Heya, people! The following is the first non-canon chapter for Heretical Edge, as chosen by our $5+ donators! The Summus Proelium chapter will be out a bit later today. All patrons regardless of level have access to this chapter, and it will be released to the public tomorrow.
Thanks again for everything, and I hope you enjoy seeing this little peek at this other... possible world...
The sound of panicked, running footsteps filled the small park. Late as it was, with the sun not due to rise for another three hours and the sky thickly clouded, the place was almost pitch-black, save for a bit of light from the distant street lamps. That very small amount of illumination served to turn what would have been an invisible figure sprinting along the pavement into a very indistinct silhouette. Yet, despite only seeing that much, any outsider (absent a convenient Bystander Effect) would know that this was no ordinary human, given the very large, bushy tail and long, rabbit-like ears that could be glimpsed on the fleeing figure.
With a series of heavy, terrified pants as they ran onward, feet splashing through the occasional puddle, the figure glanced over their shoulder. Their gaze revealed what appeared to be an empty path behind them, with seemingly nothing in sight. Yet that didn’t reassure them. Instead, a fearful noise emerged, the sound of one who was near-certain that they were about to die. Their running became more erratic, stumbling a bit from their blind terror.
Looking back the way they’d been running, the figure was just in time to see three figures appear in front of them. One, a tall, male figure with sandy hair, held a pair of hand-axes. To his right was a Latino boy with shaggy hair holding a hefty-looking minigun, while a black girl with long, black and pink dyed hair holding a falchion stood to the first boy’s left.
Seeing them, the fleeing figure fell to their knees, then to their backside before starting to scramble backward. “N-no, no, I didn’t--we didn’t--” Pleading was useless, of course. Crossroads Heretics never listened to pleas, no matter how urgent or well-reasoned. They believed all Alters were evil monsters who would say anything to trick their pursuers. Their students, such as these three, were taught that those they hunted would try to manipulate them with claims of innocence, but that such things could never be trusted. After all, they weren’t human. They were monsters. Alters like this one in particular, those without any apparent outward combat skill, were said to lure their victims in with demonstrated innocence before committing vile crimes against them. By Crossroads logic, the more innocent and safe a given Alter looked, the more evil and monstrous they actually were.
Knowing just how useless their pleading was, the panicked figure tried to spring to the left using their powerful legs. But they were brought to a halt in mid-motion as a sudden hail of bullets from the Latino boy’s huge gun tore up the ground to that side. Meanwhile, the black girl extended her sword, sending a torrent of fire forth that blocked off the figure’s potential retreat to the right.
Which left the boy with the two hand-axes, who came running at the terrified Alter with a blurted, “I got her!”
And yet, even as the cornered figure covered their face and audibly sobbed, certain of their own impending and inevitable demise, someone else appeared. The new figure literally dropped out of the sky, black wings spread wide from their back as they put themselves between the rushing boy and the cowering Alter.
“Kids,” the new arrival announced in a gruff voice while he straightened to his full height of over six feet, “you want to back off now. Before you get hurt.”
The flames, still being projected and controlled by Jazz Rhodes’s sword, revealed a tall, quite well-built man with long brown hair. His face, what could be seen of it anyway, looked half-bird, half-man, with an extended beak and eyes that were too large for his face. More feathers, along with bird-like talons rather than feet and hard, clawed fingers that also resembled talons, completed his appearance.
Taken aback by the sudden arrival, Paul Calburn nonetheless blurted, “Sean, put him down!” At the same time, he threw himself into a slide, invoking a power that allowed him to cross much larger distances much faster that way. He literally slid along the ground as if it was covered in ice and he had been pushed full-force along it.
Meanwhile, Sean Gerardo followed his team leader’s orders, flooding the air with bullets from Vulcan.
That gunfire, however, was stopped in midair by some kind of nearly invisible shield that appeared as the newcomer held a hand out and snapped a single word that made the silver bracelet he wore start to glow. Soon, the air in front of the man was a nearly solid wall of bullets.
At the same time, the bird-like figure snapped his talon-like hand down to catch the boy who was sliding past him. As he did so, his form changed. Within the span of the time it took him to grab the boy’s arm and start to lift upward, the bird features faded away to reveal an ordinary, if quite well-muscled, human figure. Yet, the changes didn’t stop there. In the next instant, as he managed to jerk Paul to his feet, the man’s body began to be covered in heavy fur, and he grew over a foot in height before he’d even finished hauling the Crossroads student up in front of him.
“I told you,” the man snapped, even as his face contorted a bit to be half-bear, “to back off.” With that, he gave the boy a hard throw, sending him crashing into his teammates.
“Ruthers!” A new voice bellowed, as the team’s teacher (and Sean’s father), Elias Gerardo, appeared with his halberd raised and extended. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“What am I doing?” the man, still standing tall in his half-bear form, snarled right back. “Stopping your son and his friends from killing an innocent person, that’s what I’m doing.”
“Innocent?” Elias demanded, disbelief and derision filling his voice. “You’re just as much a fool now as you were back when you trusted the Necromancer. Remind me of how that went. Oh yeah, he killed millions of people and used blood magic to turn you into a little kid again when you tried to stop him. Because he thought that was funny. So, let me get this straight. One of these things almost wipes out all of humanity and leaves you young enough to eat off the children’s menu, and your reaction once you finally grow up enough to fight again is to start protecting the evil monstruos?”
Ruthers, in turn, narrowed his eyes. “Last I checked, Elias, humans did plenty of evil all by ourselves and it doesn’t make all of us monsters. I trusted the wrong person. I’ll regret that for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean they’re all evil.”
Elias Gerardo shook his head slowly. “Fool,” he repeated. “You nearly doomed all of humanity by trusting one of these creatures, and you still didn’t learn your lesson. How many have to die before you realize that they are monsters, you soft-hearted gilipollas.”
Rather than rise to that bait, Ruthers simply informed the man in a dangerous voice, “You need to take your students and walk away, Elias. This one is under my protection.”
“Your protection?” Elias scoffed at that, watching for an opening. “Don’t forget, old man, you’re not one of us. You’re not a real Heretic. I’ve got powers you can’t even dream of, and all you have is your animal shifting and a few magic tricks.”
His taunting words were met with a simple grunt from Ruthers, and a flat, “Did that help you the last time we fought? Or the time before that? Make your move, Elias, and let your son see how that ends. Or take them and leave. It’s your choice.”
For several long, incredibly tense seconds that seemed to stretch into infinity, the two men stared one another down. The only sound was that of the rabbit-Alter’s fearful whimpering. Even the trio of Heretic students remained silent, waiting to see what their teacher would do in the face of the obvious threat.
In the end, Elias shook his head. “Not this time. I don’t know what kind of tricks you and your friends have cooked up, but I’m not putting my students through it.” He glanced around, as though convinced that more enemies lined the shadows, waiting for a word from Ruthers. “But this isn’t over, Gabriel. Not by a long shot. One day, we’ll finish this. And you’ll find out what happens when people whose blind naivety nearly destroys humanity still don’t learn their lesson. You’re a fool. How much blood is on your hands because you continue to trust the same monsters who caused the Black Death?”
“And how much blood is on yours?” Ruthers retorted just as sharply. “How many have you killed because you blame the actions of a few on the lives of millions? None of us are entirely innocent, Elias. But some learn from our mistakes.”
Rather than respond, Elias simply pointed behind himself. A glowing portal opened, and he ordered, “Go, kids.” When they started to protest, he snapped, “Now! This isn’t the right time or place to handle him.”
Reluctantly, the trio moved through the portal. Elias, in turn, informed the man before him, “We’ll find you, and your little organization. You can’t hide them forever.”
“And when that day comes,” Ruthers replied in a simple voice while matching his gaze, “we’ll all find out just how far each of us are willing to go for what we believe.”
It looked, briefly, as though Elias wanted to say something to that. His face twisted up angrily, yet no words came out. In the end, he simply moved through the portal and disappeared.
Once the threat was gone, Ruthers reached down to grab the terrified figure cowering behind him and hauled her up. “We need to go. They'll be back with reinforcements. You hurt?” His voice was gruff despite the overall gentleness of the words, the tone of a man who was trying to sound personable and nonthreatening, but had very little experience in actually doing so.
“N-no,” the Alter hesitantly answered. “Not really. But--but who are you? Where--”
“I’ll get you out of here,” Ruthers interrupted. “Take you to some friends. You can decide to stay or go from there. Come on.” Without any further explanation, he took her by the arm, hauling her up against himself before gripping the figure tightly while the large black wings, feathers, and beak returned. A moment later, they were launched into the air, wings spreading out to catch them and send the pair flying off away from the park.
“You’re--you’re not a were,” the figure stammered from where she was held tight against his chest, too afraid to look down. Distracting herself felt right. “Weres aren’t multiple animals.”
“Yaoguai,” came the response after a moment. He knew she was looking for some kind of distraction, and gave it to her. “Natural Yaoguai Bonded. It’s--it’s a long story, kid. Not something you need to worry about. Point is, I touch animals and manifest parts of them.”
“You’re not…. you’re not one of the Crossroads Heretics? That… guy, he knew you.”
“We’ve run into each other,” Ruthers confirmed. “And no, never been in with those pricks. They ahhh… they tried to recruit me, yeah. Right after the Necromanc--I made a bad deal. I made a mistake, trusted the wrong guy and a lot of people died. So they came. Might’ve signed up with them then and there, pissed off as I was. But the piece of shit turned me into a kid. So they waited, gave me time to grow up a bit. Then they came back, thought I’d sign right up as soon as I was strong enough to wield a sword again. But I ahh… I guess having those few years of being a helpless kid again gave me time to rethink a few things. Seemed wrong to blame a whole species for what one guy did. Anyway, they didn’t like me saying no, so we had a big falling out. Haven’t really been on their good side since.” After a brief pause, he added in a quieter voice, “Haven’t been on a lot of good sides since.”
By that point, they only flew for another minute in silence before he came down and landed in an old alley occupied only by an old semi-truck that looked like it hadn't been moved for years. Ruthers released the rabbit-like Alter and shifted to his human form before reaching up to bang on the back of the semi. But he did more than simply knock. His knuckles hit a different, specific spot with each impact, essentially the equivalent of pressing buttons on an invisible keypad.
Once what was obviously a code had been input, the heavy metal door of the semi began to roll upward, revealing six figures holding various weapons at the ready, just in case. Four of the figures were obvious Alters with only a passing resemblance to humans, while the other two could have blended in with any crowd. Only when they saw Ruthers there did they relax somewhat. The apparent leader, a reptilian humanoid with a very long, thin tail, nodded. “Who’s your friend?”
“M-my name is Guei,” the girl who had just been rescued managed in a tentative voice, looking as though she might feel the need to bolt any second.
“Gooey?” Pausing, the lizard-man finally shrugged before reaching out a hand for her. “Come on up. It’s okay, you don’t have to stay long if you don’t want to, but with those Heretics out there, we need to stay out of sight.” Once Guei took the offered hand, he hauled her up even as the other troops moved aside.
“But what are we--” In mid-sentence, Guei stopped short. Her large fluffy tail (more akin to a squirrel than a rabbit) stood upright as she stared past the figures. Because rather than the inside of an empty semi, she saw a long hallway leading into a much larger building than could possibly have fit into the trailer.
“Heh,” the man who had helped her up chuckled. “Yeah, it tends to have that effect. Come on, you’re safe here, I promise. I mean, you’ve heard of Wonderland, haven’t you?”
That made the girl give a double-take, staring at him. “Wonderland? But--but they’re just a myth.”
“Myth?” One of the other troops, an amphibian figure with pitch-black, oily skin and a mess of tentacles hanging off his face, echoed before looking toward Ruthers. “You really didn’t tell her anything, did you, Tiebreaker?”
Blinking, Guei looked toward the man who had saved her. “Tiebreaker?”
“Just a title,” he informed her before hauling himself up into the semi as well, using a nearby handle on the door. He and one of the others pulled the doors shut, before Ruthers turned back toward Guei. “As I said, you don’t have to stay forever. But you should lie low for awhile. Rest up, get some food. If you want to take off after that, there’s a few different exits that go out in other areas. You can pick one of those.”
“Or stay,” the tentacle-faced amphibian figure put in. “It’s a hard world out there. Wonderland’s about as safe as it gets.” He gestured. “Come on, I’ll show you around. Name’s Yoleg.” With a wave to the others, he added, “Let the Tiebreaker do his work.”
Watching Guei and Yoleg head off, Ruthers grunted. “What’s going on, Meyers? You got to the doors really fast. Too fast.”
Beside him, the lizard-man with the very long tail answered. “Just got back from a run for your partner. Got the job done and just made it back when you showed up.” With that, he held up a small black bag with something inside. “I was about to deliver it, but…”
“I’ll take it.” Ruthers confirmed, accepting the bag. “The rest of you go get some rest.”
After dismissing the group, he took a moment to collect himself before starting to walk through the corridor. It quickly opened up to reveal the actual building Wonderland was currently headquartered in: an old factory somewhere on the south end of Los Angeles. There were individual tents set up all over the multiple levels of the factory floor, in open spots where the machines had been torn out. Ruthers acknowledged the people who called out to him with a simple wave and grunt before heading up a set of metal stairs to what had been one of the offices of the factory. There, just as he stepped through the door, a red-haired woman standing in front of the window overlooking the factory floor turned to greet him. “Gabriel.”
“Gaia,” he replied simply, before tossing the bag to her. “Something you’ve been looking for?”
“For quite some time,” she confirmed, feeling the object in the bag as she watched him. “Though I’m fairly certain the rest of our fellow Septs believe my efforts are a waste of time.” Her gaze met his. “What do you think?”
Ruthers shrugged. “I think you know what you’re doing. It’s why I suggested they recruit you after… after Desoto. Didn’t seem like Crossroads was the best fit for you in the first place, let alone after they all blamed you for that mess.”
“They needed someone to blame,” Gaia replied casually before adding, “But yes, this is… Wonderland is a better fit. I can’t imagine what I would do if I was still part of Crossroads. I hear they’ve promoted Remember Bennett to the Committee.”
“Who’s that leave in charge of the school if the old headmistress is moving up?” Ruthers asked curiously.
With a soft chuckle, the woman answered, “Edward Teach. I suppose someone thought putting a man named Teach in charge of a school was amusing.”
“We’ll see how amusing they think it is when he turns all their students into pirates,” Ruthers retorted, before sobering a bit. “What about your daughter? How’s she taking Remember’s promotion?”
“She,” came the response from behind him, “is taking it about as well as anything when it comes to my great-grandmother.” As she finished speaking, Joselyn Sinclaire stepped into the room with them. Behind her was Virginia Dare, and given from the way the two were sweating and holding their weapons, Ruthers had the feeling that they had just been training heavily.
“Is that it?” Dare asked, standing behind Joselyn. Gaia’s former protege had become quite close to the woman’s adopted daughter in the years since Virginia had returned from decades spent wandering the world. They were practically sisters. Which made sense, given the fact that Gaia had mentored Virginia since she was in her late teens, and had literally raised Joselyn since the girl’s parents had sacrificed themselves to stop the Fomorian invasion.
“This?” Gaia held up the small black bag that Dare had nodded to. “Yes, I believe it is the next piece.” Even as she said that, the woman opened it up, reaching inside. Once her fingers found the object, she smiled. “Indeed… we are that much closer to our goal.”
With that, she pulled the object from the bag. It was a piece of bone, and she held it up in her flat palm. “One more piece of Arthur’s skeleton. Just a few more…
“Then we’ll be ready to bring him back.”
Yes, Yes, Very Interesting. But More Importantly, If Flick Doesn't Exist, Who Has Herbie In This Timeline?!
Imagine The Party The Students Threw As Soon As Remember Bennett Wasn't Headmistress Anymore. Now Imagine The One The STAFF Threw.
"Where The Hell Is The School?!" "Well, You Know How We Put Teach In Charge? He Sort of... Put It On A Boat. It's On An Island, We Should've Seen It Coming."