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Something told me that the only reason Denuvus was being so accommodating about offering to tell us the real story about what was going on was that she didn’t think there was anything we could do to stop her anyway. But I wasn’t going to object. If she wanted to monologue and tell us everything we needed to know then all the more power to her. Besides, it gave us time to think.
My mother was the first to speak, her voice low and dangerous. “Explain anything you wish, and we’ll decide exactly how many buckets of salt to take it with.“
Denuvus smiled faintly that way. “Holding a grudge because I took control of you? That’s fair, and you would hardly be the first or the most dangerous. As you may have noticed however, I have not forced you to harm anyone. If your child here and her friends had stayed on that station where they were supposed to, you’d simply be picking them up safe and sound when this was over.”
Before I could say anything to that, Miles cut in. “But they did show up, and then you made me and my friends go attack them!” His fists were clenched as he glared that way, looking like he really wanted to make the woman swallow his full allotment of cyberform bees and let them break back out again through her rib cage. “What if someone got killed?!”
Denuvus gave him a flat look. “You’re Boscher Heretics, you’ll all heal. They wouldn’t have killed you because they knew I was controlling you, and you wouldn’t kill them because I told you not to.”
Miles probably would’ve argued with that, but I quickly put in, “Sorry we disappointed you by showing up. I’m not exactly the best at staying where I’m told. Or even at staying where I want to stay, come to think of it. Honestly, expecting me to be anywhere you think I’m going to be from one day to the next is really poor judgment on your part.”
Actually chuckling a little bit at that, the woman gestured. “I will grant you that as well. Now, let us continue loading the ship, please.” She stressed that word as though to show that it wasn’t one she was accustomed to saying. “And I will tell you all what is happening with Rasputin.” To me, she added, ”Shall I assume that your other friends are getting along with the natives?”
How much did I actually want to tell her? Nothing, actually, but I had a feeling being stoic and silent would only go so far. So, I offered a shrug. “You could say that. Why, is Rasputin with them too? Has he been helping you?”
Asenath piped up then. “And what exactly does he have to do with what happened to my father? Because it occurs to me that of the very few people who would have the ability to change his memories like that, you are probably either one of them or at least know one. And now suddenly the last man we know he was with before that is on a whole new planet with you. Somehow, I doubt that is a coincidence.“
Denuvus shook her head. “You may believe what you wish, but I am not responsible for your father‘s changed memories. However, I can tell you who was. You know what your father and his group were doing?”
Senny frowned a little at that before nodding. “They had heard that the Vestil were attempting to complete the ritual that would have killed all of them and anyone connected to their blood, including myself and my mother. They were going back to make certain that didn’t happen. And given we are all still alive, they must have been successful.”
While they were talking, I quickly checked in on the others again. It still looked like those tribal people were worshiping Persephone. But at least now they seemed to be moving again. I got the impression from Rahanvael that these primitive Seosten people didn’t exactly like Denuvus. She was an invader and she had used her voice power to control them. They had been upset about that, but now with Persephone here, they were happy and were bringing her and the others… here?
Wait no, that wasn’t quite right. They weren’t bringing them right here. They were taking them somewhere close by, to something that would help. But they didn’t want to say more than that.
Hang on, come to think of it, were these guys the people who had attacked those guards in the secret room? Could they have done all that so quickly and quietly? If so, then damn. I was really glad they were on our side.
By that point, Denuvus was explaining to Asenath. “Your father and his people, including Rasputin, did succeed at stopping the ritual from being completed. You’re right about that. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were killed in the process. By which I mean only your father and Rasputin himself survived, out of a group of thirty who embarked on the mission. And they were not easy deaths. From what I have heard and the memories I have seen, they were particularly traumatic.”
Asenath snarled under her breath. “If you are about to suggest that my father intentionally had his memories changed to spare himself, and erased his family in the process, then you’re the one who will experience a few impressively traumatic things.”
Shiori quickly put a hand on her sister’s arm, glaring that way. “I’m sure that’s not what she was implying, right?”
The woman sighed. “Of course not. The man has experienced quite a bit worse in his time. And he loves you and your mother. Ridding himself of your memories intentionally simply to also erase painful ones would be idiotic. And though he is many things, your father is not an idiot. Rasputin chooses to drink and fornicate away his memories in a less magical way. Your father on the other hand…”
She grimaced and glanced away before continuing. “Let’s just say that one of the people responsible for attempting to complete the ritual survived and escaped. Worse, he came here with the pieces of what they needed for the ritual and made a deal with Fossor. He would provide him with special magical expertise, including investigations into the very secret lab I’ve already told you about. In exchange, Fossor would allow him to continue his experiments here in secrecy and safety. So much damage had been done in your father‘s attack, and this last sorcerer had to put much of it together without the aid of his former companions. It was a process that would take quite a long time.”
“This guy was researching a mega powerful spell right here in Fossor’s backyard and he expected the guy to keep his word and play nice and all that?” I snorted in disbelief at that. “Are you sure Tiras didn’t hit him in the head really hard to make him that stupid?”
Denuvus chuckled softly. “Yes, well, you’re not wrong. It suited Fossor’s purposes to take what he could get out of that man and allow him to do his work. But as soon as the ritual was far enough along, ehh, I don’t think you need me to draw you a picture about what happened. Fossor killed him and took over. Only his intention was to turn the power of the curse toward a more direct threat as far as he was concerned. With a curse that was more twisted to his personal needs.”
My face twisted into a grimace. “You mean that’s where he got the idea about the whole controlling Heretics thing? He was nothing if not ambitious.”
“He was that,” the woman agreed, before turning her attention back to Asenath. “As I said before, your father did not erase his own memory. The man responsible, that last surviving Vestil sorcerer, knew that Tiras would continue to come after him. Your father knew where he was. And he was afraid that even under Fossor’s… ahem, ‘protection,’ Tiras would still find a way to kill him. So, he erased his memories. It was a bit of a hatchet job, to be honest. But it did what he wanted and stopped your father from coming after him. Not that that ended up being enough to keep him alive.”
Twister actually spoke up then. “But that Rasputin guy. Are you trying to say he found out about the half-finished ritual here and came up to finish breaking it so it couldn’t be used again?”
“That is precisely what I’m saying,” Denuvus confirmed. “And what I’m also saying is that I have given you enough information for now until we load the rest of these things. Assist me in putting them all on the ship and then we can leave. We’ll go back to Earth and I will take my belongings before you will be allowed to take your ship and do whatever it is you wish.”
From the look on my mother’s face, she clearly wasn’t sure if she believed that or not. Part of me wondered if we should take this opportunity to jump the woman before she pulled whatever trick she might have been planning. After all, we had my mother here now. Not to mention Mercury and Nevada, both of whom had been oddly silent throughout all of this. They just continued to work. Was that because Denuvus had given them stricter instructions than she had my mother? And if so, did that mean they wouldn’t be any help if this came down to a fight? Something told me it wouldn’t be that easy.
Beyond that, we still didn’t know what the people with Persephone and the others were doing. I hoped they were going to turn out to be a good thing, especially if they were against Denuvus. But for all we knew, they were going to be annoyed with all of us. And even then, assuming we did have everyone on our side and they could act, could we actually stop her? Again, she was supposed to be as dangerous as Fossor in her own way. Sure, she might not have billions of slaves to sacrifice, but she made up for that in other ways. Who knew what sort of powers she had beyond her voice, and she had already proven that she could disable any of the defenses we came up with to stop that. As much as she might be playing nice right now, I had no doubt that she could get nasty if she wanted to.
It seemed like the best thing for us to do right now was just play along and look for an opening. And hope that the tribals ended up having a really good idea. Wherever they were taking the others, they were clearly very excited about it. Which I might have been more optimistic about if it wasn’t obvious that Denuvus knew they were there and didn’t seem worried at all. Maybe she didn’t know what they were planning, but something told me she didn’t tend to leave anything to chance.
With all that in mind, I finally shrugged and moved to start helping with the pile of crates. The first one I picked up was surprisingly heavy and I looked over at the woman in question. “So you really don’t have any idea what’s in all these things?”
She offered me a faint smile before replying, “I do have the slightest idea, and I know all of it will be useful in one way or another. You could call me a pack rat in that way. You never know what might end up being the thing that saves your life, or gives you an edge.” She traveled off, clearly thinking about that for a moment before shaking herself. “And the most important thing is somewhere in that pile.” As she said that, her eyes shifted toward Nevada and I remembered what she said about wanting her sister back. Where did that fall with all this? Did she really think she could turn Nevada back into the sister she had sacrificed? Just because the ancient Seosten who came to this planet in the first place happened to have something for that among their collection?
I supposed it would be kind of ironic for Fossor to have had something that could do that in this pile of random treasure. After all, his whole thing started from trying to make his own sister immortal by killing her and bringing her back. Going through all that just to randomly have something that could bring her back lying around in a room he found? Something about that struck me as darkly amusing. But also frightening. By all accounts, the woman who had been turned into Nevada had been dead for centuries. Could whatever this thing was seriously just bring her back? And what about Nevada herself? As I thought that, my eyes glanced up to look that way. She wasn’t looking at me. She wasn’t looking at anybody. She was just quietly loading the ship. I still wasn’t sure if she had simply resigned herself to whatever fate Denuvus had in mind, or if she was under that strict of control. Either way, we couldn’t just let this happen. Nevada was her own living person, and she didn’t deserve to just be erased.
Hell, right now we were just loading up the ship for Denuvus to take anything she wanted. How dangerous would she be if she had all of Fossor’s hidden treasure? And not even just his, though I was sure some of that was mixed in. This was all the treasure those ancient Seosten had gathered in their travels across the universe. If she was right about one of the things being able to bring her sister back, and that was just one of the things mixed in here, then the rest of it… Yeah, this was too dangerous. No matter what happened, we couldn’t let her run off with this stuff. But I still had no idea what we were going to do about it. If we started causing trouble, she could just counter us. Hell, she’d probably have my mother attack us, and what could I do about that? Even if I was able to make myself fight my mom, could I actually meet her? Something told me it wouldn’t exactly be that easy. She had a hell of a lot more experience. And she still had that sword, the one Kushiel had wanted. Among other things, it could apparently cut straight through ghosts, so I wouldn’t even have that advantage. Under absolutely no circumstances would I send any of my ghosts against that weapon. This whole thing was just… fuck. We were here and there was still nothing we could do. Unless whatever those primitive Seosten were taking the others to was really good, and something Denuvus hadn’t planned on, I didn’t know what we were supposed to do.
While I was focused on that, we all continued loading the ship. There was a tunnel nearby, leading to an enormous place that had clearly been a vault of some sort. The door for it had to have been a solid three or four feet thick, and was made of the sort of metal that could have fended off repeated shots from a capital ship. This whole place had really been buried underground until Fossor raised it up in this volcano? Actually, speaking of volcano, where was the magma? Were we just in a section of the place that didn’t have any?
Needless to say, I had a lot of questions. And so did Asenath, as she started up again while we were moving crate after crate out of that large vault room and over to stack it up inside the Jitterbug. “If my father’s memory was erased by the man you say Fossor killed, does that mean there’s no way to undo it?” Her voice betrayed no actual emotion there, though I knew she was feeling plenty. She just didn’t care to let the woman in question hear it. “And where is Rasputin now? You said he came here to destroy every trace of the ritual, but…”
Denuvus leaned against the side of the ship. No matter how eager she was to have all this stuff safely in her possession, she wasn’t actually going to lift a finger to help move it. I had the feeling that she didn’t exactly do a lot of manual labor. Especially not when she had all of us to do it for her.
She did, however, at least answer the questions. Part of them anyway. “On the contrary, there is likely a way to restore his memories. The Vestil took them and placed them somewhere safe. Destroying them would… well, let’s say it’s not that simple to do such a thing. And if you try, you’re far more likely to end up sending the memories back to where they belong. So, they are locked up. And once we are finished here, I’ll tell you exactly where to find them.” She offered another smile. “You see? Everyone will get what they want. Or at least close enough.”
Once again, I checked in on Rahanvael and the others. They were in a… wait, what? It looked like they were in some sort of old freight elevator. Robin, Judas, and Stasia were all in the middle, with the tribals squeezed in all around them. And now that I had a closer look, they basically just looked like humans. Not even the absurdly beautiful sort of Seosten I was accustomed to. Probably because they were descended from the ancient Seosten, before they had upgraded themselves so much. They had normal human-ish lifespans too. That was… wow. And where was the elevator taking them? A quick check with Rahanvael revealed that she had no idea. The primitive Seosten still weren’t talking about it. But they were close. So very close.
And speaking of close, it didn’t take long for the rest of us to finish loading the ship. Miles caught my attention, wanting to know if his team was safe. I told them they were, but when I started to talk about his parents, the boy quietly told me to please wait until we got out of this. He was already distracted and was afraid that thinking about them even more would make it worse. Which was understandable.
While I was in the midst of that and trying to decide exactly when to let the rest of his team out, Denuvus started to speak. “Well, now, it seems we’ve finished ahead of schedule. And no one even had to suffer. So–”
Before she could finish whatever it was she had been about to say, Nevada spoke up. “Erin, now.” That was it. She said two words. But those two words were enough. In the next second, the ship we had just finished loading up abruptly vanished. It was there one second and then it was gone. It jumped. Wait, what?! Erin, Erin–what?
In an instant, Denuvus was right there. Her voice snapped, “My name is Denuvus, everyone freeze!” Then she smacked Nevada hard, knocking the woman to the ground just as I felt my entire body lock up completely.
“What did you do?” the woman demanded, her voice actually sounding angry for once. “My name is Denuvus, tell me the truth.”
Lying there basically right where the ship had been a moment earlier, Nevada stared at Denuvus. “I knew you’d show yourself sooner or later. So I started bringing a little help along on trips like this. You might know her dad, since you’ve been enslaving him for awhile. She’s just been waiting for us to load this thing. Erin Redcliffe has the ship, and she’s not bringing it back until we’re all safe. She can see everything that’s happening through my contacts, but you can’t do anything about it. Everything on that ship belongs to her. If you do anything to us, she’ll never bring it back. And the moment you start fucking with us, she’ll start dumping artifacts out into the middle of deep space where you’ll never find them.
“Now we can start negotiating.”