A/N: The following is a special commissioned interlude, the regular chapter continuing Flick’s confrontation with Fossor will be out tomorrow as scheduled.
Months ago, shortly after Gaia and Flick restored the Rebellion memories.
Kingman, Arizona. At last count, the city, which lay just over a hundred miles southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, held a population of around forty thousand. That put the town in a sort-of sweet spot as far as many were concerned. Small enough that it was easily overlooked and would never be a huge tourist destination, yet large enough for someone to blend in.
Small enough that Bosch Heretics would rarely see a need to visit. Yet large enough that, when and if they did come through on one of their hunts, certain members of the town’s population could quite easily disappear during their presence without attracting undue attention.
Henry Meyers Carden, as he was known to the people of Kingman, sat behind his desk in the local DMV. The Bystanders who worked with him or came to fulfill the errands one normally did at the DMV would see a fairly nondescript, dark-skinned man with close-cropped black hair and unusually bright green eyes. Yet, those with the ability to see through the Effect would see a man with tiny, beautiful, dark blue scales rather than skin, with small, two inch horns on either side of his forehead, and a mouth full of incredibly sharp teeth. His eyes were that same piercing green, but were twice the size one would expect to see on a human face.
Despite his true appearance, Henry Carden’s current actions were no different from any other employee at this place. He listened to customer after customer who took their turns to come up when their number was called, asked for the appropriate identification and paperwork, then either walked them through getting what they needed, or sent them away to retrieve the appropriate items. Or, in some cases, informed them that there was nothing the DMV could do.
The mundane routine of each day was broken occasionally, such as now, when the man who approached while clutching his number slip very clearly wasn’t an ordinary human. He was a young Rakshasa, or feline humanoid, obviously unsure about what he was doing and as paranoid as… well, a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as the saying went.
When he reached the desk, the Rakshasa didn’t say anything at first. His eyes darted around, taking in all the other (actual human) employees as though expecting them to draw weapons and attack him at any second. The sound of a bell by the door as another customer entered drew a gasp as the man spun that way, hands raised defensively in front of his face.
Quietly, Henry cleared his throat, quickly drawing the half-panicked Rakshasa’s attention back to him before the figure could decide to bolt or something. His voice was low, as calm as though he was talking to any other customer. Keeping up appearances, even (or perhaps especially) in front of ordinary Bystanders, was important. “You look like you could use an ice-cold drink.”
“A drink? I–oh–” Catching himself, the Rakshasa remembered the code phrase. “Actually, I’d like four to go,” he recited. It clearly sounded just like he was reciting something he’d memorized, but hey. Close enough. Henry couldn’t expect everyone who came through needing help to be perfect at the cloak and dagger stuff.
“Wouldn’t we all?” he replied, finishing the back-and-forth code before picking up a folder. “If you’ll come with me, sir, I think we have what you’re looking for in the back.” Reaching out, he flipped the sign at the front of his desk around so that ‘please see another attendant’ was displayed before gesturing for the other man to follow him on his way to a door marked for employees. None of the other employees in the office gave them a second glance, though there were some disgruntled mumbles from customers when they saw the number of people ready to serve them go down by one.
Leading the feline figure into the back hallway before turning to open an unlabeled wooden door, Henry ushered him inside, glancing both ways before closing the door after them as he followed into a small office. “What’s your name?” he asked while stepping around the desk.
“What-oh, Miren,” the feline figure answered belatedly. “My name is Miren.”
“Good afternoon, Miren, I’m Henry. Well, that’s close enough to my name anyway,” the other man replied, gesturing as he sat at his desk. “Have a seat. How long have you been on Earth?”
“My umm…” Miren hesitated before sitting a bit awkwardly. “My family–I don’t know. I mean all my life. I was born here. I think my parents lived here all their lives too, but they were… they died when I was still a cub. I lived with my grandmother in Tulsa until last month when she passed. I was… I was at the funeral and… I mean, she always told me to be careful. She told me stories about the Heretics, but I didn’t–they came to the funeral. I was just trying to say goodbye to my grandma and they accused me of trying to eat people. They–” His voice was getting louder by the word, emotion making him choke up a bit.
“That’s what they do,” Henry muttered, sighing to himself as he pushed away a few bad memories of his own before focusing. “Okay, so they attacked you but you got away. I assume either your grandmother or another friend told you about us and where to go? Tulsa’s a long ways away. We have other offices between here and there.”
“I just ran at first,” Miren explained. “I didn’t know where I was going. Didn’t really have anywhere to go. No one to talk to, really. Figured they’d know where my home was, or find out pretty soon. I just took off. Hitchhiked and bussed across a few states, had a couple more close calls. But then I found these people camping out by the side of the highway about twenty miles north of here. A couple trolls, werewolf, and this pixie dude. They told me there was a group called Section Four, people who, ahhh… help Alters. Alters? That’s the right word for… us?”
“Alters, right,” Henry confirmed. “And yes, Section Four helps Alters get new identities, money, transport, whatever they need. We exist in all levels of government, even a few senators. We’re a mix of Alters and Natural Heretics–”
“Heretics?” Miren quickly interrupted, his eyes widening.
Gently, Henry explained the difference before continuing. “Basically, Section Four exists to help maintain some level of normal society for Alters. We have postal workers who know how to deliver to questionable locations that might not get service otherwise, police who can handle the kind of cases that come up with our people, firefighters with knowledge about cancelling out mystical flames or identifying if a fire comes from one of our people in danger, or doctors who can deal with magical burns, poisons, and other things that would stump Bystanders. More importantly, in your case right now, we do what we can to keep innocent Alters away from the Bosch Heretics and provide them with new lives. But we have to be careful. That’s why we have the codes. If you looked like you needed help without the codes, we’d still do what we could, we’d just be more careful about approaching you. The codes help us know just how informed you are about what we’re doing, if you’re someone just feeling things out, or if you’re a threat. Alters who do bad things, we call them Nocen, sometimes our people will give them false codes. That way, when they show up and give those false codes, we know what we’re dealing with. That’s part of how we’re careful. Another part is why Nuella is here.”
“Nuella?” Miren echoed, only to glance toward the corner of the room when a flicker of motion drew his attention that way. Seeing a tall, gray-skinned and silver-haired woman standing there, he jerked with a yelp and nearly fell sideways.
Henry winced. “Sorry. We just can’t be too careful. Nuella here is a Leusteren, sort of an empath. She could tell if you were lying or deceiving me with your explanation, or if you had bad intent.”
Nuella, for her part, quietly greeted the man and explained that her emotion-reading extended to a sort of pseudo-invisibility by manipulating a person’s emotions into not caring about her presence to the point of not even consciously acknowledging it.
From there, the three had a conversation about what they could do for Miren, how they could get him a quiet life out of the way in an area he’d like to live, under a new identity just in case the Bosch Heretics were looking for his old one. They talked about the place he might want to move to, areas that were relatively safe from constant Heretic hunters and other ways he could stay safe.
Eventually, Henry left Miren and Nuella to talk a bit more while he went to print off new identification records in the back room. On his way down the hall, however, he heard the sound of running footsteps behind him and turned to glance over his shoulder just in time to see a wide-eyed figure rushing his way. Like Miren, this man had feline-like fur, though he was not a Rakshasa. His fur was very fine and tiger-like though colored blue and white. He looked closer to human because he was closer to human. He was a hybrid, born to an Alter father (of a species known as Tzeuens) and a human mother, though no one knew what had become of the latter.
“Sergei?” Henry started. “What’s going o–”
“Rebellion!” Sergei blurted out loud, grabbing hold of his shoulders. “Rebellion–Heretics! My mom, my–Atherbys, the–the Rebellion! The memory, they were–my dad! He was–it’s back!”
Poor Henry, of course, had absolutely no idea what the other man was saying. “Slow down, slow down. Are you okay? What Rebellion? What about your mother? Are there Heretics in town?” That last question was, obviously, the most important one given the danger they posed.
Over the next few minutes, right there in the hall, Sergei explained everything. He told Henry about the memories that had returned to his mind early that morning, memories of living in a quiet house with his father and his Heretic mother. Memories of his parents both telling him stories about the Heretic Rebellion, an actual rebellion, led by a woman known as Joselyn Atherby. Atherby, of course, was a name familiar to Henry and Section Four. The Atherby Camp itself had helped out plenty of times.
Apparently, this Joselyn Atherby woman was both the leader of that group, and of a group of Bosch Heretics who rebelled against both Crossroads and Eden’s Garden. According to Sergei’s stories, she had led a full scale revolt against the status quo, and had actually taken a fair chunk of other Boschers with her.
“Uhh, Sergei, I hate to be a Debbie Downer,” Henry carefully cut in, “but if this rebellion thing was that big of a deal, I’m pretty sure I would have heard about it. Are you sure–”
“You did hear about it.” The words came from Nuella, who had stepped into the hall. “You were a part of it. As was I.”
While Henry stared at his Section Four partner in disbelief, she explained that she had felt Sergei’s emotions from the other room and came to investigate. The moment she heard him talking about the rebellion, her own memories of being a part of it with Henry had come back in a rush. Decades of memories, throughout the twentieth century, all flooding her brain.
“That’s what happened to me this morning!” Sergei blurted. “I was eating breakfast and then it all just–it hit me all at once.”
“The Bosch Heretics, the loyalists,” Nuella murmured, “they erased everyone’s memories. They stopped the Rebellion by making everyone forget about it.”
“Then why is it back?” Henry asked, still feeling a bit uncertain and doubtful about the whole thing. “Why would your memories suddenly return? And why both of yours but not mine?”
“That spell.” The two-worded answer came not from either of the people he was talking to, but from a man who had just appeared in the middle of the hall. A man who, as Henry and the other two turned that way, instantly set off alarms in their heads. Alarms that typically drew many possible reactions, all of which mostly amounted to panic.
“Heretic!” Henry blurted, stumbling back and nearly falling as he grabbed for the emergency teleport coin in one pocket. “Get down!” he started to warn the others, hand raised to hurl the coin at the floor to get the three of them the hell out of there before they were all killed. He had a flash of hope that the kid in the office would escape, but there was no way he could get to him from here, not before their attacker murdered all of them. There was no telling what powers–
His hand was caught in mid-motion. Not by the Heretic, but by Nuella. As the coin fell from his hand, she quickly snatched it out of the air, her voice firm, yet soothing. “It’s okay. It’s alright.”
As Henry stared at the woman, his panicked mind trying to figure out just when she had gone completely insane or if this was some sort of reaction to that level of terror, the memory of what they had just been talking about rose in the back of his consciousness. Heretics. Rebellion. His wide, terrified eyes darted back to the man who caused such alarm.
The Heretic himself appeared to be an older man. Old enough to have visible gray hair and a fairly pale face lined with wrinkles. He held no weapon. In fact, his hands were stretched out to either side with the backs facing Henry and the others rather than the palms. It was the best way for someone who could potentially project energy blasts from those hands to show that he meant no harm, rather than holding them out and up toward the group.
“Easy,” the Heretic carefully spoke. “Take it easy, Hank. We’re good. We’re good. Nuella?”
“I remember you, Artzain,” she confirmed, giving Henry another look. “Easy. Calm.”
Sounding like he was having as much trouble dismissing the blaring danger sense as Henry himself was, Sergei carefully and hesitantly asked, “Guy from the Rebellion?”
“I was,” the Heretic, Artzain apparently, answered. “Before those Garden and Crossroads pigeon-livered hornswogglers erased my memory. Our memories. You… you don’t remember those days, Hank? The spell didn’t give your memories back, did it?” There was audible pain in his voice, making it clear he desperately wanted the man in front of him to know who he was.
“It seems some of us have remembered certain parts,” Nuella put in. “Others have not remembered anything. But what is this spell you speak of?”
Before the Heretic could respond, the door at the end of the hall, leading back to the main room, opened up as one of the other DMV workers poked his head in and took in the sight before him. “Hey, Henry! Finish up whatever this is and come on back. The line’s getting pretty long and some of us don’t like the way these people start growling at us. You’re better with the growlers.”
Once the man closed the door to go back to his work, Nuella quietly murmured, “Well, we can rest assured that the Bystander Effect remains in place, whatever else has happened.”
Artzain gave a quick nod. “Yes, the spell didn’t affect that. It was meant to erase the eraser, as far as we can…” Trailing off, the man seemed to realize that he should start at the beginning. So, as quickly as possible, he explained what had happened the night before/very early that morning. The headmistress of the Crossroads school, together with the daughter of the Rebellion’s original leader, had used magic to undo the spell that had erased the Rebellion, and Joselyn Atherby herself, from the memories of all Heretics who were connected to the Reaper who provided their powers.
“It seems that in breaking the spell for Bosch Heretics,” Nuella mused, “the remainder of it has been weakened. Some of us are remembering a little, some a lot, and some nothing at all, yet.” That last part was added with a glance toward Henry, who was still at least partially convinced that this whole thing was completely made up. “I believe it will fade more with time, perhaps even breaking apart entirely, now that the foundation of the spell has been so damaged.”
“Okay, wait, just… wait.” Henry was shaking his head, trying to come to terms with everything still. “You’re saying all the Boschers who used to fight for the Rebellion are getting their memories back and… and what, going right back to fighting their old friends and family?”
“So it seems,” Artzain confirmed. “It’s been a busy day, believe me. A good chunk of us Garden people took off together with some of our Victors. Almost didn’t make it with the vines we had to grab.” Exhaling, the man visibly winced, memories of what he and the others had gone through to liberate these ‘vines’ (whatever those were for) clearly playing through his head. “Not fun.”
“But what brought you here?” Henry pressed. They had been standing here talking to this Boscher for long enough that the warning siren screaming in his head had finally faded. Which was a really strange situation to be in. He hadn’t exactly spent enough time around Boschers to find out that the danger sense could fade until today.
Or, if the others were right about these lost memories, apparently he had. Huh.
Artzain was already replying, “Once the Garden refugees found a spot to stay for the day, a bunch of us split up to go find the… the people that spell made us forget. I checked a few other places before I remembered that you and Nuella used to work here for Section Four. Well, not here. You were at the hospital back then, but still. It didn’t take long to work out that the DMV might be a good place to look for my… for my old friends.”
This was so weird. Staring at the Heretic, Henry could see the sincerity there. He didn’t need Nuella’s emotion-reading powers for that. This Artzain remembered the three of them being very close friends. Nuella herself apparently also remembered it. The two of them had all these restored memories, but Henry had nothing. He stared at this man, trying as hard as he could to dredge up some image from the past, but it was for naught. He couldn’t remember anything about him.
“It’s okay, Henry,” Nuella quietly assured him. “As I said, the spell may take longer to crack apart for others. Your memories may come back eventually. Give it some more time.”
Sergei spoke up then. “What about my mother? I don’t have your memories, all I have are stories. Her name was… is Jessica, Jessica Trent. She’s this tall with black hair that’s cut short except for this braid part on the left. And she has a scar. Right here.” His hand rose to indicate the space from the left side of his jaw, over his cheek, and up over his nose. “Like that. Her memories would be back now too, right? Do you–do you know her?” There was an eagerness to the Tzeuen-Hybrid’s voice, just as there had been when he first showed up sputtering at Henry about the memories of the Rebellion. “Please, tell me you’ve at least seen her.”
“It’s… it’s familiar,” Artzain carefully confirmed. “I think I’ve seen her now and then, but she was from Crossroads, not Eden’s Garden. And even the Rebellion by itself was pretty large before the end. I think we might have fought together a couple times, in a larger group. But I haven’t seen her lately. I’m sorry, I don’t know where she would be now. But that spell would have restored her memories, so she’ll remember you, and your father. Wait, your father. Where–”
“Dead,” Sergei informed him in a flat voice. “Killed about six years ago by one of your–by a Boscher.”
“Odds bodkins,” Arztain cursed with a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry, boy, I truly am.” One of his fists tightened, a small bit of frost forming around it. “When I think about the things I myself did in these past couple decades just because my memories were erased, the people–” He cut himself off, clearly pushing aside some very bad images. “The people who erased our memories, they’re going to pay for it. They’ll pay for all of it. The Rebellion’s already reforming. We’re contacting the Crossroads people who have left and just… we’re getting organized, but it’ll take time.” He focused on Sergei. “I’ll ask around about your mother, this Jessica Trent. If she’s still around, I’ll find her. You have my word.”
Before Sergei or either of the others could respond to that, the nearby door opened. Miren, the young Rakshasa Henry had been helping in his office, poked his head out. “Hey, I finished all the–” Seeing the Bosch Heretic standing there, he let out a strangled scream, the door slamming quickly to cut them off. That was followed by the sound of a few crashes as the panicked boy tried to escape from a room with no other windows or doors.
“I will speak with him,” Nuella quietly informed the other two. “I will explain the situation, and calm him down. The two of you should speak for now. After all,” she added with a knowing glance, “you still have that bet, I believe.”
As she moved to the door to deal with the panicked Rakshasa, Henry looked to this stranger-who-wasn’t. “You and me, we were close, huh?
“What was that like?”
It turned out that many others within Section Four had also either gotten pieces or large chunks of their memories of the Heretic Rebellion back, or had been contacted by Boschers who remembered them. The entire organization was in an uproar over the new revelations, which was making doing the jobs they were supposed to do even harder than usual. Especially given the fact that their urges to run from Boschers were now competing with the revelation that some, yet not all, of those people were their old friends.
For an organization like theirs, where every group was intentionally kept separate and isolated from the others for security reasons, the whole thing was hard to deal with. There were only a few people who linked various cells together, and essentially none who were connected to all of them. They weren’t set up for passing communication back and forth in a situation like this, because they weren’t set up to communicate as a whole group at all. The entire point was for Section Four to remain a loose collection of independent cells with the overarching goal of taking care of Alters who needed them.
All of which meant that Henry was on the phone with various contacts for the next six hours, as everyone tried to get a full handle on exactly what was happening. Word was being passed around, new code phrases were being brought up, and people whose memories had started to come back were being partnered with those who hadn’t in order to keep track of what Boschers showed up looking for old friends. All while they were also trying to do the jobs Section Four was actually intended to do.
As for Henry’s group, they had their own mission. As he disconnected from what had to be his seven hundredth phone call of the day, the man himself emerged from the now-dark DMV building to find an SUV waiting for him. Nuella stood next to it, along with the Boscher, Arztain. Seeing the latter made that alarm go off in Henry’s head yet again, and he had to force back the panic it brought on.
“Here!” the Hybrid in question called while approaching with several heavily-laden grocery bags. “Just had to pick up some snacks for the road.”
Yes, for the road. Sergei remembered where his family had lived before, so they were going on a road trip to find his house, just in case his mother went there. At first, the boy had planned on going alone, but Nuella and Henry had both refused to abandon him. And Arztain insisted on accompanying them as well.
Nor was he the last member of their little group.
“Hey, are we ready to go?!” From inside the SUV, the actual final person who had insisted on going, Miren, called out through the open window. “It’s a long way to Virginia!”
“He’s not wrong,” Arztain murmured. “It is a long way. But is he sure he wants to go with… ahhh, well, me? Kid still whimpers when I look in his direction.”
“He’s doing his best,” Nuella informed him. “We all are. He feels as though helping out now will save others from what he went through. Even if it… you scare him.”
Shoving aside his own doubts and fears, feeling as though he was about to get into a car with a rabid tiger who just happened to currently be sedated, Henry focused on the man who had supposedly once been his close friend. “Right. Let’s get on the road then.
“Time to find a missing Boscher Lady, and hope this whole memory restoration thing isn’t temporary.”