Hey, everyone. I'm posting this to the Dungeons & Dragons fandom because that seems to be the most accurate fandom on here for this fic. The actual fandom for this is the actual play show Khyber Shards.

I first wrote most of this last May. Then other things came up and I forgot about the fic until I heard about an event on Dreamwidth last September, and I decided to polish this up for publishing as the first Khyber Shards fanfic on AO3. Afterwards, I forgot to crosspost it until now.

I tried to update some things for canon compliance between May and September, but there's at least one NPC Q&A question whose answer I am ignoring - that, or the Strike Force members just don't know the true answer to that question.

Philip, RA, Casey, Eric, and Colin: while I can't stop you from reading this, if you do read this please let me live my life thinking that the five of you have never even seen this fic.

This mission, like the most of the last several missions, was going terribly. Worse, this was supposed to be a simple job. The Strike Force was raiding one of House Sivis's offices in Coasthold in hopes they'd be able to find some sort of useful information. They'd go in, grab as many pertinent-looking files as they could find, and leave. There wasn't supposed to be anyone there this late at night.

Instead, the same adversary who kept thwarting them was there. Or, at least, they had assumed it was the same person. Ari supposed that multiple people could be taking on the mantle of Captain Blackwheel. If Captain Blackwheel was multiple people, then all of them had been the same height and build, standing taller than all of them but Pog. She wore a black helmet that completely obscured any facial features. They had only heard her make a single utterance, and that was a wordless noise of alarm when Pog had thrown fire at her head the first time they'd met. That had been the only reason they'd been able to escape her the second time they met. Whatever fear of fire she had, she had gotten over by their third meeting.

The Strike Force had been calling her Captain Blackwheel, as the symbol of the Blackwheel program was emblazoned in the center of her chest and on the backs of her thick leather gloves. The insignias and the helmet were the only identifying features on the otherwise featureless dark grey studded leather armor that covered every inch of her skin.

"Why does she keep showing up every time we directly fight the Houses?" Esri complained as they ran from her. "I'm not accusing anyone –"

"–it sure sounds like it," Pog interrupted.

"Well, I'm not. But it's like they know our reasoning and tactics before we do! I'm not saying we have a spy at the manor –"

"–I wish we did," Shade said glumly. Ari could see the same regret he felt painted on everyone else's faces.

Two months ago, the teachers, students, and headmistress of Greymalkin Academy had been on a field trip when they'd been ambushed by House Thuranni. Only the teachers and students had returned. Unlike when Daine had been kidnapped, Mrs. Brightdoom hadn't heard anything about Thora's capture from her colleagues. That meant the Strike Force had to raid the Twelve's intelligence locations so they could see if they needed to plan a rescue mission or a funeral.

"Me too, Shade," Ari said. "I – ack!" A glowing purple blade barely missed Ari's ear. He turned to face the captain. She wasn't even running, just walking towards them. Two more purple blades formed in her hands.

("Why'd they have to copy the cool part of Thora's mark?" Pog had complained after they first encountered Captain Blackwheel. "First the Houses took her, then they took her powers?"

"She was the face of the program," Ari had said. "Maybe they wanted that back?"

"But they burned off Thora's face, and Captain Blackwheel doesn't even have one!" Shade had said.

"One, we're not calling her Captain Blackwheel. Two, it's probably more like that Occam's Scimitar thing Thora had told us about," Esri had said, and Ari had groaned. "They wanted their aberrant tracker back, and they probably just accidentally copied the rest of Thora's mark when trying to copy over her tracking abilities.")

"Ari, come – oh, dammit," Esri complained as Pog and Shade rushed to engage the captain in combat. "I thought we were running!"

"Too late!" Pog said. Captain Blackwheel parried Fury's Edge with her sword as she threw the other at Shade. "She walks better than we run!"

Considering just how hard it was for any of them to land a hit on her? Captain Blackwheel did everything better than them. It sucked considering that there were four of them and one of her.

"I told you we should've brought Cal with us!" Shade said. "He could help!"

"Well sorry for wanting not to cause any more of a scene at the crime scene!" Esri said as he knocked away one of the knives thrown at him with his mindblade. Even then, he stumbled backwards.

Pog went in for another swing. Captain Blackwheel kicked his feet out from under him in the same fluid movement she used to shove Ari in the solar plexus. There would probably bruise under the armor, he thought as he took a few steps backwards. And then he realized they had left Shade alone.

Darkness flowed from the captain's right hand, surrounding her and Shade. Shade looked around wildly, clearly unable to see. She took a trembling step backwards, then another before she tripped and fell. Captain Blackwheel ignored the darkness she had created, striding towards Shade.

Captain Blackwheel lifted Shade by the neck, holding her far enough away that Shade couldn't kick the captain's legs. With her other hand, the captain pressed the tip of a blade to Shade's chest. Green light flickered from Shade's amulet, the armor threatening to give way.

Ari felt sick, remembering when Esri had been stabbed to death. He couldn't let it happen again, not to Shade or any of his friends, so he ran and lunged with Remembrance and his mark, shoving into Captain Blackwheel and –

Ari found himself in the Blackwheel training facilities, in a long hallway littered with the bodies of students. It was dimly lit, more so than Ari ever remembered it being. A single mote of flame floated at the end of the hallway, and in front of it stood a human woman, her long wavy hair a dark, coppery color in the firelight. She wore the grey uniform of a Blackwheel recruit. Despite the way she slumped against the door, desperately fiddling with the doorknob, Ari could tell she was taller than average.



It made no sense.

It made a horrible amount of sense.

The fighting style? The weapon? The darkness? The aversion to fire? The way she knew them all too well?

"Thora?" Ari asked, not knowing what answer he wanted. The woman stiffened at the name before turning to him, the flame moving with her.

The left side of Thora's face was on fire the way it had been years ago. Her right cheek was wet with tears. "I'm sorry," she said, voice hoarse like she had screamed her throat raw and hadn't been able to heal.

"No. No, you can't be, you wouldn't." Ari shook his head, trying to make sense of it. "You wouldn't just betray us for, for Blackwheel!"

"Not willingly, no. I don't want to hurt any of you. And I've tried to force myself to hold back, to find a way to keep my body from hurting you. But I can't resist their enchantments forever."

"Then how do we break the enchantments?" How do we save you?

"Cannith drilled part of the helmet into my skull; it's what's controlling me. I don't know how deep they went. While Esri's skilled with healing and autopsy I don't know if he's skilled enough to undo that. And that's assuming you'll be able to knock me out long enough that I won't fight him during the surgery. No, I appreciate your attempts to go about this nonlethally." The ghost of a pained smile appeared on her face for a fleeting moment. "But you should kill me. Please try to convince Esri not make me a zombie after I die."

"I won't, because we're not going to kill you." Distantly, Ari felt someone tugging on his arm, but Thora was across the hallway. She shook her head.

"It's not that I want to die, but…" Thora inhaled sharply as the flames grew larger and brighter. "Ari, you need to run."

Right as Ari was about to ask for clarification, the tugging on his arm turned to a sharp yank and –

Shade was pulling Ari away from Capt– no, Thora's unwilling attempt to slice through his throat.

Ari let himself be dragged into a run (except hadn't they stopped running?), but he called back to Thora over his shoulder. "We'll save you, I promise! We're gonna get you back alive!"

If Thora reacted at all, her reaction was swallowed by the helmet.

Giving credit where it's due, I took a couple of descriptions near-directly from the Episode 29 transcript.

Thora's my favorite NPC in this, which is probably why I simultaneously don't want anything bad to happen to her in canon and also am writing mind control fanfic about her like I do with a large amount of my favorite characters 😅

Originally, this fic was supposed to be part of the middle of a series (although I came up with this one first), but there are three things that make it so that parts 1, 2, and 4 will not be written and part 5 would need to be reworked:

1. I have such a hard time writing fight scenes, and the first two fics in this series would've been practically nothing but fight scenes.

2. I forgot what I was going to do instead of have Thora tell Ari to kill her because she doesn't think there's a way to save her, and I couldn't think of any filler that would work instead while still keeping the pacing the way I wanted it. This prevents a conversation that acts as a major plotpoint of the direct sequel to this, which would also prevent the next item on the list from happening.

3. I had predicted that Thora had recruited the others into Blackwheel early last May. I had also predicted that the Strike Force's (or at least Shade's) reaction would have been so much more dramatic than it was in canon. Parts 4 and 5 would have partially hinged on this dramatic reveal and aftermath, while now that feels awkwardly OOC given how relatively nonchalant they were about it.

Anyone who is logged in, accepting PM's, and asks me about what was supposed to have happened will get a vague outline of what would have been the full series.