The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the the bubbly and cheerful student Harper Hayes, whom Flick interacted with when she was partnered with Doug during the hunt for the Aswang known as Hyde.
“Wheee!” Harper Hayes, the bubbly young woman whose pigtailed hair would have been blonde if she hadn’t dyed it bubblegum pink, held both hands out to the side like she was an airplane as the motorcycle she was on all-but flew along the road and down the hill.
“Damn it, Harper!” the boy in front of her, who was actually driving the motorcycle, cursed. “I told you before, hold onto me!” He brought the motorcycle to a stop at the base of the hill. “You wanna fall off and break every bone in your body or something?”
“Sorry, Eiji,” Harper recited in a sing-song voice, still smiling at her teammate. “But I just had to do that one more time, we were almost here. Come on, we have regeneration, you know? And all kinds of powers. I’m not gonna break just by falling off a motorcycle. I got punched in the face by that ogre the other day and I was okay!”
The boy grunted, then stepped off the motorcycle and gave her a long look, which she returned with a bright smile. Eiji Ueda was a Heretic-Born boy who was Japanese by way of Canada. Not that he spent much time there. Harper still wasn’t clear on the whole situation, but there was something about some powerful Stranger basically ruling most of Canada, who didn’t take kindly to Heretics being around. They were very much a minority up there.
Standing slightly under six and a half feet tall and built pretty much like a linebacker, Eiji was also one of the smartest people that Harper had ever met. The only person their general age she had seen who was better at the regular school stuff was Vanessa Moon. Sometimes, she thought that at least half their grade had a crush on the boy, male and female alike.
Stepping off the motorcycle as well, the girl turned to pat it. “Thanks for the ride, Raphael.” In turn, the lights on the front of the motorcycle blinked on and off twice, while the engine made a noise that sounded like a purr.
The motorcycle wasn’t just Eiji’s personal transport. It was also his weapon, a cyberform with the ability to transition between four separate modes. He could be the motorcycle he was now, a large hiking backpack that let the boy carry him around, a suit of power armor that he could wear into battle, or a massive rhinoceros that fought alongside him.
Harper had been the one to suggest naming him Raphael, after finding out that the Japanese word for a rhino was sai. She thought it was cute.
“And thank you!” she chirped then while bouncing over to hug the boy himself. “You know, for the ride.”
He nodded easily. “Of course, I wasn’t gonna leave you stuck taking the bus to get home for your birthday. Eighteen, huh?”
Her head bobbed eagerly. “Uh huh! But not til tomorrow, technically.” That was one of the rules that Crossroads had. As a Bystander-kin student, you were allowed to go home for a day or two on your birthday. It was easier than trying to have Bystander parents visit the school. Which would… yeah, that would be pretty hard to explain.
Eiji was already turning to look around. He paused, squinting at the nearby wrought iron gates and the sign above them. “You live next to a cemetery?”
She laughed, giggling merrily as her head shook. “Don’t be a silly goose. I live in the cemetery.”
The boy had been starting to nod, before making a slight choking sound. “You what in the who now?”
“Come on!” Pivoting, Harper started to skip to the gate. “I’ll introduce you to my mom.”
“Uh.” Eijin’s feet stayed firmly planted where he was. “This, this mom of yours, is she of the breathing type?”
If anything, Harper laughed even more. “You’re goofy, Eijin,” she informed him while pushing the gate open. “C’mon!”
Behind her, she heard the boy mutter, “Didn’t actually answer the question…” But he followed after her anyway, slipping through the gate before pulling it closed after himself. Then she led him along the path next to the perfectly trimmed grass, leading her friend and teammate to a simple brick building off to the side. It looked like a small church there at the front of the cemetery.
The two them had barely reached the entrance before the door opened and an older woman in her late forties with styled blonde hair and a pair of very jangly earrings that made noise with each motion of her head rushed through to scoop Harper into a hug. “My baby’s home!”
Giggling, Harper hugged onto the woman tightly. “Hi, Mom!”
Somewhere in the background, Eiji muttered what sounded like an excessive amount of gratitude to whatever deity was listening.
Finally letting her daughter down, Harper’s mother beamed at the boy. “And is this your boyfriend?”
“Mom!” Harper blushed, still giggling as she shook her head. “Eiji’s just my friend. He gave me a ride.”
“Well,” the woman gestured. “Thank you for that, Eiji. Would you like to come in for some lunch? I made fried chicken.” She winked then. “It’s super fresh. And I promise, there’s nothing strange or creepy inside. Our family may own the cemetery, but we try not to fall into those kinds of cliches.”
“Ah, no thank you, Mrs. Hayes.” Eiji shook his head. “It sounds great, but I’ve really gotta get back on the road. I’ll be back in a couple days to pick up Harper though.”
“Ms. Hayes, actually,” the woman corrected gently. “I’m afraid it’s just Harper and me.”
“Oh, uh, right. Sorry, Ms. Hayes.” Eiji blanched a little, clearly curious about what had happened, but too polite to ask.
After another minute of brief small talk, the boy apologized again for not being able to stay and made his way down the walk and back out of the gate. As he disappeared, Harper watched him go. Her smile remained. “I like Eiji,” she announced. “He’s a good friend.” For a few seconds, that smile held. Then she turned to the woman beside her. “And so are you, Karlee.” Her voice, once bright and chipper, had softened, taking on a maturity it had lacked before.
The woman who had been posing as her mother gave a little curtsey. “You know I’d do anything to help. We all would. Have you… have you had any luck?” Her voice was tentative.
“No.” Harper’s head shook. “They’ve hidden the pieces rather… thoroughly.”
“You’ll find them.” Karlee gave a confident nod. “We know you will. But I was serious about the chicken. It’s waiting inside, my–”
“Thank you, Karlee.” Harper touched the woman’s arm briefly, smiling faintly. “I’ll be right in. I just… I need to visit him.”
Nodding in understanding, Karlee moved back inside the house, leaving the girl alone there.
Harper stood there, taking a deep breath before she started across the cemetery grounds, picking her way around the headstones. Eventually, she reached a large stone crypt with a heavy steel door. In the center of the door was a simple engraved circle. She put her hand out, laying it flat in the middle of that circle. After a couple of seconds, the circle began to glow. Then, with a low, grinding rumble, the door slid open. Not outward or inward. Instead, it slid sideways into the stone doorframe, revealing the tomb inside, where a single heavy sarcophagus lay on a stone altar.
She stepped inside the crypt, waiting until the door had rumbled shut behind her. Yet, the room remained brightly lit, through an unseen source. The sarcophagus lay in the exact center of that light, and the girl approached it reverently.
“I’m very close, my love,” she whispered, reaching out a hand to place tenderly against the elaborate coffin. “So very, very close. The Seosten have no idea that I’m there, or that I’m looking for the pieces they stole. I’ll find them. And when I do… when I do, I’ll bring you back.”
It was strange, talking like this after spending so much time adopting the personality she had chosen to convey while pretending to be a simple Heretic student. But then, that was the point. If she was going to remain under cover, no one could suspect she was anything special. She purposefully kept herself around the middle of the pack as far as both grades and their combat training went. She had chosen weapons that would give absolutely no hint as to her true identity. Every move she made was carefully calculated not to give the Seosten any reason to suspect that she was more than she seemed to be.
Thankfully, she had more than enough experience when it came to adopting different personalities. Throughout her long, long life, the girl who now called herself Harper Hayes had worn many identities. Even from the very beginning, from the start of everything, she had been two people: the person others expected her to be, and the person she chose to become. And though there were many differences between the two, one thing had been constant. She was, and would always be, loyal to the man she adored and loved with every ounce of her soul.
After all, whether she was Guinevere or Lancelot, both served their king.