“It won’t be long before your teacher gets back from her errand,” Prosser announced while I was still trying to digest the revelation that my mother’s power had come from the fact that she was technically part of the Crossroads Committee and thus was linked to them. “I can’t be here when she arrives.”
“You can trust Professor Dare,” I replied automatically. “She knows pretty much everything. She knows about Senny being a vampire, Shiori being her sister, all of it. If she was a traitor, we’d be screwed.” Shrugging, I added, “Plus, Gaia said we can trust her and if she’s wrong, double screwed.”
Besides, I didn’t want him to leave. I was still reeling from the emotional yo-yo of seeing Scott kill himself, then finding out he wasn’t really dead. Prosser could answer so many questions for me. And beyond that, he could tell me stories about my mother’s family. And, well, I really wanted to hear them.
“That may be.” The man rose slowly from his chair. “But she’s also bringing people with her to adjust your father’s memory, and you don’t know that they can be trusted with everything.” His face softened, and he looked like he wanted to reach out to me, yet stopped himself. “You’ll see me again, Felicity.”
Before I could say anything to that, he stooped to pick up the tablet that had fallen on the floor. “Keep this,” the man instructed. “There’s another video on there that you should see, when you’re ready for it.”
He extended it to me, and I took the tablet reflexively. “Another video? What—what kind of video?”
His gaze met mine. “It’s a video of your mother. Security camera footage from a fast food restaurant taken several years ago. It’s the most recent video I’ve been able to find of her. She’s with… the boy.”
“Ammon,” Asenath spat the name, the disgust very clear in her voice. “You mean she’s with Ammon.”
Prosser didn’t look away from me as he responded easily. “Yes, Ammon. Though in the video he’s not as you know him. It was taken before his father made him into what he is today, in more than one way.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘more than one way’, but before I could ask for clarification, Twister spoke up. “Don’t you owe the kid more than a couple wham lines and a tip of your hat on the way out?”
Prosser seemed a bit amused by her choice of words, raising an eyebrow at the Pooka. “Wham lines?”
“Google it,” she retorted, arms folded across her chest while her fuzzy tail flicked back and forth behind her. “Point is, you come in and drop a bunch of heavy revelations, then just bounce on out? You’re a super-Heretic or something. Give her a talisman of uber-protection, or at least a magic sword.”
My head shook. “He doesn’t have to give me anything.” He’d given me plenty to think about, at least.
“No, she’s right.” Prosser considered me for a moment before moving over to the nearby counter. “I do need to give you a couple things. First, do you mind if I use this?” He indicated a pad of paper and pen that were set there for shopping lists and messages. When I shook my head, the man tore a sheet off the pad and used the pen to write what looked like a couple of phone numbers on it from where I stood.
After the numbers were finished, he added a fairly simple-looking symbol to the page, just below the two sets of numbers. It looked like a square that had been turned diagonally to make a diamond shape, with another, smaller diamond-square inside that one, and a dot in the very center of the whole thing.
Raising the paper to his lips, the man whispered something, and I felt a slight rush of power go through the room briefly before fading as he held the paper out to me. “Place this against your forehead and say, ‘Ugatahahee.’ And be careful, it may hurt just a little bit for a second. But it’s okay. You’ll be all right.”
Blinking at that, I frowned before taking it and doing as he instructed. As I carefully pronounced the word, that same rush of power came back. Immediately afterward, I felt a sharp burning sensation against my forehead, even as the paper in my hand turned into ash. Yelping, I jumped back reflexively.
Prosser was there, touching his hand against my head. Immediately I felt a soft, cooling sensation. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly while easing the pain until it had entirely faded. “Do you have the numbers?”
“The numbers?” I echoed. “What nu–” Then I thought about what he’d written on the pad, and my eyes widened. “Uh, yeah. I remember—wait, you did a spell to put a couple phone numbers into my head?”
“You’ll never forget them now,” he informed me. “And more importantly, they can never be taken from you against your will. No power, no spell, nothing supernatural can force you to share the numbers.”
“But—what are they?” I asked, shaking my head. “I mean, I guess one’s probably your phone number.”
He nodded. “Yes. The first one is the number to a phone that will always be answered by me, or by someone I trust with my life. If you need something, all you have to do is ask for it. And the second number goes to the safe-house where Scott’s staying. I thought you might like to speak to him at some point. He does genuinely care about you. I’m sure he’ll want to hear from you. Just give him a couple months. As your friend there can tell you, it takes some time for the memories to finish settling in.”
He smiled then. “Sorry, your teachers might notice if you start swinging around any kind of magic sword I could give you. Instead, I give you those numbers and that spell. Simply write the rune as you saw it and say that word to prime the spell. After that, anyone with any magical ability at all can trigger it by placing whatever it’s written on against their forehead before saying the same word.”
“So we can share knowledge that they can’t get out of us with any other spell or Alter-power,” I finished for him while nodding slowly. “Wow, that could be useful. Let me guess, the more stuff that’s written on the paper, the more the spell hurts? So no, like, secret-keeping everything about my mom.”
Prosser grimaced. “It’d probably take a long time to do that, or simply kill you in the process. You can only do a few words at a time. And give yourself at least a week between each casting to recover a bit.”
“Right, so it’s good for specific bits of info like phone numbers or names, but not entire concepts.” Looking down at the ash on my fingers from the burned paper, I rubbed the blackness. “Still handy.”
The man smiled sadly then, looking away for a moment. “It’s been useful before. Kutattca would have been glad that it could help you too. When he was alive, his greatest joy in the world was teaching.”
Swallowing at the emotion I could see, I hesitated before asking, “That name, is it Native American?”
Prosser nodded. “Yes, it’s from the group known as the Miwok. Kutattca was a dear friend, one of the first that I made after my awakening. But he was killed during the Heretic rebellion. Murdered by his own sister, Litonya. She’s part of the Committee, but he still thought he could trust her. He was wrong.”
The words made me flinch, mouth going dry for a moment. “One of the Committee members killed her own brother because he was part of the rebellion? That’s… ” A lot of words sprang to mind, none polite.
“Sibling against sibling, father against child,” Prosser confirmed in a low, regretful voice. “That’s what this war does. Some people can accept the truth about Alters, others always refuse to even consider it.”
“To the point of killing their own family,” I finished softly, looking away for a moment as a flash of anger at the… the sheer pointlessness of it ran through me. How much good could Heretics have done for the world if we actually focused on the nocen, the real threats while working with the good Alters?
Something else flashed into my mind then, and my eyes snapped back up. “Wait, Native American. You spent a lot of time with them. That Kutattca guy was your friend, and Mom had to hear about it from somewhere. Because she didn’t learn it from Crossroads. Have you heard of the Ring of Anuk-Ité?”
To my relief, the man nodded. “Of course. The legend of the double-faced witch. Eventually it was twisted into a story about a monster with a face on the back of their head, but that wasn’t the origin. I’m not surprised your mother knew about it. Kutattca used to tell her the story now and then. She loved it.”
“Please,” I pressed him to keep going. “It’s really important. For a… a friend who needs help. Please.”
Prosser smiled a little, his hand finding my arm to squeeze it before he continued. “A long time ago, tribes of natives on this continent traveled alongside what we would call Heretics, people who could see Alters and recognize when there were actual monsters around. One day, an old chief’s daughter was turned into one of these Alters. The legend varies on what exactly she was turned into. But the chief loved his daughter too much to abandon her, and he didn’t believe that she was evil. Yet he knew that if he took her back to the village, the ones that we would call Heretics would recognize what she was, and she’d be exiled at best, or even killed. So, he took his daughter on a trip to visit an ancient shaman. The shaman was said to have lived in the world since the first wind touched the first dust. They found the shaman, and the chief begged her to help his daughter, to cure her, turn her into a human once more.
“The shaman either wouldn’t or couldn’t do that. But she did enchant a ring for the man, a ring carved from the bones of a creature who, like the Pooka, was immune to a Heretic’s sight. With a special enchanted gem added to spread that effect, the ring was able to hide the chief’s daughter from the Heretics, so she appeared to be a normal human as long as she wore it. Which she did for a long time, until another creature killed her and took the ring. For some time after that, the creature used the ring to infiltrate villages, bypassing their protection. She would remove the ring, transform into her… monster-self and wreak havoc. Then she would simply disappear, put the ring back on, and return. It took a long time and a lot of luck for her to be caught. After that, the ring passed from hand to hand until it fell to Kutattca. When he died, my best guess is that it was inherited by his oldest living relative, his killer.”
“Litonya,” I finished. “The woman from the Committee. But how’d it go from her to a werewolf-heretic from Eden’s Garden? And why is it a necklace now? Just because it’s easier to wear than a ring?”
He shook his head. “That, I don’t know. But you may be able to get some information out of Kutattca’s descendant. She goes to that school of yours.”
I blinked at that. “Goes to–oh! Aylen. You mean Aylen Tamaya?”
The man chuckled slightly. “What are they teaching you up there?” His tone was teasing. “No. Tamaya is a Quechua name, from the area around Peru and Colombia. Kutattca was Miwok, from the California area. They didn’t cross over that much. Wrong hemisphere.”
“Then who–” I started before stopping. “Wait, I saw another Native American girl the other day, when Shiori and I were in the–” Flushing, I coughed before finishing with an awkward, “She was older. Her name was umm… umm… Namid?”
“An Ojibwe name,” Prosser replied. “Closer, yes. That would be her. It’s possible that she knows more about what happened to the ring, or how it ended up where it is now.”
He looked like he wanted to say something else, but Asenath spoke up first. “We’ve been having dreams,” she put in. “Twister and me. Dreams about… about helping Joselyn’s rebellion. I keep having a dream about the night the children were taken.”
Inclining his head in a nod, Prosser looked to her. “That’s not surprising. Given what Felicity has found out so far, it’s probably poking holes in the spell already, especially for people close to her. Like you two.”
“Kind of like you were saying about Joshua’s wife?” I asked. “About how if she tells anyone who she is, it risks breaking the spell and letting the Fomorians invade again.”
Nodding once more, Prosser paused while turninghis head turned slightly. He seemed to be listening to something. “Your teacher is here,” he announced. “And she brought some company.”
He started moving to the back door then, even as I asked, “What—what do I tell her? What about Scott? I can’t just lie to her. I don’t like lying, especially to the people that are really trying to help me.”
The man paused with his hand on the knob, glancing back to me. “I would never stop you from telling the truth to those that you trust. Just be sure that you can trust them. And understand that information you give can have a way of spreading beyond your original intention, despite any care you may take.”
After another quick promise to be in touch if he found out anything else about my mother, the man was gone. About two seconds after that, the front door opened and Professor Dare called out, “Felicity?”
Nodding for the other two to get upstairs and out of sight, I hurried into the front hall. “I’m here, I–” I stopped talking, because Prosser had been right. Dare wasn’t alone. There were two men with her. One was a tall, white-haired man who looked to be in his late sixties. He looked like he could play Alfred in any given movie about Batman. Meanwhile, the other guy looked fairly young. He was handsome, with auburn hair that fell to his shoulders and very intense-looking gray eyes flecked with little bits of white.
I knew him. I’d never actually seen the man in person before, but I had seen his painting when we visited the hospital to check out Tangle. He looked even more impressive in the flesh. “You’re the—I mean, Baron?” I blurted blankly, flushing at my reaction. It was definitely him. The baron of Wyoming.
The older man looked like he was about to snap something, but the baron himself stepped forward. “Jeremiah Dallant, please. You can call me Jeremiah. And…” His face fell, eyes glancing toward the spot of blood on the floor where Scott’s body had been before Dare left with it as well as my own father’s fallen, slumbering form. I saw several emotions play out over the man’s face before he looked up again. “And I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am about the loss of your friend, Miss Chambers. You’re supposed to be under my protection while you’re here, and I’ve failed in that regard. I haven’t–” He paused, looking toward the other man. “Suttle, would you check the rest of the neighborhood, please? Let’s be sure that the necromancer and his creation haven’t left any other tricks lying around.”
For a moment, I thought that the older man was going to argue. But he finally sighed and gave a brief head tilt that was almost a bow. “Very good, sir.” His voice was stiff, and his cold eyes swept over me while not even bothering to hide the judgment in them before the man turned and walked back out.
“You sent him away on purpose,” I noted quietly once the other man was gone and the door was closed, folding my arms against my stomach tightly. “You didn’t want him to hear what you were about to say.”
He nodded slightly. “Yes. Suttle is a very useful friend to have, but he wouldn’t understand something like this.” Those intense eyes met mine as he continued. “As I said, I’m very, very sorry. I can’t begin to…” The man let out a long, low breath, clearly searching for words before he explained. “There were supposed to be Heretics here watching over this house and the neighborhood itself the entire time you were home. I’ve been preventing that, reassigning them to different work and not replacing them here.”
“What?” I blinked at that, my eyes widening. “Why would you–” Then I got it and looked to Dare, who gave me a slight nod of encouragement. “Gaia. She asked you to keep them away because of…”
“Because of the vampire,” the baron confirmed. “We didn’t want them to see her, and, well, I thought things would be all right here as long as you had that kind of protection. I’m sorry, I…” There was obvious pain in his eyes, clear regret. “I should’ve done more, should have found people to trust.”
“You–” My eyes flicked over to Dare once more before I went on uncertainly. “You don’t mind a… I mean you’re not—you don’t think that Asenath’s–”
“Evil?” he finished before shaking his head. “No. I… the baron before me, my father, he would have. He did some pretty—some pretty bad things. He and the old headmaster, Ruthers, they were close. Very close.”
“He disappeared,” I remembered. “Doctor Therasis said that the old baron disappeared fifty-three years ago. That was 1964. Which—which was the same year that… that…”
“Your siblings were taken,” Jeremiah finished for me, his voice quiet. “Yes. But he didn’t disappear. I killed him.”
My eyes widened at that. “You—you killed him? But why?”
“He was Ruthers’ first choice to take the children,” he explained. “They would have grown up in a home like I did. Only worse, because of who their mother was. I couldn’t let that happen, not to other children. So I killed him. Ruthers believes that my father was killed by the Rebellion as an act of retaliation for his part in assisting in the children’s abduction. Which means he believes that I hate the Rebellion with every ounce of my being. It’s a useful deception. He thinks he can trust me.”
The man shook his head. “But we’re getting off subject. That’s not important. What is important is taking care of–”
“Can I talk to my teacher alone?” I interrupted quickly. The baron knew about Asenath, he knew she was helping me. If we couldn’t trust him, if he was really working with Ruthers, this entire thing would’ve fallen apart by now. Even then, however, I felt like this was something that needed to be private.
If the man was offended, he didn’t show it. Instead, he smiled a little. “Of course. Go ahead. I’ll be outside with Suttle. Give us a call when you’d like both of us to come back in so we can adjust your father’s memory.”
He stepped outside, and I waited an extra few seconds just to be sure before blurting, “He’s not dead. Scott, I mean. He’s not dead.”
Dare looked both pained and confused. “Flick,” she started quietly. “You have to–”
“Just listen,” I interrupted, shaking my head. “I’m not crazy and I’m not in denial. He’s not dead. Scott—he—he’s a Pooka. You know, dead and then reborn, like a phoenix?”
“Flick…” Dare managed after staring at me for a few long seconds. “How do you—what happened while I was gone?”
My mouth opened, then shut, and I hesitated before slumping back against the wall. “You might wanna conjure a chair or something so you can sit down.”
“Cuz this is kind of a doozy.”