Grover Clyde

The Runaway 15-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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The moment the horrible ghost woman was gone, I fell to my knees and gave a deep gasp. Even with help from Tabbris, and my ridiculous stamina, that had taken a lot out of me. A large part of it, of course, was actually channeling all that power into my necromancy and using it properly. It was a lot to push through my system. I had to sit there for a few seconds to catch my breath. Mom and Asenath had already rushed forward to see what happened to me, while Sean and Twister moved to check on Francis, who had apparently passed out the moment Kushiel disappeared. While I was busy catching my breath, I felt my little sister step out of me to quickly explain that I was okay, just really exhausted after all that. 

My head bobbed as I looked up to see them staring. “She’s gone. Not for good, but it’ll take her a while to get herself sorted out after getting hit that hard. And even then she can’t get back here without a lot of help.” Biting my lip, I looked over to where Francis’s limp form was. “Is he okay?” 

“Breathing,” Sean confirmed. “I think he’s sleeping it off. Whatever Kushiel was doing to keep him paralyzed while she wasn’t even possessing him, it looks like it packed a pretty big wallop. Which, what was she doing? How the hell is any of that possible? Is it all just Tartarus bullshit?” 

“I don’t know,” I admitted weakly. “All I know is that we don’t have to deal with her right now.” 

“But we will have to deal with her eventually,” Mom murmured, her voice dark as she gazed off into the distance. “A problem that should have been dealt with and gone for good, yet suddenly she’s back again and somehow even worse. Strangely, that isn’t nearly as surprising as I feel like it ought to be.” 

Grimacing it despite myself, I offered a weak, “I’m sorry, I should have been able to handle her. I’ve got all of this power from two different necromancers, and she’s a ghost. But she was just so strong. It’s like that Tartarus place is still fueling her or something. I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure, she’s not just going to go away. She’ll keep trying to get that sword. I just…” 

“First, don’t apologize.” That was Asenath, her hand moving to squeeze my shoulder as I knelt there. “Seriously, if it wasn’t for you, we would have been completely screwed. She has her old power plus now she’s a ghost, so she’s even harder to hurt without the right skills. It may have taken a lot out of you, but you still got rid of her. At least for now. And next time, we’ll be more prepared. This was a complete ambush and you still handled it better than most would have.” 

“Yeah, what she said,” Sean agreed. “That bitch be as crazy strong as she is just plain crazy. At least now we’ve got the time to practice and prepare stuff for whenever she shows up again. There’s some anti-ghost spells in some of the books I’ve been looking at, and she feels like just the right pain-in-the-ass spook to use them on.” Belatedly, he glanced over to Grover and Seth. “Uh, no offense.” 

Seth just blinked at him. “Why would we be offended by you wanting to get rid of that psycho bitch? Come on, I wanted her to burn in hell when we were alive, so I’m sure as fuck not gonna start feeling attached just because we’re both dead. We’re not suddenly kin or something.”

“Yeah, man,” Grover put in. “Hashtag not all ghosts.” Leaning over, he stage-whispered to me, “Did I use that right? I feel like that’s how they were using it back in the Runaway.” 

My mouth opened to confirm that before the word ‘runaway’ suddenly made me remember the other person in the room. With a gasp, I turned and looked over to the corner. Denise was crouching back there, looking like she was trying to disappear. As everyone else followed my line of sight, she cringed. “I–I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. I didn’t want to help her. I don’t even know what’s going on, I don’t–I wasn’t trying to–I was–” 

“Denise.” Speaking quietly, Mom took a step over there, going down on one knee near the girl, but not quite close enough to touch. She was clearly worried about scaring her even more. “It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. We’re the ones who should apologize. We didn’t know you would remember anything. We didn’t…” She trailed off, exhaling. “We thought you could go back to a normal life. I suppose we should have known better.” There was a brief pause before she amended in an even softer voice, “I should have known better.” 

That made the girl blink in confusion, her eyes taking the rest of us in before her head shook. “I don’t know what you’re–I don’t… wait… I know you. I mean, I don’t. I don’t know you, right? But I do. But I… I don’t. You’re… I’ve seen you before. But I haven’t.” She made a helpless noise in the back of her throat then. It was clear that this was confusing her even more. 

“Denise,” I started while pushing myself up so I could move over to take a knee next to my mother. “Maybe you could tell us what you remember, then we can help by filling in the blanks. It’s okay, no matter how… strange you think it is, we’ll believe you, I promise. Just tell us what you’ve seen, what you’ve heard. Just… talk to us. We’ll help, I promise.” This whole situation was so much to get into (seriously, it was so much), that it felt like the best place to start from was by finding out what the girl herself already knew. 

So, Denise launched into the story of everything that had been happening to her over the past long while. It was a horrible story to sit there and listen to, knowing how many answers we could have given her. She had been having nightmares about her death and about Ammon’s own memories. Somehow, she was dreaming about all the terrible things he had done. His memories were mixed in with hers and it was really screwing her up. Not only that, she had indeed also somehow ended up with his power. Despite the fact that the power transfer thing was only supposed to be temporary (and, I was pretty sure, was only supposed to give her his Pooka power for that temporary time rather than everything), it seemed to have been permanent. She had his power and some of his memories, though all jumbled together. That was why she was having nightmares. She dreamed of being murdered by him, and of being him as he murdered her. Seriously, how fucked up was that? No wonder this kid was having a hard time. That would have been bad enough by itself, but she was also dreaming about all the other people he had killed. And seeing ‘monsters’ because the Bystander Effect wasn’t working properly. Monsters like Mercer, whom she had used Ammon’s power to make forget about that whole debt thing. So that explained that whole situation. 

The only positive part of all this was that Ammon wasn’t actually back. Not exactly. She had some of his memories, but it was still Denise in there. She was still in control. Yeah, positive in the sense that Ammon wasn’t back. Instead, Kushiel was. Honestly, I’m not sure that was really an improvement. Sure, Ammon’s power was terrifying,  But we had people who were immune to it, and he was still just a kid. Kushiel could conceivably be a hell of a lot more dangerous. 

But in any case, right now we had to focus on Denise. Who apparently also remembered a bunch of fairly inconsequential, academic-like stuff from her previous life. She remembered math and science and history that she had learned as a high school student, despite technically looking like she belonged in middle school. Which wasn’t exactly a problem, really. But it did add on to her confusion, which was even more stressful. Yeah, this poor girl needed help. And by help, I meant an explanation. She desperately needed, and definitely deserved, an explanation. 

“Sean,” Mom started once the poor girl had finished telling her side of the story, “I believe things should be fairly safe now. Could you go down and find Mennin to let him know what’s going on, and have him send some help for Francis?”  

As if her attention had only just turned that way, Denise abruptly blurted, “I-is that a robot dog?” 

“Sure is,” Sean confirmed, putting a hand on his head. “This is Vulcan. Vulcan, why don’t you go say hi?” 

The cyberform promptly moved that way, trotting closer. He passed my mother and me, before sitting on his haunches right in front of the girl. Denise hesitated, then reached out to tentatively touch his snout. Running her fingers along his mouth curiously, she inched closer, then slowly put both arms around Vulcan in a hug. One that I was pretty sure the poor kid desperately needed. 

Apparently Sean agreed, because he told Vulcan to stay here for now. Then he headed out for the medical room, calling back that he would find out what was going on with the other guests too. 

Once he was gone, I looked toward Denise once more. She still had both arms around Vulcan, clinging to him like a lifeline. “Okay. So, we do have answers for you. Some of them are really not… some of them are gonna freak you out. But it’s the truth. We won’t lie to you, I swear.” 

“Yes,” Mom agreed. “You deserve… a lot. But the very least we can give you is the truth.” 

So, we started from the beginning, at least as far as we could while still being vaguely relevant to Denise. We told her about Crossroads and Heretics, about the rebellion and my mother being sent away with a new memory, and eventually being taken by Fossor. We told her about Ammon, and how he had been turned evil. Then we got into the fact that he had gone to that gas station while on his way to find me

“That girl worked there,” Denise filled in, her voice full of trepidation as she clung even tighter to Vulcan. “He killed her, didn’t he? I saw her memories too. I saw… I mean… what?” She was looking at all of us as we stared at her, clearly reading the trouble in our expressions. 

Realizing how hard this was going to be, my mother and I exchanged looks before she turned back to the girl and started to gently explain the full truth. She started by calling Twister over, before the two of them explained what a Pooka could do beyond turning into animals, how they would ‘respawn’ as a child upon being killed, then mentioned that Ammon had forced one to ‘kill’ himself, thus inheriting his power. Twister tried to explain what it was like, waking up as a child once more and then gradually getting the memories of her past lives back. 

From the look on her face, I had the feeling that Denise was starting to put things together, though she was clearly still in some denial. She held onto Vulcan even tighter while watching, eyes completely unblinking as she waited for the other shoe to drop.  

In the end, Mom tried to lower the shoe as much as possible before dropping it, but there was no way to stop it from hitting the floor. Taking a deep breath, she explained exactly what had happened, that the dreams about dying Denise had been having weren’t dreams at all, but her actual memories. She told the girl exactly how that whole thing had gone down, and how she had transferred Ammon’s powers to her in order to bring the girl back to life. She also told her about how she wasn’t supposed to remember anything, and that the powers were supposed to be incredibly temporary, only lasting for a few seconds at most. Just enough to bring her back. 

“If I had had any idea that you would actually remember anything, or retain any of it, I would have… I would have made sure someone was there for you.” There was pain in Mom’s voice,  and I could tell she wanted to reach out to the girl, but didn’t know how it would be taken. She clenched her hands and quietly added, “I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through. I’m sorry no one was there to help explain things to you, and I’m sorry you’ve had to try to understand this all on your own. You deserve better than that. Much better.” 

Denise didn’t respond at first. She stared at my mother, then at me, then looked down at the floor. Her grip on Vulcan remained tight as she made a low whimpering sound deep in her throat, clearly trying to cope with what she had just been told. I tried to think about how I would feel in her position, but I couldn’t even imagine it. Even after everything I have been through, I wasn’t sure how I would cope with being given the story that Denise had just been given. It was too much. How was she supposed to cope with the amount of shit that had just been dropped on her? She wasn’t just finding out the monsters were real and all that, she was also finding out that she had literally been murdered and brought back to life as a younger version of herself. 

“I know it’s a lot, kid,” Twister put in. I expected her to add a joke or something after that, but instead, she simply added, “Some of us Pooka have a sort of group meeting sometimes where we can talk about our memories. You know, the ones about being killed, and all those times where we don’t remember our past lives and think we’re just normal people. Sometimes the real memories kicking in are… well, kicking is the right word. Like a mule. It can really hurt. So, you know, you can come and be a part of that, if you want. Anytime you want, when you’re ready.” 

Staring at the floor and silence for several long seconds, Denise finally pushed herself up and folded her arms tightly, turning away from us. Her shoulders were shaking visibly, though no sound emerged. After an extended moment of that, she took a long, deep breath before quietly speaking. “I’m scared. I thought getting answers would make things better, but now I’m even more scared. You e-explained everything, but it didn’t help. It doesn’t help. I’m–he’s… he’s still there.” She turned it back to us, fists clenched. “I can feel him. I can hear his voice. I can see the things he did, the things he wants to do. And now… now I know it’s not just in my head. He’s really evil and he really killed all those people. He killed me. They aren’t just dreams. They’re real. And the things he makes me think about when I look at my mom and dad, they’re what he wants me to do. He wants me to kill them.” Tears had flooded her eyes, as she shook violently while standing there.

It was Twister who moved first, stepping over to embrace the girl tightly. Again, there were no jokes, no off-color remarks or attempts to break the tension. She just held onto Denise and let the girl cling tightly to her as the tears continued to pour out, uncontrolled. A dam had burst, and it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Not with how long Denise had been holding so much of it back. She had answers now, but as she’d said, the answers didn’t exactly fix things. 

“But you won’t,” I found myself saying before even realizing that I was going to speak up. The words came without conscious thought. And it wasn’t because of Tabbris, because she was still out of me. “You’ve already proven you’re stronger than him, than those memories. You were all by yourself and you still beat his memories. You resisted. You already proved you can beat him. And now you’re not alone anymore.” 

Mom gave a short nod. “That’s right, and you’re not going to be alone again. I don’t… I know you probably don’t want to be around us very much. Not after what you just found out. But we have people you can stay with, others who can help you understand your… power and how to get through those memories and dreams. We have friends who can be there for you.” 

For a moment, it looked like Denise was really fighting to find the right thing to say. Her mouth kept opening and shutting before she looked back to the floor, a frown knitting her brow. “Can’t you just erase those thoughts and memories? You do things like that, right? You could take his memories out of my head, right?” 

Again, we all exchanged looks before I hesitantly answered, “We have someone who might be able to do something with that, but I don’t want to speak for her. She’s definitely an expert at that sort of thing, so if anyone can do it, she can. But she’ll have to talk to you for a while and find out for herself if it’s possible. And how to do it without hurting you.” 

Swallowing, she met my gaze. “I just want them gone. I just want him gone. I just…” Her eyes closed and I saw a few more tears fall as she whispered in an exhausted voice. “I just want to sleep without dreaming about killing people.” 

Oh boy, what was I supposed to say to that? I had no idea. The only words that would come was a very weak, “Come with us and we’ll get you some help. Somehow.” I didn’t know if it would be as easy as just removing those memories or not, but somehow we would help her. 

“What about my parents?” she asked then, just as weakly. “They think I’m at my aunt’s. I… I lied to them.” Her voice was even more pained than before at the admission. “It was bad. It was wrong. But I had to tell them something. I had to… I had to leave, before the dreams made me… before…” She shuddered visibly, unable to go on. 

“We’ll work out what to do with your parents, I promise,” Mom assured her. “We’ll figure all that out later. Right now, we just need to have you talk with Sariel and see what she can do. That’s the first thing.” 

Even as she said that, the doors opened and several uniformed medical people came in, escorted by Sean. He waved them over to where Francis was (someone had put a pillow under his head). One of them split off to move over to check on Denise as well, taking a knee while having her sit in a chair so he could ask medical-related questions. 

Meanwhile, the rest of us moved out of the way for the moment. Feeling a tap on my shoulder, I turned to see Seth there. He arched an eyebrow. “So, seems like this ghost problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Think I could tag along with you, Miss Necromancer?” 

“Do you mean the problem of Kushiel being a ghost, or of you being a ghost?” I found myself asking. 

“Sure,” he replied with a sly wink before sobering. “Seriously, better than sticking around and haunting this place even longer. Last time I checked, you’re where the action is.” 

“Yeah, hey, me too.” That was Grover. “Your life seems pretty exciting. I want to see more. Besides, you still owe me a stabbing.” 

Glancing toward Asenath, who was standing in a corner of the room trying not to stare too much, I gestured. “Yeah. You’re welcome to stay. I need more ghosts. But uhh, maybe you should go talk to her, huh?” 

Giving me a brief salute, the man turned and moved that way. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other, and I didn’t want to eavesdrop. It was between the two of them. 

Instead, I looked over at the doorway, where Koren and Rebecca had arrived. They looked at me questioningly, and I exhaled before stepping over to explain what was going on.  

They listened, with obvious increasing incredulity about the whole thing. Partway through, however, I paused and looked toward my mother. “Why do you think Kushiel was so convinced that sword was in here?” 

“Oh!” Denise piped up. “Um, because it was.” As the rest of us stared, she darted off the chair, moving to the fireplace to root around inside it before coming out with something long wrapped in cloth. She carefully set it down on a table, then unveiled… the sword. It was absolutely the right one, fitting the description perfectly, with a black blade, a red handle, and an amber jewel at the end. The sword, it was here. It was right here the whole time.

“What… but… but…” My mouth opened and shut, staring at the thing. “You said you couldn’t find it.”

She, in turn, squirmed a little uncomfortably. “I thought umm, I thought it’d be bad if she got it. She said she’d kill people if I didn’t help her find it, but I’m pretty sure she wanted to kill people anyway. I thought if she found it, everything would be worse. If she killed people because I didn’t give it to her, she would’ve done that anyway. But if she killed even more people because I did give it to her, it would’ve been my fault. I umm… I know it’s bad to lie. Am… am I bad?” 

“No, Denise,” I started. 

“Denny,” she interrupted. “I umm, please. Please call me Denny.” 

“Sure, anything you want,” I agreed while continuing to stare in disbelief at the sword. “But you’re not bad, Denny.

“In all, I’d say you’re pretty amazing.” 

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The Runaway 15-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – The first non-canon for Summus Proelium this month was just released for everyone right here

Seeing Seth as a ghost had been a pleasant sort of surprise. This? This was basically the worst kind. Seeing Kushiel there, even as a ghost, made me reel backward. This was wrong. This was all wrong. She was supposed to be gone completely. And how was she possessing Francis? I didn’t–what–how? All those questions rushed through my head as I stared open-mouthed at the figure. 

“Lady,” Mom announced, “I don’t know who you are, but you’re going to explain just what the hell is going on here. And let Francis go. Now.” Even as she spoke, my mother focused, producing a gleaming silvery-gold sword out of nowhere, with runes inscribed on it that were glowing with energy. I had no idea what it was or where it came from, but it seemed pretty dangerous. My mother clearly wasn’t playing around. 

“It’s Kushiel,” Sean informed her in a flat voice, without taking his eyes off the woman in question. He had one hand on Vulcan’s head, while the cyberform gave a low growl. “Puriel’s wife. Theia’s mother.” 

“Her name is not Theia!” Kushiel practically thundered. Seriously, the room shook a little bit, with paintings and light fixtures rattling against the walls. Her ghostly figure turned a bit red, and seemed to actually give off a bit of heat. “She has no name, she is Mendacia. She could have earned a name if she worked hard enough to help fix what she is, but she wouldn’t. She didn’t. She has no name. And even if she did, it certainly wouldn’t be that name.”

“What are you doing?” I put in, before we could get more off track. Besides, I really didn’t feel like letting her talk about Theia at all. She didn’t deserve to. “How are you controlling Francis? And what the hell did you do to Denise?” Even as I said that, I gave the girl in question a quick glance. She had moved to hide behind the nearest couch, peeking over it with a tiny whimper when I said her name. 

“What am I doing?” Kushiel echoed, her voice reverberating through the room once more. “Well, little girl, as it turns out, it would seem that being dead is not exactly the end for those of us with enough of a Tartarus gift. We still have things to do. That energy, that power… I can still feel it.” She looked at her own semi-translucent hand, clearly marveling. “Yes, I am a ghost. But you can feel for yourself, not the ordinary sort. Tartarus sustains me, gifts me with the strength to resist even your control. I even maintain my ability to possess and control others.” She glanced over her shoulder at the motionless man behind her. “In exchange for service.” 

“Something’s wrong,” I murmured. “This isn’t her. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. She’s different.” 

“Different?” Kushiel glowered at me, gaze seeming to burn straight into my soul. “If I have changed in some way, perhaps it is the fault of the creature who murdered me.” 

“That creature is your own daughter!” I snapped back. “The one you abused and tortured for most of her life, just because she’s different.” 

“She is an abomination!” The ghostly figure roared. That time, several of the paintings fell off the walls and I felt a blast of heat fill the room. It was enough to make me wince a little bit, though it only lasted for a moment. “And I assure you, she will get what is coming to her.” 

Mom spoke up then. “You are not going to hurt anyone else.” As she said that, the sword flared to life with light blue flames. A form of ghostfire, I was pretty sure. 

“You might want to think twice about using that,” Kushiel retorted darkly, even as her form seemed to fade just a little bit. She didn’t disappear, but most of her body turned even more translucent. Except for her eyes. Those flared even brighter. “Even in life, I was a bit harder to harm than you might assume.” 

“She reflects damage to other people,” I put in. Mom knew that, she’d heard the stories. But I wanted to make sure everyone remembered, just in case. High as tempers were right now, one wrong move could turn incredibly bad. “You hurt her, she makes it hurt someone else instead.” 

Kushiel’s cold, dead gaze focused on me. “Very good, child. Gold star for you. That is what they say on this backwater, nothing world, isn’t it? Several gold stars. Have all you want. For all the good they will do you.” 

Twister, straightening up beside Sean, replied, “How do you know she even still has that power? I mean, she’s a ghost. Did she really get to smuggle that sort of gift past Death Customs?”

A look of amusement crossed the woman’s gaze, as she stared Twister down. “Oh, by all means, have a go if you wish to see for yourself. Or, perhaps you should ask the child there.” 

Denise, with a tiny gulp, managed to weakly put in, “They tried to hurt her when she showed up. Mr. Gale did, before she… before she took him. But everything they hit her with, it… it hurt other people.” 

Great, so there was our confirmation. Kushiel really had kept her power after death. Because that was fair. Sometimes I really just wanted to look at the sky and scream bullshit as loud as I could. Not that it would actually help anything, but it might make me feel a little better for a few seconds.  

Asenath finally spoke up, her voice quiet. “But what does Denise have to do with any of this?” 

“That child?” the tall, ghostly woman gave a contemptuous glance that way, making the girl in question whimper and duck down again. “Everything and nothing. I sensed the dark presence in her as soon as they brought her in. The power she has, I can smell it. For months, I had no firm presence in this place. I floated through its walls, my form… scattered. It was so… difficult to focus, to think. I was dreaming of Tartarus, of what has to happen. Dreaming of what must come, but unable to bring myself together. I could not force myself to coalesce, no matter how hard I tried. Like attempting to wake from a deep slumber. The protections within this place forced me to continue my aimless drifting, my sleep, my dreams. When that child was brought into this place, I felt her presence like a beacon. It helped me bring myself together, just a bit more. Not enough, but it was better than nothing. And then… when the man who has been entrusted with this hotel’s care left the premises, my head cleared even more.” 

Mennin, I realized. His mother was gone, and when he had left to come collect us, it somehow removed the protections that had stopped Kushiel from bringing herself together fully. I didn’t know how or why that was a thing in the first place, but it was the only way this made sense. For a certain definition of ‘making sense.’ The thought that all of this had started happening just because we pulled the man away from the Auberge was enough to send a cold chill through me. 

“I felt my strength return,” Kushiel was saying. “For the first time in months, I truly felt like myself. And I knew what to do. I took their protector.” She gave a dismissive wave of her hand toward Francis, who was still standing motionless, staring at nothing. “I took his body for my own. He fought me, as she said. But it was both meaningless and too late. And, of course, it did not help that he was distracted attempting to aid the child there.” 

“She killed them,” Denise managed in a voice that cracked from fear and grief. “They were trying to h-help me, and she… she killed them. She killed them and their… their ghosts were there. But sh-she took them. It was like she… swallowed their ghosts.” 

That was enough to make Grover and Seth each take a step back, while Kushiel gave them a dark smile. “Yes, absorbing other ghosts does seem to help with my own focus and strength. And I am getting a bit peckish.” 

Denise went on quickly. “I tried to stop her, I tried to use the voice, but she didn’t listen. It didn’t work. I-it didn’t do anything.” 

Kushiel was immune to Ammon’s power? That raised even more questions. Was it a ghost thing or–yeah, I had no idea. Not to mention the way Denise talked about it seemed to indicate that she wasn’t actually being controlled by Ammon’s memories or whatever. But that opened a whole new confusing can of worms that we didn’t have time to get into thanks to the elegantly dressed and psychotic ghost elephant in the room. 

Denise was still talking. “Sh-she said she’d stop killing people here if I helped her find the thing she’s looking for. I-I didn’t want to, but she promised she’d leave everyone else alive if I found it.” 

“Yes, and you have failed at that repeatedly, haven’t you?” Kushiel shot back, her harsh voice making the girl recoil and drop back behind the couch once more with a choked sound of terror. 

Asenath quickly snapped, “Leave her alone! What the hell are you even looking for in here? What do you want?”  

From the corner of my eye as she was saying that, I noticed Seth move to put his hand on her shoulder, only to fail as it simply passed through the girl. He glanced down at his hand and grimaced. 

“What do I want?” Kushiel echoed the question, just as she had the earlier one. “What I want is what belongs to me. Perhaps if you children assist that one in finding it, I will be grateful enough to allow you, and everyone else who still resides in this pit, to live for the time being. Who knows, if I get what I want, I may be so pleased that I will spare you permanently.”

We really were in trouble here. I had been trying to get hold of her ghost form with my power this whole time, to no avail. It was that Tartarus energy. Not only was it somehow sustaining her as a ghost and allowing her to do far more than she should have been able to, it also made it impossible for me to make my Necromancy latch onto her. It was shielding her or something. Or it just made her ghost too different for my power to get a good grip. I could sense her pretty well now. Hell, I could even sense the link she had to Francis, like a piece of her sitting inside him. Her recall point. 

Either way, beating her the easy way was out. At least for now. Worse, none of us had the sort of power it would take to kill Kushiel without having it rebound back on one or more of us. I was curious whether Tabbris’s wings could destroy her without being reflected, but I wasn’t sure. And that really wasn’t the sort of thing that you could just test. If I was wrong and the damage from the wing blasts could be reflected, whoever it hit would be obliterated. We couldn’t risk that. 

On the other hand, thinking about that made another thought pop into my head. Immediately, I blurted, “Well, it’d be pretty hard to help you find whatever you’re looking for when we don’t even know what it is.” 

“I-it’s a sword,” Denise put in. “A sword with a red handle, a umm, a little yellow jewel at the end, and the blade is black. Like, totally black.” 

“Shit, you really think you can find that thing?” That was Grover, of all people. The young-looking ghost boy had floated up to one side of me, staring at Kushiel. “You know how many of our folks have scoured the whole world for that sword? It’s a myth. And not the real sort of myth. The fake kind. You think you’re the first dead thing to try to get it? I had a pal who wasted two centuries looking for that thing. Never got anywhere. You know why? Because it’s a dumb bedtime story. It ain’t real and it never was.” 

Kushiel looked like she was about to retort, before giving a double-take, her eyes narrowing. “I have no idea who you are.” The words came in a suspicious snarl. 

“Grover Clyde, at… her service,” he replied with a nod toward me. “And like I said, lady, if hundreds of ghosts over the past thousand years can’t find that sword, what makes you think you can within five minutes of waking up?” 

Glowering once more, as her ghostly form gave off even more heat, Kushiel snapped dangerously, “Perhaps it is the fact that I was there when it was enchanted, simpleton. I know who took it. And I know he stayed in this hotel, in this room. It may have been changed and redecorated many times over the centuries, but I know it was here. The blade is in this room somewhere. I can feel it.” 

“Uh, for those of us who have no clue what the hell you’re talking about,” Sean spoke up, “how about you tell us what the hell you’re talking about? What sword? Why do you want it so bad? And why were a bunch of ghosts looking for it?” 

Kushiel’s glower turned that way. For a moment, I was afraid she’d get so hot she might start incinerating things. It was almost like that old Disney Hercules movie, when Hades would get so pissed off he turned red. But this wasn’t funny. It was dangerous, and we still didn’t have a way to safely counter her. Especially not when she could jump back into Francis at any point and suddenly be in control of a Steward-Hybrid within his own home. That was a recipe for disaster. 

In the end, however, I supposed her need for the sword was stronger than her rage. Because the ghost woman calmed a bit, lifting her chin thoughtfully. “You want to know what this sword is? Why doesn’t your little friend there tell you all about it? Given his clear expertise, and all.” 

“Yeah.” Seth was looking at Grover as well. “I’m kinda curious about that myself.” 

Grover, in turn, shrugged carelessly. “Well sure, I guess. According to the myth, because that’s all it is, the sword is called Clarent.” 

“Wait, hold on,” I blurted. “I know that one. That’s the, you know, the sword Mordred used. G–Morgan’s son. That was his weapon, right?” Yeah, I had done a little research after the whole Guinevere revelation. Not to mention finding out that Aylen was supposed to be the one that brought Arthur back to life somehow. That was still a doozy. 

“Very good, another gold star,” Kushiel put in, a bit tauntingly. It made my mother growl just a little while stepping closer to me. If the Seosten woman cared, she didn’t show it. Instead, she simply offered me a very faint, humorless smile. “But then, from everything I have heard, you were always an ambitious little go-getter. I’m not surprised you did your homework.” 

Grover quickly pushed on. “Well, uh, anyway, according to all the rumors, this Clarent can be picked up and used by ghosts. Or anyone else of a less-than-tangible nature. It’s got a lot of powers attached to it. And it’s supposed to help you find his body. Mordred’s that is.” 

That made me do a double-take, though Sean spoke first. “Why would you want to find that body?” 

The ghost-boy’s eyes glanced toward me before he flatly replied, “Because that body is special. You know, according to the legend. Yeah, even ghosts have legends. If you believe them, a ghost is supposed to be able to possess that body and control it permanently. You know, basically coming back to life. And you get all his power and everything too. Supposedly.” 

Turning my gaze sharply back toward Kushiel, I snapped, “That’s what you want? You want to find that sword so you can get to that body and possess it?” 

“What can I say,” she lazily replied, “there’s a few bells and whistles on that corpse that would be very useful for someone as living-impaired as I happen to be. To say nothing of some other benefits. My little friend behind me there is a decent temporary fix, but maneuvering him is so much more awkward than it should be. He’s always fighting me. But with the body that Manakel and my dear husband prepared? It would be exactly like coming back to life again. Or, as close as one can get. Add a little magical shapeshifting, and I’ll be as good as–well, better than new, really.” 

Yeah, this was definitely bad. One of the last people I wanted to find a way to come back to life again was Kushiel. Not exactly the very bottom of the list. That spot was and always would be reserved for a certain necromancer. But she was definitely pretty far down there. We couldn’t let her find that sword or that body. And we absolutely couldn’t let her kill anyone else in this place. But we still couldn’t fight her directly. Anything we tried to hurt her with, she would just reflect back at one of us. 

“How do you even know that sword is in this suite?” Sean demanded with a glance toward me. “Seems to me like the kid over there has been tearing this place apart without much luck. Maybe you got your rooms wrong. Did you mix up the one and the seven, or maybe the nine and the six? People do that all the time. I’m just saying, we could expand the search.” 

Kushiel was… unamused. She gave him a withering stare before retorting, “The sword is here. I know it is here. And now that you are all here as well, you can help find it.” 

Taking two steps forward, my mother spoke quietly. “And just what on this planet, or any other, makes you think we would ever help you find something that would allow you to be that dangerous?”

Unmoved, Kushiel flatly replied, “Because unlike me, your daughter is not a disappointment. Truly, you have so much to be proud of.” Her eyes moved to me, and I felt a shiver run down my spine at the coldness of that gaze. “She has done so much to gain the enmity of me, and my people. But given our respective sides, I believe that makes you care for her even more. As you care for all these people. So allow me to put this plainly. Find me what I am looking for, and I shall take my leave of this place and you may all go about your day. Perhaps you may even discuss a way to kill me again.

“But deny me? Try to keep my property away from me? Should you make such a foolish choice, I will have the gentleman behind me incinerate every room in this hotel. Believe me when I say he is capable of it. This is a true Steward Hybrid.  And this is a home full of so many gifts for him. You cannot harm or stop me without killing yourselves. And should you try, I will burn this entire place to the ground and retrieve my property from the ashes.”

Mom started to say something to that, but I quickly interrupted. “You were right about something else, you know.”

That made Kushiel look at me, eyes narrowed. She was clearly suspicious, and yet too arrogant to act on that suspicion. Which said a lot given the fact that she was literally dead thanks to underestimating someone. “I have been correct about a great many things, child. Perhaps you should be more specific.”

For a moment, I didn’t respond. Instead, I took in a deep breath and let it out, eyes closing briefly. Then I opened them and looked at her. I intentionally kept my voice as calm and steady as possible. “A minute ago, you said I was an overachiever. I guess I have been in some ways. It’s been that way for a long time. I always felt this extra drive to try harder at something I cared about. And awhile back, I found out why that was, where that extra drive came from. The truth is, I was feeling the drive of two people. There is always someone right there with me cheering me on, encouraging me, pushing me to do better. She was right there, every time I needed her.”

Kushiel raised a hand, but it was too late. Because in that moment, Tabbris, whom I had spent the past several minutes summoning and silently conferring with, made her presence known by manifesting those glowing wings out of my back. 

But we didn’t use them to blast the woman, not without knowing whether it would work or not. Instead, every ounce of the power they could provide was pushed into my necromancy. The wings flared blindingly for one instant before fading, as I felt their strength flood through me. 

“Bye, bitch.”

With those words, I pushed as hard as I could with every ounce of power I now had.

And with a scream of rage that seemed to shake the entire building to its foundation, Kushiel’s connection to Francis was snapped, and the ghost herself was sent far, far away. 

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The Runaway 15-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For several long seconds, all of us just stared at the ghost figure. My mouth had fallen open, a noise of disbelief escaping me. Somehow, in the rush of trying to find out what had happened to Denise, I had entirely forgotten that Seth had been murdered right here in this building. Abaddon. Abaddon had killed him. Of course it made sense that one of the ghosts I would feel was him. He had to be one of the most recently killed people, aside from… aside from those three below and whoever else Denise-Ammon had killed. Of course it made sense. But I hadn’t thought about that at all. It had completely slipped my mind until he was standing right in front of us. 

Asenath was the first to actually find her voice, stepping right up to the shield. “Seth,” she managed, eyes wide. “You–you actually left behind a… you.” 

“A ghost?” He winked casually. “Yeah well, you didn’t think I was just gonna fade away into nothing, did you? Someone like me, we pretty much have to leave a mark on the world. In my case, it turns out that mark is literally a copy of myself.”  He squinted thoughtfully before adding, “I suppose there’s a story in there somewhere.” 

“That’s the sort of story that can come later,” Mom put in. “Can you do what we need?” 

“Oh, hey there, Jos.” Seth turned his attention to her and gave a little bow, his look one of familiarity. “I heard a few of the people around here talking about you getting out from under that fuck’s heel. Good for you. Wish I’d been there for that little scuffle. I had a few things I wanted to say to the bastard. As for this, yeah, I know where the power source for the shield is, but I need a little boost.” His eyes found me. “Can’t really generate enough physical force to break it without some help. Suppose that’s the problem with being dead.” As though to demonstrate, he waved his hand through a nearby wall. “If you wouldn’t mind, Miss Necromancer? I hear you’re pretty strong with that these days.” Raising a hand to the side of his mouth, he stage-whispered, “Ghosts gossip.”

Yeah, it was definitely him. Even in this sort of situation, Seth just didn’t take anything seriously. If I had thought his own death might change that, I was sorely mistaken. Or maybe it was just that ghosts were literally an impression of the original person left on the world using their magical energy. Either way, he was definitely still Seth. I was sorry that Shiori wasn’t here to see him. I knew how much she had liked the guy. 

Pushing all that out of my mind immediately, I gave a short nod. “I’ve been practicing,” I confirmed before closing my eyes. I focused on the energy in front of me. It took a moment to reach past the forcefield in order to feel Seth himself, but I managed it. With a little bit of effort, I pushed more power into him. I could feel his form solidify a little bit. It was somewhat like filling up a balloon with water, if that balloon had already held its shape for the most part. He became more present, more capable of acting on the outside world. 

“Ah, better.” Seth exhaled. “There we go. Now you all sit tight here. I’ll be right back.” With that, the man spun on his heel and walked into one of the nearby rooms we could see. The rest of us exchanged anxious looks. 

“Damn,” Twister noted, “even dead, he’s still pretty damn cu–”

“Don’t say it,” Asenath interrupted. “Trust me, he can hear you. Even as a ghost, he’ll never miss out on a chance to hear someone saying something that could inflate his ego.” 

“So what’s the deal with that guy?” my ghost buddy from the other hotel spoke up. “Sounds like you guys all know each other. C’mon, gimme the story. I like stories almost as much as stabbings. Especially if the story involves stabbing.” 

“I don’t think–hang on, what’s your name, anyway?” I realized I had never asked him. Mostly because I’d been a bit occupied back at Mercer’s place (not that I wasn’t occupied now), and didn’t think I’d ever see him again. 

“Grover,” he replied. “Grover Clyde, at your service.” He flashed me a smile that had probably melted a lot of hearts back when he was a living little boy. 

Over the next twenty seconds or so, I quickly gave Grover the rundown on who Seth was and what had happened. When I was done, he actually seemed to blanch a bit. “Damn. That sucks, man.” 

“Tell me about it,” Senny murmured. There was clear emotion in her voice, despite her attempt to play it off casually. For all that she had given Seth shit for being… well, Seth, it had always been obvious that she cared a lot about him. He was basically a brother to her, and I knew she felt horrible for what she saw as ‘letting him die’ before they could find her father. Who, of course, had been the one to turn Seth into a vampire in the first place. Tiras had brought him into their family. Asenath saw his death as a personal failure on her part. Which wasn’t really fair, but feelings and emotions seldom took fairness into account. 

Reaching out to avoid focusing on that, I looked through Seth’s eyes. He was standing in front of a black crystal about the size of a bowling ball. It was red and silver, floating in the air on a cushion of magical energy. That same magical energy surrounded the thing, seeming to form a sort of shield around it. Seth had already punched the thing a couple times, wearing out some of the power I’d given him. So, I filled him up with more, shoving my own energy into the ghost-man. He gave a gasp, before I saw him look down at his hands, clenching them into fists. “Why, thank you.” He was clearly talking to me, before rearing back to punch the shield surrounding the crystal once more. That time, it was enough, and the shield shattered. Which allowed Seth to reach in and grab the floating thing. He held it up above his head, grunted, and then slammed it down to the ground. The crystal shattered entirely, and I snapped myself back to seeing through my own eyes just in time to witness the forcefield that had been blocking our path completely vanish. 

Immediately, we all started to run that way. Twister flew down in hummingbird form, transforming to herself briefly before shifting into a wolf that raced alongside us. Even Seth jogged along with the group as soon as we passed the room where the crystal had been. I could still feel Denise ahead, on the far end of this floor. And yet, something was bugging me. I quickly spoke up, “Where did Denise-Ammon get a big crystal to power that forcefield?” 

Mom pivoted, facing me while still moving. “What big crystal?” 

Seth explained what he’d had to break in order to make the forcefield come down. Which brought my mother to a momentary halt. “Wait,” she spoke up sharply, making the others stop as well. “Felicity’s right, why–how would Denise, or Ammon if his memories have taken over, have that crystal? It’s… possible that it was already here, for some other purpose and they just took it.” Even as she said that, I could hear the doubt and uncertainty in her voice. And I didn’t blame her for that. There was just something very strange about the fact that crystal was there. Strange and convenient for trying to keep people like us away from them. There was a lot about this whole thing that wasn’t adding up. Could someone else be involved? That felt like wishful thinking. 

“Ammon… Ammon probably made someone tell him where he could get an energy source,” Asenath pointed out. “There have to be a lot of them around here.”

I nodded slowly. “Yeah, fair point. Still, something just seems…” 

“Off,” Twister agreed, rising up into her human form. “Yeah, babe, it’s felt off since we’ve been here. And it’s not just the fact that there were three dead bodies waiting for us. This whole place is just… it feels like someone’s watching us, you know?” She shivered, folding her arms. “I thought it was my imagination, paranoia from that whole creepy Ammon thing. But I dunno.” 

“We need answers,” Mom pointed out, gazing in the direction of where I could still feel Denise. “The best way to get those is to find that girl, make sure she can’t hurt anyone else, and then ask her some questions.” 

“Ahh, just out of curiosity here, what girl are you all talking about?” Seth put in. He rocked back and forth on his heels, his gaze sweeping over us. “I didn’t exactly see what happened here before you showed up, but I’ll tell you this much, there was definitely more than one person. I heard lots of voices, and some of the scuffles that happened, it wasn’t some little girl doing it.” 

“She could have put people in the hotel under her power. Or his power. Or–” Shaking off the whole confusion of that, I focused, telling Seth what we believed had happened. “The Ammon part of her has probably put some of the hotel guests and staff under her control and made them fight the others. That makes sense, right?”

“It does,” Mom reluctantly confirmed. “But we should still make sure we know what we’re walking into.” It sounded like the last thing she wanted to say. Mom needed to get in that room and stop Denise from doing… whatever she was doing. But she was right, we needed to know more. We weren’t going to do her or anyone else any good if we ran straight into some sort of trap. Sure, maybe this whole thing was just a result of Denise being taken over by Ammon’s memories/personality and using his power to make people in the hotel do things (including bringing out that crystal and setting up the forcefield), but even that still left a lot of questions. Including a lot of whys. Why would she want to do that? Why was she still spending time in this hotel instead of leaving? What was she looking for up here? What were we missing? Besides a lot. I was pretty sure one of the main answers to that last question was, ‘a lot.’ 

With a slight shudder to myself about how badly this whole situation could go, and was already going considering the dead people, I offered, “Maybe Grover and Seth could scout ahead and see what’s going on first?” Belatedly, I looked at the two ghosts. “That is, if you guys don’t mind that.”

The two, who had just met, immediately and without hesitation replied together, “Sure, what’re they gonna do, kill me?” They both then pointed and blurted, “Jinx!” 

Quickly, I waved my hands. “Just go see what’s going on in there!” Something was wrong. Something more than we knew. The urge to brush down this last hallway and run right into the room where I could still feel Denise moving around was almost overwhelming. I had to grab my own arms and make myself stop. A glance over to the side showed that Mom was basically in the same situation. She was staring that way, tightening and loosening her fists repeatedly. We had to help Denise. But we had to actually help her, not go rushing into a trap, or whatever this was, just because we were anxious. 

So, hard as it was, we waited. At least I had it a little easier than my mother. I was able to close my eyes and focus on the vision of one of the ghosts so I could see what was going on. I chose Seth. 

Immediately, I saw the door he was looking at. It was clearly an entrance into one of the fancier suites. Which also meant that it had a lot of magical shielding around it. Or at least, it had had a lot of magical shielding. Even while looking through Seth’s eyes, I could see where over a dozen different protective runes had been expertly broken. He and Grover were both leaning in to stare at where the shielding had been destroyed, clearly checking to see if there was any protection left. But I could tell already that there wasn’t. The room was completely open, at least as far as its magical defenses went. 

Sending a silent message for the two of them to wait for a moment, I opened my eyes and turned back to the others, telling them what we had seen. My head shook once I’d finished. “Does Ammon know how to break magic like that?” 

“Not that I’m aware of,” Mom murmured thoughtfully. “But it’s possible that his father taught him without my knowledge, or that he forced someone else to teach him at some point. It’s also possible that he controlled someone here into doing it. Through Denise.” With those last two words, her eyes darkened considerably.   

While she was saying that, another problem had jumped into my mind. If Denise had Ammon’s memories, or his personality had taken over, or… or whatever, did that mean that she remembered what had happened to kill him? More to the point, did she know that Dare was immune to him, and what that must mean? We hadn’t seen the sky crack apart temporarily like it had back when Koren and I had figured it out, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen at any second. Hell, it could have happened outside now without us knowing, right? Because what I really needed right now was another huge problem to worry about. If Denise really did have Ammon’s… everything, I had to find a way to make sure it didn’t get blurted out in front of everyone. Or we would risk an entire Fomorian invasion taking over the planet and probably killing billions of people in the process.

But hey, at least there was no pressure or anything. 

Realizing that the others were looking at me expectantly, I tried to shake that off and focus on the problem right in front of us. First we had to figure out what was going on with Denise. Then we could deal with the fallout of everything related to it. 

To that end, I focused on the two ghosts once more, seeing through their eyes as I asked them to turn invisible and poke their heads through into that room. There were no more defenses, so hopefully they wouldn’t have any problem taking a peek. We had to know what the hell was going on there. Especially considering my blood sense was still pointing directly through that doorway. Denise should be in the room right in front of them. For better or for worse, we were about to find out what she was doing. 

Holding my breath, I reached out for my mother’s hand blindly while watching through Seth’s eyes as he and Grover leaned over to peek through the door. The instant their heads passed through, we could see the grand entryway of the suite beyond. It was even bigger and more lavish than the other room, with an actual foyer beyond the entrance with a marble floor and a couple statues of centaurs holding up spears over the archway leading into the living area beyond. A staircase to the left (before the archway) spiraled up to a second floor with a balcony just over the arch where someone could stand and look down, and a doorway behind that seemed to lead into a library of some sort. Through the arch back down on the first level, there was a front living area, with several plush couches just in view surrounding a massive fireplace. 

While we were taking that in, a small, dark-haired girl went running past the archway, inside that front living area. Denise. Her sudden appearance made me reflexively jump, but she wasn’t attacking or hiding or anything. It didn’t look like she knew anything about the ghosts who had just poked their heads in. Rather, I realized as she darted past the archway again, dropping to her knees to peer under a couch, it seemed like she was looking for something. Rather frantically, if I wasn’t mistaken. 

Sure enough, a moment later we heard the girl blurt in a desperate voice, “I don’t know! I don’t know where it is! You have to be more specific. They moved everything around or something. Are you sure it’s in here?” There was a brief pause before her head shook quickly. “I know, I know! I’ll find it, I promise. I’ll find it, just… just don’t hurt anyone else, please? You don’t have to hurt anybody else, I’ll find it.”

Telling Grover and Seth to wait again, I popped back out of their vision. The others were watching expectantly, so I quickly explained what I had seen. Not that it gave a lot of answers, but still. With a grimace, I finished, “It sure doesn’t sound like she’s turned to evil or anything.” 

“She’s talking to someone,” Asenath murmured. “Ammon, maybe? Or the Ammon in her head. Maybe she’s trying to appease his voice or personality. You didn’t see anyone else in the room?” 

“No, and no one said anything when she stopped talking, before she responded,” I confirmed. “So yeah, that does kind of sound like a voice in her head. But if Denise is still herself enough to argue with the Ammon part that much, maybe we can actually pull her out of it and get her back to normal.” I gave my mother a hopeful glance at that. 

“Yes,” she confirmed, “that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Keep the deafening spells handy, but only use them if it looks like she’s about to do something with that power. I want to give her a chance to explain what’s going on.” With that, she started moving that way, while the rest of us quickly followed after. Now that we knew Denise was in there, and seemed to be alone, Mom wasn’t going to wait any longer. She wanted to get in there and help that girl. Asenath was right beside her, with Twister, Sean (with the Vulcans), and me bringing up the rear. 

On the way, I gave one more peek through the ghosts. But nothing had really changed. Denise was still looking for… whatever it was. At the moment, she had her body half-twisted inside the fireplace, peering up the chimney as she insisted there was nothing in there. Still, there was no sign of anyone else. And I heard nothing during the pause while she was silent before responding to whatever it was she heard, quickly pleading for more time. It sounded like the voice in her head was getting pretty impatient. I really didn’t want to think about what it might be threatening to terrify the girl so much. This whole situation was creeping me out even more with every passing moment. We had to get in there and deal with whatever this was. 

It didn’t take long for us to reach the entrance to the suite. As Grover and Seth glanced over to us, looking just as uncertain as the rest of us were, my mother kept going. She didn’t even break stride while waving her hand to make the doors swing open so she could pass through, Asenath right at her side. As we followed right behind, Mom’s voice called, “Denise? Denise Cartland!” 

With that, we were there, passing through the foyer and standing in that archway. And I could see Denise with my own eyes. She had jolted at the sound of my mother’s call, jerking upright from where she had been peering behind one of the statues in a corner. Eyes wide, she pivoted to face us, looking panicked. “N-no! No, what are you doing here? You can’t be here. Please, please, go away. If you don’t leave, she’ll hurt you.” 

“It’s okay, Denise,” Mom assured her. “We know what…” She trailed off then. “What… do you mean, ‘she?’ You mean he.” 

“Wh-what?” The girl, looking even more terrified as she saw how many of us there were, pressed her back against the wall as her head shook wildly. “N-no, no, she. She made him do it. She made him hurt them. She–she hurt–she–” 

“That’s enough, dear.” A new, yet vaguely familiar voice spoke from the other side of the room. Our gazes snapped that way, to see a man standing in one of the doorways. A man I knew, with light-blond hair, a slim build, and amber eyes. As with the last time I’d seen him, he wore a pristine white trench coat over a red silk shirt with buttons down the front, and white slacks.  Francis Gale, the Steward Hybrid. The Auberge’s head of security, essentially. He was there. But… but…

Even as a rush of confusing thoughts ran through my mind, a glowing figure emerged from him. My first thought was ‘Seosten.’ But I immediately felt the difference. This was a ghost. An incredibly powerful ghost. Instantly, I reached out with my power, attempting to halt it in its tracks. But my power just slid off it. The thing was too powerful, shrugging away my attempt to grab it. 

“I’m sorry dear,” the figure informed me, as the glow faded. “You’ll have to try harder than that. Perhaps you should go practice. In the meantime, where is my daughter? 

“We have some catching up to do,” Kushiel’s ghost announced.  

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The Runaway 15-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

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While the rest of us stood frozen for a moment, Mom and Asenath were already moving. They both crouched beside one of the bodies, checking it briefly before looking to one another. Some sort of silent conversation passed between them before my mother looked over at Mennin, her voice tense. “Are you sure your mother isn’t here? And Francis? Why hasn’t an alarm been sounded yet?”

“Yeah, like I said, she’s in Paris for a meeting,” Mennin informed us, already whipping a phone from his pocket. “Francis should be here. He should–The whole system is down. Alarms, communication, everything. It’s all down. Only someone with top level access should have been able to do that.” His long fingers danced over the phone, before he cursed in frustration. “They crashed the whole system. It’s a mix of technology and magic. I can bring it back up, but it’ll take time.” 

“We have to find Denise,” Asenath announced sharply while starting to rise. Half-way to her feet, she paused and tilted her head. “That blood.” Her hand rose, pointing to a small spot against the side of the bed that was almost invisible unless you were looking at the exact right place. “That’s hers. The rest of this belongs to these three, but that spot is hers. She was cut.” 

“You remember the smell of her blood from that long ago?” Rebecca asked, eyes widening. 

Asenath, in turn, gave a short nod. Her eyes had narrowed. “Yes. It was important blood. She’s still bleeding. I can track her scent if she hasn’t gone too far.”

“We can do better than that,” I replied, already moving to that spot. The blood-tracking ability the harpy had given me way back when we first ended up on the Meregan world. All I had to do was touch the spot with my finger, and…

“Top floor,” I announced, turning a bit to point. “She’s all the way up on the top floor and… and it feels like she’s moving fast, that way.” 

As I was saying that, Koren moved forward. She yanked a bit of cloth from one pocket and wiped it through the blood, then handed it to me. “So you can keep tracking her.”  

Mom immediately pointed to Mennin. “Get the system up and running again. Koren, Rebecca, December, and Tabbris, stay here to protect him, just in case. Tabbris can keep in contact with Felicity to let us know if anything happens.” To Asenath, Sean, Twister, and me, she gestured. “Let’s go find Denise. And… and stop whatever’s happening.” Her voice was thick with barely restrained emotion. It was obvious that she knew what all of this most likely meant. Ammon’s memories or… or personality, or… whatever must have managed to take over. And now she–or he–whoever she was after that, was going around the hotel doing… this. Killing people, making them shut down the whole security and communications system, and who knew what else. Whatever was actually going on, we had to find Denise and fix this, no matter what it took. That poor kid. God, fuck, how could this have happened? It didn’t even–was it just because of what Fossor had done? Did he plan for something like this, or was it all just an accident? 

Whatever it was, the point remained that we had to stop Denise and bring her back to her senses. Whether that took some sort of exorcism to get rid of the Ammon memories, or… or whatever. We had to fix this before things got even worse. And before Denise-Ammon made it out of the hotel and disappeared, since I had no idea how long this blood would keep telling me where she was. Especially considering if she–they got out of the building, I was pretty sure the Ammon part of her would be able to grab a ride and really disappear. 

Pushing that worry aside, I focused on something else that might actually be useful. “Hold on. If these guys died recently, I think I might be able to find their ghosts, if they left any. They could answer some questions.” My eyes closed, as I focused intently on my inherited Necromancy. I set aside all reflexive disgust at where the power had come from. What mattered was the fact that it could help us find out what was going on with Denise right now. It could give us answers about what had actually happened in here. Even if I was terrified as to what those answers would be. 

For a few seconds, I focused on that, before frowning. My head shook. “I don’t sense anything. I can’t feel their ghosts at all. I should be able to feel… you know, something. But it’s not there. It’s like…” I hesitated, a grimace touching my face. “It’s like someone else already took their ghosts somewhere else.” 

Everyone exchanged looks at that, their expressions making it clear that they didn’t like the sound of it any more than I did. Something was clearly very wrong here. Even more than we had already known. The thought sent a shiver through me. 

“We have to find her,” Mom announced, cutting through the brief silence that had followed my announcement. “That’s what matters. We’ll figure out the rest of it after she’s safe.” 

She was right, of course. What mattered was finding Denise and making sure she didn’t… that Ammon didn’t… making sure no one else got hurt, or worse. We could figure out the details, such as where the ghosts of these three people who had been murdered so recently had disappeared to, later. It was too bad that we couldn’t get easy answers about what actually happened, but there was no sense in wasting any more time standing around trying to figure it out. Not when Denise was right upstairs. 

Mennin apologized for the fact that he couldn’t send us directly to the top floor with the whole system being down, and gave us directions for the employee-access stairs that should go straight to the top. After a brief hesitation, he pleaded with us to hurry before focusing his attention back on getting the system running again. Apparently whatever Denise-Ammon had done was pretty extensive, because from the way the man was cursing, it didn’t sound like he was having much luck. Which really said a lot about how thoroughly it had been taken down, considering he was literally the son of the owner and apparently had the highest access. 

Either way, we left him working on that, with Tabbris (who had hopped out of me) and the others protecting him. Meanwhile, Twister, Sean, Asenath, and I jogged out of the room together with my mother, emerging into a white-carpeted hallway with various paintings along the wall. The art varied wildly in both style and ability. Next to what looked like a Renaissance masterpiece, there was a crayon piece that had to have been drawn by a child and hung up on a mother’s fridge. And right next to that one was a photo-realistic drawing of a man standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how the artwork was arranged. And we really didn’t have time to focus on that anyway, immediately turning to the left to rush down the hall.  

I could still sense Denise far above us, though now It felt like she was moving back to an area she had already passed before. I wasn’t sure if the Denise part and Ammon part of her were arguing, or if they were looking for something, chasing someone, or what. But they were definitely moving back and forth, because now I could feel her moving back the opposite way, toward the spot I’d sensed her in first. 

I informed the others, and Sean shook his head. “Is she looking for an emergency way out or something? With the whole system down, maybe the exits don’t work.”  

“Well, we got in, right?” Twister demanded. “That Tombs guy just waved his hand and made a door.” 

“He’s the son of the owner,” Mom reminded her. “That comes with privileges.” 

“Speaking of privileges,” I put in, “What exactly are we going to do when we find, uhh, them? Mom and I, we’re immune. And Koren. I mean I think we are. I mean…” Frowning, I shook my head. “Hold on, if she has his power does that mean we’re still immune or–” 

“We won’t take the chance,” Mom informed me, already reaching into her pocket. She produced a handful of coins, tossing one to each of us. “When we get close, put that against your forehead and say ‘Lestansurdi.’ It should make you deaf just long enough to secure Denise and stop her from saying anything. As soon as she’s… as soon as everyone is safe, we’ll work out how to extricate Ammon’s thoughts from her mind.” With a glance toward Asenath, she added, “Felicity, you should help Senny with that.” 

Right, because Asenath couldn’t use magic. She had been upgraded to the point that she could temporarily use other people’s powers by ingesting their blood, but magic was still a no-go for her. It had something to do with the original blood curse that the Vestil had put on the Akharu over the whole throne of the world thing. It cut them off from using any magic, and that curse extended through vampires (who were literally just Natural Akharu Heretics, if you got right down to it). Asenath had a lot of advantages, even more now that she had that upgrade, but she absolutely could not do anything with magic. 

“Uh, quick question, will that work?” Twister piped up. “I’m pretty sure the Denuvus power thing cuts through most forms of ‘can’t hear you,’ doesn’t it? Doesn’t seem like it should be that easy.”

“It worked back when Vanessa and Avalon used those earplug things last year,” I noted. “Though they said something about that being magical temporary deafness with limited charges. Only lasted a few seconds.” 

“Yes,” Mom confirmed. “They would have had to use a special sort of deafness spell to make it work. Probably similar to the one on these, but it works longer. I’ve been working on it since… since my son was given his power. It… it should work. It’s the best chance we have, in any case.”  

By that point, we had reached the end of the corridor. It was an L intersection, cutting to the right. But we didn’t turn that way. Instead, Mom moved to the small painting of a farmyard and put her thumb against the door of the barn, reciting a three sentence code that Mennin had given us. Then we held our breath for a moment. He had said that this emergency stairwell should work even with the system down, but I was pretty sure we all half-expected to be screwed over again anyway. Because at this point, it really wouldn’t have surprised us. 

Fortunately, the wall slid aside as promised, revealing a circular metal stairwell leading up. It was very narrow, only meant for one human-sized person to move up at a time. Which made sense, considering it was essentially only intended for Mennin or his mother and their immediate family to use. 

I went first, since I could detect Denise’s blood and knew exactly where she was. Asenath was behind me, with Mom right behind her. Twister, Sean, and Vulcan brought up the rear. We might have been more wary, but my ability to sense Denise eased tensions a bit. Still, we had no idea what sort of orders an Ammon-possessed (or whatever) Denise might have given anyone else in the building. So, we weren’t going to reach out for help. We had to get up there ourselves, use the special deafening spells, and… and capture Denise. After that? Yeah, I had no idea. Get Ammon’s thoughts and memories out of Denise somehow. We’d deal with that as it came. 

There were other landings to get off at more floors, but we ignored them. The only exit we needed was the one that led to Denise. And there it was. We finally made it. In the lead, I stopped by the door, focusing just a bit. It was getting harder to sense the girl’s location through the blood, but I could still do it. “This floor still,” I murmured under my breath. “Far end, all the way in the corner. I think she’s… she’s moving around one room? She keeps, like, standing in one spot, then darting to another, staying there for a few seconds, then darting to a different spot. It’s like she’s–” 

“Searching,” Asenath finished. “Whatever that room is, it sounds like she’s ransacking it. Or they are. Or–” A frown crossed her face.

Looking over my shoulder down to where she was, I gestured. “I know, confusing, right? No idea how to refer to… umm… them?”

“Them is as close as I think can be accurate,” Mom muttered. “At least until we know more about… about what happened.” 

Swallowing hard, I nodded before turning back to the exit. “Well, let’s go find them then.” Pushing the door open, I stepped out cautiously. Neither my item sense nor anyone else had picked up any sign of anyone beyond, but still. Again, with Ammon involved (in some way), there was no such thing as being too careful. They could have ordered anyone to lay in ambush in case someone came after them. 

The area we emerged into looked like (duh) an extremely high-end hotel. The floor was marble under our feet, with a very wide hallway (seriously, the corridor was like twenty feet across). The walls were this beautiful reddish wood, and chandeliers hung from the ceiling at equal intervals going down the hall. To the left, wide windows displayed various scenes from different parts of the world. To the right, spaced just as equally apart as the chandeliers, were doors leading into private suites. Next to the windows here and there were small tables with statuary, plants, chairs to sit in, and so on. 

“They’ve done some remodeling since we were here last year,” I muttered, eyes scanning the whole corridor rapidly. “The place looks different.” 

“They do that,” Mom informed me, stepping up to one side as she kept her gaze laser-focused ahead of us. “With the sort of magic and resources this place can pull in, they like to mix things up a lot. Probably even more after what you said happened. They would want to distance themselves from experiencing a full-on Seosten invasion and battle throughout their sanctuary.” 

“And now look what happened,” Sean put in flatly. He had moved up on my other side, Vulcan creeping ahead of him a bit while sniffing the air. “Their system’s down and at least three of their people are dead.”  

“Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out as violent as it did last time,” Twister noted. She hopped up, transforming into a small hummingbird before landing on Sean’s raised arm. 

Asenath, moving up next to Vulcan, shook her head. “It won’t. Whatever Ammon’s trying to do, whatever… whatever’s going on, we just catch Denise and evict every part of that… that… boy out of her.” It was clear that she wanted to say something worse than boy, but restrained herself with Mom right there. 

For her part, my mother simply started walking, gaze focused forward. “Yes,” she agreed, “we find Denise and free her. Whatever that takes.”

The rest of us exchanged brief looks before setting off after her. Yeah, I knew just how bad Mom was taking this whole thing. After everything she had done to make sure her own son wouldn’t resurrect, specifically so that he wouldn’t hurt anyone else, and now… now he was hurting more people. Or his memories were, his thoughts, his–ghost. His something. Whatever, the point was, people were getting hurt and killed because of him. And Mom was feeling the guilt of that, magnified by the whole situation that had led to it. 

Something that struck me as odd as we ran down the hall past all these doors was the fact that we still hadn’t seen anyone else. No guests, no employees, no one. I’d expected to see a bunch of Ammon-controlled people blocking our path. Or at least a lookout or something. There should have been people ready for, if not us, then any other interruption. I was pretty sure that’s what Ammon would have done. But there was just no one. The whole place was eerily empty and silent. I had no idea if there were people inside their rooms, but there was no one out in the hall. In some ways, that was worse. It made me even more anxious. What was going on? Why was Ammon-Denise ransacking some room on the top floor instead of getting out of the hotel? What could they possibly want up there? Seriously, as far as I knew, Ammon had never even been here. He shouldn’t know anything about the place, and Denise definitely didn’t know anything about it. So what the hell was going on? We were missing something, and the closer we got to where they were without figuring out what that missing something was, the worse I thought it was going to be. 

Unfortunately, we were going to have to wait even longer to find out. Because just as we turned the corner at the end of the hall, a glowing reddish forcefield blocked our path. It stretched across the entire hallway, stopping us from moving forward. We all came to a halt, and Mom reached out to put her hand close to the thing. “It’s blocking transportation powers,” she murmured. “And it’s… really strong. I don’t think we can break through it. Not quickly, anyway. We need another way. Are they…” She looked toward me questioningly, while the others followed suit.  

“They’re still in that room,” I confirmed after a moment of focus. It was even harder now, the sense even more faded. But I could definitely still feel it, especially when I pressed my finger against the blood on the cloth. “Still moving around, just like before.” A frown touched my face once more. “I still can’t figure out what the hell they’re doing.” Looking to my mother, I asked, “Are you sure you can’t see them from here?” 

Mom shook her head. “Between the hotel’s own safety measures that are still running, and whatever they set up, I can’t see any better down this hall than you can.” 

We tried a couple of different things. Twister turned into a bug to find a way around or under the shield, but apparently it extended through the solid material. She couldn’t get anywhere. Mom, Sean, and I tried any combination of magic we knew to take the shield down, and that showed some promise, but it was too slow. Even working together, we would take at least an hour to break through the thing. And I was pretty sure we didn’t have that sort of time. We had to get in there and find out what the hell Ammon-Denise was doing. Every second that passed made me even more anxious. This was really bad. 

Punching the wall, Asenath turned to me. “Ghosts? There have to be some ghosts around here, right? Or you can use one of the others you already have. Maybe they can get through.” 

Mom was nodding. “Yes, they should be able to. Or you can summon them onto the other side. A shield like this has to have a power source somewhere nearby. If they can find and disrupt it, the shield should go down so we can get through.” 

Right, I could do that. If we needed the ghost on the other side of the shield, it was probably a good idea to reach out for one that was already over there. So, I pressed my hands against the force field, closed my eyes, and focused. Immediately, I sensed a presence. A familiar one at that. 

My eyes opened, to find the ghost boy from before, back at the other hotel. He looked the same as before, in his old-style clothing. “Hiya, boss lady,” he greeted with a casual wave. “You rang?” 

“You–how–what?” My mouth opened and shut, staring at him. “How are you…?” 

“Right, I got bored back at the motel, and your life seems exciting,” he informed me. “So, I figured I’d follow you and see what happened. You really need to get better about sensing that sort of thing. I mean, you got a lot of raw power, sure. But you need practice. No way should I have been able to follow you guys without you knowing. That’s just crazy. Probably would’ve sensed me downstairs when you were looking for those new dead folks, but I took a walk to check this place out. Pretty swanky.” 

“Felicity?” Mom prompted. “Is this a friend of yours?” 

“It’s a long story,” I replied. “Wait, not that long. He was back at the other hotel, where Mercer was. He helped me get through there. And now… now he’ll help here?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. 

He, in turn, shrugged. “I suppose. But maybe you should ask one of the ghosts who lives here. Like that guy.” Turning and moving a bit to one side, he raised a hand to point toward a dark figure that had just appeared in the hall behind him. Another ghost. I felt it. I could sense death surrounding the shape, which grew stronger as it came closer. 

Stronger… and even more familiar than the boy. 

“Well… hey there,” the figure drawled as they got close enough for everyone to see. 

“Didn’t expect to see you guys any time soon,” Seth’s ghost announced. 

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The Runaway 15-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – There was a commissioned interlude posted earlier today focusing on Reapers. If you haven’t seen that yet, you might want to use the Previous Chapter button above. Thanks!

What?! I silently blurted as Tabbris’s words made me physically recoil. Or rather, made the guy I was possessing recoil. That doesn’t even make sense. Why would Crossroads have a student hunt right now? It’s only a few days before Christmas for God’s sake. Aren’t they on vacation? 

Tabbris’s voice was helpless, and clearly just as uncertain. We don’t know, maybe it’s extra credit or something? Or maybe they’re really short-handed and needed more help. But it doesn’t matter, they’re just here. And they’re about to make a move against the hotel, so we’ve gotta interrupt them before they blow this whole thing and make those guys retreat with Denise.

Immediately, I replied, Hold on, I’m coming out. I’ll be right there. I was already starting to focus on looking for the nearest exit. I could walk my host that way and be down there in seconds. 

No, my sister immediately insisted. You have to find out what happened to Denise, Flick. Don’t worry about the stuff down here. Your Mom and the others can handle it. Just hurry and find Denise, before the guys in there figure out something’s wrong and make her disappear again.

She was right, of course. I hated to admit it. Boy did I ever hate to admit it. But she was definitely right.  What mattered right now was finding Denise, and if Mercer saw a fight involving Heretics right outside his front door, he wouldn’t stick around. He would grab whatever he could and disappear. Which probably included Denise herself. I had to find her and get out of here before that happened. 

So, trying to shut aside thoughts and worries about what was going on out there for the moment, I focused on my own situation. The door ahead of me and down the hall a little bit. That was where I needed to go. But there were two guys standing on either side of it who probably wouldn’t be eager to let my host go through that easily. I could deal with them, but there was a camera above the door, pointed down at it. If I started something right there, the people inside would know. Which would give them time to escape. Fuck. I was going to be careful about this, no matter how rushed I felt. No matter what, I could not give Mercer time to retreat. I had to get to him and find out where the hell he had taken Denise. Which meant getting past the guards and through the door without raising any sort of alarm. And I had to do it before the situation outside grew obvious and loud enough for an alert to be sent upstairs. 

That was the real irony of this whole thing. I had the powers, skills, and weapons to deal with these guys fairly easily if it came down to it. Probably, at least. I could smash my way through them, and could probably get through the shielded door within a couple minutes. But a couple minutes wouldn’t be fast enough to stop Mercer from vanishing, along with the only real clue about Denise that we had. I had all this power and I still had to be careful. 

Oh well, what was life without problems to solve, huh? I could handle this. It just required a little creativity rather than a straight-forward slugging match. I still had my little ghost-boy pal, hovering curiously behind me while (maybe a little impatiently) clearly waiting to see what I was going to do. He had no idea anything about the situation had changed. He just wanted to watch me do something interesting to help with his boredom. 

Silently telling Tabbris to keep me updated if they needed help down there, I went to work on my own thing. First, I did a quick check to see if my guy knew anything about Denise. But just like the last one, he had nothing. It was like he’d never heard of or seen her before. What was going on? If Mercer had taken Denise, was he really keeping the fact that he had kidnapped a little kid secret from his men? Why? Was he afraid they weren’t loyal, that they would object to the whole situation? Or that they might sell him out? I didn’t want to think that we were barking up the wrong tree entirely. Mercer had to know something about what was going on. I just wasn’t sure what, or why he was keeping it secret. There was clearly something I was missing, and I was hoping that getting to the boss-man himself would help fill in those gaps. 

To that end, I made my guy push away from the wall where he had been leaning, and turned to walk toward the room I needed to get into. The moment he moved, both of the guys on either side of that door turned their attention that way, one of them calling out, “You gotta piss again, Dugal? Come on, man, stop guzzling so much at lunch all the time. Ain’t good for you.” 

While he was talking, I took in the appearance of the two guards. One of them, the one who wasn’t talking, was another of the almost-Orcs. He was just rolling his eyes as though annoyed that his daydreaming, or whatever he’d been doing, was interrupted by something out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, the guy who had spoken looked like a Nekomata, a feline humanoid like Triss back home. They were the ones who were able to make ghost-fire. So siccing my new, bored little buddy on him was probably a bad idea. Come to think of it, given the Nekomata clearly had a thing against ghosts, maybe this guy had something to do with why the forcefield around the penthouse was able to keep them out. 

All of that passed through my mind in a brief moment as I took in the scene, before making my host shrug. “What can I say,” I made his voice grunt, “I really like my–” I did a quick search of his memory for the appropriate drink. “–Coors.” 

“Gotta get that checked,” the Nekomata (his name was apparently Beied, pronounced bye-eed, while the other guy’s name was Istor, rhyming with mister) taunted with a smirk. “I read something about how having shit taste might be a sign of brain damage. Anyone who actually likes that piss water must be about three seconds from a fucking aneurysm or something. We shouldn’t even carry that shit in this place. Make Del Shannon roll over in his grave.”

I almost made my guy ask what some old rock musician had to do with anything, but caught myself. Instead, I checked my guy’s memory. Del Shannon. Right, the hotel had been renamed in honor of him back in the sixties. The Runaway. The name of the hotel was The Runaway. How… convenient. 

That sentiment about Shannon’s objection to Coors being in the hotel named after his most famous song was echoed by a couple of the other guards stationed further down the hall. All of which just reminded me that, outward appearances aside, this wasn’t a super-professional set-up. These guys were part of a gang, not world-class elite soldiers or anything. Another reason why I could have smashed my way through them pretty quickly if that was on the table. But I gave myself a firm reminder that I couldn’t be too cocky. I was on the clock, and these guys could still be a problem. After all, the Seosten had underestimated me plenty of times, and look how that had turned out for them. No matter how casual they seemed from the outside, I had to be careful. This whole situation could turn sideways really damn quick. So no dismissing them as a threat. I was not going to make the Seosten mistake of being too arrogant and then getting screwed over for it. Not when Denise’s life was on the line. 

With a quick search through my guy’s memory (hopefully without violating him too much), I shot back a retort about how Beied couldn’t talk about having shit taste as long as he kept eating something called liver sausage pineapple. Going by this guy, it was apparently a pound of liver sausage mixed with lemon juice, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce, all put together and shaped to look like a pineapple. I… I had no idea. But apparently Beied really liked it. 

There was a bit of back-and-forth teasing about who had the worst sense of taste. I was trying not to let my anxiety about what was going on outside show through the guy I was puppeting.  And yet, I could think of almost nothing except what was going to happen the moment these guys told Mercer that there were Heretics outside fighting. Trying to figure out an excuse to get in there was hard, when that was the only–wait. Hold on. Shit, I was being an idiot, wasn’t I? 

Making a show of heading down the hallway to use the restroom, I made my guy glance out the nearby window and paused. Turning him, I stepped closer and looked down for a few seconds.  I didn’t want to say anything too quickly. It had to look like he was uncertain, even though I could feel the seconds ticking away in the back of my head like a bomb waiting to go off. 

There wasn’t actually anything to see. Not yet, anyway. It looked like Mom and the others had been able to keep the attack away from the front of the hotel so far. But I didn’t really think that would last forever. Any minute now someone on the roof was going to notice what was happening and call it in. I had to get ahead of that. 

“Watcha looking for out there?” Beied finally spoke up. “Cuz if it’s a personality or a life, you might need to look a little harder. And you probably should’ve started earlier.” He chuckled at his own words, and I heard the sound of him exchanging a high five with Istor next to him. 

Pretending I wasn’t paying attention, I made my guy lean closer to the window as though staring at something intently down there. After about two seconds that felt like twenty, I made him physically recoil and pivot on his heel. “There’s something going on down there,” I informed the others in a quick voice, trying to inject it with the sort of surprise and worry that he should have given the situation. “Some sorta fight or something.” Belatedly, I added, “Ain’t no schoolyard brawl, they got weapons and shit. Could be–” I pulled the memory of a rival gang from the man’s mind. “–Darmon’s guys starting something.” 

Before I had even finished talking, several of the guys from down the hall came to look out the window or through one of the others. I pointed, telling them that I had seen the fight start to come around the corner of the building down there before they disappeared again. 

“You fucking serious?” Beied was clearly pretty unhappy about this news. “God damn it, I was ten minutes from getting off shift and hitting this great–fuck.” He pivoted, hitting a three digit code on the pad beside the door to open it. Beside him, Istor the not-Orc started to step over to see what was going on outside for himself. 

Okay, I had three other guys in the hall. Two were right beside me, leaning up to see through the same window in an attempt to catch a glimpse of what I had supposedly seen. Another was further down looking out a different window to see from another angle. Istor was coming up behind me, and Beied the Nekomata was faced the other direction to open the door so he could warn their boss about what was going on. None of them besides Istor were focused directly on me at the moment, and he wasn’t suspicious yet, he was just walking up to look for himself. This was my best–only chance to deal with these guys and get inside that room before Mercer was put on high alert. Getting Beied to open the door by pretending I saw the fight going on out there before anyone else could sound the alert had been a risk, but now I had to follow through. It was only a brief advantage, and it could vanish in a few seconds. So, here went nothing.  

First, I glanced over my shoulder to get Istor in my line of sight before making a portal directly in front of my current host’s hand. It was hidden from the not-Orc himself by my guy’s body, and the two beside me were focused on the window so they didn’t see it yet. The other end of the portal appeared behind Istor, and I gave him a firm tap on the shoulder before dismissing the portal. He pivoted that way. So now, for just a second, I was out of everyone’s line of sight. The camera was focused on the door itself, so it couldn’t see what was going on now that Istor had stepped out of its line of sight. 

As soon as the not-Orc turned his back, I immediately shoved myself backwards out of my current host. He was still unconscious, so the body was already starting to collapse as I appeared behind him. I was still out of sight from the two intently peering through the window in front of me, as well as the one just down the hall. That first pair might have noticed the body falling instantly and reacted, but even as I landed in my own body behind the falling man, I was already focusing hard, using my five-second pause power to freeze his shirt in place. The body sort of went limp, caught in place. It wouldn’t look at all convincing to anyone looking directly at him. But they were still distracted by staring out the window, so all they registered was that his body was still (somewhat) upright. 

It would only buy me a couple seconds, at most. Between those two standing right by the limp form, and the other guy down the hall, one of them would notice that he wasn’t conscious. Not to mention Istor, who would only be distracted by checking to see who had tapped him on the shoulder for a moment. They were going to see that something was wrong any second. 

Thankfully, a second was all I needed. Pivoting on one heel, I slapped my hand out to grab Istor while his back was still to me. A second later, I was inside him. I could feel his sudden rage and sent a quick apology and promise that I would let him go in a moment before turning.  

By that point, the two by the window had noticed their unconscious companion and had turned that way. I immediately sent Istor into a charge, sprinting straight at the two, before once more launching myself backwards out of my host. His momentum kept him going forward, slamming into the other two as they collapsed in a heap. Which caught the attention of the guy down the hall, of course. But it was too late for him to do anything, even as he caught a glimpse of me while turning to see the commotion. 

Throughout all of that, having no idea that anything was wrong just yet, Beied was still in the middle of opening the door. He had barely gotten it half-open as he started to speak up, when the sound of Istor colliding with the other two filled the hall. His words turned to a confused curse as he started to turn. But I was already there. Using a mix of my own enhanced speed and my Seosten boost, I slammed into the feline man, catching him by the shoulders before he could react. Spinning to put my back to the half-open doorway so that he was facing the hall, I lashed out with one foot. The hard kick was enough to knock the man flying backward to land in the corridor with a bellow of surprise and anger. 

Quickly stepping backward through the open door, I slammed it shut once more before touching my hand to it. A thought made another quick-inscription spell appear, and I triggered it to seal the door. It wouldn’t hold forever, but it would keep them out for the moment. Long enough for me to do what I needed to. 

Spinning back even as the pounding and knocking at the door started, I took in the sight of where I had managed to get. It was a wide-open living room of some sort, full of plush couches, statues, paintings of old guys (many of them not-human) on the walls, and a gi-freaking-normous television that took up a huge portion of one wall. That was where most of the people in the room were. Ten guys of various species, all sitting around playing video games on that giant TV.  Two looked human, one Rakshasa (the other feline species I knew of that wasn’t Nekomata), a pair of what looked like goblins, three Satyrs (the goat-men weren’t as small and cute as they looked like in the cartoons and comics, but were more human in size), a silver-scaled reptilian figure who stood about seven feet tall, and… their boss. Yeah, I knew in an instant that the final guy had to be Mercer. He was even taller than the other guy, with thick, blue-green scales over his body and vertical-slit pupils. He gave off the air of being the person in charge, even as his gaze snapped from the television to me, dropping the controller in his hand. 

“Hey there,” I announced, summoning my staff to one hand while everyone in the room lunged to their feet, putting themselves in front of the boss. “Mercer, I presume.” Even as I said that, I focused on summoning a portal to get my hand near him. But it fizzled. The protections in this place extended to blocking that sort of thing, apparently. Which meant I was going to have to get close to him the old fashioned way, by going through everyone trying to stop me. 

“Heretic,” he snapped, the annoyance clear in his voice. “What exactly do I owe this interruption to?” 

Even as he said that, a voice from a nearby intercom frantically called out that there were Heretics attacking the hotel. Mercer gave the intercom a dark look, his voice flat. “No shit.” 

“Believe it or not,” I informed the man, “I’m not here to kill you, or any of your men. I’m here for one thing, answers.” My eyes narrowed as I stared at him. “I need you to tell me what happened to Denise Cartland.” 

Mercer showed no reaction at all to the name, his voice completely blank. “Who?” It was pretty convincing, actually. Sure, he almost certainly had to be a good liar to get into this sort of position. But still, it was hard to entirely dismiss the idea that he really had no idea who I was talking about. Not that I was going to take that for granted without checking for myself, of course. 

“Denise Cartland,” I repeated. “Tell me where she is, and I’ll go away.” 

“Kid,” he snapped back, “I got no idea who you mean. And you know what? I think you’re going away right now.” With that, he dropped his hand, and the rest of his friends in the room all launched themselves my way. 

I met their charge, but I wasn’t interested in actually fighting them. All I cared about was getting to Mercer, which meant lunging, twisting, ducking, spinning, leaping, and diving my way through every guy standing in my way. I used every ounce of my boost, pushing myself to be even faster. Those brief handful of seconds were a blur of flailing limbs, blades, claws, and more as I danced my way through everything in that room, before finally coming face to face with the man himself. 

He snarled and lashed out with a fist as soon as he saw me, but my hand snapped up to catch it. Yeah, between my boost and my general strength-enhancements I caught his fist with my own grip. It hurt, but I didn’t care at that moment. It was worth seeing the look on his face, especially knowing what I did about the shit he had pulled. 

An instant later, before he or anyone else could react, I was inside him. Once again, I used my possession power. Today was the day I had used it the most in recent history. Probably because I was so far past giving a shit when it came to anything that stopped us from finding Denise. 

I was possessing him, but it wasn’t exactly an immediate take-over. I could feel the man struggling. For a moment, I thought it might go as far as a full-on sustained battle for his body, but with a last burst of effort, I managed to shove his consciousness down. 

Then, with the people outside the room still struggling to break the sealed door down, and the ones who were already inside staring at their boss in confusion about what to do next, I focused. I searched his memory for anything about Denise, and found… nothing. No, no, no, this couldn’t be for nothing! He had to know her. I tried searching for anything about the gas station, or Kalia and her father. He had to know about them, he’d been bugging them for money to the point of driving Kalia’s father to rob that gas station and get killed by Ammon in the first place! 

But no. There was nothing. He had absolutely no memory of any of that. How the fuck was that possible? What–what had… what? 

By that point, the door had finally been broken through, as the guys outside came bursting in. Beied was at the front, demanding to know what was going on while holding some sort of falchion in one hand. 

“Some Heretic chick!” one of the Satyrs blurted a bit frantically, gesturing. “She–she fucking possessed the boss or something! Crazy bitch said something about, what, Denise Copeland? Who the fuck is that?!” 

“Cartland,” Beied corrected, his eyes not on the Satyr, but on his boss. On me, possessing his boss. “Heretic! You’re looking for Denise Cartland?” 

Narrowing Mercer’s eyes, I made him growl out, “Where is she?” 

The Nekomata, in turn, held up both hands, the falchion gripped tightly in one. “Look, the boss there forgot all about some money a chick that works at some gas station owes him. I figured she did something to him, so I looked into it, checked out who was there the last time he stopped by just to see if she hired some sort of outside mind-fucker. Found out the only other person in the place was some kid named Denise Cartland. Looked into her, but it was a dead end. Except I found out she left town. She took a bus. You let my boss go, I’ll tell you where the bus was headed. Fair?” 

Making Mercer glance around at the roomful of eager guys waiting to stab or shoot me, I grunted. “Yeah, sure. But you and me, we’ll take a walk together, just the two of us. You tell me everything you know about where Denise went, then I’ll let your boss go. And for the record, you might want to hurry, so you guys and your boss can get the hell out of this hotel. 

“Cuz there really is a fight going on downstairs, and only a few of them are with me.”

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The Runaway 15-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Effective as Mom might have been at scouting the building out with a simple once-over, we clearly weren’t just going to go barging in. First, even though we knew where the people with weapons were (at least on the first few floors), we had no idea what that meant about the people who didn’t have them. With the sort of magic and powers people could have, not having a weapon on your person didn’t really mean much at all. Second, there was, again, the top floor that she wasn’t able to see into. Anything could be up there. Third, speaking of magic, there could have been any number of trap spells set up that we would set off by charging in blind. And fourth, we didn’t know who all the bad guys were. For all we knew, there were plenty of innocents in there. Innocents who would see us attack other people in the building, have their ‘danger, Heretic’ alert go off, and join in not knowing any better. Then we’d be fighting even more people than we had to. Otherwise innocent people. It would haveb turned into one giant clusterfuck, to say the least.

So yeah, charging straight in was clearly a bad idea. We needed to be a little less gung-ho about it, no matter how desperately we wanted to get in there and see what was going on with Denise. Mom hadn’t been able to identify where she was with that scan, but that didn’t mean much. The way she explained it, even the lower floors of the place had magic shields defending against most of her vision powers, and the most she could get was the outlines of people, along with what they were holding. So yeah, not being able to perfectly pinpoint where Denise was didn’t mean she wasn’t in there. But that was another reason not to go charging in guns and everything else blazing. We had no idea where she was, so if we did that, they could simply make her disappear. 

That brought us to our actual plan, which was one my mother didn’t like very much. But we all knew it was the best way to do this. And it started by me needing to get closer without being spotted. Which was where Sean came in. He’d done even more magical study than I had over his time being imprisoned, considering he’d had not only years to do so, but also had Apollo as a teacher. The Seosten man wasn’t Chayyiel, but was still pretty damn good at that stuff, and he’d taught Sean a lot to help make up for spending years unable to absorb any powers the old-fashioned… murdery way. Yeah, there were certainly upsides and downsides to not being able to go out and fight monsters all the time. 

In any case, Sean had a spell prepared that could make himself and anyone he was touching invisible. So, he put his hand on my shoulder while the two of us moved up toward the front entrance of the hotel. The others stayed back, ready to jump in if they needed to. I could almost feel the anxiety coming off of my mother, and it wasn’t exactly going to get better any time soon. 

Pushing that out of my mind for the moment so I could focus, I watched the partially-boarded up windows as Sean and I got closer. A thought switched my vision over to infrared (something Mom had mentioned did work), and I could see through into the lobby, where the two people Mom had mentioned were still sitting. They were facing the front doors, but it didn’t look like they were super-alert or anything from the heat-based view I was getting. They were just chilling out in a couple chairs. And from what I could see from a quick scan, they were the only ones there. Which hopefully meant it was a good time to actually do this, because we sure as hell weren’t going to get a better one. 

First thing first, I crept closer to one of the windows, with Sean right behind me while keeping his hand on my shoulder. We moved as silently as possible, just in case one of the people inside had enhanced hearing. But I couldn’t see the heat-shapes move at all, or react to our approach, so we seemed to be doing pretty well on that front. I sort of had the impression that these guys weren’t exactly top-of-the-line security or anything. They were basically gang members just hanging out. Which worked for us, but we still weren’t going to take any chances. Professionals or not, this whole thing could go south really damn fast if we weren’t careful. 

Finally, we made it up to the window. I leaned my head enough to peer through, and got my first glimpse of the two guys beyond their heat outlines. The first, sitting in a big, cushy chair nearest me (still about thirty feet away and slightly turned at an angle), was a Heaul, like that Sarez guy from the Vegas situation. He was a dark-blue humanoid with three eyes instead of two (evenly spaced along his face at the usual height), and little white spots across his exposed skin. Each of those spots could grow into a full suit of armor. The Heaul could either use multiple spots at once to make even stronger armor, capable of standing up to a lot of damage, or simply use them one at a time and replace the armor as it was broken. From what I’d read and heard, they usually did a combination of that, using several at a time for pretty strong protection that would stand up against a decent amount of attacks while keeping more in reserve just in case. 

Beyond that, the third-eye in the middle of his head could paralyze anyone he was staring at. As long as he kept looking, it was like playing red light, green light. The person he was focused on would be completely unable to move. 

So yeah, we had him to deal with. And sitting beside that guy was what looked like one of the near-Orc species. I was pretty sure he wasn’t an actual Orc, but he was in the same ballpark. Some of those species actually got pretty sensitive about the fact that they were all lumped into the ‘Orc’ category, given that was only the name of a single species that many of them had literally no connection to. I’d found that out over the past few weeks of of classes with what I had thought was an Orc teenager (the one who fist-bumped Travis Colby during Calculus over the idea of squishing bad guys). It had turned out his name was Clock, and his species were known as Mukeda. He was a pretty good sport about the whole thing though. 

This guy could’ve been either an Orc or a Mukeda, or any of the other similar species out there. I wasn’t actually an expert at picking out the differences yet. Which… was probably a bad thing, in several ways. I was going to have to work on that. Especially since it meant I didn’t actually know what this guy was capable of. Hopefully that wouldn’t end up biting us in the rears. 

A quick glance around showed no other people in sight. So, I acted quickly by focusing on the area slightly behind the Heaul, and created a very small portal between that spot and the area right in front of me. Watching to make sure it hadn’t alerted them, I put my hand through. There, I hesitated. Possessing people like this always made me feel at least a little queasy inside. If not right at that moment, then shortly afterward. I just… after everything we’d been through and all the things we were fighting against as far as the Seosten went, enslaving someone to my will like that felt wrong. But on the other hand, it was probably better than stabbing him through the throat with a blade. And I wasn’t planning on rifling through his memories any more than I had to, or violating him any more than absolutely necessary. I was going to do the best I could not to act like a Seosten like Charmeine, even if she was the one I’d gotten the first possession power from.

Besides, this was about saving Denise, and that was too important not to do everything I could. So, after that momentary hesitation, I quickly placed my hand against his neck. I felt the man start to jump a bit, but I was already focused and an instant later, I was inside him. Immediately, I clamped down on his voice, just before he would have blurted out something about asking who was behind him. I could feel his sudden panic as his voice was silenced, and sent a quick (probably meaningless) mental apology before shoving down on his consciousness as hard as I could. I just wanted him to go to sleep. If this went well, he’d wake up later and could go back to his… uhh, life doing whatever. Hopefully not kidnapping more innocent little girls. Which–yeah, that thought could make things really complicated, really fast. I was just going to push on. 

“The hell’s your problem?” That was the not-Orc, squinting at the man I had just possessed. “Got pants in your ants or something?” For some reason, the mixed-up question suddenly made him laugh loudly, pounding the arm of the chair as though he had just said the funniest thing in the world. I had the feeling it was some kind of inside joke between them. 

Making my guy mumble something under his breath that could have been affirmation or just a request that he shut up, I pushed him to his feet and brushed his hands off. “Got the munchies,” I made him say while doing a quick search of his memories for the man’s favorite snack. “Left some Doritos in my room.” 

“Yeah, well, don’t be long,” came the response. “And don’t go trying to get Sorevla to help you solve that last puzzle! You know she’ll tell me if you try to cheat again.” The not-Orc was pointing at us. “I want your next move as soon as you get back. No more stalling.” 

Again, I made the guy mutter something noncommittal under his breath while walking away, toward stairs in the corner. They were playing mental puzzle games that involved multiple moves? Apparently we had accidentally chosen a couple of intellectual gang thugs to get past, which was just fantastic. I would have said that we should have tried one of the other entrances, but with our luck the guys over there would be even worse. 

Oh well, this could’ve been worse. Making the man turn to look over his shoulder toward the spot where his partner was still sitting, I hesitated by the bottom of the stairs and took the opportunity to check this guy’s memory for anything that had to do with Denise. 

I found… nothing. Yeah, zip, nilch, nada. As far as I could tell, this guy had never even heard of Denise. And it wasn’t like he just didn’t know her name. I searched for anyone who looked like her, and got a big fat zero. He’d never seen or heard of her, apparently. Which… was a bit odd, but didn’t completely rule out Mercer having something to do with her disappearance. It just meant that he’d been more subtle about it. Maybe his men would have something against kidnapping a little kid. Whatever the reasoning, we were probably going to have to get answers straight from the horse’s mouth. Which meant getting to Mercer himself. 

With that in mind, I started up the stairs just as the familiar feeling of Tabbris doing a partial-recall came. Her voice was quiet in my mind. Is everything okay? She was staying out there in order to pass messages back and forth easily. If anything went wrong, the others would be ready to jump in. Yeah, this was a big part of why Mom didn’t like this plan. It involved me infiltrating the place by myself. But hey, it was better than us starting a full-scale war with these people right off the bat if we didn’t have to. Besides, this was hardly the most dangerous thing I’ve had to do solo. Which… apparently had not been the best argument to make at the time of our discussion. For some reason, me pointing that out didn’t seem to make her feel better. 

I’m good, I replied, letting her take a quick mental scan of what was going on and how far I was in order to pass it on to the others. Including Mom, who was probably pretty antsy by now. Heading upstairs now. I’ll find out where Mercer stays and get close enough to get answers out of him. One way or another. 

Tabbris gave me a mental squeeze of encouragement, then withdrew just enough to pass the message along to the others. I could still feel her there. If I reached out, I would be able to contact the girl and let her know something was wrong. Between her half-presence and the fact that my mother was right outside, I felt pretty safe, despite the situation. 

So, after giving my temporary-host’s mind a very quick (and as unintrusive as possible) search to find out where Mercer would be right then, I started up the stairs. According to this guy’s memory, his boss would likely be in one of the main penthouse rooms at the top of the building. Which made sense, given the whole ‘totally shielded against outside viewing’ thing. So, that was where I went, hiking up the stairs to the sixth floor. A few times, I passed a couple other guys heading down the stairs, or just lounging out in the open doorways from the stairwell to the floor they were on. But other than a brief muttered greeting, nobody said anything or tried to stop me. 

One other thing I did notice, which might’ve been a problem if we’d come in here the loud way, was various spell runes that glowed slightly at assorted spots on the stairs whenever my host passed them. A quick dip into his memories revealed that, just as we had suspected, the hotel was protected against intrusion. The spells were essentially alarms that scanned everyone going up the stairs to make sure they were allowed to be there. If not, a whole lot of things would happen that would have made getting Denise out of this place a lot more complicated. 

Unfortunately, the spells were linked together, making erasing them a bit harder and more involved than I had time for. I could have done it, probably, but not with the time we had to work with. Eventually, the guy downstairs was going to start wondering what was taking his partner so long. And from there, things would just get harder. So, I left the spells intact for the moment and just continued walking. It wasn’t like they would bother me as long as I was still using this guy anyway. 

Eventually, I made it to the entrance onto the sixth floor. That was the penthouse area, and there was a key card lock from the stairwell to the hallway itself. Making my host touch the doorknob without trying to open it, I focused on using my ability to see through objects in order to mark the door so I could see what was on the other side. 

Nothing happened. Shit. Yeah, I’d been afraid of that. The defenses that were blocking certain vision-related spells and powers were clearly stopping me from checking the hallway the easy way. 

But I had more tricks up my sleeve. To that end, I paused there and focused for a moment. This hotel was clearly over a century old, and had been a pretty big deal back in its day. To say nothing of the fact that it was clearly the base of operations for a pretty bad gang now. All of which meant that there was a very good chance that, if I tried hard enough, I could find…

There. My senses felt something brush up against them, and I extended an… invitation was the best way to put it. I invited the presence, then waited for a few seconds. It was like feeling a sharp tug at a fishing line and then letting the fish decide if it wanted to come to the boat. 

Actually, considering I was planning on simply politely asking the presence for help rather than hurting and definitely without eating it, maybe fishing was the wrong analogy. It was just slightly possible that I had been spending too much time around my sharks ever since I was gifted with the ability to summon them to me. 

Nah, that was crazy-talk. There was no such thing as spending too much time with my sharks.

In any case, there was only a momentary delay before I felt the presence grow stronger. I stepped back from the door, just as a glowing figure stepped through. It was–he was a little boy, maybe ten years old or so, wearing a ratty, patch-work suit that was too small for him in some places and too big in others, along with a newsboy cap. He had a pair of curly horns sticking out of his forehead just under the cap, and scales were visible along what I could see of his arms and wrists. Oh yeah, and he was glowing a yellowish-orange rather than the colors I tended to associate with most ghosts. 

“Who’re you?” the little Alter boy ghost demanded curiously, floating up a bit to look me in the eyes (or rather, my host in the eyes). “I seen you before. But it ain’t you, is it? The real lug there, he ain’t got this sort of power. Yeah, you ain’t him. You someone else. Someone new. You here to raise trouble? Maybe stab a few folk? Been awhile since I got to see a stabbing.” 

Right, he was tingling my memories of Ammon just a bit, though I didn’t think there were any real similarities. He had obviously been a ghost here in the hotel for a long time, which had to mess with you a bit. So, I pushed aside my reflexive revulsion and simply told the ghost why I was there and what I needed. He, in turn, offered a shrug before agreeing fairly readily, with a warning that there were places he couldn’t go. Still, he seemed pretty eager to go for it. I was pretty sure he was still hoping some stabbing would be involved before this whole thing was over. He was clearly pretty bored. 

I hesitantly asked what had happened to him, on the basis of wanting to offer some help. But he simply dismissed that with a hand wave, saying it had been a long time ago and there was no point in dwelling on it. Then he agreed to help, but said I should get on with it before he got too bored and wandered off to find something more interesting.

“Go for it,” I agreed, telling him once more what I wanted and what he should be looking for. 

He, in turn, gave me a salute. With that, he floated through the doorway and turned invisible once more. I closed my host’s eyes and focused on seeing through the ghost himself, watching and directing him as he floated past multiple guards on the floor. He was invisible and intangible, so none of them saw him. They had no idea he was there, as he went right by them. A few seemed to have felt something and glanced around, but that was as far as it went. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t send my ghost boy all the way. He’d told me before agreeing to this that there was some sort of shield around the main penthouse where ‘the boss guy’ lived. Which meant he couldn’t go inside. 

Still, I managed to find a guard up here on the sixth floor who was a bit isolated from the others, at the far end of the hallway. As soon as I did, I positioned the ghost boy behind him. A thought made the guy I was currently possessing slump to the floor, where he would stay nice and unconscious. Hopefully, by the time anyone found him, this whole thing would be over. 

Leaving that guy where he had fallen, I stepped out of him before reaching out to put my hand on the door. It was still electronically locked, but that didn’t mean anything given my security-breaking ‘open locked things’ power. Sure, there were a good number of magic locks that could keep me out still, but this wasn’t one of them. The knob immediately turned. But I didn’t open it yet. Instead, I checked through my ghost-friend’s eyes once more while he hovered just behind my new target. A silent request made the boy turn so I could see all the way down the hall. The coast was clear. No one was looking this way, the several guards who were there all focused on other things. So, I opened the door just a tiny bit and leaned out, just enough to get a direct line of sight onto the guy in question. 

Yeah, I’d tried creating portals by seeing through ghost eyes. It didn’t work. This was the next best thing, using those ghost eyes to ensure the coast was clear so I could poke my head out, look straight toward the man I needed, and create a portal between me and the space directly behind him. 

Once more, I reached through the portal. And once more, my fingers grasped the back of his head (he looked like a human to me), before I possessed him. Which led to a repeat of the whole ‘making his consciousness go to sleep before asserting control.’ 

But then it was done. I was on the penthouse floor, inside the body of a guard who was supposed to be there. The room itself where Mercer waited was right down the hall. And no one in here knew anything was wrong. No alerts had been sounded. Just a little further, and I would have the answers we needed about Denise. 

Umm, Flick? Tabbris abruptly spoke up in my head. You might want to hurry a little. 

What? I sent back. Why, what happened? 

There was a brief pause before she replied, Uh, you remember Zeke? I guess Crossroads must know about this place, because he just showed up with some others and they’re about to make their move. 

I think we just stumbled into one of the school hunts. 

Some of what happens between the Crossroads school hunt and the group outside will be covered in one of the upcoming Patreon Snippets, which will be the next Heretical Edge chapter. 

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