Suspects 24-01

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Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude posted a few days ago, focusing on Gabriel Ruthers and Calafia. If you haven’t read that yet, you might wish to hit the Previous Chapter button above. 

“I would kill for Miranda’s duplication powers right now.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I paused, head tilting a little bit. “Eeesh. You know, I guess when Heretics say something like that, it comes off as a lot more sinister than it should.”

We were back on the island. Well, to be specific, we were on the opposite side of the island from the school. The beach over here was a lot rockier (and smaller) than the one by the school itself. Probably because it hadn’t been specifically maintained or designed for a bunch of students. The jungle was also much closer, not to mention darker. We were so far away from any big cities that the moon and stars were a lot brighter than they would’ve been. But even then, the light seemed to fail at the edge of the jungle, leaving a dark maw right at the treeline.

Beside me, Shiori’s face was half-illuminated by the moon. It was distractingly pretty, even in this situation. “I know what you mean. I overheard a couple sophomores a few days ago. They were talking about how they hoped a Stranger with a fast-metabolism would show up soon so they could kill it and eat as much chocolate as they wanted. They were laughing about it.”

Wincing then, I looked over toward Avalon. The girl was standing on the edge of the small, rocky beach, watching the ocean in the distance. She hadn’t said much since Gabriel had dropped us off here, clearly still lost in obsessing over how she could’ve killed Fahsteth before he got away.

I wanted to say something to her, but I wasn’t sure what. So I just sighed and nodded. “I just wish I could duplicate myself. My dad… I need to talk to my dad, not wait around to be interrogated by a bunch of Committee puppets who are gonna pick over everything I say or do.”

Shiori’s hand found mine, squeezing it. “Gaia’ll get you through it as fast as she can,” she promised. “And until you can get there, Senny and Twist are gonna keep him safe. It’ll be okay.”

Returning the squeeze, I swallowed. “I just don’t get it. He broke the Bystander Effect? That’s not–I mean it’s not supposed to be–I mean… “ I groaned out loud then. “I need to talk to him!”

“You will, Miss Chambers,” Professor Dare abruptly spoke from a few feet away, making all of us whip around that way. She was standing there, calmly watching us. Yet behind that calm, there was something else. A certain… tension, a worry that she was doing a good, yet not perfect job at hiding. It was some kind of mixture of hidden fear and relief when she looked at us. Which could have been just her being glad that we had made it back to the island, or… was she actually possessed and afraid that we had found out? At this point, I honestly had no idea.

“Good… morning, would be the appropriate term at this point, I believe,” she started flatly. Her eyes danced over us briefly before the blonde woman continued. “I’ve been told that where you were and what you were doing needs to remain a secret for the time being. Operational security.” She paused, clearly not happy about that before pushing on. “But you do need to know what you were supposed to have been doing. So as far as the Committee’s representatives and anyone else who asks are concerned, you two–” she nodded to Avalon and Shiori, “–were asleep in your beds, where you belong. So we’ll send you right back there.”

As they nodded, I asked, “What about me? We were supposed to be out on a training session?”

Professor Dare nodded. “You were with me. We were investigating a zombie nest in Detroit, where an old friend of mine has been staying. I took you with me because you have experience with killing zombies and for exercise and more training. We killed the zombies, then you watched for more outside while I destroyed the source. Do you have any questions?”

After I shook my head, she held up a water bottle that was full of… uh, really gross stuff. It looked like a mixture of blood and mushed up… bits. “All right, squirt this over yourself. It’ll help sell that you were in a fight with zombies. And if you’re messy, they’re more likely to let you leave quickly, as soon as you tell them that you don’t know what happened to your father.”

Pausing then, she looked at me, her face softening as she held the bottle out. “Is he all right?”

Biting my lip, I gave a hesitant nod. “As far as I know. He’s still with Asenath and all that, they just… had to leave. Those werewolves attacked and–” I cut myself off, swallowing. “He’s okay.”

As I finished talking, my hand took the bottle from Professor Dare. Reluctantly, I popped the top open and started to spill it over the front of my shirt, down one of my arms, over my legs, and then some down my back. The whole time, I had to suppress the urge to gag, or worse. The stuff smelled awful. Which was probably intentional, as part of Dare’s whole ‘make them let me go quickly’ plan. Still, I wished that I’d inherited the ability to turn off my own sense of smell.

Speaking of sense of smell, Shiori wrinkled her nose with distaste while taking a couple steps back. “Uh, no offense, but I think I’ll just wish you luck from over here. So, uh, good luck.”  

Avalon did pretty much the same, and I stuck my tongue out at both of them. “Chickens.”

Dare was smiling faintly, head shaking as she gestured to the other two. “All right, if you’re ready, I’ll send the message to lower the defenses so that you can get back into your dorm.” She waited until they nodded before turning away slightly. Going still, her eyes closed and she was clearly focusing for a moment before opening her eyes. “Okay, I’m sending you in. Make sure you go right to bed. There’s not much of the night left. Get as much sleep as you can.”

With that, Dare gestured, teleporting Avalon and Shiori across the island and into the school. Which left her alone with me. If she was one of the people who was possessed, either Manakel or Charmeine, now probably would’ve been a great time for her to do something about me.

Except maybe not. Since Gaia was probably at least somewhat paying attention to what was going on in between keeping the Committee reps busy, maybe now would be a bad time for a possibly-possessed Dare to try anything. Either way, what it came down to was that this paranoia sucked. I hated looking at Professor Dare and wondering if she was actually being puppeted by some psychopathic alien fuck. We needed to get that choker from Pace, soon.

“Flick?” Dare interrupted my thoughts, raising an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Snapping out of it, I made myself nod quickly. “I’m just worried about my dad,” I claimed, since it wasn’t that much of a lie. “I don’t wanna be here right now. I need to get to him, not… do this.”

The woman’s face was sympathetic. “Of course. We’ll get you through this as soon as possible. If there was a way to fake it… I’d take your place, but it’s likely that they have the ability to detect illusions or shapeshifters. So we need you to be there in person. But Gaia and I will both be there with you, and we’ll make sure they can’t detect any lies that you tell. Are you ready?”

Taking a breath, I let it out again before making myself nod. “Yeah, I guess so. Let’s do this.”

With a wave of Dare’s hand, we were suddenly on the grounds of the school, right in front of the main building. She gestured for me to go ahead, then followed as I walked up to the doors. Together, we walked down the hall and then to a set of stairs that led up to the second floor, where she indicated a door for me to head for. As I moved that way, it opened to reveal Gaia standing there, with a couple men that I’d never seen before a bit further in. They were all waiting.

“Miss Chambers,” Gaia greeted me while gesturing for me to enter the room. “I trust you’re alright and everything went well?” She waited until Dare was in, then shut the door after her.

My head bobbed. “Yup. Just call me Jill Valentine, because those are some dead zombies.”

“As long as you don’t make us call you Alice,” one of the men in the room spoke up, drawing my attention that way as he gave me a slight smile. “Never could stand the movies because of her.”

The guy wasn’t what I expected a representative from the Committee to look like. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with dirty blonde hair that reached his shoulders, but tied back in a ponytail. He had a dark blue flower print Hawaiian shirt on, along with a loose pair of white pants, and simple white slip-on shoes without any socks. His eyes were covered by mirrored sunglasses, and I saw a cell phone case clipped to his brown belt that was probably a weapon.  

“Sorry,” he announced, extending a hand. “Name’s October. And you’re Felicity Chambers.”

Accepting the handshake, I gestured at myself. “That’s, uh, that’s me. Sorry about the gross. Professor Dare said that we were supposed to come in immediately, that it was important.”

“It is.” The reply came from the other man, who could not have looked more unlike October if he tried. He was black, and wore a stiff-looking dark suit and tie with a red shirt. While October looked like he would’ve been home sipping a Mai Tai out on the beach, this guy looked as though he had just walked straight off the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange.

“Patrick,” he announced when I looked at him. “And we need–” He paused, reaching into the inside pocket of his suit jacket before pulling out a fancy embroidered white handkerchief. Holding it up, he murmured the trigger of a spell before handing it to me. “Here, try this.”

I did so, pressing the cloth against the worst of the blood and goop on the front of my shirt. Sure enough, at the slightest touch, the stuff rubbed right off. Even better, it didn’t stick to the handkerchief at all. It was like it just disappeared. Quickly, I wiped the rest of the stuff off me before sniffing. Even the smell was gone. “Wow, okay, why haven’t we learned that spell yet?”

“Soon,” Gaia promised, smiling faintly before sobering. “But I’m afraid that we have something serious to discuss, Miss Chambers. How long has it been since you heard from your father?”

“Hey, whoa, let’s be a little easier, huh?” That was October, his eyes softening as he looked from Gaia back to me. “Listen, kid, there’s-” He paused, clearly taking a moment to figure out how to say it. “It looks like your father was… it looks like your home was attacked by werewolves.”

Thankfully, all this lying I’d been doing over the past several months had given me experience. Making my eyes widen sharply, I took a step back while loudly babbling. “W-wait, what? What do you mean werewolves? I thought–what–where’s my dad? Is he okay? What happened?”

“We don’t know,” Patrick replied simply. “That’s why we’re here right now. Why don’t you answer your headmistress’s question? When exactly was the last time you spoke to your father?”

“I–I don’t…” Biting my lip, I hesitated as though trying to think of it. Some people thought that answering questions quickly when you were lying was a good idea, because it looked like you didn’t have to think up the answer. But in real life, people did have to think about stuff like that. Answering too quick just made it look like the response was rehearsed. So I stammered a little like the question had caught me off-guard. “The other day, I think? Why, what–what does that have to do with werewolves? And why don’t you know where he is? Is he in the hospital? Is he-”

October took over then, holding a hand up. “As far as we can tell, your father is safe. There’s evidence that he left the house, took a car, and drove to… another house elsewhere in the town. After that, we think he took a car that was parked there and left town. From there, we have no idea. But all the evidence we have indicates that all the werewolves who showed up there were killed in the attempt. Then your dad left, probably with whoever was responsible for killing them.”

“Oh my God. Oh–” Fumbling a bit, I grabbed my regular phone, the non-secret one, from my pocket before hurriedly hitting the button to speed dial my father’s phone. It rang several times with no response. Which wasn’t surprising, since I was sure they’d already ditched the phone so that it couldn’t be traced to them. Still, I made a show of looking increasingly agitated. As it went through to voicemail, I left a quick message asking my dad to call me back, then immediately called back again. I did that twice more, getting the voicemail each time before giving a weak sob that was actually pretty damn convincing, even if I did have to say so myself.

“Hey, hey.” October stepped in then. “It’s okay. Look, we’re sorry. I’m sorry we had to tell you like this. But like I said, someone saved him. There were people there and they killed the werewolves. Even if we don’t know who they are, that’s a good sign, right? They saved him.”

“I–I don’t…” My mouth opened and shut a few times as I stared at the men. “Who–that would have to be a Heretic, wouldn’t it? I mean, no one else would… or could. So why—how–who?”

Patrick started to answer that before pausing as a phone in his suit pocket buzzed. Holding up a finger, he asked us to excuse him while he stepped to the other side of the room to answer it. His voice was a quiet murmur for a moment before he did something that cut off the sound entirely, leaving us unable to hear what either he or whoever was on the phone was saying.

After giving his partner a brief look, October continued. “You’re right, whoever killed the werewolves was probably a Heretic. But they weren’t one of ours. That’s really all we know for sure. It’s possible that they were from Eden’s Garden, or from a… an independent faction.”

Making my eyes widen, I shook my head rapidly. “But–what–what do you mean Eden’s Garden or an independent faction? Why would they–what would they… Why would they be watching our house? Why would they just happen to be there when werewolves attacked my house?”

Looking uncomfortable, the man glanced toward Gaia before answering. “You see, there are… some times when we recruit someone from a Bystander family that has a high potential, like you do, when either independents or Eden’s Garden will decide to poach people from the same family. It’s that potential thing. They think that you had potential, so someone else in the family might. It happens a lot when there’s conflict or disagreement about which of our schools gets to make the initial recruitment. They don’t like losing out, so they try to recruit a family member.”

Well that part was news to me, at least. I stared at him for a second. “You mean you think that they were watching my dad to see if he had potential to be a Heretic, and when the werewolves attacked, they jumped in. And… and then what, they just took him with them and left?”

“It would fit the fact that they went to a house on the other side of town before leaving,” October replied. “That was probably their homebase. From what we can tell, it was sold a couple months ago to a buyer that we can’t track down. Looks like a dead end, which also fits the Heretic theory. Though whether it’s one of Eden’s Gardens or independents, we just don’t know yet.”

“What about Hisao?” I asked then. “If Eden’s Garden had anything to do with it, he’d know, wouldn’t he?”

Gaia spoke up. “We’ve asked him. He says he’ll talk to his contacts, but all the tribes don’t always communicate with each other. If it’s one of the more secretive ones, or one that doesn’t get along with his tribe, there’s no way to know for sure if they’d actually tell him.”

“So–so people from Eden’s Garden will just take other family members when they don’t get the student that they want?” I was still having a little bit of trouble wrapping my head around that.

He shrugged a little. “Yeah, though to be fair, we’ve done it to them before too. It’s a whole thing.” Waving that off, he focused on me. “The point is, we think your dad is… okay. He wasn’t killed by the wolves or anything, and it seems like what took them out were definitely Heretics. Several, from the look of things. He might’ve been hurt, which might be why they took him with them. Or maybe, like I said, they were going for recruitment. We don’t know yet. We’re trying to track them down, but it’s only been a few hours. And you were gone for most of it. Just… give it a little time. If your dad calls you, let us know, okay? It could be Eden’s Garden that saved him, or it could be an independent.”

“Or maybe,” Patrick abruptly announced while hanging up his phone, “it was someone else.”

Gaia raised an eyebrow at that, speaking up for me. “Did you have someone in mind?”

The well-dressed man nodded once before looking straight at me. “Maybe it was the same woman who just killed eleven of our people.”

As I stared at him in confusion, he went on. “A woman who could take on twelve fully-trained Heretics who were in the middle of a mission to clear out a nest of Strangers, killed eleven of them all by herself, and let one go. A female Heretic with a golden kill-aura, like yours. 

“You know anyone who fits that description, Miss Chambers?”

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30 comments

  1. Whooo, and now we start a new arc! Some of you guessed that Bastet’s actions would end up looking like a certain former rebel leader was jumping back into things, so good job there.

    Hope you enjoyed this chapter and how this arc is starting off. And hey, if you are, why not pay a little click-visit to Top Web Fiction and vote for this story by clicking right here? It’s incredibly helpful, and every vote helps. So thank you!

    Oh, and tags for this chapter are: Avalon Sinclaire, Felicity Chambers, Filck, Gaia Sinclaire, I’m Pretty Sure Most People Would Kill For Miranda’s Duplication Powers., October, Patrick, Shiori Porter, Virginia Dare, Well When You Put It Like THAT – Bastet’s Actions Sound Pretty Suspicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Typo:
      As I moved that way, it opened to reveal Gaia standing there, with a couple men that I’d never before a bit further in.
      ***
      Missing word between ‘never’ and ‘before’

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt it. I think he is actually the good cop, sent in by the moderate side of the Council. The fact that there are two reps there as part of the meeting smacks of compromise to me.

      The Council finds out about the werewolves attacking, Ruthers’ side wants to drag her in and interrogate her, the opposing side can’t justify not talking to her but insist on sending their own rep to make sure everything is friendly. As far as October is concerned Flick is just a kid who is being used in a game of political chess as a talking point, and who also just found out her dad almost got murdered by werewolves. If you aren’t predisposed to distrusting her like the other side, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to try to go easy on her right now.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t know. He just seems too friendly to me. I feel the same way about Jeremiah Dallant. They both just seem a little too good to be true for me to take them at face value.

        Admittedly, I would probably think the same thing about Asenath, Gaia, Deveron, etc if I hadn’t seen inside their heads at various points, so I could just be paranoid.

        Like

  2. ‘Be easier’ is telling it out of the blue? They could need to rethink their ‘Good Cops’. And also their clothing. Don’t trust nice guys with flower prints Hawaiian shirts, Flick, these guys sold their souls out a long time ago.

    So, duel with the Committee soon. Let’s see how this will go.

    Like

    1. It’s not out of nowhere, and I doubt it has anything to do with rarity. Between her years at the Academy and the decades she fought against Crossroads, the fact that Joselyn’s aura is gold has to be a documented fact at this point.

      While the gold color probably isn’t rare itself, I’m guessing there aren’t many who fit the description of “a female Heretic with a gold aura powerful enough to wipe out a group of twelve fully trained Heretics single-handed in order to protect Strangers.”

      Honestly, guessing that Bastet is Joselyn based on that cursory description (WoG over on Spacebattles is that the Committee only learned about his a few minutes ago) is probably the most reasonable conclusion I’ve seen the hardliners reach so far. Especially since they think hybrids are impossible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True if Bastet hasn’t done that many times before. But she’s much older than Joselyn. It seems very strange that she’s decided to start violently protecting alters only now. Perhaps she’s only willing to go that far if it’s a nursery, and she didn’t know about previous nursery raids?

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      2. True if Bastet hasn’t done that many times before. But she’s much older than Joselyn. It seems very strange that she’s decided to start violently protecting alters only now. Perhaps she’s only willing to go that far if it’s a nursery, and she didn’t know about previous nursery raids?

        That is indeed going to be a very important question going forward.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh c’mon! A team of Hunters get ganked and the only thing they focus on is the aura color? By the “Hardline Theory” Joselyn has been laying low and hiding her time. She comes out of hiding finally to rescue some Alter children, and then breaks her old pattern of trying to persuade the Heretics on site to her way of thinking. Instead going for prolonged terror tactics? To say that would be a reach to believe says very little indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s Aura color, the fact that she was female, the fact that she could take on all twelve of them without breaking a sweat, the fact that she was (apparently) a Heretic interceding on behalf of Strangers, etc. Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, some of them that believe the whole ‘Joselyn was taken by Fossor’ thing think that he’s threatened her children somehow to make her comply with this.

      That said, you’re not wrong. There’s a lot that doesn’t fit the theory. But it’s the ‘she’s being threatened or somehow compelled into complying with this’ that helps push some over the edge into believing it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I feel the need to point out, for future reference, that this…

        Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, some of them that believe the whole ‘Joselyn was taken by Fossor’ thing think that he’s threatened her children somehow to make her comply with this.

        … is entirely possible. I’m expecting Flick herself to at least consider whether or not this is actually what happened.

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  4. Well, I stand corrected. I never thought that the twist/surprising revelation from that interlude would show up in a different chapter. Cerulean, what would have happened to this chapter if we had chosen another different interlude? I’m curious on what goes on behind the scenes in writing the story.

    Also, it looks like they are obviously trying the old Good Cop, Bad Cop routine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cerulean, what would have happened to this chapter if we had chosen another different interlude? I’m curious on what goes on behind the scenes in writing the story.

      This either would’ve happened later or you would’ve heard about it without knowing the full story yet.

      Basically, I got my start in ‘writing’ like this by running RPG’s. So I’m used to having a plan, players (readers in this case) derailing or changing that plan, and needing to react to/change it on the fly. I adjust.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “As I stared at him in confusion, he went on. “A woman who could take on twelve fully-trained Heretics who were in the middle of a mission to clear out a nest of Strangers, killed eleven of them all by herself, and let one go. A female Heretic with a golden kill-aura, like yours. 
    “You know anyone who fits that description, Miss Chambers?” ”
    Me: Ah, so they did go for the auto “It was Joselyn wasn’t it?” angle. Well I suppose falling back to the devil you know out of shock is an understandable reaction. However, I doubt they’ll consider that it was someone else, at least without Bastet herself saying she did it. Even then, I suspect at least 1 or 2 of the hardliners would dismiss her claim, so intent they would be on pinning it on Joselyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even then, I suspect at least 1 or 2 of the hardliners would dismiss her claim, so intent they would be on pinning it on Joselyn.

      They are kind of hard-headed like that.

      Like

  6. i’m re-posting my comment from SV
    [quote]As I stared at him in confusion, he went on. “A woman who could take on twelve fully-trained Heretics who were in the middle of a mission to clear out a nest of Strangers, killed eleven of them all by herself, and let one go. A female Heretic with a golden kill-aura, like yours.
    “You know anyone who fits that description, Miss Chambers?”[/quote]
    “I thought you decided I wasn’t going around killing heretics for their powers”
    “I’m sorry, what?”
    “How rare is gold auras anyways? I mean I can’t be the only one with one!”
    “Uh that was not what I-”
    “and twelve fully-trained Heretics at once? That’s insane!”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. So, it looks like Flick’s about to find herself in a tight corner politically, as the fallout from Bastet wiping out those two Hunter squads starts to land- though there’s some concern about Lincoln, kind of have to wonder how much of it was a feigned gambit to put Flick at ease, at it seems rather likely that Ruthers & company are pushing an agenda since the questioning starts by implying that it was Joselyn who took out those Heretics and that Flick might know something about that. Wonder just how far that questioning might go, and what other areas might they poke around in?

    “I know what you mean. I overheard a couple sophomores a few days ago. They were talking about how they hoped a Stranger with a fast-metabolism would show up soon so they could kill it and eat as much chocolate as they wanted. They were laughing about it.”

    Ugh, that is rather disturbing, with Heretics seeing Alters as just a potential source of powerups for nothing more important than to make things easier for them & allow themselves to indulge themselves- it’s one of those things that make one wonder just who the real monsters all are, because that category has points where it extends beyond the Nocen.

    Like

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