Felicity Chambers

Lessons 32-07

Previous Chapter                                      Next Chapter

“Today, we’ll mix in a little bit of your newest power,” Athena announced a few days later. At the moment, we were in a long, empty corridor. I wasn’t sure what it was for, but it kind of look like one of those special wind tunnels.

“So,” she continued then, “let’s see you make one.” She stepped back, folding her arms as she waited expectantly.

Right, she wanted to see that power, the one that I had gotten from that soldier who had been trying to make the portal to pull the rest of his companions through and cut us off while we were fighting Radueriel’s troops. Technically, I had killed two with that. There was the portal guy, of course, and the one who had been partially sticking out of the portal when it closed. From that second guy, I had received a significant boost to my balance. I could go across a beam like one of those trained gymnasts, or even make my way over marbles that were spread across the floor. Tabbris and I had practiced with that one a bit, and it was pretty fun finding out just how easy it was for me to maintain my balance even on slippery or narrow floors. And we’d definitely worked it into training. If nothing else, using my item-transfer power to suddenly cover a floor with a bunch of marbles or something to screw with people’s balance while mine remained just fine could end up being really useful.

But clearly, that wasn’t the power that Athena was talking about. Nor was she talking about the couple of other minor strength, stamina, and speed boosts that I have gotten from the few soldiers who had wandered into my planted mines. No, she wanted to see the other major one. So, I nodded and held up my hand while narrowing my eyes in concentration. Looking to the far end of the tunnel as far as I could see, I focused.

A couple of seconds later, a small, light blue portal appeared in the air right in front of my outstretched hand. It was only about a foot wide, or maybe even a little less. At the same time, an identical tiny portal appeared at the far end of the tunnel where my eyes were focused. With a smile, I stretched my hand forward through the portal. It appeared out the other end, and I waved to myself.

This was the power that I had inherited from that guy. I could make these small portals, not large enough to actually fit through or anything, but at least big enough to put my hand through and grab something small enough. They wouldn’t get any larger than this, or at least I hadn’t managed it yet. And I could only make them reach as far as I could see. The other end of the small portal had to be within my line of sight. But still, it was really cool. And there were a ton of ways to synergize it with my other powers and fighting style. I just needed practice. Especially when it came to making the portals appear quickly, without taking a few seconds to focus. If I could make them in the middle of a fight, it would be pretty awesome. Which, of course, was another advantage to having Tabbris around.

“Good,” Athena commended. “Now shut it down. Lady Tabbris, I would like you to take control of the left hand, and focus on creating portals and dismissing them. In the meantime, I will distract Lady Felicity. We will start very simply,” she promised.

With those words, the woman produced a simple baton. “Lady Felicity, I would like you to simply focus on blocking my blows with your staff. They will come slowly enough that you will be able to block them, but they will be sufficiently distracting that you will be unable to focus on creating the portals. You will need Lady Tabbris to do that. Shall we begin?”

We practiced that way for a little while, getting better and faster each time. Finally, I took a break to pick up a bottle of water, taking a long pull from it before remarking, “I wish you could train the others as much as you’re training me. Or at least Vanessa and Tristan. They deserve to learn from you more than I do. I mean, it’s their mother on the line.”

Blinking at that, Athena tilted her head a little while narrowing her eyes at me. “What do you mean?” she asked carefully. “Who exactly are Vanessa and Tristan?”

It was my turn to blink at that, equally confused. “Wait, you don’t know about them? I thought you knew about… uh, basically about all the stuff.” When the woman simply shook her head at me, I took a breath and let it out slowly. “Wow, okay then. Um, Vanessa and Tristan are Sariel’s other kids. You know, the ones that she had with Haiden, her human husband. The twins.”

For a few long seconds, Athena just squinted at me. “I am aware of Haiden Moon, and his work to locate his wife. But, as far as I am aware, they did not have any viable children.”

She doesn’t know? Tabbris sounded just as surprised as I felt. I thought she knew everything.

“Wow.” My mouth open and shut a couple times before I shook my head. “Well, whoever is giving you that information is either completely full of shit or they’re misinformed themselves. I… I just assumed you knew all this stuff, like… everything basically. I mean, what else don’t you know about? You know why Haiden and Larissa have been immune to Seosten possession, right? I mean–wait, no, you wouldn’t. Only Sariel, Larissa, and Haiden knew about it until we came along…”

Her response was to squint at me for a moment. “Their immunity is a topic of discussion, yes. The prevailing theory is that they were able to obtain the power of a rare creature with such an ability. Those do exist, though any who appear anywhere near Earth are quickly eliminated by non-human forces, and their remains utterly destroyed.”

Swallowing, I nodded slowly. “I can see why. But no, it’s a spell. Well, sort of.” Quickly, I explained what we knew about it, that the original effect came from something that Sariel had done, which Haiden and Larissa had figured out how to copy onto other people while obfuscating what it actually was.

Once I was done, the woman looked thoughtful for a moment. “This raises… many interesting questions, indeed. But not nearly so many as your previous statement. Viable children between a human and Seosten pairing. That is what I would like to know more about, Lady Felicity. If you would be so kind as to… enlighten me.”

So, I told her everything I knew about Vanessa and Tristan. I told her about Tristan being trapped on the Meregan world, about Vanessa ending up with the adoption people, and everything else they had told me. I told her about Tristan being linked to me in order to anchor him to Earth, and how we had to eventually transferred that to Vanessa. I even told her about how Vanessa had managed to make contact with her father thanks to Apollo’s help.

By the time I had finished, Athena was staring at me. If she had been the type, I was pretty sure her mouth would’ve been hanging open with surprise. As it was, she put a hand out to the nearby wall as if to steady herself. Her voice, when she finally spoke, cracked a little bit. “Viable children,” she murmured in a soft, utterly awed voice. “Viable children who show no ill signs or problems after blending human and Seosten genetics.”

Tabbris actually popped out of me then, stumbling a little before catching herself in her hurry. Looking up, she blurted, “You mean you really didn’t know about them?”

Athena looked back-and-forth between the two of us for a moment before her head shook. “I can assure you, I was not aware that any of this was the case. As far as I knew, no human and Seosten offspring had managed to survive past infancy. This is… remarkable. It is…” She trailed off, and I thought she looked pretty emotional about the whole thing. It really drove home to me just how much children meant to the Seosten. I remembered what Athena had said about how the Fomorians had murdered her husband and infant son. And now I wondered if she ever had a human lover after that, or anyone she had cared about that much, whom she was now imagining having another child with. Not to replace the one she had lost, but… to have another chance. I wondered what was going through the woman’s mind, as she blinked rapidly at the news that human/Seosten offspring were possible.

This was Athena, and I thought she might have been about to cry. Literally, physically cry, at the news that there were viable, living human-Seosten hybrid children.

Tabbris offered a hesitant, “I guess you really want to talk to them now too, huh?”

Meeting her gaze, Athena replied softly, her voice somewhat choked with emotion in a way that seemed utterly alien coming from her, “My… my lady, that is quite possibly the understatement of the past several millennia.”


“Come on, Tab! Come on, Flick!” Richton called a couple of days after our discussion with Athena about Vanessa and Tristan. He and the other three Seosten kids, along with Bandy and Reft, were standing at the far end of the sidewalk that ran in front of the house that Tabbris and I had been living in. The six of them wore obvious workout uniforms. Even Reft was wearing what looked like a bandana over his rocky head.

Approaching with my partner at my side, I asked, “You guys haven’t been waiting that long, have you?”

Kisea shook her head. “Nope, Richton’s just impatient.” Teasing her friend a little, she nudged him before looking back to us. “But are you guys ready?”

“Oh,” Meley put in then, her attention on Tabbris, “Those all fit okay?”

‘Those’, in this case, referred to the clothes that the little blonde girl was wearing. For once, she didn’t just have on that simple bodysuit. Instead, Meley had given her a pair of blue shorts and a white shirt. When Tabbris had objected, saying that all she really needed was the bodysuit, which would keep growing with her, Meley had pointedly replied that that wasn’t the point, and that Tabbris should have other clothes that were purely hers.

I liked Meley.

There had also been some talk about getting her an entire wardrobe of her own, along with other things. That had quieted down a little, but I was pretty sure giving her this single outfit was just the first step along those lines. Which was fantastic, because I wanted my little sister to have everything she deserved, even if she didn’t think that she needed any of it. She deserved that and so much more. These guys were great. It was just amazing to see how well they did with her, and how much they seemed to understand. Even if I hadn’t been getting all the extra training and everything else that I had been getting over these weeks, staying here would have been worth it just to have given Tabbris a chance to interact with kids at least close to her own age. Not to mention the fact that some were her own species, and weren’t horrible examples. My little partner needed that.

“Oh, uh.” Blinking down at herself, Tabbris nodded quickly. “Yeah,” she confirmed, “they all fit really good.” Belatedly, she added a quick, “Thanks!”

Meley just shrugged. “Plenty more where that came from,” she promised before adding, “Next time, you can pick out the colors.”

Before Tabbris could respond to that, Demeas cut in impatiently, “Okay, okay, can we stop talking about clothes and all that for now and focus on actually getting some exercise in? I’d like to work up a sweat for once.”

Richton nodded. “A couple laps around the neighborhood, and then we’ll make our way back for a break.” He looked to Tabbris then, his voice turning a little hopeful, “Then some magic and possession training?”

That was what we were doing with these guys. Tabbris was getting a little actual exercise of her own for once, while we had the chance. It was helping her with her coordination (which she desperately needed). And in exchange, she was teaching the others a bit of the magic that she knew from her mom, and some possession tricks. In the latter case, Bandy and Reft were the guinea pigs. Both had volunteered to let their friends practice their possession powers on them, which showed an incredible amount of trust between the members of the group.

The relatively short run wasn’t much of a workout for me of course, but I did like learning the magic and possession tricks, especially since I could actually do it myself. We all learned together from my little partner, who knew an incredible amount about that kind of stuff. Her mother had taught her well, and she was passing it on.

“Yup,” I confirmed while rubbing Tabbris’s head a little. “We run, then we practice, right?”

Her little head bobbing up and down quickly. “Right,” she chirped. The smile on her face told me everything I need to know about how much Tabbris was enjoying actually being able to contribute. Yes, these weeks that we were spending here were absolutely worth it. Even though I missed my friends, and especially missed Valley and Shiori, it was still worth it.

“Okay then,” I announced, turning to start jogging. “Let’s go, last one back is a rotten egg.”

Kisea piped up while following after me, her voice curious. “We have heard that kind of thing before, but I don’t understand. Why do Earth children call each other rotten eggs if they are slow? What does one thing have to do with another?”

Blinking at the question, I glanced over to the girl while all of us began jogging together. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “Maybe that’s another mystery to add onto the pile.

“But hey, at least that’s finally one that shouldn’t be too hard to solve.”


“Are you girls ready?” Athena asked. “They’re going to be a bit faster this time. I think you can move to the next level.”

It had been a little over three weeks since the woman had saved us from Radueriel. If I had my days right, back on Earth it would be about April sixth, a Friday. Over three weeks since I had been brought here and started training with her. The time had pretty much flown by before I even realized it. I missed the others more than I could even try to articulate, but Athena kept me busy. She kept both of us busy. And when she wasn’t, I was kept distracted  by any number of things, from learning more about this place and all the people on it, to playing video games with my new friends, to just sitting in class with Tabbris sometimes. Or just by wandering around and getting to know this place and the people in it. They were all endlessly fascinating, and most were willing to just stand and talk with me as much as I wanted. There were some who were too suspicious, or to private of course, and I tried to give those ones their space. But for the most part, people were almost eager to tell me about themselves. And, I told them about myself in return. It was fun, and infinitely informative. And it definitely meant that I was never bored.

Now, the two of us were back in the training room, standing side-by-side. At Athena‘s question, we looked at one another briefly. “Yep,” Tabbris chirped. She had her hands clenched at her sides as she gave a firm nod. “We’re ready.”

“Good,” Athena replied. “Then let’s see how you do this time.“

With that, Tabbris grabbed my hand, and jumped into me. I felt her presence inside me like a reassuring and comforting blanket. We were together once more.

As soon as my partner was settled, Athena stepped back and hit a button on the remote that she was holding. The training began. From straight ahead of us, what looked like a pitching machine begin shooting small rubber balls at me. With a thought, I transferred my staff from its place at my side, into my hands and smacked the first ball out of the way. More kept coming. They varied in speed and direction, and I had to stay focused on knocking them away, or just dodging them when they came too close together.

Eventually, the balls came not just from in front of me, but from machines that had been placed to either side as well. I had to keep track of all of them, constantly turning one way or the other to bring my staff around as quickly as possible. One after another, I blocked as many balls as I could.

Meanwhile, I could vaguely feel things appearing behind me with my item sense. But I couldn’t focus on them and deal with the incoming balls at the same time. That was Tabbris’s job, and I could sense her intently focusing on those things.

After an intense ten minutes, Athena called a stop to it. She walked forward, stooping to pick up something off the floor. It was one of the things that had been floating behind me, a metal object in the shape of a letter. In this case, it was a W. “Very nicely done, Lady Felicity. Your reflexes and focus are getting better every day. Pretty soon, it will be time to add more speed, variation, and direction to the incoming balls.”

Coughing, I gave the woman a wry smirk. “I think you’re just upset that you’re not hitting me as often as you used to.”

She winked at me then, before asking, “And you, Lady Tabbris?”

My partner popped out of me, already reciting, “The bird flies low and the monkey flies high. Run fast, run slow, eat a banana, and away we go.”

What her part of our little training exercise here amounted to was that a bunch of those letters would float behind me, slowly forming into words. She had to use my item sense to get the idea of where each letter was, and what words they were spelling, then keep track of the actual sentences. She had to do all that while I was distracted with the incoming balls. The point was to show that she could do that kind of support stuff, while I dealt with the immediate threat.

Smiling broadly, Athena congratulated her, “Very, very good. I believe we are ready to move on to your item swapping test next.”

The item swapping test. That was where I would hold a green stick in one hand and a red stick in the other. Various targets would appear in front of me to either side, some red and some green. My job was simply to swing at them with whatever I happen to be holding in that hand. Tabbris’s job was to use the power that could move objects around my body to swap the sticks between different hands so that the right color stick always hit the right color target. Athena had already promised that once we got good enough at that, she was going to start making targets appear all the way around us, and include more than just two colors, while extra color sticks would hang from my belt to be swapped up into my hands. And once we actually got good at that, she would move on to something even harder.

The two of us nodded, and Tabbris started to jump into me again, before Athena held up a hand to stop us. “Hold one moment,” she announced while turning away. It looked like she was listening to something, leaving Tabbris and I to simply shrugged uncertainly at one another.

A moment later, she turned back to us and smiled. “Well,” the woman announced, “it looks as though we are going to need your aid with something else first, before continuing any more of your training.”

“Something else?” I echoed uncertainly while glancing to Tabbris. “You need our help?”

“Yes.” Athena winked. “We have finally located your friends. We can set up a portal to them, but I believe it would be better if you were with us at the time. It would… help avoid any issues.”

My eyes widened dramatically at that, surprise at the news making me gasp out loud. “You found them!?” I exclaimed, before adding quickly, “Yes, yes, yes. Let’s go get them.”

With a soft chuckle at my reaction, Athena turned to lead us out of the room, and I held out a hand to my partner. After Tabbris jumped into me once more, I quickly followed the older woman, unable to hold back the wide smile that had stretched its way way across my face.

The others, I was finally going to be reunited with them. Finally, finally, we could all get caught up on everything that had happened.

And boy were they going to be surprised by how I had been spending my time.

Previous Chapter                                      Next Chapter


Lessons 32-06

Previous Chapter                                     Next Chapter

“You must remember to use all of your powers. Practice with every instrument that you possess, so that when you fight, your battles are a symphony.”

It was several days later, and I was standing in the backyard behind the house that Tabbris and I had been assigned, listening to Athena’s advice. Tabbris herself was sitting on a wooden swing hung from a tree nearby as she watched us.

Athena continued, “I have spoken to your partner.” She gestured that way. “And she has shown me some of her memories. You do quite well for the short amount of time you’ve been training, quite well indeed. But you do have a tendency to forget about the powers that you have access to. You focus on one or two in a battle, to the exclusion of others that could help you just as much, if not more. You must learn to use them all.”

After a brief hesitation, I nodded. “I know, it’s just kind of hard to remember everything I have access to in the middle of a fight. I have to focus.”

“Of course.” The woman’s head bowed in agreement. “It must become second nature, your powers must flow one into another and fit together seamlessly. For that, you require practice. Lots of practice.” Her smile quirked up a little bit. “After all, you can’t expect all of your Seosten opponents to be as arrogant and easily manipulated as Charmiene.”

Blinking at that, I blurted, “Okay, do you know what happened to her? You looked at me funny before when I brought her up, and you knew that I could possess you, but I’m not sure how much you… you know, how much you actually know.”

The woman’s eyebrow arched up slightly. “I was aware that you killed her, yes. The specific circumstances were… not explained. But knowing the former Nemesis as I do, I can make several educated guesses.”

Swallowing hard, I looked away for a second. “She possessed my teammate… my friend. She forced him to do awful things. And when we finally fought her, she was just…”

“Toying with you,” Athena finished quietly. “Allowing the fight to drag on far longer than it needed to. Charmiene would say that she was proving a point, breaking your spirit so that you would be more likely to fall in line.”

“Yeah, well she fucked up,” I muttered. “She dismissed Columbus, the boy she had been possessing. She dismissed him and he… hit her at just the right time. It left her open and I…”

“You took advantage.” Athena reached out, putting her finger under my chin to tilt it up. “Good,” she announced flatly. “Never hesitate to take any advantage you can get, Lady Felicity. Your enemies are far beyond you in straight capability. For you to succeed, or even survive, you will need to seize any and every possible edge. That includes cheating, if need be. All that matters is winning.”

Biting my lip, I met the woman’s gaze. “I’ll remember that, when I’m trying to deal with the rest of the Seosten on my list.”

That made her blink, head tilting curiously as she watched me for a moment. “You have a list of Seosten enemies?”

Despite myself, I flushed a little bit. “Yeah, well, they keep fucking with me and the people I care about. I–” Blinking up then, I quickly blurted, “I don’t suppose you have any idea who Manakel might be possessing at Crossroads?”

Her head shook, deflating that brief hope. “I am afraid I don’t have much contact with Earth at the moment. And what contacts I do have out here are either unaware of his host’s identity, or unwilling to share it. I have… made certain outreaches, anticipating that question. But thus far, they have not paid off.”

“If something does come back?” I asked then.

Athena gave a short nod. “I will inform you as soon as I know. You have my word.” She paused then before looking to me seriously. “When you killed Charmiene, you put a target on yourself, one that is even larger than what you already had. There are many Seosten crewmembers of the Olympus who will seek to end your life. You must be ready for them.”

She stepped back then while continuing. “And to be ready, you must train. So, let us begin with this sand manipulation power. Would you mind?”

Obligingly, I withdrew my staff from its place on my hip and triggered the button to let the sand come through the portal that was connected to the canister on my belt. As the sand poured out, I let it fly up and hover in a cloud between us.

Reaching out, Athena let her hand one through the sand for a second before looking to me. “Any fight in which your opponent has exposed eyes, or other ocular orifices, and you were not besieging them with this sand to blind them, you are wasting this power. If their mouth are exposed, choke them with it.”

“I try to do that,” I confirmed. “But a lot of the guys out here are wearing armor.”

“That special sense of yours,” the woman replied, “the one that allows you to identify and understand the position of objects that are close to you. Use that to identify where any chinks or openings in the armor happen to be. Let your sand flow to those openings and fill areas such as the knees and elbows, any joints. Send the sand into those areas to make it harder and slower for them to move. Making their arms and legs bend or extend even a second slower or less can mean the difference between winning and losing.

“Send it into their shoes or boots, so that they have to step on sand. Rub it over their skin to give them burns. Force it under their fingernails. Find any opening to any sensitive tissue and exploit it. This power is very strong, if you use it properly. Particularly if you use it in conjunction with that item sense power so that you know where those openings are.”

As I nodded quickly to that advice, she continued. “This new power that you have picked up, the one that allows you to transport any object from one part of your body to any other part of your body. You don’t seem to have done very much with that.”

I nodded a little sheepishly at that. “Yeah, I guess I haven’t really given myself much of a chance to practice with that one. Though it does make getting dressed a breeze. So I guess you could say that I’m incorporating it into my lion transformation.”

She gave me a little smile, chuckling. “Yes, of course. But it can be used in other ways as well. You can move your staff from one hand to the next without a second’s pause. But more than that, you can transfer items from your pockets or belt. Items that you have prepared with spells, or other abilities. Your new ability to embed sound into an object, for example. Imagine being in a fight, with a rock embedded with a very distracting sound in your pocket. In the midst of this fight, you transfer the stone from your pocket to your foot and kick it away while activating it. The sound distracts your opponent, drawing their attention that way for the brief instant you need to deal the finishing blow.”

Absorbing that advice, I nodded slowly with a smile. “That’s a pretty good idea,” I admitted. “Plus, there’s those flashbang rocks that I learned how to make. Those could work too.”

From where she was swinging, Tabbris piped up. “What about the Kevlar spell? You know, the one that makes projectiles lose their momentum just before they hit you. They only work against a few hits before the spell wears off, but what if you enchanted a bunch of little things like handkerchiefs with the spell and put them in your pocket. Then, just before something was about to hit you, you move one of the handkerchief to the spot where it’s about to hit.”

I nodded quickly to that. “See, that’s another great idea. I mean, it might be a little hard for me to focus on that, and on fighting at the same time. This is a lot to keep track of.”

“That,” Athena interjected, “is why this partnership is so important.” She looked to the younger girl, gesturing for her to come over. “If you wish this to be a true partnership, it must function as one. Everything that Lady Tabbris said just now could be done by her, while Lady Felicity here focuses on the actual fight. Even small things, such as monitoring the item sense power to keep track of where everything is, and similar abilities can be maintained and monitored by Lady Tabbris.”

From the look on the little Seosten’s face, Athena might as well have suggested that she murder me in my sleep. Her eyes widened, and she gave a mortified squeak before blurting, “You mean use her powers without asking permission first? You mean just do it? But, but, but…”

I interrupted,“Hey, we’re partners. I trust you. You can totally use those kind of powers to keep us both safe. That would be kind of cool actually, you run the powers like that, and I focus on actually fighting. If we practiced enough, get good at communicating when we need to, and you get good at just taking over certain abilities at the right time, we could be pretty damn dangerous together.”

“That,” Athena announced with a smile, “is precisely what I have been trying to teach you.”


Just under a week later, a voice abruptly announced, “Are you sure you’re a Reaper-Bonded?”

Blinking at the question coming from behind me, I turned away from the door of the classroom where I had just dropped Tabbris off for another few hours of learning from Mr. Reinswield.

The boy standing behind me was just a couple inches taller than I was. But other than the height difference between them, he basically looked like a male version of Bandy, the adorable little red and white fox-bunny girl.

“Uh, yeah. I mean,” I amended quickly, “not a natural one or anything, but the Seosten-created pseudo-version, sure.”

“Sorry.” The bunny boy’s ears dropped just a little bit and he looked kind of sheepish as he admitted, “That was probably pretty rude. I was just thinking, you don’t set off the internal alarm that those Reaper-Bonded do. And Reapers themselves, you know. Oh, and uh, I’m Grisson. I was just dropping off Bandy and I, uh, saw you.”

“Hi, Grisson.” I smiled. “I’m Flick. And yeah, I am definitely a Reaper-Bonded. But I also kind of have a power that makes it so that I don’t set off those alerts, unless you see me actually use another power.”

“Pssst.” From down the hall, a green-skinned face poked around the corner. The boy it belong to stage whispered, “Did you ask her about it yet?”

Wearing a long-suffering expression, Grisson slowly put his hand up to the end of his snout and heaved a long, heavy sigh before half-turning his head to look back that way. His voice was a loud hiss. “Funnily enough, I think she can hear you. Because she’s standing right here, you tetrikade.”

Resisting the urge to snicker (mostly anyway), I calmly replied, “Hey, he didn’t know. Maybe one of the powers I inherited was the ability to go completely deaf at inopportune times.”

Grisson smiled at that, letting me see his row of sharp canines. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works,” he informed me before hesitating. Looking back over the shoulder, he gestured to me. “Do, uh, you wanna come see something? I mean, if you don’t have anything else you have to do right now, or anything.” Shifting nervously on his feet, the boy gave an awkward shrug. “You don’t have to. Not that we could tell you what you had to do or anything. I mean, you know…”

Finally rescuing the boy from his floundering, I nodded. “Sure, Athena is busy right now, so she can’t beat me up again until this afternoon. I’ve got some time to kill. I was going to explore a little more, but I guess I could see what you guys are up to.” Pausing then, I asked, “But don’t you have class right now?”

The answer came from the green boy down the hall, who called out with his head still poking around the corner. “Our classes aren’t until after lunch! We’re totally free until then!”

Rolling his eyes, Grisson nodded nonetheless. “He’s right, we have classes starting in the afternoon.”

“Well,” I replied, “in that case, lead the way. And maybe you can introduce me to your friend.”

Or rather, as it turned out, friends. As we turned the corner, I found three more figures standing there waiting. One was the green-skinned boy who had been sticking his head around the corner. The other two were a boy and a girl who looked like they were twins, or at least very closely related. Each had steel skin, like a metal statue, and their arms were long enough to reach the floor despite them being just over six feet tall. Despite their height, I could tell they were young, probably younger than me. Or at least their bodies hadn’t fully matured. I didn’t know how long their species maturation rate was. For all I knew, they were two-hundred years old and would take another one hundred before they were fully grown. Alien species were weird sometimes. But, then again, they probably thought the exact same thing about us.

“We are fifteen,” the girl piped up quickly, clearly trying to be helpful. “By earth years, that is.”

Blinking at that, I asked, “Wait, did you actually just read my mind?”

Looking a little abashed, the metal girl quickly shook her head. “No, no. It’s not exactly mind reading. It’s more that when people have questions around us, we kind of feel the same questions. If there’s a lot of people, or the question is really generic, we can’t tell where it’s coming from. But with this one, well, it was pretty obvious. I–I’m sorry if that was prying. We can’t really turn it off.”

The boy beside her nodded. “When we get older, it’s more than just questions, and they get clearer. We feel what people, you know, what they want. We feel when they’re cold, when they’re hungry, when they want the door to be opened. Stuff like that.”

The green boy cut in then. “You know how lots of rich and powerful people want servants that can anticipate their needs without being told? That’s what an Ullmis can do.”

With a nod, the metal boy (an Ullmis, I supposed) added, “I’m Aerlicht. This is my sister, Ferrdreis.”

“And I’m Layuerk,” the green boy put in. “But most people just call me Lurk.”

“Well,” I replied, “good to meet you guys. Like I said before, I’m Flick. Grisson said that you had something to show me?”

After exchanging brief glances, the four nodded and turn to head down the hall. I followed, letting them lead me out of the school area and through a brief maze of corridors until we reached a door that was set out of the way. It looked sort of like where I would expect to find a janitor’s utility closet or something.

“Behold,” Grisson announced while putting his hand near the pad next to the doorway, “our treasure.”

With that, the boy hit the button to open the door, and gestured for me to go in. I did, stepping through into what turned out to be a large room with tables everywhere. Scattered across all these tables were a dozen different televisions. Earth televisions. They were the really old, big boxy kind that they had before the flat panel versions. And with them were a bunch of different video game systems. I saw an original Nintendo, Super and N64 versions, a Sega Genesis, even an Atari. None of them looked any newer than the early 90s at the latest.

Standing behind me, Ferrdreis explained, “Some of it is scavenged from what the Seosten throw away whenever they pull in humans from earth, or when a colony gets absorbed, and some of it is from what refugees had with them.“

Her brother nodded, “We trade for it, or work for it, or just go digging through the garbage. Some of the stuff inside the machines is different than it was, but it still works.”

They showed me a cabinet at the back of the room where they had dozens and dozens of game cartridges all stacked up. Actually, there were probably a few hundred of them. A lot were duplicates, or too damaged to actually work. The damaged ones were piled up near the bottom, which they said they used for parts, or to try to fix later. But even going by the ones they actually had, there were a ton of games.

Running my hands slowly over the collection of game cartridges, I asked, “Why do you guys have all of these?”

“To play?” Lurk offered with a shrug. “We play the games, and we watch the movies.” He pointed then to another cabinet on the other side of the room, where I could see hundreds of VCR tapes of all different kinds.

“We like Earth things,” Grisson put in. “That’s kind of what this is, the Earth club. We really wanna go there someday.”

Pushing up the switch on one of the game systems, Aerlicht picked up a black controller and offered it to me. “We were hoping you could show us how to get through some of these.”

“Play video games?” I echoed a bit blankly. Looking around then, I shrugged. “All of this stuff is kind of from before my time. But sure, why not? I need a break anyway.

“Let’s play some games.”

Previous Chapter                                     Next Chapter

Lessons 32-05

Previous Chapter                                  Next Chapter

“Lady Tabbris,” Athena started later, once lunch was over. She was standing by our table. “How would you like to spend the afternoon attending classes with the others here, while I have a little bit of a private training session with Lady Felicity?”

My little partner’s immediate reaction to that was to lean closer to me, staring up at the woman with wide eyes.“You don’t want me to be there?” she asked in a squeaky voice that seemed half-suspicious, and half-terrified that Athena was going to insist on separating us.

The Olympian gave her a reassuring smile, shaking her head. “Nothing like that, I promise. I simply would like to evaluate Lady Felicity’s skills without any other influence. I promise, I will also see how she does with your aid. And, I thought that you might enjoy an afternoon of simply being… yourself.”

Staring blankly up at her for a moment, Tabbris finally admitted in a soft voice, “But I don’t know who I am.”

Lifting her hand, Athena gestured to the plate in front of Tabbris, which held the remains of what had been a bunch of dark red meats and peppers. “Did you enjoy your lunch?”

The little blonde Seosten blinked at the question, tilting her head to look down at it before looking up again with a furtive nod. “It’s spicy. I guess I like spicy food. Really spicy. But Flick doesn’t like it, so I never really tried it before.”

Athena’s smile grew a little bit. “You have my word that I have no intention of forcing you to stay apart. My young warrior, all I wish is for you to find everything that is you. This love of spicy food, a new skill, an interest that you didn’t know before. My wish is for you and Lady Felicity to become the very best versions of yourselves that you can possibly be. I want you to know yourself, to know who you are. Because when you know that, when you have become everything you can be, and then the two of you come together… you will be unstoppable.”

Leaning up really close to my ear, little bunny-eared Bandy whispered, “If you think that was a good speech, you should see the one that she gives the little kids who are scared to use the bathroom.”

Tabbris worked her mouth a few times, opening and shutting it before offering a slightly weak, “And we do all that just by me going classes by myself?”

Chuckling, Athena raised a hand and gave a vague gesture. “It will be a start. But you will not be alone.”

“Yeah!” Richton put in. “We won’t leave you by yourself, promise. I mean, enough of our species are beaufstains as it is. Those of us to know better, we gotta stick together.”

“Language, Richton,” Athena gently admonished. “You are still in school, after all. But yes. A quite admirable point.”

The others all expressed their own eagerness to have Tabbris stay with them for the afternoon, and eventually she looked over to me.

“Sure,” I agreed. “I’m pretty sure I’m just gonna spend the afternoon getting beat up by the goddess of war over there, so maybe you’ll have more fun in class.”

“But… but…” Tabbris winced. “ I haven’t been that far away from you for… forever.”

“Hey.” Reaching out, I put my hand against her cheek. “You can always recall to me, right? Anything happens, you get too nervous, you think something’s going wrong, anything at all, you just come straight back to me just like that.” I snapped my fingers in demonstration.

“Whoa!” That was Meley. “You already know how to use recall like that? We can barely possess people on purpose.”

Kisea was nodding. “And your mom taught you all that, just in your memories? She must be the best memory-witch ever!”

From Athena’s soft smile and the look in her eyes, I had a feeling that there was a bit of a story there. But she just nodded. “Sariel impresses in many ways.”

“So what do you say?” I asked my partner. “Meet up in a few hours and exchange notes?”

She still looked a little hesitant, but it was obvious that everything that had been said had helped a lot. “Yeah, o-okay. But just a few hours.”

Turning back to Athena, I gestured. “Well, you heard her. I guess I’m ready for my ass-kicking, Sensei.”


Three sounds filled the room in rapid succession. First, there was my loud yelp, followed by the solid whumph of my body landing hard on the floor, and then the clatter of my staff bouncing across it.

“Ow.” I took a second to catch my breath, before rolling over onto my side to look up at Athena. “How many days have I been letting you beat me up for now?”

She gave me a small smile, head shaking as she informed me, “Apologies, my lady, but it has not even been half an hour yet.”

“Half an hour, and you’ve knocked me down about fifty-seven times.” I gave her a wry, self-deprecating smile. “I must be one of the worst students you ever had.”

“Only forty-one,” she corrected me. “And no, my lady. The only bad students I have ever had are the ones who do not get back up again after being knocked down. You get up so many times…” Trailing off, she extended a hand and helped me to my feet before adding, “I know that it may seem frustrating, but you truly do learn more from fighting those who are better than you than those who are worse.”

I nodded, rubbing the back of my neck a little. “Yeah, that’s what Avalon says all the time.”

The woman paused at that, squinting at me for a second. “Yes,” she murmured, “Avalon. The name that Liesje Aken’s descendant adopted.”

“Oh, right,” I realized. “I guess that name has special meaning for you, doesn’t it?”

Her response was a little chuckle. “Yes, somewhat. And the girl, she means a lot to you.”

I swallowed hard at that, looking away before bending down to grab my staff off the floor. “I try not to think about it, but I miss her.” I held my staff tightly, closing my eyes. “I miss her so much. Her and Shiori. My girls. I miss them, I miss my dad, I miss the rest of my team. I miss my friends.”

Athena‘s hand found my shoulder, and she pulled me into an embrace. “You will see them all again,” she promised me. “And when you do, you will be so much stronger than you were.”

Managing a weak little smile, I opened my eyes while returning the hug. “You know,” I remarked, “you’re pretty comforting for someone who keeps knocking me on my ass.”

Giving me one more squeeze, the woman finally released me and stepped back, while offering, “Perhaps you’re simply a glutton for punishment.”

I laughed at that. “Lady Athena,” I countered, “if you knew everything that I’ve gotten myself involved in, you wouldn’t say perhaps.”

“You should tell me more about all of it,” she offered. “While we train, of course.”

“Of course,” I confirmed with a vague wave. “After all, if I couldn’t even touch you before, trying to do it while I’m distracted talking ought to do the trick.”

She gave a genuine laugh at that, eyes twinkling a little bit. “Distraction,” she informed me, “is simply another part of training, my lady.”

“In that case,” I replied evenly while readying my staff. “Bring it-”

Aaaand I was on the floor again.


“So, how was it with the other Seosten kids?”

It was later that night, and Tabbris and I were alone in the bedroom that Athena had given us. Well, to be more accurate, we were in the bedroom of the house that the woman had assigned us, in the human section of the habitat that we had originally arrived in. This was where we would be staying for the next month, while they worked on the Sariel-locator spell using a bit of Tabbris’s blood that had been drawn earlier.

The younger girl paused, biting her lip as she looked at me. “It was weird,” she answered honestly. “But good too, I think. It was fun, but also scary. Neat, but I wasn’t sure what to say.” She paused then, her eyes looking down as she amended quietly, “I never know what to say.” 

Sitting down on the bed, I reached out to pull her over to sit beside me, putting an arm around her. “Do you like them?”

”Uh huh.” Her head bobbed up and down, before she glanced over to me. “Do you?”

“Well sure,” I confirmed before giving her a firm hug. “But then again, I already knew the very best Seosten kid in the universe.

“Those other guys can’t hold a candle to my partner.”


“Mmmm, I love butterscotch pudding.” Three days later, I was sitting in Mr. Reinswield’s mostly-empty classroom, licking the last of that particular treat off the end of my spoon. “That Chef Gisby guy is really good at his job.”

The teacher smiled, taking the last of his own chocolate version of the dessert. “Yes,” he agreed, “the man does very good work. We are quite lucky to have him. Quite lucky indeed.”

Can you ask him how long he’s been a teacher here? Tabbris asked. She was back inside of me for the time being. We had been making a point of having her come out and act on her own more while we had the chance, but she was still more comfortable this way. It felt safe and secure to her. And I thought that part of her insistence on being with me so much also stemmed from wanting to fulfill the job that her mother had given to her, to protect me. Or rather, I amended pointedly within my own thoughts, for us to protect each other.

Obligingly, I looked toward the man in question. “Tabbris would like to know how long you’ve been a teacher here.”

The blond, scruffy-looking man raised an eyebrow at that. “Would she prefer to know how long I’ve been a teacher, how long I’ve been here, or how long I’ve been a teacher here?”

“Honestly, I think we both like to hear all of it.” After saying that, I paused to listen to my partner, that nodded. “Yep, if you want to tell us.”

Chuckling, Reinswield nodded agreeably. “As you might have guessed, I was a Heretic back on Earth. Well, I suppose I technically still am. But they don’t call us that out here.”

“Right,” I nodded, “it’s Bonded.”

“Indeed.” Continuing after that agreement, Reinswield added, “I was a member of Eden’s Garden since its inception. It shames me to say now, but I was one of the more… vicious of our kind. Enthusiastic, you might say.  Eventually I managed to get myself in over my head, and ended up with my leg turned to stone. It was fixable, but doing so took several months. It was quite a curse. While I was incapable of fighting like that, I still wanted to make myself useful. So I chose to fill in as a teacher at one of our outreach schools in London.”

Clearly noticing my uncertain look, the man explained, “Heretics will often take the positions of instructors or other staff members in particular schools within high risk areas, both to protect the students there, and to watch for high potential recruits.”

“So you were basically under cover?” I asked.

He nodded. “Basically, yes. At first I resented it very much. I saw it as a waste of my abilities, but it was the only job they would give me, and I wanted to keep myself occupied. But over time, I came to…” he swallowed. “I came to quite enjoy my time there, and my students. I took up a permanent position. This was during the second World War, so there was quite a need for teachers who could maintain order and keep the children calm.”

The man trailed off, clearly lost in thought for a few seconds before he gave a sharp shake of his head. “They wanted to recruit one of my girls. But she was too innocent. Too bloody pure for this kind of work. So I objected. I took my objection as high as I could, made a stink about it. My objection was noted, and I ended up out here, as the puppet for one of the Seosten warriors on the front lines of the Fomorian war. I spent about a decade out there before Athena rescued me, and brought me here so that I could go back to what I love doing. Teaching children.”

He had glossed over it, probably for both my and Tabbris’s benefit. But I couldn’t help shuddering a little at the thought that he had been enslaved by the Seosten and forced to fight the Fomorians for a whole decade. That was just… I shuddered once more. No wonder he was content to be a simple teacher again.

“Well,” I offered, “you seem happy here, at least?”

“Quite,” he agreed. “I do miss my old students quite often. And I regret never finding out what happened to little Sonya Eulcid. I am very sorry that my attempts to convince the leadership not to turn her into a Heretic and put her into this life led to my not being there to help her when she was recruited anyway.”

Swallowing hard, I repeated the name. “Sonya Eulcid. I have friends in Eden’s Garden. I promise, when I get back to earth, I’ll find out if she still alive. I’ll get a message from you to her, if I can.”

Reinswield smiled at me. “You know, that is a promise that deserves another pudding.”


Crack, crack, thump, yelp, thud.

Four days after my conversation with Reinswield, I was back in the training gym with Athena. We had been coming here every day, for at least a few hours. She knew that I didn’t really get tired very often, and took advantage of that, putting me through my paces as often as possible. She was just as much of a taskmaster as Avalon, if not more so.

Picking myself up off the floor that I do not to once again, I asked, “Is there any news about contacting Larissa, Haiden, and the others?”

Athena’s head shook while she stood there holding her own light staff. “We are trying, but it is slow going. As I said, this is a very large galaxy, and the last thing we want to do is be too obvious, and draw unwanted attention to either ourselves or the others.”

I nodded, as much as it pained me to think of what they were going through by that point. Leading the bad Seosten right to them wouldn’t be good for any of us.

From where she was sitting on the sidelines, Tabbris called, “Hey, I think you almost hit her once that time!”

Athena and I exchanged glances. I knew it wasn’t true. The only reason I ever even got one swing off, let alone multiple ones before she put me down each time, was because she was giving me a chance to actually learn. She took it slow and easy on me. For her, it was probably like when an adult play fights with a toddler and lets them think they’re actually getting somewhere. She kept adjusting my stance, correcting where my hands were, telling me when to choke up on the staff, when to turn faster, where my feet should be positioned, and more. Every move I made, she had advice for it. And she drilled it into me over and over again. She had taught me so much in these past few days, and she kept doing it, kept helping me. She was unbelievably patient.

And quite honestly, I still couldn’t get over the fact that I was actually learning from the real Athena. Honestly, how amazing was that? Every time I actually thought about it, I got a little giddy.

After a few more rounds of me ending up flat on my back, or on my face, Athena relented and sent me to get a drink of water from the bottle that Tabbris was holding. While I was gulping it down, she looked to the younger girl. “I have something for you,” she announced.

Tabbris blinked a little in obvious surprise. “For me?”

Nodding, Athena stepped over while extending her hand with what look like a small metal button about two inches across in it. “Go ahead,” she offered, “turn it on.”

Taking the small button, Tabbris put it between her thumb and index finger, and pushed them together. There was a distinct click sound, before she quickly put the thing in the center of her palm. From the little disc, a hologram about a foot and a half high appeared, floating above her hand. It was of a blonde woman.

The girl gave a soft gasp, staring at it. Her voice was soft. “Mama…”

Nodding, Athena explained, “That was the hologram that was taken for your mother’s identification on the Olympus. I thought that you would like to have it.”

While Tabbris nodded fervently, I examined the hologram a little closer. The woman was beautiful, with an intense gaze, and the kind of raw—

Crack. Suddenly, there was a sharp pain in my leg, and I yelped, looking up to find Tabbris staring intently at me. She had kicked me.

“Stop it!” Her face was scrunched up as she pointed at me. “I know that look. I know that look! You were doing the whole ‘oooh, it’s a pretty older woman, let me pretend I don’t notice how long I’m staring at her’ thing. That’s my mama! Gross!”

Flushing guiltily, I shook my head. “I wasn’t looking at her like that.”

From where she was standing, Athena cleared her throat. “Well, it’s clear to me that you require another avenue of training as well.”

“I do?” I blinked at that.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “Training in lying, of course.

“You are quite terrible at it.”

Previous Chapter                                  Next Chapter

Lessons 32-04

Previous Chapter                                          Next Chapter

Before starting with that promised training, however, we had to eat. After everything that we had been through, I was seriously starving. I had to think back to the last time I had eaten something, which made me remember just how much had happened. Everything, from getting to the Kenkean planet, tracking down and fighting Isaac, fighting that delaying action against the Seosten army until Radueriel had shown up and then getting myself stranded there, only for Athena to show up and end up bringing me here had all been… just a couple hours, really.

Generally speaking, if describing everything that happened to you in the course of a couple hours turned into what looked a run-on sentence, there was probably entirely too much happening in your life. I needed a break, badly. Actually, what I really needed was Valley and Shiori, my dad, the rest of my team, my new (much older) brother and sister, and while I was throwing dreams in the air, my mom. But I was going to have to settle for lunch. Or dinner.

With the class ended for the time being, Athena stepped back and let all those Alter kids lead Tabbris and me out of the room and down the corridor back past Miss Handsy’s office (she called out greetings to us and everyone else as we passed) to the opposite hallway where there was a door leading into an open cafeteria that could have been in any middle school on Earth, if a bit outdated (and honestly, what schools weren’t?). Clearly, Mr. Reinswield had had a big say in how the school was set up. I wondered what his story was, how long ago he’d ended up out here and why. Actually, I had lots of questions in general. Which was pretty par for the course.

Actually, looking closer, there was a bit of a difference in this cafeteria compared to others. This one had tables and chairs of many different sizes. There were big stone-looking seats that looked too heavy for even me to lift, all the way down to tiny doll-sized seats for the pixies.

The whole time we were walking, Tabbris stayed right next to me, her hand in mine. She looked around a lot, continually peeking at the other Seosten kids. They, in turn, kept looking over at her. But they didn’t push or anything. They did, however, point to a table in the corner as we entered the cafeteria. “Come on!” the oldest boy, Richton, called while hurrying that way. “First to silence, first to order!” It sounded like he was quoting an often-repeated phrase. And sure enough, I could see all the other students, including a bunch more who had come out of other classrooms, all hurrying to their own various tables and getting seated as quickly as they could.

It wasn’t just the four Seosten that came with us. The magma kid with the pretty voice and a girl with sleek, dark red fur with a little bit of white mixed in, bunny ears, and a fox-like face accompanied us as well. The magma Alter reached out as we passed one of those big stone chair, hefting it up to carry with before setting it at the table while everyone else took the regular seats. All around us, I could hear other students shushing one another as they sat down.

With a shrug at Tabbris, I promptly sat at the table just to the left of the red fox girl, with Tabbris to my left and Kisea, the vaguely Asian-looking Seosten kid sitting to her left. Going the rest of the way around the table in that direction were Richton, his little sister Meley, then the magma kid, and finally the miniature viking-looking Seosten kid, Demeas, right next to the fox girl.

Once we were all seated, the rest of the kids put their hands flat on the table, sitting up straight in their seats while staying quiet. I saw several of them casting pleading looks our way, so I took the hint and did the same. Laying my hands on the table, I sat up in the seat while Tabbris followed suit. As soon as we did, a small green light appeared in the center of the otherwise white table. It blinked twice, then turned into the number three. Seeing that, the rest of the kids around the table smiled, but didn’t make any other noise. They stayed as still as possible.

A couple tables away, I heard a kid whisper, “Two.” That was followed by a couple frantic hisses for silence, before there was a quiet buzz. Our three promptly turned into a two, and there were even more smiles around the table. Meanwhile, over at the table where the whispering had happened, I caught a glimpse of their former two becoming a three in return. 

Right, so obviously the numbers were the order in which tables would be served (or rather, allowed to order, as Richton had said). As soon as everyone got to a table and sat silently with their hands on it, it gave that table the next number in line. But if you made noise after that (I was assuming up until everyone in the room was seated or something), your table switched spots with the next table after you. So if your table was originally fourth, making noise would make the fifth table become the fourth and yours would become the fifth. Fair enough, if kind of strict. It did neatly encourage everyone to get to their tables quickly and quietly, at least. Though I wasn’t sure which aspect of it did so more, the idea of getting food sooner, or competing with the other tables to do so. Whoever had come up with this whole thing had managed to find a way to gamify getting kids to be quiet and respectful. That took some serious talent.

Eventually, everyone seemed to be seated and ready. It looked like there were about three or four hundred students in here, all of them between ages nine up to about twelve or thirteen.

Almost the very second that I noticed that the tables were all full, a door at the back of the room opened and a portly man emerged. His body was as round as a beach ball, with dark green skin, four arms, and a long, luxurious mane of black hair. His eyes were bright red, and were almost all pupil with very little visible white to them. He wore black slacks and an almost blindingly pink, frilly shirt. “Yes, yes, children!” The round man called while making his way through the room, slipping between tables with surprising grace considering his size and shape, “very good, very quiet. Let’s not make you wait long, hmm? Just a little patience, my troopers!”

He reached the middle of the room then, clapping two of his hands. “Okay, number one!”

A bright green light appeared right over one of the tables in the distance, and everyone’s attention turned that way, including the round man’s. As soon as his eyes turned to them, each of the kids there began to take turns saying words that I didn’t understand at all. Belatedly and only through context, I realized that they each naming foods, telling the man what they wanted. He just stood there, nodding after each one without writing it down or saying anything else before he would turn his gaze to the next student.

Beside me, the little red fox-bunny girl whispered, “We’re allowed to talk very quietly while other people are ordering, as long it’s not too loud or disruptive.” She looked at me with these adorable amber eyes, snout twitching a little bit as she introduced herself. “My name is Bandy.”

“Hi, Bandy,” I whispered back. “I’m Flick. And-” I started to introduce my partner before pausing. Given how little chance she had out on her own, maybe giving her a chance to speak for herself would be good. So instead of actually speaking, I just nodded to her and smiled.

“Uh-um.” For one brief moment, it seemed like the poor girl had actually forgotten her own name. Which was doubly bad when the Seosten perfect memory was accounted for. She froze up, looking like a deer in headlights for a second before managing, “T-Tabbris. I’m Tabbris.”

“And I’m Reft,” the magma kid put in. There was a bit more visible lava around the lower part of his face, which I belatedly realized was his version of a smile. “How’re you doing?” As he spoke, the boy extended his hand. When I hesitated, he chuckled (a noise that sounded like softly ringing bells) and shook his head. “It’s alright. I can control how much heat I’m giving off. They just have me sit in the rock chair because it’s more comfortable. Doesn’t feel like I’m about to break it with my big fat butt.” Even as he said that, Reft gave another melodic laugh while all the visible lava on his hand was sealed over by the black rocky shell. That was his body, a mixture of semi-solid lava that stayed in place, and a dark, rock-like substance. Both seemed to shift almost randomly most of the time, the lava almost… flowing along the shape of his body.

Deciding to take the boy’s word for it, I accepted his outstretched hand. It was definitely warm, right on the verge of being uncomfortably so, but not quite. As I shook his hand, I pointed out, “I’m surprised you guys have this gesture all the way out here. I thought it was a human thing.”

It was Demeas who answered. “Mr. Reinswield taught us about human gestures and expressions.” The boy’s eyes grew a bit wider then, as he added excitedly, “He told us all about football too. Have you ever seen Liverpool play? They sound amazing.”

“Liver–” I echoed before realizing, “Oh, British football. Sorry, I haven’t really–”

I was interrupted as the round man stepped over to our table. “Second! Aha, tis my favorite little Reusfeil.” As he spoke, the man reached out a hand to rub the top of Bandy’s head, making the fox-bunny girl giggle. “And our newest galtrosi,” he added with a look toward Tabbris and me. “What would you like to be eating today, hmm?”

“Uh.” I hesitated, uncertain. “I’m not really sure what…  um, the choices are? I don’t–”

“Choices?!” The man sounded almost offended, though I was pretty sure a big part of it was an act, meant to amuse. “You think I would cheat by forcing my galtrosi to choose from a list? No, no, this is not so. Not so at all. You must be choosing something you like, not what I like.”

Meley leaned over closer then, whispering, “Chef Gisby will make anything you ask for. He has a perfect memory, even better than Seosten, and he uses it to memorize every recipe in the universe. And if it happens to be something he doesn’t know, he can usually make it pretty close if you can describe it well enough. Oh, and he really likes it when you make things a challenge.”

Bandy was bobbing her head up and down, her ears bouncing. “Uh huh. He has a machine that can replicate almost any type of meat or vegetable. It tastes just like the real thing!”

“Oh. Uh.” I blinked, shifting a little. “Well, in that case, how about umm… Shrimp Scampi with angel hair pasta and alfredo sauce?” I would have been happy with a plateful of sandwiches at that point, but if he wanted something more challenging than that. “Oh, and garlic bread?”

“Yes, yes, that we can do.” Chef Gisby grinned brightly, looking toward Tabbris. “And you?”

“I… I like that too,” the girl answered after a second, her face flushing a little bit at the attention.

The round man took everyone else’s order, moving on to the other tables. Eventually, he had everyone and disappeared into the kitchen. Once he was gone and the ordering was over with, people started talking a little louder, conversations carrying between tables. Apparently being so quiet and still was only a temporary thing. They still weren’t exactly wild the way I’d seen in public school cafeterias on Earth, but they were at least having normal conversations.

In the case of our table, ‘normal’ apparently meant that the four Seosten kids were focusing on Tabbris, asking her all about what she’d been doing with me on Earth.

“Wait, wait,” Richton blurted, “you mean you were secretly possessing her for years and she didn’t know? I mean you didn’t take control or anything?”

Flinching, the girl hesitantly nodded. “I, um… I did a tiny bit, when… when I had to stop the spells that the um… that the other Seosten were trying to use to spy on her, or… or worse.”

That made Kisea straighten up. “Hold on, you mean you were disabling spells from adults? Like, trained adults? They were using magic and you just… countered them?” Her voice sounded awed in a way that made me reflexively smile with pride despite myself.

“Mama, um, t-taught me how to use magic…” she slowly explained, shifting closer to me while clearly finding it hard to look the others in the eyes. “Well, the memory she implanted in me did, anyway.”

That raised even more questions, but after a couple of them, it looked like Reft realized that Tabbris looked uncomfortable being the center of attention. The magma boy quickly said something to Richton about some game they had been playing. Judging from the quick look at the oldest Seosten shot back and forth between us, he knew what was going on. But he also didn’t object, taking Reft’s hint and letting the subject change. The others seemed to understand too. They still asked Tabbris and me questions, but not quite as intently. They kept moving the subject around the table so that Tabbris didn’t have to feel like she was under a microscope.

It clearly helped, as the girl slowly started to ask questions of her own. She wanted to know about their parents, and how they had all ended up out here.

As it turned out, the answer only made me hate the Seosten in general even more. Basically, the Seosten didn’t actually raise their own children, generally speaking. Instead, children were sent to what amounted to private school/orphanages and raised there. At a certain age or whenever the orphanage in question thought they were ready, the child would be added to the list of potential recruits. Every Choir took turns looking at available recruits and choosing the ones they wanted. It was like the draft in professional sports, only if the players ranged in age from five or six all the way up to their late teens in some cases. Or some really fucked up version of adoption.

In any case, these four had been on their way to one of those ‘drafts’ when Athena’s people had ambushed the ship in question. Most of them had gotten away, but these guys and a few of their older peers were brought here to be raised and taken care of. There were others like that, young Seosten that Athena and her people had begun to rescue and raise differently. It was… encouraging. Especially for Tabbris. I really wanted her to have as many good examples of her own people as possible.

Eventually, our food came, floating in on these small hovering trays that went straight to the right spots before landing. The others quickly dug in, so I followed suit. And they were right, it tasted delicious.

“Bleh.” Beside me, Tabbris was staring down at her own plate, which looked almost identical to mine. She tentatively took another bite, before her head shook. “Gross. What is that?”

“Um. Shrimp?” I offered, a little confused as I tasted one off her plate. “Mmm, good.”

“But–but–I like shrimp too. I mean…” The girl frowned, staring down. “I think I do. Don’t I? I did.”

“Oh.” Meley cut in. “You never tasted it on your own, just when you were possessing her.”

My head bobbed quickly in agreement. “She’s right. You only tasted them through my taste buds, not yours. I guess you don’t like shrimp after all.”

Blinking a few times, Tabbris hesitantly asked, “Oh. Um. What do I do?”

Before I could answer, Chef Gisby suddenly spoke up from behind us. “You come with me!” As everyone jumped, the round man smiled. “Apologies. But come.” He offered his hand to the girl. “I will let you taste all of the wonderful things I can make, until you find what you do enjoy.”

“I’ll go with you, if you want,” Meley offered, gesturing to her own plate. “I’m done anyway.”

Tabbris looked to me uncertainly, and I quickly nodded. “It’s okay. Go ahead. I’ll be right here.”

She still looked a little uncomfortable about leaving me, but slowly got up from the table. “O-okay, I’ll be right–” As she was standing, the girl suddenly pitched over backward, her feet somehow having gotten tangled in the legs of the chair. Just before she would have hit the floor, my hands snapped down to catch her, and there was a clatter as her chair landed on its side.

“You okay?” I asked, helping Tabbris back up.

Her face was red, dropping her gaze to the floor as she nodded, mumbling a little about her legs being different from mine. Once she was definitely alright, the girl went with Meley and Chef Gisby to find something that she actually liked to eat.

“I hope she’s okay,” Bandy offered, her ears drooping a little bit as she watched the door that the three went through. “I don’t think Seosten really grow up like that very often, possessing someone else the whole time they’re… um, you know, getting bigger.”

“She’ll be okay,” I assured the bunny-fox girl. “She just needs some practice being out in her own body.”

“Good thing you guys are here, huh?” Kisea put in. “I mean, she doesn’t have to hide or anything. And…” The girl hesitated briefly before adding, “It’s kinda nice to have another Seosten kid around.”

“Yeah,” Richton agreed. “There aren’t very many of us. They’re mostly adults.”

“You are staying here for awhile, right?” Bandy pressed, looking up to me urgently with eyes that made me think that someone had copied them to create Puss in Boots’ adorable pleading eyes in those Shrek movies.

How could I do anything but nod? “Yeah,” I promised. “We’ll be here for awhile. I have to wait for Athena’s people to get hold of my friends, and they’ll use Tabbris’ blood to find Kushiel’s lab.”

As soon as I said the name, the others hissed a little, looking like I’d just said Hitler or something.

“She is a bad woman,” Reft explained. “A very bad woman.”

I nodded slowly, “Yeah, I’ve kind of been getting that impression. She sounds like a real piece of work.”  And the thought that Tabbris’ mother had been in her hands… I swallowed hard, forcing that thought back. “We’re gonna find her. We’re gonna save Tabbris’s mom, and all her other prisoners. She’ll pay for the things she’s done.” For emphasis, I stabbed my fork hard down into the next bite of shrimp.

“She’ll pay for all of it.”

Previous Chapter                                          Next Chapter

Lessons 32-03

Previous Chapter                                               Next Chapter

From the reaction of the rest of the students, it was clear that this was a story that Athena had told many times before. But none seemed to object to hearing it again, and I saw several glance my way. It was sort of like when you’re watching a movie that you know well and it’s about to get to a really good part, so you look at the person who has never seen it so that you can see their reaction.

“The Seosten,” she continued, “were obviously not the first race to discover Earth. Humans had been interacting with other races for quite some time. But most of the non-Earth species that made their way there did so by accident up to that point. Some arrived through portal or teleportation mishaps or the equivalent, while others stumbled across it with their own starships as they either fled the Seosten/Fomorian conflict or simply explored what was unknown space.

“Either way, Earth, then known as Rysthael or an ancient word meaning Hidden, was just that. It was hidden. The planet was so far away from Seosten and Fomorian space, and so out of the way, that many beings sought it out in order to live apart from that endless conflict. It became a sort of… what you might call a fairy tale, a story about a paradise world free of that violent war.”

Letting her gaze slowly move across the room, the woman took a moment to meet everyone’s gaze, making sure we all understood just what a big deal it was for those people to have a safe haven to flee to that wasn’t part of the intergalactic war. Then she continued. “Unfortunately, this, of course, could not last forever. Rumors of such ‘haven worlds’ had naturally been going around essentially since the very beginning of this eternal conflict. But this one contained details and other evidence that made the Seraphim, leadership of the Seosten, take extra note of it. So, they sent out expeditions to search for it. There were dozens of small scouting vessels whose goal was to find this planet of untouched resources and a strangely Seosten-like species.”

Standing in the center of the room, Athena turned in a circle, her voice softening a little. “It took over thirty Elohim-standard years–” Pausing, she looked back to me. “Elohim is the Seosten home planet. For reasons that are as obvious as they are self-centered, the Seosten have made our world’s cycle into the standard for our space. An Elohim year is roughly eighty percent longer than an Earth year. So thirty Elohim years would have been around fifty-four Earth years.”  

“In any case,” she continued once that was clear, “for those thirty standard years, the scouting ships searched for this mythical paradise that the other species called Rysthael. Then, one vessel found it. Rysthael was located. This was roughly two thousand years ago.” Quickly, she did the mental math for me by helpfully adding, “Just under three thousand five hundred Earth years.

I thought about that for a moment, seeing the Seosten woman (and most of the rest of the class) watching me curiously before I finally put in, “That would be around what we call 1500 B.C?”

Athena nodded. “Somewhere in there, yes. The Seosten scouting vessel came to the planet and found… well, humans. Along with every other species that was there, of course. There were cities full of humans working alongside other species. But there were also places where humans hunted everything that wasn’t human. Or, of course, were hunted by them. But one place in particular stood out to the crew of that Seosten vessel. The land that, at that point, was known as Kemet, or Hwt-Ptah. Hwt-Ptah itself was translated roughly and rather literally by one of Earth’s other peoples into the word Aiguptos. Or–”

“Egypt?” I put in without thinking, then flushed deeply. “I mean, sorry. I don’t know if I should raise my hand or–or what the… yeah. I remember hearing the whole Aiguptos is Egypt thing.”

Athena smiled. “It’s quite all right, of course. Yes. The land then known as Kemet or Aiguptos, what would eventually become Egypt. When the Seosten scouting party investigated, they found that this civilization was comprised of equal parts humans and other intelligent species. They had come together to create one of the most powerful empires on the planet at the time.

“In fact,” she continued, “many of the so-called gods and other mythological creatures that this civilization had been telling stories of for so long were either Bonded humans or powerful non-humans.”

Alters and Heretics, I realized. Which made sense. As far as I knew, Egypt mythology had a lot of different gods and powerful creatures in it.

Mr. Reinswield briefly interjected. “As a point of fact, one of those Bonded eventually became one of the founding members of what those on earth call Eden’s Garden. The one known as Sobek, he acts as the leader of what they call Vigiles.”

Sobek. That was the crocodile god, right? He was one of the Vigiles, like Hisao? I wondered if that had anything to do with how independent they were. Since, as I understood it, they were basically given blanket authority to make their own decisions in the field, as judge, jury, and executioner.

Athena continued. “More interesting to the scouting team, there were many bits of the Egyptian mythology and stories that were clearly based on somewhat corrupted stories of powerful beings from back within the Seosten Empire. Somehow, the non-humans who dwelt there had lived on the planet for so long, generation after generation, that the actual truth of their origin had faded. All they had were stories that they passed on to one another. Stories that became myth, to the point that they didn’t even realize that they were actually worshipping the very same masters that their ancestors had fled from so long before.”

Reflexively, I started to ask what that meant, but the woman was already explaining, “You see, the Egyptians’ primary god was named Amun. In their language, that was a word meaning ‘Hidden One.’”

I sat back suddenly, blinking a few times. Amun. The Egyptian god Amun actually meant ‘hidden one’? Which itself was a veiled reference to the actual hidden ones, the Seosten. Clearly, it was just like Athena had said. Whatever Alters had settled with the ancient Egyptians had told their descendants about the Seosten, which had eventually become the basis for the god they actually worshipped. Wow. Just… wow.

“Seosten procedure at that time,” Athena went on, “was to quietly infiltrate the world to find out what we could. Unfortunately, having an entire religion that was at least partially based on us was unacceptable. So, the Seosten scouting force took measures to alleviate that problem by possessing the ruler, or as they called it, pharaoh at that time. He was a human male known as Amenhotep. The Seosten-Possessed Amenhotep ordered the worship of Amun and his like to be stopped, and established a new god for them to focus on: Aten, the sun deity. This allowed the Seosten to destroy many records that were solely about how to identify Seosten possession, among other important things.”

Biting my lip, I thought back a bit before offering, “But worship of Aten instead of Amun didn’t… um, it didn’t last very long, did it?” Granted, I was going by half-remembered things on a project I’d done a couple years earlier, but still. I was pretty sure his reign as the main Egyptian god had been relatively short.

Athena nodded. “Correct, as it turned out, there was an unknown force that was aware of the Seosten presence in the city. They eliminated Amenhotep, who had taken the name of Akhenaten in honor of Aten, as well as the Seosten possessing him. They then turned his heir, a young boy named Tutankhaten, into a Bonded with the blood of that same Seosten.” She gave me a brief look before explaining, “Bonded is another word for Heretic. Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun, signifying the return of their focus on Amun instead of Aten. In other words, the return of the focus on teaching their people how to identify and defeat the Seosten.”

Tutankhamun or Tutankhaten, I realized, in our day was simply referred to as King Tut. King Tut had been a Heretic. Or rather, I supposed, a Bonded. He had been a Natural Seosten Heretic/Bonded.

“It was the Seosten’s first real encounter with the human method of bonding. Up to that point, they had encountered such things in isolated incidences on the planet, but that was the first time that it was very clearly a human becoming something more by being genetically bonded to another race. It was, obviously, rather surprising that it would work on a Seosten.”

“But who was it?” One of the other students, a furry bunny-like humanoid about four feet tall, asked quickly. “Who turned the human king into a Seosten-Bonded?”

Athena shook her head. “I’m afraid that we still don’t know. But between whoever it was, and the new pharaoh, they managed to fortify their kingdom against Seosten influence, despite the scouting force actually managing to eventually kill Tutankhamun. It didn’t stop the rest of their military from spreading word and spells that could somehow detect and expel Seosten from their hosts.

“So, the Seosten on the planet returned to our space for further instructions. With their information, the plan was made to have another ship go to the planet, a ship with a specially selected crew. Their job would be to locate another civilization on that planet, and use them to create a force that would eliminate the Egyptian problem. That ship was called the Olympus.”

My eyes widened, while Tabbris shifted on my lap, blurting a happy, “Mama was on that ship!”

With a smile, Athena nodded. “Yes, Sariel was my crewmate. The ship was captained by Puriel, while I served as the Chief Tactical Officer. Sariel was one of our infiltration specialists alongside the man who would become Apollo. Essentially, their role on the ship was to discover and research as much as possible about the target species and teach it to the rest of us.”

She trailed off for a few seconds, clearly lost in memory as a somewhat sad smile touched her face. Then Athena shook it off, returning to her story. “But this was no ordinary Seosten ship. The mystery of what force was behind this Egyptian empire, and what exactly humans were and why they could bond with other species so well, was entirely too important to leave to just any ship. Can anyone tell our new friends Felicity and Tabbris here what the Summus Proelium project was?”

That magma-student spoke up in a voice that sounded surprisingly gentle and melodic. “The Seosten Empire always has dozens of special projects running whose intention is to find special ways of challenging or defeating the Fomorians. Superweapon development, essentially. Some are straight-up weapons such as extra powerful ships, missiles, magic spells, and, in some cases, super-soldiers.

“Sommus Proelium was the latter. It was a secret project that was intended to create Seosten who were capable of matching Fomorians on the battlefield. They would be stronger than ordinary Seosten, capable of boosting themselves far beyond what most could, and would even have certain special abilities built right in. Abilities that the Fomorians would be unprepared for.”

“Precisely.” Giving the magma-student a brief, encouraging smile, Athena nodded. “Yes, that was the goal, in any case. Well, somewhat. The actual goal was to upgrade Seosten soldiers into having many different abilities and strengths. A full Seosten supersoldier, if you will. But reaching that goal required stepping stones. Which meant that the scientists involved needed volunteers to work with.”

Lifting my chin, I guessed, “And you guys were those volunteers?”

Her head bowed slightly before the woman confirmed, “Yes. We came from many different Choirs, all volunteering to be tested and experimented upon in the name of creating that perfect soldier. We were poked, prodded, injected, and went through more surgeries and other procedures than I can possibly count. They modified our DNA in ways that have not been done since Cronus.”

Okay, that was something I definitely wanted to ask about. But it sounded like a long story, so I elected to wait until later and ask privately.

She went on. “In the end, the project was… relatively successful. Each of us was enhanced, some more than others. And we were each given what you would call special abilities. Mine allowed me to process information incredibly quickly, and granted me an extremely limited form of precognition. I refer to it as scattershot precognition. It provides me with instant and complete knowledge of the immediate results of five or six different actions I can take, up to about five seconds away from the action. In other words, when I use it in the middle of combat, it instantly shows me exactly what would happen up to about five seconds in the future. And it does that for five or six different possible actions, giving me instant knowledge of what will happen for the next five seconds along each of those five or six paths. Then I simply choose one and carry it out. To most beings, it would look as though the world freezes every time I use it. It gives me a snapshot of the entire battlefield, along with the details of each of those potential actions. I choose one, and the battle continues. Nothing actually stops, but in that instant, my mind speeds up so much that the millisecond it takes for me to make my choice of what action to follow seems to be quite long to me.”

After explaining that much, the woman chuckled. “But as I said, we were all enhanced in different ways. Sariel was granted unerring accuracy, Puriel controlled many types of energy including the electricity he became known for, and Radueriel was given the ability to… essentially create and fix things. We all came out differently, based on what the scientists did to us.”

One of the other students bounced up in the air then, floating a little before going back to his seat. “Is that why Chayyiel looks so young?”

I had no idea what he was talking about, obviously. But Athena nodded. “Yes. Chayyiel, the Seosten who would eventually play the role of Hestia on Earth,” she added in an aside that was obviously for my benefit, “was perhaps the closest to a perfect success of the program. Ironic, in some ways, as she was not actually one of the volunteers. Chayyiel was, in fact, the daughter of the program’s director.”

To me, the woman explained, “Seosten do not generally raise their children themselves. Instead, they are raised within groups by qualified and trained professionals, and are later chosen by various Choirs based upon their merits. Each Choir may choose to make their choice from the available… stock,” saying the word made her grimace while continuing, “or allow another to take their turn or turns in exchange for one of their youth.”  

I grimaced. “You mean Seosten children are traded back and forth like baseball players.”

She didn’t look like she was sure what that meant, but nodded anyway. “I… imagine you have the right idea. Director Aysien, however, kept his own child, using his political influence to stop anyone from taking her to be raised by others. He put her through the same process as the rest of us, trying to create the ultimate super soldier. And in the end, she was his greatest success. Chayyiel is not only the strongest and fastest of all of us, she also received two incredibly potent abilities. The first allows her to know the weakness of anything she looks at. A building, a person, a ship, an entire army, anything that she focuses on she immediately understands their weakness and how they can be beaten, broken, opened, and so forth. Looking at a simple box, she would know exactly where to tap it to make the box open. Any living being she looks at, she immediately knows where their weak points are, both mentally and physically.

“Additionally, as though that wasn’t enough on its own, every time she faces an opponent, Chayyiel immediately gains every bit of combat skill, knowledge, and expertise they possess. For example, she started out an ordinary child with no particular skill. After spending less than sixty seconds in a room with one of the veterans, she possessed every single one of his combat skills and could perform them perfectly.”

A perfect understanding of anyone or anything’s weaknesses, and the ability to instantly download all the combat skills of anyone she ever met? God damn, the goddess of the hearth was freaking scary.

“Unfortunately,” Athena went on, “as you already noted, Ulstin, the process wasn’t perfect. We were all essentially frozen at the exact physical age that we were when we underwent it. Even more than most Seosten, our aging process was halted. For Chayyiel, this meant that she was frozen at the physical age of a young child.”

“So they turned you all into super soldiers and sent you to Earth?” I asked.

She chuckled, head shaking. “Actually, the project was ended roughly fifty years before the Earth, or Rysthael as we called it, was located. We were all assigned to the ship Olympus, and worked together on many other combat and exploratory missions before then. We were… shipmates, often friends… like family. Puriel was our captain. Those who had become the most powerful from the experiments were bridge and command officers, while others who were less enhanced were ordinary crew. These would eventually become minor gods on Earth.”

“Like Charmiene,” I muttered a bit darkly.

“Yes,” she confirmed, giving me a brief, curious look. “Charmiene would be known as Nemesis on Earth. On our ship, she was a soldier under the command of Abbadon, the one you know as Ares. Or even Paschar, who took the role of Eros or Cupid while serving as head chef on the ship.”

Cupid. Love potions. Yeah, I supposed that made sense. Under my breath, I mumbled, “Trust me, he’s on my list too.”

Again, the woman gave me a look that made it clear that she would be asking me many questions later, before going on. “In any case, we were eventually given the assignment to go and investigate this new planet. We were to find out what exactly was going on with the humans, who this mysterious force spoiling our plans with the Egyptians was, and whether we could use these humans in our war with the Fomorians.

“To that end, once we arrived on the planet, we began to infiltrate another powerful civilization of the time: the so-called Greeks. We found other gods that they had already worshipped, made alterations where needed so that they would fit us better, and took on their identities. It required minimal record and memory alterations, as we did so over the course of more than one generation. Allowing them to worship us as gods, we focused on making the Greeks as powerful as possible. Powerful enough to subjugate the Egyptians and discover who was responsible for teaching them about us, who had turned Tutankhamun into a Seosten-Bonded.

“Unfortunately, we never did discover that. Our Greece was merged with another potent civilization, the one known as Rome. Soon, it became more and more clear that our group was not going to be able to contain the humans for much longer. They were growing entirely too powerful. We had found that they were very good… weapons to have access to. Once we understood the human bonding ability, they became a goldmine of potential soldiers and hosts. Then came the prophecy.”

Afraid that I was going to regret the question, I nonetheless asked, “Prophecy?”

The Seosten woman snorted. “Well, they call it a prophecy. In reality, a figure appeared before the gathered Seraphim, a figure that was from far, far in the future. They told the Seraphim that the humans would destroy us, that they were the work of the Fomorians, and that when the Formorians returned to claim their creations, the humans would be used to kill all Seosten.”

My mouth worked a bit. “But–I don’t–who? Who was the time traveler who told them that?”

Her head shook. “Apparently, the figure died shortly after delivering the message. I don’t know any more than that, unfortunately. This was all part of the information we were given, along with the news that the Seraphim were debating two possibilities. Either we would destroy the planet entirely and end any chance of that future from coming to pass. Or we would use an incredibly powerful spell to block humans off from all other species, so that you could continue to serve as our weapons, only on our own terms.”

“The Bystander Effect,” I muttered, remembering what she had said earlier about that.

She nodded. “What you call the Bystander Effect, yes. It is the Seraphim’s attempt to avoid the future that was relayed to them, while retaining humans as a weapon against our enemies.”

My eyes rolled. “Yeah, because God forbid you guys just say, ‘Hey, wanna team up against these genocidal dickweasels?’ Why do I feel like just working together was never even considered?”

Athena met my gaze, nodding once more. “You know the Seosten too well. But that is precisely what we are trying to change. The Seosten partnering with other species and working together, especially with humans, is the only way that this war against the Fomorians is going to end well.”

She gestured toward Tabbris and me. “That is why you two are so incredibly important. Because with you, we can prove that very theory, that humans and Seosten would fare better working together as partners. And the first step toward that is to rescue all of the Seosten who have been imprisoned and experimented on by Kushiel.”

Tabbris’s voice was quiet. “Like Mama.”

Athena gave a single, grave nod. “Yes, like Sariel. I promise you, we will rescue her, and all of Kushiel’s other prisoners. But you will have to be ready when the time comes.”

“How do we get ready?” I asked, a bit hesitantly.

The Seosten woman smiled slowly. “How? By training, of course.

“Lots and lots of training.”

Previous Chapter                                               Next Chapter

Lessons 32-02

Previous Chapter                                Next Chapter

Please note that there is an announcement about a brief, but unavoidable update delay next week in the first comment at the end of this chapter. 

The corridor in front of us as the door whooshed open was much more like I expected a space station to be. It was long and slightly curved toward the end leading off toward the left. The main part of the walls, floor, and ceiling were pure white and somewhat rounded, with wide windows along both sides that showed an absolutely breathtaking visage of star-filled space beyond.

That was the sight that made me pause, my mouth falling open a bit. This wasn’t just like looking up at the night sky. This was incredible. The stars were huge, and I could see all kinds of colors. Off to the left there was some kind of whirlpool of blues and greens, with a little bit of red in the middle that pulsed occasionally. Straight ahead I could see a trio of moons surrounding a planet with a pair of beautiful crystalline rings that overlapped one another in an x-shape. There was a comet streaking across the starry expanse on the right-hand side before it disappeared beyond the wall behind us. Everywhere I looked, there was another gorgeous celestial event.

It was, without exaggeration, one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Even being in the ship back with the others hadn’t been quite like this. There had been some amazing sights there as we traveled through space, of course. But this was like… it was a world beyond even that. And as I stood there, my knees felt weak. It was all I could do not to cry at the sheer beauty.

“This is wrong.” Tabbris’s voice broke through my brief moment of stunned silence, drawing my attention that way. The young Seosten girl was squinting from one incredible sight to another. “This… this isn’t right,” she mumbled under her breath, head shaking back and forth slowly. “It’s wrong.”  Before I could ask what she meant, the girl continued, “That bit over there.”  

“What bit over where?” I asked, a little confused. She hadn’t actually pointed anywhere.

“Wh–oh.” Tabbris flushed visibly, squirming on her feet. “I forgot to use my own hand,” she mumbled with embarrassment before deliberately pointing toward the cross-ringed planet. “I know that place. Mama showed it to me in her stories. But it shouldn’t be anywhere near that.” Her hand moved then to point toward the whirlpool-like vision of shifting colored energy. “She thought they were pretty and she told me stories about them when I was little. But… but they aren’t near each other. They aren’t anywhere even sorta close!”

Athena was smiling a little, stepping over to the nearby window as she nodded. “Yes. None of these are actual windows. They are viewscreens that are designed to show a vision of various areas of space with visual data that was recorded by any number of other other sources. I’m afraid that having actual windows would be rather… dangerous. And somewhat, ah, blinding.”

“Blinding?” I echoed, blinking over at the woman in confusion. “Why would it be blinding?”

She was clearly watching my reaction closely as she answered simply, “Because this station is located inside of a star.”

Well, that was enough to make me do a violent double-take back toward the woman. Beside me, Tabbris spun around so quickly that she would have fallen over if I didn’t  reach down quickly to grab onto and steady her. Both of us yelped in perfect unison, “Inside of a what?!”

Chuckling at our reaction, the brown-haired woman explained, “The station is located inside of a star. It is, quite literally, the safest possible place that we could find. The Seosten leadership hunts our people quite regularly. Here, the ones that they know about can be protected.”

My mouth opened and shut a few times. “B-but, how do they–how can’t–I mean, the Meregan had the ability to go into the stars, but they had to turn themselves into that stone-like stuff.”

“You have encountered the Meregan then?” Athena sounded impressed, as she nodded. “Yes, the Meregan stasis is very impressive. And we have a variation of it set up here as a failsafe in case anything goes wrong. But generally speaking, the station works somewhat differently. You see, there are spells up within the station that create a layer of portals all along the exterior. Those portals capture the energy from the star, all of that heat and everything else. Most of it is transported out into space to harmlessly be released, while a portion is directed into the station’s own batteries, which fuel everything onboard, including those very same portals. Essentially, the star contributes to our safety by constantly refueling the same portals that keep it from incinerating the station and continually drain its power. It is a… cycle, of sorts.”

“That’s… that’s…” I swallowed, staring at the ‘windows’ once more as a shiver ran through me. “That’s amazing. And kind of terrifying, honestly.”

“Believe me, my lady,” the woman responded softly, “I quite understand the feeling. Would you like to take another minute?” she asked then, gesturing. “It is a rather lovely view.”

I glanced that way briefly before shaking my head. “It’s okay, we should meet the others.” I didn’t want to keep Tabbris from seeing others like her any longer than we had to. Besides, I was sure that Athena and the rest of them all had a lot that they wanted to talk with us about. As amazing as the view was, there would apparently be plenty of time to experience it later.

Athena nodded before pivoting to start leading us down the corridor once more. As we followed her, my eyes kept flicking from side to side. Everything I saw through those ‘windows’ was still just as incredible. Yet there was now a sort of underlying fear as a little voice in the back of my head (one that actually wasn’t Tabbris that time) kept reminding me that we were actually in the middle of a freaking star. If anything happened, if anything actually did go wrong… I shuddered.

The Seosten woman seemed to understand, and led us onward without comment. We made our way along the curving corridor, past a couple doors (which happened to be set right in the middle of the viewscreen ‘windows’ making it look like those doors led out into empty space), before Athena eventually stopped at one door in particular. She looked back to us, giving a brief smile. “This is where some of the children are taught. I’ve told them to expect us.”

With that, she put a hand against a pad beside the door. It buzzed after a moment before sliding aside, and we stepped through into… well, into what honestly looked a hell of a lot like the main hall of a freaking middle school. Seriously. Straight ahead there was an office area where a secretary sat with more doors behind her, while there were hallways off to either side that led to classrooms. There were even lockers along the walls. It looked like a school.

There were still differences, of course. The secretary looked kind of like a lime green bipedal squid with pink eyes and a dozen tentacle-like arms all reaching for different drawers, phones, and other things. The lockers were all at various heights and shaped differently for various types of students. I saw a rather enormous one that was the size of three lockers back home, and one that was so tiny it had to be for a pixie or something. That one was kind of adorable, with tiny stars painted on it. Actually, a lot of the locker doors were painted in one way or another. I saw names written on them, images of what looked like animals from various worlds, or even people.

If I hadn’t already been convinced of the potential for non-humans to be just as good and ‘humane’ (for lack of a better word) as humans were before, the sight of one particular locker with what was obviously a stick-figure family (some with too many line-like appendages and one with two separate heads attached) scrawled lovingly on it with a word underneath that I was choosing to translate as ‘family’ would have done the trick all by itself. To say nothing of the rest.

Tabbris was clinging pretty close to me, her small hand tight in mine as we walked into that front hall. I saw the many-armed secretary look up briefly. She saw the three of us and immediately set down three different phone-like objects she had been holding while also moving two of her tentacle-hands away from a wall-mounted console. Extricating herself from behind the large metal desk, she made her way out of the room to us. As she came, I saw that her entire body seemed to be made out of tentacles. There was a ball right in the middle that was a couple feet across. Up from that was a single stalk-like structure that her head was attached to. And other than that, the rest of her body was composed of dozens of various sized tentacles with hands on the end that stuck out in every possible direction. The woman was, essentially, two connected flesh balls with a crapload of tentacles attached to the lower ball. She used some of them to walk, setting six or seven hands against the floor at a time as she picked her way over to where we were.  

“Children, children!” she called loudly. Her voice sounded at once melodic and yet slightly garbled, as if it was coming from underwater. It was kind of fascinating to listen to. “Hello!” Her sheer and unadulterated delight, if it hadn’t already been obvious in her voice, manifested quite well in the way her free tentacles shook back and forth, wiggling with excitement that made me giggle a little bit inwardly. “Oh, I’m so delighted that you made it! Positively tickled, I say.”

Smiling a little, Athena gestured. “Miss Handsy, allow me to introduce you to the Ladies Felicity and Tabbris. Girls, this is Miss Handsy. She is entirely indispensable to our educational efforts.”

Reflexively, I raised my free hand, extending it to her. “Miss Handsy? Sounds appropriate.”

The many-tentacled woman’s bright, almost unnaturally pink eyes drifted between us briefly before her wide mouth rose into a warm, beatific smile. She made a sound that was like windchimes that I belatedly realized was her version of a laugh. “Ohhh, of course, of course. Handsy isn’t my real name, but then, it would take an entire school year just to teach the poor children here how to pronounce it, and they’ve got much more important things to worry about. Miss Handsy is good enough.” As she spoke, two of her tentacle hands moved to catch hold of mine. She squeezed firmly, pumping it up and down. “It is my sheer delight to meet you, Miss Felicity Chambers. My sheer delight indeed. And you of course as well, Miss Tabbris.”

For a moment, Tabbris didn’t react at all, even to the extended hand. She just stood there, watching motionlessly and in silence before abruptly announcing. “I like her. She looks fun.”

Blinking at that, I looked to the other two women before giving the girl a little nudge. “Err, Tab?”

She started, looking back to me, then to Miss Handsy. Her eyes shot open wide with abruptly realization, and I heard a horrified and embarrassed noise escape the little girl as she stammered apologies. “Ohh, oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I didn’t think–I’m not used to–I didn’t mean t-to, I mean, I mean I didn’t–” Whimpering in sheer mortification then, she tried to slink around behind me. Her arms wrapped around my waist tightly, and the little girl pretty much hid herself as well as she could without simply possessing me again so that she could disappear entirely.

Laughing lightly, another windchime sound, Miss Handsy lowered herself a bit to be closer to Tabbris’s level, her tentacles spreading out to let her dip down toward the floor. “Miss Tabbris,” she started once they were eye to eye, “it is my joy and privilege to make your acquaintance.”  

That time, when Tabbris didn’t respond at first it wasn’t because she had forgotten. It was because she was so embarrassed. She held onto me, swallowing audibly as she hesitated for a few seconds before finally speaking up in a very quiet voice that was barely audible. “H-hello.”

After another brief moment, she finally reached out one hand to shake the other woman’s offered one, though her other arm tightened around me even more, clinging as if she was somehow afraid that Miss Handsy would try to pull her away from me or something.

The woman did nothing of the sort, of course. She just squeezed the offered hand (with only one of hers that time rather than the two that she had used with me), while smiling encouragingly. “I hear that you have been giving old Manakel and the rest of his people quite the headache.”

“I–” Tabbris squirmed with obvious embarrassment at the attention. “I just try to… um, help.”

“They would have possessed me a long time ago if it wasn’t for her,” I announced proudly, moving my hand to rub the top of the girl’s head and through her hair. It was the kind of ‘big sister’ moment that I hadn’t ever actually had before. It felt kind of nice. Kind of really nice.

Chuckling a little, Athena spoke up then. “Well, I thought that we could pay Mr. Reinswield and his class a little visit. Do you know if they are in the middle of anything terribly important?”

Miss Handsy’s head shook at that. “No, their schedule has them working on arithmetic right now.”

Turning her head to us, Athena briefly explained, “Miss Handsy’s people possess incredible multitasking capability, memories that are just as infallible as a Seosten’s, an internal clock, and more that makes her the perfect administrator for our little educational facilities here. She remembers everything about every single student, including all of their special needs and where they happen to be in the course of their instruction. Which, considering how many different species we have here, knowing what each of them need at any given time would be a difficult, demanding position for an entire staff. Miss Handsy here does the work of twelve.”

“Oh, pish.” The woman in question made a bunch of her tentacles give a dismissive gesture in every direction. “I could never do the kind of things that any of you do to keep us safe. I can barely work any magic whatsoever, and I can’t fight at all. Here, I can actually help. Here, I can contribute. And I can do it with all of you children. That’s good enough. I– oh!” Turning back toward the office behind her, she announced, “It’s almost time for Ruelst and–” The next name  that she announced was completely indecipherable and impossible for me to even begin to spell. “–to come down for their medicine. I better have it ready for them. You know how they tend to put it off to the last minute.”

Athena bowed her head briefly. “Of course. We’ll just go back there now. Thank you, Miss Handsy.”

Tabbris and I offered our own thanks and the woman made her way back to the office. Once she was busy at one of the cabinets there, Athena turned to us. “Come,” she beckoned before starting to walk once more. “Mr. Reinswield teaches our–I believe the he said it was the equivalent of your first through third form students?”

I blinked once, confused for a moment. “Form? Is that like grades? He–wait, no, that’s a British thing, isn’t it? Hang on, wait, I remember something about this. It was…” I paused, tilting my head. Tab, do you…

I stopped. Opening my eyes, I looked over to the girl in question, who stared back at me. For a moment, we just looked at each other. Then she giggled a little. “You were trying to ask me.”

Coughing, I found myself blushing a little. “Uh, guilty. So, do you–”

“It’s like their version of seventh to ninth grade,” Tabbris confirmed quickly, giving a little shrug. “But I don’t think they use that system anymore.”

Athena nodded. “Mr. Reinswield left Earth some years ago. But he is a very good instructor. Ah, here we are.” She had led us to a door at the end of one of the halls, reaching up to press the button next to it.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then the door slid aside, and I saw what looked like a pretty eclectic (or outright insane) classroom on the other side. The desks were like the lockers, all different shapes and sizes, and were arranged in a rough semicircle around a holographic projector in the middle of the room. On that projector I saw several math problems floating in the air, along with a couple different formulas for solving them, and examples.

There were kids at those desks. Kids of all kinds. I saw pixies, fur-covered kids, some with scales, one that was little more than a blob with eyestalks, a bipedal deer, even one that looked kind of like a teenage magma monster whose desk was made of obsidian. Most of them instantly set off my Heretic Sense, though there also those who didn’t.

And to one side, I saw four different kids, two male and two female, who looked like abnormally pretty humans. They were all together, none of them set off my sense, and they all looked like they were around eleven or twelve years old.

Seosten. They had to be Seosten. Their eyes immediately found Tabbris, and the girl herself instantly moved behind me with an adorable little squeak. I was pretty sure it took everything that the girl had not to jump right inside me again.

As for the teacher himself, the man looked human. He had short blond hair, a somewhat scruffy-looking face, and perfectly round glasses. He wore a dark pinstripe suit with a burgundy tie, and even had a handkerchief in his front pocket. The guy looked like he was in his early forties. He also didn’t set off the Heretic sense either, but I had a feeling he was human rather than Seosten. Probably a Heretic then. Which made sense, from what Athena had said.

While I was examining him, the man looked back to his assortment of students, announcing in a voice that had a very slight, almost imperceptible British accent. “Class, it seems that Lady Athena has come to tell us another story.”

The Seosten woman herself smiled a little, even as several of the students cheered and a few clapped or made gestures that I assumed were supposed to indicate the same general pleasure. “Yes,” she acquiesced after a moment. “I suppose that it has been some time, hasn’t it? A story it is, then.”

“Excellent.” the man, Mr. Reinswield apparently, gestured to Tabbris and me. “Girls, there are some free seats near Kisea, Meley, Richton, and Demeas.” He indicated the spot where the four Seosten students were.

Tabbris tried to hide behind me even more at that. I had a feeling she was even more nervous about meeting kids of her own species who were close to her own age than she had been about almost anything else.

Reaching down, I took her hand, turning a bit to whisper in a soft, barely audible voice. “I’m here.”

She looked up at me with those big, innocent eyes. Her voice shook. “Wh-what if…. Wh-wha… what if….”

What if they don’t like me, what if they’re mean, what if they’re nasty, what if, what if, what if. I knew everything that was going through her head. With a slight smile, I squeezed her hand once more, repeating, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I won’t leave you, okay? We’re just gonna listen to Athena’s story.”

She hesitated, obviously still a little nervous. But the reassurance worked, and Tabbris gave a little nod. Together, the two of us walked over to one of the desks there, beside those four. I sat first, and Tabbris went up on my lap.

For a few seconds, the four Seosten kids said nothing. They just stared at us. Finally, the youngest looking one, a pretty little girl with black hair that was worn just past her shoulders and a vaguely Asian-look, spoke up. “Hi,” she announced. “My name is Kisea.” She pronounced it ‘Kih-Say-uh.’

My little partner glanced to me briefly before nervously offering, “T.. Tabbris.”

“Tabbris?” That was the oldest looking boy. He suddenly looked interested. “As in Tabbris of Llylewys? Oh, uh, Richton. That’s my sister, Meley.” He nodded to the brunette girl beside him who looked just a little younger. “And that’s Demeas.” Finally, he gestured to the other boy, a red-head who kind of looked like a miniature viking.

The others murmured greetings, and Richton pressed, “So you were named after that Tabbris?”

“I um.” Tabbris squirmed a little before nodding. “I… guess so. I don’t really know anything about him except what A-Athena said a few minutes ago…”

“Oh, that’s okay. I’ve–”

“–got a book about it,” the other three Seosten chorused together, as if they’d heard the same thing a million times.

Huffing a little, Richton sat up straighter, shooting a look at his three companions before pointedly adding, “You can borrow it anytime you want to.”

“Ahem.” Athena cleared her throat from the front of the class. Everyone’s eyes turned that way, and I felt the girl on my lap relax just a little bit. She stole a glance at the other Seosten kids as Athena began her story, clearly fascinated by them.

It was a smart way of doing things. This way, we were seated near them, but with Athena speaking, there was no real pressure for them to do a lot of talking or interaction. They could just sit and look at each other once in awhile. It broke the ice. It let us gradually integrate a little.

“This,” Athena began in a voice that seemed so perfectly suited to narration that I wondered if she was the one who had given lessons to Morgan Freeman, “is the story of how the Seosten first discovered humans, and how our ever-evolving relationship with them truly began. And, of course, it is the story of the Seosten who would go on to be known as gods on that world.

“This is the true history and origin of the Olympians.”

Previous Chapter                                Next Chapter

Lessons 32-01

Previous Chapter                                                Next Chapter

Please note, there were two mini-interludes posted over the weekend, one for Joselyn and one for Lincoln. If you missed either or both of those, you may wish to use the Previous Chapter button above. 

Also, there will be an important announcement about donation rewards at the end of this chapter, in my first comment. 

For a moment after the woman said those words, my mind reeled, and I was completely silent.


Correction, my brain was silent, but my mouth spoke anyway. Tabbris, so thoroughly shocked by what the older Seosten had said, actually took over reflexively and made me blurt that single word.

I felt her immediate horror at what she had done suddenly take over then, as she mentally retreated. Her frantic apologies filled my head, the self-disgust and shame that the girl felt at the fact that she had actually taken me over for that single word almost making me feel physically ill.

My hand snapped up to stop the woman from talking for a minute. The action was my choice that time, as I focused inward. Tabbris! Tabbris, listen. It’s okay. It’s okay! Just listen to me, okay?

I’m sorry, the response came. The Seosten girl sounded sick, and weak. I’m sorry. I made you talk. I took over and I didn’t even ask. I’m sorry. She said we could find Mama and… and…

And you did the exact thing I would’ve done in your situation, I pointed out. Hell, Tab, I pretty much am in your situation. If someone told me they knew how to save my mom, I’d freak out too. I would. Do not apologize, okay? You apologize when you do something wrong, and you didn’t. You made me say one word. I don’t mind. I’m not mad. Read my mind. You can do that, remember? Read my mind and find out if I’m mad about it. I’m not. And if I’m not mad, you can’t be mad at yourself. You’re my sister, Tabbris. I love you. I’m not mad at you for making me say a single word just because you were so surprised. After everything you’ve done for me, how could I possibly be mad at you for that? It’s okay, I promise. You and me, we’re partners in all this, remember? Partners don’t get mad at things like that. Partners understand. I understand.

For a moment, there was silence. I felt the Seosten girl’s indecision and shame. She really had issues with taking me over, even by accident. I had no idea how it had been for her to act secretly for so long, taking me over and adjusting my memory when she had to. The thought made me wince a little. God, every time I imagined what Tabbris’s life had been like, spending years where nobody knew she existed and she had no idea what had happened to the one woman who was supposed to show up and help take care of her. She had been completely alone, no help, no way of even knowing if she would ever see her mother or Larissa again. And yet, she had kept doing her job. She had kept protecting me, against all that the Seosten had tried. Was I mad at her for having a single moment where she reflexively controlled me? Hell no.

Finally, Tabbris spoke up a little hesitantly. Flick? I’m really glad that I can talk to you now.

Despite myself, I smiled a little bit at that. I’m glad too, Tab. Now no more freaking out about a little accident, okay? There’s a difference between maliciously controlling someone and what you just did. You’re nothing like those bad Seosten. You’re like your mom, and Athena, or Nimue, or whatever she goes by. And Apollo, apparently. See? There’s plenty of good Seosten. There are bad humans and good humans, bad vampires and good vampires, bad werewolves and good werewolves. And there are bad Seosten and good ones. You, you’re one of the good ones. And you’re my sister.

Feeling her acceptance and relief, I finally turned to focus on the woman in front of me. Though in front of us seemed like the more appropriate phrasing since she knew that Tabbris was there.

“Sorry,” I made myself announce in as dry of a voice as I could manage. “Usually I have a much better poker face than that. I can’t imagine what could’ve happened. I guess I wasn’t myself.”

Yeah, it was a bit of a risk. But honestly, it felt like teasing Tabbris just a little bit about it would help make her feel a little more normal. I didn’t want to treat her like I was walking on eggshells. I wanted her to see that I really didn’t mind, that I really was okay with what happened and with the fact that it might happen again. And that meant teasing her a little. At least, to me it did.

Athena/Nimue seemed to understand what was going on, and what I was doing. She gave a slight smile before speaking simply, in a soft, encouraging voice. “I would very much love to meet Sariel’s child. Particularly one who has frustrated poor Manakel and Paschar so thoroughly.”

Sensing my companion’s reluctant hesitation, I gave her a little inward encouragement. It’s okay, Tab. You saw what she did to all those guys back there. If she says you’re safe here, you are.

After another couple of seconds, the by-now familiar glowing figure stepped forward out of me. The glow faded, leaving that little blonde girl staring a bit fearfully up at the woman in front of us. Honestly, that much I couldn’t blame her for. Even without all the other issues, after what we had seen the woman do back on that planet, being intimidated by her was completely understandable.

“A girl… a daughter…” The soft, gentle words left the woman, and she smiled. “Hello, little one.”

“I… I…” Tabbris swallowed audibly, shivering a little before taking what was obviously a reflexive step back. Her hand went back and down, groping until I caught hold of it and gave her a reassuring squeeze to assure her that I was there. Finally, she managed a weak, “H-hello.”

Sinking down to one knee, the woman  spoke softly, like she was trying not to startle an especially skittish deer. “May I have the name of the girl who has my former allies tearing their hair out?”

I could see the blush on the back of Tabbris’s neck as she squirmed self-consciously. “I-um. M-my name is Tabbris.” Her voice was tiny, her nervousness readily apparent as she answered.

“Tabbris.” I saw a small, knowing smile play over the woman’s face for just a moment, and she nodded. “Yes, I suppose she would choose such an appropriate name for you, wouldn’t she?”

My mouth opened to ask what she meant by that, but Tabbris beat me to it. “Um. Appropriate?”

“Yes. Of course she would have–” She paused then, tilting her head a little thoughtfully before asking in a slightly curious voice, “You are aware of what the name actually means?”

As we both shook our heads, the woman chuckled a little bit before carefully explaining, “Tabbris, as far as humans are concerned, was the angel of self-determination and free will.”

Despite myself, I laughed. “Oh. Free will… that… “ Smiling, I squeezed the younger girl’s hand, tugging her back against me. “That is pretty appropriate, isn’t it? You hear that, Tab? Your mom named you after the angel of free will. I–” Pausing then, I hesitated. “But angel names are Seosten names, right? So what kind of Seosten name is something that means free will? I mean… no offense, but that doesn’t really sound appropriate as far as Seosten go. Generally.”

Wincing a little visibly, the brown-haired woman shook her head with a soft sigh. “You are not wrong there, no. Our kind are generally not well known for such things. But… there are almost always exceptions. Tabbris of Llylewys was one such exception. A rather famous one.”

“Tabbris of Llylewys?” Tabbris and I both echoed simultaneously. And boy was it still really strange hearing the girl’s voice out loud like that instead of in my head. Hearing her say the exact same thing that I was saying, only audible for someone else to hear, was even stranger.

“Yes,” the Seosten answered with an amused chuckle as she glanced between us. “And I will tell you about him shortly, you have my word. But for now, please, I have a few very important questions.”

“Mama.” Tabbris looked up. “Y-you said… we could find… Mama…”

“Indeed.” Nodding in agreement, the woman straightened. “As I said, we have much to discuss. I just…” She paused then, swallowing as she looked to Tabbris. “I am very glad to have finally met you, Tabbris.You are… you remind me of your mother, in many ways. But how long?” Her eyes glanced up to me before returning to the tiny Seosten. “How long have you been working so hard? How long have you been protecting this girl?”

“Years,” I answered for her, squeezing the girl’s hand. “Her mom had her… uh, put in me when she was still basically a baby. She put her in some kind of hibernation and taught her everything she needed to know in, like, a virtual reality situation or something for a few years. She put all kinds of memory implants to teach her about everything, and then when she woke up she started… protecting me actively, I guess. And she’s been doing that for years. She stopped the other Seosten from using spells on me. She’s… she’s saved me a lot. More than she’s actually told me about, I’m pretty sure.”

The woman’s eyebrows had shot up dramatically. “Memory implant spells as teaching tools. We spoke of that possibility, and they have been used in minor cases or to share knowledge with a peer. But to construct an entire, as you say, virtual reality simulation based entirely around implanted memories… that would require…” She whistled, long and low while looking awed.

“See?” I teased my little companion a little, moving my free hand to squeeze her shoulder. The bones had completely mended by that point. “Even she thinks that you and your mom are amazing. And she’s–” I paused slightly, looking to her. “Actually, what do we call you? I mean, Radueriel said you were… that you’re…”

“Athena,” she confirmed. “Call me Athena. Some call me Nimue, yes. But… I would rather not use that name while my Arthur remains…” She paused before giving a sharp shake of her head. “I would rather not use that name. And I have forsaken my Seosten name. So please, I am Athena.”

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy did I ever want to ask a lot of questions right then. But I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t get any answers. She clearly didn’t want to talk about it at the moment. So, I just nodded.

Meanwhile, Athena focused on Tabbris once more. “You are so young. So small.” Her hand slowly moved to touch the girl’s face gently, her voice even softer and filled with the kind of awe that I felt whenever I thought about how much Tabbris had done for me. “So small and yet, so utterly brilliant. Do you realize how much you have driven Manakel and the others into fits of hysteria and confusion? Do you have the slightest idea how much effort they and the others have put toward trying to discover how the infamous Joselyn Atherby’s daughter was rendered immune to Seosten possession?

“And in the end, it was simply… you. A child, thwarting millennia-old Seosten. Amazing.” Her smile grew, as she shook her head in wonder. “You are truly amazing.”

For her part, the girl blushed deeply and squirmed, her hands fidgeting like she didn’t know what to do with them. It was kind of adorable. “I–I didn’t–I mean, I just–I was just trying to help.”

“Believe me when I tell you that you have helped,” Athena assured her sagely. “You have helped more than you can possibly know. The conversations about Lady Felicity’s supposed immunity that I have heard…” She chuckled, shaking her head while running a hand over Tabbris’s head fondly. “I would very much like to see the look on their faces when they discover the truth.”

“That can’t happen,” I blurted, interrupting quickly. “They can’t find out about her.”

“Not for quite some time, no,” the woman agreed with a nod. “Be at ease. Your secret is safe here. As far as anyone else is concerned, you will simply be another Seosten child on this station.”

My mouth opened, but it was Tabbris who piped up, “Another Seosten child?”

Chuckling, Athena nodded once more. “Yes. We have a dozen or so here with us who are within a few years of your age. Would you like to meet them?”

The girl’s head bobbed quickly, before she amended, “But… Mama…”

“And the others,” I put in, before we could get any more offtrack. “I have to let the others know that I’m okay, and how to find us. They’re probably–” I flinched. As thoroughly distracting as all of this had been, thinking about how Sands, Larissa, and the others were no doubt reacting made me focus. “They’re probably freaking out right now.”

Athena addressed me first. “Yes, I have people who will find your friends and get a message to them. But it will take some time. As will preparing to locate your mother,” she added to Tabbris. “But I promise you both, we are working on it. We will bring your friends here, and we will find Sariel.”

She looked to the younger Seosten then, her gaze softening. “As I said, doing so will require your blood, and a fair bit of time. Kushiel has her… lab hidden quite well. But with the blood of Sariel’s daughter, and enough time, we should be able to locate it. I only ask for patience.”

Tabbris squirmed, but gave a little nod. “Can… can we meet the other Seosten? There’s… there’s really kids? And they’re… they’re not… bad?”

Smiling warmly, Athena gestured with one hand. “Yes. And you can meet them, along with the rest of our people. Seosten and non-Seosten alike. We call ourselves the Aelaestiam. And if you like, I will introduce you.”

The two of us exchanged brief looks before we both nodded. “Yes,” I agreed, “Yes, we’d like that a lot.” I had a feeling that, among other things, seeing other Seosten who weren’t total monsters would be incredibly good for Tabbris’s mental state. So I was willing to set aside my own feeling of helpless impatience. Because that was unbelievably important. Tabbris deserved to feel better about herself, about her species.

“Good.” Athena gestured, and some kind of glowing forcefield rose up around the three of us before it began to lift off the ground. It was an elevator of some kind, and it was carrying us up toward the ceiling. “We will go and meet everyone, then.”

As the forcefield elevator rose into the air, I asked, “Where is everyone? I mean, all those houses we passed were empty, and it sure didn’t look like there was anyone in those other species’ environments.”

“They are working, or at school,” the Seosten woman explained. “We put a great deal of emphasis on education here. While you are here, you will be expected to learn. And to train.”

I coughed, smiling despite myself. “Believe me, you’re scary, but not nearly as scary as my girlfriends would be if they ever found out I wasn’t training while I was out here.”

Athena gave me a brief look at that, raising an eyebrow. But before she could say anything, Tabbris piped up. “C-could… um, could you…” She stretched out to the side on one foot, fidgeting as she caught hold of her raised heel absently. Unfortunately, doing so over-extended her balance, and she gave a sudden yelp before pratfalling.

“Ow,” she complained, sitting there on her backside with a tiny, adorable scowl. “I’m used to being taller. And more coordinated. And… and… not so weird.” Making a face, she blew hair out of her eyes before looking up earnestly as she picked herself off the floor. “Could you tell us about Tabbris? The other Tabbris.”

By that point, a space in the metal ceiling above us had opened up, as the forcefield elevator rose into another, much smaller room. It was about forty feet by thirty feet, with room for several more of these elevators to rise up. Ahead were a few sets of doors which, judging from the signs (written in a language I didn’t know) above them that seemed to indicate where they would take the person, probably all went through portals into different areas of the station.

“Yes,” Athena agreed, stepping off the elevator while motioning for us to do the same. She turned to face us once we joined her.

“Tabbris, that Tabbris, was a Seosten who lived over a hundred thousand years ago. Llylewys was his choir.  Kind of like a clan or family,” she added to me briefly before continuing. “Tabbris of Llylewys was an incredibly powerful, incredibly rich young man. And he was also one of the only open advocates of peaceful integration with other worlds that has ever sat as a Seraphim.”

Again, she looked to me, explaining, “The Seraphim are our leadership. Similar to your Committee, only… different in many ways. But the same general idea is there, unsurprisingly.”

Biting my lip, I nodded. “So this original Tabbris was some important senator-type guy, got it. And he was an advocate for, what did you say, peaceful integration with other worlds?”

“Yes,” Athena confirmed simply. “He spent his entire career and most of his considerable power and fortune arguing for more ethical treatment of non-Seostens. His speeches are considered legendary today, though most don’t actually pay attention to what he’s actually saying. He’s seen as little more than a fool by the Seosten leadership. He always was. But he fought for what he believed in, more than once and in more than one way. With his vast money and seemingly inexhaustible resources, he purchased an entire planet and made it a refuge for all non-Seosten to live freely. The planet was surrounded by weapons, shields, and every anti-Seosten defense that Tabbris and his people could dream up. It was a variation of one of Tabbris’s spells that I taught to Arthur and his knights so that they would know if any of their people were possessed and cast the Seosten out of them. The place was perfectly safe.”

“It sounds incredible,” I agreed. “Whatever happened to it? I mean, that was a long time ago.”

The woman’s head shook. “You see, that is actually the most legendary part of all. Because the truth is, nobody knows. After he set the planet up and brought over as many free beings as he could, Tabbris wiped its location and every specific thing about it from the minds of everyone else in the universe. Anyone who knew exactly where it was one day forgot about it the next.”

My mouth fell open at that. All I managed to do was make a brief, protesting squeak as my brain locked up completely. Just in front of me, Tabbris seemed to be coming up with pretty much the same reaction. She was the first to recover enough to actually ask, “Wh-what? He erased it from everyone’s mind? But that would take… th-the power that would–he couldn’t… he couldn’t!”

“Yes,” Athena replied with a little smile of amusement, “that was pretty much everyone else’s reaction at the time, apparently. Except, as it turns out, he didn’t actually do it alone. Technically, the man had the aid of every sitting Seraphim at the time. And likely most of their staffs as well.”

Squinting at the woman, I tried to figure out if she was messing with us. That time, I was the first one to find my voice, as I quickly demanded, “How could he possibly convince all of the Seosten leadership to help him erase an entire planet from everyone’s memory, including theirs?!”

“As absurd as it sounds,” the woman explained, “it actually wasn’t that difficult. He simply had to be patient. Obviously, it took quite some time for the investigation to turn up what actually happened. But, essentially, the original Tabbris spent over a decade preparing for what he ended up doing. You see, the committee within the Seraphim that he was a part of required that he collect what amounted to magical signatures from each and every Seraphim. Those were, essentially, a small bit of their own spellpower that proved that they agreed with whatever the energy was attached to. Since it’s their own personal mana, brought from their own body and tied to the object listing the agreement, it’s much harder for them to claim they didn’t agree with it later on.

“But I don’t understand how–” I started before blinking. “Wait, did he figure out how to… I mean…” I trailed off, uncertain of myself. But as I glanced to Athena, she had gone silent. The woman patiently watched, seemingly just fine with waiting while I worked it out. Biting my lip, I guessed, “Did he figure out how to, like, take a little bit of that energy each time?”

She smiled, lifting her head in a nod while giving me an approving look that made me flush a little bit. “Correct. Somehow, Tabbris managed to place a siphon spell on those same signature objects which took just a little bit of their power every time they signed it. What’s more, it would continue draining them constantly for those ten years. Ah, which would be somewhere around eighteen years by Earth calendar. It was very small amounts, not enough for them to notice. But every time he had them sign another agreement, the siphon was renewed. It would barely amount to a single percent of their power each day. But a single percent of every Seraphim’s energy every day for what amounted to eighteen Earth years amounted to vast reserves of spellpower that Tabbris had managed to steal. And eventually, he used it to pull his disappearing act. He, and all of the people who had chosen to join him, disappeared entirely.”

“You hear that?” I asked my Tabbris with a little nudge. “Your mom named you after the Seosten who basically made the entire group of Seraphim look like idiots, and the first big freedom fighter.”

While the other girl turned beet red and smiled giddily, Athena continued. “I trust that answers your question?”

Once Tabbris nodded, I asked, “I’ve got a lot more though. Like, how did you find us? Where did you come from? How did you know about… about anything that was happening? Is it just from the humans that you freed? Do you know about the Atherby Clan and what they’ve been doing? Do you–”

Athena laughed, shaking her head. “Be at ease, Lady Felicity. I will answer all of your questions that I am able to. But for now, perhaps meeting the others would help. I will explain on the way.”

She moved to one of the nearby doors, pausing to look back to us as they slid open. “Are you ready?”

My hand reached out to take Tabbris’s, and I nodded. “Yes. Let’s go meet the Logs.”

Both Tabbris and Athena blinked over at me, the latter asking, “Logs?”

“Sure!” I grinned. “Legion Of Good Seosten. What, it’s easier to remember than… what did you say?”

“Aelaestiam,” Tabbris supplied helpfully.

“Right, Aelaestiam.” Tilting my head as though considering that for a moment, I finally shook my head. “Nope, sorry. I still prefer Logs.”  

Athena shook her head, gesturing for us to move through the still-open doorway. With a slight gulp, I squeezed Tabbris’s hand, whispering, “Ready, partner?” She nodded, and I returned it. Then the two of us stepped through that doorway.

Time to meet the Seosten rebels.

Previous Chapter                                                Next Chapter