At one point, the small, rundown building had been home to a popular package delivery service. But they had outgrown the location, moving to a new, much larger place down the street and leaving their old office without a tenant for quite some time. Now, it was the temporary refuge of four (or five, depending on how one was counting) very different people. One of whom was making an awful amount of noise, her mixture of cries and moans filling the small space.
“I can’t do this.” Abigail set down the field-engraver that she had been using to draw on Pace’s arm with before holding up her hands. “I can’t do the spell like that.” With every little stroke of the engraver against the girl’s arm, Pace (or the Seosten possessing her) had been crying out in sheer agony, writhing helplessly while dutifully holding her arm up in place for more.
The two of them were seated on folding chairs facing one another in the middle of the front lobby, where customers had come to drop off their packages. Near the front door, one Miranda stood keeping an eye out for anyone who might come to investigate. There were two more duplicates of the girl out back, doing the same thing. Finally, Seller himself leaned against the nearby wall, watching what was going on from behind his emerald-tinted sunglasses.
The idea had been that Abigail would use the Seosten-expulsion spell that Felicity had passed along through Miranda, just to see if that would work in getting the handicapped Seosten out of Pace. It wouldn’t be a perfect solution for the future, but it would at least be something.
Stopping her cry abruptly the moment the engraver was removed from her arm, the Seosten girl made Pace’s head tilt. “What?” she asked, sounding genuinely curious. “Why’d you stop?”
“Are you kidding?” That was Miranda, the one by the front door. She had turned to look back that way. “After all that noise you were making, it sounded like the spell was killing you. I mean, I know it was pretty painful when I had to go through it, but I didn’t think it was that bad.”
“Bad?” If anything, the Seosten seemed even more confused. “It wasn’t bad. See?” In one smooth motion, she plucked the engraver from Abigail’s hand and proceeded to finish the spell on her own arm, giving no indication that she even felt anything aside from the occasional twitch.
“What th–” Abigail blinked, looking closely at the rune. Sure enough, the Seosten was drawing it properly. The thing looked just like it was supposed to. Yet she wasn’t even reacting to the pain that it had to be causing. Hell, the pain wasn’t even enough to make her hand shake as she carefully drew it out with a look of intent concentration.
Seeing that, the older woman shook her head slowly. “But if it didn’t hurt, why were you making those… those awful sounds? I thought it was killing you.”
Blinking up at that with a look that Abigail wouldn’t quite classify as innocent, but was at least in the same general neighborhood, the girl replied simply, “When Lies-I stopped crying from pain, old-Mama thought it wasn’t working. She needed the crying or she would keep making it harder on Lies-me.”
The Seosten had taken to referring to herself as ‘Lies-I’ or ‘Lies-me’ and to her host as ‘Pace-I’ and ‘Pace-me’ whenever the subject came up. Between that and the horrific subject matter, it took a moment for Abigail to process what the girl was saying. But when she did, her eyes widened in outrage. “Are you telling us that your own mother hurt you, and when you stopped crying about the pain, she made it hurt even worse?”
“Only way she could know it was working,” the girl replied sagely. “When Lies-I made noise, she knew it worked. And she could keep trying. Lies-I wanted to make old-Mama proud of Lies-me, wanted her to…” She trailed off then, looking a little hesitant before continuing without finishing that sentence. “So Lies-I took things she used for the pain, to try and drive Lies-me out and did it to myself while she was sleeping. Had to get used to it.”
It was Miranda’s turn to speak up, her voice full of horror. “You tortured yourself just so you could get used to the pain when your mother did it to you?”
Pace’s head bobbed up and down quickly, as the Seosten possessing her replied, “Lies-I thought it would make old-Mama proud if Lies-I didn’t make sounds when she was working on making Lies-me leave my host. But old-Mama wasn’t happy at all. She was angry. She thought it wasn’t working, so Lies-I made sounds anyway. That made old-Mama happy. Doesn’t it make you happy?” She sounded honestly confused.
“No!” Abigail blurted. “You being in pain wouldn’t make us happy.”
“But Lies-I hurt people you care about,” the other girl pointed out simply. “Even killed people. Lies-I could have killed you. Even thought about it before.”
“You thought about killing me?” the words came automatically before Abigail could stop them.
“Yes,” the girl replied. “But you shouldn’t take it personally.” She gave a predatory smile. “Lies-I think about killing many people. Most people.” She shrugged then, continuing her previous point. “You don’t like Lies-me. So being hurt should make you happy. Lies-I thought that’s why you wanted to try this spell to make Lies-me get out of Pace-me.” She gestured to the rune still drawn on her arm. “Because it would hurt.”
Seller spoke up then, his voice a bit rough. “We tried that first because we thought it had a chance of working, not because we wanted to vindictively hurt you.”
Abigail nodded at that. “Exactly! It wouldn’t have been a perfect solution, but if you could endure a little pain in order to eject from your host instead of waiting for them to die, it would have been something.”
From where she was standing, Miranda pointed out, “Well, we really should’ve known that it wouldn’t be that easy. I mean, of course the Seosten would’ve tried it.”
Seller shrugged slightly. “After how much she’s told us about how batshit crazy that mother of hers is, I thought she might have dismissed it as an option just because it wouldn’t fix the underlying problem. She clearly wanted her daughter to stop being a Lie, not just use a spell to bypass it.”
Sighing, Abigail looked over to the Seosten. “Which was obviously a faulty assumption, since you clearly knew the spell well enough to finish drawing it. So I guess you learned it a long time ago.”
The girl smiled proudly. “Not from Old-Mama. From Manakel. He wanted to make sure it wouldn’t work on Lies-me to fool people like you who might use it to expose Seosten. Just in case. So he tried it.” She tapped the side of Pace’s head then. “Seosten memory. Angel memory. Always remember the spells even after only seeing them once. It’s useful.”
“I imagine it is,” Abigail muttered under her breath before sighing. “And that’s the same Manakel whose host you won’t tell us until we figure out how to get you out of Pace without either of you dying.”
“Yup!” the girl chirped easily. “You help us, we help you. That’s the deal. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth the reward that we’re offering, you know. We have what you want to know, and you’re smart, motivated, and have resources. Help us separate, fix Lies-me, and you get to know everything we know about Manakel, his host, his plans, and the rest of the juicy, juicy gossip.”
“Okay, well,” Abigail started, “we’re trying. But that spell obviously isn’t working. So–” In mid-sentence, the woman stopped, squinting at the girl’s arm. It was twitching a little bit. “Wait… that doesn’t still hurt, does it?”
“It hasn’t expelled Lies-me yet,” the girl replied simply, turning her own head to look at it. “So it keeps hurting. Pace-me is upset about that, but Lies-I thought you were waiting to see if it would work.”
“Damn it, here.” Abigail quickly used the flip side of the engraver to wipe the spell away after grabbing the girl’s arm. “You should’ve said something. It obviously wasn’t going to work. Hell, you could have told us that it wouldn’t work before we tried it.”
Honestly, when she thought about what this girl had been put through by her own mother, it made her want to… do things that she had never thought herself capable of entertaining at all. That… creature was a monster in every possible way, and she deserved to be brought to justice.
There were those who assumed that, because Abigail was a (very successful) defense lawyer, that she automatically despised police and authorities. That, put simply, was absolutely untrue. She loathed crooked authorities, and those who used that authority or power to abuse others. And she very, very strongly believed that even the worst criminal in the world deserved a competent defense. That didn’t mean cheating, or attacking the characters of others. It meant providing a competent defense that would help prevent an innocent person from being convicted. Because the American system of justice had been created with the idea that it would be better to release a hundred guilty people, than to imprison one who was innocent.
Those who were clearly guilty deserved their just punishment, as those who were innocent deserved to be acquitted. And in this case, the Seosten known as Kushiel was very, very guilty.
Once the spell was wiped away, she heaved a sigh. “Okay, now that Plan A has been a complete failure, what’s next? And for the record,” the woman added in the direction of the Seosten girl, “if any of our plans physically hurt you, say something about it.”
“Yes.” That was Seller. The man pushed off the wall, moving over to stand next to them as he looked down at the girl. “We’re not here to get our jollies by hurting you. We’re here to actually accomplish something. We find a way to separate you and Pace, so that you can tell us everything you know. That’s the deal. And the best way for us to accomplish that is for you to let us know when something isn’t going to work. Right?”
The Seosten made Pace shrug in response. “If you say so,” she replied in a slightly sing-song tone. “But I still say you’re missing a fantastic chance to get some revenge.”
“Revenge isn’t what–” Stopping herself in mid-sentence, Abigail just shook her head. “Anyway, Plan B is…?”
“I have an idea.” That was Seller. The man continued, “There are Strangers–sorry, Alters, who are immune to various forms of possession. If we can find one of them and that immunity works against the Seosten–”
“We’re not murdering someone else just to get what we want,” Abigail cut in.
The man held up a hand to forestall her. “I will look into it. If we can find one that is actually evil and deserves to be taken down, maybe we can do that. We let Pace here get the actual kill. Maybe if she becomes immune to possession, it’ll make the two of you separate.”
“Lies-I like that plan,” the Seosten agreed in a helpful tone. “Mostly because it involves killing.”
Sighing a little, Abigail gestured. “Okay, fine. Mostly because I don’t have a better idea at the moment. But like you said, only if they’re an actual–what were the evil Alters called?”
“Nocen,” the Seosten supplied helpfully. “They call them Nocen.”
Abigail nodded. “Right. Nocen. Evil ones, Seller. I mean it, make sure they’re actually bad.”
The man held his hand up, as though swearing an oath. “Only the most evil possession-immune monsters. It’ll probably take awhile to come up with anything useable, but I’ll see what comes through the usual sources. You can help me sort through all of it until we find something useable. In the meantime,” he added pointedly, looking toward Miranda, “I want you to stay here with her. I’ll tell anyone who asks that I’m running you through an extended field test. If anyone insists on seeing you for some reason, I’ll bring in one of your duplicates. But for the most part, I want you to be here, keeping an eye out. I’ve got enough ‘go away’ spells around the building that it should stop anyone from coming near this place. But just in case…”
“Yeah,” Miranda replied, “Just in case anything happens. I’ll be here, and we’ll take care of it.” She looked to the Seosten then. “Well, Lies, I guess that means you and I are–”
“Stop.” Abigail made a face, her head shaking. “Don’t call her that. Just–don’t.” Sighing, she shook her head at Seosten in question. “Are you sure your parents never called you anything else? They never had any other name for you?”
Head tilting curiously, the girl asked, “Why should I be called anything else? It is what and who I am. I am a Lie. I am Lies. I am the shame of the Seosten and my parents. I am a Lie.”
“Stop that!” Abigail had stood up by that point. “You are not a lie. You are a person. You don’t stop being a person just because you’re different. You don’t stop mattering just because you have a handicap. A man doesn’t stop being a man because he loses an arm. A blind person is still a person. Deaf, paraplegic, quadriplegic, autistic, Down syndrome, epilepsy, scoliosis, whatever, they are still people. And you are a person. A person who deserves a name. A real name..”
The Seosten’s response was as quiet as it was poignant. “A Lie is all I have ever been.”
Taking a breath to control herself, Abigail announced, “Not anymore. I refuse to use that… word. You are more than that. You are capable of more than that. And you deserve a real–” In mid-sentence, the woman stopped talking. Slowly, a smile crept over her face.
“You have an idea?” Seller observed, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Yes.” Abigail looked to the girl once more. “The Seosten, your people, they were all about posing as the Greek and Roman gods, right? Like your mother playing Hera and your father playing Zeus.” Receiving a simple nod, she continued. “Okay then. As it happens, the Zeus of mythology had a daughter named Aletheia. And do you know what she was the goddess of?”
It was Miranda who answered, her voice quiet. “Truth.”
Smiling slightly, Abigail gave a single nod, not taking her eyes off of the girl in question. “They want to call you a lie? Well, I say that you’re the truth. But it’s up to you. It’s your choice. What do you think?”
For a moment, the Seosten possessing Pace did nothing. She simply sat there, staring not really at Abigail, but closer to through her. There was something in her expression, emotions that she clearly didn’t understand how to express. She twitched a little bit, before pushing herself to her feet as she spoke.
“Lies-I think–” She cut herself off abruptly, her eyes suddenly going visibly damp as she made a somewhat choked sound. “I… think that I will not be a Lie. I will not be a Lie. But we think that is a little long. Perhaps… Theia would be good, as a… nickname?”
“Theia,” Abigail confirmed. “I think we can work with that.”
“Then we… I will be Theia,” the Seosten once-known-as-Lies announced. “I am Theia.” Slowly, she met the woman’s eyes. “We like it.
“And we are very glad that I did not kill you.”