Interlude 33B – Avalon, Theia, and Company

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Three figures hurried along the sidewalk near a mall in the middle of a mid-sized town somewhere in the western United States. Two female teenagers trailed behind a thin, older man, who bustled along in front of them, urging them onward.

“Come along, Veronica,” he prompted with a gesture toward one of the girls. “Let’s pick up the slack. We’re already running late. Wouldn’t want to be late for your meeting.”

Avalon paused in mid-step, looking toward the man in front of her. She glanced to Koren beside her before coolly pointing out, “We still have four and a half hours before the meeting, you know. And my name isn’t Veronica, it’s—”

That was as far as she got before the man was suddenly facing her, his hand covering her mouth. He made a loud, long shushing noise while putting his other hand to his lips, his eyes darting around wildly. He stared suspiciously at a car that was passing by, waiting in silence, even though there was no possible way that the inhabitants could have heard them. Silence, that was, aside from the uninterrupted, “Shhhhhhhhh…”

“I would’ve done that,” Koren idly remarked from where she was standing, “but I figured I’d probably end up on the ground with a broken arm if I tried it.”

“No real names,” Wyatt urged, his hand still covering Avalon’s mouth. “You don’t know what kind of traps might be set up to trigger if it hears your name. Or who else might be listening. We use codenames and stay subtle. That’s how we survive. You understand? Subtle.”

Avalon could have pointed out that none of the people who had stopped to look at the quirky-looking man with his hand over a teenage girl’s mouth as they stood beside a busy street thought he was being all that subtle. But that probably would have caused more problems than it solved. She wouldn’t put it past the man to try to interrogate every person who had stopped to rubberneck at the sight. And even though they did have plenty of time, she didn’t want to sit through that. What they had come for was much, much more important than that.

So, she just gave a slight nod until the man removed his hand from her mouth. There was no sense in arguing about it. As eccentric as he might have been (and she had a feeling that he played that up to some extent so people would underestimate him), Wyatt was still the very best security guard that Crossroads had. He was the reason she was still alive, that much she was certain of. And, beyond all that, he was a good man. He was a good person. And he was Flick’s brother. He wouldn’t let anything happen to her. She just had to listen to him, quirks and all.

“Fine, I’m Veronica,” she replied simply. Waiting until her response made the man relax a little bit, she added, “But we still have four and a half hours before we’re supposed to meet them.”

Them, in this case, was Koren’s mother (Wyatt and Flick’s sister), Abigail,  Flick’s ancestor and Avalon’s first real father figure, Seller, and Flick’s old best friend, Miranda. They had asked Wyatt to come see them, because they needed his help with something that they didn’t want to talk about except in person. It was some big secret that they wouldn’t even tell Gaia.

Koren had come to see her mother, and Avalon had convinced Wyatt and her adopted mother to let her come as well to get away from the school for awhile. And, because if the trio from Eden’s Garden had something that important to talk about, it clearly either had something to do with Flick, or with the people who were trying to kill Avalon herself. Either way, she was involved.

Besides, she wanted to see Seller. It had been awhile.

If any part of Avalon had expected the news of how long they had to calm the man down, she was sorely mistaken. “Only four and a half?!” he blurted, head shaking as he spun around. “No, no, no, it’ll take at least that long to set up even a rudimentary perimeter. Come, hurry, hurry. We have to get this done before they show up. No time to waste.” Then he was moving even faster than before, rushing remarkably quickly along the sidewalk while leaving Koren and Avalon to shrug at each other before jogging after him.  

Together, the three made their way down into the parking lot. But they didn’t go into the mall itself. Instead, the trio moved to one of the buildings in the far corner of the lot. At one point, it had been a seafood restaurant. But that had been closed down for several months, with barely any interest paid to the for sale sign in the window.

By the time they reached the back door, Wyatt had already taken a set of keys from his pocket. He unlocked the door, ushering the two girls in before turning to the nearby keypad as the alarm steadily beeped its warning at him. His finger danced over the pad, inputting a seven digit code from memory before the beeping finally stopped. Rather than relax, however, Wyatt immediately input a second seven digit code before there was an audible chime.

As the man finally turned away from the keypad, Avalon stared at him. “There was a second alarm? How did you know that? How did you get the keys? That wasn’t a magic spell or anything, you had the actual keys to get in here.”

“Of course there’s more than one alarm!” Wyatt informed her incredulously. “Do you think I’d only have one alarm on one of my buildings?” Belatedly, he amended, “Technically, there’s six, but I disabled the first four on our way here. Those last two have to be done in the building itself. Even I can’t do it remotely. Remember, your security is only as good as you make it be.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Avalon’s head was shaking. “Your building? I thought you just picked a random place that was closed down so we could meet the others in private.”

From the way that the man was staring at her for that, she might as well have suggested that the three of them abandon the whole Heretic thing, form an interpretive dance troupe, and take their act to Vegas. He sputtered for a moment before managing, “Picked a random place? Picked a random place? As if I would do something like that. As if I would relegate something this important to chance? That’s–that’s just- I would never even–”

As the man continued in that vein, Koren spoke up. “Wyatt owns about thirty or forty different places like this all over the country, under different names. Restaurants, laundromats, motels, pawn shops, little businesses that no one really pays attention to. He’s constantly making sure there’s a few that are closed down. You know, either they’re out of business, or they’re under renovations, pest removal, whatever. The point is, he always has a few to choose from that he knows are safe for private meetings, to fall back to in case Crossroads is attacked, or anything like that.”

Wyatt’s head bobbed quickly at that. “Yes, naturally. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do that. It’s common sense. Why would you meet in a random place that you have no control over? That’s preposterous.”

“Okay, sure.” Avalon found herself nodding. “But on the way down here, you were acting like four hours wouldn’t be enough to make this place secure. If it’s your place, then–”

Wyatt interrupted. “Of course! If this was some random place, we’d need days to secure it, not hours. Now come, we’re wasting time. Abigail was very specific. Whatever they need to talk about, it’s important and we need absolute privacy and secrecy. Take this.” Extending his hand, the man offered the two girls a notepad before nodding to Koren. “You know what to do.”

The other girl nodded, taking the notepad before gesturing for Avalon. “Come on. He’s got instructions for spells written in this thing. We’re supposed to use them on the parking lot while he gets things done in here. And,” she added while stepping outside, “we have to follow the instructions exactly. He’ll be double-checking and triple-checking everything we do, trust me.”

Trailing after the other girl, Avalon quietly remarked, “Sounds like you’re learning a lot from your uncle.”

Koren coughed at that. “Oh, trust me, you have no idea. He takes this whole mentor thing really seriously. You should’ve seen the written test he made me take last week. It was like an inch thick. I felt like I was taking the SAT’s or something.”

As the two reached the parking lot and started to look at the pad of instructions that Wyatt had given them to work from, Avalon asked, “What do you think Seller and your mom want to talk about?”

Koren shrugged. “I’m not sure. But from what Mom said, it’s really important. They need Wyatt’s magic expertise for something. Believe me, I tried to get more details, but they wouldn’t talk about it. They’re being really cagey about it.

“But whatever it is, I get the feeling that the Seosten would be pretty pissed if they knew about it.”

*******

Hours later, as Koren and Avalon sat at one of the booths in the restaurant while Wyatt went over his last minute security measures one more time, the man abruptly stopped. “They’re here,” he announced, moving toward the nearby door. He was there before any knock came, opening it to reveal Abigail and Seller standing there.

“Mom!” Koren darted that way as her mother stepped in, embracing the woman tightly.

While those two reunited, Avalon exchanged a brief embrace with Seller. She felt a lump in her throat. After what had happened with her birth father, seeing the man who had been her real father figure for so long affected her more than she had expected it to.

“You okay, kid?” the man asked, clearly noticing her reaction as much as she tried to hide it.

She forced herself to nod. “Yeah, I… I’m fine. Better since that piece of shit is gone.”

Seller grinned at that. “You did real good there. That cockroach had too many chances.” Expression softening then, he added, “But I’m sorry you had to be the one to do it.”

“I’m not,” Avalon replied flatly. “If anyone was going to put that bastard in the ground, it was me. If anyone else did it, I don’t know if I’d believe it was real. I almost still don’t.”

Coughing, Seller nodded to her. “Listen, there’s a lot we need to talk about. That and other things. But right now, there’s something really important to get through.”

“The other one,” Wyatt suddenly announced, “you said the other one would be here. Miranda. Where is she?”

“She’s beyond the security spells,” Seller replied, “waiting with our…” He paused, clearly choosing his words carefully. “…our guest. We told them to wait until you were ready.”

“He means until we warned you,” Abigail quietly put in.

“Warned us?” Koren blinked, she and Avalon exchanging confused looks before the girl added, “Warned us about what? What kind of guest did you bring? It’s not like you’ve got some kind of Seosten informant or anyth–wait a minute.”

That was all she needed to hear. Avalon was already through the door and moving across the lot while Seller tried to say something else. Her eyes darted around wildly until she spotted two figures standing in the shadows near the edge of the lot. Three more steps carried her closer, until she finally recognized the person standing next to Miranda.

Lies. Pace. Whatever she was going by. The Seosten-possessed girl stood there, staring through Avalon. It was obvious that she didn’t even see her. The intricately layered privacy spells that Wyatt had made them lay down ensured that all Miranda and Lies could see or hear was an empty parking lot. They had no idea that anyone was approaching.

“You,” Avalon blurted then, even as her hands moved to the bracelets that she wore on either wrist. One at a time, she slapped the bracelets with her opposite hand. There was a confirmation beep, and the bracelets expanded into her familiar gauntlets, before a solid-light energy blade emerged from the ends of both while she stalked that direction, moving for the unsuspecting crazy Seosten murderer while raising one of those blades..

“Stop.” It was Seller. The man appeared behind Avalon, catching her by the shoulders to bring her up short. “It’s okay. She’s with us.”

“With you? With you?” Avalon stared at the man incredulously, her mouth open. “Are you serious right now? Is she still possessed? Because I’m pretty sure there’s no way she couldn’t be. How is she with you? Do you know what she-”

“I know.” The man shook his head. “Trust me, Ha–Avalon, I know. Yes, she is still possessed, but it’s more complicated than that. Just… let us explain.”

If it had been almost anyone else, Avalon probably wouldn’t have listened. But for Seller, she sighed, retracting the energy blades from her gauntlets without actually dismissing the gauntlets entirely. “Fine,” she muttered. “But you do something for me first.”

Knowing what she wanted, Seller extended his arm, pulling his sleeve up. He waited patiently then, while Avalon used her field-engraver to carefully draw the Seosten-expulsion rune. Not that she expected it to actually do anything, but just to be on the safe side.

Sure enough, though Seller grunted a bit from the pain of the spell being used, he definitely wasn’t possessed.

By that point, Wyatt had joined them. He started to berate Avalon for storming out of the room where the majority of the security spells were concentrated, before stopping when his eyes found Lies standing there.

“That,” he announced flatly, “is one of the bad guys.”

Sighing, Seller nodded. “As I said, it’s complicated. Right now, she’s willing to help us. But she needs something in return. And her people are trying everything they can to kill her before that happens. Which means we need you to let her through the security spell so that she can get under cover before they find her again. Believe me, they’ve been… tenacious on that front.”

It took another few seconds of convincing that they weren’t being manipulated or coerced into this before Wyatt finally took the time to add Lies into the security exceptions. Once it was done and he had lowered the spell enough to let them in, Miranda and the Seosten suddenly jumped as the group clearly appeared right in front of their eyes.

“Oooh,” Lies started with a wide smile, “good trick. But do it again, this time with more flair. There was no showmanship behind it, no panache.”

“Take it easy, Theia,” Seller cautioned. “Things are complicated right now.”

“Theia?” Avalon blinked, looking between the man and the Seosten girl. “Who the hell–what?”

Clearing her throat, Miranda spoke up. “It’s a long story. Can we talk about it inside? My other selves think we’re still clear for the time being, but being out here like this makes me nervous.”

Wyatt was bobbing his head suddenly. “Yes, yes, inside. Everyone inside. There are spells out here, but many more covering the building. Quickly now.” He gestured for them to go, before adding in Lies’ direction, “And don’t think that you’re off the hook just because I’ve let you inside. You try anything, and you won’t live long enough to regret it, Missy.”

“Aww,” Lies’ smile just grew wider as she addressed Seller. “You said this was going to be complicated, but he’s already flirting with Theia-me.”

While everyone else sputtered at that, she started to walk to the building with a low whistle, leaving Avalon and the others to follow behind.

Koren was waiting there with her mother as they stepped into the restaurant, looking incredulous. Avalon had the feeling that Abigail had told her daughter at least some of what was going on while they were alone. But clearly not enough to stop her from still being confused.

“Okay,” Avalon started once they were all back in the building and the door had been closed once more. “What is going on? Why is Lies here?”

“Hey!” Abigail suddenly barked, “don’t call her that. It’s not her name.” She stepped that way, with Koren beside her as she put a hand on the Seosten’s shoulder. “Her name is Theia, and she’s going to help us. She’s going to tell us who Manakel is possessing.”

“Her name is Pace,” Avalon pointed out in a sharp tone. “Lies, Theia whatever you call her, she’s the one enslaving the girl you’ve got your hand on. And why would she help us?”

“Because she wants to stop enslaving her,” Abigail shot back, her own voice just as sharp as Avalon’s. “Theia wants us to help her get out of Pace without killing her. That’s why we need Wyatt.” She looked to her brother then. “We already tried the spell that Felicity brought back from Gabriel’s people. It didn’t work, but some other spell might, and you were the best idea we had about who could try and come up with something.”

“That’s the trade, isn’t it?” Koren put in then. “She wants to get out of Pace, in exchange for telling us about Manakel.”

Miranda nodded. “Yup. We help ‘fix’ her little problem, and she tells us everything she knows. Not just about Manakel, but all of it. Manakel especially. She says… she says that’s something we’ll want to know.”

“Yeah?” Avalon demanded, “And how are we supposed to believe that this is for real? What if she’s just setting all this up? What makes you think that we can trust her?”

“Trust?” Theia interrupted before any of the others could speak. “Theia-I am very trustworthy. We could have done a lot worse than we did. Why, Theia-I never even told Manakel about Present’s little secret.”

That was enough to drive Avalon across the few feet that separated them. Her hands caught the other girl by the shoulders as she shoved her back against the nearby wall. “Flick,” she spat. “Her name is Flick. Call her Present again, and I don’t care what kind of deal you’ve got. I will end it. And you.”

Holding up both hands placatingly, the Seosten nodded. “Right. Force of habit. Flick. Flicky. Yes. But for the record, Pace-I would really like you to do that again, harder next time. And maybe with mud and bikinis invol–oh. Would you pretend we didn’t say that?” She shrugged. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell what Pace-she’s telling Theia-me to say, and what was just a subconscious thought.”

Clearing her throat, Abigail reached out to pull Avalon’s arms back from the other girl. “Theia speaks for both herself and Pace. She uses the names to differentiate. Pace-I or Theia-I.”

Opening and shutting her mouth at that for a few seconds, Avalon finally shook her head. She felt tense, like she desperately wanted to hit something or someone. “What… what did you mean? What secret of Flick’s did you not tell Manakel?”

“The big one,” Theia replied, her tone knowing. “You know, the reason she can’t be possessed? Believe me, they all want to know that. But we didn’t tell them. We kept it nice and secret.”

Blinking blankly at that, Avalon glanced to the others before shaking her head. “Are you saying that you actually know why Flick can’t be possessed?”

“Of course we–” Theia suddenly stopped, head tilting. “Wait, wait.” She laughed suddenly. “You don’t? You really don’t know? Oh. Oh… wow. That’s funny. That’s really funny. We thought it was a trick. We thought you were keeping it secret.”

Avalon grabbed the girl again. This time, instead of pushing her against the wall, she pulled her closer, hands locked around her shirt. “What? What do you know? What the hell is it?”

“Theia.” That was Miranda. The girl looked just as taken aback as Avalon felt. “Please. What happened to Flick? Why can’t she be possessed?”

“Well,” the Seosten replied simply, “that’s easy. She can be. In fact, she already is.”

The words made no sense. They were gibberish. Avalon gave a sharp, confused shake of her head. “Wait, what? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Possessed,” Theia elaborated. “She’s already possessed. She’s been possessed the whole time. Obviously since before you knew her, since the Seosten tried to possess her a long time ago and couldn’t do it. She’s been possessed for years.”

That time, Avalon did shove the girl, hard against the wall. “Shut up!” she blurted. “No, she’s not! I know Flick! I know her. She’s not really one of your fucking people. She’s not being puppeted by one of you. She’s not one of your slaves!”

Bouncing off the wall, Theia shook her head. “Theia-I didn’t say that. We said she was possessed, not that she’s being puppeted.”

Miranda was there too, cursing as she demanded, “What the hell are you talking about?! Flick isn’t possessed.”

“But she is,” Theia insisted. “Remember the choker all of you stole from us? Our special choker? Theia-I saw the Flicky with it, while we still had it. We touched her. We saw her. We saw the Seosten inside her.”

Avalon felt numb, confused, lost, and empty for a few seconds. In the background, she saw Wyatt slumping down, muttering to himself about how he could have missed it. He looked shellshocked.

Abigail, meanwhile, was already pushing past her. She took hold of Theia, her own voice rising. “You said that the Seosten is in her, but not puppeting her. What does that mean?”

“Wait.” Theia shook her head. “Pace-I will explain. She is better at it. She understands more, doesn’t make the same assumptions. Theia-I will just… say the words that she thinks.”

Taking a long, deep breath, she continued. “We saw a small Seosten child with Flick. She was young, and small. Not an infiltrator. Not a spy. Not enslaving Flick. She was not controlling her. She was just there. Just possessing her. Waiting. We… thought that she was part of Gaia’s plan. Or maybe part of Gabriel Prosser’s plan, a rogue Seosten child that they used to protect Felicity Chambers from being possessed.”

Avalon rocked backward, taking all that in. Around her, she could see the others looking similarly shocked by the explanation. “Gaia… Gaia doesn’t know anything about that,” she muttered. “She would’ve told me, would have told us. And Gabriel… no, it wasn’t him.”

“Flick’s possessed?!” Miranda blurted. “But-but how? How? Why? Who would–some Seosten kid? A kid?! She–I don’t… That– that doesn’t make any sense. I don’t understand.”

Seller’s voice was dull. “Neither do I. I… knew there had to be some reason she was immune. But I never thought—I didn’t.. Oh God. Gaia’s going to want to know about this.”

Theia spoke carefully again, clearly relaying only what Pace was telling her to say. “As far as we could tell, the Seosten child was not controlling her. She never made her do anything.”

“Flick didn’t know.” That was Miranda, speaking quietly, yet confidently. “Flick didn’t know she was possessed. Trust me, she didn’t know.”

Koren shook her head, speaking up for all of them then. “But if it’s not one of Gaia or Gabriel’s plans, then who’s the Seosten that’s possessing Flick? Where did she come from? And what does she want? If she’s not controlling her, then… then… what the hell is going on?”

The only response that came to that was silence, as everyone in the room exchanged helpless, confused stares. None of them knew the answer. None of them knew anything about the Seosten who was apparently possessing Flick, who had been possessing Flick the entire time she had been at the school, and long before.

“I’m calling Vanessa,” Koren suddenly blurted. She looked to Avalon while yanking the phone from her pocket. “I’m calling her before she jumps to her dad’s head again. I’ll tell them to meet us out on the beach, so we can tell them about this. If we can tell her before she jumps to her dad’s head again, she can pass on the message, it’ll–”

She stopped then, as the phone was clearly answered at the other end. “Hello? Vanessa–wait, Headmistress?”

That made everyone’s heads snap that way, as Koren blurted, “Why do you have Vanessa’s–oh. I… yes, ma’am.” Silently, she handed the phone to Seller, who took it and stepped away for a moment. Wyatt joined the other man immediately, both of them having a conversation with Gaia over the phone. 

“They’re gone,” Koren spoke quietly, her voice dull. “Vanessa and Tristan, they disappeared. They… they think the Seosten took them.”

“Pffffft, no way.” That was Theia, shaking her head. “She’d never allow it. Manakel tried to make her let him take them before. She wouldn’t agree to it, and he wouldn’t dare go behind her back.”

“What?” Avalon’s head snapped around at that. “Who? Wouldn’t let Manakel take them?”

“Uh uh.” Theia wagged a finger at her reproachfully. “First, you have to help us, before we tell you more of those yummy secrets. We already gave you a freebie about the little Seosten possessing the Chambers girl. See, we’ve been downright charitable.”

The others tried fruitlessly to press the Seosten girl to tell them more, while Avalon just took a step away. The reminder made bile rise in her throat, as she turned to face the nearby window. In the background, she could hear Seller talking to Gaia. But she didn’t listen. All she could focus on was her rapidly mounting fear and confusion.

Felicity was possessed. Why or how that had happened, or what the apparent child Seosten wanted, she had no idea. But if they were in Seosten space, would the child remain silent? Was she still leaving her host alone, still content to just possess the girl without making her do anything? Or had things progressed past that point? Was she playing the long game? Now that they were in Seosten space, was it only a matter of time before the girl made her move and took over?

“Flick,” Avalon whispered, her cracked, hoarse voice barely audible as she stared up at the stars dotting the night sky. “Flick, please be okay. I don’t know what’s going on. But please… please be safe. I need you to be safe. I need you to be okay. I need you to… to be here. I need… I need…

“I need you.”

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22 comments

  1. Aaaaaaand there is the…. second interlude of this arc. I hope you guys enjoyed seeing Avalon and the others find out about Flick being possessed. It should be pretty interesting when they meet up again. 😉

    You also may have noticed that I said the second interlude, not the FINAL interlude. Yeah. Our wonderful donators voted on this to be the interlude subject. But a couple were so interested in other options that they actually donated extra money to be able to see a few more despite them not actually winning the vote. So, over the next week or so, we’ll be seeing three more interludes before we jump back to the new arc with Flick and company heading for Kushiel’s lab. Those interludes will be, in order: Apollo meeting Jazz on the ship, Jophiel and Elisabet reacting to Vanessa and Tristan disappearing and violently checking to see if Manakel had anything to do with it, and Avalon, Scout, and the rest of the new combined team discussing that same disappearance while they go on the monthly scheduled hunt.

    Hopefully those interludes sound as interesting to you guys as they did to those who paid to have them included at the end of the arc. Thanks a lot to all of you, as always, for reading. And if you get a chance, please do click right here in order to vote for this story on Top Web Fiction. 😀

    Oh, and don’t forget. If you have donated anything at all to this story, including over Patreon, and are not part of the interlude-voting mailing list (and would like to be), shoot me an e-mail at ceruleanscrawling@gmail.com!

    Tags for this chapter are: Abigail Fellows, At Least That Bit About The Twins Disappearing Throws A Bone To Those Trying To Arrange This Chapter Into The Timeline?, Avalon Sinclaire, Being Used As A Secret Heretic Meeting Place Would Help Explain The Three Bajillion Kum & Go Convenience Stores Popping Up Everywhere I Look., Koren Fellows, Miranda, Pace, Seller, Theia, Theia Seeing Wyatt Threatening Her As Flirting And Pace Being Turned On By Avalon Shoving Her Is More Than One Fandom’s Idea Of Perfect Romance., Wyatt Rendell

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Well, that cat’s out of the bag at least. Whether this means the team is more trustworthy of Tabbris or less when the time comes remains to be seen.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s pretty much what I expected to see from Theia’s first post-rogue meeting with Flicks friends and family. As far as that goes they’ve all got a rough road ahead of them even without her sitting on so much information. Avalon in particular is going to have a very hard time.

    I also liked the reactions to everyone finding out about Tabbris. It makes perfect sense that they would go down those lines of thought, and Avalon’s last bit of worry is great dramatic irony.

    In other news, Manakel wanted to grab the Moon twins. I have to wonder why. My guess is that he wanted to use them as leverage to control Sariel, since he was her jailer at one point (was she taken away from Kushiel in that time?), but we haven’t seen enough of Manakel for me to be comfortable making a solid guess.

    Also, I have to ask where Wyatt got the money to pay for thirty or forty properties throughout America. Even if most of them pay rent, he has to have bought them in the first place. I mean, Gaia’s old enough that her throwing around twenty grand isn’t a surprise, but Wyatt’s still in the upper middle part of a normal human lifetime and doesn’t usually hold down a job for longer than a year. How lucrative are Heretic jobs?

    Theia Seeing Wyatt Threatening Her As Flirting And Pace Being Turned On By Avalon Shoving Her Is More Than One Fandom’s Idea Of Perfect Romance.

    So Theia’s masochism extends to the bedroom and Pace likes it rough, huh? Kinky.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Also, I have to ask where Wyatt got the money to pay for thirty or forty properties throughout America. Even if most of them pay rent, he has to have bought them in the first place. I mean, Gaia’s old enough that her throwing around twenty grand isn’t a surprise, but Wyatt’s still in the upper middle part of a normal human lifetime and doesn’t usually hold down a job for longer than a year. How lucrative are Heretic jobs?

      First, he makes a good amount of money by providing security spells for richer Heretics using anonymous/secret identities to maintain his privacy. And he also acquires heavily cursed, old artifacts, safely removes the spells, and sells the result either to Heretic collectors, or to Bystander collectors if the object is mundane. That kind of thing.

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  4. Avalon’s going to suffer some serious mental whiplash when she meets Tabbris. She’s going to have been panicking about what the possessor might be up to and how she’s going to get them out since the rune didn’t work (as far as she knows) … and then Tabbris pops out and there’s Best Fallen Angel in all her sadorable, shy glory.

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  5. Hello all! I’ve been working on figuring out one of the current ‘greatest mysteries’ in Heretical Edge for a suitable amount of time now. But before I continue I would like to reiterate that I absolutely love Cerulean’s writing! Heretical Edge is one of my top five webnovels out of (no hyperbole) the few hundred I’ve read in the past many years. In fact the only criticism I can think of from the top of my head is that the rate the chapters come out is too slow for me and I only want to keep Cerulean locked up in my basement so he can churn out new chapters for me daily. Eternal slavery is the highest form of compliment I can give. You should be proud Cerulean.

    So on to the mystery: who is Manakel possessing? Answer (according to me): Gabriel Ruthers. Bonus mysteries: Peterson Neal is a meat puppet and what exactly was Fossor and Manakel upto during the Black Death?

    After what Katarin said from INTERLUDE 26B – KATARIN, HAIDEN, AND LARISSA “Obviously. Obviously the orb had been for Chambers. No wonder they were possessing…”. This is what first caused me to wonder at who they might have been possessing. I thought through all the likely suspects, and then through any evidence I could see that might lead me to an answer, and this is what I came up with. Unfortunately, I only really started wondering about who Manakel was puppeteering towards the end of my second read-through of Heretical Edge. So any evidence I present will most likely be lacking in chapter citations and only formed through memory, such is life.

    So in my theory, Manakel is possessing, and has been possessing, Gabriel Ruthers since AT LEAST before the Black Death and Gabriel actually meeting Fossor. We all know that before the Heretical Edge, heretics were au natural with powers manifesting only after coming in contact with the blood of a stranger. Now, contrary to popular belief, being soaked in the blood of aliens with superpowers is NOT a common occurrence. In fact, the only ‘super-powered’ alter-blood humans are likely to come into contact with would usually come from Nocen. Peaceful alters don’t tend to cause humans to want to defend themselves with a little stabbing. Therefore, the first hint of the supernatural that heretics come into contact with in the time period before Crossroads’ founding, is sudden and violent. It is therefore unlikely that Heretics will easily trust anything that isn’t human. I also wouldn’t call it a stretch to say that it would be hard for them to trust other heretics, especially if the newly-made heretics can’t determine that any person with powers they meet isn’t just another stranger. Remember, this is a time before easily-obtained information. It is also a time when solo heretics were most likely the norm, and pairs and small organizations of heretics were in the minority.

    So during all of this we have Gabriel Ruthers, a man who trusted a necromancer. Honestly, at first I could believe it, I could believe that an idealistic heretic was willing to trust a stranger. I doubted the first one would be, or should be, a necromancer, but stranger things have happened before and I don’t doubt Fossor could be persuasive.

    If I am to be honest, finding out Manakel is a necromancer made me doubt my entire theory. But after more thought, it actually caused me to strengthen my confidence in my theory considerably. Enough to present it as evidence in the form of:

    Exhibit A: Manakel is a necromancer and Fossor is also a necromancer.

    Most likely when Fossor arrived on Earth and the two met, Manakel wanted to learn necromancy from Fossor. I don’t doubt that the Seosten already had spells that deal with necromancy, which is what Manakel was using, however Fossor is a NATURAL necromancer. Manakel definitely would not pass up a chance to learn more about the craft from somebody with the talent and ability for it. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Fossor also wanted to learn the spells that Manakel used. It would probably have been a very mutually beneficial trade if there wasn’t one small problem: their individual personalities. Manakel was a genetically-altered super-soldier from a vast inter-universal space-faring civilization known for their arrogance and cruel, impersonal imperialistic methods. Fossor was, well, Fossor. Manakel was used to being topdog, lording over every other being on earth; everyone was beneath him. At one point he was worshipped as a GOD. He probably could never fathom that anyone would have the gall to betray him, to turn against him. And the way that Fossor probably went about it would have enraged Manakel all the more. You see, I think that when Fossor betrayed Manakel it wasn’t like a scene from the Godfather: “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business”. No, I believe that Fossor was dismissive with his betrayal; contemptive of Manakel’s necromantic talents. Fossor got what he wanted, and then betrayed Manakel because Fossor found him lacking. Manakel has a superiority complex and views most other beings as beneath his purview, while Fossor has an overwhelming confidence and he doesn’t view others as a threat to him at all. Especially not Mankel. Or even the Seosten. Its what turned Fossor from simply being an enemy, into something for Manakel to obsess over.

    Exhibit B: Gabriel Ruthers was the Headmaster for Crossroads for a considerable amount of time.

    The headmaster position holds considerable sway in the heretic world. It is a position that is the tiebreaker in Committee decisions as well as having a say in faculty appointments and other major decisions at the Crossroads Academy, which is the training grounds for new heretics. That is enough of a reason for the Seosten to want to have control over this position.

    Exhibit B2: When the Fomorians launched their invasion on Earth but were repelled by Gaia.

    Gaia not only decided to reveal heretics’ existence to ordinary civilians, she also sacrificed her entire state. A state that was a part of Crossroads Academy territory. This led to a lot of heretics calling this ‘a pretty bad decision’ and many of them were angry at her. But who wasn’t angry? Why Headmaster Ruthers of course! You see, not only would a Seosten not be angry at the loss of a single state on an insignificant world, but they would also know the true threat that the Fomorians possess, especially to Seosten, their archenemies. The Seosten would not want the Fomorians to be able to gain a foothold on Earth. They would LESS appreciate the Fomorians taking back their experiments. Having another faculty member with Gaia’s prestige and understanding of the Fomorian threat, with a willingness to stop them at any means, was probably a large enough incentive for Manakel to offer her a teaching position at Crossroads.

    Exhibit B3: Davis received a Committee position before Gabriel Ruthers.

    Davis himself was confused why he would receive a seat on the Committee before Ruthers, he felt that Ruthers was more than qualified to be a member. However, the headmaster position, in terms of political strategy, is a far more useful position for a Seosten to be in control of. Again, in case of a tie, the Seosten can have the headmaster vote in favor of the issue they advocate. A headmaster also has a say over the academy. Besides, having Davis, who considers Ruthers a father-figure (seen in MINI-INTERLUDE 44 – DAVIS), hold the position instead of Ruthers, is almost as good as having Ruthers himself there. So if this was true, why not have Peterson Neal hold the Committee seat? While Davis may view Ruthers as a father-figure, he might not agree with Ruthers on some issues. Why have that uncertainty? Peterson Neal is said to “basically worship[ped] the ground the man [Ruthers] walked on” (Also from MINI-INTERLUDE 44 – DAVIS). So why not have that uncertainty eliminated and have Neal be a part of the Committee? Well the answer is simple once you consider Peterson Neal a zombie as I do. What would happen at the ritual to link the Committee members, and their powers, together when you throw a Zombie, the undead, into the mix? Probably ‘nothing good’. It’s a damn good way to get caught. So even if Neal is Ruthers’ right-hand man, he couldn’t even be considered a candidate for a Committee membership, hence Davis. This still allows Ruthers a vote on the Committee, while still retaining his position as headmaster.

    Exhibit C: Reaction to Jonathan Ruthers being beaten by Joselyn.

    A mind is a beautiful, weird construct. The psyche is always on the verge of changing. The human mind is like this, so why not a Seosten’s? If I am correct, then Manakel has been possessing Gabral Ruthers for a VERY long time. We all know that the possessed have no say in their lives with a Seosten at the helm. So when the decision comes to fall in love and have a child, who exactly decides that? The Seosten of course. Manakel. Manakel fell in love, which has happened multiple times in the story so far, and had a son. For a person who comes from a civilization with an incredibly low birth rate, this is an exciting occasion. Manakel probably viewed Jonathan as his own. After all, he has been possessing Gabriel for so long, it’s hard to tell if he didn’t start to believe he WAS Gabriel. The mind is a weird and beautiful thing. He played the part, choose his own love and had his own son. He might have even been proud. And then Joselyn hurt his son. Probably the only son he would ever have. He was a Seosten, and someone had blatantly, and quite publicly, hurt his offspring. Being able to do nothing to Joselyn , being confined by his position, probably enraged Manakel, causing him to become obsessed, again.

    Exhibit B4: Manakel finally becoming a Committee member to beat Joselyn.

    So we have a rebellion that the Seosten want to stop at all costs, more and more heretics are joining this rebellion from both Crossroads and Eden’s Garden. The Seosten don’t want the rebellion to succeed at all. They want heretics to become their weapons, training against any stranger they find, constantly growing stronger to be able to fight against the Fomorians. They allowed the Eden’s Garden split, because Eden’s Garden members still killed a majority of the strangers they found; they only enslaved or inhumanly experimented on the rest. Something the Seosten did everyday around the universe. Business as usual; the Seosten didn’t view it as a problem. But GETTING ALONG with the strangers is unacceptable. So the Seosten want to stop the rebellion and Manakel most of all. Except he keeps failing. Making him look bad. Considering Joselyn is Manakel’s responsibility, a lot of pressure was probably put on him from the Choir to solve the problem. Except he kept failing. Enraging him more, forming it into an obsession. But where could he get the power to stop her quickly? Sure he might be able to teleport to some enslavement camp or Seosten prison and just slaughter all the inhabitants. The fact that no other Seosten-possessed heretic seems to have done this, implies it is a no-go. Besides, the powers he would receive would be all randomized, and he would have no training in any of them. Or he could join the Committee, recieve powers he knows about, from Davis, and has (more than likely) seen in combat from the other Committee members; seen how the powers work together. And while Gaia not be the very best solution for Headmistress, at least she is willing to do anything to stop the Fomorians, which is the Seostens’ highest priority.

    Too bad Manakel still couldn’t stop Joselyn. Which probably further enraged him, further obsessing him.

    Exhibit D: How people react to Ruthers kidnapping Joselyn’s twins.

    Everytime this is brought up, the people hearing about it all unanimously consider this ‘A Dick Move’. Seriously, no one is happy when they hear about it. They would never even consider it as a viable option. They might be mad at Gaia for losing a state, but they are even more angry at Ruthers for kidnapping a heretic’s children. You know who wouldn’t consider this a problem? A Seosten. Especially a Seosten wanting revenge; he probably received some form of enjoyment at getting back at her through her children. Especially for her hitting his child.

    Exhibit E: From AGAINST THE ODDS 9-05 “He planned to unleash a blood plague onto them.” If eternal hereditary enslavement doesn’t scream, “Hey look at me! I’m an evil Seosten!” Then I don’t know what will.

    I would also like to make an honourable mention to something Fahsteth said in SHARKHUNT 23-06. Twice he stated that both Manakel and Charmeine “showed up”. Not arrived, teleported, shipped out to, moved here. But “showed up”, which, among many things, could mean “showed up” for the mission. Which implies they were already on Earth and “showed up” to take over. Not ‘arrived’ to take over. And it makes sense that Seosten super-soldiers who have already been on Earth for a good amount of time would remain there, especially to protect against the Fomorian threat. Heck, even Suriel, Puriel, Athena and Apollo stuck around for some time as well. Hence, “showed up” on the scene, (i.e. mission.) A good author will use ambiguous language at opportune moments so that they don’t limit the direction the story will take. So that they aren’t forced to ret-con anything later on. And I believe Cerulean in a GRRRRREAT author tonythetiger.jpg

    My next theory is that Peterson Neal is a Zomboid. As evidenced by descriptions of him.

    Exhibit A: From FACING EVIL 11-05 “Peterson Neal, the head of ‘student affairs’, whatever that meant. I’d never seen the man do anything other than stand around, and occasionally take a phone call or tell a student to hurry up and get to class. He wasn’t a conversationalist.” From MINI-INTERLUDE 14 – WYATT “Peterson Neal, the so-called Head of Student Affairs (and less commonly called Head of Being Ruthers’ Stooge and Official Buttsmoocher)” Sounds like a pretty stiff man, with few responsibilities to be seen.

    Exhibit B: Everytime someone mentions Peterson Neal, they almost always mention how much of a minion his is towards Ruthers. A stooge, minion, right-hand man, attached-at-the-hip. It’s all about him being devotedly loyal to Gabriel Ruthers. Even his own brother, Davis Neal says that “he still saw Ruthers as a father-figure. Though not nearly as much as Peterson, who basically worshipped the ground the man walked on, did.” I mean there’s usually a limit to minionyness, but it practically seems as if Peterson Neal is an extension of Gabriel Ruthers own body. As if Ruthers made him or something.

    Exhibit C: In RENDEZVOUS 30-03 Larissa describes Perterson Neal: “Peterson is… competent, but not exactly creative or warm.” Not exactly warm? As in cold? As in corpse cold? As in Peterson is undead? As in a zombie? I mean come on now, if that isn’t beating you over the head with it I don’t know what is.

    Exhibit D: My previous speculation that Peterson wasn’t chosen for a seat on the Committee because of the consequences of introducing an undead into the ritual for accepting new members.

    And last my, not theory, but hunch, about what Fossor was doing With Manakel before the Black Death. In BEGIN AGAIN 10-07, it is claimed that they were hunting for something and Manakel argued that Fossor could help. Besides Manakel wanting to learn from Fossor, I believe that they were hunting for a Reaper, or a similar stranger because at the time the Seosten were creating a prototype Heretical Edge. Then Fossor betrayed them. I don’t have any evidence for my theory, beyond ‘a hunch’.

    That’s all I have at the moment, if I think of anything else, or any new evidence pops up I’ll try to add it. If anyone else has anything to add, or subtract, please feel free to do so. I would love to bounce ideas off of other fans.

    That’s all Folks! porkypig.jpg

    TL;DR: Heretical Edge takes place in wildbow’s Worm universe and the entities that gave everyone their superpowers in said universe were actually the same beings that made the dragons in Heretical Edge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to being caught up with the story!

      I uh, well I don’t have time to go through that whole thing point by point. But I do have one counterpoint against the notion that Manakel has been possessing Ruthets for so long. Namely that he has explicitly been off in Seosten space for a very long time and was only recently brought in to deal with Avalon. It got mentioned in Isaac’s interlude (and a number of author statements made on a different site that you shouldn’t be expected to know about). That’s why he and Charmeine keep making mistakes, because they’re out of their element and unused to hiding in possessed hosts.

      It was also noted in the first Larissa Interlude that Manakel and Charmeine were most recently in charge of Sariel out in Seosten space before they were brought back to earth.

      It’s still possible that Ruthers is possessed (I’m pretty sure Ceruelan hasn’t explicitly confirmed he isn’t), but I personally doubt it for thematic reasons. Time will tell with that though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cerulean has said that Ruthers’s particular brand of fanatacism is quite inconvenient for the Seosten, which pretty strongly indicates he’s not possessed.

        Also, if he WAS possessed he’d have won his duel with Joselyn right after they both got added to the Committee thanks to the boost.

        And seeing as even Chayyiel can’t instantly take control of Committee grade heretics we can rule out him being possessed after that, as he’d have been able to get off a warning that he’s compromised even if one of the absolute strongest Seosten was doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I admittedly forgot that Sariel said that about Ruthers in 13A when I was hurriedly typing that response up. But things like Chayyiel being unable to instantly control Committee level Heretics haven’t been said in the actual story yet. The evidence is there, sure, but I also don’t recall any explicit in-story confirmation.

        I didn’t mention it and other WoGs because I was trying to respond with information a new reader can reasonably be expected to have. Like what you said about the fight with Joselyn (which also slipped my mind in the rush).

        That said, I do realize that you’re responding to me and not JJJS, and I appreciate the reminded of the details that slipped my mind.

        Like

    2. This is a very interesting and well-thought out couple of theories. I really have to stop myself from saying too much, because… well, it’s so tempting to actually say more. 😛 Seriously though, whether you’re right or wrong about these theories, good write-up.

      And hey, thanks for the compliments! Glad you’re enjoying the story. Please do feel free to let us know how your theories evolve.

      Like

  6. I wonder how exactly Pace and Theia thought they could tell Flick wasn’t being controlled.

    This chapter was really great. I didn’t realize how much I wanted Avalon’s thoughts on Wyatt until I got them. Plus, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Wyatt and Koren, and it was nice to see them again. Wyatt was as awesome as usual, and his meeting Theia was great. I think I might actually ship “Wyatt + Theia (a couple decades in the future)” now. Everyone’s reaction to finding out Flick was possessed was great.

    This was one of those chapters where the suspense was building not because I didn’t know what was going to happen but because I DID, and I loved it. The reference to Jophiel was also great when I know we’re going to get that chapter in a bit. I bet that’ll be a fun thing to spot for binge-readers who don’t pay too much attention to the table of contents.

    Now Avalon is the sadorable one. In particular, the part where she describes how worried she is that Tabbris decided to make her move and take over now that she’s in Seosten space. It’s clearly terrifying for Avalon, but of course we know that Tabbris being more active is actually heartwarming and awesome in equal measure.

    The sentence starting with “Them, in this case” should use semicolons to separate each element so the commas around the appositives aren’t so confusing.

    It would’ve been pretty interesting if they DID get to Vanessa in time. Everyone’s reaction to Vanessa already knowing about Tabbris would have been interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Honestly it gets better because the only way for Vanessa to have been able to find out would be through proverbial projection telephone with her father.

      So a lot of : “What do you mean you already knew -“ half a conversation on both sides and Vanessa repeating both sides of the conversation like a comedy show.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Is anyone else getting the sense that Wyatt is going to be getting on extremely well with the rogue Seosten in general once their credentials of being on his family/coworkers side are certified?

    Because I can’t help but think that between Apollo “booby trap my coworkers spine implants”, Theia “save werewolf host, take you as new host”, Sariel… actually I can’t think of anything Sariel did that was any more paranoia enduring then general Seosten possession but I’m going to assume she has done something. And Athena the Rebellion leader against the empire that trained them all along side taking the time to sabotage the guns of a war spaceship.

    Wyatt could have a very good conversation with any of the Seosten rogues as they’d probably not think Wyatt’s actions as overkill. A concerning number would possibly take it as a challenge but not overkill. On the other hand there exactly the types for why Wyatt has all those countermeasures so…

    Interesting to note that Theia automatically assumed possessed and puppetted would come across differently. That has the feel of a cultural mistranslation- specifically Theia pointing out she did not say Flick was being puppetted. Which means to her that possession does not equal puppetted.

    It’s fun to imagine how the audience would take the reveal of Tabbris this way -> followed by the reveal that the answers to who Tabbris is, when and why being that of a nine year old escapee from Kushiel whose goal basically was hide and keep Flick safe because that’s what her mother told her to do while…

    It’s just twisty in how while the cast here are justifiably terrified the answer to their questions are sad rather than terrifying.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. High grade paranoid induction from Sariel?

      How about not being able to know if you are the mole?

      How about not being able to know if that thought was actually yours, or one she slipped in there?

      How about not being able to know if your emotions are yours, or ones she is inducing?

      How about her being able to permanently compromise people with no reason to think countermeasures are even possible?

      Sariel’s playbook includes slow budget Zizbombing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point – and that’s without getting into the memory magic of two of them. Though I do suspect that nowadays Sariel may have a slight edge to memory magic while Apollo has an edge to magic in general. Divergence of life and skills.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Speaking of Ruthers,
    I do have my own theory about the man. Cerulean ADORES “cracked” figures. Characters who are messed up, do messed up things, and which he can later show not to be as evil as one thought they were due to mitigating circumstances.

    Never forget however, Cerulean is one sneaky mo-fo. Just because he’s shown us valid reasons for Ruthers to be a maniacal fanatic, doesn’t mean we’ve seen the HARDCORE reasons that Ruthers is a maniacal hardcore fanatic.

    Rule of Poker: Just because your opponent is representing an excellent hand, doesn’t mean he isn’t hiding a monster of a hand.

    We’re all meant to believe Fossor’s betrayal and the Black Death made Gabriel what he is. Sure, that COULD have done all the damage….but did it? What evidence do we have the man isn’t hiding greater madness, for bigger reasons?

    Wouldn’t that be just Cerulean’s style, after all?

    Like

  9. >Blinking blankly at that, Avalon glanced to the others before shaking her head. “Are you saying that you actually know why Flick can’t be possessed?”
    “Of course we–” Theia suddenly stopped, head tilting. “Wait, wait.” She laughed suddenly. “You don’t? You really don’t know? Oh. Oh… wow. That’s funny. That’s really funny. We thought it was a trick. We thought you were keeping it secret.”

    It’s a surprise to everyone present in one way or another, it seems.

    >But if it’s not one of Gaia or Gabriel’s plans, then who’s the Seosten that’s possessing Flick? Where did she come from? And what does she want?

    Who? A sweet girl has Flick’s best interests at heart. As for what she wants? Beyond protecting Flick, I’d imagine she’d want some more friends (and hugs too, can’t forget that).

    >Now that they were in Seosten space, was it only a matter of time before the girl made her move and took over?
    “Flick,” Avalon whispered, her cracked, hoarse voice barely audible as she stared up at the stars dotting the night sky. “Flick, please be okay. I don’t know what’s going on. But please… please be safe. I need you to be safe. I need you to be okay. I need you to… to be here. I need… I need…

    …*Ouch*. Given Avalon’s paranoia (some of it rather justified admittedly), it seems to me she’ll be one of the harder sells on Tabbris being just fine/not a threat. On a related note, I can easily see Wyatt throwing himself at Tabbris and/or Sariel and screaming “TEACH MEEEE!” once he gets over his shock and clamps down a bit on his justified paranoia/suspicion tendencies.

    Nice Interlude!

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