And there it was. The communications tower was directly in front of us as we crouched in the bushes just a few feet away from the path leading up to the door. The tower itself looked like a lighthouse with a huge radio antenna on top. One of the metal statue guardian things, like what had been in front of the dorms at Crossroads, was perched up beside the door as though ready to deal with any threat that approached. And something told me it was probably stronger than those ones. Either way, it was a problem we were going to have to deal with, because we certainly weren’t on the list of people allowed to go in there. The only way we would be able to shut down the communications was by getting in that building. The antennae itself was surrounded by a powerful forcefield. It might have been possible to get through it, but not without drawing far too much attention first. We had to do this the quiet way for as long as we could. Our best-case scenario was the bulk of the people here having absolutely no idea that anything was wrong until the truck with all our friends in it was already in the compound.
All of which meant we needed to sneak into this building and disable the communications without setting off every alarm in the entire prison facility. We wanted them to have no idea the communications were even down until the moment they tried to use them. Because the longer it took them to realize there was a problem, the less time that they would have to come up with a solution.
Kohaku had been scanning the building ahead both visually and with all of her relevant powers for the past minute. Finally, she spoke in a low voice. “One Heretic inside. From what I can tell, they’re alone and not connected to anyone. They seem to be watching a movie in there. But if we pick a fight with the guardian…” She turned her gaze to the currently-motionless statue. “Give me a moment, I may be able to disable it without a fight.”
“That’d be nice,” Twister put in. She was back in her own form, crouched on the far side of Avalon. “You sure I can’t get up there and take a peek?”
Avalon’s head shook. “I still haven’t seen any animals around here. There was nothing in the forest. No birds, no squirrel or rat-like things, nothing. I didn’t even see a butterfly. Or a regular fly. You turn into anything and get close, they’ll know something’s going on.”
“Exactly,” Kohaku agreed. “The Heretic in there is distracted, but we don’t know how distracted. And we don’t know how sensitive the detector on the guardian is.” With that, she paused to consider for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. “Avalon, how long will your device take?”
Yeah, Avalon had been part of the Developer’s track, of course. On our way over to this planet, she and Columbus had both been tinkering a bit and came up with a toy that could be plugged into the computer system. Assuming it all worked out the way it was supposed to, the device would shut down the entire network with some sort of virus or whatever. The point was, it would quietly destroy their ability to call for off-world help. At least until they could get into the system and flush out the virus. Which we weren’t planning on giving them a lot of time to do.
Considering the question briefly, Avalon tilted her head a little before answering, “Conservatively speaking, three minutes. Just to make sure it disables all the alarms first before shutting down the network itself. Once we get to a spot where I can plug it in.”
“Okay,” Kohaku replied, clearly coming to a decision. “Felicity, take this.” She turned a bit, passing a small silver disc the size of my fist, with several runes on it that glowed faintly. “Hand that to one of your ghosts. From what I can tell, they shouldn’t be detected if they carry it over to the guardian and place it on the back of its neck. That should temporarily disable it. Just make sure they take it slow and easy. There is no need to be in a rush.”
Nodding, I summoned Seth once more, quietly informing the man of what he needed to do while giving him enough energy to make his hands solid so he could take the disc itself. “And Seth,” I added, “you don’t have to taunt the thing first. Stay out of its line of sight, even if you are invisible. Just to be on the safe side. Go out and around, then come up along the side of the building.”
“Eesh, okay, Mom,” the ghost retorted with a wink as he took the disc, before his voice softened. “Don’t worry so much, Chambers. I want to get Tiras out of here as much as you do, without making all these jumpy Heretics decide to execute the prisoners. Give me a minute, babe.” His eyes passed over the others before he belatedly amended, “Babes.”
Despite his words of assurance, I still found myself holding my breath as the ghost-figure took the disc and began to make the long, circuitous trip around toward the back of the guardian. Luckily, I could hold my breath for a long time. Ten–no, fifteen minutes. I’d gotten an upgrade from killing that Heretic lady back at the truck station. Now I could hold my breath for fifteen full minutes. And, beyond that, I was able to share that ability with anyone I was touching, though the length I could hold it for went down by about a quarter for every person I did that with. By myself I could last fifteen minutes. Holding one person’s hand dropped that to about eleven and a half, and holding two people’s hands made it seven and a half. But assuming they could hold their own breath for awhile, we could keep it going for longer.
The point was, I could hold my breath much longer than it took for Seth to work his way around to the back of the statue. And I did, staring that way while half-expecting the guardian to jerk itself into motion any second. Not that I doubted the old vampire’s ability to be stealthy. It was more about doubting our luck to actually pull this off without everything blowing up. So far so good, but we were only doing this well because the Eden’s Garden people had no reason to suspect there were any problems. Seriously, they were on a tiny, out-of-the-way planet in the middle of unknown space, far from any threats that they knew of. They were probably alert for Fomorian invasion if those fucks happened to find this place. But a tiny, quiet incursion force set to rescue their prisoners? Yeah, I doubted they had the slightest inkling that anything like that was on their doorstep. Yet one tiny mistake on our part could change that, and make this entire situation a hell of a lot harder.
But for the moment at least, that mistake didn’t happen. As we all knelt there and watched, Seth made his way around to the back of the statue and carefully placed the disc there. The second it was in place, the guardian’s eyes started to glow, as if it had detected that there was something wrong. But before it could do anything, Kohaku spoke a single word. There was a slight puff of smoke from the disc, and the guardian immediately froze once more. Its eyes dimmed, but didn’t entirely go out. It was paralyzed, not off. For the moment, we didn’t have to deal with it.
“Go,” Kohaku urged while tugging another coin out, triggering a new stealth spell to hide us from any extra senses the Heretic in the building might have. “Don’t worry,” she assured us as we all started to jog quickly and quietly toward the door, “it won’t be a problem.”
No sooner had the woman finished saying those words, than her hand caught hold of my arm and yanked me to the side. In that instant, my item-sense caught the presence of something very sharp moving incredibly quickly through the air right where my head had been. It was a knife, which embedded itself deep into a nearby tree.
I was still realizing what had just happened, even as Avalon and Twister were pivoting toward the source of that knife. But Kohaku was even faster. In the exact same motion as when she had yanked me away from the incoming blade, the woman had pivoted and brought her other hand up, sending out an invisible and mostly silent bolt of force that way.
A radio, clutched in the hand of the man who had emerged from the trees to throw that knife at me, burst apart. It didn’t so much explode as basically break into all of its component parts when that blast from Kohaku’s hand hit it.
The man was an Eden’s Garden Heretic, obviously. He stood a couple inches under six feet, with a blond goatee and mustache, gray eyes, and a smooth bald head. He was wearing black slacks, a loose dark green button-up shirt, and a white tie. When the radio broke in his hand, he hissed and dropped it, eyes narrowing. “Kohaku. Should’ve thrown the knife at you instead.”
“You would have had even less luck than you did with her, Howff.” she flatly informed him. “And you couldn’t resist trying to kill Joselyn’s daughter.”
“Eh, would’ve been pretty fun,” came the retort as his eyes briefly glanced my way. “But I guess it can wait. You people aren’t getting out of here anyway.”
Kohaku lifted one eyebrow. “I assume you’ve already realized you can’t call for help.” Her hand rose, showing a small gray stone that was pulsing with power. As she held it, I could see the edges of a shimmering silvery dome that filled the clearing briefly glow. “As long as this spell is active, you can’t summon any friends or send any messages. Nothing you do can get beyond the walls of the dome. Even your friend upstairs can’t hear you.” She nodded toward the tower behind us.
The man, Howff apparently, narrowed his eyes. “All that means is that I need to take that stone from you.”
“Good luck with that,” she informed him. Her next words were for Twister, Avalon, and me. “Go. You can get through the dome. Do what needs to be done. You can handle it. I’ll stop Howff.”
If he had thought about it more, the man probably would have focused on stopping the rest of us. Or at least slowing us down. We were the ones who would be screwed over if this took too long, after all. But his attention was centered on Kohaku. I could tell there was some sort of personal history there that was clouding his judgment. Whatever it was, I was just glad it gave us this opening. Without missing a beat, or even looking at one another, Avalon, Twister, and I pivoted and ran toward the door. The statue was still frozen in place, with that disc keeping it motionless. Meanwhile, I could hear Kohaku and Howff start to go at it behind us briefly before we passed through the edge of the magic dome and the sound was cut off. Whatever happened back there now, it was up to Kohaku to handle. We had our own job.
The first step of that job was the door. It was locked, of course. And there were several alarm spells on it. Beyond that, the door was made of solid metal and set into thick concrete. For a lot of people, it would have taken far too long to break through quietly, and make entirely too much noise to do so loudly.
But we weren’t a lot of people. Even as we approached the door, Avalon was producing Seth’s knife (making the ghost-man raise an eyebrow from where he was lounging next to the guardian statue). She cut straight through the spot on the door where the alarm spells were, disabling them in two quick strokes so that anything happening to the door wouldn’t alert everyone in the prison.
Meanwhile, I stopped in front of the door. It was still locked, and according to Kohaku, the security they used here would be too strong for my auto-unlocking power. Still, I had another way of dealing with it. Taking a breath, I raised my hands up to my face with one palm facing down while the other faced outward to the right, and focused on one of the new powers I had picked up from the Heretic back on Earth. She had ripped massive slabs of concrete out of the ground. I wasn’t that strong. But I could reshape the concrete. Which, I was pretty sure, was helped along by the rock-manipulation power I’d already had. With those two combined, while I couldn’t throw huge slabs of concrete through the air willy nilly, I could manipulate and play with it almost like clay. Maybe later I would get better at lifting it up, but for now, I was a bit more limited. Thankfully, it was enough for our purposes.
With a grunt of effort, I shoved one hand down and the other to the side. With those motions, I used that stolen power to push the concrete below the door down, and the concrete to one side of it to the right, out of the way. It took some effort, given how thick and strong the concrete happened to be, and how new to using this power I was. But the cement finally moved, and the door started to fall with those two sides no longer holding it up.
But Twister was there, already having shifted into a gorilla form. She caught the door before it could fall and alert the guy inside, shoving it out of the way to lean against the guardian statue.
Now we had our opening, and we didn’t waste any time. Hoping that Kohaku was doing okay, I went through the entrance first.
There was very little immediately in-view. The room beyond the door was circular, with a few consoles along the rounded walls, and a set of stairs that spiraled upward higher into the lighthouse. We could hear the television that the Heretic guard was watching, so none of us spoke just yet. Instead, I raised my hand to point at the consoles while looking toward Avalon. Unfortunately, she took a quick glance that way before shaking her head. Those wouldn’t do. We had to get up into the main control room. Of course, I knew it couldn’t be that easy. But I’d had to at least check.
While I was reacting to her response, Avalon tugged out a small gray stone identical to the one Kohaku was using outside to create that dome of silence. As soon as she activated it, our friend upstairs wouldn’t be able to summon help or warn anyone either.
Rather than move directly to the stairs, I tilted my head to look up at the ceiling. At the same time, I summoned Seth, Grover, and several other ghosts who were still with me. They’d all agreed to come on this trip and help out, so I silently let them know what I wanted. The assembled group of incorporeal figures looked at one another, noded, then flew up through the ceiling. They were on their way to burst out through the floor to attack the Heretic there. Not that I or any of them expected a few ghosts to be able to win against him, but they would serve as a pretty good distraction while we made our way upstairs. I just hoped they lasted long enough.
Grover went last, catching the activated stone as Avalon tossed it to him. He flew up the stairs to get it within range of the man up there from the moment the other ghosts ambushed him.
Silently wishing them luck, I held a hand out toward Twister. She shifted into a tiny mouse once more, landing on my palm before running up to my shoulder. Giving Avalon a quick glance and thumbs up, I ran to the base of the stairs and then jumped. Rather than run up the steps, I used the rocket burst power I had also inherited from the Heretic woman. The flames that came out of my feet and the middle of my back weren’t actually hot. As far as I could tell, they didn’t really do any damage or anything. They were just a visual effect, showing where the kinetic force was pushing outward to shove me in the opposite direction.
I couldn’t fly with them, unfortunately. I could get a pretty good lift off and use the power as what amounted to a rocket jump to get myself maybe thirty feet into the air before coming back down. And that was it without using my Seosten boost or added lift from my staff. With both of those, I could get even higher and further. Beyond that, the rocket burst could act as what amounted to a hover power, keeping me a few feet off the ground while moving me forward (or in other directions if I shifted where the ‘flames’ were emerging).
I could use the rocket burst on the ground for about twenty seconds at a time before it needed to recharge. Which, with the added Seosten boost and the speed-up rings that I placed in front of me on the way, was more than enough time. I was a blur as I hover-rocketed up the stairs. Without the werewolf-enhanced reflexes combined with what the Seosten boost also gave me, I probably would have slammed right into the curved wall almost immediately. But I managed to keep going around every bend, even as Twister the mouse shoved herself inside my shirt and clung for dear life.
I also hadn’t left Avalon very far behind. She was using the power she’d picked up awhile back to copy versions of other people’s powers in order to use the same rocket burst, and was right behind me. The two of us rocketed up the spiraling stairs, past several other floors where various unimportant rooms were. What we wanted was the very top floor, where the light would have been if this was an actual lighthouse.
On the way, I could sense my ghosts having problems of their own. A couple of them had already been disintegrated. Not that it was permanent or anything. The magic holding their ‘bodies’ together was simply dispersed and it would take some time and effort to pull them back together. Still, I felt a pang of guilt about sending them up to get hurt like that, even if they had volunteered. I was going to have to do something nice for the ghosts for helping out so much on this trip. Even Grover, who wasn’t fighting but was floating just close enough to keep the communication-blocking spell up.
Still, there were a few left in the actual fight, including Seth. Unsurprisingly, the dead vampire seemed to be doing the best against that Heretic. He had, after all, been the Wonderland Tiebreaker for a reason. If he had still been in his vampire form, he might even have stood more of a chance. Might have. But as it was, in this ghost body, the best he could hope to do was hold out and keep the man’s attention a little bit longer.
Thankfully, it was long enough. I heard the Heretic cursing and threatening my ghosts just ahead of us as we reached the top of the stairs. Then we were in a wide-open circular room, much like the one at the bottom of the stairs. But this one had a lot more consoles around it, along with a central machine right in the middle that was clearly the base of the radio-like antennae.
The Heretic was immediately visible as well. He had his back to us (I was going to assume that Seth was responsible for that), and seemed fairly unassuming in appearance. He wasn’t that big, standing only a few inches taller than me, with short blond hair and a wiry build. He wore a pair of dark cargo pants and a white muscle shirt.
Oh, and he was holding a spear with an energy blade at the end, which he was busy driving into another of my ghosts, shattering him into ectoplasm-like stuff that quickly disintegrated. Which seemed to leave Seth as the only one left (aside from Grover out in the stairwell), having just spun out of the way from the back-handed blow that the Heretic followed up with after skewering the other ghost.
The man instantly reacted to our arrival, sending a burst of what was clearly incredibly dangerous fire flying backward at us. But Avalon and I were ready, diving to either side as our rocket-burst wore off. The flames filled the air between us, sending a wave of almost nauseating heat over my body. Yeah, not a good idea to be hit by that.
Avalon was already rising after that dive, pulling herself up with the help of the nearby console. Even as she rose, I could see the spot where she had stuck her device. It was out of sight from where the Heretic was standing, and already silently doing its job.
Speaking of the Heretic, he had moved to the center of the room, his eyes darting between Avalon and me while he held his energy-bladed spear toward Seth. “Ah, traitors through and through, I should’ve known. You won’t be getting out of this alive.”
“We’ll see,” I replied flatly, trying to keep the nerves out of my voice. Three minutes. We had to keep this guy busy for three minutes so Avalon’s device could do its thing.
If we failed, the Eden’s Garden people would be able to summon reinforcements. And then this whole rescue mission would be over.