Begin Again 10-06

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Okay. So I liked boys. And I liked girls. I understood that much. I was kind of confused as to why I’d never noticed my attraction to girls before, but maybe that sort of thing happened. It wasn’t like I was some kind of expert at maturing romance feelings. So whatever. Boys, girls, I like them both. Great.

But how exactly was I supposed to tell anyone that? Like right now. I was practically walking arm in arm with both of my female crushes. Both of the girls that I actually liked liked were right next to me and I had less than zero idea of what to do about that. I kind-of-sort-of thought that Avalon might have been purposefully teasing me, and I knew that Shiori saw me as at least a friend. But every time I tried to turn my brain toward whatever the next step should be, it came up blank. I wanted to say something to one of them, wanted to figure out what I was supposed to do next, but I had no idea what.

I liked both of them. Avalon was drop-dead gorgeous, while Shiori was pretty in a quieter, more mysterious and shy way. Avalon was a badass pin-up model while Shiori was essentially a cute ninja. Avalon was smart and brave and snarky, and for all her grumbling, incredibly loyal. Shiori was absolutely freaking adorable, brilliant with her word-play, and just as brave. They were both incredible. And not only did I not know what to say to either of them about how I felt, I was also horrified by the very idea of hurting either of them. As unlikely as it might have been that I would have a chance with both of them, the very thought of choosing one and hurting the other was practically paralyzing me.

“Chambers,” Avalon’s annoyed voice broke through my cloud of distraction as she waved a hand in front of my face to get my attention. “We’re here. What the hell are you thinking about so much?”

Right. We were there, waiting by the building for the twins and the boys to get into position and start their stink-balloon bombardment. And I had just been staring off into space for who knew how long.

Thanks to my new facial shapeshifting power, I didn’t blush. Powers were the best. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an anti-babbling ability yet. “Oh, me? I was just thinking about the, umm… the quest.”

“The quest,” she echoed, her voice so dry you could probably start a forest fire with it.

“Yup!” I chirped in spite of myself, head bobbing. “You know, this whole thing is like an RPG. Dude, we even get actual experience by killing monsters. And now we’re advancing part of the story quest.”

Shiori eagerly put in, “Oh, oh! Investigate Professor Tangle’s apartment. And we even went on a whole character-related sideque—ohh my god! I was the extra unlockable character! You did my sidequest!”

“I know, right?” I grinned back at the other girl, and the two of us literally bounced up and down a bit. “Extra unlockable character and a quest on a whole new world semi-unrelated to the previous plot but that expands the story a bit and gives you both a new character and new, previously unseen abilities!”

“Gabriel shoot me,” Avalon muttered under her breath. “The dorks are multiplying now.”

That, at least, got my attention. I hesitated before asking, “I’ve heard you say that before. Is that like Gabriel the angel? Do Heretics worship him or something? Or is that just an Eden’s Garden thing?”

“Isn’t that the former headmaster’s name?” Shiori was looking back and forth. “Gabriel Ruthers?”

For a second, I wasn’t sure whether the girl was going to answer or not. She regarded me briefly before speaking quietly. “It’s a Vigilant Sons thing. The tribe I was a part of. Seller’s tribe. It doesn’t have anything to do with any angel. And it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with Ruthers. The Gabriel we’re referring to isn’t either of them. It’s the one they call Gabriel Prosser, even if that’s wrong.”

I blinked, thought about it, then just blinked again. “I feel like I should know that name, but I’m not sure. It’s… sort of familiar? I know I’ve heard it somewhere, but it’s not coming to me,” I admitted.

Shiori just shrugged. “Sorry, I dunno either. I kind of wanna say he invented something?”

Shaking her head, Avalon explained, “No, he didn’t invent anything. Gabriel was a slave back in the seventeen hundreds, a literate slave who was also a blacksmith. And brilliant. He tried to lead a slave revolt, but was betrayed and captured. The slavers dragged him back to Richmond and went after him hard, but they couldn’t break him. So they tried to hang him, his two brothers, and twenty or so others.”

“Wait,” I interrupted in spite of myself, fascinated by the story. “They tried to hang him?”

She gave a slight nod. “Exactly what I said, tried to hang him. Bystanders even think they managed it, actually. Then again, they couldn’t exactly remember what actually happened that day.”

“An Alter attacked them while they were trying to hang him?” I asked hesitantly.

“Not just any Alter, Stranger, whatever,” Avalon corrected me. “A Hangman. It attacked the proceedings, killed a bunch of people in the process, and would have kept going through a whole lot more. Except Gabriel managed to hurt the thing with one of the shovels that the men were going to use to dig his grave. He saved the town that was going to execute him. In return, the Hangman almost ripped him apart. It threw him into a tree, impaled him on one of the branches, and broke his spine. It would have used its rope on him, just to finish the job. But it was hurt. So when the thing heard more people coming to see what was going on, it retreated. Gabriel fell right there on the ground next to the shovel that he tried to kill the thing with. The shovel that had the Hangman’s blood on it.”

My eyes widened at that, and I straightened. “Wait, that sounds sort of like how–”

“–Bosch became the first Crossroads Heretic and started this whole thing,” Shiori finished for me. The two of us glanced to each other, then looked back at Avalon.

“Yup,” Avalon confirmed. “The blood from the Hangman got mixed into Gabriel’s wound. It made him a Heretic, and because it was a direct blood upgrade, some of the Hangman’s own power. It wasn’t like when we get turned into Heretics, the diluted form. This was the full, original, human-connected-to-Alter power upgrade. So the men came up, found everyone dead, thought that Gabriel was dead too, and buried him along with the others. They buried him while he was unconscious. When he woke up after the Hangman’s own healing fixed him up enough to escape. He broke out of the grave and accidentally met up with the Heretic that was investigating the site of the Hangman’s attack.

“After that, he sort of became a legend really fast. He didn’t join either Crossroads or Garden. He just did his own thing, sort of a lone wolf, wandering hero. But a lot of people at Garden, especially my old tribe, think convincing him to join them, to join Garden, is the only way to win what they see as an inevitable war against Crossroads. He’s basically a nuclear missile by now. A nuke that a lot of Garden Heretics spend their whole lives looking for. If he’s still out there, he hasn’t shown himself for decades. There’s rumors of sightings and the aftermath of fights that could be him, but nothing definitive.”

My mouth opened, but before I could find any kind of words to respond to that, an ear-splitting alarm abruptly went off. I practically jumped ten feet into the air despite the fact that I’d been waiting for it, turning to see Scout in the distance lob another stink-balloon. It arced up perfectly before dropping through the slightly open window on the side of the building. In another life, Scout would’ve made an awesome pitcher. And the alarm was still going off. Through the windows, I heard one of the faculty shout some kind of curse that I could only hope wasn’t a spell. Any second now, the grounds were going to be filled with ticked off adults. We had to hurry up and get this show on the road.

To that end, Avalon was already reaching up to the stone wall of the building. Her hands pressed against it, and as I watched, the wall gradually turned into wood. It spread as much as she dared before the girl gave me a quick nod. “Go,” she whispered urgently. “Get in, I’ll be fine. Just hurry up.”

Obliging her, I jumped while pushing my hands against the wood. At a thought, my body merged into the newly-created wood. It felt like… swimming, and I forced myself to go in and out, straight through the other side. The awkward, cramped feeling went away and I fell bodily onto the carpeted floor of Professor Tangle’s apartment. The living room, to be exact, judging from the furniture around me. And it was definitely hers, since I could see several pictures of the dark-skinned woman on the walls. I recognized her from other pictures that I’d seen inside the school over the past few months.

It also stank like hell. God, I nearly threw up right then. The smell was permeating in from under the doorway. Sands had said it would be bad, but uuuggghgnn. Would this scent ever wash out? My eyes were practically watering.

Rather than focus too much on the view just yet (or the stench), I focused on using my sand-control power to reach through the wall to where I knew Shiori was waiting, already transformed. It took some effort considering I couldn’t actually see the sand, but I managed to somewhat blindly grasp onto her with the power and pull the girl up to the nearby vent. She came through faster than I expected, a cloud of sand that briefly filled the room before shrinking back in on itself, turning back into a solid figure just in time for Shiori to come crashing straight into me before I could throw myself out of the way.

We hit the floor and rolled with a pair of embarrassing yelps, and I was really glad that Tangle apparently wasn’t the type to have a bunch of end tables or something all over her living room. The carpet was mostly empty, and surprisingly comfortable to fall onto.

Also comfortable: Shiori. We sort of landed half-tangled in a pile of limbs, and it took the two of us a few seconds to extricate ourselves from one another. Maybe a few more seconds than were strictly necessary, considering the time crunch we were working on, but we managed it in the end.

Shiori was blushing. “Okay,” she spoke while looking absolutely anywhere but at me.”Where first?” Then she made the mistake of sniffing, and I saw her eyes water as she jerked while making a gagging noise. My hand moved quickly to cover her mouth before she could cry out and draw attention to us.

Once she was calm, I nodded. “Just try not to sniff too much.” After the girl nodded while still making a face, I bit my lip, thinking about her question briefly. “You start in that hall closet, I’m gonna check for an office or her bedroom. Just look for anything related to me, Eden’s Garden, or anything that stands out. You’ve got your phone, right?” Really should’ve asked that before we got in here, Flick, I reminded myself.

She waved it at me with a smile. “I shudder to think what we’d do if I had forgotten the camera.”

That smile again. The one I recognized. Mentally running the sentence back through my head with the Shiori-pun filter, I found it after a second. “Shutter. You shutter to think. God, you’re adorable.”

Focus, Flick. Pivoting on my heel, I ran out of the living room and down the short hallway. The doorway on the left led to a bathroom, while the two on the right led to a bedroom and… an office. Yes.

Saving the bedroom for later, I went right into office and looked for the computer. There it was, a rather modern-looking thing. She even had a flat screen and a wireless keyboard with lights on the keys.

Oh my god. There was a stack of video games on the nearby dresser, and two different consoles in a corner next to a large screen television. Whoever Tangle was, she liked to play games. Of the board variety too, considering the large number of them all piled up on one of the bookshelves. So many games of so many types. She had more different games in this room than a lot of toy stores.

After taking in the sight of all the games for a few seconds, I moved to the computer and hit the mouse. The formerly dark screen lit up with a password prompt, and I muttered an ugly curse under my breath. Great, of course there was a password. Why couldn’t the teachers of this ancient magic school write down all their secrets on easily pilfered parchment or something? It would’ve been so much simpler.

Okay, so look around. I opened both of the desk drawers, sorting through random papers and other things to find something that might have the password written on it. Nothing. Nothing at all.

“Hey, Flick, look at these,” Shiori spoke from the doorway. When I glanced that way, she had a large stack of envelopes in one hand while pushing her other arm across her face to block out some of the scent. Waving one at me, she explained, “They’re like… love letters.”

Frowning, I straightened from the desk, taking a step that way. “Love letters?”

She nodded easily, showing me one after another. “Yeah, really mushy love letters with the same person, from what I can tell. But all the envelopes look different, see? They’re all from different locations, and most of them look like they’re junk mail. See, this one says it’s from some library in Minnesota. This one is from one of those online banks. And here’s another one from some college.”

“Right,” I took one of the envelopes, examining it. “So someone was sending love letters to Professor Tangle, only they were disguised as junk mail or just ordinary mail. Obviously, they didn’t want people here to see where the letters were coming from, or how many letters she was getting. But why?”

“Maybe it was someone from Eden’s Garden?” Shiori suggested. “You know, a secret romance that they had to hide.”

Immediately I thought of the looks that I’d seen between Professor Dare and Miranda’s teacher Hisao, and the way the woman had been smiling after spending time with him. Yeah, I could believe that there would be a secret romance between a Garden and Crossroads teachers. “If so, that has to have something to do with what Miranda heard about Tangle being Trice’s contact over here.”

Shiori was shaking her head. “That doesn’t make sense. Tangle hasn’t been here all semester, has she?”

I hesitated, thinking about it. “Maybe she can still give them information, tell them about a secret way into the school grounds or something, ways to beat the security.” I thought of my mother briefly.

While thinking about that, I looked through one of the letters that Shiori had been holding. Like she’d said, it was mostly a lot of lovey dovey stuff. Promises to always take care of each other, oaths of devotion and protection, that kind of stuff. They mentioned dates that they’d been on, most of which had obviously taken place while Tangle was supposed to be doing other things. It was a secret affair.

Then, at the bottom of the letter, I noticed something else. Holding it up, I read aloud, “I can’t use the phone for awhile. Pretty sure the old man’s getting suspicious. I think he’s setting traps for anyone using a phone that bypasses the island’s security. As soon as it’s safe, I’ll call you, my beloved. But right now, I have to hide the phone. After all, the heat of our passion will never cool.”

“So she had a phone like yours,” Shiori pointed out with a frown. “A phone that gets around security. Be nice if we could find that thing.”

Nodding slowly, I squinted at the letter. “You know what? You’re right, it would be nice. Come on.”

Hurrying out of the room, I led Shiori back down the hall and to the small kitchenette, waving the letter back at her, repeating the last words. “Heat of our passion will never cool.” With that explanation, I tugged the freezer door open and rooted around inside through the frozen dinners, ice cream, and other things. I ended up dumping out a couple boxes on the counter to no avail. But just as I thought maybe I was wrong, my grasping fingers moved up and under the slot that the ice tray went into, and I felt plastic.

“Jackpot,” I muttered before yanking. There was the sound of tearing tape, and then my hand came out with a taped up Ziplock bag with a cell phone inside it.

Shiori was staring at it, biting her lip. “Wouldn’t being in the freezer damage it?”

I shrugged back at her. “Magic?” Unzipping the baggie, I fished the phone out and held it up. “It’s not frosted over or anything. Actually, it feels a little warm.”

Hitting the power button, I waited while the phone booted up. Please don’t have a password, please don’t have a password, please don’t have a password.

Okay, the good news was that it didn’t have a password. The bad news was that it had one of those facial recognition unlock systems.

Wait. That wasn’t bad news. Turning to Shiori, I pointed past her. “Quick, grab that picture of Tangle off the wall and bring it here.”

After the other girl had done that, I looked down at the picture. It took me a few seconds to focus enough on my new power (especially since I kept getting distracted by that awful stench), but gradually, I felt my face shift and change, as well as a tingling sensation as the skin darkened. Doing my best to match the image in the picture, I looked up eventually. “How do I look?”

“Like Tangle’s head on Flick’s body,” she answered honestly. “It’s weird.”

“Weird is good,” I replied with a thumbs up before holding the phone up. Hitting the button to unlock it, I stayed still while the camera checked my new face.

It unlocked. Resisting the urge to cheer, I gave it a quick look. We could go more in depth later. Right now, I was mostly interested in what the most recent messages looked like.

There was only one text conversation on the phone. There was no name given, only a phone number. And the majority of the conversation was more of the same from the letters, just texts back and forth. Plus some, ahh, intimate bits I kind of skimmed over quickly while blushing.

Then there was the last message received by Tangle’s phone, which read, ‘It worked. She killed him. Whole place hates her now. Seller got her out before they could lock the bitch down. She won’t have any friends here though.’

And the last reply from Tangle’s phone, ‘Good. Start pushing the brother. Get him ready to kill her. Do it right and they’ll never trace any of it back to us. Then she can rot in hell. I love you, baby.’

For a few seconds, Shiori and I both stared down at the messages. Finally, I managed a weak, “I’m just gonna say it. Some people’s pillow talk is just plain weird.

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34 comments

  1. Thanks for reading, everybody! Today’s chapter squeaks in just under the wire, but it’s still on time. So whoo! Hope you enjoy getting a couple answers out of this one, as well as more questions (of course). As always and forever, you guys are the absolute best. 🙂

    Today’s tags are: Avalon Sinclaire, Felicity Chambers, Flick, I’m Pretty Sure Plenty Of Readers Are Shouting The Simple Solution To Your ‘Shiori or Avalon’ Problem Flick.’, Naming The Woman At The Center Of A Complicated Murder Romance Plot ‘Tangle’ Is The Most Shiori Thing Ever., Scout, Shiori Porter

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  2. “I’m Pretty Sure Plenty Of Readers Are Shouting The Simple Solution To Your ‘Shiori or Avalon’ Problem Flick”

    Just go with the adorable punster? Seriously, I’m becoming a huge supporter of the Flick/Shiori ship. She is, as Flick said, just adorable.

    “Naming The Woman At The Center Of A Complicated Murder Romance Plot ‘Tangle’ Is The Most Shiori Thing Ever”

    That’s bad, and you should feel bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m becoming a huge supporter of the Flick/Shiori ship. She is, as Flick said, just adorable.

      She really is. As I’ve said before, I was taken completely by surprise by Shiori and how well she plays off of Flick.

      That’s bad, and you should feel bad.

      Except I really don’t! 😀

      Like

  3. Huh; looks like someone definitely holds some kind of grudge against Hannah/Avalon; The Backer egged on Trice’s brother to get her to retaliate and kill him before getting Trice to go after her, all the while using an insider… who has not been present on campus grounds for some time.

    Interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What the fuck?

    So what, Tangle and this other guy hate Avalon because of… what? Something an ancestor did? Something Seller did? In league with Reggie? And they engineered Torv’s rape attempt? Why?.

    I guess this explains how Reggie keeps finding her though. Seriously though, fuck Tangle and whoever else this is. I’m assuming Avalon has ancestor they have a grudge against, bringing up another “don’t punish the kids for the family’s actions” thing. Fuck these guys.

    Out of curiosity, is the fact that all the VS trib other than Seller now hate Avalon because she alienated a lot of people, because Torv was popular, or because of how brutally she killed him? I have a feeling the answer will piss me off.

    Both of the girls that I actually liked liked were right next to me and I had less than zero idea of what to do about that. I kind-of-sort-of thought that Avalon might have been purposefully teasing me, and I knew that Shiori saw me as at least a friend.

    Yeah, Flick, both of your crushes are definitely interested. Probably even more than you are.

    Gabriel Prosser is awesome. And gee Crossroads and Eden’s Garden, you mean a guy who spent his life suffering for something he had no control over until he revolted against it doesn’t want to join either one of you? I wonder why.

    I eagerly await his inevitable entrance.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Gabriel Prosser is awesome. And gee Crossroads and Eden’s Garden, you mean a guy who spent his life suffering for something he had no control over until he revolted against it doesn’t want to join either one of you? I wonder why.

      Yeah, it’s a real mystery, huh?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This has certainly gotten interesting- have to say that Tangle’s name is certainly appropriate, as from the letters & text message exchanged with her lover make it look like they’re responsible for the mess that forced Avalon to transfer to Crossroads, in that they managed to somehow engineer a situation where Avalon was forced to kill Trice’s brother in self-defense under circumstances where people wouldn’t believe her, and then work on maneuvering Trice into trying to hunt down & kill Avalon in revenge. Though that has to be part of a bigger plot, whether it’s because someone wants to start that war between Crossroads & Eden’s Garden, or some other scheme remains to be seen.

    And it looks like Tangle probably did have something to do with the murder of Professor Pericles, since I’m guessing that he was the ‘suspicious old man’ one of the texts referred to, and if so, wouldn’t be surprising if she helped arrange the assassination because he was getting too close to something that would have exposed her as a traitor/spy, or otherwise caused issues for her conspiracy.

    Though at least Flick, Avalon, & Shiori know who at least one mole in Crossroads is and can plan around it, as well as having something they can tell the Headmistress if they can figure out a way to do so without causing more problems for themselves. (Needless to say, they better tread carefully for their own sakes here.) Imagine that a lot of people at both Crossroads & the Garden would be quite interested in knowing what Tangle & her mysterious lover are up to, though that would be quite the can of worms.

    Also an interesting bit of world-building & exposition about Gabriel Prosser & how he (and not the angel) is a figure of importance for Garden Heretics. Though wonder if incidents involving fights with Alters, such as where he fought off that one Hangman were how original flavor Heretics were created, before Bosch used the blood of the one he killed to create the Heretical Edge (and the Garden founders appropriated upon their splitting ways to create their apple tree?) Be interesting if we see Gabriel in a future installment, and curious how he’d fit into the whole thing.

    Then of course, there’s the ongoing question of which one of these lovely ladies will win Flick’s heart- so far, it seems like though Avalon is more obviously attracted to her (if reluctant to express it,) Flick seems to be hitting things off more with Shiori.

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    1. My guess is that the unknown man is Avalon’s dad, the vampire. He’s the only one I can remember who has a grudge against her pre-Garden, and it explains why Tangle hid their relationship.

      How Tangle fell for a child-abusing vampiric son-of-a-bitch, though, I haven’t the slightest clue.

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      1. I think it’s more likely that Reggie Owens was Tangle and this other bastard’s first (and second, third, fourth, etc) attempt to kill her. Avalon mentions in her mini-interlude that she has no idea how her dad found her the first time. It seems like they told him how to find her and they started planning this shit with Torv and Trice when it never worked.

        It sounds like whoever the lover is actually lives on Vigliant Sons branch and is part of the tribe. It’s doubtful a vampire would be in the tribe.

        The problem, as you pointed out, is that we have no idea what their motive is.

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  6. “Thanks to my new facial shapeshifting power, I didn’t blush. Powers were the best. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an anti-babbling ability yet. “Oh, me? I was just thinking about the, umm… the quest.””
    Me: Flick’s a regular Shakespeare isn’t she?

    ” It wasn’t like when we get turned into Heretics, the diluted form. This was the full, original, human-connected-to-Alter power upgrade. ”
    Me: This guy sounds like he’s going to be extremely powerful in time, won’t he?

    ” Would this scent ever wash out? My eyes were practically watering.”
    Me: I’ve found out that if this question needs to be asked, the answer is likely to be No.

    “Pretty sure the old man’s getting suspicious. I think he’s setting traps for anyone using a phone that bypasses the island’s security. ”
    Me: Well, that quickly nullifies any benefit of the altered phones, doesn’t it? Oh well.

    “Then there was the last message received by Tangle’s phone, which read, ‘It worked. She killed him. Whole place hates her now. Seller got her out before they could lock the bitch down. She won’t have any friends here though.’

    And the last reply from Tangle’s phone, ‘Good. Start pushing the brother. Get him ready to kill her. Do it right and they’ll never trace any of it back to us. Then she can rot in hell. I love you, baby.’

    Me: So, Tangle was involved in a plan to kill Avalon? Things may be starting to come together a little bit, at least for this “sidequest”.

    Nice work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me: Flick’s a regular Shakespeare isn’t she?

      Clearly her best calling in life would be as a playwright.

      Me: This guy sounds like he’s going to be extremely powerful in time, won’t he?

      Maybe just a bit.

      Like

  7. Hmm, my guess is that the lover is Avalon’s dad. We’ll see though.

    I’m Pretty Sure Plenty Of Readers Are Shouting The Simple Solution To Your ‘Shiori or Avalon’ Problem Flick

    Nah The Witcher 3 and Mass Effect have taught me that attempting the threesome ending doesn’t work for videogame protagonists. Flick needs to find some way to turn herself into an anime one. The accidental rolling around on the floor stuff is a good start Flick, but you’ve got to step up your game. Try walking in on Avalon changing, you’ll just have to deal with getting punched into space every now and then.

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  8. Plus some, ahh, intimate bits I kind of skimmed over quickly while blushing.

    And just not too long ago she was thinking about how she uses her new shapeshifting power to prevent herself from blushing. Either the messages just that steamy or she can’t do too many things with the power at once and emulating someone else’s face prevents her from shutting down the automatic biological function that is the blush.

    As for why Flick is only just now taking note of her attraction to females it could be as benign as Avalon being her Closet Key or it could be something a little more sinister, a side effect of being a Heretic or a side effect of one of her many new powers. We may never know for sure.

    So, how long until Shiori brings up that Flick called her adorable?

    I’m curious as to have many of those game cases have the actual games in them and how many of them are holding… other things. I’m sure that most of them hold the right games, and maybe one of two are miss boxed to throw people off but they make an excellent place to hide other forms of CDs and even USB drives and SIM cards and the like, and it’s ever so easy to open like say, a PS2 memory card and replace it with a phone SIM card or the like and store the fake “memory card” with a fake mix boxed game CD to hide computer files, especially if you double bluff it by having a real mix boxed game CD with the fake memory card and the fake game CD is in the other box and so on.
    Why yes I have given this sort of thing some though and why yes I do have a lot of game boxes and why yes I’ve accidentally misboxed some games at times… . Though I’ve not yet had any need to hide anything in this manner. Yet.

    Now we just need someone named “Weber” and this whole thing with be a true crisscross of pun-names.
    I swear Cerulean, if the guy Tangle was in love hasn’t already been named yet you better name him Weber. Or something with “Web” in it. It’s just too perfect.

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  9. Ruthers used to be slave!? I didn’t know whether to find the fact that he super racist towards Alters hypocritical or ironic?

    Meanwhile, Flick’s torn between her feelings for Avalon and Shori. Whichever one she ends up with is fine with me. Also I’m both excited and scared for Flick’s first undercover asignmenf.

    Thanks for updating. 🙂

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    1. Ruthers used to be slave!? I didn’t know whether to find the fact that he super racist towards Alters hypocritical or ironic?

      Nah, Avalon straight up said the story wasn’t about Gabriel Ruthers. It was about a completely different Gabriel, the very real historical person (fictionalized for my purposes) known as Gabriel Prosser. You can find out all about the real person up to his death on wikipedia or just through google.

      Two different characters, the Gabriel Ruthers we know, and the Gabriel (commonly called Prosser though that was actually his slave owner’s last name, not his) that became a Heretic the old fashioned way after injuring a Hangman directly. Now that second Gabriel is kind of a legend among Eden’s Garden Heretics. He refused to join either them or Crossroads and instead does his own thing out in the world.

      Edit: Here is a link to the wikipedia article for the historical Gabriel.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. While I wouldn’t mind a threesome resolution, I believe I must show my support for Avalon here, I can’t stop shipping her with Flick after the teasing scene with the hug

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  11. eh, I was pro Av initially, but she only started moving when F&S showed obvious chemistry, and said chem seems to be a bit more magical than the simple A&S attraction (as far as we’ve seen that’s all there is…it just isn’t jumping off the page except for each thinking “yum”). F&S just resonate…and neither is so hideous as to be offputting. I think it’d be hard not to have that come out on top (or bottom, or sidew…nvm.) simply given the way it’s written so far. If you do go w/ A&F you really need to make it sing the way the interaction btwn S&F does…or it’ll really seem forced/unnatural/artificial-plot-device. And a 3some is just too fan service…and I’m not aware of many (any?) cases where it worked for long (outside pron crap, ofc). Funny bit; at one pt in time I knew 3 guys from my HS class that talked their wives into a 3-some…all three spouses left them for the other girl (yeah, selection effect, obviously, but also…darn funny!).

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  12. … I’m just going to hope that once Flick’s Romantic Issue is solved, the answer for anyone who asks is ‘It’s complicated’…

    Cause I can’t pick which one to go for, and having both is likely to not be obvious to her… also really complicated to manage potentially…

    F&S is really adorable and the joking around is magnificent… whereas I just love the interactions of F&A…

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  13. I sorta see F&S as more romantic where as F&A as the whole sister-in-arms type of deal, where they will have each others back through anything

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    1. Really? I see F&S as more of a BFF kind of relationship whereas F&A felt more romantic to me, granted, I know jack shit about romance, but it feels like Avalon and Flick complement each other while Flick and Shiori are cut from the same cloth

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      1. I was on the fence, leaning toward F/A but still on the berge of switching over to F/S… until Avalon’s mini-interlude came out. That put me firmly in the Felicity/Avalon camp. She has it bad for Flick.

        All aboars the SS Felon!

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  14. The section about about Gabriel Prosser reminded me of something I’ve been kind of contemplating on and off during the story: What makes Hangman blood so special?

    This is now the second example of someone gaining super powers from Hangman blood, and not just any power but specifically a sort of Mega Man powerup-by-murder power. But is that something that you only get from Hangmen, or is it a side effect of mixing any kind of Alter blood with human? We know that Asenath went full vampire when she took in some of her dad’s blood, but she wasn’t exactly human before then either. Would a baseline human who injected vampire blood, or any other sort of Alter’s blood, become a Heretic with the same abilities? I kind of feel like the answer would be no. Such a big deal has been made about Hangmen blood specifically turning humans into Heretics that it feels like they are in some way special. And I am super curious how and why.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The basic idea is that any human with the right potential can become a “Heretic’ simply by combining their genetics with one of many different types of Strangers/Alters. Doing so accomplishes two things.

      1: It makes the person no longer fully human and thus removes the Bystander Effect from them.

      2: It gives the person access to the Alters own powers/abilities.

      In the case of a natural Heretic, (one that became a Heretic the old fashioned way by literally having their blood mixed with an Alter’s) this essentially makes them a hybrid of that specific Alter and a human. Say a human becomes a Heretic by getting Troll blood mixed into them. From that point on, they would gradually gain Troll-like powers such as rapidly increasing strength, regeneration, etc.

      Or say one becomes a Heretic by getting Hangman blood mixed with theirs, DIRECTLY. This would make the resulting human-hangman Heretic gradually gain Hangman abilities. One of those, among others, is the ability to gain powers from those that they kill.

      On the other hand, we have the Crossroads or Eden’s Garden-created Heretics. They are artificially turned from human to Heretic through the device connected to the Hangman. This gives them the ‘gain powers from everything they kill’ ability, but not every other natural Hangman ability. It’s a somewhat diluted form of the original.

      Someone like Gabriel Prosser is different from normal Heretics because not only does he have the ‘absorb powers from everything he kills’ ability, but also other upgrades from the Hangman itself.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you! Fluff is fun sprinkled in between the plot.

      Good thought, but Fossor is from another world. He says in his introduction that the Heretics in this world tried to block him from setting foot one. Hence his need to constantly step on the ashes of the people from his own world.

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  15. Some more nice bits of world building, character development and plot obscuring.

    In other news H.E. has just 100 votes on TWF and less than 50 in the last 3 days. Vote at http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=heretical-edge on pain of ALL ships sinking (joking but please vote)

    And is it just me or does Flick need to go back to Gaia with the info about the phone trap before she gets caught with an incriminating conversation. “Old man” could refer to Ruthers either, after all. The conversation with Miranda would look bad but nowhere near as bad as a conversation with Asenath. (Half convinced I spelt that wrong)

    And Flick is very right about the utility of superpowers. Minor cosmetic shapeshifting is incredibly useful for disguise and infiltration purposes, not to mention hiding incriminating tells such as blushing or facial tics. Does it allow her to reshape her epidermis to hide or change fingerprints or could a stronger version of the power allow that?

    And how does a direct-from-Hangman origin make you stronger? I get that you get a portion of the Hangman’s existing powers, basically giving you a heads start, but does it let you get more power out of your kills after that, averting the diminishing returns?

    Now I have a theory that at some point they’ll have to track down and kill a Hangman to turn/re-turn someone into a Heretic. What powers would an existing Heretic gain from killing a Hangman?

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  16. I’m glad you finally had Flick address the elephant in the room. I hate it when adult authors write teens as completely clueless, and you have now avoided that trap. (Avalon being a little clueless about her own feelings I can accept; she has led a strange and sheltered life.)

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  17. Just a thought, I’m not sure if it’s been discussed elsewhere already, but it’s about how pookas and a few other Alters, including the Meregan, don’t trigger the Stranger sense.

    In the case of the Meregan I can’t be certain, but I think that pookas don’t trigger the Stranger sense because they aren’t mortal, not in the conventional sense. Even if they die, their spirits or souls or life force or whatever it’s called is reborn elsewhere.

    We know from Nevada’s interlude that Heretical Stranger sense is part of the Reaper/Hangman power set. Since pookas wouldn’t be considered prey by a Reaper/Hangman the Stranger sense doesn’t engage.

    Since the Meregan do appear to die, I don’t know why the Stranger sense doesn’t pick them up. My best guess is that they’re too close to human (pure speculation, my only basis for this is that they’re basically just over sized humans in appearance) for the Stranger sense to differentiate them.

    This is all just guesswork though.

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    1. My theory is that the Stranger sense is based on things that the Hangman Demon the Heretical Edge is built out of would have recognized as being not human. He/she/it encountered vampires, necromancers, orcs, etc at some point in its life and knew that they weren’t human, so the sense registers them as Strangers. But it never met a pooka, or a meregan, or hybrids like Ammon, Shiori, Vanessa and Tristan, so the sense doesn’t recognize them as being different than human.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. You know what I just realized?

    Avalon is the Weiss to Flick’s Ruby

    Which makes Shiori an odd combination of Yang and Blake

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