Denuvus

The Storm 21-19 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter

A/N – There was a commissioned interlude about several more historical/mythological figures posted yesterday! You can read that, if you haven’t yet, by clicking the previous chapter button above.

Right, so now we had a whole swarm of Revenants, who were incredibly pissed off about being yanked away from their fun time, and we were their new targets. Every last one of those thousand monsters were coming back here and they all wanted to destroy us. It was like we’d wished on a monkey’s paw to stop those things from killing everyone. 

And there was even a monkey around here somewhere who might have magical wish granting paws with a dark sense of humor for all I knew. 

Even before Shiori finished saying her previous words, I was grabbing her hand and pulling her as I started to run. Barely a few steps into it, with the deafening sound of those shrieking monsters filling the air, I transformed into my lion form, giving the other girl time to clamber on top of me before taking off at a full sprint.

What followed was chaotic, to say the least. We couldn’t go in a straight line, or anything close to that. These creatures were everywhere. I’d had no idea they could even turn intangible when they were in bodies, but here we were. They kept coming through the walls and ceiling before solidifying into their much more dangerous form. They blocked our escape route over and over again. There was no way we could take the time to fight any of them. Even if we managed to win, it would slow us down so much the rest would pile on, and rip us to pieces. None of us had the sort of power it would take to kill these things instantly, not now that Tabbris had used her wings. It would take too much time for those to regenerate. Time we very much didn’t have. 

So, instead of fighting, we kept running. With Shiori clinging tightly to my neck, I darted through every bit of open space I could find. They were closing in all around us as I leapt twelve feet in the air to pass through a five foot wide space between a cluster of the creatures, bounced right off one behind them,  and then slid almost ten feet just on my own momentum to pass directly under the next set who were floating down from the ceiling.

Unfortunately, from there, a larger group of already solid creatures was waiting, so I had to dart to the left, instead of continuing forward. Then I had to double back again to evade a semi circle of the monsters who were trying to close in from that side. But Shiori had noticed an opening, and she shouted it out while pointing, so I twisted back that way and ran.

It was like we were trying to run the winning touchdown for the Super Bowl, and had to evade not just the other team, but every single one of their fans too. Everywhere I turned, there was barely any space to move. The Revenants were cutting off every avenue. They were tightening the noose, making it impossible to get anywhere.

And just then, right when I was starting to think there was nowhere else to go, one of the monsters blocking our path suddenly lit up with flames as a familiar sword was driven through its back. The fire spread over the monster, while an identical set of flames appeared off in the distance. As it screamed, the creature was teleported from one side of flames to the other, revealing my mother standing there with her hand out. “Let’s go!”

I darted that way, and Mom grabbed me by my fur and Shiori by the arm, while activating some sort of power. Instantly, we vanished before reappearing outside the chamber. There was a glowing forcefield open over the portal inside the sarcophagus and everyone else was already there. Most of them were lying around, panting, heavily or nursing various wounds. Some of them pretty bad ones from the look of it. Four of Miles’ teammates were being tended to by Med-Robin. 

But we were out. We’d made it. We were safe, even if I could still sense those Revenants as clear as day. They had been all around me, hundreds of them closing in from all sides. It was like a…. stench that permeated every single one of my senses. We needed to get away from here to some fresh air so I could stop feeling them. 

As I was still taking that in, Trice moved to stand in front of that forcefield to look in at the monsters. What had once been an opaque portal was clear enough now to show the other room. “Yeah, they don’t look too happy,” he muttered before turning back with a smirk. “Well fuck them.” Now that I looked at him from the front, I could see a bloody wound in his side. He winced just a little, putting his hand over it, while another, quieter curse escaped him. 

Denuvus shook her head, as though still flummoxed as to why he had gone in after us. “Yes, and now we can all celebrate this wonderful victory. Preferably by calling that ship back so we can all leave.” Her words were pointed. “Unless you great and powerful saviors would like to tempt fate yet again.”

Ignoring her, I transformed back to my human self, in one of the Seosten bodysuits. A thought while I touched the pouch that had my clothes stored in it brought them out and clad me in them once more. Then I looked to my mother and Nevada.. “It really worked? They’re all in there?”

God, there had been so many of those damn things in there. But at least they were on the other side of that forcefield now. And really pissed off about that fact. Glancing that way, I could see some of them slamming up against it. They desperately wanted out. It made me shudder. How long was it going to be before I stopped sensing their power and malevolence? Right now it was so strong and overwhelming that the sensation made me want to vomit. 

Mom took a moment, breathing in and out a couple times before nodding. “So it would seem. Med, how are they doing?” She asked that while looking over to where the android was helping Chas, Jason, Emily, and Kaleigh. 

Without looking away from his work, Med replied, “We need to get them some help. They’ve been poisoned with something that’s too strong for me to do anything about. Whatever some of those creatures had on their claws, it’s pretty nasty, and like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Visibly rolling her eyes, Denuvus walked that way while reaching into her pocket. “Oh, please, as though I wouldn’t be prepared to handle a simple poisoning.” She took some sort of vial out and popped the cork before crouching next to them. The thing was filled with a thick purple fluid. She held it in front of Chas. “Drink this.”

His response was to turn his head away and snap a litany of curses and suggestions about what she could do with herself. Kaleigh and the others subsequently reacted, basically the same way. None of them trusted the woman to actually cure their poisoning, even though I could see the pain in their pale faces.

Sighing, Denuvus started, “My name—”

That was as far as she got before Miles suddenly had his bee weapon, shaped into a sword, pointed at her throat. Not that he probably would’ve been able to actually hurt her like that, but his point was made. Especially as the boy snarled, “Don’t.”

Looking up at him, her expression making it clear how little she cared about the blade at her throat, Denuvus tersely replied, “Well, if you truly don’t wish me to save your friends’ lives, so be it. I must say, however, I did not expect you to be so cold.”

The glare he shot her was matched by Royce, the other member of the team who was still standing. He had his own weapon pointed at her as well, a pair of what looked like sawed-off shotguns in one form that combined into a single full-length, quad-barreled gun with enormous stopping power. The combined form was what the boy was using right then as he spoke in a tight voice. “You don’t have to enslave people with your power just to get them to take some medicine.”

With that, he and Miles both lowered their weapons and moved to crouch in front of their injured teammates to have a quick, whispered conversation. Not wanting to eavesdrop on that given how personal it obviously was, I squeezed Shiori’s hand before pulling her into an embrace. “You did it,” I managed, my voice shaking a little from the high of what we had just been through. It simultaneously felt as though I could run a marathon and fall over at the same time. I just wanted this day to be over by now. But something told me we weren’t done with everything just yet. Unless that was just a product of me still being able to sense all those Revenants right on the other side of that forcefield. I wouldn’t be able to relax until we were safely away from this spot. 

As though in response to that thought, Judas spoke up. “I know we all want to celebrate right now, and that’s fine, but I still have a question. If we pulled all those monsters back, where’s that monkey guy? Something tells me he would already be here if there was no one left to fight. He doesn’t exactly seem slow, and he’d probably be complaining that we interrupted his fun. So, why isn’t he here?”

He had a point, of course. Monkey, or Sun, or whatever he wanted to be called, was far too fast for me to think it would take him this long to get that here once the Revenants started leaving. And he obviously wouldn’t have any trouble finding us. Now that it had been pointed out, the fact that he wasn’t here already was starting to make me worry all over again. Between that and the lingering full-sense stench of the Revenants, I couldn’t–

Before consciously thinking about what I was doing, my body spun. It wasn’t Tabbris. It was me. But I was moving without actual thought. There was no time for that. This was all instinct, the second the truth occurred to me. My hand snapped out, throwing my power as hard as I could while my staff came up and around in my other hand. 

The power caught two of them. Two of the four Revenants who were possessing the ‘poisoned’ teammates, even as they were in mid-lunge toward Royce and Miles. My staff slammed off the third one with just enough force to stall it slightly. The fourth, however, was unhindered as it threw itself toward Royce with a scream.

At least, unhindered by me. But Persephone was there. She appeared in a flash of motion, catching the creature possessing the girl who had once been Emily Perry by the shoulders before throwing her backwards. Her other hand caught Chas’s body as well as the Revenant possessing him bounced off my staff and tried to attack again. 

That was the moment Rahanvael appeared. The ghost girl appeared in front of me, speaking quickly. “Flick, wait. One of the other ghosts saw— oh.”

“Yeah,” I managed, “let me guess. They saw these guys get… taken.” 

All four of the dead, Revenant-possessed teenage Heretics were giving those familiar and terrifying screams. They hadn’t been poisoned after all, at least not the way we thought. They were dead and possessed by Revenants. How that was possible, why we hadn’t noticed that they were dead and not just poisoned, I had no idea. And there wasn’t time to even think about it. Nor was there time to mourn. There were four very pissed off Revenants right in front of us.

On the other hand, now that I knew why I was sensing these things so strongly, I could do something about it. In the midst of their screaming, I gathered myself once more and shoved it outward. That time, all four stopped short. Maybe they were weaker somehow? Or maybe that was just how pissed off I was at that moment. Either way, all four Revenants froze just as the others were gearing up for a big fight.

Asenath looked back at me, the first to realize. “Flick?” 

“I can hold them,” I assured her, though my hands were shaking somewhat from the effort as they thrashed against my control.

Denuvus, who actually looked a little bit shaken, spoke up. “We have to kill them before she loses her grip.”

“No!” That was Royce, the boy throwing himself in front of her while his head shook. “There has to be a way to get those things out of them!”

Stasia shook her head, speaking softly. “It is too late. They must have died inside that chamber, and no one saw. Those creatures hitched a ride within them, and tried to wait for their moment.”

Med, looking and sounding stricken, nodded. “I am so sorry, but she’s right. Your friends were already killed. They must have been… creating false life signs, forcing the heart to beat. If they were alive, these monsters couldn’t access them.”

Miles put himself next to his only surviving teammate, his voice stammering. “B-but we can do something about it. Even if they were taken by these monsters, we can still help them! Persephone, she’s a Revenant, but she has control of herself! Why can’t they?”

Persephone, for her part, spoke very gently. “I do not know why I am the way I am, and I have found no others like me. But whatever the source of my difference, I am still a Revenant. I am not the Seosten I am possessing. And even if by some miracle you made these four be just like me, they would also simply be Revenants, not your friends.”

The other two tried to argue with that, but it was obvious that they knew she was right. They were just desperate to find a miracle. A miracle that wasn’t coming.

What did come, however, was Monkey. He crashed down through the ceiling, making everyone jump before landing smoothly and dusting himself off. “Well, that was fun, and I even got a pretty good scrap in before you had to go and take them away.” Looking up then, he suddenly smiled at the sight of the four frozen figures. “But you kept some for me?! You shouldn’t have.” With that, the man started to move that way while cracking his knuckles. “Hope you’re ready to let them go so we can have a sporting–” 

“No!” I jumped that way, putting my hands up. In the background, I could feel the Revenants try to take advantage of my sudden distraction. But Tabbris was still possessing me and she took over keeping them under control. “Stop, just–just wait! Those are their friends, they just–they…” I looked over my shoulder toward the stricken Miles and Royce, having no idea what to say. How was I supposed to say what… what had to happen? Fuck, how would I feel if it was… if it was my team, my friends? What if it was Columbus, Sean, Sands, and Sarah right there? Would I be able to stand by and let someone… someone kill them? Would it matter that they were already dead? How would I be handling that? 

Obviously, I couldn’t have stopped the man if he just kept going. But to my relief, he paused and tilted his head before a look of understanding crossed his face. “Ah, I see.” That was all he said, but at least he didn’t march through me to get to them. 

Mom, seeing that he had at least stopped for the moment, turned back to focus on Miles and Royce. Her voice was soft. “Boys, I… am so very sorry. You should walk away, go down the tunnel a little bit while we…. while we take care of this. Then you can come back and see them when they aren’t… when they aren’t possessed.” 

“While you take care of it?” Miles shot back, his voice rising almost hysterically. 

Before he could say anything else, however, Royce put a hand on his arm. “It’s not her fault.” He turned then, his eyes narrowing into a glare straight at Denuvus. “It’s hers. She brought us here. And then she refused to go in there and help.” His voice had turned cold and dangerous, making it clear just how much he wanted to take this whole thing out on the woman who had used her power to drag all of them to this planet in the first place. 

I had no idea what I could possibly do to help the situation, but I did know that I didn’t want these two to be here when the others had to do something about the Revenants inside those bodies. The fact that I had to be here in order to keep them motionless was bad enough.

All it took was a look toward Shiori before she got the message and stepped that way. She, Asenath, and Twister carefully guided those two down the tunnel. Nevada looked like she was torn between helping and keeping her attention on Denuvus. But in the end, she went after them to help Royce and Miles. 

Which left the rest of us standing there with these four already dead classmates. I had really thought that we had gotten out of that whole fight without losing anyone, and now look. These four, who shouldn’t even have been here at all, who had chosen to go in and tried to help just to save the people of this world, were dead. Just like that, three quarters of their group had been wiped out. 

“I can handle it quickly and cleanly if you want.” That was Monkey, his voice, oddly soft, given everything I’ve seen of him so far. There was a deep understanding in his eyes. “And in a way that keeps their bodies intact so you can bury them, or burn them, or whatever you all do now.” There was another pause before he added, “If they were your friends, none of you should have to do that.” 

I had no idea what to say, or what to do. My mouth opened and shut a couple times, while no sound came out. But my mother knew. She stepped over toward me, putting her hands on my shoulders before turning me away. She must have gestured or something to Monkey, because he silently walked past. I stared at the distant wall with my mother’s arms around my shoulders until it was over. Finally, I felt the strain against my power cease completely. They were gone. And I wasn’t looking at the wall anymore. I couldn’t see it through the tears streaming down my face. 

Was that weird? I didn’t even know these guys aside from having talked to them a couple times here or there. But still… still, they didn’t deserve to die. They had gone in when they didn’t have to, had fought to save this world. And now they were dead. 

Finally, I found my voice, whispering softly. “Okay…” I wasn’t looking back at the… bodies. I couldn’t, not yet. 

“Now what?” 

Previous Chapter

The Storm 21-16 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Okay, so there was a way to stop the army of Revenants from rampaging all over the planet. Unfortunately, to get to the off switch, we were going to have to fight our way through other Revenants who were guarding it. And our ridiculous secret weapon, Sun Wukong, was off delaying the main body of the things so they wouldn’t do as much damage. Which was too important to pull him away from. Besides, I didn’t even know how to do that if I wanted to. Which meant it was absolutely up to the rest of us to actually go through the Revenants who were left and get to that switch. Or the crystal, as the old man had called it. 

We all would’ve liked to get a lot more information out of these people, but there wasn’t time. Sure, Wukong was out there and had already proven himself more than a match for these Revenants, but I didn’t think even he could be everywhere at once to stop all of them. At least not before they managed to kill a lot of civilians. 

But we also couldn’t just leave all the villagers. There was no telling what they might do behind our backs while we were gone. Fortunately, Judas’s pocket greenhouse was more than big enough to hold them. Denuvus ordered them inside, before the man closed it up. We’d deal with that whole thing once the bigger situation was dealt with. Assuming we were all still alive. And yes, the thought of what would happen to those guys in the garden if we weren’t around to get them out again did make me blanch a little. Even if they were celebrating the fact that they had unleashed a horde of monsters to genocide an entire world, I was pretty sure they didn’t really know any better. Their entire culture and history revolved around this. 

Still, they were a problem right now. So they could just stay in time-out until we were ready to do something about them. Otherwise they would almost certainly end up making the situation worse. 

Once they were out of the way, we were running again. This time, Persephone and the others led us back in the direction of where the Revenants had been locked up. They’d managed to find their way back to familiar territory near that village area, and now they knew exactly where we were going. 

The rest of us trailed behind them, even as they in turn kept shooting glances toward Denuvus. As did the rest of Miles’ team. We’d given them the quick explanation about why she was working with us, but I was pretty sure they were still convinced she’d find a way to fuck us over. Which was fair, considering the not-insubstantial part of me that felt the same way. 

Then there was Trice. He was only around to stay close to Denuvus, which… was he actually loyal to her? She hadn’t been using her power on him in all the time since we’d run into her, but did she have some longer term method of control? Or was this all by his choice? 

Maybe he just knew we were his best chance to get off this world in the long run. 

Soon enough (even if it felt like an eternity), I didn’t have time to wonder about his motivations, or anything else aside from what was right in front of us and what we were going to have to pull off to fix this situation. With every step as we ran along the tunnels and caverns, the terror I felt about what was going on out across the rest of this world got worse. As absurdly powerful as Wukong apparently was, there were too many of them. They were too fast, too strong, too… dangerous. Even if he was fine, even if he could survive and triumph over the entire swarm, all they had to do was spread out. Even with duplication, he certainly couldn’t stop them all, and even a single one could utterly devastate an entire village on its own incredibly quickly. The longer this took, the more innocent people were going to die. And it had already taken entirely too long. I kept imagining that every time my foot hit the ground, another person was dead. Another ten people, another fifty. How many would it be in the end, by the time this was over? How much death and tragedy had these people unleashed on a world that had already been through more than its fair share? 

On the way there, we talked about what we would find. Apparently, the way to the chamber where the Revenants had been imprisoned wasn’t just an ordinary door. According to Judas and the others, there had been what looked like a large sarcophagus mounted to the wall. When they got there with the tribals, the eyes lit up and it scanned Persephone before opening to reveal a dark void beyond. Unfortunately, they never got further than that. As soon as it was opened, the tribals who were with them had shouted something triumphantly, just before that swarm of Revenants had all flown out and taken off through the walls. When they realized what was happening, Robin, Persephone, Judas, and Stasia had tried to do something about it. But the leader of the tribals had teleported them off to the trap room we’d found them in. 

Percy, for her part, visibly flinched at the reminder that the rest of the Revenants had been released when she stood in front of the sarcophagus thing. She started to offer another apology, but I reached out to squeeze her arm. “It’s okay,” I assured her while we continued to run. “You didn’t know!” 

And yet, even as I said that, I couldn’t help the shot of guilt that rushed through my own system. I hadn’t known what would happen either, but still. I had brought her here. Everything would’ve been fine, generally speaking, if we stayed on that station. The only reason these monsters were even a threat right now was because I brought Persephone here. Little things such as the fact that we were coming to this world anyway and she would’ve ended up here even if it was after the Denuvus situation was resolved didn’t stop my stomach from churning. Yes, we would have come to this world, and yes, it was likely that we would have checked this place out, considering the whole Fossor thing. But still… yeah, but still. 

As for Persephone, she still looked torn and disgusted with herself, but gave me a very slight nod. “Whatever it takes, I will make this right, Felicity Chambers. I will help you stop my people. But be careful. They are very strong. I… I do not want any of you to die now.”

Mom spoke up before I could respond to that, even as we rounded a corner at a full sprint and started descending through a slightly more narrow tunnel. “No one’s dying. We just have to lure them away from the crystal. I doubt we can get them out of the chamber, but we should be able to present a pretty good distraction.” 

Mercury gave a short nod. “Of course. Remember, we don’t have to win any sort of fight with them, just distract them enough for one person to get to the crystal and activate it. You all remember what our elderly friend said about how to do that.” His voice caught a little on ‘elderly friend.’ I was pretty sure he was still trying to cope with the idea that these tribal people were all descended from ancient, pre-modification Seosten. Even Tabbris was clearly reeling from that whole thing, and she hadn’t actually grown up within their civilization the way he had. 

Asenath, clearly doing her best to roll with the revelation that the man who had screwed up her father’s memories was already dead (killed by the man responsible for so many of my own family’s problems, even), found her voice. “Sure, just get everyone to play ‘neener neener can’t catch me’ with the Revenants until one of us can get to the crystal and call the whole thing off. We know how to do that.”

Despite my fear and revulsion about how long it was taking and how many people would have been killed in that time, we reached the spot in question in what had to be record time. ‘The spot,’ in this case, was an ovular chamber, just barely large enough for our rather numerous group to fit within. There, just in front of us, was the sarcophagus, just like they’d said. It was open, revealing the promised black void beyond. A black void through which we would apparently be able to reach the room with the crystal, where we could put a stop to this whole thing. 

As soon as we stopped, I peered into that darkness ahead of us. I felt… something. It was dangerous and powerful, enough to make me shudder a little as sweat dotted itself across my forehead. “Right, so the room’s right through that doorway?” 

“It’s not just a doorway,” Mom announced. She paused, squinting closer at it before adding, “It’s a portal of some sort. Wherever the actual chamber on the other side is, it’s not right there. Probably much deeper underground.” 

Oh, right. Yeah, of course. If this thing was just a normal door leading to the Revenants those guys wanted to unleash, they probably could have found a way through at some point in all these years. It being a portal that had to be activated made a lot more sense. 

“Sure, magical portal somewhere else, great.” Muttering that, I added, “No wonder we can’t see anything. But I’m pretty sure I can still sense the Revenants through that portal. They’re uhh…they’re in there, and they’re staying on the far side of the room, probably near the crystal. At least, as far as I can tell. It’s hard to make out specifics.” I swallowed. “And for the record, they’re not a cheerful bunch.”

“My people never are,” Persephone noted a bit sadly. “These ones are no exception.” 

Stepping right next to her, Mercury put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. “They are not your people, Persephone. We are.” With those firm words, he added, “Everyone knows what to do now, how to start the crystal if you’re the one who gets to it?” 

“Yeah,” Trice was muttering, “and we know it takes at least a full minute of focus. A full minute where the person doing it can’t react to anything or defend themselves. I don’t know about any of you, but that screams suicide to me.” 

With a small smile, Denuvus agreed, “Which is why I am certainly not going inside.” When everyone looked at her, she shrugged. “I am a survivor. You don’t become a survivor by intentionally putting yourself into enclosed spaces with creatures who could kill you. If you all succeed at this little endeavor, I shall applaud you. If not, I shall find some other method of leaving this world and achieving my goals. There are always options. Oh, and good luck to you.” 

“Yeah, what she said.” Trice stepped over closer to where the woman was standing. “Good luck, have fun, try not to die.” His eyes found mine as he added in a flat voice, “I’d hate to have to give your other girlfriend that news.” 

Ignoring him, because he was irrelevant and we didn’t have time, I squeezed Shiori’s hand and looked back to the opening. “Right, well everything else about those two aside, I think it’s fair that anyone who doesn’t want to go in there with those Revenants doesn’t have to.” 

“Felicity’s absolutely correct,” Mom agreed. “The creatures in that chamber are some of the most dangerous in the universe. If they have bodies right now, as we suspect they do, they could be nearly unstoppable in a pack like that. Anyone who doesn’t want to go in there, you don’t have to. No one is going to look down on you for it.” 

We all looked at one another then. I was going in. So was my mother, and Mercury. Shiori, Asenath, and Twister would be there too. Nevada had already begun pulling new weapons out of her bracelet-box thing. Robin’s eyes had switched over to red for Brawl, with Judas and Stasia on either side of him. They were going in too. 

The only real question, in the end, was Miles and his team. They had been talking amongst themselves the whole time we came up here, and even more before then. I kept hearing him apologize for his part in getting them caught up in the whole Denuvus situation, and they continually told him to knock it off because it wasn’t his fault. That, of course, had been accompanied with lingering, dark looks toward the woman whose fault it actually was. Not that Denuvus paid any attention to them, or seemed to care in any way what they thought of her. 

After a quick few words exchanged among themselves, Miles turned back and gave a slightly shaky nod, his voice cracking. “Not really time for any grand speeches or promises, but we’re going in.” His eyes shifted toward Denuvus once more as he added a bit pointedly, “It might not be our fault that this happened, but we were still involved. So we’re gonna help fix it.” 

“Yeah,” the Caucasian boy with light brown hair whom I thought was named Jason (was it me, or were there a lot of those?) agreed. “People are dying out there, and a lot more are gonna be right behind them. We can’t just let that happen. Besides, isn’t saving innocents from monsters the whole Heretic thing?” 

“Okay.” I could tell that even saying that single word hurt my mother. The last thing she wanted to do was let us go in there. Not just me, but everyone else too, especially those of us who were still students. Unfortunately, there was nobody else. There weren’t enough adults here to distract the Revenants and use the crystal. Especially not with Trice and Denuvus both backing out. 

This was what my mother had done for a long time, back in the first rebellion. She knew that some of the people she sent on various missions would not come back. She knew she couldn’t be everywhere at once and couldn’t do everything that needed to be done. Even during the time that she’d had Committee level powers, she was only one person. Being the leader of the Rebellion had meant sending people to die. And knowing her, she remembered all of them. Hell, it hadn’t been that long since we lost Tribald Kine, one of her oldest friends. 

I just hoped we could get through this without my mother being forced to put any more of those tallies on her board.

With everything settled as it was going to be, we lined up, and I took a look at this group that was about to try to take on a small army of Revenants long enough to shut this whole thing down. I wished Avalon and the rest of my team were here. I wished Vanessa and Tristan were here. I wished–well, wishing wouldn’t really do anything. Besides, as much as I wished they were here, I was also glad they weren’t. If this went wrong at all, it was going to go very wrong.

Ready, partner? I asked Tabbris, feeling her reassuring presence within me as I pushed those thoughts out of my head. 

Um, as ready as ever, she managed. I could feel her uncertainty. Are we sure this whole thing isn’t just an elaborate trick Denuvus set up just in case? You know, make this whole thing as a trick in case things start going wrong for her so she can send us through that portal to some prison she’s set up or whatever. 

Wincing a bit inwardly, I replied, Trust me, I thought about that too. But I don’t think even she’s that good. She hasn’t had time to set that up, and there’s a few too many pieces involved. Plus, we saw those other Revenants. 

Yeah, I know, she agreed hesitantly. I just needed to hear someone else say it. 

It was time. With Denuvus and Trice standing out of the way and watching us like they thought we were idiots, the rest of us took a deep breath. Metaphorically in Robin’s case. Then they and Persephone lunged through the hole.

The portal through the sarcophagus was only wide enough for a couple people at a time. Those two went through first, with my mother and Nevada right behind them. Mercury was possessing Mom to make her stronger and faster. After those four were in, Stasia and Asenath jumped through, with Judas and Twister right behind them. 

Only once all of them were through the portal did the rest of us go. They would be attracting the first reaction and initial attack from the creatures inside. I didn’t like my mom being in that position, to say nothing of everyone else. But someone had to. 

Tabbris and I were next through the portal, with Shiori at my side. Going into the opening felt like stepping through some sort of oil bath. It felt sticky and cold. My stomach twisted, no I had no idea if that was just an effect of the transportation magic or simply a psychological reaction to the idea that we were about to be face-to-face with a group of creatures who could tear me apart in an instant. 

Either way, the cold, oily feeling faded immediately. The second we were through, Shiori and I both darted to the side so the others could follow us. Then we looked around, quickly taking things in. Which was when the surprise hit. We weren’t just standing in a normal room. It was a cavern with dirt under our feet, dotted with glowing stalactites and stalagmites that were giving off enough light for us to see. All of which was fine. But then there was the size. This place was enormous. It was a truly massive chamber. The width by itself was at least three football fields. And the length? I literally couldn’t see the other end of this place. Far, far in the distance, I caught a glimpse of something bright blue. The crystal, presumably. Too bad it was apparently like a mile away, instead of what we thought when the guy said ‘the other side of the room.’ 

Then there were the Revenants. My mother and the others were already engaged with them. All eighteen of the things. Not a few, eighteen. And yes, they already had corpse bodies, meaning they were at full strength. Three more than had been in our way before, and this time I didn’t have a pocket Wukong to jump in. 

“Oh,” I managed while the others came through behind us and took in what we were seeing. 

“Fuck.”  

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The Storm 21-15 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Needless to say, I was completely and utterly lost about what was happening right now. This strange monkey figure had been on that space station asteroid place in the form of a beetle. He let me carry him with us all the way here, then transformed into this version and completely destroyed a dozen Revenants like it was nothing. He ripped through them with all the ease of my mother handling a few barely trained students. They had never stood a chance.

That by itself was completely absurd. But adding in the fact that a second version of the monkey man had apparently been helping Miles and the others? Sure, I knew duplication was a thing. Miranda did it all the time, but still. This whole thing was just utterly improbable.

On the other hand, he wasn’t wrong. We still had a massive problem on our hands. This had been just over a dozen Revenants. There were a thousand out there, getting ready to swarm over what remained of this planet’s population like locusts in a field. We had to do something about that.

Twister, clearly thinking along the same lines, gestured to the dead and destroyed bodies, or what remained of them. “The guys we were going to get help from are dead now. So how exactly are we supposed to find a way to shut all those monsters down?” She glanced toward our new friend, or at least, the guy I hoped was going to remain a friend. “No offense, you’re completely amazing. But I don’t think even you could stop a thousand of those things before they take apart half this planet’s population.”

He, in turn, squinted at her before cracking his knuckles and neck. “Oh, you don’t think so, huh? Well, hold onto your tail.” Right after saying that, he leaned over to look at her back to see the fluffy thing right there. “Usually when I say that, the people don’t literally have tails. That’s neat.”

Extending his hand to point directly at me, the man (Sun Wukong apparently) declared, “Felicity Chambers, you and I need to have a discussion soon. So don’t run off too far. But right now…” A wide, almost demonic smile spread across his face. “Right now, I’m gonna have some fun.”

I tried to ask what he meant by that, where he had come from, what he wanted, all those sorts of things. But the man was gone. One second he was standing there, and the next, there was a hole in the ceiling. He had left through it, or flown through it. I had no idea, but he wasn’t here anymore. 

A second later, however, he poked his head back down through the hole and called, “Oh, if you wanna make yourselves useful, one of my other selves heard those jerk-butt primitives talking. There’s a whole camp of them a couple miles that way.” He stuck his hand down into view to point. “Maybe they’ll know how to stop this whole thing.” His tone turned a bit scolding then. “But don’t you dare turn these guys off before I get a decent workout in.”

With that, he was gone again, vanishing abruptly enough to leave doubts as to whether he’d ever actually been there. Which left the rest of us standing there staring at each other. 

“Well,” Asenath put in, “you all heard him. Let’s move.”

So, that’s what we did. Without wasting another second, our whole group, now bigger than ever, set off at a run. That guy could say whatever he wanted about getting a workout, but that was a thousand Revenants, all descending on the populace of this world. A world that had already been through quite enough. 

Persephone kept trying to apologize while we were moving, but I insisted she had done nothing wrong. Whatever happened with this situation, I really didn’t want her to blame herself for it. There was no way she could have known what those people were going to do. 

“Um.” Trice looked completely taken aback and lost for once as he spoke up after we had been moving for a few moments. He clearly had no better idea of what was going on than I did. That at least made me feel a little better. “Does anybody else want to try explaining just what the hell just happened? Because that guy seemed to be pretty important.”

My mother opened her mouth, but it was Shiori who managed to speak first. “Sun Wukong! That was Sun Wukong!” She sounded completely shocked and dazed, as well as more than a little starstruck. 

Miles’ black teammate, Emily I belatedly remembered, spoke up. “Wait, the Monkey King? That can’t be him. I mean, I thought he was a myth.” She hesitated a little, falling silent as we rounded a corner and made our way through a more narrow tunnel that forced us to go single file before adding, ”Isn’t he? I mean, he’s the guy who inspired Goku from Dragonball.”

“He’s supposed to be fictional.” That was my mother, finally managing to get a word in. “I’ve only ever heard about him in stories. I had no idea he was real.” Even she seemed taken aback by this whole thing, which really said a lot. 

Once we emerged from that narrow tunnel into a wider room, Denuvus made a noise in the back of her throat. We all snapped that way defensively, Nevada especially. But she just rolled her eyes at our reaction. ”If it matters, I’ve never heard of him being a real person who was active in the world either. I’ve heard about plenty of events that were attributed to him, of course. But there was always another explanation. No one I’ve ever spoken to faced him directly.”

“I have.” Mercury announced that while stepping out of my mother. “I mean, I’ve seen him before. And yes, that was definitely him. I’m not surprised none of you have. He disappeared about thirteen hundred years ago. And he was always a bit of a mess even before that. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re such a larger than life figure.”

Looking around at all of them, I spread my hands. “Okay, could someone please fill the rest of us in on who exactly this guy is, how he’s so goddamn powerful, and what he might want to talk to me about? Because I am pretty sure he doesn’t want my tips on staff fighting.”

Unfortunately, no one could answer the latter part. But between all of them, including the various facets of Robin, they explained who this guy was. At least, the mythological version of it. They gave a quick rundown of what was apparently a much longer story while we continued running. 

The short version, in essence, amounted to this monkey man hatching out of a rock already incredibly powerful. He went on a bunch of wild adventures alongside various gods, demons, dragons, and more, and became even more powerful. Not to mention immortal. Hell, according to the story, he was immortal about a dozen times over in various ways. and he really loved to fight. Like, really loved it. Which was probably a bit unhealthy, but then again, he was also incredibly good at it. As we had seen. Oh, and he had various powers like shape shifting and duplication. That was a whole thing, apparently. Not to mention that size-shifting staff of his (seriously, did I just accidentally partially copy that?) that he twirled around like it was nothing was supposed to weigh like… eight or nine tons or something.

I didn’t really think I believed the whole hatching out of a rock on a mountain story, but no one had a more plausible explanation, so I let it go. Of course, that was hardly the most unbelievable part of the story. I was going to go out on a limb and say he hadn’t really been taken up to work in heaven, nor did I believe that he’d met Buddha, who proved the entire world was his hand or whatever. That was a bit of a stretch even for me.

But whatever the truth, the fact remained that Sun Wukong was unbelievably powerful. We had already seen that for ourselves. Whether he was the real deal or someone else posing as the role, it didn’t really matter. He had proven in that fight with the Revenants that he deserved to call himself whatever he wanted to.

The blond guy from Miles’ team, Royce, spoke up. “Not to be a worrywart or anything, but aren’t there still like a thousand of those civilization-wrecking monsters out there? Shouldn’t we be, you know, panicking still?”

Mercury shook his head. “In almost any other situation, I would say yes. But with Wukong involved and already out to prove a point, I would say we have some time. The list of single people who could possibly hold off an army of those things is pretty short. But he’s definitely on it.”

Judas, who had been pretty quiet through this whole thing, spoke up. “Say we find this camp of Tribals. What if they’re as gung-ho about this apocalypse as the others? Even if they know how to turn it off, how do we convince them to do it?” 

Mercury sighed. “I almost hate to say it, but now is a time when I truly wish Apollo was here. He may not be the biggest fan of his own gift, but this is the sort of emergency situation it was made for.“

“Uh, guys?” I turned to face them while still moving backwards so I could wave a hand and pointed to the woman at the back of our little group. “Are you forgetting about someone?”

Denuvus made a completely put-on noise of surprise. “Oh? Now you’d like me to use my power to help solve this situation? And here I thought you were all too moral for that sort of thing.”

Mom, sounding like she was very close to doing something more violent than talking, snarled, “If there’s any time when a power like yours is acceptable, it’s to stop the complete annihilation of an entire planet’s population.”

Denuvus smiled easily at that, even as we started up a long, winding ramp. I really hoped we were still going the right way. It was the same direction that our monkey friend had pointed out, but he hasn’t exactly been that specific. 

“In that case,” the woman intoned, “I would love to be of assistance. Particularly if it will get us off this world and to that ship as quickly as possible.” She shot a look at Nevada, still clearly annoyed about having been played that way. “And perhaps we can speak about our negotiations on that subject.”

There was a lot I wanted to say to her right then, but there wasn’t time. Just as my mouth opened to tell her exactly what I thought she could do with her negotiations, we emerged from the ramp onto some sort of overlook. Below us was a cavern where a couple dozen huts were set up in a small village around a massive fire pit. There were people moving around, all of them looking very busy and rushed. It seemed like they were preparing some sort of feast. They were celebrating, because of course they were. If there was any question about whether the people down there were on the same wavelength as the group who set this whole thing off, it was basically answered right there. 

I just hoped that meant they might also know how to stop it. No matter how strong Wukong was, I really didn’t want to leave it up to him to save everyone on this planet from a horde of Revenants. 

Once we had all taken in that sight, Miles was the first to find his voice. “Okay, so now what? Are we just supposed to let the… woman here start shouting at them?”

From the sound of his voice and the way he paused, ‘woman’ had not been his first choice of words to use when referring to Denuvus. He was clearly upset about what she had done to him and the rest of his team. As were the others, understandably. That whole situation was still boiling right below the surface. Not that she was worried about them at all, of course. But still. It was something to keep an eye on, because gods knew there weren’t enough of those. 

Mercury hesitantly pointed out, “That’s not a bad idea. Call to them from here to get them all in one place before we go down there. Just in case.” 

“Hold on, will they even understand you?” Judas put in. “And can you do it in a way where the rest of us don’t listen to everything you say?”  

“They’ll understand her words even if they don’t speak the language,” Nevada informed us. Her voice was low as she stood a bit to the side with her gaze locked onto the woman in question. It was clear that she held a good bit of anger toward her. Though I was pretty sure a not-insubstantial part of that was because anger helped her avoid the deeper feeling of fear. And that made me hate Denuvus even more, if that was possible. Knowing Nevada the way I did and seeing how afraid she was of Denuvus, the fear that was detectable even past the outward anger and disgust, made me want to kick the woman right off this outcropping. Not that it would have accomplished anything useful, of course. 

For her part, Denuvus gave the woman a brief look before nodding. “Indeed. And yes,” she added with a glance toward Judas, “I can decide who is affected by it. So you’re safe.” Her gaze moved back to Nevada with a pointed expression. Except, I realized, she wasn’t actually trying to look at her. She was looking at Erin, wherever she was. The whole point of what she was saying was for her benefit so she wouldn’t think Denuvus was trying to use her power on the rest of us and dump the treasure in a star or something. We weren’t safe because she chose to work with us, but because we had something she wanted that she couldn’t get any other way. This whole situation would have been a hell of a lot different if Nevada hadn’t set this up with Erin. We basically had a tiger on a leash. 

Stepping back out of the way just in case, I looked toward Tabbris at my side and put a hand on her shoulder while Mom, Denuvus, and Mercury had a little discussion about what she was going to say. “Well,” I whispered, “you can’t say we live boring lives, huh?” 

Reaching up to squeeze my hand, she gave a quick nod. “Uh huh, definitely not boring. You had the Monkey King in your pocket this whole time? How did that happen?”

“I dunno,” I replied. “But it definitely wasn’t an accident. He was there on purpose and now he says he wants to talk to me about something important? I swear, if he ends up saying that we’re related somehow, I may just quit.” I didn’t think that was likely, of course. But it did seem just possible enough to make me nervous. I also had no idea how he had known that I would pick him up as a bug. Was that just plan A? Would he have found another way to tag along otherwise? 

The rest of my pondering about that would have to wait until later, because Denuvus and the others had stopped discussing things by that point, leaving the woman to step forward toward the edge of the outcropping. She cleared her throat before speaking, and was obviously using a power to magnify her voice, because it echoed throughout the cavern. 

“Ahem, my name is Denuvus. All of you stop what you’re doing and come to the firepit in the center of the village.” 

Despite her assurances, I was still bracing myself just in case. But just as she’d promised, I didn’t feel the slightest pull from her power. She hadn’t directed it toward us. So that treasure she wanted was safe, for now. Though I still had no idea what was going to happen when it came down to giving her the thing she wanted to use to put her sister’s soul into Nevada’s body. Or put her sister’s soul back into her own body which Nevada was using now–it was complicated. 

While I was reacting to that, Denuvus started walking forward, descending what seemed to be an invisible set of stairs while speaking over her shoulder toward us. “If you truly wish to find out what they know, I suggest we hurry up and get this over with.” 

So, after a quick bit of testing to make sure the invisible stairs were still there, the rest of us exchanged looks before descending after her. In the distance, we could see all the people from the village gathering as requested by the fire. They looked a bit confused about why they were doing so, and even more confused about what the strange people walking down invisible stairs were doing. Which was fair, considering how curious I’d be about that if I was in their position.

Eventually, the whole village population was gathered in front of the firepit, staring at us as we stood across from them. There were about seventy people, including children. All of them had been in the middle of preparing that feast, an obvious celebration for what was going on. Celebrating sending their army of Revenants to kill the population of an entire planet? What was wrong with these people? 

None of them seemed to understand English, or even Latin when a couple of us tried that. But Denuvus eventually activated a spell on a gold coin she produced, and that seemed to translate what was being said so we could understand. Whenever one of the villagers spoke, we heard their voice in English with a slight humming/echoey effect to it. I assumed they were experiencing the same thing in reverse. 

With that done, the woman asked the big question, addressing the whole group. “My name is Denuvus. Answer my questions promptly and honestly. How do we stop those Revenant creatures your people have helped send after the other people of this world?” 

The apparent leader of the village, an older man who looked like he might just blow away in a stiff breeze, immediately answered. “If you wish to stop them, you must reach the center of the prison which held them, and use the crystal there to summon them back.”

“Well that doesn’t sound too–” Judas started. 

“Wait for it,” I interrupted, holding up a hand as I stared intently at the elder guy. 

Of course, he continued. “To do so, you will have to fight your way through the Revenants who were left behind to guard against just that eventuality.” 

“Yeah,” I muttered. 

“Saw that coming.” 

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The Storm 21-14 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For a few seconds after the monkey man suddenly showed himself like that, no one said anything. No one even moved. Hell, I was pretty sure even the group of Revenants were surprised. And why wouldn’t they be? It probably wasn’t often that they saw a beetle crawl out of someone’s pocket and transform into a humanoid being who said he was going to have some fun. That was… yeah, I was willing to say that was a decidedly odd occurrence for anyone. 

On the other hand, he basically said he was here to help. Not in that many words, but still. He was definitely focused on the Revenants. And he was smiling. No, grinning. Not to mention sort of… vibrating with excitement. It was like he’d never been happier in his life. So, okay, I’d had a crazy beetle-monkey person in my pocket all this time. Fantastic.  

And yet, even now, the Revenants hadn’t moved. They were just standing there staring. They didn’t say anything or move. They just watched, as though weirdly fascinated by our new arrival. I could sense their confusion and… it kind of felt like uncertainty. It was like they could smell something on him. Something that made them hesitate. 

Mom found her voice first. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing here, but perhaps the time for questions is after we survive the army of Revenants. You seem to be willing to help, and we could use every bit of that we can get. Whatever you’re here for–” 

She was interrupted as the man offered a lopsided but seemingly sincere grin. “Hold that thought for a second. I’d love to chat soon, you have no idea. Being silent for days ain’t my idea of a good time. But first I’ve gotta go handle this.” He nodded over his shoulder. 

The Revenants whom I hadn’t actually managed to freeze had finally reacted by that point, pulling themselves together before the three in front lunged with a collective shriek that sent a chill down my spine. It made me want to fall on the floor and cover my head, even after all my training. There had to be a magical component to it, something that made it even more terrifying than it should’ve been. Whatever it was, the shake was powerful, especially when the other nine followed suit. Twelve Revenants, all giving off that bone-chilling, horrific scream as they rushed toward us, intent on creating new bodies for the rest of their kind to take over.

This… this was going to be bad. Even if we had one Revenant on our side with Persephone, they had twelve. A dozen of what had to be some of the most dangerous beings in the universe if they were inside a dead body. And these were. The bodies wouldn’t last that long, but that didn’t help us in this immediate moment. 

Mom, Persephone, and Nevada were already moving in front of Shiori and me. Mom held her hand out and let Mercury jump inside to empower her. Asenath and Stasia went to the left, a pair of vampire blurs, while Twister transformed into a rhino right on their heels. Robin and Judas went right, just behind Persephone, who was going straight toward the nearest Revenant. She didn’t even hesitate for a second before jumping to defend the rest of us from her own kind. 

I had no idea what Denuvus was going to do, but she knew that getting what she wanted depended on the rest of us surviving. And she probably also knew that her own survival strongly hinged on that too. Maybe she would actually help right now.

Meanwhile, Tabbris had already jumped back into me. We could maybe take out a couple of them if we lined up a good shot with her wings, or at least put them down for a bit. We could do something to help. Besides, I still had my Necromancy, so maybe I could slow these things down a little bit, or even stop a couple of them in their tracks. I’d done so with Persephone before. I was under no illusions that I could do it with all of them at once, but it could still help. 

Between all of us, depending on how much help this monkey-man was, maybe we could survive this. But we were going to have to act quickly and try to avoid getting split up and cornered. If these things managed to… to kill one of us and get one of their companions into the body… oh God, it would be a bloodbath. Raising my staff protectively, I focused on–

I focused on the monkey-man himself, who abruptly vanished from where he had been standing. There was no blur, no sign of movement at all. It was like he’d teleported, but I could tell he was just that fast. One second he was standing there, grinning as the Revenants rushed toward us, and in the next, he was standing on the far side of the three who had been in front. The–wait. Two. There were two the–oh. He was covered in blood, bits of bone, and… other things. The Revenant who had been in the middle was uhh… gone. He was gone. The body had basically completely disintegrated. What little was left of it was splattered across the walls, floor, and ceiling. 

The two Revenants who had been on either side of that third one kept going forward, still shrieking. But the monkey man pivoted on his heel, hands snapping out. And again, it was like he hadn’t actually physically moved. I didn’t see his arms, which had started down at his sides, rise up and extend outward. They were just in one position one instant and in the other the next. His arms moved so fast my eyes couldn’t even track any sort of motion. They were at his sides and then they were extended, with his hands on either side of the two Revenants’ heads. And then he slammed them together. Two Revenants at once. They were in fresh bodies, dead within the past few minutes. So they were definitely at the peak of their strength. And yet, when this… whoever he was slammed their heads together, they burst like that Gallagher guy smashing a watermelon. 

Everyone else had come to an abrupt halt at the sight of three Revenant-possessed bodies dropping like that, even as the monkey-man tossed the two now-headless corpses against either wall. 

Just like that, three of the Revenants were dead. The remaining nine clearly hadn’t been expecting that sort of resistance from all of us, let alone just one. They seemed about as shocked as we were. At least for a moment, before the nearest one let out a renewed scream and threw itself at the monkey-man’s back as he stood still facing us. 

Yet again, there was no visible motion. This stranger was so incredibly fast that whenever he really moved, we only saw the results of it, and his ending position. One second he was just standing there with the Revenant lunging at his back, and in the next, he had pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees to face the monster while catching both of its extended arms. The thing screeched, until the man ripped its arms right out of its shoulders with little apparent effort. As a look of what seemed like surprise crossed the Revenant’s stolen-corpse face with the loss of its arms, the man’s tail slipped down to wrap around one of its ankles. An instant later, it was yanked off its feet and slammed into the nearby wall by that tail with enough force to basically liquefy the thing. All while the monkey figure walked through the space it had just been standing in, as casual as could be. 

Another–no, it wasn’t a flash of motion. It wasn’t a blur. There was literally nothing to see at all. He was over there, and then he was right in front of me. It was like he teleported, but not. He was physically crossing the distance that quickly. That was just how fast he was. 

“Boop.” He poked me in the nose with that slightly furry finger. And yes, he literally said ‘boop.’ “Could ya do a Monkey King a favor and release those three over there? This whole thing would just be a lot more fun if they had every advantage they can get.” 

“I… uhh…” I stared at him, then over at the Revenants who remained. Or all of them, rather. Because to be clear, the other Revenants weren’t actually destroyed, they had simply lost their physical bodies. Those ones appeared among their brethren, looking sort of like ghosts but more… jagged was the best explanation I could think of. Their form was half-ghost, half-lightning bolt. It was like there were spikes sticking out of every side of them, and they were wearing long, very cut-up and tattered cloaks. Their faces were angular, almost like Fomorians but twisted even more. They were also taller than any human, standing a good seven and a half feet tall at least. Nothing about them was easy or fun to look at, and the very sight seemed to send an instinctive shiver down my spine. These were terrifying beings, whose sole purpose seemed to be to possess a corpse and do as much damage as possible. Given the chance, they would tear all of us apart and use our bodies to kill even more. And this guy wanted me to release the few I had managed to trap. 

Mercury, who had stepped out of my mother, spoke up. “Do it, Felicity. It’s okay.” 

So… I did. I relaxed my power, allowing those three Revenants to move. Which put the total back up to eleven. Eleven of these monsters, who looked like they were recovering from their surprise at what had happened over the past few moments and were starting to move again.

“Hey, thanks, kid!” The monkey-man flashed me another brilliant smile. “Now you don’t have to get me a birthday present!”

With that, he spun back that way and took a few steps toward the Revenants while reaching up to what looked like a toothpick tucked behind his ear. He tugged it out, spinning the little stick between his fingers before it transformed into a larger staff, red with gold ends. He continued allowing it to spin in a couple more circles before striking the ground with it hard enough to send a long, six-inch-wide crack through the floor. Standing there with the staff extended out and down like that, the man lifted his head to stare at the remaining Revenants. He said nothing, and I couldn’t see his face. But whatever they saw there made the rest of the monsters screech in unison before charging in to attack. 

Their charge was met by the man himself. Or at least, I assumed it was. Just like before, we didn’t actually see him move. But we definitely saw the results. He vanished from where he was standing, and the Revenants immediately began to be torn apart. Their bodies and pieces of those bodies were sent flying in every direction, like they had gone into a blender. I caught a glimpse of the man as he stopped short to the left of one of the monsters. It turned to look at him, just before the staff lashed out. Not that I saw him raise it or swing. It was at his side, and in the next instant, it was extended out that way into the space where the monster’s head had been. The head itself had snapped all the way around to face the wrong direction and was dangling backwards and upside down from the force of the blow. Immediately after that, the man’s foot was planted into the monster’s chest, completely collapsing its body inward. 

While that body was falling, one of the intangible Revenants in their natural form appeared behind the man. I started to focus on making it stop, but the end of that staff abruptly slammed into its face. He didn’t swing it backwards, the staff simply extended and grew out that far. It shouldn’t have been able to hit the thing in its ghost-like body since I didn’t see any ghost-fire, but it did anyway. And did it with enough force to pierce straight through the Revenant’s head, making the whole thing disintegrate. 

That was essentially how the rest of that entire fight went. Not that it was much of a fight on their parts. The Revenants were completely outclassed in every possible way. While the rest of us simply stood there and watched, he ripped through them as though they were toddlers facing some sort of marine supersoldier ninja. They didn’t stand even the slightest chance. Whether they were possessing bodies or in their natural ghost-like states, it didn’t matter. This stranger killed all of them without any actual notable effort. A few of them actually landed blows, but I was pretty sure he allowed that to happen because he was… playing with them? Either way, they didn’t do any visible damage. They hit him and he just shrugged it off. Actually, I was pretty sure he seemed almost disappointed that they weren’t capable of hitting him even harder. He actually made what sounded like a tutting sound under his breath when one landed a solid blow right to his face that didn’t even make him turn his head. At best, it made him roll his eyes. 

They stood no chance. That much had been clear basically from the very start, and it only grew more so as he continued what seemed like a simple warm-up exercise for him. Soon, all fifteen monsters were completely gone. They had been utterly destroyed in every possible way, leaving nothing but the broken remains of the corpses they had been possessing. As for the monkey-man himself, he stood in the middle of the pile of bodies, tapping his staff thoughtfully against the floor a couple times before shrinking it down to tuck behind his ear once more. 

This seemed to be impossible. I knew just how dangerous those Revenants should have been. It had been drilled into my head over and over, and I had seen how strong Persephone was. Even with all of us together, we shouldn’t have stood a chance against all of them at once, not without a hell of a lot more preparation than we’d had, particularly. We should have been in for one of the worst fights we had ever seen, a fight that may very well have ended with all of us dying. Instead, this single man had casually dispatched all of them without seeming to even break a sweat doing so. It was complete and utter insanity.

And yet, that had really just happened. Every single time I allowed myself to think that I had officially seen so much that I could never possibly be surprised again, something like this happened. Although, to be fair, it was going to take a lot to top the beetle I’d found on a random asteroid station and put in my pocket transforming into a monkey-man who could casually trounce a small army of Revenants as though they were small children. 

“Flick?!” That was Shiori, giving me a wide eyed look while spreading her arms to either side and an expression of complete confusion. Her gaze was questioning. “I know you’ve got a habit of meeting powerful people and keeping secrets until it’s the right time, but–”  

“I swear I didn’t know!” I shot back before turning my attention to the man in front of us. “Who the hell are you?!” My voice may have been a bit higher than it normally would have been, but in my defense, monkey-beetle who just destroyed a bunch of Revenants. 

Mom had stepped forward then, eyes narrowing as she raised that sword protectively just in case. Not that I thought it would do much good if this guy did decide to be a threat. ”Girls, perhaps we should maintain an even, calm voice right now. And not start shouting demands.”

She had a good point. It was just her, Shiori, Asenath, Nevada, Twister, Judas, Stasia, Robin, Persephone, and me. And Denuvus, if she was going to contribute. Which might have seemed like a lot, but this was a man who had torn through twelve Revenants like they were nothing. Something made me doubt even all of us together would pose that much of a threat to him. 

“It’s him, isn’t it?” That was Persephone. She was addressing Mercury. “It is really him.” 

“I… uhh… uh huh.” Looking completely at a loss for words, the Seosten nodded slowly. 

The monkey man, whoever he was, didn’t seem to be phased in the least by our reactions. He just poked one of the dead bodies with his foot curiously before looking up. That same broad, lopsided smile had returned. “That was fun! I knew you’d have some interesting things to do, Felicity Chambers.” 

“Me? I–” As the others turned to stare my way, I swallowed. “You… you were the beetle I found on the station. How did you–I mean what were you–I mean what?” My voice audibly cracked through that whole thing. I had no idea what to say just then, the words simply came out in that line of clueless babbling. How on Earth was I supposed to react to this? Who was this guy?

“My name is Denuvus,” the woman behind us spoke up, clearly focusing on the man in question. “Tell me who you are and what you want.” 

Instead of listening to her immediately as basically anyone else would have, the man cocked his head to the side, staring at the woman for a moment before brightly replying, “Say please.” His voice was cheerful, with only the barest hint of reprimand. It was like he didn’t even really care all that much, but wanted to make a point. 

His reaction startled Denuvus, which was pretty wild to see. Her head snapped back as though she had been struck, mouth opening and shutting a couple times before she managed, “What?” 

“You were being rude and demanding,” the man informed her while his tail idly poked at another dead body, as though he was trying to find one that was still alive so he could fight again. “I was going to introduce myself anyway, but now I think you should say please. I don’t appreciate being told what to do.”

“Oh… my God.” That was Robin. Or rather, Hood, given their amber-brown eyes. “It’s you. We thought you didn’t actually exist, that people were simply conflating and exaggerating stories that–oh.” The Mevari seemed completely subdued by all this. Which was understandable, given, well, yeah. They turned to look at Denuvus. “You should really do as he asks.” 

The rest of us stared expectantly at her as well, until she gave a heavy, annoyed sigh. “Fine, who are you, please?” 

Her words made the man in question smile even more. “I’m so glad you asked! I go by many names, more than we have time to list! But the one you should know is Sun Wukong. I am the Monkey King.” He had straightened up by then, hands on his hips as he literally puffed his chest while continuing proudly. “And I’m here to save the–hang on.” 

Those last two words came as a blurted aside as the man vanished from where he had been standing. Suddenly, he was standing next to Shiori. His fingers dipped into one of her pockets, producing a package of peanut butter crackers. Holding it up in both hands, the furry man sniffed it intently a few times. Then he just… ate it, package and all, in a few quick and noisy bites. 

Even as he finished doing that, the sound of running footsteps made all of us quickly look over the way we’d come. Trice, Miles, and the others came rushing into view. And they were accompanied by the same man who was standing in front of us. Or his twin, or… something? 

Either way, the newly arrived version of the so-called Monkey King spoke in unison with the other, who had just finished the crackers. “Hey, what’re we all standing around for? There’s supposed to be a lot more of those things, right? So let’s go have some fun!

“I promise I won’t hog all of them this time.” 

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The Storm 21-13 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I had been expecting a lot of different potential problems from the moment we decided to come to this planet. And that list had only gotten more extensive after Denuvus showed her hand. But, despite all my paranoid assumptions about what was possible, I had to admit that I’d never considered the possibility of facing off against an army of Revenants. That had genuinely never entered my mind. Silly me.

Denuvus was already turning toward Nevada while I was still reeling from that news. “You and I can work out the rest of our differences later, once we’re all safe. Call the ship back now so we can leave.”

“Leave?” Mom gave her a sharp look. “If you think we’re just going to let all the people on this planet die to save ourselves—“

“My—“ in the midst of obviously nearly using her power to make my mother do what she wanted, the woman caught herself and let out a heavy sigh as her eyes glanced around to take us in. Clearly she didn’t like what she saw because another sigh came. “Do any of you have the slightest idea what sort of damage only a few Revenants can do, let alone that many of them? This world should be evacuated with a fleet of ships. That’s the only way to save them, short of bringing your entire army of Heretics and allies here but as far as I know, we don’t have either of those handy. The one ship you do have might be pretty special, but even jumping back and forth constantly could only evacuate a very small portion, and we’d be risking being found and killed ourselves.“

Mom started to say something, but I spoke up first. “The people on this planet have already been through enough. They spent thousands of years under Fossor’s thumb. Now they’re finally free of him and trying to pull their society together and you want us to just walk away and let them all die?”

The woman gave me a hard look. “And if all of you die in this completely impossible fight, what will happen to everyone back on Earth? She is the face of the rebellion.” She pointed to my mother. “And I hate to be the one to inform you of this, but you’re not too far behind her. Besides which, I already told you how important you are for stopping the Fomorians once and for all. Think about the trillions and trillions of beings in this universe who are going to die if you throw your entire life away on this single impossible thing.”

Mom gave a soft, humorous chuckle. “That’s the thing you don’t get, the thing you’ve never understood, no matter how powerful you are. Choosing to fight against impossible odds is exactly how you accomplish impossible things.” She let that hang for a second before adding, ”Besides, there might be a way to stop the Revenants without fighting all of them. They were contained before, and those Tribals might know how to do it again. We just have to get there and convince them to help us.”

As she said that, Mom looked at Denuvus. “I think that’s something you could do, don’t you?”

Right, she had a point with that. If there was any time when it would be right for the woman to use her power, it was now. On the other hand, I wasn’t entirely sure these guys would actually have a way to do that. It sounded easier said than done for me, but I wasn’t going to say that. Not when it was already written all over everyone’s face. We all doubted it would be that simple, but we also didn’t have a better idea. 

Sure enough, Rahanvael informed us, “It won’t be as easy as just walking up to them. There are automated traps and defenses in the way. The tribals activated something as soon as the Revenants started to leave. I’m not sure what it was, but Persephone and the others were teleported back down into those same tunnels and… well, let’s just say it’s not nearly as friendly anymore.”

Asenath flipped a knife in her hand. “Great, so the rest of us just have to get Mistress Mindcontrol through all those defenses so she can tell those guys to call this whole thing off.”

Miles spoke up. “Don’t trust her.” His voice cracked a little bit with emotion. “She’ll use you for whatever she can get and then throw you away.”

Denuvus made a soft noise of disagreement. “Please, I thought we were getting along quite well, all things considered.”

From the look on the boy’s face, he disagreed and had a few things he wanted to say about that. But he shoved it down and turned to me. “Just be careful, okay?”

I agreed, then turned back to Rahanvael and told her to lead us back to where the others were so they could help us try to find the tribals from there. She obliged, and soon we were running back through the tunnels. Denuvus was clearly unhappy about the whole idea, but there wasn’t much else she could do. Her ticket off this planet was with us, and if she used her power to try to force us not to do this, Erin wouldn’t bring the ship back.

Speaking of which, I could hear Nevada telling the girl to stay away, and that she should only come back when there was absolutely no other choice. Or once we handled this situation.

I couldn’t imagine what it was like being Erin right now. She had spent this entire time secretly tagging along somehow without being seen, had actually pulled off the impossible task of stealing the Jitterbug right out from under Denuvus’s nose, and now this was happening. She was stuck out there, wherever she had taken the ship, simply watching while we tried to stop an army of Revenants from annihilating all life on this planet. 

Soon, we were moving through much smaller tunnels. These had simple rock walls instead of metal and looked like they could fall apart at any moment. And wasn’t that just a particularly lovely thing to imagine. On top of everything else, we could end up buried in a cave-in. Things just kept getting better and better.

On the way, another thought occurred to me. “Hang on! Persephone already told us who created her and the other Revenants. It was the Reapers. The one in the lighthouse created her specifically! So how could the ancient Seosten be responsible too?!” 

Denuvus snorted. “As though this would be the first time those people cheated off of someone else’s work in their quest to create new weapons.” 

With a weak nod that way, Rahanvael agreed, “It does seem that the old Seosten found… something from a cache of Reaper tools that instructed them on how to create the Revenants here.”

Groaning, I looked over my shoulder at Mercury. “No offense, but your people and their tendency to poke planet-destroying superweapons just to see what happens can be really annoying!”

“None taken,” he assured me while we all kept running. “I have seen even more of that than you!”

Denuvus looked toward me then. “You know, everything else aside, this would be a wonderful time to call in whoever it was that you had take out my mercenaries. They seemed pretty effective.“

My head shook. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we have no idea who did that. I just figured it was some of those tribal people.”

She snorted disbelievingly. “They are hardly that effective. Those soldiers were incredibly trained, powerful, and capable. Whoever took them down like that had to have been one of yours. Are you quite certain you don’t have another tagalong you didn’t know about?”

It was a fair question. I really didn’t know what was going on with that. But either way, there was nothing to be done for it right now. “The point is,” I replied, “we don’t know who did it, so we can’t just ask for help.”

Mercury shook his head. “Whoever it was, I hope they decide to chip in again. Because something tells me we’ll need it.” 

“What about my friends?” Miles put in while we were running. “Where are they? Maybe they can help with this.”

Grimacing to myself, I replied, “Yeah, and so could Trice, if he’ll play nice.” 

Denuvus lifted her chin slightly. “He will do what I ask of him. And no, I do not mean with my gift. Trice has become quite trustworthy, as far as I am concerned.”

Yeah, there was a lot I could say about that, but now wasn’t the time. Nor can I argue with having someone else who could help deal with anything we ran into. If those defenses were enough to keep Persephone and Robin pinned down, then we were obviously going to need all the help we could get.

Part of me didn’t want to stop at all, not considering how cataclysmically dangerous this whole situation was. But on the other hand, better to let them out now and tell them what was going on as we ran than to try to bring them up to speed in the middle of a fight.

By that point, we had reached a four-way intersection in the tunnels, and Rahanvael was already turning toward the eastern one that led further down. Before following, however, I took the playing card sized piece of cardboard out of my pocket and unfolded it into the box. Then I looked at Denuvus. “You’re absolutely certain you can keep him from fucking us over? And take your control off the others.”

She, in turn, shrugged. “It will likely have worn off by now, for the most part. But yes, I will not give them any more orders. Even if this entire exercise is pointless.”

Ignoring that, I opened up the box and went down the stairs. Miles came with me, and we both saw all the others in the pocket greenhouse. The rest of his team were on one side, while Trice stayed on the other. It looked like there had been a lot of arguing, which stopped as we appeared.

“Miles!” the red-haired girl blurted, and they all ran our way, dozens of questions exploding from them. 

Anxious as I was, I let him do the talking, and he was thankfully pretty quick about it. He told him we didn’t have time to get into everything, but we were trying to stop a whole bunch of Revenants from killing everyone on this planet, and that the only way to do that seemed to be to get Denuvus to where those tribal people were so she could force them to call off the attack. 

Needless to say, the others all had a lot more questions. And so did Trice, from the look he shot me. But they held off, and we went back out with them.

Trice, understandably, was a little surprised to see that Denuvus really was there and cooperating. But the second we were out and I had folded the box down, we were off and running once more. Miles was apologizing to his team for leaving them, and for everything that happened, which he apparently took a lot of responsibility for. Meanwhile, Denuvus informed Trice of what was actually going on and why she had no choice but to play along. 

For the most part, I shut all of that out and focused on following Rahanvael. How bad was it out there already? Had the Revenants found bodies that they could use? It couldn’t be that hard for them on this world of all places. They probably had a veritable all-they-could-eat buffet of useful bodies to possess. Have they already started killing people? Every second this took, every delay, every step, made me wonder if it was already too late. How many people were going to die because we were too slow? Yes, logically I knew it would take more time than that for them to get started, let alone ramp up to planetary genocide levels. but logic didn’t help how I felt. 

And what did I feel? Guilt. I felt guilty. Persephone was here because of me. Denuvus was right in this case, even if it was accidental. If we hadn’t come here, this wouldn’t have happened. Nevada had things under control. Even if we weren’t here at all, she would have had Erin take the ship and then forced Denuvus to negotiate for it. This whole situation would have been completely fine. 

But no, we had come here. I brought Persephone, and those tribal people used her to let the other Revenants out. The only thing we had managed to do by showing up here was make the whole thing so much worse. Everyone who died now, all the people who ended up being killed by those Revenants, would be my fault. I had to stop this, had to save them. They had only just started to have their own lives again, their own society. They had only just been freed from Fossor. I couldn’t let this happen.

Mom seemed to know how I was feeling, because she tried to talk to me on the way. But before we could get into that, Rahanvael stopped short right next to an opening in the tunnel. She turned back toward us and spoke quietly. “There are several heavily armed and protected mechanical sentries in that hallway, accompanied by automated turrets and other defenses. You should be very careful.”

“Sorry, babe,” Twister replied, “Being careful‘s one thing we don’t exactly have a lot of time for.”

The tall blond guy from Miles’ team spoke up. “Uh, whoever she is, the girl’s right. From what you guys have been saying, there’s no time to play around.”

Miles nodded. “Yeah, so let us run interference. We’ll block for all of you and fight these things so they don’t follow. You guys just run straight through. We’ve got this.“

I could tell Mom wanted to object, but there wasn’t time, or any better ideas. Trice, to my surprise, volunteered to stay behind as well. He said it was because he had grown fond of these guys and wanted to make sure they didn’t die. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but I wasn’t going to object to them having some help.

Or maybe this was a trick and he would just run away and abandon them, but either way, we couldn’t argue about it. 

In the end, Mom went first. She went straight into that hall and threw a couple small rocks that were enchanted with concussive explosives. The rest of us were right behind her, just as the spells went off. I caught a glimpse of a dozen gray and black robot things along with gun barrels lining the walls of a large, circular room. They were all knocked aside for the moment by the explosions, and we ran straight through. Miles and his team, along with Trice, split off to stay behind and cover the rest of us.

Meanwhile, we went straight for one of the three doors lining the far side of the room. It was the one to the right, where Rahanvael was already waiting. Behind us, we could hear the fighting start up in earnest, but we just kept going. I hoped, with everything I had in me, that they would be okay. But we couldn’t help them, not now. We had to stop those Revenants. 

We ended up going through a couple more rooms full of enemies. This place was set up to repel incredibly heavy invasion forces. On the plus side, Rahanvael informed us that she had taken a look, and we were actually already past the majority of the defenses. Most of them were further out. If we had to go through everything, we wouldn’t have had the slightest chance of getting there in time.

We went through what was there as quickly as we could. They were just robots and turrets, not that big of a deal, aside from the delay they created. Honestly, a part of me was surprised and impressed that they were still functional after all this time. Seriously, they have been stored down here for what had to be hundreds of thousands of years, right? Something like that. And yet, they were still effective enough to put up a fight. 

Maybe if they weren’t getting in the way of us saving this world from complete genocide, I’d be even more impressed. As it was, I really just wanted all of them to blow up and get the hell out of the way. 

Thankfully, we finally made our way to the room where the others were. As it turned out, the thing that was keeping them pinned down wasn’t the robots or anything. They could’ve torn right through them, just like we were. But there was a trap in there. It created a vortex of sorts that was trying to suck them in. The vortex was a portal, and no one knew where it went. But it was pretty obvious that going through it would be a bad idea. The suction was strong enough that Robin had to plant their feet and hold onto Persephone, Stasia, and Judas. We could see them on the far side of that room, with the vortex portal swirling between us. I could already feel its power, trying to pull at me even though I was a good hundred feet away from the thing. It was also making a loud screaming sound that I had to shout over as I looked back to the others. “How do we shut it off?!” 

Nevada had already transformed her bracelet into its crate form, and was digging around to find something. “I think I’ve got something that can handle it, hold on. Come on, come on, where is it…” 

Denuvus looked like she was going to say something, but my mother shot her a glare that made the woman stop. But it was pretty apparent that she didn’t think much of Nevada’s ability. Probably because she’d never given her a chance. I would’ve thought that she’d reevaluate after the woman managed to trick her so thoroughly and pull the ship and all that treasure right out from under her, but apparently old habits died hard. 

Finally, she produced what looked like a simple frisbee. “We need to get this thing right over top of it without letting it be sucked inside.”

That was going to be an issue, considering the strength of that vortex. Even my mother was having trouble holding herself back from it when she moved even a few inches closer than where we were. How were we supposed to get that thing on top of the portal? Rahanvael couldn’t do it, the vortex was affecting her too. So solving the issue with ghosts was out of the question. 

“Give it to me,” Mercury announced. “I can stand in the middle of the thing without being transported, for a couple seconds anyway.” 

“No, not by yourself.” That was Nevada, holding her hand out. “Possess me, then channel your power through me so I can stand in there and activate this thing.” 

There was no time to discuss anything else, so he did just that. Then we watched as the possessed Nevada let herself be sucked across the room and into the vortex. I was terrified that she would just disappear immediately, but Mercury’s power held out. She was straining, pushing against its hold on her to hold the frisbee-like device up over her head. It clearly took everything she had and Mercury’s boost to make it happen. But finally, she managed to shove it up all the way over the portal. Then the woman clicked something on it, before releasing the thing. With a scream of effort, she threw herself away from the vortex, just as the frisbee opened up and extended downward to create a sort of egg-shaped metal shell around the thing. 

Immediately, the suction stopped. The vortex was still there, but it was contained for the moment. We ran past it, straight to the others. “Persephone!” I blurted. 

“I am so sorry, Felicity,” she quickly informed me, her gaze downcast. “It was not my intention to–” 

“Are you okay?” I interrupted, catching her by both arms. “Are you alright? They didn’t–I mean they didn’t do anything to umm… to change you, or control you, or–” 

“I am… well, but my others–the rest of my people…. they are not like me,” she weakly replied. “They will kill everyone here.” 

“No, they won’t,” I insisted. “We’re gonna do something about… uhh… that…” 

I had trailed off, because Persephone and the others were all staring past me. Turning to look, I saw a good fifteen figures standing next to the door about thirty feet away. They were… they were Revenants. I could tell that already. Revenants with dead bodies. The dead bodies of the Tribals we had been about to get Denuvus to talk to. They were already dead, and the Revenants had control of them. And right now, they looked very ready to add us to their collection of corpses. 

“My name is Denuvus, freeze.” As she said that, the woman in question stepped forward, her voice as firm as I had ever heard it. She was clearly focusing all of her power on the Revenants. 

And yet, they paid no attention. The Revenants simply walked forward, as though she hadn’t said anything at all. Great, so much for the easy solution.

Fifteen Revenants? We could maybe handle a few, between all of us. Especially with Persephone and Robin’s help, and my own necromancy to hold them off. But a dozen? This was about to be a slaughter. 

Even as that thought rushed through my mind, I held up both hands and dug deep for every bit of power I could muster. Stop them. They were undead. I’d stopped Persephone before. I had to stop these guys too. Taking a breath, I let it out while shoving my power that way, snapping a curt, “Stop!” 

I could feel that Necromantic power snaking out, twisting its way around the Revenants. It caught onto… three of them. Three. Of the fifteen, I managed to make three stop short. They strained against the force holding them, but couldn’t manage to break free. 

Which was just great, but it still left twelve. Still too many for even the rest of us. Or the rest of them. It took everything I had just to hold these three. I wouldn’t be able to help with the others. 

Then I felt a shift in my pocket of all places. Looking down with a gasp, I saw Marco the beetle climb out. Just as my hand grabbed for him, he flew off and landed in front of me, between us and the Revenants. Then he fucking transformed into a furry, humanoid figure with a prehensile tail just like he’d had as a beetle. Stretching out, the monkey-like man stood only an inch taller than I was, though I could see how tightly-corded with muscle his arms were under that thin fur. 

“Ahhhhh that’s better,” he announced while facing the Revenants. He twisted his head to the left, then right, cracking his neck each time before letting out a low groan of satisfaction. “You have no idea how boring the past few days have been. 

“Now I can finally have some fun.”

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The Storm 21-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Needless to say, Denuvus wasn’t exactly in the best mood right then. She had been on top of the world, getting everything she wanted while telling us whatever small amounts of information she wanted us to have anyway. She was in control, just like always. And now, out of nowhere and with no warning, Nevada had changed things. Nevada, the woman Denuvus had completely dismissed as any sort of threat, the one she had created out of the sacrificed corpse of her own sister, enslaved just to get herself powers, and now wanted to erase to bring back the sister she had sacrificed in the first place, had taken her completely by surprise. 

And seriously, Erin? Erin Redcliffe had been with us the whole time somehow? Hidden enough that none of us, including my mother, had any idea she was around? And now she’d managed to steal the Jitterbug right out from under everyone’s nose. I–I had no idea what to think of that. Obviously, I had a lot of questions. 

And so did Denuvus. The woman herself stood there, staring at Nevada while very clearly taking in this new information. For a second, I thought she might completely lose it and lash out again. Not that any of us could have done anything about that. Not considering she’d used her power to tell us to remain completely still and motionless. If she decided to do something drastic right then, none of us could intervene. But, of course, she had too much control for that. Which made her quite a bit different from Fossor. If he had been in this situation, well… I sort of doubted Nevada would still be alive, regardless of the consequences. 

Not that killing the woman would have prevented Fossor from getting answers out of her, but still. 

In her case, instead of lashing out, Denuvus remained still and silent as she absorbed this new information and decided exactly how she was going to deal with it.

Finally, she gestured. “Everyone sit down right where you are. Scratch any itches you might have and get as comfortable as you can without moving more than a few inches and without doing anything that could pose a threat or problem to me. Oh, and be quiet unless I ask you a question or you have something important to say about something that could be a threat to me. Then only tell me the truth.” 

That finally gave me the chance to slump down out of my frozen position. We still couldn’t do much, but I managed to look around at the others. Tabbris was next to me, and looked about as confused as I felt. Mercury was the closest to where the ship had been, and looked like he was trying to decide if it being gone was a good thing or not. 

Twister, Shiori, and Asenath, meanwhile, were obviously still digesting what Denuvus had said about Tiras. If she was telling the truth, there was no big bad Senny could pay back for erasing her father’s memory. He was already dead, thanks to Fossor of all people. 

Miles, on the other hand, wasn’t looking at anyone. He sat there, gazing intently at the floor as though lost in thought. I couldn’t see his face to read his expression or anything, but it was pretty clear that he was thinking about everything he and his team had been doing for Denuvus over the… however long they had been under her control. 

Yeah, I was still feeling pretty guilty about ‘forgetting’ to follow up with his situation, even if it clearly wasn’t my fault. Or maybe I was more freaked out about the idea that Denuvus had made me forget to do that. Mostly because it raised the question of what else she had made me forget, or do. 

Then there was Mom. She was nearby, and was basically bristling with barely restrained anger, glaring dangerously toward our… host. No matter what excuses Denuvus might have thrown around, I had the feeling Mom really didn’t care. She did not appreciate being forced to abandon the rest of us and abduct Nevada and Mercury. Not to mention anything else she might have been forced to do that I didn’t even know about yet. And all of that after what happened with Fossor… yeah, Denuvus was lucky she hadn’t already melted under my mother’s glare. 

Not that she paid attention to that, of course. She was far too occupied with her own annoyance. Once we had repositioned ourselves, the woman paced in a circle around Nevada while musing aloud. “You said she’s watching what happens here, but I presume you’ve taken precautions to make sure I can’t just order her to come back here right now.” 

“You could try, but you wouldn’t get anywhere,” Nevada replied. Her voice was relatively steady, but there was a tense undercurrent to it. Between that and the way her eyes darted to follow every move the other woman made, it was rather apparent that she wasn’t nearly as calm as she was trying to sound. And who could blame her? If… if everything we’d heard was true, Nevada had been created out of the dead body of this woman’s sister and then enslaved to… to give Denuvus power. It sounded like she had been little more than a tool to her, at best. She’d finally gotten her freedom, even managing to transform herself so she wasn’t a Djinn anymore, and now she was right back here again. No wonder she seemed anxious. Even if this whole Erin thing had worked out (so far), there was no telling how the next few minutes were going to go. 

Making a considering noise under her breath, Denuvus waved a hand and a crate slid over so she could sit on it right in front of Nevada. “You know I would have stuck to my word. Everyone else here would have been free to go, with their answers, if you hadn’t decided to play games.” 

Fuck I really wanted to say something to that. But I couldn’t. She had told us to be quiet. Trapped under her power, all I could do was sit in place and listen to this whole thing. Was this what it was like for people being affected by Ammon? 

Well, no, I was pretty sure he did a lot worse than just telling people to sit down and be quiet. 

“You would have killed me,” Nevada pointed out in a soft voice. “You think you can use something in here to kill me and bring back Theda, your sister.” The last bit was obviously added for our benefit, not that we really needed it. “You’re the one who killed her, just to get power. And now that it’s convenient, you think you can just throw me away to bring her back.” 

“She’s my sister,” Denuvus retorted. “You were always just… temporary. You fulfilled your purpose. I would have been content to leave it at that, especially after you went and erased the power I gave you. It’s not like you were useful for anything else. But now you are. Or, well, that body you’re borrowing is. Do you really think it’s yours? Does Theda deserve to stay dead just because you want to keep her body?” 

“Do I deserve to die just because you want to bring back the woman you killed to create me?” Nevada shot back. “You didn’t even give me a real name. And you still haven’t called me by the one I chose. Because I’m not a person to you. You couldn’t stand to blame yourself for Theda’s death, so you blamed me instead. You created me. I didn’t ask you to do that, let alone make you. That was all your choice. You killed your sister to bring me to life just so I could give you the power you wanted. Then you treated me as a disgusting creature because you saw your own guilt in me. And now you want to kill me to bring her back. You think that’s right?”

“She’s right,” I found myself blurting. As Denuvus’s eyes snapped to me, along with the others, I pushed on. “You said to speak up if there was a threat to you. And there is. Or there will be. If you do anything to Nevada, you’ll have all her friends coming after you. Everyone here, and all of them back at the Fusion School. You think you can just sacrifice her, get your sister back, and walk away? You really do have a blind spot when it comes to her. She’s not just your tool. She’s a person. She has people who care about her, even if you don’t. And they–we aren’t just going to let you walk away if you do anything to her.” 

Denuvus squinted at me, looking like she was trying to decide exactly how to respond. In the end, she settled on, “That’s rather immaterial right now. What matters is bringing the ship back so we can all leave.” To Nevada, she added, “What exactly is that going to take?” 

“First of all,” the former-Djinn (a fact that was still blowing my mind) replied, “Stop using your power on everyone here. If it makes you feel better, you can tell them not to hurt you. But you don’t need to have complete control.” 

From the look on her face, Denuvus didn’t like that idea. I had the feeling she wasn’t the sort of person who gave up control very easily. But, after a moment, she sighed and gestured. “My name is Denuvus, you may sit, stand, move around, and talk however you wish. Whatever. But do nothing to harm or hinder me.” She gave a forced smile then, her gaze locking back onto Nevada. “Happy now? Here I thought you were afraid of me, but you’ve been plotting this whole thing for a long time.” The woman actually sounded almost admiring about that, which was probably another big difference between her and Fossor. 

“Happy? No,” Nevada replied as she picked herself up along with the rest of us. “And I’ve been terrified of you my entire existence. But when you’re afraid of something, you prepare for it.” 

“And?” Denuvus prompted after taking a deep, steadying breath. “What is it you want now, my dearest former-Djinn?” 

“Nevada,” the other woman reminded her sharply. “I told you, my name is Nevada. And what I want is for you to agree to go back to Earth with us and walk away from this whole thing. But something tells me you won’t exactly be eager to do that.” 

With a very slight snort, Denuvus agreed, “Good instincts. You may have me at something approaching a disadvantage right now, but that won’t last forever. And this isn’t something I will walk away from. I’ve worked very long and hard to find a way to bring my sister back, and you seem to be standing in the way of that.”

“If there was a way to bring her back without me dying, I would help you,” Nevada informed her. “But I don’t deserve to be erased to make that happen. I’m my own person with my own life, and I happen to kind of enjoy that.” 

“She’s right,” Shiori put in. “Nevada deserves to live too. I mean, what happened to your sister sucks. But you did that. You chose to kill her for power, and now you want to undo it, but keep your power? That’s not fair. It’s–” She glanced at me briefly. “It’s not something you can just erase now because it’s convenient for you.” 

Oh boy did Denuvus ever look like she wanted to say something nasty to that. But she composed herself after a quick, harsh look. Especially when Asenath stepped in front of Shiori and glared at her. After a brief, yet tense second, the woman gave a nod of acknowledgment and turned back toward Nevada. “Perhaps I made some mistakes in how I treated you. And yes, you’re right about the reasoning. You looked like the sister I…. I sacrificed. I loved… love Theda. She was the only person I had left. When I looked at you, as you were back then, I saw her. And I remembered the choice I made. So maybe you did get hit with the… guilt and anger about that whole situation, the one I created.” 

There was a brief pause, as the woman collected herself. “I want my sister to be alive again. You’re right, it’s not fair. It’s cheating. But I have been cheating my whole life, and I’m not about to stop when it comes to this.” Her gaze moved to me. “You say I will bring the wrath of your people down on me? So be it. This is my opportunity to bring my sister back. You think telling me you and your friends will be cross with me is going to change my mind? I have vowed to destroy a creature whose power makes all of you look like helpless infants. If there’s the slightest chance I can do that alongside my living sister after all, I honestly do not care how many of you are angry about it.” 

Mom held up her hand to stop anyone else from saying anything. Her voice was tense, but still in control. “Sure, maybe you’re willing to go that far if you have to. But if there was an easier way, one where you don’t have all those people coming after you forever, you’d take that. You’re not the sort of person who does things like that for fun, or to spite the people trying to stop you. That’s what Fossor did, and you’re not him. You’d rather avoid that sort of attention if you can.” 

“Given the choice, I would prefer not to be that sort of target, yes,” Denuvus agreed while sweeping her gaze over the rest of us. “It would have to be something very important for me to risk it. And Theda is very important.” 

“Why just her?” I put in suddenly. “This way you’ve found to bring her spirit back and all that, why can’t you use that to… uh, you know, help your children?” 

She gave me an incredibly dark look then. I had a feeling she didn’t like people bringing them up at the best of times, let alone right now. “It requires their body. And I don’t…” Her eyes glanced away. “I don’t have their bodies. They don’t exist anymore.” 

Oh, well that was rough. Was it weird that I felt guilty for bringing it up? 

“That’s why you need Nevada.” Mercury finally spoke up, his voice sounding just a little odd, like he was still mostly lost in thought. “She’s been keeping that body nice and warm for you this whole time, hundreds of years later. And now you want to just pop her right out of it and slide your sister back where she was.” He said it matter-of-factly, though there was a faint yet evident note of disgust in his voice. 

“Yeah,” Twister added from where she was standing a bit behind Asenath and Shiori, “Guess it’s just too bad she doesn’t feel like rolling over and dying so you can get what you want. That’s so inconvenient, isn’t it?” 

Before Denuvus could respond to that, Mercury pushed on. “What if there was another option? One where you get what you want but no one has to die?” 

Arching an eyebrow, Denuvus retorted, “I’d be quite fascinated to hear how you propose to both keep her alive and allow me to bring my sister back in the same body.” 

Mercury, however, shook his head. “Not the same body. Not exactly.” He offered a faint, humorless smile that way as the rest of us stared at him. “My people have done a lot of work in trying to find ways around our… pregnancy problems. Part of that is very in depth explorations of cloning technology. It failed to solve our issues, for various reasons. But it might solve yours.” 

Denuvus sounded taken aback by that. “You want me to clone her and put my sister’s soul in that?” 

“No,” I abruptly piped up. “You said yourself, Nevada changed her body with her powers when she stopped being a Djinn. How do you know she’s even still enough like Theda for her spirit to take over even if you do use the… whatever it is?” 

“I’m willing to give it a shot,” the woman informed me in a voice that made it clear she was very close to losing her patience. “I told you, this is my sister. And if you think–” 

“So give it a shot with a different gun,” I interrupted. “Or rather, your gun. I–the metaphor got away from me. The point is, Theda wasn’t just your sister, she was your twin sister. So instead of cloning Nevada, who might not even be close enough for her spirit to use anymore, clone yourself. Clone your own body and use that for Theda to go into. It’s gotta be closer to the same body she was in before than the one Nevada’s using now, right? Come on, you know it’s a better idea.” 

“She’s right,” Mom agreed while putting a hand on my shoulder. “Nevada doesn’t even need to be involved in this. If you really want to bring your sister back, your best shot is using the Seosten cloning technology to make a new body for her and hoping that’s close enough.” 

Denuvus seemed to genuinely be considering all that. Her eyes flicked over toward Nevada briefly, as though only just then really thinking about how different her body was now. It looked like we had gotten through to her. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to hear what she would have said right then. Because Rahanvael suddenly appeared in front of me, blurting, “Flick, we have a problem!” 

While the others all snapped their gazes our way, ghost-fire appearing around Denuvus’s hand (though she didn’t try to do anything with it just yet), I jumped in surprise. “What–what’re you doing here?” I’d been so distracted by this whole thing I’d neglected to check in for the past few minutes. “Where are the others? What’s going on?” 

“The tribals, the… primitive,” Rahanvael explained, “They took us into…” She trailed off, glancing uncertainly toward Denuvus. 

My head shook at that. “It’s okay, just tell us what happened. We’re all on the same page… sort of.” 

“You know that the people who settled on this planet, my ancestors, were Seosten,” the girl started. “She already told you that much. They were trying to find ways to destroy the Fomorians forever.” 

“Yeah, apparently one of those plans has something to do with Necromancy,” I murmured. 

She nodded sharply. “Yeah, but it’s not the only one. They had a lot of plans. And one of them involved creating a little something called Revenants.” 

“What?” Asenath snapped. “What do you–” 

“The people who came to this world created Revenants,” Rahanvael clarified. “I don’t know how, but they did. They created them as a weapon against the Fomorians. But now their descendants, the tribals who stayed in these caves, think everyone on this world has strayed from the right way or whatever. The point is, they think my people, all of them, are the reason the Fomorians still exist. It’s like they’re angry that we all forgot where we came from or something. They think if everyone here dies, they can get back to the important business of destroying the Fomorians. Or something like that, I don’t understand all of it. And now–I swear she didn’t know.”

“Who didn’t know what?” I managed uncertainly. 

“Persephone,” the ghost-girl replied. “I don’t know, for some reason they needed another one to open the door to let them out, they didn’t know how to get into the place they all were without her.” 

“Into the place they all–” I started to echo before interrupting myself. “Wait, you said the old Seosten created–Revenants? They used Persephone to get into a place with more Revenants?” 

“At least a thousand of them,” Rahanvael confirmed. “The Tribals called them the Storm.” Her voice caught a bit. “The Storm that will ravage the world. A thousand Revenants who were just waiting in there. Now they’re awake. 

“And they’re about to kill everyone on this planet.” 

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The Storm 21-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Something told me that the only reason Denuvus was being so accommodating about offering to tell us the real story about what was going on was that she didn’t think there was anything we could do to stop her anyway. But I wasn’t going to object. If she wanted to monologue and tell us everything we needed to know then all the more power to her. Besides, it gave us time to think. 

My mother was the first to speak, her voice low and dangerous. “Explain anything you wish, and we’ll decide exactly how many buckets of salt to take it with.“

Denuvus smiled faintly that way. “Holding a grudge because I took control of you? That’s fair, and you would hardly be the first or the most dangerous. As you may have noticed however, I have not forced you to harm anyone. If your child here and her friends had stayed on that station where they were supposed to, you’d simply be picking them up safe and sound when this was over.”

Before I could say anything to that, Miles cut in. “But they did show up, and then you made me and my friends go attack them!” His fists were clenched as he glared that way, looking like he really wanted to make the woman swallow his full allotment of cyberform bees and let them break back out again through her rib cage. “What if someone got killed?!” 

Denuvus gave him a flat look. “You’re Boscher Heretics, you’ll all heal. They wouldn’t have killed you because they knew I was controlling you, and you wouldn’t kill them because I told you not to.” 

Miles probably would’ve argued with that, but I quickly put in, “Sorry we disappointed you by showing up. I’m not exactly the best at staying where I’m told. Or even at staying where I want to stay, come to think of it. Honestly, expecting me to be anywhere you think I’m going to be from one day to the next is really poor judgment on your part.”

Actually chuckling a little bit at that, the woman gestured. “I will grant you that as well. Now, let us continue loading the ship, please.” She stressed that word as though to show that it wasn’t one she was accustomed to saying. “And I will tell you all what is happening with Rasputin.” To me, she added, ”Shall I assume that your other friends are getting along with the natives?”

How much did I actually want to tell her? Nothing, actually, but I had a feeling being stoic and silent would only go so far. So, I offered a shrug. “You could say that. Why, is Rasputin with them too? Has he been helping you?”

Asenath piped up then. “And what exactly does he have to do with what happened to my father? Because it occurs to me that of the very few people who would have the ability to change his memories like that, you are probably either one of them or at least know one. And now suddenly the last man we know he was with before that is on a whole new planet with you. Somehow, I doubt that is a coincidence.“ 

Denuvus shook her head. “You may believe what you wish, but I am not responsible for your father‘s changed memories. However, I can tell you who was. You know what your father and his group were doing?”

Senny frowned a little at that before nodding. “They had heard that the Vestil were attempting to complete the ritual that would have killed all of them and anyone connected to their blood, including myself and my mother. They were going back to make certain that didn’t happen. And given we are all still alive, they must have been successful.”

While they were talking, I quickly checked in on the others again. It still looked like those tribal people were worshiping Persephone. But at least now they seemed to be moving again. I got the impression from Rahanvael that these primitive Seosten people didn’t exactly like Denuvus. She was an invader and she had used her voice power to control them. They had been upset about that, but now with Persephone here, they were happy and were bringing her and the others… here?

Wait no, that wasn’t quite right. They weren’t bringing them right here. They were taking them somewhere close by, to something that would help. But they didn’t want to say more than that. 

Hang on, come to think of it, were these guys the people who had attacked those guards in the secret room? Could they have done all that so quickly and quietly? If so, then damn. I was really glad they were on our side.

By that point, Denuvus was explaining to Asenath. “Your father and his people, including Rasputin, did succeed at stopping the ritual from being completed. You’re right about that. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were killed in the process. By which I mean only your father and Rasputin himself survived, out of a group of thirty who embarked on the mission. And they were not easy deaths. From what I have heard and the memories I have seen, they were particularly traumatic.”

Asenath snarled under her breath. “If you are about to suggest that my father intentionally had his memories changed to spare himself, and erased his family in the process, then you’re the one who will experience a few impressively traumatic things.”

Shiori quickly put a hand on her sister’s arm, glaring that way. “I’m sure that’s not what she was implying, right?”

The woman sighed. “Of course not. The man has experienced quite a bit worse in his time. And he loves you and your mother. Ridding himself of your memories intentionally simply to also erase painful ones would be idiotic. And though he is many things, your father is not an idiot. Rasputin chooses to drink and fornicate away his memories in a less magical way. Your father on the other hand…” 

She grimaced and glanced away before continuing. “Let’s just say that one of the people responsible for attempting to complete the ritual survived and escaped. Worse, he came here with the pieces of what they needed for the ritual and made a deal with Fossor. He would provide him with special magical expertise, including investigations into the very secret lab I’ve already told you about. In exchange, Fossor would allow him to continue his experiments here in secrecy and safety. So much damage had been done in your father‘s attack, and this last sorcerer had to put much of it together without the aid of his former companions. It was a process that would take quite a long time.”

“This guy was researching a mega powerful spell right here in Fossor’s backyard and he expected the guy to keep his word and play nice and all that?” I snorted in disbelief at that. “Are you sure Tiras didn’t hit him in the head really hard to make him that stupid?”

Denuvus chuckled softly. “Yes, well, you’re not wrong. It suited Fossor’s purposes to take what he could get out of that man and allow him to do his work. But as soon as the ritual was far enough along, ehh, I don’t think you need me to draw you a picture about what happened. Fossor killed him and took over. Only his intention was to turn the power of the curse toward a more direct threat as far as he was concerned. With a curse that was more twisted to his personal needs.” 

My face twisted into a grimace. “You mean that’s where he got the idea about the whole controlling Heretics thing? He was nothing if not ambitious.”

“He was that,” the woman agreed, before turning her attention back to Asenath. “As I said before, your father did not erase his own memory. The man responsible, that last surviving Vestil sorcerer, knew that Tiras would continue to come after him. Your father knew where he was. And he was afraid that even under Fossor’s… ahem, ‘protection,’ Tiras would still find a way to kill him. So, he erased his memories. It was a bit of a hatchet job, to be honest. But it did what he wanted and stopped your father from coming after him. Not that that ended up being enough to keep him alive.” 

Twister actually spoke up then. “But that Rasputin guy. Are you trying to say he found out about the half-finished ritual here and came up to finish breaking it so it couldn’t be used again?”

“That is precisely what I’m saying,” Denuvus confirmed. “And what I’m also saying is that I have given you enough information for now until we load the rest of these things. Assist me in putting them all on the ship and then we can leave. We’ll go back to Earth and I will take my belongings before you will be allowed to take your ship and do whatever it is you wish.”

From the look on my mother’s face, she clearly wasn’t sure if she believed that or not. Part of me wondered if we should take this opportunity to jump the woman before she pulled whatever trick she might have been planning. After all, we had my mother here now. Not to mention Mercury and Nevada, both of whom had been oddly silent throughout all of this. They just continued to work. Was that because Denuvus had given them stricter instructions than she had my mother? And if so, did that mean they wouldn’t be any help if this came down to a fight? Something told me it wouldn’t be that easy.

Beyond that, we still didn’t know what the people with Persephone and the others were doing. I hoped they were going to turn out to be a good thing, especially if they were against Denuvus. But for all we knew, they were going to be annoyed with all of us. And even then, assuming we did have everyone on our side and they could act, could we actually stop her? Again, she was supposed to be as dangerous as Fossor in her own way. Sure, she might not have billions of slaves to sacrifice, but she made up for that in other ways. Who knew what sort of powers she had beyond her voice, and she had already proven that she could disable any of the defenses we came up with to stop that. As much as she might be playing nice right now, I had no doubt that she could get nasty if she wanted to.

It seemed like the best thing for us to do right now was just play along and look for an opening. And hope that the tribals ended up having a really good idea. Wherever they were taking the others, they were clearly very excited about it. Which I might have been more optimistic about if it wasn’t obvious that Denuvus knew they were there and didn’t seem worried at all. Maybe she didn’t know what they were planning, but something told me she didn’t tend to leave anything to chance.

With all that in mind, I finally shrugged and moved to start helping with the pile of crates. The first one I picked up was surprisingly heavy and I looked over at the woman in question. “So you really don’t have any idea what’s in all these things?” 

She offered me a faint smile before replying, “I do have the slightest idea, and I know all of it will be useful in one way or another. You could call me a pack rat in that way. You never know what might end up being the thing that saves your life, or gives you an edge.” She traveled off, clearly thinking about that for a moment before shaking herself. “And the most important thing is somewhere in that pile.” As she said that, her eyes shifted toward Nevada and I remembered what she said about wanting her sister back. Where did that fall with all this? Did she really think she could turn Nevada back into the sister she had sacrificed? Just because the ancient Seosten who came to this planet in the first place happened to have something for that among their collection? 

I supposed it would be kind of ironic for Fossor to have had something that could do that in this pile of random treasure. After all, his whole thing started from trying to make his own sister immortal by killing her and bringing her back. Going through all that just to randomly have something that could bring her back lying around in a room he found? Something about that struck me as darkly amusing. But also frightening. By all accounts, the woman who had been turned into Nevada had been dead for centuries. Could whatever this thing was seriously just bring her back? And what about Nevada herself? As I thought that, my eyes glanced up to look that way. She wasn’t looking at me. She wasn’t looking at anybody. She was just quietly loading the ship. I still wasn’t sure if she had simply resigned herself to whatever fate Denuvus had in mind, or if she was under that strict of control. Either way, we couldn’t just let this happen. Nevada was her own living person, and she didn’t deserve to just be erased. 

Hell, right now we were just loading up the ship for Denuvus to take anything she wanted. How dangerous would she be if she had all of Fossor’s hidden treasure? And not even just his, though I was sure some of that was mixed in. This was all the treasure those ancient Seosten had gathered in their travels across the universe. If she was right about one of the things being able to bring her sister back, and that was just one of the things mixed in here, then the rest of it… Yeah, this was too dangerous. No matter what happened, we couldn’t let her run off with this stuff. But I still had no idea what we were going to do about it. If we started causing trouble, she could just counter us. Hell, she’d probably have my mother attack us, and what could I do about that? Even if I was able to make myself fight my mom, could I actually meet her? Something told me it wouldn’t exactly be that easy. She had a hell of a lot more experience. And she still had that sword, the one Kushiel had wanted. Among other things, it could apparently cut straight through ghosts, so I wouldn’t even have that advantage. Under absolutely no circumstances would I send any of my ghosts against that weapon. This whole thing was just… fuck. We were here and there was still nothing we could do. Unless whatever those primitive Seosten were taking the others to was really good, and something Denuvus hadn’t planned on, I didn’t know what we were supposed to do. 

While I was focused on that, we all continued loading the ship. There was a tunnel nearby, leading to an enormous place that had clearly been a vault of some sort. The door for it had to have been a solid three or four feet thick, and was made of the sort of metal that could have fended off repeated shots from a capital ship. This whole place had really been buried underground until Fossor raised it up in this volcano? Actually, speaking of volcano, where was the magma? Were we just in a section of the place that didn’t have any? 

Needless to say, I had a lot of questions. And so did Asenath, as she started up again while we were moving crate after crate out of that large vault room and over to stack it up inside the Jitterbug. “If my father’s memory was erased by the man you say Fossor killed, does that mean there’s no way to undo it?” Her voice betrayed no actual emotion there, though I knew she was feeling plenty. She just didn’t care to let the woman in question hear it. “And where is Rasputin now? You said he came here to destroy every trace of the ritual, but…” 

Denuvus leaned against the side of the ship. No matter how eager she was to have all this stuff safely in her possession, she wasn’t actually going to lift a finger to help move it. I had the feeling that she didn’t exactly do a lot of manual labor. Especially not when she had all of us to do it for her.

She did, however, at least answer the questions. Part of them anyway. “On the contrary, there is likely a way to restore his memories. The Vestil took them and placed them somewhere safe. Destroying them would… well, let’s say it’s not that simple to do such a thing. And if you try, you’re far more likely to end up sending the memories back to where they belong. So, they are locked up. And once we are finished here, I’ll tell you exactly where to find them.” She offered another smile. “You see? Everyone will get what they want. Or at least close enough.” 

Once again, I checked in on Rahanvael and the others. They were in a… wait, what? It looked like they were in some sort of old freight elevator. Robin, Judas, and Stasia were all in the middle, with the tribals squeezed in all around them. And now that I had a closer look, they basically just looked like humans. Not even the absurdly beautiful sort of Seosten I was accustomed to. Probably because they were descended from the ancient Seosten, before they had upgraded themselves so much. They had normal human-ish lifespans too. That was… wow. And where was the elevator taking them? A quick check with Rahanvael revealed that she had no idea. The primitive Seosten still weren’t talking about it. But they were close. So very close. 

And speaking of close, it didn’t take long for the rest of us to finish loading the ship. Miles caught my attention, wanting to know if his team was safe. I told them they were, but when I started to talk about his parents, the boy quietly told me to please wait until we got out of this. He was already distracted and was afraid that thinking about them even more would make it worse. Which was understandable. 

While I was in the midst of that and trying to decide exactly when to let the rest of his team out, Denuvus started to speak. “Well, now, it seems we’ve finished ahead of schedule. And no one even had to suffer. So–” 

Before she could finish whatever it was she had been about to say, Nevada spoke up. “Erin, now.” That was it. She said two words. But those two words were enough. In the next second, the ship we had just finished loading up abruptly vanished. It was there one second and then it was gone. It jumped. Wait, what?! Erin, Erin–what? 

In an instant, Denuvus was right there. Her voice snapped, “My name is Denuvus, everyone freeze!” Then she smacked Nevada hard, knocking the woman to the ground just as I felt my entire body lock up completely. 

What did you do?” the woman demanded, her voice actually sounding angry for once. “My name is Denuvus, tell me the truth.” 

Lying there basically right where the ship had been a moment earlier, Nevada stared at Denuvus. “I knew you’d show yourself sooner or later. So I started bringing a little help along on trips like this. You might know her dad, since you’ve been enslaving him for awhile. She’s just been waiting for us to load this thing. Erin Redcliffe has the ship, and she’s not bringing it back until we’re all safe. She can see everything that’s happening through my contacts, but you can’t do anything about it. Everything on that ship belongs to her. If you do anything to us, she’ll never bring it back. And the moment you start fucking with us, she’ll start dumping artifacts out into the middle of deep space where you’ll never find them.

Now we can start negotiating.”

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The Storm 21-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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“Wait, your sister?!” Shiori’s eyes were as wide as I was sure mine were. We were all staring at Denuvus. “What do you mean, your sister? What does Nevada have to do with–what?” 

Audibly chuckling, Denuvus turned and gestured for us to follow her while moving to a doorway that seemed to have just magically appeared at the back of the room. “You heard what I said. I want my sister back. You didn’t think I was going to give her up forever, did you?” She paused then, standing in that new doorway while glancing back our way. “Oh, come to think of it, you don’t know about that, do you?” She shook her head, looking rueful before turning back to keep walking. “Come along then, I’ll explain on the way. And remember, let’s keep playing nice if we all want to get out of this in one piece. We’re just gonna take a little walk down, see what good shape your friends are in, and then… well, then we’ll go from there.” 

The rest of us all looked at each other, but we didn’t have any idea what else to do besides just follow her. She clearly wasn’t in the mood to fight, and seemed to be actually explaining things. She’d already demonstrated that she could walk right through any defenses we set up against her voice power, but wasn’t using it anyway. Between that and the fact that she had plenty of other powers she could take us apart with if she wanted to made it abundantly clear that our best move was to just let her talk. Maybe she’d even end up saying something we could use later if this did evolve into a fight. Besides, now I absolutely had to know what she was talking about when it came to Nevada.

So, Tabbris, Shiori, Twister, Asenath, and I followed her through that doorway and onto a staircase leading upward. For a moment, I wondered what was going on with Judas and the others. Then I realized that was stupid. I didn’t have to wonder, I could check on them real quick. Sure, we’d lost the telepathy, but Rahanvael was still with them. That was the entire point of sending her. 

Focusing on my connection to the ghost girl briefly, I gripped the nearby railing for safety, then reached out while closing my eyes. There. Rahanvael was moving through an underground tunnel alongside Judas and Stasia. She immediately felt my presence, and informed me that they hadn’t found Robin and Persephone yet, but they were still following those footprints. It looked like there had to be at least a dozen other people who had come to take those two with them. And we still had no idea why the unstoppable robot and Revenant-Possessed Olympian had agreed to accompany them in the first place. There had been no sign of any struggle at any point. They were able to pick out which prints were Robin’s and which were Persephone, and they were just walking normally. Had these people, whoever they were, convinced them that they were there to help? And if they had convinced them, was it true? And who were they? Did they work for Denuvus? 

I had no idea, and neither did Rahanvael. So I simply passed along an update about what was going on with us, promised to check in shortly, and went back to myself. 

That whole thing had only taken a few seconds, all while I kept climbing those stairs. And yet, despite that, when my eyes opened, Denuvus had stopped and was looking back at me. “Your friends doing okay down there? I hope they haven’t run into the natives.” 

“The–what?” I blinked a couple times, trying to decide if she was intentionally screwing with me. 

“That’s what I call them,” she replied easily. “Not the people Fossor put under his control. There are tribals living in this cave system. As best as I can tell, they’re also descendants from those first Seosten who showed up. They’ve been here the whole time, since the original landing when their ancestors created the hidden lab. They weren’t part of the rest of their civilization as it grew, faltered, broke, and fell under Fossor’s control. They’ve just been living here in these caves, treating the sealed doors that lead into those labs like holy relics they have to protect. If they think anyone’s trying to get into those rooms, they attack.

“Let me guess,” Asenath put in, “they tried to attack you.” Her voice was tense. I knew what she really wanted was to demand Denuvus tell her why Rasputin was here and what he had to do with all this. But she held it back. How, I had no idea. It was all I could do not to start shouting about my mother, and we were literally being taken to see her right now. Asenath had been dealing with the whole situation surrounding her father for a hell of a lot longer. 

“They did try,” Denuvus confirmed casually. “And they can be a real threat, in their way. I hope your friends are safe.” 

She was clearly fishing for information, but I just stared back at her. “Are we going, or what? And you were supposed to be telling us about what Nevada has to do with your sister.” Yeah, maybe it was a bad idea to be that blunt with her, but after everything that had happened with Fossor and knowing how she’d still forced my mother to do her bidding, it was hard to care. 

For her part, Denuvus simply regarded me for a moment. I couldn’t read her expression at all. Finally, she turned to start climbing once more. “Yes, my sister. I’ll spare you the details I don’t feel like getting into. Suffice to say, we were very close…” 

And with that, the woman told us the truth about where Nevada had come from. She told us about how she had used the leftover energy from when the Heretics tried to banish Fossor to create a Djinn. But it also required the sacrifice of a loved one. Apparently it had to be a real sacrifice, someone you loved. The more you cared about them, the better chance the spell would be successful. And she had really loved her sister. But she wanted revenge on some monster who had imprisoned and tortured them, and killed her children. So she sacrificed her own twin, her twin, in order to create a Djinn. And that Djinn had proceeded to inhabit the body of that dead sister, creating a new being. 

That being, of course, was Nevada. Or the person who had eventually become Nevada. She wasn’t a Djinn anymore. She’d used her power to turn herself human. Or partially human. Or… yeah, I wasn’t sure how that worked. Either way, according to Denuvus, Gaia was behind that. The headmistress was the one who convinced Nevada to use her power to change the Heretical Edge so it would work on hybrids. And once that was done, she had transformed herself into one as well, taking away her own Djinn powers before going through the Edge herself to become a Heretic.

I had known before that a Djinn was used to change the Edge. Deveron had explained that much. But I never knew that Nevada was the Djinn in question. Needless to say, that was a lot to take in. I didn’t even think she was lying about any of it. The whole thing was so… absurd and ridiculous that I couldn’t think of any reason for her to lie about it. It was so crazy it had to be the truth. Unless she was just fucking with us, which wasn’t impossible. But I was pretty sure that wasn’t happening right now. Besides, it fit with what I’d already known. 

Twister was the first to find her voice after that. She sounded casual, but I could hear the fierce anger behind that, broiling just below the surface. “So basically you’re saying that you sacrificed your own twin sister to get power, treated the living person who was created from that sacrifice like a worthless slave, and then, once she’d built a new life for herself away from you, puppeted Flick’s mother into abducting her to get something else you want. You’re a real peach of a person, aren’t you?” 

We’d reached the top of the long stairwell by then, letting us all emerge into what looked like a massive circular tunnel that had been bored through the rock. The ceiling was a good fifty to sixty feet above our heads, while the sides of the round tunnel were at least that far apart. It was like something had drilled all the way through here. Or maybe like a giant worm had bored through. I wasn’t sure which, and knowing what I did about the entire universe, it could’ve been the latter as easily as the former. We had come out somewhere in the middle of the tunnel, and could see it head off for probable miles in either direction. 

Taking all that in while the woman was deciding how to respond to Twister, I piped up with a question that had been bothering me for a while. “Hang on a second. You said those people built these secret rooms and tunnels or whatever essentially as soon as they got to this planet, right? You said those tribal people were living in the tunnels outside the secure labs all this time. But Rahanvael says this volcano wasn’t here before. Everything out there used to be forests and fields. Fossor made the volcano just to destroy his old home. So how is that possible? How could these tunnels and secret rooms or whatever else have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, but Rahanvael doesn’t remember this mountain existing before? And while we’re on the subject, why would these completely unique secret tunnels be like five feet from his childhood home? What are the odds of that?”

Denuvus gave a soft, yet audible chuckle. “To answer the second question first, you are cracking the egg and making an omelet before ever getting to the chicken if you think of it that way. It is not that he was unbelievably powerful and just happened to find these labs right outside his door. The very fact that he grew up so close to the labs is why he possessed so much potential in the first place. I told you about how the founders of this world seeded their genetics with the potential for necromancy. But they didn’t simply leave it at that. They weren’t willing to risk what they saw as the fate of the universe on complete random chance. They installed machines in those labs I mentioned. Those machines would send pulses of energy through the world which were intended to catch onto those latent Necromancer genetics–for lack of a better term– and magnify them. In layman’s terms, these pulses of energy would come in random times and move in random directions. When they found a living being with the potential for Necromancy, they would boost that potential, making them stronger. That person would then have children, who would have children, and so on until another random pulse happened to find their descendants. And that pulse would increase the potential even more. The seed was passed on and nurtured repeatedly. Eventually, it would physically manifest in the form of the priests who cared for and helped their dead pass on.” 

“Wait, wait,” I quickly put in. “Rahanvael said their ghosts are particularly common, that they had to have the Necromancer priests to ensure they moved on to the next… whatever.” 

“Yes,” the woman agreed, “That exact quality, that resilience to linger after death is precisely why the Seosten-Turned-Fomorians are such a problem. Their ghosts stay behind and are thus capable of being pulled back and put into the new Fomorian bodies.”

That… that made sense, and it also made her claims about the connection between these people and the Seosten even more credible. I still had no idea how to feel about that, and a quick glance toward Tabbris revealed that she was reeling even more than I was. 

Denuvus was already continuing, after giving us just a second to think about that. “The point is, Fossor grew up on this land, in an area that had previously been closed off. His father built the farm out here in the middle of nowhere. He was the first person in many generations to live this close to those secret labs while having the potential for necromancy inside him. Those random pulses the machines were sending out? They hit him over and over again, because he was living essentially right next to them. Or rather, right on top of them.” 

That made me do a double-take, but it was Asenath who spoke first. “On top… you mean the labs were underground… before the volcano.” 

A small smile found its way to Denuvus’s face. “Precisely. And that is the answer to that first question of yours,” she informed me. “The labs were underground. Fossor raised them with the volcano. It wasn’t simply a matter of being petty and destroying his old home. He also wanted to bring the tunnels up where he could access them more easily, as well as disrupt the defenses the old tribals spent all those millennia putting together.

“And, of course, because he was petty.” 

Under my breath, I muttered, “He was good at turning his pettiness into something useful for himself.” Then I shook that off, considering how many other big things we already had to deal with right now. This wasn’t the time to get sidetracked thinking about Fossor’s many flaws. Instead, I looked around the tunnel once more. “Okay, so you killed your own sister–call it whatever you want. She died, and you created Nevada. She doesn’t have her Djinn powers anymore, so why did you make my mom bring her to you?” 

Denuvus simply gestured at that. “Well, obviously because I’m tired of not having my sister around.” She met my gaze before adding, “As it turns out, one of the many treasures the ancient Seosten gathered in these secret rooms in their attempts to create the very Necromancy-creating machines I just mentioned is something which will allow me to summon my sister’s spirit and put it back where it belongs. She will be alive again, while I will retain the power I’ve gained. So you might say I was able to have my cake and eat it too.” 

Shiori spoke up first, blurting, “But what about Nevada? She’s alive in there too, you know?”

Denuvus shook her head. “She is an interloper. Do you think my sister deserves to remain dead just so this intruder can remain in possession of her body? Is that fair to her?” 

“That’s not the point!” I snapped. “She’s a living person already. You created her, so she’s basically like your child. But not only did you treat her like shit the whole time you knew her, now you just want to throw her away the first chance you get to replace her with the sister you sacrificed to create her in the first place? Don’t you give a shit about her?” 

The woman stared at me for a moment before speaking carefully. “Do not attempt to judge me. Not until you have been through what I have. I told you, the creature behind all of this murdered my children, and I will see him die no matter what that takes. I was willing to sacrifice my own twin sister for that, but now that there is an opportunity to bring her back? You had better believe I will take it. The creature you call Nevada was never real to me. She was a means to an end. And now her use is over. She is using a body I need. I will use that to get my sister back, no matter which of you think you can stand in my way.” Her voice grew progressively more dangerous throughout that, as the air around us seemed to grow colder. And then, she simply pivoted on her heel and began to walk. “But, I am certain you’d like to see your mother.” 

The rest of us exchanged looks before turning to follow her. On the way, I felt a tug from my connection to Rahanvael. So, I took Shiori and Tabbris’s hands so they could guide me while I checked in.

Things down there had changed rather dramatically. Now the ghost girl was hovering a bit away from Stasia and Judas, who were literally standing right next to Robin and Persephone. All of them were standing inside a cave of some sort that was brightly lit by torches and several bonfires all along the walls. And they were surrounded by what looked like a bunch of primitive humans in furs. Or rather, primitive Seosten. But it didn’t seem like they were a threat. It actually looked more like they were… wait… worshiping Persephone? They were, like, bowing to her and bringing her what looked an awful lot like offerings. What–huh? 

Before I could focus anymore on that, or get any answers from Rahanvael, my attention was drawn back to my real body, as my mother’s voice called my name. My eyes snapped open, to find that we were in a large cavern. The Jitterbug was parked right next to what looked like an enormous vault-like door that was open, revealing smooth, polished metal walls beyond. The secret, hidden lab, obviously. 

Mercury and Nevada were there, along with Miles, all of them carrying crates up onto the ship. Then there was my mother, who set her own crate down and crossed the cavern to embrace me tightly. For just a moment, I forgot everything else and returned it. It felt really nice, but it couldn’t last. Not right now. 

“Mom,” I murmured, pulling back a bit to stare at her. “You’re okay.” She started to apologize, but I stopped her. “No, don’t. I–we get it. Believe me, we get it.” 

“You see? I am a woman of my word,” Denuvus announced, dragging my attention back that way. “They’re all safe and sound.” She looked to Asenath. “Which means if you want to know why Rasputin is here, I’ll tell you that too. And then we can all get what we want and get out of here.” Her gaze moved, scanning each of us in turn as though searching for which of us was going to make the first move against her. 

“Unless, of course, you would all prefer to do this the hard way.” 

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The Storm 21-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Okay, now everyone was looking at me. I rocked backward on my heels, feeling their eyes staring. Tabbris’s hand touched my back, her mouth silently moving in a single word, ‘What?’ She was so taken aback by the whole thing that she didn’t even use our telepathic communication thing.

Meanwhile, my head shook as I stared back at the woman. I’m sorry, what the fuck are you talking about? And what does any of that have to do with why you sent my mother here, and took Nevada and Mercury? Actually, where the hell are they? What are even you doing here? Why are you trying to distract us with some bullshit about me and the Fomorians? I could have blurted another half dozen questions or so, at least. But that last one was the most important. Why was she trying to distract us? 

Denuvus chuckled silently, glancing away with a thoughtful look. Then new words appeared on the board. ‘You’re right about the distraction thing. But then, it’s also not a lie. The best distractions are the truth. And believe it or not, the two things are connected. You want to know why I’m here, why I’ve done all this? It’s connected to what I’ve already said.’ 

You really expect us to believe that the people of this world are ancient Seosten? That was Asenath. Because that sounds an awful lot like a story you’re making up just to sound interesting and confusing enough to keep our attention. We already know you’re in a rush. You sent your mind-controlled goons just to slow us down, and now you’re willing to stand here and tell stories about ancient Seosten and how Flick’s supposed to stop the Fomorians? 

There was a moment of silent contemplation from Denuvus. She seemed to be considering how to respond to that. Then she simply raised her hand and snapped her fingers. As she did so, the force field disappeared and there was a pulse of energy that shot through the whole area. It felt like static electricity passing through me twice. It all happened before I, or any of the others, could even react. And when it was over, I heard the woman speak out loud. “Let’s be clear about something, you are not the first to think of ways to bypass or counter my abilities, and you will not be the last. It was a good–” 

In mid-sentence, Denuvus stepped aside as Asenath went after her, using a bit of Bobbi’s power for even greater speed than she was capable of on her own. What followed was a rapid series of blindingly quick motions. The vampire girl had a knife in each hand and swung seven, eight, nine times within a second or two. But each time, Denuvus avoided the blade by twisting that part of her body out of the way. She barely seemed to put much effort into it, like she was in the Matrix or something. She dodged everything before tapping a finger against the girl. Immediately, Senny was set up to the ceiling and pinned there. 

Shiori, Twister, and I moved that way immediately, but Denuvus held up her hand and green flames appeared between us. “I have no particular desire to harm any of you unless I am given no other option,” she informed us. “Look up, you’ll see your friend is fine.” 

I did so, and she was right. Asenath was simply pinned to the ceiling and held there. There didn’t seem to be anything else wrong with her. Well, aside from the fact that she was clearly pretty angry about the whole situation. Seth appeared and went floating up that way to say something to her, giving the dangerous woman below a look that told me he wasn’t any happier about this than Asenath was. 

Once we had taken that in, Denuvus lowered her hand and the flames vanished. “As I said, I have no desire to injure or kill you. I will defend myself, however. That is something I have grown quite accustomed to and skilled at, as you may have noticed.” She paused pointedly before adding, “As you also might have noticed, I am not using my voice to control you. Consider that an attempted olive branch of peace. I recognize that you have every right to be angry with my actions. But, if you will be still and allow me to speak, you may find that we do not have to continue or end this encounter as enemies.” Her eyes met mine. “Your mother is well. I required her assistance, not her pain or injury. When this is over, she will be returned to you.” 

“You puppeted Miles and his friends and sent them to attack us,” I shot back. “Wait, where is Miles? Add that to the list. We know he ran up here, so what’d you do with him and the others?” 

Twister, standing a few feet to the side, spoke up then. “Yeah, babe, it’s hard to say you’re trying to play nice when you mind control a herd of baby Heretics into ambushing us.” 

“Miles is assisting your mother with the last of what I needed her for,” the woman coolly informed me. “And yes, I did send them. I sent them to delay you and hurt you if need be. They were specifically told no lethal attacks. You all have healing capability and have likely been damaged just as much, if not more, in your training sessions. As I said, I will protect myself. That extends to protecting my goals, particularly those I have spent this much time and effort toward. But, you have made it this far. That by itself is to be commended.” 

As she said that, Denuvus gestured with her finger and Asenath was lowered back to the floor. “So, you have a choice. You may attempt to fight and force me to defend myself further. Or, you may allow me to continue giving you the explanation you actually want. I leave it entirely up to you.” 

Oh boy there was a lot I wanted to say to that. And a lot I wanted to do. But I forced those instincts down and simply took a long, deep breath. I had heard, and now seen a hint, of just how dangerous this woman could be. She had been said to be a contemporary of Fossor, and we didn’t have a whole army here to fight her like we had with him. It was just a few of us. Hell, she hadn’t even bothered to use her real power yet, as she’d pointed out. I knew this whole thing was specifically meant to delay us while she got exactly what she wanted, but what else were we supposed to do? She’d literally disabled our defenses against her with a snap of her fingers. And now she wasn’t bothering to even use that power. Not yet anyway. Unless we gave her a reason.

“Fine,” I finally managed through gritted teeth. “Tell us the truth then.” Though even as I said that, I wasn’t sure what she told us would actually be the truth. Still, we didn’t have much choice other than to listen and decide for ourselves.

From the small smile on the woman’s face, she knew what I was thinking. But she didn’t address it, simply taking a moment to glance around at all of us before starting to speak again. “As I was saying, those ancient Seosten people did come to this world and they began to plan on how to deal with Cronus, as well as his burgeoning Fomorian people once that particular issue presented itself. They saw themselves as the true Seosten people, as those who had stayed behind were all… mutated to gain their possession power. A bit of prejudice, yes, but also fear of what Cronus’s infection could have done to them. In any case, they believed that it was up to them to come up with a way to defeat these Fomorians. And over time, as they put themselves toward that goal, they learned the real issue. Specifically, the fact that it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to truly kill a Fomorian.” 

We all blinked at that, before Tabbris spoke up. “Um, they’re tough, but they’re not impossible. We saw some of them get killed.” 

“No, you didn’t,” Denuvus started, before amended, “Well, technically in a way, yes. But not permanently.” 

With that, she proceeded to tell us the real story. She explained that when a Fomorian ‘died,’ they simply respawned back on their homeworld or wherever, in a new body. Which was part of the reason they were so impossibly dangerous. Every time they were killed, they learned from those mistakes and weaknesses. They died, then they appeared in a new body and adjusted themselves to be stronger and to counter the thing they had been killed by. No wonder the Seosten were having so many problems beating them. They were fighting a losing war because their enemies would just keep learning and improving from every fight. Hell, if that was true, it meant they were still fighting the exact same people their original ancestors fought at the very beginning of this whole war. Which was just horrifying and depressing at the same time. 

Shiori spoke up slowly as we all absorbed that. “So, wait. You mean there’s the exact same amount of Fomorians now as there was back then? You just said they don’t procreate.” 

“That’s… sort of true, they don’t in the way that you’re thinking,” Denuvus confirmed. “But no, there are more than they started with.” Before we could all be too confused, she continued. “You see, captured Seosten are not killed. They are turned into more Fomorians.” 

Okay, that made me rock backwards in confusion. “Wait, what? What the fuck are you talking about?” 

So, the woman explained further. This whole reincarnation thing wasn’t just something that some species known as the Fomorians was capable of. It turned out that every single original Fomorian was actually given the mind and… soul or whatever of one of the Seosten whom Cronus had absorbed back in the very beginning. When this whole thing had started, the original Cronus absorbed all those Seosten people into himself. Then he found these other people, the pre-Fomorian species and sort of… injected those absorbed minds into each of them. That created the Fomorians we knew. And now, whenever they captured a regular Seosten, they would…. they would take them back to Cronus and turn them into another Fomorian. 

Beside me, Tabbris made a noise of alarm and fear, covering her mouth with both hands before mumbling, “Is that really what happens to them? They–they really… but why don’t they ever say anything? Why do they all work for Cronus after that, after they get… transformed?” 

The woman shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers when it comes to that. It’s taken a lot just for me to find out as much as I have, believe me. My guess would be that they are somehow bound to him, or their memories are erased in some way. Perhaps a bit of both and more. Whatever the answer, that is what happens. It is why the Seosten are doomed to lose this war, eventually, if something does not happen to change the rules.” 

Slowly, the others turned to look at me, following the woman’s gaze. I swallowed before straightening as I stared right back at her. “That’s what you were talking about before. These people, the ones who came to this world, they gave themselves Necromancy so they could stop the Fomorians from respawning or whatever. They wanted to grab onto their souls when they were killed.” 

Again, Denuvus offered me a faint smile of approval. “Quite right. It took quite a bit of effort and a long time on their parts, but they eventually seeded that power into themselves, into their genetic line. There, the power would grow, mutating and adjusting with each generation. It would pop up now and then, but they needed it to be stronger. A normal level of Necromancy wouldn’t do. They needed one powerful enough to actually do what they wanted. That required many generations of growth. Unlike the Seosten back on their homeworld, the ones who came to this world did not expand their lifespans out to thousands of years. They lived more human-like lives. And with each generation that passed, the potential of their seeded Necromancy grew stronger.” 

I was so taken aback by all this, trying to come to terms with what she was saying, that I couldn’t find any words. Asenath did, however. “So why did they just forget all that? You can’t tell me these people remember anything about where they came from. Fossor sure didn’t know, and if Rahanvael knew, she would have said something to Flick.” 

“That is true,” Denuvus agreed. “They did forget their own origins. Why? I’m afraid I don’t know. I’ve looked for that answer to no avail. I only know the truth because I have found records from their ancestors explaining what they did, their history and what their goals were. Many were… let’s say terrified by the idea of modifying themselves to install that seed of Necromancy. They saw it as corrupting their own species, the last of their species. In their minds, there would be no more original Seosten after that point. But they also saw it as the only solution to the Fomorian problem. It was something they knew would take many generations before coming to fruition. Perhaps they cut themselves off from the outside universe in order to give that seed time to grow. If the Fomorians had found them before then, they would have been culled quite easily. It’s possible they erased those records from their own society themselves in order to protect their mission. Maybe they intended to have those records restored, their descendants made to understand their true history at some point, when the time was right. Which is why they were available for me to find.” 

“And maybe Fossor fucked that whole thing up when he took over,” I put in. “Whatever, that’s all speculation. Now you think he was the one those original people were waiting for. That ‘seed of Necromancy’ finally blossomed in him. It’s why he was so much stronger than the others.” 

Denuvus beamed a bit. “You truly are a credit to your mother. Yes, that is basically correct. He began already quite a bit stronger than others of his kind. And then he proceeded to increase that power exponentially over the millennia that followed. The power itself was growing as expected, though the ancestors involved in its creation might have been a bit disappointed about who it ended up in. But then, it didn’t end in him.”

Swallowing hard, I finished for her. “It ended up in me, and then combined with Manakel’s power.”

“Making it even stronger,” Twister added. “So now you think she can actually stop those Fomorians from respawning or whatever?” 

Denuvus, however, shook her head. “Not yet. She might have the raw power, but she’s nowhere near the level of skill and control that would take. But as far as potential goes, sure.” To me, she added, ”You just need a lot more training. But from what I hear, you’ve got the right teachers. So, you know, good luck. I don’t particularly want to see the Fomorians take over Earth and kill everybody either.”

This… this was too much to take in. I had no idea how to actually react to it. Being told that I had the potential, and therefore the responsibility, to help stop the Fomorians once and for all? What the hell was I supposed to say to that? How could I even start to respond? 

I had no idea. So I didn’t try, not right now anyway. I needed time to process. Instead, I took a breath before asking, ”But what does that have to do with why you’re here and why you brought my mom and the others? You said it was related to that, but Fossor didn’t know any of this.”

“You’re right, he didn’t, not exactly.” With another small smile, the woman continued. “He didn’t know the origins of his people. But he did locate their control room, the ancient laboratory where they did their work. I say ancient, though to his people, it would’ve been incredibly futuristic. He found the hidden lab and vault where all their tools and treasures were stored. Treasures they had gathered from across the universe on their journeys. The man was incapable of understanding their history or records. But he did know power when he saw it. He sealed the place off to all but himself. Or his blood.”

“Ammon,” I immediately put in. “Wait, they used your blood to give him his powers. You did that on purpose. You let Ammon have your blood so it would connect you to him.”

“A credit to your mother indeed,” Denuvus replied. “Yes, Ammon receiving my blood was precisely what I wanted to happen. And, as expected, Fossor did eventually bring your mother here while she was pregnant with him. You see, in order to access some of the systems within the lab, it required proof of genetic offspring. They wished to ensure that the seed of power was being continued. Thus, to access everything he wanted within those hidden rooms, he had to prove he had a child.”

My head shook. “But what else did he access in there? And what is it you’re after?”

In response to that, the woman seemed to consider for a moment before shaking her head. “I couldn’t say precisely what he gained from those rooms. Though I imagine it was quite dangerous. And as for myself, I have but one goal in this life beyond maintaining my own freedom and comfort. And that is to kill the monster who imprisoned my sister and me all those years ago. The same monster who killed my children. I believe the hidden chambers here hold a key piece of the puzzle of how to do that. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s here. That is why I brought your mother here. When Fossor keyed Ammon into the secret lab, he created a loophole in which if your mother and I were both together, the system would allow us access. My blood mixed with hers in the same relative area was almost close enough for it to accept. It required one other thing, a Seosten genetic pattern.”

“Mercury,” Tabbris finished for her. “That’s why you made Flick’s Mama bring him too.”

Denuvus nodded in confirmation to that before gesturing. “But with all that said, I assume you would like to see your mother by now. They should be just about done transferring the contents of these rooms so I can go through them at my leisure to find what I was looking for.”

“Wait,” Asenath put in. “What about Nevada? Why did you want her here?”

Again, Denuvus smiled faintly. “It’s not her I want at all. It’s the person she was born from. The person whose death created her. 

“I want my sister back.”

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Interlude 12A – Denny (Heretical Edge 2)

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Her hands hurt from gripping something so tightly. She couldn’t let it go. Something–tape was wrapped around them. Not only around her hands, but her whole head. The tape was wrapped tightly around her head and hands. She couldn’t release the thing she was holding, couldn’t let go. 

Couldn’t take it out of her mouth. 

She tasted metal, a long, grooved shaft of steel choking her. And she tasted more than that. Gasoline. She tasted gasoline. Not a drop or a drizzle. The thing tied to her head, tied to her mouth, was pumping gasoline into her mouth. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t take it out. She couldn’t do anything but sit there, letting the gas keep pouring down her throat. He was there. He made sure. The smell of the fumes blinded her. The taste made her retch. But she couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t let her. She had to keep drinking. Had to keep choking. Had to keep going until…

With a strangled scream, eleven-year-old Denise Cartland hurled herself sideways off the desk in her sixth-grade classroom, where she had briefly drifted off. As she landed on the floor between her seat and her neighbor’s, the girl was already heaving. She threw up on the cheap linoleum. The gasoline, she could taste it. She could taste it. It was in her mouth, down her throat. She had to get it out. She had to get it all out. Her fingers clawed at the floor, tears blinding her as she heaved. Her lunch, eaten only an hour earlier, came rushing out and drenched the floor. Around her, she could hear students crying out and jerking away. A few chairs fell over in their rush to escape the sight of their classmate throwing up. 

“Back up, back up everyone!” Mr. Tuttle, their teacher, quickly instructed as he approached. Stepping around the mess, the middle-aged man took a knee next to the young girl, a hand on her back. “It’s okay, Denise. It’s alright, get it out. It’s okay.” He coaxed her while rubbing her back, his other hand moving to draw some of the girl’s dark hair away from her face. At the same time, he turned toward a student near the door. “Brad, go get the janitor, he should be mopping near the library right now. Wait, grab the hall pass there. Now go, tell him what happened. Yolanda, Frank, open those windows over there.” Even as he gave those instructions, Tuttle was still gently rubbing the girl’s back, trying to coax and comfort her. 

Denise barely heard any of that. Her tear-blinded gaze was on the floor, but she wasn’t actually seeing that either. Instead, all she saw was the cold asphalt of a gas station parking lot. All she felt was the tape tied so tightly around her hands, forcing her to grip that fuel pump handle. All she tasted was the gasoline, pouring relentlessly down her throat. She was choking, dying. She had to get it out. Her small body heaved once more, but there was nothing else in her stomach. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the taste out. She couldn’t get the gasoline out. 

It took another minute or so before the girl managed to calm down enough to recognize that she had been having a nightmare. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. Finally lifting her head to look around with wide eyes, she saw the rest of her classmates staring. Most looked sympathetic or worried, though a few were snickering behind their hands, as whispers passed through the crowd. Whispers that sent a flood of embarrassment through the girl to replace the terror.

“Denise?” Mr. Tuttle gently asked after giving a quick look to the rest of the students to quiet down and get themselves under control. “Are you okay?” 

“I… I…” Opening and shutting her mouth, the eleven-year-old looked around, before lowering her gaze to the floor. A horrible shudder ran through her, as she hugged her arms tightly around herself. 

“I don’t know.” 

********

The man couldn’t move. Oh, he wanted to. He desperately wanted to. But his feet remained firmly rooted to the floor. He could do nothing about the flames gradually filling the room. He couldn’t even turn his head away from the rising smoke, his coughing growing louder by the second. He couldn’t do anything to save himself while the room burned around him. He wasn’t tied down, or hindered in any physical way. He stood there with the open door leading to open, cool, clear air mere feet away. It would have taken almost nothing for the man to sprint to safety. Six steps. Six steps and he’d be free. But he couldn’t take those six steps. 

Because she wouldn’t let him. 

Denise stood in that open air, just a short distance from the doorway. She saw the flames rising around the man. She saw his terrified gaze as he stared pleadingly at her. He wasn’t begging anymore, because she had told him to stop. His whining had been entirely too annoying after the first few seconds. It distracted from the sound of the flames, and she wanted to hear when they reached his body. She wanted to hear what it sounded like when a person started to burn, without all the annoying, distracting screaming getting in the way. So she had told him to shut his mouth and not open it no matter what. Finally, she would be able to hear the fire properly. Finally, she would hear exactly what happened when the flames began to burn his flesh away. He’d probably fall down by then, as the smoke got to him. But there wasn’t much to be done about that. Maybe next time she’d find a way to string the person up so they’d stay standing the whole time. But either way, she’d still hear it. She’d hear and smell the flames burning his body. 

And maybe, just maybe, as she watched this man burn to death, Denise would finally feel something. 

“Denise! Denny, sweety, Denny, it’s okay. Please, baby, wake up.” 

The voice, accompanied by hands gently shaking her, snapped Denise awake. She jerked in her bed, crying out while her wide, terrified eyes darted around. She wasn’t standing in front of a burning building. She wasn’t watching a man about to die. She wasn’t anticipating it, looking forward to it, savoring it. She was in her bedroom, in her bed, with her mother sitting on the edge shaking her awake. Her voice was worried. “Denny, baby, it’s alright. You were having a nightmare… again. You’re safe, sweetie. I promise, baby, it’s okay. It was just a dream. Just a bad dream.”

A choked sob escaped Denise, as she sprang toward her mother and grabbed on tight. Burying her face against the comfort of her mom, the little girl clung to her and shook violently. “Mom, Mommy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t wanna–I–I didn’t–” She was trying to say that she didn’t want to kill that man, but couldn’t get the words out. And a part of her knew there was no way to explain it anyway. 

Her mother, clueless about what was really upsetting the girl, hugged her tight while shaking her head. Her voice was soft and soothing. “It’s okay, baby. It’s alright. It wasn’t real. You’re okay. Nothing’s going to hurt you, I promise. You’re safe now, my sweet little girl.”

For a couple minutes, they sat there like that, Denise clinging to her mom as the feelings and desires she had felt in the dream gradually faded. They’d been so real, so intense. It was like she was really there, really standing near that man who was about to die. But more than that, it was like she’d wanted to be there. She wanted to see him die, wanted to finally feel some guilt, some good emotion. Because there was nothing. She couldn’t feel it. She couldn’t feel the guilt or sadness she was supposed to feel. Something was wrong with her, and no matter how much she tried to fix it, nothing worked. She just couldn’t feel the right things. She–she was a…

“Monster,” the girl murmured under her breath, the words barely audible. 

They were, however, loud enough for her mother to hear, and the woman simply hugged her even tighter. “No baby, there’s no monster. It’s alright. Come on, it’s okay. Let’s go get a drink, you’ll feel better.” 

With that, she coaxed Denise to stand up and began to walk out of the room with her, their hands tightly clasped as she promised the girl a glass of milk to calm her down. They passed Denise’s father on his way back from the bathroom, the man pausing just long enough to ask if the girl was okay before heading back to bed. After all, he had to get up early for work in the morning. 

Trying to push those horrific memories and thoughts out of her mind, Denise walked with her mother to the kitchen, then sat at the table, sipping milk and nibbling at a single cookie. Her mom sat next to her, looking worried and clearly trying to hide it. Her voice was gentle. “How do you feel, Denny?” 

Denise didn’t answer at first. Thoughts of those dreams filled her head, and she had to set the milk down before it spilled from her shaking hand. The nightmares didn’t come every time she slept, but they were often enough that her mother was talking about taking her to see a doctor, a therapist who could help. Her mother was already afraid of the nightmares Denise was having, and the girl hadn’t even told her any details. She couldn’t. She just… couldn’t tell her mother about those dreams. Not the monster ones. Not the ones where she was the monster. 

So, pushing that terror and confusion away, the girl met her mother’s gaze. She managed, through some effort, to smile. “I’m okay,” she claimed, her voice a little hollow. “Can I go back to bed now? I’m pretty tired.” 

Her mother nodded, getting up and moving to turn out the kitchen light. As she did so, Denise spoke up again. “Mom?” 

“Yes, sweetie?” Turning toward her, the woman was startled to see her daughter standing directly behind her, having moved silently from the table while her back was turned. 

But not nearly as surprised as she was when the girl’s hand rose with the knife to plunge into her chest.

And just like that, Denise snapped awake. She jerked upright so fast, crying out as she did so, that she nearly fell backward off the chair where she and her mother had been sitting around the kitchen table. Her mother’s head was on the table, the woman snoring quietly. The two of them had both fallen asleep while sitting there, and somehow Denise jerking upright hadn’t woken her mother. The half-finished glass of milk was nearby, next to a mostly-finished cookie. They had been asleep for about twenty minutes, according to the cat clock on the wall. 

Breathing hard, the young girl looked away from her mother, gaze focusing off toward her own distorted reflection in the gleaming metal toaster nearby. Her voice cracked as she whispered very quietly, “What’s wrong with me?” 

As if in response, the reflection in the toaster twisted even more. It could’ve been a trick of the light, or… or something else. But she saw her hair lighten. She saw her eyes change, her face shift. She saw… she saw…

Him. 

********

Things continued that way for another week. Denise–or Denny as she was increasingly insisting she wanted to go by permanently, had more nightmares, though she managed to stop screaming out quite as much. She hid as many of them as she could, afraid that her family and others would see her as even more of a freak than they probably already did. If they only knew the half of it. They thought she was only seeing monsters coming after her. But it was so much more, so much worse. She dreamed about dying, yes. She had that same dream of choking on gasoline. That dream that was so real it was practically a memory. But she had more dreams than that, horrific dreams where she was the monster. Half were just as realistic as the gasoline dream, so vivid they were as real to her, even after she woke up, as a real memory would have been. And the other half were… were fantasies. That was the only way she had to describe them. They were fantasies about killing people she knew. Her friends, her teachers, her family. People she passed on the street. Anyone and everyone. She would have long, intricate hallucinations about killing them. And after every single one, she would see… him. 

Who was he? She had no idea. And yet, she did. He was her. She was him. But she wasn’t, not really. He wasn’t real. But he was. He was the boy who spoke. But the boy who spoke never spoke. Not to her. Not in the glimpses she caught of him. Because he was her. But he wasn’t. 

This was all wrong. It was all confusing and wrong. She saw the boy here and there, always in distorted reflections or in the corner of her eye. She never saw him directly. He was at the edge of her mind, behind her and yet never there when she turned. She had no idea who he was, and yet she knew him. What? That didn’t make any sense. None of it made sense. She knew him but she didn’t? That was wrong. It was all wrong. All of it was… was… wrong. She couldn’t remember his name, but she knew it. She knew his name. His name, it… it was…

Dangerous. His name was dangerous. Every time she thought she had his name right on the tip of her tongue, Denny would collapse in a ball of fear. An unrelenting, terrible tidal wave of terror completely overwhelmed her whenever she got close to remembering, close to… thinking of it. 

Her family didn’t know about most of that, of course. But they knew enough that her mother insisted she see a therapist. So, that was where Denny was now, sitting in the woman’s office, mumbling a bit about one of the nightmares she’d had. One of the safe nightmares. No way was she going to tell this stranger about the other nightmares, the ones where she was a killer. Or her… her fantasies. She wasn’t going to tell anyone about those. 

The therapist, a tall, dark-skinned woman with short hair who had introduced herself as Megan, smiled gently from where she was sitting in an armchair. There was an actual couch in the room, but she’d told Denny that she didn’t have to lay on it, or even sit on it if she didn’t want to. She’d joked that she would lie to the grand order of therapists if they asked about Denny sitting on the magic couch. 

So, Denny did not sit on the couch. She sat on the floor, as far from the couch as possible. She didn’t want to be near it. She wanted to be– well, she wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else, really. She wanted to be anywhere aside from the place that would prove she really was… broken. Instead, she sat there on the floor next to a small table where some kids had left crayon drawings. But she didn’t touch the crayons either. She just sat there and talked about some of the nightmares she’d had. The safe ones. Herself choking on gasoline, and a few others that… that were more vague. Dreams about running away from someone, dreams about being thrown out a window and falling all the way to the cement, and dreams about being buried alive. That last one, that one was… that one was the worst. Because in that one, she was afraid. She was always afraid after, of course. When she woke up. But in most of the dreams, aside from the gasoline one, she was never afraid during them. It was only in the dream where she was lying in the grave, pleading and begging for her… for her… for a man to stop, when she actually felt fear during the dream. But the man never stopped. He just kept putting more dirt on top of her. Burying her in… a grave with other dead things. He ignored her pleading, ignored her crying out for her mother, and kept burying her in the dirt until everything except her face was covered. Then he took a vial of… of blood, poured it into her mouth, made her swallow it, and then… then he kept burying her. Shovelful after shovelful of dirt kept coming, all while she cried, and pleaded, and… and…

“Denny?” Megan quietly spoke up from her chair. She wasn’t holding a notebook or doing anything that looked like taking notes. “Are you okay? It looked like you… had something on your mind.” 

Realizing that she’d lost herself in the memory of that horrible dream, Denny gave a quick headshake. “Sorry. I was just… thinking.” Blinking up that way as a thought occurred to her, she hesitated before asking, “Are you going to tell my mom if I don’t tell you more things?” 

With a small smile, Megan shook her head. “No, Denny. I’m not going to tell your mom about anything we say during these sessions. You can say as much or as little as you want to. If you don’t want to talk about your dreams, maybe you’d like to draw a picture?” With that offer, the woman indicated the stack of papers, pencils, and crayons. “Would that help?” 

Looking over at the paper for a brief moment, Denny shook her head. “No,” she answered quietly, clenching her hands a little. She was too afraid of what sort of thoughts would run through her head if she picked up the pencil. The last time she’d picked up scissors at school, the images that had filled her mind when she’d looked at one of the boys… it almost made her throw up again. 

So, she left the pencils alone, turning away from them while fidgeting with her hands. “Can you give me medicine?” the girl finally asked after another extended moment of silence while she worked up a bit of courage. “You know, the kind that makes me not dream anymore. I’m tired, but I don’t want to go to sleep. That’s when I dream.”

Picking herself up from the chair and moving over to sit on the floor near the young girl, Megan quietly asked, “Those dreams are pretty bad, huh?” When Denny nodded, the therapist seemed to consider briefly before continuing. “I’m sorry you’re having these dreams, Denny. You don’t deserve that. I want you to know that you’re not a monster. These things you’re feeling, they’re not your fault. They’re not your thoughts, or your memories. Well, most of them. They’re not about you. None of this is. You’re just… an innocent bystander.” 

Shifting a little, Denny stared at the woman. Her suspicions had suddenly been raised. “What– what do you know about it?” 

Megan, in turn, smiled very faintly. It looked like a sad, old smile. “A lot more than I should, probably. But that’s not the point. And you won’t remember any of this later anyway. Denny, I’m very sorry about this. I know most others would doubt that, but I truly am sorry that you were affected this way. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live your life and–” She sighed heavily. “But I can’t let this go. I need to know about your dreams. I need you to tell me everything you’ve experienced, all of it. I have to get every detail, just in case. There might be something important somewhere in there. Something I’ve needed to know for a long time.” 

Denny began to push herself up from the floor. “I don’t wanna talk to you anymore, Megan,” the eleven-year-old informed her. “I don’t–” 

The older woman interrupted. “I’m sorry, I’m not really a Megan. It is a pretty name though. My name is Denuvus. Tell me about your dreams.” 

For a brief moment, Denny was silent, staring at the woman. Then her mouth opened, and the words came.

“I told you, I don’t want to talk to you anymore. And why’d you say your name was Megan if it’s Denuvus? What kind of name is Denuvus? I–I have to talk to my mom.” She pivoted to walk toward the door. 

Megan–or Denuvus, had risen to her feet. “My name is Denuvus. I want you to come back and sit down.” 

“Yeah? Well my name’s Denise,” Denny sarcastically retorted, grabbing the door to pull it open. “And what I want is for you to leave me alone and go jump in a lake.” In another second, she was out and stalking through the hall. 

She didn’t look back as the door closed behind her, which was almost a shame as it meant that she didn’t see the surprised look on her supposed therapist’s face as the woman vanished from the couch. 

A few seconds later and several miles away, the woman appeared above the surface of a small, local lake. She dropped into the water with a splash before rising to stand atop the water as though it was a physical floor. As she did so, her physical form shifted and transformed back to that of the small Caucasian woman with black hair, the appearance she used most often when talking to Trice. “Hmmm,” Denuvus murmured.

“Well, this was unexpected.”  

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