Okay, what?! No, really, what the fuck? For a moment after hearing those words come from the tape player, I just stood there and stared down at it. My thumb had hit the off switch reflexively while my brain spun out. Fomorians coming here to Earth? They always came here, of course. But they were supposed to come sometime around the year nineteen hundred, not sixteen hundred! If the woman on this tape was right, if she wasn’t full of it, the Fomorians could show up over three hundred years early.
How much would that change history? So many of the people who had helped stop them before–or would in the future (time travel was annoying) weren’t even around yet. And the ones who were, did they even know the spell that had been used to banish the Fomorians in the first place? Would the Seosten fight back as much to save Earth at this point as they had/would at the normal invasion time, or would it be easier for them to just pull out and grab as many humans as they could to breed as weapons?
Something told me this whole situation would be very different, and unfathomably worse, if those monsters came through right now. I didn’t even know anything about this woman on the tape other than her name, Jaquelin Prose, and the fact that she worked for Section Four, which I had heard of. And I definitely had no idea how she’d sent this tape back. But whoever she was, I couldn’t take the chance that she was right. If the Fomorians were actually about to come through–no, there wasn’t time to waste.
All those thoughts played through my mind in just a second or two, before I hit play again.
Jaquelin’s voice continued as I held the recorder up and listened intently. “The third building from the left of the sheriff’s office, where you were before, is a church. There’s a tunnel underneath the altar. Err, that’s altar spelled with an a, not an e.” She sounded about as anxious and nervous as I felt. “The priest is one of his minions. You–you have to get past him. Then get through the altar, find the tunnel, and follow it to the chamber where he’s been setting up the spell to summon the Fomorians. The town–the people who live there, they’ll try to stop you too. It’s not their fault. Please, don’t–just don’t kill them. The priest has been putting… things in them, so he can control them, puppet them. They’ll do anything to protect the church and the altar, even sacrifice themselves. They don’t even know why they’re doing it or why it matters. He’s just… he’s infected them, and there’s no time to try to argue with them or fix it the hard way. They won’t listen to you. The second they realize you’re trying to get into the church, they’ll try to stop you. But if you can get through the tunnel under the altar and break the ritual, you can free them from it. You can stop the Fomorians from coming here early. Once you’re in the chamber where the ritual is, you have to–”
The tape went fuzzy then, and I frowned before hitting the button a couple more times. “What? I have to what?!”
“It’s enchanted,” Persephone informed me. “The rest of the tape won’t play until you’re in the proper location.”
Oh, well of course. So much for listening ahead of time to know exactly what I was walking into. Apparently I had to actually get there first. And I had to do it as quickly as possible. Which meant I needed a ride. “Percy–”
She was already up on Cerberus, and just as I glanced that way, her hand caught mine and hauled me up. “What about Ehn?” she asked curiously. “He is quite powerful, and quite unlikely to want the Fomorians to overrun this planet any more than we do.”
Before I could respond, Cerberus was already running back the way we’d come. Holding onto Percy ahead of me, I blurted, “I don’t know if we have time to go find him! He said this thing was some sort of buried power, not a message! Maybe this is a test, more training, or–or… I don’t know! Seth!” Belatedly, I shouted the ghost’s name, summoning him once more. “You remember the way back to the creek, right? Go there, take some of the others so you can spread out, find Ehn and tell him what’s going on! And if he already knew this was a thing, tell him it’s not fucking funny and to help!”
I barely heard his response as he and several other ghosts took off to work on that. The only thing I could focus on was the terror I felt about what would happen if we–if I screwed this up and let the Fomorians come through. The fact that they hadn’t previously made it to Earth in this time period had to mean that I successfully stopped them, right? But were things set like that? I was pretty sure they weren’t. I could still fuck this up. Wait, was it always me that stopped them? What if Ehn was supposed to be the one who found this thing? What if he was supposed to be with me right now? Oh God, what if other versions of me who got to this point had insisted that Ehn stay with them-me so he was there to stop the Fomorians? What if them-me had had better ways of contacting him to ask for help? What if–damn it, I didn’t know! I had no idea if anything was different, or if I could still make the wrong choice and screw this whole situation up. If I did–if I messed up, I could doom the entire human species! Or at least Earth. What if–what if I created a timeline where the Fomorians overran the planet?
Yeah, I was kind of spiraling a bit. It was a lot of pressure, and I had absolutely no idea how bad things would get if I made the wrong choice. Or if I already had made wrong choices. Still, my desperately flailing mind stopped as Persephone put her hand on mine while my arms were still wrapped around her to help stay on the running three-headed robot dog. “It’s okay, Flick,” she assured me. “We can stop them. The future message wouldn’t be here to tell you what to do if you couldn’t do it. We’ll help you. Right, Cerberus?” Her words were met with a trio of sharp barks.
Right, yeah. Her words, and Cerberus’s agreement, helped settle my nerves a little bit. They were right. Ehn be damned, I had them. It wasn’t like the Fomorians were here already, after all. Jaquelin had said that I needed to stop ‘him.’ That was singular. Was it the priest she had mentioned? No, that couldn’t be it. She’d said the priest was one of ‘his’ minions. Whoever this ‘he’ was, that was the main threat. But whether this was one Fomorian, or some other species who was trying to bring them over, or would do something stupid that accidentally summoned them, I had no idea. Not yet, anyway. If it was a full Fomorian… well, I had Persephone and Cerberus. Not to mention all these ghosts. I wasn’t alone.
Wait, speaking of that… Another thought came to mind, and I reached out with my Necromancy once more. Once again, I didn’t make it a demand. I requested the presence of the ghosts I had already spoken to earlier. Kehchul the goblin, Elsworn the bear-man, Avonaco the Native American, and Francis the European settler. Soon, they appeared hovering in the air as Cerberus bounded up the hillside. In a few words, I told them what was going on and where we were going. They, in turn, immediately promised to ‘rally the troops,’ and said they would meet us there. Then they disappeared again. I just hoped they’d make it back in time to help. And also that Seth and the others would find Ehn in time for him to come help as well, come to think of it.
Yeah, there was an awful lot of hoping going on right now. Including the fact that I hoped the lady on the tape knew what she was talking about. And that she wasn’t lying. That had occurred to me as well. What if this whole thing was a trick right from the start and doing what she said would be what summoned the Fomorians? What if the ritual was actually helping to keep them away? Or whatever she told me to do would finish it? Sure, it didn’t seem all that likely that I’d be necessary for that, but… but…
Yeah, I really didn’t know. The truth was that I was going to have to make that estimation when the time came. I had to wait and listen to what this lady wanted me to do once we made it to that ritual room. And if the next words out of her mouth were, ‘have Ehn kill the ultra Fomorian kaiju beast that just appeared in front of you because you’re totally no match for it’ I was probably going to scream.
Soon enough (hopefully), we reached the edge of town once more. Now there were people outside working, talking, or just walking around instead of hiding indoors. But they all stopped short as we came into view. And why wouldn’t they? I was a blonde human girl sitting on the back of a giant three-headed robot dog behind a pale woman with snow-white hair. Granted, this was a village full of Alters with a tall, blue-scaled man and his humanoid grasshopper deputy. But still, we probably stood out a little bit.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to reassure them. And I didn’t even know what I would have said anyway. All I could do was stare for a second, wondering briefly just how badly this was going to go. I had to get into that church and go under the altar, which would probably look bad even at the best of times, let alone when the entire town was apparently brainwashed or whatever to make sure that wouldn’t happen.
Ehn had to know about this, right? There was no way he didn’t. He’d sent me off to find this thing, talking about how it was power or whatever, and it turned out to be this? I refused to believe that he didn’t know. This was an intentional test. He wanted me to be here, taking care of this situation. Well I was going to take care of it alright. And then he and I were going to have some words about his teaching methods.
While I slipped off of Cerberus, murmuring for him and Percy to hold off and let me handle this, Sheriff Dune approached. “Well hey, can’t say I was expecting you to come back so soon. Did your partner find the guy he was looking for?” His words were friendly enough, but I could sense a tiny bit of an edge to them. Or maybe I was just imagining it thanks to what I had been told. Either way, I doubted he’d stay as friendly over the next few moments.
Still, I had to try. Taking a breath, I met the man’s gaze. “I have reason to believe you and your people are being… manipulated. I need to go into that church and check on something.” My hand gestured toward the building in question. “I really hope we can do this the easy way, but if you–”
All four of his six-shooters were in his hands before I could say another word. For most people, that probably would’ve been the end of it. He was so fast, his quick draw a blinding motion that brought the barrels right in line with my head in an instant. He didn’t wait for me to explain, didn’t even listen to anything past the point when I said I had to go into the church. He just drew, aimed, and fired with the full intent (in as much as someone who was puppeted via some sort of infestation could have intent) of putting all four bullets, and probably more besides, through my skull.
Fortunately, as fast as he was, I was faster. And I had been expecting something like that. Both of my hands snapped up. The first summoned a small portal in front of my face, with the other end appearing off in the distance to make his bullets pass right through and shoot off into the woods harmlessly. Meanwhile, a sharp gesture from my other hand sent a spray of sand into his mouth and eyes, forcing the man to recoil reflexively. Which was all the time I needed to send even more sand inside the barrels of each gun. A moment of focus on my object size-changing power made all those grains grow. They only went from being as big as… well, grains of sand to being the size of large pebbles, but still. All of them together like that within the tight space of the gun barrels was enough to twist the weapons out of shape so they wouldn’t fire properly anymore. Part of me felt bad about that, but if this all went well and the whole planet didn’t end up getting invaded by Fomorians, I’d try to make up for it.
Of course, Dune wasn’t done just because his guns were disabled. And the rest of the town wasn’t sitting idly by either. But before any of them could do anything, I felt the arrival of Elsworn and the others. And.. and a lot more besides. When those guys said they were rallying the troops, they had meant it. Without conscious thought, I shoved power into the ghost army, my voice rising to a shout. “Don’t hurt any of them!”
And just like that, a swarm of semi-transparent figures rushed past and over me. Dune was grabbed by six different ghosts, struggling and cursing as they hauled him to the ground. Strex, the deputy, came bounding into view just in time to be caught by two more ghosts, disarmed, and pulled all the way to the roof of a nearby building. All around us, it was the same story. Every person in town was being held down by two or three ghosts. They came because I’d asked for help, because Elsworn, Kehchul, Francis, and Avonaco explained the situation and convinced the entire army of ghosts from the forest out there to come into town and hold down these people so they couldn’t stop me.
Yes, I had a ghost army essentially holding this entire town prisoner. But now wasn’t the time to focus on how amazing and overwhelming that was. I had to move. If this Jacqueline woman was telling the truth, if she was right, then every last second counted right now.
While the townspeople struggled to free themselves from my ghost army, I ran straight toward the church. Cerberus and Percy trailed right behind me all the way. It seemed like the closer we got to the building, the harder the people who lived in this place fought to stop us from getting to it. They really were brainwashed. All those people were basically foaming at the mouth, spitting curses and threats as they clawed the ground and heaved against the spirits. But they couldn’t get free. Especially not after I sent another burst of energy to refuel those ghosts. There were so many of them and yet I just shoved a bunch of power into them all like it was nothing. Some part of me recognized how crazy that was, but I didn’t have time to think about it. It was just a thing that sat there in the back of my mind, telling me just how difficult this should’ve been. The power I was putting in those ghosts should have staggered me. There were two or three for every townsperson. Even if this particular town was only about a hundred people, that still meant I was fueling several hundred ghosts at the same time and didn’t even feel particularly winded by it. That was absurd, right? I was pretty sure it was absurd.
A man stepped out of the church just as we neared it. But no, this wasn’t just a man. It was something worse. I could sense the evil and dark power pouring off of him even as he came into view. There was something fundamentally wrong about him. His skin was grayish brown, and he stood about average height, a couple inches under six feet. He looked human aside from his skin, and the fact that he didn’t have any eyes. Not as in he had empty holes in his face. No, there was no place for his eyes. Where they should’ve been was simply flat skin. Then he opened his mouth, extending a foot-long tongue with two small bulbous structures on either side. They started near the middle of the tongue, but rolled down to the end as the tongue pointed toward us. A second later, those bulbs twisted and opened to reveal a couple eyes staring our way. Eyes attached to his tongue.
Okay, I was officially creeped the fuck out. Which only got worse as the men let out a banshee-like scream that filled the air. He lifted his arms and a dozen rock and dirt golems rose from the earth around him, while the figure himself flew up into the air, lightning crackling around him.
“Go, Flick!” Percy gave me a push, even as Cerberus sent a bunch of lasers lancing out toward the incoming golems. “We’ll handle this, I promise! We’ll keep him off you! Go stop the Fomorians!”
Oh boy did tongue-eye boy want to fight me when he heard that. But even as he turned his attention my way and shrieked even louder, Percy launched herself off Cerberus and crashed into him. Both went down hard onto the roof of the building.
There wasn’t time to argue. Percy was dealing with that guy and Cerberus would keep the golems busy. For my part, I gave one last quick glance around, gave my ghosts a bit more power, then ran for the church once more. The heavy doors surrendered after a couple hard, boosted heaves, slamming inward. There, the altar at the far end. It was enormous and appeared to be made of a mix of gold and heavy wood. Still, I didn’t care about that. All I cared about was what was under it.
To that end, I boosted myself once more and practically flew that way. I could take the time to shove it out of the way, or break it. Or… I slammed right into and through the altar, using my wood-possession power to pass right inside.
Sure enough, there was a tunnel underneath the thing. I sensed it immediately, wide open space beneath the heavy altar. I couldn’t see down there, but it felt like the tunnel went on for quite some distance.
Okay, the voice on the tape had been right so far. I just had to hope she was also right that I could stop whatever was going on at the end of that tunnel.
Because if I couldn’t, the future was going to look a hell of a lot worse than it had when I left.