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“Man, I hope this is the right place.” The whispered remark came from Columbus, as he, Sarah, Sands, Vanessa, and Tristan crouched behind a low wall on the far side of a seemingly abandoned warehouse. There was no real need to whisper, thanks to the privacy spells they were all using, but still. It felt like a whispering sort of situation.
“Tell me about it,” Sands retorted, peeking through a hole in the wall at the distant warehouse a hundred yards or so away. “What’s this, the fourth possibility we’ve checked today? I lost track.”
“Fifth,” came the answer through the magical communication badges they all wore. It was Croc, the Eden’s Garden Unset Heretic, who would be on the front side of the warehouse with Kohaku and about a dozen other adults. They were the frontal assault, the ones who would go straight in and draw the immediate response if this was the right building.
Everyone here was looking for Kushiel’s ghost, those Seosten kids she had on her side, and Harrison Fredericks, the man they had abducted. Why they took the man who had invented cyberforms, no one knew. But it couldn’t be for anything good. They had to find the man and free him. So, while Flick’s group went to Fossor’s world, Columbus and the others had been running down every lead they could find about where Kushiel could be holed up. In this case, the clue had been that she was somewhere in a large building on the outskirts of Huntsville, Alabama. That didn’t completely narrow down the possibilities, but they were working their way through them methodically.
“Is everyone back there in position and ready?” Kohaku asked through the badges. They could hear the tension in her voice. She wanted to get this done with already. The adults would draw most of the attention if their targets were inside. While they were doing that, Columbus and the others would make their way through the back, find Fredericks, and get him out. The main goal of their mission wasn’t to destroy Kushiel’s ghost, it was to save Fredericks before she could force him to do whatever it was she had abducted him for.
Though to be honest, Columbus wouldn’t object if the opportunity to destroy that evil cunt happened to show itself. She had already been killed once, so the fact that she was back causing trouble again was unfair to begin with. He’d definitely be a-okay if one of their group got the chance to end her for good.
Shaking off that thought for the moment, he glanced over the others and received an assortment of thumbs up from them. “We’re set,” the boy answered simply. “So let’s see what’s going on inside. You guys got anything up there?” Even as he asked that, Columbus touched the side of his goggles while staring at the building. He cycled through various vision modes, zooming in and checking for heat signatures. That turned up nothing, but when he tried to use the x-ray vision to see through the walls, nothing happened at all. “It’s got some sort of shield, I can’t see into the building. Sarah?”
The girl in question already had her rifle raised while sitting with her back to the wall. She created a quick series of invisible scope-portals, each getting closer to the building. But a moment later, she too shook her head and spoke quietly. “Can’t get inside with them. It’s blocked.”
“Yeah, we’re in the same position out here,” Croc confirmed. “Whatever’s in there, it has some pretty powerful magic blocking anyone from seeing inside. So, I guess we’re just going to have to do this the direct way. Wait for us to go in loud, then make your approach. You’ve all got your escape stones if this goes sideways, right?” After they confirmed they did, he reminded them once more that Kushiel and those kids weren’t the main point of this mission. “You see Fredericks, you get him out and retreat, that’s it. We’ll handle the big guns. You know, with these big guns.”
“You know we can’t see you flexing, right?” Sands pointed out.
“Maybe not, but you’re imagining it just fine,” came the confident reply.
While waiting for the adults to do their thing, Columbus shifted his weight and scanned the grounds once more just in case. “What do you guys think she wants him for?”
“Probably wants him to build a giant robot thing for her,” Tristan replied, already shifting Bobbi-Bobbi from snake to cannon form. “You know, a body she can use even as a ghost, like the way those pals of hers were possessing the other cyberforms. You think he can build her something nasty enough to be a threat?”
“If anyone can, it’s Fredericks,” Vanessa replied flatly. “But could she find a way to make him do it? I mean, from what everyone said, he’s pretty stubborn, especially when it comes to people using his creations. He managed to stay neutral between Crossroads and Eden’s Garden, and between the rebellion and loyalists. I don’t think it’s exactly that easy to make him do something he doesn’t want to do.”
“In that case,” Sands muttered, “hopefully he hasn’t actually done anything for her yet. It’d be nice if we could get him out of there before Kushiel gets what she wants out of him. You know, so we don’t have to deal with the worst case scenario for once.” Her tone was almost wistful, a far cry from the girl who had been so eager, and even desperate to find some action and prove herself a year and a half earlier.
Before anyone else could respond to that, the sound of a loud explosion drew their attention toward the building. As promised, the adults made their incursion very loud and obvious. One of them, probably Croc, blew a hole in the side of the building, sending chunks of debris flying in every direction. And with that, they were inside. The group could now see various flashes of light coming through that hole, where the magical façade could no longer cover what was actually happening within. They heard shouts, and caught glimpses of various forms moving around inside. From the look of things, either they had the wrong place, and this was just an unrelated magically protected building, or Kushiel had recruited a lot more people to help with whatever she was doing. Unless they were just more of those ghosts from before. But these figures seemed more solid than that.
The moment the assault started, Sands put a hand out to touch the bullet that Sarah was offering her. Seconds later, she disappeared into it, possessing the small bit of ammo. Whatever happened next, she would be ready to appear right where Sarah sent her.
Columbus, for his part, had just started to focus on getting a look inside that hole, when a flash of movement drew his attention to the opposite end of the building. Right there, at one of the back loading dock doors, were the Seosten kids they had seen at Fredericks’ lab when the group had briefly taken over the cyberform dragons. Seven of them, four boys and three girls, just like before. And just like that day, they wore the same uniforms. Gold with black piping for the boys, black with gold piping for the girls.
The seven of them emerged together, clearly surrounding and escorting another familiar figure. It was Fredericks. The man’s hands were in some sort of shackles with glowing magic runes on them, and he was stumbling along with one of the boys, the one with short black hair and almost unnaturally pale skin, walking right behind him. It was Āter, latin for black (they were all named after colors, because gods forbid Kushiel actually put some effort into naming children). The boy had one of the luxensis, the Seosten laser swords, ignited and held close enough to do some real damage if Fredericks had tried to run.
The blue-haired boy (Caeruleus) and brunette girl (Fuscus) were in front, eyes scanning the area ahead of them as they jogged toward the far side of the warehouse grounds. The green-haired girl (Viridis) and blond guy who looked like he belonged on the cover of a trashy romance novel (Lūteus) remained on either side, watching for attacks from that angle. Finally, the white-haired, well-built guy (Candidus) and golden-haired girl (Aureus) were bringing up the rear, a few feet behind Āter and Fredericks. All of them were watching for any attack, while heading straight for what looked like a large van parked just off the grounds. That had to be their escape route. Or at least the one they were planning on using now that the adults had cut off the ones that would have been inside.
But this was precisely why Columbus and the others were here. Well, technically they had been here to sneak in the back once the adults had Kushiel’s attention. But like hell were they just going to sit back and let those guys get away with Fredericks a second time. The group all exchanged quick looks, nodded to another, and then made their move.
Sarah went first, firing two quick shots. The first contained Sands, and went through three portals before coming out on the far side of Lūteus. As that bullet hit the ground, the girl herself appeared, already making a sharp sweeping motion with her mace to summon a wall of solid steel all the way around the front of the Seosten youths before they could react.
At the same time, Tristan brought his cannon in line with the group before shifting it to the side to fire a blast of charged energy right at the door they had just come out of. The shot demolished the opening, collapsing it under a pile of rubble to ensure they couldn’t go back the way they’d come.
Columbus, meanwhile, was already sprinting forward. After a couple steps, he vanished, reappearing in the middle of the group, right where Fredericks was. Or rather, where Fredericks had been. Columbus had used one of the powers he’d picked up while being possessed by Charmeine to switch places with the man, leaving Fredericks next to Sarah and Tristan.
The golden-haired Aureus was already raising her hands toward Sands when Columbus appeared. Catching a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye, her fingers extended that way. But before she could summon any explosions with her own power, Columbus sent a wide blast of concussive force from his goggles right into her. It was enough to knock the girl flying off her feet to crash into that pile of rubble that had once been the doorway the group had come through.
Behind him, Columbus could sense Caeruleus and Fuscus turning, the latter sprinting toward Sarah and Tristan, where Fredericks had appeared, while the blue-haired boy snarled and went for Columbus himself. Viridis had already summoned a wave of water to carry herself toward Sarah, Tristan, and Fredericks as well, picking up Candidus first, then Fuscus on the way. And Lūteus was in the midst of a pitched fight with Sands.
The explosion-teleporting girl he had just knocked into the rubble would be back up any second. But right now, Columbus had to focus on Caeruleus. Spinning around, he narrowly managed to twist his head aside from the glowing yellow luxensis blade that the blue-haired Seosten had suddenly slashed at him with.
For the moment, Columbus was going to have to just trust that his companions could take care of themselves, because he was already dealing with about as much as he could handle. Bringing his hand up, the boy created a brief burst of flame to make his opponent back up a step. Unfortunately, instead of doing so, Caeruleus grabbed onto the flame. It somehow solidified into a glass like structure under his touch, allowing the boy to literally pluck the fire out of the air.
Columbus barely had time to curse inside his own head before the other boy threw the glass fire at him. Even though he had three different layers of heat protection from various powers, he still instinctively dove out of the way. Which turned out to be a good thing, as he could feel the pain from the flames when they exploded back to life. So this guy could turn fire into solid objects, even when that fire was created by other people, and made it hot enough to damage Columbus, despite multiple heat protection powers.
Yeah, safe to say that was bullshit, but not all that surprising by that point. At least they had answered the question of what one more of these Olympian children could do. Now he just had to do something about that.
Already rolling back to his feet as he felt the explosion of fire behind him, Columbus pivoted and focused on summoning the metal armor around his body. Some might have seen that as a bad idea considering the way metal would conduct heat, but he had already done several experiments on that front and in this case, whatever metal his armor was made of added another layer of protection against fire. Between that and the skintight forcefield he was able to encase himself within, he would be safer.
But not safe enough that he didn’t still wince as his opponent created a new wall of flames in front of him out of the remains of that explosion. Columbus was really starting to regret having made the fire to begin with. Though something told him this guy didn’t need his help on that front.
Forcing himself to ignore the pain, Columbus took a couple steps forward right through the flames. They solidified into that solid glass-like structure around him, but he was strong enough to punch his way through it with just a bit of effort. The guy was waiting with that laser sword already swinging, but Columbus was faster. He lunged, catching the other boy’s extended arm at the elbow to keep the blade raised while lashing out with a fist to punch him in the face. He didn’t strike as hard as he could. They didn’t want to kill these guys if they could help it. They had obviously been raised and corrupted by Kushiel, twisted into acting as her bodyguards or weapons. If it was at all possible to get them away from her and deprogram them or whatever, they had to try.
Besides, the Seosten would probably appreciate it, and right now Earth needed as many brownie points with them as they could get. They wanted this truce to keep going, and giving the Seosten leadership every excuse they could to keep playing nice was the best way to do that.
Caeruleus recoiled from the punch before abruptly rising into the air under a column of fire that emerged from his feet. The fire turned to that solid glass shape as quickly as it appeared, still giving off just as much heat, enough to make Columbus reflexively lean away from it.
“Amethyst, fire suppression,” the boy snapped, bringing his arm out. From her place hidden within a bracelet he wore, the armadillo-porcupine cyberform appeared in her shield form. A handful of the enchanted quills he had prepared tilted upward before shooting off into the air.
Caeruleus had already begun to surround him with a circle of blazing hot glass fire. But as the quills hit a spot several feet above the other boy’s head, the spells on them triggered, engulfing the area in a spell that would disrupt any fire or heat source over a certain temperature. Immediately, Columbus felt a wave of relief as the fire stopped burning him. But he couldn’t just leave it there. The other boy was already recovering, hands rising to summon more fire. So, Columbus reared back before thrusting both hands up and forward. The power he was summoning allowed the boy to project a blast of kinetic force out from any part of his body, magnified by the force with which he moved that body part in the process. In this case, the wave of energy was enough to knock his opponent off that now-frozen column of glass fire, sending him flailing toward the ground before he righted himself and landed smoothly.
They didn’t have time for an extended fight. That wasn’t what they were here for. They came to rescue Fredericks, and that’s what they were going to do. To that end, Columbus ran forward as though he was going to tackle the other boy. Caeruleus set himself, raising that laser sword. At the last second, Columbus teleported again. That time he changed places with Lūteus, the romance model who had been fighting Sands by animating pieces of the nearby building. The two Seosten almost crashed into one another as the switch was made, but both recovered quickly.
Not quickly enough, however, to stop Sands from encasing them both in a steel dome. Which wouldn’t last long with Lūteus’s ability to manipulate walls and such, but it still bought them a couple seconds. Which the two of them used immediately. Columbus caught hold of Sands before looking toward Vanessa, who was in her werebear form keeping Aureus busy after Columbus had knocked her into the rubble, stopping the Seosten girl from focusing enough to do much damage with her explosions.
The golden-haired Seosten girl had just forced herself up from the rubble. But before she could hit Vanessa, Sands extended a hand that way and fired off her shotgun-like blast of disorienting energy. It struck Aureus, making the girl reel and stumble dizzily for a second. Which was all the time Vanessa needed to spin around and lunge at the spot where her two companions were. In mid-leap, she returned to her human form, just in time for Columbus to catch her outstretched hand. Then, just as all their opponents in this little area were about to converge, Columbus teleported one more time with the other two. In that case, he made Sands, Vanessa, and himself switch places with Viridis, Fuscus, and Candidus, who were over by Sarah, Tristan, and the still-cuffed Fredericks.
Landing smoothly, Columbus pivoted to look back that way. The six Seosten figures were already recovering and starting to move. “Do it, do it, do it!” he snapped.
Vanessa did it. Triggering the transportation spell, she sent a wave of teleportation energy around them, engulfing the group to send them several hundred miles away, to the rendezvous point.
As soon as they arrived in the empty field behind a grocery store, he quickly looked around to do a headcount. Vanessa, Tristan, Sands, Sarah, himself, and… Fredericks! They were all here, they did it.
“Uggnn…” A groan drew everyone’s attention to the ground at their feet. Aureus, the golden-haired explosion-teleporter. She was lying there, apparently having teleported right into the middle of their own transport spell before being dragged along with it, and now she had been left even more dazed and disoriented.
Oh. They hadn’t simply freed Fredericks, they had accidentally brought one of the Olympian teens with them.
Well… that was going to be interesting.