Rahanvael

The Storm 21-14 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For a few seconds after the monkey man suddenly showed himself like that, no one said anything. No one even moved. Hell, I was pretty sure even the group of Revenants were surprised. And why wouldn’t they be? It probably wasn’t often that they saw a beetle crawl out of someone’s pocket and transform into a humanoid being who said he was going to have some fun. That was… yeah, I was willing to say that was a decidedly odd occurrence for anyone. 

On the other hand, he basically said he was here to help. Not in that many words, but still. He was definitely focused on the Revenants. And he was smiling. No, grinning. Not to mention sort of… vibrating with excitement. It was like he’d never been happier in his life. So, okay, I’d had a crazy beetle-monkey person in my pocket all this time. Fantastic.  

And yet, even now, the Revenants hadn’t moved. They were just standing there staring. They didn’t say anything or move. They just watched, as though weirdly fascinated by our new arrival. I could sense their confusion and… it kind of felt like uncertainty. It was like they could smell something on him. Something that made them hesitate. 

Mom found her voice first. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing here, but perhaps the time for questions is after we survive the army of Revenants. You seem to be willing to help, and we could use every bit of that we can get. Whatever you’re here for–” 

She was interrupted as the man offered a lopsided but seemingly sincere grin. “Hold that thought for a second. I’d love to chat soon, you have no idea. Being silent for days ain’t my idea of a good time. But first I’ve gotta go handle this.” He nodded over his shoulder. 

The Revenants whom I hadn’t actually managed to freeze had finally reacted by that point, pulling themselves together before the three in front lunged with a collective shriek that sent a chill down my spine. It made me want to fall on the floor and cover my head, even after all my training. There had to be a magical component to it, something that made it even more terrifying than it should’ve been. Whatever it was, the shake was powerful, especially when the other nine followed suit. Twelve Revenants, all giving off that bone-chilling, horrific scream as they rushed toward us, intent on creating new bodies for the rest of their kind to take over.

This… this was going to be bad. Even if we had one Revenant on our side with Persephone, they had twelve. A dozen of what had to be some of the most dangerous beings in the universe if they were inside a dead body. And these were. The bodies wouldn’t last that long, but that didn’t help us in this immediate moment. 

Mom, Persephone, and Nevada were already moving in front of Shiori and me. Mom held her hand out and let Mercury jump inside to empower her. Asenath and Stasia went to the left, a pair of vampire blurs, while Twister transformed into a rhino right on their heels. Robin and Judas went right, just behind Persephone, who was going straight toward the nearest Revenant. She didn’t even hesitate for a second before jumping to defend the rest of us from her own kind. 

I had no idea what Denuvus was going to do, but she knew that getting what she wanted depended on the rest of us surviving. And she probably also knew that her own survival strongly hinged on that too. Maybe she would actually help right now.

Meanwhile, Tabbris had already jumped back into me. We could maybe take out a couple of them if we lined up a good shot with her wings, or at least put them down for a bit. We could do something to help. Besides, I still had my Necromancy, so maybe I could slow these things down a little bit, or even stop a couple of them in their tracks. I’d done so with Persephone before. I was under no illusions that I could do it with all of them at once, but it could still help. 

Between all of us, depending on how much help this monkey-man was, maybe we could survive this. But we were going to have to act quickly and try to avoid getting split up and cornered. If these things managed to… to kill one of us and get one of their companions into the body… oh God, it would be a bloodbath. Raising my staff protectively, I focused on–

I focused on the monkey-man himself, who abruptly vanished from where he had been standing. There was no blur, no sign of movement at all. It was like he’d teleported, but I could tell he was just that fast. One second he was standing there, grinning as the Revenants rushed toward us, and in the next, he was standing on the far side of the three who had been in front. The–wait. Two. There were two the–oh. He was covered in blood, bits of bone, and… other things. The Revenant who had been in the middle was uhh… gone. He was gone. The body had basically completely disintegrated. What little was left of it was splattered across the walls, floor, and ceiling. 

The two Revenants who had been on either side of that third one kept going forward, still shrieking. But the monkey man pivoted on his heel, hands snapping out. And again, it was like he hadn’t actually physically moved. I didn’t see his arms, which had started down at his sides, rise up and extend outward. They were just in one position one instant and in the other the next. His arms moved so fast my eyes couldn’t even track any sort of motion. They were at his sides and then they were extended, with his hands on either side of the two Revenants’ heads. And then he slammed them together. Two Revenants at once. They were in fresh bodies, dead within the past few minutes. So they were definitely at the peak of their strength. And yet, when this… whoever he was slammed their heads together, they burst like that Gallagher guy smashing a watermelon. 

Everyone else had come to an abrupt halt at the sight of three Revenant-possessed bodies dropping like that, even as the monkey-man tossed the two now-headless corpses against either wall. 

Just like that, three of the Revenants were dead. The remaining nine clearly hadn’t been expecting that sort of resistance from all of us, let alone just one. They seemed about as shocked as we were. At least for a moment, before the nearest one let out a renewed scream and threw itself at the monkey-man’s back as he stood still facing us. 

Yet again, there was no visible motion. This stranger was so incredibly fast that whenever he really moved, we only saw the results of it, and his ending position. One second he was just standing there with the Revenant lunging at his back, and in the next, he had pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees to face the monster while catching both of its extended arms. The thing screeched, until the man ripped its arms right out of its shoulders with little apparent effort. As a look of what seemed like surprise crossed the Revenant’s stolen-corpse face with the loss of its arms, the man’s tail slipped down to wrap around one of its ankles. An instant later, it was yanked off its feet and slammed into the nearby wall by that tail with enough force to basically liquefy the thing. All while the monkey figure walked through the space it had just been standing in, as casual as could be. 

Another–no, it wasn’t a flash of motion. It wasn’t a blur. There was literally nothing to see at all. He was over there, and then he was right in front of me. It was like he teleported, but not. He was physically crossing the distance that quickly. That was just how fast he was. 

“Boop.” He poked me in the nose with that slightly furry finger. And yes, he literally said ‘boop.’ “Could ya do a Monkey King a favor and release those three over there? This whole thing would just be a lot more fun if they had every advantage they can get.” 

“I… uhh…” I stared at him, then over at the Revenants who remained. Or all of them, rather. Because to be clear, the other Revenants weren’t actually destroyed, they had simply lost their physical bodies. Those ones appeared among their brethren, looking sort of like ghosts but more… jagged was the best explanation I could think of. Their form was half-ghost, half-lightning bolt. It was like there were spikes sticking out of every side of them, and they were wearing long, very cut-up and tattered cloaks. Their faces were angular, almost like Fomorians but twisted even more. They were also taller than any human, standing a good seven and a half feet tall at least. Nothing about them was easy or fun to look at, and the very sight seemed to send an instinctive shiver down my spine. These were terrifying beings, whose sole purpose seemed to be to possess a corpse and do as much damage as possible. Given the chance, they would tear all of us apart and use our bodies to kill even more. And this guy wanted me to release the few I had managed to trap. 

Mercury, who had stepped out of my mother, spoke up. “Do it, Felicity. It’s okay.” 

So… I did. I relaxed my power, allowing those three Revenants to move. Which put the total back up to eleven. Eleven of these monsters, who looked like they were recovering from their surprise at what had happened over the past few moments and were starting to move again.

“Hey, thanks, kid!” The monkey-man flashed me another brilliant smile. “Now you don’t have to get me a birthday present!”

With that, he spun back that way and took a few steps toward the Revenants while reaching up to what looked like a toothpick tucked behind his ear. He tugged it out, spinning the little stick between his fingers before it transformed into a larger staff, red with gold ends. He continued allowing it to spin in a couple more circles before striking the ground with it hard enough to send a long, six-inch-wide crack through the floor. Standing there with the staff extended out and down like that, the man lifted his head to stare at the remaining Revenants. He said nothing, and I couldn’t see his face. But whatever they saw there made the rest of the monsters screech in unison before charging in to attack. 

Their charge was met by the man himself. Or at least, I assumed it was. Just like before, we didn’t actually see him move. But we definitely saw the results. He vanished from where he was standing, and the Revenants immediately began to be torn apart. Their bodies and pieces of those bodies were sent flying in every direction, like they had gone into a blender. I caught a glimpse of the man as he stopped short to the left of one of the monsters. It turned to look at him, just before the staff lashed out. Not that I saw him raise it or swing. It was at his side, and in the next instant, it was extended out that way into the space where the monster’s head had been. The head itself had snapped all the way around to face the wrong direction and was dangling backwards and upside down from the force of the blow. Immediately after that, the man’s foot was planted into the monster’s chest, completely collapsing its body inward. 

While that body was falling, one of the intangible Revenants in their natural form appeared behind the man. I started to focus on making it stop, but the end of that staff abruptly slammed into its face. He didn’t swing it backwards, the staff simply extended and grew out that far. It shouldn’t have been able to hit the thing in its ghost-like body since I didn’t see any ghost-fire, but it did anyway. And did it with enough force to pierce straight through the Revenant’s head, making the whole thing disintegrate. 

That was essentially how the rest of that entire fight went. Not that it was much of a fight on their parts. The Revenants were completely outclassed in every possible way. While the rest of us simply stood there and watched, he ripped through them as though they were toddlers facing some sort of marine supersoldier ninja. They didn’t stand even the slightest chance. Whether they were possessing bodies or in their natural ghost-like states, it didn’t matter. This stranger killed all of them without any actual notable effort. A few of them actually landed blows, but I was pretty sure he allowed that to happen because he was… playing with them? Either way, they didn’t do any visible damage. They hit him and he just shrugged it off. Actually, I was pretty sure he seemed almost disappointed that they weren’t capable of hitting him even harder. He actually made what sounded like a tutting sound under his breath when one landed a solid blow right to his face that didn’t even make him turn his head. At best, it made him roll his eyes. 

They stood no chance. That much had been clear basically from the very start, and it only grew more so as he continued what seemed like a simple warm-up exercise for him. Soon, all fifteen monsters were completely gone. They had been utterly destroyed in every possible way, leaving nothing but the broken remains of the corpses they had been possessing. As for the monkey-man himself, he stood in the middle of the pile of bodies, tapping his staff thoughtfully against the floor a couple times before shrinking it down to tuck behind his ear once more. 

This seemed to be impossible. I knew just how dangerous those Revenants should have been. It had been drilled into my head over and over, and I had seen how strong Persephone was. Even with all of us together, we shouldn’t have stood a chance against all of them at once, not without a hell of a lot more preparation than we’d had, particularly. We should have been in for one of the worst fights we had ever seen, a fight that may very well have ended with all of us dying. Instead, this single man had casually dispatched all of them without seeming to even break a sweat doing so. It was complete and utter insanity.

And yet, that had really just happened. Every single time I allowed myself to think that I had officially seen so much that I could never possibly be surprised again, something like this happened. Although, to be fair, it was going to take a lot to top the beetle I’d found on a random asteroid station and put in my pocket transforming into a monkey-man who could casually trounce a small army of Revenants as though they were small children. 

“Flick?!” That was Shiori, giving me a wide eyed look while spreading her arms to either side and an expression of complete confusion. Her gaze was questioning. “I know you’ve got a habit of meeting powerful people and keeping secrets until it’s the right time, but–”  

“I swear I didn’t know!” I shot back before turning my attention to the man in front of us. “Who the hell are you?!” My voice may have been a bit higher than it normally would have been, but in my defense, monkey-beetle who just destroyed a bunch of Revenants. 

Mom had stepped forward then, eyes narrowing as she raised that sword protectively just in case. Not that I thought it would do much good if this guy did decide to be a threat. ”Girls, perhaps we should maintain an even, calm voice right now. And not start shouting demands.”

She had a good point. It was just her, Shiori, Asenath, Nevada, Twister, Judas, Stasia, Robin, Persephone, and me. And Denuvus, if she was going to contribute. Which might have seemed like a lot, but this was a man who had torn through twelve Revenants like they were nothing. Something made me doubt even all of us together would pose that much of a threat to him. 

“It’s him, isn’t it?” That was Persephone. She was addressing Mercury. “It is really him.” 

“I… uhh… uh huh.” Looking completely at a loss for words, the Seosten nodded slowly. 

The monkey man, whoever he was, didn’t seem to be phased in the least by our reactions. He just poked one of the dead bodies with his foot curiously before looking up. That same broad, lopsided smile had returned. “That was fun! I knew you’d have some interesting things to do, Felicity Chambers.” 

“Me? I–” As the others turned to stare my way, I swallowed. “You… you were the beetle I found on the station. How did you–I mean what were you–I mean what?” My voice audibly cracked through that whole thing. I had no idea what to say just then, the words simply came out in that line of clueless babbling. How on Earth was I supposed to react to this? Who was this guy?

“My name is Denuvus,” the woman behind us spoke up, clearly focusing on the man in question. “Tell me who you are and what you want.” 

Instead of listening to her immediately as basically anyone else would have, the man cocked his head to the side, staring at the woman for a moment before brightly replying, “Say please.” His voice was cheerful, with only the barest hint of reprimand. It was like he didn’t even really care all that much, but wanted to make a point. 

His reaction startled Denuvus, which was pretty wild to see. Her head snapped back as though she had been struck, mouth opening and shutting a couple times before she managed, “What?” 

“You were being rude and demanding,” the man informed her while his tail idly poked at another dead body, as though he was trying to find one that was still alive so he could fight again. “I was going to introduce myself anyway, but now I think you should say please. I don’t appreciate being told what to do.”

“Oh… my God.” That was Robin. Or rather, Hood, given their amber-brown eyes. “It’s you. We thought you didn’t actually exist, that people were simply conflating and exaggerating stories that–oh.” The Mevari seemed completely subdued by all this. Which was understandable, given, well, yeah. They turned to look at Denuvus. “You should really do as he asks.” 

The rest of us stared expectantly at her as well, until she gave a heavy, annoyed sigh. “Fine, who are you, please?” 

Her words made the man in question smile even more. “I’m so glad you asked! I go by many names, more than we have time to list! But the one you should know is Sun Wukong. I am the Monkey King.” He had straightened up by then, hands on his hips as he literally puffed his chest while continuing proudly. “And I’m here to save the–hang on.” 

Those last two words came as a blurted aside as the man vanished from where he had been standing. Suddenly, he was standing next to Shiori. His fingers dipped into one of her pockets, producing a package of peanut butter crackers. Holding it up in both hands, the furry man sniffed it intently a few times. Then he just… ate it, package and all, in a few quick and noisy bites. 

Even as he finished doing that, the sound of running footsteps made all of us quickly look over the way we’d come. Trice, Miles, and the others came rushing into view. And they were accompanied by the same man who was standing in front of us. Or his twin, or… something? 

Either way, the newly arrived version of the so-called Monkey King spoke in unison with the other, who had just finished the crackers. “Hey, what’re we all standing around for? There’s supposed to be a lot more of those things, right? So let’s go have some fun!

“I promise I won’t hog all of them this time.” 

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The Storm 21-13 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I had been expecting a lot of different potential problems from the moment we decided to come to this planet. And that list had only gotten more extensive after Denuvus showed her hand. But, despite all my paranoid assumptions about what was possible, I had to admit that I’d never considered the possibility of facing off against an army of Revenants. That had genuinely never entered my mind. Silly me.

Denuvus was already turning toward Nevada while I was still reeling from that news. “You and I can work out the rest of our differences later, once we’re all safe. Call the ship back now so we can leave.”

“Leave?” Mom gave her a sharp look. “If you think we’re just going to let all the people on this planet die to save ourselves—“

“My—“ in the midst of obviously nearly using her power to make my mother do what she wanted, the woman caught herself and let out a heavy sigh as her eyes glanced around to take us in. Clearly she didn’t like what she saw because another sigh came. “Do any of you have the slightest idea what sort of damage only a few Revenants can do, let alone that many of them? This world should be evacuated with a fleet of ships. That’s the only way to save them, short of bringing your entire army of Heretics and allies here but as far as I know, we don’t have either of those handy. The one ship you do have might be pretty special, but even jumping back and forth constantly could only evacuate a very small portion, and we’d be risking being found and killed ourselves.“

Mom started to say something, but I spoke up first. “The people on this planet have already been through enough. They spent thousands of years under Fossor’s thumb. Now they’re finally free of him and trying to pull their society together and you want us to just walk away and let them all die?”

The woman gave me a hard look. “And if all of you die in this completely impossible fight, what will happen to everyone back on Earth? She is the face of the rebellion.” She pointed to my mother. “And I hate to be the one to inform you of this, but you’re not too far behind her. Besides which, I already told you how important you are for stopping the Fomorians once and for all. Think about the trillions and trillions of beings in this universe who are going to die if you throw your entire life away on this single impossible thing.”

Mom gave a soft, humorous chuckle. “That’s the thing you don’t get, the thing you’ve never understood, no matter how powerful you are. Choosing to fight against impossible odds is exactly how you accomplish impossible things.” She let that hang for a second before adding, ”Besides, there might be a way to stop the Revenants without fighting all of them. They were contained before, and those Tribals might know how to do it again. We just have to get there and convince them to help us.”

As she said that, Mom looked at Denuvus. “I think that’s something you could do, don’t you?”

Right, she had a point with that. If there was any time when it would be right for the woman to use her power, it was now. On the other hand, I wasn’t entirely sure these guys would actually have a way to do that. It sounded easier said than done for me, but I wasn’t going to say that. Not when it was already written all over everyone’s face. We all doubted it would be that simple, but we also didn’t have a better idea. 

Sure enough, Rahanvael informed us, “It won’t be as easy as just walking up to them. There are automated traps and defenses in the way. The tribals activated something as soon as the Revenants started to leave. I’m not sure what it was, but Persephone and the others were teleported back down into those same tunnels and… well, let’s just say it’s not nearly as friendly anymore.”

Asenath flipped a knife in her hand. “Great, so the rest of us just have to get Mistress Mindcontrol through all those defenses so she can tell those guys to call this whole thing off.”

Miles spoke up. “Don’t trust her.” His voice cracked a little bit with emotion. “She’ll use you for whatever she can get and then throw you away.”

Denuvus made a soft noise of disagreement. “Please, I thought we were getting along quite well, all things considered.”

From the look on the boy’s face, he disagreed and had a few things he wanted to say about that. But he shoved it down and turned to me. “Just be careful, okay?”

I agreed, then turned back to Rahanvael and told her to lead us back to where the others were so they could help us try to find the tribals from there. She obliged, and soon we were running back through the tunnels. Denuvus was clearly unhappy about the whole idea, but there wasn’t much else she could do. Her ticket off this planet was with us, and if she used her power to try to force us not to do this, Erin wouldn’t bring the ship back.

Speaking of which, I could hear Nevada telling the girl to stay away, and that she should only come back when there was absolutely no other choice. Or once we handled this situation.

I couldn’t imagine what it was like being Erin right now. She had spent this entire time secretly tagging along somehow without being seen, had actually pulled off the impossible task of stealing the Jitterbug right out from under Denuvus’s nose, and now this was happening. She was stuck out there, wherever she had taken the ship, simply watching while we tried to stop an army of Revenants from annihilating all life on this planet. 

Soon, we were moving through much smaller tunnels. These had simple rock walls instead of metal and looked like they could fall apart at any moment. And wasn’t that just a particularly lovely thing to imagine. On top of everything else, we could end up buried in a cave-in. Things just kept getting better and better.

On the way, another thought occurred to me. “Hang on! Persephone already told us who created her and the other Revenants. It was the Reapers. The one in the lighthouse created her specifically! So how could the ancient Seosten be responsible too?!” 

Denuvus snorted. “As though this would be the first time those people cheated off of someone else’s work in their quest to create new weapons.” 

With a weak nod that way, Rahanvael agreed, “It does seem that the old Seosten found… something from a cache of Reaper tools that instructed them on how to create the Revenants here.”

Groaning, I looked over my shoulder at Mercury. “No offense, but your people and their tendency to poke planet-destroying superweapons just to see what happens can be really annoying!”

“None taken,” he assured me while we all kept running. “I have seen even more of that than you!”

Denuvus looked toward me then. “You know, everything else aside, this would be a wonderful time to call in whoever it was that you had take out my mercenaries. They seemed pretty effective.“

My head shook. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we have no idea who did that. I just figured it was some of those tribal people.”

She snorted disbelievingly. “They are hardly that effective. Those soldiers were incredibly trained, powerful, and capable. Whoever took them down like that had to have been one of yours. Are you quite certain you don’t have another tagalong you didn’t know about?”

It was a fair question. I really didn’t know what was going on with that. But either way, there was nothing to be done for it right now. “The point is,” I replied, “we don’t know who did it, so we can’t just ask for help.”

Mercury shook his head. “Whoever it was, I hope they decide to chip in again. Because something tells me we’ll need it.” 

“What about my friends?” Miles put in while we were running. “Where are they? Maybe they can help with this.”

Grimacing to myself, I replied, “Yeah, and so could Trice, if he’ll play nice.” 

Denuvus lifted her chin slightly. “He will do what I ask of him. And no, I do not mean with my gift. Trice has become quite trustworthy, as far as I am concerned.”

Yeah, there was a lot I could say about that, but now wasn’t the time. Nor can I argue with having someone else who could help deal with anything we ran into. If those defenses were enough to keep Persephone and Robin pinned down, then we were obviously going to need all the help we could get.

Part of me didn’t want to stop at all, not considering how cataclysmically dangerous this whole situation was. But on the other hand, better to let them out now and tell them what was going on as we ran than to try to bring them up to speed in the middle of a fight.

By that point, we had reached a four-way intersection in the tunnels, and Rahanvael was already turning toward the eastern one that led further down. Before following, however, I took the playing card sized piece of cardboard out of my pocket and unfolded it into the box. Then I looked at Denuvus. “You’re absolutely certain you can keep him from fucking us over? And take your control off the others.”

She, in turn, shrugged. “It will likely have worn off by now, for the most part. But yes, I will not give them any more orders. Even if this entire exercise is pointless.”

Ignoring that, I opened up the box and went down the stairs. Miles came with me, and we both saw all the others in the pocket greenhouse. The rest of his team were on one side, while Trice stayed on the other. It looked like there had been a lot of arguing, which stopped as we appeared.

“Miles!” the red-haired girl blurted, and they all ran our way, dozens of questions exploding from them. 

Anxious as I was, I let him do the talking, and he was thankfully pretty quick about it. He told him we didn’t have time to get into everything, but we were trying to stop a whole bunch of Revenants from killing everyone on this planet, and that the only way to do that seemed to be to get Denuvus to where those tribal people were so she could force them to call off the attack. 

Needless to say, the others all had a lot more questions. And so did Trice, from the look he shot me. But they held off, and we went back out with them.

Trice, understandably, was a little surprised to see that Denuvus really was there and cooperating. But the second we were out and I had folded the box down, we were off and running once more. Miles was apologizing to his team for leaving them, and for everything that happened, which he apparently took a lot of responsibility for. Meanwhile, Denuvus informed Trice of what was actually going on and why she had no choice but to play along. 

For the most part, I shut all of that out and focused on following Rahanvael. How bad was it out there already? Had the Revenants found bodies that they could use? It couldn’t be that hard for them on this world of all places. They probably had a veritable all-they-could-eat buffet of useful bodies to possess. Have they already started killing people? Every second this took, every delay, every step, made me wonder if it was already too late. How many people were going to die because we were too slow? Yes, logically I knew it would take more time than that for them to get started, let alone ramp up to planetary genocide levels. but logic didn’t help how I felt. 

And what did I feel? Guilt. I felt guilty. Persephone was here because of me. Denuvus was right in this case, even if it was accidental. If we hadn’t come here, this wouldn’t have happened. Nevada had things under control. Even if we weren’t here at all, she would have had Erin take the ship and then forced Denuvus to negotiate for it. This whole situation would have been completely fine. 

But no, we had come here. I brought Persephone, and those tribal people used her to let the other Revenants out. The only thing we had managed to do by showing up here was make the whole thing so much worse. Everyone who died now, all the people who ended up being killed by those Revenants, would be my fault. I had to stop this, had to save them. They had only just started to have their own lives again, their own society. They had only just been freed from Fossor. I couldn’t let this happen.

Mom seemed to know how I was feeling, because she tried to talk to me on the way. But before we could get into that, Rahanvael stopped short right next to an opening in the tunnel. She turned back toward us and spoke quietly. “There are several heavily armed and protected mechanical sentries in that hallway, accompanied by automated turrets and other defenses. You should be very careful.”

“Sorry, babe,” Twister replied, “Being careful‘s one thing we don’t exactly have a lot of time for.”

The tall blond guy from Miles’ team spoke up. “Uh, whoever she is, the girl’s right. From what you guys have been saying, there’s no time to play around.”

Miles nodded. “Yeah, so let us run interference. We’ll block for all of you and fight these things so they don’t follow. You guys just run straight through. We’ve got this.“

I could tell Mom wanted to object, but there wasn’t time, or any better ideas. Trice, to my surprise, volunteered to stay behind as well. He said it was because he had grown fond of these guys and wanted to make sure they didn’t die. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but I wasn’t going to object to them having some help.

Or maybe this was a trick and he would just run away and abandon them, but either way, we couldn’t argue about it. 

In the end, Mom went first. She went straight into that hall and threw a couple small rocks that were enchanted with concussive explosives. The rest of us were right behind her, just as the spells went off. I caught a glimpse of a dozen gray and black robot things along with gun barrels lining the walls of a large, circular room. They were all knocked aside for the moment by the explosions, and we ran straight through. Miles and his team, along with Trice, split off to stay behind and cover the rest of us.

Meanwhile, we went straight for one of the three doors lining the far side of the room. It was the one to the right, where Rahanvael was already waiting. Behind us, we could hear the fighting start up in earnest, but we just kept going. I hoped, with everything I had in me, that they would be okay. But we couldn’t help them, not now. We had to stop those Revenants. 

We ended up going through a couple more rooms full of enemies. This place was set up to repel incredibly heavy invasion forces. On the plus side, Rahanvael informed us that she had taken a look, and we were actually already past the majority of the defenses. Most of them were further out. If we had to go through everything, we wouldn’t have had the slightest chance of getting there in time.

We went through what was there as quickly as we could. They were just robots and turrets, not that big of a deal, aside from the delay they created. Honestly, a part of me was surprised and impressed that they were still functional after all this time. Seriously, they have been stored down here for what had to be hundreds of thousands of years, right? Something like that. And yet, they were still effective enough to put up a fight. 

Maybe if they weren’t getting in the way of us saving this world from complete genocide, I’d be even more impressed. As it was, I really just wanted all of them to blow up and get the hell out of the way. 

Thankfully, we finally made our way to the room where the others were. As it turned out, the thing that was keeping them pinned down wasn’t the robots or anything. They could’ve torn right through them, just like we were. But there was a trap in there. It created a vortex of sorts that was trying to suck them in. The vortex was a portal, and no one knew where it went. But it was pretty obvious that going through it would be a bad idea. The suction was strong enough that Robin had to plant their feet and hold onto Persephone, Stasia, and Judas. We could see them on the far side of that room, with the vortex portal swirling between us. I could already feel its power, trying to pull at me even though I was a good hundred feet away from the thing. It was also making a loud screaming sound that I had to shout over as I looked back to the others. “How do we shut it off?!” 

Nevada had already transformed her bracelet into its crate form, and was digging around to find something. “I think I’ve got something that can handle it, hold on. Come on, come on, where is it…” 

Denuvus looked like she was going to say something, but my mother shot her a glare that made the woman stop. But it was pretty apparent that she didn’t think much of Nevada’s ability. Probably because she’d never given her a chance. I would’ve thought that she’d reevaluate after the woman managed to trick her so thoroughly and pull the ship and all that treasure right out from under her, but apparently old habits died hard. 

Finally, she produced what looked like a simple frisbee. “We need to get this thing right over top of it without letting it be sucked inside.”

That was going to be an issue, considering the strength of that vortex. Even my mother was having trouble holding herself back from it when she moved even a few inches closer than where we were. How were we supposed to get that thing on top of the portal? Rahanvael couldn’t do it, the vortex was affecting her too. So solving the issue with ghosts was out of the question. 

“Give it to me,” Mercury announced. “I can stand in the middle of the thing without being transported, for a couple seconds anyway.” 

“No, not by yourself.” That was Nevada, holding her hand out. “Possess me, then channel your power through me so I can stand in there and activate this thing.” 

There was no time to discuss anything else, so he did just that. Then we watched as the possessed Nevada let herself be sucked across the room and into the vortex. I was terrified that she would just disappear immediately, but Mercury’s power held out. She was straining, pushing against its hold on her to hold the frisbee-like device up over her head. It clearly took everything she had and Mercury’s boost to make it happen. But finally, she managed to shove it up all the way over the portal. Then the woman clicked something on it, before releasing the thing. With a scream of effort, she threw herself away from the vortex, just as the frisbee opened up and extended downward to create a sort of egg-shaped metal shell around the thing. 

Immediately, the suction stopped. The vortex was still there, but it was contained for the moment. We ran past it, straight to the others. “Persephone!” I blurted. 

“I am so sorry, Felicity,” she quickly informed me, her gaze downcast. “It was not my intention to–” 

“Are you okay?” I interrupted, catching her by both arms. “Are you alright? They didn’t–I mean they didn’t do anything to umm… to change you, or control you, or–” 

“I am… well, but my others–the rest of my people…. they are not like me,” she weakly replied. “They will kill everyone here.” 

“No, they won’t,” I insisted. “We’re gonna do something about… uhh… that…” 

I had trailed off, because Persephone and the others were all staring past me. Turning to look, I saw a good fifteen figures standing next to the door about thirty feet away. They were… they were Revenants. I could tell that already. Revenants with dead bodies. The dead bodies of the Tribals we had been about to get Denuvus to talk to. They were already dead, and the Revenants had control of them. And right now, they looked very ready to add us to their collection of corpses. 

“My name is Denuvus, freeze.” As she said that, the woman in question stepped forward, her voice as firm as I had ever heard it. She was clearly focusing all of her power on the Revenants. 

And yet, they paid no attention. The Revenants simply walked forward, as though she hadn’t said anything at all. Great, so much for the easy solution.

Fifteen Revenants? We could maybe handle a few, between all of us. Especially with Persephone and Robin’s help, and my own necromancy to hold them off. But a dozen? This was about to be a slaughter. 

Even as that thought rushed through my mind, I held up both hands and dug deep for every bit of power I could muster. Stop them. They were undead. I’d stopped Persephone before. I had to stop these guys too. Taking a breath, I let it out while shoving my power that way, snapping a curt, “Stop!” 

I could feel that Necromantic power snaking out, twisting its way around the Revenants. It caught onto… three of them. Three. Of the fifteen, I managed to make three stop short. They strained against the force holding them, but couldn’t manage to break free. 

Which was just great, but it still left twelve. Still too many for even the rest of us. Or the rest of them. It took everything I had just to hold these three. I wouldn’t be able to help with the others. 

Then I felt a shift in my pocket of all places. Looking down with a gasp, I saw Marco the beetle climb out. Just as my hand grabbed for him, he flew off and landed in front of me, between us and the Revenants. Then he fucking transformed into a furry, humanoid figure with a prehensile tail just like he’d had as a beetle. Stretching out, the monkey-like man stood only an inch taller than I was, though I could see how tightly-corded with muscle his arms were under that thin fur. 

“Ahhhhh that’s better,” he announced while facing the Revenants. He twisted his head to the left, then right, cracking his neck each time before letting out a low groan of satisfaction. “You have no idea how boring the past few days have been. 

“Now I can finally have some fun.”

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The Storm 21-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Needless to say, Denuvus wasn’t exactly in the best mood right then. She had been on top of the world, getting everything she wanted while telling us whatever small amounts of information she wanted us to have anyway. She was in control, just like always. And now, out of nowhere and with no warning, Nevada had changed things. Nevada, the woman Denuvus had completely dismissed as any sort of threat, the one she had created out of the sacrificed corpse of her own sister, enslaved just to get herself powers, and now wanted to erase to bring back the sister she had sacrificed in the first place, had taken her completely by surprise. 

And seriously, Erin? Erin Redcliffe had been with us the whole time somehow? Hidden enough that none of us, including my mother, had any idea she was around? And now she’d managed to steal the Jitterbug right out from under everyone’s nose. I–I had no idea what to think of that. Obviously, I had a lot of questions. 

And so did Denuvus. The woman herself stood there, staring at Nevada while very clearly taking in this new information. For a second, I thought she might completely lose it and lash out again. Not that any of us could have done anything about that. Not considering she’d used her power to tell us to remain completely still and motionless. If she decided to do something drastic right then, none of us could intervene. But, of course, she had too much control for that. Which made her quite a bit different from Fossor. If he had been in this situation, well… I sort of doubted Nevada would still be alive, regardless of the consequences. 

Not that killing the woman would have prevented Fossor from getting answers out of her, but still. 

In her case, instead of lashing out, Denuvus remained still and silent as she absorbed this new information and decided exactly how she was going to deal with it.

Finally, she gestured. “Everyone sit down right where you are. Scratch any itches you might have and get as comfortable as you can without moving more than a few inches and without doing anything that could pose a threat or problem to me. Oh, and be quiet unless I ask you a question or you have something important to say about something that could be a threat to me. Then only tell me the truth.” 

That finally gave me the chance to slump down out of my frozen position. We still couldn’t do much, but I managed to look around at the others. Tabbris was next to me, and looked about as confused as I felt. Mercury was the closest to where the ship had been, and looked like he was trying to decide if it being gone was a good thing or not. 

Twister, Shiori, and Asenath, meanwhile, were obviously still digesting what Denuvus had said about Tiras. If she was telling the truth, there was no big bad Senny could pay back for erasing her father’s memory. He was already dead, thanks to Fossor of all people. 

Miles, on the other hand, wasn’t looking at anyone. He sat there, gazing intently at the floor as though lost in thought. I couldn’t see his face to read his expression or anything, but it was pretty clear that he was thinking about everything he and his team had been doing for Denuvus over the… however long they had been under her control. 

Yeah, I was still feeling pretty guilty about ‘forgetting’ to follow up with his situation, even if it clearly wasn’t my fault. Or maybe I was more freaked out about the idea that Denuvus had made me forget to do that. Mostly because it raised the question of what else she had made me forget, or do. 

Then there was Mom. She was nearby, and was basically bristling with barely restrained anger, glaring dangerously toward our… host. No matter what excuses Denuvus might have thrown around, I had the feeling Mom really didn’t care. She did not appreciate being forced to abandon the rest of us and abduct Nevada and Mercury. Not to mention anything else she might have been forced to do that I didn’t even know about yet. And all of that after what happened with Fossor… yeah, Denuvus was lucky she hadn’t already melted under my mother’s glare. 

Not that she paid attention to that, of course. She was far too occupied with her own annoyance. Once we had repositioned ourselves, the woman paced in a circle around Nevada while musing aloud. “You said she’s watching what happens here, but I presume you’ve taken precautions to make sure I can’t just order her to come back here right now.” 

“You could try, but you wouldn’t get anywhere,” Nevada replied. Her voice was relatively steady, but there was a tense undercurrent to it. Between that and the way her eyes darted to follow every move the other woman made, it was rather apparent that she wasn’t nearly as calm as she was trying to sound. And who could blame her? If… if everything we’d heard was true, Nevada had been created out of the dead body of this woman’s sister and then enslaved to… to give Denuvus power. It sounded like she had been little more than a tool to her, at best. She’d finally gotten her freedom, even managing to transform herself so she wasn’t a Djinn anymore, and now she was right back here again. No wonder she seemed anxious. Even if this whole Erin thing had worked out (so far), there was no telling how the next few minutes were going to go. 

Making a considering noise under her breath, Denuvus waved a hand and a crate slid over so she could sit on it right in front of Nevada. “You know I would have stuck to my word. Everyone else here would have been free to go, with their answers, if you hadn’t decided to play games.” 

Fuck I really wanted to say something to that. But I couldn’t. She had told us to be quiet. Trapped under her power, all I could do was sit in place and listen to this whole thing. Was this what it was like for people being affected by Ammon? 

Well, no, I was pretty sure he did a lot worse than just telling people to sit down and be quiet. 

“You would have killed me,” Nevada pointed out in a soft voice. “You think you can use something in here to kill me and bring back Theda, your sister.” The last bit was obviously added for our benefit, not that we really needed it. “You’re the one who killed her, just to get power. And now that it’s convenient, you think you can just throw me away to bring her back.” 

“She’s my sister,” Denuvus retorted. “You were always just… temporary. You fulfilled your purpose. I would have been content to leave it at that, especially after you went and erased the power I gave you. It’s not like you were useful for anything else. But now you are. Or, well, that body you’re borrowing is. Do you really think it’s yours? Does Theda deserve to stay dead just because you want to keep her body?” 

“Do I deserve to die just because you want to bring back the woman you killed to create me?” Nevada shot back. “You didn’t even give me a real name. And you still haven’t called me by the one I chose. Because I’m not a person to you. You couldn’t stand to blame yourself for Theda’s death, so you blamed me instead. You created me. I didn’t ask you to do that, let alone make you. That was all your choice. You killed your sister to bring me to life just so I could give you the power you wanted. Then you treated me as a disgusting creature because you saw your own guilt in me. And now you want to kill me to bring her back. You think that’s right?”

“She’s right,” I found myself blurting. As Denuvus’s eyes snapped to me, along with the others, I pushed on. “You said to speak up if there was a threat to you. And there is. Or there will be. If you do anything to Nevada, you’ll have all her friends coming after you. Everyone here, and all of them back at the Fusion School. You think you can just sacrifice her, get your sister back, and walk away? You really do have a blind spot when it comes to her. She’s not just your tool. She’s a person. She has people who care about her, even if you don’t. And they–we aren’t just going to let you walk away if you do anything to her.” 

Denuvus squinted at me, looking like she was trying to decide exactly how to respond. In the end, she settled on, “That’s rather immaterial right now. What matters is bringing the ship back so we can all leave.” To Nevada, she added, “What exactly is that going to take?” 

“First of all,” the former-Djinn (a fact that was still blowing my mind) replied, “Stop using your power on everyone here. If it makes you feel better, you can tell them not to hurt you. But you don’t need to have complete control.” 

From the look on her face, Denuvus didn’t like that idea. I had the feeling she wasn’t the sort of person who gave up control very easily. But, after a moment, she sighed and gestured. “My name is Denuvus, you may sit, stand, move around, and talk however you wish. Whatever. But do nothing to harm or hinder me.” She gave a forced smile then, her gaze locking back onto Nevada. “Happy now? Here I thought you were afraid of me, but you’ve been plotting this whole thing for a long time.” The woman actually sounded almost admiring about that, which was probably another big difference between her and Fossor. 

“Happy? No,” Nevada replied as she picked herself up along with the rest of us. “And I’ve been terrified of you my entire existence. But when you’re afraid of something, you prepare for it.” 

“And?” Denuvus prompted after taking a deep, steadying breath. “What is it you want now, my dearest former-Djinn?” 

“Nevada,” the other woman reminded her sharply. “I told you, my name is Nevada. And what I want is for you to agree to go back to Earth with us and walk away from this whole thing. But something tells me you won’t exactly be eager to do that.” 

With a very slight snort, Denuvus agreed, “Good instincts. You may have me at something approaching a disadvantage right now, but that won’t last forever. And this isn’t something I will walk away from. I’ve worked very long and hard to find a way to bring my sister back, and you seem to be standing in the way of that.”

“If there was a way to bring her back without me dying, I would help you,” Nevada informed her. “But I don’t deserve to be erased to make that happen. I’m my own person with my own life, and I happen to kind of enjoy that.” 

“She’s right,” Shiori put in. “Nevada deserves to live too. I mean, what happened to your sister sucks. But you did that. You chose to kill her for power, and now you want to undo it, but keep your power? That’s not fair. It’s–” She glanced at me briefly. “It’s not something you can just erase now because it’s convenient for you.” 

Oh boy did Denuvus ever look like she wanted to say something nasty to that. But she composed herself after a quick, harsh look. Especially when Asenath stepped in front of Shiori and glared at her. After a brief, yet tense second, the woman gave a nod of acknowledgment and turned back toward Nevada. “Perhaps I made some mistakes in how I treated you. And yes, you’re right about the reasoning. You looked like the sister I…. I sacrificed. I loved… love Theda. She was the only person I had left. When I looked at you, as you were back then, I saw her. And I remembered the choice I made. So maybe you did get hit with the… guilt and anger about that whole situation, the one I created.” 

There was a brief pause, as the woman collected herself. “I want my sister to be alive again. You’re right, it’s not fair. It’s cheating. But I have been cheating my whole life, and I’m not about to stop when it comes to this.” Her gaze moved to me. “You say I will bring the wrath of your people down on me? So be it. This is my opportunity to bring my sister back. You think telling me you and your friends will be cross with me is going to change my mind? I have vowed to destroy a creature whose power makes all of you look like helpless infants. If there’s the slightest chance I can do that alongside my living sister after all, I honestly do not care how many of you are angry about it.” 

Mom held up her hand to stop anyone else from saying anything. Her voice was tense, but still in control. “Sure, maybe you’re willing to go that far if you have to. But if there was an easier way, one where you don’t have all those people coming after you forever, you’d take that. You’re not the sort of person who does things like that for fun, or to spite the people trying to stop you. That’s what Fossor did, and you’re not him. You’d rather avoid that sort of attention if you can.” 

“Given the choice, I would prefer not to be that sort of target, yes,” Denuvus agreed while sweeping her gaze over the rest of us. “It would have to be something very important for me to risk it. And Theda is very important.” 

“Why just her?” I put in suddenly. “This way you’ve found to bring her spirit back and all that, why can’t you use that to… uh, you know, help your children?” 

She gave me an incredibly dark look then. I had a feeling she didn’t like people bringing them up at the best of times, let alone right now. “It requires their body. And I don’t…” Her eyes glanced away. “I don’t have their bodies. They don’t exist anymore.” 

Oh, well that was rough. Was it weird that I felt guilty for bringing it up? 

“That’s why you need Nevada.” Mercury finally spoke up, his voice sounding just a little odd, like he was still mostly lost in thought. “She’s been keeping that body nice and warm for you this whole time, hundreds of years later. And now you want to just pop her right out of it and slide your sister back where she was.” He said it matter-of-factly, though there was a faint yet evident note of disgust in his voice. 

“Yeah,” Twister added from where she was standing a bit behind Asenath and Shiori, “Guess it’s just too bad she doesn’t feel like rolling over and dying so you can get what you want. That’s so inconvenient, isn’t it?” 

Before Denuvus could respond to that, Mercury pushed on. “What if there was another option? One where you get what you want but no one has to die?” 

Arching an eyebrow, Denuvus retorted, “I’d be quite fascinated to hear how you propose to both keep her alive and allow me to bring my sister back in the same body.” 

Mercury, however, shook his head. “Not the same body. Not exactly.” He offered a faint, humorless smile that way as the rest of us stared at him. “My people have done a lot of work in trying to find ways around our… pregnancy problems. Part of that is very in depth explorations of cloning technology. It failed to solve our issues, for various reasons. But it might solve yours.” 

Denuvus sounded taken aback by that. “You want me to clone her and put my sister’s soul in that?” 

“No,” I abruptly piped up. “You said yourself, Nevada changed her body with her powers when she stopped being a Djinn. How do you know she’s even still enough like Theda for her spirit to take over even if you do use the… whatever it is?” 

“I’m willing to give it a shot,” the woman informed me in a voice that made it clear she was very close to losing her patience. “I told you, this is my sister. And if you think–” 

“So give it a shot with a different gun,” I interrupted. “Or rather, your gun. I–the metaphor got away from me. The point is, Theda wasn’t just your sister, she was your twin sister. So instead of cloning Nevada, who might not even be close enough for her spirit to use anymore, clone yourself. Clone your own body and use that for Theda to go into. It’s gotta be closer to the same body she was in before than the one Nevada’s using now, right? Come on, you know it’s a better idea.” 

“She’s right,” Mom agreed while putting a hand on my shoulder. “Nevada doesn’t even need to be involved in this. If you really want to bring your sister back, your best shot is using the Seosten cloning technology to make a new body for her and hoping that’s close enough.” 

Denuvus seemed to genuinely be considering all that. Her eyes flicked over toward Nevada briefly, as though only just then really thinking about how different her body was now. It looked like we had gotten through to her. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to hear what she would have said right then. Because Rahanvael suddenly appeared in front of me, blurting, “Flick, we have a problem!” 

While the others all snapped their gazes our way, ghost-fire appearing around Denuvus’s hand (though she didn’t try to do anything with it just yet), I jumped in surprise. “What–what’re you doing here?” I’d been so distracted by this whole thing I’d neglected to check in for the past few minutes. “Where are the others? What’s going on?” 

“The tribals, the… primitive,” Rahanvael explained, “They took us into…” She trailed off, glancing uncertainly toward Denuvus. 

My head shook at that. “It’s okay, just tell us what happened. We’re all on the same page… sort of.” 

“You know that the people who settled on this planet, my ancestors, were Seosten,” the girl started. “She already told you that much. They were trying to find ways to destroy the Fomorians forever.” 

“Yeah, apparently one of those plans has something to do with Necromancy,” I murmured. 

She nodded sharply. “Yeah, but it’s not the only one. They had a lot of plans. And one of them involved creating a little something called Revenants.” 

“What?” Asenath snapped. “What do you–” 

“The people who came to this world created Revenants,” Rahanvael clarified. “I don’t know how, but they did. They created them as a weapon against the Fomorians. But now their descendants, the tribals who stayed in these caves, think everyone on this world has strayed from the right way or whatever. The point is, they think my people, all of them, are the reason the Fomorians still exist. It’s like they’re angry that we all forgot where we came from or something. They think if everyone here dies, they can get back to the important business of destroying the Fomorians. Or something like that, I don’t understand all of it. And now–I swear she didn’t know.”

“Who didn’t know what?” I managed uncertainly. 

“Persephone,” the ghost-girl replied. “I don’t know, for some reason they needed another one to open the door to let them out, they didn’t know how to get into the place they all were without her.” 

“Into the place they all–” I started to echo before interrupting myself. “Wait, you said the old Seosten created–Revenants? They used Persephone to get into a place with more Revenants?” 

“At least a thousand of them,” Rahanvael confirmed. “The Tribals called them the Storm.” Her voice caught a bit. “The Storm that will ravage the world. A thousand Revenants who were just waiting in there. Now they’re awake. 

“And they’re about to kill everyone on this planet.” 

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The Storm 21-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Something told me that the only reason Denuvus was being so accommodating about offering to tell us the real story about what was going on was that she didn’t think there was anything we could do to stop her anyway. But I wasn’t going to object. If she wanted to monologue and tell us everything we needed to know then all the more power to her. Besides, it gave us time to think. 

My mother was the first to speak, her voice low and dangerous. “Explain anything you wish, and we’ll decide exactly how many buckets of salt to take it with.“

Denuvus smiled faintly that way. “Holding a grudge because I took control of you? That’s fair, and you would hardly be the first or the most dangerous. As you may have noticed however, I have not forced you to harm anyone. If your child here and her friends had stayed on that station where they were supposed to, you’d simply be picking them up safe and sound when this was over.”

Before I could say anything to that, Miles cut in. “But they did show up, and then you made me and my friends go attack them!” His fists were clenched as he glared that way, looking like he really wanted to make the woman swallow his full allotment of cyberform bees and let them break back out again through her rib cage. “What if someone got killed?!” 

Denuvus gave him a flat look. “You’re Boscher Heretics, you’ll all heal. They wouldn’t have killed you because they knew I was controlling you, and you wouldn’t kill them because I told you not to.” 

Miles probably would’ve argued with that, but I quickly put in, “Sorry we disappointed you by showing up. I’m not exactly the best at staying where I’m told. Or even at staying where I want to stay, come to think of it. Honestly, expecting me to be anywhere you think I’m going to be from one day to the next is really poor judgment on your part.”

Actually chuckling a little bit at that, the woman gestured. “I will grant you that as well. Now, let us continue loading the ship, please.” She stressed that word as though to show that it wasn’t one she was accustomed to saying. “And I will tell you all what is happening with Rasputin.” To me, she added, ”Shall I assume that your other friends are getting along with the natives?”

How much did I actually want to tell her? Nothing, actually, but I had a feeling being stoic and silent would only go so far. So, I offered a shrug. “You could say that. Why, is Rasputin with them too? Has he been helping you?”

Asenath piped up then. “And what exactly does he have to do with what happened to my father? Because it occurs to me that of the very few people who would have the ability to change his memories like that, you are probably either one of them or at least know one. And now suddenly the last man we know he was with before that is on a whole new planet with you. Somehow, I doubt that is a coincidence.“ 

Denuvus shook her head. “You may believe what you wish, but I am not responsible for your father‘s changed memories. However, I can tell you who was. You know what your father and his group were doing?”

Senny frowned a little at that before nodding. “They had heard that the Vestil were attempting to complete the ritual that would have killed all of them and anyone connected to their blood, including myself and my mother. They were going back to make certain that didn’t happen. And given we are all still alive, they must have been successful.”

While they were talking, I quickly checked in on the others again. It still looked like those tribal people were worshiping Persephone. But at least now they seemed to be moving again. I got the impression from Rahanvael that these primitive Seosten people didn’t exactly like Denuvus. She was an invader and she had used her voice power to control them. They had been upset about that, but now with Persephone here, they were happy and were bringing her and the others… here?

Wait no, that wasn’t quite right. They weren’t bringing them right here. They were taking them somewhere close by, to something that would help. But they didn’t want to say more than that. 

Hang on, come to think of it, were these guys the people who had attacked those guards in the secret room? Could they have done all that so quickly and quietly? If so, then damn. I was really glad they were on our side.

By that point, Denuvus was explaining to Asenath. “Your father and his people, including Rasputin, did succeed at stopping the ritual from being completed. You’re right about that. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were killed in the process. By which I mean only your father and Rasputin himself survived, out of a group of thirty who embarked on the mission. And they were not easy deaths. From what I have heard and the memories I have seen, they were particularly traumatic.”

Asenath snarled under her breath. “If you are about to suggest that my father intentionally had his memories changed to spare himself, and erased his family in the process, then you’re the one who will experience a few impressively traumatic things.”

Shiori quickly put a hand on her sister’s arm, glaring that way. “I’m sure that’s not what she was implying, right?”

The woman sighed. “Of course not. The man has experienced quite a bit worse in his time. And he loves you and your mother. Ridding himself of your memories intentionally simply to also erase painful ones would be idiotic. And though he is many things, your father is not an idiot. Rasputin chooses to drink and fornicate away his memories in a less magical way. Your father on the other hand…” 

She grimaced and glanced away before continuing. “Let’s just say that one of the people responsible for attempting to complete the ritual survived and escaped. Worse, he came here with the pieces of what they needed for the ritual and made a deal with Fossor. He would provide him with special magical expertise, including investigations into the very secret lab I’ve already told you about. In exchange, Fossor would allow him to continue his experiments here in secrecy and safety. So much damage had been done in your father‘s attack, and this last sorcerer had to put much of it together without the aid of his former companions. It was a process that would take quite a long time.”

“This guy was researching a mega powerful spell right here in Fossor’s backyard and he expected the guy to keep his word and play nice and all that?” I snorted in disbelief at that. “Are you sure Tiras didn’t hit him in the head really hard to make him that stupid?”

Denuvus chuckled softly. “Yes, well, you’re not wrong. It suited Fossor’s purposes to take what he could get out of that man and allow him to do his work. But as soon as the ritual was far enough along, ehh, I don’t think you need me to draw you a picture about what happened. Fossor killed him and took over. Only his intention was to turn the power of the curse toward a more direct threat as far as he was concerned. With a curse that was more twisted to his personal needs.” 

My face twisted into a grimace. “You mean that’s where he got the idea about the whole controlling Heretics thing? He was nothing if not ambitious.”

“He was that,” the woman agreed, before turning her attention back to Asenath. “As I said before, your father did not erase his own memory. The man responsible, that last surviving Vestil sorcerer, knew that Tiras would continue to come after him. Your father knew where he was. And he was afraid that even under Fossor’s… ahem, ‘protection,’ Tiras would still find a way to kill him. So, he erased his memories. It was a bit of a hatchet job, to be honest. But it did what he wanted and stopped your father from coming after him. Not that that ended up being enough to keep him alive.” 

Twister actually spoke up then. “But that Rasputin guy. Are you trying to say he found out about the half-finished ritual here and came up to finish breaking it so it couldn’t be used again?”

“That is precisely what I’m saying,” Denuvus confirmed. “And what I’m also saying is that I have given you enough information for now until we load the rest of these things. Assist me in putting them all on the ship and then we can leave. We’ll go back to Earth and I will take my belongings before you will be allowed to take your ship and do whatever it is you wish.”

From the look on my mother’s face, she clearly wasn’t sure if she believed that or not. Part of me wondered if we should take this opportunity to jump the woman before she pulled whatever trick she might have been planning. After all, we had my mother here now. Not to mention Mercury and Nevada, both of whom had been oddly silent throughout all of this. They just continued to work. Was that because Denuvus had given them stricter instructions than she had my mother? And if so, did that mean they wouldn’t be any help if this came down to a fight? Something told me it wouldn’t be that easy.

Beyond that, we still didn’t know what the people with Persephone and the others were doing. I hoped they were going to turn out to be a good thing, especially if they were against Denuvus. But for all we knew, they were going to be annoyed with all of us. And even then, assuming we did have everyone on our side and they could act, could we actually stop her? Again, she was supposed to be as dangerous as Fossor in her own way. Sure, she might not have billions of slaves to sacrifice, but she made up for that in other ways. Who knew what sort of powers she had beyond her voice, and she had already proven that she could disable any of the defenses we came up with to stop that. As much as she might be playing nice right now, I had no doubt that she could get nasty if she wanted to.

It seemed like the best thing for us to do right now was just play along and look for an opening. And hope that the tribals ended up having a really good idea. Wherever they were taking the others, they were clearly very excited about it. Which I might have been more optimistic about if it wasn’t obvious that Denuvus knew they were there and didn’t seem worried at all. Maybe she didn’t know what they were planning, but something told me she didn’t tend to leave anything to chance.

With all that in mind, I finally shrugged and moved to start helping with the pile of crates. The first one I picked up was surprisingly heavy and I looked over at the woman in question. “So you really don’t have any idea what’s in all these things?” 

She offered me a faint smile before replying, “I do have the slightest idea, and I know all of it will be useful in one way or another. You could call me a pack rat in that way. You never know what might end up being the thing that saves your life, or gives you an edge.” She traveled off, clearly thinking about that for a moment before shaking herself. “And the most important thing is somewhere in that pile.” As she said that, her eyes shifted toward Nevada and I remembered what she said about wanting her sister back. Where did that fall with all this? Did she really think she could turn Nevada back into the sister she had sacrificed? Just because the ancient Seosten who came to this planet in the first place happened to have something for that among their collection? 

I supposed it would be kind of ironic for Fossor to have had something that could do that in this pile of random treasure. After all, his whole thing started from trying to make his own sister immortal by killing her and bringing her back. Going through all that just to randomly have something that could bring her back lying around in a room he found? Something about that struck me as darkly amusing. But also frightening. By all accounts, the woman who had been turned into Nevada had been dead for centuries. Could whatever this thing was seriously just bring her back? And what about Nevada herself? As I thought that, my eyes glanced up to look that way. She wasn’t looking at me. She wasn’t looking at anybody. She was just quietly loading the ship. I still wasn’t sure if she had simply resigned herself to whatever fate Denuvus had in mind, or if she was under that strict of control. Either way, we couldn’t just let this happen. Nevada was her own living person, and she didn’t deserve to just be erased. 

Hell, right now we were just loading up the ship for Denuvus to take anything she wanted. How dangerous would she be if she had all of Fossor’s hidden treasure? And not even just his, though I was sure some of that was mixed in. This was all the treasure those ancient Seosten had gathered in their travels across the universe. If she was right about one of the things being able to bring her sister back, and that was just one of the things mixed in here, then the rest of it… Yeah, this was too dangerous. No matter what happened, we couldn’t let her run off with this stuff. But I still had no idea what we were going to do about it. If we started causing trouble, she could just counter us. Hell, she’d probably have my mother attack us, and what could I do about that? Even if I was able to make myself fight my mom, could I actually meet her? Something told me it wouldn’t exactly be that easy. She had a hell of a lot more experience. And she still had that sword, the one Kushiel had wanted. Among other things, it could apparently cut straight through ghosts, so I wouldn’t even have that advantage. Under absolutely no circumstances would I send any of my ghosts against that weapon. This whole thing was just… fuck. We were here and there was still nothing we could do. Unless whatever those primitive Seosten were taking the others to was really good, and something Denuvus hadn’t planned on, I didn’t know what we were supposed to do. 

While I was focused on that, we all continued loading the ship. There was a tunnel nearby, leading to an enormous place that had clearly been a vault of some sort. The door for it had to have been a solid three or four feet thick, and was made of the sort of metal that could have fended off repeated shots from a capital ship. This whole place had really been buried underground until Fossor raised it up in this volcano? Actually, speaking of volcano, where was the magma? Were we just in a section of the place that didn’t have any? 

Needless to say, I had a lot of questions. And so did Asenath, as she started up again while we were moving crate after crate out of that large vault room and over to stack it up inside the Jitterbug. “If my father’s memory was erased by the man you say Fossor killed, does that mean there’s no way to undo it?” Her voice betrayed no actual emotion there, though I knew she was feeling plenty. She just didn’t care to let the woman in question hear it. “And where is Rasputin now? You said he came here to destroy every trace of the ritual, but…” 

Denuvus leaned against the side of the ship. No matter how eager she was to have all this stuff safely in her possession, she wasn’t actually going to lift a finger to help move it. I had the feeling that she didn’t exactly do a lot of manual labor. Especially not when she had all of us to do it for her.

She did, however, at least answer the questions. Part of them anyway. “On the contrary, there is likely a way to restore his memories. The Vestil took them and placed them somewhere safe. Destroying them would… well, let’s say it’s not that simple to do such a thing. And if you try, you’re far more likely to end up sending the memories back to where they belong. So, they are locked up. And once we are finished here, I’ll tell you exactly where to find them.” She offered another smile. “You see? Everyone will get what they want. Or at least close enough.” 

Once again, I checked in on Rahanvael and the others. They were in a… wait, what? It looked like they were in some sort of old freight elevator. Robin, Judas, and Stasia were all in the middle, with the tribals squeezed in all around them. And now that I had a closer look, they basically just looked like humans. Not even the absurdly beautiful sort of Seosten I was accustomed to. Probably because they were descended from the ancient Seosten, before they had upgraded themselves so much. They had normal human-ish lifespans too. That was… wow. And where was the elevator taking them? A quick check with Rahanvael revealed that she had no idea. The primitive Seosten still weren’t talking about it. But they were close. So very close. 

And speaking of close, it didn’t take long for the rest of us to finish loading the ship. Miles caught my attention, wanting to know if his team was safe. I told them they were, but when I started to talk about his parents, the boy quietly told me to please wait until we got out of this. He was already distracted and was afraid that thinking about them even more would make it worse. Which was understandable. 

While I was in the midst of that and trying to decide exactly when to let the rest of his team out, Denuvus started to speak. “Well, now, it seems we’ve finished ahead of schedule. And no one even had to suffer. So–” 

Before she could finish whatever it was she had been about to say, Nevada spoke up. “Erin, now.” That was it. She said two words. But those two words were enough. In the next second, the ship we had just finished loading up abruptly vanished. It was there one second and then it was gone. It jumped. Wait, what?! Erin, Erin–what? 

In an instant, Denuvus was right there. Her voice snapped, “My name is Denuvus, everyone freeze!” Then she smacked Nevada hard, knocking the woman to the ground just as I felt my entire body lock up completely. 

What did you do?” the woman demanded, her voice actually sounding angry for once. “My name is Denuvus, tell me the truth.” 

Lying there basically right where the ship had been a moment earlier, Nevada stared at Denuvus. “I knew you’d show yourself sooner or later. So I started bringing a little help along on trips like this. You might know her dad, since you’ve been enslaving him for awhile. She’s just been waiting for us to load this thing. Erin Redcliffe has the ship, and she’s not bringing it back until we’re all safe. She can see everything that’s happening through my contacts, but you can’t do anything about it. Everything on that ship belongs to her. If you do anything to us, she’ll never bring it back. And the moment you start fucking with us, she’ll start dumping artifacts out into the middle of deep space where you’ll never find them.

Now we can start negotiating.”

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The Storm 21-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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“Wait, your sister?!” Shiori’s eyes were as wide as I was sure mine were. We were all staring at Denuvus. “What do you mean, your sister? What does Nevada have to do with–what?” 

Audibly chuckling, Denuvus turned and gestured for us to follow her while moving to a doorway that seemed to have just magically appeared at the back of the room. “You heard what I said. I want my sister back. You didn’t think I was going to give her up forever, did you?” She paused then, standing in that new doorway while glancing back our way. “Oh, come to think of it, you don’t know about that, do you?” She shook her head, looking rueful before turning back to keep walking. “Come along then, I’ll explain on the way. And remember, let’s keep playing nice if we all want to get out of this in one piece. We’re just gonna take a little walk down, see what good shape your friends are in, and then… well, then we’ll go from there.” 

The rest of us all looked at each other, but we didn’t have any idea what else to do besides just follow her. She clearly wasn’t in the mood to fight, and seemed to be actually explaining things. She’d already demonstrated that she could walk right through any defenses we set up against her voice power, but wasn’t using it anyway. Between that and the fact that she had plenty of other powers she could take us apart with if she wanted to made it abundantly clear that our best move was to just let her talk. Maybe she’d even end up saying something we could use later if this did evolve into a fight. Besides, now I absolutely had to know what she was talking about when it came to Nevada.

So, Tabbris, Shiori, Twister, Asenath, and I followed her through that doorway and onto a staircase leading upward. For a moment, I wondered what was going on with Judas and the others. Then I realized that was stupid. I didn’t have to wonder, I could check on them real quick. Sure, we’d lost the telepathy, but Rahanvael was still with them. That was the entire point of sending her. 

Focusing on my connection to the ghost girl briefly, I gripped the nearby railing for safety, then reached out while closing my eyes. There. Rahanvael was moving through an underground tunnel alongside Judas and Stasia. She immediately felt my presence, and informed me that they hadn’t found Robin and Persephone yet, but they were still following those footprints. It looked like there had to be at least a dozen other people who had come to take those two with them. And we still had no idea why the unstoppable robot and Revenant-Possessed Olympian had agreed to accompany them in the first place. There had been no sign of any struggle at any point. They were able to pick out which prints were Robin’s and which were Persephone, and they were just walking normally. Had these people, whoever they were, convinced them that they were there to help? And if they had convinced them, was it true? And who were they? Did they work for Denuvus? 

I had no idea, and neither did Rahanvael. So I simply passed along an update about what was going on with us, promised to check in shortly, and went back to myself. 

That whole thing had only taken a few seconds, all while I kept climbing those stairs. And yet, despite that, when my eyes opened, Denuvus had stopped and was looking back at me. “Your friends doing okay down there? I hope they haven’t run into the natives.” 

“The–what?” I blinked a couple times, trying to decide if she was intentionally screwing with me. 

“That’s what I call them,” she replied easily. “Not the people Fossor put under his control. There are tribals living in this cave system. As best as I can tell, they’re also descendants from those first Seosten who showed up. They’ve been here the whole time, since the original landing when their ancestors created the hidden lab. They weren’t part of the rest of their civilization as it grew, faltered, broke, and fell under Fossor’s control. They’ve just been living here in these caves, treating the sealed doors that lead into those labs like holy relics they have to protect. If they think anyone’s trying to get into those rooms, they attack.

“Let me guess,” Asenath put in, “they tried to attack you.” Her voice was tense. I knew what she really wanted was to demand Denuvus tell her why Rasputin was here and what he had to do with all this. But she held it back. How, I had no idea. It was all I could do not to start shouting about my mother, and we were literally being taken to see her right now. Asenath had been dealing with the whole situation surrounding her father for a hell of a lot longer. 

“They did try,” Denuvus confirmed casually. “And they can be a real threat, in their way. I hope your friends are safe.” 

She was clearly fishing for information, but I just stared back at her. “Are we going, or what? And you were supposed to be telling us about what Nevada has to do with your sister.” Yeah, maybe it was a bad idea to be that blunt with her, but after everything that had happened with Fossor and knowing how she’d still forced my mother to do her bidding, it was hard to care. 

For her part, Denuvus simply regarded me for a moment. I couldn’t read her expression at all. Finally, she turned to start climbing once more. “Yes, my sister. I’ll spare you the details I don’t feel like getting into. Suffice to say, we were very close…” 

And with that, the woman told us the truth about where Nevada had come from. She told us about how she had used the leftover energy from when the Heretics tried to banish Fossor to create a Djinn. But it also required the sacrifice of a loved one. Apparently it had to be a real sacrifice, someone you loved. The more you cared about them, the better chance the spell would be successful. And she had really loved her sister. But she wanted revenge on some monster who had imprisoned and tortured them, and killed her children. So she sacrificed her own twin, her twin, in order to create a Djinn. And that Djinn had proceeded to inhabit the body of that dead sister, creating a new being. 

That being, of course, was Nevada. Or the person who had eventually become Nevada. She wasn’t a Djinn anymore. She’d used her power to turn herself human. Or partially human. Or… yeah, I wasn’t sure how that worked. Either way, according to Denuvus, Gaia was behind that. The headmistress was the one who convinced Nevada to use her power to change the Heretical Edge so it would work on hybrids. And once that was done, she had transformed herself into one as well, taking away her own Djinn powers before going through the Edge herself to become a Heretic.

I had known before that a Djinn was used to change the Edge. Deveron had explained that much. But I never knew that Nevada was the Djinn in question. Needless to say, that was a lot to take in. I didn’t even think she was lying about any of it. The whole thing was so… absurd and ridiculous that I couldn’t think of any reason for her to lie about it. It was so crazy it had to be the truth. Unless she was just fucking with us, which wasn’t impossible. But I was pretty sure that wasn’t happening right now. Besides, it fit with what I’d already known. 

Twister was the first to find her voice after that. She sounded casual, but I could hear the fierce anger behind that, broiling just below the surface. “So basically you’re saying that you sacrificed your own twin sister to get power, treated the living person who was created from that sacrifice like a worthless slave, and then, once she’d built a new life for herself away from you, puppeted Flick’s mother into abducting her to get something else you want. You’re a real peach of a person, aren’t you?” 

We’d reached the top of the long stairwell by then, letting us all emerge into what looked like a massive circular tunnel that had been bored through the rock. The ceiling was a good fifty to sixty feet above our heads, while the sides of the round tunnel were at least that far apart. It was like something had drilled all the way through here. Or maybe like a giant worm had bored through. I wasn’t sure which, and knowing what I did about the entire universe, it could’ve been the latter as easily as the former. We had come out somewhere in the middle of the tunnel, and could see it head off for probable miles in either direction. 

Taking all that in while the woman was deciding how to respond to Twister, I piped up with a question that had been bothering me for a while. “Hang on a second. You said those people built these secret rooms and tunnels or whatever essentially as soon as they got to this planet, right? You said those tribal people were living in the tunnels outside the secure labs all this time. But Rahanvael says this volcano wasn’t here before. Everything out there used to be forests and fields. Fossor made the volcano just to destroy his old home. So how is that possible? How could these tunnels and secret rooms or whatever else have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, but Rahanvael doesn’t remember this mountain existing before? And while we’re on the subject, why would these completely unique secret tunnels be like five feet from his childhood home? What are the odds of that?”

Denuvus gave a soft, yet audible chuckle. “To answer the second question first, you are cracking the egg and making an omelet before ever getting to the chicken if you think of it that way. It is not that he was unbelievably powerful and just happened to find these labs right outside his door. The very fact that he grew up so close to the labs is why he possessed so much potential in the first place. I told you about how the founders of this world seeded their genetics with the potential for necromancy. But they didn’t simply leave it at that. They weren’t willing to risk what they saw as the fate of the universe on complete random chance. They installed machines in those labs I mentioned. Those machines would send pulses of energy through the world which were intended to catch onto those latent Necromancer genetics–for lack of a better term– and magnify them. In layman’s terms, these pulses of energy would come in random times and move in random directions. When they found a living being with the potential for Necromancy, they would boost that potential, making them stronger. That person would then have children, who would have children, and so on until another random pulse happened to find their descendants. And that pulse would increase the potential even more. The seed was passed on and nurtured repeatedly. Eventually, it would physically manifest in the form of the priests who cared for and helped their dead pass on.” 

“Wait, wait,” I quickly put in. “Rahanvael said their ghosts are particularly common, that they had to have the Necromancer priests to ensure they moved on to the next… whatever.” 

“Yes,” the woman agreed, “That exact quality, that resilience to linger after death is precisely why the Seosten-Turned-Fomorians are such a problem. Their ghosts stay behind and are thus capable of being pulled back and put into the new Fomorian bodies.”

That… that made sense, and it also made her claims about the connection between these people and the Seosten even more credible. I still had no idea how to feel about that, and a quick glance toward Tabbris revealed that she was reeling even more than I was. 

Denuvus was already continuing, after giving us just a second to think about that. “The point is, Fossor grew up on this land, in an area that had previously been closed off. His father built the farm out here in the middle of nowhere. He was the first person in many generations to live this close to those secret labs while having the potential for necromancy inside him. Those random pulses the machines were sending out? They hit him over and over again, because he was living essentially right next to them. Or rather, right on top of them.” 

That made me do a double-take, but it was Asenath who spoke first. “On top… you mean the labs were underground… before the volcano.” 

A small smile found its way to Denuvus’s face. “Precisely. And that is the answer to that first question of yours,” she informed me. “The labs were underground. Fossor raised them with the volcano. It wasn’t simply a matter of being petty and destroying his old home. He also wanted to bring the tunnels up where he could access them more easily, as well as disrupt the defenses the old tribals spent all those millennia putting together.

“And, of course, because he was petty.” 

Under my breath, I muttered, “He was good at turning his pettiness into something useful for himself.” Then I shook that off, considering how many other big things we already had to deal with right now. This wasn’t the time to get sidetracked thinking about Fossor’s many flaws. Instead, I looked around the tunnel once more. “Okay, so you killed your own sister–call it whatever you want. She died, and you created Nevada. She doesn’t have her Djinn powers anymore, so why did you make my mom bring her to you?” 

Denuvus simply gestured at that. “Well, obviously because I’m tired of not having my sister around.” She met my gaze before adding, “As it turns out, one of the many treasures the ancient Seosten gathered in these secret rooms in their attempts to create the very Necromancy-creating machines I just mentioned is something which will allow me to summon my sister’s spirit and put it back where it belongs. She will be alive again, while I will retain the power I’ve gained. So you might say I was able to have my cake and eat it too.” 

Shiori spoke up first, blurting, “But what about Nevada? She’s alive in there too, you know?”

Denuvus shook her head. “She is an interloper. Do you think my sister deserves to remain dead just so this intruder can remain in possession of her body? Is that fair to her?” 

“That’s not the point!” I snapped. “She’s a living person already. You created her, so she’s basically like your child. But not only did you treat her like shit the whole time you knew her, now you just want to throw her away the first chance you get to replace her with the sister you sacrificed to create her in the first place? Don’t you give a shit about her?” 

The woman stared at me for a moment before speaking carefully. “Do not attempt to judge me. Not until you have been through what I have. I told you, the creature behind all of this murdered my children, and I will see him die no matter what that takes. I was willing to sacrifice my own twin sister for that, but now that there is an opportunity to bring her back? You had better believe I will take it. The creature you call Nevada was never real to me. She was a means to an end. And now her use is over. She is using a body I need. I will use that to get my sister back, no matter which of you think you can stand in my way.” Her voice grew progressively more dangerous throughout that, as the air around us seemed to grow colder. And then, she simply pivoted on her heel and began to walk. “But, I am certain you’d like to see your mother.” 

The rest of us exchanged looks before turning to follow her. On the way, I felt a tug from my connection to Rahanvael. So, I took Shiori and Tabbris’s hands so they could guide me while I checked in.

Things down there had changed rather dramatically. Now the ghost girl was hovering a bit away from Stasia and Judas, who were literally standing right next to Robin and Persephone. All of them were standing inside a cave of some sort that was brightly lit by torches and several bonfires all along the walls. And they were surrounded by what looked like a bunch of primitive humans in furs. Or rather, primitive Seosten. But it didn’t seem like they were a threat. It actually looked more like they were… wait… worshiping Persephone? They were, like, bowing to her and bringing her what looked an awful lot like offerings. What–huh? 

Before I could focus anymore on that, or get any answers from Rahanvael, my attention was drawn back to my real body, as my mother’s voice called my name. My eyes snapped open, to find that we were in a large cavern. The Jitterbug was parked right next to what looked like an enormous vault-like door that was open, revealing smooth, polished metal walls beyond. The secret, hidden lab, obviously. 

Mercury and Nevada were there, along with Miles, all of them carrying crates up onto the ship. Then there was my mother, who set her own crate down and crossed the cavern to embrace me tightly. For just a moment, I forgot everything else and returned it. It felt really nice, but it couldn’t last. Not right now. 

“Mom,” I murmured, pulling back a bit to stare at her. “You’re okay.” She started to apologize, but I stopped her. “No, don’t. I–we get it. Believe me, we get it.” 

“You see? I am a woman of my word,” Denuvus announced, dragging my attention back that way. “They’re all safe and sound.” She looked to Asenath. “Which means if you want to know why Rasputin is here, I’ll tell you that too. And then we can all get what we want and get out of here.” Her gaze moved, scanning each of us in turn as though searching for which of us was going to make the first move against her. 

“Unless, of course, you would all prefer to do this the hard way.” 

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The Storm 21-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Hey guys the non-canon for this story is out for everyone to read right here!

I wasn’t sure how we were going to handle Miles’ teammates after the boy himself ran off, or Trice for that matter. We couldn’t just leave them behind, considering tying them up would’ve been a joke. Fortunately, Judas turned out to have the solution. He produced what looked like a simple playing card-sized piece of cardboard. But it magically unfolded into the size of a box about three feet wide and two feet tall. When the lid was opened, it revealed a set of stairs leading down to a pocket dimension. Or, rather, a pocket greenhouse. Apparently Judas really liked plants. He had the whole space, about the size of a high school gym, filled with flowers, trees, bushes, and more. Various sunlamps hung from the ceiling to provide light, heat, and energy. These guys would be fine in there for a while. 

So, we carried them down the stairs and left them there. They all argued and struggled, especially Trice. But between all of us, we managed to get them in there and closed it up. We also made sure to take any weapons and tools they had. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but we didn’t have time for perfection. Miles was still out there, and had undoubtedly told Denuvus what happened. I wasn’t sure what her next plan would be, but she was going to have one. We had to keep moving. 

Once the box was folded down and back in Judas’s pocket, we ran over to examine the unconscious guys briefly. Yeah, we still had no idea what was going on there. It was just a bunch of guys who looked as though some other people had beat the living shit out of them. But how could a whole other army have jumped this army right in this secret room and we didn’t hear or notice any– never mind, magic, superpowers, whatever. The real question was who had done this, and where were they now? Were they on our side? Did we have some sort of local guardian angels or something? That seemed unlikely for a whole list of reasons. But I couldn’t think of anything else. Maybe some other group was after Denuvus and had come here separately? 

There were no answers to be found there. And when I stood over the spot where the hole had opened up to take Persephone and Robin, I couldn’t find anything either. Crouching down, I ran my hand through the dirt and then punched it before shaking my head. “There’s gotta be a tunnel or something under here, right? Wait, Rahanvael?” The rest of my ghosts were exhausted from that whole situation and needed time to recover, but I’d made sure to give her enough power to stay out with the rest of us. 

The ghost girl was distracted, staring off into the distance. But she quickly recovered, giving a nod before floating down through the dirt. She was gone for about fifteen seconds, while I exchanged looks with the others and we kept a wary eye out for anything new from Denuvus. Finally, Rahanvael returned, floating back up before explaining, “There is a chute which appears to transport anyone who falls into it elsewhere. Would you like me to keep following it?” 

“No.” That was Judas, holding up a hand. “We should split up. I know, I know. But they forced our hands. We can’t leave Robin behind, and we might need them to punch this lady in the face if she starts using her power on the rest of us.” 

I grimaced. “But at the same time, whatever she’s doing with Mom… we have to interrupt it.” Letting out a breath, I looked to the others. “Okay, so who’s doing what?” 

It was Stasia who answered. “Judas and I will find where the chute goes, and bring back Robin and Persephone. The rest of you should push on.” 

Part of me wanted to argue with that. Splitting up in general seemed like a bad idea, and besides, I wanted to help Persephone. She was my friend. But I also needed to find my mother. We didn’t have time to do everything, not when we still had no idea what Denuvus was even doing here. There was no choice but to split up, and sending these two off to find the others made the most sense. After all, this was my mother we were talking about. 

So, with a heavy sigh, I nodded before turning to the others. “Okay so do we try the mute spell again? It didn’t work so well this time.” My gaze flicked over to a set of runes we had passed on the way through the cave. Judas had pointed them out and let us know that those were what had disabled our protection spell when we passed it. “Figures she’d be one step ahead on that too.” 

“The ‘transport if she starts to introduce herself’ spells are still active,” Shiori noted. “She didn’t think of everything. And we can watch for those runes now. I mean, it’s not perfect, but…” 

“Better than nothing,” Asenath finished. “But we should hurry. No telling what she’s going to do when that boy lets her know what happened.” 

“Yeah,” Judas agreed, “and we need the telepathy spell to stay in contact anyway.” 

“Actually, Rahanvael, could you go with them?” I asked. “That way we can stay in contact even without the telepathy bit. And if they run into… anything weird, you can probably help better than the rest of us.” 

She agreed, but we still used the spell again. As Denuvus had proven, having contingencies was a good idea. Then Judas used a different one to turn himself and Stasia intangible for about thirty seconds. Long enough to go down through the dirt, find the chute below, and follow it. Rahanvael quietly promised to do everything she could to keep them safe, then went after them. 

Which left me standing there with Shiori, Asenath, and Twister, while Tabbris stayed inside me. I also had the card thing that would unfold into the entrance to the greenhouse. Judas figured it was better if I held onto it, since we were going to be the first to find Miles. With any luck, we could get him in there with his friends and then deal with that whole thing later. 

I still couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t thought more about the boy and his whole situation. It hadn’t even really occurred to me to wonder about him and his whole family situation, despite Fossor being dead. Was that just… was it Denuvus? Had Denuvus done something to me and I didn’t even remember? I had no idea, but the very concept on its own was a bit terrifying. She could have talked to me, could have made me forget any number of things. When? What had she done? What was she–

Pushing all those thoughts out of my mind, I started moving.The other three kept up, as we headed through the same tunnel Miles had taken. There wasn’t time to do anything about the unconscious troops littering that exposed area to the side, so we just ignored them. Which was sort of what we were doing about the question of who had beat them up in the first place. We still didn’t have any answers to that, and none were presenting themselves. 

Obviously, we were keeping our eyes open for any more of those runes, or anything else that could have been a trap. I also kept glancing toward Shiori to see if she sensed anyone watching us, but there was nothing. Honestly, that worried me more than if there had been someone watching, in a way. Miles had to have gotten back there by now, right? He must have warned her. So where was her reaction? The longer this went without saying anything, the more concerned I was about what her eventual response would be.

The four of us (five with Tabbris chilling out within me) ran up a winding, gradually sloping tunnel that seemed to lead somewhere above ground at first, but then went even higher. We had to be inside the volcano by this point. I could still see Miles’ footprints in the dirt from his quick retreat. From that, it didn’t look as though he’d slowed down at all at any point. The prints were far apart, so he’d obviously been running the whole time. And they were deep enough that it had been a hard run. His feet had come down firmly on each spot. He wasn’t faltering or turning back. He was just full-on sprinting up this tunnel. I hoped that would mean he hadn’t taken the time to put down any traps or other surprises, but we still kept our eyes open.

It turned out to be a good thing we did too, since there really was a trap. Asenath spotted it first, catching Shiori and me by the arms while sticking a leg out to block Twister. Then she nodded toward a very small, almost completely imperceptible rune symbol near the bottom of the wall ahead. It looked more like a cave drawing than anything dangerous. Still, we weren’t about to take anything for granted. That tiny symbol could do any number of things. 

Squinting that way, I asked. Tabs, any idea what that thing does? 

There was a momentary pause while my little sister considered it before she tentatively replied, I’m pretty sure when you pass it, the thing triggers a cage. A pocket dimension cage. 

Well that’s not very nice, Shiori put in. We all exchanged looks, before I produced what looked like a small plastic water pistol that fit in my pocket. There were several wires around the barrel, leading into a couple batteries attached to the side. It was a little gift from Avalon. Taking aim with the thing, I pulled the trigger. A blast of gel-like liquid shot out, covering the rune in slime just before several sparks of electricity jolted across it. Then the slime turned to dust and faded away, leaving the wall bare. It got rid of the spell, just as Valley had promised. Apparently the thing didn’t work with really powerful magic, but for simple traps like this, it would do just fine. 

Once we were sure it was safely disabled, we moved on. There were several more similar traps on the way, but we spotted them all and disabled them while continuing to make our way up that tunnel as quickly as possible. None of these things were anything big. They were meant to slow us down slightly. Which really worried me even more. If all Denuvus cared about was delaying us a bit, that had to mean she was close to getting what she wanted. And I was pretty sure we were not going to be happy about her getting it. 

On the way, I checked in with the others. They had gone all the way down through that chute and came out in some other cavern much deeper underground. Persephone and Robin weren’t there, but they had found an assortment of footprints leading off through another tunnel and were following them. From the prints, it looked like there were more than just those two, so others had been down there to meet them. Whether Robin and Persephone had been taken prisoner (somehow) or were being helped, we had no idea. Judas, Stasia, and Rahanvael would update us when they found anything new. 

Finally, we reached the top of the tunnel, and found a metal wall blocking our way. We tried knocking it down, to no avail. The thing was really thick. Asenath even attempted to cut through it with Bobbi’s power, but it didn’t work. I summoned a couple ghosts to go through, and they were blocked as well. Nor could I touch the thing in order to use that power I had to mark objects and see through them in order to check the other side. There was some sort of shield around it, as well as the nearby walls (we tried to send the ghosts around the metal wall). All of which meant we had no way to go through the damn thing. 

Or rather, almost no way. 

Tabbris, you’re up, I announced. Then I stepped out of the way with the others, while Tabs hopped out of me. She focused intently, producing her wings once more. They glowed bright enough that the rest of us had to glance away for a moment, while the younger girl pushed the wings forward. She cut a large hole right through the wall and let the metal piece crash to the floor. Despite all the trouble we’d had, it only took her a couple seconds. Which was good, since that was basically all the time she could keep them out. A moment later, they fizzled and faded away. It would be a few minutes before she could use them again. But now we were through that, and hopefully wouldn’t run into anything else blocking us from reaching the manipulative bitch ahead. 

Tabbris stayed out of me for the moment, and the five of us kept going. Moving through the hole she had made, we found ourselves in what looked an awful lot like a classroom back on Earth. We’d come through into the back of the room, behind several desks and chairs that were lined up in front of a white board. The larger desk there, clearly meant for the teacher, had an apple sitting on it, next to a woman who was perched on the edge. She was clearly waiting for us. 

Denuvus. It had to be Denuvus. I didn’t trust that this was her normal appearance, but at the moment she had short dark hair and appeared to be only an inch or two taller than me. Her skin had an olive complexion. Deep brown eyes seemed to study me intently while a tiny smile played at her mouth.

The second I saw her, everything else flew out of my head. All I knew in that moment was this was the woman who took my mother away again, who had forced her to do things against her will. My staff appeared in my hand as I lunged that way, only to immediately rebound off of an invisible force field just a few feet in from the hole we had made. 

Shiori and Tabbris each grabbed one of my arms to stop me from falling backward after I hit that shield. Asenath and Twister, meanwhile, punched it themselves, to no avail. With a thought, I summoned Seth and sent him that way, but just like the field that had been around the wall, ghosts couldn’t go through this one either.

Denuvus watched all that with what looked like curiosity, then opened her mouth to speak. But our spell was still up, muting her voice. Clearly realizing that immediately, the woman gave us a put-upon look before gesturing. Behind her, words appeared on that whiteboard reading, ‘Really? This is just going to make communication more difficult.’

Shaking my head, I thought intently her way. I can communicate without words just fine. Why don’t you take down this shield and I’ll show you with my staff.

Visibly chuckling at the threat, the woman offered a shrug as more words appeared. ‘I suppose all these precautions mean I don’t need to introduce myself. At least tell me where your friend is, the one who helped you stop my backup troops. That one caught me by surprise.’

Oookay, so she didn’t know what the deal with that was either. Rather than address that however, I exchanged a glance with the others before replying, I’d say probably where you least expect them to be. Now why don’t you tell us where my mom, Nevada, and Mercury are, and what you’re doing here, or Tabbris is gonna wing blast this shield down whether you’re in the way or not.

Again, the previous words on the board finished, before more appeared. ‘Oh, I don’t think she’ll be doing that, at least not for the next few minutes. Why do you think I put the first shield and wall there to begin with? Couldn’t have you cheating your way to me that easily.’

Well of course that had been her plan. Swallowing back my frustration, I took a second to find the right words. But Senny spoke up first. What are you doing here? Why did you have Joselyn bring the other two and come here in the first place? What are you looking for?

Denuvus seemed to be considering those questions, leaning back on the desk before picking up the apple. She tossed it up and down a couple times thoughtfully, finally taking a bite as more words appeared. ‘Well, first things first, I should tell you that your mother is fine and I was always planning on returning her to you when I was done. And I am sorry for what Fossor did for all those years. A parent and their children should never be ripped apart like that. Not for that long.’

After we had read that much, the words changed. ‘Now you want to know why I had your mother bring those two here with her. And, I assume, why Rasputin has come as well.’ 

Rather than reply telepathically, I simply met the woman’s gaze and gave a short nod. I hadn’t even been certain that Denuvus knew anything about Rasputin. But I wasn’t going to tell her that. Especially since if we could keep her ‘talking’ long enough, Tabbris’s wings would recharge. 

Thankfully, the woman seemed to be in an explaining things mood. More words appeared on the board. ‘If you want to know the truth about why we’re all here, you have to know the truth about this world’s history. You have to know why it produced a necromancer as powerful as Fossor, and why that talent is so prevalent in these people in general. It’s the whole reason Ehn had the Gehenna prison built here first to begin with.’

That made me do a double-take. Ehn is a prisoner, he doesn’t get to decide where the prisons are built. 

Denuvus chuckled as the board continued to get new words. ‘And if you believe that, I have a great bridge to sell you.’ 

She rolled her eyes pointedly then, shifting to stand up while pointing at the next words. ‘Have you ever wondered why Fossor and the people of this world look completely human? They don’t, of course. They look Seosten. Because they are. Or they were. They share a common ancestor, long in the past. When Cronus was first… infecting the Seosten with what would eventually become their possession ability, a large group fled their home world on a very experimental spaceship. They remained what they would call pure and eventually came to this planet. Here, they originally planned to regroup and develop new weapons to regain their home world from Cronus. But when they learned about the changes that happened to their own people, they chose to stay away. 

‘Despite that, the original settlers still planned ways of defeating Cronus. Over the centuries, however, most gave up on that plan and the history of where they had come from was forgotten. But some continued their original work. And they succeeded, in theory. They created a way to defeat not only Cronus, but the Fomorians as a whole, a way to save the entire universe from the Fomorian scourge forever. And now that way is standing right in this room. Right there.’

And with that, Denuvus released her hand and pointed at me. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The Storm 21-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

A/N – We have a new piece of art for Aylen! It was created by the artist known as witch_trialz and commissioned by Celeste. You can see the amazing picture right here and it has also been added to the art page

A/N 2 – Also in case you missed it, there was a commissioned interlude focused on Arthur and Morgan/Gaia posted the other day! It can be found by clicking right here.

There was a lot running through my mind in that second, as we found ourselves being attacked by seven Boscher Heretics. About half were assorted curse words, but there was also a bit of useful information as well. Chiefly, I realized that our attackers had said their job was to hurt us, not kill us. That was an important distinction. It was like when Ammon had invaded Crossroads and told the others to hurt me. He hadn’t wanted me dead, just punished for being mean to him, in his eyes. And in this case, I was pretty sure Denuvus wanted us hurt in order to delay us. Why exactly she had been careful to tell them to hurt but not kill us I didn’t know for sure, but it couldn’t have been an accident. I had a feeling she didn’t do much by accident. 

Tabbris jumped back into my body, and I could feel her settle in even as I launched myself forward to meet the incoming charge. We had seven of these guys attacking us and the only full Heretics to match them were Shiori and me. We didn’t even have Robin and Persephone right now. Who the hell knew what sort of powers these guys could pull out?

One of my rings flipped in front of me and grew as I went through it, giving myself a speed boost to reach the Latino boy, who had been coming in fast with his curved sword raised. He was taken by surprise as I reached him faster than he expected, and my staff snapped up and out, slamming into his fingers hard enough to savagely break them if he had been a normal person. Yes, these guys weren’t in control of themselves, but we didn’t have the luxury of playing nice. We needed them to stop attacking us. Besides, even if I did break his fingers, they’d heal quickly enough. 

And they didn’t break anyway. But he did yelp and curse a bit, hand recoiling reflexively. Which almost made me freeze in confusion. Not because I’d hurt him, but because I’d heard his curse? What the fuck? He was right in front of me, the mute spell should’ve–it was gone. Something disabled the mute spell we’d put up and I hadn’t even noticed until right now. 

Still, I didn’t have time to worry about that, not right this second. Instead, I took advantage of the boy’s reaction by spinning around with my back to him while driving the end of my staff into his stomach. To the left (or what had been my right before I turned around), my other ring grew in front of the black girl. In this case, the slow side was facing her, halfing her speed as she passed through it. While she was still reacting to that and the boy behind me had doubled over with my staff in his stomach, I triggered the kinetic burst from it and let go. The staff launched itself off the boy, knocking him to the ground from the force of it before flying forward to collide with the back of the red-haired girl’s head as she was using some sort of energy coils to lift a bear-shaped Twister off the ground. It hit with enough force to make her stumble forward, releasing Twister. In that instant, Asenath and Stasia were there, speeding past in their blurred vampire speed forms while catching hold of the red-haired girl’s arms. They ran her straight into a four-foot-wide, six-foot-tall stalagmite, colliding with it hard enough to crack the thing. An instant later, a glowing energy cube appeared around her, trapping the girl there. It was Senny, who had come equipped with a bit of Bobbi’s blood so she could use the girl’s power. With her permission, naturally. The red-haired girl slammed her fists into it, making the cube flicker just a tiny bit before holding. 

In the meantime, the tall blond guy had been trying to line up a shot with some sort of rifle. But Tabbris had taken control of my sand powers and was using them to keep shoving the stuff in his face so he couldn’t aim properly. She was also pushing some of the sand into his shoes and heating it just enough that he couldn’t put his feet down properly and using my size-control power to make just a few of the grains big enough to cause discomfort and upset his balance. All of which were good ideas, and I was going to have to remember them.

Before he could fight his way through those distractions and take a shot, I focused on summoning several of my ghosts, including Rahanvael. They all flew that way, swarming him. He immediately produced a knife with ghost-fire on it, but that still kept him occupied. The ghosts jumped in and out of range, forcing the boy to focus on them. 

Meanwhile, another swarm of my ghosts was sent to help Twister with the black girl. She too had her own ghost-fire spell, which she used to cover the trident she had produced. Still, between the ghosts playing distraction and Twister shifting into various animals, the Heretic girl was busy. 

Behind me, the Latino boy was lifting his hand from where he was lying on the ground. Flames appeared there, starting to build into a fireball. But before he could launch it, a pretty (and familiar) wind chime-like sound filled the air. The boy immediately stopped what he was doing, head tilting just a bit to one side as he listened to it with a dull expression. Those flames he had been summoning faded away. 

It was Shiori, using the hypnotic whistling power she’d picked up during our very first trip to the Meregan world. Unfortunately, it could only work on one person at a time, and even then only for a few seconds. But it was enough to distract the guy so she could reach him at a sprint. Before he could recover, she hoisted him off the ground with both hands. His leg extended a couple feet longer than it should have been, foot hitting the ground so he could kick off with incredible force. The two of them went flying sideways through the air together, and he hit her with some sort of kinetic blast that sent her straight toward a hanging stalactite. But before she could hit it, I had sent both of my rings up there, the slow sides facing her. It dropped her speed enough that Shiori could recover in midair, rebounding off the hanging rock to throw herself back at the boy unexpectedly. 

While that was happening, I could sense the causasian guy with the brown flat top collide with Judas. I was too busy to see what happened, but the two of them went tumbling end over end across the ground just before my sense of the clothes that the attacking Heretic was wearing vanished, along with every other item he had on him. I risked a quick glance over my shoulder while summoning my staff back, just in time to see Judas on his back, swinging a fist that passed through the Heretic on top of him, who had turned himself intangible. That was why I couldn’t sense his items. Worse, he held his hands out over Judas and let off some sort of electrical blast that made the man jerk and spasm a bit. 

Well, if that guy wanted to play ghost, I’d show him how it was done. “Grover, stab!” I shouted, before belatedly adding, “Non-lethal stab!” 

Immediately, the small ghost boy appeared behind the Heretic, knife in hand. The others had learned to make bags out of their own energy. But with Grover, we’d gone a bit further. This was the result, a weapon that could stab other ghosts and many types of intangible things. He drove the blade into the boy’s shoulder, which made him flicker back into solidity while yelping. 

Judas took advantage of that, boxing the guy’s ears before kicking him off so he could roll to his feet. He grabbed for something on his belt.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to see what it was. Mostly because Trice had decided he was tired of hanging back and watching. There was a rush of wind that whipped across my face just before the green-haired boy appeared in front of me, already swinging his pike around to catch the side of me furthest from where I was holding the staff. Like the others, he wasn’t going for a lethal blow, but he definitely wanted to hurt me.

Fortunately, I was faster than he thought. In an instant, the staff transported from my left hand to my right, and I managed to snap it up just enough to catch the very tip of his incoming weapon. It knocked the staff out of my hand from the force, but still deflected his pike slightly. Between that and my own abrupt pivot, the weapon glided just past my stomach. And with a thought, my staff was back in my hands as I faced the older boy. 

All around us, the others were fighting. Shiori and the Latino guy were off in the distance, going at one another. Tabbris and that first assortment of ghosts were still helping to keep the blond guy off balance while Stasia had come in to actually fight him. Twister and those other ghosts were still busy with that black girl, while Judas was still fighting the flat top guy (with help from Grover). The red-haired girl was still trapped in the cube, but Miles was right there. His swarm of bees kept shifting into various weapons to attack Asenath with, while the vampire girl used Bobbi’s powers along with her own vampire speed and strength to keep up with him. Unfortunately, I knew from past training that she could only keep one containment cube active at a time, especially considering there wasn’t unlimited energy for her to pull from down here. If she created another one to hold Miles, it would let the red-haired girl go. 

And I had Trice right in front of me. 

“You know Avalon wasn’t responsible for what happened to Torv,” I snapped at him. 

He shrugged a bit. “Yeah, sure. It was the Seosten. But I still think you’re annoying. Plus, you killed Doxer. Sure, maybe we attacked you first and all. So you don’t deserve to die. But I wouldn’t mind smacking you around a bit.” He bared his teeth, adding, “You know, while your mom’s busy helping Denuvus.” 

He was trying to get a rise out of me and make me lash out blindly. The guy was intentionally being an asshole to bait me. I knew that, and yet, it still took everything I had not to give him exactly what he wanted. I so wanted to slam my staff right into his teeth, even if he was expecting that and would have countered.

Instead, I gripped my weapon more tightly while snapping, “I dunno, sure you’re up for it? After all, I’ve had more than a week of training at this point, so I might not be your preferred type of opponent.” He wasn’t the only one who could bait people. “Maybe you’d rather find someone more on your level to fight, like one of the twelve-year-old recruits we picked up over Christmas.” 

To my surprise, the boy actually laughed, dark as it was. “You give as good as you get, I’ll grant you that much.” He almost sounded admiring, though his eyes were still dangerous. “But you’re still in over your head right now, babe. Don’t forget, you helped Gaia lock me up. I owe you for that too. I’ll give you a chance though. Surrender, then tell the others to do the same, and none of you will be attacked anymore. You have my word. We’re just supposed to stop you from coming any closer anyway, so if you all surrender, we can hang out here until Denuvus says it’s cool. No more fighting. That’s fair, right? After all, you wouldn’t want to be responsible for your friends getting hurt.” 

That all made sense, of course. I could feel his words playing through my head. We didn’t really need to fight like this. If we just surrendered, no one would get hurt. Maybe we could even convince them to tell us what was actually going on. Yeah, that could work. It would definitely be more productive than trying to fight against someone like him. Especially considering–

Flick! Tabbris shouted inside my head. It’s a trick, he’s using a voice power, like Uncle Satan!

As soon as she said that, I felt the effect slip away. I was back in control of myself, seeing the boy smirk in front of me as what he believed was his successful attempt to control me. Well, I was going to have to disappoint him on that front.

I did so by slamming the tip of my staff into his chin hard enough to knock his head back and snap his mouth shut with a clack of teeth. Before he could recover, I used my recently-acquired rocket burst under my feet and on my back to throw myself forward and up, driving my knee into his face an instant after my staff hit his chin. The force sent him onto his back with a grunt, and I shifted the rocket burst angle to throw myself down toward his sprawled form while slamming my staff into his face. At least, that was the idea. But just before I would’ve hit him, the boy vanished in another gust of wind, blowing off to the left while my staff rebounded off the rock. 

“Okay then!” he blurted while reappearing to one side, his foot lashing out to kick me in the hip before I could move. “The hard way it is!” 

He tried to follow up by driving his pike into my arm, but Tabbris reacted faster, making my head turn before opening my mouth so we could spit that resin stuff. It struck a spot near the base of the pike and the nearby stalagmite, sticking the weapon to the rock just as he was trying to drive it forward. 

Before he could recover from that, my hand snapped out. I hardened my fingernails enough to cut through stone. Or, in this case, his forehead. The boy recoiled as blood dripped from the wound into his eyes. Even then, however, he was already lashing out with a front kick toward my stomach. I twisted just enough to avoid the worst of it, but the blow still made me stumble a step. And he took advantage, ripping his pike free of the resin before spinning around to bring it slamming toward my exposed right side. At the last second, I managed to make my staff grow, extending the thing another foot in length so it could intercept his weapon. They both rebounded off each other with a loud clang. 

Using the momentum from that, I spun around and dropped to one knee while swinging my staff from one end to send it into his knees. But he brought the pike down to block it again. Even as my staff bounced off his weapon, I triggered the boost from the end I was holding, along with the rocket burst to send myself up off the ground and over his head. Twisting in the air, I shifted my weapon into its bow form and sent a concussive-energy arrow straight at his back. 

Unfortunately, Trice transformed into wind once more. His air-form flew backward, further along the path the energy arrow was taking as it passed through the area he had been in and kept going. He transformed back into his solid form while facing the incoming shot, pike raised. Even as I landed on both feet, the boy caught the energy arrow on his pike, and I belatedly remembered that he could absorb and redirect kinetic energy with that thing. Which he did in that moment, sending a wide blast of force back toward me. It would have sent me sprawling, but I held my weapon (still in its bow form) out and froze it there so the thing wouldn’t move. In the same instant, my finger found the bit of wood in my weapon and I possessed it. Then it was just my weapon hanging there in midair. The pause power forced the thing to stay where it was, even against the force of that kinetic wave. And the second it passed, I was back out of the bow. I took another shot, which Trice was ready for. But this time, at the last second I aimed upward instead of at him. The energy arrow shot that way, colliding with one of the hanging stalactites with enough force to snap the thing free. It fell straight toward Trice. 

He was ready, of course, shifting back into his wind form to fly sideways in order to avoid it. But I had been anticipating that. Even as my arrow was hitting the ceiling and the boy started to react, I was already launching myself that way, in the direction I knew he was going to move. My weapon shifted back to its staff form and I brought it around, blade-end stabbing toward the spot where his arm was. 

Or rather, where it should have been. Even though I had anticipated his movement, even though I was boosting, despite all of that, he still managed to intercept my incoming staff with his own weapon the instant he solidified.

I followed up with a rapid series of strikes, growing and shrinking my staff the whole time. But none of them managed to nail the boy. His pike was always in the way, as the two of us circled one another. He was so fast, it was almost impossible to actually hit him. 

Now? Tabbris quickly put in, even as I snapped my head back to avoid one of his retaliatory strikes, catching a slight cut across my chin in the process. 

Now! I agreed. 

Immediately, bright glowing wings erupted from my back. They only lasted for a brief moment, long enough to catch Trice’s attention. Then they vanished, as Tabbris took all the energy she was using for them and pushed it into her own boost power. Which she then pushed into me. I boosted at the same time. 

It would only last for a few seconds. We both knew that, from testing. That was why she had been holding back, waiting for the right moment. But now, at least for those seconds, I was faster than Trice. So much fucking faster. It was like he was standing still. Or at least moving in slow motion. His pike was still rising to intercept my staff, so I adjusted the angle slightly. It rebounded off the side of his head, and he began to recoil, face twisting in surprise ever-so-slowly. I brought the weapon down and around, driving the blade into his foot in what had to be a blindingly-fast blur of motion as far as he was concerned. To me, he was practically frozen. Even as the blade went through his foot, I was already snapping it up to drive the grapple end into his chin hard enough to knock his head back once more. I could see his body starting to shift into its wind form, but from my current perspective it was happening very gradually. Before he could finish the transformation, I spun myself in a full circle, simultaneously activating the staff’s own kinetic burst and applying the rocket boost to it. The weapon came around, slamming into the side of Trice’s head hard enough to interrupt his transformation. He was sent to the ground in a heap, lying there completely dazed. 

My super archangel-assisted boost ran out a second later, while Trice groaned, clearly completely out of it. I managed to look around then, only to find that the others had the situation in hand. Twister was an elephant and had a couple of the Heretic students held securely under her massive feet. Meanwhile, my ghosts had swarmed over several others and were holding them prisoner. In fact, the only one still on his feet and free was…

“Miles?” I turned that way, just in time to see the boy already retreating. He went running through the cave toward a half-hidden tunnel, blurting something about ‘warning her.’ Yeah, he was definitely affected by Denuvus. If I hadn’t been convinced already, seeing him abandon his friends like that made it clear. 

“Miles!” I shouted, starting to run after him. 

Before I could take more than a step, however, Trice interrupted. “Pretty hot shit, huh?” He still sounded dazed and mostly out of it, but the words still made me look that way. The boy had something in his hand. Which he pushed before I could react. “Good thing Denuvus always has a backup plan.” 

As he pushed the… whatever it was in his palm, a nearby section of wall just disappeared, like it was a hologram. Another large section of the cavern was revealed, along with what had to be about forty or so heavily armed and armored guys of all shapes and sizes. 

Oh yeah, and they were all unconscious. Every last one of the men was lying on the ground. A few still gave weak groans of pain in their sleep, or breathed heavily. But they were, one and all, completely out of it. There were deep dents in their armor, a few had broken weapons lying nearby, blood scattered across their bodies and the ground, all signs of a truly epic fight. Yet there was no sign of anyone who could have actually fought them. 

“Uhh…” Shiori had moved next to me, staring that way. “What sort of backup plan is this?” 

Trice looked just as confused, staring that way in complete bafflement. “The fuck…?” 

I started to say something else, only to blink down. “Oh, hey little guy.” Stooping, I picked up my new monkey-tailed beetle. “How’d you fall out? Come on, you’ve gotta be careful around here. 

“I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.” 

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The Storm 21-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, our group walked together across the orange-red ground. It continued to crunch under our feet, more like very thin snow than the dirt it resembled. The air was almost unpleasantly hot, and filled with that sulfur scent, which threatened to make us cough uncontrollably as we got closer to the volcano. But we dealt with both using magic, specifically the fresh air spell and another one Judas knew, which basically kept the temperature around our bodies to a more tolerable level. Although he did warn us that it wouldn’t stand up to very extreme temperatures, so we shouldn’t try to go swimming in lava or anything like that. 

Jaq and Gus were riding on my shoulders, while the latter held Herbie in place on that side so he could see where we were going. I knew my little cyberform mice were worried about Mom too. She’d been giving them special treats now and then, little pieces of rare metal that was supposed to make their bodies tougher once they ingested and processed it. I wasn’t exactly sure how that worked, but apparently it was a thing for all Cyberforms. They rebuilt and repaired themselves over time using the metal they ‘ate.’ That was in addition to the way ones like Vulcan turned the ingested metal into new bullets. When they were able to get a particularly durable bit of metal, they could use that to strengthen their own form. My buddies were much tougher to squish by this point, all thanks to Mom’s help after she had been able to produce some truly rare samples. So they really wanted to find her too. 

I did think about using the speed rings to make us go faster, but as impatient as I was for this to be over, the others needed to conserve as much energy as possible. It wouldn’t do us any good to sprint all the way there, only for half of us to collapse in exhaustion right when we found ourselves in trouble. Not everyone had the near-limitless stamina I had, or were a robot like Robin.

And speaking of Robin, they were in the lead, since their senses were better than anything the rest of us could boast, even the vampires. Especially with the way the volcano was messing with that. We might’ve had the fresh air spell keeping us from choking on the fumes, but that just meant that Senny and Stasia couldn’t smell anything beyond the effect. And if we lowered it, all they’d be able to smell would be the sulfur. It affected them even more than the rest of us. 

But that was okay, because again, we had Robin. The Mevari could see and hear much further than the rest of us, even through the fog-like haze we began walking through. They made sure we didn’t stumble into any problems. Between Fossor and Denuvus, I was almost positive that there would be some sort of trap before we made it to our destination. Hell, probably more than one. For all we knew, the witch was watching us with magic right now, just waiting for us to get a little closer before–

No. No, Shiori had that power that allowed her to sense when she was being observed by someone she didn’t know about. She’d know if someone was watching us. Unless they had some way around that, of course. There was always magic and other powers to counter various abilities, including that one. And it would make sense for someone like Denuvus to have that. So really, there was nothing proving she wasn’t staring at us right now and plotting about what to do. 

Shoving that incredibly unhelpful thought out of my head, I glanced around once more. Everything still looked the same. Robin was out in front, with Judas slightly behind them. Shiori, Tabbris, and I were walking side by side a few feet behind those two. About ten feet back from us, Stasia and Asenath were walking together, having their own telepathic conversation about vampire things. And a few feet further back from them, Persephone was riding on Twister, who was in the form of a rhino. They were also having their own conversation through the magical mental connection we’d set up. I hadn’t been privy to much of it, but from what they’d said a few minutes earlier when I asked what they were talking about, it had something to do with some very minor Seosten member of the Olympus Twister had met about eighty years ago without knowing what he was. It sounded like they had got along pretty well, and she wanted to know if he had just been manipulating her for some reason or what. 

Eighty years ago would’ve been while the rebellion was still going strong. A rebellion Twister had been part of. Did her memories of meeting with this minor Olympian have something to do with that? Or was it entirely unrelated? I was going to have to ask her about that later, after we got through this whole thing. One problem at a time–okay, as few problems as physically possible at a time. 

Squeezing my hand, Tabbris spoke through that same mental conversation spell. Despite the fact that she wasn’t talking out loud, her voice still came through in a whisper. Which wasn’t really necessary, but still. Do you think the people who live here are gonna be okay? I mean, on this world. Her telepathic voice was pensive, the girl squinting off into the distance as though trying to look toward one of the cities we knew were somewhere off in that direction. There was no chance she could see it, of course. The nearest inhabited area was thousands of miles away from here. Fossor hadn’t allowed anyone to live anywhere close to his old home. I still wondered if that had more to do with him being spiteful, or because he had put something important there. Maybe a bit of both. 

Returning the squeeze, I replied, They have a much better chance of it now that he’s gone. It’ll take a long time for them to move on, but at least they’ve got the opportunity now.

Shiori nodded from my other side, speaking up equally softly through the telepathic connection. Yeah, without that evil jackass around, these people can figure out what sort of society they actually are, you know? It’s sort of like a whole new world is being born. She smiled briefly before grimacing. A world that’s been through a lot of horrific trauma.

They will heal. That was Rahanvael. The ghost girl appeared slightly ahead of us, her form coming into view as she stared at the volcano. Her mental voice was tentative, and I could tell it was all she could do to keep herself somewhat together. And yet, there was hope in her words. With my brother gone, the people of our world can move on and become something better.

I started to say something about how she had made that happen, wanting to help alleviate some of the guilt I knew she still felt. But before I could, Robin stopped up ahead and held their hand out. A small hologram projector embedded in their palm made the words, Hold here appear in the air so we could all see. They looked back at us, and I saw the dark blue eyes of Sec as the hologram changed to, There is a tunnel running below the ground. It appears to be artificial, given the metallic walls. That lasted long enough for all of us to read, before changing once more. It runs from that direction, to that direction. First he pointed off to the west, away from the volcano, then his hand moved east, to the volcano itself. We had been moving in a north-eastern direction, toward the volcano at an angle. 

Wait. Rahanvael floated that way, stopping right next to Robin. She turned, looking to the west, the way Sec said the tunnel originated from. That direction is where my brother took me that day, the day he… She trailed off, visibly frowning before turning back to the east, the way the tunnel went. And that is the direction of our old home. It is… close. Her form flickered a little, probably thanks to what had to be a wave of conflicting emotions. From here, it would only take twenty minutes to reach our old farm. Or ten minutes to reach the spot where… he took me. 

Either of those could be important to him, I agreed, stepping up next to her and Robin while reaching up to put Jaq, Gus, and Herbie away in my pockets. I guess it just depends on which one you think we should check out first.

Da, Stasia murmured as she and the others joined us. The Russian vampire stepped out a bit before crouching over the spot where the tunnel was supposed to be. It should be her choice which way we go to start. But either way, perhaps we should see if we can do so from inside. 

She had a point. Whatever we were about to find, it would be better to get there from inside the tunnel. Any defenses or traps that were set up would probably be mostly pointed toward the entrances. Not that I expected it to be completely safe going in this way, of course. We all took a minute to spread out along the apparent path of the tunnel, figuring out the best way to get inside. According to Robin, the tunnel was about ten feet wide, and equally tall. The top of it was six feet down from where we were standing. 

So, Judas started while staring at the dirt beneath our feet, what do you all think? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t bring a shovel. And even if I had, I don’t fancy spending the next couple hours doing this manually. 

Twister, who had shifted back to her normal form after Persephone dismounted, kicked the dirt. Me neither. Even if I could maybe speed it up with an animal, there’s gotta be a better way. Do you Heretics have any spiffy powers that might help? 

I–wait, maybe. Focusing on the dirt once more, I thought about my sand control power. Maybe this stuff was similar enough to that? If there was silica in it, or something that my power could pretend was silica, it might work. 

We were in luck. The dirt, or sand, or whatever we wanted to call it now, moved under my focus. I could still only move about fifty pounds at a time, but it was still faster and easier than physically digging. The others helped by pushing the loose bits back as I dug down, making sure the stuff surrounding it didn’t fall into the opening and cover it up again. Before too long, I had managed to create a hole four feet wide and six feet deep, revealing the green metal top of the tunnel. There was also some sort of energy field running along it. At first we didn’t know what it was, but the moment Rahanvael tried to float through to check the place out, she was violently hurled backward. Anti-ghost field then, apparently. 

Fossor put up an anti-ghost shield around his secret tunnel? Shiori sounded confused. Why would he do that? I mean, he was the only one who used ghosts here, right?

Rahanvael, recovering after a moment, shook her head. Our people are known for producing Necromancers. None anywhere near his level, but still. And our ghosts commonly lingered until they were sent onward by our priests. It makes sense that he would take measures to prevent any of them from reaching whatever he was hiding here.  Her telepathic voice turned a bit bitter then. Even if he did attempt to kill any who demonstrated that sort of skill. Some might have been able to hide it for a time.

Yeah, of course he would have made a point of killing any of his own people who might have posed even the tiniest bit of a threat to him, no matter how remote. That and there was the fact that he never missed a chance to be as petty as possible. 

Rahanvael continued. I think there’s a lot of that necromantic energy in the shield itself. There’d have to be, for it to react so violently and effectively against ghosts. It seems to be a mix of magic and technology. Some sort of generator he set up and fueled with-– She blanched, arms crossing over her stomach with a look of disgust. 

With more of his sacrifices, I finished for her, sighing. He’s been gone for awhile, I don’t suppose there’s any chance of it running out of energy soon?

Considering how quick he was to kill off his own people, Judas put in, I wouldn’t count on that. He’s probably got enough power in there to keep the thing running for years. You said he didn’t come back here that often anyway. The dark-haired man rubbed the back of his neck before glancing toward me with those piercing eyes that I could feel even through the sunglasses he almost always wore. And personally, I don’t really feel like sitting around waiting to see if the power goes out.

Of course. I knew Judas, Robin, Stasia, and even Asenath really wanted to focus on finding Rasputin. They were all totally willing to help with this thing, Senny especially, given how important it was to me. And, most likely, the fact that we all thought Rasputin being here probably had something to do with Denuvus as well. Sure, it was possible that they both wanted to get completely different things from this place right after Fossor was killed. But given the way things had gone so far, I was willing to bet there was some sort of connection. At the very least, it made sense for all of us to stick together and look for my mother first. Stopping her from doing whatever Denuvus had sent her to do had to be our top priority. Not only because she was my mother, but also because whatever Denuvus wanted probably wouldn’t be good for the rest of us. That and none of us liked the idea of that woman popping up out of nowhere to fuck us over while we were distracted. 

But even with all of that in mind, I couldn’t blame them for wanting to get on with this so they could find Rasputin. If he wasn’t connected to this, then they were potentially losing the chance to find him here. 

Between that and my deep-seated fear that whatever Denuvus was sending my mother to do would be very bad, it was clear that we couldn’t wait around hoping that shield went down. We had to keep moving.

Persephone straightened up after poking her finger into the dirt beside the tunnel and tasting it with a thoughtful expression. It is probable that any breach of the shield would send an alert, which this Denuvus might become aware of. If she is actually here. Or anyone else who might be nearby.

What if Flick did it? Shiori asked, turning my way. Rahanvael said the thing has a lot of Fossor’s energy in it, and you have his power. Maybe you could disable it without setting off any alarms or anything. She offered a weak shrug. I know it’s a longshot, but still. 

No, she’s right. That was Rahanvael herself, focusing on me. I think you can push the energy out of the way to create a hole. But everyone would have to create an opening in the metal quickly and go through. 

I can do that! Tabbris piped up while raising her hand. Her expression was determined. I can use my wings to cut a hole in it, I promise. I’ve been practicing. 

I knew she felt guilty about the fact that she hadn’t been able to use her wings to cut through the security door back when Mom had locked us in that asteroid station. I’d tried to tell her not to worry about it, that Mom knew about her power and had prepared for it. But I wasn’t sure it helped all that much. At the very least, she was intent on using the wings now. 

So, while the others waited, I held my hand out and closed my eyes to focus on the shield in front of me. They were right, I could feel the necromantic energy interlaced throughout it. I’d expected this to be hard and take a lot of focus, but it really wasn’t. Almost as soon as I had the thought about the energy moving, it reacted. A hole appeared in the shield right below our feet, and I blinked a bit in surprise. Uhh, go for it. I’ve got this. I really did have it too. This wasn’t difficult at all. Was that weird? Probably not, since Fossor wouldn’t have wanted to make it hard for himself to get through his own shield, and this stuff probably thought I was him. And yet, it still made me uneasy. Maybe just because of the reminder that I was using his power. I was pretty sure I’d never really get used to that. 

Tabbris, standing on the opposite side of the hole in the dirt I’d made, manifested her wings and extended them. Within a few quick thrusts, she had cut an opening in the metal ceiling wide enough for all of us to go through. And one by one, we did just that. Asenath went first, followed by Stasia, then Shiori, and the others. I went last, allowing the shield to resume its position as soon as I was through.

Soon, we were in what was essentially a long metal tube. It was lit by some sort of glowing lines along the floor in the ceiling, farther from that, it looked empty. Looking both directions, I turned back to Rahanvael and gestured. Up to you. Which way sounds best? 

She thought about it briefly before giving a decisive nod. Toward our old home. We can see what my brother hid in his secret spot after we check on what he has done with this volcano.

So, we began moving east through the tunnel, keeping our eyes open for any sort of threat. Now we had the added feeling of claustrophobia to go with paranoia, which was fun. But either way, we kept going, doing our best to ignore that feeling. 

As promised, it took about twenty minutes to reach the general area that had apparently been where Fossor had grown up as a child. We found ourselves emerging from the tunnel into a wide open underground cavern that had to be part of the volcano itself. It was a good three hundred feet wide and just as long. There were stalagmites and stalactites scattered throughout the cave, along with a small stream of crystal clear water running down the middle of it, perpendicular to where we had entered. We could also see glowing crystals embedded in the walls of various colors. Red, blue, green, white, and purple mostly, though there were a few gold and green as well. 

Uhh, what is this place? Shiori asked as we all stopped and stared. 

I have no idea, Rahavael assured us. This is… I have never seen it. She sounded confused and a bit lost, understandably. I don’t even know what those glowing crystals are. Those… are not natural. 

Biting my lip, I started to step closer to the nearest cluster of the things so I could get a better look. Just as I moved, however, the cave rumbled around us. It only lasted for a couple seconds, but it definitely got our attention. As did the hole that suddenly opened up underneath the spot where Robin and Persephone were standing together. Before any of us could react, including the Mevari and Revenant-possessed Seosten, they had fallen through the hole and were gone. The ground reappeared just as quickly. 

I dove that way, along with Judas and Stasia. But before we could do anything about it, a voice that spoke up from about a hundred feet off, far enough to be out of range of our mute spell. 

“Well how about that! I told the old lady you wouldn’t sit still on that asteroid, and lookie here.” 

It was… Trice? Fucking Trice of all people? I’d almost forgotten about him entirely, after he’d disappeared from the cell Gaia put him in so long ago. The tall, green-haired Eden’s Garden Heretic stood there next to the stream, watching us with clear amusement. He held his pike in one hand, the end of it planted on the ground like a walking stick as he stared at me. “Let me guess, you’re here to find your mom. Well, I’ve got bad news. We still need her for awhile. But don’t worry, we’ll keep you busy.” 

We? What did he mean by–

The answer came even as I had that thought. Several more figures appeared around Trice. In front was a boy, a year or two older than me, with long, shaggy dark hair and an olive complexion. His left arm was covered by a metal gauntlet. He was accompanied by a pale, red-haired girl, a slightly taller black girl, a blond caucasian guy with very piercing blue eyes, a scrawny Latino guy with short hair and a goatee, and another caucasian (though quite tanned) guy with brown hair cut into a flat top. 

At first I didn’t recognize them, but then I realized. The guy in front was Miles Cleary, the guy whose ‘bogeyman’ father had been imprisoned by Fossor. And the others were all members of his team. 

Wait, hold on. Why didn’t I… why hadn’t I talked to the guy after we found his dad? Why didn’t I… even think about him that much? The realization of just how much I had not thought about him, and how strange that was given the circumstances, had just started to fill my mind when Trice spoke again. 

“You guys heard what Denuvus said, right?” 

“Fight,” all six of the others replied together, their voices a disturbing monotone that made it clear they weren’t in control of themselves. “Hurt the intruders.” As Miles said that, the gauntlet on his arm broke apart, turning into hundreds of tiny metal cyberform bees, which quickly reshaped themselves into a sword and shield. Meanwhile, the others all produced their own weapons.  And just like that, we had seven Boscher Heretics about to launch themselves at us. Seven Boschers on their side, versus two Boschers, a tiny Seosten girl with terrifyingly powerful energy wings, two vampires, a Pooka, and a Natural Charmeine Heretic. And we had no idea what had happened to Robin and Persephone, or if they were okay.    

“Yup, that about sums it up,” Trice agreed, almost as though he’d read my mind. His eyes narrowed at me, while lifting his pike to join the other six. 

“Let’s have some fun.” 

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The Storm 21-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Apparently the metals in the volcano, and possibly other things, were interfering with the sensors on the ship. We could tell there were some life signs down on that spot, probably dozens of them. But it was hard to make out specifics, and we couldn’t get a good, close visual beyond a few very static-filled images. The only solution was to land and go over there ourselves to check it out in person. We all just hoped that, whatever Mom had been sent here for, it wasn’t too late to stop Denuvus from getting it. 

And on a more personal note, I hoped that it wasn’t too late to punch Denuvus in the fucking face. Preferably repeatedly. 

Obviously, we didn’t put the ship down right where we had detected the Jitterbug. There was far too much chance of something going wrong with that, and this ship had zero defenses. It could barely actually fly, let alone get in a fight. Fortunately, at least in this case, the world didn’t seem to have any non-automated defenses. Which made sense, given Fossor wouldn’t dream of teaching his slaves how to protect themselves, or give them the equipment to do so. Given the Renaissance-level technology level we were able to pick up, it was likely that they had no idea we were here at all. We certainly didn’t pick up any activity as the ship descended toward the landing spot we had picked out, a bit of a hike away from the volcano. The cities we were able to scan seemed to be going about their days normally. Not that we had an idea of what normal was for them, either before or after Fossor’s death, but still. 

We had to take it slow going down there, considering the condition our ship was in. It wouldn’t really help us save Mom and the others if this thing burned up thousands of feet above the planet. Something told me Robin didn’t want to survive falling from orbit a second time. And the rest of us probably wouldn’t even be that lucky. So, we were heading down at what felt like a glacial pace. Even then, the ship was steadily rocking enough to make me a little nervous, though I did my best to push that out of my mind. After all, it wasn’t like I lacked other things to worry about.

Standing between the pilot and copilot seat, I reached out to indicate a few different spots on the scanner. “What are those lifesigns between the big cities? It looks like they’re moving. They’re not just animals, right? I mean, tell me those wouldn’t be the only animal lifesigns we’re picking up on the entire world, cuz…” I blanched at the horrible thought that the entire planet might have a few dozen animals out in the world. It couldn’t be that bad. Please don’t let it be that bad. 

Persephone sat up a bit, giving me a quick, encouraging smile. “They are not wild animals. The scanners are calibrated to only pick up humanoid life signs. We think those are caravans, Felicity. We have also detected large amounts of tools and food stuff being moved along with them. Probably in wagons, pulled by beasts of burden.” 

Robin gave a short nod, eyes the amber-brown of Hood as he looked over at me. “It looks like the cities nearest to one another have begun to establish a rudimentary trade network. We don’t think they have direct communication with each other yet, but there are a few smaller, faster sets of lifesigns that are probably just two people each, riding faster beasts without the supply wagons. They’re probably carrying messages, like the old Pony Express on Earth.” 

Their eyes shifted to the yellow of Sprite. “We used to ride for the Pony Express, that was fun! It was back when Sec and Brawl were the same guy. And more like a cowboy.” Her tone became a bit wistful. “I liked being a cowboy. And chasing bad guys when we were a bounty hunter. That was fun too. So was helping Eliot Ness in the 1930’s, but we didn’t get to ride horses then.” She sounded sad about that.

Ducking her head under my arm so she could see them, Tabbris piped up. “Maybe after we save Flick’s mama and the others, and get home, we can go to a ranch and see how you ride horses. I bet you’re really good at riding.” She was holding Herbie in one hand, having spent the past couple minutes getting reassurances from the brave little guy about how this whole thing was going to go. It always helped to know that, whatever happened, Herbie had our backs.

Turning away to let those two talk for a minute, I glanced to where Asenath, Shiori, and Stasia were whispering intently together. Judas was standing a bit out of the way, clearly lost in his own thoughts. He gave me a short nod before continuing to stare at the wall. It looked like he was brooding a bit. Which, given who he was and everything that happened to him, was probably understandable. On our way here, we’d asked him a bit about that, just to get his side of the story. We’d already known that he’d been possessed and used by Charmeine, of course, which helped explain why he hated her so much. But getting the details about how all of it had gone down… it was rough. He seemed relatively well adjusted now, and he was clearly glad she was dead, even if he hadn’t done the job himself. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to react the first time we ran into Invidia. 

I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation between the other girls, so I stepped over to stand next to him. “It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Thinking about how you’re about to set foot on a new planet, I mean.” 

Raising an eyebrow at me, he replied, “Like we said before, it seems like this is old hat for you.” 

Snorting, I shook my head. “Believe me, it’s still weird, even after it’s happened a few times. Especially–” Cutting myself off, I swallowed hard, trying to find the right words. 

“Especially considering just what planet it is?” Finishing that for me, Judas waited until I nodded before continuing. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about how I’d feel if we were about to land right next to Charmeine’s childhood home. It’s uhh…” He considered before simply finishing with, “Seems like you’re handling it pretty well, all things considered.” 

“You mean considering my mother has been puppeted by some crazy bitch to come to the planet of the guy who abducted, imprisoned, and tortured her for a decade and do fuck knows what?” Through that little bit, I had started to reflexively glare at the wall, before catching myself. A heavy sigh escaped me. “Sure, I’m doing my best not to freak out here. Glad it’s working at least externally.” 

Before I could say anything else, Robin turned to look away. Their eyes were the purple of Grease. “Okie dokes, gonna need y’all to strap on in real quick-like. We’re jest about tah set this puppy down, and it might be just a wee bit bumpy. And by wee bit bumpy, I mean it’ll be like tryna ride a greased hog into a chicken coop. After all, we’s barely holding together for the flying part. The landing part might be too much.”

“Have I mentioned I love Grease and want her to keep coming back when this is over?” Twister whispered my way. 

“You know they can hear you, right?” I whispered back. 

“Oh trust me, babe, I know.” Twister proceeded to give the Robin System a thumbs up. 

So, we did just that, strapping ourselves into the seats. The subtle vibrating by that point had become much more pronounced. Grease and Persephone were talking back-and-forth in what sounded almost like code and pointing to various instruments as they worked together to keep the landing as smooth as possible. Or at least keep the ship from breaking apart completely. Either way, the turbulence was getting pretty bad. I felt Tabbris take one of my hands from her place on my left side, while Shiori, sitting on my right, took the other. It was all I could do to offer them both encouraging smiles without upchucking from the way the ship was shaking. And boy wouldn’t that be a fantastic way to start off our whole mission here? 

The shaking was getting worse by the moment. Within a minute, Grease called back for us to brace ourselves. Then the whole ship lurched so much that I would’ve been thrown out of my seat without the safety harness. We spun around in several full circles, all of us trying not to cry out. There were at least three different warning alarms screaming through the cabin, accompanied by shouts from our pilots to one another about keeping the ship in one piece. I heard screeching metal, and then it was like the hand of a giant came up and swatted the entire ship. The lights went out completely, and we started plummeting really fast. Too fast, actually. Way too fast.

Thankfully, the ship slowed down abruptly, knocking us hard against our restraints. But on the plus side, we were now falling at a survivable rate. That lasted for just a couple seconds before we finally came down into what I prayed was the ground. And just like that, everything was completely motionless and silent, save for a slight creaking sound from the body of the ship that I was praying didn’t mean it was about to completely collapse in on us while we were sitting here. But hey, at least the alarms had stopped. Though I wasn’t entirely certain that was a good sign.

For a brief handful of seconds, we all just sat there in the dark. Then the emergency lighting came on. Well, it came on, then off, then on, then off, and finally back on and stayed relatively steady. I didn’t trust that to last, though. Hell, for all I knew, it was about to start an electrical fire. We all looked around at one another in the dim, somewhat flickering lighting before checking ourselves for injuries. Finally, Senny spoke up. “Something tells me we might want to get off this thing before it explodes.”

“Da,” Stasia agreed, already unstrapping herself as she added in a mutter under her breath. “And hope that we are not forced to use it again to get off this planet.“

Persephone promptly piped up with, “Oh, I have good news for that!” She beamed in the dim lighting. “This ship will probably never fly again. At least, not without months of work, and supplies that we can’t get on this world. So you’ll never have to ride it again.” 

There was a lot I wanted to say to that, but I kept my mouth shut and instead unstrapped myself. Then I had to reach down to pick Marco up off the floor. The poor beetle must’ve fallen out of my pocket while we were being jostled around so much. Together, we made our way to the exit. Robin had to shove at the door a couple times, before the whole thing completely fell off, hitting the ground beyond with a loud clang. That was punctuated by a large amount of smoke or steam filling the air in the doorway for a moment before it dissipated. Yeah, we had to get off this ship, right now. It had done a really good job of getting us to this point, but that was enough. Or at least I really hoped it was. 

Taking a deep breath while the others looked at me expectantly, I moved to that opening and looked out. They were giving me the chance to be the first of our group to stand on the planet, which I sort of appreciated. But first, I focused on Rahanvael, who had disappeared while we were descending. Looking that way as the ghost girl appeared beside me in that hatchway, I gestured with one hand. “After you.” 

She didn’t move at first, which I couldn’t blame her for at all. There had to be a lot of emotions running through the girl right now. Not only was she back on her home planet after so long, a planet that her own brother had so thoroughly devastated for millennia, but she was even back near her own actual home. Or the geographical spot where it had been, anyway. When I tried to think about how I would feel in her situation, I just… couldn’t. I couldn’t even start to comprehend what that would be like. But at the very least, I knew why she had to take a few seconds, and it seemed from the way everyone was patiently waiting, so did the others. No amount of preparing herself on the way here would have left her ready to immediately move when the time came. 

Finally, Rahanvael seemed to give herself a little nod, before floating forward. I watched as she emerged from the ship and went out several feet, clearly looking around. From the pain visible on her face when her gaze turned back my way briefly, seeing the place in person wasn’t helping. 

Looking back to the rest of the group briefly, I spoke in a soft voice. “We don’t know exactly where Mom, Denuvus, or the others are. Hell, Denuvus herself might not even be here, but let’s not count on that. You guys ready to get those spells on?” 

The others nodded, and we took out the coins we had prepared ahead of time, on our way here. There were three of them for each of us, for three separate bits of magic. The first coin had the spell that Judas had mentioned before, though modified with help from Persephone, Robin (they couldn’t cast magic but they had knowledge about a lot of it), and even Shyel. And boy had that been an interesting explanation to give. Telling the others (only Shiori and Tabbris knew before now) that I had a mental copy of Chayyiel living in my head, communicating with me while I was asleep and helping me train, had been a bit of a conversation. And had seemed to reinforce the idea of just how weird my life was. But in any case, between all of that, we’d managed to get the distance no one could talk within up from fifteen feet, all the way to about seventy-five. If we spread out when we saw Denuvus, we could make that cover a lot more ground. Which would hopefully be enough.

But if it wasn’t, we had the second spell. This one had come from Persephone originally, though like the first, we’d given it a few tweaks. If the spell picked up the words ‘My name is Den,’ it would immediately transport us to the nearest safe location at least one mile away. It shouldn’t hear that at all, given the first spell. But if, for whatever reason, that first spell failed, we had this one as a back up. It wouldn’t help us beat her, but it would remove us from the situation before she had a chance to make us do anything. That way, we could regroup. 

Finally, the third spell was specifically one that Shyel had taught me, when I told her what we were trying to do. It allowed telepathic communication amongst everyone who was using it, though only those people could send their thoughts. Others could receive them, but not send. So no matter how hard Denuvus thought her commands at us, we wouldn’t pick that up. We also wouldn’t be hearing every thought each of us had, as it only picked up what you intentionally tried to send. Now we would be able to communicate with one another even with the voice-muting spell active. 

Well, most of us would, anyway. The Robins were sort of the odd persons out on that front. Not only were they in a robot body, but that body also generated a constant field that negated active magic. The field didn’t extend any further than their body, but still. We couldn’t use any of these spells on them. Which, I still wasn’t sure how that worked with them being able to pass through portals, but maybe that was designed to be an exception or something? 

Either way, not being able to use the mute voices or instant teleportation spells on them wouldn’t really be an issue as far as Denuvus went. Her power didn’t work on machines. Which was largely why plan A for dealing with any sighting of that woman was for Robin to shut her up. We didn’t hold any illusion that it would be that easy, of course. But that didn’t stop me from smiling as I imagined the look on Denuvus’s face just before taking Robin’s fist to the face hard enough to knock her out. 

There was also the fact that the voice power wasn’t the only threat she presented. Just like Ammon, Denuvus had the same ‘kill things to gain their powers’ ability Bosch Heretics did. That’s why he’d had the ability to do that in the first place. Actually, I wasn’t sure if hers was more like ours or the stronger Natural-Reaper Heretic version. I’d never been clear on which one of those Ammon had. Either way, she obviously had a lot of powers. And we had no idea what those powers were. We had to be ready for anything.

With all that in mind, and the three spells activated, I slowly stepped through the hatch and down from the ship. My feet seemed to crunch the orange-reddish dirt, though I couldn’t hear it thanks to the silencing spell. I moved several feet away to let the others descend, while looking around. 

My first breath of air on Fossor’s planet wasn’t the best. I could smell sulfur and something else I couldn’t really identify but definitely didn’t smell good. The volcano in the distance took up almost the entire skyline. It had to be as big as the tallest mountains back home, if not more so. The whole thing was black and dark red, with imposing-looking jagged rock peaks all across it. 

Beyond the volcano and attached mountain range heading north, the ground was mostly flat and empty, with just this bare dirt. There were a few large rocks and very small hills, almost like sand dunes. Other than that, I saw no plants, no animals, nothing. 

At one point, this place had been a beautiful forest. But not anymore. Now it was barren. It was unlikely that anything could actually grow here for a very long time. Fossor had done his level best to destroy anything alive within several hundred miles of the place where he had grown up. Which seemed petty, but then again, this was Fossor. He was basically the patron saint of petty. 

Nope, nope, I didn’t like thinking of Fossor as the saint or god of anything. He was just a sick, twisted, dead piece of shit. 

Focusing on Rahanvael, I stepped that way and focused on my mental connection to her. Speaking aloud wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I know you’re not okay right now, but… I just want you to know that I’m here. And so is your world. So are your people. They survived. He’s gone. He’s dead and he’s not coming back. Your world might take a long time to get better, but now it has the chance. Your people have a chance. Thanks to you. Without you, I never would’ve survived what happened, and he… he’d still be out there. You saved your world, Rahanvael. You saved your people. Your dad would be proud of you. Your people should be proud of you. 

There was no response for a moment. She was staring off over the horizon. Finally, her gaze shifted to me, and our eyes met. Thank you, Flick, she silently sent. I think I’m ready now. 

Let’s go see my old home, and find out why Denuvus sent your mother here. 

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The Storm 21-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Our borrowed and slightly cobbled-together ship wasn’t going to win any big races, that was for sure. Not against most other ships that we could’ve been racing against, and definitely not against the Jitterbug. We were basically a guy limping along with one leg and unstable crutches, while the Jitterbug was… well, a teleporter. Mom didn’t just have a head-start, she had already won the race. The one to get to Fossor’s planet, anyway. I just had to hope that, whatever she had to do there, it would take long enough for us to finally make it and stop her. 

Stop her. Stop my mother. Fuck, god–I really did not like this Denuvus chick. I was willing to go out on a limb and say I was not a fan. Making my mother do–making anyone do something against their will made her horrible enough, but my mom? After everything she’d already been through with Fossor, and, and… and everything? Fuck that. Fuck Denuvus. If I could find her, and manage not to be completely controlled by her voice before–

Okay, thinking about the things I wanted to do to that bitch for pulling this shit with my mother wasn’t easy when I let logic slip in. She was dangerous, too dangerous for me to do anything to by myself, that was for sure. And yet, I really, really wanted to punch her. I couldn’t even picture her properly because I had no idea what she looked like, but I still imagined it. 

The only advantage we really had was that we knew where my mom was going. There was really no other reason for Denuvus’s orders to kick in right now. She had to be heading for Fossor’s homeworld. We still didn’t know what the puppeteering bitch might want there, but it was the only thing that made sense. She had known that Mom was with Fossor, and almost certainly knew that he would take her to his world now and then. 

We knew where she would be, so I didn’t really have to spend any time trying to solve that particular mystery. Which meant the next few days were mostly spent doing nothing but sitting around this tiny, cramped ship, urging it to go faster with every fiber of my being. It didn’t help, of course. But I still thought about it very, very hard. 

The other thing I spent a lot of time doing, while we were all collectively sitting around rocking back and forth as though that would make the spaceship get to another planet any sooner, was talk to Rahanvael. She didn’t know what Denuvus might want there either. Not specifically anyway. She knew her brother had kept a lot of powerful items locked up in various safe locations, but it could be any of them. Or it could be something else. Hell, for all we knew, Rasputin being there and Denuvus having designs on the place (or something on it) could be related! We just had to get there and find out. 

We also checked in with the people back on Earth. Or, well, in the Sun, but still. The last person I had possessed (which was intentional) had been my dad, so I’d used the partial recall to let him know what was going on. He uhh, he wasn’t happy, to say the least. They were sending another ship out to help with this whole situation, but even with the help of some powerful transportation magic, it wouldn’t be here for awhile. Dad and I had a long conversation about that whole thing. Part of him clearly wanted to tell me to stop and wait for backup. But this was my mother, his wife. We’d just gotten her back after so long apart. There was absolutely no way I would sit around and wait to see what happened. By the time those reinforcements showed up, it could all be over. So, reluctantly, he had agreed that I needed to do this. We were the closest group to Fossor’s world. We had to stop whatever Denuvus had planned. And not just to save Mom, but also because, well, hadn’t the people of that world been through enough? We might not know what Denuvus wanted, but I was willing to bet it wouldn’t be sunshine and rainbows for anyone there who might get in the way. 

Finally, after several days of sitting in what amounted to a slightly oversized van, we were getting close to our destination. Well, somewhat closer anyway. We still had about half a day to go. Still, we were all going to be glad for the chance to get out of this thing and stretch our legs. The front of the ship had two seats, one for a pilot and one for the co-pilot, while the back had about a dozen of them arranged along the walls of the compartment. The seats could face inward, toward one another, or turn to face the front or back of the ship. They also reclined like airplane seats when in the front or back facing position, so we were able to sleep… somewhat. Still, this whole thing had been like sitting on a plane for several days in a row, and that wasn’t exactly an experience I was eager to repeat. 

“How many more do we have?” Asenath asked, while holding up the half-finished bag of blood that Shiori had passed her a minute earlier. “We should keep rationing them. We don’t know how long this’ll take, and…” She paused to consider her words. “And we don’t know what the animal situation on the world is.” 

Stasia, the other vampire in our little group, shifted in her seat while flatly putting in, “Besides which, if we cannot reacquire your special transport ship, the trip home could be very long indeed. This may have been an unpleasant few days within this ship, but an extended trip all the way back to Earth without enough blood to maintain our functions…” She trailed off before simply finishing with, “Not my idea of a good time.” 

The other thing they weren’t saying out loud, of course, was that they weren’t going to drink from the people on that world. Again, they had been through enough. Hell, for all we knew, Rasputin was there using those people as Lunchables right at this very moment. 

“Don’t worry,” Shiori quickly assured both of them. “We weren’t stupid. Athena and Wyatt were the ones who helped pack the blood reserves, and uhh…” She shifted the sack she had pulled out to show them several dozen bags of blood still inside. “They might’ve over-prepared a little bit. We could be out here for another couple months before you guys would start running out of these things, as long as you don’t gorge yourselves.” 

“Yeah,” I agreed, “for some reason Wyatt thought it might be a bad idea for us to be in a confined space all alone with a couple hungry vampires. I’m surprised he didn’t make us take a year’s worth of blood, to be honest. Maybe he couldn’t actually find that much in stock.” While saying that, I watched my new monkey-tailed beetle run back and forth along my arm, from the tips of my fingers all the way up to my shoulder and back again. I could say this much about the little guy, he definitely had a lot of energy. And he was curious. He kept crawling out of my pocket to wander around. The dude was a brave little explorer. Which was why I had decided to call him Marco, as in Marco Polo. Which worked even better considering how often I ended up calling his name while looking for him when he kept wandering off.

“How does that work, anyway?” Twister, sitting up in the copilot’s seat next to Robin (the only one of us besides Persephone knew how to pilot a ship), piped up. “I know how Senny gets blood most of the time. From people who deserve to lose a little bit of it. But how do you guys end up having hundreds of bags of blood just sitting around waiting to be part of a picnic lunch? I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, but in the Bystander world, blood for hospitals is kind of important. They’d notice if a few bags went missing, and they’d definitely notice if a hundred of them disappeared. Even if you only took a couple from a bunch of different hospitals all over the world, that’s still–” 

“Don’t worry,” I quickly informed her. “We didn’t take blood bags from any hospital. You’re right, they need everything they can get. There’s volunteers on the station who give blood for any vampires we run into, or who, uh, live there sometimes.” My head nodded toward Asenath herself. “With regeneration powers, giving blood isn’t really that big of a deal. I’m pretty sure you’ve even got some of mine in there.” 

“I thought I tasted snoopy reporter turned heroic Necromancer in one of the bags,” Stasia informed me with a very slight smirk. 

Flushing a bit despite myself, I retorted, “Yeah, well if you start experiencing an abnormal amount of being abducted away from the people who care about you by megalomaniacs who deserve to swallow all of their teeth, that’s probably a side effect of my blood. Sorry about that.” 

Her gaze met mine while she gave a single nod. “I’ll keep that in mind, but do not apologize. I never object to an excuse to make someone who deserves it swallow their teeth.” 

“That said,” Judas put in, “it’s a lot more fun to make that a group activity. So let’s try not to get separated while we’re doing this.” 

“I have become slightly… fond of working alongside you and the Robins,” the woman agreed. Then she looked back to me and sobered slightly. “But speaking of working with a group, what about your food? Asenath and I aren’t the only ones who will be in bad shape if our nourishment runs out.” 

“We’re good on that front too,” I replied, “Right, Persephone?” 

Brightening a bit, the white-haired woman gave a quick nod. “Yes, Flick. We are very good on that front.” She carefully repeated my words back to me, adding a thumbs up. It was a somewhat new gesture for her, and she seemed to like making it. At the same time, she held up the other bag of provisions we’d brought so we could see inside. As promised, there was still plenty, another product of Wyatt insisting we be overly-prepared. “I assisted Mister Rendell in making many of the sandwiches, and selecting fresh fruit. He found me choosing fruit to be amusing, because of the stories of my namesake.” 

Snorting despite myself, I nodded. “Yeah, well, Hades may not be here with us, but let’s still try not to get stuck anywhere. And uhh… did you choose any pomegranates?” 

She just smiled at me. “Do you enjoy pomegranates?” 

My mouth opened, then shut. “Ah, you know, I’ll wait and be surprised. Anyway, yeah, we’ve got enough food for awhile at least. And it’s probably easier for us to restock than you guys. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna run into and through a lot of other problems before food becomes an issue.” 

Judas nodded. “As far as that goes, can I just ask if we’ve put any more thought into how we’re going to stop this Denuvus if she’s on this world too? It was one thing when we were coming here to find Rasputin and possibly any allies he managed to recruit. But with your mother being compromised,” he added with a look toward me, “that complicates things to begin with. No offense, but she’s a pretty damn strong Heretic with a lot of experience. If Denuvus gave her orders to stop us with violence, that could get… bad. Add in the possibility of Denuvus herself, and I’m afraid it goes from bad to impossible.”  

“It’s not impossible,” I objected. “Difficult, sure. The main thing is to get to Denuvus, if she is around, and contain her before she can say anything. Which, I mean… that probably gets a little more difficult considering none of us actually know what she’ll look like. Denny described her, but I get the feeling she changes her appearance a lot. You know, cuz she’s sneaky like that. She could look male, female, or anything in between.”

Tabbris hesitantly spoke up. “So we have to look for someone your mama’s spending time with who isn’t someone we know? Or even if they are someone we think we know.” She frowned then. “Maybe just knock everyone out and sort through them after?”

“I like the way the kid thinks,” Judas put in. “And as it happens, I might have something that could help with any potential Denuvus shenanigans. It’s a spell that blocks anyone from talking inside a certain radius. I can’t get that radius out to more than about fifteen feet myself, but maybe with some help from those of you who can use magic, we can extend that.” 

My head bobbed. “Right, and we have Robin too. Does, uhh, can Denuvus actually affect you?” 

There was a brief pause before their eyes shifted to green for Med. “Perhaps not, but that is not something we would want to test the hard way. We have no desire to hurt any of you if it turns out her power does affect us.” 

With a grimace, Judas gestured. “Yeah, believe me, I’ve seen them go to town on someone before. You really don’t want to be on their bad side. Let’s operate under the assumption that they can be affected, just so we can be pleasantly surprised if the situation pops up and they’re not.” 

“Fair,” I agreed. “Let’s talk some more about this spell of yours, and see if we can come up with some sort of plan. Then we should get some rest, cuz it looks like we’ve got about ten hours before we get to the planet. 

“And something tells me we’re not gonna get a lot of sleep while we’re there.” 

******

Well, whatever Denuvus had sent Mom to do on this world, it wasn’t immediately apparent as we came into orbit. I finally had my first real look at the place, as we stared through the forward viewpoint. The image was enhanced somewhat on the dingy screen. We could see the land masses down there. It looked like there were three major ones. The largest was shaped like a potato with a thick stem sticking out the top, near the middle. It was big enough to take up just under half of the planet by itself. It looked like there were a lot of large lakes and rivers on it, but still. It was a huge continent, considering this planet was a little under twice as large as earth. 

Meanwhile, the other two continents were each shaped a bit like crescent moons. They were on the opposite side of the planet, where most of the ocean was. One was almost nestled inside the other, like two people spooning, though there were a few thousand miles worth of water between them. The slightly larger one on the outside looked like it was about as wide as the United States at its fattest point right in the middle, and about as long as the distance from the bottom of Mexico up to the stop of Canada. The second, smaller one on the inside was about two-thirds that size, and a lot more curved. It was more like a C than a crescent, come to think of it. 

From what we could see, the smaller continent there was mostly desert. The larger one on that side had a good bit of greenery, as well as snow toward the northern end. And the massive continent on the other side of the world had a bit of everything. There were forests, deserts, snow in the north and south, tropical areas, all of it. From here it all looked like what we might see on earth, mostly because it was all just colors and vague shapes. The clouds were even white, the water blue, it was just… immediately familiar. And yet, seeing it still made a shudder run through me.

That wasn’t fair, of course. This world had done nothing wrong to me or my family. Nor had any of the other people on it. They were even more the victims in all this than we were. And yet, staring down at it, part of me couldn’t help but think that this was where he had come from. I shoved the thought down hard and swallowed before turning to look over my shoulder. 

Rahanvael was there, hovering near the back of the ship, past everyone else. Our eyes met, and I gestured. “Come on, you should see this place.” 

She was a ghost, of course. But the others still moved out of the way as she came closer. I stepped aside as well, giving her a chance to stare through the screen at the world she had left behind. I heard the sound she made deep in her throat as she stared that way. It was a mixture of relief as well as regret. And, I was sure, a lot of grief.

“Home.” Her voice was quiet, as she raised a finger to point toward the south-central area of the large continent, just a little bit above the snow line. “Our home was there, in a city that doesn’t exist anymore.” She looked away, gaze dropping. “Now there’s a volcano where it was.” 

Fuck, he really was a spiteful piece of shit, wasn’t he? Absorbing that reminder, I sighed. “I wish we could just introduce ourselves to your people down there and talk to them about everything that happened.” 

“Soon.” That was Judas, stepping over next to me in the cramped space. He was peering at the image on the screen. “You’ll be able to tell those people what happened to the monster who enslaved them, and we’ll be able to find Rasputin. But first, priorities.” 

“Yeah, whatever Denuvus is up to is a pretty big priority,” I agreed in a soft mutter. “And so is my mom. We just have to find her. Them. Mom, Nevada, and Mercury. Before something bad happens. Sorry, something worse.” 

To that end, I glanced toward Robin and asked, “Do we have anything yet?” 

Their eyes were amber-brown at the moment, so Hood was the one talking. He was also the one who knew how to pilot the ship, as it happened. “I see a lot of dormant defenses all around the planet. Both on it, and on one of those two moons over there. If we hadn’t shut down those alert systems, we would’ve had a lot more trouble when we got here. Other than that, most of the planet appears to be stuck in very… near-Renaissance era Earth level of technology. Our scans didn’t detect any ships, except for one. I can’t say for sure, given how old and… ill-maintained the equipment on this thing is. But the basic shape and size does seem to fit the Jitterbug.” 

“Where is it?” Asenath immediately asked, leaning up over the back of the seat behind them. 

In response, Hood pointed to the exact same spot Rahanvael had earlier. “There. Near the base of that volcano.” 

We were all silent for a moment, until I sighed and reached up to let Marco crawl off my shoulder to my hand. “Well, of course, that’s where Fossor would keep something important. Rahanvael, I hope you’re ready for this. 

“Cuz it looks like you really are going home.” 

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