The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the specific event during Joselyn’s first year as a student at Crossroads that turned her from loyal Heretic to budding rebellion instigator and leader. I hope you enjoy.
Sunday, March 2nd, 1919
“We’re clear on the north end. How’s it look where you are, Jos?”
The voice of Joselyn Atherby’s teammate came through the badge that had been pinned to the front of her school uniform. It was loud and clear to her, yet somehow no one else could possibly hear it, no matter how close they were standing.
Not that anyone else was close to the blonde, short-haired teenager at that point. The girl crouched on the roof of the drugstore, hidden in shadows while she watched people and automobiles alike trundling by. After scanning the alley below her for a moment, she spoke up. “We’re jake over here, Tribald. Alley’s clear. No one’s getting out this way. Dev, you still got the bear in sight?”
There was a brief pause before Deveron responded. “Well, she’s not a bear right now. But yeah, she’s inside the left-most apartment. Lillian, you finished with your bit yet?”
Again, silence reigned for a few seconds before the voice of Joselyn’s roommate came back. “All set. Magical boundary should keep anyone from walking by this way or hearing anything.”
“Can we do this already?” Roger Dornan, another teammate, demanded with obvious annoyance. “It’s one werebear and there’s six of us. We can handle her.”
“Take it easy, Rog,” the other boy’s roommate and cousin, Seamus, scolded him. “Remember, we don’t want to screw this up. Unless you want a failing grade for this hunt.”
Roger retorted immediately, “We could get a failing grade for taking too long too. The alley’s clear, no one’s coming to investigate, and Deveron’s got the Stranger in sight. Let’s do it.”
“Jos?” That was Deveron again. “What do you think? Time to move?”
Leaning over the edge of the roof to look down one more time, making absolutely certain everything was clear, Joselyn finally nodded to herself while replying, “Rog is right, we can’t sit around second-guessing ourselves all night. Time to stop that bear before she attacks anyone else. You guys know the plan. Deveron first, make all the noise, draw her attention. Roger and Seamus hit her when she comes out. Tribald and Lillian hit her once she’s engaged with those two. I’ll cover things here if she tries to retreat.”
The acknowledgments came quickly. And almost as quickly came the sounds of the attack. Deveron, being loud and obvious as he broke down the door of the apartment building behind the drugstore that Joselyn was perched atop. A second later, there was a loud roar that made Joselyn shiver, despite the fact that she had been ready for it.
“Be careful, Dev,” she whispered to herself without engaging the badge radio.
Thankfully, Seamus and Roger joined in right away. For once, Joselyn was grateful for the latter’s impulsiveness. It meant that Deveron wasn’t left alone with the monster for that long.
Thirty seconds passed. Thirty horribly long seconds. Joselyn was regretting putting herself on back-up duty. But it had been the best choice, the best use of everyone. She knelt there, listening to the sounds of Tribald and Lillian finally getting involved. Five Heretic students versus one werebear. They could handle it, right?
She wished she was there.
The sound of a door squeaking nearby interrupted her inner lamentations, and Joselyn turned quickly to see the back entrance of the apartment building opening. As she watched with confusion, a woman stepped out, looking both ways. As soon as she saw her, Joselyn’s Heretic-sense began to scream its warnings. Apparently there were more Strangers inside the apartment building than they’d thought.
Just as Joselyn started to gather herself to stop the Stranger from escaping, pulling her Hunga Munga from their spot on her belt, the woman turned and began gesturing frantically for someone else to come out.
And come they did. Eight figures hurried through the doorway and into the small courtyard between the apartment building and the alley. Eight children, some of them tiny little things, ranging from what looked like four years old to around ten. All of them were Strangers, not human. And all had tears in their eyes. A couple were outright sobbing.
“Kaya, Kaya, is it the Moffy guys?” One of the youngest, a tiny, blue-skinned girl with white hair tugged at the older woman’s leg. “Is it the Moffy guys?”
“Mafia, Limny,” one of the older boys corrected her. He was sniffling, clearly trying to be brave. “You mean Mafia. And nuh uh, it’s the Heretics.”
That caused a loud gasp to go up among the children, and the crying intensified. The older woman turned back, obviously fighting back her own fear. “Don’t scare them, Puck. Limnoreia, it’s going to be okay.” She put a hand on the tiny blue-skinned girl’s shoulder, squeezing it briefly before another loud roar from inside made her jump. “Come on, let’s go. Hurry, children.”
“Will Aunt Callisto be okay?” one of the other little ones asked, even as a terrifyingly loud bang came that shook the entire apartment building.
For a moment, the woman, Kaya apparently, looked like she was going to answer. In the end, with a worried look over her shoulder, she just urged them on with her hands. “Come, she’ll meet us later. Hurry, hurry.”
It was time to stop them. Time to drop down and get in their way so this could all be mopped up. So that the… the monsters… could be… so that the monsters could be… so that the monsters…
Joselyn stayed where she was, watching as the woman and eight very different children rushed by below her. None looked up. None noticed her there. They ran, they fled for their lives.
They weren’t putting on a show. They had no idea she was there. They weren’t faking. They had no reason to, no way of knowing that they should pretend. They weren’t pretending. They were… they had been… terrified. Terrified… of… of Heretics.
She was still there, staring at the spot where the children had been as three more figures came into view. They were moving from the street, through the alley and to the apartment building. As they emerged, Joselyn’s Heretic-sense went off once more, for two of the figures. It was silent for the third.
“Ya morons!” the shorter, fatter man, the only one who didn’t set off Joselyn’s warning sense, smacked one of the others. “I told you we was gonna be late! Now look.” He waved a hand to the open doorway ahead of them. “They’re already gone!”
“Don’t you worry none, boss,” one of the other men announced. “Those kids smell something fierce. Olly and me, we can track ‘em down.”
The boss turned, jabbing a finger into the man’s chest. “You better. I paid good money, good money, to get that ursine bitch’s location into Heretic hands. She wants to stand in my way, in Leo Torrio’s way and stop me from getting my hands on what’s mine? Those kids are worth a fortune, a fucking fortune. Now those Heretics are getting rid of my problem, but the kids ain’t fucking here, cuz you stupid dewdroppers couldn’t get a fucking move-on! Now get those kids! Go!”
The Mafia, Joselyn realized, the ones that the little blue girl… Limnoreia had mentioned. The ones that they had been afraid of… the ones that the werebear had been… had been… protecting… them… from…
Before she knew what she was doing, Joselyn was already moving. Leaping from the roof of the drug store, she threw one of her Hunga Munga. A thought stopped it in the air just above the ground at the entrance into the alley, and she teleported herself straight to it.
There. The Mafia men were just leaving the alley. But she could pull them back in. It wouldn’t be hard. She’d distract them, make them think the children were here after all, and then–
A hand caught her shoulder. As she spun, weapons up, Deveron took a step back, holding his hands out. “Whoa, whoa, hey. You okay?” The boy was panting heavily, but grinning. “Annoyed you didn’t get in on the action?”
“Action?” Even to herself, Joselyn sounded out of it, distracted, confused.
“We’re all good, Jos. It’s over.” Still panting from exertion, Deveron continued to her that broad smile. “Bear’s down. We saved the day. Huge heroes.”
“Bear… the bear… you… you killed the werebear?” The words sounded and felt like they were coming from someone else, some other person far away.
“Uh, yeah? You know, our job? Woohoo?” Deveron squinted at her. “Are you okay? You’re not seriously sore that you didn’t get to fight, are you? She just went down sooner than we expected. Took most of that apartment with her too, you should see it. Lillian got the last hit, lucky girl. Don’t worry though, I’m sure you’ll get the next one. I mean, if that’s what you’re upset about. Jos?”
“I… I have to…” Joselyn took a step back, half-turning to look over her shoulder at the alley, back the way the Mafia had gone on their way to follow those children, the… the Stranger children… the… innocent… Stranger children.
A glowing blue portal appeared directly beside them, and a woman stepped out. Freidra Konstant, one of their professors.
“Excellent work, children,” she announced with clear pride. “The target has been eliminated and none of you were seriously harmed. Good show. Come, let us collect the others and then prepare to receive your score.”
Deveron moved that way, almost stepping through the portal before looking back to where Joselyn was still standing. “Jos? Hey, what’s–”
He said something else, but she didn’t hear him. Her attention was on the alley once more, even as her eyes slid closed. Deveron’s voice faded to background noise, as the memory of the children crying, that innocent little girl asking if the Moffy had come for them, and the Mafia man himself saying that he had deliberately leaked the werebear’s location so that the Heretics would kill her to get her out of the way so that he could take those children all flooded into her mind at once. Their voices in her memory were overpowering, so loud as they competed with one another for prominence. Deafening. Their voices were completely deafening. Almost as loud as the sound of her own heartbeat. Her own heart, pounding, thudding, thundering there in the alley. Couldn’t they hear it? Couldn’t they all hear it?
“Miss Atherby!” Professor Konstant bodily turned her around, holding onto her shoulders. “Open your eyes. Look at me. Are you quite all right? What–did something happen to you?”
Slowly, Joselyn Atherby’s eyes opened.
And in a way… they would never close again.