Please note that there was a commissioned interlude focusing on Abigail posted a couple days ago. If you have not seen that yet, you may wish to use the previous chapter button above.
“Are you mad at me?” I asked Larissa a few minutes later, while the others continued to digest and come to terms with what I had just told them (Haiden was having some kind of private discussion with Athena, while Jokai and Yup had their own conversation a few feet away).
The question made the woman pause, and she glanced over to where Tabbris was hesitantly and nervously answering questions from Jazz and Gordon (with Sands, Roxa, and Gidget standing protectively nearby). “For telling the truth?” Larissa’s voice was soft. “No, I’m not angry with you for telling the truth, Flick. I am… afraid of what kind of danger this knowledge may put Tabbris and the others in, but… I suppose in the latter case, if it was to the point that such knowledge was being pulled from them, they would already be in the worst possible danger anyway.”
I swallowed hard. “I don’t like lying to people. I’m tired of it. Especially people who are supposed to be on our side. Jazz and Gordon have earned trust. Everything they’ve been through–everything that happened, they’ve earned it. And Tabbris deserves to have people know how important she is and how much she’s done. She deserves to have friends.
“And,” I added pointedly, “keeping them in the dark now just seems like a big recipe for some kind of stupid drama later when they would’ve inevitably found out at the worst possible time. What if they secretly realized I was possessed somehow and stopped trusting me? Or worse, exposed Tabbris in front of the wrong person?” My head shook. “Athena wanted to just introduce her first so they could get used to her, but… there’s too many ways that could have backfired.”
With a little smile at that, the woman reached out to brush a hand gently through my hair. “But I’m not really the one you should be asking about being mad.”
Flinching, I looked that way. “It was wrong to just outright say it without making sure she was okay, I know. I just… I think she’s okay with it. I feel like I know her. But that’s an excuse, I should have asked her, it was just a spur of the moment thing.”
“Make sure you talk to her,” the woman instructed, her tone firm, yet caring as she met my gaze. “Don’t just assume anything. When you get a chance, take her aside and talk about it.” When I nodded, Larissa gave me a soft smile. “I’m glad you’re safe.” An obvious sigh of relief escaped her then, as she glanced toward Tabbris. “I’m glad you’re both safe. This whole time, we thought that you were both… that Radueriel…” Trailing off, she swallowed audibly before meeting my gaze pointedly. “You are very lucky that Athena showed up when she did.”
My head bobbed up and down quickly. “Trust me, I know.” In the background, I could hear Tabbris nervously answering questions from Jazz and Gordon. They were asking her how long she had been around, what kind of things she had actually helped with, and so on. Neither of them actually sounded that accusatory, though there was definitely some uncertainty there. I suppose the fact that they met the girl while she wasn’t actually actively possessing me might have helped with that. So I hadn’t really totally abandoned Athena’s plan about how to introduce Tabbris. I’d just… adjusted it somewhat, to avoid actually lying.
Shaking off the thought of just what might have happened to both of us if the old Olympian hadn’t been there, I cleared my throat before raising my voice to get the attention of the others. “So, um, does my partner meet with your approval?” While speaking, I stepped over that way.
Jokai, who had been quietly talking with Yup up to that point, moved behind Jazz, leaning in to whisper something in her ear that I didn’t catch. Whatever he said, it made the girl smile just a little, her lips twitching slightly before she nudged him in the side while looking back to me. Her expression was slightly flushed. “She’s really been around this whole time? Like, the whole time you were at school?”
“And before that,” Sands put in, folding her arms with a shrug. “Since Flick was a kid. She’s been helping whenever she could. She’s the reason that Flick escaped from Charmiene.”
“And thus,” Gordon noted flatly, “the reason that all of us weren’t either killed or captured then.”
As we spoke, I saw Larissa move over to where Haiden and Athena were. Soon, the three of them were deep in conversation, probably talking about getting to the Aelastiam base.
“Which must have been pretty scary,” Jazz put in, dragging my attention away from the adults and back that way while looking at Tabbris. “I mean, you were in Flick’s head for a long time, sure. But you couldn’t know for sure how she’d react. You must have been really… really afraid when you showed yourself to her, especially after being alone for so long.”
Not for the first time, I was inwardly surprised by just how much Jazz picked up on and how insightful she could be once sufficiently motivated. She was far different than I had initially assumed back when the only thing I knew about her was that she had made that guy cover up the Kaiser Wilhelm portrait in the library so that it wouldn’t stare at them while they made out. Or subsequently, when she had thought that I had done something to Roxa. Yeah, our relationship had definitely advanced since we had been unceremoniously tossed out into Seosten space.
For her part, Tabbris took a step back to move right up against me, swallowing as I put my hands on her shoulders. Her voice was shaky, clearly betraying her remaining nervousness. “I ju-just wanted to help,” she announced quietly, but with obvious determination. “I couldn’t hide from… from Flick anymore. She… she didn’t have anyone else. Nobody knew where she was, she didn’t have any weapons or magic, and… and I couldn’t let Charmiene win.”
I saw Roxa’s little smile at that. “Trust us, kid, as little as we actually saw that bitch, I don’t think any of us could blame you.” She gave a quick look to her teammates then, laying a hand on Gidget’s head as she added, “Right?”
Gordon shook his head, his voice flat and emotionless. “She was a very unlikeable person.”
Coughing, I muttered, “You can say that again.” My head shook, and I looked to them. “Everything she’s done has been to try and help us. She’s brave and smart and…” Biting my lip, I squeezed Tabbris’s shoulders firmly, pulling her back tighter against myself. “And I’d be a slave of the Seosten if it wasn’t for her. We all would have been completely screwed without her.”
“And you knew she was there for awhile, didn’t you?” That was Jazz, looking to Roxa. “That’s what that whole thing was about when you were having that secret, intense conversation in the cave while you were supposed to be changing clothes, back when we first got to that planet.”
Flushing a little, the blonde girl nodded once. “Yes. I saw that she was possessed with the choker when I touched her back on Earth. But I didn’t know what was going on, so I didn’t want to blow everything until there was a little bit of privacy. Sorry we didn’t tell you before. But…”
“But you didn’t know how we’d take it.” Jazz paused then before offering a slight shrug. “Yeah, I get it.” Her chin lifted toward me. “I guess we’re all kind of in the deep end now. Nobody can find out about her, or they’ll know why you’re immune to being possessed. And I dare bet they have ways to make Seosten eject against their will, just like that rune. Which would be… bad.”
Sands made a face then, her head nodding rapidly. “No kidding. Which means we keep her a total secret. Especially from that worthless, psychotic piece of dogshit.”
“Yeah,” I agreed easily, “Isaac can’t know about her. Never. I don’t even want that asshole to ever look at her.” As I spoke, my hands squeezed Tabbris protectively.
“Agreed.” Gordon looked slightly disturbed at that thought, which said a lot about how much it actually affected him. “We don’t let Isaac know anything about her. It’s too risky.”
“But seriously.” Roxa was looking at me. “You’ve really just been hanging out with Athena and this Yup guy the whole time that we were terrified about Radueriel taking you apart and torturing you?” Her fist hit my shoulder hard enough to make me flinch. “We were worried about you!”
“Ow.” Rubbing the spot she had punched, I offered a helpless shrug. “We tried to get in contact, but it’s surprisingly hard to find you guys. Now I know why the Seosten are so annoyed at us.”
“The… Seosten,” Jokai hesitantly spoke up, his English clearly greatly improved (though he still had to carefully choose his words), “are very annoyed with any who do not tie their line.”
“Toe,” Jazz corrected him simply. “Annoyed with any who do not toe their line. As in they make a line of rules, and you have to stand right on it, with your toes against it. Toe.”
“Toe.” Jokai repeated that, giving a slow nod. “That is… more sense, yes.” He looked to me then, adding, “I am… glad… that you are not… in the danger of the Seosten prison.”
“Trust me, Jokai,” I replied with a faint smile, “you’re not even half as glad of that as I am.”
“So,” Jazz slowly started, looking to Tabbris. “Your mom was really Artemis?” When Tabbris hesitantly nodded, the other girl smiled. “That must be pretty cool.”
Her words made me let out a breath as I smiled despite myself. Not just because I agreed with her. But also because it was clear that she and Gordon had accepted Tabbris’s existence. And at least for right now, things were going to be o–
“Seosten!” The word, spat like an epithet, came from the doorway. My eyes snapped that way just in time to see Dries. The man stood there, staring first at Athena, then toward Tabbris. He took a step inside, hand rising as he started to speak the word of a spell.
Haiden was suddenly there, before any of the rest of us could react (though I was pretty sure that Athena was deliberately allowing him to act first to avoid setting Dries off even further). He caught the other man by the arm, shaking his head. “Dries, no. Stop. It’s okay. Look.” He pointed to me. “They brought Flick back, see? It’s alright.”
The older man stopped. His eyes finally looked my way, as if seeing me for the first time, his attention previously having been entirely taken up by the Seosten. When he actually realized it was me, I saw the man slump a little, as if a weight had been lifted from him. “You,” he murmured, “you are… you’re alive.” The relief and emotion in his voice almost made me feel like I was listening to my own father. He had obviously been incredibly worried about me, so much so that it at least briefly overrode his reaction to finding the Seosten on the ship.
“Uh.” I coughed, shrugging. “Yeah, pretty much entirely thanks to Athena here.” Pointedly, I gestured to the woman. “She saved me. Because she’s one of the good Seosten. You know, the ones that are rebelling against the bad guys. Like Sariel.”
“Good Seosten.” Dries didn’t look entirely happy about the situation. He was still incredibly twitchy, and he wouldn’t look directly at either Athena or Tabbris. His hands kept clenching and unclenching.
“Umm, yeah…” Realizing how awkward this was, and how much the man clearly wanted to talk to me despite his obvious distrust of the Seosten, I gave Tabbris one last squeeze before stepping that way. “Come on, why don’t we talk in the hall? That’s probably, you know… quieter.” Quieter, and, of course, it would get him away from the Seosten that made him so nervous.
“Yes… yes, talk.” Giving a faint nod, Dries pulled himself from Haiden’s grip. For a moment, I thought he might say something to Athena. But in the end, he just stepped backward into the corridor while giving me a brief, indecipherable look. I had the feeling he still wasn’t happy about the whole thing, no matter what anyone said to him about Athena being trustworthy.
Breathing out in relief that things hadn’t gone even worse right then, I glanced to the others before following him. The rest of the group had already gone back to asking Tabbris and Athena questions, leaving me to talk privately with Dries. Somehow, they had already come to accept all of this, pretty much. They understood. They weren’t mad at me.
“I changed my mind, I’m really mad at you.”
With those words, a fist punched me in the same shoulder that Roxa had hit earlier, and I yelped. “Ow! Hey, what was that for?”
Sands, the owner of that fist, squinted at me. It had been an hour or so, just long enough for me to have a conversation with Dries about what the Seosten had done for me, and for Yup to charge himself up and create the portal that brought us to the Aelastiam base.
He hadn’t brought the entire ship, of course. Yup was good, but not quite that good. Instead, Athena had given instructions to Jokai and Dries about how to get the ship to the same system that the base was in, and they were bringing it the long way. Which was okay, since it would give Dries in particular time to come to terms with the idea of being around more Seosten.
If anything went wrong, Athena had given them a way to contact the base for help, and Yup had left behind a beacon that he could create a portal straight to wherever the ship actually was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best that we could do.
I wasn’t sure how well Dries was taking the Seosten thing. He really disliked them. But he wasn’t completely irrational about it. He understood that Athena had helped, that Tabbris was innocent, and all that. He was just… uncomfortable, and reflexively distrusted them on principle. Which I couldn’t exactly blame him for, after everything he had been through. Actually, the fact that he was dealing with it as well as he managed was actually more than a little inspiring. But it was a good thing that he would have some time mostly alone on the ship to accept it a bit more.
Now, Athena was busy with Larissa and Haiden, while Tabbris stayed with them mostly to be with ‘Aunt Larissa’ for awhile. They were talking about, well, everything. And sticking Isaac in a more permanent cell. Yeah, we’d brought him along with us, after he had been magically rendered unconscious for the trip, as well as blind and deaf just in case. Athena had a place to put him so that he wouldn’t be left on the ship with just Dries and Jokai.
So that’s what they were dealing with, while I showed the others around the place. We’d started at the house and met with Mr. Pentsecol, before gradually working our way through the station. Now, we were in the front hall of the school, near Miss Handsy’s office.
“I’m mad at you,” Sands explained then, “because you’ve been hanging out in this mirabilis place for the past month while we were killing ourselves trying to find you.”
“Miraballwhat?” I echoed, shaking my head before mumbling, “And it was only three weeks.”
Jazz rolled her eyes at me, speaking up then from where she was standing next to Gordon. “Right, only three weeks. Mirabilis, it means like, amazing. Jokai uses it all the time. I guess it sunk in.” As she spoke the name of the chameleon-like Alter, the girl smiled a little bit. It made me wonder if I smiled like that whenever I mentioned Shiori or Avalon.
“Seriously,” Roxa put in then, “this place is really cool. We’re all–” As she spoke, her foot kicked Sands in the back of the leg. “–glad that you weren’t kidnapped and experimented on by that freak.”
At her words, Gidget made a noise of agreement, moving to nuzzle up against my hip insistently until I took Jaq and Gus out, setting them on her back so the cyberforms could interact a bit.
Winking at me to show that she was just playing up her reaction to Roxa’s kick, Sands rubbed her leg while muttering an offhand, “Yeah, yeah, we’re so happy and all that. So you gonna keep showing us around paradise here, or what?”
I flushed a little, shrugging. “Hey, if it makes you feel any better, Athena’s been making me work my ass off training this whole time.”
“I might be mistaken,” Gordon spoke in his dry tone, “but I really don’t think that ‘I got to do a bunch of one-on-one training with the literal Athena’ is going to make your time here sound worse.”
“Right, good point.” Coughing, I gestured. “But hey, you guys will get to train with her too. Trust me, she’ll put you all through the wringer whether you want it or not. She’s basically like, ‘Older Avalon’ that way. Training, training, and more training.”
Sands was practically openly salivating at that point. “Oh man, this is gonna be great. Next to finding my mom, this is the best thing about being banished out here. Scout’s gonna be so jealous. Hell, Avalon is gonna be so jealous.”
“If we are actually planning on rescuing this… Sariel,” Gordon noted calmly, “we’ll need as much of Athena’s extra training as we can get.”
After a brief hesitation, I put in, “Are you guys sure you all want to be involved in that? I mean, this Kushiel sounds like really bad news, and… and going to her lab to rescue a Seosten…”
“Stop it.” Roxa gave me a look. “We’re with you. And that Seosten has done a lot to help all of us, even if we didn’t know about it. She’s Tabbris’s mother. We’re not just gonna sit things out and let you go without us.”
“She’s right,” Jazz confirmed. “Maybe we didn’t know about the kid before, but if she’s done everything you say she’s done… she deserves to have her mom back. Plus, that’s Vanessa and Tristan’s mom too. And Haiden’s wife. We’re in this. Dangerous or not.”
Looking around at the collection of nods then, I let out a long, low breath. “Well, okay then. Like I said, I hope you guys are ready for a couple weeks of the most intense training you’ve ever been through. Because they are definitely going to put us through it before they let us go with them.
“I think Athena’s boot camp is about to be open for business.”