So, that was a pretty big thing. Obviously, Rahanvael was incredibly overwhelmed by the idea that these people wanted to name their homeworld, her homeworld, after her. She still felt some degree of guilt for everything that happened to them, considering it was at the hands of her own brother. They, and we, continued to try to convince her that she held no blame for that, but I had no idea how much she actually believed it. It was going to take time for the wounds to heal. Fortunately, they would have that time. And so would she. Though she had planned to allow herself to dissipate now that he was gone, and she had been returned to her home to see it was safe, those plans changed once the people of this world made it clear that they needed her. She was the only link to the past they had. And, despite the fact they didn’t want to go back to being the exact same society, they still wanted to know everything they could about what they had been before him.
So, she was going to stick around and tell them all the history she could, teach them the culture this world had had before her brother destroyed it all. He had done his level best to completely annihilate and erase everything about their world, so it made poetic sense for her to be the one who helped bring knowledge of that culture and history back. Thankfully, they had several budding necromancers of their own, who hadn’t been completely wiped out, those who had successfully hidden from Fossor before he could kill them. They didn’t know much, and could barely use their power, but it was enough for them to maintain Rahan and any of my other ghosts who wanted to stay.
Some didn’t, of course. A lot of my ghosts, who had been unwilling servants of Fossor, just wanted to move on by now, and I absolutely couldn’t blame them for that. They were done with everything and were at least happy that they were given the opportunity to go out on their own terms, without serving as his fodder any longer.
So, I released them, allowing the ones who wanted to fade away. Which they did, after saying their goodbyes. Some wanted to make a big spectacle out of it and have a party, others simply wanted to be alone and disappear without any fuss. I did my best to cater to whatever they wanted, and in the end, about half of the ghosts I had inherited from Fossor were gone. The others were back at the haunted mansion, save for a few here, like Seth and Grover. And, I reminded myself, Chas, Emily, Jason, and Kaleigh. Those four were determined to stick around for now as well, wanting to make themselves useful, even after being killed by the Revenants. Part of me wanted to tell them they’d done more than enough already, but who was I to try to talk them out of helping? If the situation was reversed, I knew I’d want to stick around as a ghost and do anything I could.
With all that running through my mind, it was no wonder the next couple days seemed to fly by. We were taking care of even more groundwork in helping the people here be ready to take care of themselves, at least as much as they could. Athena had been working on something to that end alongside their leaders and Chayyiel, who had arrived recently. They were all cooking up something I was sure was going to be pretty impressive. I had no idea what it was, but given the people involved, and how determined they seemed to be about protecting this world from anyone else who might try to make them suffer again, it was bound to be incredible.
At the moment, I was eating breakfast in the galley of the ship the others had brought here. Avalon and Shiori were with me as we pored over something quite a bit different than what we have been focused on for so long. Namely, math homework. Even with everything that had happened, or perhaps especially with everything that happened, Abigail and my mother were both firm that we had to keep doing our homework and stay caught up, or at least, as caught up as possible. So, we were multitasking, studying while eating breakfast. Assuming the whole universe didn’t explode, we would be going back to Earth eventually, and something told me showing up back there without all these worksheets done would be even more hazardous for our health than facing down a horde of Revenants.
Besides, to be honest, I really didn’t mind sitting here with my girls like this. It was about as peaceful as things ever got, considering everything we always had on our plates. The people of this world were finally getting the break they deserved, and it felt appropriate that we have our own while we were sitting here. Maybe some would have quibbled about doing math homework being a break, but I was pretty sure those people had never been through the sort of things that we had.
Either way, I was just about to finish my last bite, as well as the final problem on the current sheet I’d been working on, when Tabbris came running into the room. She was going so fast and seemed so excited, that she nearly fell flat on her face before my hand snapped out to catch her arm. “Hey there, partner, what’s the rush? I promise they’ve still got plenty of pancakes back there. I totally didn’t eat all of them.”
“Though she gave it her best shot,” Avalon put in.
Shiori, for her part, shook her head with a clearly put-on beleaguered sigh. “Honestly, how can either of us ever even hope to measure up to how much Flick loves pancakes? It’s positively impossible.”
Feeling my face turned pink, I stabbed my fork into the last of the delicious treat they were teasing me about, and pointedly shoved it in my mouth, swallowing before sticking my tongue out at them. Finally, I looked at my little sister and asked, “Is everything okay?” Yes, maybe it was a little pessimistic to think that she had come running in here like that because something was wrong, but then again, look at both my life, and what this world had already been through. With those two things combined, something else showing up to make a nuisance of itself wouldn’t have surprised me at all. Annoyed me, but not surprised me.
Thankfully, the younger girl was smiling, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a bad thing. She basically hopped up and down excitedly, while announcing, “Come on, come on, you’ve got to come out and see it! They made it perfect and– well, you’ve gotta see!”
Pushing myself up before picking up the plate and my books, I shrugged at the other two. “You heard her, there’s something we’ve gotta see.”
So, we all put our stuff away before following Tabbris out of the galley. On our way to the exit of the ship we ran into Persephone, who stopped short. “Oh hello Flick!” she chirped happily, almost bouncing. “I was just coming to find you.”
“Yeah,” I replied with a smile while rubbing the top of Tabbris’s head. “I hear there’s something big we’re supposed to see.”
Persephone blinked a couple times before turning a broad smile that way. “Ooooh, I totally didn’t know you were spying on our defense preparations. You must’ve been very sneaky indeed. That’s very good to hear! Being stealthy like a wombat is very useful.”
“Wombat?” Avalon questioned.
I shrugged that way. “We tried to tell her she means ninja, but for some reason she really likes the wombat angle.”
Persephone grinned. “It is a fun word to say. Wombat wombat wombat. Wombatman would be much better than Batman.”
Tabbris, for her part, shook her head quickly. “Uh, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about. I was gonna show them what the people in the village made.”
“Yes,” Athena agreed while walking up to join us, “it’s very impressive. I think you’ll particularly enjoy it,” she informed me before adding, “but first, I’d like you to come with us to see something else.”
Putting up a hand, I looked at Tabbris. “How important is your thing?” There was no way I was going to tell her to wait if time was vital.
But, her head just shook. “It can wait. Trust me, it’s gonna be around for a long time.”
Well, that was curious, as was the little giggle she added after that. But I was going to have to wait to see what she was on about. Instead, I nodded to Athena, only then realizing that I had actually held up my hand to tell her to wait. How would the me from even a year earlier have reacted to that?
I shook off that thought, while our little group followed her and Persephone off the ship and through a waiting portal to end up on a small hill about a mile from the village we had first made contact with. Several of the priests from the village were here, holding portable tablets with ongoing video conferences with elders from the other villages. We had made sure they would always be able to communicate with one another that way.
As we came through the portal, one of the priests cheerfully called a greeting. These people were smiling so much. Which I couldn’t really blame them for at all. Honestly, I was just amazed they weren’t more downtrodden and afraid. But I supposed that once your society had gone through literally thousands of years worth of oppression, once it was gone, you probably tended to embrace every ounce of freedom you had. Fossor was the sole source of their anguish and slavery, and now that he was completely gone, they were able to smile like that. It made me wonder how I would feel and act in that situation, but of course I had absolutely no frame of reference for it.
Athena greeted them as well before speaking up. “Now that you’re all here and the other elders have tuned in, I think it is time to show you how we believe your planet will defend itself from anyone who wishes to take your freedom away again.”
One of the priests who was here physically raised his hand. “I do not mean to speak out of turn,” he started hesitantly, “but with the power you have displayed, I am afraid we have no real chance at such defense should any who have similar power come here. You say that we have descended from common ancestors, but our people are mere peshcu–ahh small fur-covered animals who fit in the palm of our hand and can use no tools. We are peshcu compared to your people. Any who wish to put us back under their thumb would face little consequence without… without aid.”
We all knew what he was saying. They needed us to stay and help protect them. Athena knew as well and offered the man a reassuring smile. “I promise, you will have all the protection you need. Beginning with this.” She held out what looked like an ordinary computer pad like the ones they were holding. Tapping the screen, she showed them and us a view of various planets, including this one, all taken from space. “We’ve put a series of small satellites throughout this solar system, cloaked of course. They will alert you of any approaching ships, and allow you to communicate with them. But more than that, they will allow you to deploy your defenses.”
“What defenses?” one of the priests on one of the other tablets asked plaintively. “We have no skyboats to deploy, nor weapons like you have.”
“You will soon,” Athena informed him. “But right now, I speak of your other defenses. The Revenants we’ve told you about. The system we’ve created will allow you to use those Revenants in defense of your world. Whenever enemy ships arrive, you may communicate with them through this system, and should they mean you harm, any three of your elders need only input their personal codes that we will give them, and this system will allow you to transport any number of Revenants from the vault they are imprisoned within, over to any ship you target. You may also draw them back to the vault with the same controls once the enemy is no longer a threat.”
Okay, yeah, that made me do a double-take. They were turning the Revenants into what amounted to guard dogs? Really nasty, horrific, murdering monster guard dogs. That seemed incredibly dangerous. But on the other hand, now that I thought about it, what other choice did they have? It was absolutely true that this world didn’t have any ships or anything that could protect it, and we certainly couldn’t spare the forces it would take to hold the place. Sure, the Seosten leadership had so far agreed to play nice with their common ancestors from what Athena and Sariel had said after communicating with them, but they weren’t the only game in town. And they could always change their minds, or pretend not to notice a ‘rogue faction’ coming here to put who they would see as their own people under their control.
Hell, they were already sending scientists to see how biologically compatible these people were with them, considering the common ancestor thing. The Seosten we knew had altered themselves so much over the millennia that they might not be able to have viable children, but if they could… yeah, that would be a huge thing. And if enough of the Seosten leadership decided they wanted to be in complete control of this sudden new genetic stock without giving them any say in the matter, it could go poorly.
Maybe that was a harsh assumption, but look at everything else they had done for so long. They had absolutely earned me believing they were capable of the worst I could think of.
But still, there was a much more important thing for me to focus on at this point. Which was–
“Are you people crazy?!” That was Shiori, blurting the words out before flushing a bit as everyone turned to her, even the faces of the other priests on the tablet screens. “Sorry, I mean, what are you talking about? Do um, do you really think using the Revenants like that is a good idea? What if your system breaks down and they lose control of them or something? I thought you guys were going to find a way to get rid of those things, not try to use them like this.”
Chayyiel was the one who answered, offering a small smile. “Usually, you’d be right. That would be the best choice. But this planet has incredibly limited options when it comes to protecting itself. They prefer to be free, not fall under someone else’s control so soon after being released from the last monster. So we need to work with what they have. And the only real defense that’s possible are those Revenants. The system for keeping them contained is actually the most advanced I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying a lot. The people who put it together knew what they were doing. It only required a few changes and upgrades to make this possible.”
With a nod, Athena agreed, “With other Revenants, you would be correct, Miss Shiori. These ones, however, were specifically created and… tuned, for lack of a better word, over the course of centuries to be controlled and contained by the crystal within that chamber, and the magics surrounding it. While I would not go nearly so far as to say that using it is completely safe with absolutely no risks, it would be more dangerous to allow invaders to come here while this planet has no defenses at all.”
“Besides,” Persephone piped up, “they’re born to be Necromancers here. Give them a little time and training, and they’ll have an army that can control the Revenants themselves.” After a pause, she added, “Okay, maybe a lot of time and a lot of training. But still!”
There was a bit more talking after that about how this all thing was going to go. They had to work out the specifics a bit better, but the system they had come up with was admittedly pretty solid, even if the idea did freak me out a bit. The plus side was that most people who might come after the planet would probably be dissuaded simply by the threat of having an army of Revenants teleported onto their ships. And the ones who weren’t, the Fomorians, well… if the Fomorians were attacking the planet, pulling out literally every possible stop by sending those Revenants after them was their only chance to survive long enough for help to show up.
Yeah, that was a depressing thought. But still, at least they would have some form of defense, dangerous as it might have been. These people deserved to feel some measure of safety while they were putting their society back together.
Eventually, we got around to going to see what Tabbris wanted to show us. And the priests (the ones who were physically present) came as well, clearly just as excited as she was. Which raised my curiosity even more. We were led down into the city, meeting up with both my parents along the way. Soon, we were winding our way through the streets until we reached the grounds of Fossor’s burned and broken tower. Right there, in the middle of the courtyard, I saw what Tabbris had been so eager for us to see.
“It’s a statue?” Dad started, staring at the structure. There was a five-foot high, ten-foot wide pedestal. Perched atop it was a mostly-round figure carved from something like marble. It looked like a large marble boulder, fifteen-feet wide and about ten feet tall, aside from the part that looked like a sword, which extended up another few feet and was held out toward the sky triumphantly. Two large eyes had been carved into the front. And it had a small hat tilted slightly off to one side.
“It’s… Herbie!” I blurted, staring that way. “They made a Herbie statue!” From my pocket, I produced the little guy, holding him up to see. “Look, buddy. You’re famous!”
Tuenfa, the main priest guy, spoke up. “Our people wished to create a statue to the ones who truly liberated us.” He gestured to my mother and me. “But the Lady Joselyn suggested that doing so might be… awkward for them. For all of you. This was settled upon as a compromise. The… rock responsible for stripping the monster’s power away, thus sparing the lives of all who remained on this world. Without that rock, we would all be dead, for he would have sacrificed every one of us before allowing himself to be killed. The rock is the only reason we are alive and free today. So, we honor it. As we honor all of you. We know you cannot stay forever, much as we might long for that. But in this way, with this statue, we will at least have some small connection to our saviors.”
Swallowing hard, I stared at the statue. It really was incredible. All of this for a simple rock I had picked up on the very first day that I’d become involved in this life. The rock had just been laying there on the ground, waiting for me to pick it up. I threw it through that first portal leading to Crossroads. In many ways, Herbie had preceded me into this life. My little rock buddy had been there this whole time, right by my side, nestled in my pocket. He’d had so many spells put on him, had been responsible for so much. And as they said, he was the one who had stripped Fossor’s connection to this world, and arguably saved their entire population and possibly all of us as well. He was the reason Fossor was dead, and that we were alive.
Holding my little rock up, I stared at it. “What do you think, buddy?” My voice cracked just a little. “Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right. But are you sure you can handle it? What, me? There you go, only thinking about others again. You’re such a brave little rock.”
“Flick?” Dad started uncertainly.
“Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not crazy,” I informed him. “I just wanted to do that one more time.” Swallowing again, I looked toward Tuenfa. “Herbie means a lot to me. But he obviously means a lot to you too. We can’t stay here forever, so maybe he can stay instead. If you keep him as a relic or whatever, put him somewhere safe. Take care of him.”
Tuenfa met my gaze seriously. “The rock is responsible for our entire civilization’s freedom and survival. It–he would be treated as a holy relic for the rest of time.”
Letting out a long breath, I nodded. “Okay then. Right. Then he can stay with you.
“I guess it’s time to say goodbye to Herbie.”