Heretical Edge

Reception 13-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter

A/N – The non-canon chapters for this story and for Summus Proelium were posted over the weekend. You can find the SP chapter here and the HE chapter here

“You remember when we were little kids back in school?” Miranda’s voice oh-so-innocently asked as the girl herself sat beside me at a table. I was pretty sure she was smiling, but couldn’t tell for sure, considering my head was down against said-table. “And we all used to make jokes and–uh, well fantasies for some of them about which of us would get married first?” Yeah, she was definitely smiling. Or smirking. “I seriously never thought you’d be the one to take that pot. Congratulations, I’m pretty sure there’s like twelve bucks in change, a handful of hair scrunchies, two stuffed animals, three tubes of the good chapstick out of the Laramie Falls Junior High vending machine, and that sweet Lego watch waiting for you back home.” 

Raising my head from the table, catching a glimpse of Koren, Sands, and Sarah sitting on the other side collectively snickering in the process, I turned toward Miranda next to me and squinted at the innocently-smiling girl. “You think this whole thing is just super funny, huh?” 

Randi, of course, gave a quick nod, even adding a thumbs up. “It’s fucking hilarious, dude. Come on, this immortal Revenant girl comes out of nowhere and says she’s your wife because you killed her husband and inherited his Necromancy power, which is the real thing she made her wedding vows to? Exactly how many people would something like that happen to? This has ‘Flick’s Life’ written all over it. And for once, it’s not something horrific or sad. Yeah, it’s funny.” 

“She’s got a point, Flick,” Sands put in while reaching across the table to gently poke my shoulder. “Seriously, how often does something insane happen to you that’s just… weird and kind of hilarious instead of terrible and violent? I mean, yeah the way she showed up was violent, but she saved us from that Nuckelavee! That’s gotta put her in the positive column, right?”

“Yeah, that’s definitely positive,” I confirmed. “She showed up and took out the monster, fantastic. She says she’s friendly, double-fantastic. She also says she has no interest in getting revenge for the whole killing her husband thing, which is just extra bonus fantastic levels. But…” 

As I trailed off, Miranda asked, “Are you afraid she’s just playing the long game and is more into the whole revenge thing than she’s letting on? You know, stab when no one’s looking?” 

Koren spoke up. “From what Mercury and Sariel said, that doesn’t really sound much like her either. It kinda sounded like what you see is what you get with that chick. She’s really straightforward. If she was pissed at you, she’d say so. Which uhh, kinda goes with what we saw, you know? She doesn’t really seem like the tricks and subterfuge type.” 

My head started to shake, then I hesitated before continuing to shake it. “No–I mean, yeah, you’re right. From what those two said, that didn’t really sound like her MO. Besides, they’re checking all that.” Turning my head slightly, I looked away from the table on the playground next to the motel where we were sitting, gazing off to the main building itself. In one of those rooms was where the Seosten, along with several others (including my mother), were having a long, magically assisted chat with this Persephone chick. They’d insisted on doing a full rundown without me present, just to make sure everything really was on the up-and-up with her. 

Behind me as I was looking toward the building, Sarah spoke quietly. “Avalon and Shiori.” 

Turning back and settling once more, I nodded. “Yeah, them. I’m not sure how they’ll react or how she’ll react to them. I mean, she says she doesn’t mean me any harm and that she’s in love with the power I have and loyal to it and all. But does that extend to being nice to the girls I love? Or anyone else I care about? I just–how much is she actually going to listen to me or care about what I care about? What if she decides only she gets me and turns violent against them?” 

The other four exchanged looks for a moment before Koren spoke again. “Uncle Wyatt’s in there, and Grandma. If she’s a danger to anyone here, they’ll sniff it out. And uhh, I’m just gonna guess she won’t really mind, Flick. Seriously, I’m gonna be super-surprised if she’s the strict monogamous sort. I mean, she’s definitely not the ‘til death do we part’ sort.” 

Snorting despite myself while the others outright snickered, I waved that off. “Right, yeah, okay. Point. And yeah, they’ll probably find anything wrong in that whole interrogation thing. I just… this whole thing is weird. Better weird than usual, but still weird.” My foot was tapping nervously against the floor. “She’s… she made an oath or a vow or whatever to Manakel’s power, and now it’s my power so she thinks it extends to me. It’s like inheriting an old grandfather clock in a will, and then finding out some other person has an arranged marriage with that clock, so now you’re married.” 

With a cough, Miranda offered, “Can I give you a little advice, old best friend? Maybe don’t tell the immortal Revenant chick the comparison about her being married to a clock.” 

Blanching a little, I shook my head. “Yeah, yeah. I didn’t mean it as an insult or anything. I mean, she seems fine. She saved us, she was friendly, I just–I’m worried about where this is going. Everything Sariel and Mercury said makes her out to be super-loyal to Manakel. Or, you know, to his power. Which I guess maybe translates into being loyal to me, or something? But she also seems, I dunno, unpredictable? I guess I’m just afraid that this ‘not a problem’ is going to turn into ‘very big problem’ as soon as she finds out I’m already romantically involved. Yeah, you’re right about the whole multiple loves thing being pretty accepted and all, I just… I’m really confused. And maybe just a little pessimistic that this totally random thing won’t find some way to turn out to be terrifying after all. Especially if I stop worrying about it.”

Miranda put her hand on my back, squeezing it. “Don’t worry, we get it. Everyone here knows why you might be… uhh, pretty hesitant to believe this isn’t some huge problem, believe me.”  

Sands nodded. “Yeah, totally. But I’m pretty sure this is more like Tristan showing up out of nowhere while you were on that jungle hike with Deveron, Wyatt, and Koren, you know?” 

“And hey,” Koren quickly put in, “He fell out of the sky too, remember? So it’s totally like that.” 

A very slight smirk found its way to my face as I looked around at all four of them. “You guys are pretty good at the whole encouragement thing. Thanks, I–I guess I really needed that.” Letting out a breath then, I straightened and gave a firm nod. “Kay, I’ll try to believe that this whole thing isn’t about to blow up in all of our faces, but I reserve the right to scream I told you so if it does.” 

“Thankfully,” Miranda pointed out, “I’m pretty sure if it does turn into a problem, we’ll all be too busy to listen.” Coughing, she added a flat, “Anyway, are you sure you’re not just hoping it turns into a problem so you don’t have to tell Avalon and Shiori that you’re freaking married?” 

Face flushing deeply, I gave a quick shake of my head while the others snickered. “Oh come on, I am not married. If anything, my Necromancy power’s married. Hell, only half of that’s married, just the part I got from Manakel. Half of one power I have is married. So like, that barely even counts as anything, right?” Saying that, I found myself looking around at a group of pretty dubious-looking friends, before muttering under my breath, “Well, it makes sense to me.” 

“That’s good!” Koren teased, “get your excuses and explanations ready before Avalon finds out.” 

That prompted another round of snickers while I extended my leg to kick her under the table, my face still pink. “Yeah yeah, laugh it up. Believe me, someday you’re gonna be in a situation like this, and I will totally take advantage.” Without missing a beat, I added over my shoulder toward the person my item-sense power had just detected, “And you’re not allowed to protect her from my eventual cunning revenge, Wyatt.”  

Stepping closer, my (much) older brother sniffed while stopping at the end of the table. “You’re very capable,” he informed me primly, “but you can’t stop me from protecting my family.” 

Squinting that way, I pointed out, “I’m your family too, you know. You could’ve been here protecting me from all this awful teasing and mockery.” 

There was a very brief pause as the gangly-looking man seemed unsure of how to respond to that. It was a little awkward, as if he knew he wanted to say something teasing back, but wasn’t quite to the point of knowing exactly how to do so. Wyatt had gotten a lot better over the past year with all this family and friend interaction, but there were still times he just lost it a bit. 

However, that only lasted for those momentary seconds before Koren whispered something into her hand, then made a flicking motion toward Wyatt. I heard nothing, but the way the man reacted made it clear that she had somehow… thrown the whisper to him? New power, obviously. 

Sure enough, Wyatt gave a very short nod toward Koren before focusing on me once more. His voice was calm as he spoke the retort she’d given him. “Tough diddies.” 

“That’s not wh–oh never mind,” Koren waved it off before asking, “So how’s it looking over there? Is she a secret murder-assassin just waiting to jump Flick?”

“Or,” Sands put in, “is she just waiting to jump Flick.” That made her and Miranda snicker. 

Sarah, kindly stepping on her sister’s foot, pointedly spoke up. “They mean, is she safe?” 

It took a moment for Wyatt to answer, while he collected his thoughts. Finally, the man confirmed, “She didn’t trip any guilt spells, or make any of the threat-indicators light up, and the danger-gel I made her hold stayed completely calm. Everyone checked her and she…” The next words looked like it took a lot for him to say. “She appears to be on the up-and-up.” Looking straight to me, he added, “Our mother is making her take a binding oath spell to do no intentional harm, nor intentionally allow harm, to you or anyone you care about. It’s being prepared right now by Mom, Sariel, Mercury, and two of the Victors on our side.”  

Raising an eyebrow, I asked, “You’re not there helping?” 

Wyatt, in turn, folded his arms, looking a little annoyed at himself. “I… might have gone a little overboard with the truth and danger sensing spells. They didn’t want to wait for me to recover. They said they have enough power to make them binding as it is.” 

Right, that made sense. He’d used so much magic making sure this woman wasn’t a threat, that he didn’t have enough left at the moment to contribute to the oath-making spell. Was it weird that I found that a little adorable despite everything? My brother really cared about what happened to me. 

As I was thinking about that, Wyatt continued. “They need you to come talk to her. The oath magic works better if you’re there for it.” His tone turned serious as he reached out to touch my arm. “But if she makes any funny moves or makes you feel uncomfortable, you say the word and she’ll be buried under so many trap spells it’ll take her a month to dig her way out.” 

“Good to know,” I replied easily while pushing myself up. Thanking the others and promising to let them know what happened, I headed off with Wyatt toward the motel building. On the way, I glanced over to him and asked, “So, what do you think of this woman? I mean, I know she’s really intense and all. And potentially dangerous, obviously. But what do you really think?”  

Wyatt didn’t answer at first. He was quiet, clearly considering the question. Which did a lot to show how much he had really changed over the past year. Before, he would have ranted on for an hour about how she was obviously plotting to kill all of us, and probably wear our skins or something. But now, while he was still suspicious, he was a lot more reasonable about it. He thought things through more and was much more in control of himself. Finally, as we were about halfway to the building, he answered. “You’re right, she could be dangerous. She’s very strong and hard to stop.” His long, beak-like nose had scrunched up a bit. “But I’ve learned two things about you this year. Okay, more than two. But two specific ones now. The first is that you’re really good at making enemies. Really horrible, strong, vicious enemies I can’t always be there to help with. Even with magic. They find a way to get past it if they have to.”

My mouth opened to say something, but he waved me off and continued. “The other important thing I’ve learned is that you’re also really good at making friends. So, my instinct is to say this girl is dangerous and just get rid of her. That’s what my brain wants to do. It’s what my heart wants to do. Just throw her out and be done with it. But we wouldn’t be done with it. Either she’d be angry and turn into a threat herself, or she just wouldn’t be here to help you with a different threat. She–she’s strong, capable, terrifying. And I’d rather you make her into a real friend, than me make her into an enemy. Even if she scares me. I… I trust you to handle it.” 

We had stopped outside the motel room by that point to finish all that. I didn’t speak at first, just looking at my awkward, wonderful, gangly, incredible brother. Then I stepped over and put both arms around him to hug tightly. “You’re pretty cool, you know that?” My voice was quiet, yet still audibly choked up. “I’m lucky to have someone like you.” 

Despite all the progress he had made, Wyatt was still reflexively stiff when I hugged him. But, after a brief moment, I felt his arms move down to return the embrace. His voice was a bit thick as well. “Be careful, okay? Not–not just because she’s dangerous. But because… because I think she’s fragile too. Not– she’s different. You could really hurt her if you wanted to.” 

That… yeah, that wasn’t at all what I’d expected him to say. Still, I nodded while releasing the man and stepping back. “Trust me, I’ll keep it in mind. The last thing I want to do is traumatize the millennia-old ghost-creature possessing an immortal dead body. Yeah, immortal dead. I said it.” 

With that promise, I turned to the motel, took in a breath before letting it out, and moved to knock on the door. Before my knuckles could actually make contact, however, it opened seemingly of its own volition, with nobody nearby. So, I shrugged before stepping in. The door closed behind me, leaving Wyatt to head back to the others. 

The motel room had had all the furniture taken out of it. The floor, walls, and ceiling were covered in various magic runes that were all centered around a single figure who stood in the middle. Persephone, of course. She stood there calmly, wearing only a sleeveless version of the Seosten bodysuit, arms extended out to either side with more spell-runes drawn along them. 

Meanwhile, Mom, Sariel, and Mercury were on one side of the room, with the two Victors opposite them. They were Jack Childs, the old cowboy from Fate’s Shepherds, and Fu Hao, the Asian woman who looked very young except for her ancient-looking eyes that had clearly seen an incredible number of years. She was one of the leaders of the Vigilant Sons. Seller and Avalon’s tribe, whom I might have had a pretty big problem with given how they had treated Valley. But apparently Fu Hao had already apologized and openly admitted fault for that. Which, given how old and powerful these people were, the fact that any of them were willing to admit when they were wrong meant a lot. I still wasn’t happy with what happened, except that if they hadn’t kicked Avalon out, I wouldn’t have met her the way I did, and–god, that same thing kept coming up, didn’t it? Bad things led to good things. It was all so complicated. 

Eyes lighting up when I entered the room, Persephone called out without moving, “Hello, beloved! Did you eat something yet? Was it good? I’ve heard very nice things about something called pizza on this planet. I’m very interested in trying it once we’re finished with all this.” She spoke so casually, as if she was just waiting for something like… toast to pop up rather than being put under an intense set of spells meant to ensure she wouldn’t kill any of us. 

Before I could say anything, Mom spoke up. “Felicity, come right up in front of her. It’s okay. Put your hands on her shoulders and we’ll finish the spell. Persephone, you know how it works.” 

The white-haired woman remained completely motionless, even as she cheerfully confirmed, “Don’t move an inch or the spell gets messed up! You got it, no moving. I am a tree. Except I smell better.” Her eyes found mine as she amended, “Not that trees smell bad, but you should sniff me, Honeycakes.” After a brief pause, she noted, “I smell like honeycake.” 

Moving that way, I hesitated uncertainly before putting both hands on the woman’s shoulders. She was taller than me by a couple inches, but shorter than Avalon. Speaking… completely academically, she was also incredibly beautiful. Like any Seosten, really. She had that totally snow-white hair and tanned skin, with a slim figure that– yeah. And yes, she absolutely smelled like vanilla cake and honey. It made me blush a little. Especially when she smiled brightly at me, clearly knowing exactly how I was reacting to all that. Oh boy, because this whole thing hadn’t already been awkward enough.  

So, for the next few minutes, I stood there basically face to face with this woman who kept calling herself my wife. Which would’ve been so much easier to deal with if she wasn’t so attractive. And cool. Seriously, she flew down out of the sky and completely exploded a Nuckelavee to introduce herself. It was–no, Flick. Knock it off. Firmly telling myself to push those thoughts aside, I focused on just looking at Persephone. 

Okay, scratch that. I focused on closing my eyes and pretending I was somewhere else. Somewhere with cake and honey. 

Damn it. 

I knew why the spell was taking awhile. Even with two strong Seosten, my mother, and a couple Victors, a Revenant was incredibly hard to target with magic that would actually stick. And one like this, who had found a body as powerful and long-lasting as Persephone had, took even more effort and time. Oh, sure, they could’ve hit her with a teleportation spell or something quite easily, shifted her somewhere else. But for an ongoing effect like this, one that would give even her enough trouble if she started to turn against us, it took a lot. According to Sariel, when they were back on the Olympus, only two people had been able to tell Persephone what to do. The first was Manakel, with the very same Necromancy power that attracted her to him in the first place. And the other was Puriel, who was basically a god when it came to magic. 

But in this case, we had enough power to put the spell on her. Plus, she was willingly cooperating, which helped. She could probably break the spell, but doing so would alert basically everyone Mom was including in the spell, so Persephone going bad would result in a whole bunch of people jumping in, while the Revenant herself was buried under a heap of targeted trap spells. They wouldn’t stop her forever, but they would, with any luck, slow her down. It was the best we could do. Between that and my own ability to sort-of control or at least push her with my Necromancy (I wasn’t as good with it as Manakel had been, so I couldn’t just order her around), this whole thing was as safe as we could make it.   

Finally, with a rush of power that even I felt closing in all around us to culminate in a burst that made my ears pop, it was done. Mom stepped over, putting her hand on my arm to tug me back. “There,” she said quietly, her eyes on Persephone. “You say you want to spend time with my daughter. You can do that, but… when she tells you to back off, do it. Sariel has an extra room you can use. You live with her, not with Felicity. You give her space when she needs it.” 

“Of course, Mother!” the woman cheerfully replied, “we wouldn’t want to rush things.” 

Oh boy. Yeah, Mom had her own reaction to that. But before she could get too into it, I quickly turned to the two Victors, who were starting to leave. “Uhh, um, excuse me?” 

Fu Hao and Childs exchanged brief looks before turning to me, the Asian woman curiously asking, “May we help you with something else?” 

Pushing aside the thought that it was really weird to ask them for anything else after they’d already done this much, I nodded. “Yeah, I uhh, I sure hope so. 

“Let’s just say I have a friend who really needs some help when it comes to one of your old colleagues.”

Previous Chapter

Interlude 12B – Denny Again (Heretical Edge 2)

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The quiet, familiar scritching sound of a small knife blade steadily carving into wood filled the small space of the closet where Denny was crouched. She had closed the door and scrunched herself into the back behind the clothes and toys, invisible if someone simply glanced inside. Between that and the fact that it was the middle of the night with no lights on other than what came through the curtained window near her bed in the main room, the area around her was pitch-black. But that didn’t matter, not really. She wasn’t afraid of the dark. And she certainly wasn’t worried about monsters. 

Because she was a monster. And monsters belonged in the closet. 

She had told her mother that she didn’t want to see that therapist again. For some reason that she couldn’t explain, she didn’t say anything about the woman changing her name to that weird one, or any of that. Denny wasn’t sure why, she just knew it was a bad idea. First her mother had wanted her to give it another try, but then they had gotten word that ‘Megan’ was going on an extended trip and wouldn’t be available. So she had agreed to let her daughter see a different therapist, though that hadn’t actually started yet. She was supposed to have her first visit next week. Which didn’t help the girl right now, as she crouched in the closet, carving into the wall. 

It was also too dark to see exactly what she was carving. But that didn’t matter either, because she didn’t need to see it. She knew, deep in her soul, what was carved throughout every wall of the closet. Two different words, repeated over and over again. One was two letters and the other three letters. Me Him Me Him Me Him. The two words were cut into the walls obsessively. From the look of it, if someone had examined the carvings closely, it would appear as though many instances had one word carved first, and then the other carved almost on top of that. It was an argument, played out through a steak knife that had been borrowed from the kitchen, digging into the wall. 

Him. He was there. She could feel him, could almost hear his voice. She caught glimpses of him out of the corner of her eye, and felt him standing behind her. But he was never there when she looked closer. He was always just out of sight, just out of reach. He was right there with her, yet not. 

Grasping the knife carefully in both hands, the eleven-year-old girl stared unseeingly through the darkness at where she knew the rear wall was. With a shaking grip, she reached up and began to carve a much larger word, which would take up the entire wall if she finished it. 

The first letter was A. That was followed by an M. By the time she began to carve the second M, the girl’s hands were shaking so much she actually dropped the knife when the letter was half-done. She reached down, fumbling a bit until she found it. Unfortunately, her hand found the blade first and grasped it, making the blade cut into her palm. Not too deep, barely enough to draw blood. But it made the girl yelp softly. Abruptly, she looked up at the wall again, still incapable of seeing it, yet knowing what was there. The expression on her face, had it been visible to anyone, would have shifted from one of resignation, to intense anger. With the knife held tightly in her slightly injured hand, she ignored the pain and lashed out to cut a deep gouge through the aborted name she had begun to carve into the wall. Once, twice, three times she cut deep lines through it, crossing the unfinished name out. She wouldn’t finish it. She refused. He couldn’t make her. He couldn’t change her. She wasn’t him. She wasn’t. She was Denny. He was–he was–he didn’t matter. He wasn’t here. She wouldn’t obey him again. She wouldn’t be what he wanted. She wouldn’t do anything he said. The whispers, the thoughts, the impressions he left at the back of her mind, they didn’t matter. None of that mattered. She was Denny. She mattered. She was going to do what she wanted to do. She was going to be what she wanted to be. She didn’t have to listen to him. She never had to listen to him. 

The sound of footsteps creaking on the stairs snapped the girl out of her intense fit of repeatedly gouging lines through the partially finished name. Someone was coming. Him? Was it him? Was he coming because she refused to carve his name? Was he coming for her now? No, no, he couldn’t come for her. He couldn’t come, because he was already here. And because he wasn’t. He was here, and he wasn’t, and he never could be. And yet, the rush of terror that filled the girl, the animalistic survival instinct as she heard those footsteps, couldn’t be ignored. 

Straightening, she stepped out of the closet, still holding the knife in her injured hand even as she heard those footsteps steadily approaching her room. Quickly and silently, she moved to stand behind the  bedroom door, safely out of sight as the footsteps stopped. Her hands shook so much she almost dropped the knife again. If he was here, if he was real, she didn’t know what to do. She was terrified, yet also furious. A righteous anger, a rage that the young girl could barely comprehend, had filled her at the thought that he was coming. She wouldn’t let him hurt her. She wouldn’t let him control her. No more. Not again. Never again. 

The footsteps stopped outside her door, and for a moment there was nothing but the silence. Then, the door slowly began to creak open. It came about halfway, and from her position behind it, Denny was able to peer through the small crack between the wall and the door itself just enough to see a figure standing there, mostly concealed in the shadows of the hallway. He was there, staring in at the lump of blankets on her bed that made it look as though Denny was sleeping in it. 

She would stab him. As soon as he came through the door and walked to the bed, she would stab him from behind. She wouldn’t let him touch her, wouldn’t let him talk to her, wouldn’t let him do anything. He would never hurt her again. She wouldn’t let him hurt her or control her.

“Is she okay?” Those words, spoken in a hushed tone, filled the air, startling the girl. They came from down the hall, not from the figure next to the door. And the voice was quite familiar. Her mother. Her mother was just down the hall, addressing… addressing the figure there. 

“She’s asleep,” came the whispered response. A whisper she also recognized. Her father. The figure standing just on the other side of the open door, looking at what he thought was Denny lying in bed, was her own father. She had almost stabbed her own father, out of the sheer terror that had been brought on by the thought that the figure from her dreams was standing there.

While the girl was reeling from what she had almost done, the door creaked closed once more and she heard her father walk away to join her mother. She was left standing there in the dark. The knife fell from her grip to the carpet, and she raised her hands to stare at her own palms. In the slight illumination that came through the window, she could see fairly clearly. There was no wound there. The spot of her hand that she had cut was already completely healed, save for the stain of blood that proved it had once been injured. In those brief moments, the wound had entirely vanished. 

Denny’s breathing grew heavy as she stared at her hand, where the cut should have been. Where she had felt it, where there was still blood showing that a cut had once existed. Her voice was a whisper that sounded entirely too loud within the confines of this dark bedroom. 

“What… what’s happening to me?” 

*******

Gas filling her mouth, pouring down her throat, choking her on the fumes. Tears filling her eyes, panic making her want to scream. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t move, couldn’t get away, couldn’t stop the gasoline from killing her, from–

“Yo, kid!” A sudden shout startled her. “You camping out to save a pump for your dad, or what?” 

Yes, Denny had been standing at a gas station right where a car was supposed to park, staring at one of the pumps. No, not just a gas station. Not just ‘one of the pumps.’ The gas station. The pump. The one from her dream that wasn’t a dream. She knew that, she recognized it. It was the gas station her parents sometimes stopped at on the way home, only a few blocks from their house. Standing there, staring at the pump, she knew it was the same one from those dreams. Something deep in her soul told the girl this was the right place. 

No, the wrong place. This was the wrong place entirely. She shouldn’t be here. She really shouldn’t be here. A loud voice in the back of her mind was telling the girl to turn around and run away, to never set foot anywhere near here again. 

And yet, another voice was telling her that she had to be here, that she would never get any better until she faced this and could understand it. She was so confused, so lost, she had to know the truth, had to know what was wrong with her and fix it before she… before she did something bad. 

Still, she didn’t want to get run over. So, she quickly stepped out of the way and let the man in the sedan pull up to the spot where she had been standing. He grumbled while getting out to pump his gas, and the sight of the man holding the nozzle made bile suddenly rise up in Denny’s throat. Pivoting, she rushed to the shop itself, pushing her way inside. As the polite ding filled the air, the girl took a moment to pant and catch her breath, almost doubling over as she tried to stop hyperventilating. No, no, she couldn’t be out there, couldn’t look at the pump. She couldn’t stand there and…

A sudden rush of images filled the girl’s mind. She was being hit, knocked to the ground, kicked repeatedly, a foot colliding with her stomach. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t scream anymore. She couldn’t beg. Her stomach hurt, there was something wrong with it, something that made it impossible to breathe properly. Her face was bleeding and broken, one eye swollen shut. The pain was awful, but it didn’t compare to the sheer terror. He was going to hit her again, he was going to hurt her, because he was told to. Because… because he told him to. Him, not the man hurting her, but the… the…

“Hey, hey, are you okay?” It was the clerk, a girl in her late teens who had come around the counter and moved to where Denny had crouched down and started crying. “Uhh, do you want me to call somebody? Are you lost or something?” 

Swallowing hard, Denny pushed herself to her feet and shook her head. “N-no, it’s okay. I just…” She trailed off helplessly then. How exactly was she supposed to explain what had just happened? She didn’t understand it herself. The images in her mind had been so vivid, so real. She could feel the blows, could hear the–him ordering the other man to hit her again, and again, and again. 

Forcing those thoughts down, she clenched her fists while meeting the gaze of the older girl with dirty-blonde hair. “Can um, can I ask you something, please?” She tried to keep the desperation out of her voice. 

“Uh, sure, I guess.” Clearly uncertain about what this girl who had just walked into the gas station before falling to her knees and crying was going to ask, the teenaged clerk gestured. “Come on, you can have a soda on me. You look like you need it. What do you need to ask?” 

A rush of confusing and contradictory thoughts ran through Denny’s mind as she followed the clerk over to the counter and accepted the bottle of Sprite. For a moment, she was able to distract herself by focusing on opening it and taking a long sip. But she felt the clerk’s curious eyes on her the whole time, and finally couldn’t wait anymore. So, Denny took a breath before looking up. Her voice caught a little as she forced the words out. “Did somebody die here? I–I heard somebody died here. Um, I think it was… uhh, awhile ago with–what?” The way the clerk was staring at her made the girl a little nervous. Even more than she had already been. 

“Did someone put you up to this?” the clerk demanded, though her voice was more resigned than angry. “Just–just tell me if someone put you up to it. They think it’s real funny just to send–” 

Eyes widening, Denny shook her head rapidly. “No! Nobody put me up to anything, I swear. I just… I heard somebody died here and I can’t stop thinking about it. I know it’s weird, but can you please tell me? I swear it’s not a joke or anything. Please.”

There was a momentary pause as the clerk considered, before sighing. “Yeah, somebody died here. But it wasn’t recently, and it wasn’t just one person. Two people died about fourteen months ago. There was a… a robber and the last girl who worked at this place. They said the guy tried to rob her and she… um, she got the gun away from him and shot him. Then she umm… killed herself.” Slowly, the clerk turned to look out toward the gas pumps. Her mouth opened, but Denny didn’t need to hear more. 

“She died from the gas,” the young girl murmured audibly, staring in the same direction. She could smell the fumes, could taste it pouring down her throat, could–could– Shaking herself violently, Denny forced herself to look back at the clerk. “They said she killed herself?” 

“That’s… what they said.” There was doubt in the clerk’s voice as she squinted that way. “It’s kinda weird though, isn’t it? I mean, they said she felt so guilty about killing my–the guy that she had to… to do that.” 

Catching what the older girl had almost said, Denny focused on her and frowned. “Did you know the guy who–” 

“You should leave.” With those words, the clerk pointed to the opposite door from the one Denny had come through. “Go out the back. Get out of here, hurry, go!” Her words were urgent, nearly frantic in a tone shift that startled the younger girl. She was already coming around the counter, taking hold of her shoulder to pull her away. 

Denny started to argue in confusion, when the ding of the bell above the door she had come through filled the air. Both girls turned that way to find an enormous figure crouched down a bit as he pushed his way through the door. Seeing that, the clerk suddenly gave Denny a shove that knocked her to her knees behind one of the display cases. “Hide,” she hissed. 

From her place behind the shelves, Denny lifted her head and peered through the crack in time to see the figure straighten up. Her first impression had been right. The man wasn’t just tall, he was a huge, broad-shouldered man with an assortment of bright red tattoos across his scaled body. 

Wait, scaled body? Denny gave a double-take, eyes widening. Yes, the man had scales. Like… like a really bad skin condition? Her mother had always said that she wasn’t supposed to stare at people who were different like that, but this guy was really different. He wasn’t just tall, he was… he was so tall he’d had to stoop to get through the door. Over seven feet. His body was dark blue-green, with a slightly lighter face. And, again, he had scales. Very thick, obvious scales. His eyes were vertical, like a snake or a lizard. 

“Kalia,” his voice rumbled while Denny shrank back in fear. “You shouldn’t have blown me off this morning. You know I don’t like that.” His vertical pupils narrowed at the older girl. “Your dad did that a lot.” 

“Mercer,” the clerk (Kalia) managed in a clearly weak voice. “I was gonna come find you after work. I’ve got fifty dollars for you.” 

“Fifty?” The enormous, scaled figure gave a heavy, humorless laugh. “Your dad owed ten thousand when he bit the dust. You think fifty’s even a drop in that bucket?” With that, the man paused, looking around. “Come to think of it, kid, you working in the place he died trying to get my down payment is pretty fucked up. And that’s coming from me.” 

Wait, wait, the girl was– Denny was left reeling from that revelation, even as the huge, alien figure stalked forward to close the distance between himself and Kalia. “Now,” he snarled, “Now, you gonna dig deep and find a way to get the money your family owes, or am I going to have to try to pry it out of grieving family member number three?” Before the girl could answer, he snapped a hand down to grab her by the throat. “Maybe what you need is some motivation. Cuz clearly, I ain’t done enough t–” 

“Stop it!” Without even knowing what she was doing, Denny had leapt to her feet and held both hands up. “Stop it, stop!” 

The giant figure did stop, his head slowly turning to look that way. Those vertical eyes focused on her. “Who the fuck are you?” 

“I…” Her throat was dry, a thick lump filling it. She could barely breathe, could barely think. “My… my name is Denise.” 

“Yeah? Good for you.” Mercer’s voice made it clear how little he cared. “Now, if you don’t mind, I–” His grip tightened on the other girl’s throat enough to make her yelp in pain. 

“Stop it!” Denny blurted as terror filled her. “Let her go!”  

Abruptly, the enormous figure did just that. He released Kalia, allowing the girl to suck in panicked gasps of air. Then just stared at Denny. His eyes narrowed. “What… the fuck did you just–” With an animalistic roar, he began to lunge that way. 

Denny, in turn, jerked backward with a panic. “Stop!” she desperately cried out. 

And, again, the figure stopped. He abruptly jerked to a halt, glowering at her. “Listen to me, you little shit. I don’t know how you’re doing this, but–” 

But something had a hold of the eleven-year-old by then, some subconscious realization that she didn’t fully understand. Her shaky voice came once more. “P-put… both hands… above your head.” 

He did, which almost scared the girl more than if he hadn’t. As the man raised both hands high over his head, palms flat against the ceiling, he began to snarl very intricate and detailed threats about what he was going to do to them. 

“St-stop talking!” Denny hurriedly stammered, terror filling her. “I–I–umm… ummm…” What was happening? Why was he obeying her? What was he? He wasn’t normal. He wasn’t normal. “P-please, just… just…” Her mouth opened and shut. Just what? What was he supposed to do? 

There was a… whisper at the back of her mind. A whisper she couldn’t quite hear, but her subconscious knew what the whisper was saying. Some small part of her understood the advice. “Forget you were here,” she finally managed. “Forget that girl there, and anything her family owed. Forget all of it, everything that happened here and everything about Kalia and her family. And… and go away. Walk away, and don’t stop walking until you… until you’re ten miles away.”  

And with that, the horrifying figure obeyed. He turned and left the store, walking away across the lot while leaving both girls standing there staring after him. 

“Wha… what j-just happened?” Kalia managed. “Who the hell–how did–” In mid-sentence, the girl abruptly stopped, shook her head, and then turned back to Denise with a smile, her voice utterly devoid of any fear or reaction to the events from a moment earlier. “I’m sorry, what were we saying?” 

“Th-that guy, who was he?” Denny asked, confused by the girl’s sudden chipper attitude. 

“Sorry, what guy?” Kalia looked politely curious, glancing over her shoulder. “I don’t see any guy. Were you looking for someone?”

“The guy who was just here!” Denny blurted. “The big–the monster with the scales and the tattoos!” 

Still, Kalia just stared at her uncomprehendingly. “Are you okay? You’re the only one who’s come inside in like half an hour. Hey, do you want me to call someone? Do–hey, wait!”

But Denny didn’t wait. As a tumultuous rush of confusion and fear filled her mind, the girl raced for the door. She slammed her way through it, ignoring the older girl calling after her. Instead, she ran across the lot and stopped in front of the gas pump. The gas pump. For a moment, she just stood there, staring down at the spot where… where…

Gasoline filled her throat. She saw the boy staring at her, watching, waiting. She felt the terror, the certainty that she was about to die. She felt it, she knew it was coming. Any second it would be too much. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t–

A scream tore its way out of the eleven-year-old girl’s throat, as her hands lashed out reflexively. They slammed into the gas pump with enough force to leave a pair of visible dents on either side.

Seeing that, Denny stumbled away a couple steps. Her hand covered her mouth, as she fell to her knees there on the asphalt. “No, no, no…” she mumbled behind her own palm as tears of confusion flooded her eyes. “Please… please…

“Somebody tell me what’s going on.”

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Interlude 12A – Denny (Heretical Edge 2)

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Her hands hurt from gripping something so tightly. She couldn’t let it go. Something–tape was wrapped around them. Not only around her hands, but her hwreead. The tape was wrapped tightly around her head and hands. She couldn’t release the thing she was holding, couldn’t let go. 

Couldn’t take it out of her mouth. 

She tasted metal, a long, grooved shaft of steel choking her. And she tasted more than that. Gasoline. She tasted gasoline. Not a drop or a drizzle. The thing tied to her head, tied to her mouth, was pumping gasoline into her mouth. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t take it out. She couldn’t do anything but sit there, letting the gas keep pouring down her throat. He was there. He made sure. The smell of the fumes blinded her. The taste made her retch. But she couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t let her. She had to keep drinking. Had to keep choking. Had to keep going until…

With a strangled scream, eleven-year-old Denise Cartland hurled herself sideways off the desk in her sixth-grade classroom, where she had briefly drifted off. As she landed on the floor between her seat and her neighbor’s, the girl was already heaving. She threw up on the cheap linoleum. The gasoline, she could taste it. She could taste it. It was in her mouth, down her throat. She had to get it out. She had to get it all out. Her fingers clawed at the floor, tears blinding her as she heaved. Her lunch, eaten only an hour earlier, came rushing out and drenched the floor. Around her, she could hear students crying out and jerking away. A few chairs fell over in their rush to escape the sight of their classmate throwing up. 

“Back up, back up everyone!” Mr. Tuttle, their teacher, quickly instructed as he approached. Stepping around the mess, the middle-aged man took a knee next to the young girl, a hand on her back. “It’s okay, Denise. It’s alright, get it out. It’s okay.” He coaxed her while rubbing her back, his other hand moving to draw some of the girl’s dark hair away from her face. At the same time, he turned toward a student near the door. “Brad, go get the janitor, he should be mopping near the library right now. Wait, grab the hall pass there. Now go, tell him what happened. Yolanda, Frank, open those windows over there.” Even as he gave those instructions, Tuttle was still gently rubbing the girl’s back, trying to coax and comfort her. 

Denise barely heard any of that. Her tear-blinded gaze was on the floor, but she wasn’t actually seeing that either. Instead, all she saw was the cold asphalt of a gas station parking lot. All she felt was the tape tied so tightly around her hands, forcing her to grip that fuel pump handle. All she tasted was the gasoline, pouring relentlessly down her throat. She was choking, dying. She had to get it out. Her small body heaved once more, but there was nothing else in her stomach. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the taste out. She couldn’t get the gasoline out. 

It took another minute or so before the girl managed to calm down enough to recognize that she had been having a nightmare. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. Finally lifting her head to look around with wide eyes, she saw the rest of her classmates staring. Most looked sympathetic or worried, though a few were snickering behind their hands, as whispers passed through the crowd. Whispers that sent a flood of embarrassment through the girl to replace the terror.

“Denise?” Mr. Tuttle gently asked after giving a quick look to the rest of the students to quiet down and get themselves under control. “Are you okay?” 

“I… I…” Opening and shutting her mouth, the eleven-year-old looked around, before lowering her gaze to the floor. A horrible shudder ran through her, as she hugged her arms tightly around herself. 

“I don’t know.” 

********

The man couldn’t move. Oh, he wanted to. He desperately wanted to. But his feet remained firmly rooted to the floor. He could do nothing about the flames gradually filling the room. He couldn’t even turn his head away from the rising smoke, his coughing growing louder by the second. He couldn’t do anything to save himself while the room burned around him. He wasn’t tied down, or hindered in any physical way. He stood there with the open door leading to open, cool, clear air mere feet away. It would have taken almost nothing for the man to sprint to safety. Six steps. Six steps and he’d be free. But he couldn’t take those six steps. 

Because she wouldn’t let him. 

Denise stood in that open air, just a short distance from the doorway. She saw the flames rising around the man. She saw his terrified gaze as he stared pleadingly at her. He wasn’t begging anymore, because she had told him to stop. His whining had been entirely too annoying after the first few seconds. It distracted from the sound of the flames, and she wanted to hear when they reached his body. She wanted to hear what it sounded like when a person started to burn, without all the annoying, distracting screaming getting in the way. So she had told him to shut his mouth and not open it no matter what. Finally, she would be able to hear the fire properly. Finally, she would hear exactly what happened when the flames began to burn his flesh away. He’d probably fall down by then, as the smoke got to him. But there wasn’t much to be done about that. Maybe next time she’d find a way to string the person up so they’d stay standing the whole time. But either way, she’d still hear it. She’d hear and smell the flames burning his body. 

And maybe, just maybe, as she watched this man burn to death, Denise would finally feel something. 

“Denise! Denny, sweety, Denny, it’s okay. Please, baby, wake up.” 

The voice, accompanied by hands gently shaking her, snapped Denise awake. She jerked in her bed, crying out while her wide, terrified eyes darted around. She wasn’t standing in front of a burning building. She wasn’t watching a man about to die. She wasn’t anticipating it, looking forward to it, savoring it. She was in her bedroom, in her bed, with her mother sitting on the edge shaking her awake. Her voice was worried. “Denny, baby, it’s alright. You were having a nightmare… again. You’re safe, sweetie. I promise, baby, it’s okay. It was just a dream. Just a bad dream.”

A choked sob escaped Denise, as she sprang toward her mother and grabbed on tight. Burying her face against the comfort of her mom, the little girl clung to her and shook violently. “Mom, Mommy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t wanna–I–I didn’t–” She was trying to say that she didn’t want to kill that man, but couldn’t get the words out. And a part of her knew there was no way to explain it anyway. 

Her mother, clueless about what was really upsetting the girl, hugged her tight while shaking her head. Her voice was soft and soothing. “It’s okay, baby. It’s alright. It wasn’t real. You’re okay. Nothing’s going to hurt you, I promise. You’re safe now, my sweet little girl.”

For a couple minutes, they sat there like that, Denise clinging to her mom as the feelings and desires she had felt in the dream gradually faded. They’d been so real, so intense. It was like she was really there, really standing near that man who was about to die. But more than that, it was like she’d wanted to be there. She wanted to see him die, wanted to finally feel some guilt, some good emotion. Because there was nothing. She couldn’t feel it. She couldn’t feel the guilt or sadness she was supposed to feel. Something was wrong with her, and no matter how much she tried to fix it, nothing worked. She just couldn’t feel the right things. She–she was a…

“Monster,” the girl murmured under her breath, the words barely audible. 

They were, however, loud enough for her mother to hear, and the woman simply hugged her even tighter. “No baby, there’s no monster. It’s alright. Come on, it’s okay. Let’s go get a drink, you’ll feel better.” 

With that, she coaxed Denise to stand up and began to walk out of the room with her, their hands tightly clasped as she promised the girl a glass of milk to calm her down. They passed Denise’s father on his way back from the bathroom, the man pausing just long enough to ask if the girl was okay before heading back to bed. After all, he had to get up early for work in the morning. 

Trying to push those horrific memories and thoughts out of her mind, Denise walked with her mother to the kitchen, then sat at the table, sipping milk and nibbling at a single cookie. Her mom sat next to her, looking worried and clearly trying to hide it. Her voice was gentle. “How do you feel, Denny?” 

Denise didn’t answer at first. Thoughts of those dreams filled her head, and she had to set the milk down before it spilled from her shaking hand. The nightmares didn’t come every time she slept, but they were often enough that her mother was talking about taking her to see a doctor, a therapist who could help. Her mother was already afraid of the nightmares Denise was having, and the girl hadn’t even told her any details. She couldn’t. She just… couldn’t tell her mother about those dreams. Not the monster ones. Not the ones where she was the monster. 

So, pushing that terror and confusion away, the girl met her mother’s gaze. She managed, through some effort, to smile. “I’m okay,” she claimed, her voice a little hollow. “Can I go back to bed now? I’m pretty tired.” 

Her mother nodded, getting up and moving to turn out the kitchen light. As she did so, Denise spoke up again. “Mom?” 

“Yes, sweetie?” Turning toward her, the woman was startled to see her daughter standing directly behind her, having moved silently from the table while her back was turned. 

But not nearly as surprised as she was when the girl’s hand rose with the knife to plunge into her chest.

And just like that, Denise snapped awake. She jerked upright so fast, crying out as she did so, that she nearly fell backward off the chair where she and her mother had been sitting around the kitchen table. Her mother’s head was on the table, the woman snoring quietly. The two of them had both fallen asleep while sitting there, and somehow Denise jerking upright hadn’t woken her mother. The half-finished glass of milk was nearby, next to a mostly-finished cookie. They had been asleep for about twenty minutes, according to the cat clock on the wall. 

Breathing hard, the young girl looked away from her mother, gaze focusing off toward her own distorted reflection in the gleaming metal toaster nearby. Her voice cracked as she whispered very quietly, “What’s wrong with me?” 

As if in response, the reflection in the toaster twisted even more. It could’ve been a trick of the light, or… or something else. But she saw her hair lighten. She saw her eyes change, her face shift. She saw… she saw…

Him. 

********

Things continued that way for another week. Denise–or Denny as she was increasingly insisting she wanted to go by permanently, had more nightmares, though she managed to stop screaming out quite as much. She hid as many of them as she could, afraid that her family and others would see her as even more of a freak than they probably already did. If they only knew the half of it. They thought she was only seeing monsters coming after her. But it was so much more, so much worse. She dreamed about dying, yes. She had that same dream of choking on gasoline. That dream that was so real it was practically a memory. But she had more dreams than that, horrific dreams where she was the monster. Half were just as realistic as the gasoline dream, so vivid they were as real to her, even after she woke up, as a real memory would have been. And the other half were… were fantasies. That was the only way she had to describe them. They were fantasies about killing people she knew. Her friends, her teachers, her family. People she passed on the street. Anyone and everyone. She would have long, intricate hallucinations about killing them. And after every single one, she would see… him. 

Who was he? She had no idea. And yet, she did. He was her. She was him. But she wasn’t, not really. He wasn’t real. But he was. He was the boy who spoke. But the boy who spoke never spoke. Not to her. Not in the glimpses she caught of him. Because he was her. But he wasn’t. 

This was all wrong. It was all confusing and wrong. She saw the boy here and there, always in distorted reflections or in the corner of her eye. She never saw him directly. He was at the edge of her mind, behind her and yet never there when she turned. She had no idea who he was, and yet she knew him. What? That didn’t make any sense. None of it made sense. She knew him but she didn’t? That was wrong. It was all wrong. All of it was… was… wrong. She couldn’t remember his name, but she knew it. She knew his name. His name, it… it was…

Dangerous. His name was dangerous. Every time she thought she had his name right on the tip of her tongue, Denny would collapse in a ball of fear. An unrelenting, terrible tidal wave of terror completely overwhelmed her whenever she got close to remembering, close to… thinking of it. 

Her family didn’t know about most of that, of course. But they knew enough that her mother insisted she see a therapist. So, that was where Denny was now, sitting in the woman’s office, mumbling a bit about one of the nightmares she’d had. One of the safe nightmares. No way was she going to tell this stranger about the other nightmares, the ones where she was a killer. Or her… her fantasies. She wasn’t going to tell anyone about those. 

The therapist, a tall, dark-skinned woman with short hair who had introduced herself as Megan, smiled gently from where she was sitting in an armchair. There was an actual couch in the room, but she’d told Denny that she didn’t have to lay on it, or even sit on it if she didn’t want to. She’d joked that she would lie to the grand order of therapists if they asked about Denny sitting on the magic couch. 

So, Denny did not sit on the couch. She sat on the floor, as far from the couch as possible. She didn’t want to be near it. She wanted to be– well, she wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else, really. She wanted to be anywhere aside from the place that would prove she really was… broken. Instead, she sat there on the floor next to a small table where some kids had left crayon drawings. But she didn’t touch the crayons either. She just sat there and talked about some of the nightmares she’d had. The safe ones. Herself choking on gasoline, and a few others that… that were more vague. Dreams about running away from someone, dreams about being thrown out a window and falling all the way to the cement, and dreams about being buried alive. That last one, that one was… that one was the worst. Because in that one, she was afraid. She was always afraid after, of course. When she woke up. But in most of the dreams, aside from the gasoline one, she was never afraid during them. It was only in the dream where she was lying in the grave, pleading and begging for her… for her… for a man to stop, when she actually felt fear during the dream. But the man never stopped. He just kept putting more dirt on top of her. Burying her in… a grave with other dead things. He ignored her pleading, ignored her crying out for her mother, and kept burying her in the dirt until everything except her face was covered. Then he took a vial of… of blood, poured it into her mouth, made her swallow it, and then… then he kept burying her. Shovelful after shovelful of dirt kept coming, all while she cried, and pleaded, and… and…

“Denny?” Megan quietly spoke up from her chair. She wasn’t holding a notebook or doing anything that looked like taking notes. “Are you okay? It looked like you… had something on your mind.” 

Realizing that she’d lost herself in the memory of that horrible dream, Denny gave a quick headshake. “Sorry. I was just… thinking.” Blinking up that way as a thought occurred to her, she hesitated before asking, “Are you going to tell my mom if I don’t tell you more things?” 

With a small smile, Megan shook her head. “No, Denny. I’m not going to tell your mom about anything we say during these sessions. You can say as much or as little as you want to. If you don’t want to talk about your dreams, maybe you’d like to draw a picture?” With that offer, the woman indicated the stack of papers, pencils, and crayons. “Would that help?” 

Looking over at the paper for a brief moment, Denny shook her head. “No,” she answered quietly, clenching her hands a little. She was too afraid of what sort of thoughts would run through her head if she picked up the pencil. The last time she’d picked up scissors at school, the images that had filled her mind when she’d looked at one of the boys… it almost made her throw up again. 

So, she left the pencils alone, turning away from them while fidgeting with her hands. “Can you give me medicine?” the girl finally asked after another extended moment of silence while she worked up a bit of courage. “You know, the kind that makes me not dream anymore. I’m tired, but I don’t want to go to sleep. That’s when I dream.”

Picking herself up from the chair and moving over to sit on the floor near the young girl, Megan quietly asked, “Those dreams are pretty bad, huh?” When Denny nodded, the therapist seemed to consider briefly before continuing. “I’m sorry you’re having these dreams, Denny. You don’t deserve that. I want you to know that you’re not a monster. These things you’re feeling, they’re not your fault. They’re not your thoughts, or your memories. Well, most of them. They’re not about you. None of this is. You’re just… an innocent bystander.” 

Shifting a little, Denny stared at the woman. Her suspicions had suddenly been raised. “What– what do you know about it?” 

Megan, in turn, smiled very faintly. It looked like a sad, old smile. “A lot more than I should, probably. But that’s not the point. And you won’t remember any of this later anyway. Denny, I’m very sorry about this. I know most others would doubt that, but I truly am sorry that you were affected this way. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live your life and–” She sighed heavily. “But I can’t let this go. I need to know about your dreams. I need you to tell me everything you’ve experienced, all of it. I have to get every detail, just in case. There might be something important somewhere in there. Something I’ve needed to know for a long time.” 

Denny began to push herself up from the floor. “I don’t wanna talk to you anymore, Megan,” the eleven-year-old informed her. “I don’t–” 

The older woman interrupted. “I’m sorry, I’m not really a Megan. It is a pretty name though. My name is Denuvus. Tell me about your dreams.” 

For a brief moment, Denny was silent, staring at the woman. Then her mouth opened, and the words came.

“I told you, I don’t want to talk to you anymore. And why’d you say your name was Megan if it’s Denuvus? What kind of name is Denuvus? I–I have to talk to my mom.” She pivoted to walk toward the door. 

Megan–or Denuvus, had risen to her feet. “My name is Denuvus. I want you to come back and sit down.” 

“Yeah? Well my name’s Denise,” Denny sarcastically retorted, grabbing the door to pull it open. “And what I want is for you to leave me alone and go jump in a lake.” In another second, she was out and stalking through the hall. 

She didn’t look back as the door closed behind her, which was almost a shame as it meant that she didn’t see the surprised look on her supposed therapist’s face as the woman vanished from the couch. 

A few seconds later and several miles away, the woman appeared above the surface of a small, local lake. She dropped into the water with a splash before rising to stand atop the water as though it was a physical floor. As she did so, her physical form shifted and transformed back to that of the small Caucasian woman with black hair, the appearance she used most often when talking to Trice. “Hmmm,” Denuvus murmured.

“Well, this was unexpected.”  

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Long Awaited 12-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Okay, what the hell was it with this day finding new ways to shock me into open-mouthed silence? It was starting to become a thing. And this time was a bit worse than my mother having something surprising to say. This was the wife, wife–correction, widow of one of my worst enemies suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Did we even know Manakel was married? Was that a thing? Seriously, could someone have possibly warned me that that was a thing?! 

I was still staring at the woman, no sound having found its way to my lips. She wasn’t glaring or anything. She wasn’t making any threatening moves, or even attacking. She was just standing there, grinning a bit lopsidedly at all of us. If this was a threat, it was a very casual one. 

On the other hand, she had basically just plummeted out of the sky and disintegrated something as powerful as a Nuckelavee, then got up as if nothing had happened. So maybe she didn’t really need to go out of her way to look intimidating. Honestly, that was pretty damn impressive all on its own. And now she was looking at me. Looking at me because I had killed her husband. 

Before I could move or find any words, Miranda was suddenly standing in front of me. She had her shield up, projecting a force field. “Flick, get out of here,” the girl snapped over her shoulder in a voice that was tense and brittle, like she was barely keeping it together. Yeah, seeing this chick blow through the Nuckelavee that easily had gotten to her too. “You guys get help, we–” 

Abruptly, the woman started walking toward us. And that was apparently the trigger for everyone to react. Miranda sent the force-field flying that way, while Sands made a thick, solid rock wall rise out of the ground in the woman’s path just as the forcefield flew past that spot. At the same time, Koren made a wall of earth rise up to match and reinforce the rock. Finally, Sarah had her rifle in her hands, and took three quick shots through a scope-portal she had positioned above and to the left to hit the advancing figure from behind. They all acted instantly to protect me

And all of it did essentially nothing. The force-field hit the advancing figure and shattered into bits of light without apparent effect. The bullets bounced off of her, and she walked through the rock and earth walls as though they weren’t there, leaving a her-shaped hole behind. She didn’t even slow down at all. Though on the other hand, she also wasn’t sprinting or anything. She was just walking at a normal pace. It was like she didn’t even really notice the attempts to hurt or stall her. She brushed off the frantic series of attacks as easily as a semi brushed off the flies that bounced off its windshield. And with even less notice.  

Through it all, there was a strange sensation at the back of my mind. It felt familiar somehow. She felt familiar, in a strange way. Wait a second, I knew what this was. I knew what this sensation meant. It was absurd, crazy, but I knew what I was feeling in that moment. 

The strange woman was still walking toward us, casual as could be, while the other three began to launch another wave of attacks as they shouted for me to move my ass and get out of there already, while I still could. Instead, I quickly held up both hands, shouting, “Stop!” 

My friends listened and stopped attacking. But, more importantly, the strange woman halted. I felt my power reach out to her. My necromancy power. Yeah, she was dead. At least, I thought she was. It was a strange sensation. It was like she was sort of dead, but not completely. I had no idea what that meant, only that I had recognized the feeling that my power could affect her. My necromancy had wrapped itself around the woman and held her steady when I shouted for everyone to stop. And, just like that, she had stopped. 

“Uhh, Flick?” Koren was looking back and forth between the apparently frozen woman and me. “What–huh?” 

For a brief second, I had a flash of intense worry. This was at, least partially, power that had belonged to her dead husband, and I was using it to make her stop walking. I was using her dead husband’s power to stop her from enacting righteous vengeance for his death, or whatever. She was probably about to lose her shit on us, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to keep her in place through something like that. Oh God, this was about to get bad, wasn’t it?

Except, the woman didn’t actually look mad at all. Instead, that smile she’d had the entire time just got wider as she clapped. Yeah, I felt her casually break the hold my power had over her just enough to bring her hands together a few times with obvious delight. 

“I knew it!” the woman actually cheered while hopping up and down. “I knew you had it now. Do it again, do it again!” With that weirdly ecstatic cry, she started walking toward us once more, arms raised extended out to either side. I swear, it looked as though she was trying to hug me. Which was a hell of a lot more confusing than if she had been screaming at me in anger and attacking. At least that I would have understood. This? This I had absolutely no idea how to react to. And neither did the others. 

Before any of us could figure out what to do, another interruption came. This one was in the form of half a dozen adult Garden Heretics, who appeared between us and the strange woman in a flash of light. No, they weren’t just Garden Heretics. They were Unset, led by Croc himself. The enormous Native American man in dark red armor loomed right in front of me, bellowing for the woman to halt even as two metal coils tore their way out of the ground and wrapped around her arms. The five other Heretics had produced weapons and seemed ready to lunge at her. Not that the woman seemed at all put off by that. If anything, she was smiling even more than before, as if the whole thing was just one big game. Hell, considering I kept getting the impression that she was at least partially dead, maybe it really was a game. 

Well, there was clearly something very weird going on with this whole thing, so I quickly blurted out once more, “Croc, stop! Everybody stop. Just stop! Hold on for a minute!” 

To their credit, the Unset stopped. So did my friends, who had looked as though they were about ready to jump into the fray again themselves. Everyone froze, even the strange woman herself, though she still looked like she wanted to hug me. Which was very much not the reaction I expected to get from a woman who claimed I killed her husband. This whole thing was even more baffling than my life usually was. And that was definitely saying something.

“Flick,” Sands demanded with her mace out and ready. “What the hell is going on?” 

“Yes,” Croc agreed flatly, not moving his eyes off the woman herself, who was still at least nominally held by those metal coils around her arms. “Who is this?” 

My mouth opened to say I wasn’t sure who she was, exactly. But before I could actually get the words out, another voice spoke up from nearby. “Persephone?”

It was Mercury. The real Mercury, not possessing Carfried as he had through most of last year. The somewhat tall (just over six feet, so fairly diminutive next to other people like Croc), leanly muscled man with very dark red hair worn in a ponytail stood there, beside one of the Unset people. He sounded just as surprised as the rest of us felt. Though perhaps in a different way. “When did you get to Earth?” Even as he spoke, the man was moving over to stand between me and the woman. I had the feeling he wasn’t exactly positive that she wasn’t going to attack after all. Which didn’t exactly help my confidence in the situation, considering he was the only one here who had any idea who she was. If he thought this might still be a problem, I wasn’t going to let my guard down anytime soon. And neither was anyone else, judging from the general reaction of everyone around me. 

If she cared or even noticed that everyone facing her was right on the edge of violence, the woman–Persphone apparently, didn’t actually show it. Instead, she positively beamed. “Murky! You made it! And you’re not hiding! It’s so good to see you! It’s been a long time, huh?”

Sarah managed to catch my gaze, silently mouthing a confused, ‘Murky?’ She still had hold of her gun, but had lowered it to rest at her side in one hand. Her other hand, the artificial one, was touching Sands’ arm as though telling her to wait. 

Mercury, who had put himself right in front of me (in front of Miranda and the others too) and near Croc, spoke carefully. “Yeah, been awhile. I ahh, I thought you were busy chasing down that crystal Manakel sent you after. How long ago was that?” 

“Oh, that one took a long time!” Persephone piped up, sounding completely unbothered and casual as she added, “He asked me to find it about a hundred years ago. It was really hard! They kept moving it a lot, and I had to find someone who knew where it was, only he was hard to find and then he died so I had to find his friend on this other planet, then that guy ran away for some reason and I had to go find him again, and it was a whole thing.” Through all that, the woman was squinting thoughtfully, before abruptly brightening. “But I found it! I really found it! It took me so long, but I found it and I knew Manakel was going to be sooo happy and proud of me!” That proud, cheerful smile turned contemplative, her voice quieting a bit as her gaze moved past the others to focus on me. “And then I found out Manakel died, because she killed him.” 

“No,” a sudden new voice spoke up then, as Sariel emerged from the crowd to stand beside Mercury before giving him a nod of thanks, apparently for summoning her. “She didn’t kill Manakel, Persephone. I did. If you want vengeance for his death, I’m the one you owe it to.”  

Oh boy, I really wanted to jump in and argue there. Not that she was wrong about the fact that she had basically been the one responsible for Manakel’s death (I certainly would’ve been completely screwed without her), but I really didn’t think it was a good idea to essentially call this strange, clearly powerful woman’s attention onto her like that. And, from the look of things, basically everyone else around us was ready to object and jump in to interrupt as well. 

But, before any of us could say anything, Persephone reacted in a way that was, uhh, a little confusing. Not that that didn’t describe this entire encounter, but still. She laughed. Okay, it was more of a giggle. Yeah, a simple, casual little giggle. Her hand waved dismissively. “Ohhh no, silly goose. You helped! You were there, sure. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t have his power.” Slowly, her eyes moved over to lock onto mine, past everyone who was standing in front of me. “She does. She has his power. I knew it. I knew it before, when they said she killed him. And I felt it just now. She made me stop. She used his power to make me stop.” Her voice, strangely, didn’t sound angry or indignant about that. She was talking about me using her husband’s power to make her stop walking, and yet she didn’t sound pissed off about that. She didn’t even sound resentful or anything. No, she actually sounded positively delighted

Sands slowly raised a hand. “Okay, so is anyone else really fucking confused right now?   

Beside her, Sarah offered a hesitant and clearly uncertain, “She didn’t like Manakel?” 

“She was devoted to Manakel,” Mercury put in. “Obsessed with him. You heard her earlier, he sent her to get something it took a hundred years to find and she still did it. She tracked it across the universe. He did that a lot, and she always managed to find whatever she was sent for. And she always brought it to him. The only thing he could never get her to do was leave forever. She always came back and always did everything she could to help. She loved him.”  

“Uh huh, uh huh,” Persephone agreed easily, bouncing up and down a bit. In the process, the metal coils that had been wrapped around her arms simply snapped like they were made of tissue paper. If she had the slightest bit of worry about the fact that she was still surrounded by a bunch of very tense looking and powerful Heretics who had their weapons out and pointed at her, she didn’t show it. Instead, she smiled broadly while continuing with, “I loved him. And now I love her.” 

Yeah, she uhh, she pointed at me. And it was a good thing I wasn’t drinking at all, because it all would have ended up on the ground as I spat it out. As it was, a fit of coughing grabbed me as I stared that way. After the first few violent heaves from my chest, I managed a weak, “What?” 

“The power,” Sariel abruptly put in. “You loved Manakel because of his power. You…” Trailing off, she glanced around, raising her voice a bit to address all of us. “She’s a Revenant.”  

Oh. Well that sort of explained part of why she was so powerful. I’d learned about them in school. They were spirit-like creatures who were weak in their natural state, but when they possessed a dead body, they became almost unstoppable. The problem for them was that they tended to run through a body pretty quickly. It would age rapidly and fall apart around them as they used it. They were incredibly strong while possessing a corpse, but all you had to do was wait for the body to run out, and then hit them when they were in their natural state again.  

“We found her while the Olympus was out exploring other parts of space,” Mercury added. “There was another of us, another Olympian named Kore. She… something happened and she was infected by these parasites. We couldn’t save her. She was dying in the medical bay and no one could do anything. Even her own power wouldn’t save her.” 

“Her power?” Croc asked, voice a bit tense for utterly understandable reasons. 

Sariel answered. “Any physical condition Kore created in any living being, she could recreate in that same being at any point after that. If she broke someone’s nose, any time she saw them again after that, she could re-break it just by looking at them. If she stabbed them in the stomach, she could recreate the same stab wound in that same person later with a glance. On the other hand, if she used magic to heal someone’s broken arm, she could re-heal that same arm later. It worked on herself. Except… except the parasites couldn’t be removed that easily. She could reset her body as much as she wanted, but they were separate organisms. She… she couldn’t save herself. We couldn’t save her. And when she died, the Revenant called Persephone possessed her body.” 

“Oh my God,” I realized aloud, “that’s why she’s still here. She’s still using the same body after all this time because… because Revenants make their hosts age while they use them. They age really quickly until they die. But Olympians are immortal. I mean, they never get any older. So she can–she can just possess her forever. She’s a Revenant with a permanent body.” 

While everyone else (aside from the two Seosten who already knew what was going on), reacted to that, Persephone gave a near-blinding smile. “See?! I knew she was smart. She had to be smart to help beat Manakel. He was really strong. You beat him, and you took his power!” 

She was smiling at the fact that I helped kill her husband. This was a man she’d been devoted to for thousands of years, doing everything he said, including scouring the universe for a century just to find something he wanted. That was how much she cared about him. That–wait a minute. 

“It wasn’t Manakel,” I abruptly blurted as the sudden realization came right then. “She wasn’t in love with Manakel. It wasn’t him she was so devoted to. It was his power, his Necromancy. She was… like, drawn to it? She loved his Necromancy. And now… now I have his Necromancy.” 

“Exactly!” Persephone sounded like this was all very obvious and not insane in the least. “You have his power, so you’re the one I love. If you want, we can play games. Manakel and I used to play games, like Hold This Bomb, or Airlock Jump. We usually played hide-and-seek after Airlock Jump, cuz the ship would fly away and then I’d have to find it. Sometimes it took a long time cuz they went really far! But it was fun, and Manakel was always excited when I found him again. He drank a lot to celebrate.” 

Squinting toward Mercury and Sariel despite myself, I hissed, “You guys just got her to jump out the airlock and then left?” 

“Or put a bomb in her hands so it’d explode?” Miranda added sharply. She was squinting that way too, sounding just as offended. 

Sariel shook her head. “Not us. Manakel and Puriel were afraid of what would happen if she ever turned, if she ever changed her mind about being so devoted. She was–she’s a Revenant with a permanent body. They were trying to find out what weaknesses she might have, just in case.” 

“And,” Mercury added in a slightly quieter voice, “she’s possessing Kore. A lot of people liked Kore, including Manakel. He felt like–he felt like he completely failed her. He was the ship’s main doctor, and he couldn’t save her. He couldn’t save Kore. When Persephone started… started walking around as her, possessing her body, it really messed a lot of people up. Including Manakel. Especially when she went on about loving him and all.” 

Sounding completely innocent, the Revenant in question spoke up. “I thought they’d be happy, because I made her walk again. I tried to say hi, but people were… they were still sad. And they were angry too. I didn’t… I didn’t understand.” Her voice had gone soft, gaze focused off into the distance as though trying to comprehend those emotions. 

Swallowing hard, Sariel murmured, “It was a lot to deal with. People were upset. There were all those emotions every time anyone saw her, for a long time. And as I said, they were terrified of how much damage she could do if she wanted to.”

Persephone, of course, wasn’t suddenly deaf. At that, she promptly piped up. “That’s true, I can be pretty scary. Raaaawr.” She held up both hands in front of herself like a monster, growling in a way that could only be described as unbelievably cute.  

Fuck, stop it, Flick. What the hell was wrong with me? 

There was a flurry of murmured words between all of the Unset, before Croc spoke up. “We need to make the rounds to check for any more Nuckelavee. Is uhh…” He awkwardly gestured back and forth between the woman and me. “Is whatever this is under control?” 

“Persephone,” Sariel spoke then, her voice careful. “You don’t want to kill Felicity Chambers?” 

Persephone, in turn, giggled as though that was the silliest question she had ever heard. “Why in the Void would I want to kill her? She has the power. She took Manakel’s power. That means she took me. You don’t kill the person you’re married to, unless they hurt you. That’s just rude.”  

It took a second for her words to really penetrate, a moment for me to actually comprehend what she was saying. Then I was sputtering all over again, my eyes widening. Despite myself, I moved that way quickly and put myself next to Sariel. “Hold on, wait, what did you just say? What was that about being married? Cuz you’re not talking about us. You can’t be talking about us. We’re not married. I don’t even know you. I don’t know anything about you except for what I’ve heard in the past, like, thirty seconds. I haven’t even met you until right now. You and me, we’re not–we’re definitely not married.” 

In the background, I could see Croc getting his people to head off to do their search. None of them wanted to be involved in this now that it wasn’t turning into a fight. Which was fair, but still. Cowards. 

Persephone, still grinning just as cheerfully as ever, corrected me. “No, see, Manakel and I were married. We took the binding oaths to each other. But I didn’t make the oaths to him. I made the oaths to the power, to his Necromancy. We were linked through that. He’s dead, but you have his power. He’s dead, but I took the marriage oaths to his power, and that’s not gone. You took it. That means you took my oath. You own it. So, my marriage isn’t over. It just transferred to you. You own my loyalty. Like I said, we’re married! Isn’t that fun?” 

“I…” My throat was dry. The sudden rush of terror, confusion, then more terror, then even more confusion over the past few minutes from the moment the Nuckelavee had shown up had taken its toll. And this? How was I supposed to deal with this? What was I–how was I–where was…

“I think I need to sit down.”

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Commissioned Interlude 12 – Maria, Arthur, And Company (Heretical Edge 2)

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Wearing stained coveralls, a backwards cap, and goggles, with a face that was as grease-stained as the clothes themselves, Maria Chambers whistled cheerfully while focusing intently on her work. The work, in this case, involved making very specific adjustments to a series of very complicated-looking pipes and valves behind a section of wall about fifty feet forward and one floor down from the Olympus’s main engine. A very small metal ball floated in the air just to the side, its single lens projecting a holographic display of exactly where this section was, what it should look like, and what Spark needed to be done to it. A box lay nearby with the assortment of parts that the young girl wanted to be used to replace specific pieces. 

“Well, you seem to be in a pretty good mood.” The voice that interrupted Maria’s whistling came from the elderly-looking Native American man who strolled casually down the rounded corridor toward her. Though over a thousand years old (and technically believed by everyone back on Earth to be deceased thanks to an attack from his own sister, Litonya), Kutattca had a strong spring in his step and an easy smile. “Having that much fun working as a mechanic?” 

Carefully using what amounted to an incredibly fancy wrench to adjust the long, metallic green tube to the exact position Spark’s instructions specified, Maria finally turned to the man. She waggled the wrench at him pointedly. “A space mechanic, thank you very much.” With a cheerful wink, she added, “And yes, it’s quite exhilarating, honestly. And ahh, processing all these instructions, learning what these different tools do, all of it helps with the umm…” 

“With your new gifts,” Kutattca finished for her, chuckling a little while he nodded. “Yeah, believe me, I know exactly what it’s like when you start out. Actually, Boscher Heretics get that a lot. Getting new powers, figuring out how they work, slotting them into your normal rotation, all that. Especially when you make a new power work alongside something you already had. There’s just a… a really satisfying feeling when you make something new work with something old.” 

Watching him for a moment, Maria gave a very slight nod. When he spoke of being a Boscher, the same thing her granddaughter was, the man’s voice held an inescapable tone of guilt. The things he had done, the people he had killed, the ignorant hate that he had taught to others over so many years, the man clearly had a lot of feelings about all of it. Not that such things were entirely his fault, of course. The Seosten had established things, had set things up intentionally to make Earth some kind of Boscher Heretic training ground so they would be combat-capable before being sent out to the front lines of this war against the Fomorians. Still, it was obviously one thing to know that he had been manipulated into being the way he was and doing the things he did, and emotionally accepting it. The thoughts of all those likely-innocent creatures he had murdered out of a mistaken assumption of guilt had to weigh heavily on the man at times. 

While she was still focused on that, Kutattca turned his dark-eyed gaze to her and offered a very faint smile. “Then again, you have another reason to be happy right now.” 

With that thought, Maria’s own smile grew, a warmth filling her. “Yes,” she agreed. “Seeing my son and my granddaughter–well, feeling and hearing them, anyway. It was…” Trailing off, the woman swallowed. “It was very nice. I can’t wait to see them all again. Without any lies,” she added pointedly. “Not that I blame them, but… well, yes, without any lies.” Her eyes shone with delight and relief then. “And my daughter-in-law, they saved her. They truly saved her from that… monster.” Simply from what she had heard and read about the evil Necromancer, Maria knew that his death had been a long time coming. She shuddered to think of what sort of things poor Joselyn had been through over the years. And shuddered almost as much when remembering the horrible things she herself had thought about that poor woman. 

In a kind, gentle voice, Kutattca quietly replied, “I’m glad your family is safe. And you’ll get the chance to see them in person. Just as soon as we get this ship put back together and ready to go.” Turning a bit, he looked up and down the corridors, head shaking with obvious wonder. “Live over a thousand years, think you’ve seen everything, and it turns out you’re completely clueless about the real universe out there. Until my… until Litonya played her little betrayal game, I had no idea there were things like this out there. They don’t let us know about this. As far as most Boschers are concerned, so-called ‘aliens’ all come through portals or things like that. The majority of us don’t have any idea that there’s literally space empires out there, with all these fancy starships. We… we spend so long thinking they’re demons and monsters, I don’t think we could ever truly process the idea that they could put something like this together.” 

“They don’t want you to process that,” Maria gently pointed out. “The Seosten, they need you to see every other species a certain way for their little training ground to work.” With a shrug, she added, “Besides, if you don’t know anything about spaceships, it’s easier for them to hide their own. They’ve built that entire society to work one specific way for them. Leaving all those blindspots for them to manipulate and get around with, it’s not exactly surprising.” 

“Yes…” Looking back to the woman thoughtfully, Kutattca murmured, “I’ve never met him, of course, but I believe I can see why someone like Joselyn would be so attracted to your son. And any child they produced…” Trailing off once more, the man gave a very low whistle. “Well, now I truly do want to get back to Earth. This is something I have to see for myself.”

With a whoosh noise, the nearby elevator doors opened, before Arthur Chambers stepped off. He took in the sight of the two talking before shaking his head as he teased, “Oh good, you found another audience to show off for. Guess you don’t need me around then.” With that, the man did an about-face and acted as though he was about to walk right back onto the elevator.

Shaking her wrench-thing at him, Maria primly countered, “You march your little butt over here and hold this nozzle so it doesn’t turn when I start moving the pipe here. And honestly, as though you haven’t been the one showing off what you can do for days now. Don’t think I haven’t heard all about it from the children, young man.” 

“Young man?” Raising an eyebrow as he did just that, Arthur pointed out (with no small amount of obvious amusement in the words), “You do remember that I’m older than you, right?” 

A broad, knowing smile crossed his wife’s face as she confirmed, “Caught that, did you? Besides, we are young, compared to all these people we keep meeting and learning about. You and I, we’re practically infants.” She looked over her shoulder. “Kutty, how old are you, again?” 

The Native American man gave a very soft cough before simply replying, “A hell of a lot older than most and far younger than many. My sister and I were born around three hundred AD. Which doesn’t exactly make us spring chickens, but there are a lot of people older and stronger than us.” After a pause, he added, “Litonya might have an edge over them in hypocrisy.” 

“I dunno,” Arthur objected thoughtfully, “From everything we’ve heard since we got here, she has some pretty stiff competition in that field. There’s a lot of hypocrites out there.” 

Acquiescing to that with a bow of his head, Kutattca agreed, “I suppose you have a point. I’m just a little…. the situation with my sister is a lot more personal. The two of us have a long history, and I ignored far too many of the warning signs about her for far too long. To the detriment of myself, those I care about, and many others. And the world itself.” 

“You were close once, weren’t you?” Maria quietly prompted, fully facing the man by that point. Her work could wait for the moment. This was more directly important. She’d heard so much pain in the man’s voice whenever he brought up either his sister in general, or what she had done in attempting to kill him. It was obvious that Litonya’s betrayal, and her actions in general, hurt him a lot. A part of her wondered if he had ever really talked about it with anyone else, if he had ever unloaded those feelings rather than bottling them up and allowing them to fester. 

At first, Kutattca was silent, before giving a very slow, faint nod that was barely visible. “Once,” he confirmed in a soft voice. “We were inseparable, best friends. We hunted for our village, brought back food together even as children. When we were teenagers, we started hunting whales. Not by ourselves, of course. We were part of a whole hunting party, out in these long canoes. It was during one of those trips out on the boat when we saw the Thunderbird and the Haietlik.” His gaze had moved away from them by then, looking off into the distance as though staring into his own memory of that long-ago, far more innocent time. Before everything changed, before his life became something far bigger than simply hunting whales. 

After a moment, Arthur spoke up. “Haietlik, that’s what you were a Natural of, right? And Litonya was a Thunderbird Heretic. What uh, what are those, exactly? If you don’t mind me asking.” 

Shaking his head, Kutattca replied, “Not at all. The Thunderbird is ahh, well it’s a giant bird.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Puriel announced, as he approached from the opposite end of the corridor than the one Kutattca himself had come from. He was accompanied by Aletheia on one side, while Spark and Omni walked together on the other. Three of the four were covered in the same sort of grease and various other liquid stains that coated Maria. Spark, being a holographic projection, was as clean as ever. Maria had once asked the girl if she regretted not being able to get dirty, and Spark had stared at her as though she was being utterly absurd. Apparently, despite being a child, the girl had little to no interest in being messy. She was always very well collected, presenting herself in pristine clothes and skin, with hair that was immaculate and perfectly split between being blonde and black.

As soon as she saw both children, Maria took a knee and opened her arms. Omni immediately came running, throwing himself into a hug. It was a far cry from the way the boy had been not-so-long ago, convinced that he couldn’t touch anyone without using his power to shift into a younger version of who they were. Because those idiot scientists who had been working with him were more interested in testing what it could do and how they could use it than they were in teaching him to control it. Now, after enough training with Puriel and Aletheia, he only used it when he chose to. Well, for the most part. If he was overly emotional, scared, and whatnot, it tended to happen anyway. But it certainly wasn’t the uncontrollable, automatic reaction those cretins had apparently acted like it was. 

Of course, the woman embraced not only Omni, but also Spark (hard-light holograms could be hugged too, as she had made perfectly clear). With both of the kids held close, she asked, “Are the other children with Uncle Al?” 

Omni gave a quick nod, his shaggy mop of brown hair going wild. “Making pictures,” the five-year-old announced before reaching into his pocket to produce a folded up piece of paper. He proudly held it up, displaying an enthusiastic, if not incredibly skilled, drawing of Sariel herself using a bow and arrow to hunt giant scorpions.

While Maria gushed over that drawing, and the one he produced that had apparently been drawn by Spark, Kutattca glanced toward Puriel. He arched an eyebrow at what the man had said before. “Yeah, I suppose you’ve probably run into plenty of those yourself. Maybe even wherever they come from. I’ve always wondered, the Thunderbirds and Haietliks, do they and those Nemean Lions and the Amarok wolves–” 

“They come from the same planet,” Aletheia confirmed. The dark-skinned woman glanced toward the older Seosten beside her briefly before adding, “Several other ordinary animals on Earth, and derivatives of those animals, are smaller versions of those found on that other world. We are not precisely certain why, but our best guess is that they are the descendants of the remnants of other Fomorian experiments. They made humans look like us, and some of their other creations look like species from across the universe. Perhaps for eventual infiltration purposes.” 

Curious as ever, Arthur asked, “Is there a, ahhh, commanding species on that world? You know, actual advanced civilization. Cuz, you know, any species that could thrive in a place with so many of those things around…” 

“Yes,” Puriel confirmed with a slight grunt. “There is a ruling species… of a sort. They’re called the Jotunn, and they–” 

“Jotunn!” Arthur blurted, “That’s like… Odin. Are you telling me Odin really existed?” 

In response to that, Maria gave her husband a long-suffering look. “You do understand that you’re asking that of the man who was Zeus, yes? Why on Earth would that surprise you?” 

While Arthur huffed a bit, exaggeratedly, Puriel gave a very soft chuckle. “Well, yes, Odin exists. The Jotunn are actually artificial creations, created by a… well, he’s known as Ymir, and he is apparently the only surviving member of a species who lived there long before even we as the Seosten existed. They lived before the great calamity that destroyed almost their entire population, and that of most of the universe. Ymir was the only survivor of his species, and he cloned himself into several more Ymir. Together, the multiple Ymir attempted to restart their species, but were only able to create what they consider the imperfect replicas known as Jotunn. Eventually they shifted away from creating versions that looked like them and simply tried to make incredibly different Jotunn, as many they could, to see which they preferred to be the inheritors of their world.” 

“So Odin, he’s one of these Jotunn?” Arthur carefully asked, trying to think of what he could remember about the mythology. 

Aletheia, however, shook her head. “Odin was a human who somehow found his way to that world. He became close enough to one of the Ymir clones that they… bonded. Odin is the only known Ymir Heretic. Which makes him one of the only Heretics of a species that existed before the arrival of the Four.” 

Maria swallowed as a chill ran through her. “You mentioned them before. They were the giant, world-destroying monsters that almost wiped out the Suelesk before they created the first dragon eggs and fled through their portal to some other universe. Your people found one of their crashed ships on your world and it accelerated your technology.” 

“Yes.” Puriel was frowning thoughtfully, his gaze intent on the nearby wall. “Unfortunately, we don’t know much more about those creatures. Including why they disappeared. We don’t know if they were defeated and destroyed, if they followed the Suelesk elsewhere, or…” 

“Couldn’t you ask him?” Arthur pointed out. “Ymir I mean. Or one of him. If he was there at the time and survived–”

“Ymir does not speak to people very often,” Puriel flatly replied. “And he–or they, don’t speak about what they call the ‘before-times’ at all. Believe me, more powerful and more diplomatic Seosten than I have tried to get information about those creatures and what happened. The most they’ve ever managed is a single name, but we haven’t been able to get any details.” 

Standing next to Maria, both hands clutching her leg, Omni solemnly piped up, “What if they come back?” As everyone’s eyes moved to the young boy, he added, “The bad things that killed all of Ymir’s friends and family. What if they come back and kill more people?” 

“Oh, dear, now see we shouldn’t be talking about all that.” Maria stooped, picking the boy up and holding him close. “It’s not something we need to worry about now, sweetheart.” 

Clearing his throat, Kutattca nodded. “Yes, well, the point is that Thunderbirds and Haietliks are giant birds and giant snakes. The Thunderbirds–some call them Rocs, are incredibly strong. Some say they tear apart mountains. They also control lightning and storms. Hence the name. The Haietliks manipulate electricity too. They’re better at that than the Thunderbirds are, but they don’t fly on their own and they don’t control weather the way their winged partners can.” 

“Partners?” Maria asked curiously. “The giant snakes and the giant birds are partners?” 

“Oh yes,” Kutattca murmured, his attention clearly back into his own memories. “The Thunderbirds use the Haietliks as, ahhh, javelins. They carry two of them on either side under their wings, close to their bodies. When they’re hunting and spot a whale, or any other animal big enough to be food, they use their wings to project the Haietlik ‘javelins’ down to strike the target, stunning or killing it outright between the impact and the electricity from the Thunderbirds and the Haietliks.” 

He was quiet again for several long moments, once more lost in the past. Finally, the man murmured, “I’d rather not get into it right now. But… to put it simply, Litonya and I found several of those things. We were foolish children who wanted to go and see them up close, but the older hunters in the canoe forced us not to. They took the boat back to our village, saying it was too dangerous. But Litonya and I… we snuck out again, in one of the smaller canoes. We wanted to see the giant birds and snakes.” 

“Why did you remember them?” Maria put in abruptly. “Wouldn’t the Bystander Effect–you said this was around 300 AD, yes? That was a long time after it was established.” 

Puriel was the one who answered that. “It took hundreds of years for the Bystander Effect to spread across the world and grow to its full strength. Think of its original form as a virus. From where we targeted it, the spell had to be spread by people who were affected by it, to people who were not. In remote areas, such as where this tribe lived, it probably took hundreds of more years past this point before it existed in full strength.” 

As the others processed that, Kutattca continued. “We took a smaller canoe out there. We watched the Thunderbirds and the Haietliks. When they left, we saw there was still plenty of whale left. So we harvested from it. We thought… we thought we could prove to the other hunters that they were cowards to run away in the first place, by bringing back meat for the village. We took as much meat as our canoe could carry, and went back. But… but one of the Thunderbirds saw. And it was angry about us stealing their food. So it brought its flock and they all followed us back to the village. Then they, the Thunderbirds and the Haietliks, destroyed our home. They killed everyone we knew. Everyone we loved. Our warriors managed to bring down one of the birds and a couple of the snakes, but that was… they killed everyone we had ever known. But they left us alive. I still don’t know why. Punishment, maybe? Killing everyone we knew, but letting us live so we’d know what our theft cost us. Litonya and I, we ate from the bodies of dead Thunderbird and the Haietliks. It felt like some minor form of vengeance. We ate their meat raw and drank their blood. Each of us drank from both. Litonya formed a bond with the Thunderbird blood, and I with the Haietlik.” 

“And then it was just the two of you,” Maria murmured. “Alone out there, with the bodies and… and no one else.” 

“And no one else,” he confirmed. “We found others, of course, eventually. But for years, it was just the two of us. And for centuries after that, we could always count on each other. We had different opinions, but we loved each other, and we were there whenever one of us needed the other.

“I… thought my sister, for all her problems, would be there for me when I trusted her with what Joselyn Atherby had told me. I was wrong. She betrayed and attempted to murder me.” 

“And how did you survive that?” Arthur asked. 

Kutattca’s response was a very faint smile. “That, I’m afraid, is a story for another time.”

Understanding that it was hard for the man to talk about all that, Maria turned back to Puriel. “Before, you mentioned that your people managed to get some sort of name out of this Ymir when they were asking him about what happened to the world-ending monsters? What name?”  

Puriel was silent at first, before answering quietly. “We don’t know what the name means, exactly. Only that it is the name of someone connected to the end of those monsters. A survivor, their destroyer, their creator, we have no idea. Ymir offered nothing more than this single name, and title. 

“Galazien the Iron-Souled.”

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Long Awaited 12-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Well, after that little revelation and explanation, it was time to find out what Asenath had wanted to talk about. And as it turned out, she had a mix of good and bad news herself. Namely, she finally had more information about where her long-lost father was. That was the good part. The bad part was that the information she had pointed to one of the Garden Victors (a guy I didn’t know by the name of Kyril Shamon) being the guy who was holding Tiras. Or had been holding him several decades earlier. For all we knew, those guys traded their Alter slaves like Pokemon cards. Or Pokemon themselves, come to think of it. Why were cards my first thought? 

In any case, Asenath went through explaining all that, with some input from Twister about how fucking cool it had been to ambush the man they got the information from with what was apparently Senny’s first field-use of her new ability to borrow powers through drinking blood. 

“I mean,” the Pooka was saying, “we basically made her into a vampire that can turn into a bat. By which I mean, a proper vampire. Kinda silly that the rest of them don’t, you know?”

“I’ll bring it up at the next convention,” Asenath dryly replied, “make sure everyone knows just how silly it is that we don’t have the power to shapeshift. Maybe we can get it in the next patch.”  

“You’re teasing,” Twister noted while pointing at her. “But a vampire convention would be awesome. Especially if there was like, a werewolf convention next door and the walls fell down. Battle royale, last person standing is the champion of that old rivalry once and for all.” 

Shaking her head as she muttered something about having no idea where the idea of a werewolf-vampire rivalry had come from when the real Akharu rivalry was with Vestil, Asenath eventually looked at Mom and me. “Anyway, that’s where we are now. It’s… it’s something, at least. After all this time, I finally have a name to go off of.” 

“A name is a good thing to have,” I agreed. “Especially when you’ve been looking for this long without even having that much. But uhh, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this Kyril Shamon.” 

“I have.” That was my mother, her voice contemplative. “Though he’s better known as Tarhunz.” 

“Wait, wait,” Twister suddenly put in, “he’s not the Tarhunz, right? I mean, when it comes to really powerful Heretics, it’s just good to check now and–you’re nodding why are you nodding?” 

Offering the girl an apologetic grimace of sorts, Mom quietly confirmed, “Yeah, that Tarhunz. Or Tarhunna, as the Hittites knew him. Or even Teshub, as the Hurrians knew him. He got around.”

“Uh, I’m sorry, what?” My hand was raised as I looked back and forth between the other three. “Can someone stop to fill in the person without a degree in ancient mythology? Tarhunz, Tarhunna, Teshub, whatever he used to go by, who is this guy? Or who was he? Why is him being these other names scary? I mean, we’ve met a lot of scary people already, you know?” 

Mom and Twister looked to each other, with the former gesturing for the latter to go ahead. Which made the Pooka girl grin happily as she turned back to me and launched into an explanation. “Tarhunz, he was basically this super-badass weather god for these bronze-age people in the Middle East. Like, their main guy. When he was Tarhunna for the Hittites, he and the Sun goddess of Arinna were top of the top. They ruled the heavens or whatever. This guy was the chief god for a lot of people back then. Even Bystanders know that from their little history clubs.” She gave me a pointed look, fox ears twitching. “You know what it means in real terms if Bystanders know this guy was god-level important back then. God-level important means–” 

“Means god-level powerful,” I finished with a grimace. “And you said bronze-age. That’s before the Bystander Effect. Which means humans and Alters all lived together, people knew about magic, yada yada. So this guy couldn’t just do a few little tricks, make a couple sparks fly, and maybe summon a little drizzle to really impress everyone. If they saw him as a god at that point, he had to be really strong. Strong enough to hold onto that position through the people who would’ve been trying to knock him out of it. And he did that for, you said three different groups of people back in those days?” Heaving a sigh, I shook my head. “Right, and if he was that strong even before getting the Victor upgrade–hang on, what kind of Heretic was he before?” A sudden thought had struck me in that exact moment, and I really didn’t like it. “I mean, what was he a Natural Heretic of? Cuz, like, being a super-powerful storm manipulator makes me think–”

“He’s not a Sachael Heretic,” Mom assured me, erasing that particular worry from my mind, at least. “He was linked to a Raijin, a Japanese storm-being. How that happened is anyone’s guess. He doesn’t exactly give classes on the subject, from everything I’ve heard. He’s quiet about his past. Quiet in general, really. Except when it comes to fighting. Then he gets loud.” 

Yeah, a guy who was known as a storm god for a bunch of ancient, magic-using civilizations getting ‘loud’ didn’t sound like a good thing to me. Especially not when that same guy was apparently now an Eden’s Garden Victor, and had apparently been holding Asenath’s dad prisoner for awhile. All that just seemed to add up to very bad things, as far as I was concerned. 

Apparently Asenath agreed, because she heaved a long, audible sigh. “Like I said, good news and bad news. Now I have a lead on my father, but that lead just happens to be someone powerful enough to backhand swat me across the continent if I try to demand answers.” 

Reaching out, I touched the other girl’s arm. “Guess it’s a good thing you’re not alone then, huh? Trust me, Senny, if you ask that guy for answers, you’re gonna do it with a lot more than just yourself standing there.” With a small smile, I added, “I mean, you’re my girlfriend’s sister. Like either of us are actually gonna let you just go off and pick a fight with a Victor all by yourself?” 

“She’s right,” my mother agreed quietly, her eyes glancing to me briefly before she focused on Asenath. “You have many friends. When the time comes, you won’t be alone. We’ll help you.” 

“Exactly, dude.” With a thumbs up, Twister teasingly added, “And you know what? You’ve been such a good friend for all these years, I’ll even give you a ten percent discount for my help.” At a trio of looks from all of us, she snickered before relenting. “Okay, okay, I’m there regardless, eesh. You people want me to starve.”  

For Senny’s part, she was quiet after that, seeming to consider for a few long seconds before nodding. “I know. And I’m… I’m grateful to all of you. Truly grateful that I–that there are people who would help me find my father. My mother, she’ll want to be there too. But before we do anything about that, we need to know more about him. And, preferably, if he even has my dad at all. Or, for that matter, keeps him anywhere nearby. I mean, it’s possible my father is part of some group this guy stuffed into a random work camp somewhere and that we can save him without ever actually seeing Shamon, or whatever name he goes by, face to face.” 

“Possible,” Mom allowed in a very careful tone before adding, “but you know what they say.” 

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” Senny confirmed. “Which means we need to know more about him. Knowing is half the battle and all.” She paused briefly, then looked to the two of us. “And there’s always the chance that he was holding my dad as a favor for his Victor partner. Which means we’d have to know as much as we can about both of them.” 

My mouth had just opened to ask who that was, when Mom answered, “Ikita. The two of them run the Eternal Eye tribe. I don’t know much about her, only that she’s always seemed fairly reasonable about things, even if she is loyal to a bunch of murderous–” Stopping herself from what clearly would have been a very in-depth rant, she sighed before pushing on with the actual point. “In my experience, both Ikita and Shamon have always struck me as the type to play things quietly and close to their chests. They watch a lot, pay attention–there’s a reason their tribe is called the Eternal Eye, the watchers, the ones who wait and see things. They’re careful and they take their time. They are not as quick to jump to action as some of the other tribes. Which, in some ways makes them safer, and in other ways it makes them more dangerous.” 

“They were also Miranda’s original tribe,” I quietly pointed out. “She might know a lot more about them than any of us do just being on the outside. They were her leaders. Even if they didn’t stick their necks out to save her or anything, she probably spent time around them. And from the sound of things, we could use all the information we can get. About both of them, just in case.”

Asenath’s head bobbed quickly. “Miranda, yes. Her and anyone else we can talk to who’s had a lot of experience with these two, or just that tribe in general.” She frowned, mind clearly racing frantically from the very thought of how close she was, relatively speaking, to finally finding her dad. “There are some other Eternal Eye tribespeople with the Garden Rebellion, aren’t there?” 

“Some,” I confirmed. “Most of the tribe stayed loyal, but some of them left. We could probably talk to them too, besides Miranda. And Seller.” To that last bit, I added, “He wasn’t part of that tribe, but he spent plenty of time around all the Garden people. He’d probably know something important.”

For a brief moment, it looked as though Mom was going to say something about that. But in the end, she just offered a very faint smile. “Yes, there’s people we can talk to. No one is going to run into this blind but, I promise, Asenath, we will do absolutely everything we can to find your father.” She exhaled, a flash of emotion running across her face briefly before focusing. “After everything you’ve done for my family, I owe you that and so much more. When the time comes, we will all be there to help get your dad back, no matter where he is or who has him.” 

“Same.” With that word, Twister gave Asenath a quick, firm swat on the back. “She just said it a lot more poetically than I could. Or whatever. Point is, I’m right behind you. Or maybe in front of you. Or above, if I’m a bir–hey, the point is, I’ll be there. I mean hell, after all this time, I really want to meet the man behind the myth, the guy who helped give the world all this awesome.” Along with her words, the Pooka gestured pointedly up and down Asenath like she was a prize.

With a cough, Senny shook her head. “So, right now we just need more info. As much as we can get. Which means a lot of talking to people.” Offering me a slight smile, she added, “Good thing at least two of us have a lot of interest and experience with interviews, isn’t it?” 

“Three,” Mom put in. “I did more than my share back in Laramie Falls as the sheriff. And I figured out pretty quick how to tell when people knew more than they were saying, back during the… the first rebellion.” Her last words came quietly, as she gazed off into the distance. “It took awhile for me to learn how to tell who could be trusted, but I got there. Just a little too late.” 

Liam, I knew. She was thinking about Liam, and the fact that his betrayal had been what forced the Rebellion to go loud in the first place, instead of staying a quiet, subtle thing that could have built up a lot more strength and potentially beaten the loyalists. Instead, they had been forced into the open, leading to everything that happened. In a way, leading to my own existence. No wonder Mom seemed to have complicated feelings about that whole thing. I got the impression that she really would have liked to be in a room alone with Liam Mason for awhile. Though what would happen in that room, exactly, I didn’t know. And I was pretty sure she didn’t either.

Twister was already waving her hand. “Yeah, yeah, you’re all amazing investigators, whatever. Some of us spend our super-long lives doing far more awesome things. But hey, I think I can lower myself to doing a few interviews around here, for a good cause like this. Hey, if nothing else, I make pretty good muscle standing in the background being intimidating.” To demonstrate, she immediately transformed into an enormous grizzly bear standing on her hind legs, showing her teeth. 

With a cough, Senny nodded. “I’m not sure how much we’re going to have to intimidate the people who are on our side, but yeah, you’re always helpful, Twist.” Exhaling then, she folded her arms, clearly containing the emotions she was still feeling about finally having actual information she could use. Yeah, it wasn’t an immediate, easy jump from that to having her dad back, but it was something. It was an actual step, and for someone who had been stuck on the edge of a half-finished bridge with nowhere to put her feet next, having something firm extended to her so she could actually take that next step was important. I knew that from experience. 

Now all we had to do was take that little bit of information and turn it into something we could actually act on. No one was going to run up to this Shamon guy and get anywhere by demanding answers out of him. But, if we could get the right information about who he was and what he was up to, even where he might keep his prisoners, maybe we could actually find Tiras. Right now, it seemed like the best way to start would be to find and talk to my old best friend. 

And I could definitely think of worse ways to spend a few hours than hanging out with Miranda. 

******

As it turned out, Miranda wasn’t actually up on the station today. She was down with Dakota at the place where the Garden rebels had set up, helping with more of that whole ‘making the vines work’ thing. The good news on that front was that they now had an idea of what had been stopping the vines from working even after they were planted in the right place. The bad news, of course, was that the things responsible for hurting the vines were the Nuckelavee, servants of the big bad nasty thing living at the bottom of the ocean. No one knew why said big bad nasty thing was so interested in the vines, but it was obviously nothing good. 

But, knowing what the problem was had apparently led the Garden people to at least put up guards all around the spots where they were planting the vines, down on the ocean floor. They used strong enough Heretics, spaced close enough together, to make sure the Nuckelavee, or anything else their master sent, didn’t have a chance to get close to their prizes. It wasn’t a solution that could last forever, of course. But at that point, I was pretty sure the Garden rebels  just wanted to prove that they could keep the fruit coming. They’d deal with how to keep it safe in the long term once they actually got the damn things growing properly.

In any case, I eventually headed down there to find my friend. Mom didn’t come with me, since she still wanted to spend at least some time with the rest of the family. And, she said she’d contact a few other people to find out what they might know about Shamon.  

Spreading out to ask people things made sense, of course. That was why Asenath and Twister weren’t coming with me either. The two of them had been joined by Shiori and were going to talk to a few Alters up on the station or down in the Atherby camp who’d had run-ins with the Eternal Eye Victors or those close to them (apparently there were at least a couple who had once been held prisoner at Eden’s Garden). Which would hopefully lead to something. Especially the ones who have been prisoners. If they could tell us where the Eternal Eye prisoners were kept… yeah, it was a serious longshot that any would still be kept in the same place, of course. But it was something. And right now, we kind of needed any kind of lead we could get. 

At least I wasn’t alone heading down there. As soon as they found out what was going on, Koren, Sands, and Sarah had all volunteered to come with. I’d also taken the time to tell the three about the situation with Denise and what my mother had done, since they had been part of looking into that whole thing back during our first real Investigation Track meeting. All four of us had learned about Denise’s death before we even knew Ammon existed. That was when I’d been drawn to pick up the exact same things he had bought at the gas station when–huh. Did I ever find out why that had happened? Was it just a weird half-sibling connection thing, or some kind of… I didn’t know. Thinking about Ammon made me feel sick. 

We had called down ahead to let Miranda know we were coming, so she was already waiting there in the field behind one of the motels that the garden Rebels had taken over. As soon as we appeared, Randi came jogging up and embraced me tightly. The two of us hugged like that for a few seconds before releasing each other so we could step back and breathe. 

“Already throwing yourself into something new to take care of, huh?” the other girl teased. 

“More like something old,” I corrected. “This is dealing with something that’s been waiting to be dealt with for a long time.” With a grimace, I added, “And hey, it’s not like we can exactly hurl ourselves into certain death yet. We’re just…” 

Sarah finished for me, her voice flat. “Just doing the boring legwork to hurl ourselves into certain death later.” 

“Which,” Sands put in, “you have to admit, is a step-up from our usual way of doing things.” 

Coughing, I waved both hands. “Come on, no one’s hurling themselves into–okay yes we’re talking about a Victor. But the entire reason we’re talking about all this is to avoid that kind of danger. You know, find a way around him or how to… how to deal with it without a fight.”

Sands nodded. “Like I said, a step-up from our usual way of doing things.”

Before any of the others could say anything to that, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. An instant later, we all heard the sound of alarms going off, and calls to action from around the motel. Someone shouted something about Nuckelavee, which was just fantastic. 

My mouth opened, but a shout from Koren interrupted. The other girl jerked her hands outward, and a column of dirt rose up beneath the five of us, pitching our whole group out of the way. Flipping over in the air, I landed on my feet with one hand down for balance, sliding backward a couple yards. Around me, the others more-or-less managed the same, all of us staring toward the spot where we had just been. 

Sure enough, a Nuckelavee was there. God, the thing looked horrific. Like a horse with a rider, but all the same being. Covered in exposed muscle, with the human-part’s torso tilting back around the middle to reveal a huge secondary mouth beyond the horse-part’s. And speaking of the horse part, it had only a single, too-large eye, with an enormous, tentacle-like tongue that whipped back and forth threateningly. 

In the background, we could already hear other Garden people fighting. Which meant there were more than one of these things. Where had this one come from? It was just… there, all of a sudden. 

Wherever it came from, it was here now. And the rest of the Heretics around this place were busy. Which meant we had to deal with it. I just hoped we–

Koren’s hand grabbed my arm, as she blurted. “What the hell is that?!” 

I was about to remind her of what a Nuckelavee was. Then I realized she wasn’t talking about the thing in front of us. No, she was referring to the object or… or something that was streaking down out of the sky directly above our heads. For a second, all of us, even the Nuckelavee, looked up that way as the object–no… person got closer. A person who was flying down out of the sky, screaming in terror. Wait… no, that… that wasn’t terror. 

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” 

And with that, the falling figure slammed into the Nuckelavee with so much force that the thing actually fucking exploded. Seriously, it was like Gallagher hitting a watermelon. Chunks of that monster went flying in every direction, splattering across the ground–and across all of us. Fucking gross, yeah. But mostly we were stuck staring that way in shock, none of us having a clue what the hell was going on. 

And then the figure who had fallen out of the sky popped right back to their feet–to her feet. She stood up in the midst of the… the splattered remains of what had once been a Nuckelavee. The girl was drenched in gore, but she appeared to be like twenty-one or so. Her skin was very tan, and she had long, snow-white hair that fell to her mid-back. She wore what looked like skin-tight leather clothing, but I couldn’t tell what color it was because all of it was entirely covered in bits of dead monster. 

“Hello, Felicity Chambers!” the woman blurted. “I’m so glad I finally found you!” 

“You killed my husband, Manakel.” 

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Patreon Snippets 20 (Heretical Edge 2)

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The following is the 20th edition of Patreon Snippets. Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month is able to request at least five hundred words toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. Thanks go to them, as well as to all supporters, and to all readers.

Vanessa

Today was a good day. No, as far as Vanessa Moon was concerned, it was a fantastic day. Nothing horrible was going on, her family was basically as safe as they could be, and no one she cared about was in immediate life-or-death danger. Which was basically the best that people like them could ask for. Everything was relatively quiet, for the moment at least. Not that she expected it to last that long, but you really had to take the opportunities you had to enjoy things.

In this case, Vanessa was enjoying things by carrying a large tray to her room. The tray was packed with a wide assortment of food. There were a dozen different dishes represented on the tray, and all of them had one thing in common. Each and every one was a different kind of potato. There was a baked potato, french fries, mashed, sweet, cheese-and-bacon covered, tater tots, hash browns, a grilled cheese sandwich with oven-baked potato slices added, latkes, potato salad, and a few others. 

Not a gigantic serving of each, of course. After making all these potatoes downstairs, Vanessa had left plenty for her housemates to pick over. No, her tray was laden with enough samples from each to keep the potato-loving girl happy for an entire afternoon. Especially considering the tray itself had a simple enchantment that allowed it to keep the food warm. She could sit for hours, pick from the tray anytime she wanted to, and the food would be plenty hot. Or cold, in the potato salad’s case, thanks to a special secondary enchantment right where it was seated.

Having all the potatoes she could possibly eat was the first half of Vanessa’s idea of a wonderful way to spend her afternoon down time. The other half was sitting on her bed when she came in. A thick, heavy leather bound book was lying there, just waiting for the girl to curl up with it.

Vanessa had never been able to explain why she loved potatoes so much, exactly. All she knew was that they were, in every single form she had ever encountered, her very favorite sort of food. They made her feel happy and safe. Some might have thought that had originated back when she had been stuck in that mental hospital and one of the orderlies (a nice man named Peter) had come by every afternoon to share some of his french fries from the lunch he would have delivered. Yet her love of the incredibly versatile vegetable extended back before then, to when she was still a very young child living at home with her family. 

In any case, even if his visits weren’t the reason for her obsession, Peter was still a fond memory within a lot of bad ones at the hospital. As scary as being in that place had been, the man was always friendly, and told her about what was going on out in the world. He also, over their shared fries, listened to the very young Vanessa telling him about what happened to her family. Unlike the doctors, he had never made her feel like she was wrong or crazy. For those few minutes each day, Peter listened and seemed to understand, even if he never really said much about it. 

She’d since wondered, of course, if Peter was some kind of Heretic, or an Alter, who really did have an idea of what was going on. Or even part of Jophiel and Elisabet’s little plan. But she’d called the hospital and Peter no longer worked there. And aside from just asking the two women about it (they had denied any relation and insisted the man was just a normal person as far as they knew) she had no other way of following up. 

In any case, eating those fries everyday had surely helped foster her already extant love of potatoes. And now, she could really indulge it. Clambering up onto the bed, she settled herself with the tray on the table next to her, then she picked up the book and examined it. It wasn’t just any other book. This one was special. Not that every book wasn’t special as far as Vanessa was concerned. But this even more so. This was a book about her mother. 

Okay, it was about more than just her mother. It was actually the first volume of the official log of the Olympus’s mission before they had come to Earth. It was details about the things her mother and her people had been up to when they were much younger. A lot of it wouldn’t be good, Vanessa knew. She wasn’t naive about the sort of things her mother had been a part of. But she still wanted to know about them. She wanted to know everything about her family, including that side of it. Her mother, Uncle Apollo, Athena, Mercury, all of them. She wanted to know about their stories, their adventures. They had gone out exploring unknown regions of Seosten space. What kind of things have they found? What kind of people have they interacted with? She wanted to know all of it, the good and the bad. She could accept the bad because she knew what kind of person her mother was now. She just needed to know. 

It had been Athena who gave her the book. Their logs weren’t normally kept on paper, of course. But she had transferred it to a real, solid book because that was Vanessa’s preference over reading things on a screen. She liked to have an actual book to hold. So, Athena produced one. 

Now, Vanessa took a sip from a cup of water, then set it down before picking up the book and settling it onto her lap. Carefully opening it, she let her eyes find the first word while picking up a fork and taking a big bite of delicious, delicious baked potato. A murmur of exquisite pleasure escaped the girl. 

Then, she started to read. 

******

Jasper Patterson

“Damn it!” 

With that blurted curse, the dark-skinned, blue-haired boy standing in the kitchen of his house on the Starstation spun and hurled the tray full of cookies in the general direction of the trash can in the corner. The tray hit the wall and most of the cookies scattered across the floor, though a few did make it into their target. 

From the doorway, a voice quietly spoke up. “Now that’s the intense Jasper Patterson I know.”  

Taken a bit by surprise, Jasper’s gaze snapped that way, before a very slightly embarrassed expression crossed his face as he took in the sight of the black woman who had been his teacher for a long time. Wincing, he replied, “Hey, Professor Tangle. Sorry, I didn’t know you were here. I uhh, I’ll clean it up.” He murmured the last bit under his breath. 

“Giselle’s fine, you’re an adult,” Tangle assured him. “I mean, you only had one more year left at school before you would’ve graduated.” 

“Yeah, one more year,” Jasper muttered, his gaze meeting hers. “Good for me, huh?” 

Rather than directly addressing that immediately, Tangle made a noise in the back of her throat before carefully stepping into the room and moving to the trash, where she reached down to pick up the still-scalding hot tray. Not that she showed any discomfort from it. Using the tray to indicate the scattered cookies, she asked, “I’m not exactly super-hip on things. Is this some new sort of diet or something? You go through all the trouble of making delicious cookies and then just throw them away?” 

Sighing heavily, Jasper shook his head. “They’re wrong. They’re just… they’re wrong.” 

Considering that for a moment, Tangle reached down to pluck a cookie off the floor. She examined it, blew on it, then took a bite. Finishing the cookie in short order, the woman looked back to him. “I think you’re being a little too hard on yourself. That was delicious.” 

“No, it’s–” Jasper started to blurt before catching himself with a sigh. “It’s… it’s not the same. There’s something missing. It’s not the way we used to make–” In mid-sentence, he stopped, looking guilty. 

“They aren’t the same as when you and your mother made them together,” Tangle finished for him, her voice quiet as she watched his reaction. “They taste different because she didn’t help you make them.” 

Jasper was quiet for a moment before giving a very slight nod. He folded his arms across his chest and looked away. “She hates me now,” he murmured. “They both do. My whole family hates me. They think I’m a… they think I’m a traitor. I mean, I am a traitor. I abandoned them, I walked away to side with people who are literally rebelling against everything my family believes. You can’t really get much more ‘traitor’ than that. I mean, you can, but… yeah.”

Tangle was quiet for a moment before she stepped over, putting the tray down on the stove. “You came because of Carly, right?” 

Jasper started to shake his head before catching himself. “No–I mean yes. I mean, I didn’t know  about the rest of this before. But Carly’s my friend, and when I found out she was–that she’s half-Strang– I mean half-Alter, it was… it wasn’t even a question. I trust her with everything. I always have, since like our first week in school three years ago. Why wouldn’t I trust her now? Nothing changed, not really. It’s not like she suddenly became half-Succubus. She was always a hybrid. It’s just, now they want to hurt her. So I helped her. I helped my friend, and things just sort of spiraled from there. Now my family hates me. All those people hate me.” 

“Do you think you were wrong?” Tangle gently asked. “Deep down, do you think you made the wrong choice?” 

His answer was immediate. “No. No, because she’s still my friend. Seriously, she’s my best friend. My family thinks it’s like a crush thing. They think it’s sexual. But it’s not. I mean, I know she’s part succubus and all, but it’s not about that. Our thing–it’s never been sexual. Sure, she’s super hot and stuff, but we’ve never… we’re friends. That’s what I care about. That’s what I want.” He sighed once more. “Besides, now that I’ve lived here, been around these other Alters, seen them… There’s no way I could go back to Crossroads. I just couldn’t. But…  but my family won’t change their minds either. And now… now I’ve just been… trying to make these cookies, and they didn’t taste right and I thought I should ask my mom what was wrong with them but–but she won’t–she can’t–” His eyes were closed tightly, tears streaming down his face as he hugged himself tighter. “I can’t ask her about the cookies. I can’t ask her about anything. I can’t even talk to them. They won’t listen.” 

Before the boy knew what was happening, Tangle had tugged him over to her and into an embrace. “I’m sorry,” she quietly murmured. “Jasper, I’m so sorry you have to go through that. Maybe your parents will come around eventually. These lives of ours can be pretty long sometimes. But even if they don’t, I want you to know that you’re right. You made the right choice. It hurts, and it can feel incredibly lonely. But you made the right choice. You make the right choice every day you stay here, hard as it is. And, no matter how your family feels, no matter what happens with them, I’m proud of you. We’re all proud of you.”

They stayed like that for awhile before Jasper pulled back, shifting a bit uncertainly. “I… the cookies, they’ll never taste the same.” 

“No,” Tangle agreed, “they won’t. But you know what? Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay if you find your own way of… of making the cookies. You find what works for you, Jasper. 

“And I guarantee, your cookies will be perfect just the way you make them.” 

*******

Haniel

The world wasn’t even important enough to have a name. Technically, it wasn’t even a world. It was a moon. The moon of a gas giant. Barely larger than Earth’s own moon, it had existed with little more than a numeric designation ever since it had been discovered by Seosten explorers a few hundred years earlier. Though inhabitable, there were only about a dozen different forms of non-bacterium life on the moon, including aquatic, and none of them were anywhere near developing sapience. 

In almost all respects, it was entirely inconsequential. Almost all. But there was one specific thing that made it a target for the Fomorians. Specifically, its location. The moon was situated entirely too close to a relatively less secure section of the Seosten lines, and would make an incredibly tempting staging point for an intense Fomorian attack. Allowing the monsters to take that place and solidify their hold over it would have been disastrous, regardless of how much other strategic value it did or didn’t have. This incredibly small, otherwise insignificant moon had to be protected to prevent the Fomorians from using it as a stepping stone to more important targets. 

By the same token of the moon being out in the middle of nowhere, it was hard for the Fomorians to get a significant foothold on it. Their Seosten enemies tended to watch the place for any intrusion, leaving a token force to slow down the attack, then send in a bigger fleet to wipe out all traces of the Fomorian incursion before they could settle on it properly. They fought back and forth over that small rock in the middle of space once every few years or so. Some battles were bigger than others, but the Fomorians never entirely gave up on their plan of finding a way to use the place for their attacks against stronger targets.

The most recent of those attacks had taken place several days earlier. The moon itself had been (as far as the Fomorians were concerned) cleared of any Seosten defenders, leaving it ripe for settling. But first, all the biological material, whether native to the place or the corpses of Seosten and Fomorian alike, had to be scavenged. That was how the Fomorians operated. They established footholds on a planet by destroying all life and then using those same biological materials to create not only their own defenses, but the building blocks for all of the troops, weapons, and even transportation the place would need to sustain itself in the war. 

At this particular moment, that was exactly what the Fomorians here on the moon were doing. A series of enormous creatures that looked roughly like oversized Earth elephants (four or five times the size of one of those) mixed with a biological dump truck (their backs had huge holes in them that were deep and wide enough to carry several tons worth of material) lumbered onward across the ground, escorted by various monsters meant to protect the supply-creatures. Any plant material was torn away to be melted down for base components, the nutrient parts added to pastes that would be used to feed the Fomorian forces. Biological materials, meanwhile, were also collected and dropped into the oversized-elephant creatures’ back holes in order to be carried back to the Fomorian staging base on this moon. The remains of native animals, Seosten defenders, and the Fomorians’ own troops alike were all dumped unceremoniously into the elephant-creatures and carried onward. 

At one pile of corpses in particular, where a particularly heavy fight had clearly occurred, the goblin-like leading Fomorian escorts (they were three feet tall and had arms that were four feet long, leading to a lot of loping movement where their arms essentially propelled them up and forward to hit the ground, then repeat) launched themselves that way to land beside the spot where two large ogres had fallen under the combined assault from a dozen Fomorian beasts. Bit by bit, the goblin-creatures pulled the pile of bodies apart, using their own considerable strength to toss their comrades up into the hole of the nearest elephant-thing. Finally, the elephant itself used its long trunks to pick up each of the huge ogre bodies one at a time, tossing them in the back as well. 

From there, the parade continued. For three more hours, the creatures moved on to collect more bodies, killing any living things they came across to add to their supplies before eventually making a wide circle to move back to their staging point. There, within the confines of the Fomorian protective (living, of course) walls, the collected remains were added to the pile there. They would be taken apart down to their base materials and used to create more troops. Or, they would have been. But someone else had plans to the contrary. 

Six hours after the pile of rotting bodies had been dumped in place, and nine after it originally been picked up, the bustling Fomorian creations were finally joined by one of their masters. An actual Fomorian, an Alpha of all things, strode into view in the middle of the camp, eyes scanning the piles of corpses. This Fomorian was twice the size of the standard Betas and Gammas that made up the bulk of their population (already relatively few in number), having upgraded his own body with longer, stronger limbs, much heavier plating that protected him from anything weaker than a capital ship barrage, and a set of dragonfly-like wings that would allow him to reach blinding speeds in the air. Along with other surprises that made him, and other Alpha Fomorians, some of the most dangerous creatures in the universe.

Standing there, flanked by a small army of guards and assorted creature servants, the Alpha Fomorian looked over the thousands upon thousands of decomposing corpses intently while sniffing. “Something,” it hissed, “lives. Something there is not dead. It–” 

In mid-sentence, the Fomorian saw it. A very small green laser shone out of the pile of corpses, the point ending right in the center of its chest. A tiny, insignificant laser point. It came from a small, cylindrical, pen-sized device that was sticking out through a hole in the chest of one of the ogres whose corpse had been picked up nine hours earlier. 

The Alpha Fomorian barely had time to consider what this meant, before a second laser struck it. This, however, was far different from the first. For one, this second laser came from the sky. No, it came from far beyond the sky. The laser came from a ship that had been hidden behind the gas giant this moon orbited. A ship that had been so well-hidden, it was incapable of being seen without being right on top of it. And, by the same measure, equally incapable of seeing anything on the planet itself. And yet, it fired a shot from its primary cannon the moment that it had a target. A target granted to it by that single laser pointer. 

When the smoke cleared from that single shot, fully three-quarters of the Fomorian base itself had been wiped out, eradicated entirely. Nothing was left where the shot had struck, save for a twelve-foot-deep, hundred-foot-wide crater. 

Nothing, that was, save for the Alpha Fomorian. Most of it, anyway. The creature, as with any of its fellows who reached the rank of Alpha, was incredibly tough. Tough enough, in fact, to stand up to a direct hit from a Seosten capital ship. Though wounded, the Alpha was not dead. Its wings had been sheared away, the force of the blast had slammed the thing flat to the ground, and it was showing severe damage. But it had survived that shot. 

It may even have survived the second and third that punched into the ground shortly after that first one. The fourth, however, probably killed it. The fifth and sixth were just to make sure. And the seventh might have been overkill. 

In the end, nothing remained of the Fomorian Alpha, or any of his troops. Once the firing had stopped, the small laser pointer was withdrawn back into the ogre corpse. A moment later, it was replaced by a much stronger laser blade, as the corpse’s occupant cut herself free. Covered in blood and the assorted internal fluids and broken organs of a half-decayed ogre, the brown-skinned and dark-haired figure, who would have been seen as stereotypically Indian (of the actual India) clambered out and brushed herself off. Taking a rag from the pocket of her mechanic-like jumpsuit, the Olympian Seosten known as Haniel wiped her gore-covered face clean, tossed the rag aside, then plucked a bottle of heavy booze from a different pocket before taking a long, sustained pull. Only once she had drained a good half of the contents did she put the bottle away and produce a communication pin, slapping it to her chest to activate the thing. “Congratulations, Trierarch, that is one dead Alpha. Now come get us so I can shower.” She could have recalled herself back to the ship, of course. That would have been the plan had she been discovered in her hiding place before the Alpha showed himself. But he had shown himself. And now they were going to mop up the remains (literally, to an extent) and take what was left to be studied by Seosten scientists. 

Soon enough, Haniel was picked up by a quick shuttle that teleported her up to it, and then returned to the capital ship. Unfortunately, before she could actually find her way to the shower, the ship’s captain, or Trierarch, met her coming off the shuttle. He was an old Seosten with a thick walrus mustache and very tired eyes. “Sorry, got new orders for you. Well, for all of us. We’re going to Rysthael to drop you off.” 

The announcement made Haniel blink. “Why would I go there? We’re still at peace, right? Truce, whatever. We’re not supposed to be doing anything over there.” 

“No idea,” came the response. “That part of the orders is sealed to your identity signature. Your eyes only. We’re just supposed to deliver you.” After a brief pause, he added, “But uhh, speaking of that truce, you think it’ll hold? I mean, do you think it’ll be permanent? You spent a long time there with those humans, right? Back when they had you running around playing Dionysus.” 

Haniel, in turn, shrugged. “Not with those humans. Err, mostly not. And there’s a lot more than humans there anyway. But uhh, yeah it’s been awhile.” She glanced away, clearly deep in thought for a few seconds before continuing. “Look, I don’t know much about what’s going on there. Kinda tuned out of that stuff for a reason. All I know is that our people, flawed as they might be, are the only ones stopping those things from overrunning the entire fucking universe.” She jabbed a finger in the direction of where other Seosten and assistants were gathering the remains of the Alpha in buckets and large steel crates. “So if these Rysthael people prove they can be an asset and work with us to do that, great. Nothing but love for them. If not, well, we need humans to be Heretics or this whole universe gets fucked over, us and them. Sometimes doing the shit that needs to be done ain’t pretty. As you can see.” Her hand indicated the assorted (quite fragrant) goo that still covered her body. 

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go soak my body in fifty gallons of scalding water, and my liver in about that much wine.” 

***********

Dylan

“This is impossible.” The words came from Haiden Moon, as the man stood a short distance away from the main collection of cabins around the Atherby camp, with his wife, his son and daughter, and another girl. Fossor had been killed only hours earlier, and yet, apparently that wasn’t enough of a shock for the day. Not if what his children were telling him was true. 

“It’s true, Dad,”  Vanessa insisted. “We did the blood test while you were busy earlier. This is Dylan, your niece. Our… our cousin.” 

“Hello,” the girl in question piped up, raising a hand in an awkward motion. “Um. I’m Dylan. She said that. I didn’t… um, mean to say that. I didn’t mean to say that either. Um. I’m not—I’m not really, um, great with this? This is…. umm, different? I–um, it’s new, and I don’t–I didn’t know it was gonna be like this. And you’re here, and I think my mom would’ve wanted to be, but she’s not, because she died and I really didn’t mean to say that either. But now I’m thinking about my mom and dad dying, and I’m sad, so… so I’m gonna go. Okay, bye.” With that, she pivoted on her heel and began to take a few steps away. 

“Whoa, whoa, wait!” Tristan quickly moved that way, gently but firmly guiding the girl back. “See, Dad, she’s definitely part of our family.” 

“Part of our…” Trailing off, Haiden glanced toward his wife before turning back to Dylan. He took a step that way before going down to one knee to reach out, his hand barely touching the side of the girl’s face as she shifted nervously from foot to foot. Her eyes met his, their gazes locking for a moment before he swallowed hard. “Vanessa…” The word was not directed toward his daughter, but toward the long-lost aunt she had been named for. Haiden’s sister, who had supposedly died during training at Eden’s Garden. 

Except she clearly hadn’t, because her daughter was here. A daughter who had clearly been born much more recently than the over hundred years it had been since his sister had ‘died.’ 

But… but if she survived and was here on Earth, with a family, why had she never reached out? Who tracked her down and killed her? Why didn’t she fight back? What–what? 

“I don’t understand,” he finally managed, voice cracking a bit. “What are the odds?” Haiden demanded. “What are the odds that you would happen to run into someone who could get in contact with us, someone who knew Vanes–her roommate, for Void’s sake. Erin was her roommate at Crossroads. What are the odds that my daughter’s roommate would happen to run into my long-lost niece? It doesn’t–” He sighed. “It doesn’t make sense.” 

“Oh, that’s easy,” Dylan promptly answered. “I used magic. I was… lonely, so I used a spell from the fox-man’s library to find out if I had any family. It was supposed to direct me to a place where I could eventually find them. It took me to the grocery store. I had to work there for a long time. So long I thought it didn’t work. But then it did. It just took awhile. And it wasn’t exactly direct about it.”

“That’s usually how that sort of spell works,” Sariel quietly put in, her voice sounding awed. “When it does anything at all. You’re–you’re really self-taught? That’s remarkable. I’ve never seen anyone take to it that well without–without any direct instruction.” 

“The fox-man’s blood made me good at magic,” Dylan replied. “And he had a lot of books.” 

“She likes to read,” Tristan piped up. “She’s definitely related to Vanessa.” 

Vanessa, naturally, squinted at him. “You’re related to me and you don’t like to read. You’re my twin.”

“Yeah,” Tristan confirmed, “which obviously means you stole all my reading books DNA. It’s clearly your fault.” 

“Reading… books… DNA…” Vanessa barely managed to get those words out, looking and sounding as though she was either about to strangle the boy or cry. He, in turn, simply grinned. 

Clearing his throat, Haiden focused on the girl in front of him. “I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how–what… I don’t know anything. But… but you are Vanessa’s daughter. You–” Cutting himself off, the man simply asked, “Do you, ahh, mind if I hug you?” 

“Why?” Dylan promptly asked, her eyes narrowing to a slit. “You’re not trying to plant a tracking beacon for Galazien’s forces, are you? He’s really persuasive. He can make you think he’s on your side. Quick, how long has it been since you were checked for mind manipulation?”

“Who–who is this Galazien?” Haiden managed. They had mentioned the name before, when Vanessa and Tristan were giving the quick story about what they had learned from Erin. But he was still pretty confused about the whole thing.

Dylan answered promptly. “He is the Iron-Souled, the world-devourer, the one who will reap the heavens and call the hells to tear asunder all who stand before him. He is the flash of heat felt oh-so-briefly by those who die from the cold, the warmth that causes them, in their delirium, to shed their clothes to embrace their fate. He is the inevitable, torn from this world in its infancy to spare it a youthful end. But his forces amass, and he cannot be forestalled for eternity. In his time, he will come, and he will finish what he started, all those millennia ago.” 

A few long seconds of silence passed, before Tristan leaned in to speak quietly. “I think she means he’s a bad guy.” 

“I–I have so many questions,” Haiden murmured, still reeling from shock. “But something tells me you don’t know where your mother was before she had you, or why she was pretending to be a normal human. Or… or what happened to her when she was younger.” 

Dylan, of course, shook her head. “No. I think the Fox-Man knew more, but… but he died before he could tell me.” She went quiet for a moment, clearly remembering the horrific murders of her mother and father in addition to the Kitsune. Her voice, when she spoke, was very soft. “I… think I might be okay with a hug now.” 

And that was exactly what she got. 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Long Awaited 12-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

In the year and some odd months since I had been officially introduced to this life, I’d seen a lot of crazy things. I’d heard even more crazy things. I had experienced and been told a lot that stretched my capacity to be surprised. I wasn’t going to say that I couldn’t be shocked, because that would obviously just tempt the universe into making it happen. 

But if the past year–hell, if the past couple days hadn’t made me immune to being left completely speechless, they had at least given me a pretty strong resistance. Which is why it was so impressive that, with one sentence, Mom had managed to leave me so utterly astonished, I actually literally stared at her with my mouth open while strange noises escaped me. They weren’t words, that much was for certain. At most, they were a random assortment of vowels and consonants with no real rhyme or reason. It felt like my entire brain took several long moments to entirely reboot itself. For those seconds, there was nothing of note going on in my head. Nothing aside from that last sentence from my mother playing on a repeating loop. It was like she had spoken in a completely foreign language and I was trying desperately to decipher the meaning. But I understood the meaning. Well, I understood what the words in that order meant, generally speaking, even if I couldn’t comprehend basically anything else about it.

My only real consolation in that moment was that I wasn’t the only one left standing there in shock. Asenath and Twister seemed equally affected, both of them actually taking a step back reflexively as they too stared at Mom. None of us found actual words to say for those few seconds, simply looking at my mother while opening and shutting our mouths like a trio of baby birds. It probably looked pretty funny from the outside, if anyone else had been watching. 

In the end, it was Twister who managed to speak first. Specifically, she blurted a quick, “I’m sorry, you did what with a Pooka respawn power? What the actual fuck are you talking about?” 

“Uhh, yeah, what she said.” I pointed to her without looking away from my mother, actual vaguely coherent words finally finding their way to my lips. “What’s going on, Mom? What did–what the–what?” Yeah, I did say vaguely coherent. At least they were actual words. 

Asenath didn’t say anything at all. She just stared at Mom silently, apparently satisfied enough with the verbal questions that Twister and I had managed to wait for an actual answer. 

As for Mom herself,  I could tell there were a lot of emotions running through her. Many of them conflicting with one another. She seemed sad, yet also proud. Lost, yet determined and focused. She was in deep mourning, but she was also happy in a sort of bittersweet way. There was regret, peace, grief, and acceptance. I had the feeling that she had gone through all of these feelings in much more separated detail for a long time, and what we were seeing was the abbreviated form jumbled together as she was in the situation of finally explaining what had actually happened. 

Finally, after a long, heavy silence, Mom started to speak. She didn’t look at me, or either of the others. Her gaze was fixed off into the distance, voice thick with emotion. “No mother should ever have to plan for her child’s death. Not in any way. Not in the sense of preparing for a terminal disease. And not in the sense of ensuring that should he ever die, he would not come back.” 

Silence returned for a moment while my mother’s eyes closed, and she took a long, deep breath in an attempt to steady herself. It didn’t seem to work that well, as her voice still cracked when she continued. “No mother–no parent who has ever lived should ever be put in the position of making certain that if their son dies, he will stay dead. I have hated some people in my life. I have loathed some of my enemies, those who have hurt me or those I love. But I would not wish such a fate on anyone I have ever quarreled with. No one should ever be in a position where they have to look at their child and not only plan such a thing, but–” Her voice broke then, and it took her a moment to force the words out. “–but actually enact it themselves.” 

Part of me wanted to reach out to her, but it felt as though this whole story was something she needed to get through without my interruption or distraction. So, clenching my hands, I watched and listened in silence. Of all the things I owed my mother, the absolute least I could pay her with right now was patience. I could stand here and wait for her to get through this on her own terms.

“And yet,” Mom eventually continued, “That is the very situation I was in. My son… my son was corrupted, changed irrevocably by that… thing. He took my sweet boy and he broke him. Magically, permanently broke him. He destroyed his sense of morality, took away any chance he had of being a good person. He was, at one point. He was my sweet boy, so curious about his–about everyone. He would have been good. He would have been a good boy, a good man.” Eyes closing tightly, Mom folded her arms, hugging herself as she continued in that lost, broken voice. “Fossor took that away. He destroyed my son. His magic was–the experimental spells he performed to erase Ammon’s conscience–his morality, there was nothing anyone could do to fix it. I tried–I looked–I asked–I did… I did everything I could. But there was nothing. There was no way to restore him, no way to make him what he once was. There was no way to fix him. And with his power–with the abilities he had… he would have done so much more terrible things as he got older. As a child, his evil was bad enough. But if he got old enough to become truly cruel, with the power he had to force people to obey his commands, the things he would have done…” Mom physically shuddered, mouth tightening a bit as her head shook. I could see the tears in her eyes as they opened once more, but she blinked them away stubbornly, forcing herself to focus on telling the story. 

“And then Fossor manipulated a situation that would make things so much worse. He ensured that Ammon killed a Pooka, Scott, and inherited his respawn power. Now, no matter what happened, Ammon would be a threat forever. Every time he died, he would simply come back as a child. Unless he was killed again before the Pooka’s respawning gift recharged, he was effectively immortal. Free to ruin people, free to torture and kill as much as he or his father wanted, with almost no consequence. He would grow up, destroy innocent lives, traumatize and break them. Then, if he was killed, he would simply wait in safety, grow up, and do it again. That was the future Fossor described to me, a future where my son would be an immortal monster who would never stop ripping innocent souls apart. That would be the legacy of my little boy.” 

The deep hatred for the monster who had done that, who had planned all of that and gloated about it to her, filled my mother’s voice in a way I had not actually heard her fully express before. This was something far worse than possibly anything else he had done, in a personal sense. Because this forced my mother to do something so repulsive to her, so wrong, that it had torn a bit of her own soul out to even consider it, let alone to actually do it. 

“I couldn’t let that happen,” she murmured, eyes closing once more as she folded her arms against her own stomach as though holding in the deep, horrible pain. When she spoke again, her voice cracked even more than before. She could barely get the words out. “I couldn’t–wouldn’t let my son become that. I loved him. Gods forgive me, even with the terrible things he did, I loved him. I remembered him as he was, as he used to be. I remembered the boy that Fossor killed, not the evil, empty shell he brought back to me. 

“But if I let it happen, if I let my love of who my son used to be stop me from doing what had to be done, then the things he did would be my fault. Every innocent life he destroyed, every person he killed, everyone he tortured and traumatized, every family he ripped apart would, in some way, be because of me. It would be because I couldn’t get over my love, because I couldn’t do what had to be done. Parents would lose their own children, and children their own parents, because I refused to do the thing that only I could do. I could save them from that. I could save all those future victims, could stop all those horrific things from happening.” 

Slowly, Mom lowered her head, staring at the ground as she almost inaudibly whispered, “All I had to do was condemn my son to permanently die. ” 

Okay, now I couldn’t resist. Seeing my mother like that, hearing her strained voice, I moved that way and reached out to take her hand with both of mine. “Mom.” I meant to say more than that, but the single word was all that managed to come out before the lump in my throat took over and I couldn’t speak anymore. Not that I really had any idea of what to say. It just felt like I should have something, like I should have a way of making my mother feel better. But how was I ever supposed to do that in this situation? I still wasn’t sure exactly what she had done or how she ever could have ‘given the Pooka power’ to this other girl. But everything she was saying, hearing the pain and loss in her voice as she remembered not the Ammon that we had known, but the one she knew before Fossor had turned him into… into that, made me want to resurrect that evil piece of shit just so we could all kill him again. And again, for good measure. 

After a few long seconds, Twister spoke. “Jos… how did you give this human girl Pooka resurrection? Especially after she’d already been dead for a long time. It doesn’t–how?” 

Mom’s hand squeezed both of mine before she straightened up a bit, squaring her shoulders. It was clear she was bracing herself, drawing strength from me, to push on through the story. “There are spells used to temporarily share or transfer the powers that Heretics have to someone else. Normally that’s just another Heretic. The Committee and the Victors for Eden’s Garden are two examples of massive versions of one of those spells. The Committee share all of their powers amongst one another, and the Victors share small portions of the powers that belong to every single member of their tribes. They’re similar spells. But another version allows for one or more Heretic power to be shared with any other person. It’s very complicated magic. And normally, impossible to do with an ordinary human. After all, most magic requires that you be a Heretic of some kind. But do you know why?” 

After exchanging brief looks with Asenath and Twister, I shook my head. Mom, in turn, offered a very faint, humorless smile. “It’s the Bystander Effect. The enchantment drains all magical potential from any normal human in order to sustain itself. That’s why it’s so hard to get things like healing spells to affect a normal human, because the Bystander Effect is draining their magical potential so the healing spell can’t find a foothold. And it’s the same thing in this case. Trying to magically share any Heretic powers with a normal human will fail because the Bystander Effect will suck up that energy for fuel to keep the worldwide enchantment going.” 

Falling silent for a few seconds as she clearly worked her way through several conflicting emotions, Mom finally pushed on. “But there’s one difference between a normal human and Denise that made the Bystander Effect no longer a problem.” 

“Was she a–no.” My head shook. “Ammon didn’t turn her into a Natural Heretic or anything. What–” 

“She was dead.” Asenath’s voice was quiet, yet certain. “Denise was dead. The Bystander Effect wasn’t affecting her anymore. It wasn’t part of her. Because she was dead.” She reiterated the last part with what sounded like pointed wonder as she looked toward the phone in my mother’s other hand. The phone that had shown us the video of an alive Denise. 

“Yes,” Mom confirmed. “Denise was dead. The Bystander Effect wasn’t targeting her anymore. So, I asked Fossor for permission to visit the grave. He thought my witnessing Ammon’s victims was a good thing. It amused him. So he allowed it, with very specific rules, of course. But those rules didn’t prevent me from doing what I needed to do. I used an old spell, one similar to the Committee power sharing ritual. It… it was taught to me by the reaper inside the lighthouse. He was–is my friend. I used the ritual spell to share one single power with Denise’s… body for one single moment. That was all I was capable of doing. A Pooka’s resurrection gift is incredibly powerful. It’s one of the strongest abilities imaginable. It’s so strong even the Committee can’t share it amongst themselves. But… using power that I stored up for months, I was able to create a spell that would transfer that specific power for exactly three seconds. Just long enough to work. The spell was set to trigger at one very precise moment.” 

“When Ammon died,” I quietly put in, realizing the truth. “You set the spell so that it would transfer his Pooka power to… to Denise for three seconds at the exact moment that he died.” 

Mom’s gaze met mine as she gave a slight nod. “Months of preparation, and even then, I could only transfer it for three seconds. Which, for any other power, would have been almost useless even for a living person. After all, how much use can a person get out of a power transferred to them for three seconds, using magic that’s stored up for months and requires a ritual that takes several hours to perform? Even more useless for a… for someone who’s dead. Taking that much magic and time to transfer almost any power to a dead person for three seconds would be basically the biggest waste of time and effort you could ever imagine.

“But not the Pooka resurrection. For three seconds at that exact moment, when Ammon was killed and that respawn power activated, it was transferred to Denise’s body. She resurrected, not him. And then the power transfer faded, but Ammon was–he was already dead.” Once more, my mother’s voice cracked and sounded like her soul was breaking. “He won’t… he won’t come back. The power activates upon death. Now that he’s gone, it won’t activate at all. It’s gone forever. I–” Her hand pulled away from mine so she could clutch her arms around her stomach. It looked like she was going to be sick. “I killed my son.” There was a horrible, soul-wrenching sound in those words. 

“Mom, no,” I quickly insisted while stepping that way to put my arms around her tightly. “Don’t you see? You didn’t kill him. You freed him. You said yourself that what Fossor did to him couldn’t be undone. Do you really think the innocent little boy you remember would ever want to be the thing he was turned into? He wouldn’t want to hurt and kill those people, Mom. Fossor thought he found a way to enslave that little boy into being his monster forever. That’s what he was gloating about, because he thought he beat you. He thought he made your son into a monster who would never die, who could never escape. But you stopped him. Mom, you saved him. You freed Ammon and let him move on.” 

Asenath spoke up. “You did a lot more than that. You made the hard choice, Joselyn. You sacrificed whatever small hope you might have had to eventually change Ammon back, to save everyone he would have killed in the meantime. All of the victims he would have tortured and killed, all those innocent people who would have been his targets. You saved them all. And you did it by making the hardest choice a parent could ever have to make. You chose not to save your son. You chose to let him die, so all his future victims would live. You freed your son from Fossor’s control, you gave up any hope you had of turning him back to the way he was, you saved every future potential victim, and… and you brought one of his victims back to life.” She still sounded completely floored by that last part. Which, yeah, no kidding. So was I. 

One of his victims.” From my mother’s voice, she sounded more guilty about the fact that she had been limited to that single resurrection than proud that she’d managed it at all. “He had a lot more than that. But I couldn’t do anything for the rest of them. I had to pick one. And Denise was… she was the innocent person he killed on his way to meet Felicity. Because of the stories I told him. He wanted to meet his sister because I told him about her. About you.” She glanced toward me, eyes blinking back a rush of obvious tears. “I–I couldn’t let that stand. When I saw her mother–when I looked at that woman and thought of how she felt having her daughter ripped away from her like that, I… I had to give her back. I couldn’t do anything for most of my son’s victims. But I could do that. I could fix that one thing. I could save one person. I could stop one mother from feeling that… that grief. I could fix one family.”

“But what about her memories?” I put in, confused. “Her and her mother’s. Wouldn’t they remember her being dead and all? Not to mention everyone else’s memories. Everybody knew she was dead. But then she’s suddenly alive again? Oh, and all the news about it, the paperwork, the–everything. All the stuff that would’ve happened to show she was dead. I mean, did the Bystander Effect just magically take care of all that? And where did she respawn? Cuz if she woke up in a coffin underground….” 

Holding up a hand to stop the barrage of questions, my mother confirmed, “For the last part, no, she did not wake up in the coffin. The spell moved her back home. And for the rest of it, the Bystander Effect is very powerful. There’s a reason why it has to constantly feed itself with the magical potential  of every ordinary human. Billions of living beings are providing power for it. So yes, it changed things. It fixed people’s memories, changed the news reports, fixed the evidence, everything it had to do to erase the fact that Denise had ever been that old, ever worked there, ever died there. It changed all of it. As far as anyone affected by the Bystander Effect is concerned, Denise was always born several years later than she actually was, and has never been that old. And, since the Pooka power transfer was temporary, Denise herself is also affected by that. She doesn’t remember anything about what happened with Ammon. She’s a normal, happy little girl growing up in an ordinary household. She doesn’t remember any trauma, and neither does her family. It–I couldn’t do much. There were so many of Ammon’s victims who I…  I couldn’t do anything for. But her–her I had to. I had one chance to help one victim. So I did. I freed my son. I killed my son. I let him die so she could live. She has a chance now. She can live her life, grow up, have everything she would have had if she never met him. It was all I could do.” 

Swallowing hard, I took a second to let all of that wash over me. It wasn’t enough, of course. It was going to take a hell of a lot longer than a second for me to fully understand and process everything my mother had given up simply to save the life of one girl she would probably never meet. But I did know one thing for certain. It was something I had known for a long time, but kept being reiterated. And now that realization, that feeling, was even stronger than it had ever been. 

“Mom,” I managed in a quiet voice, “you’re the bravest, strongest person I’ve ever known.” 

A rush of emotions passed through my mother’s face at that. In the end, all she could do was pull me to her. I felt her strong arms hold me close, pressing me against herself protectively while she gave a very slight, yet powerful shudder. “My Felicity,” she whispered. 

For a long moment, we just stood there like that. Nothing else had to be said about it. We all knew what my mother had sacrificed, what it had cost for her to do what she did. We knew how much it cost for my mother to give up any chance she might have had to get back the little boy she loved, what it had taken for someone like my mother to let her own son die. I had never known the Ammon that she knew. But I did know, in this moment, how much choosing to let him go had torn my mother apart. And I knew something else. 

I had never been more glad that that evil piece of shit Necromancer was fucking dead. 

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Long Awaited 12-06 (Heretical Edge 2)

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I didn’t need much sleep, obviously. But I did stay in bed with my girls for as long as possible. I just laid there and enjoyed being with them while not having anything super-immediate and right in my face that had to be taken care of. Sure, there were things to do, but they could either wait on their own, or we had no choice but to wait because we had no way of affecting the situation yet. Whichever, the point was, I had no flashing life-or-death emergencies at the moment. 

Eventually, of course, I did need to get up and move around. I extricated myself from the bed and slipped downstairs, heading outside to practice with my staff in the backyard. I was mostly just running through some training drills, moving almost entirely on autopilot. It helped me clear my head a bit, even with the audience I attracted as Raphael, Eiji’s rhino cyberform in the backyard next door, moseyed over to the chain link fence and watched me curiously. Of course, I sent Jaq and Gus over there to keep him company, which led to both of the mice perching on each of the rhino’s horns so that all three could watch as I did my thing. I had the feeling that If any of the three that had the ability and materials to write, they would have held up number cards like a scoring table. Actually, come to think of it, that would be a pretty good skill to teach them. Could they learn to write? Because that would be a good way of passing information or relaying an emergency when we didn’t have any other way of–later. I’d think about it later. 

Another thing I had to think about for later was replacing the wristband that had previously allowed me to teleport myself to where my mice were or vice versa. It had been destroyed at Fossor’s, and now that I was back, I really needed a new one. 

When I was done staff-training, I took a jog around the neighborhood. Between my enhanced speed, strength, and stamina, taking a little jog wasn’t exactly going to do a lot for me. Or anything at all, really. But it passed the time and I enjoyed it. Plus, it was a way of re-acclimating myself to the neighborhood, considering how long it had been since I’d actually lived here. God, it felt like I’d been gone for a year, not just a couple months. One of which I’d literally skipped over. I didn’t even know what day it was. Seriously, Petan and his people had made such a big deal about getting me back to the right day, but it had all been in relation to when Fossor’s spell was cast, and was more of a… conceptual date for me. I had the vague idea that it was late November, but God only knew exactly which day. Was it close to Thanksgiving? Had we already passed it? Actually, yeah we had. Fossor made us have that… feast. But I still wasn’t sure what day it actually was. Did it really matter? Probably not, but I was curious. Honestly, I wanted to know when the first real holiday would be where Mom would actually be with us. Mom here with us and safe, Dad safe, my paternal grandparents… not exactly here, but on their way. Hell, maybe they’d make it before Christmas. Wouldn’t getting them back here be a great way to celebrate everything? 

Yeah, okay, my whole family situation was still complicated. Especially when you added in Dare and that whole… yeah. But still, I wasn’t going to let that get me down. This was basically the best condition my family had been in in years. My mother was here, and whatever happened next, she would be with us. Fossor hadn’t won. He’d lost. He was dead. I could let myself be happy about that, damn it. The universe wasn’t going to implode just because I let myself be a little optimistic about things. Not cocky or dismissive, just… optimistic. That was safe, right? 

Eventually, I worked my way back to the house, where I went inside and met up with Rebecca, Miranda, Doug, and Jason, who were all in the kitchen making breakfast together. When I came in, they had a whole thing about welcoming me home and all. It was pretty cute, especially when Jason held up a banner he’d made with those very words across it, which looked so hastily-done I was pretty sure he’d scribbled it out when he saw me coming back from jogging (which, given his ability to multitask, he’d probably done while preparing the food). I didn’t care. I exchanged embraces with everyone, thanking them. Most of them I’d already reunited with back at the Atherby camp before, or on the literal battlefield where Fossor had died. But I still hugged them all as if I hadn’t seen them in years. It was really good to be home, in more than one way. 

Pretty soon, they all went back to getting breakfast ready. I did my best to help, which mostly meant doing exactly what I was told and staying away from the stove just in case. It seemed to work, because nothing blew up and the pancakes, eggs, and sausage all managed to survive without being burnt to a crisp. Which was good, because Tabbris, Avalon, Columbus, Shiori, and Triss had joined us by that point, so there were a lot of hungry stomachs.

Shiori let Choo out of his ball (it wasn’t like he was cramped in there or anything, given the size of the pocket dimension within) in the backyard. The poor guy had exhausted himself during the fight back on the Meregan world and had slept through basically the entire flight home and all that. I couldn’t blame him either. That had been a huge, nasty fight, and the big guy really came through. As far as I was concerned, he’d earned all the naps and extra food he wanted. 

Shiori, of course, had no intention of giving him sausage. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly cannibalism given he wasn’t really a normal pig and all that. But, as she put it, it was close enough to be uncomfortable. Still, he got his share of pancakes and eggs, and he really seemed to enjoy them. We could hear the Jekern happily going at it in the big feeding bowl on the back porch. 

“Should we be saving some of this for Kersel?” I spoke up while everything was being passed around. The wooden Relekun guy was the only member of our house who wasn’t down here, and I kind of felt bad. I didn’t know him very well, or really at all. But still, he was part of the house, even if he did tend to keep to himself. 

“He’s kind of a vegetarian,” Jason informed me with a glance toward the others. “He’s got his own stuff in the fridge. Just make sure you don’t eat or drink anything with his name on it.  Seriously, he gets really particular about that.” The boy said that while scratching the back of his neck in a way that made it clear he’d been on the wrong side of that ‘particularness.’ 

Rebecca spoke up then. “He’s just kind of… shy. Okay, not shy. He doesn’t like to be around people very much. It’s not just Heretics either. Err, Boschers. It’s not just Boschers like us. He doesn’t like crowds or loud noises or having to talk to people in general. He just… keeps to himself. He doesn’t even say much in class.” 

Briefly, I wondered if that had anything to do with an experience the Relekun boy had had, or if it was just the way he was without any tragic backstory. Either way, pushing on that front was probably overstepping to the point of rudeness. He deserved some privacy. So, I focused on the people who were here. And on eating a little bit of breakfast. Emphasis on little bit, considering I still had to eat something with Mom and Dad. No way was I going to miss out on that, no matter how good this breakfast was. 

“Actually, hey, is it a school day?” I suddenly found myself blurting. “I don’t even know what the date is. Or anything.”

That made everyone exchange glances before Avalon answered, “It’s Tuesday, November 27th. They cancelled classes for a few days to let everyone celebrate Fossor dying.” 

“Oh,” I murmured. Yeah, of course that was a big deal for everyone else too. He’d sort of terrorized and murdered a hell of a lot more people than just my family. 

Tabbris, who had been running around the backyard with Choo after scarfing down about half a plate of food (she was holding out for family breakfast too), came trotting back in, out of breath and moved to take several gulps from her own glass of juice. Watching that, I chuckled softly. “Okay, well, thanks for the welcome breakfast, guys. And the banner.” I gestured to where Jason had hung the sad, but cute little thing across the wall with tape. “This is all awesome. And hopefully, this time I’ll stick around long enough to–” 

“Chambers,” Avalon spoke warningly, her gaze intent on me. “Do I need to get a spray bottle and start squirting you and hissing every time you try to tempt fate?” 

Coughing, I shook my head. “No, ma’am.” With that, I pushed myself up and exchanged a kiss with both her and Shiori. Promising to come find each of them later (And, in the latter’s case, that I would talk to Asenath about whatever her thing was), I said goodbye to the others and headed out with Tabbris to go upstairs. The two of us made our way through the maze of corridors to find the right door. Mostly thanks to my Seosten little sister and her perfect memory, of course. 

The door unlocked for us automatically, and we stepped inside just in time to hear laughing and the sound of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen. Exchanging brief glances, we moved that way, finding Mom and Dad working around the stove, chatting with each other. Mostly Mom was teasing him about never learning how to make real food, while he insisted there was some kind of magic anti-cooking curse specifically targeting him, which had clearly passed down to me. 

They were both just… laughing and talking and teasing each other. For a moment, Tabbris and I stood there, taking that in. She reached out to take my hand, squeezing it while giving me a quick, happy look. It was a look that I returned. 

Mom knew we were there, of course. Eventually, she waved us in and set us to different chores for getting this breakfast ready. Omelettes. She was making omelettes. Tabbris and I jumped to follow instructions, and soon the four of us were joined by Deveron, Abigail, Wyatt, and Koren. Then the kitchen was really busy. Not to mention loud. Everyone was talking back and forth, food was sizzling, we were all joking, teasing… laughing… being a family. We were being a family. It was… wow. 

Wyatt even let Corporal Kickwhiskers wander around on the floor, where he, Jaq, and Gus chased each other back and forth through the living room. Of course, Wyatt said it was good training for the little cat’s hunting instincts and ability to quickly assess and adjust to potential danger. I wasn’t sure what kind of training ‘lots of scritches from everyone in the room’ was, but Kickwhiskers definitely got that too. We ate, we talked, we laughed, it was all great. Just… really great. And nothing interrupted. There were no explosions, no sudden emergencies or problems. We got through that entire full breakfast together, and another hour or so afterward of just talking. Deveron told a story about Mom as a student when she was organizing some kind of protest about the way Ruthers was running this one training tournament, and how the old Crossroads Headmaster had practically ripped his hair out because of all the shit she had been piling onto him from getting the other students involved in that whole thing. It sounded pretty great, and I could see just how much they loved each other in the way he and Mom exchanged glances. It was the same sort of look I’d also been seeing between her and Dad. It was–yeah. That was definitely complicated. I was glad that my own joint relationships were more… had started at the same time, basically. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be involved with Avalon for literally decades, then lose and eventually completely forget her for decades, get involved with Shiori, then get my memories of Avalon back. It was all… yeah, complicated. But they seemed to be working their way through it, even if it was clearly going to take time to really figure it out. 

Seeing Mom with Abigail, Wyatt, and Koren was kind of amazing too. For awhile, I just sat back and watched the four of them interact. Koren actually seemed to be the most comfortable, even repeatedly calling her ‘Grandma’ in what I was pretty sure was meant to be a teasing way. But Mom seemed to like it. She chuckled, pulled Koren over to sit on her lap, and started teasing her right back, about what kind of student she was, what kind of boys she might like and if there was anyone special, just general stuff like that. Which made Koren bring up that Wyatt had a thing for Croc over at Eden’s Garden, leading to a whole bunch of chattering back and forth. Wyatt himself seemed kind of overwhelmed and a little reflexively defensive, but he settled down easily enough. Especially when Mom went on to talk about memories she had of Croc, something Wyatt was pretty interested in. I had no idea how that whole thing was going, but apparently he had spent some more time with the guy. Which was great. I really, really wanted good things for Wyatt. After the kind of life he’d had to lead to all his issues, he deserved as many of those as possible. Thankfully, this moment right here counted. For both of us, actually. 

Come to think of it, we all deserved this and more. Tabbris had spent years basically alone. No, worse, she was around Dad and me but had to hide from us. Deveron had lost his wife and children for almost a century. Wyatt had been raised by horrible people who gave him all sorts of legitimate paranoia issues. Dad himself lost his wife for years, thinking she had intentionally abandoned him and his daughter, me. Koren had spent years with the spectre of the Hiding Man looming over her, and the trauma of all that in her memories while no one else in her family remembered anything. 

Out of all of us, Abigail had apparently had the most normal life up until she was traumatically brought into this by that same Fomorian monster. But even she’d been taken away from her real mother, father, and twin brother, and had to grow up in a different place, with different people. I hoped she had a happy childhood and all, but either way, she was still kidnapped from her family. She still lost time, moments, memories that she should have had. Even if it did lead to her having Koren, whom she clearly wouldn’t give up for anything. Hell, that was like the fact that Mom losing everything in Heretic society had led to her having me. It was… complicated. Even Abigail finally being brought into things had come with the cost of losing her husband. And Koren losing her father. He was a man I never knew anything about, and the Fomorian piece of shit had just murdered him to take his place for fun.

So yeah, we all deserved to have as many of these moments, these breakfasts, these mornings, these days as possible. We deserved to have years and years of them all in a row, without interruption. We’d never get that, of course. Hell, lots of stuff was already lining up to call for our attention within the next few months, let alone years. So, I would just enjoy these moments when they came. I would gorge myself on the enjoyment of just being with my family. 

Eventually, Mom asked if I wanted to go for a walk with her. And, judging from the way she was looking at me, I was pretty sure there was something important she wanted to talk about in the process. Of course, I wasn’t going to object to spending more time with her, so we excused ourselves, heading out with just the two of us. 

Whatever Mom wanted to talk about, she didn’t immediately get into it. So, I just showed her around the station for a while, mostly focusing on the school and adult student living areas, considering those were really the only places that I knew. There were a lot of people who wanted to see Mom and ask her questions. That part was unsurprising, but there were others who wanted to talk to me. Yeah, apparently the fact that I had been the one to finally get the killing blow on Fossor had been spreading around, and people wanted to talk about how that felt, or just shake my hand. It was awkward, especially when a couple people asked if I’d really picked up his necromancy and wanted to know if I’d show it to them. 

Thankfully, Mom helped extricate me from the most awkward situations without hurting anyone’s feelings or being rude. She was smooth and very charismatic with them. Better than I ever could have been, that was for sure. If I’d ever had any question as to how she could have been the one to lead that first rebellion, which I really didn’t, I wouldn’t have after this. 

In any case, we talked to people, we wandered around, and I showed her the house I was now living in, along with the others in the neighborhood. I was going to ask if she wanted to go inside and see the others, but Mom suggested we walked to the park so she could talk, and show me something. What she wanted to show me, I had no idea. But it was clearly something important.

Whatever it was would take me a few more minutes to find out, apparently, because when we got to the park, a voice called out my name. It was Asenath, approaching along with Twister. Both of them were focused on me being there, but stopped short when my mother turned that way. 

“Asenath,” Mom immediately greeted, “and Twister. You’re still going by Twister, right? I’d hate to think you went and changed nicknames when you forgot about me.” 

“Forgot you came up with it,” the Pooka girl cheerfully answered, “but I definitely didn’t forget the name. It’s a hell of a lot better than Esevene, that’s for sure.” That said, she made a fist and bumped it against Mom’s. “Still looking good, Jossy.” 

“I’d say the same to you,” my mother replied, “but you’re a bit shorter than I remember you being. Gotta watch out for the people you piss off.”

“Right back atcha, babe,” Twister retorted. 

With that, Asenath coughed and reached out to take Mom’s hand, squeezing it firmly before speaking up. “It is great to see you around again, Joselyn. And to remember who you are.”   

“I enjoy all of that too,” Mom confirmed with a soft smile, pulling Asenath into an embrace. “And I’m glad to hear that you helped my daughter here more than once.” 

Glancing my way, Asenath gave a short nod. “Yeah, well, I sort of tripped over her when I was trying to help the mother of a dead girl get some justice. I–” 

Mom interrupted. “That’s what I wanted to talk to Felicity about, actually. It’s good you’re here.” She glanced toward Twister before adding, “good all of you are here.” She hesitated then, taking a breath before letting it out. “As… you all know, my son… my youngest son, Ammon, was… killed.” Her voice was quiet, and she spoke up quickly when the three of us looked at each other. “Fossor destroyed him long before he… long before he was finally killed. And by that point, the death was more of a mercy. Not only for him, but for everyone else he would have hurt and killed because of what Fossor turned him into.” Even as she said the words, Mom’s voice cracked. I knew it was hurting her to say all this, hurting her to even think that one of her children dying was a good thing. 

She kept going before any of us could find the right words to say anything. “But, you should also all know that he used his power on a man named Scott, and made him kill himself. Scott, he’s a–” 

“A Pooka,” I suddenly put in, a mixture of dread and confusion suddenly rising up in me as I glanced toward Twister. “Wait, Mom. Wait. Are you saying… are you telling us that–” 

Mom, instead of answering, took a phone from her pocket. “I asked a friend to go over and record this for me yesterday before we went on the ship. Watch.” Her voice was quiet as she held the phone up, playing a video on it. 

Twister, Asenath, and I exchanged pretty loaded glances once more before focusing on the screen. There, we saw a house. It was a pretty simple, suburban place. My fists were tight as I waited to see my Pooka-resurrected half-brother show up. How could this be happening? Would he be evil again? He had to be, right? They got all their memories back eventually, so everything that he’d been, everything that he was and what he’d done, it would all–

The front door of the house opened, and a girl emerged. She looked to be about eleven years old or so, with dark hair and a quick smile as she shouted over her shoulder that she was going to someone named Carly’s house. Whoever was taking the video must’ve been invisible or something, because the girl didn’t even look at them despite jogging down the sidewalk right in front of the camera. Watching her, I felt a sense of familiarity somehow. It was like I knew the girl from somewhere. Seriously, I knew her. It was right there on the tip of my tongue.

When she got right up close, her face framed in the video, Asenath suddenly snapped her hand out with vampire speed, pausing it. She was even more pale than usual. “That’s… that’s… how? I know that face. She’s younger now, but I know her. It’s the girl from the gas station. The girl Ammon murdered. Joselyn, how the fuck is Denise Cartland alive? And why is she a kid?” 

“Simple,” came Mom’s quiet response. 

“I used my son’s Pooka respawn power to bring her back, instead of him.” 

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Long Awaited 12-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – If you haven’t seen it yet, the non-canon chapter focusing on Tabbris accidentally bonding Lincoln years before canon can be seen by everyone on Patreon right here

So, within the privacy of Dare’s own apartment (which was also conveniently and not-at-all accidentally close to the cluster of rooms belonging to my–our family), I told the woman everything we had found out about this Godfather guy and his goals. At least, what little of his goals we actually understood. Okay, basically all I was able to tell her as far as that went was that it had something to do with getting Vanessa, Tristan, Tabbris, and me in front of the Seosten leadership at some point for… some reason. That was it. Well, that and the fact that he was clearly (even more) completely psychotic from spending so long in that Tartarus place and then having both his Seosten and Fomorian selves merged together. Yeah, that couldn’t have done wonders for his/their mental state, to say the least. 

Unsurprisingly, Dare wasn’t exactly thrilled with the news. And who could blame her? After everything she’d given up to keep the Fomorians off Earth, here I was telling the woman that the single most powerful and dangerous one had been right here the whole time. We talked for about an hour about all the possibilities related to this revelation, and still probably didn’t cover anywhere near everything. But on the other hand, given how little we actually knew for certain about this fucker, we were probably getting pretty far ahead of ourselves. The point was, we really needed to find out more about him, preferably before he figured out that we actually knew about him and made his own moves in retaliation. Because as bad as he sounded, at least he was being quiet for the moment. I really didn’t want to see what kind of trouble he could get up to if he felt like lashing out.  

But, for the moment, there really wasn’t anything else we could do. Well, nothing I could do, anyway. Dare said that she could look into a few things quietly on her own over the next few days, but said that I should get some rest and enjoy this little break while I had the chance. I could tell there was a lot more she wanted to say, a lot going through her mind now that I had told her about Godfather. But she was clearly locking her reactions down specifically to avoid freaking me out any further. Instead of going on or giving me any details, she simply repeated that I should get some rest and that we would talk about it later. Despite the obvious emotional reaction she was having, her voice was firm and I knew we wouldn’t be getting any more into it that night. 

Part of me wanted to push her on that, of course. Koren and I were the only people she had to really open up to with Gaia missing. But we were still–okay, we weren’t kids. But to her we were. And, as much as she possibly could, Dare was still trying to protect us, even from her own emotions. I just… wished she had someone else to talk to, someone she would consider more of a peer than a student. Like Hisao. God, I wished she could tell Hisao all of this. Hell, that was honestly probably why she still kept him somewhat at arm’s length. Because she couldn’t truly open up to him about who she was and about everything in her past. She’d lost her husband and had to erase herself from her daughter’s mind. That was a huge thing in her development, and yet she couldn’t talk to Hisao about it.  

But, as much as I wanted to fix all that and give my grandmother someone she could trust to confide in, I had no way of doing that. Not yet, anyway. So, after stepping over and embracing the woman tightly (something she seemed to still be surprised by), I stepped out of her apartment and back into the hallway. For a moment, I glanced down toward the door that divided into my fath–my parents’ place. But I didn’t go that way. Instead, I took out my phone and texted my father to say I was going to my own place for the night and that he should stay with Mom. They deserved to have a lot more time together with just themselves. Adding a second text that I would meet them in the morning for breakfast, and that I loved them, I took a breath and pivoted to head back the way we had come before. 

It took me a couple minutes to find my way to the spot Dad had pointed out that led back into the school area, but I eventually managed it. I had just navigated my way through those slightly more familiar halls to the forcefield elevator that led down to the living area and was descending on it when I felt the mental tug of Tabbris checking what was going on and if it was okay to pop in. When I let her know it was safe and that she wasn’t interrupting, the girl recalled and appeared directly beside me on the invisible elevator. 

“Hi, Flick!” she blurted before quickly hugging me as tightly as she could. “Isn’t this great?! Your mom’s home! I mean back, she’s back. She’s really back! And your dad’s here, and they all know everything, and they’re together, and they get to spend time together and you get to spend time with them and your brother and sister are here too and they all get to be together at the same time in the same place, and–” 

Laughing a bit despite myself, I quickly returned the hug and lifted the girl up a bit. My throat had a lump in it that I had to swallow back before I could force the words out in a shaking, emotional voice. “Yes. Yes, it’s amazing. I can’t–I can’t believe it’s real, Tabs. I keep thinking I’m about to wake up and find out I’m back in that… in that place with Fossor and this whole thing was just a fucked-up magic mind joke that he used to punish me for something, or that Mom never got away, or that we’re–” Cutting myself off, I shook my head quickly while trying to shove all those worries down as far as I could. “I think it’s gonna take a long time before I let myself believe that it’s real and that it’s really sticking.” 

Unable to go on for a moment, I just hugged my little sister tighter to me while getting myself back under control. We stood there like that, clinging to one another, even after the elevator finished descending and we were left standing there in the middle of the miniature town that made up the adult-student living area. 

Finally, I felt Tabbris pinch my arm. It didn’t hurt or anything, but I still gasped and let her go. Landing on her feet, the younger girl smiled up at me and held her fingers up pointedly. “Do you believe you’re awake now? Cuz I’ll keep pinching you as many times as it takes, you know. I’m helpful like that.”  

Snorting despite myself, I held up both hands and shook my head. “No, no, that’s okay. Thanks for the offer, but I think I can get along without being pinched again. Jeez, you’ve got strong fingers.” After a brief hesitation, I smiled and quietly added, “This is pretty amazing, isn’t it?” 

Tabbris’s broad, beaming smile basically eclipsed my own as she quickly latched onto me once more. She didn’t say anything out loud in response. She didn’t need to. I felt everything through that embrace, which went on for another minute or so before we both heard the warning beep that someone else was descending on the elevator and we needed to get our butts out of the way so that it could actually finish coming down instead of hovering above us.

Quickly, I moved out of the way with the other girl, and we watched as the forcefield lift finished lowering down to where we had been, and the occupants stepped off. It was Aylen and Avalon, both of them looking at us curiously. They were also holding hands, and from the looks on their faces, I could tell they had both clearly just been involved in an emotional discussion about something. They’d been talking about– Oh. 

“You told her about him?” I hesitantly asked, realizing what their discussion had probably been about. Godfather. Of course, I’d thought that I would have to talk to Aylen about that, but it obviously made sense that Avalon would do that. After all, the two of them were… yeah. Of course Valley would want to be the one to talk about it with her. 

Sure enough, Aylen glanced toward Avalon before giving a short nod as she released the other girl’s hand. Her voice was quiet. “She told me. I–we knew he was around, that he was… that he was a problem that was only going to get worse eventually. But we didn’t know he was actually already making moves.” She snorted then, head shaking. “Sorry, I guess ‘already’ isn’t the right word. It’s been a long time. I just–I think we were all just hoping he’d never show himself. Or maybe that he fell into a black hole somewhere and disappeared forever. And now it turns out he’s been doing things this whole time. What does he even want to do to the Seosten leaders?” 

“We don’t know,” Avalon answered, glancing toward me with a sigh. “Nobody knows what he’s planning. But it involves Felicity, Tabbris, and the Moon twins. So nothing we want to see.” 

Coughing, I gave a quick nod. “Yeah, believe me, I don’t have any interest in following his little plan, whatever it is. We’re gonna find out what he’s up to, Aylen. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. Just, hopefully without one of us being abducted and held prisoner for a couple of months first.” I tried to make light of it that way, but from the way they both squinted at me, I was pretty sure the attempted joke had pretty much fallen flat. Yeah, probably not the best time for that. 

So, shaking that off, I exchanged a brief glance with Tabbris (who was squinting at me with a look that made it clear she wasn’t a fan of the joke either), before turning back to the other two. “Sorry, the point is, we’ll find him. Come on, I know he’s super-scary and all, but it’s like I said back on the ship, one of his biggest advantages has been the fact that almost no one knew about him. Now we do. And we’ll deal with it. Or, you know, Athena, Sariel, Mom–they’ll all help deal with it. They’ll help your family stop him, Aylen. We all will. You guys aren’t alone in this anymore, okay?”

A very faint smile crossed Avalon’s face as she met my gaze before turning to Aylen to speak quietly while putting a hand on her shoulder. “She’s right. She’s kind of a dork, but she’s still right. You and your family aren’t alone. We’ll figure out how to deal with this Seorian bogeyman.” 

“Oooh, did we settle on Seorian?” I put in. “Yeah, that’s probably better than Fomorsten.” 

With a screech, Sovereign came flying down out of the sky, landing on Aylen’s raised and waiting arm as she replied, “Whatever you end up calling him, he’s dangerous. More dangerous than you could ever–” Stopping herself, she exhaled long and low, clearly steadying herself. “I’m sorry. I know you do understand how dangerous. I just–the idea of that creature being out there is the only thing I ever saw actually scare my mother and Grandfather. And anything that scares them is bad, Felicity. Really…” She took a breath and let it out. “Really bad.” 

The four of us started walking together then. On the way, I took Jaq and Gus and perched them on Sovereign’s back. Valley did the same with Porthos. The little mice and lizard were able to lock in so they wouldn’t fall off as the metal hawk went flying off, giving all three a ride. I could hear my little buddies squeaking excitedly, while Avalon’s astonishingly brave lizard chittered loudly. I couldn’t understand him, of course, but from the tone I was pretty sure he was calling out threats to anyone who wanted to challenge them. So, pretty much the same old Porthos. 

For a few minutes, we just walked and talked a bit more about the Godfather situation. But honestly, there wasn’t that much more we could say about it. Nothing important or that we hadn’t already said, anyway. We just repeated ourselves a bit, promised to take it seriously, and said we couldn’t do anything about him right now. Aylen assured us that she would talk to her family about what happened, and arrange a time for everyone who was in the know to have a full, real conversation with them about it. Maybe they’d come up with a game plan that way. 

Eventually, we reached the house. Once we’d separated the cyberforms (all of whom were quite happy about their little flight) Avalon stepped away with Aylen to walk the other girl next door to her own house, with the promise of being back soon. Meanwhile, Tabbris and I headed in, with one mouse on each of our left shoulders. It was late, so we were as quiet as possible. Not that it really mattered given the fact that each room was soundproofed, but hey. It was the thought that counted? 

Still, despite how quiet we were, the moment the two of us stepped inside the house, we were met with slightly glowing eyes coming from down the dark hall where the archway leading into the equally dark kitchen was. A moment later, Triss (the white-and-brown-furred Nekomata girl) stepped into view. Her ears were down a bit as she squinted while holding an ice cream carton in one hand (wait, was paw the right word?). There was partially melted ice cream in the fur around her face, which kind of took away from the image she was trying to portray of being dangerous. 

Belatedly, her eyes softened a bit and her ears went up. “Wh–oh, it’s you guys. Wait, it’s you guys?” Quickly, she came forward, little pink nose sniffing a bit curiously as she reached out to flick on the nearby light switch and stared at me. “You really came back. I mean, I know you survived and all, I just–I didn’t expect to… I thought it’d be a lot longer before you came down here.” There was a brief, somewhat awkward pause before she added, “Are you–uh, you know… okay?” From the look on the cat-girl’s face, she realized how awkward that sounded.

Rubbing the back of my neck, I nodded. “Well, my mom and dad are sort of… reuniting themselves, so… you know, I wanted to give them time and space and not be anywhere near that.” Grimacing, I shrugged. “Tabs and I figured we might as well head down here and see if you guys managed to sublet our room out or not.” Yeah, Tabbris hadn’t been with Fossor (thank every god and/or mysterious power in the universe), but she had let me know that she hadn’t slept down here at all since I disappeared. She’d spent the whole time either with Dad or with her mother.

With a very slight smirk, Triss too-casually replied, “Oh, well, you know. We had a guy living in there, but he couldn’t keep up his end of the rent and all so we had to give him the boot.” That said, she glanced down at the carton in her hand before offering it our way. “Ice cream? It’s Mint Chip with caramel.” 

I started to decline, but Tabbris took the carton, plucked up a large scoop with the spoon that was still in it, and happily took a bite. With her mouth full, she started to blurt something before quickly swallowing. “Oh! I gotta show you something! Dad said they’d send it down and all but I don’t–” She was starting to move, only to belatedly realize she still had the ice cream carton and started to hand it back to the other girl. 

“Keep it, I’ve had enough,” Triss replied, holding up both hands to wave her off before looking to me once more. As always, I got that same hint of reflexive suspicion that came from her every time she looked at a Bosch Heretic before smothering it. Her ears popped back up, as she pointedly added, “I’m glad you made it back, Flick. It’s been… well, not boring around here without you. But pretty depressing. I mean, I know I don’t really know you, and I haven’t been the most… open. We’re not like…” The girl trailed off, eyes twitching a bit as she realized she was rambling before focusing. “But seriously, I’m glad you’re not stuck with that figlio di puttana.” 

“Uhhh, me too, I think.” I murmured that a bit blankly before meeting her gaze. “And I’m sorry I haven’t really had much of a chance to get to know you either, Triss. Hopefully that can change now, cuz I’m not planning on getting–ow.” That last bit, of course, came from Tabbris pointedly kicking me in the leg for almost jinxing it again. “Right, sorry. What I mean is, I’ll be around. And hey, maybe I can even go back to attending some classes now and then.” 

Promising to talk to the girl some more later, I headed off with Tabbris. The two of us went to the stairs and quietly made our way up. Well, quietly aside from the sound of my little sister cheerfully enjoying the ice cream out of the carton the whole way up. Not that it mattered, considering the rooms were soundproofed. Still, it was kind of amusing to hear just how much she was enjoying that stuff. The happy noises she made while she licked the spoon clean were adorable. 

Also adorable? The noise she made when we made it all the way up and back to our room. The moment the two of us stepped through, she immediately looked to the side and squealed happily. “They moved it in! They really got it here! Flick, check it out!” 

‘It’, in this case, was what looked like an ordinary, average goldfish bowl sitting on the table next to her bed. But it was far more than that, as I soon found out. Apparently, the interior of the bowl was actually the size of a full bedroom all by itself. There was a forcefield across the top, and Tabbris could shift the view through the glass to see any part of the inside. 

And what happened to be inside? Fish, of course. Lots and lots of fish. Colorful fish, drab-looking fish, exotic fish, normal fish, just… fish. So many fish. Tabbris loved them. Apparently she really liked all kinds of fish, to the point that she had named all of the dozens in there. She knew each of them by sight, and very excitedly panned the view around to make sure that I was introduced to each and every one. 

For the next forty minutes or so, the two of us sat there on her bed and carefully fed each of the fish. Tabs had different fish food for each type that was in there, and she made sure they all got everything they needed. Then she set the bowl back on the table, perched up on her knees, and proceeded to tell the fish a story that amounted to Little Red Riding Hood in marine animal form. Yeah, she literally told her fish a bedtime story. And the weird part? I was pretty sure they were listening. 

By that point, Avalon and Shiori had both arrived and were listening at the door. The latter stepped over once I slipped over to my own bed, whispering that Asenath apparently had something important to talk about in the morning, but that it would wait that long. Which was good, because I really couldn’t take another immediate emergency popping up the second I sat down. 

Eventually, Tabbris finished her story, wished her fish good night, and then looked over to me. There was a small, knowing smile on her face. “I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight,” she informed us. “More room.” 

With that, she reached out and hit the button that activated the privacy screen that had been installed, bathing her bed in pitch black, impeneratable shadows. 

Which, of course, left me sitting on my bed with Shiori next to me and Avalon approaching. “Well, hey there, girls,” I offered with a little smile. “Do you think you could help me? See, this bed here is awfully big and I do get so lonely with–” 

“Finish that sentence, Chambers,” Avalon interrupted, “and you’ll find out just how big and empty that bed can be.” 

My fingers made the zipping motion across my lips, while Shiori giggled. Then I reached out and hit the button for my own privacy mode. 

And for the rest of the night, I definitely wasn’t lonely at all.

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