Apparently the metals in the volcano, and possibly other things, were interfering with the sensors on the ship. We could tell there were some life signs down on that spot, probably dozens of them. But it was hard to make out specifics, and we couldn’t get a good, close visual beyond a few very static-filled images. The only solution was to land and go over there ourselves to check it out in person. We all just hoped that, whatever Mom had been sent here for, it wasn’t too late to stop Denuvus from getting it.
And on a more personal note, I hoped that it wasn’t too late to punch Denuvus in the fucking face. Preferably repeatedly.
Obviously, we didn’t put the ship down right where we had detected the Jitterbug. There was far too much chance of something going wrong with that, and this ship had zero defenses. It could barely actually fly, let alone get in a fight. Fortunately, at least in this case, the world didn’t seem to have any non-automated defenses. Which made sense, given Fossor wouldn’t dream of teaching his slaves how to protect themselves, or give them the equipment to do so. Given the Renaissance-level technology level we were able to pick up, it was likely that they had no idea we were here at all. We certainly didn’t pick up any activity as the ship descended toward the landing spot we had picked out, a bit of a hike away from the volcano. The cities we were able to scan seemed to be going about their days normally. Not that we had an idea of what normal was for them, either before or after Fossor’s death, but still.
We had to take it slow going down there, considering the condition our ship was in. It wouldn’t really help us save Mom and the others if this thing burned up thousands of feet above the planet. Something told me Robin didn’t want to survive falling from orbit a second time. And the rest of us probably wouldn’t even be that lucky. So, we were heading down at what felt like a glacial pace. Even then, the ship was steadily rocking enough to make me a little nervous, though I did my best to push that out of my mind. After all, it wasn’t like I lacked other things to worry about.
Standing between the pilot and copilot seat, I reached out to indicate a few different spots on the scanner. “What are those lifesigns between the big cities? It looks like they’re moving. They’re not just animals, right? I mean, tell me those wouldn’t be the only animal lifesigns we’re picking up on the entire world, cuz…” I blanched at the horrible thought that the entire planet might have a few dozen animals out in the world. It couldn’t be that bad. Please don’t let it be that bad.
Persephone sat up a bit, giving me a quick, encouraging smile. “They are not wild animals. The scanners are calibrated to only pick up humanoid life signs. We think those are caravans, Felicity. We have also detected large amounts of tools and food stuff being moved along with them. Probably in wagons, pulled by beasts of burden.”
Robin gave a short nod, eyes the amber-brown of Hood as he looked over at me. “It looks like the cities nearest to one another have begun to establish a rudimentary trade network. We don’t think they have direct communication with each other yet, but there are a few smaller, faster sets of lifesigns that are probably just two people each, riding faster beasts without the supply wagons. They’re probably carrying messages, like the old Pony Express on Earth.”
Their eyes shifted to the yellow of Sprite. “We used to ride for the Pony Express, that was fun! It was back when Sec and Brawl were the same guy. And more like a cowboy.” Her tone became a bit wistful. “I liked being a cowboy. And chasing bad guys when we were a bounty hunter. That was fun too. So was helping Eliot Ness in the 1930’s, but we didn’t get to ride horses then.” She sounded sad about that.
Ducking her head under my arm so she could see them, Tabbris piped up. “Maybe after we save Flick’s mama and the others, and get home, we can go to a ranch and see how you ride horses. I bet you’re really good at riding.” She was holding Herbie in one hand, having spent the past couple minutes getting reassurances from the brave little guy about how this whole thing was going to go. It always helped to know that, whatever happened, Herbie had our backs.
Turning away to let those two talk for a minute, I glanced to where Asenath, Shiori, and Stasia were whispering intently together. Judas was standing a bit out of the way, clearly lost in his own thoughts. He gave me a short nod before continuing to stare at the wall. It looked like he was brooding a bit. Which, given who he was and everything that happened to him, was probably understandable. On our way here, we’d asked him a bit about that, just to get his side of the story. We’d already known that he’d been possessed and used by Charmeine, of course, which helped explain why he hated her so much. But getting the details about how all of it had gone down… it was rough. He seemed relatively well adjusted now, and he was clearly glad she was dead, even if he hadn’t done the job himself. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to react the first time we ran into Invidia.
I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation between the other girls, so I stepped over to stand next to him. “It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Thinking about how you’re about to set foot on a new planet, I mean.”
Raising an eyebrow at me, he replied, “Like we said before, it seems like this is old hat for you.”
Snorting, I shook my head. “Believe me, it’s still weird, even after it’s happened a few times. Especially–” Cutting myself off, I swallowed hard, trying to find the right words.
“Especially considering just what planet it is?” Finishing that for me, Judas waited until I nodded before continuing. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about how I’d feel if we were about to land right next to Charmeine’s childhood home. It’s uhh…” He considered before simply finishing with, “Seems like you’re handling it pretty well, all things considered.”
“You mean considering my mother has been puppeted by some crazy bitch to come to the planet of the guy who abducted, imprisoned, and tortured her for a decade and do fuck knows what?” Through that little bit, I had started to reflexively glare at the wall, before catching myself. A heavy sigh escaped me. “Sure, I’m doing my best not to freak out here. Glad it’s working at least externally.”
Before I could say anything else, Robin turned to look away. Their eyes were the purple of Grease. “Okie dokes, gonna need y’all to strap on in real quick-like. We’re jest about tah set this puppy down, and it might be just a wee bit bumpy. And by wee bit bumpy, I mean it’ll be like tryna ride a greased hog into a chicken coop. After all, we’s barely holding together for the flying part. The landing part might be too much.”
“Have I mentioned I love Grease and want her to keep coming back when this is over?” Twister whispered my way.
“You know they can hear you, right?” I whispered back.
“Oh trust me, babe, I know.” Twister proceeded to give the Robin system a thumbs up.
So, we did just that, strapping ourselves into the seats. The subtle vibrating by that point had become much more pronounced. Grease and Persephone were talking back-and-forth in what sounded almost like code and pointing to various instruments as they worked together to keep the landing as smooth as possible. Or at least keep the ship from breaking apart completely. Either way, the turbulence was getting pretty bad. I felt Tabbris take one of my hands from her place on my left side, while Shiori, sitting on my right, took the other. It was all I could do to offer them both encouraging smiles without upchucking from the way the ship was shaking. And boy wouldn’t that be a fantastic way to start off our whole mission here?
The shaking was getting worse by the moment. Within a minute, Grease called back for us to brace ourselves. Then the whole ship lurched so much that I would’ve been thrown out of my seat without the safety harness. We spun around in several full circles, all of us trying not to cry out. There were at least three different warning alarms screaming through the cabin, accompanied by shouts from our pilots to one another about keeping the ship in one piece. I heard screeching metal, and then it was like the hand of a giant came up and swatted the entire ship. The lights went out completely, and we started plummeting really fast. Too fast, actually. Way too fast.
Thankfully, the ship slowed down abruptly, knocking us hard against our restraints. But on the plus side, we were now falling at a survivable rate. That lasted for just a couple seconds before we finally came down into what I prayed was the ground. And just like that, everything was completely motionless and silent, safe for a slight creaking sound from the body of the ship that I was praying didn’t mean it was about to completely collapse in on us while we were sitting here. But hey, at least the alarms had stopped. Though I wasn’t entirely certain that was a good sign.
For a brief handful of seconds, we all just sat there in the dark. Then the emergency lighting came on. Well, it came on, then off, then on, then off, and finally back on and stayed relatively steady. I didn’t trust that to last, though. Hell, for all I knew, it was about to start an electrical fire. We all looked around at one another in the dim, somewhat flickering lighting before checking ourselves for injuries. Finally, Senny spoke up. “Something tells me we might want to get off this thing before it explodes.”
“Da,” Stasia agreed, already unstrapping herself as she added in a mutter under her breath. “And hope that we are not forced to use it again to get off this planet.“
Persephone promptly piped up with, “Oh, I have good news for that!” She beamed in the dim lighting. “This ship will probably never fly again. At least, not without months of work, and supplies that we can’t get on this world. So you’ll never have to ride it again.”
There was a lot I wanted to say to that, but I kept my mouth shut and instead unstrapped myself. Then I had to reach down to pick Marco up off the floor. The poor beetle must’ve fallen out of my pocket while we were being jostled around so much. Together, we made our way to the exit. Robin had to shove at the door a couple times, before the whole thing completely fell off, hitting the ground beyond with a loud clang. That was punctuated by a large amount of smoke or steam filling the air in the doorway for a moment before it dissipated. Yeah, we had to get off this ship, right now. It had done a really good job of getting us to this point, but that was enough. Or at least I really hoped it was.
Taking a deep breath while the others looked at me expectantly, I moved to that opening and looked out. They were giving me the chance to be the first of our group to stand on the planet, which I sort of appreciated. But first, I focused on Rahanvael, who had disappeared while we were descending. Looking that way as the ghost girl appeared beside me in that hatchway, I gestured with one hand. “After you.”
She didn’t move at first, which I couldn’t blame her for at all. There had to be a lot of emotions running through the girl right now. Not only was she back on her home planet after so long, a planet that her own brother had so thoroughly devastated for millennia, but she was even back near her own actual home. Or the geographical spot where it had been, anyway. When I tried to think about how I would feel in her situation, I just… couldn’t. I couldn’t even start to comprehend what that would be like. But at the very least, I knew why she had to take a few seconds, and it seemed from the way everyone was patiently waiting, so did the others. No amount of preparing herself on the way here would have left her ready to immediately move when the time came.
Finally, Rahanvael seemed to give herself a little nod, before floating forward. I watched as she emerged from the ship and went out several feet, clearly looking around. From the pain visible on her face when her gaze turned back my way briefly, seeing the place in person wasn’t helping.
Looking back to the rest of the group briefly, I spoke in a soft voice. “We don’t know exactly where Mom, Denuvus, or the others are. Hell, Denuvus herself might not even be here, but let’s not count on that. You guys ready to get those spells on?”
The others nodded, and we took out the coins we had prepared ahead of time, on our way here. There were three of them for each of us, for three separate bits of magic. The first coin had the spell that Judas had mentioned before, though modified with help from Persephone, Robin (they couldn’t cast magic but they had knowledge about a lot of it), and even Shyel. And boy had that been an interesting explanation to give. Telling the others (only Shiori and Tabbris knew before now) that I had a mental copy of Chayyiel living in my head, communicating with me while I was asleep and helping me train, had been a bit of a conversation. And had seemed to reinforce the idea of just how weird my life was. But in any case, between all of that, we’d managed to get the distance no one could talk within up from fifteen feet, all the way to about seventy-five. If we spread out when we saw Denuvus, we could make that cover a lot more ground. Which would hopefully be enough.
But if it wasn’t, we had the second spell. This one had come from Persephone originally, though like the first, we’d given it a few tweaks. If the spell picked up the words ‘My name is Den,’ it would immediately transport us to the nearest safe location at least one mile away. It shouldn’t hear that at all, given the first spell. But if, for whatever reason, that first spell failed, we had this one as a back up. It wouldn’t help us beat her, but it would remove us from the situation before she had a chance to make us do anything. That way, we could regroup.
Finally, the third spell was specifically one that Shyel had taught me, when I told her what we were trying to do. It allowed telepathic communication amongst everyone who was using it, though only those people could send their thoughts. Others could receive them, but not send. So no matter how hard Denuvus thought her commands at us, we wouldn’t pick that up. We also wouldn’t be hearing every thought each of us had, as it only picked up what you intentionally tried to send. Now we would be able to communicate with one another even with the voice-muting spell active.
Well, most of us would, anyway. The Robins were sort of the odd persons out on that front. Not only were they in a robot body, but that body also generated a constant field that negated active magic. The field didn’t extend any further than their body, but still. We couldn’t use any of these spells on them. Which, I still wasn’t sure how that worked with them being able to pass through portals, but maybe that was designed to be an exception or something?
Either way, not being able to use the mute voices or instant teleportation spells on them wouldn’t really be an issue as far as Denuvus went. Her power didn’t work on machines. Which was largely why plan A for dealing with any sighting of that woman was for Robin to shut her up. We didn’t hold any illusion that it would be that easy, of course. But that didn’t stop me from smiling as I imagined the look on Denuvus’s face just before taking Robin’s fist to the face hard enough to knock her out.
There was also the fact that the voice power wasn’t the only threat she presented. Just like Ammon, Denuvus had the same ‘kill things to gain their powers’ ability Bosch Heretics did. That’s why he’d had the ability to do that in the first place. Actually, I wasn’t sure if hers was more like ours or the stronger Natural-Reaper Heretic version. I’d never been clear on which one of those Ammon had. Either way, she obviously had a lot of powers. And we had no idea what those powers were. We had to be ready for anything.
With all that in mind, and the three spells activated, I slowly stepped through the hatch and down from the ship. My feet seemed to crunch the orange-reddish dirt, though I couldn’t hear it thanks to the silencing spell. I moved several feet away to let the others descend, while looking around.
My first breath of air on Fossor’s planet wasn’t the best. I could smell sulfur and something else I couldn’t really identify but definitely didn’t smell good. The volcano in the distance took up almost the entire skyline. It had to be as big as the tallest mountains back home, if not more so. The whole thing was black and dark red, with imposing-looking jagged rock peaks all across it.
Beyond the volcano and attached mountain range heading north, the ground was mostly flat and empty, with just this bare dirt. There were a few large rocks and very small hills, almost like sand dunes. Other than that, I saw no plants, no animals, nothing.
At one point, this place had been a beautiful forest. But not anymore. Now it was barren. It was unlikely that anything could actually grow here for a very long time. Fossor had done his level best to destroy anything alive within several hundred miles of the place where he had grown up. Which seemed petty, but then again, this was Fossor. He was basically the patron saint of petty.
Nope, nope, I didn’t like thinking of Fossor as the saint or god of anything. He was just a sick, twisted, dead piece of shit.
Focusing on Rahanvael, I stepped that way and focused on my mental connection to her. Speaking aloud wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I know you’re not okay right now, but… I just want you to know that I’m here. And so is your world. So are your people. They survived. He’s gone. He’s dead and he’s not coming back. Your world might take a long time to get better, but now it has the chance. Your people have a chance. Thanks to you. Without you, I never would’ve survived what happened, and he… he’d still be out there. You saved your world, Rahanvael. You saved your people. Your dad would be proud of you. Your people should be proud of you.
There was no response for a moment. She was staring off over the horizon. Finally, her gaze shifted to me, and our eyes met. Thank you, Flick, she silently sent. I think I’m ready now.
Let’s go see my old home, and find out why Denuvus sent your mother here.