The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the first meeting of Sariel (Vanessa and Tristan’s mother) and Larissa (Sands’ and Scout’s mother) after they were both adults (after Sariel was banished from Earth and had to connect to the last person she possessed, which was Larissa as a child)
Eight Years Ago
The voice was faint, a barely audible sound somewhere in the back of Larissa Mason’s mind. It was so soft and muted that the woman was almost confident that she had imagined it as she stepped out of the shower. The whisper was closer to an errant thought within her own mind than it was an audible voice, as if she had personally thought her own name for no reason.
Pausing, she let her head tilt to the side while focusing. It wouldn’t have been the first time that someone had contacted her telepathically, obviously. As the Head of Student Affairs for Crossroads, she dealt with angry complaints from parents and students alike, some of whom had the power to send their annoyances directly to her mind.
Ah, being a Heretic was full of interesting situations, that much was for sure.
After a few seconds of listening, she didn’t ‘hear’ anything. Shrugging to herself, Larissa quickly dried off and dressed before heading out of the bathroom. She was immediately ambushed.
“Mommy!” Nine-year-old Sarah barrelled directly into her, almost knocking Larissa over with her exuberance. “Can we have pizza for dinner? Please, please? It’ll be easy to clean up and pizza’s like all the food groups at once. It’s got vegetables and meat and dairy and bread and–”
Smiling a little, Larissa reached down to hoist her daughter up from the floor. “Pizza?” she exclaimed with mock surprise while holding the girl close. “Do you even like pizza?”
The response was a shocked yelp of, “Uh huh! I love pizza, everyone likes pizza! It’s pizza!”
Pursing her lips thoughtfully as she held the girl away as though studying her, Larissa slowly shook her head. “Mmm… noooo, no, I’m pretty sure you hate pizza. We should have your favorite foods. Like brussel sprouts, eggplant, and nummy nummy creamed spinach!”
“Mommy, no, no!” Eyes wide with terror at that particular thought, Sarah’s head shook back and forth. “No, pizza! Pizza, Mommy, pleeeease?” She stretched the last word out pleadingly.
Smiling a bit despite her attempt to look serious, Larissa pretended to hem and haw for a few seconds before capitulating. “Oh, all right, I imagine Risa can pick up some pizza on the way. I’ll let her know.” Of course, it would be more convenient to have pizza delivered, an act that Larissa remembered well from her years as a normal Bystander. But, advanced as Crossroads society was, they had yet to find a way to have a regular pizza chain deliver to the island.
The resulting delighted squeal from her nine-year-old daughter made Larissa simultaneously smile and wince slightly. It was right next to her ear. “Yay! Thanks mommy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Sarah babbled before squirming her way free to drop to the floor. “Sandy!” she called, pivoting to run off and find her sister. “Sandy, we’re gonna have pizza, real pizza pizza!”
Watching the girl run off, Larissa shook her head while tugging a single hair from her own head. Using her Stranger-gained power, she converted the hair into a small bird. Whispering the message for Risa Kohaku about bringing pizza with her when she came to babysit the girls for the evening, she sent the bird off. That done, she started for the bedroom. There were still a few things to put away, and she had about an hour before it would be time to leave.
Again, the voice-that-wasn’t-a-voice. Hearing it, or at least believing that she’d heard it, Larissa paused and turned to look around. Her brow knitted slightly as she whispered a quiet, “Yes?”
Nothing. There was no response either in her mind or aloud. The voice didn’t return, and Larissa once more became convinced that she’d imagined it. Shrugging, she went back to her work There was a lot to get done if she was going to meet Nolan in time. And not meeting her old friend would be a disaster.
After all, she couldn’t expect the man to clear out a nest of gargoyles without help.
“Sorry for dragging you out here away from your kids tonight,” Nolan murmured a while later as the two of them stood in the doorway of a closed antique store somewhere in New York. They were using it as cover from the deluge of rain that hadn’t let up at all for the past twenty minutes. “I didn’t know Liam was off-world when I called.” He glanced to her, raising an eyebrow. “You should’ve told me, I would have called someone else.”
Larissa kept her eyes on the building across the street, shaking her head slightly. “The twins are nine, Nolan, not two. They’ll be okay with their Aunt Risa for the evening. Besides,” she added with a tiny smile while turning her gaze to him briefly. “It’s good to get out and stretch my legs a little bit. I’ve been training, but it’s been awhile since I was in the field. Don’t wanna get sloppy.”
The man who had been one of her teammates while the two of them were going through Crossroads chuckled. “In that case, glad I could give you an excuse to get out.” He gave her a curious look while using one hand to brush his damp, shaggy brown hair away from his eyes. “What about the girls. How’re they doing? Miss their Uncle Nolan enough to give me hugs?”
A smile touched her face. “You could leave for five minutes and they’d miss you enough for hugs, Nolan.” Sobering a little, she looked back to him. “You really do need to visit more often.”
The man nodded then. “You’re right, especially if it means more twin-hugs. I’ll make it happen.”
Biting her lip, Larissa looked to him. “Speaking of which, how’s the adoption thing going?”
He didn’t answer at first, taking a deep breath that seemed to steady himself as though he had bad news. Then Nolan looked to her, winking. “The Committee approved it two days ago.”
Eyes widening at that announcement, Larissa demanded, “They did? Wait, are you screwing with me right now? Do not screw with me on this, Nolan. Don’t you dare screw with me on this.”
He was chuckling, bobbing his head up and down. “That might’ve been another reason I wanted you to come out tonight, yeah. You are looking at one totally approved single parent.” Eyes shining with a mixture of pride and happiness that proved just how hard it had been for him to hold it in for this long, he added, “Her name’s Erin. She’s about the same age as the twins.” Sobering noticeably, the man continued. “Her parents were um, her dad split when she was three, took off with some Colony-girl and decided he didn’t want to be a father anymore. Then her mom was killed last year. She’s been bouncing between a bunch of relatives since then, but nobody wanted full responsibility for a little girl so she ended up in the system.”
Larissa hesitated. “That’s… that poor kid.” Her hand caught his arm. “But Nolan, you’ve wanted a little girl since we were in school!” Since he’d been with Julie, really. But Julie had broken his heart and moved on, and Nolan had never really gotten with anyone else. Yet his desire to have kids had never gone away, even if he didn’t have a partner to share with. And now, now he would have someone, a girl who sounded like she needed someone as much as he did.
Larissa’s mouth opened to say something else, only to stop as movement in the windows of the other building caught her eye. “Looks like our friends are up and moving around.” Lifting her hand, she formed a circle with her index finger and thumb before using her stolen Stranger powers to magnify the view in the space between her fingers as if she was was looking through binoculars. A moment later, another power allowed her to change the view to see through the wall of the building. “Yeah,” she murmured then. “Looks like three of them, just like you said.”
Nolan grunted. “They’ve been feeding off that no-tell motel down the street. You know, focusing on prostitutes and runaways, people that aren’t gonna be noticed very fast.” There was an undercurrent of anger in the man’s voice. Which wasn’t surprising. Nolan Redcliffe had always seemed to feel particularly defensive of people whom most tended to not care that much about. He spent a good part of his time in the field helping out at Bystander homeless shelters and soup kitchens, watching out for the types of Strangers that liked to prey on those people.
“Well then,” she announced with a nod. “I guess we should go take care of these assholes.”
They split up then, Nolan waiting for Larissa to make her way around the back. Then he would head straight in as soon as she gave him the signal, driving the gargoyles back toward her so that the two of them could catch the monsters between a rock and a hard place.
She took the long route around, to avoid setting off any warning signal. Working her way back around the far end of the street and then in from the rear, Larissa was passing by a dress shop when, from the corner of her eye, she saw one of the mannequins abruptly turn to face her, its long blonde hair seeming to blow dramatically in a non-existent wind from inside the store.
Jolting and stumbling a little, the woman snapped her gaze that way while her hand moved to the weapon holster on her belt. She focused on the window display… only to find nothing out of place. The mannequin that she could have sworn had turned to face her was back in its normal position and… wasn’t blonde. It had short brown hair, and wore an entirely different outfit than what she had thought that she’d seen in that brief couple of seconds from the corner of her eye.
“Okay,” she muttered to herself slowly. “This is not normal.” Stepping back from the window, she looked around once more. Maybe… maybe she should send a message to Nolan to pull back until she could figure out what was wrong with her, why she kept hearing that voice in her head.
Larissa. The voice came back faster that time than it had before, and was somehow ‘louder’ in her head. Or at least a bit more clear. It sounded… familiar somehow, as if she’d heard the feminine voice before, even if she couldn’t actually place where she remembered it from.
Eyes glancing up and down the street, Larissa frowned. There were a few people in sight, bustling through the rain without paying attention to anything around them. Rain that didn’t actually touch her, as another of her powers ensured that the water fell to either side of her body. Normally, she wouldn’t have cared. But in this case, even though fighting while soaked with rain might’ve looked cool, it was also a lot harder than the movies made it seem.
So she was completely dry, standing there in the middle of the downpour while the very few people who were still on the street hurried on their way. None were paying any particular attention to her. And certainly none were actually talking to her, either out loud or in her mind.
“Okay,” she spoke outloud in a quiet voice. “Whoever you are, you’ve got my attention now.”
There was another pause, just long enough that Larissa was starting to once again get the paranoid thought that she’d imagined the voice. And in the kind of work that Heretics did, imagining voices was both distinctive from and a lot worse than actually hearing voices in their heads. One meant that they were dealing with someone with telepathy, while the other meant… well, it meant that they’d been dealing with monsters for entirely too long.
Finally, however, just as she opened her mouth to speak again, the voice returned. Like the last time, it was stronger, to the point that it almost seemed audible, like it wasn’t just in her mind.
“I’m here,” she whispered out loud, tensely. She needed to hurry and get into position before Nolan wondered what was taking her so long and started to think something had gone wrong. But this was… what was this? She couldn’t understand it. The voice in her head, its familiarity… it was as undeniable as it was unexplainable. And this time, it said more than just her name. Yet for every word that she heard, more seemed to have been lost somewhere in the ether.
Larissa. — sorry. —- can only — even — tried to —- trying — years — can — to explain.
“Who are you?” Larissa’s voice was a quiet, yet firm demand. She had to know who was speaking to her, why the voice was so familiar even though she couldn’t place it. She had to know what they were saying, what they wanted, and why it was coming through so weakly.
Pivoting in a circle to take in the whole rain-soaked street once more, distracted from her original goal, Larissa jumped as the voice returned.
Trying to — taking a lot to — the connection — was harder than — would be — hold on.
A slightly longer pause then, silence aside from the drone from the ever-present rain. Then…
Is that better? It feels better. I can feel you a little more clearly.
Again, that… familiarity that she could almost place, like a name that was right on the tip of her tongue. “Who are you? Do you need help? Did we work together? Did we go to school together? How do I know you? Why do you sound so familiar?” In her confusion, the words kept coming.
Larissa, I… A pause then. My name is Sariel Moon. And I… I’m sorry, but I need your help.
“Sariel… I know that name.” How? How did she know the name? “But I don’t know any Moon.”
We weren’t classmates. We were… slightly closer than that. Another slight pause. I need you to listen. You’re not going to want to, but you’re the only hope I have right now, the only chance.
I told you my name. It’s Sariel Moon. But… Again, the voice paused. No. No, I have to tell you everything. It’s not fair. It’s not fair for me to ask for your help if you don’t know the truth.
“Listen to me,” Larissa interrupted. “I don’t know how I know you, but whatever help you need, if you can reach out telepathically to me, you can reach out to others. Gaia, Gaia Sinclaire, she might be able to help you better than I can. She can probably make contact if you just tell–”
I can’t talk to anyone but you, Larissa. One more pause, then… You were the last person I possessed.
In the few seconds that followed that bombshell, even the rain itself seemed to quiet. It was a thoroughly deafening silence that stretched on until Larissa finally blurted, “You what?”
Somehow, she sensed the wince from the other end. Sorry, that’s not how I wanted–I… the truth. The truth is that my name is Sariel Moon, and I’m what you call a Stranger. Capital S.
“No.” The word came reflexively before Larissa cursed out loud. “Damn it, fuck. No, I am not having a conversation with a Stranger. I am not–what–what do you mean, you poss–no. No.”
Larissa, listen, it’s complicated but there’s a reason that I had to–
“Shut up,” she interrupted, pressing both hands to either side of her head. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do or how you got into my head, but If this is some kind of threat, if you think you can come after me or my–”
The voice, so filled with hate and promised violence, was far different from the one she had been listening to. Aside from the obvious difference in tone, it was spoken aloud, from behind her.
She turned, pivoting just in time to see what looked like a massive stone foot slam into her chest. Larissa was picked up and hurled backward a good ten feet. If she’d been any weaker or had fewer defensive powers, it would have collapsed her ribcage and probably killed her right then. As it was, the air was knocked out of her and she found herself on the ground.
It was one of–no, two of the gargoyles that she and Nolan had come to hunt down. They’d come, either fleeing from Nolan or heading out for their next hunt. Either way, they’d seen Larissa and recognized her as a Heretic. And they’d taken her by surprise.
Gargoyles. They were a little different from what most people thought. Oh, sure, they had massive, demonic stone-like bodies. But those were just a facade, a shell. The actual creature known as a gargoyle was only about a foot tall. They were tiny, pointy-eared creatures that looked closer to gremlins from that old eighties movie than the mighty beasts that they were known as.
It was the gargoyles’ power that had led to their reputation. They were able to manifest and control a stone-like (but often much stronger than ordinary stone) material to such an incredible degree that the creatures actually fashioned what amounted to armored suits for themselves. Armored suits that looked like what people thought of gargoyles. They used the suits in combat, and when they weren’t in use, the gargoyles parked their stone-like armored combat suits rather than spend the time to make more later on. In the past, they had often left their armored suits on the ledges of churches and temples, which had helped lead to the modern Bystander belief that such a thing was normal. As well as, obviously, the architectural choice of fake gargoyles. Which had apparently just complicated life for every Heretic who had been hunting the gargoyles before people decided to give them cover by making it impossible to differentiate between parked gargoyle combat suits and simple statues.
And now… now two of them were bearing down on her, while she was lying on the ground still trying to get her breath back from that first blow. One launched himself forward, great stone-like wings flapping down hard to propel himself literally on top of her. His taloned foot came down hard enough on her wrist as she reached for the weapon case at her belt to snap the bone, before his fist backhanded her across the face so hard her ears rang.
Switch. Water-form. Switch into her water-form. She could do that. Just… had to… focus…
Except the gargoyle’s hand was around her throat, its claws cutting easily through her skin as he cut off her air. Strong as she was, the gargoyle’s combat suit was even stronger. She couldn’t breathe, and if she couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t focus… and without focus… she… couldn’t…
“Let her go.”
The voice, it was the one that she’d heard in her head… only spoken out loud. It came from the side, in the middle of the otherwise empty street.
Together, both Larissa and the gargoyle that was holding her throat turned slightly to look that way. They saw… a blonde woman, who stood there in the rain, watching them with narrowed eyes. In one hand, she held a small stone, a chunk of broken concrete.
“I’ll say it again, but not a third time,” the woman announced. “Let… her… go.”
“Seosten!” the gargoyle’s loud, gravelly voice snarled. “But alone. Not the master here, not the master in this place.”
As the first one spoke, the other gargoyle that had appeared stepped down into the street, its combat-suit gleaming in the glow from the streetlights reflected in the puddles. “Kill Heretic, then kill you.”
The woman, Sariel Moon, let her eyes drift from the closer gargoyle back to the one over Larissa. “You know what I am. But you don’t know who I am.
“Allow me to introduce myself.”
With that, the woman’s hand snapped up. The small bit of concrete that she had been holding flew out, crossing the distance between her and the gargoyle that was standing over Larissa like a bullet that had been shot from a gun.
There was a sharp, sudden clanging noise, followed by a much… squishier sound. Then the grip on Larissa’s throat abruptly slackened. She was released, the gargoyle’s suit slumping over a little while blood seeped out of the thing’s mouth and eyeholes.
It took the Heretic woman a moment to realize what had just happened. This… Sariel had just thrown a chunk of rock so accurately, and with just the right amount of force, that it had actually entered the gargoyle’s combat suit through the eyeholes, hit the back of the inside of the head, then somehow ricocheted directly into and through the much softer, flesh-covered head of the actual creature further down within the suit, killing it instantly. And she had done so by chucking a broken bit of sidewalk… from at least thirty feet away… in the middle of a rainstorm… at night.
“Your much more intelligent forefathers knew me as Artemis,” the woman informed the remaining gargoyle. “I am not a lackey, or a soldier, or anything else you might believe you have a chance against. I am the goddess of the hunt and of the moon, the protector of young girls, bringer of death for those who stood against Olympus.
“And you are standing in my way.”
Not for long, he wasn’t. The gargoyle took a hasty step back, then sprang upward, his mighty wings carrying him a good fifty feet up in one leap. At the same time, the nearby suit, the one with the dead creature inside, flew up as well. Apparently he’d exerted his own stone control to bring the thing (and his dead partner) along.
The moment he was gone, the woman staggered a little. A grunt of effort escaped her, and she quickly took a few steps toward the still-prone Larissa. As she approached, her body became visibly transparent.
“No… no, I can’t hold it. I can’t hold onto it.”
“Wh-what? What, you’re a… you’re a…a…” Larissa stammered, staring at the rapidly fading figure in front of her while her mind reeled. Saved. Saved by a… by a Stranger. A Stranger who didn’t set off her senses, but a Stranger nonetheless.
“We don’t have time,” Sariel… Artemis, whoever she was announced. Already, she was almost invisible. “Listen to me, listen, Larissa. I will explain. I swear that I will explain. But you have to keep this secret. Please. You will be in danger if you don’t. You can’t tell anyone about this. I–I won’t hurt you. I would never hurt you. But my… my children. You have children, I know you do. So do I. And they’re in danger. My children and my husband. Please. I swear to you, I will explain everything. All of it. But you can’t talk about it. And… I need your help. You’re my only hope, Larissa, the only chance I have to find my children and husband again. Please, you–”
Then she was gone. The figure, and the voice, had both vanished.
“Larissa!” That was Nolan, appearing beside her with his axe in one hand. “What–are you alright?” he demanded, reaching a hand down to her. “You never signaled. Then the gargoyles started moving. I tried to get to you, but there were… complications. What happened?”
For a moment, Larissa didn’t say anything. She accepted the hand up, still staring at the spot where Sariel had been.
“Larissa?” Nolan repeated before grimacing. “That’s it, I’m calling in for help. They can–”
“I’m okay.” Turning back to him, Larissa gave the man a smile. “Sorry, I just got my bell rung a little bit there. But I’m fine. See? Just dandy.”
Sariel, Artemis, whoever… or whatever she was, the woman had saved her life. And then begged for her help. Help with her children. It might have been manipulation, or a trick. But… but she had saved her life. So Larissa would wait and hear her out the next time she… made contact.
She owed her that much.