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Needless to say, I was completely and utterly lost about what was happening right now. This strange monkey figure had been on that space station asteroid place in the form of a beetle. He let me carry him with us all the way here, then transformed into this version and completely destroyed a dozen Revenants like it was nothing. He ripped through them with all the ease of my mother handling a few barely trained students. They had never stood a chance.
That by itself was completely absurd. But adding in the fact that a second version of the monkey man had apparently been helping Miles and the others? Sure, I knew duplication was a thing. Miranda did it all the time, but still. This whole thing was just utterly improbable.
On the other hand, he wasn’t wrong. We still had a massive problem on our hands. This had been just over a dozen Revenants. There were a thousand out there, getting ready to swarm over what remained of this planet’s population like locusts in a field. We had to do something about that.
Twister, clearly thinking along the same lines, gestured to the dead and destroyed bodies, or what remained of them. “The guys we were going to get help from are dead now. So how exactly are we supposed to find a way to shut all those monsters down?” She glanced toward our new friend, or at least, the guy I hoped was going to remain a friend. “No offense, you’re completely amazing. But I don’t think even you could stop a thousand of those things before they take apart half this planet’s population.”
He, in turn, squinted at her before cracking his knuckles and neck. “Oh, you don’t think so, huh? Well, hold onto your tail.” Right after saying that, he leaned over to look at her back to see the fluffy thing right there. “Usually when I say that, the people don’t literally have tails. That’s neat.”
Extending his hand to point directly at me, the man (Sun Wukong apparently) declared, “Felicity Chambers, you and I need to have a discussion soon. So don’t run off too far. But right now…” A wide, almost demonic smile spread across his face. “Right now, I’m gonna have some fun.”
I tried to ask what he meant by that, where he had come from, what he wanted, all those sorts of things. But the man was gone. One second he was standing there, and the next, there was a hole in the ceiling. He had left through it, or flown through it. I had no idea, but he wasn’t here anymore.
A second later, however, he poked his head back down through the hole and called, “Oh, if you wanna make yourselves useful, one of my other selves heard those jerk-butt primitives talking. There’s a whole camp of them a couple miles that way.” He stuck his hand down into view to point. “Maybe they’ll know how to stop this whole thing.” His tone turned a bit scolding then. “But don’t you dare turn these guys off before I get a decent workout in.”
With that, he was gone again, vanishing abruptly enough to leave doubts as to whether he’d ever actually been there. Which left the rest of us standing there staring at each other.
“Well,” Asenath put in, “you all heard him. Let’s move.”
So, that’s what we did. Without wasting another second, our whole group, now bigger than ever, set off at a run. That guy could say whatever he wanted about getting a workout, but that was a thousand Revenants, all descending on the populace of this world. A world that had already been through quite enough.
Persephone kept trying to apologize while we were moving, but I insisted she had done nothing wrong. Whatever happened with this situation, I really didn’t want her to blame herself for it. There was no way she could have known what those people were going to do.
“Um.” Trice looked completely taken aback and lost for once as he spoke up after we had been moving for a few moments. He clearly had no better idea of what was going on than I did. That at least made me feel a little better. “Does anybody else want to try explaining just what the hell just happened? Because that guy seemed to be pretty important.”
My mother opened her mouth, but it was Shiori who managed to speak first. “Sun Wukong! That was Sun Wukong!” She sounded completely shocked and dazed, as well as more than a little starstruck.
Miles’ black teammate, Emily I belatedly remembered, spoke up. “Wait, the Monkey King? That can’t be him. I mean, I thought he was a myth.” She hesitated a little, falling silent as we rounded a corner and made our way through a more narrow tunnel that forced us to go single file before adding, ”Isn’t he? I mean, he’s the guy who inspired Goku from Dragonball.”
“He’s supposed to be fictional.” That was my mother, finally managing to get a word in. “I’ve only ever heard about him in stories. I had no idea he was real.” Even she seemed taken aback by this whole thing, which really said a lot.
Once we emerged from that narrow tunnel into a wider room, Denuvus made a noise in the back of her throat. We all snapped that way defensively, Nevada especially. But she just rolled her eyes at our reaction. ”If it matters, I’ve never heard of him being a real person who was active in the world either. I’ve heard about plenty of events that were attributed to him, of course. But there was always another explanation. No one I’ve ever spoken to faced him directly.”
“I have.” Mercury announced that while stepping out of my mother. “I mean, I’ve seen him before. And yes, that was definitely him. I’m not surprised none of you have. He disappeared about thirteen hundred years ago. And he was always a bit of a mess even before that. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re such a larger than life figure.”
Looking around at all of them, I spread my hands. “Okay, could someone please fill the rest of us in on who exactly this guy is, how he’s so goddamn powerful, and what he might want to talk to me about? Because I am pretty sure he doesn’t want my tips on staff fighting.”
Unfortunately, no one could answer the latter part. But between all of them, including the various facets of Robin, they explained who this guy was. At least, the mythological version of it. They gave a quick rundown of what was apparently a much longer story while we continued running.
The short version, in essence, amounted to this monkey man hatching out of a rock already incredibly powerful. He went on a bunch of wild adventures alongside various gods, demons, dragons, and more, and became even more powerful. Not to mention immortal. Hell, according to the story, he was immortal about a dozen times over in various ways. and he really loved to fight. Like, really loved it. Which was probably a bit unhealthy, but then again, he was also incredibly good at it. As we had seen. Oh, and he had various powers like shape shifting and duplication. That was a whole thing, apparently. Not to mention that size-shifting staff of his (seriously, did I just accidentally partially copy that?) that he twirled around like it was nothing was supposed to weigh like… eight or nine tons or something.
I didn’t really think I believed the whole hatching out of a rock on a mountain story, but no one had a more plausible explanation, so I let it go. Of course, that was hardly the most unbelievable part of the story. I was going to go out on a limb and say he hadn’t really been taken up to work in heaven, nor did I believe that he’d met Buddha, who proved the entire world was his hand or whatever. That was a bit of a stretch even for me.
But whatever the truth, the fact remained that Sun Wukong was unbelievably powerful. We had already seen that for ourselves. Whether he was the real deal or someone else posing as the role, it didn’t really matter. He had proven in that fight with the Revenants that he deserved to call himself whatever he wanted to.
The blond guy from Miles’ team, Royce, spoke up. “Not to be a worrywart or anything, but aren’t there still like a thousand of those civilization-wrecking monsters out there? Shouldn’t we be, you know, panicking still?”
Mercury shook his head. “In almost any other situation, I would say yes. But with Wukong involved and already out to prove a point, I would say we have some time. The list of single people who could possibly hold off an army of those things is pretty short. But he’s definitely on it.”
Judas, who had been pretty quiet through this whole thing, spoke up. “Say we find this camp of Tribals. What if they’re as gung-ho about this apocalypse as the others? Even if they know how to turn it off, how do we convince them to do it?”
Mercury sighed. “I almost hate to say it, but now is a time when I truly wish Apollo was here. He may not be the biggest fan of his own gift, but this is the sort of emergency situation it was made for.“
“Uh, guys?” I turned to face them while still moving backwards so I could wave a hand and pointed to the woman at the back of our little group. “Are you forgetting about someone?”
Denuvus made a completely put-on noise of surprise. “Oh? Now you’d like me to use my power to help solve this situation? And here I thought you were all too moral for that sort of thing.”
Mom, sounding like she was very close to doing something more violent than talking, snarled, “If there’s any time when a power like yours is acceptable, it’s to stop the complete annihilation of an entire planet’s population.”
Denuvus smiled easily at that, even as we started up a long, winding ramp. I really hoped we were still going the right way. It was the same direction that our monkey friend had pointed out, but he hasn’t exactly been that specific.
“In that case,” the woman intoned, “I would love to be of assistance. Particularly if it will get us off this world and to that ship as quickly as possible.” She shot a look at Nevada, still clearly annoyed about having been played that way. “And perhaps we can speak about our negotiations on that subject.”
There was a lot I wanted to say to her right then, but there wasn’t time. Just as my mouth opened to tell her exactly what I thought she could do with her negotiations, we emerged from the ramp onto some sort of overlook. Below us was a cavern where a couple dozen huts were set up in a small village around a massive fire pit. There were people moving around, all of them looking very busy and rushed. It seemed like they were preparing some sort of feast. They were celebrating, because of course they were. If there was any question about whether the people down there were on the same wavelength as the group who set this whole thing off, it was basically answered right there.
I just hoped that meant they might also know how to stop it. No matter how strong Wukong was, I really didn’t want to leave it up to him to save everyone on this planet from a horde of Revenants.
Once we had all taken in that sight, Miles was the first to find his voice. “Okay, so now what? Are we just supposed to let the… woman here start shouting at them?”
From the sound of his voice and the way he paused, ‘woman’ had not been his first choice of words to use when referring to Denuvus. He was clearly upset about what she had done to him and the rest of his team. As were the others, understandably. That whole situation was still boiling right below the surface. Not that she was worried about them at all, of course. But still. It was something to keep an eye on, because gods knew there weren’t enough of those.
Mercury hesitantly pointed out, “That’s not a bad idea. Call to them from here to get them all in one place before we go down there. Just in case.”
“Hold on, will they even understand you?” Judas put in. “And can you do it in a way where the rest of us don’t listen to everything you say?”
“They’ll understand her words even if they don’t speak the language,” Nevada informed us. Her voice was low as she stood a bit to the side with her gaze locked onto the woman in question. It was clear that she held a good bit of anger toward her. Though I was pretty sure a not-insubstantial part of that was because anger helped her avoid the deeper feeling of fear. And that made me hate Denuvus even more, if that was possible. Knowing Nevada the way I did and seeing how afraid she was of Denuvus, the fear that was detectable even past the outward anger and disgust, made me want to kick the woman right off this outcropping. Not that it would have accomplished anything useful, of course.
For her part, Denuvus gave the woman a brief look before nodding. “Indeed. And yes,” she added with a glance toward Judas, “I can decide who is affected by it. So you’re safe.” Her gaze moved back to Nevada with a pointed expression. Except, I realized, she wasn’t actually trying to look at her. She was looking at Erin, wherever she was. The whole point of what she was saying was for her benefit so she wouldn’t think Denuvus was trying to use her power on the rest of us and dump the treasure in a star or something. We weren’t safe because she chose to work with us, but because we had something she wanted that she couldn’t get any other way. This whole situation would have been a hell of a lot different if Nevada hadn’t set this up with Erin. We basically had a tiger on a leash.
Stepping back out of the way just in case, I looked toward Tabbris at my side and put a hand on her shoulder while Mom, Denuvus, and Mercury had a little discussion about what she was going to say. “Well,” I whispered, “you can’t say we live boring lives, huh?”
Reaching up to squeeze my hand, she gave a quick nod. “Uh huh, definitely not boring. You had the Monkey King in your pocket this whole time? How did that happen?”
“I dunno,” I replied. “But it definitely wasn’t an accident. He was there on purpose and now he says he wants to talk to me about something important? I swear, if he ends up saying that we’re related somehow, I may just quit.” I didn’t think that was likely, of course. But it did seem just possible enough to make me nervous. I also had no idea how he had known that I would pick him up as a bug. Was that just plan A? Would he have found another way to tag along otherwise?
The rest of my pondering about that would have to wait until later, because Denuvus and the others had stopped discussing things by that point, leaving the woman to step forward toward the edge of the outcropping. She cleared her throat before speaking, and was obviously using a power to magnify her voice, because it echoed throughout the cavern.
“Ahem, my name is Denuvus. All of you stop what you’re doing and come to the firepit in the center of the village.”
Despite her assurances, I was still bracing myself just in case. But just as she’d promised, I didn’t feel the slightest pull from her power. She hadn’t directed it toward us. So that treasure she wanted was safe, for now. Though I still had no idea what was going to happen when it came down to giving her the thing she wanted to use to put her sister’s soul into Nevada’s body. Or put her sister’s soul back into her own body which Nevada was using now–it was complicated.
While I was reacting to that, Denuvus started walking forward, descending what seemed to be an invisible set of stairs while speaking over her shoulder toward us. “If you truly wish to find out what they know, I suggest we hurry up and get this over with.”
So, after a quick bit of testing to make sure the invisible stairs were still there, the rest of us exchanged looks before descending after her. In the distance, we could see all the people from the village gathering as requested by the fire. They looked a bit confused about why they were doing so, and even more confused about what the strange people walking down invisible stairs were doing. Which was fair, considering how curious I’d be about that if I was in their position.
Eventually, the whole village population was gathered in front of the firepit, staring at us as we stood across from them. There were about seventy people, including children. All of them had been in the middle of preparing that feast, an obvious celebration for what was going on. Celebrating sending their army of Revenants to kill the population of an entire planet? What was wrong with these people?
None of them seemed to understand English, or even Latin when a couple of us tried that. But Denuvus eventually activated a spell on a gold coin she produced, and that seemed to translate what was being said so we could understand. Whenever one of the villagers spoke, we heard their voice in English with a slight humming/echoey effect to it. I assumed they were experiencing the same thing in reverse.
With that done, the woman asked the big question, addressing the whole group. “My name is Denuvus. Answer my questions promptly and honestly. How do we stop those Revenant creatures your people have helped send after the other people of this world?”
The apparent leader of the village, an older man who looked like he might just blow away in a stiff breeze, immediately answered. “If you wish to stop them, you must reach the center of the prison which held them, and use the crystal there to summon them back.”
“Well that doesn’t sound too–” Judas started.
“Wait for it,” I interrupted, holding up a hand as I stared intently at the elder guy.
Of course, he continued. “To do so, you will have to fight your way through the Revenants who were left behind to guard against just that eventuality.”
“Yeah,” I muttered.
“Saw that coming.”