Felicity Chambers

Kairos 9-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: For those who haven’t seen it, there was a new commissioned interlude posted yesterday that focused on the Alter-Natural Heretic organization Section Four. If you haven’t read that, you can click the previous chapter button above to do so. 

“Kill me?” Fossor chuckled, though it sounded more deranged and emotional than he probably meant it to. “Has that ever worked for you, my dearest woman, mother of my child? Oh…. I suppose I can’t call you that now, can I? Not after our girl over there got her own brother killed. Now how is that going to affect your relationship?” 

Mom’s voice was calmer than I would have expected. Cold, really. “Over ten years together. More than a decade. And you still know nothing about me.” 

“He knows little about what it means to care for anyone at all.” Those were the words that came from Rahanvael, as the ghost girl hovered nearby, her hand lightly touching her own throat, where I could see what looked like… marks of some sort. As if Fossor’s invisible grasp had left an impression in the… well, ‘skin,’ or whatever that would be called. 

As for the Necromancer himself, he actually looked a bit upset by what she’d said, his face flushing a bit as he snapped, “I have always cared for you, Rahan.” Again, he pronounced it ‘Rain.’ “Everything I have done, everything I’ve become, everything that has– it was all because I loved–love you. It was all because I wanted to protect you! I only wanted to keep you safe.” 

“You’re right.” Rahanvael’s voice was soft, barely audible, yet somehow filled with raw emotion. It quaked, the words hoarse and broken. “Everything that you have done started because you were trying to protect me. We lost our mother, and when we visited her spirit to say goodbye, you felt her. You tried to keep her there. That’s how you found out about your power, Mera. You felt her and you tried to stop her spirit from moving on, and when they wouldn’t let you, when our father forced you to let her go, you… you were so afraid. We lost our mother and you were afraid you would lose me, lose your twin. So you did what? You withdrew even more. You spent seven years obsessing over learning to control your power on your own, experimenting on animals in the woods. Seven years when we could have been living our lives.” 

“If you and Father had only listened to me, we could have had an eternity together!” Fossor… yeah, he was clearly unstable. Facing his sister like this wasn’t doing wonders for his emotions. Still, he took a moment, mastering himself (at least outwardly) before speaking again, a bit more coldly. “But you didn’t. He didn’t. He–he interrupted. I would have brought you back.”

“You did bring me back,” Rahanvael reminded him, voice still quiet. “And I have spent millennia watching you commit more atrocities, more… evil than I could have imagined entire civilizations being capable of. Your crimes may have begun when you cut my throat, Mera. But everything you’ve done, everything you’ve become, that is what tears my heart from my chest.” 

Her voice was even more hollow by that point. She finished with the last thing she needed to say. “I loved my brother. He was my everything, my Mera. You are not him. You are an empty, soulless abomination that needs to die.” 

“You…” For a moment, Fossor looked… almost lost, really. It was so brief that I might have passed it off as my imagination. But it was there. It was absolutely there. He saw his sister, saw the way she looked at him, heard what she said, and it looked like those words struck home, for just a moment. But then it vanished, either hidden away or dismissed entirely. In its place was anger. Cold anger, the sort that would leave any soul that could feel such emotion a barren wasteland. 

He spoke again, voice far emptier than I had ever heard it. “Each of you will learn the cost of your efforts. Because you seem to have forgotten one very important thing. You cannot harm me.” 

With those simple words, he straightened, blue-white flames flickering around his feet before extending out into the shape of a serpent that coiled up and around him almost protectively. It was like a… ghost. It was a ghost snake. A giant ghost snake. Fun. 

“My life is connected to those of my world–of our world,” he amended, with a look toward his sister. “How many of our people will you allow them to sacrifice before bowing to the inevitable? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? More? How many will you let them put to the flames?” 

His words had an impact. I could tell that much. Rahanvael swallowed, floating there next to me. But she refused to break eye contact, staring back at him with a sad, broken voice. “Whatever it takes,” the girl informed him very quietly. “You must be stopped. A man who has already murdered millions cannot bargain with the lives of those he would kill anyway.” 

The ghost-serpent around Fossor drew itself up a bit, even as the man coldly snarled, “Then, by all means. Come and stop me.” 

Even as he said those words, the ghost-snake launched itself toward us. The thing was as big as a bus, mouth stretching wide as though it was going to try to eat us. I had no idea if it was even capable of that, given the whole ghost thing. But nor was I going to test it. With a quick thrust of my staff, I triggered the boost on it, sending myself up and over the lunging snake. Below me, Mom vanished from where she was standing, appearing off to the side while producing a glowing blue energy sword in one hand that she used to cut into its side. 

The snake wasn’t the only issue, of course. Fossor still had a literal army of ghosts and zombies he could throw at us. And throw them at us he did, as what looked like a tidal wave of the undead creatures came swarming in from all sides. The Necromancer wasn’t fucking around anymore. Even as I launched myself up, I could see an army of the creatures coming in from all sides, practically falling in on us like a tidal wave. This wasn’t a few ghosts, or a handful of zombies. This wasn’t something he expected us to fight. He expected us to be massacred. 

In mid-air, I dropped my staff, focusing on using the object-stopping power I’d just learned about. The staff froze, even as my feet came down on it. The freeze would only last for a few seconds, of course. But for those few seconds, I could stand on the staff in mid-air as though I was on solid ground. And I used that by summoning a dozen or so coins to each hand. Coins I had prepared over my time spent in the future waiting for the time travel spell to be ready. 

With those coins in hand, as I perched on my frozen staff, a very slight, humorless smile touched my face. Then I threw the coins out in every direction, scattering them through the air while blurting the command word. 

That swarm of Fossor’s minions kept coming, even as the coins were flung into their midsts. Then the spells activated, and the coins exploded into several clouds of blue-green mist. Every ghost or zombie that was touched by the mist immediately turned on one another. Which made others around them, those not affected by the clouds, turn back to defend themselves or be dragged to the ground. No longer were they a coherent army sent to attack us. Thanks to my frenzy-undead spells (learned courtesy of Petan himself, actually), huge portions were stuck blindly fighting each other.

By that point, the item-freeze had ended, and I grabbed my staff while it fell. A quick burst sent me flying forward and to the ground, where I landed on both feet in an open space that had been created by the frenzy spells. 

Mom was still dealing with the giant snake. Fossor was moving to the altar. More of his minions who hadn’t been either affected by the frenzy spells or attacked by those who had been were closing in on me. I’d dealt with a large portion of his army with that little trick (one I’d deliberately been saving until Fossor actually committed himself to using more of his forces), but not nearly enough. There were still dozens, even hundreds in the way, coming for me. Coming to stop me from getting to their master. 

But it wasn’t enough. Not this time. I wasn’t going to let anything, not even a literal army, stop me from getting to that son of a bitch. Focusing, I took off, running straight toward Fossor, which put me on a collision course with the largest concentration of the undead creatures. 

I couldn’t control all of Fossor’s minions. I wasn’t that strong or skilled yet. Fossor was far better than I was at Necromancy. At most, I could control a few at a time, even after all the practice I’d had recently. 

But here was the thing. I didn’t need to control all of them. I only had to control the ones directly in front of me, the ones close enough to actually touch me. Because only those few were a real threat. Only those few, the ones near enough to reach out and scratch, claw, or bite me were the ones I needed to worry about. And those were the ones I took control of. With effort that manifested itself into a literal scream tearing its way out of my throat, I shoved my will into the handful of ghosts and zombies that were directly in my way. The four nearest pivoted, throwing themselves into those behind them to form physical blockades. 

Dashing through the opening that created, I instantly released my hold on those four, shifting it over to the next small handful. Two ghosts and three zombies all turned on their companions, freeing up another small bit of space for me to move through, even as I shifted my control yet again. 

I made my way through Fossor’s army like that. Yeah, I couldn’t come close to matching his power or skill, even while he was distracted. But there was only so much space around me, so all I had to do was control the ones right there for the few seconds while passing through the area. It didn’t deal with the problem entirely, but that was a lost cause anyway. The problem was Fossor, not his minions. He was the one I had to get to. 

Between using my own Necromancy to briefly control very specific figures, my ghost-fire enchanted weapon to cut through others, and a few strategic boost from my staff, I made my way quickly through the army that was trying to cut me off. Fossor. I had to get to him. That was all that mattered. Nothing else. All I had to do was stop him from getting to that altar. 

He could have made it. Even with everything I’d done, all the practice I’d had, he could have gotten there if it wasn’t for one thing: my mother. It was obvious that, while he’d dumped an army in front of me and left them on their own, my mom was a different story. She’d already dealt with that giant ghost snake, but Fossor kept sending more and more things at her with each step he made toward his actual destination. Burning metal spikes tore themselves up out of the ground. A dark, acidic fog that dissolved anything it touched. Skeletal creatures with a few scraps of rotted flesh hanging from their bones. Balls of greenish-white flames. Anything and everything he could summon was being thrown at my mother just to keep her busy, just to keep her away from him while he took those last few steps toward his destination. He wasn’t worried about me. He was worried about her, and it showed in how much focus and effort he was putting toward occupying her. The power, the spells, the sheer force of everything he was dumping into that one small spot where my mother stood was staggering. 

And yet, Mom met everything. She shattered his attacks, broke them apart like waves crashing against a boulder. Her powers, her skill, her magic, all of it matched what he was sending at her. He was so much older, so much stronger, but he couldn’t break her. Not as distracted as he was. His attention was torn between trying to get to that altar and keeping her busy. All while he simply ignored me, trusting the army he’d tossed my way to be enough. 

It was a mistake I would be glad to make him pay for. 

With a violent, inarticulate scream, I tore my way through the last of the ghosts in my way, the blade of my staff cutting through the glowing figure. The ghost disintegrated, leaving a clear, open space between us. Between Fossor and me. 

Four steps. He was four steps from the altar. My hand thrust out, creating a portal even as I triggered the boost from my staff and gripped the small bit of wood that was installed near the middle. A piece of wood that allowed me to possess it, disappearing into my own staff while the boost I had triggered sent it flying through the portal I’d created. 

I came out through the portal directly in front of Fossor, emerging from my staff immediately and catching it in one hand while glaring at him as I stood in his way. “No.” My voice was flat. I didn’t threaten him. I didn’t make some kind of cutting remark or give a witty comment. That single word was all I could force out through the thick lump that had formed in my throat. 

A cloud of ashes swirled around Fossor, pulled from that canteen before they settled in front of his feet as he took one more step to put himself closer. In the same motion, he lashed out as though to backhand me despite the fact that he wasn’t quite close enough. Still, my staff snapped up to block it. 

But he wasn’t trying to hit me with his hand. Instead, in response to his gesture, a giant skeletal version, almost as large as my entire body, tore itself out the ground and slammed into me with so much force I was sent staggering backward. He immediately followed that up by summoning two more smaller hands to grab my ankles, but I stopped one by throwing my own will against it, forcing the hand to freeze. The other I cut off with a quick slash of my staff. 

Fossor was there, right in front of me. His fist lashed out, and I ducked, my staff snapping up to drive the blade into the side of his wrist. I might as well have been hitting a mountain for all the good it did. His arm didn’t even move. The blade of my staff did nothing to him, any damage it might have been capable of simply and casually passed off to any of the billions of hostages he had. 

The Necromancer, clearly angry by that point, followed up with three more snake-quick strikes. I blocked one, twisted around the second, but the third caught me. He was so fast. Loathe as he obviously was to actually physically involve himself in a confrontation, he was still so fucking fast. And strong. That single blow, a contemptuous backhanded strike, knocked me to the ground. It was a momentary opening, but one that Fossor took advantage of, foot snapping out with deceptive casualness to kick me in the face. It was like being hit by a train. I was thrown to my back, dazed and barely conscious through those brief, crucial seconds. 

Standing over me, Fossor moved to finish up by summoning some kind of ghostly spear, sending it down at my chest with a quick, dismissive gesture. 

But I wasn’t alone. In that instant, the very moment that I was in real danger, Mom was there. She appeared, glowing blade lashing out to cut through the ghostly spear and knock it aside. Instantly, she followed up by summoning a ball of flame, sending it into Fossor’s face. 

It did nothing. He passed off the damage, snarling in annoyance before launching himself at my mother. Not just the man by himself. He summoned more arms, more flames, more blades, all of it filling the air with two intentions: to kill me and to kill my mother. 

If I had been by myself, I would have been dead. But I wasn’t. Mom protected me. With every motion, every snap of her sword, every flick of her finger, she stopped another attack, broke another of Fossor’s summoned blades, or disintegrated another of his ghosts. 

Through that, I somehow forced myself to my feet, intercepting a couple of those attacks myself. And beside me, Rahanvael appeared. She couldn’t do much, but, being a ghost, she could catch some of the intangible spears and blades that were sent at us. She was one more thing to take some of the attacks. 

Between us, between Rahanvael and myself, we managed to give Mom an opening here and there to actually counter-attack. She didn’t have to put everything she had toward saving us. She had a few moments to lash out with attacks of her own. Attacks that would have killed him. Again and again, my mother could have put that fucker in the ground. Her blade cut through his throat, tore into his stomach, her fire engulfed him. But nothing stuck. Nothing could stick. He passed all of it off to his hostages. No matter what we did, no matter how many times Mom fucking killed him, it never mattered. 

Finally, glowing ghost-like bars appeared, rising around Fossor to cut us off from him. I could see the effort on his face, could see that we’d had an effect, no matter what he may have wanted us to think. He was angry. But more than that, he was winded. Everything we’d done, it mattered. He couldn’t dismiss us, couldn’t just knock us aside like weeds. 

“You,” the bastard snarled, “cannot stop me. You will fail. You will fall. Your bodies will be buried here, alone and forgotten. Y–” 

And then a shovel slammed through those summoned bars, shattering them like crystal before crashing into Fossor’s face to send him flying backward from the sheer force of the blow. The evil fuck crashed onto the ground a good couple hundred feet back, just as one of his ghosts disintegrated itself under him so his body wouldn’t hit the dirt without the protective ashes. 

“Not alone,” Gabriel Prosser informed him, straightening to stand beside my mother. “And never forgotten.” 

Nor was he alone. All around us, throughout the quarry, more figures appeared. Sariel, Apollo, Dare, Gwen, Nevada, Kohaku, Carfried, Hisao, Asenath, Seller, Twister, Brom Bones, Mercury, and more appeared. Mateo and his werewolves were here, including Pace and Roxa. May and April were here. Misty and her brother Duncan appeared. Enguerrand, Larissa, and Haiden too. My brother, Wyatt, appeared with Koren beside him. Avalon and Shiori, standing together with Aylen, Miranda, Columbus, Sands and Sarah. Sean was there too, in his still-confusingly older form right alongside his brother Ian.

“No…” Fossor snarled, his eyes daring around to find himself surrounded as he picked himself up. “No, this is–no, you cannot be here! The beacons have not yet broken through the shielding! You cannot have been summoned, you cannot be here!” 

“We had a little help finding the place,” Apollo casually informed him. And with those words, more figures appeared. Ghosts, but ones who had not been summoned by Fossor. 

They were the ghosts I had freed, the ones I’d given the same power as Rahanvael by cutting them away from Fossor’s control. I saw Ahmose at their head, his eyes blazing with fiery hatred for the man who had destroyed and enslaved him for so long. 

“It ends,” the ghost informed his former master, his words echoed by the rest of the ghosts who had accompanied him to this final confrontation. The ghosts who, instead of running and hiding from the monster who had done so much to them, had found my friends, my allies, and brought them here to stop him once and for all. 

A hand touched my arm. My gaze turned, and I saw her. My little sister. Tabbris stood there, tears filling her eyes as she stared at me. “You’re okay,” she whispered, voice so soft it seemed as though she was afraid I would shatter. 

“I’m okay,” I confirmed. Then I extended my hand to her. “You ready for this?” 

Her tears melted away, expression hardening into determination, as she met my hand with her own. “Ready.” 

Then she disappeared, possessing me once more. Back where she belonged. Back with me. 

Now it was time. Either we would stop Fossor here and now. Or we would die, and the Earth would be his forever. 

As one, the army that had arrived to end Fossor once and for all fell in on him. 

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Kairos 9-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I’d thought I was prepared for the twisting, spinning, stomach-churning sensation of being sent literally years through time and who-the-hell-knew how far across the universe. I had psyched myself up for it, prepping sort of like you would when you were about to go on a rollercoaster. But it didn’t help. My internal organs still felt like they wanted it to leap through my throat to get free, and I was so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. Not that there was much to see. Coming through the transport, I was encased in the same meteor-like stone that Tristan had arrived in a year earlier. There was nothing to see except for stone all around me. 

I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell we were falling fast. Also spinning. There was a lot of spinning. My vision (such as it was) kept fading in and out as my consciousness flickered. 

Then, before I could even hope to collect myself, we hit the ground. The spell on the meteor absorbed all the impact, sparing me from being killed by making the rock surrounding me shatter into a thousand tiny pieces while leaving me standing there. 

Well, standing there for about two seconds before the whole spinning/falling sensation caught up with me. Then, rather than looking like some kind of heroic badass arriving in the nick of time, I mostly just face-planted onto the ground while struggling not to lose the entire contents of my stomach. Urgh, that was really bad. Worse than I remembered. Was going backward in time that much harder? Was it the way Petan and those guys did it, with the whole meteor thing? 

Either way, it sucked. But hey, at least the fact that I had the Seosten bodysuit meant I didn’t have to show up totally naked or anything. 

Plus, all my recent training had done one thing, at least. It gave me the push I needed to focus through all of that and activate the beacon spells I’d brought with me. There were a dozen of them, all locked into various coins and stones I’d enchanted with spells to send an emergency alert to every god damn person who could help. I didn’t even take the time to look at where I was or anything that was around me first. I just forced power into those beacons. Whatever happened to me, if Fossor smacked me down in two seconds, at least the others would know where to come. Sariel, Prosser, Athena, Gwen, all of them. They could finish the job if I couldn’t.

With that reassuring thought (well, as reassuring as the thought of being skewered in two seconds could be), I managed to shove myself back to my feet, weapon in hand, as I took in my surroundings quickly. Even with the flares activated, there wasn’t time for me to lay around and indulge my stomach’s rolling. 

I wasn’t, as expected, in a building. Instead, I had appeared in what looked like some kind of open rock quarry. The place was huge. So huge, in fact, that the dark limousine sitting nearby would’ve had to drive full-speed for several minutes to get from one side to the other. That and the bulldozer next to it probably looked like children’s toys from the top of the quarry, so far above me I could barely see it. 

But none of that mattered. Only one thing did. Stopping Fossor. This was my last chance. And I was going to make damn sure that son of a bitch didn’t pull off his psychotic fucking plan. Whether it was me or one of the people I had just summoned for help, he wasn’t going to get away this time. One way or another, whatever it took, he was going down today. No more games, no more delays. I was going to save my mother and put that bastard in the ground where he belonged. 

Or die trying. But, well, I knew which option I preferred, at least. 

And speak of the devil, literally. Even as I straightened and focused, the back door of that limo opened, and the man in question emerged. He stared back at me with an expression that was clearly incredulous, though he was trying to force it back behind a mask of indifference. “Felicity,” he announced flatly, managing to control his voice despite everything as he regarded me with one hand holding the canteen he used to spread ashes. “You are truly a wonder.” 

Still working to calm my stomach and avoid throwing up in my mouth, I shot back, “Yeah, give me a few minutes and you’ll wonder what happened to your spleen and lungs.” 

Fossor, for his part, had clearly gotten himself under control by that point. My sudden arrival may have taken him by surprise, but he was good at rolling with surprises after all these centuries. Now, he was staring at me dangerously, obviously re-evaluating various thoughts he’d had. “Tell me, where did you disappear to in the future? I know someone took you off course, but the level of power and foreknowledge that would take….” He trailed off, chuckling quietly. “Clearly, my attempts to reacquire and contain you were… or will be, rather unsuccessful.”

“Nah,” I shot back sharply, “You found me just fine in the future. Then we bonded, you had a total change of heart, and switched sides. You even sacrificed yourself to send me back to the past to stop the you back now. It was a whole emotional thing. Whoever plays you in the movie version is totally going to nab an Oscar for it.”  

Yeah, from the look he was giving me, the man wasn’t buying it. Probably because even he knew he didn’t have a fucking conscience that could be reached anymore. Slowly, his head shook. “I do hope you aren’t trying to buy time for those beacons of yours to work,” he abruptly informed me. “After all, I would have had to be remarkably stupid not to adapt from your last attempt.” 

As my heart sank at those words, he raised a hand to gesture around us. “These stones you see all around us, think of them as a sort of jammer, my dear. They cannot stop your signal forever, that much is true. But they will absorb the energy of the spells long enough that, by the time your allies get the message, it will be too late.” He winked at me. “You see, I learn from past experience too. Now then,” he added in a low, dangerous voice as his eyes narrowed at me, making it clear that he wasn’t playing around anymore either. “Where is my sister?”

Yeah, this was bad. I had known, somewhere in the back of my mind, that Fossor could have adapted to all this and been ready to stop any beacon spells I had. But I’d hoped he wouldn’t have had time to worry about that in between getting his spell ready once more. It hadn’t been more than a few days since I’d been sent forward, so both Petan and I had thought he wouldn’t have had time to create and set up a whole new defense against those beacon spells. 

Now, as it turned out, he hadn’t needed to. He just set up his new spell in this quarry full of beacon-absorbing rocks. Because that was totally fair, gods damn it. 

“In that case,” I forced myself to retort while pointing the bladed end of my staff at the man who had hurt my family so much, “I guess I’ll just have to delay you until that spell gets out, won’t I? And I’ll tell you where your sister is as soon as you tell me where my mother is, you fucking rapist piece of shit.” 

Fossor, in turn, straightened a bit while squinting at me. “Your mother, hmm? After everything you’ve been through, all that you’ve seen and experienced, you’re still a child crying out for her mother. In spite of everything, you still haven’t grown at all from that helpless little girl I met over a year ago now. You’ve learned nothing.” 

“Don’t think so?” I retorted, staring him down. With that, I shoved down every doubt, every fear, every bit of uncertainty. I pushed all of it into a little box and locked it away. None of that mattered. I was here. I had to stop this son of a bitch. I had to delay him until those beacon spells got through and help could get here. Then I spoke three more words. Quite possibly the last three non-spell words that I would ever speak. 

“Let’s find out.” 

I ran. Not away. I ran toward the man, toward the monster who had hurt my family, who had destroyed so many others. I ran toward the creature who had nearly wiped out humanity all those centuries ago with his Black Death, and who was trying to do so again with his new spell. As Fossor stood, waiting to receive me with what looked like a mixture of annoyance and amusement warring for dominance on his face, I crossed the distance between us. One more chance. I had one more chance to stop him. 

Not that he was going to make that easy, of course. Before I’d crossed even half the distance between us, with another hundred feet or so still to go, the man raised both hands. And with that simple gesture, an army of figures appeared in my way. They were a mixture of ghosts, appearing out of nowhere, and zombies who clawed their way out of the ground right under my feet. One hand in particular popped up right near my foot, trying to grab my ankle in its crushing grip. But I was faster, snapping my staff down, without breaking stride, to cut the half-rotted hand off before it could catch hold. 

A ghost reared up in front of me, and I dove into a roll to go under it, while speaking a single command word to power the ghost-fire spell that I’d already attached to my weapon. The staff lit up with a pale blue glow, as I shoved it up through the ghost while passing under it. With a scream, the ghost literally exploded into a spray of ectoplasm and light. 

Two more zombies had pushed their way out of the ground, and were trying to grab me while I was rolling. But they never had the chance. Even as the pair straightened to put themselves in my path, a cloud of super-heated sand flew over my head and tore into them. The cloud was so hot, it literally burned a hole through the two undead monsters. One of their heads came off at the neck, while the other’s head basically disintegrated entirely under the blazing hot sand. 

I was back on my feet then. With a sharp gesture, I sent my heated sand out to one side, lashing with it like a whip. A whip that took the heads off three more zombies, cleaving through their necks. In the same moment, I hurled my staff to the other side, sending the bladed end through a ghost that had gotten near me before recalling it to appear right back in my hand as I threw myself into a sideways flip, barely clearing the raised arms of the zombie who was halfway out of the ground ahead of me. Landing, I swept my staff behind me, taking the head off that creature with that single swipe, while spitting a glob of resin at the next one, sticking his hands to the ground as he was trying to push himself up. One more step, and my foot lashed out, colliding with the head of the trapped zombie with enough force (considering I could lift a good three thousand pounds by that point) to pop it like a watermelon, sending blood everywhere. A lot of it sprayed up on me, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. None of that mattered, except stopping that son of a bitch.  

The son of a bitch in question was already turning away from me, walking in the other direction (ashes appearing from his canteen to fill the ground along his path) even as a whole new swarm of his minions appeared to fill in the space between us. He was trying to act like he didn’t care, like he wasn’t worried about me. But he also wasn’t sticking around. He wasn’t gloating, wasn’t waiting. He was keeping me busy with his summoned cannon fodder and heading off to finish his spell, before everyone I had called could show up. He knew he was on the clock, and he was going to beat it.  

Fuck, fuck! No! I couldn’t let that happen! I had to be faster, had to be better, had to get to him. What I would do if I managed to get that far… I’d focus on that then. Right now, I just had to get there.  

Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere if the swarm of ghosts and zombies had anything to do with it. They weren’t exactly the world’s greatest tacticians. All they were doing was attempting to mob me, drag me to the ground into a dogpile. But that would be enough. If they caught me, if they managed to hold me down, Fossor would win. 

My staff hit the ground twice behind me and once to either side, leaving a concussive mine with each tap. Behind me, as I continued running, the mines blew apart the zombies who were trying to catch up with me. A quick burst from the staff sent me flying up and over a small, otherwise impassible horde, and as I flipped over in the air, my weapon shifted to its bow form just before I shot an energy arrow down into the group that sent them flying in every direction, opening up a small hole for me to land in and keep running. 

Straight ahead of me, an enormous, seven-and-a-half foot tall ghost rose out of nothing and lunged toward me. There was nowhere to go. So, I didn’t go anywhere. I straightened my staff vertically, throwing it ahead of myself before focusing on it. With the power I’d gotten from Fossor’s own arena, I stopped the staff entirely. It froze like that, vertical in the air. Granted, it would only be frozen like that for a few seconds, but for that time, it was totally stopped. The huge spectral form slammed into the ghost-fire-enchanted staff and blew apart with a scream. In the next instant, I was running again, staff summoned right back to my hand. 

Unfortunately, that was the moment when another ghost slammed into me from behind, knocking me forward a step, just as a zombie raked at me with rotted fingernails. It would have torn through my throat, but my skin was tougher than it should’ve been, and the nails just left a series of long scrapes across it. Still, it was enough for another ghost to appear, grabbing hold of my left arm, while still another zombie shoved itself out of the ground to catch my right leg. They were trying to shove me down, trying to pile themselves on top of me. More were coming, more piling in, forcing themselves over me to keep me from reaching their master. Clawing at me, ghost hands tearing at my eyes, rotted corpse fingers digging into my stomach, against my throat, shoving into my mouth. 

Enough! 

With a thought, I shoved every bit of my willpower into the ghost who had hold of my left arm, forcing it to let go against all of Fossor’s orders. My arm was freed, and I adjusted the grip on my staff while pointing with my right hand to summon a pair of quick portals. The first appeared just behind the head of the zombie who had me by the leg, while the other appeared just above the ghost that was trying to shove his semi-solid hands through my eyes. Grunting out a curse around the fingers of the zombie who had his fingers in my mouth trying to rip my tongue out, I triggered the grapple on my staff, sending it shooting out and down, where it ripped straight through the head of the zombie on my leg. The grapple continued on after splattering that skull, passing through the portal to hit the ghost in front of me. With the ghost-fire spell active, the spectral figure screamed and blew apart. That, in turn, freed me enough to snap my other hand out. In that motion, I summoned a brand new silver knife from a storage spell on the sleeve of the bodysuit. The knife cut through the throat of the fucking rotting corpse whose hand was practically halfway down my throat, and I followed it up with a kick that sent him flying. 

It didn’t matter. More were coming. No matter how many I killed, they just kept swarming over me. Dozens and dozens of them. I would never get all the way through them in time to stop Fossor, or even catch up with him. He was already most of the way to what I now saw was some kind of altar set up on the far side of the quarry. And there were so goddamn many figures between the two of us. 

A ghost appeared in front of me, but I focused all the Necromantic strength I had on forcing it to remain completely still, frozen there in my path. 

“Fossor!” I screamed out the name with every ounce of volume I could manage. 

It was enough to make the man turn back to me. Whether he meant to gloat, or simply see just how desperate I looked, I had no idea. But it didn’t matter. He slowed and turned, looking at me through the assortment of creatures blocking the way between us. And that was exactly what we wanted.  

From my pocket, I summoned a small stone, shoving my hand outward straight into the chest of the ghost I’d forced to remain completely still, while practically spitting, “Mar’ah.” 

It was Hebrew for vision or mirror. In this case, that acted as the command word to activate the spell on the stone I was shoving into the chest of the ghost. A spell that took him from being mostly transparent, to being reflective. The ghost now acted as a mirror, showing me a vision of myself. 

In Vegas, I’d picked up the ability to travel through reflective surfaces. Which meant I needed two, of course. But Rahanvael was already on that, appearing directly behind Fossor as he turned toward me. Even now, she was entirely invisible to his power. He had no idea she was there. And she used that, turning herself reflective as well. 

Fossor knew something was wrong. He was already turning back. But it was too late. I threw myself straight into the ghost in front of me, passing through him and coming out of Rahanvael before driving the blade of my staff right through Fossor’s shoulder with a scream. 

It did nothing to him, of course. He simply passed the damage off to… well, any of the literally billions of hostages he had back on his own world. But I was at least rewarded with the look of surprise on his face. 

That surprise, unfortunately, quickly morphed to anger, as he lashed out with a backhanded fist that knocked me to the ground. My staff fell from my grasp. I heard Rahanvael shout my name, only to stop as Fossor’s hand snapped up, forming itself into a hard grip that seemed to stop her in mid-motion. It looked like he was choking her telekinetically or something. She grabbed her throat, frozen there. 

“You…. have been… a most disappointing sister,” the man snarled, even as his foot lashed out to kick me in the face. It knocked me backward, dazing me just as I was trying to push myself up. “And you, a most disappointing daughter.” 

Abruptly, something slammed into him from behind. It hit the Necromancer so hard, he went flying past us before hitting the ground. The impact obviously didn’t hurt him, of course. He even managed to summon a new ghost to disintegrate into ashes for himself to land on. But it did knock him away, forcing his invisible grip on Rahanvael to vanish. 

“I told you,” my mother sharply informed the man while stepping up, offering her hand down to me. “She is not your daughter. And she is far from disappointing.” 

Fossor was back on his feet, turning to face the three of us. “What?” His voice actually cracked just a little. “No. What? You can’t be here. This is a trick. You shouldn’t come out of the time spell for another five minutes. I calculated it perfectly.” 

“Yes, well,” my mother retorted while hauling me to my feet, “when I realized what you were about to do, I used a little magic of my own. It absorbed just enough of the power you put into your spell to make me pop out a little bit early, and a little bit out of the way. Over there.” She gestured off into the distance. 

“Now then,” Mom continued while staring down the man who had done so much damage to our lives. “Where were we?” Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and I felt the power she was summoning to fill herself with, felt the strength that was suddenly making the air all-but vibrate around us. “Oh, yes,” she announced. “I remember.

“We were about to kill you.”

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Homeward Bound 8-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything.

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One down… me to go. 

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homeward Bound 8-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have to tell them what Fossor did.” 

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Homeward Bound 8-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homeward Bound 8-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go kill that thing.”

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Homeward Bound 8-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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According to the memories I’d picked out of Tuun’s head, the creature these guys were after (the thing he had called a Leunphia) was the largest native inhabitant of this place. They possessed some kind of natural resistance to certain magical poisons that the Fomorians were fond of using. Resistance beyond what most could easily achieve without heavy magic expenditure, and they had it naturally. A few other animals and plants from this place were also resistant. Hence this outpost. They were investigating the origin of that resistance and whether or not it could be built up. There was also some kind of long-dead society that used to live on this planet, and some of the Seosten thought that whoever those people were might’ve been responsible for the poison-resistance demonstrated by the present animals. So they were looking into that. Which was where a lot of the slaves came in, being used to help dig out the long-buried civilization, collect artifacts, pinpoint promising remains, that kind of thing. 

But the scientists who were investigating the actual biological reasoning for the resistance needed a lot of samples of their own, and worked through those samples quickly. Between that and the fact that a lot of what they managed to collect was sent to be utilized in the war, yeah, they always needed more. Like the big guy Tuun and the rest of these people were after. 

Helping them get this thing wasn’t my job right now, obviously. I had much bigger things to worry about. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly how to go about dealing with those things. The message from Elisabet had just said for me to ‘follow my instincts’ and that I would eventually make my way through all that. I would find Nicholas Petan somehow. But what happened between the moment I got that message and when I actually found my way to Petan? That was a blank. A blank I was apparently supposed to fill in just by taking my best guess at what to do.

Right now, my ‘best guess’ was to fit in and not set off any alarms just yet. I needed more information, and that meant at least playing along for a few minutes to see what happened. The only good part of this whole situation was that I was already in the future. Whatever Fossor had done or had failed to do in those intervening four years was over with. I wasn’t on any kind of clock right now, as far as I knew. However long it took me to get to a point where someone could send me into the past, a few minutes, hours, or even days here didn’t really matter. Well, as long as I didn’t get captured and killed. 

Besides, I was supposed to follow my instincts, and part of those were telling me that finding out  more about this whole ‘resistance to magical poison’ thing might be relevant and important when it came to Fossor. The Fomorians might’ve written the book on those things, but I was pretty sure Fossor had at least read a few of the chapters. 

Scanning Tuun’s mind had also let me know what he was capable of beyond tracking, family identification, and bone manipulation. Thankfully, for the most part aside from the bone thing, it wasn’t anything super-exotic that would turn into an immediate red flag when I couldn’t do it. He was pretty strong and fast, had good vision, decent regeneration, and some kind of paralyzing bite. But their plan didn’t involve him biting this big thing (mostly because it would’ve been ineffective), so that wouldn’t come into play. Most of the rest I could fake. Hopefully. But the bone manipulation could be an issue. I didn’t have that and I couldn’t easily fake it. Thankfully, their plan didn’t involve him using it. If it came up… well, I’d take that as it happened. 

Stowing my own staff and replacing it with one of the weapons stowed in the pockets of this suit felt wrong. But again, I needed to blend in. The thing I managed to pull out was a combination pistol-rifle (it swapped between both settings at the touch of a button). I was going to have to make do with it for the time being. At least my guy hadn’t been some great crack shot sniper or anything. That definitely would’ve given me away. 

As I’d already reasoned out, Tuun’s part was to stay back, get into position with his rifle, and start shooting the thing once some of the other startled it into running. They would guide it past Tuun (or who they thought was Tuun) on one side and one of the other soldiers on the opposite side. We were supposed to pump enough firepower into it to take the thing down to be harvested. According to my guy’s memories, shots to the legs were most important. Bringing the thing to the ground without damaging precious internal organs was the idea. Once he was down, a couple of the others would deal non-traumatic killing blows with their own powers. They just needed the Leunphia to be on the ground and unable to run away. 

God, this was really fucked up when I thought about it too much. Seriously. I knew why they were doing this and that it was for the very good cause of finding a way of defending against the Fomorians. But still, just the thought that they needed to destroy this thing’s legs so it couldn’t run away, then kill it in a special way to preserve its organs… eeesh. Yeah. Fucked up. 

Making my way to the position that Tuun had been heading for, I hit the button to turn the pistol into a rifle. Then I cringed. This was the bad part. With a sigh, I got down on my stomach in that nasty snot-water. Yes, it was very shallow right here. Shallow enough that I could lay on my stomach and still keep my head out of it. And yes, I was now wearing a fully-sealed environment suit. But it was still gross. 

Shaking off those thoughts, I folded out the electronic scope on the rifle. It had a screen that showed an enhanced look at everything the scope could see, including where all my–errr, Tuun’s teammates were, thanks to trackers in their suits. It also showed me where the Leunphia was quietly grazing on a couple trees a few hundred yards off. 

Once I reported being in position, again faking Tuun’s voice, his boss (a guy named Qive) ordered everyone else to sound off. They were all ready, so he gave the word to start the attack. 

Or… he started to give the word. But in mid-sentence, as everyone’s attention was on the giant Leunphia, there was a sudden loud alarm through the suit’s communication unit that made me jump in surprise. The alarm muted after a brief moment, before a voice came through, speaking rapidly in Latin. So quickly, unfortunately, that I couldn’t keep up with it. Something about defense and an invader. That last part made me stop breathing for just a second as I looked around quickly. Was it about me? No. At the very least, they didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting the alert too. 

“Incoming ship.” That was Rahanvael, floating beside me. “The alert was about an incoming ship. They’re telling the field teams to come back and set up defenses because the station is about to be under attack.” 

“Under att–Nicholas,” I abruptly realized. “It’s Petan, it has to be. This is just the kind of thing Tristan said they did–do–whatever. Attacking a Seosten outpost full of slaves, it must be Petan. This is how I’m supposed to meet up with him.” After muttering those words aloud, I was distracted by the sound of this group’s leader ordering everyone to get back to the outpost, immediately. 

Rahanvael disappeared once more, as I shifted the rifle back into its pistol form and rose to follow the heat signatures of the other members of Tuun’s team. Petan was coming. Now I just had to figure out how to get close enough to let him know who I was. I had to maintain my cover until the right moment came, and hope everyone here was too distracted by the incoming invading ship to notice anything different about their teammate. At least for a few minutes. 

There was a flashing teal dot on the edge of my visor screen, which moved from one side to the top when I turned to follow the other people. Belatedly, I realized it was indicating where the outpost was. Even for people who were actually supposed to be here, it must have been easy to get lost out in the wild. Especially in a swamp like this.

Not that it stayed a swamp for long. Within about ten minutes of running (none of us acknowledged each other, everyone remaining focused on getting out of there), we reached dry ground. There were a couple hover vehicles, basically shaped like trucks with long beds, parked there. The group split up, each half going to one of the trucks. Oh boy, did I hope my guy wasn’t supposed to drive. 

He wasn’t, a fact I found out as one of the other guys gave me a push toward the back of the nearest truck, saying something in Latin that amounted to ‘the hell are you waiting for, let’s go.’ 

Right. Here went nothing. Glancing toward the sky, I moved to climb up onto the truck’s long bed, just as it took off. I barely managed to drop onto the long bench, prompting a few chuckles from the three other guys back there. They were all obviously nervous, glancing up at the sky now and then just as I had, while the truck sped across the open plains. Not that I’d ever been there, but it seemed a lot like driving across the serengeti. Save for the fact that the tall grass and trees were a pale purplish-red color scheme. I saw more wild animals on the way, including a herd of what looked like blue antelope with ram-like horns, and a huge red-black giraffe whose neck extended out to twice its already-decently long length to snatch a soaring bird right out of the sky with its wide, toothy mouth. So, not really like a giraffe then, got it. 

The other guys were talking, but I kept my head down to avoid them paying too much attention to me. Now and then I was asked a direct question about what I thought was going on and how bad it was, and mumbled answers. Luckily, everyone was so focused on the attack coming from above that they didn’t really focus on the person sitting right with them. They believed I was the guy I was supposed to be, so they didn’t question it too much. 

How was I going to do this? When should I make my move? I needed to get close enough to Nicholas Petan to explain the situation. Which seemed hard to pull off in the middle of a war zone. I could find a place to hole up and wait for the attack to be over, then approach him. He’d definitely recognize me, after what happened last year on the Meregan world. I just had to get to him. He could fix this. He’d sent Tristan back in time, after all. Recently, actually, if my math was right. He’d sent Tristan back, so he’d be able to send me–wait, Dexamene. To make this whole situation work out as well as it had, he had to send Dexamene back first, to the Meregan world so she could help Elisabet, who would in turn help me end up here–damn it, time travel was complicated. 

The point was, he had to send Dexamene back to set off the dominoes that would lead to me not ending up Fossor’s nicely packaged prisoner. I would worry about trying to figure out what had happened in the timelines where she wasn’t sent back there to create this loop later. Maybe. 

Of course, shit couldn’t stay uncomplicated for long. My idea had been to get to the outpost, find a place to hole up, and wait for the fighting to be over before approaching Petan. Instead, there was a sudden shout from one of the other guys in the back of the truck. He was already standing up, pointing toward the sky. I followed everyone else’s gaze, looking that way in time to see some kind of space fighter zooming in. And from the way these guys were reacting, it wasn’t one of theirs. 

“Oh… balls,” I managed, just as the fighter opened up with a stream of lasers. Everyone else had already started to fling themselves out of the truck. I followed suit, boosting myself slightly to leap up and off the side, landing in a roll through the tall purple grass just as the truck blew apart in a deafening explosion. The concussion wave from the blast knocked me flat against the dirt, hitting me like a hard kick right across my back. Oww. 

Snapping out of that moment of being dazed, I rolled over and looked up in time to see one of the troops I’d been with extending his arms, vine-like, up toward the passing starfighter in an attempt to grab onto one of its wings. At the same time, a handful of small, spiked tentacle things extended from his legs to drive themselves into the ground, as though rooting him there. Around him, a few others were already picking themselves up and shooting at the fighter. A distraction, I realized belatedly. They were sending lasers to hide the extended arms that were about to grab the wing. 

Not that it mattered in the end, as a handful of magic runes suddenly glowed brightly on the back of the ship. It vanished from sight, only to reappear back where it had been when it first opened fire. Magic. Teleportation or a physical rewind spell or something. Whatever it was, all the shots and the extended arms missed. And the ship was in prime position to open fire on the troops, which it did, raining hell down on them. In those brief couple of seconds, I saw seven men get blown apart by spaceship lasers. It was a total massacre. 

And then the fighter hovered there, orienting toward… me. Wait. Shit, right, they didn’t know I wasn’t–fuck. Eyes widening, I boosted myself as hard as I could, lunging up and out of the way. My speed boost, coupled with the strength of my legs and arms, shoved me a good fifteen feet away, where I rolled just as those lasers tore through the ground where I had been, sending dirt and debris spraying everywhere. 

Unfortunately, whoever this pilot was (or gunner, I supposed), they were really good, adjusting their aim almost instantly. Even as I came back to my feet, the lasers were about to fire at me again. 

Well, shit. Here went nothing. Seeing the ship start to open up, I focused on my energy absorption power. I’d been trying not to use it, considering I wasn’t sure exactly how much damage I could safely take. But just as the shots came, a flash came to mind. A memory from those weeks spent with Fossor. He had taught me to manipulate death energy, and there was a lot of death around me from those guys who had just been vaporized. With a thought, I yanked at that energy, pulling it into myself to use as a temporary boost before instantly shoving all of it into my absorption power. It just sort of… worked. I guess it was sort of like having a nitrous boost on a car, overcharging my absorption to the point that my whole body started to glow. 

Then the ship lasers hit, and I was really glowing. My body was hot. So hot I was literally smoking. My eyes burned, my skin was sizzling. But I was alive. I was in one piece. 

I was also standing in a small crater. Literally standing there in a hole, my body glowing so much I could see the light I was casting reflecting off the dirt around me. Discharge. I had to fucking discharge this energy, before it burned me inside out. 

No way was I going to attack the ship that had just fired at me. This was all a misunderstanding. They thought I was one of the bad guys, one of the Seosten troops. So, instead of launching all that energy back at them, I pivoted and pointed to the remains of both of the already-destroyed trucks. The power erupted from my hands like… like when you shake up a soda bottle really bad and then open it up. I was literally knocked backward a step from the force of the power that launched itself that way, utterly annihilating the remains of the trucks. 

Please. Please let the guy or whatever up in that ship understand what that meant. He’d shot at me, I absorbed the power and demonstrated that I could have destroyed him, but didn’t. Please let that mean he’d actually talk to me. 

It worked. Holy shit, it actually worked. I saw the fighter hover there for a few seconds as if taking all that in, then it slowly began to descend. He was going to talk to me. Thank God. He’d talk to me and I could explain the whole–

Something hit the fighter. It just fell out of the sky, splatting like a… like an overripe peach or something. Only it was bloody and… and there were tendrils snaking out of it. . I could see eyes, like… a snail. Fuck, it was a giant snail with tentacles wrapping around the ship, tearing it apart. I barely hurtled myself out of the way as the fighter crashed to the ground, exploding on impact. 

The snail-tentacle thing was destroyed in the process. But, lying there on the ground, I looked up to see more of them. And other… other things. Ships. Only they weren’t mechanical. They were living things. Enormous, tentacled, monstrous living ships, similar to things I’d seen before… when the protective spell around Earth had almost been destroyed because Koren and I had figured out who Dare really was. 

“Fuck… everything…” I managed. 

The Fomorians were here. 

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Homeward Bound 8-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Emerging from the portal, I found myself standing shin-deep in a dark swamp. Which was just super-lovely. Between the smell, which immediately made me want to retch, and the feeling of the slimy water against my legs, which also made me want to retch, I was doing great. Seriously, everything smelled like rotten eggs and a few dozen boys locker rooms. It was bad. 

Wrinkling my nose and trying not to gag too much, I turned in a circle while looking around. In addition to stinking so much my eyes almost watered, this place looked creepy as hell too. The green water was sort of… mucus-like, and there were tall, crooked and gnarled trees with long red and black vines hanging from the otherwise bare limbs. Here and there were large boulders.

Swamp. Swamp in every direction. How was this supposed to help me? Why had I sent Elisabet the message to have me sent here? According to her, I was supposed to have ended up in a ‘hazardous situation.’ That was all she was allowed to tell me. That and that I was supposed to ‘act on instinct’ rather than follow a script. That was why she couldn’t just tell me what to do. So now I’d gone through the portal, ready for that so-called hazardous situation, only to end up in a swamp with nothing and no one else in sight. Which was disconcerting, to say the least. 

Keeping my eyes open, I whispered under my breath, “Okay, so where are we now, exactly?” 

“Nowhere near Earth, or my world,” Rahanvael answered, her ghost appearing nearby. The glow from her form illuminated the area around us a little bit, but that only served to make things look even more creepy. “And, with any luck, nowhere near any of Fossor’s people.” 

Shaking myself, I nodded, putting my arm up against my nose. “Yeah, lucky us. At least we’re not back in Fossor’s hellhole now.” Pausing, I felt my stomach roll a bit for a different reason than the smell. “But my mom is. So let’s go. I’m supposed to act on instinct, and my instinct says walk this way.” I pointed in a random direction. “It’s as good as anything, I guess.” 

So, I started walking, picking my way through that awful snot-like liquid that filled the swamp. After a few steps, I belatedly focused on the infrared vision power I’d picked up back in Vegas to check around me. There were a few hot spots, mostly parts of the snot-water that were apparently best to avoid judging from the temperature I could see. But not many. There actually wasn’t much in the way of visible heat at all around here. Still, trudging through this dark swamp was made slightly better when I could actually see somewhat to be warned about any animals. 

Thinking about animals, of course, made me ask myself what I was going to do if they had anything like crocodiles around here. Which was a thought that made me quickly produce my staff with Jaq and Gus attached. Seriously, I’d had enough to deal with already without adding in possible monster crocodiles in this snot-swamp. The constant stench in this place was almost bad enough to qualify as an attack on its own.

Thankfully, one of the first spells I’d learned back at Crossroads had been the one to create breathable fresh air. And between my lessons with Shyel and the instant-inscription power, it was easy for me to touch the collar of my shirt to inscribe the spell there, activating it. A second later, the air I was breathing smelled and tasted a lot better. Which helped, as I began to trudge forward through the swamp while switching between my special vision active to watch for any heat signatures, and my normal vision to double-check that I wasn’t being snuck up on by something that might not register to infrared. Between all that, my item sense, that anti-stealth vision thing I’d picked up from the Pantler, and Rahanvael scouting ahead now and then, I could hopefully avoid being ambushed. If there was any more ambushing going on today, I wanted to be the one doing it. 

For awhile, I just walked in silence, trying to think about everything that had happened. Mom. Fossor. The others. We’d been so close to escaping, then that asshole pulled this shit. And if I didn’t get back there, if I didn’t stop his plan… No. I would get back there. I would stop him. But right now, I had to focus on the immediate situation. Which was getting out of this swamp.

Eventually, I estimated that I’d been walking for about forty-five minutes. At that point, Rahanvael appeared in front of me, finger raised to her lips for me to be quiet. A moment later, I heard a series of heavy thudding sounds, punctuated by loud splashes. Something really heavy and large was stomping its way through the swamp ahead of us. 

Already crouching, I looked over to Rahanvael, keeping my voice to a barely audible whisper. “What did you see?” As I asked that, my eyes were scanning the swamp ahead of me. The heat vision could make out what looked like that ‘really heavy and large’ thing in the distance, but it was pretty far away. From here, it just looked like an indistinct blob of red/orange.

The ghost hovered down next to me, her voice equally quiet. “There’s a party of soldiers following the big thing from a distance, spread out to surround it. I believe they’re hunting the creature. Multiple species involved, but similar armor. I wasn’t close enough for details.” 

“Okay,” I murmured, “let’s see what else we can find out.” To that end, I reached out, quietly breaking off a small twig from a nearby branch. With all the noise that big thing in the distance was making, I probably could’ve gone bowling without attracting attention. But still, there was no sense in pushing things. 

With the stick in hand, my eyes closed. I focused on the power that allowed me to mark objects to see and hear through them, imprinting it onto the little twig. Then I held my free hand up, pointing high into the sky over the general area the creature and the people hunting it were in. A moment later, two portals appeared. One was right in front of the hand with the stick, the other far off and high up, where I was pointing. 

The second the portals appeared, I tossed the stick through and dismissed them. Then I closed my eyes once more and focused on the observation mark I’d made. Suddenly, I was seeing through the twig itself as it fell toward the ground. And more than that, I was still seeing in infrared mode, even through the stick. Which meant I saw the huge heat signature coming from the big guy who was making all that noise, as well as a total of eleven smaller signatures spread out around it, clearly in stalking mode. From what I could see on my stick’s drop toward the ground, they seemed to be semi-herding the creature somewhere. Or luring it, more like. The thing seemed to be following or chasing a couple of them, unaware of the others. 

Focused as I was on trying to see as much as possible and wishing my stick would take longer to fall so I could take in more, I almost didn’t notice that… well, the stick was taking longer to fall. Actually it wasn’t just dropping slower. It had stopped falling entirely, and completely frozen in mid-air, giving me time to take in the full view below.

It only lasted for a few seconds, before the stick started falling again, rapidly hitting the swamp below, landing with the tiniest plink in the snot-water as I dismissed my connection to it. But for that moment, the thing had absolutely been frozen in mid-fall. Which… wait, was that some kind of new power? Fossor had made a point of not wanting me to find out about any new powers I’d gained in those past few weeks during my tournaments. He said it was because he wanted me focused on my Necromancy. 

What had I fought with a power that could explain the object briefly hovering? Was it something with gravity manipulation, telekinesis, wood control…? No, no, everything from the past few weeks blended together, and I knew I was forgetting something important. The answer was right there, but I was too distracted by this whole situation. There wasn’t time to think about that stuff. 

I had the idea of where all the heat signatures out there were, anyway, and where they were moving. Figuring out the specifics about this new power, assuming that’s what it was, could wait. 

Quickly, before the situation could change more, I duplicated my previous motions of grabbing a small stick, marking it to see through, and creating linked portals. This time, however, I made the portal that was close to me lower, holding the stick over it. Then I winked at Rahanvael. “No time to waste, huh?” With that, I possessed the wooden stick, throwing myself inside of it. Instantly, as my hand stopped holding it, the twig fell through the portal, which itself vanished an instant after that since I wasn’t focused on it anymore. 

Suddenly, I wasn’t just seeing through a falling twig. I was seeing through a falling twig that I myself was inside of. Which was an… odd experience, to say the least. As the stick dropped toward the swamp below, I took in the sight of where all the beings under me were, focusing mostly on the heat signature furthest away from any others. I could see it moving, cautiously stalking after the much larger creature. It looked like my guy (or girl) was playing back-up, there to keep whatever that big thing was from retreating once they sprang their trap. 

As the stick I was inside of fell, I experimented a bit. Yeah… yeah, with a thought, I made the falling stick suddenly stop in mid-drop. It went completely motionless in the air. I tried to hold it like that, but whatever it was still only lasted about five seconds before the stick started falling again. 

Either way, I’d aimed myself pretty well. The stick I was in hit the snot-water directly in the path of the heat signature I’d singled out. Even better, there was a tree nearby. Keeping myself under the utterly foul liquid (a disgusting prospect all by itself), I popped out of the stick, eyes closed as I reached out to grasp for the tree. My hand found it, and I threw myself into the wood. 

There. Now I was in the tree, and could still use my thermal vision to see the figure approaching. They were humanoid, dressed in some kind of skintight environment suit that immediately made me jealous. Seriously, the thing even had a thin hood and mask thing to cover their face. I bet it had some kind of fresh air tech attached to it without the need for a spell. They probably hadn’t smelled this swamp at all. Lucky. 

Worse, from a tactics point of view, was the fact that I could see the very faint glow of a forcefield. It didn’t seem like a very strong one, probably just meant to keep the swamp at bay. But still, it meant I wouldn’t be able to make contact with the figure to possess him and end this whole thing instantly. Which was annoying. But I had other options beyond Seosten possession. That was the whole fun of being a Heretic, after all. 

I heard him speak in a low voice, apparently talking to the rest of his team. He was speaking in Latin, but the fact that he was talking slow and quiet meant I could keep up with most of it. In essence, he was telling the others to stay calm and that if they managed to kill the thing they were hunting (he called it a Leunphia), they’d be able to harvest enough blood and bones from it for someone back at their camp to run his experiments for another month, to say nothing of the food it would provide. He paused then, apparently listening to one of the others speak, before replying with what sounded like a quiet agreement to a superior officer. 

All of which meant that my target was clearly focused on the creature he and the rest of his group were hunting. Despite that, he was moving cautiously, watching everywhere he stepped. Unfortunately for him, he only glanced up briefly at the branch of the tree he was moving under. His gaze moved away before he could see both my hands emerge from directly above him. 

Both of my hands grabbed either side of the man’s head. My hands held two pieces of wood from the tree with them. Pieces of wood that were pressed against his head as I shifted my focus to the image inscription power, creating and immediately triggering a couple quick spells on those pieces of wood. The first was the same ‘taser’ spell I’d used back at the secret subway in Vegas while controlling Marian. The second was the privacy spell I’d learned so long ago, with this guy and myself the only designated ‘safe’ people. It stopped anyone else from hearing as he jerked, spasmed, and cried out while collapsing. His forcefield might have been enough to stop me from making direct, possession-capable contact. But it wasn’t enough to protect him from the electric shock. 

He hit the water, and I dropped the rest of the way out of the tree, landing on top of him while he was still reacting to the electric shock. Even then, he didn’t have time to orient himself before I boosted myself, instantly shifting into my werelion form while lashing out with one enormous paw. The blow completely blew through whatever had been left of his minor forcefield, knocking the guy to the side where he lay limp and still. 

Ew, fuck, wet fur. Worse, fur that was wet with snot-water. Quickly shifting back to myself, I moved to the figure, checking him. He was unconscious, but breathing… somewhat. 

I possessed him. With the forcefield down and him unconscious, there was nothing to stop me. As soon as I did, I scanned through the man’s mind. His name was Tuun, and he was part of a species known as Baugev. Essentially, they were orange-skinned humanoids with red, orange, or white hair, who had powers involving tracking, identifying blood-related family members in various groups they looked at, and varying levels of bone manipulation. Actually, it sounded like these were the same guys Pace had gotten her own ability to create that bone armor and the bone darts from. 

Unfortunately, I also noticed something else. This guy, Tuun, was terrified of the idea of being possessed, of losing control of himself. Seriously, it was like this horrific phobia for him, one he had spent his entire life acting as a loyal soldier for the Seosten in order to avoid. If he woke up and found himself possessed after all, it would… it would really fuck him up. But worse than that, he’d gone to the extent of getting a friend with some kind of mental gift to instill a thing in his brain that would kill him if he ever found himself possessed. This guy was so terrified of being bodysnatched, he’d actually literally rather die. Maybe I could undo that with enough time, but I didn’t have that time. Even if I wanted to ignore how freaked out being possessed would make him, he’d set things up so that he would keel over and die if I woke him up. 

I couldn’t just instantly let him go. This whole thing was life and death for a lot of people. Fate of the world stuff. But I could, at least, not wake the man up and sentence him to death. 

Quickly, I searched his memory for anything important. The planet I was on was a colony known, to the Seosten and their people, as 992144, a simple outpost meant for research and little else. There was a large assortment of slaves kept here, mostly to explore and tame the land (only a small part of it was this swamp), doing grunt work. As far as I could tell, my guy Tuun here treated the slaves as well as could be expected. He did his job, wasn’t overly-cruel, and tried not to attract Seosten attention. Again, that phobia of being possessed. 

Scanning all of that through his memory only took a few seconds. I was getting better. Then I gave his mind a push to stay unconscious before popping myself back out of the man. Turning, I put a hand against his arm. That time, I focused on the power that allowed me to move physical objects I was touching to anywhere else I was touching. Specifically, I moved the bodysuit he was wearing from him over to my own body. We were about the same size. Plus, I knew from scanning his mind that… yup, the second the suit appeared on me, it automatically adjusted to fit properly. 

Tapping my hand against his hood, I put that on my own head as well. Tuun was left essentially in his skivvies, but he’d survive. I carefully picked him up, leaning him against the nearby tree. From a ‘pocket’ in the environment suit, I produced a thick, blade-resistant cord, using that to bind the man to the tree. I left the bit of wood with the privacy spell nearby so it would keep affecting his ability to be heard, and left him there. The man would eventually be able to cut his way free, but by then it hopefully wouldn’t matter. It was the best I could do without killing him, which… I’d had enough killing over the weeks that I’d been trapped with Fossor. This was the first time I’d really had a choice about killing or not and I was choosing to leave him alive. Maybe it was stupid, but it was my choice, damn it. 

Straightening up, I realized belatedly that my own clothes were bulky under the form-fitting environment suit. A thought sent them from my body to my hands, before I stowed them in one of the suit’s larger-on-the-inside pockets. Finally, I was ready. 

A sudden voice in the radio of the helmet demanded to know where Tuun was and why he wasn’t in position. Immediately, I spoke, using the voice-mimicking power I’d gotten from that guy back in the hospital when we were saving Avalon. It came out sounding exactly like the man I had just knocked out and tied up, responding in Latin, “Thought I saw a zeuk fly. False alarm, it was just an alvest.” All information I’d pulled from his memory. It would be bad for their group if a zeuk fly had been around, a good reason for him to have gone silent for a minute. 

“Well,” came the response that I translated in my head to English, “are you ready or what?” 

Smiling to myself, I focused, using my facial-shifting power to make myself look like Tuun through the hood’s clear mask. I looked like him, I sounded like him, and I had enough of his memories. 

“Yeah,” I replied simply, also in Latin, of course. 

“I’m ready.”  

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Homeward Bound 8-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, you know, no pressure or anything. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I was through the portal, and gone. 

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Homeward Bound 8-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Okay, apparently when Fossor decided to get someone out of the way for awhile, he didn’t go in for half-measures. Fuck. I’d really pissed him off this time. Now I was stuck somewhere far away from Earth. And worse than that, I had also been hurtled several years into the future. Years. He’d gone all out to send me pretty much as far away from him and his plans as physically possible. Which, in some ways, was almost flattering. It made me realize how angry he was, how much I’d actually gotten to him that he was willing to go to those extreme lengths. 

But this was bad. Really bad. Years–how many years? How long had I been gone exactly? How far ahead had I been thrown, and how far away? Where was I and when was I? And in the time that had passed, how much shit had Fossor gotten up to? What had happened on Earth in the time that I was gone? What had happened to my friends and family? Had Fossor… had he carried through on his threat? Was everyone I knew now the undead slave of that monster?  

Those thoughts and more, a rush of panicked terror, blew through my mind in those few brief seconds while I was coming to terms with what Rahanvael had said. I was in the future. Everything I’d been trying to stop had already happened. Or been stopped without me, hopefully. But… but years. Years had passed and I was nowhere near Earth. I had been gone. 

For a brief moment, I considered using the Seosten possession recall ability. Now that I wasn’t trapped in Fossor’s place, the default recall should link me to my dad. I could recall there and… no. No, anything could’ve happened back there. If Fossor had gotten his spell off and me recalling back to my dad triggered it for me… yeah, it would all be over. And I didn’t trust my own skill not to accidentally send my whole self there even if I tried just connecting mentally. 

Or maybe I was simply terrified of what I would see if I peeked. If I used the mental recall, connected to my dad, and found out the whole… that everyone was dead, I wouldn’t be able to control my reaction. I would probably fully recall without trying. Then I’d either be Fossor’s dead puppet slave like the rest of them, or surrounded by all the people I loved who already were. 

Worse, my dad could be dead entirely. What if trying to recall linked me to someone like my Grandpa Arthur? What–would I even recover from that? Even knowing I wanted to go back to stop it, how would I get past knowing my father was dead?  

Anything could’ve happened back there. Everyone I knew, everyone I loved, could be a dead and risen necromantic slave for that evil, despotic piece of shit. What if… what if they were…

“Felicity.” The pretty, yet eternally sad face of Rahanvael floated in front of me, hovering over my head as I lay there on my back. “Stop. You’re panicking too much. Breathe. Close your eyes.” 

“Close my eyes?!” I stared at her, blurting, “How the fuck can you tell me to close my eyes when–” Then I stopped myself as she held up a hand. She was right. I had to calm down for a second. I was already in the future. It wasn’t like I could get any further in the future.

Wait. No, yeah, I got further in the future with every passing second, sure. That was the whole thing of how linear time worked. But still, the point was that the damage had been done. A few more moments wasn’t going to make any difference at all. I had to stop and collect myself. 

So, I closed my eyes. Folding my hands against my stomach to ward off its violent, uncomfortable rolling, I took a long, deep breath. It was shuddery, and I could feel the terror, confusion, and anger in myself as I let out the breath. I did it again, then a third time. Breathing. I had to breathe. Panicked, horrified, desperate as I was, I had to make myself think straight. 

After another moment of that, I stopped breathing so heavily and just laid there, eyes closed. Okay. I had it. I was together. Oh, I was still freaking out, of course. No way would that disappear so easily. But I had something of a fence put up around that panic, and had basically designated one corner of my mind to focus on that while the rest dealt with the situation at hand. 

And speaking of the situation at hand, my eyes opened. I stared up at the white, spotless ceiling over my head before pushing myself up to a seated position. Right. Now I could breathe and focus, so I had to deal with the situation that I was actually in. I had to take this whole thing one step at a time. And the first step of that was to figure out where I was, exactly. Also when I was, but that could come after I established my physical location. And just how much trouble I was in.

To that end, I slowly looked around the room once more, taking in details. As with the first time, everything was gleaming silver and white, immaculately clean. The room was about twenty feet across and forty feet long, with three control panels along the narrow end opposite me, a sealed metal hatch of some kind behind me on the opposite narrow end, and a handful of viewing ports or windows (or just video screens, possibly) showing a selection of stars. 

The problem was, thanks to my time at the Aelaestiam base that had become the Fusion School, I knew that seeing stars didn’t necessarily mean anything. Again, those could be holographic screens showing a view of stars that were several trillion miles away. Or further.

“Do you know where we are?” I asked quickly, glancing toward the ghost figure hovering in the corner before I moved to look at the nearest console. On the way, I glanced at the stars. Yeah, I wasn’t an astronomer or anything, but I was pretty sure none of those stars were anything like what I would see from anywhere near Earth. “Any of those look familiar to you?” A second later, I blurted, “Wait, are we near your planet?!” Yeah, that thought had suddenly struck me. Of course it made sense that Fossor might hurl me toward his own planet. Where else did he have more control of the situation? On the other hand, if he did send me to his own world, why had I ended up here, in this place, all by myself? That was… wrong. Something was wrong about all this. Beyond the obvious point that I had been teleported years into the future and far away from home. Why was no one here? Wherever I was, there should’ve been somebody ready to meet me, right? Fossor would’ve had all that time to get ready for my arrival and either be here himself or have someone else waiting. Was the fact that he wasn’t a sign that he’d lost? Did I dare hold out that kind of hope? The idea that Fossor had been beaten while I was gone flared up in me and I just… wasn’t sure what to think of it. It would be an unbelievable relief in almost every way to believe that Fossor had actually been beaten and that I didn’t have to do anything. 

But on the other hand… I didn’t believe it. I didn’t know why he wasn’t here, or why there wasn’t at least one of his people here waiting in this exact spot for me after he’d had years to prepare, but I was almost positive it wasn’t because he was gone. I honestly didn’t believe I was that lucky. 

Wait, time travel. How did that work? Was–was it possible that I would go back into the past, help everyone beat him back then, and that was why he wasn’t here to find me now? That was possible, right? That could be how this whole time travel thing worked, if it was–ergh. Headache. My head hurt. Time travel was annoying. On top of all the other horrific atrocities he’d committed, Fossor had to make me think about the mechanics of time travel? Bastard. 

Rahanvael’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “No,” she answered firmly, no trace of uncertainty in the words. “We are nowhere near my homeworld. The stars are different. I don’t recognize them. I know we’re very far from Earth, but how far, or where… I’m not certain. I’m sorry.” 

“So, we’re somewhere else,” I muttered under my breath, before focusing on my item sense. 

Or rather… trying to focus on my item sense. Nothing happened when I did. I couldn’t even sense the stuff I was wearing, and I was pretty damn sure I wasn’t naked. A quick glance down confirmed that. Yup, definitely not naked. I had all my clothes and everything. I even had my staff. It was lying a few feet away on the floor, with Jaq and Gus sitting on top of it, watching me. I couldn’t sense them either. 

One by one, I tried several other powers. Portals, infrared vision, nausea liquid generation, and more. None of them worked. Nothing worked at all. 

“There’s a magical field within the room,” Rahanvael informed me when I blurted that out. “It’s possible that the field is blocking your powers somehow. I am still here because I’ve bound myself to you. Try to force me to move.” 

I focused on that for a few seconds before exhaling when nothing happened. “Right, so I’m trapped here in this room. Can you get out? I mean, on your own.” 

She tested that, putting a hand against the nearby wall before shaking her head. “The magical field seems to be keeping me here as well.” 

“Right.” My eyes rolled. “This is definitely feeling like a Fossor thing. He knew you were with me, and he’d want to keep you here. But if so, where is he?” 

“Do you really want him to have been here waiting for you?” my ghost companion pointed out.

“Fair,” I muttered before punching my own palm. “Okay, if Fossor set up this trap or whatever but something’s stopping him from being here, let’s see if we can get out before he gets back.” 

With that, I focused on the nearby consoles. The holographic controls meant nothing to me. There were what looked like words on some of them, but they were in some alien language. “Do you understand any of this?” I asked, gesturing that way a bit helplessly. 

Rahanvael floated over, squinting at the controls for a moment before answering. “No, it’s not a language I understand. Wait, look.” She pointed to one of the other nearby control panels. 

“What?” Moving that way, I looked down. What was she–wait. Felicity. One of the holographic levers had the word ‘Felicity’ right above it. That… couldn’t be a coincidence, right? Every other bit of language around here was made out of completely alien symbols that didn’t look anything like the English/Latin alphabet. The odds of that ending up with an exact copy of my name was just… astronomical. If I ever got back home, maybe I’d ask Vanessa what the exact odds were. 

When. When I got back home, damn it. Because whatever it took, I was going to get back home. I was going to get back to my family. Whether that would be in the now time or after managing to get sent back to the past… err… present, damn it, past-present was up in the air.

“Okay, it says Felicity,” I murmured aloud, squinting at it. “But do I trust that? I mean, obviously it’s supposed to tell me to pull the lever. But why would I do that? It could be Fossor or one of his people. Maybe I pull this lever and some kind of inescapable forcefield pops up or something. Or it summons a bunch of ghosts or zombies or something. Can you imagine how much he’d laugh if he actually managed to trick me into pushing the button that ends up trapping me again after all that? Seriously, that’s something he’d do, just for shits and giggles.”  

“You’re right,” Rahanvael agreed in a quiet murmur before looking over to me pointedly. “He would. But on the other hand, you are already trapped here. We are years in the future, on some far side of the universe, trapped in a room that is shielded by magic to stop you from using your powers to get out of it.” She offered me a shrug then. “Besides, remember, your friends were all right there when you were sent away. They’ve had years to figure out where and when you were going to end up. It could be them somehow extending help.”

Considering that briefly, I grimaced. “Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point. I’m stuck here already. But… damn it. But if I pull this thing and I’m wrong…” I trailed off, trying not to dwell too much on just how bad it could be.

If I had my powers, I could just leave. The hatch wouldn’t have stopped me. Not for long anyway. I could’ve just gone through and taken my chances with seeing what was in the rest of the station. But no, I had to deal with it this way because some asshole put up a magical field blocking those powers. Which I didn’t even know was possible, so fuck. 

Either way, I had to pull this lever. There was no other choice. Yes, it could be a trick from Fossor, but at that point, what did I have to lose? Besides everything that I had to lose. 

“Fuck it,” I finally blurted, reaching out to grab the lever. It was made of solid-light, warm under my grip as I yanked the thing down while holding my breath. I really wished I had my powers right then so I could’ve pulled the lever through a portal from the other side of the room. 

The lever went down, and… there was no visible trap. Fossor didn’t pop up to laugh at me or anything. Better still, a very low hum that I hadn’t even consciously noticed abruptly stopped. 

“It’s gone,” Rahanvael quickly informed me. “The power-negation field. It’s not here anymore.”  

Instantly, I tested that by using my item-sense. She was right, I could feel everything around me again. I could feel my staff, my cyberform mice, my clothes, the hatch, the electronics in the consoles in front of me, everything. 

I could also sense that there was no one beyond the hatch. Well, no one my power could detect anyway. They could be shielded, or just be a creature who didn’t wear clothes or armor. Still, it was somewhat encouraging. Actually, just having my powers back was encouraging. 

“Let’s get out of here,” I announced, heading for the hatch. My hand reached out for it, then I stopped. Wait. Just because my item sense couldn’t pick out anything didn’t mean everything was hunky dory. Time to be smart about this. Especially since I still didn’t know anything about where I was or who else might be here. 

To that end, I touched the hatch and focused on one of the powers I’d picked up recently, from that car chase in Vegas. It was the power to designate an object, then see and hear through that object. In this case, I designated the door as my object and focused on seeing through it. 

Okay, now I was looking at myself. But by essentially mentally pushing my vision around (it felt like turning my eyes in a circle, which was weird) I was able to shift the view to see through the other side of the hatch. There was a short corridor leading away from the hatch. It was only about ten feet long before it reached another door. To the left from my hatch, there was also a small alcove area where an enormous figure with gray fur and a warthog-like face was lying on his side. A huge axe lay nearby where he had dropped it. Belatedly, I realized there was also a smaller Rakshasa figure next to him, also lying motionless. 

“What the hell?” Shaking my head, I figured the only thing there was to do was go out there. Luckily, a stray neuron fired in my brain at the last second as I was about to do that, and I suddenly stopped myself. “Wait. Two guys—at least two guys out there are down with no visible wounds. This room is sealed. What’re the odds there’s…” As I was saying that, I focused on creating one of my small portals with one hand while still seeing through the hatch to make the other end of the portal out there. Quickly turning off the object-vision power, I turned to look at the portal and sniffed. 

Yeah. Poison. There was poison coming through the portal from the other room into this one. Thanks to one of the guards on the ship back when I’d been trapped in Seosten space (possibly the first time, depending on where I actually was right now), I could smell the poison. Good thing the same power that allowed me to smell the poison gave me a brief immunity to it in order to do so without being affected by it. 

Quickly shutting off the portal before too much of the gas or whatever could come through, I backed away from the spot where I could still smell it. “Okay, that poison smells really bad. And if it was able to put that big guy out there down, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t last very long with it. I can hold my breath for ten minutes or so, but the second I open that hatch, if I don’t have a plan to get rid of the poison, that’s–wait.” Pausing, I looked to Rahanvael. “You can go out there, huh?” 

The ghost girl smiled just a little, giving a short nod. “Would you like me to?” She’d obviously been waiting patiently for me to work my way through all that. When I gestured for her to go ahead, she passed right through the hatch. With a thought, I made myself see through it again, watching as Rahanvael looked at the downed figures before floating right down the short hall to pass through the second hatch there. 

She was gone for a few minutes, but I could still sense her. Things seemed to be fine, so I just waited until she came back. Floating through the hatch, the girl looked to me. “There is another console in a room on the control deck of this small station that is also labeled with your name across several buttons. And there are more bodies, all apparently killed by the same gas.” 

I considered that. “Another console? Right, gonna guess that’ll either totally secure this trap, or vent the poison. Only one way to find out. Let’s go do this.” 

Yeah, there was poison out there. But that was okay, because thanks to one of the other guards on the same ship, I could hold my breath for a full ten minutes. Which would be plenty long enough to get to that lever. 

So, I stooped to grab my staff before moving back to the hatch. Jaq and Gus jumped to my shoulder together, and I reached up with one hand to pat both of them. “Let’s go spring this trap and/or rescue, guys.” 

The hatch was locked, but that didn’t last long. The second I pulled at the manual release, it resisted for just a second. Then my pass through locked doors power kicked on, and the hatch slid open. Just as it did, I took a deep breath and held it. The poison gas was already seeping in, as I moved through the hatch, glancing toward the two bodies nearby. But I didn’t slow down, heading quickly down the corridor. 

Rahanvael led me through the short maze of corridors on this station, around a corner, up a narrow flight of stairs, and straight to the control deck she had mentioned. There were more dead bodies there. Bodies I tried to ignore for the moment while hurriedly stepping over to the console my ghost companion was pointing to. 

There it was. My name was on the console. It was Flick this time, rather than Felicity. But it was also scrambled. The console was covered in buttons, with F over a button in the top right, an L in the bottom left, an I near the middle, C just under the F, and a K in the upper left. Obviously, I was supposed to hit the buttons in the order of my name. 

So, I did just that. Quickly, my fingers hit the buttons in that order. Once I did, the holographic controls vanished before being replaced by the image of a floating hand. After a second, I realized it was the exact size and shape of my own hand. So, I touched it. 

The moment I did that, the very instant my own hand touched the hologram hand, a new sound filled the room. It was the sound of rushing air. The poison was being vented out of the room, out of the entire station or whatever this thing was. A few seconds later, it stopped, and all was silent. 

Well, silent for as long as it took me to exhale and take in a new, fresh breath now that the poison was gone. As soon as I did that, a voice suddenly piped up. “Hello, Felicity.” 

Jerking that way, I found myself staring at a hologram. A hologram of a familiar face. 

“I imagine you have a few questions as to how we brought you here. Hopefully, this recording will help answer enough of them,” the hologram of Elisabet informed me.

A/N: The chapter setting up Elisabet being involved in this was Interlude 2B – Elisabet for Year 2, which can be found right here. And the chapter from several years ago that introduced future Flick in the first place is Interlude 15 for Year One, which can be found here.

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