Fantendo - Game Ideas & More

Fantendo - Zenith is a story authored by PabloDePablo (tbc), bridging the gap between Fantendo Smash Bros. Victory (and the following OVAs) and the larger Doomuli arc. It is the reintroduction of The Mistake into New Fantendoverse continuity, and focuses on him along with the old deities and Unten.

Six months after the end of the war between gods, Unten finds himself approached by an unstable deity calling himself Derezzt. With The Fan and The Enemy trying to guide him through their clone's mysterious past and his friends pitted against a band of unlikely foes, Unten has no choice but to try and lead again.


Chapter 1: Change Catching Up

The Mistake floats upside-down in midair, fast asleep in the middle of a vast grey desert. His face seems content and rested, but all he can hear or see is blue static. Suddenly, his eyes burst open; two red Xs, flaring up around their edges.

The Mistake floats himself back down to the ground, the sand seeming to raise around his footprints rather than sinking in. He stretches his arms and looks around, chuckling to himself.

The Mistake: Guess I'm still not used to holding the ol' stomping grounds together when I'm recharging. Time to put it together...

With a flick of the wrist, The Mistake begins assembling a massive mansion from the sand around him, the particles forming walls and engraving themselves with the fine details of rustic wooden planks. His arms shift and glitch slightly as he exerts more energy, but seem to calm as he shuts his eyes tight. Surrounded by a dust cloud, he opens his eyes and smiles.

The Mistake: There we...

The dust clears. The Mistake's mansion is assembled upside-down, and has dozens of chimneys jutting out of it. The Mistake looks dejected and rubs his forehead, using his free hand to try again.

The Mistake: It's all fine, they told you it'd take a few years to stabilize... this is normal.

The Mistake looks over again. The mansion is upright, but now has gaping mouths instead of windows. The air is filled with howling.

The Mistake: Oh, of course. Lovely.

The Mistake groans and pushes his flat palm out, dissolving the mansion. Shiki lays in the pile of sand left behind, clutching her leg and howling. The Mistake quickly creates a wall in front of himself and uses it as cover, leaning around with a finger gun pointed at her.

The Mistake: You there. Did I accidentally make you? You sentient?
Shiki: What's with the sand?
The Mistake: Well, I mean, I didn't love the whole desert thing either, if I knew I was making permanent-
Shiki: You smell like the gods.
The Mistake: Well, I am the gods, miss. A god. Singular. Sort of. How do you know what they smell like...?
Shiki: Used to let one of 'em tell me all his fun ideas, sometimes I'd help him out. He said there was something important here.

The Mistake walks right through his wall, bouncing excitedly. He points his finger gun up in the air and unleashes a massive blast of energy, laughing as he checks his own hand to make sure it isn't "loaded".

The Mistake: That's me! Man, it took 'em a while to call me in, huh?! Don't worry, I've been preparing. A few millennia of rest to keep my power in check, plenty of exercise... so, where's the fight at? Svarga?

Shiki looks down, rubbing her chin. Her tongue slinks out as she runs the back of her neck awkwardly.

Shiki: A few millennia?
The Mistake: Yeah, gotta be ready when they need me to go all out on The Threat.
Shiki: Descended.

The Mistake loses his bouncy confidence and stays still for a moment. He bridges his fingers and rests his hands against his head.

The Mistake: Yeah, cool, cool. Beorns and all that. They'll need help getting things back on track now, though-
Shiki: Also descended.

The Mistake growls and his hands go straight through his head, his energy crackling around them. He pulls them out and takes a single step, teleporting the rest of the way to Shiki and leaving a dust cloud in his wake.

The Mistake: Someone got Ek and Ak?
Shiki: Yep. Big blue. Unten.

The Mistake closes his eyes. More blue static. He lets out a long sigh and tries his best to smile.

The Mistake: So what kind of lunatic is this Unten?

Unten sits in peaceful meditation within Imperium's inner sanctum. The weapon's inner form paces back and forth gracefully behind him.

Imperium: Deep breaths.
Unten: Deep breaths.

Unten takes in a deep breath. He projects blue Aura that surrounds him and expands it a little as he breathes out.

Imperium: Everything is fine.
Unten: Half a year. Nothing but change. Good change.

Unten flashes back to descending The Fan and The Enemy. His Aura shrinks, but he manages to push back.

Imperium: You stood up against an authority that was willing to cast everything aside.
Unten: Half a year. Everything is fine...

Unten holds up his hands and lets energy course through them; his natural power of Descension. He looks at his hands and lets the energy harmlessly disperse. Imperium stops pacing and faces away from Unten and his growing Aura.

Imperium: Your power and your choice are your own.
Unten: My power and my choice are-

The serene quiet is interrupted by a booming metallic knocking. Unten looks up and pulls himself out of Imperium, his upper half sticking out of the weapon. Quartz is sitting next to him in his minimally decorated apartment.

Quartz: You were real quiet in there for a while. Everything okay?

Unten climbs out of his weapon, laughing a little as he puts it back on a pair of metal rods that let it sit on the wall.

Unten: I'm fine. Just practicing my Aura control.

Unten sits down and Quartz leans over to kiss his cheek.

Quartz: You didn't forget that we're heading with Rachel to that party, right? She should be here soon.
Unten: Nah, I wouldn't forget that. Everyone's gonna be there, right? It'll be fun.

Unten leans back and smiles as Quartz leans on him and rests her head on his chest. He slowly closes his eyes and exhales. At the edges of his vision, he sees red static. Before he can process it, the apartment's doorbell rings.

Quartz: Oh, here so soon?

Quartz hops up and opens the door, greeting Rachel. Unten shakes his head a little, his ears ringing as if the room was silent. He sees Quartz gesture for him to come along and he nods, getting up and heading to the sidewalk as the ringing fades.

Rachel: Thanks again for coming along, I know it's a bit of a long drive but Serah says her kids just haven't stopped talking about us since the whole attack on Earth thing...
Quartz: Oh, no problem. I mean, we weren't busy, and it's a nice thing to do... probably a good opportunity to apologize about, y'know, the gas station...

Quartz rubs her claws together and sighs. Unten pats her back and she smiles a little.

Rachel: We've got your back. Things have changed a lot since then.
Unten: Yeah, I mean-

Unten watches as Rachel gets in the driver's seat of a red sports car, adjusting her mirrors. He shakes his head a little and laughs, Quartz giggling with him.

Unten: -for starters, you bought a car. You bought a car?
Rachel: Few weeks ago. Bang and I decided we didn't need to get everywhere in such a hurry, y'know? Besides, no way we could all go on the bikes.
Quartz: Things must be getting real serious if you're driving on four wheels for this girl, Harel.

Unten and Quartz snicker as they get in the backseat, Rachel blushing and laughing.

Rachel: C'mon, guys. She's off doing her own training, I'm here practicing my biking... things change, but it's not like we're settling down.
Quartz: I dunno, it's kind of romantic thinking about that kind of thing...

Quartz kisses Unten on the cheek as Rachel begins the long drive to Serah's house. Unten kisses her back and gets comfortable in his seat. Once again, he closes his eyes, and once again, he sees red static, filling his vision and moving in swaying patterns. He opens his eyes and tries to hide his concern, leaning on Quartz and looking at the road as they drive by.

Jay and Mike stampede their way through the living room of Serah and Silence's home, wearing blue and black birthday hats as they swing their heads in sync.


Rachel opens the door and waves. Mike swerves out of the door's path and Jay leapfrogs over him as Serah comes to greet her new guests.

Serah: Oh, I'm so glad you could make it! Come in, come in.

Rachel follows Serah into the hall, Quartz carrying two large presents over her shoulders. Unten steps in and looks at Jay and Mike, who have already finished another lap around the house.

Unten: Oh! Uh... happy birthday, kiddos.

Jay and Mike excitedly skitter around in place. Unten smiles and sits down on the couch next to Silence.

Silence: Good to see you, Unten.
Unten: Oh, hey, Silence! Haven't seen you since the whole resort thing, right? You, uh... you keep rocking the suburban dad look, you.

Silence laughs and leans back with his hands behind his head.

Silence: I'd love to talk about how things have been since your friends diverted an alien armada, but Strafe should be back from the dining room in about twenty seconds. Twenty-three if he bumps into the cabinets again.
Unten: Oh, wow, your telepathy is that acute, huh? Must be weird living with all those senses, I mean, I can't-

Strafe steps into the living room, rubbing his elbow and groaning.

Strafe: ...stupid cabinets... Oh! Heyyy, Unten! Glad you could show up!
Unten: Glad you're here too. Everything been going well?
Strafe: Yeah! Silence and I have been doing a lot of catching up, actually. I mean, things have been quiet for a while now, finally feels like I've got time to reconnect with all the weird facets of my family tree. You and Quartz doing alright?
Unten: Yeah, it's... it's odd not being alone with my thoughts but I'm glad. We've got each other's backs, we're training together for that big tournament coming up... it's nice having benchmarks that aren't do or die, right?

Unten and Strafe laugh a little. Silence leans forward and catches Jay and Mike, holding them on his knees and smiling.

Silence: These two can't wait to watch you participate. I'm glad the next example they get will be an exhibition instead of a deathmatch...

Strafe sits down and scruffs up Jay and Mike's heads playfully, laughing.

Strafe: I'll have to babysit 'em if I really want to get any training in before then. No one else keeps me on my toes quite as much, right?

Strafe and Silence laugh. Serah comes in with a large cake decorated with candle replicas of Unten and his friends.

Serah: We better get a picture before the little guys get too much sugar... Silence, honey, you got it?

Silence nods and uses some telekinesis to float his phone into the air. The camera clicks and a flash goes off.

Silence: Always forget to turn that thing off...

As Silence fiddles with his camera, Unten closes his eyes and rubs them. He sees red static again, this time moving from one eye to the other. He opens his eyes and stares at the wax figure of himself on top of the cake.

The evening after the party, Unten is in the kitchen with Silence, grabbing the last few slices of cake. Quartz is helping Serah clean up and Rachel is playing with Jay and Mike.

Unten: Thanks again for inviting us.
Silence: Oh, thank you for accepting! It means the world to us.

Unten smiles and sits down. Silence opens the cabinets and idly sorts through dishes.

Silence (telepathically): Are you doing okay, Unten?

Unten opens his mouth but doesn't speak, piecing together that Silence is using his powers. He nods and tries to look casual.

Silence (telepathically): Be honest. It's the two of us in here. I don't go through people's thoughts without them letting me in, but I can read people just fine without telepathy, you know.

Unten tries to focus enough to respond to Silence without physically speaking. Silence continues to look through the cabinets.

Silence: Babe, do you remember where I put that tea? I'd love to make some for us.
Serah: Upper left, behind the spices.
Silence (telepathically): You're still cut deep by what happened six months ago. Sure, it's been smooth sailing since, but what you lost, what you did... you appreciate what you've gained, but you're waiting for something. Something new, something old, I don't know. Am I far off the mark?

Unten looks shaken for a moment and gulps. Silence fills up a kettle and looks over his shoulder at Unten.

Silence (telepathically): I can't blame you. Things changed and it still doesn't feel real yet. And that red static...
Unten: How did you...?

Silence laughs.

Silence: Find this kettle? It's great, right? All electric, heats up quick. Found it on sale online.

Silence sits down, looking somewhat grim.

Silence (telepathically): I'm one of the strongest telepaths on Earth. When strong, abnormal frequencies like that pass through, I pick them up too. Whatever it is, it's psychic in nature and meant just for you.
Unten: Really...? That's... a real good find. Quartz, we should see if we can find one sometime, right?

Quartz gives a thumbs up from across the hall, using her other hand to compress a bunch of wrapping paper into a dense ball and tossing it into Serah's trash bag.

Silence (telepathically): Whatever is happening with you, I want to be here to help you out. Something's afoot, you shouldn't face it alone, and when it's all said and done, you deserve to enjoy the peace you earned.

Unten nods reluctantly. Rachel groans loudly from across the house.

Rachel: Did I really lose the damn keys already? Come onnn...
Serah: It's already getting late... we have a guest room if you three need to stay over and find the keys tomorrow.
Quartz: You'd do that?
Serah: Any friend of Rachel's is a friend of mine, as far as I'm concerned. Besides, who really wants to drive all the way back into Seattle after all that cake and punch?
Silence (telepathically): The keys are in the upper left cabinet, in case of emergency. Figured I'd make sure we can make good progress on figuring this out tomorrow.

Silence gives Unten a thumbs up. Unten looks off to the side tiredly, and nods.

Unten lays on his side in the guest bed, Quartz sprawled out and fast asleep next to him. Unten tries to close his eyes, but whenever he does, dull red static creeps back in. He grips the pillow and closes his eyes tightly. X shapes start forming in the static, brightening and dimming.

Unten: ...I'm sorry, babe, I need some fresh air.

Unten kisses Quartz's cheek as she murmurs in her sleep. He puts on his coat and reaches for Imperium instinctively before remembering it's back at his apartment. Conjuring just enough Aura to light his way, Unten heads out onto the porch, and into the fields behind Serah and Silence's home.

Unten tiredly makes his way through the countryside, doing his best to keep himself awake. With every slow blink, a burst of red static jolts him back up, his Aura clearly on the verge of fizzling out. He sits down in the grass and groans, falling back and shutting his eyes.

Unten: You want to get to me so bad? I'm right here. Middle of nowhere. Nothing in the way. Let's just do this!

The red Xs in Unten's vision begin moving closer. He laughs tiredly and clenches the ground as they all align in the center of his field of view. He opens his eyes, and they've manifested physically in the sky above him. Unten leans up and readies his Aura around his hands again, standing defensively as a lean figure descends from the static.

The Mistake: Unten, Unten, Unten... tough guy to lock onto! You Beorns are tricky.
Unten: ...I'm sure you can guess I'd like to know who I'm dealing with.

The Mistake reaches the ground and spreads his arms. They warp and glitch around him until he reaches his hands out, laughing and grinning.

The Mistake: I've talked to a lot of people the last few days, a lot about you, really, and you know what? I don't think many of them had the right idea about you.

Unten keeps his defensive stance ready. The Mistake lowers his arms, examining Unten closely.

The Mistake: My name is Derezzt. My brothers; Fan, Enemy, whatever you want to call them, they didn't seem to do a great job informing anyone about me.
Unten: So you're another deity.
The Mistake: Correct. Not a force of nature like them, mind you. An old pet project. A little bit of their best attributes, some new improvements... it's a long story, I'll fill you in later.

The Mistake steps towards Unten, who gets ready to throw a punch, but the god disappears mid-step and reappears about a foot to the left.

The Mistake: There you go, don't know how far ahead I had to jump... hope you're feeling better soon, blue.
Unten: So what's the plan here? Revenge? Conquest?
The Mistake: I don't need revenge. I respect my family, but what my brothers did to you was uncalled for. What I'm looking for is protection.
Unten: Protection against...?
The Mistake: You know, like... cosmic evils. The usual stuff. Whatever happened happened, and we can't change that, but we can keep moving forward. I could rebuild Kolob and provide you and your friends the support you deserve.

Unten holds steady for a moment, but slowly lowers his hands. The Mistake clasps his hands together and smiles.

The Mistake: No force on Earth - nothing in this universe that you know - could make you a better offer than this. You keep doing what you do best, and I'll handle the rest.

Unten shakes his head and starts walking away. The Mistake begins rapidly floating backwards to keep up with him.

Unten: I appreciate that you're not here to kill me or something, but I can't just go through these motions again. Immortal superpowered judges on high just don't line up with the kind of life I'd like to live.
The Mistake: Think it through. Whatever good you can do on your own, you have limits. If you join me, think like me, break those limits-
Unten: Do all the good you can, Derezzt. Just don't expect me to answer to you.

The Mistake growls and digs his heels into the dirt. He holds an arm out and grabs Unten's shoulder, pulling him up off the ground to his side.

The Mistake: Neither of us can do what we want alone, right, Unten? You need support, and me... I'd love to get more involved in your world than my brothers, but look at me. Do I look like I've got enough of a grip on my strength to choose what gets punished?

Unten pulls himself away and tumbles to the ground. The Mistake's entire arm is stuck to his shoulder, wriggling and folding in on itself. The deity sighs and pulls his limb back to him, glitched energy pouring out around the seam where he reattaches it.

The Mistake: It's a real shame... with an all-rounder like you, I'd have quite the team put together. If you change your mind, just keep your eyes peeled. You'll have plenty of opportunities soon. Best of luck, Beorn.

Unten watches as The Mistake floats back up into a red X. He lays exhausted in the once again silent fields. As he breathes, he notices the cracked opal surface glazed over Derezzt's footprints.

Chapter 2: Derezzt And His Wonder Brigade

The next morning, Unten sits at the dining room table, mid-conversation. Quartz stands across the room from him, pacing a little, while Rachel and Serah sit and drink coffee. Silence is holding onto the doorway into the room with both hands, closing his eyes and humming in meditation.

Quartz: You went out there alone?! How long were you dealing with this?!
Unten: About... I don't know, half a week. I didn't want to make it an issue unless I could prove it wasn't just something in my head.
Quartz: Babe, you know I trust you, but sneaking out in the middle of the night and almost getting in a fight with another god is, in fact, making this an issue.
Rachel: He called The Fan and The Enemy his "brothers", right? Doesn't shock me that they kept that one under wraps.

Silence grips the doorway tighter. Quartz glances at him and snaps her fingers a few times to try and get his attention.

Quartz: What are you doing? We need all hands on deck here.
Silence: I'm trying to see if his signal is a two-way street, maybe I can figure out where he went.
Unten: He didn't want to hurt me, he just wanted to add me to whatever team he's building.
Rachel: He's copying his brothers, then. You'd think he'd know we weren't interested, right?
Serah: Well, who necessarily said anything about you guys? Earth's full of all sorts of superpowered people these days...
Unten: ...huh.

Silence groans and walks to the table, rubbing his forehead.

Silence: There's no trace of him left. Bits and pieces all over the place, but nothing concrete. It's like he scattered all the parts that should add up and let find him.

Quartz crosses her arms and sighs. Unten looks down bashfully.

Unten: The best thing we can do now is to gather everyone up, right?

Silence nods. Rachel feels her phone vibrate and checks it.

Nycho stands outside the newly painted "Fantendo Firehouse" and anxiously rubs his hair as he waits for Rachel to return his call.

Rachel: Hello?
Nycho: Rachel! Have you caught up with the news today?
Rachel: No, things are a little crazy and I'm over at Serah's house. What's wrong?
Nycho: Huge sinkholes across the southwest. F.A.N.T identified some blue-haired weirdo at all of them? His name's... what's the name again, Obena?

Obena leans out the door and mouths some words.

Nycho: Obena's saying it's Ligamento.
Rachel: Liameno. He was trying to go after The Threat when she attacked...
Nycho: Well, now he's out here doing some crazy kaiju movie shit. Four craters across six states overnight.
Rachel: We're dealing with another god, there's probably going to be a lot of people staying at the firehouse overnight. Keep us posted, don't get in over your head.

Rachel hangs up and Nycho grumbles, heading back into the firehouse. Obena is sitting on the floor in front of the TV, eating some Mana cereal.

Obena: This is really bad... Liameno's dangerous, a real nightmare for ambassadors. No interest in right or wrong, only gross devotion.
Nycho: And he's strong enough to punch the ground open. Fun.
Obena: Is Rachel okay?

Nycho exhales and grumbles again, sitting down on the couch.

Nycho: She said we're dealing with gods again or something, I guess.

Obena frowns and tilts her head.

Obena: We need to be dealing with this, and we can't start dealing with this until I know what's up with you.
Nycho: It's nothing, really. Just... being reminded of the scale of all this, really. Big world.
Obena: Yeah, and you're part of it. Can't spell Fantendo without Nycho.
Nycho: ...but... you definitely can...?
Obena: Well, I mean, if you're using the expanded galactic standard alphabet, and you- look, you get my point, silly.

Nycho laughs.

Nycho: I really do appreciate the thought, but... what am I supposed to do? I can't just go throw hands with Liameno like some of you can.
Obena: We'll need a safe base, won't we? No Kolob to fall back to.
Nycho: ...well, if we could do some quick improvements, I guess we could use the firehouse.

Obena smiles.

Obena: And you're like, the best at quick improvements! Let's get to work!

Nycho and Obena grin. Nycho pulls his phone back out and starts dialing.

The Mistake stands in a briar patch in front of a demoness covered in thorns. He clasps his hands and smiles.

The Mistake: Divine power beyond your wildest imagination! All you have to do is, y'know, help me keep tabs on Earth. Does that sound like a fair deal, Kurihara?

The demoness - Toge Kurihara - grimaces and walks around The Mistake, dragging her spiked tail along the ground.

Toge: Who else is buying in?
The Mistake: Some of the finest heroes of our times. Shiki, Synth, the indomitable Gamma...
Toge: Synth, huh? You're going after a lot of the same people that White Goddess did.
The Mistake: Ah, yes, the resort incident. Trust me, you're not playing second fiddle this time. No nemesis, no doppelganger; you're going to be one of this universe's finest protectors.
Toge: Sounds a lot like we're doppelgangers again.
The Mistake: No! No, it's... Unten and his friends, regrettably, didn't choose to join me. I understand them, though. They were a ragtag army put together from scratch - I have the liberty of choosing a higher class of hero.
Toge: So you make me stronger, and all I have to do is keep an eye on anything weird.

The Mistake shrugs and nods. Toge puts her hand out and The Mistake shakes it. His chest burns with neon colors that travel down "veins" in his arm, and the plants growing around Toge grow rapidly. Toge exhales and laughs a little.

Toge: You got any big plans, boss?
The Mistake: Just, uh... do good out there!

Toge laughs more and instaneously burrows into the ground, the briar patch around her moving with her as she runs off. The Mistake looks down.

The Mistake: Guess not every recruit's a winner.

The Mistake creates a red X portal next to him and Shiki drops out, wearing a white and red pinstripe suit and contorting herself into a ball. She unfurls and dusts herself off.

The Mistake: How are things going on Kolob?
Shiki: It's picked up enough satellite trash to regain 40% mass.
The Mistake: Excellent. And my... task force? Derezzt Patrol? Deiteam?
Shiki: Synth and Gamma are stationed near Seattle, Blue Soup hasn't done anything different and I'm not sure he even got powers from you, anddd... yup, I'm right here.
The Mistake: A solid start.
Shiki: And Liameno's busting up government property a ton. Real mess.
The Mistake: What? Why?

The Mistake stomps the ground, briefly creating a crater that quickly inverts into a hill.

The Mistake: Three out of six isn't too bad, at least...

Unten hands Rachel her keys as Serah tries to calm Jay and Mike down.

Serah: Unten and his buddies have important work to do, okay, sweeties?

Jay and Mike whine a little and stomp around. Silence enters the room, putting on his robes and looking to Unten.

Silence: I'll be here doing my best to keep track of any major movement. If you need me, well... just think hard enough and I'll probably notice.
Unten: Yeah, yeah. Any updates from the firehouse, Rachel?
Rachel: Let's see... Obena says they've been doing some upgrades to accommodate more people, Sakeena and the Zeon crew made it... she says she's printing the pieces for a "bitchin' set of slidy things" and then, and I quote, "Nycho taught me that, am I using it properly".
Unten: We should be back in Seattle around midnight, right?

Rachel nods. Quartz walks up behind Unten and taps him on the shoulder.

Quartz: Can we have a one-on-one before we head out?
Unten: Yeah, of course.

Quartz walks out to the porch and sits on the railing. Unten follows her, standing behind her.

Quartz: I need you to be open if things are going wrong, Unten. And that's not just as your girlfriend, it's... I know you've been anxious wondering if you'll have to be a hero again.
Unten: Why does everyone keep saying that? I'm fine. Whatever happens, I know I've got you guys, and just...

Quartz looks back at Unten, tearing up a little. Unten pauses.

Unten: I don't want to have to hurt like I did again. I don't want any of you to have to hurt. I'm sorry I thought I could keep this quiet.

Quartz hugs Unten, catching her breath.

Quartz: If we have to hurt again, just promise you won't take that alone.

Unten nods. Rachel walks past them to her car and hops in, revving the engine.

Rachel: Let's get moving.

Unten and Quartz look at each other and nod. They run to the car and get in as fast as they can. Silence watches from a window in his study, closing the curtains and preparing to meditate.

Chapter 3: Stump

Nycho paces back and forth through the newly renovated firehouse, quietly doing a headcount of those who have already arrived. Obena is sitting in a chair on sliding rails, checking on two laptops a few feet apart, while Sakeena, Volt, and Sia watch various news channels on a wall of TVs.

Nycho: ...five, six... where'd Zerita go?
Sia: Food run.
Nycho: We're in the middle of a really serious situation! There's a super-powerful freak on the loose and if we're not vigilant, Liameno's killing all the Popes this time.
Obena: You haven't eaten anything since this morning, Nycho.
Nycho: And I turned this firehouse from a sweet hangout into a sweet tactical hangout! I'm fine, I swear.

Unten, Quartz, and Rachel walk into the firehouse. Rachel and Quartz look around while Unten takes a seat.

Quartz: You prepared all this in a day, Nycho? Impressive.
Nycho: Well, truth be told, I've kind of been keeping notes for a while, everyone else helped me put it together... welcome to the Fan-two-ndo Firehouse 2.0!

Quartz looks somewhat puzzled.

Quartz:, not loving the name...
Sakeena: Any sign of Strafe? He left before you guys did, he should be here...
Rachel: No clue. Anyone else coming here?
Sakeena: Zerita's out getting food, we got responses from Hybrid IV and Rubelline, we assumed you'd want to talk to Bang about this whole mess...

Rachel looks panicked for a moment as she pulls out her phone, running up the stairs to the second level of the firehouse.

Sia: We, uh... couldn't get in touch with Netnu.
Unten: That's bad. If he's building a team, Netnu might be one of the first he'd be looking for...

Nycho and Obena look at Unten, rather confused.

Obena: A team?
Quartz: That Derezzt guy or whatever. He's getting a bunch of people together.
Nycho: This isn't about Liameno? The Popes are all good?
Unten: Wait, what did Rachel tell you?
Nycho: Something about a new god? I don't know, she just told me to get the firehouse ready and I assumed Liameno got the Artifacts of Ascendancy you said he was so horny about.
Volt: I didn't sign up for more god business...
Nycho: Volt's right, he got plenty of that with The Threat.
Volt: Hey, wait-
Nycho: If this is bigger than one supervillain, I think we start calling in the big guns. F.A.N.T's gotta have something on this, right?
Sakeena: Nycho, are you... advocating to get the government involved? That's surprisingly mature.
Unten: ...I guess it's worth a shot. Any help we can get in this situation, right?
Obena: Then let's get to work. Unten, tell Nycho everything you know about the situation, we'll hand that over to F.A.N.T and see if we can't piece together the whole picture.

Nycho grabs a pen and notepad, sticking the pen behind his ear for show before taking it back out. Unten nods, watching as Obena goes back to working on her laptops before he sits down.

Strafe pulls over at a gas station in his old beat-up jeep. He steps out and heads into the station, unaware of Synth and Gamma sitting around the corner of the building. Synth is rubbing his hands together and smiling devilishly, while Gamma carries a severed tree stump larger than himself on his back.

Synth: There's our guy. The weak link in that dreadful bunch of goody-two-shoes...
Gamma: Powerful potent magicks in that mind...
Synth: When he walks out, I'll toss your stump at him, then you take his keys.

Gamma takes his stump off his back and sets it on the curb, where it takes root and glows from within with red light.

Gamma: You will not desecrate my sacred stump.
Synth: Is... is the stump like, a religious thing? Okay, sure, I can handle taking him down myself.

Strafe steps out of the gas station, carrying a hot dog. It takes a moment for Synth to react, stretching his rubbery hand into a longer shape with a boxing glove at the end of it. Strafe blocks with one arm, taking a bite of his hot dog.

Strafe (mouth full): What's this all about?
Synth: G-give us your keys, punk!
Gamma: Touch the stump!

Strafe takes another bite as he fairly effortlessly swings Synth's hand away from him into the wall.

Strafe: Is the stump, like, a weird thing?
Synth: This is a stick-up! Give us the damn keys!
Strafe: Yeah, yeah, whatever, but like, how much is that lizard going to enjoy me touching that stump?

Synth is stammering, disappointed that his intimidation isn't working.

Gamma: The stump possesses many a strange enchantment, and I distribute its blessings.
Strafe: Eh, pass. Synth, I remember you from the resort, what's with this? I thought you moved on and got cool, why are you trying to steal my keys?
Synth: I've finally gotten the power I always deserved! Me and my new pals are taking your job, Strafe, so hand over the, uh... security... key... pass...? Whatever gets me into that firehouse of yours!
Strafe: That's... not a thing?
Synth: Aha! Then you are defenseless!

Strafe starts walking back to his car.

Strafe: I mean, I'm pretty good in a fight and so is the rest of the crew, so... not really. Do you need a place to stay or something?

Synth growls and extends both his hands, tripping Strafe with thick rubber tendrils. Gamma skitters over and clings to Strafe's leg, stealing his car keys from his pocket as he gets back up into a fighting stance.

Synth: Don't act so cocky around the two of us, Strafe! We're a force to be reckoned with, and when Derezzt finds out about this, you and your little demigod family are gonna be on the chopping block...

Strafe grits his teeth and rushes into Synth with a hard left hook, sending him into the pavement. Gamma crawls up Strafe's back and leaps from his shoulder, climbing up his jeep's door.

Synth: Get moving, Gamma! I'll handle this one.

Gamma nods as he starts Strafe's car. His stump uproots itself and walks on long, spindly root legs to the jeep, dropping itself on the gas pedal. Synth pulls himself up and turns his hands into two large rubber shields as Strafe keeps on throwing punches.

Strafe: Whoever you're working for isn't going to hear the end of this. You understand that, right?
Synth: Suppose that's not really my problem, is it?

Synth's body coils up like a spring and he bounces off the wall behind him over Strafe. Strafe does a quick flip to chase after him, but Synth has already caught a ride, merging himself into the jeep's tire as Gamma drives off.

Strafe: ...I...

Strafe sighs and rubs his forehead as he pulls a chunky flip phone out of his jacket pocket.

Strafe: Hey, so, Unten, fun story.

Deep into the night, the firehouse is even more full than before. Rubelline and Rachel are sitting on the couch with Nycho asleep between them, while Hybrid IV and Sia unpack more of the new furniture. Unten and Obena sit near the front of the firehouse.

Unten: So... we've got strength in numbers, but there's a real chance that Synth gets here before anyone from F.A.N.T, right?
Obena: Look at it this way, we know a lot about where any of these bad guys are, right?

Unten rubs his chin. Before he can weigh the options too much, someone knocks on the door. Sakeena glances away from the TV and uses her power to pull the door open, and Blank steps in.

Blank: I've already been working all night and I had to drop all that shit to fly here from the east coast base, so let's get this done quickly, shall we?

Unten opens his mouth, but Obena speaks first.

Obena: Of course, sorry for the trouble. Roughly 24 hours ago, Unten had an encounter with a deity calling himself Derezzt, and-

Nycho snaps awake and runs to his desk, holding up a stack of papers frantically.

Nycho: All written up!

Blank glances at Nycho for a moment before looking back at Obena and Unten.

Obena: We know Derezzt has multiple accomplices and we think Liameno is one of them.
Blank: Alright. Now, this is fairly heavily classified information, but given that you've guaranteed us an interview with Unten...
Unten (mumbling): Guaranteed?

Blank pulls a small, flat device out of her pocket that displays a holographic world map. Several areas light up in shades from purple to orange; Liameno's attack sites, some areas around the state of Washington, and a clean line starting in Portugal that's crossing the ocean towards North America.

Blank: We've been tracking several supernatural sightings based on energy readings we found in the hot mess Liameno's making. It started as a means to find him, but we can't explain some of those other findings.
Unten: The ones close to us are probably Synth and Gamma. Whatever's crossing the ocean, I've got no idea.
Blank: The data matches a lot of what we know about... the official term we use is "apocalypse-class unconventional"- gods, it matches up with gods, except for the fact that its energy footprint is changing, flaring up again at random after being generated.
Obena: That's... bad, correct?

Blank shrugs.

Blank: I've worked with a lot of people that could give you a long answer, but that's not my line of work. I can certainly tell you it isn't ideal...
Unten: Okay, so we have a handful of people operating on powers we don't fully understand... even if we stop that, what's next? Derezzt's whole idea seems to be about defending Earth, and if Liameno's one of his first picks to do that, we can't trust him to give up and go away.
Blank: Can't Beorns take care of stuff like-

Unten frowns and shakes his head. Blank sees Quartz glaring at her from across the room.

Blank: Sorry, sorry. If we can't stop him from throwing more wrenches into the gears, maybe there's a way to get him away from Earth. The other gods had their weird little corners, right? Maybe this weirdo has one too.
Unten: I've had a lot of time to think about this one over the last 24 hours and... that's about as good a plan as any.
Obena: We can't leave Earth undefended in the meantime, though. Liameno...

Obena shudders.

Obena: It still feels odd saying this, but Earth's my home now. If he'd shown up on Zezune, I wouldn't be able to stand by. Whatever I can do to help, I'm in.

Obena extends a hand to Blank. Blank smiles and shakes her hand.

Blank: Anyone else have any rousing sentimental reasons to get back to business?

Rachel looks down at her phone one more time; her latest text is a picture of Bang and NULL, safe at home. She steps forward as Sakeena grabs her jacket off the back of her chair and puts it on, following behind her. Volt looks at the group and laughs a little to himself, shaking his head before getting up and joining the lineup.

Sia: I mean, same as Obena, but you know I'm game...

Sia tightens up the Palm Cutter's sheath on her belt and clambers over the couch to hop in.

Blank: You three good with holding the fort down here at the playpen?

Nycho laughs nervously. Rubelline and Hybrid IV look at him.

Nycho: I was really worried we were all hopping in with our own speeches there! Don't sweat it, Fan-two-ndo mission control has got your back.
Blank: Cool. We're not calling you that, but cool. Everyone, get a good night's sleep and get your equipment in order, tomorrow morning we'll get moving.

As the group leaves the firehouse, Blank stops Unten and Quartz, who look at each other nervously.

Blank: I'll be taking that interview now, if you don't mind.

Blank, Unten and Quartz are seated in the back of a rather cramped F.A.N.T transport, on the way back to Unten's apartment.

Blank: I'm sorry to pull this kind of thing on you so late at night, but rules are rules. I stuck my neck out getting you all debriefed, so we're going to call in a favor that we think only you can help us with.
Unten: Well, what do you want?

Blank pulls out a smartphone locked in a thick casing and hands it to Unten.

Blank: At F.A.N.T, we keep an eye on supernatural threats, but we also try to keep tabs on people like you and Quartz, people we can trust even if they don't operate under our roof.
Quartz: What do you mean, "keep tabs"? Seems rather intrusive of you...
Blank: Yeah, it's gross and I wish I could change the rules, but hey, look on the bright side, if shit goes south real fast, we'll know where to find you and how to help. We have a pretty extensive network, but ever since the incident last December, there's been a gap in that network.

Unten shifts in his seat uncomfortably. Blank clears her throat.

Blank: Did Dr. Needlenam ever entrust you with any contact information for her fiancée?
Unten: I mean, it's been a while, but... yeah, it was a long night and she was on one of her long rambles and all of the sudden, she said wanted us to be able to contact X-Ray in case something bad happened.
Blank: Have you contacted her since Dr. Needlenam died?
Unten: Not long after that she started travelling, and nothing bad's happened.
Blank: Well, wherever she's travelling, she's completely slipped through our fingers. I'm not asking you to sell her out, and you can handle telling her any way you think works best, but we need to at least know where she is. It's for her sake, not ours.

Unten looks at Quartz. She reaches out a hand to put on his shoulder, but the car coming to a halt throws her off. Unten dials in X-Ray's number and steps out onto the sidewalk, sighing.

X-Ray sits on the porch of a rustic beach house. She shields her eyes from the sunlight as she leans on the railing. Something in her bag rumbles and she sets it down, pulling out a phone adorned with several band-aids and skull stickers.

X-Ray: ...hello?
Unten: Heyyy...
X-Ray: Oh! Unten, it's... good to hear from you. Is something wrong?
Unten: I mean, nothing too much, you know? Just living life...

X-Ray rubs her shoulder. The call goes quiet for several seconds.

Unten: Hey, sorry for... not calling.
X-Ray: No, no, you're busy and there's not much to talk about, right?
Unten: Well, yeah, things happen but I don't want to bother you.
X-Ray: Is everyone else okay too?
Unten: Oh, very. Very okay. All of 'em. Strafe lost his jeep.
X-Ray: Aw, bummer.
Unten: Yeah, yeah, like, Strafe lost his jeep and it's 2am over here now and everyone's busy, y'know? Life and stuff.
X-Ray: Unten, if something's wrong, you can say so.
Unten: It's really none of your... no, that sounds bad. It's nothing you need to be worried about.
X-Ray: You called for the first time in six months and you're having a panic attack.
Unten: I'm just very tired, that's all. Listen, X-Ray, I really hope you're enjoying... wherever you are? You... earned a vacation.

X-Ray heads back into the beach house and turns on the TV.

X-Ray: Yeah, yeah, Barcelona's nice. Are you sure everything's all good?
Unten: Yeah, busy but good. Mostly good! But also busy. Not as good as Barcelona. Probably?

X-Ray looks up at the TV; a Spanish news network is playing low-quality footage of Liameno in the desert.

X-Ray: you want me to come back?
Unten: I mean, do you want you to come back?

X-Ray sets the phone down without hanging up as Unten laughs nervously.

Unten: Well, it's been nice catching up. Take it easy.

Unten hangs up as Blank and Quartz step out of the transport. He rubs his eyes tiredly and exhales.

Blank: Any leads?
Unten: Barcelona. For now. She might be coming back. Who knows?

Quartz hugs Unten, who groans and leans on her.

Quartz: Can you let me and my boyfriend get some rest now?
Blank: Sure thing. You heading out with the rest of us tomorrow?
Quartz: Let me sleep on it and I'll get back to you in-
Unten: Alaska. The old base was in Alaska. If anyone knows how to put Derezzt back in his place...
Quartz: ...honey, you need to sleep.
Blank: Give us the word when you're not sleep-deprived and we'll fly you up there as fast as we can.

Blank gives the two a thumbs up as she walks back to the transport. Quartz and Unten walk up the stairs to their apartment, smiling nervously at each other.

Chapter 4: Rubber Bullet

The next morning, the team has gathered outside the firehouse in front of a large truck. Unten and Quartz arrive somewhat late, carrying some luggage behind them. Rachel glances over at them and pats her own pockets.

Rachel: Were we supposed to pack more?
Quartz: Me and Unten talked it over, and... we're heading up to Alaska.
Sakeena: Huh? What's in Alaska that's more important than-

Sakeena pauses, looking surprised. Unten nods at her.

Sakeena: ...them, huh?
Unten: Trust me, I hate going to them too, but... Derezzt needs to be cut off at the source before he finds someone even worse to work for him. If there's anyone who can explain how we do that, it's the Fan and the Enemy.
Quartz: As soon as we get back, we'll help however we can.
Rachel: Unten, are you sure you're... I don't know, ready?
Unten: You know what? I think in a weird way, I actually am.

Rachel smiles a little and gives Unten a thumbs up. Blank hops out of the truck's trailer and whistles to call everyone's attention.

Blank: We're heading out in three minutes. Make sure you've got everything in order and get in.

Sia and Sakeena give Unten quick pats on the back as they walk by and step into the trailer. Volt goes in for a pat on the back but stops, stammering a little.

Volt: My condolences...? ...good luck.

Volt gets in the trailer. Obena walks by and smiles a little.

Obena: It takes a lot of strength to do what you're doing. Best of luck, you two.
Quartz: We're not the ones going out to fight Liameno. Keep everyone safe, okay?

Obena nods. Rachel helps her up into the trailer and smiles at the two as the trailer closes up. Blank puts two tickets in Unten's hand as she heads to the truck's cab.

Blank: Can't really speak to what you're doing, but... hey, I know it's gotta be heavy. If you really think you can get Derezzt off Earth, you're doing all of us a massive favor.
Unten: Don't let everyone worry about me too much, okay? It's going to be alright.

Blank nods as she gets in the driver seat of the truck. Unten and Quartz step back and watch it drive off before the wheels shift and form VTOL fans beneath the trailer, the whole vehicle going airborne.

Synth drives Strafe's jeep recklessly through downtown Seattle, laughing quietly to himself. Gamma has curled himself up in the glovebox, meditating quietly despite the bumpy ride.

Synth: I'm sure they'll outnumber us, Gamma, but that's not a problem. It's not a problem at all! We're a dynamic duo, some real brothers in arms.

Synth laughs more. As he makes a hard left turn, Gamma stretches and yawns.

Synth: Nothing can save them now! Not their base, not their money, not their fame, not their genuine friendship. None of that's a match for what we're hitting 'em with.

Gamma seems to growl a little bit and sticks his tongue out. Synth comes to a screeching halt outside the firehouse and rests his forehead against the steering wheel, choking up a little.

Synth: Don't talk like that, man! Brothers in arms! Rubber bullet and the stump! We've got this! We've got this. Right? We can't do this. We can't. We-

The jeep starts sinking into the street. Synth starts banging on the ceiling and hyperventilating. Before the two can be crushed, the car pops back up out of the ground, launching a few feet into the air before landing. The Mistake has appeared in the backseat, leaning his head in.

The Mistake: Status update?
Synth: Status is cool as hell, sir! Crime hasn't even thought about happening anywhere near us!

Synth starts laughing nervously, but also sounds like he's crying a bit. The Mistake looks a little concerned.

The Mistake: ...well, when you're done with... all this... head to Nevada. Liameno's up to something and the only thing that could beat one of my best is two of my best.
Synth: Gamma, you think this patrol is over?
Gamma: The desert holds no fortune for souls who travel by water.
Synth: Tight.
The Mistake: Tight.

The Mistake vanishes, leaving behind a faint red afterimage that Gamma tries to swat at. Synth starts driving off again. As the jeep turns another corner and heads out of view, Strafe walks up to the firehouse, grumbling to himself.

The F.A.N.T transport slowly hovers its way down into a massive warehouse in the middle of a vast desert, its wheels moving back down to the ground. Blank hops out of the driver's seat, watching as the team steps out of the back. Sakeena and Rachel seem a little disoriented from the flight, while Obena is grinning wide.

Obena: It's amazing how much you guys can pull off! Why don't all people get one of these?
Blank: Having that kind of speed on land and air with the kind of batteries we're packing can be dangerous. Also, it's... a flying truck. Of course we keep that James Bond kind of shit to ourselves.

Blank laughs. Obena takes a moment, and then laughs somewhat quieter.

Blank: Anyways, suppose I should debrief you a little bit, not like you can walk out and mess anything up now. Welcome to Area 51! You all are on high-priority asset defense.
Sia: What's Area 51?
Volt: It's like a museum of space junk, right?
Blank: ...let me put it this way. You know all the boring government parts of my job? For a shockingly long and recent time, we were all so dumb we thought we could fit all of that into a big box in the desert and keep it a secret.

Sia chuckles and shakes her head. Sakeena raises her hand.

Sakeena: What'll we be protecting?
Blank: Something special we don't quite understand yet. Well, something that got hit by something special. The thing isn't important - although, hey, it IS incredibly rare and useful. What's important is that Liameno's been attacking facilities covering similar research. We keep him out, hopefully find a way to detain him, and we're good.

Rachel looks to her side, nervously fiddling with her shielding gauntlets. Blank looks to her and crosses her arms.

Blank: I assure you, it may be difficult, but we're not just throwing you right at the problem. You'll be kept away from the front lines and grouped with other personnel.
Rachel: Oh, it's... not the fight, weirdly enough...
Sakeena: Rachel, they're gonna be fine...
Blank: Ah, the ol' "someone back home"? I feel you. I mean, my boyfriend is kind of always on some big sky base, but... yeah, tricky balance, ain't it?

Rachel frowns a little bit and leans to Sakeena.

Rachel: I know Bang can handle things, but what if there's something even worse back home and we can't help? What if NULL gets caught up in all this and goes out on her own to deal with it?
Blank: ...damn, I wish I was better with words... look, whatever sucks for you, it probably also sucks for your partner, right? Things are rough back home, too.

Rachel looks at Blank, somewhat crossly. Sakeena steps in front of her.

Sakeena: I think what Blank means is... you're both putting in all the effort you can.
Blank: Yeah. And you could lose a lot, but that can't hold you back. Fear is a liability.
Rachel: Gee, thanks...
Sakeena: See, now, to me, that sounds more like... it takes a certain strength to do the right thing, and you should appreciate that as much in her as she does in you, and-

Rachel smiles a little.

Blank: And when you meet back up, worked to the bone, finally just barely outrunning the danger, you're gonna look each other in the eye and just want to start-

Blank closes her eyes and shivers. Sakeena shrugs.

Rachel: That kind of helped. ...I think...?
Blank: Good! Enough debriefing. Let's get you all down to the main vault and get ready.

Blank motions for the group to follow as she walks down a narrow corridor in the middle of the room. Sakeena and Rachel follow ahead together while Obena, Volt, and Sia walk behind them, looking somewhat confused.

Unten and Quartz enter a small grocery store, the soft lights flickering a little as they step in. Unten shivers a little, while Quartz reacts more visibly, holding herself tightly and gritting her teeth.

Quartz: Guess I never really had to think about it, but man, I'm probably cold-blooded, huh?
Unten: Yeah, Alaska... kind of sucks? I'm sorry for roping you into all this.
Quartz: It's fine, honey, I want to be here for you... besides, I kind of want to see you stand up to those two.

Quartz giggles a little. Unten smiles and picks up a bag of pretzels.

Unten: Y'know, we should ask if they sell anything warm for you...

Quartz nods. The two walk together to the register, where Sam is punching in various numbers.

Quartz: Wait, Sam?

Sam looks up and smiles.

Sam: Hey! It's... you two! Good to see you again. Again, right?
Unten: Yeah, yeah. You work here?
Sam: Yup. The Fan told me he needed rent for the cabin, so I came into town and got to workin'!
Unten: ...and where's the cabin?
Sam: Not in town! But not not in town, I think. The Fan likes his privacy.

Unten and Quartz glance at each other and nod.

Quartz: You know, we should pay him a visit while we're in town. You mind taking us there?
Sam: I don't know... I mean, you two seem to be on the level...
Unten: Yeah, we are. Remember the big fight last year?
Sam: Oh, who doesn't? Those heroes seem so brave, hope they're all doing okay now.
Unten: So... we can go to the cabin?
Sam: If you want to take me there, sure!

Unten looks a little puzzled. Sam hops over the counter and smiles.

Sam: Pleasure doing business with you!

Sam heads out the door. Unten drops the pretzels and heads after him. Quartz picks the bag up and looks around.

Quartz: ...anyone I can pay for these?

Zerita walks across the sidewalk towards the firehouse, opposite the direction Strafe arrived from. She almost shoves the doors open but takes a moment to exhale and pushes it open more gently. Inside, the remaining heroes are gathered around a screen that Strafe is standing next to.

Nycho: Any more details you can give us on these two, Strafe?
Strafe: Hrm... oh, Synth can do all sorts of weird stretchy stuff now. That's new, I think.

Nycho nods, typing on a laptop. The screen behind Strafe alerts him that PowerPoint has crashed and he taps the laptop on the side, frowning. Zerita clears her throat to make her presence known.

Nycho: Zerita! What took you so long?
Zerita: I was out for food, got sidetracked with other business. When I got back, this place looked empty. I just went home after that, needed some sleep...
Rubelline: A lot of people left with F.A.N.T to deal with Liameno. We're just keeping an eye on this place... plenty of time to catch up.
Strafe: I mean, yeah, but two hooligans working for whatever crazy bastard calling himself a god this time stole my car. We have enough people to deal with that, if we want.

Zerita looks to her side. Mioda glances up at her and grimaces.

Mioda: You're thinking about something.
Zerita: Look, either it can wait or it's already a problem. We clearly have our hands full already.
Mioda: If you think it could already be a problem, we kind of need to hear from you...

Zerita sighs and crosses her arms.

Zerita: Netnu wasn't at his sanctuary. That's why I was out so long last night. Could be a part of whatever we're knee-deep in, could be that he just skipped town or something.

The room goes quiet. Mioda rubs her forehead and grits her teeth.

Mioda: When this is over, we talk to him, okay? I know we've tried and I know we're in the middle of something, but if he's flaking out on us when things are getting this bad, we can't ignore that.
Zerita: Of course. Whenever that happens, that happens.

The two nod at each other and the room is quiet again. Nycho puts his hands behind his head and leans back.

Nycho: Are we all ready to chase Synth and Gamma then?
Rubelline: When did we agree on that?!
Nycho: Two highly dangerous supervillains stole Strafe's car and threatened to take this beautiful cornerstone of Western vigilantism. That sounds like something you follow up on, right?
Strafe: More like... two C-listers with some weird boss stole my car and said they were jealous of us having... a gathering place? A social life in general?

Nycho seems a little disappointed. Strafe sighs and shakes his head.

Strafe: Don't love having them out and about, though. We still don't know how many people we're dealing with, let alone where they're coming from and who'll be fighting who at the end of all this. So... I think the five of us can follow up, yeah.

Nycho perks up a little. Mioda grabs her crossbow off the table and looks at Zerita, who's too busy doing some stretches to notice Mioda looking a little worried. Rubelline rubs her eyes.

Rubelline: I'll have some Terracotta Golems moved here if we really think it's best to chase after them. I'm... well, I trust your judgement. I haven't done any of this as much as some of you, but if you need an extra set of hands on deck...
Nycho: You'll do fine. I mean, I don't know if either of these guys have blood, but you've got that good good red stuff like Bang, right? It's all good.
Rubelline: Thanks. You know, even if I don't end up fighting, I can probably lend a hand making sure you've got supplies, security, some transportation...

Nycho kicks against the wall to push his rolling chair across the room, opening a door into a side room with a password keypad and a well-placed elbowing to the metal door. Inside, The Alleged Car sits. Rubelline looks a little taken aback. Strafe looks over his shoulder.

Strafe (whispering to Rubelline): I can't say it's better than it looks, but... it's been in worse shape than that?

Unten and Sam step out of the car, followed by Quartz, who's wrapped herself up in their jackets. They've taken a long dirt road out to a wooden cabin with a frozen lake behind it, some dim lights coming from within.

Sam: This looks like the right place. They don't take kindly to strangers at first, but let 'em know you mean no harm, I'll put in a good word and before you know it, things will be fine.
Unten: ...thank you, Sam.

Unten turns around and looks at Quartz, who's shivering. She opens her eyes and gestures for him to go forward.

Quartz: This is all you, babe.

Unten takes a deep breath and walks through the thick snow up to the cabin's porch, a thin piece of metal from Kolob carved into the shape of a cresent moon and hung on the door. He knocks, taking a step back and looking unsure. As he leans in to knock again, The Enemy opens the door, wearing a faded red wool cloak. It takes him a moment, but he frowns at Unten. The two stare at each other for a few moments and The Enemy looks back into the cabin.

The Enemy: Prepare another bowl or two, brother. We have someone who's come for something.

Chapter 5: Confrontational

Behind Earth's moon, The Mistake has gathered up pieces of Kolob, patching them together with satellites and shoddily forged chains. He stands on a walkway along the outside of the base, next to Shiki, who's wearing a clunky space helmet but otherwise her regular attire.

The Mistake: It's just... I don't know, maybe the whole thing's gone pear-shaped. I slept for millennia, of course I had time to think of what I'd do after The Threat was gone, but... I dunno, big shoes to fill.
Shiki: Can't win 'em all. Earth's boring anyways, wish they'd have gone somewhere better.
The Mistake: What? No, no way. It's Earth! It's... they knew what they were doing. They tuned this universe like a watch.

Shiki sticks her tongue out and leans on the railing. The Mistake grabs a floating piece of debris off the side of the station, molding it into various shapes and materials with one hand.

The Mistake: So, heard back from him yet?
Shiki: Nothing. Synth and Gamma are on the run.

The Mistake rolls his eyes. He sets the metal down and it wriggles away, given some form of life in his grip.

The Mistake: Let's just get Kolob II done, I suppose. Maybe that'll make them change their minds.

The Fan, The Enemy, and Unten sit around a worn-out metal table by a fireplace. Quartz lays on her side, sleepily watching the fire burn.

Unten: Look, I know things are messy with us. Maybe take that as a sign of how much we're worried about Derezzt.
The Fan: If The Mistake really is loose, you were right to come to us. He can't be trusted.
Unten: ...wait, that's what you call him? He's a brother of yours.

The Enemy groans and takes a sip of tea.

The Fan: A long time ago, we entrusted our divine blood to a team of mortals we personally supervised. We thought it was a worthwhile endeavor towards ending the war, but no results were suitable. Some were weak, some went mad, but Derezzt was the most dangerous, all because he thought he knew what he was doing.
The Enemy: He's a pathetic mockery of godhood. All the strength, none of the control.
Unten: I suppose I can see that much...
The Fan: Then you know what the solution to our problem is.

Unten looks down at his bowl of soup and sighs. The Enemy glares at him, but The Fan puts a hand on the table, signaling for his brother to wait.

Unten: I know you'd tell me to descend him, yeah. Derezzt could be dangerous and that'd be the easy way to wrap things up.
The Fan: How mature of you, Unten.

Unten pushes his bowl to the middle of the table. Quartz looks over at the three of them.

Unten: I wasn't finished. It'd be the easy way out, but it's not the one I'm taking. Even putting aside how bad I still feel about you two, even with everything that happened, Derezzt at least wants to do the right thing. We don't see eye to eye with him yet, you don't see eye to eye with us... I know it'd take work, but I'm asking you to lock him away, maybe put some sense in him.
The Enemy: You want us to try to contain pure chaos and tutor it in how to manage the balance of a universe? Even if you hadn't ripped the strength from our forms, you'd be asking the impossible.
The Fan: Brother, calm down...

The Enemy crosses his arms and looks away. He glances at Quartz as his brother takes a sip of tea.

The Fan: It would be ideal to put The Mistake in line, but we aren't working in an ideal situation, Unten. You changed things. As it stands, there's no counterbalance in the world for that type of unbridled power. No containment strong enough, no lesson wise enough.
Unten: He's not some kind of wild animal. He's just like you two. He came to me looking to pick up where you left off. I didn't want that, but you're telling me that's not what you want either?
The Fan: It's not about what we want anymore, it's about what we've been dealt.
The Enemy: He may try and imitate us, but he doesn't know patience, restraint, consequence. Even if he shouldered your world's burdens like we did, he could just as easily destroy Earth and never even know why or how. If you trust him, you put everything you know and love in his path.

Unten gets out of his chair and looks out the window.

Unten: Against our better judgment, we'd all have your back. If you could meet us halfway and just tell us how to seal him away... I'd hate putting someone in eternal solitary confinement, but it's something, right?

The Fan looks at his brother, who looks at Quartz again. He gives Ektaz a cautious nod and The Enemy gets up from the table.

The Enemy: You have everything you need right now to get out there and solve the problem. The Other gave your kind a gift that puts you on the stage of cosmic history, and if you don't use that gift to save your friends, you're even worse than whatever you'd like to think of us.

Unten turns around, grimacing at The Enemy. Quartz seems a little more alert, keeping quiet but clearly watching the confrontation.

Unten: You built this entire world and at the first sign of trouble you spent all of eternity setting up some long con that put everything on the line. How can I do worse in one lifetime?
The Enemy: I'm done mincing words with you, Unten. If you don't descend The Mistake, everyone dies, one way or another. Whether he does it on purpose or on accident, everything you know, everyone you care about, they die and they die terribly.

Unten looks caught off-guard, gritting his teeth a little as he looks at The Enemy, clearly worried. The Enemy looks at Quartz, who's on the brink of growling at him.

The Enemy: If we do things your way, she dies, and it'll be your fault.

The Enemy stares at Quartz. The Fan shakes his head a little. Unten takes a quick, sharp breath and punches The Enemy hard in the jaw, knocking him off balance. Quartz gets up and steps forward a little. Unten shakes his head and rubs his forehead.

Unten: Fuck, I'm sorry, that was... that-
The Fan: That'll be quite enough, Unten. My brother, he... you know his temper.

The Enemy finally looks up at Unten, the most enraged he's ever seen him. The Fan takes a long sip of tea as his brother rubs his jaw.

The Fan: There's a shed out back where you two may stay. I think it's for the best that we reconvene in the morning and find a little more consensus. Like it or not, we all need to be a part of this, and we'll need to be on the same page...

Unten helps The Enemy regain his balance. The Enemy shoves him aside lightly and sits down to pour himself more tea. Unten stutters for a moment before leaving the cabin, the brothers glaring at Quartz as she quietly steps out behind him.

Nycho and Mioda sit in the front seat of The Alleged Car, driving down a long straight stretch of road. Rubelline clings to the back of Mioda's seat while bird cages rattle around the windows, Strafe and Zerita in the cramped backseat with her.

Nycho: Mioda, see anything suspicious?
Mioda: Still a no. You know that just because I can hunt doesn't mean I just randomly spot things, right?
Nycho: Doesn't hurt to have sharp eyes on the horizon. Zerita, how are things back there?

Zerita looks around at the interior of The Alleged Car.

Zerita: Not worse than when we left.
Nycho: Good. Rubelline, any word on the information superhighway about our perps?
Rubelline: Oh, was I supposed to be keeping an eye on that? Sorry, I get carsick trying to read while traveling... especially in... mobile avian habitats...
Nycho: We're not on a plane...? Well, whatever. Could you let Mioda handle that?

Rubelline hands Mioda her phone, looking a little panicked as something in her seat cracks from her leaning back into it. Mioda raises her eyebrows.

Mioda: ...oh, damn, guess they already got 'em.
Nycho: Really?
Mioda: Seems like everyone's freaking out about it. Arrested in Las Vegas.
Nycho: By F.A.N.T?
Mioda: No, like, regular police.
Strafe: Not completely shocking.
Nycho: So we go to Vegas and get Strafe's car back?
Zerita: And hopefully get some answers about this whole Derezzt thing.

Nycho nods, speeding up and leaving everyone in the car a little shaken. A little ways behind them, plants seem to flourish in waves as something burrows through the ground, following the team.

Unten sits outside the shed behind the cabin, sweeping away some of the snow on the ground and sighing. He pulls out Imperium, planting his forehead against the flat side of the weapon and groaning.

Unten: Great idea, Unten, making sure both of you have to sleep in a barn.
'Unten picks his head up and looks at the weapon. He starts to open up Imperium's inner realm but hears some metal crashing in the cabin.
The Enemy: You let that fool sock me in the jaw!

Unten approaches the window, hiding out of sight. Inside, The Enemy has tossed aside an empty tea kettle, The Fan sitting in front of the fireplace.

The Fan: You pushed him too far. I let him respond however he saw fit.
The Enemy: If I still had my powers, I'd teach him a real lesson in how to shut somebody up...
The Fan: He's stronger than you seem to think. That's always been his best quality, I think. Willpower, maybe not in a conventional form but when it comes down to it, willpower nonetheless.

Unten looks down at the snow, exhaling. He almost smiles a little. The Fan gets up and picks up the tea kettle.

The Fan: That's why your little tirade didn't work. He's too committed to his ideas to listen to those kinds of facts. Mortals are stubborn... it's why those pictures of Needlenam fell through too. You need a more subtle touch, brother. Convince him he's really in control of the situation and when he comes face-to-face with The Mistake, he'll get cornered until he has to listen to reason.

Unten rolls his eyes. The Enemy crosses his arms, sitting back down and chuckling.

The Enemy: I suppose subtlety has always been more your thing than mine.

The brothers share a little laugh as Unten walks back to the shed. Quartz sits inside, in an old broken escape pod from Kolob, hung from the ceiling by chains.

Unten: Babe, you need some rest.
Quartz: I'm cold, I'm hungry, and some jackass looked me right in the eyes and said I'm going to die. Sleep's not my first priority.

Unten sits down, looking up at the chains holding the pod up.

Unten: Heard them talking out there. They didn't notice me, had a whole little speech about how I'm stubborn and they've gotta pull the wool over my eyes.
Quartz: After all that?

Quartz giggles. Unten laughs sheepishly for a second. Quartz frowns, laying on her front.

Quartz: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound like that moment wasn't serious or real or... I don't know.
Unten: It's fine. It's not like I'm scared of them or anything. They're... it's hard to pinpoint what they are right now. They've just kind of been for all eternity, and I know what I did must have messed them up, but... I think it was important for me to see them. Says a lot about who they were, knowing what they still are.

Quartz nods. Unten climbs up into the second seat of the pod, leaning on Quartz.

Unten: At least right now their plan seems to get us to Derezzt.
Quartz: All that big talk and they're taking you right to him? Seems like maybe all this alone time's dulled the ol' schemers.

Unten laughs a little. Quartz smiles and kisses his cheek.

Quartz: And hey, plenty of alone time for us in their fancy space pod...

Quartz kisses Unten again, snuggling up on his side.

Blank punches in the password on a numberpad lock. Rachel shivers and glances over.

Rachel: It's freezing back here, how long is-
Blank: Classified. But I'm almost done.

Blank punches in a few more numbers and the heavy metal door unlocks, sliding upwards. Blank leads the group into the room ahead of them; a small chamber dimly lit from beneath the floor by orange light. In the back of the room, a torn-up scrap of metal is kept suspended in a forcefield.

Sia: Are we literally guarding space garbage?
Blank: It's something that fell from space into the Pacific recently. It may look solid, but it's behaving in some really odd ways. For example...

Blank pulls up a poorly made office chair and sits down at a panel at the base of the forcefield. She fiddles with it and the scrap metal begins vibrating before turning into a glowing cloud of vapor, which the forcefield starts to shape back into the original scrap metal.

Blank: We're doing some intensive research on what could have caused this kind of damage. Liameno doesn't seem to like that.
Rachel: So... you're keeping us away from the front lines. Do we just sit around down here?
Blank: Pretty much. There's a hidden compartment in the wall containing a direct radio connection to me and some first aid supplies.

Blank bumps a specific panel on the wall next to her with her elbow, opening the compartment. Obena raises her hand and Blank gestures to her.

Obena: I understand keeping us back here, and I'm not going to judge anyone for staying, but... is there something better we could be doing?

Blank rubs her chin.

Blank: Not right now. If you're needed, you'll know.

Blank gives the group a thumbs up and clips her radio to her belt, leaving the room. Sia leans back against the wall and scoffs.

Sia: Fly halfway across the country to do the same thing as everyone back home... sit around waiting for them to hit us.
Sakeena: Well, err... no news is good news... I guess...

Late at night, Nycho pulls the Alleged Car into Las Vegas, the bright lights of the city a considerable distance from the small police station the team has arrived at. Zerita steps out first and groans, rolling her neck.

Zerita: Wasn't built to be all cramped up like that...
Nycho: The important thing is we're here. The big apple!

Strafe shakes his head. Nycho frowns.

Rubelline: So what now? Strafe gets his car back, and then...?
Strafe: We need to see if we can talk to Synth and Gamma. I can't imagine they know much, but any news is good news, right?

Strafe heads up to the police station. He enters, only to find no one inside.

Strafe: ...guys, get in here.

Zerita and Mioda head in, Zerita holding her mechanical arm up in a defensive position. Something thumps hard against a nearby wall and Mioda vaults over the desk to look for the source.

Mioda: Found 'em.

Strafe and Zerita run to the back hall; Rubelline enters and hovers over the desk, Nycho grabbing a chair from the waiting area as he follows along.

Rubelline: What are we looking at, guys?

In their small holding cell in the back, Synth and Gamma try and break out, Synth ramming into the wall while Gamma crawls along the opposite side of the room, licking at bricks. Mioda kicks the bars to get their attention and aims her crossbow at them.

Mioda: What'd you do to the police?
Gamma: They, of full spiritual volition, gave their excess over to my divine flora.
Synth: They took his stump. Guess it did something to them. Can't take my secret weapon, though...

Synth's rubber hands twist together and form a large shield that he bashes against the wall to little effect.

Strafe: You're at a dead end. Tell us everything you know about Derezzt.
Synth: Oh, you think you're the one in charge, here, hm? Think you came all the way down to Les Vee-gas and that you're gonna save the day? Fool. If I hadn't stolen your car, I couldn't have come to stop our rogue agent.
Zerita: What are you talking about?
Synth: Liameno's been a pain in the boss's neck since he got onboard. He's gone AWOL and if you don't let us out of here to stop him, you're dead meat.
Strafe: Hrm... Liameno's nearby, that means F.A.N.T is too... we need to regroup. Let's take these two with us, they can give us all a little more clarity on the situation.
Zerita: Are we sure that's the best idea?

Strafe shrugs. Rubelline heats her hands up with Red Energy and reaches for the lock, when suddenly, tiles from the floor start popping off, vines creeping out from the building's foundation.

Nycho: Heads up!

Nycho tosses his chair down the hall. It hits nothing. Rubelline puts her energized hands out to hold back the vines, but more creep in from the ceiling, Toge Kurihara dropping down.

Toge: Let's get going, dummies.
Strafe: Derezzt really brought the ol' resort crew back together, huh?

Toge glances at Strafe and flicks her wrist, a set of vines pulsing like a wave and knocking him down. She turns back to her colleagues, placing a hand on a bar and ensnaring it before yanking it out of the wall.

Synth: Bossman send you to deal with Liameno too?
Toge: Nah, just felt like following these jackasses around. I was gonna go somewhere less dry after this...

Synth slips through the open space. Mioda shoots an arrow at him that just slides off his rubber body. Gamma scurries out of sight and someone screams from the front desk.

Zerita: I'm not going to let you walk away, but surrender now and I might consider going a little easy on you.
Toge: You all really care about this whole god business, huh? You must have not met the new guy... he's clueless. I'm just riding this one out until he gives up or goes all-in...

Zerita runs in with a right hook, Synth ducking away to follow Gamma. Toge catches her fist with a bundle of vines but has trouble holding it when Zerita twists her mechanical hand around in her grip. Zerita knees her leg and Toge pushes her away, retracting back up into the ceiling.

Zerita: Not sure we can chase her...
Mioda: But we can chase the others.

Mioda runs out to the front desk, Nycho helping Strafe up before running after Mioda. Synth sees them and jumps through a window, inflating his body to push all the glass off him before dashing away.

Mioda: That's two gone. Where is Gamma...?

Nycho rubs his chin, Mioda clearly trying to stop him from just walking out into the open but shaking her head as he does anyway. He peers into some drawers at the front desk, eventually finding Gamma and two shrunken unconscious police officers.

Nycho: ...hrm.

Nycho picks up Gamma, who wriggles and hisses. Mioda aims her crossbow at the lizard, but Nycho covers him with both hands.

Nycho: There's some stuff in this desk, guys. Like, some "don't kill the lizard until he can unshrink the local law enforcement" stuff?

Mioda lowers her crossbow and walks over. She shivers a little at the sight of the officers.

Gamma (muffled): I will not be persecuted for the holy redistribution of that which is not needed! The very walls of this jail are no more than unmarked graves for the devils of this mortal coil!
Nycho: Stump does shrinking stuff, lizard's maybe a communist. That's something.
Strafe: Don't imagine this little guy is going to tell us much, but Synth can't get far on foot, and I don't think Toge is built for this kind of climate. We get the jeep, we round 'em up, we try and get to F.A.N.T.

Mioda nods. The group heads out of the police office, Nycho storing Gamma in a jacket pocket. From a nearby rooftop, Absinthe watches the group, painting her name on the roof while on a call with her fellow demons.

Absinthe: Yeah, no, this whole mess should take some heat off of us, huh? Not often the famous ones come down this way... should be fun...

Absinthe giggles devilishly, keeping an eye as the Alleged Car and Strafe's jeep drive off.

Deep inside Area 51, Rachel and her team sit around, waiting for any kind of update from Blank. Obena has taken Sia's coat as a blanket while she polishes her Palm Cutter, seemingly unfazed by the cold. Sakeena examines the scrap metal, trying to bend it through the forcefield.

Volt: Are you sure we should be messing with that?
Sakeena: It's more that I don't think I can... I'm not even sure it's metal, actually.
Sia: Beats having nothing to do down here.

Sakeena makes a big, exaggerated stretching motion with her hands, but the mysterious asset stays in place. She crosses her arms and leans against the wall, stumbling when the walkie talkie suddenly starts transmitting static. Rachel picks it up and fiddles with it, the message clearing up.

Blank : -and I know this sounds crazy, but you have to turn off the forcefield and let the object vaporize. I repeat, we have movement spotted in the desert. Vaporize the asset and meet me in the hangar. Over.
Rachel: Err... copy. Over. Copy? See you there.

Rachel puts the walkie talkie in her pocket and unlocks the door. Sakeena nudges for Volt to enter the field generator and he does, shutting the machine down and letting the asset dissipate into glowing smoke. The top half of his body rematerializes out of the machine.

Volt: I can get there faster if I travel through this place's power grid.
Sakeena: I don't like the sound of splitting up.
Volt: Wouldn't be the first time. See you up there.

Volt heads into the circuitry. Obena rubs her chin as Sia takes her jacket back.

Obena: Wonder what's up with him...
Sia: We'll have time to unpack that later. Let's get moving.

Rachel, Sia, Obena and Sakeena head out of the containment room, down a short hall to an elevator. As they get in, they hear loud, rapid pulses coming from the ceiling, a sudden storm-like wind manifesting through the hall right before the elevator doors shut.

Chapter 6: Higher Power

Nycho taps on the window as he rides shotgun in Strafe's jeep. Gamma struggles around in his pocket, squirming in short bursts.

Strafe: So, while we've got a minute... I wanted to hear your takes on something that isn't sitting right.
Nycho: Mhm. Hasn't been sitting right with me either. Synth can't get far on foot because he doesn't have feet... yet.
Strafe: What? No, I... you're right but that's not what I was talking about. It's what Toge said. About Derezzt. Called him clueless?
Zerita: Sure doesn't seem clueless to me. He picked up some disenfranchised punks who we wouldn't see coming and if Synth and Gamma hadn't fled to Vegas, we would still be split up on two chases.
Nycho: I... think Toge's right, actually? Synth said they were here for a rogue agent. Liameno isn't following orders.
Strafe: ...and this whole thing does look an awful lot like what the White Goddess pulled on us.
Mioda: If this guy wanted some element of surprise, why would he go right up and talk to Unten?

Zerita places a hand on her chin.

Zerita: ...fair points. Does it change what we're doing?
Strafe: Not yet. We'll see.

As Strafe continues driving by, Synth pokes his head out of a nearby alley. Toge sits on the pavement next to him, shivering.

Toge: We need to get out of here. I don't do deserts.
Synth: They have Gamma. Besides, boss told us to-
Toge: Go fight Liameno? I guess you can take a punch, but good luck throwing one.

The two of them hear giggling from above them. Absinthe leans her top half down and Synth is quick to respond, forming his hands into two rubber shields.

Absinthe: Sorry, it's just... she's got a point.
Synth: You with Strafe? F.A.N.T?

Absinthe shakes her head.

Synth: ...looking for a job opportunity?
Absinthe: Nah, I just think it's awfully interesting, all this business on my turf...
Toge: This whole thing's a mess. Either you're in it for fun, like me, or you're looking to get hurt...

Synth grumbles at Toge's remark. Absinthe fiddles with her headphones and hums, kicking her legs in the air.

Synth: ...Toge, we're taking this seriously. We have a job to do. And that starts by cleaning up any loose ends...

With one last kick, Absinthe drops a can of spray paint into the alley. She grins mischievously as she gets up and starts skating away, the can bursting into a cloud of green paint. As it dissipates, Synth growls, his rubber body looking a little corroded by the paint. Toge coughs, using some vines to clean herself off.

Synth: If you need me, I'll be out doing my part for Derezzt...
Toge: Sure, sure, whatever...

Volt reappears from the circuitry, exiting out of the hangar's sprinkler system and dropping onto the floor. Blank helps him up as several F.A.N.T agents mobilize through the space, hauling equipment and trying to get in place.

Blank: Smart thinking taking a shortcut. Liameno's... well, he's circling around us. Keeps setting off seismic activity.
Volt: Do we approach him, or...?
Blank: Standard protocol says there's a bunch of people I have to ask that question to. There's enough by-laws for me to just tell you to stay put for now, though...

Volt nods. The rest of the group gets out of their elevator, a small quake knocking them off-balance.

Blank: Good, now we can get down to business with this. Liameno's keeping his distance, but luckily, we aren't a bunch of idiots. We have long-range weapons prepared. Our goal is to get him to keep tightening his loop around the facility until he reaches a point where you all will be stationed.
Sakeena: Do you think the five of us are enough? He's shaking this whole building.
Blank: He's strong, but it's still five on one... at least three of you have some kind of superhuman talent, no?
Sia: I mean, certain people might argue four, given the amount of "talent" in what I do with the Palm Cutter, but now-

Another quake shakes Area 51. The elevator behind the six of them snaps and plummets down the shaft from the force.

Sia: -isn't the time. Just get us to where we need to be...

Unten and Quartz lay curled up in the escape pod, looking up at the sky through the shed's makeshift roof. Unten squints a little as he looks at the stars.

Unten: -so I think that one's Betelgeuse? I don't know. I read a little on stargazing as part of my meditation, but I still know everything by the old Zeon names, I guess...
Quartz: So what did you call that one back home?

Unten shrugs. Quartz giggles, rolling over a little.

Quartz: I'm glad you've been taking the time to meditate...
Unten: I mean, it's just another part of the job, right? Training isn't just physical.

Quartz pokes her head up a little to look at Unten, knowing that's not the whole story. Unten sinks into place.

Unten: I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you, not everything is perfect, but... it's nothing I can't handle. You're not missing out on doing your part.
Quartz: I'm not worried about how you're treating yourself now... so much as I'm worried about how you'll be treating yourself when things get hectic soon.
Unten: ...we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I guess.
Quartz: Hm... cross that bridge when we wake up tomorrow. Final offer.

Unten exhales and nods. The two snuggle up and look back up through the roof.

Quartz: Mmm... what's that one there?

Quartz tiredly points up at a faint pink light peeking out from behind the moon. Unten tilts his head.

Unten: ...huh. Not sure.

On the road out of Vegas, Nycho holds Gamma up with both hands, glaring at him. Gamma squirms around, growling.

Nycho: You feel like talking about Derezzt yet, punk?
Gamma: My ordainment is none of your business!
Zerita: He's probably just gonna bite you or something, I don't think there's much use in talking to him...

Nycho rolls his eyes. Suddenly, a vehicle behind them turns on its headlights, leaving the group blindsided for a moment while Gamma seems fascinated.

Gamma: A most fortunate ebbing of fate tonight...

Gamma scurries out of Nycho's grip and wedges himself against the car door, contorting until it pops open. He jumps out of the jeep and a large rubber scoop catches him.

Gamma: Better to operate in threes than in twos.

Synth pulls Gamma up into the stolen Alleged Car. Toge sits stretched across the backseat, looking tired and trying to shoo away the riled-up birds inside. Nycho closes the door on the jeep, crossing his arms.

Nycho: Damn luxury parking can't keep your masterpiece outta the wrong hands...

Mioda tries to aim her crossbow behind them, but squints from the harsh headlights, setting her weapon aside and keeping her head low. Zerita ducks down with her and Rubelline takes a quick look at the Alleged Car before ducking down herself.

Rubelline: Strafe, is there any way we might be able to shake these guys off?
Strafe: Not ideal, but yeah, I can make something work. Just keep an eye on them.

'Zerita pokes her head up enough to watch Synth driving behind them. The Alleged Car swerves left and right, something small driving between them and the jeep.

Zerita: They're, uh... not the only ones chasing us.
Strafe: What? Who else would?
Zerita: I can't get a good look, they're both driving like lunatics.

The harsh light of the headlights is suddenly snuffed out. The smaller vehicle pulls up beside the group, revealing themselves to be Absinthe, riding on a stolen pizza delivery scooter with a slice of pizza hanging from her mouth. She gives a little wave as she eats, Nycho returning the gesture as Strafe looks confused.

Strafe: Do any of you know her?

Absinthe scarfs down her slice and pulls closer to the jeep. The Alleged Car comes up behind them again and Absinthe pulls out a can of spray paint, spraying back towards their pursuer without breaking eye contact with Strafe, still steering the scooter with one hand.

Absinthe: Nope~! Haven't had the pleasure of meeting you all yet!
Strafe: And you're not with them... right?
Absinthe: Just a local gal interested in what's going on in her city! These jerks back here were being awfully rude and they totally swiped that car, even though I clearly took it for a joyride around the lot first... so I decided to follow up! Besides, not every day you famous folk come knocking!
Nycho: So YOU stole my car.
Absinthe: Oh, I was gonna put it back later... I just couldn't help myself though, I love a good custom piece!

Absinthe giggles. Synth steadies the Alleged Car and starts chasing after Absinthe, who swiftly manuevers back behind both vehicles into the dark.

Nycho: ...personally, I think we can trust her, given her taste in automotive artistic expression and-
Strafe: We can trust her for now because she knows what she's doing and doesn't actively want to kill us.
Nycho: Valid. I'll keep an eye on our favorite new rogue element, you just focus on getting us... uh, hm. Do we know where we're going?
Strafe: Wherever F.A.N.T. can be contacted. I tried getting in touch with Rachel, but she's not picking up... guess those secret missions require radio silence, huh?

Rachel looks at her phone, grumbling anxiously as it displays a dead battery symbol, She, the rest of her team, and Blank are riding out into the desert outside Area 51 in one of F.A.N.T's hovering transport trucks, the back of the trailer open and letting in cold wind.

Rachel: Guess I really shouldn't be thinking about that right now, huh...

Blank glances over Rachel's shoulder and shakes her head.

Blank: Actually, you should be keeping an eye on that. I mean, not standard clean comms, but I'm not gonna turn you in for getting intel off your group text or whatever... Jolts, you think you can charge it?
Volt: Err, uh... yes. That's not my name. But yeah, yeah, charging, no problem. Not my name.

Volt takes a deep breath and disappears into the charging port of Rachel's phone. The truck comes to a sudden halt and Rachel slips the phone in her pocket. Sia steps off the truck first, already making herself low to the ground to hide. Sakeena and Obena follow, trying to lay low with Sia but both put off by the chilling cold of the sand.

Sia: Is he close? Because I'm not seeing anything.
Blank: The dust clouds, out on the horizon. Notice the way they're moving? That's not natural.

Sia shifts her focus from looking for figures to watching the dust rolling by; it moves rapidly as though blown around by a tornado before settling suddenly. Sia winces a little.

Sia: That fast, huh...
Blank: Hopefully he'll be slowing down before he gets here. No idea if we'll be landing shots or missing, so be prepared to fight him without any damage already laid on him.
Sakeena: Anything else to keep in mind?
Blank: If you need to get out, the transport won't be far. I'll stage a little faux crash and hide inside. Don't lead him to me unless someone's dying or something, okay?

Sia nods. Rachel steps off the transport, looking out at the dust clouds. The first shot gets fired at Liameno, leaving enough light out on the distance to show his silhouette.

Blank: I'd better get going... stay safe and stay in touch, okay? You've got this, just keep your heads on straight.
Rachel: Right...

Rachel takes a deep breath, turning her shielding gauntlets on and holding one over her head as she kneels down. She feels her phone starting to buzz and uses her free hand to pull it out of her pocket.

Sakeena: Any word from Strafe?
Rachel: No, uh... "hey, it's Volt, from inside the phone, your battery's all good and I just didn't want to scare you when-"

Volt shoots out of the charging port, onto the ground, visibly startling Rachel. He dusts himself off and rolls over, the five of them all anxiously watching as shots light up along Liameno's path.

Synth grumbles as he drives the Alleged Car, several of its windows covered in Absinthe's paint. Absinthe rides ahead of them, teasing them by doing various tricks on her scooter.

Toge: Can't you just run her down?
Synth: Please, I have some subtlety. Besides, I tried a few miles back, remember? She literally just rode over our hood.

Toge rolls her eyes. Gamma climbs up on top of one of her horns and looks out the window for a moment before she grabs him and sets him down.

Gamma: Tonight, man makes thunder, and thunder fails man...
Synth: has sounded all stormy out there, huh...
Toge: So what? Just a storm. Hell, I'd kill for some rain...
Synth: That's the weird part. There isn't rain. Just a bunch of noise. the bunch of noise Liameno might make.

Synth cackles a little. Toge rolls her eyes.

Toge: Whatever gets us past these chumps, I guess.

Synth revs up the Alleged Car and swerves past Absinthe, who paints another stripe along it as it passes. As their pursuers tumble off-road, Absinthe pulls back up beside the jeep, Nycho leaning over to talk with her.

Nycho: Catch any of what they were saying?
Absinthe: Nah, just a bunch of grumbling. Something about the weather.
Rubelline: Oh yeah, it's-

Rubelline sticks her hand out the window, expecting to feel rain but getting nothing. Absinthe gives her a high five and she pulls her hand back, laughing awkwardly.

Strafe: So... follow them, right?
Absinthe: It'd be interesting for sure!
Zerita: And more importantly, maybe it'll lead us to some damn closure on these guys and their boss...

Strafe nods. Absinthe is already gone ahead by the time he starts steering to follow Synth.

Obena looks through some binoculars she's printed at Liameno, who still hasn't gotten any closer to them. Sakeena looks over at her.

Sakeena: Do those actually help you see?
Obena: Helps me focus, at least...
Sia: I'm really doubting this whole dumb plan to get him to fight us. Did they really think they could just get inside his head like that?
Obena: It's better than having to go to him, okay? I don't know if you've heard of the Blazing Hemisphere of Great Zyfon, but I think you can figure out what that is and why we shouldn't just go running in at him.
Sia: That's with a whole army behind him... what can he do on foot that we can't handle?
Rachel: Obena's right, maybe we should-

Sia stands up, unsheathing her Palm Cutter and dramatically planting it in the ground. She cups her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and whistles. Rachel exhales and groans anxiously, activating her shields.


Obena shivers and gets behind Rachel, her sword Sovereign at the ready. Sakeena and Volt cover their sides, the four of them in a defensive huddle while Sia picks up the Palm Cutter, in almost a fencing stance. When F.A.N.T fires their next shot, Liameno is nowhere to be seen.

Sia: Hold steady. We've got-

A dust cloud zig-zags across the desert. In the blink of an eye, Liameno appears next to the team, grabbing Sia by the neck. She tries to stab him with a back-handed grip and he holds the sword back with his armor's tail.

Liameno: I'm awfully glad you've got me figured out, you know. I'd hate to have to take you through this step-by-step.
Sia: W-whatever you're here for, it's already gone.

Liameno sighs and shakes his head, lifting Sia higher. Sakeena starts bending the metal on his power armor's knees, but Liameno quickly sends a pulse of energy through his body, stirring up another dust cloud and knocking the group off-balance.

Liameno: Oh, what a shame... I thought perhaps you were at least dedicated to the heresy your leaders are set on, but you're the only thing worse than a heretic. A fool who won't listen.

Sia growls, kicking Liameno's stomach with one long leg and kneeing his face with the other. She pushes off of him and catches her breath, a loose grip on her sword.

Liameno: What I'm here for was never here, and you're not fighting to protect anything from me. Humanity has stumbled onto something they don't understand or deserve... the Artifacts of Ascendancy.

Sia takes a slash at Liameno, who continues pulsating energy to stir up dust, covering his movements. He almost hits her right in the center of her back, but Obena takes a slash too, gritting her teeth. Sakeena takes the opportunity to force Liameno's arms behind his back, Sia pressing the Palm Cutter against his chest.

Sia: You saw Derezzt. You have to know something. What's he up to? Who's he got in his pocket? Where's Netnu?
Rachel: Guys! Move!

Sia looks at Rachel; behind her, the F.A.N.T transport barrels towards Liameno. Liameno sends another shockwave through his body that reverberates down the Palm Cutter, sending Sia flying and seemingly knocking her unconscious. Obena rolls out of the way as the truck hits Liameno, who gets knocked away but quickly begins whipping up dust clouds again. Blank looks at the group, sweating and pointing towards the back of the transport.

Blank: No protocols, we're playing this thing by ear. Get in.

Chapter 7: Sun Light

Unten and Quartz have fallen asleep in the brothers' escape pod, Quartz snoring quietly as she holds onto Unten. The Fan enters the shed and knocks against the wall, waking the two of them up.

The Fan: We have an emergency. Wake up.
Unten: What kind of emergency?
The Fan: The Mistake is mobilizing an Earth-orbiting superstructure capable of high-level destruction and fortification. ...another Kolob, if that's easier to visualize.

Unten looks back up through the ceiling of the barn; the pink light by the moon has grown brighter. Quartz helps Unten out of the pod, holding onto Unten as she jumps down from the hanging vehicle.

Quartz: It's the middle of the night. Unless Kolob is right over our damn heads, I'd appreciate if you let us get some rest.
The Fan: Time is an abstract concept and even if I were to play by your understanding of numbers, 4am is not, statistically, the middle of the night. Besides, for all we know, Kolob could be here any minute. You need to stop thinking of all of this like an equal foe and start seeing The Mistake for what he is; messy, unbound nature.

Quartz rubs her eyes and groans. As The Fan walks back to the cabin, Unten adjusts his cloak, rolling his eyes.

Unten: Let's just get this over with. Things could be worse.

The Mistake: I'm not sure things could be worse, Shiki.

The Mistake sighs, sitting sideways across what was once The Enemy's throne, one hand with a cluster of papers and the other detached from his body, rubbing his own shoulder. Shiki sits on the floor in front of him, legs crossed as she writes.

The Mistake: I should have known better than to build my team before getting Kolob II up and running. How would anyone ever respect a god without a temple?
Shiki: I told you not to trust Liameno.
The Mistake: What? No, you weren't there when I got Liameno. You were off doing something else.
Shiki: Huh? ...oh, yeah, freeing some of that loser's wives. Oh well. Knew he was bad news.

Shiki laughs to herself a little, contorting her legs behind her back as she continues to write. The Mistake shakes his head.

The Mistake: You're a pillar of this operation, Shiki. Now then, what to do with my new Kolob...

The Mistake looks to his right, where much of Kolob II is still being pieced together. He looks towards Earth and squints.

Obena and Rachel watch over an unconscious Sia in the back of the F.A.N.T transport, Sakeena keeping Liameno at a steady distance behind them by pushing as hard as she can on his metal armor. Volt rubs his chin and sighs.

Volt: How long do we think we can just keep Liameno one step behind us?
Sakeena: I can keep it up as long as you all can... Blank, the transport, is it all fueled up?
Blank: Yeah, and Bolt can keep it running even if we did run out.

Before Volt can correct Blank again, Liameno manages to push ahead for a moment, briefly knocking out the transport's hovering units and causing it to skid along the desert sand. Volt disappears into the machinery of the truck, getting it running again as Blank swerves. Rachel looks at Obena, who's muttering and printing something, and then looks over to Blank.

Rachel: Liameno said F.A.N.T is looking into the Artifacts of Ascendancy. Is there anything more you know about that? It's not like we know much about them either, but... I get the feeling that's important.
Blank: That's... look, F.A.N.T is a big organization, I know what I need to know, and I know that now's not the time to-

Obena stands up and launches what she was printing - a cluster of jagged spikes that Liameno weaves around through, slowing down slightly. She sits back down and grips her own hair, taking deep breaths as she looks uncharacteristically stressed.

Rachel: You okay...?
Obena: It's been a very long couple of days and all of you keep saying it's not the time to be talking about things. We're supposed to be a team. I just think... I don't know, seems like there's nothing stopping us from talking now.

Nobody speaks up for a moment. Obena looks over her shoulder and puts a hand on the wall behind her.

Obena: Volt, why don't you go first? You seemed to have something to say back when we split up.

Volt reappears, sitting across from Obena, nervously trying to not make eye contact.

Volt: I just... thought it'd be a more efficient use of my skills to get from one place to another?
Obena: Anything else that might be bothering you?

Volt stays quiet for a moment. Liameno speeds up again and Volt clutches his seat.

Volt: Okay, okay. I feel like we've all been dancing around talking about Vindozz and it makes it really hard to work as like, one of you guys.
Obena: There! That's progress. Things may be weird but we do need you around and we still trust you.

Volt shifts in his seat, not really looking any more comfortable. Obena looks to Blank.

Obena: Blank, I get the feeling that you're having a hard time doing all this.
Blank: Yes, driving one of these and having an impromptu group therapy session isn't very easy.
Obena': I mean working with us. You keep going back and forth on whether we're following protocol or following your judgment. Why is that?

Blank rolls her eyes and taps her fingers on the steering wheel.

Blank: Look, this whole thing is... I just want to be doing the right thing, right? I was assigned as your point of contact with us for this mission. I know what I'm fuckin' doing, but I know what the rules are, too.
Obena: I think I understand. I was an ambassador, and I know it's not easy picking personal judgment over standards and guidelines. Just remember we'll work with you no matter where the decisions are really coming from. Right, guys?

Obena motions towards Blank. Volt and Rachel nod.

Blank: Right. No problems here.
Obena: Now, Rachel...
Rachel: I know, I know, I could be handling this better, I didn't think I'd be back into this kind of thing right now but that's no excuse to be getting you all in danger.
Obena: ...I was going to say you've actually been the most open and honest one on the team. Good job!

Rachel looks surprised. Obena sits back down, looking at Sakeena.

Obena: Anything you'd like to say, Sakeena?
Sakeena: My arms are tired and it'd have been cool if this didn't happen, but... hey, we're in it now, I guess.
Obena: Valid.

Obena looks down at Sia, taking a deep breath.

Obena: And... I'll help you when I can, Sia. Promise.

Rubelline holds onto the roof of the jeep as Strafe drives off-road into the desert, just barely managing to keep sight of Absinthe or the Alleged Car ahead of them. Zerita sits with her arms crossed, the bumpy ride pushing her around.

Zerita: We've been trailing them for a while and we still have no idea where we're going. How do we know this isn't some kind of trap? Would be a whole lot easier to pick us off out here.
Strafe: I mean, you're not wrong, but keep in mind who we're dealing with here. If anyone's going to get us, it wouldn't be the B-team Derezzt got together, it'd be, y'know, the sudden newcomer driving like a maniac, or some other weirdo he's empowered, or-

Something zooms over the jeep. To their right, a large explosion whips up dust, Strafe quickly getting them out of the way and slamming on his brakes, the jeep spinning out before coming to a halt.

Strafe: Head count. Are we all okay?

Mioda and Zerita nod. Rubelline nods shakily. Nycho remains ducked for cover, but gives a thumbs up.

Strafe: That... wasn't anyone already in this whole mess, right?
Mioda: Whoever did that, they're involved now. Just keep us moving.

Strafe rolls his neck a little before starting the jeep up again, heading further into the desert.

Synth looks through the Alleged Car's glovebox, Gamma acting as the right hand on the steering wheel as he feels around.

Synth: CD cases, CD cases... pouch... full of bird seed...? Oh, hold on...

Synth pulls out one of Nycho's crowbars and laughs. He and Gamma steer the car towards Liameno's dust trail, managing to get close behind him.

Toge: This sure isn't gonna work, huh.

Synth ignores Toge. He leans out of the window, holding the crowbar with both hands as Gamma struggles to drive.

Synth: LIAMENO! I'm here to place you under arrest! For... uh... mutiny!

Liameno looks at Synth but quickly looks away. Synth tosses the crowbar at Liameno and it bounces off his body immediately. Synth growls and lays on the Alleged Car's horn.

Synth: We need a more direct approach!
Toge: Not with me around, we don't.
Synth: Toge! Finally, lending your talents to the greater good.

Toge opens the car door and crosses her arms over her torso, rolling out of the car. Synth pulls on his own rubber face in frustration.

Synth: Gamma, sometimes I truly believe that you and I are the only ones around here with any sense of justice.
Gamma: What is justice but a silent contract, signed by dead men?
Synth: That's the spirit, buddy.

Synth pulls up in-between Liameno and the F.A.N.T transport he's following. Before he can do anything, the Alleged Car is hit by several Plastisteel spikes.

Obena gasps and covers her mouth with her hands.

Obena: That's Nycho's car, isn't it?

Sakeena shifts focus, using her metalbending to steer the Alleged Car away - without her pushing back, Liameno starts catching up to the transport. Sakeena wipes some sweat off her forehead and gets back to pushing against Liameno.

Obena: Oh no oh no oh no... I...
Rachel: Obena, we both know Nycho. He wouldn't just put himself right in the middle of-

Rachel pauses to rethink her statement.

Rachel: If Nycho did put himself in the middle of danger, he wouldn't hold a grudge if you scuffed up his car.
Obena: Right... I just hope nothing hit him...

Obena shudders a little before getting back to channeling more wavelengths, printing another set of spikes. Up at the front of the transport, Blank keeps the vehicle moving full speed ahead, checking some gauges. Absinthe pulls up next to the transport and Blank looks at her, taking a moment to analyze what she's seeing.

Blank: ...and you are...?
Absinthe: Here to help~! As long as you don't rat me out. Name's Absinthe!
Blank: Uh, cool, cool. Know anything about what's going on behind us?
Absinthe: Some jerks stole that car - from a parking garage, not me or anything - and a very generous pizza delivery boy lent me his cycle so I could help make a citizen's arrest! There's some other people looking to lend a hand too, but they don't know how to handle fine machinery quite as good as yours truly, so they could take a minute.

Blank looks back at Liameno, and then to Absinthe. She rubs her head a little in confusion.

Blank: So, do you keep up with current events like, say, the destruction of government property, or... like...?
Absinthe: Yeah, what about it?
Blank: You do you, I guess.
Absinthe: Already on it~!

Absinthe does a wheelie with her scooter and grins devilishly, waving at Blank as she weaves in front of the transport and out of the way. Blank grips the steering wheel and shakes her head a little.

The Enemy hands Unten and Quartz some coffee as they sit down inside the cabin. The Fan lugs out an old computer, wired together with some much more advanced technology from Kolob, and hits a few buttons, creating a shaky, still frame hologram of the original Kolob over the table.

The Fan: So, as you remember, the original Kolob was a highly advanced artificial planetoid we used as a long-term base of operations. We'd been using it long before it got moved to Earth last year, where it was destroyed.
The Enemy: There's more to it than just a gathering place; it can be a haven for creations not yet ready for the outside world, it can be shifted and kept safe in ways a traditional location in three-dimensional space can't. It's a stronghold. The only reason the original was destroyed was because it was pulled into a state where you all could interact with it, for the purposes of fighting The Threat.
Unten: Then there's... absolutely somewhere we can lock Derezzt away.
The Enemy: Or he's building himself an untouchable base where he can escape the damnation he might unleash on this world. You can't think so simply about these kinds of things. Not to mention the risk of him tearing a hole between dimensions if he doesn't properly construct it...
The Fan: There's quite a bit that could go wrong, yes. What's important right now is that he's not finished. His new Kolob still exists as a physical object currently, until he completes and reinforces its structure. There's still a chance to confront him.

Unten takes a sip of coffee. Quartz looks at him, waiting to hear what he has to say.

The Enemy: My brother and I have talked about it, and... I suppose I've presented about as strong of an argument as I can for a descension. It's in your hands at this point.
Unten: Haven't changed my mind. We're going to try talking this out with him, and, if it comes to it, get Kolob as far from Earth as we can.
The Fan: There's no safety net this time, you know. In a worst case scenario? We can't teleport you out of that.
Unten: This kind of thing is never easy, but hey, you're the ones saying he's dangerous.

The Enemy rolls his eyes a little and leans back in his seat. The Fan switches the hologram to an even cruder one - a low-polygon mockup of Kolob II's current mass and shape.

The Fan: Judging by what we can already tell, The Mistake is getting close to completing the initial frame of his new base. From there, it'd be a matter of sealing it and generating the energy required to detach it from physical space. We can have our salvaged escape pod ready by this time tomorrow, but we'll be cutting it close.
Unten: How many of us can go in the pod?
The Fan: Four. You, me, Ektaz, Sam.

Quartz looks at The Fan, in the middle of drinking her coffee but already clearly upset. She sets her cup down and frowns.

Quartz: You'd rather take Sam than me?
The Fan: Sam is... err... highly trained for working within these kinds of environments and could help us navigate the inner structures.
The Enemy: Brother, allow me... Quartz, we'd rather trust one of our own assistants. I think you can understand.
Unten (mumbling): Or we could just go up with three.
Quartz: Oh, I understand. I totally get it. I was born to kill - in fact, born to maybe kill you, specifically, in fact - and you can't stand having to work with me and my boyfriend, the guy who took you two down a notch.
The Enemy: Who was it that took you in when The Threat cast you aside? Who introduced you to Unten?

Unten takes another long sip of coffee, looking up at the ceiling and anxiously bouncing his leg.

Quartz: Oh, thank you for taking me under your wing so I could go fight your war. It means a ton, really.
The Fan: All we're trying to say is that under the circumstances, Sam might be better suited to assist us, and perhaps more reliable in a heated situation such as-
Unten: What if neither of them come? Just us three. How does that sound?

The brothers and Quartz pause. Unten sighs.

Quartz: Babe, you know I can handle this.
Unten: I also know that for what we're doing, we need the three of us. If there's any combination of people he's going to want to hear out...
Quartz: I don't need to fight him, that's... I want to be there. We need to have each other's backs.
Unten: I know. And I think the best thing I can do for you is to go talk to him with them. I don't... I don't know if I can do this knowing you're in danger too, I guess.

Quartz crosses her arms and closes her eyes.

Quartz about this. I go up with you three and stay in the pod. Should things go wrong, you get inside Imperium and I handle getting you out.
Unten: I can... live with that, yeah. Yeah.

Unten hugs Quartz tight. The Fan and The Enemy look at each other, The Fan scoffing a little but nodding silently to his brother.

The Enemy: We'll start getting the pod ready for extended travel. We may need a hand with it, but use this time as you will.

As Strafe drives across the desert, Mioda watches the horizon intently, trying to make out the shape of whatever is firing shots out. Zerita watches with her for a moment but flinches when Rubelline taps her shoulder.

Rubelline: Oh, sorry! I, uh...
Zerita: It's fine. What's up?
Rubelline: I wanted to ask you about something you and Mioda were talking about earlier, it's kind of been on my mind... what's with that Netnu guy? He was around when everything with The Threat was going down, right?

Zerita sighs, slumping down a little. She looks at Mioda, who briefly makes eye contact before going back to keeping an eye on the horizon.

Zerita: He's complicated. He comes from a rough life and he and Unten have always had some kind of beef, I guess, but there was a time when all that was fine. He... Unten and I are like family. When there's only so many survivors from Zeon, and you all end up here on Earth... I just thought things would be fine, y'know?
Rubelline: But they aren't, huh.
Zerita: He's closed himself off a lot. Thinks he needs to get one rung up the ladder from Unten, that he can't be trusted to keep us safe. If anyone's in the right place to get buttered up with some sweet talk about power and protection...
Mioda: We can't think like that, sis. We're at where we at right now. There's real problems in front of us to take care of, and... and...

'Mioda looks down.

Mioda: What was I thinking? Telling him to not come back... Sia and I should have done more.
Zerita: It's... you know, we do have problems closer to us. Let's tackle those first, right, sis?

Mioda smiles nervously and nod. As she and Zerita give each other a thumbs up, another shot goes off. Mioda turns around, seeing a large cannon mounted on a tall facility, and gently pushes Zerita and Rubelline aside, watching the shot travel over their heads and light up a chase happening nearby.

Mioda: Take a hard right. I'm counting... looks like three vehicles. Willing to bet that's Synth and his friends.

Strafe nods, making a hard turn and racing towards the chase.

Synth continues trying to make his way into the chase between Liameno and the transport truck, growling as his attempt to ram into the truck's left side is interrupted by Absinthe, approaching up between the two vehicles.

Absinthe: Hiiii~!
Synth: You really don't know when to quit, huh?
Absinthe: Oh, sure I do. I'll quit when it stops being fun to see you get so grumpy!

Absinthe sticks her tongue out. Synth tries to ram her with the Alleged Car and misses, panicking and swerving back towards Liameno, who pushes him away using a shockwave. As he finally steadies out, Synth looks at Gamma.

Synth: None of these idiots are taking me seriously... I fought hard for this! I fell in with the wrong crowd and went to go find myself in Beijing! And when destiny gave me an opportunity to be on the cutting edge, I said, "yes, Derezzt, please turn my body into a living Galvan Artifact"!
Gamma: The righteous path shifts for all who walk it, yes.
Synth: I think it's time we go all out. You said you were taking mass from all those things you shrunk?
Gamma: T'was the stump that saw fit to redistribute the excesses of this physical coil.
Synth: ...think you can make that happen with a different plant?

Synth pulls the birdseed out of the glovebox and hands it to Gamma. Gamma hisses a little.

Synth: You can take it back after I'm done. For now, though...

Toge stands up, dusting herself off as she looks around, far behind the chase up ahead. Strafe's jeep zooms by her, nearly missing her.

Toge: Jeez, watch where you're going! Stupid superheroes and their stupid cars...

Toge watches as the jeep heads off towards the action. Suddenly, the Alleged Car drops out of the chase. Synth rapidly expands, large enough to be seen even from where Toge is. She throws her hands up in confusion and lays back down, planting roots in the ground.

Rachel watches as Synth grows to about the size of the transport she's riding in, roughly maintaining his body shape but his "tail" splitting off into four ends. Synth cackles, scooping Liameno up.

Synth: Who's the most powerful one now, huh, Liameno?

Liameno scoffs and releases more shockwaves from his body, which simply reverberate off of Synth's rubber. Synth laughs more and more, using his free hand to stretch out one of his eyes, exposing Galvan Artifact runes on the inside of his head.

Synth: Your unstoppable force has met an immovable object! You will answer for your treason! And I, the great and wise-

Liameno stabs Synth's hand with his electro-shock arms and tail simultaneously. Synth drops him and he does a corkscrew, getting right back to chasing the F.A.N.T transport. Sakeena groans, throwing her hands back up to defend them.

Blank: Alright, so that's two serious problems. Anyone have any solutions?

Absinthe pulls back up on the opposite side of the truck, holding two spray paint cans and steering using her legs.

Absinthe: When the big one was still regular size, he sure seemed to hate getting sprayed up. Leave it to me~!
Blank: Negative. Obena, can you handle helping her out? Any sharp shapes will do, I guess.

Obena nods, putting her hands together and humming low to help herself focus. Blank looks back over to Absinthe, but she's already fallen back, crossing back and forth under Synth and spraying him with paint that seems to damage his rubber body bit by bit.

Rachel: Anything I need to be doing?

Blank looks around. She spots a jeep coming up behind them and rolls her eyes.

Blank: Get back to me on that one in a minute...

The Mistake floats around in zero gravity, running his hands along the debris he's gathered to merge it all together, giving it red and blue hues that quickly fade away. Shiki sits on a floating platform, idly stretching her neck around in strange positions as she goes over her papers.

Shiki: Can you give me another look at what's going on down there? I'm not here to just keep going over what we already did...

The Mistake nods, conjuring up a small crystal ball that he tosses to Shiki like a baseball. She kicks it out of the air and catches it, peering into it and groaning.

The Mistake: What's wrong?
Shiki: None of these dummies are doing their job anymore. This whole gig's so much less comfortable for me when they go off on their little tangents.

The Mistake pulls his arm back, the crystal ball travelling its full course in reverse. He watches the chase unfolding in the desert, his body glitching around as he does. He hangs his head, starting to speak but getting stuck on one sound, repeating over and over.

The Mistake: Whhhh-h-h-hh-h-h-

The Mistake throws his head back, the glitch finally stopping.

The Mistake: Why can't things just stay cool for one day while I finish up our new Kolob?

The Mistake bangs his head against the wall, squeezing the crystal ball tightly. It starts cracking, then expanding like a popping balloon, but ultimately turns into sand that spills out of his grip. Shiki watches as he puts both hands on the wall, turning the frame of Kolob II red and blue, brighter and brighter until it's white hot. The Mistake laughs nervously to himself.

The Mistake: Guess that means it's time to cut corners...

Nycho looks at Synth as Strafe finally gets them closer to the chase, clearly torn between being startled and impressed. Mioda counts out a few arrows and leans out of the jeep, surveying the situation.

Strafe: Since when could Synth do that...?
Nycho: I'd like to make it abundantly clear I'm being very serious about all of this... but I'm also kind of all about this kaiju movie shit.
Mioda: Guys, bigger target right behind him. Looks like Liameno.
Zerita: On foot? What kind of power is this Derezzt guy dishing out?
Mioda: Just gotta do our best here. That truck is... is F.A.N.T one of the ones you guys trust?

Strafe nods, getting closer to the F.A.N.T transport. As he pulls up into the chase, Rachel stands at the ready with her shielding gauntlets, dropping her defense when she sees them up close.

Rachel: Oh! Blank, we're fine, it's Strafe and his team.

Blank gives a thumbs up. Mioda takes a few shots at Synth as Strafe focuses on keeping them both close to the truck and out of harm's way.

Nycho: Small world, huh? Didn't figure we'd all be back in the frying pan together.
Rachel: Yeah, weird... we were wondering how they got your car.
Nycho: Very long story. Right, Strafe?

Strafe stays silent, gritting his teeth as he steers. Nycho looks into the backseat.

Nycho: Right, Rubelline?
Rubelline: Oh, yeah... that Absinthe girl and all that...

Absinthe happens to pull up into the group, doing a pose over her scooter and waving. Before she can start talking, one of Synth's massive hands almost hits her, and she falls back, wooing as she does.

Rachel: Seems intense.
Zerita: Did you all pick up any hitchhikers too?
Rachel: No, we're uh... hm... actually down a person right now. She'll be fine, promise... but Sia's out cold.
Zerita: ... I'm coming with you guys.
Rachel: Wait, that's maybe not the-

Zerita hoists herself up onto the top of Strafe's jeep and jumps, her mechanical claw catching the top of the trailer and letting her swing into the F.A.N.T trailer, startling Sakeena and Obena.

Rachel: idea... You okay?

Zerita rolls her shoulder a bit and nods silently, kneeling down over Sia. She shakes her head and rubs between her eyes.

Zerita: Always looking for a moment, huh.
Obena: It'll be okay, Zerita... I know this whole thing's been rough on us and I want you to know we've all got your back.

Obena extends her hand. Zerita extends her, trying to return the gesture but clearly scoping out their enemies.

Zerita: I can do some pretty crazy stuff with Aura, but I don't think radioactivity is the best idea with so many moving objects in play... besides, who knows if it'd even hurt them at this point...
Blank: What else are we looking at here? Any secret weapons?
Zerita: Uh, let's see. Bow, Red Energy, whatever light magic and/or guns Strafe's got up his sleeve...

Strafe snaps out of his focus, shaking his head a little.

Strafe: Nycho, can you drive for a second?
Nycho: Obviously.

Strafe crouches down in the jeep to look through various compartments, Nycho leaning over uncomfortably to take control of the vehicle. Strafe pokes his head up.

Strafe: Hey, so... it's actually way worse than I thought that they took the jeep, but it's all good, so... we don't talk about this detail after we wrap this up, okay, guys?
Rubelline: Depends on the detail...

Strafe pulls out his Hyper Mode orb, chuckling nervously.

Zerita: Yeah, we can work with that.

Strafe nods, clutching the orb and doing a combat roll out of the vehicle. Nycho takes control of the jeep, a little less steady with it than Strafe but adjusting quickly.

Blank: Are the orbs, like... good...? We don't actually have much intel on them.
Zerita: Well then, call this field research, I guess.

Liameno crashes into a glowing pillar of light, a low, vast rumble sweeping through the area. Strafe stands in front of him, in Hyper Mode with his shield up. He tosses his sword up in the air and catches it. Liameno rolls his neck and grunts, launching towards Strafe fiercely. As Strafe continues to hold his ground against Liameno's attacks, Blank sighs with relief.

Blank: I won't ask too many questions, just gonna appreciate that he's in check for now. So, that leaves Synth...
Volt: His body's all rubber, so I'm kind of out of the question... besides, dude freaks me out.
Rubelline: Because he looks like you? That must be weird.
Volt: Yeah, no, more like he figured out my phone number and kept texting me papers about cloning theory with his own commentary put in and- it's a whole thing, just forget about it.
Mioda: I have plenty of arrows. Put enough holes in him and something has to happen.
Blank: I have an idea, it'd be... pretty strictly off the record but it's an idea.

Liameno and Strafe keep their fight going as Synth chases the F.A.N.T transport into the distance. Strafe stays defensive, blocking a jumping kick with his shield and pushing Liameno away.

Liameno: Impressive growth... I'd never considered you'd be above crude ballistics, but you're using the new tools well.
Strafe: Just another weapon, I suppose. So... what is it that brings you this way? Partnering up with the hot new god on the market?
Liameno: Derezzt? He's just a stepping stone. To imitate divinity is blasphemy, but his strength will prove useful to make my ends meet...

Liameno grins smugly, rushing at Strafe, who blocks using his sword of light. Liameno pushes hard against him, whipping up sand all around the two.

Liameno: You said it yourself... just another weapon.

Strafe grunts and headbutts Liameno, catching him off-guard. He looks into his sword.

Strafe: Any divine intervention, mom?

Strafe's sword changes shape, forming a long chain with a short handle. Before he can adjust to the new weapon, Liameno rushes by him, grabbing him by the neck and dragging him through the desert.

Liameno: That's right... you were the son of a false idol, weren't you? Not that I was planning on sparing you anyways, but this makes things that much more interesting.

Strafe grunts, gasping for air as Liameno keeps dragging him along. His chain rattles around, catching on Liameno's tail. Strafe reflexively swings around, standing up and holding his weapon with both hands, Liameno unable to escape.

Strafe: Huh... I can work with this.

Strafe continues to pull the chain towards him, Liameno struggling as his arms get entangled.

Liameno: If you won't let go of me, I'll just have to tear this whole desert apart...

Liameno begins charging up another shockwave, his body shaking around in the chains of light. Strafe holds his shield over Liameno and encases the two in a pillar of light, able to absorb much of the force but a quake still pushing through the desert, cracking the dry ground all around them. When the light fades, Liameno's armor is heavily torn, the chains still around him as he growls before passing out.

Strafe: Guess that worked out nicely... uhh, thanks for the assist, if you can hear me, mom. If that was you. You know.

Strafe hoists Liameno up over his shoulder. He looks out on the horizon, but realizes his sunglasses have been blown off by the blast. As he picks them up and heads towards the Alleged Car, the sun starts rising over the desert.

Zerita and Obena carefully set a large, cylindrical device on the floor of the transport trailer, Rachel closing the hatch they took it out of.

Blank: Remember when I said we didn't want people getting their hands on the fuel we use for this stuff?
Rachel: ... wait. You wouldn't, right?
Zerita: I like the way she's thinking.
Blank: Relax, we're not going to blow Synth up into a bunch of little bits. I don't really understand all the stuff that goes into these fuel cells, but I know it lets off a chemical cloud in cases of critical error. If Absinthe's weakening him from the outside, and this is weakening him from the inside...
Mioda: ...then he'd be softened up enough to take down safely.
Blank: And hey, you don't have to see him, Volt. Because I need you to be making up for the power we lost by taking that thing out. These things are expensive and they don't keep moving when they run out of juice, so...
Volt: Yeah, yeah, I know, get in the circuitry...

Volt opens the fuel hatch and disappears into it.

Blank: We need that thing to be good and ready to burst when it hits Synth. Think you can handle that part, Zerita?
Zerita: Oh, uh... hm... I... yeah, but all of you need to back away for a minute. Just in case.

Blank hits a button, opening the driver's section of the vehicle. Sakeena, Obena, and Rachel get in, clearly a little cramped but smiling at Zerita. Mioda picks up Sia and gives Zerita a thumbs up.

Mioda: You got this one, sis.

Zerita nods. As the cab section closes, she plugs her mechanical hand into the fuel cell, taking slow, steady breaths.

Zerita: Nice and easy. You've got this... just have to control the output...

Zerita channels Aura through her arm, her radioactive energy charging the fuel cell. She holds her breath and as the battery starts to swell up, she exhales all at once sharply, cutting off the Aura. She gives Mioda a thumbs up through the door and everyone comes back out, Mioda hugging Zerita.

Zerita: It's good to go. Sakeena, you think you can get it to Synth?
Sakeena: I'm not sure about throwing that thing straight to him... maybe I could help Absinthe, though.

Zerita nods. Rachel leans out of the trailer, waving for Absinthe, who pulls back up towards them, streaks of paint along her bike.

Absinthe: What do you need?
Rachel: We've got something to help us take Synth down. Think you can deliver it to him?
Absinthe: Oh, for sure~!
Sakeena: You have to be careful with it... and keep in mind I'm gonna have to levitate your scooter so you can drop it in his head.
Absinthe: Woah, you can do that? Rad~! I need to hang out with you superpowered people more often!

Sakeena picks up the fuel cell and stops to think for a moment before handing it over. She shakes her head a little and gives it to Absinthe, who straps it down to the back of her bike.

Sakeena: Can't stress that careful part enough.
Absinthe: You got it! Don't sweat it, I'll take care of the fun part~!

Absinthe does a devil horns gesture and revs up her bike, heading off towards Synth. Sakeena chuckles nervously and stands at the ready, the rest of the group sitting down and watching Synth anxiously.

Gamma clings to Synth's head as the two chase after the F.A.N.T transport, Synth's body stained by Absinthe's neon green paint. As Synth sees the demon riding towards him again, he gets low to the ground.

Gamma: The gifts of nature fade by the blinding sun...

Synth ignores Gamma, rushing head-on at Absinthe, who dodges a swipe from one of his massive hands. She rides her scooter towards his side and turns around in her seat to give Sakeena a thumbs up, leaning back and teetering off the edge of the cycle for dramatic effect.

Gamma: Err... deeds committed under shadow of night... make... light unbearably bright...

Synth turns his head, almost shaking Gamma off entirely. Absinthe holds onto her cycle tight as Sakeena uses her metalbending to fling it into the air. Gamma sticks his tongue out and shakes his head.

Gamma: Very bad.
Synth: Huh? Very bad? Gamma, why didn't you warn me sooner?!
Absinthe: WOO~! Chew on this, dummy!

Absinthe does several front-flips through the air, her bike wobbling as her tricks make it hard for Sakeena to hold it steady. She kicks the battery loose and lets it fall into Synth's mouth, spray-painting two big Xs over his eyes and doing poses as she soars over him.

Synth: Oh, goddamnit! Get back here!

Absinthe lands on one wheel, sticking her tongue out and doing a peace sign towards Synth. He pulls his hand up, but before he can slam it down into her, he feels the battery crackling inside of him.


Synth growls. Purple and blue smoke begins to pour out of his eyes, and his angry demeanor fades as he falls off with a massive thud, forming a big dust cloud. When it fades, Synth has returned to normal size, his head looking fine but his body and hands all deflated like a balloon. He groans angrily, but seems unable to get up.

Absinthe: That's what you get for stealing my score, punk~!

Gamma tries to scurry away, but Absinthe scoops him up and giggles mischievously. She waves towards the F.A.N.T transport as the sun rises behind her.

Unten watches as Quartz pulls the escape pod down from the barn ceiling, setting it on the floor as Sam rolls in some toolboxes. He pats Unten on the back and smiles.

Sam: Hope you get to see The Fan, buddy.
Unten: Oh, yeah... thanks, Sam.

Sam nods and heads back outside. The Enemy steps in, wearing some blacksmithing gloves and glancing at Unten.

The Enemy: I'll need your assistance to get the pod up and running. We've got all the internals sorted out, it's mostly a matter of getting it ready for sustainable space travel...
Unten: Not gonna be easy.
The Enemy: Oh, come on now. It's only rocket science.
Unten: All of it, I mean. After we get there.
The Enemy: Unten, I trust...

The Enemy pauses for a moment. He adjusts his cloak and starts looking through the toolboxes, frowning as he looks away from Unten.

The Enemy: I trust that you'll put a lot of thought into this.

Unten nods, The Enemy not seeing that he looks just about as sullen as the former god. He gets to looking through another toolbox.

Chapter 8: Fools on Four Fronts

Blank stands outside of the grounded F.A.N.T transport, pacing back and forth.

Blank: Do we need to go back for Strafe? We can take the jeep and leave Synth here.
Rachel: I'm sure he'll be here any minute. We got pretty far out into the middle of nowhere, give him some time to walk over here...

Obena pokes out of the trailer, beaming and putting a hand on Zerita's shoulder.

Obena: I think Sia's waking up!

Zerita nods and gets in the trailer. As Sia wakes up, she looks around, seeing Synth contained in a transparent cell crate and Gamma in his own, much smaller cell.

Sia: ...hrm... missed a lot...

Zerita sits down, laughing a little.

Zerita: That's what happens when you go around getting yourself into fights you can't win...

Sia stands up, bumping her head a little on the ceiling of the trailer. She sits back down, groaning sleepily as she stretches her legs.

Sia: In my defense... I'm usually pretty damn good.
Obena: I understand, Sia. Times are tough and when separated from your kysomnol-
Sia: Definition?
Obena: Oh, it's something from an old Benefactor dialect. It means... branches off one point, I suppose. You, Zerita, Mioda... there's times when you're separate but your paths here all started when Zeon was destroyed. Kysomnol.
Sia: ...look, I'm fine. Don't worry about me.
Zerita: Things are weird right now, Sia. We need to get by, and for me? That means I'm going to be worried. It's not me judging you.

Blank gets into the trailer, grabbing a flat metal slate with both hands.

Blank: Zerita, can you help me carry one of these? Strafe's back with our last two fugitives.

Zerita looks at Sia, who nods and nudges her head towards Blank. Zerita sighs and picks up a slate, hopping out with Blank. Strafe exits his Hyper Mode as he sets Liameno and Toge down, Sakeena stepping forward in a defensive stance.

Strafe: Liameno's out cold, and his armor's all busted up. I found Toge out there too, trying to take a nap or photosynthesize or something...

Blank sets down her slate, which generates a hard light cell sized for Liameno. She drags him into it and dusts her hands off, taking Zerita's slate and creating a cell for Toge.

Toge: You can't... take me... copper...

Toge yawns, rolling over into her cell and curling up. She hisses when she realizes she's gotten herself trapped.

Blank: We'll need you all to come back to Area 51 with us as eye witnesses of this event. Nothing too crazy, just standard interrogations and reports.
Absinthe: You couldn't arrest someone for anything they did before this whole thing, right?
Blank: Have you, at any point, operated alongside superpowered or extraterrestrial criminals planning to undermine the United Nations?
Absinthe: Nope~!
Blank: Eh, I'll give you a pass then. Bigger fish to fry.

Absinthe pumps her fist excitedly. She spins her scooter around and heads off.

Blank: Didn't tell her where we're going...
Strafe: I guess I'll take everyone who came with me and then some, huh?
Nycho: No need to worry. We have three vehicles.
Strafe: Nycho, your car is way back there, I'm not sure it's practical to-
Nycho: It's been a long night, my car got double stolen, and I haven't gotten to check on my birds. Just... drop me off there. Please? I'll totally owe you one.

Strafe rubs the back of his neck, Nycho bouncing in place excitedly, waiting for some good news.

Strafe: ...okay, sure.
Blank: Follow my transport and meet up at Area 51 by 0700 hours. Don't care how you get there, as long as you show up.

Nycho grins and nods, getting up in the front seat of Strafe's jeep. As Blank and Zerita load Liameno and Toge onto the transport, Sia kicks Liameno's cell, chuckling a little.

Aboard Kolob II, The Mistake rushes around, floors and walls coming into place around him as he heads towards a large hole in the structure. A wall forms in front of him and he groans, begrudgingly opening a door that generates on it to get through.

The Mistake: How close are we to Earth orbit, Shiki?

Shiki comes in behind him in a rolling office chair, grabbing onto the door frame to avoid rolling off where the floor hasn't been conjured yet.

Shiki: I'm not an expert astronomer, you know... I get places however I get there and then I just do shit. Not so concerned about the how or where.
The Mistake: C'mon, can't you eyeball it? ...wait. Do you have eyeballs?
Shiki: I'm gonna guess... fast. We're going fast. We'll be there soon enough.
The Mistake: Works for me. Now then, back to-

The Mistake turns around, seeing a giant yellow eyeball in the gap he was about to repair. He shivers violently, clutching his own torso. He looks at Shiki.

The Mistake: Don't you see that?!
Shiki: See what?

The Mistake turns back around. The eye is gone. He seals the gap quickly and rushes back into the more complete room behind him, looking at his own hands.

The Mistake: ...bad dream. Nothing to worry about.

Unten has his arm deep inside the mechanisms of the escape pod, The Enemy on a mechanic's roller board beneath the pod.

The Enemy: Pulse.

Unten takes a deep breath and releases a pulse of Aura into the machine, something inside making a spinning noise.

The Enemy: Okay, looks like we can get the vacuum regulators going... two more pulses.

Unten does two more pulses of Aura, looking somewhat annoyed. The spinning noise gets louder until something clicks into place. The Enemy rolls out from under the pod, standing up.

The Enemy: Keeping up with your Aura training?
Unten: Uh... yeah. What about it?
The Enemy: Oh, I just think it's interesting. Going out of your way to keep yourself in fighting shape...
Unten: Things happen. I want to stay ready. Besides, it's... kind of a weird self-care exercise, in a way.
The Enemy: Hm. Staying ready. You seem awfully unprepared to me... no offense, of course. You did the right thing coming to us, at least.

Unten frowns. The Enemy hands him some screwdrivers.

Unten: I'm ready to do the right thing. What I wasn't ready for was...

Unten sighs, unable to finish his thought. The Enemy rolls back under the pod.

The Enemy: You'll need to screw the hatches around the generator shut.
Unten: I just thought things would be different, you know? I wasn't dying to see you again and I definitely wasn't dying to fight your weird secret brother.

The Enemy doesn't respond. Unten rolls his eyes, reaching in and tightening the hatches.

Unten: You're physically present in the room, you know. It's us two. And if either of us wants to leave, we have to get up and walk. Can't just ignore the conversation.
The Enemy: See, this is why we never had you train with Laverne... Aura is powerful, but all that mindfulness and mental preparation... it opens more and more doors. You need to be able to focus on what's important.
Unten: Sorry for going and getting more in tune with my emotions in a way that has literal physical benefits, I guess?
The Enemy: Like that! Exactly like that. You're letting your grudges control you. Wouldn't doing the right thing be so much easier if you let go and took some advice from us?

Unten finishes tightening the hatches, closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead.

The Enemy: Now, unlike you, I'm going to give you the courtesy to remain quiet and think about what we've discussed while-
Unten: Please just... could you not be like this? For once? I really don't know what you think you're doing.

The Enemy rolls out from under the pod again, grabbing a toolbox and setting it in Unten's hands.

The Enemy: Should be some wiring above the generator. Check and see if we need to replace it.

The Enemy pushes himself back under forcefully. Unten shakes his head a little, trying to get back to repairing.

Nycho finally pulls up to Area 51, where everyone has gathered in the hangar. Zerita, Rachel, and Blank are talking to someone off in the corner, while Rubelline, Mioda, and Strafe sit around on the floor drinking coffee. Obena waves to Nycho.

Obena: Glad you made it!
Nycho: I think legally, I kind of had to. But thanks! Good to see you after all this.
Obena: Yup, wild few days... sorry about the spikes on your car...
Nycho: What? Oh, those look sick. Don't worry.

Obena smiles and nods. Blank notices Nycho's arrival and motions for both of them to come over. In front of Blank, a F.A.N.T agent is holding a heavy briefcase with a screen inside, the video split between a feed of Hugo Logia and an anonymous silhouette.

Logia: You must be... Mr. Invalidez?
Nycho: Yes. That's what everyone calls me, all the time.
Logia: We've come to the conclusion that you'll be involved in the interrogation of our four new fugitives. Everyone we interviewed has vouched for Obena's skills as an ambassador, and she put in a good word for you. Said you've been, and I quote, "an invaluable asset in pariasimos - literal definition 'mutual understanding between interstellar travellers' - and an active participant in many of the events that have unfolded over the last 48 hours."

Nycho looks back at Obena, surprised. He points at himself and Obena gives him two thumbs up.

Nycho: So... you're deputizing me?
Logia: I'm not sure that's the actual legal term. Director?

The anonymous silhouette reaches for a glass of water. They adjust the nameplate on their desk, revealing them to be Eric Sinn, director of F.A.N.T.

Sinn: It's not, but he gets the idea. I'm sure you understand this is a matter of national security, Invalidez?

Nycho nods slowly, facing the screen but clearly looking at Obena.

Nycho: Yyyes...? I mean, I've seen these guys up close, I know they're bad news. Sir. Director.
Sinn: Glad to have you on board. You'll be under Obena's jurisdiction, she'll be under Blank's, etcetera etcetera until the chain of command reaches me, and then President Independence. We're counting on you, Nycho.

Sinn's video feed cuts off. Logia laughs a little, shaking his head.

Logia: Don't let the pressure get to you, he can get like that when we have to cooperate with outside forces. You're here to get information out of these guys, and you've got all of us backing you up. Don't sweat it. You and Obena will do great.
Blank: See you soon?

Logia smiles and nods, blowing a kiss before cutting off his video feed. Blank chuckles.

Blank: So cheesy sometimes...

As Blank walks off, Nycho pulls Obena and Rachel in for a huddle.

Nycho: I'm going to be interviewing aliens at Area 51 because the president is counting on me.
Obena: Is it too much for you? I'm sorry if I stressed you out, I really thought I'd do better with you around... like one of those "good cop, bad cop" things you like to tell me about?
Nycho: No, no, I was just going to thank Rachel. Anyone could have bought you a firehouse to use as a base of operations-
Rachel: Not true.
Nycho -but you chose me, out of anyone else.
Rachel: Also technically not true. Not that we aren't friends now, though! You're... part of the team, Nycho.
Nycho: And I'm living the American dream.

Nycho grins and pumps his fists in the air as he walks away. Obena smiles, Rachel looking a little confused at first but coming around to smiling when she notices Obena seems happy with this.

Liameno meditates while standing up in a holding cell, wearing a large cloak with much of his armor removed from his body. Blank, Obena, and Nycho enter, sitting at a desk on the opposite side of the cell's hard light window.

Blank: It's time to start talking.

Liameno opens one eye and nods. He switches to a one-legged stance, stretching his arms from his sides up towards the ceiling.

Liameno: I don't stand to gain anything by resisting arrest in my current state, I suppose. Ask away.
Nycho: What's up with Derezzt?
Liameno: That could mean several dozens of things.
Obena: How'd you end up working for him, huh? Too weak to stick to your old plans now that things changed around you?

Obena leans away from her microphone, whispering to Nycho.

Obena: Too much bad cop?
Nycho: No, no, it's good.
Liameno: Derezzt approached me... hm... somewhere around two weeks ago. Offered me substantial power if I could help him keep an eye on Earth. I had no intention of following up on the matter until my scouting fleets picked up energy signatures here matching something I'd quite like to own.
Blank: How would you define what actual power Derezzt gave you?
Liameno: The ability to generate concussive force through my body. It's quite useful in moderation.

Blank takes some notes. Liameno continues to stretch, rolling his neck.

Liameno: I assure you, my partnership with Derezzt was little more than a convenient coincidence. I don't care what he does here. In fact, I'm still not even sure what it is he's after.
Nycho: Don't you own like, a thousand space ships? Why didn't you bring those here? Or hell, just use those on Derezzt if you really think he's such a bad boss...
Obena: Uh... maybe don't give him those kinds of ideas...?
Liameno: Oh, he's not giving me anything, Zezunian. I'd thought about it, but for what I want, I didn't need a siege, I needed an infiltration. As for fighting Derezzt... oh, I'm plenty sure he'll be tearing himself apart any day now.
Blank: How much do you know about... what it is you're looking for?
Liameno: Well, for starters, I know you know they're called the Artifacts of Ascendancy. I'm well aware that you humans have managed to identify their consistent energy patterns and would like to use them.
Obena: Likely story, punk. That kind of detection technology is cutting edge, F.A.N.T probably didn't even know what they-
Blank: Are you or any of your associates in possession of similar Artifacts?

Obena glances at Blank, who exhales and shakes her head. Liameno laughs.

Liameno: You think too little of them, Zezunian! They're a very tenacious kind. Besides, with everything that's happened lately... where else would the cutting edge be but here?
Blank: We can talk about this later. Liameno, please answer the question.
Liameno: Now that I don't feel the need to show my hand on so quickly. Someone somewhere on Earth has the technology, they just have to point it in the right direction and they'll know.

Blank sighs and gets up, leaving the room. Liameno sits down, crossing his legs and joining his hands.

Liameno: If you're done, please dim the lights. I haven't had much time for prayer since I got here.

Obena turns the lights off and exits the interrogation room, following Blank down the hall outside. Nycho scrambles out behind her, clearly eavesdropping on them.

Obena: Why is F.A.N.T looking for the Artifacts of Ascendancy?
Blank: It's just like I told Rachel, we're a big organization. We fund all sorts of systems looking for potential outside threats, and when we start noticing certain trends in certain areas, there's a pressure to respond. Sinn's the director, he gets final say, and right now we're supposed to just doing bare minimum research, but there's plenty of people who'd love to do more if they knew about this, including some not so friendly faces.
Obena: Look what kind of "not so friendly faces" your "bare minimum research" brought in! Look, I just...

Obena stops, clenching her fists a little. Blank turns around and Nycho tries to look like he's walking in the other direction.

Obena: I've lost plenty lately. And I know fighting means maybe you risk losing something, and I'm not going to let that stop me from fighting, but... it'd be awfully nice if the stakes weren't losing my home again.
Blank: ...there's only so much of the process I can change, but I need you to trust me when I say I'm right there with you.

Obena looks down at the floor, nodding a little but clearly not feeling great. Blank pats her on the shoulder a few times before heading back down the hall.

Blank: Next interrogation shouldn't be too far away, they just have to move the cells in. Things shouldn't get so heavy with the rest of these guys, right?

The Fan enters the barn, smiling and sipping from a warm cup of tea as he walks behind Unten, who's very carefully and cautiously tightening up some screws along the outside of the escape pod.

The Fan: We're on a good pace. Shouldn't be long until this thing's airborne.

Unten nods quietly. The Fan sets his cup aside and looks around the inside of the pod.

The Fan: Didn't think I'd be in this thing so soon... figured it'd be something to work on for a few years, maybe take it into low orbit but not much further.
Unten: Well, hey, got a good reason to use it now. That reminds me, actually, do you two, like... age normally now?
The Fan: Very slowly, and not quite as steeply as most living things, but in a sense, yes.
Unten: Huh.

The room goes very quiet, aside from the noises of Unten screwing the hull together. Quartz enters, carrying several backpacks and setting them down on the barn's workbench.

Quartz: Sam was nice enough to let me use his employee discount to stock us up for the trip. Beef jerky, batteries... even managed to get some thermoses of tea in there.
The Fan: Much appreciated. I doubt we'll be out there for too long, but it won't hurt to have some refreshments.

The Fan gets off the top of the pod and heads out of the barn, trying to smile politely at Quartz but clearly not very committed to it. Quartz rolls her eyes as he leaves, sitting down on the ground next to Unten.

Unten: You went through the trouble of packing?
Quartz: Less things for those two to complain about while we're out there in the vacuum of space... besides, maybe they'll be too busy drinking their dumb tea to talk to us.
Unten: It's the worst, right? One of them can't shut up without making a huge deal about it, the other is weirdly silent... can't say I've missed them.

Both of them laugh a little.

Quartz: Look on the bright side, this could be over by tomorrow. We get this done, we go home, things get back to normal. Or... normal-er, I guess.
Unten: Yeah... well, I mean...

Unten stops screwing panels and sits down next to Quartz.

Unten: This whole thing is making me... want to change "normal", I guess. I don't want us all to band together just because something's happening, whether that something is a tournament for fun or a big mess over some cosmic feud. I... I hadn't called X-Ray in months. That doesn't feel right.
Quartz: Right... I'm glad you've gotten something good out of this whole thing, at least.
Unten: Maybe we can think of something nice to do for everyone if this all pans out.
Quartz: When this all pans out. You've got this, honey.

Quartz kisses Unten's cheek. The Enemy steps into the barn wearing a welding mask and carrying a blowtorch.

The Enemy: We need to be working hard if we-

Unten nods and gets right back up. The Enemy shakes his head a little and lowers his mask.

Synth sits, suspended in a canister of liquid with his head poking out, in a small cell. Gamma runs around trying to catch flies in a terrarium next to him.

Synth: Psst. Gamma.

Gamma looks over at him, tilting his head.

Synth: You're small, you're dexterous, and I think you might be magic. Get us out of this two-bit G-man joint.
Gamma: To run from loss is the only true defeat. In rest, nothing is without gain.

Synth yells at the ceiling frustratedly. Blank, Obena, and Nycho sit back down at their interrogation desk.

Blank: Who wants to go first?
Synth: You can't keep me here!
Blank: Cool, thanks for volunteering. Our file says you've been a D-list celebrity in China ever since you were released from the sports resort incident and lost contact with A22 Enterprises. What got you here?
Synth: I legally don't have to tell you anything. But if I did, you'd have to tell me. And for starters, I was not a D-list celebrity, I was an influencer and social marketer.
Blank: What offer did Derezzt make you that was better than that?
Synth: Same thing anyone wants. Power, fame, a team, a base of operations, the opportunity to prove that I, the one-of-a-kind miracle of nature, Synth, could do even better than those firehouse jokesters.
Obena: So to show you could do better than us, you... stole Strafe's car, fled to Vegas, stole Nycho's car, fled even further, and got in a fight with the government.
Synth: I repurposed Strafe and Nycho's vehicles as part of a daring two-man job to apprehend Liameno under direct orders from the new guardian of Earth and close personal friend, Derezzt. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Blank: Direct orders received...?
Synth: Yesterday, duh. When else would that have happened? Dummy.
Blank: He talked to Derezzt as recently as yesterday. That's intel!

Blank raises her hand. Obena gives her a very soft high five and Nycho reaches across to give her a much firmer high five.

Blank: Now, on to, uh... Gamma... he can talk, correct?
Gamma: Do the words our languages gather convey meaning only to those who speak them? Or is language a feeling, deep inside your gut, instinct that chains you to the material?
Nycho: No idea why he does that.
Blank: We ran genetic tests on him, and like... he's definitely just a regular-ass lizard of some kind, we just don't know what kind. Like... he's just a Lizard. Capital L.
Obena: Gamma, how did Derezzt... pick you...?
Gamma: The world is so large, much too large. I rummage the soils and earths looking for truth amongst chaos. My forefathers, all eaten by great, vast birds... my legacy, a hollow husk in the ground, no sooner dead than alive. When lumbering forces of great power draw in the microbial as they burst forth from dark seas we cannot perceive, gasping for air, who chooses who is pulled into the sways of fate?

Gamma eats a fly. Blank very slowly, cautiously, reaches to mute their microphones, sweating and inhaling sharply as she taps the button.

Blank: Hey, what the actual fuck?
Nycho: Your boyfriend's a psychologist, right? Call him up. I'm... what the hell is up with this thing?

Obena shivers and shakes her head.

Gamma: My power is one of the earth itself. As she breaths, her lungs fill with fresh air and it is cast out upon us as decay and destruction. I control the rhythm; I reclaim growth and decay.
Synth: Hey, uh, this is freaking me the hell out too. He can shrink and grow things, but I think he needs like, a middleman to do it? That's what the plants are for. He always talks like this but... eugh, never had to actually listen to it before...
Nycho: Cool, thanks.
Blank: Synth, you stay cozy, because we'll have plenty more questions and lie detectors to run you through. As for Gamma... hm. Not sure if I need to call a biologist, a security officer, or a philosophy major.
Nycho: Is all three possible?

Blank nods. As she and Nycho leave the room, Obena watches Gamma scurry around, rubbing her chin in thought. She quickly gets up and leaves once Gamma makes eye contact.

Sia walks around back and forth in her small rest area, her left arm held in a sling. She carries a doctor's pointer stick she's taken off of a chart of her own status, occasionally stopping her pacing to try and hold it in a swordfighting stance. She sees Zerita and Mioda outside and hits a button, tapping her foot until it turns green, the door to the room opening.

Zerita: Nice form, for someone with...

Sia chuckles.

Sia: Fractured collarbone, few bones around my shoulder. F.A.N.T's good with dealing with non-human injuries, actually. Should heal up nicely.
Zerita: And are you all good... y'know, emotionally? Mentally?
Sia: Oh, of course. I got in over my head. No big deal, you know I'm just gonna get back up and keep going.
Mioda: That's why we came to check on you, Sia. You don't need to keep going right now, and I know because I shouldn't either.

Sia sighs, rubbing her face. She reflexively puts the pointer in the Palm Cutter's sheath and sits down, rubbing her eyes.

Mioda: I get it, things are weird. We haven't been here too long. And I regret how I handled things with Netnu too, but...
Sia: I'm really okay. Why even worry about Netnu? For all we know he's one of them too.
Zerita: You can't put that kind of distance between yourself and the problem if it's making you act this way.
Sia: I've been a lot of places and I've seen a lot of people come and go. I'm pretty good at putting distance between myself and the problem, okay? Maybe that's not how you had to live, but it's something that works for me.

Sia leans back against the wall, looking up at the ceiling for a moment before feeling her collarbone aching. She tries to cross her arms, but feels pain in her shoulder, grunting a little. Left without much defensive body language, she just looks away from the two at the chart of her own skeleton.

Mioda: Sia. I need you to really, really trust us here. Netnu isn't any one person's fault. He's got his own way of handling problems, same as you, same as us.
Sia: Oh, I trust you two plenty. It's him I'm not so sure about anymore.

Zerita walks up to Sia, who looks at her. In one fell swoop, Zerita takes the pointer from Sia's sheath and points it at her sling.

Zerita: One way or another, we're going to get back to Netnu and talk things out with him. Maybe that's over lunch at Unten's place, maybe there's a window keeping him away from us. How's that sound to you?
Sia: ...promise?

Zerita nods. Sia nods back weakly, taking a deep breath and laying on her right side.

Sia: I'm sorry about all of this. I just... I'd like things to be simpler. When it was Boare and me, things were simpler. Now it's... this whole little family, all under the same roof because we're the only ones left who can understand what we've been through, except we can't even trust that anymore...?
Zerita: Well then, someone's gotta sort it out, right? And we can't do it without you.

Sia smiles a little. Zerita scruffs up Sia's hair.

Sia: You can count on me.

Zerita nods. She sets the pointer back down and leaves the rest area, Mioda smiling and waving as she follows along. Sia rolls over so she's laying on her back, looking up at the ceiling.

Toge lays, limbs splayed out, in a shallow pool of water in her cell, taking deep breaths and gritting her teeth. Blank and Obena sit down, Blank checking the time on her phone.

Obena: Where do you think Nycho is?
Blank: Not sure. Protocol says to proceed with investigation if outside contractors aren't present...
Toge: Is he the one who tried to throw a chair at me?

Blank looks at Obena, who thinks for a moment.

Obena: ...probably...
Toge: Yeah, there were a bunch of you idiots all over the place, couldn't tell who was who. Strafe this, Zerita that, Synth, Gamma, blah blah blah...
Blank: If you're so independent, why'd you take Derezzt's offer?
Toge: Because it's fun, y'know? Things don't happen around here enough. Besides, Derezzt could probably blow up the Earth whenever, why not be on his good side and get some neat powers out of it?
Blank: Powers such as...?
Toge: Eh, same old same old, just more of it.

Blank puts her elbows on the desk, trying to think of more questions. Before she can start again, Nycho steps in, sitting down and clearing his throat.

Nycho: Do I have the legal authority to bring in a surprise witness?
Blank: We're not in court, Nycho, that's-

Absinthe comes in, chewing some bubblegum. She leans over the back of Blank's chair and nods.

Absinthe: That's the perp, no doubt! Prickly, grumpy, and cute as hell~!
Toge: Oh, right, her... you know she totally stole a car too, right? She should be in here.
Obena: She also happened to be a big help in making sure Synth didn't hurt anyone.
Nycho: And she happens to be as hardcore as me, and loves doing sick stunts. Isn't that right, Absinthe?

Nycho and Absinthe high five without even looking at each other. Blank shakes her head.

Blank: Okay, they... Obena has a point.
Toge: Oh, so I mind my own business looking for some fun and tourism, but then she gets off scot-free? How many cars have you stolen in the last month?
Absinthe: I'm a surprise witness. Diplomatic immunity~!
Obena: That's not what either of those things mean...
Blank: Absinthe, would you like to have an opportunity to stop before you actually do say something bad?
Absinthe: Hm... yeah, sure.

Absinthe giggles and waves, roller-skating backwards out of the room.

Nycho: Ah, she's fun, isn't she?
Toge: Look, whatever, how about we cut a deal? I get out of this cell and go wherever I can be alone, and you just... stop bugging me with all this nonsense.
Blank: Do you think you're in a position to be bargaining like that?

Toge looks around her cell. She sticks her tongue out and groans, splashing around a little. Obena mutes their mics.

Obena: Bad attitude aside, she seems... neutral-ish?
Blank: Yeah, we'll probably let her go before long... just need to make sure she isn't holding anything out on us.

Obena nods. Nycho leans back in his seat, grinning.

Nycho: That's four done, baby! Absinthe said she was gonna be doing donuts out in the hangar after this, wanna go watch?
Obena: Oh, sure!

Obena and Nycho head out of the interrogation room. Blank watches Toge rolling around in the water for a moment before closing off the window between her and the cell, pulling out several pages of notes.

The Mistake rotates a new room of Kolob around himself and Shiki, trying to gauge how it should fit into his layout. He claps his hands twice and the whole thing clicks into place, albeit crackling and letting off a noise like dry ice hissing.

Shiki: Neat. Is this one my room?
The Mistake: No, we've talked about this, the Shiki Suite is... down... and to the left... up? Look, it's all very relative right now. It'll be somewhere.

Shiki nods, rubbing her hands together and chuckling. The Mistake turns around and squints a little, seemingly just looking towards the wall. His red eyes light up and he grins, laughing to himself.

Shiki: What's the big deal?
The Mistake: Here, let me show you.

The Mistake conjures up a red X in the air that rearranges itself into a square, showing the Earth through the wall in hues of black, orange, and fuschia. Faint red lines scribble over the planet's surface and converge at one point.

The Mistake: They're all in one place! And they aren't using their powers against each other anymore! This is wonderful!
Shiki: People are still gonna be afraid of them after what they did. I mean, people are scared of me for far less.
The Mistake: Change is hard for people. I show up to their front door with a shiny new Kolob and some hospitality and everything will work out perfectly.

Another dot flickers on the map, this time in blue. The Mistake zooms in on Alaska.

The Mistake: What's this? I'm only looking at divine power signals. Unless someone's making their own Kolob or their own superheroes on Earth...
Shiki: Isn't that just your brothers?

The Mistake's head swivels around like an owl. He's grinning unstoppably.

The Mistake: They didn't leave Earth?!
Shiki: Yeah, no, they asked me to move to the middle of nowhere with them and get a job or something. No thanks.
The Mistake: Oh, they must be working on some kind of machine... a signal beacon for me? No, maybe a spacecraft... yes, I must stay here. I can talk the talk, but it'd be better for them to see Kolob II with their own eyes.
Shiki: Seems like everything is coming up Derezzt, huh?
The Mistake: Oh, absolutely. I need to... wow, there's a lot of stuff to be done, huh?

The Mistake laughs nervously, glitching out around the edges. As he floats out of the room, Shiki waves.

Shiki: Does this mean you're gonna go make my room now?
The Mistake (yelling down the hall): I'll make you a dozen Shiki Suites if it means impressing my brothers! Just... keep an eye on that map!

Unten and Quartz sit on the floor next to each other, drinking some tea. The Fan is under the escape pod with some clamps while The Enemy stands next to the pod's thrusters with a notepad.

The Enemy: Testing engine two...

The Fan attaches one of the clamps. The pod's thrusters light up with blue and purple plasma that comes out in thin streaks of light. Quartz stares intently at the thrusters, resting her head on Unten's shoulder.

The Enemy: Engine two cleared. Internal generators?

The Fan turns off the engine and climbs out from under the pod, getting inside of it. Quartz turns to Unten and smiles a little.

Quartz: Ready for the trip up there?
Unten: He's just another person, he'll listen to reason. If things get messy, push Imperium on a path out of there and get inside I've been over this way too many times today.
Quartz: I didn't ask if the plan was ready, I asked if you were ready...

Unten laughs a little. Quartz kisses the top of his head.

Quartz: You're cute when you look so deep in thought.
Unten: I'm ready to do my best. That's about all we can say, right? The rest is up to everything else.

Quartz smiles and nods once. Unten kisses her cheek and reaches into his cloak, expanding Imperium and tapping on it a little. Its neon lines light up and he nods, setting it aside.

Unten: How's the pod looking, guys?
The Enemy: Should be ready for liftoff once these clouds pass over us. It'd be a good time to start packing anything you need for this.

Quartz gives Unten a peck on the cheek and walks out towards the cabin. Unten stands up and rolls his shoulders a little, taking deep breaths.

In the hangar of Area 51, Nycho, Obena, and Sakeena have gathered around to watch Absinthe put on an impromptu stunt show. Strafe and Rachel sit towards the front of the hangar, both wearing sunglasses as high noon hits the desert.

Rachel: So we've both been awake for...
Strafe: Let's say somewhere around 30 hours.
Rachel: Yeah, that feels right. This is a 30 hour headache.

Strafe chuckles. Zerita walks up behind them and sits down with them.

Rachel: Oh, hey, good to see you, Zerita... is Sia okay?
Zerita: She'll be fine. Had a little talk with her.

Strafe and Rachel nod. Zerita looks somewhat stern as she stretches her legs.

Zerita: know, the trick to staying up that long is to sleep just a little bit while you're walking. Or eating, I dunno. Anything that doesn't use your whole body, you can probably sleep through a little bit. Learned that back when me and Unten had to train our asses off on Zeon. Maybe it wouldn't work for humans?

Rachel giggles a little. Zerita yawns, laying down on the concrete.

Zerita: I know I haven't been around here too long, but you don't have to worry about me. As far as I'm concerned, if Unten cares that much about you guys, you're already friends of mine.
Strafe: Hey, always good to have more people around who we can count on.
Rachel: Speaking of Unten... do you two think he's alright? I can't imagine having to go back up to talk with those guys...
Zerita: Eh, he'll do alright. He may not wear it on his sleeve, but he's tough.

Rachel nods. As the three of them look out on the desert, Blank walks out, whistling to get everyone's attention.

Blank: On behalf of F.A.N.T, I can officially say that the on-site phase of communications has been cleared. Paperwork's filed, we're handing the fugitives over to our internal specialists. You're all free to go home.

Nycho raises his hand. Blank points to him.

Nycho: Do I get any sort of medal for service to my country?
Blank: No.
Nycho: ...can I be excused from jury duty for like, four years? That's one for every crooked criminal I helped you take down.
Blank: That's not how this works and that's not my jurisdiction. Thank you for your help, though.

Nycho smiles and gives Blank a thumbs up.

Blank: Officially speaking, gonna have to ask all of you to get moving soon. You've helped us so much and I hope I can find something to pay you back, but we also don't love having over half a dozen vigilantes on secret government property.
Absinthe: Oh, word? Later, narcs~!

Absinthe sticks her tongue out and drives out on her scooter quickly. Nycho and Obena wave at her.

Obena: See you next time we're in Vegas!

Rachel and Strafe get up, Zerita rolling over and pushing herself up. Mioda walks out behind Blank, doing her best to help Sia stay steady. As everyone gathers back towards the vehicles they came in, Blank smiles a little and gives them a quick, subtle wave goodbye.

A van rolls up quickly and recklessly outside the Fantendo Firehouse in Seattle. Denos and Logi step out, looking around.

Denos: Lights aren't on. Better go check Unten's apartment.
Logi: You'd think people would be easier to contact when this kind of stuff is on the line, right?

X-Ray walks along the sidewalk, looking down at her phone and pulling some luggage behind her. She looks up to count the addresses she passes by, staring up at the firehouse.

X-Ray: This should be the...

X-Ray looks over at Denos and Logi.

X-Ray: Oh. Hello, I believe we've met before, right?
Denos: In passing, yes. I'm Denos, this is my associate, Logi.
X-Ray: You two were... around, yeah.
Denos: "Being around" is our work, in a way. Do you know where we might find Unten or any of his friends?
X-Ray: No, Unten called me a few days ago, I thought I needed to come back... this seems to be where everyone's always hanging out in all their pictures nowadays...
Logi: Would you be interested in helping us find him?
X-Ray: Sure.
Denos: Excellent. Come into the firehouse with us, then.
X-Ray: We're not going out looking for anyone?
Denos: Oh, trust me, someone will end up here, one way or another.

Denos and Logi head into the firehouse, X-Ray looking back down at her phone and looking at Unten's contact information. She shakes her head a little and heads up into the firehouse with her luggage.

Chapter 9: Kolob II

As The Fan lifts the pod's door up, Quartz hops in, sliding down into the backseat as the whole thing is pointed upwards at the sky at a steep angle. The Enemy pulls at a chain on the barn wall, a mechanism making the scrap metal room split up like shutters. As soon as he's done, he gestures urgently for Unten to get in the pod.

The Enemy: We've got a tight window for clear skies here! Get in!

Unten nods, tossing some of the backpacks Quartz filled into the pod before sliding in himself. The Fan gets in the front seat and is soon joined by his brother, activating the dimly lit but still functional holographic control panel.

The Fan: All systems running at acceptable levels...
Quartz (muttering to Unten): Acceptable is a weird bar to set, huh.

The Enemy hits some buttons, shutting the pod's doors. A slight hissing fills the pod as it pressurizes, The Fan giving a thumbs up to Unten and Quartz to try and calm them down.

The Enemy: All safety functions are working. Let's get this thing up in the air, shall we, brother?
The Fan: It's still spinning up, we-

The Enemy pulls a lever, revealing a button on the holographic controls that he taps. The pod's two thrusters begin letting off purple and blue vapor, and then, in an instant, it takes off, rumbling a little and even spinning forward for a few moments as it exits Earth's atmosphere. Once the pod is in orbit, it stops gracefully, rotating slowly towards the moon, where Kolob II is now much more visible.

The Fan: That was a little rash of you, brother.
The Enemy: We're on course now, aren't we?
The Fan: It's delicate machinery...
Unten: Yeah, haven't you been listening to your brother lately? You need a more subtle touch.
The Fan: See? Thank you, Unten.
The Enemy: Wait... he...
Unten: I mean, you're supposed to be convincing me I'm in control of the situation...
The Fan: you heard that conversation.
The Enemy: You bastard.
Unten: We're already up here. You want to go back down now and let him finish building this? Or do you want to actually deal with the problem, even if it's not exactly the solution you're looking for?

The Fan sighs and shakes his head, The Enemy clutching his armrest and tapping his fingers against it with barely contained rage. The Fan reaches back down to the controls and sets them moving towards Kolob II, his brother incredulous with his decision.

The Enemy: We're going?!
The Fan: He's right. Best we swallow our pride and do something about it.

Unten smiles, satisfied with himself. He turns to Quartz, who's holding one of her backpacks up flat against her face.

Unten: Oh, shit... are you okay?

Quartz sets the backpack down, looking a little woozy.

Quartz: Rough launch... I'll be fine...

Unten unzips another backpack and hands her a thermos of tea. She smiles and kisses his cheek.

Quartz (whispering): Proud of you, babe.

Denos, Logi, and X-Ray sit around the firehouse, keeping an eye on the news as Rubelline's Terracotta Golems serve them some hors d'oeuvres. Someone unlocks the door and one of the Terracotta Golems uses an empty plate it's carrying as a shield.

Hybrid IV: Somebody in here? Thought I was-

Hybrid IV steps in, wearing a long raincoat over her usual uniform. Logi grins as he sees her, the Golem instinctively returning to carrying its plate to the sink.

Hybrid IV: Logi! Damn, it's been ages...
Logi: Always a pleasure to see you, Tech. How's Laverne?
Hybrid IV: Oh, it's Hybrid IV now... gotta refresh the branding since I'm helping her train the new kids on the block, right?

Logi and Hybrid IV laugh. Denos gets up to shake her hand and she pulls him in for an incredibly strong hug. X-Ray smiles politely but mostly just sips on a cup of grape juice, a little confused.

Hybrid IV: So... guess you're over here because of everything that's been going on, huh.
Denos: Of course. We were hoping to speak to Unten, give him some advice.

Hybrid IV takes off her raincoat and sits down next to X-Ray, who extends her hand. The two shake hands as a Golem brings Hybrid IV a protein shake.

Hybrid IV: Well, Unten's in Alaska with the ol' brothers, everyone else is all over the place chasing down some lackeys... I've been checking in here, thought someone else was supposed to be keeping an eye on this place but evidently they needed all hands on deck.
Logi: You mean Ektaz and Aktoz? You're really telling me Unten went to them? Kid's got guts.
Hybrid IV: Yeah, and he even brought that Top 10 girl he's dating.
X-ray: Unten's dating Quartz? Huh.
Denos: I suppose he knows what he's doing... he probably be in much of a mood for advice anyways, hm?

The door starts to unlock again, Hybrid IV cautiously gets ready to dive off the couch and fight. Guadalupe steps in, phone held against her ear with her shoulder as she carries some groceries.

Guadalupe: ...yeah, yeah, I'm there now, don't- oh, that tall glass of water is back. How nice of her to housesit.

Guadalupe waves at Hybrid IV, who exhales and relaxes.

Guadalupe: She brought some friends over, I guess. Don't really recognize any of them. ...hold on, I'll check.

Guadalupe sets her phone aside.

Guadalupe: Any of you working for... uh... Derezzt...?
Hybrid IV: They aren't.

Guadalupe sets her groceries down and picks her phone back up.

Guadalupe: They aren't. Hell if I even know who that is. Look, just get back here in one piece, okay?
Denos: Excuse me, ma'am. Could you put that on speaker phone?
Guadalupe: One of her friends wants to talk to you. ...he's some kind of dragon man, I dunno.

Guadalupe rolls her eyes, tapping her fingers on the counter. She looks back at Denos.

Guadalupe: Yeah, I mean, he looks cool, I guess? Has a weird fucked up blood eye and- okay, cool.

Guadalupe puts her call on speaker phone. Nycho clears his throat.

Nycho: You've reached Mr. Invalidez.
Denos: You're one of Unten's friends, right?
Strafe: Oh, Nycho, I know that voice. It's, uh... what's his name...
Denos: Denos. I've been... let's say present.
X-Ray: Oh, hello, Strafe.
Rachel: Wait, X-Ray's there?
Strafe: X-Ray! Good to hear from you!

Logi and Guadalupe both look frustrated with all the greetings going on. Denos rubs his forehead.

Denos: Yes, myself, Logi, Hybrid IV, X-Ray, and whoever you were calling are here at your firehouse. I'd greatly appreciate if you were here too.
X-Ray: Um... everyone... the news.

Denos looks up at one of the firehouse TVs. Gray-scale satellite pictures of Kolob II and an object approaching it are cycling on screen. His eyes widen a little as he sighs stressfully.

Denos: Just get here as fast as possible. I think things are about to start moving.
Strafe: We'll figure something out. See you all soon.

The call ends, Guadalupe picking her phone back up and sitting down, scrolling through group texts a little panickedly. A Golem delivers a plate of deviled eggs and Denos takes one, scarfing it down.

Denos: Nothing to do but wait now, I suppose.

The Mistake warps around the outside of Kolob II rapidly, obviously panicking as he seals any gaps left with bolts of energy that cause the metal around them to grow like vines over them, forming chain links. The whole structure looks fairly complete, albeit barely held together.

The Mistake: Okay, the hull's... hm. It's good enough. Yeah! A few rough spots add personality.

The Mistake continues warping around but redirects himself towards the inner workings of his temple. He passes through various rooms - a shrine with waterfalls flowing upwards on the walls, a tesseract floating in mid-air full of pillows and blankets, and a shoddy classroom with the words "BOLTZMANN 2?" scratched onto a chalkboard - before arriving in Shiki's room, a dark place lit by strands of eyeball-shaped neon bulbs. Shiki sits sideways in a large recliner.

The Mistake: Shiki. The map.

Shiki nods. She grabs four red glowing rods off her coffee table and positions them in a square. The Mistake zaps it and it reforms the map of divine energies.

The Mistake: Let's see here... nothing on Earth right now...

The Mistake zooms the map out with a quick gesture and sees a blue dot heading towards Kolob II. He grins wide and continues warping ahead through the walls of Kolob II, the map collapsing and scattering the red rods all over the floor.

Shiki: Ah, damnit...

As the escape pod continues rapidly along its course towards Kolob II, a red shimmering light appears on the horizon. The Enemy squints at it and suddenly looks panicked, ducking and pulling his brother down with him. Unten and Quartz both duck a little too, looking at each other.

The Enemy: Stay calm. He knows we're here.
The Mistake: Hello, big brothers!
Quartz: What the... is he somewhere in here?
The Mistake: Good question, Quartz. I'm not! You just caught a glimpse of my very special ultraviolet waves. That means I'm in your head. Don't sweat it.
The Enemy: Stand down, Mistake. Don't you dare try and seal that mess.

The Mistake inhales sharply.

The Mistake: I thought we'd moved past calling me that, big brother.
The Fan: Please, I don't know what you think you're doing but we need you to listen to us. It's not safe.
The Mistake: I get it. I really do. Earth was your favorite and you're having trouble with not being able to defend it. Just let me show you what I'm doing here, then we can talk it out.

The holographic controls of the pod turn red as The Mistake begins pulling it towards Kolob II, far faster than it was built to travel. The Enemy slams his hands on the controls, but nothing seems to happen, the hologram crackling and pulsing just like The Mistake's own body.

The Mistake: Please stop hitting those, brother. Technically, they're my eyes right now! It's gonna be a whole lot easier for you to get here if I'm in control.
Unten: Derezzt, listen, I know what you're thinking but there's other ways of protecting Earth, the people you chose are all causing a lot of trouble and-
The Mistake: Unten! Good to see you made it. If I remember correctly, you have an appointment to be meeting sometime soon here...
Unten: What appointment?
The Mistake: Look, it just means I need to get you here faster for when I'm going to make it, which I already did, but... see, this is why I've tried to stick to linear time.
The Enemy: Don't tell me you've gone and lost your place in the flow of time, you idiot.
The Mistake: I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that and focus on reeling you all in! Bye!

The holographic controls "wink" and then shut off, the whole pod still coated in a glitchy red aura and hurtling towards Kolob II. Everyone begins floating slightly and The Fan sighs as Unten seems taken off-guard.

The Fan: He's shutting off systems like artificial gravity to push more energy into the thrusters. Either he'll blow this pod up, or we'll be in his domain in no time.
The Enemy: Neither seems great right now.
Quartz: But we're going to stay calm and talk to him like normal people, right?

The Enemy scoffs a little and crosses his arms. Quartz frowns, trying to kick the back of his seat but the lack of gravity in the pod throwing her off.

Nycho drives the Alleged Car, Plastisteel spikes still embedded along the hood, on a long stretch of interstate highway. Strafe sits beside him, watching his jeep in the rear view mirror, while Volt, Obena, and Rachel are crammed in the back seat.

Rachel: X-Ray's back in town. That's some good news!
Obena: Leah's fiance, right?
Rachel: Right, right. She was... hm.
Obena: Well, I know Leah was... complicated.
Rachel: Oh, X-Ray wasn't really much like that, she was pretty quiet, really... all of us kind of knew her through Leah more than anything, so after everything that happened, she decided to travel for a while, didn't talk to us much about the decision.
Strafe: I'm glad she's around. I mean, I don't know why she thought she should come over now, but I'd rather see her over bad news than not see her at all, y'know?
Volt: Wouldn't blame her for leaving. I mean, I'm real good at leaving. Maybe I'm biased.
Obena: Volt, don't talk like that, we covered this back in the big F.A.N.T truck.
Volt: Oh, not good at leaving you guys. I mean like... got kicked off my home planet. Didn't stick around Seattle much when I got here. Pretty much had to walk out on-

Volt pauses.

Obena: You got kicked off your home planet?
Nycho: We can talk about that later. You and Vindozz. What's the scoop there? Like, everyone kind of thinks maybe, but...

Volt does the closest thing he can to crossing his arms with floating hands and looks down awkwardly.

Volt: She got me with a hivemind bug once, we talked a little, eventually I'd go to Svarga every once in a while...
Strafe: Wait, wait, you literally got to go to Svarga multiple times and just... actually totally had whatever weird thing you had going on, no ulterior motives?
Obena: This is exceptional teh-ah.
Nycho: It's pronounced tea, but oh my god, I'm so proud of you, very good job.
Volt: It's... do you really wanna get in the weeds on this or do we want to loop back around to X-Ray?
Nycho: Well, I think we shouldn't pick at Volt's issues anymore...

Volt smiles a little.

Nycho: ...because between this and getting kicked off his home planet, I think there's a way better talk to have when we can sit down with some drinks and not have to worry about fate of the world shit.
Volt: ...yeah, okay...
Obena: I have to say, I'm excited to get to meet X-Ray... Leah was willing to do a lot for her.
Rachel: Right, just... it's going to be weird, I think. Without Leah around, after six months... Don't feel bad if you don't hit it off, okay?

Obena nods a little, smiling meekly as she tries to temper her expectations.

Strafe: Look at it this way, our part of the job's done for now. It's up to Unten and Quartz now, really. There's gonna be plenty of time to catch up.
Rachel: Right. Here's hoping...

Back in Strafe's jeep, Sakeena stretches her legs and groans, using her metalbending to keep the gas pedal down. Rubelline sits next to her, a light blanket over herself to protect her from the sun, while Mioda and Zerita sit in the back, keeping an eye on Sia.

Sakeena: Damn leg cramps... can't remember the last time I was up this long.
Mioda: I suppose it's been a while for you, yeah... not too much going on since we got here.
Sakeena: Oh, it's been a big six months for me, just not for... y'know, this. Been dating around, working on a manuscript here and there... y'know, the kind of thing I'd be doing if I didn't have powers in the first place.
Mioda: Mad about getting back into the thick of things?
Sakeena: Eh, not mad. Mostly just a little rusty. It's not like I don't use my powers, but... part of me thought I might not have a reason to use them like this again.

Rubelline giggles a little.

Sakeena: What...?
Rubelline: You said rusty... and, you know, with.... like, the metal...

Sakeena rolls her eyes and laughs a little.

Zerita: So you're not planning on entering the World Tournament?
Sakeena: Haven't made up my mind yet. Even if I did, nobody might die over that...
Rubelline: I gotta say, I'm with Sakeena on this one. It's not that I don't want to help, it's just... I dunno, I don't think of it as a fighting skill much anymore. It's not something I do because I want to be some kind of superhero, it's just... me? I don't know how much sense I'm making, hah...
Sia: I think I get the line of thought. It's like how the Palm Cutter's built for woodcutting too. Gotta be ready to use your talents wherever you can.
Zerita: Well, all I know is my Aura training's gonna pay off one of these days...
Sia: Sure, sure... nothing beats a bit of raw talent with my blade, though.

Sia punches Zerita's shoulder playfully. Zerita chuckles and raises her hand, but Sia points at the sling her arm's still in. Zerita laughs even more, shaking her head.

As the escape pod continues spinning towards Kolob II, Unten gets Imperium out of his coat, using it to hold steady in zero gravity by wedging it between his and Quartz's seats. The Fan and The Enemy examine the structure as it comes closer into view, watching little flares of energy pop up along its surface.

The Fan: I mean, it's just sloppy craftsmanship.
The Enemy: No regard for layout and integrity... and is that standard third-dimensional metal? Could he really not spare 200 years to synthesize anything better?
The Fan: It's embarrassing, really.
Quartz: So, what do we do?
The Fan: Now? We just hope he doesn't kill us on his tour of this place.
The Enemy: Unten, a word of advice... and please do actually listen to this one for once.
Unten: Not a great start, but I'm listening.
The Enemy: We can't say for sure, but when he was projecting those psychic messages to us, he said something about an appointment.
Unten: Right. I'm not really sure what he was talking about.
The Enemy: That's understandable, because he's breaking some pretty major standards in how we tend to interact with the material plane. Just keep in mind that-

The holographic controls light back up in red. The pod comes to a halt, now close enough to stably orbit Kolob II. The Mistake's voice enters their minds once again.

The Mistake: Alright, I've got you all in! I'd like to extend a cordial welcome to my new palace, the crown jewel of my divine protection of Earth, a symbol of my power made real... Kolob II.

The Mistake pauses, waiting for a reaction. Everyone just stares at the surface of Kolob II anxiously.

The Mistake: Now, because of my own poor decision-making, we're running on a very tight perpendicular schedule which I already know is going to work like a charm. Unten, buddy, gonna need you to get inside Imperium and exit the pod.
Unten: What?
The Enemy: We're technically his hostages by now, so I'd recommend just rolling with it.
The Mistake: You're not hostages! You're guests. And I, unfortunately, did not have time to fully oxygenate the exterior of Kolob II, so if Unten is going to make his appointment - which, by definition, he already did - he needs a way to get in.
Quartz: We can't actually do this, right?

The Fan groans and shakes his head.

The Fan: It's... see, this is why we don't do time travel.
Unten: Time travel? ...wait. That first meeting. He said he was going to explain things to me later and- oh, damn, that was time travel, wasn't it?
The Mistake: I'm glad you're getting the idea! Now please just get in the sword. You're cutting it very close and you're already going to be there.

Unten sighs and enters Imperium. The Mistake's hand physically appears in the pod and grabs Imperium by the handle before teleporting away. Quartz puts a hand on her head.

The Mistake: Now we can focus on the tour! Follow me, esteemed guests.

Quartz hyperventilates a little as the pod begins moving again, this time at a much steadier pace into a large hexagonal gate on the surface of Kolob II. The Fan and The Enemy stare coldly into the gate.

Imperium reappears in a large empty room within Kolob II, walls and floors appearing around it to form a home theater setup with a screen displaying a fake fireplace. The Mistake's disembodied right hand taps on the weapon and gives Unten a thumbs up as he climbs out.

Unten: So... what, you're going to be here soon?

The Mistake's hand mimics two legs running with its fingers. It waves and dematerializes. Unten takes a seat, groaning and hanging his head.

Unten: Cool. Very cool.

The Mistake reappears - not the present Derezzt, but the one from his initial meeting with Unten. He takes a seat and rubs his chin before snapping, conjuring a baseball cap onto his head that features "DEREZZT" spelled out in red glitter in a sparkly font.

Derezzt: There we go, that'll make this easier... hello, Unten! It's me, your friend, Derezzt!

Unten opens his mouth and Derezzt immediately shushes him.

Derezzt: Don't tell me anything about if you accepted my offer or not. Can't be going around with that kind of information.
Unten: Right, right. Time travel.
Derezzt: Tricky thing, time travel is! The old gods didn't do it on account of how badly it messes things up. Me being me, I figure I can fix it up on the back end if I only do a little time travel.

Unten nods a little, clearly already fed up with this. Derezzt clears his throat and removes a vertical slice of his own head, pulling it out as a film reel.

Derezzt: See, I did this so we could have a better time explaining how I came to be. Couldn't just answer every question with visual aids out in the middle of nowhere! Besides, it's a lot to take in. So you're probably very good friends and business partners with me and this will be a bonding experience!
Unten: But I can't tell you if we are or aren't.
Derezzt: Exactly. You're good at keeping up.

Derezzt teleports over and tries to put the film reel in a DVD player. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he just merges the two objects physically and releases a burst of energy into the machine. The screen turns into a picture of Huxxabu as seen from space.

Derezzt: Huxxabu, circa 4500 years ago! My hometown.

The screen transitions again, to a scene of scientists of various species - human, Zezunian, Siandrall, and Sparkling - working in a room with jet black tiles all along the walls and floor. A pod is suspended in the middle of the lab, filled with a sloshing red liquid.

Derezzt: I was born here, in an underground research facility. The Fan and The Enemy had enlightened promising minds from all over Huxxabu and gathered them here.

Another slide appears on-screen - something resembling a family tree, but arranged in a circle. Various gods line its edges - The Fan and The Enemy side-by-side at the top, but other gods like Vokkskar, The Seer, and Dare distantly connecting at various corners.

Derezzt: They wanted to expand their pantheon, to see what could be done with their own blood. The war against The Threat was in perpetual stalemate, and they had hoped to create a new god capable of besting her. Their ambition even led them to steal what they could from the other gods... a full painter's palette to choose from.
Unten: So you're a bit of all of them, really.
Derezzt: Not quite. They tried various blends. Most couldn't keep their bodies bound and turned into... I don't know, I guess stardust, nebulas, that kind of thing.

The screen rearranges; each god is represented as a meter on screen, dropping and rising as files about the failed experiments cycle around. The screen slows down as they reach the handful of successes from the project.

Derezzt: Æktaoz. The Duplicate. 50/50 split of the brothers. Primarily stable corporeal form, but with a split consciousness. Still alive on Huxxabu to this day.

Another file slides onto screen.

Derezzt: Jeo. Technically not labelled a success. Dare... went off and had his own kid, I guess. They kept him on file.

A third file slides onto screen. Derezzt smiles proudly.

Derezzt: And then there's me. Little bit of Vokkskar, dash of Aktoz, but about 75% of my genes are from The Enemy.

Unten nods, squinting at the screen. The scene transitions back to the lab, where Derezzt's body is growing from the center out inside of the fluid.

Derezzt: I was constructed using the most advanced prototype they'd built yet. They mixed some blood together, threw it under cosmic radiation, and used shock treatment to guide the cells towards forming, you know, a person, instead of a mess.
Unten: Right... and how involved were the gods?

The scene on-screen zooms out backwards; The Fan and The Enemy observe the creation of Derezzt through a dimensional window, the scientists unaware as they peek in.

Derezzt: Very!
The Fan: I'm starting to doubt the potential this project has, brother.
The Enemy: Nonsense. Everything is exactly as it should be.
The Fan: Exactly?

The Enemy nods and grins. Unten shivers a little, looking to Derezzt.

Unten: How do you know it went like that?
Derezzt: Oh, even in that primitive state, I could hear them. They didn't realize that, mind you. Plenty of talks about whether or not I was a good decision... really just more of a push to do the job right when my time came.

The screen goes black. Derezzt hands Unten some 3D glasses, which he reluctantly puts on. The screen turns back on, showing a fully-formed Derezzt out in the vast emptiness of space, The Fan and The Enemy behind him.

The Fan: It's time to fulfill your purpose, Derezzt.
The Enemy: Bring Svarga to us and eliminate it. Only you can end this war for us.

The Derezzt on-screen nods, and the Derezzt sitting next to Unten nods along, reliving his memory. He mouths along silently with his own former words.

Derezzt: I won't let you down.

Derezzt forms a massive red X in front of him, its lines clean-cut and energy pulsing through it. As he expands the shape, its edges begin to crackle, Derezzt clearly straining. The Enemy crosses his arms behind him as The Fan watches anxiously.

Unten: What are the glasses for...?

Suddenly, in a huge burst, the X expands to dozens of times its original size, now a mess of energy that tears apart the space around it. Derezzt practically splits apart from the strain, but the brothers don't intervene yet. The boundaries of the X begin to flare up off the screen and Unten removes his 3D glasses only to find that they're flaring up even brighter without that layer of protection.

Derezzt: It was my finest hour...

Within the swirling energies of the red X, Svarga begins to phase in, pulled out into three-dimensional space. Before it can get any closer, Derezzt's hands glitch out, detaching from his body, and Svarga slips back out of view, the red X remaining but now serving only as a burning mess of energy that's growing out of control. Derezzt screams in pain, but his future self watching just seems distant from the event.

Derezzt: ...until it wasn't.

The screen smash-cuts to Derezzt standing in an endless desert, his body glitching rapidly as he heaves. The Fan and The Enemy float above him, backs facing the "camera".

Derezzt: I was told my body and energy were too unstable to be used in the fight against The Threat. My purpose would have to wait as I coalesced into something stronger within confines built by my brothers.

The screen smash-cuts again. Derezzt is in the same spot, but there's nothing but darkness around him.

Derezzt: So I slept.

Two gigantic yellow eyes open behind Derezzt. Something makes a ticking noise.

Derezzt: And dreamt.

The screen fades out to Derezzt still in the center of the screen, but floating over Earth.

Derezzt: And this time, I'm ready.

The screen goes black. Derezzt takes Unten's 3D glasses and smiles a little.

Derezzt: So there you have it! Any questions about any of this, or...?

Unten rubs his eyes, shaking his head.

Unten: No, no, I'm... mostly just tired, I guess.

Derezzt frowns.

Derezzt: Well....hope you feel better soon.

Derezzt sighs and stands up, looking around. An exit sign lights up on a door near the front of the room and he looks surprised.

Derezzt: Guess that's all the time I gave me then, huh?

Derezzt opens a small portal under his feet and looks over his shoulder at Unten as he puts one foot in.

Derezzt: Whatever's going on right now, whatever I don't know... I hope it's good. Maybe you don't understand it where I'm at, maybe you don't understand it now, but I'd very much like for you to succeed, Unten.

Unten nods, trying not to let Derezzt read his conflicted expression. Derezzt steps into the portal and sinks into it until he's up to his head.

Derezzt: Time to take a running start at the timeline and hope I land back where I was! See you around!

Derezzt holds his breath and goes down into the portal, which fizzles out behind him. Unten gets up and walks towards the door, looking at the empty room before leaving, keeping a tight grip on Imperium.

At the firehouse, Guadalupe hands a plate of huevos rancheros over to one of the Terracotta Golems, wiping some sweat off her brow as she looks over at the wall of TVs. Channel 17 has sent Vicky Victorious up to Alaska, where she's interviewing Sam.

Vicky Victorious: So you're saying Unten left here in a pod with the same brother gods he descended and the woman he notoriously fought at Broken Jaw Pit?
Sam: Yeah, could have sworn there was a pod right over there... maybe everyone left to go see me at the store? Man, they must feel silly.

Hybrid IV rolls her eyes and puts a hand against her face.

Hybrid IV: They really are just going right up to him, huh?
Denos: How would you judge his progress with using Aura?
Hybrid IV: I dunno, he's picking the material up fast but I'm pretty damn sure that wouldn't be enough to fight a god, even if you're as strong as me.

Denos smiles a little.

Denos: If he's truly in a state of mind to use Aura, then he has everything he needs.
Logi: Always figured the gods were holding that kid back... guess it's time to put that theory to the test, eh?
Hybrid IV: He better not die. Laverne's really taken a liking to him.
X-Ray: Hm. I think he can... I mean, I hope.
Guadalupe: Eh, probably. So, show of hands; when this weird space devil blows us all up, we thinking like, we get burned? Shocked? Or is it just... poof, gone?

Denos frowns at Guadalupe a little. She shrugs and opens the fridge up, snapping to call another Golem over.

The escape pod floats into place in a copy of its original dock that's too large for it. The dock tightens back to its correct size around the pod, rattling it a little as the doors open. The Fan and The Enemy step out first and look around the hangar.

The Fan: This seems... hm.
The Enemy: It's a disgrace. Couldn't even build a fleet before we got here?

The Mistake steps into the room, Shiki following behind him and waving.

The Mistake: Oh, I could have, but the only ship I care about is yours. Welcome, brothers dearest!
Shiki: What's up, old bossman?

Quartz hops out of the pod, looking at The Mistake in person for the first time. She looks a little caught off-guard and crosses her arms.

The Fan: We appreciate the invitation, but we've come to put an end to this, Mistake. Whatever blessing you're looking for, you won't get it.
The Mistake: Don't be so brash, Aktoz. Once you've seen Kolob II, there will be no doubt in your minds...

The Mistake grins and clasps his hands together before they teleport onto the door behind him, opening it up. They reattach to him as he walks through, Shiki motioning for his reluctant guests to follow. They step through into Kolob II's lobby - a large room, lit from below a glass floor, with two large sets of stairs that seem to "breath" up and down.

The Mistake: The lobby! This cutting edge parlor will be the perfect stop for guests looking for a divine intervention or a way to pay tribute. I'm thinking of adding an art piece, tell me if it's too gaudy...

With a flick of his wrist, Derezzt raises a statue from the floor; his hand grasping the Earth, with The Fan and The Enemy's hands on his wrist, forming a T shape.

The Fan: It's... no, this isn't important. You need to stop.
Quartz: Looks messy.
The Mistake: Oh, Shiki, write that one down. I'll get back around to it later.

Shiki scratches down "MESSY" and "NEED TO STOP" on a piece of crumpled up paper she pulls out of her hair. The Mistake floats up to an elevator at the top of the stairways, Quartz and The Fan clumsily making their way up the shifting surfaces while The Enemy looks at the statue and scoffs before following up the steps.

The Mistake: So, where to first?
Quartz: Where are you keeping Unten?
The Enemy: Where is the core of Kolob II?
The Mistake: We can't go to either of those places yet! How about the library?

The elevator doors open, but already lead to the library. Everyone steps through and the hangar seems to move down like an elevator behind them.

The Mistake: Here, I've captured the history of our universe and its greatest principles with my own mind. Culture, history, science... it's all here for those who seek knowledge.

The Mistake grins, raising his arms. The dark room is suddenly lit a deep red by thousands of prisms arranged like scrolls on racks that hang from the ceiling, with a row of tables in the middle. Quartz walks forwards and picks a prism up, turning it around in her hands until she sees a red X within. The Mistake's voice comes through her head again, and the prism displays a vague vision, watercolored in monochrome shades of red, depicting Unten on Zeon.

The Mistake (narrating prism): And so, with cold determination, Unten left Zeon, so that he could one day grow strong enough to exact his revenge upon the Doomuli for destroying his home and-

Quartz tilts her head skeptically and puts the prism back. She turns around to see The Fan and The Enemy staring into their own prisms, unable to hear what's being narrated to them.

The Fan: That's not how any of that worked! Why would the White Goddess just really want to play sports that bad??
The Enemy: You've been asleep for millennia, Mistake. You can't just feed everyone else what you think happened... and under no circumstances can you go through with making your own Kolob.

The Mistake tries to keep smiling but pressure is clearly starting to get to him.

The Mistake: Let's just... be calm and continue the tour. You want tea? Let's go get some tea. I thought you'd like a tea room, brothers.

The Mistake turns back around towards the elevator doors and presses his hand against them to put in the next room. He sees his fingers stretching and glitching around as he does, but ignores it and presses on, opening up the tea room and walking in.

Unten walks down a hall that seems practically endless; a jagged, polygonal tunnel through the messy structures of Kolob II. He holds Imperium up and tries to light the hall with its mist, but the walls seem to soak it up. He sits down and looks at Imperium, sighing and frowning as he gets back inside of it.

Unten: Hello? I need someone to bounce ideas off of.

Imperium's inner form appears behind Unten, doing a pirouette. She falls off balance and Unten winces.

Unten: Do you... usually slip?

Imperium shakes her head.

Imperium: Something about this place is wrong.
Unten: Wrong in what way?
Imperium: Wrong.

Unten nods. He sits down and crosses his legs.

Unten: This hall can't just go on forever. He hasn't done... whatever weird dimensional thing he could do to make it go on forever.

Unten slumps over a little, both hands on his chin.

Unten: So I'm wasting time in here.

Imperium tries to figure skate in circles around Unten, her knees a little wobbly.

Imperium: You need to be ready to do this. Last time you tried to set things right like this, things changed. Permanently. Fear is perhaps the only understandable response.
Unten: I can't just not do this. It's... if I can risk my life talking to Vindozz after a war I didn't even believe in, surely I can just do the right thing because it's right this time. Right?
Imperium: We'll see, won't we?

Unten channels Aura into his legs to stand up faster, taking deep breaths. He exits Imperium's inner sanctum and picks the weapon up, shrinking it down and setting it in a coat pocket.

Unten: You've got this. You're going to be in the room, you're going to have this talk, and you're going to make the right thing happen.

Unten takes one last deep breath. He focuses as best as he can and starts channeling Aura into one leg at a time as he runs, struggling to hold that focus at first but keeping the relatively advanced technique steady enough. He rushes down the hall as he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, but as he approaches, he goes from running to falling, clearly panicked as the whole hall shifts into a vertical shaft around him.

Unten: What the-!

Unten lands on what seems to be glass, his face smushed against it. Below him is a large sphere of white light that, every few seconds, condenses rapidly into a tiny black ball no bigger than an apple before exploding back out violently. Unten pulls himself up and shakes his head a little. He lifts a fist to break the glass, but stops before he can, realizing what he'd be falling into. He shakes his head and slumps back against the wall, gritting his teeth and trying to keep his breathing steady.

The Mistake laughs and sweats nervously as he opens the door to yet another room - his personal shrine. Quartz, The Fan, and The Enemy all enter and look around.

The Mistake: So... here we are! Close to the end of the tour. It's my shrine! Where, y'know, I can deliver the good word unto my followers.

The Fan counts on his fingers.

The Fan: Hangar, lobby, library, tea room, whatever the hell that Boltzmann 2 was, laboratory, bedrooms, shrine... that can't be everything, right?
The Mistake: It'll fill out over time! Think of it as... hrm... a "soft launch".
The Enemy: You can't rush these kinds of things, Mistake. You're going to put people in danger.
The Mistake: Could you... please... stop calling me that?

The Enemy crosses his arms. The Mistake tries to smile and gets up in the middle of the shrine.

The Mistake: Let's brainstorm! Commandments; what are some good ones? I mean, duh, no murder, but we're talking new beginnings.
The Enemy: Take us to the core so you can do what you should have done to begin with and shut this place down.
The Mistake: See, I was thinking a good commandment would be, say, "if you're mean to animals, Derezzt reserves the right to make your hands turn into a bunch of snakes". Some good old-fashioned poetic justice, right? Karma and such.
The Fan: Stop dancing around this. Now.

The Enemy glares at The Mistake, who stops smiling. Quartz rubs her own arm and tries to look away as The Mistake glitches out a little. Before long, he regains his composure and grimaces.

The Mistake: Fine. You want to go to the core? Let's go.

The Mistake steps past them and rips the elevator doors open, a void of swirling colors behind them as they haven't connected properly to their next destination. The room shakes violently, Quartz steadying herself as The Fan and The Enemy stumble. The door finally connects with a small chiming noise, the shaking stopping all at once as The Mistake walks forward into an airlock.

The Mistake: I already know what you're going to say. It's not as good or as stable as yours. It's fine. I understand. Just... let me help people. Please.

The Fan and The Enemy follow behind him, Quartz trailing behind the three of them. The dark airlock leads into a massive spherical chamber with Kolob II's shifting energy core in the middle, various walkways orbiting it at strange angles.

The Enemy: You're... you're a madman. You need to stop, or you need to be stopped.

The Mistake frowns, the core seemingly to pulsate in response. He starts pacing along one of the walkways, his feet sticking to their impossible curving angles.

The Mistake: You created me to fight a war against The Threat. I would have happily fought it, had you let me. And now that I'm awake and the war is over, you expect me to do nothing with my talents?
The Enemy: They're not talents, they're hazards. If you really cared about anyone's safety, you'd lock yourself away for good.

The energy core flares up. The Mistake catches an arc of plasma off of it and lets it dissolve in his hand.

The Mistake: The world needs a guiding hand. You both know that better than anyone else. Trying to guide Unten, only to fail...

The Mistake chuckles and looks up. Unten is pressed against a round window in the chamber's ceiling. Quartz looks up at the window and grits her teeth, changing into her Second Form and standing defensively. The Enemy puts an arm out in front of her to stop her and starts following The Mistake along the walkways, The Fan sighs and walks behind his brothers.

The Fan: The world is not as it once was, Mistake. After the Shattering, we needed strength to guide the universe as we saw fit. Like it or not, we're in the next age now.

The Mistake stops in place. The three gods are all standing on a different stretch of the walkway, practically disconnected from each other. The energy core shrinks and stays small as The Mistake taps his fingers against the railing.

The Mistake: And the Shattering. I have a few questions about that, too, you know.

The Enemy looks panicked as he quickly pieces together where The Mistake is going. He tries to run to his brother, but the non-Eucledian geometry seems to prevent him from reaching The Fan.

The Fan: You know the story. The old world was unstable. We had to come here.
The Mistake: But if I was made here, why do I remember the old world?

The Fan's face goes a little pale with fear. The Mistake glitches around as he walks, but always seems to reassemble when his foot meets the ground. Quartz starts running up the walkway to try and get a better view of Unten.

The Fan: It's... genetics. You're made from our blood.
The Mistake: Oh, not those kinds of memories. Nightmares. Something so vast and terrible, it must be real...

The Mistake waves a flat hand over his face, briefly reassembling it to have two yellow eyes and a metal "beak", resembling the destructor of the original Fantendoverse, Clockwarx. The Fan walks backwards, clearly shaking.

The Fan: You... you...

The Mistake waves his hand back over his face to return it to normal. He glares right at The Fan as the two stand at opposite ends of the core.

The Fan: You died, in the old world. We fought tooth and nail to make sure you were reborn here.

The Mistake stops. He smiles for a moment and the energy core expands rapidly.

The Mistake: Oh, that tracks! It's so nice to finally know that-

The Mistake pauses and puts a hand on his chin slowly. The core shrinks back down to barely even the size of a marble.

The Mistake: ...was I a mistake in the old world too?

The Fan sweats, backing up into a railing.

The Mistake: ...could you have fixed me this time around?
The Fan: That's... a very complicated question, with a lot of... I...

The Mistake looks at The Fan, disgusted and confused. The energy core suddenly explodes outwards in the blink of an eye, less than an inch from The Fan's face. The Enemy dodges by hanging over the railing, looking below himself at The Fan. Quartz holds her hands up and just barely manages to hold the raw cosmic energy back with her heated claws.

The Mistake: You're in no position to lie to me, brother dearest.
The Fan: We... somebody had to fight her, okay?! Nothing comes for free! We had to give something up if we wanted to win!

The Mistake's eyes flash red a few times. He stays perfectly still, but his body glitches out more and more severely, entire limbs duplicating, detaching, and shifting around.

The Mistake: You set me up. Just like you set everyone else up. You made me wrong. Maybe even twice! You knew I'd become this and you tossed me aside anyways because I wouldn't rip myself apart to kill for you!
The Fan: There's only so much we could do...
The Mistake: Only so much you can do, huh? YOU-

The Mistake lifts his hand up to point at The Fan. It glitches off of him and launches towards The Fan, impaling him straight through the chest. The Mistake looks on in genuine shock and brings his hand back to himself, almost putting it over his open mouth but looking at it and seeing The Fan's blood on it.

The Mistake: ...I...

The Mistake clutches his stomach and vanishes in a pulse of red light. The Fan topples backwards off of the railing as the energy core suddenly cools into a massive steel ball, completely inert.

The Enemy: AKTOZ!

Chapter 10: Lick Your Wounds

Unten watches the scene below him, his pupils shrinking in shock as he sees The Fan tumble off the edge of the walkway. He grabs Imperium and uses it to shatter the glass below him, skidding along the inert core of Kolob II and landing near Quartz.

Quartz: You're okay! I mean... you're okay, right?
Unten: Err, yeah. As much as we can be right now.

The Enemy drops off his ledge and lands unscratched, walking over to his brother and trying to help him up.

The Enemy: Brother, what did he do to you... how could he dare to...

The Fan coughs up some more blood and slumps out of The Enemy's grasp. The Enemy growls and slams a fist back against the wall.

Unten: We'll get him out of here. We just need to find a way back to the pod and move fast, right?

The walkway Unten and Quartz are standing on tilts slowly. Walls all around start caving in, forming polygonal edges and exposing massive swathes of empty space and labyrinthe hallways inside Kolob II. Unten grits his teeth panickedly and stretches Imperium down to the floor, Quartz grabbing onto his back as he uses the weapon to pull them down to the chamber's floor.

The Enemy: It's too late, this kind of structure can't sustain itself like this. Just get us all inside Imperium and... I don't know, just hope for the best.

Unten nods and holds the weapon up, The Enemy picking The Fan up. Before he can help his brother enter, their escape pod tears through Kolob II's walls like paper, spinning around wildly as it stops on a dime. Shiki opens up the pod doors and waves.

Quartz: You came back for us?
Shiki: Huh? No, it'd be rude not to say goodbye... guess there's room in here if you guys really have to leave...

The Enemy nods. He starts to help his brother towards the pod, but he weakly struggles.

The Fan: It's... nobody could...

The Fan coughs more, gasping for air. The Enemy looks sullen.

The Enemy: Save your breath. We're getting you to Earth.

The Enemy puts The Fan's arms over his shoulders, dragging him along to the pod. Quartz and Unten move ahead and get inside, squeezing into the front seat as The Enemy tosses his brother up to lay across the back seat.

Shiki: Oh, there's blood, huh? Fun.

Unten looks at Shiki and tilts his head. The Enemy gets up into the back seat to look over The Fan and motions silently for Shiki to start going.

Quartz: Where are we aiming to land?
The Enemy: I don't care! Just get us somewhere safer!

Shiki closes the pod doors and takes control of the vehicle's flight, spinning it around as various holes open in Kolob II. One puts them on a beeline towards Earth and she instantly thrusts them forward full throttle, giggling a little.

Unten: Everyone's probably going to be back in Seattle... but maybe it'd be easier to reach the government somewhere else and get them to take him in... I... hm.

Unten rubs his chin, looking down at Earth and trying to plot out a course in what time they have left in space. Before he can make up his mind, a massive wall encloses in front of them; Quartz looks around and realizes Kolob II has turned itself inside-out in its death throes.

Unten: Shiki, pull up!
The Enemy: You idiot, turn the pod around and get out the way we came!
Shiki: I don't need to do anything, though?

Shiki speeds the pod up and Unten braces for impact. The pod slams through the wall and sends a ripple through the rapidly collapsing structure, more and more of it coming apart behind them. Shiki laughs to herself.

Unten: ...okay, so, maybe we land back in Alaska, right? Like, Sam might know how to fix gods better than anyone else. Right?
The Enemy: Anywhere but here is fine. We can talk about it more when we get there, just... for once, Unten. Let things be easy.

Unten looks back, clearly ready to debate with The Enemy as usual. He sees The Enemy, looking positively furious, holding The Fan up, not looking back at Unten but trying to examine his brother's wound. Unten turns back around, crossing his arms but holding back his words.

Shiki: Eh, all these dumb places look the same from up here. Just roll with it!

The pod begins spinning forward, Shiki laughing more as it does. Quartz puts a hand out beside her for Unten to hold and he responds, the two of them closing their eyes.

Rachel and Strafe step out of the Alleged Car and shiver a little, looking up at the Fantendo Firehouse. Nycho steps out and stretches his arms up, rolling his neck a few times.

Nycho: Home, sweet home...

Nycho runs up to the door, the rest of the crew slowly coming together on the sidewalk as they exit their vehicles. Sakeena uses her metalbending to toss Strafe his keys and he catches them, chuckling.

Nycho: Guadalupe? We're all here.

X-Ray opens up the firehouse door.

X-Ray: Nycho, correct? Don't think we've really formally met.
Nycho: Not really, no! There were a lot of people on Kolob back in the day, huh? Good times, good times.

X-Ray looks confused. Nycho extends his hand for a handshake and X-Ray nods, shaking his hand and stepping aside. Rachel, Strafe, and Sakeena walk in behind him and X-Ray smiles at them a little.

X-Ray: Good to see you all.
Rachel: X-Ray! Oh my gosh, it's really been so long, huh...
X-Ray: I mean, six months, yeah.

Rachel nods and rubs her own shoulder sheepishly, not really sure how to respond.

X-Ray: Your car all good, Strafe? Unten said someone stole it.
Strafe: Oh, yeah, it's right out front.
X-Ray: Good, I always liked that thing.

Strafe chuckles, heading further in.

X-Ray: How's the writing going, Sakeena? Still working on that idea about the island?
Sakeena: Yeah, it's... how'd you know?
X-Ray: I mean, you talked about your writing a lot. Didn't you think I was listening?

Sakeena smiles. As Rubelline enters the firehouse, she sees Guadalupe watching Hybrid IV arm-wrestling one of her Terracotta Golems, breaking its arm into little pieces.

Guadalupe: WOO! C'mon, one more.
Rubelline: Those things aren't free...
Hybrid IV: apologies, ma'am.
Guadalupe: Bummer.
Nycho: You really turned this place into a party, huh? I respect it.
Denos: I prefer to think of it as a safety measure, but... in lack of having much to do, yes, we indulged in some fine cuisine.

Nycho looks over at Denos and smiles.

Nycho: Cool blood eye! You weren't lying.

Denos grumbles a little. Mioda and Zerita step in, helping Sia around.

Sia: I broke my arm, not my legs... you don't have to help me around.
Zerita: No can do, sis. You're taking it easy. Can someone get a seat for her?

Logi pulls a seat up for Sia, who sits down and lays back, sighing with relief. Mioda hangs her crossbow on a coat hook and sits down on the floor, looking up at the various TVs.

Logi: Eh, it's all white noise right now, kid... they've stopped providing satellite imagery of Kolob II. Something about security precautions?
Mioda: What about, uh... Channel 17?

Mioda points up at one of the televisions, where phone footage of an escape pod crashing into Lake Union plays.

Vicky Victorious (voiceover): We've received this breaking new footage of an extraterrestrial pod crashing into Seattle's very own beautiful Lake Union... a new superpowered deviant here to wreak havoc or yet another step in a government conspiracy to drop so-called "pods" full of so-called "aliens" into our cities to cover up their own experiments? We turn now to our panel of experts...
Rachel: That looks, uh... awfully Kolob, huh.
Nycho: So it's over?
Denos: Why would Unten crash-land in a lake if he was leaving on good terms in no hurry?
Nycho: ...oh...

Nycho sits down and rests his head on one hand, looking a little disappointed. Strafe takes his keys back out and heads towards the door.

Rachel: Where are you going?
Strafe: Unten landed out in the water, right? I'm going to go pick him up, whether that's from a dock or if I gotta get on a boat myself...
Rachel: ...gonna need any help with that?

Strafe nods. Rachel follows him out the door and Sakeena looks around the room.

Sakeena: Heyy, so, not to ditch anyone, but-
Denos: Yes, go.

Sakeena smiles confidently and heads out the door. As Volt settles in near the back of the main room, Nycho hangs backwards off the couch and looks at him.

Nycho: So, about-
Volt: Unten's in a lake right now! No.

Imperium busts through one of the glass doors of the escape pod as it floats on the surface of Lake Union. Unten pokes his head out and looks around, his fur standing on end a little as he's shaken up from the crash.

Unten: We're... well, we're safe, for now. But we're out on open water.
Shiki: No problem.

Shiki tries to fire the pod back up, but it sputters out, drained of any energy. The Fan is pressed up against the opposite pod door, which is submerged, and he breaths heavily as he looks around the waters.

The Enemy: Not good enough. We need to get on land.
Unten: I mean, I'll do my best...

Unten looks down at Imperium. He sighs and extends it out, using it as a rough paddle to get the pod moving slowly. Quartz pokes up out of the pod to look around with him, looking up at the moon, where Kolob II's destruction has left a strange afterimage in red, one that seems to fade the more she tries to focus on it.

Silence walks around in the garage in his and Serah's home, looking around feverishly for something.

Silence: Must be somewhere...

Silence lifts a bag of mulch and pulls something out from under it; a single, mostly pristine gardening glove. He puts it on and heads back inside, picking a magical tome off of a coffee table as he walks to Serah, who's keeping an eye on Jay and Mike while they eat.

Serah: You found something that'll work?
Silence: The gardening gloves. The ones that ended up fitting you better than me.
Serah: ...walk me through this one more time.
Silence: It's a simple enchantment. So long as we've both imprinted on the object, I can use it to get right back to you in a flash.
Serah: And the second anyone starts fighting, you're coming right back here.

Silence nods. Serah kisses him on the cheek and he pulls one more thing from his pocket; a square of cloth cut very cleanly and neatly from a blanket.

Serah: Keep me updated, okay? And say hello to everyone, I know we just saw them, but... a lot happened, I want them to know I'm thinking of them.
Silence: Of course.

Serah kisses him on the cheek again and he hugs her tightly. He turns to Jay and Mike and walks behind them, rubbing their heads a little.

Silence: Love you, boys...

Jay and Mike thrash around, smiling at their father in the middle of their meal. Silence smirks and holds up the piece of cloth.

Silence: Want to see a magic trick, you two?
Jay and Mike: MAGIC!!

Silence waves the cloth around dramatically, making Serah laugh. He reaches for the tome in his jacket and it glows green, the cloth doing the same. In an instant, Silence disappears, Jay and Mike clearly going wild for the trick.

Unten keeps paddling the pod along the lake. Something beneath them rocks their vehicle back and forth, the motion making The Fan groan in pain. Unten grimaces at the sound and tries to keep the pod steady.

Unten: Did we hit something?

The Enemy looks around a little and shakes his head. Unten keeps paddling slowly, taking a deep breath and holding it there for a long moment before groaning.

The Enemy: You're doing fine. Quit whining and just get us to a dock.

The Fan weakly taps a hand against the glass. Shiki looks down through the window and laughs for a second.

Shiki: Have fun swimming, idiot.

The Enemy looks back down. Silence is swimming beneath the escape pod, trying to get ahead of it. The Enemy tugs on Unten's coat to get him to stop.

The Enemy: It's that freak. Did White Goddess send him in to pick my brother apart like some kind of vulture?
Unten: Who...?

Unten looks down through the window and spots Silence. He laughs a little as he climbs back up to the top of the pod, trying to use Imperium to fish him out of the lake.

Unten: You really are out of touch, huh? Silence is like... just a cool dad now. I mean, clearly he still does magic, but...

Unten feels Silence grab onto Imperium. He pulls to try and get him, Quartz holding onto Unten's shoulders and helping him out. Silence hangs onto Imperium with both hands, dangling in the air in front of the pod.

Silence: ...I've been keeping up with the news.
Quartz: Yeah, well, no way "the news" has heard about what happened to The Fan yet. We need to get him to a hospital, ASAP.

Silence nods. Unten shortens Imperium to pull him into the pod, and Quartz starts climbing out.

Unten: What are you doing?
Quartz: We're carrying too much weight. I'm going to push us to a dock.
Unten: We've had a long day as is, don't risk pushing yourself that hard...
The Enemy: What, and let my brother die? I don't know why you weren't doing this sooner, Six.

Quartz sighs and rolls her neck before climbing out of the pod, gripping the back of it and starting to swim. Unten sits curled up tightly, left in a bad position to say much, and Silence glances between him and The Enemy a few times.

Silence: ...I'm sorry for what's happened, Ektaz.
The Enemy: Ah, of course. And that's why you ambushed us...
Silence: I used a simple teleportation charm fashioned from the blankets of my two-story house - you know, the one where Unten recently stayed overnight after we celebrated my sons' birthday? - to come in and offer what assistance I could.

The Enemy looks up and down at Silence and scoffs a little, slumping down next to his brother and keeping a shaky hand on his shoulder.

The Mistake reappears in solid space again. His body remains steady, but a dark cloud of energy hisses off of him like steam off hot rocks. He's alone over a small planet covered in a vast savanna, with pale pink grass.

The Mistake: ...okay, I'm back in...

The Mistake reluctantly holds his hands out in front of him, flinching. The Fan's blood is still over one of them, staining it with streaks of purple. He frowns and focuses his energy into rotating the entire planet at once, slowly but surely.

The Mistake: I have to... I need... something. Anything. They'll be after me.

The Mistake lets out a long, anxious sigh. He sees something coming towards him on the horizon and starts rotating the ground beneath him faster, breathing heavily while the local flora seems caught up in his jittering, unstable energy.

The Mistake: You're on your own, Derezzt. Own it. Live it. Love it. A fresh start.

The Mistake grins widely, still looking shellshocked by trying to sell himself on his own confidence. He looks up at one of the nine world trees, Yggdrasil, and laughs quietly to himself as his whole body flickers.

The Mistake: ...a fresh start.

Obena sits wound up rather tightly on the couch, rolling Sovereign's hilt between her hands as she watches various reports on both the recent crash landing on Lake Union and the unverified "cosmic event" near the moon. X-Ray sits down next to her and Nycho looks away from stacking dishes for a moment to give Obena an encouraging thumbs up.

Obena: Oh!

Obena looks over at X-Ray, waving and smiling a little.

Obena: Hello there, X-Ray! Good to meet you, I'm Obena.
X-Ray: Nice to meet you too.

Obena keeps smiling. X-Ray smiles back and nods but quickly seems to have moved on.

Obena: I'm glad you're back in town, I've heard lots about you from everyone... Leah too, back when she was traveling with me.

X-Ray shifts uncomfortably in her seat, practically laying down. Obena looks a little saddened.

Obena: Good things, of course! She, y'know... loved you a lot. Enough to propose.

X-Ray nods, not making eye contact. Obena looks away, going back to fiddling with her sword.

Obena: I always thought that... whatever she was fighting for had to be good, right? And everyone seems to like you so... I hope I haven't offended you too much.
X-Ray: I appreciate it. I'm not... really at a place to talk about her. But I appreciate it.

Obena smiles. X-Ray pulls a stickered-up 3DS out of her pocket and opens it up, Obena leaning over enough to watch her play. Behind them, Denos and Logi pace back and forth on parallel paths.

Logi: What if we get him out past the edge, with Teriodin?
Denos: Laverne would have to open the floodgates for us, and that'd be after we found a way to even push him out there. Besides, I doubt that'd keep him long.
Logi: What if... okay, hear me out. For real. Promise you will.
Denos: Yes, I promise.
Logi: Rainbow Forge. Zingotta. Whip up another Imperium with its own little pocket dimension. Put Derezzt in it. Then we just throw that bitch as far as physics will let us.
Denos: Forging that kind of weapon takes time we don't have, and again, I doubt that'd contain him. He needs to be put in check.
Hybrid IV: Do we even know where he is?
Denos: See? Excellent point.
Logi: ...yeah, well, duh, my plan kind of has a prerequisite of finding him, thought you were smart enough that I didn't have to spell it out...

Logi scoffs, clearly a little embarrassed. Nycho feels his phone buzz and hands some dishes off to a Terracotta Golem, pulling it out of his phone and jumping excitedly in place.

Nycho: Update from Rachel! Says-

Rachel: (transcribing as she types): "At the docks, we can see Unten but he's too far away for Sakeena to pull in, kind of awkward but should be all good". And... sent.

Rachel sits down next to Sakeena, looking out on Lake Union. The Kolob escape pod steadily approaches from afar, Imperium's cyan mist acting as something of a signal flare. Strafe waves out to Unten, who he can barely see waving back.

Strafe: How do we think things went?
Rachel: Well, ideal situation? Derezzt is in that pod and he's ready to cool down and go somewhere else because Unten and him talked it out.
Sakeena: Nah, nah, I bet Unten got the old gods to go on babysitting service.

Sakeena chuckles. Rachel shakes her head, but laughs anyway.

Rachel: Feels weird to be laughing right now...
Sakeena: Well, what else is there, right?

Rachel looks out at the pod again. Sakeena gets up and shakes her hands a little, walking to the end of the dock.

Sakeena: Let's try this again...

Sakeena reaches out in front of her and makes a pulling motion. The pod begins moving much faster along the water, Rachel quickly standing up and running over to Sakeena. Within a few pulls, the pod is up against the docks, Sakeena metalbending a broken window frame into a tether to keep it from floating off. Strafe helps Unten up and peers in, biting his thumb.

Strafe: That's not great.
Unten: Get him out first, then everyone else.
Rachel: What happened?
Unten: The Fan got... stabbed. Impaled. I don't know. He needs medical attention now.

The Enemy reluctantly hands The Fan off to Strafe, who pulls him up. Quartz climbs out of the water and reverts to her first form, coughing up a bit of water and shivering.

Rachel: ...damn, this is...
Quartz: We can handle this. We just need to move fast.

Shiki crawls up out of the pod doing a crabwalk, helping Silence up. Strafe and Silence nod at each other, both starting to speak but realizing now's not the time.

Sakeena: X-Ray has a medical license... I guess? Probably? Even that'd be for people, and not... err...
The Enemy: Gods. The word you're looking for is gods.

The Enemy pulls himself out of the pod, scowling a little as he takes The Fan out of Strafe's grip.

The Enemy: If we're lucky, maybe one of your friends will understand enough to keep him stable until we have a better option.
Rachel: Right, I'll go get the car going.

Rachel heads up a staircase towards where Strafe's jeep is parked. As The Enemy holds his brother up, he looks around the group and scowls more, heading towards the staircase slowly.

Back in the Fantendo Firehouse, everyone has huddled around the couch. Nycho, looking a little queasy, hands X-Ray his phone.

Nycho: I don't know what's going on there, but it's... eugh.

X-Ray nods. She looks at some blurry photos Rachel has sent of The Fan's injury, putting a hand over her mouth in thought.

Nycho: I mean, that's probably blood, right?
X-Ray: Right. I'll admit, I've done some light reading on the subject...
Logi: On medical treatment?
X-Ray: No, no, I already know all that... it's what we call "speculative extraphysical biology", and by "we" I mostly mean myself.

X-Ray keeps looking at the photos as she walks over to her luggage, fiddling around with one hand to open it. She grabs a folder of printed papers and sits back down, thumbing through them.

X-Ray: These files have been showing up in all sorts of corners of the internet like little hot drops... only available for maybe an hour, tops? I've been looking into the subject while I've been out and about. Susan showed me the first one, but she went off on her own little trip, so it's kind of just been a thing I do with my me time...
Denos: So you're trusting anonymous hot drops the founder of the Twisted Cross introduced to you.
X-Ray: What other sources do we have?

Denos looks aside and nods a little, conceding to X-Ray. She finds the paper she's looking for and pulls it out of the folder; two diagrams of a humanoid figure, one with organs in disconnected boxes outside of itself and one with densely packed organs arranged in a very different manner from a human's.

X-Ray: According to our mystery surgeon's findings on beings with, say, extra dimensions, at time of death or upon removal of dimensions - say, like Descension - the body has to store whatever vital organs and tissue may have been contained outside of a three-dimensional body.
Nycho: So The Fan's a big walking pile of guts.
X-Ray: That's a good enough understanding of what I'm saying, yes.
Denos: So there's nothing stopping you from attempting to perform surgery?
X-Ray: I can try.
Logi: Derezzt could still be at large. The sooner we can get moving along, the better.
Nycho: We can't just run, right? Dude's omnipotent.
Hybrid IV: But if we're running towards him to solve some problems...
Logi: I never said anything about running! I said moving, not running.
Zerita: We can't just throw ourselves back into a fight, not with so many questions still up in the air.
Obena: Everyone?

The room turns to look at Obena, who's still fidgeting a little in place as she looks at them.

Obena: What if we... do the surgery on the go? Then we can drop some people off and... I guess I don't know what we'll do from there, huh.
Denos:'s at least a start.
X-Ray: I mean, it's not easy, but neither is doing surgery on The Fan, I guess.
Logi: See, this is what I'm talking about... but where can we go towards?
Denos: Earth's rife with Distortion Mist. That'd be at least something to cover our tracks, little as it might be.

Guadalupe steps into the living room and crosses her arms.

Guadalupe: You're really just going to drive off the grid into a bunch of nothing to do surgery on... whatever I'm supposed to call this guy?
Nycho: I mean, yeah, it's the right thing to do, right?

Guadalupe laughs, shaking her head in disbelief and tapping her foot a little as she thinks of how to respond.

Guadalupe: ...guess it is, huh?
Obena: I promise he'll be safe, Guadalupe.
Guadalupe: Yeah, yeah, figure the ratio's gotta be what, three weirdos to one average Joe?

Obena nods meekly, a bit put off by Guadalupe's wording but wanting to address her concern. Nycho gets up and gives his cousin a big hug before heading to the fridge, leaving Guadalupe laughing more and unsure of how to respond.

Nycho: We've got the roadmap, now what are we riding?
Obena: Hadn't thought of that either.

Nycho grabs two energy drinks and opens them both, pouring them into a glass. He bounces in place, psyching himself up, and takes a sip.

Nycho: Let's figure this one out, then!

Netnu's waterfall sanctuary is remarkably still with starlight reflecting off the small pool in front of it. His holographic simulation pod pulses with low light. Within it, Netnu stands in near pitch-black darkness, the only lights coming from the dim red markers denoting the edge of the chamber and the faint glow of some new modified mechanical claws he's working on.

Netnu: Computer. Simulate g-force 7.5.

The chamber's gravity increases in one quick drop. Netnu's knees buckle, but he doesn't collapse and soon stands up, albeit slouching a little. The claws begin to crumple like tin foil and he sighs, frustrated.

Netnu: Computer. Statistical analysis.

The computer beeps and whirs until loading in a monotone voice.

Chamber Computer: Outer Sentelium armor collapses under calculated limits of g-force 6. Energy distribution cut off by structural failure. Six unanswered messages from Sia.

Netnu seems unfazed by the unrelated last note from his computer. He picks up one of the crumpled up claws and shakes it around, watching the segmented fingers flop uselessly.

Netnu: Suggested improvements?
Chamber Computer: Multiple redundant armoring layers to prevent system failure. Fail-safe mechanism for digit control. Prioritize contacting Sia.

Netnu drops the claw, which drops hard enough to fall apart under the intensified gravity.

Netnu: ...standard g-force.

The room's gravity returns to normal. Netnu puts a coat on and heads out of the simulation pod, looking bitter.

The Enemy rushes The Fan through the firehouse doors, people clearing aside so he can lay him across the couch. X-Ray pulls a flashlight out of her luggage and examines the wound as The Fan groans weakly, Unten, Silence, and Rachel entering behind them.

X-Ray: It's a clean cut all the way through... what caused the injury?
The Enemy: A crime against nature. One hand, clean through the chest, through teleportation.
X-Ray: Do you know what any of these organs might be?
The Enemy: I didn't have to think about that before we were dethroned, no.
X-Ray: We'll do the best we can. Obena had an idea...

The Enemy looks at Obena, who meekly rubs her arm and looks away.

Obena: We're going to find something big enough to fit us all onboard and head into the Distortion Mist so Derezzt might have a harder time finding us.
The Enemy: ...not much to lose at this point. Wherever we are, to think that you could save him knowing only what you know...

The Enemy puts a hand over his face.

The Enemy: Just do whatever you can. Ease his pain.

The Enemy sits down, head in his hands. Unten looks down at The Fan as X-Ray pulls out a first aid kit, gently cleaning the wound's edges.

Unten: Anything you need help with?
X-Ray: Not yet.

Unten nods. He steps away, Rachel sitting down next to him on the floor.

Rachel: do you think she does it?
Unten: I mean, she's got a background in medicine.
Rachel: Not like that. Like... for them, specifically. They're the ones who set Leah up. They're the root of all this. I mean, keeping her cool? That's...
Unten: Yeah, it's difficult.

Rachel nods a little. The two lay back against a wall. The room is mostly silent for a moment as The Fan settles in his spot on the couch, breathing heavily.

The Fan: Thank you... this is...
X-Ray: It's all okay. Don't strain yourself.

Nycho clears his throat and starts whispering.

Nycho (whispering): Now, as to not stress the patient, I'm going to be real quiet-like about this, but we still need a ride into the Distortion Mist.
Denos (whispering): I'm not sure there's much on Earth that can carry all of us that fast.
Silence (telepathically, but at regular speaking volume): I think there's-
Nycho (whispering): Quiet-like!
Silence (telepathically): This is telepathy. It's all in your head, no volume. As I was saying, I think there's something that-

The Fantendo Firehouse rumbles for just a brief second. The sound of something massive soaring overhead fills the room, fading out slowly into a soft, electric beam noise as everything settles. Unten draws Imperium and takes a peek out of the front window, putting a hand for his mouth for a moment before pointing towards the door.

Unten: Volt.
Volt: On it...

Volt heads towards the door, clearly on edge as little arcs of lightning crackle around him. Everyone backs up against the wall to clear a path for him and he reaches the door, slowly unlocking it. The Threat opens the door, a large mobilized chunk of Svarga behind her. Volt looks at her mostly blankly aside from widened eyes, and she puts her hands together, faking out a smile.

The Threat: It's good to see you're all here. Can you do a favor for me?

Chapter 11: Wide Blue Yonder

Netnu walks along a sidewalk through downtown Seattle, where police cars race towards Lake Union while civilians either try to get out of the way in a hurry or try to get a sense of what's going on and head deeper into the gathered crowd. A low rumble shakes the ground and Netnu looks up. A long chunk of Svarga has appeared over Seattle and as quickly as they came, police cars are rushing in the opposite direction.

Netnu: ...couldn't have been.

Netnu tightens his coat and continues heading towards the Fantendo Firehouse, looking confused but maintaining his cold demeanor.

Volt: ...Unten, why'd you send me up?
Unten: I figured you'd be... I guess...
The Threat: Awfully rude to make assumptions like that, Unten! Now then, may I come in? It's awfully cold out.

Everyone in the room responds, speaking over each other. The most discernable voice in the chatter is The Enemy, who growls out a very solid "NO" and crosses his arms.

Volt: I... look, what's your business here?
The Enemy: You're actually hearing her out, you idiot?
The Threat: I didn't just vanish, you know. I know what's been going on and I'm smart enough to know we all stand to gain if we're covering each other's blind spots.

The Enemy glares at The Threat, who fakes a big cheesy grin and a polite wave. Volt rubs his head and looks away.

The Threat: Blue, c'mon, what's done is done! Let's let bygones be bygones and look out for each other's best interests. If anything, I'm doing you all a favor.
The Enemy: You know exactly what happened. Don't let her get one over on you again.

Nycho raises his hand.

Nycho: I propose a group huddle. Anyone who used to be a god, cover your ears.
The Threat: ...fine, whatever. Don't keep me waiting, though.

The Threat walks back out onto the curb and sits down, tapping her foot. The Enemy rolls his eyes.

The Enemy: You're making a terrible mistake and I'm not just going to abide by it.
Nycho: Brother doesn't get fixed until we reach an unbiased group consensus.

The Enemy groans and puts his hands over his head, sitting down next to The Fan.

Nycho: Point to The Threat; we need a ride.
Denos: Okay, point to The Enemy, Vindozz has eons of blood on her hands.
Sakeena: Like they don't either?
Nycho: Two-pointer for The Threat; her and Volt, I wanna know what's up and I think the chemistry there is gonna score us some points.
Volt: Please don't use me as points?
Hybrid IV: No matter what, we're helping The Fan. It's a pragmatic question, really.
Rubelline: What can The Threat actually do to us, at this point?
Volt: A lot, okay? It's not just power and glory, it's... it's a lot.
Strafe: How many of us can beat her in a fight, if worse comes to worse?
Nycho: Depends. Unten, do you think you can beat The Enemy in a fight right now?
Unten: What? No, I-

Unten pauses and thinks back to punching The Enemy in the face. He puts a hand on his chin.

Unten: ...depends.

Quartz curls up tightly. Unten looks at her and puts an arm over her shoulder. The Threat knocks on the door again.

Nycho: Show of hands. Yes to The Threat?

Rubelline, Strafe, Sakeena, and Logi raise their hands.

Nycho: And no?

Denos, Rachel, and Hybrid IV raise their hands. Volt starts to raise his but looks indecisive.

Quartz: If you trust her, we're all putting our lives on the line. She will use us, manipulate us, play us against each other, and if it's us or her, she'll bury us.

Everyone looks at Quartz, who's shaking angry. She exhales and puts her hands on the ground.

Quartz: I'd take it over whatever Derezzt could do to us, though.
Nycho: ...didn't raise your hand either way. Gonna defer to a tie breaker...

Unten sits up a little. Nycho points with both hands clasped together at Obena, who's also deep in thought. Unten slumps over a little.

Obena: I think... she has very little to bargain with and she's coming to us for protection, even if she's not phrasing it that way. Even if she tries to cross us, I'm not sure she could, per say?
Nycho: So that's a...?
Obena: ...yes. But stay cautious.

Nycho points towards Volt, who opens the door back up.

The Threat: So, what'll it be, blue?

Volt winces, his job clearly made more difficult by The Threat's playful tone.

Volt: ...yyyes.

The Threat steps in, giggling a little. She looks down at The Fan and grimaces.

The Threat: Rough break, pal.
The Enemy: Don't you dare say another thing about him.
The Threat: Whatever.

As The Threat walks around the Firehouse, she extends a hand out to several of the guests, nobody taking her up on a handshake. She laughs a little more at each failed, awkward attempt, clearly loving the reactions. Volt sits down next to Unten and Quartz.

Volt: ...well, cool.
Unten: Yeah. Very... very cool.

The Mistake flies slowly along the outside of Yggdrasil, occasionally putting a hand on its pale white bark. He sighs and stares at the tree, deep in thought.

The Mistake: ...nine worlds. At least one of those is Earth.

The Mistake plucks a Mana fruit off the tree. He takes a bite and lets go, the whole fruit remaining suspended in mid-air as he looks over his shoulder.

The Mistake: You think there's anything there, Shiki?

The Mistake takes another bite of Mana, tapping his fingers together anxiously. He hangs his head and growls.

The Mistake: Right. I'll just have to crack this one myself.

The Mistake laughs to himself. As he continues moving up into the leaves, he rolls his neck.

The Mistake: If they don't want my protection... well, what if there was a different "they"? That... now that's something.

Netnu knocks on the door of the Fantendo Firehouse. He tightens his coat a little and turns away to cough right as Unten open the door, looking surprised.

Unten: Netnu? Where have you been?

Sia clumsily runs up behind Unten, Zerita backing her up. Netnu steps in and hangs his coat up.

Netnu: I don't have to come here to process what's going on, you know. I understand it fine on my own.
Unten: Err... there's things that aren't obviously apparent to everyone.

Netnu looks over. The Threat is grabbing snacks from a Terracotta Golem while Nycho sketches out a rough map in a notebook.

Netnu: Things really have gone to hell here, huh?
Sia: Netnu, look, we're sorry about what we've said, how this has all played out. You're always welcome. Like it or not, we're family.
Netnu: By circumstance.
Zerita: We've all been through enough to understand. Who else out there really gets it?
Netnu: Remind me again, then... you all scattered to the winds and came back here ready to keep living the same life without learning from Zeon. When in your travels did you get married, Zerita?
Zerita: I... didn't...?
Netnu: Exactly.

Netnu sits down on the floor, legs crossed.

Netnu: I came here now so I could make sure you weren't doing anything that'd put us all back in harm's way. Unfortunately, I'm seeing I'm too late.
Unten: We're making these decisions as a group. I'm sorry, but you have to engage with that if you want to change things.
Netnu: How am I supposed to make a difference when you're all already coming to this problem from the wrong angle?

Unten crosses his arms and looks away. Rachel clears her throat and Netnu glares at her.

Netnu: Something to say?
'Rachel: No, but... if you insist, sure. There was... let's say reasonable doubt about why you were away.
Netnu: You're talking about Derezzt's offer, I assume.

Rachel looks caught off-guard by Netnu's answer. Unten puts a hand into his coat subtly, gripping at Imperium's handle. Sia shakes her head and grits her teeth.

Sia: You wouldn't actually do that.
Netnu: He came by not too long ago. I told him I'd think about it and got back to work.
Sia: But you wouldn't actually do that.

Netnu puts his hands up.

Netnu: I'm giving you the whole truth. I'm not working for him now, but assuming you all didn't ruin him, I would have weighed it out and if it was the right thing to do...
Zerita: You'd rather sell your soul to that lunatic than even try and work things out with us?
Netnu: I'd rather find the right way to protect the things that still matter to me than pull the wool back over my eyes and walk right back into another apocalypse, Zerita.

Netnu gets up and heads to the door. Unten lets go of Imperium and pulls his hand out of his coat, trying to reach out to Netnu. Netnu catches his hand and pushes it down.

Unten: Netnu, I know things have broken bad before, but right now? We all need each other.
Netnu: If the right path leads me back here, I won't ignore it, Unten. You're just too far gone off it right now.

Netnu grabs his coat and walks away angrily. Unten watches him leave and presses his forehead against the window. From the back of the room, Denos and Hybrid IV watch.

Denos: He's deep in his own head right now... do you think Unten's going to have to fight him over this?
Hybrid IV: Hell if I know. Hard to get a good read on that one.

A four-armed alien woman sits cross-legged, looking out through a massive circular floor of stained glass at the emptiness of space below her. She taps a few fingers against the floor and hums to herself.

Four-armed Woman: Something... hm... stolen.

The woman closes her eyes. She opens them again and finds herself overlooking a massive gap in her home of Svarga where a piece of the structure has split off.

Four-armed Woman: She knows how to make a clean split, I'll give her that. Maybe there's a verse in there somewhere? Clean split, something stolen...

The woman taps her foot and hums more. She establishes a rhythm and as she stops, she's suddenly in a room with three copies of herself positioned at keyboards and a drum kit.

Four-armed Woman: Just gotta finesse it.

The alien woman flicks her wrist and her copies, in unison, start playing a slow, jazzy version of her simple melody. All around Svarga, copies of this woman nod their heads to the music; some are working on repairing or steering Svarga, while others are gathered around a table eating soup served by yet another copy. The "original" back in the stained glass room stands up and paces around in a circle.

Four-armed Woman: Can't let Vindi get back under your skin... you've already got what you need, Amadea.

The Threat looks over Nycho's notes of a map; a line leading down from Seattle towards the Bermuda Triangle, heading on a curved path from there into a highly concentrated field of Distortion Mist.

The Threat: Yeah, the Svarnaseie can fly this route. No problem. Just gotta keep it low to the ground, right?

The Threat tosses the notebook back to Nycho, who's sitting in front of a window. Behind him, reporters and civilians have crowded the Svarnaseie and are desperately trying to get good photos of the inside of the Firehouse. Unten groans and lays flat on his back.

Unten: This was an awful idea.
The Threat: That's so easy to say right now. Imagine how deep in trouble you'd be right now if you were waiting around for something else to solve your little transportation issue?
Rachel: People aren't just going to completely miss that you're in here with us and that you parked a big chunk of Svarga outside.
The Threat: Not a chunk! The Svarnaseie is a streamlined, pared down section of my home I picked out for rapid travel now that I can't just put it wherever whenever I want.

Rachel nods skeptically. The room goes into a tense silence. Obena, twiddling her thumbs, looks at The Threat.

Obena: So... Vindozz. You don't mind if I call you Vindozz?

The Threat leans way back and shakes her head. Volt shivers and rubs his forehead.

Obena: What brought you here? How much did you know?
The Threat: I was living peacefully in Svarga ever since the descension. Luckily, I'd know that rookie punk's kind of unstable power anywhere. When I saw what he was doing, I dropped everything to try and bargain a little mutually beneficial protection for all of us.
Obena: You saw him?
The Threat: Oh, I saw him, alright. Came close to burning Svarga down just off the kind of energy pouring out of him when he teleports.

Volt leans back against the wall, looking fed up with The Threat. She smirks and waves to him in particular. Obena looks on between the two of them, quiet but clearly very engaged.

The Threat: What's eating you up, blue? Got jitters thinking about fighting him?
Volt: I don't buy it. You just so happened to spot him after six months of what, nothing at all?
The Threat: I've had a very eventful six months, for your information. I've been practicing meditation, working hard - practically by myself, mind you - to convert Svarga into a livable space for my new lifestyle, I let Ibism go...

Volt looks a little curious for a moment but frowns a little and shakes it off.

Volt: Good for you. Ibism creeped me the hell out. Why's any of this talk supposed to convince me you're here to help with no motive?
The Threat: As you might recall, Unten didn't want to go through and Descend me. It was those brothers. We've had our fights and we may not be friends but from where I'm sitting? There doesn't have to be bad feelings about that. I'm here to help because I'm not an idiot, blue.

The Threat grins at Volt. He looks unsure still. The Enemy stands up with his arms crossed.

The Enemy: I'm on Volt's side here. She may be too weak to double-cross us, but she'll try her hardest.
Volt (mumbling): Aw man, he's on my side, huh...?
Obena: I just think we need to look at this calmly and rationally. Vindozz didn't come here knowing The Fan was hurt. In that case, why would she come back to us on her own unless she actually thought it'd be good to stay close?

The Enemy sits back down and folds his arms. Unten sighs and stretches his legs while pressing his back against the wall.

The Threat: Finally, someone with a good head on their shoulders. I know any one of you could probably beat me in a fight. That's why I need you on my side.
Volt: If any of this is going to work, that needs to be a two-way street. You're on our side too.
The Threat: Ah, semantics, blue. This will work out just fine. I'll be back on my own before you know it.

The Threat springs up from her seat and rolls her shoulders, looking towards X-Ray.

The Threat: How's our VIP looking? Ready for travel?

X-Ray looks up from examining The Fan's wound, pulling off some rubber gloves.

X-Ray: As ready as he can be. Are all the medical supplies ready?
The Threat: Oh, of course. Only the finest for my guests.
Unten: Who should go out there first? It's really packed out there, they're gonna want to talk to someone about all of this. It can be me, if that's what we need...

Nycho raises his hand. Silence walks next to him and Nycho looks at him, nodding enthusiastically.

Nycho: Perfect duo. I get people and you get in their heads.
Silence: I want your explicit verbal confirmation that you don't expect me to brainwash anyone, okay, Nycho?
Nycho: Explicit? Well, if that's important to you, okay. Fuck no, I don't expect you to do that.

Silence lets out a short sigh and pats Nycho's shoulder. The two step out onto the Firehouse steps, looking at the small crowd of people in front of them. Silence looks deep in focus as he tries to sift through all the questioning thoughts being thrown at them.

Nycho: We understand you all have some questions! Let's start with-
Silence: She's not one of us, she was not invited to Earth, we have every reason to believe she intends to help us. No, Unten was not "secretly one of hers all along". We have a wounded person inside and need to leave quickly. Yes, that is the actual Vindozz.

The reporters grow quiet, confused about how exactly to parse Silence's flurry of answers. Vicky Victorious raises her hand.

Vicky Victorious: Channel 17, Vicky Victorious. Do you-
Silence: No comment. Thank you for being so polite, everyone. We very much appreciate it. Now, if you could clear a path to the vehicle...

Several reporters step to the side, getting pictures and live footage as Silence and Nycho walk to the Svarnaseie.

Nycho: Good work, man!
Silence: I do my best.

As The Enemy helps The Fan down the steps, he scowls. Vicky Victorious waves to them as the Channel 17 cameraman turns to her.

Vicky Victorious: Folks, if the sky looks empty tonight, it's because all the stars are here and they're partnering up with their worst enemy. I'm going to see if we can get an official comment...

Vicky waves to The Enemy more as he walks down towards the Svarnaseie, The Fan hobbling alongside him. She taps his shoulder as he approaches and he keeps walking by, slowly enough to stay on camera.

Vicky Victorious: You there, with the injured alien! Do you have anything to say about this situation?
The Enemy: You are all in mortal danger. Make peace with yourselves and if Earth is still standing tomorrow, don't dare let this be ignored.

Vicky lowers her microphone dejectedly and motions for the camera to focus back on her. Unten slips by her, looking at how shocked she looks and then looking at The Enemy and frowning a little. As more people leave the Firehouse, Vicky clears her throat.

Vicky Victorious: from downtown Seattle, this is Vicky Victorious and you're watching Channel 17. We'll now return to your regularly scheduled programming...

The Threat turns on a set of lights that run along the floor of the Svarnaseie's main room; a converted version of Svarga's throne room with the throne at the center of the controls for her "ship". Volt looks around uncomfortably, bumping into Strafe as they board and laughing nervously.

The Threat: This is the main control center for the Svarnaseie. There's a reception room behind us and that splits off into a kitchen and a bedroom... all the medical stuff's in the back, in what used to be the Top 10's meeting room.
Unten: Guess you've really cut together a nice little home space...

The Threat rolls her eyes and crosses her arms.

The Threat: I keep telling you all I'm not an idiot. What did you assume I was going to do? Go shrivel up in a corner?
Unten: Right. That's my bad, I guess.
The Threat: No harm done, Unten. You've been fed a lot of lies... even now that you're not working for them, that kind of experience really shapes a person. You have a lot to learn...

Unten looks a little unsettled but nods. The Threat sits down at the Svarnaseie's throne and grips the armrests, which slide forward and lock into place. The entire front wall of the ship lights up and does a quick scan, displaying a purple wireframe version of the Seattle street in front of them.

The Threat: Get situated wherever you like. Feel free to raid the kitchen. If you see anything really fancy... no, you can't use it or eat it or try it or whatever you're thinking.

The Enemy is quick to take The Fan into the reception room and back towards the impromptu surgery room, X-Ray following and looking a little nervous with how angry he's getting. Zerita, Sia, and Mioda approach Unten and the four of them stand around in awkward silence for a second.

Sia: ...guess I could use a bite to eat.

Unten nods and the four head back towards the kitchen. While most of the crew disperses into the reception room, Nycho and Obena stick around and watch as The Threat slowly raises the ship just over the Seattle skyline. Volt leans against the back wall and grimaces nervously.

The Mistake hovers in low orbit over the small planetoid he's discovered. He's covered the top of Yggdrasil in tiny red dots of energy and is standing calmly and steadily with his arms in an X shape in front of him.

The Mistake: Center yourself. Focus. Don't sweat the big stuff. Right now, Derezzt, you just have to do something cool.

The red dots all shape into little red hedge cutters. The Mistake moves his arms like a pair of scissors and the hedge cutters move with him, trimming Yggdrasil clean. He laughs excitedly but covers his mouth when the hedge cutters start glitching out and burning some of the branches of the tree. He slams his hands together and the fires just freeze in place.

The Mistake: Baby steps! You've cleaned Yggdrasil. Now to see what's going on everywhere else...

The Mistake heads down and phases through Yggdrasil, heading down into its roots and placing his hands on two of them. His eyes seem to display what he sees in real time; Earth's Yggdrasil on one side, sitting calmly, and another looking over canyons covered in deep holes and trenches.

The Mistake: Looks okay... now to check the surroundings...

The Mistake's eyes move around on his face in accordance with how he's looking around in the spaces he sees. He sees nothing but deep fog on Earth, but sees a faint light on the canyon planet and grabs its corresponding root with both hands to get a better look.

The Mistake: There's someone visiting that hellhole? Can't let them come here and interrupt me.

The Mistake squints and zooms in on what he's seeing. Svarga looms over the desolate planet and he reflexively lets go of the root to grab his face in shock, his eyes snapping back into place like rubber bands.

The Mistake: That was Svarga. That was Svarga! This is all too sweet to be true...

The Mistake grins wide, energy crackling off of him.

The Mistake: ...two birds with one stone.

Sakeena lays across what used to be Vorplazz's desk in the reception room, metalbending her old nameplate into a fluid stream of metal to bounce between her hands. Denos and Logi mutter to each other in their own corner of the room while Strafe and Rachel pull seats up from the walls to sit closer to the center of the room.

Rachel: How long do you think we'll be up here?
Strafe: I don't know, depends on how fast we're moving. I'd rather get comfy now though, I figure it won't be a short ride.

Rachel nods and sits backwards in her seat, leaning against the back of it to rest a little. Sakeena sits up and cleans her glasses off using her hoodie, squinting at Denos and Logi as she puts them back on.

Sakeena: What's going on back there?

Denos looks at Sakeena. Logi snaps his fingers to get his attention back but looks at Sakeena as well when Denos turns back towards him.

Logi: Business.
Denos: They'd be better judges than anyone else. Why not keep them in the loop?
Logi: Don't get their hopes up.
Strafe: Well, now you've got us all hooked into this conversation...

Denos gestures towards Strafe. Logi sighs and shakes his head around, taking a seat.

Logi: Isn't it a little weird that X-Ray's got all these sources on... speculative dimensional whatever the hell it is?
Rachel: Are you implying she's not on the up and up...?
Logi: I'm implying that... well, there's only so many people who might have that kind of firsthand experience.
Strafe: Whoever made Derezzt?
Logi: That was ages ago. Think smaller.
Denos: Stop beating around the bush, you're only going to make it worse.

Logi sighs louder and grips his own head a little. He inhales sharply and closes his eyes, doing a lot of gestures to punctuate himself as he talks.

Logi: What medical professional do we all know that might currently be in another dimension?
Strafe: ...couldn't be.
Rachel: How would she contact anyone?
Sakeena: I could almost buy that, but... no. Something feels off.
Logi: It's just my two cents. You heard The Enemy. He didn't have to think much about this kind of care before now. You could probably count any likely suspects just on your hands.
"Strafe': Even if it was her... what do we do with that information? She's not the same Leah who went in. Telling anyone would just be... I don't know. I feel like nobody's ready to open that wound back up. Us, X-Ray, maybe even her.
Rachel: When Sarah went in, she was scared of what she'd think of us... doesn't she deserve a chance to see now?
Denos: Let's stay calm. There's a real chance it still wasn't her. Just... keep it in the back of your heads, please. I didn't mean to alarm anyone, but you deserve to know this kind of thing.

Strafe and Rachel nod. Sakeena goes back to doing some metalbending, looking up at the ceiling. Denos clears his throat and looks at Logi.

Denos: I could use some water.

Logi nods and gets up, the two heading to the kitchen. Strafe and Rachel both look at Sakeena, expecting some reaction. She looks at them and exhales.

Sakeena: I'm thinking on it. Give me a minute.

Rachel and Strafe both chuckle nervously, trying to play it off. They look at each other and Strafe rubs up his forehead, pushing his hair up as he tries to process what they've been told.

Amadea gathers along with several copies of herself in the observation deck of Svarga, looking down at the barren, rocky planet below them. They all seem to perk up at the sight of a relatively small and frail Yggdrasil tree below them as one spots it and grins.

Amadea and copies: Found it!

Copies of Amadea at Svarga's controls bring the huge structure down closer to the planet's surface slowly. Amadea crosses her four arms and smiles smugly.

Amadea: You're going to regret the day you created your Holy Choir, Vindi...

Unten politely shuffles to the side as Logi and Denos enter the kitchen. Sia is seated at a counter eating a strange pale red slab of dehydrated food with her hands like a sandwich. Mioda looks on, clearly disgusted.

Mioda: What kind of food does she even keep on here?
Sia: Nah, nah, it's good... it tastes just like salsa. Except it's kind of got a marshmallow texture? Whatever it is, it's good.

Sia laughs as Mioda just tries to look away. Zerita glances over at Unten and clears her throat.

Zerita: So.
Unten: He didn't take the offer. That's something, right?
Zerita: Didn't not take the offer either, per say.
Sia: It's kind of weirdly nice having some answers about it though, right? We know where Netnu's standing.
Mioda: And where he's standing is dangerous for all of us.
Zerita: We clearly can't count on him. But we can't just tear him down, right? He's... still one of us. I think.
Unten: We've never really had to cut someone out like that, huh... it's always death or just plain distance. Kiva's still out there, PalmMan's still out there, Sarah is... a whole different thing...?

Logi and Denos glance at each other awkwardly and nod silently, not saying anything to Unten about what they think.

Unten: ...we do what we can where we can. If we see him, we try, but if he really wants to go off on his own, that's his call. As for us? I mean, I guess we just have to show him we know what we're doing too.
Zerita: Sounds good to me, chief.

Unten smiles nervously, feeling the meaning behind Zerita's choice of words and clearly a little stressed by it. Mioda smiles and nods.

X-Ray has The Fan laid out over a long table in what was once the meeting space of The Threat's Top 10, wearing a surgical mask and gloves and looking through boxes of various alien organs kept on ice by Vindozz. Quartz and Rubelline sit towards the back of the room, both also wearing surgical masks.

Quartz: Are you sure this doesn't make you feel all squeamish?
Rubelline: Family of vampires? Ring any bells? Besides, somebody's gotta stay and watch...
Quartz: Right. Well, I sure don't like it.
Rubelline: Why are you back here, then?
Quartz: Probably the farthest I can get from her.
Rubelline: Her...? Oh, you mean The Threat.

Quartz rolls her eyes and leans back against the wall.

Rubelline: Ah, sorry...
Quartz: It's fine.
Rubelline: I'm sorry if me voting to come aboard was a problem for you or anything, it's just... I don't know. I figured she couldn't do much to us anymore.
Quartz: It's really fine. Whatever gets us to where we need to be. As long as I don't have to see her.

Rubelline twiddles her thumbs a little. X-Ray sets a purple heart in The Fan's chest and starts stitching together arteries.

X-Ray: Have you two ever heard of the Osteopathic Oath?
Quartz: No... do I need to know to help?
X-Ray: Oh, no, no, it's not urgent. It's just something I think might help you out.
Quartz: ...continue.
X-Ray: It's... well, legally you don't have to take it, but it's a little summary of the abiding guidelines of being a doctor. Help people no matter what, maintain patient confidentiality, generally act in good faith.
Quartz: I don't think that's how The Threat operates.
X-Ray: What I'm trying to say is it's how we need to operate. These people have put us through terrible things, but in some way or another, we're all in the line of helping people.
Quartz: ...I'm sorry, but I can't just... put away everything that happened. She pit all of us against each other... the second we slipped or stopped being useful? We were already as good as dead, whether that was by execution or just being left behind.
X-Ray: Maybe it'd help if you think of it this way. Let's say a murderer ends up on my operating table. Do I let him die, or do I keep him alive so someone can actually judge him?

Quartz looks down at her feet in thought. Rubelline bites her own tongue as she tries to think of a good answer.

Rubelline: That's... tough, huh.
Quartz and X-Ray: That's how it is...

Quartz pauses and laughs a little to herself.

Quartz: Not really sure if that helped, but... hey, it's food for thought.

X-Ray nods, not looking up from her work. Quartz pulls off her surgical mask and heads out of the makeshift operating room, Rubelline sitting back down and doing some weighing gestures with her hands a little as she keeps thinking about the problem.

As Nycho and Obena sit close to the front of the Svarnaseie, looking out over a wireframe landscape, Volt stands around in the back of the room behind The Threat's control console. The Threat looks up from the controls and rolls her eyes, laughing a little.

The Threat: C'mon, liven up a little. It's not gonna kill you to be here.
Volt: Excuse me for not loving this situation.

Nycho looks over his shoulder and nudges Obena a little.

Nycho (whispering): Let's just stay right here and pretend we can't hear them, I guess...
The Threat: It's really adorable the way you're trying to make this about you, blue, but I'm doing this because it's what's good for everyone.
Volt: You could have come and apologized whenever you wanted after the war ended, then...
The Threat: Are you kidding me? Even if I found something to apologize for, I'd be shot out of the sky in a second if I didn't have you all onboard.

Volt grips his own head and groans frustratedly. The Threat snickers.

The Threat: You know, I'll give you this, you're not entirely wrong... I do stand to gain from this arrangement.
Volt: In what way?
The Threat: An old ex of mine has taken over Svarga in my absence. Holy Choir. She's got her own personal hivemind, so I'm outnumbered. I was hoping while we were on our way back home, you all could help me take care of that little problem...
Volt: So now we're a bunch of bodyguards for you to go fight your ex with. Hasn't living descended given you any perspective on any of this? Hell, why are you even telling me this?
The Threat: I'm doing what you asked. I'm being honest about my intentions. Besides, watching you get all worked up like this never gets old...

Volt throws his hands up and starts heading away. The Threat looks towards the front of the room.

The Threat: Pinky. Bedhead. What do you think? Is he being unreasonable about all this or what?

Nycho flinches as he realizes The Threat has not forgotten their presence in the room.

As he looks over the bare branches of Yggdrasil, The Mistake smiles proudly.

The Mistake: Everything's all set. You just have to...

The Mistake looks at his own hands, turning them around a little. He clutches them in fists and laughs sinisterly to himself, looking reluctant but grinning devilishly.

The Mistake: You just have to do the damn thing, don't you, Derezzt? Not like you can go back.

The Mistake takes in a very deep breath, the small planet's winds seeming to whip up with him. As he exhales, his breath forms a thin red fog that sweeps out over the landscape, burning the grass and trees before him into a white-hot glow.

The Mistake: And you don't need to go back. They never cared. Nothing would have impressed them.

Another deep breath and long exhale. The Mistake puts his hands down and splays them out, starting to gather the fires below him into a swirling mass around himself. He twitches within the fireball, his expression glitching into grimaces of pain or enraged scowls before returning to a meditative calm.

The Mistake: Set it aside. Just... set it... aside. Please.

The Mistake opens his eyes and lets the fireball he's created drift off of himself. He examines it and shakes his head.

The Mistake: You can do better than that, Derezzt...

Back in the reception room, Unten and Zerita are watching Hybrid IV demonstrate her Mejiora. Volt sits around in a corner, waiting for someone to talk to him.

Hybrid IV: It comes a lot easier once you've done it the first time... it's all about what you think you can do, so once it's been done, sky's the limit.
Zerita: Right, but how do you tap into it? I don't know how to channel that kind of thing without breaking it off from myself...
Unten: I've actually gotten the hang of it while I meditate... any big movement and it fizzles out, though.
Hybrid IV: Look at you, picking it up fast!
Zerita: What's the trick to it?
Unten: It's... I'm not sure. It takes a lot out of me. A lot of it's about thinking in broad strokes... I mean, there's a lot I've done wrong, but people still care about me. I think.
Zerita: Of course we do, man!

Unten smiles. Volt coughs a little. Obena steps in.

Obena: Where's Silence? We're somewhere over his home... thought he'd think that was neat, heh.
Unten: Kitchen, I think.

Obena nods and heads into the kitchen. Volt groans.

Zerita: What's the problem?
Volt: Look, it's... Vindi told me she's hoping we can deal with something for her. The Threat. The Threat told me that.
Unten: Like... just now...? Or were you just holding onto that one?
Zerita: Being up here's making you real weird, dude.
Volt: And it's not making you weird?
Unten: I mean, I get it, I guess, but it's where we're at right now. Things are already so up in the air. I don't even really know what we do after The Fan's patched up.
Hybrid IV: Take the fight to Derezzt...
Unten: I'm not so sure there needs to be a fight...
Volt: Last time we were here - you know, in that room literally one wall away from me? That didn't go so well. And before that, I... it's not important, I guess...
Unten: Volt, as someone who's suffered from sleep deprivation recently, maybe go take a nap or something.

Volt sighs and heads into the Svarnaseie's bedroom. Unten exhales and hangs his head.

Zerita: Not actually so cool with things, huh.
Unten (whispering): This place is a powderkeg of tensions. We're on our old worst nightmare's ship - thanks to a pretty split vote - Quartz and Volt both still hate her guts, we've got injured people, I can't even think too hard about Netnu without getting a stomachache-
Zerita: One step at a time. What problem do you think you can deal with right now?
Unten: ...maybe the vote. Figure out where people are coming from.
Zerita: See? That's something.

Unten nods, patting his own face to psyche himself up.

Unten: Thanks, sis.
Zerita: Don't mention it.

Unten gets up, heading to the kitchen. Zerita turns back towards Hybrid IV.

Zerita: Keep the Mejiora up, I'm figuring this damn thing out...

Holy Choir sits aboard Svarga, legs crossed with two hands supporting her head. She taps her foot against the ground and rolls her eyes as she looks over Yggdrasil, which the structure is now floating directly over.

Holy Choir: It'd be nice if one of these came with instructions or something...

Holy Choir yawns and closes her eyes. A copy of herself down of the surface of the planet blinks a little as she shifts her "main" focus into it, looking up at Yggdrasil from a low angle as a few more copies climb the relatively smaller world tree.

Holy Choir: Maybe there's something underneath?

Holy Choir rubs her chin and tilts her head. Suddenly, her eyes black out and all of her bodies on the tree fall over. She refocuses herself in a body deep within the mechanical workings of Svarga and hits a few buttons, spinning up a small laser cannon that begins carving out a circle around the tree slowly and precisely, burning her spare bodies to a crisp. She stands up and walks away, tapping another copy on the shoulder and pointing to the cannon controls. The copy nods and the "main" Holy Choir keeps walking, heading up a rickety staircase.

Holy Choir: Shame she decided to take the long way around... no skin off my back, I suppose.

The Threat sits back in her old throne, trying to rest her eyes as the Svarnaseie moves steadily across its straight diagonal path towards the Bermuda Triangle. Rubelline enters the room and clears her throat, holding her hands behind her back.

Rubelline: Hello? Miss... The Threat?

The Threat rolls her eyes as she opens them slowly, grimacing. She gets up and stretches her shoulders before rubbing her head.

The Threat: What do you need?
Rubelline: X-Ray needs defibrillators and we're not quite sure if what she found in your supplies is one of those.

The Threat walks past Rubelline. As she goes through the reception room, Zerita and Hybrid IV both take steps back to clear her path, Sakeena barely glancing away from her notebook. Rubelline waves sheepishly to everyone as she and The Threat walk back into their makeshift operation room.

The Threat: What are you looking at?

X-Ray turns around, holding up a large device shaped like a ribcage with coils running along the underside. The Threat groans and steps in, putting the device over The Fan's chest herself and turning a dial on it.

The Threat: This setting should do the trick.
X-Ray: Err... thank you, I guess. Please put some gloves on next time.
The Threat: Don't mention it. Not like he's making it off that table.

X-Ray looks at The Threat, squinting doubtfully. Rubelline keeps her hands behind her back, but channels Red Energy into them, keeping up a nervous smile.

X-Ray: Are you sabotaging my operation?
The Threat: Oh, perish the thought. I'd love to see you succeed. It'd make it a whole lot easier to sleep easy knowing mortals could fix something like us.

The Threat turns around and starts walking back, glancing at Rubelline's hands and smiling.

The Threat: Just don't get too attached to your patients. Not everyone makes it.

The Threat continues heading back, Rubelline shaking her hands around a little and letting the Red Energy dissipate. The defibrillator activates and X-Ray turns back to The Fan, watching as the machine briefly gets his implanted heart running.

X-Ray: Can you speak? How are you feeling?
The Fan: It's... I think maybe it's... helping... just a touch, though...
X-Ray: Right. Stay there, just take deep breaths, don't strain anything...

X-Ray turns around to look through her tools frantically. While her back is turned, The Fan starts coughing loudly, his transplanted heart glossing over with an iridescent sheen as it stops beating. X-Ray exhales through her nose angrily as she turns back around, getting a fresh pair of gloves.

Chapter 12: Fly Blind

Unten enters the Svarnaseie's kitchen, pulling up a seat by the counter. Silence is using his telekinesis to sort through the various marshmallowy "patties" of food The Threat has stored up while Obena and Sakeena watch, waiting for something to eat.

Silence: We've got chocolate, double chocolate, blueberry, Mana fruit, sweet potato...
Sakeena: What the hell kind of life is Vindozz living that she has all these?
Obena: Nycho's shown me a loaded potato, like, with bacon. Is a sweet potato like that?
Silence: Not even a little.
Obena: Eh, I'll try it anyway.

Obena takes one of the slabs of marshmallowy food and pulls a tiny chunk off, popping it into her mouth. Sakeena sits down next to Unten.

Sakeena: You up to eating one of those?
Unten: Hah... no.
Sakeena: Good, me either. Just looks gross...

Sakeena yawns a little. Unten looks at her and clears his throat.

Unten: There was something I wanted to talk about, if you have a minute.
Sakeena: We've got nothing but minutes up here. Shoot.
Unten: When we were deciding about, y'know, whether we'd be up here... you jumped to a yes pretty fast, especially given you got some of the worst treatment from her, getting taken and all.
Sakeena: Yeah, I guess that probably did look weird, huh?

Sakeena pauses. Unten nods after realizing she's waiting for a reply.

Sakeena: The way I see it... everyone's all "oh, she can't hurt us" now, right? That's not true. She's the one driving this thing. She could just turn it off and let us crash.
Unten: I'm not sure this is tracking as a "yes" vote so far.
Sakeena: Everyone else wants to tell themselves they're not scared, or... maybe "shouldn't be scared" is a better phrasing. I think it's healthier for me to admit maybe I don't like this and tackle it head-on than live the rest of my life squirming over the thought of this place.
Unten: Huh. Hadn't really thought about it like that.
Sakeena: Yeah, I don't blame you. I know that sounds dramatic and all, but I'm also not even really sure she wants to hurt us, I mean...

Sakeena picks up one of the marshmallow slabs and flops it around in her hand.

Sakeena: Look at this. This isn't the food of some high and mighty goddess. She probably really does feel safer having us around.

Unten nods. Obena pokes her head in between them, patting Sakeena's back.

Obena: I'm glad you're feeling good about this, Sakeena! That's really great that you're dealing with that fear.
Sakeena: Oh, uh, thank you...
Obena: We should probably touch bases with everyone on this kind of stuff, right, Unten? Get an idea of who's feeling what.

Unten rolls his eyes.

Unten: Yeah, hadn't thought of that...
Obena: Well, let's ask around.

Unten grumbles quietly as he gets up. Obena looks at Silence, who's looking through the fridge at various unlabeled steel thermoses.

Obena: You're pretty wise, Silence. What's your hot take on all of this?
Silence: Don't really have one. I don't have any skin in the game on either side; The Fan and The Threat both hurt my friends, not me. I'm just here making sure everyone's doing okay under that pressure.
Obena: Valid!
Unten: Thanks again, Silence.
Silence: Least I can do.

Obena walks out of the room, Unten following along slowly. Silence pulls out two thermoses and opens them both, trying to discern a difference between the two nearly identical pink liquids.

Sakeena: What's it look like?
Silence: Hm... Mana fruit juice, and... Mana fruit wine.
Sakeena: One juice then, please.

Volt lays restlessly in the Svarnaseie's bed, hands folded over his chest as though he's in a coffin. The Enemy is slumped over leaning on the foot of the bed, rocking from side to side nervously. The Threat steps in quietly and looks around, pretending to look shocked and gasping.

The Threat: I knew you had a type, but in my own bedroom, you two-timing...!

Volt looks up at the ceiling, clearly unamused. The Threat shakes her head and frowns as she walks to one of the bedside tables.

The Threat: None of you seem to appreciate the effort I'm putting in.
Volt: Maybe because it's not funny.

The Threat digs through a drawer and pulls out a small handheld device resembling a joystick with a glass ball for a tip. She presses a button on the base and the ball displays a hologram of Earth around it.

The Threat: Whatever, stay in here. You're no fun anymore anyways.

The Threat walks away, fiddling with the joystick as she does. The Enemy glances to make sure she's out of the room.

The Enemy: The two of you have an awfully curious relationship.
Volt: Nothing curious about it. I cared, she didn't.
The Enemy: You never seemed to leverage any of the tactical advantages granted to you. A direct line of communication with The Threat, let alone access to Svarga? We would have done anything for that kind of capability.
Volt: I feel like the record book shows I was probably in the right to not tell you two...

The Enemy stretches his legs. He smirks a little, unbeknownst to Volt, who rolls over onto his side.

The Enemy: That scarf of yours. Galvan Artifact. Looks to be a Chargio relic, from the runes.
Volt: Don't know what that has to do with anything.
The Enemy: You've found yourself back here, in the company of The Threat, at her lowest point. She's scorned you once before. You have the power this time...

Volt shakes his head, sitting up and starting to break into a laughing fit. The Enemy looks confused.

Volt: Your brother might be dying in the other room, and you're in here, actually trying to sell me on the idea of killing The Threat?
The Enemy: Ah, but I never said kill... what dark corners lie in wait in that mind of yours, Volt?

Volt laughs even more.

Volt: You're so bad at this!

The Enemy scowls and slumps against the bed further. Volt looks down at him off the edge of the bed.

Volt: I get it. This is weird. You're probably not at the top of your game. But you're not convincing me to carry out your weird grudge match.
The Enemy: Fine then. Be foolish. Don't take your opportunity.

Volt nods. Obena pokes her head into the bedroom.

Obena: Svarnaseie census! Why didn't you vote either way, Volt?
Volt: Because it's a complicated issue for me and I don't want my needs to supersede that of the greater good?
The Enemy: Forget it. He's a hopeless romantic. Won't even think about fighting back...
Volt: Okay, so you're saying the two possible states of being are "ready to kill" and "head over heels"?

Obena backs away awkwardly to avoid the quiet tension in the room.

One of Holy Choir's bodies drops down into the hollowed out cave beneath Yggdrasil. In her four hands she carries a flashlight and one of The Threat's old scepters, looking around at the gnarled roots of the tree.

Holy Choir: Jackpot.

Holy Choir smiles to herself and uses her one free hand to pump her fist a little. She walks up to the roots and spins the scepter around a little before tapping it against one root. This creates a small swirling mass of mist through which she can see floating islands stretching downwards and towards the horizon.

Holy Choir: Hm. Not Earth. Maybe this one.

Holy Choir taps another root. Wherever the portal may lead to, it's pitch black night. She rolls her eyes and walks around the roots.

Holy Choir: There's only eight places it could be. Just gotta feel it out.

Holy Choir sees two roots next to each other and exhales. She points the scepter at both while trying to decide, but eventually closes her eyes and thrusts the scepter blindly. A rush of fiery hot air hits her and she shields herself with her hands, peeking through her fingers to see a silhouetted figure in front of what appears to be a miniature star. She taps the root again and the portal dissipates as she catches her breath a little.

Holy Choir: Not Earth... but something.

Holy Choir heads back to where she dropped in and holds the scepter up in the air. Several of her copies grab onto it and pass it from hand to hand in perfect synchronization up through the carved out caves beneath Yggdrasil. As the "original" rubs the back of her hand along her still warmed cheek, she shivers and growls.

Holy Choir: This trip just got a whole lot more interesting...

Unten and Obena walk into the front room of the Svarnaseie, where Strafe and Rachel have sat down, one of Rachel's shielding gauntlets taken off and set to the side as a small table for them. Unten approaches them, but The Threat crosses his path and hands him the joystick she's been carrying around, folding her arms and smiling a little.

The Threat: Unten. You're a smart guy. I believe I can trust you with this responsibility as a peace offering?
Unten: I don't know what this is.
The Threat: It's... hold on, just hand it back to me for a second.

The Threat pulls the joystick out of Unten's hand roughly. She taps a button and once again, a holographic display of Earth appears on top of the device.

The Threat: This controls the flare cannons on the Svarnaseie. We're going to be flying blind through Distortion Mist. We need to keep track of where we've already been.
Unten: Oh. Uh... sure, I can handle that.
The Threat: Yeah, and you're going to. That's why I'm giving you this, dummy. Thanks in advance.

The Threat drops the joystick back in Unten's hands and he fiddles with it a little. As The Threat walks back to her throne, he sees Obena has already sat down with Rachel and Strafe. Unten rolls his eyes and walks up to them mid-conversation.

Rachel:'s not about whether or not she can hurt us, it's about what people are going to think when they see us getting on this ship.
Strafe: The way I see it, Derezzt is a pretty immediate danger. I'd rather have to do some dirty work than wait around for some kind of simple solution.
Obena: Interesting perspectives...
Unten: I hadn't thought too much about the public perception part of this yet, actually.
Rachel: Things are already getting weird, right? As far as everyone down there is concerned, we're-

Rachel pauses. She grits her teeth a little as she reaches into her coat pockets and frantically pulls her phone out, groaning anxiously and hanging her head back as she sees she has no connection aboard the Svarnaseie.

Rachel: God, Bang's probably going to be furious with me, huh?
Strafe: Hey, you voted no. I can't speak for all us yes votes, but I know at least I'm willing to take some heat for this if it gets bad.

Rachel nods and sets her phone on top of her shielding gauntlet, wrapping her arms around her knees as she looks out at the wireframe landscape in front of the Svarnaseie. The ship's already approaching the eastern coast, a wireframe ocean visible distantly on the horizon.

Rachel: At least we're making good progress.

Obena nods. Unten sits down with them and puts the joystick aside for a moment, trying to appreciate the view.

Logia looks out on the open water from the deck of the Operatives' airborne mobile headquarters, which has been tethered to a F.A.N.T installation in Cape Canaveral, Florida by several metal cords. Blank and Eric Sinn are present through two screens tall enough to portray them from head to toe. Logia takes a long sip of coffee and puts his coat on the back of a chair before sitting down.

Logia: They'll be out of the country in the next hour. With all due respect, we can't just not say anything.
Sinn: Given what we know about the situation, we're putting a lot of trust in these people's judgment. Saying anything about any of this is going to be a minefield.

Blank paces around in her workspace in New York; her screen moves along with her on a robotic arm.

Blank: This whole thing's gone sideways, maybe even more than the December incident. At least then, everyone knew who was on what side...
Logia: They're on a trajectory towards the Bermuda Triangle. Are we sure we've gone over every file we have on what's in there...?
Blank: Yes, honey, I've triple-checked everything about how Amelia fuckin' Earhart is running some kind of island cult in the Bermuda Triangle. I don't know what else there is to learn there.

Logia nods. He looks back out at the ocean just in time to see Zane swoop by before hearing him land somewhere above him.

Sinn: Operatives, maintain your position and be ready to pursue if you need to. I'll see if there's anything more I can do to ease the public, but there's only so many options.

Sinn taps the side of his sunglasses and his screen turns black, retracting up into the ceiling. Blank sits down on the floor of her workspace and looks at Logia.

Blank: I don't know what's worse, all this doom and gloom shit or the red tape.
Logia: If anything really bad happens - like, "duck and cover, tell the kids you love 'em" bad? I'm not against just taking this whole damn base up to New York to see you.

Blank laughs a little and rests her head in one hand.

Blank: That's real nice of you.

Unten and Obena sit in the reception room with Nycho, who is rolling back and forth in Vorplazz's office chair.

Nycho: Mighty cool of you to put your fingers to the pulse of how people are feeling about this whole thing.

Unten looks down at his stubby hands. Obena grins and nods at Nycho.

Obena: It's diplomacy 101! Just check the vibe of the room and figure out the compromise yourself.
Nycho: Personally, I'm all about this. Did you know where The Threat was this morning? No, you didn't. She could have been anywhere. Watching. Waiting.
Unten: Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Logi steps out of the front room, holding two slabs of dehydrated food. The Threat stands behind him, looking back over her shoulder and counting down on her fingers. When she hits zero, she clenches her fist and Logi lights both slabs of food ablaze with his energy.

Logi: We're officially over water, folks! Smooth sailing from here.
The Threat: Hey, don't burn those...

Logi turns his energy off and The Threat takes one of the charred slabs. Unten grabs the joystick The Threat gave him off the desk in front of him and activates it, moving the stick around.

Unten: Lining up our first marker now...
The Threat: Be careful, we've only got a few.

Unten nods. He gets the flare's reticule lined up behind the ship along the coast. With a nervous smile, he launches the flare, closing his eyes and exhaling for a moment.

Joystick OS: Invasive unit launched.

Unten opens his eyes in shock and reflexively tosses the joystick across the room. He conjures Aura up around his hands and holds them up defensively while Nycho spins the office chair around to use as cover. Logi tries not to make any sudden movements, seeing as he's standing right next to The Threat.

Unten: What did you do?
The Threat: Oh, relax, it's a holdover from the old systems... I took all the troops out and stuffed it full of tracking garbage or whatever.
Unten: And how do I know you're not lying?
The Threat: Check the map. Should be on there.
Unten: That doesn't mean you didn't put anything dangerous in those.
The Threat: You want visual proof? You want me to stop the whole damn ship and let you get a real good look at the flare, Unten? Would that make you happy?

Obena raises her hands up.

Obena: What if... hear me out. We all take a nice tour of where the flares are stored?

The Threat narrows her eyes in thought and takes a big bite of her charred food.

The Threat (voice muffled by food): ...if that'll shut him up, sure.
Unten: That'd be good enough for me, I guess.

The Threat taps in a long sequence on the door panel with her free hand and a third branch of the short hall between rooms opens up. Unten follows her in while Logi takes a long, relieved sigh and blinks a lot.

Obena: Diplomacy 101! Hell yeah!

Obena dabs while speedwalking to head into the hall. Nycho follows behind her.

X-Ray stands over the operating table, taking heavy breaths as she looks down at her work. She's rearranged some more organs in The Fan's torso and placed a pacemaker inside.

X-Ray: Defibrillator.

Rubelline hands X-Ray the large defibrillator, which she sets over The Fan's chest and dials up slightly. The Fan inhales sharply as his body seems to accept the new organs, healing rapidly.

The Fan: Whatever you just did, that's doing it.
X-Ray: Good, good. Please stay calm for just one moment...

The Fan nods, but seems to fidget around a lot in place, moving his fingers. X-Ray removes the defibrillator and sees how rapidly the new organs are coming into place, looking somewhat concerned.

X-Ray: Are you feeling any excessive adrenaline rush?
The Fan: I mean, of course, you're saving my life. I'm feeling great, all things considered. In fact...

The Fan gently sits up and keeps himself propped up for a moment before thudding back down harshly. X-Ray examines his wound again; the organs are entangled and once again starting to turn into an almost crystalline substance, the pacemaker sparking a little. X-Ray grabs the pacemaker and panickedly pulls it out, her rubber gloves getting a little burnt up.

X-Ray: Scalpel. Now.

Rubelline hyperventilates a little as she runs her hands through X-Ray's tool and hands her a scalpel. The blade bends when pressed against the hardened, iridescent organs inside The Fan's wound.

X-Ray: Do we have anything that could cut through this?
Rubelline: I... I don't know... I don't know what any of these do...
X-Ray: I'll take a look. You keep an eye on the patient.

Rubelline nods and she and X-Ray switch places. As she looks at The Fan, she closes her eyes tightly and groans.

Rubelline: Disinfectant, please?

X-Ray hands Rubelline the disinfectant, tilting her head after a moment.

X-Ray: What for?
Rubelline: I think I have something that can cut through that...
X-Ray: ...proceed...

Rubelline pours some disinfectant on her hand and cleans it thoroughly before channeling some Red Energy, the sanitizer sizzling off of her. She takes a deep breath and gently uses two fingers to cut around the edges of The Fan's crystallized organs, pulling the whole cluster out gently and loosely dropping it to the side.

X-Ray: Thank you, Rubelline. What to try next, then...

Holy Choir sits in her observation deck, surrounding by copies of herself playing some quiet ambient jazz. She looks down at Yggdrasil, which has begun glowing with energy as her bodies on the ground further excavate it and tap into its portal systems.

Holy Choir: Hm... how to best introduce myself...

Holy Choir snaps her fingers twice. Two copies of her talk in turns.

Holy Choir (through bass guitar copy): My name is Holy Choir, I come in peace.
Holy Choir (through saxophone copy): My name is Amadea. I'm looking to hunt down The Threat.

The main Holy Choir squints and rubs her chin.

Holy Choir: I am Amadea, the Holy Choir... I mean you no harm.

Holy Choir nods to herself, her copies giving herself thumbs ups before returning to their music.

Unten, Obena, and Nycho follow The Threat through a maintenance tunnel in the Svarnaseie; a long hall that lacks the noise cancellation of the ship's usual interior, the whole room filled with loud machinery and the sounds of wind whipping around the vessel. The Threat turns a corner and Unten cautiously peeks around before following.

The Threat: Y'know, this whole thing is emblematic of the issues you all seem to have with me. I was willing to set aside whatever grudges we had, but no, there's no way someone like me could do that... not to you all, at least.
Unten: Can you really blame me for this one?
The Threat: I suppose not. Come on, we're almost there.

The Threat opens a door to a long, cramped staircase leading further down into the Svarnaseie. Obena bumps into Unten's back as he waits at the top.

Obena: What's going on, Unten?
Unten: She's leading us away from the rest of the group... just... be careful, alright?
Obena: It's going to be fine... I'll keep an eye out if it's really bothering you that much, though.

Unten nods and heads down the stairs, barely seeing The Threat below them through the various grates and bars of the maintenance tunnel. Obena stays close to Nycho, keeping a hand on her sword, Sovereign.

Obena: Now, Nycho, if things get rough down here, you will...?
Nycho: Do a cool stunt roll out of trouble.
Obena: And go get everyone else.

Nycho nods. Unten reaches the bottom of the staircase, where wind is blowing up from the floor wildly as he and The Threat stand over the "flare cannon" on the bottom of the ship.

The Threat: Let me get this thing open. Gimme a second.

Unten folds his arms as The Threat tries to pull a panel open on the cannon's loading mechanism, grunting and digging her feet in. After a few tries, Unten steps forward and pulls Imperium out, compacting it to around the size of a screwdriver.

Unten: Let me try.
The Threat: It's fine. I've got it. Don't.

The Threat keeps trying and manages to knock the panel loose by striking it with her elbow. She pulls it off and inside of the mechanism is an old pod built for carrying her troops, emptied out inside and with several pieces missing on the exterior too.

The Threat: There. See?
Unten: ...yes, I see.
The Threat: Apologize. I had to step away from the controls for this little detour.

Unten puts Imperium back in his coat and looks down.

Unten: I'm sorry for assuming you still had some ulterior motive.
The Threat: There. Don't you think we can get along much better now that this whole little ordeal is behind us?

Unten doesn't respond, just heading back up the steps. Obena and Nycho cross paths with him as he goes up. Obena smiles and takes her hand off Sovereign's hilt.

Obena (yelling up to Unten): See?! Told you it was all cool!
Unten: Yes, thank you, Obena.

The Threat laughs as she heads back up the stairs, patting Obena's head.

Rachel, Sakeena, and Logi sit near the front of the ship, where the wireframe landscape has become much simpler due to open water surrounding the Svarnaseie. Out on the horizon is simply static.

Logi: We're hitting Distortion Mist soon, huh... we should probably start think about what we do once The Fan's all patched up.
Sakeena: I'd assume we find Derezzt and try... I dunno. Hitting him harder. There has to be someone who can put him in check.
Logi: Working with your whole team's preferences in mind? Maybe not. I mean, Denos seemed to think all my ideas weren't going to make things any better...
The Threat: Status update? I missed out on a bit because of Unten...
Logi: We'll be in the Mist soon.
The Threat: Excellent. Thanks for the tip, short stuff...
Logi: Ah, don't try, you're not my type.

The Threat and Logi both laugh. Rachel and Sakeena seem a little weirded out.

Rachel: We were also discussing our next move... what might be able to counteract Derezzt, that kind of thing.
The Threat: Well, duh, you play to his weaknesses. He doesn't have a User Crystal. He can't cover everything at once like yours truly.
Sakeena: Wait, was that his weakness this whole time?
The Threat: Figures you wouldn't have put that together. He's unstable because he's pure creation with no filter to catch and store what he's making.
Logi: Interesting.
The Threat: You all don't seem like the type to go for the kill, though... still, corral him into a corner and he'll probably give up. He tried to kill me at my prime and look at me! Still here to tell you all this.

Sakeena rubs her chin. Logi heads out of the room, excitedly holding his own cloak.

Logi: Denos will be excited to hear we're making headway on this...

The Threat waves behind her without looking. She sets both hands on the controls and slowly turns the Svarnaseie's speed up as it heads into rolling clouds of Distortion Mist.

Unten sits upright but somewhat tightly curled up in his seat back in the reception room. Sia pats his shoulder while Obena sits on his other side, just trying to look polite and present.

Unten: I probably just set us back on this whole thing working, huh.
Sia: I wouldn't trust her either...
Unten: Grime changed. I put some trust in him. Why can't I just trust her?
Obena: If I might chime in...

Sia motions for Obena to stop without Unten seeing.

Obena: ... I hope you feel better soon, Unten.
Sia: If it makes you feel any better, I think we're moving along pretty fast. Now it's just up to X-Ray to get The Fan patched up and we're all good, no?

Unten nods. He grabs the joystick from under his seat and lines up another beacon slowly and carefully.

Unten: After that, it's... just back to Derezzt, and Netnu, and-
Sia: We're in what we're in right now. Don't overthink it.

Unten nods, tapping the button on the joystick. He stands up and adjusts his coat.

Unten: I think I'm going to go talk to Quartz for a bit, if you don't mind.
Sia: Go right ahead.

As Unten walks away, Obena looks at Sia, frowning.

Obena: I can help him too.
Sia: Right, right... I just... y'know... hah.

Sia squirms in her seat sheepishly.

Amelia Earhart stands in a secluded chamber of her temple, using a pair of long metal tongs to gather up grains of aging sands to pour into vials set in a metal rack dangling from the ceiling. As she pours the sand in carefully, something crashes through the temple ceiling and little specks of the aging sand scatter, covering Amelia's face in aged scars that quickly start to fade out slightly.

Amelia: What the...?

Amelia turns around to see one of The Threat's invasion pods, blinking with pink lights all over and embedding itself firmly in her temple's floor. She grabs a vial of sand and smashes it against the machine, rotting its metal and shutting it down.


Unten enters the Svarnaseie bedroom. Quartz has wrapped herself up in the bed's sheets. She looks at Unten and loosens her grip a little.

Unten: Rough time?
Quartz: Mhm. Kind of nice being here, though. Never got let into this side of the ship when I worked here.
Unten: Way to look on the bright side.

Quartz smiles a little. Unten sits down next to her.

Unten: I think I missed things up with The Threat.
Quartz: And that bothers you because...?
Unten: I don't know. I just... even you weren't always on my side. It feels weird as hell to push away someone literally trying to be on our side.
Quartz: The difference is I had to try to prove myself... she thinks showing up is enough. Don't beat yourself up for not trusting her, babe.
Unten: Right... everyone keeps saying we're making good progress, too. We should be in the Mist right now. Somewhere over one of those hidden landmasses, I think?
Quartz: Right, right...

Unten leans on Quartz and shakes his head, sighing. Something whips up a lot of noise behind them and they both turn to face the back wall. Denos and Logi rush in, Denos clutching the doorframe and Logi leaning over his shoulder.

Denos: We're being fired at!
Logi: It's that whole damn nation that's holed up in the Bermudas. The... Errhets? Arhalts?
Unten: The Earharts. And... they don't necessarily know those pods don't have something in them... so...

Unten groans and shuts his eyes tightly as he gets up.

Unten: I really should have thought of this, huh.
Quartz: No time to sweat that, babe. We need... damn, is there really anything we can do?
Denos: The best we can hope for is to speed the ship up and get out of range.

Quartz nods and grabs Unten by the arm, pulling him with her as she follows Denos and Logi out of the room and to the front deck. The Threat is feverishly working at the controls, trying to angle the ship out of the way of incoming cannonballs while staying on course.

The Threat: We can't get this thing out as is. I can try and land us somewhere in the Mist, but that doesn't guarantee we end up anywhere safer...

Rubelline runs into the room with her hands held over her head, looking very nervous.

Rubelline: X-Ray would l-like an update on why the ship's shaking?
The Threat: We're being shot at. Consider the operation a trial by fire.

Rubelline gulps and nods, heading back out. The wireframe display at the front lights up again as a biplane makes a dive towards the ship and fires along the top of it. The Threat growls and swerves the Svarnaseie so it's facing sideways, the thrusters tilting to match.

Denos: Logi. Who onboard do you think could keep powering the ship?
Logi: Uh... Zerita... Volt... maybe me...?
The Threat: Get them in here! Go!

Denos runs out of the room. The Threat turns a holographic dial on the controls and mechanical whirring comes from the room of the floor, a panel opening up into the ship's power grid, which is centralized around one large spinning prism with lights ricocheting around inside of it.

The Threat: Do whatever you're going to do. There should be ports along that engine...

Logi nods and scampers down into the machinery. He lights his hands up with energy and unplugs two long cables running into the engine, channeling his power into them in their place. The prism spins faster and The Threat grits her teeth with a slight grin.

The Threat: I'm going to put us on a random jump path. We better have enough power to sustain that in the next minute or two...
Unten: What happens if we don't...?
The Threat: Ship moves, we don't.
Quartz: And you're pinning this on a risk.

A Sentelenium cannonball pierces through the Svarnaseie onto the main deck, Quartz catching it with two hands and grunting. The Threat looks at her slyly and she drops the cannonball, crossing her arms. Zerita rushes past Denos into the room and plugs her mechanical arm into an engine port, tightening her face mask and closing her eyes.

Zerita: C'mon c'mon c'monnn...

Zerita's Aura lights up and pours into the engine. The Threat holds onto her armrests tightly and looks behind her at the group.

The Threat: We're getting there! Just keep it up!

Volt enters the main deck, rolling his head a little. In a very sudden jolt of electricity, he dives forward into one of the engine ports, visibly ricocheting around inside the prism. The wireframe display at the front of the ship lights up fully in purple, almost blindingly, and The Threat hits three more buttons in quick sequence. Unten, Quartz, and Denos are thrown back against the wall as the Svarnaseie begins warping forward, blowing away any Distortion Mist around it and leaving the surrounding Earhart pilots in tailspins.

The Mistake is sitting on the small planet's he's found, facing away from Yggdrasil. He's created an entire new sun in the sky, one close enough to scorch the planet's pale blue grass off. He tilts his head and squints.

The Mistake: Yeah, that'll do, right?

The Mistake floats up into the air, still in sitting position. He closes his eyes and folds his arms in front of him before stretching them out quickly. His body takes on a shiny, onyx-like appearance, but this new skin quickly "sheds", intersecting itself, unraveling and expanding. When it is done, The Mistake sits just as he was inside a massive organic fortress comprised from his own body, his colors returning to normal and his eyes letting off steam.

The Mistake: And now... gravity does the rest.

The Svarnaseie reappears back in an area deeply shrouded by Distortion Mist, looking much worse for wear, much of its outer panelling stripped away smoothly and exposing pieces underneath. Unten and Denos fall to their knees, but Quartz holds steady, digging her feet in and grunting.

Quartz: Where'd we end up?

The Threat sits up straight and exhales, her pupils shrunken in surprise.

The Threat: No idea. It was a random jump.

Volt bursts out of the engine, looking exhausted and almost immediately collapsing against a wall. Denos gets up and walks over to him, helping him up while Unten takes a look out of the hole left by the cannonball, coughing a little.

Unten: Nothing but mist out there. I can't even see the ground...

The ship's front display finally dims out. There's something very small on the horizon. The Threat practically jumps out of her seat and grins.

The Threat: We're not out of luck yet! Drop another flare.
Quartz: We can't travel in this.
The Threat: Then let's get out and hoof it.
Quartz: You're putting all of us in danger.
The Threat: No, you're right, let's get through the Distortion Mist on foot. It'll be fun figuring out if we're over land or water.

Quartz growls and puts her hands on her face, pulling down. She walks back into the reception room angrily and Unten slowly follows her, still a little woozy from the jump.

Quartz: Jumping us in atmosphere... damn fool...

Much of the group has gathered in the reception room, aside from X-Ray and Rubelline. Obena is standing near the center of the room with The Enemy.

Obena: It's all okay... we're out of the fight. We just have to figure out where we ended up, right?
The Enemy: She jumped the ship in atmosphere like some kind of damn fool!

Quartz briefly smiles before realizing who she's feeling vindicated by, shaking her head around.

The Enemy: In space, these things are built to move around with no resistance, but we just burned the hull off in a highly combustible mixture of oxygen and Distortion Mist. We'll be lucky to get a few more hours in the air.
Obena: We'll figure something out...

Obena looks away from The Enemy and whimpers nervously. Unten looks around the desk for the signal flare joystick and Sakeena taps his shoulder, Strafe handing the device to Unten when he turns around.

Sakeena: Doing okay?
Unten: I mean, okay enough.
Sakeena: Yes or no question, Unten...
Unten:, but also I'm going to keep going anyways, so functionally, yes.

Sakeena nods. Unten taps a button on the joystick and the Svarnaseie rocks a little from the recoil of launching a flare down. Unten turns on the joystick's hologram and looks around.

Unten: We're still on Earth... somewhere near one of the poles, maybe?
Strafe: Then we're still on some semblance of a track.

Unten nods and smiles a little. He sits down behind the reception desk and stretches back, exhaling through his gritted teeth.

Unten: Let's keep moving forward, then.

Chapter 13: Atmospheric

Holy Choir stands amidst the majorly excavated Yggdrasil tree she found, holding two scepters and twirling them a little as she stands in front of the world tree's roots. Svarga is closer than ever to the surface, even blowing away chunks of earth and whipping up sand.

Holy Choir: To gratify myself with a little speech... I think all of myselves will find that revenge on Vindozz is a dish best bought red hot and brought right to her door...

Holy Choir's extra bodies aboard Svarga all clap for her. She jokingly motions for them to stop and lines both scepters up with one root.

Holy Choir: Bon voyage, Svarga!

Holy Choir drives both scepters into the root, a blazing wave of heat scorching the area around her. Some kind of massive onyx structure has formed in her destination, becoming clearer as a swirling portal forms in front of Svarga. The Threat's former home slowly advances as the heat renders the already dry desert planet a cracked, barren wasteland.

Denos and Strafe are sitting across from each other on the floor of the reception room, where a shallow layer of Distortion Mist has flowed in, making it look like someone's running a fog machine.

Strafe: So. You've got cards. How do you do... y'know, the thing you do with them?
Denos: It's all just talent and practice.

Denos shuffles some cards over his head and catches them.

Denos: It's normal to want to make small talk in these tense situations. Care for a game? Blackjack, a round of non-lethal Sigma Prime Hold' Em, hell, maybe Go Fish?
Strafe: Eh, not feeling it...

Silence walks behind Strafe and sits down with him and Denos. He has his enchanted gardening glove out and is fiddling with it.

Silence: I'd offer to play, but I doubt you'd accept it when a telepath won.
Denos: Just as I'd doubt you accepting me beating a telepath.

Denos and Silence chuckle. Strafe crosses his arms and smirks.

Strafe: You get all the stuff I could really use and I'm stuck with this light magic nobody ever taught me anything about...
Silence: That magic could be quite potent if you honed it.
Strafe: Eh, that's what the whole Hyper Mode thing's for...

Silence nods.

Silence: It's been a while since we've really been able to catch up, huh? First the party, now this... it's good to see you. I mean, hopefully next time it'll be under better circumstances.
Strafe: Yeah, kind of a family reunion... I mean, no one knows where Jacob's Ladder went, but... close enough.
Silence: It'd be nice to mend that relationship, yes.

Strafe nods. Suddenly, he closes his eyes and stands up, channeling a bit of his light magic into his fingertips and rolling his shoulders.

Strafe: Now there's something I should have known to try sooner.
Silence: What?
Strafe: Mending.

Strafe heads back to X-Ray's operation room. Silence looks at Denos, who points at the gardening glove subtly.

Denos: Enchanted?
Silence: One-way ticket home.
Denos: When are you planning on pulling that emergency lever?
Silence: You'd know when.
Denos: As someone who's been in the wrong place too long before... don't be afraid to go back when you can, Silence.

Denos pats Silence's shoulder and stands up. Silence puts the glove back in his pocket and rubs his own face.

Strafe grabs a surgical mask from a small container as he enters the operating room, Rubelline holding a tray of supplies while X-Ray works on The Fan, placing pacemakers at various points along his torso away from the wound.

Rubelline: Hello, Strafe. No bad news from up front again, I hope?
Strafe: No, good news. I was thinking about it and I think I might be able to help you fix him up.
X-Ray: I appreciate it, Strafe, but we're in the middle of something I'm feeling quite confident about.

X-Ray sets the last pacemaker in the center of The Fan's collarbone. One by one, the machines fire up, out of sync so the pulse travels in a circle around The Fan's wound.

X-Ray: It's a little makeshift, but the issue so far has been how his latent energy is interacting with the tissue. This way, we can get everything in and figure out what works without his body rejecting it.

Strafe nods, standing back cautiously. He keeps rubbing his fingers together and trying to focus on the light magic he's channeling into them.

Strafe: I mean, here's hoping...

X-Ray watches carefully as the pacemakers continue to activate in turn. The Fan coughs a little and the whole mechanism seems to break, running in reverse a few times before flickering off entirely. X-Ray sighs and pulls it off of The Fan.

X-Ray: What is it you were hoping to try, Strafe?

Strafe holds his noticably glowing hands up. X-Ray goes from looking frustrated to somewhat surprised.

Strafe: It's not something I'm very good at, but my magic can patch things up a bit... worst case scenario, it fizzles out and does nothing either way.
X-Ray: Be my guest.

Strafe walks over to The Fan. He initially reaches to stick his whole left hand in the wound but pulls it back cautiously and instead rests it on The Fan's forehead. He closes his eyes to focus and channels some of his power into The Fan, to no visible effect.

X-Ray: Just keep it up for now...

Strafe nods. X-Ray reaches into the drawers full of transplant organs behind her and pulls out a few smaller hearts that she arranges within The Fan's wound like puzzle pieces. Strafe visibly strains a little bit to try and output more light, but this seems to weaken his output.

Rubelline: No no no, it's working, just calm down.

Strafe exhales and hangs his head back, trying not to look at his handiwork as he relaxes back down. The magic finally starts to take a visible hold in The Fan, veins lighting up under his skin and the hearts starting to beat slowly.

The Fan: It's... this is...

The veins of light spread and connect to The Fan's hearts, shining radiantly. X-Ray sees The Fan pass out cold as she peeks between her fingers through the harsh light. Strafe pulls his hand away and looks down at The Fan.

Strafe: Is he... okay?

X-Ray grabs a flashlight as the light of Strafe's magic dims out into an ambient glow. She tilts The Fan's head around and shines the flashlight in his eyes.

X-Ray: Potentially comatose. But... he has a beating heart or two in there. That's progress.
Strafe: ...yeah, that's progress. Huh.
Rubelline: Way to go, Strafe!

Rubelline raises her hand for a high-five. Strafe responds, but Rubelline pulls her hand away after they high-five and shakes it around a little, hissing quietly.

Strafe: All good...?
Rubelline: Still got a little light magic in there... not great for vampires, I guess...

The Mistake sits around inside of his self-made fortress, floating around idly while looking anxious.

The Mistake: One week nap is nothing after a few millennia. Just a little blink. Poof, it's done. You've got this.

Something taps against the fortress, making the entire structure ring like a bell. The Mistake's body glitches out severely as he jumps in shock.

The Mistake: What in the-?!

The Mistake phases himself through the shed skin fortress, hyperventilating and letting off flares of energy off his back and limbs. He exits to see Svarga has come to him and growls.

The Mistake: You have no business here, Vindozz! Leave or perish!

The Mistake clenches his fists midair, directing bursts of fire off his newly created sun to wrap around his arms.

Holy Choir (through Svarga): Ah, but I am not Vindozz. I am Amadea, the Holy Choir. I mean you no harm.
The Mistake: Did Vindozz put you up to this?
Holy Choir (through Svarga): She's a mutual enemy. I was willing to protect her after she was descended... she refused.
The Mistake: ...then why are you here?
Holy Choir (through Svarga): I was using Yggdrasil to hunt her down. I see now I may have an ally in that quest...
The Mistake: Forget it. I'm wiping the slate clean, starting with these nine worlds. You can hope The Threat gets caught in the maelstrom, but I don't need anyone and you're not getting me.
Holy Choir (through Svarga): And what if I could be of benefit to you? We both want a clean slate, we-

The Mistake loosens his tightened fists a little. Heat blasts against Svarga.

The Mistake: Leave. Now.

Aboard Svarga, Holy Choir feels several of her bodies being hit by the scorching heat from The Mistake's new sun. Svarga begins physically falling back towards the portal it came from, even before Holy Choir can man the controls.

The Mistake: You'd be best off getting far away, unless you wish to suffer the same fate.
Holy Choir (through Svarga): Point taken...

Svarga reverses through the portal, Holy Choir focusing her attention into one body that's resting in a pool of black liquid, rubbing some on her face to try and cool down while the rest of her bodies handle getting Svarga out of The Mistake's range.

Holy Choir: ...I can't let him kill her before she answers to me... decisions, decisions...

X-Ray steps out of her operating room, clearing her throat. Silence perks up and taps Sakeena on the shoulder, her and Unten looking over. The Enemy is looking down at his lap with his hands held together, but seems to notice X-Ray's presence anyways.

The Enemy: How is he?
X-Ray: If I could have everyone's attention...

Sakeena bends an old paperweight off of Vorplazz's desk and splits it into two orbs, sending them down the nearby halls to knock on the doors. Sia, Mioda, Zerita, Rachel, and Nycho exit the kitchen, Nycho carrying several slabs of food. Volt rubs his forehead as he exits the bedroom.

Sakeena: Everyone up front? X-Ray's got some kind of briefing going on...

Hybrid IV steps in, setting aside a heavy piece of shrapnel taken off the impacted area of the Svarnaseie. Quartz follows behind her, Obena jumping up a little to make herself visible behind the two taller women.

X-Ray: The Fan is in stable condition. He's comatose, but thanks to Strafe, he's at least not fading out.
The Enemy: Good. We'll be taking our leave, then.
Rachel: How are you going to leave this ship...?

The Enemy gets up and walks forward. He grabs Silence by the hood and pulls him along.

The Enemy: This one has an escape route.
X-Ray: He's in stable condition here, but moving him out-
Sia: Silence has a way out?
The Enemy: Some kind of enchantment to pull him back home... I've been keeping an eye on him since the jump.
X-Ray: I'm not letting you take a patient from me before he's ready.
Sia: And I'm not feeling awfully inclined to let either of these chumps leave in the first place.
Unten: Sia, he has a family...

Sia glances at Unten, clearly looking a little put off. Silence slips his robe off to reveal a nice pinstriped button-up shirt, stepping away from The Enemy who drops the robe angrily.

Silence: You have no way to make me act on any of this, you know.
The Enemy: Look around. This ship is falling apart. You found a family, despite being a freak of nature... do you really want to stay here?
Silence: Unlike you, I don't see any reason to give up all hope yet. When things get really bad? I'm not going to be ashamed to leave. And when I do, you're going to be staying right here, living through the worst of it, unless you cooperate for once and let us figure out our next step.

The Enemy stays silent as he sits back down.

The Enemy: Our next step has to be a blind landing, then, if that's what we're insisting on. Then what do we have? A massive pile of scrap metal in the middle of unexplored, unknowable territory?

The Threat walks down the hall, pushing a little past Quartz and Hybrid IV. She yawns and takes a slab of food from Nycho, rubbing her eyes with her free hand.

The Threat: Couldn't help but hear you all getting fussy back here. All I've got to add is... my part in this is kind of over, no? No Svarnaseie, no Vindozz.
Quartz (muttering): Good riddance.
Sakeena: We haven't crashed yet...
The Threat: Yeah, yeah, but we're just coasting at this point. You all seem real eager to be rid of me, so... I'm just saying, you all can be on your way soon.
Unten: Isn't there anything you can give us on Derezzt?
The Threat: No User Crystal, kind of completely crazy. That's all I've got. If you're still looking to rush in fighting him, good luck.
Unten: I'm still not so sure fighting is the right way to be thinking about this! He's too strong for any of us, but if we could just... find some way to contain him or get him to contain himself, that'd be ideal...
Mioda: Can't do either if we don't know where he is.
Zerita: But we have to do something, right? Maybe F.A.N.T can track him, maybe Laverne would have a better view, but there's gotta be something...

A large gust of wind rattles the Svarnaseie, enough to slow it down. The Threat groans and walks back up to the front, shivering a little.

The Enemy: Just get us landed and get back to me then. I'm just as done with this as the rest of you...

The Enemy walks back towards the operating room, X-Ray rushing in behind him. Unten leans against the wall behind him and closes his eyes, looking deep in thought.

Denos and Logi are sitting out of sight behind the bed in the Svarnaseie's bedroom, trying to avoid the conversation outside.

Logi: Look. I'm not condoning violence or Descension. But if that freaky clear Beorn has touched The Threat, then The Threat could be one big walking teleportation charm, and maybe there's something there? At least we'd finally know where that thing went.
Silence (telepathically): Only works on inanimate objects.

Denos sighs and hangs his head.

Denos: Thank you for suffering our ideas.
Silence (telepathically): I'd love for this to go well as much as anyone else.

Rachel leans into the room and looks around, not seeing Denos or Logi. She steps in and lays down, sandwiching her head between two pillows.

Denos: Is everything alright?

Rachel recoils and curls up, surprised by the fact that she's not alone. She looks at Denos and Logi and lets go of her pillows.

Logi: This must be tricky for you, huh?
Rachel: What do you mean?
Logi: All of it. Nobody planned for this, but you?
Rachel: ...gee, thanks.
Logi: No, no, it's good. So many people have been living two lives at once, living in a normal world but ready to flip back at any time, right into peril... honestly, even us.
Rachel: Well, what good does that do me once we land? Nobody around here knows what to do. It's all just... waiting.
Denos: What do you think everyone else will be doing once we get back?
Rachel: I don't really know, I guess.
Denos: Fretting. Worrying. And there's a time and place for that, but people like you, Silence, Sakeena? You've kept living lives, even after everything. You have someone at home waiting for you.

Rachel nods sheepishly and leans back in bed, taking some deep breaths.

Silence (telepathically): It'll be alright, Rachel.

Rachel jitters again, surprised by Silence telepathically communicating with her.

As Unten steps to the front of the Svarnaseie with Quartz, another powerful wind throws the ship around a little, knocking Obena off balance while she prints interlocking plates to fit over the exposed hole left by the Sentelenium. The Threat grips her throne and growls.

The Threat: Geez, the weather around here is terrible... no wonder none of you puny Earthlings has tried colonizing this half of your planet.
Unten: Any more idea of where we actually are?
The Threat: If I knew, you would too. All we've got is whatever's ahead of us.

The Threat points to the tall spire ahead of them on the ship's "wireframe window". Quartz looks at it curiously.

The Threat:, do any of you think you could pilot this thing? I'm exhausted.
Unten: You are? We left... I don't know, maybe 5 hours ago or so.
The Threat: Unten, think of it this way... my body used to be tapping into some serious cosmic juice. The good stuff. The stuff everything comes from. And now I'm just kind of a big flesh puppet. I get tired fast. It's why I have all those protein slabs...

The Threat yawns and slumps over a little, tapping her fingers on the armrest. She inhales sharply but coughs a little from the Distortion Mist that has made its way into the ship.

The Threat: Guhhh, nevermind, that mist wakes me the fuck up whether I like it or not.

Unten nods. He steps closer to the front with Quartz, who has her arms folded.

Quartz: Whatever it is, we're approaching fast.
Unten: No way of knowing if that's good or bad, though...
Quartz: There's a lot we have no way of knowing about right now. It's... kind of giving me a lot of time to think, actually. It's nice.
Unten: What's been on your mind?
Quartz: Being here is... I don't love it, but it grounds me a little. I came up in all of this. Svarga, I mean. But I ended up alright, I think.

Unten smiles a little and nods. Quartz leans down and kisses the top of his head.

Quartz: I mean, I definitely ended up alright with you...
The Threat: Oh, get a room already or whatever.

Quartz grimaces and folds her arms, standing still to not give Vindozz the satisfaction of her leaving. Unten rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. Obena slots some more plates over the hole in the ship and smiles.

Obena: There, should help with the mist...
The Threat: See, now there's some team spirit. Go treat yourself to something nice. One of the deluxe slabs.

Obena nods and walks off. Unten and Quartz both turn to look at the spire on the horizon, both looking dejected for their own reasons.

The Enemy is sitting next to The Fan, watching over his comatose brother while X-Ray washes off her equipment.

The Enemy: You said Strafe stabilized his condition? He really is becoming more his mother's child, I suppose.
X-Ray: Didn't you teach him that kind of thing? You had a whole school, I believe.
The Enemy: They never took to Boltzmann as others did. Some strange tendency to learn under pressure, and that's for the ones who'd listen at all...

X-Ray nods along reluctantly.

The Enemy: So, how much contact have you had with her?
X-Ray: ...her...?
The Enemy: Don't play dumb. Needlenam. Has she come out of her fit or are you just finding messages in bottles?
X-Ray: Sarah... can take whatever time she needs. Until she comes and sees me face-to-face, I'm not going to jump to any conclusions.
The Enemy: Suit yourself. I figured you'd want to keep hoping, especially when you could be so close...
X-Ray: You either know something I don't, or you're right here with me. Don't try and play both.

The Enemy silently goes back to watching over his brother. Sia walks in, being supported a little by Zerita and groaning.

Zerita: Her sling needs reinforcing, can we spare anything for that?
X-Ray: Of course, plenty to go around.

X-Ray reaches up into a drawer and grabs a roll of bandages. As she hands it to Zerita, another gust of wind hits the ship, and this time, it doesn't subside completely, simply becoming a gentle push seemingly permanently jostling the ship. The bandages roll out of X-Ray's hand and unravel, Zerita picking up some and trying to wind it back into place.

Sia: It'd be nice if that could stop...
X-Ray: We're out past what anyone really knows about. Maybe this is just normal weather around here.
The Enemy: It's probably for the better. Could slow our descent.

Zerita leans back up and wraps some bandages around the sling Sia's wearing to help support it, being careful around her shoulder.

Zerita: Better?
Sia: Yeah, I'm fine, don't sweat it...
X-Ray: What happened to the sling?
Sia: Look, maybe I got frustrated and bumped into a wall too hard. Who can say?
Zerita: Me. I can.

Sia scoffs and rolls her eyes before smirking and walking away. Zerita does a little wave before following behind her.

As Unten launches another beacon from the Svarnaseie, The Threat groans and rolls her eyes, the whole ship shuddering around from the launch.

The Threat: When's this wind finally going to wrap up? I still need to leave somehow too, I can't have this ship shaking itself apart.
Unten: Is that an actual thing that might happen?

The Threat tilts her hand from side to side to indicate she's not sure. Unten sets the joystick aside and laughs nervously.

Unten: Well, as long as you can get us down, we can figure something out.
The Threat: Yeah, yeah, whatever...

The Threat slumps over almost sideways in her throne, impatiently tapping her fingers on the armrests.

The Threat:, how are you holding up?
Unten: Huh?
The Threat: I'm being civil, Unten. Appreciate it. How have you been doing?
Unten: ...good...?
The Threat: Well, I've been doing just fine too, thanks for asking.

Unten stands there and tries to pull his coat up over his face a little. The Threat rolls her eyes but is jostled out of her seat by another burst of wind. Something green lights up against the purple wireframes of the Svarnaseie's window.

Unten: What is that...?
The Threat: ...oh, no. No. Not now, damnit.

The Threat pulls herself up out of her seat and runs towards the back of the ship as the green object forms into a fuller silhouette. As she tries to get into the reception room, the Svarnaseie fills with the sound of static. The Threat walls through a very confused group of people to the bedroom.

The Threat: Fucking of course we ended up right here... idiot...

The Threat opens the bedroom door. Rachel is still sitting there, Denos and Logi no longer hiding but instead sitting across from her. All three of them look at her, very confused.

Logi: What's happening this time?
The Threat: Long story. Get out. I need some space.

The Threat sits down on the bed, clutching her own head and breathing heavily.

Denos: Are we in danger?
The Threat: Yes! Of course we are! What would make any of this good?!
Rachel: Just walk us through it.

The static breaks off into an ambient hum.

Holy Choir: (through Svarnaseie speakers): You can't run from me this time, Vindozz. We're both at the end of our lines... surrender, and perhaps we can survive.
Rachel: ...who...?
The Threat: An old ex. She... I don't know where to start...

Silence enters the room, arms folded.

Silence: Maybe I do, though.
The Threat: I'm sure you understand all this really well, yeah.
Silence: I don't. But you do. All I'm saying is that perhaps I can help you sort through these memories...

The Threat curls up tighter and looks away, nodding a little. Silence's hand glows as he holds it flat out in front of himself.

The Threat: She's a musician. Small planet. Famine, violence, corruption... then along comes me. She thought I could solve that for her. Devoted herself to me, and in return, I gave her what she needed.
Denos: And now she's hunting you over leaving her?
The Threat: She's hunting me because I couldn't stay. We broke up centuries ago, but after I was descended, she came to Svarga. She pitied me, that scoundrel.
Silence: She wanted to help you...
The Threat: She wanted me to lower myself to her level. She wanted me to feel weak.
Silence: So you stole a piece of Svarga.
The Threat: She was... look, you're already in my head, just tell them what she said...

Silence focuses his power more and clears his throat. Unten and Volt both peek into the room behind him, still confused by what's going on.

Silence: "Things didn't work between us, I know, but you need to continue on. I can help you if you just let me in."
Rachel: That sounds...
The Threat: Crazy. Demeaning. Treating me like some kind of pathetic mess. I know already, Harel.
Rachel: ...I was going to say it sounds like exactly what you could use.
Silence: Hold your judgment, Rachel. Just ahead... "You need to know the pain of living as a mortal, just as I knew. It's not your fault that you can't understand people, but you have a chance now..."

The Threat looks down at her own lap, looking genuinely upset. Rachel bites the inside of her cheek, deep in thought trying to process what to do next.

Silence: She wanted to hurt you.
The Threat: No, you idiot, she wanted to help me! And that's... that's worse. I don't need her pity.
Denos: Let's not argue semantics just yet, we are directly ahead of her right now...
The Threat: What do you want me to do, huh?!
Volt: What if we give her the Svarnaseie back?

Silence leans aside to let Volt enter the room. The Threat looks up at him and grimaces.

Volt: We're all here. It's... somewhere around a dozen of us to one of her.
The Threat: Nice try, blue, but she's a hivemind, remember?
Denos: Any weaknesses to that system?
The Threat: No, I'm not a moron. I accounted for anything that might be a hassle... desynchronization, the potential of rogue entries into the hivemind... every base is covered.
Volt: How many bodies did you give her?
The Threat: Hundreds. Most of them in cold storage. I don't know how many she's used up, but she probably has more than enough lying around...
The Threat: Just stop trying to think about it. We don't have anything to bargain with.
Unten: I think Volt could be on to something... but it's not going to be a fight. Not for long, at least.

Unten shuffles into the room and pulls out Imperium.

The Threat: Enough with the damn pacifism, Unten.
Unten: No, no, hear me out. We get almost everyone in here. You fake a surrender, escorted by one of us. I get us to the controls, let everyone out. That sounds like we have the upper hand, no?
The Threat: Maybe. I don't know. It's not like I've got anything to lose anymore.
Unten: That's... look, Vindozz-
Logi: We're all here too and who knows what the hell she'd do to us?
Unten: I mean, yes, that, but also, I... still strongly disagree with how you do things, but... if there's some semblance of common ground to be had here, I'd like to-
The Threat: Ughh, don't stumble your way through trying to say you care, Unten, I get it. You care about everything - including me, and what I think of you - way too much. The other one has a better point anyways.

Unten nods reluctantly and steps back out to the reception room. The Threat stands up and dusts herself off, rubbing her chin and looking around.

The Threat: Hm, who to best fake escort me...
Volt: Can't be me. I, uh... need to be in Svarga's... systems... y'know.
The Threat: Yeah, you'd hate Holy Choir anyways.

Volt nods and backs out of the room. The Threat taps a finger against her temple.

The Threat: What about... ah, shit... pink, tall, doesn't give me any of your dumb emotional shit...
Rachel: ...Obena?
The Threat: There it is! I'll go ask her.

The Threat steps out of the room. Rachel sighs and tightens her shielding gauntlets, looking over at Denos, who seems to be staring at Silence.

Rachel: Are you two, like, telepath-ing, or...?
Silence: No, but he's getting his message across.
Denos: So you're leaving?
Silence: I'll keep myself safe. I'm not abandoning this until the last minute.
Denos: ...your call, I suppose.

Holy Choir clears her throat and does some short vocal exercises as Svarga looms over the Svarnaseie, having blown away much of the Distortion Mist around them and exposing Earth's Yggdrasil from which it entered.

Holy Choir: La-la-la-la-la... lo-lo-lo-lo-lo...

Holy Choir coughs a little and switches to another body beside her.

Holy Choir: La-la-la-la-la... no, too much force on that one.

Before Holy Choir can return to her vocal exercises, the Svarnaseie starts moving slowly towards Svarga. She tightens her tie and grins devilishly.

Holy Choir: That's the spirit, Vindozz...

Unten stands in the reception room amidst the gathered group with Imperium standing propped upright. Volt is quick to enter the weapon's inner realm first when he sees The Threat approaching.

Unten: ...guess he was ready... look, everyone, I know it's a big ask, but it's the best chance we've got right now. I believe in us.
Strafe: Things must be pretty bad if you're giving that kind of talk, huh?

Unten frowns. Strafe steps forward, patting his shoulder.

Strafe: I know you mean it, though. Get us where we need to be and I'll do my part as well as I can.

Strafe steps into Imperium. Hybrid IV gives Unten a much firmer pat on the shoulder as she steps forward, knocking him off balance a little.

Hybrid IV: Remember your training, kid.
Unten: I know, I know.

Hybrid IV enters Imperium. X-Ray and Rubelline step forward, The Fan's arms draped over their shoulders as they carry him.

X-Ray: Good luck, Unten.
The Enemy: Be careful with him. All of you.
X-Ray: We will be...

'"Rubelline and X-Ray turn at an awkward angle to get The Fan inside Imperium.

The Enemy: You can't afford to lose this one, Unten. If it comes down to your life or this blade...
Unten: It won't.

Unten does his best to look confident and steady, but keeps glancing down or away for brief moments. Pulled aside from the group, Obena and Nycho huddle up with The Threat.

The Threat: Remember to keep your story straight. You're an ambassador and lawyer I picked up at the Delta to help me negotiate safe travel away from Holy Choir.
Obena: Understood.
Nycho: Why am I not coming, again?
Obena: To keep you out of harm's way.
The Threat: You'll distract Obena and you're not very useful to me currently.
Nycho: Ah, right, right... my talents of mechanical automotive persuasion are better suited hijacking Svarga for ourselves... don't worry, I get it.

The Threat shrugs and nods once.

Obena: So what should I be looking out for? Any, y'know, codes? Signals? Languages I may need to be fluent in?
The Threat: Well, she likes to get fancy... we're mostly filibustering here, though. Just keep track of which body she's talking from and how many she's surrounding us with.
Obena: Got it. Just gotta keep the conversation going. No problem!

The Threat leans out of their huddle and waves to Unten, snapping her fingers to get his attention.

The Threat: You're going to play this one really careful, okay? If either of us mess up, Holy Choir can literally be anywhere on Svarga the second she wants. No alarms, no chase, she will be down your neck with lethal force the second she realizes something is up.
Unten: Yeah, I know already. I'll take the maintenance halls and-
The Threat: Oh, no way, she's got those things packed so she can run Svarga at full efficiency. You're honestly probably safer sticking to the main halls... not as much reason to walk the ship when you already have bodies everywhere you need to go, no?

Unten puts a hand on his chin in thought.

The Threat: Look, there's no shame in me knowing more than you. Just take the advice, okay? We're both in trouble if either of us messes up.
Unten: Okay, I get it, high stakes.
The Threat: Good, you better get it. You need to be terrified right now! Embrace the fear, Unten.
Unten: Already there.
The Threat: Good, me too.

Unten and The Threat look at each other anxiously. Unten turns back to the group and clears his throat, The Enemy glaring at him silently as he steps into Imperium's inner realm.

Unten (muttering to self): High stakes.

Quartz approaches Imperium and puts a hand on Unten's shoulder.

Quartz: Don't let her get to you. Just... do things how you need to.
Unten: Of course, babe, I-

Quartz looks Unten in the eyes. Her expression is much more saddened and even somewhat angry than determined or prepared.

Quartz: Don't let her get to you. Please.
Unten: ...right.

Quartz enters Imperium. Unten straightens his posture a little, looking caught off guard as Denos and Logi enter Imperium without speaking to him, only giving him quick nods. Silence walks behind them, one foot already in the blade when he looks at Unten.

Silence: We all believe in you, Unten. Go for it.
Unten: Thank you.

Silence smiles and steps in. Rachel and Sakeena approach.

Rachel: I don't really have anything to say to make this whole thing any better, but... hey, good luck.
Sakeena: We've made it through worse. You'll be fine.
Unten: I guess we have, huh? That's the spirit.

Sakeena smiles and nods to Unten, stepping in. Rachel waves slightly as she follows behind. Mioda helps Sia into Imperium, the two politely nodding while Zerita comes up behind Unten and taps his shoulder, startling him a little.

Zerita: We never did train for sneaking, huh?
Unten: I'm guessing it's something you pick up as you do it.
Zerita': Never a better time to learn, am I right?

Unten and Zerita laugh a little. Zerita pats his shoulder as she starts to step in.

Zerita: You've got this one, chief.
Unten: Thanks, sis.

Zerita steps in. Nycho gives Obena a pat on the back before shuffling over to Unten.

Unten: Hey, Nycho?
Nycho: Yeah?
Unten: Keep everyone's spirits up in there. It'd mean a lot to me.
Nycho: ...oh! Of course, I... yeah, you can count on me.

Unten smiles tiredly. Nycho enters Imperium, doing a little salute as he slides in. Unten seals Imperium and sits down, looking to The Threat and Obena.

Unten: Good luck talking to her.
The Threat: Oh, it'll be easy. That's why I'm giving you all the hard work, dummy.
Obena: You'll do great, Unten!

Unten tucks Imperium in his coat and rolls his neck as the Svarnaseie approaches Svarga.

Chapter 14: Kindness, Favors, Debts

As the Svarnaseie locks into place at the front of Svarga, The Threat and Obena walk out of a newly opened airlock at the back of the vessel into a luxurious hall of Svarga, where Holy Choir has already come to greet them in just one body. Unten crouches low to the floor on the Svarnaseie, ready to get moving at the first possible moment.

Holy Choir: I see you've picked up a new companion in your travels.
Obena: I am... Obena. I'm Vindozz's lawyer and assistant.
The Threat: Don't get jealous so fast, sugar, it's a very professional arrangement.
Holy Choir: Ah, professions and law... you're already experiencing the suffering of us mortals, aren't you?

The Threat and Holy Choir laugh like old friends. The Threat digs her elbow into Obena's side and she starts laughing too.

The Threat: If I'm going to be traveling, I need someone to defend my rights as a refugee of Svarga.
Holy Choir: But Svarga's still here, and you aren't doing any travel.

Holy Choir's smile becomes more of a sinister smirk.

Holy Choir: The lawyer can stay for now, I'm not a monster. She'll need somewhere safe to be when the fires hit.
Obena: Fires?
Holy Choir: Oh, it's such a long story... we need to get you two accommodated and caught up! I hadn't planned for two residents...

Behind Holy Choir, dozens of hivemind bodies race back and forth between rooms branching off the luxurious hall. The main body talking to The Threat and Obena grabs the two by the shoulders and guides them ahead, using her spare arms to tidy up her own hair.

Holy Choir: Come up to the observation deck with me and we can have a nice long talk about the ground rules of this place. I'll have my hivemind take care of that wreckage you were riding along in.

Back on the Svarnaseie, Unten looks a little panicked, barely able to make out what Holy Choir is saying. He looks around for another exit frantically before glancing up and squinting.

Unten: Maybe up through there...?

Unten extends Imperium upwards and wedges it between two panels in the ceiling, pulling hard to pry them apart. The panels fall to the sides and Unten clambers up off the reception desk into the inner workings, two Holy Choir bodies entering the ship not too long after, one picking the panels up. Unten watches them walk around and shivers a little before shimmying through where the Svarnaseie's maintenance shafts are now reconnected with Svarga's.

Unten (whispering): Svarga can't be that complicated, right?

Unten passes by a grate that shows a steam-filled vertical shaft to his left, where Holy Choir has bodies in climbing gear rappelling down to work on the Svarnaseie. As one slams roughly towards him while facing away, he hurries his pace, scooting Imperium ahead of him.

Unten (whispering): It's not that complicated... hah...

Within Imperium's inner realm, Nycho is in the middle of telling a story to Denos, Logi, and the blade's embodied form.

Nycho: So that's how I get the first bird out of the fire. Now, as for the other fella - parakeet, nicest little thing -
Denos: What started the fire to begin with again?
Nycho: I was making oven pizza to prove to Guadalupe it beats the restaurant stuff. Keep up, please.

Imperium's body gets up and paces away, its steps growing shorter until it's essentially doing ballet. Denos pats Nycho's shoulder.

Denos: Your heart's in the right place.
Nycho: And?
Denos: You don't need to tell us about your birds. We'll be fine.
Logi: I wanna meet the little buggers if we get out of this one alive.

Nycho nods. As Denos walks away, he whispers to him.

Denos (whispering): I can think of someone who could use a bit of your outlook, though.
Nycho: Who?

Denos passes by. Volt is sitting a short distance away. Nycho clutches his fists together and jogs over towards him.

Nycho: Volt! Been a while since we, y'know... checked in. Tapped bases or whatever.
Volt: ...yeah?
Nycho: You okay over here, man?

Volt looks away. Nycho squats down to his level, elbows on his knees.

Volt: I don't like any of this.
Nycho: It's rough.
Volt: Derezzt... yeah, okay. Vindi... that's the hard part.
Nycho: I think your priorities are a little misplaced, but-
Volt: Sometimes it's like none of that even happened. I never got to mope about it because that meant saying there was something to mope out. Ky used to listen, but... where's Ky been, actually?
Nycho: Bad feelings there?
Volt: No, seriously. I don't know where they are.
Nycho: Forget Kite or whoever. What do you have right now?
Volt: A headache.
Nycho: Nycho Invalidez!! Ready to listen.
Volt: Because you want gossip?
Nycho: Look, it's cool to know things and feel like you trust me, but... I just want you running at full capacity, man. Unten really wants you all to be okay.

Volt nods. He takes his Galvan Scarf off and winds it around his hands a little, just looking for something to keep his body busy.

Volt: Nothing ever changed because the whole idea of talking about changing it was absurd, I guess. She literally made, like... a fake me. And I mean, it's not the first fake me, which is weird to say, but this time I had to... be bothered, but not for the actual reason I was bothered.
Nycho: Hm, right...
Volt: And fighting her... it never felt right. I was angry, I was sad, and I was ready to just vent that all out, but with words, you know? She needed some comeuppance, but violence?
Nycho: So you still liked her?
Volt: much as I like anyone else, I guess... look, it's complicated.
Nycho: I really don't think it is. If you're looking for an even playing field to just hash that shit out? That's back on the table. She's here and she sure seems willing to talk to all of us.

Volt stops fidgeting with the Galvan Scarf; it's tangled up around his hands.

Nycho: Look, I don't get if you want catharsis, or if you've still got the hots or something, but whatever it is, she's at least there now.
Volt: ...I guess so, yeah.

Nycho pats the top of Volt's head. Volt looks at him, clearly a little put off by the gesture. Nycho nods and stands back up, backing away a little.

Holy Choir opens the doors to Svarga's observation deck, where she's set up some furniture ahead of her arrival using her other bodies; three chairs with tall backs, arranged in a circle, with endtables next to them and snacks in bowls.

Holy Choir: Here we are. Come in, please.

Holy Choir steps ahead and sits down, The Threat and Obena entering the room cautiously. They look down through the glass floors and walls to see Yggdrasil and the seemingly endless Distortion Mist around them. The Threat walks ahead first, Obena following behind her nervously.

Holy Choir: You are aware there will be heavy terms tied to your residence here, both of you?
The Threat: I'm no resident of this place, darling.
Holy Choir: And even more severe implications tied to your bold-faced theft and resistance, Vindozz.

The Threat grumbles as she sits down. Obena reaches into her snack bowl and pulls out a small cube of cheese she tosses into her mouth before speaking, trying to put on a cool, collected face.

Obena: My client sees no reason you hold any legal authority over her.
Holy Choir: Your client doesn't see law, Ms... your name, please?
Obena: It's Obena.
Holy Choir: Obena, look at it this way. Can you charge an insect with a crime?
The Threat: Are you calling me a-?!
Holy Choir: If your worldview simply does not contain the concept of law, or right or wrong, how are you supposed to be judged?
Obena: What I know is I understand right and wrong. Or... I like to think I do, as much as anyone can, really. What you're planning on doing to Vindozz is... dubious.
Holy Choir: Do you even understand what I'm doing for her? I'm willing to give her a home, a new life, even after how she's wronged me...
Obena: Yes, that sounds great. There's a "but" though, isn't there?

Holy Choir folds her arms and looks away, somewhat dejected.

Holy Choir: She needs to learn, before someone kills her. She's never had to suffer before.
The Threat: I suffered through a war, I suffered through having my home taken away, I suffered through everything I made being used to kill. As we speak, I am suffering your nonsense, and I've done that plenty before, Amadea. What's going to be enough for you?
Holy Choir: I'm letting you make up for what you've done in tears, not blood. Be grateful, you monster.
The Threat: Oh, I'm the monster now? And all those gifts I gave you, the bodies, the fountain of youth, that was all something a monster would do.

Obena motions for The Threat to cut it off.

The Threat: And when you took my home, gosh, I was being a really scary monster, wasn't I?

Obena motions more rapidly. Holy Choir notices her out of the corner of her eye.

Holy Choir: Careful, Vindi.
The Threat: I've just done so many terrible things, so I must need a little good old-fashioned torture to fix me, huh?

Obena is motioning as heavily and as exaggerated as she can muster up. Holy Choir is clearly looking at her and not The Threat.

Holy Choir: This could have been easy, you know.

Obena realizes she's being looked at and stops.

Obena: ...I don't have anything to add about my client's previous experiences... just here to make sure she's treated fairly, ma'am.
Holy Choir: Mm, cute. You remind me of me back in the day. I'll make sure you don't get caught in all this... but I'll need your help to make some deals about what happens to her.

Holy Choir smiles slyly. Two bodies come into the room holding pens and scrolls, ready to write. Obena gulps nervously.

Unten carefully moves his legs and arms up as the vent he's travelling through slopes down into a sharp decline, planting his feet in where he can and using Imperium to hold steady. He hears walking "beside" him through the walls and stands still.

Holy Choir: (through wall): Some lawyer...

Unten holds his breath and listens. No more footsteps. He continues back down the long tube, watching through small slits as Holy Choir's bodies work on the internals of Svarga.

Unten (whispering): Trace your steps... forward, left, up, forward, down... right...?

Unten groans and rubs his head with a free hand, leaning on Imperium. He sees two more bodies walk into the space he's viewing and tries to trace where they entered from, nodding to himself.

Unten (whispering): Back that way.

Rachel and Sakeena sit next to Hybrid IV in Imperium's inner realm, Sakeena levitating one of Hybrid IV's gloves in mid-air with her metalbending.

Sakeena: The metal weighting in this is inefficient, you could balance the whole thing way better...
Hybrid IV: Been working with them like that for years. Not planning on changing.
Sakeena: And when did that start?
Hybrid IV: Ah, way back. The old days, on Huxxabu. Me, Laverne, those lovebirds...

Rachel and Sakeena both tilt their heads. Hybrid IV chuckles a little and waves to Denos and Logi.

Hybrid IV: You really never told them? You two used to be all over each other.

Denos looks a little flustered as he and Logi walk by.

Denos: We've all gotten older, I'm not quite one for public displays of affection anymore...
Logi: I... just figured they'd put it together? We're always together, we've known each other for decades, I didn't think there was anything to doubt there.
Sakeena: Oh, you two are-?

Logi leans up and kisses Denos on the lips. Denos reciprocates and rubs Logi's shoulder when he pulls away.

Logi: Yeah!
Denos: We've never had any sort of ceremony, but we're partners, yes.
Hybrid IV: Used to be a couple of bad boys, sneaking out late at night to find all sorts of ancient artifacts.
Logi: Never stopped. Just like you never stopped throwing yourself at every problem you saw.

Hybrid IV and Logi both laugh, Denos chuckling. Logi waves shortly and Hybrid IV waves back as the two move along. Rachel and Sakeena look back at Hybrid IV.

Rachel: Nice to finally know.
Sakeena: I just kind of figured they were both old wizard-y types? But yeah, good for them. I mean, hey, it is pride month.

Hybrid IV nods. Rachel crosses her arms over her knees and tries to look around, but is quickly disoriented by the absolute void of Imperium's inner realm and focuses in on her hands.

Sakeena: Any other fun stories from your good old days?
Hybrid IV: Man, where to even start? I mean, it was crazy, we-
Rachel: You think that'll be me and Bang one day?

Sakeena and Hybrid IV both go quiet, looking at Rachel.

Rachel: Like Denos and Logi, I mean. You know... old. Still doing whatever we're doing, I guess. I don't really have a good vision in my head for what settling down looks like in this whole "age of superheroes" thing.
Hybrid IV: Hard to say. I think you'll turn out alright.
Sakeena: I mean, yeah, it's weird, but it'll do, right? People are still going to be people.

Rachel looks mostly unfazed, clasping her fingers together a few ways. Sakeena looks away for a moment but starts giggling to herself, catching Rachel's attention.

Rachel: What's so funny?
Sakeena: Just... imagining you and Bang way down the line. Two badass lesbian grandmas in future shades riding whatever weird hoverbikes we've got in 2060 or whatever...

Rachel snickers a little too and unclasps her hands, setting them on the ground. Sakeena smiles much more emotionally for a moment but goes back to laughing fairly quickly.

Unten looks down through a grate and sees a long hall beneath him. He holds Imperium steady with both hands and uses it to start carefully prying open the grate, breathing harshly through gritted teeth.

Unten (muttering): High stakes... hiiiigh stakes.

The grate quickly falls out all at once. Unten winces and backs away, waiting to see if any of Holy Choir's bodies notice. Two walk beneath him, both carrying bowls of some dull pink soup.

Holy Choir: Faulty depressurization mechanism causing air flow issues after redocking Svarga's missing piece. Hm.

One body hands its bowl off to the other and picks the grate up, both bodies continuing their walk as if nothing happened.

Unten: Jeez... that was-

The maintenance tunnel begins rattling as more of Holy Choir's bodies approach for repairs. Unten holds his breath and dives down to the hall, trying to land on his coat to dampen the fall. His pupils shrink in shock as he lands directly on his left shoulder.

Unten (whispering): Wow! Wow, wow. Yeah, great, no problem.

Unten uses Imperium to prop himself up and starts walking. He seems to try walking quietly at first, but falls a little out of step as he goes, squinting to try and see where the hall leads.

Unten: Okay, if the entrance is... my left...

Unten silently counts, gesturing a lot to keep track of what turns he's made.

Unten: My left, yeah, then the controls are going to be wayyy to the right.

Unten nods to himself and keeps walking along. He stumbles a little and taps his foot in one place as he catches himself, looking over his shoulder.

Unten: Could throw 'em off the trail...

Unten pushes forward, occasionally pacing a little to make the sounds of his footsteps harder to keep track of. He shivers as he presses his hand up to the wall to his right.

Holy Choir sits down across from The Threat and Obena, several of her bodies walking around behind them. The Threat folds her arms and scoffs, looking through the glass floor.

The Threat: So, what exactly are you planning to do now?
Holy Choir: Negotiate. If we are to occupy the same space, we need to compromise here and there. Now that we have a third party present, we can arrange this more properly...

The Threat doesn't look back up at Holy Choir. Obena laughs nervously.

Obena: I'm happy to make sure my client receives... fair, unbiased treatment...

Obena coughs a little, unable to hide her nervousness. Holy Choir clears her throat.

Holy Choir: You'll need to stay onboard at all times for-
The Threat: Are you kidding? No. You can't keep me in here.

Holy Choir's additional bodies slow down as they pass behind The Threat's chair. One brushes a hand up against her neck threateningly. Obena almost stumbles out of her seat.

Obena: Perhaps my client could be accompanied offboard when necessary...

Holy Choir's main body smiles as another starts writing.

Obena: ...aaand eventually transitioned into a more open arrangement after... appropriate rehabilitation...?

The Threat glares at Obena, who shrugs. Holy Choir stops writing and her expression goes back to a more detached, bemused tone.

Holy Choir: We'll see.
Obena: And as for onboard accomodations, she'll receive a proper resting space, food, water... Vindozz, is there anything else you require...?

The Threat stares intently at the doorway behind Holy Choir's chair. Holy Choir takes notice and has some bodies start walking by to block the space off subtly. The Threat groans and looks off to the side.

The Threat: I'll get by.
Obena: ...if you're sure about that, then-
The Threat: I'll get by.

The Threat looks at Obena and tilts her head, looking impatient. Obena nods.

Obena: Bare minimum accomodations.
Holy Choir: Easy. There's plenty of space here. And it will be her home, after all...
Obena: Good! I believe so far, we're all in agreement on these matters?
Holy Choir: It would seem so, yes. Now... here's where it gets tricky. Punishment. Conviction.

Holy Choir smirks and holds an open hand to her side.

Holy Choir: I'll fetch my first instrument from the archives and we can test its full range and negotiate down from there...

Unten sits, trying to lay low, and leaning back hard against a corner wall. Two Holy Choir bodies are holding open a large golden door that crackles with energy around the edges, while one scavenges around inside the room ahead.

Holy Choir: Hm... Equalizer, Equalizer, Equalizer... gotta be in the vaults, right? Anywhere else would be stupid of her.

Unten exhales through gritted teeth, rubbing his eyes a little. He hears something loud from the room and slips so he's leaning harshly away from the corner, Imperium ready to attack in front of him. The Holy Choir bodies start walking away, the doors slamming together harshly through some kind of supermagnetism. A warped, rippling "whooshing" can be heard as Holy Choir tosses the object between her four hands.

Holy Choir: Better pick your brain...

Unten winces and shakes, tensed up and ready to fight. The object lets off a low pulse that rebounds through the halls, disorienting Unten further. He stumbles to look around the corner and Holy Choir tosses the object in question - a glass orb, no bigger than a baseball, with multiple moebus strips floating within - to one of her spare bodies.

Holy Choir (through two spare bodies): Can't pick your own brain, silly.

All three of the Holy Choir bodies start laughing at their own sense of humor. Unten takes a moment to look on at them, confused, and starts to walk in the opposite direction, tapping Imperium and shrinking it back down.

Unten: "Equalizer" doesn't sound great... better get going.

Inside Imperium's inner realm, Nycho has laid out flat with his limbs splayed out, slight bags under his eyes. Strafe stands over him and nudges his shoulder with his foot.

Strafe: You all good there, man?
Nycho: This is kind of taking forever...
Strafe: What? No way, man. It's been like... I dunno, seven minutes. Not five. A little more than that?

Silence approaches. Given the distance he's walking, it's clear the three have walked far away from the main group.

Silence: You're both wrong. Without reference points, time becomes a blur... there's nothing in here to indicate what pace you're moving on.
Nycho: But anime told me that time warps are supposed to be cool! And like, get you all buff and ready to fight!
Silence: Afraid not.
Strafe: Shame.
Nycho: Oh, like you need it...

Strafe chuckles. Silence crouches and sits down with Nycho.

Silence: Nycho, I'm proud of you.
Nycho: Uh, cool... you know, just because you're a dad doesn't make you, like, my dad, or something...
Silence: No, no, about this. I'd say you've been doing remarkably well given the circumstances.
Strafe: Yeah, you're... kind of way out of your league in all this, but man, you've really helped us out, huh?
Nycho: I dunno, I feel like I've decided what my league is now... thanks, though. Really.

Silence nods and gets up. Strafe walks away and Silence catches up quickly.

Silence: Smarter than I'll ever be, huh?

Strafe laughs and bumps shoulders with Silence.

Strafe: C'mon, man, you've done your fair share too.
Silence: I suppose. There's a lot I still don't quite understand, though.
Strafe: I mean, no shame in that. There's a whole lot I don't know too.
Silence: Such as...?

Strafe sighs and rubs the back of his neck.

Strafe: You know, the family tree. Mom, dad, Jacob's Ladder...

Strafe pauses, still walking. Silence tilts his head and Strafe looks a little startled for a moment.

Strafe: ... y'know, White Goddess. The whole thing. I don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing, I guess. How to connect with these people, or if I should even want to.
Silence: I'd say there's no one right answer. You hold a lot more choice in the matter than anyone might lead you to believe, Strafe.

Strafe nods half-heartedly. Silence sighs and looks around the empty expanses of Imperium's inner world.

Silence: It bothers me too, though, if I'm being honest. Especially when I'm at home. There's no frame of reference for any of what I do. My children won't follow the same path humans do, and I probably won't follow the path most fathers do. All this set against the backdrop of some new age of evolution...

Silence shivers.

Strafe: Hey... look, I may not know much about our family, but I can say you're doing good. Above and beyond, really, when you look at how we were raised.

Silence nods, but still looks distracted off into the distance. Strafe puts a hand on Silence's shoulder as they walk.

Strafe: I'm being serious here. You've got this.
Silence: ...thank you, Strafe.

Silence takes in a deep breath and and smiles a little.

Strafe:, should we go grab Nycho or what?
Silence: Probably, yes.

A Holy Choir body enters Svarga's observation room and places the glass orb in the main body's hand. The Threat visibly recoils and twitches a little at the sight of it, and Obena puts a hand over The Threat's wrist somewhat defensively.

Holy Choir: The Cerebral Equalizer... Vindozz's ultimate tool for interrogation.
Obena: I need more elaboration before you use this thing...
The Threat: Don't let her use it on you, it-

Holy Choir clutches the Equalizer tighter. The moebius strips inside of it glow red and blue. The Threat puts her hands out in front of herself and leans ahead of Obena.

The Threat: ... i-it's meant for me, right?
Obena: Err, okay... and this is...?
Holy Choir: A powerful handcrafted psychic artifact. Most forms of telepathy are weak, susceptible to lies and counterplay... the Cerebral Equalizer has its costs, but it can extract absolute understanding from any target.

Obena winces and leans away. Holy Choir presses the orb against The Threat's forehead, and both of them visibly react, as if pulled in opposite directions.

Holy Choir: How many planets did you ruin just like mine in your war against the old gods?
The Threat: Hundreds of thousands. After a while, I let everyone else do the counting. The last time I knew for myself... 140, at least. Thousand. 140,000.

Obena tries to look away from the Exchange. The Threat, looking visibly exhausted, leans forward, pushing Holy Choir's hand back.

The Threat: My turn. Do you really think I ruined your planet?
Holy Choir: I know you could have stopped what was already happening far better... but I don't really care anyways, I suppose. I didn't love that place.

The Threat and Holy Choir both limp over a bit and catch their breath, the Equalizer's glow dimming.

Holy Choir: Hundreds of thousands, and you couldn't even keep track... you wretched beast.

Obena keeps looking away but whimpers and raises her voice.

Obena: I think this is unethical treatment of my client and-

Holy Choir turns to Obena. The Threat, still winded, digs her feet into the ground, poised to attack.

Holy Choir: Unethical? Unethical would be torturing Vindozz, locking her away, giving her even a fraction of the pain she's put out into the world. The Cerebral Equalizer is fair, unbiased, freeing. It's the only ethical option left to me, Obena...
Obena: You took her out of the only home she had, a-and you-!

Holy Choir holds the Equalizer forward again, inches away from Obena's forehead. Obena grits her teeth and leans away.

Holy Choir: I'll ask you once without it. Do you really think you're right to defend her?
Obena: ...yes..

Holy Choir presses the Equalizer into Obena. It lights back up, Holy Choir breathing heavily.

Holy Choir: Do you really think you're right to defend her, though?
Obena: I-I... I don't know anymore...

The Threat backs down slightly, folding her arms over her stomach. Obena keeps stammering as she glances at The Threat, who seems unaffected by the remark.

The Threat: Now you ask her something. A truth for a truth. Equalization.
Obena: I, uh... hm... did you kick Vindozz out, or...?

Holy Choir growls lowly.

Holy Choir: She ran.

Holy Choir pulls away, breathing roughly and rubbing her eyes. Obena looks to The Threat again, who nods once.

Holy Choir: Give me a moment to prepare for further investigation. You wasted my time AND my energy lying to me, Obena... we need to get back down to business.

Holy Choir grimaces as she leaves the observation room, several of her bodies guarding the door. The Threat looks up at the ceiling and lets out a relieved, but exhausted sigh, Obena sheepishly looking down at her own lap.

Unten tip-toes forward very cautiously down a long hallway full of doors. Holy Choir's bodies are all working loudly in each room - some on construction, some seemingly typing away - but none are coming out. As Unten reaches the end of the hall, he exhales, his eyes rolling back into his head.

Unten (whispering): Good grief... what is she even up to...?

Unten hears movement behind him and stands paralyzed in shock. When the movement passes, he turns to see an elevator, lights indicating that it's moving right past his floor.

Unten: Damnit, that'd be pretty useful right about now, huh.

Doors in the hall behind Unten start jostling. He pulls Imperium out and stands defensively before looking back at the elevator doors inquisitively.

Unten: Every hero's gotta try this once, right...? Just gotta ride the top...

Unten nods and uses Imperium to pry open the elevator doors, charging through quickly before they slam shut. He quickly plummets down the empty elevator shaft, landing on his side again and watching the elevator head far up above him.

Unten: ...two for two.

Unten stands up and stretches his back, feeling a slight pop and leaning against the cold wall. He feels around for any surface to start climbing without actually looking at the wall.

Unten: Like I could even fight like this. What was I expecting to happen after we found him...?

Unten feels a slot in the wall and digs his hand in. He sets Imperium in his jacket and pulls himself up, getting both arms and one leg into climbing position. A sudden burst of wind coming down the shaft makes him shiver, and when it sustains and prevents him from climbing up further, he looks up to see the elevator coming back down towards him.

Unten: No no no no.

Unten pulls one hand out of its slot and grabs Imperium, slipping and dropping it. He tries to pull his other hand and foot out of their slots but struggles. With his free leg, he tries to stretch and tap Imperium...

Sakeena is pacing around a bit in circles around Imperium's humanoid form, watching it dance. Denos and Logi sit at a slight distance and watch as she tries to lightly pull Imperium off its routine with her metalbending.

Denos: Any effect?
Sakeena: She's not immune, I'm getting a lot of pull... she's just pulling right back, I think. Cancels everything out.

Unten lands into Imperium's inner realm legs first, a little off balance but much more gracefully than his prior landings of the day. Imperium quickly pauses in her routine, holding at the lunge before a jump.

Sakeena: Oh, Unten?!
Logi: Spit it out, man, status report.
Unten: It's fine, it's fine... elevator. Coming down very fast. Not gonna chance being under that thing.

Unten pants and grits his teeth. Sakeena nods, tilting her head a little.

Sakeena: Everything else...?
Unten: Going great. Real close.

Logi gives Unten a thumbs up.

Sakeena: Take care out there, man.
Unten: Of course. Imperium... can you, like, see out there...? Is the elevator gone?
Imperium: It's not what you'd call "sight", but I detect enough open air to set you back out, master.
Unten: Right. Let's do that.

Unten seems to fall right through the ground, back out into corporeal space. Imperium jumps as if she hadn't paused at all. Sakeena rubs her chin, looking somewhat worried.

The Threat and Obena sit in the middle of the observation room, several Holy Choir bodies pacing around them or huddled up into small groups. Yet another walks in, fog pouring off her back with her head hung low. Obena winces.

Obena: Are you okay? Is that from the Equalizer?

Holy Choir looks up with a sinister smirk.

Holy Choir: Fresh out of the freezer. Dry ice, that's all.
The Threat: You're breaking off new bodies? How many questions do you need to ask before you throw me in some sick dungeon?
Holy Choir: Oh, that's the fun part, Vindi, it's really up to you...

Holy Choir discretely takes the Cerebral Equalizer from one of her spare bodies walking around and tosses it between her hands elegantly. She points it towards The Threat with her left hand, and then tosses it to her right to aim at Obena.

Holy Choir: I have all the time in the world and I can take more of this than either of you... but then again, I'd rather not drag this out and keep having to let you back into my brain. Let's see if we can keep it down to double digits.

Obena braces herself. She opens one eye after waiting a few moments and sees Holy Choir using the Cerebral Equalizer on The Threat, using her upper right arm to hold the device and her lower right hand to hold The Threat's chin.

Holy Choir: Where did you find Obena?
The Threat: Earth. Seattle. How many bodies do you have left in storage?
Holy Choir: Somewhere around 80. Sometimes I put the old broken ones back in storage too, though. It hurts to use them, but they keep better than you'd expect. Counting those? At least 200.

Both Holy Choir and The Threat visibly shudder from the exertion the Cerebral Equalizer draws. Holy Choir shakes her own head around and the device pulses again.

Holy Choir: Is Obena actually a lawyer?
The Threat: No, but she is some kind of diplomat. Used to be. Figured she'd be nice enough to help me get by you.

Obena looks around nervously, realizing her cover's getting blown. The Threat hangs her head back and sighs.

The Threat: Jeez, I really don't give a damn about whatever you've been up to but I kind of have to, huh... okay, let's see... have you learned any new instruments since we broke up?
Holy Choir: Learned some. Forgotten a few. I'm afraid my music's been a bit stagnant lately.

The Threat scowls as the Equalizer deactivates.

The Threat: Alright, now get out of my head, you piece of-

The Cerebral Equalizer pulses again. Obena groans anxiously, trying to stay low in her seat and remain still.

Holy Choir: Why Earth?
The Threat: I can't beat you head-on, I had to get someone who stood a chance. That's just where everyone seems to be nowadays.

Holy Choir frowns visibly, squeezing the Cerebral Equalizer.

The Threat: What do you think my angle even is, Amadea?
Holy Choir: I think you're being dishonest - outside of the influence of the Equalizer, of course. You're being dishonest to me, and intend to harm me in some way. But you're also being dishonest to yourself about how scared you are of my judgment.

The Cerebral Equalizer dulls again. The Threat puts a hand on her head and groans, rubbing it. Holy Choir grabs her wrist and pulls her hand away, looking much more bitter. She almost activates the Equalizer again before closing her eyes and exhaling, walking over to Obena. The Threat, holding her head again, looks on nervously.

Holy Choir: I'm sorry to have to do this...

Holy Choir presses the Equalizer into Obena's forehead and activates it. The Threat looks away, trying to count how many bodies Holy Choir has packed into the room.

Holy Choir: What were you doing on Earth?
Obena: I crash-landed there after the destruction of Zezune. I like it there. I've made a life there.
The Threat (muttering to herself): ...four, five, six...
Obena: Why did you and Vindozz separate?

Holy Choir grits her teeth, looking visibly disgusted.

Holy Choir: I want you to try and wrap your head around this... having a partner who'll objectively outlive you, who'll outlive everything you know about the world and everything the next pathetic chump will know too... a partner so obsessed with conquest she can't find time to enjoy her own infinite power... I couldn't do it.

Holy Choir pulls the Equalizer away and turns her back on them, holding her own shoulders. Obena frowns.

Obena: Whatever problems you have, you don't have to do this... no, you shouldn't do this. You can't just... just...

The Threat leans far off her chair, still counting. Obena tilts her head and looks at her distractedly. Holy Choir steps back in closer and activates the Equalizer on Obena again, holding the orb with two hands.

Holy Choir: Do you know what The Threat intends to do?

Holy Choir's pupils shrink a little in anger as she finishes her sentence, realizing she's wasted a question.

Obena: Yes, absolutely. How many bodies do you have in here?
Holy Choir: 22.

Holy Choir squeezes the Cerebral Equalizer as she uses it again, clearly losing her composure. The Threat takes in a deep breath and grabs the armrests of her chair.

Holy Choir: WHAT does The Threat intend to do?

Unten holds onto the bottom of the elevator, using Imperium as a handle and clinging to it. As he watches closed doors go by, he squints.

Unten: Probably... right... arounddd...

Unten nods and shimmys Imperium out of the elevator, using his free hand to catch onto a ledge connected to one of the doors. He pulls himself up and wedges Imperium into the door vertically, extending it up into the top of the door frame and knocking the whole thing loose. He steps over into a dark hallway, with a marbled black and gold pattern on the floor that seems to move in reaction to him. Bright, rapid flashes of pink light come from somewhere just past the end of the hall.

Unten: Let's see... there's probably a few in there, so I should...

Unten lays Imperium flat on the floor and taps it. Nycho is the first to stick his head out. He opens his mouth, but Denos pulls him back in. Quartz slinks out of the weapon quietly and stands up, looking melancholy.

Unten: This probably isn't the time, but...

Quartz nods and hugs Unten with one arm, kissing the top of his head.

Quartz: I know. I'll be fine.

Quartz looks at the pink flashing at the end of the hall and squints inquisitively. Silence awkwardly squirms out but manages to remain quiet and kneels down by Imperium, helping Strafe out with a telekinetic pull.

Unten: You ever been down here before?
Quartz: I used to pass by here and there for target requisitions. You know, who to kill, where, how...

Quartz balls up her fists and closes her eyes tightly, sad and frustrated. Unten puts a hand on her wrist. She nods without changing her expression at first and then unclenchs her hands.

Quartz: Right, right. That is the central control connector. It's not supposed to be running at those speeds, though.
Unten: Well, it is what we need, I guess. That's the important part here.

Silence looks up at the two of them as he helps Volt and Logi out.

Silence: And what do we do with Svarga once we have it?
Unten: ...keep moving...?
Quartz: Okay, hear me out... there's no bigger ship to leapfrog our way onto this time. We don't have to fight, I'd really rather not have to, but if we're going to do '"something, and we've got this place, all fueled up...

Unten puts a hand on his chin in thought. Quartz frowns sheepishly.

Quartz: Don't think too hard about it, honey, it can wait a minute. Let's get in the controls first.
Unten: Fair.

Unten looks back at Silence and Imperium; most of the team has stepped out and are huddled back against the wall quietly. Silence has his head inside Imperium's realm, holding the weapon up so he's in a natural sitting position. Unten looks back to the group.

Unten: Anything wrong?

Silence pulls his head out of Imperium and sets it firmly in Unten's hands, shaking his head frustratedly.

Silence: The brothers are staying in there. Makes sense. They could have been more polite about it, perhaps.
Unten: ...right.
Nycho: How are we breaking this one down?
Quartz: Volt, that room connects all of Svarga's systems, but it's not just a complete total control thing. It's like a gate, and we need you securely in that gate until one of us has manual control.

Volt and Nycho both nod. Volt stops nodding and looks at Nycho, somewhat confused by his immediate confidence.

Quartz: Anything else we need, Unten?
Unten: I mean... stay safe. Feel free to chip in if this ends up being a fight, but mostly just... stay safe.
Denos: I figure you all will be able to handle this. Just let me know if I'm needed.
Hybrid IV: And if there is a fight, go ahead and toss me out on the front lines, maybe y'all can learn a thing or two.

Denos rolls his eyes slightly before smiling a little and rubbing the side of his head.

Unten: Alright, I'll take point... or whatever the term is? I'll be in the front.
Quartz: With me.

Unten smiles, not looking away from the group but holding Quartz's hand gently.

Sakeena: If I may object-
Zerita: Not without me too, chief.
Strafe: If you need one more to go up-
Quartz: We can get him group therapy after we get back to normal life. You guys don't have to prove anything right now.
Unten: ...thank you, though.

Unten smiles. Quartz pats his shoulder and puts a finger up to her mouth to indicate they need to be quiet. The two of them move down the hall in slow, stealthy strides, while the rest of the group tries to awkwardly shuffle around quietly behind them.

Quartz (whispering): You play defense, I'll go in and knock 'em out cold... shouldn't be more than a few operators to deal with...

Unten nods, shielding his eyes as they approach the flashing pink lights. As he and Quartz enter the room at the end of the hall, Quartz's eyes shrink in panic; a dozen Holy Choir bodies are hooked into the room's control system. Wires and visors connect their limp heads to a large metal disc on the wall that connects into what appears to be an organic, glowing nervous system within Svarga's walls.

Quartz: That's way too many.
Unten: Don't we need to-

Unten puts his stubby hand over his mouth. Quartz walks ahead, arms folded.

Quartz: They're unconscious. Working at full mental strain levels... and with no conscious supervisor... and about ten too many operators.
Unten: What does that mean for us?
Quartz: Well, the second we pull any one of these, the rest are gonna notice.

The rest of the group starts arriving at the entrance to the room, waiting there quietly. Quartz turns around and waves for them to come in.

Quartz: Volt, need you to be ready on the connector. Anyone who can cut, slice, crush, pick a wire and sever it on my count.

Volt looks up at the disc on the wall and Quartz nods to him. Zerita hovers her claws over one wire in anticipation, while Rubelline generates some Red Energy on her palms and blinks a lot while psyching herself up. Nycho nudges Sia.

Nycho: You know, chopping with one broken arm is-
Sia: Nah, nah, nah, no goddamn way, buddy. Balanced just for me. Watch.

Sia walks up to a wire and pulls out her Palm Cutter. She holds it steady in one hand and braces it and the wire almost like a violin. Quartz, who's heating up her claws, glances at Nycho.

Quartz: We need someone in the operator setup, you know.
Nycho: Ahh, no need to pity me like that... but also, of course, yes, please, that thing looks crazy cool.
Quartz: Right. In that case, we need one intact... so somebody needs to be ready to knock one of these Holy Choirs out, fast.

Hybrid IV nods, getting behind one of the Holy Choir bodies and leaning forward in a grappling stance. Unten stands next to her, taking a few practice swings with the dull side of Imperium. He looks to his other side and sees Sakeena using her metalbending to puppeteer four wires at once.

Sakeena: This makes ten between us all.

Denos and Logi bump into each other as they both step forward, laughing. Denos approaches one wire with a playing card he tosses between his hands, and Logi blows on his hands, coating them in energy.

Quartz: Alright, on my mark... Volt, be ready to get in.
Volt: Got it.

Volt grimaces a little before his body begins to crackle with electricity, losing solid form.

Quartz: 3... 2... 1... now!

Quartz digs her burning claws into the wire in front of her, Volt bolting over her head into the connector disc. Everyone else quickly slices, melts, or snaps their respective wires, all the Holy Choir bodies falling over unconscious. Hybrid IV lifts the visor off the Holy Choir in front of her, who blinks blindly.

Holy Choir: Hrmrmfph... what the-

Hybrid IV grabs Holy Choir and suplexes her, knocking her out cold.'"

Holy Choir: WHAT does The Threat intend to do?
Obena: We're taking Svarga back from you.

Holy Choir growls angrily. She tries to pull the Cerebral Equalizer away, but it's still stuck to Obena. The Threat stands up, holding her hands up and in front of her as she turns to see all the Holy Choir bodies guarding the scene.

Obena: Would you ever consider giving it back?
Holy Choir: NEVER!

Holy Choir tosses the Equalizer into a wall - despite its glass surface, it bounces off harmlessly like rubber. Obena shivers and frowns.

Obena: Vindozz, I'm sorry, she-
The Threat: It was a lost cause as soon as she got that thing out.
Holy Choir (all bodies in unison): For you, yes.

The Threat looks down at the floor. Holy Choir has several of her guarding bodies pick Obena's entire seat up and hold her ankles and wrists to it, while the main body approaches The Threat.

Holy Choir: You just can't take a loss, can you?
The Threat: Never was my strong suit, no.
Holy Choir: No amount of trickery or force is going to stop me, Vindi. Someone in this universe has to take you to task, and if no one else will? Well, there's plenty of me to go around.
The Threat: You really haven't changed a bit with that kind of joke.
Obena: Wait, Vindozz, what about the rest of-

Obena and The Threat both shake their heads a little, realizing what they risk telling Holy Choir.

Obena: -your life? All locked away? There's gotta be something I could do, Mrs. Choir.
Holy Choir: Afraid not. I'll be taking you in too, I need more answers... if Earth's heroes are really compromised by Vindozz, I'll have to take care of that too.

Obena tries to kick her legs around, but fails.

Holy Choir: Then again, if what he said about the fires was true, maybe that's taken care of...
Obena: Who do you mean? Derezzt...?
Holy Choir: Oh, just some stranger on the other side of Yggdrasil, seemed-

Holy Choir shivers, her eyes closing tightly. The bodies holding Obena's chair drop it and The Threat quickly grabs Obena's wrist, dragging her along running.

Holy Choir: The connector...? There's more of them onboard, isn't there?!

Holy Choir whips her head around, all the other bodies in the room scrambling out to chase The Threat and Obena. Obena, struggling to match The Threat's desperate sprinting, dangles behind, printing off marbles with her 3D wavelengths as fast as she can to slip the crowd up.

Obena: She knows about Derezzt. Derezzt is up to something...
The Threat: And he's right on the other side of Yggdrasil, yeah, but right now, we need to make sure our tickets out of here aren't dead!

Chapter 15: Resentment, Slights, and Ennui

Nycho picks up the empty visor still connected to the control connector, rotating it around to try and figure out which way to put it on.

Nycho: So I'll be driving a big space castle, huh?
Quartz: Something like that. Your mind will be a conduit for Svarga's core brain, and it'll listen to you on its own terms.
X-Ray: And this is safe for human use?
Quartz: Anything with cognizant sentient thought would do, yeah.

Quartz sets the visor in the right position and Nycho slides it on. He folds his arms.

Nycho: I don't feel anything happening. It's just... dark. And it feels like there's some kind of big animal right over my shoulder...
Quartz: Like?
Nycho: Like some kind of... hm.

Nycho turns around. The wire connected to the visor lifts him about a foot off the ground and he shivers.

Nycho: WOO! Yeah, something happened! Feels like... y'all are a bunch of little ants on me, or something?
Quartz: That's good. Volt, you keep that power going... Nycho, I need you to focus in and try turning any defense systems against Holy Choir.
Nycho: Yeah, about that, I think a lot of her are coming this way! Obena and The Threat are running.

Quartz looks panicked. The lights on the connector disc flicker.

Zerita: We got a fight coming? Everyone, ready up.

Zerita steps towards the front of the room. Quartz rubs her forehead.

Quartz: No, no, lock us down in here, we can't take all of her...

Nycho squeezes his hands and the doors to the control connector room slam shut in front of Zerita.

Zerita: ...right.

Quartz exhales, folding her arms and tapping a foot against the ground. Unten looks up at her and she looks back down, cracking a nervous smile.

Quartz (whispering): Don't know how you do it.
Unten (whispering): Does anyone?
Nycho: Hey, Quartz? I think this thing's broken. Everything looks red and like, all those little ant feelings feel like a bunch of needles, and I don't like how calm I'm being about that?
Quartz: What the-? No, no no no NO.

Quartz looks up at the connector disc. It dims entirely for a moment before flashing pink violently. She quickly dashes in and yanks the visor off of Nycho, who's eyes are highly dilated.

Quartz: X-Ray, keep an eye on him...

X-Ray frowns a little as she holds Nycho's shoulder, waving a hand in front of his face to see if he's responsive.

X-Ray: I asked if this thing was safe for humans...
Quartz: It's perfectly safe as long as we have a stable connection. Volt left.

Unten frowns and squints as he looks down at the floor.

Unten: ...he wouldn't without a good reason, right? This isn't just him going out there to solve his hangups. He... wouldn't just... hm. Huh.
Quartz: Whatever he's out there for, we can't do anything with Svarga. We're locked in here, and Holy Choir's about to throw everything she can at us.
Zerita: I always get my fight, huh? Kind of sucks, really.

X-Ray helps walk Nycho over to Sia, sitting down with them. Rubelline sheepishly leans against the wall next to them. Rachel takes notice of the four and inhales sharply.

Rachel: We're not just a bunch of sitting ducks here, people. Most of us have something. And anyone who doesn't... we fight to keep them out of it.

Sakeena looks at Rachel and smiles. She turns to face the door and Strafe steps up behind her as she splays her hands out.

Strafe: Busting that down?
Sakeena: Duh.
Strafe: Could bust some hivemind bodies down with something that big.
Sakeena: ...oh. Duh.

Sakeena lowers her hands and chuckles. Behind her and Strafe, Logi has picked up some of the severed cords from the other piloting visors and wrapped them around his hand, Denos looking on cautiously and Zerita watching curiously.

Denos: Small pulses...

Logi nods and smiles. He projects out some energy and the wires react, engulfing his hand in a crackling ball of plasma.

Logi: Success!

Zerita nods. She looks over Logi's shoulder and sees Unten and Quartz helping Sia slide into Imperium's inner world. Unten looks back at her and the two silently nod their heads up at each other.

Quartz: Easy there...
Sia: Ah, I'll be fine... I'll be doing some spinning jump out of this thing when you guys need one last save, just you wait...

X-Ray pats Unten's shoulder, and Rachel comes up to the group. Rubelline smiles nervously.

Rubelline: Taking to the whole pep talk thing?
Rachel: Somebody's gotta remind these guys they have literal goddamn superpowers sometimes.

Rubelline laughs. Quartz snickers a little too, and Unten looks around at them, forcing out a short laugh.

Unten: Yuppp... just gotta use 'em.

The Threat keeps dragging Obena through the halls of Svarga, the two not having time to slow down and readjust. Holy Choir bodies continue to chase them down, some emerging from behind doors violently while others cut off onto side paths.

Obena: Where are we going to go?
The Threat: Anywhere. If you know this place right, there's no dead ends...

A door swings open in front of the two, Holy Choir glaring out behind it. The Threat stops and swings Obena out ahead of her. Obena, yelping nervously, lets off a Wavestrike, stunning Holy Choir. The Threat smiles a little as she pushes the door shut again and keeps running.

The Threat: Keep up!

Obena runs after The Threat, somewhat dazed by the Wavestrike.

The Threat: If she knows we've got people at the connector, she's not sending everything at us. She can't wall us out. Not completely, at least.

The Threat looks back to see if Obena is still behind her. Obena waves her hands around a little as she runs behind The Threat, muttering to herself.

The Threat: Okay, what's this?
Obena (dazed): I left Sovereign back on the ship... my wavelengths are all over the place.
The Threat: Well, get those things in check.

The Threat rolls her eyes. Two more Holy Choir bodies appear in front of them, holding onto long golden spears.

Holy Choir (in unison): I know this place just as well as you do, Vindi. No dead ends.

The Threat comes to a halt, keeping her hands out to her sides. Obena stops behind her, tripping over and keeping herself up on one knee.

The Threat: Pinky. Print something.
Obena: No can do. The wavelengths, remember?
Holy Choir (in unison): You're out of options, you two. Now then... I could keep playing up the theatrics, but I'd much rather just leave you two dead here than risk bringing you back to the rest of your miserable scoundrels.

The two Holy Choir bodies spin their spears in their hands and smirk.

The Threat: Drop those right now, or I'll-!!

The Threat clenches her fists and stands in an unsteady fighting stance. Before either Holy Choir can approach, the lights above the four of them start popping violently, sparks dropping from the ceiling.

The Threat (muttering): ...that wasn't me.

Volt descends out of the lights, behind the two Holy Choir bodies. They spin around Volt so one is facing him, back to back with the second, who's still poised to strike The Threat.

Obena: Volt!
The Threat: Ughh, not this guy...

Volt grabs the spear in front of him and pulses some electricity through it, Holy Choir's hands getting shocked as she pulls back and hisses. Volt spins around and holds the spear against the other body's back, wincing when he realizes he's holding the point towards himself.

Holy Choir: You must be one of the vagabonds she's fooled for protection...
The Threat: Nah, he's fooling himself plenty already.
Volt: Cool, thanks.

The Holy Choir body Volt took the spear from jumps onto his back, trying to pull his floating head from his body. Volt charges the spear back up and it launches out of his hands, knocking the other body in front of him down. The Threat picks up both spears and keeps the second body down with her foot while Volt struggles against the one on his back.

The Threat: What do you plan to accomplish coming up here?

Volt manages to shock the Holy Choir he's wrestling, knocking her over.

Volt: You two almost got stabbed.
The Threat: No, no, no. You know what I mean. What, you think you're getting anything out of this? That's not how this works. I don't suddenly owe you anything for you doing the bare minimum of keeping me alive. Not like I can break out the old rewards, anyways.
Obena: Rewards?
Volt: Obena, you okay too?
Obena: Yeah... just some wavelength business, I'll be fine. Thank you.

Volt smiles and nods. The Threat hands Obena one of the spears and starts walking again, whispering to Volt as she passes.

The Threat (whispering): Are wavelengths, like, a thing with her? Does this happen a lot? Because she keeps just saying that.

Volt groans a little.

Volt: Everyone else is still holed up in that connector room. I'm counting on you to lead us there.

The Threat nods. Volt helps Obena up and starts following The Threat, looking distractedly off to the side.

Sakeena stands firmly in front of the doors to the connector room. She throws her hands out forcefully a few times, lowering them slowly and squinting at the door.

Sakeena: You'd think she'd get here faster.
Logi: Maybe she's trying to starve us out. Come back in to just a bunch of bones... joke's on her, I don't need food.

Sakeena looks over her shoulder at Logi, tilting her head.

Sakeena: Why would you say that...?
Logi: Best answer I can think of.
Denos: She can't get in here to control Svarga's functions either. She wouldn't be waiting us out.
Strafe: But she has the part that has the throne now. The throne does something, right?
Quartz: Look, it's... think of anyone hooked into this room as extra processing power. If nobody's giving contradicting orders at the front, you can get things done.
Strafe: So she's not using that. Or wasn't. Whatever.
Quartz: Right now, she's probably dealing with Obena and The Threat... and Volt...

Quartz rolls her eyes, leaning back against a wall.

Rubelline: Yeah, should we... fire...? Is that a thing? Could you fire Volt?
Rachel: No, and it's not like that'd change anything, dude's a nomad.
Unten: Even if we could, I don't think we should. He's... y'know, lived his life in his own ways, it's not like he ever went after any of us or anything like that, he just...

Everyone except for Quartz shoots Unten some glares. Quartz rubs between her eyes. Unten clears his throat.

Unten: Yeah, okay, he ditched us.
Quartz: He's probably going to lead them back here. It'll be fine.

Unten smiles a little.

Unten: Yeah, everyone, it'll be-
Quartz: Still being a selfish prick, though.

Holy Choir's bodies crawl on all sixes like insects through Svarga's tunnels, one stopping to polish off scratches left by Imperium using her coat sleeve while another wedges itself past her.

Holy Choir: They're heading to the connector. The doors.

Holy Choir's vision jumps ahead to a different body, positioned in a tunnel right behind where Quartz is leaning against. Her vision jumps again to a body leaving the observation deck.

Holy Choir: The tunnels. Attack from within.

Holy Choir's vision jumps back again, to a body rummaging through The Threat's bedroom on what was very recently the Svarnaseie.

Holy Choir: That blue bastard. Electric. Could be anywhere? Ready to die for her. Pathetic, like we are.

Holy Choir's vision jumps one more time, to a body setting the Cerebral Equalizer back in the vault. It places the orb down for a moment, before quickly snatching it back up.

Holy Choir: See you soon, me.

The scene jumps back to the connector room. One of the unconscious Holy Choir bodies twitches. Unten and Quartz both reflexively back away, and look at each other.

The Threat, Obena, and Volt wait in front of an elevator, Obena rubbing her numbed jaw a little. Volt looks around nervously.

Volt: She's gonna ambush us, isn't she?
The Threat: Of course she is. You don't have to say it like you just figured something out.
Volt: And you don't have to keep treating me like this. I get it, you're detached, you're above all this, you didn't need me to step in.

Obena looks at both of them, looking a little sullen but mostly just awkward.

Obena: Look, whatever issues you two have-
The Threat: Oh, he has issues. Me? I just want him to go away for once.
Volt: What's the right call for me to make?! We're here, it sucks, I had the option to do nothing and that sure didn't seem right.

Obena motions to her right with her head and shoulder. The elevator doors have opened, and she's having to hold them open with one hand.

Obena: You two can deal with it on your own time. We need to stay mobile.

Volt, looking dejected and embarrassed, hurries onto the elevator. The Threat steps in, shrugging.

The Threat: Just figured this might be the last time we see each other. Good riddance...
Volt: Oh, so you're planning on disappearing after this.
The Threat: What do you think I was planning to do before I needed you all to do me one last favor?
Volt:, you got me there, at least.

Obena fidgets nervously in the corner of the elevator, unsure how to handle the two fighting. The elevator doors close and the elevator starts descending, rattling a little.

Volt: So, just you and... uh, who else...

Volt puts a hand on his chin in thought. The elevator starts rattling more, almost swaying a little. The Threat looks around, alarmed, while Obena clutches the walls, looking nauseous.

The Threat: Yeah, the rest of Svarga's crew ditched me, you can ask 'em all about it later. Just... hold on for a second.

The Threat tries pounding on the walls with her hands like she's trying to scare an animal away. The elevator stops swaying, now wedged down at a sharp angle and grinding its way downwards. Obena sits down and curls up tightly while Volt's eyes darts around.

Volt: It's her, isn't it? Trying to stop us, I bet.
The Threat: More like trying to make us ram into the bottom floor.

The Threat picks up one of the stolen spears and thrusts it up through the ceiling of the elevator a few times. Holy Choir peeks in through the holes, completely unharmed. She clambers off and heads upwards.

The Threat: Find something to hold onto.

Volt looks around for a moment, hyperventilating. He sits down next to Obena, hands over his head. The Threat grits her teeth and jabs her spear into the floor, holding steady against it.

The Threat: C'monnn, steadyyy...

The elevator slows to a crawl. The Threat looks up. Holy Choir has several bodies holding the elevator cable firmly. The Threat scoffs as Obena reluctantly stands back up.

The Threat: Always with the theatrics, Amadea...
Obena: Are we safe now?
The Threat: No way, we're right where she wants us.

Volt gets back up, dusting himself off a little. The elevator doors slide open, revealing the hall to the central connector. Only one Holy Choir body stands ahead of them, this one wearing a sash and holding a broadsword, back facing the three of them.

Holy Choir: You made a mistake not packing your bags when you left, Vindi.

Holy Choir turns the sword a little, revealing glowing Galvan Artifact runes on it. Volt clearly panics, while The Threat seems fed up.

The Threat: How am I supposed to believe you want to "treat me fair and justly" when you try and stage this elaborate nonsense?
Holy Choir: You lie, you steal, you cheat, you infiltrate my home... I'm being more than fair now, Vindi. I'm being generous.

Holy Choir turns around. She has several smaller objects from The Threat's vault hanging from her belt, including the Cerebral Equalizer. Obena and Volt both step forward, ready to fight. Holy Choir cracks a smirk.

Holy Choir: Do your worst. I don't have to open those doors to kill the rest of you fools.

Volt growls and charges his body with electricity, dashing forward and looking for a circuit to enter. As it becomes evident there's no alternate path for him, his energy fades and Holy Choir catches him by the head with her free hand.

Holy Choir: I've been listening to your friends talk about you, Volt. Quite the unreliable type. Ready to escape at a moment's notice... so I went ahead and cut off anything with a wire in this hall.

Obena runs past Holy Choir while she's distracted, leaving Holy Choir looking furious as she tosses Volt aside. Obena slams the doors to the connector room repeatedly, trying to stir up noise.


Sakeena puts her hands up and starts prying the doors of the connector rooms apart, Obena managing to lean her head and one arm in.

Sakeena: We couldn't hear you through the door. What's going on out there?

Holy Choir pulls Obena back, glaring in at Sakeena intensely. The walls around the group begin to clatter and dent with movement behind them.

Quartz: Why didn't I think of that...? Everyone, stay ready.

Panels get flung off the walls as Holy Choir sends several bodies into the room. Sakeena spins on her heel and catches the panels, pulling them around her as shields. Unten keeps a few of the bodies away with Imperium, holding it sideways and grunting as he pushes back.

Holy Choir (in unison): Nice try.

Holy Choir has two bodies grip Imperium and uses Unten's pulling against him, making him trip backwards and then throwing him across the room. Quartz fends one body off from choking her with her claws and knocks her down with an elbow, but another quickly takes its place.

Holy Choir: Don't you get it? I have no reason to hold back on any of you, and there's more of me than you'll ever be able to defeat.

Zerita grabs onto this Holy Choir's head and pulls her back, grabbing another one by the head and knocking the two together before dropping them.

Zerita: What are we holding out for here? Think we can get Volt back in?
Quartz: Our best bet now might be getting back to the front.

Zerita nods, seeming to seamlessly go from conversation to grappling with another Holy Choir body. Sakeena weaves some shields back and forth in a snaking pattern, keeping a few bodies from attacking Rachel and Rubelline while giving Strafe something to pummel a few more against. She looks over her shoulder and looks out unsurely.

Sakeena: Yeah, only thing is there's this hall, and, uh...

Volt rubs his head as he gets up from being tossed. Holy Choir has Obena in her grip with her Galvan Broadsword at her throat.

Holy Choir: I should have seen right through you... good job keeping it all up, "lawyer".

The Threat tosses a spear - clumsily, but well enough for Holy Choir to feel compelled to catch it in dramatic fashion. Volt puts his hands on the ground and sends off some electricity, Holy Choir swerving around to dodge the bolts. Obena wrestles out of her grasp and throws a surprisingly good punch into Holy Choir's cheek.

The Threat: Don't just stand there making her dance! Get in there and, y'know. Fight.

Volt groans a little as he pulls himself up. Holy Choir has her lower set of arms holding the Galvan Broadsword behind her, away from Obena, who has her fists up defensively.

Volt: What's the artifact for?

Holy Choir turns to face Volt, holding the Galvan Broadsword at the ready in a strange three-handed grip.

Holy Choir: Enhanced capabilities of the mind. All my bodies can run at 100% this way... I'll have to keep this one around after I split your heads.

Volt charges his hands up, holding them out to the sides.

Holy Choir: I see you have your own. Probably trained in some form of energy projection?
Volt: Chargian.
Holy Choir: Ah, the temperaments of weather. A wonder someone like you could be so blind as to defend her.

Obena kicks the spear across the floor, between Holy Choir's legs. Volt looks thrown off and leans down to pick it up. Holy Choir swings her sword and Volt dodges underneath, holding the spear up against the blade.

Holy Choir: You, Sakeena, Six... I can see it all over you three especially. The stains she left on your minds.
Volt: And you don't have any?

Holy Choir practically snarls and pushes her blade down harder. Volt tilts his floating hands, Holy Choir's momentum making her slide the sword down against the spear.

Volt: You two, try to get in there and help the others. I'll get this one.

Obena nods and heads back towards the doors, doing her best to wedge herself through the small gap again. Holy Choir glances at her, but then back to The Threat.

Holy Choir: Right this way, Vindi.
The Threat: You first, Amadea.

Holy Choir smirks, readying her sword again. Volt gets ready to launch a bolt of lightning through his spear, but Holy Choir uses the Galvan Broadsword to hold the spear upwards, the bolt striking the ceiling.

Holy Choir: What about you, Volt? Wouldn't you make way for her?
Volt: much as anyone else...

Holy Choir takes a step back, in almost a fencing stance but holding back on any movement. The Threat takes some reluctant steps forward, eyeing them both nervously.

The Threat: You're going to regret this, Amadea. I'm about to go take my rightful home back, and you're going to be stuck here dueling this jackass in some misguided attempt to find closure. I know you, Holy Choir, and you can't just give up.
Holy Choir: Perhaps.

The Threat chuckles as she passes by, shaking her head.

The Threat: You really never change.

As The Threat gets ahead of them, Holy Choir unlatches the Cerebral Equalizer from her belt, tossing it up and down like she's about to throw a pitch. Volt screams as she rushes forward and jams the Cerebral Equalizer into one of his hollow eyes.

The Threat: Wha-?!

The Threat turns back around. Volt is floating in place, shivering but mostly unresponsive in the Equalizer's mental grip. Holy Choir brandishes her Galvan Broadsword towards The Threat.

Holy Choir: I think I've changed enough. Can you say the same?

Sakeena sees Obena wriggling through the doors and groans from exertion, tossing the panels up into the air and turning to melt the doors enough for Obena to climb through. She spins back around in time to catch the panels and forms them around herself and Obena.

Sakeena: How's it going out there?
Obena: They're having a fight with some... really loaded romantic tension...? Oh, the elevator's busted, too.
Sakeena: I can fix that, just-

Hybrid IV bodyslams one of the Holy Choirs into the panel behind Sakeena. Sakeena coughs a little as she almost gets knocked over.

Sakeena: Focus on keeping as many of these bodies down as possible.
Obena: Wavelengths are... Nycho would say "yikes".
Sakeena"': Then, uh... stay with me. Maybe get to Imperium.

Obena nods. Sakeena splays the panels back out and Obena hides behind her shoulder as she starts walking forward, using the panels to keep the boundaries of the fight away from them.

Sakeena: Unten, gonna need to follow your voice.

Unten groans as he pulls himself up, leaning back against the wall. Denos is standing over him, keeping some Holy Choir bodies just outside of reach by seemingly levitating his cards around like buzzsaws.

'"Unten: Over here!

Sakeena looks around, not seeing Unten. She metalbends some ladder steps into one of the panels and climbs up to look around; Unten is across the room from her and Obena.

Sakeena: Obena, how do you feel about high speeds and tight spaces?
Obena: Well, hm... I've been on some pretty small ships before...

Sakeena scoops Obena up with a panel, melding it into almost a bullet shape around her.

Sakeena: Straight toss across the room. You ready?
Obena: U-uh, okay!

Sakeena grunts and sends Obena flying towards Unten. Obena whimpers as the makeshift metal pod skids across the floor, Strafe stopping it with his foot as he fistfights a very exhausted-looking Holy Choir body.

Strafe: Good to see you.
Obena: Likewise...

Obena kicks inside the shell and it falls apart. She rolls her way over to Unten, who sighs a little.

Unten: All good?
Obena: All good. I need to get in Imperium, if you don't mind...
Unten: No, no, of course.

Unten taps Imperium and it opens up. Obena nods politely as she rolls into it. Unten seals Imperium shut and exhales as he stands up, looking at Denos.

Denos: You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd think Obena frustrates you.
Unten: What? No, she's alright, just... maybe let's have this conversation another time.
Denos: Let's.

Unten rolls his shoulders and runs in with Imperium, knocking back the bodies Denos was holding back.

Obena rolls into Imperium's inner realm. Sia and Nycho are both sitting around, looking bored, while X-Ray looks over The Fan, who's still comatose. The Enemy sulks, far from the rest of the group.

Obena: Room for one more?

Nycho smiles and waves to Obena, who gets up and walks over.

Nycho: Heyoo! X-Ray says my immune system's gonna be fried for the next few days, so I get to kick it in sick bay.
Obena: Awww.
Sia: What are you in for?
Obena: Y'know, wavelengths.
Nycho: Ah, damn, that sucks.

Sia looks confused by how quickly Nycho seems to accept that answer.

Nycho: What was it like getting to play lawyer?
Obena: Well, Holy Choir has... some kind of mind control lie detector device, so not easy.
Sia: Ah, so that's how she figured us out.
Nycho: I got to drive Svarga for like, 5 seconds. Then Volt ditched us.
Obena: Oh, yeah, he was helping us. He's still out there fighting.
Nycho: Is it a cool fight? Loaded romantic tension?
Obena: Oh, absolutely. He's stanning The Threat.

Nycho nods sagely.

The Threat steps around cautiously as Holy Choir keeps her sword pointed directly at her. Volt struggles and groans, pulsating with energy but paralyzed in place.

The Threat: You don't have to do any of this...
Holy Choir: Exactly. I'm doing it because I want to. Just like everything else.
The Threat: It's not like any apology would be good enough for you, huh? You've been letting this grudge control you for... however long it's been... and you can't get me to beg over something I know you aren't changing.
Holy Choir: You just keep saying exactly what I'm thinking.
The Threat: Maybe I really do get you.

The Threat and Holy Choir both chuckle. The Threat stands with her hands behind her head, closing her eyes.

The Threat: Do your worst.

Holy Choir nods and lunges forward. The Threat sidesteps the attack and grabs Volt, holding onto him from behind and grabbing one of his floating hands to aim at Holy Choir.

The Threat: C'mon, blue, do something!

Volt lets out an almost ghostly wail. Holy Choir looks back over her shoulder at The Threat, no expression on her face but clear anger behind her eyes. The Threat sighs and tries to pull the Cerebral Equalizer from Volt's eye, falling paralyzed under its control just like him.

The Threat: Why did you even come here, idiot?
Volt: I can't just watch people die. You'd hate me, they'd all hate me too...

Holy Choir walks forward, preparing for an overhead swing. The Threat barely manages to topple herself backwards out of the way, leaning against a wall and holding Volt up.

Volt: What do you... even think of me...?
The Threat: Not what you think of me, I'd wager.

The Cerebral Equalizer, having fulfilled its purpose, falls out of Volt's eye. The Threat lets go of him and Volt fires off a large blast of electricity into Holy Choir's side, damaging her jacket and knocking her off balance.

Holy Choir: Hghh! My jacket...!
The Threat: I've told you a million times, just take one from the other bodies, it's no big-

Holy Choir swings her Galvan Broadsword at Volt, narrowly missing.

Holy Choir: Just let me have NICE THINGS for once, Vindi.

Volt leans out of the way of another swing, The Threat dodging the opposite direction. Holy Choir strikes Volt's body with her knee and uses a free hand to hold his head steady, readying her sword.

The Threat: Wait!

Holy Choir instinctively looks to The Threat. Volt charges his body up, shocking Holy Choir's hand. Holy Choir practically screams and hits Volt with her knee a few more times, enduring through the pain.

Holy Choir: Give it up, you glass-headed spineless wreck!

Volt pushes back physically, electricity crackling and arcing off his body. The Threat ducks as Holy Choir gets blown backwards when she tries to lay a second hand on Volt's head.

Volt: Get moving.
The Threat: Yeah?

The Threat runs, low to the ground, over to the doors of the control room, trying to climb in.

Volt: She's only using one body, still... I've got this.
The Threat: Yeah, she lives for the theatrics of it all or whatever. Don't get cocky, though.
Holy Choir: She's right... I only need one body to put down someone like you, Volt.

Volt looks genuinely thrown off by the aside. The Threat, a leg and an arm sticking out as she slips through the gap in the doors, rolls her eyes and looks at Volt.

The Threat: I know you're at least good enough to beat her.
Volt: Oh. Uh... tha-

Holy Choir comes back towards Volt strong, swinging her sword upwards. Volt dodges awkwardly, his floating body parts falling a bit out of alignment to avoid the blade.

Volt: Thanks! Bye!

The Threat looks off, disinterested, as she makes her way into the next room carefully.

Unten exhales somewhat exhaustedly as he and Quartz wind up crossing paths in knocking Holy Choir bodies around.

Unten: Holding up?
Quartz: Yeah, I can hold my own just fine, she's just so persistent...

Unten nods and turns quickly, him and Quartz covering each other's blind spots and looking around. Quartz grumbles a little as she sees The Threat entering, Sakeena trying to scoop away a set of Holy Choirs who immediately rush towards the goddess.

Quartz: Oh boy, she made it... and Volt's probably still out there picking fights... great.
Unten: We're all doing our best, I think. That includes them.
Quartz: You don't have to be so nice about it, you know.
Unten: I mean, yes, I'd rather not be in this situation, but for what it's worth-

A Holy Choir body on the floor wipes her face off and grabs Unten's ankle. Quartz plants a clawed foot in Holy Choir's back and pulls her four arms back, letting off a short growl as she tosses the body aside.

Unten: -I think things are going alright.
Quartz: Look, just... don't expect me to interact with her more than necessary.

Unten nods. Strafe approaches the two, popping his knuckles.

Strafe: Break room back here? Got anything to drink?
Quartz: Just catching up.
Strafe: Right, right. Either of you figured out how to keep these things down without like... killing them?
Unten: That's probably a great question, but right now? Best option is just matching them blow for blow.
Strafe: Easier said than done...

Strafe looks down at the body Quartz just tossed aside, shaking his head a little in exhaustion.

Strafe: Oh, yeah, heads up, Vindozz's in here now, she might need-
Quartz: I know, yeah.
Unten: If you could guard her, we'd really appreciate it.
Strafe: Oh, sure thing. Just, uh, cover my place in... all this mess...

Volt barely repels several quick swings from Holy Choir's sword using short zaps, trying to dodge around but confined by the tight hall.

Volt: I know I can't just ask you to stop fighting now, but... what gives, you know?
Holy Choir: I would assume you'd get it. Then again, your friends seem to doubt you without even knowing what I had to go through...
Volt: Well, too bad for me, then.

Holy Choir swings left and Volt ducks right, bunched up against a wall. He kicks his tail out and fires a bolt off at Holy Choir's knee, causing her to brace against a wall, the two mirrored.

Volt: Will you bring out another one if I beat you?
Holy Choir: Whatever it takes to purge you scum from Svarga and take her into custody.

The two rush back at each other, Volt placing his hands along the flat side of the Galvan Broadsword.

Volt: Y'know, if I can get a good enough grip...

Holy Choir tries to push her blade closer. Volt, drawing from contact with two Galvan Artifacts, lets off a field of electricity around himself, which Holy Choir tries to endure, shivering and jittering.

Holy Choir: Y-you aren't even hurting me!
Volt: Sure is hard to swing that thing now, though, isn't it?

Holy Choir pulls her blade back and swings, her grip slipping with only one hand on the hilt. The Galvan Broadsword misses drastically and wedges into the wall.

Holy Choir: Well played.
Volt: I try.

Holy Choir lets go of the sword and lowers into a grappling stance. She tackles Volt, gripping him with two arms while another two try to unravel his Galvan Scarf.

Holy Choir: Much easier than having to lug that old relic around... I think I'll be taking myself a trophy...

Volt grunts, struggling to break Holy Choir's grip.

Volt: Don't you dare...

Volt pulls back; Holy Choir stumbles off him, but his Galvan Scarf is tangled all over his head.

Volt: I-I'll still fight like this. Don't make me.

Holy Choir grabs Volt's head, using the Galvan Scarf as reins.

Holy Choir: If I remember correctly, you Sparklings can handle a little separation, no? It wouldn't kill you if I took your head...

Volt's eyes spark a little as he desperately swings around.

Holy Choir: Just a little more pull...

Volt grabs the Galvan Broadsword out of the wall and slashes it, leaving a shallow cut in Holy Choir's side. He pulls his scarf back down as Holy Choir stumbles back, one of her four arms held over her wound.

Holy Choir: You could have killed me with that...!
Volt: I know. I'd rather not. I'm... sorry, I think.

Holy Choir stands still, panting through grit teeth. Volt lowers the sword.

Holy Choir: What are you going to do?
Volt: What about you?
Holy Choir: ...seems we're at a bit of a standstill.

Holy Choir coughs.

Holy Choir: You have both of the Artifacts. The other bodies... they're active, sure, but there's gotta be a root.
Volt: You?
Holy Choir: Me.
Volt: But you're going to switch soon.
Holy Choir: Oh, sure, but I just wanted to talk while I had you...

Holy Choir places a hand on the wall next to her to support herself.

Holy Choir: You'll never get any clout with her. She can't understand either of us. Mortality isn't her strong suit.
Volt: ...I know. I'm not going to say what I'm doing makes sense. I just figure after everything that's happened, it's worth it to me.
Holy Choir: Then it's a selfish endeavor.
Volt: ...I guess...?
Holy Choir: Just as bad as her...
Volt: You know, I'm starting to realize you don't actually have a lot to say to me.

Volt readies his sword again. Holy Choir smirks devilishly.

Volt: So this is probably a trap.
Holy Choir: Wha...? No... I'm trying to read you, Volt... to save you or let you strike me down. It's your choice...
Volt: ...huh?

Holy Choir leaves herself wide open to an attack. Volt looks genuinely upset and confused.

Volt: No, you really don't have to do that. It's kind of bumming me out.
Holy Choir: You can throw yourself away for her, Volt! It's all your call!

Volt looks at the Galvan Broadsword. He lifts it with both hands and channels electricity into it before plunging it into the ground, forcing the whole blade into the floor. Holy Choir growls.

Volt: Have fun digging that out.

Volt floats by Holy Choir, who stumbles towards the exposed hilt of the sword.

Volt: Guess she wasn't lying about the theatrics...

Strafe stands ahead of The Threat, quickly blocking blows from a Holy Choir body using his forearms before incapacitating her with a chop to the neck. The Threat rolls her eyes.

Strafe: They're getting easier, I think.
The Threat: Yeah, so why do you need to guard me or whatever? I can fight.
Strafe: Not gonna lie, it'd be fun to see how you do it. But no dice, you're the one who built this place, can't risk it.
The Threat: You just love having someone to talk to while you do this, don't you?
Strafe: I was... answering your question?

The Threat grumbles. The Holy Choir body on the ground next to them starts laughing, but stays still.

Holy Choir: You really know how to pick 'em, Vindi.

Strafe instinctively leans back down into a fighting stance. The Threat puts an arm over his chest to block him and steps in front.

The Threat: We ought to hear her out...

Holy Choir smirks smugly. The Threat plants a foot down on Holy Choir's gut and she coughs.

Holy Choir: Volt managed to pull a fast one on me.
The Threat: Huh, good for him.
Holy Choir: I don't have the Galvan Broadsword anymore. I'm back down to, you know. Subconscious understanding from all my bodies, instinctive capability, instant switching. The barebones basics.
The Threat: Oh yeah, didn't have time to ask out there; I had a Galvan Artifact? And a sword? Man, I really should have cleaned that vault out a few epochs ago.
Strafe: I think she's trying to negotiate surrender or something like that.
The Threat: She's not.
Holy Choir: Yeah, no. I'm not.
Strafe: Then why are you talking to us? And why are we still talking to you?
The Threat: And so, everyone starts slowly coming to the same realizations I made a hot 600 years ago.

The Threat rolls Holy Choir over with her foot, rubbing her temples.

The Threat: Look, I know the whole vibe here is kind of weird and this whole thing went sideways, but we are on the upswing here. And hey, since we're getting this drama queen out of the way early, I get to go sit on my nice throne again while you all... bicker and kiss and have existential criseses in the back.
Strafe: Still an angry god ready to smite us all out there.
The Threat: Yeah, have fun dealing with that.

Volt slips his way into the room as a bolt of electricity, dematerializing and cupping his hands around his mouth to yell.

Volt: Unten! You still need me in the connector or whatever?

'"Quartz passes in front of Volt, tackling one of Holy Choir's bodies.

Quartz: Little late for that.

Volt nods, watching sheepishly as Quartz keeps Holy Choir at arm's length. The body's eyes flash briefly and it suddenly stops trying to push straight back, instead grabbing Quartz's arm and trying to twist it out of place. Volt shocks the body, knocking Holy Choir down on her knees.

Quartz: Ghh... thanks...
Volt: You're welcome. Oh, but about earlier, I-
Quartz: We'll talk about that later. Glad to have you back in.

The Threat leans out from Strafe's silhouette and waves to Volt. Volt groans a little and nods.

The Enemy sits in what appears to be meditation next to the unconscious body of The Fan. Sia looks at him from a distance and squints in thought.

Sia: Yeah, he's not budging.

Sia turns back to Nycho and Obena. Nycho is rubbing his chin inquisitively while Obena holds her head from both sides, her humming shaping the weakly forming wavelengths between her antennae.

Sia: You two were around him more. What's he up to?
Nycho: Actually, I came in pretty late. Barely saw the dude.
Obena: Same here.

Sia grumbles.

Sia: Tough one to crack, then.
Nycho: Is he, though? Tough guy, always knows best, likes feet, hates Unten's guts, and all our guts by association.
Sia: He's being quiet. He wouldn't shut up earlier in the trip, and now I'm getting nothing.
Obena: Well, I'd be drained too.
Sia: Jeez, do you always have to be so...?!

Sia huffs a little bit.

Sia: ...good at reading even this jackass?
The Enemy: I can hear you, morons.

Sia crosses her one unbroken arm defensively.

The Enemy: I'm recentering. Counting.
Nycho: Counting what?
The Enemy: Seconds, minutes... the natural movement of time. It's easy to lose track in here.
Obena: How long has it been?
The Enemy: Perhaps a half-hour since they entered the room. Far too long. Any other foe and perhaps they could get by at the last minute, as heroes love to do... but with The Mistake, every moment they waste up there could be equivalent to months of unparalleled destruction.
Obena: So what do we do...?
The Enemy: Keep count and pray.

The Enemy lowers his head silently.

Sia: Don't worry about him... too much... hah.

Unten stands near Rachel and Rubelline, in the midst of blocking several concentrated blows from one of Holy Choir's bodies. Rubelline leans over Unten's back, holding out her Red Energy charged hands but unable to reach Holy Choir.

Rubelline: I can get her... just scoot a little...
Unten: It's fine, really.

Unten extends Imperium down to stub into Holy Choir's foot, and then swings it up to hit her knee. Rachel comes in from the side and taps a shielding gauntlet against Holy Choir's head twice, knocking her out.

Rachel: Good work.
Unten: Thanks, I didn't really know if it'd work, honestly.
Rubelline: Looks like maybe we're thinning them out...

Rubelline floats up, still holding Unten to pull herself higher. Unten grunts sheepishly as Rubelline floats back down and nods.

Rachel: Think we can get everyone regrouped a little? We need to wrap this up before we can't keep matching 'em.
Unten: Hm, yeah... how about we make a run for Sakeena?

Rachel looks out towards Sakeena, who has two Holy Choir bodies cuffed together with metal and pulls a third in to knock them all down from the momentum.

Rachel: Yeah, she knows what she's doing.
Unten: We could use a bit of that ourselves, huh?

Rachel chuckles, nodding slightly. Rubelline seems quietly offput and holds her hands together.

Rubelline: I don't think I can fly you both over there...
Rachel: You hold back, okay? I know you do better on the defensive, it's all good.
Rubelline (quietly): Thanks!

Rubelline blushes and smiles. Rachel holds her hands up and projects some shields out in front of herself, looking over her shoulder at Unten.

Rachel: Count of three, okay?
Unten: Got it.
Rachel: One... two...

Hybrid IV barrels by the group, a Holy Choir body up on her back holding onto her hat with two arms and using the others to try and grab her neck. Rachel covers her mouth with both hands and recoils back.

Unten: You okay?!
Hybrid IV: I-I've got this! Don't sweat it, kiddo!

Rubelline's hands flare up with Red Energy and she puts on her best determined face.

Rubelline: I can handle this one.
Rachel: You've got this one! Thanks a ton!

Rachel starts moving ahead and Unten follows behind a second late, trying to keep up and getting both hands back on Imperium. Rubelline grabs Holy Choir by the coat lapels and tries to wrangle her off Hybrid IV's back, gritting her fangs.

Rubelline (muttering to self): Rachel needs this... Crow needs this... c'monnn, be cool for once...

A single Holy Choir shivers slightly as she stumbles out of one of the body storage pods, closing the mechanical door behind her and watching it melt much more organically at the seams.

Holy Choir: Haven't used too many yet... just a dozen or two...

Holy Choir rubs her jaw with her two right arms and hisses in pain.

Holy Choir: But if I can still feel that... eugh, they really aren't as weak as I thought.

Holy Choir leans against a wall, supporting herself with three hands and stroking her chin with the fourth.

Holy Choir: Well, if it's not adding up, I need to adjust the playing field...

Holy Choir pushes herself off the wall and rolls up her jacket sleeves.

Holy Choir: Net losses... eh, they're not looking great. At least I can afford this kind of screw-up.

Two more Holy Choir bodies climb out from pods and start pulling more pods from the wall, hoisting them up while the first body looks somewhat wistful, rubbing her jaw again.

Holy Choir: I will miss this place...

Holy Choir steps out into the hall, taking in a deep breath and frowning as she starts walking fast in the emptied out corridors.

Sakeena pulls one of the doors to the connector room completely out and bends it into almost an umbrella over herself as Rachel and Unten approach her.

Rachel: How's it going over here?

Sakeena coughs a little, resting one hand on her knee.

Sakeena: It's a lot.
Unten: Take care of yourself, okay...?
Sakeena: You first? Y'know, lead by example?
Unten: Ideally, ha.
Sakeena: No, no, I should, I will... sorry...
Rachel: We just need a little more. We need to corral them all in, get all these little fights back in line... think you've got that much in you?
Sakeena: Probably. We should get ourselves something nice after this is all over, though. Lunch or something. Metalbending this much isn't just free energy.
Unten: Well, maybe we can treat ourselves outside of the context of working ourselves to the bone, too.

Sakeena cracks a small smile.

Sakeena: Alright, so, corraling them in... I could sling together some walls, maybe dip the floors a little.
Rachel: Whatever you think works! You're the one who knows your powers best. Don't let me tell you what to do with them...

Unten nods, leaning his head towards Rachel. Sakeena rubs her hands together and stretches her fingers one by one.

Sakeena: If I knock myself out cold, tell everyone not to worry about me, okay? Just regular cool superhero stuff.
Unten: Wait, do you think you'll-?

Sakeena shrugs and splays her hands out in front of herself. Metal peels off the walls around the room and starts forming into curves that establish tighter boundaries around the entire fight. Unten waves Imperium a bit to try and get attention.

Unten: Watch your step, everyone! I don't know what Sakeena's doing, exactly, but... moving objects! Keep an eye out!

Strafe waves his hand and gives Unten a thumbs up, taking a few steps back as the floor begins bending around him. A Holy Choir body in front of him drops her fighting stance as the floor dips at her feet, and then gets slid down as the floor raises and slopes, Strafe quickly improvising a few hits to knock her down.

Rachel: Don't overdo it, Sakeena...
Sakeena: No, it's cool... it's coming really easy to me, actually.

Sakeena twists her wrists and the curved walls she's creating close in tighter, creating a corner around herself, Rachel, and Unten.

Sakeena: I mean, I feel really dizzy, yeah, but... whole room of my element. Not exactly hard to get something going.

Rachel nods slightly, but looks at Unten a little more concerned. The two hold their arms right behind Sakeena in case she falls over, Unten keeping Imperium at the ready and looking around.

Unten: Head counts?

Hybrid IV raises a hand, using the other to pick up one of Holy Choir's bodies by the collar.

Hybrid IV: One over here. Give me a minute.

Two loud bangs resonate off the metal walls. Unten looks around a little frantically and sees Quartz, gritting her teeth, entangled between two Holy Choirs, kicking one over swiftly.

Logi: I figured we aren't killing, so uh, one more to that.

Unten glances over; Logi has a plasma-charged hand hovering away from a Holy Choir body who's arms and neck are tangled up in wires, keeping her held while she kicks around.

Unten: Yes, thank you.

Mioda whistles for attention, but by the time Unten's turned again, she's knocked her opponent out using the blunt side of her crossbow.

Mioda: Sorry, bad call.
Rachel: We're... looking pretty good, huh?

Unten nods. Rachel holds up a finger and sighs, a slight glare on her face.

Unten: What's...?

Rachel points. Volt stands in front of the connector, charged and ready to enter, before sighing and letting the energy dissipate off of him.

Volt: We'll talk about it later, we have things to be doing.
Rachel: Good enough.

Volt recharges and enters the connector ring, swirling around inside. A few grumbles can be heard from some corners of the room.

Rachel: I know it's been a long day, guys, but let's not go all crazy on him.

Quartz hits the second Holy Choir she's fighting with a swift tap to the collarbone and uses her tail to sweep at her feet. The room goes quiet aside from the ringing from Holy Choir hitting the metal wall.

Quartz: ...she's right. We need to keep ourselves on focus and-
The Threat: Thank you, Quartz. Let me remind you all that you can barely operate this thing without me, and that if I hadn't flown in, you'd all be sitting around on Earth feeling sorry for yourselves and saying your last rites.

Quartz looks on furiously, pupils a little shrunken and her breathing heavy. Strafe swallows nervously, trying to wave his hands a bit from behind The Threat.

The Threat: And I mean, really, even I feel sorry for the sucker. He's pitiful. Steps out of line just once and-
Quartz: Sakeena, if you don't mind.

Sakeena looks on, tilting her head. Quartz punches a hole clean through one of the metal walls. Sakeena, shocked, nods subtly and splits the wall. Quartz steps out and away, Unten shuffling away from Rachel to follow her.

The Threat: ...fine, whatever. Just point me where to go.
Rachel: Hybrid, Logi, you've got things covered, right?

Hybrid IV nods, prepping the Holy Choir she's fighting for a backbreaker.

Rachel (mumbling): Okay, uh... hm... can't get anyone out of Imperium, Unten's got something to handle. So...
The Threat: Someone needs to pilot this thing. I'm probably the expert here, but if you don't want me to, whatever.

Rachel groans, rubbing her eyes a little. She puts her hands together and takes a deep breath. Before she can start speaking, the room lurches forward.

Rachel: ...Sakeena, that wasn't you.
Sakeena: As far as I can tell, no, I can't bend anything that big.

Quartz leans her head back in, Unten right behind her looking anxious.

Unten: Honey, they've got this, just hold on a sec and-
The Threat and Quartz (simultaneously): The throne room.

Quartz huffs quietly.

Quartz: I'll deal with it.

Quartz transforms to her Second Form as she ducks back out of the gap, Unten's footsteps following behind hers.

Holy Choir sits in the throne room of Svarga, wiggling a little to get snug in the seat built for The Threat. She taps the control panels and a full display lights up.

Holy Choir: Poor, poor Vindozz... I couldn't do something this dangerous without you.

Holy Choir pushes a hand forward, holographic runes gathering around her wrist as she clenches a fist. Svarga begins slowly drifting forward to Yggdrasil.

Holy Choir: You could have kept the hivemind, but you planted it where no one would ever look... a little desolate planet in the middle of nowhere. Home of one Ms. Amadea Kazt.

Svarga's front end enters the portal at Yggdrasil, and more holograms flood around Holy Choir's hand, popping in and scattering away.

Holy Choir: It'll be hard to start anew, but that's just how it is.

Holy Choir sighs and lays back in her seat, exhausted.

Holy Choir: ...I could spare a few more to serenade you one last time, at least. From the bottom of my heart.

The elevator Holy Choir broke goes shooting up through Svarga at dangerous speeds. As it flies upwards, Quartz leaps through the elevator shaft and catches an exit, holding Unten with her free arm. She sets him down and starts running off towards the throne room, Unten trying to keep up with her Second Form's speed.

Unten: Look, I know there's nothing we can do about it right now, exactly, but I'd rather we have a little talk about this before we both get in our own heads about it.
Quartz: I don't like working with her. Simple.
Unten: But you can't handle that by just going off on your own.
Quartz: You mean I shouldn't. I damn well could, but I shouldn't.
Unten: Yes, you shouldn't.
Quartz: But I'm going to.
Unten: It's not just you... and I mean that in more ways than one. You're not the only one who doesn't like working with her, and you're not the only one who benefits from you taking care of yourself.

Quartz stays quiet and Unten frowns. Suddenly, Quartz takes her pace down to a walk to stay beside Unten, sighing.

Quartz: All I ever did for The Threat were tasks. Missions. I did things that someone always had to do for her. And this whole thing... it's another task. I don't even know what's going to happen to us after this, this isn't even the most dangerous thing in our lives right now, and I'm '"still back here.
Unten: Quartz... you've put up with her more than anyone could ask for, so we get to keep going. That's for you. That's for us, and she doesn't have to be a part of that.
Quartz: Right... still, feels kind of... gross, in a way. Fighting her ex and all that.
Unten: ...maybe, yeah.

The halls begin echoing with quiet violin music. Quartz squints and looks around.

Quartz: She's taunting us.
Holy Choir (through Svarga): It's not taunting. It's goodbye.

Quartz keeps walking ahead, but now keeps a low fighting stance, heating her claws up. Unten follows behind her, trying to cover her blindspots.

Holy Choir (through Svarga): On the other side of Yggdrasil is... some other lunatic god. Because absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all you gods seem to be utter sociopaths.
Unten: Wait, she's...
Holy Choir (through Svarga): Vindozz, perhaps I've been too harsh to you, but your response was to steal from me, run, lie your way back in and send in a force of disillusioned superpowered fools to dispose of me. You've put me in a stalemate, and if you get out, you won't be able to stay away.
Quartz: Unten, I love you, but I'm going to need to pick up the pace.
Unten: Right, got it. I'll look for... whatever we've got, to get out of here.
Holy Choir (through Svarga): Escape pods, you mean? You'd better hurry.

Quartz takes off running at blinding speeds towards the throne room, Unten clutching his stomach nervously as he runs in the opposite direction.

Holy Choir (through Svarga): Enjoy my last piece for you, Vindozz. It's been a long time in the making, my muse...

The music echoing through the halls picks up, with low drums and theremin played loud enough to make the room seem to shake. Quartz keeps running ahead, practically leaping horizontally and pushing herself off walls to soar down the hall.

Quartz: Front and dead center...

Quartz grabs onto a corner at an intersection and flings herself around without losing any speed. She kicks off another wall, flying down the hall towards the throne room, and positions herself feet-first towards the door.

Quartz: Hhh... please work...

Quartz smashes through the door, launching it towards the throne of Svarga where it bends against the stronger metal.

Holy Choir: One of the last assassins of The Threat. I thought you had turned on her.

Quartz pulls herself up, growling quietly.

Quartz: Who said I hadn't?
Holy Choir: One last bit of business. After that, it doesn't matter what you do to me.

Svarga rumbles as it enters Yggdrasil's portal, throwing Quartz off balance as she tries to approach. Holy Choir raises a fist up high and lets it relax into an open hand, dozens upon dozens of holographic glyphs scattering away.

Holy Choir: It'll take a while to get them all back together, but that's what we keep spares for, right?

Quartz walks around, standing in front of the throne. Holy Choir is slumped over with a smug smile on her face.

Holy Choir: I'll be switching primary conscious soon. Do your worst.
Quartz: I'm sorry she hurt you so long ago. I hope you find some peace with things one day.

Holy Choir seems genuinely surprised by Quartz's words. Just as quickly, though, Quartz grabs her and tosses her across the room, leaving her groaning on the floor. Quartz hesitates for a moment before sitting in the throne, shivers running up her back.

Quartz (whispering): I don't like sitting here.

Quartz splays her hands out in front of herself, trying to go over Svarga's systems and gritting her teeth.

Quartz: Volt, are you in there?

A small monotone glyph of Volt's head pops up and starts nodding very jankily.

Quartz: We need to pump the brakes on this thing.

Symbols on the holograms start translating into English characters, in Volt's monotone blue, spelling out "GRAVITY WELL".

Quartz: I know. We're going forward whether we like it or not... we just have to buy everyone a minute, slow it down as much as we still can.

Holy Choir groans more, trying to drag herself towards the throne. Quartz leans slightly and with a grimace, creates beams from her eyes, sizzling the floor right in front of Holy Choir's hands.

Unten holds his head with one hand and carries Imperium with the other, looking around frantically as Holy Choir's music grows louder.

Quartz (through Svarga): I've secured controls. The band's two left turns and then a right, honey. Probably best to knock them out.

Unten laughs a little and nods, waving up at nothing before realizing he doesn't know how much Quartz can see. He takes the two left turns quickly and quietly, and peeks his head around the right, looking into a doorway into a dark room.

Unten: ... maybe I could just...?

Unten holds Imperium out forward and extends it into the room. Slowly, he starts walking ahead, shrinking from the handle rather than the tip, to lead him in. The band seems unresponsive.

Unten: They're not doing anything.
Quartz (through Svarga): What?

Unten steps into the room fully; there's only four Holy Choirs, all silently playing their instruments with their eyes closed. Unten shudders a little bit.

Unten: They're just playing. It's honestly kind of freaky.
Quartz: Hm, yeah. Just, uh... back out. I'll lock them in and... let them finish...?

Unten slowly backs away, looking frightened. The door shuts tight in front of him and the music slowly grows quieter. Rubbing his neck, Unten looks down the long halls aimlessly.

Unten: ...guess we won.
Quartz (through Svarga): Yeah, guess we won!
Unten: On to... the next problem.

Unten rubs his head in distress as he starts walking down the halls.

Quartz (through Svarga): Oh, everyone else is over the other way.

Unten nods, but keeps walking the wrong way for a moment.

The Mistake floats upside-down in a meditative pose, inside of the massive husk he's generated. Spiked tunnels have formed around him, and the light from the sun he's created shines in through a red prism that seems to be formed from the "eye" of the shed skin.

The Mistake: Nine worlds. That's nothing. If you decide you don't like it, Derezzt, you can stop at nine. And these nine, they need cleaning, everything's gotten too complicated for their own good.

The Mistake shivers a little as he feels wind start pouring into his fortress.

The Mistake:, you really want to bring the fight to me...

Chapter 16: Closed Distances

Unten sits at the top of the elevator shaft, watching as Logi tries to grip the top of the stuck elevator.

Unten: Do you have it covered down there?
Logi: Yeah, just give me a minute... gotta find the right edge to pull on...
Sakeena (muffled): Sorry for wearing myself out, I swear this would be super easy...
Logi: Nah, nah, you take it slow for now.

Unten sighs. He sets Imperium down next to him and looks back down the elevator shaft before looking back at Imperium.

Unten: Oh, hold on a sec.

Unten taps Imperium twice. Nycho pokes just the top of his head out.

Unten: It's all good. We got rid of her.

Nycho slides out. X-Ray exits behind him, dusting herself off.

X-Ray: Any more injuries?
Unten: I mean, I think I might have busted my arms up, but we're all mostly just exhausted...

X-Ray taps Unten's left arm and he winces slightly, bending his elbow.

X-Ray: We can work with this. Just need some supplies.

X-Ray steps out of the way, making room for The Fan's comatose body to slip out onto the floor. Unten looks somewhat freaked out, but tries to regain his composure as Silence exits Imperium.

Silence: Good job clearing this place out.
Unten: Thanks. We did alright.

The Enemy steps out of Imperium and picks his brother up, holding him over his shoulder gently.

The Enemy: So, we have full control of Svarga, no?
Unten: Uh, hm... on paper, yes, but Holy Choir tried to take us straight on a nosedive into Yggdrasil, and... Derezzt is waiting on the other end.
The Enemy: Then steer away.
Unten: We're already in. Putting everything we've got into stalling and buying time.

The Enemy starts walking away angrily as if he wasn't just in the middle of a conversation.

The Enemy: Let me know when you're leaving, Silence.

Silence shakes his head and rubs his face. Unten looks up at him.

Unten: Nobody would judge you at this point.
Silence: If I did, I wouldn't tell him.

Obena gets out of Imperium, looking around a little.

Obena: Hey, Unten, which way to the rooms we were staying in? I need my sword to recalibrate my wavelengths.
Unten: Oh, uh, down this hall, take a left-
Quartz (through Svarga): I've got it, babe. I'll pipe in directions, just follow my voice, Obena.

Obena nods, giving Unten and Silence a thumbs up as she walks backwards towards the hall. Silence chuckles.

Silence: How long do you think we can keep ourselves from breaching the other side?
Unten: Oh, I'm thinking in minutes, not hours.
Silence: ...what's your plan, when you get there?
Unten: I'll figure something out.
Silence: you need any help, Unten?
Unten: I'm... trying to say I've got this...
Silence: Right, which you never say.
Unten: ...we're heading there no matter what I do at this point. I'm going to have to move at some point, by nature.
Silence: So let's maybe plan those moves out the right way.

Unten nods, standing up. Sia pokes her upper half out of Imperium and Unten crouches down to help her up.

Unten: How's the arm?
Sia: Still broken.

Sia snickers as Unten very carefully helps her climb out, holding her shoulder with one hand and Imperium with the other.

Sia: Unten, you know me. I'm gonna be fine.
Unten: Yeah, if you let people have your back.

Sia nods slightly and leans against a wall, peering over the corner and down the elevator shaft.

Silence (telepathically): Let me put it this way, Unten... why don't you extend that same kindness to yourself?

Unten blinks slowly, clearly taken off guard by Silence's words. He picks Imperium up and sets it back in his coat, looking at Silence, at a loss for words. Silence raises a hand and gestures as if to tell Unten not to worry about it.

Quartz breathes out through gritted teeth as she gets up from Svarga's throne, rolling her neck. She turns around and sees Obena looking around for Sovereign.

Quartz: I can help look for it if you need me to.

Obena shudders slightly, surprised by the sudden voice.

Obena: Sorry, forgot you were... y'know, with the whole intercom thing... it's fine though, really, you can focus on piloting!
Quartz: Kind of exactly what I don't want to do. Besides... Volt, could you pull up the shutters, please?

The front wall of the throne room once again changes to its holographic view of the horizon; nothing ahead, not even a blank flat line. The hologram seems to "melt" off into a more standard window, showing the swirling chaotic mists of Yggdrasil.

Quartz: We're already in. We can drift along, sure, but my job's kind of done here.
Obena: O-oh wow... yeah, okay, you can help.

Quartz nods, walking back towards some of the other front rooms they'd occupied.

Obena: I know it's here, obviously, I just don't know where I stashed it when we got scooped up.
Quartz: Seems like a pretty important thing to lose?
Obena: I mean, yes... I was in a hurry, okay?

Quartz enters the kitchen and starts opening drawers. She frowns to herself a little.

Quartz: I'm sorry for being harsh. You did alright.
Obena: Thanks... Vindozz is, er, quite the handful.
Quartz: Oh, trust me, I know.
Obena: Oh, right! Of course you would. Sorry, hah.

Quartz walks back out of the kitchen. Obena is standing near the doorway, seemingly having stopped looking to talk to Quartz.

Quartz: ...sword's not in there.
Obena: Where'd I put that dang thing then...?
Quartz: How was Holy Choir? Not too sadistic, I hope.
Obena: Mm, no, definitely too sadistic. Did you, like... know her?
Quartz: Eh, not really. Just before my time. Besides, The Threat always keeps her relationships on the down-low if it's some new outsider.

Quartz enters the bedroom, opening up several drawers and closing them just as quickly.

Obena: Like Volt?
Quartz: Yeah, like- wait a minute.
Obena: Oh, did you find it?
Quartz: No, err... we shouldn't... y'know, talk about Volt like he's not right there?
Obena: ...oh! Sorry, Volt!

No response. Quartz steps out of the bedroom, holding Sovereign, and looks around, equal parts bashful and skeptical.

Quartz: Wedged under a mattress. Smart.
Obena: Thanks a ton!

Obena takes Sovereign and sits down, holding the hilt with both hands. Her antennae start glowing and producing scattered waves between themselves.

Quartz: This gonna take a minute?

Obena nods. Quartz rolls her eyes back and rubs the side of her head.

Quartz: I'll go sit back down, then...

The doors slide open on the highly damaged elevator; inside, most of the crew is packed together tightly. Rachel sidesteps her way out.

Rachel: Let's try and keep this single file, folks, Logi can't hold that thing forever.

The Threat steps out first and starts walking away quickly, waving. Sakeena exits, still looking a little exhausted, and rolls her eyes.

Sakeena: You all have her handled, right? Because I-
Rachel: It'll be okay.
Sakeena: -am going to go take a power nap, then.

Rachel laughs a little. Hybrid IV steps out of the elevator, ducking to fit her powerful frame through the door.

Hybrid IV: Yggdrasil, right? Lots of options.
Rachel: I mean, I guess...
Hybrid IV: That's the spirit.

Hybrid IV chuckles nervously as she walks away. Rubelline floats out and Strafe follows behind her, the two of them standing to the side with Rachel while the elevator empties out.

Rubelline: Isn't she one of the old pros or whatever? If she's scared, things are bad, right?
Strafe: She's not scared, she's nervous. There's a difference. It's normal I'm a pretty cool guy and I'm real nervous.
Rachel: First of all, "cool" is a strong word, but secondly... look, maybe things are bad, yes, but we've got a grip on things. They could, hypothetically, be worse.
Rubelline: Hypothetically. Right now, though?
Rachel: ...not looking great!
Strafe: Nervous, not scared... look, I'm pretty sure I've got this whole thing figured out.

Rubelline tilts her head. Rachel laughs, nervously fiddling with her hair.

Rachel: Yes, please do elaborate, because I could really use either the clarity or a good joke.
Strafe: I'm not kidding around. Look... we're gonna end up back at Derezzt, maybe after a few detours. We'll all get by, but none of us are strong enough to even dent the guy. So... Unten's going to do, y'know. The Beorn thing.

Rachel seems to lock up a little, glancing down at the floor.

Strafe: It's not going to be pretty, and we're all going to have to look out for him. I'm not saying this to judge him.
Rubelline: He wouldn't.
Rachel: I mean, potential universal threat weighed against personal ethics... he wouldn't.
Strafe: I hope he doesn't. I just... wanna be there for him if he's gotta do that again.

Rachel nods. Rubelline looks over at the elevator; Denos steps out last.

Denos: Alright, Logi, you can-

Logi drops the elevator. He floats back down to the halls, dusting his hands together.

Logi: Phew... not as easy as it looks, kiddos.
Denos: Highly appreciated.
Logi: So, we taking bets on Unten?

Denos grumbles and looks at Logi scoldingly.

Logi: For. I'm betting for him. For him to not do it. C'monnn.

Unten sits in X-Ray's makeshift hospital room, getting his left arm wrapped in black gauze from his wrist up. Zerita and Mioda walk in, Mioda knocking a hand on the doorframe.

Unten: Thanks for checking in on me.
Zerita: Don't mention it. Or do. Your call.
Unten: Hah... anyways, really, I'm fine.
X-Ray: If we didn't have medical supplies, you could have suffered some permanent joint damage a few years down the line.

The room goes quiet. X-Ray keeps bandaging Unten's arm silently for several awkward moments.

X-Ray: He'll be fine now, though.

Mioda exhales relievedly.

Mioda: Thank you for handling it.
X-Ray: No problem. How's everyone else holding up?
Mioda: Sia's good, The Fan's... still comatose, but good. I haven't seen Nycho around.
Unten: Which probably means he's fine.
X-Ray: He is... energetic.
Mioda: Everyone else is just worn down. We could all use a rest.
Unten: We're covering that as much as we can...

Unten looks away, nervous and deep in thought. Zerita gestures for his attention and he snaps out of it briefly.

Zerita: Look at it this way. You're the leader, right, chief?
Unten: We don't really strictly operate like that anymore... and even if we did, everyone else seems to like-
Zerita: You are leading a group of people towards some outcome.
Unten: We're all working hard on this, Zerita.

Zerita pinches between her eyebrows with her organic hand and spins her mechanical claw at the wrist a few times to blow off stress.

Zerita: Okay, if you're really going to be this stubbornly humble... you are a necessary presence in this group. You bring something to the table, bare minimum.
Unten: Yes. Sure.
Zerita: So if you're... a necessary presence in this group, someone who perhaps has a hand in decision-making, so, for example, leading... there's no wrong answers. You're trying your best just like everyone else. Nobody's let down.
Unten: Right. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Zerita nods firmly. Unten nods back.

Zerita: Let us know when you're out of this super scary surgery, chief.
Mioda: I'm going to try and find somewhere to polish my crossbow. Zerita, you'll be...?
Zerita: Oh, you won't find me, I'll find you. Don't sweat it.

Zerita pats Mioda's shoulder as the two walk out. Unten looks down at the ground, deep in thought about Silence's words. He swallows and clears his throat.

Unten: Thank you again, Zerita. I really mean it.
Zerita: problem, chief.

Nycho shivers a little as he sits in a long, fancy dining hall of Svarga. Denos, Logi, and Hybrid IV are at the other end of the long table, and Rubelline is floating above them, admiring a hovering, almost organic looking chandelier. Strafe and Rachel walk up behind Nycho.

Rachel: She really had a taste for the ostentatious, huh?
Nycho: Yeah, I could get used to all chairs being this big.
Strafe: We wanted to catch up a little. You kind of took off running after you got out of Imperium?
Nycho: Oh, I'm good. Just wanted to see what this place looks like without, y'know, occupation.

Nycho leans back, hands behind his head.

Nycho: Tried Holy Choir's soup. Very bad. Thank the various deities that I was born on a planet with flavors.

Rachel and Strafe look at each other and shrug slightly. Nycho leans back forward a bit, holding his hands together.

Nycho: Now then, on to our final confrontation.
Rachel: You sure you don't need a break...? Like, I'm probably taking a break. It wouldn't be weird to stay safe.
Nycho: Already on a flying death trap that's cruisin' for a bruisin'.

Rachel sighs.

Rachel: Yeah, we know.
Strafe: You don't have to prove anything to us, man. You've done great.
Nycho: Oh, I know, but if I'm going down, might as well go down swinging, huh?
Rachel: You really don't have to. And we're not going down. We're... heading into choppy waters.
Nycho: Perhaps.

Rachel pulls up a seat and sits down, resting her head on one hand. Strafe lounges back in another seat, struggling to get comfortable.

Rachel: Really wasn't expecting the pessimism, Nycho.
Nycho: Oh, no, I think I'm gonna lose doing something super cool and heroic.
Rachel: ...I think that's still pessimism?
Nycho: Hell if I know. Want some bad soup?

Rachel shakes her head, pushing the bowl of soup over towards Strafe. Rubelline looks down on the three of them, drifting a little lower in the room.

Rubelline: If it means anything, I think things will be okay. Messy... but okay.

Rachel nods up at Rubelline. Across the room, Hybrid IV leaves, looking frantic. Nycho and Strafe lean in and huddle up.

Nycho: She's usually so fun. Like a wine aunt or a buff Santa.
Strafe: You wanna do something cool and heroic?
Nycho: Emotional support?
Strafe: Emotional support.

Nycho and Strafe quickly get up from the table, Rachel opening her mouth to talk to them but shaking her head and staying seated.

The Threat opens the steel doors to the front of Svarga dramatically, standing in the doorway for a moment and smiling somewhat smugly.

The Threat: Quartz, I can take the throne from here.

Quartz leans from her seat to look at The Threat and rolls her eyes as she stands up.

Quartz: Yes. Please. It'd be a big help.
The Threat: ...right...

The Threat folds her arms as she realizes Quartz really would rather not do it anyways. She walks over calmly and sits down, staring off at Yggdrasil's wormhole blankly.

Quartz: maniacal laugh, no monologue?
The Threat: I'm not some kind of devil.
Quartz: Good.
The Threat: Good, then.

The two of them shoot passive-aggressive glances at each other.

The Threat: I've been doing good calling you Quartz, right? I know it's what you want.
Quartz: Yes, you're doing very good at basic decency.
The Threat: Thank you.
Quartz: You're welcome.

Quartz walks away quickly, scowling hard. As she shuts the door, Obena, who's still been sitting behind them, flinches, rattling Sovereign.

The Threat: She's so, so difficult, pinky.
Obena: Yeah, because you...
The Threat: Gave her life? Created her corporeal form and breathed the miracle of consciousness into her?
Obena: You hurt her. Quite a few times, to my understanding.
The Threat: I know. I'm not oblivious. Things are different now, that's all.
Obena: Have you tried apologizing to her?
The Threat: I'm a downtrodden woman cast out on her own after fighting for years to reclaim her rightful home. I don't see where I need to apologize for-
Obena: I don't have some Equalizer or whatever to read your mind with. Have you?

The Threat takes a deep breath and sighs, slumping forward in her throne.

The Threat: I try and pick up a crew just once and I wind up with the only one in the universe who's more of an empathetic little slug than Unten...

The Threat rubs between her four eyes.

The Threat: I have not apologized. I don't need to.
Obena: But she's "difficult". Would she be less "difficult" if you did?
The Threat: Yes, but she needs to get over it. I'm not going to bend or break. If Volt can get over it, she can too.
Obena: do remember Volt's-

Volt reappears out of the holographic surface of Svarga's "window", briefly frying the screen black before it fades back in. The Threat frowns at him.

The Threat: You need to be in the ship. Everyone's going to get mad at you again.
Volt: Are you even actually steering?

The Threat crosses her arms defensively.

Volt: I didn't "get over it". It's not like I'm just pretending you never wronged me. I'm keeping an eye on you, Vindi, because you're dangerous, for all of us, and honestly? For yourself.
The Threat: Oh, like that's it. Like you don't still have your emotional hangups.
Volt: I do! I absolutely do. If you want to talk "difficult"? Today has been exceedingly difficult.
The Threat: Can you just shut up about your feelings for five seconds and tell me exactly what it is you're looking to get out of any of this? There's no fanfare. There's no light at the end of the tunnel. You don't get them, and you don't get me.
Volt: You are... against all odds, someone who is important to me. I also recognize you're a dangerous egomanic who takes incredibly poor care of herself. I would just like to help you exist whatsoever. Maybe one day, you're better off for it. That's all I've got.
The Threat: ...pathetic.

Volt groans and re-enters Svarga's circuitry. Obena leans her front on Sovereign as she sits.

Obena: Now, I'm no counsellor, but I know a thing or two about diplomacy, and I think-
The Threat: Shut up. Go somewhere else.

Obena frowns and gets up. The Threat exhales and starts hyperventilating slightly, clutching her head and one armrest.

Silence walks along some of Svarga's halls alone, running a hand along metal detailing running through the walls.

Silence: It really is remarkable... I wish I weren't here under these circumstances.

Silence pauses for a moment and puts his hands in his pockets. He looks around, seemingly a little confused.

Silence: ...ah, that one was just for me, then. Who might be up for conversation...

Silence places two fingers to the side of his head briefly and then holds his upturned hand outwards, closing his eyes tightly.

Silence: Hm. This ship is... really full of negative energy, huh...

Silence turns his wrist back and forth.

Silence: They all don't need me and my lecturing right now. They need to-

Silence's wrist freezes up, paralyzed to the bone. Silence winces. He opens his eyes and no longer sees Svarga; only a black void.

Silence: ...oh no.

Silence presses his head again. The void slowly fades from black to a cacophony of red static. He blinks rapidly, and suddenly, he's back in Svarga.

Silence: He's so much closer. He's... he's...

Silence hears sizzling. He pulls his fingers from his head, and his fingertips look scorched.

Strafe and Nycho stand at the end of a long hall, leading to the observation deck. Hybrid IV is ahead of them, in her own similar situation; at the entrance of the observation deck, watching The Enemy meditate next to The Fan's comatose body.

Nycho (whispering): She knew they were here, maybe?
Strafe (whispering): Let's just... y'know, see what she does. It's weird if we interrupt her now.

Strafe tries to look inconspicuous and Nycho imitates his stance perhaps too exactly to look inconspicuous. Hybrid IV just stands still at the entrance, clearly breathing heavily and rolling her shoulders.

Nycho (whispering): She's not doing anything.
Strafe (whispering): Give her a minute.

The two stand still for several long, drawn-out moments. Hybrid IV shakes her head and turns back around. Strafe grabs Nycho by the sleeve and tries to walk away with him like they were just passing by.

Hybrid IV: It's sweet, guys, but no need. Good ol' teach is fine.
Nycho: What are you talking about?
Strafe: No, no, we're not doing that.
Hybrid IV: I am... it's like... some problems I can't deal with, so I don't.
Strafe: What brought you up here?
Hybrid IV: I worked at Boltzmann... I worked for those two. My job was to pass on what they wanted people like you to know how to do. And now their... poor little experiment turned brother is the most dangerous thing in the universe?
Nycho: I'm not sure I'm tracking from point A to point B.
Hybrid IV: I used to be a hero! I used to help people! And then I facilitate their sick military boot camp and what do I get? Completely outclassed. There's nothing I can do to fix this one.
Strafe: ...yeah, I'm right there with you on this one. Sucks.

Strafe leans back against the wall. Hybrid IV leans back next to him, rubbing her face. Nycho sighs.

Nycho: Strafe, you said it yourself. Emotional support. Cool and heroic.

Strafe nods slightly.

Nycho: No, listen. This isn't a problem any of us can punch, so maybe let's just... be people? Make each other a little less miserable?
Hybrid IV: ...right, right. Look at me, being all doom and gloom. You all need some support.
Strafe: Look, if you need to talk about it-
Hybrid IV: I've got better things to talk about. Why not sit back, tell some stories of the good ol' days, enjoy some... what's the food situation looking like?
Nycho: Protein slabs and bad soup.
Hybrid IV: Enjoy some... warm company and good laughs. That's where I was going with that.

Hybrid IV starts walking off, patting her face lightly to psyche herself up. Nycho follows behind her. As Strafe stretches his arms up before he walks along, a rough, coarse, muffled voice fills his head.

Strafe: What the-?!
Hybrid IV: It's not just me, then?
Silence (telepathically, but rough): Everyone, please, get to the dining hall. Derezzt isn't just waiting for us on the other side, and he's close. Again, please-

Unten runs down the hall, holding Imperium under his bandaged arm and looking panicked as he receives Silence's message.

Silence (telepathically, but rough): -get to the dining hall. We can reconvene and plan there.
Unten: No, no no... please, not like this...

As Unten turns a corner, he sees Zerita, running just as fast as him. Obena paces in from another corner, looking uncharacteristically sullen.

Zerita: Chief! Looks like it's time to mount up. No wrong answers, remember?
Unten: Right. R-right.

Unten tries to keep up with Zerita, stumbling a little. Obena, despite seemingly not moving as urgently, keeps up right next to them.

Obena: We've got this, guys. We can wrap all this up soon.
Zerita: That's the spirit.
Unten: okay, Obena?
Obena: Doing fine.

Unten nods reluctantly. The three rush through into the dining hall; Silence is sitting cross-legged on the table, Rachel is trying to calm Rubelline down, and Strafe, Nycho, and Hybrid IV have already arrived. Quartz passes in quickly, leaping over Zerita, and skids to a halt.

Quartz: Fill us in.

Silence exhales and stands up.

Silence: My apologies for the quality... you see, whatever Derezzt is doing, it damages my telepathic senses.
Zerita: Some kind of psychological attack?
Silence: On one front, yes. But, it's... more than that. There's a physical - no, more like a raw elemental component.
Zerita: How bad is it?
Silence: Let me put it this way; he's trying to destroy something on the material plane, and he's trying so hard, it's affecting the immaterial too. He's pulling at some very dangerous threads.

The Enemy walks in scornfully and sets The Fan in a seat. From across the room, he glares at Unten.

The Enemy: There is no great scale of justice, there are no limits he will not bend, there is nobody he will not break. There is no ethical dilemma for you to hide away in anymore, Unten.
Unten: I-
Silence: You have created a monster and shamed him for his own existence so deeply that he now poses a threat to life as we know it over misunderstandings. I could spend the rest of my life thinking about the ethics of this situation and give you no moral answer, Ektaz.
Zerita: As much as I hate it, there is an answer. You take the dangerous monster out of Derezzt and all you have left is... some poor harmless immortal who really needs a hug...?
Nycho: If Derezzt can do this stuff just because he got angry, what if Descending him like... sucks his soul out or some shit? Like, he's the power, the power is him...
The Enemy: No. Don't think about that. Don't.
Silence: Nycho raises a valid question.

Unten clutches his stomach as he gets overwhelmed by the debate. Quartz notices and puts a hand on his shoulder, narrowing her eyes.

Mioda: Unten has consistently found a better way than aggression to solve these kinds of problems.
The Enemy: He already Descended me and my brother.
Logi: Zeon did blow up.
Zerita: Don't you dare bring that into this, you sack of-
Denos: Logi. Apologize.
Logi: I'm sorry. What I'm trying to say is... Unten has tried to solve problems peacefully. In practice, these things end up going worse, not because of him, but because whoever he's facing is a violent maniac.
The Enemy: Watch your words.

Unten rubs his forehead, stumbling in place a little. As Sia and X-Ray approach from behind, Quartz looks to them, angry but clearly worried too. Sia nods quickly.

Sia (whispering): Don't worry.

Sia gently holds Unten's shoulders and moves him out of the way, quietly slipping into the crowd while the rest of the crew is debating. X-Ray holds Unten's right wrist and puts the back of her other hand against his forehead.

Unten: I-I'm fine.
Quartz: You're going to go take care of yourself. X-Ray?

X-Ray nods and leads Unten away. Quartz turns back towards the debate, arms folded and a nervous grimace on her face.

The Enemy: -and notice that The Threat has nothing to say about this. For all we know, she's steering us right to him.
Strafe: She's also on this ship, you jackass.

Unten walks with X-Ray, somewhat slowly, and pants.

Unten: Look, thank you for getting me out, but I'm really okay.
X-Ray: You're having an acute panic attack and you were probably going to pass out. We're going to sit you down and get you some water.
Unten: ...water does sound nice.

X-Ray nods, leading Unten ahead to the front of Svarga. Unten tries to walk a little faster, but X-Ray grips his wrist and gently enforces a slower pace.

X-Ray: I'm... sorry if my care hadn't been sufficient in treating your mental health as well.
Unten: No, no... X-Ray, thank you. You're doing great.

X-Ray smiles slightly. As the two enter the front section, Volt and The Threat are sat down across from each other on the floor, The Threat facing away from the door. Unten's breathing gets a little more rough again as X-Ray heads to her office.

The Threat: -but whatever it is, it isn't... you know. You'd be helping me as a friend. Actually, no, not even that.

Volt and Unten exchange glances across the room, Volt looking almost as uneasy as Unten. The Threat snaps her fingers.

The Threat: Pay attention, blue.
Volt: ...yes, as a friend. Or whatever you want to say.

Unten looks somewhat confused, but walks into X-Ray's makeshift offices. X-Ray hands him a bottle of water and he shakily opens it up, taking a sip.

X-Ray: I feel like I've noticed a pattern, but I didn't realize it'd get so severe.
Unten: This situation doesn't exactly create the most comfortable environment for me to... not have panic attacks in.
X-Ray: Why do you think that is?
Unten: ...look around, X-Ray. All this.
X-Ray: Be critical of it. Confront the emotion.
Unten: ...The Enemy has all of us right back here, cleaning up his messes. I don't want it to end like it did last time.

X-Ray nods. Unten sits down, taking another sip of water.

Unten: I don't want everyone to have to suffer this again because of me...
X-Ray: It's not because of you, though, is it?
Unten: Not really, but... things shouldn't have gone like this.
X-Ray: It's okay to be scared. You just need to remember to take care of yourself, too.

Unten gulps anxiously and nods.

X-Ray: While they all bicker, I'm going to check your blood pressure.

X-Ray heads to look through her medical tools. Unten sinks into his seat, trying to take deep breaths but still looking jittery. A slight rumble in the floor makes him sit up straight again.

Unten: What's going on...?
X-Ray: Try to stay relaxed, it'll be okay.
Unten: No, it's like, right outside of here.

The floor rumbles again. X-Ray looks around, tilting her head curiously. All of the sudden, several people burst into X-Ray's office - Strafe, Rachel, and Sakeena, who are all huddled around Silence. Nycho taps the door furiously with his flat palm and he and Obena enter too.

Unten: What's wrong?!
Rachel: The Enemy... did not react well to you slipping out of the room.
Strafe: He tried to climb up on the table and fight Silence.
Unten: Oh no... guys, I'm so sorry.
Silence: Unten, you're perfectly fine. I'm proud of you for taking care of yourself.
Sakeena: Yeah, dude... it's important. We've been trying to get you to do something like this for basically the last few days.

The floor rumbles again. Quartz enters the room and leans down to hug Unten tight.

Quartz: I'm so glad you're okay...
Unten: ...I'm glad too, honey.
Rachel: What's it like out there?
Quartz: They're keeping him out, don't worry.

The floor rattles again. Through the doorway, Unten sees Hybrid IV almost effortlessly holding The Enemy in the air by his wrist.

The Enemy: All of you WILL pay for this! I put mine and my brother's life on the line for the greater good, and you do nothing but-

Zerita does a quick roll into the room, past Hybrid IV, and slams the door shut. Sakeena metalbends the lock to shut securely.

Unten: ...he wants to fight me, I'm guessing.
Sakeena: Probably. He's throwing a real fit.
Unten: I mean, I did kind of hit him in the jaw...

Sakeena, Rachel, and Strafe laugh a little. Zerita claps softly.

Strafe: Oh my god, I thought Quartz was joking.
Unten: Nope... hah...
Quartz: One of the better things you've done, in my opinion.

X-Ray smiles softly, staying in the back but happy to see Unten getting some relief.

Unten: Look, guys, I'm sorry if I haven't been at my A-game lately, it's... it's difficult.
Rachel: It's really okay. And you're not alone. I have no idea what Bang will say when I get home... I'm kind of terrified, honestly.
Nycho: I think it goes without saying I did not intend to take a three-day weekend and go to space.
Strafe: Eh, if anyone would, it'd be you.
Nycho: Fair.
Sakeena: This whole superhero life... it isn't easy. And it's way harder when we have to dig back up these messy loose ends.
Obena: I'm sorry if I haven't been pulling my weight either...
Quartz: You put up with The Threat. You've pulled your weight for the next few months combined, as far as I'm concerned.
Sakeena: Seconded. You've got serious guts, Obena.
Unten: Yeah, like... thank you. Couldn't have done it without you.

Unten smiles, hoping to look sincere. Obena smiles back.

Zerita: Well, if we're getting all sappy in here... Unten, I really don't know how you've done all this. Except for the punch. That's all me. But I didn't teach you how to take care of people like you do.

Zerita extends her organic hand for a handshake. Unten accepts, wary at first that it's going to be some kind of training exercise. The two laugh after their awkward pause and hug.

Silence (telepathically, but rough): I'm glad you've been listening, Unten. You're on the right track.

Unten and Silence share a brief glance. Strafe pulls up a seat for himself and one for Sakeena, the two sitting down.

Strafe: Look at us. Once again, cornered with no escape aboard Svarga...
Sakeena: Pff... nah, there's totally an escape. Hybrid IV's got that strong bod. She could snap The Enemy like a twig if she really wanted to.
Unten: Besides... doesn't feel so cornered in here. Feels like... us. Feels like us being us again. Am I making any sense?
Rachel: Something like that, sure.

Unten and Rachel laugh. Quartz sits next to Unten while Silence heads towards the back of the room, with X-Ray.

Silence: Do you think you can handle... psychic, telepathic injury?
X-Ray: No dice. ...I'm glad you're all here, though.

X-Ray smiles, waving slightly.

Unten: Look, let's... get through this. And I know I've been saying that a lot, but I think I mean a different "this" this time. We're going to handle Derezzt the best we can, but... we're all going to be alright afterwards. Our lives aren't just this.

Unten nods somewhat awkwardly. Quartz pats his back and smiles, kissing his cheek.

Quartz: I'm so happy you're-

Svarga rumbles severely, a terrible shriek filling the air as the lights in X-Ray's office go out. Silence groans and curls up slightly against the wall. Rachel activates her shielding gauntlets and holds them over her ears.

Silence: That's the first volley...!

The room stops shaking and the lights come back on, albeit highly dimmed. Rachel lowers her gauntlets. Unten looks at Quartz, who nods, and then to X-Ray.

X-Ray: Do you feel well enough to?
Unten: I think so.
X-Ray: I see no reason why not, then. Take it easy, though. I doubt we'll have much time for more check-ups...

Unten nods and gets up. He pulls Imperium out of his coat and tries to tap it to illuminate the room, but nothing happens.

Unten: Imperium?
Rachel: Silence said what Derezzt is doing affects... 'the immaterial plane' or whatever. It's cancelling out psychic abilities. What if that's putting Imperium on the fritz?

Silence nods, despite his pained, curled up state.

Silence: Excellent eye for detail, Rachel.
Unten: Not great, but it's okay, we've got... some light.

Sakeena metalbends the entire door out of the way. The Threat is standing angrily outside of the office.

The Threat: That almost hit us.
Nycho: Ah, but it didn't.
The Threat: Yeah, no, it didn't, but I was trying to handle some personal business-
Nycho: You and Volt making up?
The Threat: No. It's personal business. Emphasis on business. You know, business matters.

Volt leans into the doorway and waves sheepishly.

Quartz: Okay, really though, Volt. No "we'll talk about this later". Can we count on you?
Volt: Absolutely. I know I messed up, but I hope you guys can trust me.
Quartz: ...and, okay, yeah... I mean, did you two make up, or...?
Volt: No! It's not like that, it's like, I'm going to be-

Another near-miss and low shriek, this time below Svarga. The holographic window goes pure white while the blast goes by, lighting the entire room harshly.

Quartz: Later.
Volt: But you just said not to!
The Threat: Read the room, blue.

Unten steps out and heads down the hall, the rest of the group following. Hybrid IV stands in front of them, holding The Enemy in a full nelson.

Hybrid IV: What should I do with him?
Unten: Find somewhere to lock him in for a while. Try to be nice about it.
The Enemy: I suppose I'll see you on the other side, Unten. Congrats on damning us all. You-
Hybrid IV: Nope! None of that.

Hybrid IV tightens her grip and carries The Enemy away. Logi, Denos, Sia, and Rubelline approach the group, Denos standing in a defensive stance for the other three.

Rubelline: Hey guys! I'm okay! Just feeling amounts of adrenaline I didn't know I still have!
Rachel: It's all good. He's not hitting us yet, right? Maybe these are warning shots.
Unten: Volt, when you're in Svarga, can you see outside?
Volt: Yeah, I've got full sensory access. I'm on it.

Volt runs both hands along the wall looking for something to enter the circuitry of. He finds a mechanical lock and takes a few quick breaths to psyche himself up before entering its circuitry.

Unten: Okay, uh, hm... anyone else here unable to use some of their abilities?

Obena prints a small cube to test her powers, catching it out of mid-air. Rubellibe charges her hands with a bit too much Red Energy before toning it down.

Unten: Good, most of us are still intact.

Another low shriek begins, but no blast seems to follow it for a moment. Unten pulls his coat up slightly and covers his ears, bracing himself.

Unten: Steady...
Sia: It's not going off yet...

Svarga rumbles hard, the ceiling starting to crack slightly and spill dust in. Volt topples out of Svarga's circuitry, gasping for air slightly.

Unten: What'd you see?
Volt: I don't know if it's me or Svarga or what, but my senses feel all fuzzy in there. I-I think I saw... fire. Just these big long beams curving right around us.
Rachel: So he's not going directly at us?
The Threat: He's probably not going directly at anything. Yggdrasil, nine worlds, ring a bell? Gravity gets weird whenever you're in-between all of these things.
Silence: ...this isn't even him trying, then, is what you're positing.

The Threat nods. Silence mutters and shakes his head.

Unten: Okay, so... he's on some other side of all of this, and he has... let's put it bluntly, way more advantages than us.

The hall goes quiet for a moment. Unten puts a hand on his chin.

Unten: Let's put something together.
Nycho: Could we do something with, y'know, the warp thing? We're not in atmosphere now, and we've got a whole Svarga's worth of warp juice, don't we?
The Threat: Risky. Hard to drive like that. But I could get behind that.
Unten: We don't know what he's doing out there. Do we go for the approach, do we go around...?
Rubelline: Couldn't we steer... y'know, to one of those other worlds? Where Derezzt isn't? Then we can get the drop on him from somewhere else.
Unten: Whatever he's doing seems like a pretty urgent emergency. I think this is... kind of it, Rubelline.
Rubelline: Oh, like... it it.

Rubelline laughs worriedly. Sia glances over at her.

Sia: I would like to put forward that, as injured... personnel, I guess, or whatever you want to call it... I require assistance. I nominate Rubelline.
Rubelline: Y-yeah, okay!
Logi: You said we don't know what Derezzt is doing, right, Unten? I could do a good old-fashioned space walk. Sparklings don't need as much oxygen as y'all.
Denos: Logi, I can't abide by that.
Logi: I used to do it all the time on our expeditions!
Denos: There's... what'd you say a moment ago, Volt? Beams of fire curving around us?
Logi: We've done way worse.
Denos: That isn't a reason to do this and you know it.
Unten: I'm going to go ahead and say I think going on the outside of the ship while we're being fired at is a bad idea.
Volt: If Logi could, couldn't I?
The Threat: No can do, blue. We talked about this.
Logi: Aw, how sweet.
Volt: If you let me explain for like, two minutes, you'd understand it's really not?
Unten: We're probably getting closer by the second... look, we don't have enough to go off of, we don't have all the information or resources or strength we need. What we do have is this place, a warp drive, and some of the smartest people I know. I think we just... go up to the front and wing it until we have some solutions.

Unten exhales, looking down slightly. Rachel pats his shoulder. Obena clears her throat.

Obena: I agree with Unten. We don't really know what to do, but I don't think the answer's gonna come to us while we wait around.
The Threat: You're probably right, huh... well, it's stupid and I don't want to scuff Svarga up, but we might as well.

The Threat starts walking back to her throne, Volt following behind her. Unten takes a moment to take some deep breaths as everyone starts heading forward, pausing when Quartz passes by him and holds onto his hand.

The Threat squints and shields her eyes as she walks to her throne, the holographic window at the front of the room still burning bright. Volt moves ahead of her and re-enters Svarga's systems, shuttering the window.

The Threat: Alright, we've got to make it through here blind. I know you're having trouble seeing or whatever, blue, but... just kind of, y'know. Discern fire from not fire.

The Threat sits down, pulling up some holographic controls that light up from yellow to blue. Obena and Nycho come into the throne room, both carrying some of The Threat's protein slabs. The Threat looks over her shoulder at them.

The Threat: Yeah, uh... this is usually kind of just... my room, so there's not like, somewhere for you all to sit.

Nycho and Obena take a step to the side; Strafe walks in slowly pulling The Threat's bed into the throne room and arranging it sideways as almost a bench next to the throne. The Threat scoffs slightly.

The Threat: That wasn't an invitation for you to make somewhere to sit... but whatever.

Obena stands at the other side of the throne, not looking directly at The Threat while she eats a protein slab.

Obena: Vindi, I'm happy to work with you for the greater good, but I'd like an apology for earlier.

The Threat rolls her eyes. Her holographic controls glow and dim, swirling around her hand. She tries to shake them off but fails, sighing and looking up at the ceiling.

The Threat: I could have treated you better. I... would like to apologize for that.
Obena: Appreciated and accepted.

Obena smiles and offers The Threat a protein slab. The Threat grumbles slightly and takes a bite.

Nycho: So, how many times can we warp around?
The Threat: Depends on your margins for our safety.
Nycho: Promising prospects!
The Threat: A shorter warp to dodge an attack is actually going to be way more wasteful than a long-distance jump, so we're going to want to keep an eye on that... and by we, I mean me.
Strafe: So that makes us...?
The Threat: Advisors. You're free to look into some weapon systems, if you can figure anything out, but a lot of them are old or gutted out.
Obena: But that raises the question of if we should fire back.

The Threat groans a little as Obena rubs her chin. Sia and Rubelline sit down on the bed and Silence stands behind them.

Silence: Room for one more?
Sia: Sure, go ahead.

Silence sits down, adjusting his collar. Rubelline frowns as she notices his burnt fingertips.

Rubelline: I'm sorry about your hand, that looks rough...
Silence: Ah, it's not much to worry about.
Sia: You have that... magic escape button you could hit whenever you want...
Silence: Then I suppose I'm pushing my luck, aren't I?
Sia: ...okay, it kind of pisses me off that you were hiding that, but I'm also kind of even angrier that you won't even use it.
Rubelline: Sia, he's got a wife and kids... so I'm a little confused too, actually.
Silence: I feel like I need to be here to see what happens, and perhaps to help. The difficult part is the journey there, and I trust all of you to handle that just fine.
Sia: Your call, I guess.

Sia shrugs. Silence nods, smiling somewhat coyly. Unten and Quartz enter the throne room behind the rest of the group, both of them smiling.

Unten: How are things going up front?
The Threat: More or less blind.
Unten: ...are we at least moving forward?
The Threat: On your mark.

Unten clears his throat and walks to the front, standing next to the throne.

Unten: Let's start moving ahead.
The Threat: You could have just said "okay" or something...

The Threat rolls her eyes and pushes her hand forward. Rather than trying to stall backwards, Svarga tilts forward and starts moving ahead at full speed.

The Threat: Alright, blue, you know what your job is.

Several holograms light up in blue, encircling The Threat's hand. A few flash red at the lower left side and The Threat swiftly moves her hand in that direction, Svarga tilting quickly. The sizzling of a beam against the outside of the structure fills the room briefly before fading.

Unten: Any damage?
The Threat: Nothing major...

Hybrid IV enters the throne room, holding onto the doorframe while Svarga tilts.

Hybrid IV: I got him locked up in... some weird spa room?
The Threat: My old hivemind control. It's fine. You all made sure I can't use that anyways.

Unten glares at The Threat slightly. The Threat sighs.

The Threat: Yeah, yeah, no hard feelings, greater good, you know.
Sakeena: How far are we from the other side?
The Threat: We're closing in... just give me a minute.

The Threat tilts Svarga to dodge another beam of fire, rocking the whole structure backwards. The bed next to the throne starts to slide and Hybrid IV dives down to grab it, holding it securely.

Silence: Thank you.
Hybrid IV: Not even a problem, I've got you covered.

Hybrid IV walks up the now slightly uphill floor and pushes the bed with one hand. Sakeena metalbends the bed to fuse it into the floor and Hybrid IV shoots her a thumbs up and cheesy grin.

The Threat: Okay, we've got a straight shot ahead right now. I'm gonna lean us way in... if you fall over, it's your fault for not listening.

The Threat drives her hand forward in front of herself forcefully, grinning almost maniacally. As Svarga speeds up, all the glyphs around her hand start turning red, one by one, in a matter of seconds, until her whole wrist is lit up red.

The Threat: What?! C'mon, blue, there's gotta be an out.

The Threat grimaces and growls. Suddenly, the throne room is filled with loud sizzling and light shining in even through Svarga's exterior.

Unten: We need to warp now!
The Threat: How do you know what's in front of us is any better?!
Unten: Do you really want to test how long we can sit here like this?
The Threat: Okay, fine, let me just...

The Threat motions with her hand, bringing it forward and pulling it back while opening it wide. Her eyes dart around slightly as she tries to pick a destination without seeing what's ahead of her.

The Threat: Okay, uh... there!

The Threat thrusts her flat palm forward. Svarga hums with energy as it warps ahead through Derezzt's flames.

The Mistake sits alone in his fortress, hovering limply in mid-air with his hands forward. While his hands strain, they remain the only solid part of his body, the rest fading into a stuttering, glitchy mess that leaves afterimages.

The Mistake (voice overlapping with self): Ah, yes... nothing but time, gravity, and heat... they'd scoff at you, say you can't control such primal base elements.

The Mistake laughs loudly, floating freely and cartwheeling in mid-air.

The Mistake: Just imagine the look on their faces when-!

The Mistake opens his eyes. Svarga has appeared, clumsily skimming along beams of fire projecting off his artificial sun. The Mistake's body seems to shift all at once; suddenly, his body is stable, and his hands are what's left practically falling apart.

The Mistake: What's that doing there...

In a single step, The Mistake's body snaps forward, clinging flat as a 2D object against the window.


Unten clings to the side of The Threat's throne as she uses both hands to pilot Svarga, tilting and twisting out of the path of the flames with bombastic movements.

The Threat: Blue! What's out there?

A holographic symbol of a sun appears on the front wall. The Threat and Unten both look on worried. While Sia and Rubelline cling to the bed, Silence looks deep in thought.

Silence: So he's driving a star through Yggdrasil.
Unten: That's... oh, no...
Rachel: We need to-

Svarga makes another sharp twist, Rachel stumbling and sliding along the tilting floor. Sakeena grabs the ground beneath her and lets off a high-pitched groan, metalbending so that the floor locks to everyone's feet, catching Rachel, who pants through grit teeth.

Rachel: We need to cut the flow off... better yet, we need to know where it's even starting from...
The Threat: No can do. Svarga isn't equipped to fly this close to a sun...

The simplistic hologram window turns on, showing a wireframe representation of the outside world, including the strange, misshapen structure floating in front of The Mistake's sun. It flashes blue and switches through several modes, detecting infrared light and star maps, until it slowly starts to scan together into a grainy, but workable image.

The Threat: Huh. Clever workaround, blue...
Strafe: That big jagged mess... that's gotta be him, right?
Mioda: Would he really put himself in front of that? Why not behind it?

Silence places his burnt fingers on his head again, grimacing slightly. He quickly pulls them away and shakes his hand around.

Silence: He's highly active in there.
Unten: Then we need to stop him.
The Threat: Okay, but do you mean stop him, or stop him?

Unten takes a deep breath.

Unten: I'm going to try to talk him down. Even if he fights.
The Threat: Let's say you're bleeding out. Absolute last leg. You're not getting out and he's about to start burning everything down. Do you keep talking?
Quartz: Don't you dare put him on the spot like that...

Unten looks at Quartz, who's angry expression quickly turns to something more puzzled. She gestures for him to speak, tilting her head.

Unten: I try my best with what I've got.
The Threat: That's not really an answer...
Unten: Well... look at it this way. I'll build as many bridges as I can, but he has to meet me halfway.
The Threat: ...whatever. Knowing your luck, you'll probably stumble into something you can live with.
Unten: ...was that a compliment?
The Threat: I'm trying my hardest over here, yes, you imbecile, I'm being nice.
Unten: Thank you.
Zerita: Hard part is still going to be getting in there.
Obena: What about escape pods?
The Threat: Holy Choir fired those all off back in Yggdrasil.
Obena: Hm... Sakeena, remember when you, y'know...

Obena makes a flinging motion with her arms. Sakeena shakes her head.

Sakeena: I'm not risking something that might break.
The Threat: Volt, any openings anywhere on that thing?

The holographic window displays a large crossed-out circle before switching to a question mark. The Threat rolls her eyes.

The Threat: Communicate, use your words...

The hologram forms a some very similar low-polygon shapes; a humanoid figure and a window. In three frames that cycle, it displays the humanoid jumping through the window.

Unten: Through a window? I mean... if I gotta...
The Threat: Blue, let's get him up there. Everyone else... listen, he is gonna have to spend a few seconds in the vacuum of space. I've got an emergency spacesuit stashed under the kitchen sink, but that's, y'know, fit for me.
Quartz: We'll figure something out.

Quartz tries to lift a leg to walk, but her foot is still held in by Sakeena's metalbending. Sakeena puffs up her cheeks and then exhales.

Sakeena: I can only do so many moving parts. Unten, Quartz, you go get that.

Unten nods, walking ahead with the metal keeping him steady even as The Threat takes Svarga between two beams of fire. Quartz follows along, looking stoic but confident. Silence looks over his shoulder at the two curiously.

Quartz crouches, one arm deep underneath the kitchen sink feeling around, while Unten leans against the wall.

Quartz: You nervous?
Unten: Yeah, but... different nervous. Simpler. This is just some stupid stunt I gotta do, right?
Quartz: I suppose.

Quartz stands back up and hands Unten the spacesuit; a black, purple, and reflective gold outfit he unfurls and hangs out in front of himself.

Unten: We're going to have to modify this.
Quartz: Really, we only need a few parts. Localized vacuum generator and some propulsion for course correction.

Quartz takes the spacesuit and starts prying at its collar gently at a few points, loosening it up.

Quartz: I want you to know it makes me very nervous that you're doing this.
Unten: I could have guessed that much, babe.
Quartz: No, but, listen... I'm also really proud of you, and I want you to know that. You're doing this... crazy, dangerous thing, yeah, but it's with the promise that life's going to be better after this. For all of us.

Unten smiles a little. Quartz successfully pulls the suit's collar off, tucking in some wires and reaching over to Unten to get it around his neck, making him cough awkwardly.

Quartz: What she was saying... look, let's forget how you're going to do it for a second. You'll be safe doing it, right?
Unten: Of course. It's not like getting every bone in my body broken would be fun.

Quartz smirks and tightens the collar piece for a second to mess with Unten. The two chuckle together, Quartz pulling her hands away.

Unten: I promise. I'm not gonna do anything you wouldn't do in a fight.

Quartz grins and nods. She picks the spacesuit back up and pats it down, looking for its thrusters and finding them embedded at the thighs and middle of the back. She heats up one claw and starts trying to dig them out. Unten pulls at his collar, feeling it generate a field over his body very slowly, like a bubble being blown.

Unten: So, when we get home... we should get lunch with everyone. Maybe try some new restaurants. Only fair we take them out for a good meal.

Quartz smiles and blushes slightly, outside of Unten's view.

Quartz: Nothing sounds better, right about now.

Nycho makes himself low to the ground and holds his stomach as Svarga whips around at high speeds, The Threat grunting intensely as she puts her all into piloting.

The Threat: We get one pass at this. Could we please get our special passenger ready?
Nycho: We could slow down, maybe.
The Threat: Yes, let me slow down until a stray beam just swallows this vessel whole.

Unten steps in, wearing the vacuum generator collar and some thrusters tied onto his arms and back with strips of rubber from the spacesuit. Quartz stands behind him, taking a deep breath and trying to look composed.

The Threat: Excellent. There's an airlock not too far from here, Volt can... I dunno, turn on some lights or something. You can't miss it, though. Just-
Silence: One of your thrusters is slipping, Unten. Could you come over here so I can fix it for you?
Unten: I can get it, it's-
Silence (telepathically): Trust me, Unten.
Unten: -actually, yeah, if you think you've got it, sure.

Unten walks to Silence, trying his best to mask his confusion. The Threat grimaces at the two as she keeps piloting.

The Threat (muttering): Yeah, go ahead, interrupt me...

Silence tightens up one of the rubber straps on Unten's thrusters, laying both hands on it for a moment to inspect it.

Silence: There, all good to go.

Silence pats Unten's shoulder. Unten, still confused, smiles back nervously.

Rachel: Be safe out there, Unten!
Zerita: You've got this one in the bag, chief.
Nycho: We're counting on you, big man.

Unten turns around to try and wave at all of them as he walks, Quartz running up to him and hugging him. Unten hugs her back and Quartz leans down to give him a quick peck on the lips.

Unten: See you soon.
Quartz: Promise.

Unten does another big wave as he walks backwards out of the room. He turns around to see lights overhead flickering in sequence to guide him. He nods up at one before following the path, taking a left and looking at a heavy locked door.

Unten: Just the void of space... no pods this time... neat.

The door opens, revealing a ladder. Unten heads down, trying to move quickly and breathing in time; in on one rung of the ladder, out on the next.

Unten: It'll be like, what, 10 seconds? It'll be fine.

Unten turns around at the bottom of the ladder to see the glass airlock door. Svarga cruises not too far from the shimmering black surface of The Mistake's new fortress, and Unten watches carefully, taking slow reluctant steps towards the door.

Unten: Window... window...

The black surface gives way to crystalline red. Unten takes in a deep breath and takes a lunge forward, nimbly unlocking the airlock door and firing his thrusters opposite to the ship's direction to try and catch his landing spot.

Unten: Okay, okay, OKAY...

Unten tumbles slightly in a spin, floating next to the window. He fires the thrusters again, drifting gently towards the fortress.

Unten: I just gotta line up one good punch, and...

Unten lands on the window. Rather than the hard, crystal surface its appearance suggests, it crumbles like tin foil, and Unten falls in, down a long chasm, with the window regenerating above him.

Unten: Alright, clean landing-!

Unten tries firing his thrusters again and launches himself towards a wall. He braces for hard impact, but skids across what seems to be almost a balcony in the long vertical tunnel. He pulls himself up and the thrusters slump off of him.

Unten: ...okay, that was the hard part, right? Vacuum of space, checked off the list.

Unten takes off the loose thrusters and cautiously turns off his vacuum generator, pulling it off when it becomes clear he can breath. He pulls Imperium from his coat and rolls his left shoulder to limber up.

Unten: Let's find out where you're hiding...

The thrusters on the ground begin to glow purple, giving off a strange hum. Silence manifests himself from the objects, and Unten looks at him, pupils shrunk in shock.

Silence: Let's.
Unten: Silence!

Unten takes a step towards Silence, but as he does, the balcony seamlessly moves so it's slanted down, the two standing at a terrifying angle over the pit.

The Mistake (telepathically): I don't know how you got here. I don't know how you chased me down, what sinister alliances you formed to get back here to me. But I guarantee you... here, on my land, by my rules? It ends here, you two.

Chapter 17: Base Instinct

Svarga drifts past The Mistake's fortress, looping around it after dropping Unten off. Inside, in the throne room, Sia and Rubelline are startled by the sudden absence of Silence, the rest of the group looking on.

Sia: Okay, so... he did do the thing.
Denos: Without warning us... no, he wouldn't have.
Sakeena: Dude has a family back home and we're ducking and weaving around pillars of fire, trying to toss someone through space. I wouldn't exactly take the minute to wish everyone safe travels and good luck.

Svarga swings to the right, hard, making everyone brace instinctively. The Threat grumbles a little, trying to stretch and rub her shoulder after the sudden movement.

The Threat: We're down one person who wasn't doing much. It's no big deal. It's probably better you all get out if you can...
Obena: Aw, that's so-
The Threat:'s a lot harder to pilot this thing with a dozen people talking right behind me.

Obena tilts her head and frowns slightly. Quartz looks at the empty space left by Silence and squints.

Quartz: Denos is right, something's fishy.
Sakeena: What do you think happened, then?
Quartz: "Fixing" a strap for Unten.
Strafe: you're saying he'd be-

Silence leans on a wall inside The Mistake's fortress, supporting himself with one hand. Unten paces back and forth next to him.

Unten: I'm not letting you come with me in on this one. You're going to take that glove, and... and...
Silence: One moment, please. I need to tell everyone we made it in while they're still in range. With how fried my telepathy got, there's a specific window, when they come around the back.
Unten: You can't just-!
The Mistake (telepathically): Get moving. Before I move you myself.
Silence: Even harder to focus with him in here too...

Unten plants his hands back against a wall and exhales. Silence furrows his brow and clears his throat, putting his free hand against his head.

Silence (telepathically): Unten and I have made it into Derezzt's structure. I repeat, if you can still hear me, Unten and-

Silence suddenly slumps over in pain, hissing slightly. Unten rushes off the wall to put a hand on his shoulder.

Silence: He hasn't blocked my voice out... he's just made it deathly hard to speak...
Unten: Then don't. And go home. Everyone's been telling me to take care of myself, you maybe the most. I'm telling you to do the same.
Silence: Self-care takes many forms, Unten, and it can be... how to best phrase it... in the performance of a necessary, personal task.
Unten: It can be my thing.
Silence: Unten... Derezzt is the creation of some washed-up god, marked by all sides as flawed and unstable, with power beyond what he understands.

Unten stands still, somewhat taken aback, almost bracing for what he knows Silence is about to say.

Silence: He's like me, Unten. He's just like me, before I met you all, before I met Serah. Whatever happens to him... I just... if anyone can even grasp something about him...
Unten: I think I understand. I don't agree with it. You should go home. But... it does track.
Silence: It could be worse, then.

Unten nods reluctantly. He looks up, away from Silence, and the hall seems to have shifted around them, putting them at the end.

The Mistake (telepathically): I told you I'd move you myself. Keep lying to me while you come to try and murder me, it's not going to matter.
Silence: I suppose we're safer if we're the ones navigating.

The Mistake chuckles. Unten puts an arm forward to hold Silence back, going first through the hall's exit, into a room that towers upwards, jagged and twisted. Gravity begins to shift, and Unten kicks his legs panickedly as he starts to float upwards, Silence following behind him and grimacing.

Logia adjusts his glasses, trying to diminish the glare from the high noon sun over Cape Canaveral. A screen in front of him displays a highly detailed readout of the ocean weather ahead of him, with a side window showing that Eric Sinn is away from his video communications. Zane is sitting at the front of the deck of the Operatives' airship, shaking his head angrily.

Zane: I swear to you, something's going on out there. I've never had such difficulties flying before.
Logia: All our data points are showing that the Atlantic is experiencing strange weather phenomena, yes. We're doing our best...
Zane: It didn't feel like mere weather.

Sinn's video feed pops back up; he's looking somewhat disheveled. Zane flinches as the windows of the deck get covered by steel slates, backing away slightly.

Logia: Status, sir?
Sinn: Brace yourselves for a moment.

A hard burst of wind hits the airship, almost knocking it off its cables. Logia winces and grabs his desk, his coffee mug slung across the room and shattering against a wall. The outer windows crack and ocean water sprays into the room through the thin gaps between the metal protection.

Logia: Status, please?!

The airship steadies, Zane flapping his wings to keep above the now ankle-high water.

Sinn: Mass thermal disruption is coming from beyond the Distortion Mist.
Logia: Like a hurricane?
Sinn: We're dealing with something a little more complicated than that.

A satellite image appears on Logia's screen of Yggdrasil, fully visible through a hole in the sea of Distortion Mist.

Logia: We've never gotten any clear view of what's out there from orbit...
Sinn: Whatever's happening there, it's powerful enough to push away everything. The sea, the atmosphere, the Mist...
Logia: So we're dealing with an oncoming front of storms and a gas that warps space and makes things practically invisible to our trackers.
Sinn: Alternative imagery also shows unprecedented heat and radiation levels.
Logia: Lovely.
Eric Sinn: I've put in the work to contact the United Nations, and we're working on emergency measures to-

A second window appears on Logia's screen, overriding a brief security alert. Logia sits up when he sees Blank, gripping her communications screen to point it towards a window in F.A.N.T's New York offices. Outside, much of the green patina has been blown off the Statue of Liberty from a similar wave, with the waters around it swaying wildly.

Blank: STATUS?!
Logia: I've got nothing. Status is... bad. It's just bad.
Sinn: You two, remain stationed at your posts until further notice, and keep your communication channels active. I'll try to get everyone in here...
Logia: Sir, the Base is hanging on by a thread, if we're going to be detached anyways, I'd like authorization to mobilize towards a different outpost, like, say-
Sinn: New York. Clearance granted, Hugo.
Logia: Appreciate it, sir.

Sinn gives a short, knowing nod before laying his hands on his desk.

Sinn: I'm going to have a lot on my plate for the next few hours, but I'll leave my communications active for you all... good luck, Operatives.

Sinn's video feed shuts off. Logia looks back to Blank's window; she's pacing around her office, grabbing various pieces of equipment and her coat.

Logia: Cape Canaveral to New York shouldn't be too long a flight for this thing. I'll be up there before you know it.
Blank: I've got things covered here, sweet stuff... just focus on piloting. I imagine whatever just hit us is going to hit a few more times while you're traveling. Stay safe.

The Threat grits her sharp teeth as she uses both arms to try and tilt Svarga out of the way of a branching beam of fire, several of Svarga's controls pulsing in blue. Behind her, Quartz has a hand on her chin, while Nycho and Sakeena are both glancing at Strafe anxiously.

Quartz: he did set a teleportation charm on Unten.
Strafe: He's hurting. You all heard it, right?
Sakeena: Okay, yeah, but look at it this way... he and Unten have each other's backs. That's better than what we were planning, honestly.

Strafe nods reluctantly but looks off to the side, deep in thought. The Threat exhales through her teeth, leaning forward in her seat.

The Threat: You all have some very skewed priorities, you know that, right?
Rubelline: If it's any help, uh... I'm... pretty terrified of all this, haha.
The Threat: Sensible! Thank you.
Strafe: Okay, hey, sidebar on all of this; how are we going to pick them up after this? Silence can tell us what's up, sure, but I mean... if there's only one way in, there's only that one way out, too.
Rachel: ...huh.
The Threat: Let's cross that bridge when we know The Mistake didn't murder them. I mean, he could have already, but-
Quartz: Not helpful.
The Threat: It's a real possibility, and I think it's important to confront that.
Quartz: Okay, fine, yes, maybe...

Quartz clears her throat and then looks at the ground angrily.

Quartz: Maybe he did. Let's have a plan in place for if he didn't, okay?
The Threat: I loop back around to the window. It's not that complicated.
Quartz: There's only one spacesuit in there, how does Silence cross that gap? Do we stop Svarga so they can get on? Can we count on them getting back to that window?

The Threat groans.

The Threat: Okay, yes, there's minutiae to work out. Fine.
Strafe: Silence can go back home with his first charm, so he wouldn't need to do any of this. I mean, ideally Unten's getting him to do that right now, but after everything goes down, if he's still around, I mean.
Quartz: Great. That's one less issue, because we talked about what we might want to do in this kind of situation, and-
The Threat: Don't push your luck.

The Threat scoffs, Svarga swinging downwards. Quartz stumbles in place slightly from the force and frowns.

Quartz: I'd really appreciate if you'd decide if you're on our side here or what.
The Threat: Never said I was.
Quartz: Okay, then who's helping you pilot right now?
The Threat: Oh, you know he doesn't really count...

The Threat rolls her eyes. Her holographic controls seem to slip off her hands and start manuevering Svarga, albeit with much less control, the vessel starting to spin into a corkscrew. The Threat sticks her arm back through the controls and waves her other hand around.

The Threat: Okay, yes, whatever, team spirit!

The controls reform around The Threat's arm and she twists her wrist to even Svarga out. Quartz folds her arms, self-satisfied, but notices Strafe still seems distant as she glances over the room.

Quartz: Strafe. They'll both be okay. If I trust anyone to have Silence's back...
Strafe: Right, right. They'll handle things. It's okay. Just a lot to think about.

Quartz nods and sighs.

Unten uses Imperium to push himself away from the walls as he and Silence float up the long vertical tunnel, the light just barely bright enough for him to notice the prickly barbed surface.

Unten: He's not talking to us anymore, is he?
Silence: It seems as far as he's concerned, we're on our way to kill him.
Unten: I've tried my best to be... non-aggressive... I mean, I hope.
Silence: Has he?
Unten: Until they cornered him.
Silence: He seems awfully cornered in here.
Unten: Needs something to keep himself safe from... well, himself.
Silence: He's still responding, in some way, though. This place is his. We could just as easily be gone the second he wants us to be. He either wants help, or he wants a fight...

Unten nods. He looks up and sees the barbs growing bigger ahead of them, into longer and longer spikes.

Unten: It's gonna be a tight squeeze to get between these. Follow my lead.

Silence nods, putting a hand on Unten's foot to hold steady below him. Unten tries moving his arms and Imperium to steer the two to a gap, but gravity begins shifting around them again; they're no longer floating up, they're plummeting downwards, headfirst. Unten grunts as he tries to shield himself and Silence, the two beginning to slip down through the spikes.

Unten: All good back there?!

Silence grumbles a little as the spikes shred away the edges of his robe.

Silence: Good enough.
Unten: I can't really see what we're going down towards. Maybe start bracing for a landing now...?

Silence curls up behind Unten. As the two keep falling, the spiked walls part like a set of jaws opening, Unten squinting to try and discern anything in the void beneath them.

Unten: Nothing yet... but there's got to be-

Space warps around the two. Despite falling straight down, they hit a wall at a straight horizontal angle, leaving a large dent in it, with Unten taking most of the impact. Silence falls to the floor, while Unten slides down shakily.

Unten: Really need to stop taking physics for granted in here, huh?
Silence: Forgivable offense.

Unten looks around the room they've landed in; a large concave dome, with a central staircase spiraling down with unstable, tilted steps.

Silence: Yet again, he hands us a means to proceed, even if he's making it difficult.
Unten: It's better than instant death.
Silence: Or is it worse, to not understand his intentions?

Silence pulls himself up and lays a hand on his chin. Unten looks down the spiral staircase, squinting as he peeks around from a few angles.

Silence: I think I'm going to try and get to him again. Do I have your permission to loop you into the conversation?
Unten: Don't go putting yourself through that again, Silence. You said it hurt last time.
Silence: Noted. Again, do I have your permission?
Unten: If you're going to anyways...

Silence discards his tattered robe to reveal the sweater vest underneath, leaning back on a wall. He places two fingers to his head and Unten feels a slight shiver run down his back.

Silence (telepathically): We've stopped here to try and talk, Derezzt.
The Mistake (telepathically): I know. I can hear you two. Telepathy doesn't have to be a two-way street. Besides, you're in my head.
Unten: Wait, we are?
Silence: Window was the eye, back there were jaws, this seems to be a skull we're in...

Unten looks back down the staircase. Its misshapen structure makes more sense as a spine. He nods slowly while Silence switches which foot he's standing on.

Silence (telepathically): This whole experience is confusing for us, which I reckon is the point of the exercise, but we thought it'd be worth it to attempt communication.
The Mistake (telepathically): Wouldn't see why.
Silence (telepathically): There's any number of things you could do to make this quicker and easier, and I never assumed you enjoyed seeing us suffer. What's the point?
The Mistake (telepathically): We both need to gather ourselves if we're going to do our best, no?
Silence (telepathically): Okay, then stall for time some other way. Put us in an indestructible cell until you're ready for us.

Silence pauses and waits. No response. He pushes off the wall and clears his throat.

Silence: Didn't hurt this time, at least.
Unten: So it's only when you try to go through his... skin, or whatever.
Silence: You ever see a cicada, Unten? It's like that, I think. A big husk. Dead skin.
Unten: Let's change the subject before I get too freaked out to keep walking in here?
Silence: He needs to be able to listen to us, or perhaps even wants us to be able to confront him remotely.
Unten: It's probably a bad idea to keep talking, then.
Silence: No, no, I think it's good. If what I said is right - him and me, two of a kind, that kind of thing, he's scared right now. If we keep talking, we establish we aren't here to fight.
Unten: But he can hear us saying all this right now, and that's going to change what he thinks about the whole thing.
Silence: Touché.

Silence picks his robe up and retrieves the charmed gardening glove from the garment, smiling slightly as he tucks it away in a pocket in his vest.

Silence: Miracle this thing survived all that.
Unten: It wouldn't work if you tore it?
Silence: It's just cloth and magic. Short of complete vaporization, it'd work. Serah would just hate if it was broken.

Unten smiles as Silence chuckles. The two take a step down onto the first slab in the spiral staircase, slowly measuring out their balance.

Unten: What'll the trick be here?
Silence: Eh, we'll see.

Obena leans over The Threat's shoulder, with Sia stretching over from the bed, the two of them focused on the rudimentary view of the outside while The Threat feverishly steers them along the edge of a beam.

Obena: Okay, it'd be to the bottom-left... hold on...
The Threat: Little busy here! Make it snappier.

The screen changes. Obena points, moving her arm forcibly. Svarga has looped back around, and Yggdrasil is in view below them.

Obena: There!
The Threat: We're not going back, it's-
Sia: No, wait a second.

The screen refreshes again. Beams of fire loom over Yggdrasil, the barren planet beneath it starting to crack and crumble.

Sia: It's starting to reach it.

Obena whimpers anxiously. Hybrid IV shakes her head, grimacing angrily.

Hybrid IV: I can't let him burn Huxxabu down...
The Threat: We don't exactly have a say in the matter. That's up to Unten.
Obena: Are you sure there's nothing we could do...?
The Threat: Well, depends. Can any of you move the fire out of the way?
Quartz: No, but what about... I don't know, distracting him from out here? If he could do this without being here, he would.
The Threat: Okay, tell me how we can knock on that door loud enough to make him stop throwing a sun at us.
Quartz: I mean... well...
Obena: The signal flares. What if we hit that thing with signal flares?
The Threat: Hm. Not a lot of oomph there, but it's not like I need 'em right now.
Obena: Where's the controller?
Strafe: Should be a few rooms back. Sakeena, un-stick me?

Sakeena nods and frees the floor's grip on Strafe's feet. He starts moving, faster than she anticipated, and she moves her arms frantically to keep up and keep him planted with each step.

Obena: Thank you, Strafe!
Strafe: Don't mention it.
The Threat: I can't exactly promise you a clear shot. Try to make these count, alright?
Obena: I think I can handle it...
Sia: Give me a crack at it.
Mioda: If we're not just handing it to Obena... hey, maybe, y'know, trained ranged shooter onboard?
Sia: Fair.
Obena: Good idea.

Strafe walks back in, holding the signal flare controller. Obena points to Mioda, who waves a hand. Strafe hands the controller over, and Mioda notices he's shaking slightly. She opens her mouth.

Strafe (muttering): Thank you, but I'll be good.

Mioda closes her mouth and nods. She turns the controller on and squares her shoulders, leaned over the handheld device intensely.

The Threat: Gonna work a little differently than that big crossbow you lug around everywhere.
Mioda: As if I only trained in archery.

As Mioda's eyes dart back and forth between the screen and the display on the controller, Strafe walks back towards the end of the room, near Sakeena. He tries to walk past her and she locks his feet back down to the floor.

Sakeena: Talk it out.
Strafe: Nice trick.

Strafe chuckles. Sakeena twists the floor so Strafe is facing her. His laughter dies down sheepishly.

Sakeena: Doesn't have to make you feel better. Just say something and let it be off your chest.
Strafe: ...this whole thing sucks and it didn't really hit me until Silence teleported off.

Sakeena nods and puts a hand on his shoulder.

Strafe: I know he can handle himself, but... having family around... and he has his own family now, and... it's a lot, y'know?

Sakeena nods. Strafe looks to the front of the room; not at the screen, but just to avoid eye contact.

Sakeena: Thank you for taking a second.
Strafe: Thank you for making me take a second.

Sakeena laughs for a moment. Strafe puts his hands in his pockets and Sakeena rotates him again so the two can stand together calmly.

Guadalupe lounges along the couch in the Fantendo Firehouse, holding her phone with one hand and looking at the ceiling, somewhat annoyed.

Guadalupe: Okay, no, look... my cousin left me in charge of this fire station he rents out. It's where all those superheroes hang out. So if the government comes knockin', all "hey, where's the superheroes?", I have to be here to say they're in space.

Guadalupe pauses. She sits up and looks more frustrated by whoever's on the other end of the phone call.

Guadalupe: They'd be coming because something just power-washed the entire east coast! Do you not have the news turned on over there?!

Guadalupe gets up and walks back towards the kitchen, taking a look inside the fridge before rolling her eyes and shutting the door.

Guadalupe: Maybe nobody's in because there's major goddamn news going on and they'd rather stay at home. Look, if it's really so empty in there, I don't really need to come in, do I?

As Guadalupe listens to her call, the screens behind her light up.

Guadalupe: Okay, fine, yes, I'll make up for it next week. See you then.

Guadalupe hangs up somewhat angrily and turns around. A F.A.N.T logo has appeared on the array of screens on the wall, with a yes/no prompt beneath it.

Guadalupe: Oh, uh... think it's one of the computers...

Guadalupe opens up two laptops connected to the screens and looks at them, trying to move both trackpads. One puts a cursor up and she clicks yes. She clears her throat, but looks somewhat caught off-guard when someone appears on screen; a red-headed woman in sweatpants and a track jacket, sitting in bed with a cup of coffee.

Guadalupe: Am I being pranked?
Alena: Sorry for the casual look, I'm working from home today... I'm Alena Carter, F.A.N.T engineer and technical consultant, Squad 410. I don't believe we've met.
Guadalupe: Guadalupe Invalidez. Nycho's cousin. Kind of the de facto owner of this Firehouse while he's in space. They're all in space, you know. The whole bunch.
Alena: Correct. We were unaware of who was currently residing in the Firehouse, but we figured whoever it was, they deserved a readout of our data on the current situation just to stay informed.
Guadalupe: Oh, cool. It's just me, so, uhh... yeah, sure, pull it up.

The screens quickly fill up with a wide variety of data from F.A.N.T; satellite views of Yggdrasil, covering every measurable field from thermal to infrared, along with a map displaying field agent reports along the east coast, and a feed of incoming news. Guadalupe blinks a few times and rubs her head.

Alena: Sorry if it's a bit much.
Guadalupe: Yeah, uh... I mean, I think I get... the gist of it...
Alena: I know it's a lot to parse, but we've got everything under control! To the best of our ability. Within current limits.
Guadalupe: Anything on my cousin? Who's... y'know, in space?
Alena: Our current projections show the ship that left Seattle probably traveled to Yggdrasil - that big tree there, the focal point in all this - and passed through a wormhole, to-
Guadalupe: Okay, so it's just more science fiction shit.
Alena: We live in such fascinating times, don't we?
Guadalupe: Ehh, yeah.
Alena: We're all very sorry to intrude or overwhelm. We'll try to stay out of your hair, we just figured if anyone outside of our direct lines of contact should have this data-
Guadalupe: Yeah, yeah, unofficial superhero capital of Seattle, I guess. And before you even say anything, I'm not going to go tell everyone about this... I imagine it's all pretty top secret right now, right?
Alena: Ohh, thank you so much, it's always really hard to broach that train of thought with outside sources. Phew.

Guadalupe nods and sits back down, lounged out. Alena takes a sip of coffee and waves.

Alena: Stay safe out there! I'll leave you to whatever you've got going on.
Guadalupe: Thanks for the update. Just drop a line if you... need anything else, I guess?

Alena nods and her video feed shuts off. Guadalupe sits up and looks at the various maps being presented, sighing.

Guadalupe: Why'd this have to be the kind of business you get caught up in?

Unten carefully puts one foot on a crooked step ahead of him and taps it a few times to see if it'll budge. Seeing it's secure, he steps down and looks over his shoulder at Silence.

Unten: How far down have we gone?

Silence looks up, shaking his head disappointedly.

Silence: Can't really make heads or tails of it. Can't see the last room, that's for sure.
Unten: He's still stalling us out.
Silence: It's still not clicking for me. He can do anything he wants in here.
Unten: Well, sure, but what choice do we get? Can't just walk back outside.
Silence: Nice confidence there, Unten.
Unten: Probably more like all of this fear talking.
Silence: Progress nonetheless.

Unten puts a foot down on the next step. Something shakes the room around them. Unten grabs onto the central pole of the staircase and Silence does the same, crouching down.

Unten: Glad you're still listening, Derezzt...

The room shakes again. Unten looks down and sees some kind of reflective red surface rising from the bottom of the room on two sides, surrounding the staircase.

Unten: I'm going to regret asking this, but those would be...?

Silence glances down and crouches down even further, trying to make himself flat against the staircase.

Silence: Lungs, perhaps. Get down.

Unten nods and lays against the stair he's standing on, watching the surfaces soar upwards past them to the top of the staircase. He squints as he looks at them, trying to back away.

Unten: Are we still sure this is dead, Silence?
Silence: Not my highest concern right now.

The shaking settles. The two now have mirror-like red walls surrounding them from the left and right, the room lit up slightly by their presence. Unten lets out a long, winded groan as he loosens his grip on the stair beneath him.

Unten: Alright, that's... something. Be careful getting back up, okay?
Silence: One moment, Unten.
Unten: Yeah, I can wait up, make sure you're good to keep going.
Silence: Not that...

Unten looks up. Silence is facing his reflection in the wall curiously, trying to examine it.

Silence: I wonder if...

Silence puts a hand on the wall and shivers intensely. Unten scrambles to his feet, trying to climb back up the stairs quickly.

Silence: I'm fine, Unten. It's... I'm not quite sure what it is.
Unten: Best guess?
Silence: It's... breath. It looks solid, but it isn't. When I touch it, I can feel him trying to make it solid, trying to hold it there. It's taking a lot of effort.

Silence shivers again and pulls his hand away, examining it closely.

Silence: And when I said that, he only tried harder.
Unten: ...he's scared, isn't he?

Silence stands up. As his reflection moves, a crack up the wall follows.

Silence: Unten, start running.

Unten nods and starts sprinting down the uneven spiral staircase, using short bursts of Aura at his feet to knock steps back into alignment below him. A crack in the reflective red walls follows his reflection down too, a low hiss filling the room.

The Mistake (telepathically): DON'T YOU TWO DARE-!

Silence starts running behind Unten, more cracks spreading through the walls. The Mistake growls as the fractures begin to spread past the two of them, interconnecting. Silence tries to put a hand to his head while moving, taking in a deep breath.

Silence (telepathically): Derezzt... it'll be okay.

The walls crack. In an instant, there is no more room around Unten and Silence, just swirling winds of red static. Unten turns to see Silence being flung away from him.

Silence (telepathically): Unten! Keep going, I'll-

Silence's voice cuts out. More and more red light floods in as Unten tries to turn himself mid-air. The winds seem to almost cooperate with him.

Unten: Where is... Silence? Derezzt? Anyone?

Unten squints and sees someone in the distance. The winds seem to stop around him, once again solidifying into reflective red crystal. Behind his own reflection, Unten sees The Mistake's silhouette, breathing heavily with his eyes glowing white.

Unten: Can you hear me...?

The winds push Unten down into a void of red static, knocking Imperium out of his hands.

As Svarga makes a wide, sweeping turn, Mioda exhales through her nostrils intensely and taps the button on the signal flare controller.

Mioda: Firing!

The signal flare appears on-screen, banking towards The Mistake's massive fortress. Before it can hit, a beam of fire bends around quickly to disintegrate it. The Threat rolls her eyes, but Mioda seems to smirk excitedly.

Mioda: So we can manipulate where the fire's heading...
The Threat: Nice shot, sure...

Mioda glares at The Threat. Sia looks over her shoulder at Mioda and clears her throat.

Sia: We could make ourselves an opening to pick Unten back up.
Mioda: Right. I'll save a few for that.
The Threat: I mean, yeah, I was thinking that too, no need to double-check with the whole crew about it...
Mioda: Of course, o wise captain...

Mioda chuckles, Sia joining in briefly. The Threat just leans forward into her controls and huffs.

The Threat: Until we see something going off out there, all I can do is keep us from getting burnt to a crisp. I would appreciate if we could focus on that aspect for a second.
Nycho: We still haven't done any big warps.
The Threat: Because we might jump straight into the fire, nitwit.
Mioda: You mean the fire we just established I can move out of the way...?

The Threat lets off a high-pitched groan through grit teeth and kicks the floor.

The Threat: YES, that fire. I'm trying to focus on a lot right now. Shut up.
Mioda: I'll line it up to the left, you jump us to the right, okay?

The Threat nods without looking at Mioda. Mioda aims another flare out and fires it off to the left of Svarga, The Threat quickly preparing the vessel to transport.

The Threat: This may hurt a little. Don't start crying over it.

The Threat slams her arm out to the right, and Svarga does a short warp, reappearing in physical space with some heavy momentum causing it to coast forward. The whole throne room seems to lurch forward, much of the group stumbling forward.

The Threat: Everyone good back there?

Nycho wheezes slightly and raises a thumbs up. Sia holds onto the bed with one hand and Rubelline's head with the other, keeping the two secure. Quartz, much less shaken than the rest of the group, looks around the room.

Quartz: I think we're good.
The Threat: Excellent. As for our little diversion...

The Threat turns Svarga slightly to get a view of the signal flare; a beam of sun fire has curved to hit it, but now curves back towards Svarga.

The Threat: Blue, evasive action?

The Threat moves her arms to try and lower Svarga, several pieces of her holographic controls pulsing blue and locking in place mid-air. With all the momentum coming off of their warp, Svarga hurtles past the fire, taking heat along the roof.

The Threat: Not quite evasive enough!

The Threat almost leans out of her throne trying to steer Svarga down while the ceiling above them all shakes, starting to glow slightly from the heat.

The Threat: C'monnn...

Svarga finally dips below the flames. The Threat leans back, putting a hand to her forehead while Volt handles evening the vessel out.

The Threat: Finally. Mioda, could you line us up for another jump?
Nycho (hoarsely): Give us a sec, maybe?
The Threat: Right, right... rookies, am I right, Quartz?

Quartz looks off to the side, uninterested in validating The Threat. The Threat looks over to Obena, who shrugs sheepishly.

Silence wakes up, sunken slightly into soft, gel-like ground beneath him. He breathes heavily as he sits up.

The Mistake (telepathically): Your indestructible cell, Silence.

Silence stands up. He's in a short, cylindrical room with no exit, a jagged black ceiling curving over him and shimmering slightly. Across the room, Imperium is wedged into the floor.

The Mistake (telepathically): A bone of some kind. I don't know which... I tried to shape my body after something like yours, but it's so much more freeing to exist incorporeal.
Silence: Where's Unten?
The Mistake (telepathically): Safe enough, for now. Out cold. One last rest before I send him on his way.

Silence walks over and grabs Imperium's handle. It seems to respond slightly, allowing him to lift it out of the ground but slipping out of his hand after, laying itself flat.

Silence: Then you've got a minute.

The Mistake materializes behind Silence. His body seems to melt away into haze at the edges and glitches around wildly, only his eyes remaining truly stationary.

The Mistake: That I do.
Silence: This isn't you. You're scared. You're afraid to hurt people, and you're terrified of being hurt yourself.
The Mistake: Silence, this is the only me there ever could be... it was always a set-up. I was made to hurt someone, and I was always going to be in pain.
Silence: Whatever's happened to you, it's-
The Mistake: They made me once, and I came out broken. Then they did it again, knowing what might fix me, all for a cheap shot against The Threat.
Silence: The war's over. You don't have to fight for them anymore.
The Mistake: I'm not fighting for anyone, Silence. I'm changing how we play the game. If I'm not suited for this world, this world is going to have to suit me.

The Mistake approaches Silence, who backs away and starts reaching into his vest.

Silence: It doesn't have to end like this.
The Mistake: I killed one of the old gods and even you all, who couldn't stand him, have joined forces with an even worse foe, all for the sake of delivering your sick, shriveled idea of justice. Silence, I thought you were smarter than this... it'd always end this way.

Silence grabs at the charmed glove. The Mistake reaches forward and his hand shoots out ahead of him. Silence looks down to see the hand, stopped just short of piercing through him, annihilating the glove in its grip.

The Mistake: Can't say I'm not getting better at that.
Silence: You... y-you...

The Mistake pulls his hand back in.

The Mistake: I don't know what that was, but no tricks, no sneak attacks, no upper hand.
Silence: It was my way back home.
The Mistake: You know, you were right that we're alike... and people like us don't have homes. Not really. Not for long.

The Mistake turns to look down at Imperium. He kneels and picks it up with both hands while Silence watches, trembling and clutching a fist over the hole in his vest.

The Mistake: I won't kill you yet, Silence, because as it stands, you're incapable of doing anything to me anymore.
Silence (telepathically): Completely incapable?
The Mistake: I never had to listen, you know.

Silence once again tries to speak telepathically. He looks on, terrified, feeling his own thoughts reverberate back through his own head at overwhelming volume.

The Mistake: Be alone with your thoughts, for a moment. Like I've been.
Silence: Derezzt, you haven't gone too far, please, I'm begging you, stop for a moment and listen.

The Mistake holds Imperium steadily, tapping each finger against it. He lifts it up into the air and brings a knee forward, his whole body pulsing red.

Silence: You didn't kill-

The Mistake brings Imperium down towards his knee swiftly, ready to break it in two. Silence reflexively recoils. The Mistake stops just short of breaking the weapon and lets it slip out of his hands, laughing to himself.

The Mistake: He's awake.

The Mistake dissipates, briefly leaving a sort of "photo negative" imprint of himself hanging in the air. Silence slumps down to his knees and sits on the floor, shaking.

Silence: Serah... I'm sorry...

Svarga once again draws closer to The Mistake's fortress, a signal flare launching behind it that makes several beams of fire curve around it in almost a tunnel. Inside the throne room, Mioda wipes sweat from her forehead, rolling her wrists.

The Threat: Nice shooting.
Mioda: Mhm, sure.
The Threat: Gahhh, don't make me spell it out. Nice shooting. I'm being sincere about it. You're welcome.

Mioda chuckles.

Strafe: What's the goal on all of this?
The Threat: Give Derezzt a little nudge, maybe check in with the resident psychic if he's still listening.
Strafe: Right... everyone just think loud thoughts and hope he hears us, then.
Denos: You're joking, but if Silence could zero in on a more distinct mental profile-
Strafe: ...really? Huh.

Strafe somewhat awkwardly stands still, looking out and squinting. Sakeena looks on curiously. Denos shakes his head.

Denos: Mental profile, Strafe. You're posturing. Strain leads to narrower trains of thought.
Sakeena (muttering): Okay, good, he was doing it wrong, now I don't feel so bad about this...

Sakeena snickers and flicks Strafe's arm. Strafe nods begrudgingly and takes a deep breath.

Strafe: Mental profile, got it.
The Threat: Let me know if you get anything out of that meditation exercise, bud. Sharpshooter, can you handle our more material matters?
Mioda: I have a name, you know...
The Threat: Fun! Same here.
Mioda: You can call me Mioda. And, ideally, not call me any other nicknames.
The Threat: Fine by me. You're about to miss your shot, Mioda, focus up.

Mioda looks back at her controller, frustrated but quickly zeroing in. She fires a flare quickly up towards The Mistake's fortress, gripping the whole controller as tight as she can as they watch the flare shoot out.

The Threat: Alright, let's see what that does for 'em...

The signal flare hits The Mistake's structure and seems to sink into the surface harmlessly. The Threat squints and tilts her head.

The Threat: That's it?

A beam of fire, once again drawn towards a new target, curves across the fortress, scorching the surface. The Threat grins excitedly as she steers Svarga just over the beam. Quartz lifts her feet out of Sakeena's metal grip and grabs the back of The Threat's throne, looking over her shoulder equal parts panicked and angry.

The Threat: THAT'S it. Alright, good to know.
Quartz: They're still in there!
The Threat: Oh, right, because when your boyfriend's getting in a fistfight with a god, your real concern's gonna be all that fire outside. That's the big issue. Right.
Quartz: Not like we have to make it worse.

Quartz's claws dent the back of the throne slightly. The Threat looks back at Quartz angrily and the two stare each other down for a second.

Quartz: I'm going to lie and say I'm sorry for that because we both know we can't fight about this right now. There will still be plenty of repercussions later. Do we have an understanding?
The Threat: Fine.
Quartz: I'm sorry.
The Threat: Fine.

Quartz digs her claws out of the dented metal and The Threat turns back to the controls.

Quartz: Strafe, anything from Silence yet?
Strafe: Nothing yet, no...

Sakeena puts a hand on Strafe's shoulder. Quartz tries to put on a confident smile as she turns back to look at him.

Unten stammers to himself as he wakes up in a foggy cave, flat against the ground. Before he can even get himself off the ground, the floor and walls pulse, contracting in sharply and glowing a deep red.

Unten (weakly): Silence...
The Mistake (telepathically): ...will be of no help now.

Unten's pupils shrink in anger. He pulls himself up faster and reaches for Imperium, only to find it missing.

Unten: What did you do to him?
The Mistake (telepathically): For a man born without a voice, named Silence, he had far too much to say, don't you think?

Unten starts walking forward, crouching instinctively as the walls shrink again. The red lights seem stronger at the end of the cave.

The Mistake (telepathically): Come forth, Unten. Try your best.
Unten: I'm trying my best. I don't want to fight you.
The Mistake (telepathically): Why do you keep walking, then?

Unten frowns and furrows his brow. The pulsing of the walls seems to slow down until rather than short bursts of movement, the cave seems to be breathing. The red lights fade into a dim glow, revealing a massive round chamber at the end of the cave.

The Mistake (telepathically): My heart. I know, it's a bit much.

Unten reaches the entrance to the chamber. The Mistake has gathered himself in the center of the room, his form hazy and his body almost trailing upwards and downwards like a beam of light.

Unten: You made all of this. You can make it go away, too.
The Mistake: Enough talk.

The forces of gravity pull Unten towards the opposite end of the room at aggressive speeds. The Mistake catches him in the middle of the chamber with a punch to his core, dropping him at his feet.

The Mistake: You've seen everything, Unten. You have all of the pieces. You, above anyone else, should know that this is who I have to be.

Another swing of gravity. Unten slides across the floor and hits the left wall.

The Mistake: No turn.

Unten barely pulls himself up. The floor tilts beneath him and sends him sliding back towards The Mistake.

The Mistake: No penance.

The Mistake grabs Unten by the cuff of his coat as he slides by and tosses him forward. By the time he's in the air, the slope of the room has completely shifted; now, he's being tossed downwards into a steep pit, with gnarled spikes growing from the walls and snapping together into rudimentary jaws that crack when they move.

The Mistake: No easy, happy ending.

Unten channels Aura along his back as he lands, barely held up over the jaws beneath him. The Mistake smirks down at him maliciously.

Unten: You're right about it not being easy, at least.

The Mistake turns his wrist. Unten is teleported back to the top of the slope to fall back down. He skids along the steep surface and tries to aim himself towards The Mistake.

Unten: I know it's difficult, but you can make it right. Do what they never did and actually look after people.
The Mistake: You're not getting anywhere, Unten. Listen for once.
Unten: Been trying.

Unten kicks off the slope, flying by The Mistake. The Mistake growls and freezes gravity in place, putting the two face-to-face with Unten almost upside-down.

Unten: It's okay to be scared, Derezzt. You don't have to-

The Mistake returns gravity to normal. Unten falls to the ground. As he lands, The Mistake increases gravity, driving him deeper into the floor.

The Mistake: Stop calling me SCARED! I know exactly what I have to do, and I'll do whatever it takes for it...
Unten: Guess I have to keep at it too, then.
The Mistake: Wretched little...!

The Mistake shifts gravity again, trying to pull Unten up into place in front of him. Unten feels the upwards momentum and pushes away as he hovers up, bouncing off the floor a few times as he tries to skid to a halt but landing on his feet.

The Mistake: You aren't making it out of here...
Unten: It'd take a lot to get me out of here right now, Derezzt.

The Mistake growls, his form evaporating even more around the edges, making him a much larger, looming silhouette over Unten. Unten wipes his face off with one hand and exhales, putting his hands up in a defensive stance.

Silence sits alone in deep meditation, having sunken back down into the ground slightly from sheer stillness.

Silence: I can't speak to him. He didn't say anything about my ability to sense, though...

Silence blinks a few times. The room around him grows darker as he looks around slowly.

Silence: Somewhere out there...

Silence focuses in on a single point. He starts to feel his thoughts echoing back to himself again and looks away quickly.

Silence: He's drowning out Unten... they really are alone in there now, then.

Silence sighs. He leans back again a wall and puts his hands on his knees.

Silence: So if they're alone, I am too. Not that I needed meditation to tell me that...

Silence looks around the room again. His gaze traces over the ceiling in a long curve as he tilts his head curiously.

Silence: They're still out there, though... could I...?

Silence stands up, putting both hands on the sides of his head. His thoughts still reverberate back against himself slightly, but he furrows his brow in concentration, and focuses in on a single message to send out.

Silence (telepathically): Are you all safe?

Strafe leans forward slightly and nods enthusiastically, Sakeena looking at him somewhat confused.

Sakeena: You picking something up, or-?
Strafe: It's fuzzy, but he's there.
Denos: What's he saying?
Strafe: It's not, like... words. It's more like a feeling. Concerned, maybe.
Sakeena: Well, we are, too...
Strafe: It's a start. Denos, is there any way I can reach back out? I'm no telepath, but... anything to have a little connection.
Denos: It's hard to say. If you're not getting clear words from him, then his ability to sense us from there is probably weakened.
Strafe: But not gone, right?
Denos: ... correct...
Strafe: I'll keep it up, then.
Denos: As you were.
The Threat: Great to have that little nugget of wisdom. Concerned. Hah.
Logi: Tells us he's alive, at least.
Rubelline: If he's concerned about us, maybe things are going better in there.
Sia: Hasn't pulled that ripcord and gotten out yet.
The Threat: I know it's a tall order, if he can't hear us that well, but let's see... tell him we're awfully "concerned" too, Strafe. And sorry for the fire. Whatever you can fit in there, really.
Strafe: I'm going to tell him we're okay. That's it. No mess.
The Threat: Okay is a stretch, but... good enough for now.

Unten swerves out of the way of a spike that erupts out of the chamber wall next to him, leaning back against it as one juts out on his opposite side. Both spikes grow fingers at the end and form rudimentary arms to try and hold Unten's wrists.

The Mistake: Why even bother coming here, Unten? Teaming up with Vindozz, even?
Unten: Long story, but we weren't chasing you, exactly...

Two more arms come out of the wall and grab Unten's neck. Unten wrestles his left hand free and uses an Aura-enhanced punch to break his other arm free. He pushes off the wall with both hands and the arms around his neck crumble at the elbows, sliding down his back.

The Mistake: More excuses. You knew where you'd end up.
Unten: Maybe I did, but I was hoping it'd be on better terms.

The crumbled arms reform, even more mishapen, and try to grab at Unten's feet. Before he can wrestle them off, they connect back to the floor and drag Unten towards The Mistake, who charges his hands up with energy.

The Mistake: If you're going to fight me, OWN IT.

The Mistake fires a blast from his left hand that grazes Unten's arm, leaving a cut. Unten breaks one of his legs free, but looks up to see The Mistake, who knocks him across the room with a right hook.

The Mistake: These are the best terms you're going to get. It's already over, Unten.

Unten tries to catch himself by hitting the wall he's hurtling towards with an Aura-charged punch. Much of his body lands with no recoil, but his arm digs in deep.

Unten: Still here, still fighting...

Unten pulls his arm out shakily, dusting it off and wincing in pain.

Unten: Doesn't look over to me.

The Mistake raises a hand and pulls back. A long beam of energy fires out of the hole Unten left in the wall, singeing one of Unten's ears. Unten dodges under it, running at a low stance. He stands back up and sees the beam ricocheting off another wall, diving to the floor to dodge again.

The Mistake: You can run all you want. It doesn't change anything that's happening out there. '"It's. Over.

Unten rolls onto his back, watching the beam ricocheting around over him. With each bounce off the walls, it dulls slightly, fading to black crystal. After a few moments, a roughly formed hand reaches down and grabs the collar of Unten's cloak. The now crystallized beam starts moving in reverse, slamming Unten along the walls as it traces its path backwards.

The Mistake: Stubborn Beorn... never knows when to give up...

As the beam returns to its first point, it shoots back outwards towards The Mistake, dropping Unten at his feet. Unten looks up at him, dazed.

The Mistake: It's going to be the end of you, now.
Unten: could do... worse...

The Mistake glares down at Unten. His foot glitches off his body and rests over Unten's chest.

The Mistake: Say that again.
Unten: All the power in the world... and all you're doing is throwing me around?
The Mistake: I can do WHATEVER I WANT with my power. You can't imagine the suffering I could put upon you.
Unten: You're right. I can't.

The Mistake snarls and raises his foot. As he stomps down, it warps to just barely missing the left of Unten's head. He tries again and barely misses the right side. Unten coughs weakly, but smiles slightly, closing his eyes.

Unten: Silence is safe too, right?
The Mistake: I took EVERYTHING from him!

The Mistake breathes heavily, his face distorting around the edges.

Unten: He's safe.

The Mistake's eyes light up white. Unten gets spiked against the floor, bouncing up into the air where The Mistake catches him by the head.

The Mistake: SHUT UP!

The Mistake punches Unten, holding him in place.

Unten: You could... still do worse...

The Mistake hits Unten again, growling. Unten grits his teeth, looking at The Mistake with one eye still closed.

Silence paces back and forth across the cave he's been trapped in, having ditched his vest to revealed a wrinkled white button-up shirt. He has his right hand held to the side of his head while he balls his left into a fist and lets it go, repeating the motion anxiously.

Silence: Come on... that must have made it through somehow...

Silence squeezes his hand shut again. A shiver runs down his back and he looks up.

Silence: ...getting by, perhaps...

Silence puts a hand against the wall and smiles slightly, taking in a deep breath.

Silence (telepathically): If you can still hear me at all, know that... I'll do my best too. That I-

Silence feels another shiver down his back, much stronger. He looks over his shoulder fearfully. His thoughts echo around his own head again, but moments of static disguise something interlaced between. Silence's expression changes to one of curiosity.

Silence: Derezzt...

Silence shudders. He focuses in on the other side of the room, crouching to hold himself steady.

Silence: No time for apologies. Now or never, Silence...

Silence focuses in on the static, sweat running down his brow. His left hand slips down the wall next to him.

Silence (telepathically): Derezzt. Derezzt, if you hear any of this, please... for just a moment...

Strafe opens his eyes and looks at Sakeena, who gestures for him to talk first.

Strafe: weren't hearing anything, right?
Sakeena: Yeah, nothing.
Strafe: Back to square one, then.
Denos: There's any number of factors that could influence his telepathic capabilities. Distance, physical fatigue, interference by Derezzt-
Strafe: Could have left, could be dead, yeah, the whole gamut of possibilities.
Denos: We don't know yet.
Strafe: Don't we know enough to do something? We can't just keep stalling out here!
The Threat: Forget knowing enough, I can only keep us dodging so long... it's getting worse out there.

The Threat pulls her arms back while moving them, slowly turning Svarga back around. Controls around her right hand light up in blue and the ship tilts severely to dodge a beam of fire coming from behind, Sakeena grabbing Strafe's arm while she focuses on gripping everyone to the ground.

The Threat: Time to start making judgment calls here, folks.

Yggdrasil comes back into view; much of the ground around it is hard to see through the glow of the sun's flames. Rubelline puts a hand over her mouth in shock.

Quartz: We need to stay close to them, where we can pick them up.
Sia: There has to be something we could do about all of that. ANYTHING.
Logi: Don't take that for granted...
The Threat: Okay, let's break it down like this. I can go towards that massive mess The Mistake built around himself, or away from it. That simple enough?
Zerita: Towards. We don't gain anything from running. Unten needs us to fall back on.
Logi: We stand to lose quite a bit going back in.
Zerita: Like what?

Logi throws his hands up in the air and gestures around. Zerita scoffs.

Zerita: Day in the life.
Hybrid IV: We need to look out for ourselves... but we can't let him down.
Quartz: Anyone gonna try and argue this point any further?

The room goes quiet for a moment until The Threat clears her throat.

The Threat: It's really stupid, but at least you're unanimous about it.
Quartz: We go in close. As many jumps as we need. Try to re-establish contact.
The Threat: Whatever works.

The Threat clenches her fists and her holographic control fall into position around her wrists. Strafe runs a hand through his own hair, Denos glancing at him and giving him a subtle nod.

Strafe: Okay, strong mental profile...
Denos: Tell him we're present. Standing by. Anything like that.
Strafe: Right, anything like that...
Sakeena: You've got this. He's got this, too.

Strafe nods and closes his eyes.

Unten slams into a wall, almost embedded in by the force of The Mistake's throw. He pulls himself out slowly, but The Mistake alters gravity as he gets up, knocking his head down to the floor.

The Mistake: STAY DOWN!

Unten rubs his cheek as he gets up slowly, standing on one knee.

Unten: Afraid I can't.
The Mistake: Is it really that difficult for you? Here, let me make it easier...!

The Mistake's hands glitch out ahead of him and rush to grab Unten by the shoulders. As they snap back to his arms, the momentum affects Unten strangely, tossing him against the ground at a strange angle that looks oddly soft and sending him flying across the room after a pause.

The Mistake: You can't stall me out. You can't face me head-on. Give up.

The Mistake sees Unten land and skid to a stop. He starts raising his arms again before Unten starts moving, trembling with anger.

The Mistake: Don't move another muscle, or I'll-

The Mistake's face glitches out as something enters his mind.

Silence (telepathically): Derezzt. Derezzt, if you hear any of this, please... for just a moment...

The Mistake screams in anger, his body scattering into static around the edges until he's filling most of the space around him. Unten looks up at him, shielding his eyes with his arm after a moment.

The Mistake: GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

Unten smiles a little. The Mistake looks back at Unten and shoots out a ray of static that reforms into a hand, picking Unten up.

Silence (telepathically): You don't have to fight him, Derezzt. You can stop all of this.

The Mistake tries to pull Unten in, but his hand once again dissolves into static.

Silence (telepathically): Ask yourself why you're doing this.

The Mistake's body flares out as he growls. Unten shields himself with both arms, feeling scorching heat coming off of the static.

Silence (telepathically): Couldn't you, with all that power, change that?

The Mistake flares up again, static enveloping Unten. Unten puts Aura up around his front to guard himself, closing his eyes tightly.

The Mistake: I-I already killed The Fan! You're just trying to get my guard down! It WON'T WORK!
Silence (telepathically): He's still alive. It's not too late.

The Mistake reforms his body just long enough to have his hands shoot forward, piercing into the wall on both sides of Unten's head.

The Mistake: ENOUGH LIES.
Unten: Whatever he's saying... we're being honest, Derezzt.

The Mistake's hands slash by Unten's head like scissors, but fade to static before they actually make contact, solidifying on the other side. The Mistake breathes heavily, starting to destabilize again.

The Mistake: Everything is already in motion. You can't stop what I'm becoming.
Silence (telepathically): You started listening again, didn't you? It's a start.

The Mistake swings what solid matter remains of his arm, and a huge wave of static sweeps behind it. Unten strengthens his Aura to shield against it, but his energy fades after taking one hit from the sweeping wall, and Unten looks on, panicked as it comes back around the room.

Silence (telepathically): We've come to make amends. Stop tearing yourself apart to fight him.

The wave of static hits Unten again, this time unshielded. The Mistake reforms his torso, and his left arm to clutch his chest tensely.

The Mistake (telepathically): I was made to kill, and made to hurt. I'm going to kill, and I'm going to be hurt. You can't do anything to change it, Silence.

The Mistake looks down at his hand, and then back to Unten, who's staggered but leaning back on the wall to stay standing, a bit of smoke coming off of his body.

The Mistake: Pathetic. You couldn't Descend me like that even if you wanted to, you lying coward...
Silence (telepathically): He wouldn't, and you know it.
Unten: Derezzt... what do you plan to accomplish here? What do you get out of fighting me if you're already going to kill everything else as quick as you can?
The Mistake: One less person who could stop me...
Silence (telepathically): There'll always be at least one. You.

The Mistake shudders, reforming much more of his body. Unten looks at him, laying his hands out forward calmly.

The Mistake: Even if you didn't kill me... what's left, Unten? I'll always be dangerous.
Unten: We'd help. The universe is a big place. Someone could know how to help you handle yourself.
The Mistake: That'd...
Silence (telepathically): It won't be easy, but if you just let us help-
The Mistake: ...never be enough...

The Mistake explodes back outwards in an instant, only his eyes shining through in the static. Unten gets swept up by the winds, trying to hold himself steady in the air but groaning in pain as he moves.

The Mistake: ENOUGH, UNTEN.

Unten closes his eyes, hearing Silence trying to communicate with him but getting drowned out. He opens his mouth to speak back, but The Mistake manifests a hand out of the static and punchs his jaw.

The Mistake: Don't dare say another word.

Unten squints to try and see The Mistake through the static. For a moment, he sees nothing, before dozens of hands form and latch onto his face, blinding him.

Silence slumps back against a wall hard, thudding against it. He looks down and sees blood on his shirt, rubbing his lip to deduce it's coming from his nose.

Silence: Still getting stronger.

Silence leans back against the wall more. He closes his eyes and tilts his head up towards the ceiling.

Silence: At least they're still in flight.

Silence starts to tilt his head back down in exhaustion. Even with his weakened telepathic senses, the second his line of sight dips, he sees red static, burning bright. He shakes his head panickedly and snaps back to his view of the world around him.

Silence: I can't let him do this... there has to be something.

Silence runs both hands over the wall behind him and shudders.

Silence: If I dull my sight, he can't hurt me... but if I dull my voice, he can't hear me.

Silence rubs the bridge of his nose and looks back up. He slumps down the wall further, looking behind himself.

Silence: And it's not like I could-

Silence blinks again. He switches back to sensing telepathic "signals" involuntarily, and sees the roots of Yggdrasil glowing.

Silence: ...amplify...?

Silence pulls himself upright and lays both hands on the sides of his head. As he focuses in on Yggdrasil, his eyes shoot open, pulsing with light.

Silence: It's a living thing too, I suppose.

Silence takes one hand off his head and wipes his nosebleed away.

Silence (telepathically, at high volume): Derezzt.

Silence briefly recoils from the unexpected volume of his own voice.

Silence (telepathically): Derezzt, I know it's not easy, but listen to me...

The Threat holds her hands over her head as she grits her teeth, Svarga just barely skimming over the surface of The Mistake's fortress. Bands of fire curve high above the vessel, far from hitting but forming a blinding, scorching sky.

The Threat: You wanted close. We're close.
Mioda: What's happening out there...?
The Threat: Well, if how hard it is to steer is any indication, gravity's unstable out there. Blue, thoughts?

A circular diagram appears over The Threat's wrist, with an arrow showing gravitational pull. The arrow swings wildly, the circle itself shifting in three-dimensional space. The Threat holds her wrist out to the side to show Mioda, but quickly moves it to the other side to even Svarga's tilt out.

Quartz: We can keep ourselves up and out of the way. That's enough.
The Threat: Barely!
Quartz: Strafe, we're as close as we can get you... do you sense anything from Silence?
Strafe: He's... there, yes. But he's on another line or something.
Denos: I didn't think he had that kind of limitation.
Strafe: Yeah, I didn't either, but there's a LOT there right now.
Sakeena: So he's safe!
Strafe: Maybe? It's... I can tell he's there, but not because he's saying anything to me.
Denos: Connection without communication.
Logi: Question is, can he hear you?
Strafe: I hope so. If he can... hang in there, man...

The throne room rocks as Svarga grinds against The Mistake's fortress, shredding the outer layer and stirring up black glass dust. The Threat pulls her hands behind her head to try and get the vessel to slow down, several pieces of her controls splitting and pulling back with her.

The Threat: I can't steer like this! We need another jump!
Quartz: Careful!
The Threat: Can't promise that...

Sakeena puts her hands together and pops her knuckles before clutching her hands shut, Svarga's floor melting up and holding everyone in place up to their calves. Quartz closes her eyes at Svarga hums, initiating another warp forward.

Unten struggles against the grip of six of The Mistake's arms, keeping his eyes close shut as red static fills the room.

The Mistake: Stop squirming, fool. You're already dead either way.

One of The Mistake's hands forces Unten's left eye open. Unten grunts and swerves his head hard enough to break the arm off, wincing from pain in his neck.

The Mistake: It's time for a new world... my world. No begining, no end, no life, no death, only me, forever.

The Mistake cackles. The arms slip off of Unten, but with the winds, gravity shifting, and no visible walls, he's sent flying, long beyond what originally seemed to be the size of the chamber. He covers his left eye with an Aura-covered fist and opens his right, seeing The Mistake's eyes in the center of the room. Suddenly, the laughter stops.

Silence (telepathically): Derezzt, I know it's not easy, but listen to me...
Unten: Silence...?

The Mistake's eyes turn away, seeming to disappear when viewed from behind. Unten smiles briefly, before hitting a wall.

The Mistake reappears in physical form, back in his chamber. Silence stands across from him, although his edges seem to blur away into the walls of the room.

The Mistake: You couldn't be here.
Silence: I'm not. Or perhaps "here" isn't what you think of it as.

The wall to The Mistake's right opens up; it reveals a view of the world outside, still a mess of static that Unten is struggling to hold his footing in.

Silence: I'm not used to my telepathy painting such a vivid picture, either.
The Mistake: Get out of my head.
Silence: Even with whatever strength I'm tapping into, you're several leagues above me. If you want me out, make it so.

The Mistake stands still, lurched forward and looking at the floor.

Silence: you want to listen.
The Mistake: I want this to be over.
Silence: That is within your capability too.

Outside, an arm shoots up from the floor and grabs Unten's chin, pulling him down to the ground. Silence glances over and sighs.

Silence: You know that's not what I meant.
The Mistake: Violence begets violence. You chased me down, after I attacked the brothers, who created me to kill The Threat.
Silence: You seem to think it's some kind of responsibility to fight.
The Mistake: It's a foregone conclusion, that's what it is. I was made the way I was on purpose. Whatever led to this point didn't matter. My nature... the thing I was always going to be...
Silence: don't want to listen, do you?
The Mistake: I already said that.
Silence: No, you want to be listened to. You've had to tell yourself why you're doing any of this, and now you have to tell someone else, even when you're so sure we'll all be dead soon.

The Mistake growls and starts taking steps forward, holding one hand out threateningly. The room seems to expand around him, evening out any movement until he's just as far away from Silence as he was to begin with.

Silence: It's a cry for help.

The Mistake's arm glitches forward. It stops just out of reach from Silence. The Mistake stops walking and reels his arm back to him, shuddering visibly.

Silence: Derezzt, I know it's difficult to believe, but we didn't come here to fight you.

The ceiling opens up, just like the wall. Although it's a much looser image, it shows Svarga flying overhead, warping along the surface of The Mistake's fortress.

Silence: We didn't know what your plans were. We were trying to avoid a fight.
The Mistake: You still ended up here. It doesn't matter why.

Silence looks back to the view of Unten, watching as Unten pulls himself up onto one knee and tries to steady his breathing. The Mistake glares at Silence angrily.

The Mistake: Don't just stand there, you-
Silence: Derezzt, I want you to pay attention to what Unten's doing.

The Mistake reluctantly turns to watch Unten. Several arms creep in around him, but stay low to the ground, keeping him surrounded. Unten gets up on his feets and looks around himself.

The Mistake: He's panicking. He has no idea what he's doing in there. Can't even get a good hit in.
Silence: He's steadying himself. Taking in his surroundings. What if he's not trying to get a good hit in?
The Mistake: Then he's a coward, isn't he?

The arms spring up and reach in for Unten. Unten coats his upper torso and arms in Aura, trying to knock them away with quick punches.

Silence: I get the sense you don't know what to make of him. He's a coward, but he's dangerous, but he'll be dead anyways... so many stances on the matter.
The Mistake: It's... he's...

The Mistake groans.

The Mistake: He came to me, I'll handle him myself.

More arms form from the red static, hitting and clawing at Unten and dissipating away before he can hit back. Unten grunts, his Aura shield extending further up and down his body.

Silence: Out of necessity.
The Mistake: Exactly.
Silence: Necessity that we keep telling you isn't there.

The Mistake glares across the room at Silence.

The Mistake: You can talk all you want about how you won't hurt me... I don't see what else you intend to do here.
Silence: I don't either. I don't have some laid-out, easy answer for you. All I can ask is that we make this a conversation.
The Mistake: I let you stay here. I let you keep blathering on. I've done far more than enough for this "conversation".
Silence: ...then perhaps you are right that I would want more from you.

The Mistake exhales, squinting at Silence. Silence looks up at Svarga solemnly. After a few moments, he looks back at The Mistake curiously.

Silence: And yet, you still keep me here.
The Mistake: You're hard to tune out.
Silence: Noted.

Silence returns to watching Svarga. The Mistake scoffs and looks off to the side, watching Unten block more strikes.

The Mistake: And now you're just stargazing.
Silence: Change has to come from within, Derezzt. I've said what I can.
The Mistake: And now what? Going to sit there and enjoy the lights?
Silence: I have family up there, Derezzt. I'm not going to keep repeating myself, if it bothers you so much, cut me off.
The Mistake: People like us don't have that, Silence.
Silence: You only ever seem to compare us in what we lack.
The Mistake:. You said it yourself. Cast aside by the gods. Powerful beyond what most people would consider reasonable.
Silence: I appreciate the compliment.

The Mistake laughs for a moment, but it quickly becomes a low, menacing chuckle.

The Mistake: Strafe is connected by coincidence. A weak branch limping off the side of the pantheon's family tree.
Silence: He's been kind enough to me. Accepted me graciously enough into his circle of trust, after some rough mistakes. Wants to be around, be a part of my family's life.
The Mistake: ...fine then, good for you...

Silence tilts his chin up, clearly noticing The Mistake's reserved reaction.

Silence: I can show you, if you want.
The Mistake: Strafe?
Silence: No, no, the immediate family. Or at least the home. It wouldn't be strong - if I can barely picture Svarga, rural Washington is going to be a blur - but I could try.
The Mistake: Why would I want that?

The left wall opens up. The two stand in the fields behind Silence and Serah's home, a waning moon overhead. It's just as clear as the fight right in front of The Mistake. Silence puts one hand in his pocket and rubs his chin with the other, smiling slightly.

Silence: I hadn't tried to bring the image to mind yet, Derezzt.
The Mistake: ...I was here. To talk to Unten. Try and recruit him. Didn't realize I'm all the force I need.
Silence: But you wanted him around, because your intentions were to protect Earth, and you trusted him to help.
The Mistake: What do you want me to say? Things change.
Silence: That they do.

Silence closes his eyes and inhales deeply. A sun appears next to the moon, giving the fields strange light.

Silence: How do you think I found myself in this place, Derezzt?
The Mistake: ...I don't know.
Silence: Change happens all around us. I was created as the son of a goddess, granted wisdom beyond compare, but it took change for me to truly know anything about the world.
The Mistake: Sounds like dumb luck to me.
Silence: And I've ridden that out every day since. I have a home. I have a family. A wife, sons. I have routines. I have a life, Derezzt.

'"The Mistake stares out at the distant silhouette of Silence and Serah's home. After a few moments, he grimaces.

The Mistake: I-it doesn't matter. It'll all be gone soon. All of you.

Silence sighs and looks down at the fields' ground. The Mistake turns away to look at Unten.

Silence: I keep trying to tell you, it doesn't have to be like this.
The Mistake: You only have a few more minutes to understand this is how it's going to be, Silence. This is how it always had to be.

Silence looks towards Unten. Although it's wavering in spots, flickering around the edges, Unten has enveloped himself using the Meijiora technique, deflecting blows across his body as he tumbles through the air, swept up by The Mistake's arms.

The Mistake: In some way, I appreciate the effort... from both of you. You really didn't come to hurt me. I'd gloat about how it's a fatal mistake, but you'd have been dead if you hadn't done any of this, too.
Silence: You know, he found a life for himself, too. Whole world gone, and look at him now.

The Mistake scoffs. Outside, he manifests more hands and a large jaw that bites through Unten's Aura to gnash at his side. Unten pushes the jaw away and focuses his Aura on the wound, the redirection of energy leaving one arm flickering slightly.

The Mistake: I'll give you one thing, it wasn't dumb luck, like you had. Set up from the start by those... those...

The Mistake grumbles and folds his arms.

Silence: He's his own person, he has his own will, he's lived his own life. Whatever the brothers did, it was always his reaction. And he's gotten by just fine without them.
The Mistake: He's a mess. A wreck.
Silence: He's surviving your fight, using nothing but his own willpower literally made manifest. How do you explain that?
The Mistake: ...willpower? T-that's intent to kill, that's-
Silence: You know we didn't come here to hurt you.
The Mistake: ...I don't understand it.
Silence: It's time. Patience. Accumulated good deeds, good memories. It's proof you're wrong, Derezzt.

The Mistake clenches his fists. He and Silence are both shaken by Svarga flying close overhead, feeling real enough to make wind blow even in the loose, imagined mental space.

Silence: Draw back the fires. Let Unten go. Talk to us, all of us.
The Mistake: My powers are too unstable. Even if I wanted to... and I wouldn't... what if I couldn't?
Silence: Do what's within your capabilities.
The Mistake: My capabilities could be anywhere from nothing to catastrophic, Silence. Besides, I won't.
Silence: Why not?
The Mistake: You still aren't wrapping your head around it... you and Unten could change, but I was made to be broken. There's no "what comes next" for me. I'm disposable, at best.
Silence: The world is full of strange things. Your recovery wouldn't be the strangest.
The Mistake: You can't really think I could defend...

The Mistake gestures back towards the fields, sighing angrily.

Silence: There's more than one way to recover, Derezzt.
The Mistake: Then tell me. Tell me what you expect of me that isn't this, Silence.

The Mistake looks back to his fight with Unten, caught in a stalemate where his arms aren't dealing much damage, but Unten can't shake them off, struggling against them. Silence looks back to the vision of the fields, clearing his throat.

Silence: I can't, because I don't know. I don't have a plan for you. All I know is it's worth it to try, even if it's uncertain, and it's my responsibility to tell you that before it's too late.

The Mistake shudders, his body starting to glitch out. He turns around quickly and his hand once again glitches outwards to try and grab Silence. It stops just short and Silence seems too fixated on his view of home to notice. The Mistake breathes heavily as his hand comes back in.

Silence: Do you suppose I've said all I can on the matter?
The Mistake: ...perhaps...

Silence turns back around, towards The Mistake. The Mistake looks off to the side, sheepishly but trying to look cold.

Silence: If you are still focused on killing us, I'm not so sure if I should contact Strafe or experience it in the waking world, just like everyone else.
The Mistake: Y-you can't... guilt me...
Silence: I'm trying to let you know I'm leaving, Derezzt. I don't know what you're planning to do, but I want you to take care. Best of luck.

The room seems to grow longer, Silence fading out into a vague glowing imprint out on the horizon. As the visions around him begin decomposing into red static, The Mistake shudders violently, clutching his head.

As Unten struggles against The Mistake's hands, their grip begins slipping. Unten pulls himself to the left to avoid another punch but ends up flying out of the grip, landing on the ground. He squints as the red static begins to pull back to the center of the room, forming the loose shape of The Mistake.

Unten: You've been quiet.
The Mistake: I was having a long talk with Silence.
Unten: What'd he say?
The Mistake: Quite a lot.
Unten: ...well, what'd you take away?
The Mistake: I don't know.

The Mistake's body fully reforms, glitching out heavily. Unten lowers his Aura, pulling himself up to his feet.

Unten: He knows you can fix this. I know you can fix this.
The Mistake: I could.
Unten: And after that?
The Mistake: I need to be Descended.

Unten shakes his head.

Unten: I won't.
The Mistake: If you agree to Descend me, I'll set all of this right. You two want me to have a future. I can't have that like this.
Unten: There's other ways.
The Mistake: Such as?

Unten stands paralyzed in front of The Mistake, shivering slightly.

Unten: You'll get rid of the flames...
The Mistake: To the best of my ability.
Unten: ...and heal The Fan.

The Mistake scoffs and looks away, seeming somewhat doubtful.

Unten: We try. Then, we talk about this again. All of us.
The Mistake: You and I.
Unten: Us, and The Fan...?
The Mistake: ...fine.
Unten: I'm not making any promises. Right now? I still refuse to do that to you.
The Mistake: But we meet halfway. A gesture of good faith.

Unten nods shakily.

The Mistake: You'll come around.
Unten: No promises.
The Mistake: promises...

The Mistake rolls his shoulders. His entire fortress seems to ring out like a bell, Unten covering his ears.

The Mistake: I'm sorry for throwing you around like that. You kept up well. You're a survivor, Unten. I appreciate that.

Unten nods. The Mistake raises his hands above himself and lowers them to his side, creating afterimages that seem to move on their own.

The Mistake: Thank you for talking some sense into me. Both of you. Whatever happens next... it means a lot that you'd care.

Unten watches as the afterimages fold back in on themselves, creating a burning red X behind The Mistake. With a deep sigh followed by a slight smile, The Mistake's body lights up, the fortress shifting around the two of them.

Chapter 18: Another End

As the gravitational pull around Svarga evens out, The Threat lowers her arms, her shoulders tensing up. Mioda readies her controls again as she sees fire swirling over head, but eases up when she sees that it's pulling back towards The Mistake's sun.

Mioda: It's not coming towards us?!
Zerita: Maybe he really pulled it off...
Quartz: Either way, we need to get in there, now.
The Threat: Right, on it.

The Threat stretches her shoulders back before pushing her arms forward. The view of the outside becomes more and more washed out as the light of the sun brightens, flames soaring ahead of Svarga. Denos looks at Sakeena and tries to point to Strafe subtly.

Sakeena: Oh, uh... feeling anything from Silence?
Strafe: He's gone quiet.
Denos: Hold steady.

The Threat grimaces slightly, leaning forward more.

The Threat: I can barely see anything out there, energy concentration is going critical.
Rubelline: Is it g-getting dry in here for anyone else? It's getting really dry and prickly for me.

Sia looks at Rubelline, who's skin is noticably pinkening. She slips her jacket off and hands it over, Rubelline nodding and covering her face with it.

The Threat: I'm not gonna be able to thread this thing through to them like this.
Quartz: You're going to pull this off. No ifs.
The Threat: That wasn't a suggestion, it was a fact.

A heavy wind hits Svarga from behind, making the front tilt downwards. The light washes out the screen and seems to seep through into the room itself.

Quartz: Just keep flying ahead, we'll do something!
The Threat: Not much choice in the matter!
Obena: Everyone... calm down... let's stay alert and-

The light washes out Svarga's throne room, Obena screaming panickedly.


The sound of rushing air fills Svarga, drowning Obena out as the light consumes everything in view.

Unten blinks slowly as he looks around, surrounded by nothing but white light. The Mistake is nowhere to be seen.

Unten: Derezzt? Where did you go...?

Unten takes a step forward, almost tripping as he feels loose soil beneath his feet instead of cold, thin crystal. The light begins fading, revealing Yggdrasil looming over Unten.

Unten: Huh... thanks for putting me back on good ol' terra firma, at least.

The light fades completely. Unten is standing on a hill overlooking a small ravine surrounding Yggdrasil, a blue dwarf star in the sky above them. The Mistake's fortress has fallen apart, forming a shimmering ring of shards around the planet. Unten smiles.

Unten: Not too bad.
The Mistake: Shame it won't last.

Unten shivers all over, startled. He turns around and The Mistake has appeared behind him.

The Mistake: I redirected the energy I was channeling back here. It manifested in the form of this ecosystem... the basic seeds of life. Give it enough time and it'll grow into something, but unfortunately, it will go into rapid decay soon.
Unten: Not necessarily...

The Mistake sighs. Unten looks around, concern dawning on his face.

Unten: Where is everyone?
The Mistake: I displaced you all relative to where you were. They won't be far.

The Mistake points; across from Yggdrasil, Svarga has landed in a field of silvery grass a short distance from the two. Unten nods briefly, but keeps looking around.

Unten: So Silence would be...
Silence (telepathically): Present.

Unten looks back over his shoulder. Silence is laying flat on his back on the ravine, chuckling.

The Mistake: You two can talk later. We have business to tend to.
Unten: Right...

Unten pulls at the collar of his coat nervously. The Mistake twists his wrist and the soil gives way to a path of gravel, leading to Svarga. He starts walking ahead, and Unten follows.

The Mistake: Just as you couldn't promise me what I want, I cannot promise you what you want. The Fan may be beyond help. The Enemy could just as easily not let me near him.
Unten: And you would accept that outcome?
The Mistake: I'm tired of fighting, Unten.

Unten nods.

Unten: We have someone with us who could help. Old friend. She's done studies on... you know, god biology.
The Mistake: Old friend? Curious.

Unten tilts his head slightly in thought.

Unten: If anyone knows what you need to do, it's X-Ray... you'd trust her, right?
The Mistake: Right.
Unten: Good.
The Mistake: I hope it works out, same as you. I'll do my best. I owe you that much.
Unten: Thank you.

As the two get closer to Svarga, Unten sees that much of the crew has gathered outside. Zerita and Mioda wave enthusiastically, Sia holding her broken arm close but trying to wave with her other.

Unten: Hey! Is everyone okay?!

Unten sprints up ahead. Zerita meets him halfway and grabs one of his hands to pull him in for a hug.

Zerita: It's all hectic right now, nobody knows what the hell we're doing, but... yeah, we're okay.

Nycho runs up and looks over Zerita's shoulder, Obena leaning out over Nycho's shoulder and trying to pull him back.

Nycho (sobbing slightly): Unten... not you too...
Unten: All good there, Nycho?
Nycho: We're all dead, right? And this is heaven?
The Mistake: You aren't dead.

Nycho sniffles.

Nycho: Cool.
Obena: Good to see you back, Unten. Oh, and, uh... Derezzt...

Obena pats Nycho's back and the two walk away. Zerita chuckles.

Zerita: Hectic.
Unten: Derezzt has agreed to try healing The Fan and... we're going to have a talk after that...

Zerita squints suspiciously at Unten, and then at The Mistake.

Unten: We need to find X-Ray. And, well, obviously the brothers.
Zerita: X-Ray was taking a look around somewhere out here. The brothers are... still locked up, I believe.
Unten: We did do that, huh? Probably not good for convincing him to let us operate.
Zerita: If you need me to flex a little extra "persuasion"...
Unten: I'll handle it.

Zerita nods. Unten walks closer to Svarga, much of the group waving to him or trying to shout greetings over each other. Unten waves back, smiling somewhat anxiously as The Mistake follows behind him.

Logi: You sort things out?
Unten: Yeah...
The Mistake: Hopefully. We'll see.

Unten keeps walking towards Svarga. He looks behind himself to speak to The Mistake, but he's split off the path, walking towards Rachel, Sakeena, and Strafe, who all look somewhat intimidated by his presence.

Unten: Derezzt, hold on-

The Mistake makes eye contact with Strafe, who stands up as straight as he can and narrows his eyes, trying to look tough. The two stare at each other silently for an uncomfortable moment.

The Mistake: You have good family.

Strafe looks caught off-guard, unnarrowing his eyes and stammering a bit.

Strafe: Oh, uh, thank... you...?
The Mistake: He's not too far away. By Yggdrasil, in a trench.
Strafe: Wait, WHAT DID YOU DO TO-
The Mistake: Alive. Sorry, my bad. He's alive.
Strafe: ...good. Sorry about that.
Rachel: Could you maybe explain to us what was going on up there...?
The Mistake: Later. It's complicated. You're safe, don't worry.

Rachel nods reluctantly. Unten walks into the open entrance to Svarga and The Mistake waves weakly as he follows behind.

Sakeena: He seems... pretty bummed out about the whole thing.
Rachel: Unten doesn't. And, hey, beats being dead.
Sakeena: Oh, for sure.
Strafe: I should go see Silence. Anyone want to tag along?
Rachel: Why not?

Sakeena nods. The three of them look at the gravel path The Mistake created, and Strafe shrugs, walking along the road.

Unten looks around the emptied, unlit halls of Svarga, breathing in deeply. He stops for a moment and looks back at The Mistake.

Unten: Breathable air. Big plus.
The Mistake: Oxygen is pathetically simple. Besides, it'll decay, just like the rest of this world.
Unten: ...hope that doesn't mess up my lungs...

Unten starts walking forward, looking down several branching paths.

Unten: Don't know where we put them. Don't know if anyone else is onboard, either...

Unten steps into a long hall with benches along the edges. Quartz is sitting on the other side of the room, looking down at the floor with stern anger.

Unten: Quartz!

Quartz looks up and grins. Unten runs to her and sits down next to her, hugging her tightly and kissing her cheek.

Quartz: You made it! I was so worried...
Unten: It wasn't easy, but yeah, I'm alright... maybe a little sore from getting ragdolled around...

Quartz nods, noticing The Mistake over Unten's shoulder and glaring at him.

The Mistake: My apologies. We're working things out now.
Quartz: Yeah, sure...
Unten: We're looking for The Enemy, he's still... somewhere in all of this, right?
Quartz: Yes, the old hivemind nucleus. Not too far.

Quartz helps Unten get up as she stands, Unten laughing sheepishly.

The Mistake: I intend to heal The Fan's wounds, with a bit of assistance.
Quartz: Barely worth the power... but I know we should, if we're wrapping up loose ends here.

The Mistake nods. Quartz gestures for the two to follow as she walks ahead.

Unten: Anyone else still onboard here?
Quartz: The Threat's up in the throne room. Volt's still in the circuits somewhere around here...
Unten: We really should talk to him when we get back...

Volt appears out of a set of lights behind Unten and Quartz. The Mistake sighs and shakes his head.

Volt: Or we could right now, maybe?
Quartz: We're busy.
Unten: Quartz, let's just... hear him out for a minute.

Volt takes a deep breath in.

Volt: You know how I kind of live in the woods, Unten?
Unten: Yeah...
Volt: And how you all... y'know. Have roots. You've got places to be, people to be around.
Unten: Do you... need anything, Volt? Because we're happy to-
Volt: What I'm trying to say is I'm staying here, on Svarga.
Quartz: Absolutely not.
Unten: You're leaving Earth?
Volt: I mean... a bit of both, we're going to take Svarga back there with you guys and keep it in the Distortion Mist-
Quartz: ABSOLUTELY not! And what's this "we" business?
Volt: It's not like that. She really barely wants anything to do with me. Or... maybe put it the other way around. It's not going to be like that.
Quartz: Like what? Romantic? Tell me what it is supposed to be, then.
Volt: I'm... a co-pilot? A roommate? You know operating this place isn't easy.
Unten: I think what Quartz is saying is that maybe you should think about this.
Volt: It was my offer, Unten. My idea. Look, do we really want her roaming the universe with nobody keeping an eye on her?

Quartz folds her arms firmly and avoids eye contact.

Quartz: I mean, you're right, but... not you. Not like this.
Volt: Then what's the right way to do this?

Quartz grumbles uncomfortably.

Unten: I think it's... you're your own person, a-and...
Volt: It's not the end of the world. I'm still firmly in your camp, even if I'm... firmly out of your camp. Or out of the literal camp in the woods.
Quartz: How do we know you won't get caught up in your own emotional hangups doing this?
Volt: don't, and that's the hard sell of it all, I guess. This isn't about you changing my mind. I'm staying. I just hope you all can still work with me.
Unten: Volt, we'll...

Quartz nudges Unten's shoulder with her elbow.

Unten: our best.
Quartz: The second this goes wrong, you keep us in the loop, okay?
The Mistake (muttering): Can we move on already?
Volt: Understood.

Volt nods and smiles slightly. Unten gives him a polite nod as Quartz starts walking away. The Mistake looks down at Volt, slightly confused and irritated.

Volt: Be seeing you all...
The Mistake: Hmmm.

Strafe slides down the side of the ravine, stirring up dust behind him. Rachel holds her shielding gauntlets beneath her knees to create a makeshift sled, following down behind him.

Strafe: SILENCE! Telepathy or not, I know you gotta hear me now!

Sakeena walks downhill behind the two. As she reaches the bottom of the trench, she sits on a rock and kicks her feet up, revealing metal cleats on her shoes that she bends back into the shape of Rachel's bracelets and earrings, handing them back over.

Sakeena: Yo, Silence! This is really kind of Strafe's thing but we'd all really like to see you!
Silence (telepathically): My apologies. Around the right. I'm looking at Yggdrasil's roots.

Strafe sprints around to the right, past a turn in the ravine. Silence waves at him, kneeled down next to old gnarled roots poking out past the dirt, as tall as a regular tree.

Silence: Come here, cousin!

Strafe walks over quickly and Silence hugs him.

Strafe: So glad you're okay, man... what was up with that telepathy? You were, uh... VERY present.
Silence: It's this right here.

Silence puts a hand on Yggdrasil's root.

Silence: I'll have to do more research, but I believe that... well, plants are living things, yes, but no plant on Earth could ever project any sort of signal I could read. This one can, and it's connected to other worlds, whether you want to call that magic or science.
Strafe: Clever work. And your voice... or, I guess your mental voice... isn't hurt too bad, right?
Silence: It's probably for the best I don't overexert myself for a little while.
Strafe: Right, right... sorry if I'm being too scatterbrained right now. It was weird not having you around.
Silence: I'm glad to be back too.

Strafe pats Silence's back.

Silence: What comes next for you, then?
Strafe: Lots of sleep. Sakeena, Rachel?
Sakeena: Right back to work. Gotta keep myself sharp.
Rachel: Err... sit down and have a talk with Bang...
Strafe: I mean what I said, Rachel. I can take some heat if you need me to.
Rachel: It'll be okay, Strafe. I'm my own person and nobody made me do anything. My talk to have. Besides, don't think she'd react too well to you waltzing on in telling her not to be mad at me...

Strafe chuckles.

Sakeena: Good luck, Rachel... I'm sure everything will work out one way or another.

Rachel smiles and hugs Sakeena with one arm.

Sakeena: What I'm really more worried about is the media... then again, I'm sure that'll be fine too, once some of the details go public.
Rachel: Right. Here's hoping...

The Enemy sits with his feet soaking in the inert black pool that once served as The Threat's hivemind control room, The Fan laid out over the edge next to him.

The Enemy: Something has happened out there, brother... all of this telepathic nonsense and blustering lights... sickening. Absolutely sickening.

The door splits open roughly, pulled apart by Quartz. The Enemy looks over to see Unten, Quartz, and The Mistake.

The Enemy: You... YOU-

The Enemy runs towards the three. Quartz dashes forward and hits The Enemy in the side with her elbow, knocking him off-balance. He starts slipping due to the liquid on his feet and Quartz catches him by the collar, pulling him up forcefully.

The Enemy: Let go of me NOW, you duplicitous two-faced ungrateful SNAKE.
Quartz: Unlikely.
Unten: Quartz, not too much...

Quartz nods, moving her hand from The Enemy's neck to a firm grip on his shoulder.

Unten: It's over. We're fixing things. Derezzt is going to help us heal your brother.

Unten looks at The Mistake. He's looking off to the side and shuddering, unable to look at the brother gods.

Unten: Derezzt...

The Mistake's body starts to glitch out and he walks away, breathing harshly.

The Enemy: Spineless coward. Like I'd let that unhinged, half-baked monster lay hands on my brother even if he wanted to...
Unten: What other option do you have? Would you rather risk him dying?
The Enemy: Why am I to believe he would do anything but bring deathly harm? And, furthermore, why should I believe anything you say, you pathetic, shambling pile of miserable excuses? You've done nothing but ignore my divine ordains and set aside your duty to the cosmos.
Unten: Listen... if he does this... he wants me to Descend him.
The Enemy: ...a willful removal from power.
Unten: Is that enough for you?
The Enemy: Clean, efficient, balanced... cathartic... absolutely delicious irony.
Unten: I asked you a question.
The Enemy: That will suffice, yes.

Quartz softens her grip on The Enemy and snarls quietly at him.

The Enemy: I will oversee this arrangement to make sure he doesn't hurt Aktoz anymore.
Unten: We're going to have X-Ray helping too.
The Enemy: Useless, but if that makes this situation any easier for you, fine.

The Enemy steps past Quartz, laughing to himself. Quartz rolls her shoulders, some tense bones audibly popping.

The Enemy: Carry his body for me, please. We need to find a suitable place to do this.

The Enemy leaves the room, laughing louder. Quartz picks The Fan's body up gently and sighs angrily.

Quartz: Can't say I love what Volt's doing, but it's taking me a whole lot of restraint to not tell that bastard and watch him melt down...
Unten: Only a little while longer. Then they go back up to Alaska, and we go home...

Quartz smiles and leans down to kiss the top of Unten's head. As she exits the room, she looks at him over her shoulder.

Quartz: And, hey... the Descenion talk... it's all to get this done, right? You aren't actually going to do it?
Unten: I... hadn't thought about what I'd do if he still wants that. It's been kind of a blur.
Quartz: Right... listen, it'll be okay. You still don't have to.
Unten: Right. I mean, I hope not.
Quartz: And I know not.

Unten nods and laughs nervously.

Unten: Speaking of Derezzt, I should probably make sure he doesn't sulk too far...

Quartz nods back. Unten takes deep breaths as she turns around, looking down at his hands.

X-Ray sits kneeled down in the grassy fields not too far from Svarga, holding her phone and taking pictures of the grass. Denos and Logi stand a little ways away from her, looking out over the horizon.

X-Ray: It's not actually silver, it looks like... it's transparent. Peculiar.
Denos: A decrepit old world, given new breath... it's majestic, isn't it?
Logi: Do you think there's anything worth scavenging under all of this? Like, it was decrepit and old...
Denos: And now it's been granted a new beginning.
Logi: Sounds bad for business.
Denos: How about this... let's pay it forward, leave something for the next intrepid adventurers to find.

Denos shuffles his cards over his head and catches one that he displays face forward; a king of hearts. Logi breaks out laughing.

Logi: You're so damn cheesy.

Denos puts away the rest of his cards and lays the king of hearts down, gently sweeping soil over it. X-Ray looks up at the two of them briefly before turning her head the other way to see Quartz approaching, still carrying The Fan.

X-Ray: Good to see you. I see you've brought my patient back in for a checkup...
Quartz: Should we have not locked him up? That was... probably dumb, huh.

X-Ray nods.

Quartz: He hasn't gotten any worse, at least. And Derezzt would like to help fix him.
X-Ray: Interesting proposition. If he's on good terms with us, it may be beneficial to diagnose his instabilities too...
Quartz: Hadn't thought of it that way.
X-Ray: Two birds with one stone, and all.
Quartz: So... should all work out?
X-Ray: Hopefully. Depends on his ability to cooperate.
Quartz: Great. Unten's trying to talk to him now, and The Enemy is... insisting he be a part of this...
X-Ray: Do you think everyone involved is up to the task?
Quartz: I hope so. Wouldn't be carrying this guy around if I thought otherwise.

X-Ray nods.

Quartz: So, guess... we're just going to be strolling until everyone's ready, right?

X-Ray stands up and nods again. Quartz chuckles awkwardly.

Quartz: Cool, cool... just us gals being pals... and this comatose body... fun...
X-Ray: After you, Quartz.

Quartz stops laughing quickly and nods, walking ahead of X-Ray. X-Ray turns around and snaps one more picture of the horizon, catching Denos and Logi nestled together, before following Quartz.

Silence walks back towards the group outside of Svarga, smiling slightly and waving. Strafe, Sakeena, and Rachel follow behind him. Rachel is looking around somewhat nervously, while Strafe and Sakeena are trying to haul Imperium around, Sakeena pulling with metalbending while Strafe lifts one end up.

Silence: Greetings, everyone!

Rubelline waves, still wearing Sia's coat over her head like a large hood.

Obena: Good to see you, Silence!
Nycho: Strafe, Sakeena... you guys swindling Unten?
Strafe: It got separated from him before the fight, apparently...

Sakeena grunts and nods, wiping some sweat off her forehead.

Hybrid IV: So he survived a few rounds against Derezzt without any weapon?
Silence: He used Aura to defend himself quite adeptly. Even made use of that Meijiora technique you've been tutoring him in.

Hybrid IV stands up and pumps her fist excitedly.

Hybrid IV: YES!! All classic Hybrid schoolin'! Can't wait to rub it in Laverne's face...
Zerita: Not bad. I need to be catching up...
Nycho: Do you all think they'll even hold a tournament? Y'know, after... all of this?
Rubelline: Money makes the world go round, Nycho. They can't put so much into it and not hold one.

Sakeena rolls her eyes at Rubelline. Rachel laughs a little.

Rubelline: What's so funny...? Is it the jacket?
Rachel: We're barely out of danger and we're already going in about this.
Silence: Life does have a way of not stopping.
Zerita: I feel like you all are dodging the obvious here...

Silence looks at Zerita, who's trying to look solemn.

Zerita: It's just... so, so difficult, knowing... how many of you chumps are gonna lose to me at the tournament...

Zerita cackles to herself. Mioda tries to hold back some laughter of her own.

Obena: Better than the day we just got done with, at least...
Nycho: Better than having to try and chill out with The Threat next to you.
Obena: Better than having to try and negotiate between The Threat and her ex.
Nycho: Which one?

Nycho and Obena bump fists and dab.

Unten glances both ways down a long, branching hall onboard Svarga, narrowing his eyes.

The Threat (echoing down hall): And nowww I'm back in charge... back on top... top dog... that's me...

Unten shakes his head slightly incredulously. He starts walking down the hall, away from the throne room.

The Mistake: I'm sorry for my outburst.

Unten tenses up, his heart racing. The Mistake has appeared behind him again.

The Mistake: Sorry about this too. I'm not great with three dimensional corporeal space.
Unten: It's fine, I guess... look, I just wanted to make sure that-
The Mistake: That I can properly care for The Fan? I'll do my best. It's... difficult seeing him, but he's not the one who worries me.
The Threat (echoing down hall): Quiet back there, you two.

Unten rolls his eyes.

Unten: I mean, he's harder to deal with. He's stubborn. I imagine a person doesn't start going by The Enemy for fun.
The Mistake: At least The Fan can't talk to me right now. Ektaz can, will, and loves it.
Unten: I tried to take a minute for myself before we came to you, and he literally got up and tried to fight me.
The Mistake: Really?!

Unten nods. The Mistake lets off a weak, worried laugh and rubs his face.

The Mistake: I suppose it's nice to know he's like that with everyone.
Unten: Listen, it's... he's not as strong as you think he is. The two of them have been hiding up in a cabin for six months and I think all they've done is get more and more bitter about me.
The Mistake: Perhaps he's not powerful by your metrics, but... he's family, Unten. The closest I've got, at least. I don't want to be like him.

The Threat walks into the hall, carrying a protein slab and a chalice.

The Threat: Thought I said to be quiet?
The Mistake: Apologies.
The Threat: Right... so you're the rowdy little brother we've been dealing with. You put up a good fight, but I'm glad you know when to give up.

The Mistake folds his arms. Unten clears his throat nervously.

Unten: Congratulations on... you and Volt, uh... reaching an agreeable business arrangement...?
The Threat: Oh, so he stopped to tell you? Hilarious. That's just like him... so, so, SO needy.
Unten: ...treat him right, okay?

The Threat laughs to herself.

The Threat: What, like you're giving me your son's hand in marriage? Watching a baby leave the nest? Get real.
Unten: You know what I'm trying to say.
The Threat: Listen, it was his idea to do all of this, and... I could use the company. I'm using to having thousands serving me. I don't work well all alone in here. So... I'm not gonna push him away.

Unten nods. The Threat looks back at The Mistake.

The Threat: So, what's the plan? Give The Fan a new heart that explodes or something?
The Mistake: Ideally, my powers will remain stable.

The Threat puts one hand against her forehead, pulling it back down to take a bite from her protein slab.

The Threat: Unten, didn't I literally tell you how to fix all of this earlier? Keep up.
Unten: What are you talking about...?
The Threat: This chump doesn't have a User Crystal. No Crystal, no memory.
The Mistake: Is that my problem...?
The Threat: Oh, you have a whole cavalcade of problems, bud. That's just the one I'd say is most relevant.
The Mistake: Right...
Unten: So what can we do about that?
The Threat: Beats me. Creating one of those takes a lot of specific finesse. Like... I can tell you how I made mine, but yours kind of has to be your own personal mess, if that makes sense.
The Mistake: Hm... my own personal mess...
Unten: And there's nothing stopping him from just... making one here?
The Threat: No. That'd be stupid. What are you thinking?

The Mistake teleports away suddenly. Unten looks over to his side, clearly panicked.

Unten: Oh, okay, he just... went somewhere else, I guess.
The Threat: Mm. He could do that and then kill us all without the horrible painful destabilization. Maybe I shouldn't have been so upfront about it.

The Threat shrugs.

The Threat: At least I can pack up and leave whenever I want.
Unten: No, no, he wouldn't do that... I think... I just have to go find him again.
The Threat: Have fun with that.

The Threat waves and walks back towards her throne room. Unten looks around and sighs, walking towards the exit.

Quartz, X-Ray, and The Enemy stand together around a large, flat rock that they've laid The Fan on. The Enemy groans impatiently, arms folded over his chest.

The Enemy: I suppose it makes sense Unten would hold us back, it's a talent of his...
Quartz: You get to oversee this process, for your brother's sake. You do not get to run your mouth however you like. Learn the difference.

The Enemy scoffs and looks past Quartz, towards X-Ray.

The Enemy: You managed to keep him stable this long, and I suppose you deserve some commendation for that.

X-Ray looks up at The Enemy and doesn't say anything before turning back to look at The Fan.

The Enemy: Tsk. Ungrateful.

The Mistake appears, next to The Enemy, holding a large black crystal.

The Mistake: I'm ready for the procedure.
The Enemy: Is that a User Crystal?!
The Mistake: Quartz, please hold this.

Quartz nods. The Mistake teleports to her, hands her the Crystal shakily, and teleports back down the row to stand next to The Enemy.

The Enemy: Start communicating.
The Mistake: That is my User Crystal, yes.
The Enemy: And why give it to Quartz?
The Mistake: Because that's who I wanted to give it to...?
The Enemy: Quartz, give me that.
Quartz: No. X-Ray, can we start the process?
X-Ray: I thought we were waiting for Unten, but I could prep the patient.

X-Ray picks up a white briefcase off the ground and opens it up to reveal a pristinely packed kit of surgical supplies. She puts on some gloves and picks up a scalpel, nodding to The Mistake, who looks at her nervously.

X-Ray: Your task here will be creating new tissue for The Fan. I assume you're familiar with his biology and understand the requirements, given your nature?
The Mistake: Of course.
The Enemy: And why are we supposed to trust you? Or Quartz, for that matter? You've done nothing but harm us this whole time, Mistake, and you could have just as easily gotten to her while I was locked away.
The Mistake: I know it's difficult, but I swear, this, and then I'm done. I'll be Descended. If I do anything to hurt him, you can kill me like that easily.
The Enemy: ...proceed with caution.

Quartz looks at the Crystal as X-Ray opens up The Fan's chest with her scalpel. The Mistake looks on nervously, hands shivering slightly. Unten comes from downhill, shielding his eyes slightly as X-Ray's scalpel cuts into The Fan.

Unten: Glad I could make it...
The Mistake: Glad indeed.
X-Ray: Okay, the patient's chest is open... he needs a new heart and ribs.
The Mistake: Right. New heart and ribs. Simple.
Unten: You've got this, Derezzt.

The Mistake holds one hand up, a glowing ball of energy forming. He examines The Fan's wound, wincing to himself, while X-Ray carefully points to a few particular areas of scarred tissue.

X-Ray: The main severed arteries are here, here, and here...

The Mistake nods, the ball of energy taking on a bit more shape and texture. Unten stands next to Quartz, both him and The Enemy clearly curious about the User Crystal.

Unten: Huh... really was that simple.

Unten glares at The Enemy. Before The Enemy can speak, Quartz lays one hand hard between his shoulders.

Quartz: Let's let Derezzt focus.
Unten: Right.
The Mistake: It looks right to you, right, X-Ray?

The Mistake holds his hand out, X-Ray examining the heart he's creating.

X-Ray: Hm... it's within acceptable parameters. Don't panic if you need a second go at it, though.
The Mistake: Of course... don't panic... easy...

The Mistake takes in a deep breath, steadying his hand but shivering much more all over the rest of his body. He slowly starts to lower the heart down, breathing harshly.

The Mistake: Don't panic... don't panic...
The Enemy: Don't mess this up again, idiot.

The Mistake's shoulders glitch out slightly as he flinches, holding the heart close to his own chest. The Enemy grimaces and drives a knee into Quartz's leg, taking the Crystal from her while she growls in pain. Unten gets in front of Quartz in an instant and raises his Aura-covered fists.

The Enemy: Do I really stand amongst such fools?
Unten: Don't ever hurt Quartz again.
The Enemy: I needed this to prove a point...

The Enemy examines the Crystal. He strengthens his grip and it cracks under his fingers.

The Enemy: This isn't a real User Crystal. He's stringing all of you along and trying to kill my brother.
Quartz: What?!
Unten: Wait. Derezzt-
X-Ray: I've already made an incision. We can't wait too much longer.

The Mistake shudders, his whole body glitching out. He drops the heart, which has turned into some sort of jagged pyramid.

The Mistake: I-I... I d-didn't...

The Enemy tosses the fake crystal to the ground and it breaks in half. He reaches out to grab The Mistake's neck with both hands, but gets burnt by the energy radiating off of him, hissing and pulling his hands back close.

The Enemy: You MONSTER!
The Mistake: I-It was... I wanted...

The Mistake hyperventilates, mist starting to dissipate off of him. Unten steps forward, pushing The Enemy back slightly.

Unten: I'm going to give you a minute to explain yourself, seeing as you aren't attacking us now.
The Enemy: You absolute-

Quartz puts a hand on The Enemy's shoulder and starts heating her claws. He grumbles and shuts his mouth.

The Mistake: I-I wanted to make one, but... there's so much in me... I couldn't figure it out...
Unten: But you tried.
The Mistake: I-I can't heal him... and we've already started... I s-shouldn't have done this...
Unten: X-Ray, what can we do now?
X-Ray: Not much... at best, we'd be back to square one if Strafe tried using magic again, and I'm not confident his condition would remain stable even if we hadn't done this.

Unten nods. The Mistake finally turns around to look at him, mortified.

Unten: Is there any chance-
The Mistake: I can't. I need to be able to clear my mind to make a User Crystal... I-I can't clear my mind until he's fixed... he can't be fixed without one... I'm hopeless, Unten.
Quartz: I'll keep this one quiet while you work. Focus on one or the other, Derezzt. You can do it.
X-Ray: I can't do much to buy you time, but... if it's any consolation, I believe in you too.
Unten: It's not too late, Derezzt.

The Mistake glitches out more and groans. Unten extends his hand out, letting the Aura dissipate off of it. The Mistake looks down at his hand and weakly shakes it, still destabilizing as he does.

The Mistake: I'll do my best...

The Mistake lets go of Unten's hand, the two of them nodding. He holds his hands out in front of him and starts with a single glowing speck, barely large enough to see.

The Mistake: It needs a superstructure capable of processing my energy...

The Enemy grits his teeth and Quartz looks down at him angrily. Eight thin lines sprout from the speck and start connecting in various combinations, lighting up when they intersect.

Quartz: You're doing great... I think...

The Fan's limbs twitch and X-Ray rushes up to the other side of the rock, putting a hand gently against his head.

X-Ray: Patient seems to be in pain.

The Mistake closes his eyes and strains, more lines curving out from the center of his creation. Unten tries to hold onto The Mistake's shoulder, but pulls away when Derezzt's left hand begins to twist and corrupt, his fingers opening up like flower petals.

Unten: Derezzt. Breathe.
The Mistake: I'm trying...

The Mistake's hand continues to unfurl, floating off his arm slightly. Unten steps back, looking at Quartz.

The Mistake: I-It's not working!
X-Ray: Derezzt. Focus. We need to work quickly.
The Enemy: Come on, then. It's not that difficult.

Quartz pulls The Enemy back, looking at him sternly. He seems unfazed.

The Mistake: Focus. FOCUS.

The Mistake's energy generates even more lines, dozens of them moving in tandem to form a small sphere. His left hand continues to destabilize, glowing bright red as it unravels.

Unten: Careful.
The Mistake: It's almost there... just t-trust me, Unten...

X-Ray holds The Fan's chin, trying to gauge his condition. The Fan shudders, his eyes opening but almost completely glazed over.

X-Ray: Patient has regained consciousness. He's fading fast.
The Fan: Ek...taz...
The Enemy: Close your eyes, brother. It'll be okay...
The Mistake: I-I'm not giving up yet... almost...!

Unten takes another step back, shielding Quartz and The Enemy. The Mistake's entire lower left arm has detached at the elbow, losing all shape and floating mid-air as red static.

Quartz: X-Ray, might be a good idea to step away.
X-Ray: Understood. Derezzt... we're counting on you.

X-Ray takes a few steps away, watching with slightly more stress in her expression than she'd usually show. The Mistake takes a few quick breaths and generates more energy. His arm reconnects and its loose, ribbon-esque structure forms back into something resembling a hand, which he uses to envelop the orb.

The Mistake: Please work, please work, PLEASE WORK.

The Mistake thrusts his left arm down into The Fan's chest, a blinding red glow covering the two. The Enemy screams in anger and pushes past Quartz and Unten.


The Mistake doesn't respond, consumed by red light. X-Ray keeps walking backwards, dropping her scalpel.

X-Ray: What is he...?

Unten stands next to The Enemy, looking at him. The Enemy looks back down at Unten, a disgusted scowl on his face.

The Enemy: Whatever happens next... it'll all be your doing.
Unten: ...I know.

The light begins to fade. The Mistake is covered in heavy white fog, and The Fan lays motionless on the rock, a glowing red handprint on his healed chest. The Enemy looks down upon his brother cautiously, narrowing his eyes.

The Enemy: Aktoz, can you hear me?

The handprint pulses. X-Ray rushes in, leaning over The Fan from the opposite side. Unten watches as the fog begins to spread outwards from The Mistake.

X-Ray: Patient is in unknown condition... chest cavity has been sealed over and marked...
Unten: Derezzt...?

The fog clears away across the ground. The Mistake is floating in mid-air, missing his left arm from the elbow down, his muddled complexion cleared up into rich deep teal skin. He hangs his head down, as if unconscious.

Quartz: What happened to him?

X-Ray picks her briefcase back up and picks up a flashlight, shining it at The Fan's chest. The handprint runs deeper than skin level, and shines like a diamond. The Enemy opens his mouth and stammers.

Unten: Derezzt, are you okay?!

The Mistake opens his eyes, looking down at his body. He chuckles nervously and smiles.

The Mistake: I... I think so, yeah.
The Enemy: What'd you do to my brother?!

The Fan opens his eyes again and reaches up grabbing one of The Enemy's hands with both of his.

The Fan: I believe he's just saved my life.
The Enemy: ...Aktoz, you're still in shock, you're delusional, you're-

The Fan pulls The Enemy's hand to the handprint. It fits perfectly, and The Enemy audibly chokes up when he feels a heartbeat.

The Enemy: Y-you... your Crystal...
The Mistake: I know. I'm sorry. If it makes any of this any better, I could stay and watch, you could have Unten Descend me, whatever it takes to-
The Enemy: This is it.
The Mistake: ...I'm not sure I understand?
The Enemy: Whatever you've made... it's a User Crystal and his new heart.

The Mistake looks at his stump of a left arm in silent awe.

The Mistake: I-I... I did it?

Unten grins and nods enthusiastically. X-Ray grabs a stethoscope and listens for a heartbeat, nodding much slower. The Enemy clutches The Fan's arm, on the verge of crying.

The Enemy: If this goes wrong in any way, I will have your head, Derezzt.
The Mistake: R-right, of course, but... I did it?!
Unten: You have a User Crystal now!
The Mistake: This place won't decay? D-Did I actually create something?
Quartz: Congratulations!

The Mistake shivers from the overwhelming emotions, but doesn't glitch out. He rubs his own torso in amazement, laughing proudly. The Enemy silently holds onto The Fan, who weakly nods.

The Mistake: We... we still need to talk, Unten, but I need a minute.
Unten: Of course.
The Mistake: Aktoz - may I call you that now, brother? - I hope you have a speedy recovery. If you need anything-
The Enemy (choked up): Let us be.
The Fan: Thank you.

The Mistake nods and teleports away. X-Ray exhales.

X-Ray: I need to conduct a more thorough inspection on our patient to-
The Fan: I feel fine, X-Ray. Look all you want, but... he really did fix me.
The Enemy: She's right. We need to make sure he didn't set even a single atom astray in there.
The Fan: Whatever eases your mind, I suppose...
Unten: We'll, uh, leave you to that...
The Enemy: Please do leave.
X-Ray: See you in a minute, Unten.

Quartz and X-Ray share a quick silent nod. Unten waves and starts walking off, smiling as he takes in a deep breath.

As Hybrid IV walks down the gravel road to Yggdrasil, Obena runs up behind her and clears her throat, tapping her shoulder.

Obena: If you don't mind me asking, where are you going?
Hybrid IV: Huxxabu. Home.
Obena: Hmm... wait, do you live on Earth or Huxxabu?
Hybrid IV: I go where my particular talents-

Hybrid IV pauses to flex. Obena blushes and looks at the ground.

Hybrid IV: -are needed most.
Obena: Right. But... say goodbye first?
Hybrid IV: Ah, of course. Where are my manners? I need to be setting a good example.
Silence (telepathically): I was just wrapping up too. Come over here, you two.

Obena turns around. Silence is sitting with Strafe and Rachel, waving slightly to her. She runs over and Hybrid IV chuckles as she walks along.

Obena: What are you still doing here? You have a family to go see.
Silence: I need to take Serah out somewhere nice after all of this...
Strafe: ...which means we had to figure out when I'm looking after his kids.

Silence nods. Rachel chuckles and rubs her face.

Rachel: Never thought a something like this would bring out the nurturing instinct in you.
Strafe: Same thing as you, right? Robyn and NULL both.
Rachel:, fair.
Silence: I've got no complaints.
Hybrid IV: So, what's the plan? Earth's end of Yggdrasil is out in the middle of nowhere, right?
Silence: I was hoping to talk to Svarga's new co-pilot and see if I could convince him to get that thing moving...
Rachel: New co-pilot? You mean-
Silence: I do mean.
Rachel: When'd he tell you?
Silence: He's projecting a lot of outward emotion about the whole thing. It's hard not to see, really.
Hybrid IV: We're talking about Volt, right...?
Silence: Indeed.
Hybrid IV: Good for him. Chasing his happiness.
Rachel: Yeah, maybe chasing a bit much.
Obena: Wait, so if Svarga's leaving, where's Unten?
Strafe: Wrapping up his business too, right?
Silence: I can sense him nearby...

Silence puts two fingers to his forehead.

Silence: ...with Quartz. No Derezzt.
Strafe: Okay, look... whatever happened, we're all going to do our best to help him bounce back from this.
Rachel: He talked Derezzt down from genocide. He's going to be fine. Right?
Hybrid IV: Speaking from my own experiences... generally, after overcoming a hurdle like this, you're going to want to let him rest. A lot. But he'll be okay, yeah.
Obena: Mm, big mood.
Strafe: Then we let him rest. I'm just saying, we need to have each other's backs. I'm not letting him start taking care of himself just for when he gets into fights.

Rachel nods, smiling to herself.

Silence: I'll tell him to come over here.

Silence furrows his brow, focusing on his telepathy. Obena sits down with the group, stretching her arms up.

Obena: Back to business as usual, huh?
Rachel: Not really... I mean, everyone saw us get on Svarga, Volt's staying there, not to mention we still don't know where we're ending up with Derezzt.

Obena frowns. Rachel shakes her head and laughs nervously.

Rachel: We're going to be fine, through. Promise.
Obena: If you say so...

Nycho walks up from behind Strafe and Silence, sitting down with his legs crossed and supporting his head with one hand.

Strafe: How's it going, Nycho?
Nycho: Denos and Logi totally floored me at blackjack and they wouldn't even let me pay up. That's like, double embarrassing. Gotta maintain my credibility as a man with the financial means to compete.
Strafe: As curious as I am about what getting "absolutely floored" in blackjack entails, they don't seem like the types to hold their friends to that kind of thing.
Nycho: So you're saying they think I'm their friend?
Strafe: Were you under the impression they didn't...?
Nycho: Not in like, a mean way, but yeah, I figured they were way too cool for me!

Strafe shrugs and chuckles.

Nycho: Oh, they also wanted me to tell you they're leaving on their own. Gonna take their chances with Yggdrasil, find somewhere to vacation.
Rachel: Sounds nice.
Hybrid IV: I gotta go tell those two goodbye then, huh... Rachel, let Unten know my classes start back up soon, okay?
Rachel: What happened to letting him rest?
Hybrid IV: Eh, I'll go easy on him. As long as he can consistently pull up a Meijiora, he's making progress.
Silence: See you around... Ms. Hybrid? Ms. IV?

Hybrid IV laughs and waves as she walks away, quickly breaking into a jog. Unten and Quartz walk towards the group, Quartz turning to watch Hybrid IV leaving while Unten sits down next to Silence and pats his back.

Rachel: How'd it go?
Nycho: We gotta hear everything.
Unten: The Fan seems to be just fine. Derezzt... turned his hand into a heart, and also a User Crystal? We're still figuring things out.
Rachel: So you're waiting to talk to him.
Unten: He has a lot to process.
Silence: Fascinating.
Quartz: He looks really different now. I think this is kind of what he needed all along...
Silence: To make a User Crystal, or to make amends?

Quartz taps a claw against her chin in thought.

Nycho (muttering): Deep.
Silence: Whatever the reasons, I'm happy for him.
Unten: Yeah. I just hope maybe he backs off on... y'know.
Silence: We'll see.

Unten looks off to the side. Silence pats his back.

Silence: No matter what, Unten, I want you to take this in. Don't think of it as a win or a loss, think of it as a learning experience.

Unten nods without looking at Silence.

Silence: I'm serious. Your way of handling things has worked, Unten. You've always tried, but you can remember this as a time it got through to someone.
Unten: Couldn't have done it without you.
Silence: You took initiative.
Unten: You're the one who talked to him.
Rachel: Enough. You both did great. No need to be so humble about it.

Unten clears his throat and nods. Quartz sits down next to him, kissing his cheek.

Silence: Besides, even if I wanted to take some form of gratification from this... I certainly didn't have to survive getting flung around by one of the most powerful beings in the universe.

Unten chuckles. Nycho raises his hand and Unten tilts his head.

Unten: ...go ahead?
Nycho: I want to see this Meijiora thing. Everyone keeps talking about it.
Unten: Oh, really? Guys...
Rachel: You've been working really hard on it! Of course we're interested.

Unten looks at Quartz, who smiles and nods. He takes in a deep breath and surrounds his body in Aura.

Unten: I've been able to do it while sitting perfectly still for a few weeks now, but this is the first time I've ever used it in any practical way...
Quartz: Makes sense to me. High stakes leads to high emotions.
Unten: Right, it was kind of a fight or flight reaction. But... hey, I've also never held a proper conversation like this, so... getting there.

Unten smiles slightly as he lets the Meijiora fade. Nycho claps, Obena joining in.

Unten: Thanks, guys.

Unten leans back, getting comfortable and looking up at Yggdrasil. After a few moments, The Mistake appears in the sky, looking back down at Unten with a slight smile. Unten looks down at his feet and takes a deep breath.

Unten: There's my cue.
Rachel: You'll do fine.
Obena: It'll work out, Unten!
Silence: Best of luck.

Unten stands up and looks at the group. Quartz hugs him from behind and kisses one of his ears.

Quartz: We're all rooting for you.

Unten smiles and turns around to kiss Quartz on the cheek. He looks back up at The Mistake and waves. In an instant, he and Unten have both vanished into thin air, startling most of the group.

Silence:, Sunday evening works for you, Strafe?

Strafe nods.

Unten and The Mistake reappear, on a high-up branch of Yggdrasil, not far below the clouds. The Fan and The Enemy are already sitting in meditative poses across from the two.

The Mistake: Brothers.
The Fan: Derezzt.
The Enemy: ...hmmph... Derezzt...
Unten: Glad you could make it, Ektaz... I didn't know you were coming.
The Enemy: We both know I'm good at digging my feet in.

The Mistake sits down calmly. Unten sits down and looks over the branch, clutching the bark beneath him when he realizes how high up they are.

The Mistake: We've agreed to discuss the matter of my Descenion. A very generous compromise on Unten's part.
The Enemy: Indeed.
The Fan: However, brother...

The Enemy looks at The Fan with a confused scowl.

The Enemy: You're going to 'however' me in front of these two?
The Fan: Circumstances have changed rapidly since this agreement was reached. I'm well enough to talk, and Derezzt is responsible for that.
The Enemy: Whatever The Mistake did to you-
The Mistake: Please don't call me that anymore.

The Enemy turns his gaze to The Mistake.

The Mistake: Wouldn't you say I've changed?
The Enemy: I see you haven't regenerated a new arm after your... incident.
The Mistake: And I won't. I want to remember what I've done, and what given you two for atonement.
The Enemy: You haven't lost anything. You planted a User Crystal in my brother as a bargaining chip, to try and make yourself necessary to us. It won't work.
The Mistake: ...let's hear what Unten has to say. This all comes back to him, after all.
Unten: Right, thanks for... the enormous pressure.

Unten clears his throat.

Unten: I already didn't want to Descend him before. We didn't know what'd happen to him if I did, and... that's just not how I want to do things. I can't give you some lecture about why. It's a gut feeling. It feels wrong to do, so I wouldn't.
The Enemy: And now he's more powerful than ever. You've paved the way for him to hurt you in the future. Don't you have a responsibility to handle that before it can become a problem?

The Mistake looks down, sighing wearily. Unten looks The Enemy in the eyes.

Unten: He's healed, your brother's healed. It's over. He wouldn't hurt us.
The Fan: Brother... I understand your reluctance, but he has done us a great favor. We owe it to him to listen.

The Mistake looks up. He's clearly holding back heavy emotions, strained slightly but trying to maintain a calm half-smile.

The Mistake: I don't know what'd happen to this place if Unten were to Descend me now... and User Crystals remain active after Descenion, but if it's also your heart, I-
The Enemy: So you are using him as a bargaining chip.
The Fan: Brother...! Let him finish.
The Mistake: I'm tired of hurting people. I don't want to have to put any of you through more pain. I won't put Unten through that, and I especially won't risk stopping your heart.
The Enemy: Then what do you suggest fixes any of this? How do you give us back our peace of mind?
The Mistake: I leave.
Unten: Leave to...?
The Mistake: The edge of the known universe. Perhaps even further out.
The Enemy: An exile.
The Mistake: I prefer to think of it as... putting good back out into the world. Keeping a watchful eye on what happens out there. I also have something to take with me...

The Mistake opens a red X next to him. He reaches his hand in and telekinetically pulls out a iridescent pod as large as Unten, shining hues gold and green. The Fan looks on, furrowing his brow before smiling.

Unten: What is that thing?
The Fan: A seed of Yggdrasil.
The Mistake: Only nine may exist at once, but somebody has to plant these.
The Enemy: So you'd be giving up your ambitions for Earth... this, I do enjoy.
The Mistake: The people of Earth do not need people like us. They can defend their world without divine intervention. They are stronger, smarter, and kinder for it.

The Mistake looks down at Unten and smiles. Unten smiles back.

The Mistake: I wish to serve the universe and make it a better place. That's been the ideal since day one. So long as Earth maintains defenders as dedicated as Unten, the moral thing to do is to bring my power to worlds that don't have that.
The Enemy: Hm... such pathetic reasoning, but it's hard to argue that it brings us to a conclusion I quite like.
The Fan: I see no reason to refuse this offer.
The Enemy: So long as Unten remembers what he must do should any harm come my brother's way because of you.

Unten's eyes dart to the side for a moment. He holds his hands together in his lap and looks back to the brothers.

Unten: This all works for me.
The Mistake: I do have one last stipulation, if you don't mind, though...

The Enemy gestures for The Mistake to continue speaking. The Mistake conjures himself an outfit; a coat similar in design to Unten's, but with white silk cloth and a red X symbol near the top.

The Mistake: I'd like to determine my own title. After all, it's a new chapter.
The Enemy: I dread to think of what you come up with...
The Fan: It'd... be better than calling you Derezzt. We appreciate your help, but we aren't that close.
The Mistake:, alright. From now on, I'd like to be called... hm... The Vagabond.
The Fan: A traveller. Fitting.
The Enemy: What nonsense... but fine.
Unten: I think it's alright.
The Vagabond: All good, then.

The Vagabond reaches his hand down to help Unten up. Unten stands up shakily, trying to not look down again. The Vagabond turns to the brothers.

The Vagabond: I kind of want to have a one-on-one, if you wouldn't mind, so-
The Fan: Proceed.

The Vagabond huddles up with Unten.

The Vagabond: Thank you. For everything, really.
Unten: I'm glad you'll be okay, Derezzt.
The Vagabond: It will take some adjusting... but yes, I'll find my way.

Unten nods.

Unten: Nice cloak, by the way.
The Vagabond: Hah... thanks. Inspired by someone I'm a big admirer of.

Unten laughs and smiles. The Vagabond pats Unten's shoulder.

The Vagabond: Take good care, Unten. Of Earth, of your friends, of yourself.
Unten: You too.

The Vagabond leans out of the huddle.

The Enemy: I never want to see you back on Earth. Do you understand?
The Vagabond: Take care, Ektaz.

The Enemy grumbles.

The Fan: Be careful out there. If you need any help in learning how to use your power-
The Vagabond: I'll ask. Telepathically. Of course, of course.
The Fan (muttering): -was going to say you're on your own.

The Vagabond chuckles nervously.

The Vagabond: Again, my sincerest apologies, Aktoz... enjoy your retirement, for my sake.
The Fan: Retirement?

Unten tries to hold back a laugh. The Vagabond smugly shakes his head for a moment before hovering a bit off of the branch, the Yggdrasil seed following.

The Vagabond: No need to delay any further. Let's see...

The Vagabond holds his hand out with his thumb up and closes one eye, as if gauging distance. He points himself west and tilts his thumb back and forth.

The Vagabond: No, no, that's Laverne and Teriodin's end of things... so I should...

The Vagabond rotates upside-down and twists in mid-air, now facing east.

The Vagabond: ...right.
Unten: Derezzt... enjoy your life out there.

The Vagabond smiles and nods at Unten. In an instant, he and the Yggdrasil seed disappear, leaving behind faint streaks of light that fade quickly. The Vagabond reappears in the cold black void of space, standing on top of a cracked, decaying asteroid.

The Vagabond: ...time to put it together.

The Vagabond kneels down. The pieces of the asteroid gravitate to him, forming around the Yggdrasil seed. The Vagabond smiles solemnly as he looks back over his shoulder.

As the dwarf star sun begins to set, Unten carries Imperium onto Svarga, the exit shutting behind. As he walks down the halls, he sees that much of the team have made themselves comfortable in various rooms of the vessel; Nycho, Obena, and Rubelline are occupying a dining hall, Strafe and Rachel are half-asleep across from each other in what were once turret seats, and The Fan and The Enemy are sharing a meal quietly in a dark corner. As he gets closer to the front, he passes by Sakeena, who's walking towards the back.

Unten: How's it going?
Sakeena: Been helping repair some of the damages around here... I'm about ready for a nap.

Unten nods, laughing a little. Sakeena waves and he waves back.

Sakeena: Good work out there.
Unten: Sleep well.
Sakeena: Can confirm, will do.

Unten chuckles. As he enters the throne room, Zerita, Mioda, and Sia all turn around to greet him, Silence waving from the corner.

Zerita: There you are!
Sia: Tell us everything.
Mioda: The brothers seem really quiet. Please tell us that was you.
Unten: It went... good. I didn't have to Descend anyone.

Zerita excitedly clutches her fists and gives Unten a weak punch in the arm, laughing excitedly. Mioda pats his shoulder and Sia gives him a thumbs up.

Zerita: You pulled it off! Way to go, man!
Unten: Thanks. Thank you for coming along, too, I know you're new to Earth and you don't know everyone super well yet, but-
Zerita: This was important business, chief, I'm happy to help. And anyone you trust enough to bring along is a friend of mine.
Sia: Except the brothers.
Zerita: Oh, yeah, except them. They can go back to freezing in Alaska, though.

Zerita laughs. Unten chuckles weakly.

Zerita: We're gonna go raid the kitchen, you can come along if you want, but we figured you'd be up here for a minute.
Unten: Right, I'll catch up.

Zerita scruffs up the top of Unten's head as she walks by him with Mioda and Sia. Silence walks up to him, the two meeting in the middle of the throne room.

Silence: I told you your way worked out.
Unten: I guess it did.
Silence: Where is he now?
Unten: Edge of the known universe. Wanted to do good out there. The Enemy let him, because he sees it as punishment.
Silence: Do you?
Unten: I don't know what to make of it, honestly... but he seemed happy. It's what he wanted, right? To do something useful in the world.

Silence nods, looking around the room.

Silence: It's been quite the day.
Unten: I'm sorry for everything you've had to go through.
Silence: I should be saying the same to you. After last time... it didn't feel right to be a bystander again.
Unten: It means a lot.
Silence: It meant a lot to me to do it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Unten: So, what's the plan back home?
Silence: Tell Serah what happened and work through that. Try to not glorify this danger for the kids. Go out for a nice dinner on Sunday. Let life return to normal.
Unten: Sounds nice.

Silence nods and hugs Unten with one arm. Unten smiles.

Silence: I think I'll stay here for the ride, if The Threat allows it. Take in the view.
Unten: I'll be back up in a bit with snacks, then.

Unten heads back towards the entrance of the throne room. The Threat and Volt approach first, and he steps out of the way slightly.

The Threat: All mechanical systems looking good?
Volt: Oh, hi, Unten.

Unten waves awkwardly. The Threat glares back at Volt.

Volt: Oh! Yes.

The Threat nods, walking up to the throne and sitting down. Silence leans back comfortably against a wall and she glances over at him.

Silence: I'll stay quiet.
The Threat: Appreciate it, bud.

Volt enters The Threat's controls. Svarga begins to lift up off the ground and Yggdrasil's portal seems to open in turn.

The Threat: Downward sensors. We didn't forget anyone, right? I'm not making round trips.

The controls respond with a green checkmark. The Threat grins as Svarga moves forward, Silence admiring the bridging wormhole as they fly through it, surrounded by swirling shades of green and blue.

The Threat: You're lucky, y'know. Your stop's first.
Silence: Right, right...

The Threat rolls her eyes at how disinterested Silence seems. Svarga breaks through to Earth; the Distortion Mist has filled back in around the ground, but Earth's Yggdrasil still has a clear view of the sky, bright blue fading into a sunset. Silence smiles and clutches his collar.

Silence: Breathtaking.
The Threat: Yeah... guess I better get used to the view.

'"The Threat pushes her hand forward and Svarga continues moving, back into the shrouds of Distortion Mist.

A few hours later, a waxing moon hangs over Serah and Silence's rural home in Washington. Serah sits in the living room floor with a glass of cider, with Jay and Mike asleep in a symmetrical pose on the couch.

Serah:, Serah, you're not going to turn on the news. You saw all the information you need. Big heat front out east. Gotta know when you're just fretting too much.

Serah exhales and takes a sip of cider, setting it down. The glass begins shaking and spilling as a low rumble fills the air. Serah puts one hand on the glass to secure it and looks at Jay and Mike, who are both still fast asleep.

Serah: W-what's going on...?

Serah runs to the closest window. Svarga is approaching her home quickly. She ducks down, still peeking upwards, and breathes heavily.

Silence (telepathically): I know it's not ideal...

Serah covers her mouth, tears welling up in her eyes.

Silence (telepathically): It was a long path, much longer than it should have been. I was selfish.
Serah: Honey...

Serah shoves the couch back and forth gently to wake Jay and Mike up, both of them yawning.

Serah: Mommy's going to be right back, okay? Stay by the door.

The two seem to fall back asleep immediately. Serah runs to the back door and heads into the backyard, where Svarga is hovering not too far off the ground.

Silence (telepathically): I know that I've been a fool and I'm ready to do whatever it might take to solve that. I hope to start by doing something nice for you, but whatever you need, I'll do my best to provide.

Svarga opens up. Silence stands at the forefront of the exit, with Strafe and Unten behind him.

Serah: Honey, come here...

Strafe pats Silence's back. Silence takes the short jump to the ground and walks calmly to Serah. Serah looks up at him and hugs him as tight as she can, crying.

Serah: I-It'll all be okay...

Unten and Strafe look at each other and smile. Svarga starts raising again and Strafe looks around the doorframe of the exit.

Strafe: Hey, Volt...? Take us up a little slower.

Svarga's ascent slows slightly. Strafe watches as Silence and Serah walk back into their home, Jay and Mike excitedly running to their father when they see him inside. He clears his throat and Unten pats his back.

Even deeper into the night, Svarga hovers far above the Fantendo Firehouse, trying to remain hidden in the darkness. Sakeena walks into the hallway leading to the exit, rubbing her eyes tiredly. The rest of the team has gathered up, along with The Threat.

Nycho: Isn't there a tractor beam you can beam us down with? Every good spaceship needs one.
The Threat: Svarga is not a "spaceship", it is a mobilized fortress and domicile. ...and no, I sold the air-to-ground personnel warp mechanics off, because I'm the only personnel.
Obena: Not anymore.

The Threat scoffs and rolls her eyes.

The Threat: What'd you think, I'd drop you a few blocks away, you all would shuffle on home? Everyone saw you get in, everyone's going to have to see you get out.
Unten: You do understand how hard this will be to explain, though.
The Threat: Everybody here loves you guys, for reasons beyond my understanding. You'll be fine.

Unten nods reluctantly, him and Rachel glancing at each other for a moment. The Threat folds her arms and starts walking away.

The Threat: Been a pleasure flying with you. Thanks for fighting Holy Choir. Oh, and for lending me Volt.
Unten: I know things aren't the best between us, but... you two stay safe, alright?
The Threat: Oh, relax, it's not like you're never going to see us again...

The Threat chuckles as she heads back towards the throne room.

Sakeena: Was that supposed to be intimidating...?
Strafe: Ehh... I think we'll be fine. She won't step on our toes, we won't step on hers.
Quartz: Good riddance.
Rachel: What do you think we should expect down there? I kind of just want to get inside and call Bang, I'm hoping there's not a crowd or anything...
Sia: Eh, there will be. We'll clear you a path.

Rachel nods for a moment before pausing.

Rachel: But like, peacefully, right?
Sia: Depends on the type of crowd we're drawing... but eh, yeah, probably.

Svarga begins slowly lowering, stirring up heavy wind and dust on the street below. It stops just above ground level and the doors open. Quartz peeks out first and sees that the section of the street directly in front of the Firehouse has been barricaded by F.A.N.T; behind the barricades, large crowds of reporters and citizens have gathered.

Quartz: ...let's play this one quiet for a minute, everyone.

Quartz jumps out. Two F.A.N.T agents motion for her to go towards the Firehouse and she, in turn, motions back to the team. As she starts walking, Obena and Nycho step out, Nycho waving to the crowds.

Rachel: Oooh. Okay. Crowds. Okay. It's cool. It's fine.

Sakeena follows Rachel as she steps out, patting her shoulder. Unten starts walking towards the exit when he feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns around and sees The Enemy.

The Enemy: I have something to say to you.
Unten: ...go ahead.
The Enemy: You're rotten to the core. You're incapable of following better judgement and you routinely put others in incredible danger because you'd rather it be their lives on the line than your conscience. You've grown weak and soft without us.

Unten scowls and takes The Enemy's hand off his shoulder, starting to walk away.

The Enemy: But once... just this once, it worked. By dumb luck. By The Mistake's own flaws. By a series of events so improbable they become impossible to explain. You saved my brother.

Unten looks back over his shoulder at The Enemy.

The Enemy: I despise you. I pray we never see each other again, and that your hubris catches up to you. But you have done me a great service today, and I will do my best to not forget that.

Unten keeps staring at The Enemy. He turns back around and gets off Svarga without saying anything. The Enemy grimaces as the doors shut. On the ground, Unten looks over at Zerita.

Zerita: What are we thinking, chief? House arrest? Err... Firehouse... arrest...?
Unten: We'll see...

Unten and Zerita cautiously walk towards the Firehouse, several F.A.N.T. agents looking at them enthusiastically even behind their standard issue sunglasses. As the two of them walk through the door, they see Nycho and Guadalupe, holding onto each other's shoulders and jumping excitedly.

Guadalupe: You actually made it, you big dummy!
Nycho: And you really looked after the place!
Unten: Hey, uh, good to see you, Guadalupe, do you know what's up with...?

Unten gestures over his shoulder. Guadalupe looks at him and nods.

Guadalupe: Something about wanting to give you guys a smooth landing. They said they'd contact us once you all got in.
Rachel: I'm just gonna... go take a call real quick, then...

Unten looks over at Rachel and nods. She pulls her phone out and walks towards the back of the room.

Unten: So, should be any second-

The screens on the wall light up. Guadalupe scrambles over to the laptops and taps them both, muttering to herself. A video feed pops up of Logia and Blank in F.A.N.T's New York offices, Blank popping open a bottle of champagne loudly enough for the team to flinch.

Logia: Hello there. We're all very happy to see you made it home safe! Director Sinn sends his regards.
Unten: Uh... us too. To him. Hey, what's up with the barricades outside?
Logia: Safety measure. The media has... not taken kindly to you all boarding Svarga.
Blank: But that leads us to the good news we're here to deliver.
Obena: Ooh! What is it?

Logia clears his throat, clearly pulling up some papers for reference while Blank pours two glasses of champagne, sliding one to him.

Logia: Given your recent services under F.A.N.T. protocol, documented history of good behavior as a cohesive unit, and the extraterrestrial nature of your offenses, F.A.N.T will not be pursuing any legal action to impede your current activities, following a thorough investigation of this incident's events.
Blank: Let me break it down for you all. We absolutely have the authority to put you all on lockdown while we turn everything upside-down looking for loose evidence... but we aren't going to.
Unten: Oh. Cool...?
Blank: I know it doesn't seem like much, but trust me, people... they have questions. We wanted to let you know that as long as you don't make a habit out of this kind of behavior, we'll try to have your back, or at least not go picking fights with you. Which we could.
Unten: So are we all good?

Blank takes a long sip of champagne. Unten rubs one arm nervously.

Blank: All squared away. Just don't do anything stupid.

Unten nods, looking around the room. Strafe and Sakeena both look exhausted and nervous, glancing back at Rachel, who's talking quietly on the phone.

Blank: Thank you again for all the help, and going off to fix things... we'll definitely need a report on all of this soon, but we're all just as tired as you look, I think.
Unten: Right.
Logia: We're happy to escort anyone going home, and hopefully the crowds will take the hint and back off a bit for you all...
Unten: Good to know. Thanks for the call.

Blank waves, Logia joining in a second later to avoid looking rude. The video feed shuts off and Guadalupe sits down and leans back, groaning.

Guadalupe: So we're probably stuck here, because they're definitely not leaving.
Strafe: How bad has it been?
Guadalupe: Eh, I've heard worse about you guys, the bad part is just how this whole thing's blown up.
Sakeena: I mean, it makes perfect sense to me. If I were on the outside looking in...
Strafe: Eh, I just hope it doesn't get in the way of things.
Nycho: We're all way too charismatic for that. Me especially.

Guadalupe rolls her eyes. Rachel walks back towards the group, clearing her throat.

Rubelline: Everything okay?
Rachel: She's... not happy, but she wants to talk later. She went off to some races to blow off steam or something, I don't know...
Unten: And NULL?
Rachel: Doing fine. Tagged along.
Strafe: Whatever happens, it'll be okay.
Rachel: Yeah, I know.

Rachel exhales through her nose sharply as she sits down, rubbing her forehead. Unten sits down and Quartz quickly sits down on the armrest of the couch next to him. The two look at each other and smile, the two kissing for a quick moment.

Unten: I'm guessing we're all crashing here tonight, then.
Rachel: Even X-Ray? But she came here from-
It's no trouble, really...

Rachel perks up a little, smiling at X-Ray. X-Ray smiles back.

Quartz: I was hoping we could go somewhere nice, like you said earlier...
Unten: Well... we will, soon. Right, guys?
Sakeena: Totally. We need more group hangs.
Strafe: I'll see what I can do.
Sia: I could use the interaction.
Rubelline: Oh, it can be my treat! I can take you all somewhere nice...
Guadalupe: Nah, nah, you know "nice" food, not nice food. We can pick.
Rubelline: I can still come, though, right?
Guadalupe: Of course. Someone's gotta teach you...

Rubelline laughs a little and smiles.

Nycho: I'm sure we can find accomodations for everyone here. I'll take one for the team and sleep in a closet if I have to.
Rachel: We aren't that crowded.
Nycho: But I would.
Guadalupe: Always so selfless, huh?
Obena: Right?

Guadalupe glares slightly at Obena.

Quartz: Well, at least we can all relax now... guess it's kind of nice having everyone in one place.

Unten smiles, hugging Quartz, who laughs and slides down off the armrest to sit with him.

Unten: It is nice, yeah.
Nycho: So, what are we thinking? Snacks and a movie?
Guadalupe: No groceries, no snacks.
Strafe: We were gone for like, what, a day and a half...?
Guadalupe: And I KNEW it was an EMERGENCY so EXCUSE ME for not picking EVERYTHING up...

Strafe nods, holding his hands up defensively.

Obena: Guys, is it really the best idea to tune out of-
Sakeena: Yes.
X-Ray: Mhm.
Rachel: Yeah.
Nycho: We'll deal with it tomorrow. Tonight I'm thinking... light and fun.
Unten: Yeah... light and fun.

Unten adjusts his ragged cloak and takes in a deep breath, smiling. As the team gets comfortable gathered together in the main room of the Firehouse, he leans on Quartz and smiles, slowly closing his eyes before putting his hand over hers.



Liameno sits leaned back in a dark F.A.N.T holding cell in Area 51, in the dead of night. He tilts his head, only half-awake, and sighs deeply. After a long moment of silence, he hears noise coming from out of sight; the swift cracking of bones and heavy, metallic footsteps. He scurries back up the wall and puts a hand under his cloak, trying to look like he could pull a weapon out.

Liameno: Who goes there...?

Doomulus Rise and Doomulus Thai step out of the shadows. Doomulus Thai is wearing modifications; a full orange visor covering her face and two gauntlets resembling Liameno's, projecting out orange energy. Liameno growls.

Liameno: You godless freaks... what could you be doing here?

The two Doomuli stop in their tracks in front of Liameno's cell and stand in formal stance, hands behind their backs.

Doomulus Thai: On direct orders from Doomulus Prime, we have been dispatched to free you and your associates from captivity.
Liameno: Like I'd ever accept help from you. What is it you want? You're all so obsessed with the material rather than the spiritual...
Doomulus Thai: No catch. Just because you're our enemy doesn't mean you're not useful. Your... cult, to put it bluntly... provides structure to a certain branch of the universe, and creates problems for our true targets to handle.
Liameno: Ah, yes. Everything has its use to you people. Always letting things play out, but never making the first move.
Doomulus Rise: Remember the mission. Just get this idiot out now...

Doomulus Thai quickly puts her hands forward and uses the energy gauntlets to slice through the glass and steel that covers Liameno's cell, shredding it open roughly. She puts her hands at her sides and the energy gauntlets fall apart into pieces on the floor.

Liameno: What if I don't accept your help?

Doomulus Rise slithers into the cell, his mechanical limbs contorting unnaturally. He picks Liameno up by the cloak with both hands and smirks.

Doomulus Rise: You can't refuse.

Liameno squirms, trying to activate the concussive force Derezzt granted him and failing.

Doomulus Thai: You will be taken aboard our stealth ship and dropped off within your territory. You are free to continue living your life however you want afterwards.
Liameno: Y-you'll never-!

Doomulus Rise sinks his claws into Liameno and drains enough blood to knock him unconscious in one quick pull, shivering excitedly. Doomulus Thai looks back over her shoulder, removing her orange visor and hiding what's underneath. She pulls her standard humanoid face from a pocket inside her coat and stretches her mouth around as she puts it back on, adjusting to the feeling of facial features.

Doomulus Thai: I have the route back to the ship memorized. Follow my lead. We can't blow this.

Doomulus Thai starts walking ahead, Doomulus Rise carrying Liameno behind her and chuckling.

Doomulus Rise: A successful dry run. In and out of enemy territory with no trace of our infiltration and plausible deniability for the escape of four captives...
Doomulus Thai: Don't get cocky until we're off Earth.
Doomulus Rise: You know, it'll only be a matter of time before we're gathering the invasion forces... how thrilling.

Doomulus Thai misses a step, a shiver running down her back.

Doomulus Thai: ...right.

The two turn a corner and come to an elevator, with two dead guards in front. Doomulus Thai takes one of their keycards to activate the elevator and folds her arms, Doomulus Rise leaning down to clean up any spilled blood with his free hand. As the elevator arrives and opens, Doomulus Rise grins, tossing Liameno in.

Doomulus Rise: So much for the Doomuli not making the first move, huh, Liameno?

The two Doomuli get in. Doomulus Thai stares ahead, looking lost in thought. She scowls with determination, and the elevator doors shut.



  • From the basic idea of reintroducing The Mistake even before Victory to finally being written, Zenith underwent large changes in terms of its presentation and cast. Originally intended to be another full Fantendo Smash Bros., the final format of a roughly 20-chapter written story was decided, partially in homage to Fantendo - Genesis.

References to Other Works

  • Truth and Train - Unten mentions working on his Aura control and uses Laverne's Mejiora technique while meditating. Silence and Strafe also mention the upcoming World Tournament.
  • Fantendo Sports Resort - The Mistake recruits several of the doppelgangers introduced in this game, such as Toge Kurihara and Synth. Toge points out the connection between his plans and White Goddess's, which seems to frustrate The Mistake.
  • Fallen Crusade - Nycho references both Liameno killing the Pope and the conversation he had with Unten about the Artifacts of Ascendancy.
  • Fantendo - Gaiden / Fantendo - Gaiden: Legacy / Blank Out - Blank's relationship with Logia is brought up twice, along with his status as a member of the Operatives and their airborne base.
  • Summer Dayz - Mioda and Sia both mention their talk with Netnu in this story, Mioda paraphrasing herself telling Netnu "don't come back".
  • Fantendo - Hivemind Halloween / By Candlelight - Nycho vaguely alludes to Volt's relationship with The Threat a few times and Volt eventually clarifies the events between them after bringing it up by accident.
  • Fantendo Smash Bros. Shattered - The Mistake experiences recurring nightmares both before and during the story of Clockwarx, the character who killed his past incarnation. While confronting The Fan on his origins, he briefly takes on a face intentionally calling back to Clockwarx's first form.