Avalon Sinclaire

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Of course, the rest of my going away party with all my friends ran long into the night. I was glad I had that ability to go so long without rest, because I was sure going to need it by the time all this was over. At this rate, I was going to end up needing a break before I ever actually left to meet Ehn in the first place. Especially when you added in the emotional cost of leaving all these people behind for who knew how long. Yes, I would still be in contact and keep track of what was going on, at least as much as possible. But that wouldn’t be the same as being here myself. For all intents and purposes, I was leaving them to handle all that stuff without me. It made me feel weird inside.

Either way, I didn’t have a choice. Not a real one, anyway. I might feel anxious right now because I was leaving the people I cared about for a while. But it would be a hell of a lot worse if I didn’t do this and it turned out I really could have helped stop the Fomorians if I hadn’t been so selfish. 

The day after that big party, where I had spent hours long into the night talking to what seemed to be everyone I had ever even slightly interacted with, was my last day here. This was the day I had to spend with my family. My dad, my mom, sort-of stepdad or whatever Deveron was, my grandparents, big sister, little sister, big brother, and my niece. 

I had thought that we would spend a lot of time talking about everything that still needed to be done, or about what I was going to do while I was gone. But we didn’t. Not that much anyway. Actually, most of the day was spent taking a hike through Yellowstone Park down on Earth. We didn’t talk about anything that important or world changing. We just hiked through the beautiful scenery and talked about stuff we liked to watch, listen to, anything like that. Somehow, we had agreed on an unspoken rule not to discuss anything important. Even Wyatt went with it, and simply regaled us with a story about the time he had tracked a pack of violent werecreatures through a forest fairly similar to this one. 

Needless to say, he wasn’t the only one with an impressive tale. Koren, Tabbris, and I were treated to hours-worth of amazing stories, even from my grandparents, who talked both about things they had seen while out in Seosten space, and stuff they have been through in their supposedly completely ordinary (but not at all boring) lives. 

Eventually, we stopped by a lake and fished. Yes, we actually fished the old-fashioned way. It was just the right level of boring, allowing us to sit there and focus mostly on more stories. Popser brought out a grill at one point and we had dinner using the very fish we had caught.

Yeah, it was pretty great, especially since it actually allowed me to stop thinking about all that important stuff and just enjoy the time I had with my family. There would be time to dwell on everything else later. 

After hours of playing around the lake, fishing, eating, and just talking, the sun was starting to set. I stood at the edge of the water, skipping rocks with Koren now that we were done with the fishing part and wouldn’t scare anything away. The two of us were talking, not about Heretic stuff, but about our lives before all this started. She told me about being the spoiled but somewhat neglected child of a big shot lawyer (Abigail still felt bad about how far she had allowed that to go while she had been busy with her job), and I talked about being a kid and teenager back in Wyoming. Not that my life before all this had been anything ordinary, considering how often I managed to find trouble. But it had been pretty mundane by the standards I was using now. 

Either way, we chatted about that stuff, teasing one another about the whole aunt and niece thing. In the background, the adults were talking, while Tabbris went swimming in the lake itself and kept diving down to look at the fish there. I had even let my sharks out through the portal connection I had with them, so they could stretch their fins in this new water. Obviously, they were still protected from that whole salt versus fresh water problem thanks to Wyatt. They could swim in any of it.

Climbing on Princess Cuddles’ back, Tabbris called out to tell us she had found a really pretty Arctic Grayling (some sort of fish she had shown me a picture of earlier) down there. Smiling at that, I waved to my sister and spoke quietly to the girl next to me. “Keep an eye on her, okay? She said something about going with me, but I talked her out of trying. It’s better for her to stay here with her mom most of the time and just stay in contact through our connection.”

“Better for both of you,” Koren noted. “It’s the best way for you to know what’s going on here, and for everyone here to know you’re okay.” She sighed and looked at me. “You have to be okay. Whatever happens out there, whatever this guy wants you to get into, take care of yourself. Don’t let him control you too much.”

Despite the doubt and uncertainty I felt about the whole situation, I offered her a faint smile. “When have you ever known me to let anyone control everything I did and who I am, no matter how powerful they are? This guy might be strong, but I’m still me. And I’ll still be me when I get back.”

We embraced like that, before I saw my grandparents beckoning me over to the tall rocks they were standing by. So, I excused myself and walked back that way. 

“Do you think you guys can stick around and not get taken on any more wild outer space adventures while I’m gone?” I managed to ask without allowing my voice to crack too much.

Grandpartie stooped to pick me all the way off the ground, crushing me against his chest in an embrace that made me let out an embarrassing squawk sound. “Sounds like you’re the one disappearing on a space adventure, kid.” He reminded me of that while continuing to hold me tightly. “So you just make sure you find your way back here before you miss all the fun, you got it? If this situation with the Seosten comes to a head and you’re still off gallivanting around with your new dragon tutor, I don’t think we’ll ever let you live it down.” His words were teasing, but also tinted with emotion. It was obvious that he didn’t want me to go. But he, like everyone else, knew it was for the best.

After I promised to be back, even if I had to tell Ehn to give me a sabbatical, he let me down and gave Grandmaria a chance for a hug. The two of them set me down there by the rock and talked about their wedding day, which had apparently been a bit of an adventure in and of itself when their first choice of venue had been rained out. Then their priest had been arrested for some sort of money laundering or something. They still weren’t completely certain about the details, but it sure sounded exciting. Especially when the priest had stripped naked (yeah, he turned out to be incredibly drunk) when the cops showed up and went streaking through the assortment of shocked guests and police.

It stayed exciting as a story rather than tragic because they had still managed to get married in the end. And they had enjoyed their actual ceremony, crazy as it was, perhaps more than they would have enjoyed the normal, planned one.

It was a story I’d heard little bits of previously, but this was the first time I’ve gotten the whole thing from start to finish. They had previously said I wasn’t old enough to get into it, considering the whole drunk, naked priest thing. But now, apparently I finally was. 

Honestly, I was pretty sure they could’ve told me the story before and the whole me not being old enough thing was just an excuse so they have a good story to tell at my own wedding if I had one, or something else big and important. Maybe my high school graduation. 

Whatever it was, they had clearly decided that this moment was a good one to get the whole thing out. And boy was it a good one to listen to. From Grandmaria imitating the way all the little old ladies had screamed when the priest stripped himself and went running through the crowd, to Popser mimicking the priest himself flailing the whole way through and drunkenly screaming about the cost of reshingling the church roof or something, it sounded like a really wild time. I was just sorry it happened long before the advent of cell phone video.

I also took the time to tell them a few stories of my own, from my old Bystander life. Just like before, these weren’t Heretic stories. They were just my own stuff from my time in Wyoming. It was the sort of things I would’ve been nervous to tell them before, stuff I might’ve thought would get me in trouble. Or at least make them tell my dad so he could put a stop to it. My habit of finding trouble hadn’t completely come out of nowhere once I got to Crossroads. That had simply magnified the sort of threats I was capable of finding. Thankfully, my ability to deal with those threats had been magnified a fair bit as well.

And speaking of people whose ability had been magnified, they both showed me how much they had improved with the powers they had inherited. Which, considering how strong those powers were, meant my grandparents were going to be two of the strongest members of the rebellion before too much longer. I was very okay with that. They were the sort of people who deserved that. And given the level of trouble my family tended to attract, they are going to need it. 

After leaving the two of them for now, I went over to talk with Deveron, Wyatt, and Abigail. My half-siblings and my step-father. That really was the best term for it, I supposed. Step didn’t really define it properly since he had been married to Mom before my own father was. And technically, I supposed, they were still married. They were still together just like Mom was with Dad. It was the same way I was with Avalon and Shiori. Terms be damned, I was just glad they had worked it out.

The three of them were about a hundred yards away from the lake and rest of the area where the others were. It was only once I got closer that I realized they were practicing with some sort of booby trap landmine spell. Apparently Wyatt and Abigail had both come up with it together and were showing it to Deveron. He gave a couple tips based on his own experience, but for the most part, it was their own thing. Which they also showed to me as soon as I approached. 

“Okay,” I started once they had explained once, “let me get this straight. If any person steps within the barrier of this spell, it makes a face outline of what they look like in a sand pile that’s sitting somewhere else, like the security room. From that point on until the spell is canceled, everything that person says is also said by the sand facsimile so you know what they’re talking about. What if more than one person goes through it?” 

Wyatt was positively bouncing with glee. “We thought of that! Of course we did. Show her, show her!” He waved both hands toward his sister and father. 

Abigail and Deveron looked at each other before shrugging as they moved to step one at a time through the spell area. First, Abigail’s face appeared in the sand at full size. A second later, a much smaller addition of Deveron’s face appeared below that, just barely large enough to make out a couple minor details, like the picture in picture setting on a television. As I watched, Wyatt touched the smaller bit with two fingers and the facsimiles switched places so Abigail was the small one and Deveron was the big one. Apparently you could set the spell so that it would stick with one until you touched it like that, or make it automatically switch back-and-forth based on who was talking. 

They were still working on perfecting it, so I sat there with them for a bit and worked on it as well. But mostly, I listened as the three of them talked about their own old lives. Deveron gave a few stories about the old rebellion and also about being a student at Crossroads. Wyatt got into a bit of his own life growing up, which mostly just made my heart ache about how rough he’d had it for so long. There was a reason he had grown up to be so paranoid. But he was getting better. We were all getting better. And, of course, Abigail told stories about being a lawyer, and about being in law school. Which, if I understood things right, involved a lot of heavy drinking. From the stories she told, I was starting to think my half-sister could drink Ruthers under the table. Which would’ve been one hell of a way to settle this war. Actually, come to think of it– nah, he totally wouldn’t go for that. 

Abigail, of course, made me promise repeatedly to keep them updated about what was going on and to be certain I could say no if Ehn tried to get me to do anything I didn’t want to do. She was very emphatic about that, as were the other two. I reassured them as much as I could under the circumstances, but mostly kept the conversation as casual as possible. I didn’t want to spend this time fretting about what was going to happen in the future. I just wanted to talk about the past, or about nothing in particular. I wanted to enjoy this time with the various pieces of my family, since I had no idea how long it would be before I saw them again.

With that in mind, I finally made my way to my parents. Mom and Dad were standing together under a tree near the lake, talking about one of the first dates they had ever gone on together. I started to leave them alone, but they insisted I join them. So I found myself standing between the two of them, leaning against my father with both of their arms around me as they talked about those first times spent seeing one another, long before they had ever known anything about this stuff. In those days, my dad had regaled my enraptured mother with stories about being in Los Angeles and all the trouble he’d gotten up to there. Which they both laughed about now. But still, it just made me feel even closer to my father. Like me, he had found plenty of danger and excitement on his own long before the whole Heretic situation was an open part of his life. 

For the next little while, as the sun finished setting and the moon rose, I simply stayed there with my parents. Tabbris joined us after a while, clearly nervous about interrupting, but it was my mother who insisted she come over and sit. 

So, she did. And then the four of us talked even longer before eventually getting up and moving back over to where everyone else had already gathered and started a fire. We sat in a circle around it, watching the flames and talking about everything and about nothing. We told stories that alternated between frightening and funny, or even both at the same time. There were jokes, boasts, teasing, and more. I had no idea how long we stayed there like that, though to be honest, it could have been decades. Decades of some of the best moments I remembered having any time recently. I was there with my family. Even better, Avalon and Shiori joined us eventually. As did Asenath. Senny, the first Alter friend I’d made, the source of the best decision in my life and the sister of one of my girlfriends. She absolutely belonged here too. 

Yeah, I could definitely get used to this. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last forever, no matter how much we might’ve wanted it to. No matter how much I wanted it too. Eventually, it was clear that it was the end of that day. Which meant I needed to try to sleep a little bit before Sun showed up and wanted to get this show on the road. 

So, we doused the fire, cleaned up, and made a portal back to the station. I was going to sleep in my own bed rather than at my family’s apartment. There’d been a lot of talk back-and-forth about that, and I’d promised to come to the apartment with Sun once he showed up so I could give a last minute goodbye. Right now, however, I needed to sleep in my own bed one more time. 

Once on the station, before I could head off that way, my mother pulled me into a tight embrace. It wouldn’t be the last one we shared before I left, but I still felt myself clinging tightly to her. “I’m scared,” I whispered once we were completely alone and the others had moved down the hall. “I don’t know what’s going to happen while I’m gone.” 

Mom held me, brushing my hair back while meeting my gaze. “It’s okay to be scared, my Felicity. We just don’t let it control us. And you have never allowed your fear to rule you. Whatever happens, no matter where you go or what that man involves you in, know that I am your mother. And I will always be there when you need me. Even if it is only in spirit, through the lessons I know you’ve learned.” 

“Thanks, Mom,” I murmured, feeling a shiver run through me. “Something tells me I’m gonna need every last one of those lessons. But hey, at least I won’t be completely alone.

“After all, Persephone’s coming along, and how much trouble could I possibly get in with her beside me?” 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, we went back to Earth, after saying goodbye to the people on the planet and promising we would come back to visit and check on them. Well, most of us did. Athena and a few others were going to stay behind to keep working with these people for the time being. After all, they still needed to be taught how to protect themselves better. And apparently they were going to go into those tunnels to look for any more of the Seosten tribals who could have been left behind. We’d already had guards watching over the actual portal entrance into where the Revenants were, just in case, but still. Better not to leave the fanatics out there to do gods only knew what. 

Also, we weren’t going back strictly by ourselves. A few people from this world were going back to Earth with us, as sort of an ambassador/exploration situation. They wanted to see what it was like away from their home, maybe take back some new ideas or concepts when it came to putting their own society back together. One of those people was Beilela, the younger girl who they kept calling ‘The One Who Said No.’ She was famous in that first city we’d gone to for being the person who–well, said no. Specifically, she had refused to be a ‘willing’ part of that last round of sacrifices Fossor had been making before we cut off his power. More importantly (and amazingly), she had literally thrown a bucket of paint over one of that piece of shit’s statues before flat out saying she refused to lift another finger to do a goddamn thing for Fossor. She knew he could–and absolutely would have killed her for the defiance, but she didn’t care. This kid was a completely ordinary fifteen-year-old who told Fossor to go fuck himself while knowing there wasn’t a single damn thing she could do to stop him from absolutely destroying her. She had assumed it would happen, that she would suffer for the defiance, and she still did it. 

Yeah, Beilela was a bit of a badass, and she deserved to visit Earth, or anywhere else she wanted to go. 

And, of course, Rahanvael was staying on–uhh, Rahanvael. She was very clearly still embarrassed and sort of ashamed of the fact that these people had named the world after her. But she deserved that as much as Beilela deserved to visit Earth. It was just going to take time for her to understand that nothing Fossor had done was her fault. I was pretty sure staying and helping these people find their own place while learning the history of their world, which only she could tell them, was going to help an awful lot with that. I hoped it did, anyway. 

There was more going on, like the fact that the regular Seosten people were still sending a ship to check in on this place. But we had at least made them promise to extend the truce deal from Earth to this world as well, convincing them that their… cousins, for lack of a better word, had already been through enough and didn’t need to be dragged into more fighting. Between that and the agreement to find out if they could help with the whole pregnancy/child crisis situation, the Seosten leadership were being pretty nice about it. At least, enough of them were being nice. According to Chayyiel and Athena, there were still some of the Seraphs who were arguing for direct invasion and control of Rahanvael. They were simply outnumbered by those who were being more clear-headed, which was about the best we could hope for. 

In any case, all of that would be stuff for others to worry about for the time being. I was going to be pretty busy with my own thing. Or rather, with Ehn’s thing. I obviously had no idea how it was going to go, but I was relatively certain I wouldn’t have time to really focus on things like how Rahanvael (the person or the planet) was doing, or the search for Gaia. I just had to hope they’d be okay, and that everyone else could handle it.

“Are you sure about this?” Shiori asked, as she, Avalon, and I stood in my attic room back at the house in the Fusion School. And boy did it seem like it had been forever since I’d been here. After spending so long on the ship going to the other world, and then these past few weeks on the world itself, I could hardly remember the last time I’d actually slept here in my own bed. And from the sound of things, after these few days I had to get myself together and say goodbye to people, it was going to be a long time before I did so again. It kind of made me sad, thinking about all the classes I was going to miss with this whole thing. Sure, I’d be learning, but it wasn’t the same. Was it too much to ask for Ehn to wait and do this over the summer? Yeah, probably.

“Not in the least,” I replied while tossing a baseball up and down idly. “Trust me, I have no idea how this is going to go. But I do think it’s the best choice we’ve got. I’ve got this power, both of their powers, and I need to learn how to use them. I need to get stronger.” 

“That’s what Manakel is for,” Avalon reminded me sharply, arms folded against her stomach. She didn’t like this idea at all, understandably. “You’re learning how to use that power from him.”

“And I still will be,” I pointed out. “That’s why he’s coming with me.” That had been one of the agreements we made with Wukong. I was bringing several of my ghosts along, including Manakel so he could continue to instruct me with the whole Necromancy stuff. 

Giving an audible sigh, Avalon took my hand and pulled me closer, putting her other hand on my shoulder. “Listen to me. When you do this, you have to be careful. Yeah, you’ll be able to call for help through Tabbris or one of the ghosts, but this guy is more dangerous than anything we’ve gone up against. I don’t think any of us could get there in time to stop him if it’s an emergency.” Her voice cracked a little bit as she was speaking. “I think you’re right about him not wanting to hurt you or anything. But if he changes his mind, if he decides it’d be better to have some other Heretic take that power, or something like that, he just… watch yourself, Felicity.” 

“What she said.” Shiori’s voice was quiet as she leaned against the nearby wall, staring at me almost forlornly. “If this guy could just walk right out of that special prison like it wasn’t even there, I don’t think there’s much he can’t do.”

Yeah, one of the first things we had done when we got back here was check on the status of Ehn in Gehenna. And sure enough, they had informed us that the man was simply gone. No one knew how he disappeared, or at least they claimed they didn’t. But he wasn’t there. Obviously, Wukong knew where to find him, but he wasn’t going to tell those people. Nor were they likely to be able to re-capture him if they tried. Something told me neither of them would be going back to that prison ever again unless they personally chose to. Actually, I didn’t think either of them had ever been there without choosing to be. That ‘prison’ was more like a free relaxing hotel for people like them. 

“Which means if anyone can help me get strong enough to actually stop the Fomorians, and participate in that himself, it’s this guy,” I pointed out gently. “I don’t want to leave, guys, I swear. You know I don’t. But this whole situation is more important than just what any of us want. If I can help stop those monsters, I have to try.” 

We didn’t talk about that anymore, not right then anyway. We didn’t have time to dwell on something that wasn’t going to change. No matter how hard it was to leave them like this, even temporarily, I had to do this. Instead, the three of us discussed how we were going to stay in contact as best as we could, and how I was going to let them know things had gone wrong if it came down to it. Between our plans and those my mother and the other adults were cooking up, I was going to end up with over a dozen failsafes when it came to sending for help. And, if we were lucky, maybe one or two would actually work. 

That might have been a bit pessimistic, of course. But hey, I’d rather go above and beyond with so many options and assume only one or two would work, than settle for only having a couple and having end up not being able to get through at all. 

More importantly, at least as far as my sanity went, we just hung out. The three of us talked, played some games, watched a movie, we just relaxed and enjoyed our time together. All while I tried not to think about the fact that it would be a long time before we did this again, once I headed off to train with Ehn. I couldn’t dwell on that. I just had to enjoy what I could get. 

To that end, I turned to face both of them and caught one of each of their hands with my own. “Look, guys, this is basically like I’m going away to camp for a while. I’m going to be back before you know it, and you better have done your parts, okay? I mean, if I’ve got to miss all the excitement around finding Gaia, waking up Arthur, and all that, you better experience it yourselves so you can tell me all about it.” I left out the fact that we also needed both of them just in case the Ehn thing went wrong and he refused to let me leave. We were all thinking it, there was no need to actually say it out loud. 

Avalon squeezed my hand, meeting my gaze. “You’re right, we’ll do everything we need to do back here while you’re busy.” Her free hand moved to poke me in the forehead. “But you be careful. Yeah, we have our emergency stuff, but you know he’s probably too dangerous for that to work if he really wants to stop it.”

Shiori’s head bobbed up and down quickly. “We know why you have to do this, and that it’s a good idea. Or at least the best idea we’ve got, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Be careful, and keep telling us everything that’s going on, okay?”  

I promised to do so, before we went back to talking about other things. Happier things. After a few hours together like that, I spent a couple more alone with each of them in turn. First Avalon, then Shiori. Tomorrow was going to be the big group party with all my friends and anyone else who wanted to come. My last day, before leaving, would be spent mostly with my family. This, right now, was time alone with my girlfriends. 

And I was sure as hell going to enjoy every last minute of it. 


The next day, as promised, was my group farewell party. Which I honestly thought was a bit weird, since I hadn’t spent all that much time around school lately anyway, but still. It was more of an excuse to hang out with all of my friends together for most of the day. I heard all about stuff like how they had rescued Harrison Fredericks and captured one of Kushiel’s Olympian children, the one with the explosive teleportation. Aureus, the gold girl. Apparently she still wasn’t the least bit happy about being here, even after several people, including Abigail, had tried to talk to her. She was pretty violent about the whole situation, so they were mostly leaving her alone for the time being. 

So that was yet another thing I was going to have to let other people deal with while I was gone. By the time I got back, she would probably either be staying willingly, or have left already. Whatever happened, all I could do was wish the others luck. From the sound of things, they were going to need it. 

Kushiel, the Rebellion itself, Gaia, Arthur, all of these things might just end up being resolved by the time I was done with Ehn. Assuming I survived the training he had in mind. Either way, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Fortunately, in some ways, I was probably going to be too busy to think too much about that.

Besides, now wasn’t the time to think about that stuff. Instead, I was eating cake while playing a bit of doubles table tennis, with Columbus on my side and Sands and Sarah on the other. The four of us were chatting about–of all things, the first day we’d met over a year and a half earlier. Throughout the rest of this large rec room we had appropriated for the next few hours, my other friends and family were playing games, watching movies, talking, just… hanging out. People kept coming by to talk to me about anything that came to mind, or just to wish me luck with Ehn. I was doing my best to split my attention and give everyone a chance to talk. Fortunately, it seemed like this whole thing was more of an excuse to hang out in general than it was specifically about me. Thank God. I really didn’t think I could handle being the center of attention for three days straight. 

“I thought I was going to pass out while we were waiting for you to show up at the lighthouse, Flick,” Columbus was informing me. “Seriously, Shiori and me, we uhh, we spent a long time talking about how we probably didn’t belong there, how they were totally going to tell us they made a mistake and send us home. Before we actually went to the island, we were waiting for them to show up with the Men In Black neuralyzer thing. Then when we actually got there, I was just… I felt like I was gonna throw up. When they took so long to come meet us, I thought ‘picking up another student’ was an excuse.” 

“You thought they were having another meeting about whether they should kick you out anyway, and really they were voting about whether to let me in to begin with,” I replied with a snort. “Can you imagine how different everything would’ve been if one more Committee member voted no so Gaia couldn’t break the tie?” 

Sands caught the ping pong ball between two fingers in mid-bounce, examining it critically. “Everything would be a hell of a lot worse, because we wouldn’t know the truth.” She frowned, looking at me. “I’m serious, Flick. Stuff may be dangerous and hard now, but I’d rather have dangerous and hard things to do than be someone who would have killed as many innocent people as those bastards wanted. I know it was hard for me to believe you at first, and maybe back when this whole thing first started, I kind of thought it would’ve been better if you hadn’t said anything. But I was stupid. I wouldn’t change this back to the way it was for anything. I don’t want to be the person they wanted to turn me into.” 

“You’re afraid they’ll erase everyone’s memories again like they did with the first rebellion, aren’t you?” Columbus noted. 

Sarah spoke up. “They won’t. They can’t. Not without warning.” 

“Yeah, what she said,” I agreed. “Remember, we’ve got eyes on the Committee too. In more than one way. If they started moving along those lines, we’d get enough warning to stop them.” 

Bouncing the ball a couple times between her palm and the table, Sands nodded slowly. “Yeah, I know. But still. I have dreams sometimes about forgetting, about the sort of person I’d be if they wiped my memory and made me–” She visibly cringed then, dropping the ball before turning to embrace her sister, who was waiting for that. The two of them hugged one another. 

Looking over at Columbus, I offered a shrug. “You gotta help take care of them while I’m gone, you know?” 

“I’ll do my best to fill in,” he agreed with a small smirk. “But I don’t think I look that good in a blonde wig.” 

“Eh, you could pull it off.” That was Tristan, who showed up with Koren, both of them also eating cake from small paper plates. “But I know a guy who could totally grow your hair out and color it instead, if you prefer.” As he said that, the boy reached over to put his hand on the top of Koren’s head, making her hair extend another few inches before turning light blonde. Apparently he had another power I wasn’t aware of. 

Koren, swatting his hand away, used a couple fingers to pull her hair up and grimaced. “You better change it back. I don’t wanna be blonde.” 

Grinning, Tristan did so, also shortening it a few inches higher than it had been before, at her request. “See? I’ve got a strong career as a stylist ahead of me if the rest of this doesn’t work out.” 

“And we’re all so relieved for that,” I informed him with a small smile, looking back and forth through not only them, but the rest of the people who had come for this party. My friends knew what they were doing. They would be okay while I was gone. I just had to trust that, and focus on learning everything I could from Ehn. After all, it wasn’t every day that someone gave you the opportunity to learn from a Dragon-Heretic so you could become powerful enough to stop an entire species of genocidal monsters from destroying the universe. 

At least, I really hoped that wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For a moment after the monkey man said those words, I just stood there and stared at him in disbelief. Which, to be fair, was the same thing Tabbris, Jophiel, and Elisabet were doing as well. It was obvious that none of us quite knew what to say or do in response to that little revelation. The two adults may have been calculating how much of a chance we stood against him if it came down to it. Honestly, I kind of doubted their odds even if Elisabet had still possessed her Committee powers. The man was incalculably strong. His words bounced around in my head before I abruptly found myself snapping a confused and taken aback, “You work for Ehn?” 

It was the man’s turn to stare at me, which he did for a few long seconds before abruptly bursting out laughing. His guffaws filled the small grove, and he actually put a hand against a tree to steady himself briefly. There were practically tears in his eyes. “Oh, they said you were amusing, but I had no idea. Working for him, that’s amazing. You have to tell me more funny jokes like that as soon as you come back.” He was still grinning with amusement, wiping one hand across his face before adding, “No, no, no, of course not. He asked very politely for a favor. And he convinced me that you are a very interesting person who gets into the most amazing situations.” As he said that, the man literally booped my nose with his finger, that tail of his patting my head excitedly. “And I’ve got to say, he was right about that. It’s been a long time since I had this much fun. I can’t even imagine how much more I’ll have when people think I’m you.”

Elizabet stepped in then, not quite moving between us but at least stepping next to me. “Ahem, I believe there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. Miss Chambers here hasn’t been asked to go anywhere with this… Ehn. He certainly hasn’t extended any invitation to be considered.”

Sun chuckled again, still very clearly amused by the whole situation. “Oh, that’s because I’m the invitation. Or the inviter. Or the–” He frowned, trying to think of the word. “Never mind. I’m here to tell you what’s going on, now that there isn’t anything else of immediate importance.” 

“And just what is going on?” That was my mother, coming out of the nearby trees to stand on the other side of me. She gave Jophiel a short nod, making me realize the other woman had contacted her the second this whole situation started. And boy did that ever help show just how much had changed in the time since I had first met the Seosten woman. 

Feeling Tabbris take my hand as she stepped in front of me, I looked down to see the younger blonde girl making sand float in front of her. We were still connected through that spell. She wasn’t actually sending it to attack Wukong or anything, of course. But it was responding to her emotions by swirling agitatedly through the air. I could just imagine how bad things would get if she did lash out, however, so I squeezed the hand she had taken before putting the other on her shoulder. Silently, I urged my little sister to stay calm. Wukong had already helped us this much. Without him, a hell of a lot more people on this world would have died. So beyond the fact that I didn’t think we could win a fight with him, I really didn’t want our relationship with the man to go bad. If we could navigate this situation without a fight, maybe he could help us later.

“Ah, mother of Felicity, of course,” Sun didn’t sound at all annoyed or upset by my mother’s arrival. “I was just about to suggest that she call for you, and her father. Oh, and those girls she enjoys the presence of. This is, of course, a very important moment.” 

Mom started to say something, but I could see the anger that flashed across her face, so I quickly spoke up first. “Hang on, what exactly do you think is supposed to happen now, Mr. Wukong? You said–I mean… Ehn wants what from me?”

The man slapped his forehead. “Oh, silly me, totally failing to explain properly. Right, no wonder you seem confused. Okay, let’s start from the top. My good friend Ehn is ready to train you.” 

“Train me?” I echoed, another wave of confusion washing over me. That was not the answer I’d expected, considering everything I’d heard about this Ehn guy. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? He’s Kwur’s boss, right? The insane plant guy we blew up. Isn’t Ehn pissed off about us beating one of his top lieutenants?” As soon as Wukong had said that bit about Ehn wanting to meet me, I’d assumed he was finally getting around to paying us back for that. Though even that didn’t seem to fit what I’d heard about him, so… yeah I was confused. 

Sun, however, informed us that not only was Ehn not upset about what had happened with Kwur, he had apparently been amused by it. But that apparently wasn’t what had convinced the man to have me come meet him. No, the cause of that was what had happened with Fossor. Specifically, the fact that I had killed him and taken his power. 

Yeah, that led to an even bigger conversation. During which Avalon and Shiori showed up. So they heard all about how Ehn had apparently planned to use Fossor’s power the same way Denuvus had so recently explained its intended use was when the people of this world had created their necromancy. He wanted to destroy the Fomorians once and for all. And to do that, he needed an incredibly powerful necromancer. It was why he’d allowed– no, made Fossor become as powerful as he was. It was all part of his plan. Thousands of years worth of growing that power, and making it stronger. Strong enough to do what Ehn wanted. 

Suffice to say, I had never come as close to wanting to punch Sun Wukong in the face as I did right then with that revelation. I didn’t, of course. Even as angry as I was at the thought that this man he was working with was responsible for everything that Fossor had done and become, I wasn’t quite that stupid. Besides, he was just the messenger. It was really Ehn I wanted to hit. But I was pretty confident that wouldn’t go any better than punching Wukong would. 

Avalon, standing right behind me, spoke up sharply. “So now that his plan for that piece of shit fell through, he wants to salvage it by abducting Flick?”

Sun blinked back and forth between all of us, clearly reading our defensive postures. Then he chuckled softly once again. “Oh no, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t an abduction. Think of it more like… wait, what was that term?” He took that pad of his out that was apparently some sort of translation dictionary or something and tapped his way through it for a moment. “Ah! Field trip. Think of it like a field trip! Ehn wants to teach and empower you. He wants to make you stronger. I mean, not as strong as me. That’d just be ridiculous.” He laughed at the very thought. “But strong enough. He wants to help you become as strong as you need to be to use that power of yours and stop those Fomorians for good.”

Mom shook her head. “Listen, thank you for everything you’ve done since you showed up here, truly. But we can help my daughter learn and grow into this power just fine without him.”

“Can you?” Despite his specific words, Sun’s voice didn’t seem mocking or anything. He was genuinely curious. “I had no idea you were capable of providing as much power and training as a Dragon-Bonded with thousands of years of growth and experience. You must be truly remarkable.”

Shiori spoke up quickly. “The point is, you’re not taking Flick. It doesn’t matter how strong he is, or how strong you are. You’re not taking her away from us.” She stood behind me as well, right next to Avalon.

Wukong tapped his computer pad thoughtfully for a moment. “Maybe I’m confused. Or I used the wrong term? Is a field trip supposed to be forever? I don’t think so. She won’t be leaving forever. Just for a little while to get stronger. You want her to be strong, don’t you?” He said it as though the very idea of anyone preventing someone from becoming stronger was completely incomprehensible. 

Before the others could say anything to that, I raised one hand from Tabbris’s shoulder. “Wait, just hold on. How exactly is Ehn planning to take me for a field trip when he’s locked up?”

Sun looked at me with a completely blank face. “I don’t understand the question. When he’s ready to take a trip, he’ll take a trip. His hosts will simply have to wait until he’s ready to come back.”

A dozen different possible responses floated through my mind at that, but it was my mother who spoke first. “Assuming he can leave his current accommodations, you expect me to allow you to simply walk off with my daughter to be trained by a man I know nothing about, and don’t trust at all? Oh, my mistake, I do know something about him. He allowed the creation and empowerment of the monster who destroyed literally billions, possibly trillions, of lives. Why would I simply sit still for that?”

Jophiel was the one who responded, rather than the man in question. “Ehn is one of the strongest beings in the universe. More importantly, he is capable of bestowing incredible strength on those he favors. If he truly intends to aid Felicity and gaining the strength she needs–”

“No!” That was Avalon, whirling to glare at the woman. “You tried to take Flick away before. Of course you’re all aboard this train!”

Elisabet shook her head while putting a hand on Jophiel’s arm. “It’s not like that. You’re right, we did not go about things properly when we first met. We do regret that, believe it or not. But stop and think for a moment. Think beyond your own personal feelings and wants. How many opportunities will Felicity have to be trained and empowered by someone as strong as a Dragon-bonded? Think of the dangers she has already faced and what awaits her.”

Jophiel spoke then, her voice clearly as calm and neutral as possible. “Think of the future. If some threat comes out and the worst happens to Felicity, would you be able to live with yourself knowing you prevented her from being given this sort of tutelage and strength?” Her gaze moved to me then. “If the worst were to happen to someone you love, would you be able to live with yourself knowing you denied yourself the opportunity?”

Oh boy, now I wanted to hit both of them. And I could tell the others around me did too. But they weren’t exactly wrong. That was the worst part. 

While we were processing that, Sun raised his hand. “Oh, a little correction. I won’t be walking away with her. I’ll be staying here. I’ll take her place.”

That definitely made me blink, forgetting myself for a moment. “I’m sorry, what the fuck? What do you mean you’ll be taking my place?”

He grinned at me. “That’s why you had to be an interesting person, of course. I could hardly fill in for someone who was boring. Ehn knows you care a lot about your family and friends. He said you wouldn’t want to leave here because they could get hurt while you were gone.” As he said that, the monkey man slapped his own forehead. “Oh, that’s why you were being so weird about it! Of course, I should’ve started with that. Ehn knows you wouldn’t just take off and leave your friends all helpless and unprotected without you! I’ll be here like this.” He snapped his fingers and suddenly shapeshifted into me. Well, a version of me with a monkey tail. Was it weird that I felt jealous about that? Now definitely wasn’t the time.

Sun continued while looking basically identical to me. “I’ll pose as you while you’re gone, and anything that tries to come for you or anyone you care about will just have to go through me first. Believe me, they won’t get very far.” He said that while adding a feral, dangerous smile that was weird coming from my face.

Okay, well, I’d thought that his first bit had been a lot to take in. Now he was saying that he would be here, or rather, back at the Fusion School pretending to be me? Granted, he was right that everyone I cared about would be a lot more safe if he was there. After seeing how dangerous he was, how easily he went through things as powerful as Revenants… they were even safer with him than with me. Aside from how distracted he could get sometimes, of course.

But still, it made me feel a little weird that he wanted to pose as me. On the plus side, at least he was being open about that whole thing? I could only imagine how badly this whole thing would’ve gone if he tried to send me away and then pretend to be me in front of the people I cared about. That… yeah, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Taking a breath, I looked at the man. “Could you walk away for a little bit and let us talk without you, please?” I tried to keep my voice as calm and reasonable as possible, holding both hands out for everyone to stay quiet when they immediately began to blurt their own opinions.

Sun gave me a cheerful nod and spun, walking away, still looking just like me aside from that tail that was flicking back and forth. Oh boy, that really didn’t help my confusion. 

As soon as he was out of sight, everyone started talking at once. My dad showed up and had to be filled in, which caused even more loud talking. Everyone had their own thoughts, largely revolving around how badly this whole thing could go. Jophiel and Elisabet, of course, were arguing in favor of it. They insisted that the potential benefits, especially if this actually led to me having what I needed to use my Necromancy to stop the Fomorians, completely outweighed the risks.

That led to a near shouting match, until I whistled sharply. When everyone looked at me, including my dad, I faltered a little. I knew what I needed to say, but it was almost impossible to actually do it. “You guys are right,” I managed. “This whole thing could be too dangerous. Maybe it’ll go wrong. Maybe Ehn’s lying about what he wants and all that. But just… stop and think like they did.” My hand gesture toward Jophiel and Elisabet. “If I really can get stronger, strong enough to stop the Fomorians I mean… forget all that stuff about how I could protect you guys, or what could happen to me or to you in the future. Think about all those people out there we don’t even know. Think about all the people the Fomorians are killing every single second of every single day. Think of all the worlds they’re washing over. Think about what happened to the Meregan world, or what will happen to Earth if they get to come back. Nothing is being solved while we hide on Earth and let that war go on. And I don’t think it’s one the Seosten can win in the long run if things just go on the way they are. Fossor spent thousands of years making this power stronger. I have his and Manakel’s, but I’m still nowhere near as strong as either of them were on their own. And yeah, I’m getting stronger with it. But not fast enough. If he can really help with that, even a little bit, how could I really live with myself if I said no? Think about all the innocent people the Fomorians are annihilating just while we stand here talking about it.” 

I swallowed hard, my voice cracking a little. “Believe me, I don’t want to do this. But how can I say no and then think about everyone who is going to die while I’m just living my life? Do I want to go back to the Fusion School with you and just live that life? Yeah, of course. But it wouldn’t be right. I’d spend every second thinking about the people who were dying because I was selfish.”

Dad took a step my way, then another. He went down to one knee in front of me, his hand taking mine. “What if he doesn’t want to let you come back?” He asked in a voice that shook from emotion.

Squeezing his hand, I stared into my father’s eyes and answered, “That’s why you guys need to find Gaia. And then wake up Arthur.” They reacted with surprise while I looked over to Avalon. “You have to wake him up, bring him back, whatever. If anyone can help deal with Ehn in case this goes badly, it’s him. He’s the only chance we have.”

There was a bit more talking after that. Okay, a lot more talking. We argued back-and-forth while I was embraced tightly by everyone in turn. But we all knew the choice had been made. No one had to like it that much. I certainly didn’t. Yet there was no question that it was the right choice. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to get stronger, not when we all knew what kind of threats were coming. I just had to hope that the others could actually get Gaia and Arthur so we might stand a chance if this went wrong.

In the end, I called Sun back and told him that I would accept the ‘invitation’ but he had to wait three days. I wasn’t going to leave for however long this took without talking to everyone else I cared about. I was going back to the Fusion School first, and I was going to have a real going away party.

Three days. I had that long to say my temporary goodbyes to everyone at the school. 

Then it would be time for me to visit and learn from one of the most dangerous and powerful people in the universe, just so I could become strong enough to do something about the creatures who wanted to annihilate every bit of life in the universe. 

Yeah, this was going to be one hell of a going away party. 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Hey people! The next non-canon for this story, continuing the bit about friendly neighborhood Charmeine, is available for everyone right here

Letting go of Herbie shouldn’t really have mattered nearly as much as it did. He was just a rock, after all. But he was a rock that I’d had with me from the very moment this whole crazy life had really started. He came with me through that portal and had been at my side basically ever since. In a way, he was a connection to my old life, as well as a constant companion through this one. Having that rock in my pocket this whole time had been comforting in a way I couldn’t actually explain. Sure, he was just a rock, but he mattered. He would always matter, regardless of what changed or how much I grew. He had helped take Fossor’s power away, and helped us kill him in the end. And, of course, that was why he would always matter to these people as much as he mattered to me. Herbie was the reason they were all still alive. He deserved to be here with them, an artifact from Earth for these people to have. I knew he’d take care of them, and that they would do the same for him. If he was going to be safe anywhere in the universe that wasn’t my pocket, it was here on this world. This was the right thing to do. 

Besides, this just gave me even more reason to come back and visit this place a lot, as if I needed that. So, after allowing the priest to take Herbie to find a special case to put him in where he would be safe for everyone to see and admire, I opened and shut my hand a couple times, feeling the loss of his comforting weight. Boy, this really was harder than it should have been.

Avalon stepped beside me, her voice serious. “Are you going to be okay?”  

The question made me chuckle softly despite myself, raising my gaze to meet hers. “We’ve come a long way from you calling me a freak for having a pet rock, haven’t we?” 

She snorted in return. “We’ve come a long way, period,” the girl reminded me. Her hand rose to gently cup my face. “And I’m glad I’ve been able to do it with you.” 

We kissed briefly before I cleared my throat and turned back to the others. “I know, right now we’ve got bigger things to think about than a rock I’ve been carrying around in my pocket. I’ll be fine. It’s all good. He’ll have a whole planet worshiping him now. That’s what he deserves.” 

From there, we all went over more details about what was going to happen with the defense of this planet. The whole Revenant thing, which still sounded crazy but really was their best chance at having enough time to develop more defenses of their own, had more specifics that had to be ironed out. I couldn’t contribute very much to that, but I could help teach their budding necromancers to sense and control the Revenants when they had to. 

And boy didn’t that seem really weird. I was the one giving necromancy lessons? There was something really wrong with that, especially considering where my power had come from. Or maybe that made it perfect. I had helped kill Fossor, and now his power was being put to use helping to protect the world he had spent so long grinding under his heel. 

Another couple weeks passed like that, as I helped teach those Necromancers while the others put the rest of the planetary defensive system into place. Now it was Friday, March 15th. Which meant we officially had about two and a half months left before the Seosten leadership decided whether to extend the truce or not. I just had to hope that everything we had done so far, between defeating Fossor to clear him off this world so he wasn’t a threat anymore, to showing them how the anti-possession spell could be potentially modified to help them with their pregnancy problem, to even introducing them to a whole new world full of their unmodified people that could also help with that, would be enough to convince them to hold off on the whole invasion thing. Or that something else would happen before we reached the time limit. 

Oh, and maybe the fact that I was supposed to help stop the Fomorians with my Necromancy once I was strong enough. Maybe that would help too. 

In any case, I really hadn’t planned on being away from the school for this long, not in the slightest. But there wasn’t much choice. These people deserved to learn everything we could teach them, and that sort of thing didn’t come quickly. As it was, this was a pretty big crash course. I even brought Brom Bones in to help, since he knew more than I did when it came to a lot of this stuff. 

There were about twenty Necromancy students, of all ages and from all over the world. Twenty people might have seemed like a lot at first glance, but when drawn from the entire world’s population… yeah. Fossor really had done everything he could to stomp out every possible rival to his own power. Besides, they all had almost no understanding of their own gift, since it had been far too dangerous to actually practice with. But still, they were ready and eager to learn how to help protect their planet. 

That whole time, I kept wondering when I was going to get answers from Sun Wukong about why he was here and what he had come to see me for. But he simply insisted the time would come for that. Then he disappeared. For about a week and a half, the man was gone entirely. I thought he’d gotten bored and disappeared possibly forever and that I would never get answers about what he wanted, but he turned up finally, simply saying that he’d had something else to take care of. Which, from what I’d seen, could’ve meant anything from fate of the universe stuff, or he could’ve simply seen a shiny bird and followed it around for several days.

I also checked in on Robin, Stasia, and Judas through that time. It had turned out that Rasputin lived far out in the wilderness, in an area that wasn’t very well mapped or anything and was apparently pretty dangerous. They had to find a guide who could take them out there, which took awhile. But finally, they had gotten everything they needed and set out for that. I tried to offer help, yet they insisted I could do more good back here and that I was already busy enough as it was. They could handle it just fine. Plus, they had everything they needed to call for a quick pickup from the Jitterbug once they were finished out there. 

Between that and the fact that Brom Bones was willing to stay here and keep teaching these people as much as they needed, it was finally time for the rest of us to head home. For now, at least. Obviously, we would be back to visit later. That much we had promised repeatedly. But we really needed to get back to the Fusion School after all this time. It felt like I had spent more days doing homework and study sheets to catch up with classes then I had spent within actual classes this year. There was just so much to do. But still, I didn’t mind that much. Not when spending time out here on this world meant that these people had a better understanding of what was going on and how to protect themselves.

Of course, these people were grateful, to say the least. They kept bringing various trinkets as gifts. I wanted to tell them to keep everything, but I also didn’t want to be rude. So I made it a point to accept simple stuff, the sort of gifts that wouldn’t really affect them in the long run. I would keep everything they gave me safe, as a reminder of just how much we had managed to help these people by getting rid of that monster.

Shiori, Avalon, and I were loading some bags up with those trinkets at the moment, standing in the upper room of one of the houses that had been given over to our use. I had been against the idea of using one of the houses belonging to these people, but they made it clear that the house wasn’t in use anymore anyway. Not at the moment. We had stopped Fossor from killing every last person on this planet to save himself, but he had still killed many of them.

With that uncomfortable and sad thought running through my mind, I continued to talk with the other two about what we were going to do once we got back. It felt strange, knowing how much more still needed to be done back on Earth while also getting closure on this world. All of the ghosts who wanted to be let go here already had been. Those who were staying to help out would be led by Rahanvael, all the rest had simply disappeared.

Shaking my head at how much quieter the haunted mansion was going to be without about half of its occupants, I looked toward Avalon. “So, were the Starburst good?” 

She raised an eyebrow at me. “You mean the ones the Wandering Woman gave us after taking Aylen and me completely by surprise so she could tell us how to save Gaia by finding one of Chadwick’s descendants and a Reaper who might actually help?” 

“Don’t forget Dare,” I pointed out. “You need someone with the blood of Gaia, a helpful Reaper, and Dare.” 

“But she’s someone we already have,” Shiori put in. “And I guess the Reaper is too? Wait, you talked to Gwen or Michael about that, right? Didn’t you say they were supposed to know someone like that?”

“That’s what the Wandering Woman said,” Avalon agreed. “Or Sawyer as she called herself, I guess.” She frowned thoughtfully. “And yeah, I talked to Gwen, actually. She uhh, she was pretty curious about Sawyer and how she could possibly know about all that. But she did say they know a Reaper who could help. Jones, just like Sawyer said. So now I guess all we need to do is find that descendent. There’s just one major problem with that.” 

“Let me guess,” I replied, “all the descendants that we know about are being watched by the loyalists, so it’s impossible to get near them without calling down a huge fight.” 

Avalon sighed, folding her arms as she confirmed, “Pretty much. It’s not even that they have any idea about the descendants being used to find Gaia. It’s just that the Seosten have always been paranoid that one of them could be the way Arthur gets woken up, so they taught enough of the hardliners that it would be a really bad thing. These people, the ones who know anything about it at all, have been taught for like a thousand years that if any of Arthur’s blood relatives are disturbed, it could cause a massive calamity.”

“They didn’t want anyone on either side getting ideas about making a super Heretic by bringing in someone related to Arthur,” I muttered while looking out the nearby window at the bustling city. The people out there were putting actual laser turrets on several of the various roofs throughout the city, thanks to a delivery from Athena’s people. Just in case any invaders got close enough to teleport directly onto the planet and bypass the Revenant defenses, we wanted them to have another way of defending themselves long enough for help to arrive. Those turrets would be given to every major city on the planet, and they would be taught how to use them. 

Beyond that, Athena had brought in experts to teach these people how to fight and use other weapons, magic, all of it. Obviously, Fossor had made certain not to let them do anything of the sort while he was in charge. He wanted them to be completely and utterly helpless without him.

After watching that for a moment, I spoke again. “So I guess we have to find a descendant who isn’t already known to them?”

“That’s the idea,” Avalon confirmed. “But you know, that’s gonna take awhile. More time wasted.” She gave a heavy sigh. “We’re so close to getting Gaia out of there, but it’s like there’s always one more thing in the way.” 

Before I could say anything, Shiori put a hand on the other girl’s back. “Don’t worry, if anyone can find a descendant who isn’t under constant watch, it’s Professor Dare. She wants to save Gaia too. She’ll find someone we can get to. Or find a way to get to one of the others safely.”

Valley gave a short nod. “I know she will. She’s already got some leads. I just want it to be done right now.” Giving a rueful chuckle, she offered a shrug. “I guess I’m impatient.” 

“You deserve to be,” I pointed out. “You’ve already waited more than long enough.” 

“I’m not worried about how long I’ve been waiting,” the girl informed me. “I’m worried about how long she’s been waiting. Who knows how bad they’re treating her or what they’ve told her. They’ve probably been lying to her about how this rebellion is going. I’m pretty sure she knows better than to believe anything they say, but still. It’s just… we have to find her.” 

“We do. There’s a lot riding on finding Gaia,” I agreed. Which was the moment my phone changed with a notification. Glancing at it, I coughed. “Oh, it’s that time again.”

Shiori looked at me curiously. “You have to do that today too? Even though we’re leaving in an hour?”

“It’s training,” Avalon pointed out. “Of course she has to do it every day.” 

I offered a helpless shrug. “It’s the deal I made with them. You know, since they’ve been waiting to do this for so long and everything kept interrupting. Being here on this world to do all this other stuff was the best chance to really work on it without something else getting in the way. Besides, we’ve got it now. They just want to make sure. It’s kind of like a final exam, I guess. Even though they’re going to keep working with us after this. It’s just… we’ll be going back to Earth and everyone knows there’ll be more interruptions. They want to see for themselves that we can do it if we need to.” Pausing, I amended, “When we need to.” 

So, promising to be back in a little bit so we could attend the goodbye ceremony the people of this place had planned, I left the room, made my way downstairs and out of the building and walked through the city. The people, most of whom were rebuilding or working with Athena’s people to set up those defenses, kept waving and greeting me, calling out various things as I returned their cheerful words. Eventually, I made it out of the place, past the walls, and toward a by-now familiar grove on the outskirts. It was really pretty there, with a small stream running through grass that was a very deep purple, surrounded by tall orange trees. 

Tabbris was already there, sitting cross-legged on the ground as she examined the magical fishbowl on her lap. With the permission from people of this world, she had added a few specimens from here to get along with her other fish. And of course, she had named all of them. Seeing that, I smiled and spoke up. “How are the new neighbors doing?” 

She, in turn, grinned while popping to her feet and leaving her fishbowl sitting there for the moment. “They’re really good! I think Sasquatch and Lipadip are dating.” 

“Well at least they got over that rough first meeting,” I noted. “So have you seen–” 

“Good,” another familiar voice announced, “you’re here.” It was Jophiel, emerging through a portal right by the water. Elisabet was right behind her. The latter was still dressing basically like she had on the Meregan world when she had been lost there for so long, with leathers and a much more… militaristic style than the soft silks and all that she had worn the year before. 

“Yup,” I confirmed, giving a casual salute. “We both made it, right on time. So are we gonna do this?” 

“There’s little left for us to teach as far as making the initial connection,” Elisabet reminded me. “We can help you learn to hold it for longer, or to be more efficient. But first, let us see you do it without any input from us. From the top, with blank slates, if you would.” 

So, Tabbris and I exchanged looks before each of us pulled a small metal plate from our pockets along with a field engraver. We had others we had already set up for this, but these two wanted to see us do it from the top. Together, we drew on the metal plates, each about half the size of a smartphone. There were much smaller engravement plates that could be used, but this particular spell was pretty elaborate and needed more room. 

It took us about fifteen minutes, down from our previous record of eighteen, to get the enchantment done. Obviously, in a real fight, we would simply use the previously prepared ones. But still, it was nice to know that we were getting faster with this. Over the past weeks of working, we’d gotten pretty good at it. 

Once the enchantment plates were finished, we each placed them against one another’s arms and spoke our individual command words. There was a bright flash and a rush of power. I saw my own golden aura as well as Tabbris’s own, which was an indigo color. They flared up and merged into one another, twisting around before fading from sight. 

“Good,” Jophiel noted with a small, satisfied smile. “Can you do it?” She asked Tabbris. 

The younger girl, in turn, scrunched her nose up in concentration. A second later, she extended her hand sharply with a small baggie that had simply appeared there. The baggie opened, sending a cloud of sand into the air. Sand which froze after coming into view, then began to spin in a circle. A moment later, it dropped to the ground, and she leaned back before spitting some thick resin that way to cover the sand. Finally, Tabbris dropped the bag, then recalled it right back to her hand. 

She was using my powers. That was what we had been working with Jophiel and Elisabet on. It was the same spell they used to share powers. We’d had a few lessons over the year, now and then. But the past couple weeks had been a real bootcamp for learning to do it. We couldn’t both use the same power at the same time, since there was only one real ‘copy’ of the power. But still, the fact that Tabbris could use any of my powers if she really needed to, it was… big. 

“And you?” Elisabet prompted with a look my way. 

Taking a breath, I focused. A moment later, flickering angelic energy wings appeared on my back. I wasn’t very good with them yet, nowhere near as good as even Tabbris was. And I couldn’t hold them for long. They only appeared for a couple seconds before vanishing once more. It was hard to use her Archangel wings. But I could feel the immense power they had even for that very brief time.

“Oooh!” Another voice cheerfully announced. “Now that’s interesting.” 

It was Sun Wukong. Blinking that way, I managed, “Oh uh, hey. Interesting?” 

The monkey man gave me a broad smile. “Sure, it’ll be great to show off to the others once you get there.” 

The way he said that made me blink. “Wait, once I get where? What others? What do you mean? Are you coming with us back to the Fusion School? I could show you around the place if you want.” 

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure the others can do all that,” he informed me. “You’ll be far too busy on your own trip.

“After all, Ehn’s been waiting a long time to meet you.” 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, that was a pretty big thing. Obviously, Rahanvael was incredibly overwhelmed by the idea that these people wanted to name their homeworld, her homeworld, after her. She still felt some degree of guilt for everything that happened to them, considering it was at the hands of her own brother. They, and we, continued to try to convince her that she held no blame for that, but I had no idea how much she actually believed it. It was going to take time for the wounds to heal. Fortunately, they would have that time. And so would she. Though she had planned to allow herself to dissipate now that he was gone, and she had been returned to her home to see it was safe, those plans changed once the people of this world made it clear that they needed her. She was the only link to the past they had. And, despite the fact they didn’t want to go back to being the exact same society, they still wanted to know everything they could about what they had been before him.

So, she was going to stick around and tell them all the history she could, teach them the culture this world had had before her brother destroyed it all. He had done his level best to completely annihilate and erase everything about their world, so it made poetic sense for her to be the one who helped bring knowledge of that culture and history back. Thankfully, they had several budding necromancers of their own, who hadn’t been completely wiped out, those who had successfully hidden from Fossor before he could kill them. They didn’t know much, and could barely use their power, but it was enough for them to maintain Rahan and any of my other ghosts who wanted to stay. 

Some didn’t, of course. A lot of my ghosts, who had been unwilling servants of Fossor, just wanted to move on by now, and I absolutely couldn’t blame them for that. They were done with everything and were at least happy that they were given the opportunity to go out on their own terms, without serving as his fodder any longer.

So, I released them, allowing the ones who wanted to fade away. Which they did, after saying their goodbyes. Some wanted to make a big spectacle out of it and have a party, others simply wanted to be alone and disappear without any fuss. I did my best to cater to whatever they wanted, and in the end, about half of the ghosts I had inherited from Fossor were gone. The others were back at the haunted mansion, save for a few here, like Seth and Grover. And, I reminded myself, Chas, Emily, Jason, and Kaleigh. Those four were determined to stick around for now as well, wanting to make themselves useful, even after being killed by the Revenants. Part of me wanted to tell them they’d done more than enough already, but who was I to try to talk them out of helping? If the situation was reversed, I knew I’d want to stick around as a ghost and do anything I could.

With all that running through my mind, it was no wonder the next couple days seemed to fly by. We were taking care of even more groundwork in helping the people here be ready to take care of themselves, at least as much as they could. Athena had been working on something to that end alongside their leaders and Chayyiel, who had arrived recently. They were all cooking up something I was sure was going to be pretty impressive. I had no idea what it was, but given the people involved, and how determined they seemed to be about protecting this world from anyone else who might try to make them suffer again, it was bound to be incredible. 

At the moment, I was eating breakfast in the galley of the ship the others had brought here. Avalon and Shiori were with me as we pored over something quite a bit different than what we have been focused on for so long. Namely, math homework. Even with everything that had happened, or perhaps especially with everything that happened, Abigail and my mother were both firm that we had to keep doing our homework and stay caught up, or at least, as caught up as possible. So, we were multitasking, studying while eating breakfast. Assuming the whole universe didn’t explode, we would be going back to Earth eventually, and something told me showing up back there without all these worksheets done would be even more hazardous for our health than facing down a horde of Revenants. 

Besides, to be honest, I really didn’t mind sitting here with my girls like this. It was about as peaceful as things ever got, considering everything we always had on our plates. The people of this world were finally getting the break they deserved, and it felt appropriate that we have our own while we were sitting here. Maybe some would have quibbled about doing math homework being a break, but I was pretty sure those people had never been through the sort of things that we had.

Either way, I was just about to finish my last bite, as well as the final problem on the current sheet I’d been working on, when Tabbris came running into the room. She was going so fast and seemed so excited, that she nearly fell flat on her face before my hand snapped out to catch her arm. “Hey there, partner, what’s the rush? I promise they’ve still got plenty of pancakes back there. I totally didn’t eat all of them.” 

“Though she gave it her best shot,” Avalon put in.

Shiori, for her part, shook her head with a clearly put-on beleaguered sigh. “Honestly, how can either of us ever even hope to measure up to how much Flick loves pancakes? It’s positively impossible.”

Feeling my face turned pink, I stabbed my fork into the last of the delicious treat they were teasing me about, and pointedly shoved it in my mouth, swallowing before sticking my tongue out at them. Finally, I looked at my little sister and asked, “Is everything okay?” Yes, maybe it was a little pessimistic to think that she had come running in here like that because something was wrong, but then again, look at both my life, and what this world had already been through. With those two things combined, something else showing up to make a nuisance of itself wouldn’t have surprised me at all. Annoyed me, but not surprised me. 

Thankfully, the younger girl was smiling, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a bad thing. She basically hopped up and down excitedly, while announcing, “Come on, come on, you’ve got to come out and see it! They made it perfect and– well, you’ve gotta see!”

Pushing myself up before picking up the plate and my books, I shrugged at the other two. “You heard her, there’s something we’ve gotta see.”

So, we all put our stuff away before following Tabbris out of the galley. On our way to the exit of the ship we ran into Persephone, who stopped short. “Oh hello Flick!” she chirped happily, almost bouncing. “I was just coming to find you.” 

“Yeah,” I replied with a smile while rubbing the top of Tabbris’s head. “I hear there’s something big we’re supposed to see.” 

Persephone blinked a couple times before turning a broad smile that way. “Ooooh, I totally didn’t know you were spying on our defense preparations. You must’ve been very sneaky indeed. That’s very good to hear! Being stealthy like a wombat is very useful.”

“Wombat?” Avalon questioned. 

I shrugged that way. “We tried to tell her she means ninja, but for some reason she really likes the wombat angle.” 

Persephone grinned. “It is a fun word to say. Wombat wombat wombat. Wombatman would be much better than Batman.”

Tabbris, for her part, shook her head quickly. “Uh, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about. I was gonna show them what the people in the village made.” 

“Yes,” Athena agreed while walking up to join us, “it’s very impressive. I think you’ll particularly enjoy it,” she informed me before adding, “but first, I’d like you to come with us to see something else.” 

Putting up a hand, I looked at Tabbris. “How important is your thing?” There was no way I was going to tell her to wait if time was vital. 

But, her head just shook. “It can wait. Trust me, it’s gonna be around for a long time.” 

Well, that was curious, as was the little giggle she added after that. But I was going to have to wait to see what she was on about. Instead, I nodded to Athena, only then realizing that I had actually held up my hand to tell her to wait. How would the me from even a year earlier have reacted to that?

I shook off that thought, while our little group followed her and Persephone off the ship and through a waiting portal to end up on a small hill about a mile from the village we had first made contact with. Several of the priests from the village were here, holding portable tablets with ongoing video conferences with elders from the other villages. We had made sure they would always be able to communicate with one another that way. 

As we came through the portal, one of the priests cheerfully called a greeting. These people were smiling so much. Which I couldn’t really blame them for at all. Honestly, I was just amazed they weren’t more downtrodden and afraid. But I supposed that once your society had gone through literally thousands of years worth of oppression, once it was gone, you probably tended to embrace every ounce of freedom you had. Fossor was the sole source of their anguish and slavery, and now that he was completely gone, they were able to smile like that. It made me wonder how I would feel and act in that situation, but of course I had absolutely no frame of reference for it.

Athena greeted them as well before speaking up. “Now that you’re all here and the other elders have tuned in, I think it is time to show you how we believe your planet will defend itself from anyone who wishes to take your freedom away again.” 

One of the priests who was here physically raised his hand. “I do not mean to speak out of turn,” he started hesitantly, “but with the power you have displayed, I am afraid we have no real chance at such defense should any who have similar power come here. You say that we have descended from common ancestors, but our people are mere peshcu–ahh small fur-covered animals who fit in the palm of our hand and can use no tools. We are peshcu compared to your people. Any who wish to put us back under their thumb would face little consequence without… without aid.” 

We all knew what he was saying. They needed us to stay and help protect them. Athena knew as well and offered the man a reassuring smile. “I promise, you will have all the protection you need. Beginning with this.” She held out what looked like an ordinary computer pad like the ones they were holding. Tapping the screen, she showed them and us a view of various planets, including this one, all taken from space. “We’ve put a series of small satellites throughout this solar system, cloaked of course. They will alert you of any approaching ships, and allow you to communicate with them. But more than that, they will allow you to deploy your defenses.” 

“What defenses?” one of the priests on one of the other tablets asked plaintively. “We have no skyboats to deploy, nor weapons like you have.” 

“You will soon,” Athena informed him. “But right now, I speak of your other defenses. The Revenants we’ve told you about. The system we’ve created will allow you to use those Revenants in defense of your world. Whenever enemy ships arrive, you may communicate with them through this system, and should they mean you harm, any three of your elders need only input their personal codes that we will give them, and this system will allow you to transport any number of Revenants from the vault they are imprisoned within, over to any ship you target. You may also draw them back to the vault with the same controls once the enemy is no longer a threat.” 

Okay, yeah, that made me do a double-take. They were turning the Revenants into what amounted to guard dogs? Really nasty, horrific, murdering monster guard dogs. That seemed incredibly dangerous. But on the other hand, now that I thought about it, what other choice did they have? It was absolutely true that this world didn’t have any ships or anything that could protect it, and we certainly couldn’t spare the forces it would take to hold the place. Sure, the Seosten leadership had so far agreed to play nice with their common ancestors from what Athena and Sariel had said after communicating with them, but they weren’t the only game in town. And they could always change their minds, or pretend not to notice a ‘rogue faction’ coming here to put who they would see as their own people under their control. 

Hell, they were already sending scientists to see how biologically compatible these people were with them, considering the common ancestor thing. The Seosten we knew had altered themselves so much over the millennia that they might not be able to have viable children, but if they could… yeah, that would be a huge thing. And if enough of the Seosten leadership decided they wanted to be in complete control of this sudden new genetic stock without giving them any say in the matter, it could go poorly. 

Maybe that was a harsh assumption, but look at everything else they had done for so long. They had absolutely earned me believing they were capable of the worst I could think of. 

But still, there was a much more important thing for me to focus on at this point. Which was–

“Are you people crazy?!” That was Shiori, blurting the words out before flushing a bit as everyone turned to her, even the faces of the other priests on the tablet screens. “Sorry, I mean, what are you talking about? Do um, do you really think using the Revenants like that is a good idea? What if your system breaks down and they lose control of them or something? I thought you guys were going to find a way to get rid of those things, not try to use them like this.” 

Chayyiel was the one who answered, offering a small smile. “Usually, you’d be right. That would be the best choice. But this planet has incredibly limited options when it comes to protecting itself. They prefer to be free, not fall under someone else’s control so soon after being released from the last monster. So we need to work with what they have. And the only real defense that’s possible are those Revenants. The system for keeping them contained is actually the most advanced I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying a lot. The people who put it together knew what they were doing. It only required a few changes and upgrades to make this possible.” 

With a nod, Athena agreed, “With other Revenants, you would be correct, Miss Shiori. These ones, however, were specifically created and… tuned, for lack of a better word, over the course of centuries to be controlled and contained by the crystal within that chamber, and the magics surrounding it. While I would not go nearly so far as to say that using it is completely safe with absolutely no risks, it would be more dangerous to allow invaders to come here while this planet has no defenses at all.” 

“Besides,” Persephone piped up, “they’re born to be Necromancers here. Give them a little time and training, and they’ll have an army that can control the Revenants themselves.” After a pause, she added, “Okay, maybe a lot of time and a lot of training. But still!” 

There was a bit more talking after that about how this all thing was going to go. They had to work out the specifics a bit better, but the system they had come up with was admittedly pretty solid, even if the idea did freak me out a bit. The plus side was that most people who might come after the planet would probably be dissuaded simply by the threat of having an army of Revenants teleported onto their ships. And the ones who weren’t, the Fomorians, well… if the Fomorians were attacking the planet, pulling out literally every possible stop by sending those Revenants after them was their only chance to survive long enough for help to show up.

Yeah, that was a depressing thought. But still, at least they would have some form of defense, dangerous as it might have been. These people deserved to feel some measure of safety while they were putting their society back together. 

Eventually, we got around to going to see what Tabbris wanted to show us. And the priests (the ones who were physically present) came as well, clearly just as excited as she was. Which raised my curiosity even more. We were led down into the city, meeting up with both my parents along the way. Soon, we were winding our way through the streets until we reached the grounds of Fossor’s burned and broken tower. Right there, in the middle of the courtyard, I saw what Tabbris had been so eager for us to see. 

“It’s a statue?” Dad started, staring at the structure. There was a five-foot high, ten-foot wide pedestal. Perched atop it was a mostly-round figure carved from something like marble. It looked like a large marble boulder, fifteen-feet wide and about ten feet tall, aside from the part that looked like a sword, which extended up another few feet and was held out toward the sky triumphantly. Two large eyes had been carved into the front. And it had a small hat tilted slightly off to one side. 

“It’s… Herbie!” I blurted, staring that way. “They made a Herbie statue!” From my pocket, I produced the little guy, holding him up to see. “Look, buddy. You’re famous!” 

Tuenfa, the main priest guy, spoke up. “Our people wished to create a statue to the ones who truly liberated us.” He gestured to my mother and me. “But the Lady Joselyn suggested that doing so might be… awkward for them. For all of you. This was settled upon as a compromise. The… rock responsible for stripping the monster’s power away, thus sparing the lives of all who remained on this world. Without that rock, we would all be dead, for he would have sacrificed every one of us before allowing himself to be killed. The rock is the only reason we are alive and free today. So, we honor it. As we honor all of you. We know you cannot stay forever, much as we might long for that. But in this way, with this statue, we will at least have some small connection to our saviors.” 

Swallowing hard, I stared at the statue. It really was incredible. All of this for a simple rock I had picked up on the very first day that I’d become involved in this life. The rock had just been laying there on the ground, waiting for me to pick it up. I threw it through that first portal leading to Crossroads. In many ways, Herbie had preceded me into this life. My little rock buddy had been there this whole time, right by my side, nestled in my pocket. He’d had so many spells put on him, had been responsible for so much. And as they said, he was the one who had stripped Fossor’s connection to this world, and arguably saved their entire population and possibly all of us as well. He was the reason Fossor was dead, and that we were alive. 

Holding my little rock up, I stared at it. “What do you think, buddy?” My voice cracked just a little. “Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right. But are you sure you can handle it? What, me? There you go, only thinking about others again. You’re such a brave little rock.” 

“Flick?” Dad started uncertainly. 

“Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not crazy,” I informed him. “I just wanted to do that one more time.” Swallowing again, I looked toward Tuenfa. “Herbie means a lot to me. But he obviously means a lot to you too. We can’t stay here forever, so maybe he can stay instead. If you keep him as a relic or whatever, put him somewhere safe. Take care of him.” 

Tuenfa met my gaze seriously. “The rock is responsible for our entire civilization’s freedom and survival. It–he would be treated as a holy relic for the rest of time.” 

Letting out a long breath, I nodded. “Okay then. Right. Then he can stay with you. 

“I guess it’s time to say goodbye to Herbie.”  

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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We didn’t send everyone into the town immediately at the same time, of course. That just felt like a good way to freak these people out even more than they were probably already going to be. We had no idea how they were going to react, what kind of knowledge of other planets they even had, or any of it. So we had to take this slowly and not run in there with the entire small army we had.

Speaking of small army, the people who had come with Avalon and Dad on the ship were Wyatt, Athena, Sariel, Hisao, Deveron, Larissa, and, surprisingly, Jophiel and Elisabet. Those last two had seemed to take just enough time to ensure that Tabbris and I were okay before moving aside and staying silent. Aside, that was, from the quiet voice I’d heard projected into my head from one of them, informing me that when I had a few minutes, we needed to talk.

Whatever they wanted, it would have to wait for later. For now, we had to go meet the people of this planet. Or at least one city-worth of them to start out. To that end, we settled on my mother, Nevada, Avalon, Shiori, and me going in first. My dad wanted to go, but we convinced him to stay with the others. And Tabbris was going to spend time with her mother, who had been worried about her, to put it mildly. So she would simply be keeping in contact through our connection.

The five of us didn’t teleport into the middle of the village or anything dramatic like that. Instead, we simply walked there, and took our time in the process. We just walked slowly, giving the people in the town time to notice us. Which also gave us time to talk a bit more with Avalon about everything that had happened, while also discussing what we were going to do and say once we got there and started introducing ourselves.

One new thing I did find out, alongside Avalon, was that Denuvus hadn’t exactly agreed to go into that portable storage thing without some form of assurance that she would be safe. Apparently while I had been busy, back when I noticed Mom, Nevada, and her talking together, they had been coming to an arrangement. With Erin watching intently through her video connection to Nevada, Mom had allowed Denuvus to use her power strictly to ensure she would be taken safely back to Earth and let out in a private area she could leave from without issue. Erin had been ready to jettison the entire treasure cargo if Denuvus tried adding any extra orders, but she had apparently stuck to her agreement. Even then, the idea that Mom had been controlled that way, despite agreeing to it, still made me feel queasy. 

We approached the first gate, making our way down an old, cracked stone road. We could see two men up on the wall, staring at us with what looked like some form of binoculars. We didn’t hurry our pace or anything, though we did wave at them, trying to appear as friendly as possible.

The gate creaked loudly open as we drew closer, revealing a man in what looked like priest or monk-type clothing, holding a gnarled walking stick. He had long graying hair, and was flanked by several more men, all of them younger and quite strapping. They held an assortment of makeshift weapons. Spears that looked like they had only just been cobbled together recently, or hammers that were clearly originally intended as tools. One person held a scythe. 

“Strangers!” the old man called once we were close enough, “we’ve not seen your style of clothing before! What settlement have you come from?!” 

“We can understand them?” I managed, blinking a bit in surprise. 

“With this,” Nevada noted, holding up a small silver ball in one hand. It was giving off a soft hum. “You’re hearing them in English, and they’ll hear us in their language.” 

As soon as they saw the orb in her hand, the armed men shouted something about stopping as they put themselves in front of their elder. Mom held a hand out for the rest of us to wait, then walked a few steps closer. As she did, the old man poked his head out from behind the ones protecting him, and his eyes widened. Immediately, he pushed the big guy in front of him aside with surprising strength considering his apparent age, and came forward as quickly as he could while leaning heavily on his walking stick. The man dropped to his knees in front of Mom and started to lean down to kiss her feet. But she dropped to her knees as well, putting both hands on his shoulders to stop him. “Perricks, no. You don’t need to do that. You know better. You know he’s gone.” 

The old man looked up, tears staining his wrinkled cheeks. “You are mistaken, my lady. I greet you as such not in fear of his return, but in joy that he shall not. And in the knowledge that you played some part in that. I thought you dead in the attempt. That you are not is… joyous news indeed. You being here, it means it was you after all. You killed the beast, just as you threatened him you would do all those times.”

“Not me,” Mom corrected, both of them still kneeling in front of each other while the armed men lingering by the gate murmured amongst themselves. She turned, gesturing for me to approach. “I helped. But in the end, it was my daughter who ended him.” 

Oh boy, now everyone was looking at me. Forcing down the nerves that were threatening to overwhelm me, I took a breath before walking forward. “All I did was get the last hit,” I managed. “Mom did most of the work. She’s the one who deserves the credit. I was just… in the right place at the right time.” 

Despite me saying that, the old man rose to his feet, catching my hands with both of his before squeezing them. He was still crying, barely able to get the words out. “You have given us the greatest gift anyone ever could.” His hands were still squeezing mine tightly as he met my gaze. “Thank you. Thank you both. Thank… all of you.” He was looking past me, his eyes on the others. “He was too strong for only two to defeat. We saw how many of our people he was taking for that battle. It must have taken all of you.”

“All of us and many more besides,” Mom confirmed, her voice breaking slightly as she continued. “But we’re sorry about the people you lost while we were trying to kill him. We should have found a way to cut him off from this world sooner.” 

That time, it was one of the younger men who spoke up, taking a few steps forward while shaking his head. “No. We all would gladly have died if it would mean the end of him.” He held his heavy blacksmith-like hammer in one hand, raising it to point our way. “So long as a few of our children could survive, our world would go on without his taint. That would have been worth every other loss.” His words were met with agreement not only from the old man and the others behind him, but from the men up on the wall as well, who were still watching. 

The old man shook his head as though to clear it. “What was I thinking? Introductions are in order, but I believe everyone will wish to meet you. Come, come.” He turned and went back past my mother toward the gate while speaking loudly. “We’ll gather the rest of the town in front of the temple. It… will be nice to use the stage for something wonderful. And better for everyone’s questions to be answered at once.”

The rest of us exchanged looks before following after him. He was right, it was better to only have to tell the story once. Or once per town. I still wasn’t sure how we were going to deal with all that. One step at a time.

We walked through the first gate, and the younger men who had to come out to see what we were doing fell in behind us. Together, Mom, Avalon, Shiori, Nevada, and I looked around. There was about thirty feet between one wall and the second, but it stretched all the way around the city. And from here, I could see that the few guys who had been with the one apparently called Perricks had been far from alone. There were at least a hundred more men of similar age, all holding makeshift weapons, standing in the space between the walls. They had been ready and waiting to come charging out if we ended up being a threat after all. Honestly, I was seriously impressed that they were that prepared to fight after having suffered under Fossor for so long. It said a lot about the sort of people they were, and made me even more livid about what that piece of shit had done to them for so long. 

Avalon apparently practically read my mind, because she spoke in a low voice as we approached the second gate. “The only sad part about that monster being dead already is that it’s impossible to kill him again, this time in front of all these people so they can spit on his corpse.” 

Her voice was tight with obvious emotion, and I took her hand to squeeze it. “Yeah,” I murmured, “I don’t think they’d be the only ones spitting. But we don’t have to worry about that. He’s dead, that’s what matters. It’s time to let all these people move on. That’s what we’re here for.”

Passing through the second gate, we found ourselves in the renaissance-era city. The road split into three paths here, two leading out and around the outside edge with buildings on either side, while the third went straight up the middle. That last one was about three times as wide as the others, with several large fountains with broken statues lining the middle of it every hundred feet or so. After a moment, I realized that the statues had once been of Fossor himself. The people here had taken hammers or whatever else they could to them, shattering the once-grand sculptures into tiny pieces that left only bits of the stand, legs, and sometimes arms behind. Given enough time, I was pretty sure they would break the rest of them. 

Then there were all the people. They were filling every available bit of space they could down in this area, staring at us. I saw men, women, little kids poking their heads out from behind their parents or sitting on their shoulders, even teenagers sitting on rooftops so they could see better. Hundreds of them. No, thousands. They didn’t fill the entire city, of course. Their population wasn’t quite that large. But they had all crowded down into this one area so they could watch us arrive. A few waved, most of them were crying, one or two called out questions until Perricks held his fist up, silencing all of them. His voice was just loud enough to be heard by even those on the roofs, now that they had become quiet. “We will go to the temple. They will answer your questions there. Let the words speaking the truth of his death mark the last spoken on the grounds of his sanctuary before that ground is wiped clean and birthed anew.” 

Wow, this guy knew how to say the right thing. Everyone cleared a path, and we all walked through the city, flanked by its people on all sides on our way to what turned out to be a very broken and burned temple. They had clearly done a number on the place, which was even more evident up close. At one time, this had obviously been a massive, seriously imposing tower. Now very little of it was left and I could smell the burnt remains from the fire that had destroyed most of it. But the courtyard was still intact, and that was where we all went. Perricks led us up to the center, where a couple more priests were waiting, along with a thin girl with light brown hair cut short. She looked like she might blow away in a stiff breeze, and couldn’t have been older than fourteen or fifteen. Why she was up there with the priests, I had no idea. At the moment, her gaze was locked on me. Not quite distrusting or anything, but I could definitely sense some hesitation and uncertainty. Which was fair, considering everything. I was a little surprised the rest of these people weren’t more suspicious, honestly. But then, they apparently knew my mother. And she had a way of making an impression, to say the least. 

“Joselyn, daughter, and friends,” Perricks started, nodding to the others on the stage at the center of this courtyard, “These are our surviving elders: Tuuenfa, Larifke, Norshi, and Dars.” 

The largest of those four, the one called Tuuenfa, raised a hand to indicate the slender girl standing a bit to the side. “It is our warmest pleasure to meet you all. And this is Beilela, the One Who Said No.” He made that announcement with pride, his tone making it clear that the words were a title of some sort. 

Beilela, for her part, visibly blushed while shaking her head. “Stop, I didn’t do anything. You know I didn’t do anything, especially now.” She looked at us again. “The others have been saying it was these people. They stopped him.” There was clear curiosity in her voice. But also that same very subtle undercurrent of suspicion. Belatedly, I realized why. She was grateful that we had killed Fossor, but now that we were here, there was a part of her that worried about us trying to pick up where he had left off. Of course she saw that as a possibility, after living under Fossor forever. Not only did her entire life amount to being subjugated by that piece of shit, but so did literally everyone else’s on this planet, going back thousands of years. 

“Why do you call her that?” Nevada asked curiously, stepping over next to Shiori. “Oh, sorry, we should introduce ourselves before we get into all that.” 

Perricks gave a quick nod, gesturing out to where the rest of the city’s population had gathered throughout the courtyard. “Please, for everyone. We would all like to know the full story. We have… no contact with the worlds beyond. We had thought generations would pass before we fully understood the truth. But you are here now. Please, anything you can tell us about his death would aid the stories we spread.” 

Mom took the lead, thankfully. She moved to the front of the stage and magnified her voice to be heard by everyone. Then she introduced herself and the rest of us. Not that she really needed to do the former, because as soon as they got a good look at her, I heard some of the people murmuring her name back and forth. They definitely remembered her. And I was certain they were going to remember the rest of us as well. Mom went through our names, gesturing to each of us in turn while saying that we had all been there at Fossor’s last stand. Yeah, that definitely got their attention.

What also got their attention was when Mom took me by the hand and had me move in front of her. She spoke as clearly as possible. “I told you that this is my daughter, Felicity. She came from myself and a man I love quite deeply. It was she who destroyed the monster in the end. Her blade killed him. He is gone forever because she ended him.” 

Oh, boy did that ever get their attention. Now everyone was staring right at me. No one was saying anything, no one was even moving. They were just staring for several long, incredibly quiet moments. I had no idea what they were thinking. It made me squirm a little bit uncertainly with my mother’s hands on my shoulders. “Um, is everything okay?” I finally managed. 

“They want to remember you,” the large priest, Tuuenfa, announced quietly. “We never want to forget the face of the one who delivered us from the darkness. They–we… owe you more than we can ever repay.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” I insisted. “You don’t owe any of us anything. They— he’s gone and you’re finally free. Don’t put yourself in debt like that to anyone else. Never again.” 

Before I knew what was happening, those last two words, ‘never again’ were repeated by first one, then several, then all of the people in the crowd. They repeated ‘never again’ several times, each stronger and more forceful than the next. It was enough to make me shiver a little from emotions, and I found myself whispering it along with them by the end. As did the others behind me. We all felt it, that rush of emotional power that made the words mean more than they had before. 

It was the girl, Beilela, who spoke up once everyone had gone silent once more. “How did you stop him from sacrificing all of us to save his own life? He wouldn’t have stopped on his own. The bells were calling for us, but then they stopped. They went silent. How… how did you save us from his power?” 

“Oh, that wasn’t me,” I quickly put in, reaching down into my pocket. With everyone staring, I came out with my familiar rock. “It was Herbie!” With that dramatic announcement, I held my little buddy up so they could all see his handsome self, with his googly eyes, hat, and incredible sword. “I’d like all of you to meet the true hero!” 

With that, I went on to explain what had happened, about how I had managed to use Fossor’s curse to cut him off from this world by getting him to stomp down on Herbie, a rock from Earth. 

The people took that in, all of them, staring at the handsome hero in my palm. They were looking at him with even more reference and awe. Gradually, several of them started to say his name. Then more. Soon, the entire crowd was chanting, “Herbie! Herbie! Herbie!” It got louder, filling the streets beyond the temple as it echoed back through the rest of the town. “Herbie! Herbie!” 

“Aww, see that, buddy?” I murmured with a smile while holding him aloft so they could all get a good look. 

“You’re finally getting the recognition you deserve.” 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Hey guys, there was a tie for the voting on what interlude to have next, so while our wonderful donators are voting to break that tie, here’s the first chapter of the new arc!

We dropped off Denuvus and Trice without any further issues. I had been expecting her to make more problems for us before it was over, but apparently she was content to play along for now. I still wasn’t sure how that whole thing with giving her access to cloning technology in order to bring her sister back was going to work out. But that was something to handle on another day. For now, we simply left them there and took the bodies of our dead back to the station before checking in. Of course, they were surprised to see us there, let alone hear the whole story about what had happened. 

They had also already sent out a group to go to Fossor’s home planet and help back when we first reported in from the asteroid base. And God did that feel like it had happened decades ago. Unfortunately, because they didn’t have the Jitterbug, we had gone through all that and they still weren’t at the other planet yet. My dad was on that ship, since he’d refused to stay behind when both Mom and me were in obvious danger. So, I was able to partially-recall over there to let them know the situation was back under control. He was relieved, to say the least. As was everyone else on the ship, including Avalon. But they were still going to meet us on the planet, since they were only a few hours out by that point. It’d be stupid for them to just turn around right then and come all the way back to Earth. 

Besides, we still had to deal with the fact that there was a secret chamber with a horde of Revenants locked up inside it. To that end, we dropped the Seosten tribals we had captured off at the station as well. We’d have to figure out what to do with them in the long run later, but at least while they were all the way over by Earth there was absolutely no way they could do anything to unleash those monsters again. Everything else could wait. Plus, the Seosten here really wanted to meet them. I had a feeling that was going to be a whole thing too. Hell, maybe it would contribute to convincing the Seraphs to extend the truce. If we showed them that there were still living descendants from the original Seosten, maybe they would even be able to use that in their attempts to find a solution to their population issue? That had to earn us a few points, right? 

We also left Miles and Royce there, so they could… be with their friends. With some help from Nevada, I filled up some crystal things with my own necromantic energy so the ghosts could feed off that for awhile, and Brom Bones promised to take care of them as well as the rest of my haunted mansion while I was gone. 

So, after taking a few minutes to deal with all that, and promising to see the others once they got to the planet, we took the Jitterbug back there. Finally, after that whole long ordeal, we were going to do what we had set out for in the first place. Namely, meet with the people who lived on that world, let them know the full story about what happened to the man who had oppressed them for so long, and see what we could do to help the world get back on track. 

As planned, we landed the Jitterbug near that city where Rasputin had last been seen, a place apparently called Peiys. It was kind of hard to believe we had gone through all that and Robin’s group still hadn’t been able to do the one thing they’d come with us for in the first place. Seriously, the fact that they had stuck with us for so long, and helped out as much as they had meant a lot. I was pretty sure–no, I was absolutely certain we would have been completely dead without them. By that point, I probably would have agreed to help them with anything they asked for.

It was the middle of the night when we landed the ship on a high ridge a couple miles from the town. We didn’t want to freak the people there out anymore than we were obviously already going to. So we would head in there after the sun came up and people had time to be awake and all that. Besides, most of us were utterly exhausted after that whole situation anyway, so having a few hours to sleep was probably a really good idea. Plus it would give the ship that Dad, Avalon, and the others were on time to catch up. 

In my case, I slept for just a little over two hours before I was fresh and ready. I ended up sitting on top of a tall boulder on the edge of the ridge so I could look out at the torch-based lights of the town in the distance. It obviously wasn’t very advanced, thanks to Fossor. The town was surrounded by two layers of stone walls, with what looked like the broken, burned remains of what had once been a massive tower. It was clear that the thing had stretched high into the sky at one point. But now there was barely anything left of it. Even then it was taller than any of the buildings around it, despite the fact that the thing looked like the people of the town had torn the whole thing apart as much as they could, and were using the base of what remained for… something. 

While I was sitting on that rock watching the distant town, Shiori climbed up and sat next to me. We stayed there in silence for a minute, simply putting our arms around one another. I was content like this. After everything that had happened, it was nice to simply sit here with one of my girls and relax. I didn’t feel rushed to say or do anything else besides just… enjoy her presence. 

Finally, I glanced sidelong at the other girl, and smiled a little. “It’s kind of nice, isn’t it?” 

She returned the smile. “You mean knowing that you’ll be able to tell all those people that they’re free now? Yeah, it’s nice. Plus, Senny doesn’t have to go hunt down the guy who erased her dad’s memories.” That smile twisted into a very slight frown. “Not since Fossor killed him.”

“Yeah, that part’s complicated,” I agreed with a sigh. “But at least he’s dead. They both are. Now we just have to get Gaia back so she can help with Tiras’s memories.” 

“I miss her,” Shiori murmured, squeezing herself closer to me with a visible flinch. “I really thought we would have found her by now. She would have found any of us.” 

Swallowing, I rubbed the other girl’s shoulder. “Yeah, she’s pretty amazing. But we’ll get her out of there, don’t worry. No one’s forgotten about her, especially not now. We’ll save her, no matter where they try to hide her from us. One way or another, we’re going to get Gaia back.” She was right though, it was taking so long for us to find the woman. Crossroads kept moving her around, kept changing her guards, and more, doing everything they could to make it impossible for us to mount a rescue. 

I was trying very hard not to think about the fact that my mother had been held prisoner for literal decades without the Rebellion being able to save her. This was different. It had to be different. We were going to find Gaia and get her out of there, somehow. 

Asenath came into view then, looking up at us before giving what was, for her, a little ten foot hop to land on the other side of Shiori. Her voice was quiet. “Sorry to interrupt. I… couldn’t help overhearing. Vampire senses.” Snorting a bit at her own words, she turned to her sister. “Flick’s right though. We’re going to find Gaia and get her away from those people. And not just because I need her. We all need her. She’s too important. Last time she had to try being subtle to keep her position at the school. But that’s over now. She belongs with the rebellion. She belongs with all of us.” 

“How’re you doing with all that?” I asked after a second of silence. “I mean, the whole thing with that guy who erased your dad’s memories already being dead.” 

She exhaled heavily. “I really wish he was still around to punch. Or stab a few dozen times. But I guess I’ll just have to put all my energy and anger toward the people who are keeping Gaia locked up instead.”  

Snorting a bit to myself, I nodded. “Well, they’re pretty good targets for it anyway. They’ve definitely earned the full power of your wrath.” 

“Speaking of power,” Shiori put in, shifting around to look at me more directly. “You really killed two of those Revenants back there?” She sounded awed, which made me blush. “What’d you get out of that? Come on, it’s gotta be something good, right?”

The question made me blink with realization. “Oh, shit, you’re right. We were just so busy in the middle of all that, and then the whole thing with… with Kaleigh, Jason, Chas, and Emily happened. I guess I just forgot about it. I don’t–I’m not sure, and since Tabs is asleep–”

“No, I’m not!” That was Tabbris herself, of course. She stood at the bottom of the boulder, looking up at us while clutching her magic fishbowl against her chest. “And I know what you got from those guys. I uhh, checked before, but I didn’t think it was the right time to… you know, talk about it.” 

Exchanging a look with the other two, I shrugged before pushing off the boulder and dropping to land next to my sister. “Well,” I announced, “in that case, maybe we should go over there out of the way, and talk about it? Come on, guys.” 

So, the four of us moved further away from the camp where the others were still sleeping and toward an open meadow about two hundred feet away. Once we were there, I looked back at Tabbris. “Okay, since I know the others are wondering, too, what did I end up getting from those Revenants?” It still felt weird to phrase it like that, like I was being irreverent or something. But still, there wasn’t really a better way. Besides, those things had killed our… well, not friends, I barely knew anything about them, another thing I felt guilty for. But our people. They killed our people, who didn’t deserve to die. The very least they could do was contribute something toward making sure I could stop as many others from dying as possible. It wouldn’t fix the situation, not by a long shot. But it was something.

“Okay, well,” Tabbris started as the rest of us looked to her expectantly, “the first thing is that you can umm… sort of, drain the health from corpses to make yourself stronger and tougher. Err, not the health. I mean like, you can touch a corpse and make it turn into dust and fall apart in exchange for getting one… umm, charge I guess? Yeah, one charge of a umm, corpse boost.” She grimaced while explaining that part. “Sorry, it’s really gross, but yeah. You can hold ten charges like that, but you can only activate one at a time. When you activate a charge, it uses up the energy from that, uh, corpse. And for the next… anywhere from one minute to ten minutes depending on how strong they were when they were alive, you’ll be three times as strong and as tough as you usually are. Or you can burn that entire, err, corpse-worth of energy at once and be ten times as strong and completely invulnerable to almost everything for just a few seconds.” 

I took a moment to absorb that. “Okay, so I touch dead bodies and turn them to dust in exchange for up to ten charges, which I can expend to get either a short-term boost to strength and all that, or an incredibly short, almost instantaneous burst of being invulnerable and staggeringly strong. That could be… yeah, useful. Gross and all that, but then again, I’m kinda getting used to that by now with the whole Necromancy thing. And I’m pretty sure we won’t lack for corpses.” 

“Yeah,” Shiori agreed, “besides, you’ll always be the cutest Necromancer I know.” 

Giggling despite herself, Tabbris’s head bobbed quickly. “Uh huh, and that’s not all. The second thing you got was umm, I think you’d call it Corpse-Disguise?” 

Senny arched an eyebrow, giving me a brief look. “Well that sounds interesting. And disturbing.” 

So, Tabbris explained. It turned out that I could also use any of the corpse charges I had to transform myself into a perfect physical copy of that person. A version that would actually look like they were alive, that was. I wouldn’t actually have any of their powers, but every single test that anyone could do besides that would show me as being that person. My voice would match, as would fingerprints, retinal scans, even magical signature tests. All of that would look completely identical to the living person. Assuming anyone we were trying to fool didn’t know the person in question was dead, I would be able to fool them. Assuming, of course, they didn’t insist I use that person’s powers, or know something they would know. Biologically speaking, it would be a perfect match. 

“Well,” I murmured after all that was explained, “that could actually be pretty useful when it comes to the whole getting Gaia out of prison thing. And probably any number of other things that could come up. I just need, uh, useful corpses I guess?” Saying that made me grimace. “Yup, still disturbing to think about.” 

“It’s more than that,” Tabbris put in. “See, while you’re in that other body, if you die–I mean take lethal damage, you’ll revert back to your own body, but you won’t be injured anymore. Any damage you take in the other body doesn’t transfer to your normal one. But it’s a one shot deal. Once you change yourself into them, the body’s used up for good. So if you change back, you can’t turn into that person again anymore. The corpse gets turned to dust when you make the charge, and you expend the charge to turn into them. So you only get one shot with each… body.” She paused before swallowing as she clutched the fish bowl tighter. “You’re right, it’s kinda creepy.” 

“But useful,” Senny noted with a thoughtful look my way. “Definitely very useful. Even if you just happen to be in a fight and you’re about to take a lethal hit, you could use up a charge to shift into one of your corpse-bodies first. And you already had the creepy thing going for you anyway, so this is just right up your alley.” 

“Gee thanks,” I retorted with a snort. “Glad to know I can be the creepy one for everyone else. But yeah, you’re right, both of those things sound really useful. Thanks, Tabs.” I added that part while reaching out to ruffle my little sister’s hair. “You’re pretty cool to have around sometimes, you know?” 

Giggling a little, she embraced me tightly. “Oh, and you also got a pretty big umm… well, not really a boost to your magical energy but a boost to your… efficiency. It takes less for you to do more.”

That was also going to be pretty useful, considering what we had learned about me supposedly being able to stop the Fomorians. Which I still wasn’t sure how I felt about. It was a lot of pressure, to say the least. But if I could stop them for good, I was going to, no matter what that took. If nothing else, it would be a way for Dare to reveal herself and actually be my grandmother publicly. If I had the chance to give that to her, to give her life and identity back, I was going to. But even without that, the Fomorians had to be stopped. I just still wasn’t sure how to adjust to the idea that I was supposed to be the one doing that.

After I was silent for a few seconds, thinking about all that, Shiori spoke up. “He still hasn’t told you exactly what he’s here for, has he?”

“Wukong?” I shook my head. “I tried to talk to him about it when we were coming back here, but he just said it would wait and there wasn’t a big hurry. He says he’ll talk to me about it after we’re done with the people here on this world, no matter how long that takes. Which is pretty nice, actually. I don’t think any of us could stop him if he was more demanding about whatever he wants. But I’d sure be really annoyed about it.”

The others agreed, and we ended up talking a lot more about everything. Before long, another couple hours had passed. The sun was starting to rise, as we heard something back in the camp and looked that way to see mom and Nevada standing in front of a portal. Dad was the first one through it, and he embraced my mother immediately. Then he came my way, and I met him with my own tight hug. Promising him I was okay, that we were both fine, I clung tightly for a few long seconds. Then I did the same with Avalon as she came through the portal as well. There were others behind her, but mostly I was focused on Valley. “God, I’m glad you guys are here.”

“Even if we missed the excitement?” she lightly teased, though I could still see the worry in her expression. As well as something else. I was pretty sure she had more she wanted to share with me and we hadn’t been able to talk about it so far. 

But whatever it was would apparently have to wait. For now, my head shook. “Oh, trust me. You may have missed the fighting, but I’m pretty sure there’s still going to be plenty of excitement.” Saying that, I looked out toward the town in the distance.

“But in this case, I think it’ll be the good kind of excitement.”

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Interlude 20B – Avalon And Aylen Meet A Witch (Heretical Edge 2)

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Flick was off-planet. Not that that meant all that much as a statement by itself, to be fair. The entire Fusion school lived off-planet if one wanted to get technical. After all, the sun was quite a bit distant from the Earth. Ninety two million miles, basically. You could fit over eleven thousand Earths between the actual planet and the sun itself. But more specifically, Flick was completely out of the solar system. She, and those who had accompanied her, had gone off to visit Fossor’s home planet in order to find the missing vampire Rasputin, as well as give the ghosts she had collected an opportunity to be released there if they wanted to. And, of course, to talk to Fossor’s former slaves about what had happened to the dead piece of shit. 

Avalon would have gone with her, in a heartbeat. But there were things to do here on the planet. They had a lead about how to find and free Gaia, and she wasn’t going to let that slip through her fingers. As much as she wanted to be with Felicity when she visited Fossor’s homeworld, she couldn’t miss the chance to save Gaia. Not after everything the woman had already done for her. Hard as it was, she had stayed behind, trusting Shiori to help keep Flick out of too much trouble. 

Not all of it, by any means. She was completely confident that something would go wrong. There would be a lot of danger, fighting, and terror. The question wasn’t whether that stuff would happen, only whether Flick and the others would come back from it. And Avalon trusted that they would. Especially with both Shiori and Mrs. Chambers there. Not to mention Persephone, who may have abandoned her plans to make the girl her wife or whatever, but still obviously cared about what happened to her. They would help keep Flick safe, and she would do the same for them. 

For now, Avalon focused on pushing those thoughts, and worries, out of her mind. She couldn’t affect any of it, so she was just going to have to wait and see what happened. After all, she had her own thing to focus on, with tracking down this lead. Wyatt had been the one who managed to dig it up. It, in this case, was an old Crossroads Heretic who had apparently grown disgusted with the entire civil war and walked away from it. From what Wyatt had put together, this guy wasn’t interested in joining the Rebellion, but he wouldn’t help the Loyalists either. He chose to become independent. Beyond that, while he wouldn’t help the rebels and refused to actively assist in saving Alters, he did at least commit to his neutrality by only hunting down the ones he was reasonably confident were actually attacking people. According to Wyatt, the guy actually did some investigation work to determine for himself that the Alters were guilty of hurting and killing people before he hunted them down. 

In Avalon’s book, that actually put him on the Rebellion’s side, regardless of his claims of neutrality. When one side said ‘kill all of them’ and the other side said ‘only kill the bad ones,’ and your way of being neutral was to only kill the bad ones… yeah. But she wasn’t going to argue with that. If the guy wanted to say he was neutral just because he wasn’t actively participating in the Rebellion itself, then… fine, whatever. 

The point was, he had also apparently been one of the Heretics involved in setting up the system for keeping Gaia prisoner. Wyatt thought they might be able to convince him to give them some real information about that, information they could use to find and free her. Unfortunately, that was time-sensitive given the guy was moving around a lot. He did everything he could to remain completely out of sight. So if they didn’t take advantage of knowing where he was going to be for the next couple days, they’d lose him. And who knew how long it would take to find the guy again? Especially if Crossroads decided to go after him themselves. 

All of which was why Avalon was here, in the main library of Iowa State University. She was on the third floor, just beside several sets of individual study rooms starting to her right. To her left was the men’s restroom, with various plush cushioned seats and tables ahead of her where an assortment of students were busy studying and writing. Various shelves of books lay beyond them, with more students browsing through. One, a small teenage black girl, who looked like she was barely old enough to even be in college, was chewing on a pencil while flipping through a very large book of maps set up on a table at the end of one of the rows of shelves. A short distance away, a man in his twenties, wearing a rainbow colored beanie, was perusing a book about the history of war in Africa. And so it went throughout the room with more random students. Some looked bored, others frantic and terrified. 

Either way, they were all busy and none paid Avalon more than a passing glance, if that much. 

Well, one guy had done more than give her a glance, but he was going to be icing his wrist for awhile, and wouldn’t be a problem anymore. Not before they had a chance to finish what they were doing and get out of here, anyway. 

‘They’ consisted of Avalon and her other girlfriend, Aylen. And wow. Just the thought of having one person she trusted enough to call her girlfriend would have been unthinkable only a little over a year earlier. To have two girls, two she cared about as much as she cared about Felicity and Aylen, and to have them return that affection… it felt impossible, as though her luck and life couldn’t possibly be that good. 

That, in truth, was why Avalon was so terrified of what was going on with Gaia. It felt like the world would find a way to make her pay for being happy with Felicity and Aylen by taking her adoptive mother away. Which… yes, that was ridiculous. If someone else had voiced that worry, Avalon would have told them they were being absurd. 

Unfortunately, sometimes it was easier to give advice than to take it. It didn’t matter how much the girl told herself she was being an idiot about it, her feelings remained what they were. Stupid feelings. 

“Valley,” Aylen spoke quietly from her spot beside the other girl. Her attention was on a blond, thoroughly average-looking guy who appeared to be in his early twenties. The man had just stood up from a table, tucking his laptop under his arm while putting a pencil behind his ear. He walked away from where he had been sitting, before the pencil fell to the floor beside another table where a dark-haired black man with a neatly-trimmed beard was studiously writing in a notebook. The second man, who appeared to be either an old student or a young professor, barely glanced up as the blond stooped to grab the fallen pencil and walked onward. 

That was the signal. The blond man was Wyatt in disguise, using magic to both stop anyone from recognizing him and to block Alters from identifying him as a Heretic. Avalon and Aylen were using the same spells. They both still retained the same basic appearance, but just enough was altered to make them not immediately recognizable. 

Wyatt dropping the pencil next to the other man had been the signal that he was the person they were looking for. The missing, ‘neutral’ Heretic, James Northern, was indeed a black man, though he looked quite a bit different in the pictures Avalon had seen. He was normally visibly older, for one, looking more like a man in his fifties than one in his twenties. They had known he would be using a disguise, just like they were. Which should have made it all but impossible to find the guy, but Wyatt had his ways. And if he said this was the person they were looking for, it had to be right. 

Taking a breath as she told herself not to rush no matter how badly she wanted to, Avalon began moving that way. There had been some idea of coming with more than just the three of them for this, and especially to approach him with more than just herself and Aylen. But in the end, it had felt safer to avoid making James feel threatened by only coming to him with the two of them, while Wyatt stayed as backup in case they had to escape for whatever reason. That was also why they were approaching him in this public space, where he wouldn’t have to worry about a bunch of other Heretics starting a fight with him. That was the idea, anyway. It was all about keeping him calm. They’d see how well it went. 

The man in question glanced up as the two girls approached. Without saying a word, Avalon tugged the chair across from him out and sat down. Aylen did the same beside her, both of them keeping their hands in plain sight. There was always the chance that he might use magic or a power to simply vanish in front of them, but they were hoping against hope that he would at least wait long enough to hear them out. Especially if he didn’t know who they were immedi–

“You’re late,” James noted in a calm voice. “She said you’d probably be here sometime this morning. It’s already afternoon.” 

Blinking twice while resisting the urge to glance in Wyatt’s direction, Avalon carefully replied, “I don’t think we’re who you–” 

“You’re Sinclaire’s adopted daughter, right? Avalon, formerly Hannah.” James noted before glancing toward Aylen. “And given you’re Native American, I’d say you’re her girlfriend. Not the Chambers girl, she’s probably not the type to racially appropriate like that, even for a disguise, unless she had to. Especially not in this case. So, Ms. Tamaya, I presume?” 

Exchanging a glance with the other girl, Avalon sat back in her seat to look at the man intently. “You knew we were coming, then. But who told you that?” Her eyes were scanning the area around them, watching for any trap. Not that she expected anything to have gotten past Wyatt. And the fact that he wasn’t bailing them out immediately meant there wasn’t an apparent threat. Not yet, anyway. 

“Not Crossroads,” James calmly informed her. “You’re safe here. She doesn’t want to hurt you or anything. She just wants to talk, and she wanted to do it privately. So she asked me to stay put and let you come to me.” 

“Whoever this is, we still have to ask you something, Mr. Northern,” Aylen pointed out. 

The man shook his head. “I can’t help you get the old headmistress out of prison. They would have changed everything after I left.” Before they could protest, he continued. “Whatever info I gave you would be outdated and useless at best, and would lead you into a trap at worst. But you won’t leave here empty-handed. I said I couldn’t help you. But she can.” 

Yes, this entire thing had been a longshot, of course. but it had been something. And now Avalon was reeling a bit from being told, in rapid succession, that the man couldn’t help but that someone else here could. Her eyes scanned the room once more before flatly asking, “She who? Someone asked you to sit around and wait for us to approach, and you did? I thought you didn’t want anything to do with Loyalist Heretics or Rebels.” 

“I don’t, for the most part,” he confirmed. “There’s more important things to do than fight each other. But she’s neither of those things anyway. You’ll see for yourselves, if you go into that study room over there, second on the right. Go in there and she’ll meet you. And yes, I’m aware of how much that sounds like a trap. But you have my word, for whatever that may be worth, that it is not. If you want to save the woman who adopted you, that’s how you do it. Go in that room and have a little discussion.”

Avalon was silent for a moment, running through all that in her mind. She knew that others would have screamed at her for even entertaining the idea. But they were here already, and James had obviously known they were coming. He knew who they were, yet had sat and waited for them to approach. Either this really was some sort of trap, or he was telling the truth about this mysterious woman wanting to talk to them about saving Gaia. 

She couldn’t risk walking away from something like that. So, giving a very short nod to him, Avalon stood. “Thank you.” 

“Thank me by focusing more on saving people than fighting a war against the Loyalists,” he replied simply, turning his attention back to the book he had been looking at. 

There was a lot Avalon wanted to say to that. Instead, she glanced toward the study room in question. She and Aylen exchanged looks, before starting to head that way together. Wyatt would have heard that whole conversation, but he hadn’t moved from the table he’d taken up residence at. He wasn’t doing anything to stop them from going into that room. Either he knew it was pointless to try to prevent Avalon from doing everything she could to get the answer they needed, or he too knew this was still their best, and possibly only, chance. Or, most likely, both. 

Whatever the reasoning, the man stayed where he was, though Avalon knew he wasn’t nearly as involved with his book as he appeared to be. He would be keeping track of everything that happened in this place, and where everyone was. Even more so now than before. 

Trusting the man to let them know if anything was wrong, the two girls walked to the study room. It appeared to be empty, but before going in, Avalon carefully plucked a coin from her pocket and activated the spell on it. It would glow bright red if there were any transport spells inside the room that would have sent them somewhere else once they passed through. Yet when she surreptitiously tossed it through the doorway, it stayed dark. No transport magic then. 

With one more glance at one another, the girls stepped through into the room. Nothing happened. They looked around the small space a bit, then moved to sit down at the table. There was nothing to do now but wait, and hope this wasn’t a complete waste of time. Or worse. 

They weren’t waiting very long before the door opened, and another person stepped in. It was the young black girl Avalon had noticed looking through maps earlier. She stood barely over five feet, a diminutive figure with long, intricate braids, each of which was dyed a different color of the rainbow. She wore glasses along with an open flannel shirt over a gray tee, and jean shorts. Without saying anything, she closed the door behind her, before moving to sit at the table across from them. Only once she was seated and had adjusted herself, with both arms crossed on the table in front of her, did she look directly at the other two and finally speak. “So, the way I hear it, y’all wanna get Gaia Sinclaire out of the slammer. And the sooner the better, yeah?” 

“Yes,” Avalon confirmed. “But before we say anything else, who are you?” 

Her question was met with a smile that showed the stranger’s perfect white teeth. “Who am I? Oh, you could call me a witch. Most do. Some for good reasons, some for bad.”

She seemed to consider something for a moment before making a decisive clicking sound with her tongue. “Usually I like to play coy with this, but that’s probably a waste of our time right now. There’s already a lot for us to talk about, and I don’t exactly have unlimited time. Pressing concerns elsewhere, you know.” She paused then before audibly chuckling. “Isn’t that weird? It doesn’t matter how old you are, there never seems to be enough time to do everything you want and need to. You’d think once you live as long as I have, you’d run out of stuff to keep you busy.” 

Her expression sobered almost immediately then, eyes seeming to stare right through Avalon as she pointedly added, “I’ve gone by more names than there are students in this school. I could list them for you, but we’d be here for way too long. And at some point that sort of thing just turns into bragging. Only a few of them are actually known these days anyway. Isis, and yes I am pretty pissed off about that name getting ruined, Werethekau, Freja, but most just call me–” 

“The Wandering Woman,” Aylen managed, sitting up a bit straighter. “Wait, how do we know you’re–” 

“Telling the truth?” the woman finished for her. From within her open flannel shirt, she produced a rotted apple core, the skeleton of some sort of rodent, and a silver-bladed knife. Without wasting a moment, she dropped the first two on the table, then calmly and without any expression whatsoever, drove the blade of the knife through three of the fingers on her right hand, slicing them clean off. 

Avalon and Aylen, rather understandably, jolted a little bit at that. Though before they could say anything, the woman waved her uninjured hand at the damaged one. In the blink of an eye, her fingers were reattached, and there was no visible blood left on the table. Another gesture made the rotted, mostly-eaten apple quickly reform itself into its perfectly pristine, crispy-looking self, as though it was fresh off the tree. And, with barely a look that way, the woman turned the rat skeleton into a live, squeaking creature that was sniffing the apple with interest. 

While the two Heretics were still reacting, both felt themselves shrink in their seats. No, they weren’t just shrinking. They were getting younger. The two quickly exchanged half-panicked looks, only to find themselves staring at twelve-year-old versions of one another. They were sitting there, practically drowning in their too-large clothes. A noise of confusion and shock escaped both girls.  

“I am who I say I am,” the woman informed them, before tucking both rat and apple away. With another wave of her hand, she returned the girls to their proper ages, this time in the blink of an eye rather than the slower effect she’d used when deaging them. “And if you want to save Gaia Sinclaire, I can help you do that.” 

“Why?” Avalon asked, once she’d found her voice. “Everyone says you don’t get involved in this sort of thing.” 

“I don’t let others drag me into their problems,” came the short reply. “There’s a difference. I choose when to involve myself and with what. There’s a lot going on that you don’t know about. I have to pick and choose just how involved to get. There’s only one of me, after all, and a lot to do. Remember what I said about not having enough time?” 

“What–” Aylen started before taking a second to find the right words. “What do we call you? And uhh, do you want me to leave you guys alone?” 

“I’ve been using Sawyer recently,” the woman replied easily. “That should do. But no, you should stay. After all, this involves you too. And that thing you’re supposed to do that you’ve been wondering about.” 

“You know about–” Aylen caught herself. “Of course you know about that. Wait, does that mean you know more about it? Do you know how I’m supposed to do it? Do you know what–” 

Sawyer held a hand up to stop her. “I know more than I can tell you now, I’ll say that much. But I can tell you more than you already know.” She smiled faintly. “Listen, sometimes it’s fun to be creepy and mysterious, but it also takes a lot of time, and it can be annoying as fuck. I mean, from the other side of it too. So let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?” She pointed toward Avalon. “You want to save Gaia Sinclaire. If you wanna do that, you need some of her blood. Or blood from someone related to her.” 

“But Gaia’s only son died ages ago,” Avalon pointed out. “The Seosten used his body and… and that’s it. We can’t find him. She doesn’t have any other descendants.” 

“You’re right,” Sawyer confirmed. “You can’t find what you need that way. But she had a half-brother. Okay, she had two half-brothers. One of them is the one you’re trying to bring back.” Her eyes glanced toward Aylen, then back again. “But the other, Chadwick, lived a completely normal life. Well, as normal as one could live after your entire family disappeared or were killed by a dragon and you were sent off to a new family. Chadwick lived and died, and his descendants continue on to this day. Some even became Natural Heretics, though the Seosten never allowed any to go near Crossroads or Eden’s Garden. That would’ve been too dangerous, if one of them had turned out to be the Merlin Key.” 

“You’re saying we need to find one of Chadwick’s descendants and use their blood to locate Gaia,” Avalon put in. “But the hardliners would’ve blocked her from that sort of magic. They aren’t stupid.”

“Well, not in that sort of way, no,” Sawyer agreed while taking her glasses off. She held them by one side and tapped the other against her hand. “But what I’m about to tell you ain’t the sort of magic you can just block like that.”

Before saying anything else, she dropped the glasses and reached into her pocket to take out a package of Starburst candies. “God, I love these things.” Tapping it against the table, she pried an orange one out, unwrapped it, and popped the thing in her mouth. Then she offered the package to them. “Go ahead.” 

While Avalon and Aylen hesitantly each took one of the candies, the woman continued. “I tell ya, people talk about the good old days, but speaking as someone who’s been around for all the days, they’re full of shit. Rose-colored glasses and all that. Ironically, that’s one of the reasons the old days were shit. No easy way to get glasses. Now, where was I?” 

“Blood from Chadwick’s descendant for some special spell,” Aylen informed her. 

Pointing that way, Sawyer nodded. “Right, yeah, that. If you wanna save Gaia, you need three things. The first is the blood of Chadwick’s descendant. The second is the blood of two of her heirs.” 

“You heard me say that Gaia doesn’t have any natural children, right?” Avalon pointed out. 

With a slight smirk, Sawyer replied, “I said heirs, not children. You count as one of those heirs. Virginia Dare counts as the other. She sees both of you as her kids. Well, she sees a lot as her kids in one way or another, but you two more than others.” She set the glasses down before continuing. “So that’s easy. And third, you need the blood of a Reaper.” Before Aylen could say anything, she continued. “That is, the blood of a full Reaper, not a half-one.” 

Avalon opened and shut her mouth before shaking her head. “Oh, right, so all we have to do is find a full Reaper and ask if we can pretty please borrow some of his blood.” 

“Her blood,” came the correction. “Because your friends Guinevere and Michael the Seosten already went and found one willing to help. Her name’s Jones. It’s a long story, and probably one she should tell you herself. Point is, they found her to help bring Arthur back, but she can help you with this too. You get the blood from those four people. The Reaper, the descendant, yourself, and Virginia Dare, then follow these directions.” A sealed envelope seemed to appear from nowhere in her hand, which she slid across the table. “It’ll tell you exactly where Gaia Sinclaire is, no matter how much they try to block it. And it’s an ongoing spell, so you’ll find her again even if they move her.” 

While Avalon slowly took the envelope, Aylen asked, “Seriously, why are you doing all this? Why are you helping this much?” 

“Let’s just say there’s some big trouble coming,” Sawyer replied. “And if this planet is gonna get through it, which I’d kinda like it to do since I happen to live here, we’ll need Arthur back on his feet.” 

“Wait, Arthur?” Avalon blinked. “What does Arthur have to do with Gaia? I mean,” she amended, “I know she’s his sister and all that, but how does saving Gaia help bring him back?” 

Unwrapping and eating another Starburst, Sawyer remained silent, watching them until she had swallowed it. “Simple, she’s the only chance you’ve got of getting anywhere near the Reaper that’s locked up inside that lighthouse.” 

“My grandfather?” Aylen blurted. “What–wait, huh?” 

“Your Reaper grandfather, as opposed to the Fomorian one, yeah,” the woman confirmed. “He was there the day Arthur met the dragon. If you wanna bring Arthur back, you need what’s locked up inside his copy of the Reaper archives. He’ll know more once you talk to him. Plus some other stuff, but Guinevere’s got most of that covered. What you really need are in those archives. And the only way to get them is with that Reaper’s help. Which you can only get to with Gaia’s help.” She smiled a bit, looking back and forth between the two girls. “See how convenient it is that you two came together?” A pause followed before she laughed. “Hah, and that works both ways. You came here together, and you came together as a couple. Now seriously, your babysitter’s getting nervous out there. I haven’t exactly been letting him hear what we’re talking about, cuz I despise eavesdroppers. You better head back out there before he decides to do something drastic.”

“Wait,” Avalon quickly put in. “Ruthers thought they might be able to convince you to take Felicity’s necromancy away. Was… was he right about that?” 

Sawyer’s head shook. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll be taking anything away from that girl,” she murmured. “She’ll need everything she can get soon enough. Especially when he decides he’s ready to train her. Which should be any time now.” 

Avalon was nodding slowly, before blinking at that last part. “He? Wait, when who decides to–” But even as she began to ask that, her eyes focused on the spot where Sawyer had been sitting. 

There was no sign of her. She had disappeared in the span of a blink, leaving no sign she had ever even been there. 

No sign, that was, aside from two wrapped Starburst candies, one for each of the girls. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Calm Before 20-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

“Children? Children of Olympians?” As he said those words, Manakel started to continue before pausing. A slight grimace crossed his face. “I would ask if you were certain, but I do not believe you would have come to me with that if you were not.”

I was back in the room where the Seosten ghost man was being held, with my mother standing at the doorway watching. She had that sword that Kushiel had wanted held in one hand, her attention torn between inspecting it and keeping an eye on every move he made. 

“Yeah,” I confirmed flatly, “we’re sure. The others saw a few of them use powers. And they basically confirmed it when it was brought up. Except they said Kushiel is their mother. Apparently they seemed pretty loyal to her.” 

Manakel absorbed that, floating backwards a couple feet as though the information itself had physically rocked him. “Kushiel having access to any children at all is very bad news. Having Olympian children is much worse, especially if they are, as you say, loyal. It sounds as though she has raised fanatics.” 

I took a breath, preparing myself. “Okay, look I just have to ask. Did you know anything about this? Did you know she had offspring like that? You or your old self or whatever. Did you have any idea?”  

The man shook his head firmly. “I assure you, I may have had a good many issues by the end, but I was loyal to my people in my own way. Had I known there were living offspring from our ship, I would have had them taken away from her to be raised properly.” 

I continued to stare at him for another few seconds, trying to read if there was anything duplicitous in his face. I wasn’t sure, not entirely. But something told me he was telling the truth about this. It didn’t take much to know that allowing Kushiel to raise a group of potentially incredibly powerful fanatical teenagers was a bad idea. So, I glanced toward my mother and gave her a short nod. As I was doing that, Manakel spoke up. “When you say these children displayed powers, what were they?” 

“They didn’t have any necromancy,” I replied simply. “At least none that they saw. But apparently not all of them used any visible powers.” I thought back to what the others had described. “There was one who controlled water, another one who made the concrete turn into fists, big ones. Another made the air solid enough to walk on or hit people with. And then there was the girl, the one in charge I mean. Apparently she made explosions and teleported? They’re not sure if those were part of the same thing or what.” 

Manakel considered that, silent thoughts clearly passing through his mind as his expression twisted. “The water isn’t hard. That must be Sachael’s child. As for the concrete manipulator, my… best guess is Orifiel. He was able to control physical buildings and similar constructs. That may be an earlier manifestation of it. Or perhaps he simply wasn’t using the power to its full extent. Either way, Orifiel… passed away over fifty years ago. Kushiel must have either kept some of his genetic material herself, or acquired it from another storage facility.” 

He went silent for a few seconds, processing his thoughts. I didn’t interrupt, and he eventually spoke again. “The girl who manipulated the air would almost certainly be the offspring of Rabia. She was… killed by the Moon girl during your assault on Kushiel’s original lab. And as for the girl who teleports via explosions…” He paused before visibly sighing. “I’m afraid I have no idea. It could be a manifestation or use of an ability I didn’t witness, or… perhaps a combination of two powers from a pair of Olympian parents, which created this form… I apologize. It could also be part of one of my removed memories.” 

“Removed–” I started before realizing. “Right, Athena and Sariel talked about that. Seosten can just… remove bits of their memory and store them somewhere else to go back for later when they need them.” 

“Yes,” he confirmed. “If that is the case, all you need to do is acquire my stored memories from the homeworld.” Another grimace came then, as he lamented, “I intended those words as a mixture of a joke and praise for your probable ability to actually accomplish something like that. But I’m afraid it may have come off as taunting.” 

There was a lot I wanted to say to that, but I pushed all of that down and simply replied, “Yeah, well until we happen to get those memories, we’ll just have to go with what you said. Which, for the record, basically matches what Sariel and the others thought.” Of course we had talked to them first before asking him any questions. I want to know if he would keep anything back. 

Manakel, in turn, gave me a short nod. “Please tell me you are going to inform my people of this.” He hesitated before adding, “If you truly wish for this peace treaty to work out, telling them is a good idea. They will not react happily should they learn about it and discover that you’ve kept it from them.” 

Before I could respond, my mother spoke up. “Yes, we are going to let your people know about it. Especially Sachael. He was already willing to help us once before, and even if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t…” She glanced away before turning back, expression hard. “I wouldn’t keep a secret like that. Your people are… you have trouble creating offspring. These children… their parents deserve to know they exist. The ones who are still alive anyway.” 

The reminder made me grimace a bit. That reminded me of another potential issue. I had no idea if that air-controlling girl, Fuscus apparently, knew that Vanessa was the one who had killed her real mother. Or if she would even care. That whole situation was complicated, to say the least. And it had the potential to become even more so. 

Pushing those thoughts aside, I asked, “You were around Kushiel a lot more recently than the others here. I mean, you were on decent terms with her. Plus you uhh, you’ve had that connection to Tartarus. Do… do you have any idea why she might’ve wanted to take Harrison Fredericks? Is this a Kushiel thing, or a Tartarus thing, or–why does she want him? What is she planning to do?” We’d asked the other Seosten here on the station the same thing, of course, but they’d had no idea. 

Unfortunately, Manakel shook his head. “I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly guess why she would want to abduct the creator of cyberforms, aside from forcing him to create more for her. You said her ghost companions could possess them. Perhaps she wants to give them bodies they can use so they are not limited to ghost forms. But that is merely a guess.”  

“Yeah,” I replied, “that’s basically where we’re at too.” I hesitated before looking back to him. “If you remember or think of anything else–”  

“I will tell you,” he assured me. “Even if I was not intent on making up for past mistakes, removing those offspring from her control is vital. I will attempt to think of what they could be doing with Fredericks. Of course, I can make no promises, but I… I will do what I can. You have my word, Felicity Chambers.” 

That was basically all I could ask for, and all I would trust him to say. So, excusing myself, I left him there with his thoughts. As Mom and I stepped out, we looked at each other. “This could get really bad,” I said quietly. 

Still holding that sword, Mom gave a short nod. “Yeah, it could. But we’ll handle it. Whatever she’s planning, we’ll deal with it. Now, don’t you have something else to do?” 

I blanched a little. “Right, homework. Actually, does it count as homework if we’re living on a space station in the middle of the sun? Maybe we should call it sunwork. That makes it sound exciting.” 

Mom, for her part, chuckled while reaching out to brush my hair. “You can call it anything you want, my little Felicity. Just make sure you get it done. You know the rules.”

Snickering despite myself as I pushed worry about what Kushiel and her newly revealed entourage were up to out of my head, I replied, “Yeah, yeah, I am totally not allowed to go on any life-and-death, world-saving and horrifyingly terrifying missions to far sides of the planet and or universe until I get my homework done. Sorry, my sunwork done.” 

“That’s right,” Mom confirmed, hand brushing down the side of my cheek fondly. “Now you head on back to your room to work on that, young lady. Don’t make me get Wyatt to lock you down until it’s done.

“I’m sure he’d love the challenge.” 


For the next couple of weeks, things settled down for the most part. We didn’t see any sign of Kushiel, or Invidia, or any of the other Whispers or Seosten ghosts. Besides the one we had locked up here with us, of course. We had groups out searching for Fredericks with no luck. The loyalist Heretics from Crossroads and Eden’s garden had already set up camp at his lab. Well, they set up camp outside of it. Apparently they were incapable of getting inside. Which raised the question of how Kushiel had managed to go through that and get him out of there. His defenses were too much for a joint team of Heretics to properly deal with, but she got through it as a ghost? Yeah, I had a few questions about that.

But, there was nothing to be done about that for now. Not until someone managed to track them down, or at least get a lead. For the moment, we had nothing. So, I went about my days like an ordinary student. Two weeks of ordinary school days, or at least as ordinary as they got around here. 

I had spent time helping the Carnival System explore who they were. They started attending their own classes alongside Dakota, Bobbi, and others. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard for the other students to accept them. Apparently multiple minds sharing one body wasn’t all that extraordinary or weird for them. I could only imagine what it would’ve been like in the Bystander world. 

I didn’t visit Zeke, of course. We weren’t friends, and my presence wouldn’t make his staying here any better. But from what I heard, he really wasn’t happy about the situation. They had him in a comfortable set of rooms without letting him near any of the non-Heretic students. He kept going on about being a prisoner, but what else were we supposed to do? We couldn’t trust him not to react violently the first time some innocent little Alter kid went running past him. 

Malcolm, his old friend and roommate, had left Crossroads. Actually, Sophronia brought him over. Apparently he had only stayed there to try to help Zeke in the first place, not because he still believed in them. Which made me wonder how many others were there just to be with friends and family. 

Either way, Zeke might’ve been more angry with Malcolm than he was at his mother or anyone else. He refused to see him. Which had to hurt, but Malcolm seemed to roll with it.

I did go back to visit the residents in the hidden vault. I had promised we would help them, and we were. Most chose to stay and wait for us to find their missing kids with the information we had taken from Perrsnile. Information which, unfortunately, was going to take time to pan out. After all, it wasn’t like the people he had sold those kids to had all stayed in one spot. We were working on tracking them down. Which, overall, the vault people were being pretty patient about. Especially considering what they had already been through. Some chose to leave the vault and go out on their own, or even come up to live on the station. Whatever they wanted, we helped with as much as we could. 

Beyond that, I spent time with Manakel, taking lessons from him about how to use my power properly. As promised, we started with me learning how to undo the spell that had sent Grover’s friend away. It was a slow process, and I wasn’t ready to do it just yet, but it was definitely progress. I assured Grover that as soon as I had a handle on it, we would go back to that hotel and give it a shot.

So, basically, I had a lot to work on even if there wasn’t much openly happening. I definitely wasn’t bored, to say the least.

That whole not bored thing went triple at the moment, considering I was busy frantically sparring with Avalon. She was intent on making sure I wasn’t slacking in that department. And, I was pretty sure, she was also working out various frustrations of her own. She was getting more and more worried about Gaia with every day that went by. Which I couldn’t blame her for. We had to get the woman out of there. Preferably as soon as possible, and definitely before this truce with the Seosten ran out. 

Finally, after an intense series of clashes between my staff and two of the energy blades from her gauntlets, we both took a few steps back and bent over to grab our knees while panting a bit. I shook my head. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have someone like Zeke in here to beat up on?”  

She gave me a look and snorted. “Trust me, Felicity, if there was any chance I could get away with that, I would. But I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold back with him nearly as much as I do with you.” 

“Yeah,” I retorted, “if this is you holding back, he’d probably end up in rough shape. I’m pretty sure Sophronia would object to us handing him back to her in more than one piece.” Sobering after that, I added, “I take it there still hasn’t been any luck trying to figure out why the Whispers want him.” 

“Nothing new,” she confirmed while cracking her neck as she straightened up. “Something to do with that colony world, but we can’t go there and check it out ourselves. Crossroads still has a presence there. Athena says they’re working on getting someone there to look around, but they have to be subtle about it.” 

“Speaking of which,” I put in, “I was talking to Wyatt earlier, and he said they’ve put together another packet of information to send to Crossroads and Garden about protections against the Whispers. Everything we know about them. I mean, there’s no proof they’ll even listen to us, but we’ve gotta try, right?” 

Avalon grimaced visibly, murmuring, “Yeah, we have to try. The last thing–one of the last things we need is for a bunch of loyalist Heretics to end up being controlled by Invidia’s pack.” 

“Sure doesn’t sound fun,” I agreed, stomach twisting a bit at the thought. “I think I’m starting to understand why you want to exhaust yourself with all this.” My hand gestured around the training room before I focused on her, voice softening. “Seriously, I know it’s a lot to deal with, but we’re getting there, you know?” 

“Are we?” she replied simply. “Because it kind of seems like we keep adding new problems we need to deal with without actually handling the stuff we already have.” 

She wasn’t wrong about that, and I had just opened my mouth to try to find something I could say when there was a chime from the door, indicating someone wanted to come in. We opened it, and found Shiori on the other side. But she wasn’t alone. Asenath was there too, along with another figure I didn’t recognize, but knew immediately. They were a silver metallic android with glowing gem-like eyes. From what I’d heard, those eyes changed color, but for the moment they were an amber-brown. 

“Hey, Flick,” Shiori chirped, stepping in to embrace me tightly. She had been busy lately, helping her sister search for answers to Tiras’s lost memories. “Hey, Avalon.” 

“Hey guys,” I greeted alongside Valley. “Looks like you brought a friend.” 

Senny nodded. “Yeah, this is Robin. Ah…” She leaned around to glance at the figure’s eyes. “Hood. Yeah, Robin Hood.” 

The robot smiled brightly. “Pleased to meet you, Felicity Chambers.”

Their eyes shifted to yellow while they added, “We’ve been waiting a long time to meet the one who stomped Fossor’s stupid butt so hard!” 

Before I could respond, the eyes turned red. “I just wish we could’ve been there to lend a hand. Cuz beating the shit out of that asshole sounds like fun.” 

I’d heard about this, of course. Shiori had explained the whole situation when she heard about Denny and the Carnival System. But we still went through official introductions. This was the Robin System. The one I’d seen first, with the brown eyes, was the original–or at least the first one who had woken up here on Earth. They were Robin Hood, or the Hooded One. The yellow-eyed one was called Sprite, or the Sprightly One. Red eyes was Brawl, or the Brawling One. Med/Medical One, Chat/Chatting One, Quip/Quipping One, and Sec/Security One all had green, light blue, pink, and dark blue eyes respectively. And each took the time to introduce themselves. 

Once that was done, I smiled easily. “I take it you’re here to see the Carnival?” There had been talk about the Robins coming up to see Denny and the others, but they had been really busy the past couple weeks. Apparently it wasn’t easy to track down the Rasputin guy, even with the special information they’d received in exchange for some sort of favor they’d done for some woman. She knew places he had been, and stuff about where he might go, but not a current physical location. 

Their eyes shifted to green as Med spoke up. “Yes. We would like to speak with them and… and help ensure they understand their situation and that they are not alone.” 

Then the eyes turned yellow for Sprite once more. “And it’s fun! We like meeting others like us. We don’t… we don’t get to do that very often.” 

“Trust me, they’re excited to talk to you too,” I assured them. “Actually, I’m pretty sure we can head up there right now.” 

“Excellent,” came the response as those eyes shifted to dark blue, for Sec. “And, of course, there is the other matter we came here for.” 

“Other matter?” I echoed, exchanging a glance with Avalon. 

“Yeah…” Shiori scratched the back of her neck. “You’re not gonna believe this, Flick. But we found out where Rasputin is right now, and why it’s been so hard to actually find him.” 

Looking back and forth between them, I slowly asked, “Something tells me this is gonna be a big answer, but… where is he?” 

“Not on Earth,” Asenath informed me, voice solemn. “He’s on Fossor’s homeworld, Flick. 

“That’s where we need to go if we’re gonna find him.” 

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Calm Before 20-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – The non-canon for this story was posted over the weekend and is able to be read by everyone right here

“Answer her,” Avalon was already pressing, her gaze intent as she stared that way. “Why were you looking for Hajer? And why in an old hotel that was taken over by a gang of Alters?” 

“To answer your questions in reverse order,” Manakel’s ghost informed us, “Hajer moves around quite a lot. Hence her title. I had it on quite good authority that she was there most recently at that time. Why she went to that place, I could not possibly say, only that she was at one point. Unfortunately… for me at the time, she was gone by the time I arrived. Which, as you have already learned, was not something I enjoyed learning.” He paused, giving a slight sigh before pushing on. “As to the first part, I wished to employ her services in removing the protections from Miss Sinclaire here.” His eyes moved to Avalon, who was still staring intently right back at him. “It was a long shot that she would agree to such a thing, but then, we were trying a lot of long shots at the time. And she has been surprising before in what she has agreed to.” 

Squinting, Valley slowly asked, “She’s the ancient human who was bonded to one of those Primals, right? The… whatever they were who created the weapons the King of Canada uses.” 

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Your people would have called her a caveman. Or cavewoman. Bit offensive, but not incorrect. She was born in a time when the majority of your people did live in caves, when most of the Alters who would eventually come to call this planet home had not yet arrived. And those who had were… genuinely more threats than allies. In the early days, there were large portions of this planet which were ruled by incredibly dangerous creatures. Among those ancient inhabitants were very, very few of the beings you call Primals. Their own species was already doomed despite their vast power, and you might say a couple of those who were left… retired here. They stowed large armories of their advanced weaponry, such as what Oberon found.”

“Um, why were they doomed?” I found myself asking uncertainly. “I mean, as a species. What happened to them?” Was it weird that I was asking questions of the guy who had spent so long trying to murder my girlfriend and destroy my entire life, as though he was just another teacher? And did the fact that Avalon was right here with me, also asking him questions, make that whole situation better or worse? I wasn’t sure, but it was definitely a thing. 

“We don’t precisely know, to be honest,” was Manakel’s somewhat disappointing response. “Well, there are theories based on information we do have. I can tell you the one I subscribe to, which is that the beings we know as the Primals performed a spell that was so… dangerous and consuming, it destroyed their ability to procreate. And it did so to such an extent that even cloning would not help, because this spell they created and triggered worked by draining the life force from any iterations of their species who were not alive at the moment it was triggered.” 

I absorbed that for a moment before my eyes widened. “Wait, you mean they effectively destroyed their own ability to continue their species because they made a spell that killed any members of that species who weren’t there at the time? So they could never make any more, and the ones who died just… never got replenished?” 

“That seems like a very bad plan,” Persephone put in, gently rubbing one of Cerberus’s heads. “I don’t know what sort of goal they could have had for that.” 

“What she said,” Avalon noted dryly. She was still watching the man with obvious suspicion despite her curiosity. “What the hell were they trying to do? Are you sure they did it to themselves? That sounds an awful lot like something someone else would have done to them.” 

Mankel’s head bobbed slightly to acknowledge the point. “Yes, well, as I said, we know very little about them for certain. For the most part, they came from a time long before even my people. Certainly before we were an intergalactic civilization. We’re forced to piece things together from old records and stories. But we do know that, within the few records we have found and translated, the Primals repeatedly referred to their situation as something they had done to themselves. They blamed no outsiders, no invading enemy or force. Whatever happened, they were the source of it.” 

“So they couldn’t have any kids or create any clones, or do anything that would carry on their species,” I murmured. “And apparently this spell or whatever it was couldn’t be stopped. They were stuck with just whichever of them happened to be alive when the spell was cast, and once they died, that was it.” The idea made me shudder. What would it be like to live as a people as advanced as these Primals had been (if the weapons Oberon had found were any indication) and then become completely helpless to prevent your entire species from just dying out? 

“A few ‘retired’ to this planet, and this Wandering Woman, or Freyja, or Hajer… whatever she calls herself, she came across one of them way back in the primitive days.” Avalon frowned a bit. “If they lived so long ago that even your people didn’t know anything about them, they must live for a long time for any to have survived long enough for a primitive human to meet them.” 

The man gave a slight nod once more. “Yes, they were incredibly advanced in many ways, to the point of becoming nearly entirely immortal, in some cases. And yet, still, once one died for any particular reason, they were gone forever and the species was one step closer to complete extinction. And even they could only prolong their lives, or protect themselves from outside threats, for so long. Or perhaps some simply… chose to die, after so much of their species was wiped away with no chance to return to their former glory. They could have given up.” 

He was silent for a moment after that, clearly considering how it would feel, before visibly swallowing. Then he went on. “Hajer met one and was bonded to them. Perhaps it was an intentional way for that particular Primal to feel as though they were passing something of themselves on. Whatever the reasoning, she is quite possibly the most powerful being on this planet.” 

“She has the ability to undo things,” I remembered. “Mom said if she focuses on something or someone, she can undo the effect of anything. If you burn a house down, she can wave a hand and put it back to the way it was before the fire. Even if that means bringing everyone who was killed in the fire back to life. But like, she can even undo learning. She can make you forget things, or even erase skills out of your head by removing the fact that you ever learned them.” 

“All of which is correct.” After saying that, Manakel paused, glancing away as though losing himself in thought for a moment before shaking it off as he turned back to us. “As I said, my goal was to find her and convince her that it would be in the best interest of this world for me to succeed in my mission.” His gaze focused on Avalon as he flatly finished with, “My mission, of course, to kill you. Again, for however little it is worth, you have my apologies. Yet I did, absolutely and without question, believe what I was saying at the time. I believed that killing you, eliminating any possibility of Liesje’s spell from ever being put into the world, would maintain the peace here. Because if my people found out that spell was active, I believed they would come here in force.” 

“Yeah, they still might try that,” I muttered under my breath. “But I guess you didn’t find her.” 

“No, I did not. So I returned to other plans.” He looked to Avalon once more. “Plans which failed.” 

“Yeah, we’re all glad about that, believe me,” I noted. “But anyway, to get back to the whole reason I brought that up in the first place, you said you could help me learn to undo that… ‘severscatter’ spell that you used on Grover’s friend so we can bring her back?” 

“As I also said, it will take some time for you to learn enough to do so,” the man reminded me. “But yes, I believe it can be done. Once you have learned how, you will have to go to the spot where it occurred. And you will need to know as much about the girl as possible. That, you will need this… Grover’s aid with. But assuming all goes well enough, you should be able to, ahem, bring her back.” 

My phone buzzed at that point, so I glanced down at it before replying, “Well, I’ll definitely be coming to you for lessons soon. But in the meantime, it sounds like the others are starting to wake up.

“And I really need to get back there in time for my grandparents to meet Theodore.” 


Of course, Manakel had no idea what I meant by ‘Theodore,’ and I wasn’t yet to the point where I felt like explaining it. So Avalon and I left him there with Persephone and Cerberus. They had a lot to talk about, and I was pretty sure most of it was pretty private stuff. Still, I made sure Percy knew she could call for us any time she wanted, and that she absolutely did not have to do anything Manakel told her to. And I told Andromeda she should listen in and make sure nothing untoward happened. Even if he was being… well, nice now, I wasn’t going to take any chances. Having a secretly-still-evil Manakel manipulating Persephone into something bad wasn’t quite the worst situation I could think of, but it wasn’t good either. 

Either way, right now wasn’t the time to think about all that. Now was the time to focus on Grandmaria and Popser, who were standing in the kitchen alongside Dad, Mom, and me. And Loudpound, who was wolfing down a very large stack of pancakes at the table. Or rather, pancake and egg sandwiches. She took two pancakes at a time, shoved several spoonfuls of scrambled eggs between them, then ate the result like a sandwich. While sometimes dipping it in syrup. I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to try it like that, but she sure enjoyed it. 

“Uurph, I gotta tell ya, Grandma Chambers, you make some fine flapjacks,” she announced after devouring another of her concoctions. “I mean, I never actually had real ones before, just what I’ve got from borrowed memories, or how they taste inside. But if I had to have anything as my first outside meal, I’m glad it was this.” She took another huge bite then, with a murmur of pleasure, then gulped down half a glass of milk. 

Staring at the greenish-brown, taller Denny in wonder (for more than one reason, I was sure), Grandmaria finally found her voice. “Oh, well, if you think those little things are good, you should try my cookies sometime.” 

Pointing with her latest pancake and egg sandwich clutched in one hand, Loudpound declared, “I’ll hold you to that! Err–what?” She looked to the side as though listening to someone else before muttering under her breath, then turned back. “I mean, thanks. You know, for that and all this food. It’s all ahh, it’s all good.” 

Grandmaria paused before smiling. “Well, I’m just glad you’ve all been enjoying it. Or… is that just you? I’m afraid I’m not quite certain how that works with your… ahh, situation.” 

Taking another gulp of milk to finish off the glass, Loudpound shrugged. “I’m not really the explaining things type, unless you’re talking about explaining just how much it hurts to have my fist in your face. Then I’m more of what you might call an interactive teacher.” She offered a toothy grin that showed off her fangs. Then there was another pause as she listened, before shrugging. “Yeah, well, you do it.” 

With that, her body shrank down half a foot, back to the original Denny’s height. Her skin shifted away from the brownish-green and became a bright fuchsia, while her clothes were a mint and black mix. She even had a matching cape. Her eyes were yellow with no whites to them, and she had short and spiky white hair. 

“Hi!” the new arrival chirped. “I’m Tailor! Letters was gonna come out and talk, but she’s busy right now. I wanted to say I really liked the pancakes too! I probably wouldn’t have put them together with the eggs like that, but it was a new experience. I think new experiences are good! Err, most of the time. Okay, okay, maybe there’s a lot of bad new experiences, but this one was just weird, and weird isn’t bad! I like experiencing things.” 

She looked to my grandmother then. “We can taste what the person on the outside eats, but it’s like… one step removed? It’s not quite like having someone describe something to you, but it’s not exactly the same as experiencing it yourself either. It’s like, uhhhhh… you know when you eat something and then a couple seconds later you can still remember what it tastes like really well? It’s sorta like that.” She thought about her own explanation for a second, then gave a firm nod. “Basically.” 

“Well,” Popser started, “it’s certainly a delight to meet you, Tailor. I hope we didn’t annoy your… sister? I hope we didn’t annoy her too much with all our questions.” 

“Psshh, nah, she’s okay.” Tailor waved that off. “Like she said, she just doesn’t like to explain things. Or listen to things being explained. She gets bored pretty quick.” Her head tilted to look up toward the corner of the ceiling. “What? You do. I didn’t say it was a bad thing.” Looking back to my grandparents, she added, “Anyway, we decided we don’t really like the term sister or brother, because… well, some of us are more connected than others. Letters was reading stuff online earlier when she was out, and she thinks those should be called syslings. Like system siblings. That’s what we are, a System, basically. We didn’t start out the same way they do, but… I mean, it’s close enough. Anyway, we’re the Carnival System. Some of us are syslings, some of us aren’t. Mostly we’re what you call Aspects, or maybe headmates.That’s another word Letters found. Individually, we’re Aspects. When you’re talking about what we are to each other, it’s Headmates. Loudpound and Bijou are syslings because they’re really close, even though they’re pretty different. But just go with headmates for all of us as a whole.”  

Dad, who had been standing in the back corner of the room next to Mom as they watched all this, spoke up. “I had an interview with someone like that awhile back. We were trying to find out what they knew, but the one we needed to talk to was, ahh… gone. I think they said he ‘walked out.’ I ended up talking to their–what did he call himself? Archeologist, that was it. He called himself the System Archeologist. He had this mental museum of all of the pieces of memory the other parts of them left lying around. Ended up being pretty helpful. And ahh, educating.” 

We all talked a little bit more about that, before Grandmaria promised to make cookies soon, and said she would invite any of the Carnival System out to help. Then she and Popser decided they were ready to go in and see Theodore. Apparently the System had already figured out that he couldn’t manifest outside. He wasn’t exactly the same as them. They were all pieces of Denny, at least partially, so they could take over and control the body. But he was more of a separate entity inside her memories, and apparently that wasn’t enough for him to take over. Though, to be honest, I wasn’t sure he even wanted to. He was pretty nervous about interacting with anyone in there, let alone taking over the body in the ‘outside world.’ 

In any case, Tailor swapped with Walker, who grunted her own greetings before waving for us to step together. So, Mom, my grandparents, and I all moved closer. The four of us were going in. Apparently it wasn’t easy for Denny to support too many people inside herself at the same time, and we didn’t want to push things any further than that. 

We arrived in the carnival itself, and my grandparents looked around in wonder. Grandpartie went on a bit about how amazing it would be if they could make a virtual reality video game look this good, while a few of the Aspects cautiously watched from various game booths and rides. They weren’t approaching. 

Then a voice spoke up cautiously from nearby. “I… hello.” It was Theodore, of course. He tentatively stepped out from behind one of the booths, looking nervous. He had dressed up in a cute little black suit with a blue bowtie and matching boots. 

Turning that way, Popser was the first to react. “Aha!” he crowed, making Theodore jump a little. “There’s my grandson!” With a grin, he stepped that way, then paused before lowering himself to one knee. Even then, he still towered over the small boy. “I like your tie. That’s not a clip-on.” 

“No, sir,” Theodore confirmed. “Bang-bang helped me tie it.” 

“Well, he did a bang-up job.” Giving a laugh at his own joke, Popser added, “And it sounds like he’s a good friend. You can call me Popser, or Grandpartie, just like the others.” He offered his hand. “You like Theodore or Theo?” 

After a very brief pause, the boy accepted the shake, his own hand vanishing into our grandfathers’ much bigger one. “I think I usually prefer Theodore, but… Theo sounds okay coming from you, uh, sir.” 

“Theo it is, then,” Popser agreed before waving a hand. “Maria, come meet our grandson.” 

Soon, the three of them were talking animatedly. Well, our grandparents were doing most of the talking. Theodore stayed pretty quiet and just watched. But his eyes were certainly animated, as he stared at them and alternately nodded or shook his head while they asked questions. 

Stepping next to my mother as that went on, I quietly murmured, “I’m pretty sure this is good for all of them.” 

Her head gave a short nod, eyes remaining centered on Theodore while shining with half-shed tears. “Yes. It’s good for them, and for us. And I think it’s good for Denny and the rest of the Carnival as well.” Saying that, she smiled even more at the sight of Popser rising while picking Theodore off the ground so he could hold him up as high as possible, making the boy give a reflexive laugh. Her voice became so quiet, I could barely hear her next words.  

“It’s just plain… good.” 

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