Casey Dunne

Patreon Snippets 27 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Cahethal Learns About Tabbris During Year One

For the most part, the Seosten known as Cahethal (Demeter to the previous primitive societies of Earth) was not prone toward making emotional displays, no matter what actually happened. Annoyance, anger, fear, love, all of it was kept inside where such things belonged. She had witnessed far too many of her colleagues and, dare she say, friends, completely lose perspective with what they were attempting to accomplish by allowing their emotions to overtly rule them. It was not that she did not have emotions. She simply knew that the threat they faced, that of the total annihilation of all life in the universe at the hands of the Fomorians, was far more important than those feelings. If her people failed, there would be no one left who could stand against those creatures.

So, she pushed the emotions down inside and did her job. She did what she was good at. Namely, keeping the Eden’s Garden experiment and training ground running, so that her people could have properly-prepared, combat-ready Heretics to use on the frontlines. Granted, that had become rather more complicated and difficult in recent months, given the intense push from the Seraphim for the lingering problem of the human Liesje’s anti-possession spell to finally be dealt with. The fact that the Hannah Owens-turned Avalon Sinclaire situation had still not been resolved, and the girl was running around free, was a very deep sore spot for the Seosten. They had had centuries by this point to finally put an end to the threat of that spell being used against them, and had still yet to manage it. 

Technically, finding and killing that girl was not even her job. It was Manakel’s. She was simply to provide support. Yet the question of whose responsibility her continued survival was became blurred when it came to Felicity Chambers. Chambers, the daughter of the old rebellion leader, Joselyn, was Cahethal’s responsibility. At least to an extent. It had been her job, originally, to ‘recruit’ the girl as a host. The plan had been for her to take the girl over, find out anything she knew about her mother’s disappearance, and then split her time between her current host, the Victor known as Ikita, and Felicity herself over the next few years. Felicity would be brought up and trained to be her next primary host, allowing Ikita to be retired. Some had thought she should send the powerful Eden’s Garden Heretic body to the frontlines, but Cahethal had made a deal with her host that she would be allowed to simply have her memory erased so she could retire peacefully. Some of her people might be fine with breaking such agreements, but Cahethal stuck to them. Especially when it came to a woman she had spent so much time with.

But, of course, it hadn’t ended up being that simple to deal with the Chambers girl after all. Cahethal had first thought it would be such a non-issue, that she hadn’t even gone to the house herself. She sent one of her subordinates, a Seosten who should have been able to handle the information retrieval and initial job of preparing the girl to be Cahethal’s future host. It was a nothing job, one that could not possibly have been simpler. Or so she had thought. 

Upon hearing that her subordinate couldn’t possess the Chambers girl, Cahethal had dismissed the claim as absurd and assumed the woman had made a mistake in some way. She went to the house herself, only to find that it was true. Felicity Chambers could not be possessed. The initial reaction to that, from the homeworld, had been for the girl to be killed. But Cahethal had resisted that, exercising her own prerogative to continue to investigate and see what happened. As she had told her superiors, killing the girl without having any idea why she was immune to possession wouldn’t solve the issue. 

And now, after years of wondering, after she had allowed the girl to be taken to Crossroads, after… all of that, they finally had the answer. They finally knew exactly why the Chambers girl had been immune to being possessed. The mystery that had plagued the back (and sometimes front) of Cahethal’s mind for years had finally been answered. 

She wasn’t immune to being possessed, she had already been possessed. A very small child Seosten had been possessing her that whole time. They had been fooled and beaten by a toddler. That was what it all amounted to. There was nothing overtly special about the Chambers girl, not in that respect anyway. She had simply already been possessed. 

After sitting silently for several long moments, Cahethal rose from the desk where she had been going over the reports and inspecting the offered memories for herself, a process which involved transferring the memories from the crystals that they had been copied into, over to her own mind. The small, unnaturally-green eyed woman stepped over to a window that overlooked the busy city below. From the corner of her eye, she could see her host, Ikita, slumbering on the couch next to the door. A door which remained closed, though she could hear the bustling work beyond. 

This was an anonymous office that no one in Eden’s Garden knew about. The two floors below this office were full of ordinary human employees performing various science experiments for her. Not that they knew anything about their employer. Nor were they likely to find anything new. Still, over these many years, Cahethal had come to find that humans had a knack for accidentally stumbling over interesting things. So there was always the possibility. 

The rest of this floor, meanwhile, was taken up with other species running more advanced testing. Those might end up with something new and useful. 

But for now, none of that mattered. The only thing on her mind was… the girl. Both girls, actually. Felicity Chambers, and… the Seosten child. After all this time, they finally knew precisely why Chambers could not be possessed, and it was all because of a Seosten child. 

Yes, she was not one to be prone to emotional displays. She did not indulge in open anger or fear, particularly in front of others. Yet here, with her host asleep and various walls and magics blocking her from the sight of any who might have borne witness, Cahethal allowed herself to relent somewhat. After all, this was quite the momentous revelation. She had tried for years to understand what was so special about Felicity Chambers, and had overlooked the single most obvious and basic explanation. And so, in this moment, she did express a clear outward emotion. 

It started as a smile, faint as it might have been. Looking out over the busy street, the Seosten woman smiled just a bit. The corners of her mouth curved up, gaze dropping a bit more introspectively. Her shoulders gave a very slight heave, as a quiet, “Heh” escaped her.  Slowly, Cahethal shook her head, as that single “Heh” became two. “Heh heh…” 

Her eyes closed, arms wrapped around her stomach, as she dropped her chin and lost it. There, cocooned in the office and far from anyone who might have found out about this reaction, Cahethal did the only thing she could do upon discovering the truth about the Seosten child who had fooled them all for so long. 

She laughed, as long and hard as she had ever laughed at anything in her life. 

******

What Do Average Seosten Loyalists Think Of The Truce With Earth? 

His name was Cavenrel, of the Sehkseit Choir. Born two hundred and fifty years earlier by universal reckoning, he was a fairly small man by Seosten standards, standing only five feet, eight inches tall. He was also quite lean, his body tightly corded with muscles while remaining almost scarecrow-thin by outward appearances, loose clothes hiding his true build. His black hair was cut short, with a thin green stripe running down the right-hand side, a couple inches off from being dead center. He wore red and orange fatigue-like clothing, to blend into the desert sands of this world. Sands which even then were kicking up in a storm behind him as he opened the door leading into a hole-in-the-wall bar, where an assortment of his fellow soldiers and a few civilians were holed up, waiting out the winds. 

Walking through the bar, he ignored the furtive glances from the locals. He knew there was a mix of hope and fear throughout the town. Most of the people of this planet had been evacuated, but a few remained. This town was one of the holdouts. The civilians here had to keep helping to supply the soldiers, both Seosten and the many more other troops they had brought with them, as they fought the Fomorians. There were much larger-scale battles going on up in space, both near the planet and throughout the rest of the system. But there was also plenty of fighting happening down here, in the dirt. The Fomorians were trying to swarm over the planet, while the Seosten and their assorted soldiers, drawn from all across the universe, were doing their level best to stop that from happening. 

The man moved to the table where his closest friends, four other Seosten troops of around the same age and experience, sat. He joined them while calling out toward the bartender for a drink of the house special. Then he tapped the table with two knuckles a couple times, a good luck habit his group had become accustomed to whenever they ordered a drink. No one remembered who had started it, but they were absolutely certain that not doing it right after ordering a drink would result in disaster. 

Once the proper ritual was observed, he took in his companions. Reysiel, the auburn-haired woman with a quick smile and even quicker temper, Fayaza, the tall, heavily-built man with silver-blue hair and a calming demeanor, Tarwan, the blond, intensely athletic and competitive man who stood only two inches taller than Cavenrel himself, and Murzael, Tarwan’s near-identical twin sister. 

“Caven!” Reysiel immediately blurted while slamming her fist down onto the table, “Tell these idiots that this truce with Rysthael is a mistake. We should be going over there right now to deal with this.”

Before Caven could respond, Tarwan spoke up. “Exactly. My dear sister and the big lug over there have lost their minds. They think the… what do they call themselves, Earthlings? They think the Earthlings should get a chance to ‘prove themselves.’” 

Beside her brother, Murzael cleared her throat. “What I said was, they went through a lot to even get this truce, so we should give it a chance. Obviously what we were doing wasn’t working out.” 

“Wasn’t working out?” Reysiel interrupted, voice hot as she shook her head at her friend. “How can you even say that? Do you know how vital those humans are for the war up here? Having those bodies to possess is like… it’s the only reason we’re holding out. And you want to let the humans take those away? Do you have the slightest idea how fast those monsters out there would overrun us if the supply of human bodies dries up?”

Fayaza finally spoke, his deep voice even and calm despite the way it rumbled. “No one said the supply of bodies is going to dry up.” 

“Are you kidding me?” Tarwan demanded. “You really think the humans and other Earthlings are gonna keep sending bodies out here? They’re protected from the Fomorians, remember? Their planet can’t be invaded. Not anymore. So they’re safe. What makes you think that they’ll volunteer to keep sending us the human bodies we need? The whole universe could be overrun by those Fomorian fucks and it wouldn’t affect Rysthael–sorry, Earth at all.”

Murzael shook her head while taking a sip from her own glass. “So now you think the humans will just sit back and let the Fomorians overrun the universe and kill everyone? That’s a pretty harsh judgment, Tar.”

“It’s just basic common sense,” he insisted. “Their planet is protected and safe, and…” 

“And we’ve been using them this whole time,” Reysiel finished for him. “So why wouldn’t they tell us to go blow it out our exhaust port? After everything we did to set up that supply chain of human soldiers and bodies, why wouldn’t they tell us we’re on our own the very second they get the chance?”

Finally finding the chance to speak up, Caven asked, “Assuming you’re right, what are you guys saying the solution to that is?” He kept his voice even, not wanting to give away any of his own feelings on the subject. This happened often. The five of them were all friends, but Reysiel and Tarwan tended to disagree with Fayaza and Murzael a lot. They kept it to healthy debates most of the time, save for a few occasions where blows had been exchanged. But even those were generally in good fun. Just soldiers working out aggression and such. They disagreed, but they were basically family. Literally, in the case of the twins, Mur and Tar. 

“The solution,” Rey insisted, “is that we go in there and handle it. I’m not saying we burn the place down or kill all of them or anything, I’m not a complete psychopath. But we need to take control. We need to go in, disable that Bystander spell they’ve got going, and tell the populace we’re in charge and that we’re going to protect them just like we protect the rest of the universe. But to do that, we need to recruit them.” 

“Exactly,” Tar agreed. “Do you guys have the slightest clue what we could do if we took hundreds of thousands of human soldiers, powered them up as much as we can, and slammed into the Fomorian lines with them?” 

“Most of them wouldn’t have the power you’re thinking of,” Faya pointed out in that same even tone. “Remember, we can only make a couple hundred Reaper Heretics every year, and even those won’t have any powers built up. They need time to grow and get stronger. Otherwise if we just bond them to other species, what’s the benefit of them over… that species? They’re adaptable, but the second we bond them to something, that’s it, that’s what they’re bonded to forever. Until you add in the Reaper bonding so they can get more power, but again, that takes time. The only immediate thing we’ll get out of that is more bodies to throw into the fire.” 

“That’s just more reason to start right now,” Tar insisted with a glance toward Rey, who was nodding at him. “If we want to end this war, hell, if we want to survive it, we need to go to Earth, and start building up. We need to stop being quiet and secret about it and just go in there and tell them what’s going to happen next. I guarantee if we put the effort in, we can get more than a couple hundred Heretics powered up. Throw some resources at it and boost that Reaper or something. The scientists can handle it, we just have to get them the human resources to work with.” 

Faya shook his head. “What makes you think we have the resources to spare for a prolonged campaign there? If we do let the humans know the truth and then say we’re forcibly recruiting them to go be soldiers for us, they’ll fight back. I’m not saying they’ll win, but with the rebellion that’s already there, especially Auriel’s people, it wouldn’t be as simple or as quick as you think to bring Earth under control. Wouldn’t it make more sense to work with them and come to an arrangement? If the Heretics on Earth are aware of our situation and agree to actively send people to the front, we could end up not only maintaining our current supply lines, but increasing them.” 

Rey laughed, head shaking. “Oh come on. Like we said, do you really think they’re not just going to hole up on their safe planet and let things play out? What incentive do they have to get involved?” 

Mur gestured. “They’re not idiots out there, you know? If the whole universe falls and they’re all by themselves on that planet, the Fomorians are going to turn all of their attention toward breaking that spell and getting to that planet. No spell is completely perfect. They’ll find a way through if they have to. And if there’s no one else left, they won’t stand a chance. They’ll be overrun in hours. And believe me, the people in charge there, Auriel especially, know that. It’s in their best interests to help with this war.” 

Tar opened his mouth to say something about that, before turning to the newest arrival. “Come on, Caven, what do you think?” 

“What do I think?” the man echoed, leaning back in his seat before taking a sip of the drink one of the waitresses had dropped off moments earlier. “I think we should wait and see how the humans work out their own little civil war. And in the meantime, we have that new access to Tartarus. So we’ll get our own enhanced soldiers, just like the Olympus.” 

Head shaking wistfully, Rey noted, “Can you imagine what it would be like to be selected for the new program?” 

“Well, you don’t have to imagine, if you don’t want to,” Caven informed her, and the rest of them. “See, I just came from the communications hub, and my great-great-great grandfather–well we’re not really related, it’s more of a thing where his father knew my–never mind. The Olympian Radueriel, he says he can get us a spot in their new tests. 

“So what do you say? Forget the humans, who wants to become super soldiers ourselves?”  

******

Liam Questions His Choices

“No, no, no, that can’t be right.” As he said those words, Liam Mason shook his head with a mixture of disgust and disbelief. The man, who could have been a rugby player in another life given his build, wore a dark suit that looked uncomfortable on his broad frame. His dark blond hair was tied back in a short ponytail, though he was considering cutting it. But that was a decision for later. Right now, his gaze remained riveted on the papers that were spread out over Gaia’s desk–no, his desk. It was his desk in his office. Just because it had been hers before, just because–well, her tenure here at Crossroads was over, wasn’t it? She had thrown away her reputation, her authority, everything she had in order to indulge these–

“What can’t be right, sir?” The voice came from the side of the large room, where Patrick Dinast stood. The black man wore the same incredibly crisp (it always looked as though it was freshly ironed) dark suit, black tie, and red shirt that he had worn every time Liam saw him. Which was a lot, now that the Committee had assigned their former representative to be his assistant. 

And his watcher, Liam was pretty sure. He wasn’t anywhere near Gaia’s level of skill, power, resources, or any of that. Which was no accident. After the Gaia fiasco, the Committee wanted to make sure the position of headmaster was one they could control more thoroughly. It wasn’t quite a puppet position, but it was certainly closer to that than it had been a year ago.

Gesturing to the papers, which were a mix of actual newspapers, partial clippings, computer printouts, and more, Liam answered in a flat voice. “These are all the reports I could get people to gather about unexplained deaths, disappearances, tragedies, everything that we either know were caused by Strangers, or can reasonably assume. I compared them to the past twenty years.” 

“To prove that the Rebellion has caused there to be a greater number of those events through their interference,” Patrick noted. His eyes flicked from the table to Liam as he lifted his chin fractionally, interpreting the man’s reaction. “But you’ve run into a snag.” 

“A snag,” Liam echoed, snorting audibly. “You could say that.” Cracking his knuckles, he turned away from the desk to face his ‘aide’ fully. “The numbers are down. Not drastically. Not even really substantially. But they’re not up, not so far. I compared the same time periods. From July through January in every year for the past couple decades. The best I can say is that it hasn’t had a tangible effect.” 

“And, with any luck, they won’t,” Patrick replied smoothly. “It takes longer than a few months for changes such as that to be visible, Headmaster Mason. Particularly as, lest we forget, they are still actively fighting those they deem to be… evil.” He said that last word in a tone that made it clear that it made him feel childish. “Between that and our own heightened patrols, it is not as though the monsters of this world suddenly have free rein. Those who would take advantage are, I believe, assessing the situation and how best to utilize this situation. The death of Fossor would have contributed to that as well. It has left a power vacuum which an assortment of dangerous individuals are likely debating and or fighting amongst themselves to fill. There could be any number of small wars happening within that underworld that we know nothing about.”

Liam absorbed that, thinking silently for a moment before meeting the other man’s gaze. “I suppose that’s one problem we have. We lack intelligence. I mean, we don’t know anything about that world. When we see the monsters, we kill them. We don’t talk to them. We have no idea how organized they are, whether they have any sort of leadership, what–” 

“Are you saying you wish we took the time to get to know the creatures?” Patrick’s voice wasn’t dangerous or reprimanding. It likely never would be, when directed toward Liam. But the implication was clear. 

“Not in the least,” Liam retorted sharply. “You know where I stand on that. And so does the Committee. I’ve made my position clear repeatedly… and lost friends and family because of it.” Somehow, his voice managed to make it through that without cracking. “I just…” 

Patrick immediately understood. “You thought that gathering evidence to present to your family might convince them to change their minds, and return. And now the suggestion that you may have to wait much longer for the data you’re anticipating to appear has upset you.”

Liam started to deny that he was upset before pausing. He glanced away, working through a myriad of thoughts before replying. “Yeah, I’m not happy about it. I miss my girls. I miss my wife–hell, I missed her for years, years and then she shows up and she just… leaves again? How could she do that? How could she come back and then take the girls and leave? I don’t–” He cut himself off, realizing he was dangerously close to treating Patrick like a therapist. “Never mind. You can head out now. I won’t have anything for you until tomorrow.” 

A few seconds of silence passed while Patrick was clearly deciding how he should respond, before giving a short nod. “You have my number if anything changes.” With that, he pivoted and headed for the door, pausing just long enough to say, “Teenagers rebel, and these two haven’t seen their mother for a long time. Give them a little time, a little growth, maybe some hard lessons, and they’ll come back.” 

Liam wasn’t sure he believed that. Hell, he wasn’t sure Patrick believed it. But he remained silent and simply waited until the man had left. Once the door closed behind his aide, he gestured, using a wood-control power to make the nearby chair slide out so he could slump down into it. His voice was a dark mutter. “Headmaster. Who are we kidding?” 

Not for the first time that day (let alone over the past months), his thoughts drifted back to that night, to the confrontation with Larissa and the girls. What could he have done differently? What could he have said that would have convinced them to wait, to stay, to believe him? 

Nothing. Not to Larissa, anyway. She was–the time she had spent wherever she was during the time she was gone had changed her too much. That much was obvious. Painful, but obvious. But Scout and Sands, the girls–of course they had chosen to go with their mother. Patrick was right about that much. They’d been away from her for so long. To get her back and then have the chance to leave with her and their friends… yes, of course they’d left. But if he’d been able to say the right thing, or find the right argument, maybe he could have made them change their minds by now. 

Of course, thinking about the different things he could’ve said to convince them to stay also made the man think about something else. It was a thought he would only indulge here alone, without anyone around to see his expression or guess what he was thinking. It was a thought he only rarely allowed even then. What if he had gone with them? What if he had just… 

No, no he couldn’t have done that. It was unconscionable, utterly absurd. He couldn’t set aside his morality to keep his wife and daughters happy any more than he could have set it aside to keep Joselyn and the others happy back in the old days. These creatures were monsters. They enslaved and killed people, and he couldn’t pretend they didn’t just to keep his family together. Staring down at the newspaper clippings told him that much. Even if the number of attacks had yet to notably rise, they still existed. How could Larissa and their girls look at what these monsters did and think that they could be civilized and reasoned with? Just the other day, he had accompanied a group of students on a hunt that had ended up exposing a nest of creatures beneath the nursery of a hospital. They were taking the infants for food

If he lived another ten thousand years, Liam was pretty sure he would never understand how anyone could see something like that and think these monsters should be left alive. The very thought that Larissa was allowing things like that to be around their children made his fists clinch. With a muttered curse, he swept a hand out. A small tornado appeared in the middle of the table and sent the papers flying in every direction. They were worthless. Larissa wouldn’t listen to them anymore than she would listen to anything else. She just wouldn’t listen. 

If he had gone with them, if he had pretended to listen to their ridiculous arguments… no, no he wouldn’t have been trusted. For a moment Liam thought he might have been able to show his family how terrible this whole concept was from the inside, but the others never would have allowed him that sort of time. The second he started trying to gently point out the flaws in the Rebellion’s thinking, he would’ve been out of there. 

Damn it! Why wouldn’t they listen?! The thought filled his head as he put both hands against his forehead and slumped down to the floor with his back to the desk. He was the headmaster of Crossroads, and none of it mattered. His family wasn’t here. His wife, his children, the friends he’d had for so long back when he was a student, they were all… they were all gone, in one way or another. They were gone, and he was here, amongst people who were on his side, but whom he had no particular friendship with. There was no one he felt drawn to, no one he could sit with and reveal these thoughts to. They either saw him as the unapproachable headmaster, or as a convenient mouthpiece for the Committee. The respect that Gaia had commanded with the position… he would never have that. Not when he couldn’t even keep his family together. 

Deeper, even more hidden thoughts emerged then, no matter how much he tried to keep them away. What if he didn’t simply pretend to believe the lies about these monsters? How different would his life have been if he actually believed them? What if he had gone with Joselyn back in the day? Or what if he had gone with his family over the summer? They were wrong, of course. There was no question about that. And yet, what if he had allowed himself to believe those lies just to keep his family together? What if he chose to stay with them because he actually thought they were right? 

His first thought was that more people would have died, more innocents. And yet… would they? At least in the short run, it was obvious that there weren’t that many more victims. Not over this past year. So how much of a difference was he really making by staying in this place? He wasn’t a terribly effective headmaster, his presence wasn’t changing the course of the war, or the education of these students. He did his best, but he was under no delusions about being irreplaceable. If he himself was not here, there would be someone else in this office. 

So, what if he wasn’t here? What if he had gone with his family, just to… just to prioritize them? Would that have been so bad? Would it have been impossible for him to live with himself if he just believed their claims and stayed with Larissa and the girls? His family would be together then, at least. Maybe they could have been happy like that. Maybe he could have…

No. Even as the thought came to his mind, Liam pushed it aside. No, he had responsibilities here. Shoving himself back to his feet, the man made a sound of disgust at his own weakness, at his own selfish desires. Putting aside his morals, ignoring what he knew to be true just to keep his family together? How could he ever do that without looking at every single victim of one of those monsters and wondering if he could have saved them? Or taught someone who would have saved them. It was wrong. They were wrong, and he couldn’t indulge it. 

No matter what it cost him, no matter what he lost, Liam Mason knew what was right. And he could never turn away from that. 

******

A Look At What Casey Is Up To 

It really shouldn’t have surprised Casey that the moment she wanted to talk to Dakota Coalbright, the girl went completely MIA. Well, MIA probably wasn’t the right term. From what she had been able to put together by eavesdropping on others, or just asking questions, they had always known where Dakota was. Or at least, in general terms. And she hadn’t been in immediate danger, aside from being locked in an extra-dimensional vault with a killer. 

Okay, it was just possible that her standards for what constituted immediate danger had changed somewhat over the years. But either way, the other girl had been incommunicado for a bit. First because of that whole vault thing, and then while she was being debriefed up in the Fusion school. Which Casey didn’t attend or live in specifically because she had requested to stay down here on Earth. Mostly because to do the things she needed to do in order to track down Jones, she needed to be able to actually go places. And she was pretty sure asking for field trips every weekend without actually explaining what she was doing wouldn’t go over that well with those people. It was hard enough to slip away and do her stuff when she was already here on Earth. Doing it from the Fusion school would’ve been impossible. 

That said, it was probably a little ironic that after deliberately avoiding that place in order to carry out her plan, she now needed to go up there in order to finish it. She had to talk to Dakota, had to convince the girl to help her with this last part. And had to convince her not to tell anyone else about it. Yes, they were pro-Alter, but Casey wasn’t sure how they would react if she told them she was trying to track down and talk to a Reaper. She wasn’t sure how they’d react to anyone saying that, let alone someone they would see as a little kid. 

She could explain the truth to them, could tell them everything… but that was another problem. If she told them about being a full Natural Reaper Heretic, that she gained every power and every memory from everyone and everything she killed… they would treat her differently. There was no way they would let her run around doing her own thing anymore. They’d lock her up. Not as a prisoner, but as someone they had to protect, even more than they did a normal girl her age. She would never be able to go out and do her own thing, and she was pretty sure they wouldn’t let her find Jones. They probably wouldn’t understand that she was different. They’d believe Casey had just been a little girl when she met her and didn’t know what she was talking about now. Or… or any number of things. 

The point was, telling them would complicate everything, both in Casey’s life in general and in trying to find Jones. She couldn’t let that happen. 

Which meant she had to go up to that station, find Dakota, explain what she needed, and convince her to keep quiet about it all without actually letting anyone else know what she was really up to or what she was capable of. She had to be an ordinary little Eden’s Garden Heretic trainee. 

Thankfully, it wasn’t that hard to ask to go up and look around the place. The principal of the Fusion School really wanted as many to join as possible, especially younger students. So she basically had an open invitation. Which did mean that Casey had to go through a whole tour and spiel of what they did–okay, calling it a spiel was far more dismissive than she actually felt about the situation. It was a school on a space station! In the sun! That was freaking awesome. She wanted to attend. But… but it would make everything else too hard. 

Maybe after she found Jones, depending on… depending on how that went. One way or another, a lot of things were going to change once that happened. 

Once the tour was over, Casey and several other Eden’s Garden students who had come up with her were allowed to look around on their own, within the areas where Fusion students were able to go. They were encouraged to find others in their age group and talk to them about what it was like up here. Casey played the part of being unsure what she was going to do, but very enthused about looking around. Which, again, she definitely wasn’t faking. In fact, she had to remind herself that she was here on a mission. It was way too easy for her to get distracted thinking about what it would be like if she was actually a student up here. 

With effort, she managed to push those thoughts out of her mind and asked around about Dakota. Unfortunately, nobody she asked knew where the girl was. A few pointed one way or another, but nobody’s directions panned out, and Casey didn’t want to push the issue too much. That would lead to attention, and to questions, both things she wanted to avoid. 

But that was okay, she had another plan. After giving up on asking around about the other girl, Casey moved to a restroom. She hadn’t been able to do this before coming up here because the spell she had in mind was short-lived, and wouldn’t have lasted all the way through the tour. Stepping into a stall, she locked it, then dug through her pockets, coming out with several small pouches before finding the one she was looking for. Untying the cord, the thirteen-year-old blonde girl emptied the contents into her palm. Three tiny crystals, two coins with intricate runes inscribed on them, and the most important part, several small hairs that had been taken from Dakota’s brush back in her motel room where she had been staying while working to make those vines give off fruit again. 

A moment and a couple words later, and the spell was activated. The hairs disintegrated, and Casey looked around before seeing a glowing cloudy haze somewhere upstairs and to the left. Good, Dakota was on the station and within range. She had been afraid she’d have to wander around for awhile before getting close enough.

For the next half an hour, nearly the entire length of the spell, Casey carefully made her way through the station while doing her best to look like an ordinary tourist, an overwhelmed teenage girl just trying to see everything she could. But in the end, she finally got to the right apartment. It only took a moment and a couple more powers to assure herself that Dakota was alone in there, at least for now. Which was an opening she took advantage of by ringing the buzzer. 

As she opened the door, Dakota blinked that way. “Uhh…Casey? You came up?” The two of them had been paired together a few times down at the Eden’s Garden rebel area, by sheer virtue of being the same age. 

Adopting a cheerful smile, Casey nodded. “Yup, up here on a tour. You know, just checking the place out and…” She trailed off, abandoning her casual voice now that she had double-checked that Dakota was alone. “Can we talk inside?” 

“Uhh… okay.” Shrugging, the dark-haired girl, who was basically the same age as Casey, stepped back and gestured for her to enter. “I’m sort of just hanging out until Carnival gets back from therapy right now. I… sorry, did you wanna talk about something?” 

“Oh, uhh, I just wanna ask two things,” Casey replied. “First, who’s your favorite Ninja Turtle?” 

Blinking uncertainly, Dakota offered a hesitant, “Um, Donatello, I guess? Why? Wait, you didn’t come all the way up here just to ask me that, did you?”

“Nope,” Casey replied, “but it was important. Especially if you would’ve said you don’t like the Turtles, then I would’ve known I couldn’t trust you.” She dug through her pockets once more before coming out with a small Donatello action figure. “But see, I made one out of each of them, and one for Splinter too, just in case.” 

“Hang on, is there writing on that thing?” Dakota asked, leaning closer to squint at the figure, which did indeed have red runic symbols drawn over it. 

Casey nodded. “Yeah, that leads to my second question. See, this thing is a secret spell. If you promise not to tell a secret and then activate the spell, the other person will know if you break the promise and tell anyone. I have to tell you something very important, Dakota, and I… I need your help. It’s really important. But I don’t want you to tell anybody. I promise it’s nothing evil or bad and you won’t have to hurt anybody. The spell won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, and it won’t stop you from saying no you don’t want to help me. I just… I need your help to find my friend, and I know that for you to do that, you need to know stuff I don’t want anybody else to know about me. So if you do tell people, I want to have a head start so I can leave, because… because they’ll treat me differently if they know the truth. Truth I haven’t told anybody before. But… but I need your help. I can’t do it without you, I don’t think. Which… which means I have to tell you about it.

“So, can you keep a secret?” 

*******

Check In With Robin/Judas/Stasia/Asenath/Shiori 

(The following takes place partway through the current arc, after an upcoming two week time skip) 

The side door of a bar slammed open, as a blue-skinned man went running out of it. He bounced off the brick wall of the building next door before pivoting to race toward the exit. Before he had gone more than three steps, however, a silver robot figure stepped into view, blocking that direction. Seeing them, the blue man spun back to run toward the back of the alley instead. He passed the door where he had come out of, but as he approached the chain-link fence at the rear of the alley, a figure hopped over it, not even touching the fence itself before landing smoothly and silently in front of him. It was a middle-eastern man with dark, spiky hair, an expensive-looking dark turtleneck and slacks, and a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. 

Seeing that avenue cut off as well, the blue man spun yet again to head back through the door he had come out of. But that direction was blocked by a pair of Asian girls, similar enough in appearance that their relation seemed apparent. Before the man could react, the smaller of the two snapped both hands out, sending a pair of spinning metal discs flying that way. They embedded themselves in the wall to either side of the man, sending staccato bursts of electricity toward him. 

The man leapt. His blue legs seemed to sink down halfway into the ground before extending sharply, like a spring that had been pushed in and then released. He was launched halfway up the side of the building before bouncing off there toward the roof of the opposite building. He would land there, then jump–

A fist came out of nowhere as he sailed toward the other roof and safety. It slammed into his face, making his head flatten out and extend to either side in a distinctly cartoonish fashion. The blow arrested his momentum entirely,  knocking him out of the air before sending him sailing back toward the pavement below. With a loud splat, he hit the ground on his back, flattening like a pancake, or like a ball of silly putty being thrown hard. 

With a groan, the blue man opened his eyes and looked around to see all five figures standing over him. The silver robot, the well-dressed man, the two Asian girls, and the slim, dark-blonde woman who had been on the roof waiting for him. 

“Hello, Tawty,” that woman announced in a distinct Russian accent. “We have been looking for you.” 

“Yes, we have,” the robot agreed, their eyes shifting from amber-brown to light pink. “Hope we weren’t interrupting anything. Looked like you were getting ready to go for a jog.” 

The eyes turned red. “We could give you a reason to get your steps in, if you want.” 

“Ohhh hehe… hey it’s you guys,” Tawty slowly managed after pulling himself together. He still laid there on the pavement, not daring to move. “I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow night.” 

“Is that why you booked a bus ticket for tomorrow morning?” the other Asian girl, the one who hadn’t thrown those electricity-discs at him, asked. “Sorry, Tawty was it? We haven’t met. I’m Asenath. This is my sister, Shiori.” 

“Heretic,” Tawty pointed out, his eyes on the other girl. 

“Don’t worry, I don’t like to kill people unless they make me,” Shiori cheerfully informed him. She put her hands out, and the discs snapped off the wall before flying back to her. “And I don’t think you’re gonna make me.” 

“That right, Tawty?” the well-dressed man, Judas, asked. “We heard you were leaving early tomorrow, so we figured you just forgot about our meeting. We didn’t want you to be all the way on the bus and then remember us. It would’ve just made everything so awkward. So we thought we’d track you down tonight and get that information you promised. You know, the info you told Inanna you’d have?” 

“We hope you still have it,” the still red-eyed Robin–Brawl in this form, noted with a hard stare. “Inanna won’t be happy if you make her go back on her word about finding Rasputin for us.”

“That’s right,” Judas agreed, his own voice casual. “She’s been trying pretty hard to keep up her end of our deal. And that means you have to keep up your end. Here.” Reaching down, he took the blue man’s hand and helped him to his feet. “The location, Tawty. Where is he?” 

Looking around helplessly and finding no exit, the blue man finally heaved a long sigh. “Okay, look, I’ll tell you where Rasputin went, but you’ve gotta let me hide out in that hidden school of yours.” His eyes were on Shiori. “There are people who aren’t gonna be happy about me telling you anything, and I need promises. I gotta be safe. Hell, you aren’t gonna like hearing about where he is right now.” 

“You’ll be safe, I promise,” Asenath assured him, eyes not leaving the man. “You made a deal, now honor it. Where is Grigori Rasputin?” 

Tawty hemmed and hawed just a little more, but in the end, he told them what he knew. And it was an answer that made everyone present rock back on their heels. Stasia cursed loudly, while Robin and Judas exchanged glances. 

Asenath and Shiori looked at each other as well, for similar yet different reasons. “We have to tell her,” Shiori announced quietly. 

“We have to tell Flick.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Commissioned Interlude 16 – Reapers (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

A/N – This is NOT the Monday’s regular chapter, it is an extra commissioned interlude. The regular chapter will be out around midnight mountain time/7 am GMT as usual.

About Eight Years Ago

“Hi!” a young girl, perhaps five years old, chirped up from where she was sitting in a sandbox behind her family’s suburban house somewhere in southern California. The girl had short blonde hair, and a bright, smiling face that was covered in dirt. She raised one equally dirty hand to wave at the figure who stood next to the sandbox. “I’m playing wif sand, you wanna play?” 

The subject she was addressing stood silently for a moment. She appeared to be another girl, one somewhat older than the one in the sandbox. An unknowing person would place her age in her late teens. Unlike the very human child she was watching, however, the figure standing silently nearby was far older than she appeared. Her skin was very pale, almost to the point of being paper-white. Her hair, worn all the way to the middle of her back, was very bright pink, with black highlights. Her eyes were red. And she wore very simple clothes. Black jeans, black shoes, and a black tee shirt. No frills, no design.  

After those few seconds of simply watching the younger child, the girl took a seat on the grass next to the sandbox. She had yet to speak, simply reaching out to brush one pale hand through the sand before finding an action figure half-buried there. Plucking it free, she examined the toy with a look of curiosity, fingers running over the points of articulation. 

“His name’s Casey Jones,” the sandbox girl informed her. “He helps the Ninja Turtles.” Pointing at herself then, she added, “My name’s Casey too. That’s why he’s my favorite. What’s your name?” Even as she asked the question, the girl was already plucking a Leonardo toy out of the sand and waving him around, making noises as though he was fighting legions of Foot soldiers.

In answer to the question, the pale figure tilted her head as though considering for several long moments before finally declaring, “Casey.” She pointed to herself. 

With a laugh, the younger girl shook her head. “That’s not your name, silly, it’s my name!” 

“I like Casey Jones,” the other informed her in a very simple, matter-of-fact tone. 

“Okay,” the little girl declared, “I’ll be Casey, and you can be Jones. Together we can be Casey Jones!” She giggled then, like it was a fun game they were playing. “How are you today, Jones?” 

Seeming to consider the question far more thoroughly than most would, the newly-dubbed Jones finally replied, “I’m hungry.” 

“Oh, my mama will bring us a snack,” Casey quickly informed her. “D’ya want me to go ask? Maybe we can have cookies, if it’s not too close to dinner. Do you like cookies?” 

“I don’t know,” Jones answered in a soft, curious tone. “I’ve never had them.”

With a scandalized gasp, the younger girl demanded, “How could you never have cookies? Everybody has cookies. You want me to go get some?” 

“It’s okay,” came the soft response. “I’ll eat soon.” Without a moment’s pause, she immediately asked, “What is a ninja turtle?” 

Casey, of course, was just as scandalized to hear that question as she had been the one about cookies. Immediately, she dug through the sand to find the rest of her related action figures and begin to explain the entire story behind the mutant brothers, their rat father-figure, and all of their assorted friends and enemies. She went on rather excitedly and at length, often doubling back on herself to explain something else she had forgotten before jumping forward once more. And throughout it all, she waved the toys around wildly, often smacking them together while making sound effects for the respective battles she was detailing. 

Jones watched intently through the whole story, never blinking. She sat completely motionless beside the sandbox, crimson eyes fixated on the human girl while she went on about the Ninja Turtles. To any who might have been observing, it would have been equally clear that this girl truly had never heard anything about the combative mutant reptiles and that she was completely fascinated by the explanation. 

Finally, the young girl finished with, “And April and Casey Jones got married but that’s dumb cuz I wanna marry Casey Jones. Then we can be Casey Jones and Casey Jones.” She laughed as though that was the funniest joke that had ever been made, falling backward into the sand. Then she popped up. “Oh! I gotta tell you ‘bout Baxter Stockman.” 

Thus, over the next twenty minutes, the two spoke extensively about those fictional turtles and everything surrounding them. Casey possessed an extensive collection of toys, and showed all of them off while telling her new friend all about them, while the other girl sat enraptured by the story, occasionally asking questions. Some of the questions were quite understandable and specific to the Ninja Turtles franchise itself, while others would have raised eyebrows. Such as what pizza was, or what the ‘hockey’ in Casey Jones’ hockey stick and mask meant, or even what sewers were. They were the sort of questions that would have raised a few alarms in the mind of someone older. But Casey simply thought it was curious, and eagerly explained everything. The more her new friend questioned, the happier the younger girl was about telling the story. 

Eventually, she stopped to ask, “How come you don’t know anyfin about this stuff?” 

“I am very new here,” came the response. 

“Oh!” the little girl tilted her head curiously. “Are you from Europe? They don’t have cookies there?” 

“I am not from Europe,” the older figure informed her. “I am a Reaper.” 

The little girl stared at her with wide eyes. “Reaper? Nuh uh, you don’t have a big hood or a scyfe or anything. You’re s’posed to have a big scyfe, like the cartoons. And how come you’re h–” With a start, Casey looked to the house. “Oh, I gotta go ask Mama for the cookies!” 

“You should stay here,” the other girl solemnly informed her. “It’s bad in there.” 

Frowning with obvious confusion, the little girl asked, “Huh? What’s that s’posed to mean?” 

“You should stay here,” Jones replied, her tone just as flat and matter-of-fact, though there was a very faint hint of something more. “The bad man hasn’t left yet. Like Shredder.”

“What?” Staring blankly at her, the younger girl slowly asked, “What do you mean, bad man? There’s a bad man?” She turned then, looking at her house. “There’s a bad man… Mama?” She bolted to her feet, sprinting toward the backdoor. “Mama! Mama, there’s a bad man! Mama!” As her small figure disappeared through the door, there was a brief pause, followed by a soul-shattering scream that echoed through the backyard and surrounding neighborhood. It was the scream of a child who had seen something she truly shouldn’t have, something that would haunt her thoughts and memories for the rest of her life. 

Rising from where she had been perched in the grass, Jones strode toward the house. She walked at a calm, casual pace, unhurried despite the situation. Reaching the door, she paused briefly to glance at a nearby flower, extending a hand to gently brush over the colorful petals before disappearing into the building. 

Several long seconds passed, before the momentary silence was shattered once more. This time, the air was filled with the sound of breaking glass, as a man’s form came flying out through the window. He landed heavily in the grass, bleeding profusely. His face was badly burned, to the point that he would have been nearly unrecognizable to anyone who knew him. 

He pushed himself up and began to crawl frantically away, but Jones appeared next to him with a simple flash of light. Her foot came down on the back of his neck to knock him against the grass. One of her arms was covered in blood. His blood. Her shoes and the bottom of her jeans were also drenched in blood that was not his. 

“That was very bad,” she informed him.

“Wha-what?!” the man blubbered, his voice panicked. “I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill her! I swear, I just wanted to have some fun. But she wouldn’t stop fighting, I had to hit her. I had to hit her. I wasn’t gonna hurt the kid!” 

“Yes,” came the flat response. “You were. You would have hurt her. You would have killed her. Just like her mother. You are bad. You are not a ninja turtle,” she informed him. “You are a Shredder.” 

“A wha-what?” he stammered. “Look, just–” 

Without another word, the pink-haired figure pointed her hand down at him. A blue-white flame erupted forth, and with a momentary panicked scream, the man and everything he wore was turned to ash. In an instant, he had been entirely disintegrated. 

“Cowabunga,” Jones announced, in a flat, monotone voice. 

Pivoting on her heel, she walked slowly back into the house. A few long seconds of silence passed before she came back through the door, carrying the young Casey over her shoulder. Without a word, she walked the little girl back to the sandbox and set her down in it. The remains of a bit of the child’s previous meal were visible across her shirt, where she had thrown up. 

As she sat there, Casey stared ahead, seeing nothing save for the traumatic memory of what she had witnessed in the house, of what the man had done to her mother. A low, somewhat-keening whimpering sound escaped her after a moment, when she found some measure of her voice. “Mama.” That single word came in a plaintive, desperate tone. It was the voice of a girl who, despite her tender age, knew that her mother would never answer. 

For a few seconds, the older figure stood looking down at her silently. Then she sat beside the sandbox once more. Her voice was simple. “Your mother is gone. But so is the man who took her.” 

Trembling, the little girl looked to her and hesitantly managed a weak, barely audible, “But… what if he comes back?”  

The question was met by a flat stare as the older figure replied, “He will not. Your mother and he will never return.” There was a brief pause once more, then, “He was a bad man, and had to be sent away.”

“A-are you sure?” came the quiet little plea. 

Another pause followed, before the other girl confirmed, “Yes, I am sure. I am a Reaper. I know when people are gone and will never come back.” 

Curling in on herself, the little girl sat there with her eyes closed. Tears continued to stream down her face for a silent minute or so, before she made a gasping noise. “Police! I’m ‘posed to call 911! Bu-but I don’t have a phone. And… and…” She looked up, staring trepidatiously at the house as though terrified of the prospect of going back in there. Her words turned back to that desperate, animalistic keening sound. She knew what was there. She knew what she would see if she walked back in that awful place. 

So, it was Jones who rose to her feet. “You will stay,” she ordered, before turning to walk inside. The little girl was left alone, sitting in the sandbox with the memory of her mother’s remains for a couple minutes, before the other figure returned. She had the cordless phone in one hand, and a box of cookies from the cupboard in the other. Without a word, she set the box next to the girl, then put the phone in her hand. 

The child didn’t move at first. She sat there clutching the phone. Yes, she was supposed to call 911 when someone was hurt, so they could get help. But there would be no help for her mother. Even at her age, she understood that. Her mom was gone and would never get better. 

Still, she knew it was the right thing to do. So, her fingers slowly moved over the buttons, dialing the emergency services before holding the phone up to her head. “Hello?” she managed in a voice that broke from emotion. “You need to come please. 

“My mama died.” 

*******

Several hours later, the little girl was gone. The police had come and taken her away. The house had been thoroughly examined, and was now surrounded by yellow caution tape. It was late enough that everyone had left by then, save for a single policeman who had been stationed at the front of the house in a squad car to keep people away. 

He did not even notice the lone figure with pink hair standing at the very edge of the property. Nor did he notice the larger, male figure in a black trenchcoat stepping up beside her. The new arrival had short, dark blue hair and an equally pale complexion. He stopped beside the girl and turned slightly to look at her. No words emerged from his mouth, yet he communicated with her. With a single look, the older Reaper sent a full pack of information from his mind to hers. The transfer was instant, communicating frustration that she had disappeared for so long when he had asked her to stay where they were before, a request for clarification about why she had left, and chastisement for interfering with the natural progression of things. The young human child was meant to die there. It was what would have happened without any interference. And yet, she was still alive, and the man who should have escaped to kill several more times had been wiped from existence. All because of her interference. She had disrupted the balance. He required an explanation for that. As well as an explanation for why she had gone against his wishes as her superior, and assurance that she had not begun to fall to the Reapers’ curse. Certainly, becoming a Hangman tended to involve causing more living beings to die rather than less, but any Reaper acting out of the ordinary tended to be heavily scrutinized. None wanted a repeat of what had come before, so long ago.

That burst of information would have taken a species who communicated verbally several minutes to get through properly. In this case, it was instantaneous, as the Reaper man simply compressed a packet of information and sent it to her directly. 

In response, the girl sent back her own packet of information. In less time than it would have taken an average living being to say the word ‘hi,’ she communicated the fact that she had had a conversation with the young child and chose not to let her die. Because it wasn’t what the Ninja Turtles would do. That, of course, necessitated adding a whole explanation into the packet of who they were, before she sent it off to him. Again, several minutes worth of conversation compressed into an instantaneous burst of information. 

Immediately after absorbing that knowledge, the male Reaper sent back another packet of his own. This one included further chastisement for her actions, as they were, above all else, supposed to remain neutral. Not every single Reaper followed that completely stringently, of course. But he did, for he had seen some of the worst their people were capable of. He had perpetuated some of the worst, before being drawn back to some semblance of sanity. The fact that she was of his creation meant that she would follow his instructions. That was how it worked. Or how it was supposed to work. She was a part of him, a part of his whole, and thus she followed his instructions, as surely as an arm followed the instructions of its owner. And he had instructed her to stay out of any mortal affairs. They were to observe and add to the Archive, that was all. Their place was to stand apart from the universe and ensure that, whatever happened to it in the future, everything it had once been would be remembered. 

It wasn’t always like that, of course. They had not always kept themselves separate from the rest of creation. At one time, their people had stretched their will across the entire universe. And that will had been intent on nothing more than complete genocide of everything that was not Reaper. They had essentially been Fomorians before Fomorians existed. With their ability to gain both knowledge and power from the deaths of others, the Reapers had decimated every planet they came across. They killed everyone in their path and used that power to become even more unstoppable. They had, as a species, nearly one and all become Hangmen. 

That path of mindless destruction had eventually turned the Reapers on one another. They were no longer a united species, in any sense of the term. Each had instead become intent on being the last figure standing. They attacked and killed each other, absorbing the powers and knowledge of their own people. 

The universe itself would have fallen, save a very few remaining Reapers who had not entirely fallen to their people’s Hangman curse. They managed to pull themselves, and the universe itself, back from the brink of total annihilation. They saw what their people had nearly done, saw what could have happened to all life in existence. 

From there, the remaining Reapers had known that changes had to be made. Their people were no longer conquerors. They would be observers. They would step back and simply watch the universe. They would feed their people’s hunger for death the natural way, by arriving in places where it was already happening. They would not interfere. 

Some still fell now and then, of course. Some were lost, in one way or another. But, for the most part, the Reapers kept to their word. They had physically spread across the universe, scattered to the point that only a bare handful would be present on any world at any given time. Most of those were single Reaper ‘family’ units where the couple present on the world were actually aided by several who remained within the Archives. From there, they watched. They observed. They collected knowledge, power, and simply memories. They stood by as people died before absorbing the energy from that death and everything that came with it. They catalogued what they absorbed, storing it away for whenever the end of this universe came.

In answer to the chastisement, the younger Reaper (she was equal parts her male counterpart’s daughter, sister, clone, and more, having been created by him from a piece of himself) actually spoke aloud, rather than use their much faster communication method. “I am not a Shredder. I am a Ninja Turtle.” She turned slightly, watching him with that same flat, apparently emotionless stare. “The human child did nothing to deserve death. Allowing that would have been wrong.” 

A moment of silence passed, as the older Reaper considered the verbal words, as well as the fact that she had chosen to speak them rather than communicate in (what was to them) the normal way. Eventually, he turned and raised a hand. As he did so, a glowing portal appeared. He sent back another silent packet of information, informing her that she would follow him to visit the Archives, where he would ensure that she had not begun to fall. If she was becoming a Hangman, he would ensure his descendant/copy/sister did not go any further. 

Immediately, the girl turned and began to follow him through the portal. But she paused right at the edge, turning to look over her shoulder. Right there on the side of the sandbox sat the small Casey Jones toy. Extending her hand, she summoned the figure to her and examined it closely. Her finger touched the top of the toy, before she pulled it apart. Except she wasn’t breaking the figure. Her tug duplicated the figure, creating a second version. This one she tucked into her pocket, before sending the original back to the spot where it belonged. 

That done, she turned and finally passed through the awaiting portal, leaving the terrible crime scene behind.

The room they arrived in appeared to be a library. But if so, it would have been one of the largest libraries in the known universe. The room was circular, about a thousand feet in diameter with no visible doors or any other exit. Shelves of books lined the walls, stretching all the way up out of sight, to skyscraper heights. Trillions of tomes of every color and size filled those shelves. Here and there, in about a dozen different spots that were immediately visible, various books glowed a faint pink color, indicating that members of this Reaper family were accessing them for one reason or another.

The books, in truth, were simply visual representations of various bits of knowledge or even power the Reapers had absorbed. It was collected and stored here. Every Reaper Collective made their archive look somewhat different. Some went for far more elaborate creations, but this one was quite simple, with no frills or unnecessary effort. Their archive appeared as this library, their individual memories, skills, powers, and such were books. Whenever one of the Reapers from this collective called upon one of the stored gifts, the ‘book’ in question glowed.

After giving a brief glance over to a spot on the shelves where several books had abruptly lit up,  the man turned away from them and extended his hand once more. Again, a portal appeared. This one led not back to where they had just come from, but to the Prime Archive. 

Still without speaking, the male Reaper sent another burst of information to his younger, female counterpart. He informed her that she was to follow him so that others could examine her, and ensure all that she had not fallen. He also communicated his hope that she was truly safe, his concern that something might have happened and that she would need to be eliminated. Not as a threat, of course. His regret would be real, yet neither he nor the others would hesitate. If she had been corrupted, they would excise her from reality before she infected any others. He wished her luck, while simultaneously informing her that any attempt to escape before being examined would be an admission of guilt and she would be immediately eliminated. 

“I am not corrupted,” she informed him, once more choosing to speak the words aloud. With that, she passed through the portal. Now, rather than standing in a library, she appeared on a busy city street. Any mortals who looked at the city, however, would be immediately thrown, as it didn’t appear like any actual, single place. Rather, the place appeared to be several thousand different pieces of cities, from several thousand different planets and times, all bunched together into one place with no rhyme or reason. A house that would have belonged in ancient feudal Earth Japan sat next to a towering oval-shaped building that had seemingly been plucked straight from the world of Pevlefi, where the bird-like Seun lived. And to the right of that was a red-stone castle from the Akheilosan people’s medieval era. And so on it went. Thousands of different species’ buildings and structure-types were represented in this town. Except, of course, it wasn’t a town at all. This was the Prime Archive. 

Every Reaper Clan had their individual archive, where their personal gifts and knowledge were stored. But every clan also added to the Prime Archive, itself created after they had nearly wiped out reality. This Prime Archive was located in a separate piece of reality that was only accessible by Reapers themselves, and only through physically interacting with their individual archives. From there, they could enter this place, where every bit of knowledge they had gathered from many millennia of watching over the universe were stored. The beings who ‘lived’ here were artificial creations, just like the books back in the individual archive. Each ‘person’ held the collective memories of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of people who had once lived, and could essentially become that person at any moment. In fact, they did become any number of people at any given moment. As the artificial people made their way on predetermined routes through busy, crowded ‘city’, living some fake semblance of lives not too different from the nonplayer characters programmed into human video games, they also randomly shifted into different forms. A human striding confidently through the city would abruptly transform into a wooden Relukun who stumbled over his own feet and fearfully watched the people around him as though waiting to be attacked. By the same measure, a tiny, mouse-like Timper, creeping stealthily along one of the gutters suddenly became a massive Ogre, gleefully stomping his way forward while bellowing for people to get out of the way. Every manufactured ‘being’ shifted through dozens of different forms, as the Archive system kept that being active just long enough to run maintenance and ensure their personalities and memories were intact, then shifted to the next one. All while the forms bustled their way through the city, moving in and out of buildings, and generally looking, from the outside, like an actual living place. Albeit a place made up of a thousand different cities squished together and occupied by millions of constantly shape-shifting beings. 

As they arrived in the false city, the two Reapers immediately turned and began to walk toward the massive tower that lay at the very center of the Prime Archive. The tower was actually what remained of the very last weaponized ship the previously war-like Reapers had once used. At one time, it had been the most feared vessel in the universe, capable of casually destroying entire worlds. Now, this relatively small piece of it was all that remained. It loomed far into the ‘sky’ of this manufactured piece of reality, shaped like a massive, black and silver two-tined fork. From the bottom of its three thousand foot wide base, to the very tip of the two tine-like structures, the tower stood fifteen miles high. And yet, this small piece was merely a tenth of the actual size that the full ship itself had once been. Now its power was put to one purpose: maintaining the Prime Archive in this separated piece of reality so that knowledge and memories of what had once been would be passed on to whatever came next, should this universe ever be truly destroyed.

The male Reaper continued toward the tower, but the girl stopped, turning to face a passing figure. “Halt,” she ordered. Immediately, the artificial being did so. She, in turn, stepped in front of it and raised a hand, making a flicking motion with her fingers repeatedly. As she did so, the being transformed from one shape to another with each motion. Like flipping through pages of a book. Finally, it appeared as an orange-skinned humanoid with six arms and a very flat head. But it was not the arms or flat head she was interested in. Rather, her attention was drawn to the weapon that the being held in one of those hands. Specifically, a long, black scythe with a deep blue curved blade. 

Touching a finger against the false weapon, the girl did the same trick she had performed with the action figure earlier. She pulled a copy away from the original. This, however, was a true weapon rather than a false construct. It was also black, like the first, though the blade was pink to match her own hair and aura color. 

Satisfied, she held the weapon in one hand while flatly informing her companion/father/brother/creator, “I am a Reaper. We are supposed to have scythes.” 

He, in turn, stared at her. A flash of communication informed her that he was even more concerned that she had fallen, before he pivoted to continue walking to the tower. One way or another, they would find answers there. The old ones would examine her, and determine if she could be released to continue about her way, or… not. 

*******

Present Day

“Boy oh boy was that a long and boring discussion.” As she cheerfully noted that, the pink-haired Reaper carefully drew a peanut butter-laden knife back and forth across a slice of bread while standing in the middle of a small apartment kitchen.

She wasn’t dressed nearly as simply as she had been years earlier. Now, she wore black military-style boots with pink laces, somewhat ripped black leggings, ratty jean shorts, a bright pink tee shirt with a black smiley face across the front, and an open black jacket. With, of course, a large hood. 

“Eighty-seven hours of–well, I mean I guess it’s eighty-seven? I’ve never really done the Prime Archive to Earth time conversion. Hang on.” In two swift motions, she slid both sides of the knife along the top of the peanut butter jar to remove the excess before dipping it into a nearby jar of jelly. Taking up a fresh slice of bread, she spread the jelly on it, considered, then added more before sticking both pieces together into a sandwich. 

“Carry the one, subtract for daylight savings, it wasn’t a leap year…” Her thoughtful murmurs turned entirely incomprehensible for a moment before she snapped her fingers. “Eighty-nine hours of interrogation. I knew I was close. And what an eighty-nine hours. Seriously, eighty-nine hours can go really fast if you’re doing something fun. But if it’s not fun, and believe me, this wasn’t, every hour can feel like ten. You know how that is? Yeah, I’m sure you do. You’ve had that kind of boss.” 

With that, she took a rather enormous bite of the sandwich, devouring almost half of it in a single chomp. Which included, of course, making the chomping sound in the process. Chewing that large mouthful, she stepped out of the kitchen area of the apartment and looked over to one side while chewing thoughtfully in silence for several long seconds. Finally, she swallowed and added a curious, “Bet you’re gonna have to have one of those long interrogations after this, huh?” 

The subject of her question, and of everything she had said so far in the long story she had been cheerfully telling, was a young Eden’s Garden Heretic, fresh from their academy. Barely twenty years old, the guy had very dark skin, an entirely shaven head, and was just a bit on the stocky side. He was also pinned against the wall by the shaft of the very same scythe she had created almost a decade earlier. 

Well, not the exact same scythe, technically. She had upgraded it repeatedly over the years, adding far more to its arsenal and capability. 

In any case, at this particular moment, the blade of the scythe was embedded deeply in the wall, allowing the shaft to pin the man against it as well. Runes flared up along the weapon, some of which prevented it from being moved at all by anyone other than its master. Once it was put in a location, it stayed there. By the same token, any person touched by the weapon stayed where they were as long as it was touching them. With very few exceptions (of which this particular Heretic had none), there were no powers that could allow him to either move the scythe, or himself as long as it was pressed against him. 

“I don’t know what you really are or what you want, creature,” the man snarled, “but I’m not buying any of this. We know what Reapers are, how dangerous they can be. Only a couple on the planet? Pretending to be some sort of passive, neutral observers? Bullshit. They’re monsters, and they’re all over the place. Those old executions they used to do all the time with the guillotines and shit, there were Reapers all over the place. You’re not even one of those, you’re just–you’re probably one of those body-snatching assholes people keep talking about. You–” 

Before he could say anything else, the knife (still holding traces of peanut butter and jelly) went flying past, embedding itself deep in the wall so close to his face that it shaved a bit of his five o’clock shadow away. Despite being very dull, the knife still went into the wall all the way up to the handle. 

“Don’t be rude,” the Reaper chastised. “I’m not one of the Seosten. If I was, I already would have possessed you and erased your memory. Besides, I told you my name. It’s Jones. Maybe you should tell me yours so I don’t have to default to one of the names I give every annoying punk who starts jabbering at me.” Her head tilted at his sullen silence. “No? Okay, Bebop it is. Anyway, Bebop, like I was saying…” She walked closer, reaching out to pluck the knife out of the wall  while finishing the last of the sandwich she had made. Standing right in front of the struggling figure, she watched him curiously, swallowing before speaking. “They made me stand there for all that time, interrogating me, scanning me, doing everything they could to find out what was wrong. I mean, for a given definition of wrong. Why I was different. Which isn’t even really fair, because there are Reapers out there who don’t toe the line. But they’re more… the adult Reapers? The progenitors. They’re the ones who have more of a choice in what they are, what they act like. Me, I was a daughter-copy-sister-clone. I shouldn’t have been so independent. But I was, so they needed to find out why. And do you know what they came up with? No, seriously, do you know?”

Bebop, as he had been dubbed, scowled at her silently for a moment. But in the end, his curiosity won out. “What?” 

Flashing a bright smile, Jones poked him in the forehead. “It was one of you. No, really. That’s it. It was one of you. Well, one of you and one of those Seosten you were just talking about. See, you know how each of you Heretics are connected to one of our Reaper Archives to store and use your powers? Yeah, we know about that, and there’s a reason you can only use the powers you put there. We sort of… shove everything you put in the Archive over into a corner. Anyway, it turns out, about eight years ago when all this was going on with me, one of your people was having some sort of thing with one of those bodysnatchers you were talking about. Not just a thing, a thing from clear across the universe. The Seosten was projecting past a lot of magic blocks, all the way here to Earth. Something went wrong and the Heretic ended up getting yanked off Earth and back to where the Seosten was. But she was using the Archive right then, using powers she stored away in our Archive. When that big universe-wide yank happened, all that power sent a little, ahh, feedback through the Archive. And poof, I was cut off from my father-brother-original-leader. I wasn’t linked to him the way I was supposed to be anymore. I had my own thoughts, my own wants, my own… urges. I had my own self. Which was weird. I saw that girl, Casey, in trouble and I didn’t want her to die. So I stopped it.” 

Clearly unable to resist asking, the Eden’s Garden Heretic managed a gruff-sounding, “So what happened after your little… examination?” 

Giving a broad smile at the fact that she’d managed to draw the man into the story, Jones replied, “I was banished. I mean, politely banished, but still. They knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I wasn’t all evil or whatever, but they didn’t want to risk whatever happened to me affecting everyone else and disrupting our very important work. So they sent me away. I had to learn how to really be my own person here on Earth. I had to get a job. I mean, I didn’t have to, but it’s the right thing to do if you want to buy food, comic books, video games, movies, and I love all those things. Especially Turtles stuff. I mean… it is how I got my start, after all.” As she said that, the girl nodded to a corner of the room, where a classic, full-sized Ninja Turtles arcade machine stood. “My pride and joy. I mean, I know, you can play it all on PC or console and all that, but it’s just not the same as standing at the machine, you know what I mean?” 

From the look on his face, the man had absolutely no idea what she meant. He shifted a bit from his pinned position, hesitating before demanding, “Say I even believe this story a tiny bit instead of going with the obvious bit of you being some trick from the Rebellion. What’re you gonna do with me now?” 

“Well, I mean, you did break into my home and try to kill me,” Jones reminded him. “But I suppose it’s not really your fault. Not totally, anyway.” Clearly debating with herself for a moment, she finally reached out, grabbing the scythe before yanking it free to let the young Heretic drop to the ground. Spinning the weapon around while stepping back, she rested it against the back of her neck, arms hooked over the shaft while casually informing him, “You can go.” 

For a second, it was clear that the man was debating with himself as to whether he should try to attack again. Eventually, he just cautiously asked, “Are you serious? Why would you let me walk away after everything you told me? I could talk to people about it.” 

In response, Jones the Reaper raised both eyebrows. “Talk to people about it? Talk to them about the good Reaper who caught you, told you her life story and all about how much she loves Ninja Turtles and video games, then let you go? Sure, okay. You go ahead and tell your genocidal, xenophobic friends all about it. I’m fascinated to know how that goes.” 

From the grimace on ‘Bebop’s’ face, he had no more confidence than she did in how his people would take that story. He also looked like he was reconsidering the whole attacking her thing again. But in the latter case, a glance toward the sharp pink blade of the scythe made up his mind for him. He took a quick step sideways, hand rising to project a flat shadow-circle against the wall before disappearing through it. The shadow portal would take him… somewhere else. 

As soon as the Heretic was gone, Jones exhaled. Her gaze turned to the holes in the wall where the scythe and knife blades had been, even as she reached out to trace her finger along them. In the process, the holes were fixed, until there was no sign that anything had happened. 

“Crap,” she murmured with annoyance while tugging a well-worn (and clearly well-loved) Casey Jones toy from her jacket pocket to look at. 

“I’m gonna have to move again.” 

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