Please note, there were two mini-interludes posted over the weekend, one for Joselyn and one for Lincoln. If you missed either or both of those, you may wish to use the Previous Chapter button above.
Also, there will be an important announcement about donation rewards at the end of this chapter, in my first comment.
For a moment after the woman said those words, my mind reeled, and I was completely silent.
Correction, my brain was silent, but my mouth spoke anyway. Tabbris, so thoroughly shocked by what the older Seosten had said, actually took over reflexively and made me blurt that single word.
I felt her immediate horror at what she had done suddenly take over then, as she mentally retreated. Her frantic apologies filled my head, the self-disgust and shame that the girl felt at the fact that she had actually taken me over for that single word almost making me feel physically ill.
My hand snapped up to stop the woman from talking for a minute. The action was my choice that time, as I focused inward. Tabbris! Tabbris, listen. It’s okay. It’s okay! Just listen to me, okay?
I’m sorry, the response came. The Seosten girl sounded sick, and weak. I’m sorry. I made you talk. I took over and I didn’t even ask. I’m sorry. She said we could find Mama and… and…
And you did the exact thing I would’ve done in your situation, I pointed out. Hell, Tab, I pretty much am in your situation. If someone told me they knew how to save my mom, I’d freak out too. I would. Do not apologize, okay? You apologize when you do something wrong, and you didn’t. You made me say one word. I don’t mind. I’m not mad. Read my mind. You can do that, remember? Read my mind and find out if I’m mad about it. I’m not. And if I’m not mad, you can’t be mad at yourself. You’re my sister, Tabbris. I love you. I’m not mad at you for making me say a single word just because you were so surprised. After everything you’ve done for me, how could I possibly be mad at you for that? It’s okay, I promise. You and me, we’re partners in all this, remember? Partners don’t get mad at things like that. Partners understand. I understand.
For a moment, there was silence. I felt the Seosten girl’s indecision and shame. She really had issues with taking me over, even by accident. I had no idea how it had been for her to act secretly for so long, taking me over and adjusting my memory when she had to. The thought made me wince a little. God, every time I imagined what Tabbris’s life had been like, spending years where nobody knew she existed and she had no idea what had happened to the one woman who was supposed to show up and help take care of her. She had been completely alone, no help, no way of even knowing if she would ever see her mother or Larissa again. And yet, she had kept doing her job. She had kept protecting me, against all that the Seosten had tried. Was I mad at her for having a single moment where she reflexively controlled me? Hell no.
Finally, Tabbris spoke up a little hesitantly. Flick? I’m really glad that I can talk to you now.
Despite myself, I smiled a little bit at that. I’m glad too, Tab. Now no more freaking out about a little accident, okay? There’s a difference between maliciously controlling someone and what you just did. You’re nothing like those bad Seosten. You’re like your mom, and Athena, or Nimue, or whatever she goes by. And Apollo, apparently. See? There’s plenty of good Seosten. There are bad humans and good humans, bad vampires and good vampires, bad werewolves and good werewolves. And there are bad Seosten and good ones. You, you’re one of the good ones. And you’re my sister.
Feeling her acceptance and relief, I finally turned to focus on the woman in front of me. Though in front of us seemed like the more appropriate phrasing since she knew that Tabbris was there.
“Sorry,” I made myself announce in as dry of a voice as I could manage. “Usually I have a much better poker face than that. I can’t imagine what could’ve happened. I guess I wasn’t myself.”
Yeah, it was a bit of a risk. But honestly, it felt like teasing Tabbris just a little bit about it would help make her feel a little more normal. I didn’t want to treat her like I was walking on eggshells. I wanted her to see that I really didn’t mind, that I really was okay with what happened and with the fact that it might happen again. And that meant teasing her a little. At least, to me it did.
Athena/Nimue seemed to understand what was going on, and what I was doing. She gave a slight smile before speaking simply, in a soft, encouraging voice. “I would very much love to meet Sariel’s child. Particularly one who has frustrated poor Manakel and Paschar so thoroughly.”
Sensing my companion’s reluctant hesitation, I gave her a little inward encouragement. It’s okay, Tab. You saw what she did to all those guys back there. If she says you’re safe here, you are.
After another couple of seconds, the by-now familiar glowing figure stepped forward out of me. The glow faded, leaving that little blonde girl staring a bit fearfully up at the woman in front of us. Honestly, that much I couldn’t blame her for. Even without all the other issues, after what we had seen the woman do back on that planet, being intimidated by her was completely understandable.
“A girl… a daughter…” The soft, gentle words left the woman, and she smiled. “Hello, little one.”
“I… I…” Tabbris swallowed audibly, shivering a little before taking what was obviously a reflexive step back. Her hand went back and down, groping until I caught hold of it and gave her a reassuring squeeze to assure her that I was there. Finally, she managed a weak, “H-hello.”
Sinking down to one knee, the woman spoke softly, like she was trying not to startle an especially skittish deer. “May I have the name of the girl who has my former allies tearing their hair out?”
I could see the blush on the back of Tabbris’s neck as she squirmed self-consciously. “I-um. M-my name is Tabbris.” Her voice was tiny, her nervousness readily apparent as she answered.
“Tabbris.” I saw a small, knowing smile play over the woman’s face for just a moment, and she nodded. “Yes, I suppose she would choose such an appropriate name for you, wouldn’t she?”
My mouth opened to ask what she meant by that, but Tabbris beat me to it. “Um. Appropriate?”
“Yes. Of course she would have–” She paused then, tilting her head a little thoughtfully before asking in a slightly curious voice, “You are aware of what the name actually means?”
As we both shook our heads, the woman chuckled a little bit before carefully explaining, “Tabbris, as far as humans are concerned, was the angel of self-determination and free will.”
Despite myself, I laughed. “Oh. Free will… that… “ Smiling, I squeezed the younger girl’s hand, tugging her back against me. “That is pretty appropriate, isn’t it? You hear that, Tab? Your mom named you after the angel of free will. I–” Pausing then, I hesitated. “But angel names are Seosten names, right? So what kind of Seosten name is something that means free will? I mean… no offense, but that doesn’t really sound appropriate as far as Seosten go. Generally.”
Wincing a little visibly, the brown-haired woman shook her head with a soft sigh. “You are not wrong there, no. Our kind are generally not well known for such things. But… there are almost always exceptions. Tabbris of Llylewys was one such exception. A rather famous one.”
“Tabbris of Llylewys?” Tabbris and I both echoed simultaneously. And boy was it still really strange hearing the girl’s voice out loud like that instead of in my head. Hearing her say the exact same thing that I was saying, only audible for someone else to hear, was even stranger.
“Yes,” the Seosten answered with an amused chuckle as she glanced between us. “And I will tell you about him shortly, you have my word. But for now, please, I have a few very important questions.”
“Mama.” Tabbris looked up. “Y-you said… we could find… Mama…”
“Indeed.” Nodding in agreement, the woman straightened. “As I said, we have much to discuss. I just…” She paused then, swallowing as she looked to Tabbris. “I am very glad to have finally met you, Tabbris. You are… you remind me of your mother, in many ways. But how long?” Her eyes glanced up to me before returning to the tiny Seosten. “How long have you been working so hard? How long have you been protecting this girl?”
“Years,” I answered for her, squeezing the girl’s hand. “Her mom had her… uh, put in me when she was still basically a baby. She put her in some kind of hibernation and taught her everything she needed to know in, like, a virtual reality situation or something for a few years. She put all kinds of memory implants to teach her about everything, and then when she woke up she started… protecting me actively, I guess. And she’s been doing that for years. She stopped the other Seosten from using spells on me. She’s… she’s saved me a lot. More than she’s actually told me about, I’m pretty sure.”
The woman’s eyebrows had shot up dramatically. “Memory implant spells as teaching tools. We spoke of that possibility, and they have been used in minor cases or to share knowledge with a peer. But to construct an entire, as you say, virtual reality simulation based entirely around implanted memories… that would require…” She whistled, long and low while looking awed.
“See?” I teased my little companion a little, moving my free hand to squeeze her shoulder. The bones had completely mended by that point. “Even she thinks that you and your mom are amazing. And she’s–” I paused slightly, looking to her. “Actually, what do we call you? I mean, Radueriel said you were… that you’re…”
“Athena,” she confirmed. “Call me Athena. Some call me Nimue, yes. But… I would rather not use that name while my Arthur remains…” She paused before giving a sharp shake of her head. “I would rather not use that name. And I have forsaken my Seosten name. So please, I am Athena.”
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy did I ever want to ask a lot of questions right then. But I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t get any answers. She clearly didn’t want to talk about it at the moment. So, I just nodded.
Meanwhile, Athena focused on Tabbris once more. “You are so young. So small.” Her hand slowly moved to touch the girl’s face gently, her voice even softer and filled with the kind of awe that I felt whenever I thought about how much Tabbris had done for me. “So small and yet, so utterly brilliant. Do you realize how much you have driven Manakel and the others into fits of hysteria and confusion? Do you have the slightest idea how much effort they and the others have put toward trying to discover how the infamous Joselyn Atherby’s daughter was rendered immune to Seosten possession?
“And in the end, it was simply… you. A child, thwarting millennia-old Seosten. Amazing.” Her smile grew, as she shook her head in wonder. “You are truly amazing.”
For her part, the girl blushed deeply and squirmed, her hands fidgeting like she didn’t know what to do with them. It was kind of adorable. “I–I didn’t–I mean, I just–I was just trying to help.”
“Believe me when I tell you that you have helped,” Athena assured her sagely. “You have helped more than you can possibly know. The conversations about Lady Felicity’s supposed immunity that I have heard…” She chuckled, shaking her head while running a hand over Tabbris’s head fondly. “I would very much like to see the look on their faces when they discover the truth.”
“That can’t happen,” I blurted, interrupting quickly. “They can’t find out about her.”
“Not for quite some time, no,” the woman agreed with a nod. “Be at ease. Your secret is safe here. As far as anyone else is concerned, you will simply be another Seosten child on this station.”
My mouth opened, but it was Tabbris who piped up, “Another Seosten child?”
Chuckling, Athena nodded once more. “Yes. We have a dozen or so here with us who are within a few years of your age. Would you like to meet them?”
The girl’s head bobbed quickly, before she amended, “But… Mama…”
“And the others,” I put in, before we could get any more offtrack. “I have to let the others know that I’m okay, and how to find us. They’re probably–” I flinched. As thoroughly distracting as all of this had been, thinking about how Sands, Larissa, and the others were no doubt reacting made me focus. “They’re probably freaking out right now.”
Athena addressed me first. “Yes, I have people who will find your friends and get a message to them. But it will take some time. As will preparing to locate your mother,” she added to Tabbris. “But I promise you both, we are working on it. We will bring your friends here, and we will find Sariel.”
She looked to the younger Seosten then, her gaze softening. “As I said, doing so will require your blood, and a fair bit of time. Kushiel has her… lab hidden quite well. But with the blood of Sariel’s daughter, and enough time, we should be able to locate it. I only ask for patience.”
Tabbris squirmed, but gave a little nod. “Can… can we meet the other Seosten? There’s… there’s really kids? And they’re… they’re not… bad?”
Smiling warmly, Athena gestured with one hand. “Yes. And you can meet them, along with the rest of our people. Seosten and non-Seosten alike. We call ourselves the Aelaestiam. And if you like, I will introduce you.”
The two of us exchanged brief looks before we both nodded. “Yes,” I agreed, “Yes, we’d like that a lot.” I had a feeling that, among other things, seeing other Seosten who weren’t total monsters would be incredibly good for Tabbris’s mental state. So I was willing to set aside my own feeling of helpless impatience. Because that was unbelievably important. Tabbris deserved to feel better about herself, about her species.
“Good.” Athena gestured, and some kind of glowing forcefield rose up around the three of us before it began to lift off the ground. It was an elevator of some kind, and it was carrying us up toward the ceiling. “We will go and meet everyone, then.”
As the forcefield elevator rose into the air, I asked, “Where is everyone? I mean, all those houses we passed were empty, and it sure didn’t look like there was anyone in those other species’ environments.”
“They are working, or at school,” the Seosten woman explained. “We put a great deal of emphasis on education here. While you are here, you will be expected to learn. And to train.”
I coughed, smiling despite myself. “Believe me, you’re scary, but not nearly as scary as my girlfriends would be if they ever found out I wasn’t training while I was out here.”
Athena gave me a brief look at that, raising an eyebrow. But before she could say anything, Tabbris piped up. “C-could… um, could you…” She stretched out to the side on one foot, fidgeting as she caught hold of her raised heel absently. Unfortunately, doing so over-extended her balance, and she gave a sudden yelp before pratfalling.
“Ow,” she complained, sitting there on her backside with a tiny, adorable scowl. “I’m used to being taller. And more coordinated. And… and… not so weird.” Making a face, she blew hair out of her eyes before looking up earnestly as she picked herself off the floor. “Could you tell us about Tabbris? The other Tabbris.”
By that point, a space in the metal ceiling above us had opened up, as the forcefield elevator rose into another, much smaller room. It was about forty feet by thirty feet, with room for several more of these elevators to rise up. Ahead were a few sets of doors which, judging from the signs (written in a language I didn’t know) above them that seemed to indicate where they would take the person, probably all went through portals into different areas of the station.
“Yes,” Athena agreed, stepping off the elevator while motioning for us to do the same. She turned to face us once we joined her.
“Tabbris, that Tabbris, was a Seosten who lived over a hundred thousand years ago. Llylewys was his choir. Kind of like a clan or family,” she added to me briefly before continuing. “Tabbris of Llylewys was an incredibly powerful, incredibly rich young man. And he was also one of the only open advocates of peaceful integration with other worlds that has ever sat as a Seraphim.”
Again, she looked to me, explaining, “The Seraphim are our leadership. Similar to your Committee, only… different in many ways. But the same general idea is there, unsurprisingly.”
Biting my lip, I nodded. “So this original Tabbris was some important senator-type guy, got it. And he was an advocate for, what did you say, peaceful integration with other worlds?”
“Yes,” Athena confirmed simply. “He spent his entire career and most of his considerable power and fortune arguing for more ethical treatment of non-Seostens. His speeches are considered legendary today, though most don’t actually pay attention to what he’s actually saying. He’s seen as little more than a fool by the Seosten leadership. He always was. But he fought for what he believed in, more than once and in more than one way. With his vast money and seemingly inexhaustible resources, he purchased an entire planet and made it a refuge for all non-Seosten to live freely. The planet was surrounded by weapons, shields, and every anti-Seosten defense that Tabbris and his people could dream up. It was a variation of one of Tabbris’s spells that I taught to Arthur and his knights so that they would know if any of their people were possessed and cast the Seosten out of them. The place was perfectly safe.”
“It sounds incredible,” I agreed. “Whatever happened to it? I mean, that was a long time ago.”
The woman’s head shook. “You see, that is actually the most legendary part of all. Because the truth is, nobody knows. After he set the planet up and brought over as many free beings as he could, Tabbris wiped its location and every specific thing about it from the minds of everyone else in the universe. Anyone who knew exactly where it was one day forgot about it the next.”
My mouth fell open at that. All I managed to do was make a brief, protesting squeak as my brain locked up completely. Just in front of me, Tabbris seemed to be coming up with pretty much the same reaction. She was the first to recover enough to actually ask, “Wh-what? He erased it from everyone’s mind? But that would take… th-the power that would–he couldn’t… he couldn’t!”
“Yes,” Athena replied with a little smile of amusement, “that was pretty much everyone else’s reaction at the time, apparently. Except, as it turns out, he didn’t actually do it alone. Technically, the man had the aid of every sitting Seraphim at the time. And likely most of their staffs as well.”
Squinting at the woman, I tried to figure out if she was messing with us. That time, I was the first one to find my voice, as I quickly demanded, “How could he possibly convince all of the Seosten leadership to help him erase an entire planet from everyone’s memory, including theirs?!”
“As absurd as it sounds,” the woman explained, “it actually wasn’t that difficult. He simply had to be patient. Obviously, it took quite some time for the investigation to turn up what actually happened. But, essentially, the original Tabbris spent over a decade preparing for what he ended up doing. You see, the committee within the Seraphim that he was a part of required that he collect what amounted to magical signatures from each and every Seraphim. Those were, essentially, a small bit of their own spellpower that proved that they agreed with whatever the energy was attached to. Since it’s their own personal mana, brought from their own body and tied to the object listing the agreement, it’s much harder for them to claim they didn’t agree with it later on.
“But I don’t understand how–” I started before blinking. “Wait, did he figure out how to… I mean…” I trailed off, uncertain of myself. But as I glanced to Athena, she had gone silent. The woman patiently watched, seemingly just fine with waiting while I worked it out. Biting my lip, I guessed, “Did he figure out how to, like, take a little bit of that energy each time?”
She smiled, lifting her head in a nod while giving me an approving look that made me flush a little bit. “Correct. Somehow, Tabbris managed to place a siphon spell on those same signature objects which took just a little bit of their power every time they signed it. What’s more, it would continue draining them constantly for those ten years. Ah, which would be somewhere around eighteen years by Earth calendar. It was very small amounts, not enough for them to notice. But every time he had them sign another agreement, the siphon was renewed. It would barely amount to a single percent of their power each day. But a single percent of every Seraphim’s energy every day for what amounted to eighteen Earth years amounted to vast reserves of spellpower that Tabbris had managed to steal. And eventually, he used it to pull his disappearing act. He, and all of the people who had chosen to join him, disappeared entirely.”
“You hear that?” I asked my Tabbris with a little nudge. “Your mom named you after the Seosten who basically made the entire group of Seraphim look like idiots, and the first big freedom fighter.”
While the other girl turned beet red and smiled giddily, Athena continued. “I trust that answers your question?”
Once Tabbris nodded, I asked, “I’ve got a lot more though. Like, how did you find us? Where did you come from? How did you know about… about anything that was happening? Is it just from the humans that you freed? Do you know about the Atherby Clan and what they’ve been doing? Do you–”
Athena laughed, shaking her head. “Be at ease, Lady Felicity. I will answer all of your questions that I am able to. But for now, perhaps meeting the others would help. I will explain on the way.”
She moved to one of the nearby doors, pausing to look back to us as they slid open. “Are you ready?”
My hand reached out to take Tabbris’s, and I nodded. “Yes. Let’s go meet the Logs.”
Both Tabbris and Athena blinked over at me, the latter asking, “Logs?”
“Sure!” I grinned. “Legion Of Good Seosten. What, it’s easier to remember than… what did you say?”
“Aelaestiam,” Tabbris supplied helpfully.
“Right, Aelaestiam.” Tilting my head as though considering that for a moment, I finally shook my head. “Nope, sorry. I still prefer Logs.”
Athena shook her head, gesturing for us to move through the still-open doorway. With a slight gulp, I squeezed Tabbris’s hand, whispering, “Ready, partner?” She nodded, and I returned it. Then the two of us stepped through that doorway.
Time to meet the Seosten rebels.