Investigations 25-02 – Paul Calburn (Interlude Arc)

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Late Friday Evening, January 26th, 2018 (Three days before Flick and company confronted Fahsteth and Flick’s house was attacked by werewolves)

Most of the people at the Crossroads Academy believed that Paul Calburn embodied the very concept of the cliche gentleman cowboy. That wasn’t exactly true, since the one and only time he’d actually ridden a horse, the thing had bucked him. That was back when Paul had been eight years old. He’d ended up with a broken arm and a deep-seated fear of horses that he still hadn’t shaken. He knew how irrational it was, especially now. He was training to fight much, much worse threats. But logic didn’t matter. Anytime the idea of actually sitting on a horse came up again, he had a flashback to his own small body flying through the air, followed by the terrible pain as he’d landed on his arm. Logic be damned, he just didn’t like horses.

But what he liked even less than horses were bullies and manipulators, people who took advantage of others to get what they wanted. People who abused their power like that were the worst scum. And as far as he could tell, that included the girl who called herself Flick Chambers, if that was even her real name. From what he’d seen, everything else about her was a lie.

She had supposedly been a completely normal Bystander with no combat training and no connection to the Heretic world. Yet, within a few months of starting, she was already one of the most advanced combatants in their school. Hell, if the rumors were right (and they seemed to be), she’d killed an Amarok on her team’s first hunt. An Amarok, and Chambers managed to kill it after she’d been a part of the school for… what, barely a month? That was completely absurd.

Then there was everything else. On the third day of school, Professor Pericles had been killed. And who were two of the first people on the scene first thing in the morning according to others who had been there? Flick and Avalon. The next day, who were the two students locked in a room with a bunch of Peridles that came out of it without a scratch despite one of those students supposedly never being in a fight before in her life? Flick and Avalon.

It went on and on like that. Flick kept disappearing and showing up with powers that no one saw her get. She didn’t get them on any kind of official hunt, that was for sure. She just… had them.

Then there was Thanksgiving. It was next to impossible to put together any kind of coherent timeline or description of what had happened. But somehow, Flick had ended up at Koren Fellows’ house and… surprise, surprise, there was an attack by some kind of nasty Stranger. An attack that ended with Koren’s mom needing help. But did they bring her to Crossroads? No. Flick was there and she just happened to have a contact in Eden’s Garden, a contact that took Koren’s mom there instead of to Crossroads. And guess who, completely coincidentally, stopped being so antagonistic toward Flick and her friends right around that same time? Koren.

Koren acted like a…  word that he wasn’t going to even let himself think, because he didn’t want to be that kind of person. She acted awful toward Flick and Flick’s friends. Flick ended up at her house, Koren’s mother was horrifically injured, and then was taken to Eden’s Garden… and suddenly Koren’s attitude changed? What better leverage was there than someone’s mother?

And it was around that same time that Roxa had disappeared, with the utterly ridiculous explanation that she had gone for a family emergency. A family that she didn’t have, since she’d made it quite clear to them all that she was an orphan.

That, in itself, obviously didn’t tie her to Flick. But the there was Doug’s power. The power that told them that the answer to finding out where Roxa was lay in Flick. Flick was the answer. She knew where Roxa was, what had happened to her.

What, exactly was more likely, that Roxa had somehow gained an entire family just before having an emergency that required she visit them for months on end…  and that somehow Flick knew about it…. or that Roxa had found out the truth about Flick being from Eden’s Garden and she or someone connected to her had done something to the girl?

Maybe they hurt her. Maybe they abducted her. Maybe they brainwashed her, or just convinced her to go to Eden’s Garden somehow. Threats, payments, promises, Paul wasn’t going to pretend to know Roxa well enough to say for certain. But the point remained that Doug’s power said that Flick knew what happened to Roxa. And, in the time since that whole thing had happened, Flick had begun to act more and more paranoid and suspicious of everyone.

She had the people on her team using those magic coins that Paul and the others had found in her dorm room, the coins that masked their conversations. How had she learned that spell?

Flick knew magic she shouldn’t know, she was a better fighter than she should be, she kept disappearing and gaining abilities with no explanation, she had contacts in Eden’s Garden that were strong enough to let her tell them to make someone into a Heretic (and purposefully had that person sent there instead of to Crossroads where her own daughter attended)… and on and on. How much more obvious did it need to be that she wasn’t a normal student?

And that wasn’t even getting into the whole visit from the boy who had somehow mind-controlled their head of security before visiting Flick and Avalon’s room. Sure, he’d then proceeded to use that mind-whammy power of his to convince most of the students in the immediate area to attack them, but as far as Paul could tell, that had only happened after Gaia showed up. At the time, he’d assumed it was just what it looked like. But now… ever since Doug’s power kept repeatedly pointing at Flick as being the source of Roxa’s disappearance, he doubted it. Again, the whole ‘attack Flick’ thing hadn’t happened until Gaia was there. Who knew what else they talked about before then? And it would’ve been a quick way of making Flick look innocent after they were caught in her room by the headmistress.

Sigh. None of that sounded exactly right. Paul couldn’t entirely shake the thought that they were missing something important. He kept doubting things. Yet Doug’s power was insistent. Every time they asked it who was responsible for Roxa’s disappearance, how to find her, who knew where she was, and so on and so forth, it pointed at Flick Chambers.

Sometimes, Paul thought he should just walk up and demand answers from the girl. Other times he thought he should just ask her. Either way, the direct method was tempting. Yet there was also no way to come back from it. If they confronted Flick openly and she was a threat, there would be no do-overs. That was the only thing that stopped him. So many times, he had looked at the blonde girl and thought that just asking her about it would be the best way to do things.

But if she was bad, if she was some kind of Garden secret agent or something and thought her cover was blown… she would be more than a threat to him, she might just have Roxa killed to cover their tracks. And after what had happened to Rex, the little brother who had drowned while nine-year-old Paul was supposed to be watching him… he couldn’t face something like that. He was their team leader. He was responsible for Roxa. He couldn’t make a mistake and trust Flick when it might mean that Roxa would pay the consequences if he was wrong.

Maybe that was why he was so obsessed with finding Roxa. Roxa. Rex. His little brother died because Paul was too busy playing his game instead of watching him. He knew his mother had never forgiven him for it, and likely never would. She’d never looked at him the same way again, even after his parents separated and Paul went to live with his father.   

He’d failed Rex. He wouldn’t fail Roxa.

“Now, see dude, when you said you had a plan, I thought you meant something involving teleportation or whatever,” Isaac announced from the backseat of the old red van.

“We did teleport,” Paul reminded the boy from his spot in the driver’s seat. “From Crossroads all the way to my dad’s new place in Montana.”

“Sure,” Isaac replied. “And then we proceeded to sit in a normal old van and drive down the freeway for the past five freaking hours. My cramps are getting cramps.”

Beside him in the front passenger seat, Jazz pointed out, “What were we supposed to do, say, ‘hey, Professor Carfried, could you teleport us to Wyoming? Yeah, we know none of us live there, but we really want to visit all the absolutely nothing that’s there’. We’re just lucky the place Paul’s dad moved to is as close as it is. Five hours isn’t that bad, and I’m the one who has to put up with the boy smell.”

Rudolph, sitting next to Isaac, spoke without opening his eyes. The boy had been dozing in his seat since the moment the drive had started. “And lucky that his dad doesn’t mind him going on roadtrips when he’s supposed to be visiting for the weekend with his team.”

Coughing a little despite himself, Paul tightened his grip on the wheel before nodding. “Dad pretty much lets me do what I want, long as I don’t make no trouble. Not the first road trip I’ve taken. Kinda like the solitude.” Pausing briefly, he asked, “Everyone else okay back there?”

Doug, in the middle seat in front of Rudolph and Isaac, spoke without looking up from his game. “Dandy.” His fingers were flying over the buttons, and his brow was knit with concentration, eyes mostly hidden by the ever-present New York Rangers cap that was pulled down low.

Beside the other boy, Gordon gave a slight nod. His own eyes were focused out the window, watching the Wyoming scenery as they drove by. He spoke quietly. “How far is it now?”

Before Paul could answer, Jazz lifted a hand to point at a sign they were passing. “There it is. Laramie Falls, Wyoming, exit in five miles. You got that question ready, Doug?”

The boy in question nodded before muttering, “I’ll wait until we’re actually in town.”

It didn’t take long from that point. Within a few minutes, they had exited the freeway and were slowly driving through the town itself. Doug finally shut off his game, straightening up. Aloud, he asked, “How do we get from here to the house in this town that is listed as being Flick Chambers’ home?”

No one in the van answered. But then, Doug wasn’t asking them, he was using his power. Once a day, he could ask a question and either receive an answer or directions toward an answer.

A moment later, he opened his eyes. “Got it. Turn right up here, then left at the next corner.”

Over the next couple of minutes, the boy directed them through the town. Just before they reached Flick’s street, Paul pulled into a corner gas station and parked in the back. The six of them stepped out, the boys stretching their legs a bit while Jazz went inside to get some drinks. Then, once they were sufficiently refreshed, the team started out of the lot on foot. They walked down the street, keeping their eyes open for anything out of the ordinary. Now would be one of the worst possible times to somehow run into someone who knew who they were. Explaining what they were doing in Flick’s (supposed) hometown would taken awful lot of doing.

Before stepping onto Flick’s street itself, Paul made everyone stop. It was late enough that almost no one was out anyway. But still. They all clustered together, touching Jazz before the girl summoned her invisibility power. It wasn’t perfect, showing a shimmering shape in the air whenever they moved. But as long as the group moved slowly, it was better than nothing. Plus, according to Jazz, the power also somewhat dampened other senses like hearing and smell.

The house in question was mostly dark, with only a single light on in one of the upstairs rooms. As they slowly (and almost invisibly) approached, there was no sign of movement aside from some flickering that looked like it was coming from a television. Aside from that, all was still.

“You know,” Isaac whispered barely loud enough to be heard, “I kinda expected something to happen right now. Like a bunch of Garden thugs to jump out or… or… I dunno, something.”

He was being quiet, but Paul still shushed him without taking his eyes off the house. They stood there, across the street while staring at the place for another ten minutes before he ushered the group to move on. Together, they continued down and around the corner, gathering in a gravel-filled alley before Jazz finally relaxed the invisibility so they could see each other again.

Rudolph was the first to speak, his voice quiet and steady. “Looks pretty normal, doesn’t it?”

Paul nodded slowly. “Yeah, not that that means anything.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “Right, just like we figured. That motel we found online is just a couple blocks away. Since I’m the only one that’s eighteen, I’ll check in. Most of us get some sleep, and we watch the house in pairs over the next couple days until something happens. Everyone good with that?”

There were an assortment of nods, and Paul gestured. “Right, let’s go. I wanna get back so we can keep an eye on the place before we end up missing something. I’ll take the first shift, with…”

******

A little over an hour later, Paul started awake abruptly. He was in the driver’s seat of the van once more, which was parked just around the corner from Flick’s home, pulled forward just enough to see the house in the distance.

“Bleh,” Paul muttered, smacking his lips a few times to get rid of the sleep taste. “Sorry, guess I dozed off.” Glancing to his partner for the moment, he asked, “Everything still quiet over there?”

The response came not from the person seated beside him in the passenger seat, but from the back. And it spoke in his own voice.

“Everything still quiet over there?”

Jerking around in his seat, Paul stared at the figure who sat behind them. The figure was… him. It could’ve been his twin brother. Seeing his stare, the doppelganger smiled before speaking, again mimicking his previous words. “Sorry, guess I dozed off.”

Paul’s mouth opened, and then he felt a sharp prick in the side of his neck. His head turned, snapping that way in time to see his partner withdraw a syringe even as all of the strength left Paul’s body. He slumped over, collapsing halfway out of the seat.  

“Here we go,” his teammate announced quietly while reaching out to yank Paul up by the arm. They steadied him in the seat, patting his cheek. “If it makes you feel any better, you didn’t miss anything in the house. Though, you know, I did wonder if that drink was ever gonna knock you out.”

He was paralyzed. Paul couldn’t move anything aside from his eyes and his mouth, both sluggishly. “Th…wh…what… what…”

“Oh, right,” his teammate… his supposed friend snapped their fingers. “You’ve probably got questions about the guy in the back.” Glancing that way, they smiled slightly. “That’s Fetch. Wait–” They looked to the figure in question. “Was Fetch your name or your species, because I was never quite clear on that.”

“Yes,” the answer came from the back in Paul’s voice.

After pausing briefly, the person beside him nodded. “Right then. Anyway, Fetch. I think it’s some kind of Irish Stranger or something. Anyway, you don’t want a history lesson right now. You just wanna know why it looks like you, right? Well, long story short, he’s a doppelganger.  Cuz here’s the thing, Paul… turns out, my uh, let’s call them my benefactors, they think they need some more help. Some backup, you know. So, they sent in Fetch here. He’s one of those Strangers that doesn’t set off the Heretic-sense. Pretty useful. And he’s kind of a mercenary.” There was a pause then before Paul’s teammate chuckled. “Hell, I guess I’m a mercenary too, huh? I mean, they are paying me a shiiiiiitload for all this. Which, I mean, I almost would’ve done it for free cuz how often do you get to do shit like this? But you know, the money helps.”

Paul was struggling, fighting a losing battle to make himself move, to shout for help, to warn… someone. He was trying to interrupt, but it was hard to talk, hard to do anything but sit there. Even his emotions seemed dulled and slow, because the sense of betrayal that he felt didn’t seem to be the kind of raging fire that it should. Everything was dampened.

“Anyway,” the person beside him continued. “Point is, Fetch here needs someone to take over. You got elected because you’re on my team so I could set it up, and because–well, quite frankly it has been a pain in the ass to keep this team focused. You have no idea how many times you people decided to just go and talk to Flick to straighten this whole thing out. I mean, memory-erasure spells or not, having the same conversation over and over and over again until you get the result you want just gets dull, you know? Now, maybe with my pal Fetch here calling the shots in your place, we can actually stay focused on getting the rest of this team to gather all the evidence we need about Flick being a baaaaaad little girl. Then we’ll take that to the Committee and, well, that’ll be that. Oh, and because Gaia’s so tied into this whole thing, she’ll probably go down too. Won’t that be fun?”

It was so hard to talk, it was so hard to think. Paul forced his mouth open, struggling to say even a couple words. “Flick… not… bad…”

“Flick’s not bad?” the figure echoed. “Yeah, I guess if you like snoopy blondes with firm little–oh, you meant evil. Well, no, she–oh, just for the record, were you talking about the real Flick, or the one we overheard the other day? Cuz uh, the one that came in her room and just conveniently spilled all that information just when we happened to be there? Yeah, that was my friend over here too. Just making sure they spoofed the security system correctly and all that. You know, while dropping just enough info to keep the rest of you guys interested and right on Flick’s tail. I mean, not as literally on her tail as I’d like to be, but…well,  you can’t have everything.” A pause then, before there was a thoughtful, “Actually, do you think they might let me have her when this is over?”

That was enough for Paul to almost push himself up a bit. His fists actually clenched. “Piece… of… shit…”

His teammate pushed him back down. “Oh, look at me, rambling forever. It’s just–it’s been a long time since I got to be myself, you know? I was just… faking it for so goddamn long, ever since they found me and told me all about this plan and… yeah. Seriously, it’s just nice to talk to someone. And see the look on your face. That’s–that’s gotta be one of the best parts of this whole thing. It’s almost as good as the look on Pericles’s face when he realized I was just distracting him before, well…” He drew a finger over his throat.

“Y… you… you…” Paul’s eyes were wide as he desperately fought against whatever he had been injected with. “… killed…”

“Me? Dude!” the figure beside him blurted. “You know how cool that would’ve been? Imagine how many powers I would’ve gotten from that.” A sigh then. “But no, they wouldn’t let me do it myself. I was just the distraction. But believe me, the person who did do it…. Well, let’s just say you’d be really surprised.”

“Wh… why…?” Paul’s voice was a weak croak, the words barely audible.

“Why do this? All of it?” His teammate paused before shrugging. “Well, I already told you about the money. Believe me, it is a lot of money. You have no idea. But beyond that, I’d say because it’s fun. I mean, check this out. You know those um, what were those little freaks called, the umm…” Their fingers snapped a few times as they fought to remember. “The Jekern, right, the big warthog things that’re like those Russian nesting dolls. You get one of those and you cut off its legs and you put these metal caps on the stumps so it can’t go anywhere, right? Then, all you gotta do is wait for it to get big enough that there’s a bunch of them inside. And once it is, there’s this technique you gotta do with the blade, you gotta angle it just right and when you shove it in, you can kill three, four of them all at once. Shrick, straight through all the brains, just like that. So all that’s left is the smallest one. Then you take that little baby, you cut off its legs, lock it up in the cage and feed it until it gets big enough to have more inside it. I mean seriously, dude, why don’t we just do that in the school? I must’ve killed eight or nine of the piggy freaks by now.

“And there’s other ones you can do that shit with too, you know? You just figure out how to cripple ‘em, lock the bastards up and let them spit out little ones. But you know, in that case you gotta kill the little ones, not the big ones. Don’t wanna get rid of your breeder, that’s just dumb and wasteful. And if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s wasteful. Learned that lesson with my sister. I mean, one little slice and it was over, you know? I didn’t get to enjoy it or anything. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret not showing just a little more restraint. But you know, first times and all that. I think I can be forgiven for shooting off a little quick in that case. I’m much better at keeping my cool now.”

“I’m done.” Paul’s voice spoke up once more from the backseat, his doppleganger, Fetch.

“Done?” the traitor echoed before grinning. “Great.” To Paul, they added, “See, Fetch can just copy your physical appearance and all that if need be. But his real trick is a lot better than that. See, if he spends a few minutes close to the person he’s copying, he can sort of… lock onto their spirit. Or whatever you wanna call it. The point is, it means when you die, he gets to copy all your memories, your skills, your powers, everything useful. He can only hold onto that stuff for a short time before it fades. Someone like you is probably weak enough that he can copy it all for a couple months. But you know, that outta be long enough for our purposes.”

When he died. When he died. Summoning all of his anger, his rage, his desperation, Paul jerked forward in his seat… only to receive a knife in the middle of his chest.

It was a literal one, to match the metaphorical one that his supposed friend had stabbed him with already.

Dropping their hand from the handle, the figure beside him watched as Paul collapsed back into the seat. It was… it was cold… colder than Paul thought it would be. He was struggling, hand grasping for the door handle, mouth struggling to move, fighting to flee, to fight, to escape, to scream.

Fighting to live.

“Man,” the traitor announced calmly. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that, you sanctimonious prick.”  

Paul’s hand fell from the doorknob. Rex, he thought desperately. Roxa. Roxa, I was trying–I was trying–

The last thing that he heard, the last thing he would ever hear, was the derisive snort of his supposed friend.

“Man, would you just die already?”

Isaac Acosta gave a wide smile. “I wanna see how many of your powers I’ll get.”

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42 comments

  1. Uh. Well, that was… um. Something, wasn’t it? Yup, that was definitely something. Eesh. And here our dear donator who requested this interlude arc probably wasn’t expecting something like this. But uh, yeah, I couldn’t very well get through Isaac’s upcoming interlude without spilling the beans on him being a sociopath, so… here we are!

    Thanks for reading, you guys. This weekend, we’ll have another mini-interlude (focusing on Larissa’s first meeting with Sariel as an adult), and then on Monday, there will be the next chapter in this arc! Should be interesting, at the least.

    Tags (of which there are a record FOUR joke tags this time around) for this chapter are: Douglas Frey, Fetch, Gordon Kuhn, I Guess Isaac Made Fetch Happen. … I’ll See Myself Out., I’m Gonna Go Look At Pictures Of Fluffy Bunnies For Awhile. Anyone Wanna Join Me?, Isaac Acosta, Jazz Rhodes, Paul Calburn, Remember How Abigail Said She Believed Alters Could Be Good Because She Saw Plenty Of Evil Monsters Among Humanity? Yeah – Case In Point., Rudolph Parsons, Well I Know Who I’m Not Fucking Inviting To Any More Roadtrips.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Before I read anything else, this part…

    Hell, if the rumors were right (and they seemed to be), she’d killed an Amarok on her team’s first hunt. An Amarok, and Chambers managed to kill it after she’d been a part of the school for… what, barely a month? That was completely absurd.

    … is hilarious, considering that Flick only managed to land the finishing blow after the whole team did plenty of damage.

    Now on to the rest of the chapter…

    Yep, more mistakes of that nature… obvious goofs and false assumpetions.

    *reads the rest*

    Oh, fuck. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well, that’s two more people who need to be relieved of everything from the neck down. The fact that Fetch’s powers would bring even more synergy to Flick’s infiltrator powerset is just a bonus.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. 100% not expecting anything like this with this interlude arc. 😦

    I wasn’t sure that you’d be able to pull off something worse then the Ammon interlude Cerulean, but, you managed it. I think that being inside Paul’s head while being betrayed gave it that extra omph. Especially because he seemed like a pretty good guy from what we saw of him. Come on Wyatt I know you’re focusing on protecting you sister and niece but can you please bug ALL OF THE STUDENTS so they aren’t getting murdered and replaced. Thanks.

    I hope the Roxa and the rest of the team get a chance to tear Isaac apart.

    To be hopelessly naive we didn’t see Isaac get the aura flash so Paul could still survive… maybe…

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    1. Yeah but this was days ago he’s for sure dead at this point.
      And we had this line.
      “The last thing that he heard, the last thing he would ever hear, was the derisive snort of his supposed friend.”
      So yeah don’t hold your breath on this one.

      Like

    2. 100% not expecting anything like this with this interlude arc.

      Yay, surprises! Well, hopefully. And definitely not yay for the, uh, content of this particular surprise.

      I wasn’t sure that you’d be able to pull off something worse then the Ammon interlude Cerulean, but, you managed it. I think that being inside Paul’s head while being betrayed gave it that extra omph. Especially because he seemed like a pretty good guy from what we saw of him. Come on Wyatt I know you’re focusing on protecting you sister and niece but can you please bug ALL OF THE STUDENTS so they aren’t getting murdered and replaced. Thanks.

      It would really help, huh?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. *Frantically clicks during the entire monologue* Damn it, why don’t we never have a Renegade trigger when we really need it? These little shitstains need to be Kai Leng so much.

    Still, congrats Cerulean. Both for sowing why team Roxa neve went the ‘just talk already’ road and showing such talent to create characters so despicable. I’ll eagerly wait for the retribution friendly little travel to New York.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Well, that there was a thing. I’m hoping Paul doesn’t die – apart from anything else, he may just be the first Crossroads student who isn’t a potential protagonist. I mean, we’ve got hybrids and descendants and folks looking for revenge all over the place with their backstories, and, I’m sorry Paul, you’re just going to have to step up your game.

    (Incidentally, one knife in the heart very well might not be enough to take down Paul at this point – he’d have been right there alongside Roxa killing Jekerns after all, and should have backups. On the other hand, Isaac was also there, and can tell when Paul’s actually dead, so maybe not as easy to fool as Lemuel.)

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  7. ” I mean, not as literally on her tail as I’d like to be, but…well, you can’t have everything.” A pause then, before there was a thoughtful, “Actually, do you think they might let me have her when this is over?” ”
    Me: Ah, base lust. Definitely a model person, eh? I doubt Fossor would be very amused at this guy’s intentions; no one gets to claim what is “his”, after all. Ugh.

    ““Man, would you just die already?”

    Isaac Acosta gave a wide smile. “I wanna see how many of your powers I’ll get.” ”
    Me: Charming. RIP, Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me: Ah, base lust. Definitely a model person, eh? I doubt Fossor would be very amused at this guy’s intentions; no one gets to claim what is “his”, after all. Ugh.

      This is pretty morbid, but in all honestly, I want to see this. Every time we learn about someone who wants to “take” Flick from Fossor, someone makes a comment about his reaction, and I genuinely want to see what he would do at this point. Bonus points if it happens to Isaac.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Me: Ah, base lust. Definitely a model person, eh? I doubt Fossor would be very amused at this guy’s intentions; no one gets to claim what is “his”, after all. Ugh.

      Probably couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Actually, in that case, would people actually be rooting for the genocidal necromancer?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I think that in a hypothetical Isaac vs Fossor confrontation, I’d be rooting for Fossor by default because it’s basically a given that he would win. If by some incredible luck Isaac managed to beat and start killing Fossor, I’d turn around and start rooting for him. But the odds are so hilariously stacked in Fossor’s favor that seeing him visit a horrible fate upon Isaac would read less like one evil person killing another and more like what would happen if Isaac stood on top of the Empire State Building wearing metal armor during a hurricane.

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  8. do doppelgangers get their target powers? I don’t think so… then the mission will be a short one, because it would be exposed really fast, but if… (see my last point)
    so, 2 seostens and now, 2 mercenaries…
    not counting the fossor mole (that may be one of the mercenaries, or et Paul, raised from the deads and acting as if it was the doppelganger… agent double or triple, anyone?)
    but then, do undeads retain the powers of their living incarnation?
    and now wonder Flick didn’t catch them… since it was the doppelganger… meaning, it had to stay close to Flick to imitate her…
    did check Fetch key word but turned only with this chapter, and my memory fail to get me where it could have come near her… or maybe, it first assumed Colombus identity then came close enough?
    but then, does the doppelganger need to revert to its original form in the process or, in this case, it can simply do it while another form…
    lot to think about

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    1. Dopplegangers do get their target’s powers for a limited amount of time. Isaac specifically said they do and guessed that Fetch should have access to Paul’s for a few months.

      Like

    2. As Hendy said, yes the Fetch does gain their target’s abilities, temporarily. It was stated up in the chapter throughout this paragraph…

      “Done?” the traitor echoed before grinning. “Great.” To Paul, they added, “See, Fetch can just copy your physical appearance and all that if need be. But his real trick is a lot better than that. See, if he spends a few minutes close to the person he’s copying, he can sort of… lock onto their spirit. Or whatever you wanna call it. The point is, it means when you die, he gets to copy all your memories, your skills, your powers, everything useful. He can only hold onto that stuff for a short time before it fades. Someone like you is probably weak enough that he can copy it all for a couple months. But you know, that outta be long enough for our purposes.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This was a really interesting chapter and it is good to see what is going on with Roxa’s team, but I have a pretty serious gripe about it. There is just way too much beating around the bush about which of Paul’s teammates is the betrayer. The figure, the person beside him, his teammate, etc. I appreciate setting up the reveal as a wham line at the end of the chapter, but this just felt really forced. I think the fact that Isaac is a psycho is enough of a surprise that it could have come at the top and we could have just stewed in that during all of the dialog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had been working on my own response below before I had to leave for an appointment so I didn’t refresh before finishing and positing it. I too found this to be annoying and said as such so you are not alone in that feeling.

      Like

    2. To copy what I said on Spacebattles:

      Anyway, for those people who said that they dislike that the identity of the traitor was held to the very end, I feel you. But I did it on purpose. Not just to have a sudden DUN moment at the end, but because I wanted to give the READERS a chance to guess who it was through his speech patterns/specific things he said/attitude, etc. I wanted to reveal that there was a traitor on the team that wasn’t Paul, and give enough… interaction and speech for readers to have a chance at guessing who it was and then being proud of themselves at the end for getting it.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Yet Doug’s power was insistent. Every time they asked it who was responsible for Roxa’s disappearance, how to find her, who knew where she was, and so on and so forth, it pointed at Flick Chambers.
    [snip]
    But if she was bad, if she was some kind of Garden secret agent or something and thought her cover was blown… she would be more than a threat to him, she might just have Roxa killed to cover their tracks.
    [snip]
    So many times, he had looked at the blonde girl and thought that just asking her about it would be the best way to do things.

    They rely on Doug’s power so much I’m wondering if they’ve asked something like “Is Flick working against Crossroads?” or even “If we ask Flick about Roxa will she hurt us?” (which would help with the last part of the quote there) or just any other numbers of things that could, you know, give them more to go on than just rumors and wild guessing, something that’s unambiguous. But, again, we don’t know how that power works. It could very well be the power itself wants to screw over its user and given then factual but also misleading information.
    At least Paul has considered the direct method. I can understand his reasoning for everything up to this point, from an outside perspective it does look very damming, but I’m also wondering if he and the other will accept the truth if it was told to him. I think Paul and Gordon would, we’ll see about the others when we get a look into their heads.

    So, all of the above is of my “comment as I read along” style. Then I hit.

    You have no idea how many times you people decided to just go and talk to Flick to straighten this whole thing out.

    Umm, wow, OK, someone was actually enforcing the “Poor Communication Kills” aspect of this. You don’t see that all that often.

    Before that though I hit this:

    His head turned, snapping that way in time to see his partner withdraw a syringe even as all of the strength left Paul’s body.

    And I was going to rail on you for using “:obfuscating narration” to hide stuff from the reader when it is highly obvious you are just doing so to hide stuff from the reader. This is the worst way of hiding things from readers and I really hate it. It can be done right but most often it is done wrong and some writers overuse it. This was the first time I’ve noticed it in your writing so I wasn’t going to be as harsh about it but I still find it to be very annoying. Then I got to the next bit here:

    Isaac Acosta gave a wide smile. “I wanna see how many of your powers I’ll get.

    Where you actually tell us who the fuck it was doing this. Instead of keeping it hidden through out. Still, I found it annoying we didn’t find out right away. I understand why it was kept hidden until the end but that doesn’t make it any less annoying when this sort of thing pops up.

    Welp, nice to know you Paul, wish would could have gotten to know you more. Looking forward to more, especially the Isaac part. That should be really interesting to see how his mind works.
    And I’m looking forward to when he winds up getting offed. Oh so very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is my first time commenting here, but you made me. Why did you have to kill him on my future 25th birthday?! Great chapter as always of course, thank you! Oh also, I named my new puppy scout. Thought you should know.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. There’s one very disturbing long-term (or maybe not so long) ramification to this. Isaac says that Fetch can only maintain its copy of Paul’s memories, powers, etc, for a short time (left very vague, of course, DAMMIT CERULEAN). This implies that Isaac’s “benefactors”, who are almost certainly the Seosten, expect they won’t need the team very much longer. And somehow I don’t think the Seosten have a nice retirement plan for their pawns….

    Actually, something else just occurred to me. This is happening 3 days before Lincoln and Asenath’s Wild Werewolf Encounter. And the team seems ready to be on stakeout for that long. Which implies that, when the werewolves attack the house, either the team has already found what they think they’re looking for and left… or Something Else happens to them. Because I can’t see them sitting things out completely when the attack happens, and I don’t see our Deus ex Committee member somehow failing to notice a team of freshmen lurking about the location.

    Either way, I think that the team’s days may be numbered. And it’s not a very big number.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well… I’d argue that any Seosten infiltrators shouldn’t count, because they literally designed Crossroads to be easy to get in and out of specifically so they could infiltrate it with little effort. So, not including them: Deveron, whoever the half-Reaper Cerulean has hinted at on SB, technically Gordon Kuhn, arguably Vanessa and Tristan, now Isaac (who had Seosten help)… and that’s actually pretty much it for non-Seosten. Which makes five. Although Gordon and the Moon twins were literally invited in, so I personally wouldn’t count them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, what happens if a new Heretic gets a doppleganger power and copies the powers of, say, Gaia? Or a committee member? Isn’t that sort of a security risk?

        Like

      2. Most powerful Heretics would have a way of sensing that the Doppelganger was attempting to copy them. Plus, the length of time that the Doppelganger TAKES to copy them AND the time that they can copy them for depends on the amount of power they’re copying. Someone like Paul can be copied for a couple months. Someone like Gaia… couple minutes AFTER an extended time taken to copy, during which she would notice.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. You know, the thing with the captive Jekern reminds me of what I expected out of Eden’s Garden much earlier in the story. For that matter, it reminds me of what I expect to see soon out of an evil heretic. The plan goes as follows:

    1. Capture a werewolf.
    2. Capture some Bystanders.
    3. Force the werewolf to turn one Bystander.
    4. Kill a werewolf.
    5. Repeat from step 2 or 3 as needed.

    I mean, it’s a solid way to convert useless Bystanders into superior strength, speed, and senses. Might get some shape-changing or regeneration powers out of it, too.

    Like

      1. Who says you need to avoid alerting someone? Just stage the scene a little so you can blame the victims. Make it look like some werewolves were trying to forcibly expand their numbers. Then tell Crossroads/Eden’s Garden about the “nest of horrible monsters” you put down.

        The leadership is busy pushing the “All Strangers are Evil” line, The whole point of this story is that the Powers that Be never tried determining whether killing a given group of Alters was justified or not. No one is going to look too closely at it

        Make a habit of things like my plan… And you’ll acquire a glowing reputation for your “ability to track down hidden packs of Strangers”. Soon, your stolen powers will also be great enough that no one will wonder how you put down a whole pack of Strangers by yourself.

        Liked by 1 person

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