Month: September 2020

Interlude 8A – Seosten Chibis (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – In case you don’t read Summus Proelium to have gotten this note already, the first non-canon chapters for both stories were published on Patreon over the weekend. While limited to patrons of any level on Saturday, they were opened to the public 24 hours later and are now there to be read whenever you would like. You can find the Heretical Edge non-canon chapter right here, and the non-canon chapters are also listed in story’s table of contents in the next slot.

“I’m a pirate! Rawr!” With that dramatic pronouncement, the four-year-old Seosten girl known as Saveniah leapt from the railing of the porch surrounding one of the cabins in the Atherby camp. In each hand, she held a pair of wooden toy swords. She dropped a good five feet or so before landing smoothly. Four years old or not, the Seosten developed their incredible physical prowess very quickly. Especially those descended from so-called Olympians. 

Saveniah, or Savvy, was the daughter of the Olympian known as Aletheia. Though she had yet to demonstrate any of her mother’s Tartarus-derived special powers (something that likely wouldn’t happen for many years, if at all), she was already quite physically capable. The tiny girl was able to perform feats that any human children her age, and many who were much older, could never have accomplished.  

And yet, even logically knowing that, Koren Fellows still made a sound of panic in the back of her throat as she saw the dark-skinned, dark-haired little girl standing up on the railing before she made her leap. Forgetting everything else for a moment, Koren lunged past the other three Seosten toddlers, all of whom were cheering, and tried to catch the girl. It didn’t work out, as Koren found her feet going out from under her in that blind rush, leaving her sprawled out on her stomach, hands extended while the little kid landed neatly just inches away. 

Crouching down on her haunches and tilting her head, Savvy asked, “Kory fall down?” 

Koren started to grunt a response, before being interrupted as sandy-haired Grisiniel, the other girl in the quartet of toddlers, dramatically threw herself onto the ground slightly to the side while blurting, “Ebil monsta! Sabe us from ebil monsta!”

That, of course, prompted the two boys to dramatically throw themselves down as well, proclaiming in their kid-speech that they, as well as Koren herself, had been struck down by a foul creature that only the pirate queen Saveniah could defeat. 

Lying there in the dirt, Koren shook her head in wonder. She was supposed to be babysitting the kids here for a while. Though, to be fair, it was more like a play date. The Seosten matured very quickly once they were born and all, and their developing minds needed a lot of stimulation. They had tons of energy, huge imaginations, and were desperate for interaction with basically anybody and everybody. So, as many people as possible took turns playing with them.

All of which led her here, squinting up at Savvy, who was clearly trying to figure out how she should play this now that her friends had set the whole thing up. 

Thinking quickly, Koren gave a long, drawn-out groan. “Oh pirate queen, we’ve come so far for help to kill the monster of the beach.” 

The other three kids immediately jumped on that. Grisiniel as well as the boys, red-haired Penemu and brown-haired Kemetiel, all began long and hard to follow ramblings about all the evil things that this beach monster had supposedly done, and how this small group here had trekked for so many thousands of miles to find their savior. 

Feeding off that, Koren pushed herself to a sitting position while conspiratorially informing Savvy (and the other kids), “But even the dashing and powerful queen of pirates can’t defeat the dreaded beast without the Sword of Risen.” She pointed dramatically into the forest. “It is hidden within the trees. We’ve come to take you to find it.” Knowing that, despite their relative maturity, they were still very young and she had to keep things simple, Koren added, “We have to beat the little monsters in the forest to get the sword so Savvy can kill the big monster!”

That prompted all the kids to hop to their feet and start jumping up and down while excitedly proclaiming that they could all beat the little monsters. 

Eventually, and with some effort, Koren managed to get the four of them organized a bit and they set off together into the forest. With any luck, taking them for a long walk through the trees to find something that could approximate the ‘Sword of Risen’ so they could kill the big monster would wear the kids out. 

They set off with Savvy at the front, of course. The other three were right behind her, with Koren bringing up the rear so she could keep an eye on all of them. Together, the five began their hike along the trail. Each of the kids continued rambling excitedly about what kind of monsters dwelt in the trees, and how strong they themselves were to face such beasts. It was, as far as their babysitter could tell, a mix of actual creatures (filtered through the lens of a child who only slightly knew what they were talking about) and things wholly derived from their incredibly vivid imaginations. 

Nor did they only talk about monsters. As the hike continued, Koren listened to the four children essentially build an entire kingdom in their minds. The assortment of toddlers brainstormed together as they walked, inventing a city they called Fabeese (she was guessing on the spelling), a city built from rubies and sapphires, where a baron made entirely out of gold ruled over the people. Baron Snitz, as they called him, had the power to turn anything he wanted to into more gold. So the city was incredibly prosperous. He paid Savvy the pirate queen lots of that gold to attack ships who were carrying other gold so that Fabeese gold would be the only safe treasure. 

Koren knew one thing for damn sure. Neither she, nor any of her friends, had ever actually come up with that kind of detailed story when they were that young. The Seosten brains really did develop fast, no matter how much they still sounded like the tiny kids they were. No wonder they always crave interaction and attention. They probably got really bored easily with anything that ordinary human children their age might have been expected to play with. Seriously, she was actually enjoying listening to them come up with this story together, and resisted the urge to input. She didn’t want to taint their story too much now that she had gotten the ball rolling. It was better to let them come up with these details and just marvel at them. It was like listening to a group of very skilled improv actors creating a scene. Damn the intergalactic empire of slavery, the Seosten had apparently missed their calling as filmmakers.  Actually, come to think of it, Apollo was responsible for an awful lot of early mythology regarding the Olympians and was even a strong influence in later stories and movies in the modern day. So that made sense. 

According to the story that the four toddlers made up as they walked, Penemu was a farmer/wrestler who fought giant bears, and Kemetiel was a guard whose entire village was killed by the monster. Grisiniel, meanwhile, joined her fellow girl in being ‘royalty’, though rather than a pirate queen, she chose to be a magical princess. In her general words, the queen of the planet was sad that so many people were dying, so she made a little rock turn into a girl (Grisiniel herself), gave her some magic healing and protection spells to use, and sent her to help the trio of pirate, farmer/wrestler, and soldier beat the evil monster. 

It made sense for Grissy, Koren noted. The girl was always trying to help other people. Even the whole bit earlier with throwing herself on the ground and making up the story about the monster to spare Koren herself from being embarrassed for falling. Despite her very young age, Grisiniel repeatedly tried to give her own food to other people if she thought they looked hungry and weren’t eating, climbed up into the laps of people who looked sad and hugged them, repeatedly asked the adults who were doing chores if she could help, and so on. She had her own little broom she would use to sweep off the porches whenever she saw someone else doing so, and flat out loved to help with the dishes. She actually enjoyed getting dirty plates and bowls clean again so that people could eat with them. The fact that she would design her own playtime character around healing, protecting, and assisting others so they could do the more attention-grabbing things wasn’t surprising at all. 

As for Penemu being a farmer, the boy loved food almost more than he loved breathing. He liked every aspect of it, from the growing of it to the cooking of it to the consuming of it. The only thing surprising about him choosing to be a farmer was that he hadn’t chosen to be a chef. But according to him, farmers and those like them were where the food started. He saw them as the biggest heroes in the world. So, of course he would want his hero to be a farmer. 

Then there was Kemetiel. The boy, as far as Koren could tell, was more interested in coloring, painting (particularly with his fingers), and playing with clay than any soldiering. But as the ‘story’ continued and he babbled on excitedly about what his character looked like with his big axe and armor, she realized he had made up someone he wanted to make a picture of. Not that he was quite skilled enough, despite the general Seosten quick competence, to translate the image accurately from his head to paper just yet. But he would do his best. And the other three kids would ooh and aww over it. 

Which, of course, left Saveniah. She was their leader, the most outgoing one, the one who was so quick to charm adults. Savvy loved adventure stories, and one of the first of those that had been read to her was a children’s book version of Treasure Island. Followed, of course, by watching the Muppet version. Hence her thing for pirates. A ‘thing’ that had only been redoubled when she heard pirates in the Caribbean movies literally using the word ‘savvy’ so often. It tickled the kid to the point of delirious glee at the thought that her name was a ‘pirate word.’  

That girl was naturally charismatic and brave to the point of total recklessness even at such a young age. Given a few more years and Koren was pretty sure Savvy really would be a force to be reckoned with. She was brave and confident in a way that would only grow with experience to back it up. Not to mention the fact that, for a freaking four-year-old, she was pretty tough.

With their minder bringing up the rear, the four Seosten toddlers took their walk through the woods. Each took turns making up new perils to face, new monsters or traps that had to be overcome. A simple fallen tree, thanks to Kemetiel, became a log across a deadly chasm full of lava and lava snakes. Koren wasn’t entirely sure if they were snakes made of lava or just snakes who lived in the lava, but the point was that they were very dangerous and the group had to carefully climb over the log to avoid hurtling to their deaths far below.

After that was the large moss-covered boulder that Penemu decided was a terrible rock golem trying to break its way out of the ground, leading to him (as the wrestler, of course), straining with all of his strength to hold the ‘golem’ in place while Grissy used magic to make him stronger and the other two beat the rock with their stick-swords until it finally surrendered. 

When it was Grisiniel’s turn to create a new obstacle, the girl went in a somewhat different route than the others, yet one that fit quite well. According to her, a large tree that the group came across was making a ‘magic dream’ that made everyone who wandered past it get lost. But instead of needing to cut it down, the group had to talk to the tree and find out why it was so mad. As it turned out, the tree was upset because it didn’t have enough water. So the kids ran back and forth between it and a nearby stream, cupping water in little cups Grissy had brought along until she declared that the tree wasn’t thirsty anymore, and they were allowed to continue. 

There were a few more challenges like that, games the kids made up in order to entertain themselves as they all walked through the forest. Again, for the most part, Koren tried to stay out of things unless they directly involved her. She played along with anything they made up, but didn’t direct or push things one way or another. She wanted this to be their thing, not her own. 

Eventually, all four kids had to follow nature’s call, disappearing behind different trees. Koren kept an eye out, and noticed Grisiniel finish up first. Instead of coming out of the bushes, however, she dug around on the ground before finding something. Koren couldn’t see what she was doing very well, but the girl fussed with something from her pocket, then seemed to throw whatever she’d found on the ground off into the distance. 

Then the kids all returned, and before Koren could ask what that was, Grissy said they should go that way. The others agreed, and the trek continued. For a moment, anyway, until Kemetiel loudly blurted a question about what something was. That something, as it turned out, was a long stick that had a pretty blue bracelet wrapped tightly around it near one end. 

“You found it, Kemmet!” Grisiniel blurted happily. “You found the Sword of Risen!” Immediately, all four kids cheered and danced around, laughing and hugging each other as they talked about all the monsters and dangerous traps they’d had to go through. 

That was what the little girl had been doing, Koren realized. She’d found a stick, wrapped a bracelet around it to mark it as the sword they were looking for, and tossed it before leading them that way so that one of the others could actually find it. 

The cheers from the assorted kids grew even louder as Savvy picked up the stick, waving it around while making what sounded an awful lot like lightsaber noises. Everyone clapped, hopping up and down even more. Even Koren joined in with that, playing along with the excitement. Finally, Kemetiel pointed off into the distance toward the setting sun, declaring that the ‘dark monsters’ were coming because they were upset that the sword was being taken away. Which, of course, led to everyone, Koren included, running back the way they’d come. There was a decent amount of squealing and shouting as they raced along the trail, each loudly describing all the bad things that the dark monsters would do and that they had to get back home as quickly as possible. Despite their apparent headlong rush to escape, the kids were really good at staying right in Koren’s eyesight so she never worried about where they were. Part of her wondered who had taught them that, or if it was some kind of instinctive Seosten thing. 

Either way, they eventually made it back to the camp, where Savvy produced the ‘sword’ (still making lightsaber noises), and held it high over her head while loudly declaring that the pirate queen would save everyone. With that, she raced toward the beach with the others hot on her heels, everyone laughing and squealing the whole way. 

“There!” Koren declared, pointing toward an overturned, mostly broken canoe that had been long-since abandoned. “It’s the beach monster!” 

That, of course, led to a massive and chaotic battle where everyone fought the beast. Savvy and the two boys traded blows with it while Grissy healed them. It finally ended when Saveniah dramatically drove her stick-sword through a small hole in the canoe, then made a loud explosion noise with her mouth while hurling herself away from it. Belatedly, the others did the same, throwing themselves into the sand while making more explosion noises. 

Following suit, Koren found herself on the ground, listening to all four kids laugh and cheer over the death of the monster. They had saved Fabeese and Baron Snitz would be able to keep turning things into gold. 

Before long, the cheers and laughter turned to yawns. Their adventure, though it had only taken a couple hours, had done a lot to tire the kids out. They’d gone for a walk through the forest, had run back out of the forest, and had their climatic battle on the beach. Now, all four of them looked around a bit bleary-eyed, while Koren picked herself up. 

“Well, how’re the grand heroes doing?” The question came from Gabriel Prosser, who stood nearby. 

With loud proclamations of ‘Gabey’, the collection of toddlers raced to the man. The two boys clung to his legs, while he picked up one of the girls on each arm. Holding them up, Gabriel chuckled, listening as the four excitedly (though punctuated with yawns) told him all about their adventure. 

Between the two of them, Koren and Gabriel carried the toddlers together off to their beds while they were still tiredly recounting their whole tale. Soon, they were tucked in. All save for Saveniah, who hung from Gabriel’s neck, head resting against his shoulder as she finished telling the story in a voice that was essentially a barely audible and almost incoherent mumble. 

Finally, she finished, and Prosser gently praised what a brave and cunning pirate queen she was, then asked, “Safe sleep?” 

Savvy’s head bobbed rapidly, and she asked, “Safe okay?” 

“Safe okay,” Prosser agreed. 

With that, the Seosten toddler clung even more tightly to him, before completely vanishing. She possessed the man. Which, the first time Koren had seen, had freaked her out a bit. Now, she understood. The toddlers were old enough to safely possess people without fading away into nothing the way babies were in danger of, yet too young to actually control them. So, given permission by an adult, they would sometimes possess someone simply to fall asleep in a totally safe environment. And almost no one was safer than Gabriel Prosser. They essentially possessed people simply to take naps in a way that they couldn’t be bothered by anyone or anything. 

“Aaaand she’s out,” the man announced, smiling faintly as he looked to Koren before adding, “You did very well with them, you know.” 

“Eh,” Koren replied while shrugging self-consciously, “it wasn’t exactly hard. 

“But considering how much Savvy wants to be a pirate, I feel sorry for any ships that are around when she grows up.” 

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New Deals 13-11 (Summus Proelium)

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A/N: The first non-canon chapters for both of my stories were posted over the weekend on Patreon. They will not be posted here on the site but they are free and available for everyone to read over there. They were originally posted on Saturday for Patrons of any level, before being released for everyone 24 hours later. If you’d like, you can read the Heretical Edge chapter by going right here and the Summus Proelium chapter by going right here. Both will open in a new tab. Thanks!

Taking a nap helped. I was getting pretty good at splitting my sleep and having a few hours in the afternoon or evening sometime, going out late at night, and then getting a few more hours before getting up for school. Was that what all the Touched did? For that matter, how did my dad pull off being so busy all the time? Yeah, he didn’t exactly have a nine to five job or anything. But he still had tons of meetings to attend and had to put in appearances as well as his civilian self and as Silversmith. Was all of that explained just by him having another employee use one of those illusion machines or whatever it was to pose as him in public? That couldn’t always be it. He had to actually play both roles himself a good chunk of the time.

Yeah, even with that explanation, I was pretty sure my dad only slept a few hours a night. Especially when you added in him being present in my life to be a father and just the general family stuff. He was like a machine. Was that just from having a lot of practice or something? 

Either way, I was back out in the city after checking on Izzy. This time, I left a note on my pillow for her saying I needed air and that I would be back, along with a reminder that she could text or call me if she needed something. 

It was getting close to midnight by the time I made my way near the gas station where this whole thing with my new delinquent friends had started. That was when I told them to meet me, so I put myself at the edge of one of the buildings, painted myself black to blend in, and watched carefully for them to show up. 

I actually had to wait longer than expected. It wasn’t until almost ten minutes after midnight before something drew my attention toward the edge of the building I had told them to meet me behind. Two teenagers, sans masks, came jogging around the corner. They were clearly out of breath and sweating. 

The girl, obviously Murphy, had brown hair that was cut very short, with skin that was just dark enough to make me figure one of her parents was black and the other white. There was also something weird about her face, but I couldn’t tell what from the roof. 

Wow, ‘something weird about her face.’ When I put it like that, it sounded bad. But seriously, she had like a tattoo or something. I couldn’t see that well even with the nearby street light. 

Roald, meanwhile, was a pale boy with very light blond hair. He was trying to say something to his friend, gesturing to some kind of small bag or something he was holding. 

Murphy, however, waved him off before turning in a quick circle and she raised her voice to call, “Hey, we’re here! Don’t be a fucking dick about punctuation, we made it!”

Yup, it was definitely them. Shaking my head, I used a bit of orange for protection before stepping off the edge of the roof and dropping those couple stories. I landed neatly right to the side of them, and both jumped in obvious surprise. “Punctuality. No masks tonight?”

“Fuck!” Murphy blurted while raising her hands defensively before she saw who it was. “Like you said, it’s not like it’ll be hard for you to figure out what ‘Murphy and Roald’ looked like. And did you really have to scare the shit out of us like that?” she demanded. 

But her words weren’t what I was paying attention to. Instead, my gaze was on her face. Now I could see what I thought was a tattoo. It wasn’t. She had a cut on her face, just to the side of her left eye and stretching up into her hairline. And not just a little scrape either. This was big. It had been leaking a decent amount of blood down onto her cheek, blood that had partly dried into the mark I’d seen. The cut itself was partly covered by a couple small bandaids, but they clearly weren’t all that adequate. Especially since they didn’t actually cover the whole thing. 

“Jesus Christ,” I found myself blurting. “What happened to you?”

It was Roald who answered. “Tyson.” He stepped over, and I finally saw that the thing he’d been trying to get the girl to pay attention to was a first aid kit. “Her brother.” 

“Never mind that,” the girl herself snapped while trying to wave him off. “The point is, we’re here. So don’t go knocking on doors looking for us or anything. That’s kind of the last fucking thing we need right now.”

Opening and then shutting my mouth, I took a second to put my thoughts together before looking at the boy. “You got cleaning wipes in that kit?” When he nodded, I held my hand out and he passed a couple to me. “Hold still,” I told the girl before carefully reaching up to wash some of the blood from her face. She grimaced and muttered complaints, but didn’t move. 

Once that was done, I looked around before pointing. “Come on, over there.” I was gesturing toward the park across the street where I knew there were a couple public restrooms.

The other two seemed uncertain and confused, but followed as I led them that way. Once we were in the restroom, I told her to stand in front of the mirror so she could see herself. Then I stripped my gloves off, set them aside, and scrubbed my hands really well with soap.

“What’re you, a doctor now?” Murphy demanded.  But she didn’t really object. From the faces she was making, I was pretty sure that cut hurt.

“No, but I can help a bit before we see a real doctor,” I replied. “Hold still, again.” With that, I carefully wiped more of the blood away before very gingerly taking the almost useless bandaids away. They basically slid right off, so soaked through with blood were they. 

From there, I had the girl lean over the sink so I could wash the wound. That prompted more hissing and cursing, but I promised it would be okay and tried my best to be gentle. Carefully, I cleaned it, then took a cloth from that little first aid kit, applied a little antiseptic, and told her to hold it against the cut. 

It probably wasn’t exactly right. I’d had first aid training a while back, and I’d had plenty of cuts treated myself. But it was the best I could do right now. 

That done, I took out my business phone and texted Pack, asking if she could give me the current address of the criminal doctor who had treated Eits. I added that it was for a friend, who probably needed stitches. 

By the time I finished sending that message, both Murphy and Roald were staring at me, the former still holding the cloth against the cut. 

“The hell’s your deal?” she blurted. “I thought you wanted us to come show up and do some work for you.”

I nodded. “And I’d prefer you not pass out or die from blood loss or an infection or something in the process. Now— hang on.” I had to interrupt myself, because the response from Pack came. She included a phone number and told me to call it. Apparently the number was to some kind of roaming ambulance that served Touched, including Fells, in the field. It would work for these purposes. There was an added bit about how she wanted to hear more about this injured friend later. 

Calling that number, I told the gruff voice who answered what the problem was and told him where we were. There was a brief pause before the same gruff voice said they’d be in the parking lot in a few minutes and to watch for a red van. 

Once that was done, I focused on the other two once more. “Okay, seriously. What the hell happened? How did you get a cut like that? It was from your brother?”

From the glare that the girl shot toward her friend, I had the feeling that she hadn’t wanted him to say that much. Her voice was a mumble. “It’s not a big deal. He was just ticked off because I wouldn’t take a package for him. Told him I was busy.”

“Drugs.” That was Roald. “He knew we were going out, so he wanted her to carry some drugs to his friend a few streets over.”

Murphy snarled, “Yeah, if by friend you mean fellow meth-head. I told him before, I’m not touching any of that shit, not even to take it somewhere. Usually he lets it go.” With a small wince, she adjusted the cloth against her head. “Guess he was in a bad mood tonight.”

That made me stare at her for a few seconds. “Your big brother wanted you to take some meth to his friend and when you said no he cut you like that?” Fuck, my brother worked for a literal supervillain conspiracy and he treated me better than that. 

Murphy waved that off. “Look, you don’t have to worry about any of that shit. That’s my problem. Who the hell did you call?” 

Not wanting to push her too hard, I simply explained that it was a special ambulance with paramedics who would give her some stitches right here without needing to go to the hospital or anything. She wouldn’t have to talk to anyone about where the cut came from, even if I personally thought she should. 

It didn’t exactly help to calm her down, though. Instead, she blurted, “Are you fucking kidding me? What part of us stealing food from a gas station makes you think we can afford some motherfucking stitches? Who do you think we are, the goddamn Evans family?!”

Uhhhh… better not answer that. Raising both hands, I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this. You guys are going to do some work for me, right? So I need you in good shape. Just chill out, okay? Relax. Let the paramedic look at that cut and see what you actually need.”

Murphy looked reluctant, but mumbled something I took as both agreement and gratitude. Then she squinted at me. “You can’t go after my brother. It’s not his fault. His stupid ass piece of shit friend got him hooked on the garbage and he can’t control himself. He gets crazy.”

For a moment, I didn’t say anything. Then I quietly asked, “Is the fact that he can’t control himself going to make it better the next time he decides to carve up your face? What if he decides to cut something more vital? What if he cuts somebody else, or worse, and all three of us have to live with knowing we could have stopped him before it got that far? Saying he can’t control himself isn’t a reason for why you shouldn’t turn him in. It’s a reason for why you absolutely should. Not because you don’t care about him. Because you do.”

“Kid’s got a point, Murph,” Roald noted hesitantly. “Ty’s not gonna get off that shit all on his own.”

Murphy scowled. “Yeah? So we turn them in and then what? They throw him in prison with a bunch of other druggies and hardened fuck-ups, he gets hooked even more, then he gets out and can’t get a job, so he does more bad shit, gets thrown back in prison again, and the merry-go-round of eternal bullshit continues forever until he’s dead. Did you or the kid ever think of that?”

I tried to smother my annoyance at being called kid by people about my same age with the satisfaction that my disguise was working. My mouth opened to say something, though what, I wasn’t exactly sure. Either way, I was saved from having to by headlights. As promised, a large red camper van was pulling in.

The medic guys were dressed more like janitors. I wasn’t sure what kind of medical expertise they actually had, but they did seem to know what they were doing. They looked at the cut on Murphy‘s face, cleaned and sanitized it a bit more professionally, and gave her a few stitches. 

I’d heard from some people about how getting stitches used to involve needles and stuff. I supposed that’s where the term came from. Nowadays, it simply involved pressing what looked like a white cloth firmly against the wound for several seconds and then peeling it away to reveal that the wound had been closed with a special, temporary sealant. Judging from the faces and sounds coming from Murphy, it still managed to sting as much as it had the last time I had gone through it. Still, it was quick and easy. 

“How much do we owe you?” I asked once it was done. 

The man who had done most of the work and examination, a thin Latino, offered a shrug. “Whatever you think is fair. We survive off donations. Just keep in mind, stiffing us is a good way to make us not show up when you ask for it. And if we don’t make enough to keep going, this whole service disappears.”

I still didn’t want to draw too much attention, so I simply gave the man a couple hundred dollars while thanking him again. They both informed Murphy that the sealant would go away by itself in about a week, and that her cut should be better by then with barely a scar.

Then they took off for another call they received, leaving the three of us standing there at the edge of the lot next to the park. 

“Just think a little bit about what I said, okay?” I asked while looking at the girl once the medics were gone. “I won’t push again right now, but seriously. Think about it.”

With a bit of obvious reluctance, she promised to do so before changing the subject by asking, “So what’s the job we’re supposed to do for you, Mr. Superhero?”

Over the next few minutes, I told them about Wren. I explained that she was a young Tech-Touched who needed more hands in her shop to help with everything, from putting basic equipment together, to carrying boxes around, to cleaning up, to just helping to run the shop in general. 

“That sounds like a job, not like… charity or whatever,” Roald pointed out. 

I nodded. “That’s because it is basically a job. And it’s one you’ll keep if you don’t screw around. You help get the shop off the ground and you’ll be paid. Part of your payment for working is going to go to helping other people who need it, until you work off a full thousand dollars. That’s the two hundred I gave you before, plus five hundred for the door that I gave to the shop owner, rounded up.”

Murphy was staring at me intently. “Dude, you want us to work off a thousand bucks?”

I nodded. “Like I said, it won’t all be taken at once. You’ll still be paid, it’ll just be part of your wages. You work in the shop, do everything you’re told, and you’ll be paid. Part of that payment will be taken and sent to other people who need it, to charity. Then once you’re done, you can either quit, or you can stick around and keep working. If you stick around and keep working, you’ll start being paid the full amount. As long as you help out and make yourselves useful, you can keep doing the job and keep being paid.”

Roald was shaking his head in confusion. “The only thing you know about us is that we tried to rob a gas station for snack food. Why would you try to hire us to work for some super techy place?”

For a moment, I didn’t answer. I just considered him in silence before slowly replying, “Because I think there are a lot of people who do bad things just because they don’t have any other choice. Not all of them, obviously. There’s a lot of awful people who do it for fun, just because they can. But there’s others who start small, like you guys with the gas station, and then get worse. They build up. I can’t give everyone on the edge like that the chance they need. But I can give it to you. I can give it to both of you.”

Looking back and forth between the two of them, I added a bit pointedly, “Maybe you’ll just go on and start doing worse crimes anyway. Maybe this won’t make any difference at all. But, if you do go on to be real thieves, if a couple years pass and you’re just as bad as all those other gang people out there, you won’t be able to say that it’s because no one ever gave you a chance. I’m giving you a chance right here, right now. I don’t care where your families come from, I don’t care who they are. I don’t care what kind of education you have, or what your neighborhoods are like. I don’t care what you’ve had to do up to this point. The jobs are yours. Once you work off the charity part, the rest is up to you.”

After that, I told them a bit more about the jobs. Specifically, that they should meet me Tuesday afternoon to go meet their new boss. I left out how young she was, figuring I’d let that be a surprise. I also told them not to meet here, but instead gave them an address a few blocks away from the shop itself. 

After that, I looked at Murphy. “You shouldn’t go home tonight. Not with your brother like that.”

She shrugged. “I’ll stay with Roald til things cool down. Not like it’s the first time.”

Not the first time… A sigh escaped me. “Think about what I said, okay? Your brother’s not going to get better just because you don’t want to get him in trouble.”

She squinted at me, but gave a short, silent nod. So, I sent them on their way, after exchanging my Touched phone number for both of theirs. I told them to let me know if anything else happened or changed. 

Then they left together. Right, so that was dealt with. And now, well, honestly, I was about to go right back to bed. I had a feeling I was going to need all the rest I could get before tomorrow came around. Because then it would be Saturday. Time for Paige’s birthday. The one I had been invited to for some reason.

Boy, I just couldn’t wait.

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Homeward Bound 8-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: There’s a bit of info about the upcoming first non-canon chapters in my first comment after this chapter, for those who are interested.

Talking to the Meregan was hard. Like, really hard. Standing in front of them and telling them what had happened to the people they left back on their own world was one of the worst experiences of my life. And that was saying a lot after all the time I had spent with Fossor. Not only did I have to tell them about Fossor killing and enslaving even more of their surviving people, but there was also the fact that what little was left of their world had been taken over by the fucking Fomorians. What very little strides they may have made toward putting their planet back together had been entirely wiped out, and the people they cared about who were left behind were gone. Whether it would have been better if they were taken by Fossor or the Fomorians was both a hard question to answer, and entirely meaningless semantics. The point was, they were dead. And I had to stand in front of them, people I liked, to tell them that. 

When I was done, the assortment of Meregan I had been talking to were silent for a few long moments. I couldn’t bring myself to even try to say anything reassuring. I could barely look at them. The disgust I felt, the horror of what I had to report, made me physically ill. 

Finally, Purin cleared his throat. The nine-and-a-half foot tall, bronze-haired man stood with his hand on his son’s shoulder. Dis, by that point, had grown from his previous height of about six feet up to seven. He’d looked like he was about ten years old (discounting his height) at the time, and now looked like… well, he looked like he was only about twelve or thirteen in the face, height be damned. It was a strange effect, seeing a young boy who nonetheless towered over me. 

“We are being thankful to you, Friend-Flick Chambers, for being telling us of your information, sad as it might be. Please do not being mistaking our quiet for anger to your person.” 

“It’s okay,” I managed quietly, forcing the words out. “I get it, believe me.” 

Dis spoke then, his voice cracking a bit. “Family-Father, if our world-people are not-being, what will be of us?” 

His father whispered something in his ear, before picking the boy up to hold against him. Then he looked to me. “Friend-Flick Chambers, our people should being speak of what we are to doing.” It was obvious that he could barely get the words out. And equally obvious that he and the rest of the Meregan people were were trying to put on a brave, strong face after the horrible news I’d given them. That was for me. They were trying to conceal their despair in front of me, either because they didn’t want to upset me, or they were just proud, or… something. The point was, they couldn’t grieve properly with me standing there gawking. So, with useless apologies spilling from my mouth, I promised to come visit again and left them to their own privacy. 

Hurriedly retreating, I waited until I was on the next floor up before turning away to start punching the metal wall repeatedly. A violent series of curses escaped me, punctuated by more apologies. Who was I apologizing to? Everyone? Did it matter?  All I knew was that I wanted the wall in front of me to be Fossor’s evil, psychotic fucking face. I wanted to fucking kill that monster more than I had ever wanted to kill anything in the world. He deserved to die. 

Rahanvael appeared nearby, watching me silently and with an expression that made it clear she  completely understood the reaction. I had a feeling that, if she had been solid, she might have punched a few things too. Because, of course, the Meregan world was only one example of what had to be many similar atrocities she had personally witnessed her brother perform over the millennia. She had sat helplessly by, unable to do anything but watch as her once-beloved twin had become this… this thing. How would that have affected me? What if it was someone I loved as much as she had loved her own brother? What if my dad had turned into this kind of monster? What if Fossor had succeeded at turning my mother into a vicious, evil attack dog who could do those things? I had no idea how I would have continued to exist after that. 

Finally, I stopped, exhaling long and hard before turning to look at the ghost. “I’m sorry.” My voice was barely audible. I had to swallow a hard lump in my throat. “I’m sorry about everything you’ve gone through. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the stuff you’ve seen. I’ll definitely never  understand what it’s like to be that helpless. And I hope to hell I never understand what it’s like to have someone I care about that much turn that… wrong. I’m sorry. I just can’t… comprehend.” Despite my intentions,  the words sounded hollow and fake to my own ears. They were completely inadequate. But what was I supposed to say?  What could I ever possibly say that could make the slightest bit of difference? Nothing, really. I couldn’t say anything. 

Despite that, however, Rahanvael offered me a very faint smile. There was deep pain there, along with incredible sadness and remorse. There was a sense of loss in that smile that I couldn’t even begin to understand. Still, she spoke in a quiet voice. “We all carry our own regrets, Felicity. We all have our agonies. Yours are not invalidated by another’s. What should be compared between two people is not the depth of each other’s woes, but the strength that each gives to the other. Take two pieces of cloth. Poke holes in them in random places. In one poke more than the other. Then sew them together. They will each cover one another’s holes. Though the one with less damage covers more, even the heavily damaged cloth will help to cover the few holes within the less damaged cloth. They aid each other, cover one another. That is what it is to be alive and to find those you love. It is to be a damaged cloth, sewing yourself to other damaged cloths, to protect and cover one another’s flaws and pains.” 

Once she finished saying all that, I stared at her for a moment. Finally, I managed a quiet, “The real tragedy here is that I can’t hug you.” My eyes closed briefly before I made myself look at her again with a firm nod. “We’re going to stop your brother. We’re not going to let him get away with his plan. We’re going back in time and we’re going to put a stop to him once and for all. We’re going to end him so you can have peace. I promise. I’m not going to let up until he’s gone.” 

She met my gaze silently for a few long seconds. Then her head inclined, chin set. “Yes. And I will be there with you. I will see the creature my brother has become killed and put out of its misery. Out of everyone’s misery. Whatever it takes, he will die. He has gone too far.” 

The two of us continued to talk for another minute before being joined by a Rakshasa in what looked like a highly decorated cloak, who approached from the other end of the hall. “Much apologies for the interruption, Madam of Chambers. The Lord of Petan would like to know if you require sustenance at the current time. The evening meal is being prepared.” 

Food. At the word, my stomach growled. Yeah, I definitely needed food. With a quick nod, I thanked the Rakshasa, and he began to lead me to dinner. Rahanvael had vanished once more, but I felt her with me. She was there. She would be there, as the two of us went back to face Fossor once more. Because whatever happened, we had to stop him. Everything depended on it. 

Everything.

******

Six days later, enough power reserves had been scraped together to use the time travel spell on Dexamene, so she could be sent back to create the time loop. It was going to take even longer after this to pull enough power together to send me back. Probably at least a few weeks, according to Petan. It was more important right now to establish the loop so all of this didn’t get undone. I really didn’t want to get shunted into some other time line where I ended up imprisoned by Fossor again after all. Besides, I was already in the future. I could really take as much time here as I wanted as long as I ended up traveling back far enough to stop Fossor. 

Of course, the whole ‘time travel to solve the problem’ thing was even more complicated than I’d already known. According to Petan’s magic experts, people even more skilled than he himself was, who had put their entire long lives toward the study of such spells, traveling to a time and location (by location they meant an entire world) where a very powerful spell had recently happened (like the casting of the original Bystander Effect) with effects that traversed such a large area, was all but impossible. Basically, such huge spell effects fucked with time travel magic, as well as a number of other kinds. It ended up raising the cost of such spells exponentially, up to levels that no one could reasonably afford even if they had the resources of the full Seosten Empire, or those of Fossor himself. 

Those skilled with the magic we needed could find those blips on the timeline. And, of course, there was a massive one right near the time I needed to go. It blotted out entire months afterward where there was so much excess power in the air that it would have cost multiple Seosten Empires worth of magical energy just to send me there by myself. 

That, of course, had to be the spell that Fossor was planning to cast. There was no other explanation. A spell that size, with effects that far-reaching, would definitely explain the blot over the timeline. He had cast it. He’d cast the spell, which told me… which told me…

Oh, don’t think about it. I was going to change things. I just had to get back to a point before the spell had happened. Except, even that was difficult. Passing a point like that on the timeline was hard too. Because it apparently tended to try to suck you into it as you passed, particularly if your intended destination was temporally close to it. ‘Like a black hole’ was the explanation I’d been given. It was another reason that going to the past to change things didn’t tend to happen. There were a lot of others, apparently. But the kind of power it took to muscle all the way past all the powerful, world altering spells throughout time to get to where you needed to go made it nearly impossible to do without wrecking the magical economies of entire galaxies. 

Sending one person to a time of limited powerful magical effects happening was one thing. But to get me to the place and time I needed to get to if I was going to stop Fossor from pulling this off was a whole other story. I had to go back to a point after the last time I was there, but that point was so close, relatively (within a week) to when the big spell actually went off that I would be pulled toward that event. They were going to have to spend extra power just to stop me from being pulled right to when the spell went off. The way it had been explained to me was, again, like a black hole. I was supposed to imagine being on a ship that was being pulled in by that gravity well. The closer I was to it, the harder the ship’s engines would have to work to stop from being hauled in and crushed. 

What it came down to, in the end, was that I had to skirt the very edge of the line of safety. The time travel spell had to put me right near when Fossor would cast his own spell, without letting it be too late. We had to let Fossor’s spell pull me in partway, then gun the engines, so to speak, right at the very edge of the effect going off. I would be walking a very fine line between going back too early (thus destroying myself by ending up existing in two places of the same world at the same time) and showing up too late and being swallowed mid-transit by Fossor’s spell. 

It was, in a word, dangerous. Dexamene, at least, was going to a whole different universe than the one my version of Earth was in. She was going to the Meregan world. That made things a little easier, though not completely. It would still take an awful lot of power to pull off, even just sending that one girl by herself. 

Speaking of that one girl by herself, we were standing in one of the designated spell casting ribs. There were a group of over a dozen powerful mages of all different shapes and sizes (including Petan himself) putting the finishing touches on the spell while Dexamene and I stood off to the side. I gave her a look. “You’re pretty brave, you know.” Over these past few days I had gotten to know her better, and I could tell why Tristan liked her so much. The last thing I wanted was for something terrible to happen to her, especially at the hands of the monsters I was sending her toward. 

Blushing a little, she shook her head. “Not as brave as you. You’re going to go right into the Gaawdef’s den when it’s your turn.” 

“I’m not sure what a Gaawdef is,” I admitted, “But I’m fairly certain that a planet that’s been taken over by the Fomorians is probably right up there on the danger scale.” With that, I turned and put a hand on the Nereid’s shoulder. “Be careful, seriously. I know I told you everything you need to say to make this loop work. But I have no idea what you’ll be going into back there. Please, just stay with Elisabet and be as safe as you can, okay?” 

She nodded, spontaneously leaning in to hug me. “You be careful too. And Flick… please, if–when you get through the thing with that evil Necromancer, come get us, okay? I know there’s a whole world to hide on, but… but don’t leave us there with the Fomorians any longer than you have to.” I could hear the fear in her voice that she was trying to keep buried. The girl was rightfully terrified about what would happen if those things captured her. Terrified almost beyond comprehension, and yet she was still doing this. 

Yeah, it was easy to understand why Tristan considered her such a good friend. 

I swore to her that we would be there as soon as possible, and then the girl stepped away to have a last few minutes with her parents, who kept shooting me dirty looks. They weren’t happy about their daughter being sent back in time like this, no matter what the circumstances. Neither of them would talk to me. I understood their anger, and wasn’t going to push them. 

Before long, Petan announced that it was time. Dexamene hugged her parents tightly, tearfully promised to see them again someday, and moved to the center of the spellforms that had been drawn on the floor. As the chanting for the spell began, she looked to me, and gave a thumbs up. A gesture she must have learned from Tristan, of course. 

Despite all the fear and doubt that had crept into my head, I returned the thumbs up. We had to pull this off. She had to create the loop that got me to this point, and then I had to go back to the time right before Fossor used his spell, and stop him. 

The chanting took a good ten minutes, during which Dexamene had to stay right where she was, with minimal movement or speaking, which would have disrupted the casting. Finally, it worked. With a rush of power even I could feel, the girl disappeared. 

One down… me to go. 

******

Three and a half more weeks after the point when Dexamene had been sent back. That was how long it took before Petan’s people had enough power to send me as well. Three and a half weeks of sitting around, worrying about what would happen, training to fight better, and experimenting. 

Experimenting, in this case, with my new powers. Or at least the ones I’d managed to figure out in the past month. A lot of what I’d put together was thanks to long discussions with Petan and others on the ship about what I’d managed to kill lately coupled with a lot of trial and error.

I’d managed to figure out what the whole deal with being able to make those sticks hover very briefly in the air was, at least. It came from an Alter I’d killed back in Fossor’s place called a Lemevwik. At full strength, a powerful-enough Lemevwik was capable of rewinding, pausing, or fast-forwarding the effect of outside forces on inanimate objects. Throw a glass at the floor and watch it shatter, then the Alter could rewind the object to be in one piece. Drop it toward the floor from high, and then fast-forward the effect and it would shatter before it ever hit. Or would fall faster. The Lemevwik could apparently choose exactly how to apply the power, making the glass simply fall faster, or making it shatter before it hit.  

The pause worked much the same way. Throw the glass at the floor and pause the effect, and it wouldn’t shatter until the pause ended, even after landing. Or it would hover in the air. Again, just like with the fast-forward, the specifics of whether the entire glass was paused or simply the effect of hitting the ground was up to the Lemevwik. I supposed because they chose whether they were pausing the effect of gravity or the effect of the physical force of the impact. 

It wasn’t just throwing something down, of course. The power also applied to things like erosion, acid, physical force, anything similar affecting an inanimate object. 

I couldn’t fast forward, apparently. I could pause or rewind outside effects like that on a physical, non-living object for a whole five seconds. Yeah, it was pretty situational, and didn’t work to stop or rewind magic, but could still be pretty useful. 

I’d also figured out one other thing I’d gotten during the time with Fossor. It allowed me to designate any single word and know whenever anyone within a certain radius of about a quarter-mile used that single word. It didn’t tell me everything they said, just one word before and one word after. I would get a sudden flash in my head of those three words and the face of the person who said them. 

Again, really situational, but still. I supposed there could possibly be a use for it at some point. 

Meanwhile, from the fighting against all the Fomorian creatures, I’d picked up mainly bonuses to my regeneration, my overall strength (I was up to deadlifting about three thousand pounds, which was pretty nifty), running speed (I could hit forty miles per hour outside of lion form and without boosting), and general toughness (needles and simple metal blades used with normal human-level strength had a really hard time penetrating my skin, and I could tank a punch pretty well). 

Two unique powers that did stand out were the ones I had picked up from that big Deer-Snake thing, and the Ape-Croc. From the former, I had gained the ability to spit globs of that same hardening resin stuff. I could only work up enough to encase an object about the size of a shoebox, and wasn’t quite as strong as the exact stuff that thing had spit, but still. It could be really useful in taking a weapon or something out of play for awhile. 

Then there was the Ape-Croc. I did not, unfortunately, have the power to stop an entire ship from lifting off the ground. The way Rahanvael had put it, those things, at full strength, could prevent the ship’s engines from achieving the thrust needed to escape the planet. Technically, what the thing did was dramatically multiply the force needed to move something. The full creature could, indeed, stop an entire giant ship from getting more than a few feet off the ground.

In my case, it wasn’t quite that strong. Basically, by concentrating on a non-living object, I could greatly increase the energy or force needed to move it. I could slow down a car or motorcycle to a crawl. I could use it on the ball that someone was throwing and make it fall far short from how far it should have gone. Or even make bullets drop before they reached me. That kind of thing. 

They were all good things to have, and I was pretty sure I was going to need absolutely everything when it came to beating Fossor and saving my mother. 

“Are you positive that you’re ready for this?” That was Petan himself. We were back in that same magic room, with even more complicated room designs covering the entire place. The same mages were focused on finishing touches while their leader stood in front of me, his expression that of obvious concern. I’d gotten to know the man pretty well over the past month, and he’d gotten to know me as well. I was sad that it would probably be years before I could see him again.

“Ready as I can be,” I confirmed. “I have to do this. I have to get back there and I have to stop him. There’s no other choice.”

“You have the flares,” he noted, referring to the beacon spells I had already prepared. “The second you arrive, use them. Do not hesitate at all, do you understand? No matter what you see, trigger the flares.”

I gave a quick nod. “Trust me, I have no interest in fighting him by myself. As soon as this spell dumps me into position, I’m calling in all the reinforcements. He’s not getting away this time.” 

Pausing then, I impulsively stepped over to embrace the man. “Thanks for everything. I couldn’t do any of this without you. Especially with all you’ve done to help me get ready for it.”

Petan was clearly taken aback, but returned the embrace after a moment before stepping back. “You can do this, Felicity Chambers. Good luck. And we will see you on the other side, someday.”

With that, he moved to join the rest of his mages, and the chanting picked up. I stood there for ten minutes, trying not to move very much. My attention was focused on the ground, keeping my breathing slow and steady. I could feel the reassuring presence of my ghost companion, and the certainty that, whatever happened next, the wait for dealing with Fossor and saving my mother was finally over. It was time. 

The chanting reached its crescendo, and in a flash of blinding power, I was gone.

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New Deals 13-10 (Summus Proelium)

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Izzy needed help getting ready. She was nervous about going to dinner with this reporter guy, obviously afraid that she was going to say or do something to embarrass my parents. I tried to reassure her while helping the girl get dressed and put her hair up, but I wasn’t sure how much good it did. That probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the poor kid seemed pretty tired. She kept yawning while we were getting our hair taken care of in the bathroom. Watching her open mouth in the mirror for the third time, I gently asked, “Are you still having nightmares?” 

Immediately, the poor kid flinched, mouth snapping shut as she looked down at the sink before shaking her head. “Not as much,” she murmured quietly. “It’s getting better.” 

“It’s okay, either way,” I hurriedly assured her. “I just mean, you know, if you need umm… anything.” This was really awkward and I finally shrugged helplessly. “Whatever I can do.” 

What I really wanted to do, of course, was tell her that she should talk to me about what was actually going on, what had happened to traumatize her, why my parents were putting her up, what… all of it. I wanted to know what her whole deal was, if I was right about at least one of her parents being a supervillain or what. I was really leaning heavily on that assumption, but I couldn’t be positive. Not without more information, but I was pretty sure pushing her would backfire. 

So, instead, I just helped her get ready and the two of us started out. On the way to the stairs, Izzy glanced at me. “Have you ever met these people? Your mom is, um, really intense about making a good impression.” Clearly afraid she had said something wrong, the girl quickly amended, “I mean, she didn’t do anything bad, or–or say anything, it was just–she’s umm…” 

“Intense, yeah.” Giving the poor kid a small smile (while inwardly lamenting that we were basically the same size) I assured her, “Don’t worry, I get it. She gets it too. And no, we haven’t met this reporter guy, or his family. Mom just always gets really into these kinds of dinner plans, especially when it’s someone who could hurt the family name, like… well, like a fancy reporter.”

Silently, I thought again about what kind of impression I could make on this guy if I wanted to make that kind of insane, family-ending leap. But how stupid would that be? If this guy was on my parents’ payroll, he wouldn’t do anything useful or helpful at all. And if he wasn’t, they’d kill him, and probably his family too, before they could even get up from the table. Either way, I wouldn’t accomplish anything at all other than blowing the fact that I knew the truth. Which would put both Izzy and me in danger. I didn’t believe for a second that I could take my dad in a fight if it came right down to it. Either physically or emotionally, come to think of it. I had no idea what would happen, but it would be bad. Nothing good could possibly come from taking that leap right now. 

Mentally pushing that aside, I reached out to touch the other girl lightly on the arm. “It’ll be okay. Trust me, we just have to play nice through dinner, be polite and all that. Then, after dessert, Mom will excuse us so they can talk business. We’ll probably have to entertain their kids, and I’m not sure how old they are. Either way, it’s bound to be more exciting than listening to the adults blab on and on, you know?” 

And boy, what I wouldn’t give to go back to a time when I actually believed that, when I really didn’t want to know everything my parents were talking about. Well, no. Even as I had that thought, I realized it was wrong. I didn’t actually want to go back to a time when I was completely clueless. I’d like to slide into a time when it was the truth, if that had been an actual option. But I did not want to be ignorant about what my family was really up to. I wanted my parents to stop being supervillains, yet I didn’t want to forget that they actually were. Complicated as this entire situation was, I would always choose to know the truth and move on from that, not erase my memories. 

The truth was a painful thing to stand on, but lies crumbled under your feet. 

Simon was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, all dressed up as well. He grinned at the two of us as we descended. “Well, well, someone looks all fancy and nice now. Oh, and I guess you’ll do in a pinch too, Booster.” He reached out to poke me in the forehead, laughing as I swatted his hand away before turning. “Come on, they got here a little early, so everyone’s in the dining room already.” Glancing over his shoulder, he teased, “Guess it was my job to make sure you didn’t go skateboarding into the room or something equally likely to make Mom’s head explode.” 

Scoffing at him, I retorted, “As if that’s the only way I could be embarrassing at this dinner. Please, give me a second and I’ll come up with something really good.” It was nothing but light banter, the kind my brother and I would have had at any time. But it brought a hard lump to my throat and a deep knot to my stomach. It hurt. It hurt because I could tease back and forth with him like this while knowing what he was really capable of, what he had really done. Hell, I didn’t even actually know all the things he had done, not for certain. I just knew some of what he was capable of. Even that was enough to make a shudder run through me at the thought. 

Simon didn’t notice, of course. By that point we had reached the doors to the dining room, and he stepped up, pulled the door open, and grandly gestured for the two of us to enter. “Presenting the princesses of the kingdom!” he announced in a loud voice, “Miss Izzy and Miss Cassidy.” 

Rolling my eyes at him, I gently took the other girl’s hand and stepped through into the dining room. We were still using the smaller one, with the table that sat ten (rather than the full-sized room suitable for thirty people), but for once we would actually be using the whole thing. Almost, anyway. There were supposed to be nine of us, between both my parents, Simon, Izzy, Lincoln Chambers, his wife, their twins, and me. 

Immediately after stepping into the room, I saw Mom and Dad sitting at their usual spots, with Dad at the end chair and Mom to his right. Simon’s chair was next to Dad, while mine was next to Mom. Izzy would sit next to me. 

But this time, of course, there were other people here. The first of whom drew my attention immediately. It looked like an old mountain man or lumberjack had wandered into our house. Seriously, he was a huge guy, taller than Dad, with long hair and a very thick beard. It looked like he should be galavanting around with a big blue ox or something. Was this the reporter? 

Apparently so, because the man turned to us and smiled. Any intimidation I might have felt at his initial appearance disappeared as I saw how gentle his eyes were. I didn’t know how else to explain it other than he looked kind and intelligent. Wow, no wonder he was such a good reporter. He was big enough to intimidate the people he needed to, and yet somehow immediately made me feel like I could trust him with that single look.

I couldn’t, of course, for all the reasons I’d already thought of. But still, that was really effective. If he really was on my parents’ payroll, they’d done an excellent job when they recruited him.  

Dad was already standing up. “Ah, Lincoln, this is my daughter, Cassidy. And this is the girl I told you about, Izzy Amor. Girls, this is Lincoln Chambers, and his wife, Joselyn.” 

My eyes moved then, finally looking away from the enormous figure to see the smaller woman seated next to him. She was blonde, with her hair cut short, and a slim yet athletic build. Her eyes seemed to evaluate me quickly, looking me up and down as though assessing… something, before she smiled. Just like her husband, it looked incredibly genuine and inviting. 

“Hello, Cassidy, Izzy,” Mrs. Chambers greeted us, rising immediately to extend her hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I feel as though half of my husband’s articles about your father have been little details about his son and daughter.” To Izzy, she added, “And then we end up visiting at the perfect time to meet you too.” 

The two of us shook her hand, then her husband’s, before the latter gestured. “And, lest we forget about our own kids long enough for them to make a break for the nearest pizza place…” 

My attention was drawn to the twins. A boy and a girl. They looked to be between Izzy and me in age, maybe fourteen or so. The boy had blond hair like his mother, thought it was kind of spiked up with what had to be a lot of gel. His sister’s hair was more like their father’s, dark and full, falling a little past her shoulders. 

“Cassidy, Izzy,” Mrs. Chambers announced, “this is Zed and Lexi. Kids, come say hi.” 

What followed, of course, was the always awkward forced meeting between teenagers in front of their parents. It was obvious that none of us really knew what to say, but I tried to push past that by telling them we could go check out the game room once dinner was over. That usually did the trick as far as breaking the ice went. This time was no different, though it was Lexi who seemed more interested in the games. Zed, on the other hand, asked about the full-sized basketball court he’d heard about. Which Simon took great joy in confirming the existence of and promised to take him to check out while ‘the girls played with the kid games.’ 

Leaning closer to Lexi, I stage-whispered, “He’s just jealous because he can’t beat Izzy or me in any of those ‘kid games’ no matter how much he tries.”

“And you can’t beat Izzy yourself,” Simon shot back pointedly. 

We bantered a little bit more, before sitting down to have dinner. Lexi, who was seated across from Izzy, started asking both of us if we’d ever played the competitive mode of one of those online first-person shooter/survival games. We hadn’t, but apparently she was really into it. She went on for a little bit about how she really wanted to join this tournament but they only allowed people who were at least sixteen. Apparently, she was afraid that the game would be out of style by that point. But she was still practicing all the time. Aaaalll the time, according to her mother’s teasing interjection. 

So yeah, between us talking about games, Simon and Zed having their whole sports discussion, and our parents talking back and forth from one end of the table to the other about other things, the dinner actually went pretty quickly. It was delicious, of course. My parents wouldn’t have stood for anything less in this kind of situation. But even disregarding that, Chef Claudio, Ethan, and Christiana had outdone themselves. They’d really pulled out all the stops, making me wonder just how much Mom and Dad had impressed on them how important this dinner was. 

Either way, we had dessert and then our parents dismissed us for the time being. They needed to talk about their own things. Simon took Zed off to check out all the gym stuff, while Izzy and I headed upstairs to play some games with Lexi. 

The girl wasn’t exactly exaggerating about training to join a professional e-sports team. She really was that good. I couldn’t touch her if my life had depended on it. Izzy had more luck, but even she only managed to win one out of every three games or so. 

Eventually, I told the other two that I was going to step out for some air for a minute, and that I’d bring back some drinks. I left them in the middle of their latest, even more intense match and headed into the hall. Being around my family like this, seeing the Chambers and having no idea if they were actually this nice and just being used by my family, or if they were secretly part of this whole thing… it was too much. I had to step outside, had to clear my head. 

In this case, going outside just meant walking to the end of the hallway and stepping out onto one of the many balconies overlooking the grounds. Letting the cooler evening air wash over me, I put my hands on the railing and leaned over to glance down before exhaling long and hard. So many thoughts, worries, and questions were running through my head, and I didn’t have a real answer for any of them. Honestly, what I wanted to do in that moment was fall into my bed and sleep for a good long while. Maybe a month or so. Not that it would help, though. I’d still have the same problems to deal with whenever I finally woke up. Closing my eyes and waiting, astonishingly, wasn’t going to make everything better. 

Hearing someone behind me, I turned to see Mr. Chambers stepping up to the sliding door. He offered me a smile, tapping the side of the door as though knocking. “Hey, mind if I join you for a minute? Your dad took a phone call and the women are busy.” 

“Oh, uhh, no, go ahead, sir.” Stepping back to give him room to step out onto the balcony, I asked, “How’s your trip so far? Getting any good stories?” 

“Working on it,” was his casual response, before the man put his own hands on the railing with an added, “Very nice place your family has here. You’re probably too young to really remember, but Detroit… it used to be a lot worse.” 

“Yeah, I’ve… you’re right,” I confirmed, “I’m too young, I never knew that Detroit. But we’ve learned about it in class, and some older people talk about what the city used to be like.” 

That earned me a raised eyebrow from the man, as he turned slightly. “You listen to older people? What kind of kid are you?” 

Flushing a little at that, I shrugged. “The kind who likes getting better than failing grades in history class and who doesn’t want my mom to throw a shoe at me for ignoring people.” 

Mr. Chambers chuckled, though it was almost more of a groan. “Don’t tell me that hard times Detroit is something you learn about in History. It makes me feel old, and that’s not fair. My own kids do that to me enough as it is.” 

“Okay,” I found myself teasing, “it was totally in current events class.” 

“Better.” With a small smile, the man looked at me a bit more seriously. “Your dad tells me you’re really into a lot of this extreme sport stuff.” When I nodded, he grimaced. “See, I’m safe with Lexi. The most dangerous thing she’s aiming toward is carpal tunnel. But I don’t know what I’d do if Zed was into that stuff instead of his precious basketball.” He winked at me, adding, “Guess that means you’ve got a pretty cool dad.”

A lot of thoughts running through my head at that point. But I pushed them all down, with some effort, and simply offered the man a small smile that I hoped looked genuine enough. “Don’t worry, he gets a little crazy at some of the risks I take too.”

“Oh yeah? Are you the one that’s the bad influence around here?” Mr. Chambers teased before adding, “Believe me, I don’t need the kids adding more gray hairs to my head. Their mother does that plenty enough on her own working for the LAPD.”

That made me do a quick double take, looking at the man suddenly. “Your wife’s a cop?”

“Why,” Mr. Chambers retorted, “you got active warrants?” He grinned at that before watching me, squinting very slightly. “You okay?”

Now I had even more thoughts running through my head. If his wife was a cop, did that make it more or less likely that they were working for my parents? Or that one of them was. Could she be working for them without him knowing? Or the other way around? What did it mean?

Somehow, I forced all of that down and focused on shrugging at the man. “Sure, I was just wondering how you could worry about one of your kids getting into extreme sports when your wife has a job like that. Seems like you’d be inoculated against it.”

There was a very brief pause where I felt like the man was examining me more thoroughly. Then he seemed to shake away whatever he’d been thinking and chuckled. “Yeah, you’d think so. Guess I’m just a worrywart.”

“Well, while you’re warting,” I very hesitantly asked, “do you ever worry about something happening to your kids because of what you and your wife do? I mean, with all the criminals you piss off.” 

That, obviously, made the man give a doubletake. “Well, damn, Miss Evans,” he managed, “you don’t go for the easy, weather and traffic-type questions, do you?” 

Blanching a bit, I shook my head. “Sorry. You don’t have to answer. It’s just… my parents don’t do anything dangerous like that and even I get worried about them, like when they go on long trips. It sounds like you and your wife do some dangerous things.” 

For a moment, Mr. Chambers just looked at me. It seemed like he was sorting through his thoughts and also trying to decide just how real to be. Finally, the man exhaled. “Believe me, we take precautions. But when it comes down to it, we help people. People who wouldn’t have that help. We look at our kids and yeah, it scares us to think about something happening to them. But it also makes us think about all the other kids out there who don’t have someone looking out for them, and all the parents who can’t. We’re lucky. A lot of people aren’t. Every time I worry about what might happen to my children or wife, it reminds me of all the stuff that has happened to other children and wives. Stuff that won’t get dragged into the light if someone doesn’t do the dragging.” 

“He’s right.” That was Joselyn Chambers, his wife. She stood in the doorway to the balcony, offering me a small, yet genuine smile. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was just looking to see where my husband wandered off to.” Focusing on me after reaching up to affectionately rub the man’s shoulder, she added, “We do worry about our children, just as yours do when they have to leave you to go on their business trips. Or even just when they send you off to school in the morning. Watching you walk out there while they know the kind of things that can happen, even with all their money and protection… I promise, it’s one of the hardest things in the world. And seeking out so many of those terrible things, seeing them with our own eyes? It’s terrifying. But we can’t leave it alone. Because leaving it alone wouldn’t make it better. When you see that someone is in danger, turning your back and walking away doesn’t solve anything. Turning off the light so you don’t have to watch only gives evil the ability to work in the dark. I didn’t become a cop to put my family in danger. I did it because that danger exists, regardless of what or where I am. It’ll always be there, lurking in the shadows. So you take away the shadows. You turn on the lights. You expose the evil. You face it. And you deal with it.” 

A long, silent moment passed then, before Mr. Chambers coughed. “Little heavy for the sixteen-year-old, babe.” 

Blinking twice, with a look that made it seem as though she had forgotten just who she was talking to, Mrs. Chambers gave a short nod. “Ah, sorry. Got lost in my own head there.” Offering me a slightly self-conscious smile, she amended, “The point is, we’re working to make the world better for our kids. Just like yours are.” 

“Well,” I murmured while turning to look away, staring up at the sky while her words about exposing evil rang through my head. “Not just like…” Belatedly, I added, “My dad’s not a reporter. And my mom is definitely not a cop.” 

The three of us stayed out there for another minute or two, just watching the grounds. Then Dad came to find them so they could finish their conversation, and I headed down to get the drinks I had promised the others.

Before long, this whole thing would be over and I would take a little nap before heading out to meet Murphy and Roald so I could tell them about working for Wren. 

Wait, did that technically make them minions? Was… was I press-ganging a couple desperate teenagers into being my minions?

I might be a worse hero than I thought. 

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Homeward Bound 8-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Waiting alone in that briefing room to meet Dexamene, the teenage Nereid, was a bit of a trip. For more than one reason, actually. First, because I’d heard about her from Tristan enough that the thought of actually meeting the girl now felt surreal. And, of course, because everything I knew about her future. Seriously, how weird was it that I already knew she was going to end up on the Meregan world helping Elisabet? I hadn’t even asked her about that yet, but I knew she was going there.

Wait, what if she didn’t go there? Sure, it was a long shot given everything Tristan and Petan  had said about her, but what if she refused to cooperate? Hell, what if something happened to stop her from going back? Could history change like that? Well, yeah. Petan had already said that if I changed it myself, I’d end up in a different timeline, one where I hadn’t been saved.  If I could change it, then she could just by refusing to be part of all this. 

Yeah, again, that wasn’t super-likely. But still. Dexamene was her own person. Anything could happen. She could make her own choices. Things could change. I had to be really careful. Especially up to the point where she actually went back to the past. I had to make sure that everything that had happened to get me to this point played out the way it was supposed to.  

God damn, I hated time travel. Yes, it was working out for me in this case. Or would work out. Or had-would work–see?! Fuck time travel. I just wanted to go home and be with my family and friends. Oh, and punching Fossor really hard in the dick until it exploded would be nice too. 

Interrupted from my fantasies of making that piece of shit blow apart from the crotch outward by the sound of the door opening nearby, I quickly stood from the table and watched as the girl in question stepped in. She was pretty. Really pretty, in sort of an ethereal princess way. Her skin was teal, and she had bright, almost shockingly white hair fashioned into a long braid, with amber-colored eyes that seemed almost too large for her face. Like an anime character, really. 

Shaking that off, I extended a hand to her. “Hi! You’re Dexamene, right? My name–” 

“Flick,” she finished for me, voice sounding awed. “You’re Flick. I–I mean Lord Petan said you were here, but he wouldn’t have had to. You look just like Tristan said, just like he described. I–” Abruptly, the girl flushed white with a small, nervous giggle. “I am sorry. It’s rude to be like that.” 

My head shook quickly. “No, it’s okay. Trust me, I totally get it. He told me a lot about you too. I feel like we’ve met before, even though…”  Coughing, I offered her a weak shrug. “It’s weird.” 

Offering me a slight smile, the girl agreed in a soft voice. “Yes, it is very strange. But… Lord Petan says that Tristan has been there for a whole year now from your point of view? And that he has met his whole family? He is safe?” She sounded understandably anxious and intense. According to Petan, they’d only sent Tristan back about a month earlier for them. She missed her friend. Finding out that someone else came forward from a year after he’d gotten there had to be a bit disconcerting. And boy, was that feeling going to get a lot heavier for her really soon.

I had asked Petan not to say too much to the girl about what I needed, just that I had a really big favor to ask. I wanted it to come from me, not as an order from someone she called her lord. Especially given that she was bound to obey him in order to maintain her protection against being possessed by Seosten. That didn’t seem fair, no matter how urgently I needed her help.

So, I took the time to assure her that Tristan was indeed fine as far as I knew. I told her about finding Sariel and Haiden and helping that family come together. And I told her about the Rebellion, how it had restarted. I’d told Petan a bit about that too, and he had clearly been unhappy about the news that Gaia had been imprisoned. But he’d also assured me that she would get through it, as long as we were there for her the way she had been there for others. 

I also told her about Tabbris, Tristan’s little sister. My little sister. That was a long story, to say the least, and the Nereid girl sat through the whole thing with eyes that were even wider than they had started, staring at me until I was done explaining. Finally, she slumped back a bit, head shaking in slow wonder as she whispered almost under her breath. “Your life is very not boring.” 

Snorting despite myself, I nodded. “Yeah, my life is a lot of things, but boring definitely isn’t one of them. Even before you add in the time-travel here.” With that, I sobered a bit, glancing down at the table to collect myself before looking up again. “That’s sort of why I need your help, actually. And believe me, I know what I’m about to say is pretty big. It’s asking for a lot.” 

“What is it?” Her voice was clearly curious. “Lord Petan said that you would be asking for a favor that would help you and Tristan. But what can I possibly do? I don’t know the magic it will take to send you back. I don’t have the power or the skill for that. I was only approved for active duty recently. I am not…” She trailed off uncertainly, shrugging. “I am not that important.” 

“Tristan would disagree with that, I think.” Murmuring those words, I shook my head while meeting her gaze. “Listen, what I’m about to say is probably going to be really confusing. But just bear with me, okay? 

She hesitated a bit before nodding. I could tell that she wanted to ask a lot more about everything that was happening, but she kept it to herself, waiting silently for me to continue. 

So, I started by offering her a shrug. “First of all, the ahh… tueln is under your bed.” 

That made her give a doubletake. “I–what? How would–how do you–wait…” 

Coughing, I explained that she had been the one to tell me that. I told her about how I had been contacted by Elisabet because Dexamene herself had been sent back to tell the woman exactly what to do and when. I explained about how the only reason I wasn’t captured by a waiting force of Fossor’s troops was because Elisabet had adjusted the spell, and that the only reason she had been able to do that was because of information that Dexamene would give her when she showed up there.

It was obviously a lot to take in, and as I fell silent, the other girl didn’t say anything at first. She just sat back, absorbing all of that before breathing out. “I have never left this ship for more than a very brief excursion. I was born here. I grew up here. It is as I said, I was still a student until very recently. I do not have any special skill. Not really. But if you say that I can help stop this Necromancer’s plan, that I can save Tristan, you, and the others of your kind by taking this journey? Then I will. I will do whatever you say is necessary. But…  are you certain it wouldn’t be better to send someone of more skill and power? You can tell them the same thing, and they could help this Elisabet even more than simply passing along a message like that. You could make the situation you end up in here better than it is now. Or better than…” Pausing, her nose wrinkled a little as she tried to think of how to adjust her language around time travel. 

“Don’t worry, I get what you mean.” Speaking up quickly before she ended up with the same headache I’d given myself from trying to mental my way around that, I pressed on. “And you’re right, we might be able to make the situation better. But we could also just as easily make it worse. We have no idea what could happen if we change specifics. Right now we know that sending you back will result in me ending up here. I’d rather not risk things going wrong by fiddling with it and messing up.” Belatedly, I added, “Besides, Tristan trusts you. So I do. Even if it seems pretty unfair to send a water Nereid like you to a huge desert. Wait, will you be okay there? I didn’t even think about that, but if you need–” 

“I will take water,” she promised me. “If you believe it is for the best, that it is how I can help, then I will do it. I will be sent back to this desert world to speak with the woman.” 

Swallowing back palpable relief despite the fact that I’d had a pretty strong idea of how this would go to begin with, I offered her a smile. “Thanks, Dexamene. Believe me, I know how much this is asking, and how confusing it is. Wait, your parents work on the ship too, don’t they? I umm, you should probably talk to them a bit before you actually agree to this whole thing.” 

“I am of age,” she assured me. “The decision is mine. But yes, I will speak with them. I will make certain they understand that this is needed for everyone’s safety. If it is as you say and the Necromancer will take total control of all those Heretics, that endangers the entire universe.” 

We talked a little bit more about how all of that would work. Then she headed out to speak with her family, and Petan joined me once more. He’d apparently used that time to start handling all the new prisoners and former slaves they’d managed to save from the Fomorians. Now, he pulled out a chair to sit down, watching me curiously. “It sounds like that went well enough.” 

“Definitely could’ve gone a lot worse,” I agreed. “She’s in. I guess I just have to hope that things don’t go horribly wrong for her after she helps Elisabet and records that message I saw.” I tried to keep my tone light, but the fear I felt that sending her back in time to a place like that would end up backfiring badly wouldn’t get out of my head. Even though I knew this was the best way to do things, the only real way, I was still anxious. If she got hurt, or… fuck. 

Petan’s smile was both kind and understanding. “I understand how you feel, Miss Chambers. Believe me, I truly do. And, perhaps you understand a bit more of how your headmistress must have felt every time she put one of you in even the slightest danger, even if it was for the best.” 

Wincing, I gave a slow nod. “Yeah, I can’t even imagine being in that kind of position. This right here is hard enough. It’s just…” With a sigh, I sat back and put both hands over my face. 

Quietly, the man offered, “We have that bed for you if you are ready for it. You did say that you were exhausted, and it will take time to prepare the spell that’s needed to send Dexamene. Though you would probably feel better if you get cleaned up first.” 

“Yeah,” I accepted while sitting up quickly. “Shower, right. I need to do that and then sleep before I fall over. Just one more thing though.” Reaching down, I produced my encased staff and set it on the table between us. “Do you have any idea how to fix this? I don’t mind improvising now and then like with the grenade launcher, but I really need my own weapon back.” 

Picking up the staff, Petan examined it critically, turning the weapon over in his hands before poking the hardened stuff around it. “Yes, we can get it out. That will take some time as well to do so without harming the staff itself. I’ll pass it to one of my people, and they should have it for you by the time you wake up again.” 

“Great.” Giving the man a thumbs up, I found myself yawning wide. “Then if you don’t mind, I’m ready to clean up, then crash.” 

And boy, would I have a lot to talk to Shyel about after everything that happened since I’d last slept.

******

Apparently a virtual recreation of an ancient Seosten superhuman in a child’s body could look surprised. I knew that for a fact, because Shyel had definitely been surprised by a lot of what I told her. We spent most of my time there just talking about what had happened and what I could do in the future. Or rather, back in the past-present when I got there in the future–fuck it. 

Whatever, the point was that we just talked a lot. And by the time I woke up back in the real world, I felt a hell of a lot better than I had before. Not perfect, of course. After all, I was still stuck here in the future while Fossor plotted to murder and enslave everyone I cared about. But, all things considered, I could have been a lot worse. I was in one piece, I was free, Dexamene was going to take the trip to the past to set everything up that put me here, and then I would take my own trip back to where and when I belonged. I would let everyone know what was happening and we would stop Fossor and save my mom. I just… that had to happen. It had to.  

I’d been given a private room to sleep in. When I opened the door (or rather, when it slid open as I approached), to head out, there was a package attached to the nearby wall. It was a small metal box that just sat there like it was taped or velcroed next to the doorjamb, with my name on it. When I tugged at it, the box came free and I opened it to see the end of my staff.  As promised, it was fixed. There was no more of that junk it had been encased in. 

More importantly, Jaq and Gus were free. The two of them instantly switched back to their mice forms as I held up the weapon, scrambling up the arm that I offered. “Hey, guys,” I started affectionately. “You feel better? You okay?” They chittered, and I rubbed under both of their chins. “Don’t worry, we’re working on it. We’re going home soon, I promise.”

They clearly weren’t interested in going back into their private little home (it was attached to the staff itself by this point, a little pocket dimension that functioned as their cage and was also where my sand was stored), so I let the two of them ride on my shoulder as I started walking. Focusing on what Petan had told me about how to get to his office once I was awake, I moved down the very Star Treky ship corridor. A few Alters passed me on the way, greeting me by name. I even recognized a few that we had fought against back on the Meregan world, when that whole misunderstanding had happened. Most of those ones pretty much ignored me, but a couple actually waved. One even called out that we’d have to try to ‘spar’ someday. Yeah, it was weird. 

Eventually, I managed to follow the directions to a fancy forcefield operated elevator, like the one back at the Fusion School. It carried me to the right floor, and I found my way, a minute later, to Petan’s office. He was there, the door sliding open to admit me after I pressed the little button for the buzzer next to it to be announced.

I stepped in to find the man standing in the spacious, well-decorated room. One entire wall was taken up by assorted weapons of all types, while the wall opposite it was a giant fish tank. Petan himself stood by the third wall, the one directly across from the entrance. It had several ‘window’ screens showing various views of both different parts of the ship as well as the stars outside. 

“You feel better?” he asked without turning away from the screens, his hands linked behind his back as he stood almost at attention. 

“Much,” I confirmed. “But you know what’ll make me really feel better? When I can go home and deal with all the shit waiting for me there.” 

Petan chuckled lightly, turning to face me. “Yes, I imagine you will. Don’t worry, my people are arranging the power transfer to send Dexamene back as we speak. It’ll take a bit more time after that to arrange your own transport. We can’t do this willy nilly. But given the stakes, we’ll be spending a few extra resources to make sure it happens.” 

Biting my lip, I quickly blurted, “Thanks. Thank you. You know, for all of this. For everything. I know it’s in your own best interests too, given your family. But still, I couldn’t do any of this without you and your people. I’d be totally umm… screwed. I’d be screwed out here on my own.” 

“We all need help sometimes,” the man assured me. “Best to give it when we can, to earn it when it’s our turn on the side of need.” With those words, Petan gestured. At his wordless command, a couple chairs materialized. I didn’t know if it was magic or some kind of solid light hologram stuff. Either way, I sat down as he joined me. 

“You’ve been through a lot, and have persevered.” His voice was quiet, watching me while adding, “And speaking of being through a lot, I imagine you’re hungry now that you’ve slept.” 

Groaning, I admitted, “Now that you mention it, yeah. Feels like I could eat a whole elk. Which, given I could transform into a huge lion, I very well might be able to.” 

With a slight laugh at that, Petan shook his head. “I don’t know about all that, but we can definitely get you some food. Then I can show you around the ship, while we wait for the first spell to be prepared.” 

“I’d like that.” Hesitating after agreeing to eat, I added, “But, after that, I’d like to talk to the Meregan that are still on the ship. Purin, is he here?” 

“Yes, he and most of the others are on the lower levels, the ones more suited to their size,” came the response. “You miss them?” 

Swallowing hard, I met the man’s gaze. “I have to tell them what happened to the people they left behind.

“I have to tell them what Fossor did.” 

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New Deals 13-09 (Summus Proelium)

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Things mostly calmed down pretty quickly after that. The Star-Touched adults had managed to regroup a bit and sent a couple of their people to help the Minority. By that point, the warring gangs had basically separated and gone to their respective corners, so to speak. So it was just a bit of cleanup.

The other Fell-Touched, like Janus, had managed to escape. But we kept hold of Suckshot and Landlock, eventually seeing them both hauled into the back of two separate special armored containment vans. 

Through most of that cleanup, I worked with Raindrop. I had the feeling that the people around us assumed we were about the same age. Actually, come to think of it, maybe she was an incredibly small sixteen-year-old too. Wouldn’t that have been just perfect?

Either way, she was pretty fun to hang out with once things calmed down a bit. She didn’t say a lot, but the things she did say tended to be insightful or just funny in a very simple, straightforward way. I would say something and she’d have a one or two word response, in a totally serious tone, that made me snicker. For whatever reason, it felt like I knew her a lot better than I did. We’d only just really met, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling like we’d interacted a lot more. It was weird. But then, maybe she was just one of those people who made friends easily. 

While we were doing that, I noticed some of the cops and reporters in the distance talking. I couldn’t make out most of what they were saying, but I did hear both of our names come up and saw some of them pointing our way. They were clearly talking about the fact that Raindrop and I were working together, but what… what were they saying? And why were some of them taking pictures? 

Eventually, That-A-Way approached and asked to speak to me privately. We stepped out of the way, over by a corner of the theater building while both of us watched the assortment of cops, reporters, and other Touched milling around. 

“Thanks,” Way murmured quietly. “You know, for showing up. You really helped turn things around.” She glanced toward me, lowering her voice even more. “I heard a few of those gang guys talking. This whole thing, it’s just a skirmish. Just the opening salvo. Apparently things are going to get a lot more heavy pretty soon. They’re going to war with each other.” 

Grimacing, I shook my head. ”If this was just a few opening shots, I don’t want to see what their idea of a full war is.”

“Neither do I,” she agreed, “but I have a feeling that we don’t really have a choice. This whole thing is gonna escalate really fast. And more civilians are going to be caught in the crossfire.” 

There was another brief pause while she clearly thought about her next words before quietly asking, “Those people you were talking about, shouldn’t they keep this kind of thing shut down? Seems like having a bunch of pissed off gang members at war with each other would be bad for business. If they really have that much control over every criminal in the city, shouldn’t they snap their fingers and make these guys back down? I mean, if there’s going to be one benefit to a group like that, you’d think it would be them stopping all-out war like this.”

Yeah, she had a point. I had no idea just how much my parents knew about this situation. But I refused to believe they were clueless. From everything I had seen, there was no way the gangs here would do something like this without at least mentioning it to my family, to the Ministry. Which meant they had to have at least partially approved this sort of thing. But why? What did they get out of it? Was it just not worth the hassle of trying to contain these guys constantly? Did they have to let them get their aggression out now and then before things blew up too much to control at all? I had no idea how that worked. 

With a sigh, I shook my head. “I dunno. But something tells me that if we want to find out how all this works, we need to get into that place. The sooner the better. There’s got to be some answers in there.”

Of course, there was also the possibility that those answers would lead toward my family. But that was a bridge I would cross when we came to it. I still had no idea exactly what I was going to do if and when Way and Pack, the people I had brought into this, found out that the Ministry was led by the Evans. I just… didn’t know. 

Way was looking at me again. “We have to come up with a plan and get in there,” she murmured quietly. “I’m pretty sure you’re right. That’s where we’re going to find answers. That’s where we’re going to…” She trailed off, grimacing for a moment before finding her voice once more. “It’s where we’re going to find out more about who we can’t trust.” There was a somewhat dark grimness to her voice, and it made me think for a moment about what all of this must have been like for her. She didn’t know who on her own team she could trust. She didn’t know which of her mentors she could look up to. What was it like from her side? Especially considering I wasn’t telling her everything I knew, a fact she was no doubt totally aware of. 

I started to agree with her, that we would get into that secret mall base as soon as possible. But before I could say more than a couple words, someone approached. It was, in no uncertain terms, the worst person I could think of to potentially overhear what we were talking about. Yeah, my dad, as Silversmith. He approached, offering each of us a nod while speaking up. “It seems we owe you another debt of gratitude, Paintball.” His hand extended toward me. “Thanks for stepping in and helping out today. Not sure how this would have gone without you.” 

Desperately fighting back the impulse to give any suspicious reaction whatsoever, I forced myself to accept the offered hand while shaking my head. “Way asked for help. I wasn’t just going to tell her to jump off a bridge.”  

He chuckled lightly, an encouraging sound that almost made me smile. How did he do that? How did he disarm me so easily when I knew who he was and what he did? Was it just because he was my dad? No, it had to be more than that. He was just that good at talking to people. He was just that good at convincing them that he was a friend, someone they could trust and confide in. It was scary seeing it from this side of things. 

While I was still fighting those reactions in my head, Dad put his hand on That-A-Way’s shoulder, squeezing slightly. “We owe just as much congratulations and thanks to you. Knowing when to call for help is important. Not trying to go at it alone, not showboating and getting people killed in the process, that’s what makes for a real hero. You did great today. All of you did.” 

“People still got hurt,” Way quietly pointed out. “Some still died. We didn’t save everyone.” 

Dad gave a short nod of agreement, as a long, heavy sigh escaped him. It sounded like he bore  the weight of each and every one of those injuries and deaths on his shoulders. Which was funny (in a totally not funny at all way), because I was pretty sure he really did bear the weight of them. He let it happen. He let this war get started. The Ministry allowed it. So yeah, the weight of it should have been on his shoulders. But he was still standing, and I was going to bet somehow getting even richer off of this whole thing. Yeah, I wasn’t exactly sure how, but the only thing I could think of that would make the Ministry allow something like this was if they were somehow making more money from it than if they hadn’t. Money or power, one or the other. Or both. I wasn’t sure of the specifics, not yet. But I did know that my father and mother had given the go-ahead for all of this to happen. They allowed it, so they were responsible. 

“You’re right,” Dad spoke up. For a crazy, horrifying second, I thought he had somehow read my thoughts. Then I realized he was responding to the girl beside me. “We didn’t save everyone. But you can’t always. All you can do is try. Put the effort in. Save everyone you can. Because, and I want both of you to listen to this right now, it isn’t about how many you fail to save. It’s about how many would have died if you weren’t there at all. And believe me, there would have been a lot more people hurt or even dead today if the two of you weren’t here. All those people in that theater, you saved them. You and Raindrop.” 

He said the last bit while stepping aside a bit and gesturing for the girl in question to join us. Which she did, moving up between Way and me while staring at my dad, at Silversmith. I couldn’t see her face, of course, hidden as it was behind that faceplate. But from the way she held her head, her body language, and everything else, I had the distinct impression that she basically hero-worshiped him. I had no idea what was going on there, but it was pretty obvious that she really looked up to him. Again, not surprising, considering how well my dad played the role of champion for the masses. He should have won an Oscar or two by now. Still, it made me feel sick in my stomach. Actually, the thought that he was fooling Raindrop in particular seemed to raise my hackles more than it really should have. I barely knew the kid. Maybe it was just because she was a kid? Maybe it reminded me of how much I had looked up to Silversmith before I knew the truth. 

Either way, Dad held his arm out, pantomiming looking at a watch. “Unfortunately, no matter how impressive you guys are, I have a feeling none of you can quite stop time just yet. And since everything seems calm enough now, I should get going. There’s going to be a lot of paperwork about all this. Be glad you guys only have to deal with a bit of that. And hey, you even get to avoid most of the reporters.”

Reporters… Oh damn, right, that dinner with the guy from the Times. It was getting close. No wonder Dad was making his excuses to leave. He congratulated us again, then offered to walk That-A-Way and Raindrop back to their base with the rest of their team. Way declined, saying she’d catch up after talking to me for a minute, claiming she still had to thank me herself. 

So, Raindrop headed off with him by herself. And I tried to figure out why the sight of her walking with my evil dad made me want to throw myself after them to stop it. Well, besides the obvious reasons. There was something else making it hit me more than I thought it should have. 

“It pisses you off too, doesn’t it?” Way spoke quietly with a glance toward me. “Seeing the way everyone loves him. Especially Rain.” She sighed, turning my way fully, as though to put her back to that whole thing. “I know you said you can’t say everything you know, but you made it pretty clear that he’s one of the ones that can’t be trusted. You said especially don’t tell him anything. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s one of your big conspiracy people. But he’s such… I mean…” She exhaled, slumping over a bit. “Fuck.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “fuck. Trust me, I know. It’s a whole thing. But you’re doing a good job of hiding it.”

She snorted at that. “You just couldn’t hear all the nasty thoughts I was having when he was here.” 

“Yeah, and neither could he,” I pointed out. “Look, we’ll get answers, okay? We just can’t rush it. They already know that I know some of what they’re up to. They just don’t know how much. Not even close. But they know that I know some of it. So we have to be careful.”

Way paused, then chuckled. “You know, the way you act about all this, sometimes I forget you’re younger than me. You seem a lot older than you should be.”

Shit, getting her off the train of thought was probably a good idea. But I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. So, I just shrugged. ”I’ve had to grow up quick lately. But if I don’t get out of here now, I’m going to end up grounded. Then we’ll see how grown up I am.”

With that, I excused myself and took off, using a shot of red paint to a nearby building to hoist myself out of there. Right, I hadn’t really been exaggerating that much. If I missed this dinner, Mom would never let me hear the end of it. She’d made it clear that it was important that we present ourselves as a family tonight. Which gave me a lot of other thoughts I felt like saying, but kept to myself for obvious reasons.

As I raced home, I did my best to push those thoughts out of my head. This guy was an award-winning investigative reporter. It would probably be a bad thing if I gave him a reason to be suspicious of my family. For him as well as us. He may have been a big shot, but I was pretty sure my parents wouldn’t hesitate to have him killed if it came down to protecting themselves and the family. And I was also willing to bet that my family’s resources trumped whatever he could come up with. 

It had, of course, occurred to me to try talking to the guy about everything. I had the random, crazy impulse to just spill my guts to him and have everything out in the open. He was a reporter, after all. But again, that would be stupid. He’d never be able to publish an article like that, not with the contacts my parents had. The only real option to get it out before they erased it would have been some kind of online thing, but that would probably be dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Even if I was involved, I’d just be the rebellious kid. There was no doubt in my mind that my family could quash the whole thing. Hell, it wasn’t as though it would be anything all that new. People claimed enormous criminal conspiracies against the rich and famous all the time. A lot of it was even true. And this was one of those times. But it would be dismissed like all those others. No, if… when I went public about all this, it had to be perfect. I would only get a single shot at that kind of thing. I would only be able to take my family by surprise once. It was going to have to be a silver bullet situation. Proof. I needed proof of everything, and I needed to understand exactly how the organization worked, who was a part of it, who could be trusted and who couldn’t. I needed all of it.

Of course, the other big reason for not telling this Chambers guy the truth? For all I knew, he was on my family’s payroll. Yeah, he was all the way down in LA, but did that really mean anything? After all, Mr. Jackson had been in the UK for a long time. And it really would be within my family’s interest to have one of the best investigative reporters from one of the biggest news outlets on their side.

No, clearly for a lot of reasons, I couldn’t open up now. Not to anybody, let alone a reporter who may or may not be working for my parents on the down low. 

Shoving those thoughts out of my head firmly, I focused on getting home. That meant changing clothes in a public restroom at the edge of a park and taking an Uber the rest of the way. I was cutting it fairly close, considering I still needed to shower and all. But at least I wasn’t late. 

Paying the driver after he stopped in front of the gate, I hopped out, grabbed my bag, and headed in. On the way past, I greeted the guard waiting there, who teasingly informed me that I’d better hurry. 

Mom and Dad were in the front foyer as I passed through the door. Mom stepped over, looking like she was going to embrace me, but thought better of it. She was already dressed up for dinner and wrinkled her nose a little at how sweaty I was. So sue me, running across the city was a bit of a work out, even with powers. 

She settled on gently touching the side of my face. “I’m glad you made it, Principessa. Thank you for remembering. Now please, go and get cleaned up. We will be eating in thirty minutes.”

“Yeah, kid,” Dad spoke up, “and see if you can help Izzy with whatever she needs? She should just be about done getting cleaned up herself. The clothes she helped pick out are on her bed.”

God, he really had no idea that I had just been talking to him a short time earlier. Hell, he didn’t look like he’d been out doing anything at all. I was sweaty and all that from rushing home. My hair was a mess from being under the helmet and mask.  But Dad? He was perfectly put together. Not a single hair was out of place and it looked as though the biggest workout he’d had in the past couple hours was pushing a few papers. 

Shoving that thought aside, I promised that Izzy and I would be right down. Then I headed up the stairs two steps at a time. Yeah, I’d go get cleaned up so we could get this whole thing over with.

Time to meet Lincoln Chambers and his family.

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Homeward Bound 8-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: Nicholas Petan’s point of view of this chapter was posted four years ago and can be found right here

Right, if I was going to end this problem as quickly as possible so I could actually meet up with Petan and get the ball rolling for me to get back to my own time, I was going to have to take out the big guy on the field. Not to mention the fact that, according to Rahanvael, the ship wasn’t going to be able to leave while the thing was alive. Killing it was the only chance any of us had. 

There was a time, not even all that long ago in my life, when running at a twenty-foot tall, sixty-foot long crocodile/ape monster would have sounded (and been) completely stupid and suicidal. But I had grown over the past year. Now it only sounded pretty stupid and suicidal. Plus, I didn’t have a choice. It was kill this thing or be trapped here to face more of them until I was captured and turned into a Fomorian lab experiment. 

So, still possessing the onyx-skinned guy I had taken over, I ran across the battlefield. And it was a true battlefield. It was a war zone. Everywhere my eyes flicked toward, I saw more bodies, more blood, more scattered and torn up organs, more figures half-dissolved in acid. 

More people, from both the Seosten and Petan’s sides, crying out for help. Or just crying in general. It was awful. It was the worst thing I could imagine in that moment. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t slow down to help them. I had to take out this big guy first. That was what mattered. Putting that monster in the ground so that everyone could escape. 

I was possessing this guy so the Fomorian creations down here wouldn’t realize that I was a Heretic. But that didn’t mean that they ignored me entirely. As I was running, with the double-bladed sword in one hand and the grenade launcher in the other, several smaller, more human-sized, Fomorian creations popped out at me. They may have been smaller than the big guy, but they were still monstrous. They looked sort of like the Goombas from that awful Super Mario Brothers movie, only with full-sized heads, random patches of mismatched leathery skin that clearly came from many different creatures, a seemingly random assortment of eyes and mouths that were all in different places, and long, deadly looking claws. Yeah, it was pretty nasty all around. 

The nearest one swiped at me with those wicked claws. But I was already boosting, using the added speed to pivot out of the way. As the claws whiffed through the air, my own hand was snapping up and around with that double-bladed sword to cut straight through the creature’s neck. Between my boosted, already enhanced strength and the sharpness of the blade, it went through easily, lopping the monster’s head straight off. 

But the threat wasn’t over. In the same motion that I was using to pivot away and cut off the first creature’s head, I used the momentum to throw myself up and over into a flip, slamming my foot into the face of the creature behind the first. At the same time, my borrowed sword lashed out to cut all the way through the arm and partway into the torso of the third creature. 

The kick to the face made the second guy stumble back, and I used the impact to launch myself up and back, flipping over in the air while adjusting the sword in my hand so that, as I came down, it cut the second figure from head to waist, slicing him in half lengthwise. 

All of that, the three kills together, happened so quickly that the burst of pleasure (it wasn’t exactly a huge one, but still) didn’t have time to hit me until after it was over. I froze when it hit me, letting the pleasure rush through me for that second. Actually, I had a feeling that I wasn’t getting the full rush of three kills. I’d been told that while Fomorians themselves didn’t give Bosch Heretics any powers from being killed, their creations were sort of hit-or-miss. Some gave powers, some didn’t. I was pretty sure at least one of these hadn’t. 

But they were dead. That was the important part. Unfortunately, those three weren’t the end of the things that were trying to stop me. Two more tried to put themselves in my path. They went down just as quickly, before I even actively thought about what I was doing. A quick swipe through the throat with one blade while ducking and pivoting to drop under the swinging arm of another so that I could drive the opposite blade into his stomach, then up and out through his back before letting both drop. Just like that. They gave no kill boost, no power, no rush of pleasure. They were just in my way, and then they weren’t. 

As quick as they fell, however, it wasn’t quick enough. None of it was quick enough. I didn’t have time for this, didn’t have time for any of it. 

Another creature came even as I thought that, bellowing a loud challenge as it ran my way. The monster looked like a gorilla made of stone, with six arms. 

It came while I was flat-footed, swinging those arms and screaming its challenge as I was still cursing myself for taking so long with this. Luckily, I had a way of stopping it without some big fight that I didn’t have time for. Namely, the grenade launcher in my other hand. Snapping it up as the creature raced toward me, I tried to think of a pithy one-liner. Nothing came to mind, so I just pulled the trigger. 

The resulting explosion blew the rock gorilla into a thousand pieces. It quickly would have blown me apart too, as the explosion rushed toward me from that close range. But even as the pleasure from that kill gave me a slight rush, I raised my hand. With a thought, I absorbed the power of the explosion, directing it out under my feet before the feeling of burning up with energy could overwhelm me. The redirected explosive energy launched me into the air just as easily as my staff would have if it hadn’t been out of commission at the moment. 

More importantly, I had the giant ape-croc’s attention. That became pretty clear as the monster grabbed for me while I was still riding the explosion upward. My boost had faded by then, but I still managed to twist around, landing on the back of one of the hands while my sword lashed upward at the other. In the back of my head, I thanked Avalon and everyone else who had insisted that I get at least some practice with other weapons besides my staff. I wasn’t as good with them, but the double sword thing was at least close enough that, between the similarity and the extra weapons practice, I wasn’t fumbling with it. 

Yeah, I definitely wasn’t fumbling. The sword cut straight through the rest of the incoming hand, cutting it free while I ducked aside so the severed hand could fly past me.

Yeah, now I’d really pissed this thing off. It was screaming at me with both heads. Which was fine, because I was about to piss it off even more. Launching myself off the back of the hand that was already trying to shake me free, I snapped that grenade launcher up and fired an explosive shot right into the ape-face. Which served two functions. First, it made the big ape head reel backward with a new bellow of anger and pain. And second, it gave me more energy to absorb and shoot underneath myself to get even higher. 

Now I was at the same level as the crocodile head. I could see the expression of anger in those reptilian eyes as the thing lunged towards me, mouth opening so it could swallow me whole. 

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen. The grenade launcher was already raised, and I fired several quick shots in succession. Each resulting explosion, triggered one after the other, made the crocodile thing roar while its head was knocked backward.

Coming down on the back of the monster’s giant snout,  I pointed the grenade launcher down. Then I paused slightly, just long enough for my thumb to find the button I’d noticed. The one that channeled how much of the energy store for the weapon was going into the grenades. I dialed it up to maximum, then pulled the trigger one last time while focusing as hard as I could on absorbing any of the power that hit me. 

Yeah, it was a lot. Even more than when that starfighter had shot me. I could feel myself burning up as that giant explosion blew through me. Still, I held onto as much of the power as I could, feeling my body grow hot as we both crashed to the ground. 

The monster wasn’t dead. I knew that as soon as we landed. Picking myself up from the ground, I could see the thing through the settling dust and debris. It had been knocked flat by the explosion, but it was trying to recover, trying to use its remaining ape-hand to push itself up.

I couldn’t have that. None of us could have that. This thing could not survive. We couldn’t give it time to recover. I had already dropped the grenade launcher through that explosion, considering it was now a twisted hunk of useless metal. But I still had the double-sword. And I held that tightly in both hands while throwing myself into a headlong charge toward the struggling monster. On the way, a scream escaped me, as I threw all that power I’d absorbed, the power that was already burning me up, into the weapon in my hands. Both blades began to glow almost blindingly bright, and I could tell that the sword wouldn’t be able to hold it for long before the whole thing would break apart.

Thankfully, it didn’t have to hold together for long. Still screaming, I launched myself into a leap, boosting one more time before driving one end of the blade straight down into the giant crocodile head, right between its eyes. 

The glowing blade sliced right through the monster‘s head lengthwise, cutting it in half and finally killing the thing. I fell, landing in a crouch while the rush of pleasure, much stronger than the others had been, washed over me. For a moment, I couldn’t focus on anything else.

It was enough of a distraction, that the next thing I knew, Nicholas Petan was right there. The guy I’d been looking for this whole time. He stood in front of me, staring with obvious curiosity. “Who are you? The Seosten would not have someone of your… skill protecting a backwater outpost.” His voice was clearly demanding, cautious about what I was doing there. 

Right, because he wasn’t actually standing in front of me, as far as he knew. Shrugging to myself, I pushed myself up while panting to catch my breath. Or my host’s breath, rather. “You’re right, they wouldn’t,” I replied.  

That said, I released the possessed man, letting his unconscious body fall as I straightened and smiled at Petan. 

He didn’t smile back. Instead, he brought his sword up while snapping, “Seosten.”

Oh, right. I still have the environment suit on with the hood that was obscuring my face too much for the man to really recognize me. Quickly, I shook my head. “Not quite.” Taking the mask off, I added, “I just killed a couple and stole their power. But trust me, they really had it coming.”

Nicholas Petan stared at me for a few seconds before managing, “You do not… appear to be five years older.”

Wincing, I replied, “I’m not. It’s only been…” I thought briefly. “… about a year for me, since you sent Tristan back. And now I need you to do the same for me. Send me back four years, to when I… when I left. 

“If you don’t, Fossor is going to use my mother to kill every Crossroads and Eden’s Garden Heretic in existence.”

*******

Needless to say, the man had a lot of questions after that. But there wasn’t time to answer them. Quickly, I let him know that with the ape-crocodile thing dead, his ship could escape. More Fomorians were coming, so everyone retreated. The Seosten-aligned troops and slaves who didn’t want to be left behind (all of them) agreed to be taken aboard and put in a secure area. It was better to be taken prisoner by him than by those evil fucks. I even managed to remember the guy I’d left tied up in the swamp and Petan had one of his teleporters make a quick jump out to bring him in. 

Soon, the ship was loaded and he took me with him to the bridge where I sat in a corner and tried to stay out of the way as they made a fighting retreat. 

From the sound of the orders being thrown back and forth, it was a really close escape. Even with the big crocodile-ape thing down, the Fomorian bio-ships were still out there. And they really did not want to let us leave. Petan’s ship shook and shattered from the damage it was taking, with alarms blaring all over the place. Judging by the reports that were coming in, they didn’t have much energy left. 

But, in the end, we managed to escape. The slide-drive powered up, and we were gone. Safe, for the time being. All around me, the crew of the bridge exchanged exhausted and relieved congratulations.

You still with me, Rahanvael? I directed inwardly. She had been quiet through all that, clearly trying not to distract me. 

The reassuring feeling of confirmation came, just as Petan stepped my way. “With me, please,” he said simply while heading toward a door on the opposite side of the crowded bridge. 

Right. Picking myself up on legs that were only shaking a little bit, I followed after him. We entered into what looks like some kind of briefing room, with a long metal table that had a hologram projector on it and ‘window’ screens projecting images from various parts of the universe. 

“You have been busy,” Petan noted after a moment of staring at the nearest screen as though to collect himself. He turned to me, squinting. “Tristan, is he…”

“He’s fine,” I assured him. “More than fine. He and Vanessa, his sister, they’re back with their mom and dad. Yeah, Sariel and Haiden are both on Earth. They’re all together.”

The man blinked at that, before tugging one of the floating chairs that surrounded the table out so he could sit down. He gestured for me to do the same on the opposite side while murmuring, ”You truly do miss a lot being out here. Anything could’ve happened back on Earth in all this time.”

Swallowing, I gave a short nod. “Yeah, things that could’ve happened back on Earth while you were out here is kind of what we need to talk about. Do… have you heard anything from Earth? Have you seen any… um… Bosch Heretics lately?”

Frowning, Petan slowly replied, “We are far enough out and away from the main lines that we rarely see them. But no, not in a few years. You said something about Fossor killing all of them. What happened?”

Now, that was a long story. So, I took a deep breath and started from the beginning. Which meant explaining about Kwur, the whole thing in Vegas, the fact that it had been a trap by Fossor to destroy the Gehenna outpost and capture me, the subsequent few weeks I spent as his prisoner, and what I’d done to free his other ghosts and escape with my mother. Finally, I explained how it had gone wrong and how I ended up here in the future, along with what Fossor’s actual plan was. 

“Fossor has a sister?” Petan shook his head in wonder. “And her ghost has allied with you.”

“I couldn’t have done any of this without her,” I insisted. “She saved everything. And now you see why I have to get back there before he manages to pull this off. Otherwise, they are all going to die and he’ll have a permanent army of Heretics.”

A grimace touched the man’s face, and he nodded. “Yes, that does sound like something best avoided. If that monster has control of the Bosch Heretics, it could explain why the Fomorians have been able to expand all the way out to that outpost. It could change the entire face of the war. It could…” He trailed off, grimacing as the true implication of all that struck him. “Haiden, Tristan, the… the others…” His voice was grim, almost bleak. 

“Of course,” Petan finally settled on after shaking himself with the realization that whatever might have happened wasn’t set in stone. ”We’ll work on sending you back as soon as possible, but—”

“Oh, right, not me first.” I hesitated, trying to think of the best way to broach this before offering a weak, “You know a girl named Dexamene?”

He did, and was obviously confused about why I would ask. So, I explained the rest of it. I told the man about how it had been Elisabet, trapped back on the Meregan world, who had actually redirected me so that I wouldn’t be caught by Fossor. I also explained about how she had only known when and how to do that using information that I gave her, through Dexamene. 

“So, see, I have to tell Dexamene what to say to Elisabet, so that she can save me, so that I can give the information to Dexamene, so that…” Trailing off, I gave my head a sharp shake. “Fuck, time travel is confusing. Wait, what would happen if I just didn’t follow the script? What would happen if we didn’t send Dexamene back, so none of that happened?” 

Petan stared at me intently, his voice grave. “The moment you passed the time when you should have done so and don’t, you would revert to a timeline where you never did that in the first place. Which would mean…”

“I’d be with Fossor’s handpicked goons’ clutches.” Finishing the man’s sentence for him with a shudder, I shook my head. “No thanks. I uhh, I know it’s going to be asking a lot of her, but can we bring Dexamene in so I can explain what’s going on? Pretty sure we need to stick to the written plot on this one.”

Petan nodded, his expression grim, yet determined. “I will summon her, and we can explain the situation. She is a fine girl, I’m certain she will agree to aid you.” Pausing, he added “Even before you add in the fact that by your point of view, she already did.”

Snorting despite myself, I agreed, “Great, let’s tell her what’s going on. And after that, I need one more vitally important thing.”

“Whatever it is,” Petan replied with a nod, “if I have it, it’s yours.”

“Do you have a spare bed?” I managed, as the exhaustion from everything that I’d been through in all that time finally caught up with me. 

“Because trust me, I’m pretty resilient, but it has been a long fucking day and I am about to pass out.”

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New Deals 13-08 (Summus Proelium)

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A/N: There was a commissioned interlude focusing on the Touched-Bees of Eastland, Oregon posted yesterday. If you haven’t read that yet, you might want to use the previous chapter button above. Thanks!

Also, if you’d like to see what the actual place that Cassidy is going through in this chapter looks like, check my author comment in the replies after the chapter.

When the Fox Theatre was built and opened almost a hundred years ago, in 1928, it had been the biggest, most impressive theater in the city with over five thousand seats. It had basically been the anchor of an entire chain of theaters owned by Fox, and a stunning wonder for everyone at the time. Over the following decades, it gradually fell into decline until it was restored in the late 80’s. Then it was upgraded and given a fresh life once more about ten years ago, around the same time that the baseball stadium across the street had been rebuilt. 

A lot of money had gone into restoring and upgrading this entire area of the city. Hell, a lot of money had gone into restoring the entire city in general. Yeah, I was fully aware that for quite some time through the end of the last century, the city had been spiraling down a hole. But I’d always experienced a Detroit that was on the rise, or even a full-on leader in development and manufacturing. We had one of the strongest economies in the world, and had for the past decade or so, with plenty of Touched who flocked here to build or benefit from Tech-devices. They couldn’t build neighborhoods fast enough for the people who wanted to move to this place. Even with the crime, even with the violence in the streets, you could still be successful here. 

But how much of that success was directly connected to the things my parents did? My family were villains, they helped criminals do bad things, helped them steal from and hurt people. That was completely true. And yet, it was also completely true that the city was better now than it had been for decades before Touched powers appeared. Would the city have been even better than it already was without this ‘Ministry’ directing things? Or would it be worse? Had they been responsible for pulling enough manufacturing and such back here? Or would there be as much growth and not as much crime if they weren’t stirring the pot? How much good had they done, and how did it weigh against the bad they’d done? And did any of that actually matter, morally?

All those thoughts and more kept playing through my head the entire time that I was moving toward the broken-in doors of the theater (covering my costume with various paint colors the entire way). But I shoved them down, with some effort, focusing on the real problem. That-A-Way and Raindrop were trapped in there, with civilians and bad guys. Beyond that, I had no idea what I was getting into, only that those two needed help. 

The lobby of the theater was fucking gaudy as hell. Seriously, the ceiling towered like fifty feet over my head, sloping upward with slanted golden walls on either side, brilliant red and gold pillars lined both sides of the massive room, with golden lamps hanging down to illuminate everything, and plush red carpets covered the floor. I’d heard people refer to its style as ‘part-Egyptian, part-Hindu, and part-Babylonian.’ It was a lot, to say the least. 

More important than the loud design choices was the fact that I wasn’t alone in the lobby. The second I entered, two guys dressed as Easy Eights gang members and three dressed as Ninety-Niners all whirled my way. One of the Easy Eights guys tackled the nearest Ninety-Niner, starting to wail on him with the butt of his pistol before the guy managed to get an arm up and the two struggled together. 

But I couldn’t exactly intervene with either of them, because the remaining three guys (one Easy Eights and two Ninety-Niners) apparently decided that I was the bigger threat. All three opened fire, even as I activated the picture of an orange shield I’d painted onto my chest before coming in here. At the same time, I triggered a pair of green swirly lines along my legs and hurled myself into an upward flip, using red paint shot toward one of the pillars to lift myself higher even as most of the shots passed by under me. A few struck home, but the orange paint reduced the bullets to a mere stinging annoyance. 

In mid-leap, as the red paint attached to my gloves and to the nearby pillar yanked me that way, I cut it off, flipping over in the air while hitting the pillar with blue. The second my feet hit it, I was launched straight down toward the men like I was being shot out of a cannon. 

They tried to react in time to shoot me again, but couldn’t adjust their aim fast enough. Between the green paint speeding me up and the blue sending me hurtling straight at them from above, the three guys were basically sitting ducks. And my orange paint was still active, so I just stuck both arms out, crashing into two of the men full-on. They hit the ground together with me on top of one, wind knocked out of them both. 

The third guy was whipping around to shoot (which probably would’ve hurt more from that range), but I managed to throw myself on my side and lash out with a foot to kick at his leg while boosting myself with the small purple stegosaurus shape I’d put on one side of my left arm. It wasn’t a huge increase to my strength, but it was enough that the solid kick knocked the man’s legs out from under him, dumping him onto his back with a cry. 

Rolling backward and rising to both knees, I saw the two men I’d knocked down both scrambling to grab their guns off the floor while still trying to suck in air. Even now, they were going to try to shoot me. Or possibly each other. I really wasn’t sure which. But it didn’t matter. Quickly, I hit the weapons with red paint, yanking them to my gloves before tossing them to either side with a blurted, “You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie!” 

While they were trying to react to that, I planted blue paint under my knees while pushing off, launching myself up and forward over all their heads. On the way past, I flipped over, hitting all five men (including the two who were still struggling with one another) with a wide spray of red paint from both hands. Then I landed in a roll before bringing myself to a stop. 

Covered in red paint, the five men all started to move at me as one massive rush. But, they came up short as I used white and a little bit of black paint to color in a bright, toothy grin across the front of my helmet. Unnecessary, but hey. Then I pointed both hands upward, drawing their attention toward the ceiling so far above. A ceiling where I had also taken the time to shoot more red paint. 

The curses started before I even activated the paint, morphing to screams as the five men were hurtled upward. I let it carry them about halfway there before cancelling the paint. Their momentum brought them even higher, nearly to the ceiling itself before gravity kicked in. Then they were screaming for an entirely different reason, as they fell toward the hard floor below. 

I couldn’t just let them hit the ground, not from that height. Forty-plus feet wasn’t exactly jumping out of an airplane, but it could still potentially kill them. And as much as I felt like they deserved a few broken bones for putting uninvolved, innocent civilians in danger with their stupid fucking gangwar, that was too much. And it wasn’t my place to decide something like that anyway. 

So, before the screaming, flailing men hit the ground, I hit them with a spray of orange paint. Just enough that the fall still hurt, still left bruises and maybe a bit worse than that, without being lethal. They laid there, sprawled out and panting (along with a few whimpers). None looked like they were in any mood to fight right then. Or even move, really. 

I didn’t have time to play with them anymore. Damn it, damn it, I couldn’t have just moved past them and left them to shoot me in the back (even this felt like a risk, justifiable as it was), but still, it felt like I was wasting time. Running onward through the lobby, I called back, “Why don’t you guys take five, we’ll pick up from the top later!” On the way, I thought to hit each of their scattered weapons with small shots of red paint, yanking them to me before dumping the pistols in a garbage can I was passing. It wasn’t perfect. None of this was. But at least the guns were out of sight and the guys behind me were too busy getting over pissing themselves to worry about fighting right at that moment. It was the best I could do with the time I had.

If the lobby of the theater was crazy opulent, the main room with the stage was completely fucking absurd. There were fake stained glass windows that could be lit up or darkened at any point, and could have the actual design changed to match the mood of the play. There was gold everywhere, several tiers of seats, all of which were incredibly plush (and really easy to fall asleep in if you were a bored eleven-year-old who was dragged to the theater by your parents). There were more pillars, an incredibly beautiful vaulted ceiling, the works. The place was, again, large enough to seat over five thousand people. For some kind of reference, I’d asked someone before and they said a modern public movie theater sat between two hundred and three hundred people in a single screening room. 

So yeah, the place was fucking enormous. And, as promised, there were people in here. The moment I passed through one of the entrance doors, I could see a group of civilians huddled together ahead and to the right, cowering between some seats. It looked like there were several dozen at first glance, but I wasn’t sure because of how they were crouched down. 

Of more immediate importance was the reason they were all cowering. Namely, all the bad guys that were everywhere. Seriously, I saw a mix of Ninety-Niner and Easy Eights Prev thugs spread throughout the entire room. They were clustered up in small groups, but those groups were all over the place. They were brawling with weapons, a few had guns they were trying to bring in to play, and none seemed to care about the civilians they were endangering. Hell, I could see a few innocent people who weren’t with the main huddled group. Instead, they ducked where they were, hands over their heads as they tried to stay low. 

It was all-out chaos in the seating area, a brawl that was tearing this place apart. I could see where several of the opulent ‘windows’ and hanging lights had been destroyed, places where seats were torn out, and more blood than I wanted to think about.

Then there was the stage itself, straight down and across from where I entered. The enormous stage was where That-A-Way and Raindrop were. And they weren’t alone. Landlock, a short guy (just about five feet, four inches tall) who wore dark green and brown body armor with a football player’s helmet over a simple black face mask, was there. He was one of the Easy Eights, like Janus outside. His power basically made a fifty-foot diameter circle of ground or floor under his feet transform to stone wherever he went. It would change back as he moved away from that spot, but while he was standing there, it would be rock. No matter what hit him, he couldn’t be knocked outside of his circle, and he could make a bunch of rock constructs within it. 

The Ninety-Niner Touched he was trying to fight, meanwhile, was Suckshot. Yeah. While Landlock wore the football helmet, Suckshot was basically dressed like a hockey player, with that Touched name written on the back. His powers allowed him to create these black orb things about the size of a volleyball in front of his hands that could yank things (or people) toward them. Once they were close enough to touch the orbs, he could then launch them away at high speed. The orbs were also some kind of pocket dimension thing that he could store objects in as long as they were smaller than the orb. He kept objects in there and used them as ammo to shoot at people. 

And in the middle of all this, between those two, were That-A-Way and Raindrop. Way had both arms wrapped around her younger teammate, with her back to Landlock. Apparently her invulnerability power was active, because in the second that I watched, the Fell-Touched Made two large rocks float up out of the floor and fly at them, only for the rocks to shatter against her back. 

At the same time, Raindrop had one hand extended toward Suckshot. She was sending a torrent of water his way, a sideways downpour that would’ve allowed the kid to manipulate his gravity if she could get him wet. But he was sucking up all the water with his own power, making it disappear into his orbs. It was a stalemate. 

Well, not anymore. Taking a running start, I shot blue paint down to launch myself up and forward, catapulting over the line of seats. In mid-air, I shot red paint high over the stage to pull myself that way, before sending a few more small shots of red toward the brawling thugs below. I didn’t get anywhere near all of them, but I did hit a few. Mostly I tried to focus on the ones who were holding guns, nailing the weapons themselves with a bit of red before extending my hand back the way I’d come to hit the door with one more shot. Linking all of those together, I activated them and the guns (as well as a couple other weapons) were yanked out of the thugs’ hands. 

It wasn’t much, but it was something. Mostly I was hoping that if the Touched were dealt with, the rest of the guys would follow suit quickly, or at least retreat. 

And speaking of dealing with them, I flipped over in the air after canceling the red mark I was being yanked toward. Upside down as I passed over the stage, I shot two bursts of white paint, one at each of them. Unfortunately, the paint that was going toward Suckshot was, well, sucked right into one of his little black hole orbs. Fuck. I really should’ve known that would happen.

But the other spot of paint struck home, hitting the spot of Landlock’s chest right under his chin. Instantly, I activated it, sending a blinding flare right into his eyes that made the man stagger backward, the large boulder he’d been forming falling apart before he could launch it. 

Activating a bit of orange near my left leg on the hip, I finished flipping over and landed a short distance away from where the two Minority were. “Heard you all might need an understudy if this performance is gonna go on,” I blurted as everyone stopped what they were doing and snapped a glance toward me. At the same time, I hit Way with orange paint from one hand and purple from the other, before Suckshot could recover from my sudden appearance and start using his power again. Activating both, I snapped, “Get ‘em!”

The direction she’d been facing toward Suckshot in keeping her back to Landlock for protection had given her invulnerability. The opposite direction must have been super speed, because she pivoted away from Raindrop and, in a blur of motion, was suddenly directly in front of the man who had been launching boulders at them, punching him across the face with her enhanced strength. He had some measure of that himself, but the punch was still enough to put him on the stone-turned floor. 

For the next ten seconds, That-A-Way had the extra strength and toughness which, added to her own super speed, would let her deal with that guy. 

That left Raindrop and me to handle Suckshot. And I had the feeling that the suck part of that was going to be pretty apt. Whether it was my paint or her water, he could suck all of it up if it came anywhere near him. 

Just as I had that thought, the two of us were nearly taken out just like that as a handful of literal bricks shot out of those black orbs, straight at our heads. Fuck! 

But Raindrop was fast too. A swirl of water spraying up to catch the bricks, turning their gravity so they were launched up and over us to careen off into the distance. A metal pipe and another set of bricks joined them a second later. 

Yeah, the suck was definitely strong with this one. Good thing I had an idea. Lowering my voice to a whisper, I addressed the young girl nearby. “Dude, can you soak me, then when I say now, zero my gravity?” 

“Um, okay,” came the quiet, uncertain voice. It tickled something in my brain, but I didn’t have time to think about it.

Instead, I pushed myself forward even as I felt my costume suddenly get really wet. Raising my voice, I shouted at the man, “Hey, Suckface, lemme guess, you’re a Touched vacuum!” 

It definitely worked to get his attention. The man shot another metal pipe at me, but I popped the wheels of my skates out and slid under it, cocking my hand back as though I was going to throw or shoot something at him. Immediately, I felt the pull of his power as he focused it on me. I was yanked off my feet and sent that way, even as he took aim, clearly about to use me being off my feet and helplessly pulled toward him to take one final shot. 

“Now!” I called out while simultaneously activating every bit of green and orange that was still on my costume. 

Instantly, my gravity was zero. Which meant I was suddenly flying toward the man in front of me faster than he expected. Even better, the green paint I’d activated sped me up even more. In that instant, I was careening at the man several times quicker than he was ready for. 

He didn’t have time to correct it. I slammed into him full-bodied, with enough force to knock him clear to the floor, his orbs disappearing as he collapsed under me with a cry of pain and surprise. I, of course, was fine thanks to the orange paint. But it didn’t look like the guy under me was going to be in the mood to move anytime soon. 

Still, I produced a set of the stay-down cuffs I still had, hooking them around his wrists before rolling away. 

Sitting up, I saw That-A-Way doing the same to her guy. They were both down. We had them in hand. 

Even better, seeing their super powered members captured did, in fact, make the rest of the bad guys decide to cut and run. There was a rush toward the exits, the two rival groups still fighting each other as they fled like rats leaving a sinking ship. Meanwhile, the cowering civilians were starting to pick themselves up cautiously. 

Raindrop was in front of me, offering her hand with a blurted, “That was cool!” 

Again, her words made something in the back of my mind flash a bit. But what–never mind, I was just crazy and tired from all that, clearly. 

Taking the offered hand, I stood and breathed out a long sigh of relief while looking at her and That-A-Way. “Well,” I managed in between heavy panting, “if you guys really want, we could stick around and see the show tonight.

“But I hear it really sucks.”

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Commissioned Interlude 5 – Eastland, Oregon (Summus Proelium)

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A/N: This is a commissioned interlude, connected to the Termite interlude posted a couple weeks ago. The next regular chapter will be posted tomorrow as scheduled.

The town was (for the moment) named Eastland, located about fifty miles southwest of Portland, Oregon and a bit north of McMinnville, the seat of Yamhill County, which Eastland was part of. A little over a year earlier, its population had been around nine thousand and rapidly dropping as older citizens passed away and those who were younger moved on to towns with better prospects. In the thirteen months since, that had ballooned out to about sixteen thousand. Construction projects and new jobs abounded in the area, as multiple companies flocked to build, bringing a flood of people and resources. 

There were plenty who objected to so many changes and new arrivals of course. Many town meetings had been held where new demands and rules for what these incoming companies were allowed to do, where they were allowed to build, what sort of businesses could be there, and more were argued over and either adopted or rejected. For the most part, the town accepted the new arrivals and embraced just how much their town’s fortunes had been reversed. After all, not so long ago, there had been very little in the way of new jobs and steady income. The population had been sliding for years, even decades, with no indication of anything new arriving to stabilize their prospects. Entire families disappeared from the town, heading off to bigger cities. Cities with jobs to offer. 

But then something had arrived. Something that had changed the town and its inhabitants forever, and had triggered this year of mounting prosperity and growth. And that prosperity and growth showed no signs of abating any time soon. Particularly given the town’s full embrace of their new situation, to the extent of already unofficially adopting a new name. A name that would become official once it made its way onto the ballot in the next year. 

Once it did, and passed, Eastland, Oregon would become Honeyland. 

At a small diner in the middle of town, a diner that had stood and been owned by the same family for well over sixty years despite some recent efforts to buy them out, a Latino man in a suit sat on a stool at the counter with the latest copy of the town’s paper held in front of him. He wasn’t from Eastland (or Honeyland, as many had already taken to calling this place), but the man was curious about local events. And besides, he had time to kill before his guide arrived. Humming softly to himself, he glanced over the headlines, his eyes scanning idly across stories about the local high school baseball scores. As he did so, a small insect buzzed near the paper in front of him, and the man absently drew a hand back to swat it away. 

His hand never made it that far. Just as it started to move down, the man’s wrist was caught in an iron grip that was almost, yet not quite, painful. He looked up to see the older, gray-haired guy next to him, who had been engrossed in his own coffee, holding his arm. “Around here,” the elderly man informed him in a low voice that bordered right on the edge of being threatening, “we don’t look kindly on people hurting our friends like that.” 

Hurting their–only then, as he looked back to see the yellow and black insect hovering in front of him, did the Latino newcomer realize what he’d almost done with that unthinking swat. Eyes widening, he shook his head. “Oh–oh, damn. I’m sorry. It wasn’t–I was just–” 

Another hand, belonging to the young, dark-haired waitress behind the counter, was extended to gently pry the old-timer’s grip away. “Thanks, Karl, but I think it’s probably safe to let him go now. You didn’t mean any harm, did you, Mister…?” 

“Deans,” came the easy response. “Agent Deans, Miss, ahhh… Hayley.” As he answered (taking a glance at the nametag she wore) the man flipped open the wallet that sat on the counter in front of him to reveal the FBI badge there. “And no, I didn’t mean any harm. Force of habit, I’m afraid.” 

“You make it a habit to crush people who were just trying to check the baseball scores?” 

The new voice, or rather, voices, came from Deans’ right. He turned toward that way to find not just the single bee he had almost swatted, but a small swarm of them. Fifteen, to be exact. Each of them spoke as one, forming a perfect chorus. “Our deepest apologies in that case. We will make certain to ask your permission next time.” 

For a moment, the only thing the man could do was stare, struggling not to gape open-mouthed. His words finally emerged after a few seconds of that. “I–they’re right, you do talk.” 

“Not in the same way that you do, Agent Deans,” came the fifteen-voiced response. “We are implanted with what you would consider a chip in the back of our thoraxes and connected to our brains. A small, quite powerful speaker extends from the chip and out the underside of our abdomen, producing the sound you can hear.” 

Taking that in, Deans slowly shook his head. “Sorry, I just–I’ve never actually had a face-to-face with insect-Touched. You’re not exactly common, especially with–” Cutting himself off at the thought, he grimaced. “Sorry. I should’ve been paying more attention to what I was doing.” 

Again, fifteen voices spoke as one. “The fault is partly ours, Agent Deans. We forget that not everyone who might happen to be in town is entirely accustomed to our presence. Don’t fear, we will not hold it against you during our tour.” 

“Oh, I’m supposed to meet…” the man trailed off upon realizing the truth. “Ah, you’re who I’m supposed to meet here, aren’t you?” 

Fifteen bees flew down, then up in a perfectly coordinated maneuver that he took to be their version of a nod. “Yes, we are here to answer questions and take you to see the town on behalf of the hive-queen. But you should eat your breakfast before we go. It is the most important meal of the day.”

Sure enough, as the man glanced to the counter, he saw that the toast and eggs he had ordered had been neatly placed in front of him during his distraction. “Oh, thank you, Miss Hayley. And thank you, Karl.” He added with a look toward the man who had stopped him from swatting the bee in the first place. 

From there, he ate his breakfast, including (at the urgent suggestion of both the bees and humans), putting honey on his toast. It was local honey, grown and provided by the very hive that the swarm in front of him were representing. And the moment he did, biting into the honey-covered bread, the man’s eyes closed with a murmur of pleasure. “My God,” he managed after a long moment of simply absorbing the taste, “it’s even better than what you get in the store.” 

Hayley grinned, winking at the bees who hovered nearby. “It’s fresh,” she reminded him. “Right out of the hive, practically. The stuff we send to the stores is pretty great, but nothing compares to what you can get right here. Right, guys?” 

There was an almost melodious buzzing sound that was apparently their version of a chuckle, before those fifteen voices replied together, “We do endeavor to provide excellent honey for our friends and fellow citizens of Eastland. And, of course, an excellent product for others to buy.” 

“How do you do it though?” Agent Deans asked curiously after taking another amazing bite. “I mean, you’re just one hive. No offense at all, but your honey is sold all over the country. They’ve built an entire factory to help process it. You’ve got multiple shipping companies moving in to take it everywhere. How can you possibly produce that much? I looked it up, and a hive should only produce about a hundred pounds a year, maximum. You’ve been producing a lot more than that.” 

That buzzing chuckle came back once more, before the bees assured him, “We will get into all of that and more. For now, enjoy your meal, Agent Deans. When you’re finished, we will take you on a tour, and answer any of your questions that we are able to.” 

They really didn’t have to tell him twice. Deans ate all of the toast, then got seconds to put a bit more of that incredible honey on. He could see exactly why the town’s fortune had turned around so thoroughly, with their ability to ship that stuff all over the country. However they managed to produce so much of it, the fact was that they did produce it. And having that product had been one of the primary catalysts that had begun to bring Eastland (soon to be Honeyland) back to life. It wasn’t the only thing, of course. But it was the first, and arguably the biggest, factor in the town’s new prosperity. It was the main catalyst from which everything else had grown.

Eventually, after finishing and paying for his breakfast, Agent Deans left the diner. The small swarm of bees flew ahead, guiding him out to the street. On the way, he briefly wondered what the flying insects did when someone wasn’t there to open the door. His answer came when they flew, one at a time, through a tiny hole in the wall next to the door itself (he supposed it was there rather than actually in the door so that someone opening it wouldn’t end in tragedy for the bee trying to go through the hole). 

Either way, once out on the streets, the swarm hovered in the air in front of him. That chorus of joined voices asked, “Would you like to take your car, Agent, or walk so that we might show you around? If you are not pressed for time.” 

The man shook his head. “No, I ahh, I’d like to see whatever you can show me. That’s my job, actually. There are a lot of… curious people back at the agency who want to know how all this works.” 

Again, that buzzing chuckle followed by the chorus of, “That is not surprising, Agent Deans. Come, we will tell you what we can. And answer any of your questions. Surely you have many.” 

They began to fly down the sidewalk, with Deans following. Before saying anything else, the man glanced around. There were people, obviously locals, walking everywhere. And more than that, there were other small swarms of bees right alongside them. They were everywhere, working right alongside the humans. He saw one man in a delivery uniform standing outside a van, holding the back door open while a swarm of bees landed on several large boxes that were stacked outside of it. Three or four bees per box landed, then rose into the air again with the boxes coming with them. 

Tactile telekinesis, Deans knew. That was one of the Touched-bees powers. Just by touching something, they could lift incredibly heavy objects (particularly given their relative size and strength) and fly around with them. It was one of the things that allowed the hive to be so helpful to their human allies. Not to mention how much they used it to build their own devices. 

Yes, build their own devices. Because beyond their greatly enhanced intelligence/sapience and the Field-touched power of the tactile telekinesis, the bees were also Tech-Touched. Hence the communication devices that had been implanted in all of them that allowed the bees to talk as they had been. 

From the briefing he’d received before coming here, Agent Deans understood that the bees were specifically focused on creating devices that, as the eggheads had put it, ‘enhanced cooperation and benefited the group as a whole.’ That was their Tech-Touched specialty, as it were. They specialized in designing and building inventions that would help groups work together. So, ‘devices that allowed them to communicate with humans’ definitely fit within that.

“I do have a few questions, actually,” the man managed after trailing after his escorts for a minute as he took in the sight of so many humans and bees working together. “I’m not sure how to ask this without being, ahhh, rude. But the way you all speak together, knowing… uhh, the way your people–insects–the way hives generally–” 

“You wish to know if we are individuals,” came the chorus of responses as one, “or a single hivemind.” From the way they said it, the question was clearly one that they were accustomed to. 

Pausing briefly to watch a handful of bees who seemed to be serving as crossing guards (complete with keeping a hand-held stop sign suspended in the air) to help a group of children cross the street toward an elementary school, Deans slowly nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry, I don’t know how else to put that except, are you individuals, or one big collective?” 

“The answer is yes,” came what seemed to be the teasing response. All fifteen bees flew up directly in front of his face, hovering there for a moment. Then, apparently to make a point, seven of the bees flew to the left, while the remaining eight flew to the right. 

The eight bees to the right, without the seven to the left, continued with, “We are a collective.” 

The seven bees to the left, without the eight to the right, added, “But that collective may be of any size. Even one, though that is rare and frightening.” 

With that, the eight bees split once more, becoming two separate groups of four. The first four announced, “There are three levels of our minds. The small, the large, the whole.” 

The other four further clarified, “The small is our own individual minds. What you would call your own thoughts. They are small, and do not say much on their own. It is lonely in the small mind. We don’t like it.” 

The group of seven then added, “You might think of it as being somewhat asleep. A brain that is half-conscious, and feels… sluggish, or trapped. It is claustrophobic and lonely.” 

“Lonely,” all fifteen bees chorused together as they flew back into one group again, continuing with, “The large mind is us. Any group together may swarm and become a large mind. That is less lonely. We think better, we think stronger, we are more than we are as small. It is the large mind that we use in most interactions.” 

“And the whole mind, that’s what you called the last one, right?” Deans guessed. “That must be the entire hive.” 

Sure enough, the fifteen bees flew up, then down, their version of a nod again. “Correct, Agent Deans,” came the response. “We are always connected to the whole mind. Think of it as your internet, as we all access it and may see and interact with each small and large group as needed no matter how far we are from one another. But it is more than that. It is a personality, the full collection of our small and large minds. The hive-queen directs this whole mind, yet we are all a part of it. This is hard for human individuals to understand, which is not intended as an insult. You simply do not have the proper frame of reference. We as the hive are one mind. We as the large minds are one mind. We as the small minds are one mind. All are true. We are whole and we are pieces. We are one mind fractured into as many parts as necessary to do our work.” 

“I ahhh… I think I understand,” Deans slowly replied after thinking about that for a minute. “I mean, I think I get what you mean in general, even if I don’t have the right frame of reference, as you said. It’s kind of like having one mind that’s really good at multitasking.”

There was a brief pause before the swarm of fifteen carefully agreed, “It is something like that.” 

With that much explained, at least as much as the bees are able to, the group continued onward. Deans was led through the town. He saw even more examples of how the hive and humans were working together. The bees used their telekinesis and their inventions to help their human allies put buildings up quickly and far more easily than the humans could do alone. That was how this town was able to expand so quickly. Houses and other buildings were much easier to build when you had a fleet of flying insects that could land on large materials and fly them exactly where they needed to go. 

Eventually, they came to the main plant where honey was sorted, packaged, and shipped. Watching pallet after pallet of barrels being loaded into the back of several large trucks with the town’s soon-to-be official moniker on the sides, Deans slowly asked, “Okay, what about the honey? You said you’d explain how it’s possible to have so much of it.” 

“The simplest explanation,” the bees informed him, “is that we have created machines which do the same work we would do, but far more efficiently. Flowers are grown within a greenhouse in the center of the facility. Everything from nectar extraction all the way through the rest of the… process is performed by our machines, supervised by parts of the hive. Rather than acting as the individual workers to create very tiny amounts of honey, each of our small and large minds in the factory supervise the production of much larger amounts. That, and the aid of our human allies and friends, allows the level of production that you see.” 

“Well, it’s working for you, whatever the specifics,” Deans murmured. “I heard the FDA reps were impressed by your set-up.” 

Again, that up-down hovering nod. “They visit quite often, to ensure our work remains impeccable. We are told there is some pressure from outside forces to declare the factory unsanitary. But we take great pains to ensure that it is safe at all levels.” 

They were right, Deans knew. With a grimace, he nodded. “Yes, well, there’s a few people out there who don’t exactly like the idea of insect-Touched. Actually, that’s part of–” 

“You wish to speak with the hive about the Merit termites,” the swarm finished for him. “Before the situation escalates further.” 

There was no sense in beating around the bush, so Deans simply nodded. “Yeah, pretty much. The… first contact with the Merit termites didn’t exactly go very well. Not like it did here when you and the people of Eastland started working together. What was that–a kid you talked to first?” 

“Phoebe Burton,” they confirmed. “Nine years old. We prevented her abduction by a stranger, a member of one of the so-called Abyssal cults, and ensured his capture. Her mother and law enforcement were grateful. This eased our introduction to human society and allowed us to set the groundwork for the alliance that exists today.” 

Deans exhaled long and slowly. “Yeah, well, things were different in Merit. A few… overly-excited individuals down there made things a hell of a lot more complicated.” 

“They tried to kill the hive,” his escorts pointed out bluntly. “Townspeople there worked very hard to kill those intelligent termites.” 

“Not all the townspeople,” Deans protested. “Believe me, a lot of them–most of them tried to stop it. Things just got really bad really fast, before anyone realized just how far south it was going. Now we’ve got the military keeping people out and we’ve tried to send some people in to talk, but there’s a lot of… distrust. And from what we’ve been able to see, things in Merit could blow up even worse. The termites are working on their own countermeasures. If we’re not careful, those people who want the full-on war, who want to genocide the hive, are gonna get what they want. But I– some of us thought that it might be easier to communicate with the termites and come to a mutual understanding if we had a go-between that was more on their level.” 

For a moment, there was no response. The bees simply hovered there in front of him. He had the feeling there was some bit of conversation or consideration (probably both) going on, and remained silent rather than interrupt. 

Finally, the bees moved, hovering up a bit closer as they answered together. “Yes, Agent Deans. We believe that would be for the betterment of all, hive and humans alike. Allow us some time to prepare a group of ourselves to send a large mind with you to speak with the termites of Merit. We will invite them to join us here, in the safety of our home-hive, where we all may work together.

The agreement seemed to take a weight from the FBI agent’s shoulders, as he straightened a little bit. “Yeah? Good. Well, thanks. Thanks a lot, seriously. You have no idea how helpful that’ll be.” 

“We believe we do have some idea,” the bees corrected. “We are well-aware of how badly our own introduction and integration to society could have gone. It is our duty and our honor to be able to help others in such a position.

“We only hope that we are not too late to help calm this situation, before it escalates into something far worse.”

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Homeward Bound 8-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: Hey there, guys and girls! Sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled chapter. This is just a very important update regarding Patreon benefits AND brand new story content. As everyone should know, people who donate five dollars a month receive every chapter 24 hours early. And those who donate ten dollars per month get chapters early and are able to request 500 word snippets of any subject they’d like to see covered. But now there’s a brand new benefit, and a new tier of support to go with it, with added bonuses.

Have you ever wanted to see how a certain part of these stories might have gone if something different had happened? Have you ever wondered what would happen if, for example, Tabbris revealed herself to Flick and Lincoln long before the beginning of the story? Or if Joselyn hadn’t been taken by Fossor? Have you ever wanted to see a full-on crack/joke chapter about Herbie the rock meeting Felony the unicorn from Summus Proelium, or a take on Flick being taken in by Eden’s Garden when Miranda was? Do you have any niggling little fanfic-like ideas that you’d like to see the original author of the story write? Well here’s some good news! 

From now on, the last Sunday of each month will feature two new, totally non-canon chapters. One for each story. These chapters can be about anything within the setting (however altered it may be) of my stories and can follow any continuity. They are simply fun, interesting, fuzzy, or even tragic and terrifying little what-if chapters for any random ideas that may occur to you wonderful readers. 

A few details: These non-canon chapters will not appear here on WordPress, but they will be linked to and readers here will be notified about them (and there will be a section of the table of contents for them for readers to keep track of). Instead, they will be posted on Patreon. For 24 hours, they will be limited to Patrons of any level. No matter how much or how little you pledge, you will have access to them immediately. After those 24 hours, the chapters will be made public for everyone to read. If you are a patron of any level, you get 24 hour advance access. If not, you still get to read them one day later. So it’s all good!

Now, as for added bonuses for Patreon tiers! If you are or become a FIVE DOLLAR donator, you will be allowed to VOTE on which non-canon chapter idea will be written for each story in that particular month. You will receive one point per story to use to vote for your favorite out of the list of ideas that month. If you are instead a TEN DOLLAR donator, you will receive two points to vote for each story (so two points for the Heretical Edge ideas and two points for the Summus Proelium ideas) and you will also be allowed to suggest one idea per story to be added to the list each month. If you have an idea you’d like to see voted on to become the non-canon chapter for the month, all you have to do is become a ten dollar patron and suggest it. 

Finally, the new tier of support. Those who are so ridiculously and incredibly awesome as to pledge at the fifteen dollar level will get every previous benefit. In addition, they will get eight points to vote on official end-of-arc interludes rather than the six points that ten dollar donators get (or the five points that five dollar donators get, and so on) and seven hundred word snippets each month instead of five hundred. But, more relevantly to these new chapters, fifteen dollar patrons will be allowed to submit TWO ideas per story per month instead of the one idea that ten dollar patrons are allowed, and you will get three points per story to vote with. 

So that’s the long and short of it. New Patreon tier and added benefits, and new non-canon chapters every month for those who really want to see my personal take on your own random ideas about how these stories could be different. Thank you all for reading this whole thing and for going on this entire literary journey with me in general! If you are interested in learning more or signing up, you can get to the Patreon itself right 

And, without further rambling, on with the new chapter.

Boy, it was a good thing that I had such deep reserves of stamina and energy. I’d thought that before, of course. But seriously. I’d just had that huge confrontation with Fossor, only to get flung several years into the future and end up dealing with that whole space station situation. Then I sent myself here to this place, worked my way through trying to get to Petan, then ended up going toe-to-wing with a fucking starfighter and even managed to make the pilot realize I wasn’t trying to fight. But then, before anything good could come of that, the goddamn Fomorians showed up? What vindictive god’s shoes did I piss on to get to this point? 

Okay, okay. No time to spend worrying too much about that. Not with a literal invasion army of Fomorians descending upon the world. I had to get to Petan, and fast. Because I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be sticking around here fighting these assholes for that long if he could help it, not considering the kind of forces that were raining down on this place now. As I understood it, his army was about quick, unexpected strikes against outposts. It wasn’t about holding a planet against the Seosten, let alone the Fomorians. Yeah, unless I really missed my guess, Petan and his people would make a fighting withdrawal and get the hell out of here as soon as possible. So unless I wanted to be left behind to make some special new horror show friends, I had to move. 

So, I turned back the way the trucks had been going when they were attacked, starting to run. Three of the clearly biological Fomorian ships, living leviathan-like monsters in their own right, were visible in the sky. They were like tentacled, bloody, pus-filled clouds. Clouds that had extended those tentacles down all over the place, attaching themselves to the ground. And through those tentacles, I could see pulsing egg-like shapes descending. They looked like giant snakes regurgitating something they had swallowed. Their landing force. The living ships put their tentacles against the ground and sent their ground forces down through them, spitting them out once they reached the planet. Massive egg-shape after massive egg-shape were sent through those tentacles. I saw the end of one tentacle far off in the distance to my left, almost too far away to see properly. The thing opened up just as one of those egg-shapes reached the end, disgorging some kind of ugly, bloody flesh-ball. The ball cracked apart and melted away, revealing what looked from a distance like a giant curled up salamander the size of a bus, with two heads and a couple ballista-like projectile horn extensions on its back. Which it used almost immediately to launch those horns toward a passing starfighter, tearing through the cockpit. Unfortunately for the pilot, the horns were attached to some kind of rope-like muscle, which yanked the tethered ship down toward the heads to be devoured. 

They were too far away for me to help. Too far away for me to do anything but briefly stare for that brief, yet eternal moment. I just hoped, prayed, wished that the horrific screams were only in my imagination. Please. Please just be in my imagination. 

I couldn’t stand there anymore. I had to keep going before I became a target too. Granted, I was just one small humanoid figure, but still. Standing here was stupid and it was just going to land me in the same position as that pilot: as lunch for one of the Fomorian monsters. And being a meal for them was the best-case scenario of what might happen if they got hold of me. Worst case, ending up taken for experimentation… no. That couldn’t happen. 

Not that my actual destination was any better though. The Fomorian ships were centered directly above the area I was currently running toward. Which… well, yeah. Clearly I was going the right way, but that didn’t exactly make me feel any better about the whole situation. I was running toward the Fomorian invasion force. Because I had no other choice. It was down to ‘get there and find Petan’, or ‘be left here.’ No matter how scared I was to be running toward the horrific monsters, sharing a planet with them and no one else would be a hell of a lot worse. Emphasis, bold, italics, and underline on the word hell. 

But I had to go faster. I had to get there right fucking now. Running was going to take too long. Given the size of the Fomorian invasion force, Petan’s people would probably be clearing out of here like all of their collective pants (and the rest of their clothes) were on fire. I had to find a way to get there before that happened. But how? Both trucks were gone. The starfighter was gone. I had a certain level of enhanced speed, but not to the level I needed if I was going to get there before my ride took off.

Wait. Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I focused on shifting into the werelion form. In mid-run, I dropped to my hands and knees, using the Seosten boost to make the shift much faster. Lion, lion, be a lion. No matter how fast it was, and it was really fast, it felt like the shift took forever. Every nanosecond counted right now. I was wasting time that I really didn’t have. 

It happened. I made the full shift to the enormous lion form. Interestingly, the environment suit shifted with me as well, just like the Seosten bodysuits. Which, I supposed, made a sort of sense. The suit had adjusted its size for me when I put it on.

In any case, things were immediately worse in some ways. Because now I could smell a lot better. I could smell those massive, ugly tentacles. I could smell the fires. I could… I could… no. Ignore it. Push it aside. Deal with the nightmares this whole thing would induce later, because right now, I had to go! 

Then I was running on all fours, hitting about sixty miles per hour as I tore off across the field. The main target of the Fomorians. That was where I had to go. That was what I had to get to, no matter how much that prospect scared the living shit out of me. Ignoring my fear, ignoring my revulsion, ignoring almost every sense of self-preservation I had, I ran toward the main Fomorian attack force. 

There. There! I could see buildings. I could see people and creatures. I could see a ship. Petan’s ship. It had to be, given the concentration of forces all around it. The engines were running, the thing clearly about ready to get the hell out of there. But they couldn’t leave yet. There were so many Alter forces mixed up with what were obviously Fomorian creations. They’d been taken by surprise, ambushed by the speed of the Fomorian attack force before they could withdraw. The fighting was barely visible from where I was when I first noticed it, but even then I could tell that it wasn’t going that well. The monsters were quickly overwhelming what I could only assume was a mix of Petan’s troops and the Seosten-enslaved outpost defenders. 

Three more steps, and then something abruptly slammed into me from one side. Fuck! I hadn’t even sensed it coming at all. What–tentacle. It was a tentacle with some kind of suction thing on the end. A tooth-filled suction thing, given the sudden stabbing pain in that side. No wonder I hadn’t sensed the damn thing, because it wasn’t an item. It was living. A tentacle shot at me by some Fomorian monstrosity that looked like a giant snake, a good fifty-feet long and as wide around as a bus, with the head of a deer, complete with antlers. Only the ends of the antlers were tentacles, like the one that had me. The deer-snake was yanking me toward it, unhinging its jaw. Which was creepy enough to see a snake do, but seeing what looked like a deer’s head do it? I might never fucking sleep again. 

Actually, I might really never fucking sleep again if I couldn’t stop this thing from eating me. As my lion-body was dragged toward that wide, ugly, horrific mouth, I focused on one power I hadn’t used all that much: the ability to make muscles spasm by touching someone. It was another one that I’d gotten from the fight to save Avalon back in the hospital. 

Instantly, as soon as I made the tentacle spasm, it dropped me. In mid-fall, I shifted back to my human body, calling my staff to one hand while lashing out with it. The bladed end cut deep into the tentacle even as it tried to recover and grab me once more, making the thing jerk backward. 

Landing in a crouch, with my staff held out to one side, I watched the mass of tentacles atop the snake-deer’s head as the thing seemed to reassess what kind of threat I was. It could wait, but I couldn’t. Time. I didn’t have time to waste dealing with this damn thing. 

To that end, I ran straight at it. No hesitation, no delaying, no games. I was going to stop this monster from being a problem, then get to that ship. 

Unfortunately, the monster itself wasn’t exactly planning on being cooperative about that whole ‘being dealt with’ thing. As I ran that way, the deer-head reared back, and it… spat some kind gooey, gross… ball of phlegm or something at me. I threw myself into a roll, passing under it. But part of the gross snot-like ball hit my staff, tearing it from my hand in mid-roll. 

No big deal. I just focused on the power to bring things that I’d been holding within the past few seconds back to my hands. Instantly, I had my staff back. Aaaand it was encased in some weird resin stuff. What the fuck? I spared a glance that way even as the monster sent two antler-tentacles swinging at me. Yeah, the snot-stuff had expanded to encase the staff and then hardened. It was like the weapon was encased in some kind of amber or something. Fuck.

Judging the space between the incoming tentacles, which were swinging at me from either side, I silently cursed the fact that I suddenly couldn’t use my staff to boost myself through the air with a blast of kinetic force. But I could literally boost myself, using the Seosten gift. Time slowed a bit, giving me a chance to launch myself up, tucking my body to dive under the nearest tentacle before flipping over in the air to plant my feet against the other one. Encased-staff still in hand, I raced along the length of the tentacle toward the head. It was moving and not exactly a huge thing to keep my footing on anyway. But I managed it, thanks to the dexterity and balance-enhancing powers I’d picked up. Between those and the Seosten boost, I managed to run a good distance along the tentacle before the monster fully realized what was happening. Its head was turning to look at me, even as the thing curled its tentacle downward and in, trying to bring me toward that suddenly opening mouth. I could see its jagged teeth, along with another ball of that phlegm stuff it was hocking up to spit at me. Fuck, fuck, fuck. This was going to be close. So close.

Just as the deer-snake hocked that horrible loogie at me, I launched myself up and forward, throwing my body into a flip so that the nasty ball of stuff passed directly under me. In mid-flip, I focused on making my staff bigger, trying to break the stuff that was encasing it. At the same time, I focused on super-heating all of it except for the part I was holding. 

Yeah, that didn’t work either. The hardened amber stuff just got really hot and grew right along with the staff. Fuck. Still, coming back right-side up through the flip, I hurled the encased staff, spear-like, straight at the thing’s right eye. Hot as it was despite being covered in that hardened crap, the staff seared straight through the monster’s eye. 

Suddenly in agony, the thing reared up and back with a scream. In that second, I wasn’t flying straight at its mouth anymore. Instead, I crashed into its throat. The force from my impact cut the thing off in mid-scream, while I viciously stabbed one hand against the throat I’d collided with. My fingernails hardened and extended like claws, dragging down through the throat for about a foot before managing to catch, jerking me to a stop. 

I dangled there by one hand while summoning the burning-hot staff back to the other, holding the only safe part of it. With a grunt, I shoved the weapon up into the throat as hard as I could. Hot blood, mucus, and who the hell knew what else all erupted over me as the thing screamed, choked, and thrashed violently in every direction. Unable to hold on, I was thrown clear, flipping over in the air to land on my feet. 

The monster was thrashing, screaming, antler-tentacles flailing in every direction. Time to end this. For that, I judged my aim carefully, shrinking the staff in my hand before launching it like a spear once more. The weapon flew straight through the hole that I had made in the creature’s throat at an angle, lodging itself in the space there. 

With a thought, I made it grow as large as possible. Suddenly, the ends of the white-hot staff were poking out of both ends of the creature’s throat. The screams grew hoarse, even as I summoned the staff back, dove to the side in a frantic roll to escape the next flailing tentacle, and launched the briefly shrunken weapon one more time through the same throat-hole at a slightly different angle. It lodged once more, and then I made it grow, almost entirely severing what was left of the neck from the head. 

Finally, it was enough. The monster fell, collapsing against the ground before giving a violent series of death heaves as the staff returned to my hand at a thought. And I felt a sudden rush of pleasure that made me stumble, gasping briefly. 

Wait, fuck. I didn’t have time for this. Grimacing, I glanced at my staff. Still covered. Fuck. I was going to have to find a way to get this stuff off it (not to mention off of Jaq and Gus, who were trapped), but not right now. At least I’d demonstrated that it wasn’t entirely useless. Shaking my head, I murmured an apology to my mice and shoved the staff back in its sheath before taking off to run once more. I had to go lion again, had to use its speed to make up for lost time. That whole thing back there honestly, objectively had gone pretty fast. But it felt as though it had taken forever, given the way every second counted. 

Racing along the ground in lion form once more, I approached the outskirts of the base. The fighting was intense and horrific. The bodies lying everywhere, even out here at the edges of the base, were torn apart. Some weren’t dead yet, only wishing they were. The mixture of Fomorian and Alter pieces, the blood everywhere, the whimpering and crying, the pleas for death, the… it was awful. I couldn’t focus on it. I couldn’t deal with what I was seeing. There wasn’t time to process, there wasn’t time for anything. Not considering the fighting that was still going on. I could see more Fomorian creations of all shapes and sizes, swarms of monstrosities working to tear through any defenses that were left. In the distance, the biggest monster of all loomed over everything. It was sixty feet long and had to be over twenty feet in height. The thing was some kind of fused crocodile-gorilla… creature. It looked like a giant gorilla body with an even larger crocodile head attached above the ape head. The long arms of the gorilla would reach out to grab anyone within reach, hauling them screaming and flailing to be eaten by the crocodile part. 

“Flick!” The voice of Rahanvael cut through my thoughts as I stared at the monster in the distance. “That thing, Fossor had to deal with them before. They put out a field that can prevent the engines of a ship from achieving the thrust needed to escape a planet’s atmosphere. 

“So you’re saying we have to kill it or no one’s getting out of here,” I muttered while shifting back to human shape, still moving along the edge of the damaged outpost wall. Still hearing the cries of those in the distance.  

The ghost-girl appeared in front of me, nodding. “But Flick, you are a Heretic. The moment you show yourself to the group in there, the Fomorians will focus everything on obtaining you for study. They want Heretics to take apart.”  

“Of course they do,” I mumbled. “Guess that means I need to play this a little more…” My voice trailed off as I came around the corner of one mostly-demolished wall. Two figures. One was very clearly one of the Seosten-aligned troops, given the look of his uniform. He was a wiry humanoid with onyx-like skin. The other figure, meanwhile, was apparently one of Petan’s men, a reptilian-man holding some kind of grenade launcher. Not that he was going to be doing anything with it, given the fact that the first man’s own weapon, a double-bladed sword, was shoved through his chest. 

The onyx-skinned figure violently kicked the dead Petan-aligned soldier off his weapon, spitting something in Latin that amounted to saying he’d never be allies with traitors or something. Right, so this guy had seen the Fomorians attacking and still chose to kill Petan’s soldier just for being ‘on the other side’, instead of focusing on the bigger problem. 

“Well,” I whispered while creating a quick portal. “Thanks for making this decision easy, I guess.” The other end of the portal appeared right next to the guy. He snapped that way, one end of the sword coming up. But he was too late. My hand popped through the portal, pressing against his face as I focused on possessing him. 

Then I was there, inside the man. I felt him jerk and scream inwardly, flailing against my control. And he nearly managed it. Strong as I was, this guy fought so hard it was all I could do to shove him back down. For a few seconds, the body we were sharing stumbled from one side to the other as we struggled for control. 

In the end, however, I forced him down. Shoving the man’s consciousness down, I added a quick promise that I was going to try to keep him alive, unlike him with the guy he had just killed. Then I stooped, grabbing the grenade launcher from the dead figure. 

“Okay,” I announced out loud, using my temporary host’s mouth while holding the grenade launcher in one hand and the double-bladed sword in the other. 

“Let’s go kill that thing.”

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