A/N – The following is a commissioned interlude focusing on how Haiden and Larissa met out in Seosten space. It does not count as a regular chapter on the regular schedule. Thanks so much!
Several Years Ago, In Seosten Space
To an outside observer, the twelve-foot-tall, eighty-foot-wide pile of random junk looked like any of the dozens of others surrounding it in the corner of this old, mined-out section of an otherwise beautiful planet in the middle of nowhere. The planet was known by others in the universe as DRI-97V. To those who lived on it, it was known as Drinz. Or The Drinz for some. The mountains, visible in the distance, appeared to be made of glass, with multi-colored, glowing waterfalls that ensured the nights were never too dark.
Most of the planet that wasn’t glass mountains consisted of either deep, turquoise oceans or fields of deep purple grass. The fields in this particular area, however, had been thoroughly cleared away to leave bare dirt and rocks for buildings. Once considered portables or temporary structures, most had been set up so long ago even the current residents’ great-grandparents would remember them being in position. The whole place was a mixture of those long-standing ‘temporary’ buildings, ramshackle structures that had been built out of scrap to give the too-crowded population more roofs over their heads, and landed ships in various states of utter disrepair. Some broken in half or more pieces and simply used as convenient living facilities. Or even simple lean-tos and makeshift shelters.
One part colony, one part prison camp, and one part town, the society that had been built up on this planet revolved around two things. First, the mining facilities that were spread across the planet, anywhere useful materials could be found. And second, the ship-building facilities that were in orbit above, blocking out a large portion of the sky. Another reason why the glowing waterfalls were important, given their absence would have led to near-perpetual darkness. As it was, the ‘town’ (known to its residents by the same name as the planet, Drinz) was essentially in permanent twilight, here beneath the extensive orbital factories.
The town served as a place where its inhabitants could live and transport daily to the mines or satellite factories for work. They were all considered to be low, barely worth the food it took to keep them working on the materials and ships that were so required for the war. Yet even they didn’t spare a glance for what amounted to a garbage dump for random bits of metal and broken pieces that could no longer be useful. At some point, each pile there would be shuffled off to be melted down for scrap.
Each pile, that was, aside from this one. Not that any of the people who passed by the dump daily on their busy commutes would notice that this one always stayed precisely where it was. Nor did they notice the dark-haired man who stepped off the beaten path and began to weave his way through the cast-off junk toward that specific pile.
Had Haiden still looked like himself, he would have attracted some attention. Mostly because he looked like a Seosten, and that would have terrified everyone in this place about who he was here to take away or punish. But he had used magic to disguise himself. His skin was a dull gray rather than white, his eyes more cat-like. The disguise spell also muted the normal Heretic alarm that Alters looking at him would have experienced. Beyond that, he wore drab, old clothing that made him blend in with everyone else down here. He avoided attracting unwanted attention this way. A necessity if he didn’t want a contingent of Seosten soldiers on top of him.
To be fair, he often welcomed exactly that. Fighting and killing those bastards was one of his main forms of entertainment these days. Fun and practical, given one of them had to have some idea of how he could get his memories back, and get home. But he preferred to do that on his own terms, in places of his choosing. Not here. He survived and kept himself free by carefully choosing his targets, not by willy nilly running around and leading the bad guys right back to the place where he rested and recuperated.
Speaking of which, he glanced around to ensure that he wasn’t being watched, casting his senses outward. Only once he was certain that everything was clear did he turn back to that large pile of junk. His hand reached out to cut on one part in particular, causing a door-shaped opening to appear. Haiden was through it in a moment, blowing the door to slide shut behind him and return to its previous appearance. The pile of meaningless junk was once more a pile of meaningless junk.
The interior of this place was one room, filled with an assortment of random furniture and clocks. A lot of clocks all over the walls, tables, chairs, and even lining the floor. They were from all different civilizations and species, the vast majority of which he still couldn’t read properly.
There were also two beds in opposite corners of the room, each surrounded by a long shower curtain to give the faintest concept of privacy. One was closed, where Haiden’s belongings were stored. The other was wide open, revealing a short, three-foot-tall reptilian being with deep bronze skin and long tusks like a boar. He was fussing with one of his many clocks, apparently fixing it. Or trying to.
“Mutters,” Haiden greeted him. His name wasn’t actually Mutters, but Haiden wasn’t capable of pronouncing the real thing. He muttered to himself a lot, leading to the nickname. It was a name he seemed to like, despite his continued grumbling about that and everything else. “What’s going on?”
“What’s going on?” Mutters echoed, casting a dark look that way. Haiden didn’t take offense, nor did he think that Mutters had taken offense to his presence. That was just the way the old man was. The way he had been ever since Haiden had shown up in this place, years earlier. “I’ll tell you what’s going on, I found another piece of that toy of yours.” While saying that, the man gestured toward a partially-assembled orb sitting on a nearby table. The thing was only about a quarter-complete, with several other pieces sitting nearby that weren’t actually connected yet.
“Another piece,” Haiden echoed, stepping that way while dismissing the spell that altered his appearance so he would look like himself once more. He gently brushed his fingers over the partially-fixed orb. This thing had done so much damage to his family, to his memories, to his life. And yet it was vital that he put the thing back together. In its destruction, he had been magically banished to this world. But he had found that he could move to other worlds that actually held pieces of the orb after it had been shattered and sent those pieces all over the universe. He could go to any planet that had one of the pieces. For the past several years, he had been doing just that, whenever he or his friend Mutters here managed to locate one.
Putting the orb back together so he could undo the spell that had banished him from Earth had turned out to be a very long process indeed. But he wouldn’t give up on it, no matter how long it took. He was going to get his memories and his family back, no matter how long it took.
“Where is it?” he asked the man, glancing that way. Belatedly, he held a hand up. “Wait.” Taking in a deep breath before letting it out, Haiden carefully started again. “What I mean is, thanks for all the work you’ve been doing to find these things. I’d be fucked if it wasn’t for you, Mutters. I owe you a lot, and I don’t know if I can ever repay it.”
A slight orange glow came to the short reptilian man’s bronze skin, evidence of his deep blush. Meanwhile, he was scoffing audibly. “Pah, bah, don’t get sentimental, human. It’s in my own best interest to make you go away. We get this orb put together and you can go back to your own world and leave me in peace.” He huffed a bit more before pushing himself off the bed. It took a moment, and he had to grab a nearby cane, but Haiden didn’t move to help him. He’d made that mistake once and the old man had verbally lambasted him for ten minutes about not needing charity. So, Haiden just waited while Mutters slowly and painfully hauled himself to his feet, leaning heavily on the cane. He shuffled past Haiden to another side of the hidden room, where a transportation rune had been inscribed.
“The place you’re going is a prison colony. Not that there’s a lack of those, but this one’s got the next orb piece you’re looking for. It’s somewhere in the warden’s office, probably on a shelf. Doubt he has any idea what it is, but the shards are pretty and they’ve got magic in them. Not a lot, but enough to make someone like that want to turn it into a trophy. You get in that office, find that shard, then get back here so I can beat your ass at another round of Ipithka. Here.” Raising the hand that he wasn’t using to clutch the cane so he stayed upright, Mutters held his now-glowing palm out toward Haiden. A rush of information flooded into the Heretic man’s mind, all about the layout of the prison, the assortment of guards he would have to deal with, and more. Every piece of information that his friend had managed to piece together about the place, beamed directly into his head in an instant. It was an incredibly useful power, particularly given its ability to be used on multiple beings at once, and was one of the reasons why Mutters had been hiding out here for so long. He didn’t feel like being used as a tool by the Seosten. Not after so many of his people had been used that way for so long. And particularly not after his own son had been killed by the Seosten leader of this mining colony.
Taking in all that information, Haiden staggered just a little. He took a breath before letting it out. “Got it. Okay. Keep the coffee hot, would you? I’ll be right back.”
Grunting noncommittally, the old man brought his staff down hard on the assortment of transportation runes. At a word from him, they lit up, creating a portal. “Just don’t take too long,” Mutters muttered. “If I fall asleep waiting for you and you wake me up with your clumsy oafishness, I’ll show you a real fight.”
Smiling a bit to himself, Haiden promised to be as prompt as possible. Then he stepped through the portal, reaching down to touch the handle of his weapon where it was sheathed beneath the dirty rags he was wearing to assure himself that it was there.
As always with these sorts of transports, there was a rushing sensation as if he was falling down a very long distance. The banishment rune was trying to keep him where he was, but with the other shard on the planet he was going to, the magic containing him got a bit confused. It released him, allowing Haiden to make the full transit. But it still felt weird, sending a brief wave of nausea through the man until he got it under control.
The portal had taken him to a large, rocky outcropping of a cliff overlooking the prison below. According to the information download he’d gotten, this place was a moon with even less going for it than Drinz. It was about half the size of Earth’s moon, and held almost no valuable materials. The only thing here was the prison camp below, where the Seosten kept people they really wanted to be out of the way, yet accessible when needed. They were political prisoners, of a sort. Important enough for the Seosten to keep track of, but not useful to the immediate war effort. Or just people they didn’t want in with the regular population.
All of which meant that they would be quick to mount a counter-offensive as soon as he started causing problems. So Haiden was going to have to be quick about this. He could do a lot of damage when he hit the Seosten unexpectedly, where they were weak or complacent. But even a Heretic like him would quickly be overwhelmed if he gave them a chance to really gather their forces to retaliate. In a place like this, they would have reinforcements nearby. This was going to have to be an in-and-out mission.
The prison itself, laid out nearly a thousand feet below him, consisted of three semi-circle buildings, all with the open parts of the partial circles facing one another, with a larger tower in the middle. The tower was what he wanted. It stood five hundred feet high, so the top of the tower itself was only about three hundred feet below where he was crouched.
Taking a few minutes to observe the guards and other defenses, Haiden waited until the right moment. Then he launched himself off the outcropping and plummeted downward. When he was about halfway to his landing point, the man focused on one of the powers he had picked up many years earlier, while he was still a teenager in training. It allowed him to shrink down to the size of a small coin, passing directly between a tiny gap in the layers of magical defenses. The instant he was through that, he was nearly picked up by a roaming beam of light that would have immediately bathed him in tracking magic. But the tiny Haiden vanished in midair, reappearing on the far side of the beam while it passed on in the other direction.
Now safely past the perimeter defenses, Haiden transformed into his hawk form. Between that and his still-small size, he was unlikely to be spotted by anyone. Soon, he made his way in that form to a small window along the side of the tower. He knew the basic layout of the place and that the warden’s office was somewhere near the top floor. But he had to get inside to get a full idea of where he was going.
Thankfully, that didn’t seem like it was going to be hard. Landing in his bird shape on the edge of the windowsill, Haiden pecked his beak lightly against the transparent material. It was much stronger than glass, but he could still see through it. That was enough. Focusing that way, he found himself outside an L-shaped corridor. A tall suit of gleaming black armor was positioned decoratively at the corner, while two men were talking just under it. With a thought, Haiden teleported himself to the statue’s head, perching there before looking down at the figures in mid-conversation. They were talking in some other language, one he didn’t understand. Still, it was obvious that they hadn’t noticed his arrival, and there were no alarms going off. So far, so good.
It didn’t take long for him to sort out exactly where he was. Then, he simply waited for the men below him to move on, before pushing himself off the statue to fly around the corner and down the hall. His tiny bird form glided through the maze of corridors for the next few minutes until he found the place he was looking for. The heavy twin doors leading into the warden’s office were shut, but Haiden didn’t care about that. He landed, looked both ways, then grew into his full-sized human form before pressing his hand against the metal of the door. A moment of focus allowed him to make that metal push itself apart so he could slip through the opening and into the incredibly palatial office beyond. The room was enormous, with a fireplace taking up most of one wall, large enough to drive a car into. The man who ran this prison really enjoyed fire. There was a raging inferno in that fireplace right now, the room shielded from the majority of the heat by a thin forcefield.
“Wow,” Haiden remarked, his hand snapping out to throw his long, black-bladed sword to one side without looking. The weapon flew that way, narrowly missing the throat of the elderly Seosten man seated behind the enormous throne-like chair behind the equally massive desk. It drove itself most of the way through his seat, stopping him in mid-motion from reaching for the alarm button on the desk.
With the man sufficiently halted for the moment, Haiden continued while turning that way. “Talk about a waste. How much fuel are you burning every day just to keep that going?”
The warden opened his mouth, but Haiden moved abruptly. In an instant, his speed took him clear across the room so he could kick that desk, sending it skidding backwards. The desk slammed into its owner, carrying the warden with it as the thing slid all the way up to the far wall and pinned the man there.
“Hey, hey, hey now!” the gray-haired Seosten blurted, hands raised while being mindful of the blade embedded in his chair (and now into the actual wall behind him). “There’s no need to get violent. I’ve heard of you. Yes, you’re the rogue human who’s been running around for the past few years. You know a lot of people call you a myth? Which is kind of funny when you think about how we Seosten got along on that planet of yours.”
Taking a few steps that way, Haiden offered the man a very faint smile. “Oh, it’s hilarious. And you must be Warden Yaqroun. Now, I know we probably don’t have long here. So let’s make this really quick. I’m going to ask you one question, and if I don’t like your answer, I’ll just take your head off and find my own–”
“No, no,” Yaquroun immediately blurted, “there’s no need for that. I assure you, I outgrew any lust I had for blood and glory quite some time ago. Give me your word as to my continued health and freedom, and I will gladly tell you exactly where she is.”
Haiden’s mouth opened to retort, before he paused. Stepping closer, he moved around the desk. His hand took hold of the hilt of his sword, and he pulled it free. Then he placed the blade very close to the warden’s throat, voice low. “Tell me… exactly… where who is?”
Larissa Mason had been through a lot over the past couple of years, ever since she ended up trapped in Seosten space. Not that she blamed Sariel for that, given the alternative would have left her in the not-so-tender mercies of that Fomorian. No, not only her. Sarah too. Sarah would have been–the thought of what that creature would have done to her daughter was far worse than anything that had happened to her here. The Seosten were bad, but they weren’t Fomorian bad. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The Fomorian had been dragged through with her as well, brought along when Sariel had pulled her back toward her own body. So it wasn’t left behind. Sarah was safe. She was safe. That alone was enough to keep Larissa’s spirits up. She wanted to get back to her family, had to get back to her family. But at least she knew that her child hadn’t been left alone with that monster.
For almost three years now, she had been bounced back and forth between various Seosten prisons and labs while they tried to figure out what exactly Sariel had done to make Larissa immune to being possessed.
Yes, that specific thing had been a real surprise to both Larissa and her initial captors. The fact that they couldn’t possess her, no matter what they did, had sent a real tizzy through the Seosten leadership. Some wanted to kill her and be done with it, but others thought that was short-sighted, given it wouldn’t actually answer the question. If they really wanted to know why she couldn’t be possessed, they had to keep testing various things.
So, the woman spent her time either being poked and prodded both physically and magically, or working in one of their many prison camps. She couldn’t be possessed, but they had other ways of ensuring she didn’t go anywhere. Specifically, a metal bracelet they had locked onto her wrist that would do very nasty things if she wandered too far from their supervision. She had tried to get it off, but they were rather experienced and effective at making sure such things were secure. Between the materials they used, its construction, and the active spells they put on it, she didn’t have a chance. Not that that stopped her from working on various plans, but nothing had panned out so far. Still, she was able to maintain her hope almost solely because she knew her daughters were safe.
The truth was, she had no idea why she was immune to being possessed. Thankfully, the Seosten were smart enough to employ truth spells and assured themselves that she wasn’t lying about that. Of course, they were still piece of shit slavers who went to great and sometimes painful lengths trying to find out what had been done to create that possession immunity, but it could have been worse. Or so she often told herself while sitting in various laboratories or cells.
Cells like this one. It wasn’t the worst prison that she had been in ever since being captured. The cell was about eight feet by ten feet, with a cot for a bed, a toilet in the corner with a privacy curtain, and a table. On that table was the one bit of entertainment property she had been allowed to keep wherever she went. It was what amounted to a holographic e-book reader. One of the guards at a previous prison had been nice enough to fill it with a random assortment of stories and novels from all over the galaxy. Some of the tales didn’t really translate very well, but it still helped her avoid falling into a pit of boredom-induced despair. When she wasn’t being tested or put to work in various back-breaking jobs, she was left alone in her various cells for days or sometimes weeks at a time. Aside from the food and water that was delivered, of course, and that was often automated. Her tray would simply appear by magic on the table or floor.
Having stories to read certainly helped, and she would be eternally grateful to that Seosten guard who gave her the book reader. And, in some ways, to the wardens of her various prisons who elected not to take it away from her. As long as it wasn’t a threat or a weapon of some sort, they didn’t really care. Though there had been a few close calls.
At the moment, Larissa was sitting on her cot, staring at the reader over on the table. She was gingerly running her fingers along the knuckles of her other hand, which were bloody and bruised from the past twelve hours she had spent lifting and moving machinery in one of the work pits. She was strong and healed quickly, but still. Sometimes it was hard to tell which was worse, being left alone for weeks with no one but herself to talk to, or the multiple days of intense hard labor that came whenever someone got a bee in his bonnet and decided that wearing her energy out would fix the whole possession issue. And they always thought they were the first one to come up with that plan, or that they had some unique solution for it. They wanted to make a name for themselves by fixing the ‘problem.’
Still, none of that was as bad as the ones who decided that pain was the solution. Thankfully, that didn’t come up too often, but it had been a thing more than once. And that was what made her entire time being imprisoned even worse. Not simply the torture sessions themselves, though they were very bad. It was the not knowing that was the worst part. On any given day or week, she had no one idea what sort of time she was going to have. She could be left alone for a month, then go through several days of a scientist deciding that near-drowning would provoke some sort of response that would eliminate the possession immunity, or give them a better idea of what caused it. She could believe that a month-worth of being left alone was coming, only to be interrupted two days into it for a week of hard labor. Every time she woke up, the woman had no idea what the day would bring.
Today had been one of the labor days, and she was pretty sure the next day would be too. Now she just had to hope that they hadn’t decided to try depriving her of food again, because her regeneration absolutely needed more fuel. She had only been back in her cell for about ten minutes, so there was still time for them to send her meal in. But she was starting to have a bad feeling about it.
That bad feeling was interrupted as Larissa felt the sensation of being watched. She glanced at the door, though it didn’t help. The door itself appeared to be solid metal from this side, though she knew from experience that it appeared clear from the other side. Between that and the sense-blocking magic along the walls of the cell, someone standing in the hallway could watch her in this cell and she would have no idea they were there. Which was a large reason she was grateful for the privacy curtain around the toilet.
Still, as she sat on that cot and stared at the door, Larissa had the strongest feeling that there actually was someone there. Which didn’t really mean anything, of course. Even if there was someone there, it wasn’t like various scientists or guards staring at her was anything new. She had spent the past several years essentially being an object of curiosity. Or, in many cases, hatred. They really didn’t like the idea of people being immune to their possession powers. It made them nervous, to say the least.
So, she was very accustomed to being looked at like some sort of circus attraction at the very best. And yet, as she sat there and stared at the door, she couldn’t help but feel like there was something different about this.
The sound of the various locks being undone on the door proved her right, and Larissa rose to her feet. She had no idea if they were going to order her back out to do even more work, run tests, give her food in person, or… or any of a number of other options, some of them quite unpleasant. But no matter what they were coming into the cell for, she was going to meet them on her feet. She wanted to be ready in case… well, in case.
But, standing, sitting, or laying down, she never could have been ready for what she saw when the door opened. A man with long black hair, wearing what looked like old beggar rags and holding a long black sword with a red line running through it, stepped into view. “Larissa?” he started, gaze finding hers. “How’d you like to get the hell out of here?”
Wait, was this a trick? Some new test? Larissa hesitated, frowning as she looked the man up and down. “You… you’re not Seosten?”
He snorted, shaking his head. “Believe me, you’re not the first to make that mistake. Here.” Without another word, he transformed into a hawk, flew in a quick circle around the room, then turned back into himself. His hand gestured as he made the four metal posts of her cot snap in half before sending them flying around the room as well. Then he let them drop and looked to her again. “Satisfied?”
“You’re human,” Larissa agreed. “But that doesn’t mean much. You could be possessed.”
There was a brief pause before the man inclined his head in agreement. “Sure, and I wish I could tell you how to do this spell to expel any possession, but you don’t have any reason to believe it really work–”
“I know the spell,” she interrupted. “I–a friend taught me. You have an engraver?”
“Can you do it quick?” the man asked, flipping the tool in question to her before holding out his hand. “I sort of made a mess on my way in here.” Even as the man said that, they could both hear alarms going off in the background. “We’ll have a lot of company soon. Then I’m pretty sure it won’t matter what I am.”
Grabbing the field-engraver, Larissa hurriedly stepped that way. She drew the spell on his hand and watched him carefully. There was that flash of pain, but no Seosten emerged. If Sariel had been right–and she believed the woman was, the man couldn’t have been possessed. Unless it was by one of the Seosten their people referred to as Lies, but that… that was a rabbit hole she didn’t want to go down at the moment.
“Who are you?” she demanded then. “How did you get here? What did–never mind, save it for later.”
“Good idea,” the man agreed before producing a triangular piece of silver metal about four inches long. There were runes on it, which glowed as he touched the thing to the bracelet on her arm. “Let’s just make sure they can’t track you.” Meeting her gaze, he added, “Courtesy of Warden Yaqroun, with a little encouragement.”
The bracelet opened and fell to the floor a moment later, and Haiden exchanged the key for a stone that he pulled from his pocket. With his sword held in one hand, he ran his thumb over the rock, murmured a word, and then threw it at the ground. In the next instant, he grabbed her arm to yank her over with him. “Hold on!”
A bright blast of energy enveloped them, just as they could hear guards approaching at a run. Then it felt like they were falling. It wasn’t nearly as bad as when she was yanked all the way out here from Earth, but still. Larissa’s stomach twisted into knots as she felt herself flipping end over end through empty space. Then, just as suddenly, the sensation stopped as they appeared through the other end of the teleportation. The floor came up to smack her as she fell face-first against it with a grunt.
“Ugh,” the man next to her muttered. “That’s never fun, and I guess it’s even worse pulling someone else with you. But hey, guess we made it.” He reached down, helping her up while addressing someone else. “I know you’re gonna be annoyed about this, Mutters, but trust me, we didn’t– Mutters?”
Finally able to look around the small, enclosed space, Larissa asked, “Where are we? Who–”
Before she could say anything else, the man snapped, “He’s not here. Why isn’t he here? He’s always here. He doesn’t go anywhere.” Even while saying that, he took a step toward one of the cots in the room. As he did so, there was an audible click as his foot crossed a beam of some sort, and then a hologram appeared in the middle of the room, right next to them. It made both of them jump backward.
Then Larissa got a better look at the three-dimensional image of the bronze-scaled short reptilian figure. A quick glance toward her rescuer made her ask, “Your friend?”
He nodded, even as the hologram spoke in a gravelly, disgruntled tone. “Hey there, kid. Assuming everything worked out, you’re standing here with a girl of your own kind right now instead of just one of those shards. Eh, don’t get me wrong, you better have gotten the shard too. If you didn’t, you’re a bigger dumbshit than I thought you were when you first showed up. You better have the girl and the shard, or I want you to smack yourself in the head for me right now.” There was a pause before the recording went on. “No? Good. Hey there, Miss. Welcome to my home, I hope it’s better than where you were a few minutes ago.
“Anyway, I never really told you this, human, but I’m glad you showed up when you did. It’s made these past few years pretty interesting. But the thing is, before you showed up, I only wanted to do one thing, and that’s make the keurgfyet who killed my son pay for it. Probably would have done something about that a long time ago if it wasn’t for you. That’s not a complaint. I’m glad I had the chance to work with you. But I’m getting too old. If I waited much longer, I wouldn’t ahh, I wouldn’t have had the strength to do what I needed to. I made a bomb, and I’m going to carry it with me into that Seosten monster’s office, then I’m gonna blow both of us into the void.”
Eyes widening, the man pivoted as though to run out of the room. But the hologram spoke first. “Ain’t no use running off like that, kid. It’s over and done with by now. I left as soon as you did. But I didn’t want to leave you by yourself. That’s just–that wouldn’t be right. So for the past year, I’ve been putting feelers out, trading favors, doing what I could to try to find that family of yours. And that just… I couldn’t find them. Your kids, your wife, they’re hidden pretty good. But I found the girl next to you. From what a few of the Seosten have been saying, she used to be possessed by a Seosten woman who went rogue, got married to a human, and had hybrid kids. It’s some big secret that not many know about. And most of them that do are ashamed of it, but rumors get around. Especially when you can call in the favors that I can.”
The hologram waited for the two surprised humans to absorb that, Larissa spinning that way. “You’re Sariel’s husband?!”
“Sariel, her name is Sariel. I–yes, I–” the man stammered, clearly taken completely aback by the sudden revelation. “My name is Haiden. I don’t know my last–”
“Moon,” Larissa interrupted. “Haiden Moon. That’s it. That’s your–”
The hologram of Mutters continued. “Like I said, I didn’t want to leave you by yourself when I gave this monster what he had coming to him. Couldn’t find your family, but I feel like this might just be the next best thing. So, when I found out where the lady there was, I had an old… old friend gift one of those shards to the warden there, as a trinket. Yeah, sorry, I’ve known where that one was for awhile, but since you can only go where the shards are, I thought it might be useful to move somewhere else. And here we are.
“Anyway, you keep doing what you need to find the rest of those shards. I’ve got more leads on the desk over there. Find the shards, find your family, get home. Have yourself a good life. You deserve that much. Course, you also deserve a smack upside the head sometimes, but maybe your new friend can give you that much too.
“Like I said, it’s been good to have you around, even if I didn’t always say it. I missed my son, and you gave me another little idiot to look after for awhile.” There was a long, heavy pause before Mutters continued. “I’m glad to have known you, Haiden. It’s made these past few years worth it. Good luck with everything else coming in your life. I feel like… it’s gonna be a busy one.”
Again, there was a pause before he continued in a soft voice. “When my son died, I spent a long time thinking I’d be moving on without leaving anything good behind to carry on.” The hologram seemed to find Haiden’s gaze, staring through him while giving a single, decisive nod. “I’m glad to say I was wrong.”
The message ended there, the hologram vanishing. Haiden and Larissa were left in silence, staring at one another. She was the first to find her voice. “Do you want to go try to stop him?”
“No.” Haiden’s own voice sounded hollow, as he closed his eyes against the dampness that had overtaken them. “Like he said, it’ll be too late. Besides, I wouldn’t take that away from him. He owes the motherfucker up in that ivory tower and… and he deserves to deliver it.”
He stood like that for a few long seconds, eyes closed and arms crossed. He thought of everything he had been through over the past few years and where he would have been without Mutters. Finally, he exhaled heavily and opened his eyes to look at the woman. “So, you’re Larissa. Sariel talked about you. There’s a lot of details that were fuzzy or blocked, but they’re starting to come back already. I think meeting you unlocked some stuff.”
Swallowing audibly, Larissa straightened a bit before replying, “I’ll tell you everything I can. Sariel… she did a lot for me. Now she’s in trouble. She’s–she’s in a lot of trouble. We have to find her.”
“We do. We will,” Haiden agreed. “But I have to know something first, before we get into all of that.
“How the hell did you end up all the way out here in a Seosten political prison?”