Random Security Guy Who Now Has A Name: Bennet

Second Hunt 16-06

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Scout made it to the room just as Avalon was starting to come to. My eyes snapped from the quiet girl coming around the corner, to my roommate as she gave a quiet groan and began trying to sit up.

Gaia was already there. She was still kneeling next to her adopted daughter with a hand on her face. The woman’s voice was soft as she said something quietly in a language I didn’t understand, but sounded quite tender. Then she added in English. “It’s all right. Take it slow, the threat is over now.”

“What–” Blinking a couple times, Avalon pushed herself into a slight sitting position. Her eyes went from me to Gaia and then back again before she muttered in an annoyed tone, “They tried again.” It wasn’t the kind of voice of a person terrified that some kind of conspiracy had attempted to kill her for what had to be the fifty-third time. Instead, it was the same sort of tone that I’d expect to come from someone who was annoyed that their roommate had taken the last of the milk. Exasperation. Annoyance. If Avalon was actually afraid of what was going on, she wasn’t really showing any of it.

I had to stop myself from rushing up to her. She’d been pretty much point-blank in front of an explosion that had knocked her unconscious for a decent length of time. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to… But no. Gaia was there. She deserved to be the one to check on the girl that mattered enough to her to adopt her, to do all of this for her. I cared about Avalon, but interrupting that right then would’ve been selfish.

It also reminded me of just how much the girl had to mean to Gaia. As old as the headmistress was and as much as she had seen over those centuries, she had to have lost a lot of people. But I had seen her expression when she came in to find Avalon unconscious after yet another attempt to kill the girl, and I saw her expression as she knelt with a hand on her face. I’d seen the anger and the relief. If Gaia wasn’t Avalon’s mother, it was pure semantics. She clearly cared about the girl just as much as if she was.

Moving up to my side, Scout looked at me questioningly. So, I whispered a quick explanation, “Bad guy fought Deveron for awhile and then got away just before Gaia showed up. She dismantled the bomb and fixed the hole.” Glancing to her and the blood on her uniform, I added, “Are you okay?”

She gave a quick nod at that, making a face before lifting her rifle pointedly. Then she focused on the wound in my arm and the blood there, and her face fell a bit before the girl whispered a weak, “Sorry.”

“Hey, no.” Shaking my head, I lifted my arm and showed her. “Healing already, see?” Restraining a grimace of pain as much as I could, I instead tried to smile. “It wasn’t your fault. I mean, deflecting bullets with a knife, who saw that coming? You were helping. I just… I’m glad Deveron showed up when he did.” My eyes glanced that way, and found the boy (or man) in question already talking to someone on his own communication pin. “He was… really bad ass. If he hadn’t shown up when he did…” Trailing off, I couldn’t help the shudder that passed through me. “It would’ve been really bad.”

Before Scout could respond to that, Gaia was standing up. She took hold of Avalon’s hand and helped her up as well. I could tell that the woman wanted to do more than that, but she stopped herself for the other girl’s sake. Then she was looking toward me. “Thank you, Felicity,” she spoke quietly, obviously more in control of herself by that point than she had been when she first arrived and actually called me Flick. “You have, as usual now, gone above and beyond what we should expect of our… our students.”

“Hey,” I tried to shake that off even as I cradled my broken and still healing wrist. “I didn’t do anything that Avalon wouldn’t have done for me. Except her way probably would’ve been a lot more competent.”

A slight, knowing smile touched the headmistress’s face then as she looked from Avalon to me and back again before speaking in an easy tone. “It’s very important that roommates and… partners be able to trust each other that much. I’m glad that you two are willing to go that far to protect one another.”

“She shouldn’t have had to,” Avalon spoke sharply then. “The bomb shouldn’t have gone off. We’re su-”

“We’ll discuss it away from this place,” Gaia interrupted, her tone gentle but firm. “For now, this exercise is over. We’ll go back to the island and have a… discussion with your entire team, together.”

“Um,” I hesitated before raising a hand. “Headmistress, what about the rest of the skeleblineists?”

The red-haired woman just blinked at me, head tilting a little. “I’m sorry, what about the what, now?”

My face pinked at that as I remembered that wasn’t their real name. “Err, sorry, I mean the… Strangers. I couldn’t remember the name, so I just—you know, skeleton-goblin-poltergeists. Skeleblineists.”

For a long, silent moment, Gaia just looked at me. Then she gave the faintest smile of amusement, almost undetectable before murmuring, “Fair enough. Now, as for what should be done about them…”

The woman trailed off, pausing as she looked away. I saw a momentary frown of concentration cross her face, and felt some kind of invisible yet almost tangible power pass through me. It was a little bit like feeling static electricity, and lasted for five seconds or so. Abruptly, the feeling cut out and there was a loud squealing noise from all around us. About five feet from Avalon, one of the skeleblineists popped out of the wall. On the opposite side of the room, another one appeared from the floor. And a third came out of the engine itself. None of them were attacking, however. They just popped half-way out, screaming in pain. Meanwhile, further off in the ship I could hear the cries of others echoing.

The terrible squeals only lasted for a second or two, until all of them were visible. Then all three of the ones I could see were reduced to literal ashes that fell to the floor. And considering the way the screams cut off everywhere else as well, I was pretty sure the exact same thing happened to the rest of them.

Gaia straightened, the by-then-familiar golden aura (the same color as my own, I noticed) briefly flaring up around the headmistress as she cracked her neck to the side. Then the woman nodded in satisfaction. “There. Now it’s finished.”

Okay, yeah. I’m pretty sure my gulp at that was audible from clear across the room. Or possibly even from the other side of the ship. “Oh, um. Thanks,” I managed weakly, my wide eyes darting to the girl beside me. For her part, Scout looked just as taken aback by the display of power. Which made me feel a little bit better. If she wasn’t used to it, having grown up around all this stuff, then it wasn’t just me.

By that point, Gaia was already gesturing toward the nearby hatch. At her motion, the broken doorway lifted up and set itself back into place before closing. Then the headmistress just stepped that way and opened it once more. Except rather than seeing the corridor of the ship, the open doorway revealed one of the Pathmaker portal rooms. She gestured for us to go. “You’ll find the rest of your team already waiting, I promise. As I said, we will discuss things once everyone is together and accounted for.”

So, Scout, Avalon, and I passed through the portal together. I resisted the urge to try to help Avalon. Not only was I really not feeling up to it considering the pain in my arm, wrist, and… well, pretty much everywhere, but I was pretty sure that if I had even tried to steady Avalon, she would’ve flattened me.

As promised, Columbus, Sands, and Sean were already waiting in the portal room. Wyatt was there too, standing beside the other security guy. When we came into the room, Sands went running up to embrace her sister, while Wyatt took a step my way before stopping himself. The poor guy looked like he wanted to tell the entire concept of secrets to go screw themselves as he stared at me intently for a moment before managing a slightly strained, “Oh—oh good, good, you’re all okay. No one d-died?”

Smiling faintly, I shook my head at him. “Nope, not… not this time. We’re fine, Mr. Rendell. Thanks.”

Vulcan had no such compulsions against showing how much he cared. The robot dog came bounding right up to me, barking until I obediently reached down to pet him. “Hey, boy. Did you take care of your partner? You keep him out of trouble, huh?” Smiling, I rubbed over his metal head vigorously.

My eyes moved up then toward Columbus. The boy was still soaked from his little swim when he’d been knocked out of the ship by the bomb, but otherwise he didn’t really look hurt. “You okay?”

In the back of my mind, that new power that I’d picked up was still cataloging every inanimate object that got close enough to me. I could sense what was in Sands’s pockets, as well as Scout’s and Avalon’s. As far as I could tell, it didn’t actually tell me what was in the extradimensional storage space like our weapon sheathes. It probably had something to do with the items technically being in another world.

“Yeah,” Columbus nodded to the security guy who’d saved him. “Thanks to Bennet. Think I swallowed about half the ocean when I got knocked out there, but I’m good. What about you? You look… bad.”

“Gee thanks,” I mumbled before sighing. “We’re alive. Despite their best efforts. That’s what matters.”

Professor Dare came through into the portal room then, followed by Gaia and Deveron. The blonde teacher looked more worn out than I had ever actually seen her. I could see a few cuts and bruises, her normally immaculate uniform had a couple holes in it here and there, and her hair had come loose so that there were random strands sticking out. There was even a bit of blood under the woman’s nose.

“Bennet,” she addressed the other security guy, who was staring at her with probably as much surprise as I was. “Please go and find Risa. Ask her to join us here, assuming nothing else has gone wrong.”

The man glanced to the headmistress, who nodded. Then his eyes darted toward both me and Avalon for a second before he spun on his heel and hurried out the other way with a quick, “Yes, Ma’am.”

Once he was gone, Wyatt didn’t wait any more. He practically sprinted to cross the distance before he was hugging me. Actually, the poor guy was literally lifting me off the ground. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he babbled. “I didn’t want to turn off the escape-port, I wanted to use it, but she was still in trouble and the escape-port wouldn’t work with her and I was trying to fix it, but if I let you go then she wouldn’t have anyone and I couldn’t do that to you or her and I didn’t want to do any of it, but I had t-”

“Wyatt, Wyatt,” I quickly interrupted while he continued to babble. “I’m okay! We’re okay, listen, I can’t—Wyatt, I can’t understand you. What do you mean, escape-port? What happened? Talk slower.”

Visibly taking a moment to calm himself, the man swallowed hard. His pronounced Adam’s apple bobbed a couple times before he pushed on. “I provided security measures for your mission that would have pulled you out of danger. Somehow, they… they blocked the effect on Avalon’s. Yours was still working, but I deactivated it. I left you in danger so that you could protect her, all because my measure failed.” His voice was getting higher by the end, and he turned abruptly toward Gaia. “Headmistress, I accept any punishment you give me for the unacceptable failure. I’ll… I’ll resign right now if you wish.”

“No, Wyatt.” Gaia shook her head. “Don’t you understand? We owe you our thanks, not condemnation. If it wasn’t for your security efforts, Avalon would already be… The assassins would have succeeded.”

The poor guy looked taken aback, mouth opening and shutting a couple times. “I—they would have?”

“Yes,” the headmistress nodded. “And Felicity here most likely would have been killed as well.” Her gaze softened. “You are correct, the person who attacked Avalon was able to block the spell that would have brought her out of danger. But even then, they were not able to take her anywhere. I detected several attempts in that room to leave with her. Obviously, their primary intention was to leave with Avalon, most likely so that they could… eliminate her in private without any of us to stop them.”

Gaia had a hand on Avalon’s shoulder, her voice soft as she continued. “Because of your security enchantment, none of those efforts worked. Which meant that they had to attempt to…” she swallowed just a little. “… kill her right there. That also required breaking through enough of your enchantments to even make the attempt. Between those efforts and their ongoing focus on preventing your retrieval spell from simply whisking Avalon away from them, the attacker’s attention was split enough that they were unable to put their full effort on the fight with Felicity. If they had, I believe she would be dead now.”

Well, that made me cringe. I’d thought fighting that masked assassin had been hard enough. But knowing that their attention had been split multiple ways and they hadn’t been fighting at near their full ability? Yeah, that thought made me want to whimper. Clearly whoever these people were, they were far over the level of a few first year students. Looking to Wyatt then, I managed a weak, “Thanks.”

“Does… does that mean they screwed with my bombs too?” Columbus put in. The poor guy looked about as guilty and stressed out as Wyatt had. “Because I swear I checked them before I put them in my pack. They should’ve been fine. The timers worked when I was testing them before the mission.”

I checked them as well, Mr. Porter,” Professor Dare assured him. “I would not have allowed you to go out on a mission like that with active explosives unless I was confident that they had been assembled correctly and were safe. When I looked them over, they were. Someone interfered between the time that I did my inspection, and when you attempted to use them. Which indicates a disturbing level of access, as well as enough knowledge of what your mission was to assume that they would be used.”

Before anyone could say anything to that, the door into the rest of the building opened once more and Professor Kohaku entered. Her gaze took all of us in, clearly inspecting for any lasting injury before she gave a long sigh. “Again?”

“Again.” Gaia sounded just as annoyed before turning her attention to us. “We will talk more of this later. For now, I must ask you to excuse us while we… discuss what has happened and what we are going to do to prevent it in the future. As for your grade for this mission…” She looked to Professor Dare.

The blonde woman smiled just a little. Her injuries had already healed, though there was still the blood on her clothes and the rips through them that showed just how much she had been through. “I would say you all scored quite well, if we discount the… interference. Had things continued the way they were progressing, you would have sunk the ship, as we hoped you would. You displayed admirable teamwork both before and after the interruption. So I would say you’ve earned top marks, given everything that happened.”

The headmistress squeezed Avalon’s shoulder, looking like what she wanted to do was pull her back into a hug right there. “Yes. Very good indeed.” Clearing her throat, she nodded to Wyatt. “Mr. Rendell, if you could ensure that they arrive safely back at their dorms?”

So, we trudged out of the portal room together. Everyone else looked utterly exhausted. In my case, most of the pain had faded, and I wasn’t even tired. Mostly I felt numb. I wanted to hug Avalon and not let go. I wanted to know who the hell had tried to kill her again. We knew why they were trying so hard, but not who. I wanted her to be safe, and happy.

And I wanted to talk to my father.

******

So I did. After spending some time with Avalon in our room and making sure the girl was really okay (hopefully without pushing her too far), I eventually left. Thanks to my new pendant, I didn’t have to obey the curfew anymore. Which meant that I could wander the grounds after hours, talking to my dad on the phone. Not that I told him that I was out, and especially not why. As far as he knew, I was in my room, and just needed to talk.

Eventually, he had to go to bed, so I switched to the private phone and talked to Asenath. Finding my way out behind the main building, I took a seat on the grass and watched the jungle in the distance while I told the vampire girl all about what had actually happened that day, and how worried I was. She listened while I vented about how angry I was that our security and safety had been compromised again, and how worried I was about Avalon.

There wasn’t much that the girl could do, obviously. But she was a really good listener, and didn’t try to cut in. She let me say what I needed to without interrupting, which let me get my head on straighter than it had been pretty much since the attack started.

Finally, I sat back and looked at the sky with the phone to my ear. “Thanks, Senny. Sorry for talking your ear off. I just…”

“Needed to talk to someone,” she finished. “I get it. Don’t worry. I just wish there was more I could do.”

“Trust me, you’re doing enough,” I assured her. “Just… don’t let anything happen to my dad, okay? I… I couldn’t take that. Not now.”

Her voice was serious. “You have my word.” Lightening her tone a bit, she added, “And hey, could you ask Shiori what her favorite kind of pie is before Christmas break?”

Chuckling in spite of myself, I nodded absently. “Yeah, I’ll find out. But I thought you didn’t cook.”

“I don’t,” she retorted. “But Twister does.”

We talked a little bit more. Now that I had the ranting out of my system, I was able to laugh a little bit and just enjoy the conversation. Eventually, I let the other girl get back to what she was doing and hung up. Then I just sat there under the moonlight, watching the jungle and the stars.

About ten minutes passed like that before a shadow fell over me. Opening my eyes, I turned slightly to find Gaia standing just above me. “Err, sorry, Headmistress.” I quickly started to get up.

“It’s all right, Felicity.” Gaia extended a hand down to help me. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting?”

My head shook. “No, ma’am. I was just… thinking.”

“Yes,” she agreed quietly. “I’ve been doing a lot of that as well. And I believe it’s time that I began taking your training more seriously.”

I blinked at that. “Err, ma’am?”

The woman’s voice was somber. “We both know and understand how much… pressure you are under, Felicity. We know what you’re facing, what you have already faced. Between those threats and the ones you have put yourself in to protect my… Avalon, I would be a failure if I did not come to you now and offer… if you would accept it, additional training and schooling, during some of the hours that you now have available after curfew.”

My mouth opened and shut. “You… you mean you want to give me extra lessons, extra training… yourself?”

“Would that be acceptable?” she asked in a quiet voice, watching my reaction.

It took a moment to find my voice, but I finally bobbed my head up and down rapidly. “Y-yes, ma’am. Really, anything you can do, any… any training you can give me, I swear, I’ll do the best I can.

“God knows I need the help.”

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Second Hunt 16-04

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After giving a few creative and anatomically impossible (as far as I knew) curses, Sands heaved a sigh. “Right, we’ve got a whole possessed ship to deal with. And those things could be hiding anywhere.”

“So what do we do?” Columbus spoke into the silence that followed Avalon’s announcement. “I mean, can we just back off, blow the whole ship to kingdom come with the assholes on it and call that good?”

I half-expected Avalon to snap at the boy. Instead, she sounded thoughtful. “Actually… yes. Yes, we can. Not back off, but the second part. They did say there’s no civilians on the ship, so let’s just sink it.”

“Can we do that?” I wondered, glancing over at Sands beside me. “I mean, just sink the ship like that?”

“Porter,” Avalon spoke again after a brief pause. “That bag of yours, did you bring any explosives?”

Looking over toward the other set of stairs where the boy stood with Scout, I saw him nod to himself while putting a hand on the over-full bag of goodies that hung from his shoulder. “Uh, yeah. I mean, not enough to sink a ship like this. At least, not very fast. But yeah, I’ve got a couple we can use.”

Avalon was quiet again for a few seconds, clearly thinking. Eventually, her voice returned. “Okay. New plan. Mason, escort Porter down to the lower levels. Gerardo and I will meet you there. We’ll head for the engine room and see what we can do to send this deathtrap to the bottom of the ocean. Chambers, you and Scout head for the bridge. Get into the security system and make sure there’s no survivors. I know what they said, but just… double check. Then work on clearing the way from the engine room to the back deck so we can go straight out and get off before this big hunk of metal takes us down with it.”

Part of me wanted to object with that, but I couldn’t think of a better plan. Instead, I nodded. “Right.” Glancing to Sands, I gestured across the empty space between the two sets of stairs. “Do you mind?”

With a quick smile, the other girl made a swinging motion outward with her mace. As she did so, a narrow metal bridge appeared, connecting our set of stairs to the one that Scout and Columbus were on.

Columbus came over first, jogging across the bridge while the rest of us kept a sharp eye out for any interruptions from our skele-goblin ‘friends.’ Scout had her rifle out and was scanning everywhere until the boy stepped down onto our set of stairs. “Whew, I know the whole ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’ thing, but I expected to at least make it up to the bridge before everything changed.”

Clapping him on the shoulder, I managed a slight chuckle. “Don’t worry. Given the way things are going, I’m sure things’ll change again before it’s over. Maybe you’ll make it up to the bridge after all.”

Then it was my turn. Boosting myself onto Sands’ created bridge, I ran across. Months earlier, I barely would have been able to crawl across this thing, probably while whimpering the whole time about the height. Now, I didn’t even glance down. I just ran for the other side and hopped off to land by Scout.

Together, the two of us stood there just long enough to watch Columbus and Sands head back down the stairs. As soon as they were out of sight, I looked toward the other girl. “Ready to see what kind of surprises are up on the bridge?” When she nodded, I took the lead. Staff still out and ready, I moved up the stairs while she watched my back. We moved quickly, each of our eyes scanning everywhere for the first sign of the skeleton-goblin-poltergeists. I couldn’t remember what Avalon had called them, so I decided to go with skeleblineist in my head. It was easier than trying to remember the German word.

Just before we reached the top of the stairs, Sean’s voice came over the communication pin. “Ahh, shit! These things are a–” His next word was overshadowed by the sound of an obnoxiously loud burst of gunfire from Vulcan in gun form. “–pain in the ass! Okay, listen. Avalon wants to know if you guys are at the bridge yet. She’s just a little busy dealing with these annoying shits, so I get to do the talking.”

“Almost,” I replied shortly while continuing up to the door at the top of the stairs. “You guys okay?”

Another burst of gunfire came then before the boy responded. “We’ll make it. Fuckers like to pop out of the woodwork, and every other kind of work. So be careful.” He shot at something else and called a warning to Avalon before going on. “We need you to find a map or something up in the bridge and direct us, tell us the easiest way to get to the engine compartment once Columbus and Sands get here.”

“We’re on it.” Hurrying faster, I moved up to the landing at the top of the stairs and gave the door a yank. Locked. And the thing looked like a pretty heavily reinforced door. Probably meant to keep the guests off the bridge where they didn’t belong. Grimacing, I glanced toward Scout. “Watch out,” I warned her before stepping back to give myself room. Gripping the nearby railing with one hand, I put my other one on the door and took a breath before heaving backwards. It might’ve been meant to withstand a normal person trying to force it open, but there was no way it could hold against my enhanced strength. There was a brief resistance, then the sound of grinding metal before it ripped open.

Scout was right behind me as we moved into the bridge. The place looked incredibly intimidating. Hell, it looked more like the control room of a spaceship than the actual spaceship that I’d been on with the Meregan. There were two levels. First, the slightly lower one we came in on. A line of tall, slightly curved windows surrounded the exterior, overlooking the deck below and the ocean in the distance. Several desks with computers built into the raised portion were set up along this lower section, built into the floor itself so they wouldn’t move. There were also a handful of monitors that were suspended from the ceiling, held up by metal mounting brackets or braces of some kind that were wrapped all the way around the monitors to keep them firmly in place even if the boat rocked heavily. Most of the screens were either completely blank, or just showed a blue screen. One had a view of the empty ocean.

The big, heavily cushioned blue chairs were bolted into the floor as well, and were raised high enough off the floor to have foot rests. And the keyboards were fastened in place. Everything was clearly meant to stay right where it was no matter how much the ocean rocked the ship back and forth during its trip.

Two different short flights of stairs, one at each end of the room, led to the upper area where more desks and computers were, as well as what looked like the actual controls for the ship and the spot where the captain would be. Even from where we were at the entrance, I could see a map of the ocean on one of the screens that seemed to be getting updates about the surrounding water, as well as other information that I couldn’t even begin to guess at. Again, the whole thing looked like Star Trek to me.

“Okay.” I nodded, looking toward my companion. “Now we just need to find a map of the ship for–”

That was as far as I got before Scout abruptly snapped her rifle up and pulled the trigger. Her shot went over my shoulder, and I spun that way in time to see one of the skeleblineists recoiling back into the wall from where he had been reaching for me. An instant later, one of the chairs literally tore itself off its mounting and flew at my face. A quick swipe of my staff sent it careening in the other direction to crash into one of the monitors. “Fuck, guess we’re not–” I started before yelping as a boney-rotted hand grabbed onto my wrist and yanked me sideways. My staff started to snap around at it, but suddenly stopped. I glanced that way to see another of the things leaning out of the console, grasping my staff with both hands to stop me from swinging it. Meanwhile, the first one clawed at my arm and hissed.

In the background, I could hear Scout dealing with goblins of her own. Which meant I was on my own. Luckily, that wasn’t going to be much of a problem. Grimacing as the first one dug his claws into my arm, I snapped my attention to the second. It was still holding my staff. “That,” I informed him flatly, “was a mistake.” With that, I triggered the explosive burst. The kinetic energy slammed into the creature, knocking it away with a scream. And now that the staff was free, I was able to spin around with a grunt and slam the end of it into the second creature that wouldn’t stop clawing into my arm.

The blow knocked the skeleblineist out of the wall and to the floor. But before I could follow up, the thing literally sank into the floor and disappeared again while leaving behind little more than a squeal.

“That’s getting really old!” I snarled the words while looking toward Scout. The other girl was aiming her rifle at a chair, but gave a slight nod without looking away. Clearly the one she’d been fighting had disappeared into it. Now, however, there was no telling where the hell the damn thing had gotten to.

Tilting my head, I thought briefly. My eyes landed on the spot where the staff’s explosive blast had hit the skeleblineist that had been holding onto my arm. There was a tiny spot of dark yellow blood on the wall where the thing had been, a sight that actually made me smile just a little bit. “Oh, hello there.”

Leaning down, I touched my hand against the blood and focused on it while closing my eyes. Then I straightened, readied my staff, and slowly looked around while muttering a plea under my breath.

It worked. The blood-tracking ability that I’d inherited from the harpy on the Meregan’s world kicked in. I felt the presence of the skeleblineist directly above me, in the ceiling. It was hiding there, waiting for an opening. So I gave it one. Turning away, I took a step toward Scout. The presence above me followed. As I continued to walk that way, it pursued me. One step after another, the thing waited to pounce. And I let it think it had the upper hand, forcing myself to act like I didn’t know where it was.

One final step, and I sensed the skeleblineist make its move. The thing lunged down out of the ceiling. If I hadn’t known it was there, it would have taken me completely by surprise and probably gotten its hands around my throat. Instead, I spun and whipped up the staff that I had been charging up the whole time. As the staff slammed into the completely surprised goblin-thing, I triggered the explosion. The skeleblineist had time to let out a single second of a shriek before literally popping apart. I was sprayed with so much gunk and assorted nasty bits that I might as well have been in the front row of a Gallagher show. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and it didn’t exactly smell pretty either. But the thing was dead.

Of course, that meant that there was a moment of distraction as a rush of pleasure rose in me. I was starting to get the hang of it, but still. I shuddered, eyes closing briefly as I felt the rush from killing the thing. My aura glowed briefly, filling the dimly lit room around us before it, and the pleasure, faded.

Opening my eyes, I grimaced while rubbing a hand over my face. “Eww. Remind me to bring wet-naps the next time we do this.” Then I focused on Scout. “One down,” I announced before stepping that way. She’d managed to hit one of the things with a shot, and its blood was on the console nearby. Extending a hand, I touched the sticky substance. “I’ve got this,” I announced. “Can you look for that map?”

She nodded silently, moving to do that while I focused on the room around us. My eyes scanned one way, but I could sense the skeleblineist on the opposite side of the room. It was lurking in one of the monitors, and began slowly making its way through the desks to where Scout was walking. Breathing out, I turned away and pretended to carefully inspect the completely empty door while activating the communication pin as the other girl stopped at another monitor. “Scout,” I whispered under my breath. “When I say now, turn to your right and shoot straight for that chair that’s at the console next to you.”

Then I waited, pretending to studiously ignore that side of the room while focusing almost entirely on my blood-sense. The thing crept closer and closer, confident in its ability to hide. It reached the chair that I had known it would use as a place to jump out from, and I whispered, “Almost.. get ready…” Another handful of seconds passed as the thing braced itself. Then it was lunging outward. “Now!”

Instantly, Scout spun that way and brought her rifle up. Without aiming, she fired a shot from the hip that took the suddenly revealed skeleblineist directly in the face. Its head went poof and disintegrated.

Walking that way quickly while Scout dealt with her own rush of pleasure, I kept a sharp eye out for any more of the things while activating my pin to contact the rest of the team. “You guys still there?”

“Tell us you’ve got directions,” Sands’ voice came back. “Because this place is a gods damned maze.”

“Got it, one sec.” Muttering about annoying hiding monsters, I looked to Scout. “We’ve got it, right?”

The other girl nodded and tapped at the computer before pointing to the screen. She’d brought up the map of the lower levels. “Okay, where are you guys?” I asked while looking at the monitor. “What do you see?”

They explained what they were seeing, and I figured out where they were. While Scout kept scanning the room with her gun, I directed the rest of our team through the maze of the lower levels and to the main engine compartment. Then I let them figure out what to do with it while looking toward Scout.

“Okay, time to make sure the rest of this ship is empty. Any idea how to do that without going room by room?”

Smiling slightly at that, Scout lifted a hand to point to the nearby handset for the intercom system.

“I always did want to make the morning announcements,” I muttered while reaching out to pick it up. Hesitating, I thought for a second before activating it. “Attention, listen up. If anyone is still alive on the ship, get to the main deck. Or at least get out into the corridors where the security cameras can see you, and we’ll help. Repeat, if you are alive, get out where the cameras can see you.”

By the time I’d finished with that, Scout had already managed to bring up the security feed on the nearest monitor. She started flipping through it, camera by camera while we watched intently for any sign of survivors. Not that I expected there to be any, but there was always a chance that the Heretics had missed someone. Especially after everything else that I’d seen happen in the past couple months.

And yet, no survivors appeared. We watched the monitors carefully, flipping through all of them. We were even able to check on the rest of the team in the engine compartment. Leaving that one up on a monitor, we switched to one of the others and kept watching, just in case. On a third monitor, I checked to make sure that their path straight out and to the deck would be clear as soon as they set those explosives.

“We’re pretty much done here,” Avalon’s voice announced. On the screen, I saw her step back from where she had planted one of Columbus’s devices. It looked basically like an alarm clock with a huge wad of silly putty stuck to it, along with some wires. It couldn’t have looked more like a bomb if it was a black ball with a lit fuse sticking out.

“Go,” she ordered Sands and Sean, clearly using the communicator so that we would know what was going on as well. “Gerardo, use Vulcan to make sure the path is clear. Follow Chambers’ directions. Mason, follow him and cover his back. We’ll set these to go off just after we get off the ship.”

The other two moved out, and I let out a breath of relief.

Which, of course, was pretty much when everything went wrong. Sands and Sean had barely made it up the stairs to the deck before Columbus abruptly whipped around as if he had heard something. On the screen, he pointed to one of the bombs they had set. I saw Avalon twist that way as well. Then the screen abruptly went white, and the ship was rocked hard. It felt like a giant fist had risen up out of the sea and punched it. Scout and I were thrown to the floor, and on one of the screens I saw both Sands and Sean go flying over the side of the railing, plummeting into the water.

“Avalon, Columbus!” I shouted into the pin after picking myself up. “What the he–”

Then I shut up. The view on the screen had come back. I saw a hole in the side of the ship where the bomb had been. Water was rapidly filling the compartment, while Avalon was laying unconscious (I hoped) on the floor beside one of the other bombs. There was no sign of Columbus.

Scout had already spun toward the door, shouting her sister’s name in a voice that was utterly full of terror. Before she had even taken a step, however, Professor Dare appeared directly in between us. Her hand caught Scout’s arm and mine, and her eyes were closed, brow knit with obvious concentration.

“We’re in a time-stop bubble,” the professor announced through gritted teeth. “The whole ship is. I need you to listen. Someone tampered with the explosives that Columbus brought on board. I checked them myself this morning to make sure they were okay to bring on this trip and they were fine. Obviously, someone switched them out, or altered them after I checked. That bomb shouldn’t have gone off this soon. And the second one is about to go off with Avalon laying right on top of it.”

“Then get her out of there!” I demanded.

“I have to hold the time-stop,” she explained, her voice still terse. “If I lose focus, that second bomb is going to go off. Scout, Deveron will get your sister. Trust him. He’s got her. Wyatt’s getting Sean, and Bennet already went under to grab Columbus the second he was sucked out of the hole. They’ve got them. You two need to get down there and get Avalon away from the bomb. Go now.

Scout and I looked at each other for half a second.

Then we ran.

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