In my experience, at history (or any) class in a normal high school there were the usual assortment of students: some paying attention because they didn’t want to flunk out, some who that thought they were too cool to pay attention no matter what that risked, others that were legitimately bored out of their minds and made sure everyone knew it, and then there were a few who were actively, almost obsessively interested in the actual presentation.
Considering my primary extracurricular activity at my old school had been the newspaper, whose motto was basically, ‘Yes, we still exist, turn the lights back on!’, I wasn’t super-high on the popularity scale. Which meant that I didn’t have to care about how it looked, so I was used to being one of the latter group, who actually made the clearly unforgivable mistake of asking the teacher questions that encouraged them to discuss the topic more. Yes, I know, there’s a special place in hell waiting for me.
That said, here in Crossroads, things were a little bit different. Not completely, but people did at least tend to openly pay more attention in Bystander History. I wasn’t exactly sure if it was more because Professor Dare was a complete babe, because she was kind of terrifying, or because the fact that she had actually lived through a lot of that history made her take on it even more fascinating than it would have been. Obviously, it was a combination of all three. I just didn’t know exactly what the ratios were.
Even with that in mind, however, there were still usually people who clearly didn’t care that much about what was said in the class. Probably partly because most of the Heretic-born students reacted to the Bystander understanding of what had happened throughout history a lot like adults listening to a little kid telling a long, rambling, convoluted, and semi-incoherent story about their day: initial amusement followed by a mixture of boredom and bewilderment that the polite ones tried to mask.
In a way, it was almost impossible to avoid that kind of reaction when so many classes was basically ‘Here’s what really happened, and here’s what the Bystanders think happened.’ Not always, of course. There were plenty of things that happened in the normal world (and I would probably always think of it as the ‘normal world’) that had nothing to do with Heretics. Even things that I’d initially thought had to be connected to something in the Heretic world, like the Kennedy assassination. But according to Dare when I’d asked her, there was absolutely nothing abnormal about it. But even then, most Heretic students weren’t that interested. Which I could understand. Given the choice between hearing about fighting monsters in another world, or learning about the New Deal, I knew where my preference was.
Today, however… well, today, not only was everyone paying rapt attention, but we had all shown up early. By the time Professor Dare made it into the room, the entire class was already there and waiting.
If she was surprised by that, the woman gave no sign of it. Instead, she sat at her desk and silently wrote in a little notebook until the clock ticked over to two forty. Standing right on the dot as the seconds hand crossed over, she cleared her throat before speaking up. “I suppose that now would be a bad time to inform you all that there has been a change in schedule and that we will now be taking a pop quiz on the implementation and eventual repeal of alcoholic prohibition in the United States.”
Giving a very faint, almost invisible smile at the reaction to that, Professor Dare raised a hand. “Enough. We will discuss what we were supposed to, of course. As promised, today I will talk about my history, and I will answer your questions. If you wish to have some sort of clarification or don’t understand something, feel free to raise your hand. But if your question concerns parts of the story that we haven’t reached yet, well, be patient. As I’ve told each of you, this is not a story I like to repeat.”
Once we’d all nodded and made noises of agreement and understanding, she tilted her head back to look at the ceiling. The room fell silent. No one was whispering, or even writing anything. Everyone simply stared with rapt attention as the woman finally began to speak.
“My father was Ananias Dare, who had been a bricklayer at a church in London. My mother was Eleanor White. In the year fifteen eighty-seven, they and a hundred and thirteen others, including my mother’s father, were sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to form a colony in the New World of the American continent. The initial plan was to check on a group of fifteen settlers on Roanoke island that had been left in order to maintain both an English presence in the area, and Walter Raleigh’s claim to the island. After checking on them, my parents and the others were intended to settle their own colony on Chesapeake Bay. However, they found nothing but a skeleton—the ahh, non-mobile version. That was the only sign of the group of fifteen settlers who had been left behind to safeguard Raleigh’s claim.”
By that point, Professor Dare had lowered her gaze from the ceiling and was slowly looking over us. “For reasons that are still not understood, Simon Fernandez, the commander of the fleet that brought my parents and the others across the ocean refused to allow them back onto the ship after they discovered that the fifteen men were missing. Rather than taking them to the Chesapeake Bay as formerly planned, he demanded that they stay and establish a new colony there, on Roanoke.
“My mother’s father, John White, had been named expedition leader and was now the governor of the new colony. He had been on several previous trips and had been a part of establishing a line of conversation and trade with the local natives, including the tribe from another nearby island, the Croatoans. This time, however, the natives refused to meet with my grandfather when he tried to reestablish contact, and one of the other colonists was killed by a native while he was alone.”
I knew all of this already from what I had looked up on my own. But even then, hearing it from the mouth of someone who had actually been there was far more engaging than reading it on a screen. I glanced around the room briefly to find that everyone else was just as engaged as Dare continued.
“In the midst of all this, in late August, I came along. The first English child born in the new world. But… things were still not going well. The colonists convinced my grandfather to sail back to England to get help. Unfortunately, due to certain events including the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War, he was unable to return to the colony for almost three years. When he finally arrived on August eighteenth, fifteen ninety, the exact day of my third birthday, he found the colony deserted. There was no sign of attack. All of the buildings had been dismantled and taken, so we obviously hadn’t left in a rush. The only clue he found was the word Croatoan carved into the post of a fence. Of course, he took that to mean that the colonists had moved to the nearby Croatoan Island. But there was a heavy storm coming in and the men he had arrived with refused to investigate any further before leaving.
“And that,” she announced, “is what is already known about the Roanoke Colony. Now,” Dare added with a soft, kind of sad smile, “I suppose you’d like to know the truth behind that particular mystery.”
When the rest of us quickly confirmed that, she swallowed a little before pushing on. “Of course. Some of this, naturally, I was too young to remember and only learned of second-hand. Mostly when my father spoke of it, or when I managed to eavesdrop on other colonists while they didn’t realize I was listening. But here is the true story of what actually happened.
“Three months after my grandfather’s departure, the local natives had steadily stepped up their attacks. There seemed to be a growing, concerted effort to either drive the colonists away or kill them. At the height of these hostilities, some of the natives abducted and killed a baby boy who had been born shortly after I had. This, obviously, enraged the colonists enough to go on the offensive. They killed that group and several others before one of the natives, who had previously worked with Raleigh and therefore spoke English, finally explained what was going on.”
Again, the professor was quiet for a few seconds, lost in her own memories before she went on. “Between the time that first peaceful contact had been made with the local tribes, and when my parents and the other colonists arrived, one of the native shamans had made a prophesy: that a great evil would use the blood of the first English child born on their soil to destroy the world. Desperate to avoid that, the natives had tried to drive the colonists away. When that failed, they attempted to halt the prophesy by killing the first-born child before the great evil could find them. That was why they killed the boy, they didn’t realize that I was born first.
“Obviously, my parents weren’t going to agree to kill me based on some prophesy from a native tribe. In order to halt hostilities, however, they did agree that the colony should be moved away from those lands. The colonists believed that simply getting away from the superstitious natives would be a good thing, and the tribes themselves thought that it would be harder for the ‘great evil’ to find me.
“So, they took the time to dismantle all of their houses and turned them into rafts before carving the word Croatoan into the fence post. The natives had agreed to explain what happened and where we had gone to my grandfather when he eventually returned, so the word was meant to direct him there. Then they left.”
Slowly walking down one of the aisles between our desks, Professor Dare continued in a soft, thoughtful voice. “We traveled for months before finally settling in a place that my parents believed would be safe, far from the paranoid natives whom they believed were the only real threat. And I grew up there.” She sounded… well, wistful. “I spent my childhood in that valley, surrounded by my family. And they were all my family, the colony. I knew them all, I loved… them all.”
She swallowed hard as she passed my desk, trailing her hand over it. “But it ended when I was twelve years old. That was when the great evil… whoever or… whatever it was, found us. It sent… monsters into the colony. Monsters I can’t even describe now. The years and my own… childish terror morphed their features. I remember fire, darkness, and a lot of screaming. I remember monsters of all shapes and sizes, including a creature that we now know as an amarok.”
I straightened at that, eyes widening as Professor Dare met my gaze briefly before she went on. “They were everywhere. I saw my mother disemboweled in front me as she tried to run away with me. I saw my father killed where he stood, along with so many others. But they left me alone. They left me alive. My job was to witness it, not to die. The great evil wanted me to see it all, to see what it had done in order to claim me.
“Of course, the colonists tried to fight back. And they succeeded, somewhat. More than thirty of my… my family fought and killed that giant wolf, the amarok. They paid for it with their lives, but they killed it, ripping a hole in the creature that left its blood and internal organs spilling out over half of the colony. And as that… nightmare continued, I tried to hide from the monsters that had torn my mother apart. That fear, that… blinding, unending terror led me to the body of the giant wolf. I hid under its mortal wound, in the pond of blood that kept… falling onto the ground, onto me.”
There were murmurs all around, and Professor Dare gave a short nod to cut them off. “Yes, that is how I became a Heretic. Before my connection to Crossroads, I was an Amarok-Heretic, a wolf-warrior. I was… empowered by the blood of the creature, not to fight in that case, but to run away. I was a twelve-year-old girl who was traumatized by everything I had seen. So I fled. The power of the Amarok let me run faster and longer than any person ever should have been able to. On that first day, I was able to run faster than a horse could, for most of the day while only pausing to eat and drink.
“So that’s what I did. For over a year, I ran to stay away from the evil who had… who was responsible for what happened. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t interact. I stayed away from people, because I didn’t want… anything to happen to them. I was just the wild one in the woods, running, always running.”
By that point, Professor Dare had made her way throughout the class and back around to the front where her desk was. “I might have stayed like that forever, except that… someone else found me.”
She turned to face the class, leaning against her desk as her eyes roamed over us. “He was a… natural Heretic, like me. Except his power came from one of the creatures that we now know as vampires. His name was Tiras.”
Wait, that name sounded familia—In mid-thought, a heavy thud interrupted, making me and several others jump. My eyes snapped that way along with the rest of the class, only to find Shiori staring at Professor Dare while the book that she had been holding lay on the floor next to her where it had just fallen.
“Miss Porter?” the professor prompted her with a curious look. “Are you all right?”
Shiori… Tiras… I realized where I had heard the name before. Asenath. Asenath’s father’s name was Tiras. That, coupled with the way Professor Dare had paused before she said the man who encountered her was a natural Heretic, could it mean that he was that Tiras. It would’ve been long before Asenath was born, of course (by almost two hundred years), but other than that… it fit.
“Y-yes.” Shiori’s head bobbed, and she quickly bent down to pick up the book. “Sorry, Pr-professor. Please, um, please go on. You said there was a… a man.”
She and I quickly exchanged looks, and I gave a quick nod to tell her that I had caught it as well. If it was true, if this was the same Tiras… wow. I wondered if Asenath knew about her, even if she didn’t know that it was Professor Dare herself.
“Yes, Tiras,” the blonde teacher confirmed before continuing. “He took me in, convinced me that he was strong enough to protect himself. And that he could also protect me. He… trained me, taught me how to fight instead of simply running away. I learned the art of the sword from Tiras. He honed the wolf’s savagery in me into something more useful. Tiras taught me everything. He was a second father to me, and I spent the next ten years growing up under his tutelage.
“But the attacks didn’t stop. Every now and then, one of the agents of the evil that had been hunting me for so long would catch up with us. We always killed them, but… but during one attack, Tiras was injured. I was twenty-three years old then, and I couldn’t let that go on. I couldn’t stand to see my second father killed too, just because of me. So, once I knew he was going to recover, I… left a note explaining what I was doing, and I went away.” She blinked rapidly a few times, her voice a little hoarse. “I left him.”
Clearing her throat, Professor Dare looked to me briefly before continuing. “I did it to protect him. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer because of me. As much as it hurt, I decided it would hurt more if he was killed by the monsters hunting me.
“Of course, just running around forever wasn’t going to work. Whoever was after me, whatever evil was behind these attacks wasn’t just going to give up. It would just keep sending things to catch me, and they would keep killing everyone who got in their way. The prophesy had said that the great evil would use my blood specifically because I was the first English child born on the soil of Americas. So, I decided the best thing to do was to leave the American continent entirely. Hoping that, well, being on a completely different continent halfway across the world would put a stop to it, I booked passage on a ship and sailed back to England, to the land of my parents. I wanted to feel some connection to them, see where they had come from. And I wanted to say goodbye the way I was never able to before. Maybe even see my grandfather. But when I got there, I… couldn’t do it. The fear that connecting with my grandfather would lead the evil to him was too much. I stayed away, though I did explore my parents’ hometown.
“There, I eventually met the woman you know as Gaia Sinclaire, the headmistress. She recognized what I was and took me under her wing. She introduced me to Hieronymus Bosch, and his machine. Under her recommendation, I became a Crossroads Heretic.
“And the rest, as they say, is history. Any questions?”