Month: March 2023

Interlude 26B – Unlikely Alliance (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

“I can’t believe we’re stuck here,” Lexi Chambers announced while feeding quarters into a vending machine. She hit a couple buttons to make a selection for a chocolate bar before adding, “Or that Mom and Dad are stuck out of here.” 

Standing a few feet away as his gaze swept over the half-filled parking lot of the mall they were standing in front of, Zed replied, “Isn’t this what we wanted?” He grimaced as soon as the words had left his mouth. “I mean, being able to stay here and see this whole thing through. Not the part where the mysterious biological attack knocked out like the heroes in the city right when it’s turning into even more of a warzone. We uhh, we could’ve done without that part. If I ever find that monkey, I’m taking all of his paws.” A moment of silence followed before the boy grimaced. “That sounded dark, didn’t it?” 

Jae, sitting on a nearby bench as she stared intently at her phone, spoke up. “Your parents haven’t had any luck breaking the lockdown rules, even with their contacts?”

Zed shook his head. “This whole thing goes way over their heads. Whatever caused this attack–err, whoever was responsible, they haven’t claimed credit or made any demands. No one knows how this stuff actually spreads, or who else might be infected. They think it’s because of the Breakwater thing, obviously, but no one knows how, or why, or anything. It’s terrorism. Plus a bunch of other people interacted with those… carriers before they got to the headquarters building. And those people interacted with others and–” He grimaced, watching a woman walk by pushing a stroller with a babbling infant. 

Colt-Damarko, the one who was solid at the moment while his other selves remained scattered around in their invisible forms, approached with bags of food, which he began handing out. “He’s right, Detroit’s gonna be locked down until they’ve got a better idea of how to detect whatever this is. So far only the people who were in the building have shown symptoms, but they won’t take any chances. The roads in and out of the city are blocked and monitored, and the airports are completely shut down. I don’t know how long they can keep this up, but no one’s going anywhere for now. Your parents won’t be getting into the city until this situation gets taken care of.”

“So let’s take care of our situation,” Lexi put in sharply. “I mean, obviously we can’t do anything about that bio attack. That’s way beyond us. But we’ve got our own stuff to deal with, like finding the people who were trying to abduct us.” She gestured between herself and her brother. “Maybe if we deal with this ourselves while we’re stuck here, Mom and Dad will see that we’re not helpless babies and let us actually start helping people.” 

Jae and Colt exchanged brief looks, each feeling like they should say something about that, but not quite knowing how to go about it. Instead, Jae finally shook her head and asked, “How long until we’re supposed to meet our… new friends?” Her voice was a bit weak with the question. The girl was still finding it hard to believe that they had agreed to work with a group of criminals. Sure, Grandstand and the group from La Casa didn’t know who she and Damarko actually were, not yet anyway. But still, they were helping criminals. The fact that those particular criminals were trying to do something inarguably good by tracking down whoever was responsible for the murder of that reporter lady helped a bit, but it didn’t change everything. 

God, how would Amber react if she knew Jae was working with criminals? Actually, considering one of those criminals was Pack, maybe the whole situation would be more complicated than she assumed. Jae really had no idea what was going on with that whole thing, especially now that that Dani girl was involved somehow. But whatever was happening really wasn’t her business. That was Amber’s life. It was just that knowing her friend clearly at least somewhat liked Pack, that the two of them flirted some, made an already complicated situation even more so. 

Zed checked his phone. “Uh, about twenty minutes. If we wanna get dressed for the occasion, we better move.” A broad grin found its way to his face, despite his obviously shared uncertainty about the whole situation. “I still can’t believe they agreed to help us find those guys.”

“And I can’t believe we agreed to let them help,” Colt retorted. “But they only agreed because we’re already helping them find out who killed the reporter. Which is something we want to do anyway.” He exhaled heavily. “I still think we might want to bring Whamline in on it. Seriously, the poor guy was right there when it all went down. I’ve seen how guilty he feels about it. He acts like it was all his fault, like he should’ve been able to save her.” 

“He does feel bad,” Jae agreed quietly. “But we can’t involve him in this. We don’t know if we can–” She stopped herself. She’d been about to say they didn’t know if they could trust him, but that was the wrong way to phrase it. Of course they could trust Whamline. He was their teammate and friend. What she really meant was that they didn’t want to put him in a situation where he had to either betray them by telling the authorities what they were doing, or agree to work with Fell-Touched. Even if it meant finding out who was responsible for murdering the innocent woman whose death he felt so responsible for… no, maybe they could tell him about it once they found out more. But for now, it was better to leave the boy out of this. 

Lexi put in, “Yeah, I want our parents and the rest of the heroes to find out how capable we are and all that, but only after we actually manage to win, you know? They can’t stop us if we’ve already done it.” 

“What she said,” her brother agreed. “As far as Mom and Dad know right now, we’re just hanging out and having fun. But if they heard anything about what we’re actually trying to do, I don’t think anything could stop them from breaking through that blockade to come pick us up. 

“And personally, I’d rather not make our parents so angry they turn into supervillains. At least not without something to show for it.” 


“All this shit we’ve been doing, and what do we have to show for it?” As she snapped those words, Pack tossed a shelled peanut into her mouth from the bag she was holding. The much larger Touched-Tech bag that acted as a portal to the terrariums her lizards were kept in was sitting on a folding chair nearby while she, Eits, and Broadway stood around on the roof of this old tire store that had been safely closed and empty for almost three months. “Because I don’t know about you guys, but I haven’t seen that Jennica girl since–oh, we first started this.” 

“We’ll find her,” Broadway informed the other girl shortly, staring intently out over the city while dressed in her awesome power armor that made her look suitably taller and more impressive than her diminutive civilian figure really was. “We just have to do it before she actually joins up with the Scions. If she gets that far, they’ll send her to Breakwater.”

Eits, exchanging a quick look with Pack, hesitantly ventured, “Are we sure that wouldn’t be a good thing?” He held up a hand as the other girl looked at him intently. “I know, I know, she’s your sister and all. I get it, believe me. But seriously, it’s not like she’s being mind controlled or manipulated into this. She wants to join the Scions. She wants to kill a lot of people. There’s a certain point where being someone you care about doesn’t matter. She has killed people, and she wants to murder a lot more. Anyone who sees Pencil as someone to look up to, as someone she wants to work for? It’s not–” He sighed heavily. “That’s not really the type of decision you can just hug out of someone.”

The lights moving across Broadway’s helmet flickered a little as she gave a sigh of her own, clearly taking a moment to think that through. “I know, you’re right. I get it. If it comes down to it, she has to be stopped before she does something too monstrous, no matter what. But I have to at least try to get through to her. Maybe if I can make her snap out of whatever that is, she can go to a normal prison. Or a mental hospital, because she’s clearly not okay. I just want to help make her better, not let her get thrown onto a prison island full of monsters and left to rot.”

Pack tossed another peanut in her mouth before asking, “What do we do if she’s the one who was responsible for killing Grandstand’s friend?” 

“She wasn’t.” That was Grandstand herself, climbing off the ladder that led up from the parking lot. “I know it was a Touched, and probably someone directly connected to Ten Towers. Maybe even one of the fucks who was there that day, considering what that guy said about hearing her voice right there on the audio when he was talking to whoever set it up. Or that could be a fakeout. Maybe whoever it was planted a bug on them. Seems pretty stupid to give away that much. But whatever it was, the person we’re looking for is a guy. Everywhere I turn, everyone who knows anything about it always says he.” 

As she said that, the woman stepped away from the ladder, allowing their strange new friends from out of town to climb up. They were all still dressed as normal thieves in simple black jumpsuits and ski masks, even though they were definitely Touched. Maybe the four of them simply hadn’t settled on any good costume ideas yet. 

Yeet, as the girl who created the glowing eggs that could send people flying called herself, was the first up the ladder after Grandstand. She was followed shortly by Facsimile, the boy who made solid-energy duplicates of objects he touched. Or of the air itself, which allowed him to create what amounted to forcefields. He also enjoyed going by the nickname of Facs, apparently. Which had confused Pack and the others when they thought he was spelling it with an x. 

Either way, those two were joined by the telekinetic girl who went by T, and D, the boy who could turn invisible and/or intangible. Those two definitely needed better names. Especially if Pack was going to convince them to join La Casa after all this was over. The thought of how happy Blackjack would be with them if they managed to recruit four brand new Touched onto the team was almost enough to make her giddy. 

Once their new friends had joined them, Pack addressed Grandstand. “So you’re sure the person we’re looking for is a guy.” 

Broadway snorted quietly. “Or maybe it’s a girl who’s just posing as a guy. That would actually be a pretty good way to hide your secret identity, you know?”

Coughing weirdly, Eits spoke up. “I guess we can’t throw out any possibility. Seriously, you went through the stuff we got out of that courthouse, right?” he asked while looking at Grandstand. 

She, in turn, caught the peanut that Pack tossed to her and ate it before responding. “You mean have I read every record that our pal who made those fake IDs said we might want to look at? No, but I skimmed most of them. We need to take a good long look.”

“Wait, is that what you were doing in the courthouse?” T piped up, drawing everyone’s attention. “I mean, when I heard you went in there at the same time as those Trendscendant people, I thought you might be working with them too.” 

Pack gave a visible shudder. “God forbid, we aren’t that desperate. No, babe, we were just staking out the place, looking for a good time to break in. When we saw what was happening, we just took advantage of it to grab the thousand files we needed while everyone was distracted.” 

Yeet practically bounced up and down. “You had to steal a thousand files just to find the identity of one guy?” 

“He didn’t want the counterfeiter to know who he really was,” Pack noted. “Our counterfeiter said the guy he talked to wanted fake identification made for over a thousand different people over the course of the past year, and paid for all of them. There’s no way he’s actually got a thousand people on his side, whoever he is. So he obviously just picked a thousand people at random, plus himself, and had the guy make identification for all of them. The real guy we’re looking for is somewhere in that list.” 

“Which would’ve been hard enough, but manageable, as it was,” Eits put in. “Then our guy had to go and take all those files back from the counterfeiter. Fortunately, with a little… uhh… persuasion, our counterfeiter guy remembered some of the file numbers. It’s like whoever this was just took a whole bunch of folders out of the exact same filing cabinet and handed them over. Then he put them back in the same place once the job was done.”

Broadway chuckled darkly. “So all we had to do was take the whole filing cabinet out of there just to make sure we got the right one. The guy we’re looking for has a file somewhere in that cabinet. We’re just going to have to look through every last one until we find the right guy. Then we stop him and use that to find the girl I’m trying to stop. They’re both trying out for the Scions, so they have to know about each other. They’ve probably met and all that. He’ll know something about where she is and what she’s doing.”

“Seems like a longshot,” D noted before rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly as they all looked at him. “But hey, I’ve heard of worse odds.”

“You still want to help?” Pack asked the four of them. “Even though it means looking through a bunch of mind numbing files right now, just searching for anything that stands out? Seriously, I think we’d understand if you wanted to dip. I asked my lizards if they were going to help, and they all went right back to their terrariums. Opened the teleportation bag and everything. It was impressive. Rude, but impressive.” 

“If it means stopping a couple people trying out for the Scions, we’ll help,” T informed them. Belatedly, she added, “After all, we’re still just trying to get set up here in the city, and having more of those Scions out there making things worse for everyone isn’t going to help with that.”

Yeah, these people definitely needed help if they were going to get along in Detroit. This city was bound to eat them alive otherwise. Pack still wasn’t sure what their whole deal was, or why it felt like something was off about them. But they were four Touched who could definitely be a huge asset to any group they joined. Especially now with all this other shit going down. Half the Star-Touched in the city were out of commission and the whole city was basically quarantined. Any group these four joined would get an immediate advantage, that much was for sure. She was going to see how they did with this situation and go from there. 

“What about you guys?” she prompted after giving the four of them another curious look. “Any luck tracking down the people who attacked you?” The group hadn’t given them much more information than that, but it was obvious there was more to the situation. Pack just didn’t want to push them too much about it. Whatever was going on there, it was pretty obvious that these four were skittish about the whole thing. The prospect of recruiting four brand new Touched to their side was too amazing for her to risk scaring them off just to satisfy her own curiosity about what they were actually up to.

“We’re still working on it,” Facs informed them after exchanging a brief look with his companions. “The records that counterfeiting guy gave us narrowed it down to a umm, a small gang who work with those Sell-Touched guys sometimes. What were their names?” 

“Two-Step and Lastword,” D answered flatly. “We don’t know if those guys were involved at all. They weren’t at the actual attack, anyway. But if they work with these people, they might object to us trying to pull them aside for answers.” 

“So we’ll help.” With that reminder, Broadway added, “That’s the deal, right? You help us track down and stop these wannabe Scion recruits, and we help you figure out this whole kidnapping thing. But, you know, it’d really help us help you if we knew why they wanted to kidnap you in the first pla–” 

Grandstand interrupted, sharing a glance with Pack. “When you’re ready to tell us more so we can help, we’ll be ready to listen.” Then she gestured with her thumb. “I’ve got all the files in my van. If you people all really want to help look through all of it, be my guest. 

The sooner we find the right record, the sooner we can get to something more exciting.” 


Two hours later, they had brought the entire filing cabinet worth of folders up to that roof and were all sitting around going through file after file. All of their eyes had practically glazed over by that point as they went through mind numbingly repetitive files, searching for anything that might stand out. 

Pack was starting to think that this whole idea was stupid and pointless. How were they supposed to get actual answers this way? How could they look at a picture, name, birthdate, and other shit like that and just say ‘it’s this guy, he’s the one who is trying to join the Scions by murdering the reporter who helped expose their identities?’ It was absurd to think that something would just jump out at–

“Oh my god.” That was the telekinetic girl, T. She jolted backward, dropping the folder she had been looking at. 

“What?” Broadway demanded. “What’d you find?” 

“Nothing,” T replied, reaching for the folder. “I just didn’t expect–” 

Grandstand, moving faster, picked up the folder first. She flipped it open once more and frowned at the contents. “Jerry Meuster? 

“Who the hell is Jerry Meuster?”

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

So, we went back to Earth, after saying goodbye to the people on the planet and promising we would come back to visit and check on them. Well, most of us did. Athena and a few others were going to stay behind to keep working with these people for the time being. After all, they still needed to be taught how to protect themselves better. And apparently they were going to go into those tunnels to look for any more of the Seosten tribals who could have been left behind. We’d already had guards watching over the actual portal entrance into where the Revenants were, just in case, but still. Better not to leave the fanatics out there to do gods only knew what. 

Also, we weren’t going back strictly by ourselves. A few people from this world were going back to Earth with us, as sort of an ambassador/exploration situation. They wanted to see what it was like away from their home, maybe take back some new ideas or concepts when it came to putting their own society back together. One of those people was Beilela, the younger girl who they kept calling ‘The One Who Said No.’ She was famous in that first city we’d gone to for being the person who–well, said no. Specifically, she had refused to be a ‘willing’ part of that last round of sacrifices Fossor had been making before we cut off his power. More importantly (and amazingly), she had literally thrown a bucket of paint over one of that piece of shit’s statues before flat out saying she refused to lift another finger to do a goddamn thing for Fossor. She knew he could–and absolutely would have killed her for the defiance, but she didn’t care. This kid was a completely ordinary fifteen-year-old who told Fossor to go fuck himself while knowing there wasn’t a single damn thing she could do to stop him from absolutely destroying her. She had assumed it would happen, that she would suffer for the defiance, and she still did it. 

Yeah, Beilela was a bit of a badass, and she deserved to visit Earth, or anywhere else she wanted to go. 

And, of course, Rahanvael was staying on–uhh, Rahanvael. She was very clearly still embarrassed and sort of ashamed of the fact that these people had named the world after her. But she deserved that as much as Beilela deserved to visit Earth. It was just going to take time for her to understand that nothing Fossor had done was her fault. I was pretty sure staying and helping these people find their own place while learning the history of their world, which only she could tell them, was going to help an awful lot with that. I hoped it did, anyway. 

There was more going on, like the fact that the regular Seosten people were still sending a ship to check in on this place. But we had at least made them promise to extend the truce deal from Earth to this world as well, convincing them that their… cousins, for lack of a better word, had already been through enough and didn’t need to be dragged into more fighting. Between that and the agreement to find out if they could help with the whole pregnancy/child crisis situation, the Seosten leadership were being pretty nice about it. At least, enough of them were being nice. According to Chayyiel and Athena, there were still some of the Seraphs who were arguing for direct invasion and control of Rahanvael. They were simply outnumbered by those who were being more clear-headed, which was about the best we could hope for. 

In any case, all of that would be stuff for others to worry about for the time being. I was going to be pretty busy with my own thing. Or rather, with Ehn’s thing. I obviously had no idea how it was going to go, but I was relatively certain I wouldn’t have time to really focus on things like how Rahanvael (the person or the planet) was doing, or the search for Gaia. I just had to hope they’d be okay, and that everyone else could handle it.

“Are you sure about this?” Shiori asked, as she, Avalon, and I stood in my attic room back at the house in the Fusion School. And boy did it seem like it had been forever since I’d been here. After spending so long on the ship going to the other world, and then these past few weeks on the world itself, I could hardly remember the last time I’d actually slept here in my own bed. And from the sound of things, after these few days I had to get myself together and say goodbye to people, it was going to be a long time before I did so again. It kind of made me sad, thinking about all the classes I was going to miss with this whole thing. Sure, I’d be learning, but it wasn’t the same. Was it too much to ask for Ehn to wait and do this over the summer? Yeah, probably.

“Not in the least,” I replied while tossing a baseball up and down idly. “Trust me, I have no idea how this is going to go. But I do think it’s the best choice we’ve got. I’ve got this power, both of their powers, and I need to learn how to use them. I need to get stronger.” 

“That’s what Manakel is for,” Avalon reminded me sharply, arms folded against her stomach. She didn’t like this idea at all, understandably. “You’re learning how to use that power from him.”

“And I still will be,” I pointed out. “That’s why he’s coming with me.” That had been one of the agreements we made with Wukong. I was bringing several of my ghosts along, including Manakel so he could continue to instruct me with the whole Necromancy stuff. 

Giving an audible sigh, Avalon took my hand and pulled me closer, putting her other hand on my shoulder. “Listen to me. When you do this, you have to be careful. Yeah, you’ll be able to call for help through Tabbris or one of the ghosts, but this guy is more dangerous than anything we’ve gone up against. I don’t think any of us could get there in time to stop him if it’s an emergency.” Her voice cracked a little bit as she was speaking. “I think you’re right about him not wanting to hurt you or anything. But if he changes his mind, if he decides it’d be better to have some other Heretic take that power, or something like that, he just… watch yourself, Felicity.” 

“What she said.” Shiori’s voice was quiet as she leaned against the nearby wall, staring at me almost forlornly. “If this guy could just walk right out of that special prison like it wasn’t even there, I don’t think there’s much he can’t do.”

Yeah, one of the first things we had done when we got back here was check on the status of Ehn in Gehenna. And sure enough, they had informed us that the man was simply gone. No one knew how he disappeared, or at least they claimed they didn’t. But he wasn’t there. Obviously, Wukong knew where to find him, but he wasn’t going to tell those people. Nor were they likely to be able to re-capture him if they tried. Something told me neither of them would be going back to that prison ever again unless they personally chose to. Actually, I didn’t think either of them had ever been there without choosing to be. That ‘prison’ was more like a free relaxing hotel for people like them. 

“Which means if anyone can help me get strong enough to actually stop the Fomorians, and participate in that himself, it’s this guy,” I pointed out gently. “I don’t want to leave, guys, I swear. You know I don’t. But this whole situation is more important than just what any of us want. If I can help stop those monsters, I have to try.” 

We didn’t talk about that anymore, not right then anyway. We didn’t have time to dwell on something that wasn’t going to change. No matter how hard it was to leave them like this, even temporarily, I had to do this. Instead, the three of us discussed how we were going to stay in contact as best as we could, and how I was going to let them know things had gone wrong if it came down to it. Between our plans and those my mother and the other adults were cooking up, I was going to end up with over a dozen failsafes when it came to sending for help. And, if we were lucky, maybe one or two would actually work. 

That might have been a bit pessimistic, of course. But hey, I’d rather go above and beyond with so many options and assume only one or two would work, than settle for only having a couple and having end up not being able to get through at all. 

More importantly, at least as far as my sanity went, we just hung out. The three of us talked, played some games, watched a movie, we just relaxed and enjoyed our time together. All while I tried not to think about the fact that it would be a long time before we did this again, once I headed off to train with Ehn. I couldn’t dwell on that. I just had to enjoy what I could get. 

To that end, I turned to face both of them and caught one of each of their hands with my own. “Look, guys, this is basically like I’m going away to camp for a while. I’m going to be back before you know it, and you better have done your parts, okay? I mean, if I’ve got to miss all the excitement around finding Gaia, waking up Arthur, and all that, you better experience it yourselves so you can tell me all about it.” I left out the fact that we also needed both of them just in case the Ehn thing went wrong and he refused to let me leave. We were all thinking it, there was no need to actually say it out loud. 

Avalon squeezed my hand, meeting my gaze. “You’re right, we’ll do everything we need to do back here while you’re busy.” Her free hand moved to poke me in the forehead. “But you be careful. Yeah, we have our emergency stuff, but you know he’s probably too dangerous for that to work if he really wants to stop it.”

Shiori’s head bobbed up and down quickly. “We know why you have to do this, and that it’s a good idea. Or at least the best idea we’ve got, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Be careful, and keep telling us everything that’s going on, okay?”  

I promised to do so, before we went back to talking about other things. Happier things. After a few hours together like that, I spent a couple more alone with each of them in turn. First Avalon, then Shiori. Tomorrow was going to be the big group party with all my friends and anyone else who wanted to come. My last day, before leaving, would be spent mostly with my family. This, right now, was time alone with my girlfriends. 

And I was sure as hell going to enjoy every last minute of it. 


The next day, as promised, was my group farewell party. Which I honestly thought was a bit weird, since I hadn’t spent all that much time around school lately anyway, but still. It was more of an excuse to hang out with all of my friends together for most of the day. I heard all about stuff like how they had rescued Harrison Fredericks and captured one of Kushiel’s Olympian children, the one with the explosive teleportation. Aureus, the gold girl. Apparently she still wasn’t the least bit happy about being here, even after several people, including Abigail, had tried to talk to her. She was pretty violent about the whole situation, so they were mostly leaving her alone for the time being. 

So that was yet another thing I was going to have to let other people deal with while I was gone. By the time I got back, she would probably either be staying willingly, or have left already. Whatever happened, all I could do was wish the others luck. From the sound of things, they were going to need it. 

Kushiel, the Rebellion itself, Gaia, Arthur, all of these things might just end up being resolved by the time I was done with Ehn. Assuming I survived the training he had in mind. Either way, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Fortunately, in some ways, I was probably going to be too busy to think too much about that.

Besides, now wasn’t the time to think about that stuff. Instead, I was eating cake while playing a bit of doubles table tennis, with Columbus on my side and Sands and Sarah on the other. The four of us were chatting about–of all things, the first day we’d met over a year and a half earlier. Throughout the rest of this large rec room we had appropriated for the next few hours, my other friends and family were playing games, watching movies, talking, just… hanging out. People kept coming by to talk to me about anything that came to mind, or just to wish me luck with Ehn. I was doing my best to split my attention and give everyone a chance to talk. Fortunately, it seemed like this whole thing was more of an excuse to hang out in general than it was specifically about me. Thank God. I really didn’t think I could handle being the center of attention for three days straight. 

“I thought I was going to pass out while we were waiting for you to show up at the lighthouse, Flick,” Columbus was informing me. “Seriously, Shiori and me, we uhh, we spent a long time talking about how we probably didn’t belong there, how they were totally going to tell us they made a mistake and send us home. Before we actually went to the island, we were waiting for them to show up with the Men In Black neuralyzer thing. Then when we actually got there, I was just… I felt like I was gonna throw up. When they took so long to come meet us, I thought ‘picking up another student’ was an excuse.” 

“You thought they were having another meeting about whether they should kick you out anyway, and really they were voting about whether to let me in to begin with,” I replied with a snort. “Can you imagine how different everything would’ve been if one more Committee member voted no so Gaia couldn’t break the tie?” 

Sands caught the ping pong ball between two fingers in mid-bounce, examining it critically. “Everything would be a hell of a lot worse, because we wouldn’t know the truth.” She frowned, looking at me. “I’m serious, Flick. Stuff may be dangerous and hard now, but I’d rather have dangerous and hard things to do than be someone who would have killed as many innocent people as those bastards wanted. I know it was hard for me to believe you at first, and maybe back when this whole thing first started, I kind of thought it would’ve been better if you hadn’t said anything. But I was stupid. I wouldn’t change this back to the way it was for anything. I don’t want to be the person they wanted to turn me into.” 

“You’re afraid they’ll erase everyone’s memories again like they did with the first rebellion, aren’t you?” Columbus noted. 

Sarah spoke up. “They won’t. They can’t. Not without warning.” 

“Yeah, what she said,” I agreed. “Remember, we’ve got eyes on the Committee too. In more than one way. If they started moving along those lines, we’d get enough warning to stop them.” 

Bouncing the ball a couple times between her palm and the table, Sands nodded slowly. “Yeah, I know. But still. I have dreams sometimes about forgetting, about the sort of person I’d be if they wiped my memory and made me–” She visibly cringed then, dropping the ball before turning to embrace her sister, who was waiting for that. The two of them hugged one another. 

Looking over at Columbus, I offered a shrug. “You gotta help take care of them while I’m gone, you know?” 

“I’ll do my best to fill in,” he agreed with a small smirk. “But I don’t think I look that good in a blonde wig.” 

“Eh, you could pull it off.” That was Tristan, who showed up with Koren, both of them also eating cake from small paper plates. “But I know a guy who could totally grow your hair out and color it instead, if you prefer.” As he said that, the boy reached over to put his hand on the top of Koren’s head, making her hair extend another few inches before turning light blonde. Apparently he had another power I wasn’t aware of. 

Koren, swatting his hand away, used a couple fingers to pull her hair up and grimaced. “You better change it back. I don’t wanna be blonde.” 

Grinning, Tristan did so, also shortening it a few inches higher than it had been before, at her request. “See? I’ve got a strong career as a stylist ahead of me if the rest of this doesn’t work out.” 

“And we’re all so relieved for that,” I informed him with a small smile, looking back and forth through not only them, but the rest of the people who had come for this party. My friends knew what they were doing. They would be okay while I was gone. I just had to trust that, and focus on learning everything I could from Ehn. After all, it wasn’t every day that someone gave you the opportunity to learn from a Dragon-Heretic so you could become powerful enough to stop an entire species of genocidal monsters from destroying the universe. 

At least, I really hoped that wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Interlude 26A – Paige And Sierra (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

“We have to kill him.” As she made that flat announcement, Sierra stood in the kitchen of the Banners household, staring at her other self, her sister, her… whatever Paige actually was at this point. She had been the person Sierra–then Roxanne, had been intended to replace. She had hated the girl, had been created to hate her. They had hated one another, and had fought for quite some time within that single orb. Her job, her purpose, had been to erase Paige and replace her. She had thought that their father, Benjamin Pittman, actually cared about her. She thought he would be proud of her for doing her job properly, unlike the ‘traitor’ she was replacing. But in the end, she had been just as expendable to him as Paige was. Between that and the acceptance she had found here with these people, the newly-dubbed Sierra already held nothing but hatred and disgust for the man she had once been loyal to.

But now? Now he had gone too far. It was hard for her to admit it, but Sierra had been looking forward to meeting Irelyn. She had memories from Paige about the other girl, but they weren’t really hers. She had truly wanted to get to know the girl who was essentially as close to a ‘big sister’ as either of them had, even if Irelyn wouldn’t have been able to know the truth about her. 

And to be honest, Sierra had been pretty sure it wouldn’t take long for them to tell Irelyn the truth. Or for the other girl to figure out there was more to be told. She wasn’t dumb, after all. Especially after everything she had obviously been through already. Something would have happened to make them tell her who Sierra really was. And she had been looking forward to that, secretly. 

But now–fuck. Now Pittman had retaliated by setting off a biological attack, killing Paige’s adopted parents–Irelyn’s birth parents– and about a dozen others, as well as putting Irelyn, Cassidy’s parents, and thirty-seven more into various stages of coma and/or delirium. Or whatever it was called when they were completely mentally absent and lost in some sort of fantasy or nightmare world. The point was, even the survivors were either unconscious or mentally absent, not to mention quarantined. And who the hell knew how long it would take for them to recover, if they even did. Sierra didn’t want to say that out loud in front of Cassidy and the others for obvious reasons, but there was a chance all of them would die. Including Irelyn. 

Paige, for her part, simply gripped the sink she had been facing tightly enough to almost snap part of it off. She was staring intently into her own reflection in the metal faucet. “You mean our father. You want to kill Benjamin Pittman, while he’s on an island we can’t get to.” 

“Fuck that, yes we can,” Sierra pointed out. “He told us where to go down in Utah to find that equipment for the teleporter thing, remember? Between that and the genius kid with her movement specialty, we can totally set something up to get over there, track that son of a bitch down and deal with this once and for all, the way someone should have a long time ago. If they just killed him before, none of this would’ve happened.” 

“And you wouldn’t exist,” Paige pointed out mildly, releasing the counter as she turned to face the other girl. “But you’re right, we do need to do something about it. He went too far.” Her voice caught a bit and she closed her eyes before taking a breath and opening them once more. “We have to find a cure for whatever that stuff is. It’s the only way to help Irelyn and the others, the ones who survived. Like Cassidy’s parents.” 

“Is she gonna tell people where this shit came from and who was responsible?” Sierra demanded. “That’s probably the best way to get actual help for them, isn’t it? You know, let the doctors know the source or whatever.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Paige agreed. “The problem is they’re getting hundreds of tips, so we’re not sure how to get the info to them other than her showing up as a Paintball and telling the doctors directly, but that would open up a whole bunch more questions, especially if they actually listen.” 

Sierra glanced away, frowning thoughtfully at her own reflection in the glass stove. It was distorted, but she could still see the intense similarities between herself and the girl they were talking about. “She wants to do it anyway, doesn’t she? It’s her parents. So how’d you talk her out of it?”

“We talked ourselves out of it together,” Paige informed her. “Mostly because we don’t think it would be that useful. The doctors have the samples to work off of. Telling them where it came from–it could lead to Breakwater dragging Pittman in to interrogate to try to make him give up a cure, but–” 

“But that could be exactly what he wants,” Sierra finished. “He could have done this whole thing assuming they pull him off the island to make a cure and he could escape from there. Hell, he might even already have people in place to make that happen.” 

Paige nodded. “Exactly. It’s obvious that he’s been planning this, or something like it, for awhile. That’s why the Banners disappeared for so long. He was probably having his people create this biological weapon inside them for that whole time. He had a backup plan to get himself off the island. Probably more than one, and this was a big part of it. He wants all of us to just react emotionally and have him brought out of there to make a cure.” 

Wincing, Sierra asked, “Do you think he knows about Cassidy being Paintball, and the ‘guy’ he’s been talking to on the phone? Could he have deliberately targeted her parents?” 

“I don’t think he needs to know about that to deliberately target them,” Paige pointed out. “He knows they’re the Ministry, the leaders of the Ministry even. He hates them for what happened to Anthony and his parents, since they were supposed to fund his research and all that. I’m pretty sure he targeted them because he expected the rest of the Ministry to react as soon as we told them who was responsible. He wants us to reveal his identity to the authorities and for the Ministry to find out, help yank him off that island, and then… well, then he can do whatever the rest of his plan for escaping is. But what matters is, he obviously wants us to react emotionally. That’s why he called us, so we would be absolutely certain he was responsible.” 

“If he wants an emotional reaction, I’ll show him an emotional reaction,” Sierra snapped. “By breaking every bone in his fucking body.” 

“He doesn’t even know you exist,” Paige pointed out. “I mean, that you still exist. Which is a good thing. We might be able to use that when we do–I mean… obviously we have to confront him at some point. This whole thing–you’re right, we have to go there and find him. We have to deal with this. But he’s probably expecting that too. If we don’t immediately have the authorities drag him off the island, he’ll expect us to use that equipment to go there, and he’ll be ready.”

Sierra gestured idly with one hand. “That’s why we get the kid to modify it. He probably expects us to show up right where he wants us, but she can adjust it to move us somewhere else.” 

“Even if we do that,” Paige reminded her, “he probably still has verbal codes to take control of us. How much good could we possibly do there if he can just say something to shut us down or even make us hurt our friends? You know, the whole reason Cassidy doesn’t let us hear him on the phone. I know we’ve been trying to expunge all that extra programming, but I’m not completely positive that I’ve found all of it, are you?” 

Sierra’s mouth opened, before she caught herself and gave a heavy sigh, followed by several curses. “Fine, no, I’m not positive. Not completely. But we’ve gotta do something about that son of a bitch, Paige. Look at what he’s been able to do while trapped on an inescapable prison island! He’s still got people working for him, not to mention the Biolems he must still have access to. Being trapped on Breakwater slowed him down, but it hasn’t stopped him. He’s just going to keep doing shit like this until someone kills him. I say we stop waiting and find a way to make that happen.” 

Paige met her gaze for several long seconds before exhaling. “Yeah, we do need to end this. Let’s just be careful about it and take the whole thing one step at a time, okay? We don’t want to blunder right into his trap just because we’re pissed off.” 

Sierra made a fist and punched it into her palm hard enough to hurt. “So what exactly are we going to do? And I swear to fuck, if you say ‘sit and wait…’” 

“I’m not really in a waiting mood either,” Paige informed her. “But I am in a ‘don’t make things worse’ mood. So the first thing we do is give ourselves options. Starting with that teleporter. You’re right, we need it. We’ll go down to Utah and bring it back for the kid to look at, after we make sure Dad didn’t leave any tra–” She thought better of her words and amended, “After we remove the traps Dad definitely left on it. Maybe we’ll end up going there to… finish this problem ourselves.”

“Cassidy’s gonna want to go,” Sierra pointed out. “He put both of her parents in the hospital. You really think she’s going to be okay with what we have to do?”

“I don’t want her to be okay with it.” Paige’s head shook. “Cassidy… Cassidy needs to stay the person she is. She can help a lot of people. Not just with her power, but with who she is, everything she is. She just needs to get better, stronger, all that without changing everything about her. When Anthony died, it–” She grimaced, glancing away. “Cassidy almost fell apart. But she would have gotten better. She was getting better. She was starting to move on. But then they erased her memory. They didn’t give her the chance to finish processing it. It’s been stuck in the back of her mind this whole time. She’s been feeling that pain, even if she didn’t know where it was coming from. That’s why she didn’t have any close friends, why she kept everybody at arm’s length. She never had the chance to go through all the stages of grief and move on. They erased the memory and by doing that, they took away her chance to understand and accept it. Now that she knows the truth, she’s started to get better, started to heal that damage inside that she didn’t even know was there before. But she still needs time. And now if her parents die, or even one of them, I don’t know what’ll happen. All I do know is that I don’t want to find out.”

“You don’t just want to go there to kill him,” Sierra guessed. 

“No.” Paige turned to walk out of the kitchen, heading for the elevator that would lead down into the main workout gym. “I want to force him to tell us what he was planning to do to cure these people, including Irelyn and Cassidy’s parents.” 

Following the other biolem girl, Sierra demanded, “And what do you plan to do about that whole programming thing you were talking about? You know, the thing where he can shut us off with a couple words.”

Paige grimaced. “Well, my first instinct is to say we don’t give him a chance to say any words. But I suppose we have to let him talk at some point.” 

The elevator door opened then, allowing both girls to step off and walk into the gym itself. It was larger than what most would consider a ‘home gym’ to be, with enough space for a full wrestling or martial arts mat, three stationary bikes, an elliptical machine, and a treadmill taking up one half to the left of the elevator doors, while the right half of the room was filled with two rowing machines, a Touched-Tech bench press with the capacity to simulate weight up to several thousand pounds, and another mat about three-quarters the size of the other, this one surrounded by racks full of various melee weaponry. Some lethal, some not. 

“What about the suits the kid put together for us?” Sierra noted, moving to take a bo staff from the weapon racks before spinning it around behind her back and around again. “The ones for Poise and Style, I mean. She could probably upgrade those to go selectively deaf whenever they hear his voice. We don’t have to hear his explanation about how to cure that shit he made, we just have to beat it out of him. Someone else can do the actual listening part.” 

Taking another staff, Paige tapped it against her palm thoughtfully before taking a ready stance. The two of them nodded to one another, then went into a series of strikes and counterstrikes. To any outsiders, it would look as though they were seriously trying to injure each other. But of course, they were both simply that fast, and that good. They had to be, with the programming and enhancements they’d had. This full speed, full contact sparring was relaxing for the two of them. Or at least as relaxing as anything could be considering the circumstances. 

“Yeah, you’ve got a point. If Wren can make the suits stop us from hearing anything he says, that’ll help,” Paige finally agreed after they had been sparring for a minute, both trying to get at least some of their aggression and excess energy out. “But we’ll need some backups for that. Special earplugs just in case we lose the suit, something to shut us down if Dad still manages to corrupt or control us, stuff like that. And we’ll need to figure out who else is actually going.” 

The two of them talked a bit more about what they were going to have to get ready for that trip, but most of the planning would have to happen with the rest of the team. For now, it was time for Paige to go to the Conservators building again, this time as herself, and see how Irelyn was doing now that the doctors had agreed to let some people in. Part of her didn’t want to go in there and see the older girl like that until they had a cure, but she couldn’t put it off that long. Besides, at the very least, seeing Irelyn would steady Paige’s resolve about what had to happen.

Maybe if she was angry enough at her father, the thought of confronting him wouldn’t terrify her so much. 


They wouldn’t let her all the way into the same room as Irelyn. There were still too many questions about how this stuff was transferred between victims. Instead, Paige had to stand on one side of a window looking into the hospital room where the other girl was lying on a bed. She kept muttering things that didn’t seem to make sense. Words like circus, boxes, coat, library, and other completely random things like that. The best the doctors could tell was that she and the others in the same condition were deep in some sort of dream state, and they were simply saying the things they saw. Or possibly the things they wanted, it wasn’t clear. Either way, they definitely weren’t resting soundly, given the way Irelyn kept twitching and jerking against the bed. 

Seeing her like that, as well as what she had heard from Cassidy about her own parents’ conditions, made Paige tighten her hands into fists. Her father. He was the one responsible for this. All because he wanted to trick them into letting him out of that prison island so he could cure it. But there was no way in hell they were going to let that happen. If he could do this much damage from inside that place, the thought of what he could do if he was outside was enough to make her shudder.  

No, they would get it out of him some other way, even if they had to start breaking bones until he coughed up the solution. Not that that was a prospect she was exactly afraid of. She just… she wanted to have a plan. If they went barging into that place and he managed to regain control of Sierra and her, Paige knew he’d never let them go again. He’d reprogram them, probably make them hurt their friends. And he’d–he’d find out about Cassidy. He’d make her hurt–no. No more. Never again. She would have been happy enough to leave the man there on that island forever. But now he had proven that wasn’t enough. He hurt Irelyn. He killed the people who–okay they had never really been parents to her, no more than he himself had been. But they had still adopted and raised her, in a manner of speaking. He murdered Irelyn’s parents in a way that put the other girl herself, and Cassidy’s parents in danger. And killed all those other people in the process, to say nothing of the ones currently affected who could still die. 

Including Irelyn, Sterling, and Elena. If any of them died…

No, they would go to Utah, grab this teleportation thing, go to the island, and get answers out of her father. And then, once they got everything they needed out of him, she would make sure he was never a threat to Cassidy, or anyone else she cared about again.

Don’t worry, Irelyn, she thought to herself while staring at the squirming, whimpering figure in the bed. I’ll take care of this. 

I’ll get the cure out of my father, and then I’ll kill him. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

For a moment after the monkey man said those words, I just stood there and stared at him in disbelief. Which, to be fair, was the same thing Tabbris, Jophiel, and Elisabet were doing as well. It was obvious that none of us quite knew what to say or do in response to that little revelation. The two adults may have been calculating how much of a chance we stood against him if it came down to it. Honestly, I kind of doubted their odds even if Elisabet had still possessed her Committee powers. The man was incalculably strong. His words bounced around in my head before I abruptly found myself snapping a confused and taken aback, “You work for Ehn?” 

It was the man’s turn to stare at me, which he did for a few long seconds before abruptly bursting out laughing. His guffaws filled the small grove, and he actually put a hand against a tree to steady himself briefly. There were practically tears in his eyes. “Oh, they said you were amusing, but I had no idea. Working for him, that’s amazing. You have to tell me more funny jokes like that as soon as you come back.” He was still grinning with amusement, wiping one hand across his face before adding, “No, no, no, of course not. He asked very politely for a favor. And he convinced me that you are a very interesting person who gets into the most amazing situations.” As he said that, the man literally booped my nose with his finger, that tail of his patting my head excitedly. “And I’ve got to say, he was right about that. It’s been a long time since I had this much fun. I can’t even imagine how much more I’ll have when people think I’m you.”

Elizabet stepped in then, not quite moving between us but at least stepping next to me. “Ahem, I believe there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. Miss Chambers here hasn’t been asked to go anywhere with this… Ehn. He certainly hasn’t extended any invitation to be considered.”

Sun chuckled again, still very clearly amused by the whole situation. “Oh, that’s because I’m the invitation. Or the inviter. Or the–” He frowned, trying to think of the word. “Never mind. I’m here to tell you what’s going on, now that there isn’t anything else of immediate importance.” 

“And just what is going on?” That was my mother, coming out of the nearby trees to stand on the other side of me. She gave Jophiel a short nod, making me realize the other woman had contacted her the second this whole situation started. And boy did that ever help show just how much had changed in the time since I had first met the Seosten woman. 

Feeling Tabbris take my hand as she stepped in front of me, I looked down to see the younger blonde girl making sand float in front of her. We were still connected through that spell. She wasn’t actually sending it to attack Wukong or anything, of course. But it was responding to her emotions by swirling agitatedly through the air. I could just imagine how bad things would get if she did lash out, however, so I squeezed the hand she had taken before putting the other on her shoulder. Silently, I urged my little sister to stay calm. Wukong had already helped us this much. Without him, a hell of a lot more people on this world would have died. So beyond the fact that I didn’t think we could win a fight with him, I really didn’t want our relationship with the man to go bad. If we could navigate this situation without a fight, maybe he could help us later.

“Ah, mother of Felicity, of course,” Sun didn’t sound at all annoyed or upset by my mother’s arrival. “I was just about to suggest that she call for you, and her father. Oh, and those girls she enjoys the presence of. This is, of course, a very important moment.” 

Mom started to say something, but I could see the anger that flashed across her face, so I quickly spoke up first. “Hang on, what exactly do you think is supposed to happen now, Mr. Wukong? You said–I mean… Ehn wants what from me?”

The man slapped his forehead. “Oh, silly me, totally failing to explain properly. Right, no wonder you seem confused. Okay, let’s start from the top. My good friend Ehn is ready to train you.” 

“Train me?” I echoed, another wave of confusion washing over me. That was not the answer I’d expected, considering everything I’d heard about this Ehn guy. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? He’s Kwur’s boss, right? The insane plant guy we blew up. Isn’t Ehn pissed off about us beating one of his top lieutenants?” As soon as Wukong had said that bit about Ehn wanting to meet me, I’d assumed he was finally getting around to paying us back for that. Though even that didn’t seem to fit what I’d heard about him, so… yeah I was confused. 

Sun, however, informed us that not only was Ehn not upset about what had happened with Kwur, he had apparently been amused by it. But that apparently wasn’t what had convinced the man to have me come meet him. No, the cause of that was what had happened with Fossor. Specifically, the fact that I had killed him and taken his power. 

Yeah, that led to an even bigger conversation. During which Avalon and Shiori showed up. So they heard all about how Ehn had apparently planned to use Fossor’s power the same way Denuvus had so recently explained its intended use was when the people of this world had created their necromancy. He wanted to destroy the Fomorians once and for all. And to do that, he needed an incredibly powerful necromancer. It was why he’d allowed– no, made Fossor become as powerful as he was. It was all part of his plan. Thousands of years worth of growing that power, and making it stronger. Strong enough to do what Ehn wanted. 

Suffice to say, I had never come as close to wanting to punch Sun Wukong in the face as I did right then with that revelation. I didn’t, of course. Even as angry as I was at the thought that this man he was working with was responsible for everything that Fossor had done and become, I wasn’t quite that stupid. Besides, he was just the messenger. It was really Ehn I wanted to hit. But I was pretty confident that wouldn’t go any better than punching Wukong would. 

Avalon, standing right behind me, spoke up sharply. “So now that his plan for that piece of shit fell through, he wants to salvage it by abducting Flick?”

Sun blinked back and forth between all of us, clearly reading our defensive postures. Then he chuckled softly once again. “Oh no, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t an abduction. Think of it more like… wait, what was that term?” He took that pad of his out that was apparently some sort of translation dictionary or something and tapped his way through it for a moment. “Ah! Field trip. Think of it like a field trip! Ehn wants to teach and empower you. He wants to make you stronger. I mean, not as strong as me. That’d just be ridiculous.” He laughed at the very thought. “But strong enough. He wants to help you become as strong as you need to be to use that power of yours and stop those Fomorians for good.”

Mom shook her head. “Listen, thank you for everything you’ve done since you showed up here, truly. But we can help my daughter learn and grow into this power just fine without him.”

“Can you?” Despite his specific words, Sun’s voice didn’t seem mocking or anything. He was genuinely curious. “I had no idea you were capable of providing as much power and training as a Dragon-Bonded with thousands of years of growth and experience. You must be truly remarkable.”

Shiori spoke up quickly. “The point is, you’re not taking Flick. It doesn’t matter how strong he is, or how strong you are. You’re not taking her away from us.” She stood behind me as well, right next to Avalon.

Wukong tapped his computer pad thoughtfully for a moment. “Maybe I’m confused. Or I used the wrong term? Is a field trip supposed to be forever? I don’t think so. She won’t be leaving forever. Just for a little while to get stronger. You want her to be strong, don’t you?” He said it as though the very idea of anyone preventing someone from becoming stronger was completely incomprehensible. 

Before the others could say anything to that, I raised one hand from Tabbris’s shoulder. “Wait, just hold on. How exactly is Ehn planning to take me for a field trip when he’s locked up?”

Sun looked at me with a completely blank face. “I don’t understand the question. When he’s ready to take a trip, he’ll take a trip. His hosts will simply have to wait until he’s ready to come back.”

A dozen different possible responses floated through my mind at that, but it was my mother who spoke first. “Assuming he can leave his current accommodations, you expect me to allow you to simply walk off with my daughter to be trained by a man I know nothing about, and don’t trust at all? Oh, my mistake, I do know something about him. He allowed the creation and empowerment of the monster who destroyed literally billions, possibly trillions, of lives. Why would I simply sit still for that?”

Jophiel was the one who responded, rather than the man in question. “Ehn is one of the strongest beings in the universe. More importantly, he is capable of bestowing incredible strength on those he favors. If he truly intends to aid Felicity and gaining the strength she needs–”

“No!” That was Avalon, whirling to glare at the woman. “You tried to take Flick away before. Of course you’re all aboard this train!”

Elisabet shook her head while putting a hand on Jophiel’s arm. “It’s not like that. You’re right, we did not go about things properly when we first met. We do regret that, believe it or not. But stop and think for a moment. Think beyond your own personal feelings and wants. How many opportunities will Felicity have to be trained and empowered by someone as strong as a Dragon-bonded? Think of the dangers she has already faced and what awaits her.”

Jophiel spoke then, her voice clearly as calm and neutral as possible. “Think of the future. If some threat comes out and the worst happens to Felicity, would you be able to live with yourself knowing you prevented her from being given this sort of tutelage and strength?” Her gaze moved to me then. “If the worst were to happen to someone you love, would you be able to live with yourself knowing you denied yourself the opportunity?”

Oh boy, now I wanted to hit both of them. And I could tell the others around me did too. But they weren’t exactly wrong. That was the worst part. 

While we were processing that, Sun raised his hand. “Oh, a little correction. I won’t be walking away with her. I’ll be staying here. I’ll take her place.”

That definitely made me blink, forgetting myself for a moment. “I’m sorry, what the fuck? What do you mean you’ll be taking my place?”

He grinned at me. “That’s why you had to be an interesting person, of course. I could hardly fill in for someone who was boring. Ehn knows you care a lot about your family and friends. He said you wouldn’t want to leave here because they could get hurt while you were gone.” As he said that, the monkey man slapped his own forehead. “Oh, that’s why you were being so weird about it! Of course, I should’ve started with that. Ehn knows you wouldn’t just take off and leave your friends all helpless and unprotected without you! I’ll be here like this.” He snapped his fingers and suddenly shapeshifted into me. Well, a version of me with a monkey tail. Was it weird that I felt jealous about that? Now definitely wasn’t the time.

Sun continued while looking basically identical to me. “I’ll pose as you while you’re gone, and anything that tries to come for you or anyone you care about will just have to go through me first. Believe me, they won’t get very far.” He said that while adding a feral, dangerous smile that was weird coming from my face.

Okay, well, I’d thought that his first bit had been a lot to take in. Now he was saying that he would be here, or rather, back at the Fusion School pretending to be me? Granted, he was right that everyone I cared about would be a lot more safe if he was there. After seeing how dangerous he was, how easily he went through things as powerful as Revenants… they were even safer with him than with me. Aside from how distracted he could get sometimes, of course.

But still, it made me feel a little weird that he wanted to pose as me. On the plus side, at least he was being open about that whole thing? I could only imagine how badly this whole thing would’ve gone if he tried to send me away and then pretend to be me in front of the people I cared about. That… yeah, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Taking a breath, I looked at the man. “Could you walk away for a little bit and let us talk without you, please?” I tried to keep my voice as calm and reasonable as possible, holding both hands out for everyone to stay quiet when they immediately began to blurt their own opinions.

Sun gave me a cheerful nod and spun, walking away, still looking just like me aside from that tail that was flicking back and forth. Oh boy, that really didn’t help my confusion. 

As soon as he was out of sight, everyone started talking at once. My dad showed up and had to be filled in, which caused even more loud talking. Everyone had their own thoughts, largely revolving around how badly this whole thing could go. Jophiel and Elisabet, of course, were arguing in favor of it. They insisted that the potential benefits, especially if this actually led to me having what I needed to use my Necromancy to stop the Fomorians, completely outweighed the risks.

That led to a near shouting match, until I whistled sharply. When everyone looked at me, including my dad, I faltered a little. I knew what I needed to say, but it was almost impossible to actually do it. “You guys are right,” I managed. “This whole thing could be too dangerous. Maybe it’ll go wrong. Maybe Ehn’s lying about what he wants and all that. But just… stop and think like they did.” My hand gesture toward Jophiel and Elisabet. “If I really can get stronger, strong enough to stop the Fomorians I mean… forget all that stuff about how I could protect you guys, or what could happen to me or to you in the future. Think about all those people out there we don’t even know. Think about all the people the Fomorians are killing every single second of every single day. Think of all the worlds they’re washing over. Think about what happened to the Meregan world, or what will happen to Earth if they get to come back. Nothing is being solved while we hide on Earth and let that war go on. And I don’t think it’s one the Seosten can win in the long run if things just go on the way they are. Fossor spent thousands of years making this power stronger. I have his and Manakel’s, but I’m still nowhere near as strong as either of them were on their own. And yeah, I’m getting stronger with it. But not fast enough. If he can really help with that, even a little bit, how could I really live with myself if I said no? Think about all the innocent people the Fomorians are annihilating just while we stand here talking about it.” 

I swallowed hard, my voice cracking a little. “Believe me, I don’t want to do this. But how can I say no and then think about everyone who is going to die while I’m just living my life? Do I want to go back to the Fusion School with you and just live that life? Yeah, of course. But it wouldn’t be right. I’d spend every second thinking about the people who were dying because I was selfish.”

Dad took a step my way, then another. He went down to one knee in front of me, his hand taking mine. “What if he doesn’t want to let you come back?” He asked in a voice that shook from emotion.

Squeezing his hand, I stared into my father’s eyes and answered, “That’s why you guys need to find Gaia. And then wake up Arthur.” They reacted with surprise while I looked over to Avalon. “You have to wake him up, bring him back, whatever. If anyone can help deal with Ehn in case this goes badly, it’s him. He’s the only chance we have.”

There was a bit more talking after that. Okay, a lot more talking. We argued back-and-forth while I was embraced tightly by everyone in turn. But we all knew the choice had been made. No one had to like it that much. I certainly didn’t. Yet there was no question that it was the right choice. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to get stronger, not when we all knew what kind of threats were coming. I just had to hope that the others could actually get Gaia and Arthur so we might stand a chance if this went wrong.

In the end, I called Sun back and told him that I would accept the ‘invitation’ but he had to wait three days. I wasn’t going to leave for however long this took without talking to everyone else I cared about. I was going back to the Fusion School first, and I was going to have a real going away party.

Three days. I had that long to say my temporary goodbyes to everyone at the school. 

Then it would be time for me to visit and learn from one of the most dangerous and powerful people in the universe, just so I could become strong enough to do something about the creatures who wanted to annihilate every bit of life in the universe. 

Yeah, this was going to be one hell of a going away party. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Patreon Snippets 29B (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The following is the 29th edition of Patreon Snippets. Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month receives at least five hundred words they can eventually 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.

What do some of the other Star-Touched in the city think of Avant-Guard?

“Okay, yes, you can call it a wild conspiracy theory if you want, that’s fair.” The person speaking was a thin black man who stood almost six feet, four inches tall. To most of the outside world, he was known as Skin-Head, a member of the state-level Spartans team of Star-Touched. Though at the moment he wasn’t wearing his costume, so he looked like any other black man enjoying a cup of coffee while sitting on a bench in the middle of the park early in the morning. Right now, he was simply Michael Edwards, an incredibly bland name for a man who preferred not to stand out in any way when he wasn’t actively in costume, even if his height made that difficult.

Nor did his companion, a blonde woman in her mid-twenties with pale skin and a rather athletic build, immediately give away her own identity as Versed. As a civilian, she was simply Aubree Dayson. Though she might have worn ordinary, unassuming clothing like him, their similarities didn’t extend as far as drink choices. She chose tea rather than coffee, sipping from the cup while watching a couple joggers go past in the distance. “Call it a wild conspiracy?” the woman echoed while shaking her head. “You mean the part where you think Paintball and his new group might be up to something nefarious? Why on Earth would anyone call that a wild conspiracy?”

“Okay,” the man immediately pointed out, “I’m not saying they’re bad. Hell, they could be, it’s possible, but that’s not what I’m saying. All I mean is that they keep ending up being in the right place at the exact right time, so maybe they know something they’re not sharing, or they have an information source they’re keeping secret. Maybe they have contacts in the gangs who are helping them out. Like this whole thing at the courthouse. What were the odds that they would just happen to go in right then for interviews and still be there when this whole thing went down? You know, the ‘whole thing’ that happened to involve the very same people they helped fight at the park in the first place just a couple days earlier.” He grimaced, taking another gulp of his coffee. “Come on, you have to admit, it’s a little hard to see that and believe that it’s a complete coincidence. Especially–”

“Especially given we know Paintball works with people like Pack when it’s convenient,” Aubree finished for him. “Yeah, I know, I get that. So you’re saying you think they might have friends in other gangs, like the one that literally just moved to town, and that these friends completely gave away their entire scheme to Avant-Guard?”

Michael shook his head. “Maybe not with those guys, the ones who just got here, but they’re not the only ones who’re part of this new gang, remember? Devil’s Due, Janus, and Juice all took some of their own men with them when they left the Easy Eights. Maybe Paintball or one of his buddies had a friend in that group.”

Aubree was quiet for a moment before responding. “And you think if they do have someone in one of those gangs who was feeding them information about that attack, they might’ve chosen to go there and be in the right place at the right time so they could get the glory rather than share that info with the rest of us.”

Michael held up both hands. “Not saying that it’s definite. But if they did, It’d be pretty screwed up, wouldn’t it?”

Heaving a long sigh, the woman nodded. “If it was true, it’d be really fucked up, yes. But it’s not. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. And just because they have contacts with one or two other gangs doesn’t mean they have any with those guys. That’s a bit of a reach, man. Especially when you think about what any of those Fells would do to anyone who was helping out Paintball. I mean seriously, you saw how much all those guys hate him. And considering what happened over the last couple days, the newcomers are probably just as pissed at Avant-Guard as the old ones. And I don’t think Paintball’s the type of person to allow a little kid like Lightning Bug end up in danger or let all those guards die just for glory.” She grimaced somewhat to herself. “Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. And the simplest answer to this situation is that they just happened to be there. It was a coincidence.”

As she was saying that, a frisbee came flying in to land nearby. Seeing a couple girls come after it, Aubrey bent down to pick up the frisbee, holding it for a moment to allow her power to give her a decent level of skill with the thing. Then she sent it flying back that way, waving as one of them caught it. Which was enough for one of them to call out that she should join them since she seemed pretty good, and her boyfriend was welcome to come too.

“See that?” Aubrey pointed out in a quiet voice as she turned to face the man himself. “You’re not my boyfriend, but they made assumptions because we happen to be sitting together. If you don’t know the whole story about a situation, you can make some big mistakes if you assume things. Especially if you assume the worst.”

Michael chuckled softly despite himself, pushing off the bench. “Yeah, sure, I get it. It’s not like I think we should go out and arrest them or anything. It just might be worth keeping our eyes open and paying a bit more attention to what they’re doing, just in case.”

The two of them stopped talking about that for a bit, while going over to introduce themselves to the frisbee players. Though Michael introduced himself as Carl, while Aubree was Lena. And they did nothing to correct the assumption that they were romantically involved. Quite the opposite, really, given they referred to one another as their fiance, and had the rings to back that up. Which was all nonsense, given the two would never actually be together that way. Michael/Skin-Head played for the wrong team, and Aubree/Versed wasn’t even involved in the sport, having realized she was asexual and aromantic around the same time that she’d Touched.

All of which was to say, they didn’t have any interest in each other that way. But the two frisbee playing girls, and the rest of their group, didn’t know that. They simply made assumptions that the two Star-Touched were more than willing to take advantage of. Neither Aubree nor Michael felt the slightest twinge about lying to these people, considering the whole frisbee group belonged to one of the currently loyal Easy Eight factions. None were important to the gang in any way beyond being what amounted to quite low-level thugs, but one of them was the sibling, cousin, or friend of Pivotal, and that guy had some pretty… well, pivotal information about the disappearance of the son of a friend of Aubree’s. As far as the authorities were concerned, the son had run away on his own, but her friend didn’t believe that, so Aubree didn’t either. She was convinced Pivotal knew something about it, but couldn’t get official resources to go after him. Not on this, anyway. Michael had agreed to help her with this undercover bit, especially if it gave them the opportunity to potentially grab an important Fell-Touched right out from under Deicide while she was still reeling from losing three others to betrayal. And, of course, because he wanted to help his friend and teammate.

In any case, their attempts to infiltrate that area of the gang so they could find out what really happened to Aubree’s friend’s son weren’t going to pay off immediately. This was simply their first contact, and as far as that went, the meeting had gone pretty well. They played some frisbee in the park and talked a bit, giving just enough information about their fake lives to make the two of them seem like potentially decent recruits. The next part would come soon enough. As important as the whole situation was, if they pushed too hard too quickly, they wouldn’t get anything at all. So, they had to play it at least somewhat cool. Deicide had to be hungry for new recruits, but coming on too strong or seeming too good to be true was bound to get the wrong sort of attention. They just wanted to look like a couple of potentially good nobodies to help fill out the gang’s diminished ranks.

Following that little ‘incidental’ meeting (Aubree had watched the group play frisbee in that area twice before and the disc had ended up near that bench at some point both times), the two of them took a ride in Michael’s car, watching to see if they were tailed. Neither expected to be at this early stage, but you never knew for sure. Not where these gangs were concerned.

Only once they were as certain as they could be that no one was following them did Aubree shift the conversation back to what they had been talking about before. “Okay, so let’s go through what we know about Avant-Guard. Starting with the guy in charge. He put them together.”

“Paintball showed up first, that’s for sure,” Michael agreed. “And I think it’s safe to say he was by himself for the first bit, through most of that whole search for Blackjack’s missing vials. Didn’t have anyone else in the field with him, anyway. And going by the reports the Minority filed when he showed up to save that guy who was kidnapped by Janus, he wasn’t interested in working with anyone else or joining up officially.”

“If I recall correctly,” Aubree noted, “they said he seemed nice enough, but standoffish. A couple said he might’ve been nervous about something. But that could’ve just been because he was new. Though even that’s a bit iffy.”

Michael shook his head, scoffing while pulling the car to a stop at the red light. “Don’t tell me you put any stock in that ‘he’s a Touched from out of the city who came here and that’s how he learned so quickly’ nonsense. The kid’s just good at what he does. Or lucky. Both, probably.”

“I think both is a safe assumption given everything we’ve seen,” Aubree agreed, leaning back in the seat to watch the pedestrians passing by. “I’m just saying, even if he’s not another Touched in disguise or whatever, maybe he’s had some training we don’t know about. He is pretty good when it comes to getting around with that paint. Unless he’s one of those Touched with the something extra up here.” She gestured toward her head. “You know, like that whole thing with your skin just automatically hardening exactly as much as you need to deal with any impact if you know it’s coming. Even if you don’t consciously know how hard the impact is gonna be. Or That-A-Way knowing which direction she’s moving.”

“You think Paintball has some sort of extra super-training power?” Michael paused, considering that while accelerating away from the stoplight. “Gotta be honest, I’m gonna stick with the kid just being good and lucky. I think he got thrown into the deep end with all this stuff and he’s been doing the best he can to keep his head above water. He’s learning by doing.”

“Oh, pull into the drive-thru here,” Aubree insisted, pointing toward a donut bakery. “These guys have the best Boston Cream you’ll ever have in your life.”

“Given we’re not in Boston, I doubt that,” Michael retorted. “But I might be willing to give them ‘best in Detroit’ as second prize. Maybe best in Michigan.”

“Boston snob,” Aubree shot back, smirking a little bit before adding, “Okay, so going with the theory that he’s just good and lucky, do you think Paintball is totally a good guy on the up and up? He does seem pretty willing to work with some villains now and then. And he’s pretty chummy with Pack from what we’ve seen.”

Michael pulled into line behind another car, drumming his fingers along the steering wheel thoughtfully. “There’s different sorts of bad guys. From everything I’ve seen, Paintball knows what side he’s on when it really comes down to it. Sure, he works with Pack, but considering they were trying to save her boss’s kid, can we really blame him for that? It’s not even like the kid’s just excusing all low-level crime, because he’s helped stop random muggings, thefts, vandalism, all sorts of minor shit out there.”

“That’s kind of my point,” Aubree replied easily. “If he’s stopping those crimes but working with Pack, doesn’t that mean he’s picking and choosing which bad guys to go after?”

Michael snorted at that. “As if we don’t pick and choose to focus on the real threats, and even give ‘useful bad guys’ a pass now and then. I don’t know how you can–” He stopped then, squinting sidelong at her. “You’re playing devil’s advocate, aren’t you?”

She grinned in return. “Just seeing where you’re sitting. But anyway, enough about him. He’s a good kid, maybe makes some mistakes, but gets lucky. What about the rest of that group?”

“Well the only one we know for sure goes into the field and has powers is the marble girl,” Michael replied, before falling silent as they pulled up to the intercom to place their order. Only once they had pulled away from it and he could roll up his window again did the man continue that thought. “Alloy–which to tell you the truth, makes me think Silversmith might have something to do with her. You think he’s got any kids he might be giving some field time away from dear old dad’s reputation?”

Aubrey considered that for a few seconds while they picked up their donuts from the window and began to drive away. It wasn’t until she’d chewed and swallowed the first delicious bite that she finally spoke again. “Considering everything we’ve heard about him, and seen for ourselves, if any Star-Touched in the city was going to have a secret kid he sent out in the field and pretended not to know, it’s probably him. I mean, it would explain their powers being relatively similar, right? Sometimes kids inherit powers that are mutations from the parents instead of Touching for themselves. If her version of his power just happened to manifest like that–or if she’s pretending it did…”

“You mean if the whole marble thing is made up to throw people off?” Michael reached out to take one of the donuts from the box for himself, chewing thoughtfully for the next few seconds. “I suppose it’s possible she could just create stuff out of nothing like he does, or maybe she’s more limited in the amount she can use, and uses the marbles to avoid comparisons with her dad. If he is her dad. Or uncle, he could be her uncle. And it would explain some of their resources and training, if Silversmith’s secretly helping out even just a little bit. Hell, it seems like Paintball didn’t start getting all this extra help until Alloy showed up anyway, and then suddenly he’s got a whole team with him? You know, I think we might be onto something.”

“Right?” Aubrey gave a quick nod. “Like, we know Paintball had some sort of Techy working with him before. It’s that little girl with the wings who showed up at that one zombie fight. She had to be the one who made that automated suit they stuffed whatshisface into so he’d lead them to those vials. But now she’s got all those suits and special guns and stuff to outfit the whole team with? Four new people, all with their own equipment. The resources for that sort of start-up has to come from somewhere. Silversmith would have the sort of contacts it takes for that.”

“That’s a fair point,” Michael agreed. “And from what I’ve heard from others on the Conservators, he hasn’t really been pushing very hard to try to recruit any of them. That would fit with her being his kid that he’s trying to let have some experience of her own without being connected to him. Or maybe she insisted.” Tapping the steering wheel thoughtfully again, he added, “If that’s true, do you think he had this in mind from the beginning? I mean, as soon as Paintball started showing up. He might have been waiting to have someone his daughter could work with before letting her go out in the field.

Aubrey considered while eating another doughnut. In the end, she nodded. “You know, I think that sounds right. He probably waited until that–what was her name–Trevor something? The tech chick. He waited until she and Paintball were established so he could see how good they’d be at partnering with his kid and then offered support.”

“Trevithick,” Michael informed her. “The guy who invented the steam train or whatever. So what about the other four? Do you think they’re just Alloy’s friends he’s been helping train and outfit or something?”

Aubrey offered a shrug. “I mean, that would make sense too, wouldn’t it? It fits with the timing and all. Especially if he offered resources to Trevithick, and people for her to outfit and test her inventions with. I don’t think– hang on.” She frowned, looking out of the passenger window at a few men who seemed to be forcing a woman and her daughter into an alley nearby. “Looks like trouble.”

Michael nodded in agreement while pulling the car to a stop along the curb. The touch of a button on his side made both of their seats drop back to put the pair into a lying-down position as the automated system in the heavily-modified vehicle quickly dressed the pair in their costumes within a few seconds. Michael’s was easy enough. Most of his skin was exposed, leaving the man wearing simple, baggy black shorts and tennis shoes, along with a metal band around his face which covered the area from his mouth up to his eyes and had a pair of black lenses.

Aubrey, meanwhile, wore skin-tight dark green pants and a black long-sleeved shirt, along with black gloves and boots, and a green bandana mask over the top half of her face. Her eyes were also covered by a pair of dark goggles. Her appearance, specifically the way she tended to play it up and flirt with people, was another layer of protection. Her civilian self had less than zero interest in such things, so she was less likely to be identified.

And just like that, the pair weren’t Michael and Aubree anymore. Not for this. Now they were Skin-Head and Versed. With a quick nod to one another, they popped their doors open and stepped out, starting to move toward the alley the other group had forced the woman and her child into. Within a few steps, Skin-Head raised his arm, extending the skin from it into a long tentacle shape all the way to the roof of the nearby building. It wrapped around an air conditioning unit up there, before pulling the man up that way.

Versed, meanwhile, unsnapped the sleek, futuristic-looking pistol from one of her legs, flipping the weapon over in the air smoothly before catching it. Her powers allowed her to understand how to use any object she touched, with the level of skill she had depending on how long she held the item, up to the level of a complete master. She could only retain mastery-level skill of up to five objects at a time, and guns were one of those five. That skill applied to anything that could be considered a gun, from the smallest pistol to enormous rifles and everything in between. And it applied to Touched-Tech versions of guns, including this one. It had a multitude of settings, from a concussive beam, to a heat ray, to a disorienting wide-spread blast, and many others. Considering all the various settings it had and the way each type of attack it produced changed its effective range, the way that attack behaved, and so forth, it would have been difficult for most people to use the pistol effectively. But Versed’s power-provided mastery of the weapon meant she always knew exactly which buttons to use to get the effect she wanted. As it did for literally any other gun she ever picked up, no matter how obtuse its designer made the use of it. Which included unlocking any special security measures they had included within it.

At that particular moment, she pressed a quick selection of the small buttons along one side of the gun, waiting until it gave an answering thrum of acknowledgment in her hand. Then the woman stepped around the corner, raising the weapon while clearly calling out, “This is the Spartans, everyone freeze!”

They didn’t, of course. The men whirled around and raised their own guns. But she had been ready for that. A simple pull of the trigger sent a red blast all the way down through the alley. It was wide enough to fill the entire space, and the moment it struck any object matching the physical description of a gun, knife, or other similar weapons that had been programmed into the thing, that item was instantly heated up to a painful degree, forcing the men to yelp and drop their weapons.

Disarmed as they were, they turned to flee down the alley, shoving the woman and her daughter aside. But they ended up running right into Skin-Head, who dropped down in front of them. One, clearly without even paying attention to who the person blocking their way was, threw a wild punch. He then proceeded to yelp in pain, stumbling a bit as he clutched his hand while the black man stood utterly unaffected. Well, not utterly. He did smile faintly. “Hey there,” the man greeted them.

“It’s about to be a very bad day for you.”

Soon enough, the situation was handled and the men were being taken away. Back in Michael’s car, the pair took a moment to collect themselves. Aubree glanced toward her teammate with a small smirk. “Well, that was fun. What were we talking about? Oh right, the other four members of Avant-Guard. Those first two, Calvin and Hobbes, they’re clearly not as well-trained as the other two, right?”

“Right,” Michael agreed. “I’m betting those two are Alloy’s friends, and the other two are people Silversmith brought in to protect them. They haven’t shown any powers, anyway. Maybe those other two, what was it, Poise and Style? Maybe they’re trainees from one of those rapid-response candidate programs. They pull from some of those private schools.”

Aubree considered that. “I guess that would make sense. Smith would have access to those records. Maybe he recruited a couple to come over and help out his kid. They start training pretty early, so it’d explain why they seem so young. Maybe we should check the records and see if anyone who matches those descriptions quit or has been preoccupied recently?”

With a slow nod, Michael began to pull the car away from the curb. “Maybe we should. Just to make sure Smith isn’t using resources he shouldn’t be.” As he spoke, the man used his left hand to type on the phone hidden from Aubree by his body. He sent a simple message.

Minister Gold – confirmed she doesn’t know the identities of anyone on AG. Planted theory about P&S being from training program. She’ll check into without leading back to Ministry. Will keep informed if she finds anything useful.


A look at the political side of what happened with Breakwater

Sitting in her office in the Russell Building (so-named for Senator Richard B. Russell, who had served for thirty-nine years from 1932 to 1971) in the Capitol complex, Senator Dana Lowery held a cell phone to her ear and snapped, “I don’t care how evasive they’re being. Find out the truth, no matter how many arms you have to twist. Remind those people of just how quickly their whole system will fall apart if the US pulls our support. If we’re not in, plenty of others will pull out too. And yes, that is absolutely on the table at this point.”

As she was speaking, the woman glanced toward her own reflection in the nearby window. She was young for a senator, a mere forty-one years of age. And thanks to a rigorous exercise and diet regimen, she appeared to be several years younger than that. Her hair was blonde and short, while she had skin that was darkened through a mixture of outdoor activities and artificial tanning. She looked damn good, if she did say so herself. Even if there were dark circles under her eyes right now. It was to be expected, considering everything that was happening. She had been on the phone with various people for several hours by this point. Between that and all the calls her assistants had been placing and taking, she was almost surprised they hadn’t burned out the cell tower already.

After another minute or so on this particular call, Dana disconnected and tossed the phone onto the desk before leaning back to stretch her arms over her head with a long sigh. Of course this was the job she had dreamed of for so long, since she had been a small child. But some days she wondered if it would have been easier to just write a few books or something. Much less stressful anyway.

A knock came at her door then, before one of her assistants, a young but very enthusiastic girl named Cheryl, poked her head in. “Hey boss, Carl just called from upstairs. He says Deckert and Larson are onboard. But we still don’t have the numbers to make a serious push at withdrawing from the agreement with Breakwater. Even with two Stars and a civilian trapped over there, the optics for completely pulling out of that and having to deal with our own top threats are too bad.”

Rising from her desk, Dana shook her head. “That’s okay, we don’t really want to withdraw anyway. Sure, they lied to us and we absolutely need to slap their hands for that. But dropping out entirely? No one’s going to back that. Not when doing so would mean offering their own state up as a place to house these people. We just need enough voices to make those Breakwater assholes think it’s a real possibility, especially if they keep jerking us around like this. They need to think we won’t be the first ones to blink in this little game of chicken.” As she spoke, the woman grabbed her light blue jacket from the nearby hook. “Come on, we’ve got to pay a visit to Adkins.”

Cheryl made a face. “Speaking of assholes, he’s one of the biggest. And he smells like it too.”

Dana chuckled. “You’re not wrong, but let’s keep that inside this office. Ken Adkins may be a piece of shit, but he’s got power and he knows how to use it. I’d hate to lose my best aide because she gave that man reason to start complaining.”

Blushing under the compliment, Cheryl accompanied her boss out of the office, past the dozen other assistants who were busy working the phones, and out into the main hall. From there,they made their way down the hall to what looked like an elevator from the outside. Not so long ago, those doors really would have led to an elevator, and the two of them would have needed to take that down to the miniature ‘subway’ line that connected the Russell building to the actual Capitol. The train itself had actually been known as a ‘people mover,’ which was only a couple of cars long, and wasn’t enclosed. The whole thing looked more like a ride at a carnival or something, but it worked well enough to ferry members of Congress to various buildings. Or it had worked well enough, until the building was upgraded several years earlier.

Technically, the upgrade could have been done years before that even, but various complications and complaints had kept the new system from being implemented while people who didn’t trust Touched, or new technology, or who simply preferred things stayed the same, gradually lost power. But now, when Dana reached out to touch her thumb against the print reader, it didn’t immediately open into an elevator. Instead, part of the metal door slid aside to reveal a touchscreen with a menu on it, which included a list of all the possible places her clearance level allowed her to go. Ignoring her own apartments both here in DC and back home, as well as several close colleagues’ offices, her emergency bunker, and a few other locations throughout Capitol Hill and beyond, the woman instead touched the option for a spot on the second floor of the nearby Capitol that was nearest her actual destination. Immediately, the doors slid open, revealing the hallway they were aiming for. With a small smile of satisfaction at the convenience the new system allowed, Dana stepped through with her assistant. The doors closed behind them, waiting for the next person to need direct transport anywhere they were permitted to go. It really was so much better and more convenient than riding a tiny train.

It only took Dana a second to notice the person she had come up here looking for. As expected, the silver-haired man with wire-rimmed glasses and a slightly overweight figure was speaking with a reporter and cameraman in the hallway. Because why wouldn’t he be? Even from here, she could hear his firm declaration about how they were going to absolutely rescue the missing heroes and civilian from that terrible prison island, and that heads would roll for keeping this secret from the American people, and blah blah blah.

Taking a breath, she squeezed Cheryl’s shoulder to signal for her to stay back, then stepped up that way to put herself directly beside the camera-loving man. Her voice was the perfect mix of cheerful and somber, showing enthusiasm and optimism, but also carefully reserved outrage. “Senator Pichole is absolutely correct, and I am so glad that he and the rest of my colleagues across the aisle can work together with us on this issue. What matters now isn’t our petty politics, but bringing Flea, Trivial, and that poor woman they went to rescue home where they belong.”

There was a brief exchange with the reporter, who jumped on the opportunity to interview her as well, before both senators excused themselves and walked toward Pichole’s office. On the way, once they were far enough from the media people, Dana crooked a finger for Cheryl to join them while speaking up. “Shall I take it that this means you’re going to stop pussyfooting around and sign on to our measures?”

Herbert Pichole chuckled. “Your measures that technically do nothing of import, you mean? You may get the votes you need, if I sign on, to take it out of committee. But there is absolutely no way in hell you’ll get sixty votes in the full chamber. You won’t even get a majority. Name a single state whose people are going to willingly say, ‘sure, go ahead and bring all those murderous piece of shit super villains here to our state. We’d love for our tax money to go toward containing and feeding them.’”

While saying that, the man opened the door into his outer office area. Like Dana’s, there were a dozen or more people busy working the phones and computers to manage all the calls coming in. But this one was much grander and larger than hers. A product of his longer time serving in Congress. But not for long. She had her eyes on an office even grander than this one. Someday, this place would seem quaint.

Dana ignored that thought however, and walked with the man past all his own people to his own private office. Like the outer one, it was twice the size of hers. Motioning for Cheryl to wait out there, she stepped into that inner sanctum, and allowed the door to close behind her. Only then did she speak up. “Sure, you’re absolutely right. No senator is going to want to be the one who says ‘let’s put those people in our state.’ The fallout would be positively nuclear. But you know as well as I do that it won’t actually come to that. We just need to show a united front. United enough that Breakwater considers it a possibility. Maybe not that we’ll bring our criminals back here, but that we might go looking for other solutions. Solutions that don’t involve them.”

The man’s smile was unconvincing. However good, he might’ve been at convincing his voters that he was sincere, he either couldn’t convey that feeling to her, or he didn’t care enough to try. Either way, he simply replied, “And yet, it is your territory that would suffer the most embarrassment if this measure was to fall through, isn’t it? After all, you are serving the great state of Michigan, where the poor victims of this whole unfortunate situation are from. So it’s you who needs this more than me.”

Dana sighed and made an acquiescing motion with one hand. “Just get to the point. What do you want?”

So, he informed her. His support of the bill that would begin to strip support for Breakwater, which would fail or be withdrawn anyway as soon as the prison produced those three missing women, in exchange for pushing several companies to build their new Touched tech facilities in his own home state. Being the senator from Michigan, which had become the center of so much of that work over the past couple decades, Dana had a great deal of say over that sort of thing. As did her senior senator. But she suspected he already had that blowhard’s backing.

Either way, she agreed, and he promised to signal support at their next committee meeting that afternoon. Once it was done, Dana left with Cheryl, and as they were walking down the hall, she asked the girl, “Have they called yet?”

Cheryl nodded, holding up her phone. Dana took it and held the phone to her ear. “Yes, Minister White, we’re at the next step. Of course, ma’am. That’s what matters.

“After all, we’re all on the same side.”


Cassiel (Cassidy in Heretical Edge) continuing from previous noncanon. Seriously, if you haven’t read that non-canon and have at least a fair idea about Heretical Edge, you will probably be completely lost.

The air of the village was filled with smoke and flame, along with the sounds of people shouting, metal weapons clanging together, the thwocking of arrows striking wood and clanging off of shields, as well as the occasional high-pitched whine of a laser flying back and forth. Through the smoke-filled street of the medieval village, a small handful of weary soldiers, dressed in the armor of Camelot, retreated with an assortment of civilians. They were protecting the escape of the innocent villagers as best as they could in the face of an overwhelming force of attackers.

There were three soldiers, two armed with swords while the third held a laser rifle that had clearly seen better days and barely functioned. Pursuing them and their charges was a small army’s-worth of assailants of all shapes and sizes. There were a dozen humans or humanoids, just as many reptilian figures, a massive troll, and more. They were all better armed than the beleaguered trio of troops they were assaulting.

Retreating down the street, one soldier shouted for them to hold the line just a little bit longer and that reinforcements would be there soon. He sounded optimistic, yet even that was straining under the stress of what was happening. The man with the faulty laser rifle grimaced and wiped soot from his face before taking aim at the enormous troll’s eye. He triggered a blast that only made the thing recoil a bit with an angry bellow.

Unfortunately, a scream of despair went up from the group the trio of soldiers were escorting, as an equally large group of enemies came around the corner of the building in the distance down the street, cutting off their escape. The group was surrounded, and it didn’t look as though help would be arriving in time to spare them from a truly grisly fate.

Exchanging looks, the three soldiers ordered the civilians to gather in a circle and then they surrounded them as best as they could. If they were going to go down right here, it would be while they were fighting. There would be no surrender. The warlord who had assaulted this village with his army would never allow them to survive in the end anyway. Though he also wouldn’t make their ends quick. If captured, they would all wish for death long before it came. They braced themselves, even the civilians picking up what meager defenses they could between a few shovels, pitchforks, and even a club or two. They knew it was about to be all over, and braced themselves for a last stand, short as it would undoubtedly be.

Their attackers had all stopped as well, surrounding the paltry handful of troops. King Arthur’s own army was on the way, these three having been sent forward as scouts. But the king hadn’t expected such a large force to already be assaulting the village. Something had gone wrong, the warlord’s troops had moved far more quickly than they should have been able to. And they were better-armed than had been reported. They had an outside force assisting them, that much was clear.

Stretching itself up to its full height of twelve feet, the troll (itself no doubt strong and terrible enough to annihilate everyone present all on its lonesome) opened its mouth to laugh. Except what filled the air, echoing through the street around them in that moment was not the horrific, guttural chuckle of a massive beast, but the gleeful laughter of a young girl who happened to be in the middle of a truly exciting, death-defying stunt.

Needless to say, the troll was confused, stopping short with his mouth open like that even as everyone present on both sides of the conflict stared at him. Briefly, the thought that the girlish laughter could possibly be coming from such an enormous creature filled the heads of everyone there.

At least, it did until the true source of the sound became apparent. Behind the troll and that part of the army came a tiny figure, riding what looked like a silver board that floated several feet off the ground. She appeared human, and a small one at that, standing only five feet in height without the height of the flying board counted. Her clothes were decidedly odd to most present, consisting of a simple skin-tight red bodysuit of sorts with gold trim. In one hand, she held a small cylinder-shaped device that looked sort of like a sword hilt with no blade, while the other hand clutched three small metal balls. The board seemed to fly under her mental direction, swerving around an overturned vegetable cart on her way straight to the now-gawking assortment of troops and civilians.

“Yo dudes!” the girl called out, voice ringing clearly through the sudden silence. “Why don’t you take a little break, you deserve it!” With that, the hand holding those three small metal balls snapped out, sending the orbs flying past the warlord’s troops before spreading out to land around the circle of terrified civilians and the three Camelot soldiers. Instantly, the balls opened up, working together to project a powerful forcefield around the group so they couldn’t be assaulted.

Of course, those now within the shield had their own terrified assumptions of why the newcomer had surrounded them in the impenetrable shield, believing that she was working with the warlord and had now trapped them. But those assumptions faltered under what came next.

“Well hey there!” the girl called out cheerfully while flipping off the board to land smoothly right in front of the group that included the troll, “You big strong creeps really wanna pick on somebody smaller than you?” She grinned, extending her hands to either side. As she did so, the suit she was wearing turned white before a series of elaborate drawings in various colors appeared all over it. They looked like what people in the future would call comic strips, a series of sketches depicting every member of the warlord’s army being beaten and killed in comedic ways that made them seem utterly incompetent. Her entire suit, front and back and from her neck to her toes was filled with the artwork. In that single instant, literal hours worth of comic strips covered every square inch of available space.

As they took all that in, she continued to smile broadly at them. “They don’t come much smaller than me. So go ahead and see what you can do.” Her smile darkened just a little bit as she stared at them through briefly serious eyes. “For real though, show me what you can do.”

There was a brief pause before a series of furious howls and screams filled the air. The troll was the first to move, stampeding forward to lash out with a kick of his massive foot that it would have sent the girl flying, her broken body left to slam into a wall some distance away. Would have, had it not been for the fact that the girl moved. Even as that huge and nasty foot was swinging through the air, she leapt, a blue spot appearing on the ground under her feet as she sprang good fifteen feet into the air. Her hand extended, before a spray of yellow liquid flew out to completely cover the troll. Suddenly, he found himself moving incredibly slowly, as though he was deep underwater. In that same moment, the girl threw the cylinder she’d been holding in her other hand. Halfway to its target, the cylinder suddenly hummed to life, a long laser blade extending from it to cut straight through the troll’s throat and out the other side, like a spear lancing through a sheet of paper.

A series of crossbow bolts went flying at the girl from the dozen or so troops who were quick enough to fire, but her board had flown up into the air right after her, and positioned itself to one side, allowing her to plant one foot and rebound off it. The bolts were left to fly harmlessly through the space where she had just been. As she flipped sideways, the girl held her hand out, a red circle appearing on her palm to match the red she left on the hilt of the laser sword. Suddenly, its flight forward halted, and it came spinning back the way it had come, moving sideways so that the blade cut cleanly through the troll’s already wounded throat. With a gurgling cry that was abruptly silenced, the head was completely severed, leaving the body to crash lifelessly to the ground while the girl caught the incoming sword with her extended hand.

The assembled troops were astonished, and suddenly much less confident than they had been only a moment earlier. Still, they descended upon the girl. Yet they stood no chance. As an orc-like figure, who stood almost half as tall as the troll had been, brought his wicked-looking hammer slamming down toward her, the girl’s torso and arms were suddenly bright purple mixed with green. She caught the descending hammer, ripping it from the creature’s grasp before he could recover from his surprise. A quick toss sent the weapon safely to one side just as the green-purple coloring vanished. In the next second, the energy blade from that laser sword cut the orc’s body in half, even as the girl smoothly ducked under the wild sword swing from another figure who had come up behind her. She flipped over backwards, her foot kicking her new attacker in the face. But the part of her foot that made contact had been painted blue and green, and that single touch from it sent the assailant flying right into her waiting silver board, which had righted itself in the air and turned to face them. Worse for the orc, the board had produced a series of spikes, forcing the flailing figure to impale himself on them.

None of the other troops fared any better. The girl moved through them as smoothly and efficiently as a talented farmer threshing wheat. Various colors appeared as necessary over her body and on the people she was fighting. Her laser sword thrummed through the air, severing arms, legs, and throats at will. The troops were slowed by yellow, sped when they didn’t wish to be by green, blinded by white flashes, left with their assaults accomplishing nothing under a suddenly orange-or-pink-painted target, or even with their damage being reflected back onto themselves with a mixture of orange and blue. They couldn’t lay a finger on the girl as she systematically took them apart and killed every last one of them. Throughout the fight, if it could be considered such, the girl laughed and mocked them, making it perfectly clear how much contempt she held for the troops who had been about to slaughter those innocent villagers and the handful of troops who had been desperately protecting them.

In the end, they all fell under her light blade, with some assistance from her board, which seemed to sprout blades and move under her entirely silent and unseen commands. Finally, none were left standing. Every last member of the army that had been sent to burn this village to the ground and kill everyone within it had instead been killed by this single girl. They had been meant to send a message to the people of this land, about the warlord’s insistence upon obedience to his rule. Instead, they themselves had become the message. One that would become increasingly clear as King Arthur’s people and allies gradually consolidated their control over the territory.

Once it was over, the girl paused to survey the area, making certain everything was clear. Then she turned to the people behind the forcefield barrier and whistled while hooking the hilt of the now-disabled laser sword onto her hip. As she did so, the shield finished and the orbs returned to her hand. She juggled them briefly before setting the orbs atop her waiting board, where they soon sank and vanished out of sight as though it was made of water. Then the girl held up both hands. “Hey you guys! Uh, I know this whole thing might be freaking you out a bit, but it’s okay.” She gestured to the fallen bodies that filled the street around them. “I promise, I’m here to help!”

“Who…” One of the troops, the one who had been armed with the nearly-dead laser rifle, took a hesitant step that way. “Who are you? You aren’t one of the king’s knights. Who sent you?” He was clearly grateful for her aid, yet wary of just how much power she had displayed. If she worked for one of the warlord’s rivals, they were hardly out of danger. “Where have you come from?”

“Oh boy, is that ever a long story we don’t have time for.” Snorting at her own response, the girl took a breath. “Look, the short version is, I’m Cassiel. And I’ve come to help escort you back to Arthur.” Even as those words left her mouth, she suddenly gave a loud laugh, an ecstatic grin crossing her face. “Arthur! As in King Arthur! How fucking cool is that? The actual King Arthur, magic sword and everything! I didn’t even know he was real. I didn’t–err…” Realizing what she was doing and who she was talking to, Cassiel abruptly flushed visibly. “Err, sorry. Trust me, if you had any idea where I came from, you’d totally understand.”

Visibly sobering as much as she could, the girl continued. “Anyway, yeah, King Arthur. Let’s just say my friends and I made a deal with him. They’re helping out in a few other places to get other villages evacuated and bring those people back to safety. Right now, we need to get moving ourselves, because there’s a bigger army coming this way. We need to get you back to where you’ll be safe, with the king. I mean, don’t get me wrong, all this was super-fun and all.” She gestured at the bodies around. “But I’m not completely certain I can protect you from the size of the real army that’s coming this way. So gather everything you need and let’s get going.” After a brief pause, she snapped her fingers. “Oh right, Arthur said I should tell you all the owl has left the aspen. Some sort of code phrase?”

Those words were finally enough to make the troops relax. Arthur would only have given that code to someone he trusted greatly. Between that and the display the girl had put on as she killed all the troops who had been about to slaughter them, they felt confident enough in believing she was there to help. So, they quickly began to follow her advice, running into the surrounding homes and buildings to collect everything they had left behind in their desperate and previously doomed attempt to escape.

While they were putting their provisions together as quickly as possible, one of the soldiers came closer. “You said your name is Cassiel,” he started carefully. “That sounds strangely like the sort of names of the enemies our king has spoken of. And your weapon–the magic you displayed…”

There was a brief pause before the girl gave him a small smile. “Don’t worry, we’re on the same side. It’s too complicated to get into right now, but my friends and I really did come to help your king.” She blushed a little bit, her demeanor totally at odds with the cool confidence she had displayed through the fight. “I mean come on, he’s King Arthur. No way I could ever be against him. He’s sort of a huge legend where I’m from.”

The guard smiled a bit in confusion. “I feel as though you have come from very far away, and yet our king has only begun to put his territory together. How could his legend have spread so quickly?”

“Like I said, it’s a long story,” Cassiel replied before reaching out to the hand on his arm. “Maybe I’ll be able to tell you about it someday, or at least part of it. But for the moment, let’s just focus on getting these people to safety. They’ve been through plenty as it is, and I really don’t think they want to be anywhere around here when the main part of that army shows up.” As the man started to turn to do that, she added, “Hey, what’s your name anyway?”

“Me?” The soldier glanced that way. “Oh, I’m nobody important, Lady Cassiel.

“They call me Bedivere.”

(This storyline continues in another separate noncanon found right here)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

A/N – Hey people! The next non-canon for this story, continuing the bit about friendly neighborhood Charmeine, is available for everyone right here

Letting go of Herbie shouldn’t really have mattered nearly as much as it did. He was just a rock, after all. But he was a rock that I’d had with me from the very moment this whole crazy life had really started. He came with me through that portal and had been at my side basically ever since. In a way, he was a connection to my old life, as well as a constant companion through this one. Having that rock in my pocket this whole time had been comforting in a way I couldn’t actually explain. Sure, he was just a rock, but he mattered. He would always matter, regardless of what changed or how much I grew. He had helped take Fossor’s power away, and helped us kill him in the end. And, of course, that was why he would always matter to these people as much as he mattered to me. Herbie was the reason they were all still alive. He deserved to be here with them, an artifact from Earth for these people to have. I knew he’d take care of them, and that they would do the same for him. If he was going to be safe anywhere in the universe that wasn’t my pocket, it was here on this world. This was the right thing to do. 

Besides, this just gave me even more reason to come back and visit this place a lot, as if I needed that. So, after allowing the priest to take Herbie to find a special case to put him in where he would be safe for everyone to see and admire, I opened and shut my hand a couple times, feeling the loss of his comforting weight. Boy, this really was harder than it should have been.

Avalon stepped beside me, her voice serious. “Are you going to be okay?”  

The question made me chuckle softly despite myself, raising my gaze to meet hers. “We’ve come a long way from you calling me a freak for having a pet rock, haven’t we?” 

She snorted in return. “We’ve come a long way, period,” the girl reminded me. Her hand rose to gently cup my face. “And I’m glad I’ve been able to do it with you.” 

We kissed briefly before I cleared my throat and turned back to the others. “I know, right now we’ve got bigger things to think about than a rock I’ve been carrying around in my pocket. I’ll be fine. It’s all good. He’ll have a whole planet worshiping him now. That’s what he deserves.” 

From there, we all went over more details about what was going to happen with the defense of this planet. The whole Revenant thing, which still sounded crazy but really was their best chance at having enough time to develop more defenses of their own, had more specifics that had to be ironed out. I couldn’t contribute very much to that, but I could help teach their budding necromancers to sense and control the Revenants when they had to. 

And boy didn’t that seem really weird. I was the one giving necromancy lessons? There was something really wrong with that, especially considering where my power had come from. Or maybe that made it perfect. I had helped kill Fossor, and now his power was being put to use helping to protect the world he had spent so long grinding under his heel. 

Another couple weeks passed like that, as I helped teach those Necromancers while the others put the rest of the planetary defensive system into place. Now it was Friday, March 15th. Which meant we officially had about two and a half months left before the Seosten leadership decided whether to extend the truce or not. I just had to hope that everything we had done so far, between defeating Fossor to clear him off this world so he wasn’t a threat anymore, to showing them how the anti-possession spell could be potentially modified to help them with their pregnancy problem, to even introducing them to a whole new world full of their unmodified people that could also help with that, would be enough to convince them to hold off on the whole invasion thing. Or that something else would happen before we reached the time limit. 

Oh, and maybe the fact that I was supposed to help stop the Fomorians with my Necromancy once I was strong enough. Maybe that would help too. 

In any case, I really hadn’t planned on being away from the school for this long, not in the slightest. But there wasn’t much choice. These people deserved to learn everything we could teach them, and that sort of thing didn’t come quickly. As it was, this was a pretty big crash course. I even brought Brom Bones in to help, since he knew more than I did when it came to a lot of this stuff. 

There were about twenty Necromancy students, of all ages and from all over the world. Twenty people might have seemed like a lot at first glance, but when drawn from the entire world’s population… yeah. Fossor really had done everything he could to stomp out every possible rival to his own power. Besides, they all had almost no understanding of their own gift, since it had been far too dangerous to actually practice with. But still, they were ready and eager to learn how to help protect their planet. 

That whole time, I kept wondering when I was going to get answers from Sun Wukong about why he was here and what he had come to see me for. But he simply insisted the time would come for that. Then he disappeared. For about a week and a half, the man was gone entirely. I thought he’d gotten bored and disappeared possibly forever and that I would never get answers about what he wanted, but he turned up finally, simply saying that he’d had something else to take care of. Which, from what I’d seen, could’ve meant anything from fate of the universe stuff, or he could’ve simply seen a shiny bird and followed it around for several days.

I also checked in on Robin, Stasia, and Judas through that time. It had turned out that Rasputin lived far out in the wilderness, in an area that wasn’t very well mapped or anything and was apparently pretty dangerous. They had to find a guide who could take them out there, which took awhile. But finally, they had gotten everything they needed and set out for that. I tried to offer help, yet they insisted I could do more good back here and that I was already busy enough as it was. They could handle it just fine. Plus, they had everything they needed to call for a quick pickup from the Jitterbug once they were finished out there. 

Between that and the fact that Brom Bones was willing to stay here and keep teaching these people as much as they needed, it was finally time for the rest of us to head home. For now, at least. Obviously, we would be back to visit later. That much we had promised repeatedly. But we really needed to get back to the Fusion School after all this time. It felt like I had spent more days doing homework and study sheets to catch up with classes then I had spent within actual classes this year. There was just so much to do. But still, I didn’t mind that much. Not when spending time out here on this world meant that these people had a better understanding of what was going on and how to protect themselves.

Of course, these people were grateful, to say the least. They kept bringing various trinkets as gifts. I wanted to tell them to keep everything, but I also didn’t want to be rude. So I made it a point to accept simple stuff, the sort of gifts that wouldn’t really affect them in the long run. I would keep everything they gave me safe, as a reminder of just how much we had managed to help these people by getting rid of that monster.

Shiori, Avalon, and I were loading some bags up with those trinkets at the moment, standing in the upper room of one of the houses that had been given over to our use. I had been against the idea of using one of the houses belonging to these people, but they made it clear that the house wasn’t in use anymore anyway. Not at the moment. We had stopped Fossor from killing every last person on this planet to save himself, but he had still killed many of them.

With that uncomfortable and sad thought running through my mind, I continued to talk with the other two about what we were going to do once we got back. It felt strange, knowing how much more still needed to be done back on Earth while also getting closure on this world. All of the ghosts who wanted to be let go here already had been. Those who were staying to help out would be led by Rahanvael, all the rest had simply disappeared.

Shaking my head at how much quieter the haunted mansion was going to be without about half of its occupants, I looked toward Avalon. “So, were the Starburst good?” 

She raised an eyebrow at me. “You mean the ones the Wandering Woman gave us after taking Aylen and me completely by surprise so she could tell us how to save Gaia by finding one of Chadwick’s descendants and a Reaper who might actually help?” 

“Don’t forget Dare,” I pointed out. “You need someone with the blood of Gaia, a helpful Reaper, and Dare.” 

“But she’s someone we already have,” Shiori put in. “And I guess the Reaper is too? Wait, you talked to Gwen or Michael about that, right? Didn’t you say they were supposed to know someone like that?”

“That’s what the Wandering Woman said,” Avalon agreed. “Or Sawyer as she called herself, I guess.” She frowned thoughtfully. “And yeah, I talked to Gwen, actually. She uhh, she was pretty curious about Sawyer and how she could possibly know about all that. But she did say they know a Reaper who could help. Jones, just like Sawyer said. So now I guess all we need to do is find that descendent. There’s just one major problem with that.” 

“Let me guess,” I replied, “all the descendants that we know about are being watched by the loyalists, so it’s impossible to get near them without calling down a huge fight.” 

Avalon sighed, folding her arms as she confirmed, “Pretty much. It’s not even that they have any idea about the descendants being used to find Gaia. It’s just that the Seosten have always been paranoid that one of them could be the way Arthur gets woken up, so they taught enough of the hardliners that it would be a really bad thing. These people, the ones who know anything about it at all, have been taught for like a thousand years that if any of Arthur’s blood relatives are disturbed, it could cause a massive calamity.”

“They didn’t want anyone on either side getting ideas about making a super Heretic by bringing in someone related to Arthur,” I muttered while looking out the nearby window at the bustling city. The people out there were putting actual laser turrets on several of the various roofs throughout the city, thanks to a delivery from Athena’s people. Just in case any invaders got close enough to teleport directly onto the planet and bypass the Revenant defenses, we wanted them to have another way of defending themselves long enough for help to arrive. Those turrets would be given to every major city on the planet, and they would be taught how to use them. 

Beyond that, Athena had brought in experts to teach these people how to fight and use other weapons, magic, all of it. Obviously, Fossor had made certain not to let them do anything of the sort while he was in charge. He wanted them to be completely and utterly helpless without him.

After watching that for a moment, I spoke again. “So I guess we have to find a descendant who isn’t already known to them?”

“That’s the idea,” Avalon confirmed. “But you know, that’s gonna take awhile. More time wasted.” She gave a heavy sigh. “We’re so close to getting Gaia out of there, but it’s like there’s always one more thing in the way.” 

Before I could say anything, Shiori put a hand on the other girl’s back. “Don’t worry, if anyone can find a descendant who isn’t under constant watch, it’s Professor Dare. She wants to save Gaia too. She’ll find someone we can get to. Or find a way to get to one of the others safely.”

Valley gave a short nod. “I know she will. She’s already got some leads. I just want it to be done right now.” Giving a rueful chuckle, she offered a shrug. “I guess I’m impatient.” 

“You deserve to be,” I pointed out. “You’ve already waited more than long enough.” 

“I’m not worried about how long I’ve been waiting,” the girl informed me. “I’m worried about how long she’s been waiting. Who knows how bad they’re treating her or what they’ve told her. They’ve probably been lying to her about how this rebellion is going. I’m pretty sure she knows better than to believe anything they say, but still. It’s just… we have to find her.” 

“We do. There’s a lot riding on finding Gaia,” I agreed. Which was the moment my phone changed with a notification. Glancing at it, I coughed. “Oh, it’s that time again.”

Shiori looked at me curiously. “You have to do that today too? Even though we’re leaving in an hour?”

“It’s training,” Avalon pointed out. “Of course she has to do it every day.” 

I offered a helpless shrug. “It’s the deal I made with them. You know, since they’ve been waiting to do this for so long and everything kept interrupting. Being here on this world to do all this other stuff was the best chance to really work on it without something else getting in the way. Besides, we’ve got it now. They just want to make sure. It’s kind of like a final exam, I guess. Even though they’re going to keep working with us after this. It’s just… we’ll be going back to Earth and everyone knows there’ll be more interruptions. They want to see for themselves that we can do it if we need to.” Pausing, I amended, “When we need to.” 

So, promising to be back in a little bit so we could attend the goodbye ceremony the people of this place had planned, I left the room, made my way downstairs and out of the building and walked through the city. The people, most of whom were rebuilding or working with Athena’s people to set up those defenses, kept waving and greeting me, calling out various things as I returned their cheerful words. Eventually, I made it out of the place, past the walls, and toward a by-now familiar grove on the outskirts. It was really pretty there, with a small stream running through grass that was a very deep purple, surrounded by tall orange trees. 

Tabbris was already there, sitting cross-legged on the ground as she examined the magical fishbowl on her lap. With the permission from people of this world, she had added a few specimens from here to get along with her other fish. And of course, she had named all of them. Seeing that, I smiled and spoke up. “How are the new neighbors doing?” 

She, in turn, grinned while popping to her feet and leaving her fishbowl sitting there for the moment. “They’re really good! I think Sasquatch and Lipadip are dating.” 

“Well at least they got over that rough first meeting,” I noted. “So have you seen–” 

“Good,” another familiar voice announced, “you’re here.” It was Jophiel, emerging through a portal right by the water. Elisabet was right behind her. The latter was still dressing basically like she had on the Meregan world when she had been lost there for so long, with leathers and a much more… militaristic style than the soft silks and all that she had worn the year before. 

“Yup,” I confirmed, giving a casual salute. “We both made it, right on time. So are we gonna do this?” 

“There’s little left for us to teach as far as making the initial connection,” Elisabet reminded me. “We can help you learn to hold it for longer, or to be more efficient. But first, let us see you do it without any input from us. From the top, with blank slates, if you would.” 

So, Tabbris and I exchanged looks before each of us pulled a small metal plate from our pockets along with a field engraver. We had others we had already set up for this, but these two wanted to see us do it from the top. Together, we drew on the metal plates, each about half the size of a smartphone. There were much smaller engravement plates that could be used, but this particular spell was pretty elaborate and needed more room. 

It took us about fifteen minutes, down from our previous record of eighteen, to get the enchantment done. Obviously, in a real fight, we would simply use the previously prepared ones. But still, it was nice to know that we were getting faster with this. Over the past weeks of working, we’d gotten pretty good at it. 

Once the enchantment plates were finished, we each placed them against one another’s arms and spoke our individual command words. There was a bright flash and a rush of power. I saw my own golden aura as well as Tabbris’s own, which was an indigo color. They flared up and merged into one another, twisting around before fading from sight. 

“Good,” Jophiel noted with a small, satisfied smile. “Can you do it?” She asked Tabbris. 

The younger girl, in turn, scrunched her nose up in concentration. A second later, she extended her hand sharply with a small baggie that had simply appeared there. The baggie opened, sending a cloud of sand into the air. Sand which froze after coming into view, then began to spin in a circle. A moment later, it dropped to the ground, and she leaned back before spitting some thick resin that way to cover the sand. Finally, Tabbris dropped the bag, then recalled it right back to her hand. 

She was using my powers. That was what we had been working with Jophiel and Elisabet on. It was the same spell they used to share powers. We’d had a few lessons over the year, now and then. But the past couple weeks had been a real bootcamp for learning to do it. We couldn’t both use the same power at the same time, since there was only one real ‘copy’ of the power. But still, the fact that Tabbris could use any of my powers if she really needed to, it was… big. 

“And you?” Elisabet prompted with a look my way. 

Taking a breath, I focused. A moment later, flickering angelic energy wings appeared on my back. I wasn’t very good with them yet, nowhere near as good as even Tabbris was. And I couldn’t hold them for long. They only appeared for a couple seconds before vanishing once more. It was hard to use her Archangel wings. But I could feel the immense power they had even for that very brief time.

“Oooh!” Another voice cheerfully announced. “Now that’s interesting.” 

It was Sun Wukong. Blinking that way, I managed, “Oh uh, hey. Interesting?” 

The monkey man gave me a broad smile. “Sure, it’ll be great to show off to the others once you get there.” 

The way he said that made me blink. “Wait, once I get where? What others? What do you mean? Are you coming with us back to the Fusion School? I could show you around the place if you want.” 

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure the others can do all that,” he informed me. “You’ll be far too busy on your own trip.

“After all, Ehn’s been waiting a long time to meet you.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Center Of Attention 26-17 (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The entire time the adult Banners had been missing, we’d asked ourselves where they could be and whether they were even alive. Apparently the answer had been they were, but not anymore. No wonder this had happened. I hadn’t been able to understand how Pitman could have gotten one of his Biolems past the security measures and right up to where my parents, Irelyn, and the others were. It turned out he hadn’t. Instead, he had sent the Banners in there to do it. 

Did they know they had been turned into biological weapons? Something made me doubt that. But it was the perfect trap. Of course they had been allowed in to see their daughter. Even if they had apparently disowned her or whatever, she had been missing on Breakwater for all this time. No one in their right mind would’ve told them they couldn’t see her. 

How long had that piece of shit been planning this? He had to have known that, at some point or another, Irelyn would be back in Detroit. And he undoubtedly knew that my parents would want to talk to her, or at least that they would be in the same area at some important point. 

He planned it. He had the Banners turned into biological weapons just so he could send them into that same area and… and detonate them. He killed them to hurt, maybe even kill, my family and Irelyn. Not to mention all the others who had died or been hurt. And we still didn’t know if they’d be able to find a cure. This whole situation could get even worse than it already was. I could lose my–

No, I wasn’t going to think about that. Not right now. Instead, after talking for another minute with Paige, I disconnected and fell back on my bed. Fresh tears were streaming down my face while Izzy lay next to me and put an arm around my shoulders. We laid there like that together while I explained what I had just heard. She, naturally, didn’t take the news any better. She said a few choice words about Pittman’s that probably should’ve sounded shocking coming from someone her age. But I didn’t care right then. Or at all, really. He deserved all of them. 

Finally, after a few minutes of just laying there, I put an arm around the other girl and held her tighter while speaking up. “We can’t let him get away with this.”

“Are you going to tell the Ministry everything?” Izzy asked that quietly while shifting around on the bed to stare at me. She wasn’t judging one way or the other. She just wanted to know what I was going to do.

My mouth opened and then shut as several wild thoughts ran through my head. In the end, I simply gave a heavy sigh. “Not everything. I’m not even sure what that would accomplish. We can’t just tell them who I am and all that. It wouldn’t help anything except to maybe convince them that I really do want to help my parents. But I’m pretty sure they’re all plenty motivated to do that already. We could maybe point them in the right direction, tell them where this attack came from. Maybe they could drag Pitman off that island and get answers out of him. Or maybe that’s exactly what he wants. Think about it, he called to taunt us. Obviously he wanted us to know he was the one responsible for what happened. I think he wants us to tell the Ministry so they can pull strings. He’s probably got some other plan to escape that he’ll put into effect the second that happens.”

Izzy sat up on the bed and then stood, walking back-and-forth around the room agitatedly. “He did all this just to escape?”

My head bobbed in a quick nod. “I think so,” I managed even as my voice cracked from emotion. “Well, that and because he’s a hateful, arrogant piece of shit and we made him mad. Paige dared turn against him and he wanted to punish her. He knew she wanted Irelyn back, so he did this. Plus, it let him hurt the Ministry, and we know he hates them. I don’t know if he knew both our parents would be there, but he obviously assumed at least Dad would. The point is, I think he wants the Ministry to find out he was the one responsible so they’ll do something to get him off that island and get answers out of him. There has to be a reason he called to make absolutely sure we knew he was the one behind the attack. He wants us to be mad and overreact without thinking.”

Izzy hesitated before speaking uncertainly. “But even if that’s what he wants, what if it’s the only way to cure these people? What if it’s the only way to help your… our parents? What if they–”

Stopping her before she could finish that sentence, I quickly spoke up. “We won’t let it get that far. We’ll get answers out of him ourselves. I don’t know how, or– I mean I don’t…” I covered my mouth with one hand and shuddered hard as the terror of what could happen washed over me yet again. The fear was like waves that kept lapping up over the beach of my mind. They would withdraw a bit and give me a moment of peace to think, then inevitably come rushing back, washing away the small sandcastle of coherent thought I had managed to put together in those moments. The tears returned, as did my shaking. If my parents died, if I lost either of them, or both of them, I had no idea what I would do. But I did know that playing right into this monster’s hands wouldn’t help us at all. My parents had the absolute best care they possibly could, from both sides of the law. I had to hope that those people could keep them safe long enough for us to actually think this through and come up with a better solution than to give Pittman exactly what he wanted. 

Besides, something told me that even if I exposed absolutely everything I knew and everything I was to the Ministry, it wouldn’t help that much. Pittman had to have planned for anything they could do to him, and would probably have people in place, maybe even his own Biolems, to take advantage of anything they tried. Our biggest advantage really was that he didn’t know anything about us. He didn’t know who I was, not really. He just thought I was some guy Paige was working with. Maybe there was a way we could use that, along with the fact that he didn’t know about Sierra. 

We did have some advantages still, I had to remind myself past the utter terror and helplessness I felt about what was happening to my parents. No matter how hard it was, I couldn’t let myself react completely emotionally. I had to stop and think about everything we did next. Because I was absolutely certain that if he had anything to say about it, Pitman wouldn’t just not cure the people he had infected, he would gladly watch them die. And if I just blundered my way emotionally through this, I would be playing right into his hands.

But dear God did even thinking those things make me feel revulsion. How could I even say that I couldn’t react emotionally? They were my parents! If something happened to them just because I didn’t want to play into Pittman’s hands… 

Yeah, needless to say, I had a lot of conflicting emotions and thoughts about the whole thing. Which Izzy helped me with, while I helped the other girl with her own. We were a mess, reconsidering everything we thought and said. At times, I had almost convinced myself I was wrong about every reaction I’d had and that the very best thing to do would be walking right up to my brother and telling him everything. 

No, I couldn’t do that. The Ministry would do their thing and we would do ours. Maybe we could point them in the right direction. But not until I had talked to the others, not until we had a better idea of exactly what was going on and how the victims had been affected. I couldn’t go rushing into a decision right now. That was what Pittman wanted us to do. He wanted Paige to be angry, he wanted all of us to be angry. He wanted the Ministry to find out and do something to get him off that island, if they were even capable of that. The point was, he wanted to make everyone react without thinking it through. And we absolutely couldn’t afford to do that. We had to be careful, no matter how hard it was.

Finally, after an hour or so like that, the intercom buzzed as Simon let us know it was time to go down to the Conservators building and see our parents. The doctors were ready to allow visitors. Which, of course, sent another wave of terror over me. What if they simply wanted to let us talk to them because they were afraid there wouldn’t be another chance? Maybe it was ridiculous to assume that, but I couldn’t stop the thought once it occurred to me.

Together, Izzy and I took one another’s hands and left my room. Whatever came next, however this went and whatever we saw when we went into that place, I would be forever grateful to have her with me. The thought of how broken I would’ve been without her made bile rise in my throat. I absolutely could not have gotten through this without Izzy. She had been important to me before, of course. But having her here now, having her with me when all this happened, was absolutely indispensable.

Simon was waiting for us downstairs in front of the front door. When he saw us, he shook his head and gestured the other way, toward the hallway leading to the garage. “We’ll take one of the cars ourselves. Jefferson’s… running some other errands. Stuff Mom asked him to do before.”

Obviously, it wasn’t the best excuse, but I really didn’t think he cared much at that point. I sure didn’t. I didn’t have the emotional energy to play that game right now. It was clear that whatever Jefferson was actually doing undoubtedly had to do with this whole situation, and all I could do was silently wish him luck.

So, we went to the garage and took one of the BMWs. Once Izzy and I were both in the back and had our belts on, Simon tore off out of there and down the driveway at a speed that probably would have made Mom yell at him if she was there. It was a thought that I could tell he had at the same time from the way his hands tightened on the wheel. But he didn’t say anything. He just saluted the guard at the gate, who stood with it open and waiting, as we blew right through there and out into the street. 

For a couple minutes as we practically flew down the street away from our neighborhood full of mansions, I didn’t trust my voice. It sort of felt like I should say something, anything, but I was afraid that if I opened my mouth, the wrong thing would come out. Izzy seemed to have the same problem, simply squeezing my hand while we sat there in silence. 

Finally, Simon had apparently had enough of that, because he hit the button to make the radio start blaring deafening rock music. He was probably trying to drown out his own thoughts. And honestly, I couldn’t blame him. My situation was complicated, yes, but it wasn’t like his was much better. If something happened to Mom and Dad–No! Fuck, Cassidy, stop thinking anything like that, for God’s sake! 

It was almost impossible to push those thoughts out of my mind, but I finally closed my eyes and let my head slip back as the pounding music washed over me. Yeah, it worked for me too. I just lost myself to the noise and stopped thinking about anything at all. 

Before I knew it, the car was pulling through a heavy police barricade around the street leading to the Conservators’ headquarters. The cop who stepped up to the car took one look at Simon and just nodded before waving for him to go ahead. So, we weaved our way through another few such barricades and down into the parking garage. There were a bunch of emergency vehicles taking up most of the spaces on the top couple levels, but we went down until there was an open slot for Simon to park in. Once the car was shut down and the music completely died out, my big brother exhaled audibly. “Okay, first thing’s first, they’re not going to let us in the same room with them. They don’t know how this shit is transferred or whatever. Not yet. The doctor I talked to on the phone said we’ll have to stay in the other room and see them through a window. And they’re not exactly…” He trailed off, going silent for a moment before punching the steering wheel with his fist. Then he apologized. “Sorry, sorry. What I mean is, they’re not going to be coherent or anything. The doctor said Mom is completely out. She says some stuff once in a while, but nothing coherent. And Dad just… he’s conscious for now, but he isn’t coherent either. He’s just saying random stuff. Nothing that actually makes sense.”

A part of me wondered just how dangerous it was for my parents in particular to be saying random shit. What if they said something that compromised their secrets? But on the other hand, the Ministry probably already would’ve taken care of that. I had no doubt that the people taking care of them were in on the secret. If nothing else, I was certain that Mom would have prepared for something that could have incapacitated them. Maybe not this specifically, but something.

Simon finished up his explanation by telling us that if we didn’t want to actually see our parents like that, he’d go by himself until we were ready. And to be honest, seeing my brother act like this, trying to be so understanding and mature, kind of freaked me out even more. I wanted him to act the same as usual so I could believe that he thought things would be just fine. But the fact that he was being such a… mature guy about the whole thing… yeah, maybe it was weird to want him to be an immature jerk, but there we were. 

Obviously, we both said we were going in there. I did feel a pang of worry about just how bad this was going to be and how we were going to react to seeing them like that. My parents had always been completely in control of everything. Even more than I had known for most of my life, as it turned out. But even before I knew about the whole Ministry thing, they had been my emotional anchors. They always knew what to do or say, and the thought that they could possibly be as out of it as these people kept saying… it almost made me want to take Simon’s offer to not walk in there. But no, I had to go to them. I had to see it for myself. 

As we got out of the car and headed for the elevator, I idly wondered how Simon was going to explain the whole Silversmith thing. Then I realized that he probably wouldn’t need to. The people who knew that he was my father undoubtedly simply put him in the medical room as himself. I figured there was probably an empty room somewhere that was supposedly ‘for Silversmith’ that only people with clearance were able to go into. In other words, the people who would know why the room was actually empty. Or at least had enough clearance to not publicly question it. That’s what I would’ve done in their situation, anyway. 

We were met at the elevator by a dark-haired black man in a suit who introduced himself as Gus. He took us up to the third floor, a medical wing, and then through a maze of corridors. I could see doctors and nurses running back-and-forth in pairs and threes, talking on the phones, consulting clipboards and computer pads, and so on. The place was busy, to say the least. I hoped that meant they would find a cure for this whole thing just like that, but something told me it wouldn’t be that easy. Pittman wouldn’t have launched his attack like this if it was something that was that simple to cure. Not if he wanted to use it to escape Breakwater. 

We passed guards too, people who were obviously making sure the confidentiality and secrecy parts of the whole situation stayed intact. Only certain people were allowed in certain rooms. Several of them watched us closely as we passed various doors, each of which had a paper sign with the name of the Touched being treated within written in marker. They were clearly doing everything they could to maintain secret identities while continuing to give treatment. I wasn’t sure how well that was going to end up going, but at least they were trying. 

Finally, we passed through the doors with our parents’ names written on the paper, and ended up in an observation area. There was, as promised, a window looking into the main room itself. That place just looked like any ordinary hospital room, with two beds. My mother was laying on one, eyes closed as she squirmed and twitched fitfully, occasionally muttering under her breath or even shouting single words. Simon was right, none of it made sense. She was saying things like toaster and backgammon, just random words that didn’t go together. Maybe she really was dreaming or something, I wasn’t sure. 

My dad, on the other hand, was sitting up in bed, babbling about some adventure he had apparently gone on to fight Nazis with a whip. It took me a minute to realize he was recounting Raiders of the Lost Ark as though he was Indiana Jones. He was talking with exaggerated, almost wild motions, as though talking to a reporter. 

Seeing them like that, I put my hand against the glass and cringed a bit. “Are they going to be okay?” I asked in a small, vulnerable voice. It made me wince at the sound. I hadn’t intended to speak out loud. 

Simon, standing on one side of me while Izzy stood on the other, gave a short nod before putting his hand on my head. “Don’t worry, girls. They’ll be alright, I swear. Mom and Dad have the best people in the world looking after them, you know. Besides, they’re gonna find whoever was responsible for this. And when they do, they’ll get the cure out of him, one way or another.

“We’ll make damn sure of it.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

So, that was a pretty big thing. Obviously, Rahanvael was incredibly overwhelmed by the idea that these people wanted to name their homeworld, her homeworld, after her. She still felt some degree of guilt for everything that happened to them, considering it was at the hands of her own brother. They, and we, continued to try to convince her that she held no blame for that, but I had no idea how much she actually believed it. It was going to take time for the wounds to heal. Fortunately, they would have that time. And so would she. Though she had planned to allow herself to dissipate now that he was gone, and she had been returned to her home to see it was safe, those plans changed once the people of this world made it clear that they needed her. She was the only link to the past they had. And, despite the fact they didn’t want to go back to being the exact same society, they still wanted to know everything they could about what they had been before him.

So, she was going to stick around and tell them all the history she could, teach them the culture this world had had before her brother destroyed it all. He had done his level best to completely annihilate and erase everything about their world, so it made poetic sense for her to be the one who helped bring knowledge of that culture and history back. Thankfully, they had several budding necromancers of their own, who hadn’t been completely wiped out, those who had successfully hidden from Fossor before he could kill them. They didn’t know much, and could barely use their power, but it was enough for them to maintain Rahan and any of my other ghosts who wanted to stay. 

Some didn’t, of course. A lot of my ghosts, who had been unwilling servants of Fossor, just wanted to move on by now, and I absolutely couldn’t blame them for that. They were done with everything and were at least happy that they were given the opportunity to go out on their own terms, without serving as his fodder any longer.

So, I released them, allowing the ones who wanted to fade away. Which they did, after saying their goodbyes. Some wanted to make a big spectacle out of it and have a party, others simply wanted to be alone and disappear without any fuss. I did my best to cater to whatever they wanted, and in the end, about half of the ghosts I had inherited from Fossor were gone. The others were back at the haunted mansion, save for a few here, like Seth and Grover. And, I reminded myself, Chas, Emily, Jason, and Kaleigh. Those four were determined to stick around for now as well, wanting to make themselves useful, even after being killed by the Revenants. Part of me wanted to tell them they’d done more than enough already, but who was I to try to talk them out of helping? If the situation was reversed, I knew I’d want to stick around as a ghost and do anything I could.

With all that running through my mind, it was no wonder the next couple days seemed to fly by. We were taking care of even more groundwork in helping the people here be ready to take care of themselves, at least as much as they could. Athena had been working on something to that end alongside their leaders and Chayyiel, who had arrived recently. They were all cooking up something I was sure was going to be pretty impressive. I had no idea what it was, but given the people involved, and how determined they seemed to be about protecting this world from anyone else who might try to make them suffer again, it was bound to be incredible. 

At the moment, I was eating breakfast in the galley of the ship the others had brought here. Avalon and Shiori were with me as we pored over something quite a bit different than what we have been focused on for so long. Namely, math homework. Even with everything that had happened, or perhaps especially with everything that happened, Abigail and my mother were both firm that we had to keep doing our homework and stay caught up, or at least, as caught up as possible. So, we were multitasking, studying while eating breakfast. Assuming the whole universe didn’t explode, we would be going back to Earth eventually, and something told me showing up back there without all these worksheets done would be even more hazardous for our health than facing down a horde of Revenants. 

Besides, to be honest, I really didn’t mind sitting here with my girls like this. It was about as peaceful as things ever got, considering everything we always had on our plates. The people of this world were finally getting the break they deserved, and it felt appropriate that we have our own while we were sitting here. Maybe some would have quibbled about doing math homework being a break, but I was pretty sure those people had never been through the sort of things that we had.

Either way, I was just about to finish my last bite, as well as the final problem on the current sheet I’d been working on, when Tabbris came running into the room. She was going so fast and seemed so excited, that she nearly fell flat on her face before my hand snapped out to catch her arm. “Hey there, partner, what’s the rush? I promise they’ve still got plenty of pancakes back there. I totally didn’t eat all of them.” 

“Though she gave it her best shot,” Avalon put in.

Shiori, for her part, shook her head with a clearly put-on beleaguered sigh. “Honestly, how can either of us ever even hope to measure up to how much Flick loves pancakes? It’s positively impossible.”

Feeling my face turned pink, I stabbed my fork into the last of the delicious treat they were teasing me about, and pointedly shoved it in my mouth, swallowing before sticking my tongue out at them. Finally, I looked at my little sister and asked, “Is everything okay?” Yes, maybe it was a little pessimistic to think that she had come running in here like that because something was wrong, but then again, look at both my life, and what this world had already been through. With those two things combined, something else showing up to make a nuisance of itself wouldn’t have surprised me at all. Annoyed me, but not surprised me. 

Thankfully, the younger girl was smiling, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a bad thing. She basically hopped up and down excitedly, while announcing, “Come on, come on, you’ve got to come out and see it! They made it perfect and– well, you’ve gotta see!”

Pushing myself up before picking up the plate and my books, I shrugged at the other two. “You heard her, there’s something we’ve gotta see.”

So, we all put our stuff away before following Tabbris out of the galley. On our way to the exit of the ship we ran into Persephone, who stopped short. “Oh hello Flick!” she chirped happily, almost bouncing. “I was just coming to find you.” 

“Yeah,” I replied with a smile while rubbing the top of Tabbris’s head. “I hear there’s something big we’re supposed to see.” 

Persephone blinked a couple times before turning a broad smile that way. “Ooooh, I totally didn’t know you were spying on our defense preparations. You must’ve been very sneaky indeed. That’s very good to hear! Being stealthy like a wombat is very useful.”

“Wombat?” Avalon questioned. 

I shrugged that way. “We tried to tell her she means ninja, but for some reason she really likes the wombat angle.” 

Persephone grinned. “It is a fun word to say. Wombat wombat wombat. Wombatman would be much better than Batman.”

Tabbris, for her part, shook her head quickly. “Uh, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about. I was gonna show them what the people in the village made.” 

“Yes,” Athena agreed while walking up to join us, “it’s very impressive. I think you’ll particularly enjoy it,” she informed me before adding, “but first, I’d like you to come with us to see something else.” 

Putting up a hand, I looked at Tabbris. “How important is your thing?” There was no way I was going to tell her to wait if time was vital. 

But, her head just shook. “It can wait. Trust me, it’s gonna be around for a long time.” 

Well, that was curious, as was the little giggle she added after that. But I was going to have to wait to see what she was on about. Instead, I nodded to Athena, only then realizing that I had actually held up my hand to tell her to wait. How would the me from even a year earlier have reacted to that?

I shook off that thought, while our little group followed her and Persephone off the ship and through a waiting portal to end up on a small hill about a mile from the village we had first made contact with. Several of the priests from the village were here, holding portable tablets with ongoing video conferences with elders from the other villages. We had made sure they would always be able to communicate with one another that way. 

As we came through the portal, one of the priests cheerfully called a greeting. These people were smiling so much. Which I couldn’t really blame them for at all. Honestly, I was just amazed they weren’t more downtrodden and afraid. But I supposed that once your society had gone through literally thousands of years worth of oppression, once it was gone, you probably tended to embrace every ounce of freedom you had. Fossor was the sole source of their anguish and slavery, and now that he was completely gone, they were able to smile like that. It made me wonder how I would feel and act in that situation, but of course I had absolutely no frame of reference for it.

Athena greeted them as well before speaking up. “Now that you’re all here and the other elders have tuned in, I think it is time to show you how we believe your planet will defend itself from anyone who wishes to take your freedom away again.” 

One of the priests who was here physically raised his hand. “I do not mean to speak out of turn,” he started hesitantly, “but with the power you have displayed, I am afraid we have no real chance at such defense should any who have similar power come here. You say that we have descended from common ancestors, but our people are mere peshcu–ahh small fur-covered animals who fit in the palm of our hand and can use no tools. We are peshcu compared to your people. Any who wish to put us back under their thumb would face little consequence without… without aid.” 

We all knew what he was saying. They needed us to stay and help protect them. Athena knew as well and offered the man a reassuring smile. “I promise, you will have all the protection you need. Beginning with this.” She held out what looked like an ordinary computer pad like the ones they were holding. Tapping the screen, she showed them and us a view of various planets, including this one, all taken from space. “We’ve put a series of small satellites throughout this solar system, cloaked of course. They will alert you of any approaching ships, and allow you to communicate with them. But more than that, they will allow you to deploy your defenses.” 

“What defenses?” one of the priests on one of the other tablets asked plaintively. “We have no skyboats to deploy, nor weapons like you have.” 

“You will soon,” Athena informed him. “But right now, I speak of your other defenses. The Revenants we’ve told you about. The system we’ve created will allow you to use those Revenants in defense of your world. Whenever enemy ships arrive, you may communicate with them through this system, and should they mean you harm, any three of your elders need only input their personal codes that we will give them, and this system will allow you to transport any number of Revenants from the vault they are imprisoned within, over to any ship you target. You may also draw them back to the vault with the same controls once the enemy is no longer a threat.” 

Okay, yeah, that made me do a double-take. They were turning the Revenants into what amounted to guard dogs? Really nasty, horrific, murdering monster guard dogs. That seemed incredibly dangerous. But on the other hand, now that I thought about it, what other choice did they have? It was absolutely true that this world didn’t have any ships or anything that could protect it, and we certainly couldn’t spare the forces it would take to hold the place. Sure, the Seosten leadership had so far agreed to play nice with their common ancestors from what Athena and Sariel had said after communicating with them, but they weren’t the only game in town. And they could always change their minds, or pretend not to notice a ‘rogue faction’ coming here to put who they would see as their own people under their control. 

Hell, they were already sending scientists to see how biologically compatible these people were with them, considering the common ancestor thing. The Seosten we knew had altered themselves so much over the millennia that they might not be able to have viable children, but if they could… yeah, that would be a huge thing. And if enough of the Seosten leadership decided they wanted to be in complete control of this sudden new genetic stock without giving them any say in the matter, it could go poorly. 

Maybe that was a harsh assumption, but look at everything else they had done for so long. They had absolutely earned me believing they were capable of the worst I could think of. 

But still, there was a much more important thing for me to focus on at this point. Which was–

“Are you people crazy?!” That was Shiori, blurting the words out before flushing a bit as everyone turned to her, even the faces of the other priests on the tablet screens. “Sorry, I mean, what are you talking about? Do um, do you really think using the Revenants like that is a good idea? What if your system breaks down and they lose control of them or something? I thought you guys were going to find a way to get rid of those things, not try to use them like this.” 

Chayyiel was the one who answered, offering a small smile. “Usually, you’d be right. That would be the best choice. But this planet has incredibly limited options when it comes to protecting itself. They prefer to be free, not fall under someone else’s control so soon after being released from the last monster. So we need to work with what they have. And the only real defense that’s possible are those Revenants. The system for keeping them contained is actually the most advanced I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying a lot. The people who put it together knew what they were doing. It only required a few changes and upgrades to make this possible.” 

With a nod, Athena agreed, “With other Revenants, you would be correct, Miss Shiori. These ones, however, were specifically created and… tuned, for lack of a better word, over the course of centuries to be controlled and contained by the crystal within that chamber, and the magics surrounding it. While I would not go nearly so far as to say that using it is completely safe with absolutely no risks, it would be more dangerous to allow invaders to come here while this planet has no defenses at all.” 

“Besides,” Persephone piped up, “they’re born to be Necromancers here. Give them a little time and training, and they’ll have an army that can control the Revenants themselves.” After a pause, she added, “Okay, maybe a lot of time and a lot of training. But still!” 

There was a bit more talking after that about how this all thing was going to go. They had to work out the specifics a bit better, but the system they had come up with was admittedly pretty solid, even if the idea did freak me out a bit. The plus side was that most people who might come after the planet would probably be dissuaded simply by the threat of having an army of Revenants teleported onto their ships. And the ones who weren’t, the Fomorians, well… if the Fomorians were attacking the planet, pulling out literally every possible stop by sending those Revenants after them was their only chance to survive long enough for help to show up.

Yeah, that was a depressing thought. But still, at least they would have some form of defense, dangerous as it might have been. These people deserved to feel some measure of safety while they were putting their society back together. 

Eventually, we got around to going to see what Tabbris wanted to show us. And the priests (the ones who were physically present) came as well, clearly just as excited as she was. Which raised my curiosity even more. We were led down into the city, meeting up with both my parents along the way. Soon, we were winding our way through the streets until we reached the grounds of Fossor’s burned and broken tower. Right there, in the middle of the courtyard, I saw what Tabbris had been so eager for us to see. 

“It’s a statue?” Dad started, staring at the structure. There was a five-foot high, ten-foot wide pedestal. Perched atop it was a mostly-round figure carved from something like marble. It looked like a large marble boulder, fifteen-feet wide and about ten feet tall, aside from the part that looked like a sword, which extended up another few feet and was held out toward the sky triumphantly. Two large eyes had been carved into the front. And it had a small hat tilted slightly off to one side. 

“It’s… Herbie!” I blurted, staring that way. “They made a Herbie statue!” From my pocket, I produced the little guy, holding him up to see. “Look, buddy. You’re famous!” 

Tuenfa, the main priest guy, spoke up. “Our people wished to create a statue to the ones who truly liberated us.” He gestured to my mother and me. “But the Lady Joselyn suggested that doing so might be… awkward for them. For all of you. This was settled upon as a compromise. The… rock responsible for stripping the monster’s power away, thus sparing the lives of all who remained on this world. Without that rock, we would all be dead, for he would have sacrificed every one of us before allowing himself to be killed. The rock is the only reason we are alive and free today. So, we honor it. As we honor all of you. We know you cannot stay forever, much as we might long for that. But in this way, with this statue, we will at least have some small connection to our saviors.” 

Swallowing hard, I stared at the statue. It really was incredible. All of this for a simple rock I had picked up on the very first day that I’d become involved in this life. The rock had just been laying there on the ground, waiting for me to pick it up. I threw it through that first portal leading to Crossroads. In many ways, Herbie had preceded me into this life. My little rock buddy had been there this whole time, right by my side, nestled in my pocket. He’d had so many spells put on him, had been responsible for so much. And as they said, he was the one who had stripped Fossor’s connection to this world, and arguably saved their entire population and possibly all of us as well. He was the reason Fossor was dead, and that we were alive. 

Holding my little rock up, I stared at it. “What do you think, buddy?” My voice cracked just a little. “Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right. But are you sure you can handle it? What, me? There you go, only thinking about others again. You’re such a brave little rock.” 

“Flick?” Dad started uncertainly. 

“Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not crazy,” I informed him. “I just wanted to do that one more time.” Swallowing again, I looked toward Tuenfa. “Herbie means a lot to me. But he obviously means a lot to you too. We can’t stay here forever, so maybe he can stay instead. If you keep him as a relic or whatever, put him somewhere safe. Take care of him.” 

Tuenfa met my gaze seriously. “The rock is responsible for our entire civilization’s freedom and survival. It–he would be treated as a holy relic for the rest of time.” 

Letting out a long breath, I nodded. “Okay then. Right. Then he can stay with you. 

“I guess it’s time to say goodbye to Herbie.”  

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Center Of Attention 26-16 (Summus Proelium)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Obviously, it was even harder for me to keep myself under control with that bit of news. Sure, they said the victims who had survived so far were stable, but that could change at any second. They were still quarantined. Both of my parents had been hit by this chemical attack or whatever it was. How did that happen? Why had my mother even been here in the first place? She wasn’t part of the Conservators or any government institution. 

Even more importantly, at least in a larger and more immediate sense, what was going to happen with the Ministry over the next however long it took for my parents to get better? Obviously they had a power structure in place, but they were both the leaders. Who would be giving out orders now? 

Actually, come to think of that, I asked, “The… sick people, how bad are they? I mean, you said they were quarantined, but are they conscious? Can they talk to people?”

The man paused as though he wasn’t exactly sure how much information he should give out. Then he exhaled. “Look, I know you’re worried about all those people, and about how the city’s going to get along in the middle of all this gang shit with half of two of our major Star teams out of commission. Trust me, we’ve all been thinking about it. Some of the affected are awake, but even then, they’re… well they’re sort of delirious. They’re not thinking straight, and sure as hell not communicating properly. The others are in some sort of coma. The doctors think whatever gas got loose in there makes them hallucinate and puts them in a dream-like state. For some it’s stronger and completely knocks them out. Like I said, they’re working on a cure. But unless either of you have a degree in medicine, I don’t think you’ll be much help in there.”

He was right, of course. Well, about me anyway. For all I knew, Paige did have the equivalent of a medical degree somewhere inside her programming and training. But I doubted they would listen to her. None of those people were going to listen to us, not even if we tried to tell them where this attack had come from. Why would they? 

While I was thinking about that, the man continued. “But I’ll tell you where we do need you. Out there on those streets. As soon as those gangs figure out that some of our Touched are out of commission, they’re really gonna start raising hell. As if it wasn’t bad enough already. So we need to make sure all the people we do have left on their feet are ready to go. And from what I’ve been hearing, you guys and the rest of your team are pretty good to have around.”

I couldn’t even begin to think about how to respond to that. My brain was going in too many directions at once. And a lot of those directions led straight toward panicking. Crying was in there too. My parents were sick, delirious, hallucinating, or even in a coma. What the hell was I supposed to do? I couldn’t even go in there and see them like this.

I was still mentally flailing and getting really close to losing it, as Paige pulled me by the arm. “Come on, Paintball, we’ll see what we can do to help somewhere else.” Her voice remained remarkably even as she looked at the man and thanked him for talking to us. And just like that, we left. I walked the bike back to the other edge of the roof, and both of us dropped down together with it. It wasn’t until we were a block away that I managed to find my voice. “Paige, your sister–”

“And your parents,” she finished for me. “Yeah, believe me, I know. But he wasn’t going to let us in there or tell us any more specific information. Not unless we both told him a lot more than either of us wanted to.”

We were standing by an alley as I looked at my hand and tried to will it to stop violently shaking. I felt sick, as though a stone was rolling through my stomach. My heart kept pounding against my chest, and a chill tried to run through me. It felt like I was sick, which was completely ridiculous. I hadn’t been exposed to anything, so why would I feel any effects? It was just my stupid emotions going wild.

Finally, I managed to respond. “We have to find out what’s actually going on in there, and how sick they are. We have to–” Before I could say anything else, my phone buzzed. I fumbled with it before taking the thing out and almost answered as Paintball before realizing I was holding my personal phone. What’s more, the person calling was Simon. Boy would that have been a horrifyingly simple and mundane way to blow my secret. At the last second, I caught myself before turning off my voice changer app. Then I answered as myself, trying to sound as normal as possible under the circumstances. “Simon?”

“Oh thank fuck!” my brother blurted. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been sending you texts and calls for the past thirty minutes! Look, never mind. Just tell me where you are so I can pick you up.”

Blinking, I looked at my phone. He was right, I had a bunch of missed calls and texts from him. I hadn’t even noticed in the rush to get over here and all that. Obviously, he was freaking out a little bit right now too. 

Again, I had to pretend I had no idea what he was so upset about. I wasn’t supposed to know that dad was Silversmith, and I certainly wouldn’t have any idea that Mom had been in that building. So, despite the terror in my stomach, I forced myself to sound as disinterested as possible. “Dude, I’m just hanging out. I don’t need a ride home. I haven’t needed a ride home in like forever. Why would you even–”

“Just tell me where you are!” He snapped. “I know you disabled the tracker in your phone a long time ago so Mom and Dad wouldn’t hassle you, but I really need to know where you are right now, Cassidy.” His voice caught, sounding as emotional as I’ve ever heard. Then he got himself under control. “Look, you’re not in trouble or anything, and I’m not messing with you. I just need to talk to you and it’s better if we do it in person. I know, I know I’m not good at this or anything. But please, just tell me where to meet you, or go back to the house and I’ll see you there.”

Somehow, the way he was acting made me feel even worse. I wanted to scream at him to knock it off, because him being serious right now and sounding only like he was losing it was going to make me lose it too, in a way I couldn’t afford. But I simply clenched my free hand tight enough to hurt before making the next words come out. “I’ll see you at home. I’ll be there soon. What about Mom and Dad? What about Izzy?” Oh God, Izzy. This had come right after she agreed to be adopted.

Simon informed me that Izzy was already with him in the car as he was talking to me. Izzy, for her part, spoke up quietly to confirm that. I could hear the uncertainty and fear in her voice. She probably knew as much as I did, if not more. She probably would have already called me if she hadn’t been in the car with him.

So, after promising to be home soon, I disconnected and looked at Paige. She, in turn, gave a short nod. “Go home. I’m going to figure out how to get more information out of that place.”

My mouth opened before I caught myself and took a breath to consider what I was saying. “Paige,” I finally managed, “be careful, okay? That place has got to be on super-lockdown right now. They aren’t going to let anyone who isn’t authorized in there. And if you try to force it, they… I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”

The blonde girl paused before quietly replying, “They know Irelyn is my sister, at least some of them have to. I’ll just show up as myself and demand to know how she is. There’s no reason I wouldn’t be there to check on her. My parents are missing and she’s the only family I have around. Maybe they’ll tell me more, or let me see her, even if it’s through a quarantine shield. At the very least I can find out more than we know right now. If I get anything, I’ll let you know. And I’ll check on your parents too, if I can.”

There wasn’t much more I could say to that, so I simply thanked her and then changed in the alley while she kept lookout before summoning an Uber to take me home. The whole time, I still felt like I was going to throw up. Or possibly pass out. There was a ringing in the back of my head that still wouldn’t go away. And now I had to go into my house and act like a clueless little girl who was getting this news for the first time. Speaking of which, how was Simon going to present it? There was no way he would tell me that our dad was Silversmith. So what reasoning would he give for both of them being at that place? Hell, what would he say about Mom being there? I had no idea. I really didn’t, and I also wasn’t looking forward to feigning cluelessness about the whole situation again.

But I was about to find out, as the car dropped me off by the gate. I made sure to tip the driver extra since I was sure I hadn’t been a very good passenger. I barely responded to his comments with distracted grunts, and I sure wasn’t smiling. The fact that I had communicated enough to confirm that I was the person he was there to pick up was pretty much the limit of my communication abilities at that point.

From there, I basically ran in the front door. My mouth opened to call out for my brother, but he was already waiting there, his expression impatient and a bit freaked out. Which obviously didn’t help anything. As soon as he saw me, Simon gestured. “Come on, Izzy’s waiting.” 

So, forcing myself not to blurt out questions I shouldn’t even have known to ask yet, I followed after the boy into the dining room. Our new sister was, sure enough, sitting at the table. As soon as she saw me, Izzy jumped up and moved in for a hug, which I returned tightly while looking at Simon. “Wha-what’s going on? What happened? Where’s Mom and Dad?” At least at that point, considering how they were acting, it made sense for me to sound worried and scared. It would have been weird if I sounded completely normal right then. 

Getting both of us to sit down, Simon launched into an explanation. Or at least as close to an explanation as he could give us while thinking we were completely clueless about all the Ministry and Silversmith stuff. According to my brother, Mom and Dad had been at the Conservators building in order to take part in welcoming Trivial and Flea back to the city, because of the political favors they had helped pull against Breakwater to get them out of there in the first place, and to give them a gift for everything they’d gone through. Then there was some sort of biological weapon attack on the building and now they were sick. He stressed that they were both alive and as stable as anyone else in there, but they were quarantined and couldn’t come out. The doctors were working on a cure, analyzing our parents and the rest of the victims, as well as some residue that had been left behind. He tried to sound as confident as possible when he told us our parents would be fine and would come home soon, but his voice shook a bit throughout that whole thing. He was really close to completely breaking down. Which really didn’t help me. 

Shoving myself to my feet, I shook my head rapidly. “We have to go down there! We have to go see them. What–why aren’t we already there? Simon, let’s go! We have to go see Mom and Dad!” 

“Cass, we can’t–not yet.” Simon took a breath, holding up a hand for me to wait. “Look, you don’t think I want to be there right now? The doctors need us to stay out of the way so they can work. They said we can go visit later tonight, alright? They’ll call when it’s okay to come down there. And I promise I won’t leave without you. We’ll go together, we’ll visit them, and you’ll see that it’ll all be okay. Come on, it’s our parents. They can afford the absolute best doctors in the world, even if they have to fly all the way in from China. And this was at the Conservators’ headquarters. They’ve got the best of the best of the best working on this.” He pulled me into an embrace, which I didn’t fight at all. Then he did the same for Izzy, pulling her close as well as he hugged both of us. “I swear, it’s going to be okay. We just have to take care of ourselves for a little bit. And considering we have like fifty people working in this house to take care of our every need, I think we can handle it.” He was trying to make a joke to lighten the mood, but his voice wasn’t that convincing.

There was so much I wanted to say at that moment, but I wasn’t sure how much I could get away with. Even now, terrified out of my mind for our parents’ safety, I had to worry about saying the wrong thing, or even just something that might make him think something I couldn’t afford him thinking later. All of which just made me feel even more sick inside. My parents were sick, maybe even both in a coma for all I knew, and all I could do was worry about giving away my secrets? Was I that bad of a person?

I had to get out of there. I couldn’t stand to stay in this room anymore. So, after making Simon promise to come get us as soon as it was time to go, Izzy and I went up to my room and laid on my bed. Once we were safely alone, I told her everything I had found out and what Paige and I had been doing when Simon called. She laid there on the bed with me, the two of us holding one another as I lost the struggle not to cry. Izzy wasn’t exactly in much better shape as far as that went, and for awhile we just lost ourselves that way. 

Finally, after an hour or so, Izzy quietly asked, “This is going to be bad, isn’t it? The Ministry’s two top leaders are out of commission, and so are a bunch of Star-Touched, including the leaders of both the Conservators and the Spartans. The bad guys are going to jump on that. They’re not gonna slow down. They’re going to go to war even harder and make the city worse.” 

A heavy sigh escaped me. I’d been obsessing over that myself, and hearing someone else say it right then just made it feel worse and more real. “I don’t know how bad it’ll get,” I admitted. “But you’re right. It’s probably not going to be good. We just have to be ready to do something about it. At least as much as we can.” The words of that guard back at the Conservators’ base talking about how they were going to need visible Star-Touched out on the street to keep things in order played through my head. “I think we’re gonna end up getting a lot of overtime.” 

After saying that, I sat up and let my legs hang off the side of the bed. My voice was quiet. “They’re going to be okay, right? Tell me they’re going to be okay.” I needed to hear it again, even if she had no better idea of how this was going to turn out than I did. My stomach was churning again. It felt like I was going to throw up, even though I hadn’t eaten anything in quite awhile. Hell, that was probably part of the problem. But there was no way I could force anything down, not like this. 

Izzy sat aside me and took my hand with a nod. “You know Simon’s right. They’ve got the best doctors they could possibly have, and the best equipment. They’ll take care of your mom and dad.” 

“Our mom and dad,” I reminded her, squeezing the girl’s hand. “You’re right, yeah. They–they survived this long, they made it past the main attack. They’ll be alright. Just–we just have to give the doctors time.” 

Before either of us could say anything else, my phone buzzed. It was Paige, so I answered it with a glance toward Izzy. “What happened? Are you okay?” 

There was a pause, long enough that I almost started to think the connection had dropped, before the girl spoke up. “It was them.” Her voice sounded even worse and more strained than it had earlier, cracking slightly. 

“Them?” I echoed uncertainly. “Who? What do you mean?” 

Another pause, then, “The Banners. Remember how they were missing? They showed up at the Conservators place to meet Irelyn. That’s why they were allowed inside, right into that room. Of course they let them in. I wondered how my dad could’ve gotten any of his biolems close enough. It was the Banners, the real Banners. They just walked in, and… and then…” She audibly gulped. “He–he did something to them. His people did, his biolems, I mean. He had them do something to the Banners while they were missing. That’s why they were gone for so long. He did it. His people. They– they made them–he turned them into bombs, Cassie. 

“Pittman had the Banners turned into biological weapons and made them blow up right in front of Irelyn. They’re dead, and Irelyn’s in a coma, because of him.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

So, these guys really liked Herbie, to say the least. Which meant they had great taste, as far as I was concerned. I told the story again, several more times while walking through the crowd with him held out, so they could all see the rock that had stripped Fossor’s power away from him. They all wanted to have a chance to touch the little guy, but they were incredibly gentle, and almost reverent, as they did so. No, there was no almost about it. They were absolutely reverent. They barely brushed their fingers along my handsome rock, whispering amongst themselves about how important he was. He was the object who had saved them. Yes, I had killed Fossor. But Herbie made it possible. And more than that, Herbie had literally saved these people. They were alive because this little rock had broken Fossor’s connection to them. Each and every one of them knew that, and wanted to see the rock for themselves. 

Oh and they thanked me too, and Mom, of course. They thanked all of us, repeatedly. But really, Herbie was the star of the show, exactly as it should have been. Also, to be perfectly honest, I was pretty sure they were in awe at the idea that they were touching a rock from another world. And honestly, I understood that too. It was easy for me to overlook how amazing this entire situation, traveling to other planets like this, was after everything I had been through. But seriously, it was incredible. And these people, even discounting all the Fossor stuff, were living in what amounted to a just slightly better than a medieval-level technology level world. They had known about other planets, but they weren’t allowed to actually know them, see them, develop their own technology any further, or anything like that. Fossor had intentionally kept them at this level, had forced them to be slaves in basically every possible way. Whenever one of them started to develop better ideas, he stamped it out, took them away to work for him or just killed them as an example for everyone else to toe the line. And from what I’d heard, that included anyone who expressed too much interest in the stars or other worlds. They learned to keep their heads down and simply exist with their lives, the lives of everyone on this world, being fuel for that bastard’s magic and power. 

But no more, that was over now. The piece of shit was dead. And these people could move on. They could actually start developing their world, their society, everything. I couldn’t wait to see what they actually did with it, with themselves. Was that what it was like to be a parent and want to see what your child grew up to be? Only this was with an entire world. A whole planet’s population, all of whom knew even better than my mother and I did about what it was like being under Fossor’s thumb and forced to play his fucking games.  

I wasn’t the only one retelling the story either. Around me, I could hear the others being asked questions. These people wanted to know every last detail of the whole fight and everything that had led up to it. It made me wonder how hard it would be for us to share our memories of the event. If we could let all of these people, everyone in the world, see the moment that Fossor died, from every possible point of view, would that help them move on faster? Would it get rid of any lingering doubts they might’ve had about his death? It was something to think about, and we even had Sariel here to help with that. 

Yeah, once it was clear that these people were okay with our presence, to put it mildly, the others came in as well. We introduced everyone, and now the people of the city had even more points of view to get stories from. Eventually, I found myself standing out of the way, watching everyone else talk to these people throughout the courtyard and the streets beyond. There were scattered groups everywhere, listening intently to every word my companions said. Glancing to the side, I saw that girl, Beilela, standing there. She was staring at me and I stepped that way. “Do you mind if I ask why that guy called you ‘The One Who Said No?’”  

She visibly blushed and tried to shake it off. “It’s nothing, really. I just got tired of doing everything that monster wanted. I mean, we were all tired of it, but I guess I decided I’d rather die than do it anymore.” Her voice was soft, and she seemed to scrunch in on herself a little bit. “I’m not the first one, other people said no sometimes. And then they died. It was just… seeing all the bells ringing, seeing everything that was happening, it made me think there was hope for a second. But then they said, even if you killed him, whoever was fighting him, I mean, he’d kill all of us first. That made me realize there was no hope for us at all. Nothing we could do.” 

She went silent for a moment, her face twisting a bit. “Almost nothing, anyway. The only thing we could do was choose whether to live under his foot, or refuse and die, so I did. I chose. I said no. I thought I was going to die. I thought he’d kill me for that, or make it even worse. But I said no anyway. And then he didn’t kill me.”  

Her eyes looked up to find mine once more, an incredibly powerful, if unstated emotion behind that gaze. “You killed him instead.” 

Swallowing, I held up my rock. “I did, but Herbie’s the reason he wasn’t able to kill any more of your people. He helped cut off Fossor’s power.” 

She looked at the rock, then reached out to touch it gently while looking at me again. “Thank you. All of you. You have no idea what this actually means to my people. No idea how much you’ve done for us.” 

Managing a slight smile, I reached out to squeeze her shoulder. “I think I have a very small idea. Believe me, my mother and I know what sort of evil he was capable of. At least, in the short term. I can’t even imagine living in a society that he built over all these years.” 

The two of us stood there for a moment before I saw various conversations starting to wind down a little bit. People were starting to talk about preparing a feast. A couple even seem to reflexively say they had to save their food for when he came back for his own feast, but quickly silenced themselves with realization. A realization which came with assorted smiles. It was like every time they had occasion to forget that the monster was dead, they got to be happy all over again when they remembered. 

But before the talk about eating could go too far, I excused myself from Beilela and quickly walked back to the front. My mother was there, and I leaned up to whisper something in her ear. She smiled and nodded immediately, then magically raised her voice to get everyone’s attention. The scattered groups returned, and were staring up at us once more. Mom put her hand on my shoulder and nodded for me to go ahead. 

So, I took a breath and spoke inwardly. Are you ready for this? 

Not really, came the soft, silent response. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be a part of any of this. 

Yes you should, I insisted. It’s your choice, I promise. But you absolutely should be here. The people should know you. 

There was another moment of hesitation before I felt her uncertain agreement. So, I started to speak aloud once more. “You all heard about what happened with Fossor. You heard about how we stripped his power and killed him.” There was an assortment of cheers from the crowd, even if they still looked around reflexively as though still half-expecting to be punished for celebrating that piece of shit’s death. It was going to take time to get them accustomed to the idea that he would never be punishing them again. 

Shaking that off, I continued. “But it wasn’t just us. We couldn’t have done any of this without the help of someone who was even hurt by him even more than any of us.” Focusing, I held my hand out and summoned Rahanvael. That sent a few scattered gasps through the crowd, but I had made sure to mention in my story that one of the reasons Fossor had taken me was because he wanted to teach me necromancy. So, it wasn’t a total and complete shock. I had not told them that I literally absorbed his power just yet. I wasn’t sure how they would take that or how superstitious they would be. The time would come later for that sort of conversation. 

Right now, I just summoned the girl’s ghost and held my hand out to indicate her. “None of you know this girl. Her name is Rahanvael. She was Fossor’s very first victim. She was also his sister.” 

I let that little bomb go off through the crowd and waited a moment for them to react. Then I told the story about what had actually happened all those years earlier. I’d heard it enough times from the girl herself while trying to think of a way to beat that monster that I could recite it from memory. I told them about his family’s trip to that temple to say goodbye to their mother’s ghost, about how Fossor had demonstrated his power for the first time, and about how their father had shut him down. Then I told them about what happened years after that when he tried to make his sister immortal by killing her and putting her ghost back in her body. I told them about his father attacking him when he saw what Fossor had done, about the boy going to prison for it, and how he had escaped. 

I told them everything, the full and true story about the origin of the man who had forced them to see him as a god. I told them everything so they would understand just how mortal he had actually been. I wanted them to see him as a person with a strong power, not a god. And throughout that, I told them the true story of Rahanvael, his sister. I told them about how she had been tied to him after her death, and had hidden from him. I told them about how she had come to me, about how much she had contributed to his eventual death, to the point of helping to hold him in place for those final couple of blows. 

When I was finally done, everyone was silent. The girl in question flinched and shuffled her feet a little bit before looking up to quietly say she was sorry. But the words had barely begun to emerge from her mouth when one of the priests stepped forward. “Your name is Rahanvael, and you have come from the time before him. Does that mean that you remember?” He hesitated before clarifying. “Does it mean that you remember the world as it was before he was here?” 

After a brief pause, the ghost girl nodded slowly. “I–yes, I still remember what the old world was like.” 

Her answer sent even more hurried whispers throughout the crowd. The priest let that go on for a moment before holding his hand up for silence. His eyes, and the eyes of everyone else in the town, were focused on her as he voiced their real question, the question all of them had. “Would you please tell us about it? Would you tell us what our world was before he took over? He destroyed all records, killed everyone who could have passed the story on. He destroyed our entire history, all of it aside from the duty of serving him. We know nothing about who we were, or where we came from.” 

Oh, boy, were there some wild answers to that. We had the story of their world. The girl could tell them a lot about it, of course. That was the more important story for their culture and history. But there was also the story of how they had actually come to be here, and who their… sort of cousin type people were? I wasn’t sure what the right term for the modern day Seosten would be. They both came from the same origin, but the Seosten we knew were completely different from these people. They had altered themselves so much over the millennia that I wasn’t exactly sure how much they still had in common, genetically-speaking. But whatever the answer to that, they still came from the same place. They deserved to know the full truth. 

Obviously, we would have to get into that as well over time. There were a lot of things we were going to have to take care of and help these people with before we left. But I was just happy that we could have that chance. 

Rahanvael, for her part, only hesitated for a second, and I could feel the rush of emotions that ran through her before she nodded. “Of course. I’ll tell you anything you want to know about the old world.”

That clearly made everyone happy, and I saw a tiny smile across the girl’s face. She had really been expecting them to project all their hate and anger onto her because she was Fossor’s sister. But I was relatively certain that, if absolutely anyone in this universe would understand what it was like to be under his control, and not have any say in it, to be subject and part of the atrocities he committed without actually wanting to be, it was these people. 

Obviously, there would be those who disagreed and might turn the fear of that man onto her. But they wouldn’t be the majority. And it would take a while. For now, I was just glad that she would have the ability to tell her own people the true story of their world. Even then, some of them came forward to ask her questions about what happened with him. They’d gotten the story from me, my mother, and everyone else here, now they wanted to hear it from his own sister. She looked surprised that they wanted to talk to her, but I gave a little nod of encouragement while pushing a bit more power into her, so she could speak louder and glow a bit brighter. She deserved to be able to hold everyone’s attention. Not that it looked like she actually needed any help with that, considering the way the whole city was staring at her and hanging on her every word. But still. 

Watching that go on for a moment, I took a few steps back so the people could focus on her. Soon, I found myself standing next to my parents. Dad’s hand ruffled my hair as he beamed at the sight of all those people. “You did good,” he murmured. “Both of you.” 

“We all did,” I insisted, reaching up to grab his hand with both of mine while leaning against my mother. “Now we just have to help these people move on. 

“And let that piece of shit vanish into the void where he belongs.”


In the end, Sariel did, in fact, help us take our memories of Fossor’s death, copy them into these crystals she created, and made it so anyone who wanted to could touch the crystal and get what amounted to a download of those memories. It took awhile, but she made enough for every city on the planet to have a full set. 

Yeah, every city. We spent the next couple weeks traveling around, visiting everyone we could and going through basically the same thing we had in that first one. Well, all of us aside from Robin, Judas, and Stasia, anyway. They stayed in that first village, working to find their own quarry. That Tuuenfa guy knew Rasputin, as promised. But the area that Rasputin was in was quite a bit larger than expected, to the tune of thousands of miles of wilderness. They were working to narrow it down.

As for the rest of us, we went to city after city, usually several in a single day. Some cities were close to others, so we were able to visit one of them and have the populations from three or four show up, which sped things along a bit. But still, it took a lot of time and a lot of repetition. Not that we minded. I was pretty sure I’d never get tired of talking about Fossor’s death. Especially with these people.  

Each time, we made sure they got the whole story about what had happened, were able to take those crystal memories and knew how to use them, all of it. They also kept wanting to give us food and other gifts, which we politely accepted the former and mostly insisted they keep the latter to rebuild, though we agreed to take some of the gifts if it looked like something they could easily reproduce without losing too much. But anything that was precious to their world like metals and gems they would need, we wouldn’t take. Rebuilding their entire society was already going to take enough as it was. 

The other thing we did in each city was give them a set of communication devices they could use to talk to every other city on the planet. It was essentially what amounted to a computer with a camera and video chat set up, with a power source that would keep it going for decades. Athena had made it clear that she was going to keep coming back here to set them up with more things and help them learn how to run it all as they were given a fast track into the sort of technology level they deserved to have after all this time. But she also wanted to be careful not to dominate everything for them. The choices of how to develop the world was going to be up to these people, not us. But she was absolutely going to do everything she could to protect them, especially after hearing the true story about where they came from. 

That was another thing we were going to have to get into with them soon enough, along with the whole concept of there being a bunch of Revenants locked up somewhere underground. Another thing that we needed to do something about too. 

But for the moment, we were just taking it one step at a time. And right now, the current step included my parents, Sariel, Tabbris, and me standing in the house belonging to the town priests in that first city we’d visited. Beilela was there too, standing in the corner while all of us watched the large monitor we’d installed. It took up the entire wall, and was divided into dozens of smaller screens with a face on each of them. The faces of elders from the other cities. They were all having their first real meeting ‘face to face,’ such as it was. Obviously, they were a bit overwhelmed by the concept of being able to talk to and see each other like this, but not as much as an actual renaissance or medieval village would have been. They knew this stuff existed thanks to Fossor using it. They were just shocked that they could. 

Rahanvael was here too, because they wanted to talk to her. When she came into view, every person on the screens, all those priests and elders, stared at her, making the girl flush visibly despite being a ghost. 

“You are Fossor’s sister,” Tuuenfa announced, speaking for everyone else since he was physically present. The other priests in all those other cities murmured a little. 

“Yes,” the ghost girl confirmed with a wince. “If you’d like me to leave–” 

“No,” Tuuenfa interrupted. “We wish to speak about our… world’s name, given Fossor ordered us to be known simply as… his world.” 

Looking taken aback and horrified by her own mistake, the ghost immediately blurted, “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t believe I never told you. I never–of course, this world was called–” 

Once again, Tuuenfa interrupted. “Please, wait. There will come a time for us to know the name of the world that was. But that is not our world anymore. Fossor destroyed it, and we cannot be them. We must move on and create our own world, one which is not bound to that which came before. We must learn from that world, and from what we were under Fossor, to become our own people. But we must also never forget our ties to that land. We were once known as Fossor’s world, Fossor’s people. But no more. From now on, we tie ourselves to the last remaining piece of the world that once was, she who is here with us now.” 

Realizing what he was saying, both the ghost girl beside me and I gave twin gasps. I found my voice first. “You mean…” 

“Yes,” came the calm, yet powerful response. 

“From this day forward, this world will be known… as Rahanvael.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter