Heretical Edge

The Storm 21-19 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter

A/N – There was a commissioned interlude about several more historical/mythological figures posted yesterday! You can read that, if you haven’t yet, by clicking the previous chapter button above.

Right, so now we had a whole swarm of Revenants, who were incredibly pissed off about being yanked away from their fun time, and we were their new targets. Every last one of those thousand monsters were coming back here and they all wanted to destroy us. It was like we’d wished on a monkey’s paw to stop those things from killing everyone. 

And there was even a monkey around here somewhere who might have magical wish granting paws with a dark sense of humor for all I knew. 

Even before Shiori finished saying her previous words, I was grabbing her hand and pulling her as I started to run. Barely a few steps into it, with the deafening sound of those shrieking monsters filling the air, I transformed into my lion form, giving the other girl time to clamber on top of me before taking off at a full sprint.

What followed was chaotic, to say the least. We couldn’t go in a straight line, or anything close to that. These creatures were everywhere. I’d had no idea they could even turn intangible when they were in bodies, but here we were. They kept coming through the walls and ceiling before solidifying into their much more dangerous form. They blocked our escape route over and over again. There was no way we could take the time to fight any of them. Even if we managed to win, it would slow us down so much the rest would pile on, and rip us to pieces. None of us had the sort of power it would take to kill these things instantly, not now that Tabbris had used her wings. It would take too much time for those to regenerate. Time we very much didn’t have. 

So, instead of fighting, we kept running. With Shiori clinging tightly to my neck, I darted through every bit of open space I could find. They were closing in all around us as I leapt twelve feet in the air to pass through a five foot wide space between a cluster of the creatures, bounced right off one behind them,  and then slid almost ten feet just on my own momentum to pass directly under the next set who were floating down from the ceiling.

Unfortunately, from there, a larger group of already solid creatures was waiting, so I had to dart to the left, instead of continuing forward. Then I had to double back again to evade a semi circle of the monsters who were trying to close in from that side. But Shiori had noticed an opening, and she shouted it out while pointing, so I twisted back that way and ran.

It was like we were trying to run the winning touchdown for the Super Bowl, and had to evade not just the other team, but every single one of their fans too. Everywhere I turned, there was barely any space to move. The Revenants were cutting off every avenue. They were tightening the noose, making it impossible to get anywhere.

And just then, right when I was starting to think there was nowhere else to go, one of the monsters blocking our path suddenly lit up with flames as a familiar sword was driven through its back. The fire spread over the monster, while an identical set of flames appeared off in the distance. As it screamed, the creature was teleported from one side of flames to the other, revealing my mother standing there with her hand out. “Let’s go!”

I darted that way, and Mom grabbed me by my fur and Shiori by the arm, while activating some sort of power. Instantly, we vanished before reappearing outside the chamber. There was a glowing forcefield open over the portal inside the sarcophagus and everyone else was already there. Most of them were lying around, panting, heavily or nursing various wounds. Some of them pretty bad ones from the look of it. Four of Miles’ teammates were being tended to by Med-Robin. 

But we were out. We’d made it. We were safe, even if I could still sense those Revenants as clear as day. They had been all around me, hundreds of them closing in from all sides. It was like a…. stench that permeated every single one of my senses. We needed to get away from here to some fresh air so I could stop feeling them. 

As I was still taking that in, Trice moved to stand in front of that forcefield to look in at the monsters. What had once been an opaque portal was clear enough now to show the other room. “Yeah, they don’t look too happy,” he muttered before turning back with a smirk. “Well fuck them.” Now that I looked at him from the front, I could see a bloody wound in his side. He winced just a little, putting his hand over it, while another, quieter curse escaped him. 

Denuvus shook her head, as though still flummoxed as to why he had gone in after us. “Yes, and now we can all celebrate this wonderful victory. Preferably by calling that ship back so we can all leave.” Her words were pointed. “Unless you great and powerful saviors would like to tempt fate yet again.”

Ignoring her, I transformed back to my human self, in one of the Seosten bodysuits. A thought while I touched the pouch that had my clothes stored in it brought them out and clad me in them once more. Then I looked to my mother and Nevada.. “It really worked? They’re all in there?”

God, there had been so many of those damn things in there. But at least they were on the other side of that forcefield now. And really pissed off about that fact. Glancing that way, I could see some of them slamming up against it. They desperately wanted out. It made me shudder. How long was it going to be before I stopped sensing their power and malevolence? Right now it was so strong and overwhelming that the sensation made me want to vomit. 

Mom took a moment, breathing in and out a couple times before nodding. “So it would seem. Med, how are they doing?” She asked that while looking over to where the android was helping Chas, Jason, Emily, and Kaleigh. 

Without looking away from his work, Med replied, “We need to get them some help. They’ve been poisoned with something that’s too strong for me to do anything about. Whatever some of those creatures had on their claws, it’s pretty nasty, and like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Visibly rolling her eyes, Denuvus walked that way while reaching into her pocket. “Oh, please, as though I wouldn’t be prepared to handle a simple poisoning.” She took some sort of vial out and popped the cork before crouching next to them. The thing was filled with a thick purple fluid. She held it in front of Chas. “Drink this.”

His response was to turn his head away and snap a litany of curses and suggestions about what she could do with herself. Kaleigh and the others subsequently reacted, basically the same way. None of them trusted the woman to actually cure their poisoning, even though I could see the pain in their pale faces.

Sighing, Denuvus started, “My name—”

That was as far as she got before Miles suddenly had his bee weapon, shaped into a sword, pointed at her throat. Not that he probably would’ve been able to actually hurt her like that, but his point was made. Especially as the boy snarled, “Don’t.”

Looking up at him, her expression making it clear how little she cared about the blade at her throat, Denuvus tersely replied, “Well, if you truly don’t wish me to save your friends’ lives, so be it. I must say, however, I did not expect you to be so cold.”

The glare he shot her was matched by Royce, the other member of the team who was still standing. He had his own weapon pointed at her as well, a pair of what looked like sawed-off shotguns in one form that combined into a single full-length, quad-barreled gun with enormous stopping power. The combined form was what the boy was using right then as he spoke in a tight voice. “You don’t have to enslave people with your power just to get them to take some medicine.”

With that, he and Miles both lowered their weapons and moved to crouch in front of their injured teammates to have a quick, whispered conversation. Not wanting to eavesdrop on that given how personal it obviously was, I squeezed Shiori’s hand before pulling her into an embrace. “You did it,” I managed, my voice shaking a little from the high of what we had just been through. It simultaneously felt as though I could run a marathon and fall over at the same time. I just wanted this day to be over by now. But something told me we weren’t done with everything just yet. Unless that was just a product of me still being able to sense all those Revenants right on the other side of that forcefield. I wouldn’t be able to relax until we were safely away from this spot. 

As though in response to that thought, Judas spoke up. “I know we all want to celebrate right now, and that’s fine, but I still have a question. If we pulled all those monsters back, where’s that monkey guy? Something tells me he would already be here if there was no one left to fight. He doesn’t exactly seem slow, and he’d probably be complaining that we interrupted his fun. So, why isn’t he here?”

He had a point, of course. Monkey, or Sun, or whatever he wanted to be called, was far too fast for me to think it would take him this long to get here once the Revenants started leaving. And he obviously wouldn’t have any trouble finding us. Now that it had been pointed out, the fact that he wasn’t here already was starting to make me worry all over again. Between that and the lingering full-sense stench of the Revenants, I couldn’t–

Before consciously thinking about what I was doing, my body spun. It wasn’t Tabbris. It was me. But I was moving without actual thought. There was no time for that. This was all instinct, the second the truth occurred to me. My hand snapped out, throwing my power as hard as I could while my staff came up and around in my other hand. 

The power caught two of them. Two of the four Revenants who were possessing the ‘poisoned’ teammates, even as they were in mid-lunge toward Royce and Miles. My staff slammed off the third one with just enough force to stall it slightly. The fourth, however, was unhindered as it threw itself toward Royce with a scream.

At least, unhindered by me. But Persephone was there. She appeared in a flash of motion, catching the creature possessing the girl who had once been Emily Perry by the shoulders before throwing her backwards. Her other hand caught Chas’s body as well as the Revenant possessing him bounced off my staff and tried to attack again. 

That was the moment Rahanvael appeared. The ghost girl appeared in front of me, speaking quickly. “Flick, wait. One of the other ghosts saw— oh.”

“Yeah,” I managed, “let me guess. They saw these guys get… taken.” 

All four of the dead, Revenant-possessed teenage Heretics were giving those familiar and terrifying screams. They hadn’t been poisoned after all, at least not the way we thought. They were dead and possessed by Revenants. How that was possible, why we hadn’t noticed that they were dead and not just poisoned, I had no idea. And there wasn’t time to even think about it. Nor was there time to mourn. There were four very pissed off Revenants right in front of us.

On the other hand, now that I knew why I was sensing these things so strongly, I could do something about it. In the midst of their screaming, I gathered myself once more and shoved it outward. That time, all four stopped short. Maybe they were weaker somehow? Or maybe that was just how pissed off I was at that moment. Either way, all four Revenants froze just as the others were gearing up for a big fight.

Asenath looked back at me, the first to realize. “Flick?” 

“I can hold them,” I assured her, though my hands were shaking somewhat from the effort as they thrashed against my control.

Denuvus, who actually looked a little bit shaken, spoke up. “We have to kill them before she loses her grip.”

“No!” That was Royce, the boy throwing himself in front of her while his head shook. “There has to be a way to get those things out of them!”

Stasia shook her head, speaking softly. “It is too late. They must have died inside that chamber, and no one saw. Those creatures hitched a ride within them, and tried to wait for their moment.”

Med, looking and sounding stricken, nodded. “I am so sorry, but she’s right. Your friends were already killed. They must have been… creating false life signs, forcing the heart to beat. If they were alive, these monsters couldn’t access them.”

Miles put himself next to his only surviving teammate, his voice stammering. “B-but we can do something about it. Even if they were taken by these monsters, we can still help them! Persephone, she’s a Revenant, but she has control of herself! Why can’t they?”

Persephone, for her part, spoke very gently. “I do not know why I am the way I am, and I have found no others like me. But whatever the source of my difference, I am still a Revenant. I am not the Seosten I am possessing. And even if by some miracle you made these four be just like me, they would also simply be Revenants, not your friends.”

The other two tried to argue with that, but it was obvious that they knew she was right. They were just desperate to find a miracle. A miracle that wasn’t coming.

What did come, however, was Monkey. He crashed down through the ceiling, making everyone jump before landing smoothly and dusting himself off. “Well, that was fun, and I even got a pretty good scrap in before you had to go and take them away.” Looking up then, he suddenly smiled at the sight of the four frozen figures. “But you kept some for me?! You shouldn’t have.” With that, the man started to move that way while cracking his knuckles. “Hope you’re ready to let them go so we can have a sporting–” 

“No!” I jumped that way, putting my hands up. In the background, I could feel the Revenants try to take advantage of my sudden distraction. But Tabbris was still possessing me and she took over keeping them under control. “Stop, just–just wait! Those are their friends, they just–they…” I looked over my shoulder toward the stricken Miles and Royce, having no idea what to say. How was I supposed to say what… what had to happen? Fuck, how would I feel if it was… if it was my team, my friends? What if it was Columbus, Sean, Sands, and Sarah right there? Would I be able to stand by and let someone… someone kill them? Would it matter that they were already dead? How would I be handling that? 

Obviously, I couldn’t have stopped the man if he just kept going. But to my relief, he paused and tilted his head before a look of understanding crossed his face. “Ah, I see.” That was all he said, but at least he didn’t march through me to get to them. 

Mom, seeing that he had at least stopped for the moment, turned back to focus on Miles and Royce. Her voice was soft. “Boys, I… am so very sorry. You should walk away, go down the tunnel a little bit while we…. while we take care of this. Then you can come back and see them when they aren’t… when they aren’t possessed.” 

“While you take care of it?” Miles shot back, his voice rising almost hysterically. 

Before he could say anything else, however, Royce put a hand on his arm. “It’s not her fault.” He turned then, his eyes narrowing into a glare straight at Denuvus. “It’s hers. She brought us here. And then she refused to go in there and help.” His voice had turned cold and dangerous, making it clear just how much he wanted to take this whole thing out on the woman who had used her power to drag all of them to this planet in the first place. 

I had no idea what I could possibly do to help the situation, but I did know that I didn’t want these two to be here when the others had to do something about the Revenants inside those bodies. The fact that I had to be here in order to keep them motionless was bad enough.

All it took was a look toward Shiori before she got the message and stepped that way. She, Asenath, and Twister carefully guided those two down the tunnel. Nevada looked like she was torn between helping and keeping her attention on Denuvus. But in the end, she went after them to help Royce and Miles. 

Which left the rest of us standing there with these four already dead classmates. I had really thought that we had gotten out of that whole fight without losing anyone, and now look. These four, who shouldn’t even have been here at all, who had chosen to go in and tried to help just to save the people of this world, were dead. Just like that, three quarters of their group had been wiped out. 

“I can handle it quickly and cleanly if you want.” That was Monkey, his voice, oddly soft, given everything I’ve seen of him so far. There was a deep understanding in his eyes. “And in a way that keeps their bodies intact so you can bury them, or burn them, or whatever you all do now.” There was another pause before he added, “If they were your friends, none of you should have to do that.” 

I had no idea what to say, or what to do. My mouth opened and shut a couple times, while no sound came out. But my mother knew. She stepped over toward me, putting her hands on my shoulders before turning me away. She must have gestured or something to Monkey, because he silently walked past. I stared at the distant wall with my mother’s arms around my shoulders until it was over. Finally, I felt the strain against my power cease completely. They were gone. And I wasn’t looking at the wall anymore. I couldn’t see it through the tears streaming down my face. 

Was that weird? I didn’t even know these guys aside from having talked to them a couple times here or there. But still… still, they didn’t deserve to die. They had gone in when they didn’t have to, had fought to save this world. And now they were dead. 

Finally, I found my voice, whispering softly. “Okay…” I wasn’t looking back at the… bodies. I couldn’t, not yet. 

“Now what?” 

Previous Chapter

Commissioned Interlude 21 – Historical Figures Part D (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Cassandra 

“Are you certain this is going to work?” The short, somewhat voluptuous woman with reddish-blonde hair asked the question a bit pensively. She wore a forest green tunic with a dark red belt and a black cloak with its hood down. At that particular moment, she was kneeling in the middle of a small cottage room, surrounded by spellwork runes that had been drawn all along the floor and walls. Four metal statues of humanoid figures, slightly taller than she would have been while standing, were arranged around her in each of the cardinal compass directions. The statues stood facing her with their cupped hands out, each holding a small crystal ball which glowed a different color. Red, blue, purple, and yellow. 

The room’s only other occupant, the handsome blond man known as Apollo, offered her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Cassandra. I’ve been checking out this spell of theirs for months now. They might think it’s unbreakable, but trust me, I can play it like a peunte.” After pausing, he added, “That’s an instrument that’s easy to learn.”  

The woman swallowed a little nervously. “Of course I trust you. I’m alive because of you, after all these years.” 

“You’re alive because you bonded with my blood,” Apollo corrected with a soft chuckle. “And now you shall stay alive for as long as you wish because of it. Through as many more centuries as you like.” 

“If those centuries are spent with you,” Cassandra replied, her gaze meeting his adoringly, “then they will seem to be only moments.” She closed her eyes briefly and took a breath before opening them again. “And when this spell is done, I’ll be able to fix it for anyone I want?”

He nodded once. “Exactly. I’m turning you into a back door to their spell. Whoever’s targeted by it, you’ll be able to give their memories back. Void, you’ll be able to turn the spell off entirely for anyone you want so they stop forgetting everything magical they see.” Leaning down and reaching out, he gently brushed two fingers along her face. “You’ll have total command of it. Are you ready?” 

Leaning into his touch, the woman shook her head. “Almost. Just one more thing.” With that, she pushed herself up a bit, touching her own fingers against his chin before gently kissing him. Her voice was a soft murmur, “I love you, Pollo.” 

Her kiss made the Seosten man smile broadly. “I love you, my Cassandra.” He ran his fingers one more time along her face and through her hair before straightening up. “Let’s get this over with then. I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces. Puriel might just have a stroke when he finds out what happened to their precious spell.” Chuckling with amusement at the thought, he took a step back before touching the rune nearest the doorway. His eyes were watching the love of his life, a human woman he had met through sheer chance, with a sort of feeling part of him had never believed he would be able to have, let alone see returned in kind. “See you on the other side of this.” 

And with that, he exhaled before speaking the command word that would trigger the elaborate spell he had spent so much time putting together. It would take some time, almost half the night they had left, but when it was over, Cassandra would be tied to the spell that would eventually become known as the Bystander Effect. After spending so long arguing against his people creating the spell to begin with, he had decided to deal with the problem his way. His intention was for her to be able to control the spell, to turn it off in whoever she wanted. 

Unfortunately, intentions and results didn’t always go hand in hand. 

*******

Several Hundred Years Later

Sitting in the back of a tavern, Cassandra, once daughter of King Priam of Troy so many centuries earlier, put her cup down and looked over toward her waiting host, who stood with his hand out. “I still owe you for all the drinks I’ve had.” She spoke the words matter-of-factly, though she made no move to reach for any coin purse.

There was a brief pause before the man lowered his hand and barked a hard laugh. “You’ve drunk too much, lady. You paid for everything already. I’ll not have your drunk arse losing more of your coin and then complaining to the guards about getting cheated. Now, we’re closing up, so you better head out.” He gestured around to indicate the rest of the empty bar. “I’ll need to be getting some sleep myself before long. Early day tomorrow.” 

Rising and drawing her black cloak around her figure, Cassandra flipped the hood up and began making her way out. Just as she crossed the entrance to the street beyond, the woman caught a glimpse of four heavyset men waiting for her to one side, partially hidden within the shadows of the nearby building. Drunk and armed with clubs, their intentions were clear. Particularly considering how long they had been staring at her within the bar while drinking only an hour earlier. Part of her had hoped they would content themselves with simply looking, but since when did men of that type ever believe that was enough? 

With a heavy sigh, she turned to look their way as they stalked toward her. Her voice was calm, yet tinged with annoyance. “You find me incredibly attractive and desirable, and would like to initiate physical intercourse.”

The result was immediate. All the men stop short, looks of revulsion crossing their faces as they looked her up and down. One turned a little green and turned to spit on the ground. They murmured to one another about how disgusting the pig was before continuing to make their way down the street, leaving her alone. Their words turned toward mocking one another for ever thinking such an ugly creature could be suited for their beds.  

“That wouldn’t work so easily if they weren’t affected by the Seosten memory spell.” A voice behind her, near the space between the tavern and its neighboring building, spoke up. “Would you have been ready for that if it came down to it?” 

Cassandra gave a low, humorless chuckle. After a moment, she turned to face the man who stood in the shadows. When she spoke, her own voice gave no doubt as to the razor-sharp anger she felt. “Why don’t you come closer and see if I am prepared to defend myself from the most worthless dregs of society, Apollo?”  

He took a step, not coming near her but at least emerging into the light where she could see him better. “It took a long time to find you, Cass.” While there was hate in her words, his were filled with remorse, sorrow, and loss. 

“And I told you to stop trying,” she snapped testily. “Your arrogance already ruined my life once, do you truly wish to do so again? Because of your spell, the one you were so confident of, no one believes anything I tell them. No matter what I say, they think I’m wrong. Or worse, intentionally lying. Do you have any idea how hard it is to accomplish anything in this world, to be known for anything, to build a life when almost everyone you talk to always thinks you’re wrong or lying? I have found various tricks in getting through this life, as you just saw. But that can’t work for any true relationship. I can have no friends, nothing real and lasting. Even when I manage to use this curse properly, always saying the opposite of what I mean, they still see me as untrustworthy. That spell of yours makes people hate me. It makes them see me as a liar. You made me an outcast from every possible family and friend I could ever have had.” 

Wincing, Apollo nodded. “I know. I… I’ll never be able to tell you how sorry–” 

“I don’t need your apologies,” she retorted. “They are as worthless as ever.” She paused before giving a dismissive snort. “Did you know, I’m so connected to this Bystander Effect from your people, that it gives me visions. It’s connected to every human being, so it sees everything going on in this world, collects all that information, and makes me dream about things that have not happened yet.” 

“It’s analyzing data and predicting probable outcomes based on that information,” Apollo replied slowly. “Because you’re connected to it, you see its predictions as dreams.” 

Her eyes narrowed into a glare. “Yes, well, no one believes what I say about those predictions either. Not even those who aren’t affected by the spell to begin with. Every human believes I’m lying about everything I say, and every nonhuman believes I’m a fool. I tried to warn a village full of otherworlders about a plague that was coming. They laughed at my words, and I was forced to watch a hundred children suffer and die. Then they believed I was responsible and tried to burn me. More than a dozen times that and things like it have happened. I’ve watched so many suffer and fall who could have been saved if they listened to me. But because of your curse, because of your arrogance, they never do. They never will. I will see tens of thousands of deaths or more, and I will never be able to warn them.” 

“It’s protecting itself,” Apollo noted with a grimace. “Anything you try to say about what the spell shows you would be wrapped up within the spell itself, the effect much stronger. That’s why it even works on nonhumans.” 

Cassandra’s tone was mocking, though even that was tinged with despair. She felt so lost and alone, but would never accept help or comfort from the man she saw as responsible for her situation. No matter how close they had been at one time. “Thank you, I hadn’t realized that for myself over the past centuries. I’m so glad you’ve been able to track me down and save me from my ignorance.” 

Apollo swallowed before starting again, even though he knew how useless it was. “Cassandra, I–” 

“No,” she interrupted. “I told you before and I’ll say it again, I want nothing to do with you. Not after what you’ve done. You told me you knew what you were doing. You promised you could help. Instead, you made certain no one will ever trust me, or believe a word I say. You made me an outcast from everyone I could ever love, from any life I ever could have had. You made me see tragedies throughout this world that I can do nothing to prevent. You made everyone I could ever have loved see me as a lying fool. Leave me alone, Apollo. Next time, I really will show you how dangerous I’ve become.” 

With that, she turned, adjusting her hood, before stalking off into the night. 

***********

Medea 

As the sound of a soft chime filled the elaborately decorated office of the Olympus’s chief logistics officer, Kushiel looked up from her desk and smiled faintly. Her voice rose while she touched a button to make the doors woosh open with smooth efficiency. “Come in, Medea.” 

The figure who came through the entrance was slender and quite young by Seosten standards. She had been barely fifty years of age when this journey of theirs started, essentially still a child in so many respects. Now closer to one hundred, she still appeared to be what the humans would consider her very late teens or early twenties, as she always would thanks to their Tartarus-gifts. Her hair was dark brown, almost black, and worn in a long braid. Her eyes, almost too large for her face, gave her an innocent, naive sort of appearance. She wore a dark green Seosten bodysuit rather than any more elaborate clothing, and had a pair of enchanted goggles set on her forehead. Those were often pulled down over her eyes, making them look even larger and earning her various teasing nicknames throughout the ship, often involving animals with very large, bulbous eyes. 

“Y-you know my name?” the young Seosten officer managed, before blanching. “I m-mean, reporting as ordered, ma’am.” 

“Come, sit.” Kushiel gestured to the chair in front of her desk, waiting until the girl did so. “I’m told that you requested leave to spend some time on the planet, away from regular duty.” 

“Oh, not exactly, ma’am.” Blanching immediately as soon as she realized that she had just corrected the woman in front of her, Medea stammered. “I m-mean, I still want to do my job. I wo-work in botany, you see. I just wanted to take some time on-planet to document some of the rarer species of plants that I’ve been getting some glimpses of. It’ll take months to catalog everything I want to properly, but it’ll be worth it, I promise. S-some of the plant species on this planet are incredible. If I can build a proper database and connect the records we already have of the plants we’ve been growing on our greenhouse deck, I might be able to crossbreed them with the Rysthael plants to create… unbelievable hybrids. Plants that could cure more diseases than we ever thought they could, or feed entire populations with every bit of nourishment they need in one little bit of fruit.” As she went on with that, the girl forgot her own nerves, sounding more excited by the prospect and her own ideas by the second. 

Chuckling softly, Kushiel leaned back in her seat. “Yes, well, I’m inclined to allow this extended leave. But only on one condition. You see, there is a human on this planet, by the name of Jason. He–well, let’s just say he aided me when he did not have to. Now he’s been on a bit of a quest to collect an enchanted bit of cloth. The details are unimportant. Suffice to say, I want you to aid him. Help the human find his bit of magical cloth, and protect him from those who would cause him harm. Keep an eye on the man for me. While you’re doing that, you may catalog any plants you wish.” 

Taking that in, Medea rocked backwards, mouth opening and shutting a couple times. “Oh. I mean, I’m not really much of a soldier or anything, ma’am. But… but okay. Anything I can do to help the mission. I’ll protect this human, and help him find the magic cloth he’s looking for. May I ask one thing though? 

“What is this… Jason like?” 

*******

Ten Years Later 

“You are a bastard, Jason.” As she said those words, Medea crouched in the dirt behind the home she had shared with the man in question for some time. Their two young children lay cradled in her arms, unmoving and pallid. 

Jason himself, a human who stood just under six feet, with long, dark blond hair that fell in curls to his shoulders, shook his head while staring that way. “You would call me a bastard when you are the one who murdered my children?” Despite his words, there was little in the way of actual grief in his voice.

“You never saw them as yours in their lives,” Medea retorted. “You’ll fool no one by calling them such after their deaths. And did you truly believe that I would simply sit around and allow you to use me for your own ends?”

Jason made a scoffing sound. “Use you? You nearly ruined me yourself. Yes, you aided my quest for the fleece, but you also murdered the king who requested it, the man I intended to impress with it. You destroyed my chance to be recognized by him. The entire point of getting the fleece in the first place was to gain his favor, and you murdered him.” 

“To save your life,” Medea retorted, still cradling her children’s bodies. “Pelias wished you dead, and would have ordered it the morning after his demise. But yes, you are correct. I killed for you then, as well as before and since. I have killed for you many times, and now you sought to throw me aside in order to marry this princess.” 

“I would have kept you and the children safe,” Jason shot back. “Glauce would not have objected to your presence as a concubine.” 

“A concubine?” Medea’s voice was high with disbelief. “You truly believed I would sit around as your sex toy just so you could have the political power you’ve always craved? I loved you, Jason. I truly did. I have done everything I could to protect you. But it was never enough.”

“When Hera sent you, I thought you had power,” Jason insisted. “I thought you were one of the Olympus’s leaders, like Artemis. But you were almost… nothing. You were a lowly crew member, who barely rated a mention on their ship manifest. Do they even think of you now? Has Hera summoned you back at any point in the past decade? Or has she forgotten you entirely? Even your gift isn’t that impressive, when put next to the feats of your betters.”   

“My gift…” Medea echoed, raising her gaze to stare at the man for a moment. 

Jason’s head bobbed. “Yes, what was it you called it? The ability to think? Assuming it exists at all and isn’t something you simply made up. After all, it’s not exactly something that we can see for ourselves. You say you can freeze time, but it’s not as though you can move while it’s frozen. You can accomplish nothing, other than ‘think.’ You say it gives you unlimited time to consider what you’re going to do or come up with the answer to a question, but you can’t actually do anything until you stop using the power, so what good is it?” 

Medea was silent for a couple seconds, before speaking flatly. “You would be surprised how useful the ability to take as long as one needs to consider their actions can be. For example, I considered killing you for ten minutes just now. I decided against it.” 

Jason took a step that way. “You think you can threaten me now? You’ve already poisoned the king and princess I was to wed. They’re dead, as are the children you were so proud of. And the rest of the court are coming soon, to put you to trial. There will be no escape for you now, no matter how long you can think about it.” 

Rising with the bodies of her children on either arm, Medea retorted, “That’s what you think.” As she said that, lights appeared behind the woman, revealing a small shuttlecraft, one of the Olympus’s many craft meant to ferry small groups or even individuals across the planet. The silvery-blue craft was teardrop shaped, standing twelve feet tall, twenty feet wide at the base, and thirty feet long. As Jason gaped, the side opened, extending a ramp, which Medea strode toward, still carrying those young, limp bodies. 

“Where do you think you’re going?” Jason snapped. 

Pausing on the ramp, Medea replied, “I am going to bury my children somewhere they will be respected. Don’t expect to see me again.” With that, she allowed the ramp to close behind her and moved past the double row of seats, placing one child in each before vocally ordering the ship to depart. The console lit up, and the shuttle began to rise. As it did, allowing them to leave Jason and the approaching angry mob behind, she produced a handful of leaves from several different plants from her pocket, crumbling them together between her fingers, before putting the mixture in her children’s mouth. 

After a moment of no response, they began to chew and opened their eyes, color returning to their faces. “Mama?” one of them asked, “what’s going on? Where are we going?”

The woman touched each of their foreheads. “You are hybrids, part-human and part-Seosten. My people would kill you if they knew about you. We’re leaving this place. We’ll find somewhere new to stay. I believe there is a whole new continent out there, begging to be explored.” 

And thus, Medea and her children set out, preparing to settle in what would, in some far distant time, be known as Australia. 

*********

Jack o’ Kent

“Come on man, get those bags full. Quit stalling! Ain’t nobody coming to help you!” The shouted words came from a man in a dark ski mask, who held a pistol aimed toward another man in a security services uniform. That latter figure was carrying heavy bags away from the armored van that had been forced to pull into the dark alley they were in now, driven off the road by the Mercedes that now sat with its trunk open. In most cases, of course, an armored truck versus a luxury car wouldn’t have ended with the latter’s triumph. But this particular car had been magically reinforced, making it more than strong enough to force the van into this corner. 

The driver of the van, a furry Rakshasa (cat-like Alter) was currently kneeling on the ground with his hands behind his head while the second thief (who also wore a ski mask but whose body was at least seven and a half feet tall and seemed to be made of rock) held a heavy-duty shotgun close to him. The rock-covered thief snarled, “And don’t you think about being a hero neither. You start shit, this buddy of yours’ll be the first to go.”

“I’m doing it, I’ve got it,” the driver’s partner held up two of the bags he had just taken from the back of the van. He was a plain-looking man in almost all respects, his straight dark hair cut to medium length, just past his ears. He appeared human or at least human-passing, standing several inches under six feet, with a wiry build. “Don’t worry, neither of us are being paid enough to fuck with you guys on this. See?” He walked around the back of the open Mercedes and tossed the bags into the trunk before jogging back to pick up the next couple bags under the watchful eye of the first thief. “I don’t even know what this stuff is. Too heavy to be cash. You guys stealing jewels?” 

“Here’s an idea,” the humanoid masked figure snapped, “how about you stop asking stupid questions and just put the shit in the car before we blow your partner’s head off and then start taking turns having some fun with you?” 

Meekly apologizing, the other man hurriedly continued carrying bags from the van to the car while the two thieves anxiously waited to leave with their loot. Finally, the last of the goods had been dropped into the trunk. Standing back there with his hands raised obediently over his head, the security man half-stammered, “Ok-kay, you’ve got what you want, now it’s time for you to leave, right?”

The rock-man with the enormous shotgun chuckled humorlessly. “Yeah, totally time to leave. Thanks so much for your business.” With that, he lashed out with the gun, smacking the Rakshasa driver in the back of the head to knock him out. 

Immediately, as his partner fell limply to the ground, the man by the car lowered his hands. “Well, I’d say this was a productive outing.” His voice had lost all nervousness, adopting a completely casual tone. Likewise, his body language betrayed no worry about the guns the other two held. 

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” the humanoid thief retorted. “Are you sure you got all the good shit? Be a pretty damn bad waste to spend all those months getting you embedded in that company just to walk away with garbage.” 

The man by the car in the security uniform gave a brief nod. “Oh yes, I’m sure. There’s just one little problem.” 

“Huh? What problem?” The rock-man snarled, turning that way expectantly. “We just pulled off the heist of the fucking decade, don’t start talking about problems now.” 

Their partner, the supposed armored truck escort, shrugged helplessly. “Well, you see, it turns out I was never that good at sharing.” With that, he hopped up on the bumper of the car, gave a cheeky wave, and then jumped into the trunk itself feet first, vanishing from sight. 

Both of the armed thieves looked at each other for a brief second before sprinting to the car. They arrived, standing in front of the open trunk, just in time to see a glowing portal in the bottom. A portal through which they could see what looked like an old furniture store somewhere far, far away. Their view was from the ceiling, looking down on the room. Their bags of loot were lying there, with their ‘partner’ crouched next to them where he had landed. Turning back that way, he saluted while calling, “Thanks for the help!” 

“Hey, hey!” the humanoid thief started to scramble into the trunk, even as the portal began to close right in his face. “We’re partners, you son of a bitch! You can’t do this!” The portal was already too small to fit through, but he stuck his gun into it, only to have the barrel sheared off as the opening closed around it. “You fucker! You can’t do this, Jack! Jack!

“Jack!!!”

*****

Chuckling to himself, the man called Jack crouched to look through the bags of loot that he and his now-former partners had managed to liberate. Just as he dipped his fingers into one of them, however, his head tilted, and he spoke simply. “You know, it’s been a while since you tried to spy on me. I thought you were done with that.” 

“Spy?” the man lounging in an old recliner on the far side of the open furniture show area replied. “I think you mean testing you.” With those words, Apollo straightened up and walked that way. He wore a crisp white suit over a red silk shirt, along with dark sunglasses. “After all, I have to make sure you haven’t been slacking off. Wouldn’t want one of my own Natural Bonded to get a bad reputation.” He paused, seeming to consider that before a flash of painful memories of Cassandra passed through him. “I mean, an incompetent reputation. Pretty sure you already have a bad one with plenty of people. Including those friends you just left behind.”

“Don’t worry, I know how to handle my own reputation,” Jack retorted smoothly, rising to his feet to face the other man. “Without making it boring.” 

Apollo’s head shook. “Heavens forbid. Death before boredom.” A fond smile came as happier memories crossed his mind at the thought of days long past. “You always did enjoy being a handful.” 

With an easy grin that seemed to light up his otherwise relatively unremarkable and plain face, Jack shot back, “Well after you saved my life, I felt like I needed to make the most of it.” 

“I’d say you did that pretty well,” Apollo agreed. “Immortalized yourself in nursery rhymes and stories. Who knew you’d be able to turn your near-death experience falling down a hill after fetching water into something children would chant centuries later? How is Jill, anyway?” 

The other man shrugged a bit at that. “Why don’t you ask her yourself? She’s still pretty shy, but she does like you.” 

With that, his head tilted, turning one way, then another. Finally, his gaze found Apollo once more with a softer smile, body language changing to become visibly more uncertain and awkward. “Hello, Apollo.”

“Hey there, Jill,” Apollo greeted her fondly. “Keeping your brother out of trouble?” 

“The worst of it, I think,” the female-presenting facet confirmed. “He does like finding it, though.” She added that bit with a tiny frown.

Apollo chuckled. “Oh, I know he does, believe me. When he’s not cheating to win bets with me about bridges or crop harvests, he’s using my power to make some magic dealers accept an old cow in exchange for enchanted beans so he can climb through a portal to steal a bunch of gold from a giant. Whom he then tricks into jumping off a cliff.” 

Blushing a little, Jill offered a shrug. “He keeps himself busy, I guess. Did uhh, did you come find us for a reason? You’ve been gone for awhile.” Her tone on the last bit was curious. 

“I figured you didn’t really need me that much anymore,” Apollo replied. “Besides, it seems like every time I come back around, your brother has a new wager he wants to make.” 

“A new wager I want to win, you mean,” Jack, taking over for his head-sister, replied simply. His body language immediately became more confident and outgoing. “And is it my fault you didn’t think about the fact things like dogs and other animals would cross that bridge too, not just people? Or that some crops are harvested from the top and some from the bottom? Really, you were basically asking to lose those bets.” After a brief pause, he added, “Though it was Jill who wrote down the stories about them. She writes down all the stories, and keeps spreading them.” 

“She’s always been proud of you,” Apollo agreed with an easy chuckle. “After all, you tricked the devil, more than once.” 

Jack’s reply was casual, yet still somewhat pointed. “And something tells me you want more of that trickery aimed at someone else this time. You didn’t just track us down and show up for a simple social call, did you?”

“I really do want to catch up with everything you’ve both been up to,” Apollo insisted before giving a soft sigh. “But yes, I did have something else in mind too. Something important.”

“Whatever it is, we’re in,” Jack informed him. “We owe you that much. Though I can’t promise we won’t make a profit off it too.” 

Apollo nodded. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. And believe me, there should be plenty of opportunity for profit with this. Not to mention bragging rights.

“See, you’re the best thief I know. So I want you to help us steal the former Headmistress of Crossroads away from the prison they’re keeping her in.” 

*******

Nellie Bly

“Hard to believe this used to be the headquarters of one of the biggest newspapers in the country, huh?” As he said that, Arthur Chambers stood in the middle of an old, dust-covered room. The whole place was full of desks and typewriters that hadn’t been used in many years, leaving the clear impression of what had once been a bustling main floor crowded with people shouting back and forth about stories and deadlines. Now the overhead lights barely worked, flickering, repeatedly, and sending shadows dancing through the room. Thankfully, he held a flashlight in one hand to take up the slack.

Maria, standing next to him, shook her head at her husband while holding a rock that magically glowed with its own flashlight-like beam. “Harder for me to believe that this place hasn’t been refurbished or just completely torn down for a new building. You’d think they would have put something else here by now. When did the paper close down, again?”

“Nineteen twenty-three.” The answer came not from Arthur himself, but from the headless man standing near the doorway. Well, not quite headless in the sense that he didn’t have one at all. He actually held said head tucked under his left arm. Still, it was a sight that might have been startling not so long ago, if Arthur and Maria hadn’t known him quite well. In fact, they had come here with Brom Bones after having a lovely brunch with the man at a place just down the street. He had quite rightly enthused at length about the hotcakes there and insisted they stop on their way to this place. What the Bystander Effect made the people in that place believe they were seeing as the head on the table called out orders to his body about what to select from the buffet was anyone’s guess. 

Walking fully into the room, Brom continued. “It closed just over a year after her death, actually. Not that she still worked here. Hadn’t worked here in decades, actually. Not since they stopped letting her do the work she came to the paper for to begin with.” 

“Well, that’s what I was hired for, wasn’t it?” The other new voice came from a nearby desk, where a glowing, semi-translucent figure perched on a chair that had been pulled out. She had been a handsome woman in life, with short brown hair and gray-green eyes. Looking down at herself, the woman frowned slightly at the blue dress she wore, waving a hand to transform it into suit and tie. Smiling then, she straightened up before looking straight at the head-carrying man. “You’re a necromancer. You’ve been feeding me power and calling for me since you came into this place.”

“We’re sorry to disturb you, Miss…” Maria paused. “I’m sorry, do you prefer Nellie Bly or Elizabeth Cockran? Or Elizabeth Seaman?” She ran through the famous woman’s penname, birth name, and married name in quick succession. 

“Oh Nellie’s quite fine,” came the easy response. “After all, that is the name that people know me by. I’d say that’s the part of me that stayed behind in this place when I passed. It’s like your friend there said, I stopped working here in eighteen-eighty-seven. Do you know why I started in the first place, how I was hired?” 

Arthur chuckled. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, our granddaughter, Felicity, wrote a school project about you when she was in junior high. You’re a bit of a hero to her, actually. If I recall correctly, it was eighteen-eighty-five when you took offense at an article you read about how women were meant to stay home cleaning house and making babies. And instead of just stewing about it, you wrote your own response back to them.” 

“I did, indeed, Mister…” The ghost woman trailed off. “I’m sorry, you seem to have me at a disadvantage.” 

“Arthur,” he informed her. “Arthur Chambers. And this is my wife.” 

“Maria,” the woman in question put in with a smile. “Our friend over there is Brom Bones. He agreed to help us out with this when we heard you might be haunting this place.” She paused, frowning uncertainly. “Is haunt a bad term?” 

“Seems fairly accurate from where I’m standing,” Nellie replied. “As I was saying, I’m still not exactly certain why my ghost chose to appear and be locked to this place, when I only spent a couple years here. I suppose it was quite formative for my future. I wrote that letter and the editor enjoyed it so much he put out a message, asking me to identify myself. I had written under the pseudonym ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’ But his response convinced me to reveal myself, and he hired me. I wrote a few more articles for them. It worked well for a while, then they got complaints because I wrote about women working in factories. The paper leadership decided to move me over to start writing the sort of thing women were supposed to write about. You know, fashion and society sort of things. The proper place for a woman writer, if you will. In their minds, anyway.” 

“If I remember Felicity’s report properly, you didn’t exactly take that lying down,” Maria noted. “That was when you went to Mexico, wasn’t it?” 

Nellie gave a short nod of confirmation, beaming at the thought that their granddaughter knew so much about her. “I spent about six months there, as it happens. Then I had to leave. The Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz, didn’t seem to like my writing either. Probably because I didn’t like him imprisoning another journalist for criticizing him. But his anger was a bit more directly dangerous than that of a few disgruntled factory owners, so I came back to Pittsburg.” She gave a soft sigh of regret then. “Not that that lasted long, of course. They put me right onto those same boring old stories again. So I moved to New York. Had a devil of a time getting a job there, until I agreed to go undercover in a lunatic asylum.” 

“That one I knew about,” Maria quickly put in. “Even before Felicity did her report, I mean. You spent ten days in one of the worst mental asylums in the country and put out a whole report exposing them. It actually forced them to reform the system somewhat. You led a whole new field of women into showing that they could contribute to journalism by going undercover like that. Stunt girls, they called them. Now that was glorious.” 

“Please, you’re going to make me use up all the energy poor Mr. Bones over there provided just by blushing,” Nellie objected. “I only did what felt right and just at the time. If others saw fit to follow that as an example, I am quite proud and far more humbled. I said it before and I shall say it again. Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything. Any of the women who came before or after me could have done the same. Many likely better than I managed. There’s nothing special about me aside from the fact that I did rather than simply think.” 

“You say there’s nothing special about you,” Arthur objected, “but not only did you pioneer the entire field of investigative journalism, for women and men, you actually set a world record for traveling around the world.” 

Chuckling a bit self-consciously at that, Nellie bowed her head in acknowledgment. “A record which only stood for four months before it was broken, as it happens. I was simply inspired by Jules Verne’s ‘Around The World In Eighty Days.’ I wanted to prove it was possible, and the paper I was working for accommodated me. In the end, it took only seventy-two. And now I’ve heard that such feats are possible in mere hours for some. Less if you’re of the… magically inclined, though that seems to be a fair bit of cheating, by my thinking.”

“Revolutionized investigative reporting, showed that women could be real reporters, pissed off a dictator, went around the world in seventy-two days, and if I recall Felicity’s report correctly, even invented the fifty-five gallon steel oil drum we still use today after taking over the company your husband owned.” Arthur sounded awed. “That’s what I call making the most of your life.” 

“You say that like I was perfect,” Nellie murmured a bit self-consciously. “Believe me, I was far from that. I did my best with Robert’s company, but I didn’t know enough to notice when certain people were stealing from it. The whole thing went under because I couldn’t stop their embezzling.” 

“And then you went right back to being a reporter,” Maria pointed out. “You switched careers to run a manufacturing company, did what you could, then returned to your calling in time to report on World War One from the frontline. You were the first woman to go right into the war zone like that.” 

Arthur cleared his throat. “All of which is to say, we would be incredibly appreciative if you might allow our friend Brom here to bring you with us on a trip. Our granddaughter’s away right now, but she would absolutely love to meet you.” 

“Oh.” Nellie Bly’s ghost blinked before looking back and forth between them for a moment. Finally, she offered a faint smile. “Well, I have been stuck in this building for quite some time. 

“And I always did love an adventure.” 

*******

Odin 

The ship appeared to be damaged beyond all conceivable repair. It tumbled through deep space, far from any inhabited planet or sign of civilization. At one point, the thing had been quite impressive, shaped like a massive crescent moon the size of an actual moon. From one end of the ship to the other, counting the curved structure, was almost two hundred miles. Unfortunately, roughly fourteen miles of that along the inside curve had been blown apart, revealing the broken interior, where anything that had once been inside that portion of the ship had long-since been lost to the ravages of space. The rest of the structure had been locked away through sealed blast doors, but the damage was done. This was not a ship that would fly under its own power any time soon. Particularly not with the loss of its actual crew almost ten thousand years earlier.  

And yet, that ten thousand year journey of drifting aimlessly through empty space came to an abrupt halt, as a second ship, this one undamaged, appeared in its path. This new ship was shaped like three arrows, stacked with two underneath the third. Where the individual pointed arrowheads would be on actual arrows was a single larger blade-shape attached to all three ‘shafts,’ and at the opposite end where the feathers would have been was a single large orb structure, also encompassing all three. The blade at the front was twelve miles across from one side to the other, three miles tall, and sixteen miles long from the sharp tip to the point where it connected to the rest of the ship. Each of the three connected ‘arrow shafts’ were three and a half miles across, and thirty miles long to reach the big orb at the back. Finally, the orb itself was fifteen miles in diameter.  

The new, totally functional ship came to a halt once it was in position directly in the path of the drifting, broken one. They were still several thousand miles apart from one another, though that was practically eye to eye as far as distances in space went. The broken ship would be right on top of them within a relatively short time. 

Or it would have been, had the functional ship not promptly projected a massive, colorful beam that way, sent from the tip of the suddenly-glowing blade-like structure. At first glance, the beam might have been mistaken for a laser, aside from the fact that it was colored like a rainbow. In fact, that was precisely what the beam looked like: a four-mile-wide, three-thousand-mile-long rainbow. As soon as the beam struck the other ship, near the undamaged end, its forward momentum came to a complete halt. It ceased its millennia-long drifting and froze there. 

Meanwhile, inside the broken ship, at the point where the rainbow beam had struck it, was a pitch-black chamber. At least, it was pitch-black, until a bright glowing portal appeared on the wall directly connected to where the rainbow beam was hitting the opposite side. The portal, rapidly growing to become ten feet across and twelve feet high, illuminated what turned out to be some sort of cafeteria area, though the seats and tables were clearly designed for a species twice as large as humans, with six legs. 

First to arrive in the alien cafeteria through the portal was a human of incredible size for his species. He stood seven feet tall, with a heavyset body that was equal-parts bulk and muscle. He looked not like a chiseled bodybuilder, but like a man who competed in actual weight-lifting competitions. His red hair was worn long past his shoulders, with a matching thick beard. In one hand he carried a hefty-looking hammer with glowing runic symbols along both the handle and the metal head. He wore what appeared to be black and red chainmail armor, though it was clearly constructed from much more advanced materials than any found during the medieval times of Earth. 

Right behind that man’s arrival, appearing through the portal as he peered suspiciously around the room, were a couple dozen small ravens. They might have been mistaken for cyberforms at first glance, but they weren’t entirely constructed of metal. Their wings and talons were, and their eyes were cybernetic as well, but they had started life as organic beings. They were cyborg-ravens gliding through the room (or in some cases outright stopping to impossibly hover in midair) while scanning every inch of it for danger. 

“The least you could have done,” announced a voice as another man came through the portal, “was wait until the ravens ensured the place was safe.” The newcomer wasn’t quite as tall as the first man, though he still stood several inches over six feet. His own hair was brown, and he too wore it long with an equally impressive beard. His own futuristic chainmail was brown and amber, and he carried a long broadsword with its own glowing runes in his left hand. His right hand was made of metal, clearly robotic in nature.

“Bah!” the first man retorted, “where’s the fun in waiting around till they tell us we’re allowed to come through? We can’t let them have all the excitement.” 

The second man started to reply, before a third appeared through the portal. This one stood shorter than both of them, not quite reaching six feet. He was not built as heavily or as muscular as either of them, appearing to be relatively thin. His hair was gray-white, with his own long beard. He wore no armor and carried no weapons, clad in what looked like a blueish-gray tunic and pants that would not have been out of place strolling through an Earth village a thousand years earlier. Another of the cyborg-ravens perched on his shoulder. One of his eyes was biological, the other replaced with a cybernetic implant similar to those of his ravens. 

“There’ll be plenty of excitement, Thor,” Odin announced. “Heimdall already gave it another scan. We’ve got a small army of surviving Fomorian creatures and whatever they managed to turn the crew of this ship into. They were scattered throughout the whole place, but it sounds like they know we’re here, because they’re starting to congregate this way. Sif and Freyr took a second group through another Bifrost beam to come at them from behind. But we get the direct assault.” 

Sniffing a little, Thor touched a finger to his eye. “I knew you loved me, Father.” Gripping his hammer tight, he cast a sidelong look toward the other man. “Ready to have some fun, Tyr?”  

Grunting with a mix of acknowledgment and amusement, Tyr cracked his neck. “I suppose I must always be, if I am to stay at your side.” 

“Remember, war is our tool, not our goal,” Odin advised. “We rid this vessel of the Fomorian infestation, then we search it from top to bottom for anything that could aid our actual quest.” As he said that, the man gestured with one hand. The actual lights of the ship immediately came to life, not just in the room itself, but everywhere within the massive, two-hundred-miles-long vessel. With that simple wave of his hand, he not only took control of the giant ship, but supplied enough power to run its vast energy needs. 

Back on Earth, the Heretic known as Gaia possessed one-half of the powers of the Djehuti. The technopathy side. The Heretic known as Seller, on the other hand, possessed the biological-manipulation side. Odin, on the other hand, possessed both sides. And not the powers of the Djehuti, who were imperfect clones of Ymir, last survivor of his world in the previous universe. No, Odin was a Natural Heretic of Ymir himself. He possessed the full strength powers of both sides, and could build and control anything, be it biological or technological. And he was all-but unmatched in combining both aspects. 

Along with the return of the lights, the doors at the far end of the room came to life as well and wooshed open. Thor and Tyr immediately began to stalk that way, with the cyborg ravens flying ahead. Watching them go, Odin trailed behind, his cybernetic eye scanning the structure of the ship, analyzing its make, the materials, design, everything it could. 

It would continue to take quite some time, more than it already had. But even if it required another ten thousand years or more, Odin and his people, the Aesir, would find what they were searching for. Namely, a way to combine every bit of technology and magic they were able to scavenge together from millennia spent scouring every inch of a dozen galaxies in order to finally destroy the four universe-ending monsters who had emerged from Tartarus millions of years earlier. 

Nearly every life in the previous universe had been wiped away by those four creatures, leaving a bare handful of survivors. Odin’s benefactor, Ymir, was one. And he had sworn an oath to never forget the threat that those beasts presented. 

One way or another, Odin would put the proper pieces together, and destroy them. 

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The Storm 21-18 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – The non-canon for this story (also a little bit of a crossover with Summus Proelium) was posted a couple days ago and is available for everyone right here!

There were five Revenants, three of which I had stopped with my power. Which left two still coming slowly toward me. No, not at me. They wanted Shiori. She was the one who was messing with that crystal. If I gave them even a second with her, they would tear the other girl apart. I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t let it happen. Everyone else was still busy with the others, struggling to stop even more from coming after us. Somehow, someway, I had to stop all five of these monsters. No matter what it took, I had to keep them off of Shiori.

Taking a breath, I held my staff out to one side, and spoke inwardly as the things approached, even my silent voice shaking slightly. Get ready. Wait till I give you the signal. 

That was all I had time for. The two still-moving Revenants, which had been taking their time approaching, as though they knew just how fucked I was and wanted to rub it in, suddenly began to give those awful shrieks while rushing straight at me. All while their eyes weren’t even on me. They were on that crystal. All their rage was purely focused on the fact that Shiori was trying to stop their companions, and they were intent on tearing her apart for it. I wasn’t even worth looking at. 

Well I was sure as hell gonna make them regret that. Even as they came at me like a pair of buses while I was a fly on the freeway, I triggered a very short burst of energy from the end of my staff. It sent me forward and sideways toward the monster on the left. I saw its eyes easily track my movement as it lashed out with one hand to grab my hair. But at the last instant, I used the power I’d taken from that Fomorian giant ape-croc thing to increase the resistance my clothes had to being moved. I slowed suddenly, making the Revenant’s hand flail through the air where it thought I was going to be. 

Before it could recover, six of my ghosts appeared around it. They were all holding the thing, three grasping that outstretched arm together, while the other three clung to its shoulders and waist. Even with all six, and despite the fact I had shoved power into them so they could be solid, they still couldn’t hold this monster for longer than a second or two.

Fortunately, that was all the time I needed. Canceling the slow-movement effect on my clothes as I landed on both feet in front of this thing, I drove the blade of my staff toward its throat. In that same motion, I activated both the kinetic-boost on the staff itself, and used my rocket burst power on the end of it to shove the thing even faster, even harder. It collided with the monster’s throat with so much force, it felt like I could have torn through solid steel like it was butter. 

And yet, even with all of that, the thing was barely affected. My blade couldn’t cut through its skin, not even managing to leave a scrape on it. The Revenant, meanwhile, staggered back one step. One single step. But one step was all I needed. Even as it screamed and ripped itself free from the grasp of my ghosts, I was already using my rocket burst under my feet to launch myself into the air, through both of my speed-enhancing rings that were waiting right there above me. I went flying upward at near blinding speed, away from the Revenant I had just knocked backward that single step. 

But I wasn’t alone. In the course of that brief interaction, as I had stabbed the blade of my staff toward the monster in front of me, I had also triggered the grapple on the other end. It shot out toward the Revenant who had gone right past on its way to Shiori. Which normally wouldn’t have meant anything. If the blade of my staff wasn’t going to penetrate these Revenants even when I had it boosted that much, the grapple sure as hell wouldn’t make it through them. 

That’s what the other ghosts were for. Seth and Grover had both appeared right where the grapple was going. Before the Revenant there knew what was happening, they quickly wrapped the thing around its neck and hooked it securely back on itself. Then they vanished before the monster could retaliate.

And that was when I had launched myself upward with that rocket burst boosted by the rings. I was sent flying toward the ceiling, and the speed was enough to rip the unaware monster off its feet and drag it away from Shiori right as it was reaching out toward her. 

If I thought these things were screaming before, it was nothing compared to the unholy noise the bastard let out as I dragged it into the air. The good part was that it couldn’t fly, and it didn’t actually weigh any more than it should have. Once I got it off the ground, where it didn’t have anything to grab onto, or any other way to use its incredible strength and durability, the thing was almost helpless. At least, for the moment.

As we flew toward the cavern ceiling, I suddenly used the same power I’d activated a moment earlier to slow my clothes. At the same time, my rings appeared in front of me, using the slow-side that time. My momentum basically completely stopped. Even more so a second later as I used the five second pause power on my shoes. Then I was literally standing in midair. The Revenant I had dragged up as well was right behind me, flailing and screaming in rage. But even as its grasping, claw-like fingers grabbed for me, I canceled all the powers keeping me motionless in midair and let myself fall backwards away from the thing. 

In the same motion, I retracted the grapple, leaving the Revenant to continue its flight upward rather than pulling it down with me. My rings flipped into place over the monster with the fast side facing it. As fast as it had been going before, that speed was doubled by the first ring and then doubled again by the second. Just like that, the monster was sent like a fucking bullet into the ceiling of the cavern. It left a hole where it punched through. Obviously not enough to kill it, but I didn’t need these things dead, helpful as that would have been. I just needed them slowed down enough for Shiori to finish her part.

Speaking of which, the other Revenant was already launching toward the other girl as I dropped back toward the ground. It had recovered from that slight stumble, and was intent on its target once more. Especially now that it thought I was out of the way.

Well, I was just going to have to disappoint this thing. As it reached for Shiori, I created a small portal in front of it, with the other end next to me. Its grasping hand and arm went through the portal, and I caught hold of the thing while falling. The monster was so strong that it actually held me in midair, leaving me dangling like that with its arm through the portal. Which held the thing back that single, crucial step away from reaching Shiori. 

Of course, that wouldn’t last long. The monster was already starting to rip its arm out of my grip and back through the portal. Any attempt I made to actually resist would have been like a child trying to hold onto a truck that was driving away. There was absolutely no way I could manage it. 

So it was a good thing that wasn’t my plan. Even as the Revenant began to pull its arm back, I canceled the portal and let go. The arm was severed, leaving me falling with it. Meanwhile, the Revenant staggered from the force it had been using to yank its arm back just as it was cut off. 

Quite a long time back, I had picked up the power to instantly transfer any small, non-living item anywhere on my body through touch. I typically used that to bring weapons and spell objects from my pocket to my hands, or to change clothes. But it wasn’t limited to that. While I had been holding the Revenant’s arm, I had used that power to transport an enchanted coin from my pocket over to the monster’s own face, since ‘anywhere on my body’ had applied to his while we were touching. Now, while dropping through the air, I activated the spell on the coin before it could fall away from him. 

It was a freeze-bomb spell, like the one Carfried had been teaching us basically right after Christmas last year. Fortunately, I had gotten much better with the spell since then. This one exploded in the Revenant’s face, completely freezing its head and the top-third of its body. No, it wouldn’t last long, of course. Even as the monster fell backwards with ice encompassing so much of its body, it was already starting to crack. In another second, the ice shattered as the Revenant tore its way free.

But by that point, I had already shifted my staff into its bow form while falling. I took aim, sending a concussive-energy arrow that way. Except not that way. The arrow hit a portal I summoned in front of myself, passing through that and out the other end, directly in front of the monster just as it was sitting up. The force of the arrow would have blown most beings through the air and sent them tumbling end over end. But in this case, it barely made the thing’s head snap back a bit. 

Fortunately, that gave the Revenant a really good view of my staff coming down to slam into its face as I reached the ground behind it, slowing myself just enough to land without ending up crippled. Even then, with the speed of my fall added into the force of the blow, it wasn’t enough to break the skin. It did manage to knock the Revenant fully onto its back, at least. Not to mention piss it off pretty good, judging from the way it was screaming at me. Not that it had ever stopped. 

And speaking of being pissed off, the Revenant I had sent through the ceiling was back. It clawed its way down through the hole and was falling toward us with a screech that matched the one I had ever-so-briefly knocked down. At least this one looked a little damaged, even somewhat bloodied. But it wasn’t done, not by a long shot. 

It really felt as though I had been doing this for hours, even though it had only been a very brief time. Part of that, of course, was the energy I was expanding in keeping the other three Revenants frozen. That was what Tabbris was focused on. Basically her entire job throughout all this was to use my Necromancy to stop those guys from moving and making this whole situation go from hard to completely impossible. 

But I still had these two to deal with, and this could only go on for so long. I was going to make a mistake at some point, was going to react too slowly or miss something. Especially considering how much of my energy was put toward that Necromancy. The only real question was which would come first, my mistake or Shiori finishing with the crystal. 

No, it didn’t matter how hard this was, or how tired I might have been. None of that mattered. I was there to protect my girl, and that was sure as hell what I was going to do. Whether it was for thirty more seconds or thirty more minutes, these fucks weren’t going to touch her. 

To that end, with the first Revenant dropping rapidly and the second starting to shove itself back up while reaching for me, I was already reacting. First, I used my slow objects power on the falling creature’s torn clothes to keep it out of the way a bit longer. At the same time, my foot lashed out to kick the one in front of me as hard as I could right in the face. Which really seemed to do as much damage to myself as to it, if not more. But it still managed to make it slump back down in the midst of getting up, buying me another second. A second which I used by focusing my rock-animation power on the ground where his remaining arm was. With a thought, I made the rock there pull aside to reveal a hole, then encased his fist in that. Just as the rock sealed around his arm, I spat a wad of quick-hardening resin over it just to make it even harder to pull himself free. 

It didn’t matter. The rock and resin together might as well have been made of tissue paper. The Revenant easily ripped away free and lashed out at me. I managed to twist most of the way aside, catching only a glancing blow in my leg. But even that was enough to knock me to the ground as pain screamed its way through my bones. It felt like something had broken, or at least cracked, just from that very slight blow. I would not survive a direct hit. No way in hell. 

Just managing to throw myself into a roll before the thing could follow up that blow by grabbing me, I used a short burst from my staff to get back to my feet. My leg was still crying out in protest, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t completely broken. I could still stand up, barely. And it was healing by the second.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one healing. Not even the fastest. The Revenant in front of me, clambering back to its feet, had already regained the arm that I portal-cut off. It just grew back that quickly. So not only were these things almost impossible to actually damage, they regenerated entire missing limbs within seconds. No wonder everyone saw them as such a pain in the ass to fight. 

Okay Tabs, ready? I sent inwardly, getting an immediate confirmation. Beyond simply holding the other three Revenants in place, she’d been waiting for this. We’d just had to wait until the right moment. If the mental clock in my head was anywhere near right, Shiori had to be almost done. If I was going to actually deal with these guys, it was now or never.  

In a blindingly bright burst of light, my sister’s angelic wings emerged from my back and flared outward. But they didn’t fire. It would’ve been too hard to hit everything I needed to with one shot. Instead, even as they flared out, the wings vanished. But their power wasn’t gone. Tabbris used the energy from her wings to enhance her own boost, and shoved all of that into me. It would only last for a few seconds, but I was suddenly faster and stronger than I had ever been. Even the previous times we have tried it weren’t like this. She had gotten even stronger, had been able to pull more energy, had become more efficient at utilizing it. All of the above, and it translated into an absurd boost. 

The entire world seemed to completely stop in that instant. The Revenant in front of me, who had been a blur of motion hurtling itself toward me just a second earlier, was practically frozen. It came forward ever-so-slowly, like one of those videos of the hummingbird made so you could see the individual wing flaps. I could see its mouth twisting, those rotted teeth exposed as the thing shrieked at me, its dirty hands extended my way while it tried to get close enough to claw my throat out. A thing it might actually have managed if I hadn’t been boosted by Tabbris right then. 

But I was boosted. Which I used, taking a quick step forward before snapping my foot out in as fucking hard of a kick as I could manage. And right then, I could manage quite a bit. My foot collided with that fucker’s face so hard he was literally flung backward off his feet and into the air. And yes, after all the times I had hit these things to basically no effect, that was quite therapeutic. I actually caught a glimpse of what looked like an expression of surprise cross the thing’s face as it was flung away from me. While it was still in the air, I threw myself after it. My rings appeared in front of me, and all that speed I already had was doubled, then doubled again as I passed through them. 

Landing hard on the Revenant’s chest as it flew backwards from that kick, I drove the blade of my staff down through its throat. That time it penetrated the fucking thing. I felt the monster’s formerly impervious skin give away. 

But I didn’t have the luxury of time to wait and see how that turned out. My super boost would be over in another couple seconds, and then I’d really be fucked. I had to use this while I had it. With that in mind, I triggered the grapple, sending it flying up toward the still-falling other Revenant.

While the grapple was still unraveling and flying up that way in this incredibly slowed-down world I was living in for the moment, I released my staff, using my pause power to freeze it in place. It stayed upright like that, with the blade sticking partway through the other monster’s throat. Then I used my rocket burst to throw myself upward. Between that and the incredible strength I had right then, I practically flew straight at the slowly-falling Revenant. On the way, my hand snapped out to catch hold of the grapple, dragging it up with me much faster than it had been moving before. 

Just before I reached the monster, I reared back and hurled the grapple at it as hard as I could manage. Both rings appeared in front of it, boosting its speed even more. That time, it tore through the thing’s chest an instant before I collided with it as well. The force of my arrival sent the thing back upward, slamming it into the ceiling of the cavern once more. 

Kicking off the thing, I flipped over in the air while yanking its arms to throw the Revenant under me with the grapple still stuck in its chest. Then I opened a portal between myself and my staff, sticking a hand through to hit the button to make the grapple start retracting. 

As the monster was pulled downward, I landed on its back with my hands on both shoulders. Instantly, I used my rocket burst on my back to hurl both of us straight down as fast and as hard as I could. The ground, with the other Revenant still pinned against it by my upright and frozen staff, came rushing up blindingly quickly. 

At the last possible instant, I kicked off the bastard I was perched on. My rings appeared just as I threw myself away from him, slowing my descent drastically. 

But the Revenant didn’t slow down. He slammed into his companion with all the force of a small meteor. The grapple had finished retracting, leaving the staff itself to pierce all the way up into his chest until half of it was sticking through his back. And the force of that impact came just as I canceled the pause, meaning the other half of the staff was driven down clear through the throat of the monster who was already lying on the ground. 

And I still wasn’t quite done yet. With a thought, I summoned the staff back to my grasp. Then I flipped it around, while still dropping. Holding the thing in both hands with the blade pointed downward, I used the pause power on my shoes to stop my fall. With a loud, probably horrifying scream, I hurled the staff back down toward those two fallen figures. In the same moment, I focused on two things. First, my heat objects power. The staff, blade included, suddenly became white-hot. And the second thing I focused on was the size-increase power. Usually I used that simply to make the staff somewhat longer. But now I made it wider as well. I turned it from a quarterstaff into what amounted to a lamppost. On the way down, my speed-rings flew into its path. So it was the size of a post, hot enough to melt through almost anything that touched it, and going faster than a bullet. 

The staff fucking annihilated the Revenants as it collided with them. Pieces of their bodies went flying in every direction, even as I disabled the pause on my shoes and fell the rest of the way down. I landed in a crouch, right as the super-boost wore off. And boy did I feel it. All that extra energy rushed out of me, leaving me drained enough I could have collapsed. 

And then I really did collapse. Because the rush of pleasure that suddenly filled me in that second was the strongest I’d felt since… well, since I’d killed Fossor. Falling onto my side, I felt that burst of blinding joy that told me I’d accomplished my goal. The two Revenants were dead. They were gone. They… they were…

“Flick!” It was Shiori, she was right in front of me as my eyes blinked open. Only a couple seconds had passed, even if it felt like hours. Her hand grabbed my arm, yanking me up. “We’ve gotta go!” 

“Wha–did you–” My eyes snapped toward the crystal. It was blue now, and humming loudly. 

“I got it!” Shiori confirmed, while pointing upward. I could see… more Revenants. Dozens of them. No, hundreds. They were all coming down through the ceiling. And they looked absolutely furious. 

“The crystal called them back!” Shiori blurted, still tugging my arm. “But they’re pretty pissed off about it!

“And if we don’t get the hell out of here, they’re gonna show us just how pissed they are.” 

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The Storm 21-17 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

A/N – Hey the non-canon chapter for Summus Proelium (actually more of a crossover with Heretical Edge) is out for everyone to read right here

Fights always happened quickly, of course. I had grown accustomed to that over the past year and a half or so. But the next few seconds, playing out as we stopped short to take in the full extent of what we were facing, were even more of a blur than usual. 

With blinding speed, a Revenant-possessed corpse put his fist through one of the glowing stalagmite formations, shattering it into a thousand pieces. His intended target, my mother’s head, had just barely managed to snap out of the way with the obvious help of Mercury’s boost. Before he could pull his arm back, she brought Mordred’s sword up to cut through it. Yet even that blade, as powerful as it was, couldn’t get all the way through his arm in one swipe. It cut a deep gouge in it, and the monster reared back with one of those horrifying screams before starting to lunge again. But Mom brought her free hand up in a sharp gesture, summoning some sort of wind blast that appeared under the monster and sent it flying up into the ceiling with enough force to leave a hole several feet deep (or high, depending on how you looked at it). 

In that instant, another of the monsters was coming at her from the side. But Brawl-Robin was there, catching the Revenant by the shoulders before ripping it away from her so they could throw the thing to the ground and stomp down toward its face. The monster acted quickly enough to put its hands in the way, catching the descending foot. It couldn’t hold on for long, however, the sheer force behind Brawl’s leg forcing the Revenant’s arms down until the sound of bones cracking filled the air. Still, even as the Mevari’s foot gradually reached the monster’s head and began to push down, two more of the monsters grabbed onto them from either side. They were strong enough together to start dragging Robin off their companion. 

At that exact same time, Nevada, Twister, Asenath, and Stasia were all fighting one more of the things. They were all strong, of course. But this monster was almost a match for them together. No matter how hard they hit it, the damn thing just would not stay down. It tanked everything they could throw, even when Nevada started pulling out more exotic weapons. She shouted for them to keep it busy while charging some sort of bracelet, and the other three did the best they could. Both vampires turned into twin blurs of motion as they rushed to grab the monster’s arms. But even as they caught hold, the Revenant easily hoisted them off the ground and slammed the two of them into one another hard enough to break several bones at the very least. 

Twister was an elephant, charging over to slam into the Revenant in an attempt to knock it off its feet as it released the other two. Even that much force, however, barely made the thing stagger. Its own hand lashed out, slapping Twister hard enough to send her tumbling across the ground. In mid-roll, she transformed into some sort of small ferret, getting her feet back under her before launching herself back toward the monster. Just as her tiny furry feet left the ground, she turned into a hummingbird and flew that way. At the last moment, her form shifted once more, growing into a huge rhino. She slammed into the Revenant like that, finally hitting the thing with enough force to knock it down as the rhino body continued on past the thing and went tumbling to the side.

The thing didn’t stay on the ground long. Or at least, it didn’t intend to. It was already clambering back up as the rhino was rolling. But before it could fully get its feet under it, Nevada pointed her hand with the now-charged bracelet. With a single word, she sent a blast of energy that way, which wrapped around the monster and held it in a tight cocoon. The Revenant was fighting against it, but couldn’t manage to escape. For now, at least, it was contained. 

Judas, meanwhile, had been nowhere in sight at first. Then I saw him emerge from Twister, whom he had apparently been possessing. Three quick steps carried him right in front of another Revenant, who had been reaching down toward the still-fallen Asenath and Stasia. Distracted by Judas, the monster lunged after him. But Judas managed to pivot out of the way, barely fast enough to avoid those grasping hands. An instant later, his fist slammed into the side of the Revenant’s head hard enough to knock it down. 

That was Charmeine’s Olympian power. The more she hated the thing she was fighting against, or the more she loved the person she was protecting, the stronger and faster she was. In this case, Judas was protecting Stasia, and that power made him both fast enough to avoid the Revenant’s grasp when it had taken my mother being boosted by Mercury to do that before, and strong enough to level the monster with one punch when it had taken a flying rhino a moment earlier. Not that the single punch was enough to make the Revenant stay down forever, but still.

Then there was Persephone. My rapidly-scanning gaze finally spotted her, past everyone else. The Revenant–our Revenant– stood completely still as one of the other creatures put his fist through her stomach with a terrifyingly-powerful blow, sending a spray of blood and other bits flying. At the same time, he lunged toward her throat with an open mouth, intent on ripping that apart as well. But Persephone caught hold of his arm, the one sticking halfway into her torso, and gripped tight before literally headbutting him right in that lunging mouth. Most of his teeth were knocked out just like that, before the woman shoved his arm out of herself, caught the other one he was swinging around toward her face, and then hoisted him off the ground so she could spin in a circle to fling him as hard as she could into the distant wall. He collided with enough force to make the room shake a bit. Which left Persephone standing there with an awful hole in her stomach. At least for a brief moment, before she used Kore’s Olympian power (the one that allowed her to restore anything to any condition she herself had created, good or bad) and made herself perfectly healthy once more.

All of that played out in front of our eyes in those couple of seconds as our feet were still skidding to a stop so we could take all this in and reevaluate exactly how this was going to go.

Distract the monsters and survive long enough for someone to reach the crystal and go through all the time it would take to turn it on so we could call the rest of the damn things back. It sounded simple in concept, yet now that we were face to face with not just a few Revenants but eighteen of them, it suddenly became a hell of a lot more complicated. 

Blast?! Tabbris quickly asked while we were still taking in the whole scene. Several of the Revenants were already peeling off from the main group to come after us. Any hope we’d had that Mom and the others would be able to hold their attention by themselves had basically faded when we realized how many there were. We’d already known this wasn’t going to be simple, but this was even worse than expected. 

No, I sent back immediately. Save it for an emergency. Sure, this seemed pretty emergency-adjacent, but I was hoping we’d be able to get a large group of them together and hit the things all at once in order to really turn the tables. Once Tabs used her wings, we wouldn’t be able to do it again for a few minutes. And I was pretty sure ‘a few minutes’ would be the entirety of this fight, for better or for worse. We were going to have one shot with that, and we needed to make it a good one. 

To that end, I raised both hands and focused intently. Of the four Revenants walking our way, three stopped short. They were struggling to move, just like the ones back in the other chamber had. I could feel them thrashing and fighting against my control. I was strong enough to stop them like this, and could probably even force them to move. I definitely didn’t have fine enough control to make all of them fight. But on the other hand… I released my control on one of them and redirected that effort toward controlling the other two into attacking him. Soon, all three were doing their level best to tear one another apart. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t relax my grip on those two as they fought the third, and the fourth was still coming our way. In the background, I could see Mom and the rest of that group fighting the majority of these things. We just had to deal with these ones. And find a way to get to that crystal. Boy would it have been nice if one of my ghosts could activate it while we kept these monsters busy, but of course it apparently required a living person to use the thing. Because they had to make this as complicated and difficult as possible. 

Beside me, Shiori took a step forward before unleashing a blast of lightning from her mouth straight into the nearest of the approaching Revenants as it strode our way. That was immediately joined by a second blast of lightning coming from Kaleigh’s (the red-haired girl’s) outstretched fingers, a beam of what seemed to be cold/freezing energy from Royce’s (the blonde guy’s) eyes, and a sustained line of gunfire from some sort of pistol the black girl, Emily, was holding up. Two blasts of lightning, a beam of cold, and like a dozen or so bullets struck that monster in that moment. And none of it seemed to accomplish anything. The Revenant didn’t even slow down. It acted as though the attacks crashing into it was a summer breeze, if that much. It just kept casually walking our way. Even when Miles began making some sort of solid crystal shapes appear in front of the monster to block it, the thing just forced its way through them. It was slowed, marginally, but was still coming. 

Quickly, I started to shift my control away from one of the other two Revenants who were still fighting the third, but in that exact moment, the thing stopped walking. Suddenly, it became a blur of motion, crossing the distance between us instantly. Before I could shift focus, the thing’s hands were on my neck and Shiori’s. I could feel it starting to tighten down, clearly intending to snap our necks immediately, without any fanfare or hesitation. But at the last possible instant, I managed to make it stop. The thing was lifting both of us off the ground, its grip still tight enough to cut off our air as we flailed. But I caught its body in my own invisible grip, freezing it before the Revenant could finish closing its hands.

At that moment, the others were there. Jason and Chas, two more of Miles’ teammates, grabbed the Revenant by its arms and yanked it away from us. I was still keeping it frozen, so their strength was enough to pull it free, leaving Shiori and I to drop to the ground and start breathing again. 

The good news was that the two Revenants I had sicced on their companion had actually managed to do enough damage as they ripped it apart to kill the thing. The bad news was that I was no longer controlling them, and they were fast enough to launch themselves into the middle of our group before I could catch my breath and adjust. Chas and Jason both went down as one of the things crashed into them, while Emily shouted their names. She and Kaleigh both lunged after them to help. 

Meanwhile, Miles was on the ground with the other Revenant already on top of him, snapping his head to the side to avoid the fist that it tried to put through his face. Unfortunately, that just put his head in the perfect position for the Revenant’s other descending fist. But Miles suddenly wasn’t there. Instead, some sort of stone statue version of him lay in his place, while the boy was clambering out of a ‘him-shaped’ hole in the ground a few feet away. Apparently he had some sort of power to exchange himself for an equivalent-sized and shaped piece of inanimate material. 

At the same time, Kaleigh and Emily had both been hurled sidelong into one of the nearby stalagmites by a casual shove, while their own Revenant caught Jason by the head, yanked him back, and started to slam it forward into Chas’s. With its strength, both of their heads would basically disintegrate under that force. 

But I couldn’t let that happen. Extending both hands, I threw all my power behind making it stop. The Revenant halted abruptly, still holding Jason by the head. God, I could feel it straining against my invisible grip. This thing was unbelievably strong, and old. It was ancient, one of the first of the old Seosten creations–wait no, older than that. This wasn’t a Seosten Revenant. It was one of the first, one of those created by the Reapers back when they wanted to destroy everything. It was one of their weapons, one of the original Revenants who were used as templates for the ones the Seosten created. For millennia, it had been locked up in here, this ancient being of untold power. And it was not happy about me stopping it from carrying out the murderous desires that had built up throughout that time. It railed violently against my control, even as Chas and Jason managed to extricate themselves and roll away to either side. But no matter how old the thing was, or how angry it might have been, it couldn’t escape. I was able to keep it frozen there, aside from the awful wailing sound it filled the air with. 

On the other hand, if this thing really wanted to fight and rip something apart, I’d give it a target. With a grunt of effort, I sent it after the other Revenant, the one Miles had just escaped from. Even as that thing was gathering itself to lunge after the boy, this one crashed into it. They screamed at one another, flailing and tearing violently as they rolled across the ground. But I had to keep my focus on the one, forcing it to keep fighting the other. 

At the same time, Tabbris took control of my hand to reach into one of my pockets so she could pull out a stone we had prepared earlier. My mouth blurted the activation word as I chucked the thing back over my shoulder in the direction of another Revenant that had been rushing toward us. The spell on the rock activated as soon as it hit the ground, creating a ten-feet wide, twenty-feet deep pit right under the Revenant’s feet for it to crash down into. A second later, Tabbris made my mouth spit out the deactivation word, turning it back into solid ground. It wouldn’t stop the Revenant for more than a couple seconds, if that. But right now, literally every second counted. 

The others were all fighting around us, as it took everything we had to stay ahead of these things. For the moment, we had it under control. But that wouldn’t last forever, and we still had to get to the crystal. Or someone did.

“Go!” I shouted toward Shiori. “You’ve gotta get to that thing and activate it!” She could do it. Her half-vampire enhancements coupled with the powers she’d picked up as a Heretic, she could make it. Especially with an escort. Which I arranged immediately, summoning Rahanvael, Seth, Grover, and over a dozen other ghosts. “They’ll cover you, just get to that crystal! We’ll be right behind you!” Even as those words were coming out, I had to force down the wave of revulsion that washed over me at the thought of sending Shiori off like that. If more of these monsters caught up with her, if–no. The ghosts would cover her. And the rest of us would keep them busy. 

For Shiori’s part, the girl hesitated for a brief second. Then her eyes darted around to take in the whole situation. Realizing we didn’t have time to discuss it, and that she was the best choice, considering all my focus had to go toward controlling and stopping these monsters, she gave me a very quick nod. Then she leaned in to touch her lips to mine before pivoting to start running. The ghosts spread out to play blockers for her. They wouldn’t be able to do much to any Revenants, but they might be able to slow them down a little bit. 

As she started running, one of the other Revenants immediately chased after her. But I quickly grabbed it with my power, halting the thing in mid-step just before it could launch itself after the girl. Which freed the one I was forcing to fight its companion, but as it was trying to scramble up, Miles and the rest of his entire team unleashed everything they could on both of them. Despite all that, however, one of the monsters managed to stand. Even under sustained attacks from six different (admittedly young) Heretics, the Revenant pushed itself up. It continued inexorably standing, its hands reaching out toward Royce. At least until a seventh Heretic came in out of nowhere, caught the thing by the arm and back of its neck, and sent it flying into the other monster with so much force they both went down. 

“Guess I can’t really turn down a fight after all,” Trice muttered, before unleashing a sustained blast of some sort of purple flames from both hands on the two Revenants.

For the next minute, the rest of us struggled to keep these monsters busy. We couldn’t kill them. They were just too strong, too impervious to everything we could throw at the damn things. Even with my ability to control them, there were just too many. They kept coming, kept breaking through our defenses. It was all we could do to slow these things down. 

“Fuck’s sake!” Trice shouted while recoiling from a backhanded blow, “Is someone gonna activate that crystal or not?!” 

Even as he asked that, I felt a tug from Seth. Focusing on seeing through his eyes, I found that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that Shiori had reached the crystal. Or she was close to it, anyway. The bad news was that she was on the ground, with several more Revenants closing in. My ghosts were doing the best they could to hold them back, but Shiori had apparently crashed pretty hard. It was taking her a moment to get back up, and one of the monsters went right through Seth, reaching for her. 

Oh fuck no. Instantly, I threw all the power I could into the ghost-vampire, even as he spun back around after the Revenant. I managed to give him enough strength to catch the thing by the arm, yank it back, and throw the screeching monster to the ground. 

But that wouldn’t last long. Summoning one of my other ghosts, I produced another stone, shoving it into him while blurting, “Mar’ah!” It transformed him from being partially-translucent to being reflective, like a mirror. “Shiori’s there, I’ve gotta help her!” With those snapped words toward the others, I used my walk through reflections power, passing into that ghost, and out through Rahanvael, who had already shifted herself into a mirror-like surface at my silent request. 

I came out right next to the fallen Revenant, who was already starting to pick himself up. Before he could, I drove my staff down into his back. Or tried to. The blade literally bounced off him. But the force of the blow still managed to knock him back down for a second. 

More Revenants were coming. I reached out, grabbing Shiori’s hand to haul her up. “Go, I’ve got you!” Giving her a little push toward the crystal, I pivoted back to face the incoming monsters. There were five of them. Three halted as I threw my power at them. The other two were slowed by what was left of my ghosts, the ones who hadn’t been torn through and temporarily dissipated already. 

Shiori was already at the crystal. The thing was about three feet tall and a foot or so wide, hovering in the air just off the ground. It was reddish-orange, and seemed to hum with power. The hum got louder as the other girl put both hands on it and began to activate the thing exactly the way the elderly primitive Seosten had instructed. 

She was on it. She had the crystal and it was responding. But now she had to stay completely focused on that for a solid minute or so. A minute during which these Revenants would be doing everything they could to rip her apart. 

And I had to make sure that didn’t happen. 

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The Storm 21-16 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Okay, so there was a way to stop the army of Revenants from rampaging all over the planet. Unfortunately, to get to the off switch, we were going to have to fight our way through other Revenants who were guarding it. And our ridiculous secret weapon, Sun Wukong, was off delaying the main body of the things so they wouldn’t do as much damage. Which was too important to pull him away from. Besides, I didn’t even know how to do that if I wanted to. Which meant it was absolutely up to the rest of us to actually go through the Revenants who were left and get to that switch. Or the crystal, as the old man had called it. 

We all would’ve liked to get a lot more information out of these people, but there wasn’t time. Sure, Wukong was out there and had already proven himself more than a match for these Revenants, but I didn’t think even he could be everywhere at once to stop all of them. At least not before they managed to kill a lot of civilians. 

But we also couldn’t just leave all the villagers. There was no telling what they might do behind our backs while we were gone. Fortunately, Judas’s pocket greenhouse was more than big enough to hold them. Denuvus ordered them inside, before the man closed it up. We’d deal with that whole thing once the bigger situation was dealt with. Assuming we were all still alive. And yes, the thought of what would happen to those guys in the garden if we weren’t around to get them out again did make me blanch a little. Even if they were celebrating the fact that they had unleashed a horde of monsters to genocide an entire world, I was pretty sure they didn’t really know any better. Their entire culture and history revolved around this. 

Still, they were a problem right now. So they could just stay in time-out until we were ready to do something about them. Otherwise they would almost certainly end up making the situation worse. 

Once they were out of the way, we were running again. This time, Persephone and the others led us back in the direction of where the Revenants had been locked up. They’d managed to find their way back to familiar territory near that village area, and now they knew exactly where we were going. 

The rest of us trailed behind them, even as they in turn kept shooting glances toward Denuvus. As did the rest of Miles’ team. We’d given them the quick explanation about why she was working with us, but I was pretty sure they were still convinced she’d find a way to fuck us over. Which was fair, considering the not-insubstantial part of me that felt the same way. 

Then there was Trice. He was only around to stay close to Denuvus, which… was he actually loyal to her? She hadn’t been using her power on him in all the time since we’d run into her, but did she have some longer term method of control? Or was this all by his choice? 

Maybe he just knew we were his best chance to get off this world in the long run. 

Soon enough (even if it felt like an eternity), I didn’t have time to wonder about his motivations, or anything else aside from what was right in front of us and what we were going to have to pull off to fix this situation. With every step as we ran along the tunnels and caverns, the terror I felt about what was going on out across the rest of this world got worse. As absurdly powerful as Wukong apparently was, there were too many of them. They were too fast, too strong, too… dangerous. Even if he was fine, even if he could survive and triumph over the entire swarm, all they had to do was spread out. Even with duplication, he certainly couldn’t stop them all, and even a single one could utterly devastate an entire village on its own incredibly quickly. The longer this took, the more innocent people were going to die. And it had already taken entirely too long. I kept imagining that every time my foot hit the ground, another person was dead. Another ten people, another fifty. How many would it be in the end, by the time this was over? How much death and tragedy had these people unleashed on a world that had already been through more than its fair share? 

On the way there, we talked about what we would find. Apparently, the way to the chamber where the Revenants had been imprisoned wasn’t just an ordinary door. According to Judas and the others, there had been what looked like a large sarcophagus mounted to the wall. When they got there with the tribals, the eyes lit up and it scanned Persephone before opening to reveal a dark void beyond. Unfortunately, they never got further than that. As soon as it was opened, the tribals who were with them had shouted something triumphantly, just before that swarm of Revenants had all flown out and taken off through the walls. When they realized what was happening, Robin, Persephone, Judas, and Stasia had tried to do something about it. But the leader of the tribals had teleported them off to the trap room we’d found them in. 

Percy, for her part, visibly flinched at the reminder that the rest of the Revenants had been released when she stood in front of the sarcophagus thing. She started to offer another apology, but I reached out to squeeze her arm. “It’s okay,” I assured her while we continued to run. “You didn’t know!” 

And yet, even as I said that, I couldn’t help the shot of guilt that rushed through my own system. I hadn’t known what would happen either, but still. I had brought her here. Everything would’ve been fine, generally speaking, if we stayed on that station. The only reason these monsters were even a threat right now was because I brought Persephone here. Little things such as the fact that we were coming to this world anyway and she would’ve ended up here even if it was after the Denuvus situation was resolved didn’t stop my stomach from churning. Yes, we would have come to this world, and yes, it was likely that we would have checked this place out, considering the whole Fossor thing. But still… yeah, but still. 

As for Persephone, she still looked torn and disgusted with herself, but gave me a very slight nod. “Whatever it takes, I will make this right, Felicity Chambers. I will help you stop my people. But be careful. They are very strong. I… I do not want any of you to die now.”

Mom spoke up before I could respond to that, even as we rounded a corner at a full sprint and started descending through a slightly more narrow tunnel. “No one’s dying. We just have to lure them away from the crystal. I doubt we can get them out of the chamber, but we should be able to present a pretty good distraction.” 

Mercury gave a short nod. “Of course. Remember, we don’t have to win any sort of fight with them, just distract them enough for one person to get to the crystal and activate it. You all remember what our elderly friend said about how to do that.” His voice caught a little on ‘elderly friend.’ I was pretty sure he was still trying to cope with the idea that these tribal people were all descended from ancient, pre-modification Seosten. Even Tabbris was clearly reeling from that whole thing, and she hadn’t actually grown up within their civilization the way he had. 

Asenath, clearly doing her best to roll with the revelation that the man who had screwed up her father’s memories was already dead (killed by the man responsible for so many of my own family’s problems, even), found her voice. “Sure, just get everyone to play ‘neener neener can’t catch me’ with the Revenants until one of us can get to the crystal and call the whole thing off. We know how to do that.”

Despite my fear and revulsion about how long it was taking and how many people would have been killed in that time, we reached the spot in question in what had to be record time. ‘The spot,’ in this case, was an ovular chamber, just barely large enough for our rather numerous group to fit within. There, just in front of us, was the sarcophagus, just like they’d said. It was open, revealing the promised black void beyond. A black void through which we would apparently be able to reach the room with the crystal, where we could put a stop to this whole thing. 

As soon as we stopped, I peered into that darkness ahead of us. I felt… something. It was dangerous and powerful, enough to make me shudder a little as sweat dotted itself across my forehead. “Right, so the room’s right through that doorway?” 

“It’s not just a doorway,” Mom announced. She paused, squinting closer at it before adding, “It’s a portal of some sort. Wherever the actual chamber on the other side is, it’s not right there. Probably much deeper underground.” 

Oh, right. Yeah, of course. If this thing was just a normal door leading to the Revenants those guys wanted to unleash, they probably could have found a way through at some point in all these years. It being a portal that had to be activated made a lot more sense. 

“Sure, magical portal somewhere else, great.” Muttering that, I added, “No wonder we can’t see anything. But I’m pretty sure I can still sense the Revenants through that portal. They’re uhh…they’re in there, and they’re staying on the far side of the room, probably near the crystal. At least, as far as I can tell. It’s hard to make out specifics.” I swallowed. “And for the record, they’re not a cheerful bunch.”

“My people never are,” Persephone noted a bit sadly. “These ones are no exception.” 

Stepping right next to her, Mercury put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. “They are not your people, Persephone. We are.” With those firm words, he added, “Everyone knows what to do now, how to start the crystal if you’re the one who gets to it?” 

“Yeah,” Trice was muttering, “and we know it takes at least a full minute of focus. A full minute where the person doing it can’t react to anything or defend themselves. I don’t know about any of you, but that screams suicide to me.” 

With a small smile, Denuvus agreed, “Which is why I am certainly not going inside.” When everyone looked at her, she shrugged. “I am a survivor. You don’t become a survivor by intentionally putting yourself into enclosed spaces with creatures who could kill you. If you all succeed at this little endeavor, I shall applaud you. If not, I shall find some other method of leaving this world and achieving my goals. There are always options. Oh, and good luck to you.” 

“Yeah, what she said.” Trice stepped over closer to where the woman was standing. “Good luck, have fun, try not to die.” His eyes found mine as he added in a flat voice, “I’d hate to have to give your other girlfriend that news.” 

Ignoring him, because he was irrelevant and we didn’t have time, I squeezed Shiori’s hand and looked back to the opening. “Right, well everything else about those two aside, I think it’s fair that anyone who doesn’t want to go in there with those Revenants doesn’t have to.” 

“Felicity’s absolutely correct,” Mom agreed. “The creatures in that chamber are some of the most dangerous in the universe. If they have bodies right now, as we suspect they do, they could be nearly unstoppable in a pack like that. Anyone who doesn’t want to go in there, you don’t have to. No one is going to look down on you for it.” 

We all looked at one another then. I was going in. So was my mother, and Mercury. Shiori, Asenath, and Twister would be there too. Nevada had already begun pulling new weapons out of her bracelet-box thing. Robin’s eyes had switched over to red for Brawl, with Judas and Stasia on either side of him. They were going in too. 

The only real question, in the end, was Miles and his team. They had been talking amongst themselves the whole time we came up here, and even more before then. I kept hearing him apologize for his part in getting them caught up in the whole Denuvus situation, and they continually told him to knock it off because it wasn’t his fault. That, of course, had been accompanied with lingering, dark looks toward the woman whose fault it actually was. Not that Denuvus paid any attention to them, or seemed to care in any way what they thought of her. 

After a quick few words exchanged among themselves, Miles turned back and gave a slightly shaky nod, his voice cracking. “Not really time for any grand speeches or promises, but we’re going in.” His eyes shifted toward Denuvus once more as he added a bit pointedly, “It might not be our fault that this happened, but we were still involved. So we’re gonna help fix it.” 

“Yeah,” the Caucasian boy with light brown hair whom I thought was named Jason (was it me, or were there a lot of those?) agreed. “People are dying out there, and a lot more are gonna be right behind them. We can’t just let that happen. Besides, isn’t saving innocents from monsters the whole Heretic thing?” 

“Okay.” I could tell that even saying that single word hurt my mother. The last thing she wanted to do was let us go in there. Not just me, but everyone else too, especially those of us who were still students. Unfortunately, there was nobody else. There weren’t enough adults here to distract the Revenants and use the crystal. Especially not with Trice and Denuvus both backing out. 

This was what my mother had done for a long time, back in the first rebellion. She knew that some of the people she sent on various missions would not come back. She knew she couldn’t be everywhere at once and couldn’t do everything that needed to be done. Even during the time that she’d had Committee level powers, she was only one person. Being the leader of the Rebellion had meant sending people to die. And knowing her, she remembered all of them. Hell, it hadn’t been that long since we lost Tribald Kine, one of her oldest friends. 

I just hoped we could get through this without my mother being forced to put any more of those tallies on her board.

With everything settled as it was going to be, we lined up, and I took a look at this group that was about to try to take on a small army of Revenants long enough to shut this whole thing down. I wished Avalon and the rest of my team were here. I wished Vanessa and Tristan were here. I wished–well, wishing wouldn’t really do anything. Besides, as much as I wished they were here, I was also glad they weren’t. If this went wrong at all, it was going to go very wrong.

Ready, partner? I asked Tabbris, feeling her reassuring presence within me as I pushed those thoughts out of my head. 

Um, as ready as ever, she managed. I could feel her uncertainty. Are we sure this whole thing isn’t just an elaborate trick Denuvus set up just in case? You know, make this whole thing as a trick in case things start going wrong for her so she can send us through that portal to some prison she’s set up or whatever. 

Wincing a bit inwardly, I replied, Trust me, I thought about that too. But I don’t think even she’s that good. She hasn’t had time to set that up, and there’s a few too many pieces involved. Plus, we saw those other Revenants. 

Yeah, I know, she agreed hesitantly. I just needed to hear someone else say it. 

It was time. With Denuvus and Trice standing out of the way and watching us like they thought we were idiots, the rest of us took a deep breath. Metaphorically in Robin’s case. Then they and Persephone lunged through the hole.

The portal through the sarcophagus was only wide enough for a couple people at a time. Those two went through first, with my mother and Nevada right behind them. Mercury was possessing Mom to make her stronger and faster. After those four were in, Stasia and Asenath jumped through, with Judas and Twister right behind them. 

Only once all of them were through the portal did the rest of us go. They would be attracting the first reaction and initial attack from the creatures inside. I didn’t like my mom being in that position, to say nothing of everyone else. But someone had to. 

Tabbris and I were next through the portal, with Shiori at my side. Going into the opening felt like stepping through some sort of oil bath. It felt sticky and cold. My stomach twisted, no I had no idea if that was just an effect of the transportation magic or simply a psychological reaction to the idea that we were about to be face-to-face with a group of creatures who could tear me apart in an instant. 

Either way, the cold, oily feeling faded immediately. The second we were through, Shiori and I both darted to the side so the others could follow us. Then we looked around, quickly taking things in. Which was when the surprise hit. We weren’t just standing in a normal room. It was a cavern with dirt under our feet, dotted with glowing stalactites and stalagmites that were giving off enough light for us to see. All of which was fine. But then there was the size. This place was enormous. It was a truly massive chamber. The width by itself was at least three football fields. And the length? I literally couldn’t see the other end of this place. Far, far in the distance, I caught a glimpse of something bright blue. The crystal, presumably. Too bad it was apparently like a mile away, instead of what we thought when the guy said ‘the other side of the room.’ 

Then there were the Revenants. My mother and the others were already engaged with them. All eighteen of the things. Not a few, eighteen. And yes, they already had corpse bodies, meaning they were at full strength. Three more than had been in our way before, and this time I didn’t have a pocket Wukong to jump in. 

“Oh,” I managed while the others came through behind us and took in what we were seeing. 

“Fuck.”  

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The Storm 21-15 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Needless to say, I was completely and utterly lost about what was happening right now. This strange monkey figure had been on that space station asteroid place in the form of a beetle. He let me carry him with us all the way here, then transformed into this version and completely destroyed a dozen Revenants like it was nothing. He ripped through them with all the ease of my mother handling a few barely trained students. They had never stood a chance.

That by itself was completely absurd. But adding in the fact that a second version of the monkey man had apparently been helping Miles and the others? Sure, I knew duplication was a thing. Miranda did it all the time, but still. This whole thing was just utterly improbable.

On the other hand, he wasn’t wrong. We still had a massive problem on our hands. This had been just over a dozen Revenants. There were a thousand out there, getting ready to swarm over what remained of this planet’s population like locusts in a field. We had to do something about that.

Twister, clearly thinking along the same lines, gestured to the dead and destroyed bodies, or what remained of them. “The guys we were going to get help from are dead now. So how exactly are we supposed to find a way to shut all those monsters down?” She glanced toward our new friend, or at least, the guy I hoped was going to remain a friend. “No offense, you’re completely amazing. But I don’t think even you could stop a thousand of those things before they take apart half this planet’s population.”

He, in turn, squinted at her before cracking his knuckles and neck. “Oh, you don’t think so, huh? Well, hold onto your tail.” Right after saying that, he leaned over to look at her back to see the fluffy thing right there. “Usually when I say that, the people don’t literally have tails. That’s neat.”

Extending his hand to point directly at me, the man (Sun Wukong apparently) declared, “Felicity Chambers, you and I need to have a discussion soon. So don’t run off too far. But right now…” A wide, almost demonic smile spread across his face. “Right now, I’m gonna have some fun.”

I tried to ask what he meant by that, where he had come from, what he wanted, all those sorts of things. But the man was gone. One second he was standing there, and the next, there was a hole in the ceiling. He had left through it, or flown through it. I had no idea, but he wasn’t here anymore. 

A second later, however, he poked his head back down through the hole and called, “Oh, if you wanna make yourselves useful, one of my other selves heard those jerk-butt primitives talking. There’s a whole camp of them a couple miles that way.” He stuck his hand down into view to point. “Maybe they’ll know how to stop this whole thing.” His tone turned a bit scolding then. “But don’t you dare turn these guys off before I get a decent workout in.”

With that, he was gone again, vanishing abruptly enough to leave doubts as to whether he’d ever actually been there. Which left the rest of us standing there staring at each other. 

“Well,” Asenath put in, “you all heard him. Let’s move.”

So, that’s what we did. Without wasting another second, our whole group, now bigger than ever, set off at a run. That guy could say whatever he wanted about getting a workout, but that was a thousand Revenants, all descending on the populace of this world. A world that had already been through quite enough. 

Persephone kept trying to apologize while we were moving, but I insisted she had done nothing wrong. Whatever happened with this situation, I really didn’t want her to blame herself for it. There was no way she could have known what those people were going to do. 

“Um.” Trice looked completely taken aback and lost for once as he spoke up after we had been moving for a few moments. He clearly had no better idea of what was going on than I did. That at least made me feel a little better. “Does anybody else want to try explaining just what the hell just happened? Because that guy seemed to be pretty important.”

My mother opened her mouth, but it was Shiori who managed to speak first. “Sun Wukong! That was Sun Wukong!” She sounded completely shocked and dazed, as well as more than a little starstruck. 

Miles’ black teammate, Emily I belatedly remembered, spoke up. “Wait, the Monkey King? That can’t be him. I mean, I thought he was a myth.” She hesitated a little, falling silent as we rounded a corner and made our way through a more narrow tunnel that forced us to go single file before adding, ”Isn’t he? I mean, he’s the guy who inspired Goku from Dragonball.”

“He’s supposed to be fictional.” That was my mother, finally managing to get a word in. “I’ve only ever heard about him in stories. I had no idea he was real.” Even she seemed taken aback by this whole thing, which really said a lot. 

Once we emerged from that narrow tunnel into a wider room, Denuvus made a noise in the back of her throat. We all snapped that way defensively, Nevada especially. But she just rolled her eyes at our reaction. ”If it matters, I’ve never heard of him being a real person who was active in the world either. I’ve heard about plenty of events that were attributed to him, of course. But there was always another explanation. No one I’ve ever spoken to faced him directly.”

“I have.” Mercury announced that while stepping out of my mother. “I mean, I’ve seen him before. And yes, that was definitely him. I’m not surprised none of you have. He disappeared about thirteen hundred years ago. And he was always a bit of a mess even before that. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re such a larger than life figure.”

Looking around at all of them, I spread my hands. “Okay, could someone please fill the rest of us in on who exactly this guy is, how he’s so goddamn powerful, and what he might want to talk to me about? Because I am pretty sure he doesn’t want my tips on staff fighting.”

Unfortunately, no one could answer the latter part. But between all of them, including the various facets of Robin, they explained who this guy was. At least, the mythological version of it. They gave a quick rundown of what was apparently a much longer story while we continued running. 

The short version, in essence, amounted to this monkey man hatching out of a rock already incredibly powerful. He went on a bunch of wild adventures alongside various gods, demons, dragons, and more, and became even more powerful. Not to mention immortal. Hell, according to the story, he was immortal about a dozen times over in various ways. and he really loved to fight. Like, really loved it. Which was probably a bit unhealthy, but then again, he was also incredibly good at it. As we had seen. Oh, and he had various powers like shape shifting and duplication. That was a whole thing, apparently. Not to mention that size-shifting staff of his (seriously, did I just accidentally partially copy that?) that he twirled around like it was nothing was supposed to weigh like… eight or nine tons or something.

I didn’t really think I believed the whole hatching out of a rock on a mountain story, but no one had a more plausible explanation, so I let it go. Of course, that was hardly the most unbelievable part of the story. I was going to go out on a limb and say he hadn’t really been taken up to work in heaven, nor did I believe that he’d met Buddha, who proved the entire world was his hand or whatever. That was a bit of a stretch even for me.

But whatever the truth, the fact remained that Sun Wukong was unbelievably powerful. We had already seen that for ourselves. Whether he was the real deal or someone else posing as the role, it didn’t really matter. He had proven in that fight with the Revenants that he deserved to call himself whatever he wanted to.

The blond guy from Miles’ team, Royce, spoke up. “Not to be a worrywart or anything, but aren’t there still like a thousand of those civilization-wrecking monsters out there? Shouldn’t we be, you know, panicking still?”

Mercury shook his head. “In almost any other situation, I would say yes. But with Wukong involved and already out to prove a point, I would say we have some time. The list of single people who could possibly hold off an army of those things is pretty short. But he’s definitely on it.”

Judas, who had been pretty quiet through this whole thing, spoke up. “Say we find this camp of Tribals. What if they’re as gung-ho about this apocalypse as the others? Even if they know how to turn it off, how do we convince them to do it?” 

Mercury sighed. “I almost hate to say it, but now is a time when I truly wish Apollo was here. He may not be the biggest fan of his own gift, but this is the sort of emergency situation it was made for.“

“Uh, guys?” I turned to face them while still moving backwards so I could wave a hand and pointed to the woman at the back of our little group. “Are you forgetting about someone?”

Denuvus made a completely put-on noise of surprise. “Oh? Now you’d like me to use my power to help solve this situation? And here I thought you were all too moral for that sort of thing.”

Mom, sounding like she was very close to doing something more violent than talking, snarled, “If there’s any time when a power like yours is acceptable, it’s to stop the complete annihilation of an entire planet’s population.”

Denuvus smiled easily at that, even as we started up a long, winding ramp. I really hoped we were still going the right way. It was the same direction that our monkey friend had pointed out, but he hasn’t exactly been that specific. 

“In that case,” the woman intoned, “I would love to be of assistance. Particularly if it will get us off this world and to that ship as quickly as possible.” She shot a look at Nevada, still clearly annoyed about having been played that way. “And perhaps we can speak about our negotiations on that subject.”

There was a lot I wanted to say to her right then, but there wasn’t time. Just as my mouth opened to tell her exactly what I thought she could do with her negotiations, we emerged from the ramp onto some sort of overlook. Below us was a cavern where a couple dozen huts were set up in a small village around a massive fire pit. There were people moving around, all of them looking very busy and rushed. It seemed like they were preparing some sort of feast. They were celebrating, because of course they were. If there was any question about whether the people down there were on the same wavelength as the group who set this whole thing off, it was basically answered right there. 

I just hoped that meant they might also know how to stop it. No matter how strong Wukong was, I really didn’t want to leave it up to him to save everyone on this planet from a horde of Revenants. 

Once we had all taken in that sight, Miles was the first to find his voice. “Okay, so now what? Are we just supposed to let the… woman here start shouting at them?”

From the sound of his voice and the way he paused, ‘woman’ had not been his first choice of words to use when referring to Denuvus. He was clearly upset about what she had done to him and the rest of his team. As were the others, understandably. That whole situation was still boiling right below the surface. Not that she was worried about them at all, of course. But still. It was something to keep an eye on, because gods knew there weren’t enough of those. 

Mercury hesitantly pointed out, “That’s not a bad idea. Call to them from here to get them all in one place before we go down there. Just in case.” 

“Hold on, will they even understand you?” Judas put in. “And can you do it in a way where the rest of us don’t listen to everything you say?”  

“They’ll understand her words even if they don’t speak the language,” Nevada informed us. Her voice was low as she stood a bit to the side with her gaze locked onto the woman in question. It was clear that she held a good bit of anger toward her. Though I was pretty sure a not-insubstantial part of that was because anger helped her avoid the deeper feeling of fear. And that made me hate Denuvus even more, if that was possible. Knowing Nevada the way I did and seeing how afraid she was of Denuvus, the fear that was detectable even past the outward anger and disgust, made me want to kick the woman right off this outcropping. Not that it would have accomplished anything useful, of course. 

For her part, Denuvus gave the woman a brief look before nodding. “Indeed. And yes,” she added with a glance toward Judas, “I can decide who is affected by it. So you’re safe.” Her gaze moved back to Nevada with a pointed expression. Except, I realized, she wasn’t actually trying to look at her. She was looking at Erin, wherever she was. The whole point of what she was saying was for her benefit so she wouldn’t think Denuvus was trying to use her power on the rest of us and dump the treasure in a star or something. We weren’t safe because she chose to work with us, but because we had something she wanted that she couldn’t get any other way. This whole situation would have been a hell of a lot different if Nevada hadn’t set this up with Erin. We basically had a tiger on a leash. 

Stepping back out of the way just in case, I looked toward Tabbris at my side and put a hand on her shoulder while Mom, Denuvus, and Mercury had a little discussion about what she was going to say. “Well,” I whispered, “you can’t say we live boring lives, huh?” 

Reaching up to squeeze my hand, she gave a quick nod. “Uh huh, definitely not boring. You had the Monkey King in your pocket this whole time? How did that happen?”

“I dunno,” I replied. “But it definitely wasn’t an accident. He was there on purpose and now he says he wants to talk to me about something important? I swear, if he ends up saying that we’re related somehow, I may just quit.” I didn’t think that was likely, of course. But it did seem just possible enough to make me nervous. I also had no idea how he had known that I would pick him up as a bug. Was that just plan A? Would he have found another way to tag along otherwise? 

The rest of my pondering about that would have to wait until later, because Denuvus and the others had stopped discussing things by that point, leaving the woman to step forward toward the edge of the outcropping. She cleared her throat before speaking, and was obviously using a power to magnify her voice, because it echoed throughout the cavern. 

“Ahem, my name is Denuvus. All of you stop what you’re doing and come to the firepit in the center of the village.” 

Despite her assurances, I was still bracing myself just in case. But just as she’d promised, I didn’t feel the slightest pull from her power. She hadn’t directed it toward us. So that treasure she wanted was safe, for now. Though I still had no idea what was going to happen when it came down to giving her the thing she wanted to use to put her sister’s soul into Nevada’s body. Or put her sister’s soul back into her own body which Nevada was using now–it was complicated. 

While I was reacting to that, Denuvus started walking forward, descending what seemed to be an invisible set of stairs while speaking over her shoulder toward us. “If you truly wish to find out what they know, I suggest we hurry up and get this over with.” 

So, after a quick bit of testing to make sure the invisible stairs were still there, the rest of us exchanged looks before descending after her. In the distance, we could see all the people from the village gathering as requested by the fire. They looked a bit confused about why they were doing so, and even more confused about what the strange people walking down invisible stairs were doing. Which was fair, considering how curious I’d be about that if I was in their position.

Eventually, the whole village population was gathered in front of the firepit, staring at us as we stood across from them. There were about seventy people, including children. All of them had been in the middle of preparing that feast, an obvious celebration for what was going on. Celebrating sending their army of Revenants to kill the population of an entire planet? What was wrong with these people? 

None of them seemed to understand English, or even Latin when a couple of us tried that. But Denuvus eventually activated a spell on a gold coin she produced, and that seemed to translate what was being said so we could understand. Whenever one of the villagers spoke, we heard their voice in English with a slight humming/echoey effect to it. I assumed they were experiencing the same thing in reverse. 

With that done, the woman asked the big question, addressing the whole group. “My name is Denuvus. Answer my questions promptly and honestly. How do we stop those Revenant creatures your people have helped send after the other people of this world?” 

The apparent leader of the village, an older man who looked like he might just blow away in a stiff breeze, immediately answered. “If you wish to stop them, you must reach the center of the prison which held them, and use the crystal there to summon them back.”

“Well that doesn’t sound too–” Judas started. 

“Wait for it,” I interrupted, holding up a hand as I stared intently at the elder guy. 

Of course, he continued. “To do so, you will have to fight your way through the Revenants who were left behind to guard against just that eventuality.” 

“Yeah,” I muttered. 

“Saw that coming.” 

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The Storm 21-14 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For a few seconds after the monkey man suddenly showed himself like that, no one said anything. No one even moved. Hell, I was pretty sure even the group of Revenants were surprised. And why wouldn’t they be? It probably wasn’t often that they saw a beetle crawl out of someone’s pocket and transform into a humanoid being who said he was going to have some fun. That was… yeah, I was willing to say that was a decidedly odd occurrence for anyone. 

On the other hand, he basically said he was here to help. Not in that many words, but still. He was definitely focused on the Revenants. And he was smiling. No, grinning. Not to mention sort of… vibrating with excitement. It was like he’d never been happier in his life. So, okay, I’d had a crazy beetle-monkey person in my pocket all this time. Fantastic.  

And yet, even now, the Revenants hadn’t moved. They were just standing there staring. They didn’t say anything or move. They just watched, as though weirdly fascinated by our new arrival. I could sense their confusion and… it kind of felt like uncertainty. It was like they could smell something on him. Something that made them hesitate. 

Mom found her voice first. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing here, but perhaps the time for questions is after we survive the army of Revenants. You seem to be willing to help, and we could use every bit of that we can get. Whatever you’re here for–” 

She was interrupted as the man offered a lopsided but seemingly sincere grin. “Hold that thought for a second. I’d love to chat soon, you have no idea. Being silent for days ain’t my idea of a good time. But first I’ve gotta go handle this.” He nodded over his shoulder. 

The Revenants whom I hadn’t actually managed to freeze had finally reacted by that point, pulling themselves together before the three in front lunged with a collective shriek that sent a chill down my spine. It made me want to fall on the floor and cover my head, even after all my training. There had to be a magical component to it, something that made it even more terrifying than it should’ve been. Whatever it was, the shake was powerful, especially when the other nine followed suit. Twelve Revenants, all giving off that bone-chilling, horrific scream as they rushed toward us, intent on creating new bodies for the rest of their kind to take over.

This… this was going to be bad. Even if we had one Revenant on our side with Persephone, they had twelve. A dozen of what had to be some of the most dangerous beings in the universe if they were inside a dead body. And these were. The bodies wouldn’t last that long, but that didn’t help us in this immediate moment. 

Mom, Persephone, and Nevada were already moving in front of Shiori and me. Mom held her hand out and let Mercury jump inside to empower her. Asenath and Stasia went to the left, a pair of vampire blurs, while Twister transformed into a rhino right on their heels. Robin and Judas went right, just behind Persephone, who was going straight toward the nearest Revenant. She didn’t even hesitate for a second before jumping to defend the rest of us from her own kind. 

I had no idea what Denuvus was going to do, but she knew that getting what she wanted depended on the rest of us surviving. And she probably also knew that her own survival strongly hinged on that too. Maybe she would actually help right now.

Meanwhile, Tabbris had already jumped back into me. We could maybe take out a couple of them if we lined up a good shot with her wings, or at least put them down for a bit. We could do something to help. Besides, I still had my Necromancy, so maybe I could slow these things down a little bit, or even stop a couple of them in their tracks. I’d done so with Persephone before. I was under no illusions that I could do it with all of them at once, but it could still help. 

Between all of us, depending on how much help this monkey-man was, maybe we could survive this. But we were going to have to act quickly and try to avoid getting split up and cornered. If these things managed to… to kill one of us and get one of their companions into the body… oh God, it would be a bloodbath. Raising my staff protectively, I focused on–

I focused on the monkey-man himself, who abruptly vanished from where he had been standing. There was no blur, no sign of movement at all. It was like he’d teleported, but I could tell he was just that fast. One second he was standing there, grinning as the Revenants rushed toward us, and in the next, he was standing on the far side of the three who had been in front. The–wait. Two. There were two the–oh. He was covered in blood, bits of bone, and… other things. The Revenant who had been in the middle was uhh… gone. He was gone. The body had basically completely disintegrated. What little was left of it was splattered across the walls, floor, and ceiling. 

The two Revenants who had been on either side of that third one kept going forward, still shrieking. But the monkey man pivoted on his heel, hands snapping out. And again, it was like he hadn’t actually physically moved. I didn’t see his arms, which had started down at his sides, rise up and extend outward. They were just in one position one instant and in the other the next. His arms moved so fast my eyes couldn’t even track any sort of motion. They were at his sides and then they were extended, with his hands on either side of the two Revenants’ heads. And then he slammed them together. Two Revenants at once. They were in fresh bodies, dead within the past few minutes. So they were definitely at the peak of their strength. And yet, when this… whoever he was slammed their heads together, they burst like that Gallagher guy smashing a watermelon. 

Everyone else had come to an abrupt halt at the sight of three Revenant-possessed bodies dropping like that, even as the monkey-man tossed the two now-headless corpses against either wall. 

Just like that, three of the Revenants were dead. The remaining nine clearly hadn’t been expecting that sort of resistance from all of us, let alone just one. They seemed about as shocked as we were. At least for a moment, before the nearest one let out a renewed scream and threw itself at the monkey-man’s back as he stood still facing us. 

Yet again, there was no visible motion. This stranger was so incredibly fast that whenever he really moved, we only saw the results of it, and his ending position. One second he was just standing there with the Revenant lunging at his back, and in the next, he had pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees to face the monster while catching both of its extended arms. The thing screeched, until the man ripped its arms right out of its shoulders with little apparent effort. As a look of what seemed like surprise crossed the Revenant’s stolen-corpse face with the loss of its arms, the man’s tail slipped down to wrap around one of its ankles. An instant later, it was yanked off its feet and slammed into the nearby wall by that tail with enough force to basically liquefy the thing. All while the monkey figure walked through the space it had just been standing in, as casual as could be. 

Another–no, it wasn’t a flash of motion. It wasn’t a blur. There was literally nothing to see at all. He was over there, and then he was right in front of me. It was like he teleported, but not. He was physically crossing the distance that quickly. That was just how fast he was. 

“Boop.” He poked me in the nose with that slightly furry finger. And yes, he literally said ‘boop.’ “Could ya do a Monkey King a favor and release those three over there? This whole thing would just be a lot more fun if they had every advantage they can get.” 

“I… uhh…” I stared at him, then over at the Revenants who remained. Or all of them, rather. Because to be clear, the other Revenants weren’t actually destroyed, they had simply lost their physical bodies. Those ones appeared among their brethren, looking sort of like ghosts but more… jagged was the best explanation I could think of. Their form was half-ghost, half-lightning bolt. It was like there were spikes sticking out of every side of them, and they were wearing long, very cut-up and tattered cloaks. Their faces were angular, almost like Fomorians but twisted even more. They were also taller than any human, standing a good seven and a half feet tall at least. Nothing about them was easy or fun to look at, and the very sight seemed to send an instinctive shiver down my spine. These were terrifying beings, whose sole purpose seemed to be to possess a corpse and do as much damage as possible. Given the chance, they would tear all of us apart and use our bodies to kill even more. And this guy wanted me to release the few I had managed to trap. 

Mercury, who had stepped out of my mother, spoke up. “Do it, Felicity. It’s okay.” 

So… I did. I relaxed my power, allowing those three Revenants to move. Which put the total back up to eleven. Eleven of these monsters, who looked like they were recovering from their surprise at what had happened over the past few moments and were starting to move again.

“Hey, thanks, kid!” The monkey-man flashed me another brilliant smile. “Now you don’t have to get me a birthday present!”

With that, he spun back that way and took a few steps toward the Revenants while reaching up to what looked like a toothpick tucked behind his ear. He tugged it out, spinning the little stick between his fingers before it transformed into a larger staff, red with gold ends. He continued allowing it to spin in a couple more circles before striking the ground with it hard enough to send a long, six-inch-wide crack through the floor. Standing there with the staff extended out and down like that, the man lifted his head to stare at the remaining Revenants. He said nothing, and I couldn’t see his face. But whatever they saw there made the rest of the monsters screech in unison before charging in to attack. 

Their charge was met by the man himself. Or at least, I assumed it was. Just like before, we didn’t actually see him move. But we definitely saw the results. He vanished from where he was standing, and the Revenants immediately began to be torn apart. Their bodies and pieces of those bodies were sent flying in every direction, like they had gone into a blender. I caught a glimpse of the man as he stopped short to the left of one of the monsters. It turned to look at him, just before the staff lashed out. Not that I saw him raise it or swing. It was at his side, and in the next instant, it was extended out that way into the space where the monster’s head had been. The head itself had snapped all the way around to face the wrong direction and was dangling backwards and upside down from the force of the blow. Immediately after that, the man’s foot was planted into the monster’s chest, completely collapsing its body inward. 

While that body was falling, one of the intangible Revenants in their natural form appeared behind the man. I started to focus on making it stop, but the end of that staff abruptly slammed into its face. He didn’t swing it backwards, the staff simply extended and grew out that far. It shouldn’t have been able to hit the thing in its ghost-like body since I didn’t see any ghost-fire, but it did anyway. And did it with enough force to pierce straight through the Revenant’s head, making the whole thing disintegrate. 

That was essentially how the rest of that entire fight went. Not that it was much of a fight on their parts. The Revenants were completely outclassed in every possible way. While the rest of us simply stood there and watched, he ripped through them as though they were toddlers facing some sort of marine supersoldier ninja. They didn’t stand even the slightest chance. Whether they were possessing bodies or in their natural ghost-like states, it didn’t matter. This stranger killed all of them without any actual notable effort. A few of them actually landed blows, but I was pretty sure he allowed that to happen because he was… playing with them? Either way, they didn’t do any visible damage. They hit him and he just shrugged it off. Actually, I was pretty sure he seemed almost disappointed that they weren’t capable of hitting him even harder. He actually made what sounded like a tutting sound under his breath when one landed a solid blow right to his face that didn’t even make him turn his head. At best, it made him roll his eyes. 

They stood no chance. That much had been clear basically from the very start, and it only grew more so as he continued what seemed like a simple warm-up exercise for him. Soon, all fifteen monsters were completely gone. They had been utterly destroyed in every possible way, leaving nothing but the broken remains of the corpses they had been possessing. As for the monkey-man himself, he stood in the middle of the pile of bodies, tapping his staff thoughtfully against the floor a couple times before shrinking it down to tuck behind his ear once more. 

This seemed to be impossible. I knew just how dangerous those Revenants should have been. It had been drilled into my head over and over, and I had seen how strong Persephone was. Even with all of us together, we shouldn’t have stood a chance against all of them at once, not without a hell of a lot more preparation than we’d had, particularly. We should have been in for one of the worst fights we had ever seen, a fight that may very well have ended with all of us dying. Instead, this single man had casually dispatched all of them without seeming to even break a sweat doing so. It was complete and utter insanity.

And yet, that had really just happened. Every single time I allowed myself to think that I had officially seen so much that I could never possibly be surprised again, something like this happened. Although, to be fair, it was going to take a lot to top the beetle I’d found on a random asteroid station and put in my pocket transforming into a monkey-man who could casually trounce a small army of Revenants as though they were small children. 

“Flick?!” That was Shiori, giving me a wide eyed look while spreading her arms to either side and an expression of complete confusion. Her gaze was questioning. “I know you’ve got a habit of meeting powerful people and keeping secrets until it’s the right time, but–”  

“I swear I didn’t know!” I shot back before turning my attention to the man in front of us. “Who the hell are you?!” My voice may have been a bit higher than it normally would have been, but in my defense, monkey-beetle who just destroyed a bunch of Revenants. 

Mom had stepped forward then, eyes narrowing as she raised that sword protectively just in case. Not that I thought it would do much good if this guy did decide to be a threat. ”Girls, perhaps we should maintain an even, calm voice right now. And not start shouting demands.”

She had a good point. It was just her, Shiori, Asenath, Nevada, Twister, Judas, Stasia, Robin, Persephone, and me. And Denuvus, if she was going to contribute. Which might have seemed like a lot, but this was a man who had torn through twelve Revenants like they were nothing. Something made me doubt even all of us together would pose that much of a threat to him. 

“It’s him, isn’t it?” That was Persephone. She was addressing Mercury. “It is really him.” 

“I… uhh… uh huh.” Looking completely at a loss for words, the Seosten nodded slowly. 

The monkey man, whoever he was, didn’t seem to be phased in the least by our reactions. He just poked one of the dead bodies with his foot curiously before looking up. That same broad, lopsided smile had returned. “That was fun! I knew you’d have some interesting things to do, Felicity Chambers.” 

“Me? I–” As the others turned to stare my way, I swallowed. “You… you were the beetle I found on the station. How did you–I mean what were you–I mean what?” My voice audibly cracked through that whole thing. I had no idea what to say just then, the words simply came out in that line of clueless babbling. How on Earth was I supposed to react to this? Who was this guy?

“My name is Denuvus,” the woman behind us spoke up, clearly focusing on the man in question. “Tell me who you are and what you want.” 

Instead of listening to her immediately as basically anyone else would have, the man cocked his head to the side, staring at the woman for a moment before brightly replying, “Say please.” His voice was cheerful, with only the barest hint of reprimand. It was like he didn’t even really care all that much, but wanted to make a point. 

His reaction startled Denuvus, which was pretty wild to see. Her head snapped back as though she had been struck, mouth opening and shutting a couple times before she managed, “What?” 

“You were being rude and demanding,” the man informed her while his tail idly poked at another dead body, as though he was trying to find one that was still alive so he could fight again. “I was going to introduce myself anyway, but now I think you should say please. I don’t appreciate being told what to do.”

“Oh… my God.” That was Robin. Or rather, Hood, given their amber-brown eyes. “It’s you. We thought you didn’t actually exist, that people were simply conflating and exaggerating stories that–oh.” The Mevari seemed completely subdued by all this. Which was understandable, given, well, yeah. They turned to look at Denuvus. “You should really do as he asks.” 

The rest of us stared expectantly at her as well, until she gave a heavy, annoyed sigh. “Fine, who are you, please?” 

Her words made the man in question smile even more. “I’m so glad you asked! I go by many names, more than we have time to list! But the one you should know is Sun Wukong. I am the Monkey King.” He had straightened up by then, hands on his hips as he literally puffed his chest while continuing proudly. “And I’m here to save the–hang on.” 

Those last two words came as a blurted aside as the man vanished from where he had been standing. Suddenly, he was standing next to Shiori. His fingers dipped into one of her pockets, producing a package of peanut butter crackers. Holding it up in both hands, the furry man sniffed it intently a few times. Then he just… ate it, package and all, in a few quick and noisy bites. 

Even as he finished doing that, the sound of running footsteps made all of us quickly look over the way we’d come. Trice, Miles, and the others came rushing into view. And they were accompanied by the same man who was standing in front of us. Or his twin, or… something? 

Either way, the newly arrived version of the so-called Monkey King spoke in unison with the other, who had just finished the crackers. “Hey, what’re we all standing around for? There’s supposed to be a lot more of those things, right? So let’s go have some fun!

“I promise I won’t hog all of them this time.” 

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The Storm 21-13 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I had been expecting a lot of different potential problems from the moment we decided to come to this planet. And that list had only gotten more extensive after Denuvus showed her hand. But, despite all my paranoid assumptions about what was possible, I had to admit that I’d never considered the possibility of facing off against an army of Revenants. That had genuinely never entered my mind. Silly me.

Denuvus was already turning toward Nevada while I was still reeling from that news. “You and I can work out the rest of our differences later, once we’re all safe. Call the ship back now so we can leave.”

“Leave?” Mom gave her a sharp look. “If you think we’re just going to let all the people on this planet die to save ourselves—“

“My—“ in the midst of obviously nearly using her power to make my mother do what she wanted, the woman caught herself and let out a heavy sigh as her eyes glanced around to take us in. Clearly she didn’t like what she saw because another sigh came. “Do any of you have the slightest idea what sort of damage only a few Revenants can do, let alone that many of them? This world should be evacuated with a fleet of ships. That’s the only way to save them, short of bringing your entire army of Heretics and allies here but as far as I know, we don’t have either of those handy. The one ship you do have might be pretty special, but even jumping back and forth constantly could only evacuate a very small portion, and we’d be risking being found and killed ourselves.“

Mom started to say something, but I spoke up first. “The people on this planet have already been through enough. They spent thousands of years under Fossor’s thumb. Now they’re finally free of him and trying to pull their society together and you want us to just walk away and let them all die?”

The woman gave me a hard look. “And if all of you die in this completely impossible fight, what will happen to everyone back on Earth? She is the face of the rebellion.” She pointed to my mother. “And I hate to be the one to inform you of this, but you’re not too far behind her. Besides which, I already told you how important you are for stopping the Fomorians once and for all. Think about the trillions and trillions of beings in this universe who are going to die if you throw your entire life away on this single impossible thing.”

Mom gave a soft, humorous chuckle. “That’s the thing you don’t get, the thing you’ve never understood, no matter how powerful you are. Choosing to fight against impossible odds is exactly how you accomplish impossible things.” She let that hang for a second before adding, ”Besides, there might be a way to stop the Revenants without fighting all of them. They were contained before, and those Tribals might know how to do it again. We just have to get there and convince them to help us.”

As she said that, Mom looked at Denuvus. “I think that’s something you could do, don’t you?”

Right, she had a point with that. If there was any time when it would be right for the woman to use her power, it was now. On the other hand, I wasn’t entirely sure these guys would actually have a way to do that. It sounded easier said than done for me, but I wasn’t going to say that. Not when it was already written all over everyone’s face. We all doubted it would be that simple, but we also didn’t have a better idea. 

Sure enough, Rahanvael informed us, “It won’t be as easy as just walking up to them. There are automated traps and defenses in the way. The tribals activated something as soon as the Revenants started to leave. I’m not sure what it was, but Persephone and the others were teleported back down into those same tunnels and… well, let’s just say it’s not nearly as friendly anymore.”

Asenath flipped a knife in her hand. “Great, so the rest of us just have to get Mistress Mindcontrol through all those defenses so she can tell those guys to call this whole thing off.”

Miles spoke up. “Don’t trust her.” His voice cracked a little bit with emotion. “She’ll use you for whatever she can get and then throw you away.”

Denuvus made a soft noise of disagreement. “Please, I thought we were getting along quite well, all things considered.”

From the look on the boy’s face, he disagreed and had a few things he wanted to say about that. But he shoved it down and turned to me. “Just be careful, okay?”

I agreed, then turned back to Rahanvael and told her to lead us back to where the others were so they could help us try to find the tribals from there. She obliged, and soon we were running back through the tunnels. Denuvus was clearly unhappy about the whole idea, but there wasn’t much else she could do. Her ticket off this planet was with us, and if she used her power to try to force us not to do this, Erin wouldn’t bring the ship back.

Speaking of which, I could hear Nevada telling the girl to stay away, and that she should only come back when there was absolutely no other choice. Or once we handled this situation.

I couldn’t imagine what it was like being Erin right now. She had spent this entire time secretly tagging along somehow without being seen, had actually pulled off the impossible task of stealing the Jitterbug right out from under Denuvus’s nose, and now this was happening. She was stuck out there, wherever she had taken the ship, simply watching while we tried to stop an army of Revenants from annihilating all life on this planet. 

Soon, we were moving through much smaller tunnels. These had simple rock walls instead of metal and looked like they could fall apart at any moment. And wasn’t that just a particularly lovely thing to imagine. On top of everything else, we could end up buried in a cave-in. Things just kept getting better and better.

On the way, another thought occurred to me. “Hang on! Persephone already told us who created her and the other Revenants. It was the Reapers. The one in the lighthouse created her specifically! So how could the ancient Seosten be responsible too?!” 

Denuvus snorted. “As though this would be the first time those people cheated off of someone else’s work in their quest to create new weapons.” 

With a weak nod that way, Rahanvael agreed, “It does seem that the old Seosten found… something from a cache of Reaper tools that instructed them on how to create the Revenants here.”

Groaning, I looked over my shoulder at Mercury. “No offense, but your people and their tendency to poke planet-destroying superweapons just to see what happens can be really annoying!”

“None taken,” he assured me while we all kept running. “I have seen even more of that than you!”

Denuvus looked toward me then. “You know, everything else aside, this would be a wonderful time to call in whoever it was that you had take out my mercenaries. They seemed pretty effective.“

My head shook. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we have no idea who did that. I just figured it was some of those tribal people.”

She snorted disbelievingly. “They are hardly that effective. Those soldiers were incredibly trained, powerful, and capable. Whoever took them down like that had to have been one of yours. Are you quite certain you don’t have another tagalong you didn’t know about?”

It was a fair question. I really didn’t know what was going on with that. But either way, there was nothing to be done for it right now. “The point is,” I replied, “we don’t know who did it, so we can’t just ask for help.”

Mercury shook his head. “Whoever it was, I hope they decide to chip in again. Because something tells me we’ll need it.” 

“What about my friends?” Miles put in while we were running. “Where are they? Maybe they can help with this.”

Grimacing to myself, I replied, “Yeah, and so could Trice, if he’ll play nice.” 

Denuvus lifted her chin slightly. “He will do what I ask of him. And no, I do not mean with my gift. Trice has become quite trustworthy, as far as I am concerned.”

Yeah, there was a lot I could say about that, but now wasn’t the time. Nor can I argue with having someone else who could help deal with anything we ran into. If those defenses were enough to keep Persephone and Robin pinned down, then we were obviously going to need all the help we could get.

Part of me didn’t want to stop at all, not considering how cataclysmically dangerous this whole situation was. But on the other hand, better to let them out now and tell them what was going on as we ran than to try to bring them up to speed in the middle of a fight.

By that point, we had reached a four-way intersection in the tunnels, and Rahanvael was already turning toward the eastern one that led further down. Before following, however, I took the playing card sized piece of cardboard out of my pocket and unfolded it into the box. Then I looked at Denuvus. “You’re absolutely certain you can keep him from fucking us over? And take your control off the others.”

She, in turn, shrugged. “It will likely have worn off by now, for the most part. But yes, I will not give them any more orders. Even if this entire exercise is pointless.”

Ignoring that, I opened up the box and went down the stairs. Miles came with me, and we both saw all the others in the pocket greenhouse. The rest of his team were on one side, while Trice stayed on the other. It looked like there had been a lot of arguing, which stopped as we appeared.

“Miles!” the red-haired girl blurted, and they all ran our way, dozens of questions exploding from them. 

Anxious as I was, I let him do the talking, and he was thankfully pretty quick about it. He told him we didn’t have time to get into everything, but we were trying to stop a whole bunch of Revenants from killing everyone on this planet, and that the only way to do that seemed to be to get Denuvus to where those tribal people were so she could force them to call off the attack. 

Needless to say, the others all had a lot more questions. And so did Trice, from the look he shot me. But they held off, and we went back out with them.

Trice, understandably, was a little surprised to see that Denuvus really was there and cooperating. But the second we were out and I had folded the box down, we were off and running once more. Miles was apologizing to his team for leaving them, and for everything that happened, which he apparently took a lot of responsibility for. Meanwhile, Denuvus informed Trice of what was actually going on and why she had no choice but to play along. 

For the most part, I shut all of that out and focused on following Rahanvael. How bad was it out there already? Had the Revenants found bodies that they could use? It couldn’t be that hard for them on this world of all places. They probably had a veritable all-they-could-eat buffet of useful bodies to possess. Have they already started killing people? Every second this took, every delay, every step, made me wonder if it was already too late. How many people were going to die because we were too slow? Yes, logically I knew it would take more time than that for them to get started, let alone ramp up to planetary genocide levels. but logic didn’t help how I felt. 

And what did I feel? Guilt. I felt guilty. Persephone was here because of me. Denuvus was right in this case, even if it was accidental. If we hadn’t come here, this wouldn’t have happened. Nevada had things under control. Even if we weren’t here at all, she would have had Erin take the ship and then forced Denuvus to negotiate for it. This whole situation would have been completely fine. 

But no, we had come here. I brought Persephone, and those tribal people used her to let the other Revenants out. The only thing we had managed to do by showing up here was make the whole thing so much worse. Everyone who died now, all the people who ended up being killed by those Revenants, would be my fault. I had to stop this, had to save them. They had only just started to have their own lives again, their own society. They had only just been freed from Fossor. I couldn’t let this happen.

Mom seemed to know how I was feeling, because she tried to talk to me on the way. But before we could get into that, Rahanvael stopped short right next to an opening in the tunnel. She turned back toward us and spoke quietly. “There are several heavily armed and protected mechanical sentries in that hallway, accompanied by automated turrets and other defenses. You should be very careful.”

“Sorry, babe,” Twister replied, “Being careful‘s one thing we don’t exactly have a lot of time for.”

The tall blond guy from Miles’ team spoke up. “Uh, whoever she is, the girl’s right. From what you guys have been saying, there’s no time to play around.”

Miles nodded. “Yeah, so let us run interference. We’ll block for all of you and fight these things so they don’t follow. You guys just run straight through. We’ve got this.“

I could tell Mom wanted to object, but there wasn’t time, or any better ideas. Trice, to my surprise, volunteered to stay behind as well. He said it was because he had grown fond of these guys and wanted to make sure they didn’t die. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but I wasn’t going to object to them having some help.

Or maybe this was a trick and he would just run away and abandon them, but either way, we couldn’t argue about it. 

In the end, Mom went first. She went straight into that hall and threw a couple small rocks that were enchanted with concussive explosives. The rest of us were right behind her, just as the spells went off. I caught a glimpse of a dozen gray and black robot things along with gun barrels lining the walls of a large, circular room. They were all knocked aside for the moment by the explosions, and we ran straight through. Miles and his team, along with Trice, split off to stay behind and cover the rest of us.

Meanwhile, we went straight for one of the three doors lining the far side of the room. It was the one to the right, where Rahanvael was already waiting. Behind us, we could hear the fighting start up in earnest, but we just kept going. I hoped, with everything I had in me, that they would be okay. But we couldn’t help them, not now. We had to stop those Revenants. 

We ended up going through a couple more rooms full of enemies. This place was set up to repel incredibly heavy invasion forces. On the plus side, Rahanvael informed us that she had taken a look, and we were actually already past the majority of the defenses. Most of them were further out. If we had to go through everything, we wouldn’t have had the slightest chance of getting there in time.

We went through what was there as quickly as we could. They were just robots and turrets, not that big of a deal, aside from the delay they created. Honestly, a part of me was surprised and impressed that they were still functional after all this time. Seriously, they have been stored down here for what had to be hundreds of thousands of years, right? Something like that. And yet, they were still effective enough to put up a fight. 

Maybe if they weren’t getting in the way of us saving this world from complete genocide, I’d be even more impressed. As it was, I really just wanted all of them to blow up and get the hell out of the way. 

Thankfully, we finally made our way to the room where the others were. As it turned out, the thing that was keeping them pinned down wasn’t the robots or anything. They could’ve torn right through them, just like we were. But there was a trap in there. It created a vortex of sorts that was trying to suck them in. The vortex was a portal, and no one knew where it went. But it was pretty obvious that going through it would be a bad idea. The suction was strong enough that Robin had to plant their feet and hold onto Persephone, Stasia, and Judas. We could see them on the far side of that room, with the vortex portal swirling between us. I could already feel its power, trying to pull at me even though I was a good hundred feet away from the thing. It was also making a loud screaming sound that I had to shout over as I looked back to the others. “How do we shut it off?!” 

Nevada had already transformed her bracelet into its crate form, and was digging around to find something. “I think I’ve got something that can handle it, hold on. Come on, come on, where is it…” 

Denuvus looked like she was going to say something, but my mother shot her a glare that made the woman stop. But it was pretty apparent that she didn’t think much of Nevada’s ability. Probably because she’d never given her a chance. I would’ve thought that she’d reevaluate after the woman managed to trick her so thoroughly and pull the ship and all that treasure right out from under her, but apparently old habits died hard. 

Finally, she produced what looked like a simple frisbee. “We need to get this thing right over top of it without letting it be sucked inside.”

That was going to be an issue, considering the strength of that vortex. Even my mother was having trouble holding herself back from it when she moved even a few inches closer than where we were. How were we supposed to get that thing on top of the portal? Rahanvael couldn’t do it, the vortex was affecting her too. So solving the issue with ghosts was out of the question. 

“Give it to me,” Mercury announced. “I can stand in the middle of the thing without being transported, for a couple seconds anyway.” 

“No, not by yourself.” That was Nevada, holding her hand out. “Possess me, then channel your power through me so I can stand in there and activate this thing.” 

There was no time to discuss anything else, so he did just that. Then we watched as the possessed Nevada let herself be sucked across the room and into the vortex. I was terrified that she would just disappear immediately, but Mercury’s power held out. She was straining, pushing against its hold on her to hold the frisbee-like device up over her head. It clearly took everything she had and Mercury’s boost to make it happen. But finally, she managed to shove it up all the way over the portal. Then the woman clicked something on it, before releasing the thing. With a scream of effort, she threw herself away from the vortex, just as the frisbee opened up and extended downward to create a sort of egg-shaped metal shell around the thing. 

Immediately, the suction stopped. The vortex was still there, but it was contained for the moment. We ran past it, straight to the others. “Persephone!” I blurted. 

“I am so sorry, Felicity,” she quickly informed me, her gaze downcast. “It was not my intention to–” 

“Are you okay?” I interrupted, catching her by both arms. “Are you alright? They didn’t–I mean they didn’t do anything to umm… to change you, or control you, or–” 

“I am… well, but my others–the rest of my people…. they are not like me,” she weakly replied. “They will kill everyone here.” 

“No, they won’t,” I insisted. “We’re gonna do something about… uhh… that…” 

I had trailed off, because Persephone and the others were all staring past me. Turning to look, I saw a good fifteen figures standing next to the door about thirty feet away. They were… they were Revenants. I could tell that already. Revenants with dead bodies. The dead bodies of the Tribals we had been about to get Denuvus to talk to. They were already dead, and the Revenants had control of them. And right now, they looked very ready to add us to their collection of corpses. 

“My name is Denuvus, freeze.” As she said that, the woman in question stepped forward, her voice as firm as I had ever heard it. She was clearly focusing all of her power on the Revenants. 

And yet, they paid no attention. The Revenants simply walked forward, as though she hadn’t said anything at all. Great, so much for the easy solution.

Fifteen Revenants? We could maybe handle a few, between all of us. Especially with Persephone and Robin’s help, and my own necromancy to hold them off. But a dozen? This was about to be a slaughter. 

Even as that thought rushed through my mind, I held up both hands and dug deep for every bit of power I could muster. Stop them. They were undead. I’d stopped Persephone before. I had to stop these guys too. Taking a breath, I let it out while shoving my power that way, snapping a curt, “Stop!” 

I could feel that Necromantic power snaking out, twisting its way around the Revenants. It caught onto… three of them. Three. Of the fifteen, I managed to make three stop short. They strained against the force holding them, but couldn’t manage to break free. 

Which was just great, but it still left twelve. Still too many for even the rest of us. Or the rest of them. It took everything I had just to hold these three. I wouldn’t be able to help with the others. 

Then I felt a shift in my pocket of all places. Looking down with a gasp, I saw Marco the beetle climb out. Just as my hand grabbed for him, he flew off and landed in front of me, between us and the Revenants. Then he fucking transformed into a furry, humanoid figure with a prehensile tail just like he’d had as a beetle. Stretching out, the monkey-like man stood only an inch taller than I was, though I could see how tightly-corded with muscle his arms were under that thin fur. 

“Ahhhhh that’s better,” he announced while facing the Revenants. He twisted his head to the left, then right, cracking his neck each time before letting out a low groan of satisfaction. “You have no idea how boring the past few days have been. 

“Now I can finally have some fun.”

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The Storm 21-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Storm 21-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now we can start negotiating.”

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