Lessons 32-02

Previous Chapter                                Next Chapter

Please note that there is an announcement about a brief, but unavoidable update delay next week in the first comment at the end of this chapter. 

The corridor in front of us as the door whooshed open was much more like I expected a space station to be. It was long and slightly curved toward the end leading off toward the left. The main part of the walls, floor, and ceiling were pure white and somewhat rounded, with wide windows along both sides that showed an absolutely breathtaking visage of star-filled space beyond.

That was the sight that made me pause, my mouth falling open a bit. This wasn’t just like looking up at the night sky. This was incredible. The stars were huge, and I could see all kinds of colors. Off to the left there was some kind of whirlpool of blues and greens, with a little bit of red in the middle that pulsed occasionally. Straight ahead I could see a trio of moons surrounding a planet with a pair of beautiful crystalline rings that overlapped one another in an x-shape. There was a comet streaking across the starry expanse on the right-hand side before it disappeared beyond the wall behind us. Everywhere I looked, there was another gorgeous celestial event.

It was, without exaggeration, one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Even being in the ship back with the others hadn’t been quite like this. There had been some amazing sights there as we traveled through space, of course. But this was like… it was a world beyond even that. And as I stood there, my knees felt weak. It was all I could do not to cry at the sheer beauty.

“This is wrong.” Tabbris’s voice broke through my brief moment of stunned silence, drawing my attention that way. The young Seosten girl was squinting from one incredible sight to another. “This… this isn’t right,” she mumbled under her breath, head shaking back and forth slowly. “It’s wrong.”  Before I could ask what she meant, the girl continued, “That bit over there.”  

“What bit over where?” I asked, a little confused. She hadn’t actually pointed anywhere.

“Wh–oh.” Tabbris flushed visibly, squirming on her feet. “I forgot to use my own hand,” she mumbled with embarrassment before deliberately pointing toward the cross-ringed planet. “I know that place. Mama showed it to me in her stories. But it shouldn’t be anywhere near that.” Her hand moved then to point toward the whirlpool-like vision of shifting colored energy. “She thought they were pretty and she told me stories about them when I was little. But… but they aren’t near each other. They aren’t anywhere even sorta close!”

Athena was smiling a little, stepping over to the nearby window as she nodded. “Yes. None of these are actual windows. They are viewscreens that are designed to show a vision of various areas of space with visual data that was recorded by any number of other other sources. I’m afraid that having actual windows would be rather… dangerous. And somewhat, ah, blinding.”

“Blinding?” I echoed, blinking over at the woman in confusion. “Why would it be blinding?”

She was clearly watching my reaction closely as she answered simply, “Because this station is located inside of a star.”

Well, that was enough to make me do a violent double-take back toward the woman. Beside me, Tabbris spun around so quickly that she would have fallen over if I didn’t  reach down quickly to grab onto and steady her. Both of us yelped in perfect unison, “Inside of a what?!”

Chuckling at our reaction, the brown-haired woman explained, “The station is located inside of a star. It is, quite literally, the safest possible place that we could find. The Seosten leadership hunts our people quite regularly. Here, the ones that they know about can be protected.”

My mouth opened and shut a few times. “B-but, how do they–how can’t–I mean, the Meregan had the ability to go into the stars, but they had to turn themselves into that stone-like stuff.”

“You have encountered the Meregan then?” Athena sounded impressed, as she nodded. “Yes, the Meregan stasis is very impressive. And we have a variation of it set up here as a failsafe in case anything goes wrong. But generally speaking, the station works somewhat differently. You see, there are spells up within the station that create a layer of portals all along the exterior. Those portals capture the energy from the star, all of that heat and everything else. Most of it is transported out into space to harmlessly be released, while a portion is directed into the station’s own batteries, which fuel everything onboard, including those very same portals. Essentially, the star contributes to our safety by constantly refueling the same portals that keep it from incinerating the station and continually drain its power. It is a… cycle, of sorts.”

“That’s… that’s…” I swallowed, staring at the ‘windows’ once more as a shiver ran through me. “That’s amazing. And kind of terrifying, honestly.”

“Believe me, my lady,” the woman responded softly, “I quite understand the feeling. Would you like to take another minute?” she asked then, gesturing. “It is a rather lovely view.”

I glanced that way briefly before shaking my head. “It’s okay, we should meet the others.” I didn’t want to keep Tabbris from seeing others like her any longer than we had to. Besides, I was sure that Athena and the rest of them all had a lot that they wanted to talk with us about. As amazing as the view was, there would apparently be plenty of time to experience it later.

Athena nodded before pivoting to start leading us down the corridor once more. As we followed her, my eyes kept flicking from side to side. Everything I saw through those ‘windows’ was still just as incredible. Yet there was now a sort of underlying fear as a little voice in the back of my head (one that actually wasn’t Tabbris that time) kept reminding me that we were actually in the middle of a freaking star. If anything happened, if anything actually did go wrong… I shuddered.

The Seosten woman seemed to understand, and led us onward without comment. We made our way along the curving corridor, past a couple doors (which happened to be set right in the middle of the viewscreen ‘windows’ making it look like those doors led out into empty space), before Athena eventually stopped at one door in particular. She looked back to us, giving a brief smile. “This is where some of the children are taught. I’ve told them to expect us.”

With that, she put a hand against a pad beside the door. It buzzed after a moment before sliding aside, and we stepped through into… well, into what honestly looked a hell of a lot like the main hall of a freaking middle school. Seriously. Straight ahead there was an office area where a secretary sat with more doors behind her, while there were hallways off to either side that led to classrooms. There were even lockers along the walls. It looked like a school.

There were still differences, of course. The secretary looked kind of like a lime green bipedal squid with pink eyes and a dozen tentacle-like arms all reaching for different drawers, phones, and other things. The lockers were all at various heights and shaped differently for various types of students. I saw a rather enormous one that was the size of three lockers back home, and one that was so tiny it had to be for a pixie or something. That one was kind of adorable, with tiny stars painted on it. Actually, a lot of the locker doors were painted in one way or another. I saw names written on them, images of what looked like animals from various worlds, or even people.

If I hadn’t already been convinced of the potential for non-humans to be just as good and ‘humane’ (for lack of a better word) as humans were before, the sight of one particular locker with what was obviously a stick-figure family (some with too many line-like appendages and one with two separate heads attached) scrawled lovingly on it with a word underneath that I was choosing to translate as ‘family’ would have done the trick all by itself. To say nothing of the rest.

Tabbris was clinging pretty close to me, her small hand tight in mine as we walked into that front hall. I saw the many-armed secretary look up briefly. She saw the three of us and immediately set down three different phone-like objects she had been holding while also moving two of her tentacle-hands away from a wall-mounted console. Extricating herself from behind the large metal desk, she made her way out of the room to us. As she came, I saw that her entire body seemed to be made out of tentacles. There was a ball right in the middle that was a couple feet across. Up from that was a single stalk-like structure that her head was attached to. And other than that, the rest of her body was composed of dozens of various sized tentacles with hands on the end that stuck out in every possible direction. The woman was, essentially, two connected flesh balls with a crapload of tentacles attached to the lower ball. She used some of them to walk, setting six or seven hands against the floor at a time as she picked her way over to where we were.  

“Children, children!” she called loudly. Her voice sounded at once melodic and yet slightly garbled, as if it was coming from underwater. It was kind of fascinating to listen to. “Hello!” Her sheer and unadulterated delight, if it hadn’t already been obvious in her voice, manifested quite well in the way her free tentacles shook back and forth, wiggling with excitement that made me giggle a little bit inwardly. “Oh, I’m so delighted that you made it! Positively tickled, I say.”

Smiling a little, Athena gestured. “Miss Handsy, allow me to introduce you to the Ladies Felicity and Tabbris. Girls, this is Miss Handsy. She is entirely indispensable to our educational efforts.”

Reflexively, I raised my free hand, extending it to her. “Miss Handsy? Sounds appropriate.”

The many-tentacled woman’s bright, almost unnaturally pink eyes drifted between us briefly before her wide mouth rose into a warm, beatific smile. She made a sound that was like windchimes that I belatedly realized was her version of a laugh. “Ohhh, of course, of course. Handsy isn’t my real name, but then, it would take an entire school year just to teach the poor children here how to pronounce it, and they’ve got much more important things to worry about. Miss Handsy is good enough.” As she spoke, two of her tentacle hands moved to catch hold of mine. She squeezed firmly, pumping it up and down. “It is my sheer delight to meet you, Miss Felicity Chambers. My sheer delight indeed. And you of course as well, Miss Tabbris.”

For a moment, Tabbris didn’t react at all, even to the extended hand. She just stood there, watching motionlessly and in silence before abruptly announcing. “I like her. She looks fun.”

Blinking at that, I looked to the other two women before giving the girl a little nudge. “Err, Tab?”

She started, looking back to me, then to Miss Handsy. Her eyes shot open wide with abruptly realization, and I heard a horrified and embarrassed noise escape the little girl as she stammered apologies. “Ohh, oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I didn’t think–I’m not used to–I didn’t mean t-to, I mean, I mean I didn’t–” Whimpering in sheer mortification then, she tried to slink around behind me. Her arms wrapped around my waist tightly, and the little girl pretty much hid herself as well as she could without simply possessing me again so that she could disappear entirely.

Laughing lightly, another windchime sound, Miss Handsy lowered herself a bit to be closer to Tabbris’s level, her tentacles spreading out to let her dip down toward the floor. “Miss Tabbris,” she started once they were eye to eye, “it is my joy and privilege to make your acquaintance.”  

That time, when Tabbris didn’t respond at first it wasn’t because she had forgotten. It was because she was so embarrassed. She held onto me, swallowing audibly as she hesitated for a few seconds before finally speaking up in a very quiet voice that was barely audible. “H-hello.”

After another brief moment, she finally reached out one hand to shake the other woman’s offered one, though her other arm tightened around me even more, clinging as if she was somehow afraid that Miss Handsy would try to pull her away from me or something.

The woman did nothing of the sort, of course. She just squeezed the offered hand (with only one of hers that time rather than the two that she had used with me), while smiling encouragingly. “I hear that you have been giving old Manakel and the rest of his people quite the headache.”

“I–” Tabbris squirmed with obvious embarrassment at the attention. “I just try to… um, help.”

“They would have possessed me a long time ago if it wasn’t for her,” I announced proudly, moving my hand to rub the top of the girl’s head and through her hair. It was the kind of ‘big sister’ moment that I hadn’t ever actually had before. It felt kind of nice. Kind of really nice.

Chuckling a little, Athena spoke up then. “Well, I thought that we could pay Mr. Reinswield and his class a little visit. Do you know if they are in the middle of anything terribly important?”

Miss Handsy’s head shook at that. “No, their schedule has them working on arithmetic right now.”

Turning her head to us, Athena briefly explained, “Miss Handsy’s people possess incredible multitasking capability, memories that are just as infallible as a Seosten’s, an internal clock, and more that makes her the perfect administrator for our little educational facilities here. She remembers everything about every single student, including all of their special needs and where they happen to be in the course of their instruction. Which, considering how many different species we have here, knowing what each of them need at any given time would be a difficult, demanding position for an entire staff. Miss Handsy here does the work of twelve.”

“Oh, pish.” The woman in question made a bunch of her tentacles give a dismissive gesture in every direction. “I could never do the kind of things that any of you do to keep us safe. I can barely work any magic whatsoever, and I can’t fight at all. Here, I can actually help. Here, I can contribute. And I can do it with all of you children. That’s good enough. I– oh!” Turning back toward the office behind her, she announced, “It’s almost time for Ruelst and–” The next name  that she announced was completely indecipherable and impossible for me to even begin to spell. “–to come down for their medicine. I better have it ready for them. You know how they tend to put it off to the last minute.”

Athena bowed her head briefly. “Of course. We’ll just go back there now. Thank you, Miss Handsy.”

Tabbris and I offered our own thanks and the woman made her way back to the office. Once she was busy at one of the cabinets there, Athena turned to us. “Come,” she beckoned before starting to walk once more. “Mr. Reinswield teaches our–I believe the he said it was the equivalent of your first through third form students?”

I blinked once, confused for a moment. “Form? Is that like grades? He–wait, no, that’s a British thing, isn’t it? Hang on, wait, I remember something about this. It was…” I paused, tilting my head. Tab, do you…

I stopped. Opening my eyes, I looked over to the girl in question, who stared back at me. For a moment, we just looked at each other. Then she giggled a little. “You were trying to ask me.”

Coughing, I found myself blushing a little. “Uh, guilty. So, do you–”

“It’s like their version of seventh to ninth grade,” Tabbris confirmed quickly, giving a little shrug. “But I don’t think they use that system anymore.”

Athena nodded. “Mr. Reinswield left Earth some years ago. But he is a very good instructor. Ah, here we are.” She had led us to a door at the end of one of the halls, reaching up to press the button next to it.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then the door slid aside, and I saw what looked like a pretty eclectic (or outright insane) classroom on the other side. The desks were like the lockers, all different shapes and sizes, and were arranged in a rough semicircle around a holographic projector in the middle of the room. On that projector I saw several math problems floating in the air, along with a couple different formulas for solving them, and examples.

There were kids at those desks. Kids of all kinds. I saw pixies, fur-covered kids, some with scales, one that was little more than a blob with eyestalks, a bipedal deer, even one that looked kind of like a teenage magma monster whose desk was made of obsidian. Most of them instantly set off my Heretic Sense, though there also those who didn’t.

And to one side, I saw four different kids, two male and two female, who looked like abnormally pretty humans. They were all together, none of them set off my sense, and they all looked like they were around eleven or twelve years old.

Seosten. They had to be Seosten. Their eyes immediately found Tabbris, and the girl herself instantly moved behind me with an adorable little squeak. I was pretty sure it took everything that the girl had not to jump right inside me again.

As for the teacher himself, the man looked human. He had short blond hair, a somewhat scruffy-looking face, and perfectly round glasses. He wore a dark pinstripe suit with a burgundy tie, and even had a handkerchief in his front pocket. The guy looked like he was in his early forties. He also didn’t set off the Heretic sense either, but I had a feeling he was human rather than Seosten. Probably a Heretic then. Which made sense, from what Athena had said.

While I was examining him, the man looked back to his assortment of students, announcing in a voice that had a very slight, almost imperceptible British accent. “Class, it seems that Lady Athena has come to tell us another story.”

The Seosten woman herself smiled a little, even as several of the students cheered and a few clapped or made gestures that I assumed were supposed to indicate the same general pleasure. “Yes,” she acquiesced after a moment. “I suppose that it has been some time, hasn’t it? A story it is, then.”

“Excellent.” the man, Mr. Reinswield apparently, gestured to Tabbris and me. “Girls, there are some free seats near Kisea, Meley, Richton, and Demeas.” He indicated the spot where the four Seosten students were.

Tabbris tried to hide behind me even more at that. I had a feeling she was even more nervous about meeting kids of her own species who were close to her own age than she had been about almost anything else.

Reaching down, I took her hand, turning a bit to whisper in a soft, barely audible voice. “I’m here.”

She looked up at me with those big, innocent eyes. Her voice shook. “Wh-what if…. Wh-wha… what if….”

What if they don’t like me, what if they’re mean, what if they’re nasty, what if, what if, what if. I knew everything that was going through her head. With a slight smile, I squeezed her hand once more, repeating, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I won’t leave you, okay? We’re just gonna listen to Athena’s story.”

She hesitated, obviously still a little nervous. But the reassurance worked, and Tabbris gave a little nod. Together, the two of us walked over to one of the desks there, beside those four. I sat first, and Tabbris went up on my lap.

For a few seconds, the four Seosten kids said nothing. They just stared at us. Finally, the youngest looking one, a pretty little girl with black hair that was worn just past her shoulders and a vaguely Asian-look, spoke up. “Hi,” she announced. “My name is Kisea.” She pronounced it ‘Kih-Say-uh.’

My little partner glanced to me briefly before nervously offering, “T.. Tabbris.”

“Tabbris?” That was the oldest looking boy. He suddenly looked interested. “As in Tabbris of Llylewys? Oh, uh, Richton. That’s my sister, Meley.” He nodded to the brunette girl beside him who looked just a little younger. “And that’s Demeas.” Finally, he gestured to the other boy, a red-head who kind of looked like a miniature viking.

The others murmured greetings, and Richton pressed, “So you were named after that Tabbris?”

“I um.” Tabbris squirmed a little before nodding. “I… guess so. I don’t really know anything about him except what A-Athena said a few minutes ago…”

“Oh, that’s okay. I’ve–”

“–got a book about it,” the other three Seosten chorused together, as if they’d heard the same thing a million times.

Huffing a little, Richton sat up straighter, shooting a look at his three companions before pointedly adding, “You can borrow it anytime you want to.”

“Ahem.” Athena cleared her throat from the front of the class. Everyone’s eyes turned that way, and I felt the girl on my lap relax just a little bit. She stole a glance at the other Seosten kids as Athena began her story, clearly fascinated by them.

It was a smart way of doing things. This way, we were seated near them, but with Athena speaking, there was no real pressure for them to do a lot of talking or interaction. They could just sit and look at each other once in awhile. It broke the ice. It let us gradually integrate a little.

“This,” Athena began in a voice that seemed so perfectly suited to narration that I wondered if she was the one who had given lessons to Morgan Freeman, “is the story of how the Seosten first discovered humans, and how our ever-evolving relationship with them truly began. And, of course, it is the story of the Seosten who would go on to be known as gods on that world.

“This is the true history and origin of the Olympians.”

Previous Chapter                                Next Chapter


Lessons 32-01

Previous Chapter                                                Next Chapter

Please note, there were two mini-interludes posted over the weekend, one for Joselyn and one for Lincoln. If you missed either or both of those, you may wish to use the Previous Chapter button above. 

Also, there will be an important announcement about donation rewards at the end of this chapter, in my first comment. 

For a moment after the woman said those words, my mind reeled, and I was completely silent.


Correction, my brain was silent, but my mouth spoke anyway. Tabbris, so thoroughly shocked by what the older Seosten had said, actually took over reflexively and made me blurt that single word.

I felt her immediate horror at what she had done suddenly take over then, as she mentally retreated. Her frantic apologies filled my head, the self-disgust and shame that the girl felt at the fact that she had actually taken me over for that single word almost making me feel physically ill.

My hand snapped up to stop the woman from talking for a minute. The action was my choice that time, as I focused inward. Tabbris! Tabbris, listen. It’s okay. It’s okay! Just listen to me, okay?

I’m sorry, the response came. The Seosten girl sounded sick, and weak. I’m sorry. I made you talk. I took over and I didn’t even ask. I’m sorry. She said we could find Mama and… and…

And you did the exact thing I would’ve done in your situation, I pointed out. Hell, Tab, I pretty much am in your situation. If someone told me they knew how to save my mom, I’d freak out too. I would. Do not apologize, okay? You apologize when you do something wrong, and you didn’t. You made me say one word. I don’t mind. I’m not mad. Read my mind. You can do that, remember? Read my mind and find out if I’m mad about it. I’m not. And if I’m not mad, you can’t be mad at yourself. You’re my sister, Tabbris. I love you. I’m not mad at you for making me say a single word just because you were so surprised. After everything you’ve done for me, how could I possibly be mad at you for that? It’s okay, I promise. You and me, we’re partners in all this, remember? Partners don’t get mad at things like that. Partners understand. I understand.

For a moment, there was silence. I felt the Seosten girl’s indecision and shame. She really had issues with taking me over, even by accident. I had no idea how it had been for her to act secretly for so long, taking me over and adjusting my memory when she had to. The thought made me wince a little. God, every time I imagined what Tabbris’s life had been like, spending years where nobody knew she existed and she had no idea what had happened to the one woman who was supposed to show up and help take care of her. She had been completely alone, no help, no way of even knowing if she would ever see her mother or Larissa again. And yet, she had kept doing her job. She had kept protecting me, against all that the Seosten had tried. Was I mad at her for having a single moment where she reflexively controlled me? Hell no.

Finally, Tabbris spoke up a little hesitantly. Flick? I’m really glad that I can talk to you now.

Despite myself, I smiled a little bit at that. I’m glad too, Tab. Now no more freaking out about a little accident, okay? There’s a difference between maliciously controlling someone and what you just did. You’re nothing like those bad Seosten. You’re like your mom, and Athena, or Nimue, or whatever she goes by. And Apollo, apparently. See? There’s plenty of good Seosten. There are bad humans and good humans, bad vampires and good vampires, bad werewolves and good werewolves. And there are bad Seosten and good ones. You, you’re one of the good ones. And you’re my sister.

Feeling her acceptance and relief, I finally turned to focus on the woman in front of me. Though in front of us seemed like the more appropriate phrasing since she knew that Tabbris was there.

“Sorry,” I made myself announce in as dry of a voice as I could manage. “Usually I have a much better poker face than that. I can’t imagine what could’ve happened. I guess I wasn’t myself.”

Yeah, it was a bit of a risk. But honestly, it felt like teasing Tabbris just a little bit about it would help make her feel a little more normal. I didn’t want to treat her like I was walking on eggshells. I wanted her to see that I really didn’t mind, that I really was okay with what happened and with the fact that it might happen again. And that meant teasing her a little. At least, to me it did.

Athena/Nimue seemed to understand what was going on, and what I was doing. She gave a slight smile before speaking simply, in a soft, encouraging voice. “I would very much love to meet Sariel’s child. Particularly one who has frustrated poor Manakel and Paschar so thoroughly.”

Sensing my companion’s reluctant hesitation, I gave her a little inward encouragement. It’s okay, Tab. You saw what she did to all those guys back there. If she says you’re safe here, you are.

After another couple of seconds, the by-now familiar glowing figure stepped forward out of me. The glow faded, leaving that little blonde girl staring a bit fearfully up at the woman in front of us. Honestly, that much I couldn’t blame her for. Even without all the other issues, after what we had seen the woman do back on that planet, being intimidated by her was completely understandable.

“A girl… a daughter…” The soft, gentle words left the woman, and she smiled. “Hello, little one.”

“I… I…” Tabbris swallowed audibly, shivering a little before taking what was obviously a reflexive step back. Her hand went back and down, groping until I caught hold of it and gave her a reassuring squeeze to assure her that I was there. Finally, she managed a weak, “H-hello.”

Sinking down to one knee, the woman  spoke softly, like she was trying not to startle an especially skittish deer. “May I have the name of the girl who has my former allies tearing their hair out?”

I could see the blush on the back of Tabbris’s neck as she squirmed self-consciously. “I-um. M-my name is Tabbris.” Her voice was tiny, her nervousness readily apparent as she answered.

“Tabbris.” I saw a small, knowing smile play over the woman’s face for just a moment, and she nodded. “Yes, I suppose she would choose such an appropriate name for you, wouldn’t she?”

My mouth opened to ask what she meant by that, but Tabbris beat me to it. “Um. Appropriate?”

“Yes. Of course she would have–” She paused then, tilting her head a little thoughtfully before asking in a slightly curious voice, “You are aware of what the name actually means?”

As we both shook our heads, the woman chuckled a little bit before carefully explaining, “Tabbris, as far as humans are concerned, was the angel of self-determination and free will.”

Despite myself, I laughed. “Oh. Free will… that… “ Smiling, I squeezed the younger girl’s hand, tugging her back against me. “That is pretty appropriate, isn’t it? You hear that, Tab? Your mom named you after the angel of free will. I–” Pausing then, I hesitated. “But angel names are Seosten names, right? So what kind of Seosten name is something that means free will? I mean… no offense, but that doesn’t really sound appropriate as far as Seosten go. Generally.”

Wincing a little visibly, the brown-haired woman shook her head with a soft sigh. “You are not wrong there, no. Our kind are generally not well known for such things. But… there are almost always exceptions. Tabbris of Llylewys was one such exception. A rather famous one.”

“Tabbris of Llylewys?” Tabbris and I both echoed simultaneously. And boy was it still really strange hearing the girl’s voice out loud like that instead of in my head. Hearing her say the exact same thing that I was saying, only audible for someone else to hear, was even stranger.

“Yes,” the Seosten answered with an amused chuckle as she glanced between us. “And I will tell you about him shortly, you have my word. But for now, please, I have a few very important questions.”

“Mama.” Tabbris looked up. “Y-you said… we could find… Mama…”

“Indeed.” Nodding in agreement, the woman straightened. “As I said, we have much to discuss. I just…” She paused then, swallowing as she looked to Tabbris. “I am very glad to have finally met you, Tabbris.You are… you remind me of your mother, in many ways. But how long?” Her eyes glanced up to me before returning to the tiny Seosten. “How long have you been working so hard? How long have you been protecting this girl?”

“Years,” I answered for her, squeezing the girl’s hand. “Her mom had her… uh, put in me when she was still basically a baby. She put her in some kind of hibernation and taught her everything she needed to know in, like, a virtual reality situation or something for a few years. She put all kinds of memory implants to teach her about everything, and then when she woke up she started… protecting me actively, I guess. And she’s been doing that for years. She stopped the other Seosten from using spells on me. She’s… she’s saved me a lot. More than she’s actually told me about, I’m pretty sure.”

The woman’s eyebrows had shot up dramatically. “Memory implant spells as teaching tools. We spoke of that possibility, and they have been used in minor cases or to share knowledge with a peer. But to construct an entire, as you say, virtual reality simulation based entirely around implanted memories… that would require…” She whistled, long and low while looking awed.

“See?” I teased my little companion a little, moving my free hand to squeeze her shoulder. The bones had completely mended by that point. “Even she thinks that you and your mom are amazing. And she’s–” I paused slightly, looking to her. “Actually, what do we call you? I mean, Radueriel said you were… that you’re…”

“Athena,” she confirmed. “Call me Athena. Some call me Nimue, yes. But… I would rather not use that name while my Arthur remains…” She paused before giving a sharp shake of her head. “I would rather not use that name. And I have forsaken my Seosten name. So please, I am Athena.”

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy did I ever want to ask a lot of questions right then. But I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t get any answers. She clearly didn’t want to talk about it at the moment. So, I just nodded.

Meanwhile, Athena focused on Tabbris once more. “You are so young. So small.” Her hand slowly moved to touch the girl’s face gently, her voice even softer and filled with the kind of awe that I felt whenever I thought about how much Tabbris had done for me. “So small and yet, so utterly brilliant. Do you realize how much you have driven Manakel and the others into fits of hysteria and confusion? Do you have the slightest idea how much effort they and the others have put toward trying to discover how the infamous Joselyn Atherby’s daughter was rendered immune to Seosten possession?

“And in the end, it was simply… you. A child, thwarting millennia-old Seosten. Amazing.” Her smile grew, as she shook her head in wonder. “You are truly amazing.”

For her part, the girl blushed deeply and squirmed, her hands fidgeting like she didn’t know what to do with them. It was kind of adorable. “I–I didn’t–I mean, I just–I was just trying to help.”

“Believe me when I tell you that you have helped,” Athena assured her sagely. “You have helped more than you can possibly know. The conversations about Lady Felicity’s supposed immunity that I have heard…” She chuckled, shaking her head while running a hand over Tabbris’s head fondly. “I would very much like to see the look on their faces when they discover the truth.”

“That can’t happen,” I blurted, interrupting quickly. “They can’t find out about her.”

“Not for quite some time, no,” the woman agreed with a nod. “Be at ease. Your secret is safe here. As far as anyone else is concerned, you will simply be another Seosten child on this station.”

My mouth opened, but it was Tabbris who piped up, “Another Seosten child?”

Chuckling, Athena nodded once more. “Yes. We have a dozen or so here with us who are within a few years of your age. Would you like to meet them?”

The girl’s head bobbed quickly, before she amended, “But… Mama…”

“And the others,” I put in, before we could get any more offtrack. “I have to let the others know that I’m okay, and how to find us. They’re probably–” I flinched. As thoroughly distracting as all of this had been, thinking about how Sands, Larissa, and the others were no doubt reacting made me focus. “They’re probably freaking out right now.”

Athena addressed me first. “Yes, I have people who will find your friends and get a message to them. But it will take some time. As will preparing to locate your mother,” she added to Tabbris. “But I promise you both, we are working on it. We will bring your friends here, and we will find Sariel.”

She looked to the younger Seosten then, her gaze softening. “As I said, doing so will require your blood, and a fair bit of time. Kushiel has her… lab hidden quite well. But with the blood of Sariel’s daughter, and enough time, we should be able to locate it. I only ask for patience.”

Tabbris squirmed, but gave a little nod. “Can… can we meet the other Seosten? There’s… there’s really kids? And they’re… they’re not… bad?”

Smiling warmly, Athena gestured with one hand. “Yes. And you can meet them, along with the rest of our people. Seosten and non-Seosten alike. We call ourselves the Aelaestiam. And if you like, I will introduce you.”

The two of us exchanged brief looks before we both nodded. “Yes,” I agreed, “Yes, we’d like that a lot.” I had a feeling that, among other things, seeing other Seosten who weren’t total monsters would be incredibly good for Tabbris’s mental state. So I was willing to set aside my own feeling of helpless impatience. Because that was unbelievably important. Tabbris deserved to feel better about herself, about her species.

“Good.” Athena gestured, and some kind of glowing forcefield rose up around the three of us before it began to lift off the ground. It was an elevator of some kind, and it was carrying us up toward the ceiling. “We will go and meet everyone, then.”

As the forcefield elevator rose into the air, I asked, “Where is everyone? I mean, all those houses we passed were empty, and it sure didn’t look like there was anyone in those other species’ environments.”

“They are working, or at school,” the Seosten woman explained. “We put a great deal of emphasis on education here. While you are here, you will be expected to learn. And to train.”

I coughed, smiling despite myself. “Believe me, you’re scary, but not nearly as scary as my girlfriends would be if they ever found out I wasn’t training while I was out here.”

Athena gave me a brief look at that, raising an eyebrow. But before she could say anything, Tabbris piped up. “C-could… um, could you…” She stretched out to the side on one foot, fidgeting as she caught hold of her raised heel absently. Unfortunately, doing so over-extended her balance, and she gave a sudden yelp before pratfalling.

“Ow,” she complained, sitting there on her backside with a tiny, adorable scowl. “I’m used to being taller. And more coordinated. And… and… not so weird.” Making a face, she blew hair out of her eyes before looking up earnestly as she picked herself off the floor. “Could you tell us about Tabbris? The other Tabbris.”

By that point, a space in the metal ceiling above us had opened up, as the forcefield elevator rose into another, much smaller room. It was about forty feet by thirty feet, with room for several more of these elevators to rise up. Ahead were a few sets of doors which, judging from the signs (written in a language I didn’t know) above them that seemed to indicate where they would take the person, probably all went through portals into different areas of the station.

“Yes,” Athena agreed, stepping off the elevator while motioning for us to do the same. She turned to face us once we joined her.

“Tabbris, that Tabbris, was a Seosten who lived over a hundred thousand years ago. Llylewys was his choir.  Kind of like a clan or family,” she added to me briefly before continuing. “Tabbris of Llylewys was an incredibly powerful, incredibly rich young man. And he was also one of the only open advocates of peaceful integration with other worlds that has ever sat as a Seraphim.”

Again, she looked to me, explaining, “The Seraphim are our leadership. Similar to your Committee, only… different in many ways. But the same general idea is there, unsurprisingly.”

Biting my lip, I nodded. “So this original Tabbris was some important senator-type guy, got it. And he was an advocate for, what did you say, peaceful integration with other worlds?”

“Yes,” Athena confirmed simply. “He spent his entire career and most of his considerable power and fortune arguing for more ethical treatment of non-Seostens. His speeches are considered legendary today, though most don’t actually pay attention to what he’s actually saying. He’s seen as little more than a fool by the Seosten leadership. He always was. But he fought for what he believed in, more than once and in more than one way. With his vast money and seemingly inexhaustible resources, he purchased an entire planet and made it a refuge for all non-Seosten to live freely. The planet was surrounded by weapons, shields, and every anti-Seosten defense that Tabbris and his people could dream up. It was a variation of one of Tabbris’s spells that I taught to Arthur and his knights so that they would know if any of their people were possessed and cast the Seosten out of them. The place was perfectly safe.”

“It sounds incredible,” I agreed. “Whatever happened to it? I mean, that was a long time ago.”

The woman’s head shook. “You see, that is actually the most legendary part of all. Because the truth is, nobody knows. After he set the planet up and brought over as many free beings as he could, Tabbris wiped its location and every specific thing about it from the minds of everyone else in the universe. Anyone who knew exactly where it was one day forgot about it the next.”

My mouth fell open at that. All I managed to do was make a brief, protesting squeak as my brain locked up completely. Just in front of me, Tabbris seemed to be coming up with pretty much the same reaction. She was the first to recover enough to actually ask, “Wh-what? He erased it from everyone’s mind? But that would take… th-the power that would–he couldn’t… he couldn’t!”

“Yes,” Athena replied with a little smile of amusement, “that was pretty much everyone else’s reaction at the time, apparently. Except, as it turns out, he didn’t actually do it alone. Technically, the man had the aid of every sitting Seraphim at the time. And likely most of their staffs as well.”

Squinting at the woman, I tried to figure out if she was messing with us. That time, I was the first one to find my voice, as I quickly demanded, “How could he possibly convince all of the Seosten leadership to help him erase an entire planet from everyone’s memory, including theirs?!”

“As absurd as it sounds,” the woman explained, “it actually wasn’t that difficult. He simply had to be patient. Obviously, it took quite some time for the investigation to turn up what actually happened. But, essentially, the original Tabbris spent over a decade preparing for what he ended up doing. You see, the committee within the Seraphim that he was a part of required that he collect what amounted to magical signatures from each and every Seraphim. Those were, essentially, a small bit of their own spellpower that proved that they agreed with whatever the energy was attached to. Since it’s their own personal mana, brought from their own body and tied to the object listing the agreement, it’s much harder for them to claim they didn’t agree with it later on.

“But I don’t understand how–” I started before blinking. “Wait, did he figure out how to… I mean…” I trailed off, uncertain of myself. But as I glanced to Athena, she had gone silent. The woman patiently watched, seemingly just fine with waiting while I worked it out. Biting my lip, I guessed, “Did he figure out how to, like, take a little bit of that energy each time?”

She smiled, lifting her head in a nod while giving me an approving look that made me flush a little bit. “Correct. Somehow, Tabbris managed to place a siphon spell on those same signature objects which took just a little bit of their power every time they signed it. What’s more, it would continue draining them constantly for those ten years. Ah, which would be somewhere around eighteen years by Earth calendar. It was very small amounts, not enough for them to notice. But every time he had them sign another agreement, the siphon was renewed. It would barely amount to a single percent of their power each day. But a single percent of every Seraphim’s energy every day for what amounted to eighteen Earth years amounted to vast reserves of spellpower that Tabbris had managed to steal. And eventually, he used it to pull his disappearing act. He, and all of the people who had chosen to join him, disappeared entirely.”

“You hear that?” I asked my Tabbris with a little nudge. “Your mom named you after the Seosten who basically made the entire group of Seraphim look like idiots, and the first big freedom fighter.”

While the other girl turned beet red and smiled giddily, Athena continued. “I trust that answers your question?”

Once Tabbris nodded, I asked, “I’ve got a lot more though. Like, how did you find us? Where did you come from? How did you know about… about anything that was happening? Is it just from the humans that you freed? Do you know about the Atherby Clan and what they’ve been doing? Do you–”

Athena laughed, shaking her head. “Be at ease, Lady Felicity. I will answer all of your questions that I am able to. But for now, perhaps meeting the others would help. I will explain on the way.”

She moved to one of the nearby doors, pausing to look back to us as they slid open. “Are you ready?”

My hand reached out to take Tabbris’s, and I nodded. “Yes. Let’s go meet the Logs.”

Both Tabbris and Athena blinked over at me, the latter asking, “Logs?”

“Sure!” I grinned. “Legion Of Good Seosten. What, it’s easier to remember than… what did you say?”

“Aelaestiam,” Tabbris supplied helpfully.

“Right, Aelaestiam.” Tilting my head as though considering that for a moment, I finally shook my head. “Nope, sorry. I still prefer Logs.”  

Athena shook her head, gesturing for us to move through the still-open doorway. With a slight gulp, I squeezed Tabbris’s hand, whispering, “Ready, partner?” She nodded, and I returned it. Then the two of us stepped through that doorway.

Time to meet the Seosten rebels.

Previous Chapter                                                Next Chapter

Mini-Interlude 55 – Joselyn

Previous Chapter                                             Next Chapter

“Moooooooommmmmy! Momma! Mom-mom-mom-momma Mia Mama!”

The chanting voice drew Joselyn from a deep slumber. Eyes opening as her mind oriented itself away from the dream to the real world, she found herself, as most mornings, waking up in an incredibly comfortable, silk sheet-covered bed. The bed itself was located within what had to be one of the most beautiful bedrooms on the face of the planet. Floor to ceiling glass doors led out to a balcony to her right, while a walk-in closet the size of most apartments was to the left. Paintings, mirrors, entire statues, and more signs of absurd opulence filled the rest of the nearly six hundred square foot bedroom, with a ceiling that was fifteen feet up. It was an absurd size.

As her head lifted from the pillow to look straight across from the bottom of the bed to the double doors that stood open, Joselyn found the source of the call. Ammon. The boy stood there, framed in the doorway with a smile on his face as he announced, “I brought you breakfast!”

With that, he snapped his fingers. Four figures moved past the boy, two to either side as they came into the room. Three of them were carrying trays laden with food, while the fourth carried three different pitchers of fresh juices. They moved quickly and efficiently to stand on either side of the bed. None moved a muscle once in position. And without fail, each looked utterly petrified.

Slowly, Joselyn sat up in the bed, pulling the sheet with her so that it continued to cover her form. She was not allowed clothes when sleeping. Not that Fossor spent many evenings in the same room, or even that many in the same house. He was most often elsewhere, carrying out his plans or enacting his various vengeances. But his rules remained in place regardless, and one of them was that Joselyn was not to wear clothes to bed. She was, in fact, not allowed to dress herself until Fossor himself gave permission, even if he had to do so over the phone.

At a certain point, she had been able to make that particular rule almost meaningless, as she only required perhaps a half hour of sleep per day. But Fossor had begun siphoning energy from her for some project, meaning that she now required at least four. She still wasn’t sure how much of that was because he had an actual project that required her energy and how much was simply because he was amused by thwarting any attempt she made at working around his rules.  

Either way, she had to sleep for at least four hours each night depending on how much his secret project took out of her that day, and during that time she was not allowed any clothes. It was, by that point, just another small indignity that continued to amuse the man who had enslaved her. One more thing that he controlled. One more thing that he made her ask for.

“Ammon,” she spoke carefully, choosing her words the best way that she could while shifting the sheet a little so that it covered more. “I don’t recognize these particular servants. Are they new?” It never ended well to be confrontational with the boy. Not anymore. Particularly as she wasn’t allowed to discipline him anyway. She had to be careful in how she spoke to him. Not for her own sake. His ability wouldn’t work on her, and she could quite easily overpower him if need be. But because he would take his frustration out on others, and she was not allowed to stop him.

“I haven’t decided yet,” the boy replied simply, chewing his lip for a moment in thought as he stepped in and walked slowly up to the end of the bed. Gesturing, he explained. “They were mean when I got to the restaurant, so I had to make them see that they were bad. But now I kinda like them. And it’s not like they have any customers to go back to. Or a restaurant.”

Despite herself, Joselyn flinched inwardly a little bit. Right. No wonder these four looked so traumatized. She didn’t know exactly what Ammon had done. But she had the general idea already, and had absolutely no desire to have any specific details spelled out. A quick glance over the gathered quartet revealed little. They were all dressed as servers in nice black slacks and crisp white shirts. Two were female, the other two male, one of each standing on each side. The females were noticeably attractive, which Joselyn prayed was a coincidence. Once Ammon began hitting puberty, with his… abilities and lack of any kind of remorse or even a basic understanding of empathy… bile rose in her throat, and she had to look away for a moment. But only for a moment. If Ammon thought that something had upset her, he would lash out. Not at her, but at these four. He would think that they had done something, somehow. He was never cruel to Joselyn purposefully. He… in his own way, cared for her. At least as much as he was capable of, after what Fossor had done to warp and mangle his psyche. Some part of Ammon still remembered loving his mother, so he repeatedly tried in vain to recapture that feeling. He tried so hard to remember the good emotions that his father had stripped away from him.

Forcing herself to smile, because to do otherwise would bring tears, and Ammon’s anger at the people around them, Joselyn extended a hand. “Do you want to come up and help me eat this feast?” she asked, trying hard not to let her hand tremble from the rage that she felt at Fossor.

Ammon’s own childish smile was bright, and not put-on at all. He clambered up into the bed, crawling up quickly and settled in next to her before imperiously ordering, “Dessert first!”

Swallowing hard, Joselyn put a hand on the boy’s head. She leaned down, smelling his hair for a moment. God. Oh God. She remembered how he had been. She remembered the boy before… before all this. She remembered his sweetness, his curiosity about everything. Her son. Her beautiful, amazing, wonderful baby boy. And now she had to wonder every time she saw him, how many people he had murdered, how many lives he had destroyed.

He’d asked her enough pointed questions that she knew he knew about Koren. The new Koren, her granddaughter. How much else he knew, she wasn’t certain. But she did know that he hadn’t told his father. Why, she wasn’t exactly sure. But he hadn’t. Not yet, anyway. For whatever reason, the boy was keeping that particular information to himself.

She wished so much that she could believe it was for a good reason. But she knew better. Whatever was driving her son to keep Koren Fellows a secret from his father wasn’t anything good. And the thought of what he might be up to, what his twisted, broken mind might conjure up…

Out of sight of Ammon, with her face against the top of his head, Joselyn allowed a single, solitary tear to fall as the captive restaurant staff prepared to serve their meal.


The roar of flames filled the air as the male fire elemental flew straight toward Joselyn a couple hours later. As he approached, his heat scouring the floor it was flying over top of, she dove to the side, rolling before popping up to her feet. The second she was upright, the elemental was already pointing that way, a geyser of flame erupting from his outstretched hand. It came so quickly that all Joselyn could do was jerk her entire body backward as far as she could, allowing the fire to roast the air right above her nose. The heat so so intense that it would have melted her eyes in their sockets if she hadn’t already possessed enough resistance powers.

The room that they were in lay deep in the subbasement of the mansion.It was, essentially, a fighting arena, complete with stands for an audience of at least a hundred people. The arena itself was circular and about a hundred feet in diameter, with a forcefield that contained both the violence and any stray powers. Set right next to what would be considered the ‘owners box’ in the middle of the stands was a screen showing a time that was currently ticking down from ten seconds in yellow numbers.

That had to do with another of Fossor’s rules. He arranged these tournaments, forced her to fight these Alters that he had… acquired. He would throw them into this pit and have them attack her. Sometimes only one, sometimes many. The clock showed how long Joselyn had to survive before she was allowed to use any active powers. Technically, there were two countdowns. When the numbers were red, it meant that she wasn’t allowed to fight back at all, only evade and stay away from her attacker(s). When the numbers were yellow as they were right then, she could fight, but was not allowed to use any active powers. And when the countdown hit the single green zero, she could go all out.

Fossor, for all his arrogance, didn’t want her to become a mindless murder-addict. He wanted her to work for him, wanted her to serve him. But she would be less effective at that if she was addicted to killing, which would happen to any Reaper-based Heretic who killed too easily too often. Kills had to be earned. If he just had her walk from cage to cage killing one Alter after another, it wouldn’t be long before she completely lost her mind and became little more than a beast. He could get one of those from anywhere. But he only had one of her. Hence these tournaments, these actual fights and all his rules about making her earn each victory, each kill.

The stands themselves were about a quarter full. The twenty-odd people who were watching were a mixture of Ammon’s… pets (four of which were the restaurant servers he had just abducted that morning) and a few of the living beings that Fossor himself kept around to serve him. The vast majority of the beings on the grounds were dead, zombies given specific instructions and tasks to perform by their necromancer master. But there were about a dozen of the living variety, those whose tasks were too much to entrust to mindless zombies. The ghosts weren’t mindless, but interacting with the physical world was taxing. So there were the living servants, though they were just as enslaved to Fossor as their deceased companions.

Three quick fireballs were shot through the air at her. She pivoted around one before leaping to twist her body so that the other two would fly past either side of her. In mid-air, the clock hit that green zero, and she inverted. Her fist lashed out, turning blue as a curtain of ice enveloped the wave of flames that the fire elemental had been pushing toward her. The elemental quickly rose high into the air, above the ice wall so that he could fire (literally) down at her.

But Joselyn wasn’t there. Appearing on top of the wall of ice that she had created, almost directly behind the elemental, she extended her hand. As he spun, a wave of cold from her fingers enveloped the figure. His flames were instantly doused, and his red-orange body turned pale white as he was frozen solid.

A quick kick from her shattered his body into a thousand pieces, which rained down over the arena while Joselyn’s golden aura flared up.

There. It was done. Not all of her training for the day, but at least the last one that she had to kill. Joselyn dropped to the floor, looking to the stands as the gathered witnesses began to move away. All save for one of the restaurant employees, a young woman who sat in the stand by herself, staring at Joselyn while looking terribly alone and lost.

With a soft sigh, she approached the girl. The forcefield had lowered as everyone else made their way out to go about the rest of their duties (or find some other entertainment). “My son didn’t give you any instructions?”

The girl had a slight deer-in-headlights look, swallowing audibly while staring up at Joselyn. She was pretty, with short raven-black hair that was cut just past her ears and an innocent, naive face. Joselyn thought that she looked a fair bit like Phoebe Cates in those Gremlin films.

“J-just to stay in the building,” she answered quietly, her voice shaking a little.

“What’s your name?” Joselyn asked, her voice as gentle as she could make it.

The girl answered, whimpering just a little as she did so. “J-Jenna. It’s Jenna.”

“Jenna,” Joselyn repeated, nodding. “Why don’t you come with me? I have a little solo training to get through, then I was planning on visiting the library. Neither of us can leave the building, so we might as well stay together.”

Blinking rapidly in an obvious attempt to avoid tears, Jenna nodded while stammering, “Okay. But… but y-y-your son, he’s… he’s a…”

“I know,” Joselyn spoke simply, her voice softer than ever.

“Believe me, I know.”


“Well, my dear, how was your day?” Fossor’s voice was sweet, no different from any other husband and father as he took his seat at the obscenely long dinner table. Beside him, one of his reanimated automatons poured a glass of wine for its master.

“Three,” Joselyn answered flatly, not yet moving to touch her own plate even as Fossor immediately began to dig into his steak. “I killed three of them today.”

Beside her, Jenna moved to copy the actions of her dead counterpart beside Fossor. Joselyn had managed to convince the man and Ammon both to let her keep the girl with her for the time being. She had no idea how long it would last, but she would do everything she could.

The bottle shook a little in the terrified girl’s grip. It would have spilled, which itself would have drawn the ire of the monster at the end of the table, and Jenna would have been killed. But Joselyn carefully and subtly extended just a little of her power, taking control of the liquid as it fell and guiding it to land smoothly in the glass regardless of where the actual bottle was, or how much it was shaking.

“Well, it sounds as though you kept yourself occupied, at least.” Fossor nodded once before launching into his actual point. “I had quite the busy day myself, of course. So many small fires to put out and larger fires to create. Exhausting, really. But…” He paused with his fork in midair, a chunk of meat held in the tines. “The more interesting part is that it seems our girl is making quite the name for herself out in Seosten space.”

Felicity in Seosten space. When she’d first heard that, Joselyn hadn’t been able to contain her panic and terror. The things that those creatures could do, the things they would do in order to get the information they wanted.

Information, apparently, that had to do with why Felicity was immune to them. When that little tidbit had initially made its way back to Fossor, he had taken her straight to his Writing Room and made her answer questions for over an hour trying to find out how that had happened. But the simple truth was that Joselyn had no idea. She hadn’t had to try to hide anything from him about it, because she didn’t know. She had some vague idea that it might have been Gabriel’s doing, of course, but no hard facts. Not that that had stopped Fossor from putting her through the wringer until he was satisfied. And even then, he hadn’t been very happy about it. About not knowing, that was. He found the fact that she was immune hilarious and useful, but not knowing why ticked him off something fierce.

Pausing then, she looked up to meet the man’s gaze as he stared at her knowingly. “You heard something else from Crossroads?” She chose her words carefully, because whether he was getting information from his spy in the school or from somewhere actually within the Seosten Empire was important.

Chuckling, making it clear that he understood exactly what she was asking, Fossor ate three more bites of his steak. He moved slowly and deliberately, obviously enjoying dragging out the conversation now that she was interested. She was always interested in hearing about her daughter, even if it had to come from him. And he knew that.

Finally, the necromancer spoke. “It seems that our little girl has managed to create quite the ruckus. She’s freed a group of slaves from their prison camp. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite good enough to stop that Isaac fellow from subsequently murdering a good number of them. Also, that bothersome… Catsarein man?”

“Katarin,” Joselyn murmured, remembering the man well.

“Of course.” Fossor spoke the words in a way that made it clear that he didn’t consider the name important and had already dismissed it. “He was murdered by that delightful Isaac child. If he survives his trip out there, it might be fun to invite him over for a playdate with our boy.”

Our boy. Our girl. His. Fossor always made a point of claiming ownership over things that he had decided were his.

And now Ulysses Katarin was dead. Murdered by the psychopath that the Seosten had been nurturing and cultivating. The thought of that… thing traveling with any of the others, let alone her daughter, made Joselyn furious. But it also terrified her. Hearing that he had killed Ulysses, that just… It was another loss. Another in a very long line of them that showed no signs of stopping.

She sent a silent apology to the man’s spirit, wherever it may have been, that she had been able to do nothing to help him. The pain… she set it aside, put it into that special lock box deep in her soul where it would wait for her to have time to actually grieve. Not in front of Fossor. She refused to show that kind of emotion in front of him.

So she still had no idea where he was getting his information from. The necromancer played most of that close to his vest, despite his enjoyment of showing off how much he knew about Felicity’s life. Joselyn was reliant on him for almost every scrap of information about her own daughter, and he delighted in that fact.

He was not, however, privy to the information about Koren, either the new one or the woman who was now Abigail. Nor did he know about Wyatt. So whatever his source was, it wasn’t as informed as it could be. And he had not yet managed to ask the right question in their Writing Room sessions for Joselyn to give that information up. Either that or he did know but was deliberately not bringing it up in order to give her false hope. Joselyn had long since stopped trying to guess when he was playing those sorts of games.

But as far as she knew, he didn’t know about those three. For the time being, they were safe from him, though she was sure that wouldn’t last. And the thought of what he would do when he found out about Abigail and Koren in particular… it brought bile to her throat and rage into her heart. If he touched them, if he even threatened to touch them…

“My dear,” Fossor interrupted, nodding toward where she had inadvertently melted half of the fork in her hand, “if the meal is that unpleasant for you, I will have the chef returned to his grave immediately and a new one… selected.”

In other words, he would kill someone else to serve as their chef. Quickly, Joselyn shook her head. “No, the meal is fine. But Felicity, if those Seosten take her…”

“Never fear, my dear,” the man spoke calmly and with a soft smile that one might have taken as fatherly if they didn’t know better, “The Seosten will not be keeping our girl. You can be quite certain of that. There are… plans in motion as far as that is concerned. So rest your little mind about it. Enjoy the dinner. Unless, of course, you do want a new chef?”

Swallowing her initial reaction, Joselyn set the mangled and melted remains of the fork down before touching a finger against it. Summoning the power of an ùruisg, she focused on repairing the damaged utensil. Within a few seconds, the fork was as good as new, and she took a bite of her meal to appease the man.

“You see, it’s good, isn’t it?” Fossor prompted, clearly enjoying just how much he could control her.

“Delightful,” was her single word reply.


“Now, you stand right here all night.” Ammon was instructing Jenna late in the evening.

They were back in Joselyn’s room. She had managed to make it clear to her son that she preferred having the girl around, without making it seem like she was giving orders. So now he had agreed to let the girl stay.

“You stand here,” the boy continued, “and get my mom anything she needs. Anything she tells you to, right? You understand?”

From where she was standing, Joselyn offered a careful, “Perhaps if she sits, she can be quicker about moving around if she needs to get something for me.”

Ammon did a quick double take, looking between her and the girl before nodding. “Oh, uh, okay. There.” He pointed to a plush recliner. “My name is Ammon. Sit there and don’t move unless my mom asks you to get her something. Then follow her orders and go back to the chair when you’re done.”

Obediently, the young woman pivoted to walk that way. She seated herself, clearly still confused about why she couldn’t stop obeying the boy’s instructions.

Once she was seated, Ammon looked to Joselyn. “Do you need anything else, Mom!” His smile was bright, his pride at ‘helping’ obvious.

She swallowed a little, shaking her head. “No. Thank you, my little soldier.” Her little soldier. Gods. She had called him that almost from the moment he was born, because of the way he kept putting his hand up near his face in what she thought looked like a salute. Her soldier. Her trooper. Her fighter. Her boy. Her baby boy.

What had Fossor done to him?

Smiling widening, Ammon chirped, “Okay! I’m gonna go play in the garden.”

Play in the garden. She had the feeling that was far less innocent than it sounded. But before Joselyn could say anything, the boy was gone, racing through the door before clomping down the stairs loudly. For a moment, she watched him go, then gestured to make the doors close.

“What… what is he?” The shaky, horrified voice came from the chair, and Joselyn glanced that way to find Jenna sitting with her hands tight against the armrests. “Wh-why can’t I… why can’t I get up? How is he–he… he killed them. He killed all of them. All those people.” Her voice was starting to grow hysterical, which meant that Joselyn needed to get her to calm down.

“It’s– It’s okay.” It wasn’t, but if the girl didn’t get herself under control, it would be a whole lot worse. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re confused. But listen to me. I’ll try to keep you safe, as much as I can,” she promised the young woman. “I know this is all terrifying. And I’m sorry about what happened, what… Ammon did. But I’m afraid that there isn’t a lot that I can explain. You wouldn’t remember it anyway.”

The girl gave her a shy smile. “I’m pretty sure that all of this would be pretty hard to forget. And I really want to know. He–the things he did, the things he makes us do. How can he–how?”

Swallowing, Joselyn shook her head. “As I said, you wouldn’t remember even if I told you. And for the time that you did remember, you would just be even more frightened than you are now.”

The little smile remained, but it was… different somehow. The girl shifted, lifting her chin while slowly replied, “I’m afraid that I’m going to have to insist that you tell me everything you know about Fossor, about the boy, about all of it. Everything.”

Joselyn blinked, eyes widening a little as she looked up quickly. Fossor had never introduced himself. She knew that for a fact. He didn’t consider it worth his time to introduce himself to Ammon’s playthings or any of the other servants if he could help it. “How do you know his na–”

The girl slowly stood up from the chair. Stood, despite Ammon’s order. Because she had never truly been under the control of Ammon’s power at all. Because she was the source of that power. 

“My name is Denuvus,” the manipulator announced, her voice filling the room.

“Tell me everything I want to know.”

Previous Chapter                                             Next Chapter

Mini-Interlude 54 – Lincoln

Previous Chapter                                       Next Chapter

Thirty unheard messages. Voice mailbox full. Please listen to or delete messages to receive new ones.

Lincoln Chambers stared down at the cell phone in his hand as he lay on his side in bed. The phone wasn’t his, of course. Not his original phone, anyway. That had been tossed away much earlier so that he couldn’t be tracked quite as easily. No, this was a random, prepaid phone that one of the Atherby clan had picked up for him. He’d used it to call his old phone’s mailbox so that he could check the messages that had been left for him. Or, at least, that had been his intention days ago.

He had checked several of the messages at the time. Most were either from his work, wanting more answers than his original, terse ‘going underground for a story, back eventually’ call had given them. The others were from his parents, who wanted… well, any answers at all, really.

When he had asked for the phone, Lincoln’s intention had been to keep up with any questions the people in his life had. He’d intended to keep giving them updates on his supposed investigation while also fishing for hints about which of them wanted to know too much. There had been some vague idea there of working out who the Seosten had possessed to get to him.

Except he couldn’t do it. After listening to a few of his messages from the people he cared about, from his parents and friends, Lincoln had stopped. The idea that any of them could have been possessed, that they had been enslaved by those goddamn alien body snatchers, had been too much. He couldn’t make himself listen to their messages while having no idea if the person speaking was really themselves, or if they were being puppeted by an evil alien overlord.

It was even worse knowing that his daughter, his daughter was out there in their space. He had no idea how Felicity was doing, if she was okay, or anything. He was even more helpless and incapable of helping than he had been before. Which, honestly, was really saying something.

He wanted to pull them in, his parents at least. But if they were possessed, getting to them and testing them for possession without giving anything away or endangering anyone else was going to be hard. He needed to be ready for something like that, not just run off halfcocked.

Sighing and giving up on his latest attempt to psych himself up into actually listening to those messages, Lincoln clicked the phone back into sleep mode before sitting up in bed. The room that he had been sleeping in was sparse, decorated only with the bed itself and a single dresser where the few clothes that he’d been able to get were tossed. On top of the dresser was a cheap lamp, and a single photograph in a gold frame. It was one of only three rooms in the small cabin he’d been assigned to live in while he was staying here at the Atherby camp.

Other than this room, there was just a tiny bathroom and a combination living room/kitchen. There was very little to it. But honestly, he didn’t mind. The place reminded him of camping trips that he had gone on with his father back in the day. They were good memories. Safe memories.

Stepping out of bed, Lincoln squeezed himself into the small bathroom and took a long, almost scalding shower to wake himself up. That was one good thing about this place. There seemed to be an utterly unending amount of hot water. If that was a spell, he really wanted to find out how to use it before he left this place. If he left this place, which itself was really up in the air.

Just in time, as he finished dressing after enjoying the shower, there was a knock at the door. Lincoln gave his hair one last brush through with the comb before eying himself in the mirror. There was a little bit of stubble there, but not enough to worry about for the moment. Turning on his heel, the man moved through the main room of the cabin, taking in the early morning light coming in through the windows before tugging the door open. “If I didn’t know better,” he announced in the process, “I’d say that one of your powers was perfect timing.”

“How do you know it’s not?” The woman who stood there looked like she was in her early to mid-thirties, with dark blonde, almost brown hair that was layered in waves and fell to her shoulders. She was tall, a full six feet in height and almost distressingly thin to the point that Lincoln had more than once had the rather absurd urge to make her eat a sandwich despite the fact that he had seen her put away even more food than he did.

Her name was Kaste, or at least that’s what she called herself. Which was a pretty appropriate name, since ‘casting’ was her whole thing. The woman used magic a lot, which took energy. Hence how much she ate, all while never gaining a pound and remaining stick-thin. She was also an Alter of some description, though he’d yet to find the right way to ask what kind.

For a second, he squinted at the woman. “You used magic to know when I’d be ready.”

Rather than confirm or deny that, she just winked. “Does that mean you are ready now?”

“Need to throw some breakfast together,” Lincoln replied before stepping back and gesturing. “But uh, yeah, why don’t you go ahead and come in. You hungry? I’m not much of a cook, but I can pour cereal with the best of them. Behind my back and blindfolded, even.”  

Stepping into the cabin and closing the door after her with a soft click, Kaste raised an eyebrow at him. “And you do all of that without spilling anything? That is most impressive, indeed.”

He grinned. “Never said I did it without spilling. Just that I could do it.” With that, the man moved to the nearby cupboard and took down a couple of bowls before filling them (not behind his back) with cereal from the nearby box. Adding a couple of spoons and milk, he set the bowls down at the table while asking, “Something to drink? I’d suggest coffee, but uhh, still not sure where the Starbucks is around here, and the machine broke last night.” He waved a hand to indicate the object in question, which lay on its side on the nearby counter.

Glancing that way, the woman smiled faintly before shaking her head as she tugged a pair of what looked like coasters from her pocket. “I’ve got this one,” she announced. Dropping the coasters on the table next to one another, she waved her hand over them while speaking a word. A second later, a pair of mugs appeared on the coasters, each filled with steaming coffee.

Lincoln’s eyebrow almost popped off his face. Curious, he reached out to pick one up, trying it. “Now that,” he announced after taking a sip, “is a spell that you really have to teach me.”

That was what the woman was here for, why she came to visit every morning. Kaste had been teaching him beginner’s magic. While he wasn’t a Heretic or anything, he could now use spells since the Bystander Effect had been broken. He wasn’t exactly fantastic at the stuff yet, but he had at least managed a few small effects, mostly thanks to Kaste’s teaching. She was patient with him, and seemed just as delighted with any small success that he had as he was.

Winking then, the woman promised, “We’ll get there. But now you see what you can look forward to, once you learn enough.”

He took another sip of the coffee before nodding. “You sure know how to inspire your students, I’ll tell you that much.” With a smile, he took a bite of his cereal even as a slight pang made him wince inwardly. Flick. Felicity. Was she okay? How could he be enjoying himself when his daughter was out there. Even knowing, thanks to the message that had been delivered from the Moon twins, Vanessa and Tristan, that Felicity was not under some Seosten operating table but had actually been rescued by Larissa Mason and Haiden Moon wasn’t enough to alleviate his fear. He wanted her back on Earth, back where he could see her, not off running around in some alien empire while the Seosten tried their damnedest to snatch her away for their experiments.

Kaste, clearly recognizing his train of thought, spoke up then. “She’s strong, you know. I haven’t spoken to her very much, only met her the one time. But she’s definitely strong. She’d have to be, considering she’s descended from one of Arthur’s Knights.” She winked at him. “He didn’t choose them just because they looked good in a suit of armor, you know. They were all incredibly powerful. Your daughter and her mother are both descended along that line.”

Coughing at that, Lincoln shook his head. “Yeah, and don’t think that doesn’t still freak me out. My wife and kid are descended from one of the Knights of the Round Table? My daughter’s related to someone who ran around with King Arthur? The King Arthur? How do you ground someone like that? Not that that’s been an issue for a long time, but seriously. She’s my kid, and now I know that she’s… how do I talk to her now? How do I look at her knowing that she’s got that kind of blood, that she’s…” He trailed off, unable to find the right words. Logically, he knew it was silly. But whenever he thought about it, about the fact that Felicity was descended from a legend like that, it made him feel utterly inadequate.

Kaste put a hand on his, shaking her head. “You do what you’ve been doing, Lincoln. Felicity Chambers is who she is because of you, not because of any blood she has. Her power, the resources she could end up with, the way others treat her, that is because of her bloodline. But the person she is, that’s because of you. Don’t change that just because of what you know now.”

“You sound like you have a lot of experience raising kids like that,” Lincoln observed.

The woman looked away briefly, her voice quiet. “My sister and I have experience being that kind of kid. Our parents didn’t exactly take it that well, so Rain and I eventually ended up on our own. Trust me, you don’t want that for your daughter. She’s still Felicity, no matter who her ancestor was.”

Smiling, Lincoln nodded. “Of course she is. Still,” he added then, “it is a little hard to get used to the idea that I used to change her diapers. I always knew she had potential, but this?” He whistled, shaking his head before taking another bite of cereal. “It’s intimidating.”

“What you need,” Kaste informed him then, “is a lot more experience with magic. Then you’ll feel better. Practice. Lots and lots of practice.”

He returned her smile. “Well, in that case, you’ve got me for the rest of the morning.

“Let’s see what you can teach me today.”


Hours later, Lincoln was standing on the edge of the lake, while some other figures played in the water about thirty yards away. He had just finished the sandwich that he had prepared for lunch after spending the entire morning learning magic from Kaste.

For a moment, the man watched the kids in the water. They were all teenagers, or close to it. Most of them didn’t look any older than thirteen or fourteen. There were ordinary humans mixed with Alters, though some of those Alters were so human-like that he couldn’t tell the difference from where he was even without the so-called Bystander Effect clouding his senses. Others were clearly not human.

As far as Lincoln had been able to find out, there were about a hundred regular, full time residents of the camp. Of those, about two dozen or so were combat capable adults. The rest were a mixture of civilians, children, and teenagers. The population seemed about evenly split between non-humans–Alters, he remembered to think of them as- and humans, or so-called ‘Natural Heretics’. Beyond that, there were almost as many ‘temporary residents’, people who would only be staying for anywhere from a few days to a month, depending on how long it took to find them another safe place to go.

He’d asked once, and learned that there were smaller enclaves or safehouses spread across not just this country but several others as well. Places that were under the Atherby Clan protection. It was some kind of combination of an underground railroad and a witness relocation program, keeping hunted Alters safe from the Crossroads and Eden’s Garden Heretics. All told, Gabriel Prosser had estimated the Atherby Clan’s total official membership at close to a few thousand. Not terribly large, and very spread out with the only real connection for a lot of them being Prosser himself. Yet still larger than Lincoln had expected. And it had apparently been much larger in years past. But the combination of the long war with the Heretics and not having an official Atherby to lead them over most of the past half century had made their numbers dwindle a bit.

Now, he watched a blue-skinned figure with visible fins and gills splashing several of the others. She was directing a large wave over them with a simple gesture, laughing the whole time. They all were. The rest of the young teens ganged up on the blue-skinned figure, trying to get the jump on her while she kept holding them off from all sides with various directed waves.

“Helena is getting stronger every day,” a voice behind Lincoln announced, and he turned to find the two-headed hyena-like humanoid standing a few feet away from him. One of the two heads was male, while the other was female. It was the male head that had spoken just then.

Jones. That was his–her–their name, Lincoln remembered. He lifted his chin, nodding back over his shoulder at the laughing teenagers. “Helena, that’s the uhh, water girl out there?”

The female head nodded, speaking up then. “She is a Melusine. It’s good to see her laugh again. Her parents were…” She trailed off, baring her teeth briefly before looking away.

“Murdered,” the male Jones finished for his female half. “Her parents were murdered by Heretics. They tried to kill Helena as well, and would have if Duncan and Misty hadn’t gotten to them first.” As he spoke, they waved a hand back across the camp to a spot where the siblings in question were apparently teaching another group how to fight using wooden swords.

Lincoln stared that way for a few seconds, his eyes taking in the group as their training weapons cracked against one another. “They’re children,” he announced quietly. None in the group appeared to be older than nine or ten, and all of them looked entirely too serious while they listened to the instructions that Duncan and Misty were giving them. “They’re just innocent kids.”

“Can’t be innocent kids for long with the Heretics running around.” The bitter announcement came from the female Jones, who was staring that way as well. “All those kids are here at the camp because they don’t have anywhere else to go. They’ve already had at least one encounter with the Heretics. Most of them lost someone in the process. Maybe more than one someone.”

Jones’ male head nodded. “Some of ‘em will move on once there’s a good enough safe house to send them to. Others’ll stay here. Gabriel doesn’t force anyone to do what they’re not comfortable with. If they want to stay at the camp instead of going back out there, they can.”

Swallowing hard at the thought of what those kids had gone through, and would continue to go through, Lincoln took a moment to find his voice. “You’ve got quite a set-up here. Seems like you help a lot of people who need it.”

“Not as many as we’d like to,” the male Jones replied. “Sometimes we fail. Like…” His voice turned hoarse as he clearly spoke through a thick lump in his throat. “Like with the twins.”

“You mean Joselyn’s other kids?” Lincoln guessed. “Abigail and Wyatt.”

“When we knew them,” the female Jones announced, “they were Koren and Zedekiah. The poor kids.” Her head shook sadly, tears forming in her eyes. “We cared for them so much. They were only babies. Babies, and that monster stole them. Stole them and used them to force our Joselyn to surrender. Who would do that? What kind of coward abducts a mother’s tiny babies to use as hostages? Whatever moral ground Gabriel Ruthers once held, he surrendered it the moment he threatened the lives of innocent children to achieve his goal. He is a monster.”  

“Believe me,” Lincoln replied, “the more I hear about this Ruthers son-of-a-bitch, the more I want to put my fist through his face.”

Clearly changing the subject quickly, the male Jones asked, “Must be strange for someone like you, raised human I mean, to used to the idea that your wife has adult children out there. Children who are technically older than you are, even.”

“Oh, God.” Lincoln rocked back on his heels, head shaking. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. I have stepchildren. Hell, I have a step-grandchild. It’s–God, it’s a lot to take in.”

“You met them, right?” the female Jones asked, her tone curious. “How did that go?”

Nodding, Lincoln answered, “Yeah, we met, once. They came with… with Deveron, Joselyn’s old–I mean her young–I mean…”

“We know him,” the male Jones assured him. “He is a good man, if a bit impulsive. But still, good.”

“Yeah, I got that impression too.” Lincoln sighed. “I mean, that’s good. It’s real good. They all seem great. A bit confusing sometimes, but great. Jos has great taste. I can see why she was–why she was involved with that… with Deveron. It’s just really awkward, looking at this kid, this guy that looks that young and thinking about how he knows Joselyn so much better than I do. She’s my wife. But she’s also his wife. And they were together for a long time. When I look at him, I think… I think about how he knows the real Joselyn, the full Joselyn. Me, I know the Joselyn after they wiped her memory, after they turned her into a normal human. I love her. God, I love her so much. But I think he knows her better than I do. He grew up with her. He went to war with her. He’s fought–the man has fought for decades to save her, to find her.”

“And yet,” the female Jones remarked, “you still feel a little bit like he’s stealing your wife.”

Lincoln put his hands up to his face, letting out a long, pained sigh. “I shouldn’t. I don’t want to. He deserves–he’s a good man. It’s just… complicated. It is incredibly complicated.”

“What about the others, your step-kids and step-granddaughter?” the male Jones asked.

That made Lincoln smile a little despite himself. “Wyatt might be a bit eccentric, but I like him. He’s loyal, and he’s brilliant. Thinking about what happened to him, to all of them, it still pisses me off. But he’s great guy. And Abigail seems like a brilliant lawyer. I feel sorry for anyone that tries to argue with that woman. Apparently she’s been devouring every book, scroll, and notepad they’ve got in that place that’s got anything to do with procedure or rules. Keeps quoting their own laws at them to get what she wants. That uh, that Seller guy, he thinks it’s hilarious.”

He sobered a little bit then. “They’re looking for that… Pace or Lies or whoever she is. Them and Miranda.” The reminder that his daughter’s childhood friend was also a Heretic was still enough to make the man shake his head. “Apparently Koren, Abigail’s daughter Koren, not Abigail herself, and Miranda are convinced that they can find a way to help the real Pace. They think that if they can get that handicapped Seosten out of the girl, she might be able to tell them everything she found out while she was possessed.”

“But,” the female Jones pointed out, “the only way to remove a Seosten Lie from a host is to kill the host.”

The two (or three depending on how one was counting) of them stood there in silence for a moment, darkly contemplating that.

“Oy, you lot!” The call came from nearby, and Lincoln turned while automatically looking down. The voice was distinctive enough that it could only come from one person.

Sure enough, the well-named Fancy stood there. The snazzily-dressed Kobold with his top hat, miniature suit, and monocle pointed his gold-tipped cane. He spoke in an affected accent that made it sound like he was channeling Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. “Wot’s wif all the ruddy broodiness over here, eh? Why, Oi just look to the beautiful sky an’ there’s a roight bloody rain cloud glooming its way over this spot roight here. Gonna mess up the kids’ lovely day out, you lot is.”

“You’re right,” Lincoln admitted. “No sense in dwelling. Not when there’s work to do.”

Both of Jones’ heads nodded, the male speaking. “Kaste left with Rain, so that must mean that she’s done teaching you for the day.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln confirmed. “She said they had plans. So uh, you guys think you’ve got time for another of our lessons before the kids are ready for me?” Not only had Lincoln been taking magic lessons from Kaste, but he had also been both learning everything he could about various Alters and their history so that he could catch up on as much as possible, and teaching as many mundane subjects to the kids around here as he could. He was no actual teacher, but they had books, and he could do a decent job of faking it up to a point. The kids and early teens needed to learn, and he wanted to give something back to these people. Thus, he would spend  a few hours each day with as many of the elementary and middle school-aged kids as he could in order to teach them basic math, english, history, and more.

“O’course!” Fancy chirped, gesturing grandly. “Come wif us, Sir Lincoln. We’ve got a roight good lesson plan today, we do.”

With a nod of her head, the female Jones confirmed, “Yes, we thought we’d walk around the camp and have a pop quiz. See how many types of Alters you can match to the people they are.”

Lincoln whistled. “Bringing out the hard stuff, huh? Alright, let’s do it. But I warn you, I have an excellent memory.”

The male Jones smiled. “No doubt born of all your experience as a reporter, Mr. Chambers.”

“Call me Lincoln,” he replied. “And actually, it was uhh, born of a few years of college spent with entirely too many last second desperate cram sessions the morning of a test after being out too late. But don’t tell my daughter that. She’s under the impression that I was a perfect student who never even saw a drink until I was thirty, and I don’t wanna crush that part of her naivety just yet.”

Both of the Jones heads smiled, speaking together. “Don’t worry, Lincoln. Your secret is safe with us.”


A knock to the door of his cabin late that night brought brought Lincoln over to open it. He found the man himself, Gabriel Prosser, standing there with his coffee maker.

“I present,” the man started dramatically while holding out the machine, “Busy’s greatest triumph. Apparently it doesn’t just make coffee, you can program it to make it exactly like any of the top thirty coffee shops on the planet make theirs.”

“Heh.” Lincoln took the machine, joking, “Sure, but can it make it like Ricardo’s diner on thirty-fifth in LA? Because that’s the one that I–”

“Number three on the preset,” Prosser informed him, adding, “Busy says he looked into your preferences.”

Both men stared at each other for a moment then, Lincoln admitting, “That Kitsune scares me sometimes.”

“He is very thorough,” Prosser agreed, chuckling a little. “I hear that your lessons are going well, though. Both with Kaste and the others.”

“I’m doing my best.” Lincoln shrugged while giving the man a brief look. Gabriel Prosser. Lincoln had done a history report on the man (or the regular human understanding of him) back in his Freshman year of high school. Talking with him now, it was… disconcerting.

The man was a living legend. Literally. He was important history even to ‘Bystanders’. And clearly to Heretics, from what he had heard, Gabriel Prosser was an outright hero, a literal legend among legends. These were people who could knock down buildings, fly, teleport, even move mountains in some cases. And they were in awe of the man in front of him.

“You wanna come in for a minute?” he finally asked, moving to put the coffee maker down. “I’d say ‘get out of the cold’, but I doubt it bothers you.”

Prosser gave a slight smile at that, stepping in before turning to close the door. “Sure. Actually, I wanted to ask if you gave any thought to what I told you before.”

Lincoln took in a breath at that before letting it out. “About becoming a natural Heretic of one of your people?”

With a nod, the other man replied, “Any single one of the people here would be honored to be bound to you, Lincoln. They have all asked me repeatedly if they could possibly be the one to share their blood with you. And becoming a Natural Heretic would protect you a lot more than simply being a human who knows some magic. Especially with the kind of threats that are going to be coming after you if they get half a chance, both from the Edge Heretics and from Fossor.”

The man had a point, Lincoln knew. He bit his lip, slowly nodding. “I know, I know. I just–it’s a hard decision to make. Like you said, they all want to help. But I can only make that choice once. What can I…. who can I bond to that would actually do the most good for me and my family?”

“You’re right,” Gabriel agreed then. “That is a very difficult decision to make.”

“I’ll tell you what I do want to do,” Lincoln announced pointedly. “If your people will agree to it, I want to write their stories. Anyone who will talk to me, I think… I think this stuff needs to be written down. It needs to be shared. Some people need to see it to understand just how bad these things are, for a human context, if you forgive the phrase. I’m not sure what else to… call it. Anyway, some people need these personal stories to have context. And other people… they need to read the stories to understand that they’re not alone. That can… it can help. Their stories, their histories, their lives deserve to be recorded. Their struggles deserve to be shared.”

Gabriel watched him briefly, seeming to look through the man for a few seconds before his chin inclined. “I see that Abigail is not the only one who will be putting her lifetime of accumulated skills to good use.” A small smile touched his face. “I will speak to the others. Some will agree. But I am sure that I don’t have to tell you to only record the stories of those who agree.”

Lincoln nodded, and for a few minutes, the men kept talking. They discussed the possibilities of different Alters that he could be bonded to, before Lincoln promised that he would think more about it. It wasn’t a decision that he would make on a whim.

After bidding the other man good night and seeing him out, Lincoln locked up (a matter of habit more than anything else, really) and made his way to the bedroom, turning out lights as he went.

Who would he ask to become bonded to? Who could he become a Natural Heretic of? What kind of Alter would give him the best chance of actually helping his wife and daughter, of helping his family with everything that was coming after them?

It was going to take a lot to try to decide, a lot of thinking and a lot of research. As he lay in bed, all Lincoln could do was hope that he would eventually make the right choice. Because there was a lot riding on it.

His eyes were open as he lay there, staring at the photograph on the nearby dresser. The picture was of himself, Joselyn, and little Felicity. It had been taken only a month or so before Joselyn’s disappearance, and was the last family picture that they’d taken together.

Blinking back tears, the man reached out to touch his fingers against the photograph, brushing over the images of his wife and his daughter. “My girls,” he whispered, his voice sounding rough to his own ears. “How can I help you? What can I do?”

There was no response, of course. Slowly, Lincoln lowered his hand from the picture, before raising it enough to turn out the light. Then he lay back on the bed in the resulting darkness.

Before long, he was asleep.

Previous Chapter                                       Next Chapter

Interlude 31C – Avalon

Previous Chapter                                  Next Chapter

“Um, your dad is a Stranger?” Rudolph asked, his voice fairly emotionless considering his words. The boy already had his bow out, an arrow nocked in it as he took aim at Reggie. He and the rest of the group were spreading out a bit, as Katarin and Hisao’s words about not clumping together in a group in a situation like this clearly rang through their minds.

“He’s a vampire,” Avalon replied flatly, not taking her narrowed eyes off of the man in question. She had barely even blinked since first laying eyes on him after he had revealed himself.

“A vampire?” Douglas echoed. His pen was in his hand already, and the boy clicked it twice to create a shield in one hand and some kind of small crossbow in the other. A third click created a short spiked wall all the way around the boy and a few feet in each direction. It was just barely taller than the boy himself, and left a couple slight openings for his crossbow. Protection from being directly attacked. He had actually created a small, personal bunker of sorts for himself using his pen to store the design. “There’s six of us,” he continued then. “We can take a single vampire.”  

“You wanna tell them, sweetheart?” Reggie prompted while cracking his neck. “Or should I?”

Still not taking her eyes off the man, Avalon explained quietly. “He’s not just a normal vampire. Someone… upgraded him. He can take powers, like we do. Only he does it by drinking blood. He drinks someone’s blood, he gets some of their power.” Her voice was dark, as memories rose. “That’s how he’s still alive even though he’s practically a newborn by vampire standards.”

“I’m sorry, what?!” Douglas was staring at her, mouth open. “He can–he gains–motherfucker.”  

Sean cursed as well, holding Vulcan in his massive gun-form. He apparently had the pixie stored inside the cyberform already. “That’s less than helpful. But we can still-”

A few feet away from the boy, Columbus abruptly spun, lunging that way before grabbing his roommate in mid-sentence to yank him out of the way an instant before a blurred form went right through the space where Sean had been standing. The blur stopped suddenly, revealing a man who was a stranger in both the capital and lower s sense of the word. Another vampire.

Avalon had just started to react as Columbus pivoted, his hand lashing out while some kind of metal armor appeared over it. There was a brief spray of blood, as the boy’s metal-armored fist punched through the vampire’s back and out his front, holding the man’s heart in his hand. An instant later, as if just to be absolutely sure, his other metal-covered hand reshaped itself into a blade before a quick snap of his wrist took the vampire’s head clean off of his shoulders.

For a brief moment, no one spoke, and barely even moved. Columbus stood there, slowly pulling his arm out of the dead vampire’s body while his pure white kill-aura flared up briefly. Avalon had known that he was more powerful than before, thanks to Charmiene feeding him Alters so that her chosen host would be stronger. But she hadn’t had much of a chance to see it.

“Well shit, son,” Reggie remarked with a low whistle. “That sucks. I kinda liked that guy. Luckily,” he added then, his tone still casual, “I brought a few more of my… uhh, drinking buddies.”

At those words, more figures appeared all around the group, emerging from the deep shadows of the same trees whose extensive canopy ensured that the sun wasn’t actually burning them. Within a few seconds, there was almost twenty of the figures surrounding the group  all vampires from the quick glance that Avalon gave. Twenty vampires, even normal ones, were entirely too many for the six of them to deal with. Especially with her father standing right there.

With a low chuckle as he watched all of them take in the sight of the new arrivals, Reggie remarked, “Doing the math on that, huh, sweetheart? How many seconds do you think your friends can hold out before my pack here eat them? Three, four maybe? I bet the quiet girl tastes utterly delicious.” As he spoke, his chin inclined toward where Scout had been slowly pivoting with her rifle raised, tracking the barrel over each of the vampires one after another.

“Or,” the man continued, his tone turning contemplative. “Maybe I let them go. Maybe I tell my boys to back off, and we let them walk right on out of here. No harm, no foul. And no blood. But the pixie stays. I mean, come on, she’s almost dead as it is, so it barely matters.” His eyes narrowed then. “And you stay too. They go. You and the pixie stay right here. That’s fair.”

“Not that we don’t appreciate being talked about like we’re not standing right here,” Sean put in while copying Scout’s move of slowly turning to keep pointing Vulcan’s barrels at one snarling vampire after another, “but we’re not going anywhere without Avalon and the pixie. So forget it.”

Avalon genuinely wasn’t sure if the boy was talking to Reggie, or to her. She gave him a brief look before lifting her chin to her father. “You’re not nearly as important as you think you are,” she informed him. “We’re taking the pixie, even if we have to go through you and your fodder.”

Even as she spoke, the girl was trying to calculate the best path out of there, her eyes scanning the figures surrounding them to determine the weakest point. Vampires were fast, and her father was even faster than most. They might have been outclassed in a long fight by a lot of things, but in the short term, they had a distinct advantage over most. Vampire were essentially ambush predators. Their speed-blitz tendencies left them able to kill quickly before their targets knew that they were there or that they were a threat. By having them stand around and act menacing, her father was giving up one of their biggest advantages. Especially since between Scout’s rifle, Sean’s minigun, Columbus’s goggles, Rudolph’s bow, and now Douglas’s crossbow, there were no less than five different ranged weapons sighting in on them. It was tactically idiotic. Unless…

“You’re stalling,” Avalon abruptly realized. Her eyes shot back to her father then, widening a bit. “You don’t want this fight to start yet. You’re holding out for something, trying to waste time.” It could have been about letting the pixie die. But if it was just that, there would be no reason for them not to attack. No, it was something else, some reason that the vampires were holding off.

“Heh,” her father gave a chuckle. “Never could put one past you, could I?” His smile widened, showing his fangs. “‘Cept with those beer bottles. You got pretty good at ducking those.”

Douglas had switched to two crossbows by that point, aimed through his personal bunker in different directions. “You know,” he remarked, “it’s pretty subtle, but I’m getting the very slight impression that your dad’s kind of a piece of work. And that we should really get out of here.”

He was right. Whatever her father was actually up to, and why he was stalling, she had no idea. But it wouldn’t be anything good. They needed to get the pixie out of there, before she died.

Her father took a step forward then, yanking her attention back to him instantly. “You think one of your little guardian angels is about to show up and save you?” he mocked, clearly trying to get a rise out of her. “Got news for you, we’re using a little blocker spell. As far as all those protective doodads you’ve got on are concerned, you are absolutely fine. Might not be enough to let us kill you, sure. But right now, your legion of protectors have no idea that you’re even in trouble.”

Barely had the words left his mouth before there was a brief flash of silver light as a different voice announced, “Oh, I dunno.” Deveron stepped into view, accompanied by Wyatt as he continued casually, his aura fading. “Maybe the guy who designed those security spells is just flat out better at it than your people are at breaking them.” Even as he spoke, the two of them entered the space that had been occupied by one of those vampires just a second earlier. A vampire whose absence pretty much explained why Deveron’s aura had been flaring up.

“The weird security guy and one of our second year sort-of joint mentors?” Douglas blurted in complete disbelief before his tone turned completely flat. “Oh, hallelujah, we’re saved.”

“Well, shit.” Reggie quickly hid his expression of incredulity at the two’s sudden appearance. “Guess we’ve gotta have a little fun anyway, don’t we, boys?” With that, he gave a sharp whistle, and the small horde of vampires suddenly made their move, each turning into a blur of motion as they rushed forward, falling in on the assembled group of Heretics.

It was pure chaos. The sound of Vulcan’s rotating gun barrels were deafening as Sean sprayed in the direction of anything that was coming toward him. Rudolph and Douglas notched and fired arrow after arrow and bolt after bolt so quickly that their own motions were almost a blur as well. Beams of concussive force erupted from Columbus’s goggles repeatedly, before one of the vampires actually got close enough to reach for him. It was stopped abruptly, however, as the boy’s hand snapped up and the vampire reacted as though it had hit some kind of invisible forcefield, flattening against it. A second later, another blast from Columbus’s goggles took the vampire in the chest and sent it rocketing backward off into the trees with a surprised cry.

Honestly, they weren’t actually killing that many of them, given the relative lack of auras appearing. But they were at least keeping the vampires back a bit, and somewhat injuring them.

And then there were the exceptions to that ‘not killing them’ thing. Deveron already had two of the vampires on the ground, his aura popping up once again before he turned, hand snapping up to catch one of them in some kind of telekinetic grip. With a grunt, he flung the vampire high into the air. It cleared the canopy, before its screams announced that it had reached sunlight.

Scout, meanwhile, had her own aura flaring more than once. She was simply firing shot after shot from her rifle… off into nowhere. Her bullets were disappearing through one of the gun’s manifested portals, then reappearing elsewhere. The bullet would fly a certain distance, hit another portal, and then jump again. Scout had been doing more than simply panning her gun over the vampires earlier. She had actually been setting up an extensive series of portals all around them. And now, every time she fired into that first portal, it shot the resulting bullet all the way around the circle through those portals, constantly changing direction, angle, height, and everything else to the point that the vampires might as well have been getting shot from all sides. They had no idea where the next bullets would come from, and several were cut down in rapid succession before they even had the idea of what was actually going on.

And through it all, through all of that violence, Avalon stayed completely still. Her eyes never left her father, while his never left her. Neither of them moved to attack. They knew each other. They had fought so many times over the years, once she finally started fighting back. They had grown in power together, even as each tried in vain to kill the other repeatedly, to the point that they knew each other’s moves as well as they knew their own. She knew her father, and he knew her. They could fight an entire battle simply by watching each other, waiting for openings that never came. The two of them were in a world of their own while the rest fought all around them.

Then there was Wyatt. Even as several of the vampires managed to actually get past the extensive covering fire laid down by everyone else, the security man raised his hand to throw a pyramid-shaped object about eight inches across straight up into the air. At its apex, the pyramid inverted so that the tip was facing down. It floated there in the air, while each of its sides opened up. From the flat bottom (now facing upward), a small portal appeared, leading off somewhere that clearly had bright sunlight, given the glimpse through what was visible.

That portal led the sunlight from wherever the other end of the portal was into the pyramid itself, before it was magnified and projected in every direction through each now-open side. The entire clearing was abruptly bathed in so much sunlight that it looked as though they were standing in the middle of an open field at midday.

Everyone else had been fighting the vampires. Wyatt exterminated them in a single move. Over a dozen died almost instantly, burning up to ashes within seconds. A couple more were incinerated before they could reach the edges of the light, while the few that remained took off, fleeing. While it happened, Wyatt staggered, his own silver kill-aura to match his father’s flaring up dramatically.

And yet, through it all, her father stood completely still and unmoved. The light that filled the clearing seemed to bend around him, leaving the vampire still shrouded in slight darkness. As everyone’s attention turned that way once he was the final vampire left in sight, the man chuckled. “Well, that was dramatic, wasn’t it? Good thing the first power I sucked up was this good old cloak of darkness.” He indicated the shadows that remained wrapped around him. “Keeps me nice and shady even on those Tijuana beaches.”

“Too bad you didn’t wrap that shade around all your little friends,” Deveron pointed out in a dark voice. “Or they might not be ashes right now.”

“Sure,” the vampire agreed. “Still won’t help you that much though. See, this jungle? It’s completely full of my little drinking buddies. And the word from on high is that the bosses just shut down every portal in and out of this jungle. You want out, you gotta go the long way. Which means going through all that jungle just chock full of vampires just waiting to rip your head off. Or, you could wait here until that pixie dies. Doesn’t really make much difference to me in the long run.”

Deveron took a step that way, unsheathing his pistol. “Maybe we start by going through you.”

“No!” Avalon quickly interceded, catching the man’s arm. “Don’t. Let me.”

“Avalon,” Deveron started, looking back to her.

“It’s okay,” she insisted while meeting his gaze. Her voice was calm, her eyes steady and unblinking. “The pixie is the key. You have to get her out of here. You have to save her life, Deveron. If you save her, she can help find Chambers and the others. But she’s about to die. She needs help, now.

She turned away from him then, and from the others. Her gaze was centered on the dark-shrouded figure across the clearing. “I can handle my father.”

There were protests from the others, but Deveron and Wyatt called them in line, making them focus on the issue at hand: getting the pixie to safety. They said something to Columbus, Sean, Scout, Rudolph, and Douglas that had to do with getting through the jungle, but Avalon wasn’t listening. All of her focus was on her father.

“Avalon.” Deveron’s hand was on her shoulder. “Are you sure?”

“I can do this,” she replied, her voice completely even. As she spoke, Avalon let her hands slip behind her back while cracking her neck. “I’m ready. I am ready for this.” She was speaking both to him, and to Gaia, who was no doubt listening in.

He paused, looking down for a moment. Then he squeezed her shoulder while nodding. “We’ll see you on the other side.”

Then they were moving. The group took off into the jungle, heading for the beach where they would be safe, where the pixie would be safe. Avalon didn’t know how hard their trek through that vampire-infested jungle would be, but she did know that they would make it.

Just as she knew that this would be the last time that she faced the monster of her childhood. It was time to move on. It was time to put him behind her. And this was the only way that she could do that. This wasn’t for the Heretic that she had become. 

It was for the scared little girl that she had been.

“Alright then, little princess,” her father intoned a bit mockingly while readying himself. In one hand, he produced a massive, wickedly curved dagger, while the other held some kind of electrified baton that he clearly intended to put her on the ground with before cutting her. “Let’s do this.”

With that, the man was a sudden blur of motion that swept toward her, crossing two-thirds of the hundred feet that stood between them in an instant. Flames roared up along one side of him, while lightning crackled violently on the other. He would be on top of her, literally, before she could do more than blink. As he rushed at Avalon, the man’s baton swept up to the ready while lightning and fire bounded along at his sides like loyal hounds. 

And then, as suddenly as his charge had begun, the man hit the ground on his knees with a cry. His weapons fell to either side in the dirt while he put his hands against his head and groaned out a pained, “What… the… fuuuuuck….”

Slowly, Avalon pulled her hand out from behind her back. Nestled in her palm, she held a small tennis ball-shaped metal orb. The same orb that she had secretly shown Deveron before he would agree to leave her. It was silver, with a series of small rectangular blue lights along the bottom, and two slightly larger triangular red lights on the top half, each pointed inward so that the tips of the triangles pointed toward the very top of the orb, where the north pole would have been if it was a globe.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” she asked rhetorically before explaining, “It’s an ultrasonic frequency that only people with hearing as advanced as a vampire’s can pick up. I mean, me, I can only barely sort of hear this low buzzing sound. But you, it probably feels like your brain is melting. Screws up your sense of balance, makes up seem like down, pretty sure it even gets into your short term memory and screws with it. So you probably have no idea how long this has been going on. It’s all just noise. Noise right in your brain. You don’t just hear it. You see it, you smell it. You can feel it digging into your head. Can’t focus on fighting. Can’t focus on using any powers. Can’t even focus on escaping. Just that sound, that horrible, inescapable sound driving through your brain, pounding and pounding over and over. Relentless. Unending. A drill made entirely of noise, boring straight through your skull.

“You’re a vampire and you’ve been trying to either make my life miserable or kill me literally my whole life. I took an entire semester of the Development Track. Did you really think I wouldn’t come up with anti-vampire weapons that were specifically tailored to you? I’ve been waiting for you to attack me all year, you fucking imbecile. The Seosten didn’t just tell you to stay away because of the spell that I’ve got on me. They told you to stay away because they knew that the one single thing that I would be one hundred percent prepared for was a fucking vampire, you stupid piece of shit.

The man was thrashing by that point, head shaking back and forth violently while he dug his fingers into his head deep enough to draw blood. His mouth opened, and a scream escaped him that echoed off into the jungle. More blood poured from his eyes and nose, and he gave a slight convulsion.

Standing a few feet away from the man, Avalon looked down at him while he shuddered. “Sorry,” she added without meaning it, “did you think this was going to be some grand, epic fight in the middle of the jungle? Did you think it was going to be a cinematic duel to the death full of awesome powers and amazing stunts? It’s not. Because quite frankly, you’re not worth that kind of effort.”

Her father reached for her then, one hand stretching out while hate filled his eyes. Avalon simply stepped back, letting him pointlessly reach. “You think you’re some grand villain, some great big bad, my nemesis? You’re not. You’re a pathetic, drunk piece of shit, who was too stupid to understand that the people using him to attack his daughter are the ones who actually murdered his wife.

“I lost my mom when I was born. I didn’t have to lose my dad too. You did that. You let them do that. You helped them. You helped Mom’s killers because you are a worthless, stupid, angry fucking failure. I just wanted a dad. I was a little kid and all I wanted was my daddy. I wanted someone to be there for me, someone to tell me it was alright. I wanted someone to chase away the monsters, not become one. A child should be afraid of what’s in their closet, not what’s in their parents’ bed. No little kid should ever feel like their mommy or their daddy hates them. No child should ever, ever see their parents look at them the way you looked at me. You were grieving? Fuck you. I was a child. I was a little girl. Even if Mom’s death had been because of my birth, that wouldn’t be my fault. It wouldn’t be anybody’s fault! But it was. It was the Seosten’s fault, and you fucking helped them, you miserable piece of shit.

“So no. We’re not going to have an epic duel to the death. No powers. No fight in the jungle. You are going to die here like a rat, and then I am going to move on to things that actually matter. I am going to make those bastards pay for what they did to my mother, for what they’ve done to this entire world. And I’ll do it as Avalon Sinclaire. But I will also do it as Hannah Aken, descendant of Liesje and Dries Aken, daughter of Alicia Aken. Because Hannah was the name my mother chose. And I am not going to let you take one more goddamn thing away from us. Because I’ve moved on from you. I’m not afraid of you anymore. You were the monster of my childhood. But I have a lot worse monsters now. And if I’m going to deal with them, I have to deal with you first.”

Reggie, by that point, was lying on his side, blood still leaking from his head as he stared at her, glassy-eyed and barely comprehending. Avalon waited for his eyes to find hers, then clicked off the sonic device so that the only thing, the last thing that he would hear were her next words.

“You… are… irrelevant.”

Her announcement was matched by the hum of the long energy blade emerging from her gauntlet, even as her hand swept out and up. One more final spray of blood, a gurgle, and her father’s head fell to the ground several feet from his body.  

The rush of pleasure that she felt then was only partially from the Heretic kill sensation. But perhaps it was fitting that the only thing her father ever did that brought the girl who was both Avalon Sinclaire and Hannah Aken any happiness in her life… was die.

Previous Chapter                                  Next Chapter

Interlude 31B – Avalon

Previous Chapter                                Next Chapter

Tink, tink, tink.

The repeated sound of something tapping against glass drew Avalon’s attention from the textbook she had been studying to the corner of her dorm room, where a small pig-like animal sat next to the window. Even as she looked that way, he leaned forward to tap his nose against the glass once more.

“Choo.” Speaking the small Jekern’s name flatly, Avalon stood up, abandoning her book as she took a step that way to look down at him. “Let me guess, you want to go outside.”

Choo’s response was to hop down from the windowsill and sit on his haunches, looking hopefully up at her as he wagged his hind end back-and-forth a little. The animal was no longer as tiny as he had been, having reached the size of a small dog. But he was still nowhere near as big as he would eventually become.

He was also capable of being here in the room without setting off the Stranger alarm, thanks to Gaia. Avalon‘s adopted mother had created shields on both this room and Shiori’s, which prevented the alarm spells from noticing him. Plus, there was a second enchantment which made him invisible to anyone looking into the room from beyond (either with some kind of vision power/spell or through the window). Again, thanks to Gaia. That kind of spell was far beyond anything that Avalon or anyone else in her age group were capable of.

With all that done, they still had to carry Choo around the grounds in the extradimensional pouch that had been made for him, but at least he could wander around the rooms safely. It was a lot better than leaving him all by himself out in the jungle. Between all the other predators out there, and the Heretic students, who knew what might have happened?

He spent most of his time in this room, rather than Shiori’s, since the girl’s roommate wasn’t exactly in on things. It was too dangerous. The only time he spent over there with Shiori was when they knew that Rebecca wouldn’t be around for a while.

Nodding in response to the animal’s hopeful look, Avalon reached out to pick up what looked like a simple leather pouch that was sitting on the nearby dresser. Opening it up, she held it down in front of the animal, ordering, “Well, get in.”

Choo huffed a little bit at having to go into the bag, but obediently trotted inside. Once he was in, Avalon closed the bag, making it small enough to fit in her pocket. Choo himself was in a tiny pocket dimension that was about the same size as this room. There was grass and dirt, and a small tree in there for him. When he was bigger, they would have to upgrade his area, but right now, that was enough. He had a nest of blankets in there, along with a big bowl of food and one for water. Both of them technically hold enough for a month, but were enchanted to only release a little bit each day. He could stay in there for quite a while if he needed to. But the little guy liked being out around people too much. He loved company, and attention. Honestly, he was too damn trusting and friendly for his own good. All he wanted to do was snuggle everyone he met.

Shoving the bag into her pocket, Avalon stepped out of the room, closing the door after her as she headed for the exit. Her footsteps echoed through the hallway, and a couple girls who were standing in front of another room glanced up at her approach. Summer, a dark-skinned girl was in the Investigation track, was standing near Freya, a distractingly beautiful red-haired girl who was taller than Avalon. Both of them glanced over while Summer continued, “It’s for Christmas! Come on, it’s funny, you’ve just gotta stop being so squeamish. So the talking poo is like–”

“Please, stop,” Freya begged before looking to Avalon. “She’s trying to explain Bystander humor to me. Which is weird,” she added pointedly, “since she’s not a Bystander either. Plus, I don’t think I want to understand. And I definitely don’t want to hear any more about this North Park.”

“It’s–oh never mind.” Waving that off, Summer turned back to Avalon as well. “Did Douglas ever find you?” she asked before adding, “He was looking for you about an hour ago. Even got us to go knock on your door for him so the statues wouldn’t dropkick him for coming into the dorm.”

“We did, but you weren’t there,” Freya added. “So he wandered off again. Seemed like it might be important, though. Something about needing to find you for his answer or something.”

For his–oh, great. Apparently Douglas had asked his oracle-power a question, and its answer had been to point him to Avalon. And she had no idea what he’d asked. Sometimes her temporary new teammate’s little vague question-and-answer gift could be very… unhelpful.

Betraying none of that to the two girls, she just shrugged once while replying flatly, “Haven’t seen him.” Without another word, she started to pass them, heading for the door once more.

“Hey, wait.” Summer called, raising a hand. When Avalon looked back, the other girl started with, “Sorry about, um, Flick and the others. I hope they find them soon. And that, you know.”

Her first impulse was to snap at the girl, but Avalon restrained herself. Growing up in Eden’s Garden, there was a good chance that anyone who said that would have been fishing for some kind of weakness. It wasn’t that every peer there was a rival or threat. That would have made things too easy. It was that there was no way of knowing who would be a threat, and a lot of Garden students weren’t exactly discouraged from stabbing each other in the back. Especially if the other person was from a different tribe. It was a way of getting ahead, of proving yourself stronger. There were plenty of students there who would’ve jumped on the opportunity to push themselves ahead of Avalon in the only vaguely secret (in that the staff didn’t openly acknowledge them) class ranking by messing with her head or making her focus on Flick.

Crossroads was different. It had its own problems, to be sure. But at least it didn’t have that kind of environment for students. After giving herself a second to remind her impulses that they weren’t back there anymore, Avalon managed a slight, curt nod. “They will,” she replied simply before turning to walk once more. She would take Choo out to the jungle and let him out to walk and stretch his legs for a bit first, then go and see what Douglas actually wanted.

On the way, she heard Freya start to whisper something about the odds of Flick and the others being alive if they had been taken by Strangers, only for Summer to stop her with a hissed word about waiting. Waiting, obviously, for Avalon to be further away so that she didn’t overhear their theories about how Flick, Sands, Isaac, Roxa, Gordon, and Jazz were probably already dead.

At least Avalon was as certain as she could be that that much wasn’t true. Vanessa hadn’t been able to contact her father again after the first time, but she had gotten the message through. And with both him and Scout’s mother out there helping them, Avalon had to believe that they were alive. Safe might be pushing it considering where they were, but alive at the very least.

Lost in thought (some might have called it brooding), she made her way across the grounds and down to the beach. However, before the girl could go much further than that, a loud bark caught her attention. Snapping her gaze up and to the side, she saw Vulcan galloping toward her. The big metal dog was accompanied by his owner, along with the other members of her team, both temporary and permanent. Sean, Scout, Columbus, Douglas, and Rudolph were approaching.

“Avalon!” Douglas called, as if she hadn’t seen him already. “Jeez, you are one hard girl to find sometimes, you know? We must’ve hiked all over the campus.”

“I must have just missed you at the dorm,” she replied, keeping her voice even. “What do you need, Frey? Banning and Sullivan just said you wanted to talk about something.” As she spoke, Avalon opened her hand to let Vulcan nuzzle up against it and sniff a little. The cyberform canine probably wanted to play with Choo, but they would have to send Douglas and Rudolph on their way first.

“I, uh–” Douglas paused, frowning a bit as he glanced around a little expectantly.

Tensing reflexively at that, Avalon belatedly realized that the boy wasn’t waiting to set off a trap or something. His power had obviously directed him toward Avalon as a means of answering whatever question he had asked, and now he was waiting to see what actually happened.

“You’re a stunning conversationalist as always,” she informed him dryly before looking to Scout. “You still want to train in the morning?”

The other girl gave a single, small nod at first. Then she seemed to gather herself, straightening a little before softly saying, “Yes.” Another slight pause then before, “I’ll be ready.”

That was it, there was only those four words. But even that was downright talkative for Scout, who had clearly been making an effort to speak up a bit more ever since her twin had disappeared.

“Good,” Avalon replied. “I’ll wait for you then.” With that, she looked back to Douglas, hoping that whatever he was waiting for would have had time to happen by that point. “Were you all just walking around together because you were lonely, or…”

Douglas’s mouth opened, before the boy paused briefly. He seemed to consider something before finally giving a little shrug. “I’ve been asking my power how we can help find Jazz and the others every day since… since that happened, but there’s been nothing. It wouldn’t tell me anything. Then, today, I asked how we could track down the guys who took them instead. Just a little different, but that time I got an actual answer. Sort of.”

Raising an eyebrow at that, Avalon realized, “It directed you to me.”

The boy nodded, but it was Sean who replied, “He came to Columbus and me once he couldn’t find you. We looked for a bit, but couldn’t find you. Then Columbus had the bright idea to find Scout, since she’s got that magic tracking power.”

Right, Scout had the ability to mark any object and find it later. She’d obviously used it on all of her teammates. Avalon gave the quiet girl a brief nod before speaking to Columbus himself. “Uh, good idea.” It felt awkward and strange to compliment someone for something that simple. But the boy had been… very out of it and down on himself since being freed from Charmiene. The things that he had been forced to do while puppeted, the… threats that the Seosten woman had made about what she would make him do, had all obviously taken its toll. According to Sean, the boy was barely sleeping. And when he did sleep, he tended to wake up with nightmares. So she was trying to be better about encouraging him, as well as the others. It was what Flick would do if she was there.

The boy didn’t respond to her words at first, continuing to stare blankly for a few long seconds before he suddenly started as the realization that he could actually control his body clearly came. “I–”  Shifting a little, he flatly intoned, “Thanks. I just didn’t want to keep wandering around aimlessly.”

It was obviously meant as a joke of sorts, but his emotionless voice and the way that his face held no particular expression made it hard to tell until he belatedly gave a weak smile.

Columbus Porter was not in the best of shape, emotionally. But he needed to be out there, needed to be shown that he could keep helping and that he was in charge of his own body now. He was seeing the school therapist every afternoon, and Klassin Roe had made it clear that he would take Porter off the team the moment that he thought it was doing more harm than good. But for the time being, it was for the best that he be treated as normally as possible.

“Well,” Avalon informed them then. “I don’t want to say that you all wasted your time. But I assure you, if I knew anything about where to find the people responsible for taking Chambers and the others, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

Shaking his head, Douglas gave a long, low sigh. “Look, I know you’re keeping stuff from us. We know that. You know stuff you don’t wanna talk about and… ehh, I don’t wanna say that’s fine, cuz it’s not. But we get it. Rudolph and me, we get it. We’re not in your top secret club. Headmistress Sinclaire might call us part of the team, but we’re just slot-fillers for the moment. Whatever. But we do want to find our friends, okay? Whatever it takes. I can’t…” He swallowed hard, looking briefly haunted before his hand absently checked to make sure his hat was still there. “I can’t just sit around doing nothing.”  

Avalon studied the boy for a moment, considering her words before finally speaking. “If I knew anything that could find them, I would be doing it. I would tell you. Anything I know, it’s not useful right now.”

Rudolph, who had been quiet up to that point, spoke up. “Maybe it’s not something that you consciously know. Maybe it’s something that’s going to happ–”

That was as far as the boy got before, as if on cue, the phone in Avalon’s pocket rang. She blinked, giving him a brief look before taking the thing out to look at the screen. The call was from the number that Asenath had been using to contact them, so she clicked it on while taking a few steps away. “Yes?”

“Avalon,” the vampire started, “You’re still at Crossroads, right?”

Pausing, Avalon looked back to the group, who were all watching expectantly, before answering with that same single word as before. “Yes.”

“Good, uh, listen.” Pausing briefly, Asenath seemed to be considering her words. “Namythiet, our little pixie friend, she was contacted by another one of her species. It’s some kind of magic connection spell or something. I’m not sure about the details. But the point is, there’s a pixie out there in the jungle, the Crossroads jungle. And she’s um… hurt.”

“Hurt?” Avalon echoed, glancing toward the trees.

“Yeah. Apparently she’s exhausted. It was all she could do to send that message. But she’s in the jungle and she’s trapped there. But here’s the thing. Whatever happened, it has something to do with the Seosten. We don’t know what, but it sounds like she escaped from them or something. She’s been running for days, trying to contact anyone who would listen and try to get her out of there. She knows something important, and they’ve been chasing her. They’ve blocked every other exit, so she’s trapped on the island, and they’ve been hunting her. She’s got nothing left.”

That was enough to make Avalon start a bit. Eyes widening slightly, she tersely asked, “Where is she?”

“Hang on,” Asenath replied, “I’m texting you the map that Namythiet made. Can you get to her? She’s… she doesn’t have long, Avalon. From what Namy said, that last message took everything she had, just getting her location out. If she doesn’t die of exhaustion, the people hunting her will finish the job. We’re talking minutes, not hours and definitely not days. Minutes.”

“I’ll get to her,” Avalon assured her firmly. She took a moment to look at the map that came in. “I’m going now.”

She had just disconnected the call when the realization that the others were all still standing there struck her. As she looked up, Douglas demanded, “What? Who? Who were you talking to, who are you going to? Who’s hurt? What’s going on?”

For a few seconds that were entirely too long, Avalon was silent. A hundred different thoughts warred for prominence in her mind. Telling the boys was too dangerous. But they wouldn’t just leave. And every second that they wasted was another in which this mysterious pixie who had information about the Seosten might die. What could she say?

An idea started to form, but they had already been waiting too long. She couldn’t let that pixie die. Turning on her heel, Avalon started to jog while snapping, “If you want to save your friends, shut up and follow me.”

Scout was right behind her, followed immediately by Sean and Columbus, with Vulcan trotting alongside them. Further back, Rudolph and Douglas looked at one another for a moment before following suit.

As she ran, Avalon quickly sent a text to Gaia, letting her know what was going on and that she might have to erase an hour or so of the boys’ memories if this went wrong. Then she started to speak, even as they left the sand and started into the jungle itself.

“You know all those rumors about Eden’s Garden using Strangers instead of just killing them?”

“You mean the breeding experiments and that stuff?” Rudolph asked before ducking under a branch. “Yeah, my… my granddad, he said something about it.”

Avalon took another second, finding the right words. “Sometimes they use them the way that Bystander police use smaller, less important criminals.” She checked the map on her phone, considered where they were, then kept running. “You know, send them out to get information on the bigger targets. No point in expending effort on the little fish when the little fish can lead you to the big fish.”

There was another pause behind her as the boys seemed to absorb that, before Douglas asked, “We’re going after one of those little fish?”

“A little fish who knows how to get to the big fish,” Avalon confirmed. “But the big fish are trying to kill it before it can talk, so we have to get there first. Can you handle that?”

“We’re gonna have to hear a lot more about all this,” Douglas informed her, grunting as he slid down a slight incline before catching himself. “But if it can really help us find the others, then fuck it, let’s get this fish. I’m not gonna be the guy who fucks everything up because he demands to know everything when we should be moving. I’ll be that guy later.”

Right. That settled that, for the next few minutes anyway. Now the boys knew that they would be finding a Stranger, and wouldn’t immediately kill her. Eventually they’d either need to know more, or Gaia would just erase it from their memory. Either way, good enough for the moment.

Run, run. Get to the pixie. Get to that damn pixie before they lost this lead. If it meant a chance of finding Flick, Avalon would have run across the entire island a thousand times.

Finally, she stopped. Looking at the map, Avalon judged that they had run about to the right spot. She could see a couple landmarks included in the map that looked right, including a fairly massive rock in the vague shape of a dog’s head that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. But there was no pixie.

“She’s got to be around here,” the girl muttered under her breath, turning in a circle as she looked around desperately. “Pixie, we’re looking for a pixie.”

“A pixie?” Rudolph echoed, a bit of doubt in his voice as he too started to look around. “In a place like this? We could look for hours. They’re not exactly easy to spot if they’re not right in front of your face.”

“We don’t have hours,” Avalon snapped. “We have minutes, maybe. We have to find her. You wanna find your friends, we need the pixie. We don’t find the pixie, we don’t find the others.”

Douglas put both hands up to adjust his baseball cap while his head shook. “I don’t–if I still had my question for the day, I could just ask, but I don’t. I don’t know how else we’re supposed to find this… this pixie. These are the only directions you’ve got? It’s not here, so now what?”

“There.” The word came from Columbus. The boy had his goggles on, and was pointing off in a seemingly random direction. “Fifty feet that way, right in the hollow of the tree. She’s kind of covered by a log. I think she pulled it over to block the view.”

Avalon didn’t question it. Instead, she ran that way, muttering a quick thanks to the boy before dropping to her knees in front of the tree in question. Using one hand to pull the log away, the girl stared at the tiny figure nestled within the hollowed out portion of the trunk.

It was definitely the missing pixie. And she didn’t look good. Avalon had no idea what had happened to her or what she had been through, but the little thing was clearly utterly exhausted. She barely reacted to the log being moved, opening her eyes briefly before letting out a weak whimper of protest as they closed once more. Her wings were limp rather than vibrant. From all appearances, she was about an inch from death anyway.

And yet, Douglas still caught Avalon by the shoulder, pulling her back a bit. “Don’t get too close,” he warned her. “It could be faking.”

Turning that way, she almost snapped at him, almost bit his head off. But she caught herself at the last instant, instead retorting, “We need her alive. I don’t care how you feel about Strangers or their uses. If this one dies, we might never see Chambers or the others again. Do you understand? This one survives if you want to see your friends. It’s our only lead. Our only lead. You get it?”

Rudolph spoke up then. “We get it. The pixie lives. But what do we do with her?”

Sean had stepped up to join them. “Vulcan’s storage space for his ammo,” he announced. “We can put her in there until we get out of this jungle and back somewhere a little safer. After that… we’ll see what we can do.”

“Pixies heal themselves.” That was Scout, actually speaking up. When they all looked at her, the brunette shrugged. “Magic. She… she should be… healing herself. But she’s weak. Maybe if we… feed her magic, she’ll heal.”

“Right,” Avalon announced. “But we do it closer to the beach. Right now we need to get out of here, before–”

“Stay away from the school, they said,” a voice spoke up from the shadows of the trees that surrounded them. “Don’t even think about going there, they said. Don’t go near her, she’s surrounded and protected.”

A figure stepped into view, even as Avalon quickly stood up and turned that way. He was, at first glance, a fairly ordinary looking man, if somewhat tall at a few inches over six feet. Most of his head was bald, save for the back and along both sides, where a bit of brown hair could be found. He wore a simple flannel shirt and jeans, neither of which were anywhere near new. Though not exactly ‘fat’, he was somewhat hefty, particularly for his height. He looked like a man who would be most often be seen watching a football game with a beer in one hand and the remote in another, after getting home from his job in a factory or as some kind of middle management. Not particularly handsome, but not hideous. Not in the best of shape, but not obese. Average in almost every way, save possibly for the slightly unnatural paleness of his skin.

And when she saw him, Avalon took a reflexive step back, even as her Stranger sense alerted her to the entirely unnecessary revelation of his non-human status.

“But you know,” the man continued, “all I was doing was following orders. Find the pixie, they told me. Deal with it. That’s what I was doing. So I don’t see how they can blame me when, well, you sorta walk right into my lap, can you?”

The others started to speak, but Avalon didn’t hear them. Their words all blended together and fell away. Her attention was centered on the man, on the vampire in front of them. Her voice was soft, flat and emotionless.  

“Hello… Dad.”

Previous Chapter                                Next Chapter

Interlude 31A – Lies

Previous Chapter                                       Next Chapter

Please note, there was a full bonus chapter posted on Wednesday to finish off the regular arc. If you haven’t seen that yet, you might want to click the Previous Chapter button above. 

Present Day

The cold, bitter rain came down in sheets as the hour-long torrential downpour continued inexorably onward. The top floor of the parking garage, only a quarter full of scattered vehicles, was almost as much miniature lake as it was asphalt. It was easier to count the small, wet islands than it was to count the puddles, which ranged from just deep enough to soak the bottom of a shoe, all the way up to the nearly knee-deep corner opposite from the ramp.

Through the downpour, six figures stood on the roof of that parking garage, five of them surrounding the last. The five were large, heavily muscled figures of dark green skin and prodigious teeth. They wore enough leather and chains to be seen by humans as a biker gang, though those immune to the so-called Bystander Effect knew them as orcs.

That name by itself was an oversimplification since there were at least a half-dozen different species that were generally thrown into the pool of ‘orc’. All came from different planets, had wildly different original civilizations, religions, cultures, and more, and most hated the simple term ‘orc’. But due to their similar appearances to the untrained eye, most species lumped them all in together under the name of the first that had been encountered, meaning that those who had come after, with the misfortune of looking too similar to the first, had no opportunity to differentiate themselves. They were all seen as orcs, regardless of how varied they were.

The figure these so-called ‘orcs’ were surrounding, meanwhile, was much smaller. The untrained human eye would have seen her as human. But she was far more than that, in many ways. And just as the outside observer would have been mistaken in believing that they were witnessing five human bikers surround a human girl, they would have been equally mistaken in believing that the bikers were the most dangerous figures on that rooftop.

There was no discussion, no debate, threats, or offers of any kind. As the five orcs surrounded the girl, they exchanged glances with one another to assure themselves that they were all ready for what was about to happen. Or at least, that they believed they were. Then they attacked. The one directly in front of the girl drew back his meaty fist before driving it straight for her face, even as the one directly behind whipped his chain up and moved to drop it around her neck. The two to either side moved to grab her arms to immobilize her, and the final one, slightly to the left of the one at her left arm, threw his own punch toward her exposed side.


Twenty-One Years Ago

An orange-skinned man with a scraggly white beard trembled and quivered. His arms were raised above his head and attached to chains that hung from the ceiling. “M-Momma,” he begged in a broken voice. “Momma, I can’t. Please, Momma. Please, I can’t do it. Please.”

His whimpers were met with the sharp thrust of a stun prod, and the man arched his back, his entire body spasming as his words were replaced with agonized screams. A dozen burns scattered over his exposed upper torso made it clear that this had been going on for some time.

“Step out of the man, now.” The woman holding the electrified prod was the very definition of regal. She stood just a hair under six feet tall, with long black hair that fell to the middle of her back and was done in a single, tight braid. She wore dark red pants and a black silk shirt, both of which were enchanted to repel blood and other stains for quite obvious reasons. Around her neck was a golden choker, and she also wore an ornate, beautiful diadem with several red and violet gemstones. The diadem, choker, and other objects she wore were all heavily enchanted.

“Momma,” the man begged, his voice cracking pathetically as he hung limply from the chains. “Momma, please. I tried. I s-swear, Momma. I tried. I can’t do it.” Tears flooded his eyes as he gave a violent shudder. “Please, Momma, no hurting. Please, I’ll be g-good, Momma, ple-”

Once again, the desperate pleas turned to horrific screams as the prod was jammed into the man’s stomach. The woman raised her voice just enough to be heard over the cries. “You have not earned the right to call me that any more than you have earned a name. Step out of the man now. You want this to stop? You wish to earn my forgiveness? Then do as all true Seosten can and step out of him. Step out and there will be no more pain. Prove you are my child. Do it.”

She waited for a moment then, stepping back and watching as though she believed that either her words or the threat of more pain would actually be enough encouragement to make the impossible happen. Eyes narrowed and prod held loosely in one hand, she watched expectantly.

For a moment, the man went completely still and silent. His eyes drifted closed, his brow furrowed, and there was a somewhat childish display of concentration as the tip of his tongue poked slightly out of his mouth. The frown deepened over the next minute of silence, and new sweat appeared. His trembles and shudders turned violent from the incredible effort that was being put forth, until the man finally jerked upright, gasping for breath while shaking his head frantically. His words were pathetic, shamed sobs. “I can’t! I’m sorry, Momma, I’m so–”

With the click of a button, a blade appeared at the end of the stun prod, and the woman slit the man’s throat with a single, blindingly quick swipe. As blood poured freely down his throat and his head jerked backward, a second figure appeared directly in front of him. This one was much, much smaller. A child. A female child, barely six or possibly seven years old, with light brown hair and brown eyes. She stood there, shivering heavily as tears continued to stream down her face as she babbled apologies. “Momma. Momma, please. I’m sorry, Momma. Please.” With a weak, pathetic hope that had not yet been fully dashed, she raised her arms, desperate for just a little affection from the woman who had birthed her. “I t-tried, I rea-really tried!”

But there was no affection to be had. The woman stood, watching dispassionately before turning on her heel to walk away. “You are no child of mine,” she announced flatly. “I will not be mother to a Lie. Learn to control your power. Stop possessing your host. We’ll try again tomorrow. I have more ideas of what might properly motivate you beyond this handicap. For now, you will stay with the body until the morning.” She tugged open the heavy metal door then. “Perhaps seeing the result of your failure will convince you to make an actual effort next time.”

Standing there, the seven-year old child stared after the woman longingly. “Momma,” she called. “Momma, I love you. I love you, Momma.”

Kushiel, the Seosten once known as Hera on Earth, didn’t bother looking back before she stepped through to the next room and closed the door on her daughter with heavy clang.


Present Day

As the orc’s fist swung for her face, and the rest of his companions launched their own attacks, the Seosten Lie smiled. That smile carried through to her current host, the werewolf-Heretic called Pace.

She pivoted to the right abruptly, moving so quickly that her figure was barely visible. Her right hand snapped up to catch the wrist of the orc whose fist had been swinging for her face. With her other hand, the girl caught hold of the chain from the one who had been behind her. A quick yank and twist put that chain around the other orc’s wrist before either realized what happened.

The two orcs who had been on either side of her managed to grab empty air where the girl’s arms had been an instant earlier, while the final figure’s punch toward her side whiffed as well. None realized what had happened for the next second, only that they had missed.

Holding the chain tight around the first orc’s wrist, Lies gave a sharp, vicious yank at both sides of it. The chain was no ordinary metal. It was enchanted, meant to hold against almost anything. Which meant that, strong as her host was (and she was incredibly strong), she couldn’t break it.

Unfortunately for the orc whose wrist it was wrapped around, his bones were not so enchanted. With a howl of pain, his bone was crushed as the chain suddenly tightened dramatically.

The orc who was holding the chain realized what had happened, while the other three simultaneously noticed where their supposed prey had moved to. The first tried to yank back the chain to free it from his companion, while the remaining trio turned to her with identical bellows.

Lies easily yanked the chain from the orc’s grip, stepping behind the one who had it wrapped around his now shattered wrist. With that step, she gave a sharp yank to force his arm behind his back, the motion forcing a pained, gargled scream from the orc’s mouth as his demolished wrist was heavily jostled and wrenched horribly.

Once she was behind him, using the orc’s body to block the others from getting to her, Lies caught his other hand and yanked it back. With a grunt, she wrapped the other part of the unbreakable chain around that wrist as well, before grabbing hold of the middle part that hung between his now-linked hands. One more solid twist and yank crushed the new wrist while simultaneously doing unbelievable damage to the already badly broken one. She yanked both of his hands together that way, wrapped the chain around them a few more times to secure it, then gave him a solid kick in the back that sent him crashing into the arms of the orc that the chain had originally belonged to.

While those two were disentangling themselves, the other three continued to come for her. And Lies welcomed them by reaching behind her back with both hands to grab for the weapons attached to her belt. At first glance, as the girl brought her hands back out in front of herself, she appeared to be holding a pair of metal tonfas or short batons. But a quick push of a button on each proved how wrong that assumption was. From the top of each metal cylinder emerged a long blade. Once fully extended, the blades snapped downward ninety degrees, forming a sickle. Meanwhile, from the bottom of each of the ‘batons’, a long metal chain dropped into view. At the end of the chain was a small, yet heavy metal ball.

Kusarigama. The original Pace, her current host, had used the much less dangerous (and thus less fun) weapon of a couple knives that were capable of copying the physical properties of any material added to them, as well as creating various gels that could accomplish different effects. Some were explosive or acidic, while others could actually heal those they were used on.

Stabbing someone to heal them was inherently hilarious, of course. But Lies had wanted something with a bit more bang, something a bit more fun than ‘knives’. Thus, these kusarigama.

With a quick, practiced flick, the girl sent the chains out. Each wrapped around one of the wrists of two of the incoming trio of orcs, the weighted balls at the end allowing them to lock tight. Her thumbs brushed over the indented button in each handle, even as she brought both of her arms together, criss crossed over one another so that the two men were yanked together by their trapped arms, subsequently blocking the third man who had been coming up the middle.

At the simple, light button-touch, a wave of incredible cold ran down the chain of one of the weapons, freezing the trapped arm of that orc solid. At the same time, a wave of intense heat ran down the chain of the other to set that orc’s arm ablaze. The frozen arm was instantly shattered, before the heat from the flames turned it and the rain that continued to fall into a wave of steam that blinded all three of the orcs.


Twenty Years Ago

“Mama, don’t make me. Please, Mama. Please, I’ll do good. I’ll try harder. I promise. Please, Mama. Please.” Tears blinded the now-eight-year old Seosten child as she held tightly to her mother’s arm, pleading desperately. “Please, Mama. She was nice to me. She was my friend. She’s my friend, Mama. Please. Please, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Mama, I’ll be good. I’ll try harder!”

Staring unmoved at her daughter, Kushiel gave a slight headshake before pointing to a red-skinned female child only a couple years older than the other girl. The older girl was unconscious. “You will possess her, Lie, and then you will be motivated to stop possessing her. If she is truly your friend. Because you know what will happen if you do not.”

“Mama!” A new wave of tears sprang forth as the unnamed handicapped Seosten grabbed hold of the red-skinned girl’s hand. “Please! Please, Mama! Please, please. She played with me! She was nice to me. I don’t wanna hurt her, Mama. Please, please.” By the end, her words were almost indecipherable as she sobbed uncontrollably.

“Yes,” Kushiel agreed. “And why do you think I allowed her to spend this past year with you, hmm? She is close to you because I allowed it. I allowed you to have this past year together so that you would be properly motivated now. I gave you a year with this dear friend. Now you will pay me back by proving that you are not a complete failure. You will not humiliate our name.”

“I wo-won’t do it!” the child declared, head shaking frantically. “I w-won’t, I won’t possess her! I won’t hurt her. Sh-she-she’s my friend! Please, Mama, don’t make me hurt her. Please, please, please! I’m s-sorry. I’m sorry, I’m really trying! I swear! I’m trying, but don’t make me hurt her, p-please, Mama. Please.”

Straightening to her full height, Kushiel glared down at the child. “You will possess her,” she ordered, “or I will have her eaten alive by the Tiyanak. Do you understand? I am giving you the chance to save her life. Don’t you want to save her life? If you don’t, I can simply have her taken to the Tiyanak now.

“If you care about your friend, you should try to save her.”


As the trio of orcs reeled and screamed, Lies threw herself that way. Three quick, vicious strikes from the bladed scythe end of her weapons opened their throats and left them lying on the ground, slowly dying and incapable of fighting back anymore.

By that point, the remaining two had finished pulling away from each other. They both turned, just in time for Lies to catch her weapons by the end of the chain and swing them outward. The chains snapped taut just as the scythe blades each embedded themselves in the middle of the orc duo’s foreheads. Their eyes crossed and then they collapsed to the ground.

As her blades came free, Lies yanked them back before triggering the change that shifted her kusarigama into their pistol forms. Extending them toward two of the three dying orcs whose throats had been cut, she fired. One of their heads froze solid before popping, while the other was melted into a bubbling pile of flesh.

The final orc, lying there choking on his own blood, twitched and gurgled a little bit as Lies moved to stand over him, pointing both pistols down at his face.

“Hi!” she announced cheerfully before dropping to one knee beside him. “Could you do me a favor?”

The orc started to gurgle a pained, desperate response before the girl suddenly dropped her pistol and drove her hand down against his chest. Her fingernails had elongated into werewolf claws, puncturing his body as the orc gave a choked scream.

“Don’t interrupt,” Lies chastised. “It’s rude. Now, I need you to do me a favor. You go back to Manakel and tell him to leave me alone. I’m not bothering him, I’m not interfering with his shit. I just want to be left alone. Maybe he doesn’t want my help anymore, but if he keeps sending fuckups like you after me, he and I are gonna have a problem. So you tell him that.”

Rising to her feet, she started to turn away before abruptly stopping. Her shoulders shook a little, and she giggled audibly. “Oh,” the girl announced, openly snickering. “I forgot. He’s got that whole necromancer thing going on, doesn’t he? Lord of the Underworld and all that. So, technically, he doesn’t need you to be alive to give him the message.”

The orc’s gurgling suddenly turned frantic and desperate, before it was silenced completely by a single shot from the girl’s heat-based pistol.

Whistling the tune from The Flintstones, Lies started to walk away through the downpouring rain.

He’s not going to listen. He’s going to keep sending more and more powerful people after you. After us. He can’t have you out here. You’re a loose end. He’s already been sending more and more of these guys. He wants you dead.

Pausing on her way off the roof of the parking garage, Lies slowly tilted her head. Or rather, Pace’s head. “Hmm? Is that my little Jiminy Cricket trying to offer advice? No sulking and crying over the poor dead orcs?”

They were trying to kill us, came the response. You defended yourself. But Manakel is going to keep sending people after you. We can’t beat all of them.

“Oh, but we can make them work for it, can’t we? Make them earn their pay, yes. We don’t have to be easy for them. Don’t have to roll over and play dead like good little puppies.” Lies snickered aloud at her own imagery. “I can kill them over and over again. Make him waste as much as possible. It’ll be fun to play that game until it’s over.”

We can do more than that, Pace insisted. We can actually accomplish something.

The girl was completely silent for a few seconds. Slowly, Lies made her host’s head turn to look back to the sky, closing her eyes and letting the rain fall over her face before opening her mouth to catch some of it. Finally, her eyes opened, and she gave a little smile.



Twenty Years Ago

The body of the red-skinned girl lay on the floor, broken and empty, sightless eyes staring up at the ceiling. A jeweled knife had been embedded deep in her chest.

Beside her knelt the eight-year old Seosten child. Her hands were soaked in the blood that covered the nearby ground, and her shoulders shook. “I’m sorry,” she cried, shuddering heavily as she stared at the dead girl that had been her friend for the past year. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I tried. I tried to st-stop. I tried. I promise. Please. Please. I’m sorry.”

“Perhaps this will serve as a reminder for next time,” Kushiel coldly informed her daughter. “Think of this as motivation.” She paused then, frowning. “Clean yourself up, then come downstairs. It’s time to meet your new friend.”

With that, she pivoted on one heel before striding to the door, passing through and closing it without another word.

For a minute afterward, the Seosten girl just knelt there, staring at her dead friend, the girl who had spent the past year being nice to her. She thought of the games they had played, the stories they had told, the secrets they had shared. She thought of how desperately she had tried to stop possessing the girl, how much her friend had pleaded with her to try. And, at the end, how the girl had forgiven her. She thought of the feel of the knife plunging into her friend’s chest. She thought of her failure. Her total and complete failure.

And she thought of her next friend. The next one that she would spend time with before being forced to possess them. The next one that she would fail to save.

And the one after that.

And the one after that.

She cried for them. Cried for her friend, and for the ones she had yet to meet. Her tears fell freely as her shoulders shook with desperate, terrible loneliness. Staring down at the dead body, the eight-year old child sobbed. And as she sobbed, alone in every possible way, something within the girl broke. Something within her snapped.

“Heh…. heh… “ She went completely still, utterly unmoving to the point of being unnatural. “Heh…”

Slowly, the girl’s shoulders began to shake once more. But not from tears. Neither were the sounds she made those of a crying child any longer. Kneeling there in the blood of her friend, the lost, broken child did the only thing she could. She giggled. And then she laughed. Soon, her laughter echoed off the walls of the room.

She laughed because she could not cry any longer. She laughed because there was no alternative. She laughed because she was alone. Because no one cared about the lost, broken Seosten child.

She laughed because when all was said and done, laughter and tears were often not very different at all. Because tears were for those who had hope that their lives would be better, hope that their pain was temporary.

And laughter was for those who had none.

Previous Chapter                                       Next Chapter