Lailah

Hoc Est Bellum 34-04

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I don’t think she’s very happy with the plan.

Tabbris’s observation in the back of my head over the ongoing ranting from the Seosten woman made me smile just a little bit. I knew that my, or rather, our current host couldn’t hear her unless the other girl would have wanted her to. Yeah, I replied, I’m kind of getting that impression too.

“They’re coming.” The announcement came from Larissa, who was standing near the door that we had come through. She turned to me then, asking, “Are you ready for this? You know what to do.”

Giving the body I was inhabiting a once-over, I checked the wound in her side. For a moment, I wondered why I hadn’t really felt any of her pain, before realizing that Tabbris had probably turned that off the second we jumped inside the woman. It wasn’t exactly shallow, but also clearly wasn’t life threatening. We’d be okay for the time being. If nothing else, it would make the next part look realistic.  

So, I gave Larissa a quick nod, adding a thumbs up. “Yup, all set.”

“Be careful, kid,” Apollo advised. “We’ll be right here, but… just be careful. Watch yourself.”

I knew what he was really saying. He was telling Tabbris and me to watch over each other, without acknowledging her existence in any way that would let anyone else know. So I gave him a thumbs up, while Tabbris used the other hand to give him another one. Two thumbs up. It was one of our signals that we’d worked out.

That was all we had time for. Larissa gave another look our way, before holding out a hand. I felt a bit of pressure against the Seosten woman’s body as Larissa lifted us up with some kind of telekinesis. A second later, we were suddenly sent flying through the air, out the open doorway, and down the corridor. I caught a brief glimpse of a lot of armed figures as we sailed a solid twenty feet before crashing to the ground, rolling end over end until we came to a dazed stop. Larissa really hadn’t held much, if anything back on that one.

“Lailah!” a voice shouted from nearby, and I blinked that way in time to see an achingly gorgeous guy with curled brown hair and the most adorable dimp- focus, Flick. The obvious Seosten man was standing there with a rifle in one hand, surrounded by more soldiers. A lot of soldiers. There were a few Seosten mixed in there, but most of them were other races. All of them were heavily armed, and they did not look happy.

Ishtien, Tabbris instantly supplied. She was quicker at looking through our host’s memories than I would have been, so there was no real delay between when I saw the man and when the name filled my head.

“Ishtien,” I made the woman’s mouth say while quickly pushing her up to her feet. “We’re under attack. They’re trying to crash the ship into the facility. We have to stop them.” It was tempting to shout or act panicked to sell it, but I had to remember that the woman I was possessing was a professional. She was a soldier who had been trusted to be the last line of defense within the reactor room, and someone like that wouldn’t just panic. So I kept her voice terse and clearly right on the edge of screaming, but still in control. It helped that being surrounded by all these guns put me pretty much in the same mindset that I was trying to portray.

“We noticed.” Ishtien’s voice was dry, right on the edge of humor as he gave us a brief look. “Who’s in there? How did they get access to the system? You were…” He paused then, and I could tell that the man was right on the edge of suspicion. I had to head that off at the pass. Luckily, I knew exactly what kind of answer to give him to do just that.

My mouth opened to say, ‘Apollo’, but instead, the word that came out was, “Lucifer!”

Sorry! Tabbris’s voice quickly put in. She would have said Lucifer, not Apollo.

She was right, of course. The real Lailah would’ve referred to him by his Seosten name, not the one he had taken on Earth. Quickly reminding her not to apologize for helping, I repeated aloud, “Lucifer. They have Lucifer. His power, he… he used it to make me–” Wincing with a show of what I hoped looked like shame, I made the woman’s hands touch the wound in her side.

Ishtien had filled in the blank by that point. Which was what I was going for. His mouth twisted a little. “He and Auriel together?”

I made Lailah nod. “She cut off our–” Tabbris quickly supplied the right word for the mind-meld. “–breven to stop me from warning you.” Reaching up, I grabbed his arm. “They mean to crash the ship into the facility and use it to destroy the security tower. We must stop them, now!”

Grimacing, the Seosten man barked an order at the soldiers surrounding him. “You heard her! Get in the room. Kill them all, go now! Get them away from the controls!”

They hopped to, rushing for the doors. As Ishtien turned his own attention that way, he put his back to me. As soon as he did that, my (or rather, Lailah’s) eyes narrowed, and I made her reach for the knife attached to her belt while focusing on the back of his neck.

Wait! The Seosten woman, who had been ranting angrily in the back of my mind, suddenly blurted. Her anger had vanished, turning into abrupt desperation, with palpable fear. Wait, please! Please, Ishtien is my friend. We grew up together. He is the only person I have left from my childhood. I–I won’t fight you. I won’t fight you. I will even allow you to kill me or imprison me. I will do anything you wish.  But please, please do not… do not kill him. There is a stun feature on the handle of the blade that will knock him out. I am begging you, human. Please do not kill my friend.

I could feel her terror, her certainty that I wouldn’t listen to her right alongside her total and complete desperation. If we had been face to face, I knew that I would have been able to see the tears in her eyes. She had been trying to seize control ever since I had possessed her. But with the knife already pulled and my focus on Ishtien’s neck, she had given up, choosing to play the last card she had left: begging. For a half second, I wondered how many of her hosts had begged her to stop whatever she was doing. And whether or not she had ever listened to them.

Lifting the woman’s hand, I flipped the button on the side of the knife, triggering the stun-prod on the hilt before smacking it into the back of the Seosten man’s neck. A jolt of purple electricity crackled across his skin, before the man collapsed to the ground with a cry that was abruptly cut off as he fell into a completely unconscious heap.

Ignoring the rush of gratitude from my host, I focused on the group of soldiers ahead of me. They hadn’t noticed their leader collapse to the floor quite yet. Mostly because they were all a bit busy, running headlong into Apollo and Larissa in their desperate attempt to get through the doorway and into that room so they could stop the ship from crashing. I could see glimpses of Larissa’s forcefield keeping them out, as well as bursts of flame from some unknown source.

It’s been a real blast, I informed Lailah, but this is where I get off. As she started to respond, I ignored her, stepping out of the body while metaphorically hitting the button that would leave her unconscious. As her body fell, I produced my staff before taking one more look at the backs of the assembled soldiers. There was a mix of younger Seosten and other Alters, of them so intent on getting into the room ahead of them that they had yet to actually notice me.

Time to change that. Gripping my staff, I took a running start, heading straight for the rear of the group. A tall (nine feet in height) musclebound figure with rock-like skin was there, taking aim with a rifle that looked like a miniature ship-mounted cannon. Larissa’s forcefield was good, but I wasn’t sure it was good enough to stand up to something like that for very long. So, he was definitely my first target.

“Hey, asshole!” I shouted over the sound of the battle. At my voice, the big guy abruptly spun back, surprise written over his gruff-looking face at the sight of both me and the two unconscious Seosten as his mouth opened to bellow a quick warning.

In that instant, I brought my staff up, triggering the charge it had been building up. At the same time, I thrust that end of the staff backward, straight into the tiny portal that I had just opened. The other end of that portal appeared directly behind the big guy’s head, and his cry of warning turned to one of pain as the blast from the newly-emerged staff struck him right there.

The force of the blow knocked the big guy’s head forward and down, even as it also launched me forward and up. I shut off the portal then, letting the full force of it propel me that way. Before the guy could recover from the blow to the back of his head, the bladed end of my staff was driven into his throat. Blood sprayed everywhere, even as my feet collided with his chest. An instant later, I kicked back away from his steadily collapsing body while yanking my staff out.

As I flipped backward, away from the falling figure, I felt the rush of pleasure from his death. But it was muted a bit, like I wasn’t really feeling the full effect of it, just enough to know it was there.

Did you do that? I quickly asked my partner while landing in a crouch with my staff in one hand.

Um. Y-yes? The response came a bit hesitantly. I didn’t know if it would work or not, but I thought it would help if you weren’t so distracted. So I um, I tried.

Grinning, I gave a slight inward nod. Keep it up, partner.

That was all I had time to say. Because as distracted as they might have been before, the rest of the small army that had assembled to attack the reactor room definitely knew I was there now. Half of them had come up short, spinning back to see the big guy collapse to the floor. I saw realization cross some of their faces, as they looked from the fallen Seosten, then to me and back again. They knew. They understood that they had been tricked. Their leaders were down, and now they were caught in the middle of the corridor between me and the other two, who had stopped playing so defensively now that the trap had been sprung. Larissa had been using little more than the forcefield to make them stay focused on her. But now that they knew I was behind them, she and Apollo were actually fighting back.

Larissa had wanted to be the one who did this part, the one who dealt with whoever the leader of the group that was sent down to deal with us was, because she wanted to be the one who was behind the Seosten while I stayed safe next to Apollo. But thanks to both Charmiene’s death and Tabbris’s expertise in using it, my possession-ability was stronger than hers. Which meant that Tabbris and I had been far more likely to able to keep control of whatever Seosten we ended up finding in that reactor room. So us doing it had just made sense. Which meant that me being the the one who ended up on the opposite side of whatever group showed up to stop us was pretty inevitable.

But it also meant that we were by ourselves, cut off from the other three and with a small army between us. At least… for the moment. There was a plan to change that much too, eventually.

A shout went up among the group, a warning cry. Then they broke apart. Some came for me, trying to deal with the threat that I presented to their rear, while the rest pushed on for the reactor, running headlong into the solid brick wall that was Larissa and Apollo.

As for me? Well, if these guys wanted to fight me so badly, I would absolutely oblige them.

Three of the soldiers stopped, their weapons coming up to take aim at me. One of the things that had been drilled into me over and over again throughout the month that I had spent at the Aelaestiam base was the ability to recognize what kind of weapons were being used at first glance. Athena had made me go through test after test, identifying the weapon and its capability with and without Tabbris’s help. And thanks to that, I immediately knew that two of the soldiers were using energy weapons, while the other held a slugthrower.

I had actually asked Athena once why the Seosten used a mixture of lasers and bullet weapons instead of focusing on the former, which would seem to be the more advanced and useful type. In response, she had explained that it was easier to put spells for various effects on bullets than it was to put them on lasers. Also, the Fomorian proclivity for making themselves and their creations immune to everything under the sun meant that it was a good idea to have a wide variety of options. It was the same reason that Heretics were so useful, really: variety and surprise was the key to beating the Fomorians. Having things that they hadn’t anticipated, and Heretics were really hard to anticipate.

As the soldiers took aim and fired, I kept right on going. I was ready for the lasers, absorbing their energy with a thought. Meanwhile, the bullet came right at my chest. Fortunately for me, Tabbris was on the job. One of the many little bits of cloth that the two of us had painstakingly spent hours enchanting instantly appeared right on my shirt. The so-called kevlar spell caught the metal slug’s momentum and slowed it down to almost nothing before it bounced off my chest as I kept running forward.

Two more steps, and I reached the nearest enemies, a guy with some kind of long metal pike and another with what amounted to a lightsaber.

That guy with the pike had reach on me, so I went for him first, baiting him into stabbing the thing right at me before quickly pivoting out of the way.

The strike came so close to hitting me as it passed that I could literally feel the blade and handle skim right through my shirt. Rather than doing the sensible thing and moving further away from it however, I let myself sink back just a little so that the handle actually did touch me just a bit. At the same time I curled my fingers a little.

Once more, my partner was right on top of things. We had gotten good enough through all of our training by that point that she interpreted my desires without me having to outright ask her. The instant my back felt that weapon, it was transported out of the enemy’s hands and into my own.

In that moment, Larissa’s telepathic voice in my head warned, Security field, get to a host! 

Right, the security field that would disintegrate anyone who wasn’t either cleared or possessing someone who was. Grimacing, I threw myself backward, colliding straight with one of the other soldiers as my item-sense let me know exactly where he was. As I crashed into the man, I literally crashed into him, possessing the guy even as we both went tumbling backward. 

Just before possessing my new (hopefully very brief) host, I had released both my own weapon, and the other guard’s pike. Before they could finish falling, I snapped both of his hands out to catch hold of them.  Holding each, I turned, hurling the pike across the hallway and into the chest of one of the guys who was trying to shoot me with a slugthrower. Again, I felt that muted sense of pleasure as Tabbris made sure that it wouldn’t overwhelm me.

On top of all that, the other girl had been constantly intercepting anything that was thrown at me. She used my item sense to keep track of where the nearest guns were pointed, and intercepted either bullets with more of those kevlar cloths, or lasers by switching on my energy-absorption. It was like having a copilot riding right alongside in my head to keep track of all that extra stuff that would have been too distracting for me to deal with. I was almost glad that my current state (possessing someone meant that my body wasn’t exactly physical, so she couldn’t do anything more with the enchanted cloths) would give her a little bit of a break, brief as it would be.

A second later, we passed through the field. I caught a glimpse of Larissa and Apollo in unwilling hosts of their own as a red light seemed to scan over all of us. It only took a moment, and seemed utterly inconsequential. But I knew that if any of the others had been here, or if we had been caught without a host, it would have been… bad. Very bad.

Dismissing my current host once the danger was past, I jumped right back out of him, letting the man fall unconscious behind me. By that point, the guy with the laser sword was there, bringing that glowing weapon straight for my neck. I brought my staff up to intercept it, and saw a brief grin cross the green-skinned man’s face.

Back at the base, we had established that my energy absorption power wouldn’t work very well on something like that laser sword. It could make the blade flicker somewhat, but then would be overloaded quickly and I would be just as damaged or even dead as any normal person a second later. I could only absorb so much at one time, and a blade tended to stay in one place long enough to overwhelm me. So, anything worse than a glancing blow, even with my energy absorption up, would be really bad news.

And this guy clearly knew that. He knew that his laser weapon would cut straight through my regular staff like butter, then keep right on going through me the exact same way.

Except it didn’t. Because I had a little trick up my sleeve. As the lightsaber neared my weapon, I focused on the energy that I had just absorbed a few seconds earlier from those lasers, along with what Tabbris had made us absorb. For a moment, a glowing green outline surrounded my staff, just as the lightsaber connected with it. The laser sword bounced off, and I caught a glimpse of that knowing grin turning into a look of shock and confusion just before I spun the staff around. With that glowing energy surrounding it, the shaft sliced right through the man’s own neck, severing his head from his body.

Yeah, that was one of my new tricks. Not only could I hold the energy that I absorbed for a bit longer than before, but with help from Apollo over this past week, I had also figured out how to surround myself (or my weapon, in this case) with that same energy. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it was pretty damn useful. Case in point.

Unfortunately, as the beheaded guy fell, another figure appeared right where he had been. I barely had a flash of realization that he had actually been possessed before the Seosten’s fist collided with my face, knocking me back a step as a flash of pain exploded in my temple and nose.

The guy looked like he was barely older than me, maybe by a few years. I knew that wasn’t true, considering the way they aged. But still, he looked young. His long, black hair was fashioned into a tight ponytail, and he had these very pale green eyes that almost seemed white at first glance. The pupils were barely dark enough to stand out from the regular white of his eyes. If this had been a TV show, I would have taken that as a sign that the guy was blind. But he clearly wasn’t, considering the way he was focused on me, meeting my gaze. That, and I was pretty sure that blindness was something that the Seosten could and would probably fix.

He tried to follow up his first attack by snatching a dagger from his belt and driving it into my gut, but I had recovered from my surprise by that point, and managed to snap my staff up just in time to knock the blade aside with a grunt. This was followed instantly by bringing the other end of the staff up to block the subsequent punch from his other hand. But that was a feint, and his foot suddenly collided with my stomach in a blow that would have put me on the ground if I hadn’t had an increased strength and pain tolerance. As it was, I stumbled and he took quick advantage by lashing out with that knife once more. That time, I barely managed to turn aside from the more dangerous swipe, taking a cut across my shoulder and another around my bicep in rapid succession.

He was fast. Goddamn, he was so fucking fast. Even with my own slightly enhanced speed and more enhanced reflexes, I could barely try to keep up with him. The guy was clearly boosting. And he had the skill to back up that boost. It was crystal clear in that moment that surprise over my staff blocking his laser sword was the only reason I had been able to kill his host so quickly.

And speaking of that particular weapon, the man kicked his foot out and popped the handle up into his waiting hand before igniting it once more. Now he had a laser sword in one hand and a knife in the other. Fan-freaking-tastic.

Plus, not only could I not just count on my energy absorption to deal with the weapon, I also couldn’t throw up a portal to block it when he swung the thing at me. Not when it came at me lengthwise. Because while I had gotten much faster at creating the portals under pressure, we had also discovered a drawback to my small portals. While they would cut anything in half if it went through them and then the portal was shut off, the thing had to actually fit through the portal to begin with. Basically, it couldn’t be wider than the portal. It could be longer and just put the part of it that fit through, but if the object was wider than the portal, the entire thing simply passed through it as if there was nothing there. I didn’t know if it was a safety feature or what, but I couldn’t just cut something large by putting a small portal in front of it as it passed through. It would act like there was no portal at all.

So no way to instantly win just by putting a portal in front of the swinging blade. Which was going to be a bit of a pain considering how fast this guy was. Plus, there was the fact that if I focused too much on the energy blade itself, he’d sneak in a vicious stab with the regular knife. All in all, this was going to be somewhat tricky.

He danced in quickly then, the dagger in his left hand lashing out with a quick snap of his wrist, like the lunge of a snake toward my left side. I took a quick stutter step backwards, pivoting back and away on my right foot to avoid the longer reach of his energy blade as it cut through the air where my shoulder had just been. I could hear and feel the heat from the blade as it passed close to me.

With my right side to the man and his laser sword almost directly across my chest, he instantly began to snap his sword that way to cut me in half.

But (thankfully) I was faster than that. Ducking and pivoting simultaneously, I let his energy blade pass just over my back before popping up to lash out with a kick. He was kicking at me at the same time, and our legs collided in midair. I felt a flash of pain in my shin, but ignored it as much as I had ignored the cuts I’d already suffered, as well as that punch to the face. There would be time to assess injuries later. Hopefully.

The Seosten’s sword was swinging down from up high in on overhead blow. So I stepped in quickly, my staff snapping up and out to hit not the weapon itself, but the inside of his elbow in order to throw off his aim. My ultimate goal was to try to make him actually drop the sword, but I really wasn’t counting on that much. I would just settle for not being cut in half. Which was probably a pretty firm goal of almost everyone out there without something like a worm’s ability to survive that kind of thing, come to think of it.

As I stood in close to the man, my free hand suddenly snapped down seemingly of its own volition, catching hold of the man’s wrist with the knife that he’d been trying to shove into my stomach just then. Tabbris was still on top of things.

My thoughts focused on possessing the man to end this, but before I could gather myself for it, pain exploded in the front of my face once again. That time, rather than punching, the man had headbutted me, making me stagger backward and release him. Worse, I caught a brief glimpse of that glowing energy as he brought the sword spinning downward to put it through my back as I stumbled onto one knee.

A quick burst from my staff sent me into a sideways roll, right as the blade cut through the floor where I had just been. The Seosten man tried to follow up by coming after me before I could rise, but the roll had put me right where I wanted to be: next to one of the fallen soldiers. My foot kicked out, catching hold of the butt of the dead man’s laser rifle. A quick thought took it from my foot to my hands, and I fired a trio of shots at the incoming Seosten. He ducked and pivoted out of the way, moving too quick for the shots to hit him, just as I had expected.

But it bought me time and distance for what I needed to do. Which, in this case, was to point the weapon at myself and pull the trigger several times as quickly as I could. As the lasers struck me, I absorbed their energy, channeling it into my weapon while popping back to my feet. The staff began to glow once more, and I lunged at the man just in time to intercept his swinging blade with it. Now, I had a few seconds where I could actually block his weapon with mine. The fight was slightly less unfair. Slightly.

What followed was a rapid series of blocks and counters that even I couldn’t completely follow correctly. We were both attacking and countering so fast that a normal person wouldn’t have been able to follow it. Our weapons spun and collided, bouncing off each other as we both pressed for an advantage that simply wasn’t there. Spin, parry, stab, block, duck, everything was moving in fast forward. And neither of us were giving any ground at all. This guy was really good.

On the plus side, my enhanced stamina meant that I wasn’t even the least bit winded by all of this. I was pretty sure that, if it came down to it, I could beat the guy just by outlasting him. He would get tired before I did, and he would make a mistake before I did. I just had to hold on until he did.

As we broke away from each other that time, the man kept his energy blade in front of him while staring at me. He was panting a little bit, but there was also something else to his expression: a smile. He looked happy about our exchange, happy that he hadn’t already killed me.

“You,” the Seosten started, “would make a most worthy vessel to put against the Fomorians. Abandon this foolishness, and come to fight the true threat. We could do amazing work together. There is no need for us to be enemies.”

I coughed, keeping my weapon up just in case. “Yeah,” I retorted, “sorry but I don’t really see the people who enslave entire races as the good guys. I’m pretty sure you’re both complete dicks.”

“You have a simplistic view of the situation,” the guy snapped back at me. “But with any luck, you will—”

He stopped suddenly glancing down at something on his wrist before looking back up again. His voice was flat. “This will be continued,” he promised me. “I truly hope that you survive.”

Before I could ask what that was supposed to mean, the guy disappeared right in front of my eyes. Actually, they were all disappearing. All around me, the soldiers, conscious or unconscious, or even dead, were disappearing. I was left there in the corridor with just Apollo and Larissa.

“It worked?” I blurted, looking around while catching my breath.

Larissa nodded. “We stalled them long enough. The ship’s computer detected the imminent collision and destruction, so it initiated their lifepod system.”

The lifepod system. Basically, if the computer of the ship knew that it was about to be destroyed, it would take every registered being on it and teleport them to the nearest safe location. At this point, the ship was empty except for us.

“How soon until we, you know, collide?” I asked. “And I thought they’d be more alarms than this.”

“I disabled them.” That was Athena, stepping out of the other room. “And collision is imminent.” She looked toward Apollo with a gesture. “It’s time.”

The man nodded at that, pulling something from his pocket. It looked like a small metal stick with runes inscribed along it. “All right,” he replied, “everyone get in close.”

We did, getting close to him as he triggered the spell he had put on the stick. A second later, we were standing somewhere else. Well, we hadn’t really gone anywhere, technically. The place we were, which looked just like a simple white room, was just a pocket dimension located within the stick that Apollo had been holding. The stick which was still back in that ship, while it was colliding with the facility on the moon and the energy from that reactor was exploding into a wave that would destroy the protective spell that had been over it to prevent anyone from teleporting down there. We were here so that we didn’t have to sit through all that, which would have been a bit…well, dangerous, to say the least.

“Sorry,” I started then, while taking the chance to collect myself and breathe for a moment. “Sorry I wasn’t more help back there. You guys had to deal with most of them.”

The three of them looked at each other, and then Larissa’s hand was on my shoulder. “You both did extremely well,” she assured us. “You kept up remarkably.”

Apollo nodded at that while giving me a charming smile. “Trust me, kid, you fighting a full Seosten soldier to what amounted to a standstill, that’s nothing to sneeze at.” He paused then, before winking at me. “Even if he was blind.”

My mouth fell open at that, and I blurted, “He was? I mean, I thought he might be, but I dismissed it because he was fighting so well. And he seemed to look right at me. Plus, you know, I figured if there was any kind of blindness, you guys could fix it. I mean, not you guys, the Seosten.”

“In most cases,” Athena informed me, “they could. What your opponent back there possesses is a very rare genetic mutation, which allows them to see, as we do, only through the eyes of a host. It was borne of experimentation when our scientists were working on ways to prevent so many lost pregnancies.”

“So he was born blind,” I noted. “But still, couldn’t they just fix that?”

It was Apollo who answered. “They may be blind as far as you or I are concerned. But their condition allows them to see energy. They see heat, they see magical energy, electricity, things like that. They see a lot of things beyond normal sight. Hell, they can even see sound waves and concussive force in the air. So while it could be fixed, some of them choose to keep it that way, and learn to use their version of sight.”

Staring that way for a moment, I flailed. “No wonder that fight was such a pain in the ass,” I blurted out loud, my voice a high squeak, “that guy was fucking Daredevil! I deserve points for fighting fucking Daredevil!”

“And yet,” Athena pointed out then, “You didn’t simply survive your encounter, you actually performed quite admirably against him.”

“You did,” Larissa confirmed. “I was keeping an eye on you, just in case I needed to step in. But you held your own. Very impressive.”

Smiling despite myself at that while a slight blush crossed my face, I tapped the side of my head with one finger. “Couldn’t do it without my partner.”

As I felt Tabbris’s embarrassment and delight, Athena gestured. “That’s long enough, it’s time to go back before they manage to recover.”

Apollo obliged. With a wave of his hand, he disabled the spell. An instant later, we were back in the same corridor we had been in before. But things had changed. The place looked half destroyed. There were dark scorch marks everywhere, along with large, jagged holes in the walls and floor that left exposed wires and pipes that all crackled occasionally with random spurts of power. Electricity sparked in the air from some of those exposed wires, and I saw several fires. There was different colored smoke everywhere, and part of the corridor was bent in the wrong direction. All in all, this place looked pretty badly damaged. And I was sure that the rest of the ship was in just as bad of shape. After all, the thing had just collided with a moon before the reactor exploded. The ship was ruined. And I had to think that it had probably done a pretty bad number on the ground itself.

I was glad that the ship’s crew had been teleported off before the impact. I didn’t want to be even partly responsible for that many horrible deaths like that, even if they were our enemies.

“Call down the others,” Athena instructed. “It’s time for the next step.”

Right, now that the protective spell was down, the rest of our little group could join us. With a nod, I touch the communication plan that I had been provided with. “Okay guys,” I announced, “we’re ready for you down here.”

Well, the others clearly hadn’t been asleep while they waited for us. Almost the exact moment that I had finished saying that, a glowing portal appeared right across from us. A second later, Haiden emerged with his weapon rest. He was joined quickly by Vanessa, Tristan, Jazz, Gordon, and Sands. They all came ready for a fight, relaxing marginally only when they saw that there were no immediate threats.

“Mom!” Showing just how worried she had been while she was stuck back on the other ship, Sands ran directly to her mother, embracing the woman tightly.

With a smile, Larissa returned the embrace, before nodding to everyone else. “All right,” she started quietly. “Looks like we’re all here.”

Roxa, with Gidget ready and alert at her side, spoke up. “I don’t know what that looked like from your guys’ end, but it was pretty fucking crazy from ours. They had a bunch of ships going and trying to stop this one. They must’ve blown half the ship off trying to knock it off course or destroy it. But nothing worked. They couldn’t blow it up in time.” A dark, feral smile appeared then. “Probably what they get for making the thing so tough to begin with.”

Tristan’s head bobbed up and down quickly as he stood there with Bobbi-Bobbi and her cannon form attached to his arm. “Yeah,” he agreed, “then it hit that tower just outside the main lab and just…” Throwing his hands (One of them covered by that enormous cannon) up and out, he made an explosion noise. “It was pretty damn cool.”

“It will also have attracted a lot of attention,” Athena pointed out. “We need to move quickly now, before Kushiel’s forces—”

“I truly don’t think-“ a new, yet familiar voice spoke up then, “—that it is Kushiel whom you should be worried about.”

Radueriel. The Seosten inventor was there at the broken entrance of the corridor. All around him were uniformed and armed soldiers. Each stood at attention in the way that made it clear that he was using his connection to them. They were all under his control. And all of them were pointing their weapons at us.

Before any of us could move, there was the sound of ripping, tearing metal. We spun back the other way, just as part of the wall behind us was being ripped off. There stood another collection of soldiers, including the giant troll that had just ripped the wall open. We were surrounded.

Then it got worse. That huge troll shapeshifted right in front of our eyes. Shrinking somewhat (but not too much) the thing took the form of a still very large, handsome man. The guy looked like a bodybuilder’s wet dream. He was a huge slab of beef, with muscles growing on muscles. He was what Conan the barbarian wished he could be. Hell, the guy looked like he could dribble Conan. He pretty much defined beefcake.

“Abaddon,” Athena spat the name while glaring that way.

Shit, right. Abaddon. Or, as we knew him on Earth, Ares. She’d told me about him. His ability allowed him to essentially take the shape and form of any previous host he’d had. He could even take on their powers that way. Anytime a form he was using was killed, he lost access to it permanently, or at least until he possessed them again. But it meant that you had to kill every single form that he had access to before killing the man himself would take. Hell, even if you killed him in his normal Seosten form, he’d just lose access to it for a time and have to take another shape until it regenerated.

Basically, Ares was a giant pain in the ass, and the fact that you had to kill him so many times before it actually ‘took’ was why he’d built up a reputation for recklessness. But, reckless as he was, the man was still incredibly dangerous. There was a reason he was known as a war god.

And now, we were caught between him and Radueriel, along with an army on both sides.

“As I said,” Radueriel smoothly announced while the soldiers around him all readied their weapons, the hum of their growing energy audible, “it is not Kushiel with whom you should be concerned right now. You should find yourselves quite busy with us.”

Apollo replied with a little shrug, “I don’t know. Two Olympians versus two Olympians and their assorted friends? Seems like this shouldn’t take too long at all.”

A chuckle came from Ares then. The big guy lifted his chin. “Who said we only brought two?”

With those words, a half dozen of the soldiers around us straightened up and a glowing figure appeared beside each of them. More Seosten.

“They may not have been bridge crew,” Radueriel noted, “but they were very much members of the Olympus. And they were also close friends of our dearly departed Charmiene. Which means that they are very much interested in having a discussion…” His hand rose then to point directly at me.

“With her.”

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Hoc Est Bellum 34-03

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Hey, I addressed the man whose body I was… borrowing, I don’t want to go rooting around in your head. Could you tell me your name, just so I know what to call you? Please?

After passing through that doorway, we were in a narrow corridor that was clearly some kind of maintenance tunnel. There were various flashing lights here and there, along with signs in other languages. If I’d known anything about the ship and actually belonged on it, I was pretty sure the lights and signs together would tell me exactly where I should go and what I should be doing.

There were no audible alarms. Which made sense, as I doubted that having an alarm blaring constantly while the crew was trying to concentrate would be a good idea. They clearly knew the battle was happening.

Not… not killing, please. Not killing. Ylek not make you fight. Ylek not bad. Please. Not killing.

It was the voice of my current host. He sounded absolutely petrified, like he was afraid that I would kill him just for asking not to be killed. If nothing else, that told me a bit about what working under Kushiel’s authority was like. Not that I’d really needed the hint.

I grimaced inwardly then, while following Athena as she immediately turned left down the corridor. I’m not gonna kill you, I promised. That’s not what we’re–look, we’re just here to rescue Kushiel’s prisoners, okay? That’s it. We’re using this ship as a way of getting down to the prison. We don’t want to kill any more of you guys than we have to. You said your name was Ylek? It sounded like Eee-leck, but somehow the idea of the correct spelling filled my head. Clearly a byproduct of hearing the name directly from his thoughts.

That… that is… my person, he replied, still sounding just as terrified as he had before.

Yeah, I was pretty sure that just telling this guy I wasn’t going to kill him wasn’t gonna convince him of anything. Which was probably a result of being enslaved by a race like the Seosten. Something told me that most of them weren’t big on keeping their promises or playing nice. And, unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to spend talking him around, as much as I would’ve liked to. So, I was just going to have to show him that I meant what I said.

By that point, Athena had led us to another doorway. Stepping through that one led to a much more chaotic scene than the empty corridor we had just left. It was big enough to drive a truck through, and I saw people of every shape, size, and description (literally) rushing back and forth in every direction. People were shouting over each other, with code phrases about weapon systems, shields, maneuvers, and more were being thrown around. Everyone seemed to know exactly where they were going and exactly how to avoid everyone else that was going somewhere else. People were sprinting back and forth, leaping or ducking under each other and barking questions and replies to one another. It was like a delicate, intricately choreographed ballet mixed with being at the mall the night before Christmas.

More importantly, no one was paying any attention to us. No one cared what we were doing, because they had their own jobs to do and no one was going to take the time to check on someone else. As far as they were concerned, we were just more crew members off doing our duty. Another indication that the Seosten weren’t accustomed to someone using their own tricks against them.

I supposed it was kind of a Catch-22 for them. If they spent too much effort developing ways and teaching their subjects ways to detect and prevent possession, it could really easily backfire by taking away the main thing that they used to keep the much larger population of slaves in line.

Athena never even slowed down. She knew exactly where she was going, and I felt another flash of gratitude that she was with us. We never would’ve been able to pull any of this off without her and the Aelaestiam.

The corridors got less and less busy as Athena led us onward through a seemingly endless and confusing maze of them. We turned left, then straight, then left again, then right, then straight. Then we used an invisible elevator lift thing to go up a level. I could still hear voices or see people here and there, but we were definitely out of the area that was the main thoroughfare during a battle like this. Through it all, the Seosten woman never slowed down.

At least, she never slowed down until we reached what looked like a giant vault door. The thing had to be twenty feet tall and just as wide. It was made of some kind of metal that I was guessing was probably heavy enough to take anything we could possibly dish out to it, with obviously protective spell runes inscribed all along the surface.

Standing in front of the door were two guards in black armor, their weapons raised as we appeared. “Halt!” one of them barked. “State your orders.”

Apollo took that as his cue. His cat-like Rakshasa stepped, raising both hands in a show of camaraderie. “Sorry,” he started, “you know how Trierarch Alfens is about new maneuvers when he’s trying to impress the Praetor with his ingenuity. He gets an idea and the rest of us have to figure out how to make it work.”

The two men hesitated, glancing to one another before one of them asked, “You have orders from the Trierarch to be down here? What are you supposed to be doing? Aren’t you all  stationed in maintenance bay Upsilon Zeta Three?”

“No, no, our orders are to be here,” Apollo corrected him.

“Your orders are to be here?” There was a certain dullness to the response, incredulity that was barely hanging on.

Nodding, Apollo added, “Yes. Actually, we’re supposed to be in the chamber right now.”

Once more, the two guards looked at each other. “In the chamber?” One of them hesitated before reaching for something on his belt. “I’ll call it in and double check.”

Smoothly, Apollo cut in. “You already did, remember?” As the two looked at him in confusion, he continued. “You called it in just a second ago. Trierarch Alfens applauded you for your responsibility and initiative, and told you to let us through. Do you really think he’ll appreciate being interrupted a second time? He might just change his mind about those commendations.”

“Right… yes, we called it in.” Moving his hand away from his belt, the figure on the left nodded before moving to a small camera on the wall. He leaned close, letting the thing scan his face. There was a single beep, followed by an inquisitive tone from the matching camera on the other side. That cued the second guard to do the same thing there. As he did so, the runes on the vault-like door stopped glowing, and there was a series of distinct clicking and thunking sounds of the various locks disengaging.

“Nice, thank you,” Apollo complimented them. “But now, what you guys really need to do is lay down and get some sleep.”

“Sleep?” The men were clearly beyond confused at that. “We’re on duty… and there’s a battle going on.”

Making his Rakshasa’s head shake, Apollo corrected them. “The battle’s over. We won. And you’re both in your quarters. See, those are your beds right there.” He pointed to the empty floor. “It’s been a really long day, you’re both exhausted, but proud of yourselves for repelling that invasion. You’re up for awards in the morning. Maybe you’ll even be promoted. But for now, you’re tired. You’re ready to sleep in your soft, comfortable beds.”

As he spoke, both of the guards slowly moved to where he had indicated, laying down while his voice droned on quietly. They just laid down like that, right on the floor. A moment later, both of them were still, faint snoring sounds coming from them.

That was Apollo’s Olympian power. The longer that someone let him talk to them, the more he could convince them of increasingly ridiculous things. It was like the Jedi Mind Trick except on steroids. Given enough time to talk, he could literally stand in front of an army and convince them that there was an even bigger army right behind him, even if they could clearly see an empty field. In a question between, ‘who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes’, the answer was always him. His words painted a picture that his power made their brain accept as truth, regardless of any other evidence or knowledge.

With that done, Athena strode forward. The big vault doors finished their long, complicated series of unlocking, and then whooshed open smoothly. On the other side, I saw a massive room with an enormous glowing red orb floating in the middle of some kind of forcefield. The orb was a solid hundred feet in diameter, with flashes of black lightning coursing through it here and there that kept appearing and disappearing.

We’d barely stepped into the large chamber before a figure appeared. It was a troll, a positively ginormous troll, standing a solid twelve feet tall and with a body built like the Hulk. The thing came right at us the second we appeared, letting out a warning bellow while one of those huge arms swung for us.

Athena didn’t even hesitate. She had already stepped out of her own host, who fell unconscious to the ground behind her while Excalibur appeared in her hand. Without missing a beat, she leapt past the troll’s swinging arm to cut straight through him.

And by through him, that was literally through him. The sword seemed to pass through the troll without harming him at all, like he was a ghost. There was no blood or anything. Yet, there was a scream that didn’t seem to come from the troll at all. It came from him, but his mouth wasn’t open.

The scream was cut off almost as soon as it had started, and a second figure fell out of the first. It appeared in a glowing energy form at first, before quickly solidifying into a female figure, slim to the point of near androgyny, with short red hair and incredibly expressive dark blue eyes. A second after emerging, she fell to the floor with an obvious sword wound in her side.

The troll that was left behind, meanwhile, jerked backward and flailed with a surprised cry until Larissa appeared in the air in front of him. Catching onto the troll’s shoulders and holding him tightly, she blew a cloud of smoke into his face. The giant figure twisted, coughed, and then fell unconscious to the floor, collapsing with a heavy thud while Larissa rode him all the way down.

As for the Seosten that had literally been cut out of him, she was bleeding profusely, but still tried to push herself up. At least, she tried to sit up until Athena put the blade of that sword near her throat.

“Stop,” the regal woman ordered flatly. Her voice was calm, yet firm, and brooked no disagreement. “Do you know who I am?”

There was a brief pause, and I saw anger at her own helplessness twist its way across the fallen Seosten’s features before she spat the word, “Yes.”

“Good,” Athena replied, “then you know what this sword is. And you know why you have not been able to contact any others you may be mind-melded to. Were you in mid-conversation with anyone else? Will they notice your absence immediately? Do understand that I will know if you lie.”

The other Seosten hesitated once more, before giving a slow sigh as her head shook. “No.”

Nodding in satisfaction to that, Athena informed her, “Do not cause more annoyance than you are worth, and you will survive this capture.”

“Um, sorry, what?” I couldn’t stop myself from cutting in then. “What the hell just– Did you really just cut a Seosten out of their host without hurting the host? And what was that about her not reaching anyone in her mind-meld?” That had to be referring to that thing where Seosten on a mission or in the same group/team were connected and could share information basically telepathically. Somehow, this Seosten had been blocked from doing that.

“Excalibur,” Athena announced in response to that, “is a very useful tool. Yes, among other abilities, it is able to harm and even kill the Seosten possessing a body, without causing any harm to the being that they are possessing. And, when needed, it may also project a field that interrupts certain magical effects. The Seosten mental meld is one of them, along with others. As far as anyone attempting to contact her now will be concerned, she is asleep.”

Holy shit. I had thought that the woman was effective before, but with Excalibur, she could kill Seosten without hurting their host bodies? And stop them from communicating with each other through their mind connections? That was… that was…

The Seosten must’ve really hated Arthur, Tabbris announced, her voice full of as much awe as I felt. Hell, as connected as we were, our awe was honestly probably feeding off each other. Actually, I was pretty sure that I could feel the awe coming from Ylek too.

He actually seemed to forget to be afraid of me for a moment then, as his mental voice whispered, The dragon-sword. She wields the dragon-sword.

You guys know about Excalibur? I quickly asked.

It is legend, he hesitantly responded, like he was still a bit nervous that I’d torture him for answering or something. Or maybe he was afraid I’d torture him for giving the wrong answer. The Author will write the end of the Empire.

Author! That was Tabbris, piping up. He must mean Arthur! It’s like a umm… umm, misunderstanding? They heard Arthur but it changed to Author.

“That,” Larissa managed finally, dragging my attention back to the outside world, “is a very important sword.”

“That it is,” Athena replied, “and it will eventually be returned to its rightful owner. In due time.”

“I’m on an alien ship, on the other side of the universe,” I started, in Ylek’s gravelly voice, “with Athena and Apollo, on our way to fight Hera, so we can rescue Artemis. Which is why I don’t have time to ask more about how the literal King Arthur is supposed to eventually get his sword back, because Athena is also Nimue. Also, Apollo is Satan.”

Raising an eyebrow, Larissa asked, “Are you okay over there?”

My head gave a quick nod, and I squeaked out, “Y-yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Sometimes it just really hits me how insane all this is. That’s all. I mean seriously, what even is my life?”

“Trust me, kid,” Apollo interjected then, “it’ll make a great story someday. Especially if we pull this off.”

“Pfft.” Shaking my head, I retorted, “I’m pretty sure no one would want to read this as a story. It’s entirely too confusing and hard to keep track of for me, and I’m the one that’s actually living it.”

“Well,” Larissa announced, “let’s add a little more subterfuge and action to your story, shall we?” She gestured toward the Seosten that Athena was still holding in place with Excalibur. “Looks like a worthy candidate to me.”

“Yes,” Athena agreed. “See what you can learn that she has not… volunteered.”

Swallowing, I thought to Ylek, Well, it’s been nice knowing you. Like I said, I’m sorry we had to… um, enslave you. Seriously, we just… have to save the people that your master’s been torturing and experimenting on. It’s nothing personal against you.

It is never personal, the reply came, because we are not persons to them.

Okay, that one hit home. Grimacing, I hesitated before stepping out of the man and back to my own body. Turning to face the squat, white-furred figure, I spoke up. “Athena?”

“Yes.” She knew what I was asking. The woman spoke to Ylek then without taking her sword away from the other Seosten woman’s neck. “You may stay here, or you may go to our brig. You will be questioned when the battle is over to ensure that you are not a danger to us, and then released to either do as you wish, or stay with the Aelaestiam. Do you wish to go as a temporary prisoner, or stay here?”

“We kind of need an answer quick,” I reminded him. “We’re in a bit of a rush right now.”

“I… Ylek… I will… go?” he offered, looking taken aback and confused by the choice.

Larissa moved immediately. She had one of those teleport badges in her hand that she had summoned from some pocket dimension. “Put this on,” she ordered. “It’s already set to take prisoners. You’ll go straight to the brig on one of the Aelaestiam ships. We’ll… find you when this is over.”

While she was taking care of that, my attention turned back to the kneeling Seosten woman. She was staring at me with a narrowed gaze as I moved closer, raising my hand. Ready, partner? This probably won’t be as easy as the last guy.

We can do it, Tabbris replied firmly. For Mama.

Smiling a little inwardly, I agreed. For Mama.

The Seosten woman looked confused for a moment as I approached with my hand out, before her eyes widened and she tried to push herself away from me despite the sword. “No!” she blurted, “I will not be enslaved by a human child! It is an abominat–” She choked as Athena caught her by the hair to hold her in place. “Abomination!”

“Wow,” I started flatly. “Gotta tell ya, I think I’m gonna take that one personally.”

With that, I reached down, catching one of the woman’s flailing arms as she struggled. Then my hand caught hold of hers, and I focused.

Then I was possessing her. And I had been right. This was harder than the last time. Even harder than it had been when I’d possessed the Seosten back in the slave camp. If Tabbris hadn’t been with me, using her own experience to help me use Charmiene’s power effectively, I probably wouldn’t have been able to seize control. Even as it was, we sat there for almost a full minute, the Seosten’s body twitching now and then as the two (really three) of us fought for control.

Finally, however, Tabbris and I managed it. I told the woman’s tightly closed eyes to open, and then I was seeing through them. I felt her panic and disgust, as well as her horror at the thought that a dirty, disgusting ape like me had taken control of her. I felt her anger, both at herself for losing and at the situation. And, beyond all that, I felt her… uh, feelings toward the woman holding her at swordpoint.

Okay, I had expected to feel a lot of emotions after possessing this woman, but lust was not one of them. She… uh, apparently had a crush on Athena. Which was understandable, but still. Wow.

“Uh.” Shaking that off, I looked up at the woman in question. “I’m okay. I mean, it’s me. It’s Flick. I’m in control.”

Athena watched me for another moment before nodding as she resheathed the sword and stepped back. “Is she thinking anything important for us to know about?”

Hesitating, I decided that the fact that my host had a crush on Athena was neither relevant, nor my place to say anything about. “Nope,” I replied, “just that she’s really mad about this whole situation. And she really doesn’t like me very much. Or humans in general.”

“Her opinion of us isn’t going to get much better any time soon,” Larissa pointed out while gesturing. “Come on, the console’s over here.”

Stop now, the Seosten in my head ordered, in a voice that was clearly accustomed to being obeyed. You will not take one step toward the slip-reactor.

The slip-reactor. That was what that big orb was. The way it had been explained to me, there were three main engine compartments. First, the one we were in right now, which housed the slip-reactor. That provided power for the slide-drive, the thing that allowed the ship to essentially go to warp speed or whatever.

Both this compartment and the one above were working on a skeleton crew during a battle. There was no point to having people manning the thing that let them go jump from planet to planet when there was no intention of leaving the immediate area. Instead, the whole maintenance crew would be sent into the main engine room to keep the local/sublight engines running. Which was what we, or Athena rather, had been counting on.

Ignoring the threats and insults from the woman in my head, I walked her to the console in question, privately asking, Tabbris, any luck?

I got it! I could hear the pride in her voice. I got the codes from her head while she was distracted.

Good job, partner. We reached the console then, and I had Tabbris relay them to me while using the Seosten woman’s hands to input them. It was a long code, and the system scanned her face as well as pricking her fingers twice each through the process to make sure it was really her. But finally, a holographic display lit up in front of the console, and I stepped back. “There, it’s unlocked. You’re in.”

“Excellent work, Lady Felicity,” Athena announced while stepping past me. Her fingers flew over the console that I had just opened up for her. The console which happened to be connected directly into the reactor and could function as a set of emergency back-up controls for the ship itself. Controls that could override the main bridge.

They’d be working to kick her out of the system as soon as they realized she was there, of course. But Athena had high authority codes of her own that she could use now that she was actually in the system, and overriding those would take time. Time they wouldn’t have. Essentially, I had used my current Seosten host to open the door, and Athena was using every code she had collected over the years to prop that door open just long enough to do what she needed to do.  

“Better get ready,”  Apollo noted while looking to Larissa and me. “This is going to take a few minutes to go through, and they’ll be sending everything they have down through that hallway to stop us.”

He was right. We’d been able to sneak our way to the reactor. But that was over now. The Seosten wouldn’t just be trying to kick Athena out of the computer system remotely. They’d also be trying to do so physically. And since all of her attention was taken up with taking over the controls and setting the ship to do what we wanted it to, she wouldn’t be able to help with the physical part. The actual fighting would be up to the three of us.

It was about to get nasty around here.

Popping out of her own host and letting the body drop to the floor unconscious, Larissa nodded. “I’d rather do this in my own body. I know how it moves.”

Apollo gave a short nod. “Just make sure you’re in a host when we pass through the security field down there. Otherwise…” He left the rest unsaid, since we already knew the answer. Any living body that wasn’t attuned to the security field when the ship passed through it would be disintegrated. That was why we couldn’t just have the others teleport over here to join us now that we weren’t sneaking anymore. We would still need to be possessing bodies that were allowed through their security, until we managed to take it down.

What… the voice of my current host was clearly confused. What… is this? What are you doing? If you blow up this ship, it will not win the battle for you.

See, I started, that’s not exactly what we’re doing. I mean, I’ll tell you what we’re doing, but you’re not gonna like it. You know how that facility down there stops anyone from teleporting near it? Well, the short version of the plan is that this ship can bypass all the magic spells that are protecting the place. So we’re gonna use the slide-drive to make a tiny jump right down there, crash it… this ship that is, into the moon, and then use all the power in that reactor right there to overload that defense tower so that our friends can teleport down and join us.

So yeah, our plan is to crash this ship into the moon and then blow it up. You know, essentially.

For a moment, there was absolute silence inside my head. Then the ranting started.

See? I put in over the sound of it.

I told you that you weren’t gonna like it.

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