The following is a commissioned mini-interlude, the final part of the trilogy of Larissa and Sariel’s history together during the year before the fateful day on the boat.
Around Seven And A Half Years Ago
“You know, it’s one thing for me to believe that the ancient and powerful goddess once known as Artemis, a being who happens to be a several thousand year old angel from another planet, used to ride around inside my body when I was a little girl so she could use me to infiltrate Crossroads…” Trailing off, Larissa met eyes with the woman in question. “But it’s another thing for me to believe that you actually like the Kyle Rayner version of the Green Lantern more than Hal Jordan. The first part’s a little bit farfetched. But that? That’s completely absurd.”
The two women were sitting at a wooden table in a park in the middle of some nowhere city, far from anyone who would recognize Larissa. On the table between them lay an impressive pile of comic books, spread across the wooden surface to reveal their colorful covers.
“What can I say?” Sariel replied with a smile. “Kyle’s an artist. An artist with a ring that allows him to make anything? That’s much more interesting than a pilot.” Winking at Larissa, she added, “Does that mean we cannot be friends anymore? Is that your line in the sand?”
Despite herself, Larissa snorted. “Yeah, I can forgive everything else. But liking the wrong character? That’s just a step too far.” The woman chuckled softly, head shaking before she added slowly, her voice hesitant, “This… comic book thing, do you like it because I read them while you were… with me, or do I like them because you wanted to read them back then?”
It had been months since those first meetings, and there had been a dozen more since then.
The visits were always at least a couple weeks apart, which Sariel had explained was because it took her time to save up enough power to make the temporary connection. Each time, the two of them got to know each other a little bit more, and Larissa found herself steadily mentally siding with the woman who had possessed her as a child over the society that had taught her to fight.
Because somehow, she had known from the start that what Sariel was telling her was the truth. If nothing else, the woman had literally saved her life, had stepped in to protect Larissa from the gargoyles who would have killed her. According to everything she’d learned from Crossroads, that never should have happened. Strangers were evil, they hated humanity, treated them as food or worse. The idea that one of them would save a human–let alone a Heretic– was completely out of the realm of possibility. And that was the lynchpin of the whole thing, the keystone. If the logic of the Heretic mindset, that all Strangers were evil, didn’t hold up… then everything fell apart. And what fit neatly into what was left? What worked to explain why Crossroads taught the way that it did? Sariel’s story, the history that she had been telling.
That and, well, there was just something… familiar about the other woman. She felt like a long-trusted friend, a confidant, a… family member. They had been talking off and on for months by that point, but it actually felt like years. It had felt like years almost since their first meeting.
Expression softening then, Sariel met Larissa’s gaze. “I never made you do anything you didn’t want to do, if I could help it. Aside from reporting to my superior, I almost never did anything. You were in control for ninety-nine percent of our time together. If I could–” She stopped, grimacing before shaking her head. “Your likes and dislikes are your own, I promise you that.”
Swallowing a little, Larissa looked down for a moment before lifting her eyes once more. “I believe you. I do. I just–” She sighed. “Thinking about being a little girl, and those fuckers deciding that I was a great candidate for one of their spies to ride in, just to get close to Gaia, it makes me… I–” Closing her eyes, she made herself breathe out. “I know it wasn’t your fault.”
“I could have stopped sooner,” Sariel replied in a quiet voice. “I should have stood up when Apollo made his own stand. When he chose to leave, I should have followed him. He gave me the opportunity, he asked me to and I… “ She flinched, looking away. “I thought that I was choosing to remain loyal. But in remaining loyal to a lie, I betrayed… one of my closest friends.”
Wincing at that, Larissa hesitated before offering a quiet, “I guess it’s hard to turn on what you’ve known your whole life. You… thought you were helping your people. It was your job.”
“I still owe him,” Sariel insisted. “If I make it back, if…” She sighed then. “I owe him an apology.”
Reaching out, Larissa put a hand on the other woman’s arm. “You’ll make it back here. I–” She hesitated then, biting her lip. “There is a way to get you back here, right? You said you were banished, that connecting to me is the only way you can visit. But you keep disappearing again.”
Sariel gave a slight nod. “My connection to you allows me to visit, but the banishment is too powerful to be overcome that way. If we find the twins…” Trailing off with a look of longing, the Seosten woman swallowed hard before continuing. “I can overcome the banishment using someone of my own blood. If we can find the twins, I can undo the effects of the orb.”
“We’ll find them,” Larissa promised her. “I’ve been using my contacts to look, without being obvious. I’m checking for anyone who disappeared in the right general timeframe. But you said you don’t know for sure if Moon is the name that you used then or…” She sighed. “Your memories aren’t perfect. So I’m looking for people named Moon, but I’m looking for others too. And I have to be subtle about it, because…” she trailed off then, shaking her head. “You know.”
“I know,” Sariel confirmed. “I’m just worried about them, that’s all. I–I know who they are. I can see them in my mind. My… my babies. I just can’t remember their names. It’s…” Her hand went down against the table in a slap before she breathed out, managing a soft, “It’s frustrating.”
Larissa swallowed, watching the woman’s face. “I… I know how I’d feel if I was–if something kept me away from my babies. I know. I’m sorry, Sariel. As soon as we find them, I’ll–I’ll get to them, I promise. I’m looking for your twins. Any twins that were around back then that fit. We’ll find them.” Her hand was still squeezing her companion’s arm, trying to reassure her. “I wish there was more I could do. I wish I could talk to someone, trust someone. There has to be someone I could talk to about it. I just don’t–” She sighed long and low. “I just don’t know who. I keep thinking about Liam. He’s my husband. I should be able to talk to him about all this.”
There was silence for a few long seconds, before Larissa glanced up to see Sariel looking pensive. “What?” she asked immediately, brow knitting into a frown. “What are yo–you know something, something about Liam, don’t you? Sariel, what is it? No more secrets, remember?”
Wincing, the other woman gave a slight nod. “Yes,” she murmured quietly, “no more secrets.” Still, she looked indecisive for a few seconds before looking up. “I suppose they erased all memory of the Atherby rebellion from you as well, when they were cleaning that up.”
“The Atherby rebellion?” Larissa blinked at that, confused. “What’s an Atherby rebellion?”
Sariel snorted. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Shaking her head with obvious disgust, she muttered, “Easier to just erase everything when someone disagrees with you than change.”
With a sigh then, Sariel reached out as though to put her hand on Larissa’s forehead before hesitating halfway there. “I believe I can undo the memory loss, since I have been connected to you for so long. If you would like me to,” she added the last bit softly, watching Larissa’s gaze.
The brunette woman didn’t even have to think about it for a second. “Yes,” she immediately replied. “I want my memories back. If they–if someone–if you can fix them, I… I want to know what they made me forget.” Pausing then, she added with a slight shrug, “Whoever they are.”
Sariel watched her for another moment before nodding with satisfaction. Her hand moved closer, pressing against Larissa’s forehead. Then she closed her eyes, obviously focusing.
For a minute as she sat there, Larissa felt nothing more than the press of the other woman’s hand against her skin. Then, as suddenly as a slap, it came to her. She jerked back, almost falling off the bench as her eyes widened. “Wha–oh my god. There–there was a rebellion.”
She stood up, unable to remain sitting. Not with all the suddenly revealed memories in her mind, clamoring for her attention. “Atherby. Joselyn Atherby. I remember. She was… she was a prisoner in my time, but everyone knew who she was, about the rebellion she started. It was still going. People were joining it all the time. I was–I thought about…” She trailed off, biting her lip.
“That’s why they erased Joselyn from everyone’s memory,” Sariel informed her quietly. “Too many people respected her, believed her, idolized her, even after she was imprisoned. She was a martyr for the cause, even while she was alive. They thought that putting her in prison would make the rebellion die down. It didn’t. They got… quieter, but they were still around, still active. That’s one of the reasons that I was assigned to infiltrate the school and find a way to get close to Gaia, to find out if she was helping the rebellion in any way, or anything else she was doing.”
Larissa was quiet for a moment, taking that in. “So they erased her, they erased the rebellion.” She paused then. “Wait, if they erased–how can I remember this? Shouldn’t that spell be erasing it from my mind as soon as I remember it?”
Sariel smiled faintly. “I have been doing this for a very long time. The Mnemosyne spell may be very strong, but I have ways to dismantle it. And,” she murmured, “as far as that goes, erasing Joselyn did erase the rebellion, for most people. It took away their figurehead, the person who inspired them to change their minds about Alters. So once their memory of Joselyn was gone, once Joselyn herself was just a normal human, most of the rebellion fizzled out. Which was enough, as far as they were concerned.”
She trailed off then, but Larissa was still watching her. “What else?” she asked quietly. “None of that has anything to do with Liam. What part aren’t you telling me?”
“I suppose you never knew the truth.” Sariel’s voice was soft, as she shook her head. “Liam–” She stopped, clearly reluctant before pushing on. “Back before the rebellion was… open, while they were still working in secret, still quietly protecting Alters and funneling them to safety, Joselyn Atherby brought a few people into it quietly, only the ones she believed could be trusted. Liam Mason was one of those people, one of the people she trusted.”
There was a lump in Larissa’s throat, her brow furrowing. “She–he… what…” Her voice was weak. She didn’t know if she wanted the answer. “What did he do?”
So Sariel told her. She told Larissa in more detail about how Joselyn had trusted Liam, had brought him in on the plan to protect Alters who weren’t evil and hadn’t done anything wrong. And then she told her about how he had betrayed that trust. She told her that Liam was the reason that the secret, underground resistance had been forced into open rebellion. She told Larissa that Liam, her husband, was the reason all of this had happened to begin with. The chain of events that led to the rebellion moving into the open, the civil war, erasing Joselyn, all of it was because Liam had exposed them after they had trusted him.
“Oh my god.” Staggering back a step, Larissa covered her mouth. She felt sick. She felt like she was going to throw up. Nausea swelled up in her, and she looked away, beyond horrified then.
Sariel’s voice was quiet. “He did what he thought was right. Liam wasn’t trying to be malicious. He thought that his friends were making a mistake, that they had been tricked or corrupted somehow. When he went to Ruthers and the others, he truly believed it was the right thing.”
Larissa didn’t say anything for some time. Folding her arms across her stomach, she looked at the ground and tried to collect herself. It took awhile before she was ready to speak again. “I–” A lump caught in her throat, and she had to swallow hard before trying once more. “I’m sorry. You’re right. Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing. But I can’t tell him anything about this. I can’t… trust him not to do the same thing again. If he did it once, if he betrayed his friends because he thought he was helping them, he might…” Trailing off, Larissa sighed. “Maybe I can talk to Gaia about it… later. After we find your children, after we get you back here, we’ll talk to her together. She’ll know what to do. If we can trust anyone, it’s Gaia Sinclaire.”
She looked toward Sariel then. “Can you give me my other memories? The ones from when I was a child, and you… took control.” Quickly, she added, “I know what you said. I believe you. I do. I believe you when you say that you only took over… very seldomly. But … but they’re still…”
“Your memories,” Sariel finished for her. “I–yes. Yes, I can restore the memories of what occurred while I was… in control, if you wish. I warn you, our last time together ended rather violently.”
“You mentioned,” Larissa confirmed with a little nod. “Those men, I remember being in the hospital. I remember… some of it. They said it was something about a drug deal or… an execution. Something like that. They said I stumbled across it while I was walking home, but I don’t… I couldn’t remember.” Looking back up then to meet the woman’s gaze, she repeated, “I want to remember. Please.”
With a nod, Sariel stood to move in front of Larissa before reaching out to touch her forehead again, focusing for a moment to release the memories.
They struck Larissa almost as violently as the first memories had. She took a reflexive couple of steps back, making a noise of surprise as they flooded into her mind in one long rush. Seeing that man, the body who had been shot in the forehead, the grave… and the rest surrounding him, the men with guns who… who tried to shoot her, who wanted to kill her for what she’d seen. She remembered… Sariel taking over, killing them easily, but not before they managed to land a single shot… a shot that would have killed Larissa if Sariel hadn’t saved her.
She even gave Larissa other memories, memories that Larissa herself couldn’t have had, since she had passed out by that time. The memories were clearly from Sariel’s own mind. Memories of meeting a Heretic, a Heretic who had helped her, who believed that she truly wanted to save Larissa’s life… a Heretic who had eventually become Sariel’s husband. Yet even in Larissa’s mind, the transferred memory of the man was vague and indistinct. He was a blur, his face refusing to come into focus.
But most importantly, she remembered the meetings. The meetings with the one who was Sariel’s contact, her super–her boss. Larissa refused to think of that asshole as superior to anything, let alone Sariel herself.
“Puriel’s a dick,” she announced, looking up at the other woman. “He’s a real dick, isn’t he?”
Coughing, Sariel gave a slight nod. “Yes,” she confirmed. “You could say that.”
“Those things he was saying,” Larissa murmured, “about how you should take over completely, about how you should… basically enslave me. That’s… that’s how he treats his hosts, isn’t it?”
“It is how most Seosten treat their hosts.” Sariel’s eyes were soft as she watched the other woman. “I was considered an aberration, even back then. Dominating the host’s mind, enslaving them and taking control during extended stays, that was the way most of my people operated.”
“You were different from other Seosten even back then…” Larissa stared at her. “You were–I was…” She swallowed hard as the realization came to her fully for the first time. “I… was really… really lucky that you were the one they assigned to me.”
Beyond lucky, she realized. The other Seosten, the other so-called angels or gods or whatever they called themselves, they would have… done a lot worse than Sariel had.
“I did what I could, before and after I left, to protect you,” Sariel informed her, voice quiet. “That doesn’t make me innocent. It doesn’t excuse the things that I did to serve my people.”
“But it makes you less of a dick,” Larissa insisted. “Less of a dick than a lot of your people. They seem like, if you’re so different, then they’re…” She looked up. “But that Puriel guy, he was especially a dick, wasn’t he? He really seemed like one.”
Smiling faintly, Sariel nodded. “Yes, I suppose he was ‘especially a dick’, as you say. That’s probably why Apollo found it so amusing to write the myths about him the way that he did.” Seeing Larissa’s confused expression, she explained. “One of Apollo’s duties was the creation and propagation of the myths related to the Seosten as gods of Greece and Rome. When it came to Zeus, he tended toward stories that… amused him to tell about Puriel.”
“Puriel was Zeus,” Larissa started to nod before her eyes widened. “Wait, you mean–” She started to choke then, barely managing to get out, “All that sex stuff, the stuff about Zeus being–and all the–that was–Apollo was just screwing with him?”
Sariel chuckled. “By the time Puriel found out what kind of stories the humans were telling, it was too late to stop them from spreading.”
“Oh my–” Snickering, Larissa covered her mouth. “Apollo sounds great.”
“He is,” Sariel agreed before flinching. “As I said, that’s why I have to apologize to him.”
Biting her lip, Larissa asked, “Do you know where he is, or how to find him?”
The Seosten woman paused before slowly explaining, “I don’t know where he is. But I know where the group that he organized is. And they probably have information that could lead to him, or a way of contacting him, even if they don’t know exactly what they have.”
“A group?” Blinking, Larissa tilted her head curiously. “What group?”
“You have heard of them, I’m sure.” Sariel smiled faintly. “They call themselves the Torchbearers.”
Eyes widening at that, Larissa blurted, “That offshoot group? You mean they were, you mean he was–Apollo–”
“Apollo was responsible for their creation, yes,” Sariel confirmed. “It was back when he was still trying to convince me to go with him, to join him…” She sighed quietly. “Puriel believed that turning Apollo’s identity into the greatest evil humanity had ever known would shame him into returning. It only emboldened him. Apollo preferred his Greek name anyway, but using his Seosten name as the angel who rebelled against God and fell to Earth? If Puriel thought that would shame him into returning, he never understood Apollo at all.”
Larissa’s eyes were wide as she stared openly at the other woman, mouth working in silent shock. “You–what… you mean… you’re talking about…”
Sariel nodded. “As a god, Apollo was the bringer of light. His chariot brought the sun. Or Helios did, depending on the myth or what kind of mood Apollo was in when he spread that particular story… In any case, he brought light. Lightbringer. Or–”
“Lucifer,” Larissa finished for her.
“Lucifer or Apollo,” Sariel confirmed, “they’re both the Lightbringer. And his Heretics, they are connected to him, even if they don’t know how exactly.”
Larissa had to sit down. This was… that was… too much. There was too much to take in. Slumping to the bench, she stared at the ground for a few seconds, collecting herself. “I… I need to think about that. I need to think… “ Her head shook, and she looked up. “But I also have to do something else.”
Raising an eyebrow, Sariel asked, “What’s that?”
“Joselyn Atherby,” Larissa replied. “My husband, Liam’s the reason the rebellion was exposed. He– I have to find her. They erased her memory, maybe I can… find a way to fix it, or at least talk to her, I don’t know what exactly I could–I just have to find her. Maybe there’s a way to help. If I bring her to you, could you–”
“I know where she is,” Sariel answered quietly.
Larissa did a short double-take at that. “You what?”
The Seosten sighed. “I know where she is. I know where they sent her. I… I remember promising my husband that we would stay out of things, that we would live a normal life. But… but I found her. I found Joselyn. I was going to… do what you said, return her memories to her.”
Biting her lip, Larissa asked, “But you didn’t?”
“I never got that far,” Sariel explained. “I only discovered her location. I was trying to work quietly, because I didn’t want to… alert anyone. And I had my own family. Before I got to the point of going to her, I was…” She gestured.
“Then I’ll go to her,” Larissa announced. “I’ll find her, I’ll… just tell me where she is. I’ll bring her to you and you can return her memories.
“I owe her that much, after what Liam did.”
It was three weeks later, the next time that Larissa and Sariel were able to meet. They were back in the apartment that Larissa had rented for that purpose.
“Gone?” the Seosten woman echoed, frowning. “What do you mean?”
Larissa sighed. “Joselyn Atherby. She disappeared. I found the place she was, the place she lived. I found her new husband and her daughter, a beautiful little girl. But Joselyn vanished. She was the town sheriff and all that, gorgeous family, a great life. Then she was gone. It was just a couple years ago. Nobody knows where she is. Her daughter, her husband, they don’t know. She just disappeared without a trace.”
“Disappeared…” Sariel murmured, her voice doubtful. “From what I know about Joselyn Atherby, I find it very hard to believe that she would simply abandon her child and husband like that, even if her memories were restored. Very, very difficult.”
Larissa nodded in slow agreement. “Yeah, but who could have taken her? Eden’s Garden?”
“Doubtful,” Sariel replied. “I don’t believe they would have kept it secret for that long. Both sides wanted the rebellion erased. Taking Joselyn Atherby would be pointless unless you could turn her to your side. In which case, keeping secret about it would accomplish nothing. No, someone else has her. Someone… dangerous.”
She thought about it for another few seconds before looking up. “You said that she has a daughter. About how old is she?”
“Felicity Chambers,” Larissa confirmed. “And she’s about eight years old, somewhere around there. Why?”
Again, Sariel was silent for a few seconds, clearly lost in thought. Finally, she looked up. “Felicity Chambers is in danger. If not now, then she will be, purely because of who her mother is. We have to protect her.”
“How?” Larissa asked blankly. “I’m pretty sure she’s already got Crossroads people checking in on her. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t exactly tell her anything, and how am I going to protect her?”
The other woman met her gaze evenly. “There is something we can do. There is something–we can protect her. I was hoping there would be a place to–someone to–” She cut herself off then, looking distant before straightening. “There is something. But I need your help to do it.”
“Anything,” Larissa replied immediately. “What?”
Swallowing hard, Sariel took another moment before answering. “I need you to–”
And then she told her what to do in order to ensure that Felicity Chambers would be immune to Seosten possession.