Dexamene

Homeward Bound 8-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: There’s a bit of info about the upcoming first non-canon chapters in my first comment after this chapter, for those who are interested.

Talking to the Meregan was hard. Like, really hard. Standing in front of them and telling them what had happened to the people they left back on their own world was one of the worst experiences of my life. And that was saying a lot after all the time I had spent with Fossor. Not only did I have to tell them about Fossor killing and enslaving even more of their surviving people, but there was also the fact that what little was left of their world had been taken over by the fucking Fomorians. What very little strides they may have made toward putting their planet back together had been entirely wiped out, and the people they cared about who were left behind were gone. Whether it would have been better if they were taken by Fossor or the Fomorians was both a hard question to answer, and entirely meaningless semantics. The point was, they were dead. And I had to stand in front of them, people I liked, to tell them that. 

When I was done, the assortment of Meregan I had been talking to were silent for a few long moments. I couldn’t bring myself to even try to say anything reassuring. I could barely look at them. The disgust I felt, the horror of what I had to report, made me physically ill. 

Finally, Purin cleared his throat. The nine-and-a-half foot tall, bronze-haired man stood with his hand on his son’s shoulder. Dis, by that point, had grown from his previous height of about six feet up to seven. He’d looked like he was about ten years old (discounting his height) at the time, and now looked like… well, he looked like he was only about twelve or thirteen in the face, height be damned. It was a strange effect, seeing a young boy who nonetheless towered over me. 

“We are being thankful to you, Friend-Flick Chambers, for being telling us of your information, sad as it might be. Please do not being mistaking our quiet for anger to your person.” 

“It’s okay,” I managed quietly, forcing the words out. “I get it, believe me.” 

Dis spoke then, his voice cracking a bit. “Family-Father, if our world-people are not-being, what will be of us?” 

His father whispered something in his ear, before picking the boy up to hold against him. Then he looked to me. “Friend-Flick Chambers, our people should being speak of what we are to doing.” It was obvious that he could barely get the words out. And equally obvious that he and the rest of the Meregan people were were trying to put on a brave, strong face after the horrible news I’d given them. That was for me. They were trying to conceal their despair in front of me, either because they didn’t want to upset me, or they were just proud, or… something. The point was, they couldn’t grieve properly with me standing there gawking. So, with useless apologies spilling from my mouth, I promised to come visit again and left them to their own privacy. 

Hurriedly retreating, I waited until I was on the next floor up before turning away to start punching the metal wall repeatedly. A violent series of curses escaped me, punctuated by more apologies. Who was I apologizing to? Everyone? Did it matter?  All I knew was that I wanted the wall in front of me to be Fossor’s evil, psychotic fucking face. I wanted to fucking kill that monster more than I had ever wanted to kill anything in the world. He deserved to die. 

Rahanvael appeared nearby, watching me silently and with an expression that made it clear she  completely understood the reaction. I had a feeling that, if she had been solid, she might have punched a few things too. Because, of course, the Meregan world was only one example of what had to be many similar atrocities she had personally witnessed her brother perform over the millennia. She had sat helplessly by, unable to do anything but watch as her once-beloved twin had become this… this thing. How would that have affected me? What if it was someone I loved as much as she had loved her own brother? What if my dad had turned into this kind of monster? What if Fossor had succeeded at turning my mother into a vicious, evil attack dog who could do those things? I had no idea how I would have continued to exist after that. 

Finally, I stopped, exhaling long and hard before turning to look at the ghost. “I’m sorry.” My voice was barely audible. I had to swallow a hard lump in my throat. “I’m sorry about everything you’ve gone through. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the stuff you’ve seen. I’ll definitely never  understand what it’s like to be that helpless. And I hope to hell I never understand what it’s like to have someone I care about that much turn that… wrong. I’m sorry. I just can’t… comprehend.” Despite my intentions,  the words sounded hollow and fake to my own ears. They were completely inadequate. But what was I supposed to say?  What could I ever possibly say that could make the slightest bit of difference? Nothing, really. I couldn’t say anything. 

Despite that, however, Rahanvael offered me a very faint smile. There was deep pain there, along with incredible sadness and remorse. There was a sense of loss in that smile that I couldn’t even begin to understand. Still, she spoke in a quiet voice. “We all carry our own regrets, Felicity. We all have our agonies. Yours are not invalidated by another’s. What should be compared between two people is not the depth of each other’s woes, but the strength that each gives to the other. Take two pieces of cloth. Poke holes in them in random places. In one poke more than the other. Then sew them together. They will each cover one another’s holes. Though the one with less damage covers more, even the heavily damaged cloth will help to cover the few holes within the less damaged cloth. They aid each other, cover one another. That is what it is to be alive and to find those you love. It is to be a damaged cloth, sewing yourself to other damaged cloths, to protect and cover one another’s flaws and pains.” 

Once she finished saying all that, I stared at her for a moment. Finally, I managed a quiet, “The real tragedy here is that I can’t hug you.” My eyes closed briefly before I made myself look at her again with a firm nod. “We’re going to stop your brother. We’re not going to let him get away with his plan. We’re going back in time and we’re going to put a stop to him once and for all. We’re going to end him so you can have peace. I promise. I’m not going to let up until he’s gone.” 

She met my gaze silently for a few long seconds. Then her head inclined, chin set. “Yes. And I will be there with you. I will see the creature my brother has become killed and put out of its misery. Out of everyone’s misery. Whatever it takes, he will die. He has gone too far.” 

The two of us continued to talk for another minute before being joined by a Rakshasa in what looked like a highly decorated cloak, who approached from the other end of the hall. “Much apologies for the interruption, Madam of Chambers. The Lord of Petan would like to know if you require sustenance at the current time. The evening meal is being prepared.” 

Food. At the word, my stomach growled. Yeah, I definitely needed food. With a quick nod, I thanked the Rakshasa, and he began to lead me to dinner. Rahanvael had vanished once more, but I felt her with me. She was there. She would be there, as the two of us went back to face Fossor once more. Because whatever happened, we had to stop him. Everything depended on it. 

Everything.

******

Six days later, enough power reserves had been scraped together to use the time travel spell on Dexamene, so she could be sent back to create the time loop. It was going to take even longer after this to pull enough power together to send me back. Probably at least a few weeks, according to Petan. It was more important right now to establish the loop so all of this didn’t get undone. I really didn’t want to get shunted into some other time line where I ended up imprisoned by Fossor again after all. Besides, I was already in the future. I could really take as much time here as I wanted as long as I ended up traveling back far enough to stop Fossor. 

Of course, the whole ‘time travel to solve the problem’ thing was even more complicated than I’d already known. According to Petan’s magic experts, people even more skilled than he himself was, who had put their entire long lives toward the study of such spells, traveling to a time and location (by location they meant an entire world) where a very powerful spell had recently happened (like the casting of the original Bystander Effect) with effects that traversed such a large area, was all but impossible. Basically, such huge spell effects fucked with time travel magic, as well as a number of other kinds. It ended up raising the cost of such spells exponentially, up to levels that no one could reasonably afford even if they had the resources of the full Seosten Empire, or those of Fossor himself. 

Those skilled with the magic we needed could find those blips on the timeline. And, of course, there was a massive one right near the time I needed to go. It blotted out entire months afterward where there was so much excess power in the air that it would have cost multiple Seosten Empires worth of magical energy just to send me there by myself. 

That, of course, had to be the spell that Fossor was planning to cast. There was no other explanation. A spell that size, with effects that far-reaching, would definitely explain the blot over the timeline. He had cast it. He’d cast the spell, which told me… which told me…

Oh, don’t think about it. I was going to change things. I just had to get back to a point before the spell had happened. Except, even that was difficult. Passing a point like that on the timeline was hard too. Because it apparently tended to try to suck you into it as you passed, particularly if your intended destination was temporally close to it. ‘Like a black hole’ was the explanation I’d been given. It was another reason that going to the past to change things didn’t tend to happen. There were a lot of others, apparently. But the kind of power it took to muscle all the way past all the powerful, world altering spells throughout time to get to where you needed to go made it nearly impossible to do without wrecking the magical economies of entire galaxies. 

Sending one person to a time of limited powerful magical effects happening was one thing. But to get me to the place and time I needed to get to if I was going to stop Fossor from pulling this off was a whole other story. I had to go back to a point after the last time I was there, but that point was so close, relatively (within a week) to when the big spell actually went off that I would be pulled toward that event. They were going to have to spend extra power just to stop me from being pulled right to when the spell went off. The way it had been explained to me was, again, like a black hole. I was supposed to imagine being on a ship that was being pulled in by that gravity well. The closer I was to it, the harder the ship’s engines would have to work to stop from being hauled in and crushed. 

What it came down to, in the end, was that I had to skirt the very edge of the line of safety. The time travel spell had to put me right near when Fossor would cast his own spell, without letting it be too late. We had to let Fossor’s spell pull me in partway, then gun the engines, so to speak, right at the very edge of the effect going off. I would be walking a very fine line between going back too early (thus destroying myself by ending up existing in two places of the same world at the same time) and showing up too late and being swallowed mid-transit by Fossor’s spell. 

It was, in a word, dangerous. Dexamene, at least, was going to a whole different universe than the one my version of Earth was in. She was going to the Meregan world. That made things a little easier, though not completely. It would still take an awful lot of power to pull off, even just sending that one girl by herself. 

Speaking of that one girl by herself, we were standing in one of the designated spell casting ribs. There were a group of over a dozen powerful mages of all different shapes and sizes (including Petan himself) putting the finishing touches on the spell while Dexamene and I stood off to the side. I gave her a look. “You’re pretty brave, you know.” Over these past few days I had gotten to know her better, and I could tell why Tristan liked her so much. The last thing I wanted was for something terrible to happen to her, especially at the hands of the monsters I was sending her toward. 

Blushing a little, she shook her head. “Not as brave as you. You’re going to go right into the Gaawdef’s den when it’s your turn.” 

“I’m not sure what a Gaawdef is,” I admitted, “But I’m fairly certain that a planet that’s been taken over by the Fomorians is probably right up there on the danger scale.” With that, I turned and put a hand on the Nereid’s shoulder. “Be careful, seriously. I know I told you everything you need to say to make this loop work. But I have no idea what you’ll be going into back there. Please, just stay with Elisabet and be as safe as you can, okay?” 

She nodded, spontaneously leaning in to hug me. “You be careful too. And Flick… please, if–when you get through the thing with that evil Necromancer, come get us, okay? I know there’s a whole world to hide on, but… but don’t leave us there with the Fomorians any longer than you have to.” I could hear the fear in her voice that she was trying to keep buried. The girl was rightfully terrified about what would happen if those things captured her. Terrified almost beyond comprehension, and yet she was still doing this. 

Yeah, it was easy to understand why Tristan considered her such a good friend. 

I swore to her that we would be there as soon as possible, and then the girl stepped away to have a last few minutes with her parents, who kept shooting me dirty looks. They weren’t happy about their daughter being sent back in time like this, no matter what the circumstances. Neither of them would talk to me. I understood their anger, and wasn’t going to push them. 

Before long, Petan announced that it was time. Dexamene hugged her parents tightly, tearfully promised to see them again someday, and moved to the center of the spellforms that had been drawn on the floor. As the chanting for the spell began, she looked to me, and gave a thumbs up. A gesture she must have learned from Tristan, of course. 

Despite all the fear and doubt that had crept into my head, I returned the thumbs up. We had to pull this off. She had to create the loop that got me to this point, and then I had to go back to the time right before Fossor used his spell, and stop him. 

The chanting took a good ten minutes, during which Dexamene had to stay right where she was, with minimal movement or speaking, which would have disrupted the casting. Finally, it worked. With a rush of power even I could feel, the girl disappeared. 

One down… me to go. 

******

Three and a half more weeks after the point when Dexamene had been sent back. That was how long it took before Petan’s people had enough power to send me as well. Three and a half weeks of sitting around, worrying about what would happen, training to fight better, and experimenting. 

Experimenting, in this case, with my new powers. Or at least the ones I’d managed to figure out in the past month. A lot of what I’d put together was thanks to long discussions with Petan and others on the ship about what I’d managed to kill lately coupled with a lot of trial and error.

I’d managed to figure out what the whole deal with being able to make those sticks hover very briefly in the air was, at least. It came from an Alter I’d killed back in Fossor’s place called a Lemevwik. At full strength, a powerful-enough Lemevwik was capable of rewinding, pausing, or fast-forwarding the effect of outside forces on inanimate objects. Throw a glass at the floor and watch it shatter, then the Alter could rewind the object to be in one piece. Drop it toward the floor from high, and then fast-forward the effect and it would shatter before it ever hit. Or would fall faster. The Lemevwik could apparently choose exactly how to apply the power, making the glass simply fall faster, or making it shatter before it hit.  

The pause worked much the same way. Throw the glass at the floor and pause the effect, and it wouldn’t shatter until the pause ended, even after landing. Or it would hover in the air. Again, just like with the fast-forward, the specifics of whether the entire glass was paused or simply the effect of hitting the ground was up to the Lemevwik. I supposed because they chose whether they were pausing the effect of gravity or the effect of the physical force of the impact. 

It wasn’t just throwing something down, of course. The power also applied to things like erosion, acid, physical force, anything similar affecting an inanimate object. 

I couldn’t fast forward, apparently. I could pause or rewind outside effects like that on a physical, non-living object for a whole five seconds. Yeah, it was pretty situational, and didn’t work to stop or rewind magic, but could still be pretty useful. 

I’d also figured out one other thing I’d gotten during the time with Fossor. It allowed me to designate any single word and know whenever anyone within a certain radius of about a quarter-mile used that single word. It didn’t tell me everything they said, just one word before and one word after. I would get a sudden flash in my head of those three words and the face of the person who said them. 

Again, really situational, but still. I supposed there could possibly be a use for it at some point. 

Meanwhile, from the fighting against all the Fomorian creatures, I’d picked up mainly bonuses to my regeneration, my overall strength (I was up to deadlifting about three thousand pounds, which was pretty nifty), running speed (I could hit forty miles per hour outside of lion form and without boosting), and general toughness (needles and simple metal blades used with normal human-level strength had a really hard time penetrating my skin, and I could tank a punch pretty well). 

Two unique powers that did stand out were the ones I had picked up from that big Deer-Snake thing, and the Ape-Croc. From the former, I had gained the ability to spit globs of that same hardening resin stuff. I could only work up enough to encase an object about the size of a shoebox, and wasn’t quite as strong as the exact stuff that thing had spit, but still. It could be really useful in taking a weapon or something out of play for awhile. 

Then there was the Ape-Croc. I did not, unfortunately, have the power to stop an entire ship from lifting off the ground. The way Rahanvael had put it, those things, at full strength, could prevent the ship’s engines from achieving the thrust needed to escape the planet. Technically, what the thing did was dramatically multiply the force needed to move something. The full creature could, indeed, stop an entire giant ship from getting more than a few feet off the ground.

In my case, it wasn’t quite that strong. Basically, by concentrating on a non-living object, I could greatly increase the energy or force needed to move it. I could slow down a car or motorcycle to a crawl. I could use it on the ball that someone was throwing and make it fall far short from how far it should have gone. Or even make bullets drop before they reached me. That kind of thing. 

They were all good things to have, and I was pretty sure I was going to need absolutely everything when it came to beating Fossor and saving my mother. 

“Are you positive that you’re ready for this?” That was Petan himself. We were back in that same magic room, with even more complicated room designs covering the entire place. The same mages were focused on finishing touches while their leader stood in front of me, his expression that of obvious concern. I’d gotten to know the man pretty well over the past month, and he’d gotten to know me as well. I was sad that it would probably be years before I could see him again.

“Ready as I can be,” I confirmed. “I have to do this. I have to get back there and I have to stop him. There’s no other choice.”

“You have the flares,” he noted, referring to the beacon spells I had already prepared. “The second you arrive, use them. Do not hesitate at all, do you understand? No matter what you see, trigger the flares.”

I gave a quick nod. “Trust me, I have no interest in fighting him by myself. As soon as this spell dumps me into position, I’m calling in all the reinforcements. He’s not getting away this time.” 

Pausing then, I impulsively stepped over to embrace the man. “Thanks for everything. I couldn’t do any of this without you. Especially with all you’ve done to help me get ready for it.”

Petan was clearly taken aback, but returned the embrace after a moment before stepping back. “You can do this, Felicity Chambers. Good luck. And we will see you on the other side, someday.”

With that, he moved to join the rest of his mages, and the chanting picked up. I stood there for ten minutes, trying not to move very much. My attention was focused on the ground, keeping my breathing slow and steady. I could feel the reassuring presence of my ghost companion, and the certainty that, whatever happened next, the wait for dealing with Fossor and saving my mother was finally over. It was time. 

The chanting reached its crescendo, and in a flash of blinding power, I was gone.

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Homeward Bound 8-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Waiting alone in that briefing room to meet Dexamene, the teenage Nereid, was a bit of a trip. For more than one reason, actually. First, because I’d heard about her from Tristan enough that the thought of actually meeting the girl now felt surreal. And, of course, because everything I knew about her future. Seriously, how weird was it that I already knew she was going to end up on the Meregan world helping Elisabet? I hadn’t even asked her about that yet, but I knew she was going there.

Wait, what if she didn’t go there? Sure, it was a long shot given everything Tristan and Petan  had said about her, but what if she refused to cooperate? Hell, what if something happened to stop her from going back? Could history change like that? Well, yeah. Petan had already said that if I changed it myself, I’d end up in a different timeline, one where I hadn’t been saved.  If I could change it, then she could just by refusing to be part of all this. 

Yeah, again, that wasn’t super-likely. But still. Dexamene was her own person. Anything could happen. She could make her own choices. Things could change. I had to be really careful. Especially up to the point where she actually went back to the past. I had to make sure that everything that had happened to get me to this point played out the way it was supposed to.  

God damn, I hated time travel. Yes, it was working out for me in this case. Or would work out. Or had-would work–see?! Fuck time travel. I just wanted to go home and be with my family and friends. Oh, and punching Fossor really hard in the dick until it exploded would be nice too. 

Interrupted from my fantasies of making that piece of shit blow apart from the crotch outward by the sound of the door opening nearby, I quickly stood from the table and watched as the girl in question stepped in. She was pretty. Really pretty, in sort of an ethereal princess way. Her skin was teal, and she had bright, almost shockingly white hair fashioned into a long braid, with amber-colored eyes that seemed almost too large for her face. Like an anime character, really. 

Shaking that off, I extended a hand to her. “Hi! You’re Dexamene, right? My name–” 

“Flick,” she finished for me, voice sounding awed. “You’re Flick. I–I mean Lord Petan said you were here, but he wouldn’t have had to. You look just like Tristan said, just like he described. I–” Abruptly, the girl flushed white with a small, nervous giggle. “I am sorry. It’s rude to be like that.” 

My head shook quickly. “No, it’s okay. Trust me, I totally get it. He told me a lot about you too. I feel like we’ve met before, even though…”  Coughing, I offered her a weak shrug. “It’s weird.” 

Offering me a slight smile, the girl agreed in a soft voice. “Yes, it is very strange. But… Lord Petan says that Tristan has been there for a whole year now from your point of view? And that he has met his whole family? He is safe?” She sounded understandably anxious and intense. According to Petan, they’d only sent Tristan back about a month earlier for them. She missed her friend. Finding out that someone else came forward from a year after he’d gotten there had to be a bit disconcerting. And boy, was that feeling going to get a lot heavier for her really soon.

I had asked Petan not to say too much to the girl about what I needed, just that I had a really big favor to ask. I wanted it to come from me, not as an order from someone she called her lord. Especially given that she was bound to obey him in order to maintain her protection against being possessed by Seosten. That didn’t seem fair, no matter how urgently I needed her help.

So, I took the time to assure her that Tristan was indeed fine as far as I knew. I told her about finding Sariel and Haiden and helping that family come together. And I told her about the Rebellion, how it had restarted. I’d told Petan a bit about that too, and he had clearly been unhappy about the news that Gaia had been imprisoned. But he’d also assured me that she would get through it, as long as we were there for her the way she had been there for others. 

I also told her about Tabbris, Tristan’s little sister. My little sister. That was a long story, to say the least, and the Nereid girl sat through the whole thing with eyes that were even wider than they had started, staring at me until I was done explaining. Finally, she slumped back a bit, head shaking in slow wonder as she whispered almost under her breath. “Your life is very not boring.” 

Snorting despite myself, I nodded. “Yeah, my life is a lot of things, but boring definitely isn’t one of them. Even before you add in the time-travel here.” With that, I sobered a bit, glancing down at the table to collect myself before looking up again. “That’s sort of why I need your help, actually. And believe me, I know what I’m about to say is pretty big. It’s asking for a lot.” 

“What is it?” Her voice was clearly curious. “Lord Petan said that you would be asking for a favor that would help you and Tristan. But what can I possibly do? I don’t know the magic it will take to send you back. I don’t have the power or the skill for that. I was only approved for active duty recently. I am not…” She trailed off uncertainly, shrugging. “I am not that important.” 

“Tristan would disagree with that, I think.” Murmuring those words, I shook my head while meeting her gaze. “Listen, what I’m about to say is probably going to be really confusing. But just bear with me, okay? 

She hesitated a bit before nodding. I could tell that she wanted to ask a lot more about everything that was happening, but she kept it to herself, waiting silently for me to continue. 

So, I started by offering her a shrug. “First of all, the ahh… tueln is under your bed.” 

That made her give a doubletake. “I–what? How would–how do you–wait…” 

Coughing, I explained that she had been the one to tell me that. I told her about how I had been contacted by Elisabet because Dexamene herself had been sent back to tell the woman exactly what to do and when. I explained about how the only reason I wasn’t captured by a waiting force of Fossor’s troops was because Elisabet had adjusted the spell, and that the only reason she had been able to do that was because of information that Dexamene would give her when she showed up there.

It was obviously a lot to take in, and as I fell silent, the other girl didn’t say anything at first. She just sat back, absorbing all of that before breathing out. “I have never left this ship for more than a very brief excursion. I was born here. I grew up here. It is as I said, I was still a student until very recently. I do not have any special skill. Not really. But if you say that I can help stop this Necromancer’s plan, that I can save Tristan, you, and the others of your kind by taking this journey? Then I will. I will do whatever you say is necessary. But…  are you certain it wouldn’t be better to send someone of more skill and power? You can tell them the same thing, and they could help this Elisabet even more than simply passing along a message like that. You could make the situation you end up in here better than it is now. Or better than…” Pausing, her nose wrinkled a little as she tried to think of how to adjust her language around time travel. 

“Don’t worry, I get what you mean.” Speaking up quickly before she ended up with the same headache I’d given myself from trying to mental my way around that, I pressed on. “And you’re right, we might be able to make the situation better. But we could also just as easily make it worse. We have no idea what could happen if we change specifics. Right now we know that sending you back will result in me ending up here. I’d rather not risk things going wrong by fiddling with it and messing up.” Belatedly, I added, “Besides, Tristan trusts you. So I do. Even if it seems pretty unfair to send a water Nereid like you to a huge desert. Wait, will you be okay there? I didn’t even think about that, but if you need–” 

“I will take water,” she promised me. “If you believe it is for the best, that it is how I can help, then I will do it. I will be sent back to this desert world to speak with the woman.” 

Swallowing back palpable relief despite the fact that I’d had a pretty strong idea of how this would go to begin with, I offered her a smile. “Thanks, Dexamene. Believe me, I know how much this is asking, and how confusing it is. Wait, your parents work on the ship too, don’t they? I umm, you should probably talk to them a bit before you actually agree to this whole thing.” 

“I am of age,” she assured me. “The decision is mine. But yes, I will speak with them. I will make certain they understand that this is needed for everyone’s safety. If it is as you say and the Necromancer will take total control of all those Heretics, that endangers the entire universe.” 

We talked a little bit more about how all of that would work. Then she headed out to speak with her family, and Petan joined me once more. He’d apparently used that time to start handling all the new prisoners and former slaves they’d managed to save from the Fomorians. Now, he pulled out a chair to sit down, watching me curiously. “It sounds like that went well enough.” 

“Definitely could’ve gone a lot worse,” I agreed. “She’s in. I guess I just have to hope that things don’t go horribly wrong for her after she helps Elisabet and records that message I saw.” I tried to keep my tone light, but the fear I felt that sending her back in time to a place like that would end up backfiring badly wouldn’t get out of my head. Even though I knew this was the best way to do things, the only real way, I was still anxious. If she got hurt, or… fuck. 

Petan’s smile was both kind and understanding. “I understand how you feel, Miss Chambers. Believe me, I truly do. And, perhaps you understand a bit more of how your headmistress must have felt every time she put one of you in even the slightest danger, even if it was for the best.” 

Wincing, I gave a slow nod. “Yeah, I can’t even imagine being in that kind of position. This right here is hard enough. It’s just…” With a sigh, I sat back and put both hands over my face. 

Quietly, the man offered, “We have that bed for you if you are ready for it. You did say that you were exhausted, and it will take time to prepare the spell that’s needed to send Dexamene. Though you would probably feel better if you get cleaned up first.” 

“Yeah,” I accepted while sitting up quickly. “Shower, right. I need to do that and then sleep before I fall over. Just one more thing though.” Reaching down, I produced my encased staff and set it on the table between us. “Do you have any idea how to fix this? I don’t mind improvising now and then like with the grenade launcher, but I really need my own weapon back.” 

Picking up the staff, Petan examined it critically, turning the weapon over in his hands before poking the hardened stuff around it. “Yes, we can get it out. That will take some time as well to do so without harming the staff itself. I’ll pass it to one of my people, and they should have it for you by the time you wake up again.” 

“Great.” Giving the man a thumbs up, I found myself yawning wide. “Then if you don’t mind, I’m ready to clean up, then crash.” 

And boy, would I have a lot to talk to Shyel about after everything that happened since I’d last slept.

******

Apparently a virtual recreation of an ancient Seosten superhuman in a child’s body could look surprised. I knew that for a fact, because Shyel had definitely been surprised by a lot of what I told her. We spent most of my time there just talking about what had happened and what I could do in the future. Or rather, back in the past-present when I got there in the future–fuck it. 

Whatever, the point was that we just talked a lot. And by the time I woke up back in the real world, I felt a hell of a lot better than I had before. Not perfect, of course. After all, I was still stuck here in the future while Fossor plotted to murder and enslave everyone I cared about. But, all things considered, I could have been a lot worse. I was in one piece, I was free, Dexamene was going to take the trip to the past to set everything up that put me here, and then I would take my own trip back to where and when I belonged. I would let everyone know what was happening and we would stop Fossor and save my mom. I just… that had to happen. It had to.  

I’d been given a private room to sleep in. When I opened the door (or rather, when it slid open as I approached), to head out, there was a package attached to the nearby wall. It was a small metal box that just sat there like it was taped or velcroed next to the doorjamb, with my name on it. When I tugged at it, the box came free and I opened it to see the end of my staff.  As promised, it was fixed. There was no more of that junk it had been encased in. 

More importantly, Jaq and Gus were free. The two of them instantly switched back to their mice forms as I held up the weapon, scrambling up the arm that I offered. “Hey, guys,” I started affectionately. “You feel better? You okay?” They chittered, and I rubbed under both of their chins. “Don’t worry, we’re working on it. We’re going home soon, I promise.”

They clearly weren’t interested in going back into their private little home (it was attached to the staff itself by this point, a little pocket dimension that functioned as their cage and was also where my sand was stored), so I let the two of them ride on my shoulder as I started walking. Focusing on what Petan had told me about how to get to his office once I was awake, I moved down the very Star Treky ship corridor. A few Alters passed me on the way, greeting me by name. I even recognized a few that we had fought against back on the Meregan world, when that whole misunderstanding had happened. Most of those ones pretty much ignored me, but a couple actually waved. One even called out that we’d have to try to ‘spar’ someday. Yeah, it was weird. 

Eventually, I managed to follow the directions to a fancy forcefield operated elevator, like the one back at the Fusion School. It carried me to the right floor, and I found my way, a minute later, to Petan’s office. He was there, the door sliding open to admit me after I pressed the little button for the buzzer next to it to be announced.

I stepped in to find the man standing in the spacious, well-decorated room. One entire wall was taken up by assorted weapons of all types, while the wall opposite it was a giant fish tank. Petan himself stood by the third wall, the one directly across from the entrance. It had several ‘window’ screens showing various views of both different parts of the ship as well as the stars outside. 

“You feel better?” he asked without turning away from the screens, his hands linked behind his back as he stood almost at attention. 

“Much,” I confirmed. “But you know what’ll make me really feel better? When I can go home and deal with all the shit waiting for me there.” 

Petan chuckled lightly, turning to face me. “Yes, I imagine you will. Don’t worry, my people are arranging the power transfer to send Dexamene back as we speak. It’ll take a bit more time after that to arrange your own transport. We can’t do this willy nilly. But given the stakes, we’ll be spending a few extra resources to make sure it happens.” 

Biting my lip, I quickly blurted, “Thanks. Thank you. You know, for all of this. For everything. I know it’s in your own best interests too, given your family. But still, I couldn’t do any of this without you and your people. I’d be totally umm… screwed. I’d be screwed out here on my own.” 

“We all need help sometimes,” the man assured me. “Best to give it when we can, to earn it when it’s our turn on the side of need.” With those words, Petan gestured. At his wordless command, a couple chairs materialized. I didn’t know if it was magic or some kind of solid light hologram stuff. Either way, I sat down as he joined me. 

“You’ve been through a lot, and have persevered.” His voice was quiet, watching me while adding, “And speaking of being through a lot, I imagine you’re hungry now that you’ve slept.” 

Groaning, I admitted, “Now that you mention it, yeah. Feels like I could eat a whole elk. Which, given I could transform into a huge lion, I very well might be able to.” 

With a slight laugh at that, Petan shook his head. “I don’t know about all that, but we can definitely get you some food. Then I can show you around the ship, while we wait for the first spell to be prepared.” 

“I’d like that.” Hesitating after agreeing to eat, I added, “But, after that, I’d like to talk to the Meregan that are still on the ship. Purin, is he here?” 

“Yes, he and most of the others are on the lower levels, the ones more suited to their size,” came the response. “You miss them?” 

Swallowing hard, I met the man’s gaze. “I have to tell them what happened to the people they left behind.

“I have to tell them what Fossor did.” 

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Homeward Bound 8-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, there I was, years in the future on some death trap space station or whatever. And who turns out to have apparently put this whole thing together? Elisabet. The woman who had already been missing for awhile back in my real time, had actually set up everything on this space station specifically to kill all the other people (whoever they were), give me access to my powers again, and release me. Just… what–how? Well, maybe she just showed up back home at some point in the intervening years and… found out I was gone? Or maybe I went back to the present before she showed up and told her where to go, eventually, to help me right now? But that–ow. Fuck. Yeah, figuring out time travel still sucked.

“Felicity.” The voice of Elisabet grabbed my attention once more, and I glanced up from where I’d been gazing off at nothing to find her waving her hand. “I need you to pay attention.” 

“Wha–are you–” I started, confused about this being a recording. Then I stopped. Time travel. Wait, if she did know how I reacted to this, didn’t that mean–nope! Nope, nope, not getting into that line of thought. I didn’t have nearly enough ibuprofen packed away to handle that pain.

Again, the hologram of Elisabet waited until I was done reacting before she continued. “First, yes, this is a recording. Right now, you are roughly four years in the future from where you were. Which is quite far off from Fossor’s intentions. His spell was meant to send you five years into the future, and directly to his stronghold planet, where you would have been met and restrained by an army of his personal minions, who had been given those five years to prepare for every possible action you could have taken in an attempt to free yourself.” 

Okie dokie, that sounded bad. Hearing that, I swallowed hard, trying to think of how that would’ve gone. Badly, for me. A bunch of Fossor-troops given half a decade to prepare for me and anything I could do? It wouldn’t have been pretty, that was for sure. But on the other hand, I wasn’t there. I was… wherever here was. And a year early. 

“As you’ve noticed,” Elisabet was saying, “you are not on Fossor’s planet. And, as I said, you were only sent forward four years rather than five. That’s because at the exact moment that Fossor triggered the spell intended to send you forward, I used a spell of my own, intercepting his spell and redirecting the energy. One year of the time portion was put instead toward altering your final destination to be what it is now. Which, of course, makes your immediate question…” 

“Why wouldn’t Fossor have people waiting here for me?” I promptly asked aloud. “He’s had four years to figure out the destination and time were wrong too. Unless he had to be right there at the place he sent me off from and my friends kept him away?” 

“Your allies being at his old home was likely helpful,” Elisabet’s recording agreed. “But that is not all of it. I included obfuscation spells to mask your exact destination, providing over a dozen possible locations and many possible dates across that full five year span. If Fossor had been able to study your exact departure point for long enough, he almost certainly could have worked his way through those deceptions. But he was forced to employ other methods of checking your destination. Methods which were successfully masked. His only option was to prepare for your arrival in any of the possible locations on any of those dates. Hence positioning these stations, such as the one you are on, exactly where you could possibly have arrived, full of mercenaries in his employ, with magic specifically intended to leave you personally trapped with no powers. The people on that station, and all the others like it, will have been waiting years for your possible arrival.”

She went on a bit more, explaining that this station that I was standing on had originally been positioned to watch the Meregan homeworld. That was part of how Fossor captured Gavant and the others. And the Meregan homeworld was where Elisabet herself had been trapped. Apparently that was a long story that she wasn’t going to get into right then. The point was, she had made her way to the station with some help from, in her words, ‘a friend of yours’, and had secretly placed the poison gas spells and the hints to me about what to do, programmed to activate only at the exact minute I showed up. She’d also left this recording. 

“Right now,” Elisabet continued after explaining that much, “you’re probably wondering exactly how this could have happened, how I knew precisely how to do this. That is because of–” 

The hologram cut out briefly, and suddenly I was staring at the image of a much different figure. It was a teal-skinned, white-haired teenage female. A Nereid, I realized. She popped up into frame, waving. “Hi, Flick! It’s Dexamene. Wait, you don’t know me yet, huh?” 

Except I did know the name. Dexamene the Nereid. Tristan had mentioned her. She was a friend of his from back on Nicholas Petan’s ship. His best friend from those times. And, if I’d been reading his expression right, potentially more than a friend. She’d meant a lot to him. But he’d had to take his chance in getting back to his sister and the rest of his family. He’d known it would be five years before he could see her again, after he was sent back. 

And yet now I was seeing her in this recording. Wait, now… now for me would be five years since Tristan was sent back to Earth by Petan, wouldn’t it? 

Dexamene was snickering. “Yup,” she informed me, “it’s been a long time. Anyway, here’s my side of things. You make it to Lord Petan’s ship, and you tell us about how you were sent into the future and that we need to send you back. Except you sent me to Aiken’te’vel, errr, that’s the Meregan homeworld, to help Elisabet here so that she can help you by redirecting the first time travel spell. See? You showed up where you are now so that you could end up on Lord Petan’s ship, so you could send me to Aiken’te’vel to help Elisabet, so you could end up where you are now. It’s a loop.” She twirled her finger around in a circle a few times. “But umm, as Tristan would say, don’t think about it too hard, or you might go cross-eyed.” 

Too late, I was already thinking about it too much. Did that mean I’d always ended up here? But that didn’t make sense, because there had to have been a point when I ended up on Fossor’s world, right? The loop had to start somewhere. I must have ended up there at some point, escaped or something, and somehow created this loop. There had to be a point where I… or someone else, had set this whole thing up to work this way. 

Ouch. Yeah, I was going cross-eyed. I should’ve listened to the advice. 

“Told you,” Dexamene’s recording teased. “Don’t think about it so much. You’ve got other things to worry about.” 

“Yes.” That was Elisabet, apparently doing something to push Dexamene out of the way so she could appear on the hologram once more. “You do have other things to worry about. According to your future self, we cannot tell you very much if this is going to go the way we all need it to. You need to act on instinct, not by following a script. But it was important that you know what kind of situation you are in. Your arrival will have triggered whatever measures Fossor prepared for sending reinforcements to collect you. If you don’t wish to meet them, you must follow the steps I’m about to give you for leaving the station. When this recording ends, a bag with a keycard, magic tools, and a diagram of a spell, complete with specific notations and instructions will appear. You must follow this guide to create the spell that will take you off of that station, where you will find yourself in a… hazardous situation. That is all I can tell you. Be prepared, act decisively, and you will eventually find your way to Nicholas Petan’s ship, where you can set these events in motion. With any luck, you will then be able to transport back to the time you left from. But remember, for this situation to exist, you must send this Dexamene girl to the Meregan homeworld on a specific date a couple months earlier than the one you were sent away from.” 

There was a moment where it looked like Elisabet was going to say one thing, before she seemed to reconsider. Finally, she spoke in a quieter voice than before. “Unfortunately, every bit of power I’ve been able to store up went toward enacting this, and now… now it’s all I can do to avoid the Fomorians. I won’t have the ability to reach out to Jophiel or anyone else on Earth before all of this comes to a head. Felicity, you have to make it back to Earth. You have to warn the others and stop the Necromancer.” She paused before adding, “And I would appreciate it if, when you are done with that, you could send a little aid this way. There are other things to deal with once Fossor is no longer an immediate threat.”  

She gave me a few more details about what I should do. But, as promised, kept quiet about most of the details. Eventually, Elisabet finished with, “I… hope you manage it, Felicity.” 

“Yeah, good luck!” Dexamene piped up. “And I’ll see you soon. Oh, right, when I meet you, tell me that the tueln is under my bed. That umm… will and did really freak me out.” 

The recording ended then, the hologram going dark. Staring at the spot where it had been for a long moment, I exhaled. Finally, I whispered, my own voice startling me as it cut through the silence. “Okay, this is a lot.” My hands covered my face, as I mumbled against them, “A fucking lot.” And wasn’t that just the biggest understatement in the universe? Really, how was I supposed to deal with all this? There was just so damn much. Time travel. I was in the future, and future future me had apparently set a whole thing up to have Tristan’s old friend travel to the Meregan world in the past in order to find Elisabet and have her set up a spell that intercepted Fossor’s spell, altering it to send me to this place, which Elisabet then prepared ahead of time for me. 

That was enough all on its own. But now I was apparently supposed to go find Nicholas Petan’s ship using only hints (from myself, apparently) about where to go. No idea what might be between that ship and me. No idea what would come afterward. Except that I somehow had to get myself sent back to Earth, shortly after I’d left it. And I had to get there not only to save my mother, but everyone. Every Bosch Heretic was going to be killed and turned into Fossor’s slaves if I didn’t get back there in time to stop it. Mom was still his prisoner. Nobody else knew what he was planning. If I didn’t get back there, Fossor would have a literal army worth of enslaved undead Heretics to play with. And that… fuck. That would be the end of the Earth. There was no way he’d bother hiding out or being patient at that point. He would have the Seosten over the barrel, forcing them to take Heretics from him to fight their war with the Fomorians in exchange for allowing him to keep Earth for himself. He’d turn the entire planet into the same thing as his own homeworld. He’d turn not just all of humanity, but all of everyone who lived on Earth into his slaves, just like he’d done to his own people. And with every Bosch Heretic under his control, nobody would be able to stop him. Unless I got back there in time. 

But, you know, no pressure or anything. 

“We’ve gotta go,” I said out loud, looking toward my ghost companion. “Elisabet was right, Fossor’s reinforcements are gonna show up soon. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be here when they do.”

“Yes,” came the dry response, “something tells me my brother is rather unhappy with both of us. And if he has succeeded at his ploy in this time, he will have very dangerous threats to throw around.” 

That was a point that made me blanch, pressing a hand against my stomach briefly. No. No, I didn’t even want to think about that. If he had that kind of power to throw at us–worse, if he had my friends to throw at us, my… no. I was going to move on and make sure I didn’t have to deal with anything like that. 

But in any case, those thoughts were another reason why getting out of here right now was the best move. Quickly, I turned to open the bag that had appeared, as promised, when the hologram disappeared. Inside was a field-engraver for spells, a red and violet keycard, a piece of paper with a long series of symbols written on it that were all connected by an intricately swirled line (along with notes about how to make this spell work), and one of those enner things, the coins that held spell energy. Sliding all of those into my pockets, except for the field-engraver, I moved quickly out of the room I was in. Time to go, time to go, beyond time to go! 

Running by that point, I went straight for the same room I’d originally appeared in. I had to ignore all the bodies, had to not think about them at all. Not right now, there wasn’t time. Not if I actually wanted to avoid any confrontations with… anyone. 

Reaching that first room, I moved to the middle and knelt down before grabbing the paper from my pocket, dropping the field-engraver for the moment. Instead, I touched my free hand to the floor and used my inscription power to copy over each symbol in the sequence one at a time. I would stare at the symbol being copied, touch my hand to the right spot on the floor, and focus for a second before it appeared. So much faster than actually drawing all those things. 

But I did still need that field-engraver that Elisabet had provided. According to the notes written on the paper, each of these symbols had to be connected with that intricate line that was on the paper as well. And they had to be connected in a certain way. First, I touched the engraver to the enner while murmuring the activation word the notes mentioned. As soon as I did that, the power from the enner drained right into the engraver, and it grew somewhat warm in my hand. It was ready. 

Touching the tip of the empowered field-engraver against the first symbol, I carefully drew it up and out, checking the paper before making a small loop, doubling back on the line slightly. Then I angled it downward to barely touch the next symbol, angling across in a sort of underline motion. 

Telling myself not to get into a rush, I followed the line through the rest of the symbols at the specific speed and path the notes had been crystal clear about. Careful, I had to be careful. If I got into a rush and fucked it up… yeah, that would be bad. Do it right, Flick. Just calm down and do it right. 

Of course, thinking that just made me remember all the times in the past when I had believed I was thinking to myself, only to later find out that it was actually Tabbris secretly giving me advice. 

I missed my sister. I missed everyone. Fuck. If Fossor succeeded in his plan back then, what had happened to Tabbris? What had–

No. Stop it. Just stop it. Focus right now. Do what you have to do right now to make sure then doesn’t turn out like that. 

With that firmly in mind, I finished the connected symbols. According to Elisabet, the spell had to be drawn right here because of its distance to the station’s various power sources. I looked over the whole finished product hurriedly, comparing it to the paper. Good, good, right, it looked fine. As perfect as I could make it. 

Finally, I produced that keycard and moved to the console that was nearest the door. Crouching, I felt around behind it until I found the slot that Elisabet had described. Shoving the keycard in that slot, I waited just long enough for the console to light up purple before blurting the last command that had been carefully written on the paper, “Execute Evac Elisabet Nine Nine.” 

Instantly, every bit of power the station had was drained. The actual lights dimmed down to near nonexistence, and I was floating as the artificial gravity disappeared. But right there in the middle of the room, the symbols of the spell that I’d been instructed in making were glowing bright green. Then, one by one, they all shifted to be silver. At the very instant that the last symbol changed color, a glowing silver-blue portal was projected into the air above the spell. 

Also at that exact moment, I heard voices. They were coming from the corridor, through the hatch I hadn’t bothered to close. There were people out there. Fossor’s back-up minions. They were here. Were they random thugs, or people I knew? Were they–

Fuck it. Shoving every doubt, concern, and worry I had deep down into the pit of my stomach, I shoved my feet against the nearby wall and hurled myself at the portal. From the corner of my eye, I saw figures start to come through the hatch. I heard a shout. Was it–was that my name? Was–

Then I was through the portal, and gone. 

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Interlude 2B – Elisabet (Heretical Edge 2)

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The enormous maw of the Fomorian-bred monster loomed wide, its four rows of jagged teeth lining a mouth that was large enough to drive a van into. Two pairs of eyes set at diagonal angles to one another lay both above and below that mouth on either side for a total of eight black orbs. Beyond the mouth and eyes was a creature that looked like a hook-nosed pig crossed with a frog, with a tripod of three smaller legs in front and two much larger legs in the back giving it a hunched over look. 

Those large legs had most recently been used to make the creature leap half a mile before it came down, mouth wide open, toward its quarry. A sound like thunder accompanied the creature, shaking the ground ahead of its arrival in an act of intimidation meant to terrify those whom it hunted. 

This particular quarry, however, was far from impressed. At one time, that quarry had been elegant and impeccably dressed and groomed. Now, after months of being on the run across this godforsaken wasteland of a planet, Elisabet was far different. She was clearly leaner, her previous clothes long-since destroyed or abandoned in favor of leather armor crafted from various creatures. Her once long and flowing dark mane of hair had been cut down dramatically. She wore a golden sword on one hip and a line of small, matching gold daggers all around her opposite arm. Dried blood and dirt in equal parts covered her face and other bits of exposed skin. 

Now, the long-lived Spanish woman stood in place, watching that wide, eager mouth descending toward her. She made no motion to either escape or attack. Not at first, anyway. Instead, she stood perfectly still, allowing the creature to descend closer and closer, an instant away from swallowing her whole. 

Finally, at the last possible instant, she made her move. Or rather, the ground beneath her did. Elisabet herself remained completely still, while the ground under her feet pulled back and down, taking her with it to reveal a large hole that the thin layer of sand had been covering. Elisabet was actually simply standing on a layer of sand a couple inches thick. The hole beyond was large and deep enough for the monster to fall directly into. Over a hundred feet below the surface, it squealed in surprise and pain upon driving itself onto the dozen large, gleaming yellowish spikes that had been erected at the bottom. A golden trap, literally. 

A wider section of ground opened up, providing a safe spot next to the gold spikes for the woman to lower herself down to. She stepped off her sand platform and stood next to the dying monster. Her hand rose, touching the thing in its wounded side. With a thought, she pulled the gold spikes down out of it while the thing gave a pitiful whine and twitched. 

The two powers she had displayed in these past few seconds were those of the creature she had originally been made a Heretic of, in the days before she was part of Crossroads. The days before Jophiel. Terrakinesis and aurokinesis. Mental manipulation of earth and gold, respectively. Though many heard aurokinesis and thought she meant the manipulation of some kind of aura. Clearly, they needed a lesson in the difference. 

Either way, there was another power that had been part of her original set. She used that power now, healing the damage that had been done to the creature with one hand against its heaving side. Gradually, the wounds closed and the blood flow ceased. This was the third power she had inherited in her days of being a Natural Heretic, a healing gift. 

Yet, there were two aspects to this gift of healing. One allowed that healing to be given freely. The other, however, came with a cost. A gold cost, as Elisabet had called it so long ago. And it was that latter method of healing that she invoked now. She inflicted the gold cost upon the creature she was healing. Which meant that across all of its wounds, everywhere her power touched, the creature was covered in a gold-like material. In truth, all gold touched by her power became as hard as the toughest steel, hence her ability to use it as spikes and weapons. And to line the interior of her leather-looking armor. Her gold was stronger than the gold that Bystanders knew.

A dozen holes in the creature’s body were patched over by this gold, and as it suddenly reared up, the eight eyes, once a dull greenish-brown, were gold as well. 

Without a word, Elisabet turned to the nearest wall of the pit. The ground obeyed her whim, forming a wide ramp for her to walk up and out. Just as she reached the top, the creature at the bottom gave a great leap that carried it high into the air to land nearby with a loud crash. But it made no move to attack her. Its golden eyes watched the woman as she exited the pit. 

Standing there for a moment, Elisabet watched the creature before giving a low whistle. As she did so, several other monsters of various sizes and shapes emerged from the sand where they had been previously hidden. All of them were covered in various gold plates, their eyes matching. They were each originally Fomorian creations, scouting monsters sent to kill inhabitants and track down Elisabet or anyone like her. Each had been mortally wounded before being healed by her power. But those healings were accompanied by the gold cost, giving her control over them. That was the cost, their free will, such as it was. If she saved a creature’s life with her power and inflicted the cost, it would become loyal to her alone, obeying her orders, both spoken and unspoken. 

These were what remained of the creatures she had managed to turn to her side over these past few months. They died often, torn apart by the unending legion of beasts or even by the Fomorians themselves. Not that there were many of those actually on this world, but they did make occasional appearances. Elisabet had killed a couple of them already. Mostly, however, she avoided them as much as possible. It was never fun to fight an adult Fomorian. Figuring out what might be able to kill it before it tore you apart was terrifying, even for someone like her. 

At least with these creatures of hers, she had cannon fodder to throw at them while she escaped. That was the only reason the woman was still alive and free right now. That and the fact that even the Fomorians couldn’t search an entire planet that easily. But they kept getting closer to catching her. The attacks were coming closer together as the genocidal monsters continued to press constantly, never letting up. She was going to have to do something, and soon. Any day now, one of them was going to get lucky, or she would be sloppy. And that would be the end of her, before she could tell anyone the truth about Maestro. 

That, almost more than anything else, was what kept her going. When all she wanted to do was collapse from exhaustion, Elisabet told herself that the monster called Maestro had to be stopped, and no one else seemed to know he even existed. 

She had to get back to Earth. She had to stop that thing. Whatever he wanted Jophiel or some other powerful Seosten to do, it was apocalyptically bad. If she died before she could tell anyone about it…

Besides, she was too damn pissed at the thought that that Gemini thing inside her head had been manipulating her for so long to just lay down and die now. Planetful of Fomorian monsters or galaxyful, she was going to get home. Whatever that took. She was going to get home and make absolutely certain that humanity was prepared to deal with the threats in front of them. Both the Fomorian one and the Maestro one. No more half-measures. It was time for humanity and the Seosten to get on the same page and end these problems. 

Unfortunately, it was taking the woman a long time to actually get back to Earth to start any of that, given the handicaps she was working with. The invaders had already thoroughly swarmed over the Meregan transport areas. She was pretty sure that those humanoid giants weren’t all dead, but they were deep in hiding and she couldn’t find them anymore than the Fomorians could. It being a big planet to search worked against her as much as for her in that particular case. 

She couldn’t get to the Meregan transports. She was cut off from the Committee link, and blocked from using any of the transport powers or spells that could have taken her off this planet. Her options for getting out of this were few and far between, and getting worse by the day. But she refused even the thought of giving up. She was a survivor, damn it. She just had to keep going, keep living, keep escaping.  Either Jophiel would find her, or one of the others. Perhaps Felicity would accidentally trip her way into ending up here again. That sounded like something the girl would do. Or Elisabet’s own risky, haphazard plan would actually end up working. Either way, giving up was not an option, ever.

She would get home, help or no help. If no one showed up, Elisabet would do it herself. She just had to resort to another method, a more… unique and slow way of returning to Earth. A way that was almost more hypothesis than anything else. She and Jophiel had talked a bit about the possibilities of it, but as far as she knew, it had only been attempted a handful of times with mixed results. And none of those had been working from the kind of handicap that Gemini had inflicted on her. 

What it amounted to was residual energy. Any time magic was used to transport to anywhere, it left behind residual energy. Energy that had already been shaped toward transportation. The amount of that energy varied depending on how powerful the original spell was, lasting longer with more energy the further the transport and the more people involved. But even short transports that took place centuries earlier would leave a tiny, almost undetectable trace of power. And the more transports that took place in that same general area, the more of that energy would build up. That was why many large organizations tended to create specific buildings or rooms devoted to transportation. Because the more they were used for that, the easier it was to shape the magic in that area toward portals and other transportation spells.

But that same energy that made creating transportation spells in the area easier could also potentially be used in another way. The idea was that if one gathered enough of it, they could create a new transportation spell without actually casting it. The residual energy could be pointed in a new direction. That way, someone who couldn’t actually cast transportation spells would still be able to use one. 

Again, however, that idea had only been tested a few times that Elisabet and Jophiel knew of. And only a couple of those had been successful. None of which had been used to jump to another entire world, let alone one in a different universe. This was completely uncharted territory. 

Beyond the simple fact of it being untested, there was also the logistical issue. Namely, the fact that she needed a lot of this residual energy if she was going to make it work. And, considering the energy would be lost once it was used, there wasn’t room for any mistakes. She had to be absolutely certain that she had enough energy gathered before she even started on this. 

So, for the past couple of months, Elisabet had been doing more than simply surviving and escaping. She had been using her own magic to point her toward places where transportation magic was used. She would make her way to each site and use the crystal she had created to absorb the tiny trickle of power in that area. 

With that thought, the woman looked down while summoning the crystal to her hand. It was about the size of a softball, and appeared to be made of clear glass. Light blue liquid-like magical energy filled up the bottom half of the crystal. Half. She was halfway done filling this thing up. Once it was full, she would have enough shaped transportation energy to attempt a real escape. 

Unfortunately, it was getting harder to find decent pockets of this stuff that weren’t near heavily patrolled areas. She had to venture further and further out, and take more risks just to get a few more drops to fill her orb. It was the equivalent of wandering a post-apocalyptic Earth, scrounging the last vestiges of gasoline from random stations along a broken freeway.

Willing the storage crystal back into its pocket dimension where it would be safe, Elisabet pushed off to continue walking across the desert. Her converted monsters, cut off from their previous masters and controlled by her, trailed behind. They spread out around the woman, taking up guarding positions just in case another threat presented itself. Or rather, for when the next threat presented itself. Because it would come. They always came. For months, Elisabet had been hunted across this world. And they would keep coming until she either escaped for good… or they caught her. 

As she shook off that possibility, Elisabet felt something grow warm against her thigh. The leather pouch that hung there was hot. Frowning, the woman opened the pouch and looked inside. The rock that she had enchanted to lead her toward transportation magic was glowing. Which was… odd. The only reason it should be detecting that much energy would be from a truly powerful transportation spell very nearby. 

Fomorians. It could be the Fomorians sending a massive army almost directly on top of her. With a thought, she summoned a different enchanted stone to one hand, touching it to her forehead before using the spell on it to render herself completely invisible. Meanwhile, her own converted monsters burrowed into the sand while spreading out, ready to counterattack anything that appeared.

But nothing happened for some time.  The transportation magic detector she had made was still warm, though it had faded a bit to simply point in the correct direction. The spell it had detected was off to the east and had completed. The Fomorians weren’t jumping an army on top of her, so what were they doing? It could still be an army coming her way, or it could be something else. 

Either way, she had to find out. It would be dangerous, but worth it. If this transport wasn’t intended for her, or even if it was and she could evade them, the energy left behind would be enough to fill up at least half of the remaining crystal. And that was entirely too tempting for her to resist. Which was another reason it could’ve been a trap, technically. But she doubted they knew what she was doing. 

She had to get to that spot, see what had arrived, and gather the residual energy before too much of it dissipated. A massive transportation spell right nearby just as she was heading that way? With any luck, this could cut down on the time it would take her to get home by months. 

But it could still be a trap as well. So she took as many precautions as possible, rendering herself undetectable with multiple spells that she had stored up for emergencies. Then she moved that way, the converted monsters spreading out. Some moved ahead, while others trailed behind. 

As one further deterrent against possible attack, Elisabet triggered her decoy spell. It manifested a fake copy of herself up ahead that was fully visible and would draw any attention. If this was some kind of ambush, they could jump the decoy instead. She could also switch locations with the decoy at any point, appearing where it was and vice versa. 

Only once she was fully satisfied that she had taken as much care as possible to avoid potential devastating consequences for investigating this new energy, did Elisabet pick up speed on her way toward it. 

Five minutes later, she arrived. Crouching on the edge of a sand dune, she peered down below. Ground zero of that transportation magic was right there. At first, she saw nothing but some scattered rocks. It looked like a large boulder had exploded. The energy reading from her enchanted stone was off the charts.

So where was the army? Where was anyone? They had to be here, unless they had already moved out in the completely opposite direction from where she had come. Which would be rather useful for her own purposes, but she didn’t want to think she was that lucky. That was entirely too naïve. 

Wait, there. A figure was picking its way out of the sand where it had been partially buried. Humanoid, but too covered in dust, dirt, and sand to really identify. It also set off Elisabet’s Stranger sense, somewhat. 

It was also the only one. A quick scan of the area with her own non-Committee powers confirmed that. This figure was the only one in the area. So why had they used so much power to get there? 

They weren’t Fomorian, that much was clear.  The response from the Stranger sense was entirely too mild for that. This was an Alter, but not an extremely powerful or dangerous one.

It was also… throwing up. The figure literally turned over onto its hands and knees and lost its most recent meal. Which did a lot to convince Elisabet that this wasn’t some kind of trap. Looking around once more, she rose and slowly descended, while leaving her decoy up on the ridge for the moment. If this turned out to be dangerous, she could switch places with it and escape. 

The figure noticed her approach, quickly scrambling to its feet. 

Her feet. The figure was female, with teal skin and white hair underneath all that sand and dirt. 

“Elisabet?” she blurted. “You’re Elisabet, right?”

Pausing, the Spanish woman slowly demanded, “Who are you? How do you know my name? What do you want?”

The young girl, a Nereid, Elisabet realized, drew herself up. “It’s okay, I’m here to help you get home. 

“My name is Dexamene. Nicholas Petan and Flick sent me from the future.” 

Author’s Note: The most relevant chapter to understand a bit more of what just happened at the end there is Interlude 15 which was posted three years ago. 

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Interlude 15 – Nicholas Petan

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Five Years From Now, In An Alternate Dimension

“My Lord?” the soft voice of a young female with teal skin and bright white hair spoke up tentatively.

Nicholas Petan turned away from the window of the ship where he had been studying the green and brown planet that they were approaching. He took in the sight of the Nereid, pausing for a moment to remember her name. At one time, it wouldn’t even have taken him that long. But, as the years and centuries passed, the number of those he was responsible for had grown beyond what he could have imagined when he was still young. Even then, however, it often felt as though he had done too little.

After that brief pause that actually only lasted a couple of seconds, he had it. “Yes, Dexamene?”

“Um, I was just… I was wondering, sir…” Dexamene hesitated. She looked nervous, and Petan recalled that this was the first time the sea nymph had addressed him directly. She was the daughter of one of the ship’s top navigators and a marine, but she herself had only graduated from their shipboard academy a month earlier. Shortly before they had sent Tristan back in time, actually. Now that he thought about it, she and his descendant had been friendly with one another. Which probably meant…

“You would like to know if Tristan arrived at his destination correctly and safely?” he guessed.

Judging from the way the nymph flushed, she was embarrassed. Yet her head bobbed up and down quickly even as she fidgeted there. “Y-yes, my Lord. I-if it’s not too much trouble, I mean. I was just—um, w-worried about him. I know we can’t—umm, that we can’t contact him or anything because of the um—the time travel. But do we—umm, can we know if he’s—umm–” She stopped, swallowing hard.

Lifting his hand, Petan settled it on the girl’s shoulder. He felt her cringe a little, and shook his head in wonder at just how shy and easily embarrassed she was. “Dexamene,” he assured her. “He is all right.” When she looked up at him, eyes hopeful, the man gave her the slightest smile in an attempt to be at least a little bit reassuring. It felt strange on his face, especially after he’d had to send Tristan away.

The boy had been a breath of fresh air around the ship, particularly once they had worked out the way to have the boy on the ship with them by anchoring him to Nicholas himself. That particular anchor had been enough to allow him to leave the Meregan’s world, but not enough to take him to their home dimension and planet. The Seosten magic barring him from that dimension was entirely too strong.

So, in between their battles with the Seosten and other enemies, Nicholas’s army (including their new Meregan allies) had searched for another solution. It wasn’t their primary task, of course. There were far too many other things commanding their attention. But they had tried several things over the years.

In the end, the best solution had been an alternative to the one they had used to allow the boy to leave the planet and stay with Nicholas: the anchor. But they had needed a better anchor, since Petan’s connection to his former homeworld had faded too much over the centuries that he had been away.

The magic barely recognized him as being from there at all. So, they had needed to anchor the boy to someone from there, who still lived there and whom he had at least a somewhat close connection with. And since Tristan couldn’t remember anything about his family (Nicholas’s stories about them didn’t seem to be able to jog the boy’s memory) that left pretty much only two choices: Felicity Chambers or Shiori Porter. Tristan had chosen Felicity. Unfortunately, so much had changed in those years that there was no connection between Tristan and the Felicity of the current time. So, they had anchored the boy to the Felicity from five years in the past, when she was still the way that the boy remembered her. And now, well, now he was there. And then. As Dexamene had said, it was impossible to contact him.

“I miss him too,” he told the young nymph in a confidential tone that made her blink up at him with wide eyes. “But yes, as far as I am aware, Tristan arrived safely. That is the best we could hope for.”

The teal-skinned girl bobbed her head quickly once more. “Good! I mean, I—h-he’s good. He’s home. I–” She shifted again, looking away for a moment as a very brief look of shame crossed her face.

Raising an eyebrow, Petan paused to consider her for a moment. “Is there something else wrong?”

“N-no, I–” Dexamene stopped, still looking embarrassed and ashamed as she admitted, “I kn-know he had to go home, b-but I… I w-wish I’d told him that I… that I umm…” She went silent once more.

“You cared for him a lot,” Petan realized, straightening a little then. “As far more than simply friends.”

The sea nymph looked stricken for a second before she caught herself. Swallowing hard, she gave one more nod. “I—w-wanted to tell him, but… but I knew he didn’t feel the same way. W-we were friends, sir. I didn’t wa-want to ruin that, and I didn’t… I didn’t want to say anything that would m-make him feel guilty about leaving. Now I… w-wish I did. But I’m g-glad I didn’t. But I’m sad. It’s… hard.”

Remaining silent to gather his thoughts, Nicholas wished that he had any idea of what to say to the girl. She had sent away a boy she cared deeply for, a boy she obviously had a very strong crush on, without telling him how she felt in order to avoid making him choose between staying with her and going home. She had let him go without doing anything that would make him feel guilty about his choice.

Finally, he squeezed her shoulder until she met his gaze once again, her violet eyes wide from the attention. “Dexamene,” the man informed her succinctly, “you are an incredible asset to this crew, this ship, and to me. I am very grateful that people like you are here. Thank you, for continuing to serve.”

“I—I–um–” The poor teal-skinned teenager worked her mouth before quickly stepping back. She gave him a somewhat shaky, but still acceptable salute, which he returned crisply. Then she mumbled an embarrassed thank you followed by an apology as she asked to be dismissed. When he gave that permission, the girl practically fled down the corridor, her embarrassment too much to handle by then.

As he watched her go, Nicholas smiled faintly before turning his attention back to the window. The ship was coming in for a landing by that point, and he could already see the Seosten defensive forces readying themselves. Not that many, if any were actually Seosten themselves, of course. The body-possessing false angels used subjugated races for that kind of grunt work. Besides, there weren’t enough actual Seosten to create entire armies across multiple worlds and hold them. At most, there would be two or three of the creatures on-world to ensure that things continued to run smoothly.

A few of the defense forces that settled into place even took (entirely useless) potshots at the incoming ship before their superiors obviously ordered them to hold fire and wait to concentrate on the doors that the invading troops should have begun pouring out of as soon as the ship settled into place.

“Captain,” he spoke while touched a finger to the communicator on his wrist. “Are the troops ready?”

The crisp response came immediately, confirming that the troops were indeed prepared. Smiling to himself, Nicholas touched the circle that he had already drawn on the wall beside the window. Investing it with power, he activated the spell while pressing his palm against the middle of it.

As soon as the spell triggered, several dozen of the ship’s finest and best trained troops (an eclectic assortment of various Alters, some armed with weapons while others relied on their own innate gifts and abilities) disappeared from where they had been waiting, and immediately reappeared directly behind the defensive position that the Seosten defense troops had set up. The scene dissolved into instant chaos as the troops were taken by surprise when the intruders came at them from behind.

They turned to meet the threat, and as soon as they did, then the doors of the ship opened up. The rest of Nicholas Petan’s army poured out, attacking from that side as well. Trapped in the middle, the Seosten defense forces stood little chance. Most surrendered after only a relatively brief skirmish.

Nodding in satisfaction, Nicholas started to turn away from the window. It was time to free the slaves on this planet, see what kind of supplies they could take from this minor Seosten outpost, and move on.

Unfortunately, just as he began to turn, a shadow darkened the sky and left the troops outside in darkness. His gaze flicked back that way while his communicator popped. “My Lord!” the voice of the ship’s captain came through. “We have three ships on sensors. They came out of nowhere, sir.”

“Seosten?” Petan asked, his voice tense as he prepared to move once they knew what was going on.

“No, my Lord,” the captain denied. “The ships, they’re reading as… alive, sir. They’re biological.”

Straightening at that, Nicholas took a moment before the word escaped him in a hiss that was equal parts anger and worry. Not for himself, but for those he was in command of, those who trusted him.

“Fomorian.”

******

Blood, screams, and worse filled the air. The Fomorians had wasted no time. Before Petan could prepare another spell to withdraw his troops, or even join them, they had already sent their drop-tubes to the surface. Essentially, the drop-tubes were incredibly long tentacles that shot from the bottom of their ships and attached themselves to the planet itself. Once they were hooked in, the various biological horror shows that the Fomorians had created were dropped down through the tube in egg-like structures, which burst upon contact with the ground and allowed the creatures to pour forth.

Both the previously-surrendered Seosten soldiers and Petan’s own troops were almost immediately engulfed by more types of literal monsters than Nicholas had ever seen before, even in his long life. They ranged from an enormous crocodile-like creature that was over sixty feet long and twenty feet high, all the way down to insect-sized bug things which injected a deadly poison into their targets.

His Alters were doing their best to defend themselves, and their efforts were admirable. Yet they hadn’t been expecting that kind of fight, not against those biological horror-shows. The Fomorians deliberately crafted their creatures to combat specific Alter-abilities, tailoring each creation as needed.

He had to involve himself, and quickly. Rather than taking the time to make it to the actual exit, Nicholas scrawled a quick spell on the floor of the ship, focused on himself. In that moment, he dearly wished that he was actually one of the Heretics whose abilities came from the Reapers or Hangmen, so that he could have absorbed the powers of those he had fought for so long. Instead, he was a natural Heretic, and his gifts had originally come from a troll whose body he had been buried with so long ago. Their blood had mixed, and granted him incredible regeneration and immunity to both disease and aging, strength, an utterly inhuman resistance to damage other than fire, the ability to adapt to his environment so that no temperature variation or even lack of oxygen bothered him, and the ability to induce fear in a target.

And, of course, having the Bystander-effect removed had restored what should have been his natural ability to use magic. All of that combined had made him a formidable opponent to his enemies over the centuries, and it would do the same here and now. But even then, he would have preferred an instant teleportation ability, something that could transport him out there immediately before more of his troops, his people, were killed. Every second he wasted creating and investing energy into the magic to take him out there was another one where the people who swore loyalty to him were suffering.

Finally (after what had honestly only been less than thirty seconds, even if it felt like an eternity), the spell was ready. Nicholas pressed his hand to the runes he had drawn and activated it. The hastily drawn spell lit up, and he was immediately transported from the ship to the middle of the battlefield.

He appeared in front of one of his Dryads, who was laying on the ground, bleeding from a severe stomach injury. A creature that looked like a scorpion with a snake instead of a stinger came lunging forward, tail lashing out with the poisonous serpent’s mouth wide open as it aimed for his arm.

Petan caught the snake, twisting sharply while giving a yank that tore its head from the rest of the body. Even as the scorpion part of the creature made a sharp screaming noise and tried to snatch him with its pincers, he delivered a harsh kick that put his foot through the thing’s face. The scorpion collapsed, and he tossed the snake-head aside before turning back to the injured Dryad.

“Here,” he announced, producing a small metal button from his pocket which he dropped onto her chest. “Hold it and you will be safe until we retrieve you when the battle is finished.”

As the Dryad closed her hand around the button, it activated and her body turned into what looked a lot like stone, but was actually much stronger. One of the advantages of allying with what remained of the Meregan. Considering that the ‘statue’ could have been thrown into the sun without being harmed, nothing the Fomorian horror show could do would be able to penetrate it.

That done, Nicholas straightened and turned his attention to the rest of the creatures. Perhaps someone else would have said something pithy or uplifting about the situation, something that would have lightened the mood. But that wasn’t the sort of man that Nicholas Petan was. He relied on results.

And, as he waded into the battle, delivering single blows that took the creatures apart with as little wasted motion or effort as possible, results were what he delivered. He wasn’t fancy. When he finally drew his sword to cleave the head from a charging tentacle-laden creature, he remained as silent as ever. Not a breath, nor a motion, nor an actual attack was in any way wasted. His style was an economy of motion and energy, even as he picked his way through this army. What took even the strongest of his troops three or four blows to bring down, Nicholas managed with a single swipe of his blade.

He was making his way to the worst, most dangerous threat on the battlefield: that giant crocodile. Now that he was closer, the man could see that it had a slightly smaller, humanoid (vaguely ape-like) torso, head, and arms attached just under its much larger and more prominent reptilian head. The ape arms would grab hold of prey beneath it and pass them up into the mouth of its crocodile-half.

He had to put a stop to this thing, before more of his people were killed. Yet even as Petan took a step that way after killing the last creature that had barred his path, he saw one of the Seosten troops already running toward it. Whatever race the figure was, he appeared to be humanoid, with onyx-black skin and a wiry build under his Seosten uniform.

He was also carrying some kind of double-blade sword, a staff with a blade at each end in one hand. In the other, he held what looked like a grenade launcher.

A handful of other abominations, smaller than the main target, emerged from behind its feet before moving to intercept the Seosten guard. But he spun smoothly, easily avoiding the nearest as it swiped at him with long claws. As he twisted, his bladed staff spun upward and sliced the creature’s head from its shoulders as easily as one would chop a carrot.

In the same motion, the onyx-skinned figure flipped up and around, planting one foot into the face of the next attacker to drive him backward a step. That bladed staff went through the arm and then the upper torso of the third creature, before he used the momentum from kicking off of the second one to flip himself around in the air. Adjusting his blade, he came down hard, cutting that second creature in half lengthwise, straight down the middle from his head to his torso.

The figure was practically poetry in motion, flowing like an unstoppable river to cut through two more creatures that sought to interfere. By that point, only one was left: a monster about the size and general shape of a gorilla, with six arms and hard, rock-like skin.

The thing came at the guard, bellowing a loud challenge. That challenge, however, was erased (along with the creature itself), as the figure simply raised not the double-bladed staff, but the weapon in his other hand: the grenade launcher. He triggered the weapon, and the monster was engulfed by the explosion.

Petan briefly thought the strangely competent Seosten soldier was too close, but even as the explosion itself neared him, he was lifting a hand. Somehow, possibly an ability of of his race, he absorbed the shockwave and heat, then directed it under his feet to boost himself into the air.

The giant monster’s ape-half grabbed for the rising figure. Yet even as Nicholas watched, the Seosten soldier twisted in the air to plant his feet against the nearest of the incoming hands. A quick swipe from that double-bladed sword cut clear through the wrist of the opposite hand, cutting it free. As the beast howled, the figure pushed off that hand, firing a shot from the grenade launcher into the ape-head.

Again, he absorbed and redirected the energy from the explosion to drive himself even higher. Now, the figure was level with the enormous crocodile head. It opened that massive maw and lunged inward, toward its tiny snack.

The soldier, however, was ready. He fired a handful of shots from the grenade launcher into the thing’s face. The monster reeled from the explosions, stumbling a little as it roared.

While it was recovering, the unknown Seosten guard flipped over in the air, coming down on top of the monster’s massive snout. Even as its dull eyes tried to focus on the figure, he was already aiming that grenade launcher essentially straight down before pulling the trigger.

The explosion was unbelievable that time. Nicholas realized that the soldier must have used up the last of the thing’s energy supply in one final blast.

And yet, the thing still wasn’t dead. It had been knocked to the ground, but even then, the giant crocodile was trying to pick itself up, using its ape-half’s remaining hand to push off of the ground.

Neither, apparently, was the Seosten soldier dead. He had clearly absorbed all of that energy from the point-blank explosion. And now, he was running up its snout toward its eyes. The grenade launcher was gone, and the man now held his double-ended blade in both hands. Nicholas heard a distant scream of effort and exhilaration as the guard lashed out. Both ends of the blade lit up, all of the power that the man had absorbed from the explosion filling it even as he drive the blade down into the thing’s skull right between its eyes.

The blade, enhanced and empowered by the captured energy from the explosion, cut straight through the monster’s head, all the way down through its mouth, and out the other side. The head was literally cleaved into two halves that fell away from the main body even as the man himself landed in a crouch on the ground far below where he had been.

It was down. Dead. Gone. The last of the troops that the Fomorians had sent to the ground.

“Who are you?” Nicholas demanded, stepping that way to put himself between his remaining people and this figure. “The Seosten would not have someone of your… skill protecting a backwater outpost.”

The man pushed himself up, breathing hard before focusing on Nicholas. “You’re right,” he said simply. “They wouldn’t.”

With that, the onyx-skinned man fell forward, collapsing even as a second, female figure emerged from within him. The second figure was ghost-like for a moment before solidifying. She wore some kind of environment suit that covered her whole body and face, yet was skintight.

The soldier had been possessed.

“Seosten,” he started to spit the name, bringing his sword up.

But the female figure shook her head. “Not quite,” she replied before reaching up to take off the mask of the suit. “I just killed a couple and stole their power. But trust me, they really had it coming.”

Then the mask was off, and Nicholas found himself staring for a moment before he found his voice. “You do not… appear to be five years older.”

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

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

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