Rahanvael

Kairos 9-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let us see who dies today.”

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Kairos 9-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kairos 9-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s find out.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were about to kill you.”

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Homeward Bound 8-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything.

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One down… me to go. 

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homeward Bound 8-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go kill that thing.”

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Homeward Bound 8-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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According to the memories I’d picked out of Tuun’s head, the creature these guys were after (the thing he had called a Leunphia) was the largest native inhabitant of this place. They possessed some kind of natural resistance to certain magical poisons that the Fomorians were fond of using. Resistance beyond what most could easily achieve without heavy magic expenditure, and they had it naturally. A few other animals and plants from this place were also resistant. Hence this outpost. They were investigating the origin of that resistance and whether or not it could be built up. There was also some kind of long-dead society that used to live on this planet, and some of the Seosten thought that whoever those people were might’ve been responsible for the poison-resistance demonstrated by the present animals. So they were looking into that. Which was where a lot of the slaves came in, being used to help dig out the long-buried civilization, collect artifacts, pinpoint promising remains, that kind of thing. 

But the scientists who were investigating the actual biological reasoning for the resistance needed a lot of samples of their own, and worked through those samples quickly. Between that and the fact that a lot of what they managed to collect was sent to be utilized in the war, yeah, they always needed more. Like the big guy Tuun and the rest of these people were after. 

Helping them get this thing wasn’t my job right now, obviously. I had much bigger things to worry about. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly how to go about dealing with those things. The message from Elisabet had just said for me to ‘follow my instincts’ and that I would eventually make my way through all that. I would find Nicholas Petan somehow. But what happened between the moment I got that message and when I actually found my way to Petan? That was a blank. A blank I was apparently supposed to fill in just by taking my best guess at what to do.

Right now, my ‘best guess’ was to fit in and not set off any alarms just yet. I needed more information, and that meant at least playing along for a few minutes to see what happened. The only good part of this whole situation was that I was already in the future. Whatever Fossor had done or had failed to do in those intervening four years was over with. I wasn’t on any kind of clock right now, as far as I knew. However long it took me to get to a point where someone could send me into the past, a few minutes, hours, or even days here didn’t really matter. Well, as long as I didn’t get captured and killed. 

Besides, I was supposed to follow my instincts, and part of those were telling me that finding out  more about this whole ‘resistance to magical poison’ thing might be relevant and important when it came to Fossor. The Fomorians might’ve written the book on those things, but I was pretty sure Fossor had at least read a few of the chapters. 

Scanning Tuun’s mind had also let me know what he was capable of beyond tracking, family identification, and bone manipulation. Thankfully, for the most part aside from the bone thing, it wasn’t anything super-exotic that would turn into an immediate red flag when I couldn’t do it. He was pretty strong and fast, had good vision, decent regeneration, and some kind of paralyzing bite. But their plan didn’t involve him biting this big thing (mostly because it would’ve been ineffective), so that wouldn’t come into play. Most of the rest I could fake. Hopefully. But the bone manipulation could be an issue. I didn’t have that and I couldn’t easily fake it. Thankfully, their plan didn’t involve him using it. If it came up… well, I’d take that as it happened. 

Stowing my own staff and replacing it with one of the weapons stowed in the pockets of this suit felt wrong. But again, I needed to blend in. The thing I managed to pull out was a combination pistol-rifle (it swapped between both settings at the touch of a button). I was going to have to make do with it for the time being. At least my guy hadn’t been some great crack shot sniper or anything. That definitely would’ve given me away. 

As I’d already reasoned out, Tuun’s part was to stay back, get into position with his rifle, and start shooting the thing once some of the other startled it into running. They would guide it past Tuun (or who they thought was Tuun) on one side and one of the other soldiers on the opposite side. We were supposed to pump enough firepower into it to take the thing down to be harvested. According to my guy’s memories, shots to the legs were most important. Bringing the thing to the ground without damaging precious internal organs was the idea. Once he was down, a couple of the others would deal non-traumatic killing blows with their own powers. They just needed the Leunphia to be on the ground and unable to run away. 

God, this was really fucked up when I thought about it too much. Seriously. I knew why they were doing this and that it was for the very good cause of finding a way of defending against the Fomorians. But still, just the thought that they needed to destroy this thing’s legs so it couldn’t run away, then kill it in a special way to preserve its organs… eeesh. Yeah. Fucked up. 

Making my way to the position that Tuun had been heading for, I hit the button to turn the pistol into a rifle. Then I cringed. This was the bad part. With a sigh, I got down on my stomach in that nasty snot-water. Yes, it was very shallow right here. Shallow enough that I could lay on my stomach and still keep my head out of it. And yes, I was now wearing a fully-sealed environment suit. But it was still gross. 

Shaking off those thoughts, I folded out the electronic scope on the rifle. It had a screen that showed an enhanced look at everything the scope could see, including where all my–errr, Tuun’s teammates were, thanks to trackers in their suits. It also showed me where the Leunphia was quietly grazing on a couple trees a few hundred yards off. 

Once I reported being in position, again faking Tuun’s voice, his boss (a guy named Qive) ordered everyone else to sound off. They were all ready, so he gave the word to start the attack. 

Or… he started to give the word. But in mid-sentence, as everyone’s attention was on the giant Leunphia, there was a sudden loud alarm through the suit’s communication unit that made me jump in surprise. The alarm muted after a brief moment, before a voice came through, speaking rapidly in Latin. So quickly, unfortunately, that I couldn’t keep up with it. Something about defense and an invader. That last part made me stop breathing for just a second as I looked around quickly. Was it about me? No. At the very least, they didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. Otherwise I wouldn’t be getting the alert too. 

“Incoming ship.” That was Rahanvael, floating beside me. “The alert was about an incoming ship. They’re telling the field teams to come back and set up defenses because the station is about to be under attack.” 

“Under att–Nicholas,” I abruptly realized. “It’s Petan, it has to be. This is just the kind of thing Tristan said they did–do–whatever. Attacking a Seosten outpost full of slaves, it must be Petan. This is how I’m supposed to meet up with him.” After muttering those words aloud, I was distracted by the sound of this group’s leader ordering everyone to get back to the outpost, immediately. 

Rahanvael disappeared once more, as I shifted the rifle back into its pistol form and rose to follow the heat signatures of the other members of Tuun’s team. Petan was coming. Now I just had to figure out how to get close enough to let him know who I was. I had to maintain my cover until the right moment came, and hope everyone here was too distracted by the incoming invading ship to notice anything different about their teammate. At least for a few minutes. 

There was a flashing teal dot on the edge of my visor screen, which moved from one side to the top when I turned to follow the other people. Belatedly, I realized it was indicating where the outpost was. Even for people who were actually supposed to be here, it must have been easy to get lost out in the wild. Especially in a swamp like this.

Not that it stayed a swamp for long. Within about ten minutes of running (none of us acknowledged each other, everyone remaining focused on getting out of there), we reached dry ground. There were a couple hover vehicles, basically shaped like trucks with long beds, parked there. The group split up, each half going to one of the trucks. Oh boy, did I hope my guy wasn’t supposed to drive. 

He wasn’t, a fact I found out as one of the other guys gave me a push toward the back of the nearest truck, saying something in Latin that amounted to ‘the hell are you waiting for, let’s go.’ 

Right. Here went nothing. Glancing toward the sky, I moved to climb up onto the truck’s long bed, just as it took off. I barely managed to drop onto the long bench, prompting a few chuckles from the three other guys back there. They were all obviously nervous, glancing up at the sky now and then just as I had, while the truck sped across the open plains. Not that I’d ever been there, but it seemed a lot like driving across the serengeti. Save for the fact that the tall grass and trees were a pale purplish-red color scheme. I saw more wild animals on the way, including a herd of what looked like blue antelope with ram-like horns, and a huge red-black giraffe whose neck extended out to twice its already-decently long length to snatch a soaring bird right out of the sky with its wide, toothy mouth. So, not really like a giraffe then, got it. 

The other guys were talking, but I kept my head down to avoid them paying too much attention to me. Now and then I was asked a direct question about what I thought was going on and how bad it was, and mumbled answers. Luckily, everyone was so focused on the attack coming from above that they didn’t really focus on the person sitting right with them. They believed I was the guy I was supposed to be, so they didn’t question it too much. 

How was I going to do this? When should I make my move? I needed to get close enough to Nicholas Petan to explain the situation. Which seemed hard to pull off in the middle of a war zone. I could find a place to hole up and wait for the attack to be over, then approach him. He’d definitely recognize me, after what happened last year on the Meregan world. I just had to get to him. He could fix this. He’d sent Tristan back in time, after all. Recently, actually, if my math was right. He’d sent Tristan back, so he’d be able to send me–wait, Dexamene. To make this whole situation work out as well as it had, he had to send Dexamene back first, to the Meregan world so she could help Elisabet, who would in turn help me end up here–damn it, time travel was complicated. 

The point was, he had to send Dexamene back to set off the dominoes that would lead to me not ending up Fossor’s nicely packaged prisoner. I would worry about trying to figure out what had happened in the timelines where she wasn’t sent back there to create this loop later. Maybe. 

Of course, shit couldn’t stay uncomplicated for long. My idea had been to get to the outpost, find a place to hole up, and wait for the fighting to be over before approaching Petan. Instead, there was a sudden shout from one of the other guys in the back of the truck. He was already standing up, pointing toward the sky. I followed everyone else’s gaze, looking that way in time to see some kind of space fighter zooming in. And from the way these guys were reacting, it wasn’t one of theirs. 

“Oh… balls,” I managed, just as the fighter opened up with a stream of lasers. Everyone else had already started to fling themselves out of the truck. I followed suit, boosting myself slightly to leap up and off the side, landing in a roll through the tall purple grass just as the truck blew apart in a deafening explosion. The concussion wave from the blast knocked me flat against the dirt, hitting me like a hard kick right across my back. Oww. 

Snapping out of that moment of being dazed, I rolled over and looked up in time to see one of the troops I’d been with extending his arms, vine-like, up toward the passing starfighter in an attempt to grab onto one of its wings. At the same time, a handful of small, spiked tentacle things extended from his legs to drive themselves into the ground, as though rooting him there. Around him, a few others were already picking themselves up and shooting at the fighter. A distraction, I realized belatedly. They were sending lasers to hide the extended arms that were about to grab the wing. 

Not that it mattered in the end, as a handful of magic runes suddenly glowed brightly on the back of the ship. It vanished from sight, only to reappear back where it had been when it first opened fire. Magic. Teleportation or a physical rewind spell or something. Whatever it was, all the shots and the extended arms missed. And the ship was in prime position to open fire on the troops, which it did, raining hell down on them. In those brief couple of seconds, I saw seven men get blown apart by spaceship lasers. It was a total massacre. 

And then the fighter hovered there, orienting toward… me. Wait. Shit, right, they didn’t know I wasn’t–fuck. Eyes widening, I boosted myself as hard as I could, lunging up and out of the way. My speed boost, coupled with the strength of my legs and arms, shoved me a good fifteen feet away, where I rolled just as those lasers tore through the ground where I had been, sending dirt and debris spraying everywhere. 

Unfortunately, whoever this pilot was (or gunner, I supposed), they were really good, adjusting their aim almost instantly. Even as I came back to my feet, the lasers were about to fire at me again. 

Well, shit. Here went nothing. Seeing the ship start to open up, I focused on my energy absorption power. I’d been trying not to use it, considering I wasn’t sure exactly how much damage I could safely take. But just as the shots came, a flash came to mind. A memory from those weeks spent with Fossor. He had taught me to manipulate death energy, and there was a lot of death around me from those guys who had just been vaporized. With a thought, I yanked at that energy, pulling it into myself to use as a temporary boost before instantly shoving all of it into my absorption power. It just sort of… worked. I guess it was sort of like having a nitrous boost on a car, overcharging my absorption to the point that my whole body started to glow. 

Then the ship lasers hit, and I was really glowing. My body was hot. So hot I was literally smoking. My eyes burned, my skin was sizzling. But I was alive. I was in one piece. 

I was also standing in a small crater. Literally standing there in a hole, my body glowing so much I could see the light I was casting reflecting off the dirt around me. Discharge. I had to fucking discharge this energy, before it burned me inside out. 

No way was I going to attack the ship that had just fired at me. This was all a misunderstanding. They thought I was one of the bad guys, one of the Seosten troops. So, instead of launching all that energy back at them, I pivoted and pointed to the remains of both of the already-destroyed trucks. The power erupted from my hands like… like when you shake up a soda bottle really bad and then open it up. I was literally knocked backward a step from the force of the power that launched itself that way, utterly annihilating the remains of the trucks. 

Please. Please let the guy or whatever up in that ship understand what that meant. He’d shot at me, I absorbed the power and demonstrated that I could have destroyed him, but didn’t. Please let that mean he’d actually talk to me. 

It worked. Holy shit, it actually worked. I saw the fighter hover there for a few seconds as if taking all that in, then it slowly began to descend. He was going to talk to me. Thank God. He’d talk to me and I could explain the whole–

Something hit the fighter. It just fell out of the sky, splatting like a… like an overripe peach or something. Only it was bloody and… and there were tendrils snaking out of it. . I could see eyes, like… a snail. Fuck, it was a giant snail with tentacles wrapping around the ship, tearing it apart. I barely hurtled myself out of the way as the fighter crashed to the ground, exploding on impact. 

The snail-tentacle thing was destroyed in the process. But, lying there on the ground, I looked up to see more of them. And other… other things. Ships. Only they weren’t mechanical. They were living things. Enormous, tentacled, monstrous living ships, similar to things I’d seen before… when the protective spell around Earth had almost been destroyed because Koren and I had figured out who Dare really was. 

“Fuck… everything…” I managed. 

The Fomorians were here. 

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Homeward Bound 8-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Emerging from the portal, I found myself standing shin-deep in a dark swamp. Which was just super-lovely. Between the smell, which immediately made me want to retch, and the feeling of the slimy water against my legs, which also made me want to retch, I was doing great. Seriously, everything smelled like rotten eggs and a few dozen boys locker rooms. It was bad. 

Wrinkling my nose and trying not to gag too much, I turned in a circle while looking around. In addition to stinking so much my eyes almost watered, this place looked creepy as hell too. The green water was sort of… mucus-like, and there were tall, crooked and gnarled trees with long red and black vines hanging from the otherwise bare limbs. Here and there were large boulders.

Swamp. Swamp in every direction. How was this supposed to help me? Why had I sent Elisabet the message to have me sent here? According to her, I was supposed to have ended up in a ‘hazardous situation.’ That was all she was allowed to tell me. That and that I was supposed to ‘act on instinct’ rather than follow a script. That was why she couldn’t just tell me what to do. So now I’d gone through the portal, ready for that so-called hazardous situation, only to end up in a swamp with nothing and no one else in sight. Which was disconcerting, to say the least. 

Keeping my eyes open, I whispered under my breath, “Okay, so where are we now, exactly?” 

“Nowhere near Earth, or my world,” Rahanvael answered, her ghost appearing nearby. The glow from her form illuminated the area around us a little bit, but that only served to make things look even more creepy. “And, with any luck, nowhere near any of Fossor’s people.” 

Shaking myself, I nodded, putting my arm up against my nose. “Yeah, lucky us. At least we’re not back in Fossor’s hellhole now.” Pausing, I felt my stomach roll a bit for a different reason than the smell. “But my mom is. So let’s go. I’m supposed to act on instinct, and my instinct says walk this way.” I pointed in a random direction. “It’s as good as anything, I guess.” 

So, I started walking, picking my way through that awful snot-like liquid that filled the swamp. After a few steps, I belatedly focused on the infrared vision power I’d picked up back in Vegas to check around me. There were a few hot spots, mostly parts of the snot-water that were apparently best to avoid judging from the temperature I could see. But not many. There actually wasn’t much in the way of visible heat at all around here. Still, trudging through this dark swamp was made slightly better when I could actually see somewhat to be warned about any animals. 

Thinking about animals, of course, made me ask myself what I was going to do if they had anything like crocodiles around here. Which was a thought that made me quickly produce my staff with Jaq and Gus attached. Seriously, I’d had enough to deal with already without adding in possible monster crocodiles in this snot-swamp. The constant stench in this place was almost bad enough to qualify as an attack on its own.

Thankfully, one of the first spells I’d learned back at Crossroads had been the one to create breathable fresh air. And between my lessons with Shyel and the instant-inscription power, it was easy for me to touch the collar of my shirt to inscribe the spell there, activating it. A second later, the air I was breathing smelled and tasted a lot better. Which helped, as I began to trudge forward through the swamp while switching between my special vision active to watch for any heat signatures, and my normal vision to double-check that I wasn’t being snuck up on by something that might not register to infrared. Between all that, my item sense, that anti-stealth vision thing I’d picked up from the Pantler, and Rahanvael scouting ahead now and then, I could hopefully avoid being ambushed. If there was any more ambushing going on today, I wanted to be the one doing it. 

For awhile, I just walked in silence, trying to think about everything that had happened. Mom. Fossor. The others. We’d been so close to escaping, then that asshole pulled this shit. And if I didn’t get back there, if I didn’t stop his plan… No. I would get back there. I would stop him. But right now, I had to focus on the immediate situation. Which was getting out of this swamp.

Eventually, I estimated that I’d been walking for about forty-five minutes. At that point, Rahanvael appeared in front of me, finger raised to her lips for me to be quiet. A moment later, I heard a series of heavy thudding sounds, punctuated by loud splashes. Something really heavy and large was stomping its way through the swamp ahead of us. 

Already crouching, I looked over to Rahanvael, keeping my voice to a barely audible whisper. “What did you see?” As I asked that, my eyes were scanning the swamp ahead of me. The heat vision could make out what looked like that ‘really heavy and large’ thing in the distance, but it was pretty far away. From here, it just looked like an indistinct blob of red/orange.

The ghost hovered down next to me, her voice equally quiet. “There’s a party of soldiers following the big thing from a distance, spread out to surround it. I believe they’re hunting the creature. Multiple species involved, but similar armor. I wasn’t close enough for details.” 

“Okay,” I murmured, “let’s see what else we can find out.” To that end, I reached out, quietly breaking off a small twig from a nearby branch. With all the noise that big thing in the distance was making, I probably could’ve gone bowling without attracting attention. But still, there was no sense in pushing things. 

With the stick in hand, my eyes closed. I focused on the power that allowed me to mark objects to see and hear through them, imprinting it onto the little twig. Then I held my free hand up, pointing high into the sky over the general area the creature and the people hunting it were in. A moment later, two portals appeared. One was right in front of the hand with the stick, the other far off and high up, where I was pointing. 

The second the portals appeared, I tossed the stick through and dismissed them. Then I closed my eyes once more and focused on the observation mark I’d made. Suddenly, I was seeing through the twig itself as it fell toward the ground. And more than that, I was still seeing in infrared mode, even through the stick. Which meant I saw the huge heat signature coming from the big guy who was making all that noise, as well as a total of eleven smaller signatures spread out around it, clearly in stalking mode. From what I could see on my stick’s drop toward the ground, they seemed to be semi-herding the creature somewhere. Or luring it, more like. The thing seemed to be following or chasing a couple of them, unaware of the others. 

Focused as I was on trying to see as much as possible and wishing my stick would take longer to fall so I could take in more, I almost didn’t notice that… well, the stick was taking longer to fall. Actually it wasn’t just dropping slower. It had stopped falling entirely, and completely frozen in mid-air, giving me time to take in the full view below.

It only lasted for a few seconds, before the stick started falling again, rapidly hitting the swamp below, landing with the tiniest plink in the snot-water as I dismissed my connection to it. But for that moment, the thing had absolutely been frozen in mid-fall. Which… wait, was that some kind of new power? Fossor had made a point of not wanting me to find out about any new powers I’d gained in those past few weeks during my tournaments. He said it was because he wanted me focused on my Necromancy. 

What had I fought with a power that could explain the object briefly hovering? Was it something with gravity manipulation, telekinesis, wood control…? No, no, everything from the past few weeks blended together, and I knew I was forgetting something important. The answer was right there, but I was too distracted by this whole situation. There wasn’t time to think about that stuff. 

I had the idea of where all the heat signatures out there were, anyway, and where they were moving. Figuring out the specifics about this new power, assuming that’s what it was, could wait. 

Quickly, before the situation could change more, I duplicated my previous motions of grabbing a small stick, marking it to see through, and creating linked portals. This time, however, I made the portal that was close to me lower, holding the stick over it. Then I winked at Rahanvael. “No time to waste, huh?” With that, I possessed the wooden stick, throwing myself inside of it. Instantly, as my hand stopped holding it, the twig fell through the portal, which itself vanished an instant after that since I wasn’t focused on it anymore. 

Suddenly, I wasn’t just seeing through a falling twig. I was seeing through a falling twig that I myself was inside of. Which was an… odd experience, to say the least. As the stick dropped toward the swamp below, I took in the sight of where all the beings under me were, focusing mostly on the heat signature furthest away from any others. I could see it moving, cautiously stalking after the much larger creature. It looked like my guy (or girl) was playing back-up, there to keep whatever that big thing was from retreating once they sprang their trap. 

As the stick I was inside of fell, I experimented a bit. Yeah… yeah, with a thought, I made the falling stick suddenly stop in mid-drop. It went completely motionless in the air. I tried to hold it like that, but whatever it was still only lasted about five seconds before the stick started falling again. 

Either way, I’d aimed myself pretty well. The stick I was in hit the snot-water directly in the path of the heat signature I’d singled out. Even better, there was a tree nearby. Keeping myself under the utterly foul liquid (a disgusting prospect all by itself), I popped out of the stick, eyes closed as I reached out to grasp for the tree. My hand found it, and I threw myself into the wood. 

There. Now I was in the tree, and could still use my thermal vision to see the figure approaching. They were humanoid, dressed in some kind of skintight environment suit that immediately made me jealous. Seriously, the thing even had a thin hood and mask thing to cover their face. I bet it had some kind of fresh air tech attached to it without the need for a spell. They probably hadn’t smelled this swamp at all. Lucky. 

Worse, from a tactics point of view, was the fact that I could see the very faint glow of a forcefield. It didn’t seem like a very strong one, probably just meant to keep the swamp at bay. But still, it meant I wouldn’t be able to make contact with the figure to possess him and end this whole thing instantly. Which was annoying. But I had other options beyond Seosten possession. That was the whole fun of being a Heretic, after all. 

I heard him speak in a low voice, apparently talking to the rest of his team. He was speaking in Latin, but the fact that he was talking slow and quiet meant I could keep up with most of it. In essence, he was telling the others to stay calm and that if they managed to kill the thing they were hunting (he called it a Leunphia), they’d be able to harvest enough blood and bones from it for someone back at their camp to run his experiments for another month, to say nothing of the food it would provide. He paused then, apparently listening to one of the others speak, before replying with what sounded like a quiet agreement to a superior officer. 

All of which meant that my target was clearly focused on the creature he and the rest of his group were hunting. Despite that, he was moving cautiously, watching everywhere he stepped. Unfortunately for him, he only glanced up briefly at the branch of the tree he was moving under. His gaze moved away before he could see both my hands emerge from directly above him. 

Both of my hands grabbed either side of the man’s head. My hands held two pieces of wood from the tree with them. Pieces of wood that were pressed against his head as I shifted my focus to the image inscription power, creating and immediately triggering a couple quick spells on those pieces of wood. The first was the same ‘taser’ spell I’d used back at the secret subway in Vegas while controlling Marian. The second was the privacy spell I’d learned so long ago, with this guy and myself the only designated ‘safe’ people. It stopped anyone else from hearing as he jerked, spasmed, and cried out while collapsing. His forcefield might have been enough to stop me from making direct, possession-capable contact. But it wasn’t enough to protect him from the electric shock. 

He hit the water, and I dropped the rest of the way out of the tree, landing on top of him while he was still reacting to the electric shock. Even then, he didn’t have time to orient himself before I boosted myself, instantly shifting into my werelion form while lashing out with one enormous paw. The blow completely blew through whatever had been left of his minor forcefield, knocking the guy to the side where he lay limp and still. 

Ew, fuck, wet fur. Worse, fur that was wet with snot-water. Quickly shifting back to myself, I moved to the figure, checking him. He was unconscious, but breathing… somewhat. 

I possessed him. With the forcefield down and him unconscious, there was nothing to stop me. As soon as I did, I scanned through the man’s mind. His name was Tuun, and he was part of a species known as Baugev. Essentially, they were orange-skinned humanoids with red, orange, or white hair, who had powers involving tracking, identifying blood-related family members in various groups they looked at, and varying levels of bone manipulation. Actually, it sounded like these were the same guys Pace had gotten her own ability to create that bone armor and the bone darts from. 

Unfortunately, I also noticed something else. This guy, Tuun, was terrified of the idea of being possessed, of losing control of himself. Seriously, it was like this horrific phobia for him, one he had spent his entire life acting as a loyal soldier for the Seosten in order to avoid. If he woke up and found himself possessed after all, it would… it would really fuck him up. But worse than that, he’d gone to the extent of getting a friend with some kind of mental gift to instill a thing in his brain that would kill him if he ever found himself possessed. This guy was so terrified of being bodysnatched, he’d actually literally rather die. Maybe I could undo that with enough time, but I didn’t have that time. Even if I wanted to ignore how freaked out being possessed would make him, he’d set things up so that he would keel over and die if I woke him up. 

I couldn’t just instantly let him go. This whole thing was life and death for a lot of people. Fate of the world stuff. But I could, at least, not wake the man up and sentence him to death. 

Quickly, I searched his memory for anything important. The planet I was on was a colony known, to the Seosten and their people, as 992144, a simple outpost meant for research and little else. There was a large assortment of slaves kept here, mostly to explore and tame the land (only a small part of it was this swamp), doing grunt work. As far as I could tell, my guy Tuun here treated the slaves as well as could be expected. He did his job, wasn’t overly-cruel, and tried not to attract Seosten attention. Again, that phobia of being possessed. 

Scanning all of that through his memory only took a few seconds. I was getting better. Then I gave his mind a push to stay unconscious before popping myself back out of the man. Turning, I put a hand against his arm. That time, I focused on the power that allowed me to move physical objects I was touching to anywhere else I was touching. Specifically, I moved the bodysuit he was wearing from him over to my own body. We were about the same size. Plus, I knew from scanning his mind that… yup, the second the suit appeared on me, it automatically adjusted to fit properly. 

Tapping my hand against his hood, I put that on my own head as well. Tuun was left essentially in his skivvies, but he’d survive. I carefully picked him up, leaning him against the nearby tree. From a ‘pocket’ in the environment suit, I produced a thick, blade-resistant cord, using that to bind the man to the tree. I left the bit of wood with the privacy spell nearby so it would keep affecting his ability to be heard, and left him there. The man would eventually be able to cut his way free, but by then it hopefully wouldn’t matter. It was the best I could do without killing him, which… I’d had enough killing over the weeks that I’d been trapped with Fossor. This was the first time I’d really had a choice about killing or not and I was choosing to leave him alive. Maybe it was stupid, but it was my choice, damn it. 

Straightening up, I realized belatedly that my own clothes were bulky under the form-fitting environment suit. A thought sent them from my body to my hands, before I stowed them in one of the suit’s larger-on-the-inside pockets. Finally, I was ready. 

A sudden voice in the radio of the helmet demanded to know where Tuun was and why he wasn’t in position. Immediately, I spoke, using the voice-mimicking power I’d gotten from that guy back in the hospital when we were saving Avalon. It came out sounding exactly like the man I had just knocked out and tied up, responding in Latin, “Thought I saw a zeuk fly. False alarm, it was just an alvest.” All information I’d pulled from his memory. It would be bad for their group if a zeuk fly had been around, a good reason for him to have gone silent for a minute. 

“Well,” came the response that I translated in my head to English, “are you ready or what?” 

Smiling to myself, I focused, using my facial-shifting power to make myself look like Tuun through the hood’s clear mask. I looked like him, I sounded like him, and I had enough of his memories. 

“Yeah,” I replied simply, also in Latin, of course. 

“I’m ready.”  

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Homeward Bound 8-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Okay, apparently when Fossor decided to get someone out of the way for awhile, he didn’t go in for half-measures. Fuck. I’d really pissed him off this time. Now I was stuck somewhere far away from Earth. And worse than that, I had also been hurtled several years into the future. Years. He’d gone all out to send me pretty much as far away from him and his plans as physically possible. Which, in some ways, was almost flattering. It made me realize how angry he was, how much I’d actually gotten to him that he was willing to go to those extreme lengths. 

But this was bad. Really bad. Years–how many years? How long had I been gone exactly? How far ahead had I been thrown, and how far away? Where was I and when was I? And in the time that had passed, how much shit had Fossor gotten up to? What had happened on Earth in the time that I was gone? What had happened to my friends and family? Had Fossor… had he carried through on his threat? Was everyone I knew now the undead slave of that monster?  

Those thoughts and more, a rush of panicked terror, blew through my mind in those few brief seconds while I was coming to terms with what Rahanvael had said. I was in the future. Everything I’d been trying to stop had already happened. Or been stopped without me, hopefully. But… but years. Years had passed and I was nowhere near Earth. I had been gone. 

For a brief moment, I considered using the Seosten possession recall ability. Now that I wasn’t trapped in Fossor’s place, the default recall should link me to my dad. I could recall there and… no. No, anything could’ve happened back there. If Fossor had gotten his spell off and me recalling back to my dad triggered it for me… yeah, it would all be over. And I didn’t trust my own skill not to accidentally send my whole self there even if I tried just connecting mentally. 

Or maybe I was simply terrified of what I would see if I peeked. If I used the mental recall, connected to my dad, and found out the whole… that everyone was dead, I wouldn’t be able to control my reaction. I would probably fully recall without trying. Then I’d either be Fossor’s dead puppet slave like the rest of them, or surrounded by all the people I loved who already were. 

Worse, my dad could be dead entirely. What if trying to recall linked me to someone like my Grandpa Arthur? What–would I even recover from that? Even knowing I wanted to go back to stop it, how would I get past knowing my father was dead?  

Anything could’ve happened back there. Everyone I knew, everyone I loved, could be a dead and risen necromantic slave for that evil, despotic piece of shit. What if… what if they were…

“Felicity.” The pretty, yet eternally sad face of Rahanvael floated in front of me, hovering over my head as I lay there on my back. “Stop. You’re panicking too much. Breathe. Close your eyes.” 

“Close my eyes?!” I stared at her, blurting, “How the fuck can you tell me to close my eyes when–” Then I stopped myself as she held up a hand. She was right. I had to calm down for a second. I was already in the future. It wasn’t like I could get any further in the future.

Wait. No, yeah, I got further in the future with every passing second, sure. That was the whole thing of how linear time worked. But still, the point was that the damage had been done. A few more moments wasn’t going to make any difference at all. I had to stop and collect myself. 

So, I closed my eyes. Folding my hands against my stomach to ward off its violent, uncomfortable rolling, I took a long, deep breath. It was shuddery, and I could feel the terror, confusion, and anger in myself as I let out the breath. I did it again, then a third time. Breathing. I had to breathe. Panicked, horrified, desperate as I was, I had to make myself think straight. 

After another moment of that, I stopped breathing so heavily and just laid there, eyes closed. Okay. I had it. I was together. Oh, I was still freaking out, of course. No way would that disappear so easily. But I had something of a fence put up around that panic, and had basically designated one corner of my mind to focus on that while the rest dealt with the situation at hand. 

And speaking of the situation at hand, my eyes opened. I stared up at the white, spotless ceiling over my head before pushing myself up to a seated position. Right. Now I could breathe and focus, so I had to deal with the situation that I was actually in. I had to take this whole thing one step at a time. And the first step of that was to figure out where I was, exactly. Also when I was, but that could come after I established my physical location. And just how much trouble I was in.

To that end, I slowly looked around the room once more, taking in details. As with the first time, everything was gleaming silver and white, immaculately clean. The room was about twenty feet across and forty feet long, with three control panels along the narrow end opposite me, a sealed metal hatch of some kind behind me on the opposite narrow end, and a handful of viewing ports or windows (or just video screens, possibly) showing a selection of stars. 

The problem was, thanks to my time at the Aelaestiam base that had become the Fusion School, I knew that seeing stars didn’t necessarily mean anything. Again, those could be holographic screens showing a view of stars that were several trillion miles away. Or further.

“Do you know where we are?” I asked quickly, glancing toward the ghost figure hovering in the corner before I moved to look at the nearest console. On the way, I glanced at the stars. Yeah, I wasn’t an astronomer or anything, but I was pretty sure none of those stars were anything like what I would see from anywhere near Earth. “Any of those look familiar to you?” A second later, I blurted, “Wait, are we near your planet?!” Yeah, that thought had suddenly struck me. Of course it made sense that Fossor might hurl me toward his own planet. Where else did he have more control of the situation? On the other hand, if he did send me to his own world, why had I ended up here, in this place, all by myself? That was… wrong. Something was wrong about all this. Beyond the obvious point that I had been teleported years into the future and far away from home. Why was no one here? Wherever I was, there should’ve been somebody ready to meet me, right? Fossor would’ve had all that time to get ready for my arrival and either be here himself or have someone else waiting. Was the fact that he wasn’t a sign that he’d lost? Did I dare hold out that kind of hope? The idea that Fossor had been beaten while I was gone flared up in me and I just… wasn’t sure what to think of it. It would be an unbelievable relief in almost every way to believe that Fossor had actually been beaten and that I didn’t have to do anything. 

But on the other hand… I didn’t believe it. I didn’t know why he wasn’t here, or why there wasn’t at least one of his people here waiting in this exact spot for me after he’d had years to prepare, but I was almost positive it wasn’t because he was gone. I honestly didn’t believe I was that lucky. 

Wait, time travel. How did that work? Was–was it possible that I would go back into the past, help everyone beat him back then, and that was why he wasn’t here to find me now? That was possible, right? That could be how this whole time travel thing worked, if it was–ergh. Headache. My head hurt. Time travel was annoying. On top of all the other horrific atrocities he’d committed, Fossor had to make me think about the mechanics of time travel? Bastard. 

Rahanvael’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “No,” she answered firmly, no trace of uncertainty in the words. “We are nowhere near my homeworld. The stars are different. I don’t recognize them. I know we’re very far from Earth, but how far, or where… I’m not certain. I’m sorry.” 

“So, we’re somewhere else,” I muttered under my breath, before focusing on my item sense. 

Or rather… trying to focus on my item sense. Nothing happened when I did. I couldn’t even sense the stuff I was wearing, and I was pretty damn sure I wasn’t naked. A quick glance down confirmed that. Yup, definitely not naked. I had all my clothes and everything. I even had my staff. It was lying a few feet away on the floor, with Jaq and Gus sitting on top of it, watching me. I couldn’t sense them either. 

One by one, I tried several other powers. Portals, infrared vision, nausea liquid generation, and more. None of them worked. Nothing worked at all. 

“There’s a magical field within the room,” Rahanvael informed me when I blurted that out. “It’s possible that the field is blocking your powers somehow. I am still here because I’ve bound myself to you. Try to force me to move.” 

I focused on that for a few seconds before exhaling when nothing happened. “Right, so I’m trapped here in this room. Can you get out? I mean, on your own.” 

She tested that, putting a hand against the nearby wall before shaking her head. “The magical field seems to be keeping me here as well.” 

“Right.” My eyes rolled. “This is definitely feeling like a Fossor thing. He knew you were with me, and he’d want to keep you here. But if so, where is he?” 

“Do you really want him to have been here waiting for you?” my ghost companion pointed out.

“Fair,” I muttered before punching my own palm. “Okay, if Fossor set up this trap or whatever but something’s stopping him from being here, let’s see if we can get out before he gets back.” 

With that, I focused on the nearby consoles. The holographic controls meant nothing to me. There were what looked like words on some of them, but they were in some alien language. “Do you understand any of this?” I asked, gesturing that way a bit helplessly. 

Rahanvael floated over, squinting at the controls for a moment before answering. “No, it’s not a language I understand. Wait, look.” She pointed to one of the other nearby control panels. 

“What?” Moving that way, I looked down. What was she–wait. Felicity. One of the holographic levers had the word ‘Felicity’ right above it. That… couldn’t be a coincidence, right? Every other bit of language around here was made out of completely alien symbols that didn’t look anything like the English/Latin alphabet. The odds of that ending up with an exact copy of my name was just… astronomical. If I ever got back home, maybe I’d ask Vanessa what the exact odds were. 

When. When I got back home, damn it. Because whatever it took, I was going to get back home. I was going to get back to my family. Whether that would be in the now time or after managing to get sent back to the past… err… present, damn it, past-present was up in the air.

“Okay, it says Felicity,” I murmured aloud, squinting at it. “But do I trust that? I mean, obviously it’s supposed to tell me to pull the lever. But why would I do that? It could be Fossor or one of his people. Maybe I pull this lever and some kind of inescapable forcefield pops up or something. Or it summons a bunch of ghosts or zombies or something. Can you imagine how much he’d laugh if he actually managed to trick me into pushing the button that ends up trapping me again after all that? Seriously, that’s something he’d do, just for shits and giggles.”  

“You’re right,” Rahanvael agreed in a quiet murmur before looking over to me pointedly. “He would. But on the other hand, you are already trapped here. We are years in the future, on some far side of the universe, trapped in a room that is shielded by magic to stop you from using your powers to get out of it.” She offered me a shrug then. “Besides, remember, your friends were all right there when you were sent away. They’ve had years to figure out where and when you were going to end up. It could be them somehow extending help.”

Considering that briefly, I grimaced. “Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point. I’m stuck here already. But… damn it. But if I pull this thing and I’m wrong…” I trailed off, trying not to dwell too much on just how bad it could be.

If I had my powers, I could just leave. The hatch wouldn’t have stopped me. Not for long anyway. I could’ve just gone through and taken my chances with seeing what was in the rest of the station. But no, I had to deal with it this way because some asshole put up a magical field blocking those powers. Which I didn’t even know was possible, so fuck. 

Either way, I had to pull this lever. There was no other choice. Yes, it could be a trick from Fossor, but at that point, what did I have to lose? Besides everything that I had to lose. 

“Fuck it,” I finally blurted, reaching out to grab the lever. It was made of solid-light, warm under my grip as I yanked the thing down while holding my breath. I really wished I had my powers right then so I could’ve pulled the lever through a portal from the other side of the room. 

The lever went down, and… there was no visible trap. Fossor didn’t pop up to laugh at me or anything. Better still, a very low hum that I hadn’t even consciously noticed abruptly stopped. 

“It’s gone,” Rahanvael quickly informed me. “The power-negation field. It’s not here anymore.”  

Instantly, I tested that by using my item-sense. She was right, I could feel everything around me again. I could feel my staff, my cyberform mice, my clothes, the hatch, the electronics in the consoles in front of me, everything. 

I could also sense that there was no one beyond the hatch. Well, no one my power could detect anyway. They could be shielded, or just be a creature who didn’t wear clothes or armor. Still, it was somewhat encouraging. Actually, just having my powers back was encouraging. 

“Let’s get out of here,” I announced, heading for the hatch. My hand reached out for it, then I stopped. Wait. Just because my item sense couldn’t pick out anything didn’t mean everything was hunky dory. Time to be smart about this. Especially since I still didn’t know anything about where I was or who else might be here. 

To that end, I touched the hatch and focused on one of the powers I’d picked up recently, from that car chase in Vegas. It was the power to designate an object, then see and hear through that object. In this case, I designated the door as my object and focused on seeing through it. 

Okay, now I was looking at myself. But by essentially mentally pushing my vision around (it felt like turning my eyes in a circle, which was weird) I was able to shift the view to see through the other side of the hatch. There was a short corridor leading away from the hatch. It was only about ten feet long before it reached another door. To the left from my hatch, there was also a small alcove area where an enormous figure with gray fur and a warthog-like face was lying on his side. A huge axe lay nearby where he had dropped it. Belatedly, I realized there was also a smaller Rakshasa figure next to him, also lying motionless. 

“What the hell?” Shaking my head, I figured the only thing there was to do was go out there. Luckily, a stray neuron fired in my brain at the last second as I was about to do that, and I suddenly stopped myself. “Wait. Two guys—at least two guys out there are down with no visible wounds. This room is sealed. What’re the odds there’s…” As I was saying that, I focused on creating one of my small portals with one hand while still seeing through the hatch to make the other end of the portal out there. Quickly turning off the object-vision power, I turned to look at the portal and sniffed. 

Yeah. Poison. There was poison coming through the portal from the other room into this one. Thanks to one of the guards on the ship back when I’d been trapped in Seosten space (possibly the first time, depending on where I actually was right now), I could smell the poison. Good thing the same power that allowed me to smell the poison gave me a brief immunity to it in order to do so without being affected by it. 

Quickly shutting off the portal before too much of the gas or whatever could come through, I backed away from the spot where I could still smell it. “Okay, that poison smells really bad. And if it was able to put that big guy out there down, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t last very long with it. I can hold my breath for ten minutes or so, but the second I open that hatch, if I don’t have a plan to get rid of the poison, that’s–wait.” Pausing, I looked to Rahanvael. “You can go out there, huh?” 

The ghost girl smiled just a little, giving a short nod. “Would you like me to?” She’d obviously been waiting patiently for me to work my way through all that. When I gestured for her to go ahead, she passed right through the hatch. With a thought, I made myself see through it again, watching as Rahanvael looked at the downed figures before floating right down the short hall to pass through the second hatch there. 

She was gone for a few minutes, but I could still sense her. Things seemed to be fine, so I just waited until she came back. Floating through the hatch, the girl looked to me. “There is another console in a room on the control deck of this small station that is also labeled with your name across several buttons. And there are more bodies, all apparently killed by the same gas.” 

I considered that. “Another console? Right, gonna guess that’ll either totally secure this trap, or vent the poison. Only one way to find out. Let’s go do this.” 

Yeah, there was poison out there. But that was okay, because thanks to one of the other guards on the same ship, I could hold my breath for a full ten minutes. Which would be plenty long enough to get to that lever. 

So, I stooped to grab my staff before moving back to the hatch. Jaq and Gus jumped to my shoulder together, and I reached up with one hand to pat both of them. “Let’s go spring this trap and/or rescue, guys.” 

The hatch was locked, but that didn’t last long. The second I pulled at the manual release, it resisted for just a second. Then my pass through locked doors power kicked on, and the hatch slid open. Just as it did, I took a deep breath and held it. The poison gas was already seeping in, as I moved through the hatch, glancing toward the two bodies nearby. But I didn’t slow down, heading quickly down the corridor. 

Rahanvael led me through the short maze of corridors on this station, around a corner, up a narrow flight of stairs, and straight to the control deck she had mentioned. There were more dead bodies there. Bodies I tried to ignore for the moment while hurriedly stepping over to the console my ghost companion was pointing to. 

There it was. My name was on the console. It was Flick this time, rather than Felicity. But it was also scrambled. The console was covered in buttons, with F over a button in the top right, an L in the bottom left, an I near the middle, C just under the F, and a K in the upper left. Obviously, I was supposed to hit the buttons in the order of my name. 

So, I did just that. Quickly, my fingers hit the buttons in that order. Once I did, the holographic controls vanished before being replaced by the image of a floating hand. After a second, I realized it was the exact size and shape of my own hand. So, I touched it. 

The moment I did that, the very instant my own hand touched the hologram hand, a new sound filled the room. It was the sound of rushing air. The poison was being vented out of the room, out of the entire station or whatever this thing was. A few seconds later, it stopped, and all was silent. 

Well, silent for as long as it took me to exhale and take in a new, fresh breath now that the poison was gone. As soon as I did that, a voice suddenly piped up. “Hello, Felicity.” 

Jerking that way, I found myself staring at a hologram. A hologram of a familiar face. 

“I imagine you have a few questions as to how we brought you here. Hopefully, this recording will help answer enough of them,” the hologram of Elisabet informed me.

A/N: The chapter setting up Elisabet being involved in this was Interlude 2B – Elisabet for Year 2, which can be found right here. And the chapter from several years ago that introduced future Flick in the first place is Interlude 15 for Year One, which can be found here.

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Deliverance 7-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For those who don’t want to read about Fossor there is a summary at the end.

I had never truly seen Fossor angry before. Annoyed, perhaps. Arrogant for sure. But not angry. I’d never seen him actually upset and ready to unleash on anyone, let alone me. He’d always been in control, had always been at most amused by the thought of anyone standing against him. I’d never been in a situation where he’d actually been hurt by something, even tangentially. 

But now I saw it. Now, in that single moment, I saw the look on Fossor’s face and knew that if he had the chance, he would hurt me. More than hurt me. In his mind, I was going to pay for even thinking about disobeying him, let alone everything I’d actually done. I had put his home in danger, had actually beaten his security and brought his enemies down on his head. And he was going to make me pay for it. 

Fire, the flames violet and silver, sprang to his hands at a word. There was anger in his gaze, actual, genuine anger rather than the casual contempt I was used to. Before I could so much as think about moving, the flames rushed at me, ready to envelop my body in fire and pain. 

But my mother was there. She interceded between us, hand raised to catch the violet-silver flames on a shimmering white forcefield. It flickered slightly under the force of his attack, yet held. And my mother’s voice rose over the sound of that fire, filling the room around us like the crack of thunder. “No!” That was all she said. She didn’t give some diatribe about protecting me, about how he would never hurt her children again. She didn’t threaten him, or say anything about all he had done to her. She didn’t need to do that. Everything that needed to be said was in that single word. That single word that rebounded throughout the chamber, echoing repeatedly. The force of her voice propelled me to my feet, just as the forcefield Mom had been using exploded. Fossor was blown across the room, even as my mother and I were hurled in the opposite direction. Mom caught me in the air, flipping over to land on her feet while setting me down. The two of us slid backward along the bone floor another few feet before coming to a stop. The center of the room was filled with smoke, which gradually faded to reveal Fossor on his feet as well. He had a dozen or so ghosts with him, including Jorsher and Ahmose (whom he had apparently felt was useful enough to expend the effort of summoning back after that banishing spell). His frontline, immediate troops, summoned to his side in an instant. They formed a semicircle ahead of him, while Fossor himself cracked his neck. 

“You…” His words were dark, filled with clear rage that he was barely containing. “You have been such a disappointment. But you will still fulfill some purpose, at least. You will still be the catalyst for the spell that will finally put this world into my hands.” 

Mom gave a short shake of her head. “The Heretics are coming, Fossor. You know that what few defenses you have left on this place won’t hold them back. Your spell in this room has been broken. You don’t have time to reconstruct it before they get here.” 

“Time?” Fossor gave a low chuckle, seeming to consider something for a moment. “Yes, well, we’ll see about that. I hate to tell you, but while a setback, your actions here are hardly the end of the line for my endeavors. You may have shattered the prepared spell, but the body of it still exists. Given another few days to repair it, and everything will be set right.” 

“Few days?” I shook my head. “You don’t have a few days. You don’t have a few hours. You’re on borrowed time, Fossor. Any minute now, this place is going to be swarming with a whole lot of people who want you dead and buried.” 

His stare seemed to burn through me, the anger in his voice almost enough to make me take a reflexive step back. But I barely held my ground, even as the man himself snarled, “You would be surprised to find what I can accomplish with limited time. You will be corrected, your actions punished. Then the three of us will retire to one of the… summer homes, where you will find the accommodations far less pleasant than these have been. At least until the spell is complete.” 

Even as he said those words, more and more ghosts kept filling the room. He was summoning them a dozen at a time, flooding the room with an army of his ethereal troops. It was clear that he knew he’d have to go all out to overwhelm my mother (and me, to a lesser extent) in the time that he had left. And he was ready to do just that. More and more ghosts arrived. Some had powers of their own, while others held things like swords and spears. All of them surrounded their master in a horde, ready to swarm over my mother, Kendall the golem, and me. 

And it was more than just summoning frontline ghosts. The house ghosts were mixed in there too. All the ones I had banished with that first spell. Fossor was spending power and effort that he didn’t have to waste on standard ghosts, just to prove that he could undo anything I did by pulling those ghosts back. 

Just as Mom had said he would. 

In any case, there were so many of the ghosts that there was no chance we wouldn’t be overwhelmed, simply through sheer numbers. The man obviously wasn’t taking any chances now. Not after what I had just done. He intended to tear us down and drag us out of here to his secondary home to continue this psychotic fucking plan. 

“We are not going anywhere with you.” That was Mom, her voice hard as she stood protectively in front of me. She ignored all the ghosts, her gaze centered on Fossor. 

As soon as she said that, two more blasts of deadly fire shot toward my mother and me. Again, she summoned a shield that flickered a little under the assault, yet held steady. The twin fire blasts were followed by what looked like a giant spear (it was a good fifteen feet long and at least a foot thick around the shaft) made of bone and covered in glowing blood that flew at us. That one, Mom didn’t stop with her shield. Instead, she created a localized whirlwind that sent the spear up into the ceiling. Upon impact, it exploded, sending a wave of nasty-looking gas everywhere. But with the whirlwind still active, the gas was pushed away from us. 

“I know your tricks!” That was my mother, her voice thundering through the room. “You spent a decade showing them to me! And you don’t have time to play these games now. You have a chance to escape this place before the others make it through your defenses. But you don’t have a chance to take us with you.” 

“I don’t?” There was a soft chuckle from the man, after he had tested my mother once more with a quick lance of flame that she caught on her shield. But it didn’t sound like his normal, collected and unflappable self. He was angry, barely keeping himself in control. Good. That meant he was right on schedule. “I think you’ll find I am more than capable of putting the two of you in line quite quickly.” 

As he said it, the man raised his hand, clearly about to send his ghosts at us. But before he could, Kendall moved ahead of my mother. The reanimated dead girl’s body looked almost laughably inadequate, standing against, by that point, over a hundred armed ghosts that were clearly one word away from falling onto us like a tidal wave of malevolence. 

Hand raised, Fossor paused, staring at the golem in front of him. “I realize I’ve taught you quite a bit, Felicity. More than I should have, perhaps. But sending your little friend here to stop these ghosts is not going to end well for you, regardless of the tricks you’ve picked up.” Again, the words sounded just like they probably would have at any time, but his voice was wrong. It shook a bit, cracking just as the facade of control around the man himself had cracked. He was emotional, annoyed. He wanted to smack me down and have me know that he did it, that he beat me. He clearly wasn’t thinking as straight as he should have. There were Heretics coming for his home and he was delaying because he was pissed at me. 

Finally. After all this time. After everything this psychotic, evil piece of shit had done, I had made him feel something. I hurt him. I wounded him, even if it was simply by delaying his plan and injuring his pride. I still affected that fucker. 

And I was about to affect him again. Because the next words that left my mouth were, “Who said I moved her?” 

Fossor didn’t understand. He couldn’t. But that didn’t matter. He still focused on Kendall, instantly lashing out with his hand, the order to destroy her on his lips. But it had only half-left his mouth before the spell from the runes that had been secretly carved into her body ignited. The erupting greenish-blue necromantic energy was entirely directed forward, washing over Fossor’s army of ghosts before flaring almost blindingly bright for a moment.

Then it vanished. And with it went those ghosts. All of them. 

“They’re free, Fossor!” I called, my voice filling the room even as the sound of the eruption faded. My whole body was shaking from the rush of adrenaline and emotion. “That spell tore your tether away from them. Jorsher, Ahmose, all those other ghosts you summoned to deal with us, they’re gone. They’re free of you. That spell right there, it banished them and tore your tether away. You can’t find them again. They’re invisible to you. You’ll never hurt them again.” 

It wasn’t even close to all the forces he could send at us, of course. He had an entire planet full of people he could use, to say nothing of all his other victims. But Ahmose, Jorsher, and the other immediate house ghosts were freed. It was the least I could do, after getting to know them these past few weeks. Setting these few ghosts free wasn’t much. But it was something. And after all the time I’d spent here in this hell, being able to do something… well, that was everything.

“No.” Fossor’s voice actually faltered a little bit. “No, you–that’s not… you don’t have the power to do something like that. You don’t have that kind of power, or the skill! And I would have detected it! I would have sensed that kind of spell, I… someone has been aiding you. But who could…” He snarled, snapping his fingers to summon a rush of flame that moved faster than I could possibly have intervened. The fire tore through Kendall’s body, turning it to ash while the man bellowed, “Show yourself!” 

The dust settled, leaving behind a single glowing figure. That of a teenage girl, whose appearance made Fossor abruptly freeze. He went completely still, staring as the flames he had summoned vanished in an instant. 

“Hello, brother,” Rahanvael greeted simply. “It’s been a long time.” 

Yeah, of course it was Rahanvael. She had helped with everything. Drawing energy from her allowed me to set up spells that Fossor couldn’t detect, thanks to his blindness to any energy involving his sister. That included both the still-active beacons that were already drawing the others here, and the ghost anchor-severing/banishing spell that had sent his summoned army away. That and Shyel’s tutelage were the only real advantages I’d had in all this, and I’d used them both as well as I could, by preparing the spells taught by Shyel, and keeping them hidden  with Rahanvael’s energy. We’d used the basic concept of the way that Rahanvael had been freed of her brother’s control and turned it into a spell to permanently free those other ghosts, including Ahmose and Jorsher. 

There were other ideas I’d had to level the playing field a little more. Mom and I had both intended to be in a much better position to actually escape the second all this went down. Or even trap him for the others. But Fossor sort of forced our hands. We just had to hope that what we had now was enough. 

“Rahn.” Fossor’s voice was… pained. He pronounced what was obviously his sister’s nickname like ‘rain.’ “No–no, it’s–that’s a trick. You can’t be here. You aren’t–I didn’t–No, no, that’s wrong. No…” If it was almost anyone but him, I might’ve felt sorry for the effect seeing his millennia-dead sister suddenly appear in front of him was having. First I broke his spell, then I banished his front-line ghost army. Now his dead sister was in front of him. He was staggering, the cracks in his armor breaking even wider.

“You summoned me before,” Rahanvael was saying. “You brought me back. But I hid from you, because…” There was pain in her voice too. “Because you are not my brother anymore. You are a monster. You are not Mera!” 

“I am better than Mera!”  Fossor’s rage broke through his shock, the explosion of his voice literally rocking the room around us. 

Wait. No, the room was actually rocking. Explosions. There was something going on upstairs in the main palace. Our–the others! They were here! They were tearing through what remained of Fossor’s defenses. 

But Fossor wasn’t paying attention. He was focused entirely on the ghost of his sister. The man was literally trembling with emotion. “You–you are… I am better than I was. I made them pay. I am making them pay. All of it–everything for you, Rahan. For you and our mother.” He said something else, but it was obviously in their own language, because I couldn’t understand. But it sounded like a plea of some kind. Pleading for her to understand? To come with him? To abandon me? I didn’t know. 

Either way, Rahanvael shook her head. “You are not my brother,” she repeated. “And I will see you destroyed so that he can finally rest, as he should have so very long ago.”  

“See me destroyed?” Fossor’s voice cracked. He was clearly losing it. Or had already lost it. “You will come to me!” There was indescribable power behind his voice, as the man stretched out his necromancy to force his own sister to bend to his will. He was breaking. Everything happening so suddenly, everything hitting him rapidfire like that, it was getting at him. Now he was going as far as attempting to enslave his own already-dead sister to his will. 

But it didn’t work. Rahanvael stood strong against the onslaught. Her voice cut through his bellowed demand. “I am anchored! I am anchored to the one you taught! I have had your entire existence to know you! I have known this ‘Fossor’ since you existed, and I knew Mera before that! I know everything of you. You cannot bend me to your demands!”

Fossor’s response was a snarled, “You… you will…” He trailed off, his eyes flicking over to me. “Anchored. You won’t be anchored for long. Then you and I will have our own reunion.” There was a crazed look in his eyes. I was pretty sure he’d almost entirely forgotten about his home being under attack. And I was also fairly confident that he wasn’t thinking about keeping me alive either. He wanted the anchor broken so he could yank his sister away. 

He wanted me dead. 

That much became perfectly clear in the next moment, as Fossor launched his next attack. This wasn’t like the others. This wasn’t meant to teach me a lesson, it was meant to kill me. He’d summoned a single giant bone spear before, and a couple flames. Now there were twenty flying spears, all coming at me from every direction and each covered with fire so hot it instantly turned the massive chamber into an oven. The flames erupted from the weapons as they all converged on me. I would have been dead in an instant, before I could even move. 

Would have been. Except for my mother. She was faster, moving in a blur to intercept each and every one of the projectiles. She doused the flames, redirected the explosions of gas, caught every piece of shrapnel from the bones that blew apart, summoned a glowing sword that cut through a blood-tentacle that tore its way up out of the ground right in front of me. 

Everywhere there was a threat, she was there. Everything that could possibly have harmed me, Mom cut it down. She was a force of nature. Because as angry as Fossor was in that moment, my mother had had a decade of anger. More than that. My mother had had a lifetime of people threatening or outright hurting her children, and she was not going to let it happen this time. 

Then I felt it. Fossor’s hands reached out to either side, and he summoned every last bit of power in the chamber. No, not just the chamber. Everywhere on the grounds. Hundreds of years worth of residual magical energy, everything he’d put into this place that wasn’t already going toward those beacons. Everything he had, all of it. He summoned it all for one spell. 

“Mom!” I blurted out loud, “Look–” 

She was gone. My mother vanished in an instant, there and gone in the span of a blink. 

With a scream of rage, I hurled myself that way. Fossor had actually doubled over, and my fist collided with his face. I’d forgotten my staff, clutched tight in my other hand, as I collided with the man and knocked him to the floor. My fist hit his face as I screamed, “Where is she?!” 

“When,” Fossor snarled, his elbow hitting me in the face hard enough that I saw stars. “When is a much better question!” As I recoiled, his hand caught my throat, squeezing tightly. He squeezed until I couldn’t breathe, until I could barely see through my dimming eyes. “Thankfully, there are still remnants of the spell I used to bring you forward to me, carved within this very room. Remnants I can shape and fill with power once more. Your mother has been sent forward a couple of days, and to a safe location. I’ll collect her when she returns, and we will finish the spell.” 

“Others… coming…” I managed to force out while being choked. “… Stop… you.”  

“Oh, I’m afraid they won’t know anything about it,” Fossor insisted. He was choking me even more, so hard I could feel myself slipping away. “I’m certainly not going to tell them. And you–” 

“Fossor!”  

Abruptly, his grip loosened just a little. He was still easily holding me. But his attention was on Rahanvael. 

“I am life-anchored to Felicity. If the girl dies,” she informed him, “you know what that means. You will never find me again.” 

Even as she said those words, a portal appeared. Then another, and a third. I saw Gabriel Prosser, Athena, Nevada, Avalon, Shiori, Wyatt, Sands and Sarah, the others. I saw them. They found me–us. They found us, they were right there. They were here! I heard my name shouted from several of them, everyone converging on the point where I was being held by the throat. 

Fossor’s gaze snapped back to me. I could feel the rush of power he still had. He’d summoned everything in the house, and it was still swelling in him. With that much, would he be able to fight that many people out for his blood? 

No. That wasn’t his style. He wasn’t going to fight them head-on. He was going to retreat. But first, he smiled at me. It was a pained, clearly deranged and damaged smile. I’d hurt him really badly, and we both knew it. 

With his free hand, the one that wasn’t tightly clutching my throat, he produced a small white orb. “I admit, you are forcing me to reach deep to my reserves for this power, my girl.” He snarled the words, his eyes and voice both half-crazed, even as Prosser hit the glowing dome-shaped forcefield that Fossor had clearly summoned around us. It almost shattered from that single hit, so it obviously wouldn’t hold for long. 

It didn’t need to. Fossor hurled me away from him, while hurling that orb to the floor. It shattered, and the area around us was suddenly flooded with so much stored magical power that the air literally grew burning hot. He sent it all at me, using the same time-travel spell he’d just used on my mother. The same one he’d used to send me three weeks into the future almost a month earlier. 

Time travel. He was sending me through time, again. But this time felt different. This time, there was a hell of a lot more power involved. That orb, the magic battery or whatever, had held more power in it than had been in this entire house. I could feel that, even as the spell took hold. Even as the others shouted my name, as Avalon and Shiori were right there, just breaking through the forcefield separating us. I felt a rush of power that made what I’d felt during the three-week jump seem like a light sprinkle of rain. 

How far was he sending me? 

The last words I heard were Fossor’s, his voice echoing through my head with a simple, “I will be around to collect my sister soon enough.” 

As before, a floor came up and smacked me hard. I was lying there, sprawled out haphazardly while some kind of blaring alarm filled the air. It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t just in my head. 

“Felicity!” It was Rahanvael, floating in front of me. “Get up!” 

Groaning, I rolled over. Everything hit me at once. “How… how many weeks ahead did he send us? Gotta… gotta find one of my friends to send us back. Someone… someone…” Only then did I glance around. The room we were in was gleaming silver, with holographic control panels, and obvious viewports overlooking millions of twinkling stars. 

“It is not a question of weeks, Felicity,” Rahanvael quietly informed me. “It is a question of years.

“And I am afraid that we are nowhere near your world, or any of your friends.”  

 

SUMMARY

Fossor goes ballistic trying to make Flick pay for her trick. Her mother, however, intercepts any attacks he sends at her daughter. The Necromancer summons a bunch of ghosts back, including the ones Flick sent away, just to prove he can undo what she did (spending effort and time in the process). Just as he’s about to send an army of those ghosts to wash over Flick and Joselyn, Rahanvael reveals herself by exploding a spell built into Kendall (whom she was actually inside of), which not only rebanishes all those ghosts (including Jorsher and Ahmose), but also completely frees them from Fossor’s control and makes them invisible to his power the way Rahanvael is. As all of Flick’s allies and friends show up, breaking through what remains of the defenses, Fossor uses all the rest of the power in the house to send Joselyn several days into the future and to another location. As he is about to kill Flick in a rage, Rahanvael informs him that she has life-anchored herself to the girl. Which means that if Flick dies, Rahanvael herself will vanish forever. This forces Fossor to use a ball filled with magic, wasting it in order to banish Flick and Rahanvael years into the future and to some other point of the universe far from Earth.

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Deliverance 7-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Once more (and for the last time in this arc), Fossor does not physically appear in this chapter. But there is a summary at the bottom for anyone who still would prefer to skip over Fossor-related things. 

So, I was supposed to practice in that tower room, learning how to summon ghosts from a ghost. Which was… an odd idea, to say the least. Although the oddness of learning from a ghost was nothing next to the feeling of overwhelming depression and horror I felt at the thought of what the people I was trying to summon had been through to get to this point. The story of these people, depicted in the stained glass windows, was of a village that was subjected to a plague that killed a large portion of their population. That dead population was then reanimated into zombies and killed the rest of the town, including all their family members and friends. The town was wiped out. Every man, woman, and child had been massacred and used to kill others.

And because that clearly wasn’t enough, Fossor had then had their ghosts magically sealed into this tower. For what? To practice with? Just in case he ever needed them for something like this? In case he took an apprentice the way he had conscripted me and made them learn this shit? Whatever the reason, he’d destroyed that town’s entire population and imprisoned their spirits in this single room with these four windows depicting their story. I was going to be sick.

“Control yourself,” came the flat order from Ahmose, as he gazed at me impassively. It was like he’d read my mind. Or maybe he just had eyes that allowed him to see the expression on my face as I stared at the nearest stained window. It was probably that second one. “We have much to do, and Lord Fossor will be unhappy if we do not reach a certain point in our lessons.” 

The immediate thought that came to mind was that I didn’t particularly care if the guy who used his torture touch on me got in trouble. But that was stupid, of course. First, because I’d be in trouble too. If Fossor was annoyed, he’d make sure I regretted it. And second, because as I’d already realized, Ahmose was as much of a prisoner here as I was. If not more. I knew from the way that Mom interacted with him that there was more to his story. He wasn’t just some evil asshole who liked hurting people. I didn’t know what his story was, exactly. But I knew there was more to him. Hell, from an outside perspective, someone could think my own mother was some evil bitch just because she did what Fossor ordered her to. She didn’t have a choice, and neither did Ahmose. I couldn’t take my anger at the evil piece of shit Necromancer out on him. It was just like the thoughts I’d had before. These ghosts, zombies, all of Fossor’s dead minions, none of them were responsible for what happened in this place. The… credit for that was all his. 

So, I shoved all those feelings down and exhaled long and slow to collect myself. “Fine, I get it,” I murmured, almost more to myself than to him. Raising my gaze, I looked to the ghost man. “How do we start this?” My own voice sounded hollow even to my own ears. I hated this. I hated being here, having to do all this. Hated being beholden to Fossor, living with his… ugliness all over everything. His evil permeated this entire building and everyone in it. It was a gilded hell. 

Ahmose, in turn, floated over to the first window. It was the one at the twelve o’clock position, showing the street full of bodies and the cart pulling more of them. His partially-translucent hand waved vaguely toward it. “You have been taught how to control ghosts that have already been summoned and are directly in front of you.” From the tone of his voice, I was pretty sure he did at least see the humor in the fact that he, a ghost himself, was the one telling me all of this.

“Yeah,” I murmured quietly, unable to take my eyes off the horrible image in the window. Fossor had definitely put work into teaching me to force ghosts that were right in front of me to do my bidding. I couldn’t override his control, of course. There was way too much of a skill level difference between us. But I had been getting pretty good at overriding a ghost’s free will and taking control over the past fourteen days. So… good for me? Maybe I should get a fucking trophy. 

Ahmose gave a short nod before continuing. “The process of summoning and controlling spirits requires several things. You must have at least some of each of these things for it to work, though you may make up for deficiencies in one by having more of another. Do you recall what you were told these required elements are?” At that moment, he actually sounded like a regular teacher, and if I’d closed my eyes, I almost could’ve imagined that I was back at school. 

But, of course, he wasn’t a normal teacher and I definitely wasn’t back at school. So, forcing that thought away, I answered with, “First you need necromantic energy. Most people produce this through extensive rituals, animal or even sapient being sacrifices, things like that. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up that kind of necromantic energy the old fashioned way, so many Necromancers who don’t have a natural gift for it will spend a lot of their free time building up that energy with various rituals and storing it in things like dolls, taxidermied animals, even entire buildings. That’s what causes some hauntings, because the energy from so many dead things is stored in those places and it boils over or gets out of control.” 

“And how are you and the lord different in that regard?” came the pointed question. 

“We can make necromantic energy the natural way,” I forced myself to answer, much as I hated even that bit of comparison between myself and that evil fuck. “We can convert our own magical energy, our own… strength, into the necromantic kind on the fly, without using rituals or sacrifices. Though both of those can also help us add a boost beyond what we’re capable of providing on our own.”  

Waiting until the ghost nodded once more, I went on. “Second, you need the skill to manipulate that energy. Practice, basically. You have to learn to touch and manipulate the energy, to weave it through the dead things you’re trying to control and use that to make them do what you want. It’s sort of a mixture between puppeting them and mind control. Or somewhere in the middle, though specifics depend both on how sapient and how powerful the thing you’re trying to control is.”  

“What else?” came the firm prompting, once I’d trailed off at the end of that second part. 

Quietly, I replied, “A connection. The better you understand the thing you’re trying to control, the easier it is to do so. Understanding can come in three forms. First is knowing them personally. If you’ve talked to them, interacted with them, that kind of thing, it helps. Second is researching them. That can be talking to their families and friends, reading about them, watching videos about them, just learning about them. And the third way is just to understand the species themselves, a general understanding of the species of the creature you’re trying to control. That helps a lot more with non-sapient creatures like rats and dogs and stuff than it does with, say, humans. But it can still help regardless.” 

“Correct on all counts,” my ghostly instructor informed me. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve said that he almost sounded proud. “One note on your second point about skill. Emotion, sheer will and desire, may also help in that regard. But essentially, you are entirely right. You summon and control your necromantic minions through a combination of power, be it provided by your own natural ability or through rituals, practice or skill in weaving that energy, and an understanding of the thing you’re trying to control, either the individual or the species.” 

With all that said, he added, “What then, do you believe the first step of controlling the spirits in this room would be?” 

I didn’t want to say it, but I knew what the answer was, what he had been leading me to. “Learning about them,” I muttered under my breath, my gaze still riveted to the image in front of me. “I have to learn everything about this village, about the people in it.” 

“Precisely,” came the measured response. “And so I shall tell you about this village, and the people who lived in it.” 

Afraid of the answer that would come, I forced the words out. “You knew them?” 

“Yes,” Ahmose informed me. “It was my home. They were my people. It was my duty to protect them. A duty I failed in. And it is now my duty to teach you how to use them to further your skill in carrying out Lord Fossor’s will.” 

******

So, I listened for an hour while my ghost tutor told me everything he could about his old village. He told me about what it was like to live there, in a medieval village in the northern part of Italy with a mixture of humans and hidden Alters, like Ahmose himself and his family. I wondered what kind of Alter he actually was, but the ghost just looked at me silently for a moment when I asked, before moving on. Apparently he didn’t want to talk about that. Or couldn’t, for some reason. 

Ahmose did, however, talk about the history of Italy in that time. Apparently, the short version was for awhile in central and northern parts of the country back in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a bunch of city-states were at war with one another over whether they were loyal to the Roman Emperor or to the Catholic Pope. If people were loyal to the Pope, they were known as Guelphs. If they were loyal to the Emperor, they were known as Ghibellines. 

That, at least, was the basic Bystander understanding of things. Ahmose didn’t get too into it, but he mentioned that on the non-Bystander side of things, there was some kind of race to locate some ancient buried treasure around that time. It was something similar to the weapons that the King of Canada had found. So, yeah, with something that powerful apparently hidden in the area I could see why people were going nuts for it. Heretics and Alters alike. 

I asked if anyone ever found that buried weapon or weapons, and Ahmose simply said that he didn’t believe so. Whatever powerful objects were hidden remained that way even now. 

All of that was just background anyway. Mostly, he focused on the village in question. Ahmose described several of the important people in the place, like the woman who ran the inn, and what amounted to their village elder. They were ostensibly aligned with the Ghibellines (Emperor loyalists), though according to Ahmose that didn’t really come up very much. They were mostly focused on doing their own thing, on living their lives and avoiding any official entanglement in the ongoing conflicts (both of the Bystander and Artifact Hunters variety). And they were successful at that. Until Fossor showed up to play his little game. Between his ‘little’ plague and the zombies, he wiped out the village entirely. Why, Ahmose either didn’t know or couldn’t say. Part of me wondered if it had to do with those hidden artifact weapons, because the idea that Fossor just happened to go through all that in an area where people were looking for those things seemed just a bit too coincidental. But whether that meant Fossor had actually found what everyone else was looking for and kept it hidden all these years or not was anyone’s guess. 

In any case, I learned about the people in the village, how day-to-day life worked, how the village was laid out, what the buildings were made of, what they smelled like, how their food tasted, and more. Ahmose told me everything he could, painting a picture of living in that village with its people, with his people. And with each word, I learned more than just simple facts. I also learned just how much he still clearly cared about them. There was real pain, real… emotion in his voice as he reminisced about living there. With every word, the ghost-figure bared a bit more of himself with me. Not because he wanted to. Not because we were friends. But because Fossor had ordered him to do so. I knew that. Ahmose was opening up to me, sharing his emotions and story, because doing so would help me summon the ghosts in this place. 

And that… that somehow felt like even more of a violation than Fossor was already so good at. Ahmose’s emotions, his story, his feelings and history, were none of my business. But now they were being bared to me just to help me learn to practice my fucking Necromancy. 

Damn Fossor. Damn that evil, psychotic piece of shit to the darkest pit of any hell that would take him. I wanted him gone. I wanted him dead. I wanted him erased from all existence. 

At the very least, I didn’t waste the effort that Ahmose was putting into this. As much as part of me wanted to resist actually summoning and controlling the people he still clearly cared so much about, I knew it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t like refusing to do this, or pretending I couldn’t, would help him. On the contrary, Fossor would obviously punish him for failing. I wouldn’t be helping him at all. 

So, I focused on one of the people in the first painting. Reaching out, I pointed to a body lying on the ground whose face was fairly visible. “Can you tell me about this person?” I asked hesitantly, my voice dry. I had to force the words past the thick lump in my throat. 

After a brief pause, Ahmose did so. The man I had pointed out was apparently a baker named Galasso Fuscone. He would yell at the children for hanging around his place while he was trying to bake, but was a sweet man behind the bluster, one who left bread scraps out for them (a few too many ‘scraps’ to be accidental) and who had a lovely singing voice. Galasso was a thin man with stringy gray-yellow hair and had a constant reddish blush to his face, as if he was always in the middle of a long run or workout.

Listening to everything my ghost tutor said, I focused on the man in the picture. My eyes narrowed until the only thing I was looking at was that single part of the painting, while I tried stretching out my power. In my head, I was chanting his name. Galasso Fuscone. Galasso Fuscone. Then I started saying it outloud, which was probably slightly more helpful. 

Galasso Fuscone. Galasso Fuscone. Come. Come to me.” There was an odd quality to my voice, as I felt my power wrap itself around the very sound, causing it to echo even more, reverberating heavily through the tower room. I felt faint resistance, as the figure I was seeking didn’t want to emerge. Part of me reflexively wanted to relent and let it go. But I knew Fossor wouldn’t accept that. As much as I hated this, I had to pull that spirit out. 

He materialized in front of my face, right between me and the painting. As soon as the ghost appeared, I felt his panic, his terror. He was sobbing, pleading with me–no. Fossor. He was pleading with Fossor not to do… something again. Whatever it was, I couldn’t follow all of it. He was stammering in Latin, which I was fairly decent at understanding by that point as long as people spoke slower. But this guy definitely wasn’t speaking slow. He was blurting words so quickly they all blended into one another. 

Finally, Ahmose spoke sharply, also in Latin, while I was still standing there in stunned silence. It was something about telling him to be silent. Galasso stopped, looking at me as if he had only just then realized I wasn’t Fossor. 

“Look, I… I’m sorry,” I managed. “I’ll send you back as soon as I can. I just have to practice for… for a bit.” The words seemed empty and useless both in my head, and even more so aloud. But what else was I supposed to do? 

For the next little while, I worked with Galasso, manipulating him, summoning and releasing him back to the painting, sending him around the room. I told him to try resisting, promising that I wouldn’t hurt him. I was pretty sure he didn’t believe me. After all, I was Fossor’s apprentice. 

Yeah, he was terrified the entire time. It was awful. As soon as I dared call it enough, I released the ghost to the painting and turned back to my escort. “I’m done,” I informed him. “I’m tired and hungry.” And I’d had enough of terrorizing a dead man. I wasn’t going to do it anymore. Not now, anyway.

“Very well,” came the response. “We will return soon, and you will learn to summon more at once.” With that, Ahmose turned to float to the exit, leading me out of the tower. 

As I left that awful place, with Kendall trailing behind as always, my attention focused inward toward Rahanvael. Pretty sure he didn’t notice, what about you? 

The response was an affirmative, positive feeling, and I gave a short nod. Yeah. As much energy as I was throwing around in there to ‘practice’, there’s no way he figured out what else we were doing. That’s one more room in this place almost primed. I couldn’t get everything done, but I think I can reach this far from the bedroom to finish up. Just gotta keep being careful. Slow and steady is what’s gonna win this race, like the tortoise. 

That earned me a feeling of uncertainty. She had no idea what I meant. 

The tortoise and the hare, the rabbit. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you the story later. I paused before turning to face Ahmose. “Thanks, I guess. For the lesson.” 

And for helping me with the next step of my plan to break the fuck out of this place. Give me a little more time, and Fossor will wish he’d never even looked at my family. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick learns that the doomed village depicted in the stained glass windows from the previous chapter was Ahmose’s village, and that he was responsible for protecting the people who lived there. He goes over how Necromancy works with her, with Flick reciting that to control something dead, you need a combination of power (either natural Necromantic gift the way Fossor and now Flick have, or through rituals to convert regular magic into Necromantic magic), practice/skill using that power, and an understanding of either the individual you’re trying to control, or the species they belong to. The former helps more than the latter. Flick then practices with one of the other ghosts from the village for awhile before declaring herself done, and leaves with Ahmose. On the way out, she has a silent conversation with Rahanvael, revealing that she also did something involving the next stage of her plan to escape while she was in there, and that she is almost ready to make Fossor start regretting everything he started.

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