“How do I do it? What do I say to her? How do I tell her anything without telling her everything? How do I ask her what the weather’s like without blurting, ‘by the way, Mom, I met your little sister, she’s my classmate in our demon-hunting school. Oh, you didn’t know demons existed? That’s probably because the supposed good guys kidnapped you and the twin brother you didn’t know you had and used you both as hostages to force your mother to surrender so they could erase her from everyone’s memory.’”
Koren Fellows almost laughed at her own absurd declaration. Except for the fact that just because it was absurd didn’t mean it wasn’t true. And somehow, knowing what had been done to her mother as a child (not to mention the rest of her extended family) pretty much erased any desire she had to chuckle.
She was standing in her dorm room, staring at the laptop that sat on her desk. The icon for Skype was sitting there, waiting for her to click it. She needed to see her parents, needed to talk to them as close to in person as possible. That meant using the video chat, not just hearing their voices. She needed to see.
See what, she couldn’t explain. It wasn’t like her mother was going to look any different. She wouldn’t be able to see Flick Chambers or that security guard dude in her mother’s face. She’d just see her mom.
And, even now, she couldn’t tell her the truth. She couldn’t tell her own mother about her true history. Not only was there real question about whether the woman would remember anything she said about it, but the security in this place would probably overhear it. Plus, even if her mother did remember it, believing her was another story. After all, hadn’t her parents dismissed Koren’s talk of the Hiding Man?
No, she couldn’t tell the truth. She had to call and check up on her parents without ever letting on about how worried she was, how terrified she felt that the necromancer Flick had mentioned would be there already. She had to act surprised about their upcoming move while avoiding letting on that anything was wrong. And she had to do all of it without accidentally blurting out something she shouldn’t.
“Yeah,” Koren muttered aloud to herself. “Because not saying something I shouldn’t is totally something I excel at.”
Fuck it. Maybe if she sorted out exactly how she actually felt about the situation, it would be a little bit easier to keep those feelings away from her parents.
So, how did she feel about it? Chambers—Flick was her… aunt. Her classmate was her aunt. How did she feel about that? Flick was okay. Kind of a dork, especially with that rock of hers. But not too bad. Koren didn’t hate her or anything. Her roommate was kind of a bitch, but… yeah, maybe Koren had had that whole mayonnaise thing coming. She still insisted that she was just kidding about throwing Vanessa over the line to test what the magic defense did, but it was probably a bad joke with really poor timing.
Okay, so she didn’t hate Flick, and grudgingly accepted that Avalon, while still kind of a bitch, had had a point. Fair enough. How did she feel about Chambers being her aunt, specifically?
Weird. She felt really fucking weird about it. Aunts were supposed to be much older. Even cool, young aunts should be a few years older than she was, shouldn’t they?
So, she felt weird, but not necessarily bad. There were far worse people at this school to find out she was related to. Like that Deveron dick. Koren couldn’t figure out how the asshole managed to keep his mentor job. Their own mentor, Andrew, was great, and even then she still felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do. The idea of having a mentor that was as lazy and useless as everyone said Deveron Adams was would be horrifying.
The point was, there were much worse people to be related to in this school. So Chambers wasn’t that bad of a draw. And if thinking of her as an aunt was too weird, maybe… maybe she could think of her as a sister? Or, better, as a step-sister. Yeah. Maybe that would help her put it in perspective and avoid being too weirded out. Just think of Flick Chambers as a step-sister or a half-sister or something like that. That might make it less confusing.
So, she could accept that she was related to Chambers. What was next?
That security dude. He was her uncle. … okay then. Actually, that one wasn’t nearly as hard to accept as she might’ve thought. Sure, he was weird and paranoid and all that, but… something about the man actually endeared him to Koren in spite of herself. She couldn’t explain it, except that his eccentricities made her feel more… sad for him than anything else. Which was weird, because even Koren knew she wasn’t the most empathetic person around.
Either way, learning that he was her uncle made her… kind of want to hug him. Except she knew he’d freak out.
Okay, next? Grandmother. Her grandmother had been some awesome, badass rebel leader, standing up against the tyranny of the obsessed Heretic hard-liners. Which kind of tied into the next bit she had to try to understand: the idea that not all Strangers were evil.
Fine, think about that second part first. Not all Strangers were evil. Could she accept that? Did she believe it?
Maybe. It wasn’t impossible, after all. The idea that everything that wasn’t outright human would be evil was kind of… really god damn arrogant, when she thought about it. Sure, she’d accepted the idea that every non-human was evil pretty easily. Maybe that was just the human mindset?
So, conditionally, she’d accept that there were non-evil Strangers. She’d have to meet them herself, talk to them, try to… understand them, but for the time being, she’d accept it as a possibility. Maybe even a probability, if she was perfectly honest with herself.
Yeah, okay, she’d accept it. If there were evil humans, there could be not-evil Strangers. And her grandmother had been working with them to stop the Heretics from exterminating all of them. That was… kind of cool. Her grandmother was a freedom fighter. A hero.
… Except that now she wasn’t. Now, she was the slave of some vicious, evil, genocidal necromancer. And why? Because the Heretics had kidnapped Koren’s own mother and forced the woman to choose between her children and her cause.
And yet, if they hadn’t done that, Koren herself wouldn’t even exist. She wouldn’t have been born if her mother hadn’t been sent away and put into hiding as a normal, average person. Koren loathed the people who had done that to her mother. But if given the choice to undo it and in the process, erase her own existence, would she?
“God damn it,” she muttered to herself. “This is too damn complicated.”
Hate them for what they did, get justice for her grandmother and the rest of her family, but still be glad that she had been born. Could she do that? Was that even possible without being inherently contradictory?
After another couple minutes of inward debate and uncertainty, the girl physically shook herself. “Fuck it,” she declared while stepping over to click the icon. As the program booted up, she picked up the headphones and adjusted the mic while giving a brief glance over toward her roommate’s empty bed. Aylen was out with Sovereign, but she had no idea how long the girl would be gone. And this conversation was going to be awkward enough without letting someone overhear what she was saying.
With that in mind, Koren grabbed the laptop and moved it over to her own bed. After activating the privacy screen, she hit the button to call her parents’ computer. They had been waiting for her to call back.
It took a few long moments before the call was accepted. As the window popped up, she saw her father’s face. Kenneth Fellows wasn’t a particularly large man. He worked as an accountant for some big firm, and he looked the part in every possible way, from his clean-yet-ill-fitting suit to the thick glasses that he wore.
“Hey there, Nugget!” her father called, giving her a dorky wave. “How’s life in cushy private school?”
Somehow, Koren managed a weak, “You know, boring.” Pushing on past that, she asked, “Is Mom there? She left a message about… some kind of opportunity.”
Her father laughed at that. “Heck yeah, it’s an opportunity. Hang on, I’ll get her on here.” Stepping away from the computer’s view, he called, “Abigail, the little Nugget’s on Skype. You wanna tell her yourself?”
A few seconds later, he stepped away, leaving room for Koren’s mother to move into view. She was smiling broadly, clearly excited. “Hey, baby. You doing okay?”
A lump stuck in Koren’s throat when she tried to respond. Fuck. Seeing her mother, knowing what had been done to her, that she had been taken away from her own mother and her twin brother, put things into perspective.
Fuck being understanding. Fuck the fact that she wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for what happened. Fuck all that. Her mother was ripped away from her own family. The people who did that deserved to burn. Each and every one of them.
“Honey?” Her mother must’ve seen something in her expression. “Are you all right?”
Swallowing hard, Koren forced herself to nod sharply. “Y-yeah, I’m fine. What—umm, what was the opportunity you were talking about?”
Her mother’s near-giddy smile returned. “Well, you remember that client I worked with a couple years ago? The Vacenta case. The firm we contracted with in Miami called up. Apparently one of their associates quit unexpectedly. They need fresh blood, and the partners remembered the work I did with them on the case. So they offered me a job, with moving compensation and a fast track to partner within two years.”
“Partner…” Koren echoed. The Heretics had managed to get some law firm that her mother actually knew and had worked with before to offer her a job that would make her a partner within a couple years of working there? Just how much influence did they have in her—never mind. She was afraid to know.
“Of course, the deal is contingent upon being there to help them with the big case that they’re stuck with now,” her mother added. “Which means we have to move down there… well, within the next day or two. It’s almost crazy. They’re offering us a house, Koren. It’s a beautiful house, they sent pictures. It’s right near the beach. You’ll love it, when you visit.”
When Koren didn’t respond, her mother paused, then lowered her voice. “Sweetie, listen. If us… moving, if it upsets you, if you’re worried about all that change and… if you hate it that much, tell me. I’ll find another way. I’ll tell them I can’t go.”
Koren blinked at that. “You… you’d turn it down if I asked you to?”
“You’re my daughter, Nugget,” Abigail replied easily. “That’s a job. I wouldn’t put it before you.”
That lump in her throat was back. Koren swallowed hard, head shaking. “Mom… take the job. Fly down there today. Check it out. I’ll see it next week, when I visit for Thanksgiving. Oh,” she added, “I… might have a… classmate come visit. Is that okay?”
Her mother watched her expression for a moment before nodding. “A classmate, huh? I think that would be okay. Let’s ask your father. Hey, Gerald, your daughter would like to have a friend come visit us at the new house for Thanksgiving.”
Gerald Fellows, a tall, classically handsome and athletic man stepped into view of the camera. His smile was broad as he embraced his wife while watching Koren. “Oh she does, does she?”
Something… strange went through her mind just then. Seeing her dad, seeing her father standing there, Koren felt… weird. There was something… odd about the whole situation. Something wrong. “I…”
Then the feeling passed, and Koren blinked a couple times before nodding. “Yeah, is that okay?”
“Sure thing, squirt,” her father assured her, giving the girl a quick thumbs up.”You go right ahead and bring your little friend.
“We’ll all have fun.”