Even with the prototype ship’s (Jitterbug, apparently) special transportation ability, we couldn’t go straight to Fossor’s world. The man had set up way too many automated defenses, and simply going straight to his planet would’ve tripped all of them. He may have been dead and gone, but that didn’t mean everything he had put in to protect his planet from intruders would just disappear. And fighting off every automated defense he’d thought of over the millennia he’d been in control sounded like a pretty bad afternoon to all of us.
So, we had to disable them. Which would’ve been almost impossible in most cases, given his defenses were set up in various satellite bases scattered throughout dozens of spots in a couple different solar systems surrounding his actual planet itself. They were basically tuned to constantly scan the entire area around that world and react violently if they detected any intruders. Thankfully, there was one person besides the very-dead Fossor who knew where they all were. Rahanvael was able to tell us where each one was located. All we had to do was jump there and disable the system one at a time. Fossor had made sure they would all react at once and immediately to any attack or intrusion on the planet itself, but they could not all react in unison to protect one another just like that. Instead, some scanned one another at various times, just to check in and make sure nothing had gone wrong. If one did its periodic scan and found a problem, then the whole system would react. But Rahanvael simply told us the best route to take through disabling each one ahead of those periodic scans, so we always hit the one that was supposed to do the next scan before it could.
Unfortunately, my ghost friend might’ve been able to tell us where each satellite base was, but she couldn’t tell us how to easily disable them. Rather than using codes or anything useful like that for her to pass along, Fossor had simply used himself as the authorization. The systems would scan all of us and if none of us were Fossor, they would attack.
All of which meant this whole thing basically just required we methodically jump to each defensive point in turn, break through them, and physically disable the system. As in breaking or destroying it entirely. It was better than trying to fight all of them at once right on his own world, where his people had already suffered enough without becoming collateral damage. This way was slow, but definitely worth it.
Some of the ‘bases’ were literal satellites that we just had to blast out of space once we were close enough. Others were bigger facilities inside of asteroids or small moons. Most were hidden really well, and if we hadn’t had Rahanvael to tell us exactly where they were, we would’ve been in trouble. They were set up to hide unless we were definitely close enough to see them, or even physically inside. Then they deployed everything from drone starfighters, to robots, to turrets, even automated magic defenses that had been left up. Some of which were really nasty. Again, Rahanvael helped by telling us as much as she could about each system ahead of time. She didn’t know absolutely everything Fossor had put in place, but she knew enough that we weren’t completely blindsided.
In any case, those attacks went down fairly easily for the most part. We jumped in, blew up the satellite or went into the base, fought our way through whatever defenses were deployed, and destroyed the main computer that was controlling that station to shut the whole thing down. We took a break in between each one, not wanting to push ourselves too much. Besides, it wasn’t like they had a living boss to report to. If Fossor had been alive, we would’ve had to worry about him showing up if we didn’t move fast enough. But now there was no need to rush, aside from being ahead of the next scheduled scan. And from wanting to get this over and done with so we could get to the planet itself. But being impatient was probably a bad idea.
The second-to-last base had been a simple satellite which deployed two drone fighters to attack us while charging for a rather explosive magical blast (one we had been prepared for thanks to Rahanvael and had disabled in plenty of time), we were all taking a break to eat something. The final defensive base in line was a full facility, and the biggest one yet. So we needed to be ready for that. Rahanvael wasn’t completely certain exactly what was inside, only that it was dug into the side of an asteroid and was probably about three miles wide by two miles long, a maze of various corridors and rooms filled with not just protective measures, but also various treasure Fossor had decided to stash there. Why he’d done that, nobody could say. Maybe he just figured putting stuff he wanted to keep safe in a place that was already designed to keep his entire planet safe was a good idea. Or maybe he didn’t want to waste all that empty space inside. Whatever the reason, there was bound to be some interesting, and incredibly dangerous, things in there.
Mom, Mercury, Judas, Robin, and Twister were having a conversation with Rahanvael up near the pilot’s compartment, talking about what was coming up next and what we should expect to see. Meanwhile, I was sitting with Tabbris, Shiori, Asenath, Stasia, Nevada, and Persephone. We were all chowing down, though the two vampires were drinking blood from bags we’d brought along rather than eating the same sandwiches as the rest of us.
Setting her now-empty blood bag aside, Stasia focused on me, her gaze curious. “I have heard of you, Felicity Chambers. Though what I heard was that you were being trained by Fossor himself to take up a place at his side. That… appears to have been a false rumor.”
Flinching a bit at the memory, I replied, “Yeah, well he gave it his best shot. But that shot came back to blow his head off. Or stabbed him in the back of the head, I guess.”
“That must have been quite the battle,” she calmly remarked. “And from other things I have heard, a very cathartic one.”
“Boy, can you ever say that again,” Nevada put in after devouring an enormous bite of her sandwich. “That son of a bitch got what was coming to him. Just sorry it took so long.” Her gaze found me, the woman’s usual cheerful expression completely somber. “Entirely too long.”
Swallowing hard, I made myself shrug. “Yeah, too many people suffered and died because of that bastard. But he’s dead now. And we get to tell his people they’re free.” From what I’d heard, they probably already had the basic idea. Fossor had been far too entwined with his planet for them to have no clue he was gone. But being able to tell them that he was never coming back and that they could do whatever they wanted? I was definitely looking forward to that part.
Shiori, perched beside me, gave a quick nod. “That’s right, he’s dust. Less than dust. He doesn’t matter anymore. So why do you guys think Rasputin went there? What would he be doing on that world?”
Persephone piped up immediately. “Oooh, ooh, very important question. Does anybody know if he went there before or after Felicity and Joselyn killed Fossor?”
“You mean was he there doing something for that piece of shit?” Asenath thoughtfully replied. “Or did he just take advantage of Fossor being dead to head over there and get… or do… something the bastard would’ve stopped him from doing?”
“Well, he didn’t have to go through and destroy all these defenses, right?” I pointed out. “He’s there on-planet and these things are still in place. He had to have had permission from Fossor to be there. Or maybe he stole something that would make the defenses think he had permission. Or…” I trailed off uncertainly, offering a helpless shrug.
Stasia’s voice was flat, though I could hear the tense emotion underlying it. “We’ll just have to make sure to include that in the list of questions we’re asking him in between each punch. Believe me, he’ll answer all of them.”
Tabbris, who had been mostly lost in her own thoughts over the past few minutes, shifted against my other side before speaking up. “He’s an Akharu too, like Tiras, right? So he’s gotta be really strong. And if he’s been around this long, he’s probably dangerous in lots of other ways.”
“He can be as dangerous as he wants,” Stasia retorted, “it won’t save him.” She stopped after that, however, taking a moment to collect herself before relenting. “And yet, you are correct. He will be dangerous, and we cannot underestimate him. For all the time he has spent building up the reputation as a drunkard womanizer, he is powerful. Do not allow that reputation to make you see him as an easy target.” She paused briefly once more, then added, “And I will work to ensure my anger does not blind me as well.”
“If he’s on Fossor’s world, whether he was invited or managed to get there on his own,” I put in, “then he’s definitely a big threat. No way would some random party guy who really spent all his time over the past few decades touring bars and nightclubs along the continental United States have made it onto that planet without having some secrets. Whatever he’s doing there, however he made it, there’s gotta be more to that guy.”
We talked a bit more about that. Unfortunately, despite how long Stasia and her group had been looking for him and how motivated they were to get answers out of the guy, they didn’t really know that much about what he was capable of. He put up a really good facade of being a layabout drunk, yet he knew a lot about magic and what he called alchemy, creating various ‘potions.’ Some were simple Bystander-type science that was simply far ahead of its time, while others were actual magic imbued into liquids.
It seemed like every day I was finding out more and more about how limited Crossroads’ understanding and teaching of magic was. Which clearly had to be intentional. The Seosten made sure we only learned and knew about the sorts of magic they could control. And it wasn’t like the hardliners back at Crossroads and Eden’s Garden would ever stop and talk to one of those ‘evil monsters’ about what sort of magic they could cast.
Finally, Mom turned away from her own little group and spoke up. “Everyone ready for another jump, or should we take another few minutes to rest?”
After exchanging a quick look with the others, I shook my head. “Let’s get this over with. I kinda want to know what treasures Fossor had stashed away in that place. And the sooner we break the last of these stupid bases, the sooner we can go to the actual planet. Those people deserve to find out the truth.” My gaze glanced toward Stasia before I added, “Plus, whatever this Rasputin guy is doing, I kinda doubt we want to just leave him all the time he needs for it.”
The others agreed, so we all got ourselves strapped back into our seats. The transport would be immediate, but we couldn’t know for sure what exactly we would be jumping into. If there were already defenses deployed because of something we’d missed, or there happened to be other ships around (unlikely as that was), or… anything. Plus, the second we arrived, the base would react. Given the size of the place in comparison to what we had hit so far, and the fact that Fossor had stored some precious artifacts there, the response would probably be… elaborate and intense sounded like a couple of the right words.
Now that we knew how to essentially take the ship out of its parked mode, the jump was smooth. One second, we were in the middle of deep space, and the next, we were right in front of the asteroid. Mercury called out a warning before sending the ship into a sideways spin, as the station’s defenses opened up with their first volley of shots. Four different cannons had appeared near the large metal hatch leading into the station itself, and they were going a bit nuts, filling every inch of space they could with lasers while Mercury nimbly danced the ship through increasingly narrow openings. This was getting nasty, and it would only get worse, as a much larger cannon was already being deployed. This one made the others look like peashooters, but it would take a few seconds to extend into place and charge up. And those few seconds were all we needed.
Mom was standing right behind Mercury’s pilot’s seat and had her hands out, index fingers and thumbs shaped like a rectangle in front of her as she focused on the closed hatch. Despite the way the ship was spinning and turning, she kept adjusting to maintain focus on that metal door. After a couple more seconds of that, the steel, or whatever it was, turned transparent. We were still too far away to see that, of course. At least without powers that helped. But the cameras on the ship could see that far, and projected it onto a screen just above Mercury. He was looking that way, staring intently at the area revealed beyond the now glass-like door. We could see through it and into what looked like a hangar.
The main cannon finished charging up and started to fire. But even as that massive beam made its way toward us, Mercury hit the button to make the ship jump once more. That time, we jumped into the station, since he could see exactly where to send us thanks to Mom making the metal doors transparent.
There were still some threats to deal with inside the station, traps and defenses that Fossor had left in place. But, working together, we dealt with them. This was just another speed bump on our way to that world. We broke those defenses, disabled his magic traps, and destroyed everything in our way to the main systems. There, another magical forcefield wall blocked our way, just like every other base we had hit. But just like all those others, it had a fatal flaw. It was intended to be disabled by a ghost, and I happened to have a few of those. Granted, the ghost was supposed to know the ten-button code that Fossor included on the control panel, but Rahanvael knew that too. So, after a very brief wait once I sent her in there, the forcefield was disabled and we were in. From there, it didn’t take long for Mercury to use the console in order to shut down the rest of the system’s defenses. Then it was just a matter of physically smashing the computer, which we may have taken a bit too much joy in.
The point was, all of this was pretty routine by this point. We knew what we were doing, and just made our way through the place almost mechanically to shut down the security. And once that was done, it was time to check out what sort of treasure Fossor had stuck in this place. That part, at least, was new.
Following Rahanvael’s directions out of the security room and down another corridor, our group was quickly approaching a set of metal doors at the far end, which were supposed to lead into the main treasure vault. There would be a few other defenses to deal with that weren’t connected to the main system, but for the most part, we were doing just–
“Wait.” Mom had abruptly paused just a few feet from the next door and tilted her head as though listening to something.
“What?” Stasia frowned, glancing toward Asenath. “I don’t hear anything. Do you hear anything?”
As Senny shook her head, and the rest of us exchanged confused looks, Mom held her hand up. “There’s something else here. I’m just not sure…” She turned in a circle, eyes moving quickly to look for whatever she had heard. The rest of us waited, listening intently.
“Rahanvael,” I started to whisper, “do you think–”
Mom spoke up. “Mercury, Nevada, come with me. The rest of you wait here, and be ready.”
So, we waited. My mother and the other two started moving back the way we had come. I didn’t like the idea of splitting up like this, but Mom was in charge of this trip.
Judas and Robin were talking together, while Stasia frowned and muttered something about it being just perfect if something went wrong right now. Shiori, Tabbris, and I stood together to one side, as I watched my mother, Mercury, and Nevada moving down the corridor. Twister, Asenath, and Persephone were nearby, having their own quiet conversation. All of us were mostly focused on trying to figure out what my mother had heard.
When I saw my mother look back at us. She pulled something from her pocket, stone or whatever. As my mouth opened to ask what she was doing, a blast of purple energy erupted from the stone. It hit Mercury and Nevada, making both of them abruptly fall to the floor, apparently unconscious.
At the same time, her hand hit… something on the wall, and an emergency siren began to wail. An entire wall came out of nowhere to slam down in front of us, cutting us off from Mom and the other two.
It all happened that quickly. One second I was looking at her, and the next, she had knocked out Mercury and Nevada, and sealed the rest of us into this corridor.
I was there in an instant, hitting the wall while the others shouted behind me. “Mom! What the fuck is–Mom! Rahanvael!”
“On it,” the ghost girl quickly blurted, moving through the wall. As she did, I focused on seeing through her eyes. The hallway beyond was already empty, but Rahavael raced through it. Behind me, back with my body, I could half-hear the others saying something about getting the wall open, asking me what the hell was going on, and more. But I ignored them. My entire focus was on seeing through Rahanvael’s eyes as she rushed all the way back to the hangar.
There. Mom was dragging Mercury and Nevada’s unconscious forms onto the Jitterbug. Rahanvael was at the edge of the hangar when the ship’s hatch closed. Not that that would stop her. She flew onward, straight toward the ship. But it was too late. The engines started up, and the thing lifted off before flying straight out into open space, leaving us behind.
Through Rahanvael’s eyes, I saw the ship disappear into the distance. And I saw as she lowered her gaze to look at the floor where the ship had been a moment earlier. A floor where something was written in big red letters, as if spray-painted there.
‘I’ll Be Back. This Was Denuvus.’