Abbadon

On The Edge 42-08

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No more holding back. No more playing with a handicap of not using my own weapon. It was all or nothing now. I had my weapon, my powers, my sister, everything. And it was a good thing too, since I was going to need all of it to survive the next few seconds. Because these guys? They weren’t holding back either.

Two of the three Seosten were the first to reach me, their boosted speed turning each into a barely visible blurred form. One went high, the other low, sweeping their energy blades toward my neck and legs respectively. As those deadly, glowing blades swept through the air at me, I threw myself into a twisting sideways flip, passing barely between them. My hand slapped down to pass through the lower blade as I absorbed the energy from it.

Landing on my feet in a crouch, I instantly channeled all that energy into my staff. That glowing green outline surrounded it, protecting the weapon from being cut in half as I brought it around to catch the incoming blade from the third Seosten. Even as our weapons rebounded from one another, Tabbris took control of my left hand, creating a nausea-bubble before throwing it toward the Seosten whose blades we had just flipped between. It missed, but the throw at least forced the pair to recoil for an instant. And right now, every instant counted.

The guy in front of me pressed the attack, feinting a swing at my head before flipping his blade around to go for my leg. I ignored the feint, paying attention to what my item-sense power and instincts were telling me about his movements. My still-glowing staff caught his blade, sliding it out of the way. Twice more, he kept at it, his form a blur of motion as he tried to catch me off guard. For those brief seconds, Tabbris was able to boost us just enough to keep up, our weapons colliding with one another repeatedly as I fought desperately just to stay alive.

Unfortunately, it seemed that none of my new friends were interested in following any kind of ‘taking turns’ rule. Not only were these three Seosten attacking me all at once, the trio of Alters weren’t holding back either. The first, a short, squat figure that looked like a chubby porcupine, sent a shower of likely-poisonous needles flying at me. Apparently he could control them, since they very deliberately went around anyone who wasn’t me.

But I wasn’t alone. Tabbris quickly created a portal, catching the incoming needles to send them at the pair of Seosten behind us. At the same time, I was busy sidestepping the lunge from the third Seosten as he tried to take advantage of what he clearly thought would be my distraction. His blade hummed through the air right where I had been an instant earlier.

Now I was beside him, even as the other two Alters (one a lanky wooden Relukun and the other some kind of slimy mud-like man) brought slugthrower rifles into play.

Trusting Tabbris to deal with that, I focused on the guy that I had just stepped beside, hitting the button that launched my grapple. Since it was on the end of my staff that was pointed down, the thing shot into the man’s leg, literally going through it and out the other side as the Seosten let out a cry of surprise.

The two Alters had already opened fire. But my faith in my sister wasn’t misplaced. She was on the job, already using my item-transportation power to position two of our kevlar-spell enchanted bits of fabric right where the bullets were going. She also used the power that allowed me to shrink or grow items that I spent enough time with to make the cloth bits large enough to cover everything they needed to. I took the hits, which felt like little more than pebbles being lightly tossed at my back.

Meanwhile, the other two Seosten had deftly avoided the poison spines, despite the portal making them appear right in front of their faces. They recovered, reigniting their laser blades before coming for me. They were only two steps away as the bullets from the rifles bounced from my back, my weapon currently occupied with the grapple through the third Seosten’s leg.

Tabbris took that one again, triggering a cloud of sand to erupt from my staff before sending it flying into their faces, driving them back a step and halting their charge.

The third Seosten was recovering. He tried to twist around to swing at me, but I ducked under the blade, then hit the button on my staff to trigger its boost before letting go. The weapon flew out of my hand, yanking my opponent off his feet and sending him flying up toward the ceiling with a cry.

With a combination of my item-sense and werewolf reflexes, I spun at the last second, expertly catching the man’s flailing laser sword to tear it from his grip. Sensing my need, Tabbris created another portal right beside us, the other end positioned right beside the Alters who were shooting at us. With the blade in my hand, I shoved it through the portal.

I was quick, but one of them was quicker. The mud-man managed to dive out of the way, leaving only the Relukun to have both hands cut off by the blade. He dropped the gun, stumbling.

With any luck, they could probably fix that later. I didn’t want to kill the Alters, who were either possessed or controlled by Radueriel. I didn’t want to kill them. I was going to do whatever I could to avoid it. Including literally disarming them like that.

Unfortunately, the ‘sand in the face’ trick wasn’t working anymore. The two Seosten each triggered some kind of spell, which created an aura around them that turned my sand to water, taking it out of my (and Tabbris’) control. Shit, now they were just being lightly rained on. It didn’t even seem like that rain was superheated the way the sand had been.

Having fixed the sand problem, the Seosten pair came at us hard. Tabbris barely had time to blurt a warning and shove us out of the way to avoid being skewered on the end of the actual metal sword one of them had produced. Even then, she couldn’t stop us from taking a punch from the other one. Which, since he was boosting at the time, knocked me to the ground and nearly broke my jaw. I saw dark spots and bits of light for a few seconds, the laser sword dropping from my hand.

The guy with the metal sword brought it down straight for my prone body, and it was only at the last possible instant that I managed to collect myself enough to roll onto my side, letting the blade skim past my back to drive itself into the floor. Quickly, I shoved my back against it, using the item-relocation power to teleport the weapon out of his hand. It reappeared down by my feet, even as I kicked out to send it toward porcupine-man, forcing him to dive away from it.

At the same time, the Seosten who had struck me so hard was already rearing back to kick me in the stomach. But Tabbris had quickly used that time to create a portal to my staff. My hand caught it, retracting the grapple to let the Seosten who was hanging by his leg fall to the floor.

With my staff back in my hand, Tabbris used the item-growth power at the exact same time that I was kicking the stolen sword at the porcupine. The staff elongated, slamming into the face of the Seosten who was trying to kick us. The blow knocked him back a step, even as she triggered the stored kinetic boost on the opposite end, lifting me back to my feet.

The mud-man had created some kind of weird acidic-looking ball in both hands by that point, which he hurled at me. At the same time, the Seosten whose sword I had kicked away threw what looked like a small bit of metal at me as well. Halfway there, it exploded, sending a wave of concussive force that hit me like a giant’s fist. The air was knocked out of me, and I was thrown off my feet. The mud-man’s acid ball struck my arm, instantly burning through the skin and muscle there. It was agony beyond description. I screamed, dropping my weapon while falling into a roll as I cradled my injured arm. It looked burned. Badly burned. Even with my pain tolerance power, it was beyond anything I had felt before. Hell, even Tabbris couldn’t completely suppress the pain. Which kind of told me how bad it would have been without help. This was more than just normal acid. It was like the mud-man’s power let him instill supernatural pain in whatever his acidic-mud ball hit.  

It was bad. And it would have been utterly crippling and fight-ending without the combination of my pain tolerance power and Tabbris. As it was, I could barely see straight. But what I did see was the Seosten whose leg I had impaled recovering enough to aim a pistol at me, while the one who had hit me with that concussive explosion spell prepared another one.

No more. I couldn’t let this go on. Ignoring the blinding pain in my arm, I created a portal by my foot, lashing out in a kick that went through that portal, colliding with the hand of the Seosten who was trying to throw the concussive bomb at me. The kick knocked his throw off course, sending it at the Seosten with the pistol instead to create an explosion that put that guy on the ground.

The pain in my arm was already fading enough that Tabbris could get it under control, which allowed me to focus on the mud-man himself. I did not want to be hit by another of those balls, and he was already winding up for a second throw. Clearly, he expected me to be affected longer, because he was taking his time, building up a large blob of that mud stuff which, if it hit me, would probably take me out of the fight for good. If it didn’t just drive me completely insane from the agony.

So it was time to change the equation when it came to this guy. To that end, I focused through the lingering pain, creating a quick portal that led behind the mud-man while shoving the hand of the arm that wasn’t throbbing through it. The other end of the portal led to the back of the mud-man’s head, and I grabbed him. Sure enough, according to the choker, he was possessed. I could see the Seosten inside him.

Thankfully, I could deal with that too. With a thought, I created an instant copy of the expulsion rune on the man’s neck while he was still reacting to the surprise of my hand grabbing him from behind. There was a cry of pain from the Alter, and the Seosten possessing him stumbled out. He resolidified just in time to be hit straight in the face by the same torture-mud that he had been making his host create. Apparently mud-man wasn’t happy about being enslaved, and let the Seosten know about it by hitting him with enough of the stuff to put his former master on the ground with a scream of pain.

The other Seosten, who had been rushing for me, did a double-take of confusion at that. Which I took full advantage of. Using my staff to boost myself back to my feet, I created two more portals, shoving my hands through those as well. The portals were set up near the remaining pair of possessed Alters, the Relekun and the porcupine.

Unfortunately, I only managed to get my hand on the tree-man, insta-casting the expulsion rune there too. The porcupine, meanwhile, touched something on his arm and blurted a single word right as I was about to touch him. In the next instant, my hand struck some kind of frictionless forcefield that popped up. It didn’t seem that tough or protective, but it stopped my hand from reaching him. The still-possessed porcupine shouted something in Latin that came too fast for me to catch, though Abaddon’s name was in there.

Activate Abaddon’s possession shields, Tabbris quickly translated, even as the remaining guys all did the same as the porcupine. So apparently Abaddon had prepared these guys with those low-level forcefields to prevent me (or others, I supposed) from being able to possess them that easily. And now it was doubling as a way of preventing me from using the expulsion rune.

But hey, at least I’d used it on two of them before they caught on. Which meant that now it suddenly wasn’t six on one anymore. It was six on three, assuming my newest friend wanted a piece of his former enslaver as much as the mud-guy did. Not only did the expulsion rune kick those guys out of their hosts, it also rendered the two Seosten briefly incapable of recalling back to them.

Aaaand then things got bad again. One of the Seosten spoke a single word, and both the newly freed mud-man and Relukun collapsed. They just dropped unconscious, taking them out of the fight entirely. Worse, the guy who had been hit with the torture-mud had used some other spell to recover. Now he was up too.

So it was six on one again, except now five of those were hostless Seosten. All I’d managed to do was take two of their ‘body-suits’ away. And left one of them with a pronounced limp from shooting that grapple through his leg. A pronounced limp which stopped being a problem a second later, as the Seosten who had been possessing the porcupine-man hopped out, and the injured one took over his spot.

Now that really wasn’t fair. Not to mention the fact that all these guys were protected from my possession and the expulsion rune. Hell, even my sand was useless since those ‘turn it into water’ spells were still active.

Who the hell could I submit a balance complaint to for this fight?

The force-fields can’t be that strong, Tabbris quickly put in, even as the six collected themselves and focused on me once more. They’re meant to stop quick possession, but if you hit them hard enough, they should go down.

Hit them hard enough, huh? I sent back. Then I guess we’re doing this the old fashioned way.

As if in agreement with that, the five Seosten all ignited laser swords of their own and came for me while the possessed porcupine sent a cloud of poison spikes flying past them. The hard way it was.

Gripping my staff, I waited just long enough for the flying darts to reach me before sending a concussive blast from the end of the weapon that scattered the spines. Which had the added benefit of slowing several of the rushing Seosten as they avoided the redirected projectiles. Two made it through to where I was, one leaping up and over me while the other went straight for my chest with his blade. The one jumping over my head produced a pistol, aiming down before taking several rapid shots.

They were learning. The gun was a slugthrower, and they were trying to shoot at parts of my body not covered by clothing. Not to mention the guy with the laser sword demanding my attention.

Unfortunately for them, they still hadn’t gotten the memo that there were two of us driving this body, so they’d have to do better than that if they wanted to distract us. Tabbris used the item-transfer and enlargement powers to shove yet another kevlar-cloth over the top of my head to stop the incoming bullets. At the same time, I intercepted the incoming laser sword by extending my staff to twice its usual length so that it could connect with the actual handle, sending the sharp metal blade right through the cylinder that the Seosten held. With a sudden shower of sparks and a cry from the man himself, his weapon fizzled and died in his hand. Also fizzling and dying? His forcefield, which collapsed from the combination of the laser sword essentially exploding right next to it and the impact of my blade.

The Seosten flipping over me and firing landed at my back, while I pivoted sharply. The grapple-end of my spinning staff narrowly missed him, but still forced the man to recoil and duck away from it.

And now the other three were there, with the porcupine right behind them. The trio all went for me at once, even as Tabbris created a quick portal for me to shove a hand through. Their blades sliced through the space where I was. Or rather, where I had been, since my grasping hand caught hold of the Seosten whose shield I had just broken. Instantly, we possessed him, and the three energy-blades cut through empty air.

I was in the Seosten now, and I took quick advantage of the disorientation that caused in the others, by spinning back the other way and dropping to one knee. Tabbris had already scanned his mind for the answer to a question I didn’t even have to vocalize, sending me the information instantly. I knew exactly how many shots from their own weapons these shields of theirs could stand up to.

At a thought, a portal appeared in front of me as I forced my new brief host to kneel. With one of his hands, I yanked the laser pistol up, firing rapidly directly through it.  

The porcupine took three, four, five shots from the other end of the portal, which appeared behind him, stumbling forward with a cry as his shield went down on the last shot. By that point, the others had recovered from their confusion, realizing what had happened. But even as they turned on their possessed comrade, I was already hitting the eject while leaving one last order: for him to fall unconscious.

His body collapsed, while I popped out. Before my body had even finished reforming, I used a blast from my staff to throw myself right at porcupine-boy, who was still staggering from the shots that had hit him in the back only a second earlier. Dropping into a roll, I slapped a hand against his foot, triggering another expulsion rune now that his forcefield was down. The Seosten was kicked out of him, and the blade of my rising staff as I rolled to my feet went right through the neck of the reforming figure while he was still staggering from the forceful ejection.

Two down. One dead, one unconscious. Tabbris muted the rush of pleasure, even as one of the remaining Seosten spoke a word that put the porcupine-Alter on the ground. Now all I had were four hostless Seosten. Four rather pissed off hostless Seosten, to be exact.

Three of those four opened up on me with pistols, two energy and one slug thrower. Which, honestly, wouldn’t they have figured this out by now? I absorbed the former, sending the energy back at them while the bullets were caught on one of my repositioned kevlar-cloths.

The answer was yes. Yes, they had figured that out. It was a distraction. I figured that much out a second later, as the fourth Seosten threw up some kind of coin, activating the spell on it to create a portal of his own before throwing what looked like four rubber bands through.

Flick! Tabbris warned, but I was already moving. I knew this trick too, even before my item-sense warned me. The other end of the portal was behind me, and whatever those rubber bands were, I didn’t want anything to do with them.

I was almost fast enough, with the boost that my sister threw on. Three of the four bands missed me entirely, colliding with the floor. But the fourth hit my left wrist. As soon as it did, the band latched on tight while growing. It wrapped around my arm and yanked it to the small of my back, holding it there.

Magic restraints. Clearly the other three bands had been meant to connect with my other wrist and my ankles or legs, incapacitating me completely. As it was, they’d managed to make me literally fight with one hand behind my back. Whatever material it was made out of, it resisted my immediate effort to transport it off my wrist with my item-relocation power. And trying to shift my arm partway into lion-form to snap it just resulted in a sharp spasm of blinding pain as the magic cuff stayed put. So that didn’t work either.

But if they thought that was enough to stop me, they had another thing coming. With my staff held tightly in my free right hand, I threw myself straight at the Seosten. Which, whatever they’d been expecting me to do right then, it obviously wasn’t that.

I was there, right in the middle of their group, while they were still recovering from the surprise that my reaction to having one of my arms tied behind my back was to charge them. Swinging my staff hard through the air, I drove two of the four to stumble backward, while triggering a concussive blast from the other end, which caught the third in the face.

The fourth reacted faster than the others, lashing out with a swing from his laser sword that cut horizontally through the air toward my shoulders. I ducked under the humming blade, pivoting and rising to put myself on the far side of his extended arm before driving my leg hard into his stomach. At the same time, I triggered another boost from my staff and released it so the weapon would fly into the face of one of the first two Seosten. It ricocheted off his shield, but the impact was still enough to knock his head back with a cry.

As my foot rebounded from colliding with the stomach of the Seosten in front of me, I swung it back hard into the sternum of the second of the first two, the one who hadn’t just taken the staff to his face. A quick portal let me bring my falling weapon back to my free hand, even as I pivoted around Seosten in front of me, the first one that I had kicked. He was still recovering from that blow, even with the forcefield. Which slowed him just enough that my spinning staff collided with the back of his neck, sending him stumbling into the second one that I had kicked.

Those two were briefly caught up with one another. Which left the guy I had blasted in the face at the start of this flurry of fighting and the one who had just been hit, also in the face, with the end of my boosted staff.

Both of them boosted to come after me, and Tabbris boosted us to match them. Which she could only do for a brief time. But brief was all I needed. Letting them come for me, I let the first one swing his energy blade. Another horizontal swing. I backpedaled, then lunged forward and under his second swing.

Now between the two, I let the second guy try his luck. That time, I hit paydirt. Vertical swing. The instant I saw what he was doing, I pivoted on one foot. But I wasn’t dodging. I knew how long the energy blade was. My item sense, even though it couldn’t detect the blade itself, knew where the hilt was. I used that. Turning my back to the man, I ducked forward and raised my back as much as I could.

It worked. The energy blade collided with the magical cuff that had been incapacitating my left arm. Suddenly, it was gone. I was free. And I celebrated my newfound freedom by throwing myself bodily backward to collide with the man who had just cut through my cuff. Both of us went down, though he cushioned my fall while landing hard on his back. The energy blade dropped from his hand from the impact.

Creating another portal down by my feet while lying there, I lashed out with a kick. The other end of the portal appeared right in front of the groin of the second Seosten who had just been swinging his blade at me. From the dulled impact, it was clear that they were smart enough to wear what amounted to magical cups. Still, it made the guy stumble.

Then I disappeared. The remaining three Seosten, including the one I had just kicked, reacted instantly. They turned their weapons on the one I had been lying on top of, flooding the air with what was apparently some kind of stun setting on their guns. The guy was hit by so many of them, he probably wouldn’t wake up for another week.

I almost felt bad for the guy, considering I wasn’t actually possessing him. Yeah, his shield had still been up. Instead, I had simply possessed a tiny wooden coin that I’d dropped next to his body. But it sure looked as though I’d possessed him, and his companions had reacted pretty much as I’d planned.

Three left. While they were still trying to figure out what was going on, I popped out of my little wooden coin, already shifting my weapon to its bow form and loosing a shot. My foot was on the bit of wood, and I instantly transferred it to my hand before throwing it up and over their heads while they were diving away from the exploding energy arrow.

Even as the coin started to leave my hand, right as it was on the tip of my finger, I possessed it. My body vanished into the thing, which flew up through the air. One second I was standing there throwing a bit of wood, and in the next, I was inside the thing as it sailed over them.

With the wooden coin directly above one of the Seosten’s heads, I popped out of it. They were still trying to figure out where I’d disappeared to when I suddenly appeared with my weapon back in its staff form, blade down. Before the guy below me could react, I used a blast from the other end to propel myself at him. The blade collided with the man’s head and kept going, tearing through his shield from the force of the impact to cut straight down through him. The staff basically cut him in half vertically. It was… messy.

Two left. Both of whom were losing their minds right then. They wanted me down now. And they did their best to achieve that by boosting themselves to blinding speed, their forms a blur of motion as they came at me. Tabbris boosted us as much as she could, and the two Seosten were still faster. One slammed his fist into my face, knocking my head to the side with a cry, just before the other kicked me in the stomach with a blow that took the wind out of me while I was thrown backward. My staff fell to the floor with a clatter at their feet.

Too fast, my partner blurted, they’re too fast, I can’t keep up!

It’s okay, I sent back. He can.

He, in this case, was the first Seosten that I had killed in this room. The one whose throat I’d driven the blade of my staff through right after ejecting him from his host. He’d been killed instantly.

But I was a necromancer. And I was pretty God damn motivated right then. At a violent mental shove, the dead Seosten was suddenly back on his feet. He boosted, throwing himself at my two unsuspecting opponents. They turned too late, one of them taking the reignited energy blade through his chest before he even knew what was happening.

The other didn’t stop to question it. His own laser sword cut through the necks of both of his dead companions, taking their heads from their shoulders. A quick expert follow up swing took all four arms from them, and then he was facing me once more, energy blade extended. “Enough of this! You die now!

“You know,” I shot back, “I was with you through the first half of that.” As the man readied himself to come at me once more with a blinding blur that would surely finish me off, I held up both hands as if to show that they were empty.

Then I grabbed the bracelet on my arm, the one that I had gotten from Broker the day before. My finger found the blue button on it, and I spoke a single word.

“Jaq.”

I disappeared. Exactly as advertised, the bracelet transported me instantly to where Jaq was. Which, at that moment, was attached to my staff… directly behind the last Seosten. I appeared in a crouch, my hands already grabbing the two abandoned laser swords from the beheaded (and disarmed) guys. Thumbing them on, even as the guy realized his mistake, I shouted inwardly, Boost!

It wasn’t fast enough to get the guy before he could turn around. But it was enough to get him before he could do anything else. He faced me, mouth open in clear disbelief as I stood there with two borrowed energy blades, one in each hand, driven through his chest.

He fell. And as he did, the weapons fell from my hands as well, even as my arms dropped to my sides as if they weighed a million pounds. I was breathing hard. Everything, going through the hotel, all the possessions, all the fighting, the running, the boosting, the struggling just to survive for another few seconds, all of it for so long, was getting even to me. I had to catch my breath. Six Seosten. Six Seosten and they were down. They were down. Breathe, Flick. Breathe.

And then a sudden, blinding pain in my legs took even that breath away. A strangled scream escaped me, as I fell to the floor. I was bleeding badly. Something–something had cut through both of my legs so deep they were nearly cut off entirely. More than once. Something cut through them more than once. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t think. There was so much blood.

“Well, this was exciting,” Kushiel’s voice spoke, as my bleary eyes snapped over to find a hole in the shield that had been keeping them out. All of them. They were there, the three Olympians. Kushiel, Abaddon, and Radueriel.

“But I think we know how this ends,” the psycho bitch continued while handling the bloody sword that she had used on her own legs while transferring the damage to cripple me. “Not well for you.

“Not well at all.”

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Interlude 33E – Jophiel and Elisabet

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In the middle of a mostly empty warehouse, seven strange figures sat around a large table. The dim lighting from a standing lamp set near the table revealed poker chips and cards scattered across the surface, along with ashtrays, drinks, and the remnants of food. Loud, boisterous taunting and jokes filled the air as the figures continued their intense game.

None of the figures were human, and all but two appeared to be very different species from each other. The largest was an enormous, nine-foot tall Minotaur, who dwarfed even the specially-made large chair that he lounged in at the head of the table.

Continuing around the table clockwise sat a dark-furred Rakshasa; a figure that looked like a Tolkien elf with high pointed ears and and an aristocratic bearing; another who was quite similar to that, save for possessing red skin; a shark-like humanoid who was almost as large as the Minotaur; and a figure who might have been mistaken for a vampire from any who did not know him to be one of their progenitor species, an Akharu.

Finally, on the other side of the Minotaur, opposite the Rakshasa, was a small figure who technically stood only about two feet tall. With its large eyes, enormous ears, and wide mouth that stretched across its entire face, the figure looked quite similar to the Disney character of Stitch. Except, of course, for the long, flowing, cape-like appendage that was attached to his shoulders. The ‘cape’ had razor-sharp talons lining the entirety of the far end. Talons that held a incredibly deadly, paralytic poison. It was three times as long as the creature’s main body, and strong enough to hold it fully upright so that the creature could be eye-to-eye with a six-foot tall man. The cape-appendage could be used to glide long distances, and to protect the creature itself, as it was both bulletproof, and resistant to most kinds of magic.

Though they were often referred to as ‘caped-gremlins’, the creature was actually called a Larikeken. Their use of their cape-like appendages to stand taller than they actually were had led to long confusion about whether they were actually one or two species. And more than one group of Larikeken had ambushed unsuspecting enemies by hiding several of their number under one cape.

In the midst of a particularly raucous series of betting, the heavily reinforced and magically protected door at the entrance of the warehouse abruptly crumpled inward, bending almost entirely in half before it flew off to loudly clatter its way across the floor.

The Spanish woman who walked through the opening then brought the stunned poker players to their feet even faster than the crashing door already would have.

“Heretic!” the Minotaur bellowed loudly while grabbing an enormous axe that had been laid nearby. Around him, the rest of the figures all moved to attack the intruder.

It was an assault that ended exactly as soon as it had begun. With one hand, the woman snapped her fingers. At that command, a trio of three foot thick, concrete tentacles with spikes on the end erupted from the cement floor of the warehouse. Before the figures knew what was happening, the Minotaur, Rakshasa, and shark-man were fully impaled by the cement tentacles, leaving their suddenly lifeless bodies hanging there.

At the same time, the woman waved her other hand, and a wall of intense fire, tall enough to reach the ceiling, rose up before rolling across the opposite half of the room. The remaining four Alters were caught by the flames, and their screams briefly filled the air before going silent.

A dark blue, almost black aura rose around the Spanish woman, though she didn’t even break stride as she followed her own rolling flame. As the fire faded, it left behind scorched and melted concrete, a few ashes and crumbling bones from the bodies it had picked completely clean… and two distinctly glowing shapes. While both elf-like figures had been entirely incinerated, the smaller Larikeken and the Akharu were trapped within glowing blue, semi-translucent crystals. The crystals had protected them from the fire that turned their companions to ashes, yet held them prisoner. Their own screams were rendered mute against their crystal prisons.

Would you like to take the next part? Elisabet silently inquired of her Seosten partner and lover.

Yes I believe I will, the other woman replied. Seamlessly, she took over. To the outside world, there would be no change at all. The two were so perfectly in sync with each other that one could pass control to the other in mid-step and show no delay or hesitation whatsoever.

“Now then,” Jophiel used her partner’s mouth to announce while stopping directly in front of the two trapped figures. “Let’s play a game.” With those words, their fingers snapped once more, and the crystals shattered. The two figures that had been trapped within fell to the floor.

The Akharu was back on his feet in an instant, his incredible speed turning him into a blur of motion that would have been impossible for most beings of the planet to even hope to track.

Most beings, however, did not include a Crossroads Committee-level Seosten-Heretic pairing. Jophiel and Elisabet could have read an entire book in the time it took the man to lunge at them. Even as his feet pushed off and his fist swung wildly for their throat, Jophiel raised a single finger, holding their arm outstretched while remaining perfectly still. The incoming fist slammed into that single finger, and a shockwave of force reverberated throughout the room. The finger remained entirely motionless, as if nothing at all had happened. Meanwhile, the Akharu’s fist crumpled under the impact like a car slamming into a wall during a failed safety test. From the point of collision and spreading out to encompass the entire arm over the span of milliseconds, skin, muscle, and bone all turned to stone, which in turn crumbled to dust.

It would have required a dramatically slowed replay to actually see. Or, of course, the incredible reflexes and speed of the Akharu who experienced it. In the time that it would have taken most to register that their fist had been not just blocked, but broken by a single finger, his entire arm up to the shoulder had turned to stone and completely shattered. The remains lay scattered along the floor at their feet while he stared down incredulously, the pain drawing a belated scream.

“I said,” Jophiel started once more, her voice remaining perfectly even, “let’s play a game.” Lifting both hands, she summoned a handful of much smaller concrete coils from the floor to wrap around the now one-armed Akharu and his gremlin-like companion. The coils yanked both down and held them in place against their struggles while Jophiel stepped between them. The woman stood there, looking first to one, then the other, as though deciding which to start with.

She settled on the smaller figure. Lifting a foot, the woman settled it against his throat. “This is a very simple game. I will ask you a question. Lie to me, and you will suffer. For example…” She made a sharp gesture with one hand. In response, one of the caped-gremlin’s finger bones was torn from its socket. The bone ripped its way free, tearing through muscle and skin as it was ripped out, flying into the woman’s waiting hand.

Crushing the finger bone between two fingers while the figure literally under her boot screamed and howled, Jophiel gave him just a moment of that before pressing her foot down enough to cut off his wails so that she could speak over the sound of the resulting gurgling.

“You have many more bones to go before I would need to get… creative. So I suggest you answer my questions. And do recall that I will know if you are lying.”

With her point firmly established, she began with, “You and your… companions work for a man you know as Hades. You will tell me everything that you have done for him for the past year.”

Her foot lowered a bit more, making her point even clearer as she added, “Be… thorough.”

******

That may have been cathartic, Elisabet noted as they strode out of the warehouse some time later, but it was not all that informative as far as our actual problem goes.

You’re right, Jophiel agreed. But at the very least, we know more about some of Manakel’s side-projects. If need be, we have ammunition that can be used against him should he make a fuss or hold anything back during our upcoming personal discussion.

With that, the woman gestured. A portal appeared in the air, and they stepped through, leaving the warehouse, and the planet itself, behind.

The portal carried the joined pair to a small, tropical island. Ignoring the beauty around them, Jophiel focused instead on the cabin that, aside from the dock built along the shore, was the only bit of construction visible on the island.

Upon their arrival, Jophiel and Elisabet were met by a cough. Manakel, wearing his own currently most-used host, stepped into view. “You know,” the old Seosten announced flatly with his host’s voice, “that group was rather useful to me. They were no Seosten, of course. But they were punctual and dependable. Then you had to go throw your temper tantrum and–”

That was as far as he got before Elisabet crossed the distance between them. Her hand snapped out to lock around the throat of Manakel’s host, hoisting them from the ground before slamming the host’s back against the wall of the cabin hard enough to make it rattle from the force. “You were told,” she began in a voice that shook the air like thunder, “to leave the Moon children out of your schemes.

That was why Jophiel and Elisabet were furious beyond measure. The idea, the thought, that Manakel had disregarded Jophiel’s orders to keep his hands away from the children of Sariel, enraged both of them to the point that it required actual effort not to burn him and his host to the ground right where they stood. The time and work that the two of them had put into maintaining Vanessa Moon’s safety, in preventing her from ending up out in Kushiel’s torture lab, only for the girl and her brother to disappear without a trace? It positively stank of Manakel’s doing.

“And,” Manakel announced in his own voice then, having stepped out of his host after taking the time to leave the figure in question unconscious, “I’ve done precisely that. I had nothing to do with Sariel’s spawn going wherever it is that they went. A fact that I could have told you without your unnecessary… visit to my employees.”

“Why,” Elisabet asked for the two of them, “should we believe a word that comes from your mouth on this subject? You already tried to go behind my back once when I denied your petition to take the boy when he first reappeared.” She released Manakel’s slumbering host, letting the figure drop to the ground. “An insult, I remind you, that I have not forgotten. Nor will it go unanswered in its time, I assure you.”  

Briefly, Jophiel pondered how the proud Seosten would react to the knowledge that it was Elisabet, the human, and not her who was currently threatening him. It was, she had to admit, a rather amusing thought.

“Jophiel,” Manakel started with his trademark faux joviality and camaraderie. “Please. I’ve already admitted that that was a… an overzealous mistake. Please. Listen, I know we have had our… disagreements, of late. But I promise you, I know nothing about the disappearances of Sariel’s hybrid children. Now, I won’t pretend that I don’t still want them. But in this case, I’m as in the dark as you. A fact that you in particular could have ascertained even from my employees without using such violent means. Good help is hard enough to find without my own allies killing them. Especially an ally whose gift makes such permanent measures entirely unnecessary.”

He was referring, of course, to Jophiel’s Olympian gift, the power that she had gained from her own enhancements. In her case, that allowed her to look at anyone she could see and apply any particular emotional feeling they felt for any other person to herself. She could make a person love her as much as they loved their own wife, or their mother. It made acquiring information much easier at times.

But in this case, the disappearance of the twins had left both of them as angry as they had ever been. They had not been in the mood to make things easy.

Allow me, Jophiel gently advised her partner.  Stepping away from the man’s host, she gave the figure a pointed look before returning her gaze to him. “Somehow, I think you may know more than you’re saying. The twins did, after all, disappear from Crossroads grounds.”

“And yet,” Manakel easily replied, “what I said holds true. You know everything that I do about what happened to those children. Unless Sinclaire is holding her cards particularly close to her chest, everyone there is equally clueless. It seems that no one on either side has the faintest idea where Sariel’s spawn have scampered off to. It–” He chuckled a little. “It’s really almost amusing, if you stop and think about it. Here we’ve all been fighting over the two of them almost since their existence was revealed, and now… poof. They’ve disappeared.”

“I’m not laughing,” Jophiel informed the man flatly. “If what you’re saying is true… then who took them? That implies that some other force has the ability to pluck people straight from Crossroads without our being able to either stop them, or find any trace afterward. Speaking plainly, I would prefer that it be you stepping out of line.”

Accepting that with a faint nod, Manakel offered, “Have you tried speaking with Amitiel on the subject? He could know more.”

Despite the situation, Jophiel found herself giving the man a tight-lipped smile. “This wouldn’t be your way of sniffing for clues to Amitiel’s current host or mission, would it?”

Amitiel, known to the ancient Greek humans as Hermes, and to the Romans as Mercury, was one of the most stealth-minded Seosten among all of the Olympians. His ability to remain undetected despite intensive efforts to locate him surpassed even Sariel when she had been loyal, and he often engaged in long-term undercover assignments that could take him out of contact for years, or even decades in certain situations.

Jophiel and Elisabet knew who he was, as part of the Seosten woman’s position as head of Crossroads operations. As did her counterpart who had been embedded in Eden’s Garden, Cahethal/Demeter. Yet, Jophiel was fairly certain that they were the only ones on Earth who were aware of his current host and what he was doing. And that list didn’t get much longer even when the rest of the universe was brought in.

Manakel’s smile was unabashed. “You can hardly blame me for trying, can you? He is, after all, insufferable about his little secrets. It would be nice to put one over on him for once.”

“You’ll have to play your games on your own time,” Jophiel informed him. “Or, you could find out where Sariel’s children are so that I don’t rip your heart from your chest and force you to use it as your next culinary experiment.”

“I assure you,” Manakel replied, “if I come across any information as to their whereabouts, I will be very certain to inform you immediately.”

“See that you do.” Pausing after that, Jophiel looked to the man. “And as far as Kushiel and Puriel’s child goes, have you found her yet?”

Manakel’s head shook once, the annoyance that he had to answer that in the negative as well clear in his expression before he masked it. “No. And you know that they hate it when you call her that.”

“She does,” Jophiel corrected him. “Puriel is the only reason the girl isn’t still in one of her mother’s labs. Or that her existence is known to us at all.”

Manakel chuckled, his voice dark. “You’re not suggesting that the old captain actually cares for a Lie?”

“I am suggesting,” Jophiel retorted, “no more or less than I have outright stated. Without Puriel’s personal intervention, the Lie would not have been made available for this mission. And speaking of this mission, you seem to be presenting more problems than you are solutions since your arrival. Your spy, the Isaac monster, has gone dark. You lost the pixie. You lost the Lie. And now Sariel’s children have vanished. Tell me, Lord of the Underworld, what have you accomplished here, precisely? Do feel free to embellish. I’d like a reason not to spend my afternoon explaining to Metatron why it was necessary to remove you from your position.”

“You want to know everything I’ve been doing,” Manakel guessed, lifting his chin. “That’s why you went to one of my mercenary groups, to double-check what I’m about to tell you.”

Jophiel gave him a humorless smile. “The only thing you’re wrong about is the assumption that I only went to one of your mercenary bands. News of the others simply hasn’t reached you yet. And, it won’t. I’d prefer you not know which lies are safe to keep and which I already know about.”

With a simple wave, she summoned two comfortable chairs, perching herself in one before reaching down. By the time her hand was low enough, there was already a small table there with a glass of iced tea waiting.

“So please, start at the beginning. Perhaps we’ll find out if any of your manipulations could have led to the Moon children disappearing.”

She continued in a tone that was no less dangerous than it had been upon on her arrival, her disdain for the man patently obvious. “And if I might offer you the same advice I gave to one of your people back there…

“Be thorough.”

******

And that was no more helpful than anything else we’ve done today, Jophiel noted later, as the joined pair stood at the edge of a waterfall somewhere deep in the middle of the Crossroads Island jungle. Their fist tightened. If something happened to those children…

It wasn’t just about their long-running, subtle efforts to convince their leadership of the benefits behind a true Seosten-Human partnership. They had also grown to genuinely care for Vanessa Moon in the time that they had been secretly protecting her from being abducted for testing, even if the girl herself remained completely unaware of their existence. They were proud of her accomplishments, despite the fact that she would have seen them as enemies of her and her family. The thought that she and her twin might be under the ‘care’ of that unhinged…

Elisabet interrupted her thoughts. You know what we must check next, my beautiful sianame.

Groaning inwardly, Jophiel lamented, I have no desire to see that place again.

You and I both, Elisabet agreed. But if she has ignored higher orders and taken them anyway…

With a sigh, Jophiel agreed. Turning their hand intangible, she reached into their body to retrieve the key from its place on their rib cage. Was a wave of their hand, she created a simple door there and they’re in front of them. Activating the key, she used it and they stepped through.

*******

Even for someone as powerful and connected as Jophiel was, gaining access to Kushiel’s lab was no simple matter. There were politics involved, and layers of secrets as to its location. Days came and went while she and Elisabet alternated between Earth and Seosten space working their way through everything necessary for them to get there for what she called an inspection. And each day that went by convinced them more and more that Kushiel had somehow bypassed the chain of command to take those children.

Finally, after Jophiel and Elisabet had long-since passed the point of patience, their request was granted. Going through a series of at least seven portals and various security measures, they eventually  found themselves standing in a banquet room with three figures waiting.

“Kushiel,” Jophiel started while focusing on the lone female figure, who sat at the head of the table. “Was there a reunion that I was not invited to?“

Kushiel’s companions both looked to one another. Radueriel, who had been Hephaestus on Earth, stood. His voice was amicable. “Reunion is perhaps a most apt word for it, my lovely fake wife.”

“Yup,” Abbadon/Ares confirmed. Radueriel’s own true lover, despite Lucifer’s stories, rose alongside his husband. The tallest and most physically imposing of the Olympians, Abbadon stood a solid seven feet, two inches tall. His body was solid muscle that would have made the most roided up bodybuilder back on Earth weep from inadequacy. “One great big reunion.”

Watching the three of them carefully, Jophiel asked, “What, precisely, does that mean?”

Even as she asked that, an alarm began to blare from nearby, while a voice from an intercom spoke of arriving unknown spaceships. In response to that, a shark-like smile spread across Kushiel’s face.

“It means, my dear, that you should stick around for awhile.

“Our company has arrived.”

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