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The Calendar Discusses Kushiel’s ‘Children.’
“So that’s her in there, huh?” May, the dark-haired, Asian-looking member of the Calendar, murmured while standing in an observation room on the Fusion School sun station. She was looking through a one-way window at what looked like a simple bedroom, where a blonde figure was sleeping on the bed. Or at least, appeared to be sleeping. Judging from how tense the body actually was, May was pretty sure she was actually waiting for someone to come in so she could try to jump them. Which just helped show what they were dealing with, really. Both the fact that she wanted to ambush them and that she believed it was a trick that would work.
Standing beside her, the red-haired April gave a short nod. “Uh huh. They said she calls herself Aureus. As in gold.”
May shook her head. “You mean that’s what Kushiel named her. None of them have chosen their own names.”
“Does anyone?” April pointed out. “Other people are named by their parents or guardians, something like that. We don’t even have names of our own, not really. We have the titles Cahethal allows us to use.”
Before May could decide how to respond to that, the two of them were interrupted. “Isawher… whentheybroughtherin!” That was the much younger December, bouncing up and down right near the window while staring that way eagerly. “She’sreallypretty, andstrongtoo. Shemakesexplosionssothey… hadtousemagictocalmherdown. Seethosescorchmarks?” She indicated the black spots along the walls and door, as well as part of the mirror they were looking at her through.
“Yup, we see them,” May confirmed. “She wasn’t happy about being here, that’s for sure. And I don’t think she’s going to get any happier as it goes on.” Looking over at the girl beside her, she added, “You know what this means, right? It’s not just us. That girl in there and the rest of them aren’t Mendacia. They’re normal Seosten–no, they’re better than normal. They have powers from Tartarus. They inherited powers from their parents. And they still won’t give them real names, and raise them like soldiers, or tools.”
“Every Seosten is raised to be a soldier,” April pointed out, though there was a bit of doubt and uncertainty in her voice. “We all fight the Fomorians.”
“Sure,” May agreed, “but do you think Kushiel raised them for that? Because I’m pretty sure she just raised them to be her own personal army. Nobody else knew about them. She hid them away and trained them somehow. Probably ordered someone else to do the hard parts of taking care of them. Look what she did to her own daughter. Her real one, I mean. And now our leaders are going to be fighting over who gets to take them. That’s what they care about.”
Moving up to stand next to December, April put her hand on the glass while speaking quietly. “They’re loyal to her because she took care of them. She raised them and told them to only believe what she said, and to think that they don’t have any other choices. She made them think she was their only person they could trust.”
May stepped up on the other side of their smaller companion, who had remained silent through this. “Are you talking about Kushiel with them, or Cahethal with us?”
April remained silent for several long seconds. Then, rather than respond to the question directly, she simply announced, “I want to go in there and talk to her.
“I want to talk to all of them.”
Thick, caustic clouds of smoke filled the air over the cliff and down into the valley far below. With a great, terrifying roar, the massive dragon, who had already suffered dozens of stab wounds through its side (though only a couple of any apparently real consequence) bellowed its last grievance before weaving almost drunkenly from one side to the other. Finally, it collapsed with an earth-shaking crash, before slowly tipping sideways off the edge of the cliff to fall far, far to the ground below, its body already beginning to be taken by the rapidly-spreading flames from the fire it had breathed. Soon, that entire valley would be stripped of all its once-glorious plant life, turning what was a green and fertile land into ash and jagged dirt. And the bones of a formerly unspeakably powerful beast.
Wiglaf, the man who would in the future be known as Ehn, slumped over with a gasp of relief. His shield was long gone, his sword nothing more than a broken hilt. His skin was heavily burned, and drenched in blood that belonged not only to himself, but also the dragon. “Tis done, cousin!” He called. “The beast is–”
Even as he started saying that, the man’s eyes looked up through his exhaustion, only to find the man in question, Beowulf, holding his chest and stomach where obviously grievous claw wounds left much more of his blood on the outside than there should have been. His face was pale, as he stared back at Wiglaf while teetering on the edge of that same cliff. “Yes, the beast,” he managed weakly, “the beast is dead. Gone. We have… we have… slain…” Unable to finish his words, he pitched over backwards, falling from the cliff.
Wiglaf screamed a denial and dove that way, but he was too slow. Falling to his stomach, he stared down to see the body of his leader, cousin, and friend vanish into those flames alongside the dragon they had finally killed. By the time the flames were out, there would be little left of either. Nothing to differentiate one from the other.
From that spot far above, leaning over the cliff, Wiglaf wouldn’t see a figure emerge from the flames at the far end of the valley. The man called Beowulf, brushing himself off, stayed near the edge of the cliff, turning to look up at the far distant form of the one he had called his cousin. They weren’t, of course. There was no relation between them. It was more of a term of affection. If they had been related–well, this trickery would neither have worked, nor been necessary.
Well, it still would have been necessary, he just would have needed to choose another man. As it was, finding a true warrior, someone who could fill the role the one called Beowulf required, had taken quite some time. But now he was certain that Wiglaf would be that person.
Allowing himself a smile of satisfaction, Beowulf turned and walked away. Wiglaf had the blood. He would be changed, would grow into an unbelievably powerful force.
With each step, the ‘man’ grew in size, scales appearing across his skin, before wings emerged from his back. Creating an illusion of his own body in order for his shapeshifted self to ‘kill’ (and subsequently die as well) had barely required any effort at all. It was walking away from his friend that was the truly difficult part. He would never be able to explain the truth, or speak to the man he had spent so much time with over these past years.
But at the very least, the dragon called Beowulf consoled himself while giving a mighty flap of his wings to fly off into the sky, he was done choosing his two champions.
And now he would wait to see what Wiglaf and Arthur ended up doing with the gifts he had provided.
Marina and Deveron When Charmeine Made Her Move To Abduct Flick And They Were Kept Busy Out Of The Way
Their van had broken down, because of course it had. They were in the middle of New York City, trying to show the first year students they were mentoring a good time, and then this had to happen. Marina shook her head while watching the van that had not ended up with a flat tire drive off. Her team mentees, as well as Deveron’s, who stood beside her, had all squeezed into that van. All aside from Rudolph and Felicity, anyway, who were further ahead in the car with Professor Dare and Josiah Carfried. They would all meet up together at the destinations.
Turning back to look at the smoke coming out of the engine, Marina made a face. They had already tried to fix it for several minutes, including getting help from the drivers of both vans. But nothing worked. And neither of them wanted their charges to end up getting left out of any fun stuff. So, they sent them on ahead to meet up with Dare and the others while Marina and Deveron stayed with the van to wait for a Heretic to show up who could transport the van as well as the two of them where they needed to go.
“Boy, you don’t really think a lot about mundane problems like this, huh?” As she said that, Marina looked over to see her companion not looking at the van itself, but watching the empty street around them. When the van had first begun to slow and shudder, the driver had managed to pull off the main street to a side road behind an old office building. And yet, even though there was no one around, from the way Deveron was scanning the area it was like he expected an army to come rushing into view any second.
“I don’t think it’s mundane,” he replied simply, without looking at her. “I think someone expected the van to break down and they’re looking for us. I think they wanted to find us here. That’s why I said the others should go on without us. And why I wanted you to go with them too.”
That was true, he had tried to convince Marina to leave him alone here, but she couldn’t do that. Leaving the boy alone in the middle of New York? It was out of the question entirely. Besides, what was he even talking about? Marina shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense. We’re all just students, why would someone try to ambush all of us? When did you suddenly become so paranoid?”
The boy was silent for a few seconds, before giving a soft sigh. “Look, I hope I am wrong, and that we just sit here for a few minutes until the Heretic the driver called manages to get here. I’d call to see how long it’ll take, but you know, with that blocking spell and everything…”
Taken aback by his last words, Marina started to ask what he was talking about, but he was already holding his phone up for her to see. “Look, we don’t have a signal any more. Went out just a few seconds ago. It’s being jammed, probably by some sort of spell.”
Okay, now he was really confusing her. Last year, Deveron had been this incredible, record-breaking student. So far this year, he had flipped into a lazy, do-nothing guy who really deserved a kick in the pants. That had been changing somewhat more recently, but apparently, now he had decided to change again, this time into a completely paranoid nutcase.
“Look, calm down,” she tried to tell him. I’ll just use my phone. Yours is probably broken or somethi–” She started to take it out of her pocket, but in mid-motion, Deveron grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way, just as a blast of white-hot fire filled the air where she had just been.
After a brief stumble, Marina found her footing and looked up to see a group of what looked like gang members stalking toward them. But these weren’t just ordinary gang members. They wore that sort of clothing, yet they weren’t human. Two looked like big heavy orcs, several had slimy, almost amphibian skin of various colors, another one was very clearly a troll of some sort, and more. The group was stalking their way, including one that looked kind of like a pterodactyl without wings. He was the one who had launched that fireball from his mouth. And all of them were carrying weapons.
“Still think I’m just paranoid?” Deveron asked while producing that pistol of his. “Come on, we can deal with these guys and then catch up with the others.” His voice was tense, but somehow Marina didn’t think that was because of these guys. He seemed to see them as barely an annoyance rather than a threat.
As the stranger gang approached, the boy stepped forward and glared at them. “Sorry if you were expecting a bigger group,” he announced. “We’ll have to make up for the others.”
The gang stopped, exchanging looks and chuckles with one another before the pterodactyl man narrowed his eyes at them. “More of you? No, we were just sent for you two.”
Marina still had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on. And now even Deveron looked surprised. His mouth opened to say something, before he could, the gang attacked.
She may have been confused and lost about what was happening, but Marina was still a Heretic who had been through a year and a half of training, so she knew how to react to being attacked. In one motion, her three-pointed corseque spear was in her hands, and she made a sharp upward motion to summon a glowing bear paw out of the ground, which emerged from underneath two of the monsters who were running at her and launched them into the air. While they were flailing, she hurled her weapon between them, focusing on one of her powers to make three different sharp metal blades extend from the shaft on either side in order to cut through the pair.
Those two fell, bleeding profusely, but not dead yet. Her first year had been spent learning how to fight and kill. But in the six months she had been going to classes for the second year, Marina had been learning better ways to put her opponents down temporarily, long enough to thin out a large number so she could kill them more easily without ending up getting herself killed while reacting to the pleasure rush that came when one of them died. Heretics were supposed to work together to help counter it, but they still had to know how to protect themselves from that particular downside.
And it was a good thing she had learned to do that, indeed, because two more of the Strangers were right on top of her. From the corner of her eye, Marina caught a glimpse of Deveron trying to evade the rest of those guys as they swarmed him. She had to get over there and help the boy. He might’ve been good, but there was no way he could handle half a dozen bad guys coming at him from all sides, including that massive troll.
She had to help, but first, she had to survive the next few seconds. As one of the orcs came at her with a crude-looking sword, Marina transformed her neck and upper shoulders into her partial water form, allowing the blade to pass through without any damage. At the same time, she extended her left hand out toward the other one, an amphibian figure who looked like a man crossed with an eel. He fired the pistol he was holding, but the bullet had barely emerged from the gun before it dropped uselessly to the ground. Meanwhile, the force the bullet had been using was reversed, and pushed into the blast of concussive force that Marina had just sent flying from her palm. That power allowed her to steal the momentum of anything that passed through a small area that she pointed to, and turn it into a blast of force from any part of her body. In this case, she simply used the same hand to send that concussive force flying into the man’s head to knock him over.
The orc with the sword was already reacting to it passing harmlessly through her now-watery neck, but before he could try again, Marina caught his extended arm and spun, kicking to take his legs out from under him. As he fell toward the cement, she opened her mouth and spat just past him. The saliva hit the ground and instantly spread out, becoming a small, one-foot-wide puddle of incredibly sticky fluid. The orc fell onto it and couldn’t pull himself up.
During that same spinning motion that came as she kicked the man’s legs out from under him, Marina had extended her arm out. Her hand was literally launched away from her body, extending up and outward on a thin tentacle-like flesh thing that was attached to her wrist. It was gross, but the power allowed her to launch any part of her body out on those tendrils, which could grow to be as long as fifty feet. She could only make one at a time, and could manipulate it with as much strength and control as any of her limbs.
In this case, she used it to grab her weapon as it was falling toward the ground, yanking it back to herself. In that moment, the orc was trying to push himself off the glue she had stuck him to, the two figures she had sent her weapon cutting through in the air had just hit the ground and were groaning in pain, and the eel-man had fallen onto his back, clutching his face where she had sent the concussive force stolen from his bullet. He was also bleeding profusely.
Without hesitation, Marina quickly stabbed each of them in turn, through the first lethal spot she could find. She had to be quick about this, had to kill them and go help Deveron. She got through two before the pleasure began to overwhelm her, and had to quickly stab the remaining pair before they could get up while she lost herself. Even then, the rush of four kills in quick succession left her panting on the ground for a moment before she managed to force herself back to her feet.
And yet, as she told herself to focus on her next opponent, Marina found nothing there aside from the massive troll, who had fallen on the ground and wasn’t moving. Blinking in surprise, she looked around, only to see Deveron shove the troll off of himself and roll out. He came to his feet, looking toward her. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” she shot back. “What about you? Where’d they go?”
The boy shrugged. “I guess they ran off, figured this big guy could do the job.” He started to say something else, only to groan.
Belatedly, Marina realized he was looking past her. Turning, she saw another group coming their way, who looked just as dangerous, if not more so.
“Great,” Deveron muttered while moving up beside her, “I guess they had reinforcements.”
“Hey,” she awkwardly replied while holding her weapon up. “Maybe they’ll run away too.”
The boy just chuckled softly. “Maybe they will,” he agreed.
“But let’s give them a good reason to hurry along.”
Sarah And Tristan Go On A Date
With the lights and sounds of the amusement park filling the air all around them, including shrieks from dozens of people on the nearby roller coaster, Sarah and Tristan walked together. The boy held a half-finished cotton candy in one hand, taking a bite of it. Sarah, meanwhile, carried a box of roasted peanuts, which she occasionally took one from to crack open between her fingers and toss into her mouth. The two of them had just come from the snack cart, and were making their way through the rows of midway games. They both stopped in front of the dart toss, examining the balloons attached to the cork board. Immediately, the man there began to cajole Tristan into taking a shot at winning a stuffed animal for his date. The pair looked at one another, and smiled faintly. Tristan was the first to blush, and glanced away, while Sarah held her free hand up. A brief moment of silent communication followed before Tristan followed suit. They made their hands into fists and played paper rock scissors three times in quick succession. Sarah won before setting her peanuts down on the counter. Then she produced a five dollar bill and handed it over to the man. He shrugged before giving her three darts. Adjusting quickly to the fact that the girl was throwing, he stepped out of the way while cheerfully encouraging her to take her time and make her shots count.
Sarah, in turn, gave her first dart an almost careless underhanded toss upward. It flipped up through the air before coming back down from above the balloons rather than hitting straight on. The added force from its downward fall popped the first balloon it hit. The man quickly cheered for her ‘good luck,’ followed by watching as she duplicated the move for the other two. Laughing a bit about how she must have some Robin Hood in her blood, he handed over a green stuffed elephant.
Soon, she and Tristan were walking away from that booth. Sarah examined the elephant before smiling as she offered it to the boy beside her. He accepted the toy happily and announced, “I’ll name him Circus. I’m pretty sure he likes peanuts.”
Raising an eyebrow curiously, the girl plucked a peanut from her small bag, cracked it open, and gave the nut itself a toss toward the elephant.
Tristan, still grinning, held the toy up. Just as the peanut hit where the elephant’s mouth was, he used a power that allowed him to turn up to roughly ten feet worth of the same material he was touching into a portal, which would take any object that entered it and send it out at any other point on the same ten feet worth of material. The only visual indicator that this was happening was that the affected material glowed faintly. In this case, the peanut entered the ‘portal’ at the toy’s mouth before coming out the back of its head, straight into Tristan’s waiting mouth. He chewed and patted the toy on its head. “See? It’s his favorite. How awesome is this day for him? First, he gets freed from the oppressive prison back there by your amazing dart tossing skills, and now he gets snacks.”
Sarah’s cheeks turned a bit pink as she snickered softly before pointing out in a soft voice, “You could have popped every balloon on the board.”
“Probably,” he agreed with a shrug. “But it’s more fun to watch you do it.” They both glanced at each other for a quick second before looking away, blushing. The two of them had agreed that they liked each other some time ago, even if other things kept interrupting. They had eaten together up on the sun station, had watched movies in their rooms or in the small theater, had done all sorts of things like that. But this was their first time going on an official date down here on Earth. They’d intentionally chosen something they couldn’t easily do at the Fusion School, hence coming to a wide open amusement park with so many games and rides.
“How about the baseball toss?” Tristan finally offered after a moment of that. “We know you’re awesome at that. Those milk jugs’ll never know what hit ‘em.”
Giggling a little self consciously, Sarah shook her head, informing the boy, “Your turn.” She felt her phone buzz in her pocket and already knew it was Sands checking in to see how things were going. That wasn’t simply because of insight to how her sister thought, or any sort of connection between them. It was also thanks to a power she had picked up, which allowed her to ‘read’ words written or displayed on any screen, paper, wood etching, and so on that happened to be touching her. It even worked through her clothes, so she could read a paperback book by putting it in her pocket. The reading wasn’t instantaneous, she still had to work her way through each page in turn and take the time to actually comprehend the words, but she could read that way. And, in this case, she could read the message that popped up on the screen. It simply read, ‘If everything’s all good, don’t respond at all. Don’t even take the phone out of your pocket! If you need to be rescued because it’s so awkward, send any message back at all.’
Sarah, of course, left the phone firmly in her pocket.
By that point, Tristan had finished looking around before raising his hand to point. “Oooh, bumper cars! We are totally doing the bumper cars.”
So, they did. The two of them went for a couple rounds through the bumper cars. The first time through, they teamed up together to take on all comers, the pair managing to dominate the whole arena. For their second round, they split up and went head-to-head. From there, they went through the funhouse, two different roller coasters, the rapidly spinning rotor ride, a couple more midway games, and the ‘scrambler’ ride, which consisted of a central machine with four extended arms, each of which had four small carts attached to it. The machine itself spun in a circle, while the arms holding the carts spun as well.
Once they were through that much, the two teenagers grabbed a bowl of ice cream and a couple spoons before making their way to a quieter area at the back of the park to sit down and enjoy their treat while watching the excitement from the rest of the guests. There was a bench there, near the fence leading to the dark parking lot beyond, and they both sat next to one another, sharing the ice cream.
While they were talking about which baseball team they wanted to keep track of in the upcoming season, Tristan abruptly put his hand on Sarah‘s arm while looking past her. With one hand, the boy produced a privacy coin and activated it so they wouldn’t be overheard. His voice was sharp, yet quiet. “Look over there.”
She did so, glancing that way at what turned out to be an employee entrance into one of the buildings a few hundred feet away. It was illuminated by a hanging lamp, revealing a man and older teenager, both of whom were having an intense, whispered conversation. Sarah recognized the boy immediately as one of the previous third year, now fourth year students at Crossroads. He had stayed with the school when the rebellion restarted. She also recognized the man he was talking to after a moment. He had visited the school several times over the years to give talks to the older students.
“Crossroads,” Sarah murmured, even as she and Tristan both slipped off the bench and moved to hide themselves behind the nearby bathroom building. She glanced around the edge of the wall in time to see the pair of Heretics in the distance look at their watches simultaneously, both checking the time. They were waiting for something.
Her voice remained soft, as she tugged her phone out. “Not here to relax.”
“Nope,” Tristan agreed, already looking at his own phone. “Okay, let’s call in backup and then—oh shit.” Even as both of them had been sending messages, they saw a third Heretic, this one someone from their own year. Or at least, the year they would’ve been in if they hadn’t left. It was Orvis Trench, a light-skinned, dark-haired boy neither of them, or any of their friends, had interacted with much. He was a very gung-ho type who took the job very seriously, and saw himself as one of the last lines of defense between innocent humanity and the armies of evil who threatened to wash over them. A true believer in every sense of the word.
Orvis also wasn’t alone. He was leading a group of obvious Alters. There were a dozen of them, of varying ages and descriptions, all different species for the most part. The weird part was that none of them seemed scared. At least not to the point that they should’ve been considering who they were following. And yes, they were following him, giving no indication of trying to get away.
Setting her phone down after sending her sister that quick message, Sarah reached out to her belt to find the fake camera case hooked there so she could reach into the pocket dimension and pull out her rifle. Still concealed behind that wall, she took aim and created an invisible scope portal out and ahead of them. With that, she sent another scope portal through it in order to get a close look at the group. The girl already had enhanced hearing, but the two by the door were clearly using some sort of privacy spell of their own, and the others were still too far away. Fortunately, her gun had been upgraded so that she could also hear through those portals with an attached earpiece. She put that in, handing the other one to Tristan. They were both just in time to hear one of the Alters thank Orvis for saving them. Only she didn’t call him Orvis. She called him Doug. A moment later, one of the other altars referred to him as Mr. Frey.
That was why these people weren’t afraid. They thought the heretic who was leading them to their obvious deaths was Doug Frey. More to the point, they thought these three were part of the rebellion. Crossroads people were posing as the rebellion in order to get innocent Alters to walk right along with them. It was a realization that struck both Sarah and Tristan abruptly, making them snap their gazes to one another in shock, disbelief, and anger. An awful lot of anger.
Getting a message from Sands informing her that the cavalry was on their way and would be there soon, Sarah looked up as the group of completely unknowing victims began to be led through that employees only door.
Her voice was flat. “No time.”
Tristan gave a quick nod. “Yeah, you’re right. If we don’t do something, they’re dead. But there’s three of them and two of us.”
Sarah took only a second, watching the group of Alters who thought they were safe, who thought they were being escorted by the Rebellion. “Wait?” she asked as gently and non-judgmentally as she could in that moment.
Tristan didn’t even hesitate. “Fuck no,” he replied. “The others are coming, we’ve just got to distract these guys for a minute.” He held up his fist then, and Sarah bumped hers against it.
“Distract them for a minute,” she agreed.
The two of them took only a couple seconds to come up with a plan. It was all they had, considering the people they were trying to save were about to vanish through the door that the older, fourth year student was holding open while all three Crossroads Heretics offered fake, encouraging smiles to the incoming group.
In the end, Sarah went for the direct approach. Taking aim through the scope portal she had already set up, the girl fired three quick shots, all of them aimed at the man in charge, the adult Heretic. Unfortunately, the man’s danger sense must have triggered, because he abruptly pivoted out of the way, hand snapping out while conjuring some sort of field that slowed the bullets, allowing him to pluck them out of the air.
The Alters cried out in fear, one of them shouting that they were under attack. A few tried to back out of the doorway, while others went forward. The fourth year student shouted for them to get inside and take cover, even as he held his arm out, summoning a large shield over it as though to protect them.
Tristan was already on the move. He had Bobbi-Bobbi in her cannon form as he sprang around the corner of the wall and fired off a blast toward the assembled Heretics, being careful not to hit any of their would-be victims. The blast of energy went straight for Orvis. But the boy in question lunged right toward it while lifting his hand. A metal gauntlet appeared there, similar to the ones that Avalon used. He created an energy shield from the gauntlet, blocking the incoming blast. It was still enough to knock him stumbling backwards, and Tristan took advantage of that by racing that way, reshaping Bobbi-Bobbi from a cannon into a gauntlet of his own. A gauntlet with an energy shield around it as the cyberform used her power for defense rather than attack in that moment.
Orvis turned his own shield into a blade, lashing out at the incoming boy, but Tristan blocked it with his own glowing blade before driving his fist into the other boy’s chest. No, not his fist, his claws. He had produced his werejaguar claws at the last second, and drove them right into his former classmate’s chest before he could even start to react.
While that boy staggered and went down to one knee, the adult Heretic bellowed in anger, and vanished from where he was standing. He appeared behind Tristan, hurling the bullets he had caught with such speed and force that they would have torn through the boys back. But Tristan used the power he had played with on the elephant earlier in order to turn his shirt into a portal, allowing the bullets to pass through the back and continue through the front, where they hit Orvis in the arm while he was shielding his chest.
Sarah was already there, while the adult Heretic grabbed Tristan by the hair and began to yank him backwards. Before the man could do whatever he planned on, she reached for his shoulder. He, in turn, pivoted while still holding Tristan off the ground by his hair with one hand so he could grab Sarah‘s extended arm with his other and yank her off the ground as well. “Oh,” he snapped while using some sort of telekinesis power to hurl her gun off into the distance with a sharp chin motion, “is your dad gonna be glad to see you.”
Dangling from the man’s grip on her arm, Sarah gave him a thin, humorous smile. “I’ll send him a postcard,” she informed the man in that soft, barely audible voice.
The man’s danger sense went off then, and he attempted to fling her away, but before he could, Sarah’s arm exploded. It was her fake one, the one she had replaced over the summer with what amounted to an energy projection that could reshape itself. In this case, it didn’t reshape into anything. Instead, it simply blew apart, sending all the energy it could into the man’s hand. It wasn’t enough to cripple him or anything, but it still made the guy cry out and let both of them go while staggering backward.
The instant they landed on the ground, while the older Heretic was staggering, Sarah and Tristan didn’t hesitate. Tristan reshaped Bobbi-Bobbi into her snake form, lashing out so her fangs could dig into the man’s leg. She delivered what should’ve been enough venom to instantly put a full-grown and angry moose on the ground.
Sarah, meanwhile, flooded the area in front of her with a freezing mist that should have slowed their opponent down even more than he already was from the venom being pumped into his system.
But in this case, both of those attacks barely affected him at all. He got his feet back under him, his foot flashing out to kick Tristan hard enough that the boy was hurled over fifteen feet to crash into the wall of the employee building. At the same time, a massive hand made of concrete rose from the ground and backhanded Sarah hard enough to daze her.
Orvis had recovered enough by that point to grab Tristan as the boy fell near him. He managed to get his knees onto Tristan‘s arms before driving a fist into his face once, twice, a third time. “You stupid, selfish bastard!” he shouted. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing!?” As he said that, the boy produced a bone blade from his wrist, and began to drive it down, right at Tristan‘s throat. But in mid-motion, a gunshot rang out, and he pitched over backwards with a hole through the center of his forehead. Sarah, who had managed to grab her rifle with her newly reformed energy hand, lay on her back while pointing it that way.
Her voice was slightly choked. “Winning a war.”
That was all she managed to get out before the rush of pleasure made the girl gasp.
Unfortunately, before it had finished, the adult Heretic had his hand around her throat, and was lifting her from the ground. “Murderer!” he shouted into her face while she began to see spots. “I changed my mind, your dad isn’t going to see you again after all.” With that, he began to squeeze harder, intent on snapping her neck right there before she could recover.
Tristan, however, was already back on his feet and racing that way. Without looking, the man pointed with one hand and sent over a dozen quick laser shots from his palm. But Tristan evaded each and every one of them, twisting and ducking to keep his body barely out of the way while continuing to run. Just as Sarah felt things start to go dark, Tristan launched himself at the man. He, of course, simply grabbed the lunging boy. But then Tristan vanished, disappearing into him, possessing him. Instantly, the man’s hand released Sarah, dropping her.
“Go,” Tristan snapped with the man’s voice, “stop them!”
Sarah knew what he meant. The fourth year student had already vanished into the building, taking the confused and frightened Alters with him. He had abandoned his teacher and the other student, probably rightfully believing that Sarah and Tristan would have help soon. Or that the adult Heretic didn’t need any backup to deal with a couple students.
Sarah‘s head shook, even as she turned to run at the door, calling over shoulder, “Not fast enough!”
Tristan immediately interpreted what she meant, leaving the Heretic he’d just taken over and before taking several quick steps to lunge out and touch the girl’s back. In an instance, he was possessing her instead.
The adult Heretic staggered, looking at his hands briefly before his gaze snapped back up as he started to shout. But whatever had been about to say was drowned out by the sudden explosion that came as the dozen magical bombs he had stored in his pockets, which Tristan had discovered and activated while possessing him, went off. Despite his incredible strength, the man couldn’t stand up to that. His body was blown apart into a fine mist.
Tristan felt the binding rush of pleasure while possessing Sarah, but fortunately, he didn’t have to focus on anything. He just used his boost and gave the girl as much speed as he could. She, in turn, sprinted blindingly quickly through the doors, and made her way down the hallway toward the sound of shouting.
They arrived just in time to find the fourth year student they had been pursuing lying on the floor with Sands standing over his obviously dead body. She was accompanied by half a dozen others, including Jazz, the actual Doug, Pace, Theia, and a couple adults.
Seeing them, Tristan hopped out of Sarah, both them skidding to a halt.
“Heeeey,” Sands greeted them while the utterly confused and terrified group of Alters stared in confusion, “what’s up? How’s the date going?”
Tristan coughed, opening his mouth to reply. But Sarah caught his hand. When he looked back that way, she provided their real response, by leaning up to touch her lips to his.
Eden’s Garden Hybrids Before The New Rebellion
“Lenny. Lenny, wake up.” The insistent voice was accompanied by an almost violent shake of her shoulders as Elena Four was startled out of a deep sleep. Her eyes opened, blinking up at the familiar figure, a red-haired, green-skinned boy the same age as her at twelve years old.
“Muh, buh.” She had to open and shut her mouth a couple times, throat dry as she struggled to make words come out coherently after being awoken so suddenly. “Manny? What’s goin’ on?”
Manuel Seven, or Manny as she knew him, grimaced apologetically at her reaction. “Sorry, Lenny, they need you to help track a couple of the calygreyhounds. They got out a couple hours ago.”
It took a moment for the girl to process those words, but as soon as she did, Lenny pushed her way out of the small, military-style cot and stood. Her room was only large enough for the bed, a small desk with a mirror over it, and a chest to keep her clothes and other belongings in. She glanced toward that mirror then, seeing herself as others did, a small girl with short brown hair that was almost, but not quite light enough to be considered blonde. Her eyes were a dark red color, while her skin was very pale. When she yawned, the girl could see the same multiple rows of sharp teeth that others saw when they looked at her.
She slept in a dark red sweatsuit, so the girl didn’t bother to change clothes. She simply put her shoes on quickly and then left her room alongside Manny. Her door opened up into a field at the base of the Eden’s Garden tree. She and those like her, hybrids whose parents consisted of one human and one Stranger, didn’t live in the tree itself. And they certainly didn’t live near their parents, given one was an evil Stranger and the other a Heretic who couldn’t be expected to deal with the evil that they were capable of. Lenny and her kind couldn’t be trusted to be near proper civilization. Instead, there was a series of what looked like cabins arranged in a nearly complete circle here at the base of the tree. They were stacked on top of one another, ten cabins high. There were two doors on each cabin, and each door led into a room identical to the one she had just come out of. Rigid ladders were attached to the walls on either side of every door, allowing those who lived higher to climb up or down. The circle of stacked cabins was wide enough to allow for fifteen of the buildings. Fifteen cabins per level, each containing two single-occupancy rooms. Thirty occupants on each level. Ten levels. Three hundred of those like Lenny and Manny.
They were hybrids. Children of Strangers and humans. Their human parentage gave them just enough control that they could avoid their other parent’s savagery and evil, if they tried hard enough.
Their names came from others who had been here before. Others who had either died in battle or moved to another place such as one of the colonies. Either way, someone who wasn’t here at Eden’s Garden anymore. But none who had given in to their Stranger impulses. If you went feral, your name was stripped from the list of potentials and never used again. Lenny was Elena Four, the fourth to bear the name Elena since this had been started a couple hundred years earlier. Elena Three, who had come before her, was killed fighting the very Stranger who had given Lenny her pale skin and teeth. Fahsteth, the Akheilosan.
Even at this early hour (it was not quite dawn) there were a few others standing around, making food at the fire pit in the middle of the courtyard. They greeted both children and the two waved back before running together to the space between the furthest two buildings, an exit leading out of what was dubbed Hy-town (for hybrid town). That led the pair to a series of trails, most of which proceeded deeper into the massive forest beyond the Eden’s Garden tree. But the two of them followed the trail that went right, Lenny not even needing to be told where the others would be waiting. That smaller trail led to another clearing just past a thicket of smaller trees and bushes, where dozens of large metal storage crates were stacked up quite similarly to the cabins they had just left. There were two men waiting there, deep in conversation. They were full Eden’s Garden Heretics, not hybrids. When they saw the pair come into the clearing, both men focused on them. The taller of the two, a man with black hair and a face lined from age, walked that way. “Elena Four, I trust Manuel Seven told you the situation?”
Her head bobbed quickly at that. “Yes, Mr. Fernweh. Calygreyhounds escaped?” The creatures, despite their name being so close to that of the Bystander-bred racing dogs, were quite a bit different. Their main bodies were that of a deer, their front legs and feet looked like those of a bird of prey with talons, while their back legs and feet were more like a lion. Matching their hindquarters, their heads were always that of some form of various wild felines, aside from the antlers or horns they tended to also have. Finally, they possessed enormous feathered wings.
Suffice to say, if a couple of them had gotten out of their pen hours earlier, they could be anywhere by that point. But that was why Lenny had been sent for. Even as Lenny confirmed that she knew what was happening, Fernweh was pointing to one of the stacks of enormous metal crates. Each was the size of a Bystander shipping container. As he pointed, the crates in that stack lifted up and rearranged themselves until one in particular was on the bottom. “Go get your friends and we’ll start tracking.”
The twelve-year-old didn’t miss a beat before running that way. It only took her a moment to enter the code on the keypad attached to the crate. It beeped an affirmative at her and then rumbled open. “Sugar, Spice, come on, we’ve got a job!” she called out.
As with all of the crates that were stacked up there, the interior of this one was quite a bit larger than even its decent size on the outside implied. In this case, the crate contained a vast open field, trees of its own, and even a pond where a dozen antelope were drinking. But her attention wasn’t on those antelopes. Instead, she watched as two gigantic figures bounded toward her. A pair of lions, one male and one female, mates of course though they had been sterilized to prevent any unwanted litters. But not just any lions. These were Nemeans. They were called other things, of course, it was just that they were most well-known by the name of the place where the legendary Heracles had defeated one.
These two Nemeans were each almost fifty feet long and fifteen feet tall. The male, Sugar, had a mane that was incredibly thick and soft enough for Lenny to completely fall asleep in, as she had plenty of times.
Thinking about sleep right then was a bad idea though. So she shook that off and gave each of them scratches in turn as they leaned in close to sniff her. Thanks to the girl’s Akheilosan heritage, she had been bonded to the pair since she was barely old enough to walk. They took care of her, and helped her contribute to the safety and prosperity of Eden’s Garden.
At least, they would do that until she lost control over her evil side and had to be put down for the safety of real people.
Soon, she was perched on Sugar’s back, holding onto his mane. The female lion, Spice, carried Manny. The boy’s own orcish parentage didn’t quite lend itself that well to tracking, but he was incredibly strong and would be able to help if they ran into trouble.
Not that that was likely with two full Heretics accompanying them of course. Between them as well as Sugar and Spice, there was little out there in the woods that could prove to be a threat.
“Alright,” Fernweh announced once the kids were set, “let’s get out there and bring those Calygreyhounds back before it gets too late. We’ve got more important things to deal with.
“And you two don’t wanna miss the whole school day. I hear Miss Ævi wants to take you up into the branches, so you can meet some normal people and see what you’re protecting.”
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