Kushiel

Commissioned Interlude 21 – Historical Figures Part D (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Cassandra 

“Are you certain this is going to work?” The short, somewhat voluptuous woman with reddish-blonde hair asked the question a bit pensively. She wore a forest green tunic with a dark red belt and a black cloak with its hood down. At that particular moment, she was kneeling in the middle of a small cottage room, surrounded by spellwork runes that had been drawn all along the floor and walls. Four metal statues of humanoid figures, slightly taller than she would have been while standing, were arranged around her in each of the cardinal compass directions. The statues stood facing her with their cupped hands out, each holding a small crystal ball which glowed a different color. Red, blue, purple, and yellow. 

The room’s only other occupant, the handsome blond man known as Apollo, offered her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Cassandra. I’ve been checking out this spell of theirs for months now. They might think it’s unbreakable, but trust me, I can play it like a peunte.” After pausing, he added, “That’s an instrument that’s easy to learn.”  

The woman swallowed a little nervously. “Of course I trust you. I’m alive because of you, after all these years.” 

“You’re alive because you bonded with my blood,” Apollo corrected with a soft chuckle. “And now you shall stay alive for as long as you wish because of it. Through as many more centuries as you like.” 

“If those centuries are spent with you,” Cassandra replied, her gaze meeting his adoringly, “then they will seem to be only moments.” She closed her eyes briefly and took a breath before opening them again. “And when this spell is done, I’ll be able to fix it for anyone I want?”

He nodded once. “Exactly. I’m turning you into a back door to their spell. Whoever’s targeted by it, you’ll be able to give their memories back. Void, you’ll be able to turn the spell off entirely for anyone you want so they stop forgetting everything magical they see.” Leaning down and reaching out, he gently brushed two fingers along her face. “You’ll have total command of it. Are you ready?” 

Leaning into his touch, the woman shook her head. “Almost. Just one more thing.” With that, she pushed herself up a bit, touching her own fingers against his chin before gently kissing him. Her voice was a soft murmur, “I love you, Pollo.” 

Her kiss made the Seosten man smile broadly. “I love you, my Cassandra.” He ran his fingers one more time along her face and through her hair before straightening up. “Let’s get this over with then. I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces. Puriel might just have a stroke when he finds out what happened to their precious spell.” Chuckling with amusement at the thought, he took a step back before touching the rune nearest the doorway. His eyes were watching the love of his life, a human woman he had met through sheer chance, with a sort of feeling part of him had never believed he would be able to have, let alone see returned in kind. “See you on the other side of this.” 

And with that, he exhaled before speaking the command word that would trigger the elaborate spell he had spent so much time putting together. It would take some time, almost half the night they had left, but when it was over, Cassandra would be tied to the spell that would eventually become known as the Bystander Effect. After spending so long arguing against his people creating the spell to begin with, he had decided to deal with the problem his way. His intention was for her to be able to control the spell, to turn it off in whoever she wanted. 

Unfortunately, intentions and results didn’t always go hand in hand. 

*******

Several Hundred Years Later

Sitting in the back of a tavern, Cassandra, once daughter of King Priam of Troy so many centuries earlier, put her cup down and looked over toward her waiting host, who stood with his hand out. “I still owe you for all the drinks I’ve had.” She spoke the words matter-of-factly, though she made no move to reach for any coin purse.

There was a brief pause before the man lowered his hand and barked a hard laugh. “You’ve drunk too much, lady. You paid for everything already. I’ll not have your drunk arse losing more of your coin and then complaining to the guards about getting cheated. Now, we’re closing up, so you better head out.” He gestured around to indicate the rest of the empty bar. “I’ll need to be getting some sleep myself before long. Early day tomorrow.” 

Rising and drawing her black cloak around her figure, Cassandra flipped the hood up and began making her way out. Just as she crossed the entrance to the street beyond, the woman caught a glimpse of four heavyset men waiting for her to one side, partially hidden within the shadows of the nearby building. Drunk and armed with clubs, their intentions were clear. Particularly considering how long they had been staring at her within the bar while drinking only an hour earlier. Part of her had hoped they would content themselves with simply looking, but since when did men of that type ever believe that was enough? 

With a heavy sigh, she turned to look their way as they stalked toward her. Her voice was calm, yet tinged with annoyance. “You find me incredibly attractive and desirable, and would like to initiate physical intercourse.”

The result was immediate. All the men stop short, looks of revulsion crossing their faces as they looked her up and down. One turned a little green and turned to spit on the ground. They murmured to one another about how disgusting the pig was before continuing to make their way down the street, leaving her alone. Their words turned toward mocking one another for ever thinking such an ugly creature could be suited for their beds.  

“That wouldn’t work so easily if they weren’t affected by the Seosten memory spell.” A voice behind her, near the space between the tavern and its neighboring building, spoke up. “Would you have been ready for that if it came down to it?” 

Cassandra gave a low, humorless chuckle. After a moment, she turned to face the man who stood in the shadows. When she spoke, her own voice gave no doubt as to the razor-sharp anger she felt. “Why don’t you come closer and see if I am prepared to defend myself from the most worthless dregs of society, Apollo?”  

He took a step, not coming near her but at least emerging into the light where she could see him better. “It took a long time to find you, Cass.” While there was hate in her words, his were filled with remorse, sorrow, and loss. 

“And I told you to stop trying,” she snapped testily. “Your arrogance already ruined my life once, do you truly wish to do so again? Because of your spell, the one you were so confident of, no one believes anything I tell them. No matter what I say, they think I’m wrong. Or worse, intentionally lying. Do you have any idea how hard it is to accomplish anything in this world, to be known for anything, to build a life when almost everyone you talk to always thinks you’re wrong or lying? I have found various tricks in getting through this life, as you just saw. But that can’t work for any true relationship. I can have no friends, nothing real and lasting. Even when I manage to use this curse properly, always saying the opposite of what I mean, they still see me as untrustworthy. That spell of yours makes people hate me. It makes them see me as a liar. You made me an outcast from every possible family and friend I could ever have had.” 

Wincing, Apollo nodded. “I know. I… I’ll never be able to tell you how sorry–” 

“I don’t need your apologies,” she retorted. “They are as worthless as ever.” She paused before giving a dismissive snort. “Did you know, I’m so connected to this Bystander Effect from your people, that it gives me visions. It’s connected to every human being, so it sees everything going on in this world, collects all that information, and makes me dream about things that have not happened yet.” 

“It’s analyzing data and predicting probable outcomes based on that information,” Apollo replied slowly. “Because you’re connected to it, you see its predictions as dreams.” 

Her eyes narrowed into a glare. “Yes, well, no one believes what I say about those predictions either. Not even those who aren’t affected by the spell to begin with. Every human believes I’m lying about everything I say, and every nonhuman believes I’m a fool. I tried to warn a village full of otherworlders about a plague that was coming. They laughed at my words, and I was forced to watch a hundred children suffer and die. Then they believed I was responsible and tried to burn me. More than a dozen times that and things like it have happened. I’ve watched so many suffer and fall who could have been saved if they listened to me. But because of your curse, because of your arrogance, they never do. They never will. I will see tens of thousands of deaths or more, and I will never be able to warn them.” 

“It’s protecting itself,” Apollo noted with a grimace. “Anything you try to say about what the spell shows you would be wrapped up within the spell itself, the effect much stronger. That’s why it even works on nonhumans.” 

Cassandra’s tone was mocking, though even that was tinged with despair. She felt so lost and alone, but would never accept help or comfort from the man she saw as responsible for her situation. No matter how close they had been at one time. “Thank you, I hadn’t realized that for myself over the past centuries. I’m so glad you’ve been able to track me down and save me from my ignorance.” 

Apollo swallowed before starting again, even though he knew how useless it was. “Cassandra, I–” 

“No,” she interrupted. “I told you before and I’ll say it again, I want nothing to do with you. Not after what you’ve done. You told me you knew what you were doing. You promised you could help. Instead, you made certain no one will ever trust me, or believe a word I say. You made me an outcast from everyone I could ever love, from any life I ever could have had. You made me see tragedies throughout this world that I can do nothing to prevent. You made everyone I could ever have loved see me as a lying fool. Leave me alone, Apollo. Next time, I really will show you how dangerous I’ve become.” 

With that, she turned, adjusting her hood, before stalking off into the night. 

***********

Medea 

As the sound of a soft chime filled the elaborately decorated office of the Olympus’s chief logistics officer, Kushiel looked up from her desk and smiled faintly. Her voice rose while she touched a button to make the doors woosh open with smooth efficiency. “Come in, Medea.” 

The figure who came through the entrance was slender and quite young by Seosten standards. She had been barely fifty years of age when this journey of theirs started, essentially still a child in so many respects. Now closer to one hundred, she still appeared to be what the humans would consider her very late teens or early twenties, as she always would thanks to their Tartarus-gifts. Her hair was dark brown, almost black, and worn in a long braid. Her eyes, almost too large for her face, gave her an innocent, naive sort of appearance. She wore a dark green Seosten bodysuit rather than any more elaborate clothing, and had a pair of enchanted goggles set on her forehead. Those were often pulled down over her eyes, making them look even larger and earning her various teasing nicknames throughout the ship, often involving animals with very large, bulbous eyes. 

“Y-you know my name?” the young Seosten officer managed, before blanching. “I m-mean, reporting as ordered, ma’am.” 

“Come, sit.” Kushiel gestured to the chair in front of her desk, waiting until the girl did so. “I’m told that you requested leave to spend some time on the planet, away from regular duty.” 

“Oh, not exactly, ma’am.” Blanching immediately as soon as she realized that she had just corrected the woman in front of her, Medea stammered. “I m-mean, I still want to do my job. I wo-work in botany, you see. I just wanted to take some time on-planet to document some of the rarer species of plants that I’ve been getting some glimpses of. It’ll take months to catalog everything I want to properly, but it’ll be worth it, I promise. S-some of the plant species on this planet are incredible. If I can build a proper database and connect the records we already have of the plants we’ve been growing on our greenhouse deck, I might be able to crossbreed them with the Rysthael plants to create… unbelievable hybrids. Plants that could cure more diseases than we ever thought they could, or feed entire populations with every bit of nourishment they need in one little bit of fruit.” As she went on with that, the girl forgot her own nerves, sounding more excited by the prospect and her own ideas by the second. 

Chuckling softly, Kushiel leaned back in her seat. “Yes, well, I’m inclined to allow this extended leave. But only on one condition. You see, there is a human on this planet, by the name of Jason. He–well, let’s just say he aided me when he did not have to. Now he’s been on a bit of a quest to collect an enchanted bit of cloth. The details are unimportant. Suffice to say, I want you to aid him. Help the human find his bit of magical cloth, and protect him from those who would cause him harm. Keep an eye on the man for me. While you’re doing that, you may catalog any plants you wish.” 

Taking that in, Medea rocked backwards, mouth opening and shutting a couple times. “Oh. I mean, I’m not really much of a soldier or anything, ma’am. But… but okay. Anything I can do to help the mission. I’ll protect this human, and help him find the magic cloth he’s looking for. May I ask one thing though? 

“What is this… Jason like?” 

*******

Ten Years Later 

“You are a bastard, Jason.” As she said those words, Medea crouched in the dirt behind the home she had shared with the man in question for some time. Their two young children lay cradled in her arms, unmoving and pallid. 

Jason himself, a human who stood just under six feet, with long, dark blond hair that fell in curls to his shoulders, shook his head while staring that way. “You would call me a bastard when you are the one who murdered my children?” Despite his words, there was little in the way of actual grief in his voice.

“You never saw them as yours in their lives,” Medea retorted. “You’ll fool no one by calling them such after their deaths. And did you truly believe that I would simply sit around and allow you to use me for your own ends?”

Jason made a scoffing sound. “Use you? You nearly ruined me yourself. Yes, you aided my quest for the fleece, but you also murdered the king who requested it, the man I intended to impress with it. You destroyed my chance to be recognized by him. The entire point of getting the fleece in the first place was to gain his favor, and you murdered him.” 

“To save your life,” Medea retorted, still cradling her children’s bodies. “Pelias wished you dead, and would have ordered it the morning after his demise. But yes, you are correct. I killed for you then, as well as before and since. I have killed for you many times, and now you sought to throw me aside in order to marry this princess.” 

“I would have kept you and the children safe,” Jason shot back. “Glauce would not have objected to your presence as a concubine.” 

“A concubine?” Medea’s voice was high with disbelief. “You truly believed I would sit around as your sex toy just so you could have the political power you’ve always craved? I loved you, Jason. I truly did. I have done everything I could to protect you. But it was never enough.”

“When Hera sent you, I thought you had power,” Jason insisted. “I thought you were one of the Olympus’s leaders, like Artemis. But you were almost… nothing. You were a lowly crew member, who barely rated a mention on their ship manifest. Do they even think of you now? Has Hera summoned you back at any point in the past decade? Or has she forgotten you entirely? Even your gift isn’t that impressive, when put next to the feats of your betters.”   

“My gift…” Medea echoed, raising her gaze to stare at the man for a moment. 

Jason’s head bobbed. “Yes, what was it you called it? The ability to think? Assuming it exists at all and isn’t something you simply made up. After all, it’s not exactly something that we can see for ourselves. You say you can freeze time, but it’s not as though you can move while it’s frozen. You can accomplish nothing, other than ‘think.’ You say it gives you unlimited time to consider what you’re going to do or come up with the answer to a question, but you can’t actually do anything until you stop using the power, so what good is it?” 

Medea was silent for a couple seconds, before speaking flatly. “You would be surprised how useful the ability to take as long as one needs to consider their actions can be. For example, I considered killing you for ten minutes just now. I decided against it.” 

Jason took a step that way. “You think you can threaten me now? You’ve already poisoned the king and princess I was to wed. They’re dead, as are the children you were so proud of. And the rest of the court are coming soon, to put you to trial. There will be no escape for you now, no matter how long you can think about it.” 

Rising with the bodies of her children on either arm, Medea retorted, “That’s what you think.” As she said that, lights appeared behind the woman, revealing a small shuttlecraft, one of the Olympus’s many craft meant to ferry small groups or even individuals across the planet. The silvery-blue craft was teardrop shaped, standing twelve feet tall, twenty feet wide at the base, and thirty feet long. As Jason gaped, the side opened, extending a ramp, which Medea strode toward, still carrying those young, limp bodies. 

“Where do you think you’re going?” Jason snapped. 

Pausing on the ramp, Medea replied, “I am going to bury my children somewhere they will be respected. Don’t expect to see me again.” With that, she allowed the ramp to close behind her and moved past the double row of seats, placing one child in each before vocally ordering the ship to depart. The console lit up, and the shuttle began to rise. As it did, allowing them to leave Jason and the approaching angry mob behind, she produced a handful of leaves from several different plants from her pocket, crumbling them together between her fingers, before putting the mixture in her children’s mouth. 

After a moment of no response, they began to chew and opened their eyes, color returning to their faces. “Mama?” one of them asked, “what’s going on? Where are we going?”

The woman touched each of their foreheads. “You are hybrids, part-human and part-Seosten. My people would kill you if they knew about you. We’re leaving this place. We’ll find somewhere new to stay. I believe there is a whole new continent out there, begging to be explored.” 

And thus, Medea and her children set out, preparing to settle in what would, in some far distant time, be known as Australia. 

*********

Jack o’ Kent

“Come on man, get those bags full. Quit stalling! Ain’t nobody coming to help you!” The shouted words came from a man in a dark ski mask, who held a pistol aimed toward another man in a security services uniform. That latter figure was carrying heavy bags away from the armored van that had been forced to pull into the dark alley they were in now, driven off the road by the Mercedes that now sat with its trunk open. In most cases, of course, an armored truck versus a luxury car wouldn’t have ended with the latter’s triumph. But this particular car had been magically reinforced, making it more than strong enough to force the van into this corner. 

The driver of the van, a furry Rakshasa (cat-like Alter) was currently kneeling on the ground with his hands behind his head while the second thief (who also wore a ski mask but whose body was at least seven and a half feet tall and seemed to be made of rock) held a heavy-duty shotgun close to him. The rock-covered thief snarled, “And don’t you think about being a hero neither. You start shit, this buddy of yours’ll be the first to go.”

“I’m doing it, I’ve got it,” the driver’s partner held up two of the bags he had just taken from the back of the van. He was a plain-looking man in almost all respects, his straight dark hair cut to medium length, just past his ears. He appeared human or at least human-passing, standing several inches under six feet, with a wiry build. “Don’t worry, neither of us are being paid enough to fuck with you guys on this. See?” He walked around the back of the open Mercedes and tossed the bags into the trunk before jogging back to pick up the next couple bags under the watchful eye of the first thief. “I don’t even know what this stuff is. Too heavy to be cash. You guys stealing jewels?” 

“Here’s an idea,” the humanoid masked figure snapped, “how about you stop asking stupid questions and just put the shit in the car before we blow your partner’s head off and then start taking turns having some fun with you?” 

Meekly apologizing, the other man hurriedly continued carrying bags from the van to the car while the two thieves anxiously waited to leave with their loot. Finally, the last of the goods had been dropped into the trunk. Standing back there with his hands raised obediently over his head, the security man half-stammered, “Ok-kay, you’ve got what you want, now it’s time for you to leave, right?”

The rock-man with the enormous shotgun chuckled humorlessly. “Yeah, totally time to leave. Thanks so much for your business.” With that, he lashed out with the gun, smacking the Rakshasa driver in the back of the head to knock him out. 

Immediately, as his partner fell limply to the ground, the man by the car lowered his hands. “Well, I’d say this was a productive outing.” His voice had lost all nervousness, adopting a completely casual tone. Likewise, his body language betrayed no worry about the guns the other two held. 

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” the humanoid thief retorted. “Are you sure you got all the good shit? Be a pretty damn bad waste to spend all those months getting you embedded in that company just to walk away with garbage.” 

The man by the car in the security uniform gave a brief nod. “Oh yes, I’m sure. There’s just one little problem.” 

“Huh? What problem?” The rock-man snarled, turning that way expectantly. “We just pulled off the heist of the fucking decade, don’t start talking about problems now.” 

Their partner, the supposed armored truck escort, shrugged helplessly. “Well, you see, it turns out I was never that good at sharing.” With that, he hopped up on the bumper of the car, gave a cheeky wave, and then jumped into the trunk itself feet first, vanishing from sight. 

Both of the armed thieves looked at each other for a brief second before sprinting to the car. They arrived, standing in front of the open trunk, just in time to see a glowing portal in the bottom. A portal through which they could see what looked like an old furniture store somewhere far, far away. Their view was from the ceiling, looking down on the room. Their bags of loot were lying there, with their ‘partner’ crouched next to them where he had landed. Turning back that way, he saluted while calling, “Thanks for the help!” 

“Hey, hey!” the humanoid thief started to scramble into the trunk, even as the portal began to close right in his face. “We’re partners, you son of a bitch! You can’t do this!” The portal was already too small to fit through, but he stuck his gun into it, only to have the barrel sheared off as the opening closed around it. “You fucker! You can’t do this, Jack! Jack!

“Jack!!!”

*****

Chuckling to himself, the man called Jack crouched to look through the bags of loot that he and his now-former partners had managed to liberate. Just as he dipped his fingers into one of them, however, his head tilted, and he spoke simply. “You know, it’s been a while since you tried to spy on me. I thought you were done with that.” 

“Spy?” the man lounging in an old recliner on the far side of the open furniture show area replied. “I think you mean testing you.” With those words, Apollo straightened up and walked that way. He wore a crisp white suit over a red silk shirt, along with dark sunglasses. “After all, I have to make sure you haven’t been slacking off. Wouldn’t want one of my own Natural Bonded to get a bad reputation.” He paused, seeming to consider that before a flash of painful memories of Cassandra passed through him. “I mean, an incompetent reputation. Pretty sure you already have a bad one with plenty of people. Including those friends you just left behind.”

“Don’t worry, I know how to handle my own reputation,” Jack retorted smoothly, rising to his feet to face the other man. “Without making it boring.” 

Apollo’s head shook. “Heavens forbid. Death before boredom.” A fond smile came as happier memories crossed his mind at the thought of days long past. “You always did enjoy being a handful.” 

With an easy grin that seemed to light up his otherwise relatively unremarkable and plain face, Jack shot back, “Well after you saved my life, I felt like I needed to make the most of it.” 

“I’d say you did that pretty well,” Apollo agreed. “Immortalized yourself in nursery rhymes and stories. Who knew you’d be able to turn your near-death experience falling down a hill after fetching water into something children would chant centuries later? How is Jill, anyway?” 

The other man shrugged a bit at that. “Why don’t you ask her yourself? She’s still pretty shy, but she does like you.” 

With that, his head tilted, turning one way, then another. Finally, his gaze found Apollo once more with a softer smile, body language changing to become visibly more uncertain and awkward. “Hello, Apollo.”

“Hey there, Jill,” Apollo greeted her fondly. “Keeping your brother out of trouble?” 

“The worst of it, I think,” the female-presenting facet confirmed. “He does like finding it, though.” She added that bit with a tiny frown.

Apollo chuckled. “Oh, I know he does, believe me. When he’s not cheating to win bets with me about bridges or crop harvests, he’s using my power to make some magic dealers accept an old cow in exchange for enchanted beans so he can climb through a portal to steal a bunch of gold from a giant. Whom he then tricks into jumping off a cliff.” 

Blushing a little, Jill offered a shrug. “He keeps himself busy, I guess. Did uhh, did you come find us for a reason? You’ve been gone for awhile.” Her tone on the last bit was curious. 

“I figured you didn’t really need me that much anymore,” Apollo replied. “Besides, it seems like every time I come back around, your brother has a new wager he wants to make.” 

“A new wager I want to win, you mean,” Jack, taking over for his head-sister, replied simply. His body language immediately became more confident and outgoing. “And is it my fault you didn’t think about the fact things like dogs and other animals would cross that bridge too, not just people? Or that some crops are harvested from the top and some from the bottom? Really, you were basically asking to lose those bets.” After a brief pause, he added, “Though it was Jill who wrote down the stories about them. She writes down all the stories, and keeps spreading them.” 

“She’s always been proud of you,” Apollo agreed with an easy chuckle. “After all, you tricked the devil, more than once.” 

Jack’s reply was casual, yet still somewhat pointed. “And something tells me you want more of that trickery aimed at someone else this time. You didn’t just track us down and show up for a simple social call, did you?”

“I really do want to catch up with everything you’ve both been up to,” Apollo insisted before giving a soft sigh. “But yes, I did have something else in mind too. Something important.”

“Whatever it is, we’re in,” Jack informed him. “We owe you that much. Though I can’t promise we won’t make a profit off it too.” 

Apollo nodded. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. And believe me, there should be plenty of opportunity for profit with this. Not to mention bragging rights.

“See, you’re the best thief I know. So I want you to help us steal the former Headmistress of Crossroads away from the prison they’re keeping her in.” 

*******

Nellie Bly

“Hard to believe this used to be the headquarters of one of the biggest newspapers in the country, huh?” As he said that, Arthur Chambers stood in the middle of an old, dust-covered room. The whole place was full of desks and typewriters that hadn’t been used in many years, leaving the clear impression of what had once been a bustling main floor crowded with people shouting back and forth about stories and deadlines. Now the overhead lights barely worked, flickering, repeatedly, and sending shadows dancing through the room. Thankfully, he held a flashlight in one hand to take up the slack.

Maria, standing next to him, shook her head at her husband while holding a rock that magically glowed with its own flashlight-like beam. “Harder for me to believe that this place hasn’t been refurbished or just completely torn down for a new building. You’d think they would have put something else here by now. When did the paper close down, again?”

“Nineteen twenty-three.” The answer came not from Arthur himself, but from the headless man standing near the doorway. Well, not quite headless in the sense that he didn’t have one at all. He actually held said head tucked under his left arm. Still, it was a sight that might have been startling not so long ago, if Arthur and Maria hadn’t known him quite well. In fact, they had come here with Brom Bones after having a lovely brunch with the man at a place just down the street. He had quite rightly enthused at length about the hotcakes there and insisted they stop on their way to this place. What the Bystander Effect made the people in that place believe they were seeing as the head on the table called out orders to his body about what to select from the buffet was anyone’s guess. 

Walking fully into the room, Brom continued. “It closed just over a year after her death, actually. Not that she still worked here. Hadn’t worked here in decades, actually. Not since they stopped letting her do the work she came to the paper for to begin with.” 

“Well, that’s what I was hired for, wasn’t it?” The other new voice came from a nearby desk, where a glowing, semi-translucent figure perched on a chair that had been pulled out. She had been a handsome woman in life, with short brown hair and gray-green eyes. Looking down at herself, the woman frowned slightly at the blue dress she wore, waving a hand to transform it into suit and tie. Smiling then, she straightened up before looking straight at the head-carrying man. “You’re a necromancer. You’ve been feeding me power and calling for me since you came into this place.”

“We’re sorry to disturb you, Miss…” Maria paused. “I’m sorry, do you prefer Nellie Bly or Elizabeth Cockran? Or Elizabeth Seaman?” She ran through the famous woman’s penname, birth name, and married name in quick succession. 

“Oh Nellie’s quite fine,” came the easy response. “After all, that is the name that people know me by. I’d say that’s the part of me that stayed behind in this place when I passed. It’s like your friend there said, I stopped working here in eighteen-eighty-seven. Do you know why I started in the first place, how I was hired?” 

Arthur chuckled. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, our granddaughter, Felicity, wrote a school project about you when she was in junior high. You’re a bit of a hero to her, actually. If I recall correctly, it was eighteen-eighty-five when you took offense at an article you read about how women were meant to stay home cleaning house and making babies. And instead of just stewing about it, you wrote your own response back to them.” 

“I did, indeed, Mister…” The ghost woman trailed off. “I’m sorry, you seem to have me at a disadvantage.” 

“Arthur,” he informed her. “Arthur Chambers. And this is my wife.” 

“Maria,” the woman in question put in with a smile. “Our friend over there is Brom Bones. He agreed to help us out with this when we heard you might be haunting this place.” She paused, frowning uncertainly. “Is haunt a bad term?” 

“Seems fairly accurate from where I’m standing,” Nellie replied. “As I was saying, I’m still not exactly certain why my ghost chose to appear and be locked to this place, when I only spent a couple years here. I suppose it was quite formative for my future. I wrote that letter and the editor enjoyed it so much he put out a message, asking me to identify myself. I had written under the pseudonym ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’ But his response convinced me to reveal myself, and he hired me. I wrote a few more articles for them. It worked well for a while, then they got complaints because I wrote about women working in factories. The paper leadership decided to move me over to start writing the sort of thing women were supposed to write about. You know, fashion and society sort of things. The proper place for a woman writer, if you will. In their minds, anyway.” 

“If I remember Felicity’s report properly, you didn’t exactly take that lying down,” Maria noted. “That was when you went to Mexico, wasn’t it?” 

Nellie gave a short nod of confirmation, beaming at the thought that their granddaughter knew so much about her. “I spent about six months there, as it happens. Then I had to leave. The Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz, didn’t seem to like my writing either. Probably because I didn’t like him imprisoning another journalist for criticizing him. But his anger was a bit more directly dangerous than that of a few disgruntled factory owners, so I came back to Pittsburg.” She gave a soft sigh of regret then. “Not that that lasted long, of course. They put me right onto those same boring old stories again. So I moved to New York. Had a devil of a time getting a job there, until I agreed to go undercover in a lunatic asylum.” 

“That one I knew about,” Maria quickly put in. “Even before Felicity did her report, I mean. You spent ten days in one of the worst mental asylums in the country and put out a whole report exposing them. It actually forced them to reform the system somewhat. You led a whole new field of women into showing that they could contribute to journalism by going undercover like that. Stunt girls, they called them. Now that was glorious.” 

“Please, you’re going to make me use up all the energy poor Mr. Bones over there provided just by blushing,” Nellie objected. “I only did what felt right and just at the time. If others saw fit to follow that as an example, I am quite proud and far more humbled. I said it before and I shall say it again. Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything. Any of the women who came before or after me could have done the same. Many likely better than I managed. There’s nothing special about me aside from the fact that I did rather than simply think.” 

“You say there’s nothing special about you,” Arthur objected, “but not only did you pioneer the entire field of investigative journalism, for women and men, you actually set a world record for traveling around the world.” 

Chuckling a bit self-consciously at that, Nellie bowed her head in acknowledgment. “A record which only stood for four months before it was broken, as it happens. I was simply inspired by Jules Verne’s ‘Around The World In Eighty Days.’ I wanted to prove it was possible, and the paper I was working for accommodated me. In the end, it took only seventy-two. And now I’ve heard that such feats are possible in mere hours for some. Less if you’re of the… magically inclined, though that seems to be a fair bit of cheating, by my thinking.”

“Revolutionized investigative reporting, showed that women could be real reporters, pissed off a dictator, went around the world in seventy-two days, and if I recall Felicity’s report correctly, even invented the fifty-five gallon steel oil drum we still use today after taking over the company your husband owned.” Arthur sounded awed. “That’s what I call making the most of your life.” 

“You say that like I was perfect,” Nellie murmured a bit self-consciously. “Believe me, I was far from that. I did my best with Robert’s company, but I didn’t know enough to notice when certain people were stealing from it. The whole thing went under because I couldn’t stop their embezzling.” 

“And then you went right back to being a reporter,” Maria pointed out. “You switched careers to run a manufacturing company, did what you could, then returned to your calling in time to report on World War One from the frontline. You were the first woman to go right into the war zone like that.” 

Arthur cleared his throat. “All of which is to say, we would be incredibly appreciative if you might allow our friend Brom here to bring you with us on a trip. Our granddaughter’s away right now, but she would absolutely love to meet you.” 

“Oh.” Nellie Bly’s ghost blinked before looking back and forth between them for a moment. Finally, she offered a faint smile. “Well, I have been stuck in this building for quite some time. 

“And I always did love an adventure.” 

*******

Odin 

The ship appeared to be damaged beyond all conceivable repair. It tumbled through deep space, far from any inhabited planet or sign of civilization. At one point, the thing had been quite impressive, shaped like a massive crescent moon the size of an actual moon. From one end of the ship to the other, counting the curved structure, was almost two hundred miles. Unfortunately, roughly fourteen miles of that along the inside curve had been blown apart, revealing the broken interior, where anything that had once been inside that portion of the ship had long-since been lost to the ravages of space. The rest of the structure had been locked away through sealed blast doors, but the damage was done. This was not a ship that would fly under its own power any time soon. Particularly not with the loss of its actual crew almost ten thousand years earlier.  

And yet, that ten thousand year journey of drifting aimlessly through empty space came to an abrupt halt, as a second ship, this one undamaged, appeared in its path. This new ship was shaped like three arrows, stacked with two underneath the third. Where the individual pointed arrowheads would be on actual arrows was a single larger blade-shape attached to all three ‘shafts,’ and at the opposite end where the feathers would have been was a single large orb structure, also encompassing all three. The blade at the front was twelve miles across from one side to the other, three miles tall, and sixteen miles long from the sharp tip to the point where it connected to the rest of the ship. Each of the three connected ‘arrow shafts’ were three and a half miles across, and thirty miles long to reach the big orb at the back. Finally, the orb itself was fifteen miles in diameter.  

The new, totally functional ship came to a halt once it was in position directly in the path of the drifting, broken one. They were still several thousand miles apart from one another, though that was practically eye to eye as far as distances in space went. The broken ship would be right on top of them within a relatively short time. 

Or it would have been, had the functional ship not promptly projected a massive, colorful beam that way, sent from the tip of the suddenly-glowing blade-like structure. At first glance, the beam might have been mistaken for a laser, aside from the fact that it was colored like a rainbow. In fact, that was precisely what the beam looked like: a four-mile-wide, three-thousand-mile-long rainbow. As soon as the beam struck the other ship, near the undamaged end, its forward momentum came to a complete halt. It ceased its millennia-long drifting and froze there. 

Meanwhile, inside the broken ship, at the point where the rainbow beam had struck it, was a pitch-black chamber. At least, it was pitch-black, until a bright glowing portal appeared on the wall directly connected to where the rainbow beam was hitting the opposite side. The portal, rapidly growing to become ten feet across and twelve feet high, illuminated what turned out to be some sort of cafeteria area, though the seats and tables were clearly designed for a species twice as large as humans, with six legs. 

First to arrive in the alien cafeteria through the portal was a human of incredible size for his species. He stood seven feet tall, with a heavyset body that was equal-parts bulk and muscle. He looked not like a chiseled bodybuilder, but like a man who competed in actual weight-lifting competitions. His red hair was worn long past his shoulders, with a matching thick beard. In one hand he carried a hefty-looking hammer with glowing runic symbols along both the handle and the metal head. He wore what appeared to be black and red chainmail armor, though it was clearly constructed from much more advanced materials than any found during the medieval times of Earth. 

Right behind that man’s arrival, appearing through the portal as he peered suspiciously around the room, were a couple dozen small ravens. They might have been mistaken for cyberforms at first glance, but they weren’t entirely constructed of metal. Their wings and talons were, and their eyes were cybernetic as well, but they had started life as organic beings. They were cyborg-ravens gliding through the room (or in some cases outright stopping to impossibly hover in midair) while scanning every inch of it for danger. 

“The least you could have done,” announced a voice as another man came through the portal, “was wait until the ravens ensured the place was safe.” The newcomer wasn’t quite as tall as the first man, though he still stood several inches over six feet. His own hair was brown, and he too wore it long with an equally impressive beard. His own futuristic chainmail was brown and amber, and he carried a long broadsword with its own glowing runes in his left hand. His right hand was made of metal, clearly robotic in nature.

“Bah!” the first man retorted, “where’s the fun in waiting around till they tell us we’re allowed to come through? We can’t let them have all the excitement.” 

The second man started to reply, before a third appeared through the portal. This one stood shorter than both of them, not quite reaching six feet. He was not built as heavily or as muscular as either of them, appearing to be relatively thin. His hair was gray-white, with his own long beard. He wore no armor and carried no weapons, clad in what looked like a blueish-gray tunic and pants that would not have been out of place strolling through an Earth village a thousand years earlier. Another of the cyborg-ravens perched on his shoulder. One of his eyes was biological, the other replaced with a cybernetic implant similar to those of his ravens. 

“There’ll be plenty of excitement, Thor,” Odin announced. “Heimdall already gave it another scan. We’ve got a small army of surviving Fomorian creatures and whatever they managed to turn the crew of this ship into. They were scattered throughout the whole place, but it sounds like they know we’re here, because they’re starting to congregate this way. Sif and Freyr took a second group through another Bifrost beam to come at them from behind. But we get the direct assault.” 

Sniffing a little, Thor touched a finger to his eye. “I knew you loved me, Father.” Gripping his hammer tight, he cast a sidelong look toward the other man. “Ready to have some fun, Tyr?”  

Grunting with a mix of acknowledgment and amusement, Tyr cracked his neck. “I suppose I must always be, if I am to stay at your side.” 

“Remember, war is our tool, not our goal,” Odin advised. “We rid this vessel of the Fomorian infestation, then we search it from top to bottom for anything that could aid our actual quest.” As he said that, the man gestured with one hand. The actual lights of the ship immediately came to life, not just in the room itself, but everywhere within the massive, two-hundred-miles-long vessel. With that simple wave of his hand, he not only took control of the giant ship, but supplied enough power to run its vast energy needs. 

Back on Earth, the Heretic known as Gaia possessed one-half of the powers of the Djehuti. The technopathy side. The Heretic known as Seller, on the other hand, possessed the biological-manipulation side. Odin, on the other hand, possessed both sides. And not the powers of the Djehuti, who were imperfect clones of Ymir, last survivor of his world in the previous universe. No, Odin was a Natural Heretic of Ymir himself. He possessed the full strength powers of both sides, and could build and control anything, be it biological or technological. And he was all-but unmatched in combining both aspects. 

Along with the return of the lights, the doors at the far end of the room came to life as well and wooshed open. Thor and Tyr immediately began to stalk that way, with the cyborg ravens flying ahead. Watching them go, Odin trailed behind, his cybernetic eye scanning the structure of the ship, analyzing its make, the materials, design, everything it could. 

It would continue to take quite some time, more than it already had. But even if it required another ten thousand years or more, Odin and his people, the Aesir, would find what they were searching for. Namely, a way to combine every bit of technology and magic they were able to scavenge together from millennia spent scouring every inch of a dozen galaxies in order to finally destroy the four universe-ending monsters who had emerged from Tartarus millions of years earlier. 

Nearly every life in the previous universe had been wiped away by those four creatures, leaving a bare handful of survivors. Odin’s benefactor, Ymir, was one. And he had sworn an oath to never forget the threat that those beasts presented. 

One way or another, Odin would put the proper pieces together, and destroy them. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Interlude 19C – Cyber Attack (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapters / Next Chapter

Sitting on the floor of an enormous, airplane hanger-sized laboratory (one of many in the space belonging beneath the Capitol One Arena in Washington DC), Columbus balanced his personal cyberform, Amethyst, in his lap. The robotic porcupine-armadillo made a soft chirping sound as he tinkered in one of her open compartments with a screwdriver and pen light. Testing one of the wires, he spoke up absently. “Could you hand me that box of one-inch star button head screws on the table over there?” 

“Sure thing,” came the loud, rumbling voice as the huge robotic figure crouched behind him turned a bit. Even kneeling as he was, Galahad barely fit within the space, often brushing his head against the ceiling if he sat up too quickly. An understandable issue for a thirty-foot tall blue-silver robot who could transform into a full-sized semi-truck and trailer. Of course, in most cases, he could have simply transferred his consciousness into his much smaller humanoid form, but that was busy being tinkered with by the lab’s actual owner, Harrison Fredericks. 

The man himself, responsible for the initial creation of the cyberforms that had become so useful to Heretics all over the world, was in the far corner of the lab working on that. Columbus and Galahad both doubted the distracted man had any idea they were still there, let alone that he had other visitors outside in the parking lot. He was quite occupied with his work.

Easily reaching from one side of the lab to the other, Galahad very carefully pinched the desired box between two of his fingers. His hand massively dwarfed the box of screws, yet he was delicate enough to pick it up, move his arm over, and set it down next to the boy. He had a lot of practice being careful with his large hands and great strength. Between that and the incredible work Fredericks did to begin with, he could have picked up a living mouse without harming it. Well, aside from the heart attack the poor thing certainly would have suffered. 

“Your friends are still waiting, you know,” he gently reminded the boy. 

“Almost done,” Columbus promised. “I just need to run a couple quick diagnostics and–” He had looked up and turned a bit to glanced toward a corner of the ceiling, the lenses of the goggles on his face glowing slightly as he activated the x-ray vision to see out to where Vanessa and the others had been playing an impromptu soccer game on the pavement above while they waited for him to join them for a trip to the movies. What he saw instead, however, made Columbus drop the screwdriver and penlight, bolting to his feet. “Oh shit! What the hell’s wrong with the alarms?”

“Alarms?” Galahad echoed, head tilting. “I see nothing wrong. Your friends are playing–wait.” He paused before making a noise of disbelief. “The security footage is fake. Harry!” That booming voice flooded the hangar, drawing even the distracted scientist from his work. “We have trouble.” 

“Trouble?” Fredericks dropped his tools, vanishing from where he was standing before reappearing next to Columbus. He was a remarkably short man, standing only four feet, one inch tall. His dark red hair was short, and he had a goatee that was neatly trimmed. Aside from a pair of unnaturally green eyes, his other distinguishing feature was an arm that was very clearly cybernetic. “What sort of trouble?” 

“The dangerous sort,” Columbus informed him, still staring through the ceiling even as he stopped himself from instantly transporting out there to help the others. Better to make sure Fredericks knew what was going on before this whole situation got completely out of hand. Including one incredibly important point. 

“Kushiel’s here.” 

******

Several Minutes Earlier

With a thump as the soccer ball bounced off his head, Tristan Moon watched it bounce between two small trash cans that they had set up to be a goal and pumped his fist in the air. “Ha,” he crowed, “three to two, we are so pulling ahead of you guys.” 

This side of the parking lot of the Capital One arena was essentially empty, given there were no games or events going on anytime soon. Despite that, in most cases, the security guards would have insisted several teenagers playing ball in it should leave. But those security guards were being magically charmed to ignore the group, thanks to one of many safety measures Fredericks had installed along the property. 

“Maybe by definition,” Tristan’s sister retorted to his teasing. Vanessa had her long, typically loose blonde hair tied back out of the way in a ponytail. “Three to two isn’t exactly an insurmountable lead, you know.” 

Grinning, Tristan waved that off. “You’re just jealous that we didn’t go with sibling pairs.” 

“That would’ve been cliche,” Sands pointed out as she pointed toward the ball. A blue glowing outline surrounded it, and the thing went in an exact reverse of its previous trajectory, as if it was being rewound. It was a new power she had picked up during a recent trip, when a group of Alters they had been escorting to a safehouse were unexpectedly ambushed by a trio of religious fanatics, cultists for one of the many supposed world-destroying entities that were said to live in the Earth’s core or some such. Either way, they were dead now and Sands had picked up this ability to reverse the motions of any non-living object, up to about fifty pounds, for up to thirty seconds. 

“Much as I would love to be on a team with my sister,” she added with a nod to Sarah, who stood behind Tristan, “we do have to mix things up a bit.” She left out the fact that she knew Sarah wanted to team up with Tristan, given the two of them had started going out together a few months back. It was still relatively new, and they were taking things slow. But still, Sands was happy for her sister. Even if she did have to resist the urge to take Tristan aside and warn him about what would happen if he hurt her. Tempting as that was, it wasn’t her place to play that sort of game. Sarah could take care of herself. She didn’t need her twin sister threatening her boyfriend. Even if there was a bit of uncertainty about what was going on between him and that Nereid girl, Dexamene. She had come all the way back from the future and across the universe. Yes, it was to help Flick get back to the present, and save Elisabet, but still. She was Tristan’s best friend, and maybe more than that? No one was sure, possibly not even the two of them. But whatever was going on there, Sarah, Tristan, and Dex could handle it between themselves. They didn’t need her help. 

Especially not when Sands herself didn’t exactly have any luck in the romance department. A fact that made the short (the twins were barely five feet tall) brunette give a soft inward sigh before reaching out to catch the ball as it began to make its way past her and back toward Tristan on its reverse trajectory. “Besides,” she added aloud, “hitting the ball with your head shouldn’t be allowed. I mean, it’s so hard.” To demonstrate, she reached out as though to rap her knuckles against his temple, before the boy drew back with a laugh. 

“Hard and oblong, that’s my head alright,” he replied easily. “Now are you guys gonna take the ball out so we can steal it from you and rack up another point, or what?” 

Before the others could say anything, Sarah held a hand out while speaking up. “Wait, look.” Her sister and the other two turned to see where she was pointing. On the sidelines of their impromptu ‘field’ in the parking lot, Tristan’s cyberform snake, Bobbi-Bobbi, had been curled up to watch them. Now she lay stretched out on her side, twitching a little. Nearby, one of the many cyberforms that Fredricks allowed to roam the property, a monkey robot called Tipsy, was also laying on her side with the same occasional twitch. 

“Something’s wrong,” Sarah announced, even as Tristan took off running that way. 

“Bobbi?” he called, dropping to his knees next to the snake robot. “What–” In the next instant, his hand lashed out. The bracelet on his wrist glowed brightly, producing a blue-white set of flames over his fist as the boy punched the partially transparent figure who had emerged from beneath the pavement and was halfway-into his robotic partner. “Ghost!” he shouted as his empowered fist collided with the spirit’s face. 

Unfortunately, while he had been quick enough to stop the ghost, who had been pushing its way into Bobbi-Bobbi, Tristan wasn’t able to catch the one next to Tipsy. It disappeared into the monkey robot, and an instant later, he had to throw himself backwards to avoid being kicked in the face as the cyberform abruptly shoved its hand against the ground and kicked out of him with its two long legs. Blades had emerged from Tipsy’s feet, narrowly avoiding cutting the boy’s throat. 

“Tristan!” Vanessa shouted. Before she could move that way, however, an owl and falcon cyberform who had been flying overhead dropped into view. The owl shifted into a helmet form, hovering in midair as its goggle-like eyes blasted a concussive wave of force that slammed into the blonde girl, as well as Sarah. The two were sent flying a good twelve feet before tumbling along the ground. Sands was struck as well, but she had activated the power that allowed her to remain completely motionless and protected no matter how much force she was hit with. Up to a certain level, of course, but the owl didn’t surpass that. 

She was already bringing her mace out to swing at the cyberform itself before it could blast them again, but the falcon had transformed itself into a two-bladed sword, one end swinging out toward her throat. The girl was forced to stop short, going still so her power would kick in again and force the blade to bounce off. 

Tristan, by that point, had rolled back to his feet with Bobbi-Bobbi in her cannon form on his arm. He extended it, letting off a quick shot toward the falcon-blade, while his foot lashed out to kick Tipsy as she leapt at him. “What the hell?! Since when can ghosts possess cyberforms?!” 

“Well,” an unexpected (and entirely unwanted) voice announced from nearby, “I suppose since I gave them a bit of an upgrade?” Kushiel’s own ghost hovered next to a parked car, regarding them with a mixture of contempt and amusement at their confusion. “Stand still for a moment, and you’ll see just how much of one.” 

“Kushiel?” Vanessa blurted while she and Sarah picked themselves up. Her whip was already out and ready, scanning the air for more attackers coming from that way. Distracting as Kushiel’s appearance was, it felt just like the woman to show herself just so another possessed cyberform could hit them unexpectedly. She was far from the type to fight fair. “What are you doing here?” Even as she said that, the girl’s free hand was grabbing for the emergency alert coin in her pocket that would bring a full set of reinforcements. 

Sarah, meanwhile, brought her rifle up, but stopped herself from pulling the trigger. Tempting as it was to shoot Kushiel with as many ghost-fire empowered bullets as she could, it would’ve been pointless. The woman would just pass the damage off to one of the others. Denny had already informed them that she still had that power, even after death. A fact she had apparently demonstrated quite thoroughly when the people at the Auberge had sought to interfere with her attempts to find Mordred’s sword, Clarent. She’d failed then, and the sword was now in the hands of Joselyn Chambers. So what was she doing here now? 

“Try to call for help if you like,” Kushiel informed Vanessa without apparent care, knowing exactly what the girl was doing with the hand in her pocket. “It won’t do you any good. Not anymore.” She sounded oddly casual, given her usual personality and anger. Which, to be honest, was a lot more troubling than if she had shown up in full righteous fury mode. Kushiel being calm meant she was confident, and none of them were comfortable thinking about why that was. 

Sure enough, Vanessa felt something blocking the spell that would have called her mother and others to their location. “What– you’re stopping it.” 

“Very good, abomination,” Kushiel tauntingly retorted, giving a soft clap while staring daggers through the girl. Despite her calm demeanor, it was the hatred in those eyes that truly gave away the woman’s feelings. “Your ability to state the patently obvious truly does mark you as the genius they all say you are.” 

“Genius, no,” Vanessa informed her simply. “Prepared, yes.” With that, she touched a different coin in her pocket and triggered the spell there. Instantly, the backpack she had brought with them, discarded along the side of their playing field, flipped over. The flap on it opened, seemingly by itself, before three steel balls, each about two inches across, burst out. The trio of balls flew into view and hovered in a triangular formation around the ghost woman before projecting a glowing semi-transparent blue pyramid around her. 

Arching an eyebrow, Kushiel reached out to tap the glowing wall. “A ghost capture field, hmm? And I see your mother helped you add in a bit of anti-Tartarus tech as well. It’s not quite enough to block my power entirely, but it’s certainly… muffling it a bit, I suppose. I can feel the energy it’s giving off, making it harder for me to reach for my gift. I didn’t know that was possible.” The fact that she was, even now, speaking calmly made the hair on every one of their necks stand up. Something was even more wrong than they already knew. 

“It’s not, for living creatures,” Vanessa replied flatly. “You’re a ghost. You’re different. Your connection to Tartarus is stronger, but the one into this world, the physical world, isn’t. We can trap you that way, block you that way.” 

“For a time, perhaps,” Kushiel acknowledged, sounding unconcerned. “Still, it is a remarkable effort. You and your mother have been busy little bees. But you and I both know this is a prototype. It will not hold for very long.” Her hand brushed the wall testingly. “No, not long at all.”  

Her calm demeanor in the face of being trapped was even more worrying. As was the fact that half a dozen more cyberforms of various types had begun surrounding the four young Heretics. They were all obviously possessed, but none attacked. Not yet, anyway. 

Sands, Sarah, Tristan, and Vanessa had all moved closer together by that point. Not right next to each other, as they all needed room. But close enough to watch each other’s backs. Tristan spoke up for his sister. “Doesn’t have to hold you for long. We’ll have help here soon.” 

“Sooner than you think,” Columbus, appearing nearby, announced. He was facing Kushiel as well, Amethyst perched on his shoulder to hiss at the ghost woman. “Don’t worry, Fredericks is working on a way to expel our unwanted guests from the cyberforms,” he informed the others. “It won’t take long.” 

“Oh dear!” With mock concern, Kushiel put her hands to her mouth. “I suppose I’d better hurry then. Friends, would you mind?” At her words, three of the possessed cyberforms, the owl, falcon, and a small bluejay, turned their attention toward the balls projecting the pyramid that was currently containing her. Meanwhile, the others, including Tipsy, turned their attention to the five Heretics. 

And yet, before either group could carry out their attacks, a large figure came flying down out of the sky. Galahad, still in his thirty-foot tall robot form, crashed onto the pavement after launching himself through the air. His hand lashed out, smacking half a dozen of the other cyberforms out of the way to send them tumbling across the ground. “Sorry, buddies,” he announced, “the big guy’ll fix you up as soon as we get rid of your hitchhikers.” 

Even now, Kushiel showed no particular annoyance as her plan to have several of her ghost-possessed, unwilling partners break her out of the temporary prison. In fact, she simply chuckled at the side of the giant robot figure smacking them aside. To his words, she offered a slight shrug. “Doing that may be harder than your friend suspects. And you may have even less time than you think to make it happen.” 

“What do you want?” Sands demanded, taking a step that way. As one of the possessed cyberforms made a move toward her, she quickly threw a wall up into its path with a swing of her mace. But her eyes never left Kushiel’s. “Why are you here? Too much of a coward to face your daughter or Flick again, so you thought we’d be easier targets?” 

Through all of this, Kushiel had shown herself to be unnaturally, unusually calm. Yet it was the mention of Theia that made her drop that facade, even if only a little bit. Her eyes blazed with even more anger than had already been smoldering there, as she half-spat, “The thing I spawned will meet her fate in time. As for the would-be Necromancer child, she is still no threat to me. That much should have been clear after our last meeting.” 

“I dunno,” Tristan remarked, “Flick has a way of surprising people like you. And by people like you, I mean evil, irredeemable pieces of shit. Just ask Fossor.” 

“She doesn’t have to ask anyone,” Galahad put in. “She isn’t leaving this place. Not after–” He stopped in mid-sentence, head turning toward a nearby section of the parking lot. “What…” 

“Ah yes,” Kushiel remarked, as everyone’s attention shifted that way. The dull rumble that Galahad detected was soon audible to all of them. “As I was saying, I did not show myself to all of you in order to begin carrying out my plan.” 

With that, the ground exploded outward in a violent shower of rock and pavement, as a dark-green, fifty-foot tall dragon cyberform tore its way out of the ground and flew upward with a terrifying roar. It was followed by another, slightly different one, and another. Soon, seven cyberform dragons were in view, all of them spreading out to surround the group. As they hovered there, a figure appeared on top of each of the seven dragons. These were not ghosts, but living Seosten. Young Seosten, by the look of them. They couldn’t have been older than twenty or so, which made them look only about fifteen by human standards. Four boys, three girls, all dressed in gold and black versions of the Seosten bodysuit. Black with gold piping for the girls, the reverse for the boys.  

“I showed myself,” Kushiel finished, “because my true children, born of the lab you helped destroy, have already succeeded.” 

To be continued next chapter

Previous Chapters / Next Chapter

The Runaway 15-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bye, bitch.”

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

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

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The Runaway 15-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Patreon Snippets 15 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

$10+ Donators on my Patreon get 500 words per month to put toward any ideas they would like to see, to add to any ideas someone else has, or to save up for later. Here is the next edition of the Heretical Edge requests for those snippets. 

Asmodaeus

Thousands of years ago, before the Olympus came to Earth

The main cafeteria-lounge aboard the Seosten ship known as the Olympus was busy through this early evening hour. The room was three-quarters full, with conversation among the crew and officers steadily humming along with the clink of utensils against plates and glasses. One of the things that made the Olympus fairly unique among the Seosten fleet was the fact that nearly every figure aboard it, with the exception of relatively few maintenance workers, cooks, and such, were all Seosten themselves. On most modern ships, there would be a smaller complement of Seosten who were supported by many more lower-class (slave) species. But on this explorer ship, set to search and discover new methods of combating the Fomorian plague, over ninety percent of the occupants were Seosten. 

That, of course, was in large part because of the fact that the crew of the Olympus was almost entirely composed of those who had been through the Summus Proelium project, and that power never would have been given to any non-Seosten to begin with. Still, regardless of reasons, it meant that there was a much larger percentage of their own people to speak to at times like these. 

It was through that crowd that Sariel, dedicated magical researcher and budding explorer, found herself hurriedly moving. Her gaze swept rapidly back and forth, searching intently. Where… where… There. Between two other figures, she saw her target. On the far end of the room, Kushiel stood near one of the ‘windows’ (actually a screen projecting a holographic image), speaking to a couple other officers. In one hand, she held a glass of cerulean liquid. Her head was bobbing up and down, as she responded to something one of the others had said, before lifting the glass. 

There. The glass. Sariel saw it. She saw it and knew. A rush of thoughts went through the young Seosten’s mind. She saw the glass. She saw Kushiel. She saw Lucifer, her best friend, her brother, in the medical bed she had just left him in after yet another of the impossible, suicidal missions that woman right there had sent the two of them on had ended up getting him hurt and almost killed. She saw the glass rising to Kushiel’s lips, knew that no one knew what she knew, that no one had any idea what was about to happen. 

Sariel’s hand snapped down, catching hold of a random metal plate from the nearby table. With a snap of her wrist, she sent the plate spinning through the air. It sliced neatly between two figures in mid-conversation, barely skimmed past the raised arm of a man gesturing wildly, and passed directly between three staggered wine glasses being carried past on a tray without disturbing any of them. Finally, the plate struck its target, shattering the glass in Kushiel’s hand an instant before she would have drunk from it. 

All conversation stopped. The crowd parted like twin waves in either direction, leaving Sariel facing Kushiel from across the room. The older Seosten, staring at the broken remnants of glass on the floor, raised her gaze to Sariel. Her mouth twisted angrily, before she began to snarl, “Now you’ve gone too far. If you think I’ll let you weasel your way out of this after a challenge like–” 

“Kushiel, look.” One of the other Seosten officers touched the woman’s arm, pointing to the liquid on the floor. The liquid from the shattered glass she had been about to drink. It was currently sizzling and burning its way through the floor. The glass had been enchanted to contain the liquid safely. But now, the image at Kushiel’s feet showed what would have happened if she’d actually consumed it. Everyone saw what would have happened, and what Sariel had saved her from. 

“Someone tried to kill you,” the other officer murmured, squeezing Kushiel’s arm. “Someone just tried to assassinate you.” He said it again, as though it was just so impossible to believe. “Heh. They would’ve managed it too, if it wasn’t for the kid over there. Guess you owe her your life.” 

One of the other nearby Seosten called out congratulations, prompting a line of applause from the still-baffled onlookers. They cheered for Sariel stopping the assassination attempt. 

“And here you thought she was such a waste,” another officer reminded Kushiel, patting her back with a chuckle. “Looks like you’d be dead without her now. All that shit from before and it turns out you needed her around after all. Isn’t that funny?” 

No, Sariel thought, as she saw the way Kushiel stared at her. There was no amusement. No gratitude. There was nothing but pure, unadulterated hatred. Kushiel was not grateful for being saved. She was livid. She had been made to look vulnerable, and she saw Sariel as the reason for that vulnerability. 

Sariel had saved her life, and Kushiel would never forgive her for that. 

——-

Some time later, Sariel stepped into the hospital room where Lucifer was resting. Another figure was already there, a man who stood facing the window beside the bed, his back to the door. 

“Asmodaeus,” Sariel started, eyes glancing toward the bed, then back again. Lucifer was fine, still sleeping. “What–” 

“Why?” The single word came before the man turned to face her. Far into the future and far away on the world that would eventually be known as Earth (or Rysthael to the Seosten), he would have been referred to as looking Asian, with somewhat darker skin, long reddish-black hair that fell to his shoulders, and piercing brown-black eyes. He stood two inches over six feet, with arms that were tightly corded muscle. Now, his gaze was focused on her intently. “Why did you save her?” 

Sariel was quiet for a moment, before lifting her chin. “I know why you tried to kill her. Kushiel sent Taynier on that mission. The one he never came back from.” 

Asmodaeus pointed at her, his finger shaking somewhat. “She killed him. I loved him. I loved Taynier. We were… we were happy, and she killed him. She sent him on a mission he didn’t need to be on. She got him killed. She might as well have murdered him herself. Just like Lucifer.” His hand moved to gesture toward the bed. “Next time, it might be him who doesn’t come back from that psychotic cunt’s missions. You think she cares? She doesn’t. She’ll keep sending both of you out on those missions until you die. 

“So why the void did you save her life?” 

“Yeah, Sar,” Lucifer, apparently awake, spoke up. “Why would you do something crazy like that?” 

Looking back and forth between the two, Sariel hesitated before shaking her head. “I don’t–because it was the right thing to do. I just–look, I was just trying to keep myself busy while you were out of it. So I started looking into those missing supplies. I realized they were being used to make that magic poison, checked the logs, figured out who took them and what happened to your lover. I realized who you were targeting,” she informed Asmodaeus. “And I just… reacted. It’s wrong to kill our own people. We don’t do that. Seosten don’t kill Seosten. We have to be better than her, not stoop to her level.”

Seeing the looks both of them were giving her, she sighed. “I just… I couldn’t let it happen when I knew about it.” 

“So what now?” Asmodaeus asked, staring intently at her. “I don’t… I don’t want to hurt anyone else. Not you. None of our people. But I will find a way to kill her.” 

“No,” Sariel replied, her head shaking. “You saw how everyone reacted. As soon as the danger was over, they laughed. They laughed because they thought it was one of the non-Seosten, and they thought a non-Seosten would never risk openly attacking one of us. As soon as the assassination attempt failed, they decided it was safe to mock it. Now they’re working their way through the non-Seosten crew, searching for the person responsible. But it won’t take them long to figure out the truth. And as soon as they realize it was one of us, they’ll track it to you.” 

“Then you better turn me in,” Asmodaeus retorted darkly, his arms folding across his chest. “Because if they track me far enough, they’ll figure out we were in here talking.” 

“We’re not turning you in.” That was Lucifer, sitting up a little in the bed with a groan. 

“He’s right,” Sariel agreed quietly. “We’re not turning you in. We’re not going to let them take you at all. 

“We’re going to fake your death, and get you the hell off this ship.” 

Present Day

“And that’s exactly what they did,” a much older (though still visually identical thanks to his Olympian-frozen aging) Asmodaeus concluded. He was sitting at a table in the main cafeteria of the so-called Fusion School. Across from him sat Vanessa and Tristan, both staring at him with wide eyes. 

“But why would Mom help you escape after stopping you from killing Kushiel?” Vanessa demanded, clearly confused. “Whose side was she on?” 

“Sometimes it’s more complicated than just being on one person’s side,” Asmodaeus replied, offering them a small shrug. “It wasn’t just about saving Kushiel. Sariel knew other things. She knew that Puriel loved her, that losing her like that would hurt him as much as losing my beloved hurt me. And she knew that the non-Seosten would be blamed for it before they knew the truth. If Kushiel was dead, a lot of the non-Seosten on the ship would have suffered and died just to root out the killer. When it was an attempted assassination, they were angry, but… also mocked it. Because it failed. But if I’d actually managed to kill the wife of the ship’s captain? They wouldn’t wait for proof about who did it. They’d kill those non-Seosten just for being around when ‘one of their own’ murdered one of their masters. Can’t have that getting out.” 

Tristan made a face. “I’m starting to think Mom’s people are screwed up. And where did you go after they got you off the ship? Where’ve you been?”

“Took up some other identities for a long time,” came the response. “Some Seosten, some others. Learned to make deals with the people I possessed, so we could work together. Figured out it was a hell of a lot easier to get around in the universe when you and the person you’re possessing actually work together. Eventually, Chayyiel found me. This was… over a thousand of your years later. She found me after she told Puriel where to shove it and left Earth when he pulled that shit with Arthur. She said she needed my help, that Sariel needed my help. She was still here on Earth and Chayyiel needed a way to pass messages back and forth. I already had a lot of experience pretending to be different Seosten, possessing others, using magic to change what I look like, all of that. I already knew how to work through the system, cuz I spent a thousand years doing it. So… I helped. I became their go-between. Did that until Sariel took off with your dad. Then I ahhh… kept a bit of an eye on her anyway, for Chayyiel. Just in case. But I stopped before all that went down with you guys. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I thought you were all okay by then. I didn’t… I didn’t know what happened until it was too late to do anything about it.”

That much said, the man pressed, “Now it’s your turn. I told you my story. Who do I have to talk to so I can buy a good memory off them of seeing Kushiel finally fucking die?” 

The twins exchanged glances, before turning back to him. Tristan spoke up. “Dude, you need to meet one of our friends. 

“Her name’s Theia, and boy do you guys have a lot you could talk about.” 

******

Marina Dupont

Flick was missing. No, worse. She had been abducted by the necromancer who had been targeting her for so long. The same necromancer who had taken the girl’s mother and was responsible for the Black Death. After a year of preparation, Felicity Chambers had still been taken and was now that psychopath’s prisoner. All that time, and she was still gone. 

Those words repeatedly rebounded through Marina Dupont’s head as she sat on a bench on the outside of the long-closed museum that was the current home of Wonderland. On her lap sat the tiny Lavinsi (bird-like humanoid) girl named Baiden, who was intently reading aloud the story she’d written for class about the time she’d met Captain Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, the giant along the same lines as Paul Bunyan, who was a sailor rather than a lumberjack. Stormalong was known even by Bystanders, particularly early American Bystander sailors. 

Baiden’s story was written the same way the girl tended to talk. In other words, with rapid changes of topic, run-on sentences, and a lot of gushing about how awesome everything was. Especially Stormalong himself, whom Baiden had been incredibly impressed by, and demonstrated that by going on and on about the man, including details of some of the tall tales that had been spread about his exploits.

Technically speaking, there was a lot wrong with the writing. But it was Baiden’s words, and she was a kid. She was so excited about having met one of her heroes that she took the time to write it down. Which, for a girl of her attention span, meant a lot. She put effort into this. In no way was Marina ever going to discourage that. So she sat with the bird-like girl on her lap, laughing and smiling through the story as she knew the others in Baiden’s class would.  

And yet, even while she listened to the story, Marina continued to think about Flick. It was she who (with help from Gaia) had restarted the whole war, her actions that had led Marina to make the choice that she did, the choice to take those children out of Crossroads and give them back to their parents. 

That was what had led Marina to where she was now. Here, Wonderland. Where she had never in her life felt more like she belonged. This place was her home. This was the place she wanted to stay, with the people she wanted to help. Wonderland was everything she wanted, and Marina would defend it with everything she had. 

For that, for waking her up to the way the world was and helping her, even coincidentally, to find her way home, Marina would do anything to help Felicity Chambers. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anything she could do. No one knew where Fossor’s home was, or if it was even on Earth. From everything she had heard from people like Roxa and Shiori, they were stuck. So pledging to help Flick didn’t really mean much. But if there was anything… if anything came up… Marina would be there. She would help. Because she owed Flick that much. 

They all did. 

**********

Joselyn and Flick 

“I’m sorry,” Joselyn demanded while she and her youngest daughter sat out on the patio overlooking the grounds of Fossor’s estate, “Deveron treated you like what?” 

From her seat, Flick snickered a little, shaking her head. “It’s okay, Mom. He was acting like a dick intentionally. You know, to umm, to throw off anyone who might have started to suspect he was trying to help us, or something. He was trying to stay undercover and act like he didn’t care.” 

For a moment, Joselyn just stared at her. Slowly, she raised a hand to rub her temple as if to ward off a mounting headache, while exhaling long and low. “That man,” she murmured under her breath, “if I had a dollar for all of his impulsive plans like that, I could’ve fought that revolution with Bruce Wayne-level resources.” 

Flick’s hand covered her mouth with a snort as she barely managed to contain herself. “You–hey, he umm, he was trying at least. And he dropped the act. He’s…” She squirmed a little in her seat, hesitantly offering, “He’s a good guy, even if he’s not…” 

“Even if he’s not your dad.” Joselyn finished, smiling a little as she reached out to take her daughter’s hand, squeezing it. “It’s okay, Felicity. I love both of them for everything they are.” 

“I know something about loving multiple people,” Flick admitted, meeting her mother’s gaze. “Really, I’m… I’m okay with him. I like him. He’s not Dad, but he obviously cares about you, about me, about all of us. He… he’s missed you a lot, and for longer than we have. He loves you, Mom. That’s what matters.” 

Swallowing hard, Joselyn moved her free hand to touch her daughter’s face, brushing a hand through her hair. “I love you, baby. I love all of you.” 

There was a moment of hesitation before Flick glanced up, whispering, “Are we safe?” 

Joselyn took a bit of prepared cloth from her pocket, channeling the spell to check for any spies. Then she nodded. “Yes.” 

“What about Koren and Abigail?” her daughter hurriedly asked. “I mean, I know you named Abigail Koren first, but she named her daughter Koren and it’s weird that she remembered the name and all but what about them? Does Fossor–is he going to–does he have plans about that?” 

There was a brief pause as Joselyn sat back, folding her arms in her lap while quietly answering, “I don’t know. He’s… kept things to himself. I want to believe that he’ll leave them alone, that he couldn’t have planned to the point of taking them after taking you, but… I don’t know.” 

Seeing her mother that uncertain, that vulnerable, made Flick reach out to her. She took the woman’s hands in either of hers, squeezing them. “We’ll deal with that if it happens, Mom. Come on, let’s talk about something more fun. We don’t have to dwell on… on all that.” 

A small smile reached the girl’s face, as she slyly pushed on. “How about I tell you about the time Wyatt made up for all those birthdays and holidays he missed by giving Koren and me seventeen years worth of presents?” 

The words made Joselyn blink up, staring at her daughter. “He…” A small smile appeared, as she coughed. “He did what now?” 

Giggling a bit at the memory, Flick nodded. “Not just seventeen years of presents suitable for a seventeen year old either. They were like… presents suitable for each age. Even as a toddler. I still have them, errr… I mean, some of them. Others got left behind when we had to escape Crossroads.

“My point is, just imagine how many presents you’re gonna end up with when we get home.” 

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

On The Edge 42-09

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

Lying there, basically crippled on the floor as my injured legs refused to cooperate, I could do nothing as Abaddon approached. Not that I would have been able to do much to him even at my peak, but still. This was worse. He took his time, meandering casually across the room before stopping in front of me to look down with a slight shake of his head, almost looking regretful.

Tabs, I started inwardly.

I’m not leaving you alone here, she quickly shot back. So shut up.

Before I could retort to that and plead with her not to stay here, the Olympian spoke in a voice that made it sound like we were just having a chat. “Pretty good job back there, kid. I took a second to watch through, ah, let’s just say someone else’s eyes and I gotta say, impressive.”

From where she was standing by the pedestal that held that book, Kushiel distractedly snapped, “Stop toying with the monkey-child and kill it before something else happens to make that impossible.” She wasn’t looking our way, her attention solely focused on her goal. Yet she also wasn’t reaching for it. Instead, the woman seemed to be taking the time to disable what had to be a lot of security spells that had been placed around that pedestal.

Abaddon, however, glanced that way while musing aloud, “Kill her?” He seemed to consider that before looking back to me, his voice contemplative. “Eh, I don’t know.”

For a moment, Kushiel apparently forgot her current objective (which said something considering how obsessed the Seosten were with it), turning to face the man. Her voice was dark. “Excuse me?” she asked with icy brittleness. “You seemed very much in line with the goal of ending that monkey’s life before, so pray tell, what don’t you know now?”

The big guy shrugged one shoulder, watching me intently rather than looking to the woman. “Saw her fight,” he replied simply, “she’s pretty good. Got good instincts, good drive. Kind of be a damn shame to waste all that just because she’s on the wrong side right now.”  

“Wrong side?” I put in despite myself, a mixture of sarcasm and anger filling my voice as I shifted my weight, grimacing from the pain that hit me then. “Yeah, because I’m so sure that the people who are enslaving every other species in the universe are totally the good guys.”

A slight smile crossed his face. “Didn’t say we were the good guys. Said we were the right guys. There’s a difference.” For a moment, the man looked serious. “We do some awful shit, that’s for sure. But believe you me, it’d be worse without us. Fomorians are the real monsters out there.”

For a moment, I just stared at him in disbelief from my prone position. “I’m sorry,” I put in once I’d managed to find my (incredulous) voice, “are you actually trying to recruit me right now?”

Kushiel, who had turned back to her work of disabling the spells around the pedestal, spoke without looking. “I must agree with the monkey-child, which I will tell you right now annoys me to no end. What precisely do you think you’re doing?”

It was Radueriel who answered, from where he was standing over by the doorway. “Now, Kushiel, there’s no reason to be rude or ungracious in victory. The child did her best for her own side. Given what she faced, falling short in the end was to be expected. Still, she did quite well.” Looking to me, he added, “And in case you’re trying to stall until that headmistress of yours gets here, there’s, ahh, really no point. They won’t be showing up.”

Before I could demand to know what he meant by that, Kushiel actually elaborated for him. “Indeed. It seems that Liesje was slightly more… clever than we gave her credit for. This vault has been shifted into two connected pocket universes. The book itself was also split. One must have both halves, or it is useless. What we believed was the ‘back door’ into this vault was actually the door into the second vault. But it is no matter. We have… other forces gathering the book from the first vault as we speak.”

“The point is,” Radueriel explained, “they’re not coming, because you can’t get from one vault to the other without going through the right door, you see? That door to get to this one.” He gestured to the one we had come through. “And the ahhh, ‘front’ door to get to the other one. Two vaults. Two books. They might as well be a billion light years apart.”

“Look, kid,” Abaddon announced in a voice that rumbled like thunder while I was mentally reeling from that, “it’s like we said, you did pretty good. You even killed Manakel. Still not sure how you pulled that off, but hey, he was trying to kill you at the time, so I get it. Don’t like it, but I get it. None of this was personal.”

“Not… personal?” I managed, staring at him. “You killed Seth. You killed Seth like… less than an hour ago, and you don’t think this was personal? You don’t think it’s personal?” My voice rose at the end, almost turning to a shriek despite myself as I shoved myself up a bit against the pain.

He gave an easy nod at that. “Yeah, I did. He was a threat, so I finished it. Just like Manakel was a threat to you.” Reaching up, he pointed at me with two fingers. “Both of you. Yeah. The old man managed to let us know that you’ve got a little friend in there. Still doesn’t make sense. A kid wouldn’t be able to even pose the slightest threat to old Manakel. So what’d you do?”

They knew about Tabbris, I realized. Which made sense, considering how much time Manakel had had to send that message along while he was trying to escape the hospital. Still, I kept my face as expressionless as possible. “Maybe your old war buddy wasn’t as tough as he thought.”

If I hit a nerve, Abaddon didn’t show it. He just gave a small shrug. “Maybe. But like I said, none of this was personal. We’ve got a job to do, a war to win. I think you’d do pretty well if you just let go of all these other… distractions and worked with us instead of against us. You think we go too far? Eh, maybe. But what do you want, a universe with some jackasses like us keeping things in line, or one with the Fomorians killing everyone to remake them in their image? Sometimes you don’t get to pick the good guys, kid. Sometimes you just have to pick the less evil ones. And if it’s down to us or the Fomorians, well, I don’t think it’s much of a question, do you?”

“I think you’re all evil pieces of shit,” I snapped, “and we can do better.”

The whole time, my mind was racing. As was Tabbris’. What the hell were we supposed to do?! Where… where was everyone? Where was anyone? The Seosten were about to take Liesje’s spell, and there was no one here to help! I couldn’t stall anymore, I couldn’t fight anymore. I had no chance, none, against three Olympians at once even if I hadn’t been injured. They were going to take the spell and there was nothing I could do about it. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to try? I had nothing. Nothing that would help. I’d thrown everything I had at delaying them this long and it wasn’t enough. It just… wasn’t enough.

As if to make that realization even worse, there was a sound of satisfaction from Kushiel just then. The woman straightened, cracking her neck with a visible smile as she glanced my way. “That’s it. The last of the Aken woman’s spells. Do you feel accomplished for delaying us from our goal for this long, monkey-child? Do you feel as though you’ve achieved something? Because you have not. You’ve done nothing, accomplished nothing. The spell,” she declared while reaching out to grab the book, “is ours. And it will be destroyed. So all this wasted effort, do you still think it was worth it?”

“Every second where you’re still a loser is most definitely worth it,” I shot back. “Hey look, there’s another one. And another, and another. Yup, still a loser.”

Her eyes narrowed, while her hand tightened around the book. “And yet, you are the one who has lost.”

“Have I?” I asked flatly. Then I moved. My hands came off the floor, creating two quick portals in front of myself. One led right in front of Kushiel, while the other led to my staff. Tabbris hit the boost, just as I grabbed the weapon and the book. Even as Kushiel started to yank the book away, I triggered the blast on my staff, sending myself flying backwards and tearing the book from the psycho bitch’s hands. My back hit the far wall, and I slammed the staff down to shove myself to my feet with the book under one arm.

All three Olympians gave me equally unimpressed looks, though Kushiel’s was mixed with obvious annoyance. “Is that all,” she demanded while taking a step my way. “You are not leaving with that book. You have no way out of here, no way to escape. What is the point of this?”

“Well, like I said,” I put in as casually as I could manage while my legs were screaming in pain from putting weight on them, “every second you’re still a loser, yada yada. You know the drill.”

“You ignorant child!” Kushiel snapped, clearly losing it then while the other two Olympians simply stayed out of the way. “You are the one who has lost! You will not leave this vault. You will die. No one is coming to save you. You will die here, right now.” As she spoke, the woman’s hand produced a gold-handled blade, which she brought to her own chest. “Even if I must do it myself.”

“Last chance, kid,” Abaddon casually remarked from where he stood with his arms folded. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d like to see what you could do for our side. But you’ve gotta give me a reason to speak up for you.”

“She wants me dead,” I replied while keeping my eyes on Kushiel as the woman held that knife against her own chest. With a single push, she could kill me. With a single push, she could end all of this. But I kept talking anyway. “But not because of this. She wants me dead because she knows. She wants to kill me because she knows, but she wants to make sure. She wants to see her.”

“What are you rambling about?” Kushiel snapped. I had a feeling that she might have just stabbed herself and been done with me for good, but Abaddon put out a hand to catch her arm. He was clearly curious himself, and maybe even serious about wanting to recruit me. Either way, it was a chance, small as it might have been.

I took it, pressing on. “You want me dead, because you know. Or maybe you’re just afraid that you know.” Raising the hand that wasn’t clutching the book, I pointed to my own chest. “You know who’s in here. That little girl that Abaddon mentioned and you just keep conveniently ignoring. You know what she is. And you know what her being with me means. That’s why I keep calling you a loser. Not this book. Her. You know where she came from. That’s why you want me dead, so you can look at her and know once and for all. Because it’s been eating you up this whole time, hasn’t it? Ever since you heard from Manakel what he saw, it’s been right there. You’ve known. You figured it out, even if you didn’t want to. So you want to look at her.”

“Pardon me.” Radueriel spoke up then, raising his cybernetic hand. “Would you mind filling in the rest of the class, or is this rambling distraction going to go on much longer?”

“Sariel,” I announced flatly, after a brief consultation with my partner. “You had her locked up. You tortured her for years. You tried to destroy her. You took everything she had, and she still beat you.”

“Sariel beat nothing!” Kushiel snapped, her voice nearly a shriek. She shoved Abaddon off of her, moving to drive the knife into her own chest to end me.

“Mother!” The shout came from the doorway where Radueriel was. But he wasn’t the one who spoke. It was Theia, of course. She was standing there, staring directly at Kushiel with narrowed eyes. “You will not harm her. You will not harm any of my friends again.”  

Radueriel himself had moved to stop her, but when she did nothing but stand there to talk, he slowed, glancing curiously to the woman in charge.

The anger that Kushiel had shown me was nothing compared to what appeared in her eyes then. Slowly, she turned to look at her own daughter (or her own daughter’s host, anyway) with a look of utter contempt and hatred. It was the kind of look that no mother should ever give their child. “You,” she snarled, that single word pouring forth centuries worth of scorn and malice. “You should not have shown yourself. It was bad enough when you were merely a failure. But a traitor? A traitor? You are not my child. You are an abomination. You are a–”  

“Tabbris!” I shouted out loud, interrupting before the head she-bitch could keep going on her rant. At the word, all of them snapped their gazes my way, even as my partner, my sister, stepped out of me. Her hands took hold of the book with Liesje’s spell, and she gave the trio of Olympians, as well as Theia and Pace, a quick wave. “Mama says hi.”

Then she recalled back to me, with the book. Both disappeared from sight.

Kushiel’s eyes went wild with fury as she lunged at me. “If you think we won’t tear Sariel’s spawn from your corpse to take her and the book, you are sadly mistaken, you–” Her voice devolved to a wordless cry of rage as she closed a hand around my neck. I was hauled off the ground and shoved hard against the wall, flailing a bit as she choked me.

“Mother!” Blurting the word again, Theia crossed half the distance between us. “Let her go! We told you, you will not harm any more of our friends. You will not kill any more of my friends.” Her voice cracked with each word, the overwhelming fear evident. In spite of it, she stood straight, staring hard at the woman who had birthed her.

In turn, I saw that blinding rage in Kushiel’s face redirected that way. She slowly turned her head to glare that way while holding me off the floor with one hand. “You…” The word came in a snarl, before she pulled me off the wall and then shoved me hard against it once more, slamming me in a blow that sent a shock of pain through my back. “I told you never to call me that. That word is not for you to use, you pathetic, filthy abomination of a Lie!” The last word came in a shout that sent spittle flying from her mouth.

The shout from Theia, however, was just as angry. Scared, trembling, but angry. “I am your daughter! Hate it, hate me, but you are my mother! You spent thousands of years wishing for a child. Then you had one. You had one! I am your child. Your flesh is my flesh, your blood is my blood!”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Radueriel start to take a step that way. But Abaddon held a hand out to stop him, giving a slight shake of his head when the man looked to him.

“Blood?” Kushiel echoed in disbelief. “Flesh? You… you are a humiliation. I should not have allowed you to take one breath more than the breath you took in the moment I learned you were a Lie!” She was shouting, her rage filling the room. “I was a fool! I believed that my child, my child could learn, that you could beat the handicap that you were born with, that you could be cured. I was wrong. You were a failure at birth and you will remain a failure to your death. Now leave that host so that I may see that that death.”

With those words, Kushiel gave me a hard throw to the side. I hit the ground, sprawling out painfully. But my focus was on the woman herself, who had produced a gleaming silver dagger. Without another word, she hurled that blade across the room. Before I could even think of focusing on a portal, the dagger embedded itself into Pace’s chest, even as both of us (all four, if we counted Theia and Tabbris) screamed.

A girl stood there, form glowing briefly before fading. Pale skin. Dark hair. Theia. The real Theia. She straightened, taking in what had to be the first breath of her own in over a year.

And then she stepped forward, revealing another girl behind her. Pace. Alive. Standing with the bloody dagger in one hand. The wound in her chest… almost nonexistent.

“Your power.” The words that came from Theia just then sounded as though they were occuring to her the moment that she said them. She realized the truth and spoke it in wonder. “It’s your power, Mother.”

As she spoke those words, Kushiel slumped to her knees. Blood thoroughly coated the front of her shirt, while she held both hands against the traumatic wound in her chest, mouth gaping like a fish.

“You killed her,” Theia continued softly, her voice dull with shock. “You killed her. But I am… I am your daughter. I have your power. I… I moved it. I moved the damage. You killed her, just long enough. But I moved it. And you can’t… reflect what’s already been reflected.”

That was it. Theia had inherited her mother’s power to transfer damage. But because Pace had taken lethal damage, even if only for a bare instant before it was transferred, that had allowed Theia to stop possessing her.

Distantly, I noticed Radueriel and Abaddon. Both seemed frozen in confusion and disbelief, incapable of driving themselves to move against what they were witnessing.

From her knees, blood soaking the floor beneath her, Kushiel held her hands tight against the wound in her chest. She lifted her head, speaking a single, trembling word in a voice still full of hate and disgust. “… L… Lie…”

“My name,” her daughter informed her while plucking the dagger from Pace’s hand, “is not Lie.

“It is Aletheia.”

Recognition for that name and what it meant abruptly dawned in Kushiel’s hateful eyes, her mouth opening to spit a denial. But Theia moved first, driving the dagger into her own throat.

Once more, the damage was reflected. And once more, Kushiel was faced with her own power being used against her, as she had used it against so many others over so many centuries. Once more she was faced with a daughter who could hurt her the way that she had hurt her and everyone else for so long.

Once more… and for the last time.

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

On The Edge 42-08

Previous Chapter                                    Next Chapter

No more holding back. No more playing with a handicap of not using my own weapon. It was all or nothing now. I had my weapon, my powers, my sister, everything. And it was a good thing too, since I was going to need all of it to survive the next few seconds. Because these guys? They weren’t holding back either.

Two of the three Seosten were the first to reach me, their boosted speed turning each into a barely visible blurred form. One went high, the other low, sweeping their energy blades toward my neck and legs respectively. As those deadly, glowing blades swept through the air at me, I threw myself into a twisting sideways flip, passing barely between them. My hand slapped down to pass through the lower blade as I absorbed the energy from it.

Landing on my feet in a crouch, I instantly channeled all that energy into my staff. That glowing green outline surrounded it, protecting the weapon from being cut in half as I brought it around to catch the incoming blade from the third Seosten. Even as our weapons rebounded from one another, Tabbris took control of my left hand, creating a nausea-bubble before throwing it toward the Seosten whose blades we had just flipped between. It missed, but the throw at least forced the pair to recoil for an instant. And right now, every instant counted.

The guy in front of me pressed the attack, feinting a swing at my head before flipping his blade around to go for my leg. I ignored the feint, paying attention to what my item-sense power and instincts were telling me about his movements. My still-glowing staff caught his blade, sliding it out of the way. Twice more, he kept at it, his form a blur of motion as he tried to catch me off guard. For those brief seconds, Tabbris was able to boost us just enough to keep up, our weapons colliding with one another repeatedly as I fought desperately just to stay alive.

Unfortunately, it seemed that none of my new friends were interested in following any kind of ‘taking turns’ rule. Not only were these three Seosten attacking me all at once, the trio of Alters weren’t holding back either. The first, a short, squat figure that looked like a chubby porcupine, sent a shower of likely-poisonous needles flying at me. Apparently he could control them, since they very deliberately went around anyone who wasn’t me.

But I wasn’t alone. Tabbris quickly created a portal, catching the incoming needles to send them at the pair of Seosten behind us. At the same time, I was busy sidestepping the lunge from the third Seosten as he tried to take advantage of what he clearly thought would be my distraction. His blade hummed through the air right where I had been an instant earlier.

Now I was beside him, even as the other two Alters (one a lanky wooden Relukun and the other some kind of slimy mud-like man) brought slugthrower rifles into play.

Trusting Tabbris to deal with that, I focused on the guy that I had just stepped beside, hitting the button that launched my grapple. Since it was on the end of my staff that was pointed down, the thing shot into the man’s leg, literally going through it and out the other side as the Seosten let out a cry of surprise.

The two Alters had already opened fire. But my faith in my sister wasn’t misplaced. She was on the job, already using my item-transportation power to position two of our kevlar-spell enchanted bits of fabric right where the bullets were going. She also used the power that allowed me to shrink or grow items that I spent enough time with to make the cloth bits large enough to cover everything they needed to. I took the hits, which felt like little more than pebbles being lightly tossed at my back.

Meanwhile, the other two Seosten had deftly avoided the poison spines, despite the portal making them appear right in front of their faces. They recovered, reigniting their laser blades before coming for me. They were only two steps away as the bullets from the rifles bounced from my back, my weapon currently occupied with the grapple through the third Seosten’s leg.

Tabbris took that one again, triggering a cloud of sand to erupt from my staff before sending it flying into their faces, driving them back a step and halting their charge.

The third Seosten was recovering. He tried to twist around to swing at me, but I ducked under the blade, then hit the button on my staff to trigger its boost before letting go. The weapon flew out of my hand, yanking my opponent off his feet and sending him flying up toward the ceiling with a cry.

With a combination of my item-sense and werewolf reflexes, I spun at the last second, expertly catching the man’s flailing laser sword to tear it from his grip. Sensing my need, Tabbris created another portal right beside us, the other end positioned right beside the Alters who were shooting at us. With the blade in my hand, I shoved it through the portal.

I was quick, but one of them was quicker. The mud-man managed to dive out of the way, leaving only the Relukun to have both hands cut off by the blade. He dropped the gun, stumbling.

With any luck, they could probably fix that later. I didn’t want to kill the Alters, who were either possessed or controlled by Radueriel. I didn’t want to kill them. I was going to do whatever I could to avoid it. Including literally disarming them like that.

Unfortunately, the ‘sand in the face’ trick wasn’t working anymore. The two Seosten each triggered some kind of spell, which created an aura around them that turned my sand to water, taking it out of my (and Tabbris’) control. Shit, now they were just being lightly rained on. It didn’t even seem like that rain was superheated the way the sand had been.

Having fixed the sand problem, the Seosten pair came at us hard. Tabbris barely had time to blurt a warning and shove us out of the way to avoid being skewered on the end of the actual metal sword one of them had produced. Even then, she couldn’t stop us from taking a punch from the other one. Which, since he was boosting at the time, knocked me to the ground and nearly broke my jaw. I saw dark spots and bits of light for a few seconds, the laser sword dropping from my hand.

The guy with the metal sword brought it down straight for my prone body, and it was only at the last possible instant that I managed to collect myself enough to roll onto my side, letting the blade skim past my back to drive itself into the floor. Quickly, I shoved my back against it, using the item-relocation power to teleport the weapon out of his hand. It reappeared down by my feet, even as I kicked out to send it toward porcupine-man, forcing him to dive away from it.

At the same time, the Seosten who had struck me so hard was already rearing back to kick me in the stomach. But Tabbris had quickly used that time to create a portal to my staff. My hand caught it, retracting the grapple to let the Seosten who was hanging by his leg fall to the floor.

With my staff back in my hand, Tabbris used the item-growth power at the exact same time that I was kicking the stolen sword at the porcupine. The staff elongated, slamming into the face of the Seosten who was trying to kick us. The blow knocked him back a step, even as she triggered the stored kinetic boost on the opposite end, lifting me back to my feet.

The mud-man had created some kind of weird acidic-looking ball in both hands by that point, which he hurled at me. At the same time, the Seosten whose sword I had kicked away threw what looked like a small bit of metal at me as well. Halfway there, it exploded, sending a wave of concussive force that hit me like a giant’s fist. The air was knocked out of me, and I was thrown off my feet. The mud-man’s acid ball struck my arm, instantly burning through the skin and muscle there. It was agony beyond description. I screamed, dropping my weapon while falling into a roll as I cradled my injured arm. It looked burned. Badly burned. Even with my pain tolerance power, it was beyond anything I had felt before. Hell, even Tabbris couldn’t completely suppress the pain. Which kind of told me how bad it would have been without help. This was more than just normal acid. It was like the mud-man’s power let him instill supernatural pain in whatever his acidic-mud ball hit.  

It was bad. And it would have been utterly crippling and fight-ending without the combination of my pain tolerance power and Tabbris. As it was, I could barely see straight. But what I did see was the Seosten whose leg I had impaled recovering enough to aim a pistol at me, while the one who had hit me with that concussive explosion spell prepared another one.

No more. I couldn’t let this go on. Ignoring the blinding pain in my arm, I created a portal by my foot, lashing out in a kick that went through that portal, colliding with the hand of the Seosten who was trying to throw the concussive bomb at me. The kick knocked his throw off course, sending it at the Seosten with the pistol instead to create an explosion that put that guy on the ground.

The pain in my arm was already fading enough that Tabbris could get it under control, which allowed me to focus on the mud-man himself. I did not want to be hit by another of those balls, and he was already winding up for a second throw. Clearly, he expected me to be affected longer, because he was taking his time, building up a large blob of that mud stuff which, if it hit me, would probably take me out of the fight for good. If it didn’t just drive me completely insane from the agony.

So it was time to change the equation when it came to this guy. To that end, I focused through the lingering pain, creating a quick portal that led behind the mud-man while shoving the hand of the arm that wasn’t throbbing through it. The other end of the portal led to the back of the mud-man’s head, and I grabbed him. Sure enough, according to the choker, he was possessed. I could see the Seosten inside him.

Thankfully, I could deal with that too. With a thought, I created an instant copy of the expulsion rune on the man’s neck while he was still reacting to the surprise of my hand grabbing him from behind. There was a cry of pain from the Alter, and the Seosten possessing him stumbled out. He resolidified just in time to be hit straight in the face by the same torture-mud that he had been making his host create. Apparently mud-man wasn’t happy about being enslaved, and let the Seosten know about it by hitting him with enough of the stuff to put his former master on the ground with a scream of pain.

The other Seosten, who had been rushing for me, did a double-take of confusion at that. Which I took full advantage of. Using my staff to boost myself back to my feet, I created two more portals, shoving my hands through those as well. The portals were set up near the remaining pair of possessed Alters, the Relekun and the porcupine.

Unfortunately, I only managed to get my hand on the tree-man, insta-casting the expulsion rune there too. The porcupine, meanwhile, touched something on his arm and blurted a single word right as I was about to touch him. In the next instant, my hand struck some kind of frictionless forcefield that popped up. It didn’t seem that tough or protective, but it stopped my hand from reaching him. The still-possessed porcupine shouted something in Latin that came too fast for me to catch, though Abaddon’s name was in there.

Activate Abaddon’s possession shields, Tabbris quickly translated, even as the remaining guys all did the same as the porcupine. So apparently Abaddon had prepared these guys with those low-level forcefields to prevent me (or others, I supposed) from being able to possess them that easily. And now it was doubling as a way of preventing me from using the expulsion rune.

But hey, at least I’d used it on two of them before they caught on. Which meant that now it suddenly wasn’t six on one anymore. It was six on three, assuming my newest friend wanted a piece of his former enslaver as much as the mud-guy did. Not only did the expulsion rune kick those guys out of their hosts, it also rendered the two Seosten briefly incapable of recalling back to them.

Aaaand then things got bad again. One of the Seosten spoke a single word, and both the newly freed mud-man and Relukun collapsed. They just dropped unconscious, taking them out of the fight entirely. Worse, the guy who had been hit with the torture-mud had used some other spell to recover. Now he was up too.

So it was six on one again, except now five of those were hostless Seosten. All I’d managed to do was take two of their ‘body-suits’ away. And left one of them with a pronounced limp from shooting that grapple through his leg. A pronounced limp which stopped being a problem a second later, as the Seosten who had been possessing the porcupine-man hopped out, and the injured one took over his spot.

Now that really wasn’t fair. Not to mention the fact that all these guys were protected from my possession and the expulsion rune. Hell, even my sand was useless since those ‘turn it into water’ spells were still active.

Who the hell could I submit a balance complaint to for this fight?

The force-fields can’t be that strong, Tabbris quickly put in, even as the six collected themselves and focused on me once more. They’re meant to stop quick possession, but if you hit them hard enough, they should go down.

Hit them hard enough, huh? I sent back. Then I guess we’re doing this the old fashioned way.

As if in agreement with that, the five Seosten all ignited laser swords of their own and came for me while the possessed porcupine sent a cloud of poison spikes flying past them. The hard way it was.

Gripping my staff, I waited just long enough for the flying darts to reach me before sending a concussive blast from the end of the weapon that scattered the spines. Which had the added benefit of slowing several of the rushing Seosten as they avoided the redirected projectiles. Two made it through to where I was, one leaping up and over me while the other went straight for my chest with his blade. The one jumping over my head produced a pistol, aiming down before taking several rapid shots.

They were learning. The gun was a slugthrower, and they were trying to shoot at parts of my body not covered by clothing. Not to mention the guy with the laser sword demanding my attention.

Unfortunately for them, they still hadn’t gotten the memo that there were two of us driving this body, so they’d have to do better than that if they wanted to distract us. Tabbris used the item-transfer and enlargement powers to shove yet another kevlar-cloth over the top of my head to stop the incoming bullets. At the same time, I intercepted the incoming laser sword by extending my staff to twice its usual length so that it could connect with the actual handle, sending the sharp metal blade right through the cylinder that the Seosten held. With a sudden shower of sparks and a cry from the man himself, his weapon fizzled and died in his hand. Also fizzling and dying? His forcefield, which collapsed from the combination of the laser sword essentially exploding right next to it and the impact of my blade.

The Seosten flipping over me and firing landed at my back, while I pivoted sharply. The grapple-end of my spinning staff narrowly missed him, but still forced the man to recoil and duck away from it.

And now the other three were there, with the porcupine right behind them. The trio all went for me at once, even as Tabbris created a quick portal for me to shove a hand through. Their blades sliced through the space where I was. Or rather, where I had been, since my grasping hand caught hold of the Seosten whose shield I had just broken. Instantly, we possessed him, and the three energy-blades cut through empty air.

I was in the Seosten now, and I took quick advantage of the disorientation that caused in the others, by spinning back the other way and dropping to one knee. Tabbris had already scanned his mind for the answer to a question I didn’t even have to vocalize, sending me the information instantly. I knew exactly how many shots from their own weapons these shields of theirs could stand up to.

At a thought, a portal appeared in front of me as I forced my new brief host to kneel. With one of his hands, I yanked the laser pistol up, firing rapidly directly through it.  

The porcupine took three, four, five shots from the other end of the portal, which appeared behind him, stumbling forward with a cry as his shield went down on the last shot. By that point, the others had recovered from their confusion, realizing what had happened. But even as they turned on their possessed comrade, I was already hitting the eject while leaving one last order: for him to fall unconscious.

His body collapsed, while I popped out. Before my body had even finished reforming, I used a blast from my staff to throw myself right at porcupine-boy, who was still staggering from the shots that had hit him in the back only a second earlier. Dropping into a roll, I slapped a hand against his foot, triggering another expulsion rune now that his forcefield was down. The Seosten was kicked out of him, and the blade of my rising staff as I rolled to my feet went right through the neck of the reforming figure while he was still staggering from the forceful ejection.

Two down. One dead, one unconscious. Tabbris muted the rush of pleasure, even as one of the remaining Seosten spoke a word that put the porcupine-Alter on the ground. Now all I had were four hostless Seosten. Four rather pissed off hostless Seosten, to be exact.

Three of those four opened up on me with pistols, two energy and one slug thrower. Which, honestly, wouldn’t they have figured this out by now? I absorbed the former, sending the energy back at them while the bullets were caught on one of my repositioned kevlar-cloths.

The answer was yes. Yes, they had figured that out. It was a distraction. I figured that much out a second later, as the fourth Seosten threw up some kind of coin, activating the spell on it to create a portal of his own before throwing what looked like four rubber bands through.

Flick! Tabbris warned, but I was already moving. I knew this trick too, even before my item-sense warned me. The other end of the portal was behind me, and whatever those rubber bands were, I didn’t want anything to do with them.

I was almost fast enough, with the boost that my sister threw on. Three of the four bands missed me entirely, colliding with the floor. But the fourth hit my left wrist. As soon as it did, the band latched on tight while growing. It wrapped around my arm and yanked it to the small of my back, holding it there.

Magic restraints. Clearly the other three bands had been meant to connect with my other wrist and my ankles or legs, incapacitating me completely. As it was, they’d managed to make me literally fight with one hand behind my back. Whatever material it was made out of, it resisted my immediate effort to transport it off my wrist with my item-relocation power. And trying to shift my arm partway into lion-form to snap it just resulted in a sharp spasm of blinding pain as the magic cuff stayed put. So that didn’t work either.

But if they thought that was enough to stop me, they had another thing coming. With my staff held tightly in my free right hand, I threw myself straight at the Seosten. Which, whatever they’d been expecting me to do right then, it obviously wasn’t that.

I was there, right in the middle of their group, while they were still recovering from the surprise that my reaction to having one of my arms tied behind my back was to charge them. Swinging my staff hard through the air, I drove two of the four to stumble backward, while triggering a concussive blast from the other end, which caught the third in the face.

The fourth reacted faster than the others, lashing out with a swing from his laser sword that cut horizontally through the air toward my shoulders. I ducked under the humming blade, pivoting and rising to put myself on the far side of his extended arm before driving my leg hard into his stomach. At the same time, I triggered another boost from my staff and released it so the weapon would fly into the face of one of the first two Seosten. It ricocheted off his shield, but the impact was still enough to knock his head back with a cry.

As my foot rebounded from colliding with the stomach of the Seosten in front of me, I swung it back hard into the sternum of the second of the first two, the one who hadn’t just taken the staff to his face. A quick portal let me bring my falling weapon back to my free hand, even as I pivoted around the Seosten in front of me, the first one that I had kicked. He was still recovering from that blow, even with the forcefield. Which slowed him just enough that my spinning staff collided with the back of his neck, sending him stumbling into the second one that I had kicked.

Those two were briefly caught up with one another. Which left the guy I had blasted in the face at the start of this flurry of fighting and the one who had just been hit, also in the face, with the end of my boosted staff.

Both of them boosted to come after me, and Tabbris boosted us to match them. Which she could only do for a brief time. But brief was all I needed. Letting them come for me, I let the first one swing his energy blade. Another horizontal swing. I backpedaled, then lunged forward and under his second swing.

Now between the two, I let the second guy try his luck. That time, I hit paydirt. Vertical swing. The instant I saw what he was doing, I pivoted on one foot. But I wasn’t dodging. I knew how long the energy blade was. My item sense, even though it couldn’t detect the blade itself, knew where the hilt was. I used that. Turning my back to the man, I ducked forward and raised my back as much as I could.

It worked. The energy blade collided with the magical cuff that had been incapacitating my left arm. Suddenly, it was gone. I was free. And I celebrated my newfound freedom by throwing myself bodily backward to collide with the man who had just cut through my cuff. Both of us went down, though he cushioned my fall while landing hard on his back. The energy blade dropped from his hand from the impact.

Creating another portal down by my feet while lying there, I lashed out with a kick. The other end of the portal appeared right in front of the groin of the second Seosten who had just been swinging his blade at me. From the dulled impact, it was clear that they were smart enough to wear what amounted to magical cups. Still, it made the guy stumble.

Then I disappeared. The remaining three Seosten, including the one I had just kicked, reacted instantly. They turned their weapons on the one I had been lying on top of, flooding the air with what was apparently some kind of stun setting on their guns. The guy was hit by so many of them, he probably wouldn’t wake up for another week.

I almost felt bad for the guy, considering I wasn’t actually possessing him. Yeah, his shield had still been up. Instead, I had simply possessed a tiny wooden coin that I’d dropped next to his body. But it sure looked as though I’d possessed him, and his companions had reacted pretty much as I’d planned.

Three left. While they were still trying to figure out what was going on, I popped out of my little wooden coin, already shifting my weapon to its bow form and loosing a shot. My foot was on the bit of wood, and I instantly transferred it to my hand before throwing it up and over their heads while they were diving away from the exploding energy arrow.

Even as the coin started to leave my hand, right as it was on the tip of my finger, I possessed it. My body vanished into the thing, which flew up through the air. One second I was standing there throwing a bit of wood, and in the next, I was inside the thing as it sailed over them.

With the wooden coin directly above one of the Seosten’s heads, I popped out of it. They were still trying to figure out where I’d disappeared to when I suddenly appeared with my weapon back in its staff form, blade down. Before the guy below me could react, I used a blast from the other end to propel myself at him. The blade collided with the man’s head and kept going, tearing through his shield from the force of the impact to cut straight down through him. The staff basically cut him in half vertically. It was… messy.

Two left. Both of whom were losing their minds right then. They wanted me down now. And they did their best to achieve that by boosting themselves to blinding speed, their forms a blur of motion as they came at me. Tabbris boosted us as much as she could, and the two Seosten were still faster. One slammed his fist into my face, knocking my head to the side with a cry, just before the other kicked me in the stomach with a blow that took the wind out of me while I was thrown backward. My staff fell to the floor with a clatter at their feet.

Too fast, my partner blurted, they’re too fast, I can’t keep up!

It’s okay, I sent back. He can.

He, in this case, was the first Seosten that I had killed in this room. The one whose throat I’d driven the blade of my staff through right after ejecting him from his host. He’d been killed instantly.

But I was a necromancer. And I was pretty God damn motivated right then. At a violent mental shove, the dead Seosten was suddenly back on his feet. He boosted, throwing himself at my two unsuspecting opponents. They turned too late, one of them taking the reignited energy blade through his chest before he even knew what was happening.

The other didn’t stop to question it. His own laser sword cut through the necks of both of his dead companions, taking their heads from their shoulders. A quick expert follow up swing took all four arms from them, and then he was facing me once more, energy blade extended. “Enough of this! You die now!

“You know,” I shot back, “I was with you through the first half of that.” As the man readied himself to come at me once more with a blinding blur that would surely finish me off, I held up both hands as if to show that they were empty.

Then I grabbed the bracelet on my arm, the one that I had gotten from Broker the day before. My finger found the blue button on it, and I spoke a single word.

“Jaq.”

I disappeared. Exactly as advertised, the bracelet transported me instantly to where Jaq was. Which, at that moment, was attached to my staff… directly behind the last Seosten. I appeared in a crouch, my hands already grabbing the two abandoned laser swords from the beheaded (and disarmed) guys. Thumbing them on, even as the guy realized his mistake, I shouted inwardly, Boost!

It wasn’t fast enough to get the guy before he could turn around. But it was enough to get him before he could do anything else. He faced me, mouth open in clear disbelief as I stood there with two borrowed energy blades, one in each hand, driven through his chest.

He fell. And as he did, the weapons fell from my hands as well, even as my arms dropped to my sides as if they weighed a million pounds. I was breathing hard. Everything, going through the hotel, all the possessions, all the fighting, the running, the boosting, the struggling just to survive for another few seconds, all of it for so long, was getting even to me. I had to catch my breath. Six Seosten. Six Seosten and they were down. They were down. Breathe, Flick. Breathe.

And then a sudden, blinding pain in my legs took even that breath away. A strangled scream escaped me, as I fell to the floor. I was bleeding badly. Something–something had cut through both of my legs so deep they were nearly cut off entirely. More than once. Something cut through them more than once. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t think. There was so much blood.

“Well, this was exciting,” Kushiel’s voice spoke, as my bleary eyes snapped over to find a hole in the shield that had been keeping them out. All of them. They were there, the three Olympians. Kushiel, Abaddon, and Radueriel.

“But I think we know how this ends,” the psycho bitch continued while handling the bloody sword that she had used on her own legs while transferring the damage to cripple me. “Not well for you.

“Not well at all.”

Previous Chapter                                    Next Chapter

On The Edge 42-07

Previous Chapter                                         Next Chapter

Catching the swinging arm of the fur-covered figure who was trying to claw me, I pivoted, keeping one hand on his bicep and using the other to grab the back of his neck. With a grunt, I shoved him hard into the nearest wall, then used his body to brace myself as I popped up into a double-kick into the chest of another figure. I used the force from that kick, planting both feet against him and pushing off as he was knocked to the floor, to push myself into a backward flip over the head of a man who had been coming up behind me. My foot kicked his leg out from under him, and as he collapsed I brought the same foot down hard on his back to make him hit the floor with even more force. With one foot there still, I reached out to catch hold of the shoulder of the man I had first shoved into the wall, yanking him backward while stepping aside so that he tripped over the man I had just knocked down. At the same time, three more guys who were running toward me ended up flat on their faces as a cloud of sand flew under their feet.

Got one? I sent inwardly while all that was going on.

Got it, Tabbris shot back, filling my head with the exact information about what she was doing and what she needed, even as the two men on the floor at my feet ended up in a tumbled heap and the one I had kicked was recovering from staggering backward. In the distance, the trio I had knocked down with sand were trying to extricate themselves, but my partner threw more of the sand into their faces. Which would have been bad enough, but this sand was super-heated, so they had to deal with being burned as well. It was… not going well for them.

As the two guys at my feet got themselves situated and lunged at me, I dove into a forward roll to put myself next to the man I’d kicked. All three were right there, practically on top of me as my hand slapped down against the floor. Tabbris used my instant-image power to inscribe a rune into it, before throwing in some of our combined energy to trigger it.

The reverse and increase gravity spell activated, glowing red just before the three men who were diving for me were caught by it. The trio went flying up, slamming hard into the ceiling an instant before the reverse part of the spell cut off, leaving only the ‘increase’ part. Which, of course, yanked them back down again. They landed hard and didn’t move again, aside from a couple of groans.

It was an effect that had been limited to that very small area, and only for a moment. Still, Tabbris would need to recharge for a few seconds, at least. She would watch for another opportunity to use spells that she had learned from her mother over the past couple weeks and let me know.

In the distance, I saw Asenath and Bobbi. The two of them were working together to try and clear a path to the security panel. Unfortunately, the pair had been waylaid by a few controlled security guards and a single Seosten. And they couldn’t make their efforts to clear the path to the panel too obvious, or Kushiel’s forces would figure out what we were trying to do and just destroy it. Or at least make it even harder to reach, which we really didn’t need.  And I couldn’t exactly just use a portal to reach it. I didn’t know precisely where the slot for the USB thing was, and as soon as our friends here saw me groping for it, they’d… again, know to stop me.

No, I had to get to it. And the others were trying to help that happen.

Elsewhere, I could see Roxa in wolf form leaping on top of someone, carrying them to the ground before she bit into their arm. A second later, she shifted into her human self, twisting over to kick an approaching figure hard in the stomach from her prone position, a blow that sent that person flying backward. At the same time, her arm turned into its tree form, extending into an enormous branch that slammed into four more people to knock them over.

Miranda and Theia were fighting together too, also trying to clear a way for me to get to that panel. The two of them (or three, considering Miranda had split herself several times and two of them were there) were teaming up against an adult Seosten who just would not go down.

Further down the hall, the other werewolves of the pack were also fighting. Or… most of them were. Fezzik was on the ground. The big guy… I didn’t think he was ever going to move again. I hadn’t been there to see what happened, but given the size of the silver blade embedded in his chest and the way his head was… yeah. Yeah, he… damn it. God fucking damn it. The other wolves couldn’t even mourn him just yet or they’d risk losing even more of themselves.

He also wasn’t the only one down. A couple of the Seosten who had come in with us were on the floor. I didn’t know if they were dead or not, but… I wasn’t optimistic.

Then, of course, I had another problem. One of the young Seosten who wasn’t on our side was coming after me with a laser sword. He kept slashing at me, forcing me to back up or twist from side to side to avoid each humming swipe while I watched for an opening.

Not far away, I caught a brief glimpse of a third iteration of Miranda from the corner of my eye as the other girl used the metal shield on her arm to create three quick identically-sized and shaped round forcefields before making a quick gesture that sent them flying off to collide with the side of a big guy who appeared to be made of hundreds of different coils of rope all put together into one man-shaped figure. He turned at the blows, just as yet another Miranda hopped on his back, creating some kind of burning fist with one hand as she plunged it into his neck. He roared and jerked backward to throw her off, while that first Miranda ran that way at full speed, leaping up and twisting to plant her feet in his rope-coil chest. The impact sent him falling backward while the second Miranda hopped off. Another one appeared right where the rope-man was falling, already swinging that shield. The flat of it collided with the figure’s head and sent him to the ground, dazed.

Throughout all of that (which was only a couple of seconds), I was bobbing and weaving while backpedaling as the figure with the laser sword continued doggedly after me. Watch for the opening, watch for the opening, watch for it, watch for it…

There! As the man switched up his attack to stab at me instead of slashing with that blade, I created a quick portal with one hand right where his blade was heading. The other end appeared just behind the Seosten’s left leg. Which, since he had stabbed forward, made the energy blade go through the portal to stab himself. The man cried out, dropping the sword. I caught it, spinning to slam the hilt into the side of his head while he was collapsing. He went down and stayed down. For the moment, anyway.

That was the problem. While the Kushiel-aligned Seosten and the possessed or controlled Auberge security had no problems killing any of us, we were trying our level best not to use lethal measures with at least the latter. We really didn’t want to kill the guys who didn’t have a choice with what they were doing. But that was costing us. Had already cost us.

The security panel. It was still there, just past a spot where Larees and that Hasty chick were fighting basically back to back. They were right there, the fighting going on all around the panel. But it wasn’t too damaged. Not yet. Plugging in this USB could still bring us some help. But first, I had to get there.

Briefly, I thought of just shouting out for the Seosten woman or the werewolf and telling them what to do while throwing or portaling the USB to them. But I dismissed the thought just as quickly. Everyone would hear me, and I was pretty damn sure the bad guys would work out that they needed to destroy the panel pretty quick.

Had to get to it. And since whatever the floors and walls up here were made of, it wasn’t wood, I had to get there the old fashioned way. As I took a step, a figure blurred over to my right side. Theia. She flashed me a dangerous smile. “We’ll cover you. Get to the button to deploy presents for all the good boys and girls.”

Her saying the word ‘present’ instinctively made me tense up despite myself. But another voice spoke from my left. One of the Mirandas. “Yeah, we’ll cover you. Go. Go!”

No time to think about how Theia made me feel. Shaking it off, I went for it. The other two girls were on either side, covering me as we raced down the hallway. Theia’s fire and ice guns were busy. Mostly the latter, freezing people’s legs or other limbs. Meanwhile, Miranda’s energy shields kept us safe from that side. They blocked for me, and together we beelined right for that panel.

Four hefty figures were ahead of us. They looked like gray elephant-skinned orc things, and they clearly weren’t in any mood to move. Nor were they affected by either of Theia’s elemental guns, apparently simply absorbing both fire and ice with the only apparent reaction being that the parts of their bodies touched by either turned red or blue.

Oh, right, there was another effect. Namely, they spat out that fire and ice by opening their mouths to send it right back at us. We had to dive to the floor to avoid it. Then roll to either side (Theia one way and Miranda and I the other) so we wouldn’t be trampled as two of the four rushed to do just that, stampeding right where we had just been.

A quick input from Tabbris and I knew what to do next. Kicking myself up and into a roll, I ended right near the nearest gray elemental-absorbing orc and slapped a hand against the black leather pants that he wore. At that brief touch, my partner made a rune appear, once more using that instant-image power. She shoved more power into it, igniting the spell immediately.

The effect was just as immediate. The orc’s pants, and the rest of his clothes, turned to metal. He was trapped in place, utterly incapable of moving. I heard his shouts of confusion as he struggled, but the transformation extended down to his shoes. And they themselves were fused with the floor. He was stuck, and wouldn’t be a threat for awhile.

Unfortunately, there were still the other three. And while Theia/Pace and Miranda were dealing with two of them, that left one. Which was the one that yanked me up off the floor, throwing me into the ceiling hard enough to daze me. As I fell back down, a wild swing from the gray orc knocked the remaining sense from me, and I was pretty sure I blacked out for a second before the collision with a nearby wall snapped me awake once more.

Ow. Oww. At the last instant, Tabbris took over and threw us out of the way just as that same orc tried to stomp where my head had been. Then I was back in control, snapping my foot up and out of his reaching grasp. A thought sent a cloud of sand into his eyes, and I flipped myself backwards to my feet while he was recovering.

Still pain. Lots of pain. Regeneration was working on it, but this wasn’t fun.

Somewhere along the line of being thrown around, I’d dropped the laser sword that I had picked up. But I could still feel it. I knew where it was. As the gray orc–Deunren, Tabbris informed me. As the Deunren growled and lunged for me once more, I made a quick portal in the air above myself. The other end appeared right where my item-sense told me that laser sword was. It fell through, into my upraised hand. I hit the button to ignite the blade and swept it in front of myself quickly. The blade cut off both of the Deunren’s raised arms, making him stumble while crying out.

“Something something disarming pun,” I managed before slugging him in the face as hard as I could. Unable to put anything up to protect himself, he took the blow full on, crashing to the floor.

Hopping over him, I tried to reach the panel once more. There, I was there. I was right there.

Then I wasn’t. A gust of wind or something struck me. It felt like wind, but it was powerful enough to send me spinning down the hallway, tumbling into a heap.

I had no idea what had hit me, or if it had even been purposeful. There were so many powers and weapons being thrown around, I could’ve been targeted or that could’ve been accidental. But either way, now there were even more people between me and where I needed to get.

This wasn’t working. I couldn’t get there. The others couldn’t get there. Everyone who actually knew what to do at the security panel even if I could get the USB to them was pinned down. Larees was there with Hasty still, but neither of them knew what to do with it. And I couldn’t just shout across the– Wait a second. Duh. Stupid, Flick. There was something I could do for that. Part of which I had been practicing with basically all year long.

Keep them off us for a second, I sent inwardly while scrambling in my pocket. Tabbris took over my feet, making us backpedal as more enemies came for us. Two laser shots struck nearby before one hit my chest, but I absorbed it. By that point, Tabbris had sent up a cloud of sand, superheating it. The burning sand flew in a wild circle, forcing everyone back a few steps and giving us a momentary respite.

The whole time, my hands were moving. From my pocket, I managed to pull out Herbie in one hand. With the other, I produced a privacy coin. Quickly, I used it with myself as the only ‘allowed’ person to hear what I was saying.

Then I went back to fighting. Tabbris took over the other part. With Herbie in one hand, she used my–our ability to instill sound in an object. With my voice, she spoke the quick explanation, to plug the USB into the slot on the panel. The power would only let us use sounds that were a few seconds long. But there was a lot you could say in roughly five seconds if you were really motivated to make it fit.

The whole time she was fixing Herbie, I was avoiding all the guys who wanted me to be a smear on the ground. And there were a lot of them. Kushiel’s forces were everywhere. And they were clearly interested in what I was doing.

What I was doing right then, as it happened, was making a portal. The other end came out near where Larees was, and I quickly shoved a second privacy coin against Herbie, lodging it into the spot where his sword was while activating it to only allow the Seosten woman to hear. Then I chucked Herbie and the USB together through that portal while activating the sound projection on him.

She heard. And thanks to the privacy coin, no one else did. I saw Larees use her firebird to clear a space, shouting something to Hasty, who turned into a wolf and lunged onto the biggest of their opponents to clear a path. Larees went right over them, hitting the nearby panel where only a single enemy waited in her path.

The rest of the Seosten knew then. They made a beeline that way, a half-dozen of them converging on the spot where Larees was. They would get to her before she could deal with the single threat in her way and find the slot.

But a figure appeared in front of them. A very… very small figure. Namythiet. She flew down, hovering between the six enemy Seosten and Larees, with that tiny sword held out toward them. She said something I didn’t catch, but part of it was ‘Mister Seth’. The Seosten looked at each other for an instant, then ignored the tiny pixie to lunge past her.

That, ignoring Namythiet, was a mistake that they paid for immediately. Because that little pixie chose right then to show them (and me) why she had named the tiny sword of hers Cataclysm. The blade, itself about the size of a pin, began to glow bright red. A dozen lines of energy shot out away from it in the same positions as the numbers on a clockface, stretching about three feet in every direction before opening up a small portal at the end of each. And from each of those twelve portals appeared several more lines that created more. Twelve initial portals, each with three additional ones attached. Forty eight of them in all. Each were only about a few inches across. But through each of those portals appeared the barrel of various weapons. I saw cannons, rifles, wide-barreled shotguns, some kind of metal coil with electricity humming around it, even a flamethrower.

The literal arsenal instantly unleashed on the briefly paralyzed Seosten. Most of them managed to hurl themselves away from the worst of it at the last second. But two were caught right in the middle and went down for good, while the rest were at least injured. Not to mention the damage done to the wall behind them, which was quite literally blown to shreds. There wasn’t much of a ‘wall’ left to speak of.

It also gave Larees the chance she needed. The woman managed to deal with the only remaining threat that had been in her way, hopping over the falling body to reach the panel. Her hand slammed the USB into place.

And that was enough. The second the last number left her mouth, a dozen portals appeared all along the ceiling. Portals, not doorways. Which made sense. It meant that the turrets that shot down through those portals could actually be housed anywhere and just pop out where needed.

Either way, the turrets appeared and, as promised, began shooting only Kushiel’s forces with some kind of electrical stun blasts that knocked them out. Our side was completely safe, while theirs immediately began to collapse.

It was working. Between the turrets, which amounted to powerful reinforcements, and our own people, we quickly turned the tide against the mix of Kushiel’s Seosten and the controlled security forces. Getting that security to deploy had done the trick. We could hold them until the others managed to show up. We could hold them.

And then the turrets were ripped out of the ceiling. In a spray of sparks, they were torn down from the portals. The metal guns let out a scream of protest while being ripped open and flattened out. In the next second, while I was still realizing what had happened, pieces of the turrets began flying in every direction. Straight at us. One big piece slammed into my side before I could avoid it, knocking me to the ground. Then the chunk of metal literally wrapped around me, fusing itself to the floor while trapping me beneath it.

The same thing was happening everywhere else, up and down the hallway. Not just the turrets, but parts of the walls themselves, even the doors and decorations. They were all tearing their way free and trapping everyone on our side. The werewolves were being pinned in ways that would make it impossible for them to escape even if they shifted.

The green-skinned elf-like figure standing at the end of the hall with his arms going through motions like a conductor. It was him. He continued to pin everyone down. Then his form shifted once everyone was solidly trapped.

Ares. Abaddon. Whatever. It was him. He took back his normal form, while Radeuriel and Kushiel joined him. The three Olympians stood there, observing the corridor for a moment before starting to walk, calmly as they pleased, toward the door.

Where was Athena? Where was… was… anyone else? Where were they?

Not here. That was the answer, or at least the only one that mattered right then. They weren’t here.

Damn it, damn it. Move. I had to do something, anything!

There, Flick! Tabbris moved my eyes, making me look toward the unconscious figure lying nearby. It was one of the Seosten. I didn’t even know whose side they were on. He was several feet away, but that didn’t matter.

I saw Ares shift into another form as they walked, Kushiel casually telling him, “And make sure they don’t wake up any time soon.”

It was now or never. Whatever form Ares had shifted into, it would clearly knock everyone out. Quickly and as surreptitiously as possible, I made a tiny portal, just big enough to stick my finger through. With that finger, I touched the fallen Seosten and quickly possessed him.

My temporary host was unconscious, so I couldn’t see what happened. But I could hear some kind of pop in the air. I waited for a brief moment, then quickly stopped possessing him.

I was kneeling on the floor as I emerged from the unconscious man, keeping myself as low as possible. Ahead of me, the trio of Olympians had been joined by what remained of their forces. It wasn’t much, just three actual Seosten and a couple of the controlled security guards. But that was enough, considering everywhere else I looked, our side was knocked out. They’d been pinned beneath metal, then Ares had done… something. Whatever it was, whatever that popping sound had been, everyone was down. Everyone in the hallway that could have helped was unconscious.

Then it got worse. As the Olympians approached the door that led into the vault, there was a click, a chime, and then the door opened. It just opened for them. Just like that. the door was open. All that, everything we’d done, and Kushiel, Radueriel, and Abaddon were right there in front of the open door. They were about to go through it. They were about to go into the vault. Their little miniature honor guard or whatever it was had already gone inside. They were in.

We’re too late, Tabbris lamented, sounding crestfallen and about as broken as I felt then.

No, I shot back despite everything inside me saying she was right. We’re not. Boost.

With those words, I lunged to my feet. Shifting myself back to my normal form, I hurled myself that way. With everything I had, every last bit of strength and speed that I could drag from the pit of my soul, I sprinted down that hallway. The boost kicked in, and I was almost flying. My hands moved, calling my staff into their grip and pointing it behind me before I triggered the boost from that as well. And then I literally was flying. My feet left the ground as I rocketed straight to that group of Olympians.  Abaddon was at the back, then Radueriel, with Kushiel at the front. All of whom could kill me practically with a thought.

I hit them from behind. Only I didn’t hit them. I possessed them… all of them, in a line. One by one, starting with Abaddon, I possessed each one just long enough to avoid physically colliding with them before popping myself back out the front. I didn’t stay long enough to bother with a mental domination fight, because I wasn’t trying to control them. I possessed Abaddon, popped out through his front, immediately possessed Radueriel from behind before going out his front, and finally did the same with Kushiel. One by one, before my body even had time to shift properly from the glowing energy form that it took when exiting someone, I threw myself through all three of them, rocketing out of Kushiel before ending in a dive that took me the rest of the way into the vault itself.

As I passed through the last of them, my hand produced that crystal that Wyatt had given me. I let it go, before flipping over in the air. My staff was already shifting into its bow form as I took aim, drawing back an energy arrow. With a grunt, I released it, shooting the arrow back that way right as I landed in a crouch.

The arrow collided with that crystal, shattering it. I caught a brief glimpse of trio of Olympians there at the doorway, just as the spell on the crystal activated. A thick wall, appearing to be made of a mostly opaque crystal itself, appeared to block that doorway.

I was there. I was in the vault, which itself was mostly an empty circular room. Empty, that was, aside from a single pedestal in the middle of it with a book sitting on top. I was there and, for the moment, the Olympians weren’t.

It wouldn’t keep them out for long. But maybe… just maybe, it would be enough. Every second counted, and I had to hope… I had to believe that help was on its way. Deveron and the others in the panic room, Avalon, Gaia, and everyone else coming in through the other side. Seconds mattered. However long it would take Kushiel and the other two to break through that… whatever it was that Wyatt had given me, it might just be long enough.

Of course, I wasn’t in here alone. There were three non-Olympian Seosten and three other figures in here with me, all of whom looked pretty pissed off right then.

Help was on the way. It had to be. They were coming. But so were Kushiel, Radeuriel, and Abaddon. The first question was who would make it first.

And the second question, which sprang to mind as the guys in the room with me drew weapons of their own, was whether I would survive long enough for that to matter.

Previous Chapter                                         Next Chapter

Patreon Snippets 5

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

The following is the fifth volume of Patreon Snippets. Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month is able to request five hundred words toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. Thanks go to them, as well as to all supporters, and to all readers. 

Sariel’s Eldest Missing Child – Several Years Ago

“Come, Nihil.”

Kushiel entered the pristine medical room at a crisp walk, beckoning with her fingers for the child at her heels to keep up. The young girl herself looked to be about five in Earth human years, which would have made her roughly three as far as the Seosten home planet of Elohim was concerned. Her light blonde hair was worn short, almost into a buzz cut, and she wore a simple silver hospital gown, with flashes of a blue Seosten bodysuit visible beneath it as she moved.

The room the two of them entered was taken up almost exclusively by various medical and scanning equipment that lined every wall. In the middle was a single bed, its occupant sitting up and watching them. He was an older man, his long hair gray and his face lined from many millennia of life. Though he was looking their way, he showed no change of expression at their entrance aside from a single blink. Beyond that, his face was empty.

Gazing up at the man, the young girl asked, “This is your husband, Mistress?”

Rather than answer, Kushiel pointed to a single chair that sat in the corner. “Sit, Nihil. Be silent.” She waited until the girl obediently did so before turning to the man. “Puriel,” she announced, stepping that way to take his limp hand. “Puriel, look at me.”

He did so, eyes moving to meet hers and focusing slightly better than they had been. “Kushiel,” he started in a voice that was rough, a testament to how seldom he used it lately. “Are they alive?”

Sighing with obvious annoyance, Kushiel shook her head. “Just like the last time you asked, and the time before that, and every time stretching back to the first, no.” She pulled his hand up to put both of hers around it. “Husband. Love. You have to stop this. It was years ago. The orphanage chose to take you in. They chose to care for your wounds after your transport through the banishment orb. They cared for you when you didn’t know who you were. And yes, you were in no shape to protect them when the Fomorians came. They died, my husband. But you survived. You survived, and now you remember who you are. You have to move on. Your people need you.”

His gaze had gone empty again, as he stared off at nothing. Stared at his memories. Kushiel sighed, dropping his hand as she turned to the nearby counter where various instruments lay. “This is Sariel’s newest spawn.” Her hand waved vaguely to where Nihil sat. “I’ve told you about her. I brought her here because she’s ready for the first experiment.”

Puriel’s eyes focused once more, looking at her. “Experiment,” he repeated the word as though it was entirely foreign to him. Which wouldn’t be surprising, given how much of his mind had been damaged first by the loss (and subsequent return) of his memories about himself through the banishment orb, and then the trauma of every person, adult and child alike, in the orphanage that had taken him in being violently murdered by the Fomorians.

“Yes,” Kushiel snapped a little impatiently. “Experiment. Our daughter, Puriel. We have to fix her. Sariel’s spawn there is a Lie as well.” She smirked. “Even the great Artemis produced a Lie. How shamed must she be?”

“Artemis,” Puriel echoed, head tilting once more. “Sariel.”

“Yes, yes, the one who helped do this to you.” Angrily, Kushiel waved at the man with the laser scalpel she had picked up. “So what justice will it be to make her spawn do whatever experiments it takes to finally find a cure for our daughter? I have… ideas. Ideas I would not put our child through. But that?” She waved to the obediently seated child. “That I will feel no guilt over.”

She turned back to the table then, picking up a vial of red liquid to examine before setting it aside for a glowing green vial instead. Behind her, Puriel spoke again. “Experiment… you will… hurt the girl.”

Sighing long and low, Kushiel kept her attention on the various tools and vials. “To fix our child so that she is not a failure, I will hurt many, yes. You don’t have to concern yourself with it. I have several ideas… such as this.” Holding up what looked like a thin metal rod about three inches long with tiny red glowing spellforms drawn along it, she explained, “Inserting one of these into the spine of two different Seosten should make the first follow the actions of the second while they’re active. Including possessing and then not possessing. If a Lie can’t stop possessing on their own, perhaps they will if they’re remotely controlled by a non-Lie.”

Puriel’s voice came back then. “You can’t hurt the girl.”

Annoyed, Kushiel set the tools down. “For the last time, husband, you must let go of this absurd guilt. Nothing that happened to those–wait.” In mid-sentence, the woman sensed something wrong. She turned, only to find the bed empty. Instead, Puriel was standing next to the chair where the child she had dubbed Nihil was. He had taken the girl’s hand.

“No!” Kushiel blurted, spinning around so fast she knocked over the tray full of vials and tools to crash along the floor. “Get away from–”

It was too late. The girl vanished, reflexively possessing her husband in fear from the loud crash of everything Kushiel had knocked over. With a loud, violent curse, the woman lunged that way to grab her husband by the arms. “What were you doing?! What–Puriel?”

His eyes focused, and the man nodded. “I am here. I… am here. What happened?”

“You just–” Kushiel paused, then sighed once more. “You had one of your fugue states. It… never mind.” Her anger was evident through the way she clenched her fist so tightly, speaking through gritted teeth. “I will just have to find another specimen, since you had to destroy that one.”

She moved to pick up the fallen equipment then, grumbling to herself. Meanwhile, Puriel stared off into the distance, as a small voice spoke in his head.

Where… where am I?

In me, the man thought back. You are a part of me.

But I can’t leave, the child hesitantly informed him. I’m not supposed to touch people. It’s bad. Touching is bad. You… you made me. Why?

Sariel’s child, came the simple response. Her children are Lies. Her…  I remember… children are Lies. I won’t let you be hurt. Not… not this time. Not this one.

I don’t understand, Mister.

Neither do I. But you are safe. I won’t crush you. I won’t… hurt you. I will raise you. I will… show you what I know.

I will keep you… safe.

******

Norbit Drish – Last Month

“Yo man, chu know I ain’t like saying bad things ‘bout my homeys. It ain’t fly.”

“Mr. Drish,” Klassin Roe addressed the nineteen-year-old, pale and skinny boy across the desk from him. “No one is asking you to say bad things about your friends. I only asked if you still feel as though he is… different than he was last year.”

For a moment, Norbit (not that anyone was allowed to call him by that hated name) rocked back and forth in his seat, considering the words. “Yeah, man, I mean… sure, it ain’t as bad as it was before, but he still ain’t really here, right? He ain’t like– It’s like, he didn’t give a shit about nothing at first. That was bad. Like–lazy or something. Like he gave up. Then all of a sudden it’s like he do care, but he only care ‘bout that Freshman team, right? Like, like, all his effort going that way and the rest of us, we’re just like… not even there for him, you know? I mean, we there, but we ain’t there. Like he don’t really– like he like us, but not like us like them, you know?”

Klassin stared at him for a moment, then turned his head to cough once. “I think I have the general idea, yes. Do you still see him as a good teammate, as a friend?”

“Hey, he’s a solid guy.” Drish shot back, using two fingers to point emphatically. “Deveron’s always got my back. You know, when he’s there. But he ain’t wanna like… he ain’t wanna hang out. He does work. He aces the tests, he’s all over that shit. But he never wants to–ya know, shoot the shit without actually shooting. He never wants to chill.”

Leaning back in his seat, Klassin nodded. “He’s good to have around, he does all the work. But he’s not really much of a friend to you. He doesn’t play games with you, doesn’t hang out.”

“Right, right, yeah.” Drish’s head bobbed up and down as he pointed at the man. “Like that. Like, if you need him, he’s right there. Always count on him in a fight. But like… if you don’t need him, can‘t ever find him. We used to be buds. We was tight last year. So tight, like this.” He crossed his fingers. “Now he just always running off on his own. Doing his own shit, or shit with those Freshmen. I mean, that’s cool and all, he’s working on the next gen and shiz, whatever. But throw a dog a bone, you know?”

Klassin considered the boy thoughtfully for a moment. “He was one of your best friends last year, and now he never hangs out. I understand. People change, and it can be hard sometimes.”

“Psshhh.” Waving his hand unconvincingly, Drish sat back. “Ain’t no big. I gots plenty of homeys to hang with. Don’t really need another one crowding me out. Ain’t gonna cry about it. Nice to have space. Space to stretch, you hear?”

With a nod, Klassin replied, “I do hear, thanks. But tell me one thing. What do you think of Deveron this year?”

“Man…” Starting to dismissively wave that off once more, Drish then hesitated. “It’s like… he’s a great fighter, great Heretic, good at all that shit. But I miss just like…doing nothing, you know? I miss hanging with him. Sitting on the beach just chilling. He never wants to do nothing. Always gots something to stay busy with. It’s exhausting just watching him.” Seeming to realize that he’d opened up too much for his own liking, the boy finally made a dismissive noise. “But whatevs, just chill with some babes. His loss.”

“Indeed,” Klassin agreed with the boy. “But let’s talk about something else. You went home for your birthday last week, right? Why don’t you tell me how that went?”

******

Remember Bennett – Present Day

Remember Humility Bennett. Many years earlier, she had been one of the original founding members of Eden’s Garden, before soon becoming one of the Victors of an entire tribe. It went through several names throughout the course of its history, the most recent one being Lost Scar.

She was also the mother of the late Edeva, who had in turn married Lyell Atherby and been mother to Joshua Atherby.

Remember’s great-granddaughter was Joselyn Atherby. Her great-great-granddaughter was Felicity Chambers.

“Victor Bennett?” A soft, hesitant voice interrupted the woman, as a demure young woman appeared in the doorway of her office. “I–I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am. You said you wanted to be informed if there was any news of the missing tribe students.”

Turning from the names that had been scrawled on the wall, Remember focused on her young assistant. “Yes, Aconitum. Did they find Trice?”

“Err…” The girl shook her head. “No, ma’am. It’s about Pace. The… men who were sent to give the warning to the Fellows woman–errr, that is… your… I mean–”

“My great-great-granddaughter, yes,” Remember dismissively finished for her with a wave of her hand. “I am well aware of the nuisance she’s made of herself and the situation surrounding her. Go on.”

Aconitum told her the story, at least as much as they knew, about what had happened back at the Bystander clothing shop. Men were dead, while Abigail, the newly dubbed Stray, and Pace were on the run.

“A werewolf…” Remember murmured under her breath. “No wonder she vanished for so long.” Clearing her throat, she ordered, “Take whoever is needed and find them. Find her. Pace is the priority. I want her brought back here. There may be a lot to learn from the girl if she has been taken into a wild pack.”

Her assistant hesitated before slowly asking, “And your, err… descendent, Victor? Shall we send a request to Crossroads to have her daughter brought in for questioning? They may be amenable to that in exchange for some favors.”

“Yes,” Remember agreed. “Send the request and see what they want in return. Go.”

Waiting until the girl had bowed and left, the old woman turned back to look at the name on the wall once more. Felicity Chambers. No wonder her primitive precognitive power had been pushing her to write the girl’s name. Though Aconitum wasn’t aware of Chambers’ relation to Abigail (or who their mother was), Remember was fully aware of it.

Chambers. The girl had such potential, that much was clear. It was too bad that Remember had failed to follow her first instinct to insist that she be recruited by Garden. Having the potential of that girl under her supervision, before she could be corrupted by Gaia Sinclaire, would have led to great things.

It was a shame, because it was clear that Felicity Chambers had the same great potential as her mother. And just as clear that she had already at least begun to be swayed to the wrong side in this war.

Losing more of her descendants would be a waste. Perhaps there was still time to right the course of things? That may be what her precognition was trying to tell her by making her write the girl’s name so often. A replacement for the loss of Doxer, perhaps? She had been the one to kill the boy, after all. Sinclaire would object, but if she could convince Ruthers that the girl would be better off outside of that woman’s influence…

Hmm. Her descendant… brought back to line as a member of her tribe. It was something to think about. A long shot, of course, and yet… as much as the girl had grown in such a short time, she could be an asset.

It was worth considering, at least. And if she could not be convinced to turn away from the same foolishness that had caused her mother to create such a rift in the Heretical world, then… she would need to be silenced, before she ended up making things worse.

And who better to ensure that happened than her own great-great-grandmother?  

******

Fossor – Present Day

It was known as Hidden Hills, a gated off community several minutes drive from the edge of a small town in Idaho. It was set up against a range of hills and reachable only via a partially paved road. To the outside world, it was either a retirement community or a cult, no one was quite sure which.

The truth was quite different. Hidden Hills was actually a collection of barracks and training grounds established by a man who called himself Sheol. A self-styled warlord who had broken and forcibly recruited numerous small bands of previously warring Alter groups, Sheol hammered fear of his displeasure into his troops, tempered against the great rewards they received for obedience. Hidden Hills was only one of his training centers, though possibly the largest. What he intended to do with his rapidly growing army was unknown to any but him.

Unknown, but… in at least one man’s opinion, not worth waiting around to find out. That particular man stood in the middle of the road, facing the gate that led into the community. His unassuming, vaguely husky figure appeared less a threat and more a simple tourist who had managed to get himself turned around on these confusing backroads.

Those who knew him, however, would never believe that the two dozen figures who appeared at the gate with firearms and other weapons raised and trained on the man was an overreaction. Indeed, their questions would more fall along the lines of why those men believed two dozen would be enough. Or perhaps why they wasted time with that when they could have been fleeing.

“Well,” Fossor remarked quietly as his eyes passed over the weapons trained on him. “I suppose this leaves out the possibility of asking to see your real estate listings.”

“Leave, necromancer.” The leader of their band, a jackal-headed figure with a wide shotgun-type weapon, demanded. “The grounds here are warded against your magic. You can raise no zombies, summon no ghosts, manipulate no skeletons. You have no power within two miles of these gates.” Even as the man spoke, another couple dozen armed figures joined them, doubling their initial numbers.

If those words (and the reinforcements) were a revelation, or particularly worrisome, Fossor gave no indication of it. He simply gave the man and his companions what might have been mistaken for a kind smile if one didn’t see the empty coldness in his eyes. “Is that right? Well, in that case… I suppose there’s nothing else to be done.” With an idle shrug, he turned to start casually strolling away. With each step, a cloud of dark ashes emerged from the canteen that had appeared in one hand. The ashes flew down to lead the man’s path so that he only stepped on them, creating a black path along the road.

After a few steps, however, he stopped. With those weapons trained on him, the man slowly tilted his head as though considering something. “Unless,” he murmured while raising one finger thoughtfully, “… there were youth in your stronghold back there.”

Slowly turning back that way, Fossor began to continue, only to be interrupted at the sound of a gunshot. That was followed by three more, as a collection of holes appeared in his chest. A final shot put a hole in the center of his forehead.

The gunfire faded at a shout, leaving the gathered troops staring at the necromancer… who appeared none the worse for wear. Indeed, the holes that had appeared in his body vanished almost instantly as his connection to his homeworld shifted the damage to one of the billions of enslaved life forms who dwelled there. His people were connected to him at all times, and any damage done to him was immediately shunted to them. So long as his connection to that world remained active, they would literally have to kill billions of what amounted to hostages before any damage could be done to the necromancer himself.

When the only evidence of the sudden attack that remained were the holes in his white shirt, Fossor raised a hand, touching a finger against the fabric there before uttering a single word. The holes patched themselves, erasing even that sign.

Then, without seeming to acknowledge the assault in any other way, he simply continued speaking. “If there were youth in there, teenagers… well, they might be a bit rebellious. They might… say… sneak out of your complex now and then, to visit town and… express themselves.”

Slowly, casually strolling back the way he had just come, the man went on. “And these… hypothetical rebellious youths could find themselves over the course of… mmm… a couple weeks being talked into receiving tattoos as a sign of the… I don’t know, unity of their little gang. Tattoos of… let’s just say a particular magical spell which, upon their death, causes them to rise once more to attack and brutally murder everyone they see without that tattoo… well, that’s the kind of spell that wouldn’t be affected by your necromancy blockers. Since they brought it in themselves.”

Regarding the increasingly nervous and skittish soldiers, Fossor gave a thoughtful hum. “Of course, the real question would be how to ensure those deaths all happened at a useful time. One can’t simply depend on even the most morose of teenagers to do something useful like a group suicide, after all.” His finger rose illustratively. “But… if, say… the ink in those magical tattoos happened to be of a particular incredibly lethal poison set to activate at a certain time… such as… say…”

Slowly, deliberately, the man raised his arm to look at his watch. As he did so, the sound of screaming and gunfire filled the air. It came not from the troops assembled before the necromancer, but from the stronghold behind them. Smoke rose from several buildings, as the screams of horror and rapidly rising stench of death grew with each passing second.

“Thirty seconds ago,” Fossor finished, giving an apologetic smile. “Oops.”

Some of the men opened fire, to no avail. Most immediately gave up that endeavor and raced back into the stronghold, to put out fires, to put down their risen children, to save their friends. None of those efforts would prove any more fruitful.

As for Fossor, he calmly adjusted his shirt and gave his thumb a slight lick before using that to polish a smudge off of his watch. A cloud of ashes rose from his canteen to create a path to the open gate, and he slowly, casually strolled that way to enter the compound.

Within the hour, there would be nothing left save empty buildings.

*******

Lies/Theia – Last Year

A portal opened into a field of grass set beside a wooden cabin. Nearby stretched the crystal clear water of a lake, with a couple of kayaks and other boats tied to a dock.

Through that portal stepped a single, pale figure with brown hair and matching eyes. Appearing to be about fifteen by human standards, the girl set foot on the grass before looking around curiously. Her head tilted back, and she spread her arms to both sides while looking at the sky with her mouth open to taste the air.

The Lie daughter of Kushiel and Puriel had never set foot on Earth before. Nor had she been outside on any planet more than a handful of times. This was… in many ways, a new experience.

She had only stood there for a few seconds like that before the sound of approaching footsteps drew her attention. Lowering her gaze from the sky, she was just in time to spot a small figure running not along the ground, but over the roof of the nearby cabin.

“Hiya!” The call came with a wave, before the figure turned into a blur of motion, going all the way across the roof to hop from one tree to another, then to a third like a some kind of turbocharged squirrel. Leaping from the third tree in the span of less than two seconds since her movement had begun, the small figure rocketed across the remaining distance between them before snapping to an almost vibrating stop directly in front of the newly arrived girl.

The so-called Lie tilted her head, taking in the figure in front of her. She was clearly much younger, appearing to be only nine or ten years old at most. Which, given the fact that Seosten aging didn’t slow for several years after that, meant that Lies was actually over a decade older than her.

The younger girl had dark hair, her eyes so pale they were almost white. She wore urban camo pants, and a white hoody that seemed almost too big for her diminutive figure. And she gave Lies barely a second to take her in before launching into a spiel that came so fast and free of any particular pauses that it was almost impossible to follow.

“Hiyayou’rethenewgirlrightyeahthat’srightwhyelsewouldyoubeheremyname’sDecemberwhat’syours?”

“Breathe, December.” The voice came from the cabin behind them, as a six-foot tall blonde woman emerged. She wore a glittering red gown that made it appear as though she had just stepped from the dance floor of a dinner party for some royal wedding. “Remember what we talked about, leave some space between your words.”

She was joined a moment later by a dark skinned woman who appeared to be in her twenties who wore a very ruffled tan trench coat over a white shirt, and an enormous Hispanic man with heavily patched and fraying clothes.

“Hello,” the blonde woman politely greeted Lies. “We were told you would be coming to pay us a visit while your… group settles in, until a new body can be found for your mission. I am January. You’ve met December already. These are July and September.”

“Julie,” the black woman corrected. “It’s Julie.”

The large man gave a nod. “And you can call me Tember.” He showed a toothy smile. “Like timber.”

Confused, the new arrival tilted her head. “Why are you giving me names? We are all Lies, aren’t we? Lies don’t have names.”

“Hey!” The sharp retort came from a different girl. This one, arriving from around the side of the cabin, appeared to be what the humans would call Asian in her late teens. She wore simple army fatigues with her hair cut short. “We don’t use that word around here!” Clearly bristling with anger, she stormed that way before yet another figure caught her arm.

“May’s right,” that one, a thin man with dirty-blond hair who wore a flannel shirt tucked into his jeans, announced. “We don’t use the L word. Like I said, she’s May. I’m November.”

“We,” announced a black man in a white suit whose dark hair fell to his shoulders as he stepped into view, “are the Calendar. And we do not allow others to define our worth with their contemptuous slurs.” To the new arrival, he added, “February. Though I have been known to answer simply to Feb.”

“Only because I won a bet that made him answer to it.” The correction came from what appeared to be a teenage girl around fourteen or fifteen, with long red hair. She wore clothes that were the spitting image of the uniform worn by the Heretical Crossroads students, and introduced herself as April.

Before long, they were joined by the remaining four members of the so-called Calendar. There was the incredibly quiet and apparently very introverted March, who stood as tall as Tember and had green hair fashioned into a crewcut; a Caucasian man in his mid-thirties who wore a lab coat over a Hawaiian shirt and went by October or Otto, another man around twenty or so with close-cropped dark hair in dark clothes and a white jacket who was June; and a much older man called August whose gray hair went well with his perfectly tailored suit.

Looking around at the gathered dozen, Lies blinked twice. “You wear different clothes,” she noted. “You call yourselves different names. You refuse to answer to the name Lie. Why?”

It was August who spoke, his voice a smooth timbre. “We are the Calendar. We serve Cahethal, and in exchange, we maintain our individuality as we please.”

“Hemeanswedoagoodjobandshelikeswhenwedoagoodjobsosheletsusdowhatwewantwhenwe’renotonajobsowedon’thavetogobackt–”

As December warp-sped her way through her version of the explanation, April took a step forward to cover the younger girl’s mouth. “Sorry, I’d say she’s just excited to meet you, but she’s pretty much always like this.”

“It’s true,” January confirmed. “She is not one to sit still. Which is why she is never assigned to simple, long-term quiet surveillance. The last time we tried that, the humans were treated to the sight of a raccoon repeatedly performing backflips and cartwheels out of a tree before giving them an intricate dance routine set to music from a nearby stereo.”

“I got bored,” was December’s only defense.  

“You possess animals,” Lies put in then, “not people.”

“Animals are easier to dispose of so that we may emerge without drawing attention to missing people,” Otto explained while polishing his glasses on the end of that incredibly loud shirt. “We keep a veritable zoo beneath our feet here.” He tapped the ground demonstrably. “Perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to show it to you before your leader calls for your return.”

“Indeed, perhaps we will,” January agreed. “But for now, come. It’s time for lunch.”

The collection of Lies-who-didn’t-call-themselves-Lies began to walk back to the cabin, leaving Kushiel’s daughter to stare after them. They were… odd. Very odd. What kind of Lie refused to answer to that word?

She couldn’t even imagine it.

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

Mini-Interlude 68 – Olympian Origins

Previous Chapter                                   Next Chapter

Several Thousand Years Ago

Three figures, one much smaller than the others, stood in front of the great transparent wall of the space station Aquilari’s observation deck. Before them lay the vastness of space, filled with innumerable stars, galaxies, and worlds beyond comprehension or belief. The universe, itself to the larger multiverse as this single station was to the galaxy it lay within.

“Are we really gonna see it all, Uncle Lucifer?” The soft, reverent voice came from the child, as she stood between her older companions. Chayyiel, only ten years old, could not hope to comprehend the scale of what lay before them. Despite all the incredible power that had been thrust onto her, despite the accident that had made her into what could become one of the most powerful Seosten in existence, she was still a child. She was still innocent.

With a slight smile at that, Lucifer exchanged a glance with Sariel. She, in turn, returned the smile. Which was nice, considering he was one of the few people she seemed comfortable enough to smile with. Shy and withdrawn, his female partner didn’t tend to do much talking. She let him do that. And he was good with the arrangement, since he loved to talk.

Even before his own enhancement. An enhancement that had been just as accidental as both Sariel’s and Chayyiel’s. All three of them, accidents.

Well, mostly accidents. Chayyiel’s father had intended to expose her to the physics-defying energies of the other-world. But only for a short time, just long enough to… to help her. Unfortunately, it had gone wrong. The man had been distracted and taken away from his work at the worst possible time. Which resulted in Chayyiel being abandoned in that other-world and assumed lost forever. At least until Sariel and Lucifer, his lab assistants, had saved her with the help of one of the actual project subjects, a man named Amitiel. He had been the one who came to the two in the first place, pleading with them to do something to save the girl. He had begged them to go beyond all safety measures, pleaded for them to not just bend the rules, but shatter them in order to open the portal again and get the girl out.

They had done so, at the cost of destroying the Seosten’s only method of accessing that other-world.

For some time, there had been talk of locking Lucifer and Sariel up, of containing them to some prison lab, of… doing any number of things that angry people talked about doing when something as bad as losing access to the ability to create ageless super soldiers happened. But in the end, higher powers had decided that since their numbers of project successes were limited, throwing away any of them wasn’t viable. The two had instead been assigned to the same exploratory ship as the rest of the products of that project. Though they were currently given no real assignment, being relegated to caring for and watching over Chayyiel herself.

Lucifer didn’t mind that either, any more than he minded being the ‘face’ of his partnership with the shy Sariel. Chayyiel was a good kid, and smart as hell even before she had been upgraded.

“We’re gonna try,” he replied to the girl’s question, giving her a wink. “It’s a pretty big universe though. It’ll take a long time.”

“Very long,” Sariel quietly agreed. Her hand moved to Chayyiel’s shoulder, squeezing it. She had been the one to come up with the solution that allowed herself and Lucifer to extract Chayyiel. It was a solution that had ended up destroying the project itself, even as it saved one child’s life. Lucifer had tried to take that blame for himself, but it was one time where Sariel had not meekly and quietly allowed him to take the lead. He’d wanted to spare her from being the focus of so much anger, yet she had done so anyway, confessing that it was her plan.

Seeing her small, fragile figure hunched in on herself while being bombarded with so much vitriol from the investigative committee had been the one and only time in his life to that point that Lucifer had been tempted to murder other Seosten. And not just one of them, but each and every figure who had been hounding, insulting, and belittling the woman beside him.

Not deterred in the least, Chayyiel’s head bobbed up and down. “Uh huh, but we’ve got time, right?” She looked first toward Sariel, then to Lucifer, eyes shining with curiosity and innocence as she firmly declared, “We’ve got lots of time to see everything out there.”

Chuckling, the man put his hand on the opposite shoulder from where Sariel’s still was. Both of them stood there with their hands on their young charge. “You’re not wrong about that,” he admitted while turning his gaze back to the stars. “We do have a lot of time.” Curiously, he asked, “So, how long do you think it would take to see everything there is to see out there? Every star, every world, every moon, everything. How long would it take us to see  all of it?”

Chayyiel blinked at that, face scrunching up with thought for a few seconds before guessing, “Ten thousand years?”

“Longer than that.” That was Sariel, her voice quiet, yet firm. “Much longer.”

“She’s right,” Lucifer agreed. “You want to see everything, you better settle in for the long haul. There’s a lot of stuff out there. And,” he added, “a lot of danger. Not just Fomorians. Other things too. A whole universe worth of monsters and problems.”

“We can handle it.” Chayyiel’s voice was assured, arms folded across her stomach as she gazed out at that starfield, determination written across her face. “We’re gonna see it all. And we’re gonna end the war with the Fomorians. We’re gonna fix everything.”

Again, Sariel and Lucifer exchanged brief glances. That time, it was Sariel who spoke up first. “If anyone can do it, you can.”

We can,” Chayyiel corrected.

“We’re gonna do it together.”

******

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome… aboard the Olympus.”

Pride filled the voice of the man who made that announcement. The figure, who was just barely under six feet in height, with black hair that was lined at the temple and along the sides with silver, smiled. It was a smile that spoke of adventure, of daring, and of battles yet to come.

His name was Puriel, and this was his ship. He stood directly in the middle of the bridge, surrounded on all sides by the consoles that his people, his people would use to direct the ship along their journey, through their missions. This pristine, almost perfectly white with hints of gold room was the command center, the brain of one of the most technologically and magically advanced ships in the entire Seosten fleet. Entire planets had worked to put this single ship through its theoretical, testing, and practical phases. And now it was real. It was complete.

And it was theirs. The products of the Summus Proelium Project, the experimental upgrading process created by Director Aysien, who had been granted an endless lifespan as their aging was frozen, along with other enhancements and unique, individual gifts, had all been gathered onto this single ship. A single ship with a single mission: to explore the vast, unending reaches of space and find some advantage that would allow the Seosten to finally finish the forever war. It was a war that had been raging for hundreds of thousands of years. Literally dozens of generations of the Seosten, whose members lived roughly ten thousand years by themselves, had come and gone without ever experiencing anything except this war against Cronus’s children, the Fomorians.

And now, Puriel’s people, his people, would have a chance to find a way of ending that war, of ending the threat that the Fomorians posed to the entire universe, once and for all. Yes, he felt pride at that fact. Yes, he felt immeasurable happiness at the very thought that his children might, might grow up in a universe where they would be safe.

That thought made his gaze move to the console near the very back of the bridge, next to the main door. And to the beautiful figure who sat there, looking back at him from across the room. Tall and regal, with a beauty that was matched only by her sharp wit and sharper tongue for those who had failed her, Kushiel still took his breath away. To have a child with her, to give that child a chance to live in a universe free of the Fomorian threat… he still held to that hope, to that dream. Old as he was even now, that was a dream worth working for.

And he could live to see it. His age, like all of the crew of the Olympus, had been frozen. Unless killed by some outside means, they would never die. They could, conceivably, actually live to see the end of this war, and whatever would come next.

But the others were watching. As much as he felt that he could lose himself in the gaze of his wife forever, this was too important of a day. So, Puriel pulled himself back, clearing his throat. “Logistics,” he used Kushiel’s position rather than her name. Must stay professional. “Report.”

Granting him one of her rare, yet beautiful smiles before it vanished behind a mask of professionalism, Kushiel gave one slight nod, her voice crisp. “Yes, Trierarch. All supplies are in the green. Fuel stores are reporting maximum capacity. Weapons are pristine. We are clear for six months of regular rations and travel before restock and refuel will be required.”

“Good to know how long we’ve got ahead of us,” Puriel replied with a broad smile. He couldn’t help it. He was professional, not dead. Still, he cleared his throat before his gaze moved slightly to the next station. “Engineering?”

Radueriel returned his brief smile, giving a hand gesture that was part wave and part salute. “Believe me, Trierarch, we are just fine down in the engine room. The boys and I have spent the past week going over every millimeter of that beauty down there. She’ll get us where we need to go, and give a little kick to anyone that tries to stop us from getting there.”

“Given the things we’ll be running into,” Puriel replied, “it better be a big kick.” He turned his attention to the next console over then. “Tactical?”

Auriel stood at rigid attention beside her station, hands clasped behind her back. “Sir,” she began crisply, “All weapons are online and at full capacity.” And yet, even the always professional woman (to the point that many had joked when they thought neither she nor Puriel could hear them about the enormous stick that must have been lodged deep in her backside) could not entirely contain the excitement of what was about to happen. There was the faintest of smiles that briefly flickered across her expression. “It will be a very big kick, sir.”

Puriel smiled. “That’s what I like to hear. Security, Crew Liaison, any issues getting everyone settled in?”

From opposite sides of the bridge, Abaddon, as ship’s security chief, and Jophiel, as the crew liaison, both reported negative. The former continued with, “We all did a bit of partying last night, but we’re good for departure.”

It was technically against the rules, as military crews that were about to set off were supposed to remain ‘dry’ for a full day before departure. And Abaddon definitely wasn’t supposed to outright tell the ship’s trierarch about it. But what the hell. It was a special occasion. And everyone knew that no one paid attention to that rule.

Though, from the dirty look that Auriel was shooting Abaddon, if she had her way, it definitely would have been an issue. It was good for him then, that Puriel was far more easygoing. Well, as far as that kind of thing went, anyway.

Next, Puriel turned his attention to the woman who stood near the door, clearly waiting to be dismissed as soon as this launch procedure was over.  “Research and Development?”

The small woman who met his gaze had startlingly green eyes, the result of an earlier enhancement after losing the ones she had been born with. They allowed her to see into many different spectrums, and enhance down to the microscopic level. Her name was Cahethal, and she was also one of the members of his crew that Puriel knew the least about, aside from the late-comers. And they… well, they were a different situation entirely.  

She was also clearly anxious to get back to work, since her response was a simple, “We’d be doing a lot better if I wasn’t wasting my time up here. I have a whole roster of bright-eyed know-it-alls that I need to whip into shape before they run an experiment that blows up this entire ship.”

“Well,” Puriel replied easily, “I guess we’ll have to let you get back there as soon as possible to avoid that, won’t we? Let’s finish up then.” His attention moved to the man next to her. “Medical?”

The man there, Manakel, had been working with Puriel for the past five hundred years. The two knew each other quite well, and exchanged brief smiles. Neither could believe they were finally here, commanding their own ship. And not only that, but one of the most advanced ships in the fleet. It was a dream come true, for both of them, in many different ways.

“The crew checks out,” the medical chief reported crisply. “We are ready to go.”

“Indeed we are,” Puriel agreed before looking at last toward the nearest console to his own seat. “Unless my executive officer has any problems to raise?”

The man there, Sachael, was almost as tall as the giant Abaddon, though he also looked to be much older. His long, pure white hair fell to his shoulders, and he had a beard to match, along with eyes that were pale blue, like a pair of frozen ponds set against the snow of his hair. He had also worked with Puriel even longer than Manakel had. Which meant that Puriel was pretty certain Sachael had been the one to convince the crew to go out for drinks the night before.

On-duty, Sachael was the consummate professional. He did his job, and he did it very well. Perfectly, in fact. He was the best first mate that Puriel could have asked for. But off-duty, the man was another story. He was fanatical about separating his two lives, to the point of almost seeming to be two entirely different people. He valued his freedom and fun. That was why he worked so hard while on-duty, so that he could turn it all off and let loose when he wasn’t. And woe be to the person who made him work when he considered himself done.

In this case, the man nodded crisply. “All departments and systems seem to be green.”

Puriel turned to the front then, his mouth opening to address the helmsman, when the door at the back of the room, near Kushiel, Manakel, and Cahethal, slid open. Three figures entered then, one much smaller than the other two.

Lucifer and Sariel, both of them barely past their mid-fifties in age. Barely more than children, really. Neither had actually been selected by their Choirs to be a part of Summus Proelium, or this ship. No, they had been simple lab techs back at the project itself, little more than assistants to Aysien himself until… well, until things had changed. Mostly due to the other figure they had entered with: Chayyiel. The director’s daughter, whose accidentally extended excursion into the other-world where they had drawn their extraordinary gifts from had resulted in the ending of that project.

Or, more specifically, whose unprepared retrieval from that excursion had ended the project, along with any way of actually accessing that other-world, possibly forever.

It was that fact that likely fueled the audible annoyance in Auriel’s voice, as the woman snapped, “What are they doing here?” It looked like she was about to order them off, but stopped herself with a look to Puriel.

Heedless of the reaction (most of the bridge crew looked no less annoyed or outright angry than Auriel herself did) that their presence was creating, Chayyiel all-but sprinted across the bridge, letting out a whoop as she saw the starfield ahead of them. “Are we really leaving, Uncle Puriel?!” She blurted while stopping beside him. Her hands grabbed his arm and she gazed up adoringly. “Really really leaving?”

Kushiel’s own tone was even darker than Auriel’s. “If the girl’s babysitters cannot even perform that duty adequately–”

“We’re sorry. Sorry.” Lucifer hurriedly put in, head shaking quickly as he moved with Sariel right on his heels. The blonde woman was slightly younger than her constant companion, and she was also much more shy. Puriel wasn’t sure he’d heard the woman speak more than a few words that she didn’t absolutely have to speak in the whole time that he’d known her. She relied on her research partner to do that talking for her so much that the rest of the lab, and now the crew here, had begun referring to them as ‘twins.’

“We tried to keep her in the mess hall,” Lucifer was explaining, “so she could watch the launch from there. But she kept insisting that–”

“Ahem.” Manakel raised a hand, drawing Puriel’s attention. “I’m afraid I did indeed extend an invitation to the young miss to bring her guardians with her to see the launch from the bridge. I thought it would be something she would enjoy. Who wants to see the first launch of a ship like this from the mess or the observation deck when you can see it from the bridge?”

Pausing briefly, Puriel looked down to the girl, whose eyes were shining with hope as she stared right back up at him, batting her eyelashes like some kind of innocent bifestel.

“Well,” the man finally replied, “how can I argue with that? Over there.” He nodded to a nearby couple of seats set against the wall near Abaddon. “Strap yourselves in, okay?”

That earned him a hug from the girl herself, before she and her two caretakers (who would have to be given some other job at some point, but Puriel wasn’t sure what that would be just yet, particularly if Cahethal continued to insist that she didn’t want them) moved to the seats.

With that interruption settled, Puriel finally looked to the front. “Helm and Navigation?”

The man there, Amitiel, gave a short nod. He had been looking briefly toward the three newcomers, his attention apparently caught by a wave from Chayyiel herself before belatedly realizing that he had been addressed.

“Ah, ready, sir,” he replied carefully.

Puriel didn’t know Amitiel that well, but he had noticed that whatever else the procedure that changed them all had done, it also seemed to have made him quieter than before. Less boastful of his skill and more… calm than he’d been in those first few weeks. Which was a good thing, as far as Puriel was concerned. Having a calm, professional helmsman would help the ship get through its shakedown voyage without too many problems. Hopefully.

“Very good,” he announced then, realizing that everyone’s eyes were on him. His command crew. His people. They were watching him, waiting for his word to launch. Waiting for him to give the command that would begin their great journey.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began then, turning his attention to the stars.

“Let’s see what she can do.”

Previous Chapter                                   Next Chapter