Month: December 2022

The Storm 21-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Needless to say, Denuvus wasn’t exactly in the best mood right then. She had been on top of the world, getting everything she wanted while telling us whatever small amounts of information she wanted us to have anyway. She was in control, just like always. And now, out of nowhere and with no warning, Nevada had changed things. Nevada, the woman Denuvus had completely dismissed as any sort of threat, the one she had created out of the sacrificed corpse of her own sister, enslaved just to get herself powers, and now wanted to erase to bring back the sister she had sacrificed in the first place, had taken her completely by surprise. 

And seriously, Erin? Erin Redcliffe had been with us the whole time somehow? Hidden enough that none of us, including my mother, had any idea she was around? And now she’d managed to steal the Jitterbug right out from under everyone’s nose. I–I had no idea what to think of that. Obviously, I had a lot of questions. 

And so did Denuvus. The woman herself stood there, staring at Nevada while very clearly taking in this new information. For a second, I thought she might completely lose it and lash out again. Not that any of us could have done anything about that. Not considering she’d used her power to tell us to remain completely still and motionless. If she decided to do something drastic right then, none of us could intervene. But, of course, she had too much control for that. Which made her quite a bit different from Fossor. If he had been in this situation, well… I sort of doubted Nevada would still be alive, regardless of the consequences. 

Not that killing the woman would have prevented Fossor from getting answers out of her, but still. 

In her case, instead of lashing out, Denuvus remained still and silent as she absorbed this new information and decided exactly how she was going to deal with it.

Finally, she gestured. “Everyone sit down right where you are. Scratch any itches you might have and get as comfortable as you can without moving more than a few inches and without doing anything that could pose a threat or problem to me. Oh, and be quiet unless I ask you a question or you have something important to say about something that could be a threat to me. Then only tell me the truth.” 

That finally gave me the chance to slump down out of my frozen position. We still couldn’t do much, but I managed to look around at the others. Tabbris was next to me, and looked about as confused as I felt. Mercury was the closest to where the ship had been, and looked like he was trying to decide if it being gone was a good thing or not. 

Twister, Shiori, and Asenath, meanwhile, were obviously still digesting what Denuvus had said about Tiras. If she was telling the truth, there was no big bad Senny could pay back for erasing her father’s memory. He was already dead, thanks to Fossor of all people. 

Miles, on the other hand, wasn’t looking at anyone. He sat there, gazing intently at the floor as though lost in thought. I couldn’t see his face to read his expression or anything, but it was pretty clear that he was thinking about everything he and his team had been doing for Denuvus over the… however long they had been under her control. 

Yeah, I was still feeling pretty guilty about ‘forgetting’ to follow up with his situation, even if it clearly wasn’t my fault. Or maybe I was more freaked out about the idea that Denuvus had made me forget to do that. Mostly because it raised the question of what else she had made me forget, or do. 

Then there was Mom. She was nearby, and was basically bristling with barely restrained anger, glaring dangerously toward our… host. No matter what excuses Denuvus might have thrown around, I had the feeling Mom really didn’t care. She did not appreciate being forced to abandon the rest of us and abduct Nevada and Mercury. Not to mention anything else she might have been forced to do that I didn’t even know about yet. And all of that after what happened with Fossor… yeah, Denuvus was lucky she hadn’t already melted under my mother’s glare. 

Not that she paid attention to that, of course. She was far too occupied with her own annoyance. Once we had repositioned ourselves, the woman paced in a circle around Nevada while musing aloud. “You said she’s watching what happens here, but I presume you’ve taken precautions to make sure I can’t just order her to come back here right now.” 

“You could try, but you wouldn’t get anywhere,” Nevada replied. Her voice was relatively steady, but there was a tense undercurrent to it. Between that and the way her eyes darted to follow every move the other woman made, it was rather apparent that she wasn’t nearly as calm as she was trying to sound. And who could blame her? If… if everything we’d heard was true, Nevada had been created out of the dead body of this woman’s sister and then enslaved to… to give Denuvus power. It sounded like she had been little more than a tool to her, at best. She’d finally gotten her freedom, even managing to transform herself so she wasn’t a Djinn anymore, and now she was right back here again. No wonder she seemed anxious. Even if this whole Erin thing had worked out (so far), there was no telling how the next few minutes were going to go. 

Making a considering noise under her breath, Denuvus waved a hand and a crate slid over so she could sit on it right in front of Nevada. “You know I would have stuck to my word. Everyone else here would have been free to go, with their answers, if you hadn’t decided to play games.” 

Fuck I really wanted to say something to that. But I couldn’t. She had told us to be quiet. Trapped under her power, all I could do was sit in place and listen to this whole thing. Was this what it was like for people being affected by Ammon? 

Well, no, I was pretty sure he did a lot worse than just telling people to sit down and be quiet. 

“You would have killed me,” Nevada pointed out in a soft voice. “You think you can use something in here to kill me and bring back Theda, your sister.” The last bit was obviously added for our benefit, not that we really needed it. “You’re the one who killed her, just to get power. And now that it’s convenient, you think you can just throw me away to bring her back.” 

“She’s my sister,” Denuvus retorted. “You were always just… temporary. You fulfilled your purpose. I would have been content to leave it at that, especially after you went and erased the power I gave you. It’s not like you were useful for anything else. But now you are. Or, well, that body you’re borrowing is. Do you really think it’s yours? Does Theda deserve to stay dead just because you want to keep her body?” 

“Do I deserve to die just because you want to bring back the woman you killed to create me?” Nevada shot back. “You didn’t even give me a real name. And you still haven’t called me by the one I chose. Because I’m not a person to you. You couldn’t stand to blame yourself for Theda’s death, so you blamed me instead. You created me. I didn’t ask you to do that, let alone make you. That was all your choice. You killed your sister to bring me to life just so I could give you the power you wanted. Then you treated me as a disgusting creature because you saw your own guilt in me. And now you want to kill me to bring her back. You think that’s right?”

“She’s right,” I found myself blurting. As Denuvus’s eyes snapped to me, along with the others, I pushed on. “You said to speak up if there was a threat to you. And there is. Or there will be. If you do anything to Nevada, you’ll have all her friends coming after you. Everyone here, and all of them back at the Fusion School. You think you can just sacrifice her, get your sister back, and walk away? You really do have a blind spot when it comes to her. She’s not just your tool. She’s a person. She has people who care about her, even if you don’t. And they–we aren’t just going to let you walk away if you do anything to her.” 

Denuvus squinted at me, looking like she was trying to decide exactly how to respond. In the end, she settled on, “That’s rather immaterial right now. What matters is bringing the ship back so we can all leave.” To Nevada, she added, “What exactly is that going to take?” 

“First of all,” the former-Djinn (a fact that was still blowing my mind) replied, “Stop using your power on everyone here. If it makes you feel better, you can tell them not to hurt you. But you don’t need to have complete control.” 

From the look on her face, Denuvus didn’t like that idea. I had the feeling she wasn’t the sort of person who gave up control very easily. But, after a moment, she sighed and gestured. “My name is Denuvus, you may sit, stand, move around, and talk however you wish. Whatever. But do nothing to harm or hinder me.” She gave a forced smile then, her gaze locking back onto Nevada. “Happy now? Here I thought you were afraid of me, but you’ve been plotting this whole thing for a long time.” The woman actually sounded almost admiring about that, which was probably another big difference between her and Fossor. 

“Happy? No,” Nevada replied as she picked herself up along with the rest of us. “And I’ve been terrified of you my entire existence. But when you’re afraid of something, you prepare for it.” 

“And?” Denuvus prompted after taking a deep, steadying breath. “What is it you want now, my dearest former-Djinn?” 

“Nevada,” the other woman reminded her sharply. “I told you, my name is Nevada. And what I want is for you to agree to go back to Earth with us and walk away from this whole thing. But something tells me you won’t exactly be eager to do that.” 

With a very slight snort, Denuvus agreed, “Good instincts. You may have me at something approaching a disadvantage right now, but that won’t last forever. And this isn’t something I will walk away from. I’ve worked very long and hard to find a way to bring my sister back, and you seem to be standing in the way of that.”

“If there was a way to bring her back without me dying, I would help you,” Nevada informed her. “But I don’t deserve to be erased to make that happen. I’m my own person with my own life, and I happen to kind of enjoy that.” 

“She’s right,” Shiori put in. “Nevada deserves to live too. I mean, what happened to your sister sucks. But you did that. You chose to kill her for power, and now you want to undo it, but keep your power? That’s not fair. It’s–” She glanced at me briefly. “It’s not something you can just erase now because it’s convenient for you.” 

Oh boy did Denuvus ever look like she wanted to say something nasty to that. But she composed herself after a quick, harsh look. Especially when Asenath stepped in front of Shiori and glared at her. After a brief, yet tense second, the woman gave a nod of acknowledgment and turned back toward Nevada. “Perhaps I made some mistakes in how I treated you. And yes, you’re right about the reasoning. You looked like the sister I…. I sacrificed. I loved… love Theda. She was the only person I had left. When I looked at you, as you were back then, I saw her. And I remembered the choice I made. So maybe you did get hit with the… guilt and anger about that whole situation, the one I created.” 

There was a brief pause, as the woman collected herself. “I want my sister to be alive again. You’re right, it’s not fair. It’s cheating. But I have been cheating my whole life, and I’m not about to stop when it comes to this.” Her gaze moved to me. “You say I will bring the wrath of your people down on me? So be it. This is my opportunity to bring my sister back. You think telling me you and your friends will be cross with me is going to change my mind? I have vowed to destroy a creature whose power makes all of you look like helpless infants. If there’s the slightest chance I can do that alongside my living sister after all, I honestly do not care how many of you are angry about it.” 

Mom held up her hand to stop anyone else from saying anything. Her voice was tense, but still in control. “Sure, maybe you’re willing to go that far if you have to. But if there was an easier way, one where you don’t have all those people coming after you forever, you’d take that. You’re not the sort of person who does things like that for fun, or to spite the people trying to stop you. That’s what Fossor did, and you’re not him. You’d rather avoid that sort of attention if you can.” 

“Given the choice, I would prefer not to be that sort of target, yes,” Denuvus agreed while sweeping her gaze over the rest of us. “It would have to be something very important for me to risk it. And Theda is very important.” 

“Why just her?” I put in suddenly. “This way you’ve found to bring her spirit back and all that, why can’t you use that to… uh, you know, help your children?” 

She gave me an incredibly dark look then. I had a feeling she didn’t like people bringing them up at the best of times, let alone right now. “It requires their body. And I don’t…” Her eyes glanced away. “I don’t have their bodies. They don’t exist anymore.” 

Oh, well that was rough. Was it weird that I felt guilty for bringing it up? 

“That’s why you need Nevada.” Mercury finally spoke up, his voice sounding just a little odd, like he was still mostly lost in thought. “She’s been keeping that body nice and warm for you this whole time, hundreds of years later. And now you want to just pop her right out of it and slide your sister back where she was.” He said it matter-of-factly, though there was a faint yet evident note of disgust in his voice. 

“Yeah,” Twister added from where she was standing a bit behind Asenath and Shiori, “Guess it’s just too bad she doesn’t feel like rolling over and dying so you can get what you want. That’s so inconvenient, isn’t it?” 

Before Denuvus could respond to that, Mercury pushed on. “What if there was another option? One where you get what you want but no one has to die?” 

Arching an eyebrow, Denuvus retorted, “I’d be quite fascinated to hear how you propose to both keep her alive and allow me to bring my sister back in the same body.” 

Mercury, however, shook his head. “Not the same body. Not exactly.” He offered a faint, humorless smile that way as the rest of us stared at him. “My people have done a lot of work in trying to find ways around our… pregnancy problems. Part of that is very in depth explorations of cloning technology. It failed to solve our issues, for various reasons. But it might solve yours.” 

Denuvus sounded taken aback by that. “You want me to clone her and put my sister’s soul in that?” 

“No,” I abruptly piped up. “You said yourself, Nevada changed her body with her powers when she stopped being a Djinn. How do you know she’s even still enough like Theda for her spirit to take over even if you do use the… whatever it is?” 

“I’m willing to give it a shot,” the woman informed me in a voice that made it clear she was very close to losing her patience. “I told you, this is my sister. And if you think–” 

“So give it a shot with a different gun,” I interrupted. “Or rather, your gun. I–the metaphor got away from me. The point is, Theda wasn’t just your sister, she was your twin sister. So instead of cloning Nevada, who might not even be close enough for her spirit to use anymore, clone yourself. Clone your own body and use that for Theda to go into. It’s gotta be closer to the same body she was in before than the one Nevada’s using now, right? Come on, you know it’s a better idea.” 

“She’s right,” Mom agreed while putting a hand on my shoulder. “Nevada doesn’t even need to be involved in this. If you really want to bring your sister back, your best shot is using the Seosten cloning technology to make a new body for her and hoping that’s close enough.” 

Denuvus seemed to genuinely be considering all that. Her eyes flicked over toward Nevada briefly, as though only just then really thinking about how different her body was now. It looked like we had gotten through to her. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to hear what she would have said right then. Because Rahanvael suddenly appeared in front of me, blurting, “Flick, we have a problem!” 

While the others all snapped their gazes our way, ghost-fire appearing around Denuvus’s hand (though she didn’t try to do anything with it just yet), I jumped in surprise. “What–what’re you doing here?” I’d been so distracted by this whole thing I’d neglected to check in for the past few minutes. “Where are the others? What’s going on?” 

“The tribals, the… primitive,” Rahanvael explained, “They took us into…” She trailed off, glancing uncertainly toward Denuvus. 

My head shook at that. “It’s okay, just tell us what happened. We’re all on the same page… sort of.” 

“You know that the people who settled on this planet, my ancestors, were Seosten,” the girl started. “She already told you that much. They were trying to find ways to destroy the Fomorians forever.” 

“Yeah, apparently one of those plans has something to do with Necromancy,” I murmured. 

She nodded sharply. “Yeah, but it’s not the only one. They had a lot of plans. And one of them involved creating a little something called Revenants.” 

“What?” Asenath snapped. “What do you–” 

“The people who came to this world created Revenants,” Rahanvael clarified. “I don’t know how, but they did. They created them as a weapon against the Fomorians. But now their descendants, the tribals who stayed in these caves, think everyone on this world has strayed from the right way or whatever. The point is, they think my people, all of them, are the reason the Fomorians still exist. It’s like they’re angry that we all forgot where we came from or something. They think if everyone here dies, they can get back to the important business of destroying the Fomorians. Or something like that, I don’t understand all of it. And now–I swear she didn’t know.”

“Who didn’t know what?” I managed uncertainly. 

“Persephone,” the ghost-girl replied. “I don’t know, for some reason they needed another one to open the door to let them out, they didn’t know how to get into the place they all were without her.” 

“Into the place they all–” I started to echo before interrupting myself. “Wait, you said the old Seosten created–Revenants? They used Persephone to get into a place with more Revenants?” 

“At least a thousand of them,” Rahanvael confirmed. “The Tribals called them the Storm.” Her voice caught a bit. “The Storm that will ravage the world. A thousand Revenants who were just waiting in there. Now they’re awake. 

“And they’re about to kill everyone on this planet.” 

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Interlude 25B – A Fortuitous Meeting (Summus Proelium)

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“Look, all I’m saying is this better not be our public debut.” The boy saying that, Zed Chambers, made the announcement while gesturing up and down to indicate the very simple black jumpsuit and ski mask he wore. “There is no way we’ll ever live down the shame of being this basic.” 

His twin, Lexi, was dressed identically (something they had grown out of ages ago). She stood next to the boy, giving him an appraising look. “You know, what you should really be worried about is what happens if one of us takes that mask off your head so we can see what your hair looks like when it’s actually messed up.” 

The fourteen-year-old twins, as well as the other two (or five depending on how one counted) in their little group were standing across the street from a dive bar near a truck stop about thirty miles south of Detroit. The city of Monroe, Michigan was a few miles further on, but this place had the fueling station, diner, motel, and the aforementioned bar. It was essentially the middle of the night, definitely past curfew time back in Detroit. But this wasn’t Detroit, and both the bar and diner were still hopping. From the dirt lot behind the motel where they were gathered, the group could quite easily hear the music blaring out from the bar despite the fact that it was clear across the street. How the people in there could spend more than five minutes without going deaf permanently was anyone’s guess. 

“Oh please,” Zed shot back with an audible scoff. “I’ll have you know, I get the good stuff for my hair. I could stand in the middle of a wind tunnel and it wouldn’t move. See?” He reached up as though to pull the mask up. 

One of their companions, Damarko (or the version who called himself Rabbit) quickly caught the younger boy’s hand. His voice was slightly pained. “Ah, let’s try to keep the masks on, huh? I don’t think you really wanna explain to your parents how some random person happened to get a picture of you behind a motel in the middle of nowhere at one in the morning when you’re supposed to be safe and sound asleep in Jae’s guest room.” He gestured toward the identical jumpsuit and mask he and his duplicates (who were spread out to keep an eye on things in case anyone approached) wore as well, rather than their usual Syndicate costume. “Especially not while we’re all dressed like we’re about to rob the place.” 

“Yes, please,” Jae put in while shifting from foot to foot. “I’d rather not have to explain any of this.” 

“What, no rhyme?” Lexi asked, looking that way. 

“I’m not Carousel,” Jae reminded her easily while waving a hand demonstrably in front of her ski mask-clad face. “No jester’s mask. We can’t be here as other selves. We have to be… other other selves.” Her eyes, visible through the holes, squinted slightly. “You get the point.” 

Rabbit gave a quick nod. “Exactly. We’re not here as the Minority, which means Jae pretends her power is normal telekinesis and I keep my other selves out of sight and stick to turning intangible and invisible. As for you guys… well you don’t have any public identities anyway, but like I said, you don’t want to explain to your parents what you were doing here. None of us want to have to do any explaining.” 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Zed agreed. “Mom and Dad can be pretty scary when they wanna be. But come on, are we gonna get in there and find this guy or what?” He waved a hand toward the loud bar in the distance. “There’s no way that party’s chilling out any time soon. So the only people in that motel should be the guy we’re looking for and his buddies or bodyguards or whatever.” 

Lexi’s head bobbed. “Yeah, we already came this far. If this is really the dude who sold phony IDs to guys who tried to kidnap us from Jae’s house, he’s gotta know who they really were. He’s the only lead we’ve got. So let’s get in there and find out what he knows!” She punctuated the last couple words by slamming her gloved fist into her hand. 

Instead of responding immediately, Rabbit held a hand up for them to wait while cocking his head to the side. “Okay,” he finally murmured after getting a report from his other selves, “looks like the entire back is clear. They’ve got one guy in the night manager’s office watching wrestling in front, the first floor is empty, then two guys on the second floor playing cards by the stairs on the east side. Our guy’s door is three down from them, and he’s watching TV with some girl.” 

“At least he’s not doing something else with the girl,” Lexi noted. “We’re not even old enough to legally watch R-rated movies without adult supervision yet.” She waited for the others to look at her before snickering. “And I don’t think Mom would understand if I called to ask her permission to go in that room.” 

Snorting despite himself, Rabbit agreed, “Yeah, that might turn into a whole special conversation none of us want to have. So let’s be grateful for small favors, and try to avoid any extra attention, okay?” He waited until the other three nodded, before turning back to look at the motel. “Quick and easy, without letting anyone know who we really are. Let’s do thi–what the–?!” 

Those words came as his head snapped around toward the motel. They were staring at the back of the building, but the loud roar that suddenly filled the air a second later came from the front. As did the loud crashing sound, and the following high-pitched scream. 

“What–what the hell’s going on?!” Zed blurted, spinning to stare that way with the others. 

“Oh shit,” Rabbit started, “Colt says it’s–” 

That was as far as he managed to get, before the sound of breaking glass interrupted the boy as a chair was thrown through one of the windows in the motel’s second floor. Another roar came, before a figure hurled himself out through the opening, sprawling out in the dirt. 

Behind the panicked, window-diving figure, an enormous reptilian figure came crashing through the same opening. Or rather, part of the opening. The figure was too large for the actual size of the window frame, so it took out part of the wall on every side as well. The ground seemed to violently shake as it landed heavily, sending dirt and debris flying. Then it loomed up, its form illuminated in the glow from the distant lights. 

With a blurted curse, Lexi reared back her hand with one of her glowing ‘eggs’ that would transform anything hit by it into light and send them flying off in a direction of her choosing cupped in it. She started to throw, before Jae stopped her. 

“Wait! That’s… that’s…” 


“Mars Bar!” Up inside the motel room where the identity forger had been a second earlier, Pack grimaced at the enormous hole where most of the wall had been a moment earlier. The bear-lizard would be fine, of course. It was only a one story drop. But still, seeing her reptilian partner slam through like that was enough to make her wince. 

Broadway, straightening up from where she had just finished ensuring that the man’s two bodyguards weren’t about to cause any problems, spoke brightly. “Well hey, the job was to chase him out of the motel, and I think we managed that. Thumbs up to us.” Even as she said that, the sound of someone whimpering in the corner caught her attention. Looking that way, toward the woman their quarry had been watching the movie with as she huddled on the far side of the bed, Broadway waved. “Hey, don’t worry. We’ll bring your boyfriend back safe and sound. We’ve just gotta talk to him about a fake ID he sold to some shit-ass murderer, that’s all. I know he looks scary, but Mars Bar is a big old softie. Your guy’ll be fine.”

Despite her efforts, the reassurances probably weren’t very helpful, coming from a figure in dark-purple power armor with a helmet that had a V-shaped visor across the front with multi-colored lines that danced wildly whenever she spoke.

“Guys!” That was Eits, coming through the open doorway at a sprint, out of breath. He blurted, “There’s people down there with Mars and the guy! People in masks!” 

“What?!” Both girls blurted that together, looked at each other, then ran to the broken wall to see what the hell was going on down there. What they saw was Mars Bar calmly standing with one paw holding their quarry gently yet firmly against the ground, while four people in masks stood around him clearly arguing with each other. Mars Bar wasn’t attacking them, but he was growling low, making it clear that any attempt to approach would be a bad idea. 

On top of that, the bear-lizard was joined just then by Holiday, who had been prowling through the bushes as backup just in case they chased the guy in the wrong direction. Now, the panther-lizard stalked up next to her friend and bared her teeth at the strangers. 

“Hey!” Without wasting another second after shouting that, Pack jumped through the hole. As she did so, Scatters came charging up in her reindeer form and leapt, catching the girl on her back before landing smoothly. Perched on her mount, Pack came up on the opposite side of Mars Bar from Holiday. Her attention was focused on the four masked figures. “Who the hell are you guys? Cuz if you’re trying to rob our little friend here, boy do you have shitty timing.”

With a sharp whistle, Broadway used the sound waves to teleport down next to them. “Yeah, dudes. All you had to do was wait like thirty minutes and we would’ve been done with him so you could clean out his wallet or whatever. We’re not trying to horn in on your territory.” 

“Our territory?” one of the figures, clearly male and young, blurted. “Wait, we’re not–” He stopped as one of the female figures stepped on his foot. 

“What are you guys doing here?” the other male figure quickly put in. He stood there, gaze snapping back and forth between the lizard-animals and the two Fell-Touched. “Aren’t you usually up in Detroit?” 

“Hey, they do know who we are!” Broadway exclaimed brightly. “Look, like I said, we’re not trying to barge over your territory or anything. This isn’t an expansion. We just need to chat with this guy here for a few minutes, find out what he knows about something pretty important, then we’ll be out of your hair.” The last thing any of them wanted to do was accidentally start some sort of gang war with an unknown group down here and have them blame Blackjack for it. 

The second girl, who hadn’t stepped on the boy’s foot, took a small step forward. “We need to talk to him too. It’s…” She paused as though considering how much to say. “It’s important.” 

“Is it, now?” The new voice came from directly behind the four black-masked figures, as Grandstand revealed herself. When they twisted around and separated to try to look at both her and the group in front of them at the same time, she continued. “Believe me when I say, whatever you want to get out of this guy isn’t nearly as important as what we want to get out of him. But we can all come to an arrangement. Just back off for a minute, let us have a–”  

“Wait!” The new interruption came from Eits, his second in the past couple of minutes. Rather than jump from the second floor, he had run out and around to come down the outside stairs, and was now stumbling into sight while panting even more. “There’s guys coming! Lots of guys, they just pulled up! Guns, big guns, maybe powers too. They’re still getting organized but there’s a lot of them!” 

Producing a shotgun seemingly from nowhere, Grandstand pointed it at the group in front of them. “Friends of yours?” 

“What?” the girl who had stepped on the boy’s foot to stop him from talking earlier blurted in disbelief. “No, they’re not with us! We’re not–I mean we’re really–uh.” 

“It doesn’t matter,” the second boy, who seemed to be in charge, immediately put in. “Your friend over there is right.” He nodded toward Eits. “There’s about three or four truckloads of guys out there, and they’re all armed to the teeth. And before you say it, there’s guys back that way too.” He gestured toward the dark woods behind them. “They parked on the dirt road over there and they’re spreading out to come this way. They’re trying to trap us between them. And don’t ask how I know all that.” 

From his place on the ground, the man they had all been after started to laugh. “Yeah, you stupid fucks! Thought I was just a helpless little bitch, huh? Well I’ve got friends too, people I hook up with anything they need, and they’re about to whip the shit outta you cocksuckers!” He got that much out before his words turned to a terrified noise as Mars Bar pressed very slightly down on his back and growled to remind the man of his immediate situation. 

Without hesitating even for a moment, Grandstand spoke up. “Okay, sounds like they’re here for all of us. So we’ll just have to work together. We can figure out who gets first dibs to talk to our friend here later.” She nodded over her shoulder. “I can handle the guys coming up behind us before they get close. Will uhh…” She paused, frowning just a little while looking at the three La Casa Touched. “Will you guys be okay with this side?” 

“Oh, we’re good,” Pack assured her. “Especially with our new friends here. Err…” Blinking that way, she slowly asked, “Do you guys have… any weapons at all?” 

Before the others could respond, the first girl piped up. “We’ll be okay. Actually, can you explain something to your lizards so they won’t freak out too much?” She asked that while raising both hands, holding two glowing silver egg-shapes. 

“Cuz I know how we can scare the shit out of those guys.” 


From his position up on the roof of the motel, Colt-Syndicate stood in plain sight to look down at the people who had just shown up in the parking lot. He was invisible at the moment, so they couldn’t see him anyway, and standing up like this gave him a good view of the whole group. They didn’t look like any organized gang he had ever seen, given the random assortment of flannel, army camo, or just random sweatshirts. But they were definitely working together, and they were heavily armed. Whatever or whoever they were, these guys meant business. 

He was relaying all the information he could to Rabbit, while Armadillo did the same for what he could see of the group coming up through the woods behind the motel. Puma was on the far side of the street, watching the group below from behind while keeping an eye out for anyone who might come out of the bar.

If they had to, all four Syndicates would reveal themselves. It would give away who they really were, even though they all wore the same masks and black jumpsuits. The fact that three of them were always intangible, and could only be seen as blue-gray ghost forms, would make that obvious. But if necessary, they would do it. Making sure they all got out of this alive was more important than keeping their involvement secret, no matter what that meant. 

Colt’s main job right now, however, wasn’t to reveal himself and the others. No, at the moment, his job was to aim. Well, he and Rabbit working together. They judged the exact distance needed, the appropriate angle, everything necessary to have the best… impact. 

After one more minor adjustment, Rabbit announced, Okay, I think we’re good. 

Holding his index fingers and thumbs out in the shape of a rectangle together, Colt slowly nodded. The group of whoever they were had just finished having whatever very brief discussion they were having, and were turning to head up to the motel. All good, but they’re coming, so do it now, now! 

On the far side of the motel, the others did their part. An instant later, two streaks of light came flying through the motel. They were intangible, doing no damage to the building itself. But immediately after clearing the building, Lexi’s power wore out as planned. Which sent Mars Bar and Holiday flying into the assembled group before they could so much as register the sudden appearance of bright lights. The panther-lizard crashed into two of the men, knocking them to the ground before catching hold of another man’s waistband in her teeth to yank him down as well. 

And yet, those three were the lucky ones. A dozen more went down as a flailing Mars Bar slammed into them. Six of those were sent flying into the side of one of their trucks before collapsing in a heap, while the other six were scattered along the ground. 

Just like that, of the roughly thirty men who had rolled up and started to head into the motel, fifteen were on the ground and had absolutely no interest in getting up again. Which left another fifteen still standing, for the moment. 

But that moment didn’t last long. Even as the men who hadn’t been knocked over reacted to the sudden arrival of Mars Bar and Holiday, the others all came flying through the building as well. Lexi had given everyone an egg and told them to crack it against their chest. Now they were right in the midst of the suddenly-overwhelmed group. 

One man pivoted and raised his gun, only to take the butt of a shotgun to the face as Pack struck him hard. As he stumbled, she fired the gun at a second man, hitting him in the chest with a beanbag round. 

A third guy was trying to lift his own shotgun, just before Zed lunged at him from behind and managed to trail a hand down the man’s arm and leg. As he did so, his power activated, creating a solid-light duplicate of the guy’s shirt and pants. In this case, however, the duplications didn’t move. They remained frozen in place, trapping the man in solid hologram copies of his clothes so he couldn’t raise the weapon or move at all. 

The fourth and fifth men were sent flying across the street and off into the next field as Lexi hit them each with another couple eggs. At the same time, the sixth man flinched as Zed reared back, only to blink as he realized it was only a rock in his hand. Yet the boy used his power again just as he released it. And in this case, he didn’t create only a single copy, nor did that copy stay where it was. Instead, he created fifty copies at once, sending all of them flying into the man until he was practically buried under solid-light rocks. 

By that point, the seventh and eighth men had managed to figure out they were under attack, and even brought their weapons up properly. But Rabbit materialized behind them (he had shifted his solid-form over to Puma briefly so he could turn invisible and get in position), catching first one, then the other with one of the Minority-issued tasers that would actually put people on the ground. 

All of which left three men out of the initial thirty still standing. But before they could do anything else, a cloud of dirt, rocks, bricks, chunks of asphalt, and other bits of debris crashed into them. They were blinded and pummeled repeatedly until they dropped to the ground and covered their heads. Jae, making sure she sent objects flying before they had time to expose her identity by shrinking down and orbiting her, walked forward with her hand outstretched. 

Finally, as the whole group of suddenly-ambushed men were trying to decide if they wanted to risk clambering back up to make a real fight of it now that their opponents had lost the element of surprise, Broadway stepped right into the middle of them before pointing both hands toward the trucks they had shown up in. A near-deafening crack of thunder blasted from the speakers on her suit, and all four vehicles were torn off the ground by the kinetic blast before being sent flying a good fifty feet through the air. They crashed down into an assortment of broken parts, several wheels rolling off out of sight. 

The men, those who were conscious enough to make any decisions, chose to stay on the ground. 

We still good, guys? Rabbit checked in with his other three selves. Only once he had gotten the affirmative did he exhale. “Okay, I think we’re–” 

“Well, I took care of my targets,” Grandstand announced while coming around the corner of the motel. “I sure hope you’re all–ah. I’m impressed.” 

She was here before, Colt noted. She has no idea we’re here so she didn’t use her power on us. She’s pretending to be surprised, but she was watching just in case something went wrong. 

Yeah, Armadillo confirmed from his own position in the woods. She was done with these guys right when you all started your thing. Pretty sure she ran back there to keep an eye on her friends. Wait, are they friends now? Is Grandstand part of La Casa? 

That started a whole discussion amongst the others. But Rabbit was focused on the people who weren’t his duplicates. “Is uhh, is everyone okay?” 

“I’m not.” A small, weak voice announced as a shaky hand rose. It was one of the men who had shown up. He was pinned underneath one of Mars Bars’ paws. “I think… I th-think I need to change my pants.” 

“Might wanna think about that the next time you start shit,” Pack informed him. “Mars Bar, Holiday, if any of them try to get up, bite them somewhere they’ll remember it.” 

“And how’s our other friend doing?” Grandstand asked, gaze focused that way. 

“Twinkletoes has him,” Pack assured her. “All we’ve gotta do is grab him and get out of here before more of these chucklefucks show up.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the still-loud bar. “Or they stop serving alcohol over there.” 

“Great,” the woman replied before turning her attention to Rabbit, Lexi, Zed, and Jae. “Well, I dunno who you guys are, but you were pretty useful. And a promise is a promise. So, let’s get out of here together. 

“Then we can take turns smacking answers out of that asshole. It’ll be a blast.” 

This storyline will be continued at the end of the next arc. 

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The Storm 21-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Something told me that the only reason Denuvus was being so accommodating about offering to tell us the real story about what was going on was that she didn’t think there was anything we could do to stop her anyway. But I wasn’t going to object. If she wanted to monologue and tell us everything we needed to know then all the more power to her. Besides, it gave us time to think. 

My mother was the first to speak, her voice low and dangerous. “Explain anything you wish, and we’ll decide exactly how many buckets of salt to take it with.“

Denuvus smiled faintly that way. “Holding a grudge because I took control of you? That’s fair, and you would hardly be the first or the most dangerous. As you may have noticed however, I have not forced you to harm anyone. If your child here and her friends had stayed on that station where they were supposed to, you’d simply be picking them up safe and sound when this was over.”

Before I could say anything to that, Miles cut in. “But they did show up, and then you made me and my friends go attack them!” His fists were clenched as he glared that way, looking like he really wanted to make the woman swallow his full allotment of cyberform bees and let them break back out again through her rib cage. “What if someone got killed?!” 

Denuvus gave him a flat look. “You’re Boscher Heretics, you’ll all heal. They wouldn’t have killed you because they knew I was controlling you, and you wouldn’t kill them because I told you not to.” 

Miles probably would’ve argued with that, but I quickly put in, “Sorry we disappointed you by showing up. I’m not exactly the best at staying where I’m told. Or even at staying where I want to stay, come to think of it. Honestly, expecting me to be anywhere you think I’m going to be from one day to the next is really poor judgment on your part.”

Actually chuckling a little bit at that, the woman gestured. “I will grant you that as well. Now, let us continue loading the ship, please.” She stressed that word as though to show that it wasn’t one she was accustomed to saying. “And I will tell you all what is happening with Rasputin.” To me, she added, ”Shall I assume that your other friends are getting along with the natives?”

How much did I actually want to tell her? Nothing, actually, but I had a feeling being stoic and silent would only go so far. So, I offered a shrug. “You could say that. Why, is Rasputin with them too? Has he been helping you?”

Asenath piped up then. “And what exactly does he have to do with what happened to my father? Because it occurs to me that of the very few people who would have the ability to change his memories like that, you are probably either one of them or at least know one. And now suddenly the last man we know he was with before that is on a whole new planet with you. Somehow, I doubt that is a coincidence.“ 

Denuvus shook her head. “You may believe what you wish, but I am not responsible for your father‘s changed memories. However, I can tell you who was. You know what your father and his group were doing?”

Senny frowned a little at that before nodding. “They had heard that the Vestil were attempting to complete the ritual that would have killed all of them and anyone connected to their blood, including myself and my mother. They were going back to make certain that didn’t happen. And given we are all still alive, they must have been successful.”

While they were talking, I quickly checked in on the others again. It still looked like those tribal people were worshiping Persephone. But at least now they seemed to be moving again. I got the impression from Rahanvael that these primitive Seosten people didn’t exactly like Denuvus. She was an invader and she had used her voice power to control them. They had been upset about that, but now with Persephone here, they were happy and were bringing her and the others… here?

Wait no, that wasn’t quite right. They weren’t bringing them right here. They were taking them somewhere close by, to something that would help. But they didn’t want to say more than that. 

Hang on, come to think of it, were these guys the people who had attacked those guards in the secret room? Could they have done all that so quickly and quietly? If so, then damn. I was really glad they were on our side.

By that point, Denuvus was explaining to Asenath. “Your father and his people, including Rasputin, did succeed at stopping the ritual from being completed. You’re right about that. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were killed in the process. By which I mean only your father and Rasputin himself survived, out of a group of thirty who embarked on the mission. And they were not easy deaths. From what I have heard and the memories I have seen, they were particularly traumatic.”

Asenath snarled under her breath. “If you are about to suggest that my father intentionally had his memories changed to spare himself, and erased his family in the process, then you’re the one who will experience a few impressively traumatic things.”

Shiori quickly put a hand on her sister’s arm, glaring that way. “I’m sure that’s not what she was implying, right?”

The woman sighed. “Of course not. The man has experienced quite a bit worse in his time. And he loves you and your mother. Ridding himself of your memories intentionally simply to also erase painful ones would be idiotic. And though he is many things, your father is not an idiot. Rasputin chooses to drink and fornicate away his memories in a less magical way. Your father on the other hand…” 

She grimaced and glanced away before continuing. “Let’s just say that one of the people responsible for attempting to complete the ritual survived and escaped. Worse, he came here with the pieces of what they needed for the ritual and made a deal with Fossor. He would provide him with special magical expertise, including investigations into the very secret lab I’ve already told you about. In exchange, Fossor would allow him to continue his experiments here in secrecy and safety. So much damage had been done in your father‘s attack, and this last sorcerer had to put much of it together without the aid of his former companions. It was a process that would take quite a long time.”

“This guy was researching a mega powerful spell right here in Fossor’s backyard and he expected the guy to keep his word and play nice and all that?” I snorted in disbelief at that. “Are you sure Tiras didn’t hit him in the head really hard to make him that stupid?”

Denuvus chuckled softly. “Yes, well, you’re not wrong. It suited Fossor’s purposes to take what he could get out of that man and allow him to do his work. But as soon as the ritual was far enough along, ehh, I don’t think you need me to draw you a picture about what happened. Fossor killed him and took over. Only his intention was to turn the power of the curse toward a more direct threat as far as he was concerned. With a curse that was more twisted to his personal needs.” 

My face twisted into a grimace. “You mean that’s where he got the idea about the whole controlling Heretics thing? He was nothing if not ambitious.”

“He was that,” the woman agreed, before turning her attention back to Asenath. “As I said before, your father did not erase his own memory. The man responsible, that last surviving Vestil sorcerer, knew that Tiras would continue to come after him. Your father knew where he was. And he was afraid that even under Fossor’s… ahem, ‘protection,’ Tiras would still find a way to kill him. So, he erased his memories. It was a bit of a hatchet job, to be honest. But it did what he wanted and stopped your father from coming after him. Not that that ended up being enough to keep him alive.” 

Twister actually spoke up then. “But that Rasputin guy. Are you trying to say he found out about the half-finished ritual here and came up to finish breaking it so it couldn’t be used again?”

“That is precisely what I’m saying,” Denuvus confirmed. “And what I’m also saying is that I have given you enough information for now until we load the rest of these things. Assist me in putting them all on the ship and then we can leave. We’ll go back to Earth and I will take my belongings before you will be allowed to take your ship and do whatever it is you wish.”

From the look on my mother’s face, she clearly wasn’t sure if she believed that or not. Part of me wondered if we should take this opportunity to jump the woman before she pulled whatever trick she might have been planning. After all, we had my mother here now. Not to mention Mercury and Nevada, both of whom had been oddly silent throughout all of this. They just continued to work. Was that because Denuvus had given them stricter instructions than she had my mother? And if so, did that mean they wouldn’t be any help if this came down to a fight? Something told me it wouldn’t be that easy.

Beyond that, we still didn’t know what the people with Persephone and the others were doing. I hoped they were going to turn out to be a good thing, especially if they were against Denuvus. But for all we knew, they were going to be annoyed with all of us. And even then, assuming we did have everyone on our side and they could act, could we actually stop her? Again, she was supposed to be as dangerous as Fossor in her own way. Sure, she might not have billions of slaves to sacrifice, but she made up for that in other ways. Who knew what sort of powers she had beyond her voice, and she had already proven that she could disable any of the defenses we came up with to stop that. As much as she might be playing nice right now, I had no doubt that she could get nasty if she wanted to.

It seemed like the best thing for us to do right now was just play along and look for an opening. And hope that the tribals ended up having a really good idea. Wherever they were taking the others, they were clearly very excited about it. Which I might have been more optimistic about if it wasn’t obvious that Denuvus knew they were there and didn’t seem worried at all. Maybe she didn’t know what they were planning, but something told me she didn’t tend to leave anything to chance.

With all that in mind, I finally shrugged and moved to start helping with the pile of crates. The first one I picked up was surprisingly heavy and I looked over at the woman in question. “So you really don’t have any idea what’s in all these things?” 

She offered me a faint smile before replying, “I do have the slightest idea, and I know all of it will be useful in one way or another. You could call me a pack rat in that way. You never know what might end up being the thing that saves your life, or gives you an edge.” She traveled off, clearly thinking about that for a moment before shaking herself. “And the most important thing is somewhere in that pile.” As she said that, her eyes shifted toward Nevada and I remembered what she said about wanting her sister back. Where did that fall with all this? Did she really think she could turn Nevada back into the sister she had sacrificed? Just because the ancient Seosten who came to this planet in the first place happened to have something for that among their collection? 

I supposed it would be kind of ironic for Fossor to have had something that could do that in this pile of random treasure. After all, his whole thing started from trying to make his own sister immortal by killing her and bringing her back. Going through all that just to randomly have something that could bring her back lying around in a room he found? Something about that struck me as darkly amusing. But also frightening. By all accounts, the woman who had been turned into Nevada had been dead for centuries. Could whatever this thing was seriously just bring her back? And what about Nevada herself? As I thought that, my eyes glanced up to look that way. She wasn’t looking at me. She wasn’t looking at anybody. She was just quietly loading the ship. I still wasn’t sure if she had simply resigned herself to whatever fate Denuvus had in mind, or if she was under that strict of control. Either way, we couldn’t just let this happen. Nevada was her own living person, and she didn’t deserve to just be erased. 

Hell, right now we were just loading up the ship for Denuvus to take anything she wanted. How dangerous would she be if she had all of Fossor’s hidden treasure? And not even just his, though I was sure some of that was mixed in. This was all the treasure those ancient Seosten had gathered in their travels across the universe. If she was right about one of the things being able to bring her sister back, and that was just one of the things mixed in here, then the rest of it… Yeah, this was too dangerous. No matter what happened, we couldn’t let her run off with this stuff. But I still had no idea what we were going to do about it. If we started causing trouble, she could just counter us. Hell, she’d probably have my mother attack us, and what could I do about that? Even if I was able to make myself fight my mom, could I actually meet her? Something told me it wouldn’t exactly be that easy. She had a hell of a lot more experience. And she still had that sword, the one Kushiel had wanted. Among other things, it could apparently cut straight through ghosts, so I wouldn’t even have that advantage. Under absolutely no circumstances would I send any of my ghosts against that weapon. This whole thing was just… fuck. We were here and there was still nothing we could do. Unless whatever those primitive Seosten were taking the others to was really good, and something Denuvus hadn’t planned on, I didn’t know what we were supposed to do. 

While I was focused on that, we all continued loading the ship. There was a tunnel nearby, leading to an enormous place that had clearly been a vault of some sort. The door for it had to have been a solid three or four feet thick, and was made of the sort of metal that could have fended off repeated shots from a capital ship. This whole place had really been buried underground until Fossor raised it up in this volcano? Actually, speaking of volcano, where was the magma? Were we just in a section of the place that didn’t have any? 

Needless to say, I had a lot of questions. And so did Asenath, as she started up again while we were moving crate after crate out of that large vault room and over to stack it up inside the Jitterbug. “If my father’s memory was erased by the man you say Fossor killed, does that mean there’s no way to undo it?” Her voice betrayed no actual emotion there, though I knew she was feeling plenty. She just didn’t care to let the woman in question hear it. “And where is Rasputin now? You said he came here to destroy every trace of the ritual, but…” 

Denuvus leaned against the side of the ship. No matter how eager she was to have all this stuff safely in her possession, she wasn’t actually going to lift a finger to help move it. I had the feeling that she didn’t exactly do a lot of manual labor. Especially not when she had all of us to do it for her.

She did, however, at least answer the questions. Part of them anyway. “On the contrary, there is likely a way to restore his memories. The Vestil took them and placed them somewhere safe. Destroying them would… well, let’s say it’s not that simple to do such a thing. And if you try, you’re far more likely to end up sending the memories back to where they belong. So, they are locked up. And once we are finished here, I’ll tell you exactly where to find them.” She offered another smile. “You see? Everyone will get what they want. Or at least close enough.” 

Once again, I checked in on Rahanvael and the others. They were in a… wait, what? It looked like they were in some sort of old freight elevator. Robin, Judas, and Stasia were all in the middle, with the tribals squeezed in all around them. And now that I had a closer look, they basically just looked like humans. Not even the absurdly beautiful sort of Seosten I was accustomed to. Probably because they were descended from the ancient Seosten, before they had upgraded themselves so much. They had normal human-ish lifespans too. That was… wow. And where was the elevator taking them? A quick check with Rahanvael revealed that she had no idea. The primitive Seosten still weren’t talking about it. But they were close. So very close. 

And speaking of close, it didn’t take long for the rest of us to finish loading the ship. Miles caught my attention, wanting to know if his team was safe. I told them they were, but when I started to talk about his parents, the boy quietly told me to please wait until we got out of this. He was already distracted and was afraid that thinking about them even more would make it worse. Which was understandable. 

While I was in the midst of that and trying to decide exactly when to let the rest of his team out, Denuvus started to speak. “Well, now, it seems we’ve finished ahead of schedule. And no one even had to suffer. So–” 

Before she could finish whatever it was she had been about to say, Nevada spoke up. “Erin, now.” That was it. She said two words. But those two words were enough. In the next second, the ship we had just finished loading up abruptly vanished. It was there one second and then it was gone. It jumped. Wait, what?! Erin, Erin–what? 

In an instant, Denuvus was right there. Her voice snapped, “My name is Denuvus, everyone freeze!” Then she smacked Nevada hard, knocking the woman to the ground just as I felt my entire body lock up completely. 

What did you do?” the woman demanded, her voice actually sounding angry for once. “My name is Denuvus, tell me the truth.” 

Lying there basically right where the ship had been a moment earlier, Nevada stared at Denuvus. “I knew you’d show yourself sooner or later. So I started bringing a little help along on trips like this. You might know her dad, since you’ve been enslaving him for awhile. She’s just been waiting for us to load this thing. Erin Redcliffe has the ship, and she’s not bringing it back until we’re all safe. She can see everything that’s happening through my contacts, but you can’t do anything about it. Everything on that ship belongs to her. If you do anything to us, she’ll never bring it back. And the moment you start fucking with us, she’ll start dumping artifacts out into the middle of deep space where you’ll never find them.

Now we can start negotiating.”

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Interlude 25A – Sterling And Elena (Summus Proelium)

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A/N – There is a non-canon focusing on a young Paige actually attending poor Anthony’s birthday party back in the day, available for everyone right here

“Well that was almost a disaster,” Sterling noted as he sank into the jacuzzi attached to the master suite that he and his wife shared. A low, pleased groan escaped him as the jets went to work massaging his strained muscles. His eyes closed and he tilted his head back to stretch out. Thankfully, he had all the room in the world to do so. The tub was large enough for twelve people to sit in comfortably, though it only ever saw two. 

The Jacuzzi’s other user, Elena, joined him a moment later. Sitting next to her husband, she gently and fondly rubbed one of his shoulders. “Better a near disaster than a certain tragedy. You made the right choice, don’t question it now.” She was well aware of what that tone of voice meant, and wanted to head it off at the pass. “These things happen sometimes. We know that.”

Opening his eyes, Sterling glanced that way. “It could have been a hell of a lot worse. If Paintball hadn’t helped Amber and Izzy get away from that crowd so they could call in the rest of the Minority, and if the rest of his team didn’t show up…” He trailed off before a heavy sigh escaped him. “The entire point was for the Conservators to arrive and drive those people off before they could actually hurt anyone.” 

Elena’s head shook slightly. “To be precise, the actual point was for Miss Sidorov to believe she was in danger so she would accept the presence of our people to keep her safe. To make her believe that, the danger had to be realistic. I believe our newest Fell-Team accomplished that quite well.” There was a slight edge to her voice, despite her actual words, however. It was obvious that she, like the man himself, was thinking about the far more personal risk that had been involved with that whole situation. 

“Quite well indeed,” Sterling pointedly replied with a nod of agreement. “And yet, somehow Cassidy ended up hiding ten feet away from danger again. It was bad enough at the hotel when she had to hide in the bathroom. But with this? This was our fault. Those people attacked the park because we wanted them to. If they’d killed anyone there, or if any of them had hurt Cassidy…” His face twisted a bit at the thought, hand clenching into a fist. 

Taking that fist and smoothing it out gently, Elena gently kissed his fingers. “They would all pay, quite harshly. But she is not hurt, Sterling. You remember the rules that were laid out for them in the first place. None of their hostages were to be seriously harmed. Cassidy may have been in more actual danger by hiding and potentially surprising one of the men than she would have been had she simply stayed with the others throughout the ordeal. Amber and Izzy would have kept her safe.” She considered briefly before adding, “I believe that situation might have actually prompted Izzy to reveal her powers to Cassidy. So she knows she can be safe with her.” 

Shaking off that thought, she focused on her husband once more. “In a perfect world, the plan would have worked flawlessly, with no adjustments or issues. But this world is very imperfect, my love. Of course I would rather you not have had to choose between following our plan as written, or interceding in the fight between Deicide’s people and Cuélebre’s at the mall. I am not saying otherwise. What I am saying is that I believe you made the best possible choice. Again, Janus, Juice, and the others had their instructions about not harming the people there. They know the penalties for violating those hard rules when we give them. But the fight at the mall was not our doing. It occurred entirely naturally, with none of our rules in place. If you had not taken the Conservators there and put an end to it, many more people would have died. Children, Sterling. Children would have died. To say nothing of the situation with Miss Rafferty at the police station. Both of those had to be brought back into some semblance of control.” 

Once again, Sterling sighed. “You’re right. It was the only thing that made sense. We had to trust that Janus and the rest of that gang would follow the rules. But half of them are new to the city. We don’t know them as well as we know the rest of the gangs. I wasn’t sure how much we could trust them to follow our rules. No matter how daunting of a first impression we made on them. That’s why this whole thing was supposed to be a test. A test with safety bumpers.” 

“Instead, it was a test without the bumpers,” Elena finished for him. “One we all survived. You made the right choice in going to the mall. And, while a bit… I believe scruffy would be the right word, the situation at the park did resolve itself correctly. Miss Sidorov has accepted our aid. We will take what we learn from that and use it to remove Errol’s connection to that safe so he can never be used to open it.”

“And you still think I made the right choice?” Sterling pointed out with a glance that way. “If this whole thing had gone wrong, we would’ve lost our best chance of doing that. If the Scions figure out who Errol is and manage to get to him before we can deal with that, a hell of a lot more people will die than anyone who was at that mall. Can you imagine the horrors Pencil and his sister would inflict on this entire city–hell, the entire state— if they had control of all the puppets in that safe? To say nothing of what they could do if they used that to find out about the Ministry. I saw the children at the mall in the middle of that gang war and I chose to save them. It worked out this time, but if it hadn’t, if–” He cut himself off, grimacing visibly for a moment before his voice continued a bit more softly. “It was a risk, and it could have backfired spectacularly.”   

“It could have,” Elena agreed. “But it did not. And if we spent minutes reexamining every way in which moments could have gone differently, we would lose years to our doubts. You saw children in danger and chose to save them, Sterling. If you continue to berate yourself about that choice, I shall have to find a way to hurt you. Perhaps by informing Simon about that gray hair–” 

“Don’t,” Sterling quickly interjected, holding up his free hand in surrender. “You win. I’ll let it go, promise.” Shifting a bit to look at her better, he offered a slight smile. “And I suppose things did work out after all. Thanks to Paintball, again. Maybe we should put that boy on the payroll, considering how much help he’s been.”

“Don’t think I haven’t considered something like that,” Elena shot back, poking the man in his nose. “It’s not the first time I’ve wished we could go back and start off our relationship with the boy on the right foot. Not that I blame Simon for what happened. He did what he was supposed to do, given what he knew. And yet…” It was her turn to sigh. 

With a chuckle as he took hold of her still-extended hand and squeezed it, Sterling pointed out, “Don’t forget, no spending minutes reexamining moments. You said yourself how quickly that can get out of hand. We keep moving forward as best as we can, making the choices we have to make and living with them. Now, where’s the remote for the tub? 

“I want to see just how good those upgrades to the massager setting are.” 


Several hours later, after getting a bit of sleep, Sterling was roused from his slumber by the buzzing of his personal cell phone on the desk next to their bed. He glanced toward his still-sleeping wife before quietly slipping out from under the blanket. Picking up the phone, the man rose as stealthily as possible and began to make his way to the door while glancing at the screen. There were only a few people whose calls his phone would actually vibrate for while he was asleep, so the list of who this could be was short. And sure enough, the name on the screen was Alcazar’s civilian identity. Face twisting slightly at the thought of what could have prompted this call, he carefully stepped out of the room and allowed it to close behind him. Only then did Sterling answer the phone, speaking in normal voice rather than a whisper considering the soundproofing would ensure Elena wasn’t disturbed. 

“What happened?” 

The answer came immediately, in a completely flat voice that told Sterling nothing about what was actually happening. “One of our friends at Channel Nine sent over an early copy of the report they’re working on that’s supposed to go out in a couple hours. I’m shooting it to your system right now. Believe me, you’ll want to see this.” 

Slowing very slightly, Sterling took that in. This clearly wasn’t a worst case scenario. There were code words for that, ways to sound the alarm. Whatever was happening, the Ministry hadn’t been exposed, neither–none of his children were in mortal peril, the city wasn’t burning down. But it was important enough to call like this, and public enough that it would be on the news. 

Without saying anything else for the moment, given he was certain Alcazar wanted to wait until he knew what was going on, Sterling took a few steps to the next room. It was one of his offices. He stepped inside and told the television to switch over to the private system they used for this sort of thing. Immediately, a picture of a shipwreck in front of an island came into view, along with a voice over that was clearly some sort of aid or production assistant reading off a script. This was a half-finished piece, not quite ready for actual air.

So, why was he watching the rehearsal of a news story about a boat crash? Why would Alcazar have woken him up for this? Frowning a bit, Sterling kept watching. And in a few moments, he had his answer. 

“Fuck,” he murmured under his breath while staring that way. Breakwater? If the claims in this unfinished report were true, then that was where the long-missing Trivial and Flea had ended up. Which… did make a sort of sense considering how impossible it had become to track them down, but still.

Irelyn Banners. Not that she was named in the report, but he was able to read between the lines. There were only so many sufficiently important women in the city who were currently missing and whose locations he wasn’t aware of. The list was short to begin with, and the very few details the report gave would have been enough to narrow it down even if the whole Flea thing hadn’t been included. The fact that it was meant there was never any question in his mind about who they were talking about. 

And yet, much of the report was utter nonsense. Flea and Trivial had not been sent to secretly rescue Irelyn. If they had been, he would have heard about it from about three or four different directions and identities. It didn’t matter how secretive the supposed mission had been, he would have known. So his first instinct was to dismiss this entire thing. 

And yet, why? Why would someone make this up out of nothing? Obviously the news that an innocent person had accidentally ended up stranded on Breakwater, and that two Star-Touched had gone in to rescue her before disappearing as well, would be big news, putting it mildly. People wouldn’t just take the word of an anonymous source. The media outlet wouldn’t be getting ready to run the story, not without some confirmation of their own. The picture on the screen had just shown some boat wreckage near a random island that could have been anywhere. The only reason the news would have actually run with the story was if they had some reason to believe it was true. And that meant–

“There’s more,” he noted simply. 

“Yes, sir,” Alcazar confirmed. “Whoever sent all that to about four different news stations, and posted it on a few different websites, also sent a more… detailed bit of evidence to the Conservators and the Spartans public relations boxes, and to Ten Towers as well. I took the liberty of pulling the files from all three, but they’re identical. The most important bit is that the files include the GPS location of the wreck, and it fits the location for Breakwater.” 

Sterling was quiet for a moment as he absorbed that. The people behind this knew where Breakwater was, and that wasn’t a secret that was easy to get. So there must have been at least some element of truth to it. 

How in the hell had something like this happened? Obviously, the news didn’t have the full story. There was no way that Flea and Trivial had actually gone to Breakwater to save Irelyn after she accidentally ended up there during a shipwreck. Among several other reasons for why that was impossible was the fact that Irelyn was Flea.

She had gone to find her missing parents. Trivial went with her, and the two of them had made it to Florida before disappearing. And now, according to this, they had somehow ended up on Breakwater. How? What was the connection? 

Wait. Pittman. Pittman’s little bio-machines were running around while he was still on Breakwater. He had to have had some sort of help here in town, someone providing resources. Could that have been the Banners? Hold on… Paige. Paige had ended up with a lot of information about the Ministry. That had always been a mystery, but what if the Banners had been working with Pittman, providing him resources? Then he, in turn, provided them with information about the Ministry. Information that was in their house for Paige to stumble across, considering how much time she spent in that place. That would explain how she’d found out enough about the Ministry to start digging deeper, how she’d gained access to those files. 

That answered a lot, actually. 

In any case, if this was true, Irelyn and Trivial had ended up on that island together somehow. And now whoever had leaked these pictures and the story to the news was trying to get public attention on the situation, without exposing Irelyn’s identity. 

But why only avoid spoiling her identity? Was it because they didn’t know who Trivial really was? No, that couldn’t be it, because there was no reason to claim that there should be three people to be rescued from the island instead of two. That just complicated matters. It would have made far more sense to simply refer to Flea and Trivial without ever mentioning Irelyn. 

For a moment, Sterling was baffled. Then he realized. There had to be more than one person involved in this, and at least one of them didn’t know that Irelyn and Flea were the same person. Whoever was actually behind this was trying to thread the needle of getting help for Flea and Trivial without exposing to the world that Flea was Irelyn, and without exposing that same fact to whoever they were working with. This other person or people must have known that Flea was there and that Irelyn was there, but didn’t know they were one and the same. That sounded complicated and dangerous, so why wouldn’t they simply tell these other people the truth? 

Was this Paige? It was clear by this point that the girl knew her way around computers and was good at the spying game. Better than she should’ve been. Especially if he was right about her finding out about the Ministry from her parents. If she had found out the truth about what happened to her adopted sister and had recruited someone to help to expose that fact, but didn’t want her new allies to know the whole truth… but who would she have gone to for help? Most of the groups in the city would have reached that information back to the Ministry long before it ever got this far.

There were a few options, of course. Paintball’s new group, Avant-Guard, was a possibility. But Sterling didn’t think they could pull something like this off. Not on such short notice. If Paige had gone to them for help–why would she? What could they give her when it came to getting anyone off of Breakwater? Not to sell them short, but nothing, really. If Paige had discovered the truth of where her sister was, why would she go to them for help? 

Then there was the fact that, when asked about what she knew when it came to Irelyn’s disappearance only recently, she’d claimed that the only information she had was that Irelyn had left to go find their parents. Parents whom Paige herself had only left shortly before that. Their father had taken her and his wife to go hide from some mysterious enemy. A mysterious enemy that Sterling was beginning to believe was supposed to be the Ministry itself. He and Elena were the enemies the Banners were hiding from, and they didn’t even know it. Then Paige convinced him to let her come back here to go to school again, but by the time she arrived, Irelyn was already gone. 

The simplest answer, of course, was that she was lying about some or all of that. But the agent who had been sent to speak with her was very good at picking up lies, and they believed she was telling the truth. It didn’t completely prove anything, but did muddy the waters a bit. 

Maybe it wasn’t Paige. But his instincts told him she was involved. This whole thing was meant to force Breakwater to admit they had Flea and Trivial, and send them home. That wasn’t necessarily one hundred percent proof that Paige was part of it, but… yeah, he thought she was. In some way or another, at least. 

Maybe he was thinking about this from the wrong direction. What if it wasn’t that Paige had learned what happened to Irelyn and had then gone to another group, but the other way around? What if some other group had gone to her with that information? If they knew that Irelyn was on that island and that Flea and Trivial were as well, but thought that Irelyn and Flea were different people… hmm, that was possible. They might have recruited Paige with that, but… why? And who would have found out where Flea and Trivial were, and that Irelyn was ‘there as well,’ but didn’t know two of those were the same person, and would have recruited Paige to help them? And help them what? Hold on, he was missing something here. 

Wait a moment. Another thought came to Sterling, and he told the computer to shift away from the frozen half-finished news footage in order to bring up a few files and memos he wasn’t exactly supposed to have access to. Sure enough, there it was. One of the principle investors in three of Ten Towers’ member companies was Aaron Banners, Irelyn and Paige’s father. He was still something of an outsider from the group itself, preferring to build his own legacy. But he had access others didn’t. Access that could give someone very important information, such as everything they knew about the murder of that reporter, Jolene Iverson. 

Grandstand. She could have accessed the information about what happened to Flea and Trivial at any of the little hideaways Pittman probably still had around here. She and Broadway were working together. But they also had help from Eits and Pack. Those four had shown up to the police station today to stop Jennica, so they were clearly in close contact. Between Grandstand’s power and Eits’, they could have discovered just about anything.

Obviously, they found out the truth and decided to pull Paige into things in order to get access to her and Irelyn’s father. Which, by extension, would grant them his access to all the information Ten Towers had about the murder of Setrea’s friend. It made sense and fit this situation. Or at least as much as anything did.

“Minister?” Alcazar prompted, interpreting his intake of breath. “Do you have something?” 

“Maybe,” Sterling replied. “I’m going to wake my wife and explain what’s going on. Do something for me in the meantime, would you? 

“Send messages to Cuélebre and Blackjack to give us everything they know about Grandstand, Broadway, Eits, and Pack.”

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The Storm 21-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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“Wait, your sister?!” Shiori’s eyes were as wide as I was sure mine were. We were all staring at Denuvus. “What do you mean, your sister? What does Nevada have to do with–what?” 

Audibly chuckling, Denuvus turned and gestured for us to follow her while moving to a doorway that seemed to have just magically appeared at the back of the room. “You heard what I said. I want my sister back. You didn’t think I was going to give her up forever, did you?” She paused then, standing in that new doorway while glancing back our way. “Oh, come to think of it, you don’t know about that, do you?” She shook her head, looking rueful before turning back to keep walking. “Come along then, I’ll explain on the way. And remember, let’s keep playing nice if we all want to get out of this in one piece. We’re just gonna take a little walk down, see what good shape your friends are in, and then… well, then we’ll go from there.” 

The rest of us all looked at each other, but we didn’t have any idea what else to do besides just follow her. She clearly wasn’t in the mood to fight, and seemed to be actually explaining things. She’d already demonstrated that she could walk right through any defenses we set up against her voice power, but wasn’t using it anyway. Between that and the fact that she had plenty of other powers she could take us apart with if she wanted to made it abundantly clear that our best move was to just let her talk. Maybe she’d even end up saying something we could use later if this did evolve into a fight. Besides, now I absolutely had to know what she was talking about when it came to Nevada.

So, Tabbris, Shiori, Twister, Asenath, and I followed her through that doorway and onto a staircase leading upward. For a moment, I wondered what was going on with Judas and the others. Then I realized that was stupid. I didn’t have to wonder, I could check on them real quick. Sure, we’d lost the telepathy, but Rahanvael was still with them. That was the entire point of sending her. 

Focusing on my connection to the ghost girl briefly, I gripped the nearby railing for safety, then reached out while closing my eyes. There. Rahanvael was moving through an underground tunnel alongside Judas and Stasia. She immediately felt my presence, and informed me that they hadn’t found Robin and Persephone yet, but they were still following those footprints. It looked like there had to be at least a dozen other people who had come to take those two with them. And we still had no idea why the unstoppable robot and Revenant-Possessed Olympian had agreed to accompany them in the first place. There had been no sign of any struggle at any point. They were able to pick out which prints were Robin’s and which were Persephone, and they were just walking normally. Had these people, whoever they were, convinced them that they were there to help? And if they had convinced them, was it true? And who were they? Did they work for Denuvus? 

I had no idea, and neither did Rahanvael. So I simply passed along an update about what was going on with us, promised to check in shortly, and went back to myself. 

That whole thing had only taken a few seconds, all while I kept climbing those stairs. And yet, despite that, when my eyes opened, Denuvus had stopped and was looking back at me. “Your friends doing okay down there? I hope they haven’t run into the natives.” 

“The–what?” I blinked a couple times, trying to decide if she was intentionally screwing with me. 

“That’s what I call them,” she replied easily. “Not the people Fossor put under his control. There are tribals living in this cave system. As best as I can tell, they’re also descendants from those first Seosten who showed up. They’ve been here the whole time, since the original landing when their ancestors created the hidden lab. They weren’t part of the rest of their civilization as it grew, faltered, broke, and fell under Fossor’s control. They’ve just been living here in these caves, treating the sealed doors that lead into those labs like holy relics they have to protect. If they think anyone’s trying to get into those rooms, they attack.

“Let me guess,” Asenath put in, “they tried to attack you.” Her voice was tense. I knew what she really wanted was to demand Denuvus tell her why Rasputin was here and what he had to do with all this. But she held it back. How, I had no idea. It was all I could do not to start shouting about my mother, and we were literally being taken to see her right now. Asenath had been dealing with the whole situation surrounding her father for a hell of a lot longer. 

“They did try,” Denuvus confirmed casually. “And they can be a real threat, in their way. I hope your friends are safe.” 

She was clearly fishing for information, but I just stared back at her. “Are we going, or what? And you were supposed to be telling us about what Nevada has to do with your sister.” Yeah, maybe it was a bad idea to be that blunt with her, but after everything that had happened with Fossor and knowing how she’d still forced my mother to do her bidding, it was hard to care. 

For her part, Denuvus simply regarded me for a moment. I couldn’t read her expression at all. Finally, she turned to start climbing once more. “Yes, my sister. I’ll spare you the details I don’t feel like getting into. Suffice to say, we were very close…” 

And with that, the woman told us the truth about where Nevada had come from. She told us about how she had used the leftover energy from when the Heretics tried to banish Fossor to create a Djinn. But it also required the sacrifice of a loved one. Apparently it had to be a real sacrifice, someone you loved. The more you cared about them, the better chance the spell would be successful. And she had really loved her sister. But she wanted revenge on some monster who had imprisoned and tortured them, and killed her children. So she sacrificed her own twin, her twin, in order to create a Djinn. And that Djinn had proceeded to inhabit the body of that dead sister, creating a new being. 

That being, of course, was Nevada. Or the person who had eventually become Nevada. She wasn’t a Djinn anymore. She’d used her power to turn herself human. Or partially human. Or… yeah, I wasn’t sure how that worked. Either way, according to Denuvus, Gaia was behind that. The headmistress was the one who convinced Nevada to use her power to change the Heretical Edge so it would work on hybrids. And once that was done, she had transformed herself into one as well, taking away her own Djinn powers before going through the Edge herself to become a Heretic.

I had known before that a Djinn was used to change the Edge. Deveron had explained that much. But I never knew that Nevada was the Djinn in question. Needless to say, that was a lot to take in. I didn’t even think she was lying about any of it. The whole thing was so… absurd and ridiculous that I couldn’t think of any reason for her to lie about it. It was so crazy it had to be the truth. Unless she was just fucking with us, which wasn’t impossible. But I was pretty sure that wasn’t happening right now. Besides, it fit with what I’d already known. 

Twister was the first to find her voice after that. She sounded casual, but I could hear the fierce anger behind that, broiling just below the surface. “So basically you’re saying that you sacrificed your own twin sister to get power, treated the living person who was created from that sacrifice like a worthless slave, and then, once she’d built a new life for herself away from you, puppeted Flick’s mother into abducting her to get something else you want. You’re a real peach of a person, aren’t you?” 

We’d reached the top of the long stairwell by then, letting us all emerge into what looked like a massive circular tunnel that had been bored through the rock. The ceiling was a good fifty to sixty feet above our heads, while the sides of the round tunnel were at least that far apart. It was like something had drilled all the way through here. Or maybe like a giant worm had bored through. I wasn’t sure which, and knowing what I did about the entire universe, it could’ve been the latter as easily as the former. We had come out somewhere in the middle of the tunnel, and could see it head off for probable miles in either direction. 

Taking all that in while the woman was deciding how to respond to Twister, I piped up with a question that had been bothering me for a while. “Hang on a second. You said those people built these secret rooms and tunnels or whatever essentially as soon as they got to this planet, right? You said those tribal people were living in the tunnels outside the secure labs all this time. But Rahanvael says this volcano wasn’t here before. Everything out there used to be forests and fields. Fossor made the volcano just to destroy his old home. So how is that possible? How could these tunnels and secret rooms or whatever else have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, but Rahanvael doesn’t remember this mountain existing before? And while we’re on the subject, why would these completely unique secret tunnels be like five feet from his childhood home? What are the odds of that?”

Denuvus gave a soft, yet audible chuckle. “To answer the second question first, you are cracking the egg and making an omelet before ever getting to the chicken if you think of it that way. It is not that he was unbelievably powerful and just happened to find these labs right outside his door. The very fact that he grew up so close to the labs is why he possessed so much potential in the first place. I told you about how the founders of this world seeded their genetics with the potential for necromancy. But they didn’t simply leave it at that. They weren’t willing to risk what they saw as the fate of the universe on complete random chance. They installed machines in those labs I mentioned. Those machines would send pulses of energy through the world which were intended to catch onto those latent Necromancer genetics–for lack of a better term– and magnify them. In layman’s terms, these pulses of energy would come in random times and move in random directions. When they found a living being with the potential for Necromancy, they would boost that potential, making them stronger. That person would then have children, who would have children, and so on until another random pulse happened to find their descendants. And that pulse would increase the potential even more. The seed was passed on and nurtured repeatedly. Eventually, it would physically manifest in the form of the priests who cared for and helped their dead pass on.” 

“Wait, wait,” I quickly put in. “Rahanvael said their ghosts are particularly common, that they had to have the Necromancer priests to ensure they moved on to the next… whatever.” 

“Yes,” the woman agreed, “That exact quality, that resilience to linger after death is precisely why the Seosten-Turned-Fomorians are such a problem. Their ghosts stay behind and are thus capable of being pulled back and put into the new Fomorian bodies.”

That… that made sense, and it also made her claims about the connection between these people and the Seosten even more credible. I still had no idea how to feel about that, and a quick glance toward Tabbris revealed that she was reeling even more than I was. 

Denuvus was already continuing, after giving us just a second to think about that. “The point is, Fossor grew up on this land, in an area that had previously been closed off. His father built the farm out here in the middle of nowhere. He was the first person in many generations to live this close to those secret labs while having the potential for necromancy inside him. Those random pulses the machines were sending out? They hit him over and over again, because he was living essentially right next to them. Or rather, right on top of them.” 

That made me do a double-take, but it was Asenath who spoke first. “On top… you mean the labs were underground… before the volcano.” 

A small smile found its way to Denuvus’s face. “Precisely. And that is the answer to that first question of yours,” she informed me. “The labs were underground. Fossor raised them with the volcano. It wasn’t simply a matter of being petty and destroying his old home. He also wanted to bring the tunnels up where he could access them more easily, as well as disrupt the defenses the old tribals spent all those millennia putting together.

“And, of course, because he was petty.” 

Under my breath, I muttered, “He was good at turning his pettiness into something useful for himself.” Then I shook that off, considering how many other big things we already had to deal with right now. This wasn’t the time to get sidetracked thinking about Fossor’s many flaws. Instead, I looked around the tunnel once more. “Okay, so you killed your own sister–call it whatever you want. She died, and you created Nevada. She doesn’t have her Djinn powers anymore, so why did you make my mom bring her to you?” 

Denuvus simply gestured at that. “Well, obviously because I’m tired of not having my sister around.” She met my gaze before adding, “As it turns out, one of the many treasures the ancient Seosten gathered in these secret rooms in their attempts to create the very Necromancy-creating machines I just mentioned is something which will allow me to summon my sister’s spirit and put it back where it belongs. She will be alive again, while I will retain the power I’ve gained. So you might say I was able to have my cake and eat it too.” 

Shiori spoke up first, blurting, “But what about Nevada? She’s alive in there too, you know?”

Denuvus shook her head. “She is an interloper. Do you think my sister deserves to remain dead just so this intruder can remain in possession of her body? Is that fair to her?” 

“That’s not the point!” I snapped. “She’s a living person already. You created her, so she’s basically like your child. But not only did you treat her like shit the whole time you knew her, now you just want to throw her away the first chance you get to replace her with the sister you sacrificed to create her in the first place? Don’t you give a shit about her?” 

The woman stared at me for a moment before speaking carefully. “Do not attempt to judge me. Not until you have been through what I have. I told you, the creature behind all of this murdered my children, and I will see him die no matter what that takes. I was willing to sacrifice my own twin sister for that, but now that there is an opportunity to bring her back? You had better believe I will take it. The creature you call Nevada was never real to me. She was a means to an end. And now her use is over. She is using a body I need. I will use that to get my sister back, no matter which of you think you can stand in my way.” Her voice grew progressively more dangerous throughout that, as the air around us seemed to grow colder. And then, she simply pivoted on her heel and began to walk. “But, I am certain you’d like to see your mother.” 

The rest of us exchanged looks before turning to follow her. On the way, I felt a tug from my connection to Rahanvael. So, I took Shiori and Tabbris’s hands so they could guide me while I checked in.

Things down there had changed rather dramatically. Now the ghost girl was hovering a bit away from Stasia and Judas, who were literally standing right next to Robin and Persephone. All of them were standing inside a cave of some sort that was brightly lit by torches and several bonfires all along the walls. And they were surrounded by what looked like a bunch of primitive humans in furs. Or rather, primitive Seosten. But it didn’t seem like they were a threat. It actually looked more like they were… wait… worshiping Persephone? They were, like, bowing to her and bringing her what looked an awful lot like offerings. What–huh? 

Before I could focus anymore on that, or get any answers from Rahanvael, my attention was drawn back to my real body, as my mother’s voice called my name. My eyes snapped open, to find that we were in a large cavern. The Jitterbug was parked right next to what looked like an enormous vault-like door that was open, revealing smooth, polished metal walls beyond. The secret, hidden lab, obviously. 

Mercury and Nevada were there, along with Miles, all of them carrying crates up onto the ship. Then there was my mother, who set her own crate down and crossed the cavern to embrace me tightly. For just a moment, I forgot everything else and returned it. It felt really nice, but it couldn’t last. Not right now. 

“Mom,” I murmured, pulling back a bit to stare at her. “You’re okay.” She started to apologize, but I stopped her. “No, don’t. I–we get it. Believe me, we get it.” 

“You see? I am a woman of my word,” Denuvus announced, dragging my attention back that way. “They’re all safe and sound.” She looked to Asenath. “Which means if you want to know why Rasputin is here, I’ll tell you that too. And then we can all get what we want and get out of here.” Her gaze moved, scanning each of us in turn as though searching for which of us was going to make the first move against her. 

“Unless, of course, you would all prefer to do this the hard way.” 

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Patreon Snippets 28B (Summus Proelium)

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The following is the 28th edition of Patreon Snippets (or at least the Summus Proelium-related ones). Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month is able to request at least five hundred words toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. Thanks go to them, as well as to all supporters, and to all readers. Remember, as little as 5 dollars per month gets you every single chapter one day early. In addition, donators get to vote on end-of-arc interludes, non-canon chapters, and have discounts for commissions. And hey, don’t forget that everyone, Patron or not, can join us in the Discord channel right here

The Origin Of The Most Dangerous Fell-Touched In The World

Mingle And Bloodfall

Three Years Ago

With a shout that was more fear than anger, the white-uniformed security guard at a museum in New York City opened fire on the figure walking that way slowly. The subject of his attack, and the source of his panic, was a woman who stood about two inches under six feet. Her leather pants were black, with a bit of red near the waist and bottom of the legs, leading into dark red boots. She wore a black sleeveless shirt with a red leather vest, her arms left bare aside from a set of spiked bracelets on either wrist. Dark red gloves covered her hands. Finally, her entire face was covered by what appeared to be a reddish-black ceramic mask at first glance, but would prove to be something much worse. Her blonde hair was cut quite short and styled into sharp-looking spikes. She walked toward the man casually, in no apparent hurry and without paying any mind to the pistol that was pointed her way. 

The guard got off three shots, all right on the mark despite his terror. And yet, none of the bullets accomplished much. The first two were heading straight for his target when a red stream of liquid flew into the air in its path. The liquid was blood, torn from the fallen body of another, quite dead security guard who was lying in a heap nearby. It streamed up out of the corpse, forming a circle in front of the advancing figure. Just before the bullets struck it, the hovering liquid hardened, forcing them to ricochet off in random directions. 

On the other hand, the third bullet went straight for the woman’s face. Yet it too proved harmless, rebounding off the ‘ceramic’ mask, which wasn’t ceramic at all. It was more hardened blood. She drew a small bit from every victim she encountered, and added it either to the mask, or to the various bits of body armor she wore under her actual clothing.  

Her name was Bloodfall, and she was one of the more dangerous Fell-Touched in New York, a place where the competition for such a title was already incredibly fierce. The fact that she had no qualms about severely mangling and killing anyone who happened to get in her way meant that she could very casually employ her ability to rip blood straight out of the body of anyone she either physically touched, or who had an open wound. And as soon as she had control of one person’s blood, it became child’s play to shape that into bladed weapons that could create more open wounds in anyone nearby. Suffice to say, she became an exponentially more dangerous problem the longer any particular fight went on. Even the strongest Star-Touched had trouble dealing with the woman, considering the moment she laid a hand on them, she was capable of doing horrific damage no matter how tough they were. It made facing Bloodfall a precarious situation in the best of circumstances. 

And this… well, this was far from the best. This single surviving security guard scrambled backward, firing two more shots that went wide in his panic, before turning to flee. 

With a disgusted, half-amused snort, the woman transformed the blood shield hovering in front of her into a whip. It lashed out, catching hold of the man’s ankle to yank him off his feet. As he hit the ground with a cry and was pulled backward, the man scrambled to turn over to point his gun once more. But Bloodfall was there first, taking two steps forward before lashing out with a kick that knocked the weapon from his grasp and sent it flying into the wall. 

“You shot at me,” the woman informed him in an annoyed voice. “You really think I’m just gonna let you walk away after that?” The blood whip transformed into a set of ropes, securing the man’s arms and legs while she crouched next to him and ran a finger up his back. “No, no, no, we can’t have that. If people think they can get away with shooting at me, it’ll cause all sorts of problems. I think I might need to make an example out of you. So people know what a bad idea that is.” 

While the man struggled and protested frantically, she smirked and reached for the back of his neck. However, before she could touch him, a rush of movement drew her attention. She caught just the barest glimpse of a figure running toward her, before it dropped into a slide and went straight into the imprisoned man. Just like that, the sudden new arrival went into his body and disappeared. 

In the next moment, the man snapped his arms out to break the blood rope that was wrapped around him. It shattered and dissolved back into liquid, while the man flipped around onto his back. While Bloodfall was still reacting to what she had just seen, his foot lashed out to slam into her chest, sending her flailing backwards away from him. Then he was on his feet. 

Or rather, they were on his feet. Because by that point, as she rolled backwards and rose once more, Bloodfall had realized what was happening. She held a hand up, snarling, “Mingle. Did you have to show up right now? I was just about to have a little fun.” Even as the words escaped her, she was trying to use her power to rip the blood from his body. But something about Mingle’s possession blocked her power. Which was quite annoying, she had to say. 

“Heya, BF.” The voice that came from the man’s mouth was female, an odd side-effect of power belonging to the Star-Touched woman who had possessed him. Anyone she took over this way could be made stronger, faster, and so forth, but spoke with her voice despite retaining their own vocal cords. It was just one of those things. Beyond that, their bodies and clothing tended to shift somewhat, blending between that of the host and Mingle herself. In this case, the guard’s clothing had gone from a simple white uniform, to more of a yellowish color, with a faint smiley-face visible on the front of his shirt. His face wasn’t quite the same either, having adopted slightly softer features, while his skin darkened a bit. 

“I hate to tell you this,” the feminine voice added, “but I really don’t think your buddy here was very enthusiastic about playing with you.” 

Cracking the man’s neck with a slight twist of his head, Mingle added, “In fact, he’s been making it pretty clear that he wants me to make sure you don’t hurt him, or anyone else. So uh, I think your game’s over.”

“Over?” Eyes narrowing, Bloodfall retorted in a low voice which seemed to crack with barely restrained anger at the very suggestion. “No one gets to tell me when it’s over.” 

With that, she snapped one hand down toward the body of the dead guard she had already begun to use. At the gesture, the rest of his blood was torn free in a wet explosion that sent chunks of flesh spraying in every direction. The blood itself transformed into a pair of reddish swords, which spun through the air twice before flying straight at the possessed guard. 

But Mingle, of course, wasn’t about to take an innocent man into actual combat against a murderous Fell-Touched. Even as the blood swords flew toward him, their forms separated. Both she and the security guard were left briefly intangible in those couple of seconds, and she used that to send his body backwards and sideways, through the nearby wall so he would be safely out of the fight on the other side. Then he could run and escape from the place with his blood safely intact since he was out of Bloodfall’s line of sight. 

Mingle, meanwhile, was also left intangible for that brief moment, allowing the blood swords to fly through her. That moment did, however, give Bloodfall a chance to see her opponent clearly for the first time. The Star-Touched girl stood only a couple inches over five feet, leaving her quite a bit shorter than her opponent. Her costume consisted of white, knee-length shorts, a bright yellow hoodie with a pair of smiley faces on the front which seemed to be merging into one another, matching yellow shoes with white socks, and a white head-encompassing helmet with no visible visor but a pair of yellow eyes and smile painted on. 

With a thought and quick gesture, Bloodfall yanked the swords back through the air, trying to impale her opponent in the back as her brief intangibility wore off. But Mingle was already moving, twisting sideways to allow the right-hand sword to go flying just past the front of her helmet, before ducking so the left-hand one would pass over her head. 

In the next moment, Mingle managed to lunge and catch hold of Bloodfall. The Fell-Touched woman immediately tried to rip the girl’s blood from her body. But Mingle was faster with her own power, vanishing from where she stood to possess the other woman instead. 

Well hey, now we can have a real conversation! 

Despite her enthusiasm about that fact, the only response Mingle received from the woman she was possessing was a low, dangerous, Get out.

Okay now hold on, I know you’re the bad guy and I’m the good guy, but we can find some common ground here, Mingle insisted. You’ve gotta have some redeeming qualities, right? Like, what’s your favorite flavor of Pop-Tart? She didn’t actually need to know that, of course. But it took time for her to take full control over people who were fighting her instead of cooperating, and distracting them with random chatter usually seemed to work. 

In this case, however, all she felt from the Fell-Touched woman was broiling rage. Bloodfall was not a happy person at the best of times, and she especially didn’t seem to like being possessed. Get out. Get out. Geeeeeeeeeeet ouuuuut! She screamed inside her own head. Her body was already staggering from one side to the other as the two fought over control. They were each struggling desperately to push the other down. On the outside, Bloodfall’s black sleeveless shirt had turned white, while her vest was more of an orange color, blending red and yellow. The reddish-black hardened blood mask had a smiley face on it. 

Through the next few moments, as Bloodfall’s body stumbled into a wall, then spun around to punch that same wall hard enough to bruise her own hand, the two struggled with one another. Dude, chill out, I’m not gonna do anything bad! Mingle blurted those words before realizing, Actually, not doing something bad is probably what you’re afraid of, huh? Just hold on, you can’t push me out. You can’t stop this, okay? So just–

Out! Out get out get out get out get out! 

So intent was she on forcing the Star-Touched out of her own body, that Bloodfall turned to desperate measures. In most cases, that wouldn’t have accomplished anything either. But the mix of her specific power and her rage were a potent and deadly combination. Her voice came through, even angrier. You can’t control me. If I can’t control me, no one can control me. No one! No one! Nooooo ooooooooone!

Those words echoed through their temporarily-shared head, even as the Fell-Touched focused on her own power. But not to pull any of the very exposed blood coating the walls around them. No, this time, her power was directed inward. Mingle, in her relative innocence, realized too late what was about to happen. Hey wait, what are y–

Then she said no more. Not as herself, anyway. Because Bloodfall, in her rage, used her power to halt the blood flow to her own brain. The joined figure collapsed to the floor, jerking and spasming violently. She had meant what she said. No one else would control her, and she would kill herself to ensure that. 

In the end, death was not precisely what happened. But for so many throughout the world, things would have been better if it had. 


Present Day 

The sound of an agonized scream, enough to send chills down the spines of most who retained any semblance of empathy, filled the air of the small office. It devolved gradually into wordless sobs. A man in his late forties, with a brownish-gray beard and a full head of hair, lay on his stomach in the middle of an average, ordinary waiting room. Five chairs lined one wall, with a table full of magazines in the corner and another three chairs along the next wall. The counter where a receptionist would have waited was empty, though a heavy splattering of blood against the nearby wall left little hope for her fate. 

A blood whip was still wrapped around the fallen, sobbing man’s neck, holding him in place. Not that it was particularly necessary now, given the damage that had been done to his spine. 

“You know, Doc, I don’t think you’re gonna be able to fix that.” 

The speaker was a woman casually reclining in one of the chairs with her feet resting on the man’s back. She wore a full covering bodysuit that was black as a base, with red-orange cloud-like designs across the arms and legs. Most of the costume’s front torso was taken up by a red smiley face. But this was nothing like what would be found in most online conversations. The eyes were shaped more like diamonds, slanted slightly diagonally. The smile itself was crooked and looked somewhat like a V, rising too close to the eyes to seem natural. Taken all together, the effect appeared unnatural and off-putting. There was simply something wrong with it, even if most couldn’t particularly describe why. Some would say it looked like a demonic smile. 

The woman’s face, meanwhile, was covered by a black helmet, with a visor across the entire front. The visor was red, save for two black dots for eyes and a black, smiling mouth. She held the ‘handle’ of the blood whip lightly in one of her red-gloved hands. 

“Oh, that’s right,” she added idly, “you’re not actually a doctor anyway, are you? No medical license, no prescription-writing authority. Honestly, if you can’t write prescriptions, what’s even the point?” 

Sobbing pathetically on the floor, the man made a sound like a wounded, dying animal before pleading, “Wha-what do you want?”

Lightly tapping her heels against his back, the woman retorted, “A little appreciation for one thing. I mean, you’re a chiropractor, and now your spine is broken. Or, you know, shattered. That’s funny. You could at least laugh a little bit. I guarantee the people who find you are gonna laugh. Twenty bucks says at least one cop makes a joke about it right outside your earshot while they’re still on the scene. But uh, friendly advice, don’t take that bet. You’re gonna need all the money you can get after this. Cuz I don’t think you’ll be practicing… what do they call what you do? It’s not medicine. Chicanery? I’ll go with chicanery. It’s a fun word. Point is, you won’t be doing any of that any time soon. So you might want to start digging for quarters in your…” She trailed off, looking down at him as she considered his situation. “Ah, you might want to have someone you trust start digging for quarters in your couch.” 

With that, she took her feet off him and stood up. “But as for what I actually want from you, nothing. This is a waiting room, isn’t it? So, I’m waiting.” As she spoke, the woman walked around the man, peering out through the glass doorway to the building across the street. “How long do you suppose it takes firefighters to drown?” 

As the man made a weak sound that was mostly another sob, she nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right. The same amount of time as everyone else.” Looking over her shoulder at him, the woman added, “Oh, I didn’t tell you, did I? Get this, that’s a fire station over there, right? While they were sleeping in there, I filled the doors and windows of their little bunkroom up with cement, then hooked the hoses from their trucks up and started flooding the room through the vents. Can you imagine the headlines tomorrow? Or the memes online! Firefighters drown at their station, in the water from their own trucks! People are gonna have so much fun with that.” 

The man had no real response to her words, other than to duck his head and sob to himself a bit more. But she didn’t care. Her attention was on the figures who had just arrived outside the fire station. Three of them, one hovering in the air on a pair of forcefield discs under his feet. He wore army-patterned metallic armor with a matching helmet. The woman to his left on the ground was tall, standing several inches over six feet, and built quite muscularly. She wore a black tank top, green pants, and had a simple bandana over her face along with a pair of welder’s goggles. The man to the right, meanwhile, was Latino and wore baggy red pants and a white long-sleeved shirt with an orange chestplate for armor. His face was covered by a red ski mask. 

Seeing all of them there as they started to move to the building itself, the woman in the waiting room took a step forward. As she did so, her body shifted slightly. She shrank by a couple inches, while a flowing cloak with raised hood appeared where none had been before. 

With that shift, she took another step and was suddenly standing in front of the group. “Hey, heroes!” Her body shifted back to its original appearance. “I have been waiting so long for you. And if I’m annoyed, imagine how the guys in there feel. Honestly, C Plus on your work so far. And I don’t think it’s about to get any better.” 

The trio stopped short, the hovering man pointing that way to summon a forcefield around her as he blurted, “Casura!” 

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out!” she cheerfully blurted. “I mean, it’s my name now, since the… ahh, accident. Also known as my birthday! Don’t worry about buying me presents, you won’t be around for that.” 

Casura, as she called herself, had been born when Mingle and Bloodfall were joined together. When the latter had given herself that catastrophic stroke, something about the way Mingle’s powers blended her with Bloodfall inextricably merged the two together. Their personalities were twisted and melded into a single mind. The resulting woman was neither one, nor the other. She had all of the original Bloodfall’s power, permanently boosted to be much stronger than it had been before by Mingle’s gift. And while she couldn’t use Mingle’s power to possess people, by pulling the blood from others and absorbing it into herself, she could manifest their skills. Or even portions of their powers if they were Touched. Doing so had the side effect of occasionally also manifesting portions of their appearance and twisted versions of their personalities. 

Bloodfall by herself had been an incredibly strong Fell-Touched. Being merged with Mingle in order to have the permanent power boost would already have made her one of the strongest in the country. But given the ability to manifest the powers of anyone whose blood she had absorbed had quickly shot Casura to the very top of the list. She was, in so many ways, the most dangerous Fell-Touched on the planet. Baldur was the strongest Star-Touched because they could shift between dozens of different versions of themself, all with different powers. Casura was the strongest Fell-Touched because with every Touched she killed, she gained parts of their powers. 

The man with the forcefields knew that. Which was why he shouted for his companions to run. But before they could, Casura raised her hand. At the gesture, two columns of cement rose on either side of the man. He quickly manifested a forcefield around himself, but the columns slammed together with enough force to completely shatter the shield, breaking the man himself between them. 

The forcefield around Casura vanished. To their credit, both of the other Star-Touched immediately opened up on her. The man sent a torrent of fire at her from his hands, and the woman caught hold of a nearby sign post, ripping it from the ground before hurling it through the fire and directly toward the woman’s chest. 

It didn’t matter. A burst of blood exploded from Casura’s body. One of her very first actions had been to absorb the healing capabilities from a dozen different Touched, on both sides of the law. This, combined with several ‘pain dampening’ powers, allowed her to use her own blood, tearing it from her body. That was then magnified by another power she had stolen, which turned small amounts of liquid into much larger amounts. A small bit of blood pulled from her own body could turn into a hundred gallons or more with a thought. A hundred gallons which, in turn, could become any number of deadly weapons and tools. 

In this case, the blood formed a bubble of sorts around the woman, shielding her from the fire. Not that it would have mattered that much, given the amount of heat-resisting powers she had stolen, but still. It was the principle of the thing. 

A second later, the flames stopped, as three spikes extended from the blood shield to cut straight through the man’s throat, head, and chest. Meanwhile, as the woman hurled that sign post, it went straight through empty air. Her target had vanished, using her stolen teleportation once more. 

She appeared behind the strong woman, laying a hand against her back. “You’re very tough. But are you tough enough to withstand all the blood in your brain becoming acidic and melting its way through your skull?” 

In the end, she was not. As the body fell, Casura hopped over her with a gleeful sound before standing in front of the broken forcefield user. He was still alive, though barely, and lay in a crumpled heap. 

“Now then, Mr. Bulwark,” she casually began. “I hear you made a rule that people on your team weren’t allowed to make jokes when they’re in the field. Something about how you had to take things seriously to be effective?” Crouching next to him, she asked, “How effective do you feel right now? Don’t you think being able to make a joke in this sort of situation would help?” Pausing then, the woman looked his shattered body up and down before coughing. “Okay, maybe that’s a bad example. Still.” Her hand reached out to pat the side of his head. “I think we all learned something today. So I really hope whoever takes over for you will rethink that rule and allows humor back into the workplace.”

“Cuz I’d hate to have to come back here.” 


Broadway Talks To Pack About How The Party Where She And Amber Revealed Their Identities To Each Other Went

Dani and KD

Humming to herself while she stood with the refrigerator door open in her apartment (the one that her mysteriously never present ‘aunt’ owned), Dani remained lost in the memories of everything that had happened at the party earlier that night. And afterward. She found herself staring at a can of pineapple juice for a solid ten seconds without actually processing what it said. Her mind was adrift, completely incapable of actually focusing on anything other than… other than… 

Blushing at her own private thoughts, the dark-skinned girl took the can of juice and a half-eaten blueberry pie from the shelves. She was going to crash on the couch, find something mind-numbing that both she and the lizard brigade could enjoy for awhile, and just enjoy the–

“So how’d it go?” 

Having just turned as she shut the fridge door, Dani saw a figure standing right there on the other side of it just as the voice spoke up. She jerked backward, giving a sort of mixed yelp and curse as she flung both the pie and juice can reflexively at the intruder. 

KD’s head shifted to the side to avoid the can as it went sailing past her to land somewhere in the living room, while she caught the pie tin. “Oooh, blueberry. You got a fork?” 

“KD!” Dani blurted, catching her breath as she stared that way. “What the hell are you– how did you even get–oh right, teleporter. Don’t do that!” 

Raising an eyebrow, the short girl with bright blue hair slyly replied, “Uhh, yes, I am a teleporter. Among other things. And in most cases, I don’t even mind a bit of breaking and entering. Or, you know, just entering since there’s not much breaking involved in teleportation. But that’s generally frowned upon in friendships.” She paused deliberately before adding, “As is forgetting when you tell one of your friends ‘oh yeah, sure, whatever’ when they say they’re gonna wait at your place to see how your totally cool and awesome date went.”  

As soon as she said that, Dani played that conversation back in her head from earlier in the day. KD was right. They were out on the balcony talking about what was going to happen, Dani had insisted it wouldn’t be a big deal. KD had then declared that she would wait around to see how it went. And Dani had indeed replied, ‘oh yeah, sure, whatever’ without actually thinking too much about it. The entire conversation had completely slipped her mind thanks to… well, all of that. 

Exhaling, Dani waved a hand. “Sorry, I just–sorry.” Turning back to the drawer next to the fridge, she plucked out two forks and slipped past the other girl. “Come on, we can share the pie. And see if we can find where my juice went. You couldn’t catch that too?” 

“Pie was more important,” KD replied while trailing after. “I mean, it’s pie, dude.” 

Soon, the two of them were nestled on the couch, with all the lizards spread out around the room in their own most comfortable spots. Many of those were under heat lamps where they could stretch out and rest properly. They had a couple different litter boxes in a corner of the bathroom where they could do their business, as well as an assortment of water and food bowls in the kitchen and at strategic spots throughout the house so they could always find something nearby. 

With the pie set between them, both girls started to eat. KD, swallowing the bite in her mouth, gestured with the fork. “Okay, one, great pie. I am totally stealing the address of wherever you bought it. But two, how did it go?! Tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me!” 

Oh boy. What was she actually supposed to say here? What could she say? There was no way Dani could actually tell her the whole truth. That would completely betray Amber’s trust. Hell, it was going to be hard to tell her any of it without accidentally giving away too much. KD wasn’t stupid. It would be far too easy for Dani to say the wrong thing, leading to KD figuring out the truth. But did that mean she had to lie to her friend and teammate? 

Yes. Yes, she did. Amber was keeping her identity secret and not turning her in. Which meant she would be lying to all of her own teammates and friends. So yes, Dani needed to lie right now. Thankfully, she had the perfect distraction. “Haven’t been watching the news, I take it? Or looking at your phone?” 

Blinking at the question, KD slowly replied. “Uhh, no? I took a nap. Only woke up when I heard you making all that racket over there in the kitchen. My phone is uhh…” She looked around before shrugging. “Somewhere. Why, what–hey did you rob that hotel?! I told you to tell me if you were gonna rob the hotel so I could help!” 

Snorting, Dani shook her head. “I didn’t rob the hotel. I would’ve involved you if I was gonna do that. And I definitely wouldn’t do it at a place I attended as a civilian anyway. That’d just be dumb.” Before the other girl could press her any further, she launched into the story. Well, a sanitized version of the story, anyway. For obvious reasons, she left out the part where she and Amber had seen each other unmasked, and what came after that. And, just in case, she fudged a bit by adding in descriptions of listening to That-A-Way talk in her ear while actually in sight of Amber. That felt like worse lying than she absolutely had to do, but there was too good of a chance of KD putting two and two together simply from That-A-Way being there in the first place. 

Besides, if and when the truth about this came out, she was positive the other girl would understand. 

Taking another bite of pie, Dani finished with a simple, “So, you know, at least the date didn’t completely bomb.” 

Groaning, KD reached back to pick up a throw pillow before smacking Dani upside the head with it. “Ugh, dude, foul! That’s just wrong. But seriously? You went on a date with one girl you like and then had a whole bomb defusing adventure with the other one you like? Was that weird?” 

“You have no idea,” Dani confirmed dryly, managing to keep a straight face with a bit of effort. “And now I’m even more confused about… a lot of things.” There, that was the literal truth, even if she’d obfuscated what exactly that confusion was.  

“Aww, poor Dani.” KD smiled that way, before tilting her head with a curious expression. “Hang on, so which one did you kiss?” 

Choking a bit on the bite of pie she had just taken, Dani’s gaze jerked over to the other girl. “What?” 

With a snicker, KD primly replied, “Come on, you kissed one of them. I can tell that sort of thing, it’s a magic gift. So which one was it? Did you kiss that Amber chick, or is this a Batman-Catwoman sort of situation?” 

Okay, what the hell was she supposed to say to that? Denying the whole thing would just make KD even more curious, and she might start thinking about why Dani would deny it. That would be yet another good way of giving up Amber’s identity. God, this was even harder than she’d thought it would be. And this was with her best friend! 

She had to think quickly and make a decision. Which one made the most sense for her to have kissed, that wouldn’t cause as many issues later? God, pick one and say something!

“Amber,” she finally blurted, glancing down at the pie as her blush returned. “I uh, I felt bad about walking off on her so much. So I umm…” 

“Oh my God, did you tell her who you are?” KD quickly put in, eyes widening at the thought. 

Right, if Dani had choked before, she almost died in that moment. “What?!” The word burst out before she shook her head rapidly. “No! Of course not. I didn’t–I mean why would you even–I mean what? Dude, how stupid do you think I am? I didn’t tell her who I was.”

She did not, however, say that she hadn’t shown the girl who she was. A clearly important distinction. 

Squinting at her a bit, KD seemed to be trying to decide if she believed that. Finally, she shrugged. “It’s none of my business anyway. You can tell whoever you like. Just, you know, be careful, okay? I get that you like this girl, but you also like That-A-Way. So that whole thing is complicated enough already without adding in Amber knowing who you are. If you do decide to tell her, uhh, warn me ahead of time so we can plan out what to do if it goes wrong?” 

Swallowing hard, Dani offered the other girl a short nod. “Yeah, sure, I can do that.” 

A small laugh escaped KD then, as she took another bite of pie. “I mean, it’d be one thing for some rando from school to know your secret identity. But can you imagine if That-A-Way found out? 

“Now that would’ve been a complicated date night.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The Storm 21-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Okay, now everyone was looking at me. I rocked backward on my heels, feeling their eyes staring. Tabbris’s hand touched my back, her mouth silently moving in a single word, ‘What?’ She was so taken aback by the whole thing that she didn’t even use our telepathic communication thing.

Meanwhile, my head shook as I stared back at the woman. I’m sorry, what the fuck are you talking about? And what does any of that have to do with why you sent my mother here, and took Nevada and Mercury? Actually, where the hell are they? What are even you doing here? Why are you trying to distract us with some bullshit about me and the Fomorians? I could have blurted another half dozen questions or so, at least. But that last one was the most important. Why was she trying to distract us? 

Denuvus chuckled silently, glancing away with a thoughtful look. Then new words appeared on the board. ‘You’re right about the distraction thing. But then, it’s also not a lie. The best distractions are the truth. And believe it or not, the two things are connected. You want to know why I’m here, why I’ve done all this? It’s connected to what I’ve already said.’ 

You really expect us to believe that the people of this world are ancient Seosten? That was Asenath. Because that sounds an awful lot like a story you’re making up just to sound interesting and confusing enough to keep our attention. We already know you’re in a rush. You sent your mind-controlled goons just to slow us down, and now you’re willing to stand here and tell stories about ancient Seosten and how Flick’s supposed to stop the Fomorians? 

There was a moment of silent contemplation from Denuvus. She seemed to be considering how to respond to that. Then she simply raised her hand and snapped her fingers. As she did so, the force field disappeared and there was a pulse of energy that shot through the whole area. It felt like static electricity passing through me twice. It all happened before I, or any of the others, could even react. And when it was over, I heard the woman speak out loud. “Let’s be clear about something, you are not the first to think of ways to bypass or counter my abilities, and you will not be the last. It was a good–” 

In mid-sentence, Denuvus stepped aside as Asenath went after her, using a bit of Bobbi’s power for even greater speed than she was capable of on her own. What followed was a rapid series of blindingly quick motions. The vampire girl had a knife in each hand and swung seven, eight, nine times within a second or two. But each time, Denuvus avoided the blade by twisting that part of her body out of the way. She barely seemed to put much effort into it, like she was in the Matrix or something. She dodged everything before tapping a finger against the girl. Immediately, Senny was set up to the ceiling and pinned there. 

Shiori, Twister, and I moved that way immediately, but Denuvus held up her hand and green flames appeared between us. “I have no particular desire to harm any of you unless I am given no other option,” she informed us. “Look up, you’ll see your friend is fine.” 

I did so, and she was right. Asenath was simply pinned to the ceiling and held there. There didn’t seem to be anything else wrong with her. Well, aside from the fact that she was clearly pretty angry about the whole situation. Seth appeared and went floating up that way to say something to her, giving the dangerous woman below a look that told me he wasn’t any happier about this than Asenath was. 

Once we had taken that in, Denuvus lowered her hand and the flames vanished. “As I said, I have no desire to injure or kill you. I will defend myself, however. That is something I have grown quite accustomed to and skilled at, as you may have noticed.” She paused pointedly before adding, “As you also might have noticed, I am not using my voice to control you. Consider that an attempted olive branch of peace. I recognize that you have every right to be angry with my actions. But, if you will be still and allow me to speak, you may find that we do not have to continue or end this encounter as enemies.” Her eyes met mine. “Your mother is well. I required her assistance, not her pain or injury. When this is over, she will be returned to you.” 

“You puppeted Miles and his friends and sent them to attack us,” I shot back. “Wait, where is Miles? Add that to the list. We know he ran up here, so what’d you do with him and the others?” 

Twister, standing a few feet to the side, spoke up then. “Yeah, babe, it’s hard to say you’re trying to play nice when you mind control a herd of baby Heretics into ambushing us.” 

“Miles is assisting your mother with the last of what I needed her for,” the woman coolly informed me. “And yes, I did send them. I sent them to delay you and hurt you if need be. They were specifically told no lethal attacks. You all have healing capability and have likely been damaged just as much, if not more, in your training sessions. As I said, I will protect myself. That extends to protecting my goals, particularly those I have spent this much time and effort toward. But, you have made it this far. That by itself is to be commended.” 

As she said that, Denuvus gestured with her finger and Asenath was lowered back to the floor. “So, you have a choice. You may attempt to fight and force me to defend myself further. Or, you may allow me to continue giving you the explanation you actually want. I leave it entirely up to you.” 

Oh boy there was a lot I wanted to say to that. And a lot I wanted to do. But I forced those instincts down and simply took a long, deep breath. I had heard, and now seen a hint, of just how dangerous this woman could be. She had been said to be a contemporary of Fossor, and we didn’t have a whole army here to fight her like we had with him. It was just a few of us. Hell, she hadn’t even bothered to use her real power yet, as she’d pointed out. I knew this whole thing was specifically meant to delay us while she got exactly what she wanted, but what else were we supposed to do? She’d literally disabled our defenses against her with a snap of her fingers. And now she wasn’t bothering to even use that power. Not yet anyway. Unless we gave her a reason.

“Fine,” I finally managed through gritted teeth. “Tell us the truth then.” Though even as I said that, I wasn’t sure what she told us would actually be the truth. Still, we didn’t have much choice other than to listen and decide for ourselves.

From the small smile on the woman’s face, she knew what I was thinking. But she didn’t address it, simply taking a moment to glance around at all of us before starting to speak again. “As I was saying, those ancient Seosten people did come to this world and they began to plan on how to deal with Cronus, as well as his burgeoning Fomorian people once that particular issue presented itself. They saw themselves as the true Seosten people, as those who had stayed behind were all… mutated to gain their possession power. A bit of prejudice, yes, but also fear of what Cronus’s infection could have done to them. In any case, they believed that it was up to them to come up with a way to defeat these Fomorians. And over time, as they put themselves toward that goal, they learned the real issue. Specifically, the fact that it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to truly kill a Fomorian.” 

We all blinked at that, before Tabbris spoke up. “Um, they’re tough, but they’re not impossible. We saw some of them get killed.” 

“No, you didn’t,” Denuvus started, before amended, “Well, technically in a way, yes. But not permanently.” 

With that, she proceeded to tell us the real story. She explained that when a Fomorian ‘died,’ they simply respawned back on their homeworld or wherever, in a new body. Which was part of the reason they were so impossibly dangerous. Every time they were killed, they learned from those mistakes and weaknesses. They died, then they appeared in a new body and adjusted themselves to be stronger and to counter the thing they had been killed by. No wonder the Seosten were having so many problems beating them. They were fighting a losing war because their enemies would just keep learning and improving from every fight. Hell, if that was true, it meant they were still fighting the exact same people their original ancestors fought at the very beginning of this whole war. Which was just horrifying and depressing at the same time. 

Shiori spoke up slowly as we all absorbed that. “So, wait. You mean there’s the exact same amount of Fomorians now as there was back then? You just said they don’t procreate.” 

“That’s… sort of true, they don’t in the way that you’re thinking,” Denuvus confirmed. “But no, there are more than they started with.” Before we could all be too confused, she continued. “You see, captured Seosten are not killed. They are turned into more Fomorians.” 

Okay, that made me rock backwards in confusion. “Wait, what? What the fuck are you talking about?” 

So, the woman explained further. This whole reincarnation thing wasn’t just something that some species known as the Fomorians was capable of. It turned out that every single original Fomorian was actually given the mind and… soul or whatever of one of the Seosten whom Cronus had absorbed back in the very beginning. When this whole thing had started, the original Cronus absorbed all those Seosten people into himself. Then he found these other people, the pre-Fomorian species and sort of… injected those absorbed minds into each of them. That created the Fomorians we knew. And now, whenever they captured a regular Seosten, they would…. they would take them back to Cronus and turn them into another Fomorian. 

Beside me, Tabbris made a noise of alarm and fear, covering her mouth with both hands before mumbling, “Is that really what happens to them? They–they really… but why don’t they ever say anything? Why do they all work for Cronus after that, after they get… transformed?” 

The woman shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers when it comes to that. It’s taken a lot just for me to find out as much as I have, believe me. My guess would be that they are somehow bound to him, or their memories are erased in some way. Perhaps a bit of both and more. Whatever the answer, that is what happens. It is why the Seosten are doomed to lose this war, eventually, if something does not happen to change the rules.” 

Slowly, the others turned to look at me, following the woman’s gaze. I swallowed before straightening as I stared right back at her. “That’s what you were talking about before. These people, the ones who came to this world, they gave themselves Necromancy so they could stop the Fomorians from respawning or whatever. They wanted to grab onto their souls when they were killed.” 

Again, Denuvus offered me a faint smile of approval. “Quite right. It took quite a bit of effort and a long time on their parts, but they eventually seeded that power into themselves, into their genetic line. There, the power would grow, mutating and adjusting with each generation. It would pop up now and then, but they needed it to be stronger. A normal level of Necromancy wouldn’t do. They needed one powerful enough to actually do what they wanted. That required many generations of growth. Unlike the Seosten back on their homeworld, the ones who came to this world did not expand their lifespans out to thousands of years. They lived more human-like lives. And with each generation that passed, the potential of their seeded Necromancy grew stronger.” 

I was so taken aback by all this, trying to come to terms with what she was saying, that I couldn’t find any words. Asenath did, however. “So why did they just forget all that? You can’t tell me these people remember anything about where they came from. Fossor sure didn’t know, and if Rahanvael knew, she would have said something to Flick.” 

“That is true,” Denuvus agreed. “They did forget their own origins. Why? I’m afraid I don’t know. I’ve looked for that answer to no avail. I only know the truth because I have found records from their ancestors explaining what they did, their history and what their goals were. Many were… let’s say terrified by the idea of modifying themselves to install that seed of Necromancy. They saw it as corrupting their own species, the last of their species. In their minds, there would be no more original Seosten after that point. But they also saw it as the only solution to the Fomorian problem. It was something they knew would take many generations before coming to fruition. Perhaps they cut themselves off from the outside universe in order to give that seed time to grow. If the Fomorians had found them before then, they would have been culled quite easily. It’s possible they erased those records from their own society themselves in order to protect their mission. Maybe they intended to have those records restored, their descendants made to understand their true history at some point, when the time was right. Which is why they were available for me to find.” 

“And maybe Fossor fucked that whole thing up when he took over,” I put in. “Whatever, that’s all speculation. Now you think he was the one those original people were waiting for. That ‘seed of Necromancy’ finally blossomed in him. It’s why he was so much stronger than the others.” 

Denuvus beamed a bit. “You truly are a credit to your mother. Yes, that is basically correct. He began already quite a bit stronger than others of his kind. And then he proceeded to increase that power exponentially over the millennia that followed. The power itself was growing as expected, though the ancestors involved in its creation might have been a bit disappointed about who it ended up in. But then, it didn’t end in him.”

Swallowing hard, I finished for her. “It ended up in me, and then combined with Manakel’s power.”

“Making it even stronger,” Twister added. “So now you think she can actually stop those Fomorians from respawning or whatever?” 

Denuvus, however, shook her head. “Not yet. She might have the raw power, but she’s nowhere near the level of skill and control that would take. But as far as potential goes, sure.” To me, she added, ”You just need a lot more training. But from what I hear, you’ve got the right teachers. So, you know, good luck. I don’t particularly want to see the Fomorians take over Earth and kill everybody either.”

This… this was too much to take in. I had no idea how to actually react to it. Being told that I had the potential, and therefore the responsibility, to help stop the Fomorians once and for all? What the hell was I supposed to say to that? How could I even start to respond? 

I had no idea. So I didn’t try, not right now anyway. I needed time to process. Instead, I took a breath before asking, ”But what does that have to do with why you’re here and why you brought my mom and the others? You said it was related to that, but Fossor didn’t know any of this.”

“You’re right, he didn’t, not exactly.” With another small smile, the woman continued. “He didn’t know the origins of his people. But he did locate their control room, the ancient laboratory where they did their work. I say ancient, though to his people, it would’ve been incredibly futuristic. He found the hidden lab and vault where all their tools and treasures were stored. Treasures they had gathered from across the universe on their journeys. The man was incapable of understanding their history or records. But he did know power when he saw it. He sealed the place off to all but himself. Or his blood.”

“Ammon,” I immediately put in. “Wait, they used your blood to give him his powers. You did that on purpose. You let Ammon have your blood so it would connect you to him.”

“A credit to your mother indeed,” Denuvus replied. “Yes, Ammon receiving my blood was precisely what I wanted to happen. And, as expected, Fossor did eventually bring your mother here while she was pregnant with him. You see, in order to access some of the systems within the lab, it required proof of genetic offspring. They wished to ensure that the seed of power was being continued. Thus, to access everything he wanted within those hidden rooms, he had to prove he had a child.”

My head shook. “But what else did he access in there? And what is it you’re after?”

In response to that, the woman seemed to consider for a moment before shaking her head. “I couldn’t say precisely what he gained from those rooms. Though I imagine it was quite dangerous. And as for myself, I have but one goal in this life beyond maintaining my own freedom and comfort. And that is to kill the monster who imprisoned my sister and me all those years ago. The same monster who killed my children. I believe the hidden chambers here hold a key piece of the puzzle of how to do that. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s here. That is why I brought your mother here. When Fossor keyed Ammon into the secret lab, he created a loophole in which if your mother and I were both together, the system would allow us access. My blood mixed with hers in the same relative area was almost close enough for it to accept. It required one other thing, a Seosten genetic pattern.”

“Mercury,” Tabbris finished for her. “That’s why you made Flick’s Mama bring him too.”

Denuvus nodded in confirmation to that before gesturing. “But with all that said, I assume you would like to see your mother by now. They should be just about done transferring the contents of these rooms so I can go through them at my leisure to find what I was looking for.”

“Wait,” Asenath put in. “What about Nevada? Why did you want her here?”

Again, Denuvus smiled faintly. “It’s not her I want at all. It’s the person she was born from. The person whose death created her. 

“I want my sister back.”

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Exhibition 25-10 (Summus Proelium)

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A/N – We have an adorable Cassidy emoji commissioned by Celeste and created by the artist known as Alba found right here

Obviously, my parents wanted me to tell them the whole story about what happened while I was at the skatepark, more than once. The uber-paranoid part of me almost thought it was because they were trying to trip me up, but the more rational part knew they were just worried. They needed to hear that I was okay, that I hadn’t actually been confronted by any of the bad guys directly. So, I just repeated the same thing I’d told my mother on the phone. I saw the gang members show up, so I hid under a car in the parking lot until things calmed down. I wasn’t a great fan of how it made me sound like a coward who couldn’t even check on Izzy, but that was probably better than giving my family any reason to think I was up to anything else. Better a coward than a secret superhero who knew all about their criminal activities. 

I would’ve preferred the chance to get away from them sooner so I could talk with the rest of my team about everything I’d overheard, but there was absolutely no way that was going to happen for awhile. Izzy and I were sitting in one of the dens back home, drinking hot chocolate and eating fresh cookies while my parents took turns talking to us. It was almost amusing seeing the way they kept juggling being present, worried parents and running damage control as the Ministry. One of them kept stepping out of the room to use the phone. The excuse was that they were dealing with fallout from the attack considering our family helped sponsor the exhibition. 

While the two of them stood in the doorway, whispering to each other, I glanced toward Izzy. The story I’d been given, of course, was that she had simply run off with Amber and the rest of the hostages after Paintball appeared and distracted the bad guys. The two of them stayed together, but had no idea where I was. Eventually (supposedly) they were both extricated from the group of freed hostages by my father shortly before he found me. We’d dropped Amber off at her own house before coming back here. 

Seeing me look that way, Izzy gave me a tiny smile and nod before starting to talk about, of all things, how cool and amazing it had been when Paintball showed up. She really poured on the gushing over ‘him.’ Seriously, it sounded like me talking about Inessa. Actually, she might’ve been inspired by that, come to think of it. She was totally using my own rambling, enthusiastic praise as inspiration for this bit, which was totally unfair and she knew it. I just had to sit there and play along with how cool the guy obviously was. 

“Ahem.” That was my mother, coming back over before sitting on the chair next to the couch where Izzy and I were. “Yes, we are all very grateful for Paintball and all the Star-Touched in the city right now. This whole situation could have been so much worse without them. Not only at the park, but other places too.” 

“What–um–” I started before coughing. “I heard something about that girl who attacked the baseball stadium the other day going after a police station? Is she crazy?” 

“She is…” Mom hesitated, clearly trying to find the right words. 

“She’s someone who belongs in prison,” Dad finished for her, coming over to sit in the other chair. “But from what one of my cop buddies was saying, she was just trying to do as much damage as possible. It didn’t seem like she was there for anything in particular. Just…” He trailed off, but I was pretty sure that was mostly because Mom glanced at him. She didn’t want him speculating about that stuff in front of us. Or in front of me. The two of them exchanged a silent look, obviously communicating so much without saying a word.

“But the Conservators stopped her, right?” I put in, pretending I hadn’t noticed that. It was getting really hard to guess how oblivious my parents thought I was supposed to be. At least in this case I had the excuse of having gone through something crazy and distracting. “Did they, you know, catch her?” 

With a heavy sigh that obviously had a lot behind it, Dad shook his head. “Unfortunately, it sounds like she managed to take control of about half the police force in the station and kept using them as distractions, making them try to hurt themselves or others if any of the Stars stepped in. But uhh… it could’ve been worse, if the others hadn’t shown up.” 

“Others?” I echoed, shifting a bit in the seat with a glance toward Izzy. 

Mom chuckled softly. “Yes, odd as it may be to hear, apparently the day was saved by, of all people, that Grandstand woman. Well, she and those three members of La Casa. The lizard girl, the sound girl, and the ahh, computer boy?” 

Right, sure Mom, I totally believe you’re unaware of their actual names. Excellent work. A-plus acting.  

Pushing that feeling of sarcasm as far from my voice as I could manage, I hesitantly spoke up. “Wait, what were they doing there?” 

“That’s… probably something for the police to determine,” Mom carefully replied. “All we can say for certain is that they interfered with that girl’s attack. Hopefully before she could take whatever it was she was after.” 

“I’m still not sure if she was after anything in particular,” Dad put in. “Seems to me like she just wanted to cause as much pain and suffering as she could in an area that was supposed to be safe.” He said that in a low, dangerous voice that told me just how angry he was about that whole situation. And if I could actually hear it, that probably said something about how close my father was to putting his fist through a wall. 

That made sense, of course. If my family had this big plan about how to scare Inessa just enough to accept protection from people who worked for the Ministry so they could figure out how the DNA lock removal thing worked, then obviously they’d be pissed off about Jennica choosing that moment to come in and start screwing things up. And it was more than that. She went against the control they had established over the city, just like the psychopaths she was trying to impress. And, I was sure, my dad was upset about the people she had hurt and killed in that police station.

It was a mess, a total and complete mess. To the point that I was kind of surprised they were still making even the token effort to be here with us. I mean, sure, they’d thought I was in danger. But it turned out I wasn’t, at least as far as they knew. By this point, shouldn’t they have given me the last couple hugs and then headed off to take care of actual Ministry stuff? This had to be a huge deal for them, too big to just handle over a few furtive phone calls in the hallway.

While I was still thinking about that, Izzy actually spoke up, sounding tentative and uncertain. “Um, Cassidy?” 

Her voice made me blink a couple times. I’d been so focused on a mix between trying to keep my reactions to my parents reasonable and figuring out what was going on with them that I hadn’t really thought too much about the fact that she was sitting there too. “What?” I managed blankly after turning that way. 

Izzy shifted uncomfortably, biting her lip before meeting my gaze. “I decided to say, umm… y-yes. I mean, to your parents. To your family. I mean not that–” Her face was flushed. “About the adoption thing, I mean.” She sat up a bit straighter and locked eyes with me. We both knew what she was saying with this, what it really meant. “I decided to say yes, I’d like to be adopted. I um, I told your dad that when he found me.” 

“Oh.” Taking that in, I smiled reflexively. Yes, there were so many ways this was dangerous, especially for Izzy. She would’ve been so much safer in the long run if she just went with some other family. Preferably far away from here. 

Or would she? Obviously the Ministry was dangerous and all, but Mom and Dad clearly cared about her, and–fuck. It was complicated. 

Still, I had to say something before my parents started to wonder what was going on with me, so I forced all those thoughts out of my head and simply leaned over to embrace the other girl. “That’s amazing, Izzy!” I didn’t even have to fake that enthusiasm. I really enjoyed having her around. Not to mention how much better it was to have someone in the house I could absolutely trust and who knew all my secrets. Which did make me feel a little selfish considering how much trouble those secrets could get her in, but still. 

Simon, who had just come in through the doorway while I was reacting to that, spoke up. “Yeah, it’ll be cool to have an annoying little sister I can still stuff into a suitcase.” Immediately after saying that, he snapped his fingers. “Oh wait, I can totally still do that with the first one.” 

“Yeah, try it and see what happens, jerk,” I sent right back at him while baring my teeth like a raccoon. Wait, raccoon? Why was that the first image that stuck in my hea–oh yeah, Price, duh. “Izzy, if he tries anything, his hair’s a weak point. That includes pulling it or putting something sticky in it.”

Mom cleared her throat. “As much as I might enjoy listening to our children discussing how to torment one another more effectively, I believe there are more productive uses of our time.” 

“Uh, yeah.” Izzy shifted again, her gaze going back to me. “There’s something else, Cassie. Something I need to tell you about me and… and what I was really doing during the attack today.” 

Oh–oh, we were doing this right now? Wait, we were really doing this now? Izzy was going to tell me the truth about her identity in front of my–our parents (and boy did that ever send a tickle down my spine). At first I wondered why she hadn’t warned me ahead of time, but then realized this way was probably better. The sense of surprise would be more genuine and nothing would sound rehearsed. I was definitely mentally on the backfoot right now. “I–uh, what?” 

So, she told me. Or rather, showed me. Rising from the couch, Izzy summoned water from the glass on the nearby table and made it spin in circles in front of me. Then she soaked down the expensive vase sitting in the corner and made that float through the room (while Mom winced just a little). She told me she was Raindrop, and that she had been living with us because her birth mother tried to sell her to Oscuro before Silversmith saved her. 

I sat there through the whole story, pretending I didn’t know any of it. And, dare I say, I put on the performance of a lifetime. It helped that I was surprised that this was happening right now, of course. But the other thing that helped was the fact that I was still extremely pissed off whenever I thought about what her birth mother had done. There had been no easing of emotions when it came to that. If I ever found out where that bitch was…

In any case, that all helped make my reactions very real even though I knew all this stuff already. By the end, as Izzy stood there awkwardly, I pushed myself off the couch, grabbed her hands, and jumped up and down. “A superhero! My sister’s a superhero! Dude, that’s fu–” My eyes darted briefly to my mother. “–freaking awesome! You’re Raindrop, you have superpowers, you can fly, you can–oh my God, you’ve got action figures! I’ve gotta get your action figures and your cups and your posters and–” In mid-sentence, I grabbed my phone and quickly checked something. “Sheets and blankets! I can sleep on Raindrop sheets and blankets!”  

Yeah, maybe this was payback for the way she had been gushing over Paintball earlier. And I wasn’t done yet. 

“Wait, hold on, you can make other things fly too!” I made a point of overly dramatically widening my eyes with that ‘realization’ as I started to focus on the younger girl once more. 

“I think we can talk about anything else regarding that later,” Mom immediately put in with a pointed tone as she squinted at me knowingly. “Izzy, I trust you are careful enough not to listen to any wild fancies Cassidy might have about flying skateboards or the like.” 

“Aww Mom,” I pretended to complain, “We’ll be careful, you know that.” 

“I’m not sure you could define the word ‘careful,’” Dad informed me with a chuckle. “Or that you wouldn’t hiss and recoil from it like a vampire if you saw it written down.” He stepped over, putting one hand on Izzy’s shoulder and one on mine. “But does this mean you’re okay with this? We didn’t want to keep a secret this important from you like that for so long, but there were reasons.” He said that carefully, and I knew what it meant. This whole thing was a rehearsal for when they eventually told me the truth about everything. He was obviously playing that out in his head and watching my reaction now. 

Taking a breath, I grinned at Izzy. “Okay? Dude, did you hear that? My sister is a freaking superhero! She has superpowers. She helps people in trouble. She puts bad guys in jail. She helped save all those people today! And she helped put out those fires the other day, and–” I cut myself off and just embraced Izzy again, because I didn’t want Dad to see my face in that second. “This isn’t just okay, it’s awesome!” 

“Ah, awesome as it is,” Mom spoke up, “I trust you know how important it is to keep it secret?” 

Squeezing Izzy one more time, I released her and turned to face my mother–our mother. I knew this was a bit I couldn’t joke my way through or blow off. It was serious and important enough right on the face of it, and my parents would be paying extra special attention for other reasons. They weren’t going to accept a dismissive response. 

So, I faced her and gave a short nod. “I’m not gonna go blabbing about it to impress people at school or online, Mom. I’m not a complete idiot. If those bad guys like the ones who were at the park today ever found out who she was, they might try to hurt her. Or one of us. It’s cool knowing she’s a superhero, that’s all. I don’t need to brag about it to anybody else.” Pointedly, I added, “I mean, if Simon can keep it a secret, I can.” 

“Oh come on,” he shot back at me, “your mouth’s about the only thing big about you, Booster.” 

With a sigh, Mom interjected before I could retort. “Please be nice. I mean that at all times, naturally, but especially today. This is a time to celebrate, not bicker.” She poked me with one finger, then used the same one to poke Simon. “You are both about to have a new younger sibling. You shouldn’t be looking to her to set the best example.” 

“Yeah, but she’s a superhero,” Simon pointed out with a sly shrug. “How’re we supposed to match up to that?” 

“Just do your best,” Dad replied before adding, “It shouldn’t take being a superhero to get along with your sibling.” Before either of us could respond, he quickly pushed on. “Now, there’s a lot of stuff your mother and I still need to take care of tonight, after everything that happened. But you three go on into the kitchen and you’ll find a special sundae bar Claudio whipped up before he retired for the evening. We’ll get the adoption papers filed with the court as soon as they open.

“And something tells me, it won’t take long to be approved.” 


“Sorry about that,” Izzy murmured to me while the two of us were sitting in my room with our sundaes a bit later. We had gone over the intercom system again just to make sure we weren’t being eavesdropped on, but I was pretty sure my parents had other things to focus on right now. 

“You mean the being ambushed thing?” I teased while nudging her. “Nah, I figure that was probably the best way to make me sound genuinely surprised about it.” When she still looked a little guilty and uncertain, I insisted. “No, seriously, it’s okay. You meant to take me by surprise and you did. But you also trusted me to run with it and not screw up. That… that means a lot. And so–” I hesitated, setting my bowl down for the moment so I could focus on her. “So does the fact that you want to be my sister.” 

Izzy blushed a little, also putting her bowl down. She shifted awkwardly, hands squeezing one another as she played with her fingers. “Whatever happens, I’m all in with you, Cassie. I… I don’t know what we’re gonna do, but we can figure it out together.” 

Biting my lip, I took both her hands while she was still worryingly squeezing and twisting her own fingers. “You’re right, we will figure it out together. One step at a time. And–” As I was about to continue with that, my phone buzzed from its place on the bed next to me. Glancing that way, I read the message that popped up. “Oh.” 

“Oh what?” Izzy asked, leaning over a bit. 

“It’s Paige,” I replied. “They finished the photoshop for those pictures, so she and Sierra really want to get the next bit going. You know, cuz they’re worried about Irelyn. 

“Which means the news stations are gonna get a late delivery tonight.” 

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The Storm 21-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Hey guys the non-canon for this story is out for everyone to read right here!

I wasn’t sure how we were going to handle Miles’ teammates after the boy himself ran off, or Trice for that matter. We couldn’t just leave them behind, considering tying them up would’ve been a joke. Fortunately, Judas turned out to have the solution. He produced what looked like a simple playing card-sized piece of cardboard. But it magically unfolded into the size of a box about three feet wide and two feet tall. When the lid was opened, it revealed a set of stairs leading down to a pocket dimension. Or, rather, a pocket greenhouse. Apparently Judas really liked plants. He had the whole space, about the size of a high school gym, filled with flowers, trees, bushes, and more. Various sunlamps hung from the ceiling to provide light, heat, and energy. These guys would be fine in there for a while. 

So, we carried them down the stairs and left them there. They all argued and struggled, especially Trice. But between all of us, we managed to get them in there and closed it up. We also made sure to take any weapons and tools they had. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but we didn’t have time for perfection. Miles was still out there, and had undoubtedly told Denuvus what happened. I wasn’t sure what her next plan would be, but she was going to have one. We had to keep moving. 

Once the box was folded down and back in Judas’s pocket, we ran over to examine the unconscious guys briefly. Yeah, we still had no idea what was going on there. It was just a bunch of guys who looked as though some other people had beat the living shit out of them. But how could a whole other army have jumped this army right in this secret room and we didn’t hear or notice any– never mind, magic, superpowers, whatever. The real question was who had done this, and where were they now? Were they on our side? Did we have some sort of local guardian angels or something? That seemed unlikely for a whole list of reasons. But I couldn’t think of anything else. Maybe some other group was after Denuvus and had come here separately? 

There were no answers to be found there. And when I stood over the spot where the hole had opened up to take Persephone and Robin, I couldn’t find anything either. Crouching down, I ran my hand through the dirt and then punched it before shaking my head. “There’s gotta be a tunnel or something under here, right? Wait, Rahanvael?” The rest of my ghosts were exhausted from that whole situation and needed time to recover, but I’d made sure to give her enough power to stay out with the rest of us. 

The ghost girl was distracted, staring off into the distance. But she quickly recovered, giving a nod before floating down through the dirt. She was gone for about fifteen seconds, while I exchanged looks with the others and we kept a wary eye out for anything new from Denuvus. Finally, Rahanvael returned, floating back up before explaining, “There is a chute which appears to transport anyone who falls into it elsewhere. Would you like me to keep following it?” 

“No.” That was Judas, holding up a hand. “We should split up. I know, I know. But they forced our hands. We can’t leave Robin behind, and we might need them to punch this lady in the face if she starts using her power on the rest of us.” 

I grimaced. “But at the same time, whatever she’s doing with Mom… we have to interrupt it.” Letting out a breath, I looked to the others. “Okay, so who’s doing what?” 

It was Stasia who answered. “Judas and I will find where the chute goes, and bring back Robin and Persephone. The rest of you should push on.” 

Part of me wanted to argue with that. Splitting up in general seemed like a bad idea, and besides, I wanted to help Persephone. She was my friend. But I also needed to find my mother. We didn’t have time to do everything, not when we still had no idea what Denuvus was even doing here. There was no choice but to split up, and sending these two off to find the others made the most sense. After all, this was my mother we were talking about. 

So, with a heavy sigh, I nodded before turning to the others. “Okay so do we try the mute spell again? It didn’t work so well this time.” My gaze flicked over to a set of runes we had passed on the way through the cave. Judas had pointed them out and let us know that those were what had disabled our protection spell when we passed it. “Figures she’d be one step ahead on that too.” 

“The ‘transport if she starts to introduce herself’ spells are still active,” Shiori noted. “She didn’t think of everything. And we can watch for those runes now. I mean, it’s not perfect, but…” 

“Better than nothing,” Asenath finished. “But we should hurry. No telling what she’s going to do when that boy lets her know what happened.” 

“Yeah,” Judas agreed, “and we need the telepathy spell to stay in contact anyway.” 

“Actually, Rahanvael, could you go with them?” I asked. “That way we can stay in contact even without the telepathy bit. And if they run into… anything weird, you can probably help better than the rest of us.” 

She agreed, but we still used the spell again. As Denuvus had proven, having contingencies was a good idea. Then Judas used a different one to turn himself and Stasia intangible for about thirty seconds. Long enough to go down through the dirt, find the chute below, and follow it. Rahanvael quietly promised to do everything she could to keep them safe, then went after them. 

Which left me standing there with Shiori, Asenath, and Twister, while Tabbris stayed inside me. I also had the card thing that would unfold into the entrance to the greenhouse. Judas figured it was better if I held onto it, since we were going to be the first to find Miles. With any luck, we could get him in there with his friends and then deal with that whole thing later. 

I still couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t thought more about the boy and his whole situation. It hadn’t even really occurred to me to wonder about him and his whole family situation, despite Fossor being dead. Was that just… was it Denuvus? Had Denuvus done something to me and I didn’t even remember? I had no idea, but the very concept on its own was a bit terrifying. She could have talked to me, could have made me forget any number of things. When? What had she done? What was she–

Pushing all those thoughts out of my mind, I started moving.The other three kept up, as we headed through the same tunnel Miles had taken. There wasn’t time to do anything about the unconscious troops littering that exposed area to the side, so we just ignored them. Which was sort of what we were doing about the question of who had beat them up in the first place. We still didn’t have any answers to that, and none were presenting themselves. 

Obviously, we were keeping our eyes open for any more of those runes, or anything else that could have been a trap. I also kept glancing toward Shiori to see if she sensed anyone watching us, but there was nothing. Honestly, that worried me more than if there had been someone watching, in a way. Miles had to have gotten back there by now, right? He must have warned her. So where was her reaction? The longer this went without saying anything, the more concerned I was about what her eventual response would be.

The four of us (five with Tabbris chilling out within me) ran up a winding, gradually sloping tunnel that seemed to lead somewhere above ground at first, but then went even higher. We had to be inside the volcano by this point. I could still see Miles’ footprints in the dirt from his quick retreat. From that, it didn’t look as though he’d slowed down at all at any point. The prints were far apart, so he’d obviously been running the whole time. And they were deep enough that it had been a hard run. His feet had come down firmly on each spot. He wasn’t faltering or turning back. He was just full-on sprinting up this tunnel. I hoped that would mean he hadn’t taken the time to put down any traps or other surprises, but we still kept our eyes open.

It turned out to be a good thing we did too, since there really was a trap. Asenath spotted it first, catching Shiori and me by the arms while sticking a leg out to block Twister. Then she nodded toward a very small, almost completely imperceptible rune symbol near the bottom of the wall ahead. It looked more like a cave drawing than anything dangerous. Still, we weren’t about to take anything for granted. That tiny symbol could do any number of things. 

Squinting that way, I asked. Tabs, any idea what that thing does? 

There was a momentary pause while my little sister considered it before she tentatively replied, I’m pretty sure when you pass it, the thing triggers a cage. A pocket dimension cage. 

Well that’s not very nice, Shiori put in. We all exchanged looks, before I produced what looked like a small plastic water pistol that fit in my pocket. There were several wires around the barrel, leading into a couple batteries attached to the side. It was a little gift from Avalon. Taking aim with the thing, I pulled the trigger. A blast of gel-like liquid shot out, covering the rune in slime just before several sparks of electricity jolted across it. Then the slime turned to dust and faded away, leaving the wall bare. It got rid of the spell, just as Valley had promised. Apparently the thing didn’t work with really powerful magic, but for simple traps like this, it would do just fine. 

Once we were sure it was safely disabled, we moved on. There were several more similar traps on the way, but we spotted them all and disabled them while continuing to make our way up that tunnel as quickly as possible. None of these things were anything big. They were meant to slow us down slightly. Which really worried me even more. If all Denuvus cared about was delaying us a bit, that had to mean she was close to getting what she wanted. And I was pretty sure we were not going to be happy about her getting it. 

On the way, I checked in with the others. They had gone all the way down through that chute and came out in some other cavern much deeper underground. Persephone and Robin weren’t there, but they had found an assortment of footprints leading off through another tunnel and were following them. From the prints, it looked like there were more than just those two, so others had been down there to meet them. Whether Robin and Persephone had been taken prisoner (somehow) or were being helped, we had no idea. Judas, Stasia, and Rahanvael would update us when they found anything new. 

Finally, we reached the top of the tunnel, and found a metal wall blocking our way. We tried knocking it down, to no avail. The thing was really thick. Asenath even attempted to cut through it with Bobbi’s power, but it didn’t work. I summoned a couple ghosts to go through, and they were blocked as well. Nor could I touch the thing in order to use that power I had to mark objects and see through them in order to check the other side. There was some sort of shield around it, as well as the nearby walls (we tried to send the ghosts around the metal wall). All of which meant we had no way to go through the damn thing. 

Or rather, almost no way. 

Tabbris, you’re up, I announced. Then I stepped out of the way with the others, while Tabs hopped out of me. She focused intently, producing her wings once more. They glowed bright enough that the rest of us had to glance away for a moment, while the younger girl pushed the wings forward. She cut a large hole right through the wall and let the metal piece crash to the floor. Despite all the trouble we’d had, it only took her a couple seconds. Which was good, since that was basically all the time she could keep them out. A moment later, they fizzled and faded away. It would be a few minutes before she could use them again. But now we were through that, and hopefully wouldn’t run into anything else blocking us from reaching the manipulative bitch ahead. 

Tabbris stayed out of me for the moment, and the five of us kept going. Moving through the hole she had made, we found ourselves in what looked an awful lot like a classroom back on Earth. We’d come through into the back of the room, behind several desks and chairs that were lined up in front of a white board. The larger desk there, clearly meant for the teacher, had an apple sitting on it, next to a woman who was perched on the edge. She was clearly waiting for us. 

Denuvus. It had to be Denuvus. I didn’t trust that this was her normal appearance, but at the moment she had short dark hair and appeared to be only an inch or two taller than me. Her skin had an olive complexion. Deep brown eyes seemed to study me intently while a tiny smile played at her mouth.

The second I saw her, everything else flew out of my head. All I knew in that moment was this was the woman who took my mother away again, who had forced her to do things against her will. My staff appeared in my hand as I lunged that way, only to immediately rebound off of an invisible force field just a few feet in from the hole we had made. 

Shiori and Tabbris each grabbed one of my arms to stop me from falling backward after I hit that shield. Asenath and Twister, meanwhile, punched it themselves, to no avail. With a thought, I summoned Seth and sent him that way, but just like the field that had been around the wall, ghosts couldn’t go through this one either.

Denuvus watched all that with what looked like curiosity, then opened her mouth to speak. But our spell was still up, muting her voice. Clearly realizing that immediately, the woman gave us a put-upon look before gesturing. Behind her, words appeared on that whiteboard reading, ‘Really? This is just going to make communication more difficult.’

Shaking my head, I thought intently her way. I can communicate without words just fine. Why don’t you take down this shield and I’ll show you with my staff.

Visibly chuckling at the threat, the woman offered a shrug as more words appeared. ‘I suppose all these precautions mean I don’t need to introduce myself. At least tell me where your friend is, the one who helped you stop my backup troops. That one caught me by surprise.’

Oookay, so she didn’t know what the deal with that was either. Rather than address that however, I exchanged a glance with the others before replying, I’d say probably where you least expect them to be. Now why don’t you tell us where my mom, Nevada, and Mercury are, and what you’re doing here, or Tabbris is gonna wing blast this shield down whether you’re in the way or not.

Again, the previous words on the board finished, before more appeared. ‘Oh, I don’t think she’ll be doing that, at least not for the next few minutes. Why do you think I put the first shield and wall there to begin with? Couldn’t have you cheating your way to me that easily.’

Well of course that had been her plan. Swallowing back my frustration, I took a second to find the right words. But Senny spoke up first. What are you doing here? Why did you have Joselyn bring the other two and come here in the first place? What are you looking for?

Denuvus seemed to be considering those questions, leaning back on the desk before picking up the apple. She tossed it up and down a couple times thoughtfully, finally taking a bite as more words appeared. ‘Well, first things first, I should tell you that your mother is fine and I was always planning on returning her to you when I was done. And I am sorry for what Fossor did for all those years. A parent and their children should never be ripped apart like that. Not for that long.’

After we had read that much, the words changed. ‘Now you want to know why I had your mother bring those two here with her. And, I assume, why Rasputin has come as well.’ 

Rather than reply telepathically, I simply met the woman’s gaze and gave a short nod. I hadn’t even been certain that Denuvus knew anything about Rasputin. But I wasn’t going to tell her that. Especially since if we could keep her ‘talking’ long enough, Tabbris’s wings would recharge. 

Thankfully, the woman seemed to be in an explaining things mood. More words appeared on the board. ‘If you want to know the truth about why we’re all here, you have to know the truth about this world’s history. You have to know why it produced a necromancer as powerful as Fossor, and why that talent is so prevalent in these people in general. It’s the whole reason Ehn had the Gehenna prison built here first to begin with.’

That made me do a double-take. Ehn is a prisoner, he doesn’t get to decide where the prisons are built. 

Denuvus chuckled as the board continued to get new words. ‘And if you believe that, I have a great bridge to sell you.’ 

She rolled her eyes pointedly then, shifting to stand up while pointing at the next words. ‘Have you ever wondered why Fossor and the people of this world look completely human? They don’t, of course. They look Seosten. Because they are. Or they were. They share a common ancestor, long in the past. When Cronus was first… infecting the Seosten with what would eventually become their possession ability, a large group fled their home world on a very experimental spaceship. They remained what they would call pure and eventually came to this planet. Here, they originally planned to regroup and develop new weapons to regain their home world from Cronus. But when they learned about the changes that happened to their own people, they chose to stay away. 

‘Despite that, the original settlers still planned ways of defeating Cronus. Over the centuries, however, most gave up on that plan and the history of where they had come from was forgotten. But some continued their original work. And they succeeded, in theory. They created a way to defeat not only Cronus, but the Fomorians as a whole, a way to save the entire universe from the Fomorian scourge forever. And now that way is standing right in this room. Right there.’

And with that, Denuvus released her hand and pointed at me. 

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Exhibition 25-09 (Summus Proelium)

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Before we got into any of that, I told Caishen and the others that I had to check on my team. Not to mention make sure Inessa was okay. They informed me that the Spartans had already arrived and helped either chase off or capture all the other guys. Poise, Style, Hobbes, and Calvin were being interviewed at the moment, as were the Minority people. Which also made me want to go rescue them from that, of course. But it wasn’t nearly as good of an excuse. So, I had to deal with this first. Or rather, we did, since a quick call to Alloy had her bring Inessa back so she could help. Peyton also confirmed that the others were okay. 

Between both of us (once she was back), Inessa and I explained everything as best as we could. The other girl did most of the ‘why’ explanation, since she was the one who could get into the whole story about the vault and her brother. Mostly I just told Caishen and the others about what I had done, though I left out the part about working with Eits. Considering how much he helped with making sure I could free the hostages, it probably would’ve been fine, but I didn’t want the Ten Towers people to know that he had my phone number and had been connected to me through that for so long. It just felt like a bad idea to give them that sort of information. Especially when I still wasn’t sure who on their team might be connected to the Ministry. I just had to give them as little information as possible, without looking like I was holding back information. Which was a delicate balancing act.

Once we were done explaining that whole thing, Caishen let out a long breath. “Okay, I think it’s obvious that we need to cancel the rest of this exhibition.” She spoke up over Inessa’s objections. “Everyone is scattered and most of them went home or to the police already anyway. And if the gangs here know about your situation, these guys might not be the only ones who come after you.” She paused to consider for a moment before adding, “How long until you finish that experiment?”

“Not long,” came the answer. “I am certain that it will be done within the week.” A small smile played across her face. “I have been waiting for this weight to be lifted for some time. This attack was not the first of its kind. It will be nice to not have to think about that.” She paused, a visible grimace crossing her face. “Though I can never forget what sort of person my brother turned out to be.” 

Ohhh boy. Yeah, I wanted to say something to that, but what? How was I supposed to respond? I couldn’t even tell her about my own brother and he at least hadn’t been responsible for making what were apparently a bunch of dangerous super weapons that got him sent to Breakwater. And now, not only did she have to deal with having a brother like that, but also had random nasty pieces of shit trying to use her to open that vault so they could kill more people. How could I possibly respond to that in any meaningful way? 

While I was still trying to figure that out, Caishen continued. “Do you really think you can turn off your ability to open that vault?”

“Yeah,” Bunglebotch put in, “isn’t that sort of thing impossible? I mean, it’s your DNA. How exactly do you alter your DNA without changing who you are? Messing with that sort of thing just uhh, seems dangerous? And by seems dangerous, I mean incredibly, stupidly dangerous.” Quickly, she added, “Not that you’re stupid. I mean–yeah, I mean, just… you know.” 

“Eloquently put, Bungle,” Stick dryly murmured before focusing on the girl next to me. “Landmines of speaking indelicately aside, my friend there is right about it seeming dangerous. Are you certain you know what this scientist of yours is doing?“

“Yeah,” Alloy piped up from where she had been standing quietly in the background, “they’re not about to turn you into a frog-person or something, are they?” When everyone looked at her, she shrank back a bit reflexively while one of her marbles turned into a shield and attached itself to her arm protectively.

Inessa nodded. “It is… it is fine, it’s not really changing my DNA. It is more…” She paused as though considering how to explain properly. “It’s more like adding a little something to it which disguises my DNA whenever it’s read by something like the vault scanner. When it detects me being scanned that way, it throws some added… stuff in there, which makes it look as though I am not the right one after all. That’s… that’s the layman’s version that was explained to me anyway. I am afraid a more technical explanation would have to be given by my friend, and I am not ready to give up their identity. Though I could give you a phone number to call.” 

“Yeah, please do,” Caishen agreed. “I’m not sure I could understand a ‘more technical’ explanation, but it’d still be nice to have.” She looked toward me then. “I think everyone owes you a real debt, Paintball. Whatever weapons might be in that secret vault, I’m pretty sure we don’t want those guys to have them.” 

Ephemera, who was in a male form at the moment (they shifted into new bodies constantly, with the only constant being their very simple costume of red pants, red shoes, white turtleneck, and white ski mask), spoke up. “Yeah, dude, that was awesome. We only saw a little bit on the security cameras when we were gearing up to get over here, but seriously.” They gave me a thumbs up. “You really kicked ass out there. With and without your team.”

“Ahem,” Linesight put in, “I believe what my teammate means is simply that we’re glad you’re safe, and that you managed to help the civilians around here.”   

Blushing a little under the mask and helmet, I offered a helpless shrug. “No big deal. I mean, I just happened to be around, and what was I supposed to do, let those guys hurt people? I didn’t even know what was going on, not really. I was just…” Trailing off, I kicked the ground lightly. “I was just in the right place at the right time. And anyway, we would’ve been caught if it wasn’t for Skip.” Quickly looking toward the girl, I added, “Thanks for jumping in like that. I don’t think I could’ve gotten out of that without you. Devil’s Due was about to make me call Alloy back when you jumped in.” Under my breath, I muttered, “Next time I see that guy I’m gonna punch him so hard he’ll never wanna tell me to do anything again.” 

Skip, in turn, simply spoke in that same flat voice that made it unclear what she was feeling. “I’m glad I was able to help. But as you said, it was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I was scanning the park for the source of the disturbance and was about to move on to where your team was fighting when someone told me where you were.” 

That made Caishen look at her. “Someone told you? One of the civilians?” 

Her head shook. “I have no idea. The voice came from one of the loudspeakers meant for announcing events through the park. I could make out no details about it, but they told me where you were and that Devil’s Due was going to make you do something terrible.” 

At first I was confused. Then I realized, Eits. Our call had disconnected when he left, but apparently he was back. Or maybe he’d simply kept control of the cameras or something. Either way, he’d sent help as soon as I was in trouble. It was a thought that made me blush even more, and I was yet again glad that these guys couldn’t see that reaction. 

“A mysterious helper,” Caishen mused before focusing on me. “Any idea who that could be?” 

Oh boy, how was I supposed to answer that? A few dozen increasingly stupid possibilities ran through my head in the next second, before I simply replied, “I might, but I’m not sure. And it’s kind of a personal thing anyway.” 

To my relief, the woman accepted that, though she did look like she wanted to dig deeper. She resisted the urge, however, and simply moved on. So, I did a little more talking with them about what happened. There wasn’t much else to say, but I did make sure Inessa was okay yet again before heading out. Caishen reminded me to make an official report when I did my periodic check-in with the cops, and noted that I should probably take my entire team with me, since they hadn’t done that part yet. 

Finally, Inessa gave me a hug (leaving me standing there staring blankly and trying not to giggle like an idiot), before Alloy and I headed off together. The Ten Towers people were going to take over the job of keeping Inessa safe until she could finish that whole vault removal thing. Which was good, since I was pretty sure they’d do a much better job than I could have at that moment. After everything that had happened, I was so tired I could barely stand upright, let alone get involved in another fight. All I wanted to do was fall down and sleep for a bit, though that wouldn’t happen for awhile. 

At the last second, as Alloy started to lift us off together on one of her marble boards, I turned back and called toward Caishen, “Oh! There’s a guy in the port-a-potties over there! You uhh… you might wanna get him out of there before the dude dies from the smell. 

“I really don’t want to get in trouble with violating the Geneva Conventions or something.” 


Unfortunately, I barely had time to check in with the others for a few minutes near one of the side exits from the park. I had just made sure everyone was okay, and thanked them for showing up, when I got a text on my phone from Eits. Glancing at it, I saw the message, ‘Arleigh and brothers looking for you. Seem really worried. You might want to have an excuse ready for where you were.’ 

Yeah, that made me do a double-take. They were looking for me? Why? What– okay, no time to think about that. If they looked too hard and started wondering how I’d disappeared so effectively… fuck. That could be bad. 

“Sorry, gotta go play at being me for awhile,” I interrupted while Paige was starting to talk about Banneret. “The Cassidy me, I mean. I uhh, thanks again, guys. Seriously. I would’ve been pretty screwed without you. And so would Inessa.” 

“Yeah, and we definitely wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to your idol,” Sierra replied a bit slyly, looking me up and down. “Did you get her autograph? Or give her yours?” 

“I–that’s not–” I was blushing even more, waving that off with both hands. “Never mind, I’ve gotta go. I’ll check in with you guys as soon as I don’t have a bunch of people wondering where the hell I am.” With that, I extended my arm to use a bit of paint to pull myself to a roof where I could change. But then I paused and glanced back toward Paige. “Oh, and I’ll have to tell you about how I was combining paint colors to get new effects.” 

The blonde girl started to nod absently before her gaze snapped toward me as she actually processed what I’d said properly. “Wait, you did what? Paintball, you did what?! Damn it, Paintball!” 

But I was already gone, leaving the others behind for the moment as I sent myself flying across the street, over several parked police cars and an ambulance. A few random civilians scattered around shouted up at me, and I waved but didn’t slow down. Now was not the time to get caught up with something else. 

Instead, I made sure I was out of sight before hurriedly summoning my normal clothes back in the back. I did a quick change, glanced around once more, then lowered myself to the ground in the alley. Finally, I took my civilian phone out and looked at it. Oh, right, about twenty-seven missed calls and texts. Fantastic. 

Scanning through them, I saw that three different calls were from my parents, along with a text. Another call was from Simon, and the rest were all from Arleigh. She sounded increasingly frantic to know where I was and that I was okay, which might have been sweet if it wasn’t Arleigh. Obviously something was going on. I really didn’t believe she cared about me enough to check in that many times. Why would she be that upset at the idea of me being hurt?

Shaking that off, I quickly called my mother back. As the call went through, I took a deep breath and composed myself. Or rather, uncomposed myself. Was that even a word? I sure wasn’t decomposing. Either way, I jumped up and down a few times and shook my head back and forth. Time to play this up. 

It only rang once before my mother’s voice immediately came through as the call connected. “Cassidy? Cassidy, are you alright?” She didn’t sound completely freaked out or anything, but there was a definite uncertainty and worry in her voice. Weirdly, I felt a flash of guilt about making her upset. That was stupid, right? She had helped hurt plenty of other people much worse than just being worried about me for a few minutes. And yet, the feeling was there anyway. Stupid unreasonable and illogical feelings. 

“I’m okay! I’m fine, Mom!” I was talking too loudly, intentionally making myself sound even more upset and confused than I was. After all, this was supposed to be one of the first times I’d been in any sort of situation like this. The first time since I’d hid in the bathroom at the hotel to avoid the Scion troops back. I injected embarrassment and confusion into my voice. “I saw those guys show up while I was getting nachos, so I hid under one of the cars in the parking lot. But I dropped my phone when I was… when I was…” I swallowed hard, giving it a three count before quietly finishing, “When I was running away. I dropped my phone and I couldn’t get to it. There were guys all around and I didn’t want to–I mean I was trying to–I mean–” 

“Shh, it’s alright.” Mom sounded relieved. “It’s okay, principessa, you did just fine. Have you spoken to the police yet? Your father will be there soon. Where are you?” 

“I’m… I’m gonna talk to the cops in a second. I’ll be near the skate entrance,” I informed her, already walking that way. “Mom, my battery’s getting really low. I’ll talk to Dad as soon as he gets here. I’m okay. I’m fine.” Even as I said that, I made sure to sound like I was anxious and jumpy, but not enough to make her even more worried. I needed my mother to be convinced I was fine, but not suspicious about how fine I actually was. 

Boy was this a hard tightrope to walk. So I just told my mother I loved her and would see her soon, then disconnected. By that point, I had reached the park. There were cops all around, but they were focused on getting the bad guys I had tied down all loaded into cars to be taken in. No one paid much attention to me as I looked around before spotting Ryder standing by himself. He saw me at the same time and made a point of lifting his phone to his ear, then nodded to one side. Following the direction he was indicating with my gaze, I finally found Arleigh. She was with her dad, standing off by themselves away from everyone else. From the look of things, they were deep in conversation. 

So, I took my Paintball phone out, holding it to my ear after glancing around once. Immediately, I could hear voices. Arleigh and her father’s voices. 

“–told you, I tried to find her,” the girl was saying.

In the distance, I could see Trey Fosters hold up a hand with a single finger raised. “One job, Arleigh. In this whole operation we gave you one single job. When everything went down, you were supposed to make Cassidy Evans see you protect her. You were supposed to be the one who kept her safe. I thought you could handle that much, at least. Everyone else was doing the important things. The Ministry has their agents in place now. They can do their jobs. The Sidorov girl’s worried now. She’ll accept protection. Their protection. So we can find out exactly how this DNA-lock removal works and get it off your little brother. Everyone else succeeded at their parts in this despite unexpected interference.” 

Wait, hold on, was that what this entire thing was about? I found myself rocking back on my heels a little bit and that revelation. The Ministry had approved this entire thing just so they could get some guards close enough to Inessa to figure out how she was getting rid of her own ability to open her brother’s vault, so they could do the same with Errol? That was… that was…

I didn’t have time to think about what that was. Arleigh’s voice suddenly filled my ear through the phone. “There she is!” 

Oh, me. She had spotted me. Quickly putting the phone away, I looked around as though I had just heard a hint of her raised voice in the distance. Finally ‘spotting’ her as she shouted my name, I waved a bit awkwardly and took a few steps that way. 

Before I could reach them, however, my dad was there. He came racing across the grass, taking just a second to shout a greeting toward Mr. Fosters before taking a knee in front of me. The next thing I knew, he was pulling me up against his chest in a tight embrace. “Cassidy, oh, Cassidy. You’re alright.” 

“Yeah, I… I’m okay, Dad,” I managed, returning the hug after a second. “I’m just really confused right now. But… but wait.

“Where’s Izzy?”  

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