Fantendo - Zenith is a story authored by PabloDePablo (t∣b∣c), 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.
- Jay: BIRTHDAY!! BIRTHDAY!!
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: 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: 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: 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: ...mm, 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: 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: 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: ...no. 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: ...do 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: ...it 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. ...like 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.
- Sia: YO, STOP PLAYING MIND GAMES, YOU NEON FUCKER! WE'VE GOT YOU FIGURED OUT!
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: ...cool. 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 ...how 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: ...best 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: No. NO! I'M TOO GOOD TO DIE!
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: 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: ...you 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: ...so 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: ...so. 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-
- 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: 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: ...my 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: ...hm? 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: ...it'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: ...how 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: ...live 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: ...it'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.
- Amelia: GUARDS! MAN THE CANNONS!
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: ...no, 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: 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: ...so, 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: ...so, 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...
- Volt: ...hm.
- 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
Unten treads carefully. The Threat plays to the right audience.
- 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.
- PabloDePablo (t∣b∣c) - Writer
- Exotoro (t∣b∣c) - Creative consultant / artist
- Athena Hawkins (t∣b∣c) - Editor