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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.”