Considering the way I’d heard various people (especially Avalon) at Crossroads talk about him, most Heretics would have had a selection of reactions to the appearance of Gabriel Prosser that varied from stunned silence to Wayne and Garth style supplication, only with less comedic overtones. He was Hercules, Luke Skywalker, and Superman all rolled up into one. He was their hero, their champion.
I kind of doubted any of their reactions would have been to leap to their feet and shove him in the chest while shouting something about him being a son of a bitch. But what can I say, I’m unique that way.
Obviously, the idea that I could ever actually shove the man if he didn’t let me was utterly absurd. But he didn’t make a move to stop me. He didn’t move at all except to take a step back from the shove itself. Which, honestly, was probably the guy making sure I didn’t snap my arms like twigs when I hit him.
Asenath and Twister were both saying something, but I didn’t notice or care. My fist hit the man’s chest (it was like punching a boulder back before I had enhanced strength) as I blurted, “How long? How long did you know Mom was here? How long did you know where she was, where we were? How long did you wait before you showed up? I thought you were supposed to be Mom’s friend! Deveron said you were her friend, so how long did you know?”
“Flick, hey, what–” Twister started, clearly surprised by my reaction.
“He knew!” I snapped. “Scott. Scott’s a Pooka. Scott’s an Alter. He was here the whole time, the whole time! He was here since I was a baby, and he was working for him!” My head jerked in a nod toward Prosser, the emotional trauma from thinking that my old friend was dead translating into anger at the new revelation. “He knew where we were, where Mom was, and he didn’t save her. He didn’t stop Fossor from taking her! You could’ve saved her! You knew, you knew!”
I was tired of the secrets. I was tired of lying to my dad. I was tired of lying to everyone. I was tired of tip toeing around who my mother was and what she had done. I was just… tired of it. I had seen my friend, the oldest friend I had, who had taken care of me as a baby, die. I saw him shoot himself in the head because of Ammon and Fossor. And now, now he was alive again because he had always been a… a what, a spy for Prosser? And now Prosser made himself a target. Seeing him there, realizing that he had been involved in the background of my life for so long had made me snap.
Through it all, as my fist hit the man’s shoulder and chest repeatedly, he did nothing to stop me. He stood there like a statue, letting me hit him without moving or complaining. His face was impassive, save for a very slight hint of pain. Not physical. I knew I couldn’t actually injure him. But just because I couldn’t harm him didn’t mean that I couldn’t hurt him. And for all that my impotent strikes did nothing to cause him any kind of physical determent, they and my words very clearly affected him emotionally.
Finally, I stopped. My fists were clenched tight, and I was breathing heavily. Not from exhaustion, but from anger and emotional whiplash. All the frustration and grief that I felt left me physically shaking.
“I take it you know who I am, then.” His words were a statement of fact rather than a question.
“I know who you are,” I confirmed, my own voice shaking a little bit still. “You’re Gabriel Prosser.” Swallowing, I repeated, “You knew.” I forced myself not to lash out again. “You knew since I was a baby. You sent Scott.”
“You’re right,” the man spoke in a voice that was quiet, yet rumbled through the room like distant thunder. He met my gaze. “I knew where Joselyn was for a long time. Long enough to have Scott put in place to watch over you both..”
The words almost made me punch him again. “Why? Why didn’t you help her? Why didn’t you save her? Why didn’t you help me? You could’ve saved her, you have resources, you have people. Why didn’t any of you do something before he–” I stopped talking then, slumping so heavily that my back hit the nearby wall. My eyes closed. “Why didn’t you stop him from taking her?” My voice was no longer enraged. The anger had rushed out of it. I wanted to cry again. My emotions were playing havoc with my mind, twisting my thoughts inside out.
There was a creak as the man moved across the floor. Rather than summoning the chairs by the table or using any of the myriad of powers that I knew he had to have, he simply walked to the table, picked up two of the chairs that were there, and walked back with them. Carefully, he set one of the chairs by me before settling himself into the other one. Then he just sat there, quietly watching me with the patience of that same kind of boulder that I’d mentally compared the man to while I was pointlessly hitting him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Asenath and Twister on the other side of the room. They were close enough to see what was going on and intervene, but far enough away to give us a semblance of privacy.
Finally, I sat down in the chair beside me. My weight settled heavily into it, and I tried to swallow the hard lump in my throat. It took a couple attempts, and I couldn’t look directly at the man through it.
After a moment of silence, he spoke again, voice still soft. “I want to make one thing clear. Scott does care about you. He has never lied to you about that. In fact, he was planning on telling you the truth this evening.”
The words made me flinch. Head down, gaze on the floor, I swallowed again. When I spoke, my own voice felt and sounded like another person. “The truth… I… he was involved. He was a… a Pooka and I never… I never…”
“The other people I had watching your house,” the man began slowly. “They didn’t know that Scott was… that he’d been affected. They knew he was planning on coming here tonight, planning to talk to you about who and what he was. So they didn’t know anything was wrong until he took out the gun. And by then, it was…” There was a brief pause, and I glanced up slightly to see the regret on his face. “It was too late.”
Closing my eyes, I put my hands against my face as a shudder ran through me once more before I looked up, my throat dry. My emotions were in such turmoil, I couldn’t figure out what to feel. Scott was dead, then he wasn’t. I wanted to be happy, elated that Fossor hadn’t actually won yet again. But some of it felt hollow, and my confusion over the whole issue was making it worse. “How?” I asked in a voice that cracked a bit. “How c-could you have a video of him already?”
Scott was alive. Alive. I wanted to scream happily at the ceiling. I wanted to grab the computer pad again and stare at it. I wanted to be overjoyed, and in a way, I was. But I was also confused, and afraid somewhere deep down that this happiness would be snatched away again.
It was Twister who spoke up then. “When Pooka die, we leave our old body behind and sort of… spawn a new one in the last safe spot that we designated. We get to choose where we respawn.”
Prosser nodded in agreement. “Scott’s designated regeneration location was one of our… my group’s safe houses, where some of our people care for the children. When I learned what happened, I had one of the caretakers there set up the video feed.”
The tears sprang back again and I closed my eyes tight while finishing bitterly. “I thought he was dead. I thought Scott was dead, and now he’s… he’s an Alter. He’s… he’s….” I swallowed hard, forcing away those feelings. I wanted to talk to Scott. I wanted to get close to him and… and… go over all of it. But I needed time to sort out my emotions.
So, blinking those tears away forcibly, I squinted up at the man while focusing on something else. The burning pain in my throat from all of the raw emotion made me flinch a little bit. “You knew about Mom, about where she was, even before I was born. How long before? And why didn’t you… why didn’t you do anything about it? You just put Scott there to watch us. Why didn’t you save her?”
He breathed out then. “I was looking for Joselyn for a long time. Finally, I found out where she was from one of the Crossroads Committee. She came to me and let me know where I could find her.”
I blinked a couple times at that, my confusion mounting the more I thought about it. “A… Committee member? Wait, one of the Committee told you where to find my mom? But—why—that doesn’t–”
“Apparently your mother influenced more than just the rank and file troops,” the man explained with a shrug. “The woman told me where I could find Joselyn. So I came to… to find her, to bring her back.”
“So why didn’t you?” I asked, my voice cracking a little bit. “Why’d you just leave her then? Was it because she wasn’t a Heretic anymore, because she wouldn’t be useful to you?” I regretted the accusation as soon as it left my mouth, but it was something that had been weighing heavily on me the entire time. “Is that why you left Scott, to see if she got her power back?”
He flinched noticeably, the pain at that flat question clearly hurting him more than any punch that I had managed. “No,” the man answered quietly. “No, Felicity. Your mother was—is…” Taking a breath before letting it out, he looked up to me, gaze seeming to peer through me in a way that I’d only seen Gaia manage before. “What do you know about the relationship between myself and the Atherbys?”
The question made me hesitate. “Err… well, I mean, Deveron said you were the ally that helped Mom while she was running the rebellion. And this… Fomorian said that Mom’s father, Joshua, was your protege? He said that was why you helped her when she needed it, because you were close to her dad.”
“The Fomorian spoke the truth, in that case.” Prosser gave a slight nod before continuing. “But it was more than that. Far more. Your great-grandfather, Lyell, how much do you know about him, Felicity?”
Blinking, I admitted, “Not much. We found a journal that belonged to him at Crossroads. It was talking about how you can never trust Strangers because they trusted Fossor and he made the Black Death.”
Prosser grimaced, his expression darkening. “Yes, Lyell spoke a lot about the mistake of trusting Fossor. But you must understand, the words he wrote about never trusting Alters came not long after that tragic betrayal happened. His anger, his emotions, tempered quite a bit over the years. He came to realize that the true threat isn’t everything non-human, it’s evil regardless of the form it comes in.”
He smiled just a little bit then, at some kind of memory. “It was Lyell who found me after I crawled out of that grave. He was chasing that Hangman, looking for evidence about where it might go. He and a couple of those Crossroads people working together to hunt the thing down before it could kill again.
“I didn’t know up from down back then. It was all new. So when the Crossroads people asked me to come back with them, I did. I went and I heard all their words about how evil the monsters are and how we’ve gotta hunt them down to protect the good people. And you know what it reminded me of?”
“Slaves,” I realized. “They were telling you that Strangers—that Alters were evil or less than human just because of why they were born, and it reminded you of how some people justified owning slaves.”
“That’s right,” the man confirmed. “Everything they said, it was all about how humans are good and non-humans are bad. But I met plenty of bad humans. So it made me think, if humans could be bad, doesn’t it make sense that non-humans could be good? But they didn’t want to hear that. Said I was just too young and ignorant to understand. So I told them just what I thought of their school and then left.”
Straightening up out of the chair then, he nodded toward the sink. “You mind if I get a bit of water?” When I quickly shook my head and gestured for him to feel free, he stepped that way. Again, he didn’t use any kind of power. Reaching up into the cupboard, he took down a cup and filled it at the tap before taking a long drink from it. Filling the cup up a second time, he continued. “Still didn’t know much about what I was doing. And let’s just say, being a black man back then wandering around all by my lonesome wasn’t very conducive to being able to hunt down the bad monsters and protect people.”
He took a few seconds to drain the glass a second time before setting it down in the sink. “Thank you kindly, Felicity.” Stepping back over to the chair, the man settled himself into it once more. “But there was still another guy that I knew about, another Heretic that wasn’t part of that Crossroads bunch.”
“Lyell,” I realized. “Lyell Atherby. You said he wasn’t one of the Crossroads Heretics at that point.”
Prosser nodded. “Yeah, he never joined Crossroads, or the offshoot. Lyell had his own group, his own clan. They weren’t all related to him, but they might as well have been. They were his family. And they let me in, let me join up with them. I learned a lot from Lyell and the rest of the clan. Especially his wife, Edeva. And Joshua, he was just a young boy back then, barely a teenager when I met him.”
His eyes had a faraway look for a moment as the man lost himself in his memories before letting out a low sigh. “He grew up fast though. Before you knew it, Joshua and I, we were… we were best friends. But more. I loved Lyell like a… like an uncle. Maybe even a father. And Joshua, he was my brother.”
I stayed quiet, watching the man as he lost himself in memories for another long moment. “We spent most of the eighteen hundreds together, hunting the bad things. Almost a hundred years roaming all over North America. Saving people. That’s what we did, the Atherby clan. Somehow I became the face of it. Not sure how that happened. But it was a good time. Probably always be the best time of my life.
“It couldn’t last forever though. Edeva died before the turn of the century, and Lyell wasn’t long after her. Probably didn’t really want to keep going on without the love of his life. So Joshua became the clan patriarch. His father would have been proud. But his reign, it didn’t…” The pain was back in the man’s eyes. “It didn’t last nearly as long as it should have. Because of the Fomorians. Those-” He looked like he was going to say something nasty for a moment before catching himself. “Joshua and his wife had to help Gaia Sinclaire put a stop to their invasion. So they both sacrificed themselves in different ways.”
My head bobbed at that. “Joshua had to die and his wife had to… sacrifice everyone’s memory of her?”
“Right.” Prosser settled back into his seat. “I remember things about her. I remember entire conversations we had. But the woman herself, anything specific about who she was or even what she looked like, it’s blank. I don’t know if she’s even still out there somewhere. For all I know, she’s one of the people I’ve got in my group. Or maybe she went somewhere else. I just don’t know. Nobody does. Nobody but her. She’d know. Her memory would’ve been left intact. But she couldn’t tell anybody.”
“Because they’d forget?” I asked, biting my lip while casting a glance toward the other two. They were still just standing there, watching what was going on with obvious fascination. I wondered what kind of reputation Gabriel Prosser had among Alters, because it was pretty obvious that there was a reputation.
“No.” Prosser shook his head. “It wasn’t that kind of memory spell, not exactly. She remembers, and she’s free to tell anyone. But every time she does, it weakens the spell that keeps the Fomorians out, and there’s a chance of it breaking completely. If she’s alive still, she’s alone, and every day she chooses to stay alone. Because if she tells anybody who she is, if she comes to you or me or anyone and lets us know the truth, the Fomorians might show up again. It’s not just a sacrifice that she made back then. It’s a sacrifice she makes every single day. She lost her husband’s life, and her family’s memory of her. She lost her daughter. She couldn’t be with her. She chose to stay away rather than risk letting the Fomorians invade again.”
He sighed softly. “Joselyn was too young, and I didn’t want her to be dragged along into all of this after it cost her both of her parents. So when Zedekiah Pericles suggested that the girl stay with human friends of his, it sounded like a good idea.
“Without a living Atherby in the clan, the rest of Lyell’s group all looked to me. I’ve been trying to take care of things, trying to keep helping people as best we can. Some days it seems like we spend more time saving innocent Alters from the fools that come out of that school of yours or from the other place than we spend fighting the actual bad guys.”
Swallowing, I looked down while blinking rapidly to clear the dampness out of my eyes. Even now, my emotions still wanted to grieve. The violent turbulence of the whole ‘dead, not dead’ thing was screwing with me. “No wonder you helped my mom once she left Crossroads. But–” I looked up again, thinking about what had started this entire conversation. “But you said that you knew where she was, that some woman from the Committee told you where to find her. Why didn’t you take her with you? You—you did care about her.”
“I do care about her,” the man confirmed. “I didn’t take her with me because… because when I found her, she was pregnant with you. And obviously very much in love with your father. I just… I couldn’t take her away from that. She was happy here, Felicity. I thought she deserved a chance at that happiness. So I left her alone. I thought she’d be safe. And she would’ve been, if it wasn’t for…”
He trailed off, anger twisting his expression. After a hesitation, I asked, “Um, if it wasn’t for…?”
“She would have been safe here,” he explained in a flat tone with an obvious undercurrent of anger. “But one of my people, one of the people I trusted… or thought I could trust, betrayed us. They took that information to Fossor, told him where to find your mother. That’s how he found her.”
Reeling a bit at that, I stared at the man. “Someone… someone you knew told Fossor where she was? How—why would–”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m still looking for them, trying to get those same answers. But after that happened, I stopped trusting the entire group with your situation. Only a few know anything about you or anything that’s going on. Scott was one of those. I thought…” He sighed. “I thought that his ability to remain invisible to the Heretical Sense would keep him safe.”
Flinching at the reminder of my friend and the raw, emotional wound behind that revelation (as well as my own confusion on whether I could allow myself to be relieved or not, or if the universe would suddenly take Scott away again), I made myself ask, “So is that your secret group, just Lyell’s old clan? Deveron was talking like it was some huge secret. You were the guys who erased him from everyone’s memory?”
“No.” Prosser met my gaze. “Not exactly. The clan is my family. The people I work with for that, the ones you’re talking about, they’re more like allies. Some of them are Heretics, some of them aren’t. Their whole goal is to get rid of the Seosten, break the control they’ve got over Heretics and humanity. You know, put a stop to that whole Alter genocide thing. Joselyn, she was… she was always the best chance. She could inspire people, change their minds, she was just… she was winning, Felicity. But between the Seosten manipulators and that fool Ruthers letting them talk him into going after her children, it…” His face twisted a little bit before he sighed again. “She lost her kids because of Ruthers. So when I showed up and found out she had a new family here, I couldn’t just take her away from it. I wanted her to have a chance to be happy.”
Again, my emotions came flooding to the surface and I had to hurriedly say something to keep from being overwhelmed by them. Trying for a safer subject, I asked, “I know… I know my mom was really strong, really… they couldn’t beat her in a straight fight, even though she was so much younger than them. How did that happen? I mean, did you and your allies give her power to make her stronger?”
A slight smile touched the man’s face before his head shook. “No,” he answered softly, with a note of obvious pride. “That was all your mother.”
My eyes widened at that. Prosser and his group giving my mother her power was the best guess that I’d had about how she could possibly have gone toe to toe with the Crossroads and Eden’s Garden heavyweights. “But—but how? If your people didn’t help her, what did—did she just kill a lot of bad Alters? That doesn’t… sound right.”
“How much do you know about the head of that Hangman sitting in that lighthouse?” Prosser asked me, watching my reaction.
“I know it’s—he’s alive,” I answered slowly. “I’m not sure how, but we know that’s how she kept coming and going from the island, because she um, made friends with the Hangman’s skull? So it let her get onto the school grounds.”
“It did more than that, Felicity,” Prosser explained. “You’re right. Your mother did the one thing no one else at that school ever tried doing. She was nice to the Hangman that made her a Heretic. And in return, it didn’t just let her come and go from the school as much as she wanted.”
He paused, obviously considering his words for a moment before continuing. “You know how those Committee people are so strong? Besides the obvious.”
“Because they’re all connected to each other,” I answered slowly. “They do some spell that links them so that they all have all the powers that each of the others have.”
He nodded. “Yes, but it’s not a spell. Not exactly. It’s a ritual that they perform with the Hangman’s skull, a ritual that connects each of them. So when your mother became friends with it…”
My eyes widened in realization. “You mean–”
“Yes.” Prosser smiled faintly, his pride at my mother’s actions obvious. “The Hangman liked your mother, Felicity. So the next time they did that little bonding ritual, it added her without them ever knowing.
“You wanna know how your mother was as strong as any of the Committee members? Because thanks to that Hangman, she pretty much was one.”