“Professor Kohaku wants me to join the Security track next semester.”
It was a few hours later, shortly after the end of our final Investigation track meeting before the winter break. I’d asked to talk to Professor Dare privately once the meeting was over (we’d mostly spent it talking about what we’d learned about various early investigative techniques), and she had led me into an empty classroom in the main building before gesturing for me to go ahead and talk.
Now, she raised an eyebrow. “Does she?” A thoughtful look crossed the blonde woman’s face briefly before she nodded. “That’s not a terrible idea. After all, Investigation and Security pair together well.”
Blinking, I hesitated. “So, does that mean you’re not disappointed or anything? I mean, I really like Investigation, Professor. I do. It’s just-I think I might need to… with everything that’s happening, I just-”
Dare raised a hand to stop me. “Miss Chambers,” she interrupted gently, “I’m not insulted by the idea that you wish to broaden your horizons. On the contrary, I’m glad that you won’t be limiting yourself to a single track. Learning more is always good. My question was that, are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to look into the Explorers track? You already seem to have a knack for making your way to new worlds.”
Flushing at that, I squirmed on my feet. “I-um, I thought about it. And I do want to look into it. But I think that—Um… I think that Security might help me more in the short term. The things they learn how to do, the um, the defenses they can make. I think that um—I think that with everything I’m already learning from Professor Katarin and Avalon and the headmistress, security can fill in more gaps.”
Dare gave a slight nod after watching me for a second with a thoughtful look. “Miss Chambers,” she started quietly, “if there’s something you need to talk with someone about, something bothering you…”
About the fact that when I turn eighteen, the monster that kidnapped my mother and forced her to have a child with him is going to come back for me? The thought ran through my mind, and I flinched before looking up to her. Our gazes met, and I opened my mouth to say something before stopping myself.
Just tell them how much trouble you’re in, Flick, my brain insisted. It was right. I needed to be open about everything, especially with Gaia. I needed to explain the whole thing, that not only was my mother Fossor’s prisoner, but that he wanted me as well. I needed to tell them the truth. All of it.
Even as I thought that, however, my old doubts kept creeping in. What if they overreacted? What if they stopped me from visiting my father? The Heretics could do that, after all. And how would that affect Dad? If I disappeared, no matter what excuse they made up, either it would kill him, or they’d just erase his memory. Erase his memory of… of me. And that was something I couldn’t let happen.
And yet, it was Professor Dare. And Gaia. I trusted them. Even after everything that I’d found out about how the Heretic leadership had treated my mother, I had no reason to doubt Gaia, and every reason to believe her when she said that I could trust Professor Dare.
“Professor…” I started slowly, swallowing hard as I met her gaze. “I need to tell you the whole truth.”
In response, the woman raised an eyebrow. “The whole truth?” she echoed curiously. “About what?”
“About what happened back in Laramie Falls when I was visiting for my birthday.” Straightening a bit, I looked straight at her. “About Fossor. He was there. I need to tell you about it. I need to tell you what he said.”
So I did. I told Professor Dare all of it, from beginning to end. I explained the whole thing with Fossor and what he had promised. I told her about how he had easily and dismissively shut down Ammon and ordered him into the car. And I explained my own failed attempt to hurt him by taking away his ashes. I told her everything, the words continuing to spill from my mouth even as Dare urged me to sit down.
When I was finished, the first thing she said was, “So that’s how you met the vampire and the pooka that are watching over your father.”
I did a double-take at that. “You knew about—oh, I guess Gaia would’ve told you about Asenath.”
She shook her head, watching me for a moment before continuing. “She did, but I knew before that. Did you really think I’d leave your father alone after what you said about Ammon escaping if I didn’t know that he was already being protected? I looked into it as soon as we finished our interview here with Runner Kline and Risa. When I found out you had a vampire and a pooka staying there, I figured that there was a little more to the story that you left out. I was not given the job of Investigation Adviser by accident, after all.”
“So you know about Asenath, and–” I stopped, blinking up at her. “Um, Professor, there’s something else. Something you might not know about her.”
Raising an eyebrow, Professor Dare asked, “Is there?”
“Um, yeah. Well, about her and her father.” Taking a breath, I met the other woman’s gaze. “Her dad’s name is Tiras.”
Well, clearly that surprised the woman. I saw her rock backwards a little, blinking a couple times. “Tiras. That… that makes… he has a daughter.”
Nodding quickly, I explained what I knew from Senny herself and from Shiori, that Tiras had left to do something about the Akharu’s enemies back on their homeworld, and hadn’t been seen since.
By the end, Professor Dare’s expression had gone through several intense emotions before she controlled it. “I hope he returns in time to see the incredible woman his daughter has become.” Winking at me, she added, “I may have looked into this Asenath myself to make sure she was safe to be around your father. Not enough to find out her own parentage, but… there are plenty of stories that assured me that you chose the right bodyguard.”
“You should meet her,” I blurted. “I mean, you spent time around her father, and she… she needs to learn more about him. She hasn’t seen him in hundreds of years, Professor. Hearing about him from you, it would–”
“It’s not a bad idea,” the woman confirmed. “I’ll… see what I can do about visiting your home without attracting too much attention. If you don’t think it would be too awkward with your father.”
“I’ll figure something out,” I insisted. “I don’t think he’ll object too much to have a teacher visit. If… if you want to come.”
She smiled faintly, giving a slight nod. “Of course. It would be… nice to see Tiras’s daughter in person.”
Her gaze turned stern then. “However, Miss Chambers—Flick, you should have told us about what Fossor said before now, as soon as it happened. You can’t hold things like that back from us, if we’re going to be able to help you. We need to know what kind of danger you’re in.”
“I know, I know.” I squirmed a little, nodding. “I just—I didn’t know if I could trust you yet, not with that. And then the whole thing with Gaia on the Meregan world happened and I should have told her about all of it then. I told her a lot, but not… not what Fossor said about coming back for me. I don’t know why. I guess… I guess I didn’t want you guys to stop me from visiting my father.”
“We wouldn’t do that,” she informed me flatly. “He’s your father. Listen to me, Flick…” Raising a hand to my shoulder, she squeezed it firmly. “We—I won’t let them take you away from your dad, okay? No matter what happens, we’ll find a way to make it work. We may have to move him, might even have to adjust things. But no matter what, you and your father are not going to be separated. I promise.”
Her words made me swallow hard, and I felt the urge to hug the woman. So, I did. She seemed surprised by the gesture, making a noise that almost sounded like a protest before stopping herself. Then, gradually, her arms came down to wrap around me. “Flick,” Professor Dare murmured softly, an odd level of emotion in her voice considering it was just a simple hug. “We’ll teach you to protect yourself. Fossor isn’t going to take you. I swear, we won’t let him have you. I won’t let him have you.”
“You… say that like you have history with him,” I managed after a moment.
Dare coughed. “I do. More than a little. I…” She paused before adding, “I’ve had a run-in or two with him. The last time was when I had to stop him from creating another plague.”
My eyes widened, and I leaned my head back to stare up at her. “You… you fought him? You stopped him? You won?”
“He is not invincible,” the woman replied. “Powerful beyond most belief, yes. And dangerous. Never doubt that. But he is not omnipotent. He can be beaten. But that is a story for another day, perhaps when you return from your vacation.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I retorted. “You tell me that there’s a way to beat him and tell me to wait to hear about it? That’s insane.”
Chuckling in spite of herself, Professor Dare raised an eyebrow. “I’m saying wait for it not because you don’t deserve the story now, but because it’s getting a little late. And aren’t you supposed to be meeting Miss Fellows shortly for an important conversation?”
“You—I–how do you–” I stammered, staring at her.
She chuckled. “As I said, I was not given my position by accident. I believe she’s waiting for you now.”
Right. It was time to see Koren, to tell her about what I’d found out. And, afterward, to give her a little surprise that Klassin had helped me come up with.
I just hoped she took the news better than I had.
I really shouldn’t have expected any different reaction from Koren when I told her what I’d learned. After all, that had pretty much been my exact reaction, even if I’d only thought it. Still, even though we were far down the beach beyond the school grounds and I had taken the precaution of the privacy coin, I held my hands up to shush her. “I know. Trust me, I know. But you’ve gotta hear the rest, Koren.”
She huffed a little, folding her arms across her chest tightly in a clear effort to hold herself back from some brash action. “You’re saying that our English Lit teacher is the one who snitched like a little bitch and made the whole war blow up? It’s his fault… pretty much everything happened the way it did.”
“Yeah,” I confirmed quietly. “Including the fact that you and I even exist. We wouldn’t be here if things had been different. Our moms never would’ve met our dads, and well, you know how that goes.”
“I–” Koren fell silent briefly, considering that before looking up. “Yeah, maybe. But you know what? He’s still a dick. He doesn’t get to take credit for happy accidents that happen in spite of his dickishness. And now you said he’s talking about taking the twins off your team? I say again, that motherfucker.”
Smiling in spite of myself, I gave a quick nod. “I get it, Kor. Boy, do I ever get it. But he thought he was doing the right thing. He wasn’t trying to win a prize, or snitch to gain some kind of recognition. He was trying to protect everyone. He was wrong, but I’m not surprised. Look at this place. He loved it here, and he thought that my mom was gonna ruin it. He thought she was crazy, and that she was going to get herself and a bunch of other people killed. What he did was wrong, but I get why he did it.”
“How are you not pissed off?” the other girl demanded. “Why don’t you wanna break his face off?”
“Oh, I am,” I replied flatly. “And I do. I mean, if I could figure out how to break a face off, that is. But I can’t. I can’t even let on that I know anything, or the whole gig’s up. Plus, there’s the small but very important fact that he could pretty much slap me around like a hockey puck at the Stanley Cup Finals.”
Koren made a face at that. “Gruesome and very specific. But true.” She heaved a sigh. “No punching?”
“No punching,” I confirmed. “We have to play it cool. And to do that, I had to start thinking about it from his point of view instead of mine. I had to think about how I’d react if I really did believe that all Strangers were evil and then someone came up and started talking about allying with them. It’s not easy. I’m still really pissed off. But I can control it. At least, for now. But let’s just say I’m glad we’ve got a three week vacation coming up so I can work through it before we have another class with him.”
Koren didn’t say anything for over a minute. She remained silent, looking away while clearly working through her emotions. I knew what she was going through, considering I’d just done the same thing earlier that day. Finally, she straightened and looked back to me. “Are you going to tell Deveron?”
Wincing at the question, I shook my head. “No. I mean, yes, eventually. He deserves to know. But not right now. I’m just… not sure how he’ll react. Professor Mason did end up ruining a lot of his life. I think it’ll be better to tell him later, once… I dunno. Eventually, but not now. I kinda don’t hate him right now, so I’d hate to ruin that by giving him news that makes him run off and start shooting a teacher.”
“Yeah,” Koren murmured, “that might ruin his chances of being your mentor next semester.” A sigh escaped her then. “This sucks. I liked Professor Mason. He made reading those old books interesting.”
Nodding in agreement, I matched the other girl’s sigh while looking out at the ocean in silence. After a moment, I murmured under my breath. “And I haven’t even told you about the thing with Klassin yet.”
“The therapist dude?” she blinked at me then in realization. “Hey, yeah, why were they talking about all that stuff right before you got there? Because that kind of seems a bit, you know, just a little..”
“Convenient?” I nodded. “It was. Klassin set it up. He wanted me to overhear what they were saying.”
“Why?” she demanded. “Why the hell would the school psychiatrist want you to hear all that stuff?”
“That’s a long story” I muttered. Taking a breath, I started to explain, getting up through the part where Klassin told me who his father was.
She took it about as well as I expected. When I got there, she blurted, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
My head started to shake, but she had already moved on. “Just out of completely morbid curiosity, how utterly screwed are we?” the brunette demanded while narrowing her eyes at me. “And bear in mind, I’d usually say something like, ‘on a scale of one to insert hypothetical really, really bad example for ten here’, but the example I’d use would’ve been, ‘your therapist is Gabriel Ruthers’ son, and well….”
“Would I be standing here like this if we were screwed?” I pointed out mildly. “I definitely wouldn’t be this calm about it.” When the other girl gave me a weird look, I added, “It’s okay. Trust me. Klassin and his father aren’t on speaking terms. He’s on our side, or rather, on Mom’s side. He was a spy for them.”
So I explained the rest of it, how the formerly named Jonathan’s experience with the Alters who had saved and protected him had changed his mind about them, and how he had spied on his father and the rest of the Crossroads Heretics. I told her that he basically disowned his father and took a new identity after it became clear that he couldn’t stop them from erasing Mom’s identity to destroy the rebellion.
“Why didn’t Gaia tell you about him, though?” Koren wanted to know. “You said before that she told you you could absolutely trust Dare, Nevada, Kohaku, and Katarin. Why wasn’t Klassin on that list?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted while shaking my head. “I need to talk to her about it and find out. Hopefully before we leave for vacation tomorrow. Maybe it has something to do with her not wanting to give away that Ruthers was his father before he was ready to tell me himself. Privacy or something.”
“Maybe.” Koren murmured. “Speaking of fathers, what about Sands and Scout? Are you telling them?”
Again, I shook my head, this time more firmly. “No. Not yet. The last thing I want to do is drop a bomb like that on them just before we all split up for three weeks. They deserve better than that. I’m not going to ruin their image of their father right before Christmas. I’m just… not gonna do that to them.”
There was silence for a few seconds before she gave a slight nod. Her voice was a hoarse, somehow painful whisper. “Fair enough. You wouldn’t want to destroy their memory of their father.”
Normally, I would have flinched then. Probably even changed the subject. This time, however, I looked at her directly. I saw the conflicting emotions in her eyes and reached out to touch the girl’s arm. “Koren,” I murmured. “There’s something else. I talked to Klassin some more after all that happened. I talked to him about my mom, about what he remembered. And eventually, I started thinking about… about your dad. About how you and your mom can’t remember him. I… talked to Klassin about it.”
She whipped around a bit, eyes wide as she stared at me. “You talked to him about my dad?”
Seeing the reflexive anger there, I held up both hands. “I know, I know. But listen. Like I said, there’s more, and it’s important. I—here.” Turning, I put my fingers to my lips and gave a sharp whistle.
“Flick, what’re y–” Koren started before falling silent as a figure emerged from the jungle where he had been waiting for me to give the signal. She stared that way. “Wait, isn’t that the… Runner guy?”
“Tribald Kine,” the tall, incredibly thin man himself confirmed while moving closer to us. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Fellows.” To me, he nodded. “And a pleasure to see you again, Miss Chambers.”
Koren still looked confused. “Flick,” she demanded uneasily, “what’s he doing here? What’s going on?”
“It’s okay,” I assured the other girl. “Like I said, I talked to Klassin and he… well, he told me about Tribald, and said he could help. I asked him to wait until I gave the signal, so I could have a chance to talk to you about the rest of it first.” Looking toward the man himself, I added, “You can help, right?”
“How?” Koren sounded defensive and a bit critical. Not that I blamed her, after all she’d been through. Her inability to remember her father was a sore spot. “Are you going to do some kind of magic spell?”
Tribald’s head shook. “No,” he said quietly, without looking away from her intense stare. “I’m not going to do a spell, Miss Fellows. I am going to tell you about the kind of man that your father was.”
I saw the flicker of emotion in her eyes before she clamped down on it. Her disbelief and cynicism outweighed her hope as she repeated her question. “How? No one remembers him. The Fomorian made sure of that. He deleted the memories of every single person who knew my dad.” Her hand waved vaguely, voice rising almost hysterically. “And why would you know anything about him anyway?”
Tribald’s own voice was soft, and kind. “Because he was my… distant relative, my cousin’s grandson. And,” he added thoughtfully, “I suppose the Fomorian didn’t actually realize that I had any connection to him. I didn’t exactly advertise the fact that I played matchmaker in that situation, after all.”
The doubt and cynicism within Koren kept warring its way through her expression, but her need to know the truth eventually won out. “You–” She stopped, swallowing hard through an obvious lump in her throat. “You’re… wait, we’re related too? You and me, we’re also related?”
“Somewhat distantly, yes,” Tribald confirmed. “I believe the technical term is ‘first cousin, three times removed.’”
“And you remember.” Koren sounded dazed then, like it was just really hitting her. “You remember my dad. You remember him. You can… you can tell me… tell me about him? You can tell me about my father?” There was visible wetness in her eyes that she blinked away rapidly. “Like… his name?”
Tribald reached out, his hand taking hers gently. “His name was Kenneth, Miss Fellows. Your father’s name was Kenneth. And I can tell you a lot more than that.”
“Take a walk,” I suggested when it became clear that Koren couldn’t find her voice. “You guys deserve some privacy.” Gesturing out into the ocean, I added, “I need to spend time with my sharks anyway.”
So they did. For a few seconds, I watched as the two of them moved out of my sight, their voices a soft murmur in the cool evening air. Then I turned away, giving them their space as I moved into the ocean to whistle for my ocean-bound friends.
Maybe I could never give Koren her own memories back. Maybe she’d never actually remember him.
But thanks to Tribald Kine, she would know who he was.