I’ve been a part of more than my fair share of stunned silences. Especially (but not solely) in the months since joining Crossroads. Still, the one that followed Deveron’s announcement seemed to eclipse the others. Not only did none of us speak for several long moments, but that quiet seemed to extend all the way to the animals. Somehow, even the jungle itself appeared to be taken aback, stunned by his words. Through those few seconds, no one and nothing made any sound. The very air was still.
In the end, it was Koren who found her voice first (possibly because she hadn’t been dealing personally with Deveron all semester). “What—what the hell do you mean Joselyn Atherby is your wife? You’re not—that’s not-huh?” The other girl’s eyes were narrowed, and I saw the way she took a step toward me. It put the two of us side by side, facing the boy. In that moment, I was extremely grateful to her. For all the problems she might have had socially, Koren was actually taking this family thing seriously.
“Okay,” Deveron spoke slowly after exhaling. “I guess I’ve got a little bit of explaining to do, huh?”
“A little?” I blurted out loud, staring at him. “I think you’ve got a lot of explaining to do. Starting, but definitely not ending with what Koren said. What the hell do you mean my mother is your wife?”
That brought Wyatt’s gaze snapping around. “Your mother?” he blurted. “That’s who that is? Who—what–” He blinked, then whirled back to Deveron, hand raised to point accusingly. “You piece of filth! How dare you taunt Miss Chambers about coaxing her own mother to cheat on her father with you!”
The man’s accusation prompted all three of the rest of us to blurt out loud, “That’s not what happened!”
Deveron shook his head, hands held up. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m doing this wrong. Let’s start with the basics.” He looked toward Wyatt. “There’s stuff I need to tell all of you. These two already know some of it. More than you do. But I need to tell you everything. I just need you to try to listen, okay, Wyatt?”
The security guard just stood there for a moment, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. Not just as Deveron, but at Koren and me as well. “I knew it,” he muttered, clearly distracted. “I knew there were secrets. You’re spies. No—traitors—no, not that. What? What secrets? I should call the headmistress. I should call Reid, or Risa. They’ll sort all of this out. They’ll sort you out really well. I should call them.”
“Gaia already knows most of it,” I gently informed him. “It’s… listen, Wyatt. Just for a second, listen to me, okay?” Taking in a long, low breath before letting it out slowly, I continued. “I don’t know what Deveron’s talking about. I don’t know what he’s about to say. But I do know that there’s secrets that you need to know about. People have been lying to you your whole life. I think you know that. They hide things from you, lie to your face, spy on you. I think you’ve figured out a long time ago that something isn’t right. That’s why you—that’s why you’re so paranoid. Because you don’t know who to trust. I’m not saying that you have to trust us right now. But I am saying that we’re going to tell you the truth. After that, it’s up to you if you want to believe it or not. But please, just listen long enough to decide.”
I wasn’t sure how the man was going to respond at first. He just stood there, watching me. His eyes twitched a little at my words, and I could see the indecision behind his gaze. Part of him obviously wanted to put a stop to this whole thing and just call in the rest of security to deal with us. But I also saw the need there, the desire to actually know the truth. He didn’t trust us, but he did want to listen.
“Fine,” Wyatt finally decided. “I’ll listen to what you have to say. But,” he raised his finger in a warning sign. “If you think you can trick me, or manipulate me, you have another thing coming.”
Before I could promise that none of us were going to lie to him, the man reached into his pocket, producing a small red ball, which he held up. “If you’re going to talk, you hold this. Take it.” He tossed the ball in my direction. “Hold onto it and then tell me what your name is. Your full, real name, please.”
Blinking, I looked at the ball in my hand before shrugging. “Okay, my name is Felicity Lillian Chambers.”
Wyatt was squinting at me very intently for a few seconds, watching for something before nodding. “Okay, fine. Now say something that isn’t true. You can say anything you want to, as long as it’s a lie.”
Glancing at the ball again, I hesitated. But if it would convince the man that we were telling the truth, it was worth whatever this test was. “Okay, I’ve got it. I have never drunk any alcohol in my life.”
The instant after I finished speaking, the ball grew hot enough that I had to drop it with a yelp. “Ow!”
Deveron stared at me, eyebrow raised. “Alcohol, huh?”
I coughed. “I was fourteen, it was my first–never mind. It’s a long story.”
Wyatt reached over then, bending to pick up the ball, which in addition to growing very hot, was also blue instead of red. I guessed that was just in case whoever was holding it happened to be immune to heat. “Anyone who is speaking will hold this. If you lie,” he spoke severely, “the ball will know. And then I will.” He rubbed his thumb over the ball until it turned back to red, then held it toward Deveron.
“No lies,” Deveron promised while taking the ball in his hand. “But first, we all need to be on the same page. That means, you need to know who Joselyn Atherby is.” His gaze turned to Koren and me briefly. “You two already know a lot of it, obviously. But you,” he looked back to Wyatt. “The first thing you need to know is that Joselyn was a student here around a hundred years ago, while Gabriel Ruthers was headmaster.. Actually,” he paused then before adding, “both of us were. We were classmates.”
“You were a student before?” Wyatt looked doubtful, his gaze flicking down the ball in Deveron’s hand. When his lie detector failed to go off, he raised his eyes once more, frowning. “But the teachers would know. They’d know if you were a student before. The headmistress was still teaching here then.”
“Don’t worry,” the other boy assured him. “I’ll get to that, I promise. One thing at a time. We were students here, but Joselyn… Joselyn disagreed with them. She disagreed with them on one very major thing. She thought that not every Stranger was evil. Jos believed that there were good ones too, Strangers who could be allies for us. Or even ones that just wanted to live in peace and be left alone.”
“That’s–” Wyatt shook his head. “That’s absurd. Strangers are evil. That’s the entire point of the Heretics. Didn’t she pay attention to all the people they kill, all the innocent children they massacre?”
I spoke up then. “She didn’t think that all Strangers are good, Wyatt. She thought that some were. There are good Strangers and bad ones. Just like there’s good people and bad people. Look at all the evil things that human beings do. Look at all the serial killers, psycho cultists, and mass murdering dictators. Then look at all the good people that have been around all this time. Does the fact that humans like Hitler or Pol Pot have existed mean that humans like Martin Luther King Jr don’t exist?”
“Or Mother Theresa,” Koren put in then, trying to help while Wyatt continued to stare at me.
Coughing, I shook my head. “Actually, she’s closer to the other end of the spectrum. But never mind.”
“The point,” Deveron announced while holding up his hand with the ball held tight in it, “is that Joselyn believed there were good Strangers. So we looked for them. And we found them. We found good Strangers. And we convinced other students, other Heretics, that there was a chance for all of us to work together, Heretics and Strangers. We were going to protect everyone that was innocent, whether they were human or not.” He shrugged. “The leaders of Crossroads and Eden’s Garden disagreed. They thought we were corrupted, that we were traitors. So we… went to war over it.
“The war,” he continued, “lasted a long time. Decades. We were convincing more and more of the Heretics that they didn’t have to massacre every Stranger they came across. Even the ones who didn’t actively join in the war were starting to doubt their mission. They were starting to pay attention, starting to notice inconsistencies in the Heretical teaching. They started giving Strangers a chance.”
“I’ve never heard of any of this,” Wyatt objected while folding his arms over his chest with a distinctively uncomfortable look. “If this was true, I would’ve heard about it. A Heretical civil war?”
“Yes,” Deveron agreed. “You would have heard of it. Except…” He paused, clearly gathering himself before pushing on. “Except for Gabriel Ruthers.” When he said the name that time, I could hear the utter hate in his voice. Deveron clearly despised Ruthers to the point that his face contorted with anger just from saying the man’s full name out loud like that. Knowing what I knew, it was understandable.
After taking another moment to collect himself, he continued. “Ruthers wouldn’t allow that to happen. He knew his side was losing. Whether it took another year or another century, the Heretics were waking up. They were realizing that they didn’t have to kill every Stranger, that we could work together with them. He was losing them. And a big part of why he was losing was Joselyn. She… she found a way to become as strong as they were, as strong as the committee. Even I didn’t know exactly what she did. She had allies that helped her, allies that helped all of us. So the Committee couldn’t just stamp us out. Joselyn was strong enough to fight them, even Ruthers himself. They fought a few times and he couldn’t beat her. She was strong enough to fight him to a stand-still, and he… well, he hated it. So he…” The anger, hatred, and disgust in Deveron’s face was open and obvious by that point. “He didn’t fight her face to face anymore. He found another way to beat her, another way to destroy her.”
It was obvious, after a few seconds, that Deveron couldn’t go on right then. So I reached out and took the ball from his hand while facing Wyatt. My own voice was low. “Ruthers stole their children,” I said softly. “Joselyn had twin children, a boy and a girl. Ruthers stole them from her.” Glancing back toward Deveron then, I squinted a little before amending quietly, “from both of them, I guess.”
Deveron took the ball back from me then, his face set. “He stole our children to convince Joselyn to surrender. So she did. She surrendered to protect our children. But then something Ruthers didn’t expect happened. The war kept going anyway. Even without Joselyn, we… we kept fighting. Well, the others kept fighting. I was looking for our children, and for Joselyn. I was trying to find them.”
Before he could continue, Wyatt demanded, “If that’s true, why didn’t Ruthers demand your surrender then? You said he had your children, only he only forced this Joselyn to surrender, not you. Why?”
“Because,” Deveron answered, “my relation to them was a secret. Joselyn kept our entire relationship quiet so that people couldn’t use it against her. I don’t think she had that specific situation in mind, but generally speaking, she wanted to make sure that Ruthers and his people couldn’t use me against her.”
Wyatt took a moment to think, the indecision obvious on his face before he finally pressed on. “What happened then? If all of that is true, what stopped the war? And why haven’t I heard about any of it?”
That time, it was my turn to answer. I took the ball before speaking. “Because Joselyn went to Gaia and asked her to suggest that the Heretics use a powerful spell to erase all memory of her and the rebellion from everyone’s minds. The spell required a hell of a lot of power, but it finally stopped the war.”
Wyatt was staring at me, open-mouthed. But in this case, he wasn’t the only one. Deveron was also staring, looking just as taken aback as Wyatt. “Excuse me? What do you mean, it was Joselyn’s idea?”
Quickly, I explained what Gaia had told me about the blood plague that the committee had been ready to unleash. I told them about how it had turned the Akharu into the first vampires, because of the way their own power worked against being enslaved. I explained that anyone else subjected to the plague would become a complete slave, and that it wasn’t just them, but all of their descendants, forever.
By the time I was was done describing it, Deveron, Wyatt, and Koren all looked sick. I swallowed hard before forcing myself to finish, “Joselyn knew she couldn’t stop them from doing it if the rebellion kept going. So she came up with another solution, one that wouldn’t enslave everyone. She got Gaia to convince the Committee to erase her from everyone’s mind, to make her a normal person again. So they did. They erased her, and stopped the whole war. Then they put Joselyn in the regular, mundane world, as a normal person. They hid her out of the way. And while she was there, she met my dad. They fell in love, and… and they had me.”
Wyatt bit his lip, his eyes squinting at me intently for a few seconds while he processed that. “What about these twins of hers?” he demanded after a moment. “Whatever happened to them?” Something about his voice told me that he already knew, or at least suspected, part of the truth.
Koren answered first. “One of them was—err, is my mother. A-Abigail Fellows. Err, Abigail Carter. That’s her maiden name. She was um, she was raised as a normal person. Trust me, she doesn’t know anything about any of this. She’s a lawyer in the real world. And–” She blinked toward Deveron, who was staring at her intently, obviously drinking in every word. “I… I guess she’s your daughter, huh?”
Deveron nodded once, closing his eyes briefly. “It’s more than that. Your mother’s name was Koren. That’s the name that Jos and I gave her. It was my mother’s name, and Joselyn agreed to it, even though she always wanted to name her child Felicity.” He glanced toward me briefly. “She loved that name, and we… we said we’d use the name for our second daughter. Somehow, she must’ve remembered it.”
“But if my mom was an infant when they took her,” Koren asked, “how did she remember the name Koren?”
Shaking his head, Deveron offered a weak little shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe someone else used the name around her while she was little and it stuck in her mind, even if she doesn’t remember why.”
Wyatt looked between us, clearly trying to come to terms with what he was hearing. “And the son,” he pushed a bit gruffly. “Tell me what happened to the son, this…son of yours, the brother.”
“You already know,” I realized, looking at him. “You’re smarter than anyone gives you credit for, Wyatt. You know what he’s about to tell you, what we’re about to say.”
The man glanced away before taking a breath. “That’s why no one trusts me,” he managed after a second. “That’s why everyone has spied on me my… my whole life. That’s why my parents—the people who raised me, that’s why they were spying on me too. That’s why they agreed to kill me if they had to. This… the man they were working for, the man behind everything, the one who sent people to spy on me my whole life, you’re saying it was…”
“Ruthers,” Deveron confirmed flatly. “Gabriel Ruthers. Of course he spied on you. The man is paranoid. He probably thought that Joselyn was trying to contact you.”
He started to say something else, but Wyatt held up a hand to stop him. The poor security guard turned away, slapping his fist against his chest a couple times before running both hands back through his straggly scarecrow-like hair. He worked his mouth, making odd little popping sounds before rapping his knuckles against his forehead. “Have to think. Have to focus. No, that’s crazy. Listening. We’re listening, we are. Just stop. Just stop, they’re watching. They’re watching you, so shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
I took a step that way, with Koren right beside me. But Deveron beat both of us. He moved there, putting a hand on the other man’s arm. His voice was quiet, cracking a little. “I’m sorry. I should’ve found you. I… I tried. I tried to find all three of you, my family. But… but I failed. I couldn’t find you until it was too late. If I could—If there was a way to… you… you are my son, Wyatt. You are my son, and I couldn’t be more proud of you.”
That brought Wyatt’s head snapping around, his mouth open as he just sort of stared at the much younger-looking boy who was actually his father. “You… but I… I’m strange. I know that. I–”
“I don’t care, Wyatt,” Deveron informed him. “You are my son. And after everything that Ruthers put you through, after the life you’ve had, you still try to do the right thing. You are a good man, better than I’ve been. You’ve raised yourself to be a good person, despite my failure. So yes, I’m proud of you.”
Poor Wyatt looked so emotional then that I thought he was going to literally combust. He worked his mouth, making a noise low in his throat. “My… dad…. my… dad… my….” He made another noise, wringing his hands like he had no idea what to do with them.
Deveron knew. He embraced his son, hugging him until Wyatt returned it, albeit a little awkwardly on his part. It was like Wyatt knew the basic idea of a hug, but wasn’t sure exactly how they were supposed to work. And that, almost more than anything else so far, made me want to cry.
“Wh-what about Joselyn?” Wyatt realized after another few seconds of that. His gaze was on me, just as intent as always. “Your—my-our… our mother. Wait, our mother. Our…” His eyes widened and he took a step to me. Before I knew what was happening, he had actually lifted me off the ground. “Our mother! Our mother! Sister—you are… you’re my sister!”
“Eeep!” I squeaked, flushing a little. “Um, yeah, I guess I am. Hi.”
He beamed at me, an awkward buck-toothed smile that was the most endearing one I had ever seen. “Where is our mother?”
The question dropped my spirits. Lowering my gaze, I sighed. “He… a… a bad guy. A necromancer, he… he…”
“Fossor abducted her,” Deveron explained for me. “He took her. I… Joselyn’s allies, the people she worked with before, they came to me. They gave my memory back, so I was looking for you all for a long time, for years. But I couldn’t find you. Until… until Joselyn sent me a message. She got a note to me somehow, with an address and three words. The three words were ‘please protect her.’ And the address was Flick’s,’ he nodded toward me.
“I knew Crossroads was going to take you in, so I had myself de-aged and sent there a year early so that I could be your mentor this year,” he went on. “And then this year, I… well, I acted like I did to convince them to take me into their security rooms. I knew they’d need me because of how good I was last year. So they’d take me into the Runners HQ to find out what was wrong with me.
“So they did. And I managed to look through their files, just like I planned. That’s how I found out who you were, Wyatt. And who Koren’s mother was.”
Poor Wyatt was clearly staggered by all of this. He set me down, then looked toward Koren. “You… you’re my niece,” he said, as if in awe.
“Hey, Uncle Wyatt,” Koren droned with a wry smile. “Pretty fucked up family we’ve got here, huh?”
His response was a beaming, endearingly awkward and dorky smile. The man looked like Goofy crossed with an actual scarecrow, and yet he was somehow incredibly charming that way. “It’s wonderful.”
A second later, however, his gaze dropped. “Joselyn… mother… my mother… our mother, we have to find her. We have to save her!”
“We will,” I promised him. “There’s a lot more to talk about, other things like… like Ammon and what happened at my town when I was there. But…” I looked toward Deveron. “You said the people that Mom was working with found you, brought your memories back and de-aged you to come here. Who are they? Are they the ones that erased you from Gaia’s memory, and from everyone else’s? How? They’re not Crossroads or Eden’s Garden.”
“No,” he agreed. “They’re not. Joselyn’s allies… I didn’t know who they were while the war was going on. Like I said, she kept them secret, for everyone’s benefit. Jos… she kept a lot of secrets.”
He smiled fondly then, clearly lost in his memories for a few seconds before shaking himself. “Anyway, they came to me after Joselyn was… erased. They’ve been helping from the background, trying to turn things around without drawing attention to themselves. They work best when people don’t know they exist. Especially the Crossroads or Eden’s Garden leadership.”
“But who are they?” Koren pressed. “And how are they so powerful?”
“I only know the one that came to speak to me,” Deveron admitted. “Most of their organization is… well, still secret. But the man I spoke to was Gabriel Prosser.”
I did a quick double-take. “Gabriel Prosser? Avalon told me about him. Garden practically worships the guy. He’s like… a solo Heretic or something. He hurt a Hangman, and its blood mixed with his. It was sort of like how Hieronymus Bosch became a Heretic.”
Deveron snorted at that. “Yeah, except Prosser’s situation was true.”
Koren, Wyatt, and I all blinked at that. The other girl was the first to speak. “What do you mean, his was true?”
“I mean,” Deveron explained in a flat tone, “that Hieronymus Bosch was a liar. He wasn’t the one who constructed the Edge. He was just the first one it was used on.”
I stared at him, mouth opening and shutting a few times. “But… if Bosch didn’t build the Edge, who did?”
He stared right back at me while answering. “Well, I suppose technically he did build it. Except that it wasn’t really him. He wasn’t the one who created the Edge, or the one who founded Crossroads, or who made up the entire rules of the society, or any of it. He was there. It was ‘him’, but it wasn’t Bosch the human.
“It was the Seosten who was controlling him.”