March 20th, 1986
The child’s name was Larissa. She was a rather small eleven-year-old girl, whose mess of brown hair never seemed to allow itself to be tamed for long. Not that she often put much effort into attempting to do so. No, Larissa was content to let her hair do whatever it wanted. It left her time to focus on the things she actually cared about, like reading comics and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys.
It was the former hobby she was engaging in then. Seated under a tree at the park, Larissa was intently reading the final issue of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, which had just been released that very month.
The young girl was so intent on her reading, desperate to find out how the epic story ended, that she didn’t even notice the man approaching her until he was standing directly next to the tree. When the shadow of the man unexpectedly fell over her comic, she blinked up to see what was going on.
“Report,” the man ordered without preamble. He was as old as her grandfather, and was dressed in a nice suit and tie. He was even holding a briefcase, like he had just walked out of a business meeting.
“Um.” Larissa had no idea who this man was, which meant he fell into the ‘stranger’ category. “Please go away, sir.” She spoke firmly, hoping that the strange man would realize that he didn’t know her after all.
Instead, the man rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath something in some language Larissa couldn’t understand. Then he focused on her once more, his tone sharp. “I said report, Sariel.”
Larissa’s mouth opened, then shut. Her head tilted sideways for a moment before her eyes focused once more as a completely different set of body language settled over the girl. “Puriel.” the girl’s mouth said the name with clear annoyance. “I asked you not to make contact this way. I only take over Larissa while she’s asleep or in an emergency. She still thinks that I’m just an imaginary friend from her dreams.”
“And I told you that we don’t have time to engage with your folly,” Puriel insisted. “You are a spy, Sariel, not a friend. You should be controlling the girl as much as possible, to prepare for the moment that she is recruited by Crossroads. The Seraphim didn’t assign you to her so you could lounge in the back of her mind while she lays around reading this…” He plucked the comic from her hands. “… filth.”
“Actually, there’s some really good stories in those comics, Puriel,” Sariel informed him. Not that she expected the hard-headed being to listen. “And you used to enjoy the stories that the humans came up with. I seem to recall you paying attention to the tales that Greeks told when you were playing Zeus.”
He made an annoyed sound. “That was different. They were different. We directed the humans far more openly then. With the Heretics as numerous as they are now, that is impossible. And in any case, the Greek’s stories were at least entertaining. Not like… this.” He held the comic like it was excrement.
Sariel snatched it back from him, careful to avoid ripping the thing. “You only say that because they let you be the leader of their gods.” She paused before adding, “At least they got the arrogance right.”
“I am no longer Zeus,” Puriel spoke flatly. “And you have not been known as Artemis in quite some time, Sariel. Those days are over. You should focus on your current duties. Maintain control of the girl and keep an eye on her father until Crossroads approaches in a few of the human years. The Seraphim still believe that one of the legal cases that he works will be important some time in the future.”
“I know,” Sariel retorted without looking away from him. “If you’d just read my reports, you’d know that I’ve been using Larissa’s body while she’s asleep to go into her father’s office every night and read his files. I haven’t found anything that would interest the Seraphim. It’s all normal, boring legal cases.”
He just folded his arms while regarding her with clear disdain. “I’ve read the reports. I wanted to speak with you directly to ensure that you were not leaving anything out.”
“Well, I’m not.” Sariel made a shooing motion with the hand that wasn’t holding onto the comic book. “And there’s nothing else to tell you. So would you mind leaving? I already need to fix Larissa’s memory, and I’d like to make sure she has time to finish reading her book before she has to go home.”
Puriel made an expression of distaste before straightening. “Do not wait too long before you report again, Sariel. You may be on extended assignment, but the Seraphim are paying very close attention.”
With that, he pivoted on one heel and strode away silently. Most likely, he’d take the man he’d possessed to a bar of some kind and then leave him there with no memory of the past several hours.
Sariel, on the other hand, carefully used her magic to adjust the girl’s memory so that she would believe the strange man had come up and asked for directions to the nearest mall, which she had provided.
That done, she gave Larissa control of her own body once more and faded into the background. Some of her fellow Seosten maintained a rigid and constant grip on the bodies that they possessed, even allowing their hosts to know what was happening. Sariel, however, preferred to leave the humans she inhabited alone for the most part. As she’d told Puriel, she only took over when she absolutely had to, or at night while they were sleeping. He and his ilk believed that over-complicated things. But to Sariel, if they had to control these humans, the least they could do was leave them alone as much as possible.
It was still a gross violation of privacy, and her time in the back of Larissa’s head had gradually made the Seosten woman question her assignment. Possessing an innocent little girl to spy on her father and then spy on the Heretic school that would eventually recruit her? It was more than a little hard to take.
The entire point of spying on Crossroads was because it had grown beyond the Seraphim’s ability to control or predict. It had been difficult enough while Ruthers was in charge. The man wasn’t one of theirs, and his hard-line attitude was difficult to sway when they would have liked to. Now, the newest headmistress was even less predictable and the Seosten leadership was convinced she was hiding things, important things that none of their implanted people were capable of prying out of the woman.
So they had assigned Sariel to Larissa for this two-fold mission. First, spy on the girl’s father, then let herself be recruited by Crossroads when the time came and eventually ingratiate herself enough with Gaia Sinclaire to learn whatever secrets the woman was keeping that might endanger their civilization.
And yet… Sariel didn’t know what to do. Disobeying the Seraphim, the Seosten elite leadership council, seemed both impossible and terrifying. But she truly didn’t want to hurt any of the humans, and she was tired of spying on them, tired of treating them like enemies. She just wanted to talk to the humans. For so many years, she had been watching them, reading their stories, watching their lives from the outside. Part of her… part of her just wanted some of that for herself. A quiet life, maybe even a real family. Puriel and the others thought humans were this enormous threat, just because the Fomorians had created them. But that had been so long ago, and the humans had become so much more than that.
But there was no convincing the Seraphim, and Sariel had no idea if she was brave enough to walk away. And even if she did, then what? They would simply assign another Seosten to possess Larissa and use her as a spy. Worse, the new Seosten would probably be like Puriel, maintaining constant control.
She couldn’t do that to Larissa . There was no good answer, no real solution. For now, she just had to continue as things were and hope that a better solution would present itself eventually.
Before long, Larissa had finished reading her comic and was running through the park, dodging around people in her way. She had to get to the bus stop in the next few minutes, or she’d have to wait for the next bus. And if that happened, she’d be late for dinner and her dad would probably yell again.
Worried as she was about how late it was, the girl cut through a small forested area in the middle of the park rather than following the path all the way around. It would shave a couple minutes off the trip, which might let her make it in time. She was sprinting along, comic held tightly in one hand as she hopped over fallen branches and ducked under the ones that were still attached to the trees.
Halfway through the forested area, however, Larissa came around a particularly wide oak just in time to see something that horrified her young mind. Directly in front of her, only about twenty yards away, three men stood in a circle around a hole that had been dug in the ground. Next to the hole was the body of a fourth man. He lay there with a hole directly in the center of his forehead, his sightless eyes staring almost accusingly at the girl who was already skidding to a stop while making an involuntary noise of shock.
“Aww, fuck me!” the first man to notice her cursed before pointing. “Grab the kid, god damn it!”
Larissa pivoted and tried to run, but she wasn’t fast enough. One of the men caught her by the arm, yanking her back into the little clearing before throwing the girl hard to the ground. She landed next to the body before letting out a terrified yelp and rolled away from it.
“She’s just a kid, man,” one of the man argued. “Can’t we just let her go? We’ll be long gone by the time she brings anyone back here.”
The one who had shouted for them to grab her slapped him upside the head with a look of annoyance. “No, idiot. Because she’s seen our faces. Which means we’ve gotta get rid of the kid just like we got rid of Benny. Now just make it quick if you’re such a fucking pussy. Do her in the head and let’s get the hell out of here before anyone else shows up. We’ll dump ’em in the same grave. There’s room for her.”
Blinded by her tears, comic long forgotten, Larissa stared up at the men from her spot on the ground. “P-p-please,” she whimpered, “Please, I w-won’t say anything. Please, I’ll be quiet. I’ll be quiet. Please.”
Sighing, the second man lifted a gun from his belt and pointed it at her. “Sorry, kid. Nothing personal.”
The girl’s eyes rolled back a bit and her body seemed to seize into a small spasm. Before the man could pull the trigger, she focused once more, her eyes much harder than before. “You had your chance,” Sariel informed him in a hard voice. “But if you’re willing to kill a child, I’ll show you no mercy.”
“What the fu–” the man managed to get out before the girl’s hand snapped upward. With Sariel’s power, Larissa’s body was strong enough to smack the pistol out of his hand, sending it flying off into the bushes. Before he could react to that, she flipped herself backward and up. In mid-air, the girl lashed out, kicking the confused and startled man directly in his crotch before landing easily on her feet.
The man who had been giving the orders had his own gun out by that point, and was pointing it at her with a shouted curse. He pulled the trigger, but Sariel had already moved the girl’s body out of the way at a speed that would have been impossible for a normal human. The gun had one of those human silencer devices on it, so the shots were only about as loud as a person clapping hard. Both of the ones that the man managed to get off flew right through the air where the girl had been, hitting trees beyond.
She blurred across the ground that separated them, tearing the pistol out of the man’s grip with one hand before punching him in the throat with her other fist. While he was doubling over, she turned her back to him while lifting the gun she had taken from the man. The third man was stumbling backwards while trying to yank his pistol from his waistband. Without hesitating, Sariel shot him through the eye.
The man behind her had almost recovered enough from the punch to his throat to make a threat of himself. Before he could do so, however, she dropping her aim to point the pistol at his shoe and pulled the trigger again. The bullet tore through his foot, dropping the man to the ground with a cry of pain.
Mercilessly and without actually looking at his fallen form, Sariel pointed the gun first at the man’s chest, then at his head, pulling the trigger both times. His cries were silenced.
A sudden noise alerted her to the fact that the first man had not stayed down. Even though she had kicked him in the groin, he managed to pull himself across the grass and retrieve his pistol. Even then, the man was rolling over, lifting the gun toward her while cursing up a storm.
At the same time that he was lifting his own gun, Sariel lifted hers. Both of them shot, and the man’s head snapped back as a bullet tore through it. At the same time, however, Sariel felt the other bullet go through her host’s chest. It didn’t exactly hurt, since there wasn’t much that humans had that could hurt a Seosten. But the damage that it did to her host body was extensive. It was only Sariel’s own power that stopped the bullet from killing the girl immediately. Even then, she was damaged enough to need help. Sariel’s influence would keep her alive long enough to call for help, but they would need to hurry.
Turning on one foot, Sariel tried to make the girl’s body run for a payphone to call 911. Unfortunately, the body itself wasn’t up to the challenge. It stumbled and fell to one knee.
A moment later, Sariel ejected herself from the girl. It would appear as though the semi-transparent ghost of a blonde woman in her early twenties had simply pulled herself up and out of the critically injured child before solidifying into a fully physical form.
Once she was solid again, Sariel turned and bent to pick up the now-unconscious Larissa. Holding the girl in both arms, she began to run through the forest, back to the populated area of the park.
She was almost out of the woods when another large hawk flew down out of the sky. It passed directly over her head before wheeling around in the air ahead of her. Just as she realized what the bird was doing, it stopped in mid-air and rapidly transformed before her eyes. Instead of a bird, a man stood there blocking her path.
No, not just a man. A Heretic.
“I don’t know what you are or where you think you’re going with that girl,” the man announced while pulling a black sword with a glowing red line running up the center of it from what had looked like an empty belt. “But I’m not gonna let you take her.”
“Wait! You don’t understand–” Sariel started, only to lunge backwards as the man moved with impossible speed toward her. His sword swiped through the air where her head had been.
“I’m–” she snapped her head to the side to avoid the follow-up swing. “–trying to–” She pivoted, lunging sideways as the man instantly teleported his sword from one hand to the other in order to get a better swing at her. “–save her!”
But the man wasn’t listening. He was trying to kill her, intent on ‘saving’ the girl. She wasn’t even sure he was hearing the words she said. He was just blindingly, murderously enraged at the sight of a horribly injured child that he believed she was responsible for. And maybe she was.
With that thought, Sariel stopped dodging abruptly. She turned to the man, kneeling quickly to place the girl on the ground. Then she just straightened and faced him.
“Kill me then,” she said simply. “But take the girl to the hospital after you do. Save her.” At least then she wouldn’t have to spy on innocent people. She’d gladly sacrifice herself to save Larissa.
Flipping his sword around, the Heretic frowned at her. “I don’t know what kind of trick you–”
“It’s not a trick! Look, just–” Frowning, Sariel focused on the gun that she had just been using, the one that had fallen to the ground back in that clearing. With a thought and a slight application of her power, it reappeared in her hand. The Heretic moved, but she was already pointing the gun not at him, but toward her own head. “Save the girl,” she said simply, and closed her eyes before pulling the trigger.
She had relaxed all of her power, leaving herself completely vulnerable to the shot. Yet instead of dying, or even feeling any pain, Sariel felt the rushing air of something moving just past her head an instant before the bullet would have hit her. There was the sound of a loud ricochet, and then nothing.
Slowly, the woman opened her eyes. The Heretic was right in front of her, his sword held close to her head. He wasn’t trying to kill her, however. Instead, he’d used the flat of the blade to deflect the bullet.
“Why would you do that?” he demanded. There was no anger or condemnation in his voice, however. Instead, there was wonder and confusion. His eyes were searching hers intently.
“The girl,” she answered simply. “Please. She’s dying.”
At the reminder, the Heretic turned to look at the child on the ground. He didn’t hesitate that time. Instead, he took Sariel by one arm and yanked her after him as he knelt, sheathing the sword once more before putting a hand on Larissa as well.
A moment later, the air twisted around Sariel as the Heretic used some kind of power. The woods were gone, and they were instead standing in the entranceway of a busy hospital emergency room. There were people all around them, who froze briefly when the three figures simply appeared out of nowhere.
Then the Bystander Effect kicked in, and the people’s memories simply filled the idea that these three had come in through the doors, erasing the impossible teleportation.
A nurse was running to them, asking questions even as the Heretic lifted Larissa off the floor. She was put in a nearby gurney and rushed away to be taken care of.
Sariel watched her go, wanting to go after her. But when she took a step that way, she felt a hand on her arm once more. The Heretic was there. His voice was quiet. “She’ll be okay. They’ve got it.”
“I…” Pausing, Sariel nodded. “Thank you for letting me see that she was being saved. You… you can kill me now if you want to, if that’s your price.”
“If that’s my…” the man started before trailing off. He made a face, glancing away before his jaw tightened. Turning back to her, he made a gesture with his free hand.
Again, the world spun, and the two were back in the woods once more. The Heretic released her, stepping back a few steps before watching her with something like fascination.
“You’re not evil,” he said flatly. “You were really trying to save that girl. Why?”
“It’s a long story,” she replied. “But I never wanted to hurt anyone that didn’t deserve it. She didn’t.”
The man considered that before lifting his chin. “I think we have a lot to talk about.” He paused again, then carefully lifted his hand toward her, extending it. “What’s your name?”
“Sariel,” she answered before hesitantly accepting his hand. “What… what’s yours?”
The Heretic paused before replying, “Haiden.”
Both of them watched one another for a few seconds after introducing themselves. Neither was sure which one began to smile first, but eventually, both were. And then they began to talk. It was a discussion that lasted throughout the day, then through the night.
Eventually, the two checked on the girl, finding that she was indeed alive and would make a full recovery. Just in case, Haiden contacted Crossroads, warning them that a Stranger with possession powers had targeted one of their potentials. There was no love lost between Crossroads and Haiden’s Eden’s Garden group, but they were far more likely to listen to his warning than one that came from Sariel. He made sure the other Heretics took the warning seriously, and Larissa was soon being watched over by enough eyes that sending a replacement for Sariel to possess her again would be as close to impossible as they could make it.
Larissa was safe. Or at least as safe as possible.
To celebrate, the two of them went to dinner that next evening. And then they went to another dinner, and another. Before long, Sariel and Haiden would completely abandon their respective groups. They fell in love and ran away to begin their own family under a new name.
Sariel had enjoyed her time as both Artemis for the Greeks and Diana for the Romans. She wanted to use a name that reminded her of those days, of those lives.
The lunar goddess.
Moon. It was a good name.