Interlude 8B – Liam Mason (Heretical Edge 2)

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The first time he lost his wife had been the second-worst day in Liam Mason’s long life. Second-worst, because at the time, he’d still had his little girls. As traumatized as little Scout had been, as much as it had killed him that he couldn’t erase what she had experienced, she was at least there. He could hold her, he could comfort her. She and her sister were there as reminders of the woman he loved. He’d had that, at least. They’d had each other. 

The second time he lost his wife had been the worst day in Liam Mason’s long life. Because he hadn’t only lost Larissa again. This time, he’d lost his girls too. Scout and Sands. He lost all three of them. And not to some monster or a magic spell. No. He lost them to themselves. They willingly left, chose to leave, out of some misguided belief that the monsters who wanted to enslave, kill, and devour humanity itself were some kind of… innocent little fluffy puppies. 

He’d lost his wife and children, his entire family, within months of actually getting them all back in the first place. They chose to walk away, chose to abandon their father, to side with… with… those things. 

Just like Joselyn. Just like Deveron, Lillian, Roger, Seamus, and Tribald. All of them were supposed to be his friends, back in the day. All of them had gone off on this… absurd belief that the creatures who tore human bones from their bodies, devoured their hearts, and used the remains for blood rituals were actually just misunderstood. The creatures they fought were monsters. Jos, Deveron, the rest of them just didn’t understand. Liam had thought that getting the adults involved would put an end to the whole situation, but it had only made things worse. Instead of being talked down out of their insanity, Joselyn and the others had blamed him for exposing their little group, and everything blew up into a full-scale war. A war that had ended with Joselyn’s identity, as well as almost everyone’s memory of that war, being erased so that things could go back to the way they should have been. 

Now the war was back. It was unerased, thanks to Joselyn’s daughter. And while Joselyn had taken his friends away when she started her version of the war. Felicity Chambers took away his wife and children. 

Felicity Chambers was an idealistic child who had no doubt been manipulated by those much stronger and more malicious than she was. Creatures, likely the same or related to those who had first manipulated Joselyn into believing this insanity, had gotten to her. Whether it was before she ever joined Crossroads or after, Liam wasn’t sure. Only that they used her as a weak point, twisting her mind until she believed the same evil lies as Joselyn had. 

Was it the bodysnatchers who had been exposed earlier in the year? It had to be them, right? That was what made the most sense. If they could possess people, it wouldn’t have been hard to bring some onto the school grounds to say the right things to twist Flick and those around her. 

And Gaia. She was fooled by all this too. Fooled or puppeted or… or… Gods, who knew. It was all such a mess. The war was going again, his family was gone, Gaia was locked up for being part of it, and now Liam had been put in charge of Crossroads as its new headmaster. 

Headmaster. He was the new headmaster of Crossroads, and what happened during the first hunt they’d put together, even with all the precautions? One of their students disappeared. Erin Redcliffe had literally vanished in the middle of the hunt. Despite all the extra guards they had, despite the trackers that were supposed to make sure the students could always be found, despite everything, Erin was just…. gone. 

He needed advice. Liam needed to talk to someone about this, someone who had been in the position of leadership over the school before. Someone who might actually understand what was going on and what he might be able to do. 

Which was what brought him here, standing outside of a wooden door as he exhaled a long, slow breath. The man inside had already called for him to enter, but Liam took another moment before pushing the door open and stepping through. 

It was a war room. Or at least it looked like one, with a large table projecting a hologram of the Earth with various marks indicating where sightings of certain people had been, weapons lining all of the walls, a heavy oak desk at the back covered in reports and a handful of recording devices, and shelves behind the desk lined with various enchanted objects. There were no decorations, nothing to indicate any kind of personal life or entertainment for the occupant. It was all entirely built and designed around function. 

Gabriel Ruthers stood at the back of the room, looking at the shelf with magic items. His hand casually toyed with one of the metal orbs there, rolling it between two fingers as he spoke in a quiet, somewhat weary voice. “It’s been a long year, hasn’t it, Liam?” 

“Are we counting since three hundred and sixty-five days ago, January, or the beginning of this school year?” Liam asked. Pausing then, he grimaced. “I guess it doesn’t matter. The answer is yes.” 

“It’s going to get longer,” came the gruff response. With that, Ruthers turned and moved closer. “You’re here about the Redcliffes. What’s going on with her father?” 

“We haven’t told Nolan yet,” Liam informed him simply, folding his arms across his chest while he watched the man. “But he’ll figure it out eventually, when we don’t let him talk to her. You know what a shitshow that’s gonna be? The only reason he’s still here and hasn’t gone off to join the idealists is because he thinks we still have his daughter here.” 

A short pause followed that statement, before Liam dropped his gaze to stare at the floor, his entire frame seeming to deflate a bit. “You know what that sounds like when I say it out loud?” 

“I know what it sounds like,” Ruthers confirmed quietly, his hand finding its way to Liam’s shoulder. “But you have to be strong. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel or sound right. Sometimes it’s hard. When it comes to saving humanity, to protecting our world and our people, we don’t always have the luxury of playing nice. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy to make sure even more people don’t suffer. Liam, you know what we’re up against, don’t you?” 

“Idealists manipulated by evil,” Liam murmured, frowning a bit before looking back up to the other man. “There’s already students talking about Erin’s disappearance, and I know there’s a few trying to decide if there’s a way for them to pull the same disappearing act. They play it cool around their teachers, but I just… I know they’re planning something. I can’t just throw them all in holding cells because I suspect they want to defect. I’ve cancelled future hunts for the time being until we find out what happened with Erin, but what… what else are we supposed to do? We can only keep them trapped at school for so long.” 

“It’s a tropical island with a magnificent beach and a jungle,” Ruthers dryly retorted, “they’re not exactly suffering.” Sobering a bit, he added, “They’ll be fine, Liam. Tell them the truth, that we’re protecting them. Tell them that their friends and family have been tricked, but we’re working to bring them back. Tell them about the bodysnatchers. If it scares them… good, maybe it’ll convince them not to trust people they don’t know, and to be critical of anyone they do know showing up with strange new ideas and opinions.” 

“You want me to make my students paranoid about everyone they talk to?” Liam’s voice was flat as he stared at the man he had looked up to and trusted for so long. 

Ruthers, in turn, stared right back at him. “I want you to teach them to be critical and wary of people who might be trying to lead them astray, be that strangers or… strangers wearing the faces of people they think they know. Teach them that people who suddenly change their minds about every truth we’ve known for so long might not be themselves anymore. Whether they’ve been fooled or… or taken over, those are the people we need to lock down if we’re going to get this under control. I want you to use the authority you’ve been given to keep a lid on our students so we don’t lose any more of them to this absurd insurrection. Can you do that?”

Liam was silent for a few long seconds, letting the words sink in before he straightened a bit, meeting the other man’s gaze. “Yes, Counselor. 

“I can do that.” 

*******

He needed advice. Liam needed to talk to someone about this, someone who had been in the position of leadership over the school before. Someone who might actually understand what was going on and what he might be able to do. 

Which was what brought him here, standing in front of a heavy, metal door lined with magical runes and radiating power beyond anything even he could actually comprehend. The spells on the door were stronger than he could possibly have deciphered in several years, let alone done anything about. A single one of the multiple incantations could have been studied for decades to get a full understanding of. They had been prepared by the strongest mages in Crossroads. 

“I can’t let you in here for long, you understand?” Sophronia Leven, the beautiful, auburn-haired Crossroads Committee member whose human story was told in the epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, reminded him as she stood by the door. “There are rules that all of us have to follow, no matter how… much we may disagree with them. Lines that we have no choice but to toe.” 

Before he answered, Liam gave the woman a brief, curious look. It sounded more as though she was annoyed about something else when she spoke of lines they had to toe. Belatedly, when she squinted at him, he gave a quick nod. “Of course, Counselor. I don’t need long.”

At least, he hoped he didn’t. Even coming here in the first place felt like a betrayal of Ruthers and everything he was supposed to stand for. But then, Liam was well-versed in betrayal. 

Finally nodding with what was apparently satisfaction, Sophronia touched several parts of the door, speaking an incantation. As a few runes lit up, she gestured and the door swung open entirely soundlessly. “Go. Do what you must,” she instructed. “I will warn you before your time is up. Do not linger when I do so, or the security measures will take their own precautions.” 

With a single, somewhat distracted nod, Liam stepped through the doorway and into a small, dark room. He could sense the walls around him, the space only slightly larger than one of those Bystander portable toilets or a closet. More magical runes covered each of them, all lighting up as the door closed behind him. For a full minute, he was scanned and various queries were sent to three separate people in different locations to ensure that he was allowed to be where he was. Only once all three of those had come back positive did the magic unlock, and he felt a quick rush of power as the small room transported him to his actual destination. 

Now, he was standing on a platform in a large, brightly lit room with no doors or windows. The walls, floor, and ceiling were white and lined with even more spells than the previous door and small room had been. There was more magical power on a single wall of this room than Liam could produce on his own, even if given a full century to do so. 

The room itself was empty, aside from a large glass tube directly in the middle. Within the tube floated the reason for all the security measures, the woman he’d come to see. Gaia Sinclaire. She wasn’t actually floating in water, or any other liquid. Instead, the red-haired woman had been frozen in an ongoing stasis field that was projected from the tube and powered by a few of the spells on the surrounding walls. The rest of those spells were meant to make it impossible to find this place, to have any contact with Gaia herself, to keep Gaia contained if she broke from the stasis, and so on. 

For a moment, Liam froze, staring at the tube. A rush of thoughts and memories passed through his mind, before he exhaled and stepped that way. There was a single metal plate in the middle of the tube, and he put his hand against it firmly before speaking aloud. “Headmistress?” 

You don’t need to call me that, Liam, came the response directly into his mind through the mental link that the metal plate established. Not anymore. 

Yes, Gaia’s body may have been frozen, but it was possible, through the spells that kept her that way, to contact her mind. From what Liam knew, the Committee had been using that in an attempt to get any information from her about the bodysnatchers, the rebellion, the Atherbys, anything useful at all. 

“Gaia,” he amended, cursing himself inwardly for the slip. Of course she didn’t have that title anymore. He had her position. She was a prisoner, a traitor. So why had his first instinct been to show deference and respect? 

Shaking that off, Liam pushed on. “I need–I mean… Erin Redcliffe disappeared.” Over the next few minutes, he explained the situation, how the girl had vanished from the middle of a hunt and their thoughts that either she had somehow planned it out and run away to join her roommate and friends in the rebellion, or that they themselves had taken her. 

When he was done, Gaia was silent. Well, she was always silent. She gave no mental response for a few long seconds. Just as he was about to ask if the spell had malfunctioned somehow, the woman finally ‘spoke.’ Let me tell you a story. 

“A story?” Liam echoed. “Is this really the right time?” 

There is no better time than this, she insisted before continuing. Once, very long ago, a man lived happily with his wife and two children, a boy and a girl. They weren’t rich, but neither were they poor. They were content. One day, while the wife and children were off, a traveling salesman came to the man’s door and showed him a grand mirror, six feet in height and three feet wide. The mirror was a sight to behold, set into a stand of wood that had been intricately carved to look like two beautiful, androgynous figures holding the glass. 

‘This will protect your family, good sir,’ the salesman informed him. ‘Because there are monsters in this world, and the mirror will reveal them to you.’ 

“It was a mirror enchanted to break the Bystander Effect?” Liam asked, curiously. 

So it would seem, was her response. With some hesitation, but an eagerness to protect his family from any threats, the man bought the mirror and placed it in his home. As he stood admiring it, his wife returned, and the man brought her to the mirror. However, to his horror, the reflection showed not the woman he knew, but a foul beast. He saw, in the reflection of his wife, a creature with dark scales, pointed horns, and a wide mouth with many fangs. In a panic, the man killed the beast, before hearing the approach of his son. 

Quickly, he hid the body, resolving to explain the truth to the boy before forcing him to see his mother’s body. But, as the boy entered, the man saw his son’s reflection in the mirror. Again, it was that of a demonic being, a snarling beast that drove a shiver through the man’s heart. In despair, he killed the boy, unable to stand the sight of that creature in the mirror. 

Once more, he heard someone approach. His daughter. Terrified and thoroughly suspicious, the man hid the body of his son and waited. Sure enough, when the girl entered the room looking for her family, the man saw the reflection of a most terrible beast, the worst of all. With a heart laden with sorrow and regret, he killed his daughter. 

“I don’t understand the point of this story,” Liam interrupted. “Is it that evil can be everywhere, even where we least expect it? Because–”

He was cut off as Gaia pushed on as though he hadn’t spoken at all. The man was certain the enchantment hiding his wife and children’s true forms would wear off upon their deaths. But it didn’t. They looked the same as they always had to his naked eye. Worse, when he displayed them before the mirror again, their reflections were as normal as his own. Grieving, he took the bodies behind the house to bury, when the salesman returned. 

‘You!’ the man shouted. ‘You lied to me! You told me the mirror would reveal the monsters in this world!’

‘And so it has,’ the salesman informed him. ‘Can you tell me of anyone more monstrous than he who would kill his wife and children?’ 

“I should’ve known that coming here was a mistake,” Liam muttered. “What is that supposed to mean? What does it have to do with saving Erin?” 

Again, there was a brief pause before Gaia responded. Its meaning is for you to determine, Liam. I cannot tell you that. As for Erin, I believe she is fine. My intention was not to protect her, but to save another of my students. One whom I will never give up on, no matter what mistakes they may make. 

“Who?” he snapped, unthinkingly. 

You, Liam.  

I want to save you

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16 comments

  1. Well hey, at least we got to… ahh… see what’s going on with Gaia, huh? Now we just need to get her back where she belongs. Wonder when that’ll happen… 😉

    Anyway, thanks to the donators for choosing this particular interlude to focus on. I hope you all enjoyed seeing it! If you did, it’d be great if you could boost this story on Top Web Fiction by going to this page and clicking boost in the top right. Thanks!

    Your tags are: Apparently Of The Many Powers Liam Mason Has Absorbed Over The Years‚ None Involved Super Self-Awareness, Gabriel Ruthers, Gaia Sinclaire, Liam Mason, Sophronia Leven, Why Yes‚ It Does Sound Bad When You Say It Outloud. And Every Other Logical Way Of Perceiving It. How Odd.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve missed Gaia. I know this was a voter chosen subject, but I hope it’s a sign focus will drift back to the Heretic war soon. Or maybe that they’ll be involved in some capacity in the upcoming Fossor fight (which could be good or very bad and would probably be both), because I’ll be pretty disappointed if there’s never a face-to-face meeting between Fossor and Ruthers in the present day.

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  3. So, I am not going to lie; when the vote came out to me I did not read the subject matter of what Liam was going to be doing, just that it was focused on Liam, so I immediately dropped it down to the lowest on my list.

    I hate this man, like, really hate. Not loathe mind you, which I consider to be a higher level of distaste than hate, just, I hate him and do not want to see anything involving him and his perspective here only enforces that hate.

    I really dislike the willfully ignorant and blind, and Liam is very definitely willfully ignorant and blind. Two civil wars, TWO, have been started over this matter and he hasn’t even looked into what the other side is actually saying about what the problem is.
    No, Liam, your wife and children are not saying that “All Strangers are really ‘innocent little fluffy puppies'” as you put it, they are saying that “Like humans, a small percentage of non-humans are evil and need to be killed but most are just trying to live their lives so maybe we shouldn’t kill the innocent?”. But, nope, he thinks they are dumb enough to have been fooled. Yes, Liam, you think your wife and children are dumb, and stupid because you believe they have been tricked.

    I understand that he’s been indoctrinated, and that no-one ever really likes to admit they were wrong. And for him to accept what his wife and children are telling him he’d have to admit that he was wrong, about a lot of things but mostly about ratting about Joselyn and the others the first time around.
    And that’s a huge thing to do. I get that. But because I understand his motivations that only makes me hate him more.
    He’s a willfully blind, ignorant, coward. Too scared to admit he may be in the wrong. Too scared to face the consequences of his actions if he’s wrong. Just, too scared. And I don’t foresee him changing.

    For Liam to have any sort of positive character growth he’d basically have to die as he is now and be reborn as a new person. His entire state of being and who he is revolves around being right, but not just that but in being righteous, in doing the Morally Good Thing(tm) and being the Good Guy Who Does Good Things(tm). For him to in any way progress he’d have to be willing to face that fact that, yes, he was the Bad Guy Who Did Evil Things(tm). He did them for the right reasons, but the ends ever rarely justify the means.

    To crib a meme: Thanks for writing such a great character Cerulean. I hate him.

    And thanks for the chapter as well.And as for the chapter itself not really much to say. I already knew Gaia was going to be under heavy lock-and-key to say so no real surprise there. Nice to get to see and know some of it in detail for sure but nothing really major to me.

    Ruthers going to Ruthers and Gaia being an awesome person as always.
    Sadly I don’t think this is going to be enough to get Liam to change his ways. I’m not even really sure what might, because he’s so twisted he’d just ignore any *finger quotes*evidence*finger quotes* he is shown that he’s wrong. And I think even something major, like an Alter giving their life to save him or one of his loved ones, would be turned around as just another trick.

    Gaaaaah. I’m going to stop typing about Liam now or I’ll be here all day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I didn’t properly close a tag it seems. Damnit WordPress! Let me edit my comments! At least with a short grace period of five minutes like some other sites do!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m really glad he prompts such a large response like that. He’s definitely… stuck in what his side is. He’s got an incredible amount of sunk cost fallacy in that… the moment he even considers that he could be wrong, he has to accept what he’s done. A lot of people could never do that. Not as far along as he’s gone with it.

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  4. Has Flick learned how to reanimate zombies yet? If so she could maybe use Liam after someone kills him. Jokes aside I would just chip in with my 2 cents that I still think Ruthers is a more awful character.

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    1. I have a different sort of hate for Ruthers than I do for Liam.

      As far as we know Liam hasn’t had a personal interaction with a Stranger than went bad for him, and I’m not counting the many times one tried and failed to kill him. That’s just business as normal for a Bosch Heretic. I mean an actual, personal, one-on-one non-hostile interaction that went bad. He’s just been indoctrinated and is too deep and too cowardly to ever even think he was wrong about it.

      Ruthers on the other hand trusted the wrong person and got burned badly for it. Maybe even literally, I remember fire was involved in the Dare interlude a while back that also involved Fossor so… . Yeah.
      Tangent aside Ruthers had a personal stake in the matter and it went south, really, really south. So he at least has some personal experience to taint hiw view of things. He’s still being willfully blind somewhat on the matter but at least in his case it is personal.
      He trusted a Stranger once. It literally caused The Black Death. That’s going to leave a scar.

      So, yes, I do hate Ruthers a bit but I don’t hate him as much as I do Liam. Because we’ve never gotten any hints at all that Liam had a personal interaction of any sort, or even tried to understand what his wife and daughters are actually saying.
      It’d break him if he did, and he’s too weak to face that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think its possible to tell a satisfying redemption story about Liam without addressing the rape. He literally participated in the mindwiping of a woman who he then married and started a family with.

    It’s honestly the exact same thing that Fossor did to Joselyn. It doesn’t have Fossor’s psychological torture, but the consent of the relationship is identical. Worse still, his anti-alter indoctrination is irrelevant. Even in a hypothetical world where all Alters where evil and Larissa was objectively delusional he’d still be a rapist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry, in this particular case you’re referring to events that did not canonically happen. The chapter that made that a thing violated continuity in how old Larissa was supposed to be as established in the first chapter with her. Thus it was altered soon after being posted. Larissa was a child in the 80’s, thus not old enough to be part of the rebellion.

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