Heretical Edge

Kairos 9-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter

A/N: For those who haven’t seen it, there was a new commissioned interlude posted yesterday that focused on the Alter-Natural Heretic organization Section Four. If you haven’t read that, you can click the previous chapter button above to do so. 

“Kill me?” Fossor chuckled, though it sounded more deranged and emotional than he probably meant it to. “Has that ever worked for you, my dearest woman, mother of my child? Oh…. I suppose I can’t call you that now, can I? Not after our girl over there got her own brother killed. Now how is that going to affect your relationship?” 

Mom’s voice was calmer than I would have expected. Cold, really. “Over ten years together. More than a decade. And you still know nothing about me.” 

“He knows little about what it means to care for anyone at all.” Those were the words that came from Rahanvael, as the ghost girl hovered nearby, her hand lightly touching her own throat, where I could see what looked like… marks of some sort. As if Fossor’s invisible grasp had left an impression in the… well, ‘skin,’ or whatever that would be called. 

As for the Necromancer himself, he actually looked a bit upset by what she’d said, his face flushing a bit as he snapped, “I have always cared for you, Rahan.” Again, he pronounced it ‘Rain.’ “Everything I have done, everything I’ve become, everything that has– it was all because I loved–love you. It was all because I wanted to protect you! I only wanted to keep you safe.” 

“You’re right.” Rahanvael’s voice was soft, barely audible, yet somehow filled with raw emotion. It quaked, the words hoarse and broken. “Everything that you have done started because you were trying to protect me. We lost our mother, and when we visited her spirit to say goodbye, you felt her. You tried to keep her there. That’s how you found out about your power, Mera. You felt her and you tried to stop her spirit from moving on, and when they wouldn’t let you, when our father forced you to let her go, you… you were so afraid. We lost our mother and you were afraid you would lose me, lose your twin. So you did what? You withdrew even more. You spent seven years obsessing over learning to control your power on your own, experimenting on animals in the woods. Seven years when we could have been living our lives.” 

“If you and Father had only listened to me, we could have had an eternity together!” Fossor… yeah, he was clearly unstable. Facing his sister like this wasn’t doing wonders for his emotions. Still, he took a moment, mastering himself (at least outwardly) before speaking again, a bit more coldly. “But you didn’t. He didn’t. He–he interrupted. I would have brought you back.”

“You did bring me back,” Rahanvael reminded him, voice still quiet. “And I have spent millennia watching you commit more atrocities, more… evil than I could have imagined entire civilizations being capable of. Your crimes may have begun when you cut my throat, Mera. But everything you’ve done, everything you’ve become, that is what tears my heart from my chest.” 

Her voice was even more hollow by that point. She finished with the last thing she needed to say. “I loved my brother. He was my everything, my Mera. You are not him. You are an empty, soulless abomination that needs to die.” 

“You…” For a moment, Fossor looked… almost lost, really. It was so brief that I might have passed it off as my imagination. But it was there. It was absolutely there. He saw his sister, saw the way she looked at him, heard what she said, and it looked like those words struck home, for just a moment. But then it vanished, either hidden away or dismissed entirely. In its place was anger. Cold anger, the sort that would leave any soul that could feel such emotion a barren wasteland. 

He spoke again, voice far emptier than I had ever heard it. “Each of you will learn the cost of your efforts. Because you seem to have forgotten one very important thing. You cannot harm me.” 

With those simple words, he straightened, blue-white flames flickering around his feet before extending out into the shape of a serpent that coiled up and around him almost protectively. It was like a… ghost. It was a ghost snake. A giant ghost snake. Fun. 

“My life is connected to those of my world–of our world,” he amended, with a look toward his sister. “How many of our people will you allow them to sacrifice before bowing to the inevitable? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? More? How many will you let them put to the flames?” 

His words had an impact. I could tell that much. Rahanvael swallowed, floating there next to me. But she refused to break eye contact, staring back at him with a sad, broken voice. “Whatever it takes,” the girl informed him very quietly. “You must be stopped. A man who has already murdered millions cannot bargain with the lives of those he would kill anyway.” 

The ghost-serpent around Fossor drew itself up a bit, even as the man coldly snarled, “Then, by all means. Come and stop me.” 

Even as he said those words, the ghost-snake launched itself toward us. The thing was as big as a bus, mouth stretching wide as though it was going to try to eat us. I had no idea if it was even capable of that, given the whole ghost thing. But nor was I going to test it. With a quick thrust of my staff, I triggered the boost on it, sending myself up and over the lunging snake. Below me, Mom vanished from where she was standing, appearing off to the side while producing a glowing blue energy sword in one hand that she used to cut into its side. 

The snake wasn’t the only issue, of course. Fossor still had a literal army of ghosts and zombies he could throw at us. And throw them at us he did, as what looked like a tidal wave of the undead creatures came swarming in from all sides. The Necromancer wasn’t fucking around anymore. Even as I launched myself up, I could see an army of the creatures coming in from all sides, practically falling in on us like a tidal wave. This wasn’t a few ghosts, or a handful of zombies. This wasn’t something he expected us to fight. He expected us to be massacred. 

In mid-air, I dropped my staff, focusing on using the object-stopping power I’d just learned about. The staff froze, even as my feet came down on it. The freeze would only last for a few seconds, of course. But for those few seconds, I could stand on the staff in mid-air as though I was on solid ground. And I used that by summoning a dozen or so coins to each hand. Coins I had prepared over my time spent in the future waiting for the time travel spell to be ready. 

With those coins in hand, as I perched on my frozen staff, a very slight, humorless smile touched my face. Then I threw the coins out in every direction, scattering them through the air while blurting the command word. 

That swarm of Fossor’s minions kept coming, even as the coins were flung into their midsts. Then the spells activated, and the coins exploded into several clouds of blue-green mist. Every ghost or zombie that was touched by the mist immediately turned on one another. Which made others around them, those not affected by the clouds, turn back to defend themselves or be dragged to the ground. No longer were they a coherent army sent to attack us. Thanks to my frenzy-undead spells (learned courtesy of Petan himself, actually), huge portions were stuck blindly fighting each other.

By that point, the item-freeze had ended, and I grabbed my staff while it fell. A quick burst sent me flying forward and to the ground, where I landed on both feet in an open space that had been created by the frenzy spells. 

Mom was still dealing with the giant snake. Fossor was moving to the altar. More of his minions who hadn’t been either affected by the frenzy spells or attacked by those who had been were closing in on me. I’d dealt with a large portion of his army with that little trick (one I’d deliberately been saving until Fossor actually committed himself to using more of his forces), but not nearly enough. There were still dozens, even hundreds in the way, coming for me. Coming to stop me from getting to their master. 

But it wasn’t enough. Not this time. I wasn’t going to let anything, not even a literal army, stop me from getting to that son of a bitch. Focusing, I took off, running straight toward Fossor, which put me on a collision course with the largest concentration of the undead creatures. 

I couldn’t control all of Fossor’s minions. I wasn’t that strong or skilled yet. Fossor was far better than I was at Necromancy. At most, I could control a few at a time, even after all the practice I’d had recently. 

But here was the thing. I didn’t need to control all of them. I only had to control the ones directly in front of me, the ones close enough to actually touch me. Because only those few were a real threat. Only those few, the ones near enough to reach out and scratch, claw, or bite me were the ones I needed to worry about. And those were the ones I took control of. With effort that manifested itself into a literal scream tearing its way out of my throat, I shoved my will into the handful of ghosts and zombies that were directly in my way. The four nearest pivoted, throwing themselves into those behind them to form physical blockades. 

Dashing through the opening that created, I instantly released my hold on those four, shifting it over to the next small handful. Two ghosts and three zombies all turned on their companions, freeing up another small bit of space for me to move through, even as I shifted my control yet again. 

I made my way through Fossor’s army like that. Yeah, I couldn’t come close to matching his power or skill, even while he was distracted. But there was only so much space around me, so all I had to do was control the ones right there for the few seconds while passing through the area. It didn’t deal with the problem entirely, but that was a lost cause anyway. The problem was Fossor, not his minions. He was the one I had to get to. 

Between using my own Necromancy to briefly control very specific figures, my ghost-fire enchanted weapon to cut through others, and a few strategic boost from my staff, I made my way quickly through the army that was trying to cut me off. Fossor. I had to get to him. That was all that mattered. Nothing else. All I had to do was stop him from getting to that altar. 

He could have made it. Even with everything I’d done, all the practice I’d had, he could have gotten there if it wasn’t for one thing: my mother. It was obvious that, while he’d dumped an army in front of me and left them on their own, my mom was a different story. She’d already dealt with that giant ghost snake, but Fossor kept sending more and more things at her with each step he made toward his actual destination. Burning metal spikes tore themselves up out of the ground. A dark, acidic fog that dissolved anything it touched. Skeletal creatures with a few scraps of rotted flesh hanging from their bones. Balls of greenish-white flames. Anything and everything he could summon was being thrown at my mother just to keep her busy, just to keep her away from him while he took those last few steps toward his destination. He wasn’t worried about me. He was worried about her, and it showed in how much focus and effort he was putting toward occupying her. The power, the spells, the sheer force of everything he was dumping into that one small spot where my mother stood was staggering. 

And yet, Mom met everything. She shattered his attacks, broke them apart like waves crashing against a boulder. Her powers, her skill, her magic, all of it matched what he was sending at her. He was so much older, so much stronger, but he couldn’t break her. Not as distracted as he was. His attention was torn between trying to get to that altar and keeping her busy. All while he simply ignored me, trusting the army he’d tossed my way to be enough. 

It was a mistake I would be glad to make him pay for. 

With a violent, inarticulate scream, I tore my way through the last of the ghosts in my way, the blade of my staff cutting through the glowing figure. The ghost disintegrated, leaving a clear, open space between us. Between Fossor and me. 

Four steps. He was four steps from the altar. My hand thrust out, creating a portal even as I triggered the boost from my staff and gripped the small bit of wood that was installed near the middle. A piece of wood that allowed me to possess it, disappearing into my own staff while the boost I had triggered sent it flying through the portal I’d created. 

I came out through the portal directly in front of Fossor, emerging from my staff immediately and catching it in one hand while glaring at him as I stood in his way. “No.” My voice was flat. I didn’t threaten him. I didn’t make some kind of cutting remark or give a witty comment. That single word was all I could force out through the thick lump that had formed in my throat. 

A cloud of ashes swirled around Fossor, pulled from that canteen before they settled in front of his feet as he took one more step to put himself closer. In the same motion, he lashed out as though to backhand me despite the fact that he wasn’t quite close enough. Still, my staff snapped up to block it. 

But he wasn’t trying to hit me with his hand. Instead, in response to his gesture, a giant skeletal version, almost as large as my entire body, tore itself out the ground and slammed into me with so much force I was sent staggering backward. He immediately followed that up by summoning two more smaller hands to grab my ankles, but I stopped one by throwing my own will against it, forcing the hand to freeze. The other I cut off with a quick slash of my staff. 

Fossor was there, right in front of me. His fist lashed out, and I ducked, my staff snapping up to drive the blade into the side of his wrist. I might as well have been hitting a mountain for all the good it did. His arm didn’t even move. The blade of my staff did nothing to him, any damage it might have been capable of simply and casually passed off to any of the billions of hostages he had. 

The Necromancer, clearly angry by that point, followed up with three more snake-quick strikes. I blocked one, twisted around the second, but the third caught me. He was so fast. Loathe as he obviously was to actually physically involve himself in a confrontation, he was still so fucking fast. And strong. That single blow, a contemptuous backhanded strike, knocked me to the ground. It was a momentary opening, but one that Fossor took advantage of, foot snapping out with deceptive casualness to kick me in the face. It was like being hit by a train. I was thrown to my back, dazed and barely conscious through those brief, crucial seconds. 

Standing over me, Fossor moved to finish up by summoning some kind of ghostly spear, sending it down at my chest with a quick, dismissive gesture. 

But I wasn’t alone. In that instant, the very moment that I was in real danger, Mom was there. She appeared, glowing blade lashing out to cut through the ghostly spear and knock it aside. Instantly, she followed up by summoning a ball of flame, sending it into Fossor’s face. 

It did nothing. He passed off the damage, snarling in annoyance before launching himself at my mother. Not just the man by himself. He summoned more arms, more flames, more blades, all of it filling the air with two intentions: to kill me and to kill my mother. 

If I had been by myself, I would have been dead. But I wasn’t. Mom protected me. With every motion, every snap of her sword, every flick of her finger, she stopped another attack, broke another of Fossor’s summoned blades, or disintegrated another of his ghosts. 

Through that, I somehow forced myself to my feet, intercepting a couple of those attacks myself. And beside me, Rahanvael appeared. She couldn’t do much, but, being a ghost, she could catch some of the intangible spears and blades that were sent at us. She was one more thing to take some of the attacks. 

Between us, between Rahanvael and myself, we managed to give Mom an opening here and there to actually counter-attack. She didn’t have to put everything she had toward saving us. She had a few moments to lash out with attacks of her own. Attacks that would have killed him. Again and again, my mother could have put that fucker in the ground. Her blade cut through his throat, tore into his stomach, her fire engulfed him. But nothing stuck. Nothing could stick. He passed all of it off to his hostages. No matter what we did, no matter how many times Mom fucking killed him, it never mattered. 

Finally, glowing ghost-like bars appeared, rising around Fossor to cut us off from him. I could see the effort on his face, could see that we’d had an effect, no matter what he may have wanted us to think. He was angry. But more than that, he was winded. Everything we’d done, it mattered. He couldn’t dismiss us, couldn’t just knock us aside like weeds. 

“You,” the bastard snarled, “cannot stop me. You will fail. You will fall. Your bodies will be buried here, alone and forgotten. Y–” 

And then a shovel slammed through those summoned bars, shattering them like crystal before crashing into Fossor’s face to send him flying backward from the sheer force of the blow. The evil fuck crashed onto the ground a good couple hundred feet back, just as one of his ghosts disintegrated itself under him so his body wouldn’t hit the dirt without the protective ashes. 

“Not alone,” Gabriel Prosser informed him, straightening to stand beside my mother. “And never forgotten.” 

Nor was he alone. All around us, throughout the quarry, more figures appeared. Sariel, Apollo, Dare, Gwen, Nevada, Kohaku, Carfried, Hisao, Asenath, Seller, Twister, Brom Bones, Mercury, and more appeared. Mateo and his werewolves were here, including Pace and Roxa. May and April were here. Misty and her brother Duncan appeared. Enguerrand, Larissa, and Haiden too. My brother, Wyatt, appeared with Koren beside him. Avalon and Shiori, standing together with Aylen, Miranda, Columbus, Sands and Sarah. Sean was there too, in his still-confusingly older form right alongside his brother Ian.

“No…” Fossor snarled, his eyes daring around to find himself surrounded as he picked himself up. “No, this is–no, you cannot be here! The beacons have not yet broken through the shielding! You cannot have been summoned, you cannot be here!” 

“We had a little help finding the place,” Apollo casually informed him. And with those words, more figures appeared. Ghosts, but ones who had not been summoned by Fossor. 

They were the ghosts I had freed, the ones I’d given the same power as Rahanvael by cutting them away from Fossor’s control. I saw Ahmose at their head, his eyes blazing with fiery hatred for the man who had destroyed and enslaved him for so long. 

“It ends,” the ghost informed his former master, his words echoed by the rest of the ghosts who had accompanied him to this final confrontation. The ghosts who, instead of running and hiding from the monster who had done so much to them, had found my friends, my allies, and brought them here to stop him once and for all. 

A hand touched my arm. My gaze turned, and I saw her. My little sister. Tabbris stood there, tears filling her eyes as she stared at me. “You’re okay,” she whispered, voice so soft it seemed as though she was afraid I would shatter. 

“I’m okay,” I confirmed. Then I extended my hand to her. “You ready for this?” 

Her tears melted away, expression hardening into determination, as she met my hand with her own. “Ready.” 

Then she disappeared, possessing me once more. Back where she belonged. Back with me. 

Now it was time. Either we would stop Fossor here and now. Or we would die, and the Earth would be his forever. 

As one, the army that had arrived to end Fossor once and for all fell in on him. 

Previous Chapter

Commissioned Interlude 10 – Section Four (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: The following is a special commissioned interlude, the regular chapter continuing Flick’s confrontation with Fossor will be out tomorrow as scheduled.

Months ago, shortly after Gaia and Flick restored the Rebellion memories.

Kingman, Arizona. At last count, the city, which lay just over a hundred miles southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, held a population of around forty thousand. That put the town in a sort-of sweet spot as far as many were concerned. Small enough that it was easily overlooked and would never be a huge tourist destination, yet large enough for someone to blend in. 

Small enough that Bosch Heretics would rarely see a need to visit. Yet large enough that, when and if they did come through on one of their hunts, certain members of the town’s population could quite easily disappear during their presence without attracting undue attention. 

Henry Meyers Carden, as he was known to the people of Kingman, sat behind his desk in the local DMV. The Bystanders who worked with him or came to fulfill the errands one normally did at the DMV would see a fairly nondescript, dark-skinned man with close-cropped black hair and unusually bright green eyes. Yet, those with the ability to see through the Effect would see a man with tiny, beautiful, dark blue scales rather than skin, with small, two inch horns on either side of his forehead, and a mouth full of incredibly sharp teeth. His eyes were that same piercing green, but were twice the size one would expect to see on a human face. 

Despite his true appearance, Henry Carden’s current actions were no different from any other employee at this place. He listened to customer after customer who took their turns to come up when their number was called, asked for the appropriate identification and paperwork, then either walked them through getting what they needed, or sent them away to retrieve the appropriate items. Or, in some cases, informed them that there was nothing the DMV could do.

The mundane routine of each day was broken occasionally, such as now, when the man who approached while clutching his number slip very clearly wasn’t an ordinary human. He was a young Rakshasa, or feline humanoid, obviously unsure about what he was doing and as paranoid as… well, a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as the saying went. 

When he reached the desk, the Rakshasa didn’t say anything at first. His eyes darted around, taking in all the other (actual human) employees as though expecting them to draw weapons and attack him at any second. The sound of a bell by the door as another customer entered drew a gasp as the man spun that way, hands raised defensively in front of his face. 

Quietly, Henry cleared his throat, quickly drawing the half-panicked Rakshasa’s attention back to him before the figure could decide to bolt or something. His voice was low, as calm as though he was talking to any other customer. Keeping up appearances, even (or perhaps especially) in front of ordinary Bystanders, was important. “You look like you could use an ice-cold drink.”  

“A drink? I–oh–” Catching himself, the Rakshasa remembered the code phrase. “Actually, I’d like four to go,” he recited. It clearly sounded just like he was reciting something he’d memorized, but hey. Close enough. Henry couldn’t expect everyone who came through needing help to be perfect at the cloak and dagger stuff. 

“Wouldn’t we all?” he replied, finishing the back-and-forth code before picking up a folder. “If you’ll come with me, sir, I think we have what you’re looking for in the back.” Reaching out, he flipped the sign at the front of his desk around so that ‘please see another attendant’ was displayed before gesturing for the other man to follow him on his way to a door marked for employees. None of the other employees in the office gave them a second glance, though there were some disgruntled mumbles from customers when they saw the number of people ready to serve them go down by one. 

Leading the feline figure into the back hallway before turning to open an unlabeled wooden door, Henry ushered him inside, glancing both ways before closing the door after them as he followed into a small office. “What’s your name?” he asked while stepping around the desk. 

“What-oh, Miren,” the feline figure answered belatedly. “My name is Miren.” 

“Good afternoon, Miren, I’m Henry. Well, that’s close enough to my name anyway,” the other man replied, gesturing as he sat at his desk. “Have a seat. How long have you been on Earth?”

“My umm…” Miren hesitated before sitting a bit awkwardly. “My family–I don’t know. I mean all my life. I was born here. I think my parents lived here all their lives too, but they were… they died when I was still a cub. I lived with my grandmother in Tulsa until last month when she passed. I was… I was at the funeral and… I mean, she always told me to be careful. She told me stories about the Heretics, but I didn’t–they came to the funeral. I was just trying to say goodbye to my grandma and they accused me of trying to eat people. They–” His voice was getting louder by the word, emotion making him choke up a bit. 

“That’s what they do,” Henry muttered, sighing to himself as he pushed away a few bad memories of his own before focusing. “Okay, so they attacked you but you got away. I assume either your grandmother or another friend told you about us and where to go? Tulsa’s a long ways away. We have other offices between here and there.” 

“I just ran at first,” Miren explained. “I didn’t know where I was going. Didn’t really have anywhere to go. No one to talk to, really. Figured they’d know where my home was, or find out pretty soon. I just took off. Hitchhiked and bussed across a few states, had a couple more close calls. But then I found these people camping out by the side of the highway about twenty miles north of here. A couple trolls, werewolf, and this pixie dude. They told me there was a group called Section Four, people who, ahhh… help Alters. Alters? That’s the right word for… us?” 

“Alters, right,” Henry confirmed. “And yes, Section Four helps Alters get new identities, money, transport, whatever they need. We exist in all levels of government, even a few senators. We’re a mix of Alters and Natural Heretics–” 

“Heretics?” Miren quickly interrupted, his eyes widening. 

Gently, Henry explained the difference before continuing. “Basically, Section Four exists to help maintain some level of normal society for Alters. We have postal workers who know how to deliver to questionable locations that might not get service otherwise, police who can handle the kind of cases that come up with our people, firefighters with knowledge about cancelling out mystical flames or identifying if a fire comes from one of our people in danger, or doctors who can deal with magical burns, poisons, and other things that would stump Bystanders. More importantly, in your case right now, we do what we can to keep innocent Alters away from the Bosch Heretics and provide them with new lives. But we have to be careful. That’s why we have the codes. If you looked like you needed help without the codes, we’d still do what we could, we’d just be more careful about approaching you. The codes help us know just how informed you are about what we’re doing, if you’re someone just feeling things out, or if you’re a threat. Alters who do bad things, we call them Nocen, sometimes our people will give them false codes. That way, when they show up and give those false codes, we know what we’re dealing with. That’s part of how we’re careful. Another part is why Nuella is here.” 

“Nuella?” Miren echoed, only to glance toward the corner of the room when a flicker of motion drew his attention that way. Seeing a tall, gray-skinned and silver-haired woman standing there, he jerked with a yelp and nearly fell sideways. 

Henry winced. “Sorry. We just can’t be too careful. Nuella here is a Leusteren, sort of an empath. She could tell if you were lying or deceiving me with your explanation, or if you had bad intent.” 

Nuella, for her part, quietly greeted the man and explained that her emotion-reading extended to a sort of pseudo-invisibility by manipulating a person’s emotions into not caring about her presence to the point of not even consciously acknowledging it. 

From there, the three had a conversation about what they could do for Miren, how they could get him a quiet life out of the way in an area he’d like to live, under a new identity just in case the Bosch Heretics were looking for his old one. They talked about the place he might want to move to, areas that were relatively safe from constant Heretic hunters and other ways he could stay safe. 

Eventually, Henry left Miren and Nuella to talk a bit more while he went to print off new identification records in the back room. On his way down the hall, however, he heard the sound of running footsteps behind him and turned to glance over his shoulder just in time to see a wide-eyed figure rushing his way. Like Miren, this man had feline-like fur, though he was not a Rakshasa. His fur was very fine and tiger-like though colored blue and white. He looked closer to human because he was closer to human. He was a hybrid, born to an Alter father (of a species known as Tzeuens) and a human mother, though no one knew what had become of the latter.

“Sergei?” Henry started. “What’s going o–” 

“Rebellion!” Sergei blurted out loud, grabbing hold of his shoulders. “Rebellion–Heretics! My mom, my–Atherbys, the–the Rebellion! The memory, they were–my dad! He was–it’s back!” 

Poor Henry, of course, had absolutely no idea what the other man was saying. “Slow down, slow down. Are you okay? What Rebellion? What about your mother? Are there Heretics in town?” That last question was, obviously, the most important one given the danger they posed. 

Over the next few minutes, right there in the hall, Sergei explained everything. He told Henry about the memories that had returned to his mind early that morning, memories of living in a quiet house with his father and his Heretic mother. Memories of his parents both telling him stories about the Heretic Rebellion, an actual rebellion, led by a woman known as Joselyn Atherby. Atherby, of course, was a name familiar to Henry and Section Four. The Atherby Camp itself had helped out plenty of times. 

Apparently, this Joselyn Atherby woman was both the leader of that group, and of a group of Bosch Heretics who rebelled against both Crossroads and Eden’s Garden. According to Sergei’s stories, she had led a full scale revolt against the status quo, and had actually taken a fair chunk of other Boschers with her. 

“Uhh, Sergei, I hate to be a Debbie Downer,” Henry carefully cut in, “but if this rebellion thing was that big of a deal, I’m pretty sure I would have heard about it. Are you sure–” 

“You did hear about it.” The words came from Nuella, who had stepped into the hall. “You were a part of it. As was I.”

While Henry stared at his Section Four partner in disbelief, she explained that she had felt Sergei’s emotions from the other room and came to investigate. The moment she heard him talking about the rebellion, her own memories of being a part of it with Henry had come back in a rush. Decades of memories, throughout the twentieth century, all flooding her brain. 

“That’s what happened to me this morning!” Sergei blurted. “I was eating breakfast and then it all just–it hit me all at once.”

“The Bosch Heretics, the loyalists,” Nuella murmured, “they erased everyone’s memories. They stopped the Rebellion by making everyone forget about it.” 

“Then why is it back?” Henry asked, still feeling a bit uncertain and doubtful about the whole thing. “Why would your memories suddenly return? And why both of yours but not mine?”

“That spell.” The two-worded answer came not from either of the people he was talking to, but from a man who had just appeared in the middle of the hall. A man who, as Henry and the other two turned that way, instantly set off alarms in their heads. Alarms that typically drew many possible reactions, all of which mostly amounted to panic.

“Heretic!” Henry blurted, stumbling back and nearly falling as he grabbed for the emergency teleport coin in one pocket. “Get down!” he started to warn the others, hand raised to hurl the coin at the floor to get the three of them the hell out of there before they were all killed. He had a flash of hope that the kid in the office would escape, but there was no way he could get to him from here, not before their attacker murdered all of them. There was no telling what powers–

His hand was caught in mid-motion. Not by the Heretic, but by Nuella. As the coin fell from his hand, she quickly snatched it out of the air, her voice firm, yet soothing. “It’s okay. It’s alright.” 

As Henry stared at the woman, his panicked mind trying to figure out just when she had gone completely insane or if this was some sort of reaction to that level of terror, the memory of what they had just been talking about rose in the back of his consciousness. Heretics. Rebellion. His wide, terrified eyes darted back to the man who caused such alarm. 

The Heretic himself appeared to be an older man. Old enough to have visible gray hair and a fairly pale face lined with wrinkles. He held no weapon. In fact, his hands were stretched out to either side with the backs facing Henry and the others rather than the palms. It was the best way for someone who could potentially project energy blasts from those hands to show that he meant no harm, rather than holding them out and up toward the group. 

“Easy,” the Heretic carefully spoke. “Take it easy, Hank. We’re good. We’re good. Nuella?” 

“I remember you, Artzain,” she confirmed, giving Henry another look. “Easy. Calm.” 

Sounding like he was having as much trouble dismissing the blaring danger sense as Henry himself was, Sergei carefully and hesitantly asked, “Guy from the Rebellion?” 

“I was,” the Heretic, Artzain apparently, answered. “Before those Garden and Crossroads pigeon-livered hornswogglers erased my memory. Our memories. You… you don’t remember those days, Hank? The spell didn’t give your memories back, did it?” There was audible pain in his voice, making it clear he desperately wanted the man in front of him to know who he was. 

“It seems some of us have remembered certain parts,” Nuella put in. “Others have not remembered anything. But what is this spell you speak of?”

Before the Heretic could respond, the door at the end of the hall, leading back to the main room, opened up as one of the other DMV workers poked his head in and took in the sight before him. “Hey, Henry! Finish up whatever this is and come on back. The line’s getting pretty long and some of us don’t like the way these people start growling at us. You’re better with the growlers.”

Once the man closed the door to go back to his work, Nuella quietly murmured, “Well, we can rest assured that the Bystander Effect remains in place, whatever else has happened.”  

Artzain gave a quick nod. “Yes, the spell didn’t affect that. It was meant to erase the eraser, as far as we can…” Trailing off, the man seemed to realize that he should start at the beginning. So, as quickly as possible, he explained what had happened the night before/very early that morning. The headmistress of the Crossroads school, together with the daughter of the Rebellion’s original leader, had used magic to undo the spell that had erased the Rebellion, and Joselyn Atherby herself, from the memories of all Heretics who were connected to the Reaper who provided their powers. 

“It seems that in breaking the spell for Bosch Heretics,” Nuella mused, “the remainder of it has been weakened. Some of us are remembering a little, some a lot, and some nothing at all, yet.” That last part was added with a glance toward Henry, who was still at least partially convinced that this whole thing was completely made up. “I believe it will fade more with time, perhaps even breaking apart entirely, now that the foundation of the spell has been so damaged.”

“Okay, wait, just… wait.” Henry was shaking his head, trying to come to terms with everything still. “You’re saying all the Boschers who used to fight for the Rebellion are getting their memories back and… and what, going right back to fighting their old friends and family?” 

“So it seems,” Artzain confirmed. “It’s been a busy day, believe me. A good chunk of us Garden people took off together with some of our Victors. Almost didn’t make it with the vines we had to grab.” Exhaling, the man visibly winced, memories of what he and the others had gone through to liberate these ‘vines’ (whatever those were for) clearly playing through his head. “Not fun.” 

“But what brought you here?” Henry pressed. They had been standing here talking to this Boscher for long enough that the warning siren screaming in his head had finally faded. Which was a really strange situation to be in. He hadn’t exactly spent enough time around Boschers to find out that the danger sense could fade until today. 

Or, if the others were right about these lost memories, apparently he had. Huh. 

Artzain was already replying, “Once the Garden refugees found a spot to stay for the day, a bunch of us split up to go find the… the people that spell made us forget. I checked a few other places before I remembered that you and Nuella used to work here for Section Four. Well, not here. You were at the hospital back then, but still. It didn’t take long to work out that the DMV might be a good place to look for my… for my old friends.”

This was so weird. Staring at the Heretic, Henry could see the sincerity there. He didn’t need Nuella’s emotion-reading powers for that. This Artzain remembered the three of them being very close friends. Nuella herself apparently also remembered it. The two of them had all these restored memories, but Henry had nothing. He stared at this man, trying as hard as he could to dredge up some image from the past, but it was for naught. He couldn’t remember anything about him. 

“It’s okay, Henry,” Nuella quietly assured him. “As I said, the spell may take longer to crack apart for others. Your memories may come back eventually. Give it some more time.” 

Sergei spoke up then. “What about my mother? I don’t have your memories, all I have are stories. Her name was… is Jessica, Jessica Trent. She’s this tall with black hair that’s cut short except for this braid part on the left. And she has a scar. Right here.” His hand rose to indicate the space from the left side of his jaw, over his cheek, and up over his nose. “Like that. Her memories would be back now too, right? Do you–do you know her?” There was an eagerness to the Tzeuen-Hybrid’s voice, just as there had been when he first showed up sputtering at Henry about the memories of the Rebellion. “Please, tell me you’ve at least seen her.” 

“It’s… it’s familiar,” Artzain carefully confirmed. “I think I’ve seen her now and then, but she was from Crossroads, not Eden’s Garden. And even the Rebellion by itself was pretty large before the end. I think we might have fought together a couple times, in a larger group. But I haven’t seen her lately. I’m sorry, I don’t know where she would be now. But that spell would have restored her memories, so she’ll remember you, and your father. Wait, your father. Where–” 

“Dead,” Sergei informed him in a flat voice. “Killed about six years ago by one of your–by a Boscher.” 

“Odds bodkins,” Arztain cursed with a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry, boy, I truly am.” One of his fists tightened, a small bit of frost forming around it. “When I think about the things I myself did in these past couple decades just because my memories were erased, the people–” He cut himself off, clearly pushing aside some very bad images. “The people who erased our memories, they’re going to pay for it. They’ll pay for all of it. The Rebellion’s already reforming. We’re contacting the Crossroads people who have left and just… we’re getting organized, but it’ll take time.” He focused on Sergei. “I’ll ask around about your mother, this Jessica Trent. If she’s still around, I’ll find her. You have my word.” 

Before Sergei or either of the others could respond to that, the nearby door opened. Miren, the young Rakshasa Henry had been helping in his office, poked his head out. “Hey, I finished all the–” Seeing the Bosch Heretic standing there, he let out a strangled scream, the door slamming quickly to cut them off. That was followed by the sound of a few crashes as the panicked boy tried to escape from a room with no other windows or doors. 

“I will speak with him,” Nuella quietly informed the other two. “I will explain the situation, and calm him down. The two of you should speak for now. After all,” she added with a knowing glance, “you still have that bet, I believe.” 

As she moved to the door to deal with the panicked Rakshasa, Henry looked to this stranger-who-wasn’t. “You and me, we were close, huh?

“What was that like?” 

******

It turned out that many others within Section Four had also either gotten pieces or large chunks of their memories of the Heretic Rebellion back, or had been contacted by Boschers who remembered them. The entire organization was in an uproar over the new revelations, which was making doing the jobs they were supposed to do even harder than usual. Especially given the fact that their urges to run from Boschers were now competing with the revelation that some, yet not all, of those people were their old friends. 

For an organization like theirs, where every group was intentionally kept separate and isolated from the others for security reasons, the whole thing was hard to deal with. There were only a few people who linked various cells together, and essentially none who were connected to all of them. They weren’t set up for passing communication back and forth in a situation like this, because they weren’t set up to communicate as a whole group at all. The entire point was for Section Four to remain a loose collection of independent cells with the overarching goal of taking care of Alters who needed them. 

All of which meant that Henry was on the phone with various contacts for the next six hours, as everyone tried to get a full handle on exactly what was happening. Word was being passed around, new code phrases were being brought up, and people whose memories had started to come back were being partnered with those who hadn’t in order to keep track of what Boschers showed up looking for old friends. All while they were also trying to do the jobs Section Four was actually intended to do. 

As for Henry’s group, they had their own mission. As he disconnected from what had to be his seven hundredth phone call of the day, the man himself emerged from the now-dark DMV building to find an SUV waiting for him. Nuella stood next to it, along with the Boscher, Arztain. Seeing the latter made that alarm go off in Henry’s head yet again, and he had to force back the panic it brought on. 

“Where’s Sergei?” 

“Here!” the Hybrid in question called while approaching with several heavily-laden grocery bags. “Just had to pick up some snacks for the road.” 

Yes, for the road. Sergei remembered where his family had lived before, so they were going on a road trip to find his house, just in case his mother went there. At first, the boy had planned on going alone, but Nuella and Henry had both refused to abandon him. And Arztain insisted on accompanying them as well. 

Nor was he the last member of their little group. 

“Hey, are we ready to go?!” From inside the SUV, the actual final person who had insisted on going, Miren, called out through the open window. “It’s a long way to Virginia!” 

“He’s not wrong,” Arztain murmured. “It is a long way. But is he sure he wants to go with… ahhh, well, me? Kid still whimpers when I look in his direction.”

“He’s doing his best,” Nuella informed him. “We all are. He feels as though helping out now will save others from what he went through. Even if it… you scare him.” 

Shoving aside his own doubts and fears, feeling as though he was about to get into a car with a rabid tiger who just happened to currently be sedated, Henry focused on the man who had supposedly once been his close friend. “Right. Let’s get on the road then. 

“Time to find a missing Boscher Lady, and hope this whole memory restoration thing isn’t temporary.” 

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Kairos 9-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I’d thought I was prepared for the twisting, spinning, stomach-churning sensation of being sent literally years through time and who-the-hell-knew how far across the universe. I had psyched myself up for it, prepping sort of like you would when you were about to go on a rollercoaster. But it didn’t help. My internal organs still felt like they wanted it to leap through my throat to get free, and I was so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. Not that there was much to see. Coming through the transport, I was encased in the same meteor-like stone that Tristan had arrived in a year earlier. There was nothing to see except for stone all around me. 

I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell we were falling fast. Also spinning. There was a lot of spinning. My vision (such as it was) kept fading in and out as my consciousness flickered. 

Then, before I could even hope to collect myself, we hit the ground. The spell on the meteor absorbed all the impact, sparing me from being killed by making the rock surrounding me shatter into a thousand tiny pieces while leaving me standing there. 

Well, standing there for about two seconds before the whole spinning/falling sensation caught up with me. Then, rather than looking like some kind of heroic badass arriving in the nick of time, I mostly just face-planted onto the ground while struggling not to lose the entire contents of my stomach. Urgh, that was really bad. Worse than I remembered. Was going backward in time that much harder? Was it the way Petan and those guys did it, with the whole meteor thing? 

Either way, it sucked. But hey, at least the fact that I had the Seosten bodysuit meant I didn’t have to show up totally naked or anything. 

Plus, all my recent training had done one thing, at least. It gave me the push I needed to focus through all of that and activate the beacon spells I’d brought with me. There were a dozen of them, all locked into various coins and stones I’d enchanted with spells to send an emergency alert to every god damn person who could help. I didn’t even take the time to look at where I was or anything that was around me first. I just forced power into those beacons. Whatever happened to me, if Fossor smacked me down in two seconds, at least the others would know where to come. Sariel, Prosser, Athena, Gwen, all of them. They could finish the job if I couldn’t.

With that reassuring thought (well, as reassuring as the thought of being skewered in two seconds could be), I managed to shove myself back to my feet, weapon in hand, as I took in my surroundings quickly. Even with the flares activated, there wasn’t time for me to lay around and indulge my stomach’s rolling. 

I wasn’t, as expected, in a building. Instead, I had appeared in what looked like some kind of open rock quarry. The place was huge. So huge, in fact, that the dark limousine sitting nearby would’ve had to drive full-speed for several minutes to get from one side to the other. That and the bulldozer next to it probably looked like children’s toys from the top of the quarry, so far above me I could barely see it. 

But none of that mattered. Only one thing did. Stopping Fossor. This was my last chance. And I was going to make damn sure that son of a bitch didn’t pull off his psychotic fucking plan. Whether it was me or one of the people I had just summoned for help, he wasn’t going to get away this time. One way or another, whatever it took, he was going down today. No more games, no more delays. I was going to save my mother and put that bastard in the ground where he belonged. 

Or die trying. But, well, I knew which option I preferred, at least. 

And speak of the devil, literally. Even as I straightened and focused, the back door of that limo opened, and the man in question emerged. He stared back at me with an expression that was clearly incredulous, though he was trying to force it back behind a mask of indifference. “Felicity,” he announced flatly, managing to control his voice despite everything as he regarded me with one hand holding the canteen he used to spread ashes. “You are truly a wonder.” 

Still working to calm my stomach and avoid throwing up in my mouth, I shot back, “Yeah, give me a few minutes and you’ll wonder what happened to your spleen and lungs.” 

Fossor, for his part, had clearly gotten himself under control by that point. My sudden arrival may have taken him by surprise, but he was good at rolling with surprises after all these centuries. Now, he was staring at me dangerously, obviously re-evaluating various thoughts he’d had. “Tell me, where did you disappear to in the future? I know someone took you off course, but the level of power and foreknowledge that would take….” He trailed off, chuckling quietly. “Clearly, my attempts to reacquire and contain you were… or will be, rather unsuccessful.”

“Nah,” I shot back sharply, “You found me just fine in the future. Then we bonded, you had a total change of heart, and switched sides. You even sacrificed yourself to send me back to the past to stop the you back now. It was a whole emotional thing. Whoever plays you in the movie version is totally going to nab an Oscar for it.”  

Yeah, from the look he was giving me, the man wasn’t buying it. Probably because even he knew he didn’t have a fucking conscience that could be reached anymore. Slowly, his head shook. “I do hope you aren’t trying to buy time for those beacons of yours to work,” he abruptly informed me. “After all, I would have had to be remarkably stupid not to adapt from your last attempt.” 

As my heart sank at those words, he raised a hand to gesture around us. “These stones you see all around us, think of them as a sort of jammer, my dear. They cannot stop your signal forever, that much is true. But they will absorb the energy of the spells long enough that, by the time your allies get the message, it will be too late.” He winked at me. “You see, I learn from past experience too. Now then,” he added in a low, dangerous voice as his eyes narrowed at me, making it clear that he wasn’t playing around anymore either. “Where is my sister?”

Yeah, this was bad. I had known, somewhere in the back of my mind, that Fossor could have adapted to all this and been ready to stop any beacon spells I had. But I’d hoped he wouldn’t have had time to worry about that in between getting his spell ready once more. It hadn’t been more than a few days since I’d been sent forward, so both Petan and I had thought he wouldn’t have had time to create and set up a whole new defense against those beacon spells. 

Now, as it turned out, he hadn’t needed to. He just set up his new spell in this quarry full of beacon-absorbing rocks. Because that was totally fair, gods damn it. 

“In that case,” I forced myself to retort while pointing the bladed end of my staff at the man who had hurt my family so much, “I guess I’ll just have to delay you until that spell gets out, won’t I? And I’ll tell you where your sister is as soon as you tell me where my mother is, you fucking rapist piece of shit.” 

Fossor, in turn, straightened a bit while squinting at me. “Your mother, hmm? After everything you’ve been through, all that you’ve seen and experienced, you’re still a child crying out for her mother. In spite of everything, you still haven’t grown at all from that helpless little girl I met over a year ago now. You’ve learned nothing.” 

“Don’t think so?” I retorted, staring him down. With that, I shoved down every doubt, every fear, every bit of uncertainty. I pushed all of it into a little box and locked it away. None of that mattered. I was here. I had to stop this son of a bitch. I had to delay him until those beacon spells got through and help could get here. Then I spoke three more words. Quite possibly the last three non-spell words that I would ever speak. 

“Let’s find out.” 

I ran. Not away. I ran toward the man, toward the monster who had hurt my family, who had destroyed so many others. I ran toward the creature who had nearly wiped out humanity all those centuries ago with his Black Death, and who was trying to do so again with his new spell. As Fossor stood, waiting to receive me with what looked like a mixture of annoyance and amusement warring for dominance on his face, I crossed the distance between us. One more chance. I had one more chance to stop him. 

Not that he was going to make that easy, of course. Before I’d crossed even half the distance between us, with another hundred feet or so still to go, the man raised both hands. And with that simple gesture, an army of figures appeared in my way. They were a mixture of ghosts, appearing out of nowhere, and zombies who clawed their way out of the ground right under my feet. One hand in particular popped up right near my foot, trying to grab my ankle in its crushing grip. But I was faster, snapping my staff down, without breaking stride, to cut the half-rotted hand off before it could catch hold. 

A ghost reared up in front of me, and I dove into a roll to go under it, while speaking a single command word to power the ghost-fire spell that I’d already attached to my weapon. The staff lit up with a pale blue glow, as I shoved it up through the ghost while passing under it. With a scream, the ghost literally exploded into a spray of ectoplasm and light. 

Two more zombies had pushed their way out of the ground, and were trying to grab me while I was rolling. But they never had the chance. Even as the pair straightened to put themselves in my path, a cloud of super-heated sand flew over my head and tore into them. The cloud was so hot, it literally burned a hole through the two undead monsters. One of their heads came off at the neck, while the other’s head basically disintegrated entirely under the blazing hot sand. 

I was back on my feet then. With a sharp gesture, I sent my heated sand out to one side, lashing with it like a whip. A whip that took the heads off three more zombies, cleaving through their necks. In the same moment, I hurled my staff to the other side, sending the bladed end through a ghost that had gotten near me before recalling it to appear right back in my hand as I threw myself into a sideways flip, barely clearing the raised arms of the zombie who was halfway out of the ground ahead of me. Landing, I swept my staff behind me, taking the head off that creature with that single swipe, while spitting a glob of resin at the next one, sticking his hands to the ground as he was trying to push himself up. One more step, and my foot lashed out, colliding with the head of the trapped zombie with enough force (considering I could lift a good three thousand pounds by that point) to pop it like a watermelon, sending blood everywhere. A lot of it sprayed up on me, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. None of that mattered, except stopping that son of a bitch.  

The son of a bitch in question was already turning away from me, walking in the other direction (ashes appearing from his canteen to fill the ground along his path) even as a whole new swarm of his minions appeared to fill in the space between us. He was trying to act like he didn’t care, like he wasn’t worried about me. But he also wasn’t sticking around. He wasn’t gloating, wasn’t waiting. He was keeping me busy with his summoned cannon fodder and heading off to finish his spell, before everyone I had called could show up. He knew he was on the clock, and he was going to beat it.  

Fuck, fuck! No! I couldn’t let that happen! I had to be faster, had to be better, had to get to him. What I would do if I managed to get that far… I’d focus on that then. Right now, I just had to get there.  

Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere if the swarm of ghosts and zombies had anything to do with it. They weren’t exactly the world’s greatest tacticians. All they were doing was attempting to mob me, drag me to the ground into a dogpile. But that would be enough. If they caught me, if they managed to hold me down, Fossor would win. 

My staff hit the ground twice behind me and once to either side, leaving a concussive mine with each tap. Behind me, as I continued running, the mines blew apart the zombies who were trying to catch up with me. A quick burst from the staff sent me flying up and over a small, otherwise impassible horde, and as I flipped over in the air, my weapon shifted to its bow form just before I shot an energy arrow down into the group that sent them flying in every direction, opening up a small hole for me to land in and keep running. 

Straight ahead of me, an enormous, seven-and-a-half foot tall ghost rose out of nothing and lunged toward me. There was nowhere to go. So, I didn’t go anywhere. I straightened my staff vertically, throwing it ahead of myself before focusing on it. With the power I’d gotten from Fossor’s own arena, I stopped the staff entirely. It froze like that, vertical in the air. Granted, it would only be frozen like that for a few seconds, but for that time, it was totally stopped. The huge spectral form slammed into the ghost-fire-enchanted staff and blew apart with a scream. In the next instant, I was running again, staff summoned right back to my hand. 

Unfortunately, that was the moment when another ghost slammed into me from behind, knocking me forward a step, just as a zombie raked at me with rotted fingernails. It would have torn through my throat, but my skin was tougher than it should’ve been, and the nails just left a series of long scrapes across it. Still, it was enough for another ghost to appear, grabbing hold of my left arm, while still another zombie shoved itself out of the ground to catch my right leg. They were trying to shove me down, trying to pile themselves on top of me. More were coming, more piling in, forcing themselves over me to keep me from reaching their master. Clawing at me, ghost hands tearing at my eyes, rotted corpse fingers digging into my stomach, against my throat, shoving into my mouth. 

Enough! 

With a thought, I shoved every bit of my willpower into the ghost who had hold of my left arm, forcing it to let go against all of Fossor’s orders. My arm was freed, and I adjusted the grip on my staff while pointing with my right hand to summon a pair of quick portals. The first appeared just behind the head of the zombie who had me by the leg, while the other appeared just above the ghost that was trying to shove his semi-solid hands through my eyes. Grunting out a curse around the fingers of the zombie who had his fingers in my mouth trying to rip my tongue out, I triggered the grapple on my staff, sending it shooting out and down, where it ripped straight through the head of the zombie on my leg. The grapple continued on after splattering that skull, passing through the portal to hit the ghost in front of me. With the ghost-fire spell active, the spectral figure screamed and blew apart. That, in turn, freed me enough to snap my other hand out. In that motion, I summoned a brand new silver knife from a storage spell on the sleeve of the bodysuit. The knife cut through the throat of the fucking rotting corpse whose hand was practically halfway down my throat, and I followed it up with a kick that sent him flying. 

It didn’t matter. More were coming. No matter how many I killed, they just kept swarming over me. Dozens and dozens of them. I would never get all the way through them in time to stop Fossor, or even catch up with him. He was already most of the way to what I now saw was some kind of altar set up on the far side of the quarry. And there were so goddamn many figures between the two of us. 

A ghost appeared in front of me, but I focused all the Necromantic strength I had on forcing it to remain completely still, frozen there in my path. 

“Fossor!” I screamed out the name with every ounce of volume I could manage. 

It was enough to make the man turn back to me. Whether he meant to gloat, or simply see just how desperate I looked, I had no idea. But it didn’t matter. He slowed and turned, looking at me through the assortment of creatures blocking the way between us. And that was exactly what we wanted.  

From my pocket, I summoned a small stone, shoving my hand outward straight into the chest of the ghost I’d forced to remain completely still, while practically spitting, “Mar’ah.” 

It was Hebrew for vision or mirror. In this case, that acted as the command word to activate the spell on the stone I was shoving into the chest of the ghost. A spell that took him from being mostly transparent, to being reflective. The ghost now acted as a mirror, showing me a vision of myself. 

In Vegas, I’d picked up the ability to travel through reflective surfaces. Which meant I needed two, of course. But Rahanvael was already on that, appearing directly behind Fossor as he turned toward me. Even now, she was entirely invisible to his power. He had no idea she was there. And she used that, turning herself reflective as well. 

Fossor knew something was wrong. He was already turning back. But it was too late. I threw myself straight into the ghost in front of me, passing through him and coming out of Rahanvael before driving the blade of my staff right through Fossor’s shoulder with a scream. 

It did nothing to him, of course. He simply passed the damage off to… well, any of the literally billions of hostages he had back on his own world. But I was at least rewarded with the look of surprise on his face. 

That surprise, unfortunately, quickly morphed to anger, as he lashed out with a backhanded fist that knocked me to the ground. My staff fell from my grasp. I heard Rahanvael shout my name, only to stop as Fossor’s hand snapped up, forming itself into a hard grip that seemed to stop her in mid-motion. It looked like he was choking her telekinetically or something. She grabbed her throat, frozen there. 

“You…. have been… a most disappointing sister,” the man snarled, even as his foot lashed out to kick me in the face. It knocked me backward, dazing me just as I was trying to push myself up. “And you, a most disappointing daughter.” 

Abruptly, something slammed into him from behind. It hit the Necromancer so hard, he went flying past us before hitting the ground. The impact obviously didn’t hurt him, of course. He even managed to summon a new ghost to disintegrate into ashes for himself to land on. But it did knock him away, forcing his invisible grip on Rahanvael to vanish. 

“I told you,” my mother sharply informed the man while stepping up, offering her hand down to me. “She is not your daughter. And she is far from disappointing.” 

Fossor was back on his feet, turning to face the three of us. “What?” His voice actually cracked just a little. “No. What? You can’t be here. This is a trick. You shouldn’t come out of the time spell for another five minutes. I calculated it perfectly.” 

“Yes, well,” my mother retorted while hauling me to my feet, “when I realized what you were about to do, I used a little magic of my own. It absorbed just enough of the power you put into your spell to make me pop out a little bit early, and a little bit out of the way. Over there.” She gestured off into the distance. 

“Now then,” Mom continued while staring down the man who had done so much damage to our lives. “Where were we?” Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and I felt the power she was summoning to fill herself with, felt the strength that was suddenly making the air all-but vibrate around us. “Oh, yes,” she announced. “I remember.

“We were about to kill you.”

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Patreon Snippets 17 (Heretical Edge)

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And here is the next edition of Patreon Snippets for Heretical Edge! Thanks to all $10+ donators for choosing/adding words to what they wanted to see.

Ruthers and Antaeus

Loud country music played through the smoke-filled bar, its crooning singer and strumming guitar leaving many of its occupants idly tapping their feet or bobbing their heads as they sipped at cold drinks. Behind the bar itself, the tender pointed the remote at the television in the corner, changing the channel from news to a football game that had been requested. Two men in front of the nearby jukebox were debating which song to put in next, while their dates watched them from a table with a mixture of amusement and exasperation at the fact that they couldn’t agree.

And in the back of the room, sitting alone at a table with a half-empty beer bottle and a small bowl of peanuts in front of him, was an enormous figure. At his full height, the man would stand seven feet tall. He appeared old enough that his long, formerly jet-black hair and thick mustache were streaked through with bits of white and gray. His dark eyes regarded the bottle in front of him for a moment before he pursed his lips and blew a small stream of ice-cold breath, restoring the chill to the beer. 

“You ruin it that way, Antaeus.” The voice came from directly beside the table, where no one had been a moment earlier. Now, Gabriel Ruthers stood there. In many situations, Ruthers himself would have been an imposing figure. Yet, even standing while the other man was sitting, he still appeared much smaller in this particular case. Both men were tall for humans, but the man with the beer was in an entirely different league.  

Antaeus, far from showing any surprise at all when the other man appeared beside the table, simply took a long and slow pull from his newly icy beer. “Ruin it, Gabriel? Have a seat.” 

Instead of doing so, Ruthers simply stood where he was while replying, “Good beer’s not supposed to be practically frozen. You’ve got English ale. It should be a bit cool, not ice cold.”   

“Heh.” Antaeus chuckled humorlessly once before shaking his head. “I like it the way I like it. Helps me forget the desert. What do you want? Thought I made it clear I was busy.” 

“I told you I wanted to talk about what happened,” Ruthers reminded him. As a waitress stopped by to ask if he wanted anything, he gave a shake of his head and sent the woman on her way before turning his attention back to the table. 

“And like I said,” came the flat response as soon as the waitress was gone, “I’m busy. Not in the mood to repeat myself.” Taking another long pull from his drink, Antaeus added, “Don’t think you can order me around either, Gabriel. Last I checked, you and me are peers now.” Finally, he turned a bit, looking over to the other man. “After all, we’re both members of the Committee and all that.” A very slight smile appeared, showing hints of his teeth. “Equal footing.” 

For a brief moment, Gabriel returned the smile. “Equal footing,” he echoed easily before adding in a pointed, deceptively calm-sounding voice, “If you don’t get up and walk out with me now, I’m going to hit you hard enough to make even someone as thick as you feel it.”  

The threat made the other man’s eyes narrow. “Don’t threaten me, Gabriel,” he half-snarled. “We may have to play nice in front of the others thanks to the rules. But if you start something, I’ll finish it and say we were sparring. And I’ve changed my mind. You’re not invited to sit with me. Get out.” 

Two things happened then. First, the air around the pair wavered until they were in a forest rather than a bar. And, just as Antaeus realized there was no longer a seat under him, Ruthers’ fist slammed into his face with enough force to send a violent shockwave through the forest itself, literally knocking over several nearby trees while the loud boom echoed like a gunshot. 

Antaeus hit the ground for a brief instant before he was abruptly and immediately back on his feet. Standing, he towered over the other man, staring intently down at him. “You always start your fights with cheap shots?” 

“Is it a cheap shot when I told you exactly what was going to happen?” Ruthers countered, not the least bit deterred. “We need to talk about what you did with Maria and Arthur Chambers.” 

“Them?” Antaeus gave a disbelieving look before shaking his head. He touched his readied fist against the front of his face where the other man’s blow had landed. There was no visible sign of any damage at all. Only his pride was stung. “I reported what happened. What more do you want? And talk fast, cuz in a second, I’m gonna show you why you shouldn’t start something you can’t finish.” 

“Gentlemen.” The voice came from the side, as Litonya, the elderly Native American Committee member, leaned a bit on a cane while watching them. “Is there some sort of problem here?” 

Antaeus jerked his head that way. “This guy wants to know about Grandma and Grandpa Chambers. Why don’t you tell him. It was your idea for me to go find them.”

“Your idea?” Ruthers turned his attention to Litonya. “I thought I made it clear that Felicity’s grandparents were to be left alone. They’re human, they have nothing to do with any of this.” 

For her part, the old woman regarded him passively for a few seconds before pointing out in the tone of a scolding schoolteacher from the days of switches and paddles, “People who have nothing to do with ‘this’, as you put it, would not have had Heracles himself protecting them. And even absent that evidence, they were involved through virtue of their son and granddaughter. Bringing them in was the correct move. The only fault was in its failure.” That last bit was added with a sharp look toward Antaeus himself. 

“Hey,” the old wrestler snapped, “I told you what happened. I would’ve handled Alcaeus, but that magic kicked in and took all of them away. I was ready to deal with him, not that. You didn’t say anything about that kind of power.” 

“Indeed,” Litonya agreed. “That is what we should be discussing.” She squinted toward Ruthers. “Steps were taken to ensure that prepared spells could not be used to remove the elderly Chambers. Those protections were entirely useless against the magic that teleported them. I shouldn’t need to remind you of how difficult that should have been. Whoever prepared the spell that took them away was powerful enough to entirely dismiss the strength of three Committee-level casters.” 

Three. Ruthers squinted. Antaeus and Litonya were two. That meant one other member of their group had been in on this attempt to abduct Maria and Arthur Chambers. “We have absolutely no indication that Alcaeus had any connection to the current rebellion. Whatever the reason for his presence, it doesn’t change the fact that neither of the Chambers should have been approached, let alone threatened. They are ordinary humans, Bystanders. They were to be left alone.” He repeated the last point firmly, eyes narrowing. “You know if you had brought this plan up with the others, you would have been outvoted. That’s why you went behind our backs.” 

“Yes,” Litonya agreed without reservation. “In some respects, you can be as weak and foolish as the rebellion sympathizers, Gabriel. You refuse to focus on what must be done to maintain or restore order. Like it or not, Felicity’s grandparents are involved in this war. As I said, removing them from play was the right move to make. If we held them right now, we could have used that to force their granddaughter to make a choice to either surrender them or face the consequences of refusal.” 

“Consequences of refusal?” Ruthers echoed in disbelief tinted with anger. He took a few steps that way. “If you’re actually implying–” 

“I imply only what would be for the betterment of this world as a whole,” came the sharp retort. Litonya met his gaze, unmoved by his obvious anger. “I would think you, of all people, would understand that. It would not be the first time you allowed innocents to be threatened in order to prevent further conflict and bloodshed.” 

You intended to have the children killed,” Ruthers reminded her in a sharp voice whose tone showed that he had not forgotten just how far she had been willing to go. “You thought having Joselyn’s children murdered would break her spirit.” 

“And you had them taken instead,” Litonya retorted. “You could have returned them, but you kept them. You kept them and used their lives to force Joselyn into compliance. Then, you understood that the ends justify the means. Why are you so squeamish about that fact now? This is no different from that.” 

For a moment, Ruthers was silent. A mixture of emotions played very faintly over his face. Subtle as they were, the fact that they could be seen at all spoke volumes as to what he was feeling. It was quite brief, yet telling. 

“You’re wrong,” the man finally replied in a quiet voice. “It is different.” Letting that hang in the air briefly, he added gravely, “What I did was worse.” That said, Ruthers straightened, his eyes glancing between his two fellow Committee members. “I used two innocent children as hostages to force their mother’s cooperation. Whatever my intentions, regardless of the fact that I never intended them to actually be hurt, it wasn’t right.” The admission, both to himself and aloud, was so soft it was almost inaudible. “I thought saving them from your assassin was enough and that keeping them to ensure Joselyn’s compliance was justified in the name of ending the war. I was wrong.”  

“Wrong?” Litonya stared at him in clear disbelief, her heavily-lined face showing her incredulousness. “You removed Joselyn from the rebellion. Do you have any idea how much more damage she could have done to this world and our society if she had remained free through all that time? Holding two infant children for a time, when they were never in any actual danger? How could that be wrong when measured against the lives that were saved?”

Ruthers knew what she was really saying. Litonya had murdered her own brother, a man she had loved through their incredibly long lives, after he expressed a belief in Joselyn’s mission. She would never accept that anything was wrong when it came to stopping the rebellion. If she could kill her own flesh and blood, the brother who had been a part of her life for over fifteen hundred years, she would never believe that any measures taken to stop the rebellion were too far. 

And yet, he still gave a short nod. “I took Joselyn off the board. I could have given her children back, and didn’t, just to make her surrender. You’re right. And yes, it worked. But to what end? The rebellion continued even without her. And now, her new daughter has brought it back. We have done nothing to address the root of the problem, only swept it away for a time.” 

“Which,” Litonya retorted, “is precisely why you should have allowed my assassin to do his job. If Joselyn’s children were eliminated, she never would have allowed herself to live long enough to make any of this a concern. Her emotions would have driven her to a suicidal attack, and we could have worked together to remove her entirely and permanently.” 

For a few long seconds, Ruthers was silent. He stared at the woman, barely paying attention to Antaeus, who stood in the background glaring at him. Finally, he found his voice. “Arthur and Maria Chambers are not to be harmed. Whatever happened, they are not to be put in danger. They will not be used as hostages. Period. When we find them, they are to be returned safely to their home and then… whatever they choose to do is up to them. That is something I will put to the rest of the Committee. And I promise you, it will not go your way.” 

Litonya and Ruthers stared one another down for several long, very tense seconds. Finally, the old woman exhaled. “It shall be as you say, and the consequences will be on your head. But perhaps, if you are finished with such posturing, you would like to know more about the magic that took them away to begin with.”

“What is there to know?” Ruthers countered. “You just underestimated the amount of power that the Rebellion put into their protection spells. Does it surprise you that they would take those kinds of measures after what we did to Joselyn’s children?” 

“Perhaps not,” came the simple, knowing response. “But that is not the intriguing part. You see, from the traces we’ve performed, the spell that took them away did not deliver the Chambers and their bodyguard anywhere on Earth. 

“It took them somewhere very… very far away.” 

********

Arthur Chambers

“More security at the border?” As he voiced that question, Arthur Chambers glanced toward the gray-bearded man who stood beside him on the balcony overlooking the small island. It was the same island, on the same world, where he, his wife, and their long-time friend Al (recently revealed to be Alcaeus/Heracles) had been magically transported after being attacked in Alaska.

“Yes.” Puriel murmured. His blue eyes remained centered off in the distance. Out on the grass, the two men could see Maria with the assortment of Seosten children. She had them all sitting on the grass around the large easel-like hologram projector that had been set up. It functioned a lot like a chalk/whiteboard in schools, projecting a flat glowing surface that could be written on using a special metal pencil-like tool. 

At the moment, Maria was teaching the children some basic science (at least as much as she could), but she also taught other things. Particularly with help from Aletheia for math, and from the old Native American Heretic Kutattca for History and English. They had an actual room for lessons, but Maria preferred to teach the children outside in the fresh air as much as possible after they had been kept imprisoned in that sterile lab for so much of their lives. 

Puriel’s attention was centered on the small girl with the black and blonde hair. Spark. From what Arthur understood, she was one of the Seosten whose possession power malfunctioned. Puriel had forced her to possess him in order to save the girl from his wife, and now she only manifested in this ghost-like form using the man’s own energy manipulation powers. Here at Puriel’s home, far away from any prying eyes, it was safe for her to manifest anywhere on the island. Yet, it still seemed hard for the man to let her out of his sight for long, despite the fact that she was technically always connected to him. They were safe on this island, and would have plenty of advance warning if anyone dangerous approached. Logically, there was no reason to worry. 

But logic often didn’t factor into things when you were worried about someone you saw as your child. That much Arthur understood, even if a lot of this was still incredibly alien… literally, to him.

“There was an incident,” Puriel continued after that moment of silence. His voice held a slight hint of curiosity. It was clear he hadn’t been told as much as he would have preferred. “Some sort of pirate ship raided one of the border stations that prevent transport to Earth. They managed to do enough damage to make a temporary hole and pass through.” 

Arthur opened his mouth, only to stop and consider the entire situation. He was discussing an alien spaceship raiding some sort of magic starbase with an alien who was actually Zeus. Zeus. The mythological god. Would Arthur ever stop being awed by that? How did his son and granddaughter even function if they regularly interacted with people and… and situations like this? How did they avoid being completely overwhelmed to the point of being gibbering wrecks? It seemed as though every time he started to talk, the sheer scale and enormity of all this left him incapable of even thinking straight, let alone contributing in any meaningful way. 

Finally, he managed to sort himself out enough to speak. “Seems like that’s not an easy thing to do.” 

“No, it’s not.” The response came not from Puriel himself, but from Aletheia. The slender, dark-skinned woman came through the doorway behind them. “It should have been impossible for a single pirate ship to accomplish something like that. At least not as quickly as they did. They were through and gone before reinforcements could arrive. For a group that small and relatively weak to do such a thing…” 

“They had assistance,” Puriel murmured. “Either a mole within the station itself who could prevent or slow down certain security measures, or someone far stronger than the rest of the pirates on the ship with them. Someone who was using the pirates as transport.” Pausing, he allowed, “Perhaps both.” 

“Whatever happened,” Aletheia replied after stepping over to stand on the opposite side of Arthur, “security has been drastically raised. They won’t allow anyone through now. It won’t be possible to get to Rysthael–Earth, until things calm down there. Not even for someone like you,” she added with a look toward Puriel. “They have Raduriel working on some new protective measure.” 

“He had ideas about that for some time,” Puriel noted. “But the Seraphim wouldn’t provide the resources he wanted for it. They said the border was secure enough without such an expenditure.” 

“They changed their minds,” Aletheia murmured quietly, eyes on the children and Maria in the distance. “Now they’re giving him everything he wants. Apparently part of his argument was that if his creation works, it could be used in other places to guard against Fomorian intrusion as well.” 

Reminding himself that these two beings had been alive for literally longer than recorded human history, Arthur felt like a very small child as he spoke up. “This ahhh… Radueriel, you said he’s the inventor, the uhhh… Hephaestus.” 

“That is how your people know him, yes,” Puriel confirmed before looking that way. “He is also very dangerous. He and his husband, Abaddon. The one you know as Ares.” 

“Right, you mentioned…” Trailing off thoughtfully, Arthur exhaled. “Which means he’s really good at his job. Between that and the fact that there’s a lot of attention on the border… we’re not going back home anytime soon.” 

“I told you that I would find a way to get you there,” Puriel reminded him. “Just as I promised Spark that I would get her to her mother. That has not changed. Somehow, I will keep my word.”

“Kutattca has thoughts on that subject,” Aletheia informed them. “He believes his sister could be the key.” 

“His sister?” Arthur echoed. “You mean the same one who tried to kill him and is currently part of the group that wants to turn my daughter-in-law, son, and granddaughter into a bunch of red paste? That one?”

Aletheia gave a single nod of confirmation. “Indeed, one and the same. Kutattca believes there may be a way of using both their close blood relation and the fact that she is a powerful Heretic  to create a link that can be used similarly to the way Puriel brought you here to begin with.” 

Arthur glanced between them. “You couldn’t do the same thing to send us back because you already had the spell created on Earth, so the link between Al and you was established while you were there, and sort of… pulled through the border with you when you left. Like a string that just kept stretching, right?” 

“Yes.” Puriel glanced to Aletheia, then back to Arthur. “I believe what Kutattca is suggesting is that we create a bond with him, and somehow transfer it to his blood relation through the connection both have to the Reaper that gives Bosch Heretics their power. He and his sister are both connected to this Heretical Edge, and if we could use that link…” Trailing off, the man nodded. “This will require some thought. And a lot of work.” 

“Well, whatever Maria and I can do to help,” Arthur offered. “Which isn’t much, I know. But–” 

“You may be able to do more than you think,” Puriel pointed out quietly. 

“Oh?” Arthur blinked that way. 

“Yes,” came the slow reply. 

“I have a few thoughts.” 

*********

Tabbris, December, Theia, and Doug, sometime during Flick’s disappearance but before Tabbris’s wings were revealed. 

“You guys really didn’t have to come with me, you know,” Doug Frey informed his three Seosten companions as the group walked through an enormous room filled with dozens of large marble-like monuments. Each was roughly eight feet in height and twelve feet wide, with thousands of different names inscribed upon all four sides. “I’m just saying hi.” 

Tabbris, Theia, and December exchanged glances. As usual, it was the latter who spoke first. “Ohit’sokay… Wedidn’thavealot… todootherthanhelpTabbris… worryaboutFlick… andshedoesn’tneedhelpwiththat.” 

Flushing visibly, Tabbris folded her arms against her stomach while changing the subject. “You remember where Paul and Rudolph’s names are?” 

Doug nodded, starting toward the monument in question. “Yeah, it’s this one over here.” Finding the name of his murdered teammates, he reached out to gently run a finger along both engraved names, side by side. “They umm, they asked us which one we thought they’d want their names to be on. We… we thought they’d like to be next to each other. Paul and Rudolph… damn it, this sucks.”

“Would you prefer a larger monument? Or a private one?” Theia put in curiously. “Did they spell the names wrong? They spelled the names wrong, didn’t they?” 

“What?” Doug blinked that way before shaking his head. “No, I just… I just meant that them being dead sucks. It just…” Trailing off, he stared at Doug and Rudolph’s names before quietly asking, “Do you guys–sorry, I mean the Seosten. Do the Seosten believe in any kind of paradise after death or… or reincarnation or anything?” 

December was, once more, the one who spoke first. “There’sthecusp…butwedon’tgettogothere.” 

“What?” Tabbris blinked at her friend. “I… I’ve heard a little about the Cusp. It’s sort of like an afterlife, isn’t it?” 

“Cusp, Rim, Edge, it has a lot of names,” Theia put in a bit absently, her own attention mostly on staring at the memorial in front of them. Realizing belatedly that the others were watching and waiting for her to continue, she straightened, offering an awkward smile before she continued. “Seosten think beings split into three parts when they die. Magic, life, and self.”

“Magic is like ghosts, right?” Doug noted. “That whole thing where ghosts are a person’s magic shaped and sort of… formed into an echo of them.” 

Theia’s head bobbed quickly. “Yes! That’s one. The life part is someone’s… life. Their health, their living energy. That part goes back into the universe and gets…” Her face screwed up a bit thoughtfully. “… recycled? It’s recycled, like cans and paper and bottles. The life force is recycled back into the universe and used to make more living things.” 

Doug thought about that briefly. “So Seosten believe that the energy of a living being is split in three parts when they die. The magical energy goes to make ghosts… sometimes, and the life energy gets put back into the universe as fuel for future lives. But what’s the third part?” 

“Self,” Theia reminded him. “Self is the part that goes to the Cusp. Or Rim, or Edge, or whatever you want to call it. The Cusp is where a person’s mind or personality goes. They stay in the Cusp, watching over everyone they want to, in any world. They can’t affect anything, but they can watch.” Pausing at that for a moment, she quietly added, “Does that sound creepy?” 

“A little,” Doug acknowledged, “but it’s not really different from other ideas of an afterlife, I suppose. Lots of people think the dead stay in some form of heaven or whatever forever.” 

“Oh, not forever.” Theia corrected him. “That’s why it’s called the Cusp. You only stay there for awhile, before your Self falls into the Void and disappears forever. You stop existing then.” 

“Youcanstayforalongtime,” December quickly put in. “Centuriesandcenturiesormore. Aslongaspeoplerememberyou.” 

Theia’s head bobbed in agreement with the younger girl. “Yup. You stay in the Cusp and keep watching over everyone you want to as long as enough people remember you, as long as they know about you. The more people remember you and the more they know about you, the longer you can stay in the Cusp without falling into the Void.” 

Doug took that in, murmuring, “Which… I guess that means a lot of your people want the Olympians, like Sariel and Apollo, to remember them. I mean, they’re supposed to be immortal, right? As long as they don’t get killed. They won’t die naturally. So as long as they remember someone, and with the perfect memory your people have, they will, anyone they know who died will stay in the Cusp.” 

“Yes,” Theia confirmed. “And even the Olympians who are killed will be in the Cusp forever, because no one will ever forget them. At least not for a longer time than the Seosten have existed so far.” 

“Seepeoplearegonnaknowyouforalongtime,” December informed Tabbris. “Evenifyoudieyou’llstayintheCusp. I’lltrytowaveonthewaytotheVoid.” 

“We’re not gonna die,” Tabbris curtly retorted. “Not for a long time anyway. And not–if we do, we’ll hang out in the Cusp together. We’ll watch people.”

December, however, shook her head. “That’snothowitworks. Liesdon’tgettostayintheCusp.” 

“Hey, don’t call yourself that,” Tabbris quickly blurted. “And what do you mean, you don’t get to stay in the Cusp?” 

It was Theia who answered. “That is why Lies don’t have names. Our people do not want Lies to be a part of the Cusp, where they could infect generations-to-come. We are not given names, so that, at death, we will fall directly into the Void.” 

For a long moment after that, Tabbris and Doug both stared at Theia and December. Doug was the one who finally found his voice. “Just when I think I can’t possibly loathe your people any worse for how they treat those like you, we break through into whole new levels of hatred. They deliberately–they don’t give you names because they want your soul to disappear for eternity as fast as possible so you don’t infect their descendents?! That–you–that–” His face twisted as the boy tried and failed to put words to his fury and disgust. Finally, he blinked toward Theia. “Wait, you–when Principal Fellows gave you a name, she was… she was actually giving you… she was… oh. Oh damn.” 

“You need a name!” Tabbris blurted, suddenly throwing herself at December to hug the girl tightly. “You need a real name, a name that’s just you, not a title! Everyone’s gonna remember you forever and ever!” 

“ButIamDecember,” the other girl pointed out in a voice tinted by confusion, not only at Tabbris’s words, but still at least partially at the fact that the girl actually willingly touched her. “I’mpartoftheCalendar. Youcan’ttakemeawayfromthat. TheCalendararemyfriends. Ican’tabandonthem. WearetheCalendar.” 

“You won’t abandon them,” Tabbris solemnly promised, still not releasing her tight grip. “We’re gonna name all of you. Real names that are just for you! You’re not gonna fall into the Void.

“Even if we have to find every Seosten we can and stamp your names directly onto their skulls so they don’t have any choice but to remember you.” 

********

Sophronia and Gaia

“Did it help?” Sophronia Leven spoke aloud while standing in front of the tube that held Gaia frozen in stasis. Her hand was pressed against the metal plate allowing the link to the woman. “Do you think he listened?” 

He, in this case, was Liam Mason. The man had just left after his own discussion with the former Crossroads Headmistress, before Sophronia herself entered to have this conversation. 

Somehow, despite only being able to communicate mentally, Gaia managed to convey a heavy sigh. I do not know. Liam is very stubborn, and lost in a way that may be unreachable. The choices he has made… if he is ever to change, it will only be by his own decision. 

“It would mean accepting a lot of mistakes,” Sophronia quietly noted, her gaze meeting Gaia’s frozen, motionless eyes. “More than most people could. Given what he’s already allowed those mistakes to cost him, repeatedly…”

It is not impossible for him to change, Gaia insisted. Speaking as someone who made more than my share of ‘mistakes’, often born from my own stubbornness and emotions. Heretics live a very long time. He can become a new person, if he wishes to. 

“If he wishes to,” Sophronia agreed pointedly. Then she changed the subject. “Ruthers, Litonya, and Antaeus had a confrontation over the disappearance of the elderly Chambers. You were right, Ruthers didn’t order it. And he was pretty unhappy.” 

Gabriel believes in leaving humans out of any such conflict, Gaia noted. He would never have agreed to send Antaeus, or anyone else, to abduct Felicity’s grandparents. This is something else. 

After a brief, pointed pause, Sophronia carefully asked, “And you’re absolutely certain it wasn’t you? Something you set up and wouldn’t want anyone to know about, no matter how much you trusted them, because of compartmentalization?” 

Gaia managed a mental chuckle. I assure you, this was not me. I do not believe it was the Atherbys either. 

“I know it wasn’t them,” the other woman confirmed. “I have… friends who keep me informed about certain things on that side. They don’t have any idea who took the Chambers or where they are. Do… do you think it was Fossor? He might have taken the grandparents to use in some kind of spell related to bringing Felicity back from the future and enforcing obedience.”

There was a brief pause as Gaia considered that. No, she finally answered. I don’t believe Fossor is connected to this. It’s too convenient that they disappeared with Alcaeus right when they were in danger. You said they appeared to be transported offworld?” 

Sophornia gave a short, pointless nod. “Yes. We can’t trace the spell all the way to the source, only that it’s very far away. Too far to track. It–wait. You think it was those Seosten. But why would the Seosten take Felicity’s grandparents?” 

I’m not certain, came the response. But I wonder if we are not coming at this from the wrong angle. We have been assuming that whoever was responsible abducted the Chambers and accidentally took Alcaeus as well. What if it was the other way around? 

“You mean the Seosten took old Heracles and Felicity’s grandparents were just caught in it by accident?” Sophronia considered that. “But why? Why would they go through the effort of using the kind of power it would take to transport him and two others, the latter by accident, all the way across the universe?” 

Again, Gaia was silent (even mentally) for a few long moments. I do not know, she finally admitted. There is a very large piece of this puzzle that is missing. It would be nice to have some answers before Felicity returns. 

“You think she’ll make it back to this time then?” 

I know she will. Felicity Chambers will find her way back to this time. When she does, I believe it will spark the final, direct conflict between her and Fossor. 

A conflict only one of them will walk away from. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Interlude 8B – Liam Mason (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The first time he lost his wife had been the second-worst day in Liam Mason’s long life. Second-worst, because at the time, he’d still had his little girls. As traumatized as little Scout had been, as much as it had killed him that he couldn’t erase what she had experienced, she was at least there. He could hold her, he could comfort her. She and her sister were there as reminders of the woman he loved. He’d had that, at least. They’d had each other. 

The second time he lost his wife had been the worst day in Liam Mason’s long life. Because he hadn’t only lost Larissa again. This time, he’d lost his girls too. Scout and Sands. He lost all three of them. And not to some monster or a magic spell. No. He lost them to themselves. They willingly left, chose to leave, out of some misguided belief that the monsters who wanted to enslave, kill, and devour humanity itself were some kind of… innocent little fluffy puppies. 

He’d lost his wife and children, his entire family, within months of actually getting them all back in the first place. They chose to walk away, chose to abandon their father, to side with… with… those things. 

Just like Joselyn. Just like Deveron, Lillian, Roger, Seamus, and Tribald. All of them were supposed to be his friends, back in the day. All of them had gone off on this… absurd belief that the creatures who tore human bones from their bodies, devoured their hearts, and used the remains for blood rituals were actually just misunderstood. The creatures they fought were monsters. Jos, Deveron, the rest of them just didn’t understand. Liam had thought that getting the adults involved would put an end to the whole situation, but it had only made things worse. Instead of being talked down out of their insanity, Joselyn and the others had blamed him for exposing their little group, and everything blew up into a full-scale war. A war that had ended with Joselyn’s identity, as well as almost everyone’s memory of that war, being erased so that things could go back to the way they should have been. 

Now the war was back. It was unerased, thanks to Joselyn’s daughter. And while Joselyn had taken his friends away when she started her version of the war. Felicity Chambers took away his wife and children. 

Felicity Chambers was an idealistic child who had no doubt been manipulated by those much stronger and more malicious than she was. Creatures, likely the same or related to those who had first manipulated Joselyn into believing this insanity, had gotten to her. Whether it was before she ever joined Crossroads or after, Liam wasn’t sure. Only that they used her as a weak point, twisting her mind until she believed the same evil lies as Joselyn had. 

Was it the bodysnatchers who had been exposed earlier in the year? It had to be them, right? That was what made the most sense. If they could possess people, it wouldn’t have been hard to bring some onto the school grounds to say the right things to twist Flick and those around her. 

And Gaia. She was fooled by all this too. Fooled or puppeted or… or… Gods, who knew. It was all such a mess. The war was going again, his family was gone, Gaia was locked up for being part of it, and now Liam had been put in charge of Crossroads as its new headmaster. 

Headmaster. He was the new headmaster of Crossroads, and what happened during the first hunt they’d put together, even with all the precautions? One of their students disappeared. Erin Redcliffe had literally vanished in the middle of the hunt. Despite all the extra guards they had, despite the trackers that were supposed to make sure the students could always be found, despite everything, Erin was just…. gone. 

He needed advice. Liam needed to talk to someone about this, someone who had been in the position of leadership over the school before. Someone who might actually understand what was going on and what he might be able to do. 

Which was what brought him here, standing outside of a wooden door as he exhaled a long, slow breath. The man inside had already called for him to enter, but Liam took another moment before pushing the door open and stepping through. 

It was a war room. Or at least it looked like one, with a large table projecting a hologram of the Earth with various marks indicating where sightings of certain people had been, weapons lining all of the walls, a heavy oak desk at the back covered in reports and a handful of recording devices, and shelves behind the desk lined with various enchanted objects. There were no decorations, nothing to indicate any kind of personal life or entertainment for the occupant. It was all entirely built and designed around function. 

Gabriel Ruthers stood at the back of the room, looking at the shelf with magic items. His hand casually toyed with one of the metal orbs there, rolling it between two fingers as he spoke in a quiet, somewhat weary voice. “It’s been a long year, hasn’t it, Liam?” 

“Are we counting since three hundred and sixty-five days ago, January, or the beginning of this school year?” Liam asked. Pausing then, he grimaced. “I guess it doesn’t matter. The answer is yes.” 

“It’s going to get longer,” came the gruff response. With that, Ruthers turned and moved closer. “You’re here about the Redcliffes. What’s going on with her father?” 

“We haven’t told Nolan yet,” Liam informed him simply, folding his arms across his chest while he watched the man. “But he’ll figure it out eventually, when we don’t let him talk to her. You know what a shitshow that’s gonna be? The only reason he’s still here and hasn’t gone off to join the idealists is because he thinks we still have his daughter here.” 

A short pause followed that statement, before Liam dropped his gaze to stare at the floor, his entire frame seeming to deflate a bit. “You know what that sounds like when I say it out loud?” 

“I know what it sounds like,” Ruthers confirmed quietly, his hand finding its way to Liam’s shoulder. “But you have to be strong. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel or sound right. Sometimes it’s hard. When it comes to saving humanity, to protecting our world and our people, we don’t always have the luxury of playing nice. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy to make sure even more people don’t suffer. Liam, you know what we’re up against, don’t you?” 

“Idealists manipulated by evil,” Liam murmured, frowning a bit before looking back up to the other man. “There’s already students talking about Erin’s disappearance, and I know there’s a few trying to decide if there’s a way for them to pull the same disappearing act. They play it cool around their teachers, but I just… I know they’re planning something. I can’t just throw them all in holding cells because I suspect they want to defect. I’ve cancelled future hunts for the time being until we find out what happened with Erin, but what… what else are we supposed to do? We can only keep them trapped at school for so long.” 

“It’s a tropical island with a magnificent beach and a jungle,” Ruthers dryly retorted, “they’re not exactly suffering.” Sobering a bit, he added, “They’ll be fine, Liam. Tell them the truth, that we’re protecting them. Tell them that their friends and family have been tricked, but we’re working to bring them back. Tell them about the bodysnatchers. If it scares them… good, maybe it’ll convince them not to trust people they don’t know, and to be critical of anyone they do know showing up with strange new ideas and opinions.” 

“You want me to make my students paranoid about everyone they talk to?” Liam’s voice was flat as he stared at the man he had looked up to and trusted for so long. 

Ruthers, in turn, stared right back at him. “I want you to teach them to be critical and wary of people who might be trying to lead them astray, be that strangers or… strangers wearing the faces of people they think they know. Teach them that people who suddenly change their minds about every truth we’ve known for so long might not be themselves anymore. Whether they’ve been fooled or… or taken over, those are the people we need to lock down if we’re going to get this under control. I want you to use the authority you’ve been given to keep a lid on our students so we don’t lose any more of them to this absurd insurrection. Can you do that?”

Liam was silent for a few long seconds, letting the words sink in before he straightened a bit, meeting the other man’s gaze. “Yes, Counselor. 

“I can do that.” 

*******

He needed advice. Liam needed to talk to someone about this, someone who had been in the position of leadership over the school before. Someone who might actually understand what was going on and what he might be able to do. 

Which was what brought him here, standing in front of a heavy, metal door lined with magical runes and radiating power beyond anything even he could actually comprehend. The spells on the door were stronger than he could possibly have deciphered in several years, let alone done anything about. A single one of the multiple incantations could have been studied for decades to get a full understanding of. They had been prepared by the strongest mages in Crossroads. 

“I can’t let you in here for long, you understand?” Sophronia Leven, the beautiful, auburn-haired Crossroads Committee member whose human story was told in the epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, reminded him as she stood by the door. “There are rules that all of us have to follow, no matter how… much we may disagree with them. Lines that we have no choice but to toe.” 

Before he answered, Liam gave the woman a brief, curious look. It sounded more as though she was annoyed about something else when she spoke of lines they had to toe. Belatedly, when she squinted at him, he gave a quick nod. “Of course, Counselor. I don’t need long.”

At least, he hoped he didn’t. Even coming here in the first place felt like a betrayal of Ruthers and everything he was supposed to stand for. But then, Liam was well-versed in betrayal. 

Finally nodding with what was apparently satisfaction, Sophronia touched several parts of the door, speaking an incantation. As a few runes lit up, she gestured and the door swung open entirely soundlessly. “Go. Do what you must,” she instructed. “I will warn you before your time is up. Do not linger when I do so, or the security measures will take their own precautions.” 

With a single, somewhat distracted nod, Liam stepped through the doorway and into a small, dark room. He could sense the walls around him, the space only slightly larger than one of those Bystander portable toilets or a closet. More magical runes covered each of them, all lighting up as the door closed behind him. For a full minute, he was scanned and various queries were sent to three separate people in different locations to ensure that he was allowed to be where he was. Only once all three of those had come back positive did the magic unlock, and he felt a quick rush of power as the small room transported him to his actual destination. 

Now, he was standing on a platform in a large, brightly lit room with no doors or windows. The walls, floor, and ceiling were white and lined with even more spells than the previous door and small room had been. There was more magical power on a single wall of this room than Liam could produce on his own, even if given a full century to do so. 

The room itself was empty, aside from a large glass tube directly in the middle. Within the tube floated the reason for all the security measures, the woman he’d come to see. Gaia Sinclaire. She wasn’t actually floating in water, or any other liquid. Instead, the red-haired woman had been frozen in an ongoing stasis field that was projected from the tube and powered by a few of the spells on the surrounding walls. The rest of those spells were meant to make it impossible to find this place, to have any contact with Gaia herself, to keep Gaia contained if she broke from the stasis, and so on. 

For a moment, Liam froze, staring at the tube. A rush of thoughts and memories passed through his mind, before he exhaled and stepped that way. There was a single metal plate in the middle of the tube, and he put his hand against it firmly before speaking aloud. “Headmistress?” 

You don’t need to call me that, Liam, came the response directly into his mind through the mental link that the metal plate established. Not anymore. 

Yes, Gaia’s body may have been frozen, but it was possible, through the spells that kept her that way, to contact her mind. From what Liam knew, the Committee had been using that in an attempt to get any information from her about the bodysnatchers, the rebellion, the Atherbys, anything useful at all. 

“Gaia,” he amended, cursing himself inwardly for the slip. Of course she didn’t have that title anymore. He had her position. She was a prisoner, a traitor. So why had his first instinct been to show deference and respect? 

Shaking that off, Liam pushed on. “I need–I mean… Erin Redcliffe disappeared.” Over the next few minutes, he explained the situation, how the girl had vanished from the middle of a hunt and their thoughts that either she had somehow planned it out and run away to join her roommate and friends in the rebellion, or that they themselves had taken her. 

When he was done, Gaia was silent. Well, she was always silent. She gave no mental response for a few long seconds. Just as he was about to ask if the spell had malfunctioned somehow, the woman finally ‘spoke.’ Let me tell you a story. 

“A story?” Liam echoed. “Is this really the right time?” 

There is no better time than this, she insisted before continuing. Once, very long ago, a man lived happily with his wife and two children, a boy and a girl. They weren’t rich, but neither were they poor. They were content. One day, while the wife and children were off, a traveling salesman came to the man’s door and showed him a grand mirror, six feet in height and three feet wide. The mirror was a sight to behold, set into a stand of wood that had been intricately carved to look like two beautiful, androgynous figures holding the glass. 

‘This will protect your family, good sir,’ the salesman informed him. ‘Because there are monsters in this world, and the mirror will reveal them to you.’ 

“It was a mirror enchanted to break the Bystander Effect?” Liam asked, curiously. 

So it would seem, was her response. With some hesitation, but an eagerness to protect his family from any threats, the man bought the mirror and placed it in his home. As he stood admiring it, his wife returned, and the man brought her to the mirror. However, to his horror, the reflection showed not the woman he knew, but a foul beast. He saw, in the reflection of his wife, a creature with dark scales, pointed horns, and a wide mouth with many fangs. In a panic, the man killed the beast, before hearing the approach of his son. 

Quickly, he hid the body, resolving to explain the truth to the boy before forcing him to see his mother’s body. But, as the boy entered, the man saw his son’s reflection in the mirror. Again, it was that of a demonic being, a snarling beast that drove a shiver through the man’s heart. In despair, he killed the boy, unable to stand the sight of that creature in the mirror. 

Once more, he heard someone approach. His daughter. Terrified and thoroughly suspicious, the man hid the body of his son and waited. Sure enough, when the girl entered the room looking for her family, the man saw the reflection of a most terrible beast, the worst of all. With a heart laden with sorrow and regret, he killed his daughter. 

“I don’t understand the point of this story,” Liam interrupted. “Is it that evil can be everywhere, even where we least expect it? Because–”

He was cut off as Gaia pushed on as though he hadn’t spoken at all. The man was certain the enchantment hiding his wife and children’s true forms would wear off upon their deaths. But it didn’t. They looked the same as they always had to his naked eye. Worse, when he displayed them before the mirror again, their reflections were as normal as his own. Grieving, he took the bodies behind the house to bury, when the salesman returned. 

‘You!’ the man shouted. ‘You lied to me! You told me the mirror would reveal the monsters in this world!’

‘And so it has,’ the salesman informed him. ‘Can you tell me of anyone more monstrous than he who would kill his wife and children?’ 

“I should’ve known that coming here was a mistake,” Liam muttered. “What is that supposed to mean? What does it have to do with saving Erin?” 

Again, there was a brief pause before Gaia responded. Its meaning is for you to determine, Liam. I cannot tell you that. As for Erin, I believe she is fine. My intention was not to protect her, but to save another of my students. One whom I will never give up on, no matter what mistakes they may make. 

“Who?” he snapped, unthinkingly. 

You, Liam.  

I want to save you

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Interlude 8A – Seosten Chibis (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – In case you don’t read Summus Proelium to have gotten this note already, the first non-canon chapters for both stories were published on Patreon over the weekend. While limited to patrons of any level on Saturday, they were opened to the public 24 hours later and are now there to be read whenever you would like. You can find the Heretical Edge non-canon chapter right here, and the non-canon chapters are also listed in story’s table of contents in the next slot.

“I’m a pirate! Rawr!” With that dramatic pronouncement, the four-year-old Seosten girl known as Saveniah leapt from the railing of the porch surrounding one of the cabins in the Atherby camp. In each hand, she held a pair of wooden toy swords. She dropped a good five feet or so before landing smoothly. Four years old or not, the Seosten developed their incredible physical prowess very quickly. Especially those descended from so-called Olympians. 

Saveniah, or Savvy, was the daughter of the Olympian known as Aletheia. Though she had yet to demonstrate any of her mother’s Tartarus-derived special powers (something that likely wouldn’t happen for many years, if at all), she was already quite physically capable. The tiny girl was able to perform feats that any human children her age, and many who were much older, could never have accomplished.  

And yet, even logically knowing that, Koren Fellows still made a sound of panic in the back of her throat as she saw the dark-skinned, dark-haired little girl standing up on the railing before she made her leap. Forgetting everything else for a moment, Koren lunged past the other three Seosten toddlers, all of whom were cheering, and tried to catch the girl. It didn’t work out, as Koren found her feet going out from under her in that blind rush, leaving her sprawled out on her stomach, hands extended while the little kid landed neatly just inches away. 

Crouching down on her haunches and tilting her head, Savvy asked, “Kory fall down?” 

Koren started to grunt a response, before being interrupted as sandy-haired Grisiniel, the other girl in the quartet of toddlers, dramatically threw herself onto the ground slightly to the side while blurting, “Ebil monsta! Sabe us from ebil monsta!”

That, of course, prompted the two boys to dramatically throw themselves down as well, proclaiming in their kid-speech that they, as well as Koren herself, had been struck down by a foul creature that only the pirate queen Saveniah could defeat. 

Lying there in the dirt, Koren shook her head in wonder. She was supposed to be babysitting the kids here for a while. Though, to be fair, it was more like a play date. The Seosten matured very quickly once they were born and all, and their developing minds needed a lot of stimulation. They had tons of energy, huge imaginations, and were desperate for interaction with basically anybody and everybody. So, as many people as possible took turns playing with them.

All of which led her here, squinting up at Savvy, who was clearly trying to figure out how she should play this now that her friends had set the whole thing up. 

Thinking quickly, Koren gave a long, drawn-out groan. “Oh pirate queen, we’ve come so far for help to kill the monster of the beach.” 

The other three kids immediately jumped on that. Grisiniel as well as the boys, red-haired Penemu and brown-haired Kemetiel, all began long and hard to follow ramblings about all the evil things that this beach monster had supposedly done, and how this small group here had trekked for so many thousands of miles to find their savior. 

Feeding off that, Koren pushed herself to a sitting position while conspiratorially informing Savvy (and the other kids), “But even the dashing and powerful queen of pirates can’t defeat the dreaded beast without the Sword of Risen.” She pointed dramatically into the forest. “It is hidden within the trees. We’ve come to take you to find it.” Knowing that, despite their relative maturity, they were still very young and she had to keep things simple, Koren added, “We have to beat the little monsters in the forest to get the sword so Savvy can kill the big monster!”

That prompted all the kids to hop to their feet and start jumping up and down while excitedly proclaiming that they could all beat the little monsters. 

Eventually, and with some effort, Koren managed to get the four of them organized a bit and they set off together into the forest. With any luck, taking them for a long walk through the trees to find something that could approximate the ‘Sword of Risen’ so they could kill the big monster would wear the kids out. 

They set off with Savvy at the front, of course. The other three were right behind her, with Koren bringing up the rear so she could keep an eye on all of them. Together, the five began their hike along the trail. Each of the kids continued rambling excitedly about what kind of monsters dwelt in the trees, and how strong they themselves were to face such beasts. It was, as far as their babysitter could tell, a mix of actual creatures (filtered through the lens of a child who only slightly knew what they were talking about) and things wholly derived from their incredibly vivid imaginations. 

Nor did they only talk about monsters. As the hike continued, Koren listened to the four children essentially build an entire kingdom in their minds. The assortment of toddlers brainstormed together as they walked, inventing a city they called Fabeese (she was guessing on the spelling), a city built from rubies and sapphires, where a baron made entirely out of gold ruled over the people. Baron Snitz, as they called him, had the power to turn anything he wanted to into more gold. So the city was incredibly prosperous. He paid Savvy the pirate queen lots of that gold to attack ships who were carrying other gold so that Fabeese gold would be the only safe treasure. 

Koren knew one thing for damn sure. Neither she, nor any of her friends, had ever actually come up with that kind of detailed story when they were that young. The Seosten brains really did develop fast, no matter how much they still sounded like the tiny kids they were. No wonder they always crave interaction and attention. They probably got really bored easily with anything that ordinary human children their age might have been expected to play with. Seriously, she was actually enjoying listening to them come up with this story together, and resisted the urge to input. She didn’t want to taint their story too much now that she had gotten the ball rolling. It was better to let them come up with these details and just marvel at them. It was like listening to a group of very skilled improv actors creating a scene. Damn the intergalactic empire of slavery, the Seosten had apparently missed their calling as filmmakers.  Actually, come to think of it, Apollo was responsible for an awful lot of early mythology regarding the Olympians and was even a strong influence in later stories and movies in the modern day. So that made sense. 

According to the story that the four toddlers made up as they walked, Penemu was a farmer/wrestler who fought giant bears, and Kemetiel was a guard whose entire village was killed by the monster. Grisiniel, meanwhile, joined her fellow girl in being ‘royalty’, though rather than a pirate queen, she chose to be a magical princess. In her general words, the queen of the planet was sad that so many people were dying, so she made a little rock turn into a girl (Grisiniel herself), gave her some magic healing and protection spells to use, and sent her to help the trio of pirate, farmer/wrestler, and soldier beat the evil monster. 

It made sense for Grissy, Koren noted. The girl was always trying to help other people. Even the whole bit earlier with throwing herself on the ground and making up the story about the monster to spare Koren herself from being embarrassed for falling. Despite her very young age, Grisiniel repeatedly tried to give her own food to other people if she thought they looked hungry and weren’t eating, climbed up into the laps of people who looked sad and hugged them, repeatedly asked the adults who were doing chores if she could help, and so on. She had her own little broom she would use to sweep off the porches whenever she saw someone else doing so, and flat out loved to help with the dishes. She actually enjoyed getting dirty plates and bowls clean again so that people could eat with them. The fact that she would design her own playtime character around healing, protecting, and assisting others so they could do the more attention-grabbing things wasn’t surprising at all. 

As for Penemu being a farmer, the boy loved food almost more than he loved breathing. He liked every aspect of it, from the growing of it to the cooking of it to the consuming of it. The only thing surprising about him choosing to be a farmer was that he hadn’t chosen to be a chef. But according to him, farmers and those like them were where the food started. He saw them as the biggest heroes in the world. So, of course he would want his hero to be a farmer. 

Then there was Kemetiel. The boy, as far as Koren could tell, was more interested in coloring, painting (particularly with his fingers), and playing with clay than any soldiering. But as the ‘story’ continued and he babbled on excitedly about what his character looked like with his big axe and armor, she realized he had made up someone he wanted to make a picture of. Not that he was quite skilled enough, despite the general Seosten quick competence, to translate the image accurately from his head to paper just yet. But he would do his best. And the other three kids would ooh and aww over it. 

Which, of course, left Saveniah. She was their leader, the most outgoing one, the one who was so quick to charm adults. Savvy loved adventure stories, and one of the first of those that had been read to her was a children’s book version of Treasure Island. Followed, of course, by watching the Muppet version. Hence her thing for pirates. A ‘thing’ that had only been redoubled when she heard pirates in the Caribbean movies literally using the word ‘savvy’ so often. It tickled the kid to the point of delirious glee at the thought that her name was a ‘pirate word.’  

That girl was naturally charismatic and brave to the point of total recklessness even at such a young age. Given a few more years and Koren was pretty sure Savvy really would be a force to be reckoned with. She was brave and confident in a way that would only grow with experience to back it up. Not to mention the fact that, for a freaking four-year-old, she was pretty tough.

With their minder bringing up the rear, the four Seosten toddlers took their walk through the woods. Each took turns making up new perils to face, new monsters or traps that had to be overcome. A simple fallen tree, thanks to Kemetiel, became a log across a deadly chasm full of lava and lava snakes. Koren wasn’t entirely sure if they were snakes made of lava or just snakes who lived in the lava, but the point was that they were very dangerous and the group had to carefully climb over the log to avoid hurtling to their deaths far below.

After that was the large moss-covered boulder that Penemu decided was a terrible rock golem trying to break its way out of the ground, leading to him (as the wrestler, of course), straining with all of his strength to hold the ‘golem’ in place while Grissy used magic to make him stronger and the other two beat the rock with their stick-swords until it finally surrendered. 

When it was Grisiniel’s turn to create a new obstacle, the girl went in a somewhat different route than the others, yet one that fit quite well. According to her, a large tree that the group came across was making a ‘magic dream’ that made everyone who wandered past it get lost. But instead of needing to cut it down, the group had to talk to the tree and find out why it was so mad. As it turned out, the tree was upset because it didn’t have enough water. So the kids ran back and forth between it and a nearby stream, cupping water in little cups Grissy had brought along until she declared that the tree wasn’t thirsty anymore, and they were allowed to continue. 

There were a few more challenges like that, games the kids made up in order to entertain themselves as they all walked through the forest. Again, for the most part, Koren tried to stay out of things unless they directly involved her. She played along with anything they made up, but didn’t direct or push things one way or another. She wanted this to be their thing, not her own. 

Eventually, all four kids had to follow nature’s call, disappearing behind different trees. Koren kept an eye out, and noticed Grisiniel finish up first. Instead of coming out of the bushes, however, she dug around on the ground before finding something. Koren couldn’t see what she was doing very well, but the girl fussed with something from her pocket, then seemed to throw whatever she’d found on the ground off into the distance. 

Then the kids all returned, and before Koren could ask what that was, Grissy said they should go that way. The others agreed, and the trek continued. For a moment, anyway, until Kemetiel loudly blurted a question about what something was. That something, as it turned out, was a long stick that had a pretty blue bracelet wrapped tightly around it near one end. 

“You found it, Kemmet!” Grisiniel blurted happily. “You found the Sword of Risen!” Immediately, all four kids cheered and danced around, laughing and hugging each other as they talked about all the monsters and dangerous traps they’d had to go through. 

That was what the little girl had been doing, Koren realized. She’d found a stick, wrapped a bracelet around it to mark it as the sword they were looking for, and tossed it before leading them that way so that one of the others could actually find it. 

The cheers from the assorted kids grew even louder as Savvy picked up the stick, waving it around while making what sounded an awful lot like lightsaber noises. Everyone clapped, hopping up and down even more. Even Koren joined in with that, playing along with the excitement. Finally, Kemetiel pointed off into the distance toward the setting sun, declaring that the ‘dark monsters’ were coming because they were upset that the sword was being taken away. Which, of course, led to everyone, Koren included, running back the way they’d come. There was a decent amount of squealing and shouting as they raced along the trail, each loudly describing all the bad things that the dark monsters would do and that they had to get back home as quickly as possible. Despite their apparent headlong rush to escape, the kids were really good at staying right in Koren’s eyesight so she never worried about where they were. Part of her wondered who had taught them that, or if it was some kind of instinctive Seosten thing. 

Either way, they eventually made it back to the camp, where Savvy produced the ‘sword’ (still making lightsaber noises), and held it high over her head while loudly declaring that the pirate queen would save everyone. With that, she raced toward the beach with the others hot on her heels, everyone laughing and squealing the whole way. 

“There!” Koren declared, pointing toward an overturned, mostly broken canoe that had been long-since abandoned. “It’s the beach monster!” 

That, of course, led to a massive and chaotic battle where everyone fought the beast. Savvy and the two boys traded blows with it while Grissy healed them. It finally ended when Saveniah dramatically drove her stick-sword through a small hole in the canoe, then made a loud explosion noise with her mouth while hurling herself away from it. Belatedly, the others did the same, throwing themselves into the sand while making more explosion noises. 

Following suit, Koren found herself on the ground, listening to all four kids laugh and cheer over the death of the monster. They had saved Fabeese and Baron Snitz would be able to keep turning things into gold. 

Before long, the cheers and laughter turned to yawns. Their adventure, though it had only taken a couple hours, had done a lot to tire the kids out. They’d gone for a walk through the forest, had run back out of the forest, and had their climatic battle on the beach. Now, all four of them looked around a bit bleary-eyed, while Koren picked herself up. 

“Well, how’re the grand heroes doing?” The question came from Gabriel Prosser, who stood nearby. 

With loud proclamations of ‘Gabey’, the collection of toddlers raced to the man. The two boys clung to his legs, while he picked up one of the girls on each arm. Holding them up, Gabriel chuckled, listening as the four excitedly (though punctuated with yawns) told him all about their adventure. 

Between the two of them, Koren and Gabriel carried the toddlers together off to their beds while they were still tiredly recounting their whole tale. Soon, they were tucked in. All save for Saveniah, who hung from Gabriel’s neck, head resting against his shoulder as she finished telling the story in a voice that was essentially a barely audible and almost incoherent mumble. 

Finally, she finished, and Prosser gently praised what a brave and cunning pirate queen she was, then asked, “Safe sleep?” 

Savvy’s head bobbed rapidly, and she asked, “Safe okay?” 

“Safe okay,” Prosser agreed. 

With that, the Seosten toddler clung even more tightly to him, before completely vanishing. She possessed the man. Which, the first time Koren had seen, had freaked her out a bit. Now, she understood. The toddlers were old enough to safely possess people without fading away into nothing the way babies were in danger of, yet too young to actually control them. So, given permission by an adult, they would sometimes possess someone simply to fall asleep in a totally safe environment. And almost no one was safer than Gabriel Prosser. They essentially possessed people simply to take naps in a way that they couldn’t be bothered by anyone or anything. 

“Aaaand she’s out,” the man announced, smiling faintly as he looked to Koren before adding, “You did very well with them, you know.” 

“Eh,” Koren replied while shrugging self-consciously, “it wasn’t exactly hard. 

“But considering how much Savvy wants to be a pirate, I feel sorry for any ships that are around when she grows up.” 

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Homeward Bound 8-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: There’s a bit of info about the upcoming first non-canon chapters in my first comment after this chapter, for those who are interested.

Talking to the Meregan was hard. Like, really hard. Standing in front of them and telling them what had happened to the people they left back on their own world was one of the worst experiences of my life. And that was saying a lot after all the time I had spent with Fossor. Not only did I have to tell them about Fossor killing and enslaving even more of their surviving people, but there was also the fact that what little was left of their world had been taken over by the fucking Fomorians. What very little strides they may have made toward putting their planet back together had been entirely wiped out, and the people they cared about who were left behind were gone. Whether it would have been better if they were taken by Fossor or the Fomorians was both a hard question to answer, and entirely meaningless semantics. The point was, they were dead. And I had to stand in front of them, people I liked, to tell them that. 

When I was done, the assortment of Meregan I had been talking to were silent for a few long moments. I couldn’t bring myself to even try to say anything reassuring. I could barely look at them. The disgust I felt, the horror of what I had to report, made me physically ill. 

Finally, Purin cleared his throat. The nine-and-a-half foot tall, bronze-haired man stood with his hand on his son’s shoulder. Dis, by that point, had grown from his previous height of about six feet up to seven. He’d looked like he was about ten years old (discounting his height) at the time, and now looked like… well, he looked like he was only about twelve or thirteen in the face, height be damned. It was a strange effect, seeing a young boy who nonetheless towered over me. 

“We are being thankful to you, Friend-Flick Chambers, for being telling us of your information, sad as it might be. Please do not being mistaking our quiet for anger to your person.” 

“It’s okay,” I managed quietly, forcing the words out. “I get it, believe me.” 

Dis spoke then, his voice cracking a bit. “Family-Father, if our world-people are not-being, what will be of us?” 

His father whispered something in his ear, before picking the boy up to hold against him. Then he looked to me. “Friend-Flick Chambers, our people should being speak of what we are to doing.” It was obvious that he could barely get the words out. And equally obvious that he and the rest of the Meregan people were were trying to put on a brave, strong face after the horrible news I’d given them. That was for me. They were trying to conceal their despair in front of me, either because they didn’t want to upset me, or they were just proud, or… something. The point was, they couldn’t grieve properly with me standing there gawking. So, with useless apologies spilling from my mouth, I promised to come visit again and left them to their own privacy. 

Hurriedly retreating, I waited until I was on the next floor up before turning away to start punching the metal wall repeatedly. A violent series of curses escaped me, punctuated by more apologies. Who was I apologizing to? Everyone? Did it matter?  All I knew was that I wanted the wall in front of me to be Fossor’s evil, psychotic fucking face. I wanted to fucking kill that monster more than I had ever wanted to kill anything in the world. He deserved to die. 

Rahanvael appeared nearby, watching me silently and with an expression that made it clear she  completely understood the reaction. I had a feeling that, if she had been solid, she might have punched a few things too. Because, of course, the Meregan world was only one example of what had to be many similar atrocities she had personally witnessed her brother perform over the millennia. She had sat helplessly by, unable to do anything but watch as her once-beloved twin had become this… this thing. How would that have affected me? What if it was someone I loved as much as she had loved her own brother? What if my dad had turned into this kind of monster? What if Fossor had succeeded at turning my mother into a vicious, evil attack dog who could do those things? I had no idea how I would have continued to exist after that. 

Finally, I stopped, exhaling long and hard before turning to look at the ghost. “I’m sorry.” My voice was barely audible. I had to swallow a hard lump in my throat. “I’m sorry about everything you’ve gone through. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the stuff you’ve seen. I’ll definitely never  understand what it’s like to be that helpless. And I hope to hell I never understand what it’s like to have someone I care about that much turn that… wrong. I’m sorry. I just can’t… comprehend.” Despite my intentions,  the words sounded hollow and fake to my own ears. They were completely inadequate. But what was I supposed to say?  What could I ever possibly say that could make the slightest bit of difference? Nothing, really. I couldn’t say anything. 

Despite that, however, Rahanvael offered me a very faint smile. There was deep pain there, along with incredible sadness and remorse. There was a sense of loss in that smile that I couldn’t even begin to understand. Still, she spoke in a quiet voice. “We all carry our own regrets, Felicity. We all have our agonies. Yours are not invalidated by another’s. What should be compared between two people is not the depth of each other’s woes, but the strength that each gives to the other. Take two pieces of cloth. Poke holes in them in random places. In one poke more than the other. Then sew them together. They will each cover one another’s holes. Though the one with less damage covers more, even the heavily damaged cloth will help to cover the few holes within the less damaged cloth. They aid each other, cover one another. That is what it is to be alive and to find those you love. It is to be a damaged cloth, sewing yourself to other damaged cloths, to protect and cover one another’s flaws and pains.” 

Once she finished saying all that, I stared at her for a moment. Finally, I managed a quiet, “The real tragedy here is that I can’t hug you.” My eyes closed briefly before I made myself look at her again with a firm nod. “We’re going to stop your brother. We’re not going to let him get away with his plan. We’re going back in time and we’re going to put a stop to him once and for all. We’re going to end him so you can have peace. I promise. I’m not going to let up until he’s gone.” 

She met my gaze silently for a few long seconds. Then her head inclined, chin set. “Yes. And I will be there with you. I will see the creature my brother has become killed and put out of its misery. Out of everyone’s misery. Whatever it takes, he will die. He has gone too far.” 

The two of us continued to talk for another minute before being joined by a Rakshasa in what looked like a highly decorated cloak, who approached from the other end of the hall. “Much apologies for the interruption, Madam of Chambers. The Lord of Petan would like to know if you require sustenance at the current time. The evening meal is being prepared.” 

Food. At the word, my stomach growled. Yeah, I definitely needed food. With a quick nod, I thanked the Rakshasa, and he began to lead me to dinner. Rahanvael had vanished once more, but I felt her with me. She was there. She would be there, as the two of us went back to face Fossor once more. Because whatever happened, we had to stop him. Everything depended on it. 

Everything.

******

Six days later, enough power reserves had been scraped together to use the time travel spell on Dexamene, so she could be sent back to create the time loop. It was going to take even longer after this to pull enough power together to send me back. Probably at least a few weeks, according to Petan. It was more important right now to establish the loop so all of this didn’t get undone. I really didn’t want to get shunted into some other time line where I ended up imprisoned by Fossor again after all. Besides, I was already in the future. I could really take as much time here as I wanted as long as I ended up traveling back far enough to stop Fossor. 

Of course, the whole ‘time travel to solve the problem’ thing was even more complicated than I’d already known. According to Petan’s magic experts, people even more skilled than he himself was, who had put their entire long lives toward the study of such spells, traveling to a time and location (by location they meant an entire world) where a very powerful spell had recently happened (like the casting of the original Bystander Effect) with effects that traversed such a large area, was all but impossible. Basically, such huge spell effects fucked with time travel magic, as well as a number of other kinds. It ended up raising the cost of such spells exponentially, up to levels that no one could reasonably afford even if they had the resources of the full Seosten Empire, or those of Fossor himself. 

Those skilled with the magic we needed could find those blips on the timeline. And, of course, there was a massive one right near the time I needed to go. It blotted out entire months afterward where there was so much excess power in the air that it would have cost multiple Seosten Empires worth of magical energy just to send me there by myself. 

That, of course, had to be the spell that Fossor was planning to cast. There was no other explanation. A spell that size, with effects that far-reaching, would definitely explain the blot over the timeline. He had cast it. He’d cast the spell, which told me… which told me…

Oh, don’t think about it. I was going to change things. I just had to get back to a point before the spell had happened. Except, even that was difficult. Passing a point like that on the timeline was hard too. Because it apparently tended to try to suck you into it as you passed, particularly if your intended destination was temporally close to it. ‘Like a black hole’ was the explanation I’d been given. It was another reason that going to the past to change things didn’t tend to happen. There were a lot of others, apparently. But the kind of power it took to muscle all the way past all the powerful, world altering spells throughout time to get to where you needed to go made it nearly impossible to do without wrecking the magical economies of entire galaxies. 

Sending one person to a time of limited powerful magical effects happening was one thing. But to get me to the place and time I needed to get to if I was going to stop Fossor from pulling this off was a whole other story. I had to go back to a point after the last time I was there, but that point was so close, relatively (within a week) to when the big spell actually went off that I would be pulled toward that event. They were going to have to spend extra power just to stop me from being pulled right to when the spell went off. The way it had been explained to me was, again, like a black hole. I was supposed to imagine being on a ship that was being pulled in by that gravity well. The closer I was to it, the harder the ship’s engines would have to work to stop from being hauled in and crushed. 

What it came down to, in the end, was that I had to skirt the very edge of the line of safety. The time travel spell had to put me right near when Fossor would cast his own spell, without letting it be too late. We had to let Fossor’s spell pull me in partway, then gun the engines, so to speak, right at the very edge of the effect going off. I would be walking a very fine line between going back too early (thus destroying myself by ending up existing in two places of the same world at the same time) and showing up too late and being swallowed mid-transit by Fossor’s spell. 

It was, in a word, dangerous. Dexamene, at least, was going to a whole different universe than the one my version of Earth was in. She was going to the Meregan world. That made things a little easier, though not completely. It would still take an awful lot of power to pull off, even just sending that one girl by herself. 

Speaking of that one girl by herself, we were standing in one of the designated spell casting ribs. There were a group of over a dozen powerful mages of all different shapes and sizes (including Petan himself) putting the finishing touches on the spell while Dexamene and I stood off to the side. I gave her a look. “You’re pretty brave, you know.” Over these past few days I had gotten to know her better, and I could tell why Tristan liked her so much. The last thing I wanted was for something terrible to happen to her, especially at the hands of the monsters I was sending her toward. 

Blushing a little, she shook her head. “Not as brave as you. You’re going to go right into the Gaawdef’s den when it’s your turn.” 

“I’m not sure what a Gaawdef is,” I admitted, “But I’m fairly certain that a planet that’s been taken over by the Fomorians is probably right up there on the danger scale.” With that, I turned and put a hand on the Nereid’s shoulder. “Be careful, seriously. I know I told you everything you need to say to make this loop work. But I have no idea what you’ll be going into back there. Please, just stay with Elisabet and be as safe as you can, okay?” 

She nodded, spontaneously leaning in to hug me. “You be careful too. And Flick… please, if–when you get through the thing with that evil Necromancer, come get us, okay? I know there’s a whole world to hide on, but… but don’t leave us there with the Fomorians any longer than you have to.” I could hear the fear in her voice that she was trying to keep buried. The girl was rightfully terrified about what would happen if those things captured her. Terrified almost beyond comprehension, and yet she was still doing this. 

Yeah, it was easy to understand why Tristan considered her such a good friend. 

I swore to her that we would be there as soon as possible, and then the girl stepped away to have a last few minutes with her parents, who kept shooting me dirty looks. They weren’t happy about their daughter being sent back in time like this, no matter what the circumstances. Neither of them would talk to me. I understood their anger, and wasn’t going to push them. 

Before long, Petan announced that it was time. Dexamene hugged her parents tightly, tearfully promised to see them again someday, and moved to the center of the spellforms that had been drawn on the floor. As the chanting for the spell began, she looked to me, and gave a thumbs up. A gesture she must have learned from Tristan, of course. 

Despite all the fear and doubt that had crept into my head, I returned the thumbs up. We had to pull this off. She had to create the loop that got me to this point, and then I had to go back to the time right before Fossor used his spell, and stop him. 

The chanting took a good ten minutes, during which Dexamene had to stay right where she was, with minimal movement or speaking, which would have disrupted the casting. Finally, it worked. With a rush of power even I could feel, the girl disappeared. 

One down… me to go. 

******

Three and a half more weeks after the point when Dexamene had been sent back. That was how long it took before Petan’s people had enough power to send me as well. Three and a half weeks of sitting around, worrying about what would happen, training to fight better, and experimenting. 

Experimenting, in this case, with my new powers. Or at least the ones I’d managed to figure out in the past month. A lot of what I’d put together was thanks to long discussions with Petan and others on the ship about what I’d managed to kill lately coupled with a lot of trial and error.

I’d managed to figure out what the whole deal with being able to make those sticks hover very briefly in the air was, at least. It came from an Alter I’d killed back in Fossor’s place called a Lemevwik. At full strength, a powerful-enough Lemevwik was capable of rewinding, pausing, or fast-forwarding the effect of outside forces on inanimate objects. Throw a glass at the floor and watch it shatter, then the Alter could rewind the object to be in one piece. Drop it toward the floor from high, and then fast-forward the effect and it would shatter before it ever hit. Or would fall faster. The Lemevwik could apparently choose exactly how to apply the power, making the glass simply fall faster, or making it shatter before it hit.  

The pause worked much the same way. Throw the glass at the floor and pause the effect, and it wouldn’t shatter until the pause ended, even after landing. Or it would hover in the air. Again, just like with the fast-forward, the specifics of whether the entire glass was paused or simply the effect of hitting the ground was up to the Lemevwik. I supposed because they chose whether they were pausing the effect of gravity or the effect of the physical force of the impact. 

It wasn’t just throwing something down, of course. The power also applied to things like erosion, acid, physical force, anything similar affecting an inanimate object. 

I couldn’t fast forward, apparently. I could pause or rewind outside effects like that on a physical, non-living object for a whole five seconds. Yeah, it was pretty situational, and didn’t work to stop or rewind magic, but could still be pretty useful. 

I’d also figured out one other thing I’d gotten during the time with Fossor. It allowed me to designate any single word and know whenever anyone within a certain radius of about a quarter-mile used that single word. It didn’t tell me everything they said, just one word before and one word after. I would get a sudden flash in my head of those three words and the face of the person who said them. 

Again, really situational, but still. I supposed there could possibly be a use for it at some point. 

Meanwhile, from the fighting against all the Fomorian creatures, I’d picked up mainly bonuses to my regeneration, my overall strength (I was up to deadlifting about three thousand pounds, which was pretty nifty), running speed (I could hit forty miles per hour outside of lion form and without boosting), and general toughness (needles and simple metal blades used with normal human-level strength had a really hard time penetrating my skin, and I could tank a punch pretty well). 

Two unique powers that did stand out were the ones I had picked up from that big Deer-Snake thing, and the Ape-Croc. From the former, I had gained the ability to spit globs of that same hardening resin stuff. I could only work up enough to encase an object about the size of a shoebox, and wasn’t quite as strong as the exact stuff that thing had spit, but still. It could be really useful in taking a weapon or something out of play for awhile. 

Then there was the Ape-Croc. I did not, unfortunately, have the power to stop an entire ship from lifting off the ground. The way Rahanvael had put it, those things, at full strength, could prevent the ship’s engines from achieving the thrust needed to escape the planet. Technically, what the thing did was dramatically multiply the force needed to move something. The full creature could, indeed, stop an entire giant ship from getting more than a few feet off the ground.

In my case, it wasn’t quite that strong. Basically, by concentrating on a non-living object, I could greatly increase the energy or force needed to move it. I could slow down a car or motorcycle to a crawl. I could use it on the ball that someone was throwing and make it fall far short from how far it should have gone. Or even make bullets drop before they reached me. That kind of thing. 

They were all good things to have, and I was pretty sure I was going to need absolutely everything when it came to beating Fossor and saving my mother. 

“Are you positive that you’re ready for this?” That was Petan himself. We were back in that same magic room, with even more complicated room designs covering the entire place. The same mages were focused on finishing touches while their leader stood in front of me, his expression that of obvious concern. I’d gotten to know the man pretty well over the past month, and he’d gotten to know me as well. I was sad that it would probably be years before I could see him again.

“Ready as I can be,” I confirmed. “I have to do this. I have to get back there and I have to stop him. There’s no other choice.”

“You have the flares,” he noted, referring to the beacon spells I had already prepared. “The second you arrive, use them. Do not hesitate at all, do you understand? No matter what you see, trigger the flares.”

I gave a quick nod. “Trust me, I have no interest in fighting him by myself. As soon as this spell dumps me into position, I’m calling in all the reinforcements. He’s not getting away this time.” 

Pausing then, I impulsively stepped over to embrace the man. “Thanks for everything. I couldn’t do any of this without you. Especially with all you’ve done to help me get ready for it.”

Petan was clearly taken aback, but returned the embrace after a moment before stepping back. “You can do this, Felicity Chambers. Good luck. And we will see you on the other side, someday.”

With that, he moved to join the rest of his mages, and the chanting picked up. I stood there for ten minutes, trying not to move very much. My attention was focused on the ground, keeping my breathing slow and steady. I could feel the reassuring presence of my ghost companion, and the certainty that, whatever happened next, the wait for dealing with Fossor and saving my mother was finally over. It was time. 

The chanting reached its crescendo, and in a flash of blinding power, I was gone.

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Homeward Bound 8-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Waiting alone in that briefing room to meet Dexamene, the teenage Nereid, was a bit of a trip. For more than one reason, actually. First, because I’d heard about her from Tristan enough that the thought of actually meeting the girl now felt surreal. And, of course, because everything I knew about her future. Seriously, how weird was it that I already knew she was going to end up on the Meregan world helping Elisabet? I hadn’t even asked her about that yet, but I knew she was going there.

Wait, what if she didn’t go there? Sure, it was a long shot given everything Tristan and Petan  had said about her, but what if she refused to cooperate? Hell, what if something happened to stop her from going back? Could history change like that? Well, yeah. Petan had already said that if I changed it myself, I’d end up in a different timeline, one where I hadn’t been saved.  If I could change it, then she could just by refusing to be part of all this. 

Yeah, again, that wasn’t super-likely. But still. Dexamene was her own person. Anything could happen. She could make her own choices. Things could change. I had to be really careful. Especially up to the point where she actually went back to the past. I had to make sure that everything that had happened to get me to this point played out the way it was supposed to.  

God damn, I hated time travel. Yes, it was working out for me in this case. Or would work out. Or had-would work–see?! Fuck time travel. I just wanted to go home and be with my family and friends. Oh, and punching Fossor really hard in the dick until it exploded would be nice too. 

Interrupted from my fantasies of making that piece of shit blow apart from the crotch outward by the sound of the door opening nearby, I quickly stood from the table and watched as the girl in question stepped in. She was pretty. Really pretty, in sort of an ethereal princess way. Her skin was teal, and she had bright, almost shockingly white hair fashioned into a long braid, with amber-colored eyes that seemed almost too large for her face. Like an anime character, really. 

Shaking that off, I extended a hand to her. “Hi! You’re Dexamene, right? My name–” 

“Flick,” she finished for me, voice sounding awed. “You’re Flick. I–I mean Lord Petan said you were here, but he wouldn’t have had to. You look just like Tristan said, just like he described. I–” Abruptly, the girl flushed white with a small, nervous giggle. “I am sorry. It’s rude to be like that.” 

My head shook quickly. “No, it’s okay. Trust me, I totally get it. He told me a lot about you too. I feel like we’ve met before, even though…”  Coughing, I offered her a weak shrug. “It’s weird.” 

Offering me a slight smile, the girl agreed in a soft voice. “Yes, it is very strange. But… Lord Petan says that Tristan has been there for a whole year now from your point of view? And that he has met his whole family? He is safe?” She sounded understandably anxious and intense. According to Petan, they’d only sent Tristan back about a month earlier for them. She missed her friend. Finding out that someone else came forward from a year after he’d gotten there had to be a bit disconcerting. And boy, was that feeling going to get a lot heavier for her really soon.

I had asked Petan not to say too much to the girl about what I needed, just that I had a really big favor to ask. I wanted it to come from me, not as an order from someone she called her lord. Especially given that she was bound to obey him in order to maintain her protection against being possessed by Seosten. That didn’t seem fair, no matter how urgently I needed her help.

So, I took the time to assure her that Tristan was indeed fine as far as I knew. I told her about finding Sariel and Haiden and helping that family come together. And I told her about the Rebellion, how it had restarted. I’d told Petan a bit about that too, and he had clearly been unhappy about the news that Gaia had been imprisoned. But he’d also assured me that she would get through it, as long as we were there for her the way she had been there for others. 

I also told her about Tabbris, Tristan’s little sister. My little sister. That was a long story, to say the least, and the Nereid girl sat through the whole thing with eyes that were even wider than they had started, staring at me until I was done explaining. Finally, she slumped back a bit, head shaking in slow wonder as she whispered almost under her breath. “Your life is very not boring.” 

Snorting despite myself, I nodded. “Yeah, my life is a lot of things, but boring definitely isn’t one of them. Even before you add in the time-travel here.” With that, I sobered a bit, glancing down at the table to collect myself before looking up again. “That’s sort of why I need your help, actually. And believe me, I know what I’m about to say is pretty big. It’s asking for a lot.” 

“What is it?” Her voice was clearly curious. “Lord Petan said that you would be asking for a favor that would help you and Tristan. But what can I possibly do? I don’t know the magic it will take to send you back. I don’t have the power or the skill for that. I was only approved for active duty recently. I am not…” She trailed off uncertainly, shrugging. “I am not that important.” 

“Tristan would disagree with that, I think.” Murmuring those words, I shook my head while meeting her gaze. “Listen, what I’m about to say is probably going to be really confusing. But just bear with me, okay? 

She hesitated a bit before nodding. I could tell that she wanted to ask a lot more about everything that was happening, but she kept it to herself, waiting silently for me to continue. 

So, I started by offering her a shrug. “First of all, the ahh… tueln is under your bed.” 

That made her give a doubletake. “I–what? How would–how do you–wait…” 

Coughing, I explained that she had been the one to tell me that. I told her about how I had been contacted by Elisabet because Dexamene herself had been sent back to tell the woman exactly what to do and when. I explained about how the only reason I wasn’t captured by a waiting force of Fossor’s troops was because Elisabet had adjusted the spell, and that the only reason she had been able to do that was because of information that Dexamene would give her when she showed up there.

It was obviously a lot to take in, and as I fell silent, the other girl didn’t say anything at first. She just sat back, absorbing all of that before breathing out. “I have never left this ship for more than a very brief excursion. I was born here. I grew up here. It is as I said, I was still a student until very recently. I do not have any special skill. Not really. But if you say that I can help stop this Necromancer’s plan, that I can save Tristan, you, and the others of your kind by taking this journey? Then I will. I will do whatever you say is necessary. But…  are you certain it wouldn’t be better to send someone of more skill and power? You can tell them the same thing, and they could help this Elisabet even more than simply passing along a message like that. You could make the situation you end up in here better than it is now. Or better than…” Pausing, her nose wrinkled a little as she tried to think of how to adjust her language around time travel. 

“Don’t worry, I get what you mean.” Speaking up quickly before she ended up with the same headache I’d given myself from trying to mental my way around that, I pressed on. “And you’re right, we might be able to make the situation better. But we could also just as easily make it worse. We have no idea what could happen if we change specifics. Right now we know that sending you back will result in me ending up here. I’d rather not risk things going wrong by fiddling with it and messing up.” Belatedly, I added, “Besides, Tristan trusts you. So I do. Even if it seems pretty unfair to send a water Nereid like you to a huge desert. Wait, will you be okay there? I didn’t even think about that, but if you need–” 

“I will take water,” she promised me. “If you believe it is for the best, that it is how I can help, then I will do it. I will be sent back to this desert world to speak with the woman.” 

Swallowing back palpable relief despite the fact that I’d had a pretty strong idea of how this would go to begin with, I offered her a smile. “Thanks, Dexamene. Believe me, I know how much this is asking, and how confusing it is. Wait, your parents work on the ship too, don’t they? I umm, you should probably talk to them a bit before you actually agree to this whole thing.” 

“I am of age,” she assured me. “The decision is mine. But yes, I will speak with them. I will make certain they understand that this is needed for everyone’s safety. If it is as you say and the Necromancer will take total control of all those Heretics, that endangers the entire universe.” 

We talked a little bit more about how all of that would work. Then she headed out to speak with her family, and Petan joined me once more. He’d apparently used that time to start handling all the new prisoners and former slaves they’d managed to save from the Fomorians. Now, he pulled out a chair to sit down, watching me curiously. “It sounds like that went well enough.” 

“Definitely could’ve gone a lot worse,” I agreed. “She’s in. I guess I just have to hope that things don’t go horribly wrong for her after she helps Elisabet and records that message I saw.” I tried to keep my tone light, but the fear I felt that sending her back in time to a place like that would end up backfiring badly wouldn’t get out of my head. Even though I knew this was the best way to do things, the only real way, I was still anxious. If she got hurt, or… fuck. 

Petan’s smile was both kind and understanding. “I understand how you feel, Miss Chambers. Believe me, I truly do. And, perhaps you understand a bit more of how your headmistress must have felt every time she put one of you in even the slightest danger, even if it was for the best.” 

Wincing, I gave a slow nod. “Yeah, I can’t even imagine being in that kind of position. This right here is hard enough. It’s just…” With a sigh, I sat back and put both hands over my face. 

Quietly, the man offered, “We have that bed for you if you are ready for it. You did say that you were exhausted, and it will take time to prepare the spell that’s needed to send Dexamene. Though you would probably feel better if you get cleaned up first.” 

“Yeah,” I accepted while sitting up quickly. “Shower, right. I need to do that and then sleep before I fall over. Just one more thing though.” Reaching down, I produced my encased staff and set it on the table between us. “Do you have any idea how to fix this? I don’t mind improvising now and then like with the grenade launcher, but I really need my own weapon back.” 

Picking up the staff, Petan examined it critically, turning the weapon over in his hands before poking the hardened stuff around it. “Yes, we can get it out. That will take some time as well to do so without harming the staff itself. I’ll pass it to one of my people, and they should have it for you by the time you wake up again.” 

“Great.” Giving the man a thumbs up, I found myself yawning wide. “Then if you don’t mind, I’m ready to clean up, then crash.” 

And boy, would I have a lot to talk to Shyel about after everything that happened since I’d last slept.

******

Apparently a virtual recreation of an ancient Seosten superhuman in a child’s body could look surprised. I knew that for a fact, because Shyel had definitely been surprised by a lot of what I told her. We spent most of my time there just talking about what had happened and what I could do in the future. Or rather, back in the past-present when I got there in the future–fuck it. 

Whatever, the point was that we just talked a lot. And by the time I woke up back in the real world, I felt a hell of a lot better than I had before. Not perfect, of course. After all, I was still stuck here in the future while Fossor plotted to murder and enslave everyone I cared about. But, all things considered, I could have been a lot worse. I was in one piece, I was free, Dexamene was going to take the trip to the past to set everything up that put me here, and then I would take my own trip back to where and when I belonged. I would let everyone know what was happening and we would stop Fossor and save my mom. I just… that had to happen. It had to.  

I’d been given a private room to sleep in. When I opened the door (or rather, when it slid open as I approached), to head out, there was a package attached to the nearby wall. It was a small metal box that just sat there like it was taped or velcroed next to the doorjamb, with my name on it. When I tugged at it, the box came free and I opened it to see the end of my staff.  As promised, it was fixed. There was no more of that junk it had been encased in. 

More importantly, Jaq and Gus were free. The two of them instantly switched back to their mice forms as I held up the weapon, scrambling up the arm that I offered. “Hey, guys,” I started affectionately. “You feel better? You okay?” They chittered, and I rubbed under both of their chins. “Don’t worry, we’re working on it. We’re going home soon, I promise.”

They clearly weren’t interested in going back into their private little home (it was attached to the staff itself by this point, a little pocket dimension that functioned as their cage and was also where my sand was stored), so I let the two of them ride on my shoulder as I started walking. Focusing on what Petan had told me about how to get to his office once I was awake, I moved down the very Star Treky ship corridor. A few Alters passed me on the way, greeting me by name. I even recognized a few that we had fought against back on the Meregan world, when that whole misunderstanding had happened. Most of those ones pretty much ignored me, but a couple actually waved. One even called out that we’d have to try to ‘spar’ someday. Yeah, it was weird. 

Eventually, I managed to follow the directions to a fancy forcefield operated elevator, like the one back at the Fusion School. It carried me to the right floor, and I found my way, a minute later, to Petan’s office. He was there, the door sliding open to admit me after I pressed the little button for the buzzer next to it to be announced.

I stepped in to find the man standing in the spacious, well-decorated room. One entire wall was taken up by assorted weapons of all types, while the wall opposite it was a giant fish tank. Petan himself stood by the third wall, the one directly across from the entrance. It had several ‘window’ screens showing various views of both different parts of the ship as well as the stars outside. 

“You feel better?” he asked without turning away from the screens, his hands linked behind his back as he stood almost at attention. 

“Much,” I confirmed. “But you know what’ll make me really feel better? When I can go home and deal with all the shit waiting for me there.” 

Petan chuckled lightly, turning to face me. “Yes, I imagine you will. Don’t worry, my people are arranging the power transfer to send Dexamene back as we speak. It’ll take a bit more time after that to arrange your own transport. We can’t do this willy nilly. But given the stakes, we’ll be spending a few extra resources to make sure it happens.” 

Biting my lip, I quickly blurted, “Thanks. Thank you. You know, for all of this. For everything. I know it’s in your own best interests too, given your family. But still, I couldn’t do any of this without you and your people. I’d be totally umm… screwed. I’d be screwed out here on my own.” 

“We all need help sometimes,” the man assured me. “Best to give it when we can, to earn it when it’s our turn on the side of need.” With those words, Petan gestured. At his wordless command, a couple chairs materialized. I didn’t know if it was magic or some kind of solid light hologram stuff. Either way, I sat down as he joined me. 

“You’ve been through a lot, and have persevered.” His voice was quiet, watching me while adding, “And speaking of being through a lot, I imagine you’re hungry now that you’ve slept.” 

Groaning, I admitted, “Now that you mention it, yeah. Feels like I could eat a whole elk. Which, given I could transform into a huge lion, I very well might be able to.” 

With a slight laugh at that, Petan shook his head. “I don’t know about all that, but we can definitely get you some food. Then I can show you around the ship, while we wait for the first spell to be prepared.” 

“I’d like that.” Hesitating after agreeing to eat, I added, “But, after that, I’d like to talk to the Meregan that are still on the ship. Purin, is he here?” 

“Yes, he and most of the others are on the lower levels, the ones more suited to their size,” came the response. “You miss them?” 

Swallowing hard, I met the man’s gaze. “I have to tell them what happened to the people they left behind.

“I have to tell them what Fossor did.” 

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Homeward Bound 8-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: Nicholas Petan’s point of view of this chapter was posted four years ago and can be found right here

Right, if I was going to end this problem as quickly as possible so I could actually meet up with Petan and get the ball rolling for me to get back to my own time, I was going to have to take out the big guy on the field. Not to mention the fact that, according to Rahanvael, the ship wasn’t going to be able to leave while the thing was alive. Killing it was the only chance any of us had. 

There was a time, not even all that long ago in my life, when running at a twenty-foot tall, sixty-foot long crocodile/ape monster would have sounded (and been) completely stupid and suicidal. But I had grown over the past year. Now it only sounded pretty stupid and suicidal. Plus, I didn’t have a choice. It was kill this thing or be trapped here to face more of them until I was captured and turned into a Fomorian lab experiment. 

So, still possessing the onyx-skinned guy I had taken over, I ran across the battlefield. And it was a true battlefield. It was a war zone. Everywhere my eyes flicked toward, I saw more bodies, more blood, more scattered and torn up organs, more figures half-dissolved in acid. 

More people, from both the Seosten and Petan’s sides, crying out for help. Or just crying in general. It was awful. It was the worst thing I could imagine in that moment. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t slow down to help them. I had to take out this big guy first. That was what mattered. Putting that monster in the ground so that everyone could escape. 

I was possessing this guy so the Fomorian creations down here wouldn’t realize that I was a Heretic. But that didn’t mean that they ignored me entirely. As I was running, with the double-bladed sword in one hand and the grenade launcher in the other, several smaller, more human-sized, Fomorian creations popped out at me. They may have been smaller than the big guy, but they were still monstrous. They looked sort of like the Goombas from that awful Super Mario Brothers movie, only with full-sized heads, random patches of mismatched leathery skin that clearly came from many different creatures, a seemingly random assortment of eyes and mouths that were all in different places, and long, deadly looking claws. Yeah, it was pretty nasty all around. 

The nearest one swiped at me with those wicked claws. But I was already boosting, using the added speed to pivot out of the way. As the claws whiffed through the air, my own hand was snapping up and around with that double-bladed sword to cut straight through the creature’s neck. Between my boosted, already enhanced strength and the sharpness of the blade, it went through easily, lopping the monster’s head straight off. 

But the threat wasn’t over. In the same motion that I was using to pivot away and cut off the first creature’s head, I used the momentum to throw myself up and over into a flip, slamming my foot into the face of the creature behind the first. At the same time, my borrowed sword lashed out to cut all the way through the arm and partway into the torso of the third creature. 

The kick to the face made the second guy stumble back, and I used the impact to launch myself up and back, flipping over in the air while adjusting the sword in my hand so that, as I came down, it cut the second figure from head to waist, slicing him in half lengthwise. 

All of that, the three kills together, happened so quickly that the burst of pleasure (it wasn’t exactly a huge one, but still) didn’t have time to hit me until after it was over. I froze when it hit me, letting the pleasure rush through me for that second. Actually, I had a feeling that I wasn’t getting the full rush of three kills. I’d been told that while Fomorians themselves didn’t give Bosch Heretics any powers from being killed, their creations were sort of hit-or-miss. Some gave powers, some didn’t. I was pretty sure at least one of these hadn’t. 

But they were dead. That was the important part. Unfortunately, those three weren’t the end of the things that were trying to stop me. Two more tried to put themselves in my path. They went down just as quickly, before I even actively thought about what I was doing. A quick swipe through the throat with one blade while ducking and pivoting to drop under the swinging arm of another so that I could drive the opposite blade into his stomach, then up and out through his back before letting both drop. Just like that. They gave no kill boost, no power, no rush of pleasure. They were just in my way, and then they weren’t. 

As quick as they fell, however, it wasn’t quick enough. None of it was quick enough. I didn’t have time for this, didn’t have time for any of it. 

Another creature came even as I thought that, bellowing a loud challenge as it ran my way. The monster looked like a gorilla made of stone, with six arms. 

It came while I was flat-footed, swinging those arms and screaming its challenge as I was still cursing myself for taking so long with this. Luckily, I had a way of stopping it without some big fight that I didn’t have time for. Namely, the grenade launcher in my other hand. Snapping it up as the creature raced toward me, I tried to think of a pithy one-liner. Nothing came to mind, so I just pulled the trigger. 

The resulting explosion blew the rock gorilla into a thousand pieces. It quickly would have blown me apart too, as the explosion rushed toward me from that close range. But even as the pleasure from that kill gave me a slight rush, I raised my hand. With a thought, I absorbed the power of the explosion, directing it out under my feet before the feeling of burning up with energy could overwhelm me. The redirected explosive energy launched me into the air just as easily as my staff would have if it hadn’t been out of commission at the moment. 

More importantly, I had the giant ape-croc’s attention. That became pretty clear as the monster grabbed for me while I was still riding the explosion upward. My boost had faded by then, but I still managed to twist around, landing on the back of one of the hands while my sword lashed upward at the other. In the back of my head, I thanked Avalon and everyone else who had insisted that I get at least some practice with other weapons besides my staff. I wasn’t as good with them, but the double sword thing was at least close enough that, between the similarity and the extra weapons practice, I wasn’t fumbling with it. 

Yeah, I definitely wasn’t fumbling. The sword cut straight through the rest of the incoming hand, cutting it free while I ducked aside so the severed hand could fly past me.

Yeah, now I’d really pissed this thing off. It was screaming at me with both heads. Which was fine, because I was about to piss it off even more. Launching myself off the back of the hand that was already trying to shake me free, I snapped that grenade launcher up and fired an explosive shot right into the ape-face. Which served two functions. First, it made the big ape head reel backward with a new bellow of anger and pain. And second, it gave me more energy to absorb and shoot underneath myself to get even higher. 

Now I was at the same level as the crocodile head. I could see the expression of anger in those reptilian eyes as the thing lunged towards me, mouth opening so it could swallow me whole. 

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen. The grenade launcher was already raised, and I fired several quick shots in succession. Each resulting explosion, triggered one after the other, made the crocodile thing roar while its head was knocked backward.

Coming down on the back of the monster’s giant snout,  I pointed the grenade launcher down. Then I paused slightly, just long enough for my thumb to find the button I’d noticed. The one that channeled how much of the energy store for the weapon was going into the grenades. I dialed it up to maximum, then pulled the trigger one last time while focusing as hard as I could on absorbing any of the power that hit me. 

Yeah, it was a lot. Even more than when that starfighter had shot me. I could feel myself burning up as that giant explosion blew through me. Still, I held onto as much of the power as I could, feeling my body grow hot as we both crashed to the ground. 

The monster wasn’t dead. I knew that as soon as we landed. Picking myself up from the ground, I could see the thing through the settling dust and debris. It had been knocked flat by the explosion, but it was trying to recover, trying to use its remaining ape-hand to push itself up.

I couldn’t have that. None of us could have that. This thing could not survive. We couldn’t give it time to recover. I had already dropped the grenade launcher through that explosion, considering it was now a twisted hunk of useless metal. But I still had the double-sword. And I held that tightly in both hands while throwing myself into a headlong charge toward the struggling monster. On the way, a scream escaped me, as I threw all that power I’d absorbed, the power that was already burning me up, into the weapon in my hands. Both blades began to glow almost blindingly bright, and I could tell that the sword wouldn’t be able to hold it for long before the whole thing would break apart.

Thankfully, it didn’t have to hold together for long. Still screaming, I launched myself into a leap, boosting one more time before driving one end of the blade straight down into the giant crocodile head, right between its eyes. 

The glowing blade sliced right through the monster‘s head lengthwise, cutting it in half and finally killing the thing. I fell, landing in a crouch while the rush of pleasure, much stronger than the others had been, washed over me. For a moment, I couldn’t focus on anything else.

It was enough of a distraction, that the next thing I knew, Nicholas Petan was right there. The guy I’d been looking for this whole time. He stood in front of me, staring with obvious curiosity. “Who are you? The Seosten would not have someone of your… skill protecting a backwater outpost.” His voice was clearly demanding, cautious about what I was doing there. 

Right, because he wasn’t actually standing in front of me, as far as he knew. Shrugging to myself, I pushed myself up while panting to catch my breath. Or my host’s breath, rather. “You’re right, they wouldn’t,” I replied.  

That said, I released the possessed man, letting his unconscious body fall as I straightened and smiled at Petan. 

He didn’t smile back. Instead, he brought his sword up while snapping, “Seosten.”

Oh, right. I still have the environment suit on with the hood that was obscuring my face too much for the man to really recognize me. Quickly, I shook my head. “Not quite.” Taking the mask off, I added, “I just killed a couple and stole their power. But trust me, they really had it coming.”

Nicholas Petan stared at me for a few seconds before managing, “You do not… appear to be five years older.”

Wincing, I replied, “I’m not. It’s only been…” I thought briefly. “… about a year for me, since you sent Tristan back. And now I need you to do the same for me. Send me back four years, to when I… when I left. 

“If you don’t, Fossor is going to use my mother to kill every Crossroads and Eden’s Garden Heretic in existence.”

*******

Needless to say, the man had a lot of questions after that. But there wasn’t time to answer them. Quickly, I let him know that with the ape-crocodile thing dead, his ship could escape. More Fomorians were coming, so everyone retreated. The Seosten-aligned troops and slaves who didn’t want to be left behind (all of them) agreed to be taken aboard and put in a secure area. It was better to be taken prisoner by him than by those evil fucks. I even managed to remember the guy I’d left tied up in the swamp and Petan had one of his teleporters make a quick jump out to bring him in. 

Soon, the ship was loaded and he took me with him to the bridge where I sat in a corner and tried to stay out of the way as they made a fighting retreat. 

From the sound of the orders being thrown back and forth, it was a really close escape. Even with the big crocodile-ape thing down, the Fomorian bio-ships were still out there. And they really did not want to let us leave. Petan’s ship shook and shattered from the damage it was taking, with alarms blaring all over the place. Judging by the reports that were coming in, they didn’t have much energy left. 

But, in the end, we managed to escape. The slide-drive powered up, and we were gone. Safe, for the time being. All around me, the crew of the bridge exchanged exhausted and relieved congratulations.

You still with me, Rahanvael? I directed inwardly. She had been quiet through all that, clearly trying not to distract me. 

The reassuring feeling of confirmation came, just as Petan stepped my way. “With me, please,” he said simply while heading toward a door on the opposite side of the crowded bridge. 

Right. Picking myself up on legs that were only shaking a little bit, I followed after him. We entered into what looks like some kind of briefing room, with a long metal table that had a hologram projector on it and ‘window’ screens projecting images from various parts of the universe. 

“You have been busy,” Petan noted after a moment of staring at the nearest screen as though to collect himself. He turned to me, squinting. “Tristan, is he…”

“He’s fine,” I assured him. “More than fine. He and Vanessa, his sister, they’re back with their mom and dad. Yeah, Sariel and Haiden are both on Earth. They’re all together.”

The man blinked at that, before tugging one of the floating chairs that surrounded the table out so he could sit down. He gestured for me to do the same on the opposite side while murmuring, ”You truly do miss a lot being out here. Anything could’ve happened back on Earth in all this time.”

Swallowing, I gave a short nod. “Yeah, things that could’ve happened back on Earth while you were out here is kind of what we need to talk about. Do… have you heard anything from Earth? Have you seen any… um… Bosch Heretics lately?”

Frowning, Petan slowly replied, “We are far enough out and away from the main lines that we rarely see them. But no, not in a few years. You said something about Fossor killing all of them. What happened?”

Now, that was a long story. So, I took a deep breath and started from the beginning. Which meant explaining about Kwur, the whole thing in Vegas, the fact that it had been a trap by Fossor to destroy the Gehenna outpost and capture me, the subsequent few weeks I spent as his prisoner, and what I’d done to free his other ghosts and escape with my mother. Finally, I explained how it had gone wrong and how I ended up here in the future, along with what Fossor’s actual plan was. 

“Fossor has a sister?” Petan shook his head in wonder. “And her ghost has allied with you.”

“I couldn’t have done any of this without her,” I insisted. “She saved everything. And now you see why I have to get back there before he manages to pull this off. Otherwise, they are all going to die and he’ll have a permanent army of Heretics.”

A grimace touched the man’s face, and he nodded. “Yes, that does sound like something best avoided. If that monster has control of the Bosch Heretics, it could explain why the Fomorians have been able to expand all the way out to that outpost. It could change the entire face of the war. It could…” He trailed off, grimacing as the true implication of all that struck him. “Haiden, Tristan, the… the others…” His voice was grim, almost bleak. 

“Of course,” Petan finally settled on after shaking himself with the realization that whatever might have happened wasn’t set in stone. ”We’ll work on sending you back as soon as possible, but—”

“Oh, right, not me first.” I hesitated, trying to think of the best way to broach this before offering a weak, “You know a girl named Dexamene?”

He did, and was obviously confused about why I would ask. So, I explained the rest of it. I told the man about how it had been Elisabet, trapped back on the Meregan world, who had actually redirected me so that I wouldn’t be caught by Fossor. I also explained about how she had only known when and how to do that using information that I gave her, through Dexamene. 

“So, see, I have to tell Dexamene what to say to Elisabet, so that she can save me, so that I can give the information to Dexamene, so that…” Trailing off, I gave my head a sharp shake. “Fuck, time travel is confusing. Wait, what would happen if I just didn’t follow the script? What would happen if we didn’t send Dexamene back, so none of that happened?” 

Petan stared at me intently, his voice grave. “The moment you passed the time when you should have done so and don’t, you would revert to a timeline where you never did that in the first place. Which would mean…”

“I’d be with Fossor’s handpicked goons’ clutches.” Finishing the man’s sentence for him with a shudder, I shook my head. “No thanks. I uhh, I know it’s going to be asking a lot of her, but can we bring Dexamene in so I can explain what’s going on? Pretty sure we need to stick to the written plot on this one.”

Petan nodded, his expression grim, yet determined. “I will summon her, and we can explain the situation. She is a fine girl, I’m certain she will agree to aid you.” Pausing, he added “Even before you add in the fact that by your point of view, she already did.”

Snorting despite myself, I agreed, “Great, let’s tell her what’s going on. And after that, I need one more vitally important thing.”

“Whatever it is,” Petan replied with a nod, “if I have it, it’s yours.”

“Do you have a spare bed?” I managed, as the exhaustion from everything that I’d been through in all that time finally caught up with me. 

“Because trust me, I’m pretty resilient, but it has been a long fucking day and I am about to pass out.”

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Homeward Bound 8-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: Hey there, guys and girls! Sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled chapter. This is just a very important update regarding Patreon benefits AND brand new story content. As everyone should know, people who donate five dollars a month receive every chapter 24 hours early. And those who donate ten dollars per month get chapters early and are able to request 500 word snippets of any subject they’d like to see covered. But now there’s a brand new benefit, and a new tier of support to go with it, with added bonuses.

Have you ever wanted to see how a certain part of these stories might have gone if something different had happened? Have you ever wondered what would happen if, for example, Tabbris revealed herself to Flick and Lincoln long before the beginning of the story? Or if Joselyn hadn’t been taken by Fossor? Have you ever wanted to see a full-on crack/joke chapter about Herbie the rock meeting Felony the unicorn from Summus Proelium, or a take on Flick being taken in by Eden’s Garden when Miranda was? Do you have any niggling little fanfic-like ideas that you’d like to see the original author of the story write? Well here’s some good news! 

From now on, the last Sunday of each month will feature two new, totally non-canon chapters. One for each story. These chapters can be about anything within the setting (however altered it may be) of my stories and can follow any continuity. They are simply fun, interesting, fuzzy, or even tragic and terrifying little what-if chapters for any random ideas that may occur to you wonderful readers. 

A few details: These non-canon chapters will not appear here on WordPress, but they will be linked to and readers here will be notified about them (and there will be a section of the table of contents for them for readers to keep track of). Instead, they will be posted on Patreon. For 24 hours, they will be limited to Patrons of any level. No matter how much or how little you pledge, you will have access to them immediately. After those 24 hours, the chapters will be made public for everyone to read. If you are a patron of any level, you get 24 hour advance access. If not, you still get to read them one day later. So it’s all good!

Now, as for added bonuses for Patreon tiers! If you are or become a FIVE DOLLAR donator, you will be allowed to VOTE on which non-canon chapter idea will be written for each story in that particular month. You will receive one point per story to use to vote for your favorite out of the list of ideas that month. If you are instead a TEN DOLLAR donator, you will receive two points to vote for each story (so two points for the Heretical Edge ideas and two points for the Summus Proelium ideas) and you will also be allowed to suggest one idea per story to be added to the list each month. If you have an idea you’d like to see voted on to become the non-canon chapter for the month, all you have to do is become a ten dollar patron and suggest it. 

Finally, the new tier of support. Those who are so ridiculously and incredibly awesome as to pledge at the fifteen dollar level will get every previous benefit. In addition, they will get eight points to vote on official end-of-arc interludes rather than the six points that ten dollar donators get (or the five points that five dollar donators get, and so on) and seven hundred word snippets each month instead of five hundred. But, more relevantly to these new chapters, fifteen dollar patrons will be allowed to submit TWO ideas per story per month instead of the one idea that ten dollar patrons are allowed, and you will get three points per story to vote with. 

So that’s the long and short of it. New Patreon tier and added benefits, and new non-canon chapters every month for those who really want to see my personal take on your own random ideas about how these stories could be different. Thank you all for reading this whole thing and for going on this entire literary journey with me in general! If you are interested in learning more or signing up, you can get to the Patreon itself right 

And, without further rambling, on with the new chapter.

Boy, it was a good thing that I had such deep reserves of stamina and energy. I’d thought that before, of course. But seriously. I’d just had that huge confrontation with Fossor, only to get flung several years into the future and end up dealing with that whole space station situation. Then I sent myself here to this place, worked my way through trying to get to Petan, then ended up going toe-to-wing with a fucking starfighter and even managed to make the pilot realize I wasn’t trying to fight. But then, before anything good could come of that, the goddamn Fomorians showed up? What vindictive god’s shoes did I piss on to get to this point? 

Okay, okay. No time to spend worrying too much about that. Not with a literal invasion army of Fomorians descending upon the world. I had to get to Petan, and fast. Because I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be sticking around here fighting these assholes for that long if he could help it, not considering the kind of forces that were raining down on this place now. As I understood it, his army was about quick, unexpected strikes against outposts. It wasn’t about holding a planet against the Seosten, let alone the Fomorians. Yeah, unless I really missed my guess, Petan and his people would make a fighting withdrawal and get the hell out of here as soon as possible. So unless I wanted to be left behind to make some special new horror show friends, I had to move. 

So, I turned back the way the trucks had been going when they were attacked, starting to run. Three of the clearly biological Fomorian ships, living leviathan-like monsters in their own right, were visible in the sky. They were like tentacled, bloody, pus-filled clouds. Clouds that had extended those tentacles down all over the place, attaching themselves to the ground. And through those tentacles, I could see pulsing egg-like shapes descending. They looked like giant snakes regurgitating something they had swallowed. Their landing force. The living ships put their tentacles against the ground and sent their ground forces down through them, spitting them out once they reached the planet. Massive egg-shape after massive egg-shape were sent through those tentacles. I saw the end of one tentacle far off in the distance to my left, almost too far away to see properly. The thing opened up just as one of those egg-shapes reached the end, disgorging some kind of ugly, bloody flesh-ball. The ball cracked apart and melted away, revealing what looked from a distance like a giant curled up salamander the size of a bus, with two heads and a couple ballista-like projectile horn extensions on its back. Which it used almost immediately to launch those horns toward a passing starfighter, tearing through the cockpit. Unfortunately for the pilot, the horns were attached to some kind of rope-like muscle, which yanked the tethered ship down toward the heads to be devoured. 

They were too far away for me to help. Too far away for me to do anything but briefly stare for that brief, yet eternal moment. I just hoped, prayed, wished that the horrific screams were only in my imagination. Please. Please just be in my imagination. 

I couldn’t stand there anymore. I had to keep going before I became a target too. Granted, I was just one small humanoid figure, but still. Standing here was stupid and it was just going to land me in the same position as that pilot: as lunch for one of the Fomorian monsters. And being a meal for them was the best-case scenario of what might happen if they got hold of me. Worst case, ending up taken for experimentation… no. That couldn’t happen. 

Not that my actual destination was any better though. The Fomorian ships were centered directly above the area I was currently running toward. Which… well, yeah. Clearly I was going the right way, but that didn’t exactly make me feel any better about the whole situation. I was running toward the Fomorian invasion force. Because I had no other choice. It was down to ‘get there and find Petan’, or ‘be left here.’ No matter how scared I was to be running toward the horrific monsters, sharing a planet with them and no one else would be a hell of a lot worse. Emphasis, bold, italics, and underline on the word hell. 

But I had to go faster. I had to get there right fucking now. Running was going to take too long. Given the size of the Fomorian invasion force, Petan’s people would probably be clearing out of here like all of their collective pants (and the rest of their clothes) were on fire. I had to find a way to get there before that happened. But how? Both trucks were gone. The starfighter was gone. I had a certain level of enhanced speed, but not to the level I needed if I was going to get there before my ride took off.

Wait. Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I focused on shifting into the werelion form. In mid-run, I dropped to my hands and knees, using the Seosten boost to make the shift much faster. Lion, lion, be a lion. No matter how fast it was, and it was really fast, it felt like the shift took forever. Every nanosecond counted right now. I was wasting time that I really didn’t have. 

It happened. I made the full shift to the enormous lion form. Interestingly, the environment suit shifted with me as well, just like the Seosten bodysuits. Which, I supposed, made a sort of sense. The suit had adjusted its size for me when I put it on.

In any case, things were immediately worse in some ways. Because now I could smell a lot better. I could smell those massive, ugly tentacles. I could smell the fires. I could… I could… no. Ignore it. Push it aside. Deal with the nightmares this whole thing would induce later, because right now, I had to go! 

Then I was running on all fours, hitting about sixty miles per hour as I tore off across the field. The main target of the Fomorians. That was where I had to go. That was what I had to get to, no matter how much that prospect scared the living shit out of me. Ignoring my fear, ignoring my revulsion, ignoring almost every sense of self-preservation I had, I ran toward the main Fomorian attack force. 

There. There! I could see buildings. I could see people and creatures. I could see a ship. Petan’s ship. It had to be, given the concentration of forces all around it. The engines were running, the thing clearly about ready to get the hell out of there. But they couldn’t leave yet. There were so many Alter forces mixed up with what were obviously Fomorian creations. They’d been taken by surprise, ambushed by the speed of the Fomorian attack force before they could withdraw. The fighting was barely visible from where I was when I first noticed it, but even then I could tell that it wasn’t going that well. The monsters were quickly overwhelming what I could only assume was a mix of Petan’s troops and the Seosten-enslaved outpost defenders. 

Three more steps, and then something abruptly slammed into me from one side. Fuck! I hadn’t even sensed it coming at all. What–tentacle. It was a tentacle with some kind of suction thing on the end. A tooth-filled suction thing, given the sudden stabbing pain in that side. No wonder I hadn’t sensed the damn thing, because it wasn’t an item. It was living. A tentacle shot at me by some Fomorian monstrosity that looked like a giant snake, a good fifty-feet long and as wide around as a bus, with the head of a deer, complete with antlers. Only the ends of the antlers were tentacles, like the one that had me. The deer-snake was yanking me toward it, unhinging its jaw. Which was creepy enough to see a snake do, but seeing what looked like a deer’s head do it? I might never fucking sleep again. 

Actually, I might really never fucking sleep again if I couldn’t stop this thing from eating me. As my lion-body was dragged toward that wide, ugly, horrific mouth, I focused on one power I hadn’t used all that much: the ability to make muscles spasm by touching someone. It was another one that I’d gotten from the fight to save Avalon back in the hospital. 

Instantly, as soon as I made the tentacle spasm, it dropped me. In mid-fall, I shifted back to my human body, calling my staff to one hand while lashing out with it. The bladed end cut deep into the tentacle even as it tried to recover and grab me once more, making the thing jerk backward. 

Landing in a crouch, with my staff held out to one side, I watched the mass of tentacles atop the snake-deer’s head as the thing seemed to reassess what kind of threat I was. It could wait, but I couldn’t. Time. I didn’t have time to waste dealing with this damn thing. 

To that end, I ran straight at it. No hesitation, no delaying, no games. I was going to stop this monster from being a problem, then get to that ship. 

Unfortunately, the monster itself wasn’t exactly planning on being cooperative about that whole ‘being dealt with’ thing. As I ran that way, the deer-head reared back, and it… spat some kind gooey, gross… ball of phlegm or something at me. I threw myself into a roll, passing under it. But part of the gross snot-like ball hit my staff, tearing it from my hand in mid-roll. 

No big deal. I just focused on the power to bring things that I’d been holding within the past few seconds back to my hands. Instantly, I had my staff back. Aaaand it was encased in some weird resin stuff. What the fuck? I spared a glance that way even as the monster sent two antler-tentacles swinging at me. Yeah, the snot-stuff had expanded to encase the staff and then hardened. It was like the weapon was encased in some kind of amber or something. Fuck.

Judging the space between the incoming tentacles, which were swinging at me from either side, I silently cursed the fact that I suddenly couldn’t use my staff to boost myself through the air with a blast of kinetic force. But I could literally boost myself, using the Seosten gift. Time slowed a bit, giving me a chance to launch myself up, tucking my body to dive under the nearest tentacle before flipping over in the air to plant my feet against the other one. Encased-staff still in hand, I raced along the length of the tentacle toward the head. It was moving and not exactly a huge thing to keep my footing on anyway. But I managed it, thanks to the dexterity and balance-enhancing powers I’d picked up. Between those and the Seosten boost, I managed to run a good distance along the tentacle before the monster fully realized what was happening. Its head was turning to look at me, even as the thing curled its tentacle downward and in, trying to bring me toward that suddenly opening mouth. I could see its jagged teeth, along with another ball of that phlegm stuff it was hocking up to spit at me. Fuck, fuck, fuck. This was going to be close. So close.

Just as the deer-snake hocked that horrible loogie at me, I launched myself up and forward, throwing my body into a flip so that the nasty ball of stuff passed directly under me. In mid-flip, I focused on making my staff bigger, trying to break the stuff that was encasing it. At the same time, I focused on super-heating all of it except for the part I was holding. 

Yeah, that didn’t work either. The hardened amber stuff just got really hot and grew right along with the staff. Fuck. Still, coming back right-side up through the flip, I hurled the encased staff, spear-like, straight at the thing’s right eye. Hot as it was despite being covered in that hardened crap, the staff seared straight through the monster’s eye. 

Suddenly in agony, the thing reared up and back with a scream. In that second, I wasn’t flying straight at its mouth anymore. Instead, I crashed into its throat. The force from my impact cut the thing off in mid-scream, while I viciously stabbed one hand against the throat I’d collided with. My fingernails hardened and extended like claws, dragging down through the throat for about a foot before managing to catch, jerking me to a stop. 

I dangled there by one hand while summoning the burning-hot staff back to the other, holding the only safe part of it. With a grunt, I shoved the weapon up into the throat as hard as I could. Hot blood, mucus, and who the hell knew what else all erupted over me as the thing screamed, choked, and thrashed violently in every direction. Unable to hold on, I was thrown clear, flipping over in the air to land on my feet. 

The monster was thrashing, screaming, antler-tentacles flailing in every direction. Time to end this. For that, I judged my aim carefully, shrinking the staff in my hand before launching it like a spear once more. The weapon flew straight through the hole that I had made in the creature’s throat at an angle, lodging itself in the space there. 

With a thought, I made it grow as large as possible. Suddenly, the ends of the white-hot staff were poking out of both ends of the creature’s throat. The screams grew hoarse, even as I summoned the staff back, dove to the side in a frantic roll to escape the next flailing tentacle, and launched the briefly shrunken weapon one more time through the same throat-hole at a slightly different angle. It lodged once more, and then I made it grow, almost entirely severing what was left of the neck from the head. 

Finally, it was enough. The monster fell, collapsing against the ground before giving a violent series of death heaves as the staff returned to my hand at a thought. And I felt a sudden rush of pleasure that made me stumble, gasping briefly. 

Wait, fuck. I didn’t have time for this. Grimacing, I glanced at my staff. Still covered. Fuck. I was going to have to find a way to get this stuff off it (not to mention off of Jaq and Gus, who were trapped), but not right now. At least I’d demonstrated that it wasn’t entirely useless. Shaking my head, I murmured an apology to my mice and shoved the staff back in its sheath before taking off to run once more. I had to go lion again, had to use its speed to make up for lost time. That whole thing back there honestly, objectively had gone pretty fast. But it felt as though it had taken forever, given the way every second counted. 

Racing along the ground in lion form once more, I approached the outskirts of the base. The fighting was intense and horrific. The bodies lying everywhere, even out here at the edges of the base, were torn apart. Some weren’t dead yet, only wishing they were. The mixture of Fomorian and Alter pieces, the blood everywhere, the whimpering and crying, the pleas for death, the… it was awful. I couldn’t focus on it. I couldn’t deal with what I was seeing. There wasn’t time to process, there wasn’t time for anything. Not considering the fighting that was still going on. I could see more Fomorian creations of all shapes and sizes, swarms of monstrosities working to tear through any defenses that were left. In the distance, the biggest monster of all loomed over everything. It was sixty feet long and had to be over twenty feet in height. The thing was some kind of fused crocodile-gorilla… creature. It looked like a giant gorilla body with an even larger crocodile head attached above the ape head. The long arms of the gorilla would reach out to grab anyone within reach, hauling them screaming and flailing to be eaten by the crocodile part. 

“Flick!” The voice of Rahanvael cut through my thoughts as I stared at the monster in the distance. “That thing, Fossor had to deal with them before. They put out a field that can prevent the engines of a ship from achieving the thrust needed to escape a planet’s atmosphere. 

“So you’re saying we have to kill it or no one’s getting out of here,” I muttered while shifting back to human shape, still moving along the edge of the damaged outpost wall. Still hearing the cries of those in the distance.  

The ghost-girl appeared in front of me, nodding. “But Flick, you are a Heretic. The moment you show yourself to the group in there, the Fomorians will focus everything on obtaining you for study. They want Heretics to take apart.”  

“Of course they do,” I mumbled. “Guess that means I need to play this a little more…” My voice trailed off as I came around the corner of one mostly-demolished wall. Two figures. One was very clearly one of the Seosten-aligned troops, given the look of his uniform. He was a wiry humanoid with onyx-like skin. The other figure, meanwhile, was apparently one of Petan’s men, a reptilian-man holding some kind of grenade launcher. Not that he was going to be doing anything with it, given the fact that the first man’s own weapon, a double-bladed sword, was shoved through his chest. 

The onyx-skinned figure violently kicked the dead Petan-aligned soldier off his weapon, spitting something in Latin that amounted to saying he’d never be allies with traitors or something. Right, so this guy had seen the Fomorians attacking and still chose to kill Petan’s soldier just for being ‘on the other side’, instead of focusing on the bigger problem. 

“Well,” I whispered while creating a quick portal. “Thanks for making this decision easy, I guess.” The other end of the portal appeared right next to the guy. He snapped that way, one end of the sword coming up. But he was too late. My hand popped through the portal, pressing against his face as I focused on possessing him. 

Then I was there, inside the man. I felt him jerk and scream inwardly, flailing against my control. And he nearly managed it. Strong as I was, this guy fought so hard it was all I could do to shove him back down. For a few seconds, the body we were sharing stumbled from one side to the other as we struggled for control. 

In the end, however, I forced him down. Shoving the man’s consciousness down, I added a quick promise that I was going to try to keep him alive, unlike him with the guy he had just killed. Then I stooped, grabbing the grenade launcher from the dead figure. 

“Okay,” I announced out loud, using my temporary host’s mouth while holding the grenade launcher in one hand and the double-bladed sword in the other. 

“Let’s go kill that thing.”

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