Growth 18-13 (Heretical Edge 2)

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“Okay, did… did we just step into the largest murder conspiracy ever?” Marina managed to be the first one of us who found her voice after we were all struck dumb by the completely baffling array of hands raised before us. 

That was the thing. The fact that there were so many hands raised appeared to be baffling not only to us, but from the look of things, to the audience themselves as well. The assembled group were all standing there with their hands raised while looking around at one another and talking all at once. They were arguing with one another, demanding explanations, denying those explanations, crying in guilt, confusion, or disbelief, and just plain raising a commotion that was getting louder with every passing second. 

“Uh, Denny, I think you can tell them to put their hands down now,” I whispered, still reeling from this turn of events. They had all been part of these murders? That didn’t even make sense. The sheer–how? 

“Oh, r-right.” Clearly just as taken aback as the rest of us, Denny quickly told everyone they could put their hands down, but still not to hurt anyone. That didn’t stop the arguing spreading through the room, however. If anything, it just got louder as people turned to one another and started loudly demanding and/or desperately pleading that they stop lying and covering for them. 

I focused on one pair, a Rakshasa male and a purple slime-like creature, both shouting over one another to insist that they themselves were the killer, not the other person. A few feet past them, a Guhlben (one of the enormous, obese beings who stood ten feet tall and several feet wide) female in a very pretty dress was tightly gripping the shoulders of a pair of much smaller Satyrs while sobbing hysterically in between insisting that they shouldn’t take the fall for her. The Satyrs, meanwhile, were each shouting back at her that they were the one responsible, then looking at one another to blurt that no the other one wasn’t, they themselves were. 

And so on and so forth it went throughout the entire audience. Everyone was confessing to the murder and insisting that the other people weren’t responsible, it was only them. And the more they argued, the louder the arguing got. Not to mention the crying. A few of them shouted in our direction that the Heretics should take them, and leave the others alone. Which only made their friends loudly and frantically insist that they were the murderer. And it all just got louder from there. 

Finally, an earsplitting whistle filled the air, carrying on for a few seconds as it drowned out everyone and got their attention. It was Marina, standing up at the edge of the stage. She kept up the whistle until the whole audience finally turned to face us once more, quieting down for the moment. Which just left us standing there facing an audience of confessed murderers who were clearly just as confused about this entire situation as we were. 

“Okay,” Sesh announced dully while we stared around the room at all that. “I’m just gonna say it, this is pretty fucking weird.” 

“You’re right about that,” Marina agreed, her gaze shifting first toward Denny and Dakota, who were standing together looking baffled, then to Sesh and me. “What’re we gonna do now?” 

My mouth opened, then I stopped and glanced toward Sitter. “I don’t suppose you have any idea what’s going on here? I mean, without going into too much detail, these guys should’ve only been able to tell the truth when Denny asked if they were responsible for those deaths. They can’t all be responsible. Especially since they’re arguing with each other about it. That’s impossible.” 

“Maybe the power isn’t working anymore?” Denny offered hesitantly. She sounded rather conflicted about the possibility, glancing down at her own hands as though there would be answers in her palms. “Maybe it broke.” 

“I’m pretty sure if it broke, they wouldn’t have raised their hands at all,” Dakota pointed out. “Or only some of them would’ve. Not… not all of them.” Frowning in confusion, she glanced to the audience, who were starting to murmur amongst themselves once more, clearly desperate to go back to arguing about which of them would be taking the blame for these murders. 

Sitter, for his part, simply shook his head while those mouth lights shifted to a light amber. “I confess, Lady Flick, I am quite at a loss. It cannot possibly be all of them, and yet if, as you say, they would be incapable of lying in response to Lady Denny’s question, then the only answer is that–” 

“They all believe they were the ones responsible,” I finished for him, squinting a bit as I turned back to the audience. “Okay, umm… uh, don’t worry, people! We’re gonna get to the bottom of this, and uhh, and no one’s gonna go killing anybody else. We’ll figure this out.” 

God, this was weird. It felt weird. Why was I the one talking to these people? I was just a kid, there should be an adult here to talk to the audience, work all this out, and… and handle it. Yes, I’d been through a lot. I’d had to handle a lot. A hell of a lot, really. And yet somehow, being right here, talking to people and trying to calm them down like this felt like far more of an ‘adult thing’ than actually fighting in life and death battles did. Was it just because I was accustomed to the fighting part? Standing here, talking as though I had any sort of authority whatsoever, it just… it just felt awkward. It felt like they could all see through me, like everyone standing out there could see that I was just a confused little girl who had no idea what I was doing. 

“Flick.” Dakota’s voice was a whisper as she touched my arm. “It’s okay, you know? We can handle this.” 

It was like she knew me. She had known in a glance that I had been mentally spiraling right there. Managing a shaky smile, I nodded and straightened up a bit. I was acting like I had some level of authority because we were the ones who were here. So we had to handle it. There weren’t any adults here. 

No, that wasn’t right either. There were adults. I was one of them. So was Marina. Sesh too, I was pretty sure. We had to step up, take control of the situation, and figure this out. 

And then it struck me. As I stood in front of that audience of people staring at me for direction and answers, I realized why this, of all things, had made me instinctively look for an adult more than much more dangerous and life-threatening situations. Being on a spaceship flying into battle, facing down a horrifying Necromancer who had abducted my mother, dealing with a psychopathic Seosten cunt who wanted to rip my face off and kill my friends, none of that had any connection to my childhood self. It was all so utterly removed from anything the young me would have been involved with that it was like we were two entirely different people. 

But this? Yes, the details were completely absurd and removed from Bystander Flick’s reality, of course. But the more general part, that was a different story. Really, what was this? Remove the supernatural and alien aspects, remove all magic and extra-dimensional stuff, and it was a mystery. It was a mystery like the ones I had often gotten involved with back in Laramie Falls. Okay, not really like those, given my childhood mysteries didn’t tend to run all the way to one murder, let alone two. Still, though, that was what I did back then. I butt my nose into things, as more than one person from back then would’ve said. This situation right here wasn’t about fighting for my life, or about saving the world, or a desperate struggle for survival. It wasn’t about any of that. 

It was about a mystery. And in all of my old mysteries, I’d always had an adult to fall back on, an adult to point at the bad guy. I’d had a safety net, someone who could step in and take charge when the time came. But here, now, it was just us. We were the adults. I was eighteen years old. 

So how long would it be before I stopped feeling like I was faking the whole adult thing and started to actually believe I was one? When would the switch activate that made me feel like the adult I was supposed to be? 

Shaking that off as the thoughts rushed through my mind in a quick moment, I focused on the audience. “Right, so here’s the thing. You all think you were responsible for these murders, and obviously you can’t all be. Wait, hang on. I’m just gonna check something real quick.” Turning to Denny, I whispered what I wanted her to ask next. 

“Um, okay.” Looking hesitant, the younger girl cleared her throat before trying again. “My name is Denise, would everyone who believes they are solely responsible for the murder of Valdean Ecclestone or Mophse Kanter, without any help from anyone else, raise your hand? And if you do not believe you’re responsible, don’t raise your hand.” 

As expected (yet still baffling) by that point, every person in that audience promptly did so. Their hands shot up in the air like they were popping out of a jack-in-the-box. And of course, all of them immediately turned to argue with their neighbors, their friends. 

Before that could get out of control again, I loudly spoke up once more. “Okay! Okay, I think it’s obvious that this is impossible. You all believe you murdered these guys, and that you each did so alone. Clearly that’s not a thing. So it’s magic. It has to be magic. Someone… I think someone must’ve used a spell to make each of you think you were the killer. So just calm down, alright? At least ninety-nine percent of you are not the bad guy here, someone just used magic to make you think you were. And we’re gonna figure this out.” 

If I expected that to calm them down, I was sorely mistaken. Everyone started talking at once again. Some were arguing that I was wrong, they really were the killer and had to be stopped before they hurt someone else, while others were demanding to know who could’ve put that sort of spell on them, pointing fingers one way or another to others in the group. It remained one big chaotic mess. 

Hey!” Sesh shouted loud enough to be heard over all the arguing. As everyone turned that way, she added, “You all want to find out who really murdered those two, right? You wanna know who the bad guy is, who killed your friends and put a spell on the rest of you to blame yourselves for it?” When everyone out there gave murmurs and nods of agreement with that, she gestured. “Well, we’re trying to help with that. But you’ve gotta calm down for a minute. Stop shouting all at once, dudes. You’re not helping anything.” 

Coughing, I nodded along with that. “She’s right, we need to take this one bit at a time. If everyone would please sit down, we’ll try something else.” 

“Who are you?” one of the guests demanded. He, and everyone else, were already starting to resume their seats amidst more confused muttering. When he put voice to that particular question, all of them focused on me. “You’re a Heretic, right? One of the rebels? We heard something about rebels.” 

Oh boy, was that a complicated question. “That’s… a lot to get into,” I replied slowly. “My name is Flick Chambers. And yeah, I’m part of the Heretic rebellion. This is Sesh. These two are Denny and Dakota, as you heard. The girl over there with the great whistle is Marina. We’re here to help. There’s a lot more we need to get into, but first we need to find out exactly what happened here. So, for that, I’m gonna ask for a volunteer. Do all of you know who the Seosten are?” There was a general confirmation of that amongst the group, so I continued. “I have a Seosten’s power to possess people. Which means I can read your mind and see your memories. I want to do that, with each of you, one at a time. I want to see what you remember about what happened and compare all of your… versions.” I could see them getting nervous, shifting in their seats and looking at one another. “But I’ll only do it with your permission. And I’ll only be looking for stuff revolving around the murders, that’s all. Everything else is your business. This is just about finding out who… who killed Valdean and Mophse.” I felt a twinge of guilt about saying that so bluntly to people who had only just found out about the death of their benefactor, someone they clearly cared about a lot given their reactions throughout all this, but I really had no idea how else to phrase it. We had to find answers as quickly and efficiently as possible, before this situation spiraled out of control. If this whole group panicked, everything would get worse. I had to sound like I knew what I was doing. I had to be matter-of-fact and in control. That’s what these people needed right now. Even if I was faking it the entire time, they had to think I was calm and collected. They needed blunt, because they needed to believe this was something I could handle.

Pausing to let that settle in for a moment, I exchanged a glance with the others before speaking again. “Does anyone want to volunteer to be first? My friends here can walk through and talk to the rest of you about what you think happened in the meantime.” 

To my relief, after a few seconds of uncertainty, the Guhlben woman raised her hand while rising to her full height. “I ahh, I would like to submit myself for evaluation, madam,” she announced in a rather posh voice. “If as it turns out, the guilt I feel over those dreadful murders is mere sorcerous chicanary, I shall be greatly relieved.” 

She made her way around the assembled group, having been at the back of the room due to being one of the biggest people there. I heard and saw several of them murmur encouragement to her, belief that she wasn’t the killer, urging her to let them go first instead, and so on. 

“These people really care about each other, don’t they?” Denny murmured behind me. 

“Master Valdean attempted to foster a strong community spirit,” Sitter noted with pride in his voice, his mouth lights shifting to a bright green briefly before fading to a softer shade. “We have activities designed to create lasting friendships, even a sense of family. That is what we are here, family. Which is what makes these murders so difficult to understand. There were arguments, yes. With two hundred and eighty-four guests, how could there not be? But in the end, everyone loved Master Valdean for bringing them here. If they wished to leave, they could have at any time. They were not prisoners.”

“Sir Sitter is absolutely correct right there,” the Guhlben woman announced, having approached the front of the stage by that point. She was still standing on the audience floor, yet she was so tall that she was still looking down toward me. “We are all family here. Granted, it’s a large family and we may not all be best friends. But we are family. Thinking about what I did to poor Mophse… and Valdean, I just–” She had started to tear up before catching herself. “But ah, if those… if those awful memories aren’t true, I would be very happy to hear it.” 

Offering her as reassuring of a smile as I could, I replied, “Well, that’s what we’re trying to get to the bottom of right now, Miss umm…?” 

“Oh dear me,” she blurted, sounding positively scandalized. “I am so sorry. How awfully rude. I am Jamnikrah, but my friends here most often call me Jammi. Or Aunt Jammi. It’s… I can’t yet say that it’s a pleasure to meet you, given the terrible circumstances, but you all seem quite pleasant.” She added that with a little wave toward Dakota and Denny, both of whom waved back to her seemingly reflexively. 

“Okay, Miss Jammi,” I replied while continuing to offer that hopefully at least somewhat reassuring smile, “if it’s okay with you, I’ll just do that possession thing real quick. Be in and out, promise.” While saying that, I raised my hand that way. I didn’t reach out to touch her fully. Better that that be her decision, so it wouldn’t feel like I was taking her control away just as I was… sort of taking her control away.  

There was a moment of hesitation, understandable given what she was opening herself up to, before the large woman carefully raised her hand and touched it against mine. “If there’s something in my memories that can tell you who killed those two, please find it.” 

“I will.” Trying to sound confident when I said that, I glanced toward the others. “You guys talk to everyone here, try to get them organized into some sort of line or something, and see what they can tell you before I get to them. With so many people, this is gonna take awhile.” And with that, I focused on the possession power, disappearing into the Guhlben woman. 

Right, now I was inside her. I could feel her surface emotions and thoughts. She was terrified that she had been the one to kill the nice man who had been so kind and understanding to her, who had taught her so much of how she enjoyed presenting herself. He had seen past her species’ innate… size and helped her to feel proud of who she was and what she looked like. He gave her this pretty dress, and others like it. He taught her how to style her hair, and watched fashion shows with her. He didn’t judge and dismiss her. He took time with her, listened to her thoughts on the books they read, even offered feedback on her own short stories. She loved the man. Not in a romantic sense but more of a mix between a brother and a father. The news that he had been murdered had sent her reeling–no. She’d known he was dead, because she killed him. 

It was that confusing sudden turn that brought me up short. That wasn’t right. None of it was. One second she was reeling in horror from the revelation that this man who had been so important to her was dead, and the next, she was thinking about how she’d had no choice but to kill him. 

Needless to say, I dove a bit deeper into that and focused on her memories revolving first around Mophse’s murder. It was an accident. The man had found out that she had once unknowingly been part of the muscle for a group whose actions had led to the death of Valdean’s close friend. She’d only recently (at the time) realized who this friend was while talking to their host in his apartment area. Realizing that Mophse had overheard her talking to herself about it shortly afterward, she was terrified that he was going to tell Valdean and the man would kick her out of this place for the past transgression, that he would never forgive her. She found him in the sauna and tried to reason with him. He argued that Valdean would understand, that it was worse to keep things secret. She insisted the man could never know. The argument rose to the level of a fight before either of them knew it was happening. She kept telling him to just promise to be quiet about it. She was behind him, pulling the man back against her. He was yanking her hair, reaching up and back to shove his fingers in her eyes. She grabbed for a towel and wrapped it over his mouth while half-blinded by his grasping fingers. Bellowing and straining, she tried to yank the towel tightly in his mouth just so he would have to be quiet for a second and listen to her. 

But it wasn’t his mouth. She realized that too late. The towel was around his throat, and he… and he… died before she understood what she was doing. 

As for Valdean, that had been even more of an accident, a mistake. He’d unexpectedly called for her to see him in the kitchen, and she became paranoid that he knew what she’d done before. She took the pistol, long-squirreled away in her belongings, in the panicked hope that if he wanted her to die, she could protect herself. When she went into the kitchen, seeing Valdean with his back to her as he casually got food out of the fridge, she realized it had to be safe. But when she tried to put the gun away before he noticed, it accidentally went off. 

Yeah, there were holes in that whole thing. I noticed right away. For one, when I went digging deeper for this gang she had supposedly run with, leading to the death of Valdean’s friend, there were very few memories. They all turned blank and vague after that first quick glance. Not to mention the fact that she was too tall to have choked him from a downward position that way the body actually looked like. 

Oh, and there was the fact that she had no memory of changing everyone else’s memories. Which, yes, could have been because she had changed her own memories as well and erased those ones. For that matter, she could have specifically implanted easily disproven memories in her own head in order to look innocent, a sort of double-bluff. It would make sense for anyone who was trying to hide themselves. I really wished Sariel was here to do this stuff. Or even Tabbris. They would’ve been a hell of a lot better at sifting through these minds and finding buried or hidden memories than I was. 

But I was who we had. So, I gave another quick look through those relevant bits before thanking the woman. Then I emerged. 

“Are you okay?” Marina asked. She was standing nearby, with an assortment of people she had been talking to. The others were spread through the room. They were clearly still getting organized. 

I started to answer, then realized she wasn’t really asking me. Her focus was on Jammi. 

“Oh, I… I am ashamed, but well,” the woman assured her. 

“You shouldn’t be ashamed,” I informed her. “I’m pretty sure those memories are planted. There’s a lot of inconsistencies.” With a sigh, I looked out over the assembled group. If they all had altered memories like that, digging through and finding anything useful this way was going to be a nightmare. And yet, it was the quickest way I could think of. I just had to keep at it, going through memory after memory, thought after thought, until something big popped out. Or, more likely, until a bunch of small things popped out and we put them together like a giant puzzle. There were almost three hundred people here. This was going to take hours. 

“You know,” I murmured mostly to myself while looking out at the crowd and thinking about just how long this was going to take, “I think I know why detectives on TV are always drinking so much coffee.” 

“Is it so they have an excuse to run to the bathroom a lot and freak out in private about all the horrible stuff they’re hearing where nobody can see them?” Dakota piped up while she and Denny came closer. 

My mouth opened, then shut, as I let my head tilt slightly. “Okay, two reasons. But come on, we’ve got a lot of people to talk to.

“And something tells me none of these memories are going to be pleasant to sit through.” 

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7 comments

  1. Well that’s THREE easy ways of solving this murder off the able. No ghosts to ask, can’t get the answer using Ammon’s power, and possession won’t work. I guess they’re gonna have to do this with old-fashioned footwork, huh?

    But hey, you know what you can do with old-fashioned CLICK work? Boosting this story on Top Web Fiction right here! Thanks so much, and your tags are: All Bonus Points Go To Whoever Spots The Clue In This Chapter, Bet You Guys Can’t Tell The Original Draft Of This Chapter Included Avalon And Miranda Cuz I Wrote It While Still Somewhat Sick And Forgot They Weren’t There, Dakota Coalbright, Denise Cartland, Felicity Chambers, Flick, Jammi, Marina Dupont, Sesh, Sitter, So Yes‚ The Above Mistake Does Mean About One-Fourth Of The Chapter Was Rewritten To Take Them Out, Sorcerous Chicanary Is A Fun Phrase And I Want More Excuses To Use It

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well this is indeed an interesting wrinkle in things and proves once again that memory magic is bullshit and a pain in the ass.

    Thanks for the chapter Cerulean.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I feel like this is an incredible degree of effort to go to in order to protect the secret of two totally isolated murders. Why would the murderer ever expect to have to deal with mind-reading, or especially Denny’s power? Modifying 200 brains with such detail can’t be casually done. This will be an odd one to eventually find out the truth behind, because I can’t think of a reasonable explanation with the available info.

    Also, is there a reason they didn’t bother checking everyone’s stuff for a high powered laser pistol? I know they probably would have gotten rid of that, but it seems not that difficult to check. Can’t be too many armed people in their commune.

    Liked by 1 person

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