Jupiter Strike and Oathkeeper IN: Rallying the Troops

The great meeting hall could easily sit a hundred Legionnaires, from the hulking Blast Zone to the meek Nix. Today, there were only two Legionnaires on Earth and on duty.


One of them was Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan, one of the highest ranking Legionnaires on Earth and a legend. She sat, wearing a black and white spotted blouse above narrow white slacks. Her mane of golden hair was brushed back.

 

Next to her sat a girl, about twelve, with dense curly hair and disinterested hazel eyes, reading a book. This was not a Legionnaire – this was Ruth McGowan, daughter of Oathkeeper and Blue Streak.


There was a sizzle and a crackle outside the building, followed by a roll of thunder that reverberated through the building. It was maybe two, three heartbeats away. A minute later, a slim figure flew in, slow and gently for anyone who knew her.

Continue reading “Jupiter Strike and Oathkeeper IN: Rallying the Troops”

Dancing with the Faeries

DANCING WITH THE FAERIES

 

THE FAERIE GLEN NIGHTCLUB

BOULDER, COLORADO

 

It’s Saturday Night and the Faerie Glen is busy, but not crowded. No special performances are planned for the evening, though go-go kids and oiled-up cuties of all genders and body types flit from table to table, serving drinks and food.

 

Nat is already here, flitting about more literally than the other employees; ey’s literally swooping through the air to give big hugs to regulars and employees ey hasn’t seen in a week.

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A Stitch In Time: When Doors Open

From: Nat

To: Fi, Chad, Jess

<mms> hey loves

<mms> can u meet me on the rooftop garden near Fi’s

<mms> 23:00

<mms> theyll let u in

 

It was a bit breezy, that night, but warm and clear. The Damselfly floated at the end of the rooftop garden path, hands clasped behind eir back, and watched sparse clouds scud across the waning gibbous moon, squinted to try to make out the colonies on its surface.

 

What an amazing universe we live in now, ey thought.

 

Continue reading “A Stitch In Time: When Doors Open”

Snuggle Party

THE FLYING FORTRESS

INFIRMARY, ROOM 212

 

“So this game is apparently not, like. You don’t ‘win’ it? You just pay your mortgage. To a raccoon.” Nat explained, tilting the game system so Fi could see it.

 

“I don’t. Understand at- … at..” She kind of hushes, shrugs. “..why am I mortgaged to a raccoon?” She settles into her chair, brow quirked.

 

“Everybody in the game is an animal except the player, I guess. That’s why it’s called ‘animal crossing’. The raccoon is, like. A merchant guy.”

 

“Why.”

 

“Why what.”

 

Chad and Jess showed up hand in hand, and Chad blew kisses before running off to get the food ready!

 

“Why what what?” Jess poked her head in. “Heya babes!”

 

“Hiya! And ey’s – explaining … Animal-walking…” She glances over at Nat, unsure, “To me.”

 

“Jess! Hi!” Nat smiled. “Look, I’m conscious! For now!”

 

“It’s exciting! I’m excited. Are you excited?”

 

“Animals walking what?” She nudged the door wide open, and leaned on it flat against the wall, holding it open for Chad and his eventual armful of foooooddds.

 

“It’s very exciting! And animals crossing… I dunno, your path? It’s really about buying furniture, picking fruit, and paying your mortgage. Scott hacked it so I don’t have to play as a boy or girl.”

 

“Neat! That’s so great of him!”

 

“It is. I’d rather be flying around, honestly, but this helps. Also, they took off the straps on my hands and feet, finally, tho I’m still tied around the waist so I don’t float away in my sleep.”

 

“It was kind of funny the first night they let you out of the restraints. Bumped the ceiling constantly.”

 

“I don’t know why they didn’t keep me on at least one tether. There’s a reason I either sleep in a hammock or tied to Fi.”

 

Fi shrugs. “No idea, honestly. Was still kinda funny.” She hmhs. Opens her mouth. Stares blankly and slowly closes it. “i- .. I lost my train of thought.” Fi… does look awful tired.

 

Jess slid the door jam under the door and went to Fiona. “Snuggles, smoochbuddy?” She held her arm out.

 

“I mean- I like those, yes?” She kinda. Traps Jess in a big hug.

 

“Oh Fi, you… you gotta go home, sweetie. You’re not sleeping well here.”

 

No.” It’s quite firm. It’s also probably surprising in that Fi sounds sure of anything.

 

“I can tag you out and stay for you? Heck, you can even have my bed here. I don’t use it. And it’s all right for a bunk.”

 

“Fi, it’s all right. I’m all right. It’s just one more procedure, and I’ve had it done before once. Barely invasive. I… I really love having you here but I can see you wearing down.”

 

“I’m fine!” She punctuates this with a rather large yawn. Promptly looks annoyed.

 

That yawn prompted a squeeze hug.

 

Suddenly, an imposing figure appeared in the doorway: a brown-haired woman in a pantsuit, with her hair tied into a neat bun with ornamental hairsticks. She looked… serious.

 

“Adam Nova is visiting Madame Prestwich in the next room over, kids,” Tabitha said, “so no loud orgies, all right?”

 

And she strode away.

 

“…I’m not sure how offended I am right now. I’m going with “pretty”.”

 

“I heard loud orgies. You guys heard loud orgies? I sure did.”

 

“I’m busy being miffed right now, sugar.”

 

“Why’re you miffed? It seems like a reasonable request.”

 

“It’s also an incredibly presumptuous request that basically says a lot about how we’re viewed collectively.”

 

“Young and horny?”

 

“I think she was joking, but like. We kind of are a thing, and the earth staff around here is kinda thin so word travels fast.”

 

Fi grumbles.

 

“Okay but. Adam fucking Nova?”

 

“I guess?”

 

“Is it…is it like bad manners to gawk at Adam Nova?”

“she didn’t say we couldn’t. just no fuckin’.”

 

“I think I heard the door close, actually.”

“Damn.”

“They’ve ruined your plans.”

 

“does this mean the orgy is back on”

 

That’s an interesting shade of red Fi just turned. “I’m trying really hard to be mad why won’t you let me be mad?”

 

“Because being mad is bad for your health,” Nat smiles, “and I want to be a positive influence on you.”

“Since when is it bad?” … she does seem, if only slightly, mollified.

 

“Hey Jess.” Nat’s grin gets a distinctly evil cast to it. “Do you want to see something extremely adorable?”

“I don’t trust this.”

 

“Hah! Always!” Jess grinned.

 

Nat reaches up and places two delicate fingers on Fi’s jaw, gently turning her head so that their eyes meet.

 

“Hi, Fiona,” ey says, “I love you.”

 

Fi turns a brilliant shade of red. She also makes several very interesting, though probably nonsense sounds. Sputters. “uh-i- we-” … “loveyoutoo”  It’s.. kind of hard to tell what she said, since it was a good octave higher than her voice usually went.

 

Jess let out a soft yet high pitch squee. “eeeeeeeeeeee you two are so adorable!”

 

It gets worse. There is literally no way to describe the sound Fi makes after that, other than high-pitched and mortified. She also looks a bit woozy from all that blood taking up, apparently, permanent residence in her face.

 

Nat giggles, blushing a little bit emself. “Isn’t she absolutely darling? You should have seen how she reacted when I said I’d never fallen in love with anybody before.”

 

“why is the room not staying still?”

 

Jess gently gives Fi a squeeze, eeeing softly.

 

“Don’t faint, sweetie,” Nat puts a hand on Fi’s arm. “Deep breaths, okay? Have some water.”

 

“‘m not gonna faint…” She maybe did. Or maybe she just forgot how to words.

 

Nat and Jess both catch Fi at the same time and ease her onto the hospital bed; between the two redheads, about a normal human’s width is taken up on the bed, possibly less given how close Nat snuggles her.

 

“So, uh, yeah,” Nat smiles and shrugs a little sheepishly at Jess. “We’re a thing. I really like it.”

 

Jess held up her hand for a high five. “Hun, I’m like so happy for the two of you.”

 

Nat grins and returns the high-five. “Thanks. Me too. You’re an awesome metamour. Or whatever the kissfriend equivalent of that is.”

 

“….what’s a metamour?”

 

“Oh it’s a polyamory term,” Nat explains, petting Fi’s hair, “it means the person who’s dating a person you’re dating. Your love’s love. Some people use the term OSO, which means other’s significant other.”

 

“Ah, okay. Will remember it.” Jess fondly patted Fi’s shoulder. “You okay with her on the bed with you? I can move her to my room…and hope she doesn’t get lost when she wakes up.”

 

“I like her being on the bed with me. Now that my limbs are free I can snuggle properly. I just wish there were room for you on her other side!”

“i’m awake.” “That’s nice sweetie”

 

“Heyyyyyy better behave you guys.” Chad comes back in with his hands full of treats and food and games. “Then again…” he leans in to Nat and offers his cheek for smooching. “Long as it’s not a loud…uh…” a huge grin.

Nat rises from the bed a little and pecks Chad’s cheek, grinning.

He smooches her back and eyes Jess just in case she might smack him. He’s still pretty sure she might.

“Shhhhhh!” Jess said, with over exaggeration. “Adam Nova is next door. We can’t be too loud.” She winked.

 

“We got all the best shit for our sickie here.” he announced and spread food in front of Nat. “I hadta get mean to get them to heat it up right! You can’t just toss it in the nuker!” he scowled, then grinned at the others. “And after you eat, check it: SMAAAAAASH.” he held up a game disk looking super proud of himself. “I’m gonna kick alla your asses!”

 

Jess gladly grabs a handful of snacks and starts munching.

 

“I bet you will, cuz I’ve never played!” Nat laughs. “I got like no friends at college.”

 

“You got your XDS right?” he looked suddenly worried. “I can run an’ grab it if you don’t”

 

“Um, yeah, actually! Emi bought me one! I’ve been playing Animal Crossing, and like. It’s kind of fascinating how far games have come.”

 

“Blegh, Animal Crossing. No way.” He teased as if he didn’t like that game. “Check it – I got Monster Hunter 8 day it came out!” He looks in his bag. “Ok, we got enough controllers.” he sneaked a sneaky look at Jess all excited but thought he was being really subtle.

 

“An this is for you Nat.” he pulls out a gift bag and hands it over. Inside are Monster Hunter 7, Pokemon Yang, and LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy. There was also a Nintendo Eshop card for so Nat could grab some games.

 

“Can uh. Can I just watch? I’m not very. … good at the video game thing.”

 

“I’m not either!” Nat grinned. “I barely played ’em at all until today. I usually just go clubbing or read about bugs. I do wanna eat first, though, I’m finally back on solid food.”

 

“Yeah that’s cool. Eat up yo you gotta get better.” he started to set up the WiiMo and got the projection up on a bare wall. He had a few controllers and then pulled a package wrapped in orange paper out of the duffel. He got a big goofy smile. (There was a grandiose amount of food. Almost like the person that brought it had no idea other people didn’t eat as much)

 

Fi abruptly remembers her promise, scooting to the edge of the bed and giving both Chad and Jess pecks on the cheek. (Also big hugs but that’s kind of a given, one may surmise.)

 

Nat grins. “You’re all the best.”

 

Jess grins, grabbing a controller. “You guys are the best too. And, Cutey, I’m going to smash you.” Her grin was huge when she looked at Chad.

“I’m in a paranormal polycule and that is so cool

 

Fi, after a moment’s contemplation, picks up a controller. She stares at it like it may actually bite her.

 

“Aww you think you’re gonna. Ain’t no way!” He stuck his tongue out at her and noticed her controller. “Uh…actually that one’s for Fi and…”  He shuffled for a second and got all bashful. “

This one’s for you.” he handed her the wrapped box.

“oh my gosh”

“Isn’t he cute?”

“this is the greatest. yes he is.”

 

Jess made a little meeping sound. “For me? But why?” She took the box with both hands.

 

He scratched at the back of his neck. “Well I noticed when we were at your place the other night you ain’t got one.”  he admitted. The words kinda spilled out of his mouth. “Anyhow you were sayin’ you wanted to try Fire Fates and I had like a million points saved up and Black Ops 12 isn’t out til next month soo….” he got more and more shy until he trailed off.

 

“Nerd.” Jess was smiling fondly, then pulled Chad over for a quite detailed kiss.

Nat squealed, delighted.

Fi covers her eyes. Yes, really. Nat immediately sings, “don’t you daare close your eyes!” a la aladdin in her ear.”I swear to God, Nat. I- .. I don’t know what yet but you’ll regret this.” “maybe I can make it up to you.”

He went all droopy and tangled one of his big hands in her hair.

 

Jess giggled. “Dope.” Then in his ear. “I’m so gonna whup your ass.”

 

When she bit his ear he shivered and made a high little whuffle noise then blinked rapidly so he wouldn’t embarrass himself!  “Guuuurl.”

“Heeheeheehee.” She sneaks in a grope.

Evidently finding the scene inspiring, Nat nuzzled Fi’s cheek. “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

 

“..a place where we’re all affectionate with each other and nobody feels slighted by it, and everyone is actually enjoying themselves?” It’s a little flat, like she’s trying to be properly sassy, but hasn’t mastered the right tonality, exactly.

 

“Mm-hmm,” Nat agrees, getting real close to her face. “Terrifying, isn’t it? I’m told it’s the kind of thing that’ll bring down society.”

 

Nat is far too close, bee-ess-oh-dee imminent. “Um. Yes it is definitely the scariest thing?

 

“So scary…” and now Nat’s kissing her deeply for the first time in days.

 

“Oksoyeahsmash….?” Chad was trying not to get distracted, the only problem was Jess was incredibly distracting. He was about to disappear into makeouts land.

 

Jess grinned. “Let’s go get some chairs in here.” She moved out the room, slapping Chad on the rump as she passed.

 

“You break it, you bought it!” he tossed to her as he grabs a whole stack of three chairs to bring back in.

 

Nat and Fi are still kissing when they come back in.

Yep.

 

This Closure

This Closure

FIONA’S APARTMENT

 

“Fionaaaa, let me innnnn I have to hug you really hard,” Nat drummed against the window, whining loudly enough to hear through the glass. “Also, stop locking this window!”

 

“Fiiiiii, I’m here too!” Jess’s head popped right beside Nat’s. “Fiiiiiiii! Let us innnnnnn!” She tapped on the window.

 

Chad came to the window and stuck his tongue out. Then pushed his mouth against the glass and made smooshy faces.

 

He opened the window and welcomed them in. “Heyyy it’s my hotties! C’mon in. There’s cake!” he pulled them in. “Fi’s um, busy but c’mon c’mon.”

 

“Whelp!” Jess clambered in after Nat. “We’ll get some coffee too, yeah?”

 

“I’ve still got some whole bean that was roasted on Sunday,” Nat zipped through the window without touching it; nothing but net. “I’ll start a press.”

 

Chad nodded and followed them in, grabbing Jess up for some righteous makeouts!

 

Nat giggled and started prepping the coffee, watching the makeouts intently as ey did.

 

“Hey.” he wrapped Jess up in his arms. “Man I’m glad to see you.” he whispered sincerely.

 

Jess grinned. “Missed you too, cute stuff.” She kissed him on the nose. She looked kinda nervous under her excitement.

 

“You guys,” Nat wibbled, eyes kinda dewy. “She said it on TV. She said that being queer was okay on TV. The Oathkeeper.”

 

“Glad nobody got too mad.” Chad said. He clearly didn’t get it but he was happy for everyone all the same. He cuddled Jess closer. He knew she was nervous and was pretty sure he knew why so he made sure to give her lots of love.

 

“Oh, they did,” Nat murmured, “the ones who were mad just weren’t in the room. I’m sure that… my parents are just fuming, wherever the fuck they are. Unless they’re dead, that’d be nice.”

 

He peeked at his twitter. “Yeah, some people are kinda being dicks about it.” a shrug. “I lost like 200 followers.” a shrug. “My moms’re happy though.”

 

“Moms!” Nat squeaked. “Chad I didn’t know you had multiple moms!! That… well, it at least contextualizes how you’re so chill about all this.” Gesturing at the assembled cuties.

 

“Haha! It’s…kinda a new thing but…” he shrugs. He didn’t seem to understand how he’d not be chill. “Hey Jess?  Come help me in the kitchen, huh?”

 

Once they were there he gathered her into his arms. “You’re pretty nervous, babe.” he said, voice low so only she can hear. “You gonna tell em today?”

 

Jess shifts. “Yeah. Think I’m gonna.”

 

“You afraid they’re gonna freak out?” he rubbed his thumb against her cheek.

 

“Dunno.” Jess shrugged helplessly.

 

He nodded. “Even if they do, I got your back. All the way.” he cupped her face so she knew he was serious. “Got that? I got you.”

 

Jess smiled at him. It was a little crooked, but it was there. “Okay.”

 

He smiled. “I l…I care about you a lot Jess.” he was trying to say something else but too shy. The others were here. “Lots. Ok? I got you.” He gave her a warm sweet kiss and hugged her close.

 

It was about that point that Fi, dressed in a shirt about five sizes too big for her wandered through the kitchen. She blinked once. Squinted. Rubbed her eyes. Turned an odd shade of red, and slowly backed out before reappearing in her customary hoodie-and-slacks.

 

“Um. Hi. Everyone?”

 

“Sweetie!!” Nat nearly knocked over the french press as ey zipped across the room to Fi, scooping her up and snuggling her. “Alice just came out as poly and bi! On television!!!”

 

She blinked. Once. “Uhm?” It’s entirely possible that she is not awake enough yet to truly comprehend all of those words in those sentences.

 

“Let’s… get some coffee in you.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Nat floated over to the kitchen with Fi still in eir arms, peering around it to smile at Jess and Chad. “Look who I found!” Ey chirped.

 

“Was I missing?”

 

“We were missing! You!” Ey nuzzled her cheek, then set her down.

 

“Aww there’s my Fi-bee.” he grabbed them both up in his big paws and cuddled them close.

 

“I was not missing. I was in bed. I wasn’t even moving.” She said defensively- Oh no! A Chad! She laughs, returning the hug. Kind of. She can’t quite properly hug Chad because size differences but she’s trying, damn it.

 

Jess clutched her mug with both hands, making nervously noisy slurps. She looked like she was getting more uncharacteristically jittery the more that she realised that it was getting close to the time she had to tell her cuties Her Big Not-So-Secret-But-Really-Yeah-It-Kinda-Was-One. “H-hey, Fi!” Sllluurrrpppppp.

 

“Hi-hi, Jess!” Pause. Squiiint. “Everything alright?”

 

“P-peachy!” Sluuurrrpppppppp. Okay. Maybe coffee was a bad idea. Now she was nervous and full of caffeine jitters.

 

“Hey.” Nat zipped over the kitchen island and gave Jess a close hug (though careful not to make her spill her coffee). “I know this stuff is real nerve-wracking, okay? But you don’t hafta be afraid. We’re your friends and partners. We’re not gonna judge you.”

 

“Okay, okay, okay.” Jess put the mug down. She rubbed her hands on her jean legs and took a deep breath.

 

“MymotherisnotfromEarthshelivedwithmydadhadmethenabandonedusandIfoundoutlikesixyearsagothatshe’sfromthePlanetJupiterandthatmeansI’mhalfalien.”

 

Jess stood there, doing that thing where she was trying to figure out if she need to lighting blast someone in the face or just run.

 

Chad snugged her closer and kissed her neck and whispered something secret in her ear. He looked at the other two, watching how they’d react. He definitely wasn’t holding her so she couldn’t run away! Ok, he was.

 

Nat blinked. “Oh, that’s it?” Ey said, then thought about it for a minute. “That’s kinda super cool, actually.”

 

What the crap did Jess just say? Fi lowered her head, mumbling what she thinks Jess said at a slower speed. After another minute she kinda blinks at Jess. “…Um. If I understood that right, that’s neat. If I didn’t, can you repeat that? Something about Jupiters and aliens.”

 

Okay, okay, chill reaction so far. Bolstered by this, Jess took another deep breath. “Okay, like my mother, she’s from the Planet Jupiter. She came to Earth to have me, then went away, then just left me at dad’s doorstep. That’s how I figure I have all these powers.” She shrugged.

 

“Dang,” Nat murmured. “Are you trying to find her now?”

 

Jess shrugged. “Dunno. But Scanner confirmed that I’m half alien. A ship to reach Jupiter is in the works. But, like. She abandoned us. Earth is totes home.”

 

“Why’d she do – well, I guess you don’t know. But um. If it’s worth anything, I’m really glad you are here…?”

 

Chad hugged her protectively and just listened for now.

 

Jess shrugged again. “She left a note on me. Dad could read half of it, but there were words only I could see. Something something, I’ve got no limits beyond the skies, and she thinks I’m going to Jupiter. I dunno. It sould like a bunch of Sailor Moon crap.”

“Hee hee I smooched sailor Jupiter.”

 

“Well like. I hope you get that you don’t have to do anything an absent parent says,” Nat’s voice is adamant. “But if you want to, Jupi, we are right behind you. We love you and we’ve got yer back.” Nat didn’t bother to check with anybody else. Nat rarely bothered to check with anybody else when it came to offering support.

 

Jess beamed like a ray of sunshine. “Thanks you guys. I was like ninety percent sure you weren’t going to run screaming, but like…I dunno, it’s so weird, still. Dunno if I want to go to Jupiter, but Scanner and Alice are excited.”

 

Jess then paused, scratching the back of her head. “And, uh, yeah. This is dumb. Mom called me the last princess of Jupiter in her note. So I’m fifty percent sure she’s just cray cray.”

 

“But Jupiter sounds like all kinds of fun. All that crushing atmospheric weight and-” Suddenly Fi blinks. “…Huh. I wonder if you’re a special case as far as Ju…jupiterians? Jupitites? Goes. I mean… you can fly and you have lightning.”

 

Jess shrugged like it was going out of fashion. “I know crap all about Jupiter. It’s a gas giant? It’s huge? There’s loads of storms? How do people even live on a gas giant that’s a total storm ball all the time?”

 

Fi shrugs in agreement.

 

Chad spoke up. “So the point is, Jess is a alien and we don’t care cause we like her anyway. Right?” he looked to the others.

 

“Obviously,” Nat nodded emphatically, “none of us have any problem with that. She’s cool and a dynamite kisser and just a really kind and cool person.”

 

“See, babe? Di-No-Mite.”

 

Jess grinned big and wide. And that was that.

 

Stress Test

“Okay, babe! You’re gonna love this!” Jess hefted the harness to which Nat was wearing and that was attached to her. “Just trust me, this is gonna be fun!” Like always, Jess was 150% enthusiasm. She walked to the edge of the very tall, and very sheer cliff face. “Look at that fall…” There was awe in her voice, and the excitement of anticipation.

 

“Yeah, so,” Nat struggled to look around at the cliff edge, then instantly decided that ey shouldn’t have done that. “Funny story! When I emerged–“

 

“Yeah?” Jess continued looking over the edge. She seemed mesmerized by the height.

 

“It was at the edge of a cliff kinda like this! ‘Cept not as steep.”

 

“Yeah! High enough to get someone killed though!”Oh god, Jess, tone down the glee, please.

 

“Oh, you remembered…” Nat said in a somewhat faltering voice. “Listen, this has brought back some memories, can we I don’t know like go back to the Flying Fortress and have sex or something, I feel like I’ve had–“

 

“Hahahah nope!” And Jess flung them both off the cliff. The wind tore at their clothes, their voices, their breath but Jess could be heard laughing gleefully as the ground rushed up at them.

 

Nat actually sighed as they plummeted down. Unlike many of Jess’s other unwilling participants, Nat could actually fly and was completely immune to vertigo and dizziness, though ey did not typically fall so this was its own kind of alarming. Ey clutched Jess’s midsection, pressing eir cheek against her back.

 

Jess had splayed her body out like a star, slowing their fall, and enjoying the ever present and ever increasing adrenaline rush. She let out a whoop, eyes on the rapidly approaching ground.

 

Nat took a deep breath and tried to enjoy the adrenaline rush, but something about the fall just seemed to remind em of eir impending doom, which had little to do with the scenery rushing up. Just like drills, ey thought to emself. Oh god I didn’t do enough drills.

 

“Hahahahahah!” Jess, why are you laughing? Jess, the ground is coming? Jess, we’re gonna get SPLA- At the very last moment, Jess pulled up and into the air. Nat could have reached out and brushed the leaf litter if ey wanted to. Jess was still laughing as she lifted into the sky, shooting up and climbing…and then just flew gently on the wind.

 

Nat blinked a few times, tearing up from the wind and looking up at the few clouds scudding through the sky. “I didn’t do enough drills,” ey murmured. “Should I be doing drills?”

 

Jess bobbed them on the wind like a kite. She grinned back at Nat. “Hey, cutie. You’re still there, right?”

 

“Oh! Um. Yeah,” Nat replied, voice a little distant. “Sorry. All the flying and falling was reminding me that I didn’t get all the drills done I was originally planning on. What if that’s what I really need when I get to Twin Falls, you know?”

 

“Too late now! Just enjoy the ride!” Jess swooped to the side. “Can’t do anything but work with what you’ve got.”

 

“I guess it is too late,” Nat gripped Jess a little harder. “I haven’t even turned twenty yet. I really don’t want to die, you know?”

 

“You totally won’t! I believe in you.” She turned her head, grinning at Nat, 150% of confidence beaming at the little dancer.

 

“Yeah, I– I– I don’t think the flying thing is working, Jess, I’m sorry. Can we like. I dunno. Go get a drink? Hug?”

 

“Oh babe, sorry.” Jess angled downwards, heading for the treeline close to her car. “We can totes cuddle. Wanna sit in a tree?” She grinned.

 

“Yeah, I kinda do. Sorry Jess.”

 

“Hey, babe, no probs.” She found a likely looking tree with a study branch and unstrapped Nat from her body, before settling into the crook between branch and trunk and held her arms out for Nat to settle into them.

 

Nat did, tucking eir head into the crook of Jess’s shoulder, tilting eir head up to kiss the underside of her jaw. “Thanks. You’ve been really sweet to me.”

 

Jess wrapped her arms around the smaller dancer. “Aww.” She grinned into Nat’s hair. “You’re just too cute.”

 

Giggle. “I like it when you call me cute.” Ey settled in and snuggled for a few moments, then spoke again. “Do you figure this life is gonna be okay for us, in the long run? People burn out on jobs, and heroing is really stressful. Are we gonna be okay?”

 

Jess shrugged. “I don’t think that far. Sides, I just out of planes for a living. You think I’m stressed?” She blew into Nat’s hair. “You need a break, all you need to do is tell the boss ladies. They’ll sort something out for you.”

 

“Yeah, you’re right. Maybe I can, like. Do a retreat or something, after this Anathema thing is over. Do some primal screams, eat a boiled root. Hug it out.” Beat. “I have no idea what retreats are like.”

 

“Neither do I and I live in Cali. But like, what’s the first thing that pops in your mind when I say relax?”

 

Nat let out a little sigh, smiling slightly. “Pillow talk. Waking up the morning after sleeping with a partner in a hotel. Ordering room service breakfast, not having to be anywhere. A jacuzzi. Downtime. Safety.”

 

“So like a hotel for a week, nothing more than your cuties?” Jess grinned. “Yeah, that’s more you than a retreat.”

 

“Yeah,” Nat grinned, a wistful expression on eir face. “Hotel room with cuties during the day, checking out the local clubs at night. That sounds super relaxing.”

 

Jess nuzzled Nat’s temple. “Bet after Twin Falls, you can ask for any length of time off, easy. Who knows. Maybe your cuties will join you.” She laughed softly.

 

“I’ll invite you all and see who shows.” Nat grinned, then sighed. “Okay. I feel… I feel better. Do you wanna go flying, cutie? I think I’m up for it now. Though maybe not tied to you this time.”

 

“Aww you sure?” Jess grinned. “I fly good.” She winked.

 

“I also fly good!” Nat objected, pretending to be affronted. “Just because I’m not as fast as you–“

 

Jess stuck her tongue out. “Last one to the car makes dinner!”

 

And yeah, she was gone.

 

Nat giggled. “I like making you dinner,” ey murmured to emself. “Love you, Jess. Hope this isn’t our last date.”

The Tribunal: The Prodigal

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, COLORADO

 

The Inquisitor stood tall and proud in shining armor of platinum, eyes aglow, luminous greatsword resting on his pauldrons. Glorious violence in the name of the Lord stretched to the horizon, and it all served to make him stronger. He could feel the conviction of his flock flowing into him from near and far, for as the doubters fell away, the faithful grew emboldened. What would be setbacks for a softer shepherd— excommunication, condemnation, vendettas and global outrage—all served only to raise his power.

 

Paul Schuster watched blood stain the soil of his lifelong hometown, and he smiled.

 

“Paul,” his White Knight said from behind him. “This is too much, too… out there, too fast, too…” She shook her head. Her blade was unstained; she had stood back and watched the carnage.

 

“Suddenly hesitant, faithful sister?” Paul’s voice seemed calm enough. “Squeamish? It is too late to reverse our course, surely you understand that.”

 

“For you, maybe.” Esther’s voice was low. “I’m getting out. There’s no way you can win this. And you know what? The piles of bodies and endless carnage is… boring. No, I’m done.”

Esther turned away and took a few steps, then raised her voice — nice and loud, so it’d carry to the onlookers. “Just stay away from me, Paul!”

Paul’s glowing eyes narrowed, thin slits of light cutting across Esther’s shiny plate armor. The clumps of cultists nearby turned to stare.

 

“Betraying me will not absolve you, Esther. You have supported the Tribunal. It is too late to wash your hands clean of the blood already on them.”

 

Esther laughed softly, shaking her head. “You don’t get it, do you, Inquisitor? It’s not about clean hands, not really. You know what? Have fun with your little freak show. I’m going to bounce.”

She turned and took a few steps, a pool of solid light appearing next to her.

 

“Inquisitor! Inquisitor!” A bloodied woman in a sundress limped toward them, a triumphant grin on her face. “We found the Prodigal! It took twenty of us and several hostages, but we caught him!”

 

The cheering crowd parted as several cultists dragged a beaten and bleeding form, bound in heavy chains, before the Inquisitor and his Knight. The figure’s orange hair was matted and filthy, clothes torn and stained with blood.

 

But when the Damselfly raised eir head, those emerald eyes were clear and filled with rage.

 

“Well,” Paul said softly, “an opportunity for your redemption appears, sister.”

 

“It does.” Esther agreed, turning and drawing that long blade. There was a pause in which the only sound was the soft scuff of her white armour against the ground, and then she turned with grace and arced the blade towards Paul’s eye, stabbing through the lightly armoured helm.

 

That unnaturally sharp blade hit its mark immediately, piercing through Paul’s eye and deep into his head. The Tribunal cultists lapsed into a shocked silence.

 

The seconds stretched on like ages, the silence finally broken by the Inquisitor’s clarion-bell chuckle. “I see.”

 

In a flash, that platinum gauntlet rose and clamped like a vise over Esther’s gauntlet and the sword it held, crumpling the sword’s basket hilt and her hand.

 

Esther screamed – half from pain, and half from surprise. She clearly thought her armour unbreakable and herself invulnerable.  She wrenched away to the best of her ability, unable to quite escape from Paul’s grasp. The blade broke, snapped, the white blade vanishing before it hit the ground. “Paul, stop!”

“Just like you, little Judas,” Paul laughed, lifting his platinum greatsword in one hand, “to strike first and then ask for clemency.”

 

Paul released her just as he struck with the flat of his sword, swatting her away like a beetle. Before she could even fall, he appeared behind her and struck with the sword’s flat again, sending her sprawling the other way.

 

Esther was a masterful actress, but she couldn’t fake the impact of those blows. She lay sprawled against the floor, and her white armour flickered and then died. Her hands grasped in the dirt briefly, and then she groaned in pain and curled up, lying still.

 

“Esther!” Nat yelled, struggling to fly toward her in spite of injury and restraint.

 

Lily broke from the crowd and rushed to Esther’s side, cradling her body. Only then did she seem to notice the restrained Damselfly.

 

“Oh Peter,” she sobbed. “Oh no. I thought—I  thought at least you—”

 

“On this day,” Paul took slow strides toward Nat, reversing the greatsword in his hand. He reached down and grabbed Nat by the head, lifting em effortlessly. “My first and last betrayers fall together.”

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G15btlaZR_k

Ryos (Feat. Allisa Rose) – Eclipse>

 

At that moment, Pandora burst from the crowd with a look of absolute rage burning within her eyes as she blew three sharp whistles upon her fingers to get Paul’s attention. How dare he! How dare this asshole even think to raise a weapon with the intent to harm Nat. Pandora knew she was probably going to lose… But she did not care. She did not care that she was outmatched in terms of power. She did not care that she was exhausted. She did not care that he had armor and she did not. No… She cared too much for Nat to care about any of that.

 

She stared the Inquisitor straight in the eyes as she bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet in time to the beat echoing through her ears. There were bruises all over her exposed abdomen as she raised up arms that were covered in scrapes where the elbow-length gloves had not protected her skin. Her expression was one of pure defiance.

 

Alex walked up next to her, his face grim. Serious. Sad. “What’s the point of all of this Paul?” His voice was not defiant, though it did demand an answer. “I read the bible yesterday, before I came here. I knew nothing about christianity before then. If this is what that is? People murdering each other in the streets for a man who killed his own father…well. I have to be honest. You make your religion look like a sham.” His fists grew wooden, branches tangling about them as he took a defensive stance. “I’ve killed no-one on my path here today. And now that I am here, I’m not going to let you murder anyone else. No more deaths Paul Schuster. You can still put your sword down.” There was conviction in his eyes that a man like Paul should recognize. Heroics were Alex’s religion. His belief. Too bad Paul was more of a tyrant than a man of faith.

 

Paul turned to face them. The eye that had taken a wound spilled a glowing ichor, luminous fluid running down his face that he didn’t even seem to notice. The other eye still glowed brightly all on its own, and it fixed on the two Legionnaires.

 

“Is this all?” He asked. “Are these profligate misfits the best that the Legion could send against me? I expected to snuff some candles before I put out the Oathkeeper’s flame, but this… is disappointing. Come. I will kill you both while holding my filthy brother in one hand.”

 

Alex turned to the mob of cultists. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” He told them quietly, sternly. Without fear. And he walked right up to Paul, slowly and non-violently. Unphased by the threat. “Do your worst.” As he reached for the hand gripping Nat, his fingertips and body already beginning to grow out into as massive a tree as Alex could manage. He knew they didn’t stand a chance. The least he could do was buy Nat as much time as possible.

 

Pandora’s fists soon had a glowing aura of black and red flame swirling around them as she turned to look at Alex. A tiny smile formed on her lips as she gave him a thumbs-up. Fear was plain in her scarlet eyes but there was a fire burning there as well. If they were going to die, at least it would be alongside the man she loved. With a nod, she turned back to face Paul and began to think of how to hold him off for as long as possible.

 

“Guys… no…” Nat croaked between Paul’s fingers. “You can’t… beat him. Please run…”

 

“Silence.”  Paul squeezed the Damselfly’s head, eliciting a cry of pain from Nat as he stared Alex down. He hadn’t yet moved to strike or otherwise hurt him. “Do you recall chapter three of the book of Exodus, profligate?”

 

There was pain in Alex’s eyes as he saw Nat gasp for air, but his face remained stoic. He didn’t look at Paul when he answered. “When god appeared to Moses. To tell him of a paradise. A place free of problems. Milk and honey.” His fingers pressed against Paul’s gauntlet, little tendrils of vine seeping between the cracks. Pulling softly but to no avail. The bark had grown over his arms now, encroaching over his neck and down his chest as his feet began to root into the ground. “Did god tell you to do this?” He kept his voice unnervingly neutral, his eyes telling Nat everything they needed to know. He was there for em. Till the end.

 

Pandora was strafing along the outside of the crowd whilst Alex distracted their powerful opponent, looking for an opening through which to strike. She had no idea how fast or how powerful Paul really was and that was worrying to her. All she knew was what others had told her to do and what she was ignoring right now. All she knew was that she was supposed to run but there was no way that would happen now.

 

“Please…” Nat’s voice cracked. “Please…”

 

“Yes he did, little bush. And he has a message for me to pass along—”

 

A blinding light suddenly wreathed the inquisitor, white flames leaping up his body, down his arm. Nat screamed in pain and Alex felt an intense heat roar around his wood-wrapped hands. Paul turned and swung his greatsword in a long arc around his body, straight at Vin.

 

Alex gritted his teeth through the intense pain, but did not move. He stood his ground, bark growing around him more rapidly now. Vin felt vines growing and burning simultaneously, helping open the vice just enough to keep them from passing out from asphyxiation. His body was growing thicker, heavier as his coating spread over his chin. He almost looked like a statue now. He knew Vin knew how to handle herself. He believed in them. “If this is your god’s will, he’s no better than a common villain. No better than you Paul Schuster. An abusive, hateful, tyrant of a creature.” The bark began covering his face, but before it did. “You will be stopped.” Suddenly the vines, the bark, the branches. Everything began growing much quicker. The vines in his gauntlet hand expanded quickly, surprisingly, with great force. It was beginning to be hard to make out Alex’s form at all, as it grew and grew and grew, fighting against Paul’s grip. He would not let this monster have the satisfaction. If it was the last thing he did, he would free Nat. He had to.

 

Paul snarled, and the fire intensified. Alex could feel his arm weakening, becoming brittle, the char spreading outward. It wouldn’t be long before the damage was too much, and his arm would be gone. Paul burned so brightly that Vin could scarcely see him. But his hand did seem to be loosening its deathgrip on Nat’s face, and the fire wasn’t burning the Damselfly the way it burned Alex.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlTspWZOIdA

Lindsey Stirling – Master of Tides>

 

Pandora thanked God for watching over her as she raised her hand and fired a jet of water into the flame roaring towards her. She walked forwards slowly, straining her eyes and clenching her teeth against the heated steam around her as she made it close enough to raise her second hand and direct another stream towards Alex to cool him off a little. There was a part of her mind – a part which sounded a lot like Emi – which was yelling at her for disobeying orders. Once again, the dancer pushed it and the pain aside as she started to come up with a new plan.

 

The steam in the air was so thick, so intense that it wasn’t until the huge gauntlet was right in Vin’s face that she was able to see it. The massive fingers encircled her shoulder and gripped it—hard, painfully—and lifted her off the ground. The wind went out of her as Paul hurled her body against Alex’s wooden frame, smashing and splintering the wood, using her as a human club. She caught glimpses of his face, eyes glowing, teeth clenched in frustration as he did his level best to beat them both to death with one another.

 

He failed. A large patch of leaves, that continued to regrow much faster than Alex could safely manage began forming wherever Paul attempted to hit him, cushioning Vin in as soft an embrace as Alex could manage. Wherever damage was done, the tree was regrowing around him as quickly as he harmed it. Defying him as long as he could manage. His arm was completely gone now, but that was fine. He could grow a new one. Had to. He had to keep trying as he sent wave after wave of his life force against the flames, forcing their way into his grip desperately. He could feel himself slipping, wrapped in a cocoon of his powers. He didn’t know how much more he could manage.

 

Finally realizing that this tactic was doing little, Paul’s grip tightened for a moment, and Vin felt something in her shoulder pop before he threw her to the ground, drawing that hand back. When his hand swung forward again, that platinum greatsword was in it. A single strike hewed enough wood for him to gain some distance, and then he tore the rest of the way back, dropping Nat on the ground. He lunged forward to cleave Alex in two—

 

And his sword bounced off of a great domed shield made of hexagonal panels of energy that now separated Nat and Vin from the tyrant.

 

“I can’t!” Tortoise cried. “I can’t let you! I’m sorry! Petey, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

 

Nat looked up from the ground on the other side of the hex wall. “N… n-noah?”

 

“I’m so sorry, Petey. I wanted to get you in the shield but I fucked it up. I have to save my new friends. I’m sorry!”

 

“Aw,” Nat rasped. “You… look good in that mask, bro.”

 

Roaring, Paul swung his sword again. A crack appeared in the hex wall, but it held firm still.

 

Pandora screamed in primal pain as her shoulder was crushed, her right arm going completely limp as blood pooled from where the gauntlet had cut into her flesh. Despite this, however, Vin crawled forward using her remaining hand and her legs as she kneeled at the edge of the shield in front of her and placed her good hand upon it. She looked to Nat and her eyes were watering as she attempted to push her way through. [I… Won’t leave you behind. Tell him to let me out.] She headbutted the shield in an attempt to break through. [Please. Please tell him to let me out, Nat. He cannot understand me.] Nat weakly lifted one hand and tapped eir index finger, middle finger, and thumb together twice. [No.]

 

The lot cracked on both sides of Paul as two new bundles of branch and vine struggled their way towards him, gripping at his arms desperately, staving off the inevitable. The area behind the shield was slowly growing darker as the huge tree that was Alex slowly wrapped around them and the outside of the shield, making it more of a window. Reinforcing it, protecting Noah and Vin inside. Feebly attempting to cover Nat too, though Alex knew it wouldn’t be enough once Paul decided to redirect his rage. The branches felt weak upon eir skin, holding em as close as they could. Holding out for the inevitable.

 

“Noah!” An inhuman screech split the air. “Not you! My children—my children!!”

 

Lily Schuster was changing as she charged Paul. Her skin grew shiny and red, blackened wings bursting through the back of her dress and her hands turning to wicked chitinous claws. Her eyes burned with an orange fire as she screamed from her newly-fanged maw.

 

“You are no son of mine! Leave my children alone!!!”

 

She leapt upon Paul, rending and tearing with her claws as best she could. Paul snarled and struggled, hindered by the vines and branches gripping him, but finally tore both them and his mother off of his body, throwing her to the ground.

 

Lily tumbled and leapt again, wings wide, claws extended—

 

And Paul beheaded her with a single strike.

 

“Moooooooom!” Noah screamed, tears streaking his face, even as the hex shield glowed more fiercely, the cracks in it pulling away and in. “Mooooooom! Noooooo!”

 

[No…] Pandora watched as the woman’s body fell limply to the ground in front of her and her eyes were wide with a mix of rage and horror. [No… ] She looked up at Paul and her eyes were filled with pure disgust. [You are a monster. A heartless monster.] The dancer pushed herself shakily onto her feet as she made certain Paul’s eyes met hers. Even if he couldn’t understand sign language, that look said it all. There was no way Vin was going to let him hurt anyone else. There was no way she would stay inside while others got hurt. Not again. Never again.

 

The frail branches pulled at Nat futilely. Trying to drag them away from the death that was her brother. To do anything to give em a little more time. A minute. Half a minute. Even a few more seconds before the person he loved was snuffed out forever. This man killed his own mother. His own father. Two things Alex had never even had the choice to experience, and he erased them forever. The twigs snapped against Nat with the effort, little pieces falling to the asphalt as he tried. Ey had barely moved an inch. He had nothing left. Tears streaked down his face for nobody to see inside his wooden coffin, he curled up tightly. Feeling cold, and empty. “I’m sorry.”

 

Paul turned and met Vin’s eyes, then smiled a little. “So angry. You are not just a Legionnaire, are you? This is… personal, for you. One of my degenerate brother’s consorts, perhaps.”  He lifted the sword, point toward the ground, and positioned it directly above Nat’s prone form. “Well, watch what happens next—”

 

“Stop.” The voice was clear and familiar.

 

Paul turned and smiled broadly. “At last. It’s you.”

 

The Oathkeeper’s golden armor glinted in the sunlight, her jaw set, deep rage already dancing in her eyes as in Vin’s. She held that huge golden hammer aloft as she strode toward Paul, menacing.

 

“Are you sure you want to come closer?” Paul warned, glancing down at Nat.

 

Alice hesitated.

 

“Ffffuck you,” Nat managed a hacking laugh. “She made a promise to me. If… this ever happened again. She’d let me die. I’m not your hostage.”

 

“And yet she hesitates,” Paul observed, eyes fixed on the Oathkeeper, sword point hovering inches above the Damselfly.

 

“Selfish…” The tree ached the words. “Coward.” Nats body reverberated with the sound.

 

“Vin, Alex…” Nat sighed quietly. “I’m sorry. Hey. Paul.”

 

Paul glanced down briefly.

 

“Remember when I was little… and I told you. That someday I was. Gonna be famous and everyone was gonna love me. And you’d… you’d just be. Remembered as a shitty bully.”

 

Ey smiled peacefully. “I was right.”

 

Paul’s face twisted into a snarl, and with a blurry-fast movement, he drove the point of the sword down. It pierced straight through Nat’s body and into the asphalt, and the Damselfly’s eyes went wide as ey felt the blade run em through.

 

There was a moment of stark silence as the blade sunk through. The eyes of a killer, looking into the eyes of a victim. Or rather, that’s what Paul expected. What he saw looking back up at him though, were very different. Alex’s leaves rustled softly as a lone summer wind made its way through Glenwood Springs.

 

Then, everything happened quickly.

 

A blur whirred by. It struck Paul, stuck something to him. There was a flash of blue light, and Paul was gone. With an anguished cry, Alice vanished too. Moments later, two flying figures clashed in silhouette against the moon, at the peak of the Colorado mountains. The battle had been joined, but it had been taken elsewhere.

 

Weeping bitterly, Noah finally dropped the shield and crawled toward the Damselfly, who lay still against the ground, the Inquisitor’s blade still pinning em there.

 

All the branches. The roots. The vines. The tree. They all lay still. Nothing new grew, nothing new moved. Alex wept silently inside that big willow tree. He had tried his hardest. He had tried everything. HIs body was so weak. Emaciated from his efforts. He felt a rib crack as he shuddered. It wasn’t enough. And now nothing he could do would be enough. His leaves withered and began falling in the cool Colorado breeze.

 

<Current Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yv6Gn911uc

The Album Leaf: Twenty Two Fourteen>

 

Pandora fell to her knees and stared at Nat’s limp body as her eyes shifted color to a hazy shade of blue that was like that of a storm. No tears fell from her eyes as she watched the body in silent horror with her useless right arm swinging limply by her side. It had happened again. Just like when Mom died. She was still that weak little girl in the backseat of the car.

 

Looking up into the sky, Pandora’s eyes watched the battle up ahead but no longer felt any desire to fight. Her body hurt. Her head hurt. Her very soul hurt. Despite the beat in her ears, Pandora could have sworn the music died in that moment.

 

Noah crawled forward and put both hands on Nat’s shoulder. “Petey,” he sobbed. “Petey don’t go. Please. I love you. I missed you so much.”

 

Erin limped over, holding a minor wound on her arm. Her face showed helplessness, looking between Nat’s body with Noah over it, looking over to the tree encasing Alex, looking at Vin.

 

“You loved ’em too, didn’t you,” she asked, voice soft.

 

Pandora nodded, her eyes still wide and lost as her brain scrambled to protect itself from what it had just witnessed. It was not working. Vin knew that the pain wouldn’t ever really go away.

 

Something went thump in their chests, collectively, like a single bass beat at a crowded club. Once, at first, then again. Thump.

 

The strange feeling in her chest was what finally caused Vin to break down into tears as the tall woman curled up on the ground and sobbed loudly.

 

Alex curled tighter at the feeling. Wanting nothing more than to just hide there. Where he felt safe. He couldn’t bear the thought of seeing it. His eyes felt like they might split from how hard he shut them.

 

There it was again. Thump.

 

“Pull it out”

 

Pandora looked up, certain that her mind was playing tricks on her. Eyes wide and puffy with sorrow, she stared at her lover and rubbed her good arm across her nose as she sniffled.

 

“Pull… the sword out.” Thump thump.

 

“Did…” Noah blinked away his own tears. “Did you…”

 

[Yeah… I think ey did…] Vin shakily stood on her feet and walked over to lean against Alex’s trunk as she placed a hand on the hilt of the Inquisitor’s sword. She tugged but could not seem to muster up enough strength with one arm despite all of her efforts.

 

Alex was too far to hear, but something else did. The branches that clung to Nat tightened, constricting around the blade. Pushing. Pushing it out as Vin pulled. Wrapping tight with all its strength to save the Damselfly, Alex felt its need. The pulse in his heart. And with what strength he had left, he bit down on his teeth and focused all his might to push it.

 

Noah scrambled to his feet and assisted Vin, pushing upward on the hilt of the blade from below. Getting the picture, Erin and Achilles joined in. It was rough; the blade was buried several feet into the asphalt and the hard-packed earth below. But gradually, it was moving. Slowly, it budged. They were making progress, and the thump, thump, thump in their chests became more resonant, starting to feel less unpleasant or painful and more right.

 

Keeping her back against Alex’s trunk, Vin pulled harder and harder on the blade that was stuck within her lover. She grunted with effort before it slowly but surely became a yell as she used Alex’s roots as a means to help remove the vile blade.

 

There’s a shadow that suddenly appears above the group, winged and dark. A mournful roar as it descends, a dragon in pain, the first that anyone’s ever heard of that, as George, wings fully spread, lands near the group.

 

There were cultists, angry and weapons drawn, drawing closer to the group, until the Beast described in the Book descended upon them. The great horned beast, among them at last. Too much for their beliefs. Too much without their Inquisitor to save them. Before the mourning roar, they fled, as George bowed his head, letting a small, petite ginger woman off his back. The dragon’s tail and body curled around the group to protect them from any further harm, a sibilant hiss issuing from the dragon’s mouth as green gold eyes stared at any further possible people with anger and despair.

 

Scrambling down from George’s back was, as mentioned, a red-headed woman who didn’t appear to be able to decide if she was furious, or wanted to cry; both emotions flickered across her face rapidly. She eventually settled on livid, stuffed her hands in her hoodie and glanced around in turn. “Th’ hell happened,” she finally asked – no, demanded, in a way that was very much unlike her. She didn’t appear to be asking anyone in particular, but kept looking expectantly at those present.

 

Lightning flashed overhead in the clear sky. With an earth rattling boom, Jupiter Strike appeared. She sped down from the skies.

 

The retreating cultist screamed as there was a large armoured figure amongst them. They scrambled back, and away from the Red Knight, his two handed sword resting on his shoulder as he moved towards the group. He ignored them.

 

Only a tiny bit later than the rest, a jet of bright black appeared at the front of the fleeing scum, and dismounted, showing itself to be nothing more than a tiny blonde girl in a floral dress. With a gun. And a broomstick. She ignored the scum as well, and silently swore about something as she wandered to the gathering.

 

Th-thump. Th-thump. Th-thump. It was cresting, so strong that everyone moved with it.

 

“Oh…” Noah only just seemed to realize that more people had arrived. “Oh wow. This is—”

 

And then the sword came free and there was a blinding flash of light that had no color anyone could identify, that you couldn’t get away from even when you looked away, that didn’t hurt your eyes or hurt anything but what was this buzzing in your body and mind, oh my god is this really what I—I’m—

 

When the light cleared, Nat was up, and floating in the center of rings of eir friends. Eir body was the same kind of indistinct color not-light that had pierced the sky moments before, curled into the fetal position in midair.

 

And everyone… could feel everything… that everyone else … felt. The air was saturated with empathic resonance pulsing out from the center, delivering shared feeling and sensation in ripples. Pain from the injured, but combined with relief, and care, and healing light, all blended together into a bittersweet melange. With those feelings came one known fact:

 

The Avatar of Love had chosen a candidate.

 

As the feels rushed into him, Alex let out a soft smile between sniffles and teardrops, eyes closing into a dreamless sleep.

 

<Current Song: None>

 

The sword of the Inquisitor whipping backwards with the force of all those assisting her, Pandora finally fell backwards against the tree behind her that held her boyfriend and a sudden flash of pain ran through everyone’s right shoulder as the woman’s crushed shoulder struck the thick trunk. The dancer planted the massive broadsword in the ground beside her, breathing heavily as her headphones fell off, her eyes faded to pale-white, and she looked as if she were about to pass out as she lay broken, burned, bruised, and exhausted on the ground.

 

Fi’s fury had been interrupted by Nat’s. … Actually, she wasn’t real clear on how to define what just happened. She squinted, though, peering at Nat and trying to figure out what was going on. There’s not a good frame of reference she has for this, after all. Finally, after a few moments, she called out cautiously. “U-..uh. N…Nnnnnat?”

 

“For fuck’s sake.” Callister sounded disgusted. And relieved. He pulled out a phone and held it against his helmeted head. “Babe, Nat’s safe…and you’re not gonna believe this…”

“Believe it or not… I somehow already know??”

 

With feelings of relief pushed upon her, and the clear vision of Nat not having a gigantic fucking sword jammed through her, one might almost forget, or fail to mind, what they just saw. But there was something disconcerting about the whole thing, clear on Lili’s face. It certainly wasn’t an emergence, nor did it fit into any category she had recorded. She was calm, and relieved, but deeply uncomfortable with feeling that way.

 

Nat’s curled form managed to unclench slightly as if waking up from a deep sleep. Eir voice seemed to be coming from all around rather than eir body. “This is… wow… all of you…”

 

Vin looked up at her lover, her gaze not looking entirely relieved as the blood-loss, pain, and trauma of the night seemed to have done her in for the most part. She did, however, managed a tiny thumbs-up before leaning against the flat of the blade planted by her side and looking back down at her blood-covered shoulder, shuddered, and nearly passed out again.

 

“You know, I think I actually was having a heart attack. I feel way too nice to still be not-dead,” Fi mutters to herself. Also, that would probably make sense. She knew first-hand that Other Places were just full of weird shit, and this definitely qualified. …Wait. Where’s the tiny witch fit in? No, no, she’ll figure that out later. She probably has eternity after all. “Unlikely. This does not fit with my present records of death.” “you got a better explanation, Ms. Hogwarts?” “Shockingly not. I said death was unlikely. Not impossible. We’ll need further data.” “This is upsetting. I am upset.” ”Have you tried not being?” “Not very hard, no.”

 

“Babe! Babes!” Jess hovered, trying to stop herself from grabbing all her cuties in a huge hug.

 

George hissed in quiet tones, “Get em to a hospital, now. This is still a combat zone. And there is revenge to be had. Teleporter markers, someone should have them, somewhere.” “Good. They put one of yours in the hospital, you put ten of theirs in the morgue.” George’s tail knocked an ultra brave cultist flying into the air, with a wilhelm scream. His wings stretched, newly formed but still wide and far too massive for anything on this earth to lift a creature like that, and flapped, lifting off slowly.

 

“HEY! Not without me!” Fi sounded mildly offended that the Dragon even considered such a course of action.

 

“I actually… feel perfectly fine,” Nat sounded understandably surprised as ey uncurled the rest of the way, an alpha-channel patch of light hovering over a pool of eir own blood. “But please. Alex and Vin need medical attention immediately. I need to … we. Need to go assist Alice and Faith. Dominance has gone too far.”

 

“Oh my gosh,” Noah whispered.

 

Pandora’s head swam with as she nodded, picked her headphones up, put them atop her head a touch loosely, and hit the play button on the MP3 player at her side.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HAy1U9cziY

Skrux – If You>

 

The heroine pushed herself up very shakily onto her feet and pulled the massive blade out of the ground beside her with a single arm. While this was certainly an impressive feat, the trauma-stricken Pandora took one step forward, stumbled backwards, and then collapsed backwards to hit her head with a sickening thunk on Alex’s trunk as her limp right arm crumpled beneath her while the Inquisitor’s blade remained clutched in her other hand.

 

Silently noting Nat’s… terminology, Lili made her way towards Vin as soon as she saw her trying to get up on her own. She wasn’t particularly strong, but she was probably at least stronger than her right now. She gripped the right wrist firmly, and offered her the other hand to see if she’d be able to take it.

 

The woman’s right hand is completely limp and covered in blood as the arm buckled and swings rather sickeningly as the bones in her shoulder seemed to have been turned to powder. Her left hand continues to clutch the hilt of the blade, however, and she does not seem willing to let it go for some reason. Her gaze is very distant.

 

Callister is half turned away from the group, his head pointed in the direction of the cultists. Even with a phone to his helmet, he’s an imposing and threatening figure. He hasn’t yet noticed what’s going on in the group.

 

Lili drops her weapon to the ground, and crouches down, trying to get an arm under Vin’s back – ultimately, she just isn’t strong enough to lift her for more than a few seconds, and yells out for assistance and a firm, extremely threatening tone.

 

“I need to go,” Nat said, floating upwards, the light clearing enough that eir body started to become visible again, still covered in glowing, mottled color all over eir torso. “Please take care of the people who are hurt, and get people to the teleporters. I’m going to… help end this.”

 

Ey streaked away, leaving a trail of pinkish light behind em.

 

“I AM BLOODY TRYING TO!”

 

[Alex…] The mute woman signed as tears rolled down her cheeks whilst her horrified thousand-yard-stare continued. [He’s in the tree… Nat… Ey died… We failed em… We didn’t even stand a chance…]

 

Lili continues attempting to pull her up and not doing a brilliant job of the whole thing. “I’m really sorry, I know I should’ve learned ASL by now, but I haven’t, so.”

 

[Ey died… I saw em die… Right in front of me…] Pandora did not seem to hear Lili as she continued to sign with her one good hand. [Alex… Oh God… Ey died in his arms…]

 

“Please stop with the hands this is hard enough already.”

 

Jess swooped low and gathered Vin in her arms. “Hey there, cutie. You’re gonna be alright, Nat’s fine, ey’s just’ flown off. We’re gonna get you to the med bay.” It was a little awkward, they were both tall women, but Vin was taller than she was. Jess managed, though.

 

Lili was not very tall. Both of them were bigger than her. She seemed like Vin might even be taller than her lying flat, actually.

 

[Alex!] Vin turned towards the tree she was being flown away from with an even greater look of horror as she continued to hold onto the sword she had pulled from Nat’s body with the help of her love and the Paradox crew. [No! I can’t leave him too! Please! Please! Someone get him!]

 

The withered tree stood silent.

 

Sighing, exhausted from even trying to lift Vin, Lili turned her attention to the tree, and drew her wand, swinging it whilst shouting in pig-latin.

 

Yes she has a dedicated lumberjacking spell.

 

Why would she not?

 

The tree cracked, then splintered, then exploded to reveal the hollowed out center. An infinitely skinny Alex was inside, eyes closed and curled up into a ball. He slooooowly tilted forward and fell to the ground, armless and burnt.

 

If Vin was not scarred already, seeing that image as she was flown away hurt even more as another pang of fear shot through her whole system. “Alex…” She mouthed wordlessly as her vision began to fade to black. “Please be okay, Hero… Please…“ With that, she passed out.

 

Callister turned at the sound of the tree cutting. “Hey, babe, I gotta call you back. There’s this burnt guy that fell from a tree or sumthin. Yeah, I’m sure he’s fine. Yeah, love you, babe.”

 

He put the phone away and wandered up to toe Alex. “So…yeah. Evac out?”

 

He is unconscious so one would assume that’s a yes. He is very light and easy to pick up.

 

Callister shrugged, bent and easily lifted Alex over his shoulder, carrying him to the medics.

 

…Once it seems everything is dealt with, Lili vanishes as quickly as she arrived. To do god knows what.