The Lost Prince

By Atom Mudman Bezecny

Reprinted from Odd Tales of Wonder #10

“I think I got a new mark, y'know.”
           

The smoke of the fire was only now fading away as the embers gave up the last of their red life. Everyone else had driven home by now, but Samuel and George now lingered, out of costume—the performance done for the day.

           

“You do?”
           

“Yep. A real good one. It'll bring us back a little.”

           

“After the chief got himself torn down we could really use some new risers. You lookin' to get up there...?”

           

“Not where Stuart was, no. But it'd be nice, maybe.”

           

There was a pause. “So that mark?”

           

“A Jew.”

           

“Ooh-h! Rare in these parts. Bet he thinks he's safe from Adolf's boys.”

           

“Don't bring up that kraut bastard. Krauts are just as bad as Jews. Give a good, red-blooded American any day.”

           

“Hey, I hear that, but I think Hitler's got something. I—”

           

“Look, you disagreein' with me, boy? I oughta clock you one. Don't be getting Jewish on me.”

           

“I didn't mean nothing, just that I might be doing some Bundist work on the side, that's all. Now, what you were saying about red-blood American folk—”

           

“Yeah?”
           

“That's the solid truth!”

           

“You better believe it! America First!”

           

“America First!”

           

Neither man knew how to continue from there. They had already spent all day repeating the Klan's rhetoric, and it seemed redundant to open it up again. Awkwardness built between them quickly, and they wished for release from it.

           

They learned then to be careful what they wished for.

           

A ghost burst out from the nearby brush, shrieking angrily. The two terrorists screamed in response, before the sharp claws struck their faces. Pinching their eyes shut, they became lost in a sea of talons. It would bring nightmares to anyone, but to the Klansmen, who had never known any problems outside of the ones they made up for themselves, it was a life-changing moment. Whether they'd live to enjoy this change was uncertain. Not even the ghost herself knew if she was going to let them live.

           

George got to his truck—it wasn't far. He prayed he had enough gas to get away, for however far he'd have to drive. He remembered old folk tales of people running from the Devil, from Pennsylvania down to Georgia, and still not getting away. But maybe he'd be luckier than the heroes of those old church fables. He had to try.

           

She was still dealing with Samuel as he put the pedal to the floor. His needle hovered just a hair above E, but maybe if he could get back to Ingle Hollow he could get help. He didn't care what happened to Samuel. Dude was probably on the lavender side anyway.

           

He was about thirty yards down the road when she was done taking care of him. He couldn't see what she'd done to him in the end but that was just as well. He didn't need to go losing his mind. It was only now he realized he'd been so scared he hadn't flipped on his headlights. He scuffed off road a little, but surely it wasn't anything—

           

Oh God. She was almost behind him now. His engine was sputtering but he shoved down the gas again. He bolted up to fifty, then to sixty. Beyond that and he'd be asking for a broken neck. In these woods he was kept to a harsh speed limit.

           

Of course, there was a minimum to that limit, too. She had legs of steel—she was running like a goddamn cheetah. She was nearly neck and neck with him now. Sweat oozed down his flabby booze-red face. She wasn't focused on him as she caught up. She was watching his side-mirror for some goddamn reason.

           

She jumped into the mirror, and in a second she popped out of his rear-view. Then she was in the passenger's seat.

           

“Ahh—!”

           

“Don't crash! Do not crash this truck!” Bloody Mary barked. “You're gonna keep driving. But you're not going back to that little shanty town. You're going to take me to the closest Klan-nest. I already scouted out the woods and it wasn't there, but it must be nearby.”

           

“I don't know what you're talking about!”

           

“Can it, you hood-wearing creep. Take me to your base. Now.”
           

He'd heard rumors of a ghost who hunted Klansmen, who could travel through mirrors. She was called Bloody Mary, and she was fast becoming the nemesis of the KKK.

           

“What are you going to do with us?”
           

“I'm going to wreck your local operations, that's what.”

           

“You can't!”
           

“I will. I owe it to the people of this community.”

           

“People? The good people of this community are—”

           

“Shut up.”

           

“But I—”

           

“Shut up. You literally do not get to say anything. You ever killed anyone, Klansman?”

           

There was silence.

           

“Hey, boy, I said you ever kill anyone?”

           

“No, I haven't.”

           

“But you've seen it.”

           

“Yeah. Saw 'em lynch a black boy—a black man—once.”

           

“And you did nothing.”

           

“No.”
           

“Then you're a goddamn murderer.”
           

“That's not fair.”

           

“I don't care. Drive.”

           

He had no choice. Technically he did have a choice, but he wasn't willing to die for the Klan. Even if he'd spent the larger part of the afternoon proclaiming that he would.

           

Soon they were at the small shack which serve as their “base.” It was supposed to be secret, after they were run out of the Hollow VFW Hall. Keeping that a secret had been a pain, so in the end that was worth out. No working plumbing out here, though. Nothing that most of them weren't used to.

           

He parked the truck. “Now what do you want?”

           

“Go up and let us in.”
           

“And then what'll happen?”

           

“Then I'm gonna tear your place up. And run you outta town.”
           

“But—but...”

           

“What you're doing isn't freedom. For anybody.” There were no pupils in those dead white eyes, but he still felt her gazing into her soul.

           

He shook, and blanched. And he got out of the truck.

           

The two walked up the door. George rapped his knuckles on the wood.

           

The door opened, but only a thin crack. “Who is it?”

           

“Me.”
           

There was normally a password—the Grand Wizard, whoever he was after Stuart Dameron croaked, would have wanted them to keep a password—but this place was a shack in the middle of the woods. There had to be breaks somewhere. The door opened.

           

Bloody Mary stormed in, and the gathered Klansmen screamed.

           

“Jesus Christ, what is that thing?!”

           

“Kill it! Somebody! Shoot it down!”

           

They all had rifles nearby and opened fire on her, but of course, it meant nothing. Nearby was a card table and a chair. She took up both and hurled them at them.

           

Two of the five men went unconscious in a second; one of them was twisted in an unnatural position. Then Mary turned and seized George, and hurled him at the survivors. He was neither fat nor muscular but he had a skeleton all the same, and so there was a good hundred pounds to him. He dealt some damage and in proper Newtonian reaction, he took it in turn.

           

That was all it took—they were all down. Mary clicked her tongue. “Heavy sleepers.”

           

She saw then that there was a hatch nearby. “Hatch” was a generous term for it; it was basically some sticks and planks over a hole. They had something down there, she was sure of it.

           

She tore the “hatch” aside and climbed down into the darkness. It was no bother to her eyes—she could see perfectly. It was dank down here, and smelly. She swatted aside the strangely heavy moisture and saw that the passage snaked downward.

           

As she crossed down into the depths of this tunnel, she began to understand the source of the uncanny warmth. Very quickly she crossed a barrier which contained a violent, gibbering force. The natural corridor looped around and she knew the next corner would reveal the source of this power.

           

Even she wasn't prepared for what met her eyes on the other side. There was no way Brian and Dad'd believe this.

           

The Klan had built rudimentary supports into this small chamber, and mounted lights on them. The blinding light of these lamps was countered by what they shined down on. Tied to a chair was a man the terrorists had taken prisoner. His body somehow absorbed the light perfectly. He was like a living silhouette, a grotesquely huge shadow stretched tall by distance—but real. He had a long mane of shimmering black hair, which led the eye into a face which was just a glowing skull. That is to say that his pitch-dark head was transparent in parts to reveal the bones within, which were luminescent by some strange process. His wrists, shoulders, waist, and knees were studded with shimmering steel spikes which seemed to be armor that he had bonded to himself; despite these spikes he seemed unable to break the ropes. Mary could now see the cords were made of an unusually dark fiber—it radiated energy just as he did. They were magic ropes, just as the energy he let out was magic.

           

“Who are you?”

           

The figure in the chair sniffed. “I could ask you the same thing.”

           

She thought back to the oath she'd heard herself speak in 1983. “I walk in the games of children, but I am older than dust. I swim in the world of mirrors, and my name is mine called thrice. I am Bloody Mary, and I am the defender of this world.”

           

“Bloody Mary, huh?” A beat. “I'm usually called Immorté.”

           

“Where did you get a name like that?”
           

“I've been around for a long time, I'll put it that way. How did you come by a name like Bloody Mary?”
           

His voice was bass, very low, but still human. She wondered if maybe he was a man in a particularly complicated costume, but it was too near to his body. Closer even than nylon. If it was a costume, whatever it was made of was rationed.

           

“I told you, I'm older than dust. I don't know how I got the name.”
           

“Probably something stupid. I got the name Immorté for my drinking prowess, not because I've been walking the Earth since the 1830s.”

           

“The 1830s? Sounds like an interesting story.”
           

“Let me go and I'll tell you.”

           

“How do I know I can trust you?”
           

He sighed. “I trust from the sounds I heard that you wiped out those Klansmen up there. I'm their prisoner. You put it together.”
           

She laughed at that, and he frowned.

           

“You don't look like the kind of ghost who laughs.”

           

“I guess we're both full of surprises.”

           

She got to work on his ropes—if he turned out to be her enemy then she would take him down. But he made no move towards her once he was free. “Thank you,” he said, with a little bow.

           

“Now, tell your story.”

           

“Can we walk as we talk? I think the guy who brought me here will be back soon, and I want to be ready for him.”
           

“By all means,” she replied. “...tell me. Was your captor a bald guy, scar over his eye, wearing either black robes or a suit and a bowtie?”

           

“No. He had green robes and a pumpkin on his head.”

           

“...the Pumpkin Master.”

           

“That's the guy. The Klansmen only called him 'the Master' but the pumpkin part kinda speaks for itself.”

           

Bloody Mary's first encounter with Charles Jason, alias the Pumpkin Master, had taken place not too long ago for her. In 1983 she had met him, and also seen his death. That had been the year Kamarack died as well—she was glad Kamarack wasn't here. Now they were going to meet in their proper time. There was still no need for introductions. She already knew he'd been watching her for a long time.

           

 “The Pumpkin Master is bad news. I'd like to avoid another battle with him.”
           

“Well, you may be in luck. He may not even be on Earth anymore.”
           

“...then where would he have gone?”

           

“My story's a long one,” was his reply.

           

They walked as he spoke, as he had wished.

           

“In 1914 my parents—or the ones I consider my parents, though one of them wasn't related to me—were flying near Australia when they were attacked by an Axis plane. My father was a pilot named Terry Blood. He was a descendant of the famous Earth pirate Peter Blood. His wife was Katja Orloff. They'd already had two kids, Polyphema and Riven Blood.”
           

“Polyphema?” Mary asked.

           

“Yeah, my half-sister. She was born with only one eye, that's why they named her that. The other was just an empty socket.”

           

“Ah.”
           

“Anyway, when my parents' plane was shot down, they disappeared. Everyone on Earth thought they died in the crash, but they were...collected. For some reason they'd attracted the attentions of Princess Ambia of Rheton.”
           

“Rheton? Why do I know that name?” Then she remembered. “Brian and Nadine told me about Dr. Daine from their journey to Milburn. He had the power to shrink using a metal from Rheton...but they glanced over that detail. I guess we all found it unbelievable...”

           

“Rheton exists. It's one of the colony worlds of the Imperium of Sun of Zero Pity.”

           

“Of who?”

           

“Sun of Zero Pity. My...grandfather.” He paused. They had crossed into the shack, and the Klansmen in it were still unconscious. “C'mon. Is there a place that's safe that we can go to?”

           

“My dad has a house on the coast of Georgia. Last I heard my cousin Brian is going there with him. You can...take us there?”

           

“My psionics have improved enough where I can open a portal. Can I read your mind to get the location of that house?”
           

“You're a mind-reader?”

           

“Yes, but only if people let me in. I don't read no minds without consent.”
           

“Fair enough. Take a look.”
           

In a second he had it. Next, he raised one hand, and swung down fast to the ground. His fingers were like blades cutting through space, and soon a wound opened, full of mauve void. “After you.”

           

“Hey, listen, I can also go long distance. Show me to a mirror and I'll beat you there.”

           

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” And he walked into the portal.

           

She chose to follow him, if nothing else because she was curious about his mode of travel. There was a brief coldness, and then they were in Sanger's Georgia house.

           

“Fast,” she confessed.

           

“The fastest,” he said. But then he grunted. “Takes a lot of energy, though. After a hundred-plus years on this planet I shouldn't still be showing off.”
           

“Yeah, what's that whole bit about being here since the 1830s?” she asked. She wondered if Brian and Sanger were staying here...or Loretta and Ormond, for that matter. She was pretty sure Dad was fine with letting those two room here...

           

“Now's the time for storytelling. My parents were kidnapped, as I said, by Princess Ambia of Rheton. Ambia was the daughter of Magister Sun himself—with her brother Phantom they ruled the extended planets of the Imperium, from Gorath to Krankor. All while Sun himself ruled from the Home Planet. The Home Planet  nearly collided with Earth in the 1930s, averted only by a small group of humans.”

           

“Oh, yeah, the 'Rogue Planet Crisis.' Gordon, and his girlfriend, and their scientist pal. I know the planet now,” Mary said. She was starting to get a sense of the scale of all this.

           

“Ambia decided that she desired my father. In order to get to him she killed my mother. Of course, Ambia was my mother, but I consider Katja Blood to be my true mom. Ambia is a monster...and I'll get to her in a bit.

           

“My father eventually gave in to Ambia's charms, and became her Prince. They wanted to have a child together, but were unable to do so. They decided instead to create a child, using ancient Rhetonian black magic. In the Seven-Pointed Temple, on the Ichor Throne, I was 'born.' A child of both parents as surely as if I'd been conceived the natural way—plus a little bit of matter from my human mom too, just to stabilize things. Both my parents found me repulsive, but there was no other way to get around the fact that humans and Ambia's species were incompatible.

           

“I was crowned Prince Regent of Rheton, but even as a kid I knew that everyone in government wanted to dethrone me. On my seventh birthday Prince Blood ordered his children and grandchildren brought from Earth to Rheton. Riven Blood had a girlfriend, I guess, but no kids. Polyphema had married a man named Amos Bradford, who was a crook by the name of the Black Raven. By him she had a son, Phorcys Bradford, and a daughter, Thusa.”

           

“What's with the weird Greek names?”

           

“No clue.”

           

“I see.”

           

“By the late 1930s, all of my nephews and nieces were teenagers, but on Rheton their aging was accelerated to make them adults—physically, at least. This was part of another mystic rite my parents carried out. Ancient Rheton prophecy spoke of the Wild Hunt, a group of powerful warriors similar to the Earth legend of the same name. Powerful energies from inside the planet were destined to one day be joined to a family of warriors to turn them into creatures of myth, called the Wild Huntsmen, or sometimes the Ghost Family. Polyphema and Riven took no special titles for themselves, but Phorcys became the Bloodhound, and Thusa, the Blackbird. The creation of the Huntsmen created a religious revolution on Rheton which cemented the Royal Family's power...and started the beginning of the end for my life there.

           

“Eventually there was technology created that let Ambia and my father conceive a child naturally. They had a son named Mik'hel, who was crowned the new Prince Regent and given the age-acceleration treatment as well as Wild Huntsman powers. His intelligence was accelerated too, so that he seemed the proper age. They made us fight, and with the powers of the Wild Hunt and my lack of training Mik'hel easily defeated me. For my 'disgrace' I was exiled to Earth, but I was to be sent using a scrambler teleporter. The idea was that I was be shredded between dimensions, or else lost in time and space, maybe atomically entwined with a rock somewhere. I survived the journey and arrived on Earth in one piece. When I landed it was 1835.

           

“I made my way in things after I came down in what would become the southwestern United States. I met a lot of the tribes in the area and traded with the Spanish Mexicans as well. I had to earn my way into society, what with my appearance, but eventually they stuck me with the name Immorté and I had a career for myself. I spent most of the 1800s righting wrongs in the increasingly less-Wild West. If you go out to Nevada there are still kids who tell stories about some of my exploits.

           

“The black magic that makes up my body kept me alive, and as people have gotten softer with city life and whatnot, I've had to hide more and more. I wasn't able to intervene in my own fate. I could've saved my parents, for one thing, but I couldn't be in the right place at the right time. I could've also killed my brother and sister before they went to Rheton, to stop 'em from becoming Wild Huntsmen. But again, wrong place, wrong time.”

           

Bloody Mary took it all in, once more accepting that this was her life now. “Do you ever aim to return to Rheton? Can you, with your powers?”

           

“I keep putting it off. Things keep getting in the way. Besides, even if I can teleport and set blood on fire and read minds and all that, I'd still get every bones in my body broken once the Huntsmen got to me. Five at once, or even a fraction of that—they'd kill me in an instant.”

           

“They're that strong?”

           

“Yep. At least Mik'hel was. A hundred-and-ten years later and I've still never faced an opponent as frightening as him.”

           

Mary thought about it. “How do people on Rheton live under this Imperium?”

           

“It's a dictatorship. The revelation that the Royal Family had unleashed the Wild Huntsmen and fulfilled the prophecy created social destruction because that prophecy was the last symbol of hope the people had against Sun and the Empire.”
           

Mary tried to imagine the horror of dictatorship, but she didn't have to. An order much like that of Sun's had risen in central Europe. And in some places it was already here.

           

“And the KKK? The Pumpkin Master? What did they want you for?”

           

“A weapon. The Pumpkin Master intended for me to used to forward the Klan's goals. But there was also...” He winced.

           

“Are you okay?”

           

“Yeah...it's just that that pumpkin-headed sideshow messed with my head. Psychically, of course. I tried to fight back, with my power, but I guess I'm better at blood-burning than I am at head-stuff...”

           

“That's the second time you've mentioned burning blood.”

           

“It's my main ability. I can set blood on fire with my mind. Nothing else for some reason—just blood.”

           

“Like this?” And she filled her silver goblet with tears. She tossed those tears as droplets through the air, and he raised his hand. The droplets became fireworks, exploding and disintegrating in a flash of light.

           

“Impressive,” Mary said, nodding.

           

“Say, that'd make us a pretty great team...if you can control that blood,” Immorté said. “But I don't intend to stick around. I'm gonna go after the Pumpkin Master for what he did to me...”

           

“I'm going too. The Master and I have a certain history together.” She grinned. “And you're right. With that weird power of yours, we would make a good team.”
           

“Normally, I have to cut my foes to make them bleed, and use that to light 'em. But with those tears of yours...”

           

“I suspect you would've wreaked a lot of havoc if Jason succeeded in weaponizing you,” Mary said. “I'm starting to realize what you could do with that power. You could...kill someone. In an instant.”

           

“Yes.”

           

“And you still couldn't beat Mik'hel.”
           

“No.”

           

She stroked her chin thoughtfully, only idly considering where Jason might be hiding now.

           

Suddenly, however, there was a loud slam from above. Mary realized now with embarrassment that they had manifested in the pantry. She led Immorté out, and heard a familiar voice call out, “Sanger! Uncle Sanger!”

           

“Brian?” Mary called back. Coming down the steps to the basement now was Brian Hammerstein.

           

“Mary? Oh, thank God. Hey, I was just getting back from the grocery and...there's a creepy guy standing on the lawn, talking about wanting to see the Pumpkin...” And he slowed down, as he took in the sight of Immorté. “...Master. Who's this, Mary? Another Mirror-Realm ghost?”

           

“No, not quite. He's...not from anywhere you've been. Immorté, this is Brian, Brian, Immorté.”

           

“Hey, I've heard of you! There was a pulp mag about a weird spooky cowboy called Immorté that I read recently.”
           

“Really?” Immorté asked. “What mag was it?”

           

“Um. Weird West Quarterly, I think?”
           

“Those bastards! I don't have a contract with them. They owe me money!”

           

“Brian, you said the creep on the lawn is looking for the Pumpkin Master?” Mary asked.

           

“He is. He says that the Master owes him 'his prisoner.'”

           

“That'd be me,” Immorté groaned. “You said it was a man out there? Older or younger?”

           

“Young. Looks to be about as old as me.”

           

“It's Phorcys, then, Phorcys Bradford...the Bloodhound of the Wild Hunt.”

           

Bloody Mary took on a gloomy expression. “If he's here for you, I'll help you fight him. I don't want anyone capturing you, especially if they're an associate of the Pumpkin Master's.”

           

“That's noble, but it's suicide.”

           

“Hey, I'm helping, too!” Brian exclaimed. “Any fight that Mary is a part of is my fight.”

           

“He'd kill you easier than swatting a fly. Do you have any powers?”

           

“I have the best bare knuckles in all the world, and I know how to use them. That guy isn't even wearing a shirt—just a long black coat. Man, if he's threatening Mary, I'll go punch his ribs in. That'll teach him to dress decently.”
           

“He'll destroy you easily. He's a vastly powerful psychic. With his telekinesis, he could throw you through this house so fast it would be like it was made of butter...and there'd be nothing left of you afterwards but butter. And that's before he fries your mind with a telepathic scream.”

           

“Can his powers work on ghosts?”

           

“What?” Immorté asked then.

           

“Can he use telepathy and telekinesis on me?”

           

“Probably. Ghosts are psychic energy, after all.”
           

She nodded. “Then you need to keep him off me long enough for me to get close to him.”

           

Though his glowing skull obscured some of his more advanced facial features, she could tell that he was skeptical.

           

They had a plan, but for now, Brian Hammerstein was going back out onto the lawn. He once more looked over the man who had taken up residence—definitely not that Murks guy that Mary sometimes traveled with. He was wearing pants, thankfully, but he was still shirtless, though it was still a cold March. His long coat swayed in the wind. His reddish hair stuck up on top, and there was something going on with one of his eyes, like Kamarack; Brian could see now it was just that his eyes were two different colors.

           

“Where's Jason? Where's his prisoner?”

           

“You're looking for that Immorté guy, right?” Brian asked. “About seven, eight feet tall, counting hair? Skull for a face? Spikes coming out of places?”

           

“I'm here to take Immorté back to Rheton.”

           

“Rheton?” Brian knew the name, despite what Mary had said earlier.

           

“Yes. Now is he here or not?”

           

“Here's here. Come get him.”
           

Brian expected the one called the Bloodhound to sprint at him, but he never raised his feet a single step. The boxer only realized then that he hadn't seen this stranger walk at all before, either. He floated, carrying himself with telekinesis. No matter how he transported himself, however, and no matter how surprised Brian was, he was ready for him. All he had to do was step aside, and Immorté came barreling out. He slammed hard into his nephew's body, throwing him back onto the lawn.

           

Immorté did only two things: first, he used one of his wrist-blades to slash Phorcys' shoulder open. Then, as he dove away, he threw down a mirror—Mary's plan. In a second, every drop of blood in Phorcys' veins was on fire, and what was more Bloody Mary stood between he and his target.

           

But he kept moving—he didn't even wince. Smoke came out of his throat, nostrils, and eyes as the wound sparked with flame. He maintained a serious expression and marched over to Mary. She was ready for him.

           

As she slashed into him, downpours of flame rushed out from the wounds, like burning gasoline. Those flames couldn't hurt her, and she could see now that they leaned away from her, as if dancing to silent commands from Immorté. Much of Phorcys Bradford's body had burned away now, but she saw that his head remained uninjured, and this head, connected to a thinning neck and the shambles of a torso, was floating towards her.

           

“Let me collect Immorté,” he said. “I won't hurt you if you just let me take him.”
           

“He told me you come from a dictatorship. I hate those.” And she took his face.

           

But from where his face once was, a beam of energy spat up. She flew back screaming, as burns covered her. As she struggled back to her feet she saw that the brief opening this gave him allowed him to recover almost the whole of his body. He could heal like lightning, and now Immorté's powers were giving out. The flames retracted, and once they were gone the Bloodhound had his whole body back—clothing included.

           

“Don't toy with me, little ghost,” he said. “Or I'll burn you again. And this time—”

           

Immorté charged out and crashed into him—specifically, he rammed him with something. Sanger Rainsford had kept a barrel of sand around for whatever reason, and now that barrel was nothing was but splinters gouged into Phorcys' flesh, with the sand scattered at his feet. And in his eyes.

           

Immorté cupped his hands over his target's eyes all the same. “No more psychic blasts.”

           

“I would've thought you wanted to return after all these decades!” the Bloodhound exclaimed. “Of course you knew all this time that if you did return, Grandfather would have you executed!”

           

The psychic burst came out despite Immorté's hands—they went through his hands. Despite the agony of this, Immorté forced his nephew's head down, so that his blast struck the sand scattered at his feet. Mary understand. She'd have one more shot.

           

The heat of the burst turned the sand to glass. Mary burst out through that glass and got herself looped around the Bloodhound. She had her hands around his neck.

           

“You may have those powers, but you're still just a man,” she said. She didn't know what do with him, but the Bloodhound himself made the choice. He twisted back to strike at her, his hand crackling with the same energy as his mental blast. To divert this shot she jerked him back, and she felt his neck snap in her grip.

           

But he still wasn't dead—not yet. He laughed weakly in Mary's embrace.

           

“You fools...once my death is transmitted to the Home Planet, my great-grandfather will alert the Prince and Princess on Rheton of this treachery. Rheton will invade Earth—the entire armada can be here in 48 hours. Immorté must be returned to Rheton...or all humanity will pay.”

           

He was slipping away, but Immorté set his hand on his forehead. He was trying to read his mind. “What is my father planning, you young fool?” he whispered. “What is he planning?”

           

But he got nothing. It was too late, and the young Princeling was dead.

           

“We killed a member of the Ghost Family,” Immorté said. “He's right, y'know. They'll detect what we've done, and the fleet will be here in a matter of days.”

           

“I didn't mean to kill him,” Mary said.

           

“I would've, if you hadn't,” Immorté replied. “I guess we have no choice. Next step...we go to Rheton.”
           

“What?” Brian said. He had hung back for this fight, but now he was coming forward. “You're going to another planet again? This time you're bringing me.”
           

“You weren't useful, kid. Accept it.”

           

“Brian comes with me,” Mary asserted. “I think I know why you have to go back there. You have to stop that fleet.”

           

“That's the plan, yeah. Earth is a gas-soaked trash pile waiting for a match a lot of the time, but it's got enough good where it doesn't deserve the sort of ravaging the Imperium will offer it.” He paused. “In return I can offer you and your allies help in your fight against the Klan. With Rhetonian firepower on your side you'll be much better equipped. I think that's a good enough bribe for you helping me step into the trap they have set for me.”
           

“That sweetens the deal quite a bit,” Mary said. “Well, I'd be a bad do-gooder if I didn't help you out. I would've helped you to begin with. But yes, if we make it through this—weapons would be a welcome payment.”

           

“It's a deal,” Immorté nodded. “I swear on my honor.”

           

This was unfolding fast, but Mary could keep up. She already knew she couldn't understand speed until she saw that armada on its way to Earth. A fold of spaceships, armed to the teeth—bristling for revenge for their lost prince. Eager for a chance to stamp down the prince they threw to Earth...and all those who stood up to defend him.

To be continued in The Antlered God...!

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