My legs folded beneath me, and my knees hit the ground. I barely noticed. My attention was fixated solely on the red and gold creature that was crouched there, looking at me more solemnly than any ordinary animal. But then, this wasn’t just any monkey. It wasn’t even just some magical one, was it?
“It’s you,” I managed, emotion so thick in my voice that the words were barely recognizable. “You’re…” Slowly, I lifted my visibly shaking hand toward the monkey before stopping. I was afraid, afraid that if I touched it, the thing would disappear, that she’d disappear and I’d never see her again.
Time seemed to stand still, yet it was only my own silence and inability to breathe. I held my hand there, afraid to move any closer yet terrified to take it away. All I could do was kneel there, staring at that small creature while hope carried out a full-scale guerrilla war against doubt within my own mind.
Four seconds that were a million lifetimes passed before a red hair-covered hand pressed against my own. The monkey made a soft chittering noise, and when I moved my eyes from our fingers to her eyes, I saw tears that matched my own. Eyes that I knew. Eyes that made my own tears redouble as I choked on the word that fought its way out of my throat and into my shaking voice. “… Mommy…?”
The monkey’s fingers interlaced with mine, squeezing before she moved closer on shuffling feet. I couldn’t breathe, or even think. All I could do was sit there and watch as she came close enough to lift her other hand, pressing it against my cheek. The coo sound that she made as her fingers brushed my cheek needed no translation. Its tone, and the look in her eyes, said everything I needed to hear.
Leaning instinctively into her smaller hand while tears ran freely down my face, I brought my own free hand up to press against the back of hers to hold it there. My shoulders shuddered heavily and I fought to find words. “Mom… Mommy… I…” Closing my eyes, I shivered violently before bowing my head.
“I… I’m…” Choking a little more, I fought to speak through the emotion. “I’m sorry. I’m–” Again, I gave a violent shudder. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I hated you. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Mommy. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. You were gone and Dad was sad and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why. I’m sorry. I can’t… m-my… I was mad. I was mad at you, and you were doing all this for me. You did it for me and I’m a bad person. I hated you. I was wrong, I was wrong, I was…” Words failed me entirely then as the tears grew overwhelming.
The monkey’s hand brushed down my cheek before she stepped right up to me. Her long, deft fingers slipped down to my chin, tilting it up so that I was looking into her eyes again. Once I met her gaze, she shook her head at me, her eyes soft and compassionate. A barely audible coo came while she tugged my hand to gently kiss my fingers. At the same time, her other hand moved up to brush down through my hair as she gave me what was obviously a smile of pride and complete understanding.
Slumping down a little, unable to hold myself up, I reached out to pick up the monkey. Drawing her tight to my chest, I hugged her. I hugged my mother, or at least as close as I had gotten to doing so in more than a decade. “Mom,”I murmured before giving a slight shudder. “Mommy, I…” Swallowing hard, I stopped trying to talk. All I could do for a long moment was hold her tight against myself.
Through it all, her hand gently brushed my hair while she held onto me. In those seconds, I didn’t care that she was using a monkey body. I didn’t care that she was smaller than I was, or that we were in the middle of a forest with people watching. I didn’t care about any of it. One thing and only one thing mattered: I was hugging my mother. I was talking to my mother. She was there. It didn’t matter what form she was in or how it happened. She was there. My mom was there with me. That was everything.
Finally, the one thing more important than touching my mother (or the closest thing I could get to that) overcame my sheer shock at her (sort-of) presence. And that was talking to her. My head pulled back to stare at her while I sniffled. “Mom,” I managed, blinking rapidly to clear the tears from my eyes. It didn’t really work that well, but at least I could see more than just a blur. “Mom, I love you. Okay? I don’t know how long you have or what’s going on or what’s going to happen, but I n–” I choked a little in spite of my determination to get all of it out. “I need you to know that. I love you, Mom. I love you.”
After everything bad I had said about my mother over the ten years before I knew the truth, telling her that right then felt incredibly, unbelievably important. Even if she’d never heard any of the bad things I’d said, even if she had no idea how I felt about her before, she had to know now. She had to know the truth, that I loved her, that I cherished every memory that I still had of her. That I missed her so much.
It felt like I had to erase everything bad I’d ever said or even thought about my mother by telling her how much she really meant to me, and as if I had only a few seconds to get all of it out before she’d disappear again. The words past those few at the start came out in an utterly incomprehensible jumble.
Her small hand gently brushed over my face and then down through my hair once more, her touch as tender now as I remembered it being as a child. Neither time nor the difference in her current body had changed how she touched me. It was her. It was my mother’s touch, and I would know it anywhere.
“Mom, how did you—what did—you—wait. Wait.” Horror at my own insensitivity struck me then, overwhelming my brief attempt to get some actual information out of her. Turning slightly, I found… the others weren’t there. I could see them off in the distance at the base of another giant tree, but they had moved away to give Mom and I some privacy. The stone that Miranda had used to guarantee that the werewolves wouldn’t detect us was sitting nearby, and they were clearly using a different one.
All of them had moved away except for two people. One of them was Tristan, who was crouched in the bushes some distance away, watching the canyon below. Obviously, he was keeping an eye on the pack of werewolves so we wouldn’t be taken by surprise if they happened to come up this way.
But it was the other person that my eyes focused on. She stood awkwardly far enough away that it wasn’t like she was hovering or intentionally eavesdropping, yet close enough to be noticed.
“Koren,” I spoke quietly, beckoning with a hand for her to come over even as I sniffed back the tears.
Mom’s gaze had snapped up at that, as I held the hand out that way. She watched with an intent, alert stare as the other girl slowly moved closer. Once she was close enough, I took her hand and pulled her down with us. “Mom, I… I don’t know how much you remember. But you had twin children before… before the Heretics sent you out. Twins. Koren and Zedekiah. They changed their names to Abigail and Wyatt, and they’re grown up now. But this is Abigail’s daughter… Koren. She remembered the name Koren somehow, Mom. This is your granddaughter. Koren, this is… my mom. Your grandmother.”
“Um.” Koren looked a little awkward as she lifted her hand in a wave. “Hi, Mrs… uh, oh.” The realization that she had no idea what to refer to my mother as showed as a brief flash of panic crossed her face. In any other situation, it would have been amusing. At the moment, I was too overwhelmed.
Mom, however, reached out with one small-yet-strong monkey hand and pulled Koren down to embrace her tightly around the neck. I could see even more tears in her eyes as she clung to Koren.
My mother, I realized again, loved her family more than absolutely anything else. Twice, she had given up absolutely everything in order to save her children. She surrendered to Crossroads in order to spare her first children, Wyatt and Abigail. And later, she had surrendered to Fossor to save me. She was a powerful, incredible woman who challenged the leaders of an ancient army of hunters, who led a revolt against titans. And yet, she gave all of it up and subjected herself to misery twice for her children.
If I lived for a thousand years, I would never meet anyone who was more of a hero than my mother.
Eventually, I reached out a hand and touched the monkey’s arm to get her attention. “Mom. Mom, I—th-there’s so much. So much I want to tell you. Wyatt—I mean Zedekiah, he’s okay. He’s a security guy at the school now. A-and Abigail–” There, I blanched a little, cringing in spite of myself. I tried to control it, but the monkey’s hand was already touching my face, her worry evident in her gaze.
“She’s okay, I mean—she’s going to be okay,” I managed. “Mom—I–” Closing my mouth I forced myself to think clearly. Everything was a jumble, and it was hard to focus on anything other than the fact that my mother was finally right there where I could touch and talk to her. But this was too important for me to screw it up. “Mom, I don’t know how you’re here, but does he.. does he know?”
The monkey’s gaze was solemn for a few seconds, and then the head shook slowly back and forth.
“But how?” Koren spoke up before I could. “I thought he—the bad guy was a super-powerful necromancer that umm, that like… controls you. How would he miss something like, well, like this?”
Hopping down, the monkey took a step back before sticking a finger in the dirt. Slowly, she used it to trace letters that eventually spelled out, ‘Had business on other world. Not here now.’
My heart soared for a second. “He’s not there? So you can just tell us where you are and we can come get you. Gaia’ll help, I know she will. And Deveron—he’ll be there. We’ll come find you and–”
The monkey’s hand gently touched my lips to stop me then, her head shaking with a look of regret. Before I could protest or plea, she wiped away what she’d written in the dirt before tracing more letters.
‘Strict orders. Can’t disobey. Can’t do anything–‘ She ran out of room then, waiting for us to read them before wiping those letters away and writing some more. ‘—to endanger him or his plans, or risk–‘ Again, she had to wait for us to read the words and scratch them out to make more. ‘his enemies finding him.’ Sitting back on her haunches, Mom regarded us for a moment before finishing, ‘This didn’t directly disobey orders–‘ One last time, she brushed it out. ‘—Told not to leave house. Still in house.’
In spite of the situation, I had to smile a bit at that before frowning. “But how did you know to make your little… umm, magic monkey thing and send it out to us now, right here? How did you find me?”
I thought I saw a slight smile cross the monkey’s face before she put a finger down to write some more, taking a couple of times to wipe out previous words. ‘Accident. When twins taken, made alert spells and placed in areas to track them down. Included spells in E.G. Forest. Spell finally activated. Detected you 2. Not twins. Still glad.’ She paused, hand on the last word before using a finger to underline it.
“So he’s gone, so you can’t tell us anything that would help find you.” I resisted the urge to sigh, pushing on in spite of the feeling. “And anything we told you about what we’re doing to find you, you’d probably have to tell him as soon as possible because of that ‘don’t do anything to endanger him’ thing.”
The resulting nod made me drop my head, shoulders heaving a bit before I stopped. No. I was not going to waste this time I had feeling sorry for myself or lament about how hard things were. Fuck that. “Fine,” I said instead. “Then we’ll be productive in another way. First, Mom… I love you. I know I said it before, but I need you to know that. Okay? I love you and I miss you so much. Dad’s okay. I mean, he misses you too. But he’s getting along. He’s still working, and we’ve been taking care of each other.”
A flicker of obviously intense emotion crossed the monkey’s face before she gave a slow nod at that.
Frowning as a thought came to me then, I quickly asked, “Wait, how did he make you into a Heretic again? Can you tell us that much? Because I’m pretty sure he couldn’t smuggle you into Eden’s Garden or Crossroads to do it.”
Then I watched as Mom’s monkey scratched out the answer. ‘Had EG Apple to give me.’
“One of the Eden’s Garden apples? But… but how would he… how would he have… that…” Trailing off, I worked my mouth before giving up. I’d have to ask Seller about it. “And Ammon,” I was unable to keep the hate out of my voice. “He gave him one too?”
That time, she shook her head before writing, ‘No. Made Ammon Heretic another way. Old way. Buried with blood.’ The monkey seemed to pause then, looking up at me before deliberately writing, ‘Ammon sweet before. Good boy. Fossor did something. Changed him. Broke him.’
Rocking back a little bit, I tried to think of an Ammon that was… sweet. I couldn’t do it. The image of what he had done to the poor girl at the gas station, along with everything else he was responsible for… I couldn’t imagine him being innocent.
Finally, I tried to deal with it by pushing on. “Anyway.. like I said, Abigail was hurt. This Fomorian came after her. I um, I don’t know if you re–” My gaze flicked up then, and I saw the look in her eyes. “Oh. I guess you do know them after all. And I guess you know why he came after her….” Another nod came, and I swallowed. “He was trying to get Koren to go with him, and he hurt Abigail pretty bad to do it. She was… she was gonna die, Mom. But we brought her here and they made her a Heretic so that they could use magic to heal her. Wyatt, he’s with her now. He’s taking care of her, because he’s… he’s really good with magic. I mean really good.”
I explained a little bit more, trying to be careful not to say too much that we couldn’t afford to have Fossor eventually find out. It was hard though, because it all kept coming out in a jumble, and there was so much that I wanted to talk to my mother about. I kept losing track of what I was saying. But Koren stepped in a few times, filling in or helping when I got sidetracked. Together, we told her about the Fomorian and Seller. Eventually, I took her hands and told her about Professor Pericles. It turned out she already knew the man was dead. But when I explained what Miranda and I had figured out about why he was killed, she was visibly shaken. I guess the idea that your old mentor and father-figure was killed while the person the murderer actually meant to kill was your son had that kind of effect.
Through it all, Mom sat there and listened while I went through the entire story about Avalon before finally finishing with, “So we’re going to go into the hospital and see if this Professor Tangle is really in a coma or… what. Because her connection to whoever here at Eden’s Garden who wants to kill Avalon so badly is the only lead we’ve got. If she really is in a coma, that means there’s a different mole in Crossroads. And if so, I don’t know how to smoke them out without putting Avalon out there as bait or something, and I… I can’t do that.”
Almost before I had finished speaking, Mom was already writing with her finger. ‘Her father.’
My head nodded. “I thought of that—we thought of that. He has tried to kill her. But the person behind it is someone here at Eden’s Garden. That message on Tangle’s phone said ‘She won’t have any friends here.’ Here as in Eden’s Garden. So whoever she was involved with lives here. Not only would Avalon have recognized her own father, but I’m pretty sure they’d all notice a vampire hanging around.”
The response came quickly, scratched into the dirt. ‘Ring of Anuk-Ité.’
“Anuk-Ité?” I blinked down at the words, shaking my head. “I don’t know what that is.”
In response, the monkey looked over her shoulder at nothing for a few seconds. When she turned back, her hurry was even more pronounced. ‘Have to go soon. Look up Ring of Anuk-Ité. And find out why Fahsteth there that night. Not coincidence. Find Fahsteth, find answer.’
My eyes widened then, and I blurted, “Wait, you can’t go. I… I need you, I need you, Mom. I…” Realizing how selfish that was, I stopped myself. If she got caught… if anything bad happened to her just because I wanted to spend a few more precious seconds with my mother, I’d never forgive myself.
“Mom. Mom, if you get another chance to use this, umm, leave a message for Miranda to find, okay? I saw this tree right on the edge of the clearing beneath the Eden’s Garden tree that’s kind of bent in half near the top, with the branches pointing down. If you have anything to say, leave a message there. If you want to arrange a time to meet, or… or anything, just leave the message and she’ll tell me. I’ll find a way to get back here, no matter what. O-okay? I’ll do it. I promise.”
The monkey leaned up to hug me tightly before doing the same with Koren. One hand caressed each of our cheeks before she wrote in the dirt, ‘I love you.’
“Mom.” I was choking on my own words again, tears streaming freely once more. “Mom, please. Please be okay. Mom, I love you. I love you, Mommy. Please, please we’re going to find you, I promise! I promise, we’ll find you! I won’t abandon you, I swear! I won’t forget about you or give up on you! I’ll find you, Mom! I’ll…”
The monkey vanished, leaving a small wooden block in its place.
“… find you.”
My strength left me then, and I slumped backward against Koren, who caught me. For a moment, all I could do was close my eyes and shiver.
“What… what do you think that Ring of Anuk-Ité is?” she asked after a few seconds.
Shaking my head, I managed a soft, “I don’t know.
“But we’re going to find out.”