It was a day of reunions, as those who had been trapped for so long far off in Seosten space were finally able to make their way back to Earth. Loved ones who had been separated for months were brought together. A man who had been torn from his world and imprisoned for centuries was finally able to meet his descendant. A girl was able to hug both the sister she had lost months earlier and the mother she had lost many years before that.
And a brother and sister, in word and bond if not blood, stood facing one another after two millennia apart.
Like Avalon, Flick, and Dries, Apollo and Sariel left the main group to move into a side chamber of Gaia Sinclaire’s secret cavern. There, the two stood facing one another in silence for a long few moments. Neither moved, and neither said anything. They simply stared, both remembering long past times, lamenting what had been missed, and wondering what would come next.
In the end, it was Sariel who spoke first, in a halting, broken voice. “Lucifer… A-Apollo… I… I…” Her voice cracked, and she dropped her gaze to the floor, hot tears blinding her as several lifetimes worth of regrets flooded her mind.
In response, Apollo stepped forward and took both of her hands in his, squeezing them as he spoke a single word softly. “Qerashu.”
That brought the woman’s gaze back up. Qerashu (Keer-Uh-Shoe) were a Seosten myth. The story went that Seosten who were killed while possessing someone through some means could become vengeful spirits who were trapped in their incorporeal form and haunted certain places or people.
It was what an incredibly young Lucifer had thought an equally young Sariel was when he had found the girl while he had been wandering the halls of what amounted to a Seosten mental institution. It was during a time when he had been visiting his birth family from the school where he and many other Seosten children were actually raised. Exploring where he shouldn’t have been while his rich and powerful father spoke with the staff (he was essentially a member of the ruling board), Lucifer had found his way into what appeared to be an empty room, aside from intriguing crayon drawings on the floor.
The small boy had started to run his hand over the drawings, when a young female voice blurted for him to stop. Yet the doorway was empty. Looking around, he’d seen a tiny crack in one of the walls, moving that way to investigate. Peering through that crack, he had come face-to-face with a small girl who stared at him with wide eyes. Both screamed in one another’s faces and the boy had fallen onto his back, scrambling toward the door in a blind panic while repeatedly chanting, “Qerashu, Qerashu, Qerashu!” He was convinced for a moment that he had found one of those evil, vengeful spirits.
Then the boy had stopped, picking himself up at the doorway. He stood there, looking out into the hall and then back to that crack. For a moment, he was indecisive, trapped between what he probably should do and what another part of him was telling him to do.
Finally listening to that latter voice, Lucifer had slowly crept back toward the crack, keeping his voice low as he whispered, “Qerashu?” Maybe he could help this spirit. She didn’t look any older than he was. Maybe she wasn’t so bad.
The girl through the crack insisted her name wasn’t Qerashu, but Sariel. She opened the hidden door that the crack was part of and showed Lucifer the maze of hidden corridors between the patients rooms. She also told him that her mother was a patient at this asylum, and that she was supposed to hide in these secret halls whenever anyone like his father came.
Sariel’s mother, Korsmea, suffered from a thus-far incurable condition brought upon by a unique magical defense one species in particular had created to defend against being possessed. Essentially, the curse made it so that Korsmea was almost constantly lost within old memories. Every morning or at random times during the day, she would become completely convinced that she was living through a different time from the several millennia she had lived before being struck by the curse. Places she was and people she saw in the present she would become completely convinced were places she had been and people she had known back then. She did have her lucid moments, but they were few and far between. It was during one of those memory lapses, when Korsmea had been convinced that one of the orderlies in the facility was a long-since deceased lover, that Sariel had been conceived.
It was out of a desire to eventually cure her mother’s curse that had prompted Sariel to put so much effort into learning to both use and combat memory magic later in life.
In any case, Sariel and Lucifer had spent hours playing in those hidden areas, until the boy’s father had called for him. Sariel had been visibly upset to see the first friend her own age she’d ever met leaving, but Lucifer had promised to come back.
Throughout the following week, Lucifer would not stop talking to his father about the girl he met. For most of it, the man believed his son was speaking of an imaginary friend and ignored it. But Lucifer grew more and more insistent that he go back to meet his friend again. He kept informing his father that she missed him and needed him.
Finally driven to the point of exasperation, Lucifer’s father decided to put a stop to all this by taking his son back to the asylum and showing him that no one was there.
Over the increasingly desperate objections of the staff, who insisted that their patients could not be disturbed, Lucifer took his father back to the crayon room. The man, who was at first paying little attention and was merely humoring his son for the sake of getting it over with, suddenly grew much more interested when Lucifer showed him the hidden door leading to the secret corridors.
And then he sought the girl herself, as Lucifer called her name and brought her out.
From that moment, there was a whirlwind of activity. The staff and administration at the asylum were put through rounds and rounds of interrogation. A child had been both conceived and born under their watch, and then hidden to protect their own lives and careers.
The administration was summarily removed, and new ones put in. The girl, meanwhile, was taken to the same school/orphanage as Apollo. The two of them became inseparable there, growing up to consider one another their sibling. They were, even in those days, seen as twins. Twins who grew up with the same sort of brilliant minds, who both loved science and magical research, who both became assistants to the the lead scientist of the Summus Proelium Project.
The rest was history.
“I abandoned you,” Sariel softly murmured, voice cracking as tears streaming down her face. “You came back for me. You saved me. You got me out of there, and I abandoned you. You were my brother and I let you leave without me. I didn’t listen to you. I stayed, I stayed…”
“They were your family too,” Apollo hoarsely replied. “I gave up on convincing them to be better. You didn’t. You thought you could change things, that you could change them. And you stayed for the ones who were better. You stayed for the ones who could be helped, the ones who would have nobody but monsters to look up to if you left.”
Swallowing hard, Sariel gave a slow nod to his words. Her voice was barely audible. “But I still abandoned you. How can you ever forgive me for leaving you alone for millennia?”
Apollo’s gaze stared through her for a moment before softening as he raised his hand to gently cup the side of her face. “You’re my sister,” he murmured quietly, yet firmly. “I will always forgive you.”
The two of them embraced tightly then, hugging one another as they hadn’t for so long. Tears that had been bottled up for centuries were finally released, and they held on through it all.
Finally, Apollo leaned back, staring at his sister while murmuring, “Besides, I know for a fact that you weren’t just sitting on your backside. You made sure they didn’t find me. You risked everything to erase leads and stop any of them from tracking me down. I never would have gotten as far as I did without you.”
With a slight nod to that, Sariel added, “I also set things up so I could disappear if I needed to. Just in case. I guess it came in handy later…” Looking up to meet his eyes then, she gave him a light punch in the shoulder. “Thanks to you.”
Utterly failing to look innocent, Apollo spread both hands. “Me? What did I do?”
Sariel snorted at that. “As if you don’t know. Did you really think that my husband wouldn’t tell me about the mysterious man named Lucy who passed him so much information, including the bit that led him to me?”
With a broad smile and laugh, Apollo waved a hand. “Hey, you can’t blame me for playing matchmaker.” Sobering then, he shook his head. “Seriously, I didn’t know how that was going to turn out. All I knew was that you were going to be in very deep trouble, and sending Haiden was the best way to stop it. I kind of hoped it would lead to more, but you did all of that on your own. I just gave him a little push to be there.” he paused then before amending, “Well, Nicholas and I did.”
“His ancestor,” Sariel knew, shaking her head. “At least you’re more subtle than Paschar.”
Snorting at that, Apollo replied, “I also don’t rely on drugging people with love potions.” Pausing briefly, he added, “And for the record, he’s already on the list of people we need to deal with.”
“I know,” Sariel confirmed. “He’s been working at Eden’s Garden. He’s the one who drugged Avalon’s friend into…” She trailed off then, sighing darkly.
Apollo nodded once. “Like I said, we need to deal with him. And the others. Things are coming to a head, Qerashu. All the prophecies that I have access to say that this time right here, right now, is when things can either go horribly wrong or very right. It’s a fork in the road between likely disaster and slightly more possible triumph. Well, one of many forks. There is a maze of them ahead of us. If we take a wrong turn, things get really bad. And… we’re not often the ones who get to choose which turn to take.”
Sariel took his hand. “Then we’ll just have to make all the correct turns that we can and hope for the best.” Pausing then, she added, “And, of course, keep on nudging things the way you love to do so much.”
Instead of chuckling, Apollo winced, head shaking. “I… don’t, actually. Well, not usually.” His expression clouded as he looked to the woman he trusted most in the universe. “Pushing things, nudging them, it’s a slippery slope, Sariel. How do I know when it crosses the line? I’ve done all this, set up and maintained these contacts with the seers, just to have a slight chance at pulling out some kind of eventual victory. But… but at some point, isn’t manipulating potential futures worse than enslaving a race? There’s… a lot on this planet that would probably be different if I didn’t… nudge. Even if I have good intentions, at what point am I doing more to control humanity and this planet than the actual Empire is?”
Through all of that, Sariel watched before putting both hands on his shoulders. “Apollo… the difference is that you care enough to worry about that.”
With a small smile, Apollo quietly replied, “I’m glad you’re here to do the worrying and thinking with me. I… it’s been awhile.”
“Yes,” Sariel agreed, “Iong enough for me to have several children.” She squinted at him then. “Children whom I would introduce you to, but I’m told that you are far ahead of me on that one.”
Apollo grinned back at her. “Can you blame me? I had to meet my nephew and nieces.” His smile brightened even more as he blurted a quick, excited, “You have kids!” He sounded once more just like that innocent little boy she had met all those years ago. “You have children! Can you believe it?”
Swallowing hard, she shook her head. “No,” she answered softly. “I can’t believe it. And I can’t believe they’re here now. I can’t believe I’m back. It feels like a dream. Even now, it feels like a dream, like I’m going to wake up and be back…” She didn’t finish the sentence, simply shuddering instead.
Apollo squeezed her hands. “Hey. You’re not back there. You never will be. That evil bitch is never going to…” He trailed off, face contorting a little before he settled on meeting her eyes. “You’re here. You’re home. You’re safe.”
Despite herself, Sariel offered him a small, tender smile. “Anchor hug?”
It was a phrase that immediately made Apollo smile. The words, or the Seosten equivalent, had been something that the two of them said to one another back in the days just after she had been brought out of the asylum and to his school. They would ‘anchor hug’ before bed as a way of saying that she would not be taken away and put back in the hospital. She was anchored to him, her brother. It was the only way she had been able to comfortably sleep for quite a while without being woken by terrible, recurring nightmares. Shockingly, growing up in a mental asylum was not at all conducive toward a stable and pleasant night’s sleep.
The two of them embraced once more, both thinking of those nights long since passed, and of all the events that had transpired since to bring them to this point.
“You named her Tabbris,” Apollo quietly noted while still holding tight to his sister. At this point, he doubted that he’d ever truly want to let her go.
“Yes,” Sariel murmured, “after the stories you used to tell me. It felt fitting.”
After another moment of hesitation, Apollo asked, “Do you know who her father is?”
She nodded promptly to that, leaning back to look at him. “Yes, I do. Her father is Lincoln Chambers.”
It was an answer that made Apollo smile, bowing his head in acknowledgment of the point. “Fair enough. But…”
“You could have checked for yourself,” Sariel pointed out with a raised eyebrow. “You can do the same spell to check her magical signature. You could have found out the whole time she was out there in Seosten space with you.” She did not say our space, because it wasn’t. Not for either of them.
“I could have,” Apollo agreed, “but I didn’t. I wouldn’t do that without you. It didn’t seem like my place, or my decision.”
Sariel nodded in agreement with that. “It isn’t mine either. When things have settled down, when we have some time and there isn’t a huge pressing problem, then I’ll talk to her. I’ll ask her if she wants to find out who her father… who her biological father is. If she doesn’t want to know, then…”
“Then we won’t know,” Apollo finished for her. “It’s up to the kid.”
With the two of them in full agreement on that, he continued, “And you have two other kids. Half-human kids. Sariel, you have half-human kids!” His face was stretched in a wide smile of delight at his own words, as the man barely kept himself from jumping up-and-down.
His enthusiasm was, as always, infectious, and Sariel found herself grinning as well, a slight laugh escaping her. “I do. They’re wonderful. They’re amazing, Lu— Apollo. They’re impossible. I mean, they’re supposed to be impossible. They’re half-human! They’re supposed to be impossible! I was so scared when it happened, when I was pregnant. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But all the spells I used said they were fine. Everything seemed fine. But they weren’t supposed to be. I mean…”
“It’s just lies,” Apollo firmly informed her, head shaking. “I’ve looked into it over the years. All that stuff about how any child with a human dies before birth is just their propaganda.”
Sariel’s head shook reflexively. “But someone would have found out by now. They would have had a child and—” She stopped then, as the horrible truth suddenly dawned on her, eyes widening.
“Yeah,” Apollo confirmed, watching her expression. “They take the children, and erase the parent‘s memories. As best as I can tell, they send the kids out to some kind of research facility. None of them ever come back, and I don’t know what they do out there. I can never get further than that stuck here. Everyone I talked to about it didn’t know more than that.”
Tightening her fist at the thought, Sariel growled low in her throat. “They want us to believe that it’s impossible for us to have children with humans, but they still experiment on those same children? Who would do that? Who is responsible for that? Puriel? Manakel? Jophiel? Metatron?”
Apollo shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s any of them. Not even Metatron. As best as I can tell, this is some deep cover hush hush black ops stuff. You know how our people feel about children in general. Our own, I mean. And a lot of them would see even half-Seosten as close enough. Finding out all this was going on would be pretty bad for them. So I don’t think even Metatron knows. I don’t know who is behind it, but it has to be someone with enough juice to keep it secret even from the Seraphim.”
Swallowing hard, Sariel met his gaze and announced, “We have to find out who’s behind this, who’s been taking those children and wiping memories. If I hadn’t left before I had Vanessa and Tristan, they’d be missing too. I… we have to find out the truth. We have to stop it.”
Apollo nodded solemnly to her. “We will. There’s plenty already going on. I mean, we’re not exactly lacking for things to do. But you and me, we will look into this. I have people watching for any more signs of Seosten-human pregnancy. Then again, they’ve been watching for a long time already. As you might have guessed, our people don’t exactly try for pregnancies. Most of them use protection just because they’ve been told for so long that it’s impossible for any child to survive. They don’t want to go through that.”
Sariel flinched, glancing away. “I did too. I thought… I thought it was impossible. When I was pregnant, I kept expecting something to go wrong, but it never did. It never did, and Vanessa and Tristan were born.” She smiled at the memory, looking to him. “I have kids, Apollo.” It was a soft, trembling, wonder-filled voice that she spoke with, a voice that reminded him of the innocent young girl he had found all those centuries back and bonded with.
“You have kids,” Apollo agreed, returning her smile before crushing her up against his chest once more. “I have a nephew and nieces to spoil rotten. So thanks for that.”
Looking up to him, Sariel murmured softly, “You know, I’ve got a lot of being a mother to make up for.”
“That’s okay,” Apollo replied, “I’ve got a lot of being an uncle to make up for too.
“Let’s just do it together this time.”