Gus

Long Awaited 12-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

I didn’t need much sleep, obviously. But I did stay in bed with my girls for as long as possible. I just laid there and enjoyed being with them while not having anything super-immediate and right in my face that had to be taken care of. Sure, there were things to do, but they could either wait on their own, or we had no choice but to wait because we had no way of affecting the situation yet. Whichever, the point was, I had no flashing life-or-death emergencies at the moment. 

Eventually, of course, I did need to get up and move around. I extricated myself from the bed and slipped downstairs, heading outside to practice with my staff in the backyard. I was mostly just running through some training drills, moving almost entirely on autopilot. It helped me clear my head a bit, even with the audience I attracted as Raphael, Eiji’s rhino cyberform in the backyard next door, moseyed over to the chain link fence and watched me curiously. Of course, I sent Jaq and Gus over there to keep him company, which led to both of the mice perching on each of the rhino’s horns so that all three could watch as I did my thing. I had the feeling that If any of the three that had the ability and materials to write, they would have held up number cards like a scoring table. Actually, come to think of it, that would be a pretty good skill to teach them. Could they learn to write? Because that would be a good way of passing information or relaying an emergency when we didn’t have any other way of–later. I’d think about it later. 

Another thing I had to think about for later was replacing the wristband that had previously allowed me to teleport myself to where my mice were or vice versa. It had been destroyed at Fossor’s, and now that I was back, I really needed a new one. 

When I was done staff-training, I took a jog around the neighborhood. Between my enhanced speed, strength, and stamina, taking a little jog wasn’t exactly going to do a lot for me. Or anything at all, really. But it passed the time and I enjoyed it. Plus, it was a way of re-acclimating myself to the neighborhood, considering how long it had been since I’d actually lived here. God, it felt like I’d been gone for a year, not just a couple months. One of which I’d literally skipped over. I didn’t even know what day it was. Seriously, Petan and his people had made such a big deal about getting me back to the right day, but it had all been in relation to when Fossor’s spell was cast, and was more of a… conceptual date for me. I had the vague idea that it was late November, but God only knew exactly which day. Was it close to Thanksgiving? Had we already passed it? Actually, yeah we had. Fossor made us have that… feast. But I still wasn’t sure what day it actually was. Did it really matter? Probably not, but I was curious. Honestly, I wanted to know when the first real holiday would be where Mom would actually be with us. Mom here with us and safe, Dad safe, my paternal grandparents… not exactly here, but on their way. Hell, maybe they’d make it before Christmas. Wouldn’t getting them back here be a great way to celebrate everything? 

Yeah, okay, my whole family situation was still complicated. Especially when you added in Dare and that whole… yeah. But still, I wasn’t going to let that get me down. This was basically the best condition my family had been in in years. My mother was here, and whatever happened next, she would be with us. Fossor hadn’t won. He’d lost. He was dead. I could let myself be happy about that, damn it. The universe wasn’t going to implode just because I let myself be a little optimistic about things. Not cocky or dismissive, just… optimistic. That was safe, right? 

Eventually, I worked my way back to the house, where I went inside and met up with Rebecca, Miranda, Doug, and Jason, who were all in the kitchen making breakfast together. When I came in, they had a whole thing about welcoming me home and all. It was pretty cute, especially when Jason held up a banner he’d made with those very words across it, which looked so hastily-done I was pretty sure he’d scribbled it out when he saw me coming back from jogging (which, given his ability to multitask, he’d probably done while preparing the food). I didn’t care. I exchanged embraces with everyone, thanking them. Most of them I’d already reunited with back at the Atherby camp before, or on the literal battlefield where Fossor had died. But I still hugged them all as if I hadn’t seen them in years. It was really good to be home, in more than one way. 

Pretty soon, they all went back to getting breakfast ready. I did my best to help, which mostly meant doing exactly what I was told and staying away from the stove just in case. It seemed to work, because nothing blew up and the pancakes, eggs, and sausage all managed to survive without being burnt to a crisp. Which was good, because Tabbris, Avalon, Columbus, Shiori, and Triss had joined us by that point, so there were a lot of hungry stomachs.

Shiori let Choo out of his ball (it wasn’t like he was cramped in there or anything, given the size of the pocket dimension within) in the backyard. The poor guy had exhausted himself during the fight back on the Meregan world and had slept through basically the entire flight home and all that. I couldn’t blame him either. That had been a huge, nasty fight, and the big guy really came through. As far as I was concerned, he’d earned all the naps and extra food he wanted. 

Shiori, of course, had no intention of giving him sausage. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly cannibalism given he wasn’t really a normal pig and all that. But, as she put it, it was close enough to be uncomfortable. Still, he got his share of pancakes and eggs, and he really seemed to enjoy them. We could hear the Jekern happily going at it in the big feeding bowl on the back porch. 

“Should we be saving some of this for Kersel?” I spoke up while everything was being passed around. The wooden Relekun guy was the only member of our house who wasn’t down here, and I kind of felt bad. I didn’t know him very well, or really at all. But still, he was part of the house, even if he did tend to keep to himself. 

“He’s kind of a vegetarian,” Jason informed me with a glance toward the others. “He’s got his own stuff in the fridge. Just make sure you don’t eat or drink anything with his name on it.  Seriously, he gets really particular about that.” The boy said that while scratching the back of his neck in a way that made it clear he’d been on the wrong side of that ‘particularness.’ 

Rebecca spoke up then. “He’s just kind of… shy. Okay, not shy. He doesn’t like to be around people very much. It’s not just Heretics either. Err, Boschers. It’s not just Boschers like us. He doesn’t like crowds or loud noises or having to talk to people in general. He just… keeps to himself. He doesn’t even say much in class.” 

Briefly, I wondered if that had anything to do with an experience the Relekun boy had had, or if it was just the way he was without any tragic backstory. Either way, pushing on that front was probably overstepping to the point of rudeness. He deserved some privacy. So, I focused on the people who were here. And on eating a little bit of breakfast. Emphasis on little bit, considering I still had to eat something with Mom and Dad. No way was I going to miss out on that, no matter how good this breakfast was. 

“Actually, hey, is it a school day?” I suddenly found myself blurting. “I don’t even know what the date is. Or anything.”

That made everyone exchange glances before Avalon answered, “It’s Tuesday, November 27th. They cancelled classes for a few days to let everyone celebrate Fossor dying.” 

“Oh,” I murmured. Yeah, of course that was a big deal for everyone else too. He’d sort of terrorized and murdered a hell of a lot more people than just my family. 

Tabbris, who had been running around the backyard with Choo after scarfing down about half a plate of food (she was holding out for family breakfast too), came trotting back in, out of breath and moved to take several gulps from her own glass of juice. Watching that, I chuckled softly. “Okay, well, thanks for the welcome breakfast, guys. And the banner.” I gestured to where Jason had hung the sad, but cute little thing across the wall with tape. “This is all awesome. And hopefully, this time I’ll stick around long enough to–” 

“Chambers,” Avalon spoke warningly, her gaze intent on me. “Do I need to get a spray bottle and start squirting you and hissing every time you try to tempt fate?” 

Coughing, I shook my head. “No, ma’am.” With that, I pushed myself up and exchanged a kiss with both her and Shiori. Promising to come find each of them later (And, in the latter’s case, that I would talk to Asenath about whatever her thing was), I said goodbye to the others and headed out with Tabbris to go upstairs. The two of us made our way through the maze of corridors to find the right door. Mostly thanks to my Seosten little sister and her perfect memory, of course. 

The door unlocked for us automatically, and we stepped inside just in time to hear laughing and the sound of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen. Exchanging brief glances, we moved that way, finding Mom and Dad working around the stove, chatting with each other. Mostly Mom was teasing him about never learning how to make real food, while he insisted there was some kind of magic anti-cooking curse specifically targeting him, which had clearly passed down to me. 

They were both just… laughing and talking and teasing each other. For a moment, Tabbris and I stood there, taking that in. She reached out to take my hand, squeezing it while giving me a quick, happy look. It was a look that I returned. 

Mom knew we were there, of course. Eventually, she waved us in and set us to different chores for getting this breakfast ready. Omelettes. She was making omelettes. Tabbris and I jumped to follow instructions, and soon the four of us were joined by Deveron, Abigail, Wyatt, and Koren. Then the kitchen was really busy. Not to mention loud. Everyone was talking back and forth, food was sizzling, we were all joking, teasing… laughing… being a family. We were being a family. It was… wow. 

Wyatt even let Corporal Kickwhiskers wander around on the floor, where he, Jaq, and Gus chased each other back and forth through the living room. Of course, Wyatt said it was good training for the little cat’s hunting instincts and ability to quickly assess and adjust to potential danger. I wasn’t sure what kind of training ‘lots of scritches from everyone in the room’ was, but Kickwhiskers definitely got that too. We ate, we talked, we laughed, it was all great. Just… really great. And nothing interrupted. There were no explosions, no sudden emergencies or problems. We got through that entire full breakfast together, and another hour or so afterward of just talking. Deveron told a story about Mom as a student when she was organizing some kind of protest about the way Ruthers was running this one training tournament, and how the old Crossroads Headmaster had practically ripped his hair out because of all the shit she had been piling onto him from getting the other students involved in that whole thing. It sounded pretty great, and I could see just how much they loved each other in the way he and Mom exchanged glances. It was the same sort of look I’d also been seeing between her and Dad. It was–yeah. That was definitely complicated. I was glad that my own joint relationships were more… had started at the same time, basically. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be involved with Avalon for literally decades, then lose and eventually completely forget her for decades, get involved with Shiori, then get my memories of Avalon back. It was all… yeah, complicated. But they seemed to be working their way through it, even if it was clearly going to take time to really figure it out. 

Seeing Mom with Abigail, Wyatt, and Koren was kind of amazing too. For awhile, I just sat back and watched the four of them interact. Koren actually seemed to be the most comfortable, even repeatedly calling her ‘Grandma’ in what I was pretty sure was meant to be a teasing way. But Mom seemed to like it. She chuckled, pulled Koren over to sit on her lap, and started teasing her right back, about what kind of student she was, what kind of boys she might like and if there was anyone special, just general stuff like that. Which made Koren bring up that Wyatt had a thing for Croc over at Eden’s Garden, leading to a whole bunch of chattering back and forth. Wyatt himself seemed kind of overwhelmed and a little reflexively defensive, but he settled down easily enough. Especially when Mom went on to talk about memories she had of Croc, something Wyatt was pretty interested in. I had no idea how that whole thing was going, but apparently he had spent some more time with the guy. Which was great. I really, really wanted good things for Wyatt. After the kind of life he’d had to lead to all his issues, he deserved as many of those as possible. Thankfully, this moment right here counted. For both of us, actually. 

Come to think of it, we all deserved this and more. Tabbris had spent years basically alone. No, worse, she was around Dad and me but had to hide from us. Deveron had lost his wife and children for almost a century. Wyatt had been raised by horrible people who gave him all sorts of legitimate paranoia issues. Dad himself lost his wife for years, thinking she had intentionally abandoned him and his daughter, me. Koren had spent years with the spectre of the Hiding Man looming over her, and the trauma of all that in her memories while no one else in her family remembered anything. 

Out of all of us, Abigail had apparently had the most normal life up until she was traumatically brought into this by that same Fomorian monster. But even she’d been taken away from her real mother, father, and twin brother, and had to grow up in a different place, with different people. I hoped she had a happy childhood and all, but either way, she was still kidnapped from her family. She still lost time, moments, memories that she should have had. Even if it did lead to her having Koren, whom she clearly wouldn’t give up for anything. Hell, that was like the fact that Mom losing everything in Heretic society had led to her having me. It was… complicated. Even Abigail finally being brought into things had come with the cost of losing her husband. And Koren losing her father. He was a man I never knew anything about, and the Fomorian piece of shit had just murdered him to take his place for fun.

So yeah, we all deserved to have as many of these moments, these breakfasts, these mornings, these days as possible. We deserved to have years and years of them all in a row, without interruption. We’d never get that, of course. Hell, lots of stuff was already lining up to call for our attention within the next few months, let alone years. So, I would just enjoy these moments when they came. I would gorge myself on the enjoyment of just being with my family. 

Eventually, Mom asked if I wanted to go for a walk with her. And, judging from the way she was looking at me, I was pretty sure there was something important she wanted to talk about in the process. Of course, I wasn’t going to object to spending more time with her, so we excused ourselves, heading out with just the two of us. 

Whatever Mom wanted to talk about, she didn’t immediately get into it. So, I just showed her around the station for a while, mostly focusing on the school and adult student living areas, considering those were really the only places that I knew. There were a lot of people who wanted to see Mom and ask her questions. That part was unsurprising, but there were others who wanted to talk to me. Yeah, apparently the fact that I had been the one to finally get the killing blow on Fossor had been spreading around, and people wanted to talk about how that felt, or just shake my hand. It was awkward, especially when a couple people asked if I’d really picked up his necromancy and wanted to know if I’d show it to them. 

Thankfully, Mom helped extricate me from the most awkward situations without hurting anyone’s feelings or being rude. She was smooth and very charismatic with them. Better than I ever could have been, that was for sure. If I’d ever had any question as to how she could have been the one to lead that first rebellion, which I really didn’t, I wouldn’t have after this. 

In any case, we talked to people, we wandered around, and I showed her the house I was now living in, along with the others in the neighborhood. I was going to ask if she wanted to go inside and see the others, but Mom suggested we walked to the park so she could talk, and show me something. What she wanted to show me, I had no idea. But it was clearly something important.

Whatever it was would take me a few more minutes to find out, apparently, because when we got to the park, a voice called out my name. It was Asenath, approaching along with Twister. Both of them were focused on me being there, but stopped short when my mother turned that way. 

“Asenath,” Mom immediately greeted, “and Twister. You’re still going by Twister, right? I’d hate to think you went and changed nicknames when you forgot about me.” 

“Forgot you came up with it,” the Pooka girl cheerfully answered, “but I definitely didn’t forget the name. It’s a hell of a lot better than Esevene, that’s for sure.” That said, she made a fist and bumped it against Mom’s. “Still looking good, Jossy.” 

“I’d say the same to you,” my mother replied, “but you’re a bit shorter than I remember you being. Gotta watch out for the people you piss off.”

“Right back atcha, babe,” Twister retorted. 

With that, Asenath coughed and reached out to take Mom’s hand, squeezing it firmly before speaking up. “It is great to see you around again, Joselyn. And to remember who you are.”   

“I enjoy all of that too,” Mom confirmed with a soft smile, pulling Asenath into an embrace. “And I’m glad to hear that you helped my daughter here more than once.” 

Glancing my way, Asenath gave a short nod. “Yeah, well, I sort of tripped over her when I was trying to help the mother of a dead girl get some justice. I–” 

Mom interrupted. “That’s what I wanted to talk to Felicity about, actually. It’s good you’re here.” She glanced toward Twister before adding, “good all of you are here.” She hesitated then, taking a breath before letting it out. “As… you all know, my son… my youngest son, Ammon, was… killed.” Her voice was quiet, and she spoke up quickly when the three of us looked at each other. “Fossor destroyed him long before he… long before he was finally killed. And by that point, the death was more of a mercy. Not only for him, but for everyone else he would have hurt and killed because of what Fossor turned him into.” Even as she said the words, Mom’s voice cracked. I knew it was hurting her to say all this, hurting her to even think that one of her children dying was a good thing. 

She kept going before any of us could find the right words to say anything. “But, you should also all know that he used his power on a man named Scott, and made him kill himself. Scott, he’s a–” 

“A Pooka,” I suddenly put in, a mixture of dread and confusion suddenly rising up in me as I glanced toward Twister. “Wait, Mom. Wait. Are you saying… are you telling us that–” 

Mom, instead of answering, took a phone from her pocket. “I asked a friend to go over and record this for me yesterday before we went on the ship. Watch.” Her voice was quiet as she held the phone up, playing a video on it. 

Twister, Asenath, and I exchanged pretty loaded glances once more before focusing on the screen. There, we saw a house. It was a pretty simple, suburban place. My fists were tight as I waited to see my Pooka-resurrected half-brother show up. How could this be happening? Would he be evil again? He had to be, right? They got all their memories back eventually, so everything that he’d been, everything that he was and what he’d done, it would all–

The front door of the house opened, and a girl emerged. She looked to be about eleven years old or so, with dark hair and a quick smile as she shouted over her shoulder that she was going to someone named Carly’s house. Whoever was taking the video must’ve been invisible or something, because the girl didn’t even look at them despite jogging down the sidewalk right in front of the camera. Watching her, I felt a sense of familiarity somehow. It was like I knew the girl from somewhere. Seriously, I knew her. It was right there on the tip of my tongue.

When she got right up close, her face framed in the video, Asenath suddenly snapped her hand out with vampire speed, pausing it. She was even more pale than usual. “That’s… that’s… how? I know that face. She’s younger now, but I know her. It’s the girl from the gas station. The girl Ammon murdered. Joselyn, how the fuck is Denise Cartland alive? And why is she a kid?” 

“Simple,” came Mom’s quiet response. 

“I used my son’s Pooka respawn power to bring her back, instead of him.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Long Awaited 12-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

A/N – If you haven’t seen it yet, the non-canon chapter focusing on Tabbris accidentally bonding Lincoln years before canon can be seen by everyone on Patreon right here

So, within the privacy of Dare’s own apartment (which was also conveniently and not-at-all accidentally close to the cluster of rooms belonging to my–our family), I told the woman everything we had found out about this Godfather guy and his goals. At least, what little of his goals we actually understood. Okay, basically all I was able to tell her as far as that went was that it had something to do with getting Vanessa, Tristan, Tabbris, and me in front of the Seosten leadership at some point for… some reason. That was it. Well, that and the fact that he was clearly (even more) completely psychotic from spending so long in that Tartarus place and then having both his Seosten and Fomorian selves merged together. Yeah, that couldn’t have done wonders for his/their mental state, to say the least. 

Unsurprisingly, Dare wasn’t exactly thrilled with the news. And who could blame her? After everything she’d given up to keep the Fomorians off Earth, here I was telling the woman that the single most powerful and dangerous one had been right here the whole time. We talked for about an hour about all the possibilities related to this revelation, and still probably didn’t cover anywhere near everything. But on the other hand, given how little we actually knew for certain about this fucker, we were probably getting pretty far ahead of ourselves. The point was, we really needed to find out more about him, preferably before he figured out that we actually knew about him and made his own moves in retaliation. Because as bad as he sounded, at least he was being quiet for the moment. I really didn’t want to see what kind of trouble he could get up to if he felt like lashing out.  

But, for the moment, there really wasn’t anything else we could do. Well, nothing I could do, anyway. Dare said that she could look into a few things quietly on her own over the next few days, but said that I should get some rest and enjoy this little break while I had the chance. I could tell there was a lot more she wanted to say, a lot going through her mind now that I had told her about Godfather. But she was clearly locking her reactions down specifically to avoid freaking me out any further. Instead of going on or giving me any details, she simply repeated that I should get some rest and that we would talk about it later. Despite the obvious emotional reaction she was having, her voice was firm and I knew we wouldn’t be getting any more into it that night. 

Part of me wanted to push her on that, of course. Koren and I were the only people she had to really open up to with Gaia missing. But we were still–okay, we weren’t kids. But to her we were. And, as much as she possibly could, Dare was still trying to protect us, even from her own emotions. I just… wished she had someone else to talk to, someone she would consider more of a peer than a student. Like Hisao. God, I wished she could tell Hisao all of this. Hell, that was honestly probably why she still kept him somewhat at arm’s length. Because she couldn’t truly open up to him about who she was and about everything in her past. She’d lost her husband and had to erase herself from her daughter’s mind. That was a huge thing in her development, and yet she couldn’t talk to Hisao about it.  

But, as much as I wanted to fix all that and give my grandmother someone she could trust to confide in, I had no way of doing that. Not yet, anyway. So, after stepping over and embracing the woman tightly (something she seemed to still be surprised by), I stepped out of her apartment and back into the hallway. For a moment, I glanced down toward the door that divided into my fath–my parents’ place. But I didn’t go that way. Instead, I took out my phone and texted my father to say I was going to my own place for the night and that he should stay with Mom. They deserved to have a lot more time together with just themselves. Adding a second text that I would meet them in the morning for breakfast, and that I loved them, I took a breath and pivoted to head back the way we had come before. 

It took me a couple minutes to find my way to the spot Dad had pointed out that led back into the school area, but I eventually managed it. I had just navigated my way through those slightly more familiar halls to the forcefield elevator that led down to the living area and was descending on it when I felt the mental tug of Tabbris checking what was going on and if it was okay to pop in. When I let her know it was safe and that she wasn’t interrupting, the girl recalled and appeared directly beside me on the invisible elevator. 

“Hi, Flick!” she blurted before quickly hugging me as tightly as she could. “Isn’t this great?! Your mom’s home! I mean back, she’s back. She’s really back! And your dad’s here, and they all know everything, and they’re together, and they get to spend time together and you get to spend time with them and your brother and sister are here too and they all get to be together at the same time in the same place, and–” 

Laughing a bit despite myself, I quickly returned the hug and lifted the girl up a bit. My throat had a lump in it that I had to swallow back before I could force the words out in a shaking, emotional voice. “Yes. Yes, it’s amazing. I can’t–I can’t believe it’s real, Tabs. I keep thinking I’m about to wake up and find out I’m back in that… in that place with Fossor and this whole thing was just a fucked-up magic mind joke that he used to punish me for something, or that Mom never got away, or that we’re–” Cutting myself off, I shook my head quickly while trying to shove all those worries down as far as I could. “I think it’s gonna take a long time before I let myself believe that it’s real and that it’s really sticking.” 

Unable to go on for a moment, I just hugged my little sister tighter to me while getting myself back under control. We stood there like that, clinging to one another, even after the elevator finished descending and we were left standing there in the middle of the miniature town that made up the adult-student living area. 

Finally, I felt Tabbris pinch my arm. It didn’t hurt or anything, but I still gasped and let her go. Landing on her feet, the younger girl smiled up at me and held her fingers up pointedly. “Do you believe you’re awake now? Cuz I’ll keep pinching you as many times as it takes, you know. I’m helpful like that.”  

Snorting despite myself, I held up both hands and shook my head. “No, no, that’s okay. Thanks for the offer, but I think I can get along without being pinched again. Jeez, you’ve got strong fingers.” After a brief hesitation, I smiled and quietly added, “This is pretty amazing, isn’t it?” 

Tabbris’s broad, beaming smile basically eclipsed my own as she quickly latched onto me once more. She didn’t say anything out loud in response. She didn’t need to. I felt everything through that embrace, which went on for another minute or so before we both heard the warning beep that someone else was descending on the elevator and we needed to get our butts out of the way so that it could actually finish coming down instead of hovering above us.

Quickly, I moved out of the way with the other girl, and we watched as the forcefield lift finished lowering down to where we had been, and the occupants stepped off. It was Aylen and Avalon, both of them looking at us curiously. They were also holding hands, and from the looks on their faces, I could tell they had both clearly just been involved in an emotional discussion about something. They’d been talking about– Oh. 

“You told her about him?” I hesitantly asked, realizing what their discussion had probably been about. Godfather. Of course, I’d thought that I would have to talk to Aylen about that, but it obviously made sense that Avalon would do that. After all, the two of them were… yeah. Of course Valley would want to be the one to talk about it with her. 

Sure enough, Aylen glanced toward Avalon before giving a short nod as she released the other girl’s hand. Her voice was quiet. “She told me. I–we knew he was around, that he was… that he was a problem that was only going to get worse eventually. But we didn’t know he was actually already making moves.” She snorted then, head shaking. “Sorry, I guess ‘already’ isn’t the right word. It’s been a long time. I just–I think we were all just hoping he’d never show himself. Or maybe that he fell into a black hole somewhere and disappeared forever. And now it turns out he’s been doing things this whole time. What does he even want to do to the Seosten leaders?” 

“We don’t know,” Avalon answered, glancing toward me with a sigh. “Nobody knows what he’s planning. But it involves Felicity, Tabbris, and the Moon twins. So nothing we want to see.” 

Coughing, I gave a quick nod. “Yeah, believe me, I don’t have any interest in following his little plan, whatever it is. We’re gonna find out what he’s up to, Aylen. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. Just, hopefully without one of us being abducted and held prisoner for a couple of months first.” I tried to make light of it that way, but from the way they both squinted at me, I was pretty sure the attempted joke had pretty much fallen flat. Yeah, probably not the best time for that. 

So, shaking that off, I exchanged a brief glance with Tabbris (who was squinting at me with a look that made it clear she wasn’t a fan of the joke either), before turning back to the other two. “Sorry, the point is, we’ll find him. Come on, I know he’s super-scary and all, but it’s like I said back on the ship, one of his biggest advantages has been the fact that almost no one knew about him. Now we do. And we’ll deal with it. Or, you know, Athena, Sariel, Mom–they’ll all help deal with it. They’ll help your family stop him, Aylen. We all will. You guys aren’t alone in this anymore, okay?”

A very faint smile crossed Avalon’s face as she met my gaze before turning to Aylen to speak quietly while putting a hand on her shoulder. “She’s right. She’s kind of a dork, but she’s still right. You and your family aren’t alone. We’ll figure out how to deal with this Seorian bogeyman.” 

“Oooh, did we settle on Seorian?” I put in. “Yeah, that’s probably better than Fomorsten.” 

With a screech, Sovereign came flying down out of the sky, landing on Aylen’s raised and waiting arm as she replied, “Whatever you end up calling him, he’s dangerous. More dangerous than you could ever–” Stopping herself, she exhaled long and low, clearly steadying herself. “I’m sorry. I know you do understand how dangerous. I just–the idea of that creature being out there is the only thing I ever saw actually scare my mother and Grandfather. And anything that scares them is bad, Felicity. Really…” She took a breath and let it out. “Really bad.” 

The four of us started walking together then. On the way, I took Jaq and Gus and perched them on Sovereign’s back. Valley did the same with Porthos. The little mice and lizard were able to lock in so they wouldn’t fall off as the metal hawk went flying off, giving all three a ride. I could hear my little buddies squeaking excitedly, while Avalon’s astonishingly brave lizard chittered loudly. I couldn’t understand him, of course, but from the tone I was pretty sure he was calling out threats to anyone who wanted to challenge them. So, pretty much the same old Porthos. 

For a few minutes, we just walked and talked a bit more about the Godfather situation. But honestly, there wasn’t that much more we could say about it. Nothing important or that we hadn’t already said, anyway. We just repeated ourselves a bit, promised to take it seriously, and said we couldn’t do anything about him right now. Aylen assured us that she would talk to her family about what happened, and arrange a time for everyone who was in the know to have a full, real conversation with them about it. Maybe they’d come up with a game plan that way. 

Eventually, we reached the house. Once we’d separated the cyberforms (all of whom were quite happy about their little flight) Avalon stepped away with Aylen to walk the other girl next door to her own house, with the promise of being back soon. Meanwhile, Tabbris and I headed in, with one mouse on each of our left shoulders. It was late, so we were as quiet as possible. Not that it really mattered given the fact that each room was soundproofed, but hey. It was the thought that counted? 

Still, despite how quiet we were, the moment the two of us stepped inside the house, we were met with slightly glowing eyes coming from down the dark hall where the archway leading into the equally dark kitchen was. A moment later, Triss (the white-and-brown-furred Nekomata girl) stepped into view. Her ears were down a bit as she squinted while holding an ice cream carton in one hand (wait, was paw the right word?). There was partially melted ice cream in the fur around her face, which kind of took away from the image she was trying to portray of being dangerous. 

Belatedly, her eyes softened a bit and her ears went up. “Wh–oh, it’s you guys. Wait, it’s you guys?” Quickly, she came forward, little pink nose sniffing a bit curiously as she reached out to flick on the nearby light switch and stared at me. “You really came back. I mean, I know you survived and all, I just–I didn’t expect to… I thought it’d be a lot longer before you came down here.” There was a brief, somewhat awkward pause before she added, “Are you–uh, you know… okay?” From the look on the cat-girl’s face, she realized how awkward that sounded.

Rubbing the back of my neck, I nodded. “Well, my mom and dad are sort of… reuniting themselves, so… you know, I wanted to give them time and space and not be anywhere near that.” Grimacing, I shrugged. “Tabs and I figured we might as well head down here and see if you guys managed to sublet our room out or not.” Yeah, Tabbris hadn’t been with Fossor (thank every god and/or mysterious power in the universe), but she had let me know that she hadn’t slept down here at all since I disappeared. She’d spent the whole time either with Dad or with her mother.

With a very slight smirk, Triss too-casually replied, “Oh, well, you know. We had a guy living in there, but he couldn’t keep up his end of the rent and all so we had to give him the boot.” That said, she glanced down at the carton in her hand before offering it our way. “Ice cream? It’s Mint Chip with caramel.” 

I started to decline, but Tabbris took the carton, plucked up a large scoop with the spoon that was still in it, and happily took a bite. With her mouth full, she started to blurt something before quickly swallowing. “Oh! I gotta show you something! Dad said they’d send it down and all but I don’t–” She was starting to move, only to belatedly realize she still had the ice cream carton and started to hand it back to the other girl. 

“Keep it, I’ve had enough,” Triss replied, holding up both hands to wave her off before looking to me once more. As always, I got that same hint of reflexive suspicion that came from her every time she looked at a Bosch Heretic before smothering it. Her ears popped back up, as she pointedly added, “I’m glad you made it back, Flick. It’s been… well, not boring around here without you. But pretty depressing. I mean, I know I don’t really know you, and I haven’t been the most… open. We’re not like…” The girl trailed off, eyes twitching a bit as she realized she was rambling before focusing. “But seriously, I’m glad you’re not stuck with that figlio di puttana.” 

“Uhhh, me too, I think.” I murmured that a bit blankly before meeting her gaze. “And I’m sorry I haven’t really had much of a chance to get to know you either, Triss. Hopefully that can change now, cuz I’m not planning on getting–ow.” That last bit, of course, came from Tabbris pointedly kicking me in the leg for almost jinxing it again. “Right, sorry. What I mean is, I’ll be around. And hey, maybe I can even go back to attending some classes now and then.” 

Promising to talk to the girl some more later, I headed off with Tabbris. The two of us went to the stairs and quietly made our way up. Well, quietly aside from the sound of my little sister cheerfully enjoying the ice cream out of the carton the whole way up. Not that it mattered, considering the rooms were soundproofed. Still, it was kind of amusing to hear just how much she was enjoying that stuff. The happy noises she made while she licked the spoon clean were adorable. 

Also adorable? The noise she made when we made it all the way up and back to our room. The moment the two of us stepped through, she immediately looked to the side and squealed happily. “They moved it in! They really got it here! Flick, check it out!” 

‘It’, in this case, was what looked like an ordinary, average goldfish bowl sitting on the table next to her bed. But it was far more than that, as I soon found out. Apparently, the interior of the bowl was actually the size of a full bedroom all by itself. There was a forcefield across the top, and Tabbris could shift the view through the glass to see any part of the inside. 

And what happened to be inside? Fish, of course. Lots and lots of fish. Colorful fish, drab-looking fish, exotic fish, normal fish, just… fish. So many fish. Tabbris loved them. Apparently she really liked all kinds of fish, to the point that she had named all of the dozens in there. She knew each of them by sight, and very excitedly panned the view around to make sure that I was introduced to each and every one. 

For the next forty minutes or so, the two of us sat there on her bed and carefully fed each of the fish. Tabs had different fish food for each type that was in there, and she made sure they all got everything they needed. Then she set the bowl back on the table, perched up on her knees, and proceeded to tell the fish a story that amounted to Little Red Riding Hood in marine animal form. Yeah, she literally told her fish a bedtime story. And the weird part? I was pretty sure they were listening. 

By that point, Avalon and Shiori had both arrived and were listening at the door. The latter stepped over once I slipped over to my own bed, whispering that Asenath apparently had something important to talk about in the morning, but that it would wait that long. Which was good, because I really couldn’t take another immediate emergency popping up the second I sat down. 

Eventually, Tabbris finished her story, wished her fish good night, and then looked over to me. There was a small, knowing smile on her face. “I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight,” she informed us. “More room.” 

With that, she reached out and hit the button that activated the privacy screen that had been installed, bathing her bed in pitch black, impeneratable shadows. 

Which, of course, left me sitting on my bed with Shiori next to me and Avalon approaching. “Well, hey there, girls,” I offered with a little smile. “Do you think you could help me? See, this bed here is awfully big and I do get so lonely with–” 

“Finish that sentence, Chambers,” Avalon interrupted, “and you’ll find out just how big and empty that bed can be.” 

My fingers made the zipping motion across my lips, while Shiori giggled. Then I reached out and hit the button for my own privacy mode. 

And for the rest of the night, I definitely wasn’t lonely at all.

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Long Awaited 12-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

So, we made it back to Earth, after our totally and completely successful mission. Not that we could let everyone know the mission was successful. In fact, we had to pretend that we had failed as far as a big part of it went. And speaking of that big part, as soon as we were back near Earth, several of the adults pooled their power together to create a portal for Elisabet to take alongside Sachael. The latter had said he would get Elisabet set up in a private place so she could stay off the radar for awhile. And reiterated that he would not be informing his own people about what was going on just yet. At least not until he had a better idea of who he could trust, who hadn’t already been compromised by this Maestro or Godfather or whatever.

The point was, we sent them away before heading up to the Fusion school at the Starstation. Of course, we couldn’t exactly go through the sun, but there was a portal waiting for us near Earth. The portal took the ship up to the station itself, and we all got to give the best performances we could of a group that had failed to save Elisabet. The Oscar had to go to Jophiel, who managed to portray someone shocked by grief and outrage that had no outlet. She looked like a woman who wanted to kill everyone around her, yet was barely holding herself in check. It really looked like she was grieving, and I was pretty sure that no one who was watching could have guessed it was all fake. Especially since Sariel and Athena had worked up some kind of spell to mask and alter the emotions any of us were giving off just in case someone we encountered had that kind of power. Yeah, we were pulling out all the stops just to make this believable. 

Having to hide the truth about all this really sucked, especially since it would mean lying to people I cared about. The one exception was my father, since everyone basically agreed that it was too dangerous to try lying to him for very long. He’d sniff out the truth and possibly accidentally cause problems. So an exception was created in the secrecy spell to allow Mom and I to tell him the truth. And I negotiated a second exception for Professor Dare, insisting that she was the closest connection we had to Gaia and that, given everything that had happened, if she was compromised by Godfather we would all have been screwed a long time ago. 

I couldn’t tell them the real reason I needed to be able to tell Dare the truth about the Fomorian-Seosten hybrid monster. I really had to talk to her about that whole situation and find out how it related to her… to the spell. I would’ve liked to get Koren involved since she was the only other person who knew the truth about Dare, but there was no way in hell they’d agree to that. 

But, if I couldn’t talk to Koren about it just yet, at least I had managed to give myself a way of keeping Dare in the loop. I was going to take her aside as soon as possible to have that full discussion. Meanwhile, we all played up the bittersweet victory of having at least brought Dexamene back, while claiming that Elisabet had sacrificed herself to save the girl, being poisoned in her place. 

Mostly the other students and I left the adults to talk to Abigail (feeling bad about lying to her too, of course) and the other people who had stayed behind. The rest of us separated, making excuses about desperately needing to shower or just find our families and friends. 

Shiori and Columbus moved off to call their own parents so they could check in from their ‘totally normal boarding school’, while Avalon stepped away to take Salten back to his favorite nature enclosure on the station itself. Everyone basically split up, leaving me standing there with my mother and Tabbris while Dad stood nearby, watching us with a curious look. Yeah, he looked curious rather than sympathetic or sad about our supposed failure. I had a feeling it was a good thing we’d all agreed to keep him in the loop. Otherwise this thing would’ve unraveled pretty fast. But seriously, what kind of superpower did he have? How could he possibly tell this wasn’t the truth already? I was starting to think he’d somehow permanently Chimera-Bonded himself to a polygraph or something, cuz what the hell? 

Oh, and, of course, we’d left a loophole to tell Grandfather and his family. Including Aylen. Not that we told everyone about the extent of that particular bit, of course. They didn’t need to know about Aylen, Bastet, and Sonoma just yet. Sariel simply weaved them secretly into the spell herself while supposedly only leaving it open for Grandfather, and let me know about it through Tabbris. 

Either way, once we were separated enough from the others, Dad murmured, “I think we all need to talk about a few things, right?” His voice was quiet, and yet there was something else behind it. More than just his suspicion or understanding about this situation. He had something he wanted to talk about, that much was for certain. Though I couldn’t imagine what had happened that would make him react like that. 

On the other hand, knowing everything else that had happened in the past year and a half, I was gonna go ahead and guess that it was dramatic, shocking, and would end up driving all of us into a life-or-death battle with something that wanted to kill us. That seemed about right. 

Mom, Tabbris, and I exchanged brief looks before nodding. Then the four of us headed out of the ship landing area, moving through some winding corridors before reaching some other room. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be (it was a huge station and I hadn’t been in even ten percent of it), but right now it was just an empty room, aside from a few chairs and a glass table. 

Once the door had automatically slid shut, Dad pivoted to face us. His voice was even. “I need to call a couple people up to talk about something else. But something tells me I better wait until we talk about what just happened in there.” 

Right, yeah, something else was definitely going on. I had no idea what it was, or who Dad wanted to call in to talk about it with us. But for the moment, he was right, we had to focus on our part before getting involved with anything else. 

So, between the three of us, Mom, Tabbris, and I told him the full story. Well, after Mom and Tabbris both put up some privacy spells just in case. We quickly but thoroughly explained everything about what really happened, about Godfather, about where Elisabet was, all of it. And about why we had to keep her survival a secret. It took awhile, but we managed to get the whole story out, including the part about Grandfather and his family. And that was when Tabs and I clarified things for Mom as well. We told her the truth about who Aylen really was, and about her mothers.

When we were done, both Mom and Dad looked a little taken aback for what I assumed were different reasons. First, Mom slowly murmured, “I suppose this Bastet having a golden aura explains a few things Ruthers and his people blamed on me while I was… imprisoned.” Head tilting curiously, she added, “I think I’d like to meet her.” 

“Yeah, pretty sure she’d like to meet you too,” I agreed before glancing the other way. “Uh, Dad?” 

He, in turn, shook his head in what looked like wonder. “Well, conveniently, Aylen is one of the people I need to call up to talk. She, Virginia, and Sean should be here shortly.” 

Well, that was confusing. I blinked. “Sean? What–what does Sean have to do with… “ Frowning, I asked, “What happened while we were gone?” 

Dad, however, insisted on waiting for the others. All he would say was that it had to do with my grandparents, and (once Mom and I both almost freaked out) that they were not dead or anything. He just said the situation was ‘complicated’, whatever that meant. He thought it would be better to get the whole story out together once the other three showed up. Which–yeah, that was confusing. What had my father gotten up to while we were gone? Didn’t he know he wasn’t supposed to go on random crazy adventures while I wasn’t around? There should’ve been some kind of law. 

So, we just talked a bit more about the Godfather situation. Dad was absorbing that whole reveal pretty well, considering. I had a feeling it would take awhile for the full ramifications to really sink in. Especially when it came to just how big of a threat this monster really was. Actually, I was pretty sure that part hadn’t fully sunk in for me yet. Not that we were exactly strangers to horrifically powerful and malevolent people targeting us, but still. This was basically a combination of the Fomorian biotech genius mixed with the Seosten archangel wings. And I had seen how powerful Tabbris’s own just-developing wings were. The idea of this guy, a Fomorian-Seosten hybrid empowered by that same type of doom wings, but ones that had had thousands of years to develop? Yeah, we hadn’t exactly downgraded in enemies after getting rid of Fossor. To say the least. 

By that point, before any of us could really find the right words to say something, Mom abruptly nodded to the door. “They’re here.” And sure enough, as the door slid open, Aylen stepped through with Sovereign perched on one shoulder. They were accompanied by Dare and Sean, with Vulcan bringing up the rear. 

First things first, I produced Jaq and Gus, letting the two mechanical mice head off to a corner of the room with Vulcan and Sovereign so the four cyberforms could confer. Or play, whatever they wanted to do. Either way, they were off on their own, along with some metal food Sean sent along in a bowl for all of them to share. Honestly, my two little friends there deserved a break just as much as I did. I hadn’t been able to do much for them, even get them decent metal to ingest to repair and energize themselves, since… for a long time. I didn’t know if cyberforms got spa days (or even really what a spa day was, given I’d never had one either), but they sure deserved it. 

Obviously, with Sean here, we couldn’t exactly get into the Godfather situation with Aylen and Dare. And I certainly wasn’t about to say, ‘well thanks so much for stopping by, buddy, but would you mind waiting outside for about fifteen minutes while we talk about some secret stuff you’re not allowed to know about?’ Yeah, that seemed like a bad (not to mention incredibly rude) idea. 

Still, that meant we could focus on whatever Dad’s news was. Which–well, straight off the bat he started by telling the three of us we should sit down in those chairs. Mom declined, but I decided to take his word for it and sat with Tabbris perched in my lap and my arms around her stomach. Watching my father briefly, I let my eyes drift over to Sean and Aylen, then to Dare before managing a confused, “Okay, what happened while we were gone? And who said you were allowed to go find more trouble? Don’t you know there’s a special form you have to fill out?” 

Of course, Dad simply shot right back, “And where can I find the filed forms with your signatures from all the dangerous situations you got yourself into?” With a raised eyebrow, he interpreted my look correctly, adding a flat, “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” 

Still, despite the teasing words back and forth, I could tell there was something worse behind everything. Dad was trying to play things off, but he was really on edge. Which Mom clearly interpreted too, quietly asking, “Lincoln, what’s going on?” 

So, with a bit of help from the others, he told us all about what had happened when they went to check on his parents, my grandparents. Grandpartie (for Grandpa Artie, like Grand Party) and Grandmaria, as I had often called them. Of course, I also called my grandfather Popser, since he’d told me to call him Pops or sir when I was little. Over time I drifted between calling him Grandpartie or Popser.

The point was, Dad told us about not having contact with his parents for a long time, then checking it out and finding half the cabin blasted away, and then about Calafia showing up there in Alaska.  

As soon as she heard that, Mom was snarling, “If this was Ruthers and those bastards try–” 

“It wasn’t them,” Dad immediately assured us. “Calafia says they–” He amended himself. “They did try something. Litonya sent that new member of theirs–” He looked to Dare. 

“Antaeus,” she provided promptly before adding, “An old enemy of Alcaeus. Who also apparently has a connection to your family.” 

“Yeah, dude.” That was Sean as he looked toward me, folding two muscular arms across his chest. “Your grandparents’ best friend is Hercules, Flick.” 

Well that made me do a double-take. “Uncle Al? Wait, Al–what? What?” Now I was just staring at him, mouth open. I had spent time with Uncle Al. Not really my uncle, obviously, but still. He was just– he was Uncle Al, Grandpartie’s friend. “That doesn’t–why would… why…” Slowly, I slumped back in my seat while Tabbris held onto me. She seemed just as surprised. And a glance toward Mom showed that she was pretty stunned too. All three of us just stared at the rest of them. 

“Yeah,” Dad murmured, “that was pretty much my reaction too. Apparently Dad’s old friend was Hercules. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t lead with that, it’s because that’s just a side-note of this whole situation. The real story…” He paused, breathing and letting it out, clearly taking a moment to get himself under control before he pushed on. “They sent that Antaeus guy, brand new member of their Committee, to take my parents. That was their goal. But apparently something interrupted before he could pack them up.”

Then he told us more of the story. According to Calafia, my grandparents and Al (who was apparently Hercules seriously what the fuck why would he and where did he and whaaaaaat?!) disappeared right in front of Antaeus. A teleportation spell that had somehow been triggered the moment they were all in danger, apparently. Someone outside that group had teleported them out of danger. 

“Now…” Dad took a deep breath. “Now is when it gets… big.” 

“Now? It wasn’t big before?” I stared at him, feeling a deep pit of uncertainty in my stomach. Which, after everything we’d been through, was not a fun experience, in the least. “Dad, where are Grandpartie and Grandmaria? What’s going on?” 

In a voice that made it perfectly clear that he was freaking out on the inside and simply doing his best to hold it in and avoid making it worse, Dad informed us that Calafia and the Committee had apparently done a test on the remnants of the transportation spell to find out if they could track it. While they couldn’t do that (for what would quickly become obvious reasons), they were able to find out how far away the spell took my grandparents and Uncle Al. And the answer was… very, very, very fucking far. Into another galaxy sort of far. Whoever magicked them away from Antaeus (to save them?) had actually sent them clear to the other side of the universe. Which… which…

“Seosten,” Dare said immediately. “That’s the best we can figure out. Why? We have no idea. But it wasn’t the Fomorians, their magic is different.” 

“Could it be Fossor?” I hesitantly put in before amending, “I mean, someone loyal to him. You know, pissed off that we killed his master so he takes my grandparents. Or just something Fossor set up just in case something happened to him. A last minute ‘fuck you, I still win.’”

“We thought about that,” Sean confirmed. “We sort of uhhh, called in an expert of our own.” 

“My mother,” Aylen said, looking hesitantly toward my own mom before clearly looking like she should explain. 

“It’s okay,” I informed her. “We sort of just had that conversation, since you were coming and all.” 

“It’s nice to meet you, Aylen,” Mom offered with a small smile. “I’d like to meet your mother sometime as well. And while we’re at it…” With that, she turned to Sean, offering a hand to him. “I don’t believe we had the chance to officially meet with everything that’s been going on in the past day. We haven’t… had a lot of time for anything, really. But thank you for helping my husband. And for being there for my daughter last year.” 

Sean suddenly seemed shy, flushing a little and mumbling something about it being no big deal. Then he quickly pressed on, explaining that they had brought Bastet in to check the teleportation remains and that she said the magic energy matched Seosten spells she had encountered. Specifically, it matched the energy given off by one Seosten in particular. 

Puriel?!” I blurted out loud when the answer came. “Puriel took my grandparents?! But–but why would–does that mean he violated the truce? But–no he–why would he save–what? The Committee was–what?” 

“That’s the question I’ve been asking myself,” Dad murmured. “And it’s one we can get an answer to. But I wanted to wait for all of you to be back, because–” 

Tabbris was the one who got it first. “You wanna bond to a Seosten and then default recall to your mom?!” 

Quickly, Dad explained that yes, that was the idea. Except not fully recall. He could simply mentally contact my grandmother (the same way Vanessa had mentally contacted her own dad all the way out in Seosten space at first) to find out what was going on. Unfortunately, there was still some risk of ‘slipping’ and being fully pulled out there. So he had apparently been practicing the mental/partial recall with Mercury, of all people. He would bond to Mercury, possess Sean, then practice partially recalling to him. They had done that for a couple hours with only a few slips early on before Dad got the hang of it. 

“But mistakes could still happen,” he reminded us. “So, I wanted to wait. Especially since ahh, apparently it’s easier to anchor yourself when there’s people you love nearby. So…” He reached out, touching Mom’s face with one hand and my shoulder with the other before allowing that hand to slip down my arm to brush Tabbris’s hair. 

Right. We’d tell Dare and Aylen about the Godfather situation later. The last thing I wanted to do put more confusion and high emotions in the air right before Dad did something like this. He needed to focus.

Apparently I hadn’t had enough stress today, because now my dad was about to project his consciousness across the universe to peek in on what Puriel was doing with my grandparents. 

It was a good thing I never bothered to think that our lives would go back to normal anymore. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Homeward Bound 8-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have to tell them what Fossor did.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Deliverance 7-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                                        Next Chapter

As with all these Fossor-related chapters, there is a summary that follows the end of this one. 

“No.” 

That single word escaped me, even as I straightened. My hand grabbed the staff at my side, yanking it free. Jaq and Gus were already in position, the bladed end of the weapon pointed at the monster in front of me. “No,” I repeated. Flashes of all the people I cared about popped into my head. I saw them, I heard them, I felt everything that the people who would be affected by this meant to me. And not just them. Even the people I didn’t particularly like, the ones who were mistaken, misled, who thought they were doing the right thing and that the Rebellion were the ones who were wrong. If this plan went on, if it worked, they would all be killed and turned into mindless slaves of this… this… abomination. Drones, just like Kendall behind me. 

Beside me, my mother took a step away. Not to be apart from me or leave me on my own, I knew. She was giving both of us room to work with, her own hand coming up to point at the necromancer. When she spoke, her voice was harder than I’d ever heard it. “Too far, Fossor. You’ve become entirely too arrogant if you think we’ll just go along with your genocidal delusions.” I could hear the pain in her voice, the thoughts and memories of everything else she had put up with over the years clearly right there in her mind. Things she had put up with for me.

If he was at all bothered by what Mom and I said, or indeed had even noticed it, Fossor gave no indication. Instead, he literally turned his back to us and walked a few feet away while casually continuing as though we had never even spoke up. “Of course, the Seosten won’t like that very much. But on the other hand, they will have far more important things to worry about than payback, given a sudden potential lack of Heretic firepower on their frontlines. All of their little Heretic weapons will be under my control. And I will allow them to be used against the Fomorians, provided the Seosten accept my conditions. Leave this planet, and everything that lives on it, to me. In exchange, I will continue to provide them Heretic weapons. Otherwise, they lose one of the primary resources they’ve come to depend on so much in these few centuries.” 

Staff clutched tightly in one hand, I realized something else. “You… the hangman noose, the spell, it’s not just a one-time thing, is it?” My voice was tight, the words barely escaping. 

The man turned back to me, smiling proudly, as if I was a struggling student who had just answered a tough question. “Very good, my dear! Yes, the spell will affect any who are ever connected to the imprisoned Reaper, be it through the light or the fruit. Either way, anyone who is turned into a Heretic using those methods, from this point on, will immediately become one of mine.” 

Permanent. This was even worse than we’d thought, even worse than I’d assumed possible. Fossor wasn’t just going to turn every living Crossroads or Eden’s Garden Heretic into his dead slaves, he was going to turn every future Heretic into one as well. Everyone. All of them. And then he was going to use that to force the Seosten to abandon Earth in exchange for being given more Heretics to continue fighting the Fomorians. And they would have to go with it. What choice would they have? They didn’t have the power to fight Fossor here on Earth with an army of the very same soldiers/weapons they were depending on just to hold the Fomorians back. 

I had known this was going to be bad. I knew that for a long time. It had been obvious that Fossor was distracted by something. The work he’d been putting into this had been very clear. But even then, even with all that, I hadn’t had the slightest clue that it would be this horrific. 

We couldn’t let this happen. That was all there was to it. End of story. End of world if we didn’t stop this. There was no one else here, and nothing to stop Fossor from pulling this off if we didn’t stand up to him. He was going to use this spell to kill and enslave not only Heretics, but soon after the entire world. Yes. That was one thing I was completely certain of. With an army of dead, puppeted Heretics at his side and the Seosten forced to leave, Fossor would absolutely turn Earth into something just like his own world. He would enslave everyone here. Everyone. 

Unless we stopped him right here. 

“Fossor.” My voice was sharp, stronger than it had been before. This had been coming for a long time. It was time. I’d spent the past year being terrified of what would happen when my birthday came, and the past few weeks actually living that terror. I’d been forced to stay quiet, forced to put up with this monster’s evil bullshit for all this time. My own mother had been forced to do his bidding far longer than me. And now, now he wanted to turn the entire world into his slaves, his puppets? He wanted to turn Earth into another version of his own planet. No. Enough. I was done putting up with it. Mom and I both. We were done accepting this. 

Following that single word, the man stopped talking. He stood there, regarding me curiously for a few silent seconds. Finally, he quietly ‘suggested’, “Dearest Joselyn, I do believe that it would be for the best if you informed our girl of what the punishment for raising a weapon in my direction will be. Before this goes any further than it has to.” Despite the implicit threat in his words, the man’s voice was totally casual. He wasn’t worried about this whatsoever. And why would he be? I wasn’t really a challenge to him. Me? Some barely-capable student with a few Necromancer tricks he himself had taught? Of course he wasn’t even slightly worried. To him, I was basically a marshmallow attempting to stand up against an actual bonfire. He’d already proven that the day he captured me and casually swatted down every attempt I made to fight him.  

When my mother spoke, however, it wasn’t to warn me back. Instead, she addressed Fossor in a voice that was filled with more hate, more loathing than I could even conceive of. It was anger that had had far longer than my own to build up. “She is not yours,” Mom snarled. “And you will never touch her again. I told you, this was too far.” There was clearly more she wanted to say. A lot more. The things she longed to say to this psychopath had built up for a decade. But she didn’t bother wasting the breath to do so. Instead, my mother simply added a brittle, “We’re done.” 

“Done?” Fossor echoed that single word, arching an eyebrow as he glanced between us. Mom and I were both in ready positions, for all the good it would do us. I’d even brought Kendall up to stand a short distance from my side, between Mom and me. By contrast, the Necromancer himself still appeared totally casual. He didn’t quite have his hands in his pockets, but he might as well have. There wasn’t the slightest bit of worry on display. He could have been a middle-aged man standing in line at the grocery store, for all the concern he showed. 

“No,” the man informed us after letting that word hang in the air for a moment. “No, we’re so very far from done. In fact, we’ve barely started. There is so much more the three of us are going to accomplish together, so much more than either of you can even conceive now. This is simply one more rung along the ladder. And I promise, by the time we reach what is truly the end, this moment right here will feel like a far distant dream, an echo of a memory you will barely recall. And when you do recall those mostly-vanished thoughts of this day, the only thing that will come to mind will be the sheer certainty that you could never possibly have been so naive as to think that you could ever truly make a fool of me in my own home.” 

Belatedly, his words penetrated my own anger, as I managed a confused, “What?” 

His response was a low chuckle, head shaking as if I was just an adorable child. “Dearest girl, did you truly think I would show any of this to the two of you if there was the slightest chance of you putting a stop to it?” His casual tone hardened. “And did you truly think you could spend weeks plotting against me in my own home without me finding out about it? Are you still so childish to think that I haven’t noticed everything you’ve done, that I would not know of your plans and efforts? Every bit of work you’ve done for these weeks, your oh-so-careful actions and preparations, were not careful enough. You say you are done accepting my orders? 

“I am done entertaining your childish fantasies of escape.” 

Face twisting a bit with quickly mounting worry and a sick expression of dread, I forced myself to stammer, “Wha-what are you talking about?” Even while saying it, I instinctively reached out with my Necromancy, pushing that dark power that I’d learned to use over these past weeks up toward a spot elsewhere in the palace. Our room. The room Mom and I had stayed in for so long now. The swell of energy from the prepared spell in that room, I felt it there, ready to go. Maybe not perfect yet, not as good as it could be. But good enough. Close enough, for this.

And then it was gone. I felt Fossor’s own vastly superior power wash right over mine, like a tidal wave overwhelming a garden hose. His strength and skill were unbelievable. I had no chance of standing against it, none. The spell that had been intricately set up in the room that my mother and I shared was snuffed out as easily as if he had simply put out a small candle flame. It was gone, entirely erased forever, in the span of about two seconds and with little effort on his part.

Standing there frozen for a brief moment, my hand outstretched, I stared upward as though I could see all the way to the room where the carefully crafted and painstakingly energized spell had been almost instantly dissolved. My mouth was open, face wet with tears while a sound of flat, horrible despair escaped me. I barely recognized my own voice, hollow as it was with horror, disbelief, and wretched grief. “No… no, you can’t… we didn’t… how did… how…” 

Fossor took a step my way, before Mom quickly inserted herself between us. But a wave of his hand summoned Ahmose, who grabbed my mother by the arms. He was clearly using his pain power, given the way Mom jerked and spasmed, though she didn’t cry out. He was still able to yank her away from me, leaving Fossor room to come right up to where I stood frozen by obvious grief and revulsion, the horror of my spell being erased written across my face. 

“Dearest… child,” Fossor spoke smoothly, his words dripping with false compassion, with insincere understanding, “you tried so very hard, didn’t you? You worked so carefully, only using your power at night, watching for any spies, hiding your spell from me with everything you had.” 

He chuckled then, the sound making me shudder. In the background, I could see Mom struggling not only against Ahmose, but a dozen more ghosts who were all working to hold her back. Meanwhile, Fossor continued in that same ‘sympathetic’ tone. “It was a good effort, my girl. A transportation spell that would have taken you and your mother from here to your home in Laramie Falls, yes? And one you crafted oh-so-carefully too. I admired it just this morning. Given another two days, perhaps, it would have been perfect. You managed to tie it into my own wards, which…” His head shook with wonder, what sounded like genuine pride filling his voice. “Such a brilliant girl. I had no idea you were capable of so much. Truly, it is an honor to be your mentor.” 

With that, however, his voice darkened. “But I cannot entertain such efforts forever. You and your mother will be punished for this. You will learn to be obedient, my girl. You will learn that there are consequences for your actions. Very harsh ones.” 

Even as he said that, Fossor’s fingers snapped, and the room around us began to pulse with power. The very floor shook under my feet, vibrating violently. I could feel the spell that Fossor had crafted feeding into the noose. I could feel that horrible magic, the power that would kill every Bosch-Heretic and turn them into this psychopath’s eternal slaves. It was there. It was right there. It was about to erupt, while helpless tears fell down my face and my mother struggled helplessly against mounting hordes of ghosts that kept coming no matter how many she destroyed. 

Eyes closing, I dropped my head, murmuring under my breath in a shaky, broken voice. 

“You have something to say?” Fossor urged, his hand finding its way to my shoulder and squeezing even as his spell rose toward its conclusion. In a few brief seconds, it would be over.  “Some plea to make?” 

My eyes opened. I raised my head, staring at the man. In a voice that cracked from hatred but free of the despair I had been allowing him to see for these past few minutes, I retorted with seven words, followed by one more. 

“Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit. Ostendeo!” 

With that final word, the entire house above us violently shook, as a sudden crack, too loud to be thunder, pierced every corner of the palace and its grounds. Abruptly, the ghosts assaulting my mother (the ones who were left, anyway) vanished. At the same time, the vibrating levels of power from Fossor’s spell ceased. The bone floor throughout the room cracked in several places from the sheer force of that spell’s power being redirected elsewhere. And throughout the building and its grounds, literal hundreds of spots of power could be felt. 

Fossor, for his part, backhanded me so hard I hit the floor in a daze. He spun, snapping his fingers along with a single command word. As he did so, a holographic image of the whole area around his precious home from above came into view. 

Hundreds of small, yet powerful beams of light shone into the air from every corner of the palace and grounds. They shone out of windows, up through the very walls themselves, out of the gardens, the trees, the pool, they shone from every direction and in every direction. They were red, blue, purple, white, green, every color of the rainbow. The power they gave off seemed to hum through the very air itself, creating a sound almost like chimes. Hundreds of colorful, humming lights. 

Hundreds of beacons. 

From the floor, I snarled, “You found the spell in the room? Good for you. That’s the one you were supposed to find. You’d never believe I wasn’t trying something, so I worked on that in my off-time so you could feel special for figuring out my plan, you evil fuck.” 

He felt it. He knew. He understood without me saying anything else. These past weeks, the thing I had really been working on was to find every bug or insect I could, killing them and then using my necromancy to bring them back. Just bugs. Simple insects. Hundreds of the tiny, seemingly insignificant things. I directed those dead and raised bugs into every small corner and hole of this place, inside and out. Then, once they were hidden, I made them stronger. Just strong enough to carve pieces of spells into the rock, wood, brick, anywhere they were that would be out of sight. I empowered those tiny spells using energy drawn from the one thing that Fossor wouldn’t detect: his own sister. Carefully, over these past weeks, I drained a bit of her each day and used that to gradually build up these tiny spots of magic. Too small for Fossor to pay much attention to even if they hadn’t been empowered using his one blindspot. With it, he had no chance of noticing. Not until now. Not until it was too late. 

The spells I had crafted, thanks to extensive help from Shyel, did two things. First, they drained all the magical power around them that they could find. That included the wards that Fossor had set up, his alert spells, and a large portion of his prepared ghosts. They had been summoned and maintained by magic as well, so the beacon spells drained them as well. That was why the ghosts attacking my mother had vanished. 

Second, the beacons used that power they had suddenly absorbed to send out a beacon directed toward everyone I had been able to think of who could help. It was a beacon similar to the one that had been used to mark the secret Crossroads prison where Sean had been held. Similar, because Chayyiel had learned to create it when she visited and included it with the Shyel upload in my head.  With the mental construct’s help, I’d adjusted the spell somewhat, and now hundreds of those beacons were being sent out to Deveron, Avalon, Shiori, Dare, Kohaku, Wyatt, Brom Bones, Nevada, Lillian Patters, Roger and Seamus Dornan, Hisao, the rest of my team, Koren, Tristan, Athena, Mercury, everyone, everyone who might be able to help and who had a bone to pick with Fossor. Those beacons were directing them to this spot right here. And more than that. They also filled the targets with knowledge, knowledge of the layout of this place, of every piece of Fossor’s defenses that I or my mother had been able to put together in all the time that we had been here. They all suddenly knew exactly where we were, how the defenses worked, the exact layout of the building and grounds, all of it. 

But the most important thing of all, at this very moment, was the draining part of those beacons. The fact that they absorbed magic near them. Because the spell that Fossor had been working on, the thing he had been about to trigger, was full of magical energy. Magical energy that he had built up for weeks as well. And now every bit of it, all of it, had abruptly and violently been diverted into my beacons. All of it was gone. He would have to start gathering that energy from scratch in order to cast the spell he wanted to cast. And there wasn’t time for that. Not with every fucking one of our friends on their way right now. On their way to a home that had just had every last one of its prepared defenses vanish into the ether. 

I could see the realization of that, the sudden understanding, in Fossor’s open-mouthed, stunned gaze. For once in his goddamn life, the man had been taken completely by surprise. 

“So, like I said,” I snapped. 

“Go fuck yourself.”

SUMMARY

Flick and Joselyn start to make their stand against Fossor, telling him he’s gone too far. Fossor reveals the sudden twist that he knows all about the spell that Flick has been preparing in their room to send herself and her mother to Laramie Falls and mocks her while disabling the spell. Flick, in turn, reveals the sudden twist that he was supposed to find out about that decoy spell. She does so by telling Fossor to go fuck himself while triggering hundreds of beacon spells that she has used dead insects to place all over the grounds, which send their exact location and everything about where they are straight to everyone they know to call in the cavalry. Those same beacon spells also drain all magic around them in order to charge themselves, immediately disabling all of Fossor’s defenses and erasing the energy he’s been charging up for his kill all Heretics spell. 

Flick then reiterates that he should go fuck himself. 

Previous Chapter                                        Next Chapter

Causality And Casualty 5-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                                   Next Chapter

Right, so Sands, Sarah, and I were surrounded by a small army of bad guys. Actually, no, it was worse. We were surrounded by a small army of people who might not be bad guys. They were being manipulated or even outright controlled by the actual bad guy. Everything they were doing wasn’t their decision. For all we knew, these people could be perfectly pleasant, even friendly, most of the time. But right now, they had those leis around their necks making them act like this. 

The point was, lei or no lei, these guys clearly weren’t in the mood to chat or make nice. A point they all made pretty abundantly clear as weapons were drawn, swords unsheathing, energy blades humming to life, chains clinking as they unraveled, and regular guns were cocked. 

“Try not to kill them if possible,” I muttered while producing my own staff and spinning it once as I put my back to the twins’ so we could cover all sides. “Remember, none of this is their fault.” 

“Yeah, how about you tell them not to kill us?” Sands retorted darkly. “That sounds more useful right about now.” Adopting a bright tone then, she addressed the men surrounding us. “Hey, guys, I don’t suppose saying ‘take us to your leader’ would do much?”

The weapons rose, and Sands blurted, “Yeah, didn’t think so.” At the same time, she made a quick motion with her mace, thrusting it into the air. That made a thick, circular wall of concrete rise with it, surrounding us to block the suddenly incoming gunfire, a mixture of lasers and bullets that would chew through the impromptu shield pretty quickly. But, for a moment, we were protected. 

Grabbing a coin from my pocket, I quickly turned while holding it out. As the sound of all that gunfire tearing our shield to pieces filled the air, Sands was already snapping her own hand back to touch the coin that she knew would be there. In an instant, she disappeared into the coin, and I gave it a hard chuck up and over the wall. While the coin was still flipping end over end through the air, Sands popped out of it, free hand already raised and filled with several tiny enchanted metal balls. As the men reacted and tried to adjust their fire, she hurled all of those tiny silver orbs at the ground around them. The flashbang spells on them activated, and I heard a collection of cries and curses as the men were blinded and deafened.

In the meantime, I had already converted my staff into its bow form, while taking a running start straight at the wall. Just before I would have slammed into it, Sands opened up a hole about waist high while she was still in the middle of falling. I threw myself into a slide through that small hole, bow already aimed and firing off an energy arrow that hit the ground between a trio of men there (all of whom were still staggering from the flashbangs). The concussive explosion from the arrow knocked all three of them flying, clearing up the path for me to slide through. 

Rolling to one knee, I drew back another energy arrow without wasting a single second. I didn’t need to take stock of where anyone was. My item-sense power did that just fine for me, helping aim my bow so that the arrow hit right between two more guys and threw them in opposite directions. Knock-outs, we were going for taking these guys out of the fight, not killing them. 

Alternatively, I could also make sure they were in no mood to fight. To that end, I filled one of my hands with the largest gooey blob of that nausea-inducing stuff that I could manage. It reached about the size of a beach ball before I hurled it into the air just above the largest group of the guys on this side, who were already spinning toward me as they fought through the effects of the flashbangs. Right when the spinning gel-orb reached the top of their heads, I hit it with an energy arrow. The concussive blast sent that nasty goo spraying in every direction, dropping a dozen of the mind-controlled Alters to the ground retching and heaving. 

Immediately, I followed that up by hitting the button on my staff to summon all the sand I had stored. A huge dust cloud swirled around me, and I sent it in every direction, forcing the sand into the eyes and mouths of everyone I could see. Some of those were still retching from the explosion of nausea-goop, while others had been trying to force their way past those ones to get at me. Dozens of those guys all yelled out, grabbing their eyes and rubbing to get the sand out as they stumbled. 

That was a couple big groups temporarily handled, clearing out a lot of space around me. But I wasn’t exactly safe. Two guys were coming at me from one side, before each staggered as bullets came out of nowhere. One was hit in the shoulder, while the other had the sword he was holding blown out of his hand. Sarah, of course. She wasn’t exactly sitting idle while all that was going on. Through the hole that Sands had created, I caught a glimpse as Sarah fired three quick shots into a scope-portal (probably to help Sands, who had landed on the opposite side of the circular wall thing) before abruptly spinning as one of our new very-much-not friends who apparently wasn’t actually blinded at the moment phased through the wall. Yet even as he turned solid, Sarah was already snatching the pistol from his grip with her solid-light hand, crushing the thing into scrap before that same fist lashed out in a back-handed smack that put the guy on the ground. I had been moving to help, but clearly she didn’t need it right now. 

Which was a good thing, considering I already had my hands full. With a lot of hands. Because the creature coming after me in that moment looked like another one of Miss Handsy’s species. Like her, this one looked like a two-and-a-half-foot-wide ball floating in the air with a head attached to it by a single slender stalk, with dozens of other narrow tentacles sticking out of every inch of the main ball. There was a hand attached to each tentacle, as the being used two of those to walk and the other thirty or so to hold various guns and bladed weapons. All of which the guy was bringing to bear on me. Which was just fantastic

“Time to fight!” I blurted, the command summoning Jaq and Gus to assume their places on my staff, even as I snapped it up to intercept no less than five incoming blades of varying sizes. The force of all those hits probably would have knocked the weapon out of my hand entirely without my enhanced strength. As it was, I still had to stagger back a step. 

Now my staff was raised and extended horizontally, held in one hand while three blades were held against the left side of the shaft and two against the right. Another half dozen tentacles with a mix of metal and energy swords were still coming in from that right side, but I quickly triggered a blast from that end of the staff, sending out a concussive wave that blew them back for the moment. Simultaneously, I used my other hand to create a small portal on my other side, catching a shotgun blast from the tentacle that had been trying to be sneaky by coming in from there and sending it harmlessly out to the side. 

But this damn guy never seemed to run out of hands. From the corner of my eye, I saw two more without actual weapons trying to grab my ankles. At the same time, the five with blades that I had blocked with my staff had already rebounded and were trying to stab my leg, stomach, chest, shoulder, and face respectively. The tentacle-guy was doing his level best to leave me no room to escape. Or, more to the point, trying to make me dodge backwards and end up right in the grasp of the hands he was bringing up and around to hit me from behind. 

This was one fucking guy, and he had two hands trying to grab my ankles, five with blades coming at various parts of my front, another three extended up and around to sneak on me from behind, and even more with ranged weapons ready to take pot shots at me. One guy! How was this fair? 

Oh well, good thing I didn’t fight fair either. Instead of blundering backward into his waiting tentacles, letting my ankles be grabbed, or taking five different blades into my flesh (and definitely instead of all three of those), I flung myself into a sideways flip, twisting my body in the air and tucking my legs to pass right through a single narrow gap between all those flailing tentacles, hands, and weapons. It was such a small opening that it should have been impossible to pass through without being cut to ribbons by half a dozen swinging blades. But given the agility enhancements I’d absorbed combined with my instinctive knowledge of exactly where every blade was, I was barely able to make it. Clearly, I owed the werewolf and knockengerwicht I’d gotten those powers from a few thanks. 

I did not, however, owe thanks to every werewolf. Particularly not the one who was rushing straight at me from one side in his enormous, half-human battle form, already in mid-roar. I was still in the middle of that sideways-flip that carried me between all those lashing tentacles when I caught a glimpse of him. Even worse, I sensed yet another figure coming from behind me on the opposite side, someone running up fast with a big hammer. 

So, I was still in mid-jump, barely clearing the dozen or so armed tentacles from one fucking guy. A werewolf in massive humanoid battle form was rushing at me from the direction my lunge was carrying me, and some other guy with a big hammer was coming up from the other side. 

This was all going super-fantastic, that was for sure. 

Okay, time to start dealing with all these guys. Landing from that flip, I quickly ducked one lashing blade-armed tentacle, blocked three more in quick succession with various snaps of my staff to both sides, and then stabbed the bladed end into yet another tentacle to stop it. All of that took a bare handful of seconds, and came so quickly I didn’t have time to even look to see what kind of being was coming at me with that hammer. All I knew was that the weapon was huge, so I was pretty sure the thing holding it was too. 

More tentacles were coming. Hammer guy was coming. Wolf-man was coming. Fuck, fuck, move! 

I moved, triggering the boost of my staff to send myself toward the incoming werewolf and out of range of the tentacle guy. At the same time, I summoned a new ball of nauseating liquid into my other hand, sending it flying into the wolf-man’s face. 

Three quick energy blasts from various pistols that tentacle-guy was holding came at me before I reached the wolf. But I absorbed them, the warm, almost-burning feeling rose in me from being completely full of that energy. I’d have to let it out soon. But not… just… yet. 

Instead, I snapped my staff down. A thought made the weapon grow, extending to twice its normal length so that the end collided with the ground. I used that to shove myself higher, flipping over in the air so that my momentum carried me the rest of the way before landing on my feet right smack on wolf-guy’s back while he was still doubled-over retching. The impact knocked him to the ground with a grunt. 

Finally, I could see the figure with the big hammer that I’d sensed. And I had been right about it being something big. Troll. It was a troll. Quickly, I unleashed all of that power I’d just absorbed from those lasers, sending it back out in a broad wave of energy that hit the troll, burning him and making him stagger, his bellow filling the air.  

Honestly, this was normally where I might try to possess one of these three guys. Like the werewolf I was standing on, for example. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards. That warning we’d gotten from Prelate played through my head. If I tried to possess anyone who was currently affected by Kwur, there was a good chance he’d be able to get to me too. So no possessing people like this. Between that and not killing them, I was going to have to get a bit creative. Or just hit them until they stopped trying to murder me. That could work too.

To that end, as the werewolf under my feet tried to push me off, I quickly lashed out with a kick to the back of his head that slammed his face into the concrete. Hoping that would stun him for a second, I summoned something else into my hand. Herbie. Rearing back, I chucked him as hard as I could toward the flailing mass of tentacles. He was small enough to pass through the narrow space between all those wild limbs, several of which were trying to grab onto him or knock him out of the air. Just before Herbie would have bounced off the head of the tentacle-guy, I focused on a certain other power. Suddenly, my tiny rock buddy was much larger. He was about four feet across (his hat and sword grew with him). 

Giant Herbie slammed into tentacle guy’s face, knocking him to the ground before I shrank my rock buddy and summoned him back to my hand. No way was I leaving him out there to get hurt. Either way, tentacle-dude was out of the fight at least for a second or two. The troll was briefly occupied as well, with that whole recovering from taking a massive energy blast into the face thing. And the wolf guy I was still standing on had yet to reorient himself after his own face had been kicked into the pavement.

All three of them not attacking me for two seconds was good, because it gave me the briefest of openings to try something. Namely, focusing on the lei around wolf-man’s neck. I didn’t grab it, given how much of a stupid idea that seemed like. Instead, I lashed out with the bladed end of my staff to cut through it. 

Maybe I was crazy, but it sure sounded like that lei screamed when I cut it. Not in pain, but in… rage. Yeah. 

Without thinking too much about that, I flipped the blade around, caught the lei on it, and focused on superheating the metal until the flowers caught fire. As they burned, I hurled them away. By the time I did that, the wolf guy under me was really starting to shove himself up, so I jumped off him just in time to see the severely burned troll make his move. He lunged with that big hammer raised, his terrifying roar filling the air. Actually, there had to be a literal psychological power behind that roar, because it hit me much harder than something like that normally would have by that point. Hearing the sound, I froze for just a second. I shouldn’t have, but I did. Something in it, some power the troll must have had, caught me flat-footed. 

Then I was grabbed, yanked off the ground by something large and furry. The werewolf. He hauled me up and leapt out of the way an instant before that hammer came down to pulverize the hell out of the pavement where I had been standing. The next thing I knew, the wolf man landed, letting me go while turning to look at the troll. “Barny! What the hell are you doing?! You could’ve–” In mid-sentence, he had to throw himself into a backward roll as the hammer went swinging over his head. “What the fuck!? Barny, it’s me!”

It didn’t help. The massive troll kept coming after him. Seeing that, and taking in how the werewolf was acting, I blurted, “The flowers around his neck! Get them off him! But try not to touch them!” Then I hit the badge and used it to connect to Sands and Sarah so that I wouldn’t have to scream it out loud across the battlefield and repeated the bit about getting the flowers off these guys. 

By that point, the tentacle guy had recovered and used several of his hands to push himself up. He came after me then, four tentacles thrusting back to throw himself forward, while the rest came flailing in toward me. Blades swung while shots from a dozen different ranged weapons filled the air in a hail of bullets, lasers, and more. Apparently Herbie and I had pissed him off.

I did the only thing I could in that moment. I ran straight at the guy. A quick word activated the kevlar spell on my clothes, instantly protecting me (however briefly) from the incoming bullets and other projectiles. I also focused on absorbing the energy from the lasers, gripping my staff tightly in one hand. Not yet, not yet, noooot yeeeeeet. My whole body was burning up. It hurt, each blast of energy tipped me closer toward just exploding. I held it. Through extreme effort, I held it. With the bullets striking me all over (their momentum almost entirely erased thanks to the spell) like a torrential rain of metal, I kept sprinting. Even as the tentacle guy loomed right up in front of me, fifteen different blades swinging my way from every possible direction that he could reach, I kept moving

At the last possible second, with those blades inches from my body and my opponent fully (eagerly) committed, I made my actual move. Channeling every last bit of energy I’d absorbed into my staff, I created a portal and launched a blast from that energy through the staff and into the portal. At the same time, I dove feet first, baseball sliding between the man’s tentacle-legs. The other end of the portal was right behind him and slightly angled making the blast from my staff launch him up and forward, leaving just enough space for me to slide by beneath him. The precise angle of the blast actually tipped the guy forward, leaving the narrow stalk between his head and body in view. I used that, snapping my staff up so that the grapple caught the lei that dangled there. A thought, as I slid under the figure, super-heated the grapple even as it tore the ring of flowers from my opponent’s neck and incinerated them. 

Sliding and rolling to a somewhat flailing stop a few feet past the tentacle guy, I quickly flung the still smoldering remains of the lei off my staff and snapped my head up with a quick blurted prayer. 

He wasn’t attacking. The tentacle guy wasn’t attacking me. He was stumbling to the side, looking very… drunk, basically. The weapons all fell from his hands, and I heard him mutter, “What… where…?” 

It worked! Fuck, fuck, it worked! Quickly, I rolled to my feet, stumbling a little as I turned wild eyes toward where I’d last seen the werewolf guy and the giant troll. 

The troll was on his knees, hammer beside him. He looked distraught as he crouched over a man I belatedly realized was the werewolf in his fully human form. The guy looked pretty injured, his leg bent the wrong way and partially smashed, with blood all around him. But he was also holding a metal pipe of some kind that had what remained the troll’s giant lei on it. The flowers were mostly burned, and I could see a lighter laying nearby. 

“Help. Help!” the troll called desperately. “Help friend! Friend! Pars! Help Pars!” 

Looking around even as I moved that way, I saw that things were under control. We’d knocked a few people out, but more to the point, as soon as Sands and Sarah started knocking people’s leis off them, those people were freed and able to start helping others. It was an exponential effect. The more people who were freed from Kwur’s control, the more they could help free others. 

“Flick, you good?” The words penetrated a second later, and I turned to see Sands and Sarah approaching while looking around warily.

Before I could answer that, the troll blurted, “Pars not good! Help Pars!” 

“I’m okay, Barny,” the werewolf insisted through gritted teeth, shifting a bit. “Nothing that won’t… gngnnmmm… heal…” He looked to the three of us then, along with all the other figures who were coming out of their mind-controlled haze. They all looked confused, disoriented, upset, and generally just very out of it. It was like they were waking up from a dream and had no idea where they were or what they had been doing. 

“So…” Pars the werewolf asked, clearly speaking for everyone around us. 

“Who the fuck are you guys and what the fuck is going on?” 

Previous Chapter                                   Next Chapter

Perennial Potentate 4-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                                  Next Chapter

So, we told the King the whole story, everything we knew about the situation. I was pretty sure he already understood a large part of it, if not everything we knew. But he wanted to hear it from us, in our words. Through it all, he never interrupted or reacted much at all. He simply sat there on his throne, watching the person talking with an intense stare that made it clear he was focusing on every word, despite his lack of outward reaction. 

Finally, we finished, and the short, beautiful man glanced away from us. He gazed off into the distance, apparently lost in thought for a few long moments. I glanced at the others and they seemed just as uncertain. None of us thought it would be a good idea to interrupt or rush the man, that much was clear. So, we stood there and waited, despite the pressing urgency I felt in the back of my head about what could be happening to those kids and Jiao. 

Finally, the man straightened from his throne and stepped over in front of us. “This is quite the mystery you’ve been pulled into. Someone trying to spark conflict in Las Vegas by abducting children… or one child first, then others. Why do you suppose they did that? Why would they take one child and leave the others standing there, only to later engage in a much riskier operation to abduct more?”

I’d been thinking about that a lot and started to open my mouth when he asked the question, only to catch myself. Unsure of the etiquette, I, somewhat awkwardly, raised my hand. When he looked to me and nodded, I offered, “Maybe they couldn’t get the princess to do something they wanted her to do and took her friends hostage to make her listen to them?”

“That implies they had a reason to take her other than as the spark of a war,” he noted with a curious expression. “What could that possibly be? What could the young hybrid daughter of a Vestil and an Akharu actively do, that they would need so badly as to engage in this scale of operation?”

My mouth opened and shut helplessly. Honestly, I had no idea. I didn’t know what someone like that would be capable of, let alone what these people, whoever they were, would want her for. 

Then Vanessa raised her hand and spoke up once he looked to her. “What if it has to do with that throne thing, whatever it is? The thing on their home world that they were all fighting over for so long. The Akharu won it, and then the Vestil cursed them. So maybe these people, whoever they are, need someone who is both Akharu and Vestil to get to the throne.”

It was Miranda’s turn to snap her own hand up and blurt, “Maybe there’s two different groups involved, people who are working together. One of them wanted to spark the war in Vegas, and they were working with people who wanted the princess for this other thing, either what Vanessa said or something else.”

Tristan took his turn to add, “We know Eden’s Garden Heretics were involved at least in the assassination attempts, and those have to be related. Whoever let the Heretics in the backdoor wanted to cause chaos and do as much damage as possible even after they had Rowan and the other kids. That does kind of sound like one group that’s focused on hurting Vegas and another group that’s into whatever they wanted Rowan for.”

Oberon watched us carefully, his expression betraying none of his own opinions. ”So, you believe these two groups, whoever they are, became allies. One with the intention to destabilize Las Vegas likely for some kind of takeover, and the other with the end goal of actually using this hybrid princess for some purpose, such as the ‘throne’ on the Akharu-Vestil homeworld.”

Haiden finally spoke. “It makes a certain kind of sense. If there was one group that wanted to start a war in Vegas and another group that took advantage of that to get what they wanted, namely Rowan… otherwise taking the other kids doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’re just her friends. They’re definitely important to their families, but I don’t think they’d do enough to help spark this war to warrant the risks and effort these people went to in grabbing them. They’ve already got the princess. And they can certainly do damage on their own, we saw that with the Heretics. Taking the children always seemed like a lot of effort for little pay off. But if they were taking them to get Rowan to cooperate, that implies something they want her to do. Which makes the whole Vegas conflict thing seem unimportant. Except they sent Heretics in to do more damage. There being two different groups does help explain that a little bit.”

Bobbi piped up then with, “So we find this Azlee Ren Kotter person and find out which of the groups he’s with. Or she. Whoever they are, they’ll be able to answer questions. So why aren’t we already out there looking for them?”

Oberon regarded her briefly, his expression narrowing slightly before he offered a very faint smile. “An impulsive Stardrinker-Heretic. How in the world did you manage to make a bond with something as powerful as that? Unless… a childhood friend?”

Her head shook rapidly. “Not a friend. Just a stupid jackass who was part of some crime family in my neighborhood, shaking down businesses. They were taking money from this gas station and things got violent. I distracted him and then he got shot.”

“Ah.” The king took all that in with a slight nod. “It does seem as though no matter how powerful one gets, arrogance combined with distraction often leads to a downfall.”

That said, the man exhaled and continued. “Which is why I’m going to let you search for this person you’re looking for. Make no mistake, I have very little love for most Bosch-connected Heretics, after all the things you’ve done on this world. And I appreciate the presence of their Seosten puppeteers even less. But I believe that you are different.” He glanced at me, adding, “And I owe Lyell a debt, both of friendship and for everything he did in his life.”

Letting out a breath of obvious relief, Haiden spoke up. “Thank you, your majesty. We have no intention of abusing this privilege, or any of your hospitality. We only wish to find Jiao, Rowan, and the other missing children. Then we will leave you and yours in peace.”

“No offense,” Jason put in from where he had been silently standing with December and April through this whole thing, “but how are we supposed to find this person? I mean, we’ve got a name, but Canada is a pretty big place. Do we just Google it, or what?”

Oberon replied, “I may accept your presence here, but neither I nor any of my people want to have Heretics traipsing all over our territory knocking on doors randomly.  The sooner you find what you’re looking for and with the least amount of attention, the better. You will retire to private rooms for the evening, while I have my own people look into this. We will give you as much information as we can about this Kotter’s location. My people will narrow down your search. Then you can take this person, find out what they know, and leave.”

As much as I didn’t want to sit around a room waiting for his people to do the work, I knew we weren’t going to get a better deal than that. Oberon was being pretty nice, as far as that went, but I could still detect simmering danger just under the surface. He was a man of great power who was accustomed to being obeyed in everything he said. Arguing with him felt like a bad idea, to say the least. 

Beyond that, I was also pretty sure he knew more than he was telling about this whole situation. It was just a feeling I had. I didn’t think he was a bad guy or anything. I just… had an idea that he was more informed than he was letting on. 

Everyone else seemed to feel the same way, at least about not upsetting him, because we simply gave our thanks before Oberon dismissed us and ordered a waiting Conner to take us to the rooms he had mentioned. Bowing, the dark-skinned man with those intricate red tribal tattoos all over his body turned and beckoned us sharply with two fingers before turning to walk to the door. 

We followed, and I glanced back toward Oberon on the way. He was standing there, meeting my gaze when I turned. He said nothing, though he did wink before turning to say something to a woman who approached him from the other side. I had no idea what that was about. Was he just winking to be friendly, or something else? Had the past year simply made me incredibly paranoid? Probably.

Either way, I was shaken out of my musing when Miranda spoke up, addressing April and December. And Tabbris, I belatedly noted, who had been standing very silently behind me through that. “You guys were pretty quiet in there.”

April simply replied, “As you heard, he has no like or patience for Seosten. We are here to aid you. Annoying the man into ejecting us from his territory would not be helpful.”

Tabbris bobbed her head up and down. “We didn’t want to make him mad.”

From in front of us, Conner almost cheerfully agreed, “She’s got a point. Keeping quiet in there was probably the most helpful thing those three could’ve done. Being visible and quiet, that is. The King may not like knowing there are Seosten in his territory, but not knowing exactly where they are in that territory would be even worse.”

“Which means no sneaking around,” Haiden informed the two Calender members with a sharp look. “No possessing random animals and ‘just taking a look.’ We’re here as very tentative guests. That means we don’t push our luck. He wants to know where you all are, so you don’t give him any reason to think you might be trying to hide, understood?”

The two agreed, as did Tabbris. Even December was clearly taking it seriously, despite how hard the order to simply stay in the rooms and not to go exploring had to be for her.

So, I supposed that was it. We were just going to go sit in these rooms and wait for Oberon’s people to find out whatever they could. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be too long.

Because as frightening as the idea of upsetting Oberon might have been, tomorrow was Monday, and we could only miss so many days of school before Abigail would turn into her own brand of terrifying. As it was, I’d already missed the weekend visit with Dad. He understood, of course, but we really needed to deal with this. 

Because those two being annoyed with me and teaming up was almost more dangerous than any of these kidnappers could’ve been. 

*******

The rooms that we had been taken to were no less comfortable and extravagant than the ones in Vegas. It was obvious that the king spared no expense or effort in keeping the people he allowed into his palace happy. As long as you weren’t a prisoner, I supposed. 

Either way, it didn’t really matter how comfortable the place was. We all just sat around trying to will time to pass so we could get on with this. There were games to play, movies to watch, even ping pong tables, arcade machines, and the like. Not to mention the exercise rooms. We all drifted back and forth through them for most of the evening until people were tired enough to sleep. Then they rested, everyone taking one of the separate yet quite large bedrooms that have been provided.

I, meanwhile, had another training session with Shyel. She wanted to see the new powers I’d picked up and incorporated them into training. That was the way sessions with her went. Sometimes we used powers, sometimes not. She wanted me to be able to fight with and without it, as well as with and without magic.

I also asked her what she knew about Oberon, but it wasn’t much. She said the real her might have more knowledge, but it wasn’t something she’d included much of in her upload. Which made sense, considering she had been focused on making sure the tutor in my head was good enough to teach me how to fight and protect myself, not give lessons about Canada. 

Either way, it was a long and grueling session that left me exhausted enough to sleep for a full three hours afterward. Yeah, sometimes having the Amarok’s power was pretty damn spiffy. 

Anyway, I was awoken in the morning by the sense of someone watching me. Lifting my head from the pillow, I looked over to see Tabbris silently watching as she ate a piece of toast. Maybe the smell of that had helped wake me up too. 

“Hi,” she started. “What’d she say?”

Chuckling, I sat up and shook my head. “She doesn’t know anything about why they took those kids, or what this throne thing might be. The real Chayyiel might have more information, but it wasn’t part of the lesson plan. Any word from our host yet?”

Handing me part of her toast, the younger girl made a face. “Nuh uh. That Dia lady stopped by to say they’re still narrowing it down and that they should have something by this afternoon.”

Groaning, I bit into the toast and chewed it before looking back at her. “I guess there’s worse places to be stuck doing nothing, but I still don’t like it.” Deciding to change the subject, I added, “What do you think of December and April?”

Brightening a bit at that, Tabbris quickly replied, “December’s smart! And funny. And… and I wish she wasn’t part of Cahethal’s group. But… but if she wasn’t, she might be dead by now. Or just basically a slave. She’s only December because of Cahethal.”

“I’m really glad you made a friend, Tabs,” I said with a little smile. “She does seem cool. They both do. Makes me wonder what the rest of their group is like.”

“December says they’re her family,” Tabbris informed me. “They all take care of each other.” Belatedly, a slight frown crossed her face. “Why do you think they use our calendar month names and not the Seosten system? Or at least the Roman names. I mean, some of them are the same, but not all of them.”

Shaking my head, I got up to dress quickly. “My guess is to separate them from what Cahethal sees as ‘real Seosten.’ They’re here on Earth, so they use Earth calendar names. It reinforces that they’re not part of her real society, even if she is granting them their own identities. Hell, even calling them their own identities is a bit of a reach. The names are titles, they inherit them from other SPS Seosten who had those names before.”

Tabbris didn’t say anything to that at first. She just waited for me to get dressed, then stood up and walked over to silently hug me. Her grip was tight, and I returned it just as tightly. After a few seconds of that, the girl quietly murmured, “I hope they don’t go back to her.”

Running a hand through her hair, I nodded. “We just need to show them that they have a choice. They’re loyal to each other, so we need to make sure they know they’re welcome here and that they can bring the rest of their family, right?”

She agreed, and the two of us left the room. The bit of toast Tabbris had shared was good, but I was really famished and it was going to take more than that. I needed some real food. 

Luckily, real food was exactly what was on the menu as I walked into the dining area that had been provided. The others were all there already, and the table was positively bowing under the weight of the feast that had been laid out on it. Seriously, it was insane.

Amethyst and Choo were In the corner, having a breakfast of metal shards and pancakes, respectively. So I produced Jaq and Gus, sending them over that way before taking a seat next to Shiori. Columbus, sitting on the far side of her, leaned forward a bit to look at me. “You know, the next time Shiori and me go back to visit our parents, we’re not gonna know what to do when they just point at a box of cereal for breakfast.”

Snorting, I started to load up the empty plate in front of me. “I know, right? If these people aren’t careful, we’re gonna get used to this kind of thing.”

From where he was sitting on the far side of the table, Haiden noted, “That’s why the trick is for you to make this kind of food for them. I’m sure Twister would help you out.”

“Help you learn to cook it, maybe,” the Pooka replied. “You know, for a price. All you people keep forgetting that I’m a mercenary. One with a heart and standards, maybe. But still a mercenary. I like money. Especially the kind I can swim in like Scrooge McDuck.”

Before I could respond to that, Jason spoke up. “I can help you learn how to cook if you want.” He gestured to his head. “It’s a good way to keep one half of my brain busy when I’m stretching that whole ‘focus on two different subjects at once’ thing. I also paint miniatures and work on puzzles.”

Curious, I asked, “So what is the other part of your brain focusing on while one part is eating and having this conversation? Or is that split between the two of them?”

“Nah,” he replied, “I’m also obsessing over this whole situation and having a bit of a mild panic attack about how I’ve gotten in over my head and that I might die out here.” His voice was incredibly mild considering the actual words, and he followed it up by offering, “Syrup?”

Haiden winced while I took the extended glass jar. He looked to the boy. “Believe me, anytime you want to head back, no one would blame you. You were in Vegas as someone who might be able to help with that, but no one expects you to stick around when things get this crazy.”

Jason took a moment, staring at his plate before looking up to the man. “Yeah, I’m scared. Screw that macho noise, I know just how many things can step on me like I’m a bug. Especially out here. I don’t get special level-up powers every time I kill something. But I also know that this is important. And if it turns out I could’ve helped at some point and ran away, I’d never forgive myself. So, whatever, I’m here. I’m staying here. Just, uhhh, remember that some of us aren’t quite as durable as the rest of you, huh?”

We agreed, and breakfast continued. Then there were a few hours of waiting around some more. It was basically pure torture. Torture with movies, games, lots of time spent with Shiori, and so on, but still. 

It was vaguely possible that I wasn’t one hundred percent on what torture actually was. But hey, in a few weeks, I was sure Fossor would be all too happy to help me learn.

Right, my brain needed a change of subject. Which it finally got, about midway through the afternoon, as we got the summons to appear in front of the king again. 

He had something for us.

Previous Chapter                                  Next Chapter

All-Out 3-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                          Next Chapter

Like a pair of very enthusiastic stones (Herbie’s sisters maybe), Miranda and I fell through the air after leaping off the roof of the casino hotel. The wind rushed past me as I centered my gaze on the car that was pulling away with our target inside. My fingers tightened around my staff, and I reached my other hand out to catch onto Miranda’s. Here went nothing. 

Jerking the staff horizontal above my head, I triggered the boost. Now instead of falling straight down, Miranda and I were falling at an angle toward the departing SUV. And the cars that were escorting it. Yeah, there seemed to be two in front and three behind. All of them black with obvious armor paneling and deeply tinted windows. It was like this guy was the president or something. 

And Miranda and I were still falling. Falling with style, but still falling. As many powers as I had picked up over the past year, I didn’t actually have one that would let me survive pancaking against the ground from that high up. Luckily, I had other things. 

Gripping Miranda by the hand tightly, I swung my arm forward as we fell, throwing the girl ahead of me. Then I inverted the staff. It was out of energy by then, but I had a trick. Namely, a spell that Jophiel had taught me. With a thought, I used my image inscription power to create the rune on my staff and triggered it. Instantly the staff was back to full charge. I couldn’t do that too many times in a row, because it drained me to do it. But it was still a handy trick at a time like this.  

With my staff newly recharged, I pointed the end down while triggering a series of short, measured bursts to slow my descent. Using every last bit of energy that I had just given it, I slowed my fall just enough to drop onto the roof of the rear-most SUV without killing myself. I rolled with the impact, nearly going right off the front of the damn thing before catching myself, sprawled out across the top. The vehicle was armored enough that my impact didn’t even dent it. 

The second I came down on the roof with a loud clatter, I heard shouting from inside. Apparently my loud crash landing hadn’t gone unnoticed. 

Meanwhile, Miranda was on the roof of the next car forward. She had simply created a duplicate of herself while falling, one that didn’t have all that momentum. The duplicate had appeared on the roof of that vehicle before the one who was falling simply disappeared before impact. Now she was up there and I was back here. And neither of us were on the vehicle we actually needed. We’d have to fix that. 

First, I had to deal with the guys in this vehicle. Apparently they had decided that having a hitchhiker on their roof wasn’t a good idea. They expressed this dislike by electrifying the entire damn vehicle. Fortunately, while it didn’t exactly tickle, my combination of pain resistance and electricity resistance meant that it didn’t do much more than make me grunt. It wasn’t super fun, but definitely didn’t have the impact they wanted. 

Next, they started swerving from side to side. We were out of the casino parking lot by then and pulling onto the street with a squeal of protesting tires as they swept the back end of the vehicle to the left. Rather than just let myself be flung off, however, I sent my staff back to its spot on my belt with a thought and focused on my fingernails. They grew a couple inches and became as hard as steel. Quickly, I used my strength to drive them into the hard metal of the car roof, clinging tightly to it as the vehicle swung back-and-forth trying to dislodge me. On either side, I could see other cars with drivers and passengers alike pointing and staring. I had no idea what they thought was going on here or what the Bystander Effect would let them retain. Right now, my attention was a little diverted. 

Namely, it was diverted by the semi-translucent man who floated up through the roof and stood there right behind me. He had a gun in one hand, solidifying before pointing it my way to pull the trigger. But I’d already put a portal up with one hand, sending the bullet right back at the guy from behind. He twisted, but it still grazed his shoulder. By that point, I had rolled back to my feet. With him up here, the vehicle wasn’t swinging around quite so much. It still did a little bit, but my enhanced sense of balance coped with it without much input from me. 

Focusing on the guy in front of me, I swung my staff after calling it back to my hand, but the man simply turned intangible so the weapon passed through him. Then he punched me in the face. I staggered back a step from the impact, and the car suddenly swung wildly to the left, nearly plowing into a sedan that got too close. They were trying to throw me off, but once again, my enhanced balance kicked in and I compensated before snapping my staff back the other direction. Again, the man went intangible and I whiffed, damn it. That time, I snapped my head to the side before he could punch me. Ghost-fire, I needed ghost-fire. Having Triss here would’ve been really useful, considering she could ignite her claws with it. 

But I didn’t have her. What I did have, however, was a few really good teachers and a paranoid older brother who repeatedly drilled into my head that I had to be prepared for any situation. So, as the guy in front of me flashed a brief grin about my attacks totally whiffing, I moved my thumb to a small, prepared symbol on one spot of the staff. As I muttered the command word, the weapon in my hand turned semi-translucent. I could still feel it, but it was nearly invisible. My opponent’s eyes snapped down that way, just in time for me to smack him right in his intangible chin with the shaft. That time, it connected, and he staggered back a step. Before he could recover, I reversed my grip on the staff and drove it right through his chest with a quick, hard thrust. He doubled over, and I pivoted while snapping my leg out in a kick that sent the man off my staff. And off the vehicle entirely. His body bounced and rolled along the pavement. 

Dropping back down to my knees while grabbing onto the metal roof, I focused on ignoring the rush of pleasure that shot through me. Turned out that the fear of falling off a speeding vehicle was a pretty good motivator for that. 

Also a pretty good motivator? The guy who showed up on the back of a motorcycle and jumped onto the roof with me (there was another driver on the motorcycle that he’d left). He had an uzi or something like that in one hand, but as he aimed it my way, I shoved myself up with both hands, kicking out with one foot from my prone position. I was too far away to hit the guy… but not with portals! In mid-kick, I summoned one right in front of my foot, so that it came out to hit the guy in the side of his wrist. The gun went off, sending a spray of bullets just past my ear, while I yanked my foot back out of the portal and dismissed it, rolling backward and to my feet before the man could correct his aim. Without a word, I snapped my hand out, summoning a small coin that I’d already enchanted. The coin flipped through the air before exploding into a flash-bang. Yeah, basically the first spell I’d ever learned. Sometimes the classics were the best. And I’d learned to make my particular flash-bangs a lot… flashier.

While the man was still staggering from the blinding light in his eyes, I added to his problems by summoning a gel ball of nauseating liquid that flew right into face. 

He threw his arms up defensively, but it was too late. The ball of liquid had exploded, leaving the man retching and coughing. He stumbled a bit, clearly completely out of it, and I just waited for a second to see the best opening before giving a quick, sharp swipe of the staff, cutting through his throat with the bladed end. 

Rather than just letting his rapidly dying body fall, I took two quick steps that way, kicking out to send him flying right back to the motorcycle that had dropped him off. He crashed into the driver, knocking him off and sending the vehicle clattering along the ground. 

Okay, that was just about enough of playing around up here. After waiting for that wave of pleasure to pass, I spun back toward the front of the vehicle. With one hand, I created a small portal in front of myself, with the other end ahead and to the left. Timing things just right, I triggered the kinetic-mine laying part of the staff, setting it to use all the energy it had accumulated before hurling it through the portal. It came out the other end flying back toward the vehicle. Specifically, toward the front left tire. Even as the staff hit the tire and deposited the mine, I was already sprinting forward. I ran down the windshield while the men inside shouted. With a thought, I summoned my weapon back to one hand and triggered the explosive while hurling myself forward off the hood. The speeding vehicle’s momentum was instantly halted as it was flipped up and backward behind me, ending up skidding to the side on its roof with a shower of sparks. Like the motorcycle a moment earlier, but bigger. 

Meanwhile, I was left leaping through the air just above the street with the next vehicle too far ahead to land on. I had momentum from being on top of the other car, but it was fading fast and the one ahead of me was pulling away. Nor did I have the speed to catch up with it on foot. At least, not in this form…

With a thought, I triggered my Seosten-absorbed boost. As the world around me seemed to slow down, I did two things simultaneously. First, I sent my outer clothes into the little compartment inside the tiny (on the outside anyway) pocket of the Seosten bodysuit that I was wearing under them. Second, I focused on shifting my body into a very different shape. 

With the help of the boost, the change only took a moment and by the time I landed on the pavement, I was in full werelion form. The impact barely registered, and I was already running at top speed. Which, for me in that form with all my enhancements was around sixty miles an hour. Add in the boost and I could kick it up to about eighty in very short bursts. Which I did, hurling my lion self after the next car in a rush of tawny fur. 

There were two Mirandas on the roof, dealing with another guy. From the look of the body that I went sprinting past, he wasn’t the first guy they’d faced. As I closed the distance, my mouth opened and I let out the loudest, most terrifying roar I could. 

That got his attention. The man’s gaze snapped over his shoulder toward me just as both Mirandas drove their shields into his stomach and the back of his neck respectively. They turned in unison, throwing the man off the vehicle to the road, where he bounced and tumbled before coming to a stop at an odd angle. He wouldn’t be getting up again, a fact proven as a pair of glowing auras appeared around my friend’s twin bodies. 

Horns were honking all around us. I could see people leaning out of their cars with phones up to record… whatever it was they thought they were seeing. Would the Bystander Effect allow them to see a lion chasing a car at eighty miles an hour while identical twins fought people on top of said car? I was going to guess it would probably… adjust some of that just a little bit.

Speaking of running eighty miles an hour, before my boost wore off, I gave a short roar of warning toward Miranda. Then I lunged and swiped a single massive paw toward the left rear tire with my dagger-like claws extended. The claws ripped right through not only the tire, but the entire wheel and its housing. The whole thing broke right off, and that end of the car slammed down onto the pavement, throwing up a shower of sparks along with the sound of screaming, tortured metal. It spun out toward the left with the broken wheel as a pivot point, sliding just out of my way as I ran straight past. Miranda (only one of her was visible at the moment) leapt off to the right, landing on top of a nearby bus. 

Unfortunately, the thing kept spinning around while continuing down the freeway at breakneck speed. Which meant it was coming back around behind me just as the driver overcompensated, losing control so that it flipped over onto its side and tumbled end over end along the freeway right at my back. Like the boulder that chased Indiana Jones, only a big SUV version. 

But I had my item sense power, so I knew exactly where it was and how it was positioned without looking. I kept running, waiting for the car’s insane momentum to carry it closer. At the last possible second, as the partially crumpled vehicle’s latest bounce along the road carried it right above my head at a sideways slant, I acted by… shifting back into my human shape. My staff was in my hand already at a thought, and I triggered the blast from it straight down while still in mid-lunge from my lion form. 

The staff boost shot me straight up into the air, where I passed perfectly through the shattered window of the passenger’s side of the vehicle and into the car itself while it was in mid-tumble. The occupants were taken completely by surprise as I passed through their compartment and toward the opposite window before they could think about reacting. On the way, I threw a handful of nauseating liquid at them. Because what the people in this car that was bouncing and tumbling along the freeway at high speed needed was more help being sick. 

As I shot through the driver’s side rear window, the vehicle hit the ground beneath me with a terrifying crash. In mid-air, I shifted back into my lion form, landing on the car’s side to knock it fully onto its hood, then lunged off it and kept running. Miranda, who was still on that bus, jumped free before landing on my back. And we were off. One vehicle still stood between us and the one our new friend Sarez was on. Aaand that one vehicle was shooting at us. Bullets were spraying our way, tearing up the ground around my feet. A couple hit home, but between the adrenaline and general werelion toughness, I didn’t care all that much. They weren’t silver or anything. They were just annoying. 

Then I saw some kind of large gray and black cannon-rifle stick out the back window. The end of the barrel was several inches wide. Okay, that one might be a little more dangerous. 

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. I had Miranda riding on my back, and she immediately leaned forward, holding her shield up. A glowing forcefield was projected from it, appearing in front of me and moving along with us as I ran. The energy shield manifested just as the big gun fired a shot that bounced right off it with a deafening boom. Two more shots came in quick succession, each equally blocked. The shield was holding, for the moment. But I could see it flicker just a tiny bit under each of those powerful shots. This couldn’t hold up forever. Worse, I couldn’t boost anymore right then. I needed a break before I’d be able to do it again for anything more than the second it took to shift forms. And the cars ahead of us were already pulling away. I could do fifty to sixty without boosting, but eighty to ninety? Forget about it. And those guys were hauling ass. For some reason, they didn’t want to stay and talk to us. Weird. 

Luckily, Miranda was already on it. After deflecting a couple more shots, she lowered the shield, took a breath, and screamed. Her scream was loud for me. Painfully loud, really. But it was a lot worse for the guy sticking the gun out the back of that car. I saw him drop back in the vehicle, rifle falling from his hands to bounce along the ground as the sheer force of the sonic attack knocked him onto his ass and shattered all the windows in that SUV. 

With the gun out of the way, Miranda reared back and hurled her actual physical shield. It flew through the air, passing through the broken windshield and into the vehicle itself. A second later, a new Miranda appeared where the shield was. Apparently Miranda had figured out how to make duplicates appear not only around her, but also at her shield’s location even if it wasn’t with her. Useful. 

There was a brief scuffle before the driver of the SUV and one other guy went tumbling out. The Miranda in the vehicle slowed down just a bit, allowing her other self and me to catch up. As we got there, my Miranda leapt up onto the back of the car, and I jumped as well, shifting into my human self in mid-lunge before landing in a crouch beside my best friend. 

The Miranda inside the car hit the gas, and we were off once more. The SUV directly ahead of us was the one that had Sarez. I could see the guy sitting in the backseat looking over his shoulder at us. His gaze met mine, and he said something to the driver. 

Faster. He told the guy to go faster. 

We sped up too. Miranda and I crouched, watching the car ahead of us intently ahead as it weaved in and out of traffic. One of the leading SUVs pulled to the side and slowed down to let us catch up, clearly intent on blocking for Sarez’s vehicle. The windows went down, and several guns opened fire. But Miranda had already taken the shield from her duplicate down below, passed up to her through the window. As the shots came from the car pulling alongside us, she summoned another forcefield on that side, catching the incoming bullets. 

The other car that had been ahead of Sarez pulled back as well, on the opposite side. They were each flanking us, taking shots while trying to give the man himself time to get away in his own vehicle. 

Miranda and I looked to one another, each nodding before she used her shield to create a forcefield on either side of us, protection from both vehicles. As the hail of gunfire tore into those shields, I knew they wouldn’t last long. But they didn’t have to. They only had to last for a few seconds. 

While the shields flickered and sputtered, I raised one hand. Triggering the button on my staff, I sent a cloud of sand out of the tiny portal at one end. The sand formed up into a ball around my raised fist, turning white-hot after a few brief seconds of concentration. Then it split off into two small clouds, each flying in opposite directions. The clouds of sand, giving off enough heat to melt through metal, collided with the tires of the vehicles. With an explosion of sound that was even louder than all that gunfire, they were both taken out of the chase, spinning off to either side. 

One left. Sarez’s car. And we were catching up. He was clearly desperate to escape, his driver taking absurd risks as he cut in and out of different lanes, slamming the SUV into cars here and there in his rush. But the driving Miranda was keeping up, swerving around the bits of debris and entirely stopped cars that the other vehicle left in its wake. We were getting closer and closer.

Miranda saw it first. “Portal!” she shouted, pointing ahead to a glowing green shimmering square that the SUV was driving straight toward. “He’s going for the portal!” 

“Oh, fuck no,” I blurted. “Sonic that window!” With that, I took a few running steps forward, triggering almost the entire store of energy in my staff into a single boost. It launched me up and forward, rocketing me through the air. In mid-flight, I flipped over, looking down and forward toward the back of the SUV. It was almost at the portal, almost there…

Right on cue, Miranda’s sonic scream filled the air, shattering the SUV’s back window. The instant she did, while I was still in freefall from launching myself, I launched the grapple from my staff. It shot that way, and straight into the now-exposed vehicle. 

“No… you… don’t!” I snapped in mid-fall, as my grappling hook slammed into Sarez’s shoulder. The man cried out in surprise and pain as I dropped toward the ground. The energy cord that connected the grapple to my staff went taut, and started to yank me that way. But I triggered the last of the energy in the staff in the opposite direction. Instead of yanking me around with him, Sarez was hauled backward out of his ride an instant before it vanished through that portal. The man hit the ground and tumbled wildly. 

I, meanwhile, shifted back into my lion form one more time. I still landed hard, but the lion could take it. My lion body basically rolled with it, bruises and pain exploding everywhere until I finally sprawled to a stop on my side. The motion finally stopped and I… I just needed to nap for a–

“Flick!” Miranda was there, or one of her was. She’d stopped the car and was crouched beside me. “Flick, are you okay?!” 

Realizing that at some point while half-conscious, I’d shifted back to my normal self, I groggily opened my eyes. “Hmmm…? Umm.. uhh…” Blinking a few times, I sat up, groaning a little. Yeah, that hurt. Blinking around, I could see other cars stopping, people jumping out to come find out what the hell was going on. “Did… did we win?” 

The Miranda above me turned a bit to gesture toward the nearby buildings. “He ran off. I’ve got a few me’s looking for him. We already broke his teleport toys, so he’s on foot. And the others’ll be here any second. He won’t get far.” 

While she was talking, I reached down to touch my staff. Gus, still in his grapple form, was covered in blood. Sarez’s blood. My fingers brushed through it, and I focused on the Harpy’s blood-tracking power I’d gained so long ago, back on the Meregan world. 

Instantly, I knew the truth. With a nod, I murmured, “Yeah, he won’t get far.” 

Then I turned, rising to stab the Jaq-blade end of my staff right into the space beside Miranda. There was a grunt of surprise, before Sarez himself appeared, his invisibility spell fading. An invisibility spell that had shielded him from my item sense, but not my blood tracking power. The blade was through his other shoulder, and he collapsed to the ground as I gave him a shove that way. 

“Not very far at all,” I finished, as Miranda finished jumping in surprise. 

Laying on the ground, the man gave a dark chuckle. A bitter, angry chuckle. “You think this is over? You think you won? Girls, if you want to save the children and the vampire, you’re going to have to go get them. 

“In Canada.” 

Previous Chapter                          Next Chapter

All-Out 3-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                                     Next Chapter

The dealer in question was apparently named Sarez. He was a dark blue-skinned humanoid with white spots on his neck and forehead, along with three evenly-spaced eyes instead of two. He was also not on the casino floor anymore, though he was in the building still. Going by the cameras, he had made his way to the staff kitchen and was having food with a few others. 

Asenath wanted to go grab the guy immediately, but Bol initially made her back down with the reminder that we were in their casino and their own people would take care of getting information out of him. We were just supposed to watch the security feed while they picked the guy up. Which led to all of us staring impatiently at the screens for what felt like way too long even to me. For Shiori and Senny with their mother missing, it had to have felt like hours

“Come on!” Shiori blurted out loud while pointing at the screen of the nearest laptop. “What’s going on, why don’t they grab that guy and drag him out already? He’s right there, and he’s gotta know where Mom is! What’re they doing, letting him finish his meal first or something? Wait, is this a last meal he doesn’t know about?” 

Bol, who was holding some kind of small golden orb that was apparently a communication device, tucked it away while responding with a flat, “Unfortunately, there is a problem. Our people ran passive magic checks over Sarez and he appears to be in possession of a particular artifact which allows him to mark any person. From that point, if any marked person approaches him with hostile intent, or even targets him directly with anything like a teleportation spell or attack, he’ll sense it ahead of time. We don’t know how long he’s had it–” 

Miranda groaned, “But it’s probably been long enough for him to mark everyone on your security team, if not everyone on your staff. So if they go to grab him, or teleport him anywhere, or whatever, he’ll know and get the hell out of Dodge. That’s why he feels safe enough to sit around eating lunch or whatever. Because the second you come after him, he’ll just bounce.” 

“So let us do it,” Asenath told Bol and Eldridge, giving the men a sharp look. “We’re new, there’s no way he could have marked us. We’ll grab the guy like I wanted to in the first place. Bobbi still has to get close to him anyway to make sure he’s the right one. I mean…” She glanced at the laptop screen, showing her teeth with a low snarl. “He is, but it’d be nice to have confirmation.” 

“That’s our other problem,” Bol replied with a snarl of his own that showed just how frustrated he already was. “Look at his wrist when he reaches for his drink again. There, see the silver bracelet? It’s got a partner on his ankle. They’ve got what you call Double Jump spells on them. The second he feels threatened, he’ll activate one, probably with a voice command. The Double Jump means it’ll teleport him twice. Once inside the building, and once outside of it.”

“The first jump will take him to another place where he’s tampered with the anti-teleport security,” I murmured. “Like the one in here, but it could be anywhere in the building.” 

Eldridge nodded in agreement. “Sounds about right. Then this pain in the ass can teleport through that hole in the security to get outside the building. And the fact that he’s got two on probably means they’re keyed to each other. So if you take one off, it’ll trigger the other automatically. You’d have to take the one from his wrist and the one from his ankle simultaneously, and too quickly for him to say the command word before you manage to get them off him. And they’re probably spelled against things like telekinetic or metallokinetic control. Which is just–”  

“Wecandoit!” That was December, jumping up and down with obvious excitement. Though whether it was at the prospect of being helpful, or just at doing something given how bored she was, I couldn’t say. She was gesturing back and forth between herself and Bobbi. “She’saStardrinker. They’rereallyfast. AndI’mreallyfasttoo. MyboostisboostedandIcanboostitmore. Sowecanbothbe reallyfastandgoget themagicthingsoffhim. Andwecandoitatthesametime. Cuzwe’rebothreallyfast.” 

“I think I followed that pretty well,” Miranda murmured. “But could that really work? They both just superspeed into the room and grab the teleport bracelets off that guy before he can react?”

“It could,” Bol thoughtfully replied while staring at the nearest screen. “And I believe it may be the best chance of making sure he doesn’t escape in the time we have to work with.”  

Asenath was already heading purposefully toward the door. “Right, so point us in the right direction. We’ll get close, send the speedsters in to make sure he can’t escape, then nail him to the wall.” Pausing, she added, “And I mean that figuratively… mostly. Okay, if nails are in the immediate vicinity, I won’t be held responsible for how literal it becomes. I’m just saying.” 

Miranda and I exchanged brief looks, before I offered her a thumbs up. “See?” I asked while following after Asenath. “We know how to make a trip to Vegas fun even without the gambling.”

“At this point,” Miranda informed me, “gambling seems like a downgrade in excitement.” 

So, Bol and the other Vestil escorted us to just down the hall from the room in question. Our guy was still in there, just enjoying his food while apparently unaware that he had already been found out. Which, given that little artifact of his that was supposed to let him know if anyone he’d marked was coming straight for him with hostile intent, made sense. But still, that was some patience on his part, to pull off something like that and then just sit there eating food while waiting for the lockdown to be over? 

Actually, if he could teleport out, why didn’t he? Was he hoping to keep his job here if they couldn’t figure out that he was the one who had done it? Or was he waiting for something else specific? Was there a certain time he was waiting for? Maybe someone else was going to arrive or… be available? Or maybe it was some thing that was being brought in? We’d have to ask as soon as we had him contained, because damn, that was really bothering me. 

Soon, we were set up in the hall. I could see the door ahead of us, and murmured in Bol’s direction, “I know we’re in a rush, but what exactly are this guy’s gifts, his powers? Besides using hold and pass magic. What are we about to walk in on? More importantly, what are we about to send Bobbi and December over there against when they grab those bracelets off him?” 

“Sarez is a Heaul,” came the answer. “Each of those white spots you see on his neck and forehead, and other parts of his body, can grow into a separate layer of armor you have to break through to get to anything vulnerable. Heaul can either stack their armor plates like that for more protection, or wait until you break through one, then activate another one. The stronger ones can grow back damaged shell spots fast enough that as long as they drag the fight out enough, they can keep cycling through fresh armor. And that third eye in the middle can do a paralyzing stare, as long as it’s looking at you and using it, you won’t be able to move.” 

Asenath nodded. “Right, well he can armor up all he wants, considering we have questions to ask. As for his paralyzing powers, we outnumber him and we’re hopefully about to take him by surprise.” She looked to December and Bobbi. “You two ready? We’ll be right behind you. The second you’ve got the bracelet and anklet off, bail and leave us room to grab him. Got it?” 

December’s head bobbed up and down so fast I seriously thought it might fall off. “Yupyupyupreadytobeusefulcuzwe’resupposedtobeusefulandifwe’renotusefulthenwhatareweevendoinghere–” From the corner of my eye, I saw Tabbris make a weird, funny face at her. She crossed her eyes, tilted her head, and puffed out her cheeks. It made December suddenly laugh, sputtering a little before actually slowing down a bit. “Imeanwe’reready. We’rereadytogo. Youknowassoon… asyousaytheword.” That was accompanied by a deliberate thumbs up toward Tabbris, who returned it with a giggle. 

We had one of the laptops letting us see the security screen, so that the two speedsters would know exactly where their target was. I held it up in front of them, while Asenath counted down from three. At the last second, the lights behind us went out. Not a surprise considering Bobbi had warned us it was coming. She needed the extra boost from that power. 

I also saw December touch something on her own wrist. There was what looked like a medical alert bracelet or something there, only with a dozen little dark blue gems. One of them dimmed as she touched it, just before Asenath reached zero. 

And then they were off. I could see a slight blur of motion from December, but almost nothing from Bobbi. They were just gone. Meanwhile, on the screen, Sarez suddenly fell over backward with what sounded like a blurted magical word. The trigger for his escape spells. But nothing happened. And we were already on our way. Asenath used her own speed, becoming a streak of color rushing ahead of us to reach the room even as the last syllable of his useless escape spell left the man’s lips. 

An instant later, I had passed through the doorway right behind Shiori, with Miranda just behind me. Tabbris had already recalled into me right as all this started, and Asenath was right in front of the man with her fist swinging for his face. December and Bobbi were in opposite corners. 

Unfortunately, not having his escape hatch apparently didn’t mean the man was totally vulnerable. Which we found out, as he suddenly blurted another word, and a concussive wave of force erupted from one of the rings on his hand. It slammed into all of us, sending us backwards. I was hurled out of the room entirely, crashing into the far wall while everyone else hit the walls inside the actual room. 

But it wasn’t just the pain of hitting the wall. There was something else to it too. Even as I slumped to the floor, I felt a strange… listless sensation. It wasn’t exhaustion or anything, it was just… a moment of not really caring about anything that was going on. I wanted to zone out and think about… birds. Birds sounded interesting. How did they fly, really? And why did they come in so many colors? It was a mating thing, right? But why were some bright and others were so–

Flick! Tabbris’s voice in my head snapped me out of it. Belatedly, I realized we were running down the hotel corridor. Wait, why were we running? 

Then I ‘remembered’, though it was less remembering and more having the past few seconds dumped into my head. As soon as I hit the wall and went out of it, Tabbris had taken control just in time to see Sarez flee through the door we had just been flung out of. He hit Bol, Eldridge, and the others with some kind of slow spell before taking off the other way. So Tabbris had given chase while inwardly screaming for me to wake up. And now that I knew what was going on, she relinquished the reins, just as I saw Sarez hit the door leading to the stairwell. It slammed shut right behind him, and I saw three different semi-transparent glowing chains appear around it. A spell to keep it shut. 

I didn’t even hesitate. Grabbing the knob, I turned while shoving against the door and the lock spell shattered under my ‘passage through locked doors’ power. I hit the stairwell in time to see the guy heading up instead of down. He glanced back, a gun appearing in his hand. In the same instant, I felt my body suddenly jerk to a halt as his third eye focused on me. He took a second to aim, then fired. Just as he did, I summoned a portal in front of my face, sending the other end of it back toward the guy’s leg. I hoped to slow him down, but the bullet barely seemed to do much. A second later, the reason became apparent, as a spot of white broke out through his pant leg where the bullet had struck, expanding outward to form a full suit of armor around the man. 

His hand snapped up, another ring on his hand glowing as a ball of white-hot fire appeared there before it was sent flying my way. Instantly, I focused on absorbing all that energy. By the time the explosion of fire faded, my whole body felt uncomfortably warm as it fought to contain that much power, and the sound of Sarez’s footsteps was fading as he ran.

“Oh no you don’t,” I muttered, already calling my staff instantly to my hand. Transferring all that power I’d absorbed into the staff itself to instantly charge it, I sent a burst out through the bottom to launch myself over the edge of the stairwell and into the open space leading all the way down to the floor far, far below. Before I could drop very far, Gus was launched upward in his grapple form, slamming into the ceiling far overhead to stop my fall. Then I expended the rest of the charge I’d just absorbed, channeling it into a boost from the other end of the staff that sent me rocketing all the way upward, past stairwell after stairwell. 

Where were the others? Were they okay? I couldn’t think about that. They’d be fine. I had been fine, eventually. I just had to catch this guy, right now, before he somehow managed to get away. That had to be why he was going up instead of down, right? He had some kind of backup escape plan. Another one. 

He also must’ve been using some kind of speed-enhancement spell, because even with the rocket-boost yanking me past all the stairs to the top, he still beat me up there. Barely, but he beat me. I saw him disappear through the roof-access door while leaving two injured security guards on the floor nearby. Very injured, if I had to guess from a glance. 

Tabs, help them! I blurted inwardly while giving my little partner a mental push as I went for the door. I’ve got this! 

Without hesitating, Tabbris popped out of me from behind, solidifying as she dropped down to do what she could for the security guys. Meanwhile, I could hear the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps and hoped it was Asenath and the others. But I couldn’t wait to find out. This guy could be gone by then. So, staff raised, I went right through the door.

Yup, it was definitely a roof alright. Sarez was ahead of me, racing for the edge. Before he could get any further, however, I summoned a quick little portal and shoved my staff through it, letting the other end pop out right in front of him before triggering a blast from the energy that had stored up since I landed in the stairwell a few seconds earlier. It wasn’t a lot, but it did manage to take the guy by surprise enough to make him stumble back a step or two. And that gave me an opening to hurl a small ball of goop that I’d summoned to my other hand. The goop was that nausea-inducing liquid, solidified into a gel. It stayed that way just long enough to splatter against the back of the man’s head. 

Unfortunately, that armor of his must’ve protected him from the effects of the gel, because he barely reacted before throwing a marble at his own feet. As the marble shattered, a wide wave of metal spikes, taller than I was, erupted from it and went shooting along the ground toward me. But I was ready, running forward to meet them. At the last second, I leapt up, planting my left foot against one of the spikes before pushing off. There were several lines of them, all staggered in size and placement, and I bounced from one to the next, ducking under a couple, hopping over one, trusting my instincts and reflexes. 

Once again, Sarez was almost to the edge of the roof. I opened another portal while leaping off the side of the last jagged metal spike, hurling myself that way as the portal appeared in front of me with the other end directly in front of the fleeing man. That time, I literally threw my staff through it while triggering the charge. The explosion of energy knocked the man backward, and I used the new power I’d just gotten at the theater a couple weeks earlier to summon the staff back into my hands as I landed on one knee, swinging it for the back of his leg. He was tough, but the strength behind the blow coupled with the concussive explosion of force he’d just taken to the face made the man stagger. 

I took advantage, springing to my feet before grabbing for his chest. But nothing happened when I summoned the Seosten possession power. There was just… nothing there.

The armor, I realized. The power couldn’t get through that white exoskeleton armor, which had completely covered him. Just as that came to mind, the man’s fist found my stomach, and then he was hurling me over his shoulder to the roof. His voice was a vicious snarl, “You don’t know what you’ve brought upon yourself!” 

Rolling backward to my feet, I was about to snap a snarky retort, when Asenath’s voice interrupted. “Why don’t you tell us then?” She was there, along with the others. Miranda, Shiori, Bobbi, and December were coming out right behind her. “And while you’re at it, tell us where you sent my mother and those kids.” 

I couldn’t see the blue man’s expression through the exoskeleton helmet that covered his face. But I saw the contempt in his eyes, and heard it in his voice. “Why don’t they explain it, in detail.” 

They, in this case, apparently referred to the entire swarm of lizard-people in suits (seriously, they looked like reptilian humanoids all wearing perfectly tailored tuxedos) that appeared in a literal flash of gray-green smoke. One of them screamed something about oppressors before they all threw themselves at us. In the background, I saw Sarez leap from the edge of the roof, throwing something ahead of himself that seemed to slow his fall. 

Then two of the lizard-men were on me. I ducked under one, snapping my staff up to rebound off the other’s chin before flipping the weapon around to drive the bladed end down into his foot. Using that as a brace, I shoved myself up into a double-kick, planting both feet against the first reptilian’s chest. But I didn’t just kick him. I also possessed him in the same motion. As he fell back, I took control, summoning my staff back to his hand (telling myself to cheer over that part actually working later) before spinning to cut the blade across the throat of his companion while simultaneously shoving my own host into unconsciousness. 

Then I just staggered for a second as the rush of pleasure from that kill filled me. It wasn’t all that strong, but still. Without Tabbris muting the sensation, it hit me more than it might have. I shook it off in time to see another lizard guy coming for me, holding a weird jeweled khopesh. 

He, in turn, was knocked to the ground by Miranda as she tackled him. “Go!” She shouted at me. “Get that guy!” Even as she said it, another Miranda appeared, already running. 

Asenath and Shiori were across the roof, engaged in a fight back to back. December and Bobbi were together too. All of them were busy. They didn’t have time. We didn’t have time. Not before Sarez got away. 

Running to the edge of the roof, I looked down. He was far below. Far, faaaaar below, a speck that was already landing on the pavement near a waiting SUV.

“With me?” I blurted, looking to the nearby Miranda. 

“Since second grade,” she shot back, already planting her hands on the edge of the low wall and starting to push herself up. I followed suit. Together, the two of us heaved ourselves over the edge of the roof. 

Then we dropped, plummeting through the air hundreds of feet toward our escaping target… and the ground. 

Previous Chapter                                     Next Chapter

Fusion 1-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                                              Next Chapter

Note: check the first comment after the chapter for some fantastic new character art by Coshiua. 

We rode the elevator (well, I called it an elevator, it was more like a mobile forcefield with glowing walls that surrounded us) down toward the living areas in groups of about ten or so. The people who would be living together in each house. In this case, our group consisted of Avalon, Shiori, Rebecca, Miranda, Columbus, Doug, and me along with that Jason/Danuja guy (the Natural Prevenkuat Heretic), the Relekun Kersel, and the cat-girl Triss. Not to mention Salten and Choo.

Tabbris was here too. She’d be living with us, while going to school in her own group. It was a deal we’d come up with. Our dad and a few others thought that Tabbris should have a chance to be with people closer to her own age some more. But they also knew that separating us would be a bad idea. So we came to an arrangement that she would live with us and also attend some of our classes and training (as well as participating in missions she could help with), but attend most of her classes with the younger groups. She was basically far beyond what they would be learning, of course, but Abigail and Dad both said she could benefit from being around people her own age at least for a semester. After the semester, if she really didn’t like it, they’d revisit the situation. 

Staring down through the forcefield floor, Rebecca murmured, “Holy crap. There’s a whole town down there. Look at all those houses. And… wait, are those other places over there more living areas?” 

“It’s like the spokes of a wheel,” I explained, watching as we descended toward the hill in the middle of the area gradually (I was pretty sure the elevator had been purposefully slowed down to give each group a chance to see where they would be living). “Each spoke is a different general city type. See those cliff dwellings over there to the left of the human area with the giant… uhh, bug people flying around?” I indicated the mosquito-like beings with humanoid faces. “They’re called the Teun. They helped build this whole place. They’re like… really good at architecture and design. And to the right, that place that looks like the volcano area of a video game with the red canine-people? Those are the… umm… Tabs?” 

“Lupera,” she reminded me. “They’re miners from the same world the Akharu and Vestil come from.” 

Right, the Akharu (the original source of vampires, like Senny’s dad), Vestil, and Lupera all came from the same world, along with one more sapient race. There was something about a war on their world between all of them, the Akharu won some kind of ‘throne’ or something that made them unbelievably powerful, but then the Vestil cursed them so they had to replace all their blood constantly or they’d freeze up and become paralyzed. It was a whole thing. 

The elevator was almost down by then, and I quickly pointed before it was too late. “Anyway, we’ve got the modern Earth neighborhood right over there. See, each block is rectangular. Sixteen houses per block. Two next to each at either end for four on the ends. Then six more down each side, back to back, with a little walking park or garden area in the middle. There’s six blocks, all arranged in a hexagon, with the streets along both sides and a bigger park in the middle. See that big building right in the center of the park area? There’s a gym there, and a theater for watching movies and stuff.”

Six blocks with sixteen houses per block. Ninety-six houses. Roughly ten people per house, equalled nine hundred and sixty people in this school. Well, that many that were considered old enough to live in separate housing rather than the younger student dorms. And it was closer to a thousand. A thousand college-aged students, divided between Alters, Natural Heretics, and Crossroads or Garden students. This was… gonna be a trip and a half. 

By then, we were down. As we all stepped away from the elevator, Triss spoke up. “Wow, did you live here before or something?” There was a faint Russian accent to her voice. When I looked that way, her ears flattened a bit against her head and she took what seemed to be a reflexive step backward. She didn’t pop her claws or anything like that, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t take all that much. Whatever had gone on in her past, she was incredibly wary of Heretics. Which I didn’t blame her for, even if it made me wonder exactly why she had agreed to come and live with us. Maybe it was just part of getting past those fears or finding out if we were serious about making things right? I wasn’t sure. 

I did, however, know that I needed to be careful about how I acted around her. And around Kersel too, for that matter. The Relukun boy was watching me just as suspiciously. So, I simply nodded. “Yeah, I ahh, spent some time out in Seosten space. A few weeks or so. It’s a long story, believe me.” 

Raising an eyebrow, Jason asked, “Wait, so you just… lived in Seosten space for awhile? You weren’t a…” He looked me up and down, clearly trying to come up with the best word for it. 

“A slave?” I shook my head. “No. No, it wasn’t like that. Like I said, it’s a long story. The short version is that me and some others ended up out in Seosten space, then Tabbris and I got separated from them, Athena found us, and we stayed here while waiting for the rest of our group out there. Eventually, we made it back here to Earth.” 

Shiori piped up, “And by eventually, she means after years and years and years–” 

“Or a couple months,” I corrected with a little smile, taking the other girl’s hand briefly. “Months that felt like years.” 

“Felt like centuries,” she retorted, giving me a look that made me blush. 

“I… ahhh…” I coughed, trying to collect myself. Glancing to the smirking Avalon didn’t help. Nor did the sound that Salten made, which sounded awfully suspiciously like an outright snicker. “Um. Anyway, Tabs was there too.” Gently nudging the smaller blonde girl at my side, I prompted, “She’s the one with the perfect memory, if you ever need to know where anything is.” 

Bouncing a bit beside me, Tabbris bobbed her head up and down quickly. “Uh huh, it’s a really big space station. We have to take that elevator up to go to class every day. And for food, if you don’t make it in the house. Chef Gisby is a super good cook. He’ll make anything you want.”

“She’s right,” I confirmed. “Gisby likes it when you make things a challenge. His memory is just as good as a Seosten, and he’s put basically all of it toward memorizing every recipe in the universe. If he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, just describe it and he can get close.” 

With a chuckle, Jason spoke up. “Sounds like a Natural Gordon Ramsay Heretic. Wait, is he…” 

“He’s–” I started before pausing. “I don’t know what species he is. But he’s definitely not human. Don’t worry, you’ll see him pretty soon. Probably for dinner tonight, I’m sure he’s got his people busy getting ready for that.”  

“He does, indeed,” Professor Dare agreed. She had teleported down ahead of us rather than use the elevator, and now approached with a raised hand. “Alright, boys and girls, let’s go see your new house and get you settled in while the next group comes down.” 

That was another reason for the elevator to be moving slowly. Not only did it give the group aboard a chance to see what they were coming down into, it also gave the group that had just arrived time to be taken to their house and shown where to go. Dare wasn’t the only one showing us around (there were a couple other elevators full of students that were also being escorted by staff), but it spread out the arrivals just enough. 

Glancing up as we started to watch, I saw the next forcefield lift start to descend. Sands and Scout would be on that one. Err, Sands and Sarah. Yeah, she was trying to go by Sarah more nowadays, even if it was hard to remember. She preferred Sarah in a normal, casual setting and Scout on missions or in official training, but still answered to either whenever. Mostly it was interchangeable, which was still a pretty big step for her from the way she’d been when we first met… a year ago (Jeez that still felt weird to think). I was trying to remember to think of her as Sarah whenever possible, because that was what she wanted to go by. And I understood that. 

Not only was Scout going by Sarah, but both the twins and their mother weren’t going by Mason anymore either. They were using Larissa’s maiden name of Lucas. Yeah. Scout Mason was now Sarah Lucas. Weird, I know. Sands, of course, was still Sands. I was pretty sure nothing in this universe would make her start going by Sandoval more often. 

Either way, Sands and Sarah were in the group behind us and would be taking the house right next door. Vanessa and Tristan were living there too, for two sets of twins, along with Koren, Aylen, Gordon, Jazz, and Harper’s old teammate Eiji. The tenth member of their group was a boy called Ruckus, an Alter who seemed to be made entirely of hundreds of metal coils, like a… like a Slinky. Or several of them. Yeah. His legs were a pair of big slinkies, along with his arms, with a slinky in the middle for his body and a head that was basically a slinky set onto its side with the ends connecting. His eyes were two glowing red orbs that seemed to peek out from between the vertical coils of his head. 

Jokai was there too, making their house one of the ones that had eleven people. Mostly because Jazz wasn’t going to live anywhere without him.  

As for our group, we followed Professor Dare through the street, passing a couple other houses where students who had already been brought down were looking over their new places and getting settled in. A few looked over as we passed, calling out greetings or just watching. But most of them were busy moving in or just getting to know each other. I could see Alters and humans alike staring at one another. Some were more comfortable than others, but it was even more clear that this whole thing was going to be a big… adjustment for everyone. 

Eventually, we reached the house we would be staying in. It was the third house down from the corner on the second block. The place was a two-story Colonial-style house, painted white with a dark red front door. There was a wide, spacious front porch lined by a knee-high white railing, set between taller pillars both at the corners and on either side of the front door to leave an opening. The same was duplicated above on another porch that wrapped around the second floor, though there was no opening in the railing there. There were four large bay windows in the front, two on the first floor on either side of the house, and two right above them. The roof was slanted, with several spots that stuck out from it with rectangular windows. The attic. 

Dare was already walking up to the front door, waving for it to open. As we trooped up the steps to the porch after her, she explained. “Four bedrooms on the first floor. See the two big windows there? There’s the same thing in the back. Two bedrooms in the front, two bedrooms in the back. That goes for the upstairs too. If you come in here…”

We followed her in (Choo and Salten waited outside along with most of our bags that we left sitting there), and found ourselves all standing in an entrance hall. The floor was wood, the walls pleasant but simple white, with a couple of nondescript paintings. To the left and right were doors to the front bedrooms. The corridor itself continued on past two more doors on either side. Those doors were open, and looking in as we passed revealed bathrooms. Big ones. 

“As with the bedrooms,” Dare explained, “the two bathrooms are repeated upstairs. Four total.”

Then we reached two open archways on either side rather than doors. The left archway led into a large living area with TV and game stuff. The right archway lead to a pleasant-looking kitchen and dining room with a window overlooking a small garden and the house next door. 

Just past the two archways was a set of stairs leading up to the second floor, with a door next to them. According to Dare, that led to the basement, where a laundry room and small gym were. 

“On the second floor,” she explained, “there is a library of sorts above the living room, and a magic testing room above the kitchen. It’s heavily protected, but it is still only to be used for relatively minor magic practice. Anything bigger or more extensive must be done in the designated training area upstairs. And by upstairs, I mean through the elevator into the rest of the station.”

Finally, we reached the doors leading to the back bedrooms on either side, and the rear door. It led to the rear side of the porch, just above a fenced off back yard. 

With an uncertain voice, Triss raised a hand. “I don’t understand. There are ten of us, but you have only pointed out eight bedrooms. I mean, I’m not the best at math, but eight is fewer than ten.”

Dare nodded. “Yes, there are two more bedrooms in the attic. The living space up there is slightly more limited, but with only two bedrooms, they’re about the same size as the ones down here.”

Doug raised his hand. “So, are you guys assigning bedrooms, or what?”

With a smile, Dare gave a slight shake of her head. “Nope, figuring that all out is part of your first job as housemates. We’ll step in if we need to at any point that people in a house can’t agree, but let’s try to work it out amongst yourselves. Similarly, we will not be patrolling who stays in what bed. You’re all either over eighteen or very close to it.” Her eyes flicked briefly to me with a certain tenseness before she pushed on. “You are all essentially adults, and we will treat you as such so long as you do not give us reason not to. Everyone gets a bedroom. What you do with that bedroom is up to you.

“Now, I believe you all have some exploring to do to stake out what rooms you want. I need to go get the next group. If you have any questions, let us know. Otherwise, there is food in the kitchen for lunch and we’ll see you at dinner. Good luck.”

With that, she left, and the eleven of us stood there in the corridor looking at each other for a few long, quiet seconds. No one really seemed to know what to say first. Which was weird, considering most of us knew each other pretty well, except for Jason, Triss, and Kersel. 

Finally, Miranda clapped her hands. “Right, okay. So, unless anyone else has any better idea, I was thinking we’d write everyone’s name down on a piece of paper and put them in a hat or something. Then we can walk by each room and take out a name. That person gets that room.”

Kersel lifted his wooden head a bit. “Sure you don’t have some kind of paper manipulating power to get anything you want?” It sounded like one of those jokes that wasn’t really a joke at all, but more of a challenge. Yeah, this was going to be interesting. 

Before Miranda could say anything to that, Rebecca quickly spoke up. “The rooms are all the same, no one’s going to care enough to start cheating or anything. We’re just dividing them up faster.”

With a broad smile, Jason put a hand on the Relukun boy’s back. “Yeah, buddy. Don’t worry. It’ll all be fair. So let’s do this, I’d kinda like to stow my stuff.”

We did. Following Miranda’s suggestion, we pulled names from a pot that we found in the kitchen, matching everyone to a bedroom. In the end, the four downstairs bedrooms went to Rebecca and Shiori in the front, and Columbus and Miranda in the back. Upstairs were Avalon and Jason in the front, and Triss and Doug in the back. Kersel and I were in the attic. 

The stairs leading up to the attic were in the middle of the second floor corridor, basically right as you came off the stairs from the first floor. You just kept walking up the next set. The attic had a large open area at the top of the stairs, with only two spots set out for bedrooms, one at the front and one at the back. They were apparently more narrow than the other bedrooms, but wider, taking up the whole front or back wall respectively. There was also a single bathroom directly between the two rooms, but other than that, it was all empty. I wasn’t sure what this large open space in the rest of the attic was for, considering it was big enough to have a whole dance competition in. Maybe we were supposed to figure out what to do with it ourselves, or something.

Either way, Tabbris and I nodded to Kersel, who gave a polite, yet clearly dismissive bow of his head before heading into his own room. Which left the two of us standing there. 

“Well,” I started, “let’s go in and check out our new room, huh?”

I opened the bedroom door and stepped inside what turned out to indeed be a pretty spacious room, though one that was, again, much wider than it was deep. There was just enough room from the entrance to the wall for the large bed to be set in (with the head against the wall and the foot facing the door) while leaving space to walk past it to reach either side. On the other hand, as promised, there was plenty of width to the room to make up for the lack of depth. To the left of the bed was a dresser and a desk with a computer already waiting, along with a smaller dresser to the right. There was room on that right-hand side for Tabbris’s bed, once we let Dare know where she was staying. So, she’d have furniture of her own. And I was going to see about getting a couple of those privacy screens installed like they had at Crossroads so we could both have our own me-time. I wanted Tabbris to know this was her room too, as much as mine, and that she had every right to her own privacy. 

“Huh, not bad, huh?” I asked while stepping over to look out one of the three windows spaced along the width of the room. We were in the back, so the view looked out over the yard, and leaning over a bit allowed me to see next door. Eiji’s cyber-rhino was already there, making noises at Salten and Choo, who were investigating him through the fence. 

Tabs bobbed her head quickly. “Uh huh, it’s really cool. And umm… tonight, we try the thing again?”

“Yeah,” I confirmed, “tonight we try again. 

“And this time, hopefully I can keep Fossor’s sister here long enough to get something useful out of her.”

Previous Chapter                                              Next Chapter