“You know, I was iffy on the whole ‘Thanksgiving at a restaurant’ thing,” Columbus announced later that evening as we all emerged from the buffet. “It just sounded wrong. But you know what? Eating like that and coming out of there without any dishes to clean up? Yeah, I think I’m on board now.”
“See? Dad and I know where it’s at.” I nudged my father. “All of the muss, none of the fuss. Or maybe the other way around… Anyway, how many pieces of their pecan pie did you put away this year?”
Dad’s response was a slight groan while his head shook. “Too many. Entirely too many. Why do you let me do that?” he lamented while looking at me with a wounded puppy look, like I’d betrayed him.”You know I don’t have any self-control when it comes to pecan pie. A good daughter would’ve stopped me.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But your daughter thinks it’s funny to watch you groan after you finish inhaling it.”
Asenath, who was walking at the back of our little group next to her sister as we crossed the parking lot, spoke up then.“Don’t worry, Mr. Chambers. Thanksgiving is a time to indulge, after all.”
Chuckling, Dad gave an easy nod before focusing on me. “What time is your friend picking you up?”
“Not until nine-thirty,” I explained. “Their Thanksgiving party starts at ten. Apparently it’s this whole big production. From what Koren said, they don’t exactly uh, do small and intimate gatherings.”
Dad raised an eyebrow at that. “Sounds interesting. You’ll have to let me know how that goes. In the meantime, you wanna work off some of that snarky energy by walking home? You could use the time to give your friends a little tour of our fair village.”
“Ooh, call it a village, good plan,” I commended, giving him a bright smile and a thumbs up. “That way they think of it as small and aren’t afraid of the idea of walking. Very smooth.”
Tapping the side of his head, Dad nodded while announcing in a dull voice, “I be good for wording. Big brain, follow many talking things.” Pounding a fist against his chest like Tarzan, he added, “Ooga.”
Shaking my head with a snicker, I turned on a heel to face the others. “What do you think, guys? You wanna ride home, or take a walk and let me show you around a little bit instead? I can’t promise tons of entertainment either way, but hey, at least if we walk you’ll end up getting plenty of fresh air.”
The general consensus was that no one minded walking. So, Dad headed home. Even as he pulled away, Asenath was working her fingers over her phone. It buzzed a few seconds later, and she nodded. “Twister’ll watch over him at the house until we get back.” Looking up toward me, the vampire-girl added, “Don’t worry, I promised to pay her with all the ice cream she can eat for the overtime.”
Swallowing, I nodded. “Thanks. I don’t think Ammon would try anything, not right now. But…”
“Better safe than sorry,” Senny finished for me before smiling reassuringly. “Don’t worry. He’s okay.”
“You know,” Columbus pointed out mildly while digging his goggles out of his pocket. “It occurs to me that, when you were explaining all this stuff back at the school after your birthday, you kind of forgot to mention that you left a couple Strang—errr, sorry, Alters here to play bodyguard for your father. Nor did it manage to come up when we all met Asenath on that Meregan world, or any time after that.” He looked at me pointedly while strapping his goggles on once more and adjusting them.
Coughing, I felt a blush cross my face. “Yeah, well, I thought it’d be better to ease you guys into it. Especially Sands. Telling her a vampire saved my dad’s life was one thing. Telling her I left that vampire and another Alter to watch over him by themselves? That seemed like a longer conversation.”
“You should probably tell her all of it,” he advised. “Better than her finding out some other way. She’s really trying with… you know, all of this. But if she starts to think that you’re keeping secrets about it…”
“I’m keeping secrets,” Shiori pointed out. “So are you.” She did a little double-take then, her face suddenly looking worried. “Aren’t you? I mean, Sean guessed what I am, but the others…”
“Wait, wait,” I interrupted, blinking in surprise at the girl’s words. “You mean Sean knows about you?”
“He guessed,” Columbus answered. “Something about noticing how much better Shiori’s been doing ever since she was abducted alongside Miss Strangers Aren’t All Evil, and met Asenath. Oh, and there was that bit where Asenath, Shiori, and I stayed behind a bit when we were all leaving that place.”
To Shiori, he added, “And no, I didn’t tell anyone. The others still don’t know anything about it.”
The other girl bobbed her head, looking relieved as she fidgeted with her fingers. “Good, good.” She glanced up at him, biting her lip. “I know you think it’s silly, because it’s just this cool thing to you. But I… I’m not ready for them to know yet. I don’t want a bunch of people to know about me. I just… don’t.”
Columbus shook his head firmly. “It’s not silly. I get it. It’s dangerous. That—you have to be careful, Shy. I know. I understand. It’s just that the idea of anyone looking at you and thinking you’re some kind of monster, it just…” Trailing off, he sighed long and low. “I guess that was the point of the rebellion.”
Wincing at that, I nodded. “Among other points. But yeah, pretty sure that was a big one. And I should probably talk to Sands anyway.” I thought about that for a few more seconds before shaking it off. Adopting the tone of a tour guide, I gestured grandly. “Anyway, if you all look to your left, you’ll see Flick’s old elementary school, including the playground. Which, for the record, is clearly the most important part of any school. Quite frankly, I think high school in general would be a lot less tense if we all had a couple of fifteen minute breaks to go play on the swings or hang from the monkey bars.
“And right down this way, we have what used to be a place to rent movies. Dad and I used to come here all the time. I remember this one time…”
It wasn’t all sight-seeing. We also took the opportunity to bring Columbus up to speed on what we had found out about Dad’s not-so-little mission for the truth that was bound to attract Fossor’s attention.
We were approaching the house while Senny assured me again that she and Twister had a plan to make sure my father’s investigation didn’t lead him anywhere near anything dangerous. Especially any evil, vicious necromancers. Just as we passed the side of the house to head for the front door, a dark-furred squirrel leapt off the roof before landing in front of us. Before I could say anything to warn the others, the tiny animal grew and shifted its form until the dusky-skinned ‘young’ girl stood there, smirking.
Before the poor boy beside me could react badly, I caught his arm. “It’s okay,” I assured him. “This is Twister, Senny’s partner. Twister, this is Columbus. You know, the guy you just gave a heart attack?”
“Coast is clear, mon capitan,” Twister announced while saluting in Asenath’s general direction. Her attention, however, was mainly focused on Columbus with a rather intense look that was clearly making him uncomfortable. “But where have you people been hiding this scrumptious piece?”
Flushing noticeably, Columbus shifted on his feet while clearing his throat. “Ah, uh, you’re the ah, Pooka then? The shapeshifter. That’s—ahh,” he coughed again, blush deepening. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Mmhmm,” Twister murmured an agreement absently, clearly not paying attention. “Gotta tell you though,” she added with a coy smirk, “the only shape I’m really interested now is right in front of me.”
Okay, that look on Columbus’s face made me snicker. I couldn’t help it. “If it makes you feel any better,” I put in completely unhelpfully, “Twister is simultaneously two, eleven, and a hundred and seven.” Grinning, I gestured vaguely that way. “So if you average them, she’s about forty years old.”
From the boy’s continued expression, that had helped about as much as I thought it would. His gaze moved from the girl to me, and he made a confused noise that almost made me pity him. “Huh?”
“Pooka,” Senny explained. “When they die, they get reborn as a child around age nine with their old memories. She was originally born over a hundred years ago, and she last died two years ago. Get it?”
“Two… eleven… over a hundred,” Columbus murmured slowly before nodding. “Yup, I guess I…” He noticed Twister continued to stare at him like he was a particularly delicious slab of beef and blanched. “Nope. Nooope. Still creepy. Stiiiiiiiillll creepy.”
Shiori was clearly working to suppress her giggles as she put in, “One thing’s for sure.” She held that for a moment until we were all looking at her, shoulders shaking from her own snickers. Then she looked between Asenath and Twister before happily finishing, “This is a very Strange Thanksgiving.”
Honestly, after hearing about what my father was up to, I was sorely tempted to just cancel the trip to Koren’s house and spend the entire break there watching over his shoulder. But not only did I really want to meet my sister, I also knew that if I did let myself give in to that much paranoia, I’d come up with more excuses to not leave home at all, even after the break. As terrified as I was about anything happening to him, I was going to have to trust Asenath and Twister to do their thing. Because, call me crazy, but I highly doubted Crossroads would let me get into any kind of homeschooling situation.
So, after promising my father that I’d be polite and thank my hosts, I left the others and set out to walk down the street. As far as Dad knew, I was just getting picked up by my friend and driving to the next town over. That was easier than telling him that I was about to have a second Thanksgiving in Florida.
There was a figure waiting for me at the end of the street. I slowed until I recognized him. “Deveron.”
Pushing off the tree that he had been leaning against, Deveron raised a hand in greeting. “How was dinner?” he asked before adding, “And your dad. How’s he doing?”
In spite of myself, I asked a little defensively, “Do you really care how he’s doing?” Even before he could respond to it, I flinched. “Sorry. No, don’t… I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. I just…” Exhaling, I admitted, “He’s investigating Ammon’s game. You know, the ‘terrorist attack’? Which is leading him toward Fossor. He’s got a bad surveillance picture, a license plate, some kind of records and receipts…”
Deveron winced at that. “And if he gets anywhere near that psychopath, he’ll–” Cutting himself off, the boy straightened. “Okay, listen, there might be something I can do to help lead him off the trail.”
Shaking my head, I replied, “Asenath’s on it. She has a plan to make sure he goes the wrong way.”
He nodded a little, and we started walking until we reached a small wooded area where Deveron took out his cell phone and made a call. “Jake? Yeah, we’re here. How long is the wait? Fifteen? Got it, put it up when you’re ready.” Hanging up, he looked my way. “Fifteen minutes before the Pathmaker can send us through to Florida. They’re pretty busy today, but Jake owed me some favors so he squeezed us in.”
I nodded, and we were quiet for a few long seconds. Deveron watched me briefly before taking a breath. “And yes, Feli—Flick, I do care about what happens to your father. I love Jos, and she obviously loves him. It’s…” He paused, glancing away before pushing on with a tiny smile. “It may seem pretty odd to you, but I liked all of Jos’s romantic partners. She has good taste. She always did. I definitely wouldn’t want anything to happen to them.”
I started to reflexively nod, like that made any sense at all, before catching myself. “Wait, what?” My gaze snapped back to him, and I shook my head in total confusion. “What do you mean, ‘all of her romantic partners’? Was there some kind of an ex-boyfriends of Joselyn Atherby club or something?”
He chuckled at that, shaking his head. “I wasn’t your mother’s only romantic pairing, Flick. I mean, sure, we were probably the closest. But she had a couple other boyfriends at the same time.” Shrugging, Deveron added, “That’s how a lot of Heretics work. I mean, we live a really long time and we’re away from each other on missions a lot. Having more than one partner is—well, it’s not any kind of rule or anything, and plenty do stay monogamous. But it’s definitely not weird for Heretics to have multiple partners.” Pausing then, he sobered noticeably. “Besides, our lifespans differ so much. We could live hundreds of years, or die early on. Between each person getting different powers and the… dangers out there, two people that get married could die three hundred years apart, or even more.”
His hand settled on my shoulder. “So, you might have two boyfriends that you split time between. It doesn’t mean that you love one any less than the other. It just means… everyone needs companionship.”
My mouth opened and then shut before I whined, “I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea that Mom was involved with you before my dad, and now you’re saying there were even more?”
Laughing lightly, Deveron squeezed my shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’m pretty sure that every kid’s worst nightmare is realizing that their parents had romantic lives before they existed.”
While I was still trying to wrap my head around that idea, he went on gently. “I’m not trying to blow your mind or anything. What I’m saying is that, I don’t think that the relationship that Jos has with your father is any less important than the one she has with me. He’s your dad. I wouldn’t try to dismiss that or pretend that it wasn’t real. It is. And your father is a good man. Jos wouldn’t love him if he wasn’t.”
Before too much longer after that, the phone in Deveron’s hand buzzed. He glanced at it, then nodded and gestured to the space between a couple trees. “Here we go.”
Sure enough, a door not that dissimilar from the one that had led me from that empty field to Crossroads a few months earlier appeared out of nowhere. It just popped into existence, and Deveron stepped over to open it. Through the doorway, I saw what looked like an old dirty alleyway.
“After you,” Deveron invited me. So, after taking a breath, I stepped through the doorway, instantly traveling from the middle of Wyoming, all the way down to Florida.
Popping out the other side, I found myself, sure enough, standing in a dirty alley. Right behind me there was a neon sign for an adult bookstore, and straight ahead a chain-link fence surrounded an old motel lot.
Oh, and it was humid. God, was it ever humid. It was like being back on the island without the magical weather shield. The difference was especially noticeable going straight from Wyoming to here.
Deveron came through behind me while I was still making a face at that. “Kinda wet, huh?” he teased before pointing. “If we’re in the right spot, the place we want should be about a half-mile that way. Ready to walk?”
“Sure, maybe I’ll be hungry enough to eat something at this party by the time we get there.” I replied. Starting to walk then, I added, “Hey, where’s Wyatt, anyway?”
Setting off beside me, Deveron answered, “He said he’ll meet us there.” Glancing sidelong to me, he added, “His name wasn’t always Wyatt, you know.”
Blinking that way, I hesitated before nodding. “I kinda figured. Like Abigail used to be Koren. So um, what was Wyatt’s name before?”
That time, it took the guy a few seconds to answer. “… Zedekiah.”
The name made me do a brief double-take. “You mean Zedekiah as in Professor Pericles? The… him?”
Nodding, Deveron remained quiet for another moment. “Yeah, he… he was your mother’s favorite teacher. They were really close. So when we had a son, she… she named him after Zedekiah. If she–” He winced, looking away, but I saw that his eyes were wet. “When she finds out what happened, it’s going to… she’ll be devastated. She loved that man like a grandfather.”
Swallowing hard, I tried to find something to say to that. “We’re trying to find out who killed him,” I finally put in a little lamely.
He looked over at me then, but before Deveron could say anything, I pointed up ahead. “Hey, isn’t that Koren’s family’s new place?”
Glancing that way, toward the dark and seemingly empty house, he nodded slowly. “Yeah… except I was expecting a few more people. Or any, really. Where is everyone?”
I shook my head while continuing. “Maybe they went for a drive, or we’ve got the wrong address. Or maybe–” As I stepped up onto the sidewalk, my ears abruptly popped pretty severely. “Ahhh, ow. Okay, I think the whole elevation difference thing just kicked in.” I tapped a hand against my ear. “Gah.”
But Deveron caught my arm, pulling me behind him as he suddenly stepped in front of me. His voice was hard. “That wasn’t an elevation difference,” he informed me. “It was a spell.”
Eyes widening, I stared at him. “A spell? What do you mean, a sp–” I stopped talking as he took my wrist pulled it up and around. My hand hit some kind of invisible wall directly behind us, right on the edge of the sidewalk that we had just stepped up onto.
“Can’t go back that way,” he muttered before looking at his phone. “And there’s no service.”
“Uh, why is there an invisible wall surrounding Koren’s family’s new house?” I asked, already tugging my staff free of its spot on my belt.
Deveron shook his head, admitting, “I’m not sure. But it gets worse.” Gesturing for me to follow suit, he crouched and indicated what looked like a mark engraved in the edge of the sidewalk. It looked like someone had dragged their finger through the cement while it was wet. The design was of two circles joined together at the mid-point, like links in a chain. Both were inside of a larger square, with some runic, indecipherable lettering in the spaces in the square but outside of the circles.
Frowning, I stared at the mark, not wanting to risk touching it. “Is that part of the spell? Can you undo it?”
“It is, but no,” he answered quietly, “I can’t. I’ve heard of it, learned enough to recognize it when I see it, but I can’t do anything with it. Because it’s not Heretic magic.”
“What?” I blinked that way. “If it’s not Heretic magic, then what kind of magic is it?”
His response came immediately. “Fomorian. It’s Fomorian magic.”
That made me twist around, staring at him. “You mean the Strangers that Gaia destroyed an entire state to get rid of? Those Fomorians?”
Nodding slowly, Deveron looked up before rising. “Yeah. Those Fomorians. I’ve heard of a few sticking around, getting cut off from their homeworld. There’s not very many of them, and mostly they hide out, conducting their sick experiments on unsuspecting people. Something about finding the proper potential or something. I don’t know, they’re pretty rare. I’ve never seen one. And they’re really good at hiding, because they can manipulate memories, play them like a fiddle. That’s one of the reasons they were so dangerous, why the Heretics had to cut them off at the source. Because they are nasty, evil sons of bitches.
“And right now, they’re in my daughter’s house.”