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Standing with his back to the transport truck, Gordon Kuhn closed his eyes for a moment and let out a long, slow breath. He wished his mother was here. After all the time they had been apart, his parents deserved their own reunions. But she was still stuck at Crossroads, essentially kept prisoner rather than being allowed to become a threat to them. She, along with a number of others, were kept locked down in some secret facility. Even more secret than the first prison that the rebellion had hit over the summer to save Sean Gerardo and others. Crossroads had… not liked that, to say the least. Wherever their new prison was, no one had been able to find out.
Which, yes, meant that both his parents had been held captive by each Boscher organization. And now that he had finally freed his father from his long-imprisonment, the two of them could focus on getting his mother out of her own captivity. His parents would have their reunion, and they would be a family again. Gordon had told himself that repeatedly throughout the lead-up to this trip, and through the entire mission itself. It had been his silent mantra. He would help save his father, and then they would rescue his mother. Whatever happened, whatever it took, he was done having his family split apart and imprisoned.
Of course, the first thing that had to happen, before anything else as far as that went, was his father waking up. Whatever had been done to him, and his fellow prisoners who had been in those tubes, had left them thoroughly drained and in what amounted to a mild coma. According to Professor Tangle, they just needed time out of the tubes to recover. She assured Gordon and the others that the prisoners would wake up on their own, particularly if they were laid out in the open air.
So, Gordon and the rest of the students had taken the comatose prisoners out of the storage space and laid them on other blankets arranged to one side of the truck. Aside from Asenath’s father, who was on the opposite side, shielded from the sunlight by a spell of darkness. Not that the man himself had a problem with the sun. That was limited to half-Akharu. Vampires like Asenath. Full Akharu like Tiras were just fine out in the sunlight. Gordon… had no idea why that was a thing. But then, there were a lot of aspects of the whole vampire situation that didn’t make sense. They were essentially natural Akharu Heretics, and yet they functioned a lot differently than most would. It was strange, to say the least.
In any case, while others took turns sleeping or helping out with the conscious prisoners (talking to them about what was going on, assuring them that they would be safe and that this wasn’t some weird trick, and so on), Gordon stood by the truck and watched the comatose people laid out on the blankets. He knew Asenath was on the opposite side of the truck with her mother as they waited for Tiras to awaken. He wondered if she felt as impatient as he did. After all, she had been waiting much longer than him for that reunion. Hundreds of years, apparently. If he’d had to wait that long… he couldn’t even imagine it. This was bad enough as it was. The last time he had spoken to his father, Gordon was still a very small child. He barely remembered it, despite clinging tightly to that memory for all this time. If he’d had to wait centuries to see the man again, he didn’t know how he would have survived. Asenath hadn’t even known if her father was alive at all. She only knew that he had disappeared with no explanation, no word. He was simply gone, for all that time, and she’d barely had a whisper here or there of his survival.
How she dealt with that, how she had moved on to focus on other things without having any idea what was going on with her father, he had no idea. And now she was sitting over there, quietly waiting for him to wake up. It was all Gordon could do not to shake his own father in a desperate attempt to hurry along his recovery so they could talk about everything. The amount of willpower it must have taken for her to silently wait had to be astronomical.
Abruptly, Gordon’s musings about the nearby vampire were cut off by the sound of one of the prisoners waking up. It wasn’t his father, but rather a female humanoid with green skin, four eyes, and no hair. Also no mouth. According to Roger Dornan, she was something called a Deitezen, who communicated telepathically. A couple of the conscious prisoners had called her Meyfers.
The Deitezen shifted as she came to consciousness, before abruptly sitting up. Her eyes were wide, and a large stone the size of Gordon himself abruptly rose into the air before spinning around as though searching for a threat. Apparently her people were telekinetic as well.
Before Gordon could move, Professor Kohaku was there, appearing just far enough away from the suddenly-panicked woman that it wouldn’t instantly be seen as an attack. Her hands were folded behind her back, which Gordon had heard in the Bystander world would be an indication that she was hiding something. But among Heretics and Alters, raising one’s hands was not a sign of peaceful intentions. There were far too many dangerous powers that could be launched from open palms. Folding one’s arms behind their back, in that case, was far more of an indication that one didn’t mean any harm. It didn’t rule out any possible attack, of course. That was all but impossible, particularly coming from a Heretic. But the very fact that a Heretic was taking the time and care to even slightly show lack of hostile intention would likely come as a surprise to the other woman. At least enough to make her stop for a moment.
Sure enough, the Deitezen froze briefly at the sight. The heavy boulder spun in a slow circle over her head, like an anxious guard dog waiting for directions to attack. But she didn’t hurl it that way. Instead, she turned her head from one side to the other, taking in the sight of her fellow prisoners who had yet to wake up. A sound off in the distance caught her attention, and she quickly turned that way only to see Jazz playing some sort of ball game with the two orcs who had been freed. The sound had been the orcs laughing loudly as the ball went quite high.
Finally, the woman looked at Gordon, eyes narrowing slightly. Then she ‘spoke,’ her voice coming into his mind. Rebel Heretics? They don’t exist anymore.
“We do now, again,” Kohaku announced. Apparently the telepathic woman had been projecting those words into more than just Gordon’s head. “Look into my mind. I know your people can’t dig too deep from a distance, but you’ll see the answers you’re looking for.”
After a brief pause, the Deitezen turned back that way. A few seconds of silence fast as she stared intently toward Kohaku, before jerking slightly. If she’d had a mouth, Gordon was certain she would have gasped. Joselyn of Atherby has returned? She is– she is alive. Many believed her to have been long-since murdered. My own people– my– She went silent then, clearly absorbing all that before pushing herself to her feet somewhat unsteadily. The Rebellion has returned. Your memories are restored. Yet what precisely stops them from doing the same thing again? In ancient history, humans were our allies and friends, our family. Then your memories were erased and you became monsters hunting us down. A hundred years ago, Joselyn of Atherby began a revolution and created a group that would again work with us. You were our friends and family once more. But then those memories were again erased. And again, you were our enemies. What assurances do any of us have that history will not once more repeat itself? How do we know that you are all not… what is the term? Ticking time bombs. How do we know that the clock is not counting down for the next time that your memories are erased and you yet again become monsters intent on killing us all?
Gordon knew that some of the others might have been offended by the question. After all, they had just gone through all that to save that woman, and now she was questioning how long it would take for them to try to kill her again. But quite honestly, he couldn’t blame her. Not after everything she had clearly been through. He would have been suspicious himself.
Even as he had those thoughts,the Deitezen spoke again, this time sounding apologetic. I am sorry. That was uncalled for. Reading your thoughts, the things you did–you have saved us. You saved our lives and protected us, and I rewarded you with suspicion.
“It’s understandable,” Kohaku assured her. “Believe me, we have thought the same thing. But we have also taken measures to protect ourselves against that eventuality. Including having someone on the inside of the Crossroads leadership Committee who will tell us if they are attempting such a thing. And other measures, such as an alliance with some of the people responsible for the creation of those memory alterations. We will not be taken by surprise again. It will not be as it was the last time. Though I know words are cheap, we are protecting ourselves. You are far from the first to raise such a fair question.”
There was another brief pause before the Deitezen nodded once. Still, I apologize. My name is Meyfers. And you– Her head turned to focus on Gordon. You are his son, aren’t you? As she said that, her hand rose to point toward Gordon’s father. You are Sindri’s boy. He spoke of you many times. And he allowed me to see his mental image of you, his memories. You have grown, but I can still recognize you. I see him in you, Gordon Koraug.
Reflexively, Gordon almost corrected her that his last name was Kuhn, his mother’s name. Yet he stopped. Koraug was his father’s family name. There was no reason to correct that. Instead, he nodded. “Yes. I–I’ve been looking for him for a long time.” The words almost caught in his throat, but he forced them out past the lump.
Yes, came the slow, silent response. I imagine you have. She glanced down to the man in question before adding, He will be beside himself to see you, young Gordon. His family has always been high on his mind. He swore he would find a way to escape and get back to you someday. But it seems you have… as I believe they say, punched him to the beat.
“Beaten him to the punch,” Gordon corrected simply.
Yes, that, Meyfers confirmed before turning back to Kohaku. My people are resistant to the sort of draining effect that has left my companions in this state. I believe it will be some time before the rest of them awaken. But when they do, I would like to be nearby to help explain what is happening. I believe that will help prevent any potential misunderstandings. Even as she said that, the woman lowered the heavy boulder to where it had been.
“Of course,” Kohaku agreed immediately. “In the meantime, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to have a more private conversation about what happened back on that planet. From what we have heard and been able to put together, it was… very bad. The creature that–” She stopped, clearly not wanting to say more right then. Instead, the woman settled on simply finishing with, “I’d like to hear some details from someone who was there the entire time.”
Meyfers agreed and the two women stepped away to confer in the distance. They were still close enough to see if any of the others woke up, but Gordon was once more left to his own thoughts. His gaze found its way to his father, and the boy found himself very faintly smiling. On another person, it would have been a broad, almost painful grin. But Gordon didn’t tend to show that much outward emotion. He kept everything inside, thanks to a lifetime of exercising control. If he was too emotional, too wild, his powers could have hurt or killed someone. He could have frozen over an entire room, or worse. He would have exposed the truth about himself. So he had learned from a young age, thanks in part to his mother’s lessons, to control himself.
But now, standing there looking at his living father, knowing that the man would soon wake up so that they could talk for the first time since he had been a child, that faint smile found its way to Gordon’s face.
Very soon, after all this time, he would finally be able to say…
Sindri Koraug had been the last of his unconscious group, lying together on those blankets, to awaken. By the time his eyes opened, the others had all been pulled aside by Kohaku and Meyfers. First for an explanation and then for food and water, as well as a reunion with their fellow former prisoners. Through all of that, for another hour, he had slept and recuperated.
But finally, he was awake. He had seen Meyfers standing in the distance, and took the mental download of information about what exactly was going on, and about who was here. Absorbing all that as he rose to his feet, the dark-skinned, goateed man had turned around to face the boy waiting there by the truck. His entirely silver eyes with no white or pupil had focused just in time to hear those two simple words. Words that, despite the advance explanation he had been given, still took his breath away.
“Gordon.” Speaking that simple name, a name that had been on his mind every day for over a decade, Sindri found himself frozen in place as thoroughly as if he had been one of the people turned to ice by his own powers. He wanted to move. He wanted to cross the short distance that was now all that separated them. He wanted to take his son in his arms and hold him as tight as possible. For all these years, that had often been all he was capable of thinking about. In his waking hours as well as his dreams, seeing and touching his son (and wife) once more had kept him going through things that otherwise might have broken the man. He had clung to the hope of being reunited with his family. They were his strength, and he had spent so long planning how he would greet his child.
And now that moment had come, yet Sindri stood paralyzed. A small part of him still wondered if this could be some sort of dream or trick, though it was easily pushed aside. Meyfers’ mental projection had given him the full summary in just a few seconds. The Rebellion had saved them. A rebellion that his own son was a part of. His son, standing there waiting for him to move.
And move he finally did. Like one of those same frozen statues managing to shatter the ice that contained them, the man took one step, then another. He walked to his son and raised both hands. They trembled almost violently as the man slowly set his palms against either side of Gordon’s face. Neither spoke a word for those few seconds. Sindri simply closed his eyes, allowing a visible shudder to run through him he felt his now not-so-little boy’s face. After all this time, after everything that had happened and all that had been taken from him, he was finally standing here with his son. With his son. It was too much to take in at once. Seeing his boy, hearing him, touching him. Having all those sensations at once was overwhelming. Now, right now, all he could do was close his eyes, remain silent, and run his fingers over his son’s face, across his jaw, up over his hair, and against his shoulders. There. He was really there.
Opening his eyes once more, Sindri met his son’s gaze. He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come at first. They caught in his throat, causing a weak, barely audible noise.
“It’s okay, Father,” Gordon finally assured him, though his own voice was weak as well. “You are safe now. You–we… I’m here.”
Still unable to find words, Sindri nonetheless gave a quick, almost violent nod. Tears had begun to stream their way down his face, blurring his vision before he rapidly blinked them away. “Yes,” he managed in a voice that cracked audibly. “Yes, you certainly are. My boy. My son. My–” That was all he could manage to say before his throat locked up once more. And yet, though he couldn’t express his feelings in words at that moment, there was another way. His hand squeezed the boy’s shoulders, before pulling him closer. Close enough to embrace. Which was exactly what he did, arms locking around the boy tightly as he pulled Gordon to his chest and held him there. He said nothing, unable to bring any more words. Instead, the man simply stood there, clutching his son tightly. Nothing could take this moment away from him. There would be time for talking later. Right now, in this second, all that mattered was holding his child for the first time in so many years. Soon, the time would come for more details about what they were going to do. But now, he cared about nothing aside from standing here like this.
Finally, after some time that way, Sindri relaxed his grip marginally and leaned back so he could look down at his son. “You’ve grown so much.” There was mixed pride and wonder in his voice. It was no surprise, of course. He had known his son wouldn’t remain the helpless little child that he had been when Sindri last saw him. And yet, consciously knowing something and seeing it in front of his eyes were two different things. Only now, seeing his boy as an adult, did the full weight of the years they had been separated settle on Sindri’s mind. He would truly never get to see those years he had missed. He would never see his child grow from toddler to adult. He would never see those years. Everything he had missed was gone forever.
On the other hand, he had so much more to look forward to. So many more years that he never would have gotten without the efforts of his son and the other members of this group. Realizing that, Sindri pushed his thoughts about what he had lost aside and focused on what was still to come.
Gordon spoke then, his own voice flat. “I’m sorry it took so long to find you.”
With a grunt of disbelief, Sindri shook his head. “I’m amazed you found us at all. You–you are incredible, my son. My boy.” He released Gordon from the embrace, but only to move his hand back to his son’s face. “You got big. You got strong, like your mother. Who–”
“She’s not here,” Gordon quietly informed him. “She’s not–they have her. Crossroads won’t let her leave. I don’t know how they found out she was sympathetic to the Rebellion, but they have her and others locked up somewhere. She managed to get a few messages out, but she can’t tell us where they are, or–I wanted to bring her. But I had to find you while we had the chance.”
Easing his son’s turmoil with a gentle smile, Sindri forced his own worry and fear for his wife aside for the moment. “Then we will have to find her ourselves,” he promised the boy. “Together.”
“But–but are you… are you alright?” Gordon quickly put in, leaning back as though to scan his father up and down. “You were in prison, that tube thing they had you in–”
“I wasn’t there for long,” Sindri assured him. “We spent most of our time digging out that mountain and uncovering those tunnels. The… creature, whatever it was, they had only just begun to… feed it recently.
Meeting his gaze, Gordon quietly murmured, “It’s something really bad. They were talking about it earlier, and it sounds like this Victor wants to… if he’s not stopped–”
“Then we will stop him,” Sindri firmly announced. “We will find your mother, and we will stop the Victors of the Lost Scar tribe.”
Gordon blinked at that. “What? No, it was Kyril Shamon of the Eternal Eye tribe. He was the one who imprisoned you.”
“I do not know who told you that,” Sindri informed him, “but that prison camp belonged to the Lost Scar tribe. The Victors Remember Bennett and Zoya Dalal called themselves our owners, not this Kyril Shamon you mention. Dalal herself visited the camp more than once.”
Gordon frowned. “But… but…
“What does that mean?”