Pace

At Last 16-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Things were even worse, if that was possible. It turned out there were protection spells that the Whisper-possessed Seosten ghosts had put up around the Slide-Drive core. Which, of course, we didn’t have time to break through so we could disable the jamming. Not with Puriel already about to be taken over by those bastards. Every second we spent down here was too long. 

In the end, we only had one choice. My dad, despite his worry about his parents, agreed to stay behind and use the spells that he knew (and what Apollo and Aletheia showed him) to break through that protection so he could disable the jamming. It wasn’t perfect, but he had Mercury’s power. Which meant he could both speed up his own magic and make the protection spells run through their own duration much faster. He just had to do so carefully to avoid setting off any bad reactions. 

Tabbris was staying with him too. That was harder, but I convinced her that if I couldn’t stay and protect our dad from any of those Whispers that might come back, she needed to. She had her wings and knew all the ghost control magic I did, even if she didn’t have the same Necromancy power. I was trusting her to keep our father safe right now, and once they were done getting through the protections and were able to shut down the jamming, she would be able to recall back to me. 

Obviously, she felt guilty about leaving me ‘on my own,’ but I was able to convince her that it was for the best. We embraced briefly before separating so the rest of us could start running. 

Through my connection to Grover, I was able to describe exactly where Puriel and the others were both in appearance and in relation to our current location. Using that, Apollo and Aletheia figured out that they were in one of the special cargo holds. It was separate from the regular hold, intended to keep sensitive cargo that the Seosten didn’t want just anyone on the ship to have access to. The place was sealed behind high-level protections, which would have been a real problem if we hadn’t run into Aletheia already. Because she had actually been traveling on the Olympus already, and was trusted implicitly by Puriel, the Seosten woman already had access to the place. If it wasn’t for her, we probably would have had to spend way too much time finding a way to get through the security defenses. More time than we had right then, judging from how many of the Whispers I had seen doing their level best to get into Puriel’s head. 

As we raced back through the engine deck toward the elevator, Avalon complained, “This Puriel guy is supposed to be one of the strongest Seosten out there. I believe the exact words were ‘master of all energy, including magic.’ Shouldn’t he be able to wave his hand and blow these things away? It should be him saving us.” 

Aletheia’s voice was flat. “Ever since the… incident with the banishment orb, his mind has not been the same. Between that and the trauma he experienced at the orphanage when the Fomorians attacked, he has moments where he zones out and is incapable of reacting to the outside world. Spark is normally good at pulling him back from those moments, or simply taking over. But it seems that these Whispers are interfering with that.”

I gave a quick nod. “That’s what it looked like to me. I mean, from the outside.” Grimacing a bit, I added, “Whatever the reason, I’m pretty sure we don’t have much time. Things were looking pretty desperate up there.”

Thankfully, we wouldn’t be alone once we got there. Hopefully, at least. First, Miranda had already jumped back to her original body (it was with Athena and Dare) and was going to give them a detailed explanation straight up. As for the other two groups, I sent several of my ghosts back out to let them know what was going on as well. Between all that, it would hopefully make them meet us on the right deck so we could all do this together. That was the plan, anyway. 

By that point, we had reached the elevator, and I scrambled on before shifting my focus so I could look through Grover’s eyes once more to check what was going on. Things aren’t any better. It looked like Uncle Al, a Native American man, and my grandparents were all surrounding Puriel and the kids, protecting them from the ghosts that the Whispers kept summoning. Worse, I could see Invidia there, already in a duel with Uncle Al. Needless to say, he was holding his own. After all, he was Hercules. 

Even my grandparents were… doing something useful. It looked like Grandpartie was using a console to direct internal security weapons to fire on the ghosts, which were actually doing some damage to them. Probably shouldn’t have been surprising, considering how much experience Seosten would have with ghosts and other intangible beings, but still. And Grandmaria was… uhh, as best as I could tell at a glance, using magic to create a forcefield to hold the majority of the Whispers and ghosts off. 

I wasn’t sure which was more surprising and impressive to me, my grandfather being able to manipulate the ship controls like that, or my grandmother having a strong enough grasp over magic to create that forcefield. Or–wait, was she using magic or some power? Had she bonded to something? And come to think of it, Popser was barely touching the controls. It was more like his hands were resting on it, fingers twitching now and then. What–

Shaking that off, I focused on what was important right then. Namely, the fact that they were sort of holding off the attack. But still, things weren’t great. More Whispers kept getting through to add to the pile that were doing their level best to get into Puriel’s head, and the man himself still wasn’t moving or reacting to anything. He was just standing there with his head cocked to the side. There was clearly an internal struggle going on, and if we didn’t hurry up and get there, we were going to end up having to fight a Whisper-controlled Puriel. Which basically sounded like the exact opposite of anything approaching a good time. None of us were ready to deal with something like that. Hell, we weren’t enough even if we all joined together. This was Zeus, for fucks sake. We had nothing that could challenge him if he went after us. Especially on his own ship. Between that and all the other Whispers, including the Whisper-Possessed Charmeine, we would be completely fucked, in no uncertain terms.

Instructing Grover to tell my grandparents that we were on the way, I jumped back into my own mind in time to feel the elevator rising. It was going pretty quick too, and I could see Apollo messing with an open computer panel to one side. Apparently he had disabled the safeties or something and sped the thing up. Now we were flying toward the right deck. I just hoped we would make it in time. And, of course, cursed the fact that the Whispers’ jamming included blocking transportation powers. We had to do this whole thing the long way rather than just teleporting up there. Because, of course, this had to be as hard as possible. 

One day for a party to celebrate a victory. That was all I’d asked for. But did we get that? Of course not. And we still didn’t understand why the Whispers were here trying to pilot the ship into Tartarus to begin with. What did they think they could gain from that? Hell, what even were they? There were so many questions around this entire situation, and the only creatures with answers didn’t seem inclined to explain. But hey, maybe we could beat it out of them. 

Or maybe I was just looking forward to beating them in general. It was possible that I was slightly annoyed by this entire situation. Terrified too, of course. But also annoyed. 

The elevator finally stopped at the right deck, and the rest of us exchanged quick glances before stepping off together. The room beyond was shaped like a half-circle, with a line of elevators, including the one we had been on, along the flat line part. To the left and right were corridors, with several open doors along the curve part of the half-circle ahead of us. The main doors, straight across, apparently led to the primary cargo bay. But that wasn’t where we were supposed to go. Our destination lay to the left, down that hall. 

We were cautious, even as we stepped out of the elevator, weapons at the ready considering we had no idea what sort of traps or problems the Whispers might have left to slow us down so they would have time to take over Puriel. There could be anything waiting for us up here. 

And yet, despite having that thought, I still wasn’t prepared for what I immediately saw. Coming off the elevator, my eyes immediately fell on a single, lone figure standing with their back to us, staring through the doorway toward the main cargo hold. They showed no reaction to our arrival, and I took a quick second to size them up. They were solid, not a ghost, and seemed either human or Seosten from this angle. Probably the latter. A man, several inches under six feet, though pretty well-built. His brown hair fell to just above his shoulders, and he wore gray cloth pants and a simple white shirt, his feet bare. 

Even as I took that in, the man turned to look at me. Now I could see his face. He had a neatly trimmed beard and his eyes were a brownish-green. He looked, on paper, like a completely average guy of no particular power or importance. And yet, when I met his gaze, I felt myself shrink back reflexively. A lump had formed in my throat, as an inexplicable sense of danger and power filled me. He had made no threatening move, said no threatening words, had done nothing other than turn to look at me, but I still felt his power like a crushing weight. 

Abruptly, Apollo spoke up. “I’m not picking up any surprises.” He was holding a stone in one hand, enchanted to detect traps. “Doesn’t seem right.” 

“No surprises?” I found myself blurting. “What about–” Then my eyes flicked from Apollo, back to the strangely terrifying man by the cargo bay. But he wasn’t there. In that time, in that brief instant where my eyes had moved off him, he had vanished. “Wha–what?” I stammered, completely thrown off. I shouldn’t have been, given all the incredible powers I had seen. Yet something about that guy, something about… yeah. It threw me off, to say the least.

The others were all looking at me uncertainly, and I raised a hand to point to where the man had been, quickly explaining what I had seen. But none of them had caught a glimpse of the man. Even though he had been standing in plain view as far as I was concerned, they had not seen anything. A quick check with Seth and Rahanvael, each standing beside me, revealed the same answer. I was the only person who had seen him, or sensed anything at all. None of Mom’s powers, and none of Aletheia or Apollo’s magic, had picked up the man’s presence. 

And, come to think of it, I had not sensed him with my item-detection power either. He had definitely been in range of it, but I hadn’t sensed his clothes or anything. He had looked completely solid, but wasn’t detected by anything. Except by my own eyes, and only my eyes. No one else had picked up any sense of him at all. This was… weird. And it certainly wasn’t doing anything to make me feel better about the situation we were walking into. 

Mom and the two Seosten spent a tense moment focusing on that spot, but even after I pointed out exactly where the man had been, they couldn’t pick up anything at all. It was like he’d never been there in the first place. Which, again, was more than a little worrying. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to focus on any implications of that. Not with the problems we already had to deal with. We still had to get into the other room before the Whispers got through to Puriel, so any thoughts and worries about the man I had seen were just going to have to wait. All I could really do in that moment was hope that it wasn’t something that would come back and bite us in the ass before we were done with this specific problem. Hell, for all I knew, that figure was working with the Whispers. 

On the plus side, there didn’t seem to be any defenses here blocking our way. Which in and of itself was a bit surprising, but we weren’t going to dwell on that too much either. Especially not when two of the nearby elevators arrived in the next moment, with Larissa, Haiden, and Mercury emerging from one, and Sariel, Theia, and Pace from the other. With their respective Mirandas, of course. The ghosts I had sent to get them rejoined me, fading from view for the moment (though ready to be summoned back as soon as I needed them). 

“You guys okay?” I asked, thoughts of the man I had seen fresh in my mind. Much as I tried to set that aside, I couldn’t entirely dismiss his face. The way he had stared right through me, the power I had felt, it was too much to ignore. 

Theia waved. “We killed ghosts. And fuzzy-ghosts.” 

“Whispers, she means,” Pace put in, voice tense as she glanced around as though expecting to be ambushed at any second. “And we didn’t kill them so much as… make them go away for the moment.” 

“Yeah, and I’m pretty sure we know where they went to,” Avalon muttered, eyes on the left-hand corridor leading toward the special, extra-secure cargo hold. “They’re throwing everything they have into taking control of Puriel. Or at least turning him against the rest of us. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t fancy our odds if that happens.”

“Which is why we need to get in there right now.” That was Athena, speaking as she and Dare came off another elevator. Her attention was laser-focused ahead, a silvery-gold sword in one hand that was still glowing from ghost-fire. “Worry about specifics later,” she instructed while still walking. “Right now, all that matters is driving these creatures away and giving Puriel time to collect himself.” After a brief verbal pause, she added, “And hope that Lincoln and Tabbris break those protection spells so they can stop this ship before it’s too late to matter.” 

Oh, right, of course. We had that problem to worry about too. Even if we did manage to get the Whispers away from Puriel and the others before they turned him into a monster who would annihilate us all, it would all be for naught if this damn ship managed to take us straight into Tartarus. But, you know, it wasn’t like we were under any pressure or anything. 

Pushing aside those thoughts we started to move, I told Athena and the others what I had seen, and the fact that no one else had sensed anything. She and Sariel exchanged brief glances, before the latter spoke. “When this is over, if it is alright with you, I would like to take a look at that memory and see this man for myself. It would be better than a description.” 

I agreed easily, hoping it would lead to an actual answer. Then I pushed the thought as far from my mind as possible, focusing on the here and now. As we ran, Dare gave me a quick look, silently asking if I was all right. I gave her a thumbs up, but made it waiver a little. Between that and the look on my face, I was pretty sure she understood just how uncertain I was about the whole thing. She, in turn, took a moment to touch my shoulder in mid-run, squeezing it firmly to let me know she was there. Which was nice, but also reminded me yet again that she still couldn’t tell my mother, her own daughter, who she really was and why she cared so much.   

It was just another thing I had to push out of my head so I could focus on the problem at hand. A problem that was right in front of us, as we reached the door leading to the special cargo bay. Aletheia had already input the code, the door sliding open to reveal the same room I had seen through Grover’s eyes. And a situation that had not gotten any better in the time since I had last checked. The kids were still huddled into an even tighter circle, though Spark wasn’t visible. My guess was that she was inside Puriel, trying to keep as much control as possible away from the Whispers, who were basically flooding over his body so much that there were constant distortion waves all around him. The rest of the Whispers, and the ghosts, were being desperately held back by Uncle Al, my grandparents, and that Native American man. But they were, unfortunately, fighting a losing battle, constantly having to pull back closer to the others as the attackers continued to flood into the room. There were so many Whispers. Obviously there weren’t as many ghosts for them to control, given–well, there weren’t an unlimited number of Seosten on the Olympus who had died, even counting ‘ordinary’ crew members. Still, they were all here, and they were making a huge push. Probably because this was as much a do-or-die moment for them as it was for us. 

Seeing us enter, Grandmaria raised a hand, the other held out to reinforce the shield she had erected around them. “Good to see you, kiddo! Wish I had time to have cookies ready.” 

“Later, Maria,” Uncle Al cheerfully replied even as his fist slammed into a ghost. It shouldn’t have done anything, yet the incorporeal figure still blew apart from that single blow. “There’ll be time for cookies once we remind these bastards they’re supposed to stay gone when they die!” 

“Hurtful,” Seth remarked beside me. “But considering the situation, fair.” 

Before I could respond to that, Sariel had taken a step that way, her eyes on the huddled children trying to make themselves even smaller. Specifically, on a small boy who was peeking up to stare right back at her. Omni. He was right there. 

Unfortunately, that single step was as much as she was able to take, before a familiar form coalesced right in front of us. Charmeine. No, Invidia. Her colored-in ghost form appeared, already smirking. “Oh, you people got through those traps even faster than we thought you would. That’s surprising. And annoying. But I think that’s about far enough.” Pausing, her head tilted before she raised both eyebrows. “Ah. It seems my host here has complicated feelings about seeing you, Artemis. How interesting.” 

Traps? What traps was she talking about? There hadn’t been any traps. Huh? A moment of confusion passed through me, as I exchanged a quick glance with the others. They looked just as uncertain. 

Sariel, on the other hand, manifested her bow and drew back an energy arrow before pointing it that way. Her voice was tight. “You and the rest of your kind need to get out of here right now. Why do you even want to take this ship into Tartarus in the first place? What could you possibly hope to get out of that?” 

“A fine question,” Athena put in, stepping beside the other Seosten woman, sword at the ready. 

Invidia, in turn, glanced between them before giving a slow, audible chuckle. “Taking this ship into Tartarus?” She echoed the words as though they were the silliest thing she had ever heard, shaking her head. “Oh dear. I believe you’ve made a very dangerous assumption. We have no intention of taking this ship, or anyone on it, into Tartarus. You see, in moments we will have control of one of the most powerful and instinctive magic users in this entire universe. But even more importantly, he has a direct connection to Tartarus itself. After all, it is the source of his power.

“Once we have him in hand, we will use that power to open the portal into Tartarus. Of that, you are correct. But we will not be going inside. No, quite the opposite. When the portal is open, we will be releasing the creatures which dwell within that universe into this one. Then our people will fulfill our destiny by taking the creatures for our own use. 

“And together, we will erase everything in existence.” 

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At Last 16-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I really shouldn’t have been surprised at all. We had finally managed to get the anti-possession  spell put in place, so of course something else had to go wrong. So many thoughts about what possibly could have happened to make my grandparents and the others fail to respond to messages even though the Olympus was here, let alone what could be blocking my father from recalling to Grandmaria, kept filling my mind. I couldn’t stop imagining all the possible terrible things that could be going on over there. Sometimes, my imagination was the worst. Especially when it had so many real-life examples to pull from. 

The ‘we’ that were going over there included my parents, Dare, Sariel, Apollo, Athena, Mercury, Larissa, Haiden, Theia, Pace, Avalon, Miranda, and me. With Tabbris, of course, though she would be inside me. Which was a fair number of people. But then, it was also a fairly large ship. Not the biggest out there, of course. Nowhere near. But still a bit too big to easily explore with only a few people. Besides, we had no idea what would be waiting for us over there, or how quickly we needed to find Puriel and the others. We would be splitting up to look around, each group keeping one of the actual Olympian Seosten so they could help us find our way through the, again, pretty large ship.  

Mom had wanted my father to stay back here on the station until we established that it was safe on that ship, but he was having none of it. Not this time, anyway. They were both incredibly stubborn, and he had the edge given his parents were involved. In the end, she finally agreed as long as he promised to be careful and stay with her. And all of us had to carry emergency teleport things that would bring us back here if things went wrong. Somehow, I restrained myself from asking what would happen if the thing that was blocking recall and stopping Puriel from communicating also affected those emergency teleports. I had the feeling that a question like that wouldn’t help matters, relevant as it might have been. 

Athena was going over last minute instructions about how to activate the extra emergency beacons that would draw the others to our locations if we needed them quickly. Along with a few words about how stupid it would be to try to handle anything we saw without calling for help. She made us all promise to call for assistance the second we saw absolutely anything out of the ordinary. This, as she put it, was not the time to try to solve anything on our own. 

“Apollo,” she added pointedly with a look that way, “You’re absolutely sure that none of your… friends have said anything about this?” She was referring, of course, to the myriad future-seers, fortune tellers, and the like who owed various favors and help to the man. He had used their assistance many times in the past, including directing Haiden to Sariel in the first place. Yeah, apparently that had been a whole conversation. I wasn’t privy to the exact details, but it had obviously all worked out. Especially considering just what Haiden meeting Sariel had led to. 

In this case, the man gave a quick shake of his head. “Sorry, I’ve got nothing from anyone. Could be because it’s not that important, or because it’s being blocked, or they just missed it. Or… the list goes on.” With a slight grimace, he quietly added, “That’s really the problem with relying too much on people to tell you the future. When they don’t, it leaves you feeling half-blind. And they’re never perfectly accurate or detailed anyway. It’s an aid, a bit of help now and then, not something to base too many decisions on.” 

“Fair enough,” Athena murmured before focusing on the rest of us. “With that in mind, let’s get over there before something else goes wrong. I don’t want to pull too many people away from the celebration until we know exactly what’s going on. If this is something we can handle, we will. If not… well, we will cross that bridge if we come to it, as I believe the saying goes.”

“Perhaps my mother has found the ship first,” Theia mused thoughtfully. “I am not aware of any skill she might have in stopping my father from communicating, or blocking recall from this close. But then, I was also not aware that she had the skill to come back from the dead and turn herself into a super-ghost. So, perhaps she has other surprises as well.” 

Before anyone else could respond to that, Pace put her hand on the other girl’s shoulder, voice flat. “Whether it’s your mom or anyone else, we’ll deal with it. And if it is her, we’ll deal with it extra-hard.” 

Clearing her throat, Sariel spoke up. “Yes, well, in case it is her, everyone take these.” She extended an open wooden box full of pieces of wood about the size and shape of a pencil, with intricate runes carved into them. “If you see Kushiel, or any ghost, snap the wood. That will release a containment field that… well, should trap the nearest ghost. In Kushiel’s case, it might simply slow her down. Either way, snap the wood and then call for help. Or do both at the same time.” 

“She means everyone snap your wood and call for help,” Mercury put in. “If you see Kushiel, don’t just assume someone else will deal with her. The more of these things she gets hit with, the better off you’ll be. Which isn’t saying much, given how bad being around her is. But still.” 

“Mercury is correct,” Athena agreed. “The more of these spells she, or any other ghosts, have to work their way through, the better off we are all likely to be. Focusing my way, she added, “And I shouldn’t have to add this, but those of you who are skilled in Necromancy–” 

“Don’t worry,” I assured her, “I’ll snap the stick just like everyone else. Trust me, I already saw just how strong she is when I tried to stop her last time. And she’ll be more ready for Tabbris to boost me now. Doesn’t mean I won’t try. Every little bit helps. But I won’t rely on it.” 

Mom nodded, her hand reaching out to gently squeeze mine. “You know to be careful. Not only when it comes to Kushiel, but anything we might find over there. Whatever it is, we’re all better off handling it together.” 

With that, they triggered the portal. Sariel and Mercury had done most of the work with that, judging exactly where the Olympus was, how much it was drifting, and comparing that to their own memories of the ship’s interior. Assuming their calculations were right, the portal would lead us to the bridge of the ship. It felt like the best place to start. If we were incredibly lucky, we would find everyone right there and having this whole group ready to search would end up being pointless. I didn’t expect that, of course. Again, I had seen too much to be that naive. But still, it was nice to dream sometimes. And that was certainly one thing I’d love to be wrong about. 

In my head, Tabbris spoke up. We’re gonna see Mama’s ship! Belatedly, she added with a sense of guilt. I mean, I’m sure your grandparents are okay. And my new brother and sister! She added the last bit with a tone that made it clear she was still surprised by that thought. We’re gonna find them! 

Your grandparents too, I reminded her. And it’s okay to be excited about seeing the ship your Mom was on for so long. You’ve been waiting a long time for this. I’m sure she told you all sorts of stories. 

There was a brief, yet firm mental hug from my little sister before she spoke again. And when we find… Grandmaria and Grandpartie, they can tell us stories about their trip. So can Spark and Omni. They’ll tell us all sorts of stories. After a brief pause, she added hesitantly, Do you really think they’re okay?

That was the real truth, I realized. She was trying to focus more on being excited about visiting the ship, even though doing so made her feel guilty, because otherwise she would be obsessing over worrying about her new siblings, grandparents, and the others. And yet doing so made her feel guilty about not worrying about them. She was stuck in a loop like that. 

We’ll find them, I assured her. They have Puriel with them, remember? I mean, I know we both basically always saw him as a giant asshole in all the stories, but he’s… uhh, better now? Whatever, he likes them, right? So he’ll definitely be protecting them. And whatever’s going on, I doubt it can hurt Puriel before we get there. Don’t worry, it… it’s gonna be okay. Of course, I didn’t know that for sure, but I needed to say it about as much as Tabbris needed to hear it. 

We all passed through the portal a couple at a time, and I found myself feeling like I had walked into Star Trek even more than I already had, given the fact that we lived on a literal space station and I had visited multiple other worlds. Looking around this fancy bridge, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Data, Picard, or Sisko standing at one of the stations. 

But, there was no sign of Star Trek characters. Worse, there was no sign of anyone else either. My brief hope that we would find my grandparents and the others waiting for us was immediately dashed. Again, it wasn’t surprising at all, but I still gave a very soft sigh.

Beside me, Avalon took my hand and whispered, “I know, I was hoping they’d be here too.” She gave me a brief, understanding look and I felt a little bit better. At least whatever we were going to have to deal with here, I would have Avalon with me. Not to mention both of my parents. Having Dad with me through all this made me feel a little funny. But he deserved to be here as much as anyone. They were his parents, after all. 

Even as I was coming to terms with the fact that this mission wasn’t going to be incredibly easy after all, Mercury was already starting over to one of the consoles. He moved his hands quickly over the holographic controls for a few seconds before pivoting to look toward Athena, who was watching him expectantly. “Looks like the system is locked down. I can get into it so we can access the records and ship controls, but it’s going to take a little while.” 

After considering that briefly, the woman gave a short nod. “Stay here and work on that. Haiden, Larissa?” 

“We’ll cover him,” Larissa agreed. She and Haiden both moved to either side of the main doors leading out to the rest of the ship, taking up position to wait in case anyone who wasn’t one of us came through.

“There are three lifts just beyond the door, down that corridor,” Athena informed the rest of us. Well, those of us who hadn’t already spent many years on this ship. “The first two go through the rest of the Olympus. The last one goes up to bridge officer quarters. Apollo, take Joselyn, Lincoln, Avalon, and Felicity on the first lift and head for the engine compartment, then work your way around to the cafeteria. Sariel, take Theia and Pace on the second lift to the main crew quarters, work your way through those to the botanical gardens and then down to meet the others in the cafeteria to compare notes. Virginia and I will check the officer’s quarters with the third lift.” Finally, she looked to the last remaining person there. “And Miranda…”  

“Yup!” Miranda chirped understandingly before abruptly creating a couple duplicates. “I get it. Technically, I can stay with every group.”

One of the new Mirandas nodded. “And if something happens with one of the other groups, we can give a little tug and jump over to the original to let her know.” 

“Good,” Athena confirmed. “It’s always best to have multiple backup systems just in case something goes wrong.” Giving the group a brief once-over, she grimaced slightly. “I’m sorry, we really should have more people to search a ship this size. I am… hoping this is something we can solve ourselves. But if not, consider this a scouting mission. Remember, the moment you see anything out of the ordinary, contact everyone else. And if you need to retreat, do it. We need information, not martyrs. We find out what has been happening over here, and then decide how to handle it. Do not split up into smaller groups than this. I do not care what your reasoning is. All of you stay together, no matter what.” 

Only after getting an audible agreement from everyone did Athena gesture and urge us to move through the door. Sariel went first, with Apollo just behind her. The rest of us followed suit, as I felt Tabbris mentally school herself to calm down and focus on why we were here. Again, I couldn’t blame her for being excited. Hell, I was still excited about being on the actual literal Olympus. Seriously, there was of course that worry about my grandparents and the others. But still. I just had to promise myself that I would be giddy about actually being here later, once we knew for certain that everyone was safe. When that happened, I was going to come back here with Tabbris and get someone from this ship to give us a full guided tour. Hell, maybe Puriel himself would do it, if he was all… nicer and all now. 

Okay, maybe not him. I still wasn’t sure how that whole situation was going to go. But someone. 

The room beyond the bridge was shaped a bit like a triangle with the top cut off. The door we had come through was around the middle of the left side of the triangle. To our right, where the ‘bottom/wider’ part of the triangle was, two elevator doors were roughly equal distance apart. Those were clearly the ones that went to the rest of the ship. Meanwhile, to the left, at the cut-off ‘top’ part of the triangle, was a single elevator door with an obvious security panel next to it. That, I was willing to bet, was the one that led to the officers quarters. I also saw a door straight ahead which Athena walked straight to and opened by putting her hand against a glowing button there. Beyond was what looked like a conference room. Probably where the officers met to discuss plans or briefings or whatever. Either way, there didn’t appear to be anyone or anything inside, judging by the way Athena glanced in and then turned away with a shake of her head. “Let’s keep moving.” 

So, we split up as planned. I went with Avalon, my parents, and one of the Mirandas and followed Apollo to the first elevator, where we crowded onto it and headed down. From what I understood, the bridge area was around the center of the main orb of the ship, while the engine compartments were right near the bottom, and the main crew quarters, where Sariel’s group was going, were near the top. Using Athena’s instructions, our two groups were basically going to hit the top and bottom of the main orb, then work our way around and inward to meet on this same deck where we were starting, but over where the main cafeteria was. On the other hand, she made it sound simple, but the Olympus was pretty big. Five hundred meters in diameter, just counting the main, central body. One thousand, six hundred and forty feet. Meanwhile, the longest aircraft carriers in the Bystander world were just under one thousand one hundred feet. Not to mention the fact that this was an orb, so it was as long from top to bottom as it was from one side to the other. One thousand, six hundred and forty feet tall. I’d looked it up before, and the Empire State Building was one thousand two hundred and fifty feet from ground to roof. Three hundred and eighty meters versus the Olympus’s five hundred. We were basically looking through something that was as tall as the Empire State Building, and as wide as that laying on its side. And then some. It was an orb so that size shrank the further out you went, to an extent. Still, it was very large. 

Too large for just a few people to search. And that was before we even added in searching the attached gunships. Each of those was several hundred meters long by themselves. If we had to start searching them, this was going to be an even bigger project. 

But before we started worrying about that, we had to focus on this search. As we waited for the elevator to take us down to the engines, I looked over at Apollo. “So, how weird does this feel?” 

He offered me a rueful smile before nodding once. “Definitely feels weird, I’ll tell you that much. It’s ahh, been a long time since I was here. But the place doesn’t look like it’s changed at all.” Pausing, he nodded toward the wall opposite me. “That’s pretty new though.” 

Turning, I squinted at a mark that seemed to be etched into the metal. No, not a mark. Letters. A & M. A and M. Arthur and Maria. Seeing that, I smiled and reached out to tug Dad’s arm so he would look at it. Of course, he realized what it meant immediately, reaching out to touch the etching with a soft gasp. Both of us exchanged knowing looks. My grandfather had etched that there. He’d left his mark on the Olympus, just like carving their initials into a tree. Somehow, knowing my grandfather the way that I did, that didn’t surprise me at all. God, I hoped he was okay. 

We’ll find them, Tabbris quickly assured me. They’ll be alright. We just have to figure out where they are and… and then take them back to the party. They’re just making a dramatic entrance, right? 

As I gave her a firm mental agreement, Miranda spoke up. “It’s them, isn’t it?” She was pointing to the initials, squinting uncertainly. “It must be, cuz I’m pretty sure it’s not talking about the university from Texas.” 

Chuckling despite myself, I opened my mouth to reply. Before I could, however, the elevator stopped, doors sliding open to reveal a pristine white corridor that looped out toward the left before reaching a T-junction, with several doors along either side along the way. A steady humming sound could be heard, just barely audible. This was the main engine floor, and each of those doors led to a different section of them. If I understood things right, the engines themselves ran throughout this entire floor, while the corridor and attached doors led to the specific parts that people would need to get to for maintenance, repair, and such. You had to find the right door to get to the right area of the engine you wanted to work on, because trying to crawl, climb, hop, and whatever else your way through the actual engine itself to find your area would be incredibly dangerous and time consuming. You followed the guide in moving through the maze of corridors to the right door. Or, if you were a Seosten who was supposed to be there, you simply followed your own perfect memory. 

Mom stepped out of the elevator first, already drawing Mordred’s sword. She was supposed to be using it for awhile until it, like, acclimated to her or something so it would show us where Mordred’s body was. I wasn’t exactly sure how that worked, but they insisted it was right, so we were going with it. Mom just had to use the sword until something happened, I supposed. 

“Check every door,” Apollo was saying. “On both sides of the corridor. We’ll walk the main route, opening doors as we go and looking in to see if anything looks out of place. You should be able to see the whole space you need to check from the doorway without going inside. And trust me, if you don’t want to end up getting lost for days in there, do not leave the doorway. You may think you’re only going a few feet, but it’s really easy to get turned around and completely lost. Just open the door, look inside, then move on. If there’s something wrong, you’ll see it.” 

My mouth opened to agree, just as that steady humming we had been hearing abruptly grew louder. The floor vibrated a bit under our feet, and I heard a high-pitched whine from down the corridor, somewhere else in the engine floor. 

“Uh, what just happened?” Miranda demanded.

Avalon nodded, looking around quickly. “Yeah, what the hell is going on? That doesn’t seem normal.”

“Oh, it’s normal,” Apollo flatly replied. “At least, it’s normal if the ship you’re on has just activated its slide-drive.” 

“Wait,” Dad put in. “Are you saying–” 

Apollo gave a short nod, his face grim. “I’m saying, this ship is moving. 

“And I’m pretty sure none of us are in control.” 

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At Last 16-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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And celebrate we did. Throughout the entire rest of the day and far into the night, actually. The party spread over the entire station as we all moved from room to room pretty much randomly. There were even portals set up in very safe areas of each main camp (the station, Wonderland, the Garden rebels, etc) so that people could intermingle as much as they wanted. There were various concerts and games going on, impromptu contests of various types, and more. Hell, all my ghosts back in the Haunted Mansion were having a party of their own to celebrate the whole thing. They had signs set up outside directing people to come in and hang out with them, and the last I had seen, plenty were taking them up on that. Seriously, everyone was clearly using this as an excuse to let off a lot of tension and fully embrace letting loose. It was wild, chaotic, and totally amazing. 

It was yet another chance for me to be grateful for the level of stamina that I had, because it meant that I could keep going and see as much as possible long after many others had tapped out. Not that they were out for long. Many of them simply took a little nap for a couple hours here or there before jumping right back into it. But I saw basically everything. I made my way through all the rooms and camps, interacted with everyone, and just… really enjoyed myself. 

At the moment, I was on my way down the corridor to find the portal that would lead me to the Eden’s Garden motel. Or at least, the main one they had taken over. There were some people down there I wanted to talk to. It was almost three in the morning, but that didn’t matter at all. Given the way this party was going on, I was starting to doubt that it would die down entirely anytime throughout the rest of the day. Especially considering it was now officially Christmas Eve. Yeah, something told me people would be taking breaks now and then, but this whole celebration was just going to keep going, at one level or another, for quite a while longer. Which was understandable, considering how long most of these people had been living under the threat of having themselves or their loved ones enslaved by the Seosten. Literally for their entire lives, actually. No matter how long they had lived. Now they could be assured that they were safe from at least the whole being possessed part. Their choices would stay their own. Of course, whether we avoided outright physical war with the Seosten or not remained to be seen. But whatever came of that, at least we had this. They couldn’t take over our bodies and turn us against our loved ones. And that was well-worth spending all of Christmas Eve celebrating. 

Before I could get to the room where the portal was, a different familiar figure came into view from the opposite end of the corridor. Pausing as I saw him, I raised my hand. “Dries?” 

It was him, though the man looked quite a bit different than he had when I first met him the year before. He was still blond, but his hair had been straightened up. Still long, yet more evenly trimmed. As was his beard. He also wasn’t so bone-thin that it looked like he would snap apart in a stiff breeze anymore. He had filled out somewhat, and no longer wore ancient rags. He actually looked healthy after all this time. Though I was pretty sure it would take much longer for the haunted expression to leave his face, if it ever did. 

Seeing me when I called out, the man paused before offering me a tentative smile. He still didn’t really do well with crowds, but he could handle one-on-one conversations okay enough. Especially with people he actually knew. And I had spent time with him over the summer alongside Avalon as she got to know her ancestor a little better. 

“Felicity,” he greeted me in a slightly rattly voice that made me feel like he had a lot of emotions running through him. “Ah-are you well?” He didn’t stutter as much as he had back when we had first met, but that was something else that I was pretty sure would be a thing for a long time coming.  

My head bobbed a little. “I’m great. This whole thing is great. But, um, are you okay? I guess I just thought you would have gone back to your room right now. All these people are… a lot to deal with.” 

Giving a quick glance around as though making sure that a large crowd hadn’t snuck up on him from behind, the man quietly replied, “It is a… lot to duh-deal with. But I’m very glad that people are… ahh, are happy. It mah-makes it easier to handle. Harder when they are angry or upset. Sometimes it’s still pretty hard even if they’re ahh, happy. It’s a… a lot of emotion. A lot of noise. It’s a lot of everything. But I ahh, I cah-can handle it. I want to. I want to see this. It’s–it’s important.” 

Of course it was. This would mean even more to him, after all that he and his family had been through, than it did to most. I could hardly blame him for wanting to push himself past his comfort level to experience everyone celebrating the spell that was only possible because of him and his wife. I really couldn’t imagine the things that had to be going through his mind. 

“Liesje would’ve been proud of you, and of Avalon. Of her whole family,” I finally managed. Part of me wanted to embrace the man, yet I knew that was pushing things too far. He may have improved over these intervening months, but still. Just being out here like this and staying on the fringes of all the celebration was probably about as much as he could handle. 

So, I didn’t touch him. Instead, I simply gave the man a smile before adding, “And I know Avalon’s proud to have you as an ancestor. Getting to know you, it’s been one of her favorite things about all these months. She never really thought she’d get to know anything about her family. And uhh, now she does. Thanks to you.” 

I could see the slight blush, slightly hidden by the man’s neatly-trimmed beard, as he cleared his throat and clearly fought to find the right words. “I ahh, well, I’m glad to know her as well. I ahh, yes. It has been…” He blinked rapidly, clearly pushing back tears. “It has been a very lah-long road to get here. But I am glad for the ahh, the destination.” 

“And we’re all glad you made it here,” I quietly assured him. “This whole victory, it’s yours.” 

“It is Liesje’s,” he corrected me, biting his lip hard as a flood of emotion ran through his eyes before straightening somewhat. “It’s everyone’s. Ev–even them. Even the Say–Seosten.” I could see how hard it was for him to say that. “Many–many of them won’t think so. But it is good for them. It will force them to… to do something new, to try something else.” 

Slowly nodding, I replied, “I’m pretty sure the definition of insanity isn’t really doing the same thing and expecting different results like people say, but still, doing it for a few hundred thousand years does seem pretty… excessive. They’ve been stuck in their ways. And, you know, afraid that if they do try something totally new, it’ll backfire. Their way hasn’t won the war against the Fomorians, but it hasn’t lost it either. And when you’re dealing with monsters like that, you probably get pretty afraid of what’ll happen if you change the wrong thing and start losing instead of just tying.” 

We talked a bit more for a couple minutes, but I didn’t want to push him too hard. This whole situation was already a lot. So, eventually, I promised I would see him later and gave him directions for where I had last seen Avalon. Then I headed for the Eden’s Garden portal once more. 

There were even people celebrating inside the portal room. Granted, there were also heavily armed and prepared guards, just in case the wrong person happened to somehow make it through the heavily armed and prepared guards on the other side of the portal. But there were also tables laden down with food, and music played, albeit at a lower level than in most of the other rooms. It looked as though some of the people here had come to join one of the celebrations on the station, and then just ended up setting up right where they had arrived. Or maybe it was from people heading out of the station to somewhere else. Either way, the guards weren’t being left out. And I was pretty sure the same could be said of all the other portal rooms too. Some part of me worried about what would happen if someone did manage to attack while everyone was celebrating like this, but then I reminded myself that having more people in the room was technically better defense, not worse. At least, when so many of those people were as dangerous as everyone here could be. And had magic to immediately sober up if it came down to it. 

Yeah, anyone stupid enough to mount an assault with everyone up and aware like this would undoubtedly come to regret it. But it would still sour the mood, so I silently hoped nothing bad happened. After everything that people had been through, we deserved this party, damn it.

Some of the people in here I recognized, many I didn’t. Regardless, most of them came up to say something to me, either because of who my mother was, or because of who Avalon was. Or because they wanted to pat me on the back over Fossor finally being dead. Basically, there were a lot of reasons they wanted to talk to me. Which, honestly, was still a bit overwhelming.  But I rolled with it as much as I could and chatted for a few minutes. They told me some stories and jokes, not all of which I actually understood given how drunk some of them were, but I still laughed right along with them. 

Eventually, I excused myself from them as well, and made my way to the portal itself. After clarifying that this was the right one, I passed through it. As stable as the portal was, and as expertly as it had been created, I barely felt any twisting of my stomach. It was hardly worse than basically stepping down two stairs at once. One moment I was on the station, and in the next, I was standing in the back lot behind the motel that the Eden’s Garden people had taken over. 

Yeah, there was a party going on here too. Actually, come to think of it, I was pretty sure that the whole party was really on both sides of the portal at once. People were just sort of willy-nilly moving back and forth. There was a table here with drinks on it that hadn’t been back in the other room on the station, even though I keenly remembered seeing drinks in people’s hands back there. The magic and wonder of having stable portals. Maybe allowing people to pick up drinks on Earth, take two steps and then enjoy that drink on a space station inside the sun wasn’t the most amazing use of transportation magic, but it was still pretty damn nifty. 

Just like a moment ago up on the station, people around here wanted to talk to me too. Again, I lingered and chatted as much as I could before excusing myself and heading off toward the main building. It was already late enough that I didn’t know if everyone I wanted to talk to down here would still be awake anyway, and I didn’t want to push it even more. 

To that end, I started with the room where Dakota had been staying while she helped work on the vines. Hesitating just long enough to make sure I could hear sound coming from in the room, I knocked and then stepped back a bit. 

There was a pause before the door opened and I saw the girl herself. She was just as small and frail-looking as I remembered her, with pale skin and black hair. She looked like Sharon/Alessa from that old Silent Hill movie. Except now she had a band of flowers in her hair, and vines (the smaller, normal kind rather than the giant ones related to the Eden’s Garden tree) wrapped around one of her arms. Just over her shoulder, I could see that the room was completely full of plants of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. It sure seemed like the girl had embraced her connection to them, despite what had happened with Kwur. 

“Uh, Flick?” She blinked at me. “Sorry, if you’re looking for Asenath, she was only here for a few minutes.” 

“Yeah!” Bobbi, popping up behind her, chirped. “She wanted to go make sure Seth’s ghost isn’t terrorizing people that go over to visit the Haunted Mansion too much. Or just harass him.” She offered me a small smile. “I think she missed him a lot.” 

“I think she did too,” I agreed before adding, “Did she have Denny with her?” 

“I’m here,” came a response from further in the room. The other two stepped aside, and I saw Denny herself, sitting in a chair in the corner with her legs drawn to her chest. There was a table next to her with several plates of half-finished pizza, and some sort of board game they had been playing together. 

“Oh, hey, Denny.” After taking a second to make sure I wasn’t intruding too much, I took a step into the room. There was actually grass on the floor instead of carpet, which was kind of neat. Moving over to where the other girl was sitting, I asked, “I–I’m really sorry to bring it up. Especially right now. But, have the dreams gotten worse?” 

She didn’t answer for a moment, staring down at the table. Finally, she looked up at me and swallowed. “It’s not just nightdreams. It’s daydreams too. The things he wants me to do, I mean.” She gave a little shudder before focusing once more. “Knowing the truth about what’s going on and who he is, it kind of helps a little bit. At least I know I’m not crazy. But he still wants me to do bad things, and it’s… my… my mom and dad.” Her eyes closed tightly and she hugged herself tighter, then looked back at me. “I miss my mom and dad. And–and I think his memories or whatever are using that to make me even more angry.” 

Wincing a little, I pulled a chair around to sit next to her. “I kind of thought that might happen. So I asked Sariel and she gave me these.” Reaching into my pocket, I produced a bottle of what looked like ordinary little white pills. “They’re a mix of medicine and enchantment, sort of like the Bystander Effect-breaking pills. She says if you take one of these before you go to bed, it’ll help you sleep and make sure you don’t have any bad dreams. It should keep Ammon’s thoughts away from you so you can actually rest.”

Taking the bottle, Denny thanked me quietly before clutching it in both hands. Even though she had supposedly been sleeping most of the day before, it didn’t seem like it had been a very restful sleep. She desperately needed a break from the… voice in her head. 

“I’m sorry, Denny,” I whispered, not trusting my own voice not to crack. “I’m so sorry we didn’t–that we weren’t–” Sighing, I shook my head. “I’m sorry. You keep getting hurt and it’s not your fault.” 

“I didn’t give her the sword,” the girl reminded me. “She said she was going to hurt other people, that she would kill people if I didn’t give it to her. But I still didn’t. And… and it’s worse.” 

Frowning a bit at that, I tentatively reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. “What do you mean, it’s worse? What’s worse?” 

“Me,” she replied in a hoarse voice. “I’m worse. I’m–I let my mom and dad die.”

“What?” My head shook. “Denny, you didn’t let them die. You didn’t–” 

She interrupted before I could continue. “You don’t understand. I mean, if I knew what–if I knew–if–” She stopped talking, clamping her mouth shut while a full shudder ran through her. 

Dakota stepped over to join us, her voice quiet. “She means if she knew that not giving Kushiel  the sword would mean her parents died, she still wouldn’t give it to her.” 

There was something in the girl’s voice that made me glance that way, realizing just how hard this had to be for her as well. After all, Kwur had forced her to help kill her own family. This whole thing had to be bringing up incredibly painful memories for her. 

Denny’s head was nodding quickly. She met my gaze, clearly holding back tears. “I would. I know… I know the bad things that Kushiel would do if she had the sword. I mean, I don’t know exactly what they are, but… but I know they’d be really bad.” Those tears forced their way out. “So even if I knew–even if I knew she would have killed my mom and dad, I wouldn’t–I wouldn’t give it to her.” 

Reaching out, I pulled the girl by the arm and lifted her into my lap before embracing her. I didn’t tell her that it was the right choice. I didn’t put any judgment on it at all. Because it wasn’t my place to do that, and my opinion was beside the point. She already knew she had made the right choice, and that not giving Kushiel the sword would always be the right choice. 

Instead, I held her close and rocked back and forth a little, letting the girl rest her head against my shoulder as she cried for the next several minutes. Letting her get those emotions out without trying to tell her which ones were right or wrong, or define anything for her, felt like the right thing to do. 

Finally, Denny straightened a bit. She looked a little sheepish, but shook that off before focusing on me. “Flick, could you… play the game with us for a little bit?” 

I nodded immediately. “Sure, I’ve got nothing but time. After all, it’s not like it’s a school night.” 

So, for the next hour or so, I sat with them and played the board game. We could all hear the parties going on outside, especially when the people shot off fireworks, which happened more than once. But we ignored all that, and I simply sat in that room with Bobbi, Dakota, and Denny, and played the game until all of them were so tired they were practically falling asleep in their chairs. With just a little bit of prompting, I got them to go to bed (all three of them were sharing one that night), shut out the lights (except for the one in the bathroom, which Denny requested be left on after gulping down one of those sleeping pills), then stepped outside and closed the door to the room behind me. 

I was planning on heading over to see Seller next. But before I could move away from the door, I felt the familiar touch of Tabbris poking me through our connection. Flick, uh, they need you right now back on the station. Your mom and some others. Can you get Theia while you’re down there too? 

A rush of confusion went through me. Why did they need–what was wrong with–no. I pushed away those thoughts and promised to be right there. Then I took a quick loop around the motel until I located Theia and Pace. The latter came along as well, as we headed back through the portal and followed Tabbris’s directions to where we were supposed to go. 

It was a relatively small office area. As promised, Mom was in there, along with my father, Athena, Dare, Apollo, Sariel, and Mercury. Seeing all of them, I immediately asked, “Is something wrong with the–” 

“The spell is fine,” Athena assured me. “It is working as intended and expected. No… the situation we have right now is that.” She pointed to a nearby wall, where I saw a holo-image of a ship in space. A familiar ship, given the pictures I had been shown. It was a large orb as a core, partially-encased by three elongated gunships attached to it. 

“The Olympus?” I blurted. “It’s here? Wait, it’s here?” 

“Close,” Apollo explained. “Close enough for communications. But… we haven’t had any of those.” 

“It’s drifting,” Mom informed me, her eyes on the ship. “There’s been no response to any attempts to contact them, and the ship itself just… stopped all their engines.” 

“Dad? Why don’t you just… borrow some Seosten powers, then hop over to Grandmaria and see what’s going on?” 

His head shook without looking away from the ship where his parents were. “I tried that. I can… feel her. I know she’s alive and all. But I can’t reach her. It feels like something’s blocking it.” 

My eyes widened. “What–how is that possible? I mean–sure anything’s possible, but… but why–what’s going on?” 

“I don’t know,” Mom murmured. 

“But we’re going to go over there and find out.” 

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Patreon Snippets 23B (Heretical Edge 2)

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The following is the 23rd edition of Patreon Snippets (or at least the Heretical Edge-related ones). Actually, it is only most of them. There is one more snippet, but for plot-related reasons it will be attached to the end of one of the next couple chapters. Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month is able to request at least 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. Remember, as little as 5 dollars per month gets you every single chapter one day early. In addition, donators get to vote on end-of-arc interludes, non-canon chapters, and have discounts for commissions. And hey, don’t forget that everyone, Patron or not, can join us in the Discord channel right here

Sometime Over The Summer

It was a moment that both mother and daughter had dreamed about for a very long time. In the quiet, early evening air, Sariel and Tabbris walked through a beautiful park somewhere in southern California. They were alone here, no other visitors in sight as they watched the end of the sunset across the distant ocean. Holding hands, the two stopped together at the top of the low hill the pathway through the park had led them to. Neither had spoken in the past few minutes, content to simply be with one another in silence. It had been a long road to get to this point, and neither had been certain they would ever actually make it. 

Finally, once the last rays of light had disappeared behind the horizon, Tabbris spoke up. “I wish I could show you the house, Mama.” She didn’t have to clarify further than that, they both knew what she meant. The house where she had grown up, the house she had spent so much time in while secretly possessing Flick. Her home for so long, even if neither of the other two who lived there had known that she was with them until after they left. She wanted to show her mother the house, the room where she had slept inside Flick, the flower garden where she had secretly performed so many protective spells, and so on. She simply wanted to share that and let her mother see the home that she had been sent to. 

Unfortunately, it was too dangerous. The Crossroads loyalists would be watching many places just in case, and the Chambers’ home was one of them. If they showed up there, even for a few minutes, it could set off an alert and cause problems. No matter how much Tabbris wanted to show her mother the house, it wasn’t worth that sort of danger. She knew that, but still felt a pang of regret that she wouldn’t be able to walk through what truly was her childhood home with her mother that way. 

“Well,” Sariel murmured thoughtfully while turning to look at her daughter with a fond smile. “You can still show me, you know? You can show me everything you’ve done, if you want to.”

Hesitating slightly, Tabbris guessed, “You mean with my memories?” She knew she could share memories with her mother. Using it for this sort of thing simply hadn’t occurred to her. 

Sariel, however, replied, “In a way, with my memories.” Smiling faintly at her daughter’s confusion, she continued. “You remember the… other me.” 

“Dream Mama?” Tabbris gave a hurried nod. “Of course I do! She taught me everything, and she was there for me when I was sad and lonely, and she rocked me, and–and…” Trailing off, she hesitated. “She hasn’t been around very much since I showed Flick who I was. I guess because I had someone else to talk to and I wasn’t alone anymore. And… and I think she ran out of things she could teach me. But she helped me a lot. She–you…” Swallowing, she moved to embrace her actual mother. “I’m glad you were here, Mama, even if it was just like that.” 

Returning her daughter’s embrace, Sariel smiled. “Yes, I was here, in a way. And, if you allow it, I can experience everything the other version of me did.” She gently stroked Tabbris’s hair. “If you send her back to me, I’ll have all of her memories of everything that happened while you were growing up. Just as if I was there myself.” 

Eyes widening a bit at that, Tabbris stared at her mother. “S-so you mean, it would be like… you’d have memories of me being a baby and you taking care of me? And teaching me? And… and everything?” 

“Yes,” Sariel confirmed. “I know… I know it is a lot to ask you to send me your mental version of me, after everything she meant to you–” 

“It’s okay, Mama,” Tabbris insisted. “Um, she’s you. She’s part of you. And now I have you. So if I give her back, it’s like you’re whole now. You’re both of you. And you’ll have all her memories, so you’ll, umm, you’ll remember everything you said to me and everything we did. I’ll have Dream Mama and Real Mama at the same time.” 

Touching the side of her daughter’s face, Sariel asked, “Are you absolutely certain?” 

Without hesitation, Tabbris nodded. “Mama, I want you and Dream Mama to be one so I can hug her when I hug you and you can remember everything she said. It’s… ummm, you couldn’t be there to raise me yourself, but you did raise me. And if you take her back, you’ll remember it. But, how do we do that?” 

“I’ll show you, baby,” Sariel quietly assured her before turning to look out at the ocean once more as the moon shone across it. “In a few minutes. There’s no rush. 

“We have plenty of time.” 

*********

While Flick And Company Were Dealing With The Denny Situation

Two wolves, one gray-furred and one a tawny color, raced through a quiet suburban neighborhood together. Accompanying them was a cyberform cougar. People out mowing their lawns, delivering papers, or any other number of mundane daily tasks simply saw a trio of dogs that had gotten loose and were running free. A couple called after them, but no one gave chase. Blame the Bystander Effect, or the bystander effect, upper or lower case. A worldwide magical enchantment drawing away the attention and memories of ordinary people, or a very mundane reality in which many people witnessing something will all assume that someone else will act. Either could explain the fact that no one moved to intercept the ‘dogs’ racing through their neighborhood.

Eventually, the wolf pair and their cyberform companion cut through a backyard, startling a man who had been picking up weeds in his flower garden. They leapt over a tall fence, easily clearing its ten foot height before sprinting through the empty yard behind, approached a fence that was two feet taller than the previous one. They still cleared that in a single leap. 

Finally, the trio stopped upon finding themselves facing an assembled group of people waiting for them. 

“Good,” Mateo, a quite thin Latino man who was barely five foot eight, spoke up. “You made it.” 

Immediately, the two wolves began to transform, while the metal cougar simply sat on her haunches and watched. The tawny-furred one shifted and grew into blonde-haired Roxa, while the gray one next to her became Gia Perez, better known as Pace. Both were wearing dark blue skin-tight Seosten bodysuits. 

Taking a quick glance around, inventorying who was there, Roxa recognized the pack leader Mateo, the red-haired man Franklin Corson (who was a couple inches shorter than even Mateo), the other Latina member of the pack, Hasty, and their newest member, a tall, muscular man with long brownish-blond hair who went by Pars. Pars had been the werewolf who was controlled by the evil plant-creature Kwur to attack Flick and the others in Las Vegas. Flick had pointed him toward Mateo, and now he was part of the pack. 

Unfortunately, there was one member Roxa didn’t see. She winced, reaching down to touch the top of Gidget’s head. “You haven’t found Lesedi yet?” 

Lesedi, the last member of the pack. Once there had been another, but Fezzik had died during the fight against the Seosten in the Auberge, when everyone had been trying to get to Liesje’s vault. 

With her short purple hair and dark skin, as well as her tendency to wear sunglasses with purple lenses, the woman stood out. But there was no sign of her here in the yard where the pack had been staying recently, and the only scents of the girl that Roxa could pick up as she carefully sniffed were at least several hours old. 

“Yes and no,” Corson (he preferred that over his first name of Franklin), answered. “We know where she is, but getting in there might be a little tougher with all the cops.” 

“All the cops?” Roxa echoed, blanching. “What happened? Why–she was locked up for Vice Day, wasn’t she?” 

Vice Day came once a month. It was a different day for everyone, normally sometime around when they were first changed. For roughly twenty-four hours, they would be entirely taken by one of the seven vices. It was always the same vice for each person. For Mateo, it was envy. He wanted what other people had. For Hasty, it was gluttony. She gorged herself on treats and food, but also on having fun. Corson’s was wrath, Pace’s was pride, and Pars’ was sloth. 

Roxa’s, much to her embarrassment, was lust. But she and Sean had a standing arrangement to lock themselves in a motel room and… waste that twenty-four hours. There was no shame between the two of them, because they had plenty of discussions before and after about what they could do while she was taken by her vice and how to be safe. Between protection and dialogue, they made it work.  

Which left Lesedi. Her personal vice was greed. 

With a grimace, Mateo explained the situation better than he had when sending the message for the two of them to hurry down here in the first place. “Lesedi locked herself up in the safe room, like usual. She had all the games and movies in there, and we dumped in that bag of gold coins for her to count. That usually makes her feel better and helps her pass the time. But there was some sort of short in the electrical system, and the door opened while we were out getting lunch. She got out and…” He sighed. 

“And she went to rob a bank,” Hasty put in promptly. “Now she’s in the vault down there counting all the money, and there’s a bunch of cops outside waiting to go in. I mean, not really that tough. We could smack all of them around, but Mateo wanted to be more subtle.” She sounded very put out that their pack leader had put the kibosh on that idea. 

“We were hoping,” Mateo himself announced flatly, “that the two of you would have some Heretic powers that could get you in there more quietly.” 

Pars spoke up finally, rubbing his shoulder. “We can still probably help, quietly put the uhh, snipers to sleep for awhile or whatever. Give you an opening to get in the back. Plan B was getting Barnyard to cause a distraction.” He smirked just a little at the thought of his troll buddy. “But this seemed better.”  

Exchanging glances with Pace, Roxa gave a quick nod. “Yeah, I think we can do that. We’ll need to see a picture of the bank so we can plan it out and all, but… wait, how do you know she’s still safe in there and they haven’t gone in?” 

“We’ve got a member of Section Four in charge of the police response,” Mateo answered. Section Four was the secret Alter-Adjacent (human unaffected by the Bystander Effect) group within various positions of authority throughout the government and similar institutions. “He can’t make them leave or anything obvious like that, but he’s been making sure they don’t go inside. For now, anyway. We need to hurry up.” 

“Okay,” Roxa agreed. “Then let’s bring the place up on Google Maps and figure out how to get in. 

“And, more importantly, how to get Lesedi out.” 

********

Sometime Over The Past Few Weeks

“And when Feutar the Cannibalized landed his ship on that half-moon island in the middle of the Kavnan Ocean on the Rakshasa homeworld, who can tell me the name of the tribe he ran into?”  

As he asked that question, Hubert Hobart (they were pretty sure that wasn’t his real name, but it was what he chose to go by) looked through the class of assembled young students. They ranged in actual age dramatically, given the varying maturity rates of different species. But for the most part, the class the heavy-set humanoid with dark green skin and pronounced orc-like tusks was teaching would be considered sixth grade or very early middle school. Some were younger than that, even as far as the maturity rate of their species went. But that was a fair general estimation. 

Perched on her seat around the middle of the class, Tabbris was quiet until a foot gently kicked the back of her leg. She turned slightly to see the boy behind her, a young Menmeran (frog-like humanoid who naturally grew to have quite pronounced muscles) named Gleeger. He whispered, “I know that look. You know this, you should answer.” 

“But it’s not fair,” Tabbris whispered back. “I know it because Seosten memorize everything and he mentioned it at the beginning of the semester. It’s like cheating. I have to give everyone else a chance.”

Even as she whispered that, Hubert Hobart pointed to the young Prevenkuat (two-headed humanoid hyena) sitting near the back of the room with their hand up. “Kahrsa? You had something you wanted to say?” 

The two canine-like heads faced one another, quietly bickering in whispers about which of them was right. Then they faced forward. The female head announced, “I think the tribe was called Aleshkashkah.” 

“And I think it was called Ellifkahkesh,” the male head put in. “The name of the town he went to after that, once he finally got off the island, was Aleshkashkah.” 

“Well, it seems we have a bit of debate,” Hubert noted while taking a few more steps until his quite plump form was at the front of the room once more. “Tabbris, can you tell us which one of them is right?” 

Flushing a bit at the realization that the man was aware she already knew the answer, Tabbris fidgeted a bit in her seat before offering, “Um, he’s right, it was Ellifkahkesh. That was the tribe. But Aleshkashkah wasn’t really the name of the town, it was the name of the family that met him when he got there. So… so they were both names of groups he met, just at different times.” 

“Very good, thank you, Tabbris,” Hubert confirmed with a broad smile. He gestured to the Prevenukuat. “And very good for both of you as well. A gold-worthy answer. But now let’s get back to poor Feutar himself. When he arrived on the island, there was a bit of a familiar surprise waiting for him. Who can tell me which of his former wives was already there, hmm?” 

Class went on that way, before eventually ending. Which meant it was time for lunch. Tabbris shifted off her seat, already planning to simply check and see what Flick was having. But a hand found her arm, and she looked over to see Kahrsa. Both their male and female heads were looking at her, the latter speaking up. “Can you sit with us today? We need help with some of these names before the test.” 

Gleeger the Menmeran gave a hurried nod. “Me too.” Behind him a few others spoke up in agreement. 

“Uhh, I don’t–umm, yeah, I can try.” Tabbris was blushing a bit at the attention. 

Even as she said that, the girl felt someone else step up beside her. Kisea, the young, Asian-looking Seosten girl she had first met alongside several others way back when she and Flick had been taken in by Athena in Seosten space. “I can help too,” the other girl announced. “Um, if you want.” 

Relieved, Tabbris nodded hurriedly. “Uh huh. We can help together, right? Right?” She looked to the others who had come to her in the first place. 

“Right,” Kahrsa’s male head cheerfully replied. “We’re not gonna argue about having more help. Especially more perfect memory Seosten help.” There were a few murmurs of agreement to that. 

“O-okay,” Tabbris, still a bit taken aback by people her own age wanting to spend time with her, found herself smiling a little. “But umm, we definitely need to get lunch first. I still can’t believe how hungry you get when you’re not possessing someone all the time!” 

Even as those words left the girl, her eyes widened and her hand was covering her own mouth as her face turned pale. What if they got mad about the reminder of what her people could do, about what they did all the time? What if they didn’t want to talk to her anymore? What if–

The silence that had followed was broken by a laugh from Gleeger before he spoke up. “I wish I could hide inside someone else so I didn’t get hungry all the time. Maybe I could lose weight that way.” 

His words made a few other people laugh as well, before he gestured. “Come on, let’s get food before poor Tabbris wastes away.” 

And with that, they all walked toward the cafeteria together. Tabbris found herself caught up in the crowd, moving right alongside Kisea. 

She would let Flick know she wasn’t going to see her for lunch today. 

*******

Thousands of years ago, in Rome

Stepping through the door of the villa into the square patio beyond, the cloaked figure paused almost imperceptibly. They clearly caught sight of the other figure waiting for them near the exit to the street, yet gave no verbal acknowledgement for the moment. Instead, they turned to look back the way they had come. A portly man in heavy robes stood there, hand extended with a sack of coins that jingled as his arm shook from emotion. “It is not as much as you deserve–”

“I require no payment,” the cloaked figure insisted while making no move to accept the sack. “for correcting betrayment. Should you wish to show gratitude, there are many in need of food. Take your funds to the unfortunate, for their hunger is truly importunate.”  

The man paused briefly at that before giving a short nod as he lowered the bag of coins. “It shall be done in your name. Thank you, thank you for aiding my daughter. If you had not come–” 

“Yet I did, and she will recover,” came the response. “Though I bid you say you love her. To the child in question, is my suggestion. She has come through danger so harrowing, yet her time as a child is narrowing. Embrace these moments you have left, afore they fall to time’s theft. She is your daughter, see what this has taught her.” 

Without another word, nor a moment’s pause to see what the man would say, the figure turned to leave once more. They passed the woman waiting for them while remaining silent on her way through the archway leading to the street. For a few moments, they simply walked along the dark road, the city illuminated by lamps along the buildings as well as the high moon and stars overhead. 

Finally, once the two had walked together for almost a minute in silence, the cloaked figure spoke. “How many times have you returned, to push for what you have not earned?” After a brief pause, they added, “Lest this has all been in jest, and I am to be possessed.” 

Snorting, the blonde woman moved up to walk alongside them, though still out of arm’s reach as a matter of politeness. “As I said the first time I tracked you down, Hecate, your reputation precedes you. I am not foolish enough to believe I could win such a battle of the minds.” 

“So you have said,” Hecate allowed, before pausing in their walk to turn their head that way, “yet still not fled.” Even in the dim light, their mismatched blue and green eyes were visible, as were the long curls of dark hair escaping the heavy hood that cast shadows over a face that was equal parts beautiful man or handsome woman. 

Meeting their gaze, the blonde woman pointedly replied, “My name is Sariel. And yes, I am a Seosten. We both know what that means, what my people do. But as I said, I am not here for any of that. This is a personal matter. No one knows I’ve come to visit you, and they will continue to not know. I need your help. Me, personally. Not them.”

Lifting their chin, Hecate regarded her silently for several long seconds before speaking. “You wish me to believe, as you cling to my sleeve, that your captain has not sent you, to make me assent to, teaching you my ways, through all mental maze.” 

“Yes,” Sariel confirmed without breaking eye contact. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Puriel doesn’t know I’m here. My own brother doesn’t know. I haven’t told anyone. What I’m asking for has nothing to do with our mission here. Nothing at all. You have my word.” 

A very faint, unamused smile played at the face of the cloaked figure, before Hecate replied, “Some would say that such a word was meaningless. Your people’s reputation being thus. Yet I know of you, Sariel, Diana, or Artemis. And if it is your vow, that I may not so quickly dismiss.” They paused yet again, seeming to consider their next words before turning to walk once more. “Despite my lingering doubt, you have convinced me to hear you out. But kindly be quick, and I loathe any trick.”  

Moving to follow after them, Sariel gave a quick nod. “Yes, of course. I– I come to learn from you, Hecate. Not for the benefit or purposes of my people as a whole, but… but for my mother.” The words came through a thick lump in the woman’s throat before she forced it down and continued. “Everyone on this planet says that there is no one who knows more about working with mental magic and helping people with their memories than you. My people are experts in their own right, given… given everything we do. And I have put a lot of research into it. But I have never heard of my people being able to do the… level of work others claim you are capable of. If half of what I have heard is true, I believe you might be the only person who can help me.” 

Hecate was silent at first, as they walked past several buildings. They were clearly taking a moment to decide how much they were ready to believe, before giving a single nod for the woman to go on. “It is your mother for whom you request aid, if the truth you have not betrayed.”

“Yes,” Sariel confirmed. “My… mother. Her name is Korsmea. A long time ago, many centuries in the past, she was inflicted with a magical curse which my people can do nothing to heal. This curse affects her mind, her memories. It makes her think she’s somewhere else in her past, somewhen else. She wakes up and thinks it’s a thousand years ago and she’s in the middle of an infiltration mission on a desert planet, instead of sitting inside the mental hospital. She’ll get lunch and in the middle of the line, she’ll suddenly think she’s a child again, back in the orphanage. It changes several times a day, she’s just convinced that she’s at some other point in her past. She doesn’t remember where she is, what’s happened to her. She just–” Folding her arms protectively against her own stomach, Sariel finished with a quiet, “She’s been that way since before I was born. I remember her trying to hold on whenever I was with her. She did her best, but she couldn’t stop the… she couldn’t keep her memories. She tried so hard to be herself with me. She always tried to remember. And now I haven’t been around her for so long, I don’t know how… how she’s doing. But I know she needs help. And my people can’t do it. They’ve been trying for centuries and haven’t been able to do it. They can’t fix it.” 

Hecate’s voice had softened, as they stopped walking and turned to face the woman. “Your people are not the sort to ask for aid from an outsider. Most would demand any relief I could provide her. I first dismissed your request to speak, believing you were as much of a sneak. Yet perhaps I judged in haste, and you are not indeed two-faced. I am sorry to hear of your mother’s plight, that is not what I thought to learn this night.” 

“I know my people have done many bad things,” Sariel quietly murmured, meeting their gaze. “I’m not asking you to forgive that, or work with us as we do anything else. But I need your help. You’re the only person who can teach me how to work with memories enough to… maybe, someday help my mother. Please.” 

“And if what I know cannot erase the curse which afflicts her?” Hecate pressed. “Where will you go next, in this quest for an elixir?”  

“I don’t know,” Sariel answered honestly. “But anything you teach me could be useful. Even if you don’t know how to remove the curse itself, I can… I can build off what you know. I can learn from you and then practice. I don’t care if it takes me another thousand years or more, I have to try to help my mother. I have to try to give her mind back.” 

One last moment of consideration passed, before Hecate finally bowed their head in acceptance. “I shall push you away no longer. Your will is truly stronger. If aiding your mother’s condition is possible, to refuse would be far from ignoscible. Yet I must firmly tell you this, my aid is for you, not this war’s abyss. Do not send more of your people seeking trinkets and teachings, I will ignore all such pleas and beseechings. If you are my student, so shall it be. This changes not reality. I accept your words as presented, yet your people oft prove demented. My lessons are for you alone, not for your captain or any upon a throne.” 

“Yes, I promise,” Sariel assured them. “I won’t send any of my people to you. I won’t tell them that you’ve taught me anything, or even that I found you. This is between you and me.” 

After meeting her gaze for another few seconds of judgment, Hecate turned to walk once more. “Then let us speak more of this curse. 

“It may take much time to reverse.”

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Promise And Peril 11-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

We asked Kernek if there was anything we could do to help, of course. Even after everything that had happened, all of us wanted to throw whatever we had left behind helping whatever remained of the Meregans escape their planet. Even if at least one of those volunteers, Sachael, was probably more focused on the damage he could do to the Fomorians in the proc–no, that wasn’t fair. Sachael wasn’t a bad guy just because he was loyal to his people. He’d already proven that. He was keeping Jophiel and Elisabet’s secret–had kept their secret for awhile. As long as it wasn’t openly a threat to his people, he wasn’t going to go blabbing about it. And honestly, from what I’d seen of the man, he was actually curious about where their whole ‘experiment’ would go.

In any case, it turned out the Roenier had things in hand. The Fomorian’s anti-magic stuff apparently didn’t stop whatever actual technology these guys used to transport people. It was like the beaming technology from Star Trek, pretty much. This whole space battle was essentially a delaying action while they identified all the pockets of remaining Meregan and teleported them up to the ships to be met by representatives of their own people, just in case. 

That same technology was helping Jophiel right then. The Fomorian’s poison or venom or whatever was really nasty, but the Roenier had ways around it. Apparently, it was just going to take awhile. Their doctor assured us that they could handle the situation and that she’d be back, good as new. They just needed to do some more work to flush everything out of her system. 

Meanwhile, as they worked on that, the rest of us (including those who had been waiting on the prototype ship) sat in the cafeteria-like area we had been shown to. It looked remarkably well-suited for human-sized and shaped people, which Sands had remarked on only to be told by Kernek that several of the rooms on this ship were capable of reshaping themselves to suit whatever other species they picked up. Apparently, while we were busy talking to the doctor, Kernek himself had pulled Haiden and Larissa aside to ask them about what sort of furniture we were accustomed to, working through their descriptions to create this place. 

Again, it was a really good job. The chairs were basically perfect, if slightly larger and a little more rounded than expected. And the tables were more triangular than rectangles, but still. It just seemed a little eclectic rather than wrong. It was a pretty good approximation of human furniture for a species that walked around on six legs. I was definitely impressed. By the whole situation, really. 

Still, there was one pretty important thing. Which led to me asking, while sitting at one of the tables, “Uh, Kernek, exactly how many of the Meregan can you save? I mean, Fossor had his way with the world for a long time and there wasn’t much left when we came here before. And… and now the Fomorians have been around for at least months. What–” There was a lump in my throat, which I swallowed back with some effort. “What’s left of their species?” I was glad, in that moment, that Alecra had stepped away to help greet the members of her people that were being transported onto this particular ship. I wouldn’t’ve wanted to bring this up in front of her. 

The scorpion-butterfly-centaur man let his colorful wings stretch out away from him in both directions, tilted downward before wiggling a bit. He’d done that a couple times while explaining things, and I had the feeling it was his species way of indicating that they were thinking about how to answer. Sort of like the way a human might say, ‘Uhhhmmm.’ Finally, he straightened a bit, focusing on me. Around us, I could see the rest of the group paying close attention, their own conversations forgotten in that moment. 

“There are more than you might first guess,” came the eventual response (translated as always by the extra voice amongst the chittering language of his species). “Our friends, the Meregan, have perfected the technology to sheathe their forms in a powerful, stone-like structure.” 

Quickly, I nodded, but it was Shiori who spoke up. “It’s supposed to be able to survive in the sun, right? I mean, in a star. It’s like super cryogenics or something.” 

Kernek made no audible response, but his head tilted to the right and as he did so, the machine translated it as, “Yes.” Their equivalent of a nod, apparently. He continued audibly. “The process is remarkably suited to guarding both against the…” He stumbled a bit over the next words, which the machine translated as “Plays-with-dead-things.” 

“Necromancer,” my mother spoke up. 

Kernek asked her to repeat that a couple times while he fiddled with the translation collar, then said the words in his language again. That time, instead of saying ‘plays-with-dead-things’, the collar translated it as, “Necromancer.” Waiting until he got the nod from my mother and others that it was right, the man pressed on. “The Meregan rock-freezing process is quite suited to protecting against both the efforts of the Necromancer and that of the Fomorians. While both were able to break through eventually, it seemed to require much effort and work on their part. And the stone-process also shielded them against easy detection. Which means those who were not near known cities or easily seen from aerial detection methods–” 

“They survived,” Sariel abruptly put in, her eyes widening a bit. “How many? What–how large of a population are you pulling up?” 

It took a bit to figure out how the different numbering systems worked, but in the end we got it down to being just under two hundred thousand. Which, of course, was still horrifyingly close to complete species extinction for a people who had once spread across their entire world. Despite that, however, a couple hundred thousand was more than I had expected to still be alive. The Meregan could survive being down to that, right? Especially if they had this chance to go and regroup with their new friends on a safe world. Safer than this one, anyway. 

The point was, this was better news than I’d ever expected to get as far as the Meregan were concerned. This was good. This was excellent. The Meregan could survive and, with any luck, even thrive eventually. God, I hoped so. They deserved the break. 

Belatedly, I thought about the whole time-travel aspect of what I’d told Purin and his Meregan several years in the future. Right now, they believed that most of their people had been wiped out, and I couldn’t change that until we passed the time when I’d told them so. Still, I spoke up, explaining the situation to Kernek and asking if there was anything we could do to send them coordinates to find the rest of their people once we caught up with that timeline. That, of course, required more explaining and translation to work out the whole concept of time-travel. But eventually, the man understood. 

“Ah, fascinating. And terrifying for implications… But in such case, we will give numbers to place in space to send these people. In that time, one of ours will be at those numbers to meet them, and take any other friend-Meregan who wish to go to our homeworld.” He offered me what looked like his best approximation of a smile. “Perhaps you would like to come as well, for some visit?” 

Swallowing, I shook my head. “Sorry, there’s way too much to do back on Earth. But you know, maybe by the time we catch up with Purin’s people, things will be calm enough for us to come say hi. I think… I think I’d like that.” As I said it, my eyes glanced over to my mother. 

“I think several of us would like that,” she agreed quietly, hand moving to squeeze my shoulder. “Kernek, thank you. Thank all of your people. What you’ve done for the Meregan, what you’re doing right now? It’s–you are good friends to them.” 

“They are good friends to us,” he insisted. “The Meregan have more than won our loyalty and assistance. What they have been through as a people…” That time, his head bobbed up and down in what looked to me like a nod. But his collar translated it as, “Very bad feeling.” 

Athena was there, stepping up with Theia behind her. “You’re right, it’s very bad. These people… they deserve every break they can get. They were very lucky to find you, Kernek. I…” She paused before settling on, “I wish you and they the best in the future.” 

In response, Kernek tilted his head to the left in an identical motion as when he had tilted it to the right for ‘yes.’ The collar translated it as, “No.” Then he pressed on verbally. “There is more you wish to ask, General Of Seosten Rebellion Athena?” 

Hearing that, the woman paused. I saw her eyes glance over toward Sachael and back again before she spoke. “A part of me wishes to ask for your continued aid against the Fomorians, yes. Your people would be a great boon. But that is an unfair request. You appear to be far enough away if this is your first knowledge of them. And I would not wish to drag the Meregan into more conflict when they have already been so… harmed.” 

Again, Kernek stretched his wings and wiggled them in that ‘uhhmm’ motion while clearly considering his response. Finally, he settled on, “There is aid we may give. Aid in technology, aid in resources. As we are told, the Fomorians are a threat that will reach our world in time should they not be stopped. Better we are giving what we can now to make that not a problem in the future.” 

From the corner of my eye, I saw Sachael watching this whole exchange intently while Athena, my mother, and Kernek started talking about some specifics. It was clear that the old Olympian was very curious about the whole situation. Briefly, I wondered what he was going to tell his own people about all this. Would they see the–who was I kidding? Of course they would see the Roenier combined with the surviving Meregan as an asset. That wasn’t even a question. The only real question was how much effort they’d put into trying to locate them, or this wormhole thing. And that depended on how much Sachael told them. 

Actually, come to think of it, if he told them anything about them, he’d have to explain what he was doing here. And I was pretty sure telling them he helped save Jophiel’s host would lead to even more questions that he had promised not to answer. He was supposedly on vacation right now. Telling them about this would be… complicated. 

By the time I’d worked my way through all that, the man himself was watching me. He offered a very faint smile and nodded once. It was almost like he’d read my mind. Or, more likely, had watched the expressions on my face and accurately interpreted them. It was a thought that made me squint at the buff Santa Claus for a moment before making a face at him. He, in turn, chuckled slightly and inclined his head as though acknowledging my reaction. 

“Flick.” It was Roxa, hissing at me from nearby. She had Pace with her, both of them sliding closer along one of the other sides of the same triangular table I was at. “Tell me you’re not trying to antagonize another Olympic Seosten. Cuz you’ve been lucky so far, but–” 

“What? No!” Hissing my denial, I felt my face turn pink while shaking my head quickly. “That’s not–I wasn’t–I wouldn’t…” Squinting at the two, I continued in a softer voice. “I wasn’t staring him down or anything.” 

Pace, for her part, looked unconvinced. “It’s just that… you sort of have a bit of a reputation, you know? And he’s gotta know by now.” 

Sinking a bit in my seat, I shook my head a bit more. “I don’t have a reputation. I mean I shouldn’t. Everything has been extenuating circumstances done by other people. I just sort of happen to be close by or… you know, tangentially involved.” 

Pace and Roxa looked to each other, then back to me. “Uh huh,” the latter replied. Neither she nor Pace looked convinced. 

“They’ve got a point,” Sands informed me in a quiet voice. She and Sarah had slid closer from the other side. “I don’t mean that you’re targeting people or anything like that. But he’s gotta know what you’ve been involved with. Extenuating circumstances or not, you’ve been around and somehow involved when several of his old crewmates and friends were killed, you know?” 

“Be careful,” Sarah finished simply for her sister, voice equally soft as she watched my reaction.

Glancing around at all of them, taking in their urgent looks, I finally nodded firmly. “I know. I get it. Don’t worry, I’m not about to start anything or go off alone with–” 

“Miss Chambers.” It was Sachael, voice rising a bit as he stood up and approached. “May I speak with you over there for a moment or two?” He nodded toward a corner of the room. 

Okay, well, I didn’t expect to break that promise before I could even finish making it. But hey, I’d still be in sight. And seriously, I was positive he wasn’t going to pull anything right here in front of everyone. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t pull anything at all, but especially right in the same room. So, ignoring the looks I was getting from the others, I straightened from the table. “Uhh, yeah.” My gaze turned a bit, first seeing my mother and the other adults still talking to Kernek, then to where Tabbris and December were deep in conversation about the ship, near to where Tristan and Vanessa were talking to Dexamene. Finally, I nodded and moved to where Sachael had indicated. “What’s–uhh, what’s up?” A little awkward, but seriously, I had no idea what he wanted to talk to me about. It wasn’t like he was just going to bring up the fact that I was connected to the deaths of several of his old crew. 

“You have been present at the deaths of multiple members of the Olympus crew,” Sachael replied, “yes?” 

Right, okay, so I was just wrong about everything today, apparently. Seriously, maybe it was just time to stop making assumptions altogether. Maybe he was about to try for some vengeance or–

He must have seen the look on my face, because Sachael interrupted my thoughts. “I assure you, Miss Chambers, this is not about enacting revenge. I understand that there are losses within serious conflicts, and that those you have taken away from us were responsible for harming you and those close to you. It is… certainly not a pleasant thought. You have been near the deaths of several people I had grown to care about or respect very much over the years. But we have taken much from you as well. War, even a mostly silent one, begets losses. I am well aware that you were not the one who began or sought out such things.” 

The man paused then, seeming to be lost in thought for a few seconds before sighing heavily. “The point is, I have not brought you aside seeking–what is the term, an eye for an eye? I seek something else. Specifically, your memories.” 

Well that didn’t exactly help. Eyes widening a bit, I managed to sputter, “You want to take my–” 

Quickly, Sachael shook his head, holding up one hand. “Ease, Miss Chambers. I misspoke. I do not mean to take any memories, or adjust any. On the contrary, I would like you to share your memories of the moments those Seosten died. Our… my people find memories incredibly important.” 

“Yeah,” I retorted despite myself and before I could think about what I was doing. “That must be why you’re so quick to remove or change them from others.” 

“That is fair,” he agreed in a soft voice. “My people have done many things that most of us would regret, given the opportunity. And yet, I still find myself asking for your aid in this. Sariel knows how to copy such memories, and I believe you trust her. I would be…. very grateful, if you could possibly find it in yourself to have her copy those memories so that they can be taken home to my people. Memories are, to my people, very important factors of the afterlife. I understand that it is a lot to ask of you. Perhaps far too much, considering the… situations that those deaths are connected to. I have no promise to make, and no threat. Only the request. Please.”

What was I supposed to say to that? No, I won’t help you follow your people’s customs to honor your dead because I didn’t like them? After a moment of hesitation, I nodded. “Let me talk to Sariel. I–we’ll figure something out. But you should talk to Theia too. She was there with… with Kushiel.” 

“I know,” he murmured. “And I will. I…” He looked that way as well. His voice was quiet. “Her father believed that sending her to Manakel would help her. He knew of what his wife had done, and wanted… he wanted her to have a chance. He believed his oldest friend would give her that chance. He didn’t understand how much had changed.” 

It seemed like the guy was talking more to himself than to me. As I tried to think of what to say, one of the other Roenier abruptly entered the room and said something to Kernek. This one didn’t have a translator, so I had no idea what the words meant. 

Then I was given a bit of a hint, as Kernek turned back to us to speak. “The one you call Jophiel is awake. She and the one called Elisabet have requested the presence of the four who are their students, as well as the ones Sariel, Athena, Sachael, and Joselyn.

“It seems they have information of vital importance to share.”

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Promise And Peril 11-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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“Flick, on left!” 

With Columbus’s words ringing through my ears, I spun that way, the bladed end of my staff lashing out and extending to be long enough that it cut through the head of the snake-creature that had been lunging toward me. The body (with its long, sharp talons) was still coming forward, however, so I sent a burst of concussive power from the end of the staff to blow it backward.

At the same time, I felt several of those enchanted quills from the boy’s cyberform porcupine, Amethyst, fly just behind the back of my head to collide with the chest of the enormous, six-armed monstrosity that had been charging up from that side. The quills activated as soon as they hit, summoning a cloud of intense acid that literally started dissolving the ten-foot tall thing’s flesh while it bellowed and staggered. It was like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the guys melted. Soon, he was little more than a rather-disturbing puddle fading away into the sand.

A moment later, the ship behind me let loose with another barrage of shots that cut through more of the larger creatures. They were still mostly focused on fixing the thing so it would be spaceworthy, but every once in awhile they managed to find the time and power to fire off the newly-revealed weapons. It was enough to keep the swarm of monsters from totally overwhelming us, at least. 

But it didn’t completely take care of everything, as evidenced by the fact that two more creatures were already coming at me from either side. One was a four-legged… almost dog-like thing except for the rhino head and the prehensile tongue it was already lashing out my way. The other, meanwhile, looked like a gorilla with no fur and three different heads, all stacked on top of one another. The top was where the real head should be, with the second in its chest and the third in its stomach. And the worst part was that they looked like human heads. They looked like the faces of people I would see just randomly walking down the street on Earth. 

Tabbris and I didn’t have to confer, or even actively say what we were doing. We were too connected for that. We knew, our thoughts, our impulses, all of it linked. Instantly, I snapped my left arm, with the staff gripped in it, toward the gorilla-man (men?). At the exact same time, Tabbris directed my right arm to snap out toward the dog-thing while summoning Herbie from his spot in my pocket. The rock went flying, growing into a much larger stone thanks to my object-growth power. Suddenly, he was about the size of a boulder, sailing through the air. 

While Tabbris was getting the true hero of Earth into the fray, I was sending a burst of concussive force into the legs of the ape-men-thing. The blast knocked the thing tumbling heads over heels with a roar, before I launched myself that way. Flipping over the monster, I drove the blade of my staff into the back of its neck, landing on its back to drive it into the ground as it died. 

Herbie, meanwhile, was frozen in mid-air. Tabbris had used the power from that Lemevwik I’d killed in Fossor’s arena to pause the enlarged-stone. Frozen like that, it remained completely still while the dog-thing went plowing straight into it. Oh, and it also burned half its face off, eyes boiling apart. Apparently Tabbris hadn’t just enlarged and frozen the stone, she also used the super-heating power on it. Now the dog-rhino monster was blinded and its horn (as well as the rest of its snout) was basically a half-melted mess. It looked horrific, and sounded even worse. 

Thankfully, it didn’t exactly last much longer before Avalon was there, cutting the monster’s head off with a casual backhand from one of her energy-bladed gauntlets while simultaneously snapping her other hand down to touch the thing. Under her grip, the creature’s body disintegrated into dust, which then flew toward yet another monster before bursting into flames. 

Yeah, I really had to ask her what the deal with that power was. I’d seen her use it before, back at the fight with Fossor’s army. But later. Right now, there were far more problems to deal with. 

A thought snapped Herbie back to his small size and summoned him into my hand. At the same time, I triggered a burst from my staff to send me flying over to where Shiori was, slamming into one of the humanoid-things she was busy struggling against. Between the two of us, the thing finally went down, leaving us to collapse on top of its body just as Roxa, in wolf form, flew over our heads to rip out the throat of yet another monster. They were everywhere. No matter where I looked, there were more of the things, a never-ending tide that kept slamming up against the wall that was… well, us. And this was a wall that couldn’t last forever, even with help from those new cannons or whatever they were.  

As far as I could tell, none of these kills were giving anyone any kind of power boost. That was a thing with Fomorian creations, of course. Sometimes they gave power boosts and sometimes they didn’t. This time, it appeared that they wouldn’t. Which was both good and bad. It was good considering that distinctive burst of pleasure at the wrong time could have been catastrophic for someone who didn’t have a Tabbris to mute it (which was why we were supposed to be covering one another in big fights). But it was also bad in that it meant we weren’t actually getting anything out of each kill.  

It wasn’t enough. All of this, all of us including the ship itself, and it still wasn’t enough. The Fomorians just kept coming. No matter what we did, no matter how many we killed or how powerful we were, they kept coming. There seemed to be no limit to either the Fomorian numbers, or the depths of the horrors they could think of. Every monster, every single one of their abominations, was a nightmare. And they seemed to have one for every grain of sand on this entire goddamn planet. 

In the distance, I could see my mother and Deveron, back to back as they destroyed the monsters descending upon them. Lillian was there too, the three falling right back into their same teamwork to deal with everything the Fomorians sent at them. But again, they were only so many people and there was only so much they could do. We had to finish this. We had to get out of here. Preferably before we had to face any legitimate Fomorians rather than just their creations. Their army of monsters was bad enough, but a real, full-scale Fomorian? That could very easily tip the scales. It was already all we could do to stem the tide of these minions. 

We didn’t give up, of course. Even as the thought of how bad this could be flickered through my mind, I was already driving my elongated-staff through another pair of monsters, yanking it back, and spinning to hurl the weapon into the face of a third before summoning it back to my hand. 

Yeah, giving up wasn’t even the slightest hint of an option. We would keep fighting, keep killing these fucking things, for as long as we could move. But not all of us had the kind of stamina that I did. We all had various boosts to it, but I knew for a fact I could keep going at full strength for a lot longer than someone like Shiori or Sands could. We had to finish this, one way or another, before they started to falter. Because that would start a domino-like collapse that none of us were going to survive. 

Then it happened. A flash of Vanessa’s face appeared in my mind, along with the words ‘Surrounded – McGillicuddy – Help.’ 

It was my taboo-word power, one of the other things I’d gotten during my time with Fossor that allowed me to designate any word and know when anyone within a quarter mile said that word, along with a single word before and after, and their face. Right now, that word was McGillicuddy. That was what I’d called out for Vanessa to remember as she left with the others. Now she was using it to let me know that they were surrounded and needed help. Which was just fantastic, because the rest of us were doing so well. We were downright bored right now. 

But that didn’t matter. We had to help. Because until Vanessa and the others managed to get Elisabet and Dex to the ship, none of us could get the hell out of here. And time was clearly not on our side. Hard or not, I had to get over there. 

“Jophiel and the others need help!” I shouted over my shoulder toward Shiori, even as the two of us were pressed back-to-back. 

“How’re we supposed to get there?!” Shiori blurted, while Choo came charging in to collide with one of the monsters. And considering he was so big his shoulders were taller than I was, anything that warthog collided with knew they’d been hit. In that case, Choo slammed into the creature with enough force to send the thing crashing to the ground, wide-open for Shiori herself to sever its head with a toss of one of her discs. “I don’t think these guys are gonna listen if we call a time-out!” Even as she said that, her enormous Jekern partner sent a blast of electricity into the air that turned a descending pterodactyl monster into what amounted to a barbecued corpse.  

Avalon was already right there, along with Sands, Sarah, and Columbus. The latter spoke up while shooting a blast from his goggles. “You three go! We’ll cover you.” He vanished briefly, appearing directly behind what looked like a two-headed centaur before bringing it down by ripping both of its necks in opposite directions with enough force to nearly rip the heads clear off. 

Sarah was nodding, raising her rifle to fire three quick shots that took a trio of bat-like monsters that had been in mid-dive directly behind the much larger thing Choo had killed. “We have you. We’ve got this. With the ship’s help, we can handle it.” she informed us flatly. 

It was going to have to be enough. As an idea jumped into my head, I blurted, “On me, let’s take a ride!” To Sands and the others, I added, “I’ll open a path, you keep it open and stop them from following!” With that, I began to shift into my werelion form, using a quick boost to speed the process into taking only a moment before I was running on all fours.

Quickly, Shiori summoned Choo back into his ball and stowed him. At the same time, Avalon caught her hand and tossed her up onto my back. A second later, the other girl landed right behind her. 

There we were, me in lion-form with my girls perched on my back as I ran straight at the nearest wall of Fomorian monsters, all of whom were very eagerly waiting for our arrival. I could put on an incredible burst of speed with my boost, which was why I’d wanted the girls on my back. Unfortunately, in that instant, all it would do was make us slam into that wall of monsters faster

But as I’d said, I had a plan. And I put it into action in that moment, focusing not on the monsters standing there eagerly waiting for us, but on the ones that were already dead. I focused on the piles of shattered, broken, eviscerated Fomorian creations that all littered the ground around their still-living companions. Instantly, using barely more than a nudge, I felt the dead things respond. Dozens of them, dozens, tore themselves upward, half leaving body parts behind as they basically mindlessly and awkwardly threw themselves against the living versions. 

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. It looked janky as hell, not to mention horrific, with half-destroyed bodies just sort of dragging themselves up with whatever limbs they had left and bodily lunging at one of the other creatures. But it worked. Horrible and awkward as it was, it worked. I’d managed to force the dead Fomorian creatures to create a hole in the middle of their line by shoving their living companions to either side. The hole was basically just big enough for me to fit through. 

I took advantage of that instantly, shoving all I could into my boost for those few seconds. Suddenly, I was running a hell of a lot faster. It was like being back on that freeway in Vegas. I tore across the sand, blowing through the open hole just as Sands, Sarah, and the others opened up on the monsters to make sure they didn’t follow us. My control over the dead ones fell away as all my focus went toward getting to where I could still feel Dexamene through her blood. 

There! I could see a big hole in the sand, like a crater. My power was telling me that’s where Dexamene was. Which meant it was where they all were. Pushing myself harder, I made my lion-self into what amounted to a blur, a furry rocket-engine screaming across the desert. It wasn’t far, of course. But every second counted. Every moment it took for us to get there felt like an eternity where Vanessa and the others could be overrun. So I pushed myself harder, shoving everything I could into moving just a little bit faster. 

Finally, we reached the edge of what turned out to be a thirty-foot deep, eighty-foot wide pit. Sure enough, Dexamene and Elisabet were down there, basically directly in the middle along with Jophiel, Sariel, Tristan, and Vanessa. 

And they were surrounded by even more monsters than I could count, including one that looked like a twelve-foot tall octopus using its tentacles to stand. A large, pulsing blue gem thing took up most of its head, which seemed to give off little sparks of energy now and then. It was in the middle of the group, apparently being protected by everything around it, if my split-second glance was right. It looked like everyone down there was trying to aim for the thing, but their attacks were intercepted. 

Vanessa must have seen us right there on the edge, because suddenly I saw her face again, and heard three words. “Octopus – McGillicuddy – Trapping!” 

Right, yeah, my first impression was correct. That big thing, with the giant pulsing gem in its head, was somehow trapping the group down there. Blocking teleportation or movement powers somehow? I wasn’t sure. Quickly, I shook myself just enough for the others to get off, then shifted into my normal (hah, as if anything about me was normal) human form and blurted that we had to kill the octopus. 

Unfortunately, Avalon quickly revealed the real problem and why the others couldn’t escape by reaching out. Her hand stopped in midair, blocked by a shining, glimmering forcefield that disappeared once she drew back.

 “What’re we supposed to do?” Shiori quickly asked, staring at the group below. “It’s the gem thing, right? That’s making the shield, but we can’t get through the shield to hit it, and those guys can’t get to it because of all the monsters! I don’t think we have enough firepower to overload it.”

“Actually,” I corrected, “that’s exactly what we have. I knew it was a good idea to save this. Ready, Tabs?” 

Uh huh! came the almost-feral sounding response. Of course, her mother and siblings were down there. She was damn sure ready to blow this shield to hell in order to get them out.  

Realizing what I was talking about, Avalon and Shiori both backed up, as those bright energy wings erupted from my back. The wing spread out, even as I shoved everything I had into boosting their power. Tabbris did the same, and an instant later, all that power erupted into a blinding blast that slammed into the shield… and shattered it. I was left staggering, blurting, “Kill it, kill the thing now!” 

Neither Avalon nor Shiori needed a written invitation. Both of them were already moving, leaping out over the pit. Valley produced something that looked an awful lot like the same small silver ball Shiori used to store Choo. Only when she threw hers out and it popped open, a majestic white stag with silver antlers and blue wings emerged. Salten. He flapped hard once just as Shiori and Avalon landed on his back, then carried the two straight over to the octopus thing where they dropped off him to land on either side of the gem. Even as I was recovering from that brief moment of exhaustion, the other two were hitting that gem with everything they had. There were monsters attempting to swarm them, but it was too late. The giant crystal thing shattered, sending power flying in every direction. Power that knocked Avalon and Shiori to either side. Thankfully, before I even had a chance to worry, both were caught in mid-air by Salten doing some pretty impressive midair acrobatics in order to get to each of them. With the monsters below throwing acid, blades, spines, and all manner of other things, Salten flew back up. He was followed by Sariel, Jophiel, and the others as Elisabet used some kind of floating power to raise everyone up. More attacks were being thrown at them, of course, but Vanessa had both hands out and had created some kind of big…red gooey gel ball thing from her palms. It was about ten feet in diameter and she held it with no apparent problems, so it couldn’t have been that heavy. Yet everything that hit it was just absorbed into the ball like some kind of freaky jello mold. Either way, it was weird. But probably not as weird as certain powers I had. 

Before long, everyone made it. Salten landed, and Avalon only waited until she and Shiori were both off him before returning the Peryton to his ball. I couldn’t blame her for wanting him to be out in this hellhole as little as possible. Emergencies only. If anything happened to him here, with these things? Yeah, best he just chill out in his ball. 

“Flick!” Suddenly, Dexamene was hugging me. The Nereid’s grip was tight. “You came!” 

Flushing a little, I nodded. “Told you I would.” As I squeezed tight, my gaze found Elisabet. “I… hi.” She looked very different than I remembered, wearing what was obviously hand-crafted leather armor. That long, luxurious-looking black hair had been cut down to barely reach past her ears. She also had a line of golden daggers attached to one arm and a golden sword at her hip.

“Thank you, Felicity.” The woman was clearly ragged, barely keeping herself upright as she half-leaned against Jophiel. “We had no idea those things were so close. They were waiting for us to get help, they knew–” Shaking that off, she managed, “We need to go, now.” 

“Yes,” Jophiel agreed. “There will be time to sort all of this out. Now, we get back to the ship. 

“Before this entire world turns itself into a portal to the void just to spite us.”

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Promise And Peril 11-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – There was a commissioned interlude for Summus Proelium posted yesterday. If you read that story but missed that chapter, you can find it right here

Fortunately, I wasn’t out for long. Unfortunately, the reason I wasn’t out for long was that the sound of screeching and tearing metal snapped my eyes open. Blinking past the lingering bleary spots in my vision, I stared upward just as a spot of sunlight appeared. Sunlight through the hole that was being torn in the side of the ship as something literally drove its claws through it and ripped upward. Something that was snarling and growling nastily as it continued its work. 

Before I could focus my vision enough to tell what the thing looked like, a laser shot upward from nearby, hitting the invading creature and making it recoil with an angry, pained squeal. Kohaku was there, hand raised with her thumb raised and index and middle fingers pointed like a gun. That was where the laser had come from. A second later, after giving me a quick glance, she launched herself upward toward the hole and disappeared through it. I heard two more quick shots, followed by what sounded like a roaring fireball or something similar. Either there were more Fomorian-crafted creatures out there, or the one was pretty tough.

Or both. Probably both. Either way, I had to get up. This was really no time to lay here. My gaze snapped over to Mom. She was awake. Then it moved to Tabbris. Also awake, sitting next to December and May as the three gazed up at the hole the monster had created. From the looks on their faces, I was pretty sure they had gotten a much better look at the thing than I had. And they weren’t exactly bursting with joy about that fact, so I doubted it was a pleasant creature. 

Avalon and Shiori were up already, standing nearby as they looked to me, the latter pulling Columbus to his feet from where he had been sprawled. I gave them both a thumbs up. 

“Sound off!” Athena was up by then, calling out those two words as she gave a quick look toward the main control panel where smoke was steadily rising, along with a few sparks.

“Risa’s outside,” Haiden quickly snapped. “Covering her.” With that, after making sure Larissa and his family were conscious, the man disappeared. I heard him join the fray out there, my worry about just how many of those things were descending on the ship rising by the second. 

Quickly, the rest of us started calling out to say we were conscious and mostly unhurt. Mom was right by me, her hand on my arm (whether she was reassuring me or herself I wasn’t certain) as she seemed to be scrawling a spell of some kind on a blank stone with a field-engraver. She was drawing too quickly and murmuring too quietly for me to know what it was. One by one, the rest of the Seosten and my friends reported in as we heard the fighting continuing. There was too much of it. This obviously wasn’t a few scouting monsters. It was a full-scale attack.

“Elisabet.” That, of course, was Jophiel. She was up too, her hand outstretched toward the prepared transport circles. But a moment later, the woman hissed, “Blocked. Something’s blocking transports.” Rather than dwell on that, she pivoted, already moving to the hole. 

“Jo, wait.” That was Sariel, speaking up obviously hard for her as she had already stopped her kids from chasing after their dad when he took off to keep the monsters away from the ship. 

“I’m through waiting!” Jophiel snapped, whirling on her. “You have your family back, Sariel. Elisabet is my family. She’s been my family for a hell of a lot longer than you’ve had yours. She’s been in this hellhole for months. I’m going to get her, and if you think you can stop me–”

Sariel raised a hand, speaking up over the other woman. “You’re right. But don’t go alone. You don’t know what condition they’re in, if they’ve been–just don’t go alone. Come on. I’ll go with you.” She’d obviously been about to point out that the Fomorians had attacked us the second we got close to Elisabet and Dexamene, but stopped herself and simply implied it instead.

“Mom!” Tristan blurted, scrambling that way with Vanessa right behind him. He was clearly all geared up to protest that they couldn’t be left behind, that Dexamene was his friend, and so on.

Sariel, however, simply said, “You two, with us. Tabbris, stay with Flick. We’ll be back.” 

“The rest of us will secure the… landing site,” Athena announced carefully. “Clear space around it, then we’ll see what repairs need to be made, and get to work. Be quick, but thorough. I don’t think there was any severe damage, we just need to make it last for a jump out of here.” 

Even as she said that, Sariel, Vanessa, and Tristan were already leaving with Jophiel. As they went, I called to Vanessa, figuring she was in the best head space for it, “Remember what I said back at camp about getting help!” 

The blonde girl gave me a quick thumbs up. Then she was gone with the rest. I hoped… okay, I hoped a lot of things, but in that particular moment, I was mostly hoping that Dexamene and Elisabet were actually safe and that this hadn’t been an intentional trap.  

“December and May will stay with me,” Athena continued. “You’ve both worked on ship systems before, as I understand it. You have experience. Help me assess the damage and determine repairs.” She looked to the two, who seemed surprised that she was asking a couple of SPS Seosten to do such an important job. In response to their staring, the woman snapped sharply, as though she had no time for foolish time-wasting, “Am I wrong?” 

“No,” May immediately replied, head shaking. “We’ve done maintenance on ships. It is… it is one of the most important things our type are allowed to do.” 

“Itwasmyfirstjob!” December piped up in a rush. “CuzI’mlittleandIfitinthepipes!” She said it proudly, even as the implication of someone her age being put in dangerous maintenance situations on live spaceships made a rush of anger rise in me before I pushed it back down. Now really wasn’t the time to start getting offended about the way the Seosten treated people. There would be plenty of time for that later, assuming we all survived this. 

“Good,” came the response. “Then get busy. The repair spells we brought are in the compartment there. Find the right spots to employ them.” 

With that, she looked to Sachael. “Something brought us down. It’s one hundred yards west and about twenty feet below the ground.” 

The man said nothing to that. He simply nodded, then leapt through the same hole as the others, vanishing from view as he moved off to deal with the thing that broke the ship. All by himself, apparently.  

To the rest of us, Athena added, “Help the others clear those things out. Stay together, stay near the ship, don’t let them draw you away. Watch each other’s backs. You clear space while we assess the damage and fix it.” She was clearly reiterating her order to make certain we understood. “We’re not here to kill a bunch of Fomorians. We’re here to grab those two, fix the ship enough to escape, and get out. Go.” With that, she pressed the button to open the rear doors, extending the ramp rather than making us rely on going through the hole in the roof. 

Apollo, Deveron, Pace, and Theia were the first group to go through, joining Kohaku and Haiden outside. Immediately, the sound of fighting got even louder. Things clearly weren’t settling down. Any hope I’d had that the space battle going on above would distract the Fomorians too much to be a threat down here was rapidly evaporating. Then again, Fomorians had a way of doing that with any hope. For a brief moment, my thoughts jumped back to Dare and all the sacrifices she had made just to kick these monsters off Earth. What was she thinking right now, stuck back there while we were off fighting the very creatures she’d lost so much to? How would I feel at this moment if I was in her position? Especially if most of the people putting themselves out here had no idea why I cared about them so much. 

Mom’s hand was still on my arm. There was obviously a lot she wanted to say. Instead, she held the stone out to me. “If we’re separated, use that. It’ll bring you to me.” She hesitated then, looking not only at me, but also to the others. “Be careful. Please.” From the strained sound of her voice, it was taking everything she had not to tell us to wait here. Not that we would’ve listened, and she knew that. 

Still, I took the stone, tucking it away while murmuring, “I love you, Mom.” My hand caught hers, squeezing very tightly for a moment as our gazes locked. It was only for a brief second, not nearly long enough. But then, ‘not nearly long enough’ seemed to describe our entire history with each other, and Mom’s history with her children in general. 

Fuck, that sounded dark and unfair. Which, again, suited Mom’s relationship with–fuck it.

Sands, Sarah, Avalon, Shiori, Columbus, Roxa, and I went together, with Mom and Lillian right behind. On the way, I glanced over to where Tabbris stood and called over the sounds of battle that had gotten so much louder ever since the ramp was opened. “You staying with December?!”  

There was a very brief pause, before her head shook. She disappeared, and I heard her voice in my head as she spoke a single word. Partners

Partners, I replied firmly, managing a very slight smile before wiping it away. Time to do this. 

With that, I shoved down all the doubts that tried to creep into my thoughts, all the fear of facing more of those Fomorian abominations, and pushed myself into running down the ramp while drawing my staff. Avalon and Shiori were on either side of me, the others all around us. 

Reaching solid ground (or as solid as the sand under my feet could be), I looked quickly to the left and right, my gaze taking in everything that was going on. And as I did so, any last lingering optimism I’d had that we could easily deal with this situation was gone. I’d already realized that this wasn’t a scouting party, but it was even worse than I’d imagined. The entire area around our crashed ship was flooded with monsters of all shapes and sizes. It was a horror show beyond anything I could have imagined. Hundreds of the creatures all swarming around all sides. It was impossible to tell where one monster ended and another began. Some had multiple heads, some had none that were discernible. There were claws, tails, tentacles, fangs, bloated sacks of venom or acid, snakes with shark-like heads, an enormous antelope thing with shoulders twelve feet high and a dozen legs, something that looked like a giant pterodactyl with a fat body and hundreds of tiny baby-like hands all along its front from neck to tail, flailing and grasping at the air. All that and more, so much more. Monsters beyond description were in every direction. 

Haiden, Kohaku, Mom, Theia, and all the others were doing their best to deal with the things, but it was all they could do just to stop the beasts from completely overrunning our small group. They were a flood of nightmares that kept swarming higher and higher, like a rising wave threatening to capsize a ship. Only in this case, our ship had already crashed. The longer we were here, the more of these things that would show up. And it was already right up at the tipping point. We didn’t have any backup or rescue coming. We were the rescue. If we didn’t hold them off right here and now, that was it. 

But we didn’t have to last long. That was our only saving grace. If we could hold off the swarm long enough for Sariel, the twins, and Jophiel to grab Elisabet and Dexamene, we could escape. Well, assuming Athena and Calendar girls (still didn’t like that term) could fix the ship. 

The point was, we only had to hold out for a short time. Please, please let us last that long. 

To my right, Avalon was already using three quick shots from Porthos in his gun form to make a flock of bat-like creatures with steel-tipped wings abort their dive-attack. The bat-things regrouped, shrieking as they launched tiny, needle-like blades from their wings, which Avalon caught against a glowing energy shield that was suddenly projected from one of her gauntlets.

Meanwhile, Shiori had intercepted a four-foot tall stone-skinned ape thing with four legs and three arms. She launched herself that way, fist slamming into its face before a sudden, momentary duplicate appeared just long enough to copy her motion to hit it a second time. It tried to grab the real Shiori as the duplicate disappeared, but she turned to sand, letting the thing fall through her before reforming behind it, mouth open to shoot a burst of lightning into its back. 

They were both handling things. Which was good, because I didn’t exactly have time to help either of them. Ahead of me, there was a fifteen-foot long squid thing with its own tentacles lashing out, and as my eyes snapped that way, the front of the squid’s body opened up right along the middle to reveal a naked humanoid male shape attached within a nutrient sac. The humanoid was maybe four feet tall, with fully-formed genitals and an oversized head that lolled to the side within the gel-like liquid. It had no eyes, and only three fingers on each hand. All six of those fingers rose to point toward me, and I heard an utterly horrific wailing as it opened its mouth. It was a wail that seemed to make my very bones creak, sending an awful chill down my spine as it vibrated in my skull.

The squid-thing that served as the naked, immature humanoid’s main body boosted itself up on two tentacles while sending three more straight at me. The screaming continued unabated. If anything, it actually got louder, the sound seeming to drive itself deep into my brain, taking all of my focus. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t–

And then it was gone. The would-be distracting pain from the thing’s scream vanished, and the sound itself was heavily muffled. I could still somewhat hear it, but it was barely there. My eyes focused just in time to launch myself up in a leap over the nearest tentacle, staff lashing out to stab the already-prepared bladed end into the second tentacle. That drew a new scream from the humanoid, but this was a wail of pain rather than an attack. 

Thanks, I blurted quickly to Tabbris for shutting down my senses to save me from the thing’s scream. At the same time, I was already landing on the third tentacle, which instantly flung me toward two more tentacles that were already lashing my way, trying to snap my body in half by crushing me between them. But I was faster, launching myself into a backward flip that carried me just barely through the narrow space between the two incoming tentacles. On the way, I spat a wad of resin, which caught all three tentacles (the two that had been coming toward me as well as the one that had flung me), trapping the trio together like a wad of super-strong rubber cement. Which gave me an opening, as I dropped toward the ground, to create a quick portal in front of me. With a grunt, I boosted my strength while shoving the blade of my staff through the portal and out the other end, which was located right in front of the humanoid’s face. The amniotic sac or whatever the thing was encased within was tough, but it shattered under the strength of my empowered blow, and the blade went right through the thing’s face while it screamed. 

Then I hit the ground, landing in a crouch as the squid-humanoid fetus thing collapsed lifelessly. To my right, Sands and Sarah were working together with Avalon to deal with an incursion from that side. To my left, I caught a quick glimpse of Roxa, Pace, and Theia bringing down the big antelope thing. Meanwhile, Shiori was racing straight at me, shouting something about a boost. Instantly I saw what she meant, crouching to catch the other girl’s raised foot as she leapt. Activating my boost once more, I heaved as hard as I could, throwing her upward just high enough to catch the swooping pterodactyl thing with all the tiny hands. The second she was there, all those hands tried to grab her. But once more, Shiori did the ‘shift to sand, let the thing pass through her, then reform again’ trick. That time, it put her on the flying monster’s back. 

In that instant, I had two more creatures coming after me. The first was essentially a three-foot diameter ball with a humanoid face on the front that popped hands out anywhere it needed to. It flew through the air at me just ahead of a fat, five-foot tall reptilian figure with nine-foot long arms. 

Laser? Tabbris pressed, seeing the line of monsters behind those ones. 

My head shook, even as I closed the gap. Save it until we need it. Last ditch thing. 

In the background, I could see Shiori throw something out ahead of the flying monster she was riding. It was a small silver ball, which popped open to release Choo. In mid-air, the horse-sized warthog creature unleashed a blast of electricity straight into the flying monster just as Shiori flung herself off it and shot an identical blast into the thing from behind. The twin lightning bolts hit the Fomorian creation, sending it sputtering lifelessly to the ground. 

By that point, I’d reached the ball-creature. A plus-sign shape appeared along the front of the thing before it split open along those four sections to reveal what looked like a miniature blackhole. It was some kind of super-gravity field that instantly yanked me toward the thing. But I caught myself with a burst of energy from my staff, arresting my momentum just in time before the bigger monster’s long arm swept through the space where I would’ve been without that help. 

A sudden shot from Porthos hit the ball-creature, which exploded into a spray of goo that I threw myself forward and rolled under to escape from. I wasn’t absolutely sure being hit by the goo would be a bad thing, but it was a fair guess. 

By that point, even as I smacked the long-armed creature’s hand out of the way with my staff, I could see Shiori and Choo out of the corner of my eye. She was actually riding him, having landed on her pet’s back before he, in turn, landed on the back of one of the giant snake-serpent monsters. The Jekern was charging ahead, shooting lightning from his mouth while Shiori urged him onward, riding her pig-mount as they took the snake thing right to the ground. 

In that moment, just as the blade of my staff was driven through the long-armed reptilian’s stomach as I half-lay at its feet, one of Avalon’s energy blades cut through it from the back. The thing was basically cut in half, falling apart while the beautiful dark-haired girl caught my hand to haul me back to my feet. “No time to nap, Chambers!” she blurted, turning to put her back to mine as even more of the monsters appeared. There was no end in sight, as more and more of the things emerged. Nothing we did was enough. I saw kill after kill, but there were just so many of them. 

If Jophiel and the others didn’t get back with Elisabet and Dexamene, if we couldn’t get this ship back off the ground and get out of here really soon, we were going to miss our chance. We would be overrun. Even with my mother, Haiden, Risa, and the others, it wasn’t enough. There were too ma–

Abruptly, I sensed a sudden change behind me. But before my item-sense power could thoroughly process it, there was a high-pitched whine, and a burst of bright, blinding light as a laser passed just over my shoulder. And a bit to my left. And far off to the right. And in a dozen or more different directions. 

Half of the Fomorian army that had been descending upon us completely vanished, blown apart from lasers fired by…. by… 

I pivoted back toward the ship. Except it wasn’t the same ship anymore. Before, the thing had looked like a tube with a flat bottom. Like a metal twinkie, basically. Now, the main body of the twinkie had grown by about a third of its original length, as sections of it had split apart down the length and extended almost like an accordion. Every few feet, a series of panels slid apart. Doing so uncovered a series of glowing reddish discs. Those red discs were where the lasers that had torn through half of the Fomorian pack had originated. 

“Hey!” we all heard May’s voice call through some kind of ship-mounted intercom. “Starting the repairs on the ship made it shift into some kind of combat mode!” 

There was the slightest of pauses, before Athena’s voice carried through the same intercom. “Made it do what?!

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Promise And Peril 11-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Our original idea had been that we would fly in, locate Elisabet and Dexamene, then get close enough to teleport them onto the ship and flee before the Fomorians had time to scramble too many of their defenses. Obviously that plan had been completely incinerated thanks to the fact that the fuckers were already in the middle of a pitched battle against… some unknown force. 

That unknown force wasn’t the Seosten, yet was strong enough to send a whole fleet after the Fomorians here on the Meregan world. Why? Who? How? Every possible question was swirling through my head as I simply stared open-mouthed at the screens that showed the battle going on ahead of us. For that moment, I couldn’t think, let alone speak. I had no idea what to do. And from the looks on the faces of Vanessa, Tristan, and the other students around me, neither did they. We’d thought we were ready for just about anything we could’ve run into. We were wrong.

Thankfully, we weren’t the only people here. And the others we had with us were a hell of a lot more experienced than we were. Taken by surprise or not, the real adults around us had been through more than we had (crazy as that might seem), had seen far more surprises and learned to react faster to them. Particularly the Seosten given their lifespans, but Mom and the others too. My friends and I had been through a hell of a lot in a year, but they had been through so much more for so much longer. 

Athena was the first to react, after what had to be barely a second since she had admitted that she had no idea who the other ships belonged to. “Helm, full power on sub-engines, boost forty percent from weapons and reserves split evenly. Take everything you need to do your thing. Guns aren’t going to get us through this today. Navs plot Ah and Bay courses through sector quattuor-sex-septem and feed to Helm, bracing for on-fly adjustments. Jophiel on exterior spellwatch, Haiden and Larissa back her up, you’ve done this before. December and May on secondary spellwatch. Something gets through Jophiel, call it out and intercept with counters. Sachael is on power-watch. Feed energy where it’s needed. Joselyn, Risa, back him up. If he raises a hand, he needs you to feed magic energy to him so he can shift it to the ship’s systems when needed. Helms has full control, feed everything she needs to her and let her work.”

She rattled off those instructions so effortlessly, and everyone immediately moved to follow them. Sariel was apparently Helm, while Apollo was Navs, both of them springing to action as their hands danced across the consoles, blurting words to one another in a rapid series of what had to be half-code and half-intuition from the sheer length of time they’d known each other. No wonder people had considered the two of them to be twins, because they sure communicated like they were right here and now. They were barely speaking English, just blurting sentence fragments or strings of numbers and letters, often finishing one another’s… whatever. 

Meanwhile, the others jumped right to action too. Mom and Kohaku slid closer to Sachael, who had lifted one hand to press against the wall of the ship while his other hand steadied a console and turned it closer to him, his fingers flying over the holographic buttons to make it send reports on the ship’s systems. At the same time, Jophiel (whose magical meditative-state had vanished the instant she was needed) sank in her seat a little while producing two small metal discs, one in each hand. Her eyes drifted half-closed as she began slowly moving the discs around seemingly randomly. They glowed very faintly now and then, and when they did, she would move the discs back to the spot where it had happened and murmur something. My guess was that the discs detected magic that might affect our ship or the people in it and she was ready to block such attempts. With the help of Haiden and Larissa, who had already produced what had to be counterspell-enchanted coins, ready to use them at whatever spot the Seosten woman indicated. 

May did the same as Jophiel, though her movements weren’t quite as smooth. She had December backing her up, one hand on the other Calendar member’s side as though ready to feed energy into her while her other hand held a counterspell coin of her own. 

The rest of us weren’t totally left out of things, obviously. The moment the ship took off, heading what seemed like straight for the battle, Athena turned slightly to call back, “Felicity, be ready to track the moment we’re within the atmosphere. The rest of you, prepare the transport circles just as I showed you!” 

Trying to ignore the fact that we were flying straight into the crossfire between two fleets of warring ships and had no idea whether the people fighting the Fomorians would give a shit about killing us along with them, I reached deep into my pocket, unzipping it. After digging around a bit, I came out with a small vial. A thick, pale blue liquid was visible through it as I clutched the vial tight. It was protected against damage, of course. But still, the contents were entirely too precious to risk losing. Not after we’d come all this way. 

All around me, Avalon and the others were already crouching in the bit of open space where the base of the transport circles had been started before we ever left, drawn in by Athena and Sariel the night before. Vanessa, Tristan, Roxa, and Avalon worked on one while Sands, Sarah, Columbus, and Shiori worked the other. Tabbris helped by moving between both, suggesting improvements or corrections here and there. They couldn’t finish the enchantments because the details had to be saved for when we were actually here. But my friends were quickly sketching in what was needed with a few glances toward a nearby console to get specific coordinate details. Even then, they wouldn’t be able to finish just yet. Not until we had an exact location. And that part was up to me. 

Trying not to think about what would happen if the world-shattering forces around us actually started to pay our relatively little ship too much attention, I focused on staring intently at the planet ahead while gripping the vial tight. I wanted to help the others, I wanted to do anything other than sit there. But I had to be ready. I couldn’t be distracted. Besides, as much as I wanted to contribute, they had enough people drawing in the transport spells. And I sure as hell had no idea what I was doing when it came to actually helping with the ship defense. My need to help wasn’t an excuse to get in the way. 

But, valid as that point was, it didn’t really help me feel any better. I couldn’t contribute right now. All I could do was sit there, tensely watching the battle going on ahead and all around us. Lasers, missiles, random spells, tentacles, fang-filled monstrosities, and more exploded, shot, and swarmed everywhere I looked. Our ship barrelled right on through, spinning, diving, and rolling just to get a little bit closer to the planet with each passing second. Several spells came close, but Jophiel and May, with help from the others near them, dispelled and countered them before they could do too much. Meanwhile, Athena was snapping orders back and forth between Sachael, Sariel, and Apollo. She was clearly using a mix of watching the screens and her own power to keep track of any immediate dangers, telling them where to go and when to transfer power between the shields and engines just for that little bit of a boost at the exact right time.

There was no way we could’ve made it through with this array of forces against us, on either side. The plan, again, had been to get to the planet and out before they could assemble everything we were already seeing. This ship was a prototype, intended to test the transport system, not to win (or even survive) a battle like this. And here we were, flying directly into the middle of a fight between two incredibly powerful fleets who were intent on utterly destroying one another. We were a very small bird flying through a hailstorm of lasers, missiles, and worse. 

The fact was, we probably still would’ve been destroyed if we didn’t have Athena, Sachael, Jophiel, Sariel, and Apollo. They knew what they were doing, and had fallen right back into working together as if no time had passed since they were part of the same crew. It was kind of amazing to behold, terrified as I was about the whole situation. 

And yet, above and beyond all the others, it was Sariel who got us through it. I watched her at the controls as she seemed to sit in total relaxation. She wasn’t stiff, wasn’t hunched over in her seat. Instead, she sat back, breathing calmly in and out while carefully yet coolly putting her hands up against the holographic display. Then? Then she went to work. 

When it came down to it, flying this ship through this battlefield amounted to driving a dump truck through a field full of tanks, artillery, and racecars armed with machine guns. But impossible had apparently never met Sariel’s piloting. 

A very slight touch with one hand sent the ship spinning upside down (well, relative to how we were before), while her other hand slowed our speed fractionally and touched the nose of the craft downward by maybe a meter. In that same instant, while the ship was in mid-spin, two massive laser-blasts passed through the space where it had just been. They came in at an upward angle, spaced apart just enough they passed above and below the ship itself. The fact that it was already spinning and thus at a diagonal angle was the only reason the shots missed. And, given the ship was basically a tube aside from having a flat bottom and rounded top meant the shots came really close indeed. 

No sooner had those two shots skimmed past us than we were fully upside-down, and in that instant, a flailing Fomorian tentacle passed just barely above the now-upward facing belly of the ship, while some kind of glowing ball of… something bad went sailing just above the nose of the ship that Sariel had nudged down enough to avoid that very thing. 

That was just the first half-second. Three different attacks, all avoided with a single maneuver. And then? Then it got really nuts. Sariel flew that ship like it was an extension of her own body. I’d seen her in physical action, I’d heard and seen how her power amounted to more than just being able to hit things really well. It gave her perfect accuracy. Anything whose path and motion she was capable of controlling, including herself and things she drove or piloted, she did with that same perfect accuracy. She threw and shot things like a goddess, true. But she also moved and piloted like one. If she controlled where and how something moved, it did so utterly flawlessly. 

It should have been impossible to make it through the battlefield before us. Yet Sariel made it look easy. Every motion of her hands, every control she touched, every slight adjustment of the ship’s trajectory, speed, and more made dozens of attacks miss. Some of them (mostly from the Fomorian side) were intended for us, some were just attacks we happened to pass through on our way. But between Sariel’s piloting and the magic defenses from Jophiel, December, and May we avoided all of them. This little, flimsy, dump truck of a shuttle danced through the entire battlefield like it was nothing. 

Through it all, with each passing minute, we drew closer and closer to the planet. Yet it didn’t seem to be enough. No matter how close we got, the world seemed eternally far away. It was like staring at a pot of water while you were trying to make food, willing it to start boiling and all it would do was steam forever. Except in this case, instead of a few hunger pangs there were blindingly bright, six-meter-wide laser blasts that would have obliterated our entire ship and everyone on it if they got too close. And all I could do, the only thing I was capable of in that moment, was rocking my body back and forth in the seat, silently willing us to please go just a little bit faster. Which was about as helpful as… well, about as helpful as rocking back and forth on a spaceship to make it go faster. With the vial clutched tight in one hand, I swallowed hard past the lump in my throat. Please. Please get there. Please let us make it in time. We were so close. After everything that had happened, if Elisabet and Dexamene ended up dying anyway, or worse, I wasn’t sure how I would live with myself. To say nothing of what would happen if I managed to get myself and everyone on this ship killed by dragging them into this in the first place. 

We had just beaten Fossor. He was dead. And now I had to pull basically half the people I cared about in the world into a situation like this? Yet, what choice did I have? I owed Dexamene and Elisabet everything, everything. I owed them my life, my freedom, the lives and freedom of basically everyone I knew, everyone in the entire world if Fossor had had his way. 

We had to get there. We had to save them. 

An explosion of blue light and what appeared to be a rapidly expanding mushroom (not a mushroom cloud, a literal mushroom in the middle of space) appeared just to our left, while a beam of energy wide enough to encompass an entire football field blasted through the space to the right. But Athena had been ahead of things, snapping orders two seconds earlier that made Sariel twist the ship to fly right through the relatively narrow space between the two attacks. Immediately, the woman called out another order to Sachael to shove all the power he could to engines for the boost, and the ship sped up to narrowly avoid some kind of gravitational anomaly spell that burst to life right where we had just been. The engines strained against the force of its pull, but with the added power were barely able to pull us through. 

It went on like that, chaotic and insane. Anything Sariel herself couldn’t avoid with her expertise and power, Athena was on top of with her own. Sitting where I was, unable to actually help, I saw all of it while most of the others only seemed to be able to focus on the one thing they were trying to do. Lucky them. I sat, eyes snapping from person to person, from near-hit to near-total-destruction. I saw Apollo calculating the best approach through the dazzling array of attacks passing back and forth between the two fleets, saw my mother and Kohaku next to Sachael, feeding power to him so he could keep the ship’s systems running properly, saw my friends frantically yet carefully trying to finish the transport spells. All of this, everything around me, was happening all at the same time, throughout this chaotic battle. And through all of it, I could do nothing to actually help. I had to sit there, waiting and hoping we would get close soon. Tempting as it might have been to try to aid my friends, not only was getting in the way a bad idea, but if I ended up getting distracted with that and missed the fact that we were in the atmosphere I’d end up making the whole situation worse by dragging everything out. 

So, I waited, tensely watching throughout the fight. If it hadn’t been so terrifying and the situation so critical, I might’ve enjoyed the show. Between all the lasers, the monsters literally swimming through space with their tentacles waving out to grab passing ships, the way various spell effects triggered here and there, it was the sort of spectacle that would take a hundred million or so to make a movie of. 

Gripping the vial tight in one hand, I stared as the fighters and smaller vessels swooped here and there, or looming above and below like enormous whales in the case of the capital ships. I could hear my own breathing over the sound of everyone else calling back and forth, and forced myself to breathe. Calm. Listen. Watch. If it came down to it, knowing everything possible about these people who were fighting the Fomorians might end up being really important. So I took in everything I could, just in case. I didn’t understand much of it, to say the least. But I took it in.

Ten minutes. It took ten minutes of this, one of the longest ten minutes of my life, and our ship was a bit singed, the shields heavily damaged from a couple near-misses. But we made it. We finally penetrated the atmosphere, dropping quickly toward the world below while Athena called out for me to do my part. 

Immediately, I popped the top off the vial and poured some of the contents out into my hand. The pale blue liquid pooled in my palm. It was blood. Specifically, Dexamene’s. Yeah, we weren’t just blindly hoping I’d be able to find her when the time came. I had my harpy blood-tracking power from the last time I’d been here, fighting against Nicholas’s forces. It clearly required we be at least somewhat nearby, but I could use it as the ship skimmed through the atmosphere and point out when we were close, getting us to them through a game of hot and cold. At least, that was the idea. 

The real question was, would the fact that there was an all-out war going on just above help or hinder us? The Fomorians were already out in force rather than having to scramble the way we’d expected, but they were also busy at the moment. I supposed it really depended on how well the unknown forces did at keeping them occupied. 

But seriously, how the hell was there an entire fleet powerful enough to stand up against the Fomorians this way and none of the several very well-informed Seosten here had any idea who they were? How was that even possible? Was it just a case of space being really fucking big and therefore the Seosten simply didn’t know every force that was out there? That seemed too simple, and yet I couldn’t think of any other explanation. Especially if these people were relatively new to the scene. That made sense, sort of. I’d just spent the past year being conditioned to believe the Seosten knew basically everything about the universe, so it was a weird awakening. 

In any case, wondering about all of that could come later. Right now, I was going to hope that, whoever they were, they managed to keep the Fomorians off us. Meanwhile, I closed my eyes, focusing on the blood pooling in my palm. Dexamene… Dexamene… where was she? Please. God, please, I had to find her. I wasn’t positive of how far away I could be and still use the Harpy’s power. Hopefully not too far, or this could take a long time. 

Now it was everyone else’s turn to anxiously watch me. There were a few tense words about staying low and keeping an eye on any incoming threats, but for the most part the other people onboard simply stared and waited. I could feel their eyes on me, clearly silently urging the power to trigger just as much as I was. Please… Dexamene… please… How much time had passed? How many minutes? How much longer could we stay here? How long would it–

“There!” Without warning, and while barely consciously realizing what I was doing, my hand snapped out toward the right. “A hundred miles that way!” It was right on the edge of my senses, barely a blip, yet I was absolutely certain it was her. 

The ship instantly turned, heading the way I pointed out. As we got closer, I was able to guide them more specifically, all while praying that what I was leading us to was a living, free Dexamene and not a body. Nearby, I could see Tristan clasp his hands, staring ahead anxiously while Sarah put a hand on his shoulder. Jophiel, on the other hand, had her gaze fixated solidly on me as she waited tensely. We were close, so close. Within a few seconds of my pointing out where to go, the distance had dropped from a hundred miles to practically nothing. 

Then we were there. My power said Dexamene was directly below, and the ‘window’ at the front of the ship adjusted to show a view of what was down there. 

“Yes!” Tristan suddenly thrust his fists in the air. And I didn’t blame him, because they were there. Dexamene and Elisabet both. The two stood below, staring up at the ship. We’d made it. They were safe, they were–

Brace!” Athena abruptly shouted, an instant before… something hit us. I had no idea what it was. All I knew was that there was a bright flash, a loud bang, and the ship suddenly started spinning wildly. The view went wild, the ground coming up far too quickly. 

Then we hit, and my vision went black.

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Promise And Peril 11-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Athena was right, of course. It was a bumpy trip. The moment the prototype ship’s jump was triggered, it started shaking violently. Almost like it was trying to tear itself apart. It was like sitting on top of an overloaded washing machine or something. Vanessa, Tristan, Tabbris, and I had been through it before. So had Sariel, though she had been in stasis at the time. For everyone else, this was new. And apparently not the most pleasant first experience. Worse, it would start shaking violently, then stop and be still for a few seconds, then start again and repeat that. 

“Is it supposed to be doing this?!” Sands called out a bit nervously while gripping her seat armrests. She, like the rest of us, was strapped in tightly. The seats in this thing were lined facing one another along both walls, like one of those military transport jets or something. “Cuz I don’t think I like the experimental ship running an experimental jump drive shaking like this! It feels like a bad thing!” 

Tristan was the one who answered from his own spot a few seats away, “Hey, it’s not so bad! Just be glad we actually get to be strapped in this time instead of fighting a telekinetic asshole!” 

“Trying to fight,” Vanessa murmured in correction, her own voice barely audible over the rapidly rising sound of the ship jerking back and forth. “We didn’t exactly do a very good job at it.”

Theia, meanwhile, just raised her arms above her head like she was on a rollercoaster with a loud, “Wheeee!” With Roxa and Pace sitting on either side of her, she even lifted one of each of their hands up with her own. Then the ship would stop shaking, and she would pout, lowering their arms. “Aww.” It started up again, and her arms shot back into the air, carrying the other two with them. “Wheeee! Awww… Wheee! Awww… Wheee!” The fact that she was still wearing Doug’s New York Rangers hat (as far as I knew, she basically never took it off) helped add to the impression of her being on a casual day out at the amusement park.

For their part, Roxa and Pace each half-raised their other hand to go along with Theia, exchanging looks with one another. 

While all that was going on, everyone clearly trying to distract themselves from the fear of what would happen if this jump went wrong, I found myself looking over to where Sachael was. The white-bearded Seosten was watching me with a neutral expression. If the repeatedly violently shaking ship was bothering him, he didn’t show it at all. As our gazes met, he offered me a single, simple nod without speaking. 

What was he thinking? What kind of person was he? All I knew about the man was that he was still loyal to his people, but willing to bend the rules in his off-hours. From what Sariel and Athena had said, Sachael was really devoted to the idea of separating his work life from his private life. When he didn’t consider himself to be on-the-clock, he was a lot more chill. 

As for what his opinion about me was, I had no idea. And it didn’t seem like he was eager to speak up about it. After that simple nod, the man turned his gaze to look toward Sariel. Again, his expression remained completely unreadable. I had no idea what he was thinking. 

“I-it’s longer this time!” Tabbris piped up, drawing my attention to where she sat beside me, with Tristan on the other side. “It didn’t take this long before, even though we had to go further!” 

She was right. And it wasn’t just taking longer, the shaking was noticeably worse too. The ship seriously felt like it was about to tear itself apart and send pieces flying in every direction. 

Athena, at the front of the ship near the console that controlled everything, simply called back, “Everything is fine! The ship was prepared to go to Earth before, it had a smooth path plotted out. This time it doesn’t. It will be a rough ride, but the ship will hold together. Give it a moment.” 

She sounded distracted while explaining that, and I belatedly realized she was using her power. That scattershot precognition that allowed her to see the results of actions she took several seconds in advance. She was using that to make sure the ship wasn’t about to fall apart. Which made me feel a bit better about the whole thing. But still, I really hoped this would be over soon. 

Mom, who was sitting on my other side, put one hand on my shoulder. Her voice was firm. “Whatever happens, if we see a real Fomorian, you don’t fight it.” She squeezed firmly, looking up to Vanessa, Tristan, Sands, and the others to make sure they were listening. “That goes for all of you. I don’t care if you outnumber it twelve to one. If you see a real Fomorian, you run away from it. You can fight their creatures, but if there’s an actual Fomorian, all of you run away. You fight to get clear and you run. You don’t jump in to help, you get away. Is that understood?” 

Kohaku spoke up then. “Joselyn is correct. None of you, not even together, are prepared to face a full, battle-ready Fomorian in combat. And none of us are prepared to extract you should you be captured. If you try to jump in to help, you’ll be nothing more than a distraction. That isn’t intended as an insult,” she added quickly. “You are all amazing students. You truly are. You’ve advanced far faster and further than any of us could have anticipated, and all of us are more proud of you than we can say. But this is something beyond that. If you see a full Fomorian, you retreat immediately. No macho bullshit. Run away and leave them for us to deal with.” 

The rest of the adults voiced their own agreement with that. They all wanted to make sure we weren’t going to try to go toe-to-toe with a Fomorian. But before any of us could respond, Athena abruptly called back, “Brace!” 

Her warning came just in time. As all of us grabbed our armrests, the ship’s shaking suddenly jumped into overdrive. Seriously, it made the previous shaking feel like nothing. My stomach was twisting itself into knots, as the sound of metal screaming in protest filled the air. 

Another sound filled the air too. It was Theia again, arms still held high above her head (with Pace and Roxa’s lifted too) like she was on a rollercoaster, calling out an enthusiastic, “Whoooooo!” Yeah, she was still having a grand old time. I was pretty sure if this actually was an actual ride in a park, she’d jump right back in line for it. 

Meanwhile, I was almost afraid the ship really was about to blow apart and take all of us along with it. Which would have been a pretty bad way for this whole rescue mission thing to turn out. 

But it didn’t blow apart, of course. Just as the ship’s horrific shaking hit its peak, it just as abruptly stopped entirely. Seriously, one second it felt like we were about to explode in slow motion, and in the next second everything was completely still. Like someone had flipped a switch. 

“What…” Columbus started, looking around the moment everything stopped. “Did we break it?” 

Theia, however, shook her head. She still looked exuberant, though her voice was completely matter-of-fact. “We are here, of course. If we broke it, we would all be dead.” 

“She’s right,” Avalon agreed, eyes glancing around the interior of the ship as though making sure everything was still completely sealed. “It stopped shaking because we made it.” 

Athena spoke then. “Yes. We are here.” With those words, she hit a few buttons on the console, and screens appeared around us to act like windows, showing the exterior of the ship. Not that there was much to see. We were, as planned, in the middle of nowhere. I could see stars all around us, of course. Brilliantly bright now that we were away from Earth. But there were no planets nearby or anything. It was the middle of empty space. Like drifting on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Only about a million times more dangerous if anything actually went wrong.

And this was the easy part, I had to remind myself. Before too long, we’d be where the real monsters were. I just hoped we were actually ready for that. 

Apollo, who had been silently checking over a different console through all of that, finally spoke up. “We’re on target. We hit the exact coordinates. Whoever designed this thing knew what they were doing.” 

“I mean, it was Radueriel, right?” Shiori piped up. “It had to be Radueriel.” 

“No.” That was Pace, actually. The Latina girl, who had switched her green-dyed hair to a full rainbow after cutting it quite short, was shaking her head. “If it was his, he’d already be trying to get it back. Think about it, he had to know you guys took it from Kushiel’s place, a toy like this? And he has no interest in grabbing it? Not even in negotiations? If he made it, wouldn’t he want his prototype back? That’s… that’s the impression I got of him from when… from everything I learned with Theia.” 

The Olympians onboard all exchanged looks, before focusing on Sachael. He, in turn, offered a simple shrug. His voice was even. “Sorry to say, I don’t know who designed this thing. But the girl there is right. Useful as it is, I would think that someone as protective of his designs as Radueriel is would have insisted on having it back as part of the truce agreement.” 

Yeah, that was pretty close to the same thing I had thought before. It made sense. Or rather, it didn’t make sense for this to be Radueriel’s design with as little interest as he had shown in it. But again, if it wasn’t his, then who? Should we be worried about someone else in the Seosten Empire who could design a ship like this that could jump anywhere almost instantly? How many more of these things had they already made? Was there a fleet of instant-jump ships just waiting for the truce to end so they could appear over Earth before we had any warning they were coming? Was I paranoid for even thinking that was a possibility? Well, yes, maybe it was paranoia. But was it unfounded paranoia? I didn’t think so. Not after everything I’d seen. 

“Okay, so the jump was on-target.” That was Lillian, who had been staring out one of the ‘windows’ for the past few seconds. “Can this thing actually get us to the Meregan world now?”  From the sound of her voice, the small woman had her doubts on that subject. Which was fair, after we’d just spent the past few minutes feeling the thing shake itself apart around us. 

“It can,” Sariel confirmed, her fingers moving over one of the control panels that had slid around in front of her seat, sort of like a tray table thing in an airplane. “The slide-drive isn’t exactly top-of-the-line. It’s barebones and barely adequate. But it is working. We should get there in one hour.” Before anyone else could speak up about how long that would take, she added, “We’ll be taking a few separate slides just to throw off any investigation once we’re done. We won’t be coming back to this spot after we grab Elisabet and Dexamene anyway, but the Fomorians could still potentially trace our entrance point back to here. We don’t want that. So we’ll take the long route around and throw them off with those extra slides.” 

“That’s the plan, anyway,” Apollo put in. “Which means we’ve got about fifty-seven minutes now for everyone to relax and breathe, then sixty seconds to psych yourselves up, thirty seconds for that to turn into blind panic, and then another thirty seconds to calm down again. Ready? Go.”

“You remain as inspiring and helpful as ever, Apollo,” Athena quietly noted before glancing at Sachael. She paused then, looking briefly as though she was carefully choosing her words. 

Actually, wait, was she using her power to judge what the best approach would be? That felt–well not exactly manipulative, but… huh. Was it bad? That was a tough question. And the fact that she’d paused long enough to be noticeable, how many options was she playing through, if that was the case? 

Either way, cheating or not, the woman finally addressed her Seosten-loyalist former crewmate. “Which does make it feel a bit like old times, doesn’t it?” 

Seeing Sariel, Athena, Apollo, and Sachael like that, I wondered what it had actually been like back on the Olympus. With Kushiel and certain others around, it definitely hadn’t been a picnic. And yet, there had certainly been good times. They’d been together fifty years or so even before coming to Earth. Which, I knew for them was seriously a drop in the bucket. And yet so many of them defined basically everything they were around either that, or their ‘god’ identities back on Earth. Athena used her Earth-goddess name rather than Auriel because she loathed the person she had been. Apollo didn’t go by Lucifer because he saw himself as more connected to Earth than the Seosten since he had left them. Mercury still used that name because it was the first one that the SPS-afflicted man had seen as his own after taking over the original Amitiel.

But Sariel didn’t. Sariel used her Seosten name consistently. Actually, I’d almost never heard her use the name Artemis. For a moment, I wondered why that was. Did she not like the identity? Was being Sariel more important for her than holding onto their old names was for the others? Was I just reading way too much into it? 

My gaze drifted over toward Jophiel. The Seosten woman had been silent through all of this since entering the ship, her gaze unfocused as she looked off into the distance. I had no idea what she was doing, other than worrying about Elisabet, but she seemed more… passive than I would’ve expected.

“Meditation spell.” That was Lillian, whispering toward me when she saw the direction of my gaze. “Way of keeping calm and clearing your mind before something important. Think of it as a magical tranquilizer that instantly wears off when it needs to.” 

Realizing I’d missed whatever Sachael had said in response to Athena, I glanced over to my mother, grabbing her hand to squeeze it. Really, I was hiding the fact that I’d palmed one of the privacy coins and was using it to make sure only her, Tabbris, Shiori, and Avalon could actually hear what I was about to say. Though the only person I really didn’t want to hear was Sachael. “I don’t suppose Bob’s linked you back into the Committee now that you’re free?” I was joking, mostly. “That’d be pretty useful.” 

Mom blinked at me briefly. “Bob?” she echoed blankly, clearly trying to think of someone with that name who would be the least bit relevant to what I was talking about. 

Oh, right, she wouldn’t know about that. Belatedly, I explained that we’d named the Reaper in the lighthouse Bob, thanks to Koren. 

Once she understood, Mom chuckled a little under her breath. “Ah, I used to call him Pops. He always felt like a… grandfather to me, of sorts.”

“That’s funny,” I replied with a chuckle despite myself, “Aylen sees him the same way.” Then I saw the way Mom blinked at me, clearly unknowing, and realized she had no idea what I was talking about. Right, maybe I hadn’t been able to tell her everything that had happened over the previous year. Bringing up the whole ‘friendly Fomorian’ thing had felt like something that could wait until we were free. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to bring it up right now. 

“Never mind,” I murmured. “I’ll tell you later. But you definitely don’t feel Committee-energized?” 

From the look on her face, Mom was tempted to pursue the previous subject. But she let it go with a shake of her head. “No, I haven’t felt anything like that. I don’t know if he even knows that I’ve been–that my memories have been restored, let alone that I’m no longer with Fossor.” 

“If he doesn’t, we’ll have to find a way to give him an update,” I assured her, squeezing my mother’s hand a bit more before quietly adding, “Not just because of the power thing. But because he misses you. He–I…” Hesitating, I explained how Bob had helped me before, by instantly teleporting my friends and I so we could fight Lemuel’s were-pack and eventually get the choker that allowed us to identify who had been possessed. Avalon, Shiori, and Tabbris piped up now and then too, helping to explain that whole situation. 

By the time we were done, Mom was shaking her head. “You mentioned most of that before, but not the detail about Pops. He–he really stepped up.” She sounded sad, and I realized he was yet another person (yes, person goddamnit) my mother cared about who had been taken away from her for a long time. “I’m glad you talked to him. He… needs more people to talk to him.” 

There was more to that, I realized. It sounded like Mom wanted to say something else about Bob-Pops needing people to talk to him. But she visibly put it aside, exhaling before settling on simply adding, “He deserves better.” 

We talked a bit more over the remaining time. Not all with the privacy spells, of course. I didn’t want to be that rude or obvious about it. I’d just figured that, whatever else he’d said about not reporting everything that happened to his superiors, it was still best not to let Sachael (or the Calendar duo) know too much about Bob and the fact that he was (sort of) communicating. 

Either way, pretty soon all of that was irrelevant. Because we were getting closer to the Meregan world, as all of our conversations kind of petered out. We were thinking about what was about to happen, about what we were going to see and potentially have to do basically as soon as we got there. 

We were nervous. All of us, even the Olympians. A glance around showed me that much pretty plainly. It was immediately clear that none of us wanted to be here right now. No one wanted to go running into a Fomorian-infested planet. We were all thinking about all the ways this could go wrong, about how bad it could potentially be. And I was pretty sure that no matter how detailed our imaginations might be, reality could probably get even worse. 

Finally, Apollo counted down while we all braced ourselves for what we were about to see. “In three… two… one…” 

We came out of the slide, all of us telling ourselves that we were prepared for the worst. And yet, nothing we had braced ourselves for could have prepared us for what we saw. 

There was a battle going on. An insane space battle the likes of which I’d never seen outside of movies. It was even more intense than the battle between Athena’s fleet and Kushiel’s research station defenses back when we had been rescuing Sariel. We were just beyond the outer edges of it, with the planet dead ahead. But between us and the world were dozens of enormous ships. Half were the biological sort the Fomorians used, while the other half were definitely technological. Lasers, missiles, various spell effects, tentacles, explosions of gore and acid, gigantic whale-like monsters that swam through space with their mouths open, all of it was laid out in front of us. We’d arrived in the middle of a massive warzone. 

“What–the Seosten are here?!” Lillian blurted, her gaze snapping toward Sachael. 

“No,” Athena immediately replied, her gaze riveted to the sight before us. “Those aren’t Seosten ships.” 

“Then who the hell are they?” Haiden demanded, leaning forward to stare at the screen at the front of the ship. 

Athena’s answer filled the small space around us. 

“I have no idea.”

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Promise And Peril 11-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

A/N – There was a commissioned chapter focusing on Lincoln posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you can read it by clicking the previous chapter button above.

Something else had happened while I was busy with the whole Jophiel thing the night before. Not to mention having some time with my family. Apparently that Dakota girl had had an encounter with a monster from the ocean called a Nuckelavee. An encounter that had resulted in the death of an older Garden student before one of the Victors stepped in. 

At least Dakota was alive. Even more traumatized than she already had been, but still alive. And, according to Avalon, she and Miranda had also had an… interesting conversation when they went to see the girl. A conversation with Gaia’s former lover… about one of Gaia’s other former lovers. Yeah, relationships among people who lived for centuries were really complicated. 

Uh, not that I had much room to talk. 

Anyway, they met Accolon, who told them that the man who was the father of her biological son (Mordred) was ready to step in and help save her. Oh, and one other tiny detail, the guy in question was Oberon, the King of Canada. Yeah. Why hadn’t he mentioned that he was so close to Gaia before, so close that they’d had a fucking son together? I had no idea. Again, relationships were weird. Coupled (hah) with people as powerful and old as Gaia and Oberon? Yeah, it was a whole thing. 

The point was, he was ready to offer aid now. Which was good, because we were going to need help if we were going to get Gaia away from the Crossroads loyalists. There was no way getting to her would be as easy (relatively speaking) as rescuing Sean had been. Wherever she was, the Committee would have her locked down tighter than basically anything else in the world. And thanks to certain binding contract spells, we couldn’t even count on getting help from the people on the Committee who were actually on our side. They couldn’t so much as tell us where to look without exposing the fact that they’d done so, allowing the loyalists to move Gaia. 

“Hey.” Avalon’s voice suddenly interrupted my musing, making my attention focus on her as the two of us sat at a table in the Atherby Camp dining cabin where we were eating breakfast. Her eyebrows were raised. “Look, knock it off. I know that look, you’re obsessing about everything that you can’t do anything about right now. Focus on the thing in front of you. We’ll get Gaia back, but we can’t do anything about that right now. That Accolon guy said Oberon was going to put some resources into finding out where the prison is, and they’ll get back to us. Nothing else we can do right this second, okay?” 

Porthos, her lizard-cyberform, was sitting next to her on the table eating his own breakfast of metal beads. He gave me a firm shake of his fist as if to punctuate Avalon’s words. 

Blinking a couple times at that, I offered her a small smile. “You’re the one giving me a pep talk, even though she’s your mother.” 

“I know Gaia,” she replied quietly, yet firmly. “She’ll be okay. When we find her, she’ll be okay. But she’s just in prison right now. The… the not-psycho Committee members won’t let the others do anything that bad. She’ll be safe. Safe enough, anyway. We’ve got a more immediate situation.” 

“Elisabet and Dexamene,” I agreed with a grimace. “Yeah, being on a planet full of Fomorians is a pretty immediate problem.” Sighing, I added, “I know it’s a lot to ask for you to focus on something other than your mom, I–” 

“Stop.” Avalon’s voice was sharp, her fist hitting my shoulder from across the table. “Don’t be an idiot, Felicity. After everything we–” She cut herself off, shaking her head pointedly. “Just don’t be an idiot. I’m with you. Of course I’m with you. When we get more about Gaia, you’ll be there.” 

I gave a short nod, moving my hand to catch hers and squeeze it. “I’ll be there,” I confirmed. 

“And I’ll be here now,” she informed me. “Besides, like I said, we can’t do anything about Gaia right this second, so I need something else to kill. A bunch of Fomorian minions sounds like just what the doctor ordered.” The smile she gave me then was basically feral. “I do have a lot of aggression to get out.” 

Snorting at her, I brought her hand in to gently kiss the fingers without breaking eye contact. “Even after that whole thing with Fossor’s zombies? I would’ve thought you’d be done fighting for awhile.” 

Lifting her chin, Avalon retorted, “Like I said, a lot of aggression.” Adding a wink, she noted, “Though I guess there are other ways to work out energy like that.” 

Oh boy. My face was suddenly hotter than my food, as I choked a bit while the other girl snickered at me. “Not fair,” I managed to croak, “definitely not fair.” 

“What’s not fair?” That was Roxa, taking a seat next to me with a plate of her own before she blinked with realization. “Oh, right, you guys are being gross. Got it.” 

“Gross isn’t the word I’d use,” I informed the other blonde while giving her a poke in the arm with my fork. “A little bird told me you were angling to come on this rescue mission.” 

Casually spearing a huge hunk of steak with her fork before lifting it to her mouth to tear a bite out of it with her teeth, Roxa replied, “Yeah, well, sounds like an insanely dangerous trip that’s gonna end up with a lot of screaming and violence. So, you know, I’m there.” 

“Hopefully not too much screaming and violence,” I murmured, looking back and forth between her and Avalon. “You guys do understand that the goal here is to fly in, grab those two, and get out without too much fighting, riiiiaaand I realize even as I say that how stupid it sounds.” 

“At least she got there on her own,” Roxa noted with a smirk, taking another bite of her huge steak, chewing ravenously before adding, “When shit goes wrong and everyone’s fighting for their lives, I wanna be there.” Her expression sobered a bit then as she met my gaze. “Seriously, I can help. I want to help. I need to do something.” 

“You’ve done plenty,” I insisted. “Roxa, everything you–yeah. You were there yesterday. You and the rest of your pack. But if you really want to be there for this, I’m not gonna say no.” 

“Good,” she shot back, “I’d hate to have to kick your ass until you change your mind.” 

“I see wolf-instincts make one delusional too,” I teased despite everything. “Good to know.” 

That prompted a lot of back and forth between the three of us, before Shiori and Columbus showed up, along with Choo. The Jekern was insistent on attention, so I stepped up and wrapped both arms around him. He was huge now, big enough for Shiori to ride on. Which was a pretty big change from the tiny thing he’d been when we first met. 

“Hey, big guy,” I murmured while hugging the warthog-like creature tight. “Thanks for taking care of our girl while I was gone.” 

Choo, in turn, huffed and made a flicker of electricity tickle my face. From his snorts, I was pretty sure he was trying to tell me off for being gone so long and making his owner sad. 

“Believe me,” I informed him, “I feel the same way.” 

Rising, I exchanged a long, tender kiss with Shiori herself, ignoring everyone else for a moment. Then I embraced the other girl tightly before announcing, “So, both my girls here and nothing’s currently on fire except for all the things that are currently on fire.” Squinting at myself, I shook my head. “That made more sense before I said it.” 

“Pretty sure it didn’t,” Columbus put in mildly, scratching under Amethyst’s chin as the cyberform lay across his shoulder. “But I think we can give you a pass, all things considered. So, what’s going on with the whole rescue mission thing?” 

Groaning, I shook my head. “Guys, everyone can’t go. It’s supposed to be a quick in-and-out and yes I know the odds of that, but seriously.” 

“Ship’s big enough,” the boy pointed out. “If we don’t get into a fight, great. But don’t think you’re gonna be able to run out into Fomorian space without a hell of a lot of back-up. Shiori won’t let you go without her, right?” He looked to his sister, who gave a firm nod. “Right, and she’s not going without me.” 

Exhaling, I nodded. “I get it, believe me. I’m not about to run off without you guys. Let’s just… hope that this is a quick little jump across universes to grab those two and get out again. Hope for it, but plan for the worst.” Giving them all a thumbs up, I added, “And then maybe everyone can take a real vacation. And by real vacation, I mean go back to normal school for awhile. Actual school with classes and everything. How fucking weird would that be?”

“You’ve got a point there,” Shiori agreed. 

“With you, the only possible totally unexpected thing is a completely normal day.” 

************

That night, the ship was ready. Or at least as ready as it was going to get without weeks more work, and no way were Jophiel and Tristan going to wait weeks to start this rescue mission. We were lucky the two of them had waited this long. As it was, it took a lot to keep the two of them calm enough to stick with the plan so they didn’t run off to try to rescue Dex and Elisabet alone. 

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. The two of them already understood, and they weren’t idiots. Still, I felt like we had to keep an eye on Tristan especially. Not that the boy had a way of getting to the Meregan world himself, but I wouldn’t entirely put it past him to try to find someone who could

So, we mostly focused on killing time by establishing who was actually going to go on this rescue mission. As we’d said before, the hope was that we’d barely have to fight at all. But in anything, and especially where the Fomorians were concerned, hoping for the best and planning for the worst seemed to be the best way to go. We had to have enough people to fight. 

Jophiel was going, as were Sariel, Athena, Apollo, and this Sachael guy. That was five Olympians. We also had my mother, Deveron, Lillian, Haiden, Larissa, and apparently Kohaku. 

I’d had a private conversation with Dare about that whole situation, and she said that she wasn’t exactly sure what would happen if the Fomorians had too much interaction with her, so it was for the best that she stay behind. But boy did she not like it. Five minutes after getting Mom and me back in her life (even if Mom by necessity couldn’t know the truth about all that) and she already had to watch us go right back into life-threatening danger against the very species she had basically given up her entire life for. Yeah, she wasn’t exactly enjoying that idea, to say the least.

She did give me a few emergency enchantments she’d prepared, telling me to stow them away just in case. And she made me promise about a million times that I wouldn’t do anything that stupid and insane. Oh, and the hugs. She hugged me basically as hard as I’d ever been hugged, even with my mother’s return. This whole situation was hitting her pretty badly. 

As for the rest of us, I was going of course. So were Vanessa, Tristan, Sands, Sarah, Columbus, Avalon, and Shiori. Oh, and Roxa too. And she was bringing Theia and Pace along. Finally, May and December had hopped aboard the plan. 

Of course, May and December coming along brought up another point. Sachael already knew about the situation between Elisabet and Jophiel, of course, and had agreed not to make an official report about it until she officially reported it herself. But with those two, it was a bit more complicated. We knew they were reporting things back to Cahethal, and she wasn’t nearly as likely to keep quiet about this situation. But, as it turned out, we had a secret weapon in the form of Tabbris. 

Actually, ‘we had a secret weapon in the form of Tabbris’ came up a lot, now that I thought about it. At a certain point you’d think it’d stop being a secret, but there we were. 

Anyway, the point was, we had Tabbris. And she had become basically best friends with December. She asked the other girl to please keep a certain something a secret, promised it wasn’t a direct threat to the Calendar or to Cahethal, and the three of them agreed to take oath spells to not reveal that little secret. Pretty similar to the spells that Tristan, Vanessa, Tabbris, and I had been put under by Jophiel and Elisabet in the first place, actually.  

So that was our, ahhh, ‘crew’ for this mission. We could’ve had more, obviously. But we didn’t want to involve too many people. It was already a big enough group as it was, considering Elisabet and Jophiel had been keeping their whole thing secret for so long. Though I had a feeling it would be coming out sooner than they had planned, regardless of our precautions. 

Finally, it was time to head out. Athena had brought everyone who was going to Gaia’s secret cave where the ship was being kept. They’d put some more last minute work on it to make sure it was as ready to go as possible, and now we were all standing in front of the thing. 

Even now, I still didn’t think the thing looked much like a spaceship. It was just a long, jetliner-sized tube with a ramp leading up into it. Its weapons, engines, everything was well hidden. When it was closed up, it just looked like a semi-sleek metal cylinder. Whoever had designed this ship had focused entirely on function and not at all on form. Probably because it was a prototype. It wasn’t meant to be pretty or even heavily armed as far as ships went. It was meant to test that instant-jump system. 

Which made me wonder, not for the first time, who had designed it. Because it sure wasn’t Kushiel. It had to be Radueriel, right? That was the answer that made the most sense. Though it did raise the question of why he hadn’t done more to try to get his prototype back. Yeah, there was a truce, but you’d think he’d at least ask for it. Yet he hadn’t brought it up at all. Which seemed a little odd to me, given how special the prototype ship was. 

Athena was talking. “You all know the plan. Given optimum conditions, no one will have to lift a finger. That said, assume everything is going to fall apart. Watch each other’s backs, stay together as much as you can. Don’t let anyone get pulled away and separated. Do not let the Fomorians lead you into a trap. Don’t go anywhere alone, don’t chase them even if they look weak. If they start to retreat, let them. You have no idea how many of our people have been killed because they fell for the Fomorians pretending to be routed and then falling on them from all sides, even from what were supposed to be corpses.” 

For a moment, it looked like Athena might say something else, but decided against it. Instead, she simply continued, “If things fall apart, stay with each other and watch your backs. We’ll come to you. You all have emergency beacons and teleportation stones. The green ones will try to take you back to the ship. If those fail, the red ones will pick an unoccupied space on the planet as far from Fomorian detection as possible and send an alert to the rest of us. Use them if you need to. And… and you all have the X-stones.” 

Yeah, we did. The X-stones were just what they sounded like, rocks in the shape of an x. They were intentionally made to be impossible to mix up with any other enchanted object. As for what they did, they were essentially magical cyanide pills. Yeah. If this all went wrong, we had the opportunity to end ourselves rather than risk being experimented on by the Fomorians if we chose to.  

Wasn’t this just a super-awesome happy optimistic mission we were going on? Just what I had been looking forward to once Fossor was dealt with, a nice, quiet break to just relax. 

I would get that once the other two were safe. After everything they’d done, I couldn’t relax until they were back where they belonged. Once that happened, then I’d demand a vacation. 

Mom spoke up then. “Whatever happens, the job isn’t to kill Fomorians. Remember that, we cannot beat them. They’re too numerous, too powerful, and they’ll have reinforcements on the way the moment they detect us. The job is to get in, find Elisabet and Dexamene, and get out again. We kill what’s directly in our way and then leave. That’s all. The Fomorians have already taken over the planet. We can’t stop that and we can’t save that world. Not now.” Her voice was a bit strained as she said it, reminding me of the history she had with the Meregan. It had to be killing her not to even try to save those people. 

Once everyone agreed to what they were saying, Mom and Athena exchanged looks and some kind of silent communication. Then the Olympian woman turned to start walking up the ramp. “Right then. Let’s go see what we can do. Everyone find a seat and strap yourselves in.

“This is going to be a bumpy flight.”  

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