Against The Odds 9-05

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In the past several months, I’d repeatedly had to reassess my standard for what the true definition of being dumbfounded was. Seeing Gaia Sinclaire simply take control of alien teleporter technology while standing on a different world entirely and just nonchalantly step into the room like that took my previous definition of that word and punted it all the way down the field. I was so thoroughly shocked in that moment that I couldn’t make actual words come out of my mouth. There were just vague sounds.

In the end, it was seeing the Meregan, beings twice my size with technology beyond what I could even begin to understand, shrinking back from her that snapped me out of my shock. “H-headmistress!” I blurted while having absolutely no idea whatsoever what I was going to follow that single word with.

Her eyes turned to me, and I started to talk. The words just poured out. “You can’t hurt these people, yeah I said people because that’s what they are. I know they’re big and I know they look strange because they’re sort-of giants but that doesn’t make them evil. Yeah I know what everyone says at the school you’re in charge of and I know all of that but I think you have to do evil things to be evil.”

I was so… well, honestly terrified in that moment that the words kept coming. I was nervous so I babbled without even waiting to see how the woman was reacting. “And if you don’t do evil things I think that should mean you’re not really evil but according to your school someone is evil just because they were born different from human which really seems sort of umm, bad if you think about it which I really think you should because the letter from my mom said I could trust you and oh yeah I forgot to mention I know my Mom was a Heretic and I know I should’ve come to you sooner before this all spiraled out of control but I really, really, really, hope she was right and I really can trust you because there’s something bad happening now but they aren’t the ones doing it and if you’ll just wait a second-”

“Felicity,” Gaia spoke calmly, snapping my attention back to her. She was holding one hand up placatingly, her other hand at her side. The single word without any particular inflection or threat behind it shut me up immediately and more effectively than I could ever remember happening before.

Once I was quiet, she continued. “When I said that there are many things we need to discuss, I did not mean that each of those discussions should take place simultaneously within the next thirty seconds.”

My mouth opened and then shut again, but before I could find any more words, someone else spoke. “H-headmistress.” Shiori was on her feet, looking just as terrified as I felt, or possibly even worse. She was standing slightly in front of Asenath. As scared of Gaia as she clearly was, the girl still stood straight, planting herself between the vampire and probably the most powerful Heretic we’d ever met.

Asenath, on the other hand, clearly wanted to put herself in front of her little sister. She had a hand on the girl’s shoulder and was obviously attempting to make her stop holding herself in the way.

“Good morning, Shiori,” Gaia greeted her as simply and calmly as ever. “I see you’ve met your sister.”

Well shit, then. Even the past few months of total surprises hadn’t made me adjust my standards for being dumbfounded quite that quickly. That time, all I managed to do for a solid ten seconds or so was openly gape. Behind me, I was pretty sure that both other girls were having fairly identical reactions.

In the end, it was Tristan who broke the resulting stunned silence. The kid was standing at my side, staring up at Gaia as he blurted out loud, “Holy crap, are you Jean Grey?” When her eyes turned that way, he shifted somewhat behind me while continuing. “I mean, you sort of look like her. You know, from the comics? It’s just the—the red hair and the pretty and the, umm, yeah.” He made a sort of all encompassing gesture with his hand. “I mean, obviously you’re not, but no one else was talking.”

“I’m sorry,” Gaia answered, sounding truly regretful. “I’m afraid I’m not really her, no.”

“Wait… wait, just… just…” I held up both hands, feeling flustered and confused. Looking toward the spot where Asenath and Shiori were standing, having settled for being side-by-side when it became clear that neither of them would accept the other being in front of them, I hesitated. Then I turned back to the headmistress. “Baroness, Headmistress, Professor, Miss, whatever you want me to call you. You mean you’re not here to-I mean you’re not gonna—you know that Asenath is her—you know Asenath?”

“Pardon me one moment, please.” Holding a hand up to us, Gaia looked toward the Meregan. “Noble peoples. You have my every apology for using your transportation technology without your express permission and guidance. If any damage has been done, I will ensure that it is taken care of. You have my word that I mean neither any of you nor any of your allies, friends, family, or companions any ill will or intent. So long as myself and my students are safe, I have no particular quarrel with you.”

Gavant lifted his head, watching the smaller woman for a moment warily at first. “That is… being good, Else-Leader-Gaia. We are wishing no harm to you or yours as well. The beacon was not been hurt.”

It probably said a lot that the rest of us remained totally silent through this, until Gaia turned back our way. “Now, to start with, no, I do not know Asenath personally. I have, however, heard of her through several stories and acquaintances, including her long-standing alliance with one Joselyn Atherby.”

“Mom,” I spoke quietly, mostly under my breath while trying to process that. So Asenath really had worked with my mother after all. Since she obviously would have brought that up before, that fact must’ve been wiped out of her memory by the spell that erased everything else about my mother’s rebellion from everyone’s mind. Whatever else I could say about it, that spell was pretty thorough.

“Yes,” Gaia confirmed quietly. “Your mother. You know about what happened to her then, and why.”

“I know she led some kind of rebellion against the idea of killing every Alter in the world just because they’re not human,” I replied, watching the other woman’s reaction. “I know it went on for a long time, even after she was captured. And I know that a bunch of Heretics did some kind of spell to erase the memory of what she did from pretty much everyone’s mind just to stop the rebellion from continuing.”

After glancing away briefly, Gaia gave a single nod before speaking again. “That is true. Your mother, young as she was in the grand scheme of things, was able to lead a rebellion against those much older, more experienced, and with greater resources than she had. She was able, on her own, to fight those who should have been far stronger than she was. She was not just a great and inspiring leader, but had also somehow found a way to gain enough power to stand toe to toe against Heretics that should have been much stronger than she was, all things considered. That is what truly made the rebellion as powerful as it was while Joselyn was in charge of it. The Heretical leaders could not risk an open fight as easily as they could with any other form of conflict, because their victory was not guaranteed.”

“But if you knew all this, if you remember all of it, then you couldn’t be a part of the rebellion,” I pointed out, confused. “You’d have to have been a part of casting the spell that erased those memories.”

Gaia nodded. “You’re right, I was not a part of the rebellion. Not… openly. I felt, and your mother agreed, that the teaching of students at Crossroads was too important. If I left, or was seen as a real ally to Joselyn and her people, I would have been replaced by one much closer to Ruthers. My place was there, a quiet ally who would help where I could without giving away that connection to her enemies.”

“And they believed that,” I spoke slowly. “They believed you were on their side so much they didn’t even erase your memories about Mom or the rebellion. They… they included you in it.”

“Yes,” she acknowledged, meeting my gaze. “I added my power to the casting of that spell. But more than that, I was the one who suggested it be used, and that Joselyn be returned to the Bystander world.”

Staring at her, I demanded, “Why? Why would you do that? You obviously don’t think that every Alter or Stranger or whatever you call them should be killed, and Mom left that message about trusting you. So why, why, why would you help them erase the memory of her from everyone? Why would you help them turn her into an ordinary human again? Why would you do any of that instead of helping her?!”

Gaia waited quietly until I was done before responding, as simply as ever. “Because she asked me to.”

Well, that threw me yet again. Eyes wide, I stared while sputtering, “B-because she—what the hell?”

“You know that your mother spent more than a decade imprisoned, while the rebellion continued,” Gaia began to explain. “Toward the end of that time, Ruthers, the former Crossroads headmaster and the Committee member most devoted to ending that rebellion, came up with a plan to destroy them once and for all.” She went quiet briefly, wincing. “He planned to unleash a blood plague onto them.”

“That sick son of a bitch!” Asenath abruptly blurted, eyes wide as she took a quick step forward. “Are you serious? Is he fucking crazy? No, scratch that, of course he is. Why the hell isn’t he locked up?”

“Wha—I don’t get it, what’s a blood plague?” I asked while looking back and forth between the female figures. Shiori, who had moved up with her sister, looked just as confused and lost as I was.

It was Asenath who spoke. “A blood plague is what my father’s people, the Akharu, had done to them. Against most people, it’s an enslavement tool. Their blood itself is cursed so that they and anyone connected to them, depending on the exact spell you use, is uhh, they’re slaves. They’ll follow the orders of whoever cast it for the rest of their lives. So will their children, and their children’s children. It won’t just enslave them, it’ll enslave all future children they ever have. Forever. There’s no real cure.”

I stared at the other girl for a second, but it was Shiori who spoke, sounding just as uncertain and lost as I felt. “B-but you’re not a slave. And I don’t think your dad was? So… what, what happened?”

“The Akharu were too powerful at that point for that spell to work that well against them,” Senny explained. “They were already… okay, it’s a long story, but they were basically practically immortal already by that point. The blood plague couldn’t enslave them, because their own regeneration kept working against it. Instead, it just sort of… paralyzed them. As long as the infected blood was in their system, it left them completely paralyzed. They couldn’t move at all. They were alive, but… frozen. Turned out that they could put new blood into their system to counteract the effect, but that blood would be infected eventually. So they had to keep adding new blood every once in awhile. Hence…”

“Vampires,” I realized. “That’s why they have to keep drinking blood. But you’re not a full Akharu.”

“They went looking for a cure,” she replied softly. “When they got to Earth, the Akharu found out they could change humans into vampires. And they could have children with humans because the human blood of the offspring counteracted the curse, so their hybrid children, like me, weren’t born slaves.”

“So… so Ruthers was going to use some magic blood curse to enslave not just the rebellion, but any children they ever had, forever?” I felt sick inside, almost physically staggering from the thought.

“Yes,” Gaia confirmed. “He was waiting for approval from the rest of the committee. The majority still opposed the idea, but he was wearing them down with each successive month. I don’t know how long it would have taken for him to be given the approval he needed, but it was inevitable. Those against the plan were only a majority by one vote. At least one of those who were appalled by the idea would bend, or even die and be replaced by someone who would approve of the idea. It was only a matter of time.

“So, I went to Joselyn. I told her what was happening. Together, we came up with the only possible course of action that we could. We had to offer the Committee a different solution, one that would not result in such… barbaric action. Because it is possible to undo a memory spell. It would even be possible to make your mother into a Heretic again. But the blood plague, that could not be fixed. The Akharu have searched for such a cure for thousands of years without any success. We had to give the Committee another plan, one that would seem less extreme yet still accomplish their goals. Your mother volunteered to have her memory taken away from the people, and her power taken away from herself, in order to protect them. She surrendered everything she had worked for throughout her entire life in order to save her people from an eternity of slavery. If you learn nothing else in your life, know this, Felicity. Your mother is the most heroic person I have ever known in my long life.”

Rocking backwards on my heels from that, I worked my mouth a bit before managing, “What about her children? Her other children, I mean. Who are they? Where are they? What happened to them?”

“First, they were taken in after she was captured,” Gaia began in a slow, careful tone.

Before she could continue, however, Asenath interrupted sharply. “No.” When our eyes turned that way, the vampire girl continued while shaking her head. “You’re wrong. They weren’t taken after Joselyn was captured. They were taken before. That’s the whole reason she was captured.”

It was Gaia’s turn to look confused. Her eyes narrowed a bit. “I’m sorry?”

Asenath’s expression held a look of silent fury, a rage at what she was about to say clearly boiling over in her. “Your people, your… Ruthers, he killed children. His people set fire to a building where our families were kept, where the civilians were, where the children were. They set fire to the children’s rooms as a distraction, then they killed the guards in the nursery and stole Joselyn’s babies right out of their cribs. They wanted us to be so busy protecting and saving the rest of the children from the fire just so they could steal Joselyn’s in order to use them as leverage against her. Ruthers and his people killed innocent children that day, and used more innocent children, Joselyn’s children, to threaten her into surrendering. That’s why she turned herself in. That’s why she let them take her. That’s Ruthers’s great victory.”

Gaia looked as sick as I felt. Her voice was quiet. “Joselyn never told me… she never corrected the record that her children were taken after she surrendered… she never… “ Sighing, she lowered her head. “She was still protecting them. Still protecting everyone from that maniac.”

“Yeah,” I blurted, “And now she’s in the hands of another fucking psychopath, and this one happens to be an immortal necromancer with some kind of ash obsession.”

That brought Gaia’s gaze up. “So you do know about Fossor and your mother.”

“Fossor,” I spat the name darkly. “Yeah, I know about him. I know he took her. And you know why? Because he came for me, to turn me into a weapon against you guys. He thought it would be funny to turn Joselyn Atherby’s daughter into an obedient little toy to use against you and the rest of the Heretics. Mom convinced him to take her instead. I was seven years old and she sacrificed herself again. He’s had her for a decade. He’s got a son with her, a fucking son that’s a god damn psychopath himself! Do you know what that means? Do you know what he—what he’s done? What she’s gone through?!” I was shouting by the end.

Gaia’s face was pained. “Felicity, I… I’m sorry. Yes. I know what sort of torture and pain she has been put through. I know what she allowed to happen. If we can find her, if we can save her, I promise you that we will. Damn Ruthers, damn the committee, damn our entire society. If I can save Joselyn, I will. You have my word on that. But I will also keep you safe, and that means protecting you from the committee as well. As hard as it may be, you cannot openly rebel against them. You cannot let on that you know any of this. You must be patient.”

Before I could respond to that, Shiori spoke up. “What about me?” She took a step away from Asenath, waving the other girl back with a hand while keeping her eyes on the headmistress. “You called Asenath my sister. You knew she was a vampire, and you knew as soon as you came here that she was my sister. You knew everything. You knew before you came here. You knew while I was still in Crossroads. You probably knew even before I got there, didn’t you? You knew what I am, and what I… what I saw, what I was… what I thought.”

Gaia’s eyes closed, and I saw her flinch slightly before returned the other girl’s gaze. “Yes,” she answered quietly. “I knew who your mother was, and what you were, Shiori. I knew of your relation.”

“Why?!” Shiori blurted out loud, her voice raised into a yell. “Why would you do that? Why would you let me keep thinking I was a monster?! You had to notice what I was doing, how much it hurt, what I was… you had to know, so why didn’t you stop it?!”

Gaia’s response was simple. “I did.” Lifting her hand, she took Shiori’s and tugged her closer before enveloping the other girl in an embrace. “Did you think that you left that notebook behind accidentally, or that the specific bit of paper that would lead Felicity to realized your connection to your sister just happened to fall out right in front of her? Sometimes the best action is an indirect one. You needed help. But not from me. You needed it from Felicity. I simply pointed her toward you.”

My mouth was working in silence for a solid fifteen seconds before I finally managed, “I… god, there’s so many things I need to ask you. I’ve got questions, so many questions. But their kids,” I pointed back toward the Meregan. “Their children, the last of their race, are in danger. If you’re really on our side, if you’re really not some psycho kill all the Alters person, you have to help them. Please, please, Headmistress, please help them. They’ve been enslaved by some Heretic and he’s going to wipe out their whole race, or just enslave all of them.”

“A heretic?” Gaia lifted her chin, still embracing Shiori. “Who?”

“I—I think they said—what, Nicholas?” I asked the Meregan.

Gavant nodded. “This is being his name. Enemy-Nicholas Petan.”

Gaia’s face actually paled a bit. “Oh dear.”

“What?” I blurted, looking at her with confusion. “Do you know him?”

Slowly, the woman nodded. “Yes. I know Nicholas very well. My first encounter with Alters, as an ordinary bystander, was when I was taken and imprisoned by a group of orcs. I was taken along with another man that you likely now know as Seller, Avalon’s mentor.”

“Nicholas Petan is the man who saved us from those creatures.”

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28 comments

  1. Why do you do this to us Cerulean. And yet, we come back every time. Awesome update, though I noticed that we still didn’t learn who her siblings are.

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  2. Thanks for reading and voting, everybody! As promised, there are SOME (though not all) of the answers that you’ve been waiting for. More to come soon, I promise!

    For those on mobile, the tags today are: Alecra, Asenath, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Gaia Sinclaire, Gavant, Hands Up If You Thought Gaia Was About To Say That Nicholas Was Flick’s Brother., Purin, Shiori Porter, Somewhere Snidley Whiplash Is Looking At Ruthers And Going ‘Maybe Tone Down The Obvious Evil A Bit Dude’

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  3. Wow. Holy shit Rutherss that was just plain evil. Killing children is awful enough, I did not think he could possibly get any worse. I do not think I can ever identify him as a well intention-ed extremist anymore. He’s just plain evil, only not as bad as Fossor because Fossor was at least successful.

    And I really did not expect that Noble to ever come back. In fact I was betting that this heretic was going to be a weak starter villain that had expended too much power getting these strangers under his control.

    Can’t wait until Monday!

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  4. ““You know that your mother spent more than a decade imprisoned, while the rebellion continued,” Gaia began to explain. “Toward the end of that time, Ruthers, the former Crossroads headmaster and the Committee member most devoted to ending that rebellion, came up with a plan to destroy them once and for all.” She went quiet briefly, wincing. “He planned to unleash a blood plague onto them.””
    Me: That definitely sounds bad. The man is a menace to all. I now see why Joselyn agreed to the memory spell effect being implemented. It could be likened to a game of chicken where she had no choice but to flinch.

    “”It was Asenath who spoke. “A blood plague is what my father’s people, the Akharu, had done to them. Against most people, it’s an enslavement tool. Their blood itself is cursed so that they and anyone connected to them, depending on the exact spell you use, is uhh, they’re slaves. They’ll follow the orders of whoever cast it for the rest of their lives. So will their children, and their children’s children. It won’t just enslave them, it’ll enslave all future children they ever have. Forever. There’s no real cure.”
    Me: What the fuck. That’s both absurdly powerful and horrific.

    “They set fire to the children’s rooms as a distraction, then they killed the guards in the nursery and stole Joselyn’s babies right out of their cribs. They wanted us to be so busy protecting and saving the rest of the children from the fire just so they could steal Joselyn’s in order to use them as leverage against her. Ruthers and his people killed innocent children that day, and used more innocent children, Joselyn’s children, to threaten her into surrendering. That’s why she turned herself in. That’s why she let them take her. That’s Ruthers’s great victory.””
    Me: Again, What the fuck! Ruthers has no ethics or boundaries at all it seems. The man needs to die.

    ” If I can save Joselyn, I will.”
    Me: I wish I could really believe that, but I suppose we’ll see.

    ““Nicholas Petan is the man who saved us from those creatures.””
    Me: I wonder if he was the same then as now, or if he was a better man at some point and changed for the worse, be it from Crossroads culture or enemy action.

    A rather enlightening update, if disturbing.

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  5. Well damn, Ruthers & his clique are the sort of monsters that they claim that Strangers are, as their original plan to end the rebellion once & for all is the sort of thing that the true monsters like Fossor would think about doing. Guess that they’re either not familiar with or disagree with a certain quote of Nietzsche’s concerning those who fight monsters & looking into the abyss.

    Also interesting how Joselyn’s Banishment & the memory wipe spell came about as a way to head off Ruthers’ blood plague plot, as well as how Gaia’s been aware of a lot of what’s been going on with Flick & Shiori, not to mention what happened to Joselyn, & hopes that she can still be saved. Though with her being Fossor’s prisoner/slave for a decade, have to wonder if she’d be too far gone.

    And the rescue of the Meregan children just became a whole lot more complicated, with the Petan guy who took them turning out to be that knight who saved Gaia & Seller from those creatures several centuries ago, which would make him an original flavor heretic, and being such of that age, would make for a very powerful & dangerous opponent. Hopefully, Gaia being understanding & accommodating of what’s going on will extend to the rescue, or else, Flick & Co. would be biting off way more than they could chew if they still go in.

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  6. Now that it’s been a night since my first reading, I can respond without flying into a vicious rant.

    So, I’m first curious as to exactly how much Gaia knows about the situation with Fossor. How many of the details does she have? Obviously she wanted Flick in Crossroads and under her protection, but was she just thinking that Fossor might come back for her on a whim or did she actually have some inkling that Flick is protected from him until she turns eighteen? She seemed surprised when Flick mentioned that she was his original target.

    She obviously doesn’t know that Flick knows Seller is her ancestor, and that makes me wonder if she knows that they’ve met. Probably not.

    Also curious as to how she knows exactly who Shiori is related to when Jiao severed ties as completely as she did. It’s… kind of terrifying that Gaia knows so much about Shiori’s family.

    I’m actually a tiny bit disappointed that Gaia was as firmly on Joselyn’s side as she states here. I liked the idea that they remained ideologically opposed on reformation vs revolution and that Gaia didn’t help Joselyn until she was imprisoned. Here it seems to imply that Gaia wanted to join Joselyn but stayed solely to be a teacher. Which is a good idea, but I thought it was a bit more interesting thinking their relationship was ideologically adversarial. In fact, I will continue to think it was until the imprisonment and learning about the plan to modify the Edge swayed Gaia closer to Joselyn’s end of the spectrum (and seeing how close Ruthers got to convincing the Committee to end the rebellion in the most evil possible way).

    Speaking of the blood plague, I want to be clear, pureblood Akharu children are born into slavery to the Vestil? And Tiras is “many” thousands of years old. I thought he might be around one thousand. Damn.

    Joselyn found a way to boost her power to take on Committee members. Badass.

    Tristan calling Gaia Jean Grey was hilarious and adorable. And also makes me wonder which of his parents was a huge Marvel fan, because Marvel wasn’t big for little kids in 2007. The animated shows were mostly from the nineties and the movie boom hadn’t happened yet (Granted, the X-men and FF movies had been made). This leads me to imagine Sariel or Haiden reading their kids old X-men and Fantastic Four comics as bedtime stories. I really hope it was Sariel because the mental image of an angel being enough of a comic fan to use them as bedtime stories for her children is hilarious.

    And Nicholas… I honestly had not considered the possibility that he was Flick’s brother (probably because I’m still hoping it’s Wyatt). The notion of that badass being a Heretic baddie is scary (I’m hoping there’s a bit more to him than that). I’m also hoping he’s not an Edge Heretic like Gaia and Seller because I want to see what other kinds of Heretics look like. I’m also curious as to where Gaia, Seller, and Nicholas lived when they were Bystanders. Soley for curiosity’s sake… and also because genealogy interests me and I want to know where Flick’s heritage lies besides England (Chambers is an English name).

    I swear I wasn’t trying to write a message this long.

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    1. Speaking of the blood plague, I want to be clear, pureblood Akharu children are born into slavery to the Vestil?

      Yeah, this is why they don’t tend to have them, and why they were excited to find that they could have children with humans who weren’t affected that way.

      Tristan calling Gaia Jean Grey was hilarious and adorable. And also makes me wonder which of his parents was a huge Marvel fan, because Marvel wasn’t big for little kids in 2007. The animated shows were mostly from the nineties and the movie boom hadn’t happened yet (Granted, the X-men and FF movies had been made). This leads me to imagine Sariel or Haiden reading their kids old X-men and Fantastic Four comics as bedtime stories. I really hope it was Sariel because the mental image of an angel being enough of a comic fan to use them as bedtime stories for her children is hilarious.

      Sariel is indeed the one who got her children into comic book superheroes.

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  7. Well, in Flick’s shoes I’d be about ready to try and take off Gaia’s head. Left her hero enslaved and raped for a decade by a monster and giving birth to monsters? and the best she can come up with is wait for a child to grow up and maybe do better? And her original “helpful” suggestion sucked as a plan in so many ways, as events showed, and yet G never followed up or did something? Well, she held down a nice day job. Until it was time to coopt a child as a proxy for her fight..shades of Ruthers-light. Trust Gaia seems spectacularly bad advice now. Someone should have simply assassinated Ruthers as a start. And, frankly, if roughly half the community is ok with his methods there’s a bigger problem. And the first time Flick runs into a heretic working in the field after starting school it’s a genocide of totally harmless and nice folks more technologically advanced than us? Presumably this is representative, we don’t know, but it’s consistent with the expressed attitudes. Maybe someone needs to wipe out the humans, for the good of the universe…maybe Flick can step up, having seen this crap up close. More immediately, this kind of friend Flick (or anyone else) doesn’t need.

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      1. my pt was not that that would be good, but that given their level of threat, and aggressiveness to an apparent infinity of worlds/peoples, it’s very, very odd that a coalition (or several, w/ varying priorities) haven’t emerged to just as decisively respond to the threat the heretics et al have made of themselves. They’re not really subtle. Beyond the moral cost of the atrocities they commit is the risk they bring to bystanders by this posture; equal and opposite reaction should be familiar to them. They’ll think they’re on top right up until they’re not…then it’s too late.

        On a semi related note, Flick seems to have a bit of a tactical, rather than strategic focus, although that may simply be a result of the burden of having to show the story in an interesting way. Deveron’s move was a good one, but far from the only move possible. Things like the edge are apparently not that uncommon in the long run (garden and edge here, plus the story of the vamp origin). One could do worse than try to find/create/steal a comparable buff.

        Looking forward to seeing how it unfolds!

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      2. ignore most (or water down greatly) what I rambled; I was still thinking it was NP who wiped out the M’s, and it was F. Glad someone pointed it out, just took a bit to find that part. So, the heretic’s threat level is not nearly as dire as I was thinking. Whew. They’re smaller scale in their bad actions, and not all of them are bad. Still, over enough time they’ve probably earned quite the level of fear across a far wider spectrum of (even unknown) players than we’ve seen…

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    1. Speaking as someone who agrees with the basic idea of calling Gaia out, you seem to be misrepresenting or remembering a lot of information.

      The memory spell and banishment were Joselyn’s idea, not Gaia’s. Joselyn suggested it to her, and then she brought it up to the Committee as her own idea. And then they plopped her down in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming with no reason to believe that anyone would remember her, much less find her.

      And she did do something. Or to be more exact, she’s currently doing it. She worked to ensure that Flick would be made into a magical superhuman and placed under her direct protection as soon as possible. Ideal? Hell no. Not even close. For a multitude of reasons. But it seems clear that Gaia’s situation is not one that allows her to indulge in ideal solutions.

      It’s obviously not tenable to “simply” assassinate Ruthers. The man is a 600+ years old with likely dozens of powers that he’s had centuries to practice with and undoubtedly includes a healing factor.

      If you dislike or hate the lady, fine, you’re entitled to that opinion and I have no problem seeing where it’s coming from. I even agree to a slight extent. But at least gets the facts right. Dont’ misrepresent the information.

      Also, Fossor is the one who genocided the Meregan, not Nicholas. If he was trying to wipe them out, he would have just killed the kids instead of kidnapping them. I’m reasonably sure that he’s independent and not affiliated with Crossroads or Eden’s Garden, but only time will tell on that.

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  8. fair enough; I thought G suggested it and then did it at J’s request. I’ll have to reread. G, too, should have lots of powers, as should others. Yet this is her best? she couldn’t even work w/ others to do something? idk, it seems a lot like G’s priorities as demonstrated fall roughly like this (yes, I’m being unfair here, but it does sort of read like this):
    1) ensure her own survival
    2) protect her nice day job
    3) educate kids
    4) help J only insofar as she can maintain a degree of deniability
    her choices have been awfully slanted towards her own health, convenience, position, and only very circumspect actions and statements. Even if the opposition heard everything she’s said she really hasn’t done or said anything too partisan.
    So, is she a wonderful person who has few options (if so, it’s very much not clear) or is she a weasel who makes a few wishy-washy claims in private but never enough to hang herself? idk…(which is the fun of it. I’m a fan of ambiguity). looking forward to seeing how it unfolds…but, no, currently not a huge fan of G’s. I’d kinda prefer it if she were a bit of a weasel; black and white gets old fast. But F should really, really have doubts about her at this point…

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    1. 1) She’s not ensuring her survival for it’s own sake, she’s doing things with her life. In her conversation with Joselyn in interlude six she revealed that she’s part of a network of Crossroads Heretics that hide and protect communities of Alters from the rest of the Crossroads Heretics. If she were only looking out for her own self-interest, she wouldn’t be taking so many massive risks to her health. The woman’s balancing on a knife’s edge.

      2 and 3) Her “nice day job” “educating kids” is really important.. She’s also using it to get hybrid Heretics and reformists in positions of power and/or respect as a step towards reforming the organization. And while I’m most unhappy with the way she’s handling the recruitment of part-Alter students, the most recent interlude revealed that actually Joselyn’s idea, not Gaia’s (although it seems to be an extension of Gaia’s original efforts to put reformists in places of influence).

      4) If Gaia’s deniability is ever compromised, she gets banished or executed. And then all of her friends and allies get put under suspicion for being her friends and allies. Then who will help hide communities of Alters or work to reform Crossroads? As for the help she gave Joselyn while maintaining that deniability, she “only” helped Nevada modify the Heretical Edge and saved the rebels and all their unborn children and descendants from being slaves.

      As for the whole assassinating Ruthers thing, there’s a bit of WoG info on the Committee members that was posted on spacebattles awhile back. I didn’t mention it at first because it hasn’t been revealed in-story yet, but when a Heretic joins the Committee, they go through a magical ritual that combines all of their powers with the other members. So Ruthers has not only his own powers, but all the powers of the other eleven members of the Committee. And they all have his powers too. So every single one of them is twelve times more powerful than they were before joining. Assassination really isn’t an option. The fact that Joselyn was apparently able to fight them on even ground is incredible. Obviously you can’t be faulted for not knowing this because not everybody reads the spacebattles thread, but it does affect your suggestion to assassinate Ruthers.

      Also, another bit of WoG is that Professor Pericles (that guy who was murdered in arc 2) was really close to joining the Committee. He was one of Gaia’s reformist allies. This suggests that Ruthers really is the extremist of the Committee… I also think that he’s the one who had Pericles murdered. The murderer’s MO doesn’t really fit the actions that have been taken against Avalon. And if it was one of Ruthers’ people, and that is proven, then he might get kicked out. Which would be awesome.

      Now, Flick trusting Gaia. She basically has to. Gaia’s the one who got Flick in to Crossroads. And, whatever else you might justifiably say about the organization (it’s basically a cult, the attention it draws on Flick from the committee, the dangerous training methods), she is MUCH more safe there than she would be in the Bystander world. Flick’s chance of escaping Fossor is at least a thousand times better than it would be if she hadn’t been recruited. Gaia worked for that. Maybe you’re right and Flick shouldn’t trust her (I don’t think so, but I’ve been wrong before), but she doesn’t really have much of a choice. Well, okay, she could contact Seller and defect to Eden’s Garden, but there hasn’t yet been anything extreme enough to necessitate that.

      You could argue that Gaia should have told Seller about the situation so he could have taken her to Eden’s Garden like he did with Avalon, but I had a conversation with Cerulean in the Miranda interlude comments that makes it clear that Crossroads was actively working to ensure that wouldn’t happen. They did not want EG to recruit Flick. Bringing the matter to Seller’s attention could very easily have made the entire situation worse (or sparked a war).

      And whatever else you might say about the Heretics, they are the only ones actively working to protect humanity from supernatural threats like Fossor, the one man extinction event, or the angels, who are trying to manipulate and control humanity as a whole for their own ends. Humans you’ll remember, are physically incapable of recognizing supernatural dangers. As bad as the Heretics are, do not discount the very real possibility that, thanks to the Bystander Effect, they really are doing more (slightly) good than harm.

      Personally, I find the way Gaia is going about recruiting part-Alter students like Shiori to be the most concerning thing about her MO. At the end of teh day, she’s basically gambling with those students’ lives, and knowingly at that. I imagine (and hope) that Jiao will have some very angry words for Gaia if they ever meet.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I enjoy reading this whole conversation. Hendy’s right, you are absolutely free to hate Gaia. In her mind, she’s doing the best she can to protect as many as possible. Whether that’s acceptable or not is a personal opinion.

      One thing I would explain (that will be brought up in text and has been mentioned on one of the forum threads previously) in relation to the question of why no one (even Gaia) has just killed Ruthers by now. The answer is that they can’t. Ruthers is more powerful than Gaia by far. They’re around the same age, yes. But by being a part of the Committee, Ruthers is connected magically to each other member. That means that he doesn’t just have his own powers, skills, strengths, etc, he has all the other committee members powers, skills, and strengths as well. Each Committee member is as powerful as all the others all put together.

      So it’s not as easy as just ‘Why hasn’t Gaia just killed him yet?’ That’s why she was trying to get Pericles onto the Committee (as mentioned by Hendy already), both to have an inside man and to get someone up into that power level. Then he was murdered.

      In summary, again, you are free to have any opinion you like. But I wanted to give that little bit of information about why it’s not as easy as Gaia just deciding to kill Ruthers. Beyond the difficulty of it, there’s the fallout. They’ll get rid of her and then who will help protect the students that they already have? They’ve been gradually starting to fill the ranks with people who would be more sympathetic to changing things, but if she gets ousted along with her allies, that all goes away. And there will likely be a big witch hunt to find all the hybrid students who have ever been there.

      The situation is a lot more complicated than just ‘she’s only looking after herself.’ If that was the case, she would have gone after Ruthers already. She has a lot more than just that (and more than just Felicity) to look after.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That seems…rather contrived. It’s tailor-made to make the system as abusive of power as possible. No sane person would accept such a system being founded. Hell, its very existence would be cause for rebellion from EVERYONE ELSE, because it’s pure tyranny through sheer power held by a select few. And the committee apparently has zero oversight and no checks or balances whatsoever. Forget “potential for abuse”, it’s extremely abusive just by existing.

        But worse, it creates a shit-ton of power from nothing. How does it make any sense for every single member of the Committee to be granted as much power as every single member of the Committee combined? That’s a MASSIVE amount of power created from nothing. It just doesn’t make sense. If that’s possible, why isn’t it done for a whole bunch of other Heretic teams, as well? It wouldn’t make sense for it to only be possible with the use of some sort of enchanted object, because THOSE require upkeep in proportion to the power they use. And given just how massive of a power output such an object would have, the upkeep would be utterly tremendous.

        On top of that, the whole “blood plague” thing seems absurd to me. It’s an impossibly perfect weapon. There’s no defense against it, no cure, no real impediment to its implementation. If all it requires is power, then what the hell is stopping the committee from unleashing a blood plague against all Strangers ever? Or, if need be, each kind of Stranger with their own blood plague? What’s stopping a group of Strangers from inflicting a blood plague on the Heretics? Or a group of Heretics from doing the same on another group of Heretics? Why the hell hasn’t anyone unleashed a blood plague on the Committee?

        Hell, why didn’t Joselyn just go public with the information that the Committee was plotting to unleash a blood plague on Heretics? That would have caused EVERYONE to rebel.

        It honestly sounds like the entire Committee needs to die in a fire. That they were increasingly-seriously considering mass, permanent enslavement of their own people and all of their future children/generations makes them some of the worst monsters out there. That they “settled” for an act that sounds like someone tried really hard to one-up George Orwell doesn’t make them any less monstrous.

        Gaia really needs to look into acquiring a small nuclear bomb to slip into the Committee’s meeting place. It’s probably the least bloody option to save Heretic society from itself. Which is a pretty good indication of just how fucked up and corrupt it is.

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      2. @SaltyWaffles

        That seems…rather contrived. It’s tailor-made to make the system as abusive of power as possible. No sane person would accept such a system being founded. Hell, its very existence would be cause for rebellion from EVERYONE ELSE, because it’s pure tyranny through sheer power held by a select few. And the committee apparently has zero oversight and no checks or balances whatsoever. Forget “potential for abuse”, it’s extremely abusive just by existing.

        This is not even remotely close to being true. At all. Modern day North Korea, the USSR, Czarist Russia, Nazi Germany, and the vast majority of historical monarchies all have leaders with similar levels of institutional powers to the Committee WITHOUT having incredible magic and memory spells.

        Also, it’s notable that there have been too notable rebellions. Joselyn’s and the founding of Eden’s Garden. One of which succeeded.

        But worse, it creates a shit-ton of power from nothing. How does it make any sense for every single member of the Committee to be granted as much power as every single member of the Committee combined? That’s a MASSIVE amount of power created from nothing. It just doesn’t make sense. If that’s possible, why isn’t it done for a whole bunch of other Heretic teams, as well? It wouldn’t make sense for it to only be possible with the use of some sort of enchanted object, because THOSE require upkeep in proportion to the power they use. And given just how massive of a power output such an object would have, the upkeep would be utterly tremendous.

        Magic breaks the laws of physics in this universe. That was established in the second arc.

        As for why they don’t do more often, in the initial descriptions of this power sharing thing, WoC is that linking Heretics in this matter is incredibly dangerous because if someone linked gets killed, it seriously and negatively affects everyone else. So they use it sparingly.

        On top of that, the whole “blood plague” thing seems absurd to me. It’s an impossibly perfect weapon. There’s no defense against it, no cure, no real impediment to its implementation

        It didn’t actually work on the Akharu, and Eden’s Garden still exists, so it seems pretty clear that there are ways to defend against it.

        If all it requires is power, then what the hell is stopping the committee from unleashing a blood plague against all Strangers ever?

        Huh. That’s an excellent question. I have no idea. Maybe maintaining a plague takes too much power to use it on too many groups at once?

        Hell, why didn’t Joselyn just go public with the information that the Committee was plotting to unleash a blood plague on Heretics? That would have caused EVERYONE to rebel.

        I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she didn’t go public because she was imprisoned.

        Unless you meant to say Gaia, in which case I would imagine that they would have stopped her. It doesn’t seem to have been hidden from the upper echelons of Heretics, which makes sense as they didn’t ever actually go through with it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @Hendy

        The blood plague DID work on the Akharu–not completely, but well enough to permanently cripple their entire race and all of their descendants (in fact, rather than their hybrid descendants being LESS affected by the blood plague, they’re vastly MORE affected by it. Which is baffling, since they should be LESS affected by virtue of having hybrid blood (rather than pure Akharu blood, which is what the blood plague cursed, and their blood is hybridized with the same blood that Akharu use to counteract the curse).

        As for the first part of your post: no, there is no real-life equivalent. Because no one in real life has superpowers. The Committee’s “exponential power sharing” system is inherently tyrannical because it gives the select few in political power (whom have no oversight or checks/balances) VASTLY greater physical/magical power than anyone else (and, with all of them fighting together, the result is that they’re able to personally enforce their own tyranny even without much in the way of followers). Furthermore, these guys are political rulers–they don’t see action; thus, the only reason for them to even have such power is to enforce their will against all dissent.

        In real life, even Hitler and Stalin were only human (and just as vulnerable as everyone else…). Anyone with a pistol in the right place and time could have killed them. There were several assassination attempts against Hitler, for instance, and one of them came very close to succeeding. IIRC, Stalin died because of some health issue that came up while he was sleeping, and everyone was too terrified of disturbing him (when he was obviously oversleeping) to check up on him and potentially provide medical attention. In North Korea, even their leader eventually died from old age and health complications. Committee members, on the other hand, seem to live for a very, very, very long time, and they seem to be in power until they die.

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      4. @SaltyWaffles

        Fair point about the Akharu, but Eden’s Garden remains free and out of Crossroads control, which continues to imply that there are ways to defend against the Plague.

        And everything you just said about how the addition of superpowers changes the situation doesn’t make it unbelievable that people still follow them. The fact that the Committee has incredible superpowers to back up their authority is justification for their position, not a point against. Because while dictators are still human and can be killed, entire nations still obeyed Napoleon, Hussain, Sulla, Marius, Castro, Augustus, Stalin, Mussolini and countless without question even though they didn’t have superpowers. Was there dissent to all of them? Yes. But there’s dissent in this situation too. Eden’s Garden, Joselyn’s Revolution, and Gaia’s actions are all acts of organized dissent.

        There are twelve members of the Committee, and while their collective authority is absolute within Crossroads, it’s obvious that they don’t agree on everything. If they did, Flick wouldn’t have been invited to the school. They’re not a hive mind of people who think and act the exact same way. If they were, they would have cast that blood plague as soon as Ruthers suggested it rather than consistently reject the idea. Plus, it’s pretty obvious that Ruthers went behind (at least some of) the others’ back when he kidnapped the twins, otherwise he wouldn’t have needed to lie on the official report or threaten Joselyn into not saying anything.

        Also, there is no way their position is entirely political, Gaia specifically pointed to the possibility that one of them would die and be replaced in this chapter indicates that they do go out and fight against threats that are capable of killing them. Joselyn was able to obtain a similar level of power (directly stated in this chapter), and Fossor has been fighting these people for centuries without getting killed.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations Cerulean, you’ve made a character I hate just as much as I hate Dolores Umbridge. Both of them are the worst sort of humans; the type that truly and deeply believe they are doing good in the world while being so morally reprehensible Lucifer himself does a double take.
    Though, to be fair to Ruthers he was born be “slavery is a bad thing” was in the public conscience, but, still, damn man, you need to take a step back and reassess your life if your go-to solution is “make a bunch of people into meat puppets”.
    It is getting close to the point where I’d like to get Ruthers and most if not all of his close supporters all in a room together and drop a couple of nukes on them, preferably from orbit because it’s the only way to be sure and even then I wouldn’t be too sure because of magic BSery. Maybe trap him on an alt-earth and blow the planet up.
    Though a quick death is good good for him, maybe give him to Fossor? Yeah, I like that one. It’s karmic.

    My guess is that Joselyn found some way of tapping a one-way connection to whatever ritual it is that lets committee members share their powers and skills and what not. She gets all of their fun stuff but they don’t get any of hers. And that is how she was able to fight them on their level.
    Probably some sort of enchanted item along the line of the Hangman’s Noose, if not the Noose itself. Though I’m comfortable enough excluding the Noose because of what Professor Dare said about it.
    It was something she couldn’t share with others, maybe something that only worked for one person at a time or one person every generation or maybe even only for her bloodline. Because if she could share it I’m sure other’s in her group would have been laying the smack-down on committee members alongside her.

    Busy weekend, so got to this late. Also, insomnia. Joy. Though, the good thing is I don’t have long to wait till Monday!
    I’m go lay down on my bed and pretend to sleep. Maybe if I act well enough it’ll actually happen.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I hate being caught up. This is now my favorite active web serial of the now 13 that I’m caught up to. Fantastic story and even better writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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