Buelv

Homeward Bound 8-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homeward Bound 8-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go kill that thing.”

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