I should think that would be patently obvious. It has, after all, become very clear that Sariel’s offspring are viable. Particularly now, as the assault on the lab fully demonstrated, their Seosten genetics are enough that the two of them have been developing our gifts. Slowly, of course, but they have been developing. This is very… interesting. Yet, you have made it clear that you will not allow full experimentation to done on them. Thus, the next solution is to go straight to the source.”
Jophiel stiffened slightly at that. “Surely even you are not so desperate that you would see human-Seosten hybrids as a viable solution to our population issues. The Seraphim would never allow that. They would not accept the dilution of our race to that extent.”
Jophiel herself, of course, had less of a personal problem with that. But she also knew that there had to be more to it than that. Kushiel, after all, was not the type to accept that the only path forward for the Seosten as a race was to combine themselves with another. Her arrogance, which Jophiel had to accept that she also had more than her own fair amount of, was too much to allow that.
“Of course not,” Kushiel confirmed with a quick shake of her head. “But just as the humans have proven useful in other ways, so they may also be useful in this way. With the right human test subjects, it may be possible to add just enough of their genetics to a developing fetus to slow the development of the possession power long enough for the baby to be born and develop a little bit before it emerges. Of course, that will require a great amount of trial and error. We will lose a great many before the true solution is found. But then, they are only human after all. There are plenty more where they will have come from.”
Elisabet was the first to react, her thought-voice full of horror. She doesn’t want to make a human-Seosten alliance. She wants to use the humans as simple genetic stock to be pulled from to allow a Seosten to be born. We would be nothing but a pile of DNA for her to use just to slow the possession power.
Radueriel spoke up then, his tone curious as the man watched her. “Is something wrong, Jophiel? After all, you were the one who pushed the idea that humans and Seosten were genetically compatible. This solution would not have presented itself without those arguments.”
Resisting the strong urge to put her former crewmate on the floor, Jophiel shook her head slightly. “That solution was not my intention,” she replied flatly before returning her gaze to Kushiel. “And you say this is still your plan? Even with so many of your subjects missing?”
Kushiel smiled humorlessly. “A few of the subjects were already moved to the lab via other methods before the transport was arranged, while the new facility was being created. Between those and the subjects I will be able to acquire on the planet itself, it will be enough for a start. Not as much as I would have preferred with the rest of my patients, but enough.
“And in any case,” the woman continued pointedly, “Sariel is on that planet now. And I will not rest until she is back under my care. She is a traitor and deserter, and will not be allowed to roam free.”
“Speaking of which,” Radueriel put in then, “What became of her human mate, and the others back in the facility?”
It was Jophiel’s turn to answer. “At the request of Metatron, once Athena forced the two of you to withdraw and made her way to the transport room, I extracted Kushiel from the situation before it could deteriorate any further.”
If only the old man hadn’t been paying so much attention to the situation that it was impossible for Jophiel to get away with allowing Kushiel to fall, or at least be captured. But with his eyes on what had been going on, she had been forced to rescue the woman or risk her cover.
From the look on her face, Kushiel was none too pleased with that fact either. The idea that she had been rescued by Jophiel clearly annoyed the woman even more than she would say. Instead, she pointed out, “And yet, you could not find it within yourself to take a couple of them prisoner as well, while you were at it? Don’t tell me that you were afraid of taking a few human children along with us. They would have made excellent hostages to force the future compliance of Sariel and the others.”
Meeting the other woman’s hard glare, Jophiel replied simply, “My instructions were to ensure your survival and escape. To do anything else might have risked that.”
“And as a consequence of that,” Kushiel snapped, “they have all escaped. The Aelaestiam forces managed to rescue and extract any subjects who were not sent on the main transport itself, as well as a great deal of research data from those computers before it could be scrubbed. They also took weapons and supplies, before leaving the area ahead of our reinforcements. This has been a completely unmitigated disaster.”
With a completely straight face, Jophiel noted, “It’s almost as if attempting to plot a successful trap against the so-called goddess of wisdom and warfare is a fool’s errand.”
Kushiel glared at that. “Do not use Lucifer’s foolish terms. Those days are long over, and his scribblings are not relevant.”
It was Abaddon who voiced his disagreement with that. “Actually,” the large man noted, “they seem pretty relevant. You wanna catch him, you gotta know how he thinks.”
“Indeed,” Raduriel agreed. “And under Metatron’s new orders, it is our job to locate both Sariel and her pseudo-sibling, and bring them to the new facility on Rysthael.”
Somehow keeping her rising annoyance out of her voice, Jophiel looked to the two men. “That means you’ll be coming to Earth as well.”
Abaddon grinned at that, giving her a nod. “That’s right, Metatron figures going after Auriel and those others would be a waste of time. Sariel’s the real prize. Her and Lucifer. He says that guy’s been given too much time to run around. So we’re going there to drag those two into Kushiel’s new lab, one way or another.”
Raduriel gave a nod of agreement. “After all,” he noted, “we wouldn’t want to distract you from the missions that you are already involved with. You are quite busy as it is. It will be our job to locate Sariel and Lucifer and return them to their proper place, while Kushiel works to acquire other new subjects.”
Jophiel didn’t like it. She really didn’t like it. After all, the last place she wanted these three to be was on Earth, where they could cause more problems for her projects, which were in sensitive enough situations as it was. But there was also nothing she could do about it now that things had been set in motion. Metatron outranked her by far too much for her to put a stop to this.
So, she simply gave a small, tight-lipped smile while looking toward the two men. “You say that Lucifer is one of your targets for… acquisition. Yet as far as we know, he is still here in our space, not anywhere near Earth.”
Radueriel offered a slight shrug at that. “Knowing him, he will have a way to return there soon. Better to get ahead of him since we know what his final destination will be, than to stay behind in some pointless attempt at tracking him. As was the case with the prison facility, we know where they will be going. Thus, we move ahead and prepare for his arrival. While, of course, searching for Sariel herself.”
Unfortunately, he had a point. One that Jophiel couldn’t pick apart. Instead, she looked toward Kushiel. “It has been quite some time since you set foot on Earth, has it not?”
“Not nearly long enough,” the other woman retorted. “And I look forward to this unfortunately necessary time there being as short as possible before I may leave that place once and for all.”
That makes three of us, Jophiel noted inwardly toward her beloved before simply nodding. “Well, we will have to do everything within our power to ensure that you don’t have to stay for long.”
The two women stared at one another for a moment, their mutual dislike written across their faces. They tolerated one another out of little more than necessity, but had never been friendly. Not that Kushiel ever had many friends. There was a reason, after all, that Lucifer had not attempted to cast her as a loving and kindly figure within his stories.
Abaddon grunted then, interrupted the long and silent glare between the women as he pushed himself to his feet while taking one more meat roll. “Are we going or what? I don’t feel like sitting around anymore. Been awhile since I’ve been to Earth too, and there’s a few things I’ve been meaning to check out. Humans may not be Seosten, but from what I’ve heard, they’ve come up with a few good ideas here and there. After all,” he added with a toothy grin, “any species that makes a whole sport around building the biggest, baddest vehicles and using them to crush smaller vehicles can’t be all bad.”
Patting his lover’s arm, Radueriel nodded while standing up as well. “Yes, we will be joining you on your trip back. After all, there is no sense in all of us going separately.”
Except that if I have to spend much more time around the three of you, I may kill at least one, Jophiel muttered inside her own mind for no one but Elisabet to hear. Aloud, she simply replied, “Of course. Except…” To Kushiel, she asked, “Are you quite certain that you wish to leave your husband for that long? I highly doubt he will be coming with you.”
The woman had a flash of what looked like annoyance on her face before masking it. “Puriel will be fine. He has his healers and minders to ensure that he does not do anything too… foolish. I will visit him as necessary. While,” she added then, “also working toward a cure for his affliction, of course.”
His affliction. Jophiel resisted the urge to laugh in the woman’s face. Puriel did have many problems, conditions that weakened the man and left him unable to perform his duties. But his main ‘affliction’, as Kushiel had put it, was one that no amount of medicine or tests would fix. The man had been fundamentally changed by his experiences following the destruction of the banishment orb.
Instead of saying that, however, Jophiel simply stepped away from the table. “In that case,” she began, “the men are absolutely correct. We should go. After all, it’s going to be a long trip back to Earth.
“And I’m sure you can’t wait to get started.”