Rahanvael

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 16-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Invidia was fast. Or maybe that was just Charmeine. Either way, she was practically on top of my mother the moment those words had left her mouth. Before any of us could move, she pivoted under the raised sword and lashed out with a fist. No, there was a dagger there, I realized at the last instant. A ghost-dagger which turned solid in mid-strike. 

But Mom was pretty fast too. The sword that the ghost-woman had ducked under was suddenly in her other hand, transferred instantly before she brought it up to block the incoming blade. With her other hand, she summoned… what looked like a ball of ghost-fire around her fist before punching through Invidia’s face. Or rather, where her face had been, because the ghost-woman dodged it with a loud, cheerful laugh. Yeah, a laugh, as though this was a game. Because just like she’d said a moment earlier, this was fun for her. For them. 

As for me? Well, a lot of words immediately sprang to mind when it came to the idea of fighting Whisper-possessed Olympian Seosten ghosts. But none of them were ‘fun.’ Or any word that could be found under its entry in the thesaurus. Especially not when we still didn’t know exactly where my grandparents or the others were. I just had to hope that my ghosts were getting the message across to the other searchers. Who, of course, might be dealing with their own problems already. Because somehow I really doubted we were looking at all the Whispers on the ship. Or even all the Seosten ghosts. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to focus on that. Or even time to go to my mother’s aid, because the rest of those ghosts seemed to have taken Invidia’s laugh after that first, blindingly-quick exchange as an invitation, as all of them attacked at once. And yeah, they were laughing too. 

The nearest Whisper-Ghost throwing himself at me was a tall figure. Well, sort of tall. A few inches over six feet, with black and red hair worn long, and incredibly fit. Not to mention clearly angry, and focused on killing me in particular. Not that anyone would know just from listening to him. He was laughing cheerfully, like a kid at the carnival or something. Which was juxtaposed against a look of such vile hatred that I seriously took a reflexive step back. The mix of cheerful laughter with looks of utter disgust and bitter animus was disturbing.

But I had my own ghost. Rahanvael was right there, interposing herself between us. The moment I saw her block the Seosten, I focused on shoving power into her so she could do more than simply be visible. In this case, she used that power to catch the Seosten’s arm as he reached for me, driving her knee hard into his stomach before flying straight up while dragging him up after her. Then she sort of inverted in the air, essentially giving him a shoulder throw. Except instead of tossing him toward the floor, she heaved the other ghost up toward (and through) the ceiling. Then she followed him up and out of sight.  

That gave me time to grab for the piece of pencil-sized wood Sariel had provided. As instructed, I snapped it with my thumb before giving it a toss toward the nearest Whisper-Ghost just as he was coming for me. As the spell activated, a half-visible greenish cage appeared around the form before falling to the ground with the ghost contained within. 

Around me, I could see the others doing the same. Some managed to catch their targets while a couple missed. But it still helped, immediately taking out about four or five of the things. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect solution. I saw the familiar distortion in the air as the Whispers who had been possessing those particular Seostens escaped, and several new ghosts appeared. Like–like they had summoned brand new ‘bodies’ to possess. We had trapped some of their ghost options, but they still had more to choose from. 

In other words, things were still bad. As evidenced when I caught sight of another of the things… not coming straight at me. Instead, she was standing back a bit, hands raised. Just as my attention snapped that way, I saw a slight distortion in the air. Something that looked a bit like a diamond-shaped icicle flew straight at my face, so fast that even with my reflex-enhancements, I barely managed to snap my head out of the way in time to avoid most of it. I felt the thing slice across my cheek, drawing blood on its way. Worse, there were three more coming right at me, moving just as quickly. 

Instantly, I hurled myself into a sideways flip, allowing the first of the three icicles to pass inches away from my stomach. A thought brought my staff to one hand while I was still in mid-flip, and I snapped it outward to knock the second icicle out of the air while simultaneously hitting the button to shoot a burst of kinetic force out the other end, which took care of the third icicle. 

Landing on my feet, I brought the staff up and out, snapping, “Time to fight!” The words summoned Jaq and Gus, who assumed their positions as blade and grapple. But that was for later. First, I hit the button on my staff to make a cloud of sand shoot out one end to form a thick cloud. 

It was just in time too, because there were suddenly seven of those deadly icicle things flying at me. All of them spaced perfectly in an attempt to hit me with at least one of them no matter how much dodging or staff-swinging I did. 

Thankfully, I wasn’t planning on doing any. Instead, I focused on the sand I had summoned. It immediately turned red-hot, even as I spread it out and sent the cloud flying forward to catch the icicles. They melted, turning to steam. Which itself might’ve been a problem, as it was still spraying forward toward me. But I was ready for that too. Or rather, Tabbris was. She had taken control of one of my hands, summoning a small stone to the palm before tossing it forward while triggering the power that made it grow to the size of a much larger boulder. In mid-flip, it caught the incoming super-heated spray, shielding us. 

Before the Whisper-Ghost could send any more of those things at me, I made my super-heated sand fill the air around her, specifically spreading it out a bit to make it as hard as possible for her to actually form the damn things. From what I had seen in those few seconds, she made them right in front of her hands before launching them. Now, she couldn’t do that. Because every time the icicle started to form, my sand instantly melted it.  

She hasn’t played enough Pokemon, Tabbris noted in my head. Everyone knows ice is weak against fire, fighting, and rock. Her power loses three different ways. 

Yeah, I replied, and you know what ghost is weak against? Other ghosts. 

Abruptly, Rahanvael appeared behind the ice-creating ghost, as I sent more power into her. Enough power that she was able to shove the Whisper-Ghost hard, making the figure stumble forward just as I hit my boost and threw myself that way. My thumb found the spell I had there to summon ghost-fire, surrounding the staff in that glow just before it collided hard with the side of her head, snapping it back. Before she could recover, I spun the staff around, driving the blade through her chest. 

The ghost vanished, though I knew she wasn’t gone for good. I could still sort of feel her essence around. I had just disrupted her for now. Or them. All these Seosten ghosts were actually possessed by Whispers, I had to remind myself. It was just… weird. 

At that moment, I barely had time to glance around to see how the others were doing. From the corner of one eye, I caught a glimpse of Avalon rapidly parrying with blades formed from her gauntlets as a Whisper-Ghost went after her with what appeared to be a pair of swords made out of electricity. Avalon was back-pedaling, but Miranda was right there, shield raised to block one of the incoming swords, giving Valley an opening to turn her energy blade into a large fist. And apparently the energy constructs from those gauntlets had been upgraded to actually affect ghosts, because it slammed into their opponent, making him stagger, form flickering a bit from the effort of maintaining cohesion. 

Further away, I could see Apollo and Aletheia standing together against two more of the Whisper-Ghosts. They seemed to be handling themselves well enough, unsurprisingly. It looked like Apollo was doing some sort of containment spell, while Aletheia held her hand out and used what had to be her own power, which was… disrupting them or something. I wasn’t sure, but every time she used it, the ghosts who were trying to attack them sort of… flickered a bit. It threw them off, whatever it was. Slowed them down, delayed their reactions, made them sort of dazed or whatever. Enough that Apollo was able to finish his spell, tossing a playing card from his palm, which hit one of the ghosts and literally sucked it inside. Yeah, he threw a card and sucked one of the ghosts into it. 

I really needed to get him to teach me that spell. 

And yet, just like the others had with the first containment spells, the Whisper who had been captured simply escaped the ghost it had been possessing and summoned a new one to control. Which put Apollo and Aletheia, not quite back to square one, because they had still taken one of the Seosten ghosts out of the equation and made the Whisper bring out another (and there wasn’t an endless supply of those), but still. Not great. 

Meanwhile, apparently a couple of the ghosts had gotten the idea that my dad might be an easy target. It was a mistake they quickly came to regret as, at that particular moment, the Seosten Dad had Chimera-bonded with while attempting to recall to Grandmaria was Mercury. The Seosten man’s Olympian power allowed him to extend, shorten, or delay effects on himself. Which also allowed him to boost for minutes at a time rather than seconds, and with even more effectiveness. That was where Mercury had gotten the reputation for having super speed from. And Dad was using that in the moment to speed himself up so he could create and empower specific anti-ghost magical enchantments on the blank coins he’d brought with him. In the short time that I spent glancing that way, I saw my father’s blurred form rush through scrawling a spell onto his latest coin, before tossing it at the floor right in front of the ghost who was coming for him. A burst of purple electricity shot from the coin, making the ghost blow apart (though it left that distinctive distortion in the air that meant the Whisper itself was still around). 

Then there was my mother. She was still going toe-to-toe with Invidia, both moving too quickly for me to keep track of very well. The Whisper-Ghost still had her daggers, and was a blindingly-fast dervish, attacking my mother from all sides. Mom, meanwhile, continued to block or evade every strike, lashing out with several of her own. Yet no matter how quick she was or what extra powers she threw into the mix, Invidia evaded all of it. It was clear they were pretty evenly matched. And I still had no idea how much of that was the Whisper herself (or itself), and how much was Charmeine’s skill and power. 

That was as much as I was able to take in with that quick glance around. We weren’t falling, but we weren’t exactly winning either. There were more of these things jumping into the fight already, and the ones we did manage to hit hard enough to disrupt simply reformed shortly afterward. Or summoned new ghost bodies to use.

Oh, and on top of all of that, all of these ghosts were still laughing. They were just having a grand old time with this whole thing. Laughing while giving those hateful, threatening glares and trying to murder us. It was really sending mixed messages. 

Behind me, Rahanvael intercepted the return of the ghost she had followed through the ceiling. I gave her a quick boost of power before pivoting to snap my staff up, intercepting an enormous ghost-like hook on the end of a pole that had been coming toward me from behind. The Whisper-Ghost there was a lanky woman with short blueish hair and light skin. Well, light even for the whole ghost thing. Which, again, the fact that ghosts possessed by Whispers had pretty much their normal color tone was just… weird. Her polearm had that large hook at the end, now caught against my staff. 

“Kinda hard for a ghost to sneak up on a Necromancer,” I informed her a bit tersely. “Just FYI.” Worry about everyone else kept any amusement out of my voice. The words were dark. I wanted these ghosts to back the fuck off, and the fact that I couldn’t affect them (at least, not very easily) even with my own Necromancy power was incredibly annoying. I wanted to find my grandparents, damn it! 

If this particular Whisper-Ghost cared about my anger, she didn’t show it. Instead, she just glared at me even more hatefully, while simultaneously giving a delighted squeal of laughter, like a small child going down a water slide. 

“Yeah,” I grunted, “haha to you too.” And without another word, I knocked her hooked polearm away from my staff and pivoted, bringing the weapon around toward her head. She recoiled to make it miss her by about six inches. Or rather, it would have missed by about six inches, except in that moment, I focused on the ‘make things grow’ power once more. That time, instead of turning a small stone into a boulder, I extended my staff several more inches so that Jaq, in his blade form and glowing bright from ghost-fire empowerment, cut straight through her throat. The form dissipated violently, that condensed magical energy blowing apart. And yet, she never stopped laughing. Well, until the form had completely vanished. Even then, I was pretty sure the Whisper left behind hadn’t stopped. I just couldn’t hear her thanks to Liesje’s spell. 

At the same time, while that had been going on, Tabbris was busy keeping another of the ghosts, a guy who looked like he could have passed for a particularly buff Indian man on Earth, busy by directing the superheated sand into his face. Which didn’t actually hurt him, of course. But it did obscure his vision enough that he didn’t see as she also directed my finger to hit the button that would launch the ghost-fire empowered grapple right into his chest. Or… it would have, except that just before the grapple reached him, he abruptly appeared in like six different places at once, scattered all around within about a twenty foot area. There were six versions of him for a second, then five of them disappeared. Including the one the grapple had been shooting toward. 

Wait, I knew that guy. Or rather, I knew of him. Apollo had mentioned him one day when we were talking to Miranda about her duplication. His name was… Enyalius, that was it. Apparently he had been a big disciple of Abaddon. His power had allowed him to–well, do exactly what I had just seen, make anywhere from five to ten duplicates of himself within an area that stretched to about fifty feet wide. He had little-to-no control over where all of them ended up appearing, and had to pick one to keep before the rest disappeared within a couple seconds of being created. 

Oh shit, which meant– with the realization and my own senses screaming at me, I spun around, snapping the staff up to knock aside the ghost-figure’s reaching hand. No, hands. My staff knocked two hands and a knife away. As expected, he had duplicated himself again, and several of the ten clones he had created had been close enough to lunge at me. I deflected their attacks, barely, and they vanished an instant later. He just chose to keep one of the clones that had appeared further away. 

This was his game, it was how he fought. He would create a bunch of short-lived duplicates, attack with as many as were close enough to reach the target (or targets) in the couple seconds of life they had, then simply allow them to disappear while choosing to keep one who was far enough back to be safe from immediate retaliation. 

All of which meant that fighting this guy was a pain in the ass. Soon, he was pressing the attack. He just kept creating more duplicates, coming after me with whoever was close enough, and then allowing them to vanish a second later. There was no point to actually trying to hit any of them, because they were just going to vanish almost immediately anyway. And I couldn’t take him out, because he could just pick any of them at random to make his new self. 

I might have been overwhelmed pretty quickly, except I did have a couple of advantages to help out. Namely, I had Tabbris copiloting to help deal with defense, and Rahanvael had returned to cover my back. Even then, however, keeping up with the guy who could mass-spam these two second duplicates all around me was pretty much a losing battle. It was just a matter of time. He could just keep pressing and waiting for us to make a mistake. Worse, the Whisper-Ghosts I had already dealt with were reforming. This could get bad very quickly. 

But the thing was, I wasn’t limited to only having one ghost for help. Through those frantic few seconds, I let Tabbris partially take over so I could put some focus toward calling back some of the spirits I had sent out to search the ship. I made the call pretty simple, if they hadn’t found anything yet or had already delivered their message, they were to come back to where I was. 

Just as the next wave of duplicate attacks came, Seth appeared to one side of me. His hand caught the nearest Whisper-Ghost-Clone’s wrist and yanked hard before throwing a punch at his face. Only for that one to poof out of existence. Seth, in turn, blinked at his own fist and muttered something about not knowing his own strength. 

The rest of the ghosts aside from Grover appeared shortly afterward. And now it was a much more fair fight. I had five ghosts on my side, counting Rahanvael, so it was a lot harder for Enyalius to find a blind spot to hit me from. And having all these ghosts with me to cover my back meant I could press my own attack. No matter which duplicate he chose to stay in, I had someone nearby ready to hit him. And my ghosts could actually touch his. 

All of which meant that it wasn’t long before the blade of my staff found his main body (or ‘body’) and made it burst apart in another spray of ghost… energy or whatever. Not that the threat was over, not by a long shot. He wasn’t gone for good, either him or the Whisper who had been piloting him. Not to mention the rest of these damn things. But I did feel a burst of satisfaction in the moment.

But it wasn’t enough. Again, no matter what we did, we couldn’t get rid of them for good. Tabs, I think we might need to do the super-wing boosted ghost shove. And later come up with a better word for it. 

But we can’t hit all of them! Her voice was plaintive. Last time it was all we could do to shove Kushiel away, even with the wing-boost. 

These guys aren’t Kushiel, I reminded her. But you’re right, we need a better idea than the shove. And I just got one. 

She already knew what it was, of course, as soon as it had occurred to me. Immediately, the two of us began to coordinate moving closer to where Apollo and Aletheia were. Everyone else was fighting, keeping the Whisper-Ghosts back without actually stopping them, while Mom and Invidia’s fight continued without either gaining any real advantage. 

“Apollo!” I shouted as soon as I was close enough to be heard. “Let us in!”  

Thankfully, he understood immediately, and extended his hand. I used a portal to reach the distance between us, grabbing on before possessing the man with his permission. Then I was inside him, and he knew my plan in an instant. Immediately, he drew another of the spell cards with the ghost-trap enchantment on it. But this time, just as he went to power it, Tabbris manifested her wings through him. They flared to life, extending out behind the man while the power they provided was shoved into the spell. 

Most of the Whisper-Ghosts had no idea what hit them. The ghost trap spell filled the entire room. Knowing it was coming, I had already ordered my ghosts to disappear. But our opponents didn’t get the message. Almost every single Seosten ghost in the room was sucked into the card. 

Almost every single one. Invidia resisted it, though she did snap her head around to snarl in our direction. Mom attempted to take advantage of that, but the woman vanished from where she had been standing. Only to reappear right where the card newly-full of ghosts had fallen. 

We didn’t have a chance to grab her, or it. Apollo was staggering from the effort of putting everything he had into that spell. Aletheia made an attempt to blast the ghost-woman with her power, but she grabbed the card and vanished. 

“Wha-what just happened?” Miranda demanded, looking around the suddenly empty battlefield. 

Stepping out of Apollo, I replied, “They’re uhh, they’re gone for now?” 

Apollo nodded, his face a bit grim. “It’ll take her a little bit to get her pals out of the card, but I’m not sure how long. We need to move. Come on, the jamming spell should be right in the core here, they probably have it drawing power from that.”

Appearing beside me, Seth spoke up. “So your pals on the bridge know what’s up. And from what the others said, they warned the rest of them too. Just in time too.” 

“So there are other Whisper-Ghosts. Are they okay? Sariel and the others, I mean.” 

“Sounds like it,” he confirmed. 

I started to say something else, but felt a tug at my consciousness. Grover. The last ghost who hadn’t shown up for the fight. Reaching out to him, I looked through his eyes to see what was up. And what I saw only took a few seconds to compute before I immediately withdrew and blurted, “Guys, we need to move, right now!” 

“What’s going on?” Mom asked, quickly turning to me. 

“I know where Popser and the others are,” I replied, using the name for my grandfather that I had used for such a long time while I was a little kid. It was always Popser or Grandpartie. “And they’re in trouble. Puriel’s like–not responding to anyone, not doing anything, and there’s a lot of Whispers all around. The others are trying to hold them off, but… but the Whispers are doing everything they can to get into Puriel’s head. 

“And if they take him over, we’re all fucked.” 

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Triumph 10-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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My eyes opened. 

Somehow, I’d passed out. The rush I’d felt after… after killing Fossor… had been so overwhelming I’d actually fallen unconscious. How much of that was from the actual power and how much was from the emotional release of ending the piece of shit who had tortured my family for so long, I wasn’t sure. But the point was, I had been completely out of it. So out of it, apparently, that by the time I opened my eyes, I was lying on some kind of fairly comfortable cot.

We were still in the quarry, so it hadn’t been that long. Though we weren’t in the hole anymore. Wherever the cot had come from (someone had most likely magically summoned it), I was pretty sure only a few minutes had passed since I… since the blade of my staff went through Fossor’s head for the last time. 

My mother was there. As was Tabbris. Both of them were kneeling on either side of the cot, Mom’s hand pressed gently against my face. The expression on her face was one of wonder, the expression of someone who almost didn’t dare believe what was happening around them, despite what their eyes told them, because it was too much. It was too good, after everything she had been through. It was the gaze of a woman who had been through so much pain and loss that she was afraid to actually be happy, waiting for the other shoe to somehow drop. 

Our eyes met. I saw the rush of emotions go through my mother, as her hand pressed tenderly against my cheek. Her mouth opened to say something, only to stop as a lump was clearly caught in her throat. Her eyes closed, and then she opened them again before trying once more, speaking softly. “My baby. My sweet, wonderful little girl. My beautiful, brave one.” There was a slight tightness and physical pain to her voice, and a glance downward showed me that the wound in her stomach was still healing. It wasn’t horrific by that point, having closed up so it wasn’t openly gushing blood or anything. But it wasn’t great either, and clearly still hurt. 

“I love you, Mom.” It was all I could say. It was all I needed to say. Nothing else mattered in that moment. The most important thing, right then, was for me to say those words to my mother, with no terrible darkness surrounding us. That weight was gone. The horrific, oppressive evil that Fossor represented wasn’t here anymore. It had vanished, like the brilliant sun splitting its way through thick clouds and burning them away. My mother was here, and Fossor was gone. 

My mother was here… and Fossor was gone. 

A smile finally found its way to Mom’s face, as if my saying those words had finally given her permission to feel the emotion that had been building up in her. “I love you, my Felicity.” 

With that, I managed to shove myself up, wrapping my arms around her neck and holding on tight. The tears that tried to burst forth from my eyes were stupid. So fucking stupid. Why would I be crying right now? Why now, of all times? I was happy. I was so fucking happy right then, so why would I start sobbing like a little baby? 

I had no idea how long I kept crying like that while holding so tight to my mother. Probably only a few seconds, no matter how it felt. Through it all, Mom held me just as firmly, as if she never wanted to let me go. She pulled me up from the cot, the two of us standing together, locked in that embrace. After everything we had been through, after the horrific events not only of the past weeks but of the past years, we would take as long as we wanted to be here, with each other. 

Finally, I spoke, pulling back a bit to stare at the woman I had hated for so much of my life, the woman who had given everything she had to protect me. “It’s over,” I announced in a voice that shook from raw emotion. “He’s gone, Mom. H-he’s really gone.” Gone. That didn’t say it enough. It didn’t mean enough. Him being gone wasn’t the right word. “Dead,” I managed in a flat voice, speaking the word that actually conveyed the finality of the situation. “He’s dead.” 

“Yes, Lissy.” My mother’s voice held just as much emotion as mine had. She moved her hands to my shoulders, squeezing tightly. I saw the way her body shuddered. She was exhausted after everything, but didn’t care. The raw relief and sense of freedom that came with the death of the man who had imprisoned and enslaved her for so long was much stronger than any fatigue. “He’s dead. He’s dead and gone and he is never coming back.” 

My legs were shaking. Scratch that, all of me was shaking. My entire body shuddered as I stared into my mother’s eyes, repeating her words back to her. “Gone and never coming back.”

Only then, once the two of us had assured one another of that fact, did we both stop to look around. The small, open area we were in was surrounded by a forcefield, about twenty feet wide and glowing dark blue. Too dark to see through. There was one opening, where Gabriel Prosser stood with his back to us. The forcefield was his, as the man kept everyone else out to give my mother and I time to have our actual reunion before being set upon by anyone else. 

Swallowing hard, I reached out to take hold of the small blonde girl who was the only other person in this place. “Mom, this is Tabbris. My little sister.” I had told her about the Seosten girl while we were held prisoner in Fossor’s place, had explained that entire situation. But this was her first time really meeting her. 

A smile touched my mother’s face, as she lowered one hand from my shoulder to rest against the side of the clearly quite nervous younger girl’s face. “Hello, Tabbris. Thank you so much for taking care of my daughter. I hear you are one of the bravest people she knows.” 

Tabbris, in turn, blushed deeply. Her head shook. “Flick knows a lot of brave people,” she insisted. 

“And yet,” I insisted, “it’s still true. Everyone I know, all those people, and you’re still one of the bravest people I’ll ever meet.” 

Yeah, that blush was even worse. Squirming on her feet, Tabbris hesitated before quickly heaving herself my way. Suddenly, she was hugging me tightly, as tight as she could. “I’m sorry,” she all-but sobbed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sorry I couldn’t help before.” 

Okay, time to nip that in the bud. Shaking my head, I put both hands down on either side of her face to make her look up at me. “I’m glad you weren’t there, Tabbris. I am glad you weren’t there. Do you understand? You helped now, but you couldn’t help then. You being there would have been bad. Believe me.” 

From the look on the other girl’s face, she still wasn’t sure how she felt about that. But she just hugged me tightly once more. The two of us stood there, embracing like that, for a few seconds. 

Glancing up, I saw Mom staring at me with a soft, tender expression. Then I looked past her and nodded that way. Words failed me. I couldn’t speak, not in that moment. 

Following my nod, Mom turned to look behind her. There, she saw two figures standing side-by-side, having been let through by Prosser. Wyatt and Abigail. The two were staring at my–our mother. From here, I couldn’t read the expressions on their faces, but it was still very clear that there was a lot going on, emotionally. The two of them were standing quite close, shoulders touching. They had instinctively grabbed for each other’s hands, seeking the comfort of their twin despite being separated for so many years. 

None of us moved for a few long seconds. Tabbris was silent, pressed up close behind me as she peeked out to watch. I felt her fingers dig into my back and arm while we stood there. 

Finally, Mom snapped out of it. Tentatively, as though afraid moving too quickly would cause the vision in front of her to fall apart like a rock hitting reflections in the water, she stepped that way. One step after another, at first moving so slowly I could barely tell she had even started, before speeding up just a little. But she still walked. She walked, rather than ran, though I could tell a part of her desperately wanted to sprint that way and grab the two. But this was a moment she wanted to savor, a moment she would relive over and over throughout the rest of her life. She wouldn’t rush it. 

One step followed another, before Abigail and Wyatt finally broke out of their own moment of paralyzation and moved to meet her. I heard a choked sob, a noise of the purest possible joy, escape our mother as her arms opened to enfold around both of them. From the outside, it may have looked as though adults embraced right there. But in reality, it was a mother grabbing her young children, the children she had lost decades ago, and pulling them back to her. It was a mother-our mother, stepping through all those horrible years trapped in one prison or another, and reaching the children she had sacrificed those years for. She held them tight, all three locked in an embrace that stretched across the decades that had separated their last touch.

I didn’t go to join them. It wasn’t my place to interrupt, not right then. There would be time for group hugs, for full family hugs, interaction, reunions, all of it. But in that particular moment, it was time for my older siblings to have their chance for a face-to-face with our mother, their chance to see her, touch her, talk to her. No way was I going to take that away from them. 

Ghosts. They were behind me. Sensing them coalesce, I turned to find Ahmose appear first, the tall, purple spirit with red eyes forming slightly ahead of several others (including Jorsher). He was watching me carefully, but with a sense of relief that was palpable. “The abomination has been destroyed. It is no trick, no falsehood. He did not find a way to escape. Fossor is dead.” It sounded as though he’d have to say it out loud another fifteen million times or so to be fully convinced. Or maybe he just really enjoyed saying it. I knew I sure as hell liked thinking it. 

We weren’t the only two either. Behind Ahmose, Jorsher and the other ghosts repeated those three words in what sounded like a mantra. Fossor was dead. He was gone. He wouldn’t be here to enslave and torture them anymore. The monster who had destroyed their lives even more thoroughly than mine was gone for good, leaving these guys, and the rest, free to… well…

“What are you going to do now?” I finally managed, after passing my gaze over them and feeling their relief wash over me to mix with my own. It was kind of a giddy feeling. “All of you, I mean.” There were more than just these few, given how many had escaped back at the estate.

“Now,” came the quiet answer, “most of us will rest.” Ahmose smiled faintly as he clarified. “For good. Our final rest. We will allow ourselves to dissipate and return our energy to the universe. We have been here for far too long, have seen too much… death. Too much suffering. We wish to move on, whatever that may entail. It is time.” 

I started to nod silently to that, wishing I could give them something better than to simply cease existing. Or at least say some words of encouragement that would mean anything at all. But I didn’t even know what kind of afterlife they believed in, particularly considering they were ghosts of various different species. If they believed in any at all. Then I blinked as his exact words struck me, curiously asking, “Most of you?” 

There was a brief pause as Ahmose and the other ghosts behind him looked to one another. They were silently conferring. Then they turned back to me, and their leader started in a voice that sounded apologetic. “It is too much, more than we should ask. But there are those among us, those who have not… who have died recently enough that their families, those they care about, still exist. If there is–if it is not asking for more than you can give, those few would like to perhaps, when there is time, be taken to say goodbye to their loved ones before they move on.”

It took me a second to realize what he was asking. Then my eyes widened a bit. “O-oh, you mean I could take some of you to see your living families before you… umm… yeah. Yeah.” My head bobbed up and down quickly. “After what you did–you brought everyone here. I’d be dead without all of you. So would my mother. Hell, so would everyone I care about, as soon as Fossor finished his spell. The whole universe would be doomed, pretty much. Yeah. Yeah, whatever you want. I mean, it may take awhile, and I’m not… can they keep existing long enough for that? I don’t know if I’m a strong enough Necromancer to hold onto that many,” I admitted. 

Again, there was a brief, silent conversation between them before Ahmose spoke gently. “You have killed the abomination, Lady Chambers. His power is your power. You may not feel all of it for some time, may take many years to fully control it. But his power is yours. You are far stronger than you may believe right now.” 

His power… of course. After that rush I’d felt when Fossor had died, of course I’d absorbed his power. His own necromancy had been added to what I’d taken when Manakel died. No wonder I’d been able to sense them before they finished appearing behind me before. 

Not long ago, the thought of having Fossor’s power would have disgusted me beyond belief. The thought of having any connection at all to him would’ve made me want to throw up. Let alone how unsettled and uncomfortable the concept of having necromantic powers in the first place would’ve made me.

But that was wrong. Fossor’s power wasn’t the evil thing, it was how he used it. I believed–knew that Alters weren’t evil just because they weren’t human, so Fossor’s Necromancy wasn’t evil just because it existed. The things he’d done with it, the atrocities he’d committed, that was what was evil. And as for Necromancy itself, that too depended on what was done with it. 

And yet, despite all those thoughts, I still felt a shudder of revulsion got through me. Fossor. In some ways, I would never be rid of him now. He was connected to me. I’d killed him and now his power was mine. What was I supposed to do about that? 

Use it for good, of course. Use it for better things than he had. Practice with it. Train with it. Prove that it was the man who had been evil, not his power. Like now, the ghosts who were asking me to help give them closure. I could do that. I could help them. 

“Yes,” I finally managed, meeting Ahmose’s gaze. “Anyone who wants to stay and get closure before they, um, move on, I’ll help them get it. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I’ll do it. I’ll take them wherever they want to go, talk to whoever they want to talk to until they’re ready.” 

“Our gratitude to you,” the tall, violet ghost murmured. “For that, and for all that you have done. And our apologies, for all that we were made to do to you and to your mother.” He said the last bit even more quietly, crimson eyes glancing over my shoulder to where Mom and my older siblings were still reuniting. 

“But you’re moving on,” I noted. “You’re not going to stay and say goodbye to anyone.” 

“There is no one left for me to say goodbye to,” he confirmed. “Everyone I could have cared for was… is long gone. I have no connections to this or any other world. It is time for me to leave it.” 

“Now?” I blinked. “Like, right now?” 

A very slight smile touched the ghost’s face. “There is no sense in stalling. Those of us who are ready to go will disappear, and those who wish for your help will give you all the time you need first. Simply… pull at them when you are ready to begin helping. They will feel it and come to you.” 

“Thank you.” After saying that, I quickly amended, “Not just for that. For all of it. For bringing my friends. For coming back and risking being enslaved again. For–for helping. Thank you.” 

“We could do no less to ensure that the abomination was destroyed,” he insisted, with a collective murmur of agreement from the others behind him. “And we thank you, for what you did to give us that opportunity.” 

That was it. With those words, Ahmose literally began to disappear. He offered me a smile, and a wave, before vanishing. As did most of those behind him, save for a few. I felt their essences, the Necromantic energy that bound them together, fade away. They were moving on. The few who were left, including Jorsher, watched me briefly and nodded before fading as well. But their fading was different, less permanent. They were giving me space, but I could still feel them if I tried. They would be there when I was ready to help them get closure. 

And speaking of ghosts who had needed closure, I felt another figure appear nearby. Turning that way, I saw her. “Rahanvael.” 

“He’s gone.” Her voice was very quiet, gaze looking off toward the sky. Toward their own planet? I wasn’t sure. “He’s really gone.” 

“Do…” I hesitated before asking, “Do you want to see the body?” It sounded morbid, but I thought it might give her closure. Not that I knew exactly where the body was right then. 

Her gaze turned to me, head shaking. “No. I don’t need that. I–he is dead. He is gone. The monster has been destroyed. I know when my brother died, and it was not today. It was long ago.” 

That said, she moved closer, sounding a bit more hesitant. “I… should move on as well. It has been far too long for me, and now that my brother can rest, I should do the same. But if…” 

Belatedly, I realized, “You want to go home.” 

“I would like to fade away on my own world, yes,” she confirmed. “I know that it will take some time. But when you are ready, after you have rested and recovered, and done all the other things that will be clamoring for your attention, I would like to take you and those of your choice to my world, to tell those who are there that they are free. I would like to tell them that he is dead and our world can move on, before I let myself disappear.” 

My head bobbed quickly. “We can do that. I mean, I hope so, anyway. We will. Just–time. I’ll find a way to get you there and let your people know they’re free. I’m sorry, it’ll take awhile. But eventually, I promise.” 

“Thank you, Felicity,” she murmured, a genuine, beautiful smile touching her face. “Thank you for everything.” 

Before I could respond to that, my name was called. Turning, I saw Tabbris waiting silently nearby. But it was Mom who had called me. She was there with Abigail and Wyatt. Koren had joined them, as had Deveron. All were looking my way, waiting for me. 

So, I walked that way, reaching out to take my little sister’s hand. But I didn’t stop there. Instead, I pulled her over into a tight hug, squeezing firmly enough to make her squeak. For a few seconds, the two of us clung to each other. Then I smiled at her. One of the first genuinely happy, unstressed smiles I could remember giving for quite some time. “Come on. We’ve got a lot of reunions to get to.

“And I can’t fucking wait.”

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Kairos 9-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Fossor was in front of me. Just like that, he moved so fast, he was suddenly right there. I had just enough time for the flash of a thought about how many of his army here in the quarry he’d sacrificed for that speed before his hand smacked my staff away, sending it clattering along the ground before the same hand closed around my throat. It was an iron grip, ripping me off my feet and hoisting me in the air as I felt my windpipe constricting. Even with all the enhancements to my overall toughness, he was crushing my throat. Not playing, not taunting, he intended to snap my neck, crush it in his grip just like that. 

In the same moment, his other hand was lashing out, fist slamming into the side of my mother’s face to send her flying away from me. He knew what he was doing. He would kill me now, then use my mother’s resulting horror and grief against her, blinding her with emotion in order to end her too. I was the weak link in this whole thing. He could kill me easily, then move on to her. 

Well fuck that. Even as my throat started to collapse in on itself under the pressure of the man’s grip, I shifted my face and hair. Within a second, my head didn’t look like me anymore. I didn’t look like anyone I’d ever met before. I looked like someone Rahanvael had painstakingly described to me, helping me work out every detail of her face and hair over the past few weeks. 

I looked like their mother, like Fossor’s mother, staring right back at him. It wouldn’t really fool the man, of course. That wasn’t the point. The point was to startle him briefly, and it accomplished that. For just a second, I saw the monster’s eyes widen slightly, saw his mouth part in the slightest gasp. More importantly, I felt his grip on my throat slacken just the tiniest bit. 

Instantly, I boosted myself, feeling Tabbris adding whatever she could to the boost as well as my foot lashed out to slam into the man’s stomach. It was a bit like hitting a stone wall as a normal person. But in this case, the stone gave a little bit. Fossor took a single step back before catching himself, while his grip on my throat faded entirely. I dropped, staff summoned right back to my hand before I triggered the smallest kinetic boost from the end of it to send myself a couple feet sideways, out of range from Fossor’s flailing grasp. 

My face was back to normal then as the man turned ever so slightly, reflexively coming after my ‘retreating’ form. Anger and hatred marred his features as he lashed out, a basketball-sized orb of green-blue fire erupting from his hand before it came flying at me. This was no ordinary fire, not something my own energy absorption could deal with. The flaming orb was filled with his Necromantic power. 

At the same time, even as that magical death fire came flying at me, I reared back to hurl my staff at him, bladed end first. Just before it left my hand, I threw myself into the small wood part in the middle of my staff, vanishing right before his fireball would’ve hit me as the staff flew just to the side of it. 

Fossor was ready for the staff coming at him, but before we got that far, I used my temporary pause power to freeze it in mid-air with me still inside. Fossor’s hand lashed out to grab where he thought the staff was going to be, only for it not to be there. 

Only then did the man realize his mistake. He’d been focused on me. I had made him see his mother’s face. I’d put myself a bit to the side, making him turn my way. I threw the staff at him, making him brace to grab it. 

All while my mother recovered herself. She was back on her feet, coming at the Necromancer from behind with one of her conjured energy blades while he was distracted. 

He realized this at the last second, of course, pivoting back that way just in time to snap his hand up. A glowing fog-like substance surrounded that hand, apparently protecting it as he grabbed the incoming energy blade. Yet, I could see blood coming from his hand as well. It didn’t protect him perfectly. 

Meanwhile, the instant he pivoted that way, I cut the five-second pause early. My staff resumed its flight at the man, just before I popped out of it. Landing in a sprint, I caught my staff, triggering another boost from it to drive the blade at the back of his head. 

The blade hit the back of his head and cut straight into him, through his skull and brain. I felt the rush of having actually hit him, just before my staff was shoved out of his head as he passed the damage off to any of his remaining undead creatures still fighting above us. 

Before I could recover from being off-balance when my staff was shoved out of his head, the man’s foot collided with my side. The air rushed out of me. But Mom was there, catching my arm as I stumbled and flinging me up and around in a kick of my own that slammed into the side of Fossor’s face. Between my strength and Mom’s as she swung me into him, the bastard’s nose was shattered, blood spraying off to the side. 

Mom released me, letting me drop back to my feet as we took up positions together in front of him. His head was fine, as if I hadn’t just recently stabbed all the way through it. Yet, the broken nose and the cut on his hand, minor as it was, remained. 

He couldn’t pass off everything we were doing, I realized. Finally, finally, after everything we’d done throughout this entire long battle, he was starting to run low on things he could pass damage off to. I had destroyed his connection to his own world, reducing him to what he had here on Earth. All those people, all our friends and allies (and some who weren’t either) were above, tearing through those same forces with a speed that Fossor himself couldn’t match with reinforcements. This was it. This was all he had. He’d been reduced to only protecting himself from lethal damage. The broken nose, the cut on his hand, he had to live with that. We had hurt him. We were able to hurt him. 

But it was even worse than that, for him. Belatedly, I realized why he wasn’t summoning more ghosts or zombies to fight us. Because he couldn’t afford to. The people above us had crested that metaphorical hill in the fight, the point where he needed all of his forces to be there. If he summoned more creatures here to attack us, he’d be taking them away from the fight above. And apparently, that fight had reached the point where taking away the amount it would require to deal with Mom and me would make the rest of his forces collapse entirely.  

This was the moment. This was our chance. If Fossor didn’t kill us right now so he could escape, he’d run out of creatures entirely. And if that happened, if we could keep him here long enough for the others to kill the last of his undead army… then we could kill him

Mom clearly realized the same thing. The two of us exchanged glances while Fossor glared at us. Our eyes met, and I felt… tranquil. This was right. This was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was with my mother. After everything that happened, all that this monster had put us through, we were facing him together. Nothing else was in our way. All of his tricks, all his power, all of his legions, and in the end, it came down to this. Mom and me, fighting him head-on. The two of us together, finishing this once and for all. 

Simultaneously, my mother and I both nodded. Then our focus turned back to Fossor himself, even as the man summoned a new pair of fireballs. But these were much larger, each almost the size of my entire body. He may have been basically running on what was fumes for someone of his power. But even fumes in his case was enough to do a hell of a lot of damage. 

One of those fireballs came flying our way, as Mom caught my arm and teleported us around behind Fossor. But he’d anticipated that and sent the other ball that way. It was about to hit us, before I used the power that allowed me to move objects around on my body to summon a small coin to my hand, and chucked it at the incoming flaming orb. Just before the tiny coin would’ve been entirely swallowed up by the flames, I focused on making it bigger. In an instant, the small bit of metal suddenly grew up to the size of a manhole cover. It took the brunt of the fireball, sending the blue-green flames to either side of where Mom and I stood, the terrible, magical heat scorching our skin and hair a bit. 

Even before the flames had faded, I used a burst from my staff to launch myself into a kick at Fossor. Despite the cover of the fire, he still caught my ankle and thigh in an iron grip, spinning to hurl me as hard as he could into the wall of the pit. Through the rush of colliding violently with the dirt and stone, I half-sensed and half-saw my mother shove her energy blade through his stomach. Again, he passed off the damage, making the weapon slide out of him as what should have been a mortal wound healed instantly. At the same time, the man put his fist into my mother’s face with so much force, it would’ve shattered solid concrete. 

That blow was enough to make Mom’s head snap back, and Fossor tried to follow up with another shot at her briefly exposed throat. But I had collected myself by then and focused on the man’s shirt. Using the ape-croc’s power, I forced the shirt to suddenly become much harder to move, requiring more force than the man was accustomed to. I’d been told (and found out through subsequent testing) that affecting things people were actively wearing wasn’t exactly easy, because of how connected the clothes were to living things (which I couldn’t affect at all with this power). Clothes that were actively being worn required a lot more focus than those that weren’t, and I wasn’t that great at affecting them on the fly. 

In this case, however, I had a lot of motivation. In mid-swing, Fossor’s hand suddenly slowed as it became much harder to move his shirt sleeve. It didn’t stop entirely, but it did suddenly lose a lot of speed and power. Enough that Mom was able to recover, catching the incoming punch with one hand before delivering one of her own into his face that staggered him. Then she hit him again, even harder. Unfortunately, he jerked aside from the third punch and back-handed her so hard I heard the crack from where I was still scrambling back to my feet. She hit the ground, bleeding from the side of her head but still conscious. 

Fossor’s foot rose so he could stomp down on my mother. But I was there first, screaming as I lashed out with the blade of my staff to cut through his throat. Again, the killing blow was reduced to nothing. But it forced the Necromancer to stumble backward, cursing me in some other language. Probably his own. 

He swung at me, a blade made of what looked like sharpened bone appearing in his hand. My staff spun around, catching and smacking the weapon to the side with the main body while the bladed end simultaneously cut across Fossor’s cheek in the same motion. Not a lethal blow. He didn’t bother to heal it. He couldn’t bother to heal it. 

The fist that wasn’t holding that bone-blade came at me while my staff was busy deflecting that weapon. In mid-punch, a second blade, this one somehow attached to his wrist, snapped into place. I only saw it from the corner of my eye at the last second. If my reactions were any slower, the blade would have punched straight into my stomach. As it was, I barely managed to twist just enough that it cut partway through my side. It hurt like hell, and it was all I could do to drop into a roll carrying me under Fossor’s quick follow-up slash with his actual sword. Pain. Fuck, fuck, pain. 

Fuck pain. Fuck everything that could distract me. Fuck everything aside from killing this piece of shit! 

He was right behind me as I rolled to my knees, his bone-sword coming down toward my head. But I ignored the pain in my bleeding side, snapping the staff up to catch the incoming blade. At the same time, I sent a cloud of sand out and into his face with a click of the button. Sand that was heated to the point that his eyes immediately began to blister and pop, turning red as he staggered backward and actually screamed. It was just for a moment before he passed that damage off too, but the scream, brief as it was, was everything I needed right then. It was enough to make me shove my own pain of that already-healing cut off into its own little compartment, pushing myself up and spinning to face Fossor just as he stopped his own stumbling. His eyes were still bright red, clearly injured from the burning sand, but he’d summoned blood to catch the sand, weighing it down and throwing it to the side. 

“I… am going to enjoy making your mother see your body torn to pieces,” he snapped at me. In one motion, he brought up the hand that wasn’t holding his sword. That bone-blade attached to his wrist suddenly became a projectile, shooting right at me. An instant later, it split apart into a dozen small, equally deadly pieces, all spread out so that some would hit me no matter where I moved. Alone, there was no way I could dodge, block, catch, or otherwise stop myself from being hit by at least some of them. Not in the time I had. 

But once again, I wasn’t alone. The incoming shards of bone suddenly stopped in midair, frozen by my mother, whose hand was outstretched. A second later, they flew up into the ceiling. 

Fossor, in turn, bellowed out his rage, stabbing his sword into the ground. As he did so, duplicate bone blades rose like spears throughout the pit, coming from the floor and walls. One stabbed partway through my foot while another clipped my shoulder. But those weren’t important. The one that was coming out of the wall nearby, directly for my back was important. And that was the one I stopped, spinning that way to lash out. My arm collided with the incoming bone spear with enough force to break the thing off and send it flying away right before it would have stabbed into my chest. Meanwhile, to one side, my mother suddenly appeared and shattered three more that were coming from that direction. 

Fossor was there, stabbing his sword where she should have been in that instant. But Mom had already vanished, teleporting behind him. Her energy blade was shoved through his back and out the front of his chest. It healed, pushing the blade aside before he spun, catching my mother in a devastatingly powerful backhand once more that staggered her. 

He tried to follow up, but I pushed off the wall, driving my own blade toward the back of his neck. He felt it coming, twisting to catch my weapon. Except that had been a feint. Even before the man had started to turn, I had already created a small portal in front of the blade. The other end came out right near his leg so that the blade of my staff cut into his calf. 

Not a lethal blow. But damaging. Hard for him to justify healing, yet it would slow him down. He could heal it and waste what precious resources he still had, or deal with the pain. 

Yeah, he wasn’t happy, to say the least. His hand caught the middle of my staff, nearly jerking it out of my grip as he yanked me closer and off balance to stab me with his sword. But Mom had recovered from that blow, her own blade snapping up with a hum of power to cut into his shoulder, giving me time to summon another silver knife back to my hand from its storage place before throwing it as hard as I could into his foot, the opposite one from the leg I’d damaged. It was, again, not that bad of an injury. Yet one that would slow him down. Pain. Bit by bit, we were wearing at him, even as the people above were wearing through his already much-diminished army. 

Still, he kept his grip on my staff enough to yank me around, trying to make me collide with Mom. But she vanished, teleporting just a foot to the side, into the space I’d already been flung through. The instant she reappeared, Mom lashed out with another punch that collided with Fossor’s jaw. She hit him so hard that time, it left his chin looking strangely off-center and broke several teeth. 

It was enough to make him let me go, and even as I stumbled, I forced myself to spin back that way with a violent slash of my staff that put the blade through the side of his throat. Again, an injury that he healed off like it was nothing. 

No. 

Wait.

Not like it was nothing. The injury healed somewhat. It stopped gushing blood, but the cut was still partially there. I could see it there, the mark where my blade cut through him. He made it better, but not perfect. 

Even as I noticed that, Mom’s fist collided with his face again. Then again. Then again. She punched him so hard, his face looked disfigured. Each blow hard enough to pulverize stone. She broke through his skin, broke the bones in his head with each blow. Each punch drove him backward, making him stumble. She drove him right to the wall. She brought her energy blade up with her other hand, shoving it right toward his chest. 

And then he twisted just enough that the blade barely missed anything vital, stabbing through his shoulder as the man bellowed in pain and anger. His hand caught her extended wrist, and he broke her arm with a hard snap that made my mother release her grip on the weapon. 

I lunged, but he was already spinning back to me, already twisting Mom around and getting his arm around her throat. His other hand smacked something, some kind of enchanted stone or something, against her arm. It left behind some kind of glowing black and red rune.

“Do it!” he bellowed at me, face almost unrecognizable through the blood and bruises. Not to mention the broken jaw, broken nose, burned eye sockets, and more. Between Mom and me, we had literally rearranged his face for him. “Move! Move again, and she dies, she dies! Believe me, little girl, she won’t teleport away. No more teleporting for awhile, not with that little spell.” 

The thing he’d hit her with, that glowing red and black rune on Mom’s shoulder. It was stopping her from teleporting, trapping her right there with him. 

“You think I don’t have any more allies?” the monster was ranting at me. “What if I turn your mother into one, you insignificant child?! What if I turn her into a true ally? It wouldn’t be hard.” He was panting, snarling his words while keeping Mom held tight, his arm twisting her neck almost to the snapping point. 

“Will you consider it a win?” he snarled at me, almost animalistically. “Will you cheer my death if it costs your mother her life? Do you have what it takes to make that sacrifice, hmmm? You can kill me, little girl. You can do what no one else could ever manage. You could end this now, once and for all. All you have to do is let your mother die. Can you do that? Can you sacrifice your dear, precious mother just to finish me? Think of everyone I’ve killed. Think of everyone else I will kill if you don’t end this now. Do it. Kill me. Kill your mother. Make that sacrifice.” 

For a moment, I stood there, frozen. Terror, the certainty that I was about to lose my mom after just getting her back, left me half-blinded by tears. Fossor. I couldn’t let him get away. We had him. Millennia of his atrocities, billions of people dead because of him. I couldn’t let that go. I couldn’t–I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. 

But my mom. My mother. It wasn’t fair. 

It just wasn’t fair. She deserved to live. After everything she’d been through, after everything our entire family had been through…

Everything our family had been through…

“You still don’t get it,” I finally spoke, my own voice shaking so much it was almost impossible to understand. “Chambers… Atherbys… Heretics… we all have something in common.” As I spoke, my eyes met my mother’s. She couldn’t nod, not in that position. But I saw the understanding in her eyes. She knew. She was ready. 

“What?” Fossor demanded, not quite there yet. 

“We can survive a hell of a lot,” I said flatly, before dropping to the floor. In mid-motion, I released my staff. A thought left it frozen for a moment. It hovered there at an upward diagonal angle while I hurled myself forward, straight at them.

Then Fossor understood. The man started to react, but Mom’s own hands snapped up, grabbing hold of his arms to keep him there with her, and stop him from breaking her neck. 

That might not have been enough, weakened as she was against the strength that Fossor had given himself. But my lunge carried me close enough for my grasping fingers to find her arm, and the moment I did, I was inside. I was possessing my mother.

Instantly, I boosted her with everything I had, throwing every last bit of strength I could manage into the boost. Tabbris was doing the same, both of us shoving everything we had into boosting my mother.

Even that might not have been enough. But we had one more edge, one more thing to tip the scales. Because Rahanvael was there too. She appeared behind Fossor, turning solid just long enough to catch hold of her brother’s arms from behind. Between Tabbris and me boosting Mom, and Rahanvael holding the bastard from behind, he was trapped. We stopped him from escaping. 

And then? Then my mother used all that strength, hers and ours, to lunge forward, dragging Fossor with her. She hurled herself and her tormenter toward my still-frozen staff, impaling herself through the stomach on it. I felt the shock of pain as the staff went through her body. But the angle it was at meant that while the staff went through Mom’s stomach and mid-back, it went through Fossor’s chest, and out his upper back. 

In the next heart-beat, I stopped possessing my mother, shoving myself out of her before pivoting that way, spinning on my heel. Every nanosecond was an eternity, my vision of the world slowed to a crawl. 

The man was limp. His arms fell to his sides as Mom and Rahanvael’s grips released him. The blade of the staff hadn’t just cut through his back, it had severed his spinal cord. Mom had perfectly angled her lunge to literally paralyze the man who had been holding her from behind. 

My pivot carried me the rest of the way around to face them as the staff disappeared from where it was, reappearing back in my hand. Its absence left Fossor and my mother to fall to the ground, the latter managing to weakly push herself out from under him.

“Can’t… ca-ca… can’t… die…” Blood poured from Fossor’s mouth with each choked word as he lay face-down in the dirt, head turned to the side. He was completely helpless. His body was paralyzed from the neck down. He’d run out of minions to sacrifice. He’d run out of tricks. He’d run out of everything. “Ca… can’t…” 

“Yes,” I informed him while driving the blade of my staff down into the back of that fucker’s head, “you can.” 

And with that, I welcomed a rush of pleasure that eclipsed my entire reality.

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Kairos 9-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I had thought that the fight in this quarry was insane and chaotic before. But all of that had been nothing compared to this. Hundreds of thousands of undead creatures, all rushing in every possible direction, even up into the air, to escape. Any of them could have been Fossor in disguise, so all of them had to be stopped. They all had to be either destroyed or exposed as the Necromancer himself. We couldn’t let even a single one get out of this quarry. 

“Mom!” I blurted, even as a skeletal deer-like thing tried to sprint past me. My staff snapped that way, shoving through the bones of the thing’s neck just before I triggered a kinetic blast that blew the head into splinters and sent the rest of the bones tumbling to the ground before they broke apart into dust. “What do we do?! How’re we supposed to find the right one?!” 

My mother, for her part, had just finished catching five zombies and a ghost inside some kind of gelatinous cube thing that instantly incinerated itself and them once they were all caught inside it. “Rahanvael,” she said quickly while pointing her hand to send a single, tight-beam laser that caught three more fleeing zombies who had been making a break for it through a small opening. 

I didn’t have to voice the question. Rahanvael was already there, appearing in front of me while shaking her head quickly. “I–I don’t know! His power is everywhere, he’s obfuscating himself somehow! He knows I can find him by tracking his power, so he–he’s spread it everywhere! I can’t focus–I need… I need…” It was obvious that she was going to say she needed time. Time we didn’t have, because of all this chaos. Even in that moment, I was shifting my staff into its bow form and firing a single energy arrow that made a huge Meregan zombie stumble so that Roxa in werewolf form could leap onto its back. She was followed by several more of her wolf pack, who all took the Meregan to the ground together, tearing the already-dead body apart.  

“Time, I know!” I quickly put in, spinning back to hock a wad of that amber-like spit toward a skeleton that was trying to rush past Shiori while her back was turned as she caught one of her spinning discs. It caught the thing’s feet and the ground, pinning it there so she could finish it off. 

“You need time?” That was Avalon. She pivoted to face me from a few yards away while the gauntlet of her extended arm projected a blade that cut the head from another zombie. “We’ll cover you.” Despite everything going on around her, despite her own heavy panting as she continued killing these things, Avalon’s voice was still calm and collected. “Do what you need.” 

“Damn straight!” That was Columbus, appearing to one side. He had Amethyst, his porcupine cyberform, in her shield form with the quills pointed out. Two of those quills flew off, and when they hit this huge, winged-zombie creature in mid-flight, the ice spells on them activated, freezing the thing solid just long enough to bring it crashing back to the ground with a heavy thud as dust flew everywhere. “Focus on finding the chief asshole, we’ve got these ones!” 

Shiori, Koren, Miranda, Sands, and Sarah were right there too. All of them spread out around me, focused on keeping the fleeing undead away from me. Away from us. 

Quickly, I looked to Rahanvael. “One chance,” I said quickly. “We have to hurry, or–”

“I know.” Rahanvael said simply. There was no need for me to continue. We both knew. If we didn’t identify exactly where Fossor was before he managed to escape, this whole thing would’ve been for nothing and he would just try all this again. She looked at me intently. “I need to… to possess you, basically. I need your power, your connection to the undead to weed all the extra out.” 

I didn’t even hesitate. With all the insanity around us, as practically everyone I knew who could fight did so against hundreds of thousands of Fossor’s forces, I extended a hand to her. “Do it.”

It wasn’t the same as Seosten possession, of course. If nothing else, I already had one of those with my sister. This was ghost possession, and as Rahanvael’s hand touched mine, I could tell the difference. This was… cold, for lack of a better term. I felt a chill that seemed to run through my actual soul, as this ghost merged fully with me. I could feel her thoughts, her terror that the creature her brother had turned into would actually escape again. I could feel her determination that he not do so, that he be stopped for good here and now. I could feel everything, just as she could undoubtedly feel all of my own thoughts and feelings. 

I have to put everything into finding him, Rahanvael’s voice informed both Tabbris and me. Everything. 

She wasn’t exaggerating. The whole world went dark then. I couldn’t see or hear anything around us. I couldn’t even sense anything with my powers. It was one huge black void. All my senses were turned off, aside from… wait. Energy. I could… feel energy. Life energy–no, not life. Death. I could feel death energy around us. Literally everywhere around us. It was a hurricane of Necromantic energy. No wonder it was so impossible for Rahanvael to differentiate anything. Fossor really was hiding himself in a giant storm of power. The only chance we had was that he was cautious. He wouldn’t make the first run for an escape. He’d wait to see where an opening appeared. But he also wouldn’t wait too long, because he only had so many forces to keep our people busy with. Wherever that piece of shit was, he would make his move soon. 

We had to find him before that. It was the only choice, the only chance we had. Find him. Stop him. 

This was terrifying. I knew there was violence going on around me. I could feel the undead through their energy. But I couldn’t feel my friends. I had no idea how they were doing. I just… I just had to trust that they were safe, that they were still right there protecting Tabbris and me. I had no idea how the fight was going, if they were hurt or… or worse. My only choice was to stand here, blind and deaf, and trust that my friends could take care of themselves. 

Fuck, this was hard. 

I could feel Rahanvael taking control of my Necromancy power, could sense how she was using it to direct the death energy around us. I wasn’t yet powerful enough, even with her help, to take control of more than a few of these things at a time. But she wasn’t trying to take control of them. She was infecting them with my power, letting that power spread quickly through the army, sort of like a virus. I couldn’t actually make them do anything with that tiny amount of power, but I could see where it went, the way it mixed with Fossor’s own power. Through what felt like hours, my power spread through the undead within the quarry, just a dot of it here or there. Not enough to actually do anything with them, but enough to mark all of them. 

All of them, that was, except for one. One spot where my power couldn’t infect Fossor’s. One spot. One being who was immune to being touched by my own Necromancy. 

Him. It was him. 

We found him. 

My eyes opened as Rahanvael separated herself from me, and I saw the carnage around us. It was clear that Fossor had left his horde instructions not only to escape, but also to kill me if they could manage it. All around us were dozens upon dozens of dead (or redead) things, or just the dust and ectoplasm from skeletons and ghosts. My friends, my teammates, had been joined by others. My mother, Deveron, the rest of her own team, Asenath, Bobbi, Vanessa and Tristan, and more. It had clearly taken all of them to keep these things off me through the time that I had been indisposed. 

There wasn’t time to thank them. There wasn’t time for anything. Not when I knew where Fossor was. I could still feel him, could still sense the way his own power was so different from mine. Now that it had been so thoroughly pointed out to me, it was a difference I could never forget. The man himself was like a bright shining beacon, so different from the rest of the creatures around him now that they had all been marked by my power. 

And he was making his move. Even as I focused on my ability to sense him, I could feel the Necromancer bolting for an open spot. The fighting had spread out too far. Our forces were thin on the edges. He had the opening he wanted, the opening he needed to escape. 

Like fuck would I let that happen. 

“Got him!” I blurted, spinning toward the direction I could still feel the bastard in. Unfortunately, that just put me face to face with a veritable wall of both enemies and friends. The battle raged on ahead of me, not only on the ground but in the air too. There was no way I could get through all that in time to reach Fossor before he managed to escape. He was already making his move!

At least, there was no way I could do that alone. But I wasn’t alone. The moment they realized where I was trying to go, Shiori, Avalon, Columbus, Asenath, and all the others launched themselves that way. The wall of enemies in the way collapsed inward as my people, my friends, barrelled headlong into it. A hole, they were making a hole for me to get through. 

I took advantage without thought. I would thank them later, I would say… everything that needed to be said later. Right now, only one thing mattered, getting to Fossor and stopping him once and for all. 

It wasn’t as easy as just going through a single opening and then having a free run to where the evil piece of shit was, of course. The entire quarry was filled with these creatures, all of them in my way. Or at least, they tried to be in my way. But Avalon and the others stayed just ahead of me, tearing their way through the enemies. Here, Sands made a wall to block off one section to create an opening. There, Gordon encased himself in enormous ice armor and used one long arm to swat a group of zombies away. There, Sean and Vulcan worked with Sarah and her own gun to put down a group of fliers that were trying to swoop in from above. 

Koren and Miranda worked together to deal with a massive skeleton giant to the left. To the right, Vanessa and Tristan were stopping a cloud of angry ghosts from reaching us. Bobbi and Asenath raced ahead, each grabbing a rotting zombie barbarian creature, tearing the pair apart from each other and out of the way. 

Deveron and Lillian were there, the latter using a summoned wind storm to hurl a dozen undead into the air before the former incinerated them with a blast of white-blue fire from his pistol. The Dornans and Tribald Kine were stopping a literal giant (the thing towered at least twenty feet tall, twice the size of a Meregan) from stomping down on the spot just ahead of me. 

Everyone, everyone was helping. They were clearing the path. I was taking advantage, racing through the holes they created. I didn’t have time to slow down, didn’t have time to help. Getting to Fossor was all that mattered. They had this. I had him. 

Or rather, we had him. Because my mother was right beside me. The two of us sprinted onward, Mom right at my side. The others could barely keep up with clearing the path, not even worrying about killing everything in the way. They were purely focused on simply moving the enemies. Even then, it was only the fact that we had so many on our side, so many friends and allies right there with us, that allowed Mom and I to keep running without slowing down to engage with the minions ourselves. Neither of us spoke. Neither of us needed to. We were together right here, at this last moment. That was all that mattered, the two of us being together, side-by-side, as we made one final run to either stop Fossor from escaping, or die trying. 

A blast from Columbus’s goggles slammed into a huge, twelve-foot tall troll zombie that had been looming up in front of us, the concussive force putting the thing on its back long enough for my mother and I to leap over it. I had to boost to make the full jump, while my mother used some kind of gravity manipulation power to keep herself in the air long enough to make it from the troll’s feet all the way past its head. It was starting to recover, starting to grab for us, but we were already gone. Behind us, I heard a howl as Dare, in giant wolf form, landed on top of the thing to make sure it would never be a threat again.

I could feel him. I could still feel Fossor. He was… he was there. He was just ahead of us. But, close as he was to us, he was also close to the edge of the quarry, and thus close to escaping the spell that was keeping him trapped here. The moment he made it over that line, the very second that monster managed to edge a foot out of the magic that stopped him from teleporting, he would be gone. He would escape. He would leave and go back to being a threat for everyone in the world, a threat that would hurt and kill everyone I cared about. 

Fuck. That. 

Tabbris! I shouted inwardly, even as Mom intercepted some kind of spinning ghost armed with glowing blades that came in out of nowhere. That wing blast thing, can you do it again? I had no idea what all that was about, and there wasn’t time for details. All that mattered was whether she had another one in her or not. I’d had the impression that she couldn’t do that constantly, that it needed time to recharge. But had it been enough time yet? 

There was a brief hesitation, even as I pivoted to stab the blade of my staff through a zombie that came lunging at us from that side. He was with a horde of others, but our friends had managed to intercept the rest. I could feel Tabbris’s doubt, but it was quickly replaced by firm determination. Yes, she insisted. I can do it again. 

Good, ready? I let her take in exactly what I wanted to do, what I was planning. 

Ready! I could feel that she was afraid, afraid of her own power, afraid of this whole situation, of messing up and letting Fossor escape. She was terrified. But she was here. She was here with me, and determined to make this work. Whatever it took. 

“Mom!” I blurted out loud. “On three, hit me with the strongest energy blast you can and get us into the air. One… two… three!”

As I said that, my hands gripped my staff, triggering the boost to start my launch upward. At the same time, I felt my mother’s hands grab my shoulders as she used her gravity power to send us flying even higher than my staff could manage. On the way, her hands glowed and I felt her pouring energy into me. Energy that I focused on absorbing. 

We were in the air. More enemies came in from all sides, but between Mom and our friends below, they were dealt with. 

Most importantly, I could see him. I could see the single ‘zombie’ making a flat run for the line. Fossor had abandoned blending in by that point. No one was around him, they were all engaged with other threats and too far away. No one could stop him. 

Or so he thought. The second I saw that clear path to the monster, I blurted both inwardly and aloud, “Do it now!” 

It was like before, when we had used a powered up blast to destroy the creatures blocking me from reaching Fossor the first time. But now, we weren’t shooting an army. Nor were we shooting Fossor himself. Tabbris and I both knew the man would just shove the effect off onto any of his creatures who were still here. Then he’d keep going and escape. 

No, we didn’t shoot Fossor. We shot the ground. Those bright light wings appeared from my back and a blinding blast of power, a ten-foot-wide eruption of energy hurtled itself down out of the sky, tearing into the Earth with a deafening blast that sent dirt, dust, and rocks in every direction. 

Through that blinding, choking cloud, Mom and I fell. We landed together, and my mother used a quick gust of wind to send the dust away. 

We were in a hole. A twenty-foot-wide, twelve-foot-deep hole. About as wide as a boxing ring without the ropes. A boxing ring with a single opponent who stood facing us, hatred and disbelief twisting his features. 

“Leaving so soon?” I demanded, taking a quick step away from my mother so we wouldn’t be caught in the same attack. “And without us? I thought we were supposed to be a family and all that.” 

“Yes, brother,” Rahanvael agreed, appearing beside me. “We are family.” 

“We are family,” Mom corrected pointedly, straightening up as she focused on Fossor. “Not him.” Her hand snapped out, throwing some kind of enchanted marble into the air. As it hit the top of the hole we were all in, a glowing energy shield appeared, creating a forcefield ceiling to keep all of us, Fossor included, right here in the hole. 

This was it. No other tricks. No escapes. No new allies or friends. They were all busy, all occupied. My mother and I (with Rahanvael and Tabbris), facing the man who had done so much to tear our family apart. Just us. Just him. For the last time. 

One way or another, this was the end.

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Kairos 9-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

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In that moment, it would’ve been easy to think that we outnumbered our opponent. But, of course, we didn’t. Not in the least. Fossor, after all, commanded and controlled more than an entire world’s worth of slaves he could kill and bring to his aid at a moment’s notice. From what I’d been told, he was at least limited from bringing over literally billions of ghosts with a snap of his fingers, because even he was only so powerful. Particularly when it came to transporting his troops intergalactic distances. 

But while he couldn’t easily bring over billions, or even millions of his cannon-fodder, there was nothing stopping him from bringing over thousands. Which he did, in that exact moment. With no warning, none at all, the quarry was suddenly overrun. Thousands of ghosts, zombies, skeletons, everything dead that Fossor could push his control into, manifested and attacked. They tore their way out of the ground, descended from the air, or simply appeared around us, tearing their way into apparent existence as though ripping through the fabric of space itself. 

In my case, it started as the huge fist of a (dead) Meregan male punched its way out of the dirt. It came so unexpectedly that I took the blow head-on and was sent crashing to the ground, even as the ten-foot-tall figure clambered out of the dirt. The giant zombie roared, slamming both fists down toward me just before Tabbris took control and threw us into a backward roll. 

Mom was fighting her own Meregan giant, along with a handful of fire-manipulating ghosts that seemed intent on trapping her. No, intent on cutting us off from each other. More and more of Fossor’s newly summoned troops were flooding the area between us. 

It was the same all around me. Everyone who had come to help, my old team, my mentors, my friends, my family, everyone was being swarmed. While pushing myself up, from the corner of my eye, I saw Avalon, beautiful amazon that she was, take the heads off of three zombies with a single swipe of a glowing energy blade projected from her gauntlet. In the next second, her hand snapped out to touch one of the collapsing bodies. Under her grip, the zombie disintegrated into a cloud of dust. That dust, at a quick gesture from Avalon, flew into an incoming ghost before suddenly igniting into green flames. Those flames, in turn, destroyed the ghost, making it blow apart with a scream. 

Others, there were others. Shiori of course. God, Shiori. And not only them, not only my girls. But Sands, Koren, Sarah, Sean, Columbus–everyone. I wanted to see them. I wanted to check on them, wanted to help them. But I couldn’t. That fleeting glance was the best I could manage, before my own giant Meregan opponent hurled himself at me. 

But Fossor had taught me a lot. More than I wanted to know really. Particularly about controlling zombies and Meregan in particular. My right hand snapped up, stopping the charging giant in his tracks. He literally froze, just for a moment. I could feel Fossor’s power warring against mine. It would win out in the end. But I only needed a moment. In that time, I snapped my hand down and out, making both of his much larger hands follow suit, slamming into a few smaller skeletal-creatures who had been rushing past him to reach me. 

Meanwhile, completely on her own, Tabbris had taken control of my left hand, the one with the staff. She triggered the cloud of sand to shoot out, superheating it in the process before sending the sand through three zombies that had been coming at us from behind. At the same time, even as the sand was burning through them, she used my mouth to trigger a renewed ghost-fire spell on the staff itself, as the other one had run out. With the staff newly-empowered, Tabbris hurled it through a ghost that was coming up from our other side, before recalling it. 

All of that simply in the time it took me to take control of the Meregan and have him smash those skeletons. We were working together, cooperating and multitasking the way Elisabet and Jophiel had been helping teach us to. In this moment, as we fell instantly back into sync, it was like we’d never been separated. Both of us using my body, my powers, to attack multiple enemies at the same time in entirely different ways. 

And yet, even with that, there were still so many enemies around us. Prosser by himself had been set on by wave after wave of the strongest undead I’d ever seen. Even he, powerful as he was, couldn’t easily swat them aside. He, Gwen, Sariel, Athena, all of them were being attacked by so fucking many of the empowered necromantic creatures. The entire quarry was swarmed, covered, engulfed by these monsters. They came from everywhere, tearing, slashing, clawing, even biting at everyone who sought to stop their master. If Mom and I had been on our own against that kind of onslaught, we never would have lasted as long as we had. It wouldn’t even have been close. 

But, of course, Fossor hadn’t been trying with us as much as he was now. It was patently obvious that, even while he was angry and fighting my mother and me, he’d been dramatically holding back. He still wanted to pull off his spell, after all, and had been saving power for that. That and he was just so accustomed to two people, especially the two of us, not being any real threat, that he didn’t need to go all-out. But now? Now he’d been backed into a corner. He was surrounded by an army of super-powered, pissed off people who wanted him dead. So there were no more half-measures. He was showing us, and everyone else, why he was such a threat. Even in the face of so many absurdly powerful beings, Fossor still had the advantage. Because, powerful as all these people were, cutting through literally billions of hostages in order to actually hurt the son of a bitch himself would take too long. Especially when he could send tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands given enough time, of those same hostages to actively attack. 

But none of that mattered. Not in the long run. It was all noise, distractions from the main point, the main problem: Fossor himself. Because the necromancer hadn’t given up on his plan. Even as a warzone raged around him, even as thousands of his troops were repeatedly summoned and destroyed by some of the most powerful beings on the planet, he was still moving to that altar. He’d been knocked back a couple hundred feet by Gabriel’s shovel-blow. But he was making up the difference, heading right for the altar while using his minions as cover. Strong as everyone here was, even they could only work so fast. Fossor didn’t need to win this fight, he didn’t need his undead minions to actually succeed at beating all of us. He only needed them to play distraction long enough for him to reach that altar and finish his spell. 

I couldn’t let that happen. We couldn’t. With a quick thought, I shoved all the knowledge of what was going on and the risks of just how bad it could be into Tabbris so she would know how important this was. At the same time, I made my commandeered Meregan zombie pivot back that way and sent him running to tackle another of his own (dead) people. I’d worry about the horrors of what I was doing in that moment later. Right now, the only thing that mattered, the only thing, was stopping Fossor. Whatever it took. 

Even as I started to throw myself into a sprint that way, Tabbris was absorbing what I’d ‘told’ her. She gave no verbal response, because one wasn’t needed. Instead, I felt her take control of the burning sand once more, using it to help clear the path and leaving me to focus on actually getting to Fossor in time. The white-hot cloud flew ahead of us, burning through the legs of two zombies so they would fall and allow me to jump over them. Just as quickly, even as I was still in mid-air from that jump, she used my hands to convert the staff into its bow form and sent a shot off to the side to hit three skeletons who were tearing their way out of the ground. 

So many. Fuck, there were so fucking many of these things! Too many to find a way to portal through. They were everywhere, so many I couldn’t even actually see Fossor himself anymore after that brief glimpse. Everywhere I glanced there were hundreds of them, swarming in out of nowhere. He was dumping dozens on top of us with every passing second, filling up every inch of space. For every undead minion that one of us killed, ten more appeared. Between the noise, the screams, the clash of weapons, gunshots, the fwoom and crash of powers, it was utter insanity. No one could keep any of this straight. No one could be expected to focus through all of that. Which, of course, was what Fossor was counting on. Chaos was where he thrived, in this moment. All he had to do was keep everyone busy for these crucial seconds. After that it would all be over, in every way that mattered. 

I only managed two more steps past the legless zombies before a ghost appeared in front of me. This one looked like some kind of reptilian crocodile-humanoid, about nine feet tall and covered in some kind of crackling electricity. Electricity that the semi-translucent figure sent flying at me with a snarl of rage that I was pretty sure actually came from Fossor himself. 

The electricity never reached me. Before I could even move, a sudden wall of stone emerged from the ground to catch the attack. A second later, stairs rose as well, giving me a way over it.

“Go!” Sands blurted, even as she spun to slam her ghost-fire enchanted mace into the side of the spectral-reptilian’s head with so much force he was blown apart in a spray of ectoplasm. “We’ll cover you, we’ve got you, just go!”

As if in response to her words, three zombie heads suddenly exploded, as a shot from Sarah’s rifle blew through them in a line. An instant later, a ghost that had appeared behind Sands was disintegrated by a second quick shot. 

I wasn’t alone anymore. Not in any way. With a quick, blurted thanks, I raced up the stairs that Sands had created. Once I reached the top, the other girl made a sharp gesture with her mace, extending a bridge out from the wall that I could run along. 

She couldn’t get me all the way there, of course. And even from that height, there were still so many ghosts flying through the air that getting a good look at Fossor or the altar was impossible. I still couldn’t just launch or portal myself there. There were too many threats in the way, too many minions that would stop me. 

But the bridge that Sands had created at least got me closer. I was able to run a good twenty feet along it, over the heads and grasping hands of the zombies below. On the way, Tabbris focused on keeping the various dead things from scrambling their way up with us, using burning sand and the staff to either blast them with stored kinetic force directly or to create mines that blew them away from us. A couple managed to climb onto the path ahead of us, but I just leapt up and over them without breaking stride. With my copilot, my little sister, on board once more, I didn’t have to worry about watching my back. She did that. She helped keep the damn things off us so I could focus on moving forward. Without her, I would’ve had to slow down. Without her, I never would have caught up with the piece of shit who was trying to kill and enslave everyone I cared about. 

Reaching the end of the bridge, I was met by an enormous ghost with four arms and some kind of rhino-like horn, hovering there. The ghost gave a wide (too-wide) smile with its large, gaping mouth before that horn started to glow even brighter than the rest of it. 

In the next instant, before I even had a chance to avoid whatever rhino-ghost wanted to do, a blonde figure leapt between us. Nevada. She had that chainsaw-sword of hers, and it was apparently enchanted to hurt ghosts as well, because my would-be attacker gave a violent scream as the buzzing, rapidly-rotating chain sword was shoved into and through him. As the ghost blew apart, Nevada lashed out with her free hand to send a small red ball into a group of skeleton-creatures nearby. The ball exploded into a blast of energy that blew the skeletons apart into pieces of bone, then sort of… reformed and sucked the remains into it. Seriously, it basically hoovered the pieces of bone all back inside it after blowing apart, then returned to Nevada’s hand. 

Meanwhile, I kept moving. Even as the ball returned to its creator’s hand, Nevada pivoted and pointed with the hand that still held her sword. A ring on one of her fingers glowed, sending out a solid-light extension of the stone bridge that reached about thirty feet closer. As I passed her, she turned back to keep my pursuers away. 

Even with her help, Tabbris and I weren’t alone on this bridge. We had to fight our way through every inch of space, as more and more creatures were sent after us. Some kind of flying zombie, a rotting thing with bat-wings and a head that was as large as its body, flew down to grab me by the shoulders while both of us were focused on other threats. 

But it didn’t hold on for long. A beam of concussive force passed right over my head, blowing the flying zombie’s head off before it could so much as screech. 

Columbus. He’d teleported onto the bridge and was already using another couple quick blasts from his goggles to blow away two more of those flying zombies who had been trying to swoop in. He’d also brought Sean with him, who turned back the other way with Vulcan in his minigun form, opening up a devastating hail of bullets that tore through all the creatures who had been blocking our path, opening it up. 

“Better get going, Flickster!” Sean called, still sweeping Vulcan back and forth to pick off those who were still moving. Hundreds of bullets tore through the things. “These hijueputas ain’t gonna stop coming!” 

There was so much I wanted to say right then. But I couldn’t. There wasn’t time. There just… wasn’t time. So, I kept moving, sprinting between the two while praying that there would be a ‘later’ to actually say all the things I wanted to. 

At the end of this second bridge, I was met not by a threat, but a friend. My oldest friend, actually. Miranda was there, using her shield to block several sprays of what looked like acid spit from far below before raising one hand. A distortion in the air, like an almost-invisible tennis ball made of violently twisting and spinning air, appeared in her grasp. With a grunt, she threw it right into the midst of the creatures who were attacking from below, and I arrived just in time to see the tightly-contained winds within it blow apart, sending the creatures violently flying in every direction. 

Even as I reached her, Miranda split off a duplicate, both of them giving me quick, wild grins. “You made it!” one blurted, before the other added, “Wish we could talk, but–” 

“I know,” I interrupted. “Gotta stop him!” With that, I snapped my staff down, using the kinetic force it had charged up to launch myself up and away from them. Fossor. I had to get to Fossor. 

Two more of those flying zombies tried to intercept me in mid-flight. But they were both literally smashed into pieces by two pillars of dirt and rock that tore their way out of the ground to slam into one another, catching the winged-monsters between them. Koren. The girl was below, using one hand to form the arch she’d created out of the two pillars into a raised platform for me. Meanwhile, one of those solid-energy animals she could make, a full-sized wolf in this case, was tearing apart a skeletal figure that had tried to attack the girl. 

I landed on that platform, using it to get a look below. Fossor. There. There he was, getting closer to the altar with each step while the cataclysmic battle raged around him. With a grunt, I launched myself that way, using a blast from my staff to send myself right toward the bastard. 

More undead tried to stop me, only to be caught by the people who cared about me. 

A screaming, banshee-like spirit was captured in a forcefield-like cage by Risa Kohaku, before the cage shrank itself into a tiny ball, destroying its prisoner in the process. 

A four-legged bull-like zombie thing ripped up from the ground and opened its mouth to send a disgusting, horrifyingly long tongue up to grab me. But the tongue and the bull-zombie itself were literally frozen into a solid ice statue by Gordon Kuhn, who stood behind the thing and grabbed it. 

A giant, almost-entirely rotted humanoid corpse, so large it made the Meregan look small, tried to snatch me out of the air. But Hisao was there. Though he only came up to the undead creature’s knee, he punched the thing so hard in that knee that its leg snapped. As it fell, Hisao caught the body, pivoting to slam the thing into the ground so hard the Earth itself seemed to shake. Then I was down. I was on the ground, already running. Everyone behind and around me was still fighting for their lives. And for the lives of everyone else. No matter where I looked, I could see people I cared about being set upon by dozens of undead creatures. Roxa, Carfried, Haiden, Rebecca, Jazz, Doug, everyone and anyone. They were all doing literally everything they could to deal with the literal legion of monstrosities that Fossor had summoned. It was an army of everyone I cared about versus an army of the undead. 

As for the piece of shit himself, he’d… stopped. I realized that even as I came rushing up behind him. The man was a good thirty feet from his altar, but there was someone in his way. 

No, someones. My mother was there, but she wasn’t alone. Deveron was there too. And so were Lillian, Roger and Seamus Dornan, and Tribald Kine. Her old team. Her friends. They were right alongside her, blocking Fossor’s path. 

From the sound of his growl, the man wasn’t exactly in a good mood. I wondered why. He glanced over his shoulder at me, eyes narrowing. “It seems our girl has decided to join us all by herself,” he noted in a dark, threatening voice. 

“No, she hasn’t.” That was Avalon. Valley. She was there, right beside me. “She’s not by herself.” 

“She never is.” Shiori, appearing on my other side, put in. Both of them, both my girls, standing right there on either side of me. Both glaring at Fossor. Not only that, but Asenath was by Shiori as well, standing with her sister. 

Before the man could retort, another voice spoke up from behind the four of us. “They’re right about that, Fossor.” Dare. It was Dare, standing with her sword out to one side as her own gaze narrowed at the man who had unknowingly hurt her family so much. “Felicity will never be alone. Not in the way that you will always be.” 

“Always.” That was Rahanvael, appearing slightly in front of me. Her voice was solem. “You will always be alone, Fossor.” She was clearly making a point by using that name rather than the one belonging to her brother. “You have lived alone. And you will die alone.” 

Fossor, in turn, actually growled a little bit. He looked toward my mother and her people, then back toward me and mine. “You think so?” His words were a snarl through gritted teeth. “Come then.

“Let us see who dies today.”

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Kairos 9-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: For those who haven’t seen it, there was a new commissioned interlude posted yesterday that focused on the Alter-Natural Heretic organization Section Four. If you haven’t read that, you can click the previous chapter button above to do so. 

“Kill me?” Fossor chuckled, though it sounded more deranged and emotional than he probably meant it to. “Has that ever worked for you, my dearest woman, mother of my child? Oh…. I suppose I can’t call you that now, can I? Not after our girl over there got her own brother killed. Now how is that going to affect your relationship?” 

Mom’s voice was calmer than I would have expected. Cold, really. “Over ten years together. More than a decade. And you still know nothing about me.” 

“He knows little about what it means to care for anyone at all.” Those were the words that came from Rahanvael, as the ghost girl hovered nearby, her hand lightly touching her own throat, where I could see what looked like… marks of some sort. As if Fossor’s invisible grasp had left an impression in the… well, ‘skin,’ or whatever that would be called. 

As for the Necromancer himself, he actually looked a bit upset by what she’d said, his face flushing a bit as he snapped, “I have always cared for you, Rahan.” Again, he pronounced it ‘Rain.’ “Everything I have done, everything I’ve become, everything that has– it was all because I loved–love you. It was all because I wanted to protect you! I only wanted to keep you safe.” 

“You’re right.” Rahanvael’s voice was soft, barely audible, yet somehow filled with raw emotion. It quaked, the words hoarse and broken. “Everything that you have done started because you were trying to protect me. We lost our mother, and when we visited her spirit to say goodbye, you felt her. You tried to keep her there. That’s how you found out about your power, Mera. You felt her and you tried to stop her spirit from moving on, and when they wouldn’t let you, when our father forced you to let her go, you… you were so afraid. We lost our mother and you were afraid you would lose me, lose your twin. So you did what? You withdrew even more. You spent seven years obsessing over learning to control your power on your own, experimenting on animals in the woods. Seven years when we could have been living our lives.” 

“If you and Father had only listened to me, we could have had an eternity together!” Fossor… yeah, he was clearly unstable. Facing his sister like this wasn’t doing wonders for his emotions. Still, he took a moment, mastering himself (at least outwardly) before speaking again, a bit more coldly. “But you didn’t. He didn’t. He–he interrupted. I would have brought you back.”

“You did bring me back,” Rahanvael reminded him, voice still quiet. “And I have spent millennia watching you commit more atrocities, more… evil than I could have imagined entire civilizations being capable of. Your crimes may have begun when you cut my throat, Mera. But everything you’ve done, everything you’ve become, that is what tears my heart from my chest.” 

Her voice was even more hollow by that point. She finished with the last thing she needed to say. “I loved my brother. He was my everything, my Mera. You are not him. You are an empty, soulless abomination that needs to die.” 

“You…” For a moment, Fossor looked… almost lost, really. It was so brief that I might have passed it off as my imagination. But it was there. It was absolutely there. He saw his sister, saw the way she looked at him, heard what she said, and it looked like those words struck home, for just a moment. But then it vanished, either hidden away or dismissed entirely. In its place was anger. Cold anger, the sort that would leave any soul that could feel such emotion a barren wasteland. 

He spoke again, voice far emptier than I had ever heard it. “Each of you will learn the cost of your efforts. Because you seem to have forgotten one very important thing. You cannot harm me.” 

With those simple words, he straightened, blue-white flames flickering around his feet before extending out into the shape of a serpent that coiled up and around him almost protectively. It was like a… ghost. It was a ghost snake. A giant ghost snake. Fun. 

“My life is connected to those of my world–of our world,” he amended, with a look toward his sister. “How many of our people will you allow them to sacrifice before bowing to the inevitable? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? More? How many will you let them put to the flames?” 

His words had an impact. I could tell that much. Rahanvael swallowed, floating there next to me. But she refused to break eye contact, staring back at him with a sad, broken voice. “Whatever it takes,” the girl informed him very quietly. “You must be stopped. A man who has already murdered millions cannot bargain with the lives of those he would kill anyway.” 

The ghost-serpent around Fossor drew itself up a bit, even as the man coldly snarled, “Then, by all means. Come and stop me.” 

Even as he said those words, the ghost-snake launched itself toward us. The thing was as big as a bus, mouth stretching wide as though it was going to try to eat us. I had no idea if it was even capable of that, given the whole ghost thing. But nor was I going to test it. With a quick thrust of my staff, I triggered the boost on it, sending myself up and over the lunging snake. Below me, Mom vanished from where she was standing, appearing off to the side while producing a glowing blue energy sword in one hand that she used to cut into its side. 

The snake wasn’t the only issue, of course. Fossor still had a literal army of ghosts and zombies he could throw at us. And throw them at us he did, as what looked like a tidal wave of the undead creatures came swarming in from all sides. The Necromancer wasn’t fucking around anymore. Even as I launched myself up, I could see an army of the creatures coming in from all sides, practically falling in on us like a tidal wave. This wasn’t a few ghosts, or a handful of zombies. This wasn’t something he expected us to fight. He expected us to be massacred. 

In mid-air, I dropped my staff, focusing on using the object-stopping power I’d just learned about. The staff froze, even as my feet came down on it. The freeze would only last for a few seconds, of course. But for those few seconds, I could stand on the staff in mid-air as though I was on solid ground. And I used that by summoning a dozen or so coins to each hand. Coins I had prepared over my time spent in the future waiting for the time travel spell to be ready. 

With those coins in hand, as I perched on my frozen staff, a very slight, humorless smile touched my face. Then I threw the coins out in every direction, scattering them through the air while blurting the command word. 

That swarm of Fossor’s minions kept coming, even as the coins were flung into their midsts. Then the spells activated, and the coins exploded into several clouds of blue-green mist. Every ghost or zombie that was touched by the mist immediately turned on one another. Which made others around them, those not affected by the clouds, turn back to defend themselves or be dragged to the ground. No longer were they a coherent army sent to attack us. Thanks to my frenzy-undead spells (learned courtesy of Petan himself, actually), huge portions were stuck blindly fighting each other.

By that point, the item-freeze had ended, and I grabbed my staff while it fell. A quick burst sent me flying forward and to the ground, where I landed on both feet in an open space that had been created by the frenzy spells. 

Mom was still dealing with the giant snake. Fossor was moving to the altar. More of his minions who hadn’t been either affected by the frenzy spells or attacked by those who had been were closing in on me. I’d dealt with a large portion of his army with that little trick (one I’d deliberately been saving until Fossor actually committed himself to using more of his forces), but not nearly enough. There were still dozens, even hundreds in the way, coming for me. Coming to stop me from getting to their master. 

But it wasn’t enough. Not this time. I wasn’t going to let anything, not even a literal army, stop me from getting to that son of a bitch. Focusing, I took off, running straight toward Fossor, which put me on a collision course with the largest concentration of the undead creatures. 

I couldn’t control all of Fossor’s minions. I wasn’t that strong or skilled yet. Fossor was far better than I was at Necromancy. At most, I could control a few at a time, even after all the practice I’d had recently. 

But here was the thing. I didn’t need to control all of them. I only had to control the ones directly in front of me, the ones close enough to actually touch me. Because only those few were a real threat. Only those few, the ones near enough to reach out and scratch, claw, or bite me were the ones I needed to worry about. And those were the ones I took control of. With effort that manifested itself into a literal scream tearing its way out of my throat, I shoved my will into the handful of ghosts and zombies that were directly in my way. The four nearest pivoted, throwing themselves into those behind them to form physical blockades. 

Dashing through the opening that created, I instantly released my hold on those four, shifting it over to the next small handful. Two ghosts and three zombies all turned on their companions, freeing up another small bit of space for me to move through, even as I shifted my control yet again. 

I made my way through Fossor’s army like that. Yeah, I couldn’t come close to matching his power or skill, even while he was distracted. But there was only so much space around me, so all I had to do was control the ones right there for the few seconds while passing through the area. It didn’t deal with the problem entirely, but that was a lost cause anyway. The problem was Fossor, not his minions. He was the one I had to get to. 

Between using my own Necromancy to briefly control very specific figures, my ghost-fire enchanted weapon to cut through others, and a few strategic boost from my staff, I made my way quickly through the army that was trying to cut me off. Fossor. I had to get to him. That was all that mattered. Nothing else. All I had to do was stop him from getting to that altar. 

He could have made it. Even with everything I’d done, all the practice I’d had, he could have gotten there if it wasn’t for one thing: my mother. It was obvious that, while he’d dumped an army in front of me and left them on their own, my mom was a different story. She’d already dealt with that giant ghost snake, but Fossor kept sending more and more things at her with each step he made toward his actual destination. Burning metal spikes tore themselves up out of the ground. A dark, acidic fog that dissolved anything it touched. Skeletal creatures with a few scraps of rotted flesh hanging from their bones. Balls of greenish-white flames. Anything and everything he could summon was being thrown at my mother just to keep her busy, just to keep her away from him while he took those last few steps toward his destination. He wasn’t worried about me. He was worried about her, and it showed in how much focus and effort he was putting toward occupying her. The power, the spells, the sheer force of everything he was dumping into that one small spot where my mother stood was staggering. 

And yet, Mom met everything. She shattered his attacks, broke them apart like waves crashing against a boulder. Her powers, her skill, her magic, all of it matched what he was sending at her. He was so much older, so much stronger, but he couldn’t break her. Not as distracted as he was. His attention was torn between trying to get to that altar and keeping her busy. All while he simply ignored me, trusting the army he’d tossed my way to be enough. 

It was a mistake I would be glad to make him pay for. 

With a violent, inarticulate scream, I tore my way through the last of the ghosts in my way, the blade of my staff cutting through the glowing figure. The ghost disintegrated, leaving a clear, open space between us. Between Fossor and me. 

Four steps. He was four steps from the altar. My hand thrust out, creating a portal even as I triggered the boost from my staff and gripped the small bit of wood that was installed near the middle. A piece of wood that allowed me to possess it, disappearing into my own staff while the boost I had triggered sent it flying through the portal I’d created. 

I came out through the portal directly in front of Fossor, emerging from my staff immediately and catching it in one hand while glaring at him as I stood in his way. “No.” My voice was flat. I didn’t threaten him. I didn’t make some kind of cutting remark or give a witty comment. That single word was all I could force out through the thick lump that had formed in my throat. 

A cloud of ashes swirled around Fossor, pulled from that canteen before they settled in front of his feet as he took one more step to put himself closer. In the same motion, he lashed out as though to backhand me despite the fact that he wasn’t quite close enough. Still, my staff snapped up to block it. 

But he wasn’t trying to hit me with his hand. Instead, in response to his gesture, a giant skeletal version, almost as large as my entire body, tore itself out the ground and slammed into me with so much force I was sent staggering backward. He immediately followed that up by summoning two more smaller hands to grab my ankles, but I stopped one by throwing my own will against it, forcing the hand to freeze. The other I cut off with a quick slash of my staff. 

Fossor was there, right in front of me. His fist lashed out, and I ducked, my staff snapping up to drive the blade into the side of his wrist. I might as well have been hitting a mountain for all the good it did. His arm didn’t even move. The blade of my staff did nothing to him, any damage it might have been capable of simply and casually passed off to any of the billions of hostages he had. 

The Necromancer, clearly angry by that point, followed up with three more snake-quick strikes. I blocked one, twisted around the second, but the third caught me. He was so fast. Loathe as he obviously was to actually physically involve himself in a confrontation, he was still so fucking fast. And strong. That single blow, a contemptuous backhanded strike, knocked me to the ground. It was a momentary opening, but one that Fossor took advantage of, foot snapping out with deceptive casualness to kick me in the face. It was like being hit by a train. I was thrown to my back, dazed and barely conscious through those brief, crucial seconds. 

Standing over me, Fossor moved to finish up by summoning some kind of ghostly spear, sending it down at my chest with a quick, dismissive gesture. 

But I wasn’t alone. In that instant, the very moment that I was in real danger, Mom was there. She appeared, glowing blade lashing out to cut through the ghostly spear and knock it aside. Instantly, she followed up by summoning a ball of flame, sending it into Fossor’s face. 

It did nothing. He passed off the damage, snarling in annoyance before launching himself at my mother. Not just the man by himself. He summoned more arms, more flames, more blades, all of it filling the air with two intentions: to kill me and to kill my mother. 

If I had been by myself, I would have been dead. But I wasn’t. Mom protected me. With every motion, every snap of her sword, every flick of her finger, she stopped another attack, broke another of Fossor’s summoned blades, or disintegrated another of his ghosts. 

Through that, I somehow forced myself to my feet, intercepting a couple of those attacks myself. And beside me, Rahanvael appeared. She couldn’t do much, but, being a ghost, she could catch some of the intangible spears and blades that were sent at us. She was one more thing to take some of the attacks. 

Between us, between Rahanvael and myself, we managed to give Mom an opening here and there to actually counter-attack. She didn’t have to put everything she had toward saving us. She had a few moments to lash out with attacks of her own. Attacks that would have killed him. Again and again, my mother could have put that fucker in the ground. Her blade cut through his throat, tore into his stomach, her fire engulfed him. But nothing stuck. Nothing could stick. He passed all of it off to his hostages. No matter what we did, no matter how many times Mom fucking killed him, it never mattered. 

Finally, glowing ghost-like bars appeared, rising around Fossor to cut us off from him. I could see the effort on his face, could see that we’d had an effect, no matter what he may have wanted us to think. He was angry. But more than that, he was winded. Everything we’d done, it mattered. He couldn’t dismiss us, couldn’t just knock us aside like weeds. 

“You,” the bastard snarled, “cannot stop me. You will fail. You will fall. Your bodies will be buried here, alone and forgotten. Y–” 

And then a shovel slammed through those summoned bars, shattering them like crystal before crashing into Fossor’s face to send him flying backward from the sheer force of the blow. The evil fuck crashed onto the ground a good couple hundred feet back, just as one of his ghosts disintegrated itself under him so his body wouldn’t hit the dirt without the protective ashes. 

“Not alone,” Gabriel Prosser informed him, straightening to stand beside my mother. “And never forgotten.” 

Nor was he alone. All around us, throughout the quarry, more figures appeared. Sariel, Apollo, Dare, Gwen, Nevada, Kohaku, Carfried, Hisao, Asenath, Seller, Twister, Brom Bones, Mercury, and more appeared. Mateo and his werewolves were here, including Pace and Roxa. May and April were here. Misty and her brother Duncan appeared. Enguerrand, Larissa, and Haiden too. My brother, Wyatt, appeared with Koren beside him. Avalon and Shiori, standing together with Aylen, Miranda, Columbus, Sands and Sarah. Sean was there too, in his still-confusingly older form right alongside his brother Ian.

“No…” Fossor snarled, his eyes darting around to find himself surrounded as he picked himself up. “No, this is–no, you cannot be here! The beacons have not yet broken through the shielding! You cannot have been summoned, you cannot be here!” 

“We had a little help finding the place,” Apollo casually informed him. And with those words, more figures appeared. Ghosts, but ones who had not been summoned by Fossor. 

They were the ghosts I had freed, the ones I’d given the same power as Rahanvael by cutting them away from Fossor’s control. I saw Ahmose at their head, his eyes blazing with fiery hatred for the man who had destroyed and enslaved him for so long. 

“It ends,” the ghost informed his former master, his words echoed by the rest of the ghosts who had accompanied him to this final confrontation. The ghosts who, instead of running and hiding from the monster who had done so much to them, had found my friends, my allies, and brought them here to stop him once and for all. 

A hand touched my arm. My gaze turned, and I saw her. My little sister. Tabbris stood there, tears filling her eyes as she stared at me. “You’re okay,” she whispered, voice so soft it seemed as though she was afraid I would shatter. 

“I’m okay,” I confirmed. Then I extended my hand to her. “You ready for this?” 

Her tears melted away, expression hardening into determination, as she met my hand with her own. “Ready.” 

Then she disappeared, possessing me once more. Back where she belonged. Back with me. 

Now it was time. Either we would stop Fossor here and now. Or we would die, and the Earth would be his forever. 

As one, the army that had arrived to end Fossor once and for all fell in on him. 

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Kairos 9-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I’d thought I was prepared for the twisting, spinning, stomach-churning sensation of being sent literally years through time and who-the-hell-knew how far across the universe. I had psyched myself up for it, prepping sort of like you would when you were about to go on a rollercoaster. But it didn’t help. My internal organs still felt like they wanted it to leap through my throat to get free, and I was so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. Not that there was much to see. Coming through the transport, I was encased in the same meteor-like stone that Tristan had arrived in a year earlier. There was nothing to see except for stone all around me. 

I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell we were falling fast. Also spinning. There was a lot of spinning. My vision (such as it was) kept fading in and out as my consciousness flickered. 

Then, before I could even hope to collect myself, we hit the ground. The spell on the meteor absorbed all the impact, sparing me from being killed by making the rock surrounding me shatter into a thousand tiny pieces while leaving me standing there. 

Well, standing there for about two seconds before the whole spinning/falling sensation caught up with me. Then, rather than looking like some kind of heroic badass arriving in the nick of time, I mostly just face-planted onto the ground while struggling not to lose the entire contents of my stomach. Urgh, that was really bad. Worse than I remembered. Was going backward in time that much harder? Was it the way Petan and those guys did it, with the whole meteor thing? 

Either way, it sucked. But hey, at least the fact that I had the Seosten bodysuit meant I didn’t have to show up totally naked or anything. 

Plus, all my recent training had done one thing, at least. It gave me the push I needed to focus through all of that and activate the beacon spells I’d brought with me. There were a dozen of them, all locked into various coins and stones I’d enchanted with spells to send an emergency alert to every god damn person who could help. I didn’t even take the time to look at where I was or anything that was around me first. I just forced power into those beacons. Whatever happened to me, if Fossor smacked me down in two seconds, at least the others would know where to come. Sariel, Prosser, Athena, Gwen, all of them. They could finish the job if I couldn’t.

With that reassuring thought (well, as reassuring as the thought of being skewered in two seconds could be), I managed to shove myself back to my feet, weapon in hand, as I took in my surroundings quickly. Even with the flares activated, there wasn’t time for me to lay around and indulge my stomach’s rolling. 

I wasn’t, as expected, in a building. Instead, I had appeared in what looked like some kind of open rock quarry. The place was huge. So huge, in fact, that the dark limousine sitting nearby would’ve had to drive full-speed for several minutes to get from one side to the other. That and the bulldozer next to it probably looked like children’s toys from the top of the quarry, so far above me I could barely see it. 

But none of that mattered. Only one thing did. Stopping Fossor. This was my last chance. And I was going to make damn sure that son of a bitch didn’t pull off his psychotic fucking plan. Whether it was me or one of the people I had just summoned for help, he wasn’t going to get away this time. One way or another, whatever it took, he was going down today. No more games, no more delays. I was going to save my mother and put that bastard in the ground where he belonged. 

Or die trying. But, well, I knew which option I preferred, at least. 

And speak of the devil, literally. Even as I straightened and focused, the back door of that limo opened, and the man in question emerged. He stared back at me with an expression that was clearly incredulous, though he was trying to force it back behind a mask of indifference. “Felicity,” he announced flatly, managing to control his voice despite everything as he regarded me with one hand holding the canteen he used to spread ashes. “You are truly a wonder.” 

Still working to calm my stomach and avoid throwing up in my mouth, I shot back, “Yeah, give me a few minutes and you’ll wonder what happened to your spleen and lungs.” 

Fossor, for his part, had clearly gotten himself under control by that point. My sudden arrival may have taken him by surprise, but he was good at rolling with surprises after all these centuries. Now, he was staring at me dangerously, obviously re-evaluating various thoughts he’d had. “Tell me, where did you disappear to in the future? I know someone took you off course, but the level of power and foreknowledge that would take….” He trailed off, chuckling quietly. “Clearly, my attempts to reacquire and contain you were… or will be, rather unsuccessful.”

“Nah,” I shot back sharply, “You found me just fine in the future. Then we bonded, you had a total change of heart, and switched sides. You even sacrificed yourself to send me back to the past to stop the you back now. It was a whole emotional thing. Whoever plays you in the movie version is totally going to nab an Oscar for it.”  

Yeah, from the look he was giving me, the man wasn’t buying it. Probably because even he knew he didn’t have a fucking conscience that could be reached anymore. Slowly, his head shook. “I do hope you aren’t trying to buy time for those beacons of yours to work,” he abruptly informed me. “After all, I would have had to be remarkably stupid not to adapt from your last attempt.” 

As my heart sank at those words, he raised a hand to gesture around us. “These stones you see all around us, think of them as a sort of jammer, my dear. They cannot stop your signal forever, that much is true. But they will absorb the energy of the spells long enough that, by the time your allies get the message, it will be too late.” He winked at me. “You see, I learn from past experience too. Now then,” he added in a low, dangerous voice as his eyes narrowed at me, making it clear that he wasn’t playing around anymore either. “Where is my sister?”

Yeah, this was bad. I had known, somewhere in the back of my mind, that Fossor could have adapted to all this and been ready to stop any beacon spells I had. But I’d hoped he wouldn’t have had time to worry about that in between getting his spell ready once more. It hadn’t been more than a few days since I’d been sent forward, so both Petan and I had thought he wouldn’t have had time to create and set up a whole new defense against those beacon spells. 

Now, as it turned out, he hadn’t needed to. He just set up his new spell in this quarry full of beacon-absorbing rocks. Because that was totally fair, gods damn it. 

“In that case,” I forced myself to retort while pointing the bladed end of my staff at the man who had hurt my family so much, “I guess I’ll just have to delay you until that spell gets out, won’t I? And I’ll tell you where your sister is as soon as you tell me where my mother is, you fucking rapist piece of shit.” 

Fossor, in turn, straightened a bit while squinting at me. “Your mother, hmm? After everything you’ve been through, all that you’ve seen and experienced, you’re still a child crying out for her mother. In spite of everything, you still haven’t grown at all from that helpless little girl I met over a year ago now. You’ve learned nothing.” 

“Don’t think so?” I retorted, staring him down. With that, I shoved down every doubt, every fear, every bit of uncertainty. I pushed all of it into a little box and locked it away. None of that mattered. I was here. I had to stop this son of a bitch. I had to delay him until those beacon spells got through and help could get here. Then I spoke three more words. Quite possibly the last three non-spell words that I would ever speak. 

“Let’s find out.” 

I ran. Not away. I ran toward the man, toward the monster who had hurt my family, who had destroyed so many others. I ran toward the creature who had nearly wiped out humanity all those centuries ago with his Black Death, and who was trying to do so again with his new spell. As Fossor stood, waiting to receive me with what looked like a mixture of annoyance and amusement warring for dominance on his face, I crossed the distance between us. One more chance. I had one more chance to stop him. 

Not that he was going to make that easy, of course. Before I’d crossed even half the distance between us, with another hundred feet or so still to go, the man raised both hands. And with that simple gesture, an army of figures appeared in my way. They were a mixture of ghosts, appearing out of nowhere, and zombies who clawed their way out of the ground right under my feet. One hand in particular popped up right near my foot, trying to grab my ankle in its crushing grip. But I was faster, snapping my staff down, without breaking stride, to cut the half-rotted hand off before it could catch hold. 

A ghost reared up in front of me, and I dove into a roll to go under it, while speaking a single command word to power the ghost-fire spell that I’d already attached to my weapon. The staff lit up with a pale blue glow, as I shoved it up through the ghost while passing under it. With a scream, the ghost literally exploded into a spray of ectoplasm and light. 

Two more zombies had pushed their way out of the ground, and were trying to grab me while I was rolling. But they never had the chance. Even as the pair straightened to put themselves in my path, a cloud of super-heated sand flew over my head and tore into them. The cloud was so hot, it literally burned a hole through the two undead monsters. One of their heads came off at the neck, while the other’s head basically disintegrated entirely under the blazing hot sand. 

I was back on my feet then. With a sharp gesture, I sent my heated sand out to one side, lashing with it like a whip. A whip that took the heads off three more zombies, cleaving through their necks. In the same moment, I hurled my staff to the other side, sending the bladed end through a ghost that had gotten near me before recalling it to appear right back in my hand as I threw myself into a sideways flip, barely clearing the raised arms of the zombie who was halfway out of the ground ahead of me. Landing, I swept my staff behind me, taking the head off that creature with that single swipe, while spitting a glob of resin at the next one, sticking his hands to the ground as he was trying to push himself up. One more step, and my foot lashed out, colliding with the head of the trapped zombie with enough force (considering I could lift a good three thousand pounds by that point) to pop it like a watermelon, sending blood everywhere. A lot of it sprayed up on me, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. None of that mattered, except stopping that son of a bitch.  

The son of a bitch in question was already turning away from me, walking in the other direction (ashes appearing from his canteen to fill the ground along his path) even as a whole new swarm of his minions appeared to fill in the space between us. He was trying to act like he didn’t care, like he wasn’t worried about me. But he also wasn’t sticking around. He wasn’t gloating, wasn’t waiting. He was keeping me busy with his summoned cannon fodder and heading off to finish his spell, before everyone I had called could show up. He knew he was on the clock, and he was going to beat it.  

Fuck, fuck! No! I couldn’t let that happen! I had to be faster, had to be better, had to get to him. What I would do if I managed to get that far… I’d focus on that then. Right now, I just had to get there.  

Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere if the swarm of ghosts and zombies had anything to do with it. They weren’t exactly the world’s greatest tacticians. All they were doing was attempting to mob me, drag me to the ground into a dogpile. But that would be enough. If they caught me, if they managed to hold me down, Fossor would win. 

My staff hit the ground twice behind me and once to either side, leaving a concussive mine with each tap. Behind me, as I continued running, the mines blew apart the zombies who were trying to catch up with me. A quick burst from the staff sent me flying up and over a small, otherwise impassible horde, and as I flipped over in the air, my weapon shifted to its bow form just before I shot an energy arrow down into the group that sent them flying in every direction, opening up a small hole for me to land in and keep running. 

Straight ahead of me, an enormous, seven-and-a-half foot tall ghost rose out of nothing and lunged toward me. There was nowhere to go. So, I didn’t go anywhere. I straightened my staff vertically, throwing it ahead of myself before focusing on it. With the power I’d gotten from Fossor’s own arena, I stopped the staff entirely. It froze like that, vertical in the air. Granted, it would only be frozen like that for a few seconds, but for that time, it was totally stopped. The huge spectral form slammed into the ghost-fire-enchanted staff and blew apart with a scream. In the next instant, I was running again, staff summoned right back to my hand. 

Unfortunately, that was the moment when another ghost slammed into me from behind, knocking me forward a step, just as a zombie raked at me with rotted fingernails. It would have torn through my throat, but my skin was tougher than it should’ve been, and the nails just left a series of long scrapes across it. Still, it was enough for another ghost to appear, grabbing hold of my left arm, while still another zombie shoved itself out of the ground to catch my right leg. They were trying to shove me down, trying to pile themselves on top of me. More were coming, more piling in, forcing themselves over me to keep me from reaching their master. Clawing at me, ghost hands tearing at my eyes, rotted corpse fingers digging into my stomach, against my throat, shoving into my mouth. 

Enough! 

With a thought, I shoved every bit of my willpower into the ghost who had hold of my left arm, forcing it to let go against all of Fossor’s orders. My arm was freed, and I adjusted the grip on my staff while pointing with my right hand to summon a pair of quick portals. The first appeared just behind the head of the zombie who had me by the leg, while the other appeared just above the ghost that was trying to shove his semi-solid hands through my eyes. Grunting out a curse around the fingers of the zombie who had his fingers in my mouth trying to rip my tongue out, I triggered the grapple on my staff, sending it shooting out and down, where it ripped straight through the head of the zombie on my leg. The grapple continued on after splattering that skull, passing through the portal to hit the ghost in front of me. With the ghost-fire spell active, the spectral figure screamed and blew apart. That, in turn, freed me enough to snap my other hand out. In that motion, I summoned a brand new silver knife from a storage spell on the sleeve of the bodysuit. The knife cut through the throat of the fucking rotting corpse whose hand was practically halfway down my throat, and I followed it up with a kick that sent him flying. 

It didn’t matter. More were coming. No matter how many I killed, they just kept swarming over me. Dozens and dozens of them. I would never get all the way through them in time to stop Fossor, or even catch up with him. He was already most of the way to what I now saw was some kind of altar set up on the far side of the quarry. And there were so goddamn many figures between the two of us. 

A ghost appeared in front of me, but I focused all the Necromantic strength I had on forcing it to remain completely still, frozen there in my path. 

“Fossor!” I screamed out the name with every ounce of volume I could manage. 

It was enough to make the man turn back to me. Whether he meant to gloat, or simply see just how desperate I looked, I had no idea. But it didn’t matter. He slowed and turned, looking at me through the assortment of creatures blocking the way between us. And that was exactly what we wanted.  

From my pocket, I summoned a small stone, shoving my hand outward straight into the chest of the ghost I’d forced to remain completely still, while practically spitting, “Mar’ah.” 

It was Hebrew for vision or mirror. In this case, that acted as the command word to activate the spell on the stone I was shoving into the chest of the ghost. A spell that took him from being mostly transparent, to being reflective. The ghost now acted as a mirror, showing me a vision of myself. 

In Vegas, I’d picked up the ability to travel through reflective surfaces. Which meant I needed two, of course. But Rahanvael was already on that, appearing directly behind Fossor as he turned toward me. Even now, she was entirely invisible to his power. He had no idea she was there. And she used that, turning herself reflective as well. 

Fossor knew something was wrong. He was already turning back. But it was too late. I threw myself straight into the ghost in front of me, passing through him and coming out of Rahanvael before driving the blade of my staff right through Fossor’s shoulder with a scream. 

It did nothing to him, of course. He simply passed the damage off to… well, any of the literally billions of hostages he had back on his own world. But I was at least rewarded with the look of surprise on his face. 

That surprise, unfortunately, quickly morphed to anger, as he lashed out with a backhanded fist that knocked me to the ground. My staff fell from my grasp. I heard Rahanvael shout my name, only to stop as Fossor’s hand snapped up, forming itself into a hard grip that seemed to stop her in mid-motion. It looked like he was choking her telekinetically or something. She grabbed her throat, frozen there. 

“You…. have been… a most disappointing sister,” the man snarled, even as his foot lashed out to kick me in the face. It knocked me backward, dazing me just as I was trying to push myself up. “And you, a most disappointing daughter.” 

Abruptly, something slammed into him from behind. It hit the Necromancer so hard, he went flying past us before hitting the ground. The impact obviously didn’t hurt him, of course. He even managed to summon a new ghost to disintegrate into ashes for himself to land on. But it did knock him away, forcing his invisible grip on Rahanvael to vanish. 

“I told you,” my mother sharply informed the man while stepping up, offering her hand down to me. “She is not your daughter. And she is far from disappointing.” 

Fossor was back on his feet, turning to face the three of us. “What?” His voice actually cracked just a little. “No. What? You can’t be here. This is a trick. You shouldn’t come out of the time spell for another five minutes. I calculated it perfectly.” 

“Yes, well,” my mother retorted while hauling me to my feet, “when I realized what you were about to do, I used a little magic of my own. It absorbed just enough of the power you put into your spell to make me pop out a little bit early, and a little bit out of the way. Over there.” She gestured off into the distance. 

“Now then,” Mom continued while staring down the man who had done so much damage to our lives. “Where were we?” Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and I felt the power she was summoning to fill herself with, felt the strength that was suddenly making the air all-but vibrate around us. “Oh, yes,” she announced. “I remember.

“We were about to kill you.”

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Homeward Bound 8-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: There’s a bit of info about the upcoming first non-canon chapters in my first comment after this chapter, for those who are interested.

Talking to the Meregan was hard. Like, really hard. Standing in front of them and telling them what had happened to the people they left back on their own world was one of the worst experiences of my life. And that was saying a lot after all the time I had spent with Fossor. Not only did I have to tell them about Fossor killing and enslaving even more of their surviving people, but there was also the fact that what little was left of their world had been taken over by the fucking Fomorians. What very little strides they may have made toward putting their planet back together had been entirely wiped out, and the people they cared about who were left behind were gone. Whether it would have been better if they were taken by Fossor or the Fomorians was both a hard question to answer, and entirely meaningless semantics. The point was, they were dead. And I had to stand in front of them, people I liked, to tell them that. 

When I was done, the assortment of Meregan I had been talking to were silent for a few long moments. I couldn’t bring myself to even try to say anything reassuring. I could barely look at them. The disgust I felt, the horror of what I had to report, made me physically ill. 

Finally, Purin cleared his throat. The nine-and-a-half foot tall, bronze-haired man stood with his hand on his son’s shoulder. Dis, by that point, had grown from his previous height of about six feet up to seven. He’d looked like he was about ten years old (discounting his height) at the time, and now looked like… well, he looked like he was only about twelve or thirteen in the face, height be damned. It was a strange effect, seeing a young boy who nonetheless towered over me. 

“We are being thankful to you, Friend-Flick Chambers, for being telling us of your information, sad as it might be. Please do not being mistaking our quiet for anger to your person.” 

“It’s okay,” I managed quietly, forcing the words out. “I get it, believe me.” 

Dis spoke then, his voice cracking a bit. “Family-Father, if our world-people are not-being, what will be of us?” 

His father whispered something in his ear, before picking the boy up to hold against him. Then he looked to me. “Friend-Flick Chambers, our people should being speak of what we are to doing.” It was obvious that he could barely get the words out. And equally obvious that he and the rest of the Meregan people were were trying to put on a brave, strong face after the horrible news I’d given them. That was for me. They were trying to conceal their despair in front of me, either because they didn’t want to upset me, or they were just proud, or… something. The point was, they couldn’t grieve properly with me standing there gawking. So, with useless apologies spilling from my mouth, I promised to come visit again and left them to their own privacy. 

Hurriedly retreating, I waited until I was on the next floor up before turning away to start punching the metal wall repeatedly. A violent series of curses escaped me, punctuated by more apologies. Who was I apologizing to? Everyone? Did it matter?  All I knew was that I wanted the wall in front of me to be Fossor’s evil, psychotic fucking face. I wanted to fucking kill that monster more than I had ever wanted to kill anything in the world. He deserved to die. 

Rahanvael appeared nearby, watching me silently and with an expression that made it clear she  completely understood the reaction. I had a feeling that, if she had been solid, she might have punched a few things too. Because, of course, the Meregan world was only one example of what had to be many similar atrocities she had personally witnessed her brother perform over the millennia. She had sat helplessly by, unable to do anything but watch as her once-beloved twin had become this… this thing. How would that have affected me? What if it was someone I loved as much as she had loved her own brother? What if my dad had turned into this kind of monster? What if Fossor had succeeded at turning my mother into a vicious, evil attack dog who could do those things? I had no idea how I would have continued to exist after that. 

Finally, I stopped, exhaling long and hard before turning to look at the ghost. “I’m sorry.” My voice was barely audible. I had to swallow a hard lump in my throat. “I’m sorry about everything you’ve gone through. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the stuff you’ve seen. I’ll definitely never understand what it’s like to be that helpless. And I hope to hell I never understand what it’s like to have someone I care about that much turn that… wrong. I’m sorry. I just can’t… comprehend.” Despite my intentions,  the words sounded hollow and fake to my own ears. They were completely inadequate. But what was I supposed to say?  What could I ever possibly say that could make the slightest bit of difference? Nothing, really. I couldn’t say anything. 

Despite that, however, Rahanvael offered me a very faint smile. There was deep pain there, along with incredible sadness and remorse. There was a sense of loss in that smile that I couldn’t even begin to understand. Still, she spoke in a quiet voice. “We all carry our own regrets, Felicity. We all have our agonies. Yours are not invalidated by another’s. What should be compared between two people is not the depth of each other’s woes, but the strength that each gives to the other. Take two pieces of cloth. Poke holes in them in random places. In one poke more than the other. Then sew them together. They will each cover one another’s holes. Though the one with less damage covers more, even the heavily damaged cloth will help to cover the few holes within the less damaged cloth. They aid each other, cover one another. That is what it is to be alive and to find those you love. It is to be a damaged cloth, sewing yourself to other damaged cloths, to protect and cover one another’s flaws and pains.” 

Once she finished saying all that, I stared at her for a moment. Finally, I managed a quiet, “The real tragedy here is that I can’t hug you.” My eyes closed briefly before I made myself look at her again with a firm nod. “We’re going to stop your brother. We’re not going to let him get away with his plan. We’re going back in time and we’re going to put a stop to him once and for all. We’re going to end him so you can have peace. I promise. I’m not going to let up until he’s gone.” 

She met my gaze silently for a few long seconds. Then her head inclined, chin set. “Yes. And I will be there with you. I will see the creature my brother has become killed and put out of its misery. Out of everyone’s misery. Whatever it takes, he will die. He has gone too far.” 

The two of us continued to talk for another minute before being joined by a Rakshasa in what looked like a highly decorated cloak, who approached from the other end of the hall. “Much apologies for the interruption, Madam of Chambers. The Lord of Petan would like to know if you require sustenance at the current time. The evening meal is being prepared.” 

Food. At the word, my stomach growled. Yeah, I definitely needed food. With a quick nod, I thanked the Rakshasa, and he began to lead me to dinner. Rahanvael had vanished once more, but I felt her with me. She was there. She would be there, as the two of us went back to face Fossor once more. Because whatever happened, we had to stop him. Everything depended on it. 

Everything.

******

Six days later, enough power reserves had been scraped together to use the time travel spell on Dexamene, so she could be sent back to create the time loop. It was going to take even longer after this to pull enough power together to send me back. Probably at least a few weeks, according to Petan. It was more important right now to establish the loop so all of this didn’t get undone. I really didn’t want to get shunted into some other time line where I ended up imprisoned by Fossor again after all. Besides, I was already in the future. I could really take as much time here as I wanted as long as I ended up traveling back far enough to stop Fossor. 

Of course, the whole ‘time travel to solve the problem’ thing was even more complicated than I’d already known. According to Petan’s magic experts, people even more skilled than he himself was, who had put their entire long lives toward the study of such spells, traveling to a time and location (by location they meant an entire world) where a very powerful spell had recently happened (like the casting of the original Bystander Effect) with effects that traversed such a large area, was all but impossible. Basically, such huge spell effects fucked with time travel magic, as well as a number of other kinds. It ended up raising the cost of such spells exponentially, up to levels that no one could reasonably afford even if they had the resources of the full Seosten Empire, or those of Fossor himself. 

Those skilled with the magic we needed could find those blips on the timeline. And, of course, there was a massive one right near the time I needed to go. It blotted out entire months afterward where there was so much excess power in the air that it would have cost multiple Seosten Empires worth of magical energy just to send me there by myself. 

That, of course, had to be the spell that Fossor was planning to cast. There was no other explanation. A spell that size, with effects that far-reaching, would definitely explain the blot over the timeline. He had cast it. He’d cast the spell, which told me… which told me…

Oh, don’t think about it. I was going to change things. I just had to get back to a point before the spell had happened. Except, even that was difficult. Passing a point like that on the timeline was hard too. Because it apparently tended to try to suck you into it as you passed, particularly if your intended destination was temporally close to it. ‘Like a black hole’ was the explanation I’d been given. It was another reason that going to the past to change things didn’t tend to happen. There were a lot of others, apparently. But the kind of power it took to muscle all the way past all the powerful, world altering spells throughout time to get to where you needed to go made it nearly impossible to do without wrecking the magical economies of entire galaxies. 

Sending one person to a time of limited powerful magical effects happening was one thing. But to get me to the place and time I needed to get to if I was going to stop Fossor from pulling this off was a whole other story. I had to go back to a point after the last time I was there, but that point was so close, relatively (within a week) to when the big spell actually went off that I would be pulled toward that event. They were going to have to spend extra power just to stop me from being pulled right to when the spell went off. The way it had been explained to me was, again, like a black hole. I was supposed to imagine being on a ship that was being pulled in by that gravity well. The closer I was to it, the harder the ship’s engines would have to work to stop from being hauled in and crushed. 

What it came down to, in the end, was that I had to skirt the very edge of the line of safety. The time travel spell had to put me right near when Fossor would cast his own spell, without letting it be too late. We had to let Fossor’s spell pull me in partway, then gun the engines, so to speak, right at the very edge of the effect going off. I would be walking a very fine line between going back too early (thus destroying myself by ending up existing in two places of the same world at the same time) and showing up too late and being swallowed mid-transit by Fossor’s spell. 

It was, in a word, dangerous. Dexamene, at least, was going to a whole different universe than the one my version of Earth was in. She was going to the Meregan world. That made things a little easier, though not completely. It would still take an awful lot of power to pull off, even just sending that one girl by herself. 

Speaking of that one girl by herself, we were standing in one of the designated spell casting ribs. There were a group of over a dozen powerful mages of all different shapes and sizes (including Petan himself) putting the finishing touches on the spell while Dexamene and I stood off to the side. I gave her a look. “You’re pretty brave, you know.” Over these past few days I had gotten to know her better, and I could tell why Tristan liked her so much. The last thing I wanted was for something terrible to happen to her, especially at the hands of the monsters I was sending her toward. 

Blushing a little, she shook her head. “Not as brave as you. You’re going to go right into the Gaawdef’s den when it’s your turn.” 

“I’m not sure what a Gaawdef is,” I admitted, “But I’m fairly certain that a planet that’s been taken over by the Fomorians is probably right up there on the danger scale.” With that, I turned and put a hand on the Nereid’s shoulder. “Be careful, seriously. I know I told you everything you need to say to make this loop work. But I have no idea what you’ll be going into back there. Please, just stay with Elisabet and be as safe as you can, okay?” 

She nodded, spontaneously leaning in to hug me. “You be careful too. And Flick… please, if–when you get through the thing with that evil Necromancer, come get us, okay? I know there’s a whole world to hide on, but… but don’t leave us there with the Fomorians any longer than you have to.” I could hear the fear in her voice that she was trying to keep buried. The girl was rightfully terrified about what would happen if those things captured her. Terrified almost beyond comprehension, and yet she was still doing this. 

Yeah, it was easy to understand why Tristan considered her such a good friend. 

I swore to her that we would be there as soon as possible, and then the girl stepped away to have a last few minutes with her parents, who kept shooting me dirty looks. They weren’t happy about their daughter being sent back in time like this, no matter what the circumstances. Neither of them would talk to me. I understood their anger, and wasn’t going to push them. 

Before long, Petan announced that it was time. Dexamene hugged her parents tightly, tearfully promised to see them again someday, and moved to the center of the spellforms that had been drawn on the floor. As the chanting for the spell began, she looked to me, and gave a thumbs up. A gesture she must have learned from Tristan, of course. 

Despite all the fear and doubt that had crept into my head, I returned the thumbs up. We had to pull this off. She had to create the loop that got me to this point, and then I had to go back to the time right before Fossor used his spell, and stop him. 

The chanting took a good ten minutes, during which Dexamene had to stay right where she was, with minimal movement or speaking, which would have disrupted the casting. Finally, it worked. With a rush of power even I could feel, the girl disappeared. 

One down… me to go. 

******

Three and a half more weeks after the point when Dexamene had been sent back. That was how long it took before Petan’s people had enough power to send me as well. Three and a half weeks of sitting around, worrying about what would happen, training to fight better, and experimenting. 

Experimenting, in this case, with my new powers. Or at least the ones I’d managed to figure out in the past month. A lot of what I’d put together was thanks to long discussions with Petan and others on the ship about what I’d managed to kill lately coupled with a lot of trial and error.

I’d managed to figure out what the whole deal with being able to make those sticks hover very briefly in the air was, at least. It came from an Alter I’d killed back in Fossor’s place called a Lemevwik. At full strength, a powerful-enough Lemevwik was capable of rewinding, pausing, or fast-forwarding the effect of outside forces on inanimate objects. Throw a glass at the floor and watch it shatter, then the Alter could rewind the object to be in one piece. Drop it toward the floor from high, and then fast-forward the effect and it would shatter before it ever hit. Or would fall faster. The Lemevwik could apparently choose exactly how to apply the power, making the glass simply fall faster, or making it shatter before it hit.  

The pause worked much the same way. Throw the glass at the floor and pause the effect, and it wouldn’t shatter until the pause ended, even after landing. Or it would hover in the air. Again, just like with the fast-forward, the specifics of whether the entire glass was paused or simply the effect of hitting the ground was up to the Lemevwik. I supposed because they chose whether they were pausing the effect of gravity or the effect of the physical force of the impact. 

It wasn’t just throwing something down, of course. The power also applied to things like erosion, acid, physical force, anything similar affecting an inanimate object. 

I couldn’t fast forward, apparently. I could pause or rewind outside effects like that on a physical, non-living object for a whole five seconds. Yeah, it was pretty situational, and didn’t work to stop or rewind magic, but could still be pretty useful. 

I’d also figured out one other thing I’d gotten during the time with Fossor. It allowed me to designate any single word and know whenever anyone within a certain radius of about a quarter-mile used that single word. It didn’t tell me everything they said, just one word before and one word after. I would get a sudden flash in my head of those three words and the face of the person who said them. 

Again, really situational, but still. I supposed there could possibly be a use for it at some point. 

Meanwhile, from the fighting against all the Fomorian creatures, I’d picked up mainly bonuses to my regeneration, my overall strength (I was up to deadlifting about three thousand pounds, which was pretty nifty), running speed (I could hit forty miles per hour outside of lion form and without boosting), and general toughness (needles and simple metal blades used with normal human-level strength had a really hard time penetrating my skin, and I could tank a punch pretty well). 

Two unique powers that did stand out were the ones I had picked up from that big Deer-Snake thing, and the Ape-Croc. From the former, I had gained the ability to spit globs of that same hardening resin stuff. I could only work up enough to encase an object about the size of a shoebox, and wasn’t quite as strong as the exact stuff that thing had spit, but still. It could be really useful in taking a weapon or something out of play for awhile. 

Then there was the Ape-Croc. I did not, unfortunately, have the power to stop an entire ship from lifting off the ground. The way Rahanvael had put it, those things, at full strength, could prevent the ship’s engines from achieving the thrust needed to escape the planet. Technically, what the thing did was dramatically multiply the force needed to move something. The full creature could, indeed, stop an entire giant ship from getting more than a few feet off the ground.

In my case, it wasn’t quite that strong. Basically, by concentrating on a non-living object, I could greatly increase the energy or force needed to move it. I could slow down a car or motorcycle to a crawl. I could use it on the ball that someone was throwing and make it fall far short from how far it should have gone. Or even make bullets drop before they reached me. That kind of thing. 

They were all good things to have, and I was pretty sure I was going to need absolutely everything when it came to beating Fossor and saving my mother. 

“Are you positive that you’re ready for this?” That was Petan himself. We were back in that same magic room, with even more complicated room designs covering the entire place. The same mages were focused on finishing touches while their leader stood in front of me, his expression that of obvious concern. I’d gotten to know the man pretty well over the past month, and he’d gotten to know me as well. I was sad that it would probably be years before I could see him again.

“Ready as I can be,” I confirmed. “I have to do this. I have to get back there and I have to stop him. There’s no other choice.”

“You have the flares,” he noted, referring to the beacon spells I had already prepared. “The second you arrive, use them. Do not hesitate at all, do you understand? No matter what you see, trigger the flares.”

I gave a quick nod. “Trust me, I have no interest in fighting him by myself. As soon as this spell dumps me into position, I’m calling in all the reinforcements. He’s not getting away this time.” 

Pausing then, I impulsively stepped over to embrace the man. “Thanks for everything. I couldn’t do any of this without you. Especially with all you’ve done to help me get ready for it.”

Petan was clearly taken aback, but returned the embrace after a moment before stepping back. “You can do this, Felicity Chambers. Good luck. And we will see you on the other side, someday.”

With that, he moved to join the rest of his mages, and the chanting picked up. I stood there for ten minutes, trying not to move very much. My attention was focused on the ground, keeping my breathing slow and steady. I could feel the reassuring presence of my ghost companion, and the certainty that, whatever happened next, the wait for dealing with Fossor and saving my mother was finally over. It was time. 

The chanting reached its crescendo, and in a flash of blinding power, I was gone.

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Homeward Bound 8-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N: Hey there, guys and girls! Sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled chapter. This is just a very important update regarding Patreon benefits AND brand new story content. As everyone should know, people who donate five dollars a month receive every chapter 24 hours early. And those who donate ten dollars per month get chapters early and are able to request 500 word snippets of any subject they’d like to see covered. But now there’s a brand new benefit, and a new tier of support to go with it, with added bonuses.

Have you ever wanted to see how a certain part of these stories might have gone if something different had happened? Have you ever wondered what would happen if, for example, Tabbris revealed herself to Flick and Lincoln long before the beginning of the story? Or if Joselyn hadn’t been taken by Fossor? Have you ever wanted to see a full-on crack/joke chapter about Herbie the rock meeting Felony the unicorn from Summus Proelium, or a take on Flick being taken in by Eden’s Garden when Miranda was? Do you have any niggling little fanfic-like ideas that you’d like to see the original author of the story write? Well here’s some good news! 

From now on, the last Sunday of each month will feature two new, totally non-canon chapters. One for each story. These chapters can be about anything within the setting (however altered it may be) of my stories and can follow any continuity. They are simply fun, interesting, fuzzy, or even tragic and terrifying little what-if chapters for any random ideas that may occur to you wonderful readers. 

A few details: These non-canon chapters will not appear here on WordPress, but they will be linked to and readers here will be notified about them (and there will be a section of the table of contents for them for readers to keep track of). Instead, they will be posted on Patreon. For 24 hours, they will be limited to Patrons of any level. No matter how much or how little you pledge, you will have access to them immediately. After those 24 hours, the chapters will be made public for everyone to read. If you are a patron of any level, you get 24 hour advance access. If not, you still get to read them one day later. So it’s all good!

Now, as for added bonuses for Patreon tiers! If you are or become a FIVE DOLLAR donator, you will be allowed to VOTE on which non-canon chapter idea will be written for each story in that particular month. You will receive one point per story to use to vote for your favorite out of the list of ideas that month. If you are instead a TEN DOLLAR donator, you will receive two points to vote for each story (so two points for the Heretical Edge ideas and two points for the Summus Proelium ideas) and you will also be allowed to suggest one idea per story to be added to the list each month. If you have an idea you’d like to see voted on to become the non-canon chapter for the month, all you have to do is become a ten dollar patron and suggest it. 

Finally, the new tier of support. Those who are so ridiculously and incredibly awesome as to pledge at the fifteen dollar level will get every previous benefit. In addition, they will get eight points to vote on official end-of-arc interludes rather than the six points that ten dollar donators get (or the five points that five dollar donators get, and so on) and seven hundred word snippets each month instead of five hundred. But, more relevantly to these new chapters, fifteen dollar patrons will be allowed to submit TWO ideas per story per month instead of the one idea that ten dollar patrons are allowed, and you will get three points per story to vote with. 

So that’s the long and short of it. New Patreon tier and added benefits, and new non-canon chapters every month for those who really want to see my personal take on your own random ideas about how these stories could be different. Thank you all for reading this whole thing and for going on this entire literary journey with me in general! If you are interested in learning more or signing up, you can get to the Patreon itself right 

And, without further rambling, on with the new chapter.

Boy, it was a good thing that I had such deep reserves of stamina and energy. I’d thought that before, of course. But seriously. I’d just had that huge confrontation with Fossor, only to get flung several years into the future and end up dealing with that whole space station situation. Then I sent myself here to this place, worked my way through trying to get to Petan, then ended up going toe-to-wing with a fucking starfighter and even managed to make the pilot realize I wasn’t trying to fight. But then, before anything good could come of that, the goddamn Fomorians showed up? What vindictive god’s shoes did I piss on to get to this point? 

Okay, okay. No time to spend worrying too much about that. Not with a literal invasion army of Fomorians descending upon the world. I had to get to Petan, and fast. Because I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be sticking around here fighting these assholes for that long if he could help it, not considering the kind of forces that were raining down on this place now. As I understood it, his army was about quick, unexpected strikes against outposts. It wasn’t about holding a planet against the Seosten, let alone the Fomorians. Yeah, unless I really missed my guess, Petan and his people would make a fighting withdrawal and get the hell out of here as soon as possible. So unless I wanted to be left behind to make some special new horror show friends, I had to move. 

So, I turned back the way the trucks had been going when they were attacked, starting to run. Three of the clearly biological Fomorian ships, living leviathan-like monsters in their own right, were visible in the sky. They were like tentacled, bloody, pus-filled clouds. Clouds that had extended those tentacles down all over the place, attaching themselves to the ground. And through those tentacles, I could see pulsing egg-like shapes descending. They looked like giant snakes regurgitating something they had swallowed. Their landing force. The living ships put their tentacles against the ground and sent their ground forces down through them, spitting them out once they reached the planet. Massive egg-shape after massive egg-shape were sent through those tentacles. I saw the end of one tentacle far off in the distance to my left, almost too far away to see properly. The thing opened up just as one of those egg-shapes reached the end, disgorging some kind of ugly, bloody flesh-ball. The ball cracked apart and melted away, revealing what looked from a distance like a giant curled up salamander the size of a bus, with two heads and a couple ballista-like projectile horn extensions on its back. Which it used almost immediately to launch those horns toward a passing starfighter, tearing through the cockpit. Unfortunately for the pilot, the horns were attached to some kind of rope-like muscle, which yanked the tethered ship down toward the heads to be devoured. 

They were too far away for me to help. Too far away for me to do anything but stare for that brief, yet eternal moment. I just hoped, prayed, wished that the horrific screams were only in my imagination. Please. Please just be in my imagination. 

I couldn’t stand there anymore. I had to keep going before I became a target too. Granted, I was just one small humanoid figure, but still. Standing here was stupid and it was just going to land me in the same position as that pilot: as lunch for one of the Fomorian monsters. And being a meal for them was the best-case scenario of what might happen if they got hold of me. Worst case, ending up taken for experimentation… no. That couldn’t happen. 

Not that my actual destination was any better though. The Fomorian ships were centered directly above the area I was currently running toward. Which… well, yeah. Clearly I was going the right way, but that didn’t exactly make me feel any better about the whole situation. I was running toward the Fomorian invasion force. Because I had no other choice. It was down to ‘get there and find Petan’, or ‘be left here.’ No matter how scared I was to be running toward the horrific monsters, sharing a planet with them and no one else would be a hell of a lot worse. Emphasis, bold, italics, and underline on the word hell. 

But I had to go faster. I had to get there right fucking now. Running was going to take too long. Given the size of the Fomorian invasion force, Petan’s people would probably be clearing out of here like all of their collective pants (and the rest of their clothes) were on fire. I had to find a way to get there before that happened. But how? Both trucks were gone. The starfighter was gone. I had a certain level of enhanced speed, but not to the level I needed if I was going to get there before my ride took off.

Wait. Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I focused on shifting into the werelion form. In mid-run, I dropped to my hands and knees, using the Seosten boost to make the shift much faster. Lion, lion, be a lion. No matter how fast it was, and it was really fast, it felt like the shift took forever. Every nanosecond counted right now. I was wasting time that I really didn’t have. 

It happened. I made the full shift to the enormous lion form. Interestingly, the environment suit shifted with me as well, just like the Seosten bodysuits. Which, I supposed, made a sort of sense. The suit had adjusted its size for me when I put it on.

In any case, things were immediately worse in some ways. Because now I could smell a lot better. I could smell those massive, ugly tentacles. I could smell the fires. I could… I could… no. Ignore it. Push it aside. Deal with the nightmares this whole thing would induce later, because right now, I had to go! 

Then I was running on all fours, hitting about sixty miles per hour as I tore off across the field. The main target of the Fomorians. That was where I had to go. That was what I had to get to, no matter how much that prospect scared the living shit out of me. Ignoring my fear, ignoring my revulsion, ignoring almost every sense of self-preservation I had, I ran toward the main Fomorian attack force. 

There. There! I could see buildings. I could see people and creatures. I could see a ship. Petan’s ship. It had to be, given the concentration of forces all around it. The engines were running, the thing clearly about ready to get the hell out of there. But they couldn’t leave yet. There were so many Alter forces mixed up with what were obviously Fomorian creations. They’d been taken by surprise, ambushed by the speed of the Fomorian attack force before they could withdraw. The fighting was barely visible from where I was when I first noticed it, but even then I could tell that it wasn’t going that well. The monsters were quickly overwhelming what I could only assume was a mix of Petan’s troops and the Seosten-enslaved outpost defenders. 

Three more steps, and then something abruptly slammed into me from one side. Fuck! I hadn’t even sensed it coming at all. What–tentacle. It was a tentacle with some kind of suction thing on the end. A tooth-filled suction thing, given the sudden stabbing pain in that side. No wonder I hadn’t sensed the damn thing, because it wasn’t an item. It was living. A tentacle shot at me by some Fomorian monstrosity that looked like a giant snake, a good fifty-feet long and as wide around as a bus, with the head of a deer, complete with antlers. Only the ends of the antlers were tentacles, like the one that had me. The deer-snake was yanking me toward it, unhinging its jaw. Which was creepy enough to see a snake do, but seeing what looked like a deer’s head do it? I might never fucking sleep again. 

Actually, I might really never fucking sleep again if I couldn’t stop this thing from eating me. As my lion-body was dragged toward that wide, ugly, horrific mouth, I focused on one power I hadn’t used all that much: the ability to make muscles spasm by touching someone. It was another one that I’d gotten from the fight to save Avalon back in the hospital. 

Instantly, as soon as I made the tentacle spasm, it dropped me. In mid-fall, I shifted back to my human body, calling my staff to one hand while lashing out with it. The bladed end cut deep into the tentacle even as it tried to recover and grab me once more, making the thing jerk backward. 

Landing in a crouch, with my staff held out to one side, I watched the mass of tentacles atop the snake-deer’s head as the thing seemed to reassess what kind of threat I was. It could wait, but I couldn’t. Time. I didn’t have time to waste dealing with this damn thing. 

To that end, I ran straight at it. No hesitation, no delaying, no games. I was going to stop this monster from being a problem, then get to that ship. 

Unfortunately, the monster itself wasn’t exactly planning on being cooperative about that whole ‘being dealt with’ thing. As I ran that way, the deer-head reared back, and it… spat some kind of gooey, gross… ball of phlegm or something at me. I threw myself into a roll, passing under it. But part of the gross snot-like ball hit my staff, tearing it from my hand in mid-roll. 

No big deal. I just focused on the power to bring things that I’d been holding within the past few seconds back to my hands. Instantly, I had my staff back. Aaaand it was encased in some weird resin stuff. What the fuck? I spared a glance that way even as the monster sent two antler-tentacles swinging at me. Yeah, the snot-stuff had expanded to encase the staff and then hardened. It was like the weapon was encased in some kind of amber or something. Fuck.

Judging the space between the incoming tentacles, which were swinging at me from either side, I silently cursed the fact that I suddenly couldn’t use my staff to boost myself through the air with a blast of kinetic force. But I could literally boost myself, using the Seosten gift. Time slowed a bit, giving me a chance to launch myself up, tucking my body to dive under the nearest tentacle before flipping over in the air to plant my feet against the other one. Encased-staff still in hand, I raced along the length of the tentacle toward the head. It was moving and not exactly a huge thing to keep my footing on anyway. But I managed it, thanks to the dexterity and balance-enhancing powers I’d picked up. Between those and the Seosten boost, I managed to run a good distance along the tentacle before the monster fully realized what was happening. Its head was turning to look at me, even as the thing curled its tentacle downward and in, trying to bring me toward that suddenly opening mouth. I could see its jagged teeth, along with another ball of that phlegm stuff it was hocking up to spit at me. Fuck, fuck, fuck. This was going to be close. So close.

Just as the deer-snake hocked that horrible loogie at me, I launched myself up and forward, throwing my body into a flip so that the nasty ball of stuff passed directly under me. In mid-flip, I focused on making my staff bigger, trying to break the stuff that was encasing it. At the same time, I focused on super-heating all of it except for the part I was holding. 

Yeah, that didn’t work either. The hardened amber stuff just got really hot and grew right along with the staff. Fuck. Still, coming back right-side up through the flip, I hurled the encased staff, spear-like, straight at the thing’s right eye. Hot as it was despite being covered in that hardened crap, the staff seared straight through the monster’s eye. 

Suddenly in agony, the thing reared up and back with a scream. In that second, I wasn’t flying straight at its mouth anymore. Instead, I crashed into its throat. The force from my impact cut the thing off in mid-scream, while I viciously stabbed one hand against the throat I’d collided with. My fingernails hardened and extended like claws, dragging down through the throat for about a foot before managing to catch, jerking me to a stop. 

I dangled there by one hand while summoning the burning-hot staff back to the other, holding the only safe part of it. With a grunt, I shoved the weapon up into the throat as hard as I could. Hot blood, mucus, and who the hell knew what else all erupted over me as the thing screamed, choked, and thrashed violently in every direction. Unable to hold on, I was thrown clear, flipping over in the air to land on my feet. 

The monster was thrashing, screaming, antler-tentacles flailing in every direction. Time to end this. For that, I judged my aim carefully, shrinking the staff in my hand before launching it like a spear once more. The weapon flew straight through the hole that I had made in the creature’s throat at an angle, lodging itself in the space there. 

With a thought, I made it grow as large as possible. Suddenly, the ends of the white-hot staff were poking out of both ends of the creature’s throat. The screams grew hoarse, even as I summoned the staff back, dove to the side in a frantic roll to escape the next flailing tentacle, and launched the briefly shrunken weapon one more time through the same throat-hole at a slightly different angle. It lodged once more, and then I made it grow, almost entirely severing what was left of the neck from the head. 

Finally, it was enough. The monster fell, collapsing against the ground before giving a violent series of death heaves as the staff returned to my hand at a thought. And I felt a sudden rush of pleasure that made me stumble, gasping briefly. 

Wait, fuck. I didn’t have time for this. Grimacing, I glanced at my staff. Still covered. Fuck. I was going to have to find a way to get this stuff off it (not to mention off of Jaq and Gus, who were trapped), but not right now. At least I’d demonstrated that it wasn’t entirely useless. Shaking my head, I murmured an apology to my mice and shoved the staff back in its sheath before taking off to run once more. I had to go lion again, had to use its speed to make up for lost time. That whole thing back there honestly, objectively had gone pretty fast. But it felt as though it had taken forever, given the way every second counted. 

Racing along the ground in lion form once more, I approached the outskirts of the base. The fighting was intense and horrific. The bodies lying everywhere, even out here at the edges of the base, were torn apart. Some weren’t dead yet, only wishing they were. The mixture of Fomorian and Alter pieces, the blood everywhere, the whimpering and crying, the pleas for death, the… it was awful. I couldn’t focus on it. I couldn’t deal with what I was seeing. There wasn’t time to process, there wasn’t time for anything. Not considering the fighting that was still going on. I could see more Fomorian creations of all shapes and sizes, swarms of monstrosities working to tear through any defenses that were left. In the distance, the biggest monster of all loomed over everything. It was sixty feet long and had to be over twenty feet in height. The thing was some kind of fused crocodile-gorilla… creature. It looked like a giant gorilla body with an even larger crocodile head attached above the ape head. The long arms of the gorilla would reach out to grab anyone within reach, hauling them screaming and flailing to be eaten by the crocodile part. 

“Flick!” The voice of Rahanvael cut through my thoughts as I stared at the monster in the distance. “That thing, Fossor had to deal with them before. They put out a field that can prevent the engines of a ship from achieving the thrust needed to escape a planet’s atmosphere. 

“So you’re saying we have to kill it or no one’s getting out of here,” I muttered while shifting back to human shape, still moving along the edge of the damaged outpost wall. Still hearing the cries of those in the distance.  

The ghost-girl appeared in front of me, nodding. “But Flick, you are a Heretic. The moment you show yourself to the group in there, the Fomorians will focus everything on obtaining you for study. They want Heretics to take apart.”  

“Of course they do,” I mumbled. “Guess that means I need to play this a little more…” My voice trailed off as I came around the corner of one mostly-demolished wall. Two figures. One was very clearly one of the Seosten-aligned troops, given the look of his uniform. He was a wiry humanoid with onyx-like skin. The other figure, meanwhile, was apparently one of Petan’s men, a reptilian-man holding some kind of grenade launcher. Not that he was going to be doing anything with it, given the fact that the first man’s own weapon, a double-bladed sword, was shoved through his chest. 

The onyx-skinned figure violently kicked the dead Petan-aligned soldier off his weapon, spitting something in Latin that amounted to saying he’d never be allies with traitors or something. Right, so this guy had seen the Fomorians attacking and still chose to kill Petan’s soldier just for being ‘on the other side’, instead of focusing on the bigger problem. 

“Well,” I whispered while creating a quick portal. “Thanks for making this decision easy, I guess.” The other end of the portal appeared right next to the guy. He snapped that way, one end of the sword coming up. But he was too late. My hand popped through the portal, pressing against his face as I focused on possessing him. 

Then I was there, inside the man. I felt him jerk and scream inwardly, flailing against my control. And he nearly managed it. Strong as I was, this guy fought so hard it was all I could do to shove him back down. For a few seconds, the body we were sharing stumbled from one side to the other as we struggled for control. 

In the end, however, I forced him down. Shoving the man’s consciousness down, I added a quick promise that I was going to try to keep him alive, unlike him with the guy he had just killed. Then I stooped, grabbing the grenade launcher from the dead figure. 

“Okay,” I announced out loud, using my temporary host’s mouth while holding the grenade launcher in one hand and the double-bladed sword in the other. 

“Let’s go kill that thing.”

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