Winter Wonderland 18-01

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“And after a week in Rome, we’re gonna go up to Germany and see the old nuckelavee massacre memorials.”

Sands, who had been going on for awhile by that point about all the things that she and Scout were going to do with their father over the holiday break, blinked sidelong at me. “Uh, Flick? You okay?”

No. No, I wasn’t. There was so much I wanted to say to both of them about what I had found out. But I still wasn’t willing to put them through that right before they went on vacation. That wouldn’t be fair. Instead, I gave an awkward shrug and smiled apologetically at both Sands and Scout, who was standing nearby while giving me a curious look. “Sorry,” I murmured. “Just thinking about going home.”

It was the next day, Saturday morning. I’d spent most of the previous night walking around the school grounds with Wyatt, talking to him about… well, everything. And now, in a short while, I’d be heading home for the winter break. Which meant three whole weeks away from Crossroads. I honestly wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Part of me had been afraid that Ruthers and the rest of the Committee would swoop in at the last second to tell me that it was too dangerous for me to be away for that long, with the Fomorians out there. Supposedly Gaia and Dare had convinced them that the immediate threat had been dealt with since the Fomorian who had known about us was killed. But I didn’t exactly trust that to last forever. Every noise I heard, I thought it would be someone telling me to stay on the island.

“Oh…” Sands looked a little abashed. “Dude, I’m sorry. Going back and having Christmas with your dad while you know your mom is…” She winced, lowering her head briefly before putting her hand out on my arm. “It sucks. I know that’s a stupid, fucking inadequate way to put it, but it does. I—I’m sorry you can’t tell your dad the truth, Flick. I mean—I’m sorry he wouldn’t remember or believe you. It’s–” She stopped talking, looking ashamed for a moment that she couldn’t find the right words to say.

And that, of course, didn’t help my own feelings of shame for how I felt about her father. She was trying to help, and all I could do was think about how angry the thought of the man she loved most in the world made me. It felt like lying to her. Fuck, was there no way to get through this without hurting her? Either I didn’t tell her about it and hurt her by keeping it secret, or I hurt her relationship with her father by telling her what he had done. Which just felt… vindictive. Fuck, she was right. This sucked.

“Thanks,” I finally managed to get out while meeting her gaze. The next bit I could actually say with complete truthfulness. “I hope you guys have a really good trip. It sounds fun, going all over Europe.”

Sands brightened and started to explain more about all the stuff they were going to do, the moment of awkward seriousness fading. Scout, however, continued to watch me with a somber, yet curious expression that made me think that she knew there was still something I wasn’t telling them about.

Before I could find anything else to say, however, I felt someone approaching. Well, okay, the truth was that I could sense the clothes the person was wearing as it entered the range of the item-sensing power I’d inherited from fighting the skeleblineists. It was something that I’d noticed wasn’t always active. If I wasn’t thinking about it, I wouldn’t constantly know about absolutely everything that was in range. But when something or someone new that I wasn’t expecting entered my range, it tended to warn me. Which was convenient.

At least it seemed like that would make it hard to sneak up on me. Unless the person was completely naked at the time, in which case, ew. And clearly that would mean that I’d have whole new problems.

Turning slightly at the feel of the clothes and shoes approaching, I found myself looking up at the man who was responsible for my conversation with the twins being so awkward and confusing: their father.

Professor Mason stood there. As always, I thought he looked more like a football player than a teacher. He was tall (at least a couple inches past six feet), with a heavy, muscular build and dark blond (almost brown) hair that reached his shoulders. It was normally tied back into a ponytail, but at the moment it was worn loose. He actually looked a lot like Christian Kane if the actor had been a few inches taller.

“Hey, girls,” the man greeted his daughters with a smile before his attention turned to me. Something uncertain crossed his expression then before he nodded. “Morning, Flick. You ready for a vacation?”

Words sprang to mind and inched their way toward the tip of my tongue. None were all that smart or nice, and a few probably would have resulted in a lot more problems for all of us. So I clamped down on it and offered the man as much of a smile as I could. “Sure, though it kinda sounds like you guys are gonna be the ones that have all the fun. I mean, a European trip? I’ve always wanted to see Europe.”

The man gave a slight smile, hand gesturing acceptingly. “Believe me, you’ll get your chance. Hell, if nothing else, maybe you can come with the twins for a couple weeks over the summer if they wanna go back.”

Wait, was he offering to take me with his girls over summer vacation? I was confused. Wasn’t this the same guy who had been working to have Sands and Scout taken off my team and away from me because he was afraid that being around me was too dangerous? Was he just saying this as a completely empty gesture, or… I didn’t know what else. He seemed pretty sincere, but then, what else could it be?

Luckily, Sands interrupted before I had to find a response. “Well, duh! Of course we’ll wanna go back, old man.” Giving her dad a punch in the arm, she grinned at me. “See? Told you Dad was the best.”

Swallowing slightly, I managed something approaching a smile, weak as it was. “You’re pretty lucky.”

For a moment, Professor Mason simply rubbed both his daughters’ heads, smiling faintly down at them. Then he glanced to me before giving the girls a little push. “Listen, could you two give Flick and me a few minutes alone here?” He shrugged easily and stage-whispered, “Just private teacher-type stuff.”

The twins both blinked at each other for a brief moment before looking toward me. “You good, Flick?” Sands asked, sounding somehow strangely uncertain about the idea of leaving me with her father.

In spite of myself and my hesitation (and deep, troubling thoughts about the man), I nodded. “Sure, I’ll try to catch up with you one more time before we all take off, but in case I don’t, have a great trip.”

Both of them moved over to give me a quick hug, Scout holding on longer while leaning up to whisper in my ear very quietly. “It’s okay.” Then she patted my arm before moving away with her sister.

That left me standing in front of Professor Mason. For a few seconds, the man just stood there looking at me, like he was waiting to see if I said anything first. When I just remained silent, he let out a long, low breath. “Flick,” he started slowly as though testing out the words. “I think I owe you an apology.”

Well, that made me blink in confusion. Of all the things I’d expected to hear… “Err, an apology, sir?”

He nodded, his eyes still not leaving mine. “Yeah. I don’t know if you umm… I don’t know what you’ve heard. But I um–” The man paused, looking distinctly uncomfortable for a few seconds before managing to push on, stating as flatly as possible, “I’ve been worried about my daughters being on the same team as you, Flick. Well, the same team as you and Avalon. You two… this whole year you’ve been attracting a lot of trouble, a lot of really dangerous attention. And I know, that’s not exactly rare around here. Believe me, there’s plenty of students besides you guys that have their own problems.”

Before I could say anything in response to that, the man pushed on. “But, somehow, the stuff that’s coming after you two, it just seems…” He breathed in and then let it out again. “It seems more real, more dangerous. And I just—I’ve been trying to get my girls away from that next semester. Not because I don’t care if you’re hurt, or if anyone that replaced them would be hurt, but because… they’re my daughters. I didn’t really focus on anything else. All I could think about was protecting my kids.”

Folding his arms across his chest, the man looked away for a moment while clearly gathering himself. His voice was soft and thoughtful. “I haven’t always made the best decisions, even when I thought it was the right thing to do. Sometimes when you care so much about protecting the people you care about, it–” He stopped talking then, grimacing for a moment before looking straight at me. “The point is, taking Sands and Scout away from your team would be wrong. They’re your friends, and… and I’m not going to ruin that for my own peace of mind. I’m not going to throw someone else into danger just to make myself feel better. You—they’re your team. Just–” Taking in a breath before letting it out, the man looked briefly emotional before managing to control it. “Just be careful, and keep each other safe.”

It took me a second, but I eventually managed to make myself nod. “Yes, sir. Of course I’ll help keep Sands and Scout safe, just like they help keep me safe. They’re my friends. We protect each other.”

Before the man could say anything else in response to that (and before I could manage to work my way through my complete confusion and uncertainty about what was going on), my eyes caught sight of Professor Dare making her way toward us. Her eyes watched me briefly as if checking to make sure I was okay with the conversation before she spoke up. “Liam, Miss Chambers, is everything all right?”

Professor Mason glanced to me before giving me a slight nod. “Yeah,” He murmured. “Everything’s fine.” His hand found my shoulder, squeezing slightly. “I meant what I said before, Miss Chambers. If you want, and if you get your dad’s permission, we’d love to have you come with us this summer.”

“Thank you, sir.” I met his gaze, steadily refusing that quiet voice in the back of my mind that still wanted to see the look on his face if I flat out asked if he thought tattling about my mother’s friendship with Alters was a good idea after all the problems it had caused. “I hope you guys have a great trip.”

Then the man was leaving, jogging to catch up with his daughters. As he left, Professor Dare moved closer to me. Her hand found my arm while she looked after Professor Mason, and she touched something in her pocket (my skeleblineist power told me it was a round, mostly smooth stone) before asking in a low, confidential tone, “Are you really okay, Flick? Did he say anything— do anything-”

“It’s okay,” I assured her, even though I was still mostly confused as to what had prompted all of that. “He just wanted to come tell me that he wasn’t going to take Sands and Scout off my team after all.”

Professor Dare raised an eyebrow at that, her eyes curious as she looked that way briefly. “He’s not?”

“Apparently.” I shrugged helplessly before looking over at the woman. “I mean—um, sorry, Professor, did you need something?” Realizing belatedly, I started a bit. “Oh! I called my dad last night and asked him about having a teacher visit. He-uh-he didn’t actually find it that weird. Which I think says more about me than it does about him or you. But anyway, any time you wanna come over for dinner and meet Asenath, it should be okay. That is—you know, if you still wanted to do that. But if not, I’ll just-”

“Flick,” Professor Dare smiled. “Calm down. Breathe. Of course I’ll visit. I want to meet Tiras’s daughter. I have your phone number. I’ll call and set it up as soon as I see how things are going, okay?”

After I nodded, she went on. “I didn’t come to talk about that. There’s something I want to give you.”

“Give me?” I echoed, blinking at her. “You don’t have to give me a present or anything, Professor.”

Chuckling at that, Dare shook her head. “It’s not exactly a present, Flick. Think of it as… a bit of extra protection. Just in case you need it.” She nodded toward me. “May I see your staff for a moment?”

“Oh, uh, yeah.” Reaching into my little container, I pulled the staff out and offered it to the woman.

Accepting the weapon with a nod of gratitude, Professor Dare turned it over in her hands. Her expression was curious as she examined the thing. “Nevada upgraded this for you, didn’t she?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I quickly nodded. “She connected it to my sand container. And made it turn into a bow.”

Glancing up to me, Dare paused. Her eyes seemed to search mine for a moment before she smiled faintly. “Good. Every little bit helps. And speaking of little bit.” Sliding the staff down to get at one end, the woman took a black marker from her pocket and showed it to me. “This isn’t a normal marker. It’s something Heretics call a ‘field-engraver.’ Basically, it’ll let you put spells that actually require a written component on your weapons or anything else that might be a bit hard to actually write on. Or when you don’t want the writing to be permanent. Since you probably don’t want a bunch of useless writing filling up your staff after the spell’s used up. Once you activate it, the writing will disappear.”

After explaining that much, she took a minute to carefully draw out an elaborate design toward one end of my staff, showing me as she went. It looked like a circle with a triangle around it, then three squiggly lines leading out from the middle of each side of the triangle. In the spaces between each of those squiggly lines, she drew an angled equals sign, all pointing in the same direction. At the point above and to the right of the whole thing (where the equals signs were all pointing), she drew something that looked like an upside down pitchfork with an infinity symbol drawn around the handle.

Once she had finished, Dare ran her thumb over it before looking at me, her expression somber. “If you touch this here, right on the infinity symbol, and invest enough power into it while saying the words that I’ll give you, your weapon will be able to harm incorporeal creatures for about fifteen minutes.”

I blinked once, then again while my eyes snapped from the spell to Dare. “You mean incorporeal, like-”

“Like ghosts,” she confirmed. “Listen, from what you said, I don’t think Fossor is going to do anything. I don’t think he’ll come after you. Not yet, anyway. But just in case… use it if you have to, all right? When you get back, we’ll make sure you learn how to do it yourself. It’s advanced magic, but you’re already starting to learn that from Gaia anyway. Again, only in an emergency, all right? If something happens and you can get away, don’t stand there and fight just because you have this. Use it to get away.”

Swallowing, I took the staff back as she held it out to me. “I—yes, Professor. I understand. Trust me, I don’t have any intention of being that stupid.”

Dare took a few more minutes to teach me the words to the spell. What she’d done was basically almost exactly what Gaia had done with the animal spell. She did most of it herself and just left the actual last second casting part to me, like preparing the gun in every way except pulling the trigger.

By the time she was satisfied that I had the words down pat, Avalon had joined us, standing off to the side while watching silently. Dare took a few more seconds to remind me that she’d call to see about dinner, then laid her hand on the top of my head. “Flick,” she said my name softly. For a moment, it looked like she was going to say something else. But in the end, she just murmured, “Have a nice holiday. You deserve it.”

Then she left, and Avalon and I stood there for a few seconds in silence. My roommate just waited, arms folded while she stared at me expectantly.

“So,” I finally managed, “Three weeks apart, huh? I bet you’ll be glad to have the room to yourself. Think you’ll be able to resist selling off all my stuff or remodeling everything while I’m gone?”

For what had to be a solid thirty seconds, Avalon didn’t say anything. I trailed off from my awkward teasing, and she just continued to stare at me. Her mouth opened once before shutting, and it looked like she was struggling with something. Finally, however, she pointed to the staff in my hand. “Good, you’re ready.”

“Ready?” I echoed, blinking uncertainly.

“You didn’t think I was going to let you go without one more training session, did you?” The other girl gave me a hard look before pivoting on her heel to walk away. “We’ve still got an hour before you leave. Time to try to whip you into shape one more time.”

My mouth opened, but she interrupted without looking back. “Don’t say it, Chambers. Just follow me.”

Closing my mouth, I smiled just a little bit while I watched Avalon walk ahead of me. Then I followed.

Spending my last hour at Crossroads letting my roommate beat the crap out of me? Yeah, that sounded fun.

And the fact that I wasn’t being in any way sarcastic about that might’ve been one of the strangest parts of the entire semester.

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  1. Whoooooo, new update, new chapter, new arc! Time for holiday vacation. And I’m sure everything will be juuuuust fine.

    If you guys are wondering, the end of this chapter will lead into the next commissioned mini-interlude, which is a piece on Avalon/Flick interaction. I figured this was a good place to stick something like that. Right before they don’t see each other for three weeks! 😉

    Anyway, hope you all enjoyed this little start to the arc. Winter vacation itself will actually really start in the next normal chapter, and we’ll… well, we’ll see how Flick’s Christmas goes. If nothing else, it should be interesting. And despite what the tag says, should not take us an entire year to get through.

    Oh, and if you’d like to throw in a vote at Top Web Fiction by clicking here so we keep our spot up, I’ll resume that intangible long-distance back-patting I’m sure you’ve all come to enjoy. 😀

    Finally, tags for this chapter are: Avalon Sinclaire, Damn It Flick – Ask About The Nuckelavee Massacre So I Have An Excuse To Exposit More., Felicity Chambers, Flick, If The Story Kept Progressing At Its Previous Speed – We’d Be Done With The Three Week Holiday Break By Next Christmas., Professor Mason, Sands, Scout, Virginia Dare

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Cerulean: I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but along the lines of Amarok-stamina being a skill-increase multiplier more believable than the tired “Flick’s a PRODIGY” trope…Have you considered having her inherit an Ability along the lines of Photo-Recall (not eidetic memory, that’d be cheating and intruding on Vanessa’s thing), something narrower that works with discrete images, lettering, symbols.

    There’s got to be an Evil Scholar Demon out there somewhere, right? 😛 Would really make complicated magic practice the same sort of reduced time-sink that physical practice is. Plus, if her teachers are willing to TEACH Flick advanced magic, surely if Gaia’s plotted to line up Alters to be slain for their Abilities before, something like this would just be progression on a theme.

    Sorry, just occurred to me. It’s probably too much, but Dare inscribing that spell got me to thinking about how the main time-sink of magic is probably simply being able to reproduce sequences of incredibly complex characters. One would still need to learn the “language” to make it work, but knocking out the “how do I draw a pitchfork with an infinity symbol again” part of the time-sink out would seem like it’d speed things up.

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  3. It’s a new arc, and time for everyone’s winter vacation to start.

    So, we start off with the twins- Mason is taking Scout & Sands off to Europe, where they’ll see Rome, and then the ‘nuckelavee massacre memorials.’ Guessing that’s a reference to a notorious Nocen attack that we haven’t seen yet, and I’m guessing that little excursion is Mason trying to subtly point his daughters to the ‘proper’ way of thinking where it comes to Strangers if they’re going to be spending time hanging around Flick. (Though should parts of ‘nuckelavee massacre memorials’ be capitalized, since it sounds like it’s a monument to a discrete historical event?)

    Then things get a little odd, when Mason asks to have a private talk with Flick, where he apologizes to Flick, says he’s not going to take his daughters off Flick’s team, and offers to take her with the twins on vacation to Europe next summer. Why do I sense that’s something’s off here- and I’m guessing that something feels a bit off about it to Dare as well.

    Speaking of Dare, that’s a nice little going away present she gave Flick, she wrote a temporary version of the enchantment that allowed her sword to chop up Fossor’s ghosts on Flick’s staff, showed her how to activate it, and promised that she’d be taught how to do it all by herself when she gets back. Very handy thing to have, and sure it’ll come in useful sooner or later.

    Oh, and sounds like Dare’ll drop by so she can meet Asenath. Get the feeling that one way or another, that trip will be worthwhile.

    Finally, at the end, looks like Avalon’s so choked up with her emotions that she can’t really say anything to Flick, & instead focuses on one last sparring session. Perhaps she’ll open up a bit more during that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I actually despised Mason more after this exchange, not less. He’s simply feeling guilty. Presenting not taking his daughters off Flick’s team like he’s doing something good? No Mason, you don’t get credit for NOT doing something that would’ve been wrong/immoral to do. All you did was NOT do something immoral. Which isn’t the same thing as doing the right thing *at all.* Flick’s young, so it was totally believable that her feelings became a little confused after Mason’s “gesture”…but when she’s older she’ll see things like this for what they are. A villain lacking even the courage of their convictions attempting to expiate the guilt they feel by undertaking some half-measure that allows them not to feel as guilty as they should for the terrible wrong they’ve done when looking at one of the victims of the atrocity they’re responsible for.

    Mason *still* isn’t sorry for what he’s done. His conversation with Klassin Roe makes that clear. He’s still blaming his primary victim (Jocelyn Atherby). Invoking some threat to Crossroads she supposedly was, as justification for his choices. Notice he didn’t even bother trying to justify not telling his own wife about what he’d done. Despite the fact that if Larissa knew what had happened she might well kill him where he stood.

    There’s also the strong probability (though admittedly not a certainty) he was aware just why Jocelyn was the one to suggest the compromise-defeat of her side that was the memory spell. Mason supports the side that was willing to condemn all of Jocelyn’s side, plus all their descendants to eternal slavery via the blood curse.

    We DO know that Mason was aware that Jocelyn’s newborn twins were kidnapped as a means to force her to give herself up. Even an idiot could realize the implications of that kidnapping went deeper. Jocelyn wouldn’t have surrendered if they were simply holding her children. No, Ruthers and his adherents were going to MURDER her babies if Jocelyn didn’t give herself up. We know from Wyatt’s upbringing that his foster parents were ready at any moment if given the order to murder HIM in cold blood.

    I really don’t get Flick being as understanding as she has been. There comes a certain threshold of horrors a person can be responsible for unleashing, even if they have the best intentions, beyond which there’s no forgiveness. Mason can make all the humanizing gestures he wants. He’s STILL OK with almost everyone he knows living lives where their free will was RAPED, mutilating their lives into making those people Good Little Anti-Alter Conformist Heretics again.

    Even if one genuinely believes all Alters are evil, forcing those who believe otherwise to be on the side that believes them to be Evil by rewriting their lives is being pro-mind enslavement. Even if all those pro-Existence of Good Alter people were wrong, and all Alters really were Evil, mind-raping them into living lives where they continue taking the lives of Alters they would NEVER agree to kill if their memories hadn’t been re-written, and then smiling and pretending to be the loyal friend and colleague of those you helped mind-rape…

    Gah, it makes Mason worse than Fossor. At least Fossor isn’t hiding behind half-assed rationalizations made to those he enslaves.

    Even the tiniest amount of genuine repentance on Mason’s part would morally require him to announce in a general way that the spell wouldn’t make his fellow Heretics forget that their memories had been rewritten, and to reveal who was responsible. Unless or until he does something like that, he’s 110% Villain.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve been wondering, and I don’t know if it’s been said: Are Heritics, especially Crossroads Heritics in general, considered Nocen? Because they fit the whole ‘Alters that kill things for no good reason’ thing pretty well.


  6. Oh no. Flick has just received a single-use powerup that’s only effective against a single type of enemy. Even if Fossor himself doesn’t make an appearance, Flick is almost guaranteed to run into incorporeal Alters at some point during her Winter break. Knowing Flick, she might even be aware of this.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Heh. Unlikely, given Flick’s relative (lack of) luck in that area, but who knows? *shrugs* Could be a curve ball.


  7. Also, I found the little discussion (sort of one-sided though it was) between Flick and Prof. Mason a little intriguing. I wonder why he ceased his efforts to remove his daughters from the team. Something to keep an eye on for further examination.


    1. The way I see it, there are too possibilities.

      1. He genuinely meant every word he said in this chapter, with no ulterior motive.

      2. Ruthers (or another Committee member) got to him, and he wants to “help” Flick.

      Tough call. I guess my personal prediction depends on whether or not he invites Avalon for a summer visit too.


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