Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude posted yesterday focusing on Sariel/Larissa and the history of the Seosten. If you haven’t seen it yet, you may wish to use the Previous Chapter button above.
Sunday Evening, January 28th, 2018 (One day before Flick and company confronted Fahsteth and Flick’s house was attacked by werewolves)
Most of the people at the Crossroads Academy believed that Rudolph Parsons never got emotional about anything. That wasn’t exactly true, since he had plenty of emotions. He just didn’t see the point of showing them. Not that he was some emotionless robot or anything. He could be happy, sad, or anything in between. But most of the time, he didn’t really express much of that emotion. He couldn’t even really explain why. It just felt… well, in some ways it felt embarrassing to get overly emotional, either in a negative way or a positive way. It wasn’t just expressing sorrow or anger he had issues with. Overly expressive displays of happiness and amusement were hard too. He hated the idea of clapping and laughing in public, and going as far as cheering was completely out of the question. Let alone anything negative like yelling or… crying. The very thought made him shudder.
A good part of that had to do with his upbringing. After all, Warren Boyd Parsons, Rudolph’s father, treated emotions as if they were some kind of plague unleashed upon the world by maniacal Strangers and easily turned lethal through the sharing of them. Raised in Victorian London, Warren still dressed and behaved as though those days had never ended, wearing a flawless burgundy velvet vest over his full high collar, crisply pressed and buttoned white shirt, black ascot, dark pants, and of course, his perfectly-shined black leather boots. It wasn’t always the exact same outfit, but it was always along the same lines, and he wore them whenever he went any further than his own bedroom, which tended to attract attention in public. Attention which the man studiously and emphatically ignored. Because to not ignore it would be to show an emotion, and Warren Boyd Parsons would sooner cut open his own chest and hand an onlooker his heart than expose its existence in any other way.
Not that he was a bad father. He never raised his voice, he never struck any of his children, he provided everything they needed materially and he ensured that they were always cared for. Rudolph knew his father loved him, in his way. It simply wasn’t in the man to be demonstrative about it. And yet, growing up that way had its toll. While Rudolph wasn’t quite as repressed as his father when it came to emotions, it still wasn’t his first instinct to show them. Showing emotions in private was one thing, while the idea of public displays still made the boy cringe. Inwardly, of course. Must keep up appearances and all that.
Maybe that was why his great-great grandfather had taken such an interest in him. Far different from Rudolph’s father/his own great-grandson, Donald Therasis was never hesitant to show any emotion the second he felt it. And the emotions he felt most of the time was cheerfulness and joy, particularly when it came to the ideas of teaching and sharing information. The man considered everyone his students, and was genuinely tickled every time he was able to help them in some way, never making any attempt to hide his delight. And in Rudolph’s case, his great-great-grandfather consistently went above and beyond in an attempt to include him and pull the boy out of his shell.
Which was kind of why lying to and manipulating the man felt so unbelievably shitty.
“So,” Grandpa Donald started casually while leading Rudolph and Doug (who had accompanied him for this while the rest of the team stayed back) through the hospital on Sunday evening, “remind me what this report was that made you kids want to see Josiah?”
“Extra credit project,” Rudolph explained after a moment, biting his lip before continuing the way that they had rehearsed while trying to make it not sound rehearsed. “It’s for Professor Ross’s class, Heretical History. We wanted to do a project on someone who used to teach at Crossroads, but doesn’t anymore. You know, see how their lives have changed with different careers, and see what Crossroads was like a long time ago. Just that kind of thing.”
Grandpa Donald looked back toward them, and for just a second, Rudolph was afraid that the man was going to push the issue. In the end, however, he just nodded. “Well, okay then! Here we go.” Gesturing to a door, he cautioned, “Now remember, Josiah only has about a couple hours to talk before his next class. So make sure you don’t keep him too long, alright?”
The boys emphatically promised, and Grandpa Donald quickly excused himself to take care of a patient. With a quick glance to one another, Rudolph and Douglas stepped to the open door, the latter giving a soft rap against the doorjamb while they poked their heads inside.
Whatever the place normally was, it had been set up as some kind of miniature classroom, with four tables arranged in front of a larger desk. Each table had three chairs behind it, allowing twelve students to sit in and listen to the lecture. Behind the main desk itself, Josiah Carfried (a man who looked like he was in his late thirties with stringy blonde hair, a good build, and a heavily broken nose) glanced up at the sound of the knock before rising quickly. “Oh, hey there,” he greeted them while stepping around the desk to approach. “You must be the boys. Ah, lemme guess…” To Rudolph, he lifted his chin, “You’re Warren’s kid, right?”
After confirming that and introducing Douglas, Rudolph asked, “Did you really teach at Crossroads two-hundred years ago?” Even if this was a cover for their true intentions (and as laid-back and unemotional as the boy tended to be), actually talking to someone who had been a part of the school that long ago and then left was still actually pretty interesting.
Giving a slightly crooked smile (to match his crooked nose), Josiah nodded. “Sure did. That’s why you guys came in, right? Come on, have a seat. We can talk about what the place was like under old man Ruthers.” Pausing, he added, “Let’s just say you’ve got it easier now.”
They did just that. It would’ve been obvious if they didn’t listen to the stories that they had supposedly made the trip for in the first place, so Rudolph and Doug took the offered seats and started to ask the man questions about what the school had been like back then. And Rudolph had to agree, they were lucky to be going there under Gaia Sinclaire instead.
For an hour and a half, they listened to and questioned the man. Doug did most of the talking on their side after the initial part. Rudolph was content (as he was with most things) to simply sit back and listen while letting the other two guide the discussion.
Eventually, Doug managed to find the right opening. Raising a hand, he asked, “But you’re coming back, right? I mean, coming back to visit the school for Professor Dare’s Track class thing.” Gesturing toward Rudolph, the boy added, “That’s what he heard, anyway.”
Blinking once, Josiah nodded. “Oh, well, yeah. You heard right.” Smiling slyly at Rudolph, he asked, “You’re part of that group, aren’t you? Gonna be there for the thing tomorrow?”
Rudolph gave a slow nod at that, carefully choosing his words. This part was incredibly important. “I sort-of overheard that you’re gonna have a contest, with like… a prize.”
The man hesitated, looking briefly uncertain before finally shrugging it off. “Sure, yeah. I guess it’s not really unfair if you know about the prize and all that. You can’t exactly practice for what we’re doing, so it’s not that much of an advantage. So yeah, we will be doing… something with your group, and the pair that pulls it off is gonna win a trip into New York.”
Beside Rudolph, Doug asked, “Pairs, how does that work? I mean, how do you set them up? Jazz and Rudolph are from the same team, but what about students that are there solo?”
“Oh, that?” Josiah explained easily, “I’ll just divide the groups up into pairs beforehand. You ah, might not get on a pairing with your teammate, Rudolph. You okay with that?”
Rudolph shrugged. “It’s okay, I can work with someone else.” Hesitating a bit, he asked, “How’re you dividing us, anyway? Choosing names out of a hat, or what?” This was the important part. They had to make this work, or risk leaving what pairing he and Jazz ended up with completely to chance. And with something this important, they couldn’t do that.
Hell, up to this point in this whole investigation, Rudolph hadn’t invested too much into it. Not that he didn’t care about Roxa (even if he didn’t know her as well as the others). He was just less invested in the theory that Flick had something to do with it, even if Doug’s power had kept pointing him at her. After the interactions that he’d had with her, he just didn’t believe she was the kind of monster that the others thought she was. There had to be something else to it.
Besides, Doug’s power was pointing them at Flick, which everyone else was taking as her being somehow responsible for Roxa’s disappearance. But what if it was pointing them at her because she was a witness? Or because she knew something she didn’t know that she knew. Or… there were a dozen different options that they could be pointed at Flick for beyond her being a cackling villain. But arguing with the team he’d just met and who barely trusted him as it was wouldn’t have accomplished anything. And he hadn’t yet figured out the best way to go about fixing this whole thing.
So a part of him had been dragging his feet even more than usual. But this, this was a chance to actually have a face-to-face discussion with the other girl about everything that was going on, a way of confronting her away from everything at Crossroads. And that, that he could get behind.
“Well,” Josiah replied, “I thought I’d use a sock, actually. But basically, yeah. I know it’s not really… what’s the word you kids use these days, sexy? I know it’s not some sexy power or anything, but sometimes simple is best. Write the names on some paper, tear ‘em all off, then pull ‘em out of a sock.” He winked then. “Easy enough, right? I ah, just gotta give Virginia a quick call and get that list of names.”
And there it was. Doug paused slightly before speaking up, his tone as casual as possible considering the importance of the moment. “Oh, uh, Rudolph could probably help with that, right?” He glanced toward the boy. “You know who everyone on the Investigation track is?”
Rudolph coughed, doing his best to look uninterested. That, at least, was one thing that he had a lot of practice in. “Um, yeah,” he drawled slowly. “I guess I know who’s on the Track.”
“Rudolph could write down the names,” Doug suggested, nodding that way. “I mean, that’d be fair, right? He’s not picking them or anything, so there’s not, you know, some advantage.”
“Eh.” Josiah shrugged, and Rudolph had the distinct impression that for all their effort to make this sound as casual as possible, the man wouldn’t actually care that much if they were trying to fix the teams. “Yeah, sounds about right. You wanna write down those names before the next class gets in here then? You can help me pick ‘em out.”
Flipping open the same notebook that he’d been scribbling notes in the whole time that they’d been asking Josiah questions about his time at Crossroads, Doug carefully tore out one page, one very specifically prepared page. “Here man,” he offered while extending it to Rudolph. “Write ‘em on this.”
Taking the offered paper, Rudolph had to focus to make sure his hand didn’t shake too much. This was the whole reason they were here. Josiah might not really care if they wanted to work with specific people, but it was better if he didn’t know that for sure. If he started to think that they intentionally put one of their own team with someone from Flick’s team, he might say something to the wrong person and then… well, it was just best if the man didn’t suspect that they had any interest in Flick’s team at all. Which was why they weren’t going to put Rudolph with one of the twins. No. They’d be using Jazz instead. That way, if Josiah did start thinking they’d done anything, he’d look at whoever Rudolph ended up with.
Setting the paper out on the table, he started writing down names, listing them out loud as he did so. Each name, he put directly next to a tiny, almost imperceptible black dot that had been added to the paper. One dot for each possible name. All but two were black, while that pair were red. On each of the red dots, he wrote and announced Jazz’s and Sands’ names, in turn.
It continued. Writing down the names of every student in the Freshman Investigation Track for the second semester, Rudolph held it up so that Josiah could see before starting to tear the names off into little individual slips. One at a time, he tore the page up and then jumbled all the pieces a bit, using the moment to cover as he focused. It wasn’t a hard spell, but it did require a second of focus to trigger. So he used the time while straightening up to do it.
“Yeah, I bet you wanna see who you’re gonna end up partnered with, huh?” the man guessed with a wink.
The two boys looked at each other, before Rudolph nodded. “I guess so, sir. But um, could you maybe not…”
“Not tell anyone you helped out with this so you don’t get blamed if people don’t like their partner? You got it,” Josiah assured him. “Time comes, we don’t know each other.” He seemed amused by the idea of having a secret like that, and chuckled to himself while tugging a pair of clean wool socks out of his jacket pocket (why he had them on him Rudolph wasn’t going to ask). Then the man pulled the socks apart before holding one open. “Alright, dump the scraps in here.”
Rudolph did so, pushing the bits of paper deep down in before stepping back. He and Doug watched as the man reached down in, taking out one scrap first before looking at the name. “Travis Colby and…” Reaching into the bag again, he felt around before coming out with another bit of paper. “Alan Sailers.” He passed it to Rudolph to check. “Uh, okay, yeah, you guys tell me if there’s gonna be any problem with any of these pairings, alright? Sure, random, but if I’m putting mortal enemies together or anything, lemme know.”
After the boys assured him that they would, the drawing continued. Josiah would pull a name out, announce it, and then hand the scrap to one of the boys to check that he had the name right and there wasn’t a problem. Rudolph was eventually placed with one of the girls that he hadn’t had much interaction with, while Scout Mason was assigned to be partners with Kurt Lewell. More names were drawn, and then the one they had been waiting for. Jazz’s scrap was pulled out, before the man reached back in to take the next one.
Time to trigger the spell. Focusing on the last bit of paper he’d been handed, the one with Jazz’s name, Rudolph set off the spell that they had prepared the paper with, the one that Doug had remembered seeing back in the library. From the moment that the spell was triggered, the next scrap of the page (assuming it was one of the bits with black dots) that was touched would switch the writing that was on it with the writing from the nearest scrap with a red dot. Essentially, no matter what piece Josiah grabbed, it would immediately switch its writing with the only remaining red dotted scrap that was still in the sock, the one with Sands’ name on it.
Clearly having no idea that the boys had just accomplished the very thing they’d come for, Josiah continued on, listing out all the names one by one and pairing them up. Dutifully, Rudolph and Doug kept helping. But the hard part was over now. Jazz and Sands were going to be on a team. And whatever the contest ended up being, Jazz would send a text to Doug, he would ask his power his one question, and then give her the answer.
Jazz and Sands would end up winning, and then they could talk to Flick in New York, away from Crossroads and anything that might’ve been set-up to either help the blonde girl or keep her in line, depending on how willingly involved with this she actually was. Either way, they’d get answers. And if Rudolph had anything to do with it, they’d do so gently.
“I’ll run you guys back to Crossroads just as soon as my shift’s over,” Grandpa Donald assured the boys a short time later as he led them toward the cafeteria. “You sure you’ll be okay until then?”
The two of them nodded absently. Rudolph didn’t know about Douglas, but he was ready to fall over and just relax until it was time to leave. They’d done their part, as stressful as the whole thing had been to make sure it went off right.
Chuckling a little, Grandpa Donald gave the boys a quick wink. “Yeah, this place throws a lot of people off. Just like your classmates when they came in for their project. That um, Avalon and her team.”
Avalon and her… wait. Wait. Barely stopping himself from skidding abruptly to a very obvious halt in reaction to that, Rudolph blinked over at his teammate, who was staring back at him. “Oh,” he managed after a second. “Right, Flick said they talked to you.”
Wait… wait… hold it… don’t say it too soon… don’t be too obvious… Forcing himself to count to five as slowly as he could, Rudolph finally squeezed the next words out as faux-casually as he could. “So what were they working on here anyway?”
Grandpa Donald told them about the tour, about how they’d come to see how one of Crossroads’ largest medical facilities worked. Through it all, Rudolph didn’t buy it. There was something else. Flick, and maybe the others, had come for something else. He wasn’t ready to throw her entirely under the bus. A big part of him still thought she wasn’t exactly a bad guy in this. But she did know something. Probably a lot of somethings. That much he was sure of, especially when he remembered her reaction to the name Fossor once Jasmine had mentioned hearing that vampire girl mention it while on the phone with Headmistress Sinclaire.
No, there was definitely something else, another reason they’d come here. So after Grandpa Donald directed them to where they could get some food with the orange card that he gave them, and excused himself for the time being, Rudolph turned quickly toward his teammate. “Can you–”
“Already on it,” the other boy replied. Closing his eyes, he asked in that distinct voice that came when he used his once-a-day power. “What were Flick and the others on her team really doing when they visited this place, besides what Donald Therasis thinks they came for?”
After a few seconds, the boy straightened up from his seat, glancing around briefly before gesturing. “This way.” He turned, making his way out of the cafeteria while the rest of the staff around them ignored the boys.
The two of them cautiously walked through the hospital. No one stopped them, but they also didn’t want to run into Grandpa Donald and have to explain what they were doing.
Eventually, they reached the long-term care wing. The place was almost deserted with just a single nurse behind the desk at the entrance. When she saw the boys, the young-looking woman straightened up. “Oh, boys, you can’t…” She paused, stepping around to join them as her expression softened. “You came to see your teacher, didn’t you?”
Without missing a beat, Doug was nodding. “Yes, ma’am. Is she okay?”
The nurse looked indecisive for a moment before answering. “I’m sorry, there’s been no change. But… here.” Stepping past them, the woman led the boys to one of the rooms, where a woman lay.
Professor Tangle. Right, she was still here.Was this why Flick had come here? But… why? One of the others might’ve said that she came for something nefarious, but Rudolph was just confused. What did Tangle have to do with any of this?
Feeling a nudge at his side, he glanced that way in time to see Douglas mouth silently to him, ‘Distract her.’ Then the boy nodded back out of the room, toward the nurse’s station. Obviously, there was something else, his power was leading him that way.
So, Rudolph did his best to keep the woman distracted for a couple minutes. He asked how Tangle was doing, if there’d been any improvement at all or noticeable reaction to their treatments. Anything to keep her talking.
Before long, the nurse had to excuse herself. As Rudolph turned with her, he saw Doug. The other boy was standing right in the doorway, looking like he had just seen a ghost.
“Oh…” the nurse saw Doug’s expression and winced. “I’m sorry. You must really care about her.”
Making the appropriate noises until the woman admonished them to leave the area before someone else caught them there, the boys quickly walked away.
“What?” Rudolph asked. “What did you find?”
Douglas didn’t answer right away. He was clearly bracing himself. “Liesje Aken.”
Blinking at that, Rudolph frowned. “You mean Bosch’s daughter? What about her?”
Again, Douglas paused before answering. “The part of the file that Flick was looking at, the reason they snuck in there. It was all about these blood tests. Three of them. One for Tangle that was taken about nineteen years ago. Then another one taken almost a year later, and the third a little bit after that.”
He looked over toward Rudolph then. “The first test showed a partial match, distant relation. But the other two were a lot closer. Direct descendant-type close.”
It took Rudolph a second, then his eyes widened. “Wait, you mean–”
Douglas nodded. “Yeah. Direct descendants of Liesje Aken.”
“Three descendants, three relations… and Tangle’s one of them…” Rudolph mused slowly as he came to terms with the news.
“And now she’s in the hospital, in a coma,” Doug reminded him. “That’s not a coincidence, dude.”
Rudolph shook his head. “But what about the other two? Descendants of Bosch, direct descendants. I–wait. wait a second. Do you… Roxa…”
“Doesn’t have any parents,” Doug finished for him. “And they keep saying she had to disappear for–”
“–for family reasons,” Rudolph returned the favor of finishing the other boy’s sentence. “Okay. Wait. So Roxa disappeared. Flick and her team were searching these records and found out about this relation. Now your power keeps telling us that Flick knows something about why Roxa disappeared. And everyone keeps saying that Roxa had to leave for family reasons, a family she wasn’t supposed to have because she was an orphan. But… but if she–if she was–Doug, you don’t think…”
“I dunno, man,” Doug slowly intoned.
“But it sure looks like Roxa is related to the founder of Crossroads.”