Things moved quickly then. Or, at least as quickly as things could move while time was frozen. That bit was a little confusing. The point was, we were busy.
Jophiel and Elisabet set out to lay a series of powerful spells on the four of us. The spells would, as they had already said, make it impossible for us to tell anyone about what had happened here. Even if we were possessed by someone else, or someone used some kind of mind reading power on us, that particular secret would stay safe. No matter what we did, we would not be able to let any of the others know about any of this.
I hated it. I hated the idea of keeping secrets, even against my will. But if it was down between that and losing the chance to save Sariel, there was no contest. This was about saving their mother. That was what mattered, not my comfort or preference.
Once the two women were satisfied that the spells had taken hold, Jophiel stepped back. “Okay,” she announced then, “that should do.”
Elisabet spoke up. “But remember, we will be monitoring these spells. And if we discover that you have been attempting to disable or circumvent them, we will consider that a violation of our agreement.”
Jophiel inclined her head. “In which case, we will be forced to consider other measures, including permanent relocation with us, and the suspension of our own agreement not to speak of certain things to our own people, such as young Tabbris’s existence.”
Grimacing at that, I gave a quick nod. “We’re not going to try to break the spell,” I assured them. “You keep your side of the deal, and we’ll keep our side. Help us save Sariel.”
Giving a faint smile, Elisabet noted, “As we said, doing anything too overt would be inadvisable. Our cover must remain intact. So, the most we will do is ensure that Apollo arrives in time to create that distraction. You must be the ones to take advantage of that properly. You get to Sariel and awaken her. The code for the console on the side of the chamber is bottom left, bottom left, middle, top right, bottom right, top left.”
Vanessa and Tristan both repeated that verbatim, the latter stopping to blink afterward. “Huh,” he muttered while tilting his head, “I guess I’ve got a perfect memory now too.” A smile crossed his face briefly. “Sweet, school is going to be so easy now.”
Making a face as though she was choosing to ignore that for the time being, Vanessa addressed the women. “How are we supposed to get close to pods with all of those guards?”
Jophiel answered simply. “Consider that one of your first tests. Apollo will be quite busy distracting Kushiel. It will be up to you to get past the rest of the soldiers and unlock the pod to awaken Sariel. We truly wish you luck.”
“Yeah,” I murmured, “trust me, we’re wishing ourselves luck right now too.” With a sigh, I looked back to the others for a moment before belatedly looking back. “Hey, if time has been frozen, does that mean that the spell stopping Tabbris from possessing me is still on, or…”
Before answering, Jophiel took her… partner’s (though I was pretty sure by that point that there was far more to that situation than simple partners) hand and the two remerged. I wasn’t even sure whether it was Jophiel or Elisabet speaking then, as she/they finally replied, “The time limit of the effect continues to count down even while time is stopped like this, if you are not among those who are frozen. What truly matters is how much time has passed for you personally. And in this case, the effect will expire right… hm, in… thirty seconds.” She/they paused briefly, noting absently, “If you had waited slightly longer to ask, that would have been very impressive timing.”
Shrugging at that, I managed a weak, “Sorry to disappoint you. If there’s nothing else, we’ll get back to saving Sariel, and the rest of these people, from your psycho piece of shit former crewmate.” Even as I said it, there was a voice inside me that was frantically saying to shut up and not antagonize them. And this time, I knew that it wasn’t Tabbris.
If they were offended, however, it didn’t show on Elisabet’s face. She remained entirely expressionless, save for a tiny, almost imperceptible smile that somehow seemed almost as dangerous as if she had glared at me. “As we said,” she/they replied simply, “We wish you luck. And now, the effect should be ended.”
Testing that, I took Tabbris’s hand. A moment later, she was possessing me once more. It might have been silly, but I immediately relaxed just a little. Knowing that my little sister was out of sight, and where it would be much harder to actually get to her, automatically made me feel better. That and I felt more like myself when she was there. Losing her made me feel somehow incomplete, even after the time that we had spent at the Aelaestiam base with her separated from me.
“Ten seconds,” Jophiel or Elisabet announced then, once Tabbris and I were back together. “After we disappear, you will have ten seconds before the time-stop fades. Then that door right there will open, and it will be up to you to reach Sariel’s tube and release her while Apollo faces Kushiel.”
“Are you going to give us a way to contact you?” I asked hesitantly. “I mean, for this training thing you were talking about.”
For a moment, the woman’s eyes found me, and I wondered once more which of them was doing the talking. And if it really mattered. “We will contact you when the time is right,” she/they informed us. “And when we do call for you, it would be for the best if you did not make us wait any longer than necessary.”
Before we could say anything else to that, the woman (women?) disappeared, vanishing from sight.
“That’s that,” Tristan muttered. “Now comes the fun part. Are we ready?”
“We better be,” I replied, “Because here we–” Before I could finish the sentence, the door in front of us suddenly whoosed open. The time-stop was gone, and we had to move.
Together, the four of us (three if you only counted those of us in separate bodies) ran through that open doorway. The first thing that I noticed was that the pod that contained Sariel had already been pushed up into the transport thing. Kushiel had her back to us as she put one foot on the ramp, while a small army of soldiers stood in our way. The woman herself wasn’t even looking at us, like we weren’t worth paying that much attention to. She simply started to walk up the ramp without a single glance backward. She would leave her soldiers to deal with us, while she took off with Sariel and the rest of the prisoners. There was no way that we could get through all of them and to the transport in time to save Sariel, or anyone else.
At least, there wouldn’t have been. But at that exact second, there was a burst of fire on that same ramp, and a man appeared. It was Apollo. He held a hand up, and I saw a ring on one of his fingers glow with a green light before Kushiel was suddenly picked up by an invisible force and thrown backward about fifteen feet. She landed on her feet, skidding a bit before stopping.
“Leaving so soon, oh original wicked stepmother template?” the man asked flatly. “We haven’t even had a chance to get caught up yet.” He slowly began to walk down from the ramp, approaching her. “So, what have you been up to? Still a completely amoral sociopath with delusions of grandeur? Well, you know what they say, stick with what you know.”
Kushiel gave the man a sharp look. From behind her back, she drew a dagger and a short sword. Both were incredibly ornate looking. The blades looked like they were made of some kind of blue gemstone rather than metal, while the handles themselves were gold.
“You realize, of course,” she began slowly with a lazy glance our way, “that any damage you attempt to inflict upon me, will be reflected onto those dear, determined children. Or perhaps,” the woman added thoughtfully, “any damage I inflict upon myself.” With those words, Kushiel raised the dagger to her own stomach, toying with it there. “After all, I can survive what they cannot.”
Apollo’s smile was grim and humorless. “You always were a coward,” he informed her. “I should have made you the goddess of hiding behind hostages.”
Still holding the dagger near her own stomach, the woman retorted, “And I should have insisted that you be made a permanent example of when you first betrayed us. Your flayed body should have been dragged through the streets of every city on Elohim, to show that proditors will not be tolerated. What you utterly failed to do in life, inspire our people to greater heights, your punishment and death could finally have achieved.”
If the words bothered him at all, Apollo didn’t show it. He simply lifted his chin slightly before replying, “I suppose if I can’t hurt you without hurting them, we’ll just have to handle this a different way.” With that, the man’s other hand snapped up, and I saw a different ring glow yellow. That yellow light shot from the ring to encompass the woman, and I saw her suddenly go rigid. Her expression, already angry, turned furious as she clearly strained to move at all. The dagger in her hand inched slightly away from her stomach, then returned a bit closer, then moved even further way before wavering back and forth.
Apollo was holding her. Whatever spell he had used, it paralyzed the woman and held her trapped in place. He wasn’t actively hurting her, and he was stopping her from hurting herself.
The rest of Kushiel’s forces, however, weren’t so paralyzed. They raced to attack the man, who defended himself with one hand while keeping his other one occupied holding Kushiel in place.
But he wouldn’t be able to do that forever. Every time the man had to divert his attention too much from focusing on holding Kushiel in place, the woman’s dagger moved a tiny bit closer toward her own stomach. Then Apollo would deal with that threat and focus once more, forcing her hand back again. He was fighting these guys with one hand basically tied behind his back.
We had to help. And the best way that we could actually do that would be to go straight through these soldiers, and up onto that transport to grab Sariel. Apollo was buying us time to do just that, but we had to go now, before he lost control of Kushiel. It was a realization that we all seemed to reach at once, brief glances exchanged between us before Vanessa blurted to me, “Give us a few seconds to make an opening to that transport, then go!”
Before I could say anything to that, the twins launched into action. Tristan’s cannon opened up first, another of those massive lasers that he had been charging up through that entire time filling the air as it shot toward the largest of the figures standing in our way. And this time, the laser actually did its job. The nine-foot tall reptilian figure was half-enveloped by the shot, howling briefly before collapsing backward with most of his upper body burned or just missing entirely.
Meanwhile, the boy’s other hand snapped out and down. While his aura flared up and he staggered a little, he still retained enough focus to keep his hand in position while Vanessa hopped up. Her foot found his palm, and the boy hurled his sister forward and up into the air.
In mid-air, Vanessa’s whip lashed out, wrapping around the neck of one of the soldiers. Once it was tight, the blonde girl gave a hard yank that hauled the man sideways to crash into one of the other soldiers, tangling them up together before they could retaliate.
Meanwhile, where that soldier had just been, the whip had left behind a glowing green orb that floated there in the air for a brief second. Then a couple of the other soldiers got close enough to it that the orb exploded into a cloud of poison gas that sent them staggering back, coughing and choking.
As her whip snapped back toward her, Vanessa landed easily on both feet. She bent over then, whip snapping out in the other direction to wrap around the ankle of one of yet another soldier before she yanked his feet out from under him and dragged the man to her.
At the same time, as his sister was bent like that, Tristan leapt to land with one foot on her back. His free hand snapped out to shoot a feather-like metal dart into the throat of a soldier who had been racing toward Vanessa with his laser-sword raised. Meanwhile, a powerful shot from Tristan’s cannon in the opposite direction forced a handful of other troops to dive out of the way.
Vanessa straightened then, at the same time that Tristan jumped from her back. The boy was sent higher into the air while flooding the ground around them with a series of rapid, light shots from his cannon that drove the remaining soldiers back a little bit more.
It was clear. Or at least as clear as it was going to get. To the left, I could see Kushiel and Apollo locked in their struggle. It was clearly all the man could do to deal with the few troops who were still trying to attack him, while also holding the psycho Olympian woman paralyzed by his spell. And the twins had most of the rest of the troops thoroughly focused on them, at least for the moment. Which left Tabbris and me to get onto that transport and free Sariel.
Everyone else had worked to make this opening. We had to take advantage of it. Gripping my staff with one hand, I banished all of my doubts about the deal that we had made with Jophiel and Elisabet, and sprinted for the transport with everything I had.
There were still guards in the way. Vanessa and Tristan were distracting the majority of them, but a few kept their focus on blocking access to the transport. Which meant that I was going to have to go right through them. And honestly, at that point, I didn’t have a problem with that.
Three of the soldiers shot at me, two slugs and a handful of lasers filling the air even as I dropped into a roll. Hitting the ground, I triggered a burst from my staff that sent me sliding forward before tilting it to pop myself up right in front of the men. In mid-air, I spun, slamming the side of my staff into the face of one of the men to knock him into another one. As they staggered, Tabbris made my right hand snap up to create a portal that swallowed up a laser from the third soldier, sending it through the exit portal behind him so that he shot himself in the back of the head.
My partner suppressed the pleasure rush from that kill, even as I landed practically on top of the other two soldiers, who had staggered and fallen together. Spinning the staff around in my hand, I drove the bladed end down through both of them, skewering the two together as they cried out.
Two more guys were between me and the transport. As they came for me, I shoved the staff, still embedded through the other two soldiers, over and angled it a bit before launching the grapple. It flew out, passing over the men’s heads before I hit the button to make it stop. The grapple embedded itself solidly in midair, snapping taut before it started to haul in the line. With my tight grip on the staff, I was yanked forward and up, flying over the incoming soldier’s heads before hitting the button to make the grapple release so that I could drop down behind them.
Now there was nothing in my way. Still, I snapped my staff backward, depositing a handful of quick mines to keep the men busy, even as I ran up the ramp at full speed, the sound of my racing feet loud against the metal. Sariel. Sariel. I just had to get to Sariel.
Reaching the top of the ramp, I finally found myself in the transport itself. From the outside, it had looked like a large, long tube. And from the inside… It was basically the same, kind of like the interior of a cargo plane with absolutely no seats or any other amenities. Instead, both sides were lined with dozens of those pods with frozen people inside of them, leaving a narrow walkway right up the middle.
Mama! Tabbris’s voice blurted inside me, even as she brought my head up to focus on the pod at the far end, on the right. Sariel was there. She was there. Ignoring everything else, I ran once more, sprinting down that line of pods on my way to the one in question. We had to get to it.
We had to get to it.
We got to it. Unfortunately, we got to it a little too fast. Three steps away from the pod, an invisible force suddenly picked me up and sent me flying face first into the thing with enough force to leave me dazed.
“Problem?” a voice demanded cockily, and my head turned a little bit to see a man standing there. He had black, scale-covered skin, with a purple, mohawk-like fin going up over his bald head like that Savage Dragon character I’d seen a few comics about. His hand was up, as the man obviously held me off the ground to keep me pinned against that pod. Nearby, I could see the small console with the buttons on it. It was so close, but I couldn’t move my hand to get to it. I couldn’t move anything.
Do not jump out of me! I ordered Tabbris before focusing on anything else. He’ll just grab you too, and more people will know about you. Do not jump out and try to hit those buttons yourself!
“Now,” the telekinetic Alter began. “I think we can all have a little break until–” In mid-sentence, the man abruptly pivoted. The hand that wasn’t holding out toward me snapped up, and I saw both Tristan and Vanessa as the two were yanked off their feet before they were sent flying toward me, down the length of the transport. The twins crashed into one of the other pods nearby.
“Interruptions are annoying,” the man declared then. “Let’s not have any more.”
With that, he released us briefly. As we dropped to the floor, the man’s hand snapped out to hit a button near him, and the ramp suddenly slid shut behind him, sealing Vanessa, Tristan, and me in. A second later, while we were still orienting ourselves, the whole transport suddenly shook violently.
It was activating. The man had activated the transport! Wherever the so-called ‘prototype’ version of this Pathmaker-like thing was connected to, we were about to be there. And I was pretty sure we weren’t going to like it.
Tabbris took control of my hand then, making it snap up toward the console. Unfortunately, the telekinetic man realized what I was doing, and I felt several of my fingers snap painfully while my hand was stopped in mid-air, before I was hurled up against the ceiling of the transport, then back to the floor. The staff, which I had dropped, lay nearby but out of reach.
Vanessa, in the shape of a raven, flew past my face and straight for the console. But the man’s telekinesis caught hold of her as well, and I heard a pained squawk escape her.
Before he could crush the much smaller figure, I managed to make a quick portal in the air by my feet, with the other end next to the man’s head. Grunting, I kicked out hard through that portal, connecting solidly and making him stagger. Vanessa instantly resumed her human shape as she was released, hand grabbing for the console before a wave of the man’s hand sent her tumbling head over heels.
It was at that moment that the shaking transport abruptly stopped. The far end of the tube opened up, giving us a glimpse of a gray, cloud-covered sky.
Tristan was back on his feet first. Rolling forward, he brought his cannon up and fired off a shot at the man. Unfortunately, at the last second, the man used his telekinesis to shove Tristan’s arm toward Vanessa. The other girl barely managed to roll out of the way.
A moment later, all three of us were caught in the man’s power. And then Vanessa and I got a much better look at that sky we’d caught a glimpse of, as the two of us were hurled end over end out of the transport. We flew a good thirty feet before crashing and rolling along a combination of sand, dirt, and sagebrush. Wherever we were, it was some kind of desert planet.
Groaning, Vanessa and I picked ourselves up, only to find that our situation had somehow gotten even worse. The man who had been throwing us around so easily was there on the ramp that would lead back into the ship. He had Tristan still in his invisible grasp, floating a few feet in front of him.
And all around us, weapons raised and ready, were a couple dozen more fresh and ready soldiers who had been waiting on this end of the transport system. They were ready, and we were surrounded. Worse, that transport was supposed to be a one-time use thing.
The telekinetic-man bounced Tristan up and down in the air a little. His tone was mocking. “Can you fly, little one?” he asked before chuckling. “Let’s see, shall we?”
Then, before any of us could do a thing, the man thrust his hand into the air. Tristan, with a yelp, was sent soaring backward and up into the sky. He passed over our heads, over the hill in the distance, and just kept going.
“Tristan!” Vanessa cried out. The blonde girl spun to go after her brother, only to almost run into the line of soldiers that were surrounding us.
“Go,” the man on the ramp ordered a few of them. “I slowed his fall enough that he should have survived… mostly. Find him, drag him back here.” To Vanessa and I, he added, “And if you two are quite finished with the pointless displays, we can discuss your surrender. Or the next time I toss one of you, it will be without slowing you down.” With a small smile, the man, accompanied by the dozens of soldiers all the way around the two of us, began to move in.
I didn’t have my weapon. Tristan was… out there somewhere. We were cut off, surrounded, outnumbered, overpowered, and… in a word, lost.
The voice came from the top of the ramp, and every eye snapped to where Tristan was standing. Not out in the desert, there at the top of the ramp. The boy lifted his chin as every weapon jerked his way, his voice casual.
“Guess who finally figured out how to use his recall power?”
And then two shards of glass came flying over the boy’s shoulder, arcing perfectly in the air before embedding themselves through each of the telekinetic man’s eyes, and deep into his brain. As his body collapsed, a figure stepped out of the transport and moved beside Tristan. A figure wearing a form-fitting red jumpsuit, with her blonde hair cut very short, almost up to her ears.
“I can’t tell you how tired I am of people trying to hurt my family,” Sariel Moon announced to the gathered soldiers as they stared at her.
“But maybe… I can show you.”