Shiori Porter

Greetings And Goodbyes 22-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Of course, the rest of my going away party with all my friends ran long into the night. I was glad I had that ability to go so long without rest, because I was sure going to need it by the time all this was over. At this rate, I was going to end up needing a break before I ever actually left to meet Ehn in the first place. Especially when you added in the emotional cost of leaving all these people behind for who knew how long. Yes, I would still be in contact and keep track of what was going on, at least as much as possible. But that wouldn’t be the same as being here myself. For all intents and purposes, I was leaving them to handle all that stuff without me. It made me feel weird inside.

Either way, I didn’t have a choice. Not a real one, anyway. I might feel anxious right now because I was leaving the people I cared about for a while. But it would be a hell of a lot worse if I didn’t do this and it turned out I really could have helped stop the Fomorians if I hadn’t been so selfish. 

The day after that big party, where I had spent hours long into the night talking to what seemed to be everyone I had ever even slightly interacted with, was my last day here. This was the day I had to spend with my family. My dad, my mom, sort-of stepdad or whatever Deveron was, my grandparents, big sister, little sister, big brother, and my niece. 

I had thought that we would spend a lot of time talking about everything that still needed to be done, or about what I was going to do while I was gone. But we didn’t. Not that much anyway. Actually, most of the day was spent taking a hike through Yellowstone Park down on Earth. We didn’t talk about anything that important or world changing. We just hiked through the beautiful scenery and talked about stuff we liked to watch, listen to, anything like that. Somehow, we had agreed on an unspoken rule not to discuss anything important. Even Wyatt went with it, and simply regaled us with a story about the time he had tracked a pack of violent werecreatures through a forest fairly similar to this one. 

Needless to say, he wasn’t the only one with an impressive tale. Koren, Tabbris, and I were treated to hours-worth of amazing stories, even from my grandparents, who talked both about things they had seen while out in Seosten space, and stuff they have been through in their supposedly completely ordinary (but not at all boring) lives. 

Eventually, we stopped by a lake and fished. Yes, we actually fished the old-fashioned way. It was just the right level of boring, allowing us to sit there and focus mostly on more stories. Popser brought out a grill at one point and we had dinner using the very fish we had caught.

Yeah, it was pretty great, especially since it actually allowed me to stop thinking about all that important stuff and just enjoy the time I had with my family. There would be time to dwell on everything else later. 

After hours of playing around the lake, fishing, eating, and just talking, the sun was starting to set. I stood at the edge of the water, skipping rocks with Koren now that we were done with the fishing part and wouldn’t scare anything away. The two of us were talking, not about Heretic stuff, but about our lives before all this started. She told me about being the spoiled but somewhat neglected child of a big shot lawyer (Abigail still felt bad about how far she had allowed that to go while she had been busy with her job), and I talked about being a kid and teenager back in Wyoming. Not that my life before all this had been anything ordinary, considering how often I managed to find trouble. But it had been pretty mundane by the standards I was using now. 

Either way, we chatted about that stuff, teasing one another about the whole aunt and niece thing. In the background, the adults were talking, while Tabbris went swimming in the lake itself and kept diving down to look at the fish there. I had even let my sharks out through the portal connection I had with them, so they could stretch their fins in this new water. Obviously, they were still protected from that whole salt versus fresh water problem thanks to Wyatt. They could swim in any of it.

Climbing on Princess Cuddles’ back, Tabbris called out to tell us she had found a really pretty Arctic Grayling (some sort of fish she had shown me a picture of earlier) down there. Smiling at that, I waved to my sister and spoke quietly to the girl next to me. “Keep an eye on her, okay? She said something about going with me, but I talked her out of trying. It’s better for her to stay here with her mom most of the time and just stay in contact through our connection.”

“Better for both of you,” Koren noted. “It’s the best way for you to know what’s going on here, and for everyone here to know you’re okay.” She sighed and looked at me. “You have to be okay. Whatever happens out there, whatever this guy wants you to get into, take care of yourself. Don’t let him control you too much.”

Despite the doubt and uncertainty I felt about the whole situation, I offered her a faint smile. “When have you ever known me to let anyone control everything I did and who I am, no matter how powerful they are? This guy might be strong, but I’m still me. And I’ll still be me when I get back.”

We embraced like that, before I saw my grandparents beckoning me over to the tall rocks they were standing by. So, I excused myself and walked back that way. 

“Do you think you guys can stick around and not get taken on any more wild outer space adventures while I’m gone?” I managed to ask without allowing my voice to crack too much.

Grandpartie stooped to pick me all the way off the ground, crushing me against his chest in an embrace that made me let out an embarrassing squawk sound. “Sounds like you’re the one disappearing on a space adventure, kid.” He reminded me of that while continuing to hold me tightly. “So you just make sure you find your way back here before you miss all the fun, you got it? If this situation with the Seosten comes to a head and you’re still off gallivanting around with your new dragon tutor, I don’t think we’ll ever let you live it down.” His words were teasing, but also tinted with emotion. It was obvious that he didn’t want me to go. But he, like everyone else, knew it was for the best.

After I promised to be back, even if I had to tell Ehn to give me a sabbatical, he let me down and gave Grandmaria a chance for a hug. The two of them set me down there by the rock and talked about their wedding day, which had apparently been a bit of an adventure in and of itself when their first choice of venue had been rained out. Then their priest had been arrested for some sort of money laundering or something. They still weren’t completely certain about the details, but it sure sounded exciting. Especially when the priest had stripped naked (yeah, he turned out to be incredibly drunk) when the cops showed up and went streaking through the assortment of shocked guests and police.

It stayed exciting as a story rather than tragic because they had still managed to get married in the end. And they had enjoyed their actual ceremony, crazy as it was, perhaps more than they would have enjoyed the normal, planned one.

It was a story I’d heard little bits of previously, but this was the first time I’ve gotten the whole thing from start to finish. They had previously said I wasn’t old enough to get into it, considering the whole drunk, naked priest thing. But now, apparently I finally was. 

Honestly, I was pretty sure they could’ve told me the story before and the whole me not being old enough thing was just an excuse so they have a good story to tell at my own wedding if I had one, or something else big and important. Maybe my high school graduation. 

Whatever it was, they had clearly decided that this moment was a good one to get the whole thing out. And boy was it a good one to listen to. From Grandmaria imitating the way all the little old ladies had screamed when the priest stripped himself and went running through the crowd, to Popser mimicking the priest himself flailing the whole way through and drunkenly screaming about the cost of reshingling the church roof or something, it sounded like a really wild time. I was just sorry it happened long before the advent of cell phone video.

I also took the time to tell them a few stories of my own, from my old Bystander life. Just like before, these weren’t Heretic stories. They were just my own stuff from my time in Wyoming. It was the sort of things I would’ve been nervous to tell them before, stuff I might’ve thought would get me in trouble. Or at least make them tell my dad so he could put a stop to it. My habit of finding trouble hadn’t completely come out of nowhere once I got to Crossroads. That had simply magnified the sort of threats I was capable of finding. Thankfully, my ability to deal with those threats had been magnified a fair bit as well.

And speaking of people whose ability had been magnified, they both showed me how much they had improved with the powers they had inherited. Which, considering how strong those powers were, meant my grandparents were going to be two of the strongest members of the rebellion before too much longer. I was very okay with that. They were the sort of people who deserved that. And given the level of trouble my family tended to attract, they are going to need it. 

After leaving the two of them for now, I went over to talk with Deveron, Wyatt, and Abigail. My half-siblings and my step-father. That really was the best term for it, I supposed. Step didn’t really define it properly since he had been married to Mom before my own father was. And technically, I supposed, they were still married. They were still together just like Mom was with Dad. It was the same way I was with Avalon and Shiori. Terms be damned, I was just glad they had worked it out.

The three of them were about a hundred yards away from the lake and rest of the area where the others were. It was only once I got closer that I realized they were practicing with some sort of booby trap landmine spell. Apparently Wyatt and Abigail had both come up with it together and were showing it to Deveron. He gave a couple tips based on his own experience, but for the most part, it was their own thing. Which they also showed to me as soon as I approached. 

“Okay,” I started once they had explained once, “let me get this straight. If any person steps within the barrier of this spell, it makes a face outline of what they look like in a sand pile that’s sitting somewhere else, like the security room. From that point on until the spell is canceled, everything that person says is also said by the sand facsimile so you know what they’re talking about. What if more than one person goes through it?” 

Wyatt was positively bouncing with glee. “We thought of that! Of course we did. Show her, show her!” He waved both hands toward his sister and father. 

Abigail and Deveron looked at each other before shrugging as they moved to step one at a time through the spell area. First, Abigail’s face appeared in the sand at full size. A second later, a much smaller addition of Deveron’s face appeared below that, just barely large enough to make out a couple minor details, like the picture in picture setting on a television. As I watched, Wyatt touched the smaller bit with two fingers and the facsimiles switched places so Abigail was the small one and Deveron was the big one. Apparently you could set the spell so that it would stick with one until you touched it like that, or make it automatically switch back-and-forth based on who was talking. 

They were still working on perfecting it, so I sat there with them for a bit and worked on it as well. But mostly, I listened as the three of them talked about their own old lives. Deveron gave a few stories about the old rebellion and also about being a student at Crossroads. Wyatt got into a bit of his own life growing up, which mostly just made my heart ache about how rough he’d had it for so long. There was a reason he had grown up to be so paranoid. But he was getting better. We were all getting better. And, of course, Abigail told stories about being a lawyer, and about being in law school. Which, if I understood things right, involved a lot of heavy drinking. From the stories she told, I was starting to think my half-sister could drink Ruthers under the table. Which would’ve been one hell of a way to settle this war. Actually, come to think of it– nah, he totally wouldn’t go for that. 

Abigail, of course, made me promise repeatedly to keep them updated about what was going on and to be certain I could say no if Ehn tried to get me to do anything I didn’t want to do. She was very emphatic about that, as were the other two. I reassured them as much as I could under the circumstances, but mostly kept the conversation as casual as possible. I didn’t want to spend this time fretting about what was going to happen in the future. I just wanted to talk about the past, or about nothing in particular. I wanted to enjoy this time with the various pieces of my family, since I had no idea how long it would be before I saw them again.

With that in mind, I finally made my way to my parents. Mom and Dad were standing together under a tree near the lake, talking about one of the first dates they had ever gone on together. I started to leave them alone, but they insisted I join them. So I found myself standing between the two of them, leaning against my father with both of their arms around me as they talked about those first times spent seeing one another, long before they had ever known anything about this stuff. In those days, my dad had regaled my enraptured mother with stories about being in Los Angeles and all the trouble he’d gotten up to there. Which they both laughed about now. But still, it just made me feel even closer to my father. Like me, he had found plenty of danger and excitement on his own long before the whole Heretic situation was an open part of his life. 

For the next little while, as the sun finished setting and the moon rose, I simply stayed there with my parents. Tabbris joined us after a while, clearly nervous about interrupting, but it was my mother who insisted she come over and sit. 

So, she did. And then the four of us talked even longer before eventually getting up and moving back over to where everyone else had already gathered and started a fire. We sat in a circle around it, watching the flames and talking about everything and about nothing. We told stories that alternated between frightening and funny, or even both at the same time. There were jokes, boasts, teasing, and more. I had no idea how long we stayed there like that, though to be honest, it could have been decades. Decades of some of the best moments I remembered having any time recently. I was there with my family. Even better, Avalon and Shiori joined us eventually. As did Asenath. Senny, the first Alter friend I’d made, the source of the best decision in my life and the sister of one of my girlfriends. She absolutely belonged here too. 

Yeah, I could definitely get used to this. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last forever, no matter how much we might’ve wanted it to. No matter how much I wanted it too. Eventually, it was clear that it was the end of that day. Which meant I needed to try to sleep a little bit before Sun showed up and wanted to get this show on the road. 

So, we doused the fire, cleaned up, and made a portal back to the station. I was going to sleep in my own bed rather than at my family’s apartment. There’d been a lot of talk back-and-forth about that, and I’d promised to come to the apartment with Sun once he showed up so I could give a last minute goodbye. Right now, however, I needed to sleep in my own bed one more time. 

Once on the station, before I could head off that way, my mother pulled me into a tight embrace. It wouldn’t be the last one we shared before I left, but I still felt myself clinging tightly to her. “I’m scared,” I whispered once we were completely alone and the others had moved down the hall. “I don’t know what’s going to happen while I’m gone.” 

Mom held me, brushing my hair back while meeting my gaze. “It’s okay to be scared, my Felicity. We just don’t let it control us. And you have never allowed your fear to rule you. Whatever happens, no matter where you go or what that man involves you in, know that I am your mother. And I will always be there when you need me. Even if it is only in spirit, through the lessons I know you’ve learned.” 

“Thanks, Mom,” I murmured, feeling a shiver run through me. “Something tells me I’m gonna need every last one of those lessons. But hey, at least I won’t be completely alone.

“After all, Persephone’s coming along, and how much trouble could I possibly get in with her beside me?” 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, we went back to Earth, after saying goodbye to the people on the planet and promising we would come back to visit and check on them. Well, most of us did. Athena and a few others were going to stay behind to keep working with these people for the time being. After all, they still needed to be taught how to protect themselves better. And apparently they were going to go into those tunnels to look for any more of the Seosten tribals who could have been left behind. We’d already had guards watching over the actual portal entrance into where the Revenants were, just in case, but still. Better not to leave the fanatics out there to do gods only knew what. 

Also, we weren’t going back strictly by ourselves. A few people from this world were going back to Earth with us, as sort of an ambassador/exploration situation. They wanted to see what it was like away from their home, maybe take back some new ideas or concepts when it came to putting their own society back together. One of those people was Beilela, the younger girl who they kept calling ‘The One Who Said No.’ She was famous in that first city we’d gone to for being the person who–well, said no. Specifically, she had refused to be a ‘willing’ part of that last round of sacrifices Fossor had been making before we cut off his power. More importantly (and amazingly), she had literally thrown a bucket of paint over one of that piece of shit’s statues before flat out saying she refused to lift another finger to do a goddamn thing for Fossor. She knew he could–and absolutely would have killed her for the defiance, but she didn’t care. This kid was a completely ordinary fifteen-year-old who told Fossor to go fuck himself while knowing there wasn’t a single damn thing she could do to stop him from absolutely destroying her. She had assumed it would happen, that she would suffer for the defiance, and she still did it. 

Yeah, Beilela was a bit of a badass, and she deserved to visit Earth, or anywhere else she wanted to go. 

And, of course, Rahanvael was staying on–uhh, Rahanvael. She was very clearly still embarrassed and sort of ashamed of the fact that these people had named the world after her. But she deserved that as much as Beilela deserved to visit Earth. It was just going to take time for her to understand that nothing Fossor had done was her fault. I was pretty sure staying and helping these people find their own place while learning the history of their world, which only she could tell them, was going to help an awful lot with that. I hoped it did, anyway. 

There was more going on, like the fact that the regular Seosten people were still sending a ship to check in on this place. But we had at least made them promise to extend the truce deal from Earth to this world as well, convincing them that their… cousins, for lack of a better word, had already been through enough and didn’t need to be dragged into more fighting. Between that and the agreement to find out if they could help with the whole pregnancy/child crisis situation, the Seosten leadership were being pretty nice about it. At least, enough of them were being nice. According to Chayyiel and Athena, there were still some of the Seraphs who were arguing for direct invasion and control of Rahanvael. They were simply outnumbered by those who were being more clear-headed, which was about the best we could hope for. 

In any case, all of that would be stuff for others to worry about for the time being. I was going to be pretty busy with my own thing. Or rather, with Ehn’s thing. I obviously had no idea how it was going to go, but I was relatively certain I wouldn’t have time to really focus on things like how Rahanvael (the person or the planet) was doing, or the search for Gaia. I just had to hope they’d be okay, and that everyone else could handle it.

“Are you sure about this?” Shiori asked, as she, Avalon, and I stood in my attic room back at the house in the Fusion School. And boy did it seem like it had been forever since I’d been here. After spending so long on the ship going to the other world, and then these past few weeks on the world itself, I could hardly remember the last time I’d actually slept here in my own bed. And from the sound of things, after these few days I had to get myself together and say goodbye to people, it was going to be a long time before I did so again. It kind of made me sad, thinking about all the classes I was going to miss with this whole thing. Sure, I’d be learning, but it wasn’t the same. Was it too much to ask for Ehn to wait and do this over the summer? Yeah, probably.

“Not in the least,” I replied while tossing a baseball up and down idly. “Trust me, I have no idea how this is going to go. But I do think it’s the best choice we’ve got. I’ve got this power, both of their powers, and I need to learn how to use them. I need to get stronger.” 

“That’s what Manakel is for,” Avalon reminded me sharply, arms folded against her stomach. She didn’t like this idea at all, understandably. “You’re learning how to use that power from him.”

“And I still will be,” I pointed out. “That’s why he’s coming with me.” That had been one of the agreements we made with Wukong. I was bringing several of my ghosts along, including Manakel so he could continue to instruct me with the whole Necromancy stuff. 

Giving an audible sigh, Avalon took my hand and pulled me closer, putting her other hand on my shoulder. “Listen to me. When you do this, you have to be careful. Yeah, you’ll be able to call for help through Tabbris or one of the ghosts, but this guy is more dangerous than anything we’ve gone up against. I don’t think any of us could get there in time to stop him if it’s an emergency.” Her voice cracked a little bit as she was speaking. “I think you’re right about him not wanting to hurt you or anything. But if he changes his mind, if he decides it’d be better to have some other Heretic take that power, or something like that, he just… watch yourself, Felicity.” 

“What she said.” Shiori’s voice was quiet as she leaned against the nearby wall, staring at me almost forlornly. “If this guy could just walk right out of that special prison like it wasn’t even there, I don’t think there’s much he can’t do.”

Yeah, one of the first things we had done when we got back here was check on the status of Ehn in Gehenna. And sure enough, they had informed us that the man was simply gone. No one knew how he disappeared, or at least they claimed they didn’t. But he wasn’t there. Obviously, Wukong knew where to find him, but he wasn’t going to tell those people. Nor were they likely to be able to re-capture him if they tried. Something told me neither of them would be going back to that prison ever again unless they personally chose to. Actually, I didn’t think either of them had ever been there without choosing to be. That ‘prison’ was more like a free relaxing hotel for people like them. 

“Which means if anyone can help me get strong enough to actually stop the Fomorians, and participate in that himself, it’s this guy,” I pointed out gently. “I don’t want to leave, guys, I swear. You know I don’t. But this whole situation is more important than just what any of us want. If I can help stop those monsters, I have to try.” 

We didn’t talk about that anymore, not right then anyway. We didn’t have time to dwell on something that wasn’t going to change. No matter how hard it was to leave them like this, even temporarily, I had to do this. Instead, the three of us discussed how we were going to stay in contact as best as we could, and how I was going to let them know things had gone wrong if it came down to it. Between our plans and those my mother and the other adults were cooking up, I was going to end up with over a dozen failsafes when it came to sending for help. And, if we were lucky, maybe one or two would actually work. 

That might have been a bit pessimistic, of course. But hey, I’d rather go above and beyond with so many options and assume only one or two would work, than settle for only having a couple and having end up not being able to get through at all. 

More importantly, at least as far as my sanity went, we just hung out. The three of us talked, played some games, watched a movie, we just relaxed and enjoyed our time together. All while I tried not to think about the fact that it would be a long time before we did this again, once I headed off to train with Ehn. I couldn’t dwell on that. I just had to enjoy what I could get. 

To that end, I turned to face both of them and caught one of each of their hands with my own. “Look, guys, this is basically like I’m going away to camp for a while. I’m going to be back before you know it, and you better have done your parts, okay? I mean, if I’ve got to miss all the excitement around finding Gaia, waking up Arthur, and all that, you better experience it yourselves so you can tell me all about it.” I left out the fact that we also needed both of them just in case the Ehn thing went wrong and he refused to let me leave. We were all thinking it, there was no need to actually say it out loud. 

Avalon squeezed my hand, meeting my gaze. “You’re right, we’ll do everything we need to do back here while you’re busy.” Her free hand moved to poke me in the forehead. “But you be careful. Yeah, we have our emergency stuff, but you know he’s probably too dangerous for that to work if he really wants to stop it.”

Shiori’s head bobbed up and down quickly. “We know why you have to do this, and that it’s a good idea. Or at least the best idea we’ve got, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Be careful, and keep telling us everything that’s going on, okay?”  

I promised to do so, before we went back to talking about other things. Happier things. After a few hours together like that, I spent a couple more alone with each of them in turn. First Avalon, then Shiori. Tomorrow was going to be the big group party with all my friends and anyone else who wanted to come. My last day, before leaving, would be spent mostly with my family. This, right now, was time alone with my girlfriends. 

And I was sure as hell going to enjoy every last minute of it. 


The next day, as promised, was my group farewell party. Which I honestly thought was a bit weird, since I hadn’t spent all that much time around school lately anyway, but still. It was more of an excuse to hang out with all of my friends together for most of the day. I heard all about stuff like how they had rescued Harrison Fredericks and captured one of Kushiel’s Olympian children, the one with the explosive teleportation. Aureus, the gold girl. Apparently she still wasn’t the least bit happy about being here, even after several people, including Abigail, had tried to talk to her. She was pretty violent about the whole situation, so they were mostly leaving her alone for the time being. 

So that was yet another thing I was going to have to let other people deal with while I was gone. By the time I got back, she would probably either be staying willingly, or have left already. Whatever happened, all I could do was wish the others luck. From the sound of things, they were going to need it. 

Kushiel, the Rebellion itself, Gaia, Arthur, all of these things might just end up being resolved by the time I was done with Ehn. Assuming I survived the training he had in mind. Either way, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Fortunately, in some ways, I was probably going to be too busy to think too much about that.

Besides, now wasn’t the time to think about that stuff. Instead, I was eating cake while playing a bit of doubles table tennis, with Columbus on my side and Sands and Sarah on the other. The four of us were chatting about–of all things, the first day we’d met over a year and a half earlier. Throughout the rest of this large rec room we had appropriated for the next few hours, my other friends and family were playing games, watching movies, talking, just… hanging out. People kept coming by to talk to me about anything that came to mind, or just to wish me luck with Ehn. I was doing my best to split my attention and give everyone a chance to talk. Fortunately, it seemed like this whole thing was more of an excuse to hang out in general than it was specifically about me. Thank God. I really didn’t think I could handle being the center of attention for three days straight. 

“I thought I was going to pass out while we were waiting for you to show up at the lighthouse, Flick,” Columbus was informing me. “Seriously, Shiori and me, we uhh, we spent a long time talking about how we probably didn’t belong there, how they were totally going to tell us they made a mistake and send us home. Before we actually went to the island, we were waiting for them to show up with the Men In Black neuralyzer thing. Then when we actually got there, I was just… I felt like I was gonna throw up. When they took so long to come meet us, I thought ‘picking up another student’ was an excuse.” 

“You thought they were having another meeting about whether they should kick you out anyway, and really they were voting about whether to let me in to begin with,” I replied with a snort. “Can you imagine how different everything would’ve been if one more Committee member voted no so Gaia couldn’t break the tie?” 

Sands caught the ping pong ball between two fingers in mid-bounce, examining it critically. “Everything would be a hell of a lot worse, because we wouldn’t know the truth.” She frowned, looking at me. “I’m serious, Flick. Stuff may be dangerous and hard now, but I’d rather have dangerous and hard things to do than be someone who would have killed as many innocent people as those bastards wanted. I know it was hard for me to believe you at first, and maybe back when this whole thing first started, I kind of thought it would’ve been better if you hadn’t said anything. But I was stupid. I wouldn’t change this back to the way it was for anything. I don’t want to be the person they wanted to turn me into.” 

“You’re afraid they’ll erase everyone’s memories again like they did with the first rebellion, aren’t you?” Columbus noted. 

Sarah spoke up. “They won’t. They can’t. Not without warning.” 

“Yeah, what she said,” I agreed. “Remember, we’ve got eyes on the Committee too. In more than one way. If they started moving along those lines, we’d get enough warning to stop them.” 

Bouncing the ball a couple times between her palm and the table, Sands nodded slowly. “Yeah, I know. But still. I have dreams sometimes about forgetting, about the sort of person I’d be if they wiped my memory and made me–” She visibly cringed then, dropping the ball before turning to embrace her sister, who was waiting for that. The two of them hugged one another. 

Looking over at Columbus, I offered a shrug. “You gotta help take care of them while I’m gone, you know?” 

“I’ll do my best to fill in,” he agreed with a small smirk. “But I don’t think I look that good in a blonde wig.” 

“Eh, you could pull it off.” That was Tristan, who showed up with Koren, both of them also eating cake from small paper plates. “But I know a guy who could totally grow your hair out and color it instead, if you prefer.” As he said that, the boy reached over to put his hand on the top of Koren’s head, making her hair extend another few inches before turning light blonde. Apparently he had another power I wasn’t aware of. 

Koren, swatting his hand away, used a couple fingers to pull her hair up and grimaced. “You better change it back. I don’t wanna be blonde.” 

Grinning, Tristan did so, also shortening it a few inches higher than it had been before, at her request. “See? I’ve got a strong career as a stylist ahead of me if the rest of this doesn’t work out.” 

“And we’re all so relieved for that,” I informed him with a small smile, looking back and forth through not only them, but the rest of the people who had come for this party. My friends knew what they were doing. They would be okay while I was gone. I just had to trust that, and focus on learning everything I could from Ehn. After all, it wasn’t every day that someone gave you the opportunity to learn from a Dragon-Heretic so you could become powerful enough to stop an entire species of genocidal monsters from destroying the universe. 

At least, I really hoped that wasn’t an everyday occurrence. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For a moment after the monkey man said those words, I just stood there and stared at him in disbelief. Which, to be fair, was the same thing Tabbris, Jophiel, and Elisabet were doing as well. It was obvious that none of us quite knew what to say or do in response to that little revelation. The two adults may have been calculating how much of a chance we stood against him if it came down to it. Honestly, I kind of doubted their odds even if Elisabet had still possessed her Committee powers. The man was incalculably strong. His words bounced around in my head before I abruptly found myself snapping a confused and taken aback, “You work for Ehn?” 

It was the man’s turn to stare at me, which he did for a few long seconds before abruptly bursting out laughing. His guffaws filled the small grove, and he actually put a hand against a tree to steady himself briefly. There were practically tears in his eyes. “Oh, they said you were amusing, but I had no idea. Working for him, that’s amazing. You have to tell me more funny jokes like that as soon as you come back.” He was still grinning with amusement, wiping one hand across his face before adding, “No, no, no, of course not. He asked very politely for a favor. And he convinced me that you are a very interesting person who gets into the most amazing situations.” As he said that, the man literally booped my nose with his finger, that tail of his patting my head excitedly. “And I’ve got to say, he was right about that. It’s been a long time since I had this much fun. I can’t even imagine how much more I’ll have when people think I’m you.”

Elizabet stepped in then, not quite moving between us but at least stepping next to me. “Ahem, I believe there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. Miss Chambers here hasn’t been asked to go anywhere with this… Ehn. He certainly hasn’t extended any invitation to be considered.”

Sun chuckled again, still very clearly amused by the whole situation. “Oh, that’s because I’m the invitation. Or the inviter. Or the–” He frowned, trying to think of the word. “Never mind. I’m here to tell you what’s going on, now that there isn’t anything else of immediate importance.” 

“And just what is going on?” That was my mother, coming out of the nearby trees to stand on the other side of me. She gave Jophiel a short nod, making me realize the other woman had contacted her the second this whole situation started. And boy did that ever help show just how much had changed in the time since I had first met the Seosten woman. 

Feeling Tabbris take my hand as she stepped in front of me, I looked down to see the younger blonde girl making sand float in front of her. We were still connected through that spell. She wasn’t actually sending it to attack Wukong or anything, of course. But it was responding to her emotions by swirling agitatedly through the air. I could just imagine how bad things would get if she did lash out, however, so I squeezed the hand she had taken before putting the other on her shoulder. Silently, I urged my little sister to stay calm. Wukong had already helped us this much. Without him, a hell of a lot more people on this world would have died. So beyond the fact that I didn’t think we could win a fight with him, I really didn’t want our relationship with the man to go bad. If we could navigate this situation without a fight, maybe he could help us later.

“Ah, mother of Felicity, of course,” Sun didn’t sound at all annoyed or upset by my mother’s arrival. “I was just about to suggest that she call for you, and her father. Oh, and those girls she enjoys the presence of. This is, of course, a very important moment.” 

Mom started to say something, but I could see the anger that flashed across her face, so I quickly spoke up first. “Hang on, what exactly do you think is supposed to happen now, Mr. Wukong? You said–I mean… Ehn wants what from me?”

The man slapped his forehead. “Oh, silly me, totally failing to explain properly. Right, no wonder you seem confused. Okay, let’s start from the top. My good friend Ehn is ready to train you.” 

“Train me?” I echoed, another wave of confusion washing over me. That was not the answer I’d expected, considering everything I’d heard about this Ehn guy. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? He’s Kwur’s boss, right? The insane plant guy we blew up. Isn’t Ehn pissed off about us beating one of his top lieutenants?” As soon as Wukong had said that bit about Ehn wanting to meet me, I’d assumed he was finally getting around to paying us back for that. Though even that didn’t seem to fit what I’d heard about him, so… yeah I was confused. 

Sun, however, informed us that not only was Ehn not upset about what had happened with Kwur, he had apparently been amused by it. But that apparently wasn’t what had convinced the man to have me come meet him. No, the cause of that was what had happened with Fossor. Specifically, the fact that I had killed him and taken his power. 

Yeah, that led to an even bigger conversation. During which Avalon and Shiori showed up. So they heard all about how Ehn had apparently planned to use Fossor’s power the same way Denuvus had so recently explained its intended use was when the people of this world had created their necromancy. He wanted to destroy the Fomorians once and for all. And to do that, he needed an incredibly powerful necromancer. It was why he’d allowed– no, made Fossor become as powerful as he was. It was all part of his plan. Thousands of years worth of growing that power, and making it stronger. Strong enough to do what Ehn wanted. 

Suffice to say, I had never come as close to wanting to punch Sun Wukong in the face as I did right then with that revelation. I didn’t, of course. Even as angry as I was at the thought that this man he was working with was responsible for everything that Fossor had done and become, I wasn’t quite that stupid. Besides, he was just the messenger. It was really Ehn I wanted to hit. But I was pretty confident that wouldn’t go any better than punching Wukong would. 

Avalon, standing right behind me, spoke up sharply. “So now that his plan for that piece of shit fell through, he wants to salvage it by abducting Flick?”

Sun blinked back and forth between all of us, clearly reading our defensive postures. Then he chuckled softly once again. “Oh no, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t an abduction. Think of it more like… wait, what was that term?” He took that pad of his out that was apparently some sort of translation dictionary or something and tapped his way through it for a moment. “Ah! Field trip. Think of it like a field trip! Ehn wants to teach and empower you. He wants to make you stronger. I mean, not as strong as me. That’d just be ridiculous.” He laughed at the very thought. “But strong enough. He wants to help you become as strong as you need to be to use that power of yours and stop those Fomorians for good.”

Mom shook her head. “Listen, thank you for everything you’ve done since you showed up here, truly. But we can help my daughter learn and grow into this power just fine without him.”

“Can you?” Despite his specific words, Sun’s voice didn’t seem mocking or anything. He was genuinely curious. “I had no idea you were capable of providing as much power and training as a Dragon-Bonded with thousands of years of growth and experience. You must be truly remarkable.”

Shiori spoke up quickly. “The point is, you’re not taking Flick. It doesn’t matter how strong he is, or how strong you are. You’re not taking her away from us.” She stood behind me as well, right next to Avalon.

Wukong tapped his computer pad thoughtfully for a moment. “Maybe I’m confused. Or I used the wrong term? Is a field trip supposed to be forever? I don’t think so. She won’t be leaving forever. Just for a little while to get stronger. You want her to be strong, don’t you?” He said it as though the very idea of anyone preventing someone from becoming stronger was completely incomprehensible. 

Before the others could say anything to that, I raised one hand from Tabbris’s shoulder. “Wait, just hold on. How exactly is Ehn planning to take me for a field trip when he’s locked up?”

Sun looked at me with a completely blank face. “I don’t understand the question. When he’s ready to take a trip, he’ll take a trip. His hosts will simply have to wait until he’s ready to come back.”

A dozen different possible responses floated through my mind at that, but it was my mother who spoke first. “Assuming he can leave his current accommodations, you expect me to allow you to simply walk off with my daughter to be trained by a man I know nothing about, and don’t trust at all? Oh, my mistake, I do know something about him. He allowed the creation and empowerment of the monster who destroyed literally billions, possibly trillions, of lives. Why would I simply sit still for that?”

Jophiel was the one who responded, rather than the man in question. “Ehn is one of the strongest beings in the universe. More importantly, he is capable of bestowing incredible strength on those he favors. If he truly intends to aid Felicity and gaining the strength she needs–”

“No!” That was Avalon, whirling to glare at the woman. “You tried to take Flick away before. Of course you’re all aboard this train!”

Elisabet shook her head while putting a hand on Jophiel’s arm. “It’s not like that. You’re right, we did not go about things properly when we first met. We do regret that, believe it or not. But stop and think for a moment. Think beyond your own personal feelings and wants. How many opportunities will Felicity have to be trained and empowered by someone as strong as a Dragon-bonded? Think of the dangers she has already faced and what awaits her.”

Jophiel spoke then, her voice clearly as calm and neutral as possible. “Think of the future. If some threat comes out and the worst happens to Felicity, would you be able to live with yourself knowing you prevented her from being given this sort of tutelage and strength?” Her gaze moved to me then. “If the worst were to happen to someone you love, would you be able to live with yourself knowing you denied yourself the opportunity?”

Oh boy, now I wanted to hit both of them. And I could tell the others around me did too. But they weren’t exactly wrong. That was the worst part. 

While we were processing that, Sun raised his hand. “Oh, a little correction. I won’t be walking away with her. I’ll be staying here. I’ll take her place.”

That definitely made me blink, forgetting myself for a moment. “I’m sorry, what the fuck? What do you mean you’ll be taking my place?”

He grinned at me. “That’s why you had to be an interesting person, of course. I could hardly fill in for someone who was boring. Ehn knows you care a lot about your family and friends. He said you wouldn’t want to leave here because they could get hurt while you were gone.” As he said that, the monkey man slapped his own forehead. “Oh, that’s why you were being so weird about it! Of course, I should’ve started with that. Ehn knows you wouldn’t just take off and leave your friends all helpless and unprotected without you! I’ll be here like this.” He snapped his fingers and suddenly shapeshifted into me. Well, a version of me with a monkey tail. Was it weird that I felt jealous about that? Now definitely wasn’t the time.

Sun continued while looking basically identical to me. “I’ll pose as you while you’re gone, and anything that tries to come for you or anyone you care about will just have to go through me first. Believe me, they won’t get very far.” He said that while adding a feral, dangerous smile that was weird coming from my face.

Okay, well, I’d thought that his first bit had been a lot to take in. Now he was saying that he would be here, or rather, back at the Fusion School pretending to be me? Granted, he was right that everyone I cared about would be a lot more safe if he was there. After seeing how dangerous he was, how easily he went through things as powerful as Revenants… they were even safer with him than with me. Aside from how distracted he could get sometimes, of course.

But still, it made me feel a little weird that he wanted to pose as me. On the plus side, at least he was being open about that whole thing? I could only imagine how badly this whole thing would’ve gone if he tried to send me away and then pretend to be me in front of the people I cared about. That… yeah, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Taking a breath, I looked at the man. “Could you walk away for a little bit and let us talk without you, please?” I tried to keep my voice as calm and reasonable as possible, holding both hands out for everyone to stay quiet when they immediately began to blurt their own opinions.

Sun gave me a cheerful nod and spun, walking away, still looking just like me aside from that tail that was flicking back and forth. Oh boy, that really didn’t help my confusion. 

As soon as he was out of sight, everyone started talking at once. My dad showed up and had to be filled in, which caused even more loud talking. Everyone had their own thoughts, largely revolving around how badly this whole thing could go. Jophiel and Elisabet, of course, were arguing in favor of it. They insisted that the potential benefits, especially if this actually led to me having what I needed to use my Necromancy to stop the Fomorians, completely outweighed the risks.

That led to a near shouting match, until I whistled sharply. When everyone looked at me, including my dad, I faltered a little. I knew what I needed to say, but it was almost impossible to actually do it. “You guys are right,” I managed. “This whole thing could be too dangerous. Maybe it’ll go wrong. Maybe Ehn’s lying about what he wants and all that. But just… stop and think like they did.” My hand gesture toward Jophiel and Elisabet. “If I really can get stronger, strong enough to stop the Fomorians I mean… forget all that stuff about how I could protect you guys, or what could happen to me or to you in the future. Think about all those people out there we don’t even know. Think about all the people the Fomorians are killing every single second of every single day. Think of all the worlds they’re washing over. Think about what happened to the Meregan world, or what will happen to Earth if they get to come back. Nothing is being solved while we hide on Earth and let that war go on. And I don’t think it’s one the Seosten can win in the long run if things just go on the way they are. Fossor spent thousands of years making this power stronger. I have his and Manakel’s, but I’m still nowhere near as strong as either of them were on their own. And yeah, I’m getting stronger with it. But not fast enough. If he can really help with that, even a little bit, how could I really live with myself if I said no? Think about all the innocent people the Fomorians are annihilating just while we stand here talking about it.” 

I swallowed hard, my voice cracking a little. “Believe me, I don’t want to do this. But how can I say no and then think about everyone who is going to die while I’m just living my life? Do I want to go back to the Fusion School with you and just live that life? Yeah, of course. But it wouldn’t be right. I’d spend every second thinking about the people who were dying because I was selfish.”

Dad took a step my way, then another. He went down to one knee in front of me, his hand taking mine. “What if he doesn’t want to let you come back?” He asked in a voice that shook from emotion.

Squeezing his hand, I stared into my father’s eyes and answered, “That’s why you guys need to find Gaia. And then wake up Arthur.” They reacted with surprise while I looked over to Avalon. “You have to wake him up, bring him back, whatever. If anyone can help deal with Ehn in case this goes badly, it’s him. He’s the only chance we have.”

There was a bit more talking after that. Okay, a lot more talking. We argued back-and-forth while I was embraced tightly by everyone in turn. But we all knew the choice had been made. No one had to like it that much. I certainly didn’t. Yet there was no question that it was the right choice. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to get stronger, not when we all knew what kind of threats were coming. I just had to hope that the others could actually get Gaia and Arthur so we might stand a chance if this went wrong.

In the end, I called Sun back and told him that I would accept the ‘invitation’ but he had to wait three days. I wasn’t going to leave for however long this took without talking to everyone else I cared about. I was going back to the Fusion School first, and I was going to have a real going away party.

Three days. I had that long to say my temporary goodbyes to everyone at the school. 

Then it would be time for me to visit and learn from one of the most dangerous and powerful people in the universe, just so I could become strong enough to do something about the creatures who wanted to annihilate every bit of life in the universe. 

Yeah, this was going to be one hell of a going away party. 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Hey people! The next non-canon for this story, continuing the bit about friendly neighborhood Charmeine, is available for everyone right here

Letting go of Herbie shouldn’t really have mattered nearly as much as it did. He was just a rock, after all. But he was a rock that I’d had with me from the very moment this whole crazy life had really started. He came with me through that portal and had been at my side basically ever since. In a way, he was a connection to my old life, as well as a constant companion through this one. Having that rock in my pocket this whole time had been comforting in a way I couldn’t actually explain. Sure, he was just a rock, but he mattered. He would always matter, regardless of what changed or how much I grew. He had helped take Fossor’s power away, and helped us kill him in the end. And, of course, that was why he would always matter to these people as much as he mattered to me. Herbie was the reason they were all still alive. He deserved to be here with them, an artifact from Earth for these people to have. I knew he’d take care of them, and that they would do the same for him. If he was going to be safe anywhere in the universe that wasn’t my pocket, it was here on this world. This was the right thing to do. 

Besides, this just gave me even more reason to come back and visit this place a lot, as if I needed that. So, after allowing the priest to take Herbie to find a special case to put him in where he would be safe for everyone to see and admire, I opened and shut my hand a couple times, feeling the loss of his comforting weight. Boy, this really was harder than it should have been.

Avalon stepped beside me, her voice serious. “Are you going to be okay?”  

The question made me chuckle softly despite myself, raising my gaze to meet hers. “We’ve come a long way from you calling me a freak for having a pet rock, haven’t we?” 

She snorted in return. “We’ve come a long way, period,” the girl reminded me. Her hand rose to gently cup my face. “And I’m glad I’ve been able to do it with you.” 

We kissed briefly before I cleared my throat and turned back to the others. “I know, right now we’ve got bigger things to think about than a rock I’ve been carrying around in my pocket. I’ll be fine. It’s all good. He’ll have a whole planet worshiping him now. That’s what he deserves.” 

From there, we all went over more details about what was going to happen with the defense of this planet. The whole Revenant thing, which still sounded crazy but really was their best chance at having enough time to develop more defenses of their own, had more specifics that had to be ironed out. I couldn’t contribute very much to that, but I could help teach their budding necromancers to sense and control the Revenants when they had to. 

And boy didn’t that seem really weird. I was the one giving necromancy lessons? There was something really wrong with that, especially considering where my power had come from. Or maybe that made it perfect. I had helped kill Fossor, and now his power was being put to use helping to protect the world he had spent so long grinding under his heel. 

Another couple weeks passed like that, as I helped teach those Necromancers while the others put the rest of the planetary defensive system into place. Now it was Friday, March 15th. Which meant we officially had about two and a half months left before the Seosten leadership decided whether to extend the truce or not. I just had to hope that everything we had done so far, between defeating Fossor to clear him off this world so he wasn’t a threat anymore, to showing them how the anti-possession spell could be potentially modified to help them with their pregnancy problem, to even introducing them to a whole new world full of their unmodified people that could also help with that, would be enough to convince them to hold off on the whole invasion thing. Or that something else would happen before we reached the time limit. 

Oh, and maybe the fact that I was supposed to help stop the Fomorians with my Necromancy once I was strong enough. Maybe that would help too. 

In any case, I really hadn’t planned on being away from the school for this long, not in the slightest. But there wasn’t much choice. These people deserved to learn everything we could teach them, and that sort of thing didn’t come quickly. As it was, this was a pretty big crash course. I even brought Brom Bones in to help, since he knew more than I did when it came to a lot of this stuff. 

There were about twenty Necromancy students, of all ages and from all over the world. Twenty people might have seemed like a lot at first glance, but when drawn from the entire world’s population… yeah. Fossor really had done everything he could to stomp out every possible rival to his own power. Besides, they all had almost no understanding of their own gift, since it had been far too dangerous to actually practice with. But still, they were ready and eager to learn how to help protect their planet. 

That whole time, I kept wondering when I was going to get answers from Sun Wukong about why he was here and what he had come to see me for. But he simply insisted the time would come for that. Then he disappeared. For about a week and a half, the man was gone entirely. I thought he’d gotten bored and disappeared possibly forever and that I would never get answers about what he wanted, but he turned up finally, simply saying that he’d had something else to take care of. Which, from what I’d seen, could’ve meant anything from fate of the universe stuff, or he could’ve simply seen a shiny bird and followed it around for several days.

I also checked in on Robin, Stasia, and Judas through that time. It had turned out that Rasputin lived far out in the wilderness, in an area that wasn’t very well mapped or anything and was apparently pretty dangerous. They had to find a guide who could take them out there, which took awhile. But finally, they had gotten everything they needed and set out for that. I tried to offer help, yet they insisted I could do more good back here and that I was already busy enough as it was. They could handle it just fine. Plus, they had everything they needed to call for a quick pickup from the Jitterbug once they were finished out there. 

Between that and the fact that Brom Bones was willing to stay here and keep teaching these people as much as they needed, it was finally time for the rest of us to head home. For now, at least. Obviously, we would be back to visit later. That much we had promised repeatedly. But we really needed to get back to the Fusion School after all this time. It felt like I had spent more days doing homework and study sheets to catch up with classes then I had spent within actual classes this year. There was just so much to do. But still, I didn’t mind that much. Not when spending time out here on this world meant that these people had a better understanding of what was going on and how to protect themselves.

Of course, these people were grateful, to say the least. They kept bringing various trinkets as gifts. I wanted to tell them to keep everything, but I also didn’t want to be rude. So I made it a point to accept simple stuff, the sort of gifts that wouldn’t really affect them in the long run. I would keep everything they gave me safe, as a reminder of just how much we had managed to help these people by getting rid of that monster.

Shiori, Avalon, and I were loading some bags up with those trinkets at the moment, standing in the upper room of one of the houses that had been given over to our use. I had been against the idea of using one of the houses belonging to these people, but they made it clear that the house wasn’t in use anymore anyway. Not at the moment. We had stopped Fossor from killing every last person on this planet to save himself, but he had still killed many of them.

With that uncomfortable and sad thought running through my mind, I continued to talk with the other two about what we were going to do once we got back. It felt strange, knowing how much more still needed to be done back on Earth while also getting closure on this world. All of the ghosts who wanted to be let go here already had been. Those who were staying to help out would be led by Rahanvael, all the rest had simply disappeared.

Shaking my head at how much quieter the haunted mansion was going to be without about half of its occupants, I looked toward Avalon. “So, were the Starburst good?” 

She raised an eyebrow at me. “You mean the ones the Wandering Woman gave us after taking Aylen and me completely by surprise so she could tell us how to save Gaia by finding one of Chadwick’s descendants and a Reaper who might actually help?” 

“Don’t forget Dare,” I pointed out. “You need someone with the blood of Gaia, a helpful Reaper, and Dare.” 

“But she’s someone we already have,” Shiori put in. “And I guess the Reaper is too? Wait, you talked to Gwen or Michael about that, right? Didn’t you say they were supposed to know someone like that?”

“That’s what the Wandering Woman said,” Avalon agreed. “Or Sawyer as she called herself, I guess.” She frowned thoughtfully. “And yeah, I talked to Gwen, actually. She uhh, she was pretty curious about Sawyer and how she could possibly know about all that. But she did say they know a Reaper who could help. Jones, just like Sawyer said. So now I guess all we need to do is find that descendent. There’s just one major problem with that.” 

“Let me guess,” I replied, “all the descendants that we know about are being watched by the loyalists, so it’s impossible to get near them without calling down a huge fight.” 

Avalon sighed, folding her arms as she confirmed, “Pretty much. It’s not even that they have any idea about the descendants being used to find Gaia. It’s just that the Seosten have always been paranoid that one of them could be the way Arthur gets woken up, so they taught enough of the hardliners that it would be a really bad thing. These people, the ones who know anything about it at all, have been taught for like a thousand years that if any of Arthur’s blood relatives are disturbed, it could cause a massive calamity.”

“They didn’t want anyone on either side getting ideas about making a super Heretic by bringing in someone related to Arthur,” I muttered while looking out the nearby window at the bustling city. The people out there were putting actual laser turrets on several of the various roofs throughout the city, thanks to a delivery from Athena’s people. Just in case any invaders got close enough to teleport directly onto the planet and bypass the Revenant defenses, we wanted them to have another way of defending themselves long enough for help to arrive. Those turrets would be given to every major city on the planet, and they would be taught how to use them. 

Beyond that, Athena had brought in experts to teach these people how to fight and use other weapons, magic, all of it. Obviously, Fossor had made certain not to let them do anything of the sort while he was in charge. He wanted them to be completely and utterly helpless without him.

After watching that for a moment, I spoke again. “So I guess we have to find a descendant who isn’t already known to them?”

“That’s the idea,” Avalon confirmed. “But you know, that’s gonna take awhile. More time wasted.” She gave a heavy sigh. “We’re so close to getting Gaia out of there, but it’s like there’s always one more thing in the way.” 

Before I could say anything, Shiori put a hand on the other girl’s back. “Don’t worry, if anyone can find a descendant who isn’t under constant watch, it’s Professor Dare. She wants to save Gaia too. She’ll find someone we can get to. Or find a way to get to one of the others safely.”

Valley gave a short nod. “I know she will. She’s already got some leads. I just want it to be done right now.” Giving a rueful chuckle, she offered a shrug. “I guess I’m impatient.” 

“You deserve to be,” I pointed out. “You’ve already waited more than long enough.” 

“I’m not worried about how long I’ve been waiting,” the girl informed me. “I’m worried about how long she’s been waiting. Who knows how bad they’re treating her or what they’ve told her. They’ve probably been lying to her about how this rebellion is going. I’m pretty sure she knows better than to believe anything they say, but still. It’s just… we have to find her.” 

“We do. There’s a lot riding on finding Gaia,” I agreed. Which was the moment my phone changed with a notification. Glancing at it, I coughed. “Oh, it’s that time again.”

Shiori looked at me curiously. “You have to do that today too? Even though we’re leaving in an hour?”

“It’s training,” Avalon pointed out. “Of course she has to do it every day.” 

I offered a helpless shrug. “It’s the deal I made with them. You know, since they’ve been waiting to do this for so long and everything kept interrupting. Being here on this world to do all this other stuff was the best chance to really work on it without something else getting in the way. Besides, we’ve got it now. They just want to make sure. It’s kind of like a final exam, I guess. Even though they’re going to keep working with us after this. It’s just… we’ll be going back to Earth and everyone knows there’ll be more interruptions. They want to see for themselves that we can do it if we need to.” Pausing, I amended, “When we need to.” 

So, promising to be back in a little bit so we could attend the goodbye ceremony the people of this place had planned, I left the room, made my way downstairs and out of the building and walked through the city. The people, most of whom were rebuilding or working with Athena’s people to set up those defenses, kept waving and greeting me, calling out various things as I returned their cheerful words. Eventually, I made it out of the place, past the walls, and toward a by-now familiar grove on the outskirts. It was really pretty there, with a small stream running through grass that was a very deep purple, surrounded by tall orange trees. 

Tabbris was already there, sitting cross-legged on the ground as she examined the magical fishbowl on her lap. With the permission from people of this world, she had added a few specimens from here to get along with her other fish. And of course, she had named all of them. Seeing that, I smiled and spoke up. “How are the new neighbors doing?” 

She, in turn, grinned while popping to her feet and leaving her fishbowl sitting there for the moment. “They’re really good! I think Sasquatch and Lipadip are dating.” 

“Well at least they got over that rough first meeting,” I noted. “So have you seen–” 

“Good,” another familiar voice announced, “you’re here.” It was Jophiel, emerging through a portal right by the water. Elisabet was right behind her. The latter was still dressing basically like she had on the Meregan world when she had been lost there for so long, with leathers and a much more… militaristic style than the soft silks and all that she had worn the year before. 

“Yup,” I confirmed, giving a casual salute. “We both made it, right on time. So are we gonna do this?” 

“There’s little left for us to teach as far as making the initial connection,” Elisabet reminded me. “We can help you learn to hold it for longer, or to be more efficient. But first, let us see you do it without any input from us. From the top, with blank slates, if you would.” 

So, Tabbris and I exchanged looks before each of us pulled a small metal plate from our pockets along with a field engraver. We had others we had already set up for this, but these two wanted to see us do it from the top. Together, we drew on the metal plates, each about half the size of a smartphone. There were much smaller engravement plates that could be used, but this particular spell was pretty elaborate and needed more room. 

It took us about fifteen minutes, down from our previous record of eighteen, to get the enchantment done. Obviously, in a real fight, we would simply use the previously prepared ones. But still, it was nice to know that we were getting faster with this. Over the past weeks of working, we’d gotten pretty good at it. 

Once the enchantment plates were finished, we each placed them against one another’s arms and spoke our individual command words. There was a bright flash and a rush of power. I saw my own golden aura as well as Tabbris’s own, which was an indigo color. They flared up and merged into one another, twisting around before fading from sight. 

“Good,” Jophiel noted with a small, satisfied smile. “Can you do it?” She asked Tabbris. 

The younger girl, in turn, scrunched her nose up in concentration. A second later, she extended her hand sharply with a small baggie that had simply appeared there. The baggie opened, sending a cloud of sand into the air. Sand which froze after coming into view, then began to spin in a circle. A moment later, it dropped to the ground, and she leaned back before spitting some thick resin that way to cover the sand. Finally, Tabbris dropped the bag, then recalled it right back to her hand. 

She was using my powers. That was what we had been working with Jophiel and Elisabet on. It was the same spell they used to share powers. We’d had a few lessons over the year, now and then. But the past couple weeks had been a real bootcamp for learning to do it. We couldn’t both use the same power at the same time, since there was only one real ‘copy’ of the power. But still, the fact that Tabbris could use any of my powers if she really needed to, it was… big. 

“And you?” Elisabet prompted with a look my way. 

Taking a breath, I focused. A moment later, flickering angelic energy wings appeared on my back. I wasn’t very good with them yet, nowhere near as good as even Tabbris was. And I couldn’t hold them for long. They only appeared for a couple seconds before vanishing once more. It was hard to use her Archangel wings. But I could feel the immense power they had even for that very brief time.

“Oooh!” Another voice cheerfully announced. “Now that’s interesting.” 

It was Sun Wukong. Blinking that way, I managed, “Oh uh, hey. Interesting?” 

The monkey man gave me a broad smile. “Sure, it’ll be great to show off to the others once you get there.” 

The way he said that made me blink. “Wait, once I get where? What others? What do you mean? Are you coming with us back to the Fusion School? I could show you around the place if you want.” 

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure the others can do all that,” he informed me. “You’ll be far too busy on your own trip.

“After all, Ehn’s been waiting a long time to meet you.” 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, that was a pretty big thing. Obviously, Rahanvael was incredibly overwhelmed by the idea that these people wanted to name their homeworld, her homeworld, after her. She still felt some degree of guilt for everything that happened to them, considering it was at the hands of her own brother. They, and we, continued to try to convince her that she held no blame for that, but I had no idea how much she actually believed it. It was going to take time for the wounds to heal. Fortunately, they would have that time. And so would she. Though she had planned to allow herself to dissipate now that he was gone, and she had been returned to her home to see it was safe, those plans changed once the people of this world made it clear that they needed her. She was the only link to the past they had. And, despite the fact they didn’t want to go back to being the exact same society, they still wanted to know everything they could about what they had been before him.

So, she was going to stick around and tell them all the history she could, teach them the culture this world had had before her brother destroyed it all. He had done his level best to completely annihilate and erase everything about their world, so it made poetic sense for her to be the one who helped bring knowledge of that culture and history back. Thankfully, they had several budding necromancers of their own, who hadn’t been completely wiped out, those who had successfully hidden from Fossor before he could kill them. They didn’t know much, and could barely use their power, but it was enough for them to maintain Rahan and any of my other ghosts who wanted to stay. 

Some didn’t, of course. A lot of my ghosts, who had been unwilling servants of Fossor, just wanted to move on by now, and I absolutely couldn’t blame them for that. They were done with everything and were at least happy that they were given the opportunity to go out on their own terms, without serving as his fodder any longer.

So, I released them, allowing the ones who wanted to fade away. Which they did, after saying their goodbyes. Some wanted to make a big spectacle out of it and have a party, others simply wanted to be alone and disappear without any fuss. I did my best to cater to whatever they wanted, and in the end, about half of the ghosts I had inherited from Fossor were gone. The others were back at the haunted mansion, save for a few here, like Seth and Grover. And, I reminded myself, Chas, Emily, Jason, and Kaleigh. Those four were determined to stick around for now as well, wanting to make themselves useful, even after being killed by the Revenants. Part of me wanted to tell them they’d done more than enough already, but who was I to try to talk them out of helping? If the situation was reversed, I knew I’d want to stick around as a ghost and do anything I could.

With all that running through my mind, it was no wonder the next couple days seemed to fly by. We were taking care of even more groundwork in helping the people here be ready to take care of themselves, at least as much as they could. Athena had been working on something to that end alongside their leaders and Chayyiel, who had arrived recently. They were all cooking up something I was sure was going to be pretty impressive. I had no idea what it was, but given the people involved, and how determined they seemed to be about protecting this world from anyone else who might try to make them suffer again, it was bound to be incredible. 

At the moment, I was eating breakfast in the galley of the ship the others had brought here. Avalon and Shiori were with me as we pored over something quite a bit different than what we have been focused on for so long. Namely, math homework. Even with everything that had happened, or perhaps especially with everything that happened, Abigail and my mother were both firm that we had to keep doing our homework and stay caught up, or at least, as caught up as possible. So, we were multitasking, studying while eating breakfast. Assuming the whole universe didn’t explode, we would be going back to Earth eventually, and something told me showing up back there without all these worksheets done would be even more hazardous for our health than facing down a horde of Revenants. 

Besides, to be honest, I really didn’t mind sitting here with my girls like this. It was about as peaceful as things ever got, considering everything we always had on our plates. The people of this world were finally getting the break they deserved, and it felt appropriate that we have our own while we were sitting here. Maybe some would have quibbled about doing math homework being a break, but I was pretty sure those people had never been through the sort of things that we had.

Either way, I was just about to finish my last bite, as well as the final problem on the current sheet I’d been working on, when Tabbris came running into the room. She was going so fast and seemed so excited, that she nearly fell flat on her face before my hand snapped out to catch her arm. “Hey there, partner, what’s the rush? I promise they’ve still got plenty of pancakes back there. I totally didn’t eat all of them.” 

“Though she gave it her best shot,” Avalon put in.

Shiori, for her part, shook her head with a clearly put-on beleaguered sigh. “Honestly, how can either of us ever even hope to measure up to how much Flick loves pancakes? It’s positively impossible.”

Feeling my face turned pink, I stabbed my fork into the last of the delicious treat they were teasing me about, and pointedly shoved it in my mouth, swallowing before sticking my tongue out at them. Finally, I looked at my little sister and asked, “Is everything okay?” Yes, maybe it was a little pessimistic to think that she had come running in here like that because something was wrong, but then again, look at both my life, and what this world had already been through. With those two things combined, something else showing up to make a nuisance of itself wouldn’t have surprised me at all. Annoyed me, but not surprised me. 

Thankfully, the younger girl was smiling, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a bad thing. She basically hopped up and down excitedly, while announcing, “Come on, come on, you’ve got to come out and see it! They made it perfect and– well, you’ve gotta see!”

Pushing myself up before picking up the plate and my books, I shrugged at the other two. “You heard her, there’s something we’ve gotta see.”

So, we all put our stuff away before following Tabbris out of the galley. On our way to the exit of the ship we ran into Persephone, who stopped short. “Oh hello Flick!” she chirped happily, almost bouncing. “I was just coming to find you.” 

“Yeah,” I replied with a smile while rubbing the top of Tabbris’s head. “I hear there’s something big we’re supposed to see.” 

Persephone blinked a couple times before turning a broad smile that way. “Ooooh, I totally didn’t know you were spying on our defense preparations. You must’ve been very sneaky indeed. That’s very good to hear! Being stealthy like a wombat is very useful.”

“Wombat?” Avalon questioned. 

I shrugged that way. “We tried to tell her she means ninja, but for some reason she really likes the wombat angle.” 

Persephone grinned. “It is a fun word to say. Wombat wombat wombat. Wombatman would be much better than Batman.”

Tabbris, for her part, shook her head quickly. “Uh, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about. I was gonna show them what the people in the village made.” 

“Yes,” Athena agreed while walking up to join us, “it’s very impressive. I think you’ll particularly enjoy it,” she informed me before adding, “but first, I’d like you to come with us to see something else.” 

Putting up a hand, I looked at Tabbris. “How important is your thing?” There was no way I was going to tell her to wait if time was vital. 

But, her head just shook. “It can wait. Trust me, it’s gonna be around for a long time.” 

Well, that was curious, as was the little giggle she added after that. But I was going to have to wait to see what she was on about. Instead, I nodded to Athena, only then realizing that I had actually held up my hand to tell her to wait. How would the me from even a year earlier have reacted to that?

I shook off that thought, while our little group followed her and Persephone off the ship and through a waiting portal to end up on a small hill about a mile from the village we had first made contact with. Several of the priests from the village were here, holding portable tablets with ongoing video conferences with elders from the other villages. We had made sure they would always be able to communicate with one another that way. 

As we came through the portal, one of the priests cheerfully called a greeting. These people were smiling so much. Which I couldn’t really blame them for at all. Honestly, I was just amazed they weren’t more downtrodden and afraid. But I supposed that once your society had gone through literally thousands of years worth of oppression, once it was gone, you probably tended to embrace every ounce of freedom you had. Fossor was the sole source of their anguish and slavery, and now that he was completely gone, they were able to smile like that. It made me wonder how I would feel and act in that situation, but of course I had absolutely no frame of reference for it.

Athena greeted them as well before speaking up. “Now that you’re all here and the other elders have tuned in, I think it is time to show you how we believe your planet will defend itself from anyone who wishes to take your freedom away again.” 

One of the priests who was here physically raised his hand. “I do not mean to speak out of turn,” he started hesitantly, “but with the power you have displayed, I am afraid we have no real chance at such defense should any who have similar power come here. You say that we have descended from common ancestors, but our people are mere peshcu–ahh small fur-covered animals who fit in the palm of our hand and can use no tools. We are peshcu compared to your people. Any who wish to put us back under their thumb would face little consequence without… without aid.” 

We all knew what he was saying. They needed us to stay and help protect them. Athena knew as well and offered the man a reassuring smile. “I promise, you will have all the protection you need. Beginning with this.” She held out what looked like an ordinary computer pad like the ones they were holding. Tapping the screen, she showed them and us a view of various planets, including this one, all taken from space. “We’ve put a series of small satellites throughout this solar system, cloaked of course. They will alert you of any approaching ships, and allow you to communicate with them. But more than that, they will allow you to deploy your defenses.” 

“What defenses?” one of the priests on one of the other tablets asked plaintively. “We have no skyboats to deploy, nor weapons like you have.” 

“You will soon,” Athena informed him. “But right now, I speak of your other defenses. The Revenants we’ve told you about. The system we’ve created will allow you to use those Revenants in defense of your world. Whenever enemy ships arrive, you may communicate with them through this system, and should they mean you harm, any three of your elders need only input their personal codes that we will give them, and this system will allow you to transport any number of Revenants from the vault they are imprisoned within, over to any ship you target. You may also draw them back to the vault with the same controls once the enemy is no longer a threat.” 

Okay, yeah, that made me do a double-take. They were turning the Revenants into what amounted to guard dogs? Really nasty, horrific, murdering monster guard dogs. That seemed incredibly dangerous. But on the other hand, now that I thought about it, what other choice did they have? It was absolutely true that this world didn’t have any ships or anything that could protect it, and we certainly couldn’t spare the forces it would take to hold the place. Sure, the Seosten leadership had so far agreed to play nice with their common ancestors from what Athena and Sariel had said after communicating with them, but they weren’t the only game in town. And they could always change their minds, or pretend not to notice a ‘rogue faction’ coming here to put who they would see as their own people under their control. 

Hell, they were already sending scientists to see how biologically compatible these people were with them, considering the common ancestor thing. The Seosten we knew had altered themselves so much over the millennia that they might not be able to have viable children, but if they could… yeah, that would be a huge thing. And if enough of the Seosten leadership decided they wanted to be in complete control of this sudden new genetic stock without giving them any say in the matter, it could go poorly. 

Maybe that was a harsh assumption, but look at everything else they had done for so long. They had absolutely earned me believing they were capable of the worst I could think of. 

But still, there was a much more important thing for me to focus on at this point. Which was–

“Are you people crazy?!” That was Shiori, blurting the words out before flushing a bit as everyone turned to her, even the faces of the other priests on the tablet screens. “Sorry, I mean, what are you talking about? Do um, do you really think using the Revenants like that is a good idea? What if your system breaks down and they lose control of them or something? I thought you guys were going to find a way to get rid of those things, not try to use them like this.” 

Chayyiel was the one who answered, offering a small smile. “Usually, you’d be right. That would be the best choice. But this planet has incredibly limited options when it comes to protecting itself. They prefer to be free, not fall under someone else’s control so soon after being released from the last monster. So we need to work with what they have. And the only real defense that’s possible are those Revenants. The system for keeping them contained is actually the most advanced I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying a lot. The people who put it together knew what they were doing. It only required a few changes and upgrades to make this possible.” 

With a nod, Athena agreed, “With other Revenants, you would be correct, Miss Shiori. These ones, however, were specifically created and… tuned, for lack of a better word, over the course of centuries to be controlled and contained by the crystal within that chamber, and the magics surrounding it. While I would not go nearly so far as to say that using it is completely safe with absolutely no risks, it would be more dangerous to allow invaders to come here while this planet has no defenses at all.” 

“Besides,” Persephone piped up, “they’re born to be Necromancers here. Give them a little time and training, and they’ll have an army that can control the Revenants themselves.” After a pause, she added, “Okay, maybe a lot of time and a lot of training. But still!” 

There was a bit more talking after that about how this all thing was going to go. They had to work out the specifics a bit better, but the system they had come up with was admittedly pretty solid, even if the idea did freak me out a bit. The plus side was that most people who might come after the planet would probably be dissuaded simply by the threat of having an army of Revenants teleported onto their ships. And the ones who weren’t, the Fomorians, well… if the Fomorians were attacking the planet, pulling out literally every possible stop by sending those Revenants after them was their only chance to survive long enough for help to show up.

Yeah, that was a depressing thought. But still, at least they would have some form of defense, dangerous as it might have been. These people deserved to feel some measure of safety while they were putting their society back together. 

Eventually, we got around to going to see what Tabbris wanted to show us. And the priests (the ones who were physically present) came as well, clearly just as excited as she was. Which raised my curiosity even more. We were led down into the city, meeting up with both my parents along the way. Soon, we were winding our way through the streets until we reached the grounds of Fossor’s burned and broken tower. Right there, in the middle of the courtyard, I saw what Tabbris had been so eager for us to see. 

“It’s a statue?” Dad started, staring at the structure. There was a five-foot high, ten-foot wide pedestal. Perched atop it was a mostly-round figure carved from something like marble. It looked like a large marble boulder, fifteen-feet wide and about ten feet tall, aside from the part that looked like a sword, which extended up another few feet and was held out toward the sky triumphantly. Two large eyes had been carved into the front. And it had a small hat tilted slightly off to one side. 

“It’s… Herbie!” I blurted, staring that way. “They made a Herbie statue!” From my pocket, I produced the little guy, holding him up to see. “Look, buddy. You’re famous!” 

Tuenfa, the main priest guy, spoke up. “Our people wished to create a statue to the ones who truly liberated us.” He gestured to my mother and me. “But the Lady Joselyn suggested that doing so might be… awkward for them. For all of you. This was settled upon as a compromise. The… rock responsible for stripping the monster’s power away, thus sparing the lives of all who remained on this world. Without that rock, we would all be dead, for he would have sacrificed every one of us before allowing himself to be killed. The rock is the only reason we are alive and free today. So, we honor it. As we honor all of you. We know you cannot stay forever, much as we might long for that. But in this way, with this statue, we will at least have some small connection to our saviors.” 

Swallowing hard, I stared at the statue. It really was incredible. All of this for a simple rock I had picked up on the very first day that I’d become involved in this life. The rock had just been laying there on the ground, waiting for me to pick it up. I threw it through that first portal leading to Crossroads. In many ways, Herbie had preceded me into this life. My little rock buddy had been there this whole time, right by my side, nestled in my pocket. He’d had so many spells put on him, had been responsible for so much. And as they said, he was the one who had stripped Fossor’s connection to this world, and arguably saved their entire population and possibly all of us as well. He was the reason Fossor was dead, and that we were alive. 

Holding my little rock up, I stared at it. “What do you think, buddy?” My voice cracked just a little. “Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right. But are you sure you can handle it? What, me? There you go, only thinking about others again. You’re such a brave little rock.” 

“Flick?” Dad started uncertainly. 

“Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not crazy,” I informed him. “I just wanted to do that one more time.” Swallowing again, I looked toward Tuenfa. “Herbie means a lot to me. But he obviously means a lot to you too. We can’t stay here forever, so maybe he can stay instead. If you keep him as a relic or whatever, put him somewhere safe. Take care of him.” 

Tuenfa met my gaze seriously. “The rock is responsible for our entire civilization’s freedom and survival. It–he would be treated as a holy relic for the rest of time.” 

Letting out a long breath, I nodded. “Okay then. Right. Then he can stay with you. 

“I guess it’s time to say goodbye to Herbie.”  

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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We didn’t send everyone into the town immediately at the same time, of course. That just felt like a good way to freak these people out even more than they were probably already going to be. We had no idea how they were going to react, what kind of knowledge of other planets they even had, or any of it. So we had to take this slowly and not run in there with the entire small army we had.

Speaking of small army, the people who had come with Avalon and Dad on the ship were Wyatt, Athena, Sariel, Hisao, Deveron, Larissa, and, surprisingly, Jophiel and Elisabet. Those last two had seemed to take just enough time to ensure that Tabbris and I were okay before moving aside and staying silent. Aside, that was, from the quiet voice I’d heard projected into my head from one of them, informing me that when I had a few minutes, we needed to talk.

Whatever they wanted, it would have to wait for later. For now, we had to go meet the people of this planet. Or at least one city-worth of them to start out. To that end, we settled on my mother, Nevada, Avalon, Shiori, and me going in first. My dad wanted to go, but we convinced him to stay with the others. And Tabbris was going to spend time with her mother, who had been worried about her, to put it mildly. So she would simply be keeping in contact through our connection.

The five of us didn’t teleport into the middle of the village or anything dramatic like that. Instead, we simply walked there, and took our time in the process. We just walked slowly, giving the people in the town time to notice us. Which also gave us time to talk a bit more with Avalon about everything that had happened, while also discussing what we were going to do and say once we got there and started introducing ourselves.

One new thing I did find out, alongside Avalon, was that Denuvus hadn’t exactly agreed to go into that portable storage thing without some form of assurance that she would be safe. Apparently while I had been busy, back when I noticed Mom, Nevada, and her talking together, they had been coming to an arrangement. With Erin watching intently through her video connection to Nevada, Mom had allowed Denuvus to use her power strictly to ensure she would be taken safely back to Earth and let out in a private area she could leave from without issue. Erin had been ready to jettison the entire treasure cargo if Denuvus tried adding any extra orders, but she had apparently stuck to her agreement. Even then, the idea that Mom had been controlled that way, despite agreeing to it, still made me feel queasy. 

We approached the first gate, making our way down an old, cracked stone road. We could see two men up on the wall, staring at us with what looked like some form of binoculars. We didn’t hurry our pace or anything, though we did wave at them, trying to appear as friendly as possible.

The gate creaked loudly open as we drew closer, revealing a man in what looked like priest or monk-type clothing, holding a gnarled walking stick. He had long graying hair, and was flanked by several more men, all of them younger and quite strapping. They held an assortment of makeshift weapons. Spears that looked like they had only just been cobbled together recently, or hammers that were clearly originally intended as tools. One person held a scythe. 

“Strangers!” the old man called once we were close enough, “we’ve not seen your style of clothing before! What settlement have you come from?!” 

“We can understand them?” I managed, blinking a bit in surprise. 

“With this,” Nevada noted, holding up a small silver ball in one hand. It was giving off a soft hum. “You’re hearing them in English, and they’ll hear us in their language.” 

As soon as they saw the orb in her hand, the armed men shouted something about stopping as they put themselves in front of their elder. Mom held a hand out for the rest of us to wait, then walked a few steps closer. As she did, the old man poked his head out from behind the ones protecting him, and his eyes widened. Immediately, he pushed the big guy in front of him aside with surprising strength considering his apparent age, and came forward as quickly as he could while leaning heavily on his walking stick. The man dropped to his knees in front of Mom and started to lean down to kiss her feet. But she dropped to her knees as well, putting both hands on his shoulders to stop him. “Perricks, no. You don’t need to do that. You know better. You know he’s gone.” 

The old man looked up, tears staining his wrinkled cheeks. “You are mistaken, my lady. I greet you as such not in fear of his return, but in joy that he shall not. And in the knowledge that you played some part in that. I thought you dead in the attempt. That you are not is… joyous news indeed. You being here, it means it was you after all. You killed the beast, just as you threatened him you would do all those times.”

“Not me,” Mom corrected, both of them still kneeling in front of each other while the armed men lingering by the gate murmured amongst themselves. She turned, gesturing for me to approach. “I helped. But in the end, it was my daughter who ended him.” 

Oh boy, now everyone was looking at me. Forcing down the nerves that were threatening to overwhelm me, I took a breath before walking forward. “All I did was get the last hit,” I managed. “Mom did most of the work. She’s the one who deserves the credit. I was just… in the right place at the right time.” 

Despite me saying that, the old man rose to his feet, catching my hands with both of his before squeezing them. He was still crying, barely able to get the words out. “You have given us the greatest gift anyone ever could.” His hands were still squeezing mine tightly as he met my gaze. “Thank you. Thank you both. Thank… all of you.” He was looking past me, his eyes on the others. “He was too strong for only two to defeat. We saw how many of our people he was taking for that battle. It must have taken all of you.”

“All of us and many more besides,” Mom confirmed, her voice breaking slightly as she continued. “But we’re sorry about the people you lost while we were trying to kill him. We should have found a way to cut him off from this world sooner.” 

That time, it was one of the younger men who spoke up, taking a few steps forward while shaking his head. “No. We all would gladly have died if it would mean the end of him.” He held his heavy blacksmith-like hammer in one hand, raising it to point our way. “So long as a few of our children could survive, our world would go on without his taint. That would have been worth every other loss.” His words were met with agreement not only from the old man and the others behind him, but from the men up on the wall as well, who were still watching. 

The old man shook his head as though to clear it. “What was I thinking? Introductions are in order, but I believe everyone will wish to meet you. Come, come.” He turned and went back past my mother toward the gate while speaking loudly. “We’ll gather the rest of the town in front of the temple. It… will be nice to use the stage for something wonderful. And better for everyone’s questions to be answered at once.”

The rest of us exchanged looks before following after him. He was right, it was better to only have to tell the story once. Or once per town. I still wasn’t sure how we were going to deal with all that. One step at a time.

We walked through the first gate, and the younger men who had to come out to see what we were doing fell in behind us. Together, Mom, Avalon, Shiori, Nevada, and I looked around. There was about thirty feet between one wall and the second, but it stretched all the way around the city. And from here, I could see that the few guys who had been with the one apparently called Perricks had been far from alone. There were at least a hundred more men of similar age, all holding makeshift weapons, standing in the space between the walls. They had been ready and waiting to come charging out if we ended up being a threat after all. Honestly, I was seriously impressed that they were that prepared to fight after having suffered under Fossor for so long. It said a lot about the sort of people they were, and made me even more livid about what that piece of shit had done to them for so long. 

Avalon apparently practically read my mind, because she spoke in a low voice as we approached the second gate. “The only sad part about that monster being dead already is that it’s impossible to kill him again, this time in front of all these people so they can spit on his corpse.” 

Her voice was tight with obvious emotion, and I took her hand to squeeze it. “Yeah,” I murmured, “I don’t think they’d be the only ones spitting. But we don’t have to worry about that. He’s dead, that’s what matters. It’s time to let all these people move on. That’s what we’re here for.”

Passing through the second gate, we found ourselves in the renaissance-era city. The road split into three paths here, two leading out and around the outside edge with buildings on either side, while the third went straight up the middle. That last one was about three times as wide as the others, with several large fountains with broken statues lining the middle of it every hundred feet or so. After a moment, I realized that the statues had once been of Fossor himself. The people here had taken hammers or whatever else they could to them, shattering the once-grand sculptures into tiny pieces that left only bits of the stand, legs, and sometimes arms behind. Given enough time, I was pretty sure they would break the rest of them. 

Then there were all the people. They were filling every available bit of space they could down in this area, staring at us. I saw men, women, little kids poking their heads out from behind their parents or sitting on their shoulders, even teenagers sitting on rooftops so they could see better. Hundreds of them. No, thousands. They didn’t fill the entire city, of course. Their population wasn’t quite that large. But they had all crowded down into this one area so they could watch us arrive. A few waved, most of them were crying, one or two called out questions until Perricks held his fist up, silencing all of them. His voice was just loud enough to be heard by even those on the roofs, now that they had become quiet. “We will go to the temple. They will answer your questions there. Let the words speaking the truth of his death mark the last spoken on the grounds of his sanctuary before that ground is wiped clean and birthed anew.” 

Wow, this guy knew how to say the right thing. Everyone cleared a path, and we all walked through the city, flanked by its people on all sides on our way to what turned out to be a very broken and burned temple. They had clearly done a number on the place, which was even more evident up close. At one time, this had obviously been a massive, seriously imposing tower. Now very little of it was left and I could smell the burnt remains from the fire that had destroyed most of it. But the courtyard was still intact, and that was where we all went. Perricks led us up to the center, where a couple more priests were waiting, along with a thin girl with light brown hair cut short. She looked like she might blow away in a stiff breeze, and couldn’t have been older than fourteen or fifteen. Why she was up there with the priests, I had no idea. At the moment, her gaze was locked on me. Not quite distrusting or anything, but I could definitely sense some hesitation and uncertainty. Which was fair, considering everything. I was a little surprised the rest of these people weren’t more suspicious, honestly. But then, they apparently knew my mother. And she had a way of making an impression, to say the least. 

“Joselyn, daughter, and friends,” Perricks started, nodding to the others on the stage at the center of this courtyard, “These are our surviving elders: Tuuenfa, Larifke, Norshi, and Dars.” 

The largest of those four, the one called Tuuenfa, raised a hand to indicate the slender girl standing a bit to the side. “It is our warmest pleasure to meet you all. And this is Beilela, the One Who Said No.” He made that announcement with pride, his tone making it clear that the words were a title of some sort. 

Beilela, for her part, visibly blushed while shaking her head. “Stop, I didn’t do anything. You know I didn’t do anything, especially now.” She looked at us again. “The others have been saying it was these people. They stopped him.” There was clear curiosity in her voice. But also that same very subtle undercurrent of suspicion. Belatedly, I realized why. She was grateful that we had killed Fossor, but now that we were here, there was a part of her that worried about us trying to pick up where he had left off. Of course she saw that as a possibility, after living under Fossor forever. Not only did her entire life amount to being subjugated by that piece of shit, but so did literally everyone else’s on this planet, going back thousands of years. 

“Why do you call her that?” Nevada asked curiously, stepping over next to Shiori. “Oh, sorry, we should introduce ourselves before we get into all that.” 

Perricks gave a quick nod, gesturing out to where the rest of the city’s population had gathered throughout the courtyard. “Please, for everyone. We would all like to know the full story. We have… no contact with the worlds beyond. We had thought generations would pass before we fully understood the truth. But you are here now. Please, anything you can tell us about his death would aid the stories we spread.” 

Mom took the lead, thankfully. She moved to the front of the stage and magnified her voice to be heard by everyone. Then she introduced herself and the rest of us. Not that she really needed to do the former, because as soon as they got a good look at her, I heard some of the people murmuring her name back and forth. They definitely remembered her. And I was certain they were going to remember the rest of us as well. Mom went through our names, gesturing to each of us in turn while saying that we had all been there at Fossor’s last stand. Yeah, that definitely got their attention.

What also got their attention was when Mom took me by the hand and had me move in front of her. She spoke as clearly as possible. “I told you that this is my daughter, Felicity. She came from myself and a man I love quite deeply. It was she who destroyed the monster in the end. Her blade killed him. He is gone forever because she ended him.” 

Oh, boy did that ever get their attention. Now everyone was staring right at me. No one was saying anything, no one was even moving. They were just staring for several long, incredibly quiet moments. I had no idea what they were thinking. It made me squirm a little bit uncertainly with my mother’s hands on my shoulders. “Um, is everything okay?” I finally managed. 

“They want to remember you,” the large priest, Tuuenfa, announced quietly. “We never want to forget the face of the one who delivered us from the darkness. They–we… owe you more than we can ever repay.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” I insisted. “You don’t owe any of us anything. They— he’s gone and you’re finally free. Don’t put yourself in debt like that to anyone else. Never again.” 

Before I knew what was happening, those last two words, ‘never again’ were repeated by first one, then several, then all of the people in the crowd. They repeated ‘never again’ several times, each stronger and more forceful than the next. It was enough to make me shiver a little from emotions, and I found myself whispering it along with them by the end. As did the others behind me. We all felt it, that rush of emotional power that made the words mean more than they had before. 

It was the girl, Beilela, who spoke up once everyone had gone silent once more. “How did you stop him from sacrificing all of us to save his own life? He wouldn’t have stopped on his own. The bells were calling for us, but then they stopped. They went silent. How… how did you save us from his power?” 

“Oh, that wasn’t me,” I quickly put in, reaching down into my pocket. With everyone staring, I came out with my familiar rock. “It was Herbie!” With that dramatic announcement, I held my little buddy up so they could all see his handsome self, with his googly eyes, hat, and incredible sword. “I’d like all of you to meet the true hero!” 

With that, I went on to explain what had happened, about how I had managed to use Fossor’s curse to cut him off from this world by getting him to stomp down on Herbie, a rock from Earth. 

The people took that in, all of them, staring at the handsome hero in my palm. They were looking at him with even more reference and awe. Gradually, several of them started to say his name. Then more. Soon, the entire crowd was chanting, “Herbie! Herbie! Herbie!” It got louder, filling the streets beyond the temple as it echoed back through the rest of the town. “Herbie! Herbie!” 

“Aww, see that, buddy?” I murmured with a smile while holding him aloft so they could all get a good look. 

“You’re finally getting the recognition you deserve.” 

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Greetings And Goodbyes 22-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Hey guys, there was a tie for the voting on what interlude to have next, so while our wonderful donators are voting to break that tie, here’s the first chapter of the new arc!

We dropped off Denuvus and Trice without any further issues. I had been expecting her to make more problems for us before it was over, but apparently she was content to play along for now. I still wasn’t sure how that whole thing with giving her access to cloning technology in order to bring her sister back was going to work out. But that was something to handle on another day. For now, we simply left them there and took the bodies of our dead back to the station before checking in. Of course, they were surprised to see us there, let alone hear the whole story about what had happened. 

They had also already sent out a group to go to Fossor’s home planet and help back when we first reported in from the asteroid base. And God did that feel like it had happened decades ago. Unfortunately, because they didn’t have the Jitterbug, we had gone through all that and they still weren’t at the other planet yet. My dad was on that ship, since he’d refused to stay behind when both Mom and me were in obvious danger. So, I was able to partially-recall over there to let them know the situation was back under control. He was relieved, to say the least. As was everyone else on the ship, including Avalon. But they were still going to meet us on the planet, since they were only a few hours out by that point. It’d be stupid for them to just turn around right then and come all the way back to Earth. 

Besides, we still had to deal with the fact that there was a secret chamber with a horde of Revenants locked up inside it. To that end, we dropped the Seosten tribals we had captured off at the station as well. We’d have to figure out what to do with them in the long run later, but at least while they were all the way over by Earth there was absolutely no way they could do anything to unleash those monsters again. Everything else could wait. Plus, the Seosten here really wanted to meet them. I had a feeling that was going to be a whole thing too. Hell, maybe it would contribute to convincing the Seraphs to extend the truce. If we showed them that there were still living descendants from the original Seosten, maybe they would even be able to use that in their attempts to find a solution to their population issue? That had to earn us a few points, right? 

We also left Miles and Royce there, so they could… be with their friends. With some help from Nevada, I filled up some crystal things with my own necromantic energy so the ghosts could feed off that for awhile, and Brom Bones promised to take care of them as well as the rest of my haunted mansion while I was gone. 

So, after taking a few minutes to deal with all that, and promising to see the others once they got to the planet, we took the Jitterbug back there. Finally, after that whole long ordeal, we were going to do what we had set out for in the first place. Namely, meet with the people who lived on that world, let them know the full story about what happened to the man who had oppressed them for so long, and see what we could do to help the world get back on track. 

As planned, we landed the Jitterbug near that city where Rasputin had last been seen, a place apparently called Peiys. It was kind of hard to believe we had gone through all that and Robin’s group still hadn’t been able to do the one thing they’d come with us for in the first place. Seriously, the fact that they had stuck with us for so long, and helped out as much as they had meant a lot. I was pretty sure–no, I was absolutely certain we would have been completely dead without them. By that point, I probably would have agreed to help them with anything they asked for.

It was the middle of the night when we landed the ship on a high ridge a couple miles from the town. We didn’t want to freak the people there out anymore than we were obviously already going to. So we would head in there after the sun came up and people had time to be awake and all that. Besides, most of us were utterly exhausted after that whole situation anyway, so having a few hours to sleep was probably a really good idea. Plus it would give the ship that Dad, Avalon, and the others were on time to catch up. 

In my case, I slept for just a little over two hours before I was fresh and ready. I ended up sitting on top of a tall boulder on the edge of the ridge so I could look out at the torch-based lights of the town in the distance. It obviously wasn’t very advanced, thanks to Fossor. The town was surrounded by two layers of stone walls, with what looked like the broken, burned remains of what had once been a massive tower. It was clear that the thing had stretched high into the sky at one point. But now there was barely anything left of it. Even then it was taller than any of the buildings around it, despite the fact that the thing looked like the people of the town had torn the whole thing apart as much as they could, and were using the base of what remained for… something. 

While I was sitting on that rock watching the distant town, Shiori climbed up and sat next to me. We stayed there in silence for a minute, simply putting our arms around one another. I was content like this. After everything that had happened, it was nice to simply sit here with one of my girls and relax. I didn’t feel rushed to say or do anything else besides just… enjoy her presence. 

Finally, I glanced sidelong at the other girl, and smiled a little. “It’s kind of nice, isn’t it?” 

She returned the smile. “You mean knowing that you’ll be able to tell all those people that they’re free now? Yeah, it’s nice. Plus, Senny doesn’t have to go hunt down the guy who erased her dad’s memories.” That smile twisted into a very slight frown. “Not since Fossor killed him.”

“Yeah, that part’s complicated,” I agreed with a sigh. “But at least he’s dead. They both are. Now we just have to get Gaia back so she can help with Tiras’s memories.” 

“I miss her,” Shiori murmured, squeezing herself closer to me with a visible flinch. “I really thought we would have found her by now. She would have found any of us.” 

Swallowing, I rubbed the other girl’s shoulder. “Yeah, she’s pretty amazing. But we’ll get her out of there, don’t worry. No one’s forgotten about her, especially not now. We’ll save her, no matter where they try to hide her from us. One way or another, we’re going to get Gaia back.” She was right though, it was taking so long for us to find the woman. Crossroads kept moving her around, kept changing her guards, and more, doing everything they could to make it impossible for us to mount a rescue. 

I was trying very hard not to think about the fact that my mother had been held prisoner for literal decades without the Rebellion being able to save her. This was different. It had to be different. We were going to find Gaia and get her out of there, somehow. 

Asenath came into view then, looking up at us before giving what was, for her, a little ten foot hop to land on the other side of Shiori. Her voice was quiet. “Sorry to interrupt. I… couldn’t help overhearing. Vampire senses.” Snorting a bit at her own words, she turned to her sister. “Flick’s right though. We’re going to find Gaia and get her away from those people. And not just because I need her. We all need her. She’s too important. Last time she had to try being subtle to keep her position at the school. But that’s over now. She belongs with the rebellion. She belongs with all of us.” 

“How’re you doing with all that?” I asked after a second of silence. “I mean, the whole thing with that guy who erased your dad’s memories already being dead.” 

She exhaled heavily. “I really wish he was still around to punch. Or stab a few dozen times. But I guess I’ll just have to put all my energy and anger toward the people who are keeping Gaia locked up instead.”  

Snorting a bit to myself, I nodded. “Well, they’re pretty good targets for it anyway. They’ve definitely earned the full power of your wrath.” 

“Speaking of power,” Shiori put in, shifting around to look at me more directly. “You really killed two of those Revenants back there?” She sounded awed, which made me blush. “What’d you get out of that? Come on, it’s gotta be something good, right?”

The question made me blink with realization. “Oh, shit, you’re right. We were just so busy in the middle of all that, and then the whole thing with… with Kaleigh, Jason, Chas, and Emily happened. I guess I just forgot about it. I don’t–I’m not sure, and since Tabs is asleep–”

“No, I’m not!” That was Tabbris herself, of course. She stood at the bottom of the boulder, looking up at us while clutching her magic fishbowl against her chest. “And I know what you got from those guys. I uhh, checked before, but I didn’t think it was the right time to… you know, talk about it.” 

Exchanging a look with the other two, I shrugged before pushing off the boulder and dropping to land next to my sister. “Well,” I announced, “in that case, maybe we should go over there out of the way, and talk about it? Come on, guys.” 

So, the four of us moved further away from the camp where the others were still sleeping and toward an open meadow about two hundred feet away. Once we were there, I looked back at Tabbris. “Okay, since I know the others are wondering, too, what did I end up getting from those Revenants?” It still felt weird to phrase it like that, like I was being irreverent or something. But still, there wasn’t really a better way. Besides, those things had killed our… well, not friends, I barely knew anything about them, another thing I felt guilty for. But our people. They killed our people, who didn’t deserve to die. The very least they could do was contribute something toward making sure I could stop as many others from dying as possible. It wouldn’t fix the situation, not by a long shot. But it was something.

“Okay, well,” Tabbris started as the rest of us looked to her expectantly, “the first thing is that you can umm… sort of, drain the health from corpses to make yourself stronger and tougher. Err, not the health. I mean like, you can touch a corpse and make it turn into dust and fall apart in exchange for getting one… umm, charge I guess? Yeah, one charge of a umm, corpse boost.” She grimaced while explaining that part. “Sorry, it’s really gross, but yeah. You can hold ten charges like that, but you can only activate one at a time. When you activate a charge, it uses up the energy from that, uh, corpse. And for the next… anywhere from one minute to ten minutes depending on how strong they were when they were alive, you’ll be three times as strong and as tough as you usually are. Or you can burn that entire, err, corpse-worth of energy at once and be ten times as strong and completely invulnerable to almost everything for just a few seconds.” 

I took a moment to absorb that. “Okay, so I touch dead bodies and turn them to dust in exchange for up to ten charges, which I can expend to get either a short-term boost to strength and all that, or an incredibly short, almost instantaneous burst of being invulnerable and staggeringly strong. That could be… yeah, useful. Gross and all that, but then again, I’m kinda getting used to that by now with the whole Necromancy thing. And I’m pretty sure we won’t lack for corpses.” 

“Yeah,” Shiori agreed, “besides, you’ll always be the cutest Necromancer I know.” 

Giggling despite herself, Tabbris’s head bobbed quickly. “Uh huh, and that’s not all. The second thing you got was umm, I think you’d call it Corpse-Disguise?” 

Senny arched an eyebrow, giving me a brief look. “Well that sounds interesting. And disturbing.” 

So, Tabbris explained. It turned out that I could also use any of the corpse charges I had to transform myself into a perfect physical copy of that person. A version that would actually look like they were alive, that was. I wouldn’t actually have any of their powers, but every single test that anyone could do besides that would show me as being that person. My voice would match, as would fingerprints, retinal scans, even magical signature tests. All of that would look completely identical to the living person. Assuming anyone we were trying to fool didn’t know the person in question was dead, I would be able to fool them. Assuming, of course, they didn’t insist I use that person’s powers, or know something they would know. Biologically speaking, it would be a perfect match. 

“Well,” I murmured after all that was explained, “that could actually be pretty useful when it comes to the whole getting Gaia out of prison thing. And probably any number of other things that could come up. I just need, uh, useful corpses I guess?” Saying that made me grimace. “Yup, still disturbing to think about.” 

“It’s more than that,” Tabbris put in. “See, while you’re in that other body, if you die–I mean take lethal damage, you’ll revert back to your own body, but you won’t be injured anymore. Any damage you take in the other body doesn’t transfer to your normal one. But it’s a one shot deal. Once you change yourself into them, the body’s used up for good. So if you change back, you can’t turn into that person again anymore. The corpse gets turned to dust when you make the charge, and you expend the charge to turn into them. So you only get one shot with each… body.” She paused before swallowing as she clutched the fish bowl tighter. “You’re right, it’s kinda creepy.” 

“But useful,” Senny noted with a thoughtful look my way. “Definitely very useful. Even if you just happen to be in a fight and you’re about to take a lethal hit, you could use up a charge to shift into one of your corpse-bodies first. And you already had the creepy thing going for you anyway, so this is just right up your alley.” 

“Gee thanks,” I retorted with a snort. “Glad to know I can be the creepy one for everyone else. But yeah, you’re right, both of those things sound really useful. Thanks, Tabs.” I added that part while reaching out to ruffle my little sister’s hair. “You’re pretty cool to have around sometimes, you know?” 

Giggling a little, she embraced me tightly. “Oh, and you also got a pretty big umm… well, not really a boost to your magical energy but a boost to your… efficiency. It takes less for you to do more.”

That was also going to be pretty useful, considering what we had learned about me supposedly being able to stop the Fomorians. Which I still wasn’t sure how I felt about. It was a lot of pressure, to say the least. But if I could stop them for good, I was going to, no matter what that took. If nothing else, it would be a way for Dare to reveal herself and actually be my grandmother publicly. If I had the chance to give that to her, to give her life and identity back, I was going to. But even without that, the Fomorians had to be stopped. I just still wasn’t sure how to adjust to the idea that I was supposed to be the one doing that.

After I was silent for a few seconds, thinking about all that, Shiori spoke up. “He still hasn’t told you exactly what he’s here for, has he?”

“Wukong?” I shook my head. “I tried to talk to him about it when we were coming back here, but he just said it would wait and there wasn’t a big hurry. He says he’ll talk to me about it after we’re done with the people here on this world, no matter how long that takes. Which is pretty nice, actually. I don’t think any of us could stop him if he was more demanding about whatever he wants. But I’d sure be really annoyed about it.”

The others agreed, and we ended up talking a lot more about everything. Before long, another couple hours had passed. The sun was starting to rise, as we heard something back in the camp and looked that way to see mom and Nevada standing in front of a portal. Dad was the first one through it, and he embraced my mother immediately. Then he came my way, and I met him with my own tight hug. Promising him I was okay, that we were both fine, I clung tightly for a few long seconds. Then I did the same with Avalon as she came through the portal as well. There were others behind her, but mostly I was focused on Valley. “God, I’m glad you guys are here.”

“Even if we missed the excitement?” she lightly teased, though I could still see the worry in her expression. As well as something else. I was pretty sure she had more she wanted to share with me and we hadn’t been able to talk about it so far. 

But whatever it was would apparently have to wait. For now, my head shook. “Oh, trust me. You may have missed the fighting, but I’m pretty sure there’s still going to be plenty of excitement.” Saying that, I looked out toward the town in the distance.

“But in this case, I think it’ll be the good kind of excitement.”

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The Storm 21-20 (Heretical Edge 2)

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The answer to my question, as it turned out, was that we had to put Chas, Emily, Kaleigh, and Jason somewhere safe so we could bring them back with us. We had the pocket greenhouse, of course, but all those villagers were still there and we still weren’t completely certain this entire crisis was over yet. Or, more to the point, we weren’t certain that they wouldn’t be able to restart it somehow if we let them out. And none of us wanted to risk leaving the bodies of our people in there with those people where they might just do… whatever. Even if they didn’t do anything to them, putting those four into the same secluded space as the people who were celebrating the event that led to their deaths would have been disgusting. 

Luckily, Nevada had her own extra storage spaces (besides the ones with all her weapons), so we put them there. I forced myself not to dwell too much on the feelings that swelled up inside me while we were doing that. There would be time to focus on all that stuff later. For now, we had to keep moving. 

But Miles and Royce couldn’t. They came back after we put the bodies away, and asked to go in there with them. They both wanted to sit and… and be with their teammates for awhile. I wasn’t sure how good of an idea it was to leave the two of them in there like that, but how could we refuse after everything that had happened? They deserved to have some time to say goodbye to their friends. We couldn’t deny them that, or make them wait. And we couldn’t ask them to help with anything else right now. They had all done more than enough. More than they should’ve had to. 

Of course, the whole ‘saying goodbye’ thing didn’t have to be as metaphorical as usual in this case. While everyone waited, I took a few minutes to focus on the room beyond that portal. I had to be incredibly careful because I didn’t want to accidentally bring back one of the Revenants or something, if that was even possible. Thankfully, it wasn’t actually hard to tell the difference between those malevolent creatures and the ones I was looking for. In time, I managed to summon the… the ghosts of all four of our lost people. I pulled all four of them up in front of us, which… yeah, caused a bit of a scene. Mom, for one, kept apologizing to them, as did the others. 

But we really needed to get out of here, and there would be time for discussing all of that soon enough. So, after a very brief interaction with everyone else as the four reacted to being brought out as ghosts, the four of them went into the box that Nevada had opened up alongside their two living teammates and friends. The six of them could take all the time they needed in that place. I’d given the four enough power to keep themselves visible and audible for awhile. Once they were set, Nevada closed it again after giving them a magic stone to use if they wanted to tell her they were ready to come out. But something told me that wouldn’t happen for awhile. 

Whatever happened next, at least we weren’t leaving the ghosts of those four stuck here in this awful place. They were coming back with us.

“What…” That single word came before I realized I didn’t know how to follow it up. I had to say something. I had to force words out, no matter how much I just wanted to scream inarticulate sounds until my throat gave out. Finally, I made myself focus on Wukong, who had been standing to the side through all of that. “What about the cities out there? How… how bad is it? How many did we lose?” I was already dreading the answer. Rahanvael’s people had been through thousands of years of Fossor, were freed for like… a couple months, and then had to deal with this

Sun, for his part, made a sharp harumphing sound as he stared at me in disbelief, his tail flicking back and forth agitatedly. “I beg your pardon? Lose? I think you must be confusing me with someone else, Miss Blondie. My name is Sun Wukong, and I do not lose. At worst, I have temporarily misplaced victories.”

Persephone, stepping over next to me, spoke up. “Felicity didn’t mean to offend you, your fuzziness. She’s just worried about all the people in those cities.”

“Indeed,” Mom agreed as she moved to my other side. “As strong as you obviously are…” She paused, hand finding my shoulder before she clearly slightly amended, “It must have been an incredible fight.” 

The Monkey man grinned broadly, all annoyance forgotten. “Truly spectacular indeed. I do hope someone managed to record it, I love watching myself. Do you have any idea how rare it is for me to get to stretch my legs like that?” His eyes found me once more. “Eh, and to answer your question, I delayed them until you pulled off your part. They never made it to the cities.” 

I exhaled in relief, but still couldn’t help but stare. “You delayed them. Like, you delayed all one thousand of them flying in different directions? I know you can duplicate yourself, but all your duplicates are that strong?”

“Why wouldn’t they be?” he demanded. “They’re made of me. Here’s the thing. I’m an infinity of–hold on.” Reaching into his pocket, he produced a small, handheld computer and tapped at it a couple times. “Earth… modern… no… aww they stopped saying that? What in Naraka is a fleek? Ah.” He put it away and cleared his throat. “Awesome. I’m an infinity of awesome, and you can’t divide that into smaller pieces. When you duplicate it, all you end up with is more awesome.”  

“So they’re okay,” I pressed, even as Rahanvael appeared a few feet away at a thought from me. “The cities haven’t been attacked and… and…” Before I knew what I was doing, I had already lunged that way and put both arms around him. My mother made a noise as though to stop me, but I was already embracing the man. “Thank you. Thank you for that, for… for…” Realizing where I was and what I was doing, my eyes widened. His shoulder fur was pressed against my nose, and I could feel the muscles throughout his body. Oh. Oh God. 

“Um. I’m kinda surprised you didn’t throw me to the ground for jumping at you like that,” I managed in a soft voice. “Sorry if it looked like I was attacking you.” 

His response was a laugh. A very amused laugh. “Haha! Excellent, I’m glad you’re not too traumatized to make jokes. But ah, maybe you should hold off on any more of them, out of respect.” Stepping back out of my grip, he continued to chuckle softly. “Attack me, that’s adorable. As though I can’t tell the difference.” 

“Uh, all that being… as it is,” Judas put in, “does this mean the situation is really over? I mean, those monsters are sealed up again, and as long as no more Revenants show up to let them out, they’ll stay that way. At least until someone finds a more permanent solution.” 

“Yes,” Denuvus agreed. “I, for one, would like to leave this place as soon as possible. You may all feel free to return here and do whatever you like with those who remain. I have had quite enough of this.” She offered a thin smile, her eyes finding me. “And I’m certain you’ve had enough of me. I accept your offer of a compromise in providing Seosten cloning technology in place of…” She glanced toward Nevada. “… her. But I would like some sort of assurance that you will actually follow through.” 

“Assurance?” Mom echoed, putting a hand out to stop me from responding. She took a step that way. “The only assurance you get is my promise that if you try anything like this again, if you try to take any of our people under your control like this, if you subvert our free will for your own ends, we will find out about it. And you’ll need that cloning technology to bring back more than your sister.” 

She let that hang for a moment before continuing. “What we will do is make a deal. We’ll do everything in our power to get the technology you need to pull that off, and even help you as much as can reasonably be expected. In exchange, you will give us every bit of information you have about Crossroads and Eden’s Garden. You have clearly picked up secrets over the years through the use of your power. Some of it may be useful. Once you get home, write it all down, every little bit of it. When you’re done, we’ll trade the cloning technology for the information. And just so you know, we have some of the best memory-alteration experts in the world on our side. So if you try to fuck us on this, we will find out.” 

Denuvus looked like she was considering all that, and trying to decide exactly how to react for several long seconds. Her gaze flicked over to Nevada (and Erin by extension through whatever the other girl was using to see what was going on from the ship) a couple times before she gave a heavy sigh. “Yes, very well, as you wish. I suppose I have made worse arrangements. Your offer is acceptable. Though I must stress that as dangerous as you believe it would be for me to interfere with your Rebellion, it would be equally as foolish for any of you to believe you can stand in the way of my goals.” 

Basically ignoring that, Mom turned to Asenath, Judas, Robin, and Stasia. “You all still had questions for her?” 

“I have only one question,” Senny replied, her eyes laser-focused on the woman in question. “Where are the memories that were stolen from my father? You said they were not destroyed.”

“I did,” Denuvus agreed. “And it is true, they still exist. The Vestil who stole them wished to be absolutely certain they were safe. He couldn’t risk them being destroyed and sending the contents back to their rightful owner. So, he hid the crystals containing your father’s memories inside of several incredibly valuable and dangerous artifacts before ensuring they would be found and put away in a safe location by someone he could trust not to use or share them.” 

“Who?” Senny pressed while very clearly trying not to snap at the woman for dragging it out. 

Denuvus’s smile reappeared. “Headmistress Gaia Sinclaire, of course. He knew those artifacts would be safe with her, and so would the items hidden within. If you wish to find where she put them, you’ll have to take it up with her. I’m sure that won’t be too much of a problem though.”

Gaia? Gaia had Tiras’s memories? How was that–but she wasn’t–but–oh. My mind was racing, understandably, as I looked back and forth between Denuvus and Asenath. 

Senny, for her part, absorbed that news, frowning intently while Shiori put a hand on her arm. Then she spoke in a low, contemplative voice. “In that case, I guess I have even more reason to help get her away from Crossroads. And if you’re lying–”

“Please, don’t insult me or yourself,” the other woman interrupted. “You know you can’t threaten me, and I have no reason to deceive you right now. That’s where they are. At least, as far as I know. If they were moved after that or something else happened, you’ll have to take that up with Sinclaire.”   

“And Rasputin?” That was Stasia, her voice betraying how done she was with this whole thing. “Where is he? And if you say he is locked up somewhere in a Crossroads vault…” 

Denuvus gave a soft chuckle, shaking her head. “I promise, assuming he still lives, you will find him on this world. In the village known as Peiys, there is a priest named Tuuenfa. He will know Rasputin’s current whereabouts.” 

Turning to my mother then, she added, “And with that, I believe I have more than maintained my side of the bargain. I don’t wish to be a broken record, but–” 

“Let’s get out of here.” Mom turned away from her, gesturing. “We’ll go outside the mountain, to flat ground. Denuvus, before Nevada tells Erin to bring the ship back, you will go into one of her private storage space boxes. Trice can hold onto it if that makes you more comfortable. Once you’re out of the way, we’ll get the ship back here and send Trice back to Earth with the box. We’ll drop him off, leave, and then Trice can let you out.” 

Denuvus snorted at that in disbelief. “Do you truly think I would agree to something like that? First, how do I know you won’t overpower Trice and throw the storage box into… oh, a volcano even more active than this one? And I still require the treasures I acquired from Fossor’s vault.” 

Nevada answered. “Trice can be your eyes and hands. You said you trust him, right?” She glanced that way, clearly wondering how far that extended. As was I, to be honest. “We’ll unload the treasure with him, before leaving so he can let you out. This is the deal.” Her voice was firm. “You’ve spent a lot of time and effort cultivating a reputation. Here’s the downside of it. No one trusts you not to try something if you get a chance.” 

“Uh, why don’t we just ask Mr. Wukong to… to…” As I was saying that, my eyes turned to where the monkey man was. Or where he had been. There was no one there, and I couldn’t see him anywhere. “Err, where’d he go?” 

Clearing her throat, Shiori pointed off in the distance. Turning that way, I saw the man in question crouching over some sort of bug (a real one, I assumed), having what appeared to be an animated argument with it. The only words I could catch from this distance involved something about the best dirt to dig a nest in or whatever. 

“That’s why,” Mom murmured. “I’d rather not depend on someone who gets distracted so easily when it comes to keeping an eye on someone as devious as Denuvus. And we still don’t know why he’s here or what it has to do with you.” She was clearly leaving unsaid the fact that if he had any sort of nefarious intentions, there wasn’t a lot we could do about it. Not to someone who could trounce fifteen Revenants all on his lonesome, then duplicate himself to take on a thousand of them. 

So, we headed out of the mountain lair or whatever it was. Thankfully, we didn’t have to walk the whole way. Mom created a portal that transported us several miles away, out to an open field. Obviously, Stasia’s group wanted to go straight to that village, but we promised we’d all head over there together soon enough. We still had to talk to these people and let them know what was going on and that they were one hundred percent safe from Fossor. And a few other things they deserved to know about. Which we might as well start doing in the same village the others were going to in their search for Rasputin. We owed them a lot more than that, and we were still their ride home anyway. So staying together was the right idea. 

Besides, we couldn’t be absolutely certain there wouldn’t be some other huge problem before this was over. Better to keep all of us in the same place so we could deal with it more easily.

Mom, Nevada, and Denuvus were still working out the last few details of how they were going to handle that whole situation. I tuned them out and focused on the monkey man. He had brought the bug with him and was talking to it in his palm a few feet away from the group. Exchanging a look with Shiori and Tabbris (she had stepped out of me by that point), I moved that way. “Um, is that another one of your duplicates? I mean, I know you like to turn into bugs.” 

“Huh?” he blinked at me, then looked down at the thing in his hand before making a face. “Of course it’s not me. Do you really think I’d turn into a bug this ugly?” Raising his hand, he whispered to the bug. “Don’t you start with me, you know I’m just making a point. And I am a much more handsome bug than you. Shush, you’re not involved in this conversation.”

Then he refocused on me once more. “But hey, that’s not the point! You’ve got as exciting of a life as he said you did. I’m really glad he wasn’t making all that up. I hate when people do that just to get my attention. It’s incredibly rude.” 

My mouth opened and shut a couple times as I tried to decide how to respond to that. A lot of things ran through my head at the words about my life being exciting, especially right now. In the end, there was only one thing that was relevant. “Who? You said he told you something about me, and earlier you said you were here to talk to me or something. Who sent you? Why are you even here? What do you–I mean, thank you. Thanks for all your help, really. You’re as amazing as the others keep saying. But what… what do you want from me?” I was trying to phrase it in a way that was as unlikely to offend him as possible. After everything we had been through, we really didn’t need an angry Sun Wukong. 

For a moment, it looked like the man was considering his response. His face scrunched up thoughtfully, and he put his fist under his chin. It looked a lot like the Thinker statue, except for the whole monkey thing. Finally, he shook his head. “It’s a pretty heavy thing for you to deal with, but it’s not an emergency. So we’ll just wait on that. All I can say is you’re not in any danger and neither are your friends. I’ll tell you more when you get through this whole situation. So don’t worry about it. I’ll be here when you get a minute. There’s plenty of time, as they say.” With that, he offered a wide smile.  

Okay, there was a lot I wanted to say to that. But he wasn’t wrong about the fact that I already had a lot going on. Specifically, in that very moment, Nevada opened the storage box and a clearly reluctant Denuvus stepped inside. She paused to say something to Trice, who gave a short nod before moving out of the way. 

Then she was safely put away. And not even thirty seconds after that, the Jitterbug appeared a couple hundred feet away. Which was pretty damn good aiming on Erin’s part considering she couldn’t have had much in the way of actual practice with the thing. Not to mention how relieved I felt at the sight of it. 

Erin herself appeared in the open hatch, descending the ramp at a run before embracing a waiting Nevada. The two of them had a quick, whispered conversation before she looked up and blanched a little. “I… sorry for hiding and basically tricking all of–” 

“No,” Mom interrupted. “After what happened, what you and Nevada accomplished, don’t apologize. You did the right thing. If you hadn’t been able to take the ship and force Denuvus to work with us…” She trailed off, exhaling. “It would have been worse.” Even as she said that, Mom was looking away, the expression on her face making it clear that she didn’t want to think about how much ‘worse’ it could have become than four of our people dying. Four innocent teenagers who had nothing to do with the situation and shouldn’t have been here in the first place. 

Finally, she straightened. “We’ll take them back. We’ll drop off Trice and Denuvus where they want to go, then take the… the bodies and their… their ghosts back to the station. Once they’re home, we’ll come back here and finish this. It’s time for the people of this world to get the good news.

“Gods know, someone deserves some.”

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The Storm 21-19 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – There was a commissioned interlude about several more historical/mythological figures posted yesterday! You can read that, if you haven’t yet, by clicking the previous chapter button above.

Right, so now we had a whole swarm of Revenants, who were incredibly pissed off about being yanked away from their fun time, and we were their new targets. Every last one of those thousand monsters were coming back here and they all wanted to destroy us. It was like we’d wished on a monkey’s paw to stop those things from killing everyone. 

And there was even a monkey around here somewhere who might have magical wish granting paws with a dark sense of humor for all I knew. 

Even before Shiori finished saying her previous words, I was grabbing her hand and pulling her as I started to run. Barely a few steps into it, with the deafening sound of those shrieking monsters filling the air, I transformed into my lion form, giving the other girl time to clamber on top of me before taking off at a full sprint.

What followed was chaotic, to say the least. We couldn’t go in a straight line, or anything close to that. These creatures were everywhere. I’d had no idea they could even turn intangible when they were in bodies, but here we were. They kept coming through the walls and ceiling before solidifying into their much more dangerous form. They blocked our escape route over and over again. There was no way we could take the time to fight any of them. Even if we managed to win, it would slow us down so much the rest would pile on, and rip us to pieces. None of us had the sort of power it would take to kill these things instantly, not now that Tabbris had used her wings. It would take too much time for those to regenerate. Time we very much didn’t have. 

So, instead of fighting, we kept running. With Shiori clinging tightly to my neck, I darted through every bit of open space I could find. They were closing in all around us as I leapt twelve feet in the air to pass through a five foot wide space between a cluster of the creatures, bounced right off one behind them,  and then slid almost ten feet just on my own momentum to pass directly under the next set who were floating down from the ceiling.

Unfortunately, from there, a larger group of already solid creatures was waiting, so I had to dart to the left, instead of continuing forward. Then I had to double back again to evade a semi circle of the monsters who were trying to close in from that side. But Shiori had noticed an opening, and she shouted it out while pointing, so I twisted back that way and ran.

It was like we were trying to run the winning touchdown for the Super Bowl, and had to evade not just the other team, but every single one of their fans too. Everywhere I turned, there was barely any space to move. The Revenants were cutting off every avenue. They were tightening the noose, making it impossible to get anywhere.

And just then, right when I was starting to think there was nowhere else to go, one of the monsters blocking our path suddenly lit up with flames as a familiar sword was driven through its back. The fire spread over the monster, while an identical set of flames appeared off in the distance. As it screamed, the creature was teleported from one side of flames to the other, revealing my mother standing there with her hand out. “Let’s go!”

I darted that way, and Mom grabbed me by my fur and Shiori by the arm, while activating some sort of power. Instantly, we vanished before reappearing outside the chamber. There was a glowing forcefield open over the portal inside the sarcophagus and everyone else was already there. Most of them were lying around, panting, heavily or nursing various wounds. Some of them pretty bad ones from the look of it. Four of Miles’ teammates were being tended to by Med-Robin. 

But we were out. We’d made it. We were safe, even if I could still sense those Revenants as clear as day. They had been all around me, hundreds of them closing in from all sides. It was like a…. stench that permeated every single one of my senses. We needed to get away from here to some fresh air so I could stop feeling them. 

As I was still taking that in, Trice moved to stand in front of that forcefield to look in at the monsters. What had once been an opaque portal was clear enough now to show the other room. “Yeah, they don’t look too happy,” he muttered before turning back with a smirk. “Well fuck them.” Now that I looked at him from the front, I could see a bloody wound in his side. He winced just a little, putting his hand over it, while another, quieter curse escaped him. 

Denuvus shook her head, as though still flummoxed as to why he had gone in after us. “Yes, and now we can all celebrate this wonderful victory. Preferably by calling that ship back so we can all leave.” Her words were pointed. “Unless you great and powerful saviors would like to tempt fate yet again.”

Ignoring her, I transformed back to my human self, in one of the Seosten bodysuits. A thought while I touched the pouch that had my clothes stored in it brought them out and clad me in them once more. Then I looked to my mother and Nevada.. “It really worked? They’re all in there?”

God, there had been so many of those damn things in there. But at least they were on the other side of that forcefield now. And really pissed off about that fact. Glancing that way, I could see some of them slamming up against it. They desperately wanted out. It made me shudder. How long was it going to be before I stopped sensing their power and malevolence? Right now it was so strong and overwhelming that the sensation made me want to vomit. 

Mom took a moment, breathing in and out a couple times before nodding. “So it would seem. Med, how are they doing?” She asked that while looking over to where the android was helping Chas, Jason, Emily, and Kaleigh. 

Without looking away from his work, Med replied, “We need to get them some help. They’ve been poisoned with something that’s too strong for me to do anything about. Whatever some of those creatures had on their claws, it’s pretty nasty, and like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Visibly rolling her eyes, Denuvus walked that way while reaching into her pocket. “Oh, please, as though I wouldn’t be prepared to handle a simple poisoning.” She took some sort of vial out and popped the cork before crouching next to them. The thing was filled with a thick purple fluid. She held it in front of Chas. “Drink this.”

His response was to turn his head away and snap a litany of curses and suggestions about what she could do with herself. Kaleigh and the others subsequently reacted, basically the same way. None of them trusted the woman to actually cure their poisoning, even though I could see the pain in their pale faces.

Sighing, Denuvus started, “My name—”

That was as far as she got before Miles suddenly had his bee weapon, shaped into a sword, pointed at her throat. Not that he probably would’ve been able to actually hurt her like that, but his point was made. Especially as the boy snarled, “Don’t.”

Looking up at him, her expression making it clear how little she cared about the blade at her throat, Denuvus tersely replied, “Well, if you truly don’t wish me to save your friends’ lives, so be it. I must say, however, I did not expect you to be so cold.”

The glare he shot her was matched by Royce, the other member of the team who was still standing. He had his own weapon pointed at her as well, a pair of what looked like sawed-off shotguns in one form that combined into a single full-length, quad-barreled gun with enormous stopping power. The combined form was what the boy was using right then as he spoke in a tight voice. “You don’t have to enslave people with your power just to get them to take some medicine.”

With that, he and Miles both lowered their weapons and moved to crouch in front of their injured teammates to have a quick, whispered conversation. Not wanting to eavesdrop on that given how personal it obviously was, I squeezed Shiori’s hand before pulling her into an embrace. “You did it,” I managed, my voice shaking a little from the high of what we had just been through. It simultaneously felt as though I could run a marathon and fall over at the same time. I just wanted this day to be over by now. But something told me we weren’t done with everything just yet. Unless that was just a product of me still being able to sense all those Revenants right on the other side of that forcefield. I wouldn’t be able to relax until we were safely away from this spot. 

As though in response to that thought, Judas spoke up. “I know we all want to celebrate right now, and that’s fine, but I still have a question. If we pulled all those monsters back, where’s that monkey guy? Something tells me he would already be here if there was no one left to fight. He doesn’t exactly seem slow, and he’d probably be complaining that we interrupted his fun. So, why isn’t he here?”

He had a point, of course. Monkey, or Sun, or whatever he wanted to be called, was far too fast for me to think it would take him this long to get here once the Revenants started leaving. And he obviously wouldn’t have any trouble finding us. Now that it had been pointed out, the fact that he wasn’t here already was starting to make me worry all over again. Between that and the lingering full-sense stench of the Revenants, I couldn’t–

Before consciously thinking about what I was doing, my body spun. It wasn’t Tabbris. It was me. But I was moving without actual thought. There was no time for that. This was all instinct, the second the truth occurred to me. My hand snapped out, throwing my power as hard as I could while my staff came up and around in my other hand. 

The power caught two of them. Two of the four Revenants who were possessing the ‘poisoned’ teammates, even as they were in mid-lunge toward Royce and Miles. My staff slammed off the third one with just enough force to stall it slightly. The fourth, however, was unhindered as it threw itself toward Royce with a scream.

At least, unhindered by me. But Persephone was there. She appeared in a flash of motion, catching the creature possessing the girl who had once been Emily Perry by the shoulders before throwing her backwards. Her other hand caught Chas’s body as well as the Revenant possessing him bounced off my staff and tried to attack again. 

That was the moment Rahanvael appeared. The ghost girl appeared in front of me, speaking quickly. “Flick, wait. One of the other ghosts saw— oh.”

“Yeah,” I managed, “let me guess. They saw these guys get… taken.” 

All four of the dead, Revenant-possessed teenage Heretics were giving those familiar and terrifying screams. They hadn’t been poisoned after all, at least not the way we thought. They were dead and possessed by Revenants. How that was possible, why we hadn’t noticed that they were dead and not just poisoned, I had no idea. And there wasn’t time to even think about it. Nor was there time to mourn. There were four very pissed off Revenants right in front of us.

On the other hand, now that I knew why I was sensing these things so strongly, I could do something about it. In the midst of their screaming, I gathered myself once more and shoved it outward. That time, all four stopped short. Maybe they were weaker somehow? Or maybe that was just how pissed off I was at that moment. Either way, all four Revenants froze just as the others were gearing up for a big fight.

Asenath looked back at me, the first to realize. “Flick?” 

“I can hold them,” I assured her, though my hands were shaking somewhat from the effort as they thrashed against my control.

Denuvus, who actually looked a little bit shaken, spoke up. “We have to kill them before she loses her grip.”

“No!” That was Royce, the boy throwing himself in front of her while his head shook. “There has to be a way to get those things out of them!”

Stasia shook her head, speaking softly. “It is too late. They must have died inside that chamber, and no one saw. Those creatures hitched a ride within them, and tried to wait for their moment.”

Med, looking and sounding stricken, nodded. “I am so sorry, but she’s right. Your friends were already killed. They must have been… creating false life signs, forcing the heart to beat. If they were alive, these monsters couldn’t access them.”

Miles put himself next to his only surviving teammate, his voice stammering. “B-but we can do something about it. Even if they were taken by these monsters, we can still help them! Persephone, she’s a Revenant, but she has control of herself! Why can’t they?”

Persephone, for her part, spoke very gently. “I do not know why I am the way I am, and I have found no others like me. But whatever the source of my difference, I am still a Revenant. I am not the Seosten I am possessing. And even if by some miracle you made these four be just like me, they would also simply be Revenants, not your friends.”

The other two tried to argue with that, but it was obvious that they knew she was right. They were just desperate to find a miracle. A miracle that wasn’t coming.

What did come, however, was Monkey. He crashed down through the ceiling, making everyone jump before landing smoothly and dusting himself off. “Well, that was fun, and I even got a pretty good scrap in before you had to go and take them away.” Looking up then, he suddenly smiled at the sight of the four frozen figures. “But you kept some for me?! You shouldn’t have.” With that, the man started to move that way while cracking his knuckles. “Hope you’re ready to let them go so we can have a sporting–” 

“No!” I jumped that way, putting my hands up. In the background, I could feel the Revenants try to take advantage of my sudden distraction. But Tabbris was still possessing me and she took over keeping them under control. “Stop, just–just wait! Those are their friends, they just–they…” I looked over my shoulder toward the stricken Miles and Royce, having no idea what to say. How was I supposed to say what… what had to happen? Fuck, how would I feel if it was… if it was my team, my friends? What if it was Columbus, Sean, Sands, and Sarah right there? Would I be able to stand by and let someone… someone kill them? Would it matter that they were already dead? How would I be handling that? 

Obviously, I couldn’t have stopped the man if he just kept going. But to my relief, he paused and tilted his head before a look of understanding crossed his face. “Ah, I see.” That was all he said, but at least he didn’t march through me to get to them. 

Mom, seeing that he had at least stopped for the moment, turned back to focus on Miles and Royce. Her voice was soft. “Boys, I… am so very sorry. You should walk away, go down the tunnel a little bit while we…. while we take care of this. Then you can come back and see them when they aren’t… when they aren’t possessed.” 

“While you take care of it?” Miles shot back, his voice rising almost hysterically. 

Before he could say anything else, however, Royce put a hand on his arm. “It’s not her fault.” He turned then, his eyes narrowing into a glare straight at Denuvus. “It’s hers. She brought us here. And then she refused to go in there and help.” His voice had turned cold and dangerous, making it clear just how much he wanted to take this whole thing out on the woman who had used her power to drag all of them to this planet in the first place. 

I had no idea what I could possibly do to help the situation, but I did know that I didn’t want these two to be here when the others had to do something about the Revenants inside those bodies. The fact that I had to be here in order to keep them motionless was bad enough.

All it took was a look toward Shiori before she got the message and stepped that way. She, Asenath, and Twister carefully guided those two down the tunnel. Nevada looked like she was torn between helping and keeping her attention on Denuvus. But in the end, she went after them to help Royce and Miles. 

Which left the rest of us standing there with these four already dead classmates. I had really thought that we had gotten out of that whole fight without losing anyone, and now look. These four, who shouldn’t even have been here at all, who had chosen to go in and tried to help just to save the people of this world, were dead. Just like that, three quarters of their group had been wiped out. 

“I can handle it quickly and cleanly if you want.” That was Monkey, his voice, oddly soft, given everything I’ve seen of him so far. There was a deep understanding in his eyes. “And in a way that keeps their bodies intact so you can bury them, or burn them, or whatever you all do now.” There was another pause before he added, “If they were your friends, none of you should have to do that.” 

I had no idea what to say, or what to do. My mouth opened and shut a couple times, while no sound came out. But my mother knew. She stepped over toward me, putting her hands on my shoulders before turning me away. She must have gestured or something to Monkey, because he silently walked past. I stared at the distant wall with my mother’s arms around my shoulders until it was over. Finally, I felt the strain against my power cease completely. They were gone. And I wasn’t looking at the wall anymore. I couldn’t see it through the tears streaming down my face. 

Was that weird? I didn’t even know these guys aside from having talked to them a couple times here or there. But still… still, they didn’t deserve to die. They had gone in when they didn’t have to, had fought to save this world. And now they were dead. 

Finally, I found my voice, whispering softly. “Okay…” I wasn’t looking back at the… bodies. I couldn’t, not yet. 

“Now what?” 

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The Storm 21-18 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – The non-canon for this story (also a little bit of a crossover with Summus Proelium) was posted a couple days ago and is available for everyone right here!

There were five Revenants, three of which I had stopped with my power. Which left two still coming slowly toward me. No, not at me. They wanted Shiori. She was the one who was messing with that crystal. If I gave them even a second with her, they would tear the other girl apart. I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t let it happen. Everyone else was still busy with the others, struggling to stop even more from coming after us. Somehow, someway, I had to stop all five of these monsters. No matter what it took, I had to keep them off of Shiori.

Taking a breath, I held my staff out to one side, and spoke inwardly as the things approached, even my silent voice shaking slightly. Get ready. Wait till I give you the signal. 

That was all I had time for. The two still-moving Revenants, which had been taking their time approaching, as though they knew just how fucked I was and wanted to rub it in, suddenly began to give those awful shrieks while rushing straight at me. All while their eyes weren’t even on me. They were on that crystal. All their rage was purely focused on the fact that Shiori was trying to stop their companions, and they were intent on tearing her apart for it. I wasn’t even worth looking at. 

Well I was sure as hell gonna make them regret that. Even as they came at me like a pair of buses while I was a fly on the freeway, I triggered a very short burst of energy from the end of my staff. It sent me forward and sideways toward the monster on the left. I saw its eyes easily track my movement as it lashed out with one hand to grab my hair. But at the last instant, I used the power I’d taken from that Fomorian giant ape-croc thing to increase the resistance my clothes had to being moved. I slowed suddenly, making the Revenant’s hand flail through the air where it thought I was going to be. 

Before it could recover, six of my ghosts appeared around it. They were all holding the thing, three grasping that outstretched arm together, while the other three clung to its shoulders and waist. Even with all six, and despite the fact I had shoved power into them so they could be solid, they still couldn’t hold this monster for longer than a second or two.

Fortunately, that was all the time I needed. Canceling the slow-movement effect on my clothes as I landed on both feet in front of this thing, I drove the blade of my staff toward its throat. In that same motion, I activated both the kinetic-boost on the staff itself, and used my rocket burst power on the end of it to shove the thing even faster, even harder. It collided with the monster’s throat with so much force, it felt like I could have torn through solid steel like it was butter. 

And yet, even with all of that, the thing was barely affected. My blade couldn’t cut through its skin, not even managing to leave a scrape on it. The Revenant, meanwhile, staggered back one step. One single step. But one step was all I needed. Even as it screamed and ripped itself free from the grasp of my ghosts, I was already using my rocket burst under my feet to launch myself into the air, through both of my speed-enhancing rings that were waiting right there above me. I went flying upward at near blinding speed, away from the Revenant I had just knocked backward that single step. 

But I wasn’t alone. In the course of that brief interaction, as I had stabbed the blade of my staff toward the monster in front of me, I had also triggered the grapple on the other end. It shot out toward the Revenant who had gone right past on its way to Shiori. Which normally wouldn’t have meant anything. If the blade of my staff wasn’t going to penetrate these Revenants even when I had it boosted that much, the grapple sure as hell wouldn’t make it through them. 

That’s what the other ghosts were for. Seth and Grover had both appeared right where the grapple was going. Before the Revenant there knew what was happening, they quickly wrapped the thing around its neck and hooked it securely back on itself. Then they vanished before the monster could retaliate.

And that was when I had launched myself upward with that rocket burst boosted by the rings. I was sent flying toward the ceiling, and the speed was enough to rip the unaware monster off its feet and drag it away from Shiori right as it was reaching out toward her. 

If I thought these things were screaming before, it was nothing compared to the unholy noise the bastard let out as I dragged it into the air. The good part was that it couldn’t fly, and it didn’t actually weigh any more than it should have. Once I got it off the ground, where it didn’t have anything to grab onto, or any other way to use its incredible strength and durability, the thing was almost helpless. At least, for the moment.

As we flew toward the cavern ceiling, I suddenly used the same power I’d activated a moment earlier to slow my clothes. At the same time, my rings appeared in front of me, using the slow-side that time. My momentum basically completely stopped. Even more so a second later as I used the five second pause power on my shoes. Then I was literally standing in midair. The Revenant I had dragged up as well was right behind me, flailing and screaming in rage. But even as its grasping, claw-like fingers grabbed for me, I canceled all the powers keeping me motionless in midair and let myself fall backwards away from the thing. 

In the same motion, I retracted the grapple, leaving the Revenant to continue its flight upward rather than pulling it down with me. My rings flipped into place over the monster with the fast side facing it. As fast as it had been going before, that speed was doubled by the first ring and then doubled again by the second. Just like that, the monster was sent like a fucking bullet into the ceiling of the cavern. It left a hole where it punched through. Obviously not enough to kill it, but I didn’t need these things dead, helpful as that would have been. I just needed them slowed down enough for Shiori to finish her part.

Speaking of which, the other Revenant was already launching toward the other girl as I dropped back toward the ground. It had recovered from that slight stumble, and was intent on its target once more. Especially now that it thought I was out of the way.

Well, I was just going to have to disappoint this thing. As it reached for Shiori, I created a small portal in front of it, with the other end next to me. Its grasping hand and arm went through the portal, and I caught hold of the thing while falling. The monster was so strong that it actually held me in midair, leaving me dangling like that with its arm through the portal. Which held the thing back that single, crucial step away from reaching Shiori. 

Of course, that wouldn’t last long. The monster was already starting to rip its arm out of my grip and back through the portal. Any attempt I made to actually resist would have been like a child trying to hold onto a truck that was driving away. There was absolutely no way I could manage it. 

So it was a good thing that wasn’t my plan. Even as the Revenant began to pull its arm back, I canceled the portal and let go. The arm was severed, leaving me falling with it. Meanwhile, the Revenant staggered from the force it had been using to yank its arm back just as it was cut off. 

Quite a long time back, I had picked up the power to instantly transfer any small, non-living item anywhere on my body through touch. I typically used that to bring weapons and spell objects from my pocket to my hands, or to change clothes. But it wasn’t limited to that. While I had been holding the Revenant’s arm, I had used that power to transport an enchanted coin from my pocket over to the monster’s own face, since ‘anywhere on my body’ had applied to his while we were touching. Now, while dropping through the air, I activated the spell on the coin before it could fall away from him. 

It was a freeze-bomb spell, like the one Carfried had been teaching us basically right after Christmas last year. Fortunately, I had gotten much better with the spell since then. This one exploded in the Revenant’s face, completely freezing its head and the top-third of its body. No, it wouldn’t last long, of course. Even as the monster fell backwards with ice encompassing so much of its body, it was already starting to crack. In another second, the ice shattered as the Revenant tore its way free.

But by that point, I had already shifted my staff into its bow form while falling. I took aim, sending a concussive-energy arrow that way. Except not that way. The arrow hit a portal I summoned in front of myself, passing through that and out the other end, directly in front of the monster just as it was sitting up. The force of the arrow would have blown most beings through the air and sent them tumbling end over end. But in this case, it barely made the thing’s head snap back a bit. 

Fortunately, that gave the Revenant a really good view of my staff coming down to slam into its face as I reached the ground behind it, slowing myself just enough to land without ending up crippled. Even then, with the speed of my fall added into the force of the blow, it wasn’t enough to break the skin. It did manage to knock the Revenant fully onto its back, at least. Not to mention piss it off pretty good, judging from the way it was screaming at me. Not that it had ever stopped. 

And speaking of being pissed off, the Revenant I had sent through the ceiling was back. It clawed its way down through the hole and was falling toward us with a screech that matched the one I had ever-so-briefly knocked down. At least this one looked a little damaged, even somewhat bloodied. But it wasn’t done, not by a long shot. 

It really felt as though I had been doing this for hours, even though it had only been a very brief time. Part of that, of course, was the energy I was expanding in keeping the other three Revenants frozen. That was what Tabbris was focused on. Basically her entire job throughout all this was to use my Necromancy to stop those guys from moving and making this whole situation go from hard to completely impossible. 

But I still had these two to deal with, and this could only go on for so long. I was going to make a mistake at some point, was going to react too slowly or miss something. Especially considering how much of my energy was put toward that Necromancy. The only real question was which would come first, my mistake or Shiori finishing with the crystal. 

No, it didn’t matter how hard this was, or how tired I might have been. None of that mattered. I was there to protect my girl, and that was sure as hell what I was going to do. Whether it was for thirty more seconds or thirty more minutes, these fucks weren’t going to touch her. 

To that end, with the first Revenant dropping rapidly and the second starting to shove itself back up while reaching for me, I was already reacting. First, I used my slow objects power on the falling creature’s torn clothes to keep it out of the way a bit longer. At the same time, my foot lashed out to kick the one in front of me as hard as I could right in the face. Which really seemed to do as much damage to myself as to it, if not more. But it still managed to make it slump back down in the midst of getting up, buying me another second. A second which I used by focusing my rock-animation power on the ground where his remaining arm was. With a thought, I made the rock there pull aside to reveal a hole, then encased his fist in that. Just as the rock sealed around his arm, I spat a wad of quick-hardening resin over it just to make it even harder to pull himself free. 

It didn’t matter. The rock and resin together might as well have been made of tissue paper. The Revenant easily ripped away free and lashed out at me. I managed to twist most of the way aside, catching only a glancing blow in my leg. But even that was enough to knock me to the ground as pain screamed its way through my bones. It felt like something had broken, or at least cracked, just from that very slight blow. I would not survive a direct hit. No way in hell. 

Just managing to throw myself into a roll before the thing could follow up that blow by grabbing me, I used a short burst from my staff to get back to my feet. My leg was still crying out in protest, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t completely broken. I could still stand up, barely. And it was healing by the second.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one healing. Not even the fastest. The Revenant in front of me, clambering back to its feet, had already regained the arm that I portal-cut off. It just grew back that quickly. So not only were these things almost impossible to actually damage, they regenerated entire missing limbs within seconds. No wonder everyone saw them as such a pain in the ass to fight. 

Okay Tabs, ready? I sent inwardly, getting an immediate confirmation. Beyond simply holding the other three Revenants in place, she’d been waiting for this. We’d just had to wait until the right moment. If the mental clock in my head was anywhere near right, Shiori had to be almost done. If I was going to actually deal with these guys, it was now or never.  

In a blindingly bright burst of light, my sister’s angelic wings emerged from my back and flared outward. But they didn’t fire. It would’ve been too hard to hit everything I needed to with one shot. Instead, even as they flared out, the wings vanished. But their power wasn’t gone. Tabbris used the energy from her wings to enhance her own boost, and shoved all of that into me. It would only last for a few seconds, but I was suddenly faster and stronger than I had ever been. Even the previous times we have tried it weren’t like this. She had gotten even stronger, had been able to pull more energy, had become more efficient at utilizing it. All of the above, and it translated into an absurd boost. 

The entire world seemed to completely stop in that instant. The Revenant in front of me, who had been a blur of motion hurtling itself toward me just a second earlier, was practically frozen. It came forward ever-so-slowly, like one of those videos of the hummingbird made so you could see the individual wing flaps. I could see its mouth twisting, those rotted teeth exposed as the thing shrieked at me, its dirty hands extended my way while it tried to get close enough to claw my throat out. A thing it might actually have managed if I hadn’t been boosted by Tabbris right then. 

But I was boosted. Which I used, taking a quick step forward before snapping my foot out in as fucking hard of a kick as I could manage. And right then, I could manage quite a bit. My foot collided with that fucker’s face so hard he was literally flung backward off his feet and into the air. And yes, after all the times I had hit these things to basically no effect, that was quite therapeutic. I actually caught a glimpse of what looked like an expression of surprise cross the thing’s face as it was flung away from me. While it was still in the air, I threw myself after it. My rings appeared in front of me, and all that speed I already had was doubled, then doubled again as I passed through them. 

Landing hard on the Revenant’s chest as it flew backwards from that kick, I drove the blade of my staff down through its throat. That time it penetrated the fucking thing. I felt the monster’s formerly impervious skin give away. 

But I didn’t have the luxury of time to wait and see how that turned out. My super boost would be over in another couple seconds, and then I’d really be fucked. I had to use this while I had it. With that in mind, I triggered the grapple, sending it flying up toward the still-falling other Revenant.

While the grapple was still unraveling and flying up that way in this incredibly slowed-down world I was living in for the moment, I released my staff, using my pause power to freeze it in place. It stayed upright like that, with the blade sticking partway through the other monster’s throat. Then I used my rocket burst to throw myself upward. Between that and the incredible strength I had right then, I practically flew straight at the slowly-falling Revenant. On the way, my hand snapped out to catch hold of the grapple, dragging it up with me much faster than it had been moving before. 

Just before I reached the monster, I reared back and hurled the grapple at it as hard as I could manage. Both rings appeared in front of it, boosting its speed even more. That time, it tore through the thing’s chest an instant before I collided with it as well. The force of my arrival sent the thing back upward, slamming it into the ceiling of the cavern once more. 

Kicking off the thing, I flipped over in the air while yanking its arms to throw the Revenant under me with the grapple still stuck in its chest. Then I opened a portal between myself and my staff, sticking a hand through to hit the button to make the grapple start retracting. 

As the monster was pulled downward, I landed on its back with my hands on both shoulders. Instantly, I used my rocket burst on my back to hurl both of us straight down as fast and as hard as I could. The ground, with the other Revenant still pinned against it by my upright and frozen staff, came rushing up blindingly quickly. 

At the last possible instant, I kicked off the bastard I was perched on. My rings appeared just as I threw myself away from him, slowing my descent drastically. 

But the Revenant didn’t slow down. He slammed into his companion with all the force of a small meteor. The grapple had finished retracting, leaving the staff itself to pierce all the way up into his chest until half of it was sticking through his back. And the force of that impact came just as I canceled the pause, meaning the other half of the staff was driven down clear through the throat of the monster who was already lying on the ground. 

And I still wasn’t quite done yet. With a thought, I summoned the staff back to my grasp. Then I flipped it around, while still dropping. Holding the thing in both hands with the blade pointed downward, I used the pause power on my shoes to stop my fall. With a loud, probably horrifying scream, I hurled the staff back down toward those two fallen figures. In the same moment, I focused on two things. First, my heat objects power. The staff, blade included, suddenly became white-hot. And the second thing I focused on was the size-increase power. Usually I used that simply to make the staff somewhat longer. But now I made it wider as well. I turned it from a quarterstaff into what amounted to a lamppost. On the way down, my speed-rings flew into its path. So it was the size of a post, hot enough to melt through almost anything that touched it, and going faster than a bullet. 

The staff fucking annihilated the Revenants as it collided with them. Pieces of their bodies went flying in every direction, even as I disabled the pause on my shoes and fell the rest of the way down. I landed in a crouch, right as the super-boost wore off. And boy did I feel it. All that extra energy rushed out of me, leaving me drained enough I could have collapsed. 

And then I really did collapse. Because the rush of pleasure that suddenly filled me in that second was the strongest I’d felt since… well, since I’d killed Fossor. Falling onto my side, I felt that burst of blinding joy that told me I’d accomplished my goal. The two Revenants were dead. They were gone. They… they were…

“Flick!” It was Shiori, she was right in front of me as my eyes blinked open. Only a couple seconds had passed, even if it felt like hours. Her hand grabbed my arm, yanking me up. “We’ve gotta go!” 

“Wha–did you–” My eyes snapped toward the crystal. It was blue now, and humming loudly. 

“I got it!” Shiori confirmed, while pointing upward. I could see… more Revenants. Dozens of them. No, hundreds. They were all coming down through the ceiling. And they looked absolutely furious. 

“The crystal called them back!” Shiori blurted, still tugging my arm. “But they’re pretty pissed off about it!

“And if we don’t get the hell out of here, they’re gonna show us just how pissed they are.” 

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