The wedding was being held at a small church just on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The two-story building (not counting steeple) itself was surrounded by a relatively modest, but lovingly maintained flower garden. A cobblestone path ran from the parking lot to the right of the building, winding its way between the flowers and bushes to reach the church's front entryway. A nine-foot brick wall lined with vines and decorative bushes surrounded the property itself, with a wrought iron gate at the driveway, which stood open now, but would be closed and locked at night. Or rather, through the early morning, as ‘night’ was when the city was at its busiest.
At this particular moment, the lot itself was just a little under half full, with about fifteen cars scattered through it. The church’s entranceway stood open, with a rather massively built (even for his species) troll dressed in a makeshift tuxedo serving as doorman. He greeted the arriving guests (not all came by vehicle, they often appeared through portals) politely, checked their invitations, and then directed them through the door and toward the chapel.
From where she crouched silently on a corner of the wall, invisible to every sense that she could manage through a combination of kill-inherited powers and magic, Vanessa Holt wondered just how long the poor thing had been enslaved and put to work under the same evil bitch Seosten who was putting on this utter sham of a so-called wedding. A wedding to Vanessa’s own brother, Haiden. Which was never going to happen at all if Vanessa had anything to say about it. And as far as the woman herself was concerned, she had quite the laundry list of things to say.
She had not been invited to the wedding, of course. That would have been incredibly difficult and remarkably surprising, given Haiden had believed she was dead for over a hundred years. Not that she enjoyed being forced to hide from her own brother. Given the choice, she would have gone back to him. She certainly would have done so if it would’ve stopped this whole thing from going as far as it had. This horrible joke of a wedding, which was very clearly little more than a piece of a magic ritual. There were so many spells like that, requiring binding rituals that could be hidden behind the facsimile of a wedding. That was what this Seosten was up to. Vanessa had known that ever since word of the upcoming ceremony had made its way to her through whispers and rumors. The Seosten had seduced Haiden and was using the ‘wedding’ to bind him to her for whatever ploy her leaders had devised this time. Vanessa wasn’t sure what that was, but there was certainly no shortage of possibilities. Binding an Eden’s Garden Heretic to them for various experiments involving controlling without having to possess them, perhaps. Or possibly as a way to control his entire bloodline.
Either way, she was going to make damn sure it didn't happen. She may have been forced to hide from her brother for all these years, and allow him to think that she was dead. But like hell was Vanessa going to consign him to being put through this ritual and turned into a slave. She’d take that bitch Seosten apart from the inside out before she let that happen to her own brother.
Angry as she was whenever she pictured the smug face of the woman who intended to permanently destroy Haiden’s life, Vanessa couldn’t go rushing in there. Yes, she had powers. Yes, she was quite dangerous in her own right. She had to be, to have survived this long after everything she had been through. But this was unknown territory, and she had no idea how many troops the Seosten woman had working for her to make sure this ‘wedding’ went off without a hitch. Nor did she have any idea how many actual Seosten were here. There could be a dozen or more of them, spread throughout the guests. No matter how righteously pissed off Vanessa was, rushing in there would have been a suicide mission. Which clearly would not have helped Haiden in the least. So, she had to be careful, had to crouch here and get the lay of the land before making her way inside. The Seosten were the ultimate infiltrators, but Vanessa had learned a lot from her time among them. Before everything had changed, before… Galazien had happened, she had been used by the Seosten for decades. Now, she would use what she had learned during that to save her brother from being enslaved by them as well.
Another portal opened about thirty feet from where she was crouched, as several beings emerged. There were two Rakshasa, a fox-bunny Reusfiel, and one of the Vestil in their artificial glass-like humanoid shell bodies filled with the magical gas-liquid that was their actual self.
After coming through the portal, the four began to work towards the church, before the Vestil paused and glanced back to the spot where Vanessa was. Or rather, where she had been. The moment she saw the being, the woman had teleported herself over toward a nearby tree, shrinking down to the size of a squirrel in the process while remaining utterly invisible. The Vestil were very good at detecting magic. Almost as good as they were at using it. She wouldn’t take the chance that he would see through at least parts of her cloak.
From her new position, safely small enough to hide behind the branch even if the Vestil could see through her invisibility, Vanessa watched as the man gazed at the spot where she had been for a long moment. Then, one of his Rakshasa companions asked if everything was okay, and the Vestil gave a short nod before pivoting to walk with the others on their way inside. Vanessa squinted that way as they paused to greet the troll by name, calling him Barnyard. There was a moment of what sounded like genuine camaraderie, which just told Vanessa how long these poor people had been put under the Seosten thumb. From the way they were all acting, one would have thought that they enjoyed being here. And, as a point of fact, perhaps they did. After all, this sort of duty was much easier and less terrifying than many other jobs the Seosten put their slaves through. As Vanessa herself knew from extensive personal experience.
That personal experience was another reason for why she wasn’t going to go rushing into this place guns and blades blazing. These people, no matter how loyal they might have seemed on the surface, had gone through so many years of being manipulated and even outright controlled. They were victims too. She wasn't about to start killing them, not even to get to her brother. She could take her time and do this the right way, by only killing the ones who deserved it. Just the Seosten. Especially the one who thought she could take Haiden and use him like this..
To that end, Vanessa turned her attention to the left. At the far end of the church building, there was another door. That one was used as a service entry, connecting to the small kitchen. It was propped open at that moment, a silver trash can sitting against it while several white-dressed staff moved in and out, carrying supplies from a couple vans parked in that half-hidden rear lot. Scanning the three figures long enough to identify them as a crocodilian Mesrenafel and what appeared to be two were-creatures (she wasn’t certain of what sort), Vanessa smiled humorlessly to herself. Then she dropped through the wood of the branch under her feet, teleporting from there to the decorative wooden railing next to the service door. She appeared, in her diminutive form, between the Mesrenafel and one of the weres, each heading in opposite directions. The former was walking inside carrying a box, while the latter was on his way back to the van. The other were was already inside. Vanessa popped up behind both of their backs, reaching out one hand to touch the back of the crocodilian-humanoid figure.
Instantly, she possessed him. Yes, she felt bad about using the same method the Seosten did in order to infiltrate this place. But she didn’t have a lot of choices here, not if she wanted to get inside quickly and quietly enough to stop this travesty. Her only consolation to herself for the violation was that she absolutely would not put this man in danger. As soon as she was in and found the right spot, she would let him go, making sure he was safely out of harm’s way.
Nor would she read his memories or in any way violate his mind. Which was why the very second she took control of the man, Vanessa instantly and as gently as possible shunted him into unconsciousness. He could just go to sleep while she was doing this. She refused to root through his mind. Not after all the times that very thing had been done to her by callous Seosten who oh-so-casually ripped their way through her deepest thoughts, worst fears, and cherished memories. After going through that for years, she would never do it to someone else.
As soon as the Mesrenafel was under control and his consciousness safely asleep, Vanessa made him grunt something about hitting the restroom. She dumped the box he had been carrying on the nearby kitchen counter, passed several people working diligently to prepare what appeared to be a rather grand buffet meal (of course the Seosten behind this would want to congratulate herself and celebrate such a victory once the ritual was done), and moved to the other door leading into the hallway beyond.
There was soft piano music coming from the left, where Vanessa could look through her temporary host’s eyes to see a pair of open doors leading to where the chapel clearly was. She could also hear voices talking in that hushed, yet very audible way that came from a lot of people all trying their best to have separate conversations as quietly as possible.
To her right, meanwhile, was a set of stairs. That was where she needed to go. The rooms on the second floor were where the people participating in the ‘wedding’ would be changing and making sure they were ready for the main event. That was where the Seosten who was trying to permanently enslave Haiden would be. Vanessa was going to handle this before it went any further.
Making her way up the stairs to the first land before pivoting to head the rest of the stairs to the second floor, Vanessa made the Mesrenafelan’s body slow down toward the top. There were two men there. At first she thought they were guards, a smart thing for someone like this Seosten to use with a ritual that was clearly this important and vulnerable. But no, they weren’t guards. They were just two men talking to each other, even casually greeting Vanessa’s host by name (Toron) when they saw him, making some sort of taunting joke about a sports team he liked who had ended up failing whatever game they played recently.
It might have been smart to poke through the man's mind so that she could give realistic responses. But, yet again, Vanessa refused. Her mind had been compromised and treated like an open book enough that she would never do that to another person. No, she simply faked her way through it with noncommittal responses, making a show of being annoyed at the loss.
Thankfully, the men started down the stairs before she had to say much more. Vanessa watched them go, then turned her attention back to the corridor in front of her. It split off in two directions, one hall running straight ahead while the other went to the right. As she looked both ways, the woman saw suit jackets hanging out of a few doorways in the hallway to the right, while the one straight ahead had a few purses sitting on chairs. That was the way to go.
She did, however, pause and stare to the right. Haiden. He might--he would be down that corridor, blissfully unaware of the trouble he was getting into. If she--if she walked that way, she could see him. For the first time in… in so long, she could see her brother.
But no. That was not why she was here. She couldn't let herself get distracted. Everything that had kept her away from him for so long hadn’t changed. She couldn’t stay with her brother, couldn’t… let anything else happen. Not when it came to Galazien. No matter how tempted she was to see her brother, she had to focus. Saving him from this Seosten was one thing, but letting him see her, letting… no. She would do this and get out before he ever knew she was there. Before… before she had to make this whole situation even more complicated.
So, difficult as it was, she turned away from the possibility of seeing her brother. Instead, Vanessa directed the Mesrenafelan’s body down the corridor directly ahead of her. With each step, she got closer to the creature who was trying to destroy Haiden’s life, trying to enslave him the way Vanessa herself had been enslaved for so long. Worse even, given she was trying to use a magical ritual to make such a thing permanent. Every time that thought came to mind, it was all Vanessa could do to contain the righteous fury that threatened to boil up inside her. Control. She had to keep this under control. If she lost that, the Seosten would kill her before she even had a chance to move. Or worse, take her back. And that was something Vanessa would die before she allowed to happen.
There were several different voices coming from one room ahead of her, and Vanessa grimaced inwardly. Of course, this couldn’t be as simple as possible. The evil bitch had people in there with her. They could be innocent bystanders, slaves, bodyguards, or all of the above at the same time. Any hope she’d had of slipping in there while the woman was alone had evaporated.
But she had come prepared for that eventuality. To that end, Vanessa took a moment to prepare, looking both ways before carefully making the body she had been possessing sit down so the man wouldn’t be hurt by falling in his unconscious state. Then she stepped out of it, returning to her own body, gaze centered on the door where her target was.
It was almost funny, that after all the time the Seosten had spent using her as an assassin, that she would use those skills to stop one of them from ruining her brother’s life. Or maybe it was more appropriate than funny. Either way, she was ending this now.
Producing a small metal bar, just slightly longer than her fist as she held it tightly, the woman took a quick step into the room. There were three beings in there, two of them of limited importance at that moment. But the third, the third was the Seosten. Vanessa saw the blonde woman there, seated at the mirror in the wedding dress. Just over her shoulder, she could see her own reflection in that mirror. She wore dark green pants with a gray hoodie. That hood was up, mostly hiding black hair that was tied back in a braid. She had very deep green eyes, which looked wild at that moment, and a face that was almost unnaturally pale (as she has always been), yet flushed with obvious anger. Which only got worse when her eyes centered on the object of that rage.
The Seosten started to rise, her mouth open. But Vanessa didn't care what she had to say. Nor did she listen to the other two in the room. Her hand extended with that enchanted metal pipe and she spoke the command word that would trigger the spell to take herself and the target it was pointing at clear out of the building and far enough away that she could deal with this psychotic, enslaving piece of shit properly.
And yet, impossibly, the Seosten was already reacting. Vanessa had used a powerful boost (born of the several other Seosten she had killed) combined with her own already-enhanced speed. She should have been able to finish this spell before her target could do anything. But the blonde was twisting, her hand grabbing something from the table next to her before it was sent flying through the air. Vanessa barely had time to register it as a hairbrush before the thing collided with her extended hand with enough force to make her drop the pipe just as the spell triggered.
It should have picked up Vanessa and the Seosten before instantly transporting them as far as possible backwards, out of the building and to a safe area. Unfortunately, with the spell triggering as the thing dropped, it was pointed down at the time. So, the two of them were snatched up and teleported straight to the first floor, where they appeared in the chapel. Right in front of dozens of surprised witnesses, several of whom were already reacting to intervene.
This wasn't at all as planned, but the situation wasn’t anywhere near unsalvageable. Producing an enchanted coin, Vanessa hurled it at the floor while the Seosten was still stumbling. Instantly, a glowing dome-shaped force field surrounded them. It would keep the bodyguards away while she dealt with the monster who wanted to enslave another member of her family. And beyond that, it would stop any outside sound from reaching through the dome. The people out there could hear, but their voices wouldn’t be able to distract the pair within. This was between the two of them.
The Seosten turned to her, and Vanessa summoned her weapon, a long scythe with a black handle, a dark, crystalline blue curved blade head, and a glowing green edge. “You chose the wrong man to use for your sick game, bitch,” she announced.
In that moment, she saw the woman's eyes widen with realization. Her mouth opened to say something yet again, but Vanessa was done talking. She had said all she needed to, and was already vanishing from her spot while swinging the scythe. She reappeared behind the target, the blade of her weapon about to take her head off.
Impossibly, the woman reacted too quickly. Despite what should have been Vanessa’s much-greater speed, her target was already twisting as the blade came down. Her foot lashed out, hitting the dark-haired woman in the stomach with enough force to make her stumble a step. It didn't really hurt, not with all the enhancements she had, not to mention her anger, but it did throw off her aim. That, combined with the Seosten’s twisting body, made the blade narrowly miss its target. The moment it did, Vanessa triggered the button on her weapon that sent the curved blade flying off like a boomerang. It spun its way through the forcefield before arcing back toward them. As soon as it saw the Seosten, a flurry of small lasers erupted from the spinning blade.
At the same time, Vanessa had split the staff part of the scythe in two, revealing foot long blades at either end of the now dual weapons. She turned herself invisible once more and opened her mouth to emit a deafening screech that would hurt the woman’s ears and leave her disoriented. She was invisible, blindingly fast with yet another triggered boost, there was a supernaturally terrible, ear-shattering sound flooding the small space, and her drone-blade was coming in from behind while constantly shooting. There was no way the Seosten could deal with all of that at once.
Yet, impossibly, she did. Her mouth moved to snap a single word, a spell that made a small force field appeared behind the woman to intercept the incoming lasers, and she managed to duck under the thrust from Vanessa's right hand blade, pivoting around and rising to snap her forearm out, catching the woman’s other arm at the elbow to stop her left-handed blade. It was just enough to make the earsplitting screech stop for a moment. “Stop! I don’t want--”
“I’m sure you don’t,” Vanessa snapped. “But it’s happening. You--”
“Vanessa!” The sudden, unexpected voice came from a man she instantly recognized as he appeared within the force field. His abrupt arrival made her jerk backward, stumbling a little.
“H-Haiden,” she breathed, a rush of emotions making it impossible to focus. “You can’t… how--”
She realized too late what had really happened. The man wasn't really there. There was a small hologram projector on the ground where her opponent had tossed it. That projector was emitting the hologram, clearly projected from the man himself outside the forcefield, to distract her. But the moment she realized her mistake, the Seosten had already reached her. She felt a small coin press against her neck, just as the spell on it triggered.
Her body turned visible as she fell to the ground, consciousness already fleeing to leave the woman sleeping peacefully.
A short time later, Vanessa’s eyes opened as she snapped awake to find herself lying on a couch in one of the upstairs rooms. She began to jerk up right, only to see her brother's face appear over her as his hand caught her shoulder. “Vanessa, wait. It’s okay. You--you’re… how are you… I don’t…” His mouth opened and shut, the shock still evident in his face.
“I can’t--it’s not--” Vanessa shook that off, struggling to push herself up while still woozy. “You don’t understand, I have to stop this. You don’t know what she is, what she'll do to you.”
“I know, Vanessa,” Haiden insisted. “I know everything. She’s a Seosten. I know about their powers, their empire, the possessing people thing, I know they made Eden’s Garden and Crossroads, I know what they do. Because she told me. She’s not like them. She left them, Vanessa.”
Taken aback by that, Vanessa started to shake her head. “No, she’s controlling you. She possessed you. She--”
“Vanessa,” Haiden interrupted, touching her face. “You can possess people too, right? That’s what you did to Toron. Do it to me. Possess me. Read my memory. Read everything.”
After a brief moment of hesitation as she thought about all the ways this could be a trap, Vanessa finally did it just that. Her hand reached out to touch her brother’s face. Then she stopped short. For a long moment, the woman simply lay there, hand on Haiden’s cheek. The two of them stared at one another, through the century that had separated them. There was so much to say… so much she couldn’t… With effort, Vanessa pushed that aside, taking a breath before possessing him.
And from there she learned the whole story. It only took a few minutes, though they seemed to be an eternity. She searched all through his memories, obsessively looking for any proof that the whole thing was fake and he was being controlled. But there was nothing. Nothing more than… pure… genuine love for the woman she had tried to kill.
“I’m sorry,” she managed in a weak voice immediately after stepping out of the man. There was so much more she wanted to say, so much… confusion, fear, worry, and more. But that was the most important part. She had to apologize for what she had almost done. “I’m so, so sor--”
Then she saw her. The Seosten woman herself, standing in her wedding dress right there at the entrance to the small room.
“No,” the woman informed Vanessa. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything my people did to you, and to everyone like you. We need to change things. Somehow, we need to fix it.” She paused briefly before extending her hand. “I am… really glad to meet you, whatever the circumstances. My name is Sariel.”
“I…” Trailing off, Vanessa stared at the offer. The instinct to slap it away, to spit in the woman's face, to do anything to show how much she hated the Seosten as a whole, was almost too strong. But then she looked at her brother, the man she had been torn away from for so long. She saw his face, she remembered feeling everything he felt for the woman in front of her. His true, unaltered, real feelings. And that was enough for her to keep that anger and hatred under control. Swallowing hard, she reached out, accepting the hand. “Vanessa…”
“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Haiden noted, his attempt to go for a dryness tempered by the obvious emotion that made his voice crack. “But for the record, sis…
“You could’ve just asked for an invitation.”
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