Ten Years Ago
“Nessa, look up here, sweetie. Look at Daddy, okay?” The handsome man with expertly styled dark hair went down to one knee in front of his seven-year-old daughter. A smile tugged at his face. “Just one more set of tests, okay, Nessabird? I need you to focus just for another couple minutes, then you can go play with Tristan. I promise, just one more set of tests and then you can go play, all right?”
Tearing her attention away from the window where she had been watching her twin brother Tristan running through a gymnastics set on the parallel bars that their father had installed in the backyard, Vanessa bobbed her head. “Okay, Daddy.”
“Good girl, great.” Haiden Moon’s smile broadened as he gently kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Okay, let’s run through it again.” He leaned back then and produced a deck of cards, shuffling it up.
Standing there in the living room of her family’s house, Vanessa watched curiously as her father shuffled up the deck of cards. He did so as thoroughly as possible, which considering the time he had spent as a dealer in Vegas, was pretty considerable. After that was done, he went through the deck and tossed out roughly a third of the cards at random, putting them out of the way unused.
Finally, he held the deck up. “One pass, okay?” One at a time, he drew the top card off of what remained, held it in front of Vanessa’s face for about two seconds, then put it down into a new pile.
Vanessa, for her part, simply stood and watched as each card passed in front of her face one at a time.
Once they were through all of the cards, her father pointed to the pile he’d made. “You got it?”
Head bobbing up and down once more, Vanessa chirped, “Uh huh, I got it, Daddy.”
“Good girl, good.” Smiling, her father began to slide cards off of the top one at a time with a single finger without letting either of them see what each was. “One, two, three, four, five…” After the sixth card, he picked up that set and put them on the bottom of the deck. Then he counted down eight more and split those eight into two equal halves, putting four on the bottom and the other four into the spot another six cards down from where they had been. Finally, he cut the deck in half perfectly evenly and put the bottom on the top before gesturing. “Are you sure you’re ready, Nessabird?”
Biting her lip as she looked at the resulting deck, Vanessa hesitated for a moment before nodding. “Yes, Daddy. I can do it.” She wanted to make her father proud of her, even though she didn’t understand what was so special about what she did. It was just remembering stuff. Everyone remembered stuff.
“All right then,” her father thought for a moment before nodding as the first question came to him. “The year that transcontinental railroad was completed in Utah, subtracted from the year that Yellowstone National Park was made the first National Park in the United States.”
Head tilting slightly to the side, Vanessa took a few seconds to think, brow furrowing up a bit. “Uh, 1869 subtracted from umm, uhh, oh yeah, 1872. So three. Three cards, Daddy.”
“All right then,” her father counted three cards off the top and then pointed to the fourth one. “This is?”
Without missing a beat, the little girl promptly replied, “That’s the nine of clubs, Daddy.”
Turning the card over to reveal that she was right, Haiden smiled and leaned in to hug her. “Good girl! My sweet, brilliant little bird.” He mussed her hair fondly before nodding. “Okay, let’s see.” Leaning back once more, he tried again. “The number of years that Julius Caesar was dictator of the Roman Republic, added to the number of letters in the first name of the person who invented the telescope.”
Tilting her head back to look at the ceiling, Vanessa recited, “49 BC to 44 BC, five years. And it was umm, uhh, oh, Hans Lippershey. Eeeee, Lippershey. Isn’t that a fun name, Daddy?”
Smiling fondly, her father chuckled while nodding. “Yes, baby girl, Lippershey is a wonderful name.”
Bouncing up and down happily, Vanessa continued. “Oh, right. Uh, Hans is four letters, plus five years, nine cards. Nine cards, daddy.” She pointed to the deck and waited until her father had counted down that many and rested his finger against the tenth card down before promptly adding, “Four of hearts!”
Turning the card over to reveal that she was right again, her father laughed. “Can’t stump you, huh?”
They continued that game/test through a couple more renditions, Haiden trying the best he could to come up with a selection of questions and numbers that would defeat the memory and historical knowledge of his daughter, only to fail each and every time. She answered everything, and always knew where every single card was, even when he began to put previously set-aside cards back in.
Their game was interrupted as the door opened, admitting Tristan along with a taller blonde woman whose ethereal beauty was astonishing to behold. Seeing her, Vanessa immediately abandoned their game and popped to her feet to throw herself that way with a happy squeal. “Mommy!”
Laughing, Sariel Moon reached down to grab her daughter, lifting the girl off the floor easily. “Nessa! Hey there, baby girl. You hungry, sweetie? Cuz Mommy brought burgers.” She nodded to the bags that Vanessa’s twin brother was already carrying through the room and into the kitchen to set on the table.
“And french fries?” Nessa asked hopefully, bouncing a little in her mother’s arms as she clung to her.
Chuckling, Sariel nodded. “Of course, my sweet little potato-fanatic. I wouldn’t come without fries.”
It was true. Vanessa absolutely adored potatoes. Anything that had to do with them in any way. Fried, baked, mashed, boiled, she loved absolutely any type of potato made in any way. She loved potatoes more than any other kind of food, including cookies and other desserts.
Haiden, by that point, had stood up and crossed the room. He leaned around their daughter to kiss his wife briefly. “Mmm, remember how you were about chocolate when you first… crossed over?”
“Crossed over from where, Mommy?” Tristan piped up from the kitchen doorway. He already had one of the unwrapped cheeseburgers in hand with a couple bites taken out of it. The young boy was almost a mirror image of his sister save for a few very minor differences attributed to their genders.
Vanessa noticed the way their mother flinched at the question before shaking her head. “Never mind, sweetie. It’s nothing for you to worry about. Let’s see about getting everyone fed, shall we?”
The four of them were about halfway through enjoying the lunch that Sariel had brought home when there was a knock at the front door, three soft and polite raps against the wood. Hearing that, the woman stood and motioned for Haiden to stay where he was. “Eat, I’ve got this.”
Eating the last of her beloved french fries, Vanessa turned in her seat to watch as her mother went to the door. She was reaching for her half-eaten cheeseburger when the door was opened to reveal an older man with thick bushy eyebrows wearing an uncomfortable-looking tweed suit.
As soon as she saw the man, Vanessa’s mother cursed and slammed the door in his face before turning. Her voice was raised in a shout. “They found us! Haiden, get the twins out! Get them out of–”
Before she could finish the warning, the door disintegrated. Vanessa’s young eyes went wide as the wood literally collapsed into dust, revealing the older man with his hand outstretched.
“Sariel,” he spoke for the first time with a voice that was cultured and powerful. “It is time to come home. Your people need you now more than ever. You have responsibilities to attend to. It is not our place to take a mate among the humans. We have entertained this folly for far too long. Come home.”
Haiden, who had already left the kitchen to move into the living room, spoke up. Vanessa saw her daddy produce a funny looking sword from what she swore was a previously empty belt. It was black with a red glowing line running all the way up the center of the blade. “You’re not wanted here, Puriel.”
“M-Mommy?” Tristan had joined their father at the doorway into the living room. “Who’s he?”
Vanessa, meanwhile, was locked in place, still staring with wide eyes at the sword that their father was holding. Where had it come from? She knew she’d never seen it before, and Daddy’s belt couldn’t have held it. There wasn’t even a sheathe for it! He’d just pulled it out of… of nowhere! But how? She wanted to run to her parents, but confusion and fear held her frozen motionless in her seat.
Sariel’s voice was shaken with obvious fear tempered by resolution. “Don’t do this, Puriel. We can make our own choices. We can all have our own lives. This is mine. My family, my choice. Leave us.”
The older man’s face twisted, anger clear in his features. “You are being selfish, Sariel. This lie is not your place.” His hand swept around to take in the whole house and the rest of the people in it. “Your place is alongside your sisters and brothers performing your assigned duties in defense of our world.”
“Our world doesn’t need defending!” Sariel blurted. “That’s a lie that the Seraphim hand down to the Choir to make us do their bidding. You know it is. You know it’s ridiculous. This world is not a threat!”
“This world requires our guidance,” Puriel insisted, his tone brooking no disagreement. “They are savages without our care, and if we allow them to progress without our influence, they will become the force that destroys all of our people. There can be no compromises or our entire world will fall. You are coming home now, and not even your Heretic of a mate will stand in the way.” He stretched a hand out then, and a glowing ball of light appeared between his fingertips, beginning to grow immediately.
“You’re not taking her!” Haiden took a quick step that way, sword coming up to lash out at the glowing ball. As the blade passed through it, the bright orb shattered like a mirror, pieces spraying in every direction. At the same time, Vanessa heard what sounded like wind chimes. Each of a dozen different glass-like shards shot through the room to impact the walls and floor, narrowly missing the occupants.
“Stupid human filth!” Puriel blurted angrily, his hatred obvious as he jerked away from the blade. “You don’t know what you’ve done! The stepping-stone is unstable, it is–” His words were swallowed up into a scream as the man was hauled off his feet by an invisible force and hauled with a loud scream toward the nearest of the shards. Before Vanessa’s astonished gaze, the man literally shrank down before being hauled straight into the glass, disappearing in it.
“Well,” Haiden started. “That was easier than I th–” His words were cut off as he too was suddenly fighting an invisible force that hauled him off the floor toward one of the shards. “What the–”
“It’s seen you!” Sariel caught hold of her husband’s arm, trying to brace him. “It’s seen you, so it won’t stop trying to take you! It’s taking you through the portal, and it’s broken so it could take you anywhere! Any world, any of them! Hold on, just hold on! I’ll think of something. I’ll think of–”
It was too late, however. With a great rush of power and a cry from both man and wife, Haiden was yanked out of Sariel’s grasp. His body was flung through one of the nearby glass-like shards.
“Daddy!” Vanessa cried out in unison with her brother. Finally snapping out of her frozen state, she threw herself off the kitchen seat and began to rush into the living room. Tristan was already leaping toward the spot where their father had disappeared.
Sariel, however, caught her son by the arm while turning to throw her hand up toward her daughter. Vanessa yelped as she ran into an invisible wall that seemed to spring up in front in the doorway, preventing her from entering. “Ow! Wha–” She put a hand up against the slightly warm solid air.
“No, baby!” her mother called. “They haven’t seen you. The shards haven’t seen you so they won’t take you. Stay out of sight, stay out of sight! Don’t let them see you, just stay there until they’re gone. Stay safe! Stay safe! I love you, baby. We all love-”
Those were the last words that Sariel Moon managed to get out before she too was captured by the force that yanked her away from her son and through one of the nearby shards.
“Mommy!” Tristan grasped at the space where their mother had been before whirling toward his sister. “Nessa!” His voice was raised in a blind panic. “Nessa, help me! Help me, Ness! Please, I don’t wanna go! I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared!”
“Triss!” Still unable to get through the invisible forcefield that remained even after her mother’s disappearance, Vanessa began to sob in frustration and terror. “Go out the front door! Go out the front! Maybe it won’t take you! Go, go, Tristan! Go–”
It was too late. Even as her brother made a run toward the open doorway, another invisible force caught hold of him. His cry of fear matched Vanessa’s own horrified cry as he was yanked away and through one of the shards embedded in the floor.
And then the chimes were gone. As suddenly as they had come, the sound vanished along with all of the shards. Vanessa, leaning hard against the invisible wall that had stopped her from coming to her family, yelped as it too disappeared. She fell forward, landing on the living room floor hard.
Then she just lay there, staring at the spots where the shards had been, where her family had been taken. She stared, tears falling heavily as she cried out for her mother, father, and brother.
There was no response. There was nothing. And for a decade, Vanessa had no hope of ever seeing her family again.
“That’s it, no more library for you.”
Seventeen-year-old Vanessa yelped as her roommate hauled her up out of her seat. Erin was chuckling. “You spend much more time in here today and you’ll turn into one of the books. Then I’d have to get a new roommate.”
“Okay, okay.” Vanessa flushed, shaking her head as she extricated herself from the blue-haired girl’s grasp. “I’ll take a break. For two hours.”
“Nuh uh,” Erin shook her head. “Four hours, at least. We’ve got a movie to watch with the boys, and then Malcolm wants to go surfing. You’re not missing that, babe.”
“But I don’t know how to surf,” Vanessa protested, glancing back toward her book longingly. Just a few more. She didn’t know exactly what her mother was yet, but she was narrowing it down considerably with each new book that she read, comparing the information the Heretics had against what she remembered.
She wasn’t human. Vanessa knew that for a fact. She’d always known that, ever since that day. Whoever her mother had been, whatever she had been, she was from another world.
The police hadn’t listened to her. They thought she was traumatized from some kind of ordinary home invasion and abduction. She’d spent years in hospitals and special group homes until she stopped talking about what she’d seen and pretended to accept that her family had been taken by some mundane group of abductors who never materialized or asked for any ransom. She grew up knowing the truth, yet unable to talk to anyone about it.
Until the Heretics had arrived. Heretics. The same thing that her father had been called. Seemingly unaware of how much she already knew, they had come to recruit her, telling her about what they were and what they considered their duty.
They didn’t seem to realize that she wasn’t fully human. If her mother wasn’t, then Vanessa wasn’t either. That probably had something to do with her impossibly perfect memory, the absolutely flawless recall of everything she ever saw. Tristan too had had his own skills that their parents tested, his lying mainly in the realm of physical prowess. He’d been a remarkable gymnast even at that young age, his balance, coordination, and strength on par with Olympic contenders much older.
The fact that she wasn’t fully human had worried her, thinking that the Heretical Edge wouldn’t work. But it had, and Vanessa had witnessed the marriage between her mother and father through the provided vision. It was a beautiful, touching scene that made her cry heavily when she compared it to what had happened ten years ago and how they had all been split up and taken away from one another. Her family was gone, broken apart by those magical shards.
Erin was still talking, shrugging off Vanessa’s protest that she didn’t know how to surf. “I’ll teach you. Trust me, you’ll be awesome, genius-girl. Now c’mon, let’s go meet the boys.”
With a soft sigh, Vanessa allowed herself to be taken that way, leaving her books behind.
She was getting closer. Everything she did, every class she took, every book she read, every project she put her mind toward was another step toward her goal. The goal she’d had since the moment that the Heretics had arrived to confirm that her seven-year-old self had not been crazy after all.
She was going to find her mother, father, and brother. Whatever it took, however long she had to work at it, she’d find them. That was why she chose the Explorer track in spite of her fear and awkwardness in the face of confrontation. Because they had been dragged to some other place, some other world, and she was going to figure out which one it was. She was going to track them down.
She was going to save her family.