Very shortly after Gaia introduced Tristan to the school at their dinner.
Vanessa Moon was a logical person, as far as she could be. She was also a rule-abiding one. Again, as far as she could follow rules while continuing to do such little things as search for her missing family and avoid letting the authorities in charge of this school or her classmates themselves know that she was directly related to one of the so-called ‘Strangers’ that they were all supposedly training to kill.
Good student or not, she was fairly certain that such a revelation would probably result in her losing any chance at a decent report card. Also, death.
But the fact remained that as much as she could be a logical, rule-abiding student, she was. She did what she was told to do, followed every rule that she didn’t absolutely have to break, and generally worked as hard as possible to be a model student. She never acted out, had never been sent to the principal’s office or anything like it throughout her entire academic career. She always did her homework, never spoke out of turn, and so on.
Which meant that both sides of Vanessa, the secret half-Stranger who was just looking for her family, and the perfectly behaved model student, should have been utterly terrified at this point. Because in almost every other possible situation, being brought to the office of the Crossroads Headmistress would have left her petrified with fear. Not only did it go against the person she’d always been in all of her other schools (once she’d realized that ranting about her family disappearing into the shards of a glowing crystal ball wasn’t getting her anywhere), but attracting Headmistress Sinclaire’s attention also ran the risk of revealing who and what she really was.
But this was not a normal situation. And in that particular moment, Vanessa wasn’t thinking about any of that. Because nothing, not those worries or anything else, were the slightest blip against the pure and unadulterated joy that accompanied the one and only thought that was in her mind in that moment.
My brother’s back.
Both of them were standing in waiting room just outside of Headmistress Sinclaire’s office. The woman had said something about giving them a moment while she prepared things before stepping inside. But Vanessa had barely heard her. She had latched onto Tristan and hadn’t let go. Every time she tried to say something, the words caught in her throat. She was afraid of breaking the moment, of waking up to find out it had all been a dream.
But it wasn’t a dream. He was there. After a solid decade of being apart, her twin brother was there. Vanessa continued to hug Tristan as tightly as she could, refusing to let go even long enough to sit down in one of the chairs that lined the nearby wall.
And for his part, Tristan didn’t seem interested in letting go of her either. He was holding onto Vanessa just as tightly as she was holding him, and seemed possibly even more overwhelmed. It was obvious that he’d had no idea that she was at the school.
“Why—how… how did you… you…” The words escaped her, but she wasn’t sure they were even in the right order, let alone whether or not the resulting sentence would have made sense if they were.
Yet Tristan seemed to understand. “Long story, Nessa,” he assured her quietly. “It’s a really long story. I’ll explain it later. But hey, the point is, I’m here now. I’m here.”
“But how?” Vanessa demanded, head shaking. “I—I’ve looked into that sphere thing. I don’t know who made it, but I’ve found enough that I know what it does. You shouldn’t be able to be here. You should be on some other world. You shouldn’t be able to come here without snapping right back to where you were!” Her voice was a hissed whisper. “I’ve been trying to find a way to break it, but no one even knows who makes those spheres, let alone how to–”
Tristan promptly supplied, “Seosten. They’re called Seosten. And like I said, it’s a long story. Probably best told if you’re sitting down. Which….”
He started to gesture to the nearby chairs, but Vanessa’s head shook as she pulled back just enough to stare at her twin with wide eyes. “I—I couldn’t find—I mean I haven’t found Mom and Dad. I’ve been–”
And then she shut up abruptly, as the realization of where they were and what was happening finally overcame her incredible relief and elation.
Tristan obviously noticed her reaction, frowning briefly. “What–”
Before he could say anything else, however, Vanessa’s hand snapped up to cover his mouth. The boy made a noise of surprise until she shushed him. Eyes wide, she stepped back as far from the headmistress’s door as she could while keeping her voice low. “Listen, I can’t explain right now, but you can’t say anything about what you saw back at the house. You can’t talk about that guy that came to the door, o-or what he said about Mom or… or anything.”
“You mean that she’s a Seo–” Tristan started, only to have his mouth covered once again.
“Shhh!” Vanessa insisted. “Please, Tristan. Please. You don’t understand. These people—they—they’re… they’re good people, but they think…” She took a breath and let it out again. “If they knew what Mom was, what we are, they’d–”
The voice came from behind them, and Vanessa almost jumped all the way to the ceiling several meters above them (which, considering the Tsuchinoko she had killed earlier, was actually physically possible for her). She spun, reflexively putting herself in front of her twin.
“He-Headmistress Sinclaire,” she started, staring at the woman. Vanessa’s mind raced. They couldn’t escape the woman, couldn’t beat her and couldn’t hope to get away. Not in any normal way at least. But if they could get into the main student population, it might slow her down as she couldn’t outright attack them without explaining things. And in the resulting confusion, then maybe… maybe….
“I have lived a very long time,” the headmistress spoke quietly, her tone as gentle as Vanessa had ever heard. “But I would trade almost all of those years if it meant that I would never have to see another innocent child look at me the way you are right now.”
Before Vanessa’s open mouth could do more than make a confused noise, she felt Tristan’s hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay, Nessa,” he assured her. “It’s all right. She knows. She knows what Mom was, what we are.”
“You—she—what?” Vanessa’s head flipped back and forth, looking over at her brother and then back to Headmistress Sinclaire before repeating the motion several times. She had no idea where to look, and the only sounds coming out of her mouth were ones of utter bafflement and disbelief.
“Uh, could you maybe say something to her?” Tristan addressed the older woman. “I think she’s about to explode or something.”
In response, the headmistress straightened a little, gazing at Vanessa with a look that made the girl feel less certain of her terror. “Vanessa,” she said quietly, “you are in no danger from me. At worst, it is an apology that I owe you, not harm.”
“A… an apology?” She was confused, the words coming out hesitantly as she continued to lean back against her brother.
“Yes.” Headmistress Sinclaire answered simply before explaining. “I owe you an apology for allowing you to remain this fearful of being discovered. You appeared to be handling your unique situation quite well in comparison to others that I have seen, so I assumed that our discussion could wait. In the meantime, I’ve been attempting to help you where I could, directing books to be left where you could find them, ensuring that you were not disturbed during your late night library research excursions, and even making my own inquiries into the whereabouts of your family.”
Vanessa’s mouth hung open as she stared at the woman. “You—you knew? I mean—you—oh.”
“I know many things, Vanessa,” the headmistress confirmed. “I must confess that your relation to Tristan here did take me by surprise. I had been attempting to find out exactly what sort of… being your missing mother is, but my efforts were unsuccessful. Now, it seems, we have our answer.”
The girl’s head shook slowly. “But you—you’re the principal of—I mean the headmistress of—you teach—this—I… I don’t understand.” It wasn’t often that Vanessa had to say those words. Yet, in this case, she was rather thoroughly flummoxed.
“First, it bears repeating that you are in no danger from me,” Headmistress Sinclaire spoke firmly. “The truth is that there are those of us within the ranks of Heretics who believe that there should be a way to live peacefully with some of the beings that we refer to as Strangers. We know that many, such as your mother, are not evil. In fact, they would be a much greater ally against the true threats.”
“But… but you teach them—you teach us that they’re all… that we’re all…” Vanessa started.
The woman nodded while finishing for her, “Evil. Yes. Sadly, the overall leadership of Crossroads does not share that opinion. Nor do the majority of the populace. We are attempting to change minds, but that takes time and a lot of subtlety to avoid alerting those who would bring the leadership down on top of us. You, and those like you, are part of that quiet attempt.”
“We are?” Vanessa blinked once, then spoke before the other woman could explain. “You mean you get students who would be considered evil, put them through all this training, and if they graduate you’ve got another Heretic who doesn’t believe the official line. Oh, and on top of that, you have other Heretics who were friends with them when they were students and might be more open to the idea that they’re not all evil.”
Chuckling, the headmistress made a gesture of agreement. “Your reputation for intelligence is clearly not undeserved. Yes. It was only relatively recently that someone like you, one who is half-Alter—I’m told that is their word for themselves rather than Stranger– was capable of joining this school. The Edge itself had to be… updated to allow it.”
“So… so you always knew, and you were… and you’re really… you’re not…” Trailing off, Vanessa stumbled a little toward the nearby chair. “I think I should sit down.”
Tristan helped her over to it before sitting beside her with both hands on Vanessa’s arm. “If you think that’s crazy, wait til you hear the rest of the story.”
Putting her other hand over one of Tristan’s and squeezing it tightly, the girl stared at him in a bit of a daze. “The rest of the story?”
Before he could explain, Headmistress Sinclaire stepped that way. “I’m going to do as I promised now and leave you both to your reunion. I would not have interrupted at all, but I wanted you to know that you are safe here. Provided, of course, that you do remain discreet. I will do all that I can to protect you, as will my allies. But there are many that you must not allow to find out anything about your true situation.”
“The… the other teachers?” Vanessa asked hesitantly.
“Some are on our side,” the woman confirmed. “One, in fact, is also a Half-Alter. But it is up to that person if they wish to reveal themselves to you, not me. Later, I will discuss such things, along with which professors you may trust beyond a shadow of a doubt. But for now, enjoy your time with your brother, Vanessa. We can worry about everything else, including how to locate your parents now that we have more information, later. I promise you, we will do absolutely everything possible to bring your family together once more.”
“H-Headmistress?” Vanessa slowly raised a hand, as if she was in class. “You—um, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, because it’s really personal. But… do you have a family? It’s just—I know you adopted Avalon. But you’ve been around for a long time, and yet I don’t think you’ve mentioned anyone else even though you… you seem to care a lot about people having their families.”
For a moment, the woman didn’t respond to her. Vanessa was afraid that her insatiable thirst for information, her urge to know things and inability to not ask a question once it had occurred to her, had gone too far.
But after a few seconds of that, Headmistress Sinclaire asked, “Do you know the origin of the name Sinclair? Generally spelled without the e.”
Without even thinking about it, Vanessa nodded. “It’s from the Highland Scottish Clan Sinclair. The name was originally Saint-Clair, because that’s where they were from, back in Normandy.”
Smiling faintly, the headmistress nodded. “Indeed. To answer your question, I am not… generally speaking, able to bear children. It’s simply one of those things. However, once, I did just that. I had a son. It…” She paused then, glancing away before speaking in a softer voice. “He was taken from me and… died before I was able to rescue him.”
Eyes wide at that, Vanessa made a noise of horror. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–”
“It has been many years.” The woman shook her head. “At the time, however, I was very… inconsolable. I was taken in by the Clan Sinclair. They cared for me, nourished me, forced me to eat and drink when I only wished to die and join my son, the son that I never should have been able to have at all. They did everything for me until I was prepared to live again.
“And so, when I chose to reinvent myself, I took a new name. Sinclaire to honor the people who had done so much for me, adding the e as an admission that I was not born into their clan. And I took the name of Gaia as Earth Mother, to remind myself that I do not have to be mother only to one, but that I may… care for any who need me to do so.”
Blinking back a few tears, Vanessa managed a weak, “I… I’m sorry for making you think about that again…”
Headmistress Sinclaire’s voice was soft, but certain. “As I said, it has been a very long time. And you should know it, so that you understand that when I say that I will do everything within my power to reunite you with your family, I mean it.”
She gave a firm nod then, reaching out to brush Vanessa’s hair back with a gentle smile before turning away. “Take all the time that you need, both of you. We can discuss the rest of this later.”
Then the woman was gone again, closing the door after herself while leaving Vanessa and Tristan to begin what promised to be a very, very long conversation.