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A/N – Hey wonderful people! The new non-canon for this story has been posted and is available for everyone to read right here
Standing just inside an alcove in the back corner of a Bystander university, Sean Gerardo listened intently to the sound of struggles and cursing coming from throughout the rest of the building. His right hand rested on Vulcan’s head, both calming the anxious Cyberform dog and making certain his contact-based invisibility spell stayed active on both of them. This would have been a bad time to let up on that and allow themselves to be seen. But Gehenna rookie though he might have been, Sean was better than that. Especially after the extra training he’d gone through with Larees.
Feeling Vulcan nuzzle into his hand just a little while still remaining firmly focused on watching for any incoming threat, Sean pursed his lips and blew out a gust of air. But this was no ordinary bit of wind. It was one of several important powers he had picked up over the course of his time working with Gehenna. The tiny tornado, invisible unless one were looking incredibly closely with phenomenal vision, sailed away from the boy and his dog. It twisted through the air as it made its way back and forth through the book stacks, up to the front of the library, turned to go up the stairs, and then sailed close to the rows of computers there. Finally, the gust took a pass across the doors leading into the various conference and quiet study rooms.
The little wind gust’s entire trip took only a few seconds, long though it might have seemed. When it was done, Sean focused on the path it had taken. He was able to move both his hearing and sight along that path so he could check on the entire library without ever stepping foot away from the spot where he was still standing with his invisibility spell. And with that, he marked each of the dozen spots throughout the building where his targets, a gang of mercenary thugs who once worked with Kushiel, had gathered. The rest of the Gehenna reinforcements would see the marks and get all his mental notes about what they were facing, including weapons and likely capabilities.
This gang had taken over the library here, using magic around the border to stop any Bystanders from thinking about entering while they kept those who were already inside as hostages and potential playthings. These guys knew Gehenna was after them, but had no idea just how close they were in that moment. No idea just how close Sean was. They were trying to use the people in here as leverage to get themselves a new ship to replace the one other agents of Gehenna had already destroyed that left them stranded here in Maine.
Or at least, they wanted Gehenna to think that’s what they were doing. As Sean listened in on the various groups of thugs scattered throughout the library, he heard the truth. They already had a ship. It had been buried here underneath this very library for decades, and one of their number had known about it. The thing wasn’t quite flight-ready in its current condition, but that’s what the whole fake negotiating thing was about. They knew Gehenna would never actually let them go, and were just buying time while their mechanics worked getting on the buried ship working.
Sean, who was in constant contact with a full strike team waiting outside through a telepathic spell carried on through an enchanted rock in his pocket, relayed this information along with everything else he had shared. If there was a nearly-ready ship on the premises, it changed the circumstances substantially. They needed to know just how close that thing was to being space-worthy, and what its weapons compliment was like. No one in Gehenna or any of their sources had had any idea that thing was here.
After a few moments while the troops outside conferred with their superiors, Sean got the go-ahead to check on the ship and make certain the people putting it together were contained while the others moved in. But first, it was time to call in his own personal backup. Sending a message to her, he made sure the coast was clear, waiting until one of the roaming mercenaries had walked right past his location before sending the all clear. A moment later, a glowing portal opened up in the wall next to him as Roxa stepped through before immediately turning invisible as his hand found her. She had her own hand on Gidget, her cyberform cougar, to ensure they all remained unnoticed.
As soon as the small group was assured that no one had noticed the new arrivals, Roxa knelt and put her hand on the floor while focusing on a power of her own. After a few seconds, the floor shimmered. It looked like a mixture of water and colored paint in a spot just a few feet wide. Roxa continued to focus on that spot, extending the effect down through the building, though it narrowed down to a few inches in width as it moved away from that opening in the floor. She was frowning in concentration, searching out the spot where that ship had been buried so long ago, a hidden hangar in the deep sublevels of what had become a public library. Her power continued to transform the materials of the building it passed through into a narrow tunnel. It snaked its way through walls and floors, through the very ground itself. Over the course of just thirty seconds, Roxa created a semi-liquid tunnel just large enough for a large insect to crawl through, which stretched on for almost three hundred feet counting all the twists and turns it had to include.
Finally, she found it. Her twisting tunnel opened up into a large hanger. “Got it,” she announced while not bothering to keep her voice low. Not only were they using magic to ensure no one could overhear them, the girl herself still had a power that made it impossible for anyone to detect her by any sense other than direct line of sight. And considering Sean was currently making her invisible, that was out too. “We’re connected. Ready to go. Pretty sure they’ll know when we get there though.”
“Then let’s make sure to make a good first impression,” Sean replied simply.
The two of them, plus their cyberforms, gathered around the glistening liquid-like spot of floor. Sean went first. Taking a breath, he stepped forward and hopped into that spot. It was like jumping into a pool. The second his feet touched the spot, his body was transformed into being part of the tunnel itself. It always felt funny when this happened, even though he’d done it dozens of times by that point, ever since Roxa got this particular power. He was transformed into a liquid state, sending a funny tingle throughout his entire body. It felt like he was completely soaked while also having every part of his body asleep. His arms, legs, every part of him had that numb feeling combined with the wet one. Yeah, it was difficult to get accustomed to. As was the feeling of momentum as he was sent flying through the tunnel at top speed. That was like going down a steep, long waterslide. The whole tunnel flew by in an instant, and he went sailing out into the middle of a brightly lit cement room with the large cargo ship straight ahead of him, along with half a dozen very surprised mercenary mechanics who had been hurriedly fixing it.
“Hey guys!” Sean called out, even as Vulcan arrived right behind him, followed by Roxa and then Gidget. The four of them spread out a bit, turning into five as VJ hovered up off his ‘brother’ in drone form. “Sorry, I heard there was a really cool old ship down here and just had to show my girlfriend. Hope you don’t mind. She loves antiques like that. I’m sure you understand.”
“Oh, I really do,” Roxa agreed. Even as she spoke, the girl was shifting into her midway werewolf form, still standing on two feet, but taller, more muscular, and furrier. Her claws emerged from her hands even as the girl’s face slightly elongated, teeth extending into pronounced fangs. “But I hate sharing with a bunch of other tourists. So if you wouldn’t mind, we’re gonna need you to get away from it.” Her words were accompanied by dangerous growls from Vulcan and Gidget.
One of the mercenary mechanics straightened up to his full eight foot height, his body covered in reddish-gray reptilian scales. “Gehenna. You really don’t care about those hostages, do ya?”
“Oh don’t worry,” Sean informed him. “They’re being taken care of.” Even as he said that, the sound of gunfire, lasers, and more could be heard coming from upstairs. “My friends are professionals.”
“Yeah?” the tall reptilian man retorted. “Well, so are we. And like it or not, we’re taking this ship. The four–” He glanced toward the hovering VJ. “Sorry, five of you ain’t gonna stop us.”
“Well thanks for including my little pal,” Sean replied. “But you still miscounted. See, there’s not five of us.” As he said that, the young man’s buttoned-up shirt opened up seemingly of its own volition, revealing an intricate tattoo of a cougar in mid-roar across his chest. A tattoo which shifted, glowed, and emerged into full three-dimensional form, growing into a real (or at least three dimensional) cougar that landed in front of him. A cougar that was black and dark blue, with shadows seeming to pour off its body to form thick pools on the floor around it, while electricity danced in its eyes.
“Now,” Sean started while his own tattoo-cougar stood next to Roxa’s cyberform version, “just out of curiosity, is anyone interested in surrendering?”
Unfortunately, as it turned out, they weren’t. But Sean, Roxa, and their companions made short work of the group, including the pair who had attempted to to turn the partially-fixed ship’s weapons against them. Finally, once they were secured with only one fatality amongst the mercs, Sean called in the cleanup crew to take the remaining troops Into custody along with the ones who had been upstairs.
By that time, he had physically joined with his tattoo-animal, which merged with the young man in a way that made his arms, chest, and head transform into those of a black cougar. Shadows rippled off his body, which seemed to blur heavily within those shadows, making it difficult to tell precisely where he was and therefore harder to land an attack against a specific part of him. The long claws emerging from his paw-hands had electricity dancing between them.
As the cougar-man stood over the dazed and injured reptilian figure who had been in charge of this group, that man snarled at him. “What are you doing coming after us anyway? Don’t you have bigger fish to fry right now? Or are you too chickenshit to do something useful?”
Sean had no idea what the man was talking about, and had just opened his mouth to ask for clarification when a voice spoke up behind him. “Sean.” It was Selaphiel, the archangel. “We need to talk. Let the others handle this.”
Oh. If Selaphiel wanted to talk to him, combined with this guy thinking Gehenna should have other things to focus on… this was big. Several possibilities went racing through Sean’s mind even as he took that in. A thought made his cougar separate into its own form, returning him to his human self.
“Miss Pittman–Roxa,” Selaphiel corrected herself with the name the girl had requested she use in the single interaction they’d had months earlier. “You are welcome to come as well.” And with that, she pivoted, created a new portal with a wave of her hand, and walked through it.
Sean and Roxa exchanged looks, while he held a hand out toward his now-separated shadow-cougar. Its name was Moondoggie, which not only fit the werewolf connection he had with both his girlfriend and his uncle, but was also the name of Gidget’s boyfriend. The movie and book version of Gidget that Roxa’s cyberform had been named after, that was.
Moondoggie the magic tattoo-cougar nuzzled Gidget the cyberform briefly, then returned to his place in tattoo form on Sean’s chest. Then they turned to head through the portal. Sean was already wincing to himself about what this could possibly be about. There were only so many possibilities about what could have made Selaphiel come to personally discuss something with them without any warning, and he was pretty sure he didn’t like any of them. Even now, he could already tell that this, whatever it was, would end up being a giant pain in the ass. But that was okay. He had Roxa with him. They could handle whatever this was, as long as he kept his cool and stayed calm.
“Oh you have got to be kidding me!” As those words erupted from Sean’s mouth, he stared in complete disbelief at the tall blonde Seosten woman standing in front of him in one of the many offices she had throughout the galaxy. This one was here on Earth, in a tall building on the edge of New York City. Behind him, he felt Roxa stiffen a bit, even as Gidget and Vulcan made low worried noises. But his attention was focused firmly on the archangel. “Our entire purpose, the whole reason this entire organization exists, is running around free right now and you aren’t sounding a full all-hands-on-deck alert? Why aren’t we sending out the troops to bring him back? You know, before he drags my friend into whatever stupid plot he’s cooked up for her?”
Many might have at the very least questioned Sean’s sanity in raising his voice toward not only his boss, indeed the boss of the entire organization, but a literal archangel. Yet she had made it clear that she preferred when they spoke their minds like that. Besides, after everything he’d already been through, Sean had no intention of playing politics.
“Yeah,” Roxa put in with a suspicious squint, “not to mention that whole Sun Wukong thing. Between those two, it seems like you should be pulling the full force of everything Gehenna can wield to deal with the situation. You seem pretty calm about this, all things considered.”
Taking a moment to consider her response while gazing past them and out the window overlooking the busy city below, Selaphiel finally replied, “Wukong is currently entertaining himself. If what he’s said is entirely true, and we have no reason to believe it isn’t, he intends to remain with your friends and continue to… ‘pose’ as Felicity Chambers for the duration of her absence. The effort it would require to force him to return to our custody far exceeds the benefit in doing so, particularly in this case. I do not believe it would be worth the losses.”
“Yeah, okay,” Sean managed through gritted teeth. “But what about Ehn? You all created this entire organization to keep him contained. Every other, less important prisoner you keep is just so you have the funds and resources to stop that guy from escaping. Now he’s out there, and you seem pretty damn calm about it.”
Selaphiel offered him a faint, thoughtful smile. Then she gave a decisive nod. “It’s time you both understood the truth about our organization. I had assumed this would take much longer, but given the situation it seems to be for the best. Especially considering your personal connection to Felicity Chambers. Besides, he authorized you to be told.”
“Who–what?” Sean blinked several times in confusion. “What do you mean he authorized something? You’re the one in charge of this whole… wait…” He was getting a rapidly mounting feeling about this whole thing, and he wasn’t sure he liked where it was going.
But, he and Roxa stayed quiet after that while the woman summoned a set of chairs and gestured for them to sit with her. And they waited patiently while she told them the full truth. A truth that only a few within the Gehenna organization, and almost no one outside of it, were privy to. It only took a couple minutes to explain, but they would both need much longer than that to come to terms with it.
“Let me get this straight,” Sean started once the woman finished. “This entire organization, all of it, is a complete fucking lie.” He felt Roxa squeeze his knee in a warning to be careful, and adjusted his next words from what he’d wanted to say. “You’re all working for the guy who you’re supposed to be imprisoning. He’s like, your boss. Wait, I mean our boss. You recruited me to work for him.” His voice was tightening throughout that entire bit as he fought to keep his reaction under control.
“In some ways,” Selaphiel agreed, “yes, it is a lie. The man we now know as Ehn created an independent universe-spanning organization millennia ago that could serve as his personal army at some far-future point. The safest way of doing that without being disturbed by outside forces attempting to force their own control over it was to pose as a prison, with the man himself as our most important subject. It allowed him to slowly grow in power over time without being seen as a threat. If outsiders, such as my own people, had realized that this entire organization functions as his private army, they would have interfered before we were ready. Before he was ready. Thanks to the disguise of our purpose, we have outposts on almost every important world, recruits drawn from people across the entire universe. But make no mistake, we do keep many dangerous and vile prisoners from hurting and killing innocent people. Those we are able to rehabilitate and trust over the many years that they have been kept here can be put to use in the future. Those who cannot… they either remain imprisoned, or their strengths are taken by those with the ability to do so, such as the two of you.”
Roxa couldn’t take it anymore and stood up, almost knocking her chair over in the process. “You really are a private army for that guy. Not just from the guards that you recruit, but the prisoners too. That’s why you keep them here, why you make such a big deal out of imprisoning the most dangerous and strongest threats throughout the universe. Because you’re recruiting them. Either as actual assets, or as food for people who can take their powers. You– I mean he created this whole thing as a secret army to… to what, take over the universe?”
“We have many goals,” Selaphiel informed her calmly. “The most pressing of which is to create a force powerful enough to eliminate the Fomorians as a threat. That is what Ehn is working toward right now with your friend, Felicity. That is a very important step in the process. We’d like you to continue to be a part of that, a true part, as we move to the next phase. But we understand that you will need time to consider all of this.”
“Time to consider?” Sean exchanged a silent look with Roxa, both of them coming to mutual decision together without ever saying a word. Then he turned back to the archangel in front of them. “No, we don’t need time to consider. I’m not stupid enough to think we can stop this, or even meaningfully delay it. Hell, I’m not even sure I’d want to. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know how I feel about it, and I sure as hell don’t trust this Ehn guy. But he’s had this ball rolling for millennia, like you said. If that’s where this organization is going, if that’s where it’s always been going, then I–we want to be part of it. Not because we completely agree with or trust either of you, but because this is happening with or without us, and I’d rather be included so I can see what’s coming. I’m damn sure not about to close my eyes and pretend it’s not happening.”
“What he said,” Roxa agreed. “But if I’m included here, then I’m fully included. I’m not just helping him, I’m a part of this whole thing. All of it.”
Selaphiel took a moment to look back and forth between them, before smiling just a bit. “Excellent.
“Let’s discuss the specifics.”