Interlude 5 – Vanessa

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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 cheeseburger 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.

******

Present Day

“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.

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22 comments

  1. So, Haiden’s decision to shatter the orb turned out to a massively terrible mistake, and Vanessa’s family is separated across multiple realities and/or dead.

    “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.”
    Me: Hm. Good thing she likely has a drastically extended lifespan from her mixed Heretic/Vampire heritage, because she’s going to need it I think. Having to find 1-3 specific worlds in the vast sea of such? Yeah.

    A nice look into Vanessa’s past and Motivation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think Vanessa is half-vampire. Her mother and Puriel sounds like an Angel or something. The names Sariel and Puriel are the biggest indicator. -iel and -ael name endings seem to mean God (as a fair number of archangels have names like that, and their names all mean something relating to God: Gabriel ‘Who is like God’, Uriel ‘God is my Light’, and the like), and Sariel talks about the Seraphim (archangels to Sariel/Puriel’s angel?) and a Choir (probably the name of the race Sariel belongs to), both of which also seem angelic in nature.

      Angels are often portrayed as immortal or long-lived, though, so she stands a good chance of inheriting a long lifespan either way.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Her mother and Puriel sounds like an Angel or something. The names Sariel and Puriel are the biggest indicator. -iel and -ael name endings seem to mean God (as a fair number of archangels have names like that, and their names all mean something relating to God: Gabriel ‘Who is like God’, Uriel ‘God is my Light’, and the like), and Sariel talks about the Seraphim (archangels to Sariel/Puriel’s angel?) and a Choir (probably the name of the race Sariel belongs to), both of which also seem angelic in nature.

        They are what human beings consider angels, yes. Another Alter/Stranger race.

        Hm. I’m starting to mix characters together then. Not good.

        You were probably thinking of Shiori. It happens.

        Didn’t Avalon swear to Gabriel in arc 2 or 3? I was just rereading those chapters today and I’m 90 percent sure she did.

        Yeah, to quote:

        While the peridles were busy regrouping, she spoke to me without taking her eyes off of them or lowering her guard. “You have a weapon. Use it. I’ll keep as many as I can off you, but you’re going to have to do some of it yourself. Don’t fucking panic and don’t let them draw you out. Your staff has range to it. Use the power it has to knock them away when they start crowding you too much, but don’t waste it on a single one. Wait for a group. If you need to, use it to get away. Keep your head up, keep turning so they can’t hit you from behind, and for the love of Gabriel, don’t fucking panic.”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. A nice look into Vanessa’s past and Motivation.

      Thanks, she’s definitely got motivation to spare. And I thought it was good to show the contrast between her reaction and Shiori’s, since Vanessa has had time to come to terms with the fact that she isn’t fully human, and her quest to find her family means she doesn’t really care as much about being taught that all Strangers are evil. She knows better already.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Is it common for this many students in the same class to have protagonist level problems? Let’s do a headcount.

    1. Our hero Felicity’s being targeted by a Necromancer and needs to find out what happened to her mother.
    2. Avalon is being targeted by Gardeners looking for revenge, prejudiced Crossroads Heretics, and has her vampire dad gunning for her while also helping Flick search for information.
    3. Shiori has to find out about her biological family, while hiding her parentage.
    4. I’ll bet anything that Sands and Scout are going to end up finding a lead or running into the thing that took their mother.
    5. And now we have Vanessa searching for her missing family while probably having to dodge angels.

    And on top of all that we have Asenath and her father, whatever Deveron’s problem is, and the murderer hiding out in the school. Damn. If this is normal , I’m expecting to find out that a big chunk of Gaia’s job is having Dimbledore-esque meetings with half the student body.

    Also, angels. Dogmatic, condescending angels. I wonder, is the fact the angels are like this part of the reason the Heretics chose that name?

    Good chapter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Is it common for this many students in the same class to have protagonist level problems? Let’s do a headcount.

      From the start of this, I wanted to avoid the normal ‘meaningless NPC’ problem where everyone exists solely for the so-called main character’s convenience and quest. Everyone is the hero of their own story, some more dramatically than others.

      AKA, yeah, lots of important people having their own storylines.

      Like

  3. It’s an Angeru!

    So Haiden was loving angels instead… and since he was a Heretic, I guess that means he was from Eden’s Garden rather than Crossroads. Well, that or he was part of whatever revolution Joselyn had going on – I seem to remember her faction being unhappy with the black-and-white view Crossroads takes, although for the life of me I can’t remember why I think that. Assuming Haiden was an Eden’s Garden Heretic, I wonder why it’s Crossroads that found Vanessa? I do remember Professor Dare saying the selection process wasn’t random, and it seems each academy would definitely keep an eye on the children of known Heretics. So maybe Haiden was a Crossroads alumnus after all.

    I wonder if we’ll see more of angels and their society? From the sounds of it, ‘Seraphim’ are in a position of authority over ‘The Choir’ – I can’t remember the traditional order of power, but Seraphim were, like, second, I think? In any case, I think that’s preserved here. More worryingly, it looks like they’ve infiltrated Earth in order to – well, we don’t know what. Cripple it? Destroy it? Monitor it? Guide it? Remove it as a threat to their own world, in any case. (Heretical Edge: the web serial where Heaven sends the angelic CIA for fear of invasion by Earth! That’s pretty metal, gotta say.)

    …you know, between this and Scout and Shiori and Avalon and now Flick, I’m starting to wonder if every new student at Crossroads has some dark past. Heck, maybe the entire school does, and Eden’s Garden sees them as a bunch of weirdos trying to out-angst each other and taking their feelings out on otherwise-harmless Alters.

    A good addition to the cast – let’s hope to see more of her in future!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So Haiden was loving angels instead… and since he was a Heretic, I guess that means he was from Eden’s Garden rather than Crossroads. Well, that or he was part of whatever revolution Joselyn had going on – I seem to remember her faction being unhappy with the black-and-white view Crossroads takes, although for the life of me I can’t remember why I think that. Assuming Haiden was an Eden’s Garden Heretic, I wonder why it’s Crossroads that found Vanessa? I do remember Professor Dare saying the selection process wasn’t random, and it seems each academy would definitely keep an eye on the children of known Heretics. So maybe Haiden was a Crossroads alumnus after all.

      He was from Eden’s Garden, but ran away and disappeared with his wife. Crossroads found Vanessa by searching for qualified candidates. They have ways of locating potentials.

      More worryingly, it looks like they’ve infiltrated Earth in order to – well, we don’t know what. Cripple it? Destroy it? Monitor it? Guide it? Remove it as a threat to their own world, in any case.

      They believe due to a prophesy that Earth will eventually become an unstoppable powerful force that destroys their world and kills their race. So they try to shape/guide humanity away from that kind of future as much as they can. It’s anyone’s guess how effective they are, or if it’s a case of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Earth will eventually an unstoppable powerful force that destroys their world and kills their race.”

        I think you wrote “eventually” where you meant “accidentally”…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sooo, this might be the wrong chapter to post this, seeing as Flick isn´t even in it, but I´ve just caught up and it occured to me: Does Felicity have any friends from her normal life?
    The only bystander she really spends any time thinking about is her father. It was her birthday and no one called or visited. The people Ammon “recruited” because they were close to her were coworkers from her summer job. I might be misremembering, but I think she never even mentions any friends from home. No talk abot a boy- or girlfriend, neither ex nor present. Additionally, Flick seems to be making friends pretty easily, and there are no thoughts that having friends is something new to her.
    What does this mean? Well, Cerulean might have simply messed up, or maybe I´m just crazy, but I think something darker is going on. Did the Heretics erase part of her (and others) memories so she would be more likely join Crossroads? Are there Strangers screwing with her (Ammons father or others)?
    Whatever it is, I think it will be worth to keep in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For what it’s worth, Cerulean did confirm on the spacebattles discussion thread that Ammon’s father has come to “visit” Flick in Wyoming in the past, and also told me over PM that he’s gotten close enough to learn exactly how angry she was over Joselyn’s disappearance. So, if anyone has been messing with her memories, it was probably him and not Crossroads, just by doing supernatural stuff in front of her so the Bystander Effect would take care of her memories. I’m also betting that Flick’s memory of her mother packing her bags and telling her that she would be right back is also censored by the Bystander Effect, and that her last meeting with her mother happened differently than she remembers.

      As far her apparent lack of Wyoming friends, you’re right, that is kind of weird. I would chalk it up to trust issues (being apparently abandoned by a loving mother would do that to anyone), but that doesn’t make sense in the face of her ease of making friends at Crossroads. At the moment, I’m guessing that Flick’s personal interests just didn’t mesh well with her Bystander classmates. Most teenage girls aren’t overly interested in journalism, after all, and especially not to the level Flick was. I think she was that one kid from High School that was on friendly terms with pretty much everyone to the point where they would all call her a friend, but she wasn’t anyone’s BEST friend. Does that make sense? Now she’s at a school where everyone shares a lot more in common than she had with anyone in Wyoming, so she’s making more lasting friendships faster.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Man, every one of Flick’s friends/acquaintances seems to have their own tragic backstory. Shiori with her hidden vampire ancestry, the Twins with the monster killing their mother and traumatising Scout, Avalon with his father and the Garden, Herbie being abducted from his family and brought into a world where he could be in constant danger. Nobody gets a break!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I kinda figured

    So that’s two half-humans, a runaway from Eden’s Garden, and the daughter of the “leader of the rebellion”

    And I get the *distinct* feeling we’re not done learning things about this year’s incoming freshman

    Liked by 1 person

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