Roxa Pittman

Interlude 32A – Team Stranded

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Please note that there was a commissioned interlude focusing on Klassin Roe posted a couple days ago. If you have not seen that yet, you may wish to use the Previous Chapter button above. 

“Where is she?!”

“Open the portal! Damn it, Haiden, open it again!”

“She pushed me… She pushed me…”

“What the hell happened back there? What was that?”

“What? She’s not here? What do you mean, she’s not here?! She was right behind us!”

The voices of Sands, Larissa, Jazz, Haiden, and Roxa filled the cargo bay of the ship as they all spoke over one another, their words blending into one large cacophony of noise that was almost impossible to actual pick a single coherent statement out of. It became a salmagundi of words that sounded something like, ‘Where portal hell not here right pushed was open it behind us!’

“Mom!” Sands managed to get out over the din, grabbing her mother’s arm. “Mom, where is she?! Where is Flick? We have to go back for her! We have to go back!” Her voice was hysterical, the realization that her friend had been left behind hitting the girl like a freight train.

“Okay.” With that single word, Haiden snapped his fingers, creating a zone of silence for everyone except himself. “Stop. Everyone stop. We have to-” In mid-sentence, the ship was suddenly rocked heavily, throwing Jazz and Gordon to the floor while the rest fought to keep their balance, Sands stumbling into her mother and Roxa catching hold of Gidget. The lights briefly flickered and dimmed, and the ship gave a second shudder under obviously heavy fire.

Cursing, Haiden turned to the nearby wall, putting a hand against one of the buttons there. “Jokai, Dries, what’s going on up there?!”

It was the old Heretic who answered, appearing in the hatchway to the cargo bay a moment later. “We are under heavy attack,” the thin, scraggly haired man with his thoroughly unkempt beard announced while taking a step into the room. “We must–” He paused then, his eyes widening a little as he looked past the group, to the rest of the cargo bay.

It was almost entirely full of the humanoid ant-people, the Kenkeans. Thousands of the people stood or sat in every available space. There were so many of them that had rather abruptly been thrust into this situation with little to no actual explanation beyond the fact that they had to leave before the Seosten arrived that they should, by all rights, have been making so much noise simply through whispering that the Heretics would have been drowned out.

Instead, each and every one of the Kenkeans were utterly silent. They sat or stood in place, eyes watching the proceedings while barely breathing. They were so utterly petrified of the Seosten in general that seeing what many still believed to be their ‘warsuits’ made them all but incapable of making a sound. They just watched, their collective silence so complete that, had the Heretics not been talking, one could have heard a pin dropping onto a bit of carpet.

For most people, seeing thousands of silent onlookers would have been plenty of reason for a bit of stage fright or uncertainty.  For someone like Dries, who suffered a host of psychological issues (with fears of crowds, open or new places, and of being watched or confronted being right at the top of the extensive list), it derailed his entire thought process and made the man reflexively try to retreat back the way he had come, stumbling a little as his heart rate skyrocketed, his throat closed up, and he felt the shudders start to come on.

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He knew that. He knew that. Half of his issues were simply the result of being trapped alone for such an extended time. And the other half… well, the Seosten hadn’t exactly been reluctant when it came to experimentation. They had wanted to ensure as much as they could that he wouldn’t escape their prison, so they had artificially instilled a plethora of fears and psychological dependencies in him. Over the centuries, he had learned to control a good number of them, but not all. Not the strongest. And every fear that he ignored or controlled took more effort, more willpower. Knowing they were artificial, knowing that the phobias and addictions had been forced upon him didn’t really help. They were still there.

“Dries.” Haiden was there, his hand on the man’s arm. “It’s okay. What–” The ship shuddered once more, as even more firepower was brought against it.

Forcing himself to focus, Dries made his eyes center on the center of Haiden’s shirt. Couldn’t look in his eyes, couldn’t look any of them in the eyes. That was too hard, too much. “We have to leave,” he mumbled, unable to raise his voice. “Jokai is… is trying to evade and outrun, but it is impossible. We are surrounded and blocked. We have to use a teleportation spell. I can do it. I have it. But I don’t have enough power. I need to take power. Your power. To trigger it. To go.” As he spoke, the man’s sentences kept getting shorter. It was too hard to make the words come when he felt so… somehow simultaneously closed off and yet also exposed.

“We can’t go!” That was Sands. She blurted that out with wide eyes. “Flick’s back there! Open the portal back to her! We have to grab her!”

Larissa’s head shook. “We can’t. Whatever Radueriel is doing, it’s blocking our portals. We could try to break through, but the ship won’t last that long.” Her voice cracked, face ashen. “We… we have to go.” From her voice, each word put another crack into her soul.  

“No!” Roxa, looking back and forth at them, shook her head. “We can’t just leave! Flick is there! And–”

“I know.” Larissa interrupted before the girl could give away Tabbris’ existence. “I know. But–”

Haiden abruptly spoke. “No time. Kids, we will go back for Flick, I promise! We will, but we can’t go back for her if we’re killed or captured too. Now come on.” To Dries, he nodded. “Do it. Use our power to trigger the spell.”

“W-wait!” Jazz’s head shook violently, her eyes wild and horrified as she took a step that way quickly. “She–she threw me out of the way! She threw me through the portal! That’s why she—she– you can’t leave her! You can’t leave her there! You-”

Her words were cut off as Gordon, who had remained silent the entire time, caught hold of the girl. He pulled her back while giving the others a silent nod, even as Jazz herself struggled against his grip. Despite his outward calmness, however, there was frustration, fear, and anger in his eyes, emotions that were barely being constrained through sheer force of will and habit. 

Without wasting another second, Dries produced a small wooden figurine that he had carved over the course of his long imprisonment. It was shaped like an elephant, and he had etched symbols into it. As he held the small figure up in his palm, the man spoke a single word.

Instantly, every Heretic in the room other than himself slumped. The teenagers collapsed completely, and would have fallen to the floor if  Larissa and Haiden (clearly woozy and unsteady themselves) hadn’t caught them. All still slowly slumped down, as the two adults couldn’t remain standing.

Meanwhile, Dries took the energy he had captured, pouring it into the teleportration spell that he had already set up. With another single word, he triggered the effect, and the ship was instantly shunted far away from the Kenkean planet.

Far away from Felicity Chambers.


The next day

“We left her there.”

Jazz Rhodes spoke the words flatly, her voice soft as she sat alone in one of the many side-rooms of the ship. Her gaze was directed to the screen on the wall, which was currently filling the facade of a window, overlooking a sea of stars. “We just… we just left her.”

Letting the door whoosh shut behind him, Haiden took another step in while shaking his head. “Not for long. We’re going back for her, I promise. We are going to find her.”

Remaining silent for several long seconds, when Jazz finally spoke, her voice was barely audible. “She saved my life. She threw me through the portal, knocked me through it with her staff. If she hadn’t done that, if she had just jumped through herself, or… or…” She trailed off, her wide gaze continuing to stare at the expanse of space depicted on the screen.

Slowly, the man moved up to stand beside her, his own eyes on the stars as well. “And you feel guilty about that.”

Flushing, the dark-skinned girl looked down as her arms folded themselves tightly against her stomach. “Wouldn’t you?” she demanded in a somewhat cracked voice. “If I’d been a little bit faster, if I’d gotten there just a little sooner, another… another step or two even, maybe… maybe…”

Before she could continue, Haiden put a hand out to rest on her shoulder. “Stop,” he urged quietly. “Blaming yourself for not being perfect, throwing yourself under the bus like that, it doesn’t help anything.”

“A real Torchbearer would’ve been faster,” Jazz informed him flatly, pulling her shoulder away from his hand as she lowered her gaze to the floor. “Any of the others, any of the real candidates would’ve made it without needing help. I should’ve used one of my gravity balls to push us both forward or… or something. I should’ve thought of that. They would have. I shouldn’t be at Crossroads. I shouldn’t–it should’ve been someone who could actually help.”

“Hey.” That time, Haiden took hold of the girl and turned her to face him. His voice was firm. “Look at me.”

As Jazz slowly lifted her gaze a bit reluctantly, he continued. “You need to stop worrying about what other Torchbearers would do. Because the truth is, all this garbage about what the ‘real candidates would have done’ is just that: garbage. You are the real candidate, the real student. You are the real Heretic, Jasmine. So stop worrying about what anyone else would do. Because the only thing that matters is what you do. What you do, not what you could have done and not what anyone else might have done. The only thing, the only fucking thing you can control is what you do in the moment. If it’s not enough and you get thrown into the dirt, then you pick yourself up, you brush yourself off, and you get back on that goddamn horse. That’s what you control, that’s all you control. Sitting around moping about it or trying again, that’s your choice, that’s your decision.”

The girl swallowed hard, flinching a little as her soft, quiet voice replied, “I’m scared that I’m not good enough.”

“Then use that fear,” Haiden urged, squeezing both of her shoulders. “Instead of letting it make you freeze up, use it to make yourself better, to push yourself to keep training, to keep trying. You think you’re not good enough? Good. Make yourself good enough. Keep trying. Keep working. Keep training and keep fighting. The only thing you could do to make yourself not good enough is to stop trying to be better than you are.”

Biting her lip, Jazz peeked up at the man. “Vanessa and Tristan are lucky they get to have you as a dad.”

Haiden blinked rapidly, chasing the moisture away from his eyes as his voice cracked a little bit. “I’m lucky to have them as my kids. Now I’ve just gotta get back to them.”

“And your wife.” Jazz met his gaze. “You’ve been apart from them for so long, but you haven’t stopped trying. You never stopped trying, working, moving that way.”

“Like I said,” he replied, “something knocks you off the horse, you get back on it, and you keep fucking going.”

Straightening a little bit, the young woman took in a heavy breath before letting it out slowly. “We get Flick. We get your wife. And we go home.”

“That’s the spirit.” Smiling, Haiden nudged his fist against the girl’s chin.

“But then, when we make it back,” Jazz continued, “there’s something else you have to do.”

“Oh?” Raising an eyebrow, the man asked, “and what’s that?”

“You have to teach me how to ride a horse.”


Later that evening


“You know, I’m really sad that I never worked on my Anthony Hopkins impression right now.”

The observation came from Isaac, as the boy stood in the middle of the room that had been specially prepared for him. The room itself was thirty feet wide by twenty feet long, but the boy was confined to a much smaller space than that. The red line painted on the floor created a square about eight feet by ten feet. That was the space that he couldn’t leave, which the spellforms drawn on the other side of the square, filling the rest of the space of the room, ensured. Within the small area, there was a bed as well as a toilet with a privacy screen.

On the other side of that square, facing the imprisoned boy, stood Larissa, Haiden, Dries, Roxa, Jazz, Sands, and Gordon. The students stood slightly to one side of the adults, both small groups watching him intently.

“Don’t fucking flatter yourself.” Roxa was the first to find her voice. “You’re not Hopkins-tier. You’re not even John Travolta’s villain character in Battlefield Earth. You’re bottom-feeding scum.”

“That’s enough.” Larissa’s voice was quiet, yet definitive as she took a step forward. “We’re here for one thing and one thing only. You guys are here because we promised you could be included, but now isn’t the time to make ourselves feel better through insults. Or anything else. It’s time to get information.”

“Oh, you want information?” Brightening, Isaac replied, “I’ve got a few ideas about what we could trade. But the thing is, you’re a little old for me. How about you leave Sandy in here for a little bit instead. I figure, ehhh, twenty minutes alone oughta be worth whatever you want me to tell you?”

Ignoring the brief, outraged sound that came from her daughter while her friends held her back, Larissa simply shook her head at the boy. “Sloppy. You want me to lose control, get angry, do something stupid? You’re going to have to try harder than that.” Calmly, she moved closer, walking straight up to the line. “Because quite frankly, put on even ground, I’m sure that my daughter would hurt you a lot more than you could hurt her.”

“Mom,” Sands managed, “be careful.”  

“It’s okay,” Larissa assured her daughter. “The spells cut off his power, not mine. He’s not a threat.” With that, she stepped over the line and into the containment square.

“What,” Isaac retorted while taking a reflexive step back, “no negotiation? Doesn’t have to be your daughter. I’d settle for the Little Orphan Wolfie. She’s more my type anyway. Seems pretty wi–”

His words were cut off as Larissa’s hand abruptly snapped out to catch him by the throat, though he managed a heavily strained, “Thought you said I wasn’t getting to you.”

“You’re not,” the woman replied, still holding the boy by the throat. “But you’re also an evil son-of-a-bitch, so I don’t feel the need to be gentle. Now, Felicity isn’t here right now, so you’ll just have to deal with me possessing you. So it looks like you don’t have much to–” She stopped.

“Hmm?” Grinning, Isaac tilted his head. “I’m sorry, are you having performance anxiety? Should I close my eyes? Would that make it easier? Maybe there’s a pill that–”

Again, his voice was choked off into silence as Larissa tightened her grip while looking over her shoulder. “He’s protected. I can’t possess him.”

“What?” Haiden started that way quickly, giving Dries a brief look before the other man followed suit. While the teenagers muttered amongst themselves, the adults moved in together, examining the boy.

“It’s the same effect,” Larissa finally announced as they stepped back. “He’s using the dibs spell.”

“Shit, did I forget to mention that?” Isaac’s broad smile was even more utterly incorrigible, his amusement written plainly across his face. “I feel like I probably should’ve mentioned that.”

“What the fuck?!” Sands blurted, moving right up to the edge of the line. She would have gone further, but her mother snapped a hand down to stop her. “How?! How could he possibly know how to cast that? That doesn’t even make sense. That’s bullshit! We learned the spell after he left! After he–” She choked herself off, looking like the thing she really wanted to do the most was put her fist through the boy’s chest a few dozen times.

Brightening, Isaac snapped his fingers. “Oh, right, I did mean to thank you guys for having those lessons in the same room where we were learning everything else. When I put in those spy cameras, I really wasn’t sure how useful they’d be, but I think you have to agree that they paid off.”

“Haiden,” Larissa snapped.

“I’m on it,” the man replied, already pivoting on his heel to go and deal with those and whatever the boy had left behind. They had been so distracted and broken up after that massacre, after the death of Ulysses and all those other people, that they hadn’t searched the ship as thoroughly as they should have. And now they were paying for it.

“It’s your spell,” Gordon observed from where he and the other students were standing. “Can’t you just undo it? Or bypass it?”

Larissa’s head shook quickly. “If we could just undo it, then the Seosten could have just undone it. The entire point was to make it so that it couldn’t just be dispelled. Plus, we don’t know how much messing with it that way we could do without unraveling the entire thing. Remember, we still don’t know what exactly Sariel did to create the initial effect that we’re piggybacking off of. The last thing we want to do is disable that part of it. We’d never get it up again. We mess around with this too much trying to turn his protection off, and we might turn off all our protection.”

“Hey,” Isaac put in then, in his infuriatingly smug way, “I’ve got an idea. You could torture me for it. You know, set me on fire, pull my fingernails, make me listen to Jazz whine for an hour or so. That might–oh, shit.” Snapping his fingers as though he had just remembered something, the boy pretended to lament, “I just had to go and throw a suicide pill into the spell, didn’t I? So, you know, if I’m under too much pain or fear or anything else–” He drew a finger across his throat demonstrably. “Then I suppose you won’t get any of the answers that you want.” .

From where he was standing, Gordon flatly remarked, “I’m not sure that making everyone as angry and upset as possible and then telling them exactly how to easily kill you is going to have quite the effect that you want. But then, I’m not the tactical genius that you are.”

“So, what,” Sands started while giving a heavy shrug as she ignored Isaac to focus on her mother, “we just wait for it to wear off?”

“You wanna tell her?” Isaac asked with a smirk, “or should I?”

Letting out a long, low sigh, Larissa looked to Dries first, then the others. “We made sure that the spell would last for a long time to begin with. There’s no point of having it if it’s just going to wear off a day after one of us was captured. It’s a long spell, and… and as far as we can tell, Isaac boosted it the last time that he cast it. Probably using that same blood ritual that he had connecting him to the Kenkeans. He used their life forces to supercharge the duration, which was already long to begin with.”

“So how long will it take to wear off then?” Jazz demanded.

“Honestly,” the woman replied slowly, “I have no idea. Weeks, at least. Maybe months.” Even saying the words made her want to incinerate the boy almost more than she could control. Flick and Tabbris were out there, they were… She stopped herself from that line of thought. If she didn’t keep herself under control, the kids wouldn’t either. And if they all lost it… then Isaac would get what he clearly wanted. As much as she wanted to express her anger and frustration, the kids needed a better example. 

Meanwhile, rather than devolve into cursing, Sands lifted her chin. “Or we go right to the source. We find Sariel, have her disable it long enough to get all the answers we need out of him. So nothing’s changed. We find Flick, we find Sariel, and we get everything we need out of this psycho piece of shit.” To the boy himself, she added, “And if I was you, I’d wipe that stupid fucking smirk off my face. You’re still a loser who was captured, and we’re going to find out everything you know. It’ll just take a little longer.”

“Indeed,” Larissa murmured, giving her daughter a brief smile despite herself. The girl had grown so much. Keeping herself calm enough to think straight even in this situation, even against Isaac’s taunting, she had definitely matured. It made Larissa… it made her proud. “Which means that we’re back to our number one goal.

“Finding Felicity.”


A Different Kind Of Hunt 31-06

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Okay, so this shouldn’t be too hard. All we had to do was hold off an entire army of Alters with a handful of partially trained Heretic students (one of whom was a werewolf), a mechanical cougar, and two mechanical mice. Yes sir, this was going to be a walk in the park.

As we ran down the corridor together, Jazz spoke up. “You guys know what we’re doing right? I mean, you know what this is? We are basically going out there to stop an army that two adult Heretics, badass ones, I might add, decided was too much for them to deal with.”

Roxa shook her head. “We don’t have to deal with them. We just have to slow them down long enough for Haiden and Sands’ mom to get everyone out of there. We set up, and we make them fight for every inch they get. They can only send so many troops at us at once in these tunnels. So we set up and keep falling back whenever we need to. But make them earn it.”

Nodding, I looked over to Sands as we kept moving. “I know you don’t like being relegated to support, but-“

“Like I give a shit about that right now,” she interrupted. “Walls. You need walls, right?”

“Yep,” I confirmed. “Like the girl said, we gotta make them fight for every inch they get. That means you and I set up walls and mines all the way down the tunnel. We wall and mine the hell out of it. Make them take it slow. Plus, that way I can cover you from any strays that slip around. So you can focus on walling everything up.”

“Which puts the four of us on the front lines,” Roxa announced, coming to a stop as she looked toward Gidget and her two former teammates. Though could they really be called former right now?

Stopping as well, I looked toward Jazz. “Your gravity balls. They have a range and target limit, right?”

“Fifteen feet,” she confirmed, shifting from foot to foot anxiously.. “And anytime I try to target more than one person inside that fifteen feet, they fizzle pretty quickly. I can probably affect to three or four, but only for a short burst. Three orbs at once, ten minute duration, unless, like I said, I try to affect more than one person at a time. Seems like for every extra person I try to affect at the same time, the duration goes down about fifty percent.”

“Still useful,” I informed her with a little smile. “Just pick your moments. Don’t wear yourself out too quick. I know what happened back there with Isaac was pretty bad. And I know that this didn’t have to be our fight.”

“You’re right,” the black girl replied. “This wasn’t our fight. We didn’t choose it. Isaac chose it. And those Seosten bastards chose it. Not us. But you know who also didn’t choose it? The Kenkeans. They didn’t choose it, but there still going to get wiped out if we don’t do something. I may have been my people’s last choice to be their Heretic, but I can still choose what kind of Heretic I am. And I choose not to be the kind that could walk away from that.”

I was spared from having to try to respond to that, by Roxa gesturing to Jazz and Gordon. “Come on, guys. We need to get up there. They’re getting closer.”

Tilting my head a little, and focusing, I could hear them. It sounded like they were on fire. A lot of fire. Good, I thought a little maliciously. The more it hurt, the more it would slow them down.

Gordon had shifted his sword and shield back into their tommy gun form. He stood there, gazing down the corridor. “Good luck with those defenses,”  he noted, in a voice that sounded like he was asking us to pick up some chips. “We’ll hold them as long as possible.”

Nodding, I added, “We’ll start the walls back here and work our way to you. Be careful, you guys. Just… please be careful.”

“Actually, speaking of being careful.” Roxa extended a hand to both me and Sands. “Do you mind? It’s probably best to have as many friends as we can get.”

Realizing what she wanted, we both nodded. Roxa immediately put her hands on each of us, and created a pair of stone duplicates. She could only make one duplicate per person, so the more people she had to work with, the more rock soldiers she could make.

By then, there was no more time to say any of the million things I wanted to say. We had to do this. To that end, the other four ran off, moving to head off the incoming troops. Meanwhile, I turned on my heel to look at Sands. “Let’s wall it up.”

Sands promptly reached out with her mace to smack it against the nearby wall and store that material as what it would make the walls from. “Ready.”

The two of us worked quickly. Sands made a wall from one side of the tunnel to the other, leaving a small opening for the others to slip through that could be sealed off as soon as they were through. Meanwhile, I carefully set mines all along it, on both sides. Anyone who tried to smash their way through, or slip through another way, was going to run into a surprise.

It was hard to focus, especially when I heard Gordon‘s gun and Gidget’s lasers start up off in the distance. All I wanted to do was run out there and help. It basically killed me not to be there on the front line. But no, we had our own job to do. Hard as it was, we had to make sure that the walls were up. We had to make this work. If Roxa and the others didn’t have any defenses to fall back behind so they could catch their breaths, this was all going to go very bad, very quickly.

Sands hesitated too, glancing toward me for a second before both of us pointedly turned back to focus on our work. “Funnel?” The other girl asked while moving forward a bit.

Realizing what she meant, I nodded and the two of us got to work. That time, rather than make a straight wall across, Sands created two walls, each taking up about half the width of the tunnel. They were angled inward to create a sort of triangle shape without a bottom. Or, as Sands had said, a funnel. The two diagonal walls didn’t quite meet. We left a small opening, again, for the others to get through. This way, the enemies would be pushed forward through the tunnel, straight to where Gordon could stand in that small opening and fire at them like they were in a shooting gallery. They would just keep getting packed closer together, so that he would barely have to aim. And any that tried to cheat by going through our walls, well, they run into my mines. It was simple, but effective. And to top things off, Sands added rows of spikes all along the angled walls. If too many of the troops tried to push forward, they’d end up impaling their companions. And if Gordon was shooting them from the spot we had set up, they were going to try to push forward to get at him. That, or they’d retreat. Either was good for me.

Glancing over my shoulder as Sands was finishing up with the last bit of wall, I caught a glimpse of the fighting going on. The others were barely visible at the far end of the tunnel, and I couldn’t really make out anything specific. But from the look of things, it was intense, to say the least. Gordon’s gun was shooting continually, and I could see what looked like Roxa’s rock statues essentially running straight into the line of fire coming from the intruders. In some cases, that ‘fire’ was literal. There was clearly at least one soldier there with some kind of flame control, who kept lobbing in fireballs. Thankfully, however, it looked like Jazz’s sword allowed her to control that fire as well. The burning orbs kept reversing course, flying back the way they had come.

Whatever was going on, the details were hard to make out. But it looked like they were slowly, yet steadily being pushed back. Which made sense. Better that they keep pulling backward than end up getting cut off from us. They were doing as much damage as they could while retreating. Twice, I saw Roxa’s aura flare up, and then caught a brief glimpse of Jazz and Gordon’s as well.

Sands and I moved on then, getting closer to the others. For the next fifty feet or so, the other girl made alternating diagonal walls going back and forth, with small openings between each that were only wide enough for someone barely Gordon’s size to slip through. Someone coming from the other direction would have to head diagonally through one tiny, tight space, get to the end, turn around completely and head back the other way. That, or they’d have to take their time smashing through wall after wall after wall. And once we fell back here and I set up some mines to cover our retreat, that in itself would still be dangerous.

Sands even set up a few spiked poles at various spots and at different heights. That way, anyone trying to run through who didn’t know where they were would risk, again, impaling themselves. Whatever it took to force them to go slow and take their time.

A flash of movement caught my eye then. Snapping my head that way, I saw something on the ceiling, rushing past Roxa and the others. One of the Seosten troops. The thing looked like a man-sized gecko with purple skin and bright red compound eyes. It crawled as fast along the ceiling as most people could run on the ground, crossing half the distance between us by the time I even had a chance to realize what was going on.

Somehow, I had my staff switched into its bow form before consciously noticing what I was doing. Reflex born of hours and hours of practice. With a blurted warning to Sands, I snapped the bow up into position, drawing back the energy arrow before launching it with barely a second to aim. Shooting, just like shifting the staff to the bow in the first place, was totally automatic.

And yet, even then, the gecko-Alter avoided the arrow completely. He dropped to the floor an instant before it struck the spot where he had been. The concussive force from the arrow’s impact was enough to knock him forward a step, but nothing more than that. And even as I quickly drew back another arrow, he was already raising his hands.

I threw myself to the side, but there was no incoming attack. No, it was worse. As the gecko spread his hands apart, a portal began to appear. Through it, I could see hordes of troops on the other side. This guy wasn’t attacking us, he was just getting past the others to send another part of their not-so-little army into the open space. If he managed it, Roxa, Gordon, Jazz, and Gidget would be cut off from us entirely. Plus, Sands and I would have a hell of a lot of company.

I couldn’t let that happen. A burst from my staff sent me flying that way while the portal was still growing. The gecko-man stood there as I landed within a few feet of him, but before I could get any closer, a hail of lasers erupted from the portal itself as several of the soldiers on the other side opened fire, forcing me to dive out of the way. As I hit the floor, however, the grapple line from my staff was already launching to wrap around the man’s legs so that he was yanked over to land hard on his back.

The portal, almost as large as the man himself by that point, was still connected to the man’s hands. So it went horizontal rather than vertical, hovering there in the air just above him. One of the other soldiers suddenly appeared there, his upper half poking out of the portal as he leaned through with his rifle raised.

He aimed for me, but just before the man could actually shoot, I triggered the boost from my staff before releasing it so that the weapon went flying down the tunnel back toward Sands. The grapple was still connected to the gecko-man’s legs, so he was hauled along the floor, which threw the other man’s aim off as the portal he was leaning through was suddenly moving. Lasers ate up the wall beside and around me while I rolled back to my feet.

By the time the guard leaning through the portal had twisted back toward me and brought his gun into line, I was up. And as his finger tightened on the trigger, my hand lashed out, launching a small, metal object. Jaq. I had liberated him from the staff before launching it down the tunnel.

And now, I threw the little mouse-cyberform like a baseball. In mid-flight, he changed shape, going from animal to a sharp, deadly blade an instant before he was embedded deep in the gecko-man’s head. .

He died instantly. Which meant that his portal vanished with the other figure still halfway out, slicing him in half and sending my aura flaring up as I was filled with the pleasure from both soldiers’ deaths.

Sands, by that point, had finished with the next set of walls. She jogged up, snatching my staff off the ground from near the bodies before tossing it to me as I joined her.

“Thanks,” I muttered, extending the empty end of the staff down toward the blade that was stuck in the gecko-man’s head. Jaq shifted once more before returning to his spot on the weapon.

Sands opened her mouth before suddenly shoving me aside, just before some kind of electrified grappling hook thing with a manacle on the end shot through the space where I had just been. A quick glance over my shoulder showed some kind of bug-like Alter in silver armor flying above us. He started to retract the grapple back into his extended gauntlet.

Before it could disappear entirely, however, I grabbed on and let it carry me up toward the man. Halfway up, the bug-figure stopped retracting the grapple. But it was too late. I used a quick burst from my staff to propel myself the rest of the way, even as he recoiled.

Then I was inside him. Not in the ‘splatter him to pieces’ kind of way. I was possessing him. Pivoting in the air, I threw the electrified grapple gun down toward Sands. It could be useful. Then I blurted inwardly, Tabbris!

She knew. The bug man fell unconscious, and I sprang free of him, landing in a crouch next to the other girl.

By that point, as the two of us turned the other way, Roxa and the others were on their way. They’d been fighting a slow retreat the whole time, and now they were close enough for us to actually see what was going on. Roxa shouted something before Gidget flew up in her hoverboard form to fire a dazzling display of lasers at the incoming swarm of soldiers. Using that as cover, the others broke and turned to sprint back to us.

“You good?” I asked as they reached us, Roxa and Gidget landing an instant behind the other two.

“Peachy!” Jazz shouted back. She was bleeding heavily from one arm, and her face was bruised. But she looked more alive than I had seen her in quite some time. Maybe ever.

Together, we made our way back slowly through the defenses that Sands and I had erected. Between all of us, we must have taken out twenty or more of the damn guys. But it wasn’t enough. They just kept coming. Mine after mine, wall after wall, they were an inexorable tide. But we were slowing them down.

“It’s done!” The words finally came from Sands, as she held that red ball in one hand. “They’ve got them all through! We’ve gotta go!”

It was just in time, too. We were at our last layer of defenses, the first wall that Sands had made. And now it was our turn.

But as our hands collectively found each of our badges and we blurted, ‘Dorothy’ together, nothing happened. Nothing at all. Glancing to the others, I tried again. We all did. Still, nothing.

Then something did happen. But it was nothing good. The sound of a steady, violent droning, like an angry swarm of insects, filled the air. Together, we turned back the other way, just in time to see the wall completely disintegrate. And not just the wall, but my mines as well. They just… fizzled, absorbed by what appeared to be a massive swarm of tiny bits of buzzing metal. The same buzzing metal that had just devoured Sands’ wall.

“Hello, children,” Raduriel spoke calmly, standing there with his troops arrayed behind him. Dozens of rifles and other weapons were leveled at us, ready to put us down the second we so much as breathed wrong. “I’d like you to meet my own offspring. Or as close as I will ever get.” He raised a hand, as the swarm buzzed down and around him. “My nanites are glorious creatures. So very helpful. Particularly in matters such as… jamming those teleportation spells you happen to be wearing.”

He looked like he was going to say something else then, before pausing to consider. Then he just offered us a little shrug, speaking simply. “Take th–”

As the man was in mid-sentence, one of the soldiers, clearly overly eager, lunged for us. In his haste, however, the man slipped and hit the floor hard. That, in turn, tripped up a couple other soldiers, while more of them blinked back to see what was going on, thereby taking their weapons off of us. It was an opening. A brief one, but an opening nonetheless.

We took it. Spinning back, the six of us hauled ass toward the other room. The soldiers were already reacting, firing a few shots after us. But it was too late. Sands erected a quick wall to block the shots for those precious handful of seconds while we ran. Go. Go. We had to move.

“They’re holding the portal!” Sands called as we scrambled. “We can get out that way!”

Together, we sprinted back into that chamber with Radueriel, his soldiers, and his swarm of nanobots or whatever they were hot on our heels. My endurance was, as always, amazing. Yet I could feel the drain creeping up on me, after that fight with Isaac. And if I was starting to feel it a bit, the others had to be dying. But we couldn’t stop. We couldn’t even slow down. My lungs were screaming, my legs hurt, and I really wanted a drink of water. It was those seemingly little things that I didn’t really think about when imagining how something like this would go. The thirst from a long fight, the cramp in my side, the fact that I kinda needed to pee, it all seemed inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Yet it added up.

The glowing red portal was right there, leading up to the ship. I saw Haiden and Larissa on either side of it, waving us through. Sands hit it first, disappearing the second she passed through. Gordon, two steps behind her, was next, followed by Roxa and Gidget. Only Jazz and I were left.

The droning of the swarm had grown deafeningly loud by that point. The nanites were on top of us. But instead of attacking, they flew around and over the two of us, straight toward where Haiden and Larissa were.

Between the two of them, the adult Heretics killed what was likely millions of the tiny machines within a handful of seconds. Anything that got near them was incinerated. While our powers weren’t enough to take a decent number of the little bastards down, theirs were.

But the nanites weren’t actually attacking them. Not exactly. No, they went for the portal. Larissa and Haiden got rid of most of them, but I saw a few reach the portal. They didn’t go through it, as I feared they might. Instead, they started to explode around it. They looked like tiny fireworks. And as the nanites exploded, the portal suddenly expanded. It grew dramatically, doubling in size in an instant, as if the exploding nanites had suddenly filled it with energy.

Haiden and Larissa were both engulfed by the portal, disappearing. It was a move I didn’t understand, until the portal began to shrink just as suddenly as it had grown. The nanites had overloaded it and now, after briefly growing, the portal was collapsing. It would be gone in seconds. And we were too far away to get to it in time. Seeing that, I slowed.  

“Flick!” Jazz shouted from beside me, noticing the instant that I fell behind. She turned toward me, even as I snapped my staff up into position. “Wh–”

I triggered the kinetic charge on my staff. Not behind myself, but in front. The burst slammed into Jazz, picking the other girl up and hurling her forward. With a cry of surprise, she went flying through the portal an instant before it finished collapsing.

I’d done it without thinking. Without even considering any of my actions. My only impulse had been to get Jazz to safety. Now that she was, I spun back the other way as the sound of footsteps reached me. My fist swung wildly.

Radueriel caught it easily. His hand stopped mine, and there was a sudden blinding pain as he simply squeezed, snapping pretty much every bone in my fingers, and cracking a few more in my hand. I hit the floor with a cry, dropping to my knees while the ancient Olympian Seosten simply stood there with my fist caught in his grip.

Flick! Tabbris blurted inside my head, sounding panicked.

Whatever happens, I shot back to her, do not reveal yourself. You hear me, Tab? Do not reveal yourself, no matter what.

“Interesting,” Raduriel remarked calmly, the casualness of his tone at odds with the force with which he was gripping my hand. “I do hope that you weren’t expecting them to come back for you. I’m afraid that the shield against such intrusions is now fully in place. There will be no interruptions.

“Still,” he added thoughtfully, “I’m certain that we can find… appropriate accommodations for you, Miss–”

“Let the girl go.” The new voice came from beside me, and both Radueriel and I turned slightly. It was the soldier from before, the one who had tripped. He stood there, staring intently at the man who was holding my fist in his unrelentingly crushing grip.

“Let her go,” the soldier repeated flatly.

Raduriel stared at him for a brief second. His mouth opened. “You–”

That was as far as he got before the soldier abruptly lashed out. His fist was a blur that I could barely process before it slammed into Raduriel’s chest. The powerful Seosten was hurtled away from me, finally releasing my hand as he flew backward to crash into several of his soldiers.

The guard who had intervened, meanwhile, collapsed. He fell to the floor in a heap, while a second figure, the one who had been possessing him, stood there in his place.

She wasn’t tall, standing an inch shorter than I was. Her brown hair was cut in a short, layered crop that barely reached her neck. Her eyes were slate gray, and she had the same high cheekbone, aristocratic look that I had come to expect from the Seosten. For clothes, she wore a pair of black leggings with what looked like intricate golden flame patterns running down to her boots, which themselves were almost entirely gold. Sheathed at her waist was a sword, whose hilt was shaped like a dragon. Set where it was, the head of the dragon appeared to be the source of the decorative flames that were running down her legs.

She wore a chainmail-like top, that was black with a golden design etched into the chest. It was the outline of a bird in flight. An owl, I realized a bit belatedly.

Oh, my God, Tabbris suddenly blurted in my head. It’s–

“You.” Raduriel had picked himself up, his eyes narrowed. Surrounded by dozens of his men, he still looked a little off-balance, a little nervous. “Involving yourself personally in this situation? That seems odd for you, Auriel. Or do you prefer Athena now? Or does your preference lie in another identity entirely? Such as, for example…


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A Different Kind Of Hunt 31-05

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Please note, there was a commissioned interlude focusing on the origin of King Arthur posted Saturday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you might wish to use the previous chapter button above. 

You did it! Tabbris enthused, sounding almost giddy. You got that piece of–I mean, um… him.

Chuckling a little to myself at that, I tried to push myself up before stopping with a groan. It was just too hard to be upright just then. Given the situation, I sent back to her, I think calling him a piece of shit is allowed.

I sat there like that, breathing hard for a moment while Roxa and Jazz moved slowly over, both of them limping a little. The other two helped me up, just as Sands and Gordon joined us. They were panting just as hard as the rest of us, and looked pretty disheveled. Sands had a pretty nasty looking burn all along the side of her neck and left cheek that was very slowly healing. 

“Son of a bitch,” she spat. “When he upgraded those drones, he really upgraded them. How much tech help did the Seosten fucking give him? Those things are nasty.” At her words, the other girl waved a hand back over her shoulder toward the remains of one of the drones.  

“We’ll be sure to ask,” I informed her, grimacing in pain. Ow. “Or just have someone take the things apart to figure out exactly what he did to them. Maybe they’ll come in handy somehow.”

Gordon, standing nearby with his arms folded, quietly observed, “You have a thing for taking what you liberate from your enemies and turning it against them, don’t you?” To make his point further, the boy nodded toward Jaq and Gus, who were both in their mice forms as they sniffed around the nearby Gidget. From the look of things, the two of them were making sure that their big friend was okay after she had been thrown around by Isaac’s metal manipulation power.

“What can I say?” I shrugged. “Gotta use what’s available, and there’s no sense in letting good resources go to waste. There’s too many overpowered bad guys out there for that. Besides, look at those little guys. There’s no way they deserved to have an asshole like Doxer for a partner.”

At the sound of their former owner’s name, both mice abruptly twisted around toward me. They looked almost guilty, like they were afraid that the boy himself was somehow there and they were in trouble. Wincing at the sight of their faces, I shook my head. “It’s okay, go ahead.”

Jazz spoke up then, shifting a little uncomfortably. “What about these guys?” she asked quietly, gesturing toward the ant-like Alters who were still chained along all of the walls. None of them had actually called out for help or anything. Actually, they had done nothing to attract our attention. It was like they were as afraid of us as they had been of Isaac himself. Which, I supposed, made sense. They were probably accustomed to only seeing Heretics who were being possessed and puppeted by Seosten. Plus, after the display they had just seen through that nasty fight… yeah, it was no wonder they were trying not to attract attention to themselves.

“Sands?” I looked to her. “Could you send a message to your mom, let her know what we’re doing and that Isaac’s where he belongs? Oh, and see if she can confirm with the ship that he is there. Just to, you know, make sure.” I knew Larissa had given her daughter something that was supposed to allow them to communicate, though I wasn’t really sure how it worked. I just assumed it was similar to the communication pins that we had used back at Crossroads.

She nodded, taking a small red ball from her pocket before stepping out of the way. Meanwhile, I gestured to the imprisoned Alters. “Come on, let’s free these guys. But uh, let’s try to make sure that they know we don’t mean them any harm first. It could get bad if they all panic.”

The others nodded, and together we moved over to the nearest ant-figure. He, and the others, were all watching us fearfully. They were each chained about three feet apart, with fifty on both walls. From the look of things, some of them had been beaten badly before being chained up. It was a sight that made me wish I’d hit Isaac more than I had before sending him up to the ship.

“Um.” Glancing to the others briefly as I stopped in front of the chained figure, I held a hand up to stop them before looking back to the figure in question. Clearing my throat a little, I hesitantly continued. “Excuse me, do you speak Engl–I mean, the Trade language? Do you understand?”

For a few seconds, neither the one I was talking to or any of the nearby figures actually responded at all. I was about to ask Tabbris to translate into Latin, when the figure to the right of the one I was standing in front of actually spoke up. “We’k in understanding the’k Master.”

Weak in understanding? I was confused for a moment about what that could possibly mean.

Fortunately, Tabbris quickly settled my confusion by putting in, I think he said ‘we in understanding the Master’. I don’t think the k sound is intentional. Or it’s just a… um, an accent or something.

“Right.” Biting my lip, I looked to the one who had spoken. “You understand. And you think–” Inwardly, I flinched at the realization before shaking my head. “No, listen. We’re not Seosten. We’re not possessed, and neither was… neither was that guy. We’re not the Masters.”

God, how confused must these guys be? They had been abducted by what they thought was one of their Seosten masters, dragged down here into the tunnels and used to fuel a shield spell against what appeared to be more of their Seosten masters. No wonder they were freaked out.

They were all staring at us, clearly even more confused and frightened. I could hear some of them whispering down the line as the uncertainty about what we were doing or what we intended grew. By that point, I was pretty sure most of them were resigned to death.

“We’re not here to hurt you!” That was Jazz, stepping up beside me. Starting to raise her hands before clearly thinking better of it, she reiterated slowly, but firmly.  “We’re not going to hurt you.”

I nodded. “She’s right. We are not going to hurt you. We’re going to unchain you, okay? We’re going to let you out. Just… don’t run away or anything. There are bad guys out there. The Seosten. They’re out there.” I pointed back the way we had come. “So don’t run off or whatever. We’re just going to let all of you out. I promise, we are not going to hurt you.” Yes, I was just repeating myself by that point. But I figured it bore emphasis, considering how scared they were.  

“We’k good for Masters,” one of the others tried to insist. “Never go’k running from Masters.”

Right. No wonder Isaac had been able to herd them down here so easily. They probably hadn’t even tried to resist, since they thought that he was one of the Seosten. They’d just obediently followed him down here. Hell, they probably even showed him where to go when he demanded a hiding place. The ones who had been hurt… Isaac had probably just been enjoying himself.

“No, I said we’re not–” Stopping myself, I let out a breath before giving up. Better to show rather than tell, in this case. Stepping closer slowly, I examined the chain for a second. It led from the wall to some kind of metal belt that was locked around the man’s waist. Eventually, I found the seam. It looked like Isaac had taken a bunch of scrap metal bars or something and bent them into circles around these guys with the same power that he’d used to throw Gidget around.

Carefully getting my fingers under the metal band on either side of where both ends met, I tried to give ant-figure as reassuring of a look as I could before heaving at it. The band resisted stubbornly for a few seconds, before slowly prying apart with the groan of protesting metal.

Finally, I was able to pull the partially unbent metal bar away from the formerly trapped figure, tossing it aside to dangle by the chain. As promised, the Alter didn’t run. He stood there, openly trembling. If anything, he seemed even more afraid now than he had before. It was like he was convinced that he was now going to be made an example of because I had singled him out.

“Guys,” I looked back to others. “Could you help the rest of these guys get free?” I figured that between all the powers that they had, it wouldn’t be too hard to get everyone unchained.

They moved to do just that then, while I turned back to the one I had freed, trying to keep my voice as calm and reassuring as possible. “Can you tell me what your name is? And what your people are called, your species?” Maybe if I showed an interest in who they were as people, it might help a little bit. All I knew was that we really needed to calm these people down if we were going to get any information out of them about what was going on, and where the rest of the town was.

The ant-figure shifted back and forth, looking nervous as he made a weak noise before finally speaking. “We’k are the’k Kenkean, Master. This one is called Ruedu’k. It is ready for serve.”  

“Kenkeans.” I repeated the name of the race, which sounded like Ken-kay-un. It was good to have something to think of them as beyond ‘ant-people’. “And you’re Ruedu.” That one sounded basically like saying ‘rude you’, which was ironic considering how he had been acting so far. 

I was also starting to recognize when the k sound was intentional and when it was just their mandibles clicking together whenever they ended a word on a vowel.

When the Kenkean gave a quick nod, I extended a hand reflexively. “Good to meet you, Ruedu, I-” Belatedly, I realized my mistake as Ruedu recoiled, looking with wide, terrified eyes at my hand. Oops. Right, when people like me could have any power imaginable, extending a hand to someone who was already afraid of us was probably a bad idea. Jazz had realized that earlier.

“Sorry, I… I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. I swear. Um. Umm…” I thought quickly, trying to remember the word that Jokai had used back when we first met him and had promised to save his people. “Sacramentum. Sacramentum, we swear. We are not going to hurt you. We… You know the Seosten, the Masters. We are not Seosten. We are… They use us too. They enslave us. They possess us. But we’re not possessed. We are… human. We’re here to help you.”

Pointedly, I gestured to where the others were working on freeing the other Kenkeans. “The boy, the one who abducted you, he was… we came to stop him. I’m sorry that you were… that he hurt your people. He was bad. He’s gone now. He won’t hurt you anymore.”

Ruedu lifted his head a little, watching me carefully. “Not… Masters? Not Seosten?” He said the name very hesitantly, like he was afraid that just saying it outloud would make them appear.

“No. We’re not Seosten,” I assured him. “We fight the Seosten. Can you…” I swallowed, dreading the answer. “Can you tell me where the rest of your people are? Where are the rest of the Kenkeans?” Quickly, I added, “We just want to know that they’re okay. That’s all. The boy that brought you in here, did he… did he hurt anyone else? Did he–” The words choked their way out of my throat. “Did he kill anyone?”

“Three’k,” Ruedu answered, crushing my hopes. “Boy’k killed three’k for making sure he’k was obeyed.”

“No,” I replied flatly. “He did it because he wanted to.” Swallowing hard, I shuddered a littled before looking back to him. “I’m sorry, Ruedu. I’m really, really sorry.”

For a few long seconds, he stared as if seeing me for the first time. His mandibles clicked together a couple times, but produced almost no sound. Then he lowered himself slightly, in something that kind of almost looked like a bow. “Other Kenkean below’k.” One of his hands pointed at the floor. “Deep tunnels. When boy’k ship crash, most flee’k to’k bottom. Only’k we’k remain above to’k aid Masters. Boy’k…. Master?”

My head shook again. “No, he’s just an asshole.” Belatedly, I amended, “He’s just a bad person. Evil.”  

Okay, so there were a lot more Kenkean below, apparently. Good. For just a second, I had been terrified that Isaac had killed a lot more than three. Hell, even that many was tragic, but it could have been so much worse.  

Shaking off that horrible thought, I focused on Ruedu. “My name is Flick. Like I said, we’re human.” My mouth almost formed the word Heretic, but I stopped it at the last second. Human. Human sounded better, somehow.

“Flick?” Ruedu repeated my name, overly stressing the kuh sound at the end. “Flick.”

By that point, most of the others had been freed, and were gathering in a group. As the Kenkean looked back to his people, there was a brief flash from the corner of the room. My head snapped that way, hand darting to my weapon.

It was Larissa and Haiden. They walked quickly over, the former stopping to embrace her daughter while Haiden himself stepped over to us.

The Kenkeans, including Ruedu, had all collapsed to the floor, hands outstretched toward the arriving adults as they frantically supplicated themselves.

“No, no!” I quickly shook my head, catching their attention. “Guys, Kenkeans! It’s okay. It’s okay, they’re with us. They’re not Seosten. They’re humans. Not Seosten.”

“Having fun, I see,” Haiden announced as he stepped over. Roxa and the others moved to join us.

“Loads,” I replied flatly. “Isaac?”

“Secure,” he assured me. “Dries says he’s out like a light. Good job.”

Nodding once, I looked back the other way. “Ruedu, this is Haiden. Haiden. He’s a friend. Good. He is good. Haiden, this is Ruedu. He’s one of the Kenkeans. These guys.”

“Not true’k.” Ruedu raised a hand, looking a little terrified to be speaking up, like he was confident that I was about to rip his head off for speaking. “All close. Close to’k true’k. But not he’k Ruedu’k. She’k Ruedu’k.”

I blinked twice, then realized my mistake. “She Rued–oh! Oh. You’re a she, not a he. Female Kenkean.” When she nodded, I coughed. “Sorry. I’m sorry. This is Ruedu, she is one of the Kenkeans. Isaac was…”

As I trailed off, Haiden shook his head. “We know. Sands let us know what was going on.”

“Yes, she did.” That was Larissa, stepping over to join us. “And now it’s time for us to go. Haiden and I did enough damage and left enough traps to slow them down, but they’re still coming. We’ve got Isaac, it’s time to get out of here.”

My mouth opened and then shut, as the realization came. “We can’t go,” I announced slowly.

That made everyone’s heads whip around as they stared at me. Larissa was the first to speak. “What? Flick, listen to me, there is an army out there and they’ll be down here any minute.”

“Yeah.” I nodded before lifting my staff to indicate Ruedu and the rest of the Kenkeans. “And them, and the rest of their people below, what do you think the Seosten will do to them when they can’t find us? You think they’ll just say, ‘hey, oh well’ and go about their day? Cuz I’m pretty sure they’re not the type to care that these guys weren’t involved with us. Best case scenario, they’re all enslaved and thrown into a work camp just like the one we just saved Jokai and the others from. Worst case, they just kill them all to make a point.”

“She’s right.” That was Jazz. She rubbed her arm gingerly, panting. “They’ll kill them. Or enslave them. We can’t just walk away. We can’t abandon them just because we have what we wanted.”

Haiden and Larissa exchanged brief glances and a moment of silent communication passed between them. The man smiled before looking back to me. “You really are a lot like your mom.”

“Guys,” Larissa started, walking over to us. “I want to get them out of here too. But you don’t have the power to make the kind of portal that we’d need to get all these people up to the ship. None of us do. Not in time before Radueriel’s troops get past those traps and find us here.”

Sands looked to her mother pointedly. “Then we’ll hold them off. You just said, we can’t make the portal. But you guys can. You did it before to get us down here. You make the portal to get all these guys out of here, and we’ll hold off the Seosten goons long enough for you to do it.”

“What?” Larissa’s eyes widened at that, and she quickly took hold of her daughter’s shoulders. “No, Sandoval. You can’t fight them. I told you, there’s an army out there.”

“Yeah,” the other girl replied, “a whole army out there. But the tunnels are only so wide. They can’t send everything at us at once. We don’t have to fight all of them at the same time, just the ones that can reach us. We can use that to hold them off long enough for you guys to work.”

Still, Larissa looked distraught, head shaking. “Sweet girl, it would take us hours to put together enough energy to send a portal all the way to where the ship is. You can’t hold out for that long.”

Sands opened her mouth to say something, when Gordon abruptly spoke up. “What if the ship was closer?” As everyone looked to him, he asked, “Would that help make the portal faster?”  

Haiden slowly whistled at that. “Bring the ship closer, and we don’t have to portal out as far…”

“There is an armada up there!” Larissa blurted, pulling Sands close to her chest and hugging onto her as she looked at Haiden incredulously. “And you really think that the best idea right now is to bring that ship out where they can blow it out of the sky and strand us all here?”

“No,” I quickly put in. “It’s not the best idea. But it might be the only idea. Larissa,” I pressed then, meeting her gaze, “we can’t abandon these people. Sure, we could tell them to hide in their tunnels, to run away. But you know the Seosten would find them eventually. We can’t just leave them here. I’m not saying it’s not dangerous. I’m saying it’s worth it. Because those people are only in danger because of Isaac. And he’s our responsibility. We have to protect them.”

For a second, the woman just stared at me. Then she reached a hand out, touching my face briefly. “You are… a beautiful girl,” she murmured before straightening with a sigh. “Call them.” She was looking toward Haiden. “Call the ship. They’ll have to be really close and really fast. We’re gonna have to time this perfectly. We have to know exactly how close they can get and exactly when they’ll get there. They get the ship as close as they can, we open the portal the second they’re in position and send all these people through.” Her eyes snapped to the rest of us. “And you use those badges the second we get them through the portal. You understand?”

“They’re coming.” That was Roxa. She had stepped over nearer to the chamber entrance, her head cocked to the side as she listened. “It won’t take them much longer to get here. If we’re gonna keep them far enough away for you guys to focus on the portal, we need to go now.”

“Be careful.” Larissa reached out, taking my arm with one hand and Sands’ with the other. “Just… just don’t take risks that you don’t have to. The tunnels are narrow. Use that. Don’t let them lure you out. Hold them off, make them keep coming to you. Be…” She swallowed. “Be safe. Be smart.” Looking up to Roxa, Jazz, and Gordon, she added, “That goes for all of you.”

“We will,” I promised before looking to the others. “Come on, guys.

“Let’s go hold off an army.”

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A Different Kind Of Hunt 31-04

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Two steps into the chamber, and a sudden, dangerous thought struck me. A thought that made me abruptly grab onto Sands’ arm as the girl walked beside me. Gripping her tightly, I dove sideways while shouting a loud warning to the others of, “Drones!”

A second later, a handful of laser shots scorched the ground where all of us had just been. Sure enough, just as I’d realized, Isaac’s upgraded drones were hovering up in the front corners of the room, out of sight from the entrance. The boy hadn’t had his weapon in his hand while he had been talking to us, and he’d made no move to grab it even when he was pissed off at Jazz and lashing out. Given his other preparations, it only made sense that he’d have the drones ready to go, waiting just out of sight but in a position to cover him just in case someone actually made it into the room. It hadn’t even occurred to to wonder until right then. Luckily, I’d barely thought of it in time.

Together, Sands and I dove to the side, rolling only a little awkwardly as we hit the floor. But hey, I’d take an awkward roll over being shot by a laser any day of the week.

Roxa yanked Gordon the other way, and the sudden volley of lasers missed all of us, though it was an incredibly close thing. Even Gidget managed to avoid being hit by lunging forward, skidding a bit along the floor.

Great, we were being shot at from both the left and right corners. The very brief glimpse that I had managed to get while we were rolling out of the way showed two of the drones in the top right, opposite where Sands and I were. The third one, meanwhile, was in the top left, directly above us. And the damn thing  was already reorienting to fire down at us.

“Go!” Sands blurted, sweeping her mace up to create a solid rock wall that arced over our heads barely a second before the high pitched whine of the drone’s lasers filled the air to rebound off the hastily constructed stone shield. “I’ve got the drone,” she continued quickly while sliding the badge meant for Isaac that her mother had given her across the floor to me. “You get the fucking asshole it belongs to! Just go, Flick!”  

Across the way, I could see Gordon and Roxa split up similarly, with the werewolf girl going for Isaac while the boy turned to face the two drones with his shield and sword raised. As both drones fired, he caught the incoming lasers on the shield before pursing his lips to whistle. There was some weird, near-invisible distortion in the air that flew to hit the nearest drone, and it suddenly spun wildly for a second as if it was completely disoriented. One of Gordon’s new powers, apparently.

Meanwhile, Isaac’s focus on us had allowed Jazz to break free of the forcefield he had trapped her in, and she was already lunging for him. Quickly, I snatched the badge off the floor and dropped it into my pocket for safe keeping while heaving myself back up. Trusting Sands to keep the drone occupied so that it didn’t just shoot me in the back, I went for the boy. All we had to do was get the badge on him. That was it. We just had to attach it to him and it would do the rest.

But that was going to be harder than it sounded, which became clear as Gidget lunged toward Isaac with a vicious snarl. As much as Roxa hated the boy for the psycho piece of shit that he’d turned out to be, I was pretty sure it had passed onto her cyberform partner. Unfortunately, the boy snapped his hand up, and the metal cougar was caught in mid-air. Apparently there had been some kind of metal-manipulation power included in all the upgrades that he’d managed to get. Which was just fucking fantastic. With a smirk, Isaac threw his already regrown hand back behind himself, sending Gidget that way to crash bodily into the incoming Jazz so that both were sent sprawling. Before either could get up, Isaac sent Gidget up and then down again, battering Jazz viciously.

Roxa, meanwhile, was caught from underneath by some kind of metal tentacle that rose from the ground and wrapped around her waist. The metal coil squeezed tight enough that Roxa gave a sudden gasp of pain, all while Isaac openly laughed, cackling like this was all some incredibly fun game. But before he could do any more damage, the blonde girl opened her hands. Some of that black oil-like stuff that she could create and manipulate now poured out of both palms before shooting back up her arm. It flowed between her trapped arms and the tight metal coil that was wrapped around her. A second later, the coil was forced apart as the stuff solidified and shoved it outward to create just enough space that Roxa was able to slip free and drop back to the floor.

By that point, I had finally managed to reach Isaac. With a grunt, I swung my staff for the asshole’s face. Sadly, he was entirely too quick for that, jerking his head backward out of the way as the staff whipped past his nose. His cackling continued unabated.  

I followed up by snapping the staff back against my chest while pivoting on one foot. The motion set me perpendicular to Isaac, with my right shoulder facing him. With my staff held against my chest, I continued my pivot to slam the extended end into the boy’s side as hard as I could.

Except the hit never landed. Isaac managed to stick the shaft of his flail (that was all that was left of it while the drones were elsewhere) into the path of my weapon, smacking it aside. As my staff was easily deflected, he met my gaze and waggled his eyebrows mockingly. Then his fist slammed into my face. He moved so quick I hadn’t even had a chance to register that it was coming, even with my enhanced reflexes.  

And fuck. It was like getting hit by a speeding car. Or maybe a dump truck. My vision went white with black spots for a second as I stumbled clumsily backward, tasting more than a little blood in my mouth. Honestly, in that moment, Isaac probably could have finished things for good if I had been by myself.

But, thankfully, I wasn’t. Before the boy could actually follow through with his attack while I was still recovering, Roxa was suddenly there. She caught his arm tightly, driving her leg up into his stomach hard enough to crack a tree in half. Isaac, however, barely seemed to notice. He gave an annoyed snarl, flicking that empty weapon shaft up between them.

Then the shaft wasn’t quite so empty. In mid-swing, a long, thin blade snapped up into place with a smooth click. Apparently, part of the upgrades that Isaac had been giving his weapon included adding that blade for times when his drones were out and about.

Even worse, as the blade cut into Roxa’s side, she actually cried out in genuine pain and stumbled. Silver. The blade was made of silver. Because of course it was. God damn Isaac.

While Roxa stumbled, the boy’s attention snapped back to me. He pursed his lips and blew at me, of all things. It was like Gordon’s whistle, except instead of making me feeling disoriented, an incredibly powerful gust of wind slammed into my chest hard enough to knock the air out of me. As I doubled over, the wind turned into a brief tornado that sent me flying upward out of control with a cry of surprise despite myself.

My back exploded in pain as I slammed up into the ceiling before dropping once more. Stunned as I was for that brief second, it was all I could do to get my staff down and trigger a brief burst from it to slow my fall before I hit the ground in what basically amounted to a half-sprawl, half-roll. As much as I hated it, I had to take just a second to catch my breath and try to recover as quickly as possible. It hurt. I hurt. This was not going well.  

Ahead of me, Isaac was swinging that extended blade of his at a (somewhat) recovered Roxa while Jazz ducked under one of the flailing tentacle-like metal arms that had risen from the floor. Gidget was down, unmoving for the moment.

Jazz turned to mist then, just as a second metal coil swung at her from behind. She reformed, throwing a hand out in the same direction that both coils had swung toward. One of her gravity-manipulation orbs appeared just past them, immediately yanking the coils that way and holding them there, even as they clearly struggled to swing back toward the black girl.

Meanwhile, Roxa stepped in to meet Isaac’s swing. Armored scales covered the girl’s body just in time for her to smack the blade aside while snapping her other hand up. A stream of that oil-like liquid shot from her palm and toward Isaac’s face. Rather than simply spraying him, however, the oil solidified into the shape of a large fist right before impact. His head was rocked backward slightly (which said something about how hard she had hit him with the stuff). Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to really stun the asshole. He recovered pretty much instantly, slicing through the solidified oil with a quick flick of that damn silver blade before pivoting around the falling pieces. Catching Roxa’s extended hand, he yanked her forward and off balance while spinning himself up and into a kick that took the girl in the side, sending her crashing to the floor. Going by the sound of impact, I was pretty sure only Roxa’s new armor had stopped him from literally putting his foot through her with that kick. It was clearly going to take the girl a second to recover from it.  

Thankfully, I was up and moving again by that point. In the background, I could hear (and kind of half-see from the corner of my eye) Sands and Gordon working together to deal with the three drones. But my attention had to be on Isaac. We needed to get the damn badge on him before this got worse. This would be over and done with as soon as I could actually get the badge on him. But I didn’t want to tip my hand by trying too openly. The second he actually knew what I was trying to do, this would probably go from hard to completely impossible. So I had to wait for the right opening. Patience, I had to have patience, as hard as it was.

The boy took a step after the fallen Roxa, clearly intent on finishing the job with that silver blade. Before he could follow up, however, the dazed blonde girl was suddenly hauled up off the floor and toward the gravity-manipulation orb that Jazz had just created about halfway to the ceiling. The other girl had clearly thought quickly and snatched Roxa out of the asshole’s reach for the moment.

And Isaac clearly wasn’t happy about that fact, because he spun back toward Jazz while throwing his hand back behind himself in a gesture that sent two more metal coils launching up out of the floor and toward the still-stunned blonde girl as she floated in the air. At the same time, some kind of large, sparkling blue fireball launched itself from the end of his blade, rocketing quickly toward Jazz.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! Changing course away from Isaac himself in mid-stride, I snapped my staff back and down while triggering the boost that I had been saving up. It threw me forward, straight into the path of the incoming fireball. At the same time, in mid-flight, I flipped the staff forward and launched Gus in his grapple form at the furthest of the two coils that were trying to grab Roxa.

The grapple caught the coil just before my momentum yanked it down to crash into its partner, thereby pulling both of them away from Roxa. Simultaneously, that blue fireball hit me just as I focused on the power that I had stolen from Doxer. I felt the energy flood into my body, along with the urge to get rid of it immediately. To that end, I flipped over in the air, facing Isaac from an upside down position while I went sailing past him. My fist lashed out, and I sent a smaller version of that same fireball right back at the boy before righting myself just in time to land in a crouch while retracting the grapple.

Roxa had recovered by then, flipping over in the air to send more of her oil around the metal coils, locking them against one another as she solidified it.  

Isaac caught the flame that I had launched at him midair, instantly dissipating it with what amounted to only a bare moment of effort. But that single second where he was focused on that was enough to distract him at exactly the right time (or wrong time, as far as he was concerned). Because in that second, he didn’t notice Gidget flying at him in hoverboard form. She spun sideways, slamming into the back of the boy’s legs hard enough to knock him over. As he landed on his back on the board, Gidget instantly flew straight up, slamming with unbelievable force right into the ceiling before he could recover.

The hoverboard flew away quickly then, letting Isaac fall back toward the ground. He caught himself partway down, slowing his fall somehow. Meanwhile, Gidget had flown down and around to let Roxa hop on, and the two were flying up toward the slowly falling figure. Rather than bring her metal companion in range of the boy’s control, however, Roxa took two steps forward and leapt up.

Floating there as he was, Isaac saw her coming. I saw a manic grin cross the psycho’s face while he readied that silver blade of his, flipping it around before thrusting forward, right into Roxa’s path. He wasn’t just going to stab her with the blade. He clearly intended to end her with it.  

But Roxa wasn’t there. At the last second, she used another of her new powers to create a stone duplicate of herself. The statue-like figure appeared directly between her and Isaac, just as he shoved his blade into its chest.

As for Roxa herself, meanwhile, she ran up the back of her stone duplicate, launching herself up above Isaac before spinning in the air. By that point, the statue was already plummeting toward the ground, its weight yanking the weapon from the boy’s hand before he knew what was happening.

From above Isaac, Roxa dropped, slamming into the boy’s back with both feet. The impact knocked him toward the ground. Roxa herself, however, stayed in the air and out of his reach, courtesy of a gravity orb that Jazz, obviously thinking quickly once more, had thrown behind and above the other girl.

Isaac was falling toward the ground, launched that way by the hard kick to his back (which had to have broken something). That coming so soon after he had literally been pancaked against the ceiling by Gidget, it took the boy a second to recover.

It was a second too long, because a second orb appeared on the floor. This one, however, didn’t decrease gravity. Instead, it increased it. Suddenly, Isaac was falling a lot faster, slamming even harder into the floor than he’d been driven into the ceiling.

He picked himself up, but I was already there. Launching myself with a quick burst from my weapon, I rocketed that way. The boy managed to get back to his feet. He saw me coming, a grin starting to form on his bloodied and bruised face as he clearly imagined everything he was going to do when he got his hands on me. That grin fell away, however, as he tried to step forward and raise his hands. He could do neither, because his arms and legs were suddenly held in place by more of that solidified oil courtesy of the still-floating Roxa.

He probably still could have pulled some power out of his ass to swat me aside like a bug. But he needed time to think of it, and time was one thing that the boy didn’t have. Because in that second, my weapon connected solidly with his chest, and I was rewarded with the crack of bones snapping. Isaac doubled over, and I pivoted, spinning the staff up and around before driving it down into the back of the boy’s head. As he was knocked forward and down, I drove my knee up into his face. Honestly, it hurt my leg. But it was a good hurt, especially when I heard his yelp.

With a livid snarl, the boy lashed out, managing to break his arm free of the solid oil in time to punch me hard enough to send me to the ground with a cry of my own.

“You think you can win?!” he screamed, looking completely crazed. “You’re nothing! You are fucking nothing! You’re all worthless! You’re pathetic! I can take every single thing you can dish out! You’re done!”

“Now, see,” I managed a bit painfully from where I had sprawled. “That last part, that’s right. We are done.”

“What are you–” the boy started before his gaze snapped down. He saw the badge that I had clipped to his shirt while he was doubled over just in time to blurt a sudden frantic curse.

Then he was gone, as the badge transported him up to the ship. It was done. He was caught. We’d finished it. 


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A Different Kind Of Hunt 31-03

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The tunnels were a maze, with branches leading off in every possible direction. Seriously, it was like being trapped in a giant anthill. If it was just me, I would’ve wandered around down there for hours, if not days, without actually finding anyone.

But it wasn’t just me. Roxa was there too, and she could follow Isaac’s scent pretty much as well as if there had been flashing neon signs leading her after him. She and Gidget led the way while the rest of us trailed along in her wake. Together, we moved as quickly, yet cautiously, as we dared. I wouldn’t have put it past that asshole to leave traps of some kind.

Strangely, however, there weren’t any. We made our way through those tunnels, following Isaac’s trail without running into any problems. Above, I could occasionally hear the sound of the fighting going on, and all I could do was hope (and reassure Tabbris) that Haiden and Larissa were alright.

Each tunnel was about eight feet wide by eight feet high. I didn’t know exactly what had made them, but the walls were perfectly smooth. As we moved, I ran my hand along one side curiously. Stone. They were made of stone of some kind, as far as I could tell. But what exactly were they for? If it was just for carrying water up, they had pipes for that, and there would be no need for all the extra tunnels leading everywhere. Was it for mining, maybe? But in that case, why was everything perfectly smooth?

Oh well. I had to focus. Dealing with Isaac was the priority, not wondering about this alien civilization’s tunnel-building habits.

Abruptly, Roxa halted just before a T-junction in the tunnel. Snapping her hand up to stop the rest of us, she tilted her head to listen for a second. Then she whispered. “To the left, about two hundred feet in. He’s there, with… a bunch of others, I think. I can hear their hearts beating, and I can hear them breathing. They’re scared. Really scared. And there’s this… clicking sound.”

Gordon had a hand in front of his face, using his own x-ray vision. His voice was soft. “There’s a huge chamber there. Isaac is in the middle of it, and there’s… people along the walls to the left and right. It looks like they’re chained up. I count… maybe a hundred. They’re the ones making the clicking sound. Isaac isn’t close to any of them.”

Breathing out myself, I nodded. “Okay. So we go in fast and hard, and get Isaac up to the ship before he can do anything to those people. Ready?” As the others agreed, I kept a tight hold on my staff, bracing myself before whispering, “Go.”

Together, we threw ourselves around the corner and down that last tunnel. Ahead, just as Gordon had said, the tunnel opened up into a large square chamber. It was about three hundred feet across, at a glance, with a ceiling that was about fifty feet up. Most of the open space in the room was empty, but I could see the asshole himself standing right there in the middle. The figures along the two walls weren’t exactly human. Actually, they mostly looked like humanoid ants. Their bodies were divided into three endoskeleton-covered sections. Rather than being down horizontal like regular ants, however, the abdomen, thorax, and head were stacked vertically, like a snowman. There were four legs coming out the bottom of the abdomen to hold them up, and four arms coming out of the thorax, two at the top and two at the bottom. Their heads were basically just like giant ant-heads, with sharp mandibles that were clattering in terror. That was the clicking sound that Roxa had heard.

But my focus, our focus, was centered on that son of a bitch standing right in the middle of the room. Narrowing my eyes, I pointed my staff back, about to trigger the kinetic charge to launch myself that way when I was suddenly stopped by a hand snatching hold of my arm.

“Stop!” Roxa blurted, bringing everyone to a halt.

Isaac, who had spun around at our approach, made a face of disappointment. “Aww,” he lamented with a shake of his head. “How’d you figure it out?”

While the rest of us just looked confused, Roxa stepped forward. Raising a hand, she extended it slightly until her palm abruptly stopped short. The air shimmered under her palm as she pressed firmly.

A forcefield. There was an invisible forcefield.

“I know you can’t hear or smell it,” the boy continued in a voice that made it sound like we were all just having a casual conversation. “So… new power? Gotta be a new power. That’s cool, I’ve got a few new powers of my–”

“You son of a bitch!” Jazz was suddenly there, going right up to the invisible wall to glower at the boy. “What the hell is wrong with you?! You just… just… k-killed all those people! You… you’ve been helping the Seosten? For how long?! How long have you been a fucking monster?!”

“See, that’s a really funny question,” Isaac remarked. “Cuz the thing is–”

“Lower the fucking forcefield!” Roxa interrupted. She was glowering furiously, her eyes dark as she made a low growling sound, like a wild dog that really wanted you to leave it alone. “Or I swear to God, I will tear it down myself and take you apart.”

“Well, see, you could try to come through that to get me, but–” Isaac started in a voice that dripped with condescension.

Roxa was having none of it. “Oh, you’re damn straight, I’ll come through it!” Rearing back, she threw a hard punch straight at the center of the forcefield. It reverberated, shockwaves running through the field sort of like ripples in a window. For a second, the thing looked like it might falter.

Then it didn’t. The forcefield suddenly returned to normal, going completely invisible once more. And at the same time, one of the Alters in the background slumped, dropping to the floor with a weak groan.

“Wha–” Eyes widening, I hurriedly snapped a hand out to stop Roxa from hitting the thing again. “Wait!”

Isaac was grinning as he wiggled two fingers at the both of us. “You know, there’s a joke here about two blonde bimbos and which one figures out the obvious first. If I had time, or cared, it’d probably be hilarious. But hey, what am I saying, this is hilarious enough all by itself.”

“He’s got them linked to the spell,” I snarled, disgust filling my voice. I was physically shaking. “If we damage the forcefield, we’re damaging them. It drains their life to keep… to keep the wall up.”

Can you undo the spell? I desperately asked my secret companion. Or at least unlink it from those people? I mean, can you take control of me and do something to break it.

Tabbris stammered, I–I thi-think so? But he’d know what you were doing as soon as you did it, and he might just… just kill them anyway if he thought you were about to get to him. He needs to be distracted. But I… I dunno how… She sounded just as sick as I felt.

“See?!” Meanwhile, Isaac had spread both hands, his smile broadening. “I knew you could work it out if you really tried. I think that deserves a smiley face sticker. Go ahead,” the boy gestured grandly. “Give yourself a hearty pat on the back, Miss Investigative Reporter.”

“You know what?” I shot back at him, “When we get in there, I’m gonna–”

“Cry over all the innocent people you had to kill to do it?” the boy interrupted. Waving a hand vaguely over his shoulder in the direction of the imprisoned figures, he added, “There’s about a… what is it… hundred of my friends back there? So yeah, sure. If you want me badly enough to kill a hundred ant-monster things just to get at me, be my guest. But then, wouldn’t you sort of be just as bad as me?”

Oh God, it was hard to resist the urge to smack that fucking forcefield with my staff. I wanted to wipe that stupid smirk off his face so fucking badly. Beside me, Roxa made a low snarling noise. She was clearly having just as much, if not more, trouble restraining herself.

But it was Jazz who took three quick steps forward, shoving her hands against the field firmly. Holding them there, she spat at her former teammate. “What the hell is wrong with you?! When did you become such a fucking psychopath?! You killed all those people, you son of a bitch!”

“Ah, well.” Holding his finger up, Isaac pointed out matter-of-factly, “Technically, I’m the only one in this entire group who’s actually doing our job like we’re supposed to. You know, hunting monsters? You might call that bit back on the ship an atrocity or whatever. But I’m pretty sure the Crossroads Committee would call me a hero. Oooh, maybe they’d even give me a parade.”

“Except for the part where you killed one of your own teachers,” Gordon pointed out from the back. His voice sounded brittle, like even he was close to snapping. When I looked that way, I saw that his hands were clenched into tight fists. “They would probably object to that.”

“Eh.” Isaac shrugged. “He was a traitor. I mean, not every traitor can be like Flicky’s mommy and just get her memory erased. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta…” He drew a finger across his throat, “Nip that shit right in the bud. But still, isn’t that kinda funny? You guys are all pissed off, sure. But when it comes right down to it, I’m actually more loyal to Crossroads than you are.”

“You’re a coward,” I informed him flatly. Glancing to Jazz, I stepped next to the girl to glare at him. “You just killed all those people. You killed Professor Katarin. So you should have all this power. But you’re still hiding behind hostages. Because you’re a coward. You’d rather hide behind all those innocent people than fight. Hell, even when you betrayed everyone, you did it with an entire ship, because you didn’t dare actually fight any of us.”

Pantomiming falling asleep on his feet, Isaac abruptly snorted and straightened up as though jolting himself awake. “What? I’m sorry, was that supposed to bother me? Hell, if I cared about fighting fair and all that, I probably wouldn’t have stabbed Paul in the back. I mean, technically it was the chest that I stabbed him in, not the back. But you know what I mean. No need to get nitpicky about those kind of details.”

“You fucking asshole!” Jazz slammed her fists into the field before jerking back a bit as one of the other Alters slumped to the ground, groaning weakly. We held our breaths, watching until it became clear that Jazz’s aura wasn’t popping up. The Alter was still alive.

Still, the other girl was trembling with rage. Her voice shook. “You sick fucking freak,” she snarled at Isaac. “What happened, did Paul figure out what a goddamn psycho you are?”

Isaac laughed at that, literally tilting his head back as he chuckled. “Figure it out? Nah, he was just sort of there. I was supposed to give my pal Fetch an opening to replace someone on the team and, well, Paul was right there in the van while we were watching Flickster’s house. I mean, you should’ve seen the look on his face. It was hilarious. I swear to God, it was so hard not to laugh when you guys were all talking to Fetch like he was Paul, while the real Paul was shoved into some magical freezer or something. It was just awesome.”

He sighed then. “But then you guys had to go and screw it up! All that work and you still insisted on talking things through with the Flickster instead of just going to the Committee to turn her in like we were supposed to!”

“Fuck you!” Jazz screamed, suddenly yanking her sword free. Flames lit up around the blade as she glowered through the forcefield. “You fucking–you stupid–you psycho piece of–you–”

“Easy,” Isaac taunted, waving his hand. “Use your words, Jasmine.”

“Use my wor–” the other girl reared back like she was going to hit the forcefield, barely catching herself. “You… you…” Shoving the weapon away, she pivoted, moving back the way we’d come at a sprint. “Yeah, let’s see just how brave you are with Haiden and Larissa here, asshole!”

Watching her go, the boy tilted his head, remarking, “Did she seriously just pull a literal ‘I’m gonna tell on you’? I mean, what am I supposed to…” Giving a sharp shake of his head as though putting that out of his mind, he shrugged. “Doesn’t matter anyway. See, I worked out the math, and even those guys can’t get through this shield without killing all my friends here. So I dunno what the hell she thinks she’s doing. But you know, No one ever accused Jazzy of being the sharpest knife in the drawer. And I know a little something about sharp knives.”

“God damn,” I put in then, my mind racing as I tried to think of something that could distract the boy long enough for Tabbris to get the shield down. “You really did hate pretending to be a decent human being, didn’t you? Now you won’t fucking shut up. Just how much do you love the sound of your own voice, anyway? I mean seriously.”

If he was offended by that, Isaac didn’t show it. He just winked at me before continuing what he had been saying before. “So the team totally screws up and doesn’t go to the fucking Committee like they’re supposed to, which meant that Manakel had to come up with this stupid plan, and I end up getting caught in between a rock and a hard place. I mean, I go through all that, play nice for that long and you guys just happen to run into a situation where you’re about to find out who Manakel’s possessing anyway? I couldn’t let that happen, cuz if Manakel goes down, he’d sell me down the fucking river in a heartbeat. So, you see, if you really think about it, all those Strangers died because of you.”

“They died,” Roxa snapped in a voice that made it clear that it was all she could do not to shift into her wolf form and tear into that forcefield, “because you’re a sick fucking monster.”

“No, no, no, see you’ve got it backwards again.” Isaac was grinning, clearly enjoying himself thoroughly. He’d been waiting a long time to actually show us his true colors. “I told you, I hunt monsters. You play Friendship Is Magic with them, and I stab them. I mean, I feel like what I really need right now is a black Impala and a brooding brother who is just like, the physical manifestation of manpain.”

Beside me, the other girl slowly shook her head. “What you really need,” she informed the boy through gritted teeth, “is my hand tearing your heart out of your chest and making you eat it.”

“So violent!” Isaac shook his head. “You sound upset, Roxanne. Maybe you should take a breath, and just meditate for awhile. I hear that too much anger is bad for werewolves. You don’t wanna lose control and go after your friends, do you? I mean, I’d find that hilarious, but you… probably not.”

Sands stepped forward then, gripping her mace so tightly in one hand that her knuckles were white. “You’re going to die, Isaac. Either you die here, or you come with us. Or you become a Seosten meat-puppet. There’s no way out of it. The Seosten, they’re gonna bitch-slap your little safety measure like it’s not even there and then one of them’ll shove his hand right up your ass and control you for the rest of your miserable life. That or they’ll just kill you and be done with it.”

Rolling his eyes at that, Isaac extended both arms to either side. “I think you underestimate my negotiating capability, Sandy-witch. I’ve got all this–”

In mid-sentence, I saw a hint of movement behind the boy. He seemed to sense it too, because his eyes widened and he suddenly started to turn. But it was too late. With a sudden flash of metal and roar of fire, a flaming sword whistled through the air. There was a dull, wet thump then, as Isaac’s dismembered hand hit the ground, accompanied by a shocked scream of agony as the boy stumbled backward, hitting the nearby wall.

And Jazz, standing there with her flaming falchion raised, snarled, “Oops. Was that the hand with your suicide spell on it? My bad.”

With another scream, this one of rage, the boy threw his hand out. Jazz was caught by an invisible force and thrown backward into the far wall hard enough that it made me flinch. A second later, the rocks expanded into a band that wrapped around her waist and arms.

“How?!” Isaac demanded then, his voice raised into something approaching a squeal. “You–you–” He clutched his already cauterized wrist as he stared that way, “How?! You can’t–that’s not–that’s–”

“I turn things intangible, remember, idiot?” the girl replied while she was pinned to the wall. “Things like that rock wall over there.” She nodded over her shoulder to the rear wall of the little room.

“I checked it!” he screamed, sounding like a little kid having a tantrum that someone wasn’t playing fair. “There’s fifty feet of rock between that and the nearest tunnel! You couldn’t get through it that quick!”

“Eh.” Lifting her chin, Jazz replied, “True. It would’ve taken me an hour to make enough of that rock intangible to walk through it. But you know what? It turns out–” Abruptly, her body shifted until she was a nearly-invisible fog as she used her mist-shifting power. Slipping right out of the band of rock that had held her trapped there, the girl reformed next to it. “I can still do that. Which means I really only need a space about that big-” She held up her index finger and thumb in a close circle a few centimeters apart. “-to get through. Small enough that you didn’t even notice it. Mist-form, turning walls intangible, making myself invisible, combining powers is awesome. Maybe if you weren’t an idiot, you could’ve figured that out.”

Isaac was shaking as he held his stump tight. I could see it already regenerating, the skin, muscle, and bones starting to reform quickly. After a second, I realized his shaking was laughter. “And yet, you still just fucking stand there. You think I can’t kill you with one hand? All that power I got, I could–” His undamaged hand flicked out, and a glowing forcefield, different from the ones that were blocking us, appeared around the girl. “You think you’re so smart?” he demanded wildly. “I could just shrink this forcefield to the size of a pea. Think your mist form could handle that? How about if I shrink it and then incinerate it? How about if I just fill the whole thing with acid? I could fucking kill you in two seconds.”

He was on a roll with his ranting by that point. “The Seosten chose me, you stupid bitch! You think you could beat me?  You weren’t even supposed to be a Heretic. You weren’t trained for this. You weren’t meant for it. You weren’t a second choice, or a third choice, or even a fucking tenth choice! You were the last choice! You’re here because you were the last one left! You’re a mistake. You’re a painfully average, lost little girl who’s only here because the bad guys didn’t care about her enough to bother killing her. You’re a fucking loser, a stupid fucking loser! You are a fucking moron! You don’t matter. You have never fucking mattered. Your own people wrote you off and only used you when they had no other choice. So you tell me, how exactly could you ever, ever beat me?”

Trapped by the forcefield as she was, Jazz slowly lifted her chin as much as she could while staring intently at the boy. “Well,” she drawled casually, “Maybe it’s just the painfully average loser in me talking, but if I was you, I would’ve figured out that I was just being distracted.”

“Just being dist–” With that, Isaac whipped back around, spinning back toward us.

But it was too late. Because the instant that the boy’s attention had been on the other girl, Tabbris had taken over, making me dart forward and down while yanking the field-engraver from my pocket before hurriedly scrawling some kind of spell in the floor. She didn’t bother to explain what she was doing, and I didn’t mind. I wanted her to focus.

And focus she did, rapidly drawing out an incredibly complicated series of runes that I couldn’t even begin to keep track of. Just as Isaac spun back, my hand finished scrawling the spell, and my mouth moved, blurting out several words I didn’t understand. As the last word left my mouth, I felt a rush of power leave me, like blowing out a long, heavy breath.

Isaac’s eyes were on us. He saw the field-engraver in my hand, saw the rune on the ground, heard the spell leave my mouth.

And then the forcefield that had been blocking us from him shattered. It broke apart like glass being hit with a brick before dropping entirely. Meanwhile, all those hostages… stayed upright. They were fine. They were fine! Tabbris had managed to disconnect them from feeding their life forces to the shield.

There was no more conversation. No pithy comments. Isaac was there. We were there. Nothing was standing between us except for open space.

Together, we went for him.

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A Different Kind Of Hunt 31-01

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Please note, there was a mini-interlude focusing on Pace posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen that yet, you might want to use the Previous Chapter button above. 

“So you guys… invented a whole new spell on the fly?” Jazz asked a short while later, as we all stood in one of the side rooms, waiting to learn this so-called ‘dibs spell’. We would have done this bit in the main cargo hold, but honestly… we all felt like it was a good idea to let the Alters (those who had survived) have some more time to themselves without us intruding. They would learn the spell too, of course. Haiden and Larissa had promised to teach it to them once they had the hang of Gabriel Prosser’s simpler ‘Seosten ejection spell’. But for now, it felt best to give them privacy, after everything that had happened. They were deep in mourning.

All of them, that was, except for Karees. The old tree-man was up here with us, though he was standing out of the way. He was here to learn the spell, so that he could teach it to his people on their own time. As sad as he was, he wanted to help the others learn to protect themselves from Seosten possession even more. So he stood there, silently observing.

“Not exactly,” Haiden replied, his voice a little distracted. I knew why, of course. Vanessa still hadn’t been back in contact, and he was worried. And, well, he also needed to pass along the news about Isaac. Apparently Vanessa had told him that it might be awhile before she could manage to project herself to him again after that first time. But he was obviously still anxious.

After giving her long-time partner a brief look, Larissa explained for us. “We didn’t invent a spell. We modified and combined a couple of existing ones, and threw on a few bells and whistles.”

Haiden finally nodded, turning his attention back to us then. “We told you about Sariel.”

“She’s come up before,” Gordon confirmed simply. “She’s your… wife?”

“Miss uh, Mason said that… that this Sariel woman made the dibs effect work the first time, when she explained what it was,” Jazz put in, her voice catching a little bit as she spoke.

“That’s the one,” Haiden replied with a short nod. He was trying to sound light and casual, but there was a hitch in his voice that told me just how much he missed his wife. “But there’s something else that you should probably know before we go any further. You see, Sariel… she-”

“She’s a Seosten,” Jazz finished for him, blinking as everyone else did a double-take. “What? Was that really supposed to be a surprise? We figured it out like, two seconds after you guys first mentioned her. I mean, come on, Sariel? It’s not like these guys have a super-varied naming structure to begin with. Ends with -el. She’s either Seosten or Kryptonian, and we’re not nearly lucky enough for it to be that second one. So, she’s one of the angels. Only, like, a good guy, errr, girl. Point is, she wasn’t loyal to these slave-driving dickshits anymore.”

While the rest of us stared, the black girl went on. “Which, you know, was probably because you guys had some epic first encounter that made her change sides. Then you fell in love and ran off together, had a couple kids and everything was hunky dory until her Seosten bosses showed up again. Bad things happened and they used one of those banishment orbs to take her, you, and one of your kids out here into Seosten space while the other one was left back on Earth.”

It took Haiden a few seconds to find his voice after Jazz had finished saying all of that, as he stared incredulously at the girl along with the rest of us (aside from Gordon, who just nodded along with his teammate). Finally, the man coughed before asking, “Uh, how exactly did you…”  

“Seriously?” Jazz gave a little shrug. “You’re out here in Seosten space, so you were obviously banished here. We already knew that this Sariel was your wife from context, and they called you Mr. Moon before. Haiden Moon. I mean, it’s not a super-rare name, but there’s already Vanessa and Tristan Moon back at Crossroads, so that’s sort of a no-brainer. Plus, Vanessa supposedly had no family at all until Tristan just randomly showed up at the school partway through the year. The story was that their family was attacked by some Strangers, who set up a portal and it took the three besides Vanessa away and scattered them across the universe.

“The point is,” she finished with another shrug, “it’s not exactly a huge leap. He’s Haiden Moon, Vanessa and Tristan are Moons, they were missing their family, there’s clearly something super-special about them, and the name Sariel isn’t hard to jump to being a Seosten.”

My mouth opened and shut a couple times before I finally shrugged. “Yeah, okay, good point.”

Haiden nodded. “I suppose it goes without saying that this is another one of those things that-”

“–we can’t talk about to anyone else once we get back,” Gordon finished for him. “We know.”

“Trust us,” Jazz confirmed, “we’ll keep your secrets, we promise. Especially after… after everything that’s happened.” She stiffened a little bit at the memory, face cringing before she clearly pushed herself to continue. “We’re not gonna expose your family, Mr. Moon. We swear.”

“Like that matters,” Sands blurted before quickly correcting herself. “I mean, sorry, it does matter that we can trust you. It does. I just meant that with Isaac out there… he’s probably run all the way back to his Seosten masters by now.”

“Actually…” Haiden smiled a little. “According to Dries, it’s not that simple.” As we all looked to him, he continued. “Turns out, he was a little bit more paranoid than we were. He set up a bunch of spells to damage the ship if it was ever stolen or used against us. The kid managed to disable some of them, but not all. From what Dries managed to trigger, the Liberty Bell won’t make it all the way into civilized space. Our little friend is gonna have to find a rim world to set down on, and call for help. And since there’s not exactly a full portal network set up on most of these places, odds are that they’ll have to fly out to meet him the long way. Which gives us a chance.”

“Then it’s a chance we should take advantage of,” I put in. “We get to Isaac. But first, we learn this spell, and keep the Seosten out of our heads.” Except the ones we happen to like, I added inwardly, smiling.

Larissa returned my smile a bit knowingly, winking once before continuing. “Right. Well, the point is, Sariel created the effect and we’re not even sure exactly how she did it. But it works.”

“Yup,” Haiden agreed. “No idea what she did, but Sariel somehow threw up a big ‘no vacancy’ sign on Larissa here, which is what stops any Seosten from possessing her. It’s convenient.”  

The woman continued then, explaining, “The spells we combined and altered essentially copy the existing effect while throwing on a few extra bits that are essentially just smoke and mirrors so that if anyone uses an identify spell or something like that to try and figure out how we do it, they end up getting a bunch of extra spell parts that don’t actually do anything. That way, it should make it harder for them to actually identify how the protective part of the spell is done.”

I snorted at that despite myself. “So what you’re saying is, only a little part of the spell is actually necessary. The rest is all bells and whistles to make it look more complicated than it is.”

She nodded. “Exactly. So, let’s get started, shall we? It’s not that hard to learn how to copy the effect, but it’s still easy to mess up if you don’t do it right. So we’ll take it slow and make sure everyone understands. First up, take the object you’re going to use to trigger the spell…”


“You’re… you’re really, really, really sure that you’re okay with this, guys?” I asked a little while after we had finished practicing the spell for the day. There was only so much of that we could do. At the moment, I was with Roxa, Sands, Gordon, and Jazz in one of the other rooms.

Jazz coughed at that. “You mean, are we okay with you possessing us so you can tell us what powers we ended up getting from all the killing we’ve been doing on this trip? Yeah. Might as well use every advantage we’ve got, right? If you can just scan through and tell us what we’ve got instead of going through a bunch of trial and error, that’d be great.”

It wouldn’t really be me doing it, of course. Tabbris was the one who actually knew how to scan through a person that we possessed to find out what powers they had. But, well, Jazz and Gordon didn’t need to know that right now.

My helpful little partner had already informed me of everything I had received during our trip so far. From the two soldiers that I had killed on Radueriel’s station, I’d gotten a very minor strength boost and slightly less minor boost to my balance. From the Pantler back on the other planet, I’d gotten the power to see through certain kinds of camouflage and other stealth abilities. That was how I’d spotted Jokai before. Meanwhile, I’d also killed four of the slave camp guards. From them, I’d gained a slight boost to my regeneration, that power to embed sound in an object, a resistance to being hurt by electricity, and what amounted to a slightly larger pool of energy that I used for magic, so I didn’t tire out quite as quickly. Then there was the boost to my dexterity from the young Seosten that I had killed, while of the three humanoid guards on the ship, I’d gained a boost to my pain resistance (thank God), the ability to detect poisons by smell, and I could also go without breathing for up to ten minutes if need be.

So it was useful knowledge. And now the others wanted me to share that with them, ever since Sands had brought up the idea that it was possible. So, biting my lip, I looked over to Gordon, who had been quiet throughout this little discussion. “What about you?”

“No,” he replied quickly before hesitating. “I mean… “ Pausing, the boy exhaled. “I know how that sounds. But… I just don’t… I’m not ready for that. Not yet.” For a moment, it looked like he wanted to say something else, but stopped himself. “Just… not now.”

I didn’t blame him, honestly, even if a part of me was reflexively suspicious because of what happened with Isaac. Having someone in your head, reading your every thought and able to control you, it was pretty… huge.

I’m just lucky I ended up with you, I directed inwardly to my own secret sister. Sister. Talk about a weird, extended family. Between me considering Tabbris a sister, her own connection to Vanessa and Tristan through their shared mother, Larissa being a sort-of second mother to her and thus Sands and Scout–Tabbris had a lot of people who thought of her as family. 

And that family thing included Haiden, I was pretty sure. Tabbris had actually come out of me the night before, so that she could talk with her mother’s husband. I wasn’t sure what the two of them had actually said, because I gave them privacy. But from the look on Tabbris’s face when she had returned to me, it had been a good conversation.

Shaking off those wandering thoughts, I nodded. “Okay, don’t worry. Just keep the dibs spell active then. And…”  I turned back to the others. “I guess if the rest of you are into it, I’ll see what we can find out.”

“Yeah,” Sands confirmed, extending a hand to me. “Let’s do it.”


Standing on the bridge of the ship the next day, I stared out at a field of asteroids that surrounded us. Straight ahead, one of the larger ones (even bigger than the ship itself) had some kind of hole cut in the side of it, covered by heavy metal doors and a visible forcefield.

As promised, I had let Jazz, Sands, and Roxa know what powers they’d ended up with. For Jazz, that was a decent strength and minor durability boost, and the ability to create these small, solid orbs that she could use to manipulate gravity within a fifteen foot radius. Each ball would last for ten minutes unless dismissed early, and she could have three of them active at any given time.

Meanwhile, Sands had gained a slight boost to her agility, a resistance to being hurt by fire, the ability to instinctively understand how to use any handheld weapon as soon as she touched it, a big boost to her strength like the one that I had gotten from killing Valentine the werewolf, as well as a boost to her reflexes, a slight increase to her energy pool for spells, and that powerful boosting ability that she had gained from killing the Seosten who had cornered me. Oh, and she could actually turn into this two-dimensional shadow-form that was cool, but she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of. 

Finally, Roxa’s kills had gained her increased strength (that was a pretty common power, as it turned out), an almost imperceptible boost to her regeneration, the ability to turn into an elastic/rubber-like form that could stretch out to twice her normal size, armored scales that she could cover her body with for even more protection, underwater breathing, ultraviolet vision, and the power to create and mentally manipulate up to several gallons-worth of this dark, oil-like liquid, which she could cause to solidify with a thought. Not to mention, she had also gained the power to touch any figure and create a stone copy of that person that would do whatever she said. The stone duplicate couldn’t use any of the original’s powers of anything, but they were pretty strong in their own right.

The point was, being able to just tell them what their powers happened to be was really useful. We’d been able to practice a little bit with them instead of waiting for the powers to just come out on their own through stress or trial and error, or whatever else made our minds suddenly realize we could use them. Sometimes it seemed completely random whether we’d somehow know what our new powers were, or have to figure them out randomly.

“So what is this place, exactly?” I asked curiously, shaking that thought off as I nodded to the view of the asteroid station on the screen. “And how did you guys find it?”

Haiden, standing beside me, explained, “We’re pretty sure it was some kind of mining facility first. Then pirates took it over. We cleared them out a couple years ago, and we’ve been storing stuff here whenever we need to since then. Haven’t had any problems yet. It’s isolated, private, and we’ve fixed up the defenses enough that it should discourage anyone that gets close enough to check it out, at least long enough for us to get the alert and come back here.”

Larissa looked over toward Karees, who stood at the back of the room, staring at the image on the screen. “Between what’s already on the station and what you’re taking from this ship, there’s enough supplies for all your people to hold out for at least a couple months if you’re smart about rationing. We’ll be back here long before then. And if we’re not, there’s a couple emergency portals to get down to the nearest habitable planet. It won’t be as safe as this is, but it’s something. And we’ll work out a more permanent solution as soon as possible, I promise.”

The ancient Relukun audibly swallowed. I saw his eyes dampen as he spoke simply. “It… it is freedom,” he announced carefully, taking a moment to choose each word. “It is everything.”

Smiling, Haiden put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed a little while nodding to Karees. “Right. Let’s get on down to the cargo bay and have your people set up the portals to get over there so they can look around their brand new home, then.”  

So, we did. It wasn’t hard for the Alters who were capable of it to set up the portals, since they could actually see where they were going this time. They had a couple of them established within about ten minutes to make the hop over to the asteroid station, and the rest of the group had collected all the supplies that they were going to take over with them.

The… bodies and pieces of the bodies were gone. All of them except for Professor Katarin had been given burials at space by the rest of their people, each receiving their own small funeral.

As for Katarin, we were keeping what was left of his body in storage, because we… well, we were hoping that there would be a way to bring him with us. He deserved to be buried on Earth, with and by the people who cared about him and whose lives he had touched. They deserved to have the chance to say goodbye. It was the least we could do. It was literally all we could do.

Jazz, who was standing near Jokai, looked to him. “You’ll be safe here. Well, at least as safe as you can be. You and your people, Isaac won’t be able to hurt you again. Not anymore.”

But instead of agreeing, Jokai shook his head at that. “I go,” the chameleon-Alter announced with a determined look. He pointed back to the door that led up to the bridge, before forming his hands into the same bird-like motion he had made the other day. “Fly.”

“Oh, but… Jokai,” Larissa started with a quick headshake. “We’re going somewhere dangerous. We–” She paused before switching into Latin, telling him that we were going after Isaac.

“Vērō!” Jokai agreed emphatically before switching back to his slow, uncertain English. I was pretty sure that he wanted the rest of us to understand. And he wanted to practice, even if it was hard. “I-” He pointed to himself, then made a few other accompanying gestures to make his words clearer. “-go and… flying to help… to take all to I-zack. To fight I-zack. I… not fight. I not strong. Not good. But fly good. Fly… take to I-zack. Taking to others… all fight. They fight. I fly. I take. Take to I-zack, stay fly so all fight. I fly. They fight. I help. Not strong. Not fight. Fly. Help.”

“You’re wrong.” That was Jazz. “You’re wrong about not being strong. You weren’t trained to fight. You were trained to be a slave. But you escaped. You got away, and instead of staying out of it, instead of staying safe, you want to play taxi for us, for all these guys, just to go after Isaac for what he did. He could kill you and–” She looked away, biting her lip before finishing with a soft, “You are strong, Jokai. You’re strong in a way that Isaac will never, ever understand.”

I saw Larissa smile just a little then, before the woman cleared her throat, “Jokai, if you’re sure about coming along, we’d love to have your help. You’ve definitely earned the right to be here.”

He seemed to get the basic idea of what she was saying, but Larissa translated that for him anyway, just to make sure. Once she did, he gave a firm nod. “I fly,” he repeated. “I help.”

“In that case,” Jazz hurriedly put in, “I think he deserves to wear actual clothes instead of that loin cloth.”

Larissa nodded in agreement, along with the rest of us. “Of course,” the woman answered. “There’s some utility jumpsuits in one of these rooms around here. We’ll find something that fits. And whatever doesn’t can go over with the rest of them so they can divvy them up.”  

“Well,” Haiden started then. “Now that that’s decided, let’s help the rest of these guys get settled into their new place for the time being. And then it’ll be time for us to go psycho-hunting.”

“You’re really gonna have to be more specific than that,” I pointed out dryly. “Because with the year I’ve had, saying we’re looking for a psycho only narrows it down to like, a dozen people.”

The man snorted. “Believe it or not, I know what you mean. Heretics have a way of racking up enemies, somehow. Couldn’t be all the holier than thou genocide, or anything.” He glanced sidelong at me then. “Though you do seem to be going above and beyond, in a lot of ways.”

“I like to overachieve,” I replied. “Can’t be lazy when it comes to collecting mortal enemies.”

Shaking his head, Haiden offered, “Don’t worry, we’re about to wipe one of those off your list. Isaac’s biggest advantage was that we didn’t know he was a threat. Now that we do… he’s thrown that away. So when we find him, we’ll take him down, and we’ll make him talk.”

The sentiment was shared by everyone else, and we made our way back to the bridge once Karees and the others had transferred over to the station. I really wanted to stay with them longer, help them get settled in and just… spend time with the people and get to know them. But there wasn’t time. We had no idea how long it would take Isaac to get a hold of someone and negotiate to tell them what he knew. Or if they would just possess him and take it.  

Either way, we didn’t have time to sit around with Karees and his people, no matter how much I desperately wanted to. Hell, what I really wanted to do was go home and see my dad, and Avalon, and Shiori, and Wyatt, and Koren, and… well, everyone. But I couldn’t do that either.

Seriously, fuck Isaac and fuck the Seosten Empire. Also, fuck the Fomorians while I was at it. Not because they were responsible for any of this specifically, but generally speaking it felt like a good idea to add them into a list like that just on principle.

Once Jokai had taken his place at the pilot’s seat on the bridge, I asked, “How long is it going to take to get to where Isaac had to land the Bell?”

“Thirty-two hours,” Larissa replied without needing to look at anything. “But the planet he made it to isn’t on any trading network, and it’s about a week from the nearest Seosten base that we know of. So we might still make it there before anyone he could get a message to.”

Sands’ head shook at that as she looked to her mother. “Somehow,” she replied, “I don’t think we’re actually that lucky.”

I had a feeling that she was going to be proven right. Still, as the ship set out on course, I couldn’t help but cross my fingers and offer a silent wish that it would end up being that easy.

“So we’ve got about a day and a half,” Haiden announced then. Turning away from the front viewscreen to look at us, the man continued, “Sounds like enough time to get some training in.”

Part of me felt a sharp pang at that. Training. It’s what Katarin would have wanted us to do, what he would have made us do. Still, I forced that feeling down and nodded. “Sure, let’s train.”

Roxa folded her arms. “Might as well, though to tell you guys the truth…

“The only train I’m really interested in right now is the one I want to run over Isaac with.”

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