This article is a fictional narrative of what the end of TARP might look like. Author: Olaf Whitsen
After years of Prosperity, the fate of TARP comes into question...
Chapter 1: The Duel
Olaf threw back his cloak and put a hand on his sword, "I've had enough of this Meg, this time no more games, no magic, just you and me, and our swords."
Meg lowered her eyebrows, accepting the challenge, "You wanna go Snowman? I can do swords." Meg dropped her backpack and drew her sword from it's sheath, a two and a half foot long double-edged Chinese Jian (I don't know this is just how I'm imagining it).
Olaf shook his cloak from his shoulders, and pulled his own sword from it's scabbard. His single-edged blade subtly curved back, and glistened scarlet with the light, he looked down the blade for a moment.
Meg took a moment to observe their surroundings, the first thing she noticed, they were alone, nobody was going to get in the way, no interruptions, one look back at Olaf told her that this was part of the plan, whether or not he wanted this to happen, he had expected it, Olaf was clever, but that wouldn't save him in this fight, she took her stance, "You first."
Olaf began to circle around Meg, like a wolf, waiting for the right moment to pounce. Faster than a blink their swords both shot out and clashed in a bright light between them and just as quickly returned to their sides.
Meg began to circle as well, and they stared at each other, occasionally clashing swords for a second, testing each other's speed and strength. For a moment they stopped circling, swords in the defensive, then they clashed.
Lunge, feint, moulinet, parry, riposte, passata sotto, every sword fighting technique known converged into their sparking blades, years of built up hatred burnt with every step, every clash, every dodged blow. Time melted around them, they could have been fighting for minutes, hours, days, and they wouldn't have known the difference. Even the two young ones hidden nearby would never be able to remember how long they had watched.
"What are they doing?" Nevah asked Oscar. Meg and Olaf had been the closest she had to parents after she ran away from her home in Venice, and Olaf has even claimed her as his adopted daughter, but she had never seen him like this, Olaf was always calm, even when he didn't look it on the outside she could tell from his eyes that he was like a hurricane, calm at the very middle, always in control. And Meg could never be angry at anyone for long, and never very seriously. But as she watched, she saw them burn, burn with a fiery light she had only seen in her home in Venice before today, and even then it was nothing.
Oscar didn't answer, but stared in awe at the fighting in front of him. He had grown up on the streets, gone through military school and two wars. In every fight or battle he had seen or experienced, you never hated your enemy, you respected him. On the streets you couldn't waste your energy on emotion, and in war your couldn't waste your time on it, you simply knew what needed to happen, for survival or orders, and you stuck to that. You knew your enemy was doing the same as you, which is why you respected him, but you knew that you had to win, which is why he was you had to kill him. But hate? Hate was never part of the equation, hate made your job harder. Fighting was supposed to be a self-centered activity, you did it for your own goals, and you knew that your goals needed to be stronger than your enemies. But these two were not fighting self-centered, they were fighting for each other, each blow was not for their own plans, but against the others. And so Oscar could not answer.
While Oscar and Nevah each had their own experience with the combatants and fighting, they had no experience with Magic. Magic is an emotional fighting style, normal combat can only channel physical strength and thought, Magic however can channel any kind of energy, life energy, physical energy, even electrical energy if it came to it, but most often a practiced Magician will channel emotional energy, emotional energy can be built up easier than IKEA furniture, and so is the ideal source of power for Magic users. Olaf and Meg could fight with a sword, and even though Olaf hadn't used it much in recent years, they both knew Magic best, and so that was how they fought. Olaf's sword had about a foot longer reach, but he was out of practice, and Meg made every single mistake of his count, pushing him back.
Oscar whispered to Nevah, "This doesn't look good, we should get someone."
"No," Nevah said, "If one of them gets hurt while we're gone I won't be able to forgive myself."
Neither will I, Oscar thought, but... he let the thought trail, Nevah was right, if anything were to happen, it would take two of them to be of any use, one to help the wounded, and the other to hold the victor back.
And so they watched.
They watched every strike, every blow, from the first blood, to the last, when Meg's sword pierced Olaf's chest, and he breathed his last.
Chapter 2: Vengeance
Potter found Oscar and Nevah asleep, curled over Olaf's body together, covered in his blood and their tears. They would not say anything for weeks, and would not speak of the incident for months, and when they did, no one believed them, even though they had not seen Meg after it. They could not believe that Meg and Olaf, whom they trusted and loved, would fight to the death, but Oscar and Nevah believed, Oscar and Nevah saw.
A year after Olaf's death, they signed a secret pact, a pact sealed by their blood, that they would not rest until Olaf was avenged. Oscar and Nevah began to separate from the others, while they were normally on their own, they became more isolated than usual. Some assumed they were grieving, but even Polnaya, who had not been seen since her second litter, was spending more time with TARP than Oscar and Nevah were.
When they were not with TARP, they were searching for Meg, gathering resources, and when they were, they were trying to learn about Meg, her patterns, her places of interest, that they might find her.
Meg, however, was nowhere she had ever been before, nowhere she had ever planned to be, nowhere she had even considered planning to be. Meg was at Gicasim, Olaf's home.
While a fog had covered Nevah and Oscar's vision after Olaf's death, one had been lifted from Meg's.
Since long before she had begun to hate Olaf, the enchanting words of the sorceress Morgana had whispered in her ear, guiding her path, step by step, and when Meg had joined with those time travelling adventurers who called themselves TARP, Morgana immediately despised them and began to plot their demise.
Chapter 3: The Final Ending Begins
Morgana searched, and found many enemies of TARP throughout time and space, the mysterious Time Travellers Youth League, and their many branches; Atropos, the inevitable; Lyssa, the spirit of rage and madness; and many others.
But in her searches, only one person instead found her, The One. When first he told her his story, a shiver ran down the Lady Morgana's spine, and she was pleased. The One told her that he knew them from far in the future, at a moment when the fate of TARP was to be decided, and that the slightest shove could tip the scales. In his past, the scales had tipped in the favor of TARP, and through the blackest of luck, a hole in time had ripped open, and he was forced to endure this moment again and again, watching TARP live victoriously as he suffered. He was determined to never go through that again.
And so The One guided the subtle war against TARP, consistently drawing them together, and pulling them apart, and when the old traveller from Gicasim joined the ranks of TARP, he saw his chance.
Chapter 4: The Telling Corpse
Not long after Nevah and Oscar made their pact, Olaf's brother, Elessar, arrived at the TARP clubhouse, a wide grin on his face, "Where is my brother? There is something I want to show him!"
The older Nevah and Potter, who were there, looked at each other. "Did nobody tell him?" Potter asked. "Apparently not." They turned to look at Elessar with grave expressions, "Olaf, Olaf is dead."
The grin on Elessar's face melted, "Where is the body?"
Nevah growled, "It's no use, he's dead, he's been dead for a year, there's nothing you can do about it."
"WHERE IS THE BODY?" Elessar demanded.
"We- we buried him in the forest, about half a league from here." Potter stammered
Elessar turned around, swirling his cloak, and began to storm away.
"Now where do you think you're going mister?" Nevah questioned.
"He's not dead!" Elessar yelled behind him.
Nevah began to object, but Potter stopped her, "Now how could you possibly know that?"
Elessar opened the door, and struggled to decide whether to answer the question, "Because there's a body." He slammed the door
Chapter 5: The Last Seer of Gicasim
At first look, he wasn't a very impressive figure, small, relatively clean, dressed in jeans, a neat blue shirt, and a black hat. Under normal circumstances, Nevah and Oscar would have ignored him. However, being tied to a stake and about to be set on fire, was surprisingly enough, not normal circumstances for the two.
In their search for Meg, they had found themselves in some undeveloped village, got in an argument with some important looking fellow on some old law about sacred ground, and discovered that there was some other old law against stringing important people off of the church roof.
At the stake, Nevah and Oscar discovered that the population of a small village looks significantly larger when they are all angrily threatening you with torches. After about an hour of angry villagers yelling, and important people doing important paperwork, the important looking fellow from earlier stood on a pedestal, and was about to speak, when a wave of silence crashed over the crowd, and it began to split at one side.
At the center of the split, was the man, his tilted head looked at Oscar and Nevah quizzically. The man wore clothes less thick than the other villagers, the cold seemed to have no effect on him, but what truly made him stand out, aside from the way the villagers acted near him, was the aura of mystery, age, and a tinge of madness pouring in torrents off of him.
The man at the pedestal took several breaths of air before stuttering, "Wh-wh-what is... I mean... Is there anything I-I can help you with?"
The newcomer did not answer, but instead circled around the burn pile, eventually the crowd faded away, leaving only Nevah and Oscar, still tied to the pole, and the newcomer. When the last person walked away, the Newcomer stood in front of Oscar, "What brings you here Orphan of Gicasim?"
His voice ran smoothly, with an almost hypnotic lilt to it, but while the voice was sweet, the question shot straight through Oscar.
"Who are you?" Oscar forced out.
The man laughed, causing both Nevah and Oscar to shudder, "Who am I? I am the singer of the unsung song, the teller of the tale of time, the night in the middle of the day, the sun in the dark sky," with each title he raised his voice, and yelled in rage at Oscar's face, "THE LAST SEER OF GICASIM!"
He began to circle, still yelling, "SO TELL ME SON OF VANGUARD, AND DAUGHTER OF GOLD WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?"
Oscar and Nevah's eyes were wide, she turned in her bonds to look at Oscar, who nodded at her in shock. Nevah looked back at the furious madman, "We're looking for a murderer."
Suddenly the man shuddered and blinked, he tilted his head in curiosity, "How... remarkable, follow me." And with a snap of his fingers the ropes disappeared.
Chapter 6: The Search for the White Sun Court
Meg banged her head against the counter. Three months of searching had shown her nothing. Three months of looking through the Libraries of Gicasim, three months of asking people on the streets, “Have you ever known anybody named Olaf Whitsen?” Three months of not actually knowing what she was looking for.
The past week had been especially hard, she had been stuck in one small town where the citizens were not especially fond of foreigners. She would have left long before if it hadn’t been one of the White Sun Court’s former hot spots. Every day she would get up at dawn, head to the Library and look for clues until the sun went down.
Today was the same, she left as soon as it was bright enough to read, headed for the Library and had skimmed through a whole section of books about wars from the past two and a half thousand years.
By noontime, she had almost given up, her head was on the counter, a book was in her lap, and she felt like she had gone through almost every single book in the entire library.
A woman’s voice came behind her, “Are you having trouble Miss?” Meg turned around to look at the woman, she appeared young, only about twenty years of age, but in her eyes were the experience and sadness of centuries. “I’m looking for information about a former member of the White Sun Court, Olaf Whitsen?”
Her already old eyes seemed to double in age and she put a hand on the counter to steady herself, “I do not know about this Olaf you speak of, but if you want to know about the White Sun Court, you’d better come with me, I have one of the largest collections of their records.” But Meg saw how it had affected the woman, “I don’t want to cause any trouble…”
“No no, I just haven’t heard anyone say those words in a long time, maybe too long.” She held out a hand, “Lorinda.” Meg took the hand and shook it, “Meg, nice to meet you.”
Chapter 7: Shuffling the Deck
The four were gathered around a square black table, one on each side. One wore a pointed black cape, and held a commanding air around the room, to his right wore a dark red robe, and his keen eyes seemed to pierce the soul, next was wearing black leather, he seemed to melt into dark that spoke of hidden terrors. Last at the table was dressed in a simple crimson tunic, and he silently fingered the hem of his sleeve. “It is beginning again, we will need to chose a side this time.” The caped one said. The robed being to his right muttered, “The cards must move, we keep playing them the same way, something needs to change.”
A thin voice whispered from the third, “What say you brother? We must make a choice.” The last one slammed his fist on the table, “We have this discussion each time, why must this one be any different?”
Across the table the robed face leaned forward aggressively, “You know full why Amar, he has become aware, if we don’t change anything it will end the same way, but it will be worse, and each loop will destroy more and more until there won’t be anything to loop.”
The caped one turned to face Amar, “Adagnitio is right, unless we do something to change the events, everyone will lose.”
Amar held his ground, “And if we make a choice Impotentia, if we choose, we will lose.”
The hidden one twisted sharply to him, “And what if we win, you know what will happen, will it be worth it?”
Amar faced his brother, “What are you saying Noli? You always supported our choice.” A low hiss came from Noli’s side of the table, “I know fear best, and I know that even “I” fear what will happen if we don’t make a choice.”
Amar spun around and pulled at his hair, “How? How did he even become aware in the first place?”
Adagnitio became suddenly interested in the sleeve of his robe. “You?” Amar was dismayed.
“I’m sorry!” He defended, “The Father was fed up with our disobedience.”
“But… but…” Amar stuttered, “why awareness? Why this ending?”
Adagnitio threw his hands up, “You know how he is.”
“We must remain focused, if we do not make our choice fast, we might not be able to make one at all,” Impotentia reminded.
They were silent for a moment, then Amar pulled a card out of his sleeve and threw it on the table, “Them, it has to be them.”
Noli began, “Them, but-”
“No, Amar is right,” Adagnitio was nodding, “They started it, all of it, so they must feel the full fury of the Four.”
There was silent nodding from all sides of the table. Noli spoke up next, “I will be first, I have been too kind to them in the past, it is time that they know true fear.” He faded into the darkness and was gone, slowly followed by the others.
The room was absolutely silent after they had left, not even the flickering of torches made a sound, and sitting on the table was the card they had left behind. Four letters were printed neatly on the card, four innocent letters that had been marked with a death sentence, four letters that marked a choice which would change the very fabric of the world.
Chapter 8: The Gift of the Vanguards
Elessar tore through the trees, with Potter and Nevah rushing behind to catch up with him.
“So what are you trying to do?” Nevah yelled, “Are you going to resurrect him? Because that never works the way it’s supposed to!”
Elessar continued to smash through the growth without giving an answer.
“Hey!” With a surge of energy Nevah ran forward and grabbed Elessar by the shoulder. “What?” He snapped at her as they all skidded to a stop in the shade of a large oak tree.
Nevah’s eyes glared into Elessar’s, “Answer the question,” she commanded. “Weren’t you listening the first time?” Elessar sighed. “Olaf is not dead,” He put emphasis on each word.
Potter spoke up, “How can you say that? He was stabbed through the heart. Even if that didn’t kill him, the amount of blood leftover would have done it.” Nevah nodded in agreement.
Elessar looked up at the sky and sighed again, without looking down, he explained, “When Olaf cut off his use of magic, he didn’t do a very good job, so what he did was blocked off the energy, but it was still flowing to him, so that instead of redirecting the energy like he should have, it just built up behind a wall of his own making,” he finally lowered his head to look them both in the eye, “and that wall dies with him.”
Nevah raised an eyebrow, “I’m not sure how this applies.”
“It means that if Olaf were to die, actually, genuinely, die, a bundle of energy would be released into our world and destroy an area that not even the most learned wizard could estimate.”
Potter’s and Nevah’s mouths were agape. “Why didn’t he tell us this?” Potter asked. Elessar shrugged, “I’m guessing he didn’t think death was an issue he would have to deal with soon, and technically, he was right, but I’ll let him tell you about that.” Elessar turned around and began to walk.
“Wait!” Potter said. Elessar stopped and turned around. “We dragged his body across sand, dirt, and grass, shoved him through a portal and buried him, and he was still as close as you can get to being dead without, apparently, not being dead. Is there some sort of spell you use to un-not-dead somebody?”
Elessar thought for a moment, “Probably not, I was thinking I would just sort of slap him awake.” He shrugged.
Nevah and Potter looked at each other. “Works for me.” Nevah said, to which Potter silently nodded.
Several minutes of trudging through forest greens later, they arrived in a small grassy clearing, had it been noontime, the sun would have lit up the only feature in the clearing, a marked stone slab, but the sun was low on the horizon, and stripes of shadow and light marred what would have otherwise been a beautiful area.
Elessar almost whispered, “This is the place?”
Potter was barely able to choke out, “Yes.”
Silently, Elessar stared at the grave of his brother and read the words on the stone several times.
Without giving any cue, Elessar raised his arms, and the soil around the gravestone began to shift and roll. The dirt began to separate and pile up, the gravestone sank beneath the shifting earth, and suddenly all movement stopped.
There, in between the two mounds, was the old, pale, long-dead body of Olaf Whitsen. After about a year in the dirt, his hair had grown to a ratty mess piled around his head and if let down would go far past his shoulders, his nails had extended to violent claws, not one less than five inches.
Potter shuddered, “Sometimes I forget about postmortem growth. It makes dead people look so much more… dead.”
Elessar nodded slowly, “Why didn’t you put him in a coffin?”
“We figured he would prefer to decompose and join the Earth,” Nevah spoke up, “it seemed more natural that way.”
Suddenly they all looked up at each other. Potter asked, “Why hasn’t he decomposed?” Elessar jumped down next to Olaf’s body, and pulled up his tunic, “Didn’t you say he was stabbed in the heart?” In the middle of Olaf’s chest, where everybody was looking, where everybody knew he was stabbed, was not even a scar, completely unblemished skin, as if nothing had happened at all.
Chapter 9: Learning the Inevitable
The fireplace crackled warmly, lighting the book-filled room as Nevah and Oscar slowly filed into it behind the strange man. He pulled books of a pair of chairs and stacked them randomly on the floor, “Sit.” He commanded. Without questioning, the two of them sat in the newly cleared chairs.
The man grabbed a stack of scrolls from a third chair and places them in his lap as he sat down in the chair, “So, a murderer you say?”
Oscar and Nevah nodded in unison.
The man leaned forward in his chair, “This wouldn’t happen to be the murderer of good Olaf Whitsen would it?”
Neither Oscar nor Nevah had the time to respond before he stood up, throwing all the books from his lap to the floor, “I see in your eyes that the answer is yes.” He grabbed what seemed to be a random book from the shelf, and opened it while standing, holding the large spine delicately with one hand and flipping through the old pages with the other. “Here, The infants of Gicasim shall come to the Last of Us, bringing with them Sodden hearts, and news of death; the flaming son of Vanguard, heart pierced by corrupted friend, has had his great encounter with Death.”
Oscar anxiously gripped the arm of his chair, “What does it say about where she is?”
“Patience, young one, all in good time.” He flipped through a few pages, then continued to read aloud, “The infants of Gicasim have fallen dark, to the guidance of the One who fell through time, only will their blood lift the curse.” He read silently for a few moments after that, then put the book down before looking up at Nevah and Oscar, “I have some good news and bad news.”
“Tell us the good ne-” Oscar started.
“The bad news,” the man glared at Oscar, “is that I can’t help you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t.”
Oscar got out of his seat angrily and reached for his sword, “Why you-”
“The good news!” the man stood eye to eye with Oscar, gaze unyielding, “Is that your friend, Olaf Whitsen, is not dead.”
Oscar stumbled back, Olaf? Not dead? It wasn’t possible. But why would this stranger tell such an obvious lie? So many questions rushed through his head, but he did not have the energy to speak them.
Nevah however, was not similarly fazed, “How could he not be dead? I saw the blood with my own eyes, I watched the blade stab his heart, I held his lifeless body in my arms. Olaf Whitsen has died.”
For a moment, there was no sound in the room, even the fireplace in the corner seemed to go silent. Suddenly, the strange man began to laugh, quietly at first, then louder until the room shook with his mirth, “Olaf Whitsen? The flaming son of Vanguard? Dead?” He gave in to another burst of laughter, while Nevah and Oscar looked at each other awkwardly, “almost a thousand years have passed for him and I’m surprised that he’s already had his great encounter!”
Oscar raised an eyebrow, “What exactly do you mean by ‘great encounter’?”
The man’s smile remained, and he was beginning to gesticulate while talking, “The Vanguards are a very old Gicasim family, one of the originals in fact, and for a long time, some of us seers say since their origins, each Gicasim with Vanguard blood has had one,” he held up one finger dramatically, “chance at cheating death, their great encounter. That and them being some of the most powerful Gicasi has put them on a lot of hit lists, their numbers have been falling rapidly over the generations, and so far, the only ones left who have not already had their encounter are the three wolf spawn of Whitsen, and you.” He pointed his finger at Oscar’s chest.
“Me?” Oscar looked surprised, and held his hands in front of his eyes to see if he was real.
“Yes you, little Oscar, your family has given you a get out of Death free card,” his eyes narrowed and his voice grew serious, “spend it wisely.”
Oscar shook his head, “So what you’re telling me, is that Olaf is not actually dead, but has used his get out of Death free card.”
The man nodded.
“Then Meg…” Oscar trailed off, and turned to Nevah, who gasped.
“She doesn’t know.” Nevah spun around to look the man, “We need to tell her!”
“No,” the man said, “Meg has her own purpose in this fight, as do you, the time for reconciliation will come, but for now, you must stay here.”
“Stay? Can we do nothing?” Oscar pleaded.
The man did not answer immediately, but instead walked to the door, “When they come for you, tell Olaf it was Nicholas of the Lesser House of Grier that helped you, and tell him that a great battle which he cannot stop is coming, that the only thing which he can do, is prepare to fight one last time.”
Nevah hesitated, wanting an explanation, but knew that was all she would get, “Where are you going?”
He didn’t answer, but left Oscar and Nevah alone in the large, book-filled room.
Chapter 10: Of Dreams and Memories
The rage of battle surged through Meg, her hot blood coursed through her veins with each swing of her sword, at this point the fury had so taken over her that she no longer knew why she was fighting, only that these black armored soldiers must fall to her blade. One such soldier whose skill seemed to match that of her own began to engage Meg in a fearsome duel, a black helmet concealed his face, but his fighting style and his scarlet tinged sabre seemed strangely, hatefully familiar.
As they dueled, the battle surrounding them faded away into nonexistence, and all that remained was the masked enemy and Meg’s terrible hatred of him. With a sharp flick of her sword, the tip knocked off his helmet. Meg dropped her sword, and all her built up hate gave way to a dreadful fear.
“You… you died…” Meg stammered, “I killed you.”
Olaf sheathed his sword calmly, “I know.”
Meg fell to her knees, trying in vain to hold back sobs of dread, “I… I killed you… I don’t… know…”
Olaf stepped towards Meg, and laid his gauntleted hand on her shoulder, “Meg,” she slowly lifted her head, “I forgive you.”
Meg almost threw herself at Olaf and cried into his shoulder as they hugged on the former battlefield. They stood there a moment as Meg tried to regain her composure, just as she was about to apologize one last time, a thin voice whispered through her mind, “Murderer,” and a long knife pierced her back.
Olaf drew back, letting Meg fall to the ground, a cruel sneer on his face while pain ran through every nerve in Meg’s body, and the knife burned into her back. She struggled to hold herself up on all fours, as every one of her muscles contorted with pain.
Olaf’s form flickered into a black-robed figure shrouded in darkness, “Did you think they would accept you after what you’ve done? Did you truly believe that TARP would return to normal after this? No. The world is changing Daughter of Poseidon, and you’ve made a choice that cannot be undone. Rejection and Death are your fate, the daughter of Hypnos will show this to you.”
Meg looked up at The Suit of Fear, pain still rippling through her body, but she forced herself to stand up, knife hilt sticking out of her back as she held her ground against him. “You underestimate them.”
A blast of cold air shot towards Meg, and she felt herself get thrown across miles and centuries, at the end of it all she found herself standing outside Lorinda’s home, no time had passed at all since the vision had started. Meg stared into the distance, trying to remember everything that had happened to her in the past few moments. Lorinda had reached the door before she realized that Meg was no longer following. “Meg? Is something wrong?”
Meg shook her head, “Just a little lost in thought… probably.” But Meg was more disturbed than she let on, and the words of Noli haunted her as she walked into the house.
The rooms were much larger than the outside suggested, and some of them looked like they had been combined specifically to make larger rooms, and each one of them had been converted into makeshift libraries. Stacks of papers and books, neatly organized and labelled, were covering tables, loading bookshelves, and filling drawers. Meg wouldn’t have been surprised if these rooms contained the entire records of the White Sun Court.
“Where did you get all these?” Meg asked in awe.
“When the White Sun Court began to fall, they stopped needing their records, I thought that it might contain some explanation to the death of my Husband and his family, so I started buying the records off of the Court who didn’t need them very much, not even mentioning that Vanguards have been stealing from the Court since before I joined them.” Lorinda explained while walking through the record filled rooms, “Come, the individual records are in the kitchen.”
The name Vanguard rung a bell in Meg’s head, and she tried to remember when she had heard it, probably in one of Olaf’s many disguises, she wouldn’t be surprised if he were to throw around names of former colleagues. The thought of her dead friend struck at her heart, but she knew that was why she was here, to right the wrong she had committed, only then could she return to TARP, only then would they accept her, and they would accept her, no matter what the Four Suits say.
As they walked into the kitchen, Meg saw stacks of papers as high as the ceiling, and as opposed to the rest of the house, these had been searched through liberally, and there was almost no sense of organization. “This will take years…” she almost whispered.
“Not necessarily,” Lorinda countered, “I’ve read through each of these papers several times over, give me some limits and we could find your Olaf Whitsen in at most two months.”
Meg groaned internally, two months of looking through papers did not seem like something she wanted to do. But, she had to start somewhere. “Um… well, I think he either left or was banished from Gicasim.”
“That is extremely useful!” Lorinda began skimming through the haphazard stacks, pulling out bundles of paper left and right as Meg thought.
“He’s narcissistic, sarcastic, and a little power hungry,” Meg added.
“Sorry, behavior records aren’t included in here, and I wouldn’t trust them anyway, behavior records are very often biased.” Lorinda said, still picking out papers.
“Oh,” Meg thought harder, “He has a brother, who goes by Elessar, but that’s also probably not his real name. His daughter, Polnaya, is a wolf.”
“A what?” Lorinda interrupted and gazed at Meg quizzically.
“A wolf,” Meg repeated, “Do you not have wolves here?”
“Never heard of it.” Lorinda said, then she continued grabbing papers.
“Oh!” Meg remembered. “He also has a nephew named Oscar!”
Lorinda dropped all the papers in her hands, “What did you say?” She snapped.
Meg stepped back, “his nephew’s name is Oscar…”
Lorinda started to pick up the papers again, but she was visibly trembling, “impossible, Oscar is not a Gicasim name.”
Meg tilted her head in confusion, “No, his name is definitely Oscar, I’ve never heard him called anything else.”
Lorinda was shaking, unable to hold the papers at all, “This Olaf… when he was young… did… did he lose his parents, and his older brother, and blame his other brother, the one you call Elessar?”
Meg snapped back to several pieced together discussions she had heard, mostly regarding the events of the first TARP ball, all agreeing with Lorinda’s assumption. “Yes,” Meg answered warily.
The cry that came from Lorinda’s mouth was like nothing she had ever heard before, it was filled with depressing loss of heart and will. “My precious Oscar… Does he… does he live?” Lorinda stammered.
Suddenly, everything seemed to start to fall together, Meg remembered where she had heard the name Vanguard, it was what the TTYL and other time travellers they encountered called Olaf. And this weeping woman in front of her, was the widowed mother of Oscar, sister-in-law to Olaf and Elessar.
Meg helped Lorinda Vanguard into a chair, thoughts racing through her head at thousands of miles an hour, “Yes, yes, Oscar lives. But there’s more.” Lorinda looked half ready to collapse again, but she held her head up and met Meg’s gaze. “See, I’ve started to realize that big things are happening, bigger than I-”
A loud banging came from the door, and all of Meg’s thoughts focused on one memory. Both Lorinda and Meg were looking in the direction of the banging, while Noli’s words echoed through Meg’s head, “Rejection and Death are your fate, the daughter of Hypnos will show this to you.”
Chapter 11: A Happy Reunion
“Blasted sons of Zeus,” Xandra muttered. The past few weeks had not been very good for her, the past year, in fact, had not been kind to her, but the past few weeks had been especially bad. Oscar and Nevah hadn’t been very subtle about their feelings towards Meg after Olaf’s death, and after having disappeared for several months, Xandra knew that they had dark plans for the future.
After this, Xandra had two options, find Oscar and Nevah, and try to convince them to change their mind, which seemed about as likely as denting Olaf’s ego; or finding Meg before the other two, and figure out what to do next once she gets there. However, the search for Meg resulted in dealings with vengeful mob bosses, forgotten gods, magic-wielding mercenaries, and no small amount of time aboard the H.M.S. Riftslice with Captain Flirtface Mainsburry.
Finding herself at Olaf’s home was not her first guess for finding Meg. Then again, Meg killing Olaf would not have been her first guess at anything. Xandra had always romanticized in her head that she would receive that honor, but alas, such was not the case.
And now she found herself on a planet that looked like Steampunk had thrown up on medieval France. A nice stone cottage would have a brass door with interlocking gears that seems to open on its own, a man walking down the street had a rapier on one side and on the other a gauntlet that had enough features to make Tony Stark jealous, once she even saw a farm of automaton sheep. The phrase “alchemist heaven” kept popping up in her head.
But Xandra wasn’t here for the scenery, and if she was, she probably would have left a long while ago. The people here were strangely accommodating about almost everything, most of them hadn’t ever heard of a “Meg”, but those that did, they tended to fit in the category of not-accommodating.
When she first arrived at a remarkably modern looking city, a man dressed in a pale grey Victorian-era suit walked up to Xandra politely, “Is there anything I can help you with Ma’am?”
Xandra took a long look around the building before answering, “Yes, a few things. Firstly, if you’re going to address me formally, I prefer m’Lady, or if you aren’t, then just call me Xandra. Secondly, I’m going to want a nice room, I’ve done a lot of travelling and I don’t want to sleep in some crummy shack again.” The man nodded and pulled out a notepad to start writing these things down. “And finally,” Xandra gave a slight pause, the more self-important she looked, the more she seemed to be getting out of these people, and her imperious air seemed to be working on this man as well as everyone before, “would you please send any information you have on a foreigner named Meg to my room? I’ve been told that she couldn’t have arrived less than a week ago.” The man immediately stopped writing in his notepad and looked up slowly, “You wouldn’t happen to be a member of TARP would you?”
Ah yes, this question always came next after she mentioned Meg’s name, and an answer of “yes” had delayed her half a month last time. Xandra resisted the urge to grin, she was on the right track. “TARP? No I have no connection with those juvenile scoundrels, this is a more personal matter.”
The man let out a small sigh of relief, “Very well then, I will lead you to your room.”
The room, and everything in it, was massive and elaborately decorated. The bed was bigger than anything Xandra had ever seen, decorated with a twisting brass framework and velvet cushions. A large clock with exposed gears hung over the bed, a full body mirror stood in one corner, and a large, intricately decorated desk in the other. Xandra plopped her bags on the bed, and spun around the room, taking in the foreign beauty of it all.
“Is there anything else I can help you with Ma-” he cut himself off, “m’Lady?”
Xandra thought for a moment, “A map, I want a map of this entire planet.” The man started to walk away, “And don’t forget those files on Meg!”
For the next two days, Xandra explored this strange planet during the light hours, and worked on the maps and files during the night hours, sleeping rarely and running almost entirely on a strange tea-like drink native to Gicasim.
Just before sunrise at the beginning of the third day, Xandra found it, less than a week ago, Meg had taken a train to a small town in the north. Xandra packed her things, along with the map, and left for the train station without a word.
After she arrived, finding Meg wasn’t that difficult. The first person Xandra came across gave her a disgusted look and said almost immediately, “The other one went to the mad woman’s house.”
Xandra raised an eyebrow, “Whose house?”
The man pointed, “Big house, at the end of the street, all the windows are boarded up. That’s where the other foreigner went.”
Xandra gave him a small nod, “Thank you sir.” The man only grunted and walked away. As Xandra headed to the house, she realized that she had no clue what she was going to do when she saw Meg. She was going to have to be rational, of course, she was going to figure out the truth about what happened when Olaf died, if Meg didn’t actually do it, maybe someone was trying to frame Meg or something, then Xandra was going to try to bring Meg back to TARP, and she would have to convince Oscar and Nevah to keep her alive, that might be a little more difficult. But if Meg truly was at fault… Xandra caught sight of the large house before she could finish the thought.
Xandra began to walk purposefully, she knew what was going to happen, she was going to knock on that door, wait for the “mad woman” to answer, then ask, politely, to speak with Meg, and figure out what happens next depending on how that talk goes. Xandra was quite pleased with herself, several weeks of things not going according to plan seemed to finally be working out right.
She knocked on the door. It was a little more violent than she had had in mind, but it still did the trick. When the door opened, it was not the mad woman as she had expected, but Meg herself. Xandra did not have time to reorganize her thoughts or control herself before punching Meg squarely on the nose.
Chapter 12: In which a bunch of god-like beings get ticked off at a bunch of other god-like beings
She had chosen a round table, for symbolic purposes, to meet at. Symbolism was always an important piece of Morgana’s decision making. Sitting around this stone table, were all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. To Morgana’s right was the fate Atropos, who was silently knitting an artistic tapestry depicting a remarkably violent death for Xandra Trelawney. Next in the line was the pale and skeletal Death, torn robes sat atop his bony shoulders and his fingers rattled idly on the tabletop. Trying to sit as far away from Death as possible, while still trying to avoid Lyssa on his other side, was a sharply dressed mortal representing the Time Travellers Youth League. Next to Lyssa was a pale ghost, her face was smooth and young, and all she wore was a simple silk gown and a silver crown atop her head that she bore regally. Speaking with the ghost was a shimmering specter who looked to be made of bark where the light struck him. Standing on the next and final seat around the table was a small girl with a crown placed crookedly on her head, she grinned at the people around as if this meeting was nothing in the world.
Morgana walked to the largest seat at the table slowly, letting her long, colorful robes drag across the floor as she pulled herself in front of the largest seat at the table. “I thank you all for being able to arrive here, it a great pleasure of mine to see so many willing to fight for the same cause as I.”
Death stood up, torn robes fluttering as he rasped, “These children have grown troublesome, and have stayed all of our individual attempts against them, so we must thank you, instead, Lady Morgana, for bringing us together against this fowl horde.” Many around the table nodded in agreement. Morgana lowered her head, took a breath, then raised it again and spoke, “Even now, our plan comes together, as you will now witness.” With a sharp gesture, a bright sphere of light appeared and coalesced above the table into a pair of figures walking through a mountain pass.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Meg asked.
“Of course I farting know where I’m going,” Olaf grunted, “I’ve been this way a hundred times.”
Meg shouldered her pack, “I’m not questioning your experience, I’m questioning your memory.”
Olaf spun to face Meg and threw his pack on the ground, hideous flames burning in his eyes, “Do you want to do this? Because I will gladly put you in charge.” Meg raised her hands, “All right, but if we’ve gone an hour and haven’t seen anything, I’m calling Potter to take us out of here.”
Olaf grunted, and continued up the mountainside. Behind Morgana a figure wreathed in shadow with glowing red eyes appeared, “Is it time yet, Lady Morgana?”
She held up a hand, “Continue to taunt him, but wait until they reach the top of the mountain.”
Meg and Olaf climbed to the top of the mountain, and Olaf looked around in dismay, “The cave was here, I remember….”
The side of Meg’s mouth curled up, “Wrong again Whitsen, looks like I’ll have to call Potter.” She began ruffling through her backpack for a drachma.
Behind Morgana, the shadowy demon whispered, its voice echoing into a thousand pieces, “This insolence cannot be tolerated…. she must be defeated.”
Olaf raised his head at the words which only he and those at the table heard, he shrugged his cloak off of his shoulders and put a hand on the steel blade strapped to his waist, “I've had enough of this Meg, this time no more games, no magic, just you and me, and our swords."
Morgana spoke this time from her place at the table, “Who does this old man think he is? Accept the challenge, teach him a lesson.”
Meg turned to Olaf and gave him a dangerous look, “You wanna go Snowman? I can do swords.” Her backpack landed with a crash on the ground only a moment before her sword was released from its sheath, producing a solid ring over the tops of the mountain. The ensuing battle was observed enthusiastically by those around the table, as Morgana and the demon behind her destroyed any sense or reason between the combatants. Contrastingly, the horrified pair hidden behind a large boulder went unnoticed by the gathering of foes.
When Olaf fell, the group all let out a sigh of relief, Mimoza the Shifter even let out a small cheer.
Morgana dissolved the image, so that none were able to see Oscar and Nevah jump up from their hiding to Olaf’s body as Meg ran away.
Morgana stepped back, a grin crossing her face as she turned to the creature beside her and gave it a nod of thanks before it disappeared into the shadows.
Morgana raised her hands, drawing all attention to herself again, “This is a great victory we have witnessed, news of this battle will soon spread among those in TARP, and they will be divided-”
The torches around the room sputtered as a cold wind blew from the table opposite Morgana. A tall man dressed in a luxurious red tunic walked from the wall, all, even Death, drew back from the powerful presence, “Do not underestimate those in TARP,” his voice rolled around the room like a distant gallop.
Morgana was stunned, “My Lord Amar, we did not expect-”
He waved his hand, and three other figures appeared from the wall, drawing a mighty gasp from the room.
The TTYL representative murmured with a tremor, “all Four…”
“My gracious brother,” Amar ignored the gasps of fright as he turned to the figure of Death, who, while affected, was the least so, “have you yet claimed the tormentous Olaf Whitsen?”
Death glared, and rose to his full height, “No, but it is only a matter of time-” “YOU FOOL!” Amar shouted and slammed his fist on the table. “How easily do you forget the deal forced upon you by the first of the Vanguards? This child has only been delayed, and you may have very well prepared TARP for the battle you thought you were weakening them for.”
Death flinched at the outburst from this normally calm being, and silently returned to his seat.
Amar paced around, boring a hole into Morgana, who was now pale with fright. “And you!” Amar yelled, “What mad cloud filled your mind to invite that demonic horde back into this world? The last time they gained power here the man you just failed to kill locked them in a curse that’s likely to backfire with their returned presence.”
Morgana could not answer.
Impotentia stepped forward and spoke, “The Hordes of Mania have become unpredictable, and have taken independence from me, serving their own drunk goals, who knows what destruction they will release when they overcome their captor.”
Adagnitio added, “Since you are all obviously incompetent in these matters, you will no longer make any decisions regarding the fate of TARP without our command. Any who fail to follow our commands or make up their own,” he gestured for Noli to finish.
Noli looked up, and spoke in a quiet whisper, “will know the true meaning of Fear.”
There was no arguing.
Chapter 13: Hey, aren't you supposed to be dead?
“Come on Eveline! The show starts in two minutes!” Katherine called to her friend. Eveline groaned in response, “I don’t want to go to the show, I don’t even want to BE here, the only reason I AM here is because you guys made me.”
Her other friend, Sarah, put her hand over Eveline’s shoulder, “well we wouldn’t have FORCED you to go if you weren’t so against space travel in the first place, but Kate’s right, the show is starting!!” Her friends dragged her into the large arena where a huge crowd had gathered. In the middle of the arena, a man began talking about nothing Eveline payed attention to, instead, she tapped an earpiece and began to listen to some music.
A few minutes into the show, she threw a quick glance at her friends to make sure they weren’t watching her, then snuck out of her seat and left.
She wandered the town, looking for something small, something that most people would miss or not care about, those little dark corners of culture were what Eveline liked the best. After some walking, she found herself at a small shop in an isolated part of town, the sign above the door read, “Mim’saa: Enchantments, Prophecy, and Fortune Telling.” Curious, Eveline walked inside.
Contrary to every movie Eveline had seen, this place was not dark and musty, with shelves of obscure artifacts and potions, instead, it was well lighted, cleaned, and neatly folded animal pelts covered the shelves. A woman’s voice called from the back of the shop, “I’ll be able to help you in a moment!”
A little while later, a small young woman wearing a plain apron and a kind smile walked up from the back of the shop, “Hello! What can I help you with?” Eveline looked up from a soft wolf fur, “Oh, I just saw the sign on the door and was curious.”
“Ah yes,” The woman nodded, “prophecies and magic don’t pay much, but they attract more customers,” she raised a finger, “I’ll give you your future and that wolf pelt for 75 marks!”
Eveline opened her wallet, 75 marks was all she had, but her friends had already payed for the ride back, and it would give her an excuse to go back home immediately afterwards. She placed the silver coins in the woman’s open hand, and then was led into a back room.
This room, as opposed to the front shop, was much more stereotypical, lit only by a few candles and filled with the scent of smoking incense. The woman pulled a chair back from a small wooden table, gesturing for Eveline to sit down, then the woman went around extinguishing the incense burners and all but two of the candles, which she set down on the table in front of her. “Let me see your hands,” she said. Eveline put her hands face up on the table, after a brief examination, the woman nodded, “The stones, as I expected.” She opened a drawer under the table and removed a small pouch, from which she removed five smooth, flat stones, each with a single inscription on one side of them.
“Speak Adagnitio!” She called to the sky as she rolled the five stones between her hands, “Speak and reveal the will of the Four!”
The stones landed on the table with a bang, causing Eveline to jump out of her seat a bit. Four of the stones landed with their symbols face-up, the fourth, and closest to Eveline, was face down. The woman went immediately to work. She grabbed the first stone and rolled it around in her hand without looking, “Fire.” She dropped the stone violently in front of her and grabbed the next, “Earth.” She went through each stone, “Water…. Air….” dropping each in front of her until the last one, the face down one in front of Eveline, “The disputed, well then.”
“What does it mean?” Eveline asked the small woman.
The woman gathered all the stones and replaced them in the pack, “It means that you have great destiny ahead of you, but you require a push.” She switched the pouch of stones for a deck of normal playing cards which she began to shuffle.
Eveline looked slightly worried, “What are you doing?”
The woman sitting across the table from her let out a toothy grin, “Giving you the push.” She placed a single card face-up between them, the Queen of Clubs, “How would you like to be… anybody you want to be?”
Despite the darkness of the room, that card was the brightest thing in the world seen from Eveline’s eyes.
The fortune-teller placed the Jack of Clubs next to the first card, “To have no restrictions?”
Eveline soaked up the cards, which glowed even brighter with each word said to her. Another card was placed in the row, The King of Clubs, “And be controlled by nobody?” Eveline looked up from the cards, “How can you do this?”
The woman stood up and spread out her arms in a dramatic gesture, “By the power invested in me by the Lord Impotentia! For I am Mimoza! Queen of the Shifters!” With a sudden flash she appeared as a regally dressed woman, an elaborate crown topped her head, and then Eveline forgot everything.
The past five years of Harper’s life had gone by in a flash, it seemed like only yesterday that her small group of companions had done battle with TARP on the streets of New York. Only yesterday that they had joined this legendary group and began adventuring across the stars. Only yesterday since Olaf Whitsen, whose well meaning head-slaps had changed her much for the better, was found dead.
She walked out of the TARP clubhouse holding a steaming cup of tea, before leaving to go look for Meg, Xandra had got her hooked on it. Outside on the large grass field in front of the building, Evenstar and Rachel were having an archery competition, so Harper decided to sit on the front porch and watch.
“Bet you twelve gold Drachmas you can’t hit a hundred meters.” Evenstar challenged. Rachel grinned, “I can do a hundred meters with my eyes closed.”
“Hundred meters!” Evenstar shouted to the three young wolves at the other end of the field. Enthusiastically, Heimatil, Agetargon, and Eucartay pushed the wooden cart that carried the target to the hundred meter mark.
Rachel carefully took aim while Evenstar calmly held her bow with one hand and twirled an arrow in the other.
Rachel released the arrow, but Evenstar was ready, in a moment she nocked her arrow and fired it, straight into Rachel’s.
“Oh come on, that’s not fair,” Rachel complained.
Evenstar pointed, “You didn’t hit the target, pay up.”
Before Rachel could counter, a massive bolt of purple energy struck the horizon, causing everybody to snap their heads around.
Harper bolted upright and ran down to where the other two were, “What the heck was that?”
Evenstar thought for a moment, “Isn’t that where Olaf was buried?”
The three of them looked at each other, eyes wide, then sprinted as fast as they could in the direction of the purple lightning.
Elessar sent another bolt of energy into Olaf’s body, “Arise! Ethan Vanguard! Child of Gicasim! The Nine Skulls Killer! The Raging Fire! The White Lord! The Slaughterer of Shadows! Remnant of the White Sun Court!” He listed off titles again and again, pouring spirit energy into Olaf’s body, which really only resulted in Elessar getting more and more exhausted.
Because absolutely nothing was happening to Olaf. With each burst of energy, the long-dead body sat calmly in it’s undone grave, as if it felt nothing.
Potter whispered to Nevah, “Do you think he knows what he’s doing?”
Nevah whispered back, “I don’t think he’s known what he was doing since he met Mike the Moss.”
Potter raised an eyebrow, “Mike the Moss?”
“No clue,” Nevah shrugged, “Just something he mentions every once in a while.”
Potter’s eyes widened, “I have an idea!” She reached forward and lightly tapped Elessar’s shoulder, “may I have a go?”
Elessar stopped, his breathing heavy and ragged. Without answering the question, he stepped back and gestured to Olaf’s body.
Potter pulled her wand from her belt and pointed it at the empty hollow in the ground where Olaf lay, “Auguamenti!” She shouted, causing a burst of water to shoot from her wand and flood over Olaf.
Elessar looked up curiously. At first nothing had happened, but then, Olaf moved faster than Elessar had ever seen him move before, made all the more ironic because he had been dead only moments before.
He bolted out of the soaking grave, and then proceeded to swear in ninety-three different languages. Elessar counted.
“You forgot troll,” Elessar added at the end.
Olaf glared at Elessar, “Alrahk ned fishterz.”
Potter ran forward to hug him, but he shoved her back, “What the Niflheim?”
She took a step back, Olaf’s eyes were crazed, the postmortem growth of his fingernails and hair made him look half beast, and even his great long cloak looked old and haggard. And besides that, Potter could tell that much had changed since she last met him.
“I’ve been dead,” he started, “and all you can think to do is hug me? Where is the blasted Meg?” He stumbled, but as Nevah and Potter ran to support him, he held up a hand.
“Elessar, I need to get to the Room of Memory.” Olaf coughed out.
Elessar hesitated, “Are you sure…?”
Olaf ran forward and grabbed his brother by the shoulder, digging his long nails into his brother’s flesh, “The legions, they’re awakening,” he tilted his head slightly, “not to mention the Beast, and Morgana, and the end of the world, and probably a bunch of other things I don’t know yet.”
“What are you talking about?” Elessar asked, his tone becoming serious.
Olaf tapped his brother’s nose, eyes still mad, “When I was dead, I saw things, things I wouldn’t believe with my own eyes, had they not been dead also. It was all a big blur, Death really messes with your view of the world, but I saw them all, gathered around a table, talking about US, even the Four made a guest appearance.” Olaf’s eyes had lost focus and he seemed to be just ranting, “I saw a lot when I was dead, mainly old fighting and stuff, probably because I had been fighting Meg earlier, you know, sympathetic-”
Elessar slapped Olaf across the face, “Olaf! Focus!”
Potter and Nevah watched with raised eyebrows as Olaf looked at his brother and gasped, “Meg…. She didn’t do it…. this is all Morgana, we need to tell Meg, we need to tell her I’m not dead, where is she?”
Before Elessar could respond, Olaf started speaking again, “The Room of Memories, it has the answer!”
Once again, Elessar started to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of crashing through the bushes as Harper, Rachel, and Evenstar ran into the clearing.
Olaf walked past them, a wide smile across his face, “Come along! This is only step one!” Their eyes followed him as he walked back into the forest towards the Clubhouse.
“You know,” Potter thought out loud, “he hasn’t actually changed all that much.”
Chapter 14: Girls Night Out
Meg was caught off guard.
But then again, getting punched in the face immediately after seeing one of your best friends you haven’t seen in a year and didn’t expect to see for quite some time will do that to you.
She stumbled backwards, carefully touching one hand to her nose and using the wall behind her for support, “Xandra!”
Xandra was at a loss, her plan to be diplomatic had gone frustratingly down the drain, and now she was divided between wanting to hug Meg or punch her again. “What…”
Xandra’s voice was almost a whisper, “What’s going on Meg? Olaf’s dead, Oscar and Nevah seem to think you did it, and they seem to be on some death mission looking for you. And you’ve just disappeared! To Olaf’s home! Which really isn’t helping anything!”
Before responding to Xandra, Meg looked at the hand she had put to her nose, blood, what a surprise. “It’s not what you think…” Meg said.
“It’s not what I think?” Xandra was dismayed, “It’s not what I think? I don’t know what to think! For all I know-”
“Who are you?” Meg had forgotten the traumatized widow she had left in the kitchen, and now Lorinda Vanguard stood in the doorway, tear-streaked eyes flashing back and forth from Xandra to Meg.
Neither of them responded for a moment, and the awkward silence stretched on for years. Eventually, Meg spoke, “This is Xandra, she’s an old fri-”
“I’ve known Meg for a while,” Xandra interrupted, throwing a furious glance at Meg before turning back to Lorinda, “and who might you be?”
The widow looked down solemnly, “I’m not sure I know anymore, it seems that much of my life has been a misunderstanding, but until this afternoon I was Lorinda Vanguard.”
The blood drained from Xandra’s face, years in the Xyzzy Library had given her probably more information about Olaf than anybody else in TARP had, and she immediately recognized the name. “Vanguard? As in…”
Lorinda raised her head imperiously, wiping all signs of sorrow aside from the tear stains on her cheeks from her face, “I am of the great Gicasim house of Vanguard, my late husband was the brother of the recently deceased Ethan Vanguard, and from what I have gathered, the son I presumed dead is now in search of Meg to have her pay for the supposed crime.”
Xandra’s mouth was wide open, and she turned to Meg. “I told you it’s not what you think,” she shrugged.
Xandra tried to speak, but her words floundered at first, “what? bu… how….” She took a deep breath, “Alright, I’m going to try to make this as quick and simple as I can.” She looked at Meg seriously, “Did you kill Olaf Whitsen?”
Meg hesitated before answering, “Yes and no.”
“Oh my gods Meg!” Xandra threw her hands over her head, “I wanted straightforward, is that so hard to ask for?”
Meg resisted the urge to grin, this was more like the Xandra she was familiar with, “It was my sword in my hand that pierced Olaf’s chest, but it was not me who did it.”
Xandra was about to throw her hands up again, but her eyes widened in realization, “Morgana…”
Meg nodded, and even Lorinda seemed to be catching on, “You were not in control of your mind at the time of my brother’s death?”
Meg nodded again, “Yeah, I have a habit of being occasionally hijacked by a sorceress from our home planet. And I think that Olaf was under similar influence at the time.”
The gears in Xandra’s head began to spin, “Who would be able to take control over Olaf like that? He may be thick and egotistical, but he always tries to stay in control, he wouldn’t risk letting anything taking control over him. So why would he now? When has he ever wanted something more than that?”
Lorinda snapped her fingers, a small grin on her face, “when he thought that Aiwendil (I’ll give you three guesses as to who chose that name) had killed their father and my husband!”
Xandra raised an eyebrow, “Aiwendil?”
“Oh yes, his brother, the one you call Elessar.”
“Why would he not want control then?” Meg asked.
Lorinda’s grin widened, “all he wanted then was to destroy Elessar, I remember him coming to me one day, it was the last day I saw him, he told me that he would stop at nothing for vengeance, that he would die a happy man to feel the last beats of his brother’s heart.”
Xandra was slightly unnerved, she knew that they were on the right track, but the way Lorinda spoke of Olaf’s quest for vengeance with a smile on her face made Xandra’s flesh crawl.
“That’s fine and all… but that was still a very long time ago, how does it attach to our duel only a year ago?” Meg asked.
Lorinda’s face fell, but Xandra had the answer, “Magic.”
Meg looked up, “Magic?”
“We all know that Olaf used to do magic, but he sacrificed it a while back, do you remember the last time you saw Olaf do magic?” Xandra asked.
Meg thought for a moment, and a grin spread across her face when she realized the answer, “at the ball, when he fought Elessar.”
Xandra nodded, “Is it possible that whatever is controlling him, is attached to his magic? And has recently begun to reclaim him?”
Lorinda spoke next, “And that would mean that his magic was beginning to leak back as well, and every studious magic user knows what happens to a wizard that dies.”
The three looked at each other, grins wider than they had been a long while, “Ghosts.”
The old ruins of the Vanguard mansion would not have been Meg’s first choice in speaking with ghosts, but Lorinda insisted that there was enough memory and magic in the old stones that the trick would not be raising Olaf’s ghost, but finding it in a crowd.
Meg walked silently down the path to the old ruins and allowed her thoughts to wander. Noli had told her that TARP would reject her, that the daughter of Hypnos would show her this. Xandra, the obvious daughter of Hypnos, hadn’t been particularly rejecting, aside from the initial punch, but that didn’t ease Meg’s worry.
“There it is,” Lorinda’s voice brought Meg out of from her thoughts.
At the top of a large hill stood the ruins of what Meg could tell used to be a very magnificent mansion, no stone was smaller than a horse, and they had a slight purple tinge in the pale moonlight. Meg could imagine large carnivals outside the walls, music pouring from its windows, she saw libraries filled with scrolls from the White Sun Court. She could even see a young Olaf pouring over some ancient text by candle light, the more she thought of it, the more the vision became tangible, real, and before she knew it she was sucked into the memories of this massive castle.
Olaf dipped a quill into the inkwell and began scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment, years of writing for the White Sun Court had perfected his messy handwriting, which only five people he knew of could read, making him ideal for keeping important documents secret. After copying the original document, he rolled it up and put it in the candle fire, making sure that it burned completely.
A small knock came to the door, and a tall bearded man entered, “Ethan, it’s late, and you have a long ride ahead of you tomorrow.”
Olaf looked up at his oldest brother, squinting in the dark, “I know Hawth, that’s why I’m working now, I won’t be able to do anything on the horse, and I definitely won’t be able to do anything at the Marquis’ house, so I’m trying to get as much done as possible so I don’t have to catch up afterwards.”
Hawthorne nodded, “Alright, but Lorinda’s going to heading to bed in a bit, and if you don’t leave here before then she’s going to make you.”
Olaf chuckled, Hawthorne was right, she may be his sister-in-law, but she acted as if the in-law part didn’t exist. “I think I can take her on,” Olaf joked.
The two brother’s smiled at each other. “Do you know where Aiwendil is?” Olaf eventually asked.
His brother thought for a moment, “I saw him in the study after supper, but he was looking out the window longingly, so I’m guessing he’s either among the trees or gone to bed already.”
Olaf nodded, “Well, good night then Hawth.”
Hawthorne smiled, “Night little brother, see you tomorrow.”
“Oi!” Olaf mocked anger, “That’s my line!”
Hawthorne gave a florid bow, “and a beautiful one at that,” then turned to leave the room.
“Good night Staxas!” Olaf shouted.
“Good night Vahxenes!” The voice replied as Hawthorne walked down the hall to his room.
Olaf was in good spirits when he went back to his work, and was still wearing a grin on his face as Lorinda walked into the room.
Time had changed her much, instead of the deep sorrow that filled her eyes when Meg had seen her they were filled with a youthful joy, her raven black hair hung loosely behind her shoulders instead of cut short, but the most noticeable difference was the large bulge under her dress that she carried with one hand.
“Are you still awake little brother?” She asked, her voice was calm and peaceful, content.
Olaf looked up, the smile leftover from his brother’s visit grew at the sight of her, “Yeah, I still have some papers to finish before I leave tomorrow.”
She walked slowly to the desk where Olaf was working and sat on the bench next to him, “What are you working on this time?”
“Shipping, cargo and stuff always seem to be the most important documents.”
“Important my grave, you could do this stuff in your sleep,” Lorinda said, “speaking of which…”
Olaf tried to sound stubborn, but he couldn’t hold back his half grin, “I really need to get this done.”
Lorinda raised her eyebrow in challenge, “If you don’t get your butt off this bench and go to sleep I’m naming the nephew after you.”
Olaf’s expression quickly changed to one of horror, and he immediately stood up, “That isn’t fair.”
She grinned, “You really need to work on your self-esteem, having a child named after you is a high honor.”
Olaf started rolling up the scrolls, “No, I think I’ll pass on the ‘high honor’ and stick with being a simple record-keeper.”
Lorinda stood up, “Bed. Now. I’ll clean up.”
Olaf glanced at his unborn nephew, “You sure?”
“I can pick up a few scrolls while pregnant, you can’t ride a horse while asleep, and I’ve seen you try.” She countered.
Olaf laughed and started to walk out the door, he turned around to say something, but Lorinda stopped him, “Bed. Now.”
Olaf walked down the hallway and Lorinda started humming to herself while Meg was pulled back into her own reality.
But now the massive palace was a place of ruins, seemingly invincible walls were torn in half, piles of rubble cluttered the hillside and path, any books that had sat in shelves of a library had been stolen or destroyed by the same dark force that shattered the walls.
But even over the crumbling ruins, the memories of the vision lingered in her mind. Meg looked over to Lorinda, much had changed in her since the time of the vision, and Meg spent a few moments watching Lorinda and comparing the two images she now had of the widow.
As they walked past the first piece of rubble, Meg could have sworn she heard thousands of whispering voices coming from it, but Lorinda kept walking as if nothing had happened. With each piece of rubble they passed, more whispering voices filled Meg’s ears, and as they walked up to the great door of the Vanguard house, it was all Meg could do to stop herself from covering her ears, “Does anybody else hear that?”
Xandra didn’t answer, but Lorinda spoke in a calm voice, “The memories of a thousand Vanguards have been awakened, someone else is here.”
At that, the voices began to grow louder, into screams, and before they knew it, the three found themselves surrounded by a bunch of not-all-too-happy glowing spirits.
Chapter 15: Morgana le F*rt
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Percy asked as he gazed into the gaping maw of the giant cave.
Believer looked around, “Well unless you can find another cave in the middle of this completely flat desert, I’m pretty sure this is the place.”
Percy grunted and shouldered his bag, walking silently into the mouth of darkness.
Believer hesitated outside the cave, it wasn’t the darkness that scared him, he could handle the darkness, but years of hunting monsters and travelling with TARP had expanded his horizons, behind every historic event was something greater than a god, around every corner was a new monster, over every king was a hidden chessmaster… in every cave was something evil.
All this had begun to make him feel very small, the normal world he had been born into had grown larger and more insane with every step of his life, and now he found himself in a desert he didn’t know existed, looking for a mysterious crystal with powers beyond his wildest imaginations, following the advice of a demigod with a goddess of rabies and a primordial psychopath in her head. That wasn’t to say that Believer didn’t trust Nevah, but things like that seemed to stack up.
He turned on his flashlight and entered the cave.
In the line of caves, it was rather unspectacular, the floors were not covered with magnificent treasures, torches did not line the walls, the stone was not polished to a magnificent finish, in fact, Believer almost tripped multiple times on the rough ground.
“How long is this cave?” Percy asked after about an hour of walking.
Believer shrugged, “All Nevah said was that we should keep walking until we see the crystal, which should apparently be very obvious.”
“Ah yes,” Percy muttered, “the classic ‘you’ll know it when you’ll see it’. How does she even know that it’s here?”
Believer shrugged, “Probably-”
His thought was interrupted by a wet slithering sound. Believer swung his flashlight in the direction of the sound, coming face to face with a slimy pale wyvern. The Khezu had a long, worm-like body, and its face consisted entirely of a gaping maw, filled with rows of teeth and sparking with electricity. Wings as large as king-sized beds disturbed the still air of the cave, and legs like tree-trunks clung to the uneven ground.
Moments after Believer swung his flashlight at the creature, it threw its colossal weight across the cave at the pair of half-bloods. Percy rolled to the side and drew Riptide in one motion, “What is that?” He yelled at his brother.
Believer yanked a celestial bronze machete from his belt and jumped away from the creature’s attack, “Something that’s not supposed to be here!”
The creature slowly stood up from its fall and shook itself, giving Percy and Believer time to circle around to its tail end. “You keep it distracted,” Believer said, “I’ll go for the head.”
Percy nodded stoically, then charged the beast, slicing its tough skin with a slash from Riptide, “Over here you filthy worm!”
It twisted around violently to face the reckless half-blood, and spat forward a bolt of lightning, Percy dodged just in time and swung his blade at its wings, but before it could try again, it found a machete blade dug deeply into the skin of its neck.
Unfortunately, Believers machete stuck in the flesh, and was yanked from his grasp as the creature reared up to the ceiling of the cave and roared. Even more unfortunately, this creature didn’t just roar, it let loose a blast of sound energy that turned your brain into jelly and your knees into mush.
Pain seared through Believer’s skull as he fell to the ground, clutching his ears more out of instinct than to have any effect. His couldn’t see, but he assumed that Percy was in a similar situation. When the creature finally stopped roaring after what seemed like hours, Believer still felt a massive pounding in his eardrums, and it was all he could do to open his eyes. The two flashlights they had dropped quickly at the beginning of the battle provided the only light, but the grey stones reflected it enough for Believer to get enough of a view of the situation. On the other side of the room, Percy was similarly curled into a ball on the floor and clutching his ears, Riptide dropped on the ground next to him. The Khezu was between the two of them, rubbing its neck against the cave wall trying to dislodge the the blade.
Believer slowly pulled his hands from his ears as the pounding subsided, moving slowly to avoid drawing the attention of the Khezu, and a quick glance told him that Percy was doing the same.
The next ten seconds were probably the fastest ten seconds in Believer’s life. As he was stepping back, his foot splashed in a puddle of water, and the Khezu snapped its attention from the large knife sticking in its neck to the sneaky little demigod trying to run away. A moment later it jumped at Believer, who had, as a child of Poseidon, just been rejuvenated by that conveniently placed puddle. He grabbed Percy’s backpack that he had noticed next to him and in one quick motion, pulled the jar of greek fire out and threw it into the mouth of the Khezu.
Believer nodded satisfactorily at the body in front of him, one end burning a bright green. “That should about do it,” he said calmly.
Percy stood up, Riptide in hand, and stared at the body of the Khezu, “You didn’t think you could of left some for me?”
Believer grinned at his brother, “Not if I can help it.” He walked to the neck of the beast and yanked the machete out, “I really need to get a better monster killing weapon.” “You seem to have done pretty well this time,” Percy pointed at the still-burning head.
Believer simply chuckled, picking up their stuff then continuing down the tunnel.
It didn’t take them long after then to find the crystal, and it was very much like Nevah had said, “you’ll know it when you see it.”
The crystal glowed a dusty red color, it was mounted atop a stone pedestal carved with ancient-looking symbols, and a small staircase led up to the stone platform where the pedestal and stone sat. Believer and Percy walked up the staircase slowly and moved to opposite sides of the pedestal, “Do we just pick it up?” Believer asked.
His brother shrugged, “I don’t see why not.”
Slowly Believer reached for the crystal to pick it up.
Five weeks earlier
Nevah, Potter, Xandra, Harper and Jethro all crowded around a table covered with various maps, documents and charts.
“I don’t get it,” Nevah said, “You’d think with Meg not around anymore we’d be seeing LESS of Morgana not more.”
“Maybe,” Xandra mused, “maybe now that Meg is gone, she isn’t useful to Morgana anymore, so she can spend her time on other things.”
Harper spoke up, “Whatever the reasoning, she’s active, and we still have nothing on her.”
“Not nothing,” Nevah argued, “we’ve got the book. And the location of the crystal.”
Xandra raised her eyebrow, “Yeah, except the defenses on that crystal are specifically designed for people who know what the crystal is, which rules us all out.”
There was a sober silence around the table.
“Have I said that I’m starting to hate Morgana?” Harper asked.
“Yes!” Everybody else said in unison.
“Well,” Jethro said, “you guys can have fun with this, but Xandra, we’ve delayed enough, the Riftslice is waiting.”
Xandra sighed, “Ah well, I guess that’s my call to leave.” She stood up out of her chair, “I’ll see you all in a month, or more.”
A few good-byes were muttered around the table, as Jethro and Xandra walked to the door, he nudged her in the shoulder, “Looks like you and I are going to spend a lot of time with each other.”
Xandra’s eyes narrowed, “Try anything and the Riftslice will have to find a new Captain.”
When they reached the door, Potter called out to her old friend, “Hey Xandra?”
She turned around to look back at the table.
“We don’t actually know what happened at that mountain,” Potter said, “so don’t, you know…” she trailed off.
Xandra hesitated at the door. “No promises,” she finally said after a few moments, before opening the door and walking outside.
It wasn’t long after that when Percy and Believer charged into the room.
“Oh my gods that was terrible,” Believer said.
Nevah stood up at the disruption, “Percy? Believer? You aren’t supposed to be here until Friday.”
“We left early,” Percy explained, “please, don’t EVER make us do that again.”
Potter let out a little smirk, “Not so fond of public relations huh?”
“Anything, we will do ANYTHING,” Believer said, “As long as you don’t make us sign another stupid treaty.”
Nevah glanced at the book on the table they had been sitting at, a little grin spreading across her face, “Even retrieval?”
Believer looked straight into her eyes, “Anything.”
Potter looked up at Nevah then down to the book, seeming to catch Nevah’s plan, “I think we have just the thing.”
Nevah walked over to the sons of Poseidon, “Come on, there’s a little crystal I want you guys to pick up.”
As soon as Believer’s fingers touched the Crystal he regretted it.
He felt himself thrown through centuries, millennia, in moments he saw planets grown and burnt, nations rise and fall, memories flew past him as he shot through time and space, eventually settling nicely in a small Medieval village.
In front of him was a small girl, black hair trailing happily behind her as she ran over the dusty path and into a small wooden house, as the girl moved, so did Believer, pulled along by the same mysterious force that had put him here.
“Daddy! Daddy!” The girl called joyfully, “I saw a pixie!”
In the house was a young man with a short brown beard, stirring a mixture of chemicals in a large metal cauldron, “Morgana!” He said irritably, eyes still fixed on the cauldron, “What have I said about talking to daddy when he’s working?”
The small Morgana backed away apologetically, not saying a word, but leaving the house silently. Then there was a flash, and Believer now saw an older Morgana, hiding in a forest, watching her father standing in a small clearing, a large Pentagram drawn on the ground, chanting in some guttural language that Believer had never heard before.
Morgana was nervous, that he could tell very easily, she quivered behind the tree, but made sure not to give away her position.
Suddenly, there was a flash in the clearing, the lines of the Pentagram burned with a white fire.
“I call forth Gordon le Fay!” Her father spoke, “Guardian spirit of my ancestors!”
Morgana shuddered as a large black hooded figure appeared at the opposite side of the Pentagram as her father.
Apparently not everything had gone according to plan, because Morgana’s father’s eyes widened in surprise, “Where is Gordon?”
The figure silently reached into its black robes and threw a head into the middle of the Pentagram, “Gordon le Fay was unworthy, and has payed the price.”
The man trembled, fear shaking throughout his body, “That… that’s impossible.”
“WHO ARE YOU TO SAY WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE AND WHAT IS NOT?” The figure bellowed, “THE WORLD IS CHANGING, AND SO ARE THE RULES!”
Morgana’s father fell down on the ground, unable to speak.
“Gordon le Fay has been replaced, by one is both mortal and not.” The figure turned to the tree where Morgana was hiding, “Come my daughter, reveal yourself.”
Morgana slowly stepped around the tree, almost sobbing with fear, but before Believer could see anything more, he was once again sucked through the centuries.
Percy stood in front of him, looking expectantly, “What are you waiting for? Pick it up!”
Believer’s hand were still wrapped around the crystal, and he looked up silently from it to Percy, “I hate it when they don’t tell us everything.” With a heave, he lifted the crystal from its pedestal, it wasn’t too heavy, but it wasn’t something that Believer was going to want to lug around all day. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure that each time they handed it off it would shoot them through a new batch of memories.
“What do you mean?” Percy asked.
Believer started to walk down the steps before answering Percy’s question, “This, is a flipping memory crystal.”
Percy hesitated, he wasn’t sure what a memory crystal was, but the name was fairly straightforward. “What memories does it have?” He asked.
“Morgana le Fay’s.”
Chapter 16: The Battle of the Clubhouse
Olaf slammed the doors of the clubhouse open, the six others trying to keep up with him as best as possible. “WHERE IS THAT BLOODY-” He collapsed to his knees, pulling at his long wispy hair with his claw-like fingernails.
“Get out of my head,” he whispered, “You tried this last time, I’m not letting it happen again.”
“Olaf?” Potter stepped forward, “Are you okay?”
He bolted upright, eyes flashing, “I died, Potter! Dead! With a capital “D”! And-” He paused, turning slowly, “Except I’m not dead, I got better, so I should get over that.”
He snapped around to Elessar, “What did you do? After you died?”
His brother thought for a moment, “I ran away to a forest where I could be alone for a few years.”
“Lucky,” Olaf muttered, “You got to frolic, I got a war.”
“A war?” Evenstar asked.
“Yes! A war! Try to keep up Miss-” He trailed off again. Scratching at his head, he muttered, “This is getting out of hand.”
The doors slammed open, this was a bad couple weeks for the doors to the clubhouse, they kept on getting slammed open, and Percy and Believer barged in. Believer was carrying a large red crystal, about the size of a backpack with chaotically placed sharp edges. “You,” Percy pointed his sword at Nevah, seeming to not notice the formerly dead man in the middle of the room, “and your vague instructions almost got us killed!”
The room was silent.
“What?” Percy asked irritably, “Did I miss something?”
“Perce…” Believer said, and nodded in Olaf’s direction.
He slowly turned to face Olaf, who let out a small grin, “ ‘ello there Mister Jackson!”
Riptide’s point fell to the ground, “This is just getting out of hand.”
Olaf walked up to Believer, everybody else watching silently, “What’s that pretty crystal you got there?”
As he reached out to touch it, Believer tried to pull back and Nevah jumped forward, yelling, “Olaf!”
But Olaf touched the crystal anyway, then snapped his hand back as if it had given him an electric shock. “Well well, that answers a few questions.”
Nevah stood with eyes wide, “What did you see?”
“What is that crystal?” Elessar asked curiously before Olaf could answer Nevah’s question, it didn’t look like he was going to answer anyway, he seemed to be lost in thought.
“It’s a memory crystal,” Potter answered, “Bound to Morgana le Fay by Merlin in the seventh year of King Arthur’s reign.”
“Is anybody going to explain what the heck is happening here?” Rachel demanded.
Nobody answered, they probably couldn’t anyway, most of the previous events had been as much a surprise for them as it had been for everyone else. And when nobody knew what was happening, they turned to the resident time-traveller, prophecy-expert, and overall studier of everything.
Who happened to be chewing on his beard.
“So Olaf?” Harper asked, “What is happening.”
Olaf took his scraggly excuse for a beard out of his mouth, before shrugging. “Five.”
“Five?” Nevah raised her eyebrow, she liked Olaf, but not so much that if he kept up like this she wouldn’t send him right back where Meg put him.
“Four…” Olaf said, starting to spin around the room, eight sets of eyes watching in astonishment, “Three… two…” He pointed dramatically at the door. “One!”
And that was when the doors got their biggest slamming yet.
Now, vampires don’t look all that strong, a diet of blood is extremely useless at building muscle, but vampires don’t work with muscle, they’re creatures of magic, which means their strength comes from symbolism and all kinds of abstract energies that make your skin pale and ribs show. And as any half-decent wizard knows, blood is EXTREMELY symbolic.
The door was thrown off its hinges and out poured about a hundred pale, skinny, limping creatures. They’d obviously been starved and tortured from a young age, technically they were still young, not a single one looked a day above two hundred, but the kind of suffering you have to go through to turn an honest and respectable vampire into some kind of rampaging beast like this… it ages you. The charge took the TARPers by surprise, but they quickly came to their senses, grabbing their various weapons and tools of trade from their sheaths, duat lockers, pockets, and quickly began to line the floor.
Elessar raised his staff and shot a blast of fire into the first of the unlucky undead. Harper and Nevah leaped catlike into the fray, daggers slicing. Rachel and Evenstar slung their bows off their backs and began loosing arrows at the vampires. Meanwhile Potter, Believer, and Percy began cutting up what was left with their swords.
And Olaf stood back smiling.
It didn’t take long for the experienced fighters to clear out the beastified vampires, and Olaf sat back in a lounge chair as if this were all going according to some magnificent plan he had failed to tell everyone. Some things never change.
Nevah snapped around to Olaf, dagger in hand, “You could have given us a better warning,” she growled.
Olaf spread his hands and let loose an innocent smile, which only seemed to make him look more plotting, “You had it covered. Besides, that was only a test, the real battle is in five minutes.” He hopped up on his feet, “I’d suggest getting ready, there’s much worse than Homo Vampiri coming.”
Olaf walked to his room with a silent audience, which was finally broken by some violent dwarvish swearing by Elessar after he closed the door, “I would kill him if he didn’t seem to know what was happening.”
“What do we do now?” Harper asked.
Percy twirled Riptide in a circle, “Now, we sharpen our swords for five minutes.”
Nevah walked outside, if the next fight was as soon as five minutes, she should definitely be able to the see them. But outside from the view of the porch, there was nothing, birds were tweeting, the sky was blue, the archery targets from Evenstar and Rachel’s competition earlier were still set up. Nevah didn’t notice that Polnaya and the three wolf pups had disappeared, and even if she did she probably would have thought Polnaya had taken them somewhere safe away from the violent lightning storm Elessar had conjured. Safely assured in her paranoia that anything coming for them would be completely unannounced, Nevah started to walk back inside when the dragon showed up.
It was a magnificent beast, black scales with a beautiful purple tinge to them, like some mystical stone. Its wings shook the trees, its claws flexed in the air, its mouth widened and let out a stream of fire at the club- Nevah ran back inside, “Dragon!”
The roof of the clubhouse held surprisingly well against the wave of fire, but outside the heat was like an oven.
Elessar ran outside, took one look at the dragon, then gave a sharp whistle. The dragon payed no attention, it was being controlled by some other force, and was completely focused on its task of burning down the TARP clubhouse.
That was until it was violently distracted by Smaug shooting out from the other side of the clubhouse and barreling the other dragon into the ground.
“Where the Hades did that thing come from?” Elessar barked.
But his question fell unanswered as an army of misfits pulled out of the trees, largest in number were the TTYL, all dressed in an absurd mixture of armor and weapons from across the centuries. Scattered among them were various animals and beasts of unspeakable nature. Even the trees seemed to shift in the dark.
“We can’t take ‘em,” Nevah said to Elessar.
He simply shook his head and turned to face the door, “Guys! You’re going to want to come outside!”
Slowly the others came out onto the porch to look at the army hidden under the arms of trees, while the two dragons were still grappling each other down by the lake.
There was no way they had a chance, possibly the only amount of an advantage they had was their variety of experience, everybody on both sides of the line was a trained killer.
“How did they get past the barriers?” Potter asked.
Olaf was the last to pull out of the clubhouse, now clean-shaven and bathed as if he had spent no time under the ground, “Stand back,” he commanded, “they’re waiting for something.”
In between the nine TARPers and the small army the two dragons still grappled with each other violently. Blood and scales flew through the air, bursts of fire lit up the meadow, and no few number of times did the TARPers have to skip aside from a jet of flame. The fight ended almost as abruptly as it had begun, Smaug tore the heart of his opponent from its chest and raised himself on his hind legs in victory. A cheer of victory rose up from the TARPers, but it did not last, the wounds Smaug had suffered were large and many, no sooner than he rose up did he collapse again over the body of his victim. Elessar lowered his head in sorrow at the loss of his long-time companion, and the TARPers went silent.
Olaf stood next to his brother and put his arm over Elessar’s shoulder, “Menyel torzhen. Hai Smaug-nist voros.”
Elessar nodded, keeping his head low to hide the tear running down his face.
Moments after Smaug fell, the army under the trees let out a loud yell, then charged the group of eight young adventurers. The TARPers shifted into a defense circle, weapons at the ready, back to back, but before the enemy could get within bow range, several beams of energy, each brighter than any of the lightning bolts Elessar had brought down earlier, connected with the ground in a circle around the small group.
The charging army stopped dead in its tracks as the beams faded, revealing thirteen men and women, some magicians, others simply fighters, but all armed to the teeth and ready to deal a heck of a lot of damage.
One wizard sent a wave of fire at the army before they could regain the momentum from their interrupted charge, incinerating a whole rank of enemies in the blink of an eye. A woman dressed in tight-fitting black leather sweeped into a group of shifters with a long polearm, causing many of them to lock into their forms from fear.
But Olaf was only paying attention to one of them, a relatively young man dressed in a simple blue shirt almost skipped over to the group of TARPers, a wide smile across his face.
Olaf pointed, his eyes wide, “You!”
Nicholas Grier gestured the surrounding battle, “Fight now! Talk later!”
Olaf looked back and forth from seer to fighting, then he swore and entered the fray.
Nevah found herself fighting alongside Potter, one shapeshifter was giving them particular trouble, shifting from bat to sparrow to fox, ducking and dodging each thrust of sword and dagger. At one point, it shifted into a small cat, and stuck its tongue out mockingly at the pair of half-bloods, before she could even think, Nevah had unholstered her Neutrino and shot the shifter right in between the eyes.
At the moment, there was nothing in their immediate area, so Nevah took the time to review the battlefield, Olaf and Elessar were standing back to back, the elder throwing spells at the foe while the younger twisted and snapped his sword back and forth. Evenstar stood guard over Rachel’s limp form, filling with arrows any who dared to come close. Believer and Percy were fighting next to one of the magicians brought by the Seer. Harper was leaping with cat-like fury to defend Emma, who was surrounded by a group of shifters, all seemed to be going-
When did Emma get here? Nevah thought to herself.
But Nevah didn’t get to answer her question before Harper threw herself on the Wendigo with a cry of hate and betrayal.
But while Harper was filled with emotion and pain, Emma was calm and prepared for the Shifter, and easily used Harper’s momentum against her, throwing her into the ground.
Two TTYL soldiers stepped forward and latched a set of gold handcuffs over Harper’s wrists while she was locked in her form.
Nevah watched in horror, unable to speak or react, frozen as she watched Emma turn her bloodthirsty eyes towards Olaf, who was busy tending to a wounded Believer. And still she froze, even as Emma leaped through the air with Death in her eyes.
Chapter 17: The Soul of a Wendigo
Morgana fell into her chair, exhausted from the meeting a few hours ago. The Four Suits appearance terrified her, and drained her of what little energy she had left. She had only been sitting in her chair for a few moments when his hand fell down on her shoulder.
Morgana jumped out of her chair and spun around, her nerves tighter than a bowstring as she locked eyes with The One. He was wearing the same hooded cloak that he had been when she first met him, it wrapped around his body and covered his face, even in the bright light of her room all she could see was his golden eyes.
“What the Devil are you doing here?” She demanded.
The One did not respond immediately, he never did. Instead he took a moment to bore his golden eyes into Morgana’s soul, “You have done well.”
She grunted, uneasy, “Not according to the Suits.”
“You aren’t working for the Suits,” he almost growled, “and the Suits have their own place in the plan.”
“Oh yeah,” Morgana rolled her eyes as she started to pace, the pacing helped settle her nerves, “The mysterious plan you have that involves hiring a bunch of teenage time travellers and killing someone non-permanently.”
His eyes flashed brighter, and Morgana felt her skin shudder, “I need Whitsen away for a year while I move other pieces of the puzzle into place.”
Morgana had no response, so she just sniffed indignantly and continued to pace.
“And one of those such puzzle pieces is what has brought me here.” He said.
Morgana turned to him and raised an eyebrow, “Oh?”
He straightened slightly, and Morgana could see what she thought might be the tip of a nose beneath the shadowy hood, “Yes, there’s a Wendigo who’s willing to to give all the aid that she has available for an… interesting, but cheap price.”
Morgana wrinkled her nose, “What use have I for a Wendigo? She can’t be much more useful than any of the other soldiers we are preparing.”
She couldn’t see it, but she could hear his smile in the tone of his voice, “I’ll send her in immediately.”
She grunted as The One silently walked out of her room, then she sat down at her desk and waited for the Wendigo to show up.
A few minutes later, the door opened, and a dark-skinned girl entered with a slouch into the room. She had black hair that stretched to just below her shoulders, brown eyes that glinted in the candlelight of the room, and a bright blue scarf that covered her mouth.
“How may I help you?” Morgana asked in the most polite tone she could manage.
The girl pulled down her scarf with her left hand, keeping her right in her pocket, a mix of frostbite marks covered the skin on her hand, which was adorned with rings made of bone. Her mouth under the scarf had terrible scars, where her lips had been was puckered red skin, and there were blood stains surrounding her mouth.
“I hear you’re trying to fight TARP.” Emma said, a vicious grin spread across her torn up face. Her voice was remarkably powerful and steady for one so frail and battered as Emma, Morgana had expected a thin and whispering voice to come from those blood-stained teeth, but the voice that came out instead scared her more than the smile on the Wendigo’s face.
Morgana took a deep breath, today was not a good day for her nerves, “Do you have some service to offer that would aid our efforts against them?”
Emma’s grin merely widened, “I was one of them.”
That got Morgana’s attention.
She straightened up, “I see.”
Emma leaned forward slightly, her dark brown eyes glittering like small fires, “I can tell you how to get into their clubhouse, I can tell you their secrets, I can tell you their strengths and weaknesses, Hell, I could even tell you their favorite foods if you want to poison them. I can tell you everything.” Her voice burned with passion, and Morgana was beginning to feel the heat.
She leaned back in her chair, “This is all very good,” she held back her internal glee, “but what do you want from us? Miss…”
“Emma,” was the response, “and as to what I want.” Emma’s grin faded, and the fire in her eyes turned cold and hard, “I want the wolf-girl, Whitsen’s daughter.”
The One was right, again, the price would be easy enough, with the information Emma had to give, but not at all what Morgana would have expected, “Would you like her in one piece?” Morgana asked.
Emma surged forward and grabbed Morgana by the throat, her growl pounding into Morgana’s ears, “You touch one hair on Polnaya’s head and TARP will be the least of your worries.”
Morgana grinned, this was very interesting, “I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”
Patience was not one of Emma’s strong suits, after joining the fight against TARP she had expected a quick offensive to destroy them and then for Polnaya to be handed over to her. But instead it took a year of preparation, and now that the year was finally over, she once again had to wait, for sundown so Morgana’s sorcerers could begin their work.
That wasn’t to say it hadn’t been a productive year, it had only taken a month for them to capture the dragon that would combat Mithrandir’s Smaug, half the year to locate a path to the clubhouse through the realms of magic, the trees had given them a bit of trouble, but they were eventually moved into position.
And if nothing else, Emma was fed. For years, decades, centuries Emma had struggled to find enough food for herself, and she was constantly on the brink of starvation, but during this year, she needed only to tell someone she was hungry, and one of the many TTYL would zap himself through time and pick her up some nice tasty human. She now felt stronger, more powerful, she slouched less, the frostbite scars had all but faded, her lips had returned to her, and even her precious right hand had begun to grow back from the steady food supply.
And now the final moment had come, in a few precious hours the barriers would be broken and the army would be able to rush in and crush the TARPers before they knew what hit them. Emma watched the quiet clubhouse from a hilltop, as she watched, two people came out of the building, each carrying a longbow and a quiver. At first she was about to shrug it off as a TARP idiosyncrasy, but then three small wolf pups came bounding out the door, with their mother following calmly behind them.
“Mr. Bachman, I assure you,” Morgana said, “we have sent a plenty large enough force to quell the threat at the Clubhouse.”
Giorgio Bachman had been made the TTYL director of the Western Hemisphere after Trevor Carmichael had left the position some five years ago, but where Carmichael was reasonable, smart, and creative, Bachman was paranoid, nit-picky, and very assertive. Which, unfortunately for Morgana, was exactly the kind of person the Committee wanted in that position, with the threat Carmichael’s secrets potentially posed.
Morgana didn’t have much interaction with Carmichael before he left, she didn’t have much need to, Trevor was loyal enough to follow orders without question, but independent enough to break them if the situation called for it, both of which led to his eventual downfall, his loyalty to the principles he felt the TTYL embraced, and his independence to recognize that they were no longer being embraced and to act accordingly. Morgana sighed, and now she was stuck with this idiot, who felt the need to bring every single issue or question he found directly to her, instead of to the Committee, which seemed to be doing a fart-load of nothing lately.
“And I assure you, Miss Le Fay,” Bachman protested, “Trevor Carmichael knows TTYL secrets, who knows what he’s told those malevolent rebels, we cannot take any risks.”
Morgana sighed and rolled her eyes, “Mr. Carmichael has not been a part of your organization for a number of years, unless he has planted recording devices in every single one of your buildings, or has members of your organization loyal to him, then there is no cause for fear.” Morgana paused a moment, then just when Bachman was about to speak again, she continued, “And if that is the case, then I apologize Mr. Bachman, but the TTYL will have become an obstruction to our efforts, and we will have to cancel our alliance with you.” Morgana raised her eyebrow in challenge.
Giorgio Bachman stood up from his seat, a look of fury on his face, “You and I will speak again shortly Miss Le Fay.”
Morgana watched as he left the room, and muttered under breath, “I have no doubt.”
She noticed the torch in the corner of her room flickering, and let out a small groan, “This had better be good news.” She flicked her wrist, and the ball of fire at the end of the torch flew in front of her and took the form of an angry Wendigo.
It was not good news.
“Polnaya is here.” Emma growled at her employer.
Morgana shrugged, “All right, just tell the army to avoid her, I’m sure they’d be more than willing, seeing as how the alternative is triggering your fury.”
Emma sniffed scornfully, “It’s too much of a risk, you need to do something.”
Morgana rubbed her face, her day just kept getting worse, “There’s nothing I can do, I can’t delay the attack, and I can’t place any protective spells over her from this distance.”
Emma’s eyes flared, a frightening look in a face made of fire, “I need her, and you need me.”
Morgana leaned back in her chair, “No, I actually don’t, you’ve already given me everything I needed from you, you aren’t much more to me than a general with a unique taste, in more than one way.”
Emma held up a flaming fist, and the scar on Morgana’s wrist suddenly sent sharp jabs of pain through her body. “We signed an agreement, in blood,” Emma growled.
The Wendigo was right, Morgana distinctly remembered Emma’s quill dipping into the pool of blood on Morgana’s arm less than a year ago, as long as she held up her end of the bargain, she had power over Morgana, and if Morgana tried to break the agreement, then Emma could probably very well kill her. Morgana shuddered at the thought.
“Fine. I’ll send a few of the trees to capture her if she ever gets herself into the woods, but you had better not waste any time making sure she has proper accommodations. Just get her tied up then continue with the battle.”
Emma grunted, then waved her hand and disappeared with a poof of flame.
“Where are those trees?” Emma growled. In four hours all the barriers would be broken and they would be able to move the full forces into position, but if those trees didn’t come in soon, then Polnaya would be caught in the middle of the battle. She was about to go through another bout of swearing, when she heard IT.
She burst out of her tent and spun around, looking for the source of the massive explosion of energy. At first she saw nothing, but then IT happened again.
A blast of purple lightning shot towards the horizon, causing every single one of Emma’s senses to tingle with energy.
She had just begun to relax from the previous blast when another bolt of purple lightning struck the horizon. Emma ran to the top of her viewing hill, trying to get a view of the situation.
“Madam? What are we going to do?” One of the idiot mortals asked her.
Emma let out a frustrated growl, “Continue as planned, we aren’t going to be distracted by funky weather.” As she turned to walk off the hill, she noticed that the open area in front of the clubhouse was deserted. She snapped around, looking for the silvery coat of Polnaya. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the wolf-mother guiding her litter into the woods away from the blasts of energy. Emma let out a triumphant grin, if she wasn’t prepared, then maybe they could catch her without the stupid trees.
Emma ran through the nervous TTYL soldiers, dressed in weapons and armor that looked like they came from a history nerd’s convention. She didn’t fully understand the purpose of using the outdated weaponry, something to do with magic being less effective on them, it didn’t matter to Emma, she never used weapons, her teeth and claws worked just fine.
She smelled the blood before she heard the fighting, and ran through the woods until she came upon the bodies of several TTYL soldiers and Polnaya standing defensively over her three pups.
The large wolf spun to face Emma, her growl quickly stopping as she tilted her head questioningly.
Emma was about to respond before a heavy weighted net was thrown over the wolf family. Polnaya immediately started to struggle, but a bunch of fur-dressed warriors jumped on the net and held it down. A tall, powerfully built man donning a black bearskin walked around the net, a triumphant grin on his face, but with each step he took, his hair lengthened, his thick muscles shrank to a more reasonable size, and the bearskin became a thin raven-black cloak as Mimoza assumed her familiar shape.
“Thank you Miss Emma,” Mimoza smiled at the Wendigo, “we might not have been able to catch her if it had not been for your distraction.”
Polnaya stopped fighting when she heard Mimoza’s words, and her cold eyes narrowed as she came to understanding.
Emma looked back and forth from Polnaya to Mimoza, “No no, thank YOU your majesty, I was worried I was going to have to catch her myself.” Emma spread her lips to reveal her pointed teeth, and patted Mimoza on the shoulder, “Would you make sure she has a nice warm place in my tent? I have a battle to organize.”
Chapter 18: Memories and Corruption
The ghosts of Vanguards past were powerful, and Xandra could feel their darkest memories being pulled and plucked by some outside force, but power of the tortured memories coming from these hollow specters were nothing compared to the memory that smacked into her from the stones of the house.
Xandra had spent a lot of time studying memories during her time at the Xyzzy library, she knew that ghosts were creations of memory, and that memory stored in this form, while not magic in and of itself, had very strong ties to magic. Both magic and memory get a lot of their strength from fate, the bigger of an impact you’re going to have on the future, the more magical you tended to be, and more of your memories tended to stick around. Ghosts, could only do so much, they can only be so powerful. When a practitioner dies, their magic energy captures the memories and holds it in a generally stable shape, so a ghost can only be as powerful as his memories and his magic.
Now, physical objects are a little more tricky when it comes to holding memories, mainly because you don’t see all that many pebbles with magic to keep them in. Usually it requires someone to consciously apply their memories to their object, or the object has writing or pictures or some other way to help store the memory energies. That’s part of what the people at the Library did, they extracted memories from physical objects. But having memories stored in so much detail and strength in simple brick-work? Almost unheard of, but the House of Vanguard makes a special point of doing what it’s not supposed to be able to.
Fire, ash, chaos, smoke fills the sky, lightning flashes, the most powerful memory in a place that should not be able to store memories of any kind blasts Xandra’s face at full strength, taking her breath away before she could even begin to process the memory before her.
Almost as quickly as it the fire and destruction had appeared, it was gone, and Xandra found herself watching a calm morning above the House of Vanguard. Lorinda was off on a week-long trip to the South, Ethan had gotten stuck at the House of Seers logging a new round of prophecies, and nobody had seen Aiwendil in a month. So Hawthorne Vanguard was left at home to take care of the four month old Oscar Vanguard and their aging father, Maximilian Vanguard.
Hawthorne was in the kitchen, quickly cooking up a meaty broth that his two toothless family members could eat. Oscar slept next to the spice rack cuddling a small raven Ethan had made for him when he was born. Hawthorne had discovered that the only place Oscar would fall asleep in the kitchen was next to the spice rack, apparently all the spices relaxed him or something, Hawthorne didn’t know, anything to keep the little tyke shut up.
Hawthorne had just dipped his ladle into the bowl of broth for tasting when Oscar started crying like a… baby. “Oh come on,” Hawthorne groaned. He dropped the ladle back into the pot and walked over to the formerly sleeping Oscar. Before he could get there though, a loud bang shook the entire house. Hawthorne stumbled, then ran out the kitchen through the dining room to the grand hall, where a massive dragon had torn down the Vanguard Manor’s large double doors.
Hawthorne swore, then ran back towards the kitchen, he was going to grab Oscar, and if he had time, grab his father then get out of there. But when he entered the kitchen, he saw a tall figure with black hair in a tight-fitting blue tunic stood in his way.
“I’m sorry Hawthorne.” Nicholas Grier said.
Hawthorne stood dumbstruck in front of the young seer. “At least let me save them.”
Nicholas shook his head, “Your brothers’ and wife’s grief will be necessary for them to follow their destined path.”
Hawthorne didn’t know how to react, he was being told that he would die for the sake of destiny. Another loud crash shook the house behind him.
He gestured to Oscar, crying next to the spice rack in his little basket, “Save him, he’s just a babe.”
Nicholas was about to protest, but Hawthorne continued, “Hide him away somewhere, don’t let them know he survived, but for God’s sake don’t let him die.”
Nicholas hesitated, the prophecy hadn’t specifically said that Oscar shouldn’t survive. It had said that the Lord and the Heir of Vanguard must die this night, but the only words it had for the Son of the Heir was that IF he did survive this night, he would grow up to be dangerous and unpredictable, one of the two “infants of Gicasim.”
“Please,” Hawthorne begged.
“Blast it Vanguard,” Nicholas swore, “If this screws up the fate of the Universe I am calling up your ghost and smacking it.”
Hawthorne’s head lowered, “I’m not getting one…”
Nicholas looked at Hawthorne, just as a section of the wall collapsed. The Dragon was tearing open the upper floors, looking for Maximilian. “Oh, I see.”
Ghosts are created by a practitioner’s remaining magic holding their memories in a somewhat corporeal form, but if something powerful enough causes a practitioner’s death, then the energy is scattered and both the magic and memories are lost.
Nicholas grabbed Oscar’s basket, “See you when I’m not needed anymore.” Then he ran.
Hawthorne turned to the gaping hole in the wall, so far the beast hadn’t noticed him, it was still looking for his father, but Hawthorne wasn’t going to let it do that without getting through him first. Hawthorne reached for the sky and pulled light from the stars, gathering it in the palm of his hand, astrologers all around Gicasim panicked at the star-dimming, thinking that something dangerous was coming, but it was already here.
Hawthorne fired the ball of light at the side of the dragon, who was knocked back a few feet. The dragon turned to face Hawthorne, but he was already running at the beast, drawing all the metal in the room towards him and forging it into a sword.
The dragon opened its maw, and Hawthorne could see the fire building up in its throat, so he let out one last burst of running before stabbing the sword into the chest of the dragon.
The dragon reared up on its hind legs, blasting fire into the ceiling. Hawthorne jumped away from it to get a review of his surroundings, but as soon as he did, all light in the house was banished. Darkness swallowed everything around Hawthorne, he was trapped in his own house. His breathing slowed, as he tried to use his ears to guide him, he knew that the dragon was stronger than him, so if he tried to create any light in this room he wouldn’t be able to see it unless he brought it to his eyes.
So instead, he gathered the darkness together, then used his ears to locate the dragon and shot its own darkness back at it. A resounding crash and a shockwave of energy that threw him to the wall behind him told Hawthorne that he had succeeded in his attempt to locate the dragon.
Hawthorne was able to fend the dragon off for slightly less than an hour, drawing it through the various rooms of the house. When Hawthorne finally poured out all of his life energy to shatter the remains of the house at the top of the hill, he severely crippled the dragon and forced it through the portal that had summoned it.
The fire and smoke of the battle lasted for days, and nobody was able to get close to the mansion for a week.
Xandra stumbled as the ghosts around her gloated at the weak mortals who struggled against the terrifying memories that were now their lives. She looked up at the purple specters, she knew the touch of that despair and fear. But before she could say anything, Lorinda shouted beside her.
“Stop! I am Lorinda Vanguard! The entwined of Hawthorne Vanguard! I am a member of your house, and these children are under my protection!”
Suddenly the ghosts stopped, confusion on their faces, and Xandra felt a burden lifted from her shoulders. But before she could begin to do anything, her scar from the Guardian Sisters burned into her neck.
How on Earth did she believe her? Morgana was such an obvious excuse, “Oh yeah, I killed Olaf because of this sorceress that will randomly spontaneously possess me for her own purpose.” How could she have been so gullible? Xandra cursed her idiocy.
She turned to Meg, the daughter of Poseidon, murderer of Olaf Whitsen, and reached for one of the knives at her belt.
Meg saw the dark glint in Xandra’s eyes, and she yanked her sword from it sheath. Her subconscious futilely reminded her that she had cleaned the blade since the year before, but she and Xandra both saw the rusty blood coating the blade.
In the corner of her eye, she saw Lorinda weeping with her own struggles, but it meant nothing to her. Noli was right, TARP would never accept her again, not after what she had done.
Xandra advanced towards Meg, knives flickering silver in the moonlight. Meg whipped her blood-stained blade back and forth, forcing Xandra to keep her distance.
The ghosts hovered around the emotionally charged scene, spectating it with the awestruck wonder of those who can no longer experience new emotion.
Xandra jumped forward, catching Meg’s sword with the guard of one dagger and thrusting with the other. Meg twisted her sword around, throwing Xandra’s dagger into the air and cutting into Xandra’s leg with one fell swoop.
The Daughter of Hypnos fell to the ground, swearing in greek as the Daughter of Poseidon fled from her former friend.
Xandra stood, her scar still burning, blood starting to soak her left leg. She turned to Lorinda, but the widow was still weeping from past memories, the ghosts had disappeared, so there was no point in sticking around. Xandra limped off alone, building her anger at Meg for betraying them all and lying to her.
Behind her, in the ruins of the Vanguard Manor, a pale lavender spirit smiled, then disappeared in a flash.
Chapter 19: Supernaturally-Enhanced Teenage Drama
Jethro didn’t waste any time taking off from Gicasim, he’d met Gicasii people before. Weird-elf-magician people who will do anything you say as long as it isn’t fun. They scared the pants off of him, and he didn’t want to spend any more time on the planet surface than necessary.
“Where to Captain?” Mister Kelsie walked on the poop deck of the HMS Riftslice. The lizard-human hybrid wasn’t a looker by Jethro’s standards, which was probably why the Royal Navy had chosen her for his second-in-command aboard the Riftslice, the less distractions he had the more useful he would be. Not that he did that kind of thing anymore, but better safe than sorry, in the Navy’s eyes.
“Any orders from Admiral Kent?” Jethro asked her.
“Not so far,” Mister Kelsie hissed.
Jethro grinned and stepped to the helm, “Then we’re still on leave. How do you feel about a trip to the Axiom taverns Mister Kelsie?”
Kelsie hesitated, “You know I’m here to keep you from distractions, right?”
“Oh come now, you and I both know that you drink more than any man or beast on this ship combined, don’t try to play like you don’t.” Jethro countered.
Before she could respond, another sailor ran up the poop deck, “Sir! We’re picking up a message from Primeveire Sayre!”
Jethro perked up, “Patch her in!” Then he grabbed a small tablet, taking a moment to run a finger through his hair before answering.
To his disappointment, it was not Prim who appeared on the screen, but the nasty little Princess of Raatpim, Arianne Walters, “You done dropping off Trelawney yet?”
“Where’s Prim?” Jethro growled. Mister Kelsie decided that now would be a good time to take her leave, she nodded goodbye to Jethro, who didn’t even notice, and walked down to the main deck.
“Prim’s busy, we need you here.” Firestriker said bluntly.
Jethro was barely able to keep his face from contorting into a sneer, he didn’t like Firestriker all that much, his general distaste of TARPers coupled and playful personality often created sparks with the tough ex-princess, who had essentially adopted an all-business attitude when Trevor Carmichael first joined TARP to take down the corruption in the TTYL, which had lead to what equated a war between the two groups of time travellers for the past four and a half years.
“Why me?” He asked.
“Carmichael says we need a fresh pair of eyes, particularly one who has had more recent experience with the Merchant,” she answered.
Jethro straightened up, his eyebrow raised, “the Merchant?”
“He left his calling card,” Firestriker turned the device around to show a large building in what looked to be a military complex, surrounded by a thick steel rosebush.
“I’ll be right there.” Jethro responded before turning off the device. “Mister Kelsie!”
“Aye-aye Captain?” She responded down below.
“Ready the crew!” He called down, “We’re heading for Nevada!”
“He’s on his way,” Firestriker said to Trevor as she walked into the room, he was on one of the computers in a different building.
“Good.” He grunted, his keys flying across the keyboard.
She looked over his shoulder at the computer, “Has it said anything yet?”
“Only that it’ll call its mother if we don’t stop bullying it.” He growled, the computer had been irritating him for the better part of an hour, when he turned it on, the only thing that opened was a simple text interface that put him in a conversation with the most insane, childish AI he had ever met. None of the other computers in the building were any better.
“What about Prim? Has she been able to create any shadows yet?” Firestriker questioned.
“Only her own.”
“And the bodies?”
“Still no cause of death.”
Firestriker paced back and forth, four buildings in the complex, four symptoms. The first building had been wrapped up with The Merchant of Viademort’s traditional steel vines, with victims inside strung up and killed in some of the various creative methods that Vural Demirci enjoyed. The second building had its victims electrocuted to death, a sign of the vague Phantom Circuit, a theory further supported by the insane virus-infected computers. The third had its doors blocked by Viademort’s vines, but nothing more, and all the victims inside had absolutely no signs of death. The fourth building, where Prim was currently, was littered with bodies killed in various strange fashions, but the weird part about it, was that no matter where you shined a light, in any direction, on anything, there weren’t any shadows, except for your own.
“You sure bringing Jethro into this is a good idea?” Trevor swivelled around away from the chair to face Firestriker.
“No, but like you said, we need a fresh pair of eyes, someone who’s seen the Merchant more recently, who can explain why he’s suddenly stopped working alone.”
Trevor sighed, “Have you told Prim that he’s coming?”
She shook her head, “Not yet, I was going to tell her just after talking to you.”
“You’d better go do that, I’ll make sure Captain Mainsburry doesn’t land on something important.” Trevor stood up from his chair and walked outside.
Firestriker shook her head, this was promising to be an interesting few days.
Prim was walking around the room, flashlight shining in the darkness. There was still darkness, if you turned off the lights, but it never had any defined shape, shine a flashlight at a computer and half the time there would be a plain circle of light on the wall, the other half there wouldn’t be any light, but either way, no shadow.
Firestriker opened the door, “Prim? You there?”
Prim spun around, pointing the flashlight at Firestriker, whose bold shadow clearly marked the ground behind her. “Yeah, I’m here.”
Firestriker flipped on the lightswitch on, slightly unnerved by the lack of shadows in the room, “I just came to tell you that Carmichael and I called in Jethro to have a fresh look at things here.”
For a moment, Prim’s eyes lit up with joy, then darkened, and she lowered her head, “Oh, okay.”
Firestriker walked over to Prim and put an arm over her shoulder. Oh crud, guy troubles, I am going to be so useless, but we need her to be fully functional. “What’s wrong?”
Prim sighed, “It’s nothing.”
Firestriker grabbed Prim by the shoulders and turned her around, forcing the girl’s deep violet eyes to line up with her pair of gray storms, “Prim, we’re a family here, you can trust me, what’s the problem?”
Prim looked down for a moment, then back up to Firestriker’s face, “It’s Jethro, I’ve liked him for a few years now, and I’m pretty sure he’s liked me too, but he’s never been willing to make a move, and every time I try he seems to shy away from me and make it more awkward.”
Oh crud crud crud how am I supposed to respond to this, what am I supposed to do, brain malfunction oh gods I’m a mess. Firestriker ran a comforting hand through Prim’s hair, “I’m sure he likes you, you’re a great girl Prim.” Prim’s eyes lowered and Firestriker thought she saw a glimmer of wetness in the corner of her eyes. Dang it woman you messed up, great, now she’s crying, give her a hug or something. Firestriker awkwardly wrapped her arms around the girl, who was now bawling in her shoulder.
“But why won’t he show it? What is so terrible about me that he’s not willing to show his affection?” Don’t say anything don’t say anything don’t say anything.
“Maybe there’s something in his past, maybe he doesn’t think you’ll like him because he’s had bad experiences with a past girlfriend or something.” What did I tell you?
Prim looked up, her face still wet with tears, “Past girlfriend?”
JUST SHUT UP WOMAN YOU ARE MAKING A MESS OF THIS POOR GIRL YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.
“Or something.” She reassured the small Abhorsen, but she mainly said it so she wouldn’t say anything more. Congratulations Arianne, you just broke an already hurting heart, good job, you should get a medal. The girl silently cried into Firestriker’s shoulder for a few more minutes while the ex-princess hoped to God that Trevor would have better luck with the Star Sailor.
Jethro stepped off the HMS Riftslice with a dramatic flourish of his jacket, while Trevor Carmichael stood arms crossed in front of the gangplank.
“Hey gramps, how’ve you been?” Jethro grinned at the only slightly older man.
“When you’re done coming down send the boat away, we don’t need extras around here.” Trevor grunted.
Jethro jumped to the ground, then waved a dismissive hand to the Riftslice, “Stay out of sight, I’ll call you when I’m done here.” Then it left.
When the ship had left, Jethro looked from the steel vine surrounded building to Trevor, “Is… Does she know I’m here?”
Trevor snorted, “Striker told her you were coming an hour ago, I haven’t seen either of them since.”
Jethro sighed, the last traces of a grin fading from his face.
“What’s going on between you two? You both seem to alternate between as happy as a bucketful of butterflies to mopier than the triplets when I tell them no more chocolate.”
Jethro snapped around to glare at Trevor, fire lashing out of his eyes, “None of your business, let’s go look at the Merchant.”
But the former TTYL officer wasn’t having any of that, he grabbed Jethro by the shoulder and yanked him back, “Look here Mainsburry, it’s true that I do need you, but I need all of you, I can’t have you distracted by a little necromancer you’re having a bit of love trouble with.”
Jethro growled, “First, she’s an Abhorsen, not a necromancer. And second, I don’t…” he hesitated, “love her.”
Trevor snorted, “Obviously not, if you did then you’d be able to settle this little issue you’re having with her.”
Jethro’s eyes flared again, “Look here old man-”
“No you look here Captain Mainsburry,” Trevor interrupted, “I’ve been married for fifteen years, Polnaya and I have had our fair share of arguments, but you don’t have a happy marriage if you leave those arguments unsettled, so again I ask you, what is going on between you and Primeveire Sayre?”
Jethro held Trevor’s gaze for a moment, but he was old enough to know when he had been beat, and lowered his eyes in submission.
“When I was a kid, before I joined the Navy, I got pulled into this gang, a real rough gang, with contacts all around the world, probably some time travel involved as well, probably had some connections to the TTYL too,” Jethro began, “anyway, in order to accept me in their group, they put me on this mission, I had to help them kill this family that was causing a lot of trouble. In the end, I didn’t pull the trigger or anything, but I still helped, and that’s what was the problem.”
Trevor listened intently to Jethro’s narration.
“When it happened, the names didn’t mean anything to me, but part of me remembered them anyway, Lireal Goldenhand and Nicholas Sayre.”
Trevor’s eyebrow raised, but he said nothing.
“When I met Prim, I heard about her revenge quest for the people who killed her parents, and at first I thought little of it, it took me a few months to finally make the connection, but by then it was too late… by then…” Jethro trailed off.
“By then you had realized that you loved her,” Trevor continued for him.
Jethro nodded at Trevor.
“So if you told her, her word would bind her to kill you in revenge for the deaths of her parents, but you can’t keep a secret that big from the person you love.”
Jethro nodded again.
“You…” Trevor shook a finger at the sailor, “You have gotten yourself into a big problem.”
Jethro’s eyes narrowed, “Thank you for the observation.”
“Sorry,” Trevor apologized, “It’s just… I never really had to deal with teenage drama before, is this what High School is like? I’m almost glad I got stuck with the TTYL instead.”
Jethro started to walk away, “If you’re not going to take my troubles seriously then I’ll be leaving.”
“No, no,” Trevor stopped him, “I just need a moment to process this, why don’t we have a look at the other issue at hand first.” He gestured to the large building, still wrapped up in vines.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Chapter 20: Everyone prepare's to kick Morgana's Culus
“Now what?” Nevah asked.
Oscar stared at the door, blinking, “Is he coming back?”
Nevah slowly turned around the room, taking in all the dusty scrolls and books surrounding them, “He said ‘when they come for you’ so I suppose we wait for the others to pick us up?”
“For how long?” Oscar asked, patience had never been one of his strong-suits, and neither had trust. The idea of sitting here waiting on the word of an eccentric prophet was extremely unnerving for him.
Nevah shrugged, “Until someone comes to pick us up.”
Oscar growled slightly, his frustration building, he grabbed one of the books and sat in a chair, trying to relax. A moment later, he tossed the book aside, “Stupid thing’s in Gicasii, I can’t read it.”
Nevah raised an eyebrow at Oscar, “You can’t read Gicasii?”
He grunted, “I know three variations of Elvish, fourteen different Earth languages, the time traveller’s common tongue, troll, hobgoblin, and the Six Tongues of Allets, but I’ve never learned my home tongue, I’ve never needed it, and Olaf’s never taught me because of all the bad memories he’s associated with our home.” Nevah and Oscar were silent for a moment.
“You speak hobgoblin?” Nevah asked, a thin smile on her face.
Oscar grinned back, “It’s an easy language to learn, they only have ninety different words, and fifteen of them are variations of ‘food’.”
Nevah chuckled, “Can I hear some?”
Oscar was about to respond, but the flames in the room flickered and died. A quiet rasping voice that seemed to have no source spoke, “Well, well, well, would you look what we have here.”
Emma tackled Olaf to the ground, sinking her teeth into his shoulder. Nevah finally was able to regain control over herself, and charged forward, Neutrino pointed at the two figures who were now rolling together, away from Believer, thankfully.
Olaf couldn’t see the person on his back, he tried to grab her but the strap of his satchel had tangled with his right arm and his left was held firmly in his opponent’s clawed hand.
“Emma!” He heard Nevah’s voice behind him. Emma? When did she get here?
The person on his back froze, just for an instant, but before Olaf could take advantage of even that miniscule moment, he heard the shot of a Neutrino 2000 and the person on his back with her teeth sunk into his shoulder went slack.
He twisted the other person off, and he could feel someone else trying to get her off of him, and when he finally stood up, he could see the Wendigo who had disappeared half a year before his death. “Emma?”
“I don’t know.” Nevah responded next to him, “I saw her capture Harper, and then jump on you, so I came running.”
Olaf nodded, “Thanks,” he looked at Nevah, “Does this make us even now?”
Nevah raised an eyebrow, “You don’t understand how debts work do you?”
He shrugged, “Worth a shot.”
Believer groaned behind them, “What happened?”
Olaf spun around and knelt beside Believer, “Nothing you need to worry yourself about, mate,” he looked around at the meadow, which aside from the casualties lying still on the ground was significantly emptier than it had been. “But it looks like we won.”
Believer smiled weakly, “Good to know I didn’t die in vain then.”
Others began to walk forward in a semicircle around Believer.
“You’re not dead yet,” Olaf said.
Believer chuckled, then winced at the pain, “It’s only a matter of time, this blood around me isn’t all from the other guy.”
Olaf didn’t respond, and there was silence.
“Well,” Believer said, “It’s been great with you guys, I have served my King to the very end, and now I’ll get to meet him.” And with that, Believer breathed his last.
Olaf reached forward and closed Believer’s eyelids, then stood up, “Anyone else?”
Potter nodded, then gestured behind her, “Rachel and Evenstar, side by side like they would have wanted.”
Olaf nodded, there was no to say anything.
“You know,” Percy said, examining the edge of his sword, “I used to hate Morgana, but now I hate Morgana.”
There were general murmurs of agreement in the circle. “This time,” Elessar growled, “we take the fight to her.”
“That can be arranged,” a voice called from outside the circle. They all turned to look at Nicholas Grier and the reinforcements he had brought with him, they were not without their own casualties, but they were ready.
“You know where she is?” Percy asked.
Nicholas grinned, “And I can get you there.”
Xandra stood in the room she had stayed in earlier, before she had found Meg. “I can’t lose her trail, but the other’s need to know.” She paced the room while battling with herself over the two options, she had been having this internal discussion for two hours now, over whether to regroup or continue tracking Meg, but now it had started to devolve from any form of reason to simply one choice or the other, any arguments or evidence to either side had been lost in a cloud of indecision.
A loud banging interrupted her thoughts, and a voice came from the other side of the door, “Open up!”
Xandra checked her sleeve for the knife she always had hidden there, then walked to the door, unlocked and opened it in one swift motion.
Two young men stood at the door, the first’s fist was held up to continue the banging, and he was caught in surprise by the open door. The other stepped in, grabbed Xandra’s hand and locked her in a set of handcuffs.
Xandra started to fight, but the first man grabbed a baton from his belt and whacked her on the side of the head. “You are under arrest by the Time Travellers Youth League, for unauthorized possession of time travel technologies, unregistered use of time travel, disturbance of the peace, and other crimes directly violating the laws of time travel,” he announced to her unconscious form.
Meg had been sitting in the ship for three hours, it hadn’t taken the TTYL long to find her after the incident at the Vanguard Manor, and she’d been immediately arrested. Then they’d shoved her into the ship, and she’d sat there handcuffed in the brig ever since. She didn’t know what they were waiting for, but she knew they were waiting for something, she could tell it from the whispered tones of their voices. She couldn’t hear the actual words, but she know they were expecting something, and then they’d be able to take off.
Another hour later, she found out what they’d been waiting for.
Xandra was shoved into the cell next to her, handcuffed, gagged, and blindfolded, she was wearing the same prisoner outfit that Meg had been placed to, apparently they’d had plenty of experiences with hidden weapons in the clothes they brought themselves.
The blindfold and gag were taken off of Xandra, and the cell door was locked behind her. Meg watched apprehensively as Xandra’s eyes adjusted to the dark, and then caught sight of Meg.
“You…” she growled.
“This,” Meg muttered to herself, “is going to be an interesting trip.”
“Hi…” Jethro said awkwardly to Prim.
Prim didn’t respond, but instead turned to Trevor, “What have you been able to discover?”
Trevor looked back and forth from Prim to Jethro, then threw a sidelong glance at Firestriker, the two of them had already exchanged notes on the complicated romance between the two young people before them, and they knew with each passing exchange between them the tension would increase tenfold.
“Well… Jethro didn’t know anything about The Merchant working with anyone, but he said that he was acting a little strange last time, not finishing off his targets like he normally would.”
Prim shrugged, making a special point of not looking at Jethro, “What’s that tell us?”
Before Trevor could respond, a swirling rainbow appeared in the middle of the group.
“Hello? Is this working?” Elessar’s face appeared in the rainbow.
“Iris message?” Firestriker raised her eyebrow, “I didn’t know you used those.”
He grunted on the other side, “I don’t, but all these Demigods surrounding me said it would be more efficient.”
“So, what are you calling us for?” Trevor demanded.
“Pack your things, the investigation is no longer relevant, we’re going to kick Morgana’s-”
A cough came from over Elessar’s shoulder, who turned around and stuck his tongue out at someone behind him. He turned back to the Iris message, “Anyway, take the Riftslice to that castle you almost blew up trying to catch us, remember it Carmichael?”
Trevor awkwardly scratched at the back of his head, “Yeah, I can tell Jethro how to get to it.”
“Good,” Elessar said, “That’s where Morgana’s holding her base with all the other nasties she’s gathered with her.”
Trevor nodded, “Have you gotten in contact with Xandra?”
Elessar shook his head, “Tried, but something’s blocking the signal, if you can reach her aboard the Riftslice, pick her up.”
Trevor opened his mouth to speak, but Elessar interrupted him, “One other thing, if you do come in contact with her, tell her that Meg isn’t a worry, and…” Elessar looked behind him, “Actually, you’re all going to want to see that face to face, Mithrandir out.” He waved a hand through the Iris message, and the rainbow faded away.
“Well that was interesting,” Trevor said, “I wonder what he was talking about.”
But Jethro had already started walking to the landing place for the Riftslice, “We’ll find out when we get there, but let’s worry about getting there first.”
And they all turned to follow him.
“What do you mean we lost?” Morgana demanded.
Giorgio Bachmann and Mimoza stood in front of her. Giorgio had begun to sweat nervously, but Mimoza, as always when criticized, remained completely calm.
“Exactly as I told you before,” Mimoza’s honeyed voice had placated many a rage but it only served to calm Morgana down a small amount, “They had reinforcements from Gicasim, a band of mercenaries and a Seer.”
“I thought you said all those Seers were destroyed,” Morgana growled.
Mimoza shrugged, “Evidently I was wrong, I didn’t wait long after the first civil war to see if any had survived.”
Morgana growled, this wasn’t the way things were supposed to have happened.
Do not worry, a voice in her head told her, everything is going according to plan.
Maybe your plan, Morgana responded angrily, but my plans keep on getting thwarted by these… these… teenagers!
That is because you do not see the bigger picture, the voice said, forget about TARP, we are talking about the whole world here. Now where is my Wendigo?
Morgana narrowed her eyes, but asked the question, “Where is Emma? Was she not leading the battle?”
Mimoza hesitated, she wasn’t sure how Morgana would react to this bit of news, she knew she could handle whatever reaction there was, but she still needed a moment to prepare herself. “She did lead the battle, and she did so valiantly, but she was captured.”
What… the voice in Morgana’s head grew taut, this, was not part of the plan.
A sense of fear built in Morgana. As much as she didn’t like it, she had come to trust the plans made by The One. They seemed counterproductive at first, but in the end there was always victory, and they had never failed. She wondered now how even a small thing such as a single Wendigo being captured could alter the end result of his plans, and that was where her fear came from.
“How?” Morgana demanded.
Well, that could have been worse, Mimoza thought to herself, thinking she was free, she shrugged, “I’m not sure, all I know was that as we retreated she wasn’t with us, and I wasn’t going to waste any time trying to look for her.”
Morgana’s eyes flared, and Mimoza realized she had made a mistake, “You took your eyes off her?”
For once, a flash of fear crossed Mimoza’s face, Morgana made a mental note that the shapeshifting queen wasn’t completely invulnerable, “You let the former TARP associate out of your sights? I suppose after a year of seeing where our main base was and observing our battle plans you thought she was trustworthy? Did it ever cross your idiotic, carefree, flirtatious mind that she could have betrayed us and told them everything?”
Mimoza’s eyes narrowed, she was tempted to argue against the insulting description, she was not a flirt, she was a merchant, who dealt in pleasure. Most often her customers wanted romantic attention, and because of her gifts she could most easily work with these customers. But she did not do it for any selfish purposes, her curse from Impotentia prevented that, to serve any who came to her in exchange for the ability to change her form at will. All Mimoza did was try to make the most out of the services she gave others.
Instead she said nothing, and allowed Morgana’s insult to go uncontested, which she knew would only serve to anger the witch more, but at this point Mimoza didn’t care.
Morgana saw that Mimoza hadn’t visibly reacted, and almost shouted at her more, but instead turned to the TTYL director.
“And you, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Giorgio’s eyes widened, and he began to sweat again. Morgana had been angry at Mimoza for quite some time, and he had begun to think he was off the hook.
“Only that my men did exactly as they were told, no more, no less.” He breathed a sigh of relief, he had that answer prepared well before he had even been called into Morgana’s office, and he was glad that he had been able to say it in a relatively even voice.
There was a flurry of darkness that moved through the door to Morgana’s office and in front of her, past the two chastised leaders.
The dark shape had an indistinct humanoid form, and the only feature it had were two red eyes peering from its rippling head. “We have visitors m’Lady. It is the children, and they are ready for battle.”
Blasted Grier, The One said in Morgana’s head, he’s lead them here, I know he has. Prepare for a fight Morgana, one that may be your last.
Chapter 20.5 A Proper Tribute
“Well?” Nicholas asked, “You ready?”
Everyone looked at each other, murmuring affirmatives, when Nevah stepped forward, “Actually, not quite.”
A dozen faces turned to look at her curiously.
Nevah walked to the three mounds, spaced evenly apart from each other in front of the Clubhouse, “Would you all come here? Except you, Grier, this should be between us.”
The Seer took a respectful step backwards, and the mercenaries he had brought with him remained separate.
The other TARPers gathered in a circle around where Nevah stood, making a special point to not disturb the three mounds of dirt.
From her pocket, Nevah produced a seed, and then she knelt down and began to scoop out a handful of dirt.
“What are you-?” Potter began.
“Shh,” Nevah said, “it’s better for you to see real time.”
She placed the seed in the hole she had dug, and then scooped the pile of dirt over the seed. The moment she did so, the world flashed white.
Rachel and Evenstar charged the enemy, arrows flying. Compared to the competition they had set up earlier, this was child's play for the two of them. They didn’t have any need to hit any particular enemy, so their target was significantly larger, and the distance decreased every second.
“Sixteen!” Rachel yelled at her friend.
Evenstar let loose an arrow, “Eighteen!”
Rachel narrowed her eyes, then shot two more arrows into the enemy, “Eigh-”
Evenstar shot an arrow in the direction of one of Rachel’s, “That wasn’t a kill shot.”
“Do you want this arrow?” Rachel asked.
Evenstar shot behind Rachel, who heard the thud of arrow hitting flesh, “Pay attention Rach!”
And so the two of them continued, shooting arrow after arrow, teasing each other all the while. But as the enemy kept closing in, the two found themselves back to back, the range was dangerously close to be using bows and arrows, but neither of them had time to close range weapons at this point. The counting and teasing had stopped, now they were fighting for their lives.
“Rachel,” Evenstar said, while firing another arrow at the enemy.
Her friend barely got an arrow into a TTYL soldier who had gotten too close before answering, “Yeah?”
“If I die,” Evenstar said, “Tell Edmund I love him.”
“I will.” Rachel answered. “Would you do the same for my sister?”
For a while, there was no sound other than the snap-thud of arrow fire. Then Evenstar heard a weak gasp of pain from behind her, and felt Rachel fall limp. Evenstar immediately spun around and loaded three arrows into the surprised shifter who thought she had just had an easy victory.
Wanting desperately to go to her friend’s side, to see if she was alright, to drag her away from the battle, but knowing that to do so would be suicide, Evenstar fought the enemy back with a renewed vigor until none dared to challenge the lone archer.
Evenstar dropped to the ground and turned Rachel over to view the wound, blood had soaked her clothing and the ground underneath. Evenstar tore open Rachel’s blouse and wiped away the excess blood with her own until she could see the wound.
The shifter had stabbed upward into Rachel’s chest cavity. Evenstar could tell that it hadn’t by itself been a killing blow, but Rachel had lost too much blood and if left like she was then she would die.
“Evie,” Rachel coughed.
"Don’t waste your energy,” Evenstar said. “I’m here for you.”
Rachel nodded contentedly, then slumped to the ground. Panicked, Evenstar checked for a pulse, and was grateful to find that there still was one.
Evenstar could still hear the battle around them, but a silent circle of enemies stood guard around them, not wanting to risk getting shot, they saw that Evenstar’s bow was still very much close by and knew that she could easily shoot anyone who stepped forward.
But, contrary to the danger, one TTYL officer walked up to the two friends.
Evenstar looked up, hatred burning on her face, “What do you want?”
The officer took a deep breath, “Look, we were told to try to defeat you, but seeing the way that you cared for your friend, I want to give you a chance. A duel, just me and you, if you win, then my people here will leave you alone, if not, then I will take care of your friend here myself.”
Evenstar stood, the anger still very much present, she gestured to the saxe knife belted at her waist, “I’ve only got a knife.”
The officer turned and nodded to one of the others surrounding, who stepped forward nervously and gave his sword to the officer, who then handed it to Evenstar.
Taking the sword grudgingly, she swung it a few times to test its balance, “You’ll take care of her if I lose?”
“I give you my word as a man of the law,” the officer said.
Evenstar shrugged, she’d never had much faith in the TTYL law, but she trusted this man’s own faith in his law. She held the sword in the ready position.
The man drew his own sword from a scabbard by his side, “En garde.”
Evenstar charged the man with all the fury she had in her, she could see that he was taken by surprise and barely blocked the first of her strokes, but eventually he was able to set his ground and defended her onslaught more easily.
As the officer grew more confident and Evenstar’s anger began to burn out, he took less of a defensive stance and began to play a more offensive role, pushing Evenstar back and forcing her into the defensive.
But as he pushed her back Evenstar caught Rachel’s body in her peripheral and her energy burst back, putting her into the offensive and catching the TTYL soldier by surprise. The duel continued like this for quite some time, back and forth, the officer slowly gaining confidence in his offensive and pushing Evenstar back, Evenstar falling back until she remembered what she was fighting for and then returning fire with renewed vigor.
At one point during Evenstar’s offensive, the man’s face began to change, sure that it was a result of her exhaustion, Evenstar ignored it for a while, until she realized that she recognized the face. It was Edmund, her husband from Cair Paravel.
Evenstar faltered, and the officer took the opportunity to press into the offensive again. Evenstar tried to fight back, but this was Edmund, but it couldn’t be Edmund, why was it Edmund, her defenses grew weak, her openings larger, until eventually she felt the cold steel of the officer’s blade pierce her chest. As she hit the ground, her vision blurring, her body going cold, she looked up at the officer’s face. It was no longer Edmund, it had never been Edmund, and she cursed herself for thinking it was. Her last thoughts were hoping that the officer would keep his promise about Rachel.
“Poor poor Evenstar Pevensie,” the officer said, a not-at-all friendly smile on his face, “I suppose I did promise.” He stepped forward to Rachel’s body, the smile fading from his face, “but she was already dead.” He stabbed Rachel in the chest.
The officer began to shift, growing leaner and taller, the TTYL uniform became a dark raven-black cloak. His short brown hair became as dark as the cloak, and about as long too. Atop his head formed a silver circlet with a purple gemstone set in the middle.
“Move out!” Mimoza ordered, “We’ve risked enough as it is.”
Then the image faded. Believer’s death also showed in front of them, but they had all seen it before. When they looked down where Nevah had planted the seed, a small tree that came to Nevah’s shoulder now stood.
“What was that?” Olaf asked.
“I found the seed in the Room of Memory,” Nevah said, “I figured it would do something like that, it stores memories inside of itself, that’s where it gets its energy, it can grow underground, inside, it needs no water or nutrients, all it needs are memories and it will continue to grow.”
“Kind of symbolic too,” Potter said, and everyone looked at her, “Life,” she pointed at the tree, “from Death,” her hand moved to gesture to the mounds of dirt.
Everybody stared at the little tree for a moment, leaves and branches that had grown in a matter of moments, leaves and branches that held the memories of their dearest friends.
Chapter 21: The Calm Before the Storm
“Do you ever feel like,” Ryuu began, “You’re too small for the world?”
Curly looked over the cliff, “Like you’re just a minor character in a story you helped write?”
“Like your life means nothing to the world? And if you were to die it would change nothing?” Kayne asked.
There was a pause in their philosophical discussion as they thought about the answers to their questions.
“Well,” Kayne said, “for little guys we sure do pack a punch.”
And they all nodded together while the city in front of them burned.
“Guys!” Evenstar’s ragged voice came from behind them. They all spun around to see her limping towards them, exhausted. Curly ran forwards first, the other two followed a moment later. Evenstar stumbled, but Ryuu slipped himself under her shoulder to catch her before she fell.
“Evie!” Curly said, “Are you okay?”
“We need you-” She took a deep breath, “to come…”
“Breath Evie, breath first, talk later.” Curly reassured her.
Evie took a couple shaking breaths, “They came, Morgana and her army, they took everyone to her lair, I was barely able to escape.”
The three others’ eyes widened and they gasped simultaneously.
Evie took a few other breaths, “You need to follow me, so we can get them out.”
“Where is it?” Kayne asked.
Evie straightened herself up, “It’s outside this world, somewhere magical, thankfully I have this device,” she pulled out a small device that looked like a compass, with technological odds and ends sticking out and a backwards clock face on top of it, “That I got from an old friend that can travel to magical realms.”
“Then what are you waiting for?” Ryuu asked, “Let’s go!”
Evenstar coughed a bit before answering, “I can’t do it here, sunlight messes with its mechanics, there’s a forest down that path where it’s dark enough,” she nodded weakly behind her, “but it’s a bit of a walk.”
“Come on then,” Ryuu said, “I’ll help you along.”
“No,” Evenstar declined, “I’ll trail a bit behind in tiger form, to catch my breath.”
The others stepped back, giving her room to shift into a large white tiger.
And so they ran towards the forest, Evenstar a bit behind them, but their fury at Morgana’s actions gave them the strength they needed.
“Oscar Whitsen and Nevah Gold, the infants of Gicasim.” Vural Demirci said as he waltzed into the room where Oscar and Nevah had been sitting. Three other figures entered the room from different directions. One of the figures was clad in a purple jumpsuit that covered its neck, and had purple tattoos covering its face. The next figure was made of complete shadow, swirling in a vaguely human shape, twisting and contorting every second. The last figure was short and skinny, with bright yellow snake-pupil eyes.
“Now,” Vural continued, “nobody ever really explained that to me, because,” he pointed at Nevah, “you’re from Earth aren’t you?”
Nevah pulled The Subtle Knife from her belt, “It’s a long story, maybe if you let us go I’ll tell it to you.”
Reyes chuckled behind her, “And why would we let you do that? When we caught you so well this time.”
Oscar drew his sword, “You and I have different definitions of ‘so well’.”
In a moment, every single door in the room slammed shut and Oscar and Nevah felt their shadows ripped from them, and they were now held in the hands of Aknandaur.
“It appears that we do,” The Shadow chuckled.
“Now,” Vural said, “I wish that we could kill you, and kill three birds with two stones,” he bowed his head for a moment, “may the Daughter of Apollo rest in peace.” He looked back up again, “but we were told that if TARP is victorious-”
“You fool!” Aknandaur shouted, “What are you doing?”
For a moment, The Merchant of Viademort looked confused, but then he looked back up and growled, “That is of no matter, Aknandaur, take these two children with us, the great forces are coming together, and we wouldn’t want to miss their meeting.”
Evie watched as they ran ahead of her, limping slightly on her wounded paw. When the others got far enough ahead of her, she stopped, then shifted into humanoid form.
But not that of Evenstar Pevensie, instead the large white tiger became a small boy, dressed in black and bearing a large scar across his face that cut through his eye. The boy lifted a comlink to his ear, “I’ve picked up the stragglers m’Lady, I’ll have them sent to the back door in an hour.”
Morgana’s voice came back tinny through the comlink, “very good Mukuta, I’ll make sure that your Queen rewards you appropriately.”
Mukuta growled, “I don’t need anything from that witch,” he found it amusing, calling Mimoza a witch in front of Morgana, but if she found any amusement from it she gave no sign of it.
“Mukuta, over and out,” he shifted back into a tiger, and chased after the TARPers.
Emma’s eyes blinked open, where am I? Light streamed into her eyes, which eventually focused into the bright orange of a flaming torch. Emma jumped back, fire! She spun around, ready to run for her life, but ran into a large, black, scaly armchair. She gave her surroundings another look around, and found herself in the TARP great hall. The clubhouse? How did I get- suddenly, all the events of the past week flooded back to her.
Did they leave me alone? Then her eyes lighted upon a letter on a small coffee table next to the sofa bed she had been on moments ago.
We’ve all gone off to kill Morgana and save the world, we don’t know when/if we’ll come back, so please help yourself to anything in the kitchen except the bowl of cherries, but Elessar’s warning notes covering it about man-eating moss monsters should already tell you that. If you decide that the food in the kitchen is inadequate and you decide to bring in one of your “snacks” just make sure to clean up after yourself. Oh and there are plenty of bodies we didn’t get around to cleaning up yet outside so you can help yourself to those, as long as you don’t disturb the graves with the tree.
Olaf, Nevah, Percy, Elessar, and Potter
Emma growled, what is this? A note? And food? Am I not their prisoner? She grunted, shoving the note into her pocket. And cherries? Why on Earth would I want cherries? She stormed towards the front door. I’ll show them for not properly locking me up. She opened the front door and looked at the formerly green meadow.
Blood soaked the grass, and corpses and vultures littered the ground. But Emma didn’t notice any of that, she’d seen bodies before, she’d seen post-battle sites before too, she frequented them quite a bit during her starving days. But what truly caught Emma’s attention was the Tree.
Sitting in between three mounds of dirt was a small what looked like Oak sapling. It didn’t look any different from any other tree sapling Emma had seen, but something about it drew to her. She stepped forward, the buzzards and flies and crows and crimson meadow disappeared from her vision, and all that was left were the mounds and the Tree. Emma reached forward and touched the tree, then got sucked back in time half a day.
A moment later, Emma jerked her hand back away from the tree, sweat poured down her face and her breathing was faster and more haggard than after a hunt.
“What have I done?”