A Learning Experience 17-06

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“You guys do know that this isn’t really fair, right?” I half-joked while holding my staff in front of myself as I looked first to Avalon in front of me, then over my shoulder toward where Deveron had positioned himself. Both held wooden staffs and wore nearly identical smirks. “Both of you at once?”

It was Friday, the next morning. Or rather, a few hours later. I’d finished my training with Gaia and slept for an hour and a half (clearly showing how exhausted I’d been), waking in time for this training.

Deveron just shook his head when I looked at him. “You think the people you’ll be fighting care about fair, Flick?” Spinning the staff expertly in his hands, he added, “You’re lucky we’re all using the same weapon. Eventually, you’re gonna have to figure out how to fight both of us with different weapons and adjust your style. And once you get used to that, we’ll see about adding in more people. Like Shiori.”

“He’s right,” Avalon spoke up before I could respond, and I turned back that way to find her tossing her own staff from hand to hand. “You want to get better, you have to keep making your training harder.”

“In that case,” I replied, “how many people are you training against at this point to keep improving?”

Her response was an almost feral smile. “How many people are in our class?” Sobering then, she clarified, “I train with the older students whenever I have a chance. And,” her gaze flicked to Deveron. “Now that we have a mentor who isn’t a completely meaningless waste of space, he helps too.”

Deveron snorted at that, bowing his head in acceptance. “I deserve that. And probably even more. But I’d deserve a lot worse if I didn’t push your training, Flick. You need to get better, so let’s get to it.”

Holding up a hand, I quickly put in, “Wait, I wanted to ask. Have you guys ever used that, um, the animal projection thing?” It took a moment to remember what Gaia had called it. “The um, theriangelos spell?” I’d already told them about how it had gone, and how it had been all I could do to focus on seeing through my fox’s eyes without getting a headache. Gaia had said that it would take time and practice to do it properly, and that eventually I’d be able to easily switch my attention back and forth.

Avalon shook her head, spinning her staff behind her back and to the front again. “No,” she replied simply. “I haven’t done any extra magic. Eden’s Garden starts learning it this year, so I’m not ahead of you on that. Actually,” the girl added with a tiny smirk, “I guess that means you’re ahead of me.”

Flushing in spite of myself, I shrugged. “I’m sure Gaia’d teach you if you ask her.” At that point, I was positive that Gaia would do almost anything if Avalon asked her to. “She really cares about you a lot.”

I actually managed to catch sight of the other girl blushing slightly before she got it under control, clearing her throat as she focused past me toward Deveron. “What about you?” she asked, pointedly.

“Yeah, I’ve done it,” he replied. Eyeing the enchanted coin that was lying nearby to ensure our privacy, he added, “Jos thought it’d be a good way to communicate when we couldn’t be with each other.”

Intrigued by that, I asked, “So what was your animal thing? What is the ‘spirit animal’ of Deveron Adams?” Smiling a bit, I added, “And just to warn you, if you say ‘sloth’, I might just die laughing.”

Snorting clearly in spite of himself at that, Deveron shook his head. “No, it’s not a sloth. It’s–” He paused then, obviously bracing himself for something before actually answering. “It’s a weasel.”

I blinked once, then again. A gradual smile rose on my face as I fought to control the burst of laughter that tried to come out. It escaped in the form of a snicker. “Weasel. A weasel? That—you know, not that long ago, I would’ve said that a weasel was completely appropriate for you. Almost as much as a sloth.”

“Laugh it up,” he retorted, through his own self-depreciating smile. “Go on, get it out of your system.”

Behind me, Avalon started to hum softly. It was a familiar song, one that was right on the tip of my tongue for a second before my eyes widened. “Pop goes the weasel!” I blurted. Then I really started to laugh. “Oh my god. Oh god. Mom. Mom’s a monkey! Mom’s animal is a monkey!” Half-doubling over from my own snickering, I recited, “All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel!”

Poor Deveron shook his head slowly, groaning as his hand waved. “Yeah, yeah, it’s hilarious. Trust me, your mom thought it was the best thing ever. It was–” He sobered a little, and I saw the emotion in his eyes as he straightened and swallowed. “It probably sounds stupid, but the song was… important to us.”

My own head shook at that, and I put a hand up to touch the man’s arm. “It doesn’t sound stupid,” I assured him, though my voice cracked just a little as I spoke. “I’ve got stuff with… with Mom, memories that other people would probably think were silly or dumb. But they’re not. They’re… her.”

For a moment, he met my gaze steadily and silently before nodding. “They’re her,” Deveron agreed quietly, yet firmly. “And those are the memories that we have to hold onto, until we get her back.”

I nodded at that without breaking his gaze, echoing his words just as firmly. “Until we get her back.”

Even as my own hand stayed on Deveron’s arm, I felt Avalon touch my shoulder. It was a light brushing of her fingers, but it felt like so much more just because she was the one reaching out. Her voice was soft. “If you want to save your mother when the time comes,” she reminded me, “we need to practice.”

Slowly, I lowered my hand away from Deveron and nodded. “Right, practice.” Stepping back, I flipped the staff around and looked first to my roommate, then to my sort-of stepfather. “Let’s do this then.”

******

“Well, I suppose since this is our very last class of the semester and you’ve already finished your tests, we should do something interesting with the time that we still have left, hmm?”

The man talking was Professor Stephen Vandel, our Heretical Geography teacher. He was the guy who taught us all about the lands, areas, and even entire planets that Bystanders either didn’t know about or had forgotten. He’d promised that we’d get to Atlantis next semester after people wouldn’t stop asking.

Professor Vandel was a short man, even shorter than me and almost as short as Sands and Scout. I would’ve been surprised if he topped out at much more than five foot two or so. He looked like he was in his mid-late thirties, with red hair that he wore in a ponytail and a neatly trimmed goatee. Every time I’d seen him this semester, the man was wearing a long-sleeved black and white checkered shirt with a bolo tie and crisp blue jeans that looked brand new. I wasn’t sure he even owned any different clothes. And most striking of all, he wore an actual monocle over his right eye. Yeah, an honest to God monocle.

“Yes,” he replied to himself while I and the rest of the class watched. “Something interesting indeed.” Straightening, he moved from the whiteboard where he’d been erasing some of the details about the test we’d just finished. “Most of you have asked, at one point or another, where we are.” Spreading his hands, he elaborated. “That is, where exactly this island is located. Would you like to talk about that?”

After a chorus of agreement and nods, Professor Vandel smiled before launching into his story. “Good. Well then, let’s start by talking about our founder, Hieronymus Bosch. He was, as you all know by now, not only a genius inventor and one of the most powerful and gifted magic-users in the history of our world, but also a painter. Of course, it’s that last skill that Bystanders know him for, but we shouldn’t forget it either. Because it’s his painting skill that brought to where we are today, to this very island.”

“Wait, what?” Malcolm spoke up from across the room, brow knit in confusion as he shook his head. “The hell does painting have to do with this island? What’d he do, sell a bunch of them to pay for it?”

Professor Vandel shook his head with a slight smile. “No, Malcolm, he didn’t sell paintings to pay for this place. This place, this island that we live and learn on? It is a painting, one of his very best works.”

That made everyone start talking, questions blurting out from every corner of the room while Vandel held his hand up and waited for people to quiet down. Once he could get a word in edgewise, the man continued. “Let’s just go with one question at a time. How about you first?” He nodded toward Koren.

She was staring at the man, eyes just as wide as I was sure mine were. “What the hell do you mean, ‘the island is a painting’? What does that even mean? We can’t be in a painting, it’s a painting. That’s just—just–” The other girl floundered a bit, hands waving dramatically before blurting, “Crazy. It’s crazy.”

Chuckling a little bit at that, Professor Vandel inclined his head in acknowledgment. “I suppose it should sound unhinged. But then, most of what we talk about in every class of this school doesn’t seem exactly sane, does it?” He started to pace a bit then. “Let me explain. Maybe more details will help. The island wasn’t simply ‘created’ by a painting, no. That would be fairly ludicrous. As powerful as he was, Bosch was not a god. After all, there are living things here on this island, and in the surrounding water.

“You see, this island already existed on Earth. It was in the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Australia and a bit southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. That was the island where Bosch and those early first Crossroads Heretics chose to construct the Heretical Edge and the school that would train their students. In those days, being on an island in the middle of nowhere was safe enough. Ships could be drawn away from the island. There were enchantments that ensured Bystanders would leave us alone.”

Halting his pacing about halfway up the row of seats that I was in, Vandel turned slightly to look over the class before he continued. “But Bosch knew that Strangers would never stop trying to invade our sanctuary, and that eventually the amount of energy required to maintain our protection against their invasion would be too much. He knew that there had to be a solution that would ensure this school and the Heretical Edge itself would be kept safe. For months, he searched for the best way to do that, to protect his legacy. And in the end, he found it in one of his longest, greatest past-times: his painting.

“Through extensive magic and more power than I believe any of us has ever witnessed, our great founder painted this island, and enchanted it so that the island itself and its surroundings were taken into that painting. He created a pocket dimension, a separate yet connected world where the real island was drawn, leaving Earth entirely and yet remaining somewhat connected to it through the painting.”

“So wait a second.” Douglas Frey spoke up with a raised hand. “You’re saying that this place is some… pocket dimension that Bosch created, that exists in one of his paintings? What if something destroyed that painting? Would we all just…” Pausing, he drew his finger across his throat pointedly.

Professor Vandel shook his head, speaking up over the commotion that caused. “First of all, let me assure you that the painting is perfectly safe. It’s one of the most well-protected objects in the world. The Bystander President of the United States has less protection than that painting. Nothing is going to happen to it. And if anything did, we wouldn’t be killed. Believe me, Bosch would not have left such a clear and obvious vulnerability. The painting maintains the connection between this pocket dimension and Earth. At most, the island and all of us on it would simply be ejected back into the normal Pacific Ocean where it used to be and we would go from there. But that won’t happen, because, as I said, the painting is not in any danger.

“So, let’s talk a little bit about what exactly made Bosch choose this place to begin with.”

******

It was still about half an hour before I was supposed to meet with Klassin Roe for our next session. But I was heading in early, because I was hoping that we could get done soon enough for me to have time to make a trip out with my sharks before it was time to eat dinner and then go to our last track training of the semester. Among other things, I wanted to get Klassin’s advice for what I should do about Kohaku’s invitation to join the Security track.

As I approached the man’s office, however, the sound of voices revealed that he wasn’t alone. Stopping short outside of the door, I hesitated a moment before starting to turn away. If he wasn’t available, he wasn’t available. I’d come back when we were actually supposed to meet.

Then one of the voices spoke up loud enough for me to make out the full sentence. “It wasn’t my fault, it was Joselyn.”

That made me halt in mid-step. Turning back, my eyes widened. I knew the voice. It was Professor Mason, Sands’ and Scout’s father. Why was he talking about my mother?

After a moment of indecision, I took a breath and stepped closer to the door. Rather than just standing there, however, I put my hand against the wall and felt the wood there. Swallowing at the thought of being caught, I pushed myself into the wall, using the wood-walking power to merge with it. Then I continued to listen.

“It’s easy to blame other people for your mistakes,” Roe was saying. “But Joselyn didn’t make you do what you did, and she definitely didn’t force you to cover it all up afterward.”

“I did what I thought was right,” Professor Mason insisted through gritted teeth, his voice low and yet almost desperate in tone. “Joselyn was acting insane, and you know it. I had to protect the school.”

Klassin’s voice was just as quiet, but also harsh. “And how did that work out for everyone, Liam? Because as far as I can tell, all you did was make everything worse. Did you ever tell Larissa what you did?”

There was the sound of a shove before Professor Mason snapped, “Don’t talk about Larissa, Johnny.”

Johnny? I was confused. His name was Klassin Roe, so where was the name ‘Johnny’ coming from?

Roe spoke up after a moment of silence that I was sure both men spent glaring at each other. “Larissa isn’t here. But if she was, and if she knew what you did, she’d be disgusted by you. That is, unless you helped wipe her memory too. Isn’t that how you deal with your problems?”

That time, I heard what sounded like a table being kicked backwards and some rustling as the men clearly struggled with each other, followed by a hard thud that was clearly one of them hitting the wall. Roe continued, his voice harried and even more harsh. “It’s the truth, Liam, and you know it. You betrayed your friends, the people who trusted you.”

“I had to!” Mason spat back, his own voice broken by emotion. “Joselyn was—she was wrong. She was crazy. Making deals with Strangers? She was going to destroy everything, and get a lot of good people killed because she was naive. They all were!”

I heard the table squeak again as it was moved back before Roe’s voice all-but snarled, “It wouldn’t have been that way if it wasn’t for you to begin with, Liam. Joselyn trusted you, she tried to talk to you about the whole thing. They all trusted you. They thought you were on their side, and what did you do? What did you do? You ran to Ruthers. You blurted the whole thing to him.”

“Fuck you, Johnny,” Mason snapped. “I told you, I did what I had to do to protect everyone from Joselyn. They were going to get hurt, or worse, destroy the school.”

“But it didn’t work out that way, did it?” Roe retorted. “No. You snitched and suddenly the quiet little underground railroad to protect Alters turned into a full-fledged rebellion. You didn’t protect anyone, Liam. You turned the whole thing into an open war. And then you helped erase it from everyone’s memory. Including the woman that you later married. Did you ever happen to mention that to her, or was it too inconvenient?”

I felt like I’d been slapped in the face with something like a two-by-four. On the hike in the jungle, Deveron had said that the whole secret underground resistance had blown up into full-scale war because he and Joselyn had trusted the wrong person. Now I knew who it was.

Sands’ and Scout’s dad. He was the traitor. He was the one who made the whole war happen.

Mother… fucker.

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31 comments

  1. Whooo, full-size bonus chapter! With some answers too!

    Thanks to all the donators who helped make this extra chapter happen by bumping us up over the limit. Not only that, but we’re already fifteen dollars toward another full bonus chapter! Plus, we still have three more commissioned mini-interludes so far, which will be coming down the pipe asap. 😀

    I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter, because I quite enjoyed writing it. This whole arc so far has been incredibly fun to actually write about Flick simply learning stuff and interacting with other people, particularly people she might not interact with that often (or in Professor Vandel’s case, had never been introduced before).

    Today’s tags are: Avalon Sinclaire, Deveron Adams, Douglas Frey, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Keep Saying Nothing Will Happen To The Painting – Vandel. I’m Sure The Readers Will Believe You., Klassin Roe, Koren Fellows, Professor Mason, Professor Vandel, This Week On ‘Let’s Make Sands And Scout Even Crazier’ – They Wouldn’t Exist If Their Father Hadn’t Helped Mindwipe Their Mother!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an asshole!

    One can make a very good aurgment that Liam is responsible for everything that has gone wrong for the Atherby line. I hope this gets pointed out to him if Flick and her friends confront him. While I do hope that Flick tells her friends about this, I don’t want her telling Deveron and Wyatt about this just yet, I have a feeling that their rage, especially Deveron’s would be pure nightmare fuel and I don’t want Deveron to kill him.

    Thanks for updating. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I mean is that since Liam ratted out Joselyn’s group to Rutgers, one could make the argument that he’s indirectly responsible for her twins being kidnapped, her imprisonment, Wyatt and Abigail being sperated, Wyatt’s abusive home, Flick’s existance, Joselyn’s kidnapping, Ammon’s existence and Fossor’s obession with Flick.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. People may or may not believe me because I’ve never said anything, but I was expecting most of that stuff with Liam. I don’t remember exactly what made me start expecting it, but Scout’s mini-lude convinced me of it. I did say that her not caring about breaking up people by erasing the spell will come back to haunt her.

    I hope the next chapter is Flick’s session with Klassin.

    You know, it occurs to me that Larissa’s memories of the rebellion may already have been restored by Sariel, assuming that her use of memory magic extends to restoring memories and that she was shielded from the spell in the first place. Haiden as well, given that there were eight or so years between its casting and their separation.

    I have a question though. Larissa was eleven years old in 1986, that makes her just old enough to graduate from the Academy and join the rebellion around 1996, just in time for the spell to be cast. But the in their conversation they state that Liam that exposed the rebellion back in the 20s to “protect” Larissa, but she hadn’t been born yet. Liam also says that Joselyn was dragging her into meetings with Strangers, but Joselyn has been imprisoned/banished/enslaved for all of Larissa’s life, she shouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet her.

    Did Larissa get de-aged at some point, is this a mistake, or did I miss something in the conversation?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alright, so it’s not just me. At least one other person noticed this too (thank you Alex). That means it’s either an honest mistake, or it’s intentional and we’re supposed to be wondering WTF is going on.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeaaaaaaaah, that is absolutely my fault for having a confusing timeline that tripped ME up as well. I had planned on this revelation way back… a long time ago, then forgot how it was supposed to go when I set up Larissa’s own childhood. Honest mistake in how I put it. Basically, I had figured out how this was supposed to make sense, but so much time passed before we got to this point that I forgot that it was supposed to be different.

      That said, the exact exchange has been updated and… well, makes Liam even more creepy, to be honest. But that’s okay! The new exchange should help make it make sense, and goes like this:

      Edit: Ignore this, the passage has been re-updated and should work better this way.

      Like

      1. Also, with your rewrite about Liam, I was wondering if he ever truly loved Larissa as a person or as an object and how much of their relationship was him manipulating her? Did he keep an eye on her when she was a child? Oh, Scout and Sands are going to be so repulsed by him when
        they learn the truth.

        Also, I just realized something, that Heretical Edge has a lot of fridge horror in it. It’s a tv tropes term. For example, remember that Ammon interlude where used his mind control powers on the people at the hospital. Since, their Bystanders and can’t retain knowledge of the supernatural, they’ll never know how their friends died that night and that’s just one example.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There’s been one more update, because his actions toward Larissa just… it’s not worth it just to fix the mistake that I made with her timeline. Now Larissa doesn’t factor into his actions at all, and her original timeline is preserved.

        Sorry for the mix-up, totally my fault in forgetting how Liam was supposed to go when I was writing Sariel’s interlude.

        Like

  4. Typo thread

    But I was heading in early, because I was hoping that we could get done soon enough, I’d have time to make a trip out with my sharks before it was time to eat dinner and then go to our last track training of the semester.

    I think it would be better with a “so” before I’d.

    Also, that whole de-aging thing is super creepy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But I was heading in early, because I was hoping that we could get done soon enough, I’d have time to make a trip out with my sharks before it was time to eat dinner and then go to our last track training of the semester.

      I think it would be better with a “so” before I’d.

      Typo fixed, I adjusted it slightly to work better. 🙂

      Also, that whole de-aging thing is super creepy.

      More creepy than what I wanted just to fix the mistake I made with Larissa’s timeline, so it’s been adjusted. You may want to read that section again. Larissa’s entire thing has been removed.

      Like

  5. Well, had been waiting for the series of edits about just what happened with Larissa to conclude before coming, but even after that concluded, Liam comes off as quite the piece of work.

    So, we get so see Flick doing some combat training with Avalon & Deveron to help sharpen her skills, though the thing with his familiar being a weasel & Flick’s amusement at that fact being quite funny.

    Interesting bit about the location of Crossroads- so it’s on an island that used to be in the Pacific somewhere between Hawaii & Australia with magical fields that would have kept Bystanders away (which, if not for future events would have gotten a real workout in the 1940s), but because Strangers were likely to keep looking for the island, Bosch managed to perform some magic upon a painting of his that moved the island into it’s own pocket dimension. Destroying the painting ‘only’ should cause the island to be dumped back onto Earth, and sure, destroying it is supposed to be impossible because of the incredible amount of security on it, which, of course, means that at some point during the story, that painting is going to get it.

    Oh, and then for the wham moments, it was Professor Mason, who not only was the person who betrayed Joselyn’s resistance movement to Ruthers, leading it to blow up into a rebellion, but also had a big role in the memory spell ultimately used to suppress it. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s how he got involved with Larissa, who was his student at Crossroads until she left school to join the rebellion, and after the mind-wipe, he picked her up, knowing her history. Damn, that’s messed up, but at least the de-aging thing is no longer canon.

    Can’t imagine that Liam’s very popular among those of the faculty who were sympathetic towards the rebellion or supported it, and if Deveron & Wyatt ever find out about it, well, the Runners are probably going to have another attack on a faculty member to investigate. Oh, and if Scout ever gets her wish of making memory magic go bye-bye, his family life is going right in the toilet, as imagine Scout would be pretty disgusted by what her father did, and doubt Larissa would want to go back to him after finding out what he did to her & the rebellion. Not sure how Sands would take it just yet, but suppose that depends on just how much she buys into the ideas of Flick’s burgeoning group of dissidents.

    I felt Avalon touch my shoulder. It was a light brushing of her fingers, but it felt like so much more just because she was the one reaching out. Her voice was soft. “If you want to save your mother when the time comes,” she reminded me, “we need to practice.”

    Even when Avalon is telling Flick that it’s time to get back to work, can see how much she cares.

    You didn’t protect anyon, Liam.

    Typo spotted- looks like a stray ‘e’ got caught in the memory spell

    Like

    1. It was probably the island right next to Bikini atoll. A high level of radiation would probably help keep the island away from people looking for it. Now you might ask, “what island right next to Bikini?” Exactly.

      Like

      1. If that’s the case, then whomever came up with the codename for the weapons tests that Bikini is most famous for must have been either a Heretic or an Alter working inside the US government with an interesting sense of humor. 🙂

        Like

  6. The fond remembrances that Deveron and Flick had of Joselyn here were a nice touch imo.

    ““Through extensive magic and more power than I believe any of us has ever witnessed, our great founder painted this island, and enchanted it so that the island itself and its surroundings were taken into that painting. He created a pocket dimension, a separate yet connected world where the real island was drawn, leaving Earth entirely and yet remaining somewhat connected to it through the painting.””
    Me: Wait, what? Huh. I am reminded of the Painted World of Ariamis from Dark Souls.

    “Sands’ and Scout’s dad. He was the traitor. He was the one who made the whole war happen.
    Mother… fucker.”
    Me: …Well then. And it seems as though he remains unrepentant to this day that he directly caused a great deal of pain and heartache. I don’t think Sands and Scout are going to be happy once they know.

    Like

  7. Everyone is focused on the reveal in the last part of the chapter and are missing out on the foreshadowing on something else. Which is a standard author trick, foreshadow something and then give a big reveal in the same chapter to make people not notice the foreshadowing until the reveal. But I’m onto you Cerulean!

    Now, I’ll give you the reveal at the end is pretty big; to some people. Frankly I don’t care enough about Sand’s and Scout’s father as a character that much for this to be anything more than just information to me as he’s been pretty much a non-entity so far. Maybe if he had a few more appears and we knew his character a bit better, maybe then it’d have had a bigger impact on me.

    Anyways, I’ve talked long enough about that. I’m more interested in the other bit of information we got in this entry. I’ll let other people work it out on their own but I’ll give a hint.
    Prof Vandel is very sure that the special painting is as secure as it can be, so I’ll just ask this of everyone else: What do Heretics consider to be the most secure thing ever?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, obviously the most secure location for the painting is to bring it into itself onto the island where it can be most safely guarded.

      Hah, just kidding — we saw it back in the hospital.

      Like

      1. I’m not thinking the hospital.

        Another clue: It’s Bosch, what else have we found out that Bosch left behind that is considered “the most secure thing ever”?

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Still catching up for now, but I had to react. Fossor, Ruthers? They always manage to make me feel angrier at them when they’re mentionned. I accept that, and salute the effort for building up these characters like this. But Mason there? He made me feel ill when all the implications about the situation sunk in. And with one move he topped the two others for sheer disgust, leaving me most curious for the fallout that I hope explosive for him). Congrats for the story.

    Oh, and that geography professor needs emergency lessons about survival. You do not taunt the Ironic Overpower like this. Never.

    Like

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